The Darkest Night

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

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8. Ransom

Aurora sighed heavily as she pushed open her car door and ascended the steps to her grandiose front door. She unlocked it, stepped inside, and shivered from the cold to warm transition. Her eyes were pooled with tears the entire way back home, and her head was spinning with all kinds of emotion, so she was drained and a little disoriented.

"Sarah? I'm home."

Slowly, she pulled off her gloves, setting them on the table right next to the door, then peeled off her coat and hung it on the coat-hanger. The blinds were closed, the entire house dark. There was no scent of breakfast from Sarah, a phenomenon that she couldn’t recall happening before then, and the pillows were out of place on the couch. Someone had to be in the house.

Aurora froze and sucked in a quiet, sharp breath. It was her own fault that she was about to get killed or worse: she left Bruce's without anyone to guard her, any way to protect or watch out for herself, and she didn't call Sarah to make sure things were okay there with all that was happening. She was beyond ignorant. Naive. 

She swallowed thickly with nerves. Glancing toward the stairs, she knew the only escape she had was hiding in a small, secret room that branched out from her walk-in closet. There was a gun upstairs, too, if she could just get to it.

Without hesitating another second, she hurried up the stairs as casually as she could so she wouldn’t tip off whoever was in her house. After making it halfway up the stairs, she broke into a sprint, skipping every other step. She skidded and turned toward her bedroom, fumbling around in the drawers of her nightstand for her gun.

"Damn it," the girl muttered and held the gun tight, despite its lack of bullets, and sat on the floor with her back against the mattress.  Maybe she could just scare them away. All they would want was her TV or some vase, hopefully. And those things didn’t matter. They could have them.

A mess of heavy, uneven footsteps echoed off the stairs, and a masked head peaked around the corner wielding something. A taser. Her eyes widened and chest tightened in terror.

She moved away until her back hit her bed, then she pulled her feet up to try to avoid being hit as best she could. Her attempt was in vain as the ends of a taser connected with her shoulder and leg, sending a painful shock through her, overloading her muscles. Her entire body seized and contracted. She screamed in pain. The gun clattered to the floor. Everything around her went fuzzy and she almost passed out, not from the electric current, but from the ripping pain it shot to every inch of her body. Trying to move was pointless; she was frozen and couldn't fight against the men putting the black bag over her head.

 

 

Bruce was silent as she left, not stopping her. He walked to the foyer to look out the window when he heard her car start, and watched her drive away. He sighed and pressed his forehead against the window, then turned to find Alfred behind him.

"Do you think that you can trust Miss Rider, sir?" he asked Bruce.

"Yes. She's upset, Alfred, and she has every reason to be. But there's no reason that she would give up my secret." Bruce sighed and headed toward the grand staircase to the master bedroom. He quickly undressed and showered, and then redressed. He was wearing a navy shirt and grey khakis when he exited his room and began to head back downstairs. He found Alfred in his study straightening up books on the bookcase that he must have been reading (Bruce never had time for that anymore) as he passed by.

"Sir, it's December first. Shall I put up some decorations?" he heard Alfred's voice call.

"Whatever makes you happy, Alfred," Bruce called back to him. "Aurora isn't safe out there by herself. Maroni knows he can use her to get to me." He grabbed a black jacket from the coat rack and pulled it up over his shoulders, slipped into a pair of shoes, and pulled on a gray hat.

"You're going out, sir?" Alfred asked.

"I'm going to keep an eye on her," Bruce explained.

"In the Lamborghini?"

"I didn't say I was going to be discrete about it.” He walked out the front door, confident that Aurora got a good enough distance away from the manor that Bruce could follow her unnoticed. He got in his car and began to drive down the icy path, the snow falling hard.

Bruce touched the touch screen on the center console and put out a call to Alfred.

"Yes, sir?" Alfred said as he picked up the line.

"I want you to stay on the phone, Alfred. I'm going to signal you to call Gordon if things go south," Bruce said into the mic.

"Of course, sir." The line cut off and Bruce pushed harder on the accelerator. He was getting an increasingly bad feeling. He shouldn't have allowed Aurora to go so easily.

 

 

"So, the boss told us to wait here for the girl, right? We’ve been here for hours and she still ain’t shown up," a man sitting on the couch wearing a mask said to another masked man, who was across the house in the kitchen. 

"She'll be back. We just gotta be patient," he called. "When she shows up, we jump her. The boss wants to hold her for ransom against Wayne, but he doesn't want people to know who he is, so we're doing the dirty work, and we're filming this little video," he explained, gesturing to the camera the two men had set up on a tripod when they first arrived.

"And we give that video to the press?"

"Bingo. And get this, we're gonna get away with it because it's mornin’! Everyone knows the Bat doesn't come out during the day."

"I thought the Bat was gone," the man on the couch replied.

"Don't you watch the news, dumb ass? They're sayin' that the guy the boss hired had a run in with the Bat."

"Huh. Didn't hear that. Oh, hey, she's back!" the man on the couch said, looking out the window.

"Hide!”

The two men hid as Aurora entered the house. They knew that she posed no threat. They already had her maid tied up in a coat closet near the front door. They followed Aurora up the stairs quietly, making sure to not give themselves away.

And then she started running, knowing that something was out of place. The two thugs picked up their pace, but stopped dead in their tracks when they heard the clicking of a gun. The brains of the operation looked to the other man, then held up a taser and smirked. The man with the taser made his way to the door until he was kneeling just outside the its frame. He peeked through a gap in the side of the open door and saw Aurora kneeling next to a bed with her gun, shaking as she fiddled with it. He quickly poked his head into the room and pointed his taser at her. And then he fired.

It made a loud clicking sound as it hit her in the shoulder and leg, shooting her body full of enough electricity to take down a full grown man, let alone a dainty little girl. The two men made their way to Aurora, slipped a black bag over her head, and carried her back down stairs, dropping her on the couch in front of the tripod. One of the men took her wrists and handcuffed each of them to the chair.

A deep chuckling could be heard from behind the camera, and the man who was sitting on the couch earlier said, "Annnd action!"

"We have your little girlfriend, Mr. Wayne. If you want to see her alive tomorrow, you'll start considering doing business with our benefactor," the man standing near Aurora said to the camera.

"Benefactor? What the hell does that mean?" the man behind the camera asked.

"You dumb ass. It means boss! Shut up and turn that light on.” A bright light flooded the room, and the man pulled the bag off of Aurora's head. "As you can see, she's still very much alive, but if you deviate from our instructions..." The man reached to his belt and pulled a large knife from a leather sheathe, and then bent down to hold the knife to Aurora's neck, the blade ice cold. "I think you get the picture." The man chuckled and nodded at the camera man, then the lights shut off.

"Annnnnd, cut!" the cameraman shouted. "Man, I shoulda listened to my ma and ran away to Hollywood."

"Will you shut up? That maid lady is still in the closet. Make sure she's comfortable." He chuckled darkly. "And how about you, Miss Rider? Are you comfortable?"

Clearly disoriented, she glared and spat on him. He growled with anger, his hand landing harshly against her cheek.

"Hey! Hands off the money! Boss said not to touch her," the cameraman shouted.

 

 

Bruce's car skidded to a stop in front of Aurora's house. He got out and put it in park in one motion, walking for her door. He tried the handle, finding it was unlocked, to his surprise. What he saw through the dark room made him stop in his tracks: Aurora handcuffed to a chair, and two masked men, one at a closet near him, the other hovering Aurora closely  She spat on the man closest to him, and he struck her in turn, causing her to fall over in the chair. Bruce pulled his hat over his face, tearing small holes in it so he could see as he did.

"I don't care what the boss said, I'm gonna waste this bitch!" the other man shouted, pulling his knife back out of the sheathe. He held it back and moved to kill her. Everything seemed to move in slow motion to Bruce.

He leapt through the air and tackled the man to the ground, causing his knife to go skidding across the floor. "What the hell?" the masked man shouted, alerting the other of his presence. Bruce was surrounded by the two of them as he raised to his feet and kicked the knife across the room, out of reach of either of the thugs.

"Hey, pretty boy. Why don’t you take off the hat’a yours and show us your face?”

Bruce glanced to Aurora, who seemed disoriented. His eyes shot back up to the two men, full of anger.

"You know, I bet the boss would treat us pretty well if we hand delivered this guy to him personally, since he was interupting his business and all.”

"We should probably smash him up a little though, right? We don't want him to get antsy in the back of the van," he suggested, cracking his knuckles. They both chuckled and began to slowly close in on Bruce. He clenched his fists and ducked, sweeping out one of the thugs’ legs from beneath him, causing him to crash to the floor. Bruce quickly shot back up and dodged a punch from the other man, kneeing him in the stomach. The man dropped to his hands and knees, clutching his side, groaning in pain. Bruce followed up by kicking him in the jaw, knocking him unconscious.

The other finally got back up to find his partner out cold. Bruce smirked and gestured for the masked man to 'bring it on'. He charged Bruce like a wild boar; head first, attempting to tackle him to the ground. Bruce, being much lighter without all of his armor and gadgets, jumped into the air and flipped over the head of the man, kicking him in the back as he landed. The masked man must've been seeing red, because he charged Bruce once again, recklessly. Amateur.

Bruce ran right back at him, and when they were just a few inches apart he slid between the man's legs and spun on his back, once again sweeping the thugs' legs out from under him. Bruce quickly took one of the man's arms and put it over his knee, bending it out of place and popping his shoulder out of its socket. The man screamed in pain and Bruce silenced him with an elbow to the face.

Bruce ran back over to Aurora, who was still on the floor, handcuffed to the chair. He pulled a bobbypin out of her still-up hair and twisted it around the cuffs until they clicked, freeing her, then lifted dazed Aurora into his arms.

"Aurora, can you hear me?" he asked, checking her eyes for any sort of activity.

"Mm..." she mumbled. It got her point across; she wasn't dead. And now he could be sure of that. Her entire body was shaking just slightly, and he spotted two dark marks on her, one on arm and another burned through the side of her pants on her leg. From a taser, probably. "'M okay," the girl reassured him. Good thing Bruce had half a mind to follow her, or she'd be dead.

"If there is anything that you are, it’s not okay," he told her.

He walked to the camera sitting in the middle of the floor and ejected the small tape from it, stowing it away in his pocket. He went back over to her and began to carry Aurora to the door when he heard a muffled shouting coming from the closet. He laid her down on the floor gently and opened the door to find a woman tied and blindfolded, only her fair brown hair and pale skin visible to him. It was Sarah.

Bruce quickly untied her and helped her up. She was in much better condition than Aurora, but she was still shocked by what happened. Bruce knelt down and picked Aurora back up in his arms. "I'm going to take both of you to Wayne Manor,” he explained, directing his words to Sarah more than Aurora, whose eyes kept falling shut, then opening. “You can stay there as long as you like. I can come back here with Alfred to collect your things.”

He carried Aurora back out to his car, Sarah following close behind them. He laid her across the back seat, letting Sarah get in next to her. Bruce got in the car and sped away from the scene, heading back in the direction of Wayne Manor, and dialed Alfred on the car's phone. 

"Master Bruce, I trust everything went alright?" Alfred asked.

"I have Aurora with me, as well as Sarah. You remember her, right?"

"Oh yes, sir. Of course."

"Put a call out to Gordon. Tell him there are some thugs in Aurora's apartment who need to be taken care of," Bruce ordered, accelerating as he turned onto the road back to Wayne Manor. He looked back at Aurora, who still looked dazed and twitched once in a while. "And prepare a room with medical supplies."

By the time they returned it was nearing ten o'clock in the morning. Bruce carried Aurora inside, Sarah leading the way up the steps. Once in the foyer, they were greeted by Alfred.

"I called Lieutenant Gordon as you instructed, Master Bruce, and there is a bed waiting upstairs for the both of them," Bruce nodded in thanks, and Sarah stayed behind with Alfred as he carried Aurora up the grand staircase to the guest bedroom, where the window was fixed, the floor cleaned, and the sheets crisp. He laid her down on the soft sheets, and took her hand in his, bringing it up to his lips.

"You're safe here. I'm going to have Lucius Fox come by later today and up the security systems around here," Bruce explained quietly to her, still gently holding her hand.

"Okay," she smiled a little at the mention Lucius, and he wondered how well she got to know the man in Bruce’s absence.

Like the rest of her body, the hand he held was still shaking and probably extremely sensitive. The taser must’ve been high powered. He could tell she was focusing on him as much as she could, but he was losing her. “I'm okay," Aurora urged.

"You don't have to be strong for me, Aurora," Bruce explained. He reached for a small remote on the night stand and clicked a button at the top, causing the curtains on the adjacent side of the room to close.  The only light in the room came from the small, decorative lamp on the nightstand.

“Someone has to be strong for you,” she whispered matter-of-factly in a soft, sleepy slur.

He smiled at her comment. She cared about him, which was more than could be said for most people in Gotham. They didn't know him. Not the real him. But he didn't care. He only cared what Aurora thought of him. He remained at her side, holding her hand, determined to keep her safe from any harm.

"I won't let anyone hurt you again. I promise," he told her. His fingers went to her radial pulse, checking for any signs of arrhythmia. Her heart rate was average; just a bit faster than normal. 

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

His face darkened sadly, and he lowered her hand so it was still in his, but rested on his knee. It hurt to hear her say that. She didn’t belieive in him--didn’t believe that he could protect her. His lips pressed into a hard line and he sighed. At least she wouldn’t be mad at him anymore.

Women.

"I'm going to give you something for your elevated heart rate,” he told her, trying to take care of everything before she gave into the sleep she was battling and the tension that wouldn’t leave her muscles. “It should help you relax and get rid of your tremors, as well as any pain," he told her. He reached to the night stand and grabbed a small needle, and then an even smaller bottle. "This drug is called Fentanyl. It'll make you drowsy, but it's a better pain killer than Morphine," he explained as he filled the tiny syringe. He held her arm in his hand, searching for a vein with his fingertips. He found it, despite the lack of light, and she tried to pull away, but the attempt was weak and only made her shakier. "Tiny pinch," Bruce warned as he poked her with the needle and injected the medicine. She made a small noise and closed her eyes tightly, then pulled her arm back as soon as he released it, clearly not a fan of needles. It would only take a few seconds to kick in: Bruce gave her a powerful dose. "You can sleep if you feel tired. I'll be here to keep an eye on things." He pressed his lips to her hand and returned it to her side, looking her right in the eyes. She went through hell the past eighteen hours, and some rest would do her good.

"I’m sorry,” she told him, which he didn’t understand because she had nothing to apologize for. 

“Don’t apologize to me, Aurora.”

“Stay with me," the girl mumbled, searching for his hand.

He could feel her slipping out of consciousness when her fingers wrapped around his once more: her grip was loosening and her eyes were growing darker.

Bruce nodded. "Of course.”

He allowed Aurora to relax, lying down beside her and holding her hand on his chest. He began to feel the effects of his surprise fight, and darkness swallowed him whole, consuming him into sleep.

He awoke what must've been a few hours later. There was no way to tell because the only light in the room was coming from a lamp. He looked down at Aurora, who was still sleeping soundly, her face much more relaxed. He breathed out a sigh of relief and rolled on his side to check his alarm clock on the night stand.

It was nearing four o'clock. His stomach roared with hunger. He turned his head and looked back at Aurora. She made a soft whimpering noise and her hand twitched on the bed, but he didn’t move to hold it. He just watched her. This was the Aurora he once knew; the sweet, loving little girl he grew up with until she was taken from him the same night everything else was, too. And as far deep as she was with him now, all of that was going to be ruined.

“I’m sorry.”

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