"No," she whispered.
It made perfect sense. That was what scared her. She knew where she was, the glowing bat symbol told her that. But it wouldn’t sink in that she was actually there.
"I don’t understand. I-"
Aurora shook her head and stared at the vast expanse of technology before her.
Bruce and Batman were gone the same amount of time during the past few years. He had plenty of money and connections. How long had it been since Batman first appeared? Years. So, he lied to her for all those years, and didn't even bat an eyelash doing it?
No, she reminded herself, he avoided everyone all that time. Why would he do that to himself? To the people who were there for him?
Her eyes locked on his wound for a long time before she could look directly at him again. She wondered if it hurt as bad as it looked. He acted like it wasn’t even there. The thought of all the terrible things that were done to Batman—the guns and fights and enemies—made her throat constrict and heart hurt. Why wouldn't he just tell her? Why wouldn't he trust her? Aurora was numb, her breathing heavy.
Her eyes lifted to his face, expression as stoic as his, eyes just slightly widened in hurt and sadness. She couldn't stop staring at him. It was like looking at an all new man.
All the years she thought he was locked inside the manor, he was really out throwing himself into suicidal situations. And for what? To save Gotham, the city that caught a spark before they were born and burned every day since?
He must have been in so much pain, but Aurora refused to feel bad for him. To feel anything for him. Except that one warm feeling deep in her chest. The one she didn’t choose to feel. The one she just couldn’t shake off.
The one that was really starting to piss her off.
"Why wouldn't... How did...?"
How could he subject himself to that? How could he do that to himself? Was it punishment? He could have been happy if he would have tried—if he would have grieved and remembered, but lived the life his parents would have wanted him to live. He didn’t, though. He was trapped in his own grief.
Bruce didn’t try to answer any of her unfinished questions. He didn’t try to make excuses or explain himself. He just stood there and watched her take it all in, probably not even close to understanding how much pain she was in.
The girl tried to think who else could have known about Batman aside from Alfred. She couldn’t come up with anyone. He was a figure alive only by rumor fueled by Gotham's worst, which made sense, but also took away from any belief she ever had that Batman was real. Of course, she supported the idea of Batman, but something that great could never happen. Not to Gotham.
Aurora swallowed thickly with nerves and childishly rubbed her tired eyes.
The man literally took a bullet for her, and there she was, pushing him out. It was hypocritical, judging him for blocking everyone out of his life, then blocking him out of her own.
Of all the things she could have looked at next, her eyes found his armor lying on the ground, a dent in it from being shot. Aurora stared at it without moving or making a noise. She couldn't even remember taking a breath. So many emotions flooded her mind in one massive whirlwind, none could settle in. They all just raced furiously around her head, tearing her sanity to pieces.
After what seemed like forever, she began walking toward the armor, the shuffling of her feet breaking the room’s silence.
She wasn't sure how she was supposed to—how he expected her to—feel, so all her emotion mixed into an overwhelming mass that managed to make her numb to everything. Maybe it was her mind trying to block everything out. Maybe it was the drug she was grateful to Alfred for giving her (with her mind working properly, God knows how she would have reacted).
She knelt in front of the armor, her body tense and shaking, mirroring her mind.
Before her was a mask, but it wasn't really a mask. This was who he was. Bruce Wayne was the mask. Her jaw clenched to keep herself silent. Aurora picked up the cowl and ran her fingers over it, sad and soft.
Who is standing behind me? Whose home am I in? Bruce Wayne doesn’t exist. No. It isn’t Bruce. And it isn’t Batman. So who is he? What is he?
She chucked the cowl across the room as hard as she could.
It skidded across the floor and stopped right under the light that shined down on the biggest computer. Immediately after, she felt tears streaming from her eyes, and realized she was sobbing. It was like that cliche. It was like she was watching herself from above.
She didn't turn to look at Bruce. She couldn’t.
"All your life..." she whispered, then screamed, "All your life, Bruce! You lie and hide from the people you love to be a figure in this damned city! You stand up for it and you fight for it, then you take off that god forsaken mask and go against everything Batman is supposed to stand for!"
Aurora knew he didn’t care about her two cents. The messy thoughts tumbling like an avalanche from her mind and past her lips wouldn’t change a thing. But she didn’t care.
"Everyone was here for you. I was here for you!"
Was that not enough?
It didn’t make sense to her. Nothing he did made sense to her.
One question burned her mind.
She threw another part of the armor and held her face in her hands, sobs writhing through her body. She was angry. So angry.
He approached her, so she hit him as hard as she could with her weak, tired arms over and over and hoped to God it left a mark.
"Get away from me," she ordered hysterically.
He took her abuse for a second, then gripped her wrists painfully tight in his hands and held them close to his chest to stop her. Her confusion and sadness took over when she couldn’t fight, and she reached out for him, his hands loosening to allow the motion. He was so warm and strong when his arms wrapped around her that at any other point in time, she would have felt home. But nothing could help her now. No matter how much she tried to stop, she just kept on crying, mumbling unintelligible things in desperate search of mental organization and, hell, sanity.
Somewhere deep (very deep) down, she was actually sort of glad he was Batman. That he went out and saved the city that so badly needed saving. And she was glad it was him, too, though she couldn’t understand why. What hurt so bad was the lying. The deception and secrets. The way he was just handing his entire life over to ungrateful, unchangeable Gotham. And, selfishly enough, the way her once best friend just cast her aside without a second thought.
Sure, they were really only childhood friends, but their relationship went so much deeper. He was her life growing up. They went to the same school, and after he vanished, everyone went to Aurora for answers. Not that they found any. And their parents were in business together, until, well…
Then he disappeared, but he was everywhere. Every charity benefit (even the ones he didn’t show up to—all the girls talked about wonderful Bruce Wayne), the newspapers, GCN, her job. He was Wayne Enterprises, and the damn company never left her sight.
As if that wasn’t enough, every time she talked to her mother, Bruce was brought up.
How is he?
I don’t know.
Haven’t you heard from him?
Well, he has to at least drop in at Wayne Tower every now and again. Maybe you just always miss him. Silence. Not even a letter?
No matter how much Aurora tried to move on, Bruce never stopped being part of her life.
Bruised and bloody and exhausted, all Aurora wished for was long, deep sleep, and for things to be as simple as they were when she and Bruce were kids.
"Let’s go upstairs," he suggested in a cautious, gentle voice, to which she nodded and let him stand her up.
Figuring they may run into Alfred or a detective once they went back upstairs, she struggled to regain some sort of composure and wipe all the night's tears from her face. They kept falling, but she managed to silence herself.
There wasn't one thing she could think to say to him—to the man she used to trust, rely on, and know. But she didn't ever know him. Not really.
Whoever said people can’t change was painfully wrong.
She kept quiet while they stepped back into the elevator. For better or worse, Aurora knew her life would never be the same after the night.
Eyes down, arms wrapped around herself, she whispered, "I'm sorry," as if somehow it was all her fault or she could make it better. But she couldn't. Nothing could.
Since most of her weight was on him, Bruce lifted her, cradling her in his arms. Relief in her feet was immediate and made her eyes close. Artificial warmth from a blanket wrapped gently around her. She gripped the soft fabric with one hand, holding it close to her chest.
As they rode up and exited the hidden lift, leaving the study and entering the foyer, she heard two unfamiliar voices and looked toward them, the bright outside light stabbing her eyes. Alfred was leading two detectives toward the door, and when he looked at Bruce and Aurora, it was clear he was shocked to see them back up so soon.
One of the detectives stepped toward them. He was the taller of the two, with auburn hair and a mustache, glasses balancing on the bridge of his nose. She recognized him as Lieutenant James Gordon. The other was Harvey Something-Or-Other. She ran into them a few times while they were snooping around Wayne Enterprises. Something about an accident within Wayne Botanical that the company paid an obscene amount to keep out of the press. Aurora never found out what really happened, but a lot of the heat from upstairs rained down on her afterward.
"Mr. Wayne. It seems you've been busy this evening," Harvey said, gesturing to Aurora. "Too busy to notice that your home was being robbed?"
It was then that she realized she was being carried by shirtless Bruce Wayne, face wet with tears which could have easily passed as sweat, and she looked beyond exhausted.
Thank God for the blanket, she thought, or they would have seen the bandages and blood.
How would they get out of this one? Bruce seemed to know the answer.
Bruce put on his playboy mask, the one that Aurora could now see through like a sheet of glass but couldn’t have before.
"Gentlemen, I can't help it if my nightly...escapades end up in a few bruises. We both like it a little rough." He chuckled, but they didn't return the feeling. Aurora blushed even though it was just an act and kept her gaze down. That was how scandals spread—talking to the GCPD. "She noticed, though. She was just a little shaken up. Everything’s fine. Would either of you like a drink? We've got an amazing scotch I picked up in the Alps."
"Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Wayne. We're on the job. We were just leaving. Come on, Bullock," Gordon said, looking quite disgusted. The door shut behind them and Bruce let out a deep sigh.
"I'll take Aurora back up to bed. I'm going to stay in her room in case we get more unwelcome guests. You should get some rest, Alfred. You look terrible," Bruce explained as he started heading up the stairs toward the bedrooms.
Does that mean he's sleeping with me? she thought childishly.
Aurora shifted with nerves while relaxing in security and let him hold her. She was too tired to fight back. Too tired to say or think anything else.
A drug-induced stupor void of sleep stretched the distance between the stairs and the bedroom. There, Bruce laid her across the mattress and Aurora just looked past him.
"I'm sorry. For everything. This was the last thing I wanted to happen by becoming Batman. By coming home," he said, looking away from her. "There are reasons why I never publicly came back to the city. Reasons why I wear the mask. Someone I care about getting hurt is one of them."
"I’m not someone you care about, Bruce. I don’t..." She sighed. "You don’t even know me."
"I know you," he stated vaguely.
"I'm going to stay with you tonight," he interrupted her, talking slow like she was a child. "I can sleep on the floor if you'd be more comfortable. I promise to answer any and all of your questions in the morning, Aurora."
She was completely spent yet somehow totally aware of everything going on around her. She wanted answers, but she couldn’t form a single question.
"Okay," was all she answered with. Then, she just nodded and laid down.
He could have slept wherever he wanted, because she was asleep as soon as she was under the big comforter and as close to relaxed as she could be on her favored big pillow.
She didn't have any dreams that night, save one terrifying nightmare she couldn't wake up from.
In it, Bruce was dressed in his Batman armor, fighting a mass of men dressed in all black, when something pierced right through him—through the pads and the armor and the protection—and killed him. Silent. Quick. And Aurora was frozen in place, unable to move to his aid.
She just watched him die.
The girl jolted awake, sweaty and uncomfortable under the curiously named comforter. Nausea from the painkillers washed through her until she pushed off the blankets and wiped the sheer layer of sweat off her face. She noticed Bruce’s figure at the far right side of the bed, silence surrounding him.
Aurora reached over and gently pressed her fingers against his neck to make sure he wasn’t dead.
The alarm clock on the nightstand read 2:45, but sunrise felt so far away.