The Province of Fear

Author's Notes: This is a The Dark Knight/The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo crossover. Last year I read all three books from the Millennium trilogy, and, after watching David Fincher's brilliant take on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo come to life on the big screen, I was wholly enraptured. Combining the worlds of Lisbeth Salander and Bruce Wayne felt like an exciting and risky thing to do, and I am well up to the challenge. The story will take place in Gotham, though you may see mention of Mikael Blomkvist, Erika Berger, or other characters, places, and references from the Millennium trilogy. I hope you enjoy. Feedback, as it always is, is more than welcomed.

Chapter One

This is something new for him.

He doesn't ask for help often, and when he does, it's always the same circle of people he comes back to, because it's easy, it's familiar, and when you're a wanted vigilante, there's only so many people you can trust.

He's got Alfred, of course, first and foremost, and if things are especially complicated, particularly where Batman is concerned, he goes to Lucius Fox—and then maybe Gordon, if he needs to, even though the commissioner doesn't know his true identity. They both like to keep it that way.

In the past, he may have even gone to Rachel, maybe, but she's no longer an option. Perhaps she never should have been. She's too good for him, and he knows that despite all his fortune, all his money and all his fame, he never could have given her what she wanted, what she needed and what she deserved. She's an angel and he's a devil playing in the dirt. His hands are filthy and covered in blood more than they're not, and it should disgust him, this stark contrast between them, but it doesn't anymore. He stopped pretending to be a good person the day he showed Rachel the gun hidden beneath his jacket, where inside the barrel was lodged the bullet he had intended for Joe Chill, the murderer of his parents.

Sometimes he can still feel Rachel's resounding slap on his cheek, and he can feel the utter intensity of her gaze, the weight of her anger and disappointment bearing down on him till it forces him to his knees.

Your father would be ashamed of you.

He thinks that is the moment when he decided he wasn't going to kill. Because killing makes him like them, makes him like the criminals and villains he tries to defeat, and he will not be brought to their level. He will not succumb to the primal instincts of his flesh; then it would all be for naught.

Despite all this, despite that Rachel is an angel with white wings and Bruce is tainted with bruises and guilt and fear—it doesn't stop him from feeling angry about her. It doesn't stop him from feeling selfish and sad, and it certainly doesn't stop him from visiting all the notes and cards she'd given him as a child, stuffed in a box he keeps tucked in his closet. Once a year, on the anniversary of her death, he'll revisit her letters, her birthday cards, the 5th grade and 9th grade notes they passed in class. And all at once he thinks of little girl Rachel and grown-up-woman Rachel as he sits in a paper graveyard of forgotten words on his bedroom floor.

But this isn't about Rachel. Or Alfred, or Lucius, or Gordon. This is about reaching out beyond his normal means, this is about asking for help from a complete stranger. The stranger in question is a computer hacker, one of the best, he's heard, but you can't believe everything you read on the internet, especially in dark, encrypted forum boards that exist only between two and four AM.

The location where they've chosen to rendezvous is the barest of the bare. It's in the Narrows, for which he is grateful, where the threat of blinding flash bulbs and paparazzi and gossip column journalists do not lurk. No one would expect—let alone recognize him—in a place like this.

When he enters, the scent of Thai food fills his nostrils. It is not unpleasant, and his stomach rumbles in response to the aroma of smells wafting through the double, swinging doors that lead to the kitchen. There's coconut basmati rice and lemongrass roast chicken and broiled tilapia with coconut-curry sauce. He remembers that he hasn't eaten all day.

Still, though, he's here on business, not pleasure.

He lets a waitress—no more than fifteen probably—thin, waifish, with a shy smile and kind eyes—lead him over to a small table in the back. He asks for two waters, deciding to keep it simple.

The restaurant is mostly empty, for which he is not surprised because it's a Tuesday afternoon and it's three o'clock, and the only patrons here now are either homeless and looking to escape the summer heat, or are old folks and simply have nothing better to do.

His hacker has not arrived yet. Bruce is a bit early, he knows, but he still feels almost anxious, doing this, waiting here, and just wants to get the thing over with entirely. This is probably a stupid idea.

The walls are rose-colored and offset by faux gold paneling, a border that horizontally halves the wall all the way around the room. Above the paneling is gaudy, floral wallpaper, decidedly oriental in nature to fit with the whole theme. Bruce twists in his chair to look at the large statue of Buddha in the corner—spray painted gold and peeling. Origami place settings lay in the center of each table, and there is a matte painting framed on the wall of four large, Chinese symbols—and if there's a clashing of cultures going on here, Bruce isn't going to say anything. He didn't choose this place for its authenticity, after all.

When the waitress returns with two waters, Bruce sips his languidly, forgoing the offered straw, as he watches the door for the figure who said he'd be dressed in black, with a matching satchel.

When the front door chimes, only five minutes later, Bruce initially ignores the patron—even though they are dressed in all black—and goes back to swirling his ice cubes in his glass. Then a shadow falls across his table and he looks up and the figure is looking down at him. The figure is thin, and pale, and pierced, and her hair is short and ink-black and spiked and her shirt has a middle finger on it, and, more than that, the figure is decidedly not a man.

"You're Wasp?" He can't hide the surprise in his voice.

"You were expecting someone else?" Her Swedish accent is thick and unmistakable, with a sharp, no-bullshit bite to it.

"I was," he admits, unable to tear his eyes from her as she helps herself to the seat across from him with not-a-lot-of-grace, her black motorcycle helmet coming to the table with a sharp bang, rattling the silverware that's been wrapped loosely in off-white paper napkins. She shuffles out a cigarette from her leather jacket and then a lighter. Bruce just watches her, slightly fascinated by how deftly she moves and how small she is—and young, too, and yes, this is not what he had been expecting, and suddenly he wishes he could backtrack because this is definitely a stupid idea.

"Well," she says around the cigarette lodged snugly at the corner of pale lips, "you wanted to talk and here I am."

Bruce just stares at her, his uneasiness, disbelief, and doubt etched plainly across his face. "Listen, I… " He's already figuring in his head how much it'll cost to fund her trip back to Sweden, because he'll double it for her trouble, for making her come out here to Gotham for no one reason. His hand slides against the checkbook in his jacket as he speaks.

"I know who you are," she interrupts bluntly, as if she were merely telling him the day of the week. She raises her eyes from the table to look at him from beneath bleached brows. Behind her, the bell dings again as the door opens. She lowers her voice. "There are not many people in Gotham who can afford toys as big as yours," she says, referring to the Bat and the tumbler. She watches the mixture of shock and perhaps trace of admiration flicker across his features as she blows a trail of white smoke from her lips. "You're not surprised, are you?"

"No," he says, thoughtful. The smoke curls around her like a ghost. "No, I suppose not. I've heard you're the best."

"I am," she replies, and it's not with a thread of arrogance or conceit, but very matter-of-factly, because she knows it's true and she's not going to pretend that it isn't just for modesty's sake.

"I also heard," he begins, shifting in his chair a bit to lean his forearms on the table, "that you don't work solely for the money. The job has to interest you."

She nods, waiting for him to continue, and for a second Bruce basks in the fact that here, with Wasp or whatever her real name is, he is not Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy philanthropist. Here he is Bruce Wayne, secret vigilante in desperate need of help in saving his city, the city his parents helped restore that he refuses to give up on because he will not let their efforts go to waste. He is relieved that she knows his true identity, because it means he doesn't have to creep on eggshells and mask what he really wants from her. He can lay all of his cards out on the table, and he supposes it's better this way, because even though they've just met, he knows he can trust her, so long as she can trust him.

"Is it the Joker?" she asks without looking up, and when Bruce nods, which she sees out of her peripheral, she takes the cigarette from her lips and twirls it between pale fingers. Her thin wrist rests on the table in front of her, revealing pale, pale skin where the sleeves of her jacket have edged up. "Good," she says, after a moment of thought. She doesn't even wait for Bruce to expound, to explain what he wants her to do, because she knows already she wants to do it. She needs to do it.

She holds the cigarette to her lips again. "When do we start?"