THE BOOK OF VOID
Batman’s eyes opened as waterless slits, swollen, bloodshot, and stinging with the shock of early daylight. Through a jackhammer pounding in his brain, he realized he had no idea where he was.
Outdoors. Hard. Stink of damp concrete. An alley.
Batman rolled painfully onto his stomach and rose to his knees, only to be doubled over, his gut wrenching so tight with dry heaves that he nearly passed out.
As soon as he was able, he croaked a single word “Car” into the communicator and sunk back into a torpor of aching, burning, and nausea. What seemed like hours later, the quiet hum of the Batmobile pulled him back to awareness, and he hauled the mass of his aching body into the car.
“Home,” he managed weakly.
Hours later, Bruce lay in bed, staring at a stark ceiling. He had only the dimmest recollection of returning to the cave, changing in the vault, and climbing the stairs to his room.
There had been a moment in the vault, hanging up the cape—a moment where he had it pieced together—a punk that turned out to be not a lone assailant but a lookout for a street gang. Jumped from behind, a taser, then a brick. The details of such fights blurred into a thousand others… but he beat them back… then beat them down… hard. Then the alleyway… He had stumbled back to where he thought the Batmobile was… realized it wasn’t there… and collapsed. He was able to recall all of that in the vault, for that one split second, but found he couldn’t hold the thought and still work his arm to hang up the cape. That moment’s switch in focus to coordinate eye, hand, cape, and hook had dissolved the fragile thread of memories into another confused blur.
Only slightly sharper was the memory of Alfred in the hallway when he got home. A dismayed “My word” that Bruce wasn’t meant to hear concealed in a hurried “Very pleased to see you home, sir. Your bed is turned down, and I shall of course not disturb you until you ring.”
The only perfectly clear memory he had was Selina.
Alfred’s voice, a dismayed “My word”… And then Selina emerging from her suite, looking so pale and so tired, and holding Nutmeg.
“Good. You’re home.”
Bruce assumed he’d nodded, turned into his room, and collapsed onto the bed. He honestly couldn’t remember. That one moment was so startlingly vivid, but the rest was all vague, dim and wispy fragments lost in a whirlpool of ache and nausea.
Any other man would surely begin to doubt himself. Any other man or woman, waking up god knows where coated in god knows what, would surely take at least a few minutes to reconsider their vocation. If crimefighting meant mornings like this, was it really what they wanted to be doing with their lives?
Bruce had no such doubts. His only thought was that a hot shower might revive him. He got up, walked to the bathroom, and turned on the water… Then he turned… slowly… to a sight his peripheral vision had registered… in the mirror. He saw a reflection of a man he didn’t recognize. He wasn’t sure who it was, but it certainly wasn’t Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne’s skin wasn’t gray. Bruce Wayne didn’t let his cheeks grow stubble like that. Bruce Wayne didn’t have bags the size of a thumb under his swollen, bloodshot eyes. Bruce Wayne didn’t have a mouth that hung limply open, cheeks and lips sagging like a wet sock on a curtain rod.
The wraith before him blurred and faded as the mirror coated with steam from the shower. The hot water did revive him a little, enough to recall the events of the night more clearly. The gang, the fight, he beat them. Then the alley. No Batmobile. Alfred’s voice, a dismayed “My word” that Bruce wasn’t meant to hear. And then Selina emerging from her suite, looking so pale and so tired, and holding Nutmeg.
“Good. You’re home.”
What was it about that moment that struck him?
He toweled off, wrapped himself in a thick terry robe, and collapsed again onto the bed—thinking, for some reason, about Walt Whitman.
That was the thing about mornings like this: when the thoughts started coming back, there was no telling what crazy associations they might bring with them. It would have delighted the monks he had studied with in Tibet. The holy men would fast and meditate for days seeking a blank nothingness; they thought that inner void would bring revelation. Bruce never bought it. He knew there was value in exhaustion. He knew it was necessary to break down the body and drain the mind for the breathing and martial arts moves to become instinct. There was no time in a life or death fight to rely on conscious strategy. It had to be embedded into the deepest animal core; it had to become reflex. That is undoubtedly what the ancestors of those monks knew, and they concocted that elaborate philosophy to achieve it. But to expect true insight? “Glimpsing the no-thing and opening the mind-flower in a moment of Satori?” No. That is where the Western Man in Bruce balked. That is where the Scientist rebelled. A bad morning like this was simply part of the package. It went with being Batman. There were upsides and downsides to the life he had chosen. This was a downside. Waking up in the occasional alleyway, unsure of how he got there. Getting home in a haze. Alfred’s voice, a dismayed “My word” that Bruce wasn’t meant to hear. And then Selina emerging from her suite, looking so pale and so tired, and holding Nutmeg.
“Good. You’re home.”
He knew his perceptions were dulled from the strain of the night, but that one word—coming from her—seemed to hang in the hallway between them like the cloying sweet of cut grass in the heat of heavy summer air.
Walt Whitman. From Leaves of Grass. The one called Longing for Home.
O my heart! O tender and fierce pangs—
He had wanted more Selina in his life. He wanted her here, at Wayne Manor, living in his house; he wanted to come home at night knowing she was there waiting in the bed.
It was the anniversary of his parents’ murder. It was a difficult time for him. Even those that cared for him called the days leading up to it Hell Month. Even friends like Lucius pulled away. Even family like Dick. Even Alfred.
O longings irrepressible! O I will go back to old Tennessee, and never wander more!
He wanted her here. He wanted to come back from that patrol, from the ritual visit to that cursed alley, and know she was there, in his house, in that room, accepting him as he was, loving him for the man he really was. He wanted… home.
“I am not hiding out in my own home”
He’d been so caught up in their argument he hadn’t even heard it.
“Nothing to talk about, Handsome. You need to go back to the drawing board on this one. I don’t like being ordered around. I am not hiding out in my own home on your say so, and I am not going to put up with a bunch of imaginary bimbae…”
She had called the manor her home. The cave, her home. His house, his cave… Selina called them home.
And he hadn’t even heard it.
Bruce got up, dressed, and crossed the hall to Selina’s suite. She wasn’t there, but Nutmeg deigned to sniff his fingertips and rubbed her head against his hand. Whiskers was in his usual spot in the portrait gallery, looking down onto the Great Hall, but when he saw Bruce, the cat came to the top of the landing and followed him down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs, Bruce slowed and watched his feline escort. Predictably, the cat took the lead, heading towards the morning room. There, as expected, Bruce found Selina.
“It still works. The little furball led me right to you,” he noted.
Selina looked up, ignoring the allusion to bat-chases past, and made an observation of her own.
“You look like hell.”
“Thanks for noticing,” he grumbled sarcastically. “I’m better than I was an hour ago; I’ll be better an hour from now. I figure I’ll give my head that much longer to clear, then catch up on the log entry…” He trailed off. This wasn’t what he came to talk about. And there was no way to smoothly transition from log entries that wouldn’t write themselves to—
“Decided on a boat yet?”
His lip twitched as the transition became unnecessary.
“It’s more complicated than that,” he said.
“I see. So there’s going to be confirmation hearings or something?”
The twitch tugged harder on his lip, threatening a full smile.
“I’m getting the Gatta; you’re right, she’s the one I want.”
“Well now. Those are some new words for you. Did you just learn them?”
Bruce ignored this. Impossible woman! Not that he expected her to make it easier for him, but she could at least refrain from making it harder. Meanwhile, the demented little furball had hopped into her lap and was purring up at him like his admission about wanting the Gatta was a victory for all catkind.
“I’m going to pass on the Lamborghini and the new plane. No phantom trips. When we’re both feeling better, when Gotham is quiet enough, we’ll take the Gatta out for a day or two.”
“It sounds wonderful,” Selina said quietly. Then, after a pause, she added “What aren’t you telling me?”
Bruce said nothing at first, then spoke with a mild strain.
“There’s no point in a new car. Bruce Wayne would have to have the cutting edge: the fastest, sleekest, most powerful sports car made. And there’s a new Bugatti coming out that’s far too similar to the Batmobile for Bruce Wayne to even consider buying it.”
“Bruce, what aren’t you telling me?”
“And a new plane is just, well, between Wayne One, the Cessna, the Batwing and the two jets owned by Wayne Enterprises— What do I want with another airplane anyway? It’s not… like…”
“Bruce.” Her voice was impossibly gentle, the lengthy pause even more so. “What is it you’re trying to say?”
“I can’t have both you and the playboy cover, Selina.”
She looked up at him evenly. It was obvious from the discussion of the Gatta, but he would say the obvious anyway “And I can’t give you up. So the playboy is… over. And now… I’m not sure… where that leaves me.”
“Ah. Well, reinventing a bit of the public persona isn’t exactly fun. But it’s not like it was forced on you by some no-talent bottom feeders trying to make a name for themselves by pissing all over your reputation, to the extent that you had to mount an actual goddamn stage show just to set the record straight. Or, for that matter, it’s not like you’ve got to make wholesale changes to your masked life, up to and including scrapping the longest unbroken winning streak since the advent of killjoys in capes, finding yourself plopped into the middle of a readymade family (yellow ruffles). Not to mention, it’s not like living with you is exactly a day at the beach. So what was your problem again, Bruce?”
The word “pussywhipped” hovered on his lips, but the self-preservation instincts honed over a thousand patrols held it back.
“The problem is that ‘Bruce Wayne’s life’ and my life have always been two entirely different things. If they’re going to be sharing more common ground, I’m not sure what the ramifications of that might be.”
“So what? Feel your way as you go.”
“I don’t do that. I plan the journey before I set out.”
“Bruce, you’re the best there is. You’re the most staggeringly brilliant mind of your generation. Are you seriously telling me that Gladys Ashton-Larraby is going to throw you a curve you can’t handle?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Let’s make it the point. Because I really do think, and I’ve thought for quite a long time, that the obsessive control thing is beneath you. That’s for those other guys, the mediocrities, that are afraid and they should be. Because they know—down deep, they know—that they’re not good enough to handle whatever comes along. They want to control everyone and everything around them, because they don’t trust themselves. They can’t improvise. They can’t deal with what might happen on its own. They don’t have the stuff. Bruce, that’s not you. That is so not you. You can handle anything.”
Bruce felt his chest push slightly outward, an involuntary response. The woman he loved looking up into his eyes, telling him he was wonderful, and his chest swelled. He took a step closer, placing a gentle arm around her neck, and pulled her in, leaned down himself until their lips were touching.