Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter 1: Prologue
Part 1: Gotham City, the Wayne Manor
"Is there anything else I can get for you, Master Bruce?"
Not bothering to look away from the bright computer screen, Bruce shook his head. "I'm fine, Alfred, thank you. It's late, why don't you turn in for the night."
"What about Mistress Wayne?"
Bruce did look up then and met the wizened eyes of his aging butler. Alfred Pennyworth had been like a father to him, adding that to his many roles after the unexpected death of Bruce's father. But that loss had been many years ago, a boating accident having claimed the life of Thomas Wayne.
"She's had a long day, Alfred. Mother turned in about an hour ago."
He nodded, brisk and formal. "Very good, sir, and what of Dr. Wayne? I could take a cup of soothing tea to her before I turn in for the night."
Bruce's eyes slid to the clock on the mantle. It was nearly 12:00 a.m. When he'd left his bedroom, his wife was already asleep. Like his mother, she was exhausted, barely able to keep her eyes open when he tried to share the information he'd newly acquired. But there was always tomorrow, he'd told himself before kissing his wife goodnight and descending the stairs. He'd finally found the evidence he'd been searching for, and his wife . . . well, she was his confidant, his sounding board, his partner. He couldn't wait to share the news with her. And the others.
"She's asleep as well, Alfred. But I think she would very much like that tea with her morning breakfast."
"Of course, Master Bruce. If you will excuse me then, I'll retire for the night."
Alfred bowed out of the room, closing the door to Bruce's study behind him.
Bruce turned back to his laptop and continued to read. The list was finally complete. They could begin. In truth, they already had. One down, more to go. He pushed several keys, sending one each to the people he most trusted, the ones who would know exactly what to do with the Intel. Then he backed up the file on a flash drive, removed the portable device from the computer and slipped it into an envelope.
Standing, Bruce walked to the other side of his study and to the portrait of his parents that hung over the fireplace. Thomas and Martha Wayne stared out at him, youthful features forever caught by an artist's masterful strokes.
As much as Bruce missed his father, he knew he could have lost everything on that warm May night. Thomas Wayne had secreted his wife off to a special midnight cruise the day before Mother's Day. They were only to be gone the night, leaving Alfred to take care of the ten-year old Bruce. But an unexpected storm had rolled up the coast of Gotham, taking out power lines, downing trees, and roughening the waters. The Imperial, his father's ship, never had a chance. And when the sun had risen that Mother's Day, Thomas Wayne was lost at sea, Martha Wayne found, hospitalized and in mourning.
Bruce reached up and touched the clasped hands of his parents. The artist had even gotten that right. He examined his own hand, a mirror of his father's. Bruce was no Thomas Wayne, to be sure, but so much of the intelligent, generous man was inside of him. He loved and lived because of him. He cared and protected others because of him. Bruce had known how to be a husband because of him. And now I'll know how to be a father.
Bruce slid the portrait to the right. It made no sound as it shifted, but once moved, it did reveal a small wall safe. Inputting in the five-digit code, the safe door popped open. Placing the envelope with the flash drive inside and closing the safe, Bruce sighed with relief. Only one thing left to do. Sliding the portrait back into place, Bruce returned to his desk and the laptop.
Bruce encrypted the documents, opened his e-mail and typed the words he hoped would never have to be read. They didn't come easy for him, but it had to be done, had to be said. Just in case. Finally, he attached the document to the e-mail and hit SEND. It was done. Well, not quite. There was still the issue of the computer and its contents.
His eyes shifted to the slow burning fire. It was the best option. Leave nothing behind. Can't afford the risk. Bruce closed the laptop and stood. He could feel his own fatigue catching up with him. He almost laughed at that. In less than a month, he would become a father. He might as well start getting used to late and sleepless nights. The thought thrilled him, much more than he thought it would.
Bruce walked around the large mahogany desk that had once belonged to his father. He'd grown into that as much as Bruce had grown into being CEO of Wayne Enterprises. His life, he knew, would have been so different if both of his parents had been taken from him. But Martha Wayne had lived, had returned from that watery grave that had claimed her husband and lived. "For you, Bruce. I came back for you, couldn't allow my boy to face the world alone and unloved." And he had known so much love, Martha giving her son more than his share. Dad's share. Now he was to be a parent in his own right. A father. A Dad.
Bruce smiled, then frowned. Footsteps? I thought Alfred went to bed. Maybe—
The door to his study swung open, smashing into the wall from the mere force of it. Quickly, Bruce lunged for his desk, knowing even as he ran that he wouldn't get to the gun he had in his drawer in time. Pain ripped through him, dropping Bruce to his knees.
"I don't think so, Mr. Wayne."
Bruce tried to focus, tried to swallow his fear and pain, tried to ignore the blood soaking through his robe, coating his shoulder in sticky crimson of life and death.
"H-how did you get in here?" Alfred may have been getting up there in age, but the man would never turn in for the night without setting the security alarm.
The shooter laughed. Just laughed. "I think, Mr. Wayne," the man said, pointing the gun at him, "that how I got in here is the least of your worries. So, unless you want me to shoot your other shoulder . . . or maybe a knee this time, I suggest you give me what I want."
With effort born of stubbornness, anger, and a touch of arrogance, Bruce willed his legs to hold his weight and stood. Once upright, Bruce could see his enemy better.
The guy was not quite as tall as Bruce but he was linebacker wide with deadly green eyes that were as flat and serious as his tone of voice. And while Bruce knew he had never met this freak-of-nature before, he knew precisely why he was in his home, what he wanted. You're not getting a damn thing from me.
Bruce held the man's gaze. He wouldn't be intimidated in his own damn home. Not tonight. Not ever.
"You think you're tough, Richie Rich?" The man laughed again, crueler this time. "You think you can challenge the wolf and not get bitten, clawed to pieces?" The shooter let loose another emotionless laugh, harsh and thick with icy tendrils that sent shockwaves of fury down Bruce's spine.
The man stepped closer. The scar that ran from left eye to mid-cheek, neither the rancid smell of his breath, nor the barrel of the gun pointing at him could scare Bruce Wayne. But the man's words of, "Let's just see how tough you are when my partner brings that sweet, preggo wife of yours down here. Let's just see how long it takes for you to break then."
"Of course I'll marry you, Bruce."
"I'm going to enjoy this, Ritchie Rich."
"Yes, I said I'm pregnant. We're going to become parents. Oh, god, are you going to pass out?"
"You should have left well enough alone, should have minded your own damn business."
"We're going to have a girl. A daughter, Bruce, I can't believe I'm going to be a mother in three months."
Bruce didn't hear what else the intruder had said to him. No, the only thing he could hear was his future slipping away from him. There was someone else in his home, someone intent on finding and hurting his pregnant wife. He couldn't let that happen, wouldn't let that happen.
And Bruce . . . well, he'd always been a realist. He was never one to mince words or play games. He knew the score, knew this could only end in two ways. He abhorred each ending, both bleak and bloody. But if there was a chance, even just one chance . . .
Bruce slammed his head into the man's face, hearing the bones of the intruder's nose break with a loud, rewarding crack. Then, with all his might, he punched the man with his uninjured arm, sending the bastard to the hardwood floor. Once down, Bruce stomped the hand that still held the gun. Bare feet attacked repeatedly, kicking and stomping, finding flesh and muscle and whatever in the hell he could damage.
Gun no longer in the intruder's hand or sight, Bruce bolted from the study, leaving the downed intruder behind. Must get to her. Must save her. Save our baby.
Winded, pained but fueled by a husband's love, a father's hope, Bruce bounded down the hallway and up the stairs. Their room was at the end of the hall. Running straight out, he headed to the master bedroom, darkness crowding him, fear threatening to slow his progress.
He ran faster, throwing himself through the open door, eyes searching the darkness for her. And there she lay, on her side and in their bed. Just the way I left her. Thank god. Thank you God.
Bruce stepped farther into the room, his breaths coming in loud, labored gasps. His shoulder burned with the pain of being shot, his arm a dead weight pulling him down. He blinked and forced himself to think. He had to get her out of here, had to get them all out of here. Have to get help.
He reached the bed and a wave of dreaded awareness washed over him. Too late. He was too damn late. Like the first, the shot was silent, muffled by a silencer. The bullet to his back spun him around, and for a minute, he saw the face of his killer. It was an ordinary face that could get lost in a crowd, neither handsome nor unappealing, nothing to mark him as the soulless killer he was.
Bruce stumbled backward, falling onto the bed and his still sleeping wife. But she shouldn't be sleeping. She should be awake. Should have heard me. Should have heard something.
With indescribable effort, Bruce used the comforter to pull himself up the bed and next to his wife. Her eyes were still closed, her face as beautiful as ever. But she was so very pale. And too still. God, why is she so damn still?
Then the laughter came, soft and mocking, and sadistically close. "You're a fighter; I give you that, Mr. Wayne. They said you wouldn't go down easy, wouldn't be easy prey. That's why I brought my man for the wifey. I thought I could use her to get the info from you. I guess he got a little trigger happy, couldn't wait to play."
Bruce's eyes never left his wife's face. She was barely breathing, and he knew . . . just knew, he was laying in more than his own blood. Her blood. He kissed her lips. They were warm and soft and morbidly unmoving.
Far too late, Bruce heard the security alarm begin to sound. Loud and shrill. The emergency lights flickered on and the men crouching over him cursed.
"Fuck, let's get the hell out of here."
"What about them? We haven't got what we came for."
A snort of satisfaction followed. "It doesn't matter. Bruce Wayne won't live to tell the tale or to take the info public. The bosses are in the clear. Besides, I got the asshole's laptop."
"What about the woman?"
"She's bleeding out from that stomach wound. You have to be one sick son of a bitch to shoot a pregnant woman." He laughed. "That's why I like you so much. Don't trust you for shit, but I'd kill with you any day." More laughter.
Bruce laid beside his wife, listening to her breathing slow. There was nothing else he could do, nothing he could say to her. The energy to speak the words of love and regret were beyond him. He wanted to touch her one last time, feel the life they'd created under his fingertips.
Blue eyes parted, opening just a crack. But it was enough. Tears fell.
Then they closed.
Part 2: Metropolis, the Kent Residence
Clark Kent eased out of bed, making sure to not disturb his wife. The last thing he wanted to do was wake her and get into yet another argument. Lois didn't know how to leave well enough alone. She had to be right, had to push her point until something gave. Well, yeah, something was giving and they both knew what.
Not bothering with slippers or robe, Clark ambled from the bedroom and to his office two rooms away. Across from their bedroom was a third smaller room. He didn't even glance at it. Nothing special was in there, nothing at all.
Turning on the desk lamp, Clark booted up his computer, thinking now was as good a time as any to get a couple of chapters written on his new novel. He wouldn't be going back to sleep, might as well be productive.
Clark opened the Word document, cracked his knuckles, and started typing. Three hours later the sun was up and he'd written three decent chapters. Stretching, he rose from the leather swivel chair, only to see Lois rushing into his office, her face pale, eyes wide.
"What's wrong?" He rushed to her when she didn't immediately answer. Clark grabbed her shoulders. "What's wrong, Lois?"
She opened her mouth. Nothing came out. She tried again, still nothing.
Lois was scaring the hell out of him. He'd never seen her like this. Upset, yes. Pissed off, yes. But . . . well, she looked like the Grim Reaper had come calling.
When she turned away, he followed, back to their bedroom. The television was on, the 6:00 a.m. news broadcast Lois always watched, while preparing for work, on its usual cable station. Lois stood in front of the television, mouth open in horror as she listened to the news reporter. Clark listened too.
"It is with deep sadness that I report that philanthropist and billionaire Bruce Wayne was gunned down in his home last night. His wife and respected United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Diana Wayne . . ."
By the time the broadcast was over, he couldn't feel the beating of his heart. With each of the reporter's words, a piece of his heart had been hacked away until nothing remained but a gaping hole where young, prideful love had once been.
He faced his wife. "I have to go."
She nodded. For once, Lois Lane-Kent did not argue with her husband. "I know. Go."
TO BE CONTINUED