Darkness And Knight
by M. Scott Eiland

Batman stood two hundred feet above the street, looking out over the eastern part of Gotham. It was the first night he had gone out since the events in Las Vegas--between Ace scrambling his synapses and the beating that the Joker had given him, he had needed a bit of downtime. On the bright side, the Joker was safely tucked back in Arkham, most of the Royal Flush Gang was in custody, and the national broadcast of the Justice League's victory seemed to have scared most of the criminal element underground for the time being. He had been tempted to stay in that night and update the database in the BatCave, but after two nights of enforced rest he was ready to get out again-- he could always cut the evening short if things were completely quiet. Besides, this was still Gotham City--the streets were never really completely safe.

He reached out and fired his grappling hook, which caught and held on the railing of the building directly across the street. He leapt off the girder he was standing on and hurtled into the night, swinging down, then up onto the roof of another building, pressing the release button at just the right moment to allow him to land safely and reclaim his grapple. The process was as natural to him as breathing, and he repeated it ten times in the next eight minutes before spotting something of interest--a slim, dark-haired woman speaking to a man he recognized as a local fence he used as an information source occasionally--outside of an abandoned storefront. He slipped closer, and hid behind a vent as he watched the two talk. It took a few more seconds before he recognized the woman, and the information caused him to scowl slightly in concern: What's she doing here? His mind cut off the additional thought that was about to occur to him ( without telling me she was here? ) as the fence nodded to the woman and left, and the woman walked down the street in the opposite direction, apparently heading for a car parked about two blocks away. He followed along the rooftops across the street from her, gliding through the shadows and ducking behind cover when the woman occasionally glanced across the street before continuing onward.

The woman had almost reached her car when two figures stepped out of an alley behind her. Batman scowled. So much for a quiet evening He silently rappelled down to the alley next to the building he was on, then darted through the shadows across the street. He was about fifty feet away when the woman sensed the presence behind her and turned. She saw two large men carrying short lengths of pipe, and raised an eyebrow as she inquired, "Something I can help you boys with?"

"The purse would be nice for starters," rasped the taller of the two men. He wore a dark sweater and jeans, and a blue cap was pulled down low over his forehead. "And that car looks nice--we'll take the keys for that. That should do it for tonight--we'll even leave you change for the pay phone. It's a bad neighborhood, after all-- wouldn't do to leave a high class lady like you stranded here."

The woman scowled, and the man actually took a step back at the sight of the expression on his target's face. He recovered, and was about to repeat his demand in a nastier tone when he heard a throat being cleared from twenty feet away. He turned around--as did his partner-- and both men gasped as the man in black standing twenty feet away sighed and said, "Benson. . .Lewis. I thought we talked about this before. Politely mugging women is still robbing them--and there are consequences for robbery. If I recall correctly, the last time we had this conversation the consequences were five broken ribs for each of you, and two years in state prison--got the time off for good behavior, did you? I'd say good for you, but under the circumstances. . ." Batman smiled, and both men shuddered as if someone had walked over their graves. The pipes they were carrying fell out of their nerveless hands, and they looked fearfully over at Batman, who was watching them in unmoving silence.

"Are. . .are you going to beat us up?" Lewis--the shorter man--spoke up hesitantly. It sounded like an incredibly stupid question to both muggers, but the fact that by this point the last time they had encountered Batman, they had already been beaten to near- unconsciousness irresistibly raised the question of why he hadn't done so this time.

Batman smirked, and seemed to consider the question. "I could--it's been a slow night, and I don't want to get rusty, after all." The men flinched, and Batman sighed again and added, "On the other hand, I could just let her do it--you're repeat offenders, and a harsher punishment is probably called for."

The woman gave Batman a dirty look, and Benson shook his head in disbelief as he dared to look back at the slim woman. He looked back at Batman and jerked a thumb at the woman as he said unbelievingly, "Her?"

Batman nodded and looked them over carefully. "You've dropped the pipes--and you don't carry guns or knives, which means all you've got are your fists. I've seen her fight--I'd give you about five minutes against her, maybe less." The woman looked outraged, and the men looked scornful. Batman noted the expressions and chuckled, "Of course, I could be wrong--the two of you together might get lucky and take her down--but you wouldn't like what happened next."

"What--you'd beat us up then?" Benson asked, wondering what kind of sick game the Bat was playing tonight.

Batman shook his head. "Oh, no. I'd tell her boyfriend who beat her up and where to find you." The muggers stared at him in utter confusion, and the grin that Batman gave them was pure evil as he pointed to the woman and said simply: "David Benson--Alan Lewis-- meet Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet in Metropolis."

It took only an instant for them to place the name--certain recently written articles in the Planet had been syndicated to dozens of newspapers due to the earth-shaking implications of a legendary hero's return to life, and Lois' face had been prominently featured in the Gotham papers and television news programs as a result. Benson and Lewis paled, and began backing away from Lois and Batman, though it was Lois they began muttering frantic apologies to: "Terribly sorry. . .misunderstanding. . .never trouble you again. . .please don't tell--"

Lois snorted in disgust and turned her back on them. She looked over at the smirking hero who was walking over to her and snapped, "Very funny. Shouldn't you be chasing them down and beating them senseless? Or are you farming out all the grunt work these days?"

Batman smiled and replied, "Free advertising. Those two will be telling every thug that they run into for weeks that they accidentally mugged Superman's girlfriend, and that I threatened to tell him about it. They'll be nervous about approaching anyone on the street for a long time--hesitation that will buy the police or me more time to save the next victims, whoever they are. Those two are small fry--I'm trying to scare the sharks into playing nice."

"Great--of course, every hood in Gotham City is going to know I'm here now--which makes quietly researching a story about ties between Intergang and the remnants of Bane's old crime organization a bit more difficult." Lois scowled at Batman--who had the good sense to look embarrassed--then sighed. "Oh well, if you hadn't been here I probably would have had to beat the hell out of those guys, and my cover would have been blown anyway." She sighed sadly and concluded, "Guess I can mothball the story for a while before getting back to it--"

"Or you could come back to the BatCave with me, and I could give you everything I know about the connections, along with the names of some contacts you can reach without having to wade through a tide of terrified criminals first." Lois blinked in surprise, and Batman smiled briefly before adding, "It's been a short but productive night thanks to you being here, and since I screwed up your plans, it's the least I can do--assuming I never see anything in the Planet that I don't specifically authorize you to use. Deal?"

Lois looked at him for a moment with an ambivalent expression, then sighed, "You know--I give up more good stories connected with you. . .but since I've already written off the best one, I can let this one go." She extended her hand and said simply: "Deal. Who's driving?"

Batman had quietly pushed a button on his utility belt a few seconds before, and Lois was startled when the Batmobile pulled up to the curb in near silence. She stared at the sleek car and continued to look at it as Batman replied quietly: "I am."


Lois was uncharacteristically silent as she waited for Batman to call the files up and transfer them to CD-ROM. She glanced around occasionally, taking in the huge cave, the gleaming machinery, and the display cases containing objects that she recognized from the time she had spent a day researching the background of the extremely frustrating man who was playing host for her at the moment.

A door opened, and an elderly man carrying a tray walked down a staircase across the cave from Lois, reaching the bottom quickly and heading towards the other two occupants of the cave. Lois recognized him immediately--having seen him recently at Superman's memorial service--and waited for the butler to approach before calling out: "Alfred! It's good to see you again."

Alfred inclined his head courteously and set the tray down. "Miss Lane--it is always a pleasure, and it is good that this is a happier occasion than the last one. I gather you have had a rather stressful evening--I assumed that some refreshments would be welcome."

Lois chuckled and replied, "Whatever you're being paid, Alfred--it's not enough." She reached eagerly for the small sandwiches and the tea, and Alfred smiled and nodded at her grateful expression before nodding to her and departing.

Lois looked after Alfred--who had glanced back at Batman briefly before departing--and she felt a touch of sadness. She walked up behind Batman and commented quietly, "It must be hard for him--seeing you go out night after night--seeing you come back battered and torn up."

He was silent for a moment, and Lois had to strain to hear his reply: "I know. After my parents died. . .after I told him what I wanted to do with my life--he tried to dissuade me. He worked for my parents, but he loved them as if they were his own brother and sister: he thought of me as a son. He was my guardian--he could have hindered my plans considerably if he had chosen to."

Lois was fascinated, and it took her a moment to ask the obvious question: "Why didn't he?"

Batman reached up to his face and pulled the cowl away before turning to Lois and answering: "I convinced him that--as terrible as the path I had chosen would be for me--it would be the one that would let me hold on to what I had left of my sanity. My parents wanted me to do great things with my life, and I convinced Alfred that this was the way for me to do it. He loved them--and me--enough to let me do this in their name. He never speaks of it any more--at least not directly. There have been moments when I wanted to ask him if he regrets his choice."

Lois reached out and squeezed his shoulder, whispering: "Do you ever regret the choice you made, Bruce?"

Bruce blinked, and his expression was wistful as he looked into her eyes and replied quietly: "Occasionally." Lois swallowed hard, and Bruce smiled and shrugged as he added, "But you would never have loved the man who took my place, Lois. Bruce Wayne is well-known as a shallow playboy--Bruce Wayne in a world without a Batman would have been a monster who would have made Lex Luthor shudder."

Lois shivered, and felt compelled to joke: "Well, maybe if I had dated you before I went out with Lex--" Bruce turned away, and Lois sighed before squeezing his shoulder again and saying quietly, "That would never be you, Bruce."

"Lois--I was a teenager who was due to inherit control of a multi- billion dollar conglomerate when I turned eighteen. Lord Acton's adage about power corrupting might have well have included the postscript, `and this means you, Bruce.'" Bruce smiled bitterly, and Lois waited quietly until he continued, "Lois--the nice thing about having a reputation as a playboy is that no one expects me to put in ninety hour work weeks at the office. Since I'm spending my nights roaming around Gotham City, this is a definite plus. I've had my share of spectacular business deals, but as long as my nights are booked, I'm never going to be the kind of power broker that Lex Luthor was. I traded that kind of power for the ability to scare the criminal element of Gotham City into soiling their undergarments at the mention of Batman's name--and the world's a better place for it, on several levels."

Lois frowned. "OK, so maybe beating up street scum is good for working out your darker impulses, but I still can't see you becoming a monster, Bruce."

"Really? What about my counterpart in the Justice Lords' world, Lois? Superman offered him a chance to remake the world, and he jumped at it." Bruce sounded haunted, and Lois listened in fascination as Bruce stood up, shook his head and whispered, "He almost had me--told me they had created a world where no eight-year old kid would ever lose his parents to a punk with a gun. . .and the hell of it was that he was right--what happened to me would never happen to a kid on that world."

Lois blinked, and turned away to hide the moisture in her eyes as she asked, "So what did you say to turn things around?"

"I reminded him that there still had to be a world worth living in for that eight year old boy and his parents--and that the one he had built wasn't it. Well, that and a convenient little bit of street theater while we were waiting at a light." Batman replied, smirking and breaking the mood. Lois smacked him on the arm, and Batman chuckled as he pulled his cowl back into place, adding "Well--you did ask."

"Cute. . .does Diana have to put up with all of this crap?" Batman whirled and glared at Lois--who was glancing up at the giant penny hanging overhead with an innocent expression. After a moment, Lois looked back and commented, "If you wanted to avoid girl talk, Batman, you shouldn't have let her know that I knew."

Batman shook his head in irritation, and Lois grinned at him as he replied, "I'd say that it was complicated, but that would mean abusing the word by using it in a situation that it isn't remotely adequate to describe. No gossip to be had regarding the lady from Themyscira and myself, Lois--if you`re looking for that, you might want to review the tapes of the events from Las Vegas a bit more carefully." Lois blinked in surprise, and Batman smiled self- deprecatingly, and added, "It took Diana one night to see through the act--makes me wonder how I ever fooled anyone with the mask, really."

Lois snorted. "Diana's been around you as Batman for years, Bruce. You walk up to her in a crowd, sweep her into a dance, and generally not act like a spoiled, brain-dead playboy, and you really thought she wouldn't put two and two together--particularly after she promptly spent an evening with someone who really was what you were pretending to be? When your mask came off in front of me, I had a big `duh' moment--because you didn't act like your public image in front of me, either. I just didn't have enough time around Batman to make the connection." Batman frowned, and Lois added, "I'm familiar with your. . .history. How did Bruce Wayne act around Selina Kyle?"

Batman was silent for a moment, and he was rather subdued as he replied, "Shallow--bland--friendly. . .and not someone she was remotely interested in except as a friend."

"Did she ever figure out the secret?" Lois pressed, watching as Batman's lips tightened subliminally.

"Not unless she's a better actress than I think she is," sighed Batman, shaking his head in annoyance.

Lois shrugged. "There you go, then. You've got a great disguise, when you actually use it instead of trying to impress women with the tall, dark and mysterious act. It's a dead giveaway if she knows you both. Personality differences make a big difference--you've been fooling some of your closest friends for years. Of course, you haven't had me on your case for that time--it takes more than a scary outfit and an acting routine to fool this reporter." Batman snickered loudly, and Lois glared at him and snapped, "What's so funny, Wayne?"

Batman sobered immediately. "Nothing, Lois. You're right, of course-- no one could be under your nose for years and avoid the ruthless perception of a gifted reporter such as yourself. . .and if you happened to miss it, you have a rather well-regarded partner to pick up the slack."

Lois chuckled. "Smallville? He's too busy running off to Nepal or Zimbabwe without me to be bothered with finding stories under our noses." Her expression twisted in irritation, and she muttered, "He couldn't even be bothered to come to the memorial service--the Kents came, but no. . .he has to be off on his own without a working cell phone for a week." She turned back to Batman--who quickly stopped smiling before she could spot it--and commented, "You weren't there either."

Batman shrugged. "I knew he wasn't dead--I just couldn't prove it." Lois blinked, and Batman added, "He's too damned stubborn to die."

Lois paled briefly and whispered, "It would have been nice to have that confidence while--" Batman reached out gently with a gauntleted hand and squeezed her arm. Lois smiled gratefully and shook her head as she added, "I'm just not sure what I can do to make things easier for him--he takes so much on, and sometimes I think the weight of it is going to crush him."

"He's had a lot of reminders of his mortality and his fallibility lately, Lois--we all have." Batman saw the computer indicate that the data was compiled and the CD-ROMs ready. He pressed a few buttons, then turned back to Lois and added, "He believes in you, Lois: even the screwed up beyond all belief version of him in the Lords' world was still listening to you, even if he was ignoring what he was hearing. He was born to live in the light while fighting the darkness--he just needs to be reminded of why he can't cross over certain lines now and again."

"And you?" Batman noted that the look that Lois was giving him as she asked the question blended concern and affection.

"I was meant to fight in the darkness, Lois--but the memory of the light is what sustains me." Batman took her hand and pressed it to his lips momentarily before releasing it, putting his hand to his chest, and saying simply, "I carry it in here."

Lois blinked and turned away for a moment before seeming to remember something and turning back. Her voice was intentionally irreverent as she asked, "That reminds me--why were those thugs so terrified at the thought of Superman showing up here? He hasn't been beating the crap out of them for all of these years."

Batman extracted the CD-ROMs from the computer and handed them to Lois before snickering and replying, "Oh, that's another little bit of data that I let loose to the Gotham underworld. . .I had a run-in with Brainiac a couple of years back, and I was unavailable for a couple of weeks. The crime rate jumped a bit."

"That's a bit of an understatement." Lois remembered the time in question, and the stories that Batman had vanished.

Batman nodded. "Apparently, your boyfriend caught wind of it and decided that Batman should make an appearance to scare the cockroaches back into hiding."

Lois' eyes widened, and she whispered, "He didn't--"

Batman chuckled and pressed a few buttons. The view screen flickered, then displayed a video of the very area they were standing, showing Batman pulling his cowl off to reveal the extremely familiar features of Kal-El of Krypton--then another clip of Batman beating Bane into unconsciousness with his bare hands. "Oh, yes he did--and I leaked a sanitized version of what happened two weeks later. Funny how the idea that killing me off might result in a Kryptonian Dark Knight cruising around Gotham City looking for payback makes some people nervous, isn`t it?"

Lois stared, then began laughing so hard that tears began to run. A moment later, Batman joined her. The unfamiliar sound echoing through the BatCave brought Alfred running, and the sight of the two young people laughing brought a smile to his face. He quietly closed the door, leaving them alone to enjoy an all-too-rare light moment.


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