All's Fair, part 17
by ChicagoDisclaimers in "part 0"
It was just too much. She rose angrily from her seat and stormed over to the booth. "Excuse me, sir," she began hotly, "but-"
"Bitsy O'Brien," he interrupted her in smooth tones." I'll never forget the night we danced under the stars in Bialya." Ashe spoke, he leaned forward so what light there was fell on his face.
"Oh!" Beatriz gasped, sinking down onto the seat across from him. "Bruce-?" she ventured.
The man across from her raised an eyebrow with a hint of a knowing smirk. "Ms. DaCosta," he purred, "I assure you that underneath this disguise, I'm still ugly as sin."
She glanced around the bar at the few patrons. "It seems last time we had this conversation we ended up going for a long walk."
He nodded. "Perhaps this time we can retire to my room?"
She smiled and held out her hand as he rose from the table. He gallantly helped her to her feet, crossing her in front of him to guide her with a knowing touch from the bar and into the lobby toward the elevators. His hand on her back was an almost unbearable tenderness, and she found herself stumbling a bit into him as they entered the elevator.
"Careful, Ms. DaCosta," he cautioned, easily catching her.
She smiled up at him apologetically. "Guess I had a drink or two more than I thought."
He reached out to stroke her hair, a gesture she knew would look to anyone else like part of a come on, but she could see his eyes. They were gentle, concerned - enough to make her almost doubt who lurked under the convincing disguise of Bruce Wayne. "Drink is not the answer to a lonely heart," he admonished, letting her continue to lean into him.
The elevator doors opened on the top floor, and he led her to one of two doors off the small foyer that was the extent of the public area of the floor. "They're both under my name," he told her, "but I've put my things in this one."
She nodded against his chest, letting him usher her into what passed for a palatial suite in La Paz. She managed to wait until the door swung shut with an audible click before she buried her face in his chest and let the tears come.
He stood and held her for much longer than she ever imagined he would have. Out of the public eye, it would have been easy enough for him to stiffen into his usual demeanor. In fact, she must have been truly drunker than she believed - or managed to forget that he wasn't Bruce Wayne at all - that she had ever allowed herself to break down in front of him. But once the tears started? She had forgotten how much it hurt, how much she had bottled up.
She was still sniffling when Batman led her without comment to one of the easy chairs in the room and sat her down in it. He plucked a handkerchief from his suit coat pocket and pressed it into her hand, then crossed to the wet bar. A moment later he was back, presenting her with a glass of water which she accepted gratefully. He waited as she drained the glass thirstily, then refilled it for her before sitting down himself.
"The children were safely returned?" he finally asked.
He undoubtedly already knew the answer, but she nodded anyway. "Safely in their mothers' arms under strict orders not to wander off again."
Batman nodded, his Bruce Wayne expression looking more grimly battish than the billionaire ever could. Fire remembered that Batman had been a voice of dissension when they decided that it would be best to "adjust" the memories of the former hostages, and the "wandering off" warning must've reminded him of that. She sighed, staring off into space. It had been strange to be part of a team again, to negotiate and coordinate and plan. Stranger still to be doing it without a confidante, to be lonely among so many people. She felt her eyes welling again.
"You miss her."
Fire did a double take, wiping at her eyes as she tried to decide if Batman had really said what she heard. "Did you-?"
"I watched the film again of how you beat Mordru," he continued, his eyes on her face. "She was with you then."
Fire felt her lip begin to tremble as more tears found their way to her cheeks. She nodded. "She -" Her voice cracked. She sipped at the water and tried again. "It was like she was my heart. Like it -" A sob choked back her words.
"Used to be?" Batman finished for her, his tone uncharacteristically sympathetic.
She nodded wordlessly, overwhelmed by the old ache. It hadn't healed as she thought it had, calloused over by time. It was still there, raw as ever, her immunity to it shattered by the touch of Ice's soul across hers. Tora, who had been everything Beatriz wished to be but didn't dare allow herself. She remembered her beauty, lit by an enveloping warmth. Tora used to shake her head at Beatriz, cautioning her in private moments not to use her raw sensuality to distance people. "How will they know your heart if all you let them lust for is your body?" Tora would ask.
"And why would I want anyone to know my heart?" Beatriz had once replied flippantly, and then had tried not to notice the hurt and reproach on Tora's face. Ice's heart was always on her sleeve, opened always, tenderly vulnerable to the slightest rebuke. Fire badgered her to toughen up, especially after the whole episode with Guy, but Ice resisted in her own way, claiming she couldn't learn to be so hard. She proved it by always being the one at Beatriz's side, even when Fire tried to push her away.
And why had she done that? If she had known they had so little time left - but no. It wouldn't have mattered. Fire was too scared and Ice too understanding, even if the understanding caused her pain. Tora wouldn't push, by not pushing would prove that she was a safe presence so close to Beatriz's heart. So close that a part of Beatriz died the night the Overmaster reduced Ice to a smoldering corpse on his stronghold floor. A part that flared to life again - however briefly - as Ice gave her the courage and strength to overcome Mordru's control of her body.
She wasn't sure how long she had been crying, but she gradually became aware that she was holding tight to Batman's hand and his other hand was resting comfortingly on her arm. She looked up into his eyes. "I just - I just wish I could have talked to her - told her -"
Again, her words were swallowed by emotion.
"Beatriz," Batman said gently, raising one hand to brush at her tears, "there's something I have to tell you about."
Tell her about? Her face screwed into a puzzled expression.
"When Deadman was in your body, you know he told us about Ice's role in protecting the lakes and revealing the enemy."
Beatriz nodded. Where was he going with this?
"After he reported, Deadman joined me in the monitor womb to help isolate Mordru's stronghold, which is where he left me."
Beatriz sniffled, tears temporarily eased by her effort to figure out why Batman was telling her this. She remembered coming awake suddenly at the Watchtower, utterly bewildered as to how she had arrived there. She had managed to listen to Batman's explanation then with stoic professionalism. In fact, she had made it her personal challenge to not once be anything less than a perfect professional, letting her stung pride at not being invited back to the JLA carry her through the mission. She'd show them - or that was her attitude. And it had worked aside from that moment when J'onn had walked through the door, when his palpable sympathy and understanding had driven her to seek a moment's comfort from him. He had obliged, wrapping his strong arms around her, and then, sensing her resolve to prove herself, had settled her back in a chair with a mental reminder of his confidence in her.
The memory gave her pause, and she looked suspiciously at Batman. "Did J'onn tell you to come here and make nice?" she accused, suddenly angered.
The anger died quickly at Batman's reaction. His Bruce Wayne face took on a genuine look of surprise and he protested, "I know when it's my responsibility to do something."
She stared at him in non-comprehension, but if he noticed, he ignored her expression and continued his earlier narrative.
"Before Deadman left your body, Beatriz," he was saying, "he passed a message along for you."
"Tora?" Beatriz gasped hopefully, all else forgotten.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner!?" Fire exclaimed, anger suddenly catching hold of her again.
The gentle hand that had settled back to her arm stiffened, and the Bat came back into the Bruce Wayne disguise. "There was a mission," he replied flatly.
"Well? What is the message?"
Batman looked at her askance, as if gauging her potential reaction. "She wanted you to know that she loves you," he finally said.
The tears were back. "Tora," Beatriz murmured, burying her face in her hands, "I love you, too. I should've told you-"
She felt Batman's hand rubbing her back comfortingly. "I have a feeling she knows," he said quietly, and Beatriz knew he was picturing the ice that had wrapped around the Centurian, caught him in her flame. Ice had been with her then, coaxing her through Mordru's control, using memories of Tora's own battle against the Overmaster to guide her to the path of defiance. It wasn't that Ice's voice had sounded in her head, but more that Fire could feel her pointing out that Mordru would not know how to handle it if she forced him to sexualize his assault on Green Lantern. The sorcerer's confusion had broken his concentration enough, and then Beatriz had been filled with her own powers and Tora's, seeming to draw from the Earth itself to send Mordru and the Centurian back.
And then? And then Tora had been gone again, only the hollow ache of the space she had filled remaining.
Beatriz let her grief consume her, unselfconsciously rolling with it much as J'onn had advised her to do years before. She hadn't listened to him then, and she couldn't think of why she would do so in the arms of Batman except - except he really seemed to understand. And like J'onn, he conveyed that understanding by merely being there without saying a word. Because no words could fix this - none.
She buried her face in the pillow for a moment, not quite ready to face the day, to pick up her life again and move on. But that was a hero's job, and she finally raised her head and sat up, wishing the sun weren't quite so bright. She blinked against its glare for a long moment before she realized what was sitting on the night table.
It was a little ice sculpture, already beginning to melt in the morning sun. It wasn't spectacular, just a statuette of a little angel, a card propped on its outstretched arms. Beatriz rubbed her eyes blearily and plucked the card up, opening it. "Everything's paid for as long as you want to stay," it read in a man's firm handwriting. "Your help was invaluable. -B"
Beneath this message was another, obviously added later. The printing was smaller, more painstaking: "You once again proved the trueness of your heart. Do not forget we are here for you. -J."
A tear bounced off the card, blurring the ink, but Beatriz was smiling. Tora was still gone, but she wasn't alone. She was still loved. And she still had friends.