**Disclaimer to follow shortly but the bridging quote was courtesy of Ernest Hemingway.** She was holding his hand, feeling more than a little pathetic for it, but all the same… “You’ve hardly spoken since we’ve been back. Did Mr. Bruce say anything to you about our barging in so late?” “Only that we woke both boys and that the nurse was up all night settling them with warm milk and stories from that treasury of fables. He called them Prose Pacifiers…you will e-mail me when you’ve seen the doctor. I mean, either way.” She wished it was cold, then she’d have an excuse to cuddle closer, this being the middle of summer, she had to settle for his limp hand. She nodded and tried to appear girlish, twirling her skirt a little, “Yes Matt. You’ve been biting your nails again.” “I just wondered what the look on father’s face will be when you tell him, if you have reason to…I mean, it is a lot so suddenly. So many…June and David and Brucie and now…how did your mother put it over the telephone?” “Whatever God sends.” “Sentimental.” She sighed, “You’re leaving tonight, after dinner I know. But does Mr. Bruce or Ms. Selina know?” Matthew shook his head, “Father’s known since I came home for this last furlough. Andy told me Selina guessed as much when she saw him taking stock of my things. He’s good at that. He knew I’d need tar paper for the suits and moth balls and he chided me about letting those white bucks Selina gave me for Christmas get so dusty and dirty. He said he just wanted to pretend I was going on a long voyage. That I’d be perfectly…that I’d be alright. She didn’t want to think about it, she shut her eyes and changed the subject, “Edith is heading back up to Maryland. Andy’s really getting the hang of this father thing, but he scolds her so. They seem to fuss a lot.” Matthew shrugged, “That’s just their way I think. They just like picking on one another. He said if he can act like everything’s normal, eventually it will be. They’ll forget about all of last year and go on. He does want to be a good guy. He’s been calling the boy Teddy, and trying to sort of figure out the ‘father thing’ as you put it. But it’s not as though I have too many pointers.” “You do realize she was pregnant when she married Mr. Edward? For David to have been born so soon.” “He knows. He said he asked Selina about the forgiveness angle…that, she’s had to forgive my father a lot of things. Me and Terry…” She squeezed his hand. He shrugged again, “Come on, let’s swim.” She watched him trot towards Franklin’s pond and reveal his belted trunks, trying to picture him bloodied or disfigured. But all she could see was bronze skin, not sculpted but physically fit enough from football. He couldn’t go under with his bandaged ear but he began to dog paddle and splashed her a little. She tossed her towel next to his and slid into the water. They swam about and watched a group of kids from the neighboring houses kidding around, dunking one another. She felt his arm caress her shoulder and they began to tread water. He kissed her forehead, “I’m not scared.” “I am.” They hung in one another’s embrace, silent. *** The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places. *** Matthew stood in the doorway of his father’s study, all kitted out in dress blues, ready and waiting. Waiting to get tuff. Pure rugged. What have you. Bruce was ignoring him, rather characteristically. Father’s good friend, Cardinal Connor, was chatting with Melanie, Dick, Barbara and Francine in the parlor, trying to calm his wife’s nerves. Selina sat with Bruce. They all knew this was going to be a difficult evening for him. But only she knew of the fitful lack of sleep he’d worked through all night. She was nearly afraid to sleep in the same bed he’d become so violent this past week. She was reading a magazine and pretending to be content but not quite bored. When his boy headed off on the twenty minute walk to the station, out into the dark of their world, she’d shut the double doors and go to him and hold him. But right now their faces were chiseled stone. Remote. Matthew sensed the unsettledness and gently fingered his injured ear. Francine had washed and dressed it for him but now he’d be on his own. He set his hands in his pockets before quickly removing them; an officer didn’t go about in such a hell care manner. He cleared his throat and neither figured acknowledged him. He made a face of resignation and spoke up, “Father?” Bruce set the newspaper next to his coffee mug, “Matthew.” Matthew sighed, “I told the kiddies goodbye. They probably won’t remember a thing. I hope you don’t mind, I took Brucie out on your balcony and we had a good long talk, or at least, I did. He just sort of tried to eat my fingers. It’s a bit chilly out though and I’m sure Fran would have a fit if she knew.” Bruce finally chanced to look up at his son, ignoring the wavering of his eyesight. Just old age, he assured himself. Matthew crossed the room then and extended his hand for a shake, “Thank you for your grandfather’s watch. I’ll keep it near always.” Bruce nodded and standing, grasped the extended hand, “I’m sure you will.” He didn’t quite trust himself to say much else. He watched Terrence go off every night; never altogether sure the young man would make it back. But this was different. This was outside of Gotham, outside much of his sphere of influence. His name didn’t amount to a damned thing outside of the Western world, or perhaps, Japan. All it did was make his son a high value target, however far back from the front lines he happened to be. The thought honestly curdled his stomach’s content and he imagined he’d be quite sick once everyone had gone to bed. Matthew smiled calmly and placed his other hand atop theirs before letting go and coming around the desk. Taking a deep breath he bent forward and kissed his father’s head, “I’ll see you sooner or later Old Man. I promise. Look after my girl and boy for me won’t you?” Bruce shut his eyes and felt as though he couldn’t reopen them until Matthew had stepped back again, placing some sort of distance between them and that horrible finality. He felt the corners of his mouth tugging and turned away. Matthew then moved on and waiting until Selina set her reading material aside, gathered her into a generous embrace, “I’ll miss the hell out of everyone, especially you. You’ve been like a mother to me.” She accepted the wetness at her eyes and kissed him on the cheek, “Just come back in one piece and we won’t hold it against you.” Matthew’s smile waned and he waited a beat before whispering in her ear, “Please look after my dad. Don’t let him be too hurt.” She nodded, “I’ll try. See you sailor.” The young man then wiped his own eyes and left the room without another word. He went in and sat with the others for about twenty more minutes, kissed Francine longingly goodbye and going out again retrieved his hat. Leaving through the front door he met Andy at the end of the drive. They were silent until the raised wooden platform came into view. Andy spoke first, “I’m damned sorry to see you go Matt.” “I too.” “Don’t forget to send a few souvenirs from your exotic travels. Or at least drop a postcard or two.” “Don’t worry. You’ll get your letters. Don’t forget to write yourself.” Andy glanced at his hand, “Who writes letters nowadays beside old fogies and you military types? I can’t remember the last time I held a pencil.” “Only your own every time you hit the head eh?” Matthew grinned. Andy laughed, “Good one, good one.” Their amusement died out and they quickly hugged, “I’ll see you when you get back chum.” “Same here.” “How long are you all holding over at Gotham Central?” They heard the train approaching and sweat broke out thinly over their foreheads and necks, “Till three. Then it’s on to New York and out.” “Terry’ll be there. He’s probably waiting for you down there as we speak.” Matthew watched it stop and set his foot aboard, “See you And, I’m not worried.” Andy watched his cousin step in fully, the doors slide shut and the glowing cabin glide away. He wished for a cigarette but didn’t dare lest an Air Raid Warden see him, “That’s too bad Matty. I sure as hell am.” As a few light raindrops dotted his shoulders he turned his collar up and trudged back to the house. *** Melanie heard the back door open and talked over her shoulder, cutting fruit for June’s breakfast in the morning, “Did you catch him?” “Catch who?” She gathered the pieces of cantaloupe and set them in a bowl and pulled saran wrap to place over the top, “Matt. We missed you at dinner. Mr. Bruce and Ms. Selina each offered up a toast and Mr. Bruce gave him his grandfather Solomon’s pocket watch. All very hoopla. Cardinal Connor was over too and led the prayer and all. Then coffee and conversation in the parlor.” She could feel him nod, “Yeah, I caught him at the train station downtown. Ran like hell over. It’s pouring buckets.” She expected to hear the thwuck of rubbers being removed and the thud when they hit the floor, “I imagine you must be losing a lot of fellows to the service. In the offices and the factories…I was thinking about maybe getting my hands dirty. Maybe do some Red Cross work with Fran or something. Roll bandages; fix up care packages, what have you. God knows I thought about finagling a job on one of your assembly lines, sewing up parachutes or riveting the landing gear or something. Maybe I’ll build an airplane like Rosie the Riveter…have you ever heard of her?” She moved to turn, “Queenie will be aghast I’m sure…” She stared at him, her brow wrinkled. Her face went pale and she barely avoided dropping the bowl onto the floor. Terrence was standing there alright but someone had taken his head and sewn it onto the Batman’s body. But she knew better than that. Try though she might, she did know better than to second-guess what she was seeing. He was standing there, perfectly still at the back door, a limp black cloth in his hand. She imagined that was the mask. She took a deep breath and frowned before remembering there was a bowl of fruit in her palm. Calmly, she raised her hand and threw it at him. He dodged it easily enough, hearing its dull break in the corner, and she walked forward and slapped him across the face, once with each hand, “You’re a bastard.” He nodded sadly, “I know.” “An absolute bastard. And all of this time?” He shook his head, red prints already showing on each cheek. She moved to knee him in the groin but he caught her and held her in a full-nelson, “Mel, we both know if you felt like it, you could have at least broken a bone or two by now.” “What would possess you…?” she gasped, “What could…?” She slumped in his arms and he chanced to let her go. He watched her sink to the floor before joining her, his voice meek, “I’m sorry.” There was wetness at her eyes but she looked furious rather than sad, “Why? Why tell me? Why now?” “I’ve actually been trying to tell you for weeks. But every time I got started….When I caught Matt at the station he said that he’d told Francine about me.” She raised her chin, somewhat annoyed, “That wasn’t his place.” “Well he actually told her about Bruce, I was mentioned within that context.” “Your father, what’s your…?” Her eyes flashed in recognition, “Oh good Lord.” He nodded, “I knew if I waited to spit it out, Junie would be graduating high school before you’d hear anything…so I decided to show you. To man-up and show you. It actually went a lot better than I imagined.” “In what sense?” she looked at the broken dinnerware and fruit pulp and juice in an oozing pile at the baseboard. He gave her a sue-me smile, “I could have easily crawled out of here with a few broken ribs…or you could have run out on me.” She sniffed and drew her legs up, nodding, “If this had been a year or so ago, then yes. But since I spoke to Selina…I’ve felt differently, I can’t describe it better than that.” He reached forward and grasped her fingers, grateful when she didn’t pull away. Instead she turned and threw her arms about his neck, “That night, atop the cathedral…he—you, sounded so scared that I’d leave. I couldn’t quite put two and two together.” He pulled her closer, “I’m sorry Mel. For not telling you before now. I just…I have to be honest with you. I have to give you everything or nothing. That’s what you did for me. That’s what my brother did.” She sat back on her heels, “Was it…emotional?” Terrence hardened his features somewhat, letting the thought that he may never see Matthew alive again sink in, “Not really. We shook hands and he said he had every intention of coming back…but just in case he didn’t, for me to look after Bruce. To help him through it if I could. I told him to hurry up, do his job and come back. I only asked that he be honorable about it.” She nodded before letting her eyes run over his form “It was you all along.” He kissed her temple, holding her tighter, “I could tell you everything. How I got started, how he got started…” She shook her head into his shoulder, “Not tonight Terry. Just,” she took a deep breath, “don’t say anything else. Not tonight…are you going out?” He looked at her, “Not if you don’t want me to.” She reached up and tried to peel the suit off, not enjoying its intrusion. She had the distinct impression that they were being spied upon, “I’d prefer that you didn’t.” She had never held much affection at all for the dark knight and now the idea that he and her beloved were one and the same rumbled her stomach. She sat back calmly and stated, “I’m going to vomit.” He quickly escorted her to the downstairs half-bath and held her hair for her. She closed her eyes, “Please take that damned thing off.” He quickly did as he was told, tossing it into the hall and standing before her in his skivvies. She caught her breath as he ran a hand towel under cool water and held it to her forehead, “I like you better in your own skin if you don’t mind my saying so.” He nodded, patting her face with the cloth, “I hate to tell you but, my own skin hasn’t been too comfortable for a while now.” She sighed, remembering the tug and fit of her costume, “I…please don’t tell me you prefer Ten to me.” He cupped her chin in his hand, “No way no how.” She nodded then and set her hand at her stomach. Eventually they drifted to bed, leaving the small mess on the floor for morning. She slept quite hard when stressed and Terrence curled against her, listening as the sounds of dawn came in through the window. The hard part wasn’t even over yet, he reminded himself. There was still the matter of explaining everything about Waynes and Batmen once and for all. He grit his teeth and stared at the ceiling.