The Darkest Night

"All things truly wicked start from innocence." Ernest Hemingway


18. Exodus

Aurora inhaled deeply and her eyes opened just a little, squinting into the dizzying lights flying over her head, out of focus and bright. There was something over her face, and when she reached for it, a hand pushed her back down. All around her were voices. Urgent but calm and saying things she didn't understand.

Where am I? Where's Bruce?

Her eyes looked for him, but only found a sign passing overhead that read something about an emergency. I'm in Gotham General, she realized and felt herself start to panic.

The pain in her arm and stomach and the rest of her body was immense, but there was nothing she could do to end it. A sickly sweet scent filled lungs, dimming the pain surprisingly. Her senses dulled and she fell asleep, this time to a warmer darkness than the last.

When she woke again, she was in a hospital room. It was warm and empty of any other residents. The TV mounted on the wall played a show, but her vision wasn't focused enough to make out what was on. Her mind was foggy, and her bed was propped up enough that she didn't feel the need to sit up anymore when she woke up--not that she could have. She was sore and tired and ached more than she thought she could. Aurora groaned.

Looking down, she saw a bandage around her arm and various others around the few visible parts of her body. There were two tubes in on of her arms. As her eyes traveled back up, she found a cup of water on the nightstand next to the bed. She took it gratefully, struggling to hold it tight enough to lift it, and drank the entire cup without taking a breath. The water soothed her throat and cooled her stomach. She couldn't recall anything ever tasting so sweet.

Aurora sighed and relaxed a little, eyes still feeling heavy. It was dark in the room, and it had a view of Gotham that really was breathtaking. Funny, she thought, that people like the Joker plague this city, but it still looks as beautiful as it does. It must've been the pain killers.

Aurora took a cautiously deep breath and closed her eyes, wishing she could just go home.

The door opened and she tensed in fear.

"Aurora," Bruce breathed. Her breathing when he approached her as fast as he did, and she gasped and tensed even more under his grasp that felt uncomfortably tight. He pulled away from the hug and held the sides of her face. "Aurora?"

The girl blinked a few times, focusing on the man before her. She said nothing, just looked at him. He did nothing wrong, Aurora reminded herself, but for some reason she didn't want to be near him. She wanted to be alone. Her lips pressed into something less than a pained smirk.

"Can you hear me?" he asked her, voice concerned and worried. "I will find him," he explained. "I promise you."

A long pause held the room.

"Finding him," she finally started in a hoarse whisper, "won't do anything now." Another pause and she thought she might be sick. Feeling his hands made her uncomfortable, but she was too tired to move. "I was pregnant, Bruce. With your baby. I didn't know until two weeks ago...and I didn't know how to tell you." The acid-y feeling of throwing up rose in her throat and tears pooled in her eyes, face remaining otherwise expressionless. The Joker may as well have killed her. "I guess now I don't have to." Her voice cracked and she built up the energy to take her hands back. After another pause, Aurora looked down at her hands and the particularly large bandages wrapped around herself. "What happened to my arm?"

"The Joker...the Joker left a scar on your arm," he explained, sitting back in his seat. "Do you hate me?"

Bruce said nothing about the baby.

His words, though gentle, hurt. She was so mad at him. Or was she upset? In need of him? Aurora had no idea how she felt anymore. "I don't...I don't know how I feel. I can't feel anything." She couldn't say his name, and her voice was small. "You have no idea what they did." Her hand fidgetted with the end of the bandage, slowly causing it to unravel. What was the scar if he purposely left it?

 "I was there. I saw," he told her. "You can't be with me anymore, Aurora. This proves the risks. He knows who I am and he won't stop coming after you until one of us dies. You can't be collateral in this battle. I'm sorry."

No words. No thoughts.


All that happened was a wave of pain that brought that of the injuries she received back to the surface.

He told her this before--that he couldn't be with her because she would get hurt--but it only ended in more pain for both of them. Aurora kept fiddling with the bandage, frozen when she heard the door open. He was really leaving.

Her heart sank and a numbing pain engulfed her. She lifted her eyes to look at the door as it closed. That was the last of Bruce Wayne she ever anticipated seeing--the last of the man she could have sworn she was in love with. Aurora just lost everything; her job, her baby, her well-being, her love. Her sanity.

Her eyes were glued to the door for a good five minutes before redirecting themselves to the city.

Bruce was out there. Batman was out there. And so was the Joker. How could it be so beautiful?

The bandage fell to the floor from her arm, completely unraveled and torn up. The girl refused to look at what the Joker did to her arm in fear that she would make herself sick again. Whatever was carved into her skin, she'd have forever to look at it. Aurora's gaze kept out the window until she heard a chair drag across the sterile floor.

Thinking it was Bruce, she directed her attention to the man in the chair, not surprised when it wasn't him, but disappointed all the same. She had never seen this man before, and he almost looked like a cop. But he didn't have on a uniform or show a badge. It took her a minute to focus on what was in front of her--on the present.

"Miss Rider," he greeted in an oddly caring voice with a small smirk, as if the guy was her good friend.

"Yes?" she answered in a voice as small as she felt. Aurora almost zoned out again, but the pain she felt forced her to keep concentrated.

"I know the truth of what happened to you, Miss Rider," he explained. He leaned forward in the chair, lacing his fingers and resting his elbows on his knees. "I know what you're feeling."

A look of disgust crossed her face, silently telling him: You don't know a thing. The man's smirk grew.

"The truth of the matter is that there is one person to blame for the tragedy that has befallen you. For the loss of your child." His eyes suddenly became very sympathetic, and his words were dripping with seductive manipulation. Not that she realized that. "Batman. Without him, the Joker would not have come into existence. Without him, you would live your life with a nice job, and a family with Wayne. He has destroyed what is left of your life. He has taken everything from you. And I offer you a chance at vengeance," he stood from his chair and donned his black coat and sunglasses, walking to the window. He glanced to her arm as he moved, which made her self-conscious, so she concealed it with her right hand.

He was right, wasn't he? If Bruce wasn't Batman, this never would have happened. He created the Joker. But by the same token, the man was already crazy. Bruce just pushed him over the edge. Maybe it would have happened anyway. No. No, this guy was right. Batman--Bruce--caused this.

"My name is Ra's Al Ghul, and I am the leader of the League of Assassins. I trained the detective, and I can train you. I see in your eyes the same fire that burned within him when he first came to me. Should you seek me out, I will remain in Gotham for the rest of the week, staying at the Royal Hotel under the name Henri Ducard. Until then, Miss Rider," he bowed slightly, still smirking as he exited her hospital room.

 Aurora would have followed him, but a nurse came in and made her fall asleep. She seemed to be the only one that realized the pain she was in.



He felt the pain of helplessness shooting through his body. He should've been there to save her. He shouldn't have spoken to her when he returned to the city. He could have saved her so much pain. He could have prevented all of this if he hadn't succumbed to his human emotions.

Bruce repaired his armor that had been damaged over the past weeks until he was satisfied with the protection it would provide. He thought of Aurora as he placed the last piece of it in the armory. He remembered all the promises he made her. That he would protect her. That soon, Batman would not be needed. Soon they would lead a normal life. Promises he could no longer keep. So long as Bruce lived, Batman would live as well.

Bruce paced about the Batcave, unable to calm down. He was suffering a breakdown. His child. His only chance for a normal life. Taken from him.

His fist slammed against a computer monitor, punching straight through it. For a split second, he regained control of himself. But that didn't last. Bruce dragged his arms across a nearby table, throwing the equipment placed innocently across it to the ground. He fell to his knees, screaming into the depths of the cave, swearing revenge against the madman that had taken so much from him. He leaned forward on his hands and knees, then rolled onto his back, looking straight up toward the ceiling. Bats. Flying over head. He wanted to see them closer. He slowly rose from his position on the floor, climbing to his feet. He picked the cowl of his armor off of the ground and carried it close to his body, like a child carrying a blanket.

He made his way to one of the deepest parts of the cave near a large waterfall. He stood on the edge of a large cliff, water pouring into a dark abyss by his side. He shouted into the dark, throwing the cowl that he held into the nothingness below. Suddenly, there was a mass of screeching coming from the darkness, and a horde of bats erupted from it, surrounding Bruce.

Something was dropped at his feet. The cowl. They brought it back. He knelt to pick it up, his arms outstretched, and looked into the black and soulless eyes in front of him. The bats swirled upward around him in a tornado of blackness. His jaw clenched, eyes hardened, and his grip on the cowl tightened.

I am vengeance.

I am the night.

I am Batman.

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