1. A Bit O' Luck
[March 17, 2015]
Spring was slow to warm and quick to storm that year. March roared in like a lion and there was no sign of the lamb yet. Early greenery was washed out of existence by heavy rains, and the city was pummeled by strong gusts of wind. Bruce woke very early this morning to the sound of the wind howling and a blast of chilly air. He sat up and stretched, glanced down at the bed.
Next to Bruce, District Attorney Harvey Dent shivered in his sleep. Bruce pulled the blankets over him, and climbed out of bed. He found the open window and shut it. Next to it was an ash tray littered with cigarette butts. Harvey must have forgotten to shut the window after opening it for a late night smoke. Bruce dumped the ashes in a garbage can with a distasteful snort. He wished that Harvey hadn't taken up the filthy habit, but had given up telling him to quit it. A lot of things about the DA had changed since he lost his wife, Gilda Dent, last December. At times, Harvey was like a completely different person. The one constant of their relationship was was how much Bruce worried about him.
Bruce was an early riser, so he did not return to sleep. He missed having Alfred Pennyworth there to prepare him morning tea, not the servitude but his company, but his butler was still living in Wayne Manor. Since becoming Harvey's lover, Bruce was spending more time in his private suite on the top floor of the luxurious Gotham Regal hotel. Harvey behaved strangely when they stayed at his place; Bruce suspected this was due to the fact that he had been raised by his abusive father there, and also had memories of living with Gilda haunting the walls. Though Harvey often took jabs at Bruce's "ritzy damn" suite, he was most comfortable staying there with Bruce. Bruce was even considering having Alfred move into one of the rooms on the same floor for the time being. He was loathe to go back to Wayne Manor and leave Harvey alone in the city these days.
Bruce showered and dressed, then sat to wait for Harvey to wake, checking his phone for the news and messages while he did. The day dawned gray and morose. Not exactly the perfect backdrop for festivities. When Harvey awoke and glanced out the window, he seemed to be of the same opinion. He blearily barged into the bathroom grumbling, and was not much happier when he emerged. He had showered, but had only put on one of the plush hotel robes. Bruce ordered room service for them both, and they were soon seated at the small table by the kitchen/dining room window. Harvey downed black coffee rapidly, gazing out at the ugly day.
"I'm not goin' anywhere," he announced once fortified by breakfast.
"Harvey, don't start," Bruce sighed.
"They can shove their parade," Harvey said. "The fuck is there to celebrate?"
"The St. Patrick's Day Parade is important to Gotham, especially to the police force," Bruce said. "It will look bad if you don't show up. All you have to do is say a few words about the holiday, have a few beers, and go home. It won't be that bad."
"Waste of fuckin' time, all these fuckin' holidays," Harvey spat the word. "I'm not goin'. I'm gonna go down to the GCPD where the real cops who know what real work is will be, and I'm gonna work on the case."
Bruce knew better than to argue with Harvey when he was in the depths of fury. No matter how hard he tried, Harvey's extreme moods were impossible to break, they had to be waited out. The two men had almost come to blows when Bruce refused to stop battling his dark side one time. Out of all the difficult men Bruce had been with, Harvey was the strongest-willed. Bruce was tempted to confront his demons once and for all, but he feared for Harvey's mental health. Instead of fighting for total control, Bruce had learned to be patient with him. Hence, today he waited until breakfast was eaten and Harvey was dressed to return to the subject.
"You only have to be there for an hour," Bruce said. "I'll go with you."
"Yeah, because you don't have anything better to do," Harvey scowled. "You may like playing detective and stalking the precinct, but you aren't a cop, you aren't a prosecutor, you aren't anything more than a bored rich boy! I've got a hell of a lot to do, working on Maroni's case has been like pulling teeth! I don't have time to waste!"
"Neither does Gordon, and he'll be there," Bruce said. "At least do it for him, Harvey."
Harvey's resolve faltered. He turned his face with an annoyed 'tch'. Bruce wished that Harvey respected him as much as he respected Gordon, but he knew that was impossible. Harvey saw Jim Gordon as a father figure. Gordon was the only man in Gotham that Harvey was careful not to disappoint.
"Come on, Harvey, let's go," Bruce said. "Get it over with."
Harvey stood with his hands in his pockets, his brow furrowed deeply. Despite the anger that was more and more often imprinted on his face, he was looking better. He had gained his weight back and put it to good use in the hotel gym, leaving his figure trim and hard with muscle. His face had matured from the trauma, but it only chiseled his handsome features to perfection. Beneath the lank dark brown hair and long eyelashes, though, there was a stormy look in his dark blue eyes that Bruce worried about. He resembled a fallen angel lately, rather than his media nickname "Apollo".
Bruce gripped his shoulder and kissed him. Harvey did not react. He physically withdrew when he was in a dark mood, and became completely inaccessible. When not in the mind to be wildly passionate with Bruce, he did not touch him at all. The back and forth was unpredictable. As of yet, he had found no way of controlling Harvey Dent at all. As he had learned with Floyd Lawton and Robert Halloran, Bruce was something of a control freak; unpredictability irritated and worried him.
"Show up, wear some green, give a short speech," Bruce said. "Maybe you'll pick up a little luck."
"Luck?" Harvey echoed. He raised his head, a strange look flashing in his eyes. "Luck, huh? Ha. Yeah, that's it, luck."
Harvey went back to the bedroom. Bruce thought he was going to put on something green, but he returned unchanged. His hand moved slightly, and something flashed silver in the air. He caught it. Bruce stifled a groan.
"Yeah, let's go with luck," Harvey said. "It's St. Patrick's Day, after all. We'll see how strong the luck o' the Irish is. Heads, I'll go to the damn parade. Tails, I won't. How's that?"
Bruce didn't say anything. He knew the sad history of that silver dollar. It once belonged to Harvey's father, and was double-sided. His father used to cruelly flip it before punishing Harvey, saying that if it came up 'tails', he would not hurt him. This impossible game had affected Harvey very deeply, and he still could not part with the symbol of his torture. The only reason the coin now had a 'tails' side at all was that one side had been burned in the explosion that had killed Harvey's wife and scarred Harvey's left hand.
Harvey had been depending on that coin to make decisions for the past month. As of yet, no harm had come from the decisions he delegated to a coin toss, luckily, but he was relying on it for important matters more often now. Bruce had tried to take the coin from him once, and Harvey had actually attacked him. His attachment to it was pathological, and Bruce did not know how to fight it.
The coin was flipped effortlessly into the air by a gesture Harvey had perfected long ago. His thumbnail hitting the metal made a small ringing sound. Both men watched the silver dollar fly through the air and fall. Harvey caught it and flipped it onto the back of his hand. Despite his disapproval, Bruce came up beside him to see the result. Harvey uncovered the coin, and scowled furiously: it had come up heads.
"Guess all those four-leaf clover balloons worked or something," Harvey growled. He pocketed the coin, and his furious mood dissolved instantaneously. "All right. Guess I better find something green to wear."
"I suppose you should."
Bruce kissed him, turned him to the bedroom where their clothes were, and gave him a pushing swat on the bottom. The smack was a little harder than he had intended. Harvey gave him a curious look, but said nothing. When he returned from the bedroom, he was wearing forest green sweater over his white shirt. Bruce put an arm around his waist and kissed him, trying to draw him out. Harvey kissed him back, affectionate as ever. His dark side had retreated.
They put on their coats and left the suite. By the time they were outside, Alfred had arrived with the car. He always drove into the city to be available during the day. They got into the car and drove down to City Hall, where Harvey would be greeting the parade-goers with a small speech.
"Harvey, you don't need that coin, you know," Bruce ventured during the ride. "Shouldn't you just let it go?"
Harvey said nothing. Bruce turned his face from the window towards his own. Harvey looked embarrassed. I have to remember that he can't help it, Bruce thought. I can't be too hard on him. He hasn't been mentally well since losing his wife.
"I can't, Bruce," Harvey confessed. He removed the coin from his pocket and turned it this way and that. "I don't know why I've kept it all these years. I just threw it in a box with all my dad's other things when he died. I wasn't thinking much back then. I was too relieved, and too disappointed."
"Yeah. Not that he died, but that he died hating me, and that I still hated him," Harvey said. "I did think that I should have buried him with this coin when I first found it. I also wanted to throw it away. I just couldn't. Then Gilda found it last year, and with everything going on, it just felt right having it. My dad always played a game I could only lose, and that's what the Falcones and Maronis and all of them having been doing with me now."
"But you have Maroni," Bruce said. "You'll win this eventually. You can win this time."
"Maybe." Harvey looked down at the coin. He turned it from heads to tails. "Maybe not. If I do win, hell, maybe then I'll throw this thing away. If I lock them all up, then maybe I can finally throw this damn thing away."
"Can I keep it for you until then?" Bruce offered. "I'll put it in a vault, somewhere safe."
"No." Harvey pocketed the coin again. "Sorry."
Bruce leaned back, exhaling through his nose. Though his love for Harvey was as strong as ever, their relationship had not been what he had expected. He had overestimated his ability to deal with difficult men before, but never this badly. The truth was that he did not know how to love Harvey Dent. Between navigating his moods and trying to break his guards down, Bruce was exhausted and frustrated. When Harvey shut him out, there was no getting through to him. When Harvey shut him down, there was no helping him. Unlike previous lovers, this man was more than ready to meet even a hint of violence with stronger violence; many times, Bruce had the feeling he wanted an all-out fight.
When Bobby and even Floyd Lawton broke, they broke completely, Bruce recalled. They each had a part of them that was still juvenile, and they were relieved to have someone comfort that raw part of their psyches. They let themselves become vulnerable once they knew that I would be sympathetic, that I wouldn't mock or scorn them for it. Harvey must know that I wouldn't do those things to him, but he still refuses to let me in. Every time he's on the verge of total vulnerability, he gets overcome by rage. He defends himself with that rage, shields himself from his pain, blocks out my attempts to get past it, every single time. Half the time, he forces himself to act more like a friend than a lover, as if he's humiliated by our relationship. A part of him probably is. I doubt he's just in the closet to protect his career and avoid the press. I feel like we only have half a relationship, but I wanted so much more from him. I wish he would just let me love him.
Alfred parked the car a block down from City Hall. Harvey knew that being a friend of Bruce Wayne's was good for his poll numbers, but he refused to be seen "relying" on him in public. Bruce knew the man was simply too proud to be seen taking a ride from a billionaire, but he let him have his way. He let Harvey have his way in a lot of things, and the habit was beginning to irritate him.
"Time to go play politician," Harvey scowled.
Before he opened the car door, Bruce pulled him into a kiss. Harvey hesitated, but gave into Bruce's demanding affection. Bruce leaned him back against the smooth leather seats, holding his wrists down. In moments like this, he forgot that Bruce was younger than him, richer than him, more sheltered than him. It would gall him later, but he found himself giving into Bruce's strength and that uncanny sense of command. He wondered how a spoiled guy like Wayne managed to be so forceful at times. Further surprising him, Bruce gave him another hard love tap.
"Play nice, Harvey," he told him.
"You're telling me what to do, Bruce?"
"Maybe it's about time I did," Bruce said. "You would be better off listening to me than to the flip of a coin."
"We're all fortune's fools, Bruce," Harvey said. "I'd rather be that than a billionaire's puppet."
"Why do you always have to bring up my status?" Bruce asked. "Harvey, I'm not trying to do anything but love you. I'm not working you for some agenda. I'm not using you for entertainment. I love you, and—hey."
Harvey had been looking out the window. Bruce held his face in both hands. Harvey was uncomfortable being trapped beneath him. One thing he could not easily dismiss about Bruce Wayne was his physical power. He knew Gotham's favorite heir could match him in a fight, and he resented it. He had thought that he at least had the advantage of a street brawler's prowess over Bruce; finding out otherwise pissed him off. He did not like the way Bruce was prone to swat his backside, either. There was something in Bruce that promised domination, and it worried Harvey. It was bad enough that Bruce never let him be on top. A part of him admired the man's strengths, but another part hated being unmanned by him.
"Look at me, Harvey," Bruce said, as if Harvey had a choice. "All I want is to love you, to help you. You said that you wanted to be with me. You said that you needed me, Harvey, that you couldn't be alone. So why do you keep fighting me away?"
"I'm not," Harvey said. "I'm here, right?"
There was an alarming conflict of emotions in the words, in his eyes. At once, he was ashamed, defiant, yearning, and resigned. Bruce held his beautiful face in his hands a moment more, trying to decipher which emotion reigned, but he could not tell. Harvey seemed to feel all these contrasting emotions equally and fully. It was no wonder the man was perpetually anguished by confusion, his behavior swinging violently from one extreme to the other.
When you practice law, no matter which side you're on, you have to have the capacity to see both sides, Bruce thought. On some level, you have to understand the arguments for and against the defendants, and the defendants themselves. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Harvey may have a first-rate intelligence, but Fitzgerald didn't account for a person that can simultaneously believe two opposed ideas equally. Is that madness, then?
"Are you here, Harvey?" Bruce asked, genuinely bewildered. "And do you even want to be here?"
"Yeah. No. I don't know," Harvey sighed. "I need to be here. Isn't that enough?"
"I suppose it will have to be."
Bruce leaned down and kissed him. Harvey's doubts were soothed away by the intimacy. He wrapped his arms around Bruce tightly, and they fell against each other across the seats. It's true, Harvey realized, I do need to be with Bruce right now. All alone in my father's house, the house where Gilda and I spent our wedding night, I was going crazy. I was going to kill myself. I have no doubt about that. I was going to die. That wouldn't be so bad, but I've got hell to give that mafia scum. I've got debts to pay. I can't go down before I repay Maroni, and Falcone, too, and Holiday. I know Gilda started it, but this never would have gone so far if whoever the asshole is didn't take up the Holiday 'brand'. I'll get them. I'll get all of them. Until then, I've got to do whatever I can to survive. And Bruce, hell, I don't think he'll let me go down. I don't like relying on a guy like him, but …
"Screw it," Harvey murmured the rest of his thought out loud. He kissed Bruce hard, biting his lip, and kissed him again. "Screw it. I do love you, Bruce."
Their profiles brushed. Bruce looked at him skeptically. He looked very young, Harvey noticed, with his black hair fallen over his forehead that way. There were many layers of defense in Bruce's light blue eyes. Though Harvey often mocked his youth and wealth, he knew damn well that Bruce had been hurt many times over. Sometimes, Bruce looked as world-weary as Harvey felt. So that's where he gets that strength from, Harvey thought. Guess he's been forged in his own crucibles.
"Look, Bruce, it's just hard for me to, you know, to have to depend on anyone," Harvey said. "My dad, he had very specific ideas about how a man should act, should be, and he beat every last one of those ideas into me. Thing is, I didn't even disagree with most of them. Bisexuality has always been a problem for me. Physically, I like it, but mentally, I don't. You understand?"
"No," Bruce said honestly. "I can't understand it, because I never had to face that. By the time I knew what I was, my parents were dead. I don't think they would have cared, but I don't have reality to deter that illusion. But, for what it's worth, I'm sorry, and he was wrong."
"Last year, so much shit happened," Harvey said. "Ha. Understatement of all time, right? Thing is, I've been having to rely on a lot of people. I relied on Jim for my cases, on Batman for the arrests, on you for your friendship, and … on Gilda. Ever since I became DA, I feel like I've become less of a man instead of more, and that's just not how I pictured it. It's tough, Bruce. I'm not the man I thought I would become."
"You're a good man, Harvey," Bruce said, gripping his shoulder. "That's why it has been so hard. Don't you see that?"
"I don't know," Harvey muttered. "Sometimes I just think it's all because I deserve the bad stuff. That I did something sometime to earn it."
"Don't think that," Bruce told him. "Don't give in to them, Harvey. The Falcones and Maronis of the world would want you to believe that. Don't give them what they want."
Harvey had taken out the silver dollar again. He ran it over his knuckles idly, watching it turn from side to side. Bruce was beginning to despise that coin.
"When my parents died, the world tried to make me believe they deserved it, I deserved it," Bruce said. He swallowed down the lump in his throat. "We were too rich, they were too charitable, I was too spoiled—people would say anything, anything at all, just to make themselves feel like they deserved to live while my parents didn't. It's a survival mechanism, in a way; people like to believe everything is connected by cause and effect, some divine system of fateful retribution. People feel safer if they can point to a reason why a life deserved or needed to be cut short."
"Bullshit," Harvey snorted. "There's no such thing as fate."
"No, Harvey, there's not," Bruce said. He put a hand on Harvey's, stopping the rotation of the coin. "And it's not all random chance, either. Joe Chill made a conscious decision to rob my parents, and he made a decision to shoot—twice. If he had made a third choice to shoot me, I wouldn't be here with you right now."
"No, not luck, decision, Harvey, choice," Bruce stressed. "You chose to stand for something good, to try to make this city a better place, and the criminals chose to make you suffer for it. Maroni chose to set a bomb off in your home just because of some misguided theory about the Holiday killer."
Harvey's hand curled into a tight fist beneath Bruce's hand. His knuckles were taut, very hard. Bruce tried to rub the tension out, but Harvey didn't even feel him.
"None of this is your fault, Harvey," Bruce said. "You've only chosen to do the right thing. It's the ones that chose evil that are the problem."
"Yeah. Yeah, you're right."
Harvey pocketed the coin. He blew out a sigh and the turmoil left his face. He smiled tiredly at Bruce. Bruce kissed him again.
"So let's just go to the GCPD right now," Harvey said. "Make the right choice."
"I'll see you at the parade, Mr. District Attorney."
"I had to try."
Harvey faced the car door with another sigh. He frowned very deeply, then smoothed his face into neutrality. Bruce knew from experience that by the time he was in public, he would be wearing a dashing smile. The falsity of that smile and the pain it hid broke Bruce's heart.
When Harvey was gone, Alfred rolled down the car's privacy glass between the front and back of the car. He and Bruce shared a look in the rear-view mirror. Bruce cleared his throat and went about smoothing his rumpled suit.
"He's walking a thin line, Alfred," Bruce said. "We all are these days, but his is the thinnest. I wish that he would take his medication, but he gets enraged if I even mention it."
"If I may, sir, Mr. Dent is not like your previous lovers."
"I've noticed," Bruce said ruefully. "They were boys. Bobby is still a child in many ways, and even Floyd Lawton had some of the little boy buried deep down inside him. I couldn't control them, either, but they at least let me in. Harvey is … well, he's a man. If anything of the boy he was remains, it's locked away out of my reach. I don't mind that, really, but what worries me is that the man he is will be locked away soon, too. There's that other side of his. It's more than just a bad temper now, and it's ugly. I wish he would listen to me. I wish he would respect me more. Alfred, do you think that he would respect me more if he knew that I was Batman?"
"He very well might, but I daresay that he would also respect Batman less if he knew."
"That's Harvey," Bruce laughed. "One step forward, one step back. I do wonder whether I should tell him, though. If I let him in, maybe he would do the same?"
"Sir, I would not recommend taking the chance."
"But this is the same mistake that I made with Bobby," Bruce said. "If I had trusted him with the truth from the beginning, he wouldn't have been so hurt by my lies later. I judged him to be too unstable, so I chose to lie to him instead of letting him in. He found the truth out, anyway, and so far he's been trustworthy with it. Shouldn't I take a chance on Harvey?"
"It would be a fifty-fifty chance, sir," Alfred said. "He may just flip that coin and decide to go public with your identity."
"No, I don't think he's that far gone," Bruce said. "I don't know. My every instinct is telling me not to trust him, not to trust my friend, my lover. What's wrong with me, Alfred?"
"Your instincts have never been wrong before, Master Bruce."
"But what is wrong with me?" Bruce wondered. "Was Bobby right about me? Am I only a sadist that thrives on controlling others? Do I even love Harvey, or do I want to save him, the way I wanted to save Floyd and Bobby? Save them? Or punish them?"
"Can it not be a blend of all those things at once, sir?" Alfred said. "After all, is that not the way you feel about Gotham City?"
"God," Bruce swore softly. "I may be the sickest one of them all."
"I highly doubt that, sir," Alfred said. "Master Bruce, you are both your father's and your mother's son. Your father was a surgeon, and he devoted his life to cutting out disease as precisely and harmlessly as possible. Your mother did her best to ease the burden of suffering for the masses. You have taken it upon yourself to do both things: to excise the disease of evil from this city, and to save people from their suffering. You have his severity, and her compassion. I believe having those two sides is what drew you to Mr. Dent in the first place."
"Kind of like being a butler and a therapist?"
"Oh, I have far more sides than two," chuckled Alfred. "We all do, Master Bruce. However, you and Mr. Dent are prone to the extremes. That is why you are so drawn together, yet the same likeness is what causes you to clash so often."
"That makes sense," Bruce said. "We are too alike at times. When he's in that dark place, he's immutable. I can't break through. But I will keep trying. I have to."
"A word of caution, Master Bruce," Alfred said. He turned in the driver's seat to look at Bruce directly. "Despite your similarities, Mr. Dent lacks your temperance. You use your intensity, it does not use you, but Mr. Dent is the opposite. He is at the mercy of his moods the same way he is at the mercy of that coin toss he has become so fond of. For the sake of you both, remember that."
"I will, Alfred."
Bruce joined the crowd outside City Hall for Harvey Dent's speech. The gray day and grayer city was made brilliant by the myriad shades of green worn by the crowd. Balloons shaped like leprechauns and four-leaf clovers bobbed in the wind, some flying away to freedom high above. The green hats and jackets reminded Bruce of the Riddler. It would be impossible to pick him out of this crowd.
Once Harvey wrapped up his short holiday speech, the parade commenced. It took Harvey some time to get to the bottom of the City Hall steps to Bruce. Reporters flocked around them. Harvey was congenial, but Bruce saw the storm brewing in his inky blue eyes. Finally, most of the reporters had to go cover the parade itself, and the rest were ushered off by security.
"I wish I could get out of here," Harvey said under his breath to Bruce. "Why'd you have to drag me out here?"
"The city deserves to share your charming company once in a while," Bruce said. "It's good for people to know you care, Harvey."
"But I don't care," Harvey said. "And I hate this fucking sweater, it itches like crazy."
"But it's green."
"I don't see you wearing anything green."
Alfred came over from one of the stands just then. He gave Bruce a green rose boutonniere, which Bruce affixed in his jacket pocket's buttonhole. Harvey snorted.
"Roses," he said. "Why is it always roses in this town? And why didn't you just get me a damn flower? This sweater—"
"Calm down, Harvey," Bruce said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "We can leave in less than an hour. Come on, I think you need more coffee."
"Yeah, that would be good. And a fucking cigarette."
"You should really give that—"
Bruce gritted his teeth, but dropped the matter. They walked through the crowd, Harvey forced to shake hands and smile every so often. By the time they reached a cafe, Harvey was too worn out to keep from using their celebrity to get to the front of the line. He was tactful and polite about it, shaking hands until he was at the counter, where of course the servers instantly asked for his order. Soon, he and Bruce were on the street with steaming cups of coffee. They went into a narrow alley, since most of the city was a no-smoking zone. Harvey lit a cigarette, took a drag, tore the lid off his coffee, and took a long drink.
"That's better," he said, smoke trailing from his mouth. He leaned his head back against the concrete wall and turned his face to the crowds nearby. "All these people."
"They're just trying to have a little fun," Bruce said. "If they didn't, they would go crazy."
"I know," Harvey said. "That's why Gordon and I—and Batman, I guess—do what we do, right? So that they can try to find something good about living in this damn city. I get it, Bruce, I do. I'm sorry I've been so on edge."
"I understand," Bruce said. "You're under a lot of pressure. I just wish—"
"That I'd stop smoking and take my meds, I know," Harvey chuckled. "I don't need meds. As for smoking, it's just a comfort habit. I'll stop when all this Holiday mess is over and done with."
"I'm sure Gordon has been telling himself that for years," Bruce said. "That he'll quit once this case is over, then another one comes up … "
"Yeah, yeah." Harvey shrugged nonchalantly. He took another drag on the cigarette, blew smoke towards Bruce. A roguish smirk curled half his lips. "You really gotta stop actin' like my father. You're younger than me."
"Not by much, Harvey, and does it even matter?" Bruce said impatiently.
"Sure," Harvey said mildly. "I told you, I'm not going to be told what to do by you."
Bruce snatched the cigarette out of his hand, crushed it under his shoe. Harvey's eyebrows raised, but his temper remained even. He took the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, flipped it open, and drew one out with his mouth. Ignoring Bruce's angry frown, he lit it, and resumed his smoke.
"You know, every time that I try to give you advice, you bring up some excuse for not taking it," Bruce said. "Either I'm too rich or I'm too young, anything not to listen to what I'm trying to tell you. It isn't that you don't want to take advice from me, it's that you're just set on doing whatever the hell you want. Sometimes I think you do things like this simply to spite me."
Harvey's dark eyes watched him from over the top of the coffee cup as he drank. Bruce watched him, almost wishing his temper would flare, anything for a reaction. But Harvey had calmed to his normal temperament. He drank his coffee, smoked, watched the parade go by. Of course, he's only calm when it's the most annoying thing he can be, Bruce thought.
"You done?" Harvey asked. He tossed the cigarette butt to the ground. "What do you want me to say, Bruce? I haven't gotten this far by jumping whenever someone tells me to."
"That isn't what I'm doing."
"So what are you doing?" Harvey asked. "Or trying to do, anyway?"
"Take care of you."
"Huh. So, the rumors are true, eh?" Harvey grinned, white teeth flashing. He walked closer. "You really are like that."
"Like what?" Bruce asked. "What rumors?"
"You haven't heard?" Harvey snorted in amusement. "I figured that your ex, Halloran, was the one spreading them, so I thought you must know. They were blind items, but it was obviously about you. Said you're a sadist. You like punishing naughty boys. It's true, isn't it?"
Bruce flushed. Was Bobby really talking to the press about their sex life? That was strange, he had never given any indication that he wanted revenge. He made a mental note to investigate the rumors later. Harvey watched him, and took his silence for a confession.
"I thought so," he said. "Listen, Bruce, I'm not up for any of that. A love tap here and there is one thing, but I'm not letting you play daddy with me."
Bruce was surprised at how disappointed he was to hear that. Furthering his frustration, Harvey laughed at the thought. He leaned against the building wall beside Bruce, laughing heartily. He lit another cigarette.
"Christ, imagine!" he exclaimed. "Me! Ha ha ha ha! Me, like that, with a billionaire! Oh, it's like a horrible trash romance novel! Ha ha ha! Like our being together isn't ridiculous enough!"
"That's enough, Harvey."
"Are you hurt? I'm sorry." Harvey stifled his mirth with effort. "Sorry, Bruce. I didn't mean it like that."
"Yes you did."
"Well … "
Harvey made that gesture of his, turning his hand from palm to back. Bruce had come to see it as his 'half full, half empty' gesture. He meant it, but he didn't. I'm getting whiplash just trying to follow his intentions, his moods, Bruce thought. God, he's difficult.
"Listen, no offense, it's just not the kind of guy I am," Harvey said. He clapped Bruce on the shoulder. "All right? Anyway, I should get back to the crowd before they find us here. Man of the people and all."
Harvey went to leave, but Bruce reached out. He grabbed him by the wrist tightly. Harvey's cigarette fell out of his hand and he also dropped his empty coffee cup. He looked back and found Bruce's expression stern. The way his mouth turned down severely reminded Harvey of someone, but he could not place them. He tried to pull out of Bruce's grasp, but could not. Bruce's other hand took him by the shoulder, and he found himself slammed against the building wall. Bruce caged him with his arms, brought his face very close.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Harvey asked. "Not in public, Bruce, jeez."
"Are you sure you're not just testing the rumors on purpose?" Bruce asked. "Maybe you wanted them to be true. Maybe you're trying to get me to show you how true they are."
Harvey could not tell if Bruce was being serious or goading him. He had not seen Bruce this domineering before. He was partly intrigued and partly annoyed. Bruce leaned his face closer, so his mouth was at Harvey's ear.
"One of the first things I told you was that you probably deserved your office, and a spanking, remember?" he murmured to the flustered DA. "You always knew what I was like. You pursued me anyway. I wonder why?"
"You know, with Halloran, I didn't exactly ask permission," Bruce went on. "I could do it, Harvey. I think we both know that I could."
Bruce took Harvey's shocked face by the chin and turned it so their eyes met directly. Harvey had turned crimson, and his eyes were very large. Bruce had no intention of hurting him, but he thought a small threat might take the obstinate man down a peg or two. He had to admit, being in control of the situation for once felt very good.
"When we get home tonight, I could take you over my knees, pull your pants down, and spank you, Harvey," Bruce said. "How would you like that?"
"D—Don't be ridiculous!" Harvey hissed. "And get away from me. Someone is going to see us."
Harvey lacked his usual confidence, and he had a worried frown on his blushing face. The threat had rattled him, to Bruce's satisfaction. Bruce leaned away from him. Harvey straightened his coat, giving him a perplexed, slightly hurt look. Bruce turned him to face the street, and gave him a swat through his coat. Harvey jumped.
"Now go play nice, Harvey," Bruce said. He risked kissing the man's cheek. "I'll see you later."
Harvey shot Bruce a glare, and left him stiffly. He melded back into the crowd, though he remained subdued. Bruce watched him with gratification for a few minutes, then walked back to his car near City Hall. He got in, laughed to himself.
"I did not know you were one to be so entertained by parades, sir," Alfred remarked.
"It isn't the parade," Bruce said. "I think I might know how to handle Harvey. I just have to figure out which buttons to push."
"Just be sure not to push him too hard, sir."
"And not too gently, either," Bruce mused. "But he's taken up enough of the morning. It is another holiday, after all. But before Batman can deal with that, I have to stop by the Bank of Gotham. Those papers Luis Castell had me sign rescinding my vote to disallow Carmine Falcone from joining the board have caused chaos. I need to talk to the board members and try to explain the situation."
"Exactly how will you explain that you were under the influence of one of Ms. Isley's drugs and in the throes of false passion signed the papers for Mr. Castell? Sir?"
"I'll figure something out," Bruce sighed. "Let's head there."
"Very well, Master Bruce."
"While I'm dealing with the board, I need you to look into something for me," Bruce said. "Harvey brought up some rumors about me that have been spreading, apparently through those unsubtle 'blind item' articles. He assumed that they came from Robert Halloran, and they must have. I need to see those articles, and I'm going to need to talk to Bobby about them."
"Mr. Halloran had his tantrums, but he never seemed to be that spiteful," Alfred said. "Why would he start spreading gossip? What were the rumors about?"
"I have no idea why he would do such a thing," Bruce said. "Maybe he just let a few things slip? The rumors were just about our relationship. He said that I'm—a sadist."
Alfred did not bother denying it. They both knew that Bruce had his tendencies.
"I never should have spanked him that one time," Bruce said. "I know better. I have more control than that. I was angry, I knew that I could, so I did. It was wrong."
"It was not merely fetishistic bullying," Alfred said. "He brought up your parents' murder."
"Who doesn't?" Bruce said with a weary smile. "He wasn't even wrong about what he said. I probably will end up dying shot in an alley one day, just like my parents, but alone."
"In any case, I was wrong," Bruce said. "Maybe he's still angry about it. Although, I could have sworn he had come to fetishize it. He had bruises the last time I checked on him. I don't know. I can't tell what people want or don't want sometimes. They probably can't even tell. I'll have to apologize to Bobby, and do my best not to make the same mistake with Harvey."
"Good luck with that, sir."
"I almost miss Floyd Lawton," Bruce said. "Say what you will about him, but Floyd knew himself. He was too reckless to hide behind lies or pride or childish obstinacy. He wanted me, he had me. He liked it rough, so he said he liked it rough. He wanted to be punished, so he asked to be punished."
"He wanted to be an assassin, so he became an assassin," Alfred added dryly.
"I know, Alfred, I know," Bruce said. "I could never be with Floyd again. I know what he is. I only miss his simplicity. My psychology never surprised him, even if it pissed him off sometimes. He already knew why he was the way he was. I wish that he had fought it more, but at least he knew. Come to think of it, he might have been the most self-aware person that I've ever known. It's just a shame that his self-awareness made him think he couldn't change who he was. What a waste."
They arrived at the Bank of Gotham and Alfred parked the car. He promised to look into the rumors, and Bruce thanked him. He got out, and Alfred watched his charge make his way through the windy day.
"Life is wasted on the living, Master Bruce," Alfred said, though Bruce was gone. "It is only when we brush death that we see the value in living, only when we are lost to despair do we recognize the value of hope. You learned that so very early on that you've never doubted it. It is a shame that you had to learn such things that way, even if it has made you the man that you are."
Alfred sighed and turned on the car stereo. He thought of all the times that he had waited for Thomas Wayne outside Gotham General Hospital. Thomas would speak of patients that refused further treatment with the same bafflement Bruce spoke of lovers and friends that refused his help. Alfred had explained to Thomas that there were times when a person knew their case was hopeless, when it was their time to let go. Thomas had never stopped insisting that no one should ever let go of their hope to live.
Bruce's issue was far more complicated—or was it? Alfred thought of his young master's wayward lovers, their issues and betrayals. Floyd Lawton was a poisonous love affair born of violence and Bruce's need to conquer violence. Those two opposing ideologies never had a chance of being reconciled, and Alfred was relieved that Bruce recognized this. A man weaker than Bruce might have been drawn into Floyd's devil-may-care mayhem. Thank goodness, he was gone. Harvey Dent was bullheaded and full of rage. Alfred did not like the way Bruce understood that rage, he worried that it might seep into Bruce without Bruce's realizing it. Bruce walked as thin a line as Harvey every night as Batman, perhaps thinner, given how easy it would be for Batman to cross it unscathed. Alfred worried that Bruce's love for the troublesome DA was drawing him closer to Harvey's dark side. He trusted Bruce to control himself, but he knew that struggling to fight his own darkness and Harvey's would strain him. If he lost Harvey to Harvey's inner ugliness, it would embitter him greatly. Alfred could only wait and pray that did not happen. Robert Halloran was a sad, spoiled youth that had never known what to do with his strong emotions, so he hid behind drugs and sex and parties. Of them all, Alfred thought that he was the best one for Bruce: he had been willing to be disciplined, which fulfilled Bruce's paternal urges, and Bruce's strict realism was good medicine for him. Unfortunately, the Batman had come between them. Bobby had uncovered Bruce's deepest secret by blind luck, and he had never been able to forgive Bruce for lying to him. Alfred had hope that they would someday reconcile, but for now Bobby Halloran was out of Bruce's reach.
"Can't you meet a nice boy for a change, Master Bruce?" Alfred asked the empty car. "But if you did, you would probably not even notice him."
Bruce was surprised to find the Gotham City Bank board room empty. He checked his watch. The meeting had been scheduled to start fifteen minutes ago. Where was everyone?
There was the sound of someone clearing their throat. Bruce turned around, and froze. The man in the doorway did likewise. They stared at each other from across the room, tension rippling from one to the other. Silence chilled the empty room.
Carmine "The Roman" Falcone had joined the ranks of Bruce's many enemies. Bruce had convinced the bank owners not to give Carmine a seat on the board, using the mob boss's dirty crimes against him. Carmine saw this as a slap in the face, and vowed that Bruce would not stand in his way any longer. He had been quiet for a little while, then had orchestrated a petty little plot to get Bruce to rescind his vote. Bruce did not have all the details yet, but he had by now surmised that the Falcones had sent Assistant District Attorney Luis Castell (also their mole inside the GCPD and City Hall) after him. Bruce still found it hard to believe, but soft-spoken, intelligent Luis had obtained a drug from Pamela Isley, AKA Poison Ivy, and chemically seduced Bruce. Bruce had been totally under the man's control during their affair, and he had signed the documents rescinding his vote against Falcone when Luis asked. Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman, had been the one to free Bruce from the poison, and Luis had fled. For what it was worth, Selina said that Luis had said he was sorry. Bruce had not been able to locate the man yet, so he could not know his reasons, if he had any. It had taken Bruce some time to figure out what Luis had done, as he had no memory of signing the documents. He realized it only when the other board members had come to him, furious that he had decided to vote for Falcone instead of sticking together with them against him. Many claimed they would also rescind their votes. Bruce could not let that happen. He did not want Falcone's dirty hands clutching any more of the city than they already did.
Bruce filled with cold fury as he stared at Falcone. He did not know or care whether it had been his or Luis's plan to drug him. The thought of being so outside himself that he could not control a single action mortified and horrified him. Luis had not only betrayed his office, the GCPD, and Bruce, he had used Bruce in every sense of the word. Bobby had needed him during that time, and Bruce had been having sex with a man he hardly knew and never chose to love. The thought almost made Bruce agree with Harvey's occasional wish that Holiday would just shoot Falcone already.
"I am surprised to see you here, Mr. Wayne. I had heard that you have already rescinded your vote," Falcone said. He was smug, confidant that he would soon be on the board of the bank. "Where are the others?"
"I don't know."
Falcone's confidence wavered.
"Don't you?" he asked. "What have you done? Have you been throwing more of my alleged dirt around? Do you really think that will work this time? Who would believe a hypocrite like you?"
"I haven't done anything," Bruce said. "Have you?"
Falcone twitched. His face was stone and his eyes were inscrutable, but he could not control every muscle of his face. Dread darkened Bruce's mind. He crossed the room to Falcone.
"What have you done?"
"Nothing. Excuse me. I must make a call."
Falcone turned and left the room. Bruce watched him go down the hallway and turn into the stairwell. He followed quickly, loading up a surveillance app on his phone. He put an earpiece in as he quietly came onto the stairs. Falcone was several flights below. Bruce stayed close to the wall and listened in on the mob boss's conversation.
"—you mean, 'complications'?" Falcone asked.
"I don't know, papa," the husky female voice on the other end of the line said. "I lost contact. I don't know what happened or where the freak is."
"Well, find out, Sofia," Falcone hissed. "I am here at the bank and I refuse to be humiliated in front of Bruce Wayne again!"
"Bruce Wayne? I thought we took care of him. Why is he there?"
"I thought you had taken care of him, the way I thought you had taken care of this!" Falcone said furiously. "I don't want to hear excuses. Just handle it."
Bruce exited the stairwell. He rushed from the bank and hurried back to the car. Inside, he told Alfred to drive him back to the Gotham Regal. Batman would have to get an early start today.
It took an hour to track the activities of the Bank of Gotham's board members. Batman managed to correlate enough data to conclude that each of the members had left home for the meeting, but vanished somewhere along the way. He tracked Sofia Gigante, Falcone's daughter and greatest enforcer, for the next hour, but she was equally puzzled. He did manage to gain one important piece of intelligence from her, however: the "freak" that she had mentioned was Poison Ivy.
"I thought that the old mafia families did not cooperate with the freaks," Alfred said through Batman's comm. "Wasn't that their policy?"
"The Holiday killer has shaken things up," Batman replied. "If Falcone thinks that Holiday is a hitman for Maroni, then he may think it's only fair to use the help of a so-called 'freak'."
"They're no more freakish than any criminal, including Falcone himself," Batman said. "I just went to Pamela Isley's shop, but there was nothing there. I did find the little laboratory where she made the drug Luis Castell used on me. She doesn't seem to be mass-producing anything, though. That must have been a one-off deal with Castell and the Falcones. I wonder why she did it? Why risk getting sent back to jail?"
"Perhaps for the money," Alfred said. "She does like to fund eco-terrorism whenever she's not directly causing it."
"That's true. And if Castell went to her, she might have thought it would be a boon to play nice with a dirty prosecutor."
"Yes, there is also—Oh!"
"What is it, Alfred?"
"There is an intruder here! Hold on—"
Batman turned the car around in one swift U-turn and headed towards the city limits. Wayne Manor was almost impregnable, and the Bat Cave below was a fortress, but he could not help worrying about Alfred. As he drove, his head spun with questions. Why would anyone attack Wayne Manor? Was it Falcone? Would he be so reckless and stupid?
Whoever it is, they won't get away with it, Batman thought with a scowl. Not my house—not my home.
Thankfully, Alfred came back onto the comm line before Batman arrived at Wayne Manor. He was in the Bat Cave, and safe. The house was untouched, only the grounds had been breached. Alfred informed him that there was a disturbance in the back gardens. Once he was out of the car, Batman headed there.
Under the mask, Bruce Wayne remembered how his mother used to spend hours in the gardens. She would help the master gardener tend her prized rosebushes, often coming in with freshly cut bouquets. The scent would linger upon her all day, gently blending with her perfume. Come to think of it, Bruce recalled, she had had an interest in the genetics of botany, albeit an armchair one. She and the master gardener had grown the roses in various, sometimes exotic, hues. Bruce smiled to think that she had used WayneTech geneticists to help grow roses once.
Now, the gardens were steadily encroaching upon their borders. Alfred gardened, they had help come weekly, but without Martha's devotion the place was growing unruly. The most exotic and delicate roses had died off decades ago. The wild roses grew only in shades of red and purple. They seemed thornier now, though that must only be Bruce's imagination.
Batman crept through the foliage. He had his full mask up covering his nose and mouth to filter the air he breathed. After Luis, he was taking no chances with Poison Ivy's pheromones. It was dark in the wooded area just outside the garden, and the tree branches rustled wildly in the wind. Another sound joined the natural stirrings—voices!
In a small clearing, Batman found Poison Ivy. She was seated on a throne made of branches a mighty evergreen had lowered and intertwined for her, one leg delicately crossed over the other. In everyday life, she dressed like a gardener, but today she was in her costume (what there was of it): a skintight green bodysuit made of leaves and twigs. Her long red hair fell loose all around her, leaves and flowers tossed into it by her plants like offerings to their goddess. When she used her full powers and let the plants nurture her, her white skin took on a greenish hue. The sun seemed to peek out of the clouds just above her, just for her, and the whole effect was like a breath of spring. Batman regretted his earlier words about the freaks being as freakish as any old criminal.
The board members of the bank were all around her. The suited and doughy older men looked ridiculous tethered by leashes of vines around their mistress. The most handsome board member, a younger heir in pristine physical condition, was stripped to the waist, and stood beside Ivy's botanical throne. His head suddenly turned in Batman's direction, and he leaned down to whisper something in her ear. Poison Ivy climbed off her throne and opened her arms grandly in welcome.
"Ah, so you've finally come!" she said. "I was wondering when you'd—Batman!"
She was not hiding or attacking, so Batman walked out into full view. Her regal manner lapsed and her arms fell to her sides. She crossed them, looking annoyed.
"Expecting someone else, Ivy?"
"I was expecting Bruce Wayne," she said. "What are you doing here? How did you even know?"
"Why are you lying in wait for Bruce Wayne, Ivy?"
"You make it sound so suspicious," Ivy huffed. She gestured around at the board members. "All I wanted to do was give him a little gift."
"A … gift?"
"That's right," Poison Ivy said. "I mean, I wasn't about to help Carmine Falcone, was I?"
"What are you talking about, Ivy?" Batman asked. "I know that you had Bruce Wayne drugged for the Falcones."
"I did that favor for Luis Castell!" Ivy snapped. "I knew that he was being funded by the Falcones, true, but I expected him to leave me out of it. We had a deal. He never said that he would tell the Falcones he used my expertise."
Batman could see that Ivy was not out to cause random trouble. She was furious, but at the right people. He crossed his arms, prepared to hear her out. If she was not violent, he could avoid a fight. He only hoped she did not fall back into her old habits after this little taste of them; crime was an addiction to those touched by Arkham.
"What happened, Ivy?"
"Luis must have blabbed to the Falcones," Ivy said bitterly. "Before I knew what was happening, Sofia Falcone was at my door! She demanded my help! Demanded it! As if Mother Nature answers the call of barking, filthy dogs like the Falcones! She threatened me, me! In front of my own children, in my own home!"
Batman knew that Ivy's "children" were the plants she raised in the shop.
"She said that she would have Luis confess what I did to Bruce Wayne to the police," Ivy went on. Her angry green eyes sparkled like peridots. "So, I told her that I would help. I said that I would charm these fine men and get them to vote with her father, just like a good little girl."
"But you're not a good little girl, are you, Ivy?"
"No," Ivy grinned. "I'm not."
"So you brought them here instead," Batman said. "Why? You're not going to kill them, are you?"
"I would have liked to have let these poor untended gardens drink and eat of them," Ivy lamented. She crossed her arms. "But now you're here. I don't want to go back to prison, Batman."
"All right. Why bring them here, then?"
"I wanted to apologize to Bruce personally," Ivy said innocently. "He's a very charitable man, isn't he? Don't you think he would have forgiven me?"
"You were going to seduce him into not pressing charges even if Falcone did have Luis rat you out to the police, you mean."
"You're so unromantic, Batman," Ivy said. "Well. It's true, I might have let my charms do the talking for me, and killed the bankers so that a new vote would have to be taken against Falcone. But as I said, you're here. I don't want trouble. I just wanted out of this mafia mess."
Don't we all? Batman thought.
"If you release these men right now and tell them the truth about Bruce Wayne's vote, I won't send you back to Arkham, Ivy," Batman said. "You will be arrested for this, but I'm sure Bruce Wayne won't press charges. As for these ones, they'll probably be too enamored to press charges, am I right?"
"Mmm, you do know me."
Poison Ivy sashayed back to her throne and sat down. Batman used the comm line to tell Alfred to call the police. Ivy watched him with a bemused smile as they waited for Gordon and his men to arrive.
"You should take off that mask and get to know me better, Batman," Ivy said. "We would make a great team, if you only let yourself see what really needs protecting in this world."
Batman said nothing.
"You see, humans make their own choices, and they always choose to destroy," Ivy went on. "They'll destroy anything: their planet, each other, even themselves! From the moment they are born, humans are nothing but self-centered voids of destruction, sucking in all that's good and giving back only ruination. It's bad enough that they're like this on the most fundamental chemical level, but it doesn't stop there. They consume remorselessly and endlessly. They consume simply for the purpose of consumption."
Ivy stood from her throne, walking around the clear patch. She touched the tree affectionately, and closed her eyes to breathe in the scent of the greenery. She looked so peaceful that it could almost be mistaken for sanity.
"Humans don't need paper anymore," Ivy said. "They hardly even use it. For the small basic so-called 'needs', there is more than enough to recycle. Yet they go on plowing down all their forests to make catalogs full of more toxic junk, or fresh white sheets to be printed on once, glanced at, and thrown away. They cling to their books because they 'like the smell' of them, 'like the feel' of them, never mind how many precious trees died to print their pages! The only life they plant anymore is to be fodder for future generations of destroyers! They claim to miss nature while saturating their sad urban gardens with chemicals, or letting them rot when caring for them becomes a chore! But why should that surprise anyone? They do it to themselves, with their children, their pets, their society, everything. They can only destroy. They only want to destroy. They only choose to destroy."
Batman was beginning to worry about her mental health. Pamela could tame her insanity well enough to live in society, but she was very passionate. He did not like letting her talk and rile herself up this way, but he did not know what to say. He could not even fully deny her charges against humanity.
"Join me, Batman!" Poison Ivy said, whirling on him. "You will see how much better it is to protect the truly innocent, the truly beautiful! Protect what's worth protecting. We could be Adam and Eve, and turn this world into a garden."
"I don't believe that everyone exists only to destroy, Ivy," Batman said. "People are worth protecting, and I have to protect them as much as I can."
"At the expense of billions of other lifeforms?" Ivy asked. "You would let it all burn down just to save your wretched humans?"
"I am human, Ivy," Batman pointed out. "So are you."
"Not anymore!" Ivy said. She turned her face, conflict furrowing her brow. "Not anymore."
"You've been doing well, Pamela," Batman said. "I know that you want to stay outside of Arkham so that you can raise your—children—and do what you can to help the planet. Don't throw it all away now."
Poison Ivy looked up at him and her expression warmed. He was relieved to see her humanity return. Pamela Isley had been betrayed by a lover, who had caused her condition in a botched murder attempt. Batman suspected that she saw her own victimization in the desecration of nature, especially since she claimed her condition allowed her to communicate with plants. She saw her own pain reflected in the admittedly dying natural world, and fought against it in the ferocious way she could never fight her own sorrow. Despite her ruthlessness, there was something noble about her, and beautiful.
"You aren't so bad, for a rodent," Poison Ivy said. She crossed her arms beneath her ample bosom again. "But you should do something about that hideous car."
"It runs predominantly on a special fuel cell and electricity."
Batman did not tell her about the jet engine.
"Oh." Ivy looked impressed. "I didn't know that. Still, what is the ecological footprint of being Batman?"
Batman stalled for time as best as he could explaining the greener methods he employed. Pamela did not quite buy it. The conversation was ridiculous, but at least she was calm again. Gordon soon arrived, and Pamela did not resist arrest. The dazed bankers and Ivy were gathered into police cars. Batman told Gordon what had gone down, and waited until everyone was gone to return to Wayne Manor's Bat Cave. He met Alfred down there, much relieved to see his face after the earlier scare.
"I'm afraid you rather deflected Ms. Isley's question about your ecological footprint, sir."
"It's all for a good cause, Alfred."
"Quite right, sir."
Bruce removed his mask and sat down at his computer system. He set several processes running based off of the information Pamela had given him.
"At least the Bank of Gotham won't be welcoming Falcone anytime soon," he said. "Once the pheromones wear off and the bankers realize that Falcone sent a 'freak' after them, they'll never even speak to him again. They'll believe Pamela seduced Bruce Wayne to get him to rescind his vote, and after experiencing her allure for themselves, they won't blame him—me. In a way, it isn't much of a lie: Luis did use her pheromones to get that signature."
"Speaking of Luis Castell, I need to find him," Bruce said. "Poison Ivy said that Sofia Falcone threatened her with him, so he must be alive. He's at the center of this thing, and I could use his information. Not to mention, I'd like to have one last private conversation with him, as Batman."
Alfred had the feeling that that particular ex-lover was in line for more than a spanking.
"It's still early, but it is a holiday," Bruce said thoughtfully. "If the Holiday killer is going to strike again, I'm at a loss as to how they'll do it. I need more information. I think this day will be better spent as Batman."
"Very good, Master Bruce."
"Before I go out again, did you find out about those rumors?"
Alfred leaned over and pushed some buttons on the keyboard. Several small articles and blurbs appeared on the screen. Bruce read them over, blushing faintly. Though he was a virile man, he had never been comfortable with the blatant fascination others displayed concerning sex. As long as Alfred had known him, he had never once made a dirty joke. It was one of his extremes, Alfred supposed. Bruce believed that sex should be an action, not a conversation. That, and he was a little bit of a puritan.
"At least it's vague," Bruce said. "Still, I don't get why Bobby would do something like this. It isn't even his style. If he was angry enough to go to the press, he would name me, I have no doubt about that. Why just hint at my … my … "
"Yeah." Bruce shook his head, closing the articles. "It doesn't make sense. I'll have to talk to him sometime. I don't have time to deal with Bobby right now, though, and gossip about Bruce Wayne doesn't matter."
Bruce stood from the computer and picked his mask back up. He pressed a button to hide the bottom facial cover and put it on. Alfred took his place at the computer.
"The mafia families are at the center of this," Batman said. "I'll see if I can glean anything from them. Time to go."
"Good luck, sir."
"Thank you, Alfred."
The rest of the day was wasted. Spying on Carmine and Sofia Falcone only gave Batman the satisfaction of hearing Carmine rage about what had happened with the bank's board members. The rest was a denouncement of all the freaks in Gotham City and a tongue-lashing to Sofia for ever letting her tool Castell go to Poison Ivy in the first place. They discussed the "new man" during this argument, but decided to keep him because he was "only half a freak". The chatter was interesting, but Bruce had no way of finding out more details. Sofia left sheepishly after the argument, and Carmine shut himself in his office to drink and brood. Batman left them to their well-deserved anguish.
That evening, Bruce Wayne was forced to make a comeback. Commissioner Gordon called him from one of the many police bars celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Harvey was drunk and "not at his best," according to Jim. Bruce decided to go fetch his lover before he made a spectacle.
The pub was packed and rock music from an Irish band was playing. Beer flowed like water. The strain of the mob war and the Holiday murders were being defied with boisterous commotion and unity. Bruce found Jim and Harvey at the bar. The bartender was glaring at them.
"If this city weren't wound so tight, maybe it wouldn't be coming loose at the seams," Harvey complained, his voice slurred. "All I want is a smoke. Can't a guy smoke in a fucking bar?"
"No," the bartender said. "Go outside, Mr. Dent."
"It's DA Dent, ya—Bruce!" Harvey exclaimed. He clapped Bruce on the shoulder. "Hey, pay this guy off so I can have a smoke, will ya? It's cold outside."
"I'm not going to do that, Harvey," Bruce said. He took the coat Gordon proffered him. "Here's your coat. Come on, you can have a cigarette outside. I'll go with you. There's a bottle of beer here, right? To bring with?"
The bartender gave him one. Bruce managed to usher Harvey out of the pub. He was disgruntled, but not in one of his darkest moods. If he had been, Bruce did not like to think what might have happened. The two men exited the bar, shutting the raucousness out behind them. A strong wind was blowing. It really was cold. Harvey grumbled, but did not attempt to return inside. They took shelter around the corner of the pub, and he lit a cigarette.
"Did Jim call ya?"
"You two are co-parenting me now? Great."
"We're just worried about you, Harvey."
"I'm not a fucking child," Harvey said. He exhaled smoke, shut his eyes. "Look, I know you two mean well, but this is too much. I got a little drunk, a little pissed off, so what? I wasn't going to start a bar fight, for Christ's sake!"
"It's late, anyway," Bruce said. "I was on my way home to have dinner. Come with me. It is cold out here."
"Yeah, cold. So freaking cold." Harvey filled his lungs with smoke, exhaled it. "Is that snow?"
Bruce looked up. Something was fluttering down on them. A flake landed on Harvey's cheek. Bruce picked it off and looked at it.
"No, it's confetti," he said, showing it to Harvey. "Four-leaf clover."
"Ha! Lucky, huh?" Harvey said. He swigged beer from the bottle. "Lucky … "
"Come on, Harvey."
Harvey let himself be led into the car. Bruce instructed Alfred to drive them to the Gotham Regal, and the privacy glass went up. Harvey sat back chugging beer and finishing his cigarette. He had never asked for permission to smoke in the car, and never listened when Bruce told him not to. The luxury car's design had a built-in ashtray, further encouraging the man.
"Don't look at me like that, Bruce," Harvey said. "I'm really not depressed. In fact, I was celebrating. We got some subpoenas for the Maroni case, and several warrants. It's moving along, Bruce! We're gonna get him and his scumbag people!"
"That's great, Harvey."
"Yeah! Join me!"
Harvey forced Bruce to drink one of the small bottles from the car's little bar. He slung an arm around Bruce and kissed him, his tongue tasting of tobacco and smoke and beer. He moved closer and nestled his face in Bruce's neck, kissing and biting him hard. The beer bottle slipped from his hand, spilling all over the car floor. He missed the ashtray, stubbing out the cigarette butt on the car door's armrest. Every time Bruce tried to put down the bottle of liquor, Harvey forced him to have another drink. He was in high spirits, which could be as destructive as his low ones, in a way.
"Harvey, slow down, wait until we're home."
Harvey was on top of him, and he could feel his erection on his leg. Bruce could feel his aggressive ardor drawing blood from his bites, bruising him with kisses. He tried to hold him back, but Harvey slammed him down. Bruce's head hit the armrest painfully.
"Harvey, that's enough." Bruce tried to push him off futilely. He gave the man's bottom a smack. "Enough!"
"Heh heh, gonna spank me like you said?" Harvey murmured. "Yeah? What if I hit you?"
He tried, but Bruce grabbed his wrist. He heaved Harvey off with a mighty shove and sat up. Harvey laughed wildly.
"Just calm down," Bruce said. "We're almost home."
Still laughing, he took the bottle of liquor from Bruce and drank from it. He had had nights like this before, and they never ended well. Bruce knew that when he fell from this high, he would be lower than ever. He wished that he could punish him and that would be the end of it. If only things were so simple …
Harvey managed to behave until they returned to Bruce's suite. Once inside, he threw himself at Bruce in a frenzy. He was as combative as he was lustful, but Bruce managed to meet his fervor. Though he never specifically asked, he sometimes tried to take control and top Bruce. As always, Bruce fought him down. It was not the practice itself that Bruce opposed, although he preferred to top; he knew that if he gave Harvey power over him, he would never relinquish it. Tonight, especially, Bruce could tell that Harvey was testing his limits. He let some of his own aggression loose, and forced him down over the arm of the sofa. Harvey, he had learned, did not particularly like this position. He propped himself up on his arms, but Bruce pushed him back down. He was very tempted to make good on his threats, but he refrained. Instead, he took Harvey roughly, settling for his small inhalation of surprise and subsequent outcries.
There was little left of Harvey's aggressive energy when Bruce had finished with him. By the time they had washed up and sat down to a room service dinner, he was quiet. Bruce only hoped he was not plunging to rock bottom.
Yet Harvey seemed to be content. He ate heartily and did not protest when Bruce informed him he had only ordered sparkling water for the meal. Bruce told him that the police had informed him of Batman's encounter with Poison Ivy at Wayne Manor, and explained how it had foiled Falcone's plan to join the board of the Bank of Gotham. Harvey took this as more good news, and they laughed about it together.
He can be tempered, Bruce thought, relieved. It isn't easy, but he just needs patience and understanding. I won't make the same mistakes with him that I did with Bobby and Floyd. I can't buy into his violence. This time, I will make a difference. I will make Harvey happy, and if he still needs saving, then I will save him. I won't waste my love this time.
By the time Bruce woke up the next morning with Harvey in his arms, the Holiday killer had hit one of Maroni's safe houses. His top lieutenants were dead. Bruce expected this to ruin Harvey's good mood, and was unnerved when it only fueled it.
"Yeah, well, life's a bitch," Harvey said. "Guess Holiday isn't just after Falcone. Maybe he's leavin' it all up to luck, too."
Harvey picked the coin up, flipped it, and caught it. Beautiful as it was, his smile chilled Bruce. Outside, March roared on.