At first, there is only darkness. No sound, no sensation. Only a great, enveloping calm. Then, slowly, the ambient glow intensifies, sharpens, becomes painful.
And then everything is painful.
This isn’t an entirely bad thing. It means you’re not dead. That’s a good thing… Right?
Searing fire streaks down your bicep.
“I said wake UP, Bruce.”
A low, throaty chuckle. “Not quite, old friend.”
Someone’s fist rocks your head backward, bringing you to your senses, bringing back the memories. The industrial yard in the rain, the unassuming foreman’s trailer, the secret tunnel, the tortured people… The bullets. You can feel where the shots stitched across your chest, three entry wounds, two exit wounds and a mess where the third was extracted. You force your eyes open, ignoring the pain.
“… Elliot.” The psychotic surgeon is pacing around you, a scalpel in hand. The room is dark, pitch black, but for the small halo of light cast upon you by a single, filthy bulb that dangles down from the shadows.
“Oh come now Bruce. You know there are no formalities between us. I’ve barely been able to resist contacting you since I left that dreadful asylum. But Jonathan, poor Johnny, he was so damned insistent we keep you in the dark. You’d think Eddie had his stringy straw balls in a jar.”
Hush chuckles, gloating. He has you dead, and he knows it.
Your name is Bruce Wayne. You are the Batman. And it is not your day. Thomas Elliot lashes out with the razor-sharp instrument, leaving a bleeding fissure across your chest.
“I don’t feel I have your full attention, Bruce.”
You grimace as a stream of blood begins pouring down your chest. Pushing past the pain, you strain against your bonds. Thick, utilitarian rope. Given some time you might be able to work out the knots, but it isn’t going to happen right away. Got to stall. Get information out of Hush.
“Elliot. You need to stop this. You’re not invested. Crane is insane, you know full well he’ll destroy all of Gotham. What are you getting out of it?”
He ceases his pacing and looks down at you, shadows obscuring his features.
“Gotham is of no concern to me now, Bruce. The only thing I wanted out of this was you. Alone in a dark room. Helpless. I’ll be gone before sundown.”
You stare up into the blackness, undaunted. “Then why did you take Nightwing? If this was only about me, why involve him at all?”
“The bird was just a means to an end, Bruce. Don’t you see that yet? It was only ever about me and you. Time to settle our scores.”
Hush grins, a portion of his meticulously applied bandaging slipping down.
“Oh Bruce, you don’t give yourself enough credit. But you’re right, I’ve never been one to share glory, have I? No, once Crane has his fun I’ll put him down. The infamy killing you will provide will be mine and mine alone.”
His scalpel darts out again, scything into the flesh of your cheek. The sudden, deep wound doesn’t bleed at first, then stains your face red. Having already detached yourself from the moment, from the pain, you make use of the distraction to survey your surroundings. Though the darkness is absolute, you perceive a percussive thump somewhere in the background buzz that catches your attention momentarily.
Hush straightens, peering off into the darkness as if listening for something. With a snarl he lodges the scalpel in your thigh and storms off into the dark. A door opens and slams. Silence.
The blood you’ve lost is costing you considerable amounts of strength, but you put all you have into trying to wriggle yourself into some room to work with. After an all-consuming struggle during which you nearly pass out on multiple occasions, you force your elbow up an inch. That’s something to work with.
You haul on your arm again and again, rocking the chair back and forth. One particularly enthusiastic pull sends you and the chair crashing to the ground. Luckily, the wooden back splinters, and after a moment longer spent on your bonds, you’re free. Wounded, bleeding profusely, but free. Time to find a way out.
You stumble through the dark, crashing into a surgical tray on your way to the wall. Elliot had been working on your long before you came to your senses. Then you’re feeling your way along the room’s perimeter, looking for a door. You find it after barking your shins on cupboards a few times. To your amazement, it opens without protest. So confident was Elliot that he didn’t even lock the door. Not that you can blame him. The state you’re in, you might not even make it to an exit before bleeding out. Outside, you find yourself in the warehouse you were shot in, with the screeching, feral people. Only the people are gone now. It is utterly quiet. The cages they were in stand empty in rows, doors hanging unlatched. Not broken open, unlatched. They were set free.
You hear it as you’re moving toward the center of the room. A sound. Distant, percussive.
You decide to ignore the sound of danger in favor of looking for a way out. The Batman as a symbol is incorruptible, unstoppable. But you, Bruce Wayne, are not. And you’re still losing blood. Not to mention the uncomfortable questions the police and media might have about your presence here, were it to be detected. At the far end of the warehouse is a large loading door. You make for it. Getting closer, you can see the security bar is hanging limply to the side. Someone made a hasty exit here without thought of returning. Lucky for you. Once outside you can make your way to one of the many dead drops you have installed in the city, and from there return to the Cave where Alfred can see to you properly.
Not so lucky for you is the banshee wail that erupts from the darkness to your right, nor the freakish sight that accompanies it. A woman, naked and feral, is hurtling toward you through the cages, heedless to the grievous injuries they inflict upon her legs as she crashes into them.
You breathe slowly, watching the woman’s movement as she closes. It’s spasmodic, erratic and almost seems euphoric. She has no idea what she’s doing. She’s just… Reacting. To something. Fear?
Regardless, you catch her evenly as she comes in with a wild swing, vicious but untrained and unfocused. She struggles a bit under your hold, but after a minute goes limp and quiet. The gunfire is getting closer. Time to go.
You turn and haul on the loading door, the great steel behemoth groaning as it slides back on rusty tracks. You slip through the other side and haul the door nearly to, leaving yourself a tiny window of observation. You sit there, watching through that crack, for what seems like an eternity. In reality, it’s less than twenty seconds before you watch a platoon of black-armored commandos burst through the warehouse’s tunnel access door, clearing the room efficiently and methodically. They kill the unconscious woman. It takes everything you have in you to not hurl yourself back through the door, but you manage it. What happens next is too important to miss.
Once the room has been cleared, checked and re-checked, a group of unarmored non-civilians come into the room. One is an unidentified woman, shoulder length blond hair and blue eyes. You begin memorizing her features for later identification. The next person you know well enough, and seeing him makes your lip curl. The singular Director Bones of the Department of Extranormal Operations struts into the room, dragging off a cigar and surveying the scene.
Beside him walks the Batwoman.
You knew you couldn’t trust her.