Title: Hot Summer's Night: Promises, Promises
Author: DC Luder
Summary: During NML, he saved her from certain death and she thanked him with a concussion and a hasty exit. Eight months later, she's found a way to make amends. Sequel to Cold Winter's Night.
Rating: T for violence and mild adult themes
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: And just like the first story, the final chapter makes it all better. Also, I live in a world where everyone knows and loves Leslie.
"It was a splendid summer morning and it seemed as if nothing could go wrong."
Not many things rattled my nerves.
For instance, I had just faced off with Victor Fries, saved Batman's life and avoided police custody without breaking a sweat. Granted, I had not made it out of the museum with the prize my sights had originally been set on, but save for a frostbitten foot I was no worse for the wear. Despite the brave face I managed to hang onto for the last fifteen minutes, something had finally wiped it off of my face.
Something being the sight of the six-foot-plus vigilante unconscious in the seat beside me.
His hands had fallen from their death grip on the steering wheel the second it shifted to turn out of the service parking lot. Even though Batman was in the driver's seat, the car was operating on its, shifting into drive and rolling down the asphalt. Even though it was an uneasy feeling, being practically trapped in a car that belonged in a spy novel, I was more worried about him than my immediate safety. Over the engine's growl and the scanner's chatter of police calls, the computer was still giving updates and warnings about his vitals.
Along with an estimated arrival time in fourteen minutes and that the vehicle's climate control would be raised to eighty degrees.
After rolling along at fifteen miles an hour, the vehicle suddenly surged forward as we reached the alley's exit onto Remington Avenue, nearly colliding into a trio of police cruisers as they attempted to pull in. I cried out as the car automatically dove to the right, taking to the sidewalk and destroying a bus stop in order to bypass the black and whites. Righting myself in the seat, I caught a glimpse of the dashboard readout clocking us at forty-eight miles per hour, swerving back onto the street and into late evening traffic.
I decided it was worth the effort of buckling up.
The sudden jostle seemed to bring Batman to, causing him to lift his head back up although with far more effort than it should have taken. He looked to me for a moment, then to the police cars that were slamming on their breaks and changing their course to follow after us. His breathing appeared to be slowing, still shallow and seemingly painful. Squinting, he focused on the digital panel between us, keying in a sequence that had the computer announce, "Evasive measures activated."
I remained silent, even though my mind was spinning as fast as the car was barreling down the busy street. It dodged in and out of lanes seamlessly, accelerating and breaking with perfect timing, entirely independent of its out of commission driver. The scanner spat forth calls into dispatch, all four cars claiming to be following a suspect south on Remington. Batman's shaky hand reached out again, and a few finger taps later, a bang sound from the rear of the vehicle, followed by a plume of smoke.
One of the dash's monitors offered a rear view and I watched on as it showed the haze enveloping the cruisers, causing them to swerve and bump into one another. The scanner then announced, "This is car 45-23, suspect is continuing south on Remington towards the Haynes Bridge. Unable to continue pursuit due to a MVA involving-."
He cut off the static ridden scanner with a breathy, "Scanner off." My eyes found their way to his reddened face, my ears barely listening as the computer gave an update on his failing vitals, of which he also interrupted with, "Mute."
Silence save for his failed attempt at breathing and the car shifting gears.
"The Clinic?" I asked softly as the car banked left and drove up the shoulder in order to avoid merging traffic, "In the East End?"
It appeared as if he hadn't heard me, his eyes slowly blinking as he stared straight ahead. The car jerked into the oncoming lane in order to pass a stationary taxi cab, moving back just in time to avoid a head on collision with a bus. As we somewhat safely began crossing the bridge, I spotted the reflection of flashing lights hitting neighboring vehicles. I fought back a breathy curse, but Batman remained unfazed, fighting to maintain consciousness.
The cruisers attempted to follow us down the shoulder, but the car ejected another round of countermeasures. This time, the monitor showed large metal spikes bouncing to the pavement behind us. Rather than blow out tires, the devices were large enough to embed themselves into the undercarriage of the vehicles, sending sparks flying and cars swerving. A few innocent vehicles were also struck, simply adding to the chaos, allowing us to enter the eastern borough with no further interruption.
The car raced on, breaking every traffic law in the book as it forged its way ahead. Heaters blowing, it felt every ounce of eighty degrees, but my skin still tingled with cold dread. Even though Batman had already turned off the computer's notifications, they came back on, trying to urge a response from him. Where they failed, I stepped in.
I roughly pinched the exposed flesh of his right cheek, causing his head to jerk up and his arm to reach out for my wrist. His fingers were clumsy, missing their target and fumbling to recover. A notification that we were eight minutes from our destination sounded as he shakily turned his head to face me, his eyes glassy and irritated.
Eight minutes was far too long to sit and watch him suffer.
"Please don't hit me," I muttered as I undid my seatbelt and moved to kneel in the cramped vehicle. Leaning over, I undid the clasps of his cape, struggling to pull it out from under his limp body. He watched with half-focused eyes as I pushed his tunic up, followed by undoing the body armor plates beneath. His skin was ice, bright red and when I touched it with my finger tips, the white marks stayed behind for far too long. Tossing the armor to the floor on the passenger side, I quickly pulled off his gloves, tugged his arms free of the tunic and left the garment around his neck.
My turn, I mused while peeling my own gloves off.
With a sigh, I slipped out of my cowl and the top half of my costume, a black and gray athletic tank top sparing me from indecency. To make room for my impromptu plan, I bowed over him, reaching for anything resembling seat controls. The car turned sharply to the left without warning and I grabbed onto Batman's right shoulder to keep from falling face first into the steering wheel. Despite his poor state, he reached a hand up and gripped my bare shoulder as well, helping me regain my balance.
Once I was able to move the seat back a few inches, I growled while moving to straddle his lap, "Sit still…. And don't get any ideas."
I exhaled sharply as I pressed my torso to his frigid chest, drawing the cape over my shoulders to help keep any heat contained. Bowing my head, I rested my brow on his collarbone, exhaling warm air onto his skin. With his mouth practically at my ear, his breaths seemed all the more inconsistent and desperate, barely able to move a strand of my hair. Beneath the heavy cape, I drew his arms up and folded them over his abdomen, then started to rub my hands over his chest and shoulders as vigorously as I dared.
"Estimated time of arrival in six minutes," the computer announced.
"Doesn't this thing go any faster?" I asked, moving to set my chin level on his shoulder.
It took him twenty seconds, but he managed to reply quietly, "Not… on a F-f-friday…"
Looping my arms around his shoulders, I pressed myself to him, feeling every frozen inch of his skin quake against me. "Of course, date night… I have to admit, this isn't how I imagined spending my Friday… Not complaining, but you could have taken a girl to dinner first."
"You… s-s-started it," he replied.
I smirked, pressing my cheek to his, "Are you going to finish it?"
At first, I thought he was taking his time to respond again. Then, I felt the full weight of his head fall to my shoulder, hanging limply from his neck. I said his name loudly, pinched the scarred skin of his chest and when both failed to elicit a response, I sat back and pushed his head up. His lids had fallen shut over the bloodshot eyes, not even flinching as my voice rose in volume and fear.
"Estimated time in of arrival in four minutes."
"Oh, shut up," I snapped.
It was literally the longest four minutes of my life. I slapped, yelled, clawed and shook but nothing brought him back. The computer even detected his deterioration, causing the chair to vibrate and for the lights to come on brightly in the vehicle. I squinted until my eyes adjusted, staring at his half-covered face for any sign of life, finding only the same faint breaths escaping his lips.
With my attention solely on Batman, I failed to notice all too familiar surroundings as the car increased its speed on the vacant streets of the East End. Rebuilding Gotham had made the infamous borough look new, but it hadn't been able to rid it of old habits. The crime was still unbearable, the poverty even worse and the violence unmatched in any other borough.
The Free Clinic. It saw more out patients than Mercy General's emergency room in any given week. Those without insurance, those in trouble with the law, those that simply needed help were welcome. Leslie Thompkins and a good portion of her staff had stayed during No Man's Land, acting as a MASH unit and doing whatever was possible to heal the wounded and help the troubled. She held the Hippocratic Oath to heart. If the rumor that she treated Victor Zsasz during Gotham's lapse from society was true, then she was the living definition of it.
She treated the good guys and bad, both with masks and without.
I looked out of the driver's side window just as the car took its final turn, pulling into the small lot that was behind the Free Clinic. As it had since leaving the museum, it didn't hesitate in maneuvering around parked vehicles and claiming a spot of its own. I spotted the back door of the building opening, urging me to sit upright and pull my top back up. As the computer announced our arrival, it unlocked the door, letting in muggy, night air.
The green scrub clad figure of Dr. Leslie Thompkins was approaching quickly, pulling a gurney behind her. Glasses resting on top of her frazzled gray hair, she did a double take of me getting out of the vehicle before saying, "Are you injured, as well?"
Without hesitating, I replied, "No… more like the reason he is."
We had endured several encounters over the years, mostly from my early career. I donated heavily to her cause, donating blood every chance I could and sending checks religiously. Although she had never passed judgment on me, I always had a need to do good in her eyes. I rarely cared for what others thought of me, but a ghetto clinic doctor had me wanting to be a better person, leading by example.
As she positioned and locked the wheels of the gurney beside the car, I rambled over what had taken place only fifteen minutes earlier. I tried to remember the last vitals the computer had read off and then explained what I had done on the ride over to help warm him up. Without thinking, I reiterated what little he had said, noting he had a difficult time focusing and keeping his head up but had been able to return banter, even it was with in a stammer. She listened quietly, afterward asking how long he had been unconscious and for me to help her move him.
His dead weight was only a fraction easier to lift with Leslie's help. The second we had him out of the car, the door sealed shut and it sped off without warning. Although I was caught off guard, Leslie didn't bother to so much as look back, optioning to begin pushing the gurney towards the ramp. I reached her within two strides and went ahead to prop open the door, eager to help in any way I could.
"I'll take him into the exam room there," she noted calmly. I pushed that door open as well, watching as she pivoted the gurney and urged it into the small room. When I tried to follow her in, she paused and looked up at me, "I'll need you to wait out here, Selina."
"I can help…"
She shook her head and offered a warm smile, "Just for a few minutes… He'll be fine. I promise."
I forced myself to nod as she pushed him in the rest of the way and shut the door behind her.
After five minutes of standing alone in the corridor, I tested the handle, finding it unlocked. I could have barged in, but was unable to summon the nerve. Instead, I pressed my ear to the door and held my breath. The cardiogram was audible, beeping and blipping, as was her soft voice. The words were indecipherable but also reassuring. I recalled a time or two waking up in a bed under her watchful gaze, in pain but feeling safe.
Given the scars on his body, no doubt he had a few similar experiences.
Another fifteen minutes passed, leaving me to pace up and down the corridor, trying not to think about the blood shot, blue eyes I had stared into earlier. Even that night during No Man's Land, I had relied on my sense of touch, never catching a glimpse of his bare face in the darkness. Having spent years staring into white lenses, it felt strange to know what had been hidden underneath.
When I passed by the exam room door for the one hundredth time, I was surprised as it withdrew to reveal Leslie once more. "His temperature is hovering around ninety-four and a half right now, no doubt it would have dipped even lower if you hadn't done anything."
I tried to focus on her face instead to the figure on the gurney behind her as I asked, "Is he okay?"
"Come see for yourself," Leslie stepped back and motioned for me to enter.
I couldn't have contained the sigh of relief even if I had tried.
"Central line is pushing warm fluids and anti-inflammatories," she started out as I slowly approached him, "His vitals are starting to level out, temp should be coming up shortly…"
I paused beside the bed, looking him over from head to toe. His entire body was buried beneath thermal blankets, the electric wires of vital monitoring equipment and heating pads sneaking from underneath to find their outlets. Only his head was visible, the top half wrapped in clean white gauze.
"His eyes will be fine with rest… I flushed them and stained them before putting the mummy garb on… no signs of ulceration." When I remained silent, she added, "I'll be keeping him overnight for observation… sedated so he isn't able to act on some foolish notion of going back out there."
I glanced at her, relief leaving me unable to make my lips form words. I wanted to ask how long he would be out, when he'd be back on his feet and if I was allowed to wait until he was. I was almost relieved that I didn't utter words, not wanting to come across as desperate or frightened.
Leslie broke the silence, "I've been mending his body for years… some day I might even mend that thick skull of his… Don't you worry, he'll be back to his grumpy old self in a few hours."
Finally, I asked, "Can I stay?"
A frown took the life from her face as she shook her head, "I'm sorry… he never really defined what it is between you two… It's not that I don't trust you, I just know that he doesn't trust anyone."
Looking back to his still face, I nodded slowly.
Leslie then cleared her throat, "I am going to go get some more blankets for him… Probably be about five minutes or so." When I glanced back up at her, she offered a small smirk and then stepped out into the corridor, shutting the door behind her. She genuinely wanted the best for everyone.
Closing the small gap between myself and the gurney, I set my hands on the cold steel guard rails and spent a full minute watching his chest rise and fall, shallow breaths but they came regularly. Under the brighter lighting, I noted the skin of his jaw was a healthier color, lightly shaded with stubble. His lips weren't blue, but a light pink, just starting to chap.
Another minute of standing motionless left my frozen foot throbbing. With no chairs in the room, it left either the counter or the gurney. He was sedated and no doubt exhausted, making the risk significantly less as I picked his right arm up from under the covers, moving it so that I could sit beside him. Gently taking his limp hand into mine, I began rubbing my thumb over bruised knuckles, "I promise I won't bite."
He inhaled more deeply and I had to fight back a smirk.
My eyes had a hard time picking a focal point. Looking at his head, they drifted back and forth from the bandages to his chin to his lips and then back to where his eyes were buried. The material covered what the cowl had, but I could make out the bottom of his ears and most of his nose. Looking closely, I spotted a faint razor burn on his jaw line and a freckle on the side of his neck. He was human, after all.
Finally, I let my gaze settle back on his chest, watching it rise and fall, in and out, up and down, inhale and exhale. The shivering had all but stopped, leaving only cold, clammy skin. Slowly, I leaned over him, keeping his hand mine on my lap as I put my weight on the other. I positioned my face inches above his, happy to feel warm air on my cheeks. Quietly, I spoke to his unconscious form, "So this is what it was like, watching me sleep that night…"
Nothing, just steady breathing and the blips on the monitors.
"Well, if you're up to it later, I'd be more than happy to accept any grateful gestures you have to offer… obviously, for me saving your life. I'll be home, just knock."
Without hesitating, I moved in, gently pressing my lips to his.
I sat upright, gave his hand a final squeeze and then silently slipped off of the mattress and back to the floor. With thirty seconds to spare, I made it to the back entrance of the Free Clinic and out the door.
Given the night's tragic turn, I had been unable to obtain all of my tracers from the museum, leaving only with a near empty backpack that I had accidentally left in Batman's car. They weren't directly linked back to me, but it always left an uneasy feeling when I didn't make a clean exit. Gotham's forensic technicians were probably already crawling over every inch of the scene, the poor guards either clueless as to what really happened or leery of admitting to losing to a cat thief and a mad scientist.
Basically, all I had was one last bolo and my cat-o-nine tails. That and a six mile trek home on foot.
Thankfully, the muggy heat of the day had yielded to a slightly cooler evening. I took my time, letting my mid wander as I took the long way home. I climbed fire escapes, made a few rooftop transfers and even took a few bold jumps that reminded me my right foot would need to be elevated for a good day or so. I kept replaying the best and worst of the evening over and over again, still unable to rate it as a success or failure.
I made it home in a little under two hours, entering the penthouse through the terrace doors. Instantly, I was greeted with furry, meowing faces that were happy to see me so early in the evening. Pulling back the cowl, I smiled down at the small pride at my feet, "Yes, Momma's home. Empty-handed, but she's home."
First order of business, I fed the crew in the kitchen before making my way to the bedroom. While shedding my guise, I listened to the news on the television, watching the aftermath of my night out on the town. Reporters listed that Fries was in Arkham's medical ward, the guards were all injured but not hospitalized and save for the physical damage to the museum, nothing appeared to be missing. Amateur footage played of the police cars chasing after the Batmobile on the bridge, the commentary revolving around a possible accomplice that escaped.
Leaving it on, I strode into the attached bathroom and tuned the shower into a steamy, aquatic heaven. Disrobing entirely, I stepped in, happy to have the hot water wash over me after the night's events. I let the water blast down on the dome of my head, imagining that it was washing everything away. Losing the necklace and nearly losing my foot.
Saving Batman. Those icy blue eyes. Parched lips. That freckle.
After twenty minutes, my skin was pink and clean. I cut the water off, wrung out my hair and then stepped onto the bath mat. After donning a white towel around my head and wrapping a matching one around my torso, I stepped back into the bedroom to find the news had given way to late night talk shows. I grabbed the remote from the night stand and clicked it off, the colorful screen going black.
And also revealing a very familiar reflection.
"I thought I told you to knock?" I tried to put a growl in my tone as I turned to greet my guest.
Batman stood in the open doorway of my bedroom, having traded IVs, thermal blankets and bandages for his suit. He must have picked up a spare cowl on his way, as the lenses were back to their milky nothingness. Two hours earlier, he had been hypothermic and heavily sedated and yet there he was, good as new. In fact, there wasn't an ounce of visible evidence that he had endured any bad luck that night.
I found myself smirking as I approached him, pausing to stand mere feet in front of him. In his full garb, Batman loomed over top of me, but I didn't feel the slightest bit intimidated. If anything, the way his jaw was clenched, he appeared to be more wary of me.
"Come here to thank me?" I asked.
"In a way," he exhaled slowly before his arm slipped out from under the cape, offering my bag. As I reached for it, he added, "GPD Forensics found two tracers on the guards. I'll make sure they lose them."
The bag felt lighter and less bulky than it should have but much as I wanted to check the bag's contents, I chose the more polite route and imply tossed it on the end of the bed. Smirking up at him, I replied, "I guess I should be thanking you, now."
His lips pursed before he said, "No thank you necessary."
"Come on…" I reached up and pulled the towel from my head, my hair falling in wet curls, "It could be fun…"
Without missing a beat, he responded, "As I recall, head trauma does not fall under the category of fun."
"And hypothermia on a hot summer's night does?" I countered, not even bothering to hold back my teasing smile.
The fraction of a second he hesitated spoke volumes. And then, completely unexpected, he said, "That night we…"
"I know," I cut him off, suddenly not wanting the memories of his lips on mine, his hands on my hips. I had been drifting back to them all evening, eager to relive it, even if only in my mind. Suddenly, I wanted to do anything but. Brow lowering, I admitted out loud, "A momentary lapse into weakness. A one time deal. A mistake."
I wanted him to tell me I was wrong, but he didn't. Instead, his jaw clenched again, although not because of my harsh words. In the utter silence of my bedroom and standing so close to him, I heard a soft sound. Faint sirens, clicks and fast talking voices of a police scanner, barely audible over the tension between us.
The playful mood from a moment earlier all but gone, I turned to the bed and put my back to him, "Looks like your night's just getting started."
"Selina…" I heard his voice soften but it didn't lure me to face him again.
I began looking through the bag, only offering him, "Go on, stud, you can make it up to me some other time."
After a moment of silence, I glanced over my shoulder, not surprised in the least to find him already gone. I wanted to be angry, nearly convinced myself that I should have been, especially as I looked through my bag. The reason it seemed off was that my dress from the gala was missing. In its place, however, was a receipt for the dry cleaning service that I used three blocks away.
It was open until midnight, offered same day service and kept pricier garments under lock and key. The place probably had more reliable security than the Museum of Natural History. On the service slip, the gown's description was listed as were the received and pick up times. The fee section listed a two hundred dollar security deposit and the sixty dollar cleaning fee, both marked paid.
On the back, there was a note penned in block lettering.
Consider us even. Next time, I'll use the handcuffs. B
"You better," I whispered with a smile on my lips, "You better."