Well, maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
It's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah.
– "Hallelujah", Kate Voegele.
John Blake was here, in my apartment, and I was pinning him to the floor. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks, and I froze completely. How could he have known...? Oh.
I was going to kill Savvy. Chest heaving from exertion and the pain that coursed through my body now that the adrenaline had worn off, I climbed off of him and backed as far away as I could, my skin burning from where it had, however briefly, come into contact with his.
For a moment, neither of us spoke as he picked himself off the ground, looking at me like I was a dangerous, cornered animal that had escaped from the zoo, one he didn't know how to approach without running the risk of enraging it. "Maestro, what –?"
A series of coughs suddenly wracked my body, and I hissed in pain as the action caused me to double over and pull on my many cuts. The baton slipped from my fingers, but I hardly noticed through the distraction.
Blake moved to help me, but I recoiled from his grasp. I didn't have time for questions or whatever it was he wanted, I was losing too much blood, and I certainly didn't want him touching me.
"Get out," I rasped, my throat still hoarse.
"Get out." I turned away, every step jarring my many wounds. He had invaded my sanctum, the one part of me no one had ever seen, the one place that held proof that I was still human. No one was supposed to know this existed and I hated him for seeing it.
"What happened? How did you get away?" Blake called from behind me as I limped into the hallway.
I didn't turn around, hoping my dismissiveness would encourage him to leave faster. "I flew out a window." The sarcasm in my tone was hard to miss, even if it was partially true. Still, it wasn't like he knew that.
"You need help, Maestro. Let me –"
I whirled on him suddenly, stopping him in his tracks from where he had been pursuing me down the corridor. We were only a breath apart and the eyes that locked with my own were so familiarly blue...
Shaking myself from my momentary distraction, I glowered at him. "What I need is for you to leave. I escaped on my own, I can patch myself up on my own. I'm not gonna tell you again. Get. Out."
The force in my tone was tempered by a sudden rush of vertigo, which sent me reeling and forced me to brace myself against the wall. Great.
Instantly, I felt warm hands surround my waist, tenderly supporting me and mindful of the wounds there. "Not a chance. You can barely stand."
"Pretty sure that's not true. Just let me help you, alright?" he was exasperated now.
My head was pounding and I was angry, so angry and cold and my body ached and I just wanted to sleep already and why couldn't he leave me alone? "I don't want your help!" I spat, struggling to get away from him. His touch set my nerves on fire, made me aware of everything and nothing and I didn't understand –
Blake spun me to face him and shook me lightly, frustration clear in his expression as I was roughly jerked from my mental wanderings. "Why? Why is this so hard for you? Why would you rather drop dead than trust someone?"
"Because there's a catch!" I all but shrieked, wrenching away from him and pressing against the opposite wall. My legs instantly buckled and gave out beneath me, weak as I was from blood loss, and I sank against the floor.
"There's always a catch," I repeated, quieter now, as another round of coughs left my chest aching, "there's always a catch or a trick or a scheme... People don't help other people just because they can, Blake. That's not the way the world works."
He looked down at me intently, something like pain flickering through his eyes. He knew exactly what I meant, because even if he didn't believe it anymore, with a past like his, he had at some point. "What about the Batman, then? What's his scheme?"
I glanced up at him sharply from where I had been staring at my knees. "He's different. He's been there, Blake. He's just like us. Whoever he is underneath that mask, it's someone who's been betrayed and abandoned just like us. Don't you get it? That's why he can be trusted, because he knows what it means to need to trust someone and to be that person for other people. He just... acts, and follows through. That's why I believe in him." There was a moment of silence following my declaration as I willed him to just go away already.
The girl almost misses the dark angel's question about her name as he carries her, his gait sure and steady and his arms strong as he holds her trembling form tightly to his chest, the wings around her keeping her safe.
He cares. He cares and it blows her mind, because who is she, that this angel should carry her from the misery of her mother's blood to security? Who is she to weep against the wings of an angel, lamenting in a loss that affects only her?
She looks up at him, and that feeling comes back, the one that tells her he knows exactly what she's going through and he's helping her because of it. He cares. He cares and he wants to help, and she does not understand.
Blake gently helped me up, supporting my blood-soaked frame against his body once again, and I was too exhausted to protest. My grip on reality was slipping, I could feel it in each drop of blood leaving my body, and as it drained so did my lucidity.
"Well right now I need you to trust me. You can't fix this yourself, not this time. Let me help you just this once, and I swear I will leave you alone."
I looked at him, searching his eyes for any sign of an ulterior motive. There has to be one... there has to be... but I found nothing.
"You're burning up. It's now or never Maestro, are you gonna let me help you or are we gonna have to do this the hard way?" Blake asked, his gaze drilling holes into me.
I was reminded of my mental promise from our last conversation. I'll kiss Jonathan Crane before I come to you for help. I couldn't keep the quiet hum of laughter from leaving my lips, but it was quickly drowned out by another merciless round of hacking.
"Fi – cough – fine. If it'll – cough – get you to leave me alone."
He was guiding me down the hallway before I'd even finished speaking, helping me past the kitchen and into my bedroom with a speed that caught me off guard. He sat me down on the bed quickly, helping me out of my windbreaker – I was careful to keep him from noticing the vials and notebook concealed in the pocket – and boots before laying them carefully by the foot of my bed.
"Do you have a first aid kit?" he demanded, all business, and I nodded quietly.
"Kitchen under the sink."
"Furnace behind the couch. It's still got a little gas in it."
He nodded and left to get the items, and I cringed, head spinning. I hated this. Hated it. I hated having him here, I hated accepting his help, but most of all I hated needing it. I used to be an expert at avoiding situations like this.
Moving quickly, I removed the items I had stolen from Crane from my jacket and hid them in the back of a drawer in my desk. I wasn't sure what I was planning to do with them, exactly, but the smallest glimpses of an idea were forming in the back of my mind. I just hadn't fit all the pieces together yet.
Suddenly dizzy, I turned and walked back to the bed just as Blake re-entered the room, bearing the red box of medical supplies, a bottle of water, and lugging the furnace behind him.
"You know you have about six thousand rolls of bandages in this place, right?" he asked lightly as he switched on the heat and closed my window to keep it from escaping.
"I've been stocking up for a while. Obviously," I replied, gesturing to my body, "you can never have too many."
He gave me a small smile and handed me the bottle of water, also taken from beneath my sink, and I gulped it greedily. This would help me compensate for my blood loss.
Blake shifted on his feet a moment, seemingly uncomfortable, before meeting my eyes. "So... how do you want to do this? I can tell you're sick, and you're covered in blood so you have some pretty serious cuts, but I need to see how bad and where."
I shot him a scathing look. "How about this: you give me the bandages and let me take care of this myself, and if it will ease your stupid bleeding heart you can wait outside the door – with your back turned – and I'll scream for help if I'm attacked by a hoard of ninjas or killer bees or fall into a coma or whatever you think is going to happen."
"How exactly are you planning on screaming for help if you fall into a coma?"
I glowered at him. "Shut up. Look, I'm cut pretty much everywhere, okay? I've already been more exposed these past few days than I'd care to, so if you really wanna help me, you'll do what I ask," I snapped, my throat finally soothed somewhat by the water.
He raised his hands in a gesture of defeat and slunk outside the door, and as soon as he disappeared out of my line of sight I gingerly peeled off my shirt and pants, hissing in pain all the while. My shoulder was getting worse, I could feel it. The biting chill in the air – that stupid furnace took freaking forever to heat up – raced down my skin, and with a bracing inhale I looked down at my body. Great.
I had three lacerations on my shins, another on my left knee, two more on my thighs, a whopping five on my stomach, and three on the undersides of my arms. My bullet wound was leaking blood at an almost idle pace, spurting out the precious crimson with each beat of my pulse. And it hurt.
Biting back the expletives that I wanted to howl into the air, I tenderly bandaged each cut, all of which would likely scar, and gasped quietly in pain every time I jarred my injured shoulder. Outside the room, I could hear Blake pacing around, sounding almost restless in his movement.
I rolled my eyes as I rummaged through my boxes of clothing for something that wouldn't cling too much. Unfortunately, loose clothes were usually a liability, so most, if not all, of what I owned was form-fitting. Grimacing, I pulled on a pair of jeans and fresh socks, deciding to take care of my shoulder before choosing a shirt. However, the wound would need to be cleaned first, which was going to suck.
I crouched down on the floor, studying the contents of the kit skeptically. Might as well get it over with. Using my right arm as little as possible, I reached up and undid the soaked bandage around the wound, hissing in pain once again as the air hit it. The bruising around it looked somehow worse than it did in the shower this morning, which was saying a lot. It's getting worse, not better. Just my luck.
Without hesitating further, I grabbed a small bottle of peroxide and poured some on a scrap of bandage, before gingerly pressing it against my shoulder.
Instantly, there was an explosion of pain that rocketed all the way down my arm and then the length of my spine for good measure, not so much from the cleaning itself – though judging by the way my blood was foaming, that wasn't going so well either – but from the miniscule amount of pressure I had just applied. I couldn't stifle my cry of pain, and Blake entered the room immediately, kneeling down to my level.
"Here... here let me."
"I don't –"
"Maestro, if you finish that sentence with 'need your help', I swear I'll knock you unconscious."
"You charmer. I bet you say that to all the girls," I gasped, unable to resist the quip despite the pain clouding my vision.
He ignored me and tenderly braced one hand on my good shoulder before taking the peroxide-soaked bandage from my hand. With a quiet apology, he pressed it gently against my wound.
I cursed and let out a hiss of pain, but he didn't stop, and I didn't want him to. Strangely, I found myself glad he was doing it, because I wouldn't have been able to keep on, not with how badly it hurt. I leaned into him, biting my lip and bracing my forehead against his shoulder – against the pain – and wished for it to be over already. Blake held me tighter after a moment's hesitation, encouraging me further to accept his help, and I really, truly hated him for it. And then the pain was less like stabbing knives and more like being occasionally punched as he quickly bandaged my shoulder, tying it off tightly. I could still smell the blood, I could still see it on my hands, and for a moment I was back in the dream Crane had given me.
I was kneeling in a pool of my mother's blood in that alleyway, staring down at her still face. Her cold eyes were riveted to mine, accusing, blaming me and my cowardice for her death. It was my fault.
"You alright?" Blake inquired suddenly, his eyes full of concern and I didn't understand why –
"Fine," I replied shakily, reaching to put on a simple black t-shirt and swearing again when the trembling of my fingertips made the movement clumsy and practically impossible.
I felt warm hands close over mine as he helped me once again, guiding the sleeve of the garment gently over my arms. This only made my trembling worse, but for entirely different reasons. He smells nice...
Quickly, I pulled my head through the opening at the top and tugged the material over my bandaged waist, not missing the way his eyes hardened at the sight of the rest of my wounds.
"Maestro, what happened to you?" he breathed, sounding sickened.
I sighed, my head beginning to pound as he helped me gently to my feet and over to my bed. I was too exhausted to respond with anything but the truth. "There may have been a broken window involved in my escape."
"Your shoulder was bleeding pretty badly too."
"The lifting of a heavy chair might have been involved in the breaking of said window, which might have reopened an otherwise closing bullet wound."
He stared at me a moment, then wisely decided not to comment as he helped me lay back against the mattress. I read the look in his eyes loud and clear, however, and I knew that it meant we weren't finished with the conversation.
"Do you have anything for the pain?" he asked instead, and I placed my good arm over my eyes and tried to relax.
"I keep some Tylenol in the kit."
I heard him rummaging around a moment, and then the rattling of a bottle as he poured out the medication. "Here."
I sat up briefly to take it, downing a sip of water a moment later, and found myself once again under his quizzical stare.
"What?" I snapped, irritated at my sudden self-consciousness, "You wouldn't look so great either if you'd had to claw your way to freedom through shards of glass."
He had the decency to look slightly abashed, at least.
"No! No, that's not – you look fine... I mean, you just look like you have a fever, under the mask. That's all." He had the oddest look on his face all of a sudden, and wouldn't look directly at me. Was he... blushing? Ooooh-kay...
I flopped back against the mattress gracelessly. "Wouldn't surprise me. I probably have pneumonia."
"Because you fell through the ice?"
"Yeah. I had hypothermia at first, at least that's what Crane –" I stopped abruptly and looked away, cursing mentally. Don't ask, don't ask, don't ask, please don't ask...
"What did he do to you?" Blake asked softly, eyes full of what looked like hate for the man who had supposedly put me in this condition.
The fear was tearing at my mind, splitting my soul, because it wasn't just fear anymore. It was pain, it was anguish, it was guilt and it was hatred, and it was manifesting itself through my shrieking...
I let out a bitter laugh. You know nothing of hate.
"Please, as if he could hurt me." The lie was awkward and tasted like betrayal on my tongue, because he had been able to hurt me, all this week and years before. It had taken me eight years to begin to heal from what had happened the night my mother died, and I'd been forced to relive it every time I'd locked eyes with Crane these last few days. I knew, the same way I knew the Batman would return, that there would be no recovery for me this time.
"You want to sleep?" Blake inquired, possibly seeing my internal fear and wisely not pressing the issue.
"That would be stupendous." A part of me knew I needed to ask about Savvy and Jazz and Scout and what was happening with my Young, and the weight of the pendant around my neck was a constant reminder, but at the moment I was so exhausted...
Stitches' dying cry splits the air, and Matchstick looks on in sheer amusement from behind Bane...
I stiffened and jerked up, ignoring the pain in my limbs; how could I have forgotten that? "Blake, it was Matchstick, Matchstick was the one who told them where I would be! You have to warn –"
Blake held up his hands in a calming gesture, placing them on my shoulders to make me lie back again. "Relax. Your lieutenants figured it out. Gordon's got her locked away."
I went limp, tears of relief that I would never let him see springing, unbidden, to my eyes. Safe. They're safe.
"Right now, you need to sleep. We'll sort everything out once you've rested, okay?" he asked, and I didn't have the energy to tell him to just leave already, because the feeling of the mattress beneath me and the warmth of the furnace as it – finally – began to fully permeate the room made me relax completely, the terrors of the past few days briefly melting away.
I succumbed to the welcoming darkness in seconds.
Fire and blue, blue eyes, and his voice sounds like the whisper of a death sentence and rings through the darkness like tarnished silver -
"Did you really think it would be that easy to escape me, Songbird?" I spin, trying to find the origin of the voice, but it's not there –
Blood and worms and white mist that rises like a thousand dead souls to the sky, taking sanity and safety with them, and there are no angels here and why can't I breathe?
"You'll scream for me again, Songbird, so try not to get too comfortable." The voice echoes through the darkness but still there is no speaker to be seen.
The alleyway around me is empty, but my shoes squelch in the blood that pools at my feet and slowly rises past my ankles, and the smell of it makes me choke.
"Did you hear me, Songbird? I'll come back for you. The Bat can't save you now."
My angel... I can't find him, I can't hear the rustle of his wings above the screams that tear at my ears and I'm afraid, so afraid...
The shriek of my mother as she calls my name, the whinny of a horse that I know breathes fire, the gravelly roar of a voice that was human once but not anymore.
And then fire turns to ice and blood turns to hands that reach up, up, up, to grab my legs and pull me down into their gruesome embrace, and every single one of them bears my mother's ring.
My scream is drowned out by his laughter.
With a shuddering jerk, I awoke, as though all the air had suddenly rushed back into my body.
It was quiet.
Still alive, good. My day is already looking up. I could tell it had been several hours since I'd drifted off by the grogginess that seemed to have seeped into my very bones, and the way the lighting through my window had dimmed significantly; night had fallen. I frowned slightly and rubbed my eyes beneath my mask. I supposed it was a combination of my illness, the Tylenol, and blood loss, but I was still unused to the feeling of being fully rested and it unsettled me, somehow. With a pained grimace, I sat up, releasing a quiet cough, and strained my ears to listen.
Can it be? I shifted to put my feet on the ground, hardly daring to hope as I listened further, but still no noise issued from anywhere in my apartment.
Blake was gone. I couldn't stop the grin that reached my face, but it felt... forced, somehow, which was ridiculous because I was not disappointed. Nor did I want him here, traipsing about my apartment and acting so concerned. Really.
With a hiss of pain and a grimace, I stood hesitantly, encouraged when I didn't break out in a full body rash or develop a sudden, terminal cancer. With the way my week's been going, I honestly wouldn't be surprised.
Carefully, I made my way to my boots and slipped them on, before exiting the room and heading into the kitchen, where I lit several candles and systematically switched on the battery-powered lanterns. I was hungry, which was kind of surprising, and I really, really needed more water.
Peeling off my mask, I tossed it onto the counter before painstakingly crouching down to rummage inside my cabinets for the non-perishable food I kept there.
Let's see... stale potato chips, a tin of cashews, peanut butter crackers, a box of Milk Duds and a couple of Oreos. Yum.
I withdrew a package of crackers and another bottle of water before sitting on a stool and wolfing them down in silence. The pain in my shoulder was returning, which was annoying, but I needed to prioritize so I attempted to ignore it.
I had no idea where the new base was; that was issue number one. I cursed myself for not asking Blake when I had the chance; surely he knew. It was obvious that Savvy had made the decision to work more extensively with Gordon and his men than I had since she had allowed them to hold Matchstick, and while I was unsure how I felt about that, I mentally praised her intelligence for having the foresight to move bases. Still, I only knew the general direction it was located in, and I didn't exactly have time to go searching around. I grimaced as I realized that I'd have to go ask Gordon where they were, and I was so not looking forward to that conversation.
Issue number two was discovering what they'd managed to accomplish. I needed to figure out how much Gordon knew, in order to lock him out of any future plans that would be made unless it was absolutely necessary, and find out what plans Savvy had implemented while I was gone in order to modify and/or build on them.
Issue three was Scout. Almost absently, I grasped the pendant hanging around my neck. I would need to talk to her. Just because I had been alone when I lost my entire world did not mean she had to be.
Issue four was to figure out whether or not the Young had managed to retrieve her sister's body, and if they had, what they had done with it. I would need to put a plan in place for future burials. No way was I letting the kids that had sacrificed everything rot in the streets. Stitches was only the beginning; now that first blood had been drawn, it was inevitable that more would follow.
By the time it was over with, my soul would be as black as Bane's.
While I was on the subject of tainted souls, the fifth issue would be the hardest. I would have to tell the Young about the blood on my hands.
Mother in heaven, what have I done?
Blake shifted the grocery bag to his other hand, struggling not to jostle it too much and hold his flashlight at the same time as he made to grab the doorknob to Maestro's apartment. He frowned when he found it locked again.
Looks like she's up. He glanced at his wristwatch. It was almost ten o'clock. He'd been gone for several hours, doing his rounds and getting up to speed on the next raid, which was to take place early tomorrow, and then quietly pulling Gordon aside and updating him on the situation. Scout, who was always by Gordon's side now when Savvy didn't have her out running errands, had eyed them both suspiciously from across the room.
"Do you think we should tell them?" he'd asked the commissioner, who was still reeling from the idea of Maestro's escape.
"What sort of state is she in? Does she need help?" the older man asked, to which Blake had sighed heavily. More than you know.
"Yes, but I've got it covered. She almost took my head off for being there; she's not too keen on company, but she's in absolutely no state to move. She needs somebody there. I'm gonna pick up some stuff for her later and then head back. She was sleeping when I left."
"You've convinced her to let you help?" This seemed to surprise him more than the fact that she'd escaped.
"Not in so many words, no. But she's in no position to be left alone. She's pretty banged up, and she's sick."
The commissioner was quiet for a moment as he appeared to weigh the options in his mind, and, after a second or two, shook his head.
"We'll keep it quiet for now. We're in the middle of planning a major raid; this would just be a distraction for the kids. Look after her when you can. What does she need?"
Blake had then proceeded to list the things he needed, keeping to the simplest forms of the items because some of it – the antibiotics, for example – were hard to get anyway, forget finding a specific brand. Gordon had managed to point him in the direction of what he'd needed, and Blake had come back here as quickly as he could, hoping to arrive before she awoke. Apparently, he hadn't been so lucky.
With another sigh, he knocked, knowing she wasn't going to answer but still annoyed when she didn't. There was no noise inside the room, but he knew she was in there, pointedly ignoring him, and he rolled his eyes in exasperation.
Setting the bag in his hand down, he reached into his pocket and withdrew the hairpins from earlier, picking the lock in record time before pushing the door open. It was a testament to just how comfortable she was here that she allowed her back to be turned on him as he entered; he couldn't see her doing that in any other situation.
"I see you're back to your usual cheerful self," he greeted casually upon entering, watching her stiffen in her chair at the kitchen counter.
"I'm pretty sure this is breaking and entering, Blake. Whatever would Gordon say?" she muttered, turning to face him, and he was pleased to notice that her voice didn't sound as hoarse as before. The next thing he noticed made the world slam to a halt.
It was the first time he had ever seen her without her mask. In that moment, he could do nothing but stare, taking in every detail of her face and filing it away in case he never got to see it again. This wasn't Maestro, this was someone else, possibly the girl she had been before. She was beautiful.
Not in the conventional sense, of course, but in a cool, calculating sort of way, one that spoke of a lifetime of struggles and endurance. Her face was still closed off, and he saw no traces of anything that would suggest happiness or trust, but it didn't take away from her appearance. At the moment, her eyes were narrowed in annoyance, and yet, to his surprise, they didn't seem as dark as her mask would lead everyone to believe. They were less like coal and more like obsidian: gleaming and sharp and lovely. However, there was something else in them as well, a look he couldn't place and didn't know how to read, and he wondered at it.
It took him a second to recognize that she was trying to get his attention. "The staring is getting creepy. Seriously, do I have something on my –?" She froze suddenly, her entire spine stiffening with realization, before whirling around and slamming her mask back into place so fast she was nothing but a blur.
He cleared his throat, quickly choosing to move on while trying to pretend like seeing her face hadn't completely thrown him off balance. "Um, I brought you some soup. And medicine."
At the mention of the latter, she whipped back around, mask firmly in place, and stared at him, looking almost horrified. "You didn't. Tell me you didn't."
"You're welcome," he responded, irritated now and wondering why she was reacting this way, "It's just some antibiotics for the pneumonia. Why is that –?"
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to get those to people who actually need them?" she snapped, standing up and storming over to him, her hands on her hips, "I know of at least six families with sick kids –"
"You need them too, Maestro!" he found himself snapping back, feeling strangely gratified when she silenced at his outburst and looked at him in quiet surprise, and he calmed slightly. "Look, I know you have issues with trusting other people, particularly cops, and specifically me for some reason, and that's fine, but that doesn't change the fact that you can't help those kids – not a single one – like this. Take the medicine I hunted all over Gotham to find, and eat something besides the load of crap you have in those cabinets. Why is this such a hard concept for you?" he asked finally, feeling like he was making no progress whatsoever with this stubborn, unreachable woman.
Her face had gone completely blank by the time he had finished, and she turned away from him to rummage through the bag he had brought. "There are better people out there who could use it more than me. I can deal with it," she said simply, withdrawing the container of still-warm chicken soup he had procured for her. "Where did you get this?" she asked with an almost childish curiosity.
He reeled mentally, trying to process both what she had said, her attitude, and her sudden change of subject at the same time.
"Uh, there's a soup kitchen across town. Line's pretty long, but a friend of mine was able to get me a cup out the back. And what do you mean, better people?"
There was silence as she went back to her stool, her upper half uncharacteristically relaxed as she took the medicine and quietly began to eat.
"What could you possibly have done that would keep you from deserving something as basic as a bowl of soup?" he continued. She didn't respond for a long time, so long that he thought she wasn't going to, but then her answer cut calmly through the apartment.
"I broke the Code." She could have been sipping a latte and ordering lunch at a bistro for all the concern in her voice.
He didn't understand what she was talking about, but the blankness on her face – not that he could read much with the mask on – prompted him to take a seat across from her immediately. She was avoiding his eyes and trying to appear like that wasn't what she was doing, and he raised an eyebrow a moment before it hit him. Ah. "The men we found next to your medic?"
"We wondered what had happened," he responded softly, never taking his eyes from her masked face.
"Well, now you know. I killed them," she stated matter-of-factly into her soup.
The silence stretched between them again as she continued eating, and he watched her hands tremble faintly as she moved the spoon to her mouth and back to the bowl again. He studied her, trying to figure out what he could say that would help this girl with such a questionable background deal with something like this. The Batman was everything to her; to have broken his one rule had to have broken her. He had to admit that, while she was doing an exceptionally good job of hiding her fear, her lack of a reaction to telling him what she had done was so controlled that it was practically a reaction of its own.
He thought back to the glimpses of pictures he had seen in her music room, of a lovely, smiling blonde woman with kind blue eyes, who, now that he had seen Maestro without her mask, he could say looked exactly like the girl in front of him.
"And you?" Blake remembered asking, "Why do you wear the mask?"
She'd fixed her black gaze on him for a moment, her expression momentarily unguarded.
"I was tired of looking in the mirror and not recognizing my own face or the person I'd become. The mask eliminates that little issue."
"Who were you before?"
Her eyes had gotten a faraway, forlorn look in them, as though she was reliving something so horrible it had physically caused the ground to shake beneath her feet.
"I was nobody."
She'd been on her own for a long time, that much was clear. If he was right about her past with Crane, the demented doctor had probably had something to do with that. Something clicked in his head then, and he continued to study her. He knew what that look was in her eyes now, he knew why she had reacted and killed those two men. But first, he needed to confirm his suspicions.
"The woman on the desk in there," he began, nodding towards the back room, "was that your mother?"
Her head snapped up and she met his eyes suddenly, as though his question surprised her. It probably had.
Lifetimes seemed to pass while she held him in her gaze, weighing and judging and measuring while she visibly considered her response. He kept his face as blank as hers, certain that if she saw sympathy or pity she would resent it and not say a word. Come on, he silently willed her, let me in.
Either he passed her mental test or she really was as exhausted as she looked, because finally, hesitantly, she nodded.
"Her name was Grace."
It was his turn to be surprised. He had expected sarcasm or even silence, but not actual details.
"What happened to her?" he asked, sensing an opportunity to break through her hard exterior and get to the woman behind the mask.
"She died." Finally, a note of emotion caught in her voice.
"Was it Crane?" he asked, watching her physically flinch at the name and close her eyes a moment, seemingly getting lost in her own head.
"Indirectly," came the vague response, her tone suggesting she was unwilling to explore that line of conversation any further.
"What was she like?" he pressed, knowing he was standing on the very edge of a cliff, and instead of exercising caution, choosing to throw himself off of it. He was so close, closer than, perhaps, anyone had ever been.
There was silence for a long moment, and he briefly thought he had pushed too far when she opened her mouth to reply. "She smelled nice, like that cheap vanilla soap you can buy for a buck at a convenience store. I loved it." A small but genuine laugh left her lips, lacking all of its signature mocking qualities, and he couldn't help but smile along with her, "She was a hurricane once she set her mind to something; she pursued it until she got it. That was the reason we could pay rent every month. She worked three jobs, one of which was a graveyard shift at a gas station. She could play the violin better than anyone I knew; I'm still not as good as she was. When I'd have nightmares, she'd play some complicated piece to put me back to sleep, and it worked every time."
Blake sat forward in his chair, marveling at the new light in her eyes and wondering, just for a moment, if this excitement and love, muted though it was, was how she had been as a child.
"Basically, she was the sole happiness of my childhood."
"You miss her." It wasn't a question.
Her face shifted into a near-agonized expression. "Yes."
The pain and longing she put into that one word made his soul twist, because he knew that feeling, he knew it like he knew the world was round or that life was cruel.
There was a longer silence that stretched between them as Maestro looked past him and at the wall, no longer eating and instead disappearing in her own head again. He hadn't been lying when he said he'd gotten a chance right out of the Boy's Home, or that he knew she hadn't been so lucky. He'd barely scratched the surface of her story, but he knew how he could help her, at least here and now.
If asked what prompted me to just start talking to Blake about my mother, my most closely guarded memory, I would only shrug, because to this day I don't know. Maybe it was the look in his eyes, or the fact that he brought me soup, or that I was just so exhausted and I was momentarily tired of fighting him and deflecting everything, but I found myself answering each of his questions.
You miss her. Were I in a better mood, I would have ridiculed him for the obvious statement. Yes, I missed her. I wanted her back with me more than I wanted to live.
"Not a lot of people know what it feels like, do they?"
I snapped out of my reverie to meet his gaze once again. "What?" I asked quietly, studying him.
"To be angry, in your bones." He spoke the words as though he'd said them before, but I hardly noticed as the entire world seemed to shift and I closed my eyes, trying not to let my emotions show on my face.
He knew. Somehow, some way, he knew. Anger was as much a part of my being as blood and marrow; I carried it with me and felt it like a pinprick in every breath I took. Anger at Crane, anger at the cops, at Bane, at Matchstick, at the people who wouldn't help us, at those who ridiculed the Batman, and, sometimes, even at my angel himself. I meant what I'd said to Crane; I loved him because he always came back and I knew that he would, in the same way I knew the sun would rise, but on my bad days I just wanted him to be here, already.
"My father died when I was a kid. He owed some guys some money and when he couldn't pay up..." his voice trailed off and I saw the raw grief on his face, so easily concealed by a handsome smile and the endless blue of his gaze, "I saw it happen, and I remember it like it was yesterday," Blake continued, voice wavering. That I hadn't been expecting, but I knew the haunted look on his face only too well.
"You tried to help him. You felt his blood on your hands," I stated quietly, and I watched his jaw set.
"Yeah. So did you, right?"
I nodded. I was wrong. Not an admission I made often. It appeared we had more in common than we let on, however reluctant I was to admit it. He was just as broken as I was; he just managed to hide it better. "You do know something of hate, don't you?"
He looked vaguely confused at my question, but nodded just the same. Yet another second of silence passed, and after I took a second to realize that I had successfully managed to horribly misjudge him, I smirked. "Truce?"
He grinned, lighting up his entire face in a way that did not give me adolescent butterflies, and nodded again. "I've only been trying to call one for what, days now?"
I shot him a look. "I still don't like you very much. Don't push your luck."
His smug expression couldn't have been wiped off his face with a mop. "If you're serious about a truce, then let's keep talking. What was your dad like?"
I felt my gaze harden instantly as I clenched my fists beneath the table, but I wanted to give him a chance. Maybe, just this once, I wanted to let someone in.
"He's dead. The only memory I have of him is my mother yelling at him to get out and never come back." I wrinkled my nose in disgust. "He smelled like cigarettes and had this really gravelly voice. What about your mother?" I inquired. Two could play at this game.
He shrugged. "She died when I was little. I don't remember it."
"You went to St. Swithins, didn't you?"
He looked a little surprised that I knew, then smirked a bit. "Scout?"
"Scout." I knew I needed to ask about her, about my rebels, but I wanted... I wanted to continue talking now that I'd found someone who understood. Blake understood, and I knew that he understood, and that made all the difference. Besides, if anything truly dreadful had happened, he'd have told me. I could ask about it later.
"What was it like? Being in a home?"
He gave a small smile. "Crowded. You wouldn't have liked it much, it was pretty loud all the time. Then again, it was all boys. How did you end up...?" He looked like he didn't know quite how to phrase the question without shutting me down, and I gave him a small smile. I was too tired to fight back right now.
"On the streets? When you grow up in the Narrows, you hear a lot of horror stories about foster homes. I wasn't willing to risk it. Besides, my mother was my entire world. Once she was gone, living with someone else just... didn't feel right. I was in the system for three days. Then I doubled back to our apartment, grabbed everything I didn't want someone else getting ahold of, and vanished," I responded, idly spinning the now-empty soup cup.
"How did you find this place?" He gestured to the apartment around us.
"Trial and error. I didn't stay in it much after I found my lieutenants, but once The Young started growing I came here for space. Did you like the home?" I asked, cocking my head.
He shrugged. "Some days were better than others. We went to school, came home. Had Mass on Sundays."
"You didn't do anything for fun?"
"The roof doubled as a playground; we used to play baseball and stuff up there. Sometimes we told stories."
Amused, I sat forward, an eyebrow raised behind my mask. "What kind of stories?"
"Our favorites were about Bruce Wayne." There was a strange light in his eyes, like he was trying to tell me something, but I was too exhausted to care at the moment.
"Because he was an orphan?" I inquired, watching him nod.
"Yeah. The Batman was your angel, Bruce Wayne was ours." The light grew larger, more obvious; he was trying to hint at something without saying it directly, but what?
"Have you ever met him?"
"Once or twice." Okay, now he was being deliberately evasive. Well, I didn't have the patience for it; my shoulder was killing me and I would need to sleep off the rest of this pneumonia soon. Since I didn't know if Blake would be here when I woke up, it was time to get down to business.
"How's the Young?" If the change of topic threw him off, he didn't show it.
"Savvy's taken charge and she's doing a great job. We've already done several successful raids on Bane's men and are already pretty stocked up on supplies. Jazz never leaves her side even though he can't stand us; he was actually the one who told us what happened to you."
I raised an eyebrow, surprised at Jazz's initiative. He avoided cops like the plague. "Really? Remind me to give him a raise."
"You pay them?"
"Don't be stupid. How is Scout?"
Blake sighed, folding his hands in front of him. "Coping."
Closing my eyes, I nodded. "I figured." Scout was stronger than I was; she wasn't the type to be paralyzed by loss. It was far more characteristic of her to get back up and punch it in the face.
"She's sticking pretty close to Gordon though," he continued, and I scowled.
"She follows him around a lot. And he asks about her when she doesn't show up for meetings and stuff. Is that such a bad thing?"
I gritted my teeth. Yes. "No. It just surprised me. I guess it shouldn't have. Now, this next question is highly crucial, and I want you to answer honestly. Where, exactly, is Matchstick at this very second?"
He looked wary at the sudden acid in my voice. "Gordon has her locked up in a back room at our base. She has no idea where they are or where your new base is. I take it you know they moved?"
"Yes. Another reason to give Savvy a raise. Continue."
"She doesn't say much, but we know she's listening for anything she can."
I thought about the toxin concealed in my desk, and then hated myself for doing it. "I'll handle it," I responded coolly, watching the wariness in Blake's eyes grow exponentially.
"Maestro, you can't be thinking –"
"I said I'll handle it. What's the plan you're working on now?" I asked sharply, cutting him off. Alliance or no alliance, I'd deal with our traitors in my own way; Gordon and his men would have no say in it.
He looked suspicious, but continued. "Savvy's got a huge raid planned for tomorrow. A couple of us are going with her, but I don't have to if you need –"
"Don't flatter yourself. What do they know about my situation?" I cut him off again.
"They know you're alive, and only your lieutenants and Scout and a handful of others know you were with Crane. Only Gordon knows you've escaped," he responded, exasperated.
I grinned, reaching for another baton and spinning it idly as a plan formulated in my mind. Bane didn't know I was alive, my Young didn't know I was free, and they were planning a large raid for tomorrow. This has promise.
"What time is the raid?"
"Seven A.M. They're sending Bane's men out in larger groups now, like you said, and there's a contingent that sticks to Main Street that we're targeting," he answered, watching me before gesturing to the rapidly-spinning baton in my hand. "Savvy said you only do that when you're scheming, and frankly it's kind of scary. What are you thinking?"
Main Street, huh?
"Maestro?" Blake asked, watching me cautiously.
I smirked at him. "You wouldn't happen to know where I could find a spare motorcycle, would you?"
A/N: I don't own DKR, but I do own Maestro and any OCs. The recommended song for the chapter is "Hallelujah" by any number of people. I prefer Kate Voegele myself, but whatever you think fits best.
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