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And then you came with those red mournful lips,
And then you came with those red mournful lips,
And with you came the whole of the world's tears,
- William Butler Yeats
“I don’t really like ghost stories,” Bella tells Charlie, nine-and-a-half and very earnest. “They never have happy endings.”
Later, he’ll wonder how he never noticed her.
He will see her sitting quietly at her desk, slim fingers tapping away at the keyboard. He will see her eyes gleam large and dark in the light from her computer, and the feather-light brush of her hair against her cheekbones. He will see the way she seems to capture all the light and air in the room around her and funnel it into herself, how she radiates it back a thousand times brighter. He will think she is like a miniature sun, glowing fierce and bright and just for him.
He will not see the crescent-moon scar on her left hand or the strange way it shimmers under the fluorescent lights. He will not see the three barely there freckles which dust the top of her cheek, the little cluster of spots other men once traced with awe-filled fingertips. He will see how she traps light within her, but he will not see how she never lets it out, how it escapes of its own free will. He will not understand that she is not the sun, but a distant star in the midst of supernova, and that she can shine much brighter for someone other than him.
He will not see any of this until it is too late, and his eyes have been blinded by the light.
(The word dazzled
will hang between them, never spoken, and it’s only after she’s gone that he thinks to apply it to her.)
It happens like this:
He spends two years walking past her, and when he thinks of a woman at all the name in his head is Rachel, Rachel Dawes
, and nothing to do with her at all. Most of the time he can barely remember her name long enough to ask for a cup of coffee or postpone a meeting for personal reasons
She spends two years being okay with this. More than okay, relieved
. She has been the center of someone’s universe for so long that she’s forgotten what it’s like to be a normal person. She knows what it’s like to have someone’s world rely on her breathing, and to have galaxies shudder to a halt from just one word. She knows how looking at the wrong boy at the right time can make meteors appear.
And somewhere in the middle of forgetting to be the universe, she remembers how to be herself.
It begins with not looking around the office for someone to defer to. She stops shying away from things, relearns what it’s like to stare at a problem and not back down.
Maybe that’s why she realizes it when no one else does. She looks at the difficult things when no one else wants to.
Or, perhaps, it’s because she’s so used to secret identities that she never takes anything at face value anymore.
Really, it’s because most people are skilled at ignoring what’s right in front of them.
And it’s been a long time since she was one of those.
“In related news, it seems like everyone hates the Batman,” Snapper Carr says, his grave demeanor perfected. “Even the homeless.”The camera cuts to a shot of the Narrows, people tumbling out of cardboard shanties and other, less savory shelters.
“Recent news in the Narrows suggests that Batman is continuing his crime spree. And you’ll never believe his latest target.
“The poor, the down-and-out folks of Gotham’s Narrows — the very same people he claimed to protect. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen him abducting several unidentified people right off the streets. There are even allegations that he is behind last week’s grisly murder near the Mayor’s office.”The reporter stares into the camera, solemn stare, firm jaw, making sure to endow his words with every measure of fear and doubt he can muster.
“Who knows what Batman will do next?”
It’s been seven months and six days since It Happened.
Rachel, he thinks, would have told him not to be such a wimp. She would have added the Sh. Even in relation to her own death.
(“Especially about my death
,” she says, her voice ringing in his head. “Where’s your sense of humor?”
The city is still a pool of anti-Batman sentiment, and when he flicks the news on in his office that afternoon, it is what the latest report is on.
“We are doing all that we can to bring the Batman to justice,” Jim Gordon tells the reporter.
His face is tired and worn. With his honed eye, Bruce can spot several new wrinkles, a whole new patch of gray hair, and reflects with sardonic amusement that he caused them.
(“You wanted to make a difference, Bruce. When will you learn to be careful what you wished for?”
The girl slips into his office as the usual montage of clips starts playing: the shattered Bat Signal, the slew of angry protesters, the BRING DOWN THE BAT posters clipped to every telephone pole in the zip code. He gives her less notice than he would a fly as she sets a hefty pile of paperwork on the edge of his desk — he knows his employees have been checked out, he cannot say the same of a nano-sized spy robot.
And then she opens her mouth, her voice like a sigh on the (nonexistent) wind. “You did the right thing, you know.”
His head snaps up. She hovers by the door, waif slim, pale skin, a ghost in all but name.
The corners of her red, red
lips turn up as if he should already know what she was talking about. Her eyes hold the look of someone indulging a child by playing along with a game.
“By not turning yourself in,” she clarifies. Her face is blank, like she hasn’t said anything unusual, like she is used to keeping the kind of secret that could bring the world to its knees.
Before he can say anything, before he even has time to react
, she has flitted out the door.
He blinks, hand already reaching for the telephone, and tells himself it was only a ghost.
Just a ghost.
(“Then what am I?”
The ghost has a name.
As far as names go, its fairly ordinary, albeit in a melodramatic, my-mother-was-an-English-major sort of way.
She is younger than he thought she was, only 21, finishing up her degree in Mythology after transferring to Gotham U from Dartmouth. She works for him part time, one of the small army of people that keeps his office running.
He gets Alfred to pull up back issues of the newspaper from her old hometown, something that takes a few days since the Forks Courier-Ledger
hasn’t gone digital yet, but is well worth the wait.
He sees a wedding announcement, dated almost two years previously: Isabella Swan and Edward Cullen, a boy he remembers as being at the top of her senior class.
He also finds the retraction in the next week’s paper. The wedding never took place.
He should probably brush it off, taking the information for what it is. Small town high school sweethearts plan to get married and break up. Big deal. Common enough. The same thing has happened all over the country. He’s pretty sure MTV did a True Life episode about it, even.
After all this time, though, he’s learned to trust his instincts.
And his instincts are telling him to find out more.
(He ignores the way Rachel’s voice tries to warn him away. He doesn’t think it’s a good idea to start listening to the voice in your head.)
“This is a city gone mad with grief,” the evening news special begins.The screen shows a series of images in rapid succession. The flood of protesters in the street, tide breaking on the steps of the MCU; people being snatched out of the crowd; coils of smoke as a dark-cloaked figure goes up in smoke; a thousand scenes of violence to fill the empty air-time.
“Chaos has taken over Gotham since the tragic events of last January,” the newscaster continues, and the scene changes, the faces of the Joker’s casualties running across the screen.
“It has been six months since the Joker carried out his reign of terror against the citizens of Gotham. It has been six months since we found out what kind of monster really lurked behind the Batman’s mask.
“And now the question must be asked: why hasn’t he revealed himself?”
Bruce leaves the cowl off for the night.
He tells himself it is because the anti-Batman protests have been particularly fierce this week. He tells himself that Alfred has been wanting him to take a break, that his ribs haven’t healed from his run-in with some of Falcone’s left-overs the night before. He tells himself that it has nothing to do with Bella Swan.
(“Do you have to look for more trouble?”
Rachel says in his head. “Don’t you have enough already?”
He waits until he sees her leave the grocery store, then slips into the crowd behind her. The sun is going down, and no one in Gotham wants to be out after dark.
It’s harder to follow her as they get closer to her apartment, a fourth-floor walk-up in a bad area of town. Which, really, is all of the town except for the three blocks surrounding his penthouse.
Most of the people have left the street for their own, much safer, homes, and those that are left clump together in groups of two or three. Always people who know each other. Probably people who would recognize him.
He falls back another half a block, trying to fix her plain brown coat in his mind. And then she goes insane.
At least, that’s what it looks like.
She begins to sway from side to side, lurching like a drunk. The people around her duck out of the way when she starts swinging her grocery bags, arms flailing, the movements silly and exaggerated like a child’s. Abruptly, she breaks into song.
Loudly. And off-key.
Even as he wonders what she is up to, he can see that the street is emptying. The few people who had separated them are suddenly remembering a pressing errand at the (closed) bodega two blocks back, or the seedy tattoo parlor he just passed. Before long (she’s only hit beer bottle number seventy-two), they are the only people left.
Not the smartest move on her part.
Gotham is full of criminals, he knows that better than anyone. He wonders how she could be foolish enough to walk (seemingly) alone through this town after dark. With the way things have been, it wouldn’t have been a good idea even in the daylight.
“I can clear a room, at least,” she says, and laughs quietly to herself.
He has just succeeded in convincing himself that she’s merely enjoying a private joke when her voice sounds again.
“You can come out now,” she tells the empty street.
He is behind her in seconds, his hand hovering in the air over her shoulder.
” Rachel admonishes. “It’s time to use our real people manners now.”
“How did you know?” he asks, slipping into the Voice.
She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t even falter in her drunken stride when she answers, “I’ve been stalked by scarier things than you.”
(In his head, Rachel is snickering.)
“What made you do it?”
First date, the first thing he asks her, and the first the he almost wishes he could take back.
“Get engaged at eighteen. Leave your fiancé at the altar. Move to Gotham.”
She turns; her hands flutter to her hair, nervous.
“Wow, you really don’t pull your punches,” she observes. “Don’t you think that’s a little personal?”
started by revealing my secret identity and moved on to insulting my detective skills. I kind of think I’m going easy.”
“I called you a bad stalker, that’s not exactly an insult.”
She sighs, rolls her eyes, shoves a pile of paperbacked classics to the ground.
“It’s a long story,” she says.
He walks with her to her apartment. They don’t really talk, unless you count glowering and the occasional snippy comment from Rachel (heard only by him) as conversation.
She hesitates in front of the door. He barely has time to be surprised when she shoves her groceries in his arms and tells him not to move.
“I’ll be right back,” she breathes, unlocking the door and dashing inside.
Bruce considers waiting for all of ten seconds before following her inside.
He tries very hard
not to smirk.
Every flat surface in the apartment is covered in papers, notes, or books of some sort. This includes the floor, he notes, leaving a muddy footprint across an old essay on modern vs. traditional werewolf mythology, and the sink, which isn’t really a flat surface at all, but she filled it with stacks of books and folders anyway.
Bella is in the process of shoving most of those papers out of sight; when he walked in she was already halfway through stuffing an armful in the dishwasher, and he can see another few piles through the dusty glass door of the oven. She turns to glare at him when his smirk turns into a poorly disguised laugh.
“You were supposed to wait outside,” she says pointedly, using a dog-eared copy of Dracula to gesture at the door.
“I’m not a vampire,” he defends himself, astonished to feel a grin pulling at the edges of his mouth. “You can’t expect me to wait for an invitation.”
She has already turned back to the dishwasher, so he can’t see her face any longer. He can still hear her, though.
“Myth,” she mutters, slamming the door shut.
Rachel tells him.)
But he is too busy watching Bella Swan to listen.
“I’m no good for you,” he tells her.
She shrugs, “I’m bad for you, too,” and goes back to her book.
“I don’t see many people being put in danger by pretty coeds.”
“Maybe you should look harder.”
GOTHAM (AP) — Police report another two disappearances in the Greater Gotham Area. Eyewitnesses place a large, dark figure walking with one of the victims moments before he vanished. Unconfirmed reports identify the attacker as the Batman, the city’s patron vigilante.
“You don’t seem like this kind of girl,” he says one day.
A few weeks have passed, and they’ve settled into a routine. When she has morning classes, they’ll meet at the penthouse during his lunch break, forget to eat anything, and head back to work together. The days she has afternoon classes, it’ll be the opposite: go to her (still messy) apartment, still forget to eat, and leave separately.
They are still lying in bed, arms and legs twined together. His sheets, with their thread count higher than the salaries of most CEOs, lie in a rumpled heap halfway across the room. The TV is on, the news on mute, and a ceiling fan on low speed gives them just enough of a breeze to not feel like a sticky, sweaty mess.
So it takes Bella a few moments to pull herself out of hazy contentment and back into the real world long enough to ask, “Why not?”
Her thumb traces patterns over his heart, fingers trailing touches over dense pattern of scars and bruises she finds there.
What he wants to say is, you are the kind of girl who cries during the Dramatic Moments of romantic comedies. You are the kind of girl who gets a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day and a diamond on Christmas. You aren’t the kind of girl who falls in love — you throw yourself into it.
(“And gets married right away to a husband who cheats on you for forty years,”
is Rachel’s contribution.)
What he actually says, is more appropriate.
“You seem like a romantic,” he tells her. “Not the casual sex type.”
She traces a heart onto his skin.
“I’ve been trying something new,” she admits. “I want the whole college experience. Even the screwed up relationships. It’s part of my gig as Average Jane, coed and part-time assistant.”
“Long name,” he comments. “Does that make me Joe?”
Her hand stills. Tangled as they are, he feels her flinch along every inch of his skin. She is quiet for a long time, and in his head, Rachel is frowning at him.
(“Oh, I warned you, Bruce.”
A cold knot forms in the pit of his stomach. He always knew they couldn’t wouldn’t last. This is the first time he’s ever been afraid of that thought.
And then she laughs, high and clear, a sound like bells ringing.
“Don’t be silly,” she says, setting despair aside like an old coat. “Jane’s boyfriend is always Dick.”
She twists her head around so she can smirk at him. He seizes upon the bait gratefully, pretends to growl at her. She turns that tremblingly bright smile of hers onto him.
They’re both very late getting back to work that day.
CALLING ALL CITIZENSJOIN THE GOTHAM DEFENSE LEAGUEDedicated to the preservation of Gotham City from the influence of vigilantes like the Batman. Arm yourselves!Take our city back from the Bat!
He is afraid of it, sometimes, of this thing they’ve begun.
It is impossible to escape it.
No, not it.Her
That should have been the first warning sign.
He finds her waiting at the penthouse when he gets back from patrol.
Rough night, lots of bruises, and her eyes stay fixed on him when he pulls off the cowl.
“You’ve been busy,” she says quietly.
He’s never really understood what it meant to have someone look through you until he met Bella Swan and could feel her eyes burning him.
“Criminals don’t take vacations.”
“It’s not just the bad guys, though.” It should be a question, but it’s not.
“People hate Batman right now,” he tells her. “It will pass.”
“How do you know that?” she asks. “People are disappearing, and dying, and — they’re blaming it all on you
. Every time something goes wrong they are going to keep blaming you. And you just let them! For crying out loud, where’s your sense of self-preservation?”
(“Don’t listen to her,
” Rachel says. “We just have to get through this.
“It will pass,” he says again. “These things always do.”
“But will it happen before someone takes a shot at you? Before people get together and come after you? What happens when someone else figures out that it’s you? Is it going to pass before then?”
Her face is set, fierce. There’s a hard light blazing through it, like a candle in a dark room, and he wants more than anything to catch hold of it, to carry it with him into the night.
“‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’”
“They already think you’re the villain,” she snaps. “What about staying alive?”
(Somewhere, someone is laughing their ass off at her.)
“You’re better off broken, you know.”
Bruce flinches, and he doesn’t have to wonder how she knew. He feels like everyone should, that somehow his grief is painted on his skin and if you look close enough you’ll see it, keeping company with his scars. “How is that?”
“Eventually — not now, not even close to now, but one day — you’ll heal stronger. You will be a whole person without her, whoever she was. And then you’ll be thankful that it happened. Because if she hadn’t left, you wouldn’t know how strong you could be.”
“I still hear her,” he confesses, guilty and quick. “In my head. It’s like she’ll never leave.”
Bella’s face is blank. “I know.”
GOTHAM (AP) — The recent string of murders attributed to the Batman has come to a confirmed end.Police Commissioner Jim Gordon held a press conference this morning assuring the public that the threat was over.
“We are not at liberty to divulge more details at this time,” Gordon said. “But the perpetrator of the recent string of disappearances has been stopped.”He went on to point out that there is little proof that Batman was actually involved in the crimes.
“Despite what many people in Gotham have wanted to believe, we have to reason to suspect Batman is behind any of these crimes. The vague accounts of “a dark shape” being spotted before the victims disappeared do not mean that the Batman was involved. We have good reason to believe that the perpetrator was a newcomer to the city, as reports of similar murders have surfaced from all over the country. We strongly believe that a migrating serial killer is behind the attacks, and that we will be closing in on him any day now.”
It is the middle of the afternoon and they are still in bed. It’s all part of the image, he tells himself, playboy extraordinaire who can’t stop screwing around for one day of work.
It’s all about the image, and how it becomes reality.
“Tell me a story,” he says to distract himself.
“Once upon a time,” she begins, and it’s funny how he never noticed her silence until he made her speak. “There was a boy. Well, two boys, actually. There was a girl, too.”
“Kinky,” he smirks.
“Very not. Trust me.”
“Are you planning on letting me continue?” When he doesn’t speak, she does. “There was a girl and these two boys and neither of them were princes, but they treated the girl like a princess and she liked that.
“The girl didn’t want to choose between the boys, because that would have meant losing one of them. They both made her feel special, and that was something new to the girl. So she stalled. She made first one boy, and then the other, think that she picked him. She even believed that she could pick, because she didn’t want to admit the truth — that she wanted them both. Forever.
“And for a while, it seemed like it was going to work.
“But the boys both liked to run away when things didn’t go their way. And even though they always came back, there was nothing the girl hated more than being left.”
She is quiet for a long time and Bruce, who has never been an idiot, prompts her. “So?”
“She left them first.”
An unmarked envelope finds its way to Italy, courtesy of a few whispered instructions to a well-placed butler.
There is no logo or stamp to identify the sender, but when analyzed, everything from the stationary to the overpriced ink will lead back to Wayne Industries and a man too powerful to be suspicious of.
Inside is a collection of newspaper clippings, transcripts from news shows, and a single sentence typed on an index card.Deal with this.
“You’re still in love with him.”
He doesn’t know what makes him say it, what spirit possessed him long enough to make him say it.
(“I prefer ghost. Spirit makes me sound like some granola-chewing defense attorney.”
She stills, her skin like a pretty mask frozen in place. He wonders if the mask will come off when he kisses her. He wonders why he’s afraid to try.
“No,” she says.
Later, he will understand: this is the part where she is kind. She allows him half a second to catch his breath before —
(“You never wanted it to last,” Rachel says.)
The pity doesn’t help.End.