A Dark Knight AU
Disclaimer: all intellectual property rights to the Batman franchise belong to their prospective owners, and the use of the Batman characters and ideas in this story are for non-commercial purposes only.
Lieutenant—correction, Commissioner—Jim Gordon raced to the door. Avenue X at Cicero, 250 52nd Street… Avenue X at Cicero, 250 52nd Street… he said over and over to himself.
As he turned the corner the door to the interrogation room flew open, and the Batman strode out. "Which one are you going after?" Gordon urgently asked.
The Batman slammed the door shut behind him, but did not answer, did not move. Gordon's heart began to race. "Well?"
There was an agonizing moment of silence, then: "Dent," the dark figure said brusquely, running past him.
Gordon also began running for the exit. "We're getting Dawes," he yelled; behind him, other officers from MCU started to follow him. Outside, vehicles roared to life and took off into the night. "Avenue X at Cicero!" Gordon yelled over and over as he got into his car, started the engine and sped away.
I just hope we can make it in time…
Batman—Bruce Wayne—was betting his past, his future, his very sanity and soul, on his readings of a madman. Everything—everything!—hung on his calculation, his bet, that the Joker was lying. And if he wasn't…
Cars and buildings flew past him as he ratcheted the Pod up past one hundred and fifty miles per hour. Wind ripped at his face, tiny pebbles stinging his cheeks, but they were nothing. The city around him, the darkness, even the Pod and his very body—all nothing. Bruce Wayne—Batman—was in a state beyond himself, a true out-of-body experience; in his eyes, he saw himself, detached, racing through the night. It was something he had never achieved, no matter how much he had meditated on that distant cold mountaintop in another life.
It was a good thing he was able to—it was the only thing keeping the fear at bay.
…If he wasn't, Rachel dies. Even as the word formed soundlessly on his parched lips, the dreaded cold surrounded him from all sides, threatening to overwhelm him in madness and panic.
From deep within, Chance was mocking him:
…heads or tails…
…win or lose…
…live or die…
Batman's immediate instinct had been to go where the Joker had said she was at, 250 52nd. But as soon as he closed the door behind him, doubt filled him. What if I'm wrong? What if I'm WRONG?
Normally once he committed to an action he would not rethink it; to date, his instincts had worked most of the time. But images of Rachel had filled his mind the moment the Joker said she was in danger, clouding his mind. Gentle smiles from long ago… impassioned looks from yesterday. They were source of not so much joy, but a desperate longing for something he wasn't sure still existed. It was his fault—No! Yes!—Rachel was now in mortal peril.
Where do I go?
In that infinite moment, he had paused, doubting himself. That hesitation opened the floodgates.
Instantly he was paralyzed by indecision, becoming so afraid of making the wrong decision that he almost broke down, almost lost control completely. His mind collapsing in on itself, flooded with mindless thoughts of terror, Alfred's words suddenly popped in his head: Perhaps this is a man you don't understand…
At that moment he had a flash, beyond logic, beyond calculation. He abandoned his modus operandi; Batman changed his mind.
Now he was but a few minutes from salvation or damnation. The chill of fear pressed ever harder on him. Bruce—Batman—forced himself to logic and reason, cold and unfeeling, clear and unbiased. You made the right choice, he thought over and over. Maybe he's lying altogether—neither of them might be there. In that case…
Batman didn't dwell on that. He thought on: If he's telling the truth that they're at those locations, then Rachel is at 250 52nd and Dent's at Avenue X, or vice-versa.
Under the relentless force of logic, his fear began to recede. He wanted to kill Dent, but he figured out I care about Rachel. Once again he chided himself for that weakness. He didn't want to kill me—he wanted to convert me! The thought was still nauseating. What better way to make me lose it completely, than by getting my hopes up to rescue Rachel—only she's not there? So instead he tells me where Dent actually is. He could see it in his mind: the Joker sitting in his cell, laughing over and over at the sight of him stupidly coming to the rescue not of his love, but of Harvey. Ha ha ha…
"Well, the joke's on him," Batman growled. Turning on to the corner of 2nd Avenue and 52nd Street, there was a large deserted warehouse in the middle of the street: 250 52nd Street. He lept from the Pod and ran as fast as he could to the entrance, savagely kicking it down. He ran into the basement.
Every possible emotion seemed to flow uncontrollably now: fear, rage, panic, more fear. Batman was gasping for air. He almost fell, but kept his balance. Down the corridor there was a set of large doors, with a faint light peeking out from the cracks.
Please, let Rachel be there; let me save her, keep her safe, see her alive. He was almost there.
As he began kicking at the doors it hit him like an avalanche: he had failed, the Joker had read him too well. Dent was here, and Rachel was going to die.
Batman screamed; a cry of pure despair. With a final kick the doors broke open. He heard an indistinct voice say: "—you."
Batman ran inside—it was too dark to immediately see. "Rachel!" he screamed. Please…
A terrified high voice cried out: "Bruce? Oh, God, no, not me!"
"—and my answer is yes!"
"Thank you, Rachel," Harvey Dent said softly. "I love you." Coughing as the foul stench of diesel fuel wafted up from beneath his left cheek, Dent stopped struggling; he laid still and tried to prepare himself for the end. There was no more than a minute left; if someone didn't come in the next 10-15 seconds…
For the first—and probably last—time in his life, he began to pray. Dear God, please save Rachel, even if I have to die. After doing it, it didn't seem to help. Dent closed his eyes, fighting back tears.
He heard something from the intercom: "Rachel!" It was not her voice; his head perked up.
"Bruce?" That was Rachel; her voice cracking with fear. Then she shrieked, all control lost: "Oh, God, no, not me!"
He strained to listen, but the voices and noises from the intercom rapidly became inaudible. Dent's mind raced. 'Bruce?' Wayne? How could he know where Rachel was? Before he could answer his question there was a loud bang; someone had kicked in the doors. Straining to turn his head, he saw two Gotham police officers race in. One of them yelled: "Miss Dawes?"
Dent yelled: "Over here!"
Heart burning with the fiercest joy he had ever known, Bruce ran to his beloved friend Rachel; she was tied up to a chair. Next to her there was a detonator with red numbers counting down: 29…28… Like an animal Batman acted on reflex; coming behind Rachel, he slashed at the thick ropes binding her with the blades on his gauntlets. Now freed, they headed towards the exit.
For some reason Rachel was having trouble running; Batman almost had to drag onwards. Her voice cracking with worry, she asked: "What about Harvey, who's helping him?"
"Gordon and his men. They—" In the darkness Batman had tripped over something; they tumbled into some barrels, which toppled over and splattered foul diesel fuel over both of them. Rachel coughed and gagged; Batman got back up, then helped her to her feet and continued towards the door. Ten seconds left…
"Why," Rachel wailed at his side, "why did you choose me?"
"I didn't," he said rapidly, "I went for Dent; the Joker switched addresses, I found you here instead." That was a lie, but no one would ever know that.
She was staring at him with desperate fear in her eyes. "Please, please Bruce, tell me he'll make it!"
"He will. Don't worry, he will!" Won't he?
The cops were spending too much time trying to cut him free—they should have just lifted him away instead. Figures you can't trust a cop to do their job, even in the end, Dent thought contemptuously.
Bruce Wayne… Batman… of course, now it makes sense. His rage at the fumbling efforts of the men in blue was an insignificant spark compared to the fury he was feeling towards his erstwhile bride, and the figure he had just risked his life for. All obvious in retrospect: he wanted to set me up, so he could retire and be with Rachel! Bruce Wayne had made a fool of him, and nothing made him madder than that.
Nothing, that is, except being betrayed by a woman. As the two cops finally abandoned trying to loosen his bonds and dragged him away, terrible thoughts cycled through his mind, becoming darker and uglier. Since we're going to die, why not tell him sweet lies? But now he knew better. A chick's gotta cover all options. Keep one foot in the door for an up and coming DA, but never throw away a billionaire ace in the hole! 'Bruce's penthouse is the safest place in Gotham City,' she said. Even safer when good ol' Bruce is on top of you for protection!
Terrible images of Wayne and Rachel entwined, their bodies thrashing about, swam through his mind; he barely kept himself from screaming. Looking up at the Keystone Kops, he silently prayed again: Hey Big Guy, my mistake. Please, take Bruce and Rachel both home to Jesus real soon! He inexplicably began laughing. With any luck, their suffering would just be beginning…
"We're almost there!" The doors leading out were just ahead.
"Thank you, thank you so much," Rachel said over and over, her voice simultaneously fierce and tender. "Oh Bruce, if we're going to die—"
"—Don't think like that," Batman snapped automatically, mistakenly thinking she was giving in to fate. "We're going to make it. Dent's going to make it."
"He's going to make it!" Batman shouted again, as much to convince himself as to assuage Rachel.
…If I make it, I'll kill them both—
—A terrible explosion roared behind him. Harvey Dent smiled as he was engulfed by the flames.
Rachel shouted back: "I know he is, it's just—"
—Behind them the warehouse exploded, lighting up the night with ghastly orange light. The blast knocked both of them down, and fiery debris rained all around. As soon as he hit the ground, Batman heard screaming—Rachel! He got to his feet, and to his utter horror she had become a burning torch, shrieking and jerking madly. Panicking, he raced over and roughly threw her to the ground. The whole left side of her was on fire, even her face. He slapped at her face with his hands, frantically trying to put out the flames. Then he ripped off her burning blouse.
Rachel was screaming, an unending series of wordless shrieks. Batman's hands were trembling; he tried to restrain her from clawing at her face and doing more damage. Seconds later, she finally stopped burning; a nauseating wisp of smoke rose from her ruined face, her flesh still sizzling like burgers on a grill—he was almost sick, just barely holding it in. Her cries faded, and to his great alarm she was now unconscious.
She's going into shock—if medical help doesn't arrive soon, she'll die! Frantically he took out a radio, dialed in the Gotham police frequency and yelled: "I've got Dawes, she's badly hurt, need an ambulance at 250 52nd Street NOW!" There was an acknowledgment; he turned his attention back to Rachel. Without a medical kit (his emergency one had been destroyed in the Tumbler), there was literally nothing he could do to help her. Batman looked down at her supine form. The right side of her was undamaged, almost completely normal, but the left side—
—He turned away as tears ran down his face. The darkness hid most of the damage, but the orange lights of the building burning behind them flickered, illuminating the charred, blackened skin. Trembling, Bruce removed the glove from his right hand and gently brushed her hair clear of the burnt part of her face. His fingers gently flicked across the smooth skin of her forehead; involuntarily, he jerked then away, filled with a fear that he was violating her space, somehow.
"I'm sorry, Rachel," he whispered. Everything will be alright. We'll be together forever, and I'll never let anyone or anything hurt you again. Leaning in, he said: "I love—"
—A blazing siren pierced the neighborhood. Immediately Batman got to his feet, wiping his eyes clean and putting his glove back on. Several police cars stopped in front of him, and an ambulance right behind them. A police officer came out and said: "Is Dent okay—"
"—The Joker lied, he switched addresses. I managed to save Miss Dawes instead," he said, gesturing to Rachel. The officer had a stunned look on his face, but said nothing.
"Did Gordon get Dent?" he asked, not wanting to know the answer.
"I don't know, I'll check." The officer went back into his car. Batman didn't wait for an answer, for the EMTs were racing towards him.
"Dawes is hurt; severe burns, shock."
"We'll take care of it," the EMT replied. He and his partner gently lifted Rachel onto a gurney, wheeling her back to the ambulance. "Radio Gotham General to get a burn trauma bed open," he said to the driver as he got into the back of the vehicle. Batman stood still, saying nothing as he watched the ambulance's lights come to life and speed away.
Firefighters had arrived on the scene and began working on putting out the fire at 250 52nd Street. Batman went to the other cop. "Any news?"
The cop grimaced. "Just talked to Gordon. You were right, Dent was there. He… he didn't make it."
It was like a hammer blow to his soul. Batman's head fell, his eyes tightly closed. My God, I've lost almost everything. Nearby the police cars began driving away. Batman's head snapped up; the police officer he was talking to was running back to his car.
"What's wrong?" What else could go wrong?
"The Joker's escaped, with Lau," the cop said tightly. "Bomb went off at MCU, don't know anything else, but they're gone."
Bruce's shock rapidly gave way to anger, greater than anything he could ever remember. Dent dead, Rachel almost killed, the Joker free again!
Batman went to the Batpod, mounted it, and savagely drove it away. The next time I see him, I'm going to kill him.