After she was content with every single answer to even her stupidest questions, Aurora fell back asleep on the couch and remained there until around ten at night. The sun was long past down (which she knew only because of the glow of the snowy moon through the window) and Bruce wasn't with her anymore. The last thing she remembered before she fell asleep was him kneeling right beside her, answering her silly questions with the fire flickering behind him and making her eyes tired.
"Bruce?" she called tiredly, rubbing her eyes and pushing the blanket off herself.
Sometime in the period she was asleep, she overheated, so there was a sheer layer of sweat across her face and the back of her neck. Calling for him was in vain because there was no answer. She half expected him to be off in the city, but she hoped he would have said goodbye before he did.
Aurora pushed the giant wooden door aside and began toward Bruce's study. Once there, she played the notes while yawning and casually stepped into the elevator. She let the blue light run over her body and confirm it was her, descended to the cave, and looked around for him.
On the far side of the room, the weapons she knocked over were reset to their previous, organized position. Aurora blushed just a little at the remembrance of what she did earlier, but then laughed once under her breath. It was a little funny. It was also funny how casual this was becoming for her already—and a little disturbing, too.
"Bruce?" she called out again with an echoing, tired voice.
The large chair in front of the massive computer spun around and revealed Bruce, donned in his full armor except the cowl. "Aurora, you should really be resting," he said, worry in his voice. He stood from his chair and began to walk toward her.
"I just wanted to see if you were still here.”
“I am. But I have to go. There's been a report of a break in at ACE Chemicals," he explained.
ACE Chemicals? she thought. If it was just a break-in, why was he going?
"I know what you're thinking, but the individual reported there was ID'ed as the Red Hood, a symbol for an international crime syndicate recognized by Interpol, the FBI… You name it.” He returned to the computer and typed on the keyboard and brought up security camera footage of the robber.
Her eyes flicked to the screen showing a man dressed not in some costume, but in a normal suit. That was even scarier than some costumed hooligan.
He was wearing a black tuxedo with a red boutonnière. On his head was what seemed like a red bucket, and a red cape was flowing behind him from his shoulders. Bruce reached for the cowl sitting beside the keyboard and slowly lowered it over his head.
"Listen, you should really go back upstairs. Or at least call Alfred down here with you. I wouldn't want you alone down here if something were to happen,” he explained as he walked away from her toward his motorcycle, the lights on the stretch of floor coming to life one by one in a long column as he continued toward it.
“I will,” she promised.
Try to come back in one piece, she pleaded internally and watched him go with a small smile of confidence and belief in Bruce.
Rising from below the ground and rotating on a platform was a large armored motorcycle. Bruce swung a leg over it and started it, bringing the built-in computer to life. The motorcycle roared as he revved the engine. He looked back to Aurora, his face unchanged, just a solid look of determination in his eyes. He nodded his head slightly and bent his shoulders to the curvature of the motorcycle, and began to speed away.
The tunnel leading to Gotham took him down under the lake near his home: glass walls stretched overhead and lights illuminated all of the various undersea life that was floating in the icy waters above him. The motorcycle shot out of an opening in the end of the tunnel and began to speed down the main road, heading toward Gotham. Bruce tapped the screen on the motorcycle, causing a dial tone in his ear.
"Aurora, can you hear me?” he asked. His voice could be heard coming out of the speakers near the computer.
“Bruce?” he heard Aurora’s voice call faintly.
"There should be an earpiece near the computer. I need you to keep me monitored on the police situation outside of the ACE Chemicals building. You can use the earpiece to keep communications with me.”
"I'm watching," she told him, voice more clear now that the earpiece was in.
Now she would be his eyes where he needed them—his own watchful protector.
“Good. I need you to tell me when Gordon arrives on scene." He knew that, with Gordon there, he could trust that the police would be under control. It would make his life easier. Bruce hoped that by being able to capture this man, he could interrogate him and find out more about the Red Hood Gang. With SWAT officer Branden leading the interior attack, things would get dangerous fast.
His motorcycle sped down the highway, weaving in and out of cars. His specially designed tires kept the bike from spinning out should he hit a patch of ice. He was nearing Park Row, the location of ACE Chemicals. It just so happened to be across the street from the Monarch Theatre.
He pulled to a stop a few streets away and parked in an alley. As he stepped off the motorcycle, he pressed a button on his gauntlet that set motorcycle to armored mode, preventing it from taking any damage from a passerby in his absence.
He used his grapple gun to pull him up toward the roof tops, where there were two police snipers were stationed. Bruce climbed up over the ledge and silently snuck up behind them. He grasped both of their heads and smashed them together, sending them crumbling to the ground, unconscious. Bruce crouched down on the ledge of the roof and pulled his cryptographic sequencer from his belt, which would enable him to hack into the police communications. He listened carefully for any indication that the police had men on the inside. To his surprise, and luck, the SWAT team had yet to arrive.
Bruce took a few steps back, and then sprinted toward the edge of the roof and leapt off. His cape sprung to life, gliding him through the air and through an old window on the side of the large chemical factory. He shot his grapple upwards immediately, pulling him up to the steel rafters.
"I'm inside, Aurora. Now is when I really need you to pay attention. I can't get the police radio communications in here so I need you to tell me if they force entry into the building while I look for the Red Hood," he explained in a hushed voice. He began to walk along the narrow rafter, having no trouble keeping his balance. His eyes scanned the floor of the building, looking for any sign of the color red. A few minutes of searching, keeping well hidden, and bingo. There was Red Hood. Bruce couldn't see what he was doing from his angle, but whatever it was involved some pretty volatile chemicals. It raised one question.
She didn't say anything about her needing to pay attention. It was clear that she did. What did he think she was doing? Knitting a scarf? Aurora squinted just slightly to get a better view of the screen. There was no glare on it, but it was dark and any figures she could make out could have been a trash can or shadow just as easily as they could have been a person.
Red and blue lights danced across the building and three police cars skidded to a stop. They all stepped out, but she only recognized one. "Gordon's there," she told Bruce. "He's talking to a few guys. They look pretty calm." Aurora paused. "Aaaand now they look pissed. SWAT's pulling in, too. Gordon's going over there now." She sat in the chair Bruce was in before he left, pulled her feet up and wrapped her arms around her legs.
Her eyes glanced to the far right of the screen, which was playing the news coverage of the scene. More police cars pulled up and joined the masses. Gordon didn't seem happy as he walked away, shouting orders to someone while the leader of the SWAT gave orders to his own men. They began readying themselves for something.
"They're going in, Bruce. SWAT's getting ready. Watch out,” her voice was urgent and her body tense as the group of men broke through the door and ran inside.
On the screen to the left she saw a shadow move through the rafters—Batman. She smirked to herself and leaned back against the chair. He knew what he was doing. It was nice to be able to watch and make sure of that.
Below him was the man he described to her, and chemicals rested below that.
"Be careful," Aurora whispered and chewed the inside of her lip.
Bruce didn't reply to anything, just listened to what Aurora had to say. He was silent as he moved about the rafters. When the police busted in, he cussed quietly under his breath. Gordon couldn't keep a leash on Branden.
The Red Hood turned and looked in the direction the SWAT team was coming from, and then ordered two men armed with guns and wearing red ski masks to confront the team.
It's going to be a bloodbath, Bruce thought to himself. He heard the sound of gun shots coming from the other side of the warehouse. He cursed himself as he grappled to a rafter over the fire fight. He reached to his belt for two smoke pellets and dropped them, instantly filling the room with thick, gray smoke.
Bruce dropped down behind the two Red Hood henchmen and quickly disarmed and incapacitated them, all while managing to avoid the hail of gunfire coming from the SWAT team. He looked in their direction, and they stopped firing. He pulled a small, cylindrical device from his belt and pressed a button on the side. It began flashing red and he rolled it across the floor in their direction. The sound of the men shouting in confusion began to reverberate throughout the warehouse.
Bruce smirked and grappled back into the rafters, heading in the direction of Red Hood. What he had tossed at the cops was a prototype crowd control device he liked to call the "glue grenade”. The name was self-explanatory.
He returned to the last known location of the Red Hood, who was now missing.
"Damn," Bruce muttered as he dropped to the floor and began to walk toward the chemicals Red Hood was tampering with. He observed the device that was wired to the large container of chemicals. “Aurora, he's planning to—" Bruce was cut short by a gun shot. He felt a sharp pain in his back and lost his balance, falling to the ground on a knee.
“Ooooh, look what we have here," a muffled voice started to say from behind him as Bruce slowly rose to his feet. He could tell the gunshot pierced his armor because the familiar feeling of blood running down his body was present. He turned to face the man who had shot him.
"Red Hood,” was all he said.
"In the flesh,” the man said, bowing. "It seems that I have attracted quite the guest to my party here, Batman.”
"I know what you're planning. You won't get away with it," Bruce shot back.
"Oh, but I already have. I can't stick around long, Bats, I've got plenty of work to do," the man said, checking an invisible watch. "It's been fun!"
The man reached for his boutonnière and squeezed it, shooting a green liquid toward Bruce's cowl. Bruce began to feel it melting through his mask. Grunting and reaching blindly into his belt, he pulled a small vial from it. He poured it over his cowl, stopping the acidic fluid just before it managed to reach his face. He knew he would be coming to a chemical factory, so he came prepared for anything.
By the time he looked up, the Red Hood was gone, running across a catwalk over head. Bruce could hear the voices of police calling out behind him. They must've gotten free. He reached for his belt and pulled his grapple out, firing it up to the catwalk. Bruce swung up and cut the man off.
"Damn, you're a persistent one," the man said, reaching for his pistol.
Bruce took a step forward and knocked the gun out of his hand, rage fueling his attack. He began to beat the man down, who was a weakling of hand to hand combat compared to Deathstroke. Bruce kicked the man in the gut and caused him to stumble backwards. The man started laughing, cackling almost. "Impressive, Batman."
"There! There they are! Fire! Fire!" Bruce heard a voice call below. He looked for a moment to find Branden and the SWAT team pointing their guns at the two of them.
Everything moved in slow motion.
Red Hood shoved Bruce to the ground and was hit in the shoulder by a bullet. He began to lose his balance and fell over the railing of the catwalk. Bruce scrambled to his feet, reaching for the man's arm. He managed to grab onto him.
"Please! Don't drop me!" the man said. He was hanging over a vat of chemicals. Bruce began to pull him up. "Oh, thank you. Thank you—" Bruce grunted in pain as a bullet hit him in the back once again. Bruce's grip on the man loosened and he dropped him.
"NO!" Bruce called down to the man as he fell into the vat with a loud splash followed by a vomit-inducing sizzle, vanishing slowly beneath the surface in a fit of screaming and wailing.
Bruce turned, still taking heavy fire, looking directly at Branden. His eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched, he stood atop the railing of the catwalk and flew toward Branden. He tackled him, taking one or two shots as he dive bombed, the bullets simply deflecting off his armor. He quickly stood up and threw two batarangs at the cops. The batarangs lodged in the sides of their guns and began to beep, detonating and blowing their guns to pieces, as well as incapacitating the other two SWAT members.
Bruce knelt overtop Branden, raining down on him. “You. Just. Killed. Him,” he shouted between punches. Blood spattered across his armor as he continued to punch Branden.
“Bruce, stop!” he hardly heard Aurora shout in his ear. “Stop!” He didn’t. He wasn’t listening to her. He wasn’t listening to anyone. He only kept delivering blows to Branden’s face.
A bullet ricocheted off his shoulder. Insignificant, but enough to get his attention. He looked up, breathing heavy. "Gordon."
Bruce stood slowly from his kneeling position over Branden. He looked toward Gordon, blood dripping from his knuckles, Branden beneath him in a bloody heap.
He snapped back into reality, realizing that Red Hood's device was still armed.
"You're under arrest, Batman! Show me your hands!" Gordon shouted.
"Gordon, listen to me. There’s a bomb attached to these chemicals. If it’s allowed to detonate, there's no telling how many could die," Bruce replied, trying to catch his breath. He was losing blood fast.
"Where's Red Hood?" Gordon asked.
"Dead. Branden killed him,” Bruce replied stoically.
Gordon was silent. He reached for the radio on his jacket.
"I need a bomb squad in here, now,” Gordon demanded into the radio as he began to walk toward the device. Bruce was confident in the bomb squad. By the time Gordon turned back to face Bruce, he had vanished.
His motorcycle sped through the underwater tunnel and back into the Batcave. He climbed off and looked to the computer to find Aurora there, looking terrified. Bruce pulled the acid eroded cowl off of his head and tossed it to the ground. He fell to his knees on the floor near his motorcycle, clutching his back. Blood still poured out of his wound.
"Get...Alfred..." he told her as he collapsed to the ground.
He barely heard her talk to Alfred, which must have been over the phone since there were no replies from the man, and then heard her feet shuffling quickly across the cold floor.
The girl pushed his damp hair away from his face. “Oh, Bruce,” she breathed. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help you.”
“Pressure on the wound,” he told her quickly. He could feel his body going into shock. He began to peel away his chest piece and gauntlets, freeing his movement. He reached for her hand and grabbed it, holding tightly. "I couldn't save him. I tried and...I couldn't." He felt darkness embracing him. His eyes grew darker. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Blackness dropped over him.
It wasn't his fault. How could anything be his fault?
Alfred came down the lift with a bag of medical supplies over his shoulder, running toward both of them. He turned Bruce over so that he was lying on his stomach.
"Miss Rider, could you hand me that clamp, please?" he asked, totally calm, pointing to the small metal tool. She handed it to him, and he dug into the wound, prying the bullet from it. Bruce groaned unconsciously in pain as Alfred removed the large bullet. Alfred went into the bag and pulled a needle and thread from it. He threaded the eye of the needle and began to sew the wound closed. After he finished, he poured some alcohol over it as disinfectant.
They sat there in silence for a long time, just watching Bruce.
"He should stabilize fairly quickly now that the bleeding has been stopped,” he said finally. “Thank you, Miss Rider. You made the right decision calling me.” He was panting slightly. "I may need your help getting him upstair—" Bruce slowly rolled over and sat up, groaning.
"Alfred? Where's Aurora? Is she okay?" Bruce asked. Alfred simply pointed over Bruce's shoulder, already on his way back upstairs like this was all routine. Bruce turned his head toward Aurora.
At his look of relief, she barely smiled. "I thought I was losing you for a second there." She stayed where she was, not reaching for him, rather letting him remain still. “I think it's your turn to get some rest.”
"The bombs. Did Gordon get rid of them?" he asked.
She nodded, supposing he could be sure Gordon succeeded without asking. If the bombs were allowed to detonate, all of Gotham would be covered in a chemical fog so thick that one breath would melt your lungs.
He slowly climbed to his feet, his shirt stained with blood. He pulled off what armored still covered him and dropped the pieces to the floor. "Thank you for your help. Things could've been a lot worse if I didn't have any eyes on the scene.”
Bruce started to hobble his way to the lift. Aurora hurried to his side and slipped under his arm to aid him in walking.
“It was good to be able to help. When I had no idea what you were doing last time, I was terrified. Not that I like watching you in that sort of situation…” She trailed off, the image of his beating that man to a point she wasn’t even sure he was alive right in the front of her mind. "Are you sure you want to stand up? You don't want to take a minute to sit?"
"No, no. I'm fine," he told her as he pulled the lever of the lift, sending them upward. "I owe you a lot, Aurora," he told her. He reached down and interlocked his fingers with hers.
"You don't owe me anything. It's okay that I saw it. I understand why you did it." Her voice wavered a little out of unsureness, but she continued on. "I'll help you to your room and start the shower for you. I don't want you to ruin Alfred's hard work on that wound." Aurora smiled a little and led him out of the elevator, squeezing his hand with hardly any force. "You know, Bruce, I was thinking while you were gone... Maybe you were right when you said we shouldn't be together. The way I felt when you were fighting that man over those chemicals is something no one should ever have to feel. And that must be how you felt when Maroni had me." She took a deep breath. They made short eye contact, then she averted her eyes to the ground. “I don't think either of us should hurt that bad."
"I'm willing to hurt," he said, stopping in his tracks and turning to face her. "Because the pleasure outweighs the pain. I will always be there to rescue you. Always," he held her chin between his thumb and forefinger and brought her head up. The two of them locked eyes. She saw the confidence in his, and knew it didn’t mix well with the sadness in hers. ”You’re worth anything.” She looked down again.
"What about when I lose you, Bruce? What about when something happens and you're gone? You haven’t been back a month, and you've already almost died twice." Aurora's jaw clenched when he pulled it to look at him again and her lips pressed into a hard line, but her eyes reflected something else. Doubt and fear not only in him, but in all of his enemies. In Gotham. “I'm not worth anything. But you are. I don't want to be the reason for your downfall. I don't want to be a weak spot for what you need to do. And I'm scared, Bruce," she whispered.
"Look at me," he commanded, taking her face in both of his hands and gently directing her head so their eyes met once more. "You are priceless. You are one of the last good people of Gotham. I would gladly go out there and lay down my life if it meant that you would survive and carry on your ideals and your morals. People like you are the reason I fight. You don't give me weak spots, you fuel my initiatives." He took a deep breath. "Don't be afraid. I will protect you.” He pulled her into his arms and embraced her, allowing her to bury her face into his sweaty torso. "I won't die. I'm stronger than any criminal in this city because of one small detail. I've got something I'm fighting for.”
His skin felt warm against her face. His embrace made her want to cry. “Come on," he said, leading her up the stairs once again.
There was no way she could have replied to him without sounding naive or whiny, so she kept herself quiet and let the injured man lead her up the stairs.