Two Birds, One Face

Mistakes were made.

“Oh, Hello Alfred! Long time, no see.”

“Miss… Vale?” His carrying bag dropped at his feet, much like his entire expression. It was a bit overdramatic for her tastes.

She pressed a button on her headset. “It seems that Mr. Pennyworth is finally back from vacation.”

“And his first thought was to check on me in the cave? I’ll take it as a good sign.” He sat back, watching the court proceedings with mild interest.

It was a quiet night in Gotham – he suspected everyone, even the regular thugs, were interested in the case that was on the Gotham City News Network – the only News Station that was allowed in the courtroom – the case of Salvatore Maroni. He was perched across the street from the courthouse, peering through thermal goggles.

Of course, the police patrolling the courthouse was abysmal, at best – almost as if they were inviting a break-in, break-out attempt. It was one of the many reasons he felt his presence was required.

He’d be damned if Maroni got away with this – not figuratively, at least. He had gotten the evidence stacked against the man, and while he himself couldn’t come in as a witness, he had confidence that Maroni would be put away for a long time. He wasn’t the head of the family, but he knew it would be a crushing blow.

He was more worried at an escape attempt. It was something the Maronis had been known for, and they did it with a certain flair and style.

He was concerned for the attorney, especially. Harvey Dent strutted across the floor, speaking words that Bruce half-listened to, the bug that he had wired into the P.A. System speaker months ago giving him loud and clear information. He was impressed by Harvey’s drive to put the family away – that being said, he was disgusted by his lack of care about his own welfare. His fiancé, Grace, at least had the common sense to go into a safe-house, having accepted Bruce Wayne’s offer, unlike Dent, who just waved the invitation off.

He shook his head. Harvey had to know what he was getting into. Batman may have gathered the evidence, but Harvey had gotten the more… obtainable data from the GCPD. The things that Maroni had done to anyone that wanted to testify against him… the man had a known history. But history was not going to repeat itself. Grace was going to be safe – it was up to Harvey to protect himself.

He spied the moderately chilled audience – Lieutenant Gordon seemed particularly heated, seated next to his recently detached partner, Arnold Flass, and Commissioner Gillian Loeb. He flicked his finger on the goggles, and as they refocused, he spoke again. “Tell him that I’m glad he’s back.” He heard Vicki relay the message. His sensitive hearing picked up his response.

“Yes, well, it’s good to be back. It’s been years since I’ve seen you, Miss Vale. I’m also glad to see that he’s alive and… erm, alive, at least.”

His girlfriend was quick to respond. “You helped him design the suit, Alfred. If you’re that uncertain of your skills…”

“I did everything I could, Miss Vale. It’s a miracle Master Bruce is still in one piece.”

Vicki sighed. “See, that’s what I missed about you, Alfred. There are just too many positive people in this world; sometimes, you just have to step back, and remind us all that taking risks leads to an inevitable, painful death.”

The Batman refrained from chuckling. He had a reputation to keep.

“Extreme risks lead to extreme consequences, Miss Vale. And for a moment, I thought Master Bruce roped you into this. You’re supporting these… escapades!”

She turned around completely in her swivel chair, her eyes piercing. “Did you really expect anything different from me, Alfred? As I’m speaking to you now, the idea of a ‘Batwoman‘ out there to watch his back isn’t a half-bad idea. You can believe me when I tell you that I’d be on his side in this.”

She turned back to her computer, but not without a few words. “Alfred, you don’t know how the rest of Gotham lives. You live here, in Wayne Manor, under the best security money can buy. The shit that happens outside of this place… it’s atrocious, even now. Thomas and Martha wouldn’t have liked it, and you know it. He’s making a difference out there, Alfred; you’re just too blind to see it.”

“We’re making a difference,” Bruce corrected her, viewing through his goggles’ second mode, that he had dubbed ‘Detective Vision’. “His lawyer’s heartbeat is escalating. Looks as if the trial is almost over.”

Though he couldn’t see it, Vicki smiled at his comment of their teamwork. She focused on one of the monitors that was recording everything through Bruce’s goggles. “He seems to be the only one really sweating bullets. The commissioner seems calm. Harvey’s pulse is racing, but I think he gets a kick out of performing in front of his audience.” She tilted her head. “Should it be suspicious that all of the guards outside are all calm?”

“I’ve noticed that,” he said slowly. “I also noticed the lack of guards. Four armed at the entrance. It’s a quiet night. There should be a lot more available to patrol than that.”

“There are a lot of cops inside, all armed,” she observed.

“The Maronis have a lot of connections. Either all the officers here are the only ones not getting paid off, or Maroni is staging this whole trial, with every cop he has on his payroll in attendance.”

“Both are scary thoughts,” Vicki whispered, the number seeming a lot bigger to her now. “I’ll write down their names.”

Alfred watched on, helpless and forgotten, and in a silent huff, marched back to the elevator.

“Uhh… Bruce? Have you ever seen a Judge packing heat?” She focused on the small orange object in the well-hidden holster of Judge Faden.

“He never goes anywhere without it. It’s on safety, though. I checked his records before the trial. Faden is on someone’s payroll.” He gritted his teeth, his chapped lips thin. The worst kind of criminals were the ones in plain sight. “But even he can’t deny the evidence. The jury is clean, only one is corrupt, and he’ll buckle quickly to the majority. Faden can’t issue a light sentence – it would be too much bad press for Faden to let Salvatore off easy.”

He spoke again after a few seconds, more to himself. “He’ll be sent to Blackgate. Maximum security cell – Judge won’t have a choice, what with all the evidence and overwhelming support for Maroni’s head. He’ll be broken out; that’s inevitable. His father will let him stew for a few days, teach him a lesson, before retrieving his son. Then he’ll be a fugitive. I’ll catch him and everyone who broke him out.”

Vicki nodded, though he couldn’t see it. “And you’re hoping the pattern will continue? That ‘Big Lou’ will send more to rescue his son and the guys?”

His goggles zoomed in on Sal Maroni, who looked unerringly calm. “I don’t think he’ll be looking to rescue his guys, unless he’s short-staffed. He’ll just get his son or any stray family. But those men will be my new targets.”

She frowned in thought. “Luigi will get suspicious. Both times, every man who was on the assignment to break Sal out of prison, arrested? Even if he believed in coincidences…”

“He’ll never believe in his son again. They’ll both know that I’m watching him. He won’t step out of line again. And if he does, I’ll bring him in.”

“And Lou will think twice about breaking him out,” She finished. She tapped the desk in front of her, her short nails barely making a patter. “And the pattern continues. With any hope, He won’t even have enough men willing to break him out a third time, by orders or by loyalty.” She breathed easily. “And it all depends on how tonight will be.”

“Yes, it does,” he said softly, moving his goggles to Harvey. “He’s getting cocky.”

“He’s exploiting Maroni. He knows he has a short temper. If he snaps in the middle of the courtroom, this trial won’t be that much longer.”

He was quiet for about a minute. “This isn’t going to end well for him.”

“What makes you say that? Because he doesn’t have any protection?”

“When Maroni is being humiliated, he tends to be fixated.” He turned back to Maroni, and sure enough, his heartbeat was faster. He saw his fists clench, and his leg shake under the table. He was ready to pounce.

Hold on…

“What’s that in his pocket?” Vicki noticed it at the same time he did. Since his goggles were at maximum zoom, he could only focus to the best of his abilities.

“It’s a vial,” he muttered. “But I don’t know what’s in it. It’s not picking up on my goggles, but you can bet it’s lethal.” He turned them off, folded his goggles and clipped them to his belt. “That’s why his attorney was nervous, he sneaked it through,” he muttered to himself, pulling out his Cryptographic Sequencer. He turned his dial to the latest frequency he had found the GCPD on. He held the button as his voice deepened.

“Sal Maroni is carrying a vial. Right Pocket. Sal Maroni is carrying a vial.”

“Who is this? Hello?!”

Great. Detective Harvey Bullock. If Howard Branden and Commissioner Loeb were the spokespeople for corrupt cops, then Bullock was the poster boy. Still, at least he got the information. He closed the connection.

“Hopefully, he’ll relay the message to the captain, or anyone inside the room.”

Batman shook his head. “He can’t, all their radios are off. He’ll more likely get in contact with one of the guards outside. Maybe he’ll call Gordon on his cellphone, but he’s too by-the-books not to turn his cellphone off.” He unclipped his binoculars and turned them on again. None of the guards have moved, so he focused inside the building, and quickly noticed an empty seat. “Gordon’s gone.”

“Is that him in the lobby?” she questioned, the only giveaway being his firearm on his side. “Huh… he’s on the phone.”

“That’s unlike him to keep it on,” the Dark Knight mused, though he was grateful nonetheless.

Vicki thought to herself for a moment. “His daughter’s at home by herself. Maybe he kept it on in case she called.”

“Gordon has a daughter?”

Vicki chuckled. “I like to read files, too. She was living with her mother until recently. Barbara Gordon, fourteen. Seems to have quite the crush on you and your ethics, says her record. One of the many reasons she left her mother in Keystone.” She giggled.

Gordon was still on the phone, so Bruce played along. “You’re not telling me something, Vicki.”

“She blames her mother for the divorce.” She smiled slyly. “Apparently, her mother blames her father for an indiscretion he never had.”

“Funny.” The monotone voice was something he was getting famous for. She hoped to break that habit.

“That’s what you get for screwing the brains out of one of GCPD’s finest, Bruce.”

Bruce grimaced; not from the memory, but from the consequences.

Sarah Essen, a former Detective of the GCPD, and a regular informant of the Batman. She had approached him first, seeing from a distance as he handled a group of drug dealers. They were all tied up, and before he could disappear, she pleaded for him to stay. After making sure the entire gang of thugs were unconscious, she told him her address, and offered a secret alliance. She would tell him any information he needed, only if he used it to continue doing what he did.

He had watched her for a week. Though he could have stopped watching one night into the surveillance, seeing as she waited up hours for him in her night clothes – flannel top and bottom – covering herself with a light brown trench coat, before falling asleep on her sofa.

Six nights in a row, starting at about two in the morning, after her shift. It was necessary, of course – The GCPD was rather adamant in their views on vigilantism, and it could have been entrapment. She was a new transfer, and he did not yet have the opportunity to read her file – not for lack of trying. The Police building had tightened up security lately.

Still, it was rude to do. On the seventh night, he showed up early, and knocked lightly against the patio door. He had considered sneaking inside the house and talk to her from the shadows, but thought better against it. She was not only attractive, but she was a cop – she shouldn’t have to worry about her security system, which was pretty good – ever since they expanded from business to commercial, WayneTech made the best.

She graciously let him in, and they talked. He noticed how she eyed him up and down. He chose something different from the armored suit he usually wore. This one was much simpler and skin-tight, offering him less protection, but more stealth. She didn’t ask questions – she could tell he was still the same man, because of his voice, and because they were the only two who knew about this meeting.

Of course, as he would soon discover, she wasn’t eying him just for his change in wardrobe.

She gave him some invaluable information. The hide-outs of some wanted thugs that were out of the GCPD’s reach, and locations of enemies that the police had turned a blind eye to, lining their pockets in return. She gave him the location of Black Mask’s latest hiding place. She gave him the names of some of the more corrupt cops with back-end deals that he had no idea about.

And, with trembling hands, she handed him a small flash memory card.

“The National Criminal Database,” she whispered. Her brown eyes met his blues, and he struggled not to turn away from her scrutiny, as if she might know who he was from her intense stare. “Please, Sir – use it for good.”

“I will,” he swore to the woman, now convinced beyond all doubt that she was the purest the GCPD had to offer – willing to do whatever it took to keep the justice. He turned away, and only got a few steps, before he remembered what his girlfriend told him. “It’s Batman.”

She smiled. “Vale’s been trying to coin that term for a few months, now.”

“It’s grown on me.” He slowly strode over to the patio door, before he stopped again. “This night never happened, of course. But if it were to happen again,” he glanced over to the glass doors, “put a black vase on the patio table.” He had noticed that there were several in the room. Analysis had shown that none of them were memorials; they were simply there for decoration. “Or anything black,” he quickly added, just in case he made a wrong assumption.

She nodded, and he flew into the night.

Well, not that far into the night. He stuck around, curious. She gave him all of that information, and expected nothing back except the safety of the city. He placed the memory card into his gauntlet computer and stared at the information that appeared. No virus, no spyware, just the information that she had promised. He was able to get so much done on the field with this.

He smiled – a rare sight for him. This was why he did what he did; because there were good people like her around that didn’t deserve to be in the middle of this mess. He looked up, wondering how he was going to repay her, and his eyes widened.

He quickly looked away.

“Hey! We were watching that! Eep!” Harleen’s voice was muffled, and he just knew it was by Vicki’s hand.

“Girls,” he growled, and Vicki chuckled nervously into the intercom.

“Well, it’s not like this is a surprise! We all knew she had the hots for ya!” Harleen spoke into her headset. “Granted, the information she gave you was immeasurable, and we wrote it down for you, you’re welcome, but – ”

“I think Quinn is trying to say that we thought you were going to close the deal with her,” Vicki informed him, with a small amount of guilt. “It seems like she tried to. Looks like the offer is still on the table. Or, in the chair, to be more literal.”

He quickly leaped off the building and glided the opposite way into the next district. “We’ll talk about this later,” he muttered tiredly, the image still in his head – Her nude form, lying in the chair perpendicular to him, the moon shining perfectly on her through the patio door, her hips rising off her seat –

“If you wanted to,” Vicki’s voice cut through to him, “you could repay her for her tireless work to help you. It probably took a lot of favors to get that database of information. Not to mention, that’s a very expensive flash card to hold all of it. She’s well off, but I don’t think money could have gotten that. That isn’t the Gotham Criminal Database. That’s National. I can’t begin to comprehend how she got that information.”

“It’s why her file is so protected,” Bruce muttered, almost to himself. “GCPD probably doesn’t even have it. It’s why she has such a high ranking as a detective, being so new. She’s federal.”

He stopped on a rooftop, and pondered to himself. His cape flapped behind him, the sounds it made giving him a calming feeling. “She knew I would search for her file. She didn’t give me all of this information because she wanted to. Someone else wanted to give me this. Whoever transferred her is keeping an eye on me. Someone national.”

“FBI?” Harleen queried, her eyebrows scrunched together. She thought the entire thing was a bit far-fetched, but his over-the-top hunches had a good reputation.

“I don’t know,” He turned around and took off again. “But I will find out.”

When she heard the tapping at her door, she awoke.

She wished she hadn’t. She had fallen asleep immediately after she had taken care of herself, as she usually did, except that she had done so in her chair, in the sitting room. In front of her clear glass patio door.

She scrambled for her flannel pajamas, which were beside her, and she was undoubtedly giving whoever was at the door a show.

She fully intended to threaten whoever was at the door with their life. So when she looked up, stepping into her pajama pants, to see the caped crusader, her skin flushed a deep crimson.

It just had to be the one man in Gotham that couldn’t be threatened. She meekly stepped over to the patio, fumbling with the buttons on her top, and pulled back the door.

She was slightly intimidated by his frown; did he miss the view, or did he not get enough? Her cheeks pinked with anger. “Look, sir – !”

“Who do you work for?” The Batman growled, and she involuntarily took a step back.

“What?” She took a second to gather her wits. While she was pleased that he had skipped over that embarrassing moment, it seemed to be leading to an even more awkward conversation.

“The National Criminal Database. Someone wanted to give me this information. You were the messenger. Who is it?”

“Don’t concern yourself with that!” Her arms wrapped around her bosom protectively – she didn’t exactly know how Batman had managed to get so much information so far from the underbelly of Gotham, but she didn’t picture the few female thugs getting their arms broken to get them to talk. Perhaps he was a bit more… creative with them? “Just be happy with the information I gave you. Everything else I gave you came from me!”

He frowned deeper. “How do I know you’re telling the truth if your biggest help isn’t even yours?”

Sarah glared at the could-be intruder, her hand still on the sliding door handle. “You wouldn’t have trusted my words, anyway. You’d have them all checked out before you do anything. Don’t pretend that you trusted me for a moment.”

He narrowed his eyes. “I trusted you to help me. I would have checked the information for accuracy, not based on your judgment. But I don’t check planted information.”

Her eye twitched. “You’re bluffing. You’d check it. For the good of us all, you’d check. You want to stop Black Mask just as much as we do – ”

“No, you don’t.” He stepped inside her door and closed it behind him, and she backed up a few steps. “We’re not talking about Black Mask. He’s not a big threat. Not as much as Falcone, or Maroni. Not yet. What potential have you seen in him? He hasn’t done anything big yet. No. It’s not Black Mask. Who is it?”

She stumbled into the side of her recliner chair – the chair that she had sat in just a few minutes previously, portraying the man in front of her in a far more pleasant light. “You just broke into my house…” her voice trembled.

“You just aided and abetted a ‘criminal‘,” he said immediately, his voice sarcastic. “You gave me invaluable information today, Essen. I won’t be telling anyone this. So tell me who I can thank.”

She gulped quietly. “I suppose just me would suffice.” He stepped closer, and she fell back into the chair, her legs blocked between the arm and his own legs. He leaned down over her and peered into her scared, widened eyes.

“Tell your bosses I want a word with them. Find a way to contact them. I’ll be waiting.”

He stood back, but she lay still, paralyzed. She heard his footsteps as he walked back through the patio door.

“One more thing – you might want to buy some curtains.” She had hopped up at that comment, her face quickly coloring again, but he was already gone.

She wiped her hair from her forehead in confusion, her feet taking her to the patio door. Of course, she looked out and craned her neck to the sides, and of course, he was nowhere to be found.

It seemed that she had a call to make.

But first, she had yet another problem to take care of. She had never been more turned on in her life.

The rest was a decidedly happier memory. It was only after she had finished two more rounds of self-pleasure (her eyes completely focused on the deserted patio beside her), forced herself to sleepily rise from the chair, and stalked to her room when he stepped out of the shadows. She dialed the number and fell into bed, waiting for the phone to pick up. She murmured her keyword to whoever picked up the phone, and was told to please hold. As she was explaining her predicament to one of her superiors, absolutely certain she would be sent back to New York City, her wired phone was snatched from her hands.

Her neck could’ve snapped at the force she popped out of the bed, now fully awake. His voice rasped into the phone rather deeply, to the point where if she wasn’t so in shock and utterly frightened at what just transpired, she might have wanted to go another round.

He was half-way through threatening her boss when she stopped and realized that he couldn’t have just entered the room as she was dialing. He was waiting.

He was watching her.

Her mouth slackened as she subconsciously covered her clothed breasts. While she was watching the patio door as she fingered herself, only a small part of her had hoped that he was waiting until she went about contacting her superiors. But she had rationally assumed that he was long gone – he had a city to protect, after all. And he was watching her enough already. She had a feeling that she had been spied on all week.

It was beyond embarrassing that the hunch didn’t come to her as he watched her from the closest vantage point he had ever been.

Her fingers twitched; her gun in her drawer, while an easy way to take away her embarrassment, would do nothing to solve any long-term problems.

The man was a pervert. He had waited twice, technically three times for her to masturbate, and then stepped in to embarrass her even further. It was degrading. It was beyond humiliating.

He turned around, his teeth bared, his hand giving the plastic phone minute cracks and chippings as he interrogated her bosses through the phone. According to the raised voices on the other line, he was getting to them.

Her fingers twitched again. While she was worried for the welfare of her phone, she was distracted more by the rather obscene bulge in his skintight suit. She blinked once or twice, almost not believing the sight. She would have assumed that it was a jockstrap, according to the rather thin, seemingly sensitive, material he was wearing, but she had taken a glimpse or two when he was there earlier under more pleasing terms, and he was not sporting that earlier.

“We’ll be in touch,” he growled, before slamming the phone. He shook his head, and looked over to the side, his eyes glazed over. Then he refocused on her.

She licked her lips.

“Code name ‘J’,” he muttered to himself, several hours later. That was the only information he had gotten from the more corporate men in black, and he didn’t need to search the Batcomputer to find that he had never faced a big-time Villain with a name beginning with ‘J’ – strange, but true – so he had no idea who they were so worried about.

He suspected that they didn’t know anything. They had sent an intelligence agent that had gathered almost everything except where this ‘J’ was. That was how she came across the information she had, and didn’t tell the others in her force.

She didn’t want to sit on the information, and she came to him so he could use it. It was also why she had instant access to the database. She had been here for two months, on her six month mission, and had gotten nowhere. The database was useful for identifying key suspects in any unsolved murders, and would probably link her to ‘J’s past, and discover any trace to him whatsoever, but she hadn’t gotten any closer. She suggested to them the idea of a vigilante.

He heard a small muffled voice nearby. He reached over and picked up the cowl from the floor. He looked over to the peaceful sleeping form of Sarah Essen.

He knew she had already figured it out. Just a month earlier, she had shown up at his mansion, alone, to interview him. He had shamelessly flirted with her, wearing a loose bathrobe, and while at first she reacted almost neutrally, she quickly grew witty at her responses, and he caught her smiling once or twice.

‘Thank You,’ was the last thing she told him, shaking his hand as he led her out of his home. It was the sincerity in her voice that made him even more suspicious. He knew he had been too obvious and a touch too lewd – who flashed their crotch at a Police Officer?

He had Quinn put a tracker on her car while she was in the house, and he couldn’t help but notice that she went directly back to the station.

He lived in Vicki’s ‘public’ apartment for two weeks in response, fully expecting a raid. The fact that it never happened was the only reason she had his attention a week ago, when she asked him for his time.

Besides, it was a bit rude to make love to a woman wearing a mask – she didn’t seem to be unhappy that he shed it before they got past foreplay. In fact, she seemed more pleased at the thought that she was right.

“We missed the view – could you guys do it again with the mask on?”

Bruce groaned, and Sarah shifted a little, her arm draping across his chest. “I don’t think I’m up for it.”

Harleen giggled in the background. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“She has a point,” Vicki grinned. “But I hope you still have the stamina, at least – reported shots fired in the Bowery. I’m sending the Batwing to you with a more padded wardrobe change.”

Bruce was already slipping out from her loose grip, before kissing her forehead. “With some distance between here and there, right?”

“Of course,” she smiled. “Can’t have it land in her driveway, can we?”

Batman watched as a screaming Salvatore Maroni was apprehended and dragged out of the courtroom for having a deadly substance. It would have been more ideal to have someone – somehow – slip the vial out of his pocket and continue the trial without him knowing, but it would give a better case for the next trial. He smiled at the distinctly unnerved look Dent had before pocketing his goggles.

“I’ll call Grace and tell her the semi-good news,” Vicki muttered, sighing.

“Don’t feel too bad – he’s still going to jail for this.”

“Yeah, but it feels more… final, I guess, to get a sentencing… it just seems anti-climactic this way.”

Batman shrugged. “I got the result I wanted. Feel like celebrating?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Gray Ghost marathon?” He asked hopefully.

“You know I’ve seen them all, Bruce.”

“The fact that you have before I even met you was one of the many reasons I fell in love.”

She was quiet for a moment. “I’ll get out the VCR. Popcorn or Chips?”

Bruce smiled to himself as he flew into the night. “Surprise me.”

Author’s Note: Thoroughly enjoyed writing this chapter. I’m hoping my chapters get longer, but I won’t jinx it by promising.

Skintight Batsuit = Animated Series Batsuit = Stealth and espionage over action. That’s what I envision, anyway. You can choose whichever version would give her that reaction to him.

Next, we’re getting back into the actual game of Arkham Origins! More Harleen/Harley time!

Please, review. It makes me more excited to post this story, if I have feedback. I really like where I’m taking this, and I need to know if others are as into it as I am. Of course, I haven’t gotten into any actual story yet, but I still like to know what everyone thinks.

Hoping to get to Arkham Asylum by the time Arkham Knight comes out. I need to do something to pass the time.

My PSN is RihaanShim, in case you need a friend.