Alright, so obviously this took far longer than I intended. At least you get a REALLY long chapter. Some of the scenes really took me awhile to feel out. You have no idea how much I tweaked and retweaked things so they'd convey what I wanted them too. Hell, even now I'm a little conflicted about some of it. Let me know what you think.
As always, feel free to leave a review. I'm always curious what you guys think and what questions you may have. They'll all get answered. I always enjoy interacting with you guys.
A/N: I don't own Batman or any other character affiliated with DC Comics.
The Lieutenant coughed roughly, bathed in the clinging dust as he covered his mouth, fighting to regain his footing by pushing off the dirty pavement he'd hugged as soon as that cloud of dust came barreling down the alley toward him. Stumbling on something unseen in the swirling haze he managed to rise to his knees, straining to make out shapes and silhouettes through the debris. Somewhere the sick son-of-a-bitch responsible for all this was still out there. And that man was going to have to deal with him. Far as he was concerned that simply meant a single pull of the trigger.
At some point he made the mistake of catching a glimpse out the end of the alley where there was a conspicuous lack of a dark silhouette through the haze. Of course he knew it wouldn't be there, but still...
It was gone. Just like that it was gone. The building, the people, the resources...hell, it'd been standing for more than a century without so much as a scratch. A beacon to law and order in a city that all too often scoffed at the notion of such things. And it had been brought crumbling to its knees by some lunatic in some goddamned face paint.
More than that, its walls and its people were all the home and all the family Harvey had in this world. It was his life. Yeah, the Joker and him were gonna have some words. That's for damn sure. Gordon would...
And all too suddenly Bullock realized there hadn't been an accompanying gunshot alongside the blast. He'd just assumed...
Awkwardly, his injuries and disorientation betraying him, Harvey swung back the opposite way, his weapon coming around steadily, trailing his eyes by merely a fraction of a second.
With the particulates slowly settling, coating the alley in a fine brown-gray dust it wasn't that hard to find him. The Commissioner was being dragged roughly back up to his feet, his potential executioner grabbing at his collar with one hand with the assault rifle still firmly in place against the base of the older man's neck. Both men were caked in the fine dust, the Commissioner's glasses all but opaque while the other man's uniform was more beige now than black. Gordon was doing his best to struggle, but with the leverage the other man had it wouldn't last long. No telling why he hadn't already been killed. Maybe he was to be used as a hostage? Maybe it was merely a temporary oversight? Either way, it was an opening, but a damned tiny one.
The Lieutenant brought himself up to one knee, trying to widen his base so he'd be good and steady before pulling the trigger. The gunman might still get a shot off, but this was the best chance he was gonna get and he'd be damned if...
The Batman slammed into the masked gunman in a shadowy blur, wrenching his trigger finger until there was an audible snap as he drove the man into the ground, cutting off the pained scream that was beginning to gurgle out of his mouth. The rifle went clattering away safely, skittering well out of reach as Gordon stumbled off to one side, the momentum knocking him clear of the entire struggle. Not that it was much of a struggle. No sooner had both men reached pavement then the armored vigilante was pressing one of his forearms into the base of the man's neck, the weakly struggling opponent going limp beneath him in a matter of seconds.
The whole thing was impossibly fast. He'd certainly heard plenty about what the Batman could do. That night at the precinct he'd even seen a little of it, but watching that...well, it was just downright impressive.
And maybe more than a little scary.
Already the man in black was rolling away though, coming up in a swirl of cape facing Second Street, his arms tucked under the flowing fabric and out of site. Bullock snapped himself back to the moment and adjusted himself accordingly, coming back around as well as he too looked for the other two criminals.
Like everyone else, they were dirty and coated in the remnants of the once great building, blending slightly into the surroundings of the alley simply due to the fact that everything was now roughly the same neutral hue. Even in the odd, filtered lighting the Lieutenant could still make out the man's grotesque smile though.
The Joker had retreated towards the end of the alley, still backing slowly but seemingly unhurriedly away and flanked by Quinzel on his right. She just stared darkly out from under the hood of the paramedic's hat she still wore, her now infamous empty grin accompanying lifeless eyes as she continued to twirl the belt of explosives at her side roughly, heedless of the danger that posed. The attention of both was squarely on the most recent arrival though, the Joker's eyes practically gleaming with unrestrained amusement at seeing the vigilante again.
"And here you...are." The scarred man laughed hoarsely, his smile again pulling grotesquely at the sides of his mouth. "Never one to disappoint, are you? A man after my own heart. So glad you could make it."
The Batman remained silent, crouched and tensed as he glared at the Joker twenty yards away. Then he rose, his arms remaining shrouded beneath his cape as he took a menacing step forward.
"Ah, ah, ah..." The Joker matched the step backward, holding up a finger in warning before looking to his tiny compatriot. Quinzel just cocked her head, never even seeming to notice his attention. The Batman did though, looking back at Bullock for the slightest of seconds before coming to a stop.
For a fleeting time there was an eerie quiet pervading the alley. Sounds were already weirdly distorted from all the fine particles hanging in the air and coating everything. Even the drone of the police sirens seemed subdued and drowned out. Almost like it was coming from some other, distant world.
Harvey quietly maneuvered himself around the makeshift cover he'd found for himself, stepping as lightly as possible down one side of the alley. His footsteps still sounded like thunder in the silence, making him flinch with each stride. The Joker and his little minion never seemed to notice though.
Never blinking, the clown eventually shrugged, running the tip of his tongue slowly over his bottom lip as he continued to study the armored vigilante. "Not one for small talk I see," he tried, his voice soft within the confined quarters. "Guess some things never change." Then he smiled "Though your own actions speak plenty, don't they?" He shook his head in feigned sympathy, clicking his tongue against his teeth. "Just. Like. Last time. Letting another...innocent group of people die because you wouldn't make the hard..."
The vigilante took another step forward, his rough, grating words carrying over the other man's clearly. "It ends tonight," he promised.
The Joker just smiled once again, his expression clearly unperturbed by the vigilante's threat as he angled his face to look at the vigilante out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, but I don't think that's up to you, is it?" he murmured. Then he looked directly at Bullock. That brought the Lieutenant up short. He knew he wasn't exactly gonna sneak up on the two of them, but the way the clown looked at you was just damned unnerving. Almost like he was picturing you in your casket. But, just as quickly the murderer glanced away, looking pointedly at Quinzel again where she cheerfully spun the grenades around above her head in a wide looping arch. "Ah...not unless you'd like to add to tonight's little...spectacle."
"You've got nowhere to run freak," Bullock roared, taking a step forward again as the two murderers retreated back down the alley further, his weapon centered on the smaller man's torso. "And I don't need much more of an excuse if you get what I'm sayin'."
"Oh, Lieutenant," The Joker smirked and shrugged at the Lieutenant. "No, you already had all the chance in the world. I gave you that and what did you do with it? Hmm? And now you think I'm just gonna hand over another one? Yeah. I'm thinking I'll...ah...take my chances from here on out." Harvey felt his finger close over the gun's trigger, the pressure slowly building on as it inched millimeter by millimeter back. "But not to leave you without a parting gift..."
Quinzel's childlike smile widened and she reached back.
At the same time the Batman's hand shot out from under his cape, the strange, dim light reflecting off several black objects as he loosed a group of small, dagger-like flechettes. Covering the distance in the blink of an eye, two of the sharpened projectiles impacted the diminutive woman as her arm arched forward. She made no sound as they buried themselves in the meat of her forearm, but the grenades jarred loose at an unexpected angle all the same, still heading in the police officers' direction, but going to fall well short of their intended target now. Halfway there the string finally pulled taut, the steel pins pulling free of the small oblong shapes as they tumbled through space.
The damned shrapnel they'd send flying could certainly still make a mess of things though.
"Everybody down!" the Lieutenant bellowed, diving to the side and trying to scramble back for any cover available. At almost the same time he heard shouts of alarm from others in the group, themselves stumbling to try and get out of the blast range as well. Only the Batman stood his ground, freeing his other hand from within his cape in the same motion that he followed through after the flechettes and firing a tether at a rusty, graffiti coated steel dumpster lining the alley wall as the explosives sailed through the air.
Belted together the whole contraption clattered to the ground less than ten yards away from the Lieutenant and the Batman.
With a groan, the metal refuse bin lurched forward a few inches, its old wheels fighting years of rust and weathering. A second impossibly strong heave on the wire finally rolled it out into place almost halfway into the alleyway between the buildings, the grenades impacting with a dull thud against the far side of it after rolling several feet.
Then the Batman was diving away for Gordon, pulling him roughly to the ground and blanketing him with his own body and cape as the explosion rocked the alleyway.
Even from his position behind
The dumpster absorbed most of the blast, turning the the rigid, geometric steel bin into a tangle of blackened, jagged metal. Shrapnel still managed to punch through in places, leaving it pitted with similar gouges cut into the concrete and brick of the walls to either side. Within the enclosure itself something managed to catch fire from the burst of excessive heat, obscuring some of the far half of the alley from the officers as Bullock rose heavily to his knees, quickly taking stock of the aftermath.
Some of the deadly metal fragments from the grenade casing had made it past the crude barrier the Batman had created. Probably shooting out beneath it through the narrow slit separating its bottom from the ground.
One tactical officer was holding his arm, his dark clothing already slick with blood, but he was mobile and conscious. A good sign despite the obvious signs of extreme pain on his face. Another plain clothes detective had a deep cut on his scalp behind his hairline, the blood already being held back by a crimson stained handkerchief that was being pressed against it. Besides that it seemed to be little more than scrapes and bruises. Hell, if that was all they'd sustained it was a damned miracle. Group of explosives like that could have killed and maimed a whole hell of a lot of them.
To his left the Batman came swirling back up as well, his black cape billowing around him as he rose into the dust and smoke. The Commissioner sat up slowly at his feet, propping himself on his elbows as he looked first up at the masked vigilante and then past him toward what he could see of the alley and Second Street. Bullock followed suit, his jaw clenching in anger as he peered through the haze.
There was no sign of the Joker or his little lackey. Only empty alleyway leading out to the city's street.
Stumbling again, the Lieutenant pushed up to his feet, the Batman's glance flickering over for the briefest of moments. Harvey just nodded to him, his chin moving only a tiny amount as he allowed himself the one momentary sign of grudging respect for the man. He had just saved all their bacon despite the tragedy going on at Police Plaza.
"Go," he muttered darkly under his breath. "Get the little prick."
He was too far away for his softly spoken words to carry, but the Batman allowed one more fleeting look down at Gordon before tearing off down the alley, hurtling fluidly over the twisted metal heap blocking the way and through the dancing tongues of fire. A minute later he almost seemed to fly up into the night, his cape spread tautly out behind him as he rose like a shot into the darkness before disappearing from view over the top of one of the nearby buildings.
The Lieutenant sank back down heavily on the dirty crates, feeling the weariness and injuries seep back into his bones from the long night. Slowly, the others were getting up as well, some assisting the wounded and some heading back out to the mouth of the alley to begin seeing to the disaster outside. Montoya helped up the Commissioner, the older man favoring his ankle a little, but stubbornly shaking her off once he was standing. Together the two stared off in the direction the Batman and the Joker had headed.
"Come on," the Commissioner finally said, directing his attention to Bullock. He let out a long sigh, rubbing his forehead gingerly as Montoya continued forward. "Lot to do." He allowed a grim look back towards the piles of rubble beginning to emerge from the dust as it continued to settle. "Lot to do and I'm gonna need you Harvey. I'm gonna need everyone." Then he looked off vacantly where the Joker had once stood. "We're gonna need to get some people on this. Need to find him before he manages to do anything else."
Bullock met the older man's eyes and nodded before turning back towards Second Street himself.
"Think the best man's already working on it."
It was late. Or early depending on how you looked at it. Within the dark confines of the cave it was all relative, the gradual change of the level of diffused light visible through the roaring waterfall at the cave's entrance the only indication of the progression of time in the outside world.
Selina cupped the hot mug with both hands, inhaling the vapors coming off the hot liquid and using it to fend off the chill and dampness as she stood near the edge of the main platform, staring out at the roiling water. Occasionally she took a sip, letting Alfred continue working quietly off to the side at one of the workstations.
They were both tired. Hell, Bruce had to be damn near exhausted then at this point, scouring the city for hours after the Joker blew up the GCPD's headquarters building. With the coming daylight he'd have to come in though. Have to get some rest. Or whatever he considered rest. There'd be nothing else he could do besides be conspicuous out on the streets of Gotham during broad daylight. The clown was gone for now. No amount of aimless searching was going to change that. What they needed was a plan of attack. They needed to concentrate and figure out where to go from here. Cause she sure as hell didn't have a clue.
Selina arched a well manicured eyebrow at that as she took another sip of the dark coffee.
And when the hell had I become we to her?
A beeping from one of the nearby consoles alerted the two of them that Bruce was nearby, the cave's proximity warning meant to allow anyone in the wrong place to get away from the splashdown area should the billionaire choose to make use of that entrance.
Twenty seconds later he arrived, doing exactly that.
Just by the way the vehicle slammed through the waterfall, sending spray careening out across the lower level and garage you could tell the state of mind Bruce was in. It was almost like he was taking out his anger and frustrations on the sheet of water itself, blasting it to bits rather than take the tunnel entry as she'd seen him do before when he was in less of a mood. With the water still sloshing violently over the rocks in the lower basin the engine gunned again, growling darkly as it climbed the low, uneven slope up to the metal grating of the garage floor.
Not that she could especially blame him for being hurt and frustrated. They were all feeling a certain, sobering sadness over the night's events. A feeling of failure and powerlessness. Alfred especially had been hard on himself immediately following the blast. Insisting that he should have been faster in powering up the Wraith's electronic countermeasures and disabling the remote. Adamant that he should have been able to do something. For now he was just silently going about his duties though, bringing the drone in for the day as well.
Selina had a much more...realistic perspective on the matter. Of course she was saddened by the events. She was only human. But, they'd tried, hadn't they? Hell, they'd been the only ones that had really, truly tried. Right? Just the three of them. Yeah, maybe they'd failed in the end, but coming as close as they had to averting disaster had to count for something. Lives had still been saved because of them. Certainly those that weren't were tragic, but it was already time to put that in the past and get the job done. Spending her life on the uncertain, unforgiving streets of some of America's worst cities since a young age had taught her that lesson. No time to dwell on the past when the present and future looked almost as bleak.
For once in her life Selina knew better than to say anything though as Bruce slid out of the giant black vehicle and stormed to the stairs that ascended up to the computer stations. He never even glanced at her or Alfred, bypassing her completely where she stood near the top of the steps overlooking the rest of the cave.
The look on his face, or what she could see of his mouth and eyes, only served to reinforce her initial gut instinct. This was not a man willing to listen to reason at the moment. Even words of support or condolence would only serve to exacerbate him, falling on assuredly deaf ears and perhaps even inflaming things all over again. Alfred too seemed at a loss, watching his charge carefully out of the corner of his eye, but otherwise staying mute as he worked through the complicated procedures to bring the Wraith back into the cave for a safe landing.
See, this was why she wasn't girlfriend material. This right here. She never knew what to say in a situation like this. Never knew what someone really needed to feel or hear. Though then again, did any girlfriend? A situation like this wasn't exactly in the manual.
And why the hell was she thinking of herself in these terms?
Bruce didn't sit down though. He activated a runtime on the computers, downloading all the local camera footage...media, traffic, private security...for review and then stayed where he was, staring at the screens yet looking right through them at the same time. At his sides his fists clenched and unclenched slowly at about the same rate as his jaw, giving him the aura that he was almost pulsating with pent up rage.
When the computer beeped quietly he began typing again, slamming his fingers down on the keyboard hard as he set it to search and filter the collected data for anything bearing a resemblance to the Joker.
The Wraith roaring through the waterfall finally broke up the uncomfortable silence, the steady whine of it's turbofans kicking up a spray of water and sending swirling winds around the rest of the cave as it entered into a hover over its normal berth. Noiselessly the landing struts engaged, unfolding and lowering from the angular shell as it came to a rest on the concrete, its fans already folding up and out of the way as they steadily came to a stop.
Selina glanced at Alfred to see him closing up the control suite and removing the large earphones he'd been wearing, but he was focused on Bruce, watching the younger man with concern.
"No speeches, Alfred."
The butler pursed his lips for a split second before stepping forward. "Merely wondering if you or Miss Kyle would fancy something to eat," he said. "None of us has had anything in a great while now and I think we'd all operate better with full stomachs."
Bruce didn't look at him. "Not hungry."
Selina finally found her voice, stepping up next to the billionaire's eldest friend. "Bruce..." she managed.
He shifted and looked at her for the first time since getting back to the cave, his eyes boring beneath her skin to the point she almost took a step back. It's not that they held anger for her, just...she'd never seen that look before. Like he'd been broken a bit and was blaming the world at large. There was a hardness she hadn't expected out of the man that had held her so softly and spoken so openly at times. Obviously she knew him as the Batman. Just not this Batman.
"Just..." She glanced over at Alfred. The man had known Bruce a hell of a lot longer than she had, but he didn't give any indication that he would intervene. Was this actually new territory for him too? She looked back where the billionaire was still staring at her. "Just..." she said finally, motioning between herself and Alfred, "just...what can we do?"
His gaze didn't waver for a second, moving back and forth between the two others in the cave before his shoulders sagged almost imperceptibly, his eyes softening the slightest bit. Then he turned back to the keyboard, staring at it like it held some sort of answer for what needed to come next.
"With the rescue and clean-up operations Gordon's hands are too full to have time to discuss anything for now," he began quietly. At least for now this wasn't the Batman's voice though his cowl still obstructed the man's features. Selina chose to take that as a good sign. "So, any attempt to find the Joker will be on us. For now anyway. I'm sure the MCU will be following up on it as well, but they're even more undermanned now after everything that just happened." He shook his head the slightest bit. "I don't think we can count on their assistance." Bruce finally looked up towards the screens at Alfred's work station, watching as fire crews clambered over the still smoking rubble of what once was the police headquarters. "The...crime scene is too much for me to break down and analyze by myself," he admitted. "We'll have to let them handle it. Keep tabs on the medical examiner and crime scene services so we get any information as they do. Until we have more all I can come up with is reviewing this stuff." He gestured again at the search engine and facial recognition software cycling through hours upon hours of digital video before sighing and hanging his head again, dropping heavily into the cushioned chair behind him. "And this isn't enough."
Selina allowed herself to move forward, placing a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to be reassuring. This was still new territory, but she at least had to try. The billionaire didn't react to her touch or look up to her.
"You're blaming yourself," she said.
"That's because it was my fault."
"No. No it wasn't. So, stop it. Okay? Cause now that's over and you need to catch the son-of-a-bitch that's actually responsible."
When there was no response she settled her other hand on the opposite shoulder standing behind him where she could rest her forehead against the top of his. Maybe if forcefulness failed she needed to try something softer. "Hey," Selina tried a little awkwardly. "It happened, but it's over. It was horrible, but it's over. You did everything you could, alright? We all did. There was no way to know that maniac would just show up out of the blue and do that. Okay? You did everything you could."
She let the silence hang over them then, unsure what to say next. Right before she looked over again to Alfred for help Bruce stirred.
"Tell that to them," he whispered, still watching the news. Selina didn't have a response to that, standing quietly by and watching Bruce as he continued to stare past her at the morbid videos displayed on the screens. "I could have stopped him," he said quietly. "I should have stopped him. Because it's not over. It'll never be over with him"
Alfred sighed and stepped forward then, shaking his head sadly. "Master Wayne, you and I both..."
"You weren't there. You don't know how close I was. How easily I could have..."
"Nonetheless, It's not your fault," the older man interrupted, "and you shouldn't..."
Bruce's fists slamming down into the desktop hard enough to rattle the keyboards and send a sheath of files flying was enough to startle Selina, making her take a step back as the billionaire shot up out of the chair.
"Dammit, it is my fault!" he shouted at his butler, facing his old friend before just as suddenly turning and storming down the raised walkway away from the two of them. Halfway to the workshop he seemed to change his mind, turning and facing out over the cave as he gripped the railing, twisting his hands around the smooth steel in frustration and anger. "Don't you get it? I sat there and just watched! Watched! He killed hundreds and I did absolutely nothing!"
"But, you didn't do nothing, did you?" the older man tried. "No one did nothing. And you can't blame yourself for something he did. You didn't kill anyone. You didn't push the button. He did. It was always him. You cannot allow the dead to become your burden because if you blame yourself for their deaths than where will it stop? You'll make the lives of everyone in this city your personal responsibility when they're not."
"But, I didn't do enough to stop him," Bruce growled. Before Alfred could rebut him again, the young man changed tacks, still standing halfway down the steel walkway. "The whole reason I became...this, the whole reason I do it all is to prevent things exactly like this from ever happening. Dammit, I wanted to help people! Save them. Make a better city. Not be a party to mass murder." He gripped the railing hard again, shaking his head as he stared off towards the raging waterfall at the far wall. "Tell me, Alfred," he said in a quieter, more even voice, "are things even better since the Batman? Has Gotham improved at all or have I just managed to make things worse? Am I exactly the cancer I was trying to eradicate? Cause right now I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel."
The butler looked thoughtful for a second before walking softly down the walkway himself, moving to stand a few feet away from his charge facing out towards the cave as well. "It may be difficult to see right now," the older man acknowledged, "but yes, this city is in a better place because of you." Bruce scoffed disbelievingly at his side. "Yes, there are still men like the Joker out there in the world and what he does is monstrous and evil and he must absolutely be stopped." Alfred sighed and bowed his head. "Unfortunately, I fear there will always be men like him walking the Earth. There will always be monsters in one shape or another. Some worse than others. But, for every one like him or Crane there is also a James Gordon or a Harvey Bullock. Men that share your belief that Gotham can still be fixed and that's it's worth fighting for." Bruce finally looked over at him, his eyes still angry, but finally showing that he was also listening. "You see, there's a foundation here, sir," Alfred continued, speaking slowly, but nodding to himself. "One you've helped to take seed. When you came back into the world of the living you once spoke of the corruption and deceit that ran Gotham. So, tell me...are they still running them now? Or are they gone alongside names like Maroni and Falcone and Flass. You yourself once said that you wanted to inspire the people of this city and then you flushed people like them out and made it impossible for them to stay in power." He looked at the billionaire with gentle eyes before standing up straight and facing Bruce. "You have people fighting alongside you now in trying to wrest back control, no longer content to sit idly by. You have inspired some. You've made it possible for them not to live in fear."
"Maybe," Bruce allowed, looking back towards the computer stations where Selina stood. He couldn't see them from where he stood, but she knew he was referencing the news footage that was still playing. "But maybe they should have still been afraid."
"Perhaps," the butler replied. "But they'd have kept fighting all the same. That's what you've shown everyone. That there's still hope. You said yourself this was never going to be easy, didn't you?" Bruce looked again at Alfred who shook his head sadly. "And I'm afraid you were right. It's not. But is the potential this city holds worth the fight? Because now it's about winning the war. Now it's about showing the monsters that you and those like you will never back down. Because they're looking for weakness and you can't allow them to find any."
Sadly, Bruce smiled the tiniest bit, glancing up at his old friend after a second. "You still believe in me," he said.
The two just looked out over the cave for a few quiet seconds while Selina fidgeted silently. Awkward didn't even begin to cut it. It was like she was watching a moment she had no part of participating in. Hesitantly, unsure if she was inserting herself where she didn't belong she stepped forward to the edge of the walkway before sitting back against the railing several feet away from the two men.
"I made the wrong decision," Bruce said at last to his friend. "I made the wrong call and people paid for it. I'm second guessing myself. Second guessing my actions, my choices..."
"But, how am I supposed to trust myself right now? Why am I the one that should be making these types of choices? I mean, just look at the results tonight."
"Because no one wants these choices," the older man replied. "Not willingly. But, you put yourself into a position that now you have to make them. And you're strong enough." He rested a wrinkled hand on the young man's shoulder. "I know you," Alfred said. "I know that you would have traded your life for theirs if necessary. That you'd do whatever had to be done to save lives and to succeed. You made the decision you thought best. Not because you were a coward or because you hesitated or put your own well being before there's, but because it was the right decision at the time. You didn't kill them..."
"No, but I could have stopped it," Bruce said more forcefully, anger again tinging his voice the slightest bit. "If I'd gone down into that alley rather than sitting and waiting...at the very least I could have bought us more time." He hung his head, eyes fixed on his hand as he flexed his fingers. "At the worst I could have taken out Joker directly and saved everyone. I could have done that fast enough."
"And Commissioner Gordon would most likely be dead and the building may still have been destroyed despite your best efforts. There's no way of knowing what may have happened should we have made different choices. At least the Commissioner is still alive and those that could evacuate were able to. It's a small consolation, I know, but..."
"I just...I thought I had more time. I thought we had at least five or ten more seconds, you know?"
Selina stepped forward, moving to Bruce's other side where she slid her fingers through his. He didn't look over, but squeezed the tiniest bit. She knew he wasn't going to really feel it through the thick armor of his gloves. Not the warmth and softness of it anyways. But, he'd still know.
"We all thought we still had time," she said.
Bruce just nodded, still facing away from her. But, he didn't make her remove her hand either. Guess that was something. When she moved her hands to his cowl he similarly didn't flinch, allowing Selina to unlatch it and lift it free to reveal matted, sweat stained hair, a grimy face, and tired, bloodshot eyes.
Selina placed it gently on the ground, taking his hand up again when she was back at his side.
"Ya know," she started, "I hesitated coming to Gotham when Holly's trail led here." Both Bruce and Alfred looked at her. Selina just rested her free hand on the railing and watched the waterfall crash and churn against the dark rocks. "First time that had happened. I'd never had second thoughts before, but you don't know the reputation this city has." She looked up at the man at her side. "You don't know the reputation that you have. Trust me, that alone has made this town safer."
"You still came," he pointed out.
She smiled. "Yeah, but I'm certifiable. I make doing dumb things into some kind of an art form." Selina shrugged. "Besides, I had a plan in case I ever ran into you." At her side Bruce cocked an eyebrow in question and she winked. "Seduce you." Silently she felt his body shake the slightest bit as he laughed quietly. Even Alfred was smiling again. "Hey, it worked didn't it?"
Alfred detached himself from their little group and moved off, back towards the computers. Selina watched him from the other side of Bruce, wondering if she could admit the next part to him.
"Okay, I'll kill you if you ever mention this again to anyone, but..." She swallowed hard. Damn she was bad at this stuff. Was this always the way it'd been? "But...but being here...seeing all this...seeing what you do and what that takes. Well, I never thought I'd see someone fighting this hard for people that they'd never even met, you know? I mean, it's...inspiring I guess. You know what I do and where I come from. So, when I say that it's not something I say lightly."
Bruce just continued to watch her. After a second she began to squirm.
"Oh, shut up," she finally managed.
The billionaire smiled slightly again before squeezing her hand a final time and setting off back towards the collection of monitors, the metal decking clanging along beneath his boots.
"We need the identity of Gordon's attacker," he said offhandedly, speaking to both she and Alfred as he settled back into the rolling chair he'd so violently vacated a few minutes earlier. "Police will scan and run his fingerprints. Let's do the same on our end." He shifted slightly, drumming the fingers of one hand on the armrest. "We'll have results quicker. It's a long shot, but with any luck we might be able to follow any trails leading back from him and maybe discover a link to the Joker."
To one side, Selina noticed Alfred typing something in, setting the backdoor into the Gotham Police's systems to notify them once the forensics had been entered.
Bruce didn't notice, his eyes closed as his brain worked furiously. "Also ought to take a look at Quinzel again," he admitted. "Get a fresh perspective going through her records." Finally his eyes opened and he shrugged heavily before glancing at his butler. "We didn't know she had the weapons before. What else could we have missed? Maybe there's more to look at? Properties? Someplace the Joker could use as a safe haven?"
Alfred nodded slowly, likely running things through his own head as well while Selina looked on. "And what of the Joker's knowledge of the existence of the sub basement?" Bruce looked down, his brow tightening as he churned through that particular piece of the puzzle for himself, working out the implications.
It was obviously significant. It took some real digging to find out that it was even there. Hell, they'd pretty much just lucked into discovering it in the end. Bruce would very likely have still been in that building when it crumbled, if not for her shot in the dark. So, how had a lunatic figured it out? For her part Selina just arched an eyebrow though at the old man and waited for his further explanation, content to stay silent for now.
Alfred frowned, deep in thought, but continued aloud anyway. "He knew of a place that very few others do," he reasoned. "Even with the proper information we almost missed it. And most aren't hardwired into the city's systems the way we are."
"You're thinking that he may have accessed blueprints for the building," Bruce stated.
"Well, you don't simply collapse a building as old and stout as that without some research or forethought."
"But, he used Nigma's bomb," Selina pointed out. "He wasn't forced to figure that all out for himself. It'd already been done for him."
Bruce nodded, but inclined his head thoughtfully all the same as he continued staring at the desktop in front of him before suddenly leaning forward, typing rapidly. "Doesn't mean he hadn't already done the legwork though. It sounded to me like he stumbled on it. Like it was just dumb luck. But, if he was down there in the first place there must have been a reason." Bruce sat back again and looked at Alfred. "He's been stealing explosives over the past few months, right? A lot of them. So, what if he intended to bring down Police Plaza too? What if that's why he was down there in the first place? He may have been looking to hit the same structural points Nigma was."
"Possible," Alfred said, looking less than convinced. "Still, it's a stretch."
Selina had to concede the point to the billionaire though. As farfetched as it sounded for the Joker to intricately plan much of anything; if he knew about the sub basement at all then it probably followed that he'd had plans for it and been actively looking for...something. Given the fact that he was also a mass murdering lunatic maybe that meant he'd already planned out how to destroy the building himself. Before he'd found Nigma's bomb anyway. Selina pursed her lips, ignoring whatever the two men were discussing. Of course, it was a bit of a gamble to pursue that, but it wasn't like they had a lot of other solid leads at the moment. Everything at this point was a bit of a shot in the dark. At least here there would be records pertaining to the city's blueprints. You couldn't just waltz in and have a look like Bruce and Alfred seemed to be able to. Too easy for an undesirable to gain valuable intel.
Not for the first time Selina had to appreciate what the treasure trove of data at their fingertips could mean for her less than legal nighttime activities. Not that she'd betray Bruce's trust of course, but the possibilities were near limitless. And damned enticing. Too bad.
"Alright," the billionaire continued, oblivious to her inner musings, "so we'll check city records. Compile a list of those who have accessed building schematics either digitally or in person. He'd have to have done it under an alias or something, but we can use security footage to narrow it down once we've identified anyone that seems out of place. Alfred," he asked, glancing back at his old friend finally, "think you can take that and run with it?"
The Englishman looked like he wanted to say something more. Knowing him it was probably concerning his charge's eating and sleeping habits rather than the assignment itself, but he bit his lip and nodded once, saying, "Of course, sir." Apparently he'd been encountering this particular immovable object before and knew to pick his battles. Hell, they'd probably been butting heads as long as the Batman had been in existence. If not before.
For the first time since he'd gotten back to the cave Bruce seemed like he was back on a mission. He still looked terrible, tired and beaten, but at least for now he didn't look like he was going to sink further into himself.
"Selina," he said, "I'd also like you to take another look at the blueprints for Police Plaza. Check out the old plans again more thoroughly. You're looking for other access points. Other staircases, sewer or subway access, loading zones...whatever. The Joker sure didn't come in through the lobby so let's find out how he got in there. Maybe that'll lead to something we can run with."
She nodded, but rested a hand on his shoulder, rubbing it down towards the shoulder blade. The man had to be barely holding together. She herself hadn't left either the mansion or cave in well over thirty-six hours, more than thirty of which had been spent awake and she was past exhausted. The level of concentration Selina and Alfred had been putting forth combined with the time made for a draining mix. How Bruce was still going strong despite far more exertion was beyond her. Still, that didn't change the fact that it couldn't go on forever. Maybe a new voice would actually convince him to listen to a little reason.
"Don't you think some of this can wait?" she tried, moving her hand softly back and forth. He tensed immediately, muscles turning hard beneath her touch and causing her to remove her hands, holding them up defensively. "We're gonna miss stuff with the state we're in. All of us. Now I don't know about you, but I know me and Alfred could used some rest. Which means you've gotta be almost dead on your feet."
"I'm fine," was all he said.
"Saying it and it being true are two completely different things."
Bruce turned to look up at her, glaring a little before glancing at Alfred too. "Then go. Get some sleep. I'll meet you back here."
Her hands closed into fists. Christ he could be so damn obstinate. "That's not what I meant and you know it. I..."
Her fingers were sticky. When she'd gone to make a fist three of them on her right hand had the slightest of pull on one another, causing her to look down. Three of her fingers we stained red, the dark blood extending down to the upper part of her palm, already drying on her skin.
She looked in surprise back at the young billionaire as he continued to watch her evenly.
"Bruce," she yelled at him, holding up her hand. "Jesus! You're bleeding."
Far from being upset at the discovery he just nodded to himself, glancing at the viscous red liquid before him before turning back towards the monitors. "Shrapnel. From the grenades," was all he said by way of explanation. "It's fine."
To Selina's right Alfred was already walking forward to look his charge over, a sad look pulling at the corner's of his mouth. No way could this have been the first time he'd had to see this. But still...
"Like hell it is," she shot back.
The billionaire eyed Selina again, matching her challenging look, but not saying a word.
"Alright. You want to be mothered? Fine. First, you need that looked at," she began, counting each point off on her fingers as she made them. It probably helped that her fingers had his blood on them. Well, that fact couldn't have hurt her cause anyway. "Then we'll talk about food and sleep. Listen, I get that you have a deathwish or whatever the hell this is, but this affects other people. Alright? People that are gonna have to depend on you and having you dead on your feet tomorrow won't do anybody any good. Not when the Joker's ready to blow up another building and not if it gets you killed as a result."
He stared right back at her, but Selina willed herself not to blink. "Alfred can stitch me up," Bruce said simply. Selina stood her ground, returning his look further until finally he blinked. "And I'll eat something after that, but down here. Sleep can wait for a bit longer. At least until we have everything processing and ready to go."
She wanted to fight more, to get him upstairs and out of the damn cave, but a look from Alfred stopped her short. The butler actually looked impressed, smiling warmly at her, but shaking his head the tiniest bit. Not wanting to press her luck she conceded that small victory to Bruce, saying, "Fine," and turning to watch as the older man headed down the stairs for the infirmary after whatever tools he'd need to tend to his young charge's wounds.
A minute later Selina was delicately helping remove part of the armor on Bruce's shoulder blade when he returned, carrying a small case of medical equipment. Without a word he slid the nearest chair over, settling into it and dropping the tray of medical supplies on the counter. Nearby, the elevator sprang into action at the same time grinding and groaning loudly as it began slowly lowering from the manor above.
Everyone froze, Selina still hovering over Bruce and holding a piece of the armor delicately.
Both men looked at each other immediately both expressions seeking to question the other one. When the older man simply arched an eyebrow the billionaire shook his head, moving to stand in the same motion despite missing a portion of the plates on his back. Selina didn't really need any further explanation. Obviously neither man was expecting anyone. She glanced toward the ancient, towering brick archways built into the walls of bare rock where the steel trusses of the lift could be seen. Which left what then?
Without a word Bruce reached for the cowl, smoothly snapping it back into place over his head as he rose, his hands hands going to his belt for...something as he strode away. She and Alfred stayed back, working their way around the side into the brick arcade as the lower portion of the car began to come into view. Without her gear and suit she wasn't as much help as she'd otherwise be. She could still fight, sure, but without her claws and Kevlar it wouldn't take nearly as much to bring her down and she didn't have nearly the bite. Another conversation she and Bruce were going to be revisiting. And soon if she had anything to say about it. He still had yet to provide her with an adequate reason for her belongings being gone beyond "it's a surprise." She'd come up the side, trying to use the shadows beneath the brick arcade for cover and flank whoever was on their way down should they overpower Bruce.
His entire body tensed and ready, Bruce stood tall before the elevator's exit, the awkward angle and his bulk blocking them from seeing much of anything inside as it creaked and wheezed into view. Silently she darted to another of the bulky pillars, edging around just enough to see Bruce. So, it was the sudden relaxation of his posture that had her all the more curious.
Silently, he turned and stalked back past them, giving Selina and Alfred their first good look at their visitor.
"Lucius?" Alfred asked, when the Wayne Enterprises CEO stepped out, closing the safety gate behind him.
Fox made a slight gesture towards one of the monitors of Alfred's station visible from the exit of the elevator. It still showed a news outlet's coverage of the ongoing rescue efforts at the Civic Center. "Sorry bout not calling ahead. Saw the news," he explained simply. "Figured it would be about time for all hands on deck."
Bruce didn't say anything, just sitting back down and turning back to face the monitors, removing his cowl once again only to discard it absently. Used to the billionaire's unique personality quirks Fox simply began walking down the stairs toward Alfred and Selina.
"It's been a long night," Alfred allowed, shaking the man's offered hand after Fox set down one of the rather expensive looking steel cases he was carrying.
"I gathered," he said grimly. "Imagine there's gonna be quite a few of those in the near future." Alfred nodded and turned back towards the computer stations with Lucius following close behind after retrieving his luggage. "Miss Kyle," he said, nodding welcomingly in her direction when he got to her.
"Mister Fox," she returned.
"So, I suppose a welcome is in order. About time we had a little estrogen around here if you ask me. Despite the circumstances it's nice to see you again." If he was all that surprised to see her down here he certainly didn't appear to show it. Then again, she doubted the man startled easily.
She smiled and followed both men back to the main platform and the silent billionaire busily ignoring them all.
"Thought you'd want to know," Fox continued, addressing Bruce now as they proceeded down the gangway. "I took the liberty of having Research and Development start the prep work for another system just like the one you had them produce the last time the Joker was at large." Bruce glanced up at his company's chairman at that, seemingly surprised by that bit of news though whatever it was Fox was referencing Selina hadn't a clue. The older man placed the two cases he'd arrived with down nearby before straightening up. "Now, I still don't like it and I still think it's too dangerous." He paused and watched the news feed for a brief second. "But after tonight...well..."
"Thank you," Bruce whispered. Fox just nodded quietly. "When?"
"That's the thing. Too long I'm afraid," Fox replied, frowning. "Since we destroyed the original specifications alongside the prototype they're essentially starting from scratch. Two weeks at the most. Figure a week and a half if we have them work around the clock."
"Make it a week and a half."
Lucius nodded, smiling slyly. "Figured that's what you'd say." Bruce's gaze traveled down to his cargo for a fleeting second before flickering to Selina and then back to his father's old friend. Lucius nodded some kind of confirmation. "Figured now's as good a time as any for that too."
The billionaire settled back a moment, watching the chairman as he contemplated something before looking similarly at Selina. She just arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms in front of her. Men and their stupid games. Why couldn't they just dispel with all the cloak and dagger? Being kept in the dark was getting old. Fast. And she thought she kept a lot of secrets.
"I told you I was still thinking about it," Bruce finally said bluntly to Fox. "Not that I'd made a decision."
Alfred decided to insert himself into whatever the hell was going on, obviously also more aware of current events than Selina. "I believe the decision was made for you tonight whether you like it or not. You can't go on doing this by yourself," he tried. "And I think you know that."
Bruce shook his head without turning to look back at the older man. "I'm not having this conversation with you again, Alfred. Not right now. Not after tonight." There was an obvious current of tension and exhaustion lacing Bruce's every word and move as he settled into the computer chair, throwing his cape roughly over the back. Even without knowing him as the other two men in the cave did, Selina knew he'd never back down. No matter how worn down he was. It wasn't pride so much as it was stubbornness. He literally felt he had to. To him, it was the only way.
"The Batman has to be greater than a few late nights," Bruce finished, seeming to put Selina's exact thoughts about his psyche into words. "You know that."
"Yes, but it's not just a few late nights, is it?" Alfred said, coming around to stand at the younger man's side. Bruce didn't look up at him. "You've been putting yourself through the wringer for weeks on end now without a pause. You've been facing every mob and gang in Gotham, along with this Riddler character, and Miss Isley for...months. And now the Joker again. If you push yourself any farther you might very easily not come back one night. And how would the legend of the Batman go then?" Bruce glanced tiredly up at his butler at that, his bloodshot eyes betraying him despite the steel in his words. "How would its symbol be remembered? What good could he inspire in Gotham if he failed?"
"What do you want from me?" Bruce asked softly. He pivoted back to the computer monitors and began entering a line of text in a search window. "Alfred, I can't just take a vacation when things are at their worst. Hundreds died tonight. Do you really expect me to rest after that?"
That had the older man momentarily stumped. Eventually he rested a wrinkled old hand on his charge's armored shoulder pad. "I don't presume to know what the right answer to any of this is. I doubt anyone does. What I do know is that you can't go on this way with the way things have been going. It won't end well. There are people that don't wish that for you." Alfred looked straight back at her, his gaze solemn, sending her an unspoken question.
Like he was asking her permission.
Selina swallowed. When she'd come to this town things had been so simple. No attachments, no responsibilities, only the mission and her revenge. It was all her life had been for years. So, how had things gotten so damned muddied and complicated all of a sudden? How was it she was now being asked to be a good guy? I mean, shit, she was no hero. Not even close. And they expected her to help him? The guy that every criminal the world over had at least heard about.
She swallowed again. No. It was for Bruce she told herself. They were asking her to help Bruce. The Batman was just a coincidence. Of course, either way there was no going back. Saying yes had consequences. Big ones. It made for even more complications and put that simple existence and straightforward mission all the further away.
But, how was she supposed to say no?
Selina surprised herself when she nodded. "What if," Alfred said, still looking at her, but addressing Bruce, "for once, you actually accepted someone else's help?"
Bruce looked back up at his oldest friend's face and then followed the man's eyes to Selina.
"You have allies," Alfred continued, indicating himself and Fox. She knew that extended to the Commissioner and possibly others she was unaware of as well. Apparently he was also including her on that small list. Something told her that was more significant than she could imagine. The butler looked at Lucius Fox and nodded. "You've chosen to extend your trust. Why not take it a step further."
Bruce's eyes never left her.
Normally she'd probably have smiled demurely or cocked her head the slightest bit as if to say, "You know you need me." Her attitude was one of her defense mechanisms. Hell, under some circumstances she'd probably have even winked. But, not tonight. Coolly she just continued to meet his stare.
"She's not ready for this."
"Sir, I doubt very seriously if anyone is really ready for this. That doesn't negate the fact that she can help. That she wants to help."
Bruce squeezed his eyes shut as though he were willing himself to find patience. "Alfred, Rachel..."
"Wanted to help this city just as much as you did," the butler said, cutting him off. "She believed in you. Harvey Dent believed in you. They both trusted in what you're doing.?
"And look what happened to them," Bruce said darkly.
"Not because of you," the older man replied gently, but with surprising force. "Because they made a choice and took a stand. They died because they found something they felt strongly enough to fight for. Just as you have. Maybe even as she has."
She wanted to run. This was not how things were supposed to be going. She wasn't the hero. She wasn't the one to fight for what's right. Hell, she wasn't even girlfriend material.
Still, she stayed rooted to the spot.
Bruce turned his eyes back on Selina, studying her with an intensity that even she had trouble standing motionlessly against. Seriously? Why was she still here? Alberto was in Europe. That's where the trail she'd been following for more than two and a half years led and yet she was still here. She couldn't even guarantee she'd come out of this alive at the end, dammit.
But, how was she supposed to say no?
Finally, after taking way too long to come to some kind of important decision he nodded the slightest bit and turned back to his damned computer screens.
"Fine. Show her."
Alfred turned and smiled kindly to her, silently thanking her before glancing at Mister Fox.
"Mister Wayne decided to take it upon himself to lend you a hand." The older black man smiled good naturedly as he hefted the two cases to the utility table nearby, motioning her to come closer. "He had me take a look at some of the gear you've been using. See where I might be able to improve on it a little."
Selina's eyes widened and she turned to look at Bruce. He wasn't paying attention. So, he was actually...helping her? This is where it'd gone? This was the surprise? Even when he knew what her end goal was? For all he knew she would abandon him at any point and still...
"And here I thought you stole them," she said quietly, thinking back to the heated argument they'd had when she'd discovered her things missing. She'd nearly said some very terrible things. Hell, she'd been seeing red to the point that she'd very nearly hit him. Or at least tried to. She still doubted her ability to even land a strike on Bruce unless he let her. "Wasn't sure I'd get to see this stuff again."
"I told you it was a surprise." Bruce never even turned to look at her, simply continued staring at the monitors as he cycled through camera footage while Alfred cautiously removed the cape from his shoulders.
Could it really be this simple? Maybe it was her nature or her upbringing reasserting itself, but she hesitated. Everyone wanted something. Even a guy with the resources of Bruce Wayne. Nothing in this world came free.
"So, what is this then? A bribe?" she asked. That finally got his attention as he glanced back at her from the computer station. His expression though was unreadable. Selina felt her blood begin to heat, that cold simmering feeling as her fists tightened. She wasn't a trusting person. Maybe it was the fact that she did trust this man that was leading her to continually question him, expecting the double cross at any point. But, was this how it was going to be? Not a gift, but a payment? Deep down, after all this and all they'd worked through, Bruce was still just going to try and force her to fit into the hole he wanted for her? Buy her complacency. "Don't you dare think this changes anything. You can't just buy me or bribe me and expect that I'll back down from Alberto. He still answers to me for what he's done."
"I'm not trying to tell you what to do. At least this way," he gestured towards the two cases and Fox, "well, at least this way you may get to be alive at the end of it." Bruce glanced away, obviously just as uncomfortable with these moments as she was. "And maybe I'd very much like that."
There wasn't anything to say to that. Okay, so neither one of them was perfect. He was forceful and secretive and obstinate to a degree she'd never even heard of before. But, she was deceitful and mistrusting and almost just as stubborn. Christ, they were a mess. But, he'd shown her the truth, right? He'd shown her the cave and the mask and decided to help her for some insane reason. But, he'd also obviously considered not giving her things back. Yep, mess only scratched the surface of whatever the hell this was. Calling it a relationship was almost too simplistic.
But, again, she couldn't find it in her to tell him no.
When Bruce turned back around, ending the conversation, Fox unlatched the first case, quickly pulling out the suit that lay within. Her suit. Curiously she stepped forward, leaning in to look more closely.
"To be honest, you'd managed to piece together a fairly solid piece of equipment," Lucius was saying, draping the garment out across the table. "Mixture of kevlar and leather for durability and some manner of protection while also keeping it lightweight. On the arms we left that in place for the most part. I added some woven fibers of a newer, composite material in there to add to the protection level a bit without adding too much to the bulk." He turned the bodice over, bending it slightly to show its slight rigidity. "Reinforced the torso with lightweight ceramic plating beneath the fabric. A bit more...subtle than Mister Wayne's, but also nothing of the level and thickness of his suit. Should be enough to prevent any direct hits from instantly being lethal, but I wouldn't exactly recommend running out and getting yourself shot to find out. It's also resistant to fire, electricity, and most commonly used solvents."
Selina frowned, manipulating the suit between her fingers. There was a reason she'd gone with only the combination of fabrics in the first place. Her greatest assets were her stealth and agility. Additional weight and rigidity would only serve to hamper both of those skill sets. She'd chosen long ago to go with elusiveness over pure protection. Now, that was being taken away from her and she wasn't the fighter Bruce was.
She shook her head. "I'm afraid it's going to be too heavy with the plating. Once you add in the harness and tech I'm going to be weighted down too much. I need things as streamlined as possible."
Fox just smiled at her. "All told we're only looking at about two to three pounds of additional weight from your normal loadout."
Now that got her attention. Her eyebrows went up into her hairline with that one. An amount of added weight that miniscule was, well...next to nothing in the scheme of things. For the added protection it provided it was downright unbelievable. Selina picked the entire suit up, hunching over to look over the seams as she felt the heft. She could feel the small, rigid plates just beneath the surface, but without touching them you wouldn't even know they were there. The entire jumpsuit still looked perfectly smooth and streamlined to her eye as well with only the different textures, materials, and heavy duty stitching breaking up the smooth lines. It did feel heavier though.
Selina eyed the older man curiously. "What's the catch?" she asked.
"Well, for one we had to lose weight in other areas in order to accommodate the plating. I parted out your tech..."
"The tech?" she said, cutting him off. "Whoa. Wait, I am not giving up my stuff." Selina dropped the garment back on the tabletop unceremoniously. "I'm sorry, but I need those tools. Been through a lot of trial and error getting things just how I like them and I'm not planning on changing it all around now."
Mister Fox held up his hands placatingly. "And you've still got every last one of them. Promise." When she opened her mouth to question him he pressed on. "I didn't actually mean you were losing them," he said, pulling out two more items from the second case. "Just meant they'd been streamlined a bit." He handed both pieces to Selina for her inspection. "Gauntlets. Reinforced and armored on the outside so they'll take a beating. Left wrist has a built in chronometer while the right one features sheaths for lockpicks and small tools." He reached across the table to turn one over in her hands. "The inner portions feature a molded touchscreen and display panels. I integrated most of your hacking and surveillance hardware and software into the frames." He chuckled good-naturedly. "Even managed to improve on some of it. They're wireless and remote access capable and even feature a few other goodies I threw in for fun." Lucius winked at her. "Also has a GPS unit and tracking system. Just make sure to look over the directions."
Selina blinked and nodded dumbly. He'd just mentioned the contents of the majority of the compartments on her rather cumbersome utility belt. Everything from her lockpicks and tools to remote cameras, safe cracking electronics, and the other sophisticated equipment she'd managed to procure for herself over the years. In a matter of a couple days he'd managed to combine and miniaturize all of it into a pair or armored forearms. And then he acted as if it was an everyday occurrence. This was among the most fantastic gifts anyone had ever given her. The cost alone to engineer something like this had to be astronomical.
"I...I don't know what to say," she managed.
Fox just waved it off. "Not necessary," he said. "This stuff's fun. Gives me a challenge. You'd be surprised how tame running the day to day of a multi-billion, multinational is in comparison. Besides," he began rummaging in another one of the cases, "we're not even done yet. You can thank me then."
There was more?
Selina looked over at Bruce, but he was quietly talking to Alfred as the man cleaned the punctured skin on his upper back.
"Alright. The gloves." Fox came back up and handed her what looked like the exact same clawed garments she'd developed herself. Everything, right down to the sharpened, gleaming metal nails and textured grip on the fingertips looked the same. "The claws are diamond tipped titanium carbide now so the density and cutting strength has increased quite a bit. It'll take a hell of lot to make these things ever go dull. Reinforced the knuckles too with the same material so your strikes should pack quite a bit more force. Now, the nails on the index fingers of both hands are hollowed for use as a delivery system..."
"Wait, what?" she asked, holding the gloves a bit more gingerly out in front of her, but looking closely at them. For the life of her they looked exactly the same. "Delivery system? Delivering what?" Selina eyed them warily before looking back at the older man. If it was something nasty or dangerous she sure as hell didn't want to be setting them off. Hell, part of her was even uncomfortable having the nails be anything more than simple cutting blades. While her technical expertise was fairly pronounced where it came to locking mechanisms, security systems, and electronic measures and countermeasures she was all but completely unversed in chemicals, drugs, and poisons. "What are we talking here? Acid? Gas?"
"No, not quite. Think hypodermic needle," he explained, pointing to a tiny bump along the side of the glove's index finger. "Each glove contains an ampule that secretes a powerful, but non-fatal tranquilizer. Basically, the idea is scratch someone, get it into their bloodstream, and they'll be down for the count before you know it."
Selina looked dubiously at him. "Just like that?"
"Well, that's in theory. You can talk to Mister Wayne about the practical applications. He's been using it for awhile and I haven't had any complaints come trickling back." Both of them glanced at the man in question, or rather his back as he continued typing away all the while pointedly ignoring them both. Fox just shrugged, used to the practice and set the gloves back in the case. "Each hand has enough for probably, oh...maybe three grown men depending on size and weight. Its effects generally last a good hour or more."
"Any danger in accidents with this stuff?"
"What? Like scratching yourself and putting yourself out cold?" Selina nodded seriously. Lucius just smiled softly again and shook his head. "Don't think safety is a primary concern in you and Mister Wayne's chosen line of work. Still, your suit is pretty tear resistant. So long as you don't puncture it with any real force you should be safe from any accidents."
The hood and goggles came next.
"Left your goggles alone," Fox said, indicating the expensive multipurpose instruments which he then set aside, "but I added a thin composite shell around your head and segmented plates down the neck that'll increase protection from blunt force trauma quite a bit." He turned the whole thing inside out, displaying an intricate set of electronics woven neatly into the fabric and plating. "There's an earpiece on either side of the head wirelessly connected to the built in radio in your gauntlet. Now, the hood will muffle any noise produced by the speakers enough that there won't be any sound to give away your location, but it also shouldn't affect your normal hearing either. The microphone for the system is in your neck piece. Fits a bit snuggly so it can pick up the movement of your vocal chords in your throat. That way we can get it to amplify even a whisper into something much more clear on the other end of the line.
Selina took the hood from the older man, noting the weight and the subtle feel of the interconnected plates along the back and front of the neck. "Is this the setup Bruce has?" she asked without looking up.
"One in the same. I even included the hardware in the ears..."
Selina turned toward him and laughed at that. "You're saying the ears are functional now?"
Lucius returned her smile. "Yes, ma'am. Directional microphones connected to the earpieces. Turn them on and eavesdropping becomes a whole heck of a lot easier. Effective range is maybe a hundred yards depending on line of sight and ambient sounds. Obviously the quieter the better."
She chuckled again and handed the hood back. Leave it to these guys to take a joke she was just embracing and turn it into something useful. They really didn't have much of a sense of humor about this stuff, did they? Not that she was complaining at the moment.
"Last but not least," he said, producing her coiled up bullwhip and promptly handing it to her. "Structurally it's been modified a bit. Synthetic fibers woven into the leather to increase tensile strength, that kind of thing. Added a titanium pommel to the handle so it can be used effectively as a club too. But," he pointed to a small depressed button built into the grip the Selina had overlooked at first glance, "push that and you'll be channeling one hell of a strong electrical current down its length. More than enough to incapacitate a grown man." He glanced at the billionaire still dressed mostly in black armor as Alfred administered medical aid. "Even someone of Mister Wayne's impressive stature." That earned a dark look from Bruce. "And before you ask about accidentally electrocuting yourself, the grip is insulated and so is the suit. So long as you haven't managed to get yourself tangled up in it without that and you'll be fine."
Fox replaced the items in their respective cases, latching the lids securely before sliding them over to Selina. "Instructions for everything's already in there. Now, I'd advise you to at least take a glance at them before you field it all. Unlike Mister Wayne, I hope you'll actually take that seriously and have a look. I don't exactly write them because I find it particularly stimulating."
Selina just stared at the two cases, barely hearing him as she trailed her fingers over the smooth sides and along an occasional ridge. "Thank you," she whispered softly before looking up to meet his eyes. This was never really her forte either. She didn't generally have things given to her. In her experience if there was something she wanted she'd have to take it. "That's all I can really say. Truly. I doubt I deserve any of this or any of your help..."
Fox held up a hand to stop her, his gentle smile "Thanks was all you needed to say."
She smiled again softly staring at the cases and the possibilities they contained before looking back up at him. "I didn't see a cape?"
Lucius returned her smile, knowing she was avoiding any further uncomfortable, heartfelt moments and shrugged. "Wasn't aware cats could fly." The man gestured to the seated Batman nearby. "Unfortunately that takes a bit longer than a couple days to put together, frame out, and size properly. Sorry."
"Well, I guess nobody's perfect." She looked again at the cases. "And no invisibility?"
"Well...come back and see me in a year."