Batman nightwalker, p.22
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.22

           Marie Lu
 
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  Behind them, a loudspeaker blared from the helicopter. “Hands up! We will shoot! I repeat—we will shoot!” Squinting, Bruce saw the glint of metal—a rifle—from a military helicopter’s open doors. The sound of blades chopping through the air was deafening. The soldier holding the rifle took aim. Bruce’s eyes widened.

  Sparks lit up the ground near them. Bruce grabbed Madeleine’s hand and started to run with her for the safety of the concrete wall. Madeleine resisted for an instant, her boots still turning toward her brother in an attempt to defend him, but her movements were weak, unsteady. Bruce was about to shout something at her, when he saw her eyes widen in shock.

  Cameron was throwing up his arms in surrender. And he was pointing a finger in Madeleine’s direction.

  He was telling the police to target her first. His own sister. To save himself.

  Madeleine only had time to look up at the helicopter. The rifle shifted toward her.

  No, not her.

  Everything seemed to happen in a slow series of snapshots. Bruce let out a hoarse scream and reached for her, pulling them both behind the concrete wall to safety.

  “Drop your weapons!” voices shouted at Cameron from the helicopter. Then the sound of shots fired.

  Bruce lowered Madeleine carefully to the ground. Over his shoulder, he saw Cameron’s body crumpled against the ledge. Blood pooled underneath him. The police had not been distracted for long.

  Bruce turned back to Madeleine. Blood blossomed across her shirt, and she struggled for air in his arms. No. He pulled off his helmet so that he could see her face without the barrier of glass that always seemed to separate them. “They’re going to take you to the hospital, Madeleine. You hear me? You’re going to be okay.”

  Tears left trails down the sides of her face. She trembled uncontrollably, but her eyes—deep, dark, endless—stayed fixed on Bruce.

  “So damn noble,” she managed to say, the ghost of a smile appearing on her lips. They were stained red.

  Bruce’s arms tightened as he pulled her closer. “Save your breath,” he replied. Madeleine trembled, and it took him a moment to realize that his vision was blurring from unshed tears. “But keep breathing. You got that? Keep breathing.”

  “It’s…too bad,” she said, her voice quieting so that Bruce had to lean closer in order to hear her, “that we met like this.”

  She was saying her goodbyes. Bruce started to reply, but she shook her head. “You’re fighting for the wrong side,” she said.

  As Bruce crouched over her, he found himself wishing that he could convince her, that there was some magic word he could say to her that would show her the sideways view of her world, that perhaps what she had been taught all her life wasn’t true, that there was true justice out there. He wished there was a magic word he could say to keep her alive. But instead, he found himself staring back into her eyes as the light slowly faded from them.

  “I’m so sorry,” he finally said.

  She tried to focus on him. “Me too.”

  He put a hand gently against her face, then leaned down and touched her lips with his. Somehow, he thought that perhaps he would feel her kiss him back, that this gesture could keep the breath in her body long enough to save her. But when he pulled back to look again at her face, her eyes were closed.

  The sounds of the helicopter still roared above them, and the spotlight was sweeping in their direction. Bruce could hear police kicking at the locked stairwell door, ready to burst onto the rooftop.

  He kept his head down and buried his face against Madeleine’s, letting himself linger for a final second. Then he forced himself to step away from her body. He pulled his helmet back on and, shrouded in shadows by the concrete wall, ran toward the edge of the rooftop. He hooked a cable to the ledge, flung himself over, and dropped out of view before the light could reach him. The line blurred by in his hands. As he reached the ground, he could hear the police finally break through the stairwell door above. He pictured them flooding the roof. Their attention was fixed on the two bodies. Bruce could hear them shouting Madeleine’s name. He forced himself to unclip the cable and blend in with the night.

  There was absolutely no reason to weep, Bruce thought as he ran. Madeleine had been a criminal, a thief, a fugitive, and a liar. He told himself this over and over again.

  And yet, the tears still came.

  Streaks of light. The sound of a camera crew and the rush of uniforms. The roar of the helicopter still hovering over the hall. Bruce heard everything happen around him in a daze, but there was no time to let any of it sink in. He hid his black suit and changed into his own clothing. He found his way through the tunnels, where he came face to face with the police. They took him to the crowd of cars that made up the barricade, where Alfred and Harvey were waiting for him.

  Alfred had made up a story about how the Nightwalkers had broken Bruce out of the precinct in order to force his accounts’ passwords from him. Bruce explained how he’d used his accounts to disable the drones remotely. Harvey backed up their statements.

  If anyone suspected Bruce as the figure in black on the rooftop, no one acted on it.

  Dianne was sitting upright, wrapped in a blanket, on a gurney beside one of the barricade’s ambulances. When Bruce and Harvey reached her, she stretched her trembling arms out to both of them, hugging them tight. Bruce closed his eyes, taking in the embrace. At least they were all here. At least his friends were all alive. That was all that mattered.

  When he opened his eyes, he thought, for a moment, that he saw a girl with dark eyes walking through the crowd. He thought he could hear her voice. Maybe if he blinked, he would find himself inside the halls of Arkham again, staring through a glass window at a girl who tilted her head at him and wove her hair into a shining black braid.

  But when he looked again, she was gone, replaced with crowds of police and reporters, like she’d never been there at all.

  —

  The next morning, Bruce woke up back in his mansion and limped his way down to the courtyard. His body felt bruised and sore in a hundred places, but for the first time in a while, he’d slept through the night. No dreams. No haunted halls. It was a surreal feeling, watching the sunlight cut through the windows of his home and cast bright patterns on the floor. As if the previous night had never happened.

  Out on the courtyard patio, Alfred had already set out a tray of coffee, eggs, and toast. Bruce gingerly took a seat in a chair, then looked around at the soothing greenery. The morning was so strangely quiet. Only the sound of birds and a distant fountain could be heard. Had it only been last night that the hostage standoff had taken place at the concert hall, that the roar of helicopter blades and gunfire had filled his ears?

  “Morning, Master Wayne.”

  Bruce turned in his seat to see his guardian come outside with an armful of envelopes. “Glad to see it, Alfred,” he replied as Alfred took a seat beside him.

  “Lucius stopped by. He wanted to pass along his gratitude to you,” Alfred said. “If the police ever come sniffing around WayneTech, he’ll make sure to cover for you.”

  “Does anyone suspect…?”

  Alfred shook his head. “Police still have a warrant out for the arrest of an unidentified assailant in black. They won’t find you, not if Lucius has anything to do with it.”

  Bruce tried to smile at Alfred. “Did you apologize to Lucius for me, for breaking into his labs?”

  “Lucius is quite fine with your thievery, all things considered,” Alfred said with a single chuckle, “and would like to see you later today to give his thanks in person, if you’re up for it. He says the team at WayneTech will be busy working out the drone security loophole that Madeleine was able to exploit. Quite a loophole, I’d say.” Alfred took the stack of envelopes under his arm and tossed them onto the table. “Some cards were dropped off at the front gate for you.”

  Bruce ran a hand through the stack, recognizing the names and some of the addresses. They were from classmates and fr
iends, teachers, and Wayne Industries employees. His hand paused on one. It was addressed from Richard. He glanced up at Alfred, who simply nodded, and then carefully tore the seal. Inside was a get-well card. When Bruce opened the card, he saw a brief, handwritten message.

  Thank you.

  Even after all this time, Bruce could still recognize Richard’s handwriting. He reread the words. Richard could not have known that Bruce was the suited figure inside the concert hall. Could he? Had he recognized Bruce’s fighting style, or his voice? Bruce shook his head, light-headed at the thought, and for a moment, he pictured Richard taken into custody at the police precinct. Would Richard reveal Bruce’s identity to the police?

  It would certainly match Richard’s category. Vengeful, bitter, taunting, eager to see Bruce punished a second time. But Bruce sat and studied the message. Thank you.

  Somewhere in those simple words, he thought, was a silent promise to keep Bruce’s secret.

  The chaos of the previous night all came back to him now. “I feel like I’m not really here, Alfred,” Bruce admitted.

  “I know,” Alfred said gently. “Give yourself time to heal from all that’s happened.” He sighed, then studied his young ward. “I feel as if I may have trouble keeping you out of harm’s way, Master Wayne, even though you’ve proven yourself capable of handling it.”

  Bruce thought back to the feeling of Madeleine lying limp in his arms. His head still felt fuzzy, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to ask Alfred what the police would do with her body. Where she would be buried. “I don’t think I’ve proven much,” Bruce said.

  Alfred gave him a pointed look. “Just try not to give me too many heart attacks. I’m not getting any younger.”

  The doorbell echoed. Alfred looked at Bruce a moment longer, then rose and headed in to answer the door. Bruce turned his attention back to staring out at the courtyard, until the sound of familiar voices reached his ears. He glanced over his shoulder.

  It was Dianne and Harvey, both bearing gifts. Harvey had an extra backpack slung over his black jacket, his blond hair slicked back and a grin on his face. Dianne looked more reserved—healthy and relatively unharmed, even relaxed in a baggy white sweater and striped tights. There was a pensive, haunted light in her brown eyes, but when she saw Bruce, she lit up and straightened.

  Bruce abandoned his dark mood at the sight of them.

  “I can’t believe you’re already back on your feet!” Harvey exclaimed, grabbing Bruce’s outstretched hand and pulling him in for a hug. He patted Bruce a little too hard, making him wince and laugh. “I heard one of the SWAT team members ended up fighting it out on the roof with the Wallace siblings—heard that you had something to do with helping the police find a way into the building. It’s all such a mess; no one’s really sure what happened? But hell, I’d be spending the rest of the month in bed, streaming movies and polishing off pizzas.”

  Bruce pulled away and turned to embrace Dianne. “Well, considering you actually survived being a hostage,” he said, “I don’t have much of an excuse.”

  Dianne wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. “Thank you, Bruce,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d be here right now if you hadn’t helped the police.”

  Bruce closed his eyes and hugged her back. She didn’t seem to know that he was the one behind the black helmet, that he had been there on the balcony with her, had seen her frightened face. It all seemed so surreal. “Glad you came over,” he replied.

  “The police don’t quite know what to do about you, you know,” Dianne said as they settled into chairs beside him. Alfred brought out more eggs and toast, and two more mugs of coffee. “The news reported this morning that the Nightwalkers broke you out of jail to force you to give up your account passwords.”

  Bruce exchanged a look of relief with Harvey. Harvey still didn’t seem entirely comfortable with breaking the law, but Bruce didn’t think he would go running to the precinct to turn himself in, either.

  “And your clever trick saved the day,” Dianne went on. “But then there was the whole thing with, well…” She hesitated. “With Madeleine’s letter. GCPD is still trying to figure out whether or not to send you to court again.”

  “They’d be fools to charge you for anything, Bruce,” Harvey said. “And you know what that means, coming from me.”

  Somehow, none of it—the police’s indecision, the possibility of a trial—felt like it mattered.

  As always, Dianne noticed the shift in Bruce’s mood. She nodded at his eggs and toast, neither of which he’d touched, and her face sobered. “Are you going to be okay? I know…it must be hard, after everything that happened yesterday.” She held out one of her hands, and Bruce saw that it still shook uncontrollably. “I’m hoping this will go away soon. Someday.”

  “Someday,” Bruce replied with a nod, his thoughts lingering on Madeleine. He could still see her body framed by floodlights, still feel the way she’d trembled against him as he held her. It replayed over and over in his mind. He shook his head. He was not the only one traumatized from the previous night. Many people were also picking up the pieces this morning.

  Harvey leaned back in his chair and sighed. “I think you might have to resign yourself to being forever on Gotham City’s front pages,” he said, even though his words were tinged with a note of sadness. “All they want is the latest scoop on your story. They’re trying to grab interviews with everyone who even remotely knows you. The tabloids are already making up their own stories about what really happened.”

  “Shameless.” Dianne shook her head. “You’re going to have to wear a mask or something to avoid this circus around you.”

  Bruce wondered what she’d say if she knew about his suit. His attention shifted back to Harvey. He nodded at the backpack his friend was carrying with him. “Hey,” he said. “What’s that for?”

  Harvey looked at him, then took a deep breath. “So,” he began hesitantly. “Remember how I turned my dad in?”

  Dianne smiled in anticipation of what Harvey was about to say, but Bruce was silent, remembering Harvey’s words as he helped Bruce break out of the precinct. He nodded, waiting for Harvey to continue. “Well, it looks like he’s going to get some prison time. So I was wondering—that is—” Harvey’s voice caught for a moment as he struggled to get the words out. “I was wondering if it’d be okay with you—if I stayed at your place. Just for a while—just for a few weeks until college starts in the fall. I have most of my stuff with me.” He nodded at his small, worn backpack. “Of course, if that’s too much trouble—”

  Bruce’s eyes widened a little. Harvey was finally, finally, leaving his father behind. For good.

  Harvey looked like he was about to start stammering out an apology, but Bruce leaned forward and stopped him with a steady stare. “Stay,” he replied. “Stay as long as you want.”

  Harvey hesitated a moment longer. “Figured I should be a little brave, too,” he said.

  Bruce put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You’re braver than I’ve ever been.”

  Dianne pulled Harvey into a hug, and Bruce did the same, savoring their company. This, right here, was everything. They didn’t have to come over today, he thought; both of them had suffered in their own way last night, and they were probably as exhausted as himself. But here they were anyway, at his side, trying to cheer him up, and he found himself feeling deeply grateful for these friends with whom he could simply be.

  The world would always have the liars and traitors and thieves, but there were still those who were good at heart.

  They stayed until Alfred came back outside, telling Bruce he had another visitor. Bruce excused himself, rose from the table, and left Dianne and Harvey listing out what concerts they could catch before college started. He headed back inside the mansion, where a tall figure waited for him in the foyer.

  It was Detective Draccon, standing with a stranger Bruce hadn’t met before. She turned at the sound of Bruce approaching, then held her
hand out to shake his. In one of her hands, clutched awkwardly, were a bundle of flowers and a card. “Hello, Bruce,” she said. She nodded to the man at her side. “This is Detective James Gordon.”

  The detective offered Bruce a kind look as they shook hands. He was young, but something about him—his thick brows, his deep-set eyes against his weathered, fair skin—made him look wiser than his years. “An honor, Mr. Wayne.”

  “You too, sir,” Bruce replied.

  “Gordon’s coming in from Chicago,” Draccon added. “He’ll be filling my space at GCPD.”

  Bruce looked sharply at her. “Filling your space?”

  “I’ve been offered a promotion in Metropolis and will be leaving GCPD at the end of the month to head their security force.”

  At that, Bruce couldn’t help but smile a little. “Congratulations, Detective,” he said.

  “It’s thanks to you, really.” Draccon waved the flowers uncomfortably, until Alfred put her out of her misery by taking them and going off to find a vase. “The guys at the precinct wanted to send that,” she said as she adjusted her glasses. “Once you’re feeling better, we’d like to invite you down to formally accept a certificate of honor for your actions.”

  Bruce looked down at the open card. Inside were scrawled a bunch of signatures. “After all I’ve put you guys through?” he said, offering Draccon a wry grin. “This is too much.”

  Draccon put a hand on her hip, but she was smiling, too. “Just take the damn flowers, Wayne, before I change my mind.”

  “What’s the certificate for?”

  “For taking decisive action and saving both officers’ and civilians’ lives,” Gordon answered. “That took serious courage, Mr. Wayne, disabling the drones.”

  Draccon shrugged as if unsure how to praise him. “For your heroics,” she added. “We couldn’t have accomplished any of this without your help.”

  “Well done,” Gordon said.

  Bruce hesitated. “And Richard Price?” he ventured. “What’s going to happen to him?”

  “There will be charges against him,” Draccon answered. “But he’s been very cooperative in helping us track down any Nightwalkers who escaped. We’ll make sure to adjust his sentence to match what happened to him. I know he’s your friend, Bruce, and he’s been quite remorseful.”

 
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