She wouldn’t stop shaking. Bruce shifted so he was at her left on the bed, and then pulled her in close with his right arm, which she didn’t fight. They sat there in silence, both not looking at each other while Bruce thought. The situation was delicate, so he had to choose his words wisely. He didn’t want to lose her again.
It was almost funny how going out and fighting for Gotham was instinctual to him, but when it came to Aurora, he was lost. His thumb moved absently across the skin on her shoulder. He gripped the collar of her shirt and pulled it back to look at the small burn on her collarbone, right at the edge of her shoulder. His lips pressed into a solemn line.
“I can’t stop being Batman. Gotham City needs a hero with a face. Someone the people can recognize. They need-" Bruce stopped himself. He remembered that he wasn't earning the trust of the people, he was earning the trust of Aurora: the trust of the person in his life that he, dare say, loved.
There she was, only inches away from him—his entire life she was within his reach—and he was just realizing his feelings for her were much stronger than he thought. That he had feelings for her at all.
His right hand slid down her arm and closed around her hand lightly. He was inching closer to her, and with every inch he was growing more and more...nervous? He was never nervous.
Bruce looked to her lips, which were just as inviting as they were when he first laid eyes on them when he returned to Gotham. He weighed the chances of her hitting him for what he was about to do, but he was so close to her now that there was no turning back. His lips touched hers so softly: a different kiss than their first.
He wanted to smile, but he didn't. Instead, he simply touched his forehead to hers, and his hand moved to push some of Aurora's beautiful golden hair out of her face. He closed his eyes, realizing that it had been so long since the storm in his head settled. If there was one moment he could make last forever, it would be this one.
"I was hoping you wouldn't hit me," he told her, his eyes remaining closed.
“I was thinking about it,” she whispered, and Bruce felt her tiny smile against his lips.
He opened his eyes and they met with hers. She looked radiant in the ambient light of the room. Almost glowing.
He ached to feel her lips against his, always warm and soft, inviting. But now wasn’t the time for that.
"Do you think you can walk?" he asked her.
I will never be able to trust you again, she thought with her head still hanging. She couldn't recall ever feeling so tired. A myriad of terrible things happened in the past twenty-four hours. They all terrified her, but she didn't blame Bruce for any of it. Not really. In no way was it directly his fault, rather an aftermath of the good things he did for Gotham. The room was still dark, but when his face was so close to hers, it was impossible not to see.
The kiss took away what little breath she had. What did he think he was doing?
Her first reaction was her right hand raising to slap him hard and put him back in his respectable place, but as soon as it was in the air, it stopped and slowly floated back down. Nothing could be defined as that gentle before the kiss. Soft, caring... But it wasn't enough. He really had to show her somehow. Her hands gripped the sheet and she let her eyes fall shut until he was finished kissing her. Feeling that kiss made her heart melt.
I love you, but we can't be together? He was certainly off to the right start.
"If I could have walked, I certainly can't now." She took a final, needed deep breath and sat back from him. It was part of the effect he had on people: making them feel idiotic or brilliant (however he chose), causing them to blush, taking away their breath, leaving them awestruck, and making them fall in love. She wanted nothing more than to kiss him again. Hard and long or soft and sweet—whatever he wanted from her. But there was still that lack of trust and hatred plaguing the deep corners in her heart and mind.
“That's fine. You don't have anywhere you need to be. Gotham thinks you and I are in the Bahamas," he explained.
The Bahamas? Two things could have happened when he told her that: one, any credibility she had at Wayne Enterprises disappeared, or two, she just gained unfathomable credibility at Wayne Enterprises. What exactly did everyone think they were doing in the Bahamas? She chewed on the inside of her lip. The tabloids would tell her the answer soon enough. She made a face at him, surprise and confusion and anger.
“It's just a precaution, Aurora. On the bright side, you won't be targeted until I have Maroni behind bars. I have guaranteed your safety. He tried to lighten her mood and gave her a soft smile. He lifted her hand up to his lips and brushed his lips across it, then kissed it. The feeling made her breath catch and eyes close, and she felt her heart skip a beat.
He clearly wasn’t going to let her choose how she felt about him.
"Tell me what I can do for you.” His voice was genuine, caring and concerned.
Aurora pulled her feet up. "What do you want to do?" she asked, looked over at him, and waited for an answer. "Bruce, you...you saved my life, like, three times. There's not much more you can do for me."
Sure, there were plenty of negative aspects to the things he had done, but she was warming up to him again already. It was hard not to.
He didn’t say anything about saving her life. He just moved right on from the statement. He saw Batman as being a duty and job, sadly enough, and wouldn’t take her gratitude. He was Gotham’s savior when no one else would be, and he was her savior, too.
"I want to earn you. I want to make up for the lies I've told you.”
“There is no way to make up for lies,” Aurora explained, “but waiting and moving on from them. Focusing on the better things. All you can do besides that is cover them up with little bandaids.”
He reached for her foot, which made her flinch at first, but then he started to massage it, and she relaxed. The act was intimate, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it, but she let him do it anyway. Her wounds, including her arms and feet, were already healing, the shard of glass that once plagued them tiny enough that the cuts could mend easily.
"Here's the bad news about this Bahamas situation,” he continued, ignoring her statement about lies. “You have to remain in the manor until Maroni is taken care of," he explained, "and so will I. Which means that we'll have quite a bit of time to kill. It's really not as bad as it sounds, though. It should only take a few days.”
She didn’t see staying at the manor as bad, but she didn’t see it as great, either. Cooped up with Bruce as much as she’d been yelling at him and taking out her myriad of emotions on him wasn’t such a good idea, but he’d leave at night, anyway. She had nothing to worry about.
Her heart sank a little. Would he still go out and fight? Of course he would. And she’d be alone.
Her own laughter snapped her out of her reverie. He was tickling the bottom of her foot—something she’d never guess Bruce would do. Aurora gasped pulled away from him, but his grip was tight, so she didn't get far. She just bit her lip and tried to keep from laughing. She felt like she was eight years old again. "I really should still go to work," the girl pointed out, giggling.
"I suppose you're right," he told her, chuckling and moving his hand away from her so she could focus, but she still remained tense in case he decided to strike again. He continued massaging her foot like nothing happened.
"I am right," Aurora emphasized.
“I want you to try to relax. I have everything under control. You can work from here," he explained. “It’s still too dangerous to go out. Obviously, Maroni's goons won't hesitate to attack you, even during the day," she didn't know why he said ‘even’. She knew why they wouldn't dare go out at night. Why they had no choice but to do their 'business' in broad daylight. "I can have Alfred run by Wayne Tower to pick up whatever you need. Just ask. Of course, I have no idea why you'd be working in the Bahamas," he added.
“I do have to run a business for you, Mr. Wayne. Good luck coming back from whatever those boys are doing now. You'd have crashed and burned long ago if I wasn't there every day."
"You're quite confident of that, aren't you?" he asked.
Bruce smiled at her, and she blushed lightly.
Most of the men on the board were more concerned with lining their own pockets than the prosperity of the company. Alfred spilled some company secrets, and told her the only reason she hadn't reached the position of CEO was because the board wouldn't vote in her favor. Something about keeping the board's non-official title as a "no girls allowed" club. According to Alfred, at least.
"I'll make sure you have authority in your position from here. No one will so much as breathe without you knowing about it. Besides, we can trust Fox to keep an eye on things," he told her.
“I know he's capable, but I try to earn my way to the things I’m given and the way I’m treated, Bruce. I don’t need you or anyone else to do it for me.”
"Just think of this as a short vacation."
Surely this wasn’t his idea of a vacation. The man was a billionaire.
“In a house. In Gotham. In the winter. Wonderful vacation destination.” Aurora smiled sarcastically, then tried to relax more. The drugs still had their effects working, and she had yet to recover from the taser. The two spots it touched felt hyperactive and hot. His hands on her foot helped. The relaxation they brought wasn't significant, but it was enough. "For me, taking a vacation is unheard of, anyway. I've worked every day since you left."
"I'm sure it isn't the luxury tropical getaway you deserve, but unfortunately, it's the best we can do," he explained apologetically. He couldn't believe she worked as hard as she did and never took a vacation. "A couple days off won't kill you. You'll have plenty of time to get angry at me for whatever," he smiled, so she knew he was joking. He leaned down and gently pressed his lips to the top of her foot and returned it to its place on the bed.
“I think I’ve gotten plenty angry at you in the past twenty-four hours,” and for good cause, “so, I’ll try not to find reasons to keep it up, if you try not to give me reasons. But I’ll have to find something to keep myself occupied.”
She noticed him moving closer, and wasn’t sure he even realized he was. He leaned close to her, and suddenly, his lips were on hers again. Familiar desire creeped up inside of her, and her eyes fell shut. He had that soft and caring touch again, but it began to grow and grow to something deeper than desire. Need and desperation. It was a beautiful feeling that she realized she always wanted to have. Feeling Bruce's lips against her made her feel happy and some odd level of tired. He knew how to make her relax. Aurora made a soft noise and let him kiss her just a moment longer before ending it.
She didn't know how she felt about him anymore: she loved him, but he was her employer and childhood friend who lied to her throughout her entire life. The fact that he was Batman was certainly alluring, but terrifying and nerve-wracking, too.
The girl stood up, holding his shoulder to regain her balance and strength—it was harder than she thought it would be. It felt like her legs weren't even there, and her sense of balance was gone. "You should get ahold of Lucius."
"You know, you should really be taking things easy," he cautioned her, but Aurora ignored him and started walking toward the door. He held her to keep her balanced. "If you feel like you need to sit down, just tell me."
If Bruce didn't stand with her, she would have fallen. But she would never admit that. Everything felt weird. Her skin felt so sensitive, while her mind felt dull.
“I’m fine,” she insisted, moving forward as he fiddled with his phone.
He brought the phone to his ear and listened for the ringing. He cleared his throat as Lucius answered.
"Lucius, my man! How's it going?" he started. The voice he answered with made here stumble over herself and stare at him until she realized what he was doing. It was very loud , and very drunk. "Oh, yeah, man. The Bahamas are great! You'll have to tag along next time...Well, I'm calling because Miss Queen Bee over here wants a status report every now and then, good?...Good. So just, ya know, keep an eye on stuff...Great. Thanks, brother. Bartender, how about another for my lady and I over here?" he called out, moving the phone away from his head.
He cut the line and his face returned back to its normal, stoic ways. "Everything's fine." He told Aurora. "You need to get something to eat. I'll have Alfred make something for lunch. We can move to the living room and start a fire if you want," he added.
Aurora made a face at his offer of food, and then nodded in agreement with sitting by the fire. When she wasn't working, she was home reading by the fire with tea and a blanket.
"You need to get something in your system, whether you're hungry or not," he told her. "If you want the medicine to keep working, that is."
"I don’t like how it makes me feel,” she argued, knowing there would be no winning with Bruce. “Can I finish asking you questions when we get there? We were a little...interrupted last time."
"Of course you can. Let's get you comfortable first."
At the front of the foyer near the entrance was the door to his study, and closer to the grand staircase there was another door that led to the living room; it was larger, made of solid oak with beautiful designs. He pushed the door open and walked her into the room.
It was dark until a light switch clicked quietly, which caused the chandelier at the ceiling of the room to light up, dispersing the shadows and illuminating the contents of the room. Near the meticulously designed fireplace sat an expensive, fabric couch and two matching armchairs, all the deep red color of mahogany. They sat atop a Persian rug that rested on the hardwood floor, also matching the color of the furniture. On the opposite end of the room, a tall bookcase stretched from the floor to the stone ceiling, filled with books of every subject. Dividing the bookcase in half was a large window, which almost reached the ceiling. The foot and a half of wall above the window continued the shelf, where more books gathered dust. The window allowed you to look out onto the grounds which were already snow laden after one blizzard, the view directed at the frozen pond Bruce and his parents would take Aurora ice skating on when the days were like this. The fireplace wasn’t lit yet, but the yellow glow of the old chandelleir and the smell of books made the room dreamily warm. She felt tired again already.
Her favorite thing about the room, she decided, was the lack of anything that suggested he was anyone—anything—other than Bruce Wayne. No technology. No secret rooms. Nothing. Just a big window, books, a fireplace and comfy furniture. She smiled fondly at the comfort the thought brought.
Bruce led Aurora to the couch, and she groaned as she sat. She leaned against the big arm of the couch and watched him as he walked over to the fireplace and set a few oak logs in it, and used some starter and a lighter to get the fire going. The stone walls and ceiling keep the room well insulated in winter, especially when there was a fire going. Once he was satisfied with the size of the fire, Bruce walked to the chair only a few feet from Aurora and sat, sinking back into the cushions. "Should I have Alfred bring us some tea? Sarah’s probably resting now."
"That would be great," Aurora smiled. She forgot Sarah was even there. "She's... They didn't do anything to her, did they?"
"She's fine." Bruce stood from his chair and walked to the small PA system mounted on the wall. "Alfred, could you make us some tea? We're in the living room," he said into the speaker.
"Of course, sir," Alfred's voice replied.
"Thank you," Bruce said back, falling back into it his seat. "I'll say that it was a good thing I got there when I did. For both your sakes." There was no way of telling what would have happened to them if he decided to just stay home instead of following her.
The fire radiated warmth into the room, and the stone walls reflected the heat back toward the fire, warming the entire space. It was a very refreshing feeling. Aurora let out a deep sigh, wrapping herself in a blanket from the back of the couch and closing her eyes against the heat.
"So you said you have some questions for me?" he asked.
She nodded, but what would she ask him? There was so much she needed to know, but had no idea how to ask.
"I have two questions to start. How have you gone so long without anyone finding out about you? And what kind of people have you faced? They can't all be just like Maroni and Deathstroke." Aurora looked up at him. Bruce was so close to her, making her feel even warmer.
"I keep to myself. I'm a shareholder of my family's company, so I don't have a real job. Just a trust fund. People think of Bruce Wayne—of me—as someone who simply wastes all his money on booze and girls. It just makes it easier to be Batman," he explained, then took a deep breath. "I've been mainly focused on the corruption that lies in the GCPD, which is how I received my injuries three years ago. Deathstroke—Slade—was the first opponent I’ve faced who actually made me doubt myself. He’s a master of what he does. As for Maroni, he's no different than any other crime lord. He just hasn't been careful, and that makes him an easy target." He stood from his seat and walked over to the fire, elbow on the mantle and forehead resting in his hand. "I'm taking Gotham back from the corruption and lies, and returning it to the hands of the people who deserve it and will safeguard it. People like Harvey Dent and James Gordon." He turned back to face her, the fire casting a shadow over half of his face.
"How could you stand helping the people that tried to kill you?" Aurora paused. "I can see how much the police have changed for the better if I really think about it. But it's still ridden with terrible people. Harvey Dent's no better than the rest of them. He has his moments, but I still can't stand the guy." She sighed and sat up. "I like Gordon, though.”
"I do it because they're worth it. What's a few bad people compared to a million innocent ones? And while Harvey Dent may have some rough edges, he is one man who appreciates what Batman does. His conviction is one that remains despite all of the hardship Gotham goes through. He's a better man than most people think. I believe in him."
You don't know Harvey like I do, the girl thought and rolled her eyes internally. She heard the door swing open, and Alfred entered balancing porcelain tea cups on a silver tray.
"Your tea, sir. It’s lovely to see you out and about, Miss Rider. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask," Alfred said as he set the tray down on a small table in the center of the furniture. Alfred bowed curtly and exited the room. Bruce walked to the small table and gave Aurora her cup, which she took gratefully, then he went back to his seat.
"He cherishes your presence, despite the circumstances you’re here under. It's been awhile since the Waynes had any guests.”
"I was here a lot while you were gone," she explained. "There's a lot I learned about him that I never would have guessed when I was eight."
"I'm glad Alfred had someone to keep him company. God knows how lonely it gets in a house like this," he replied and took a sip of his tea.
She sipped from her tea, too, letting the warm liquid lull her into relaxation.
"He's a really great man. You shouldn't get so upset with him when he confronts you about being Batman. Try to understand things from his point of view—you see yourself as this invincible being, but Alfred knows you're not, and tries to make you see that. You're all he has, Bruce. You're all he's had for a long time, and he's afraid he'll lose you."
She brought the teacup to her lips again, pulling the blanket over herself.
"Anything else?” he finally asked, clearly not wanting to argue his mortality with her. “That can’t be everything you want to know."