Batman nightwalker, p.20
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.20

           Marie Lu
 
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  Irritation flashed across her face. It was all Bruce needed to see to confirm that Madeleine had tried—and failed—to hack into his new, secured accounts. She would need him to personally open them up for her.

  Madeleine nodded at the door behind her. “I don’t want you dead for a variety of reasons. Boss thinks I can break into all of your funds. But it seems like you have some locks on your remaining ones that only you can crack open.” She leaned against her knees. “I told you to keep away. But now that you’re here, they’re going to want you to open up the rest. And they’re not going to be nearly as nice about it as me.”

  The boss. Bruce remembered the man he’d seen in his house, confronting him moments before the police burst in through the doors. Had that been the voice on the loudspeakers, too, demanding ransom? At the look on Madeleine’s face, he narrowed his eyes. “You framed me,” he choked out. “You left a note that sent me to an interrogation room with the police—you put me behind bars. Real nice. Why should I believe anything you say?”

  Madeleine gave him a wounded look. “You don’t think I meant what I said in my note?”

  Bruce strained against his bonds. “Don’t insult me. And to think I actually believed you might’ve been more than a coldhearted killer. I guess I was wrong. What else don’t I know about you, Madeleine? Is that even your name? Do you lie just for fun? Does it make you happy, messing with my mind? Do you enjoy making up stories just to mock me?”

  Madeline winced, momentarily cutting through Bruce’s anger. “You think you’ve figured me out, don’t you?” she said.

  “Wouldn’t have to if you were an honest person.”

  The two of them glared at each other in silence. The strange pull between them that Bruce had felt all throughout their visits in Arkham returned in full force, permeating the heavy air.

  Finally, he shook his head. “Who are you?”

  Madeleine stared at him for a long moment. She pursed her lips, as if trying to find the right words to say, and for the first time, Bruce thought that maybe she was actually preparing to tell him the truth, a truth, any truth. She looked toward the lit mirrors, where their reflections stared back at her.

  “My real name is Madeleine Wallace,” she began. “And I’m one of the leaders of the Nightwalkers.”

  These words sounded true, solid. So had her words in the past, of course…but Bruce stayed silent, willing her on.

  “Everything I told you about my mother is true,” she continued. “She was a brilliant teacher. She taught me and my brother everything she knew. Both of us started coding at an early age—but I was her real prodigy, the one who kept at it when my brother started getting really sick.” Her gaze returned to Bruce. “She lost her job trying to take care of him. That much you know. She did what she had to do.”

  “And so she killed the doctor.”

  “Wouldn’t you?” Madeleine replied coolly. “Tell me, noble Bruce, what would you have done if your parents had been shot not by some random burglar, but murdered by an upstanding doctor? If you were orphaned in the ghetto instead of in your gated neighborhood? If you weren’t so rich and white and famous? Would you be the same person you are today? Or would you see justice differently? Do you think we all walk through the world with the same privileges as you?”

  The memory Bruce carried of his parents’ death shifted momentarily—he imagined his mother and father poisoned by someone in a medical uniform, imagined their killer going free instead of being put away in jail. Do you think we all walk through the world with the same privileges as you?

  “And what about everything else you’ve told me?” he asked, forcing the questions away. “Why did you leave that note in your cell? Why did you lead me to the Nightwalkers’ underground room and sabotage your own team?”

  “I knew we had mostly cleared that room out. I needed to give you something, in order to have you trust me. That was the point behind all of our conversations, Bruce—you were part of my ticket out. You’re sweet. And helpful.”

  A liar, and an exploiter. He wanted to lunge at her, to hurt her for all of her falsehoods.

  “As for my note—I left that so that the police would arrest you, of course.” Madeleine rolled her eyes in exasperation. Bruce stared carefully at her; something about her exaggerated gesture seemed to signal that she was hiding what she truly felt. “If they held you behind bars, then no one could get to you.”

  Then no one could get to you. “You…were trying to protect me?” he asked incredulously.

  Madeleine sighed. Another crack in the wall, another emotion hidden beneath her shell. “What do you think?” she muttered. “You were on the hit list long before I ever knew you personally. I was telling the truth about that, you know. I told you to escape the city immediately. Instead, you went home and stepped into an obvious trap.”

  “I went inside to save Alfred,” Bruce replied. “I wasn’t about to leave him behind.”

  Madeleine shrugged. “At your own peril.”

  Bruce leaned forward. It was all he could do—and even this small gesture sent his head spinning with pain. “I don’t understand why you wanted to save me,” he said.

  Madeleine gave him a sad smile. She drew closer to him, until she was barely a few inches from his face. He could feel her warm breath against his skin, and the brush of her dark hair against his arm. “I haven’t always told you the truth, Bruce Wayne,” she murmured. “But I told the truth in that letter.” And before he could say anything else, she closed the distance between them and pressed her lips to his.

  It was as if something between them had now suddenly snapped, leaving Bruce reeling. Don’t. But he felt himself kiss her back, felt her leaning into him. What was she trying to do? What did this mean? His thoughts whirled, and his muscles tensed in warning—but he closed his eyes and kissed her harder, unwilling and unable to break this bond. She made a soft, yearning sound in her throat. Maybe he was dreaming again, and he would be shaken awake in a cold sweat…but her lips were warm and soft, and the brush of her lashes against his cheeks felt like feathers. Heat rushed through him. His heartbeat roared in his ears. Don’t do this. But he couldn’t help himself. He wanted more of this. Of her.

  Finally, she broke away. Her breaths were shallow, and she blinked at him, her expression momentarily vulnerable.

  “I don’t understand,” Bruce found himself whispering. He leaned instinctively forward, aching to kiss her again. “What are you doing?”

  For once, Madeleine looked as bewildered as he felt. She leaned away from him, frowned, and tried to compose herself. The calm demeanor she usually wore flickered. “I chose to go to Arkham,” she finally replied. “But I didn’t anticipate meeting you there.”

  “Why would you choose to go to Arkham?”

  At that, her expression hardened again. Some of the momentary heat between them cooled. “You aren’t going to stop me, nor any of the other Nightwalkers. There is plenty that still matters more to me than you.”

  “And what about those murders?” Bruce pressed. He leaned closer to her when she refused to look at him. “Did you really commit them?”

  For the first time, she hesitated at this question.

  “You were protecting someone, weren’t you?” Bruce asked again. “You took someone else’s fall, admitted to the crimes—you went to Arkham in someone else’s place. That’s why you said you chose to go to Arkham, right?”

  “And what makes you say that?” Madeleine’s voice had turned very quiet, reinforcing his suspicions.

  “Because you’re far too smart to be caught by the police with blood all over you,” he replied.

  The sound of approaching footsteps outside silenced them both. Madeleine straightened; a warning light glinted in her eyes, and she quickly distanced herself from Bruce as the door opened. Two of the Nightwalkers who had previously been inside now returned, and with them came a third person.

  Bruce’s attention fixed immediately on the newcomer. He recognized this man. It
was the same tall, looming silhouette he’d seen in his house, pointing a gun straight at him—it was the same man who had been wearing a mask and goggles, whose outfit had gleamed a strange metal in the dim light. Bruce recognized the way he walked—easy and dangerous, like a tiger. But this time, the man’s mask was off, and his face was exposed.

  Bruce’s breath caught in his throat. The resemblance was uncanny. Same slender dark eyes, same pale white skin, same black hair—although his was short and wild, a thick mess that he now ran a hand through. And unlike Madeleine’s more reserved, calculating expression, this man’s face was full of fire. Bruce didn’t even need to know him to know that his temper ran on a short fuse. But what really caught Bruce’s attention was the gleam of metal against his exposed skin. Bands of what looked like steel lined the sides of both of his forearms, running up to his elbows. His elbow joints were completely metal. That predatory gait he had was possibly due to the enhanced joints in his knees, giving him far greater control than an average human.

  Madeleine gave him a wry look, but in it, Bruce saw affection that could only mean one thing. “Took your time today, Boss,” she said, adding a taunting lilt to the final word.

  This man—the Nightwalkers’ infamous leader—was Cameron Wallace. Her brother.

  Bruce could only stare for a moment as Cameron gave his sister a single, humorless smirk. “Too much fun to be had out there,” he replied, nodding toward the door and the concert hall balcony beyond, and then at the captive guards who were now kneeling on the ground before them, heads bowed. “And in here.”

  “What’s going on?” Madeleine asked.

  “No thanks to these guys, we hear a few police have managed to make their way through an underground tunnel to be within the concert hall’s perimeters. They have a few rogue drones with them.” Cameron shoved one of the guards hard enough to send him toppling sideways. “If I’d wanted the police to trickle in, I would’ve given you all the order to let them do so. Now you’ve made my life harder.”

  “Don’t do it, Cam,” Madeleine said, her voice tight. “We’ve done enough.” But even as she said it, Cameron pulled out a gun from his belt holster and pointed it at the first guard. The guard started shaking his head frantically.

  “I did that,” Bruce spoke up. Everyone turned to look at him. “I turned the police onto that underground path you missed. I sent the rogue drones. They’re mine, after all. Not yours.”

  “Is that so?” he said, looking between him and Madeleine. “Then that must mean you’re Bruce Wayne. What a pleasure. Remember me? We met at your home.”

  “Cam,” Madeleine snapped, the warning growing in her voice.

  “Good work getting him here, sis,” Cameron replied. He turned his attention back to the sobbing guard. Then he pulled the trigger.

  Bruce flinched but didn’t look away, his ears ringing. The man fell to the floor with a scream as the bullet ripped through his side. Blood sprayed onto the wall. Cameron shot the two other guards in rapid succession—one in his arm, the other in his hand.

  “Cam, damn it!” Madeleine jumped to her feet and shoved her brother hard, making him stumble back a step. “We don’t have time for this, and you’re wasting perfectly good people. Your people. Do I need to remind you that we’re in a standoff right now?”

  “Cheer up, sis. I’m not putting bullets through their heads because of you.” Cameron scowled at her and swung the gun onto his shoulder. “They’re not ‘perfectly good people’ if they can’t stop a police assault. Now we have cops on the hall’s property.” He nodded for the others to drag the wounded, sobbing guards out of the room. “One bullet for each mistake,” he called out after them. “So make sure you make fewer of them.”

  “And now you have three injured guards,” Madeleine snapped back. “What happens if we need to be on the move? Leave them to be caught by the police and interrogated? Drag them along? You’re slowing us down, you idiot.”

  “I didn’t say I’d never put bullets in their heads,” Cameron replied. “So drop it.”

  Bruce looked numbly at the carpet. There were streaks of blood leading to the door, and on the other side, he could still hear the wounded Nightwalkers’ cries. They rang in his head. So this was the boss—a man who everyone had suspected to be dead, to have died as a boy. Suddenly, the cryptic way Madeleine talked about everything made sense.

  As Madeleine fumed, Cameron grinned at her and gave her a nudge. “Have you been enjoying your little date night in here?” He swiveled to Bruce and gave him a once-over. “You have some remarkable reflexes, Wayne. It’s too bad you’re not one of us. You’ve quite enraptured my baby sister.”

  Madeleine shot him an annoyed look. Bruce looked at her brother, then back at her. “You told me he was dead,” he said. “I read the obituary online.”

  “It’s not hard to fake a death, Bruce,” Madeleine replied. “After Cameron almost died, Mom left the country with his body and got a foreign doctor to perform an experimental procedure that saved his life—hence, the artificial joints you see. He’s been…different, ever since then.” She looked at her brother again with a bitter roll of her eyes. Bruce watched them carefully. Had Cameron’s procedure not only strengthened his body—but also warped his conscience? “Being off the grid is helpful for a lot of things, Cameron. Isn’t it? You tend not to be a primary suspect when you murder people.” There was sharpness in her voice.

  “You were the real killer,” Bruce said to Cameron. “You slit the throats of those people, and you made Madeleine take the fall for you.”

  “I don’t make her do anything,” Cameron replied.

  “I chose to take it,” Madeleine said. “I was responsible for hacking the home systems at each victim’s house. That was my job. Cameron executed.” There, in her voice, was a strange sarcasm again—and this time, Bruce understood that it meant Madeleine had neither planned nor approved of the way Cameron murdered their victims. “I saw what our mother went through in the prison system. I wasn’t about to see another family member endure it—especially not Cameron, who our mother gave up her life to protect.”

  Cameron smiled at his sister. “It’s good to have you back,” he said. “Now we can actually move forward.”

  “Move forward?” Bruce asked.

  “Do you know why I killed each of those moneybags, Wayne?” Cameron said. There was a savage light in his gaze. “It’s because they were corrupt to the core.” Madeleine made an unhappy face, but he shook his head. “Had you not been Bruce Wayne, you would’ve gotten a much harsher prison sentence for interfering with the police. I’d bet my life on it. So forgive me when I say that I relish stealing the millions in their bank accounts, cutting their throats, and then using that same money to destroy the corruption they all stand for.” He shrugged, giving Bruce a wink. “It’s invigorating, wouldn’t you agree?”

  “They weren’t supposed to die,” Madeleine interjected. She frowned again at her brother. “Let the loss of their wealth be their pain.”

  “And have them avoid the justice they deserve?” Cameron scoffed before looking at Bruce. “Each of those so-called philanthropists earned money from Gotham City’s privatized jails. Tell me, then, whether or not they deserved to die.”

  “They didn’t deserve to die like that,” Bruce said angrily. “No one does. Maybe not even you.”

  “I’m already dead. Got my certificate to prove it,” Cameron said.

  “And I was next?” Anger cut through Bruce’s voice.

  “That was my plan. Although someone seems to have alerted you to it.” At that, Cameron shot Madeleine a scathing look. Bruce looked at her, too. Perhaps she had been watching out for him after all.

  Bruce turned to Madeleine. “You honestly think that this cycle of theft, murder, and destruction is worth it?”

  Madeleine lifted her chin. “I believe this is a wake-up call to Gotham City, yes,” she replied. “I have no patience for the ruling class that protects the greedy.”

 
And what about me?” Bruce said quietly. “Do you believe I deserve the same fate as all the other people you allowed to die?”

  “You aren’t supposed to be here,” Madeleine said in a tight voice.

  Cameron looked at her and sighed. “You really took a liking to this one, didn’t you?” When she didn’t reply, he shook his head and started heading toward the door. “Doesn’t matter anyway. Wayne, it’s time we finished our business with you. Show Madeleine how to access the rest of your accounts, and we’ll do our transaction quickly and quietly.”

  Good. Keep them going. “Why should I?” Bruce snarled. “Because you’ll put a knife to my throat if I don’t? Like all the others?”

  Cameron lifted an eyebrow at him like he was talking to a child. “Because, Bruce Wayne, if you don’t—there are a lot of hostages out there on the balcony who will have to answer for your stubbornness.”

  Bruce glanced at Madeleine. She only gave him a grave stare. “Don’t make me do this,” she murmured, shaking her head slightly.

  Cameron didn’t hear her. Instead, he just opened the door and stepped out. “Don’t take too long, sis,” he called over his shoulder. He left, leaving them alone for a moment.

  “Madeleine,” Bruce said in the silence. “This isn’t really you. I can see it on your face.”

  She didn’t answer, determinedly looking toward the door, but her body leaned instinctively in his direction, and he felt the warmth of her nearness. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied quietly, even as uncertainty tainted each word. “Our goals remain the same.”

  “And what will happen to me, after your brother’s done with me?” Bruce hissed. “Do you think he will let me walk out of here alive? Do you think he’ll just hand me over to the police?” He glanced toward the door. “Do you think he’ll just let his hostages go?”

  Madeleine didn’t reply right away—and in her moment of hesitation, Bruce saw the truth. “You do care,” he whispered. He leaned closer, desperate to see that something in their connection, whatever it was that they had, was real.

 
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