Paper Hearts, epilogue

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Christmas snow. Never mind that it was February - the thick, fluffy flakes drifting serenely down on Gotham City evinced nothing less than the perfect Christmas eve snowfall. It had begun falling around 9 pm, well after the end of the evening rush hour, and by now it had accumulated into a pleasant white blanket, not yet sullied by too much traffic.

It seemed to muffle everything, and Gotham's residents seemed content enough to stay home and watch it fall.

A quiet night.

A quiet night even for the dark figure which found its customary shadows muted to grey by the city light diffused by the reflected gleam of billions of snow crystals. Not that it mattered - few enough people would look up into the night, and if they caught a glimpse through their apartment window? They would assume it was a trick of the light.

His motion was scarcely more noisy than the snowflakes drifting down around him as he cut through the cold but not bitter air. Even the touch of his boots on a downtown rooftop was little more than a whisper. If anyone had been watching, they would have been awed by the way the black shape seemed to glide across the snow before disappearing from view.

The darkened penthouse he entered was a more congenial environment for a man of the shadows. He stood for a long time in the nearly lightless alcove beneath the bolt hole through which he had entered. Even in the silence of shadow in shadow, he realized he might seem menacing, and a smile tickled one corner of his mouth to think what people would say if they realized he was only trying not to track snow through the sumptuous living room.

When he believed himself to be sufficiently dry leave no trace of his passage, he made his careful way across the living area to a set of wide double doors which he knew led into the master bedroom suite. He reached a hand to his mask as he knelt to inspect the pale wood revealed by deep scars in the heavy doors. A gloved hand reached for each mark, a finger dipping into one bullet hole after another. Three of them.

They moved in a descending arc - the first at chest level where he expected, but the second was half a body's length away, lower, where a man's chest would be if he were mid-dive. The third was another half a body length away, just a foot above the floor. His lips pressed together into a grim line.

He felt a tickle at his left hip, and his hand went automatically to a compartment of his belt in a reassuring gesture. Then he froze.

The tickle was being repeated on his right hip.

His voice came out in a low growl. "J'onn."

There was no shift in the shadows, but the tickle changed to the feeling of the palm of a hand stroking upwards to rest on his ribs. "Bruce."

He didn't turn, but he closed his eyes.

Seconds ticked by, became minutes.

Nothing stirred.

Finally, the man spoke again. "We completely sealed off the Bowery Cave."

"I know. Oracle told me."

"I've assigned Batgirl to track du Bois when the police release him."

"They still don't have enough to hold him?"

Batman shook his head once, a small motion most would miss, but clear enough. No. He felt the pressure of a second hand, moving around his left side to join the first and hold him in a comforting embrace. The weight of a cheek nestled between his shoulder blades.

"Dick plans to return to duty day after tomorrow." This pronouncement dripped with disapproval.

The embrace tightened fleetingly. "He's in the best position to judge if his body is healed enough to work."

This brought a grunt, answered by the brush of lips against his back.

"What happened with Sasha?"

A sigh stirred the air near his right ear. "She warned me about you."

That actually brought a raised eyebrow to the stony face beneath the mask. "Oh?"

The hold on his body shifted, and one of the unseen hands began to rub his back soothingly. "She wanted me to be aware of your playboy nature. And she said you had issues."

Batman relaxed back against the body he knew was behind him, feeling it give to support his weight as the arms once again encircled him. "Oh."

A kiss found the space behind his ear, phasing easily through the cowl. He shivered at the touch.

"I think it was the best choice for her. She would not have been happy had she stayed."

An uncharacteristic bitterness entered Batman's tone. "That's my fault."

"In part," J'onn agreed, gentling his words with a touch to Bruce's cheek. "But also hers. And mine."

Bruce jerked his head up. "No."

"Yes. But nothing will be gained by assigning blame. We live, we learn, we move on. Sasha understood that."

"Still..."

They sat there for a little while in the silence that trailed this protest, then J'onn rose, urging Bruce to his feet.

Bruce obeyed, turning as he stood to watch the air shimmer into a familiar green form. Warm red eyes glowed down at him, expressing a tenderness that he doubted human eyes could convey. Bruce pushed back his cowl to meet those eyes fairly.

J'onn cupped Bruce's chin and trailed a thumb over his cheekbone, then J'onn's form diminished in size and shifted until it was Alana gazing up at Bruce. She tiptoed to reach his lips, persuading the grim set of his lips to soften as she kissed him. Gradually Bruce felt his arms reaching around her, realized he was pulling her closer, that the comfort offered by her kisses was turning to a mutual passion.

She pulled back suddenly, face flushed. "They didn't hit me," she whispered, nodding toward the bullet holes.

Bruce answered by leaning down to reclaim her lips, reaching arms down to lift her against his body. She chuckled low in her throat, the feeling of the laugh resonating through their kiss as she gamely hooked her legs over his hips.

Bruce shifted his hold enough to reach for the doorknob and push open the bedroom door. Alana's legs tightened around his waist as her hands tangled in his hair.

So vibrant, Bruce thought. So alive.

Her fingers unclasped his cape as he carried her to the bed, leaving it sprawled behind them on the floor. The loss of its weight prompted Bruce to tighten his arms around her as he lowered them both onto the expansive bed.

She pushed him back again a little, urging him to prop himself on his arms over her, and she let her fingers play across the black emblem in the middle of his chest. "I don't think I've ever been seduced by the Bat," she remarked throatily, giving him a playfully appraising look.

He answered by running his hands up her stockinged legs, realizing only as he did so that she was wearing last night's dress. It gave him pause, and a frown creased his forehead.

"None of that," she chided, soothing a hand across his brow.

"Alana - J'onn -"

She smiled encouragingly at him. "Just because we never got to dinner doesn't mean we can't skip to dessert." She let her fingers trail down his jaw line, and her eyes carried a curious mix of seduction and pleading. She didn't have to say it for him to understand - let's pretend the last 24 hours didn't happen.

He couldn't. Not quite. Not even for J'onn, not even when he was in this winsome form.

But...

He brushed a few stray strands of hair away from Alana's face, smiling slightly for those worried green eyes. He began to kiss her again, more slowly, more deeply, letting his arousal tap into the depth of his love for this most unlikely of partners. Her fingers traced a path to his waist, then found their way to the clasp that unfastened the groin guard of the Batsuit. And as he broke their kiss to help her remove the impeding armor, he saw in her eyes that she knew she hadn't got precisely what she wanted, but that she understood.

"In time," she whispered. A hope or a promise - he wasn't sure which.

No, he couldn't pretend the last 24 hours had never happened - but he could lose himself in her green eyes and her willing flesh, and for now, that would have to be enough.



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