The Darkest Night

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


7. Hubris

Now that he was gone, she gripped the flash drive with determination, grabbed the small tablet it was plugged into, and turned to go back to the elevator. If she was going to give Harvey Dent the evidence, she wasn't going to lie. She would meet with him face to face and claim a friend gave it to her. But she would have to change first. She couldn't go in wearing men’s clothes and hand him a fat piece of evidence and not expect Harvey to get suspicious.

Since she didn't have a car and felt uncomfortable using one of Bruce’s, Aurora called from Bruce’s landline for a taxi to pick her up and take her home.

The sun was still concealed by the horizon, but the blueish glow in the air told that the sun would soon make its way up. Snow was coming down much harder than it was when she and Bruce were driving home from dinner. Looking back, it felt like that happened days ago.

Work, Maroni, dinner, Deathstroke, Batman… So much happened in a day.

In all the time it took her to recap what they went through, both the good things and the bad, the taxi driver had arrived and gotten her home. She gave him two twenties to pay and let him keep the change, even though the gratuity was included in the thirty-five. Aurora hurried inside, kicked off her high heels that looked absolutely ridiculous with her baggy clothes, and held her feet until they thawed from their icy state.

From there, she went upstairs and hopped in the shower, trying not to look at the to her massive walk-in closet and pulled out something more appropriate for her quickly approaching meeting with Harvey Dent. She pulled out her things and slipped them all on—black leather gloves, black pants and shoes, and a white, long-sleeved shirt concealed by a red pea coat. She tamed her hair quickly with a brush, wiped any darkness left from makeup off her face, then touched it up.

In her own car, she sped to Dent's apartment.

Once there, she knocked four times. She was worried she would wake up his wife, who Aurora assumed was home, or that she would answer. But no one came to the door. There was a good chance Harvey wasn't even there. It was five in the morning. He could have been at the police station, at the same scene as Bruce trying to help however he could, or sleeping like everyone else in the city.

She knocked again, harder, in hope of him being home. This was important and without him, there was a chance that Bruce—that Batman—couldn't get the job done. Aurora would have to swallow the bitter taste she had for the man and help Bruce.

Finally, the door opened. It was Harvey, looking exhausted and confused. She must have woken him up.

"Aurora?" he began, then lowered his voice. "What are you doing here?"

Her hand tightened around the flash drive in her pocket and she gave him a small smile that would have come off as charming to anyone else.

"Harvey," Aurora breathed in relief as a greeting.

She looked left and right, uncomfortable with doing this outside. Not only could someone from the press take it as a bribe or deal, but someone that wanted her or Bruce dead could see it and raise even more hell.

"May I come in?" she asked. "I... We need to talk." Her eyes widened just a little with pleading, and her brows pulled together. The look on his face showed her the messy debate going on in his head. Her feelings were mutual. But this was bigger than both of them. "Please," she added for good measure.

Harvey sighed, repeated the paranoid glance Aurora performed, then stepped aside and gestured for her to enter.

"Not long. My wife’s asleep and today’s my day off. The last thing I need is her yelling at me for talking to you.” He paused as she ducked inside, taking off her gloves and thawing from the wave of heat and the security of being surrounded by walls and shaded windows. “Want some coffee?”

"That would be great. Thank you."

The last thing she needed in her system was caffeine, but her hangover was still making itself known and she was exhausted.

Aurora sat on the edge of his couch, right next to the arm.

"I was talking to a friend," she began, even though he was in the next room over, "and he gave me something to give you. I need you to look at it." He walked in and handed her a cup of coffee, which she took gratefully and held in her hands for warmth. She inhaled the oaky scent of the liquid before taking a sip.

"What is it?" he asked, sitting in the chair across from her.

Aurora set the cup on the coffee table and pulled the flash drive out, holding it out to him between her thumb and forefinger.

“Tell me I can trust you with this, Harvey." Her entire face was serious. The only sound whispering through the halls was a TV playing the news in another room, covering the scene at the bank. It almost distracted her. "Tell me you're not gonna screw me over."

Harvey sighed and took it from her.

"I’ll keep it a secret."

"I brought this," she reached into her pocket again, and this time pulled out the small tablet complete with USB port. "No one can hack into it or anything—a friend of mine made sure of that." Aurora took a breath and extended it to him. "I want you to have it."

With that, she stood and walked back to the door, stopping at the threshold.

"I know it's your day off, Harvey," she turned to face him, "but this is really important."

She gave a slight smile and walked back into the cold Gotham air, hearing him shout to his wife that he was going into work.

Where was she supposed to go now? Being alone wasn't favorable, so Aurora decided on going back to Wayne Manor to talk to Alfred.

By the time she got back, it was around six. Instead of going to sleep, eating, or talking to Alfred, she thought it might help her out to go down and explore the cave a little more. In his study, she played the notes, was scanned in the elevator, and descended to the cave.

Even though she was in the cave a few times already, it never ceased to amaze her. There was so much technology, so many things she never even dreamed of. Her hands ran over the metal computers and vehicles. He had hundreds of weapons, but no guns.

"Hm," she breathed thoughtfully.

Her hand wound up on a small, gun shaped device. It was light and seemed harmless, like a child’s toy gun. Out of sheer curiosity, she picked it up and pressed a small trigger-like button. Suddenly, a charging sound vibrated through it and a blue light grew at the end facing away from her. Nothing happened at first, then all the lights dimmed just a little and the light fired out of the gun. Instead of putting a hole through something or doing anything like a gun, it knocked over a shelf of even more weapons. Aurora gasped at first, horrified that she ruined something, but everything was in check. Just askew.

It shot out a force. Neat.

Hastily, she put the gun back where she found it and moved to the other side of the room. At that, the ground began to shake and large roaring approached. Aurora didn't have sense enough to go back upstairs before she was caught, so she hurried behind Bruce's mass of computers and waited to see if he was returning (and praying to God he didn’t notice what she messed up) or if they were being infiltrated by Deathstroke.

"Aurora?" Bruce called out, stopping on the other side of the shelf.

She held her breath.

"Identify intruder."

Crap. He noticed.

"Identifying. Aurora Rider."

"Damn computer…” she grumbled.

"Come out, Aurora," Bruce called out, a smile in his voice.

She did as he said, standing slowly and walking to the end of the shelf.

"I was just…I dropped this," she raised her hand in a ball, pretending she was holding something. "I thought it might be a good idea to look around in case..." Aurora trailed off. There really wasn’t an excuse for messing with his stuff.

"It’s fine," Bruce stated, chuckling quietly as he peeled off his armor. "I took care of Slade. I trust you got the flash drive to Harvey?"

"Yeah, I got it to him," she mumbled, leaning against a tower of computers. Aurora watched him carefully as he removed the armor. Even though she wanted to know what happened with Deathstroke, she didn't ask. It was probably better that she kept Bruce and Batman two very separate people.

Her eyes fell on the rack she knocked over. She didn't bring that up, either.

"Come on. Alfred doesn’t like me down here during the day." He turned and walked next to her, headed toward the elevator. "I want to thank you for being so understanding of all of this. Most people would have called me crazy."

Following him toward the elevator, she smiled. "I never said you’re sane. But I never said I am, either, Mr. Wayne."

He smirked in response.

As soon as they were upstairs, Bruce took a deep breath. She smiled, the familiar aroma of breakfast in the air. When she attended school, Sarah would make breakfast each day and Aurora would eat before leaving. She didn’t usually eat it now, but Sarah cooked anyway, simply out of habit.

"I think Alfred is making breakfast. Are you interested?" She watched him glance at the clock. "It’s seven. We were up all night. You can always go back to sleep if you want. Billionaires get to sleep in."

She smiled at his playboy act. "Whatever you want. Harvey Dent gave me coffee, so I’m awake whether I want to be or not."

"Let’s eat. Alfred cooked, and you haven’t had anything in your system for a while." He led her toward the kitchen, and as soon as Bruce reached for the door, Alfred came out.

"Bruce! I assume you haven't checked the news. It seems that the Batman has returned in Gotham!" Alfred stopped just short of Bruce, noticing Aurora out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, er, Miss Rider."

"I’ll let you two talk," Aurora announced and slipped into the kitchen. She gave Alfred a sideways, apologetic smile as she brushed past them, and didn't even have to lean against the door to hear their conversation.

"I thought that since you returned, you were going to do things differently, not make a bloody sideshow of yourself. You have the whole police force on high alert! And it certainly doesn't help that the man they have in custody was trying to murder Bruce Wayne last night. Any clever man could connect the damned dots!"

Alfred's words were loud.

"They won't, Alfred. As long as I play things safe, no one will find out," Bruce stated.

"Miss Rider has. And if they do?"

"Well, we both know how much you like to say 'I told you so'," Bruce rebutted and pushed through the door, now in the kitchen with Aurora.

It was awkward standing there, listening to Alfred talk to Bruce like that, and Bruce to Alfred. In all the time she had known the man and all the times she visited him while Bruce was "skiing", he never once came off as so parental. Wise, sure. Caring, of course. But never so down-and-dirty parental.

She pressed her lips together and looked at Bruce.

Clearly, Alfred confronted him about this a few times before, and she was completely on board with him. Aurora personally felt like an idiot for not figuring out that Bruce was Batman sooner, so it was surprising that everyone (cough the GCPD cough) that was supposed to be keeping the city safe from cunning criminals still hadn't made the guess.

On the table waiting for them were two plates filled with all sorts of breakfast foods.

"I know it's painfully obvious that Alfred doesn't approve of what I do. But he's all that I have. Had," he corrected, looking toward Aurora. "I trust you with this secret, but I don't expect you to support me. I don't expect you to be happy that I go out every night and get shot at."

"I think you're absolutely insane to do what you do, but I know you have to do it. I don't want to treat you any different than I did before, Bruce. And I wish I didn't know, to be honest. Before, we were really nothing more than childhood playmates and a part of the same business. Now I'm just a way to get to you, and something more for you to worry about when you need to be watching out for yourself. And I have all this information. And we're…whatever we are. And I don't think this is right. It doesn't," she sighed, "it doesn't feel right. I grew up thinking you're Bruce Wayne, but you've been Batman all along. I don't think Bruce Wayne even exists."

Aurora shook her head and sat on a barstool, quiet for a few seconds.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, looking at the plate of food. "I shouldn't have vented at you like that. You don't need to hear it from two people."

"No. It’s good to hear what you think. The whole point of becoming Batman was to become more than just a man. As Bruce Wayne, I can be shot, assassinated, threatened. But if I devoted myself to becoming an idea, then I would become something different entirely. I am the only thing that stands between the people of Gotham and the barrel of a loaded gun. I am the reason that criminals breathe easy when the sun rises. I am fear and justice."

"Hubris is the downfall of history’s greatest heroes, Bruce," she said, standing up and looking at him. "And if you're an idea, does that mean I'm just an idea, too? Because fear and justice can't take off a girl's clothes, Bruce. It can't feel," she pointed out and took breath. "Why does it have to be you? Why not anyone else in Gotham? And don’t tell me you made a promise." His parents never would have wanted this for him.

"Because no one else can," he explained. "The difference between me and everyone else out there is that I refused to let despair take me in its clutches."

"Everyone else out there? What about me? What about Alfred? If anyone is in the clutches of despair, it's you." She shook her head again and ran her fingers through her hair. "I'm sorry. I'll go. You don't need this. I don’t need this. It’s dangerous for both of us, and I can’t handle the mess it’s causing my head. I don’t think you realize the effect you have on people, Bruce. On me. What we did today wasn’t fair to either of us. And I think I should go."

With that, she walked out of the kitchen, grabbed her coat from a hanger at the door, and wrapped it around herself, ducking her head against the snow and wind. Aurora got in her car and drove back toward home.

What she did—what she said—made absolutely no sense to her. Why she was being so angry toward him, so accusatory and absolutely terrible. He didn't need it—the stress and emotional exhaustion that she carried.

She glanced back in her rearview mirror before heading down the icy road.


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