8. There Were Bats
The CEO's office suite was on the very top floor of HalloTech, its back wall a single sheet of glass. It looked out on Gotham between the letters 'o' and 'T' of the company logo. The front wall looked out onto his secretaries' desks, and the glass was rippled for privacy. The two secretaries sat across the room from one another, one male and one female. It was so quiet during a slow day that even speaking quietly they could converse clearly with one another.
"What does he do all day?" the woman asked.
The man glanced in the direction of the CEO's office.
"I have no idea."
"He has me restock the dry bar every day."
"He had me bring in an entertainment center," sighed the man. "His father, the real boss, is going to freak out when he sees it."
"Will the General be back?" the woman asked. "I hear he's really sick. Doing chemo."
"He's the General," the man shrugged. "He'll beat cancer. He can beat anything."
"I hope so," the woman said. "Because his kid couldn't even beat a paper cut, let alone run this place."
Inside the CEO's office, Bobby Halloran was tossing pencils into the recycling bin across the room. His aim was evident by the sheer number of pencils lying on the floor rather than inside the bin. He kept trying to improve his aim by taking more drinks, but this strategy somehow failed him.
What did dad do all day here? he wondered. He checked his phone, but he had no new messages. He blew out a frustrated sigh and tossed it onto the chic glass and steel desk. He was restless and annoyed, but he didn't know why.
'Are you Batman?'
Bobby bit his bottom lip, thinking furiously. He had been wasted and emotional last night; it had all flashed by in a blur of anger and sadness. He shifted where he sat, still faintly sore. I'm sulking, he told himself. That's all. Bruce is kind of a bully. I'm just pissed at him, that's all. He'll make it up to me tonight.
Bobby opened one of the desk drawer's, locked by a thumbprint reader. The familiar white powder was there, promising a rescue from both his emotional turmoil and his hangover. He stared down at it, trying to will himself to shut the drawer again.
The young man's treacherous mind began to turn again. Bruce's hand felt like Batman's. The latter had been wearing gloves, but the snap of his hand when he struck him, the relative size and force of his palm …
And the scars.
While Bruce had talked of his travels overseas, trying to get cocaine-wired Bobby to sleep, Bobby had taken a good look at his body. He had many old scars, but there were some that looked no older than a few months. Why would a billionaire executive have new scars? Bobby was certain that Bruce would not harm himself, but if he had not made those scars, then who had? The scars were too severe to be from rough sex play, and besides, Bruce was a sadist if anything, not a masochist.
'I promise you, Bobby. I'm not Batman.'
Bobby shook his head in confusion. He sat far back in his office chair, staring at the ceiling. The lights were too bright. The day was too long.
Bruce would never lie to me, Bobby thought. I don't know how he got those scars. Maybe he goes to underground fighting matches and is embarrassed of it. Violence is a major part of his life, but he hates to admit that it excites him. He might hide the fact that he's fighting in some illegal matches from me. He would do that, but he would never lie to me. Not like that …
The phone on his desk buzzed. His male secretary's voice announced, "There is a … Roman See-on-es here—"
"Roman Sionis," Bobby corrected. He shut the desk drawer and sat up straighter. "Send him in."
Roman came into the office. For once, his dull black eyes had a glint of life in them. He looked pained, almost desperate. Bobby motioned him to a chair in front of his desk, but Roman only paced the office.
"I told that guy not to—I tried to warn that idiot, but he only thinks with his—What an idiot! That idiot, he's ruined everything!"
"Stop, stop, stop!" Bobby said quickly, standing. "My nerves are already sort of fried here. You're setting my teeth on edge! Calm down! Here, sit down. Have a drink."
Roman drew a breath and let it out. He rubbed his temples, as free of hair as the rest of his head. No one knew whether he shaved to be cool or because he had male pattern baldness, but he had had the look for years now. His bone structure was so sharp that sometimes he looked like a skull.
"Fine. Fine. All right." He collapsed into the guest chair and let Bobby pour him a drink.
"Okay, there. Just breathe. And drink. Definitely drink." Bobby sat on the edge of his desk. "Now tell me what happened."
"Tom, it's Tom," Roman said thickly. "Tom freaking Blake! That son-of-a-bitch screwed me."
Literally? Bobby wondered, though he did not ask.
"My company is sunk," Roman said. "I'm sure even you've heard the rumors by now. We're broke, and I got no choice but to sell out. Selina Kyle has offered me a generous figurehead seat on the board, but I've got no more hold on Janus Cosmetics. It won't even be called that anymore, she's folding it under her company's umbrella. I have no job. I have nothing to do."
"What does that have to do with Tom?"
"We had plans," Roman explained. "We were going to open a night club. We even bought the goddamn place and started renovating! It took the last of my expendable cash! But Tom's been weird since that robbery. I don't know, losing his hunting trophies broke him or something. Anyway, he lost it, and now he's gone!"
"Gone?" Bobby asked, startled. "What do you mean, gone?"
"I don't know," grumbled Roman. "Something happened to him last night at the Falcone party. He was beaten up pretty badly. I go over to his place this morning, and he's hobbling around on a cane, all bandaged up under his robe, talking about going to Africa! He said he's got to get back to the hunt, that he's got to see whether he's predator or prey once and for all."
"What the actual fuck?"
"I have no idea," Roman said glumly. "I couldn't get a word of sense out of him. He's lost it. And I saw his plane ticket. He's packed up everything he's got left and is probably on his way to Africa by now. Which leaves me partial owner of a building I can't afford to turn into anything more than a public toilet."
"I don't know," said Bobby, "plumbing is pretty expensive."
Roman gave him a look. Bobby cleared his throat.
"I didn't come here to bitch," Roman said. "How are you liking the corporate experience, Bobby?"
"Uh, I'm not liking it, Roman."
Roman got to his feet again to pour himself another drink. He also poured one for Bobby.
"Join me in this venture," Roman said. "The club is almost ready, I wouldn't need you to put in much. I'll split my stake in the club with you, and if we ever get a hold of Tom, we'll see about taking his stake back."
"I don't know, Roman," Bobby said, swirling his drink around in its glass. "I tried to open up a club when I was twenty, remember? It didn't go so well."
In fact, his place had been panned by every reviewer in the city and online. Bobby had been planning to dry out today, but he found his glass tilted to his lips before he knew it. Just a swallow, he told himself, making it a long swallow.
"This will be different," Roman assured him. "You should see how it's coming along. It's gonna be beautiful, Bobby, a really classy place. All it needs is you. I should have asked you to come on board before I asked Tom, but Tom needed the money. This is what I get for sympathizing!"
"Me?" Bobby asked, snorting. "Why would you need me? Why not ask the Knights? Or Zsasz? Why me?"
"Are you kidding?" Roman asked. "You're a night club veteran by now, Bobby. You're young, handsome, gay, people love you."
The liquor burned down Bobby's throat, and it tasted bitter. Bruce loves me, he thought. I've never known anyone else that does. I thought I did a few times, but I didn't.
"You know celebrities and billionaires from Gotham to California, with New York and Metropolis in between," Roman said. "You could bring the crowd I imagined the place would have. I have this terrific girl already set up to be the face of the club, Circe. She used to model for Janus Cosmetics. She's on contract to Selina Kyle's company now, but she said she would do it. You should see her, Bobby, she's dead gorgeous."
"I've seen her in some ads," Bobby said distractedly. It was impetuous, but he was already envisioning the potential of owning a night club. His friends were the most glamorously urbane people in Gotham City. He could see them all driving up to a new club downtown: the darkly voluptuous Knight siblings with their raven hair and pale skin, suave Roman Sionis with his ebony eyes and outrageous yet tasteful Circe on his arm, aloof heroin-chic-looking Victor Zsasz, bombshell Selina Kyle … and himself, beautiful but cute enough not to be threateningly so, perhaps with controversial, brooding Bruce Wayne by his side.
"I'm not asking for a fast 'yes'," Roman said. He took out one of his old Janus Cosmetics business cards and leaned over the desk to write something on the back of it. "I want you to come by the place whenever you can. Call me up, and I'll let you in and show you around. The construction is done, the paint is up, we just need the bar done, staff hired, and furniture installed. We could open by spring next year, maybe earlier. Just think about it, and give me a call, okay?"
"Okay," Bobby said, taking the card. "I will. I'll try to get in touch with Tom, too."
"Don't bother," Roman said. "I mean, you can try, but that guy has lost it. An elephant has probably stepped on his phone by now. Or worse."
"He said he was going hunting," Roman said with a shrug. "Sometimes that can go both ways."
Roman left. Bobby took another drink of liquor, trying to wash away the thought of Tom Blake being mauled by the lions he so closely resembled. He studied the address on the card for a long moment, and then put it in his wallet.
A club, his own club … a place that was his, a business that he knew, far away from the drudgery of HalloTech …
By the time Bobby broke out of his thoughts, it was evening. Well, it was four-forty, but he figured that was close enough to evening to call it a day. He pocketed his phone, got into his coat, and picked up his briefcase (which he carried more for show than to transport anything in). He did not even stop as he passed his secretaries, only gave them a careless wave on his way to the elevators.
"And people say money can't buy happiness," the male secretary said.
Bobby decided that he would wait for Bruce at his home. He had practically moved into the Wayne mansion, and spent more and more time there. He could not face his own family home these days, not with his father, General Walter Halloran, absent. Thinking on that, he wondered how Bruce had stood living in the home where his parents had lived and laughed and loved.
But Bruce didn't stay there, Bobby reminded himself. He was gone for all those years.
Gone, doing what? Training for what? For what goal? What purpose? The questions pounded in his head. He drove very fast on the highway out of the city proper, but he could not speed away from them.
At Wayne Manor, Bobby let himself in. He went into the den, and was surprised to find Bruce there. Bruce also seemed taken off guard—caught? Bobby narrowed his eyes at him.
"Bobby," Bruce greeted him, warmly enough. "You're home early."
"So are you." He said he was working. He told me that he usually works until six, sometimes seven or later into the night.
"We didn't get much sleep last night," Bruce said. "Even I have my limits. I thought I'd come home early, get a little sleep."
"So, is that what you're going to do now?" Bobby draped his arms around Bruce's neck. "Sleep?"
"That was the plan."
Bobby leaned up and kissed him smoothly.
"You've been drinking," Bruce said when they pulled apart momentarily. "Did you drive out here like that?"
"Yeah," Bobby said with a wicked little smile. "Are you angry with me again, Bruce? Is papa going to spank?"
"Don't tempt me," Bruce said. He sat down on the sofa and pulled Bobby down to sit on his lap. "Why do you do these things, Bobby?"
"What things? I don't think I was over the limit," Bobby said defensively. "I'm working on finding a driver, okay? Some 'Alfred' of my own."
"They broke the mold with Alfred," Bruce said. "It isn't only that. Why would you be drinking at work?"
"Because it's the only way I can stand that place," Bobby said flatly. "What is your problem with alcohol?"
"I hate anything that can lead to senseless harm."
"I guess this isn't the right time to tell you that I'm considering opening a nightclub, then," Bobby said dryly. "Imagine all the senseless drinking!"
"A nightclub?" Bruce echoed tonelessly. "Why would you do that?"
Bobby told Bruce about his meeting with Roman Sionis. By the time he was done, he had retrieved the TV remote and turned it on. He kicked his shoes off and lay down on the sofa, his head on Bruce's lap.
"What do you think?" Bobby asked, looking up at Bruce.
"You don't want to keep working at HalloTech?" Bruce asked him. "It is your family's legacy, Bobby, and if anything happened to it, your lifestyle would be over. The money might not be there forever."
"I'm a Halloran," Bobby said, his mouth twisting. "The only thing that will always be there is the money."
"Hey, that isn't true." Bruce took one of Bobby's hands into his own and kissed it. "I'll always be here, kid."
"Will you, Bruce?" Bobby turned his face to the television. "I don't know … "
Bruce kissed his forehead, then resumed stroking his hair. They were quiet a while as Bobby flipped through channels. They came across a news report describing the attack on Harvey Dent.
"Well, that sucks," Bobby said, eyebrows raised. "I hope the Joker didn't mess up his face too badly. He's the best-looking DA we've ever had."
Bruce's fingers paused in their stroking of Bobby's hair. Bobby looked up at him, but he resumed the idle motion. His face betrayed nothing.
"Do you know DA Dent, Bruce?"
Bobby sat up, kneeling on the sofa beside Bruce. Bruce kept his face stolidly turned to the TV.
"How many times have you 'met'?"
"Harvey Dent is a friend," Bruce said. "That's all, Bobby."
"You're friends with the Commissioner, too, aren't you?" Bobby said. "What? Do you watch too many crime dramas on TV? Are you one of those people, an armchair crime-fighter? Is that your big secret, Bruce?"
"Who says that I have a big secret?"
"Who says that you don't?"
Bobby was on hand and knee in front of Bruce at this point, kissing and teasing his face and neck. He unbuttoned Bruce's shirt and opened it, wrapped his mouth around the man's neck.
"Actually, I do have a secret today," Bruce said softly. He lifted Bobby's face by the chin. "I have to take a trip out of Gotham tomorrow."
"What? Why? Can I go with you?" Bobby grinned and kissed Bruce again. "Mmm, can we go on your private jet? I'm really, really good on planes."
"No, it's only business," Bruce said. "Up in New York. I'll be in and out. That's why I came home to get some sleep tonight."
"Sleep on the plane," Bobby said. "If we can't have airplane sex, we'll have parting sex."
"It's only for a few hours of a day, Bobby," Bruce said, amused. "Do you make up a kind of sex for everything?"
"Sure, why not?"
"And what is parting sex like, kid?"
"It's very—" Bobby kissed him. "—very good. To make up for—" He slid down from the sofa, on his knees on the floor between Bruce's legs. He began to work at his belt and fly. "—all that boring time on a plane, all alone. That's what it's like."
It also turned out to be decadently long and wild. Afterward, they showered, and Bruce was yawning with exhaustion. He fell into bed, and handed Bobby his sleeping pills.
Though he was groggy, a plan came to Bobby then. He did not swallow his pill that night, instead hiding it under his tongue. Some of the drug seeped into his system by the time he was able to spit it into his hand and slip it under his pillow, but not enough to render him unconscious. He closed his eyes, settled into the black silk sheets, and slowed his breathing.
Bobby had almost convinced himself that he was asleep when the bed creaked. Bobby studiously went on faking, though his breath nearly caught. Bruce had climbed out of bed, and he could hear him walking across the room. Somehow, Bobby did not think he was merely going to the bathroom: Bruce was walking so lightly that he was nearly silent. The bedroom door opened, and then shut softly.
Bobby opened his eyes and lay staring into the deepening twilight for a minute. Then, very carefully, he got out of bed. He slipped on one of his robes, tied it, and left the bedroom. The mansion was very dark, but Bobby was able to make out Bruce's figure up ahead, heading downstairs. He crept out of the bedroom in his direction.
As he sneaked through the mansion in its dark gloom, a memory occurred to Bobby. He had been seven, and spending the night with Bruce and Tommy in Wayne Manor. He had left them to go to the bathroom, but the halls had been this dark. Bobby had gone halfway down the hall before everything blurred into a featureless black maze. Terror had gripped him, and he had seen monsters in every shadow.
There were bats.
Bobby's eyes widened, and the memory chilled him to his core. He looked around wildly, as he had as a child. Mentally chiding himself for being such a moron, he pressed on.
Back then, however, the bats had terrified him. They were winged demons fluttering outside the window in the early moonlight, huge to seven-year-old Bobby. When a wing tapped the window, he had screamed, and ran back to Bruce's room in blind panic. Tommy had sneered at his tears and muddled explanation ('I was scared!'), and called him a baby. Bruce had taken his hand into his own and told him that it was okay. Bruce had told him that he was afraid of the bats, too, but his father said that they were only animals. Bruce had said that fear was the only thing to be afraid of. Bobby had not understood that, but he had loved Bruce for being so kind and not scoffing at him. Bruce had led him through the dark hall to the bathroom himself, and the rest of the night passed without incident. Even back then, Bobby remembered wanting to sleep next to him, to be held by his brave older friend. It was a platonic thing at the time, but he supposed that feeling had never left him, only matured.
There are no bats, Bobby told himself now. Bruce wouldn't lie to me. He never once lied to me or tried to trick me. Thomas Elliot was always the liar. Bruce wouldn't, he wouldn't lie to me.
Bobby hung back for a while when Bruce went into the library. There was only the one door going into it. He gathered up his courage, though his heart was pounding, and went inside. The light was on. He expected Bruce to be reading or talking to Alfred.
Bobby was so shocked by the emptiness of the room that he actually called out Bruce's name. He got no response. Baffled, he walked around the place. There was only one door, and Bruce had not gone out of it again.
A small madness overtook Bobby. He was so furious at Bruce's secrets that he decided he would not have any more of them. He tore the place apart, pushing bookshelves aside and moving furniture around. There had to be a secondary exit, some hidden door or trapdoor from a bygone era of secrecy. Bobby no longer cared what Bruce's secret was, only that he uncover it.
Nonetheless, the search proved fruitless. He would have given up, but then the piano caught his eye. He walked up to it, thinking of how he had never heard Bruce play it once. Bobby bent over the keys, squinting at them. His eyes were not deceiving him: several keys were very slightly smudged, not so shiny as the rest. Bobby pressed them all at once. Nothing happened. He tried several combinations of notes, until—
There! Bobby watched in amazement as the grandfather clock between two massive bookshelves sprang open. It was hinged to the wall on hidden hinges, he saw when he went close. Behind it was a black passageway. The fear returned to him, but his curiosity had replaced it, and his anger as well. He delicately went ahead, holding onto the wall as he went foot by foot into darkness.
It was a stairwell, Bobby discovered, almost endless. The steps were even, and the brick wall gave way to raw stone. The air grew cool, and he could see a whitish illumination down below. He went down towards the light, freezing in his thin robe. What are you doing so far down here in the dark, Bruce? Bobby thought miserably. There was something forlorn about the dark descent. What terrible secret do you have that you need to bury it so deeply?
He knew the truth before he reached the bottom. In the growing light, he could see that he had climbed down a stairway into a cavern. Far overhead, he could see hanging black shapes, and he heard the flutter of leathery wings in the distance.
Bats. It was always bats …
The sight that met Bobby at the bottom of the stairs took his breath away. Across a natural bridge over a seemingly bottomless chasm was a huge cavern. There was a circular floor at the center of it, and a massive computer system loomed over the cold stone. There was a large single screen, and many smaller monitors arranged on either side of it. A curving desk holding every kind of cutting-edge hardware imaginable stood beneath the screens. Everything was turned on, a thousand eyes blinking, and the space glowed with the light. In the center of this light stood a cloaked figure, his back to the stairwell, the pointed ears of the mask unmistakable.
Adding to the surreal sense of fantasy Bobby was dizzy with, Alfred strode in from another area of the cave. He was as formally comfortable as if he were walking into the grand dining room in the mansion above.
"Master Bruce, the car is—Oh!"
Alfred had seen Bobby, and he turned a deathly shade of white. Batman turned to Alfred, and then turned around, following his gaze. For the second time, Batman came face-to-face with Robert Halloran.
Now that he knew the truth, Bobby wished that he didn't. He wished that he had never laid eyes on any of this, impressive though it was. He felt very small and stupid in this dark, grave place. Though he knew it was Bruce under the mask, he recalled the terror he had felt when the Batman had first grabbed him, and he nearly ran back up all the stairs.
Instead, he forced himself to walk forward. A lump had formed in his throat. He could scarcely believe that it was Bruce in that suit. He looked even more massive, a cloaked monster of darkness and battle. Was the man he had made love to less than an hour ago really under there? Was there anything human under there? How could there be?
"You lied to me."
Bobby's voice was small, but it echoed loudly in the silence of the cavern. As the echoes repeated his hurt words of betrayal, tears sprang to his eyes. He was always Batman. This was always going to happen. The inevitability of it all infuriated him.
"You lied to me!" Bobby shouted at him. He pounded on his chest with a fist, though he got nothing but the pain of hitting hard plating for it. "Damn it! You lied to me! You promised me! You promised me, Bruce!"
The thing before him that must be Bruce said nothing.
"You looked right at me and you … you … " Bobby reached up at the mask. "Take that damn thing off and look at me! Look at me, Bruce! Damn it! Damn you! Damn you … Bruce … "
Batman took both of Bobby's wrists in one hand and lowered them. Bobby shrank within himself, deathly afraid now. He did not know Bruce anymore, that much was certain. What was he capable of now? Would he hurt him, really hurt him? Would he kill him to protect his secret? Down here, no one would ever know, no one would ever suspect …
Bruce lifted the mask off of his face with his free hand and handed it to Alfred, who had approached. He held Bobby by the shoulders, and murmured to Alfred to give them some time alone.
"What are you going to do?" Bobby blurted out. He struggled, though Bruce kept a firm hold on his shoulders. "Are you … going to hurt me?"
"No, Bobby. I'm not going to hurt you."
His voice sounded the same. Bobby looked up at him, dark eyes glossed with tears. His face was the same, that handsome, strong face. Bobby touched him, sliding his fingers over the smooth skin, the familiar features, into his silky black hair. He was not Batman pretending to be Bruce Wayne; he was Bruce Wayne, who had become Batman.
Bruce drew Bobby close, into his arms. Bobby lowered his hands to the armor, going over the cool toughness of it in shocked fascination. The cloak felt soft but tough, like shadow made fluid and silken. Bruce no longer smelled of his subtle cologne and distinct human scent, but of leather, modified plastics, and metal. It was as if he were wearing the skin of another living thing, some alien carcass.
"How could you do it!" Bobby yelled suddenly. He pushed Bruce back, and the man had the consideration to back away from the shove. "You looked right at me and you lied! I was going crazy, you knew that I was! You knew that I knew the truth! And you just lied to me? You let me think that I was being paranoid and stupid? My God, Bruce! This—All of this? You would have just lied to me about all of this forever?"
"Bobby—Robert, I didn't have a choice," Bruce said. "Information is power, and my identity is the most precious piece of information I own. If any enemy found out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, everyone I love would be in danger. Everyone I love would be a target, including you."
"Do you think I would just give that information away? Christ, Bruce, don't you know me at all?"
"I know you would never mean to hurt me," Bruce said. "But I also know that you're not always in control of yourself. Bobby, the very same day that you asked me if I was Batman, you had been running lines of cocaine with Roman Sionis and Victor Zsasz. All it would take is one slip of the tongue, one intimation even, and all of this would be in jeopardy."
"So you don't trust me because I'm this worthless junkie, is that it?" Bobby asked. "Is that it, Bruce? Is that all I am to you?"
"It isn't all you are," Bruce said, "but it is a part of who you are."
He could not deny it, and he felt worthless for it. The tears fell, and Bobby was galled by them. Unable to even speak, he swung back and slapped the man across the face. The blow barely moved Bruce's face. Bobby went to strike him again, but Bruce gripped his wrist with lightning speed.
"No," he said softly. "You don't get another."
"Oh, so you can just hit me all you want, but I can't touch you?" Bobby said bitterly. He yanked his arm, and Bruce released it. He did not attempt to hit the man again. "You can lie to me and use me and make me feel like I'm nothing! You can make me think that you're still my friend and that you love me! You can just give me everything that I've always wanted, and then take it all away! And it's all fine?"
"I'm not taking anything away from you."
"You've already taken it!" Bobby screamed at him. "Don't you get that? The time we've been together, all of this—it's been nothing! It's been a lie! You don't love me."
"That isn't true."
"You don't," Bobby repeated. "You would have told me the truth if you did. You never kept anything from me back then. You didn't lie and scheme and mock me for being stupid, the way Tommy did. I don't know who you are now, Bruce. I thought you were the same, but you're not. I don't even know you anymore. You've taken it from me. It's already gone."
"It doesn't have to be," Bruce said. He reached out to touch him, but Bobby pulled back. "You know the truth now. For better or worse, I have to trust you. It might be better this way, don't you see? There's no going back for us now."
"No, there isn't," Bobby said. The cave swirled before his eyes like a nightmare, and he fell to his knees. He began to sob again, the pain crashing over him in waves so strong that they were almost physical. "You used me against my own father. You gave me no choice, you just took me, like I was just another tool to be used."
Bruce knelt before him.
"You know that I had to do that. You didn't want your father to do the thing he was planning, either."
"It had nothing to do with me," Bobby said. "I never even had to know what kind of man my father almost became that night. What if he hadn't forgiven me for that? What if I hadn't forgiven him? What if something had gone wrong, and my father was killed? Did you even think about what might have happened?"
"I had to stop that hit."
"Batman had to stop it," Bobby spat. "No wonder you avoided me for two years. You never were going to come back to me, were you, Bruce?"
Bruce remembered how adverse he had been to Bobby's presence during those two years, how he had inwardly cringed whenever his shallow old friend had called out to him. He had returned to Gotham and assessed everything and everyone in shades of black and white. There were the innocent good, and there were the guilty bad. He had not been able to see the gray areas, not then. It had taken Floyd Lawton to shadow his vision.
Bobby saw the truth on his face and bowed his head.
"I was wrong," Bruce said. He reached out and gripped the young man's shoulder. "Robert, listen to me, I was wrong."
"No, you weren't." Bobby laughed shakily. "Because I am just a worthless junkie. You were right. Maybe we were both right to just forget each other. There's nothing left of who we were anymore. There's nothing left of what we had. Tommy was the smartest one, after all. He cut it all loose. We've just been here, playing house like we were still kids."
"What we have is real, Bobby," Bruce said. He cradled the man's cheek in one gloved hand. "This is real."
"No." Bobby stood, moving back from him. He gestured around the cave. "All this is real. This is all that's real for you now, Bruce. I was just an accessory for the lie that is Bruce Wayne."
"Don't say that."
"Or what? You'll hit me?" Bobby spread his arms out. "So hit me, Bruce! That's what you do, isn't it? Isn't that what Batman does? Beat criminals up? Well, hell, I'm a criminal, so hit me! Hit me, Batman! Go on! Beat me up, lock me up! Do your fucking job!"
"I'm not going to do anything to you, Bobby," Bruce said softly. There was anguish in his eyes. "I do love you."
"You haven't loved anyone since your parents died," Bobby said spitefully. "You've kept going through the motions to convince yourself that you're still human, but you're not. No wonder you seemed so perfect. I have problems, I'm all screwed up and wasted half the time, but that's the way humans are. You … You're something entirely different. You're not human anymore."
Bruce turned his face. Bobby thought that he might have wounded him, and was glad for it.
"I'm leaving," Bobby said, walking backwards towards the stairs. "I won't come back."
He turned and ran. Bruce caught him by the arm just before he took the first step. The fear welled up inside him again. He looked up at Bruce in alarm.
"Bobby … "
He pulled him closer, though Bobby fought the tug. His other arm encircled his waist, and Bruce leaned down to kiss him. It was urgent, passionate, and deceptively real. Bobby almost kissed him back, but then he twisted away. He rubbed his mouth roughly with the back of his hand.
"I won't be back."
With that, the man turned and ran up the stairs. Bruce watched him go until he faded into the darkness above. Then, he slumped to the cavern floor.
"Was it wise to let him go, sir?"
Bruce looked up at Alfred. He had learned many years ago to regulate his emotional responses. His eyes were dry, his face was expressionless. Still, Alfred could see the sorrow in his eyes, recognized it from his many years of raising him. The loss had hit Bruce harder than either of them had expected.
"It was easy to make the promise of sacrifice," Bruce said. "Before I came back to Gotham, I vowed that I would sacrifice anything for the cause. That was before I knew exactly what, and who, I would be sacrificing."
"You have become quite fond of Master Robert."
"Yes, I have," Bruce said. "I love Bobby, in spite of everything. I had just begun to think that I could have it all: happiness as Bruce Wayne and fulfillment as Batman. But as much as losing him hurts, it doesn't hurt nearly as much as knowing that I hurt him. He put his faith in me, and I destroyed him, Alfred."
Bruce stood. He took the mask that Alfred still held in his hands and put it on.
"I've just broken the heart of a man I love, a fragile and trusting man like Bobby," Bruce said, securing the cowl. "And what will I do tonight? Not try to win him back. Not try to explain myself. I won't go after him. I won't even call him. I'm going to go out into the night and capture the Joker."
"It is what you do, sir," Alfred said gently. "There will be time for all else come dawn."
"Is there ever a dawn, Alfred?"
"There ever will be, sir."
"I hope you're right."