It was cold down below the surface in less than temperature and more in a damp sort of sensation. Like drowning in rain a half inch at a time. The reverse of slowly cooking a lobster to death but similar. She flicked a few strands of her dark hair off her shoulder to let them hang correctly in the ponytail.
Brooklyn Wayne chewed the inside of her cheek as she shifted from foot to foot, deliberating silently on her best options now that she accomplished her first initiative.
Coming to in the decaying recesses of an old tunnel started the night off badly enough, particularly as she took in those looming figures around her. Bane probably most of all considering her last memory of the man. If you could indeed call him a man; more like an evil Adonis with tattoos, tacky skin-tight clothing, and a mask.
When she went undercover she expected to see him again but she had not relished it. Harley was bad enough with her guns and sledge hammers, but adding others worsened things. Riddler was more insane than she expected for throwing the people she met together.
Even though falling back on her flippant mask to joke about waking up cuffed to a chair got her a few chuckles, it did nothing to make her feel more in control. Facing a hard lineup of decided enemies surrounding her was reminiscent of landing in Arkham only to revive for a pummeling. Experience even more related to that unfortunate occurrence since John was there to grin at her with too much enthusiasm in both cases.
The night decidedly did not improve much from there, not that she expected it would. There was a reason she never involved her real face with these types of settings. Even now, if there was any choice, she wouldn't be doing this. All the same, she found herself on the "doorstep" of her only friend in the camp, wondering how exactly he managed to create this interesting version of a home.
Though, the welcome banner was an odd but endearing touch from John. She almost laughed when she saw it. It was more welcoming than the cuffs had been.
She adjusted the hat she borrowed from Alfred and straightened the leather jacket because she was admittedly stalling.
When she knocked she got a distant "yeah?" from inside to let her know he was there. Peeking inside let her watch his face light up, jade color eyes sparking. The collar of his dress shirt was still skewed but she had long since given up the urge to fix it every time she saw him, accepting it as part of his personality. He dress nicely, always at least moderately professional, surprisingly. It made her wonder if he'd always been that way outside the asylum.
His cobbled together remnants of the past in a hospital was accentuated by his old uniform hanging up and pictures with doctors tapped or nailed proudly to the decrepit walls. The wheelchair he was sitting in was a giveaway too. His home was as disturbing as she expected it might be after having been in the former doctor Quinzel's office. The masks and creepy drawn on smiles were a trend with both of them.
"Hey, buddy," the way he clapped his hands together was so childlike regardless of his sometimes sinister quality, "it's always so good to see you... Like, so good."
His smile was so abnormally large, always too wide for any other person, particularly for how long his facial structure was, but it fit on his face the way it never would on anyone else. Everything about him was abnormal, honestly, yet somehow fit.
"Always good to see you, John." It was sweet because she thought he really meant it and she couldn't help responding in kind.
She already missed him if he was not around. His energy and wide grins were infectious. A foolish part of her wanted to cling to him for her own protection and to protect him from everyone else as well. If she was not careful she could get even more attached. Situations like this were how people formed unhealthy dependence issues.
"Thanks for letting me come in." She cleared her throat awkwardly, a little wrong footed in this situation. "And for the general welcome, the banners and all that."
"Oh, sure! You're welcome! You know, Brooke, you're always welcome with me!" John beamed, "Always! Any time, day or night, say the word."
"Day or night huh?" She chuckled lightly, "Careful making offers like that. You don't want people waking you up at two or three in the morning, you'll regret the offer really fast."
"Not for you." John assured her, "But anyway. I've been wanting to say, Brooke, thanks for helping me out before, at your office, making me look good." Of course, John would thank her for that, something she really had not enjoyed at all. If anything, she owed John something for staying quiet about Tiffany. Things could have gone so much worse if he had not been on her side. He picked her in that vs battle when she feared his loyalty to Harley would win out.
She plastered a simple, unaffectedly yet pleased look on her face, "Hey, I'm just glad everything worked out." Which she really, really was, even if it had not worked as well as she might have hoped for.
"Did it ever!" He just looked so happy, seemingly believing her slight dodge of the issue and taking it at face value. "Handing that Key to Harley, giving her what she wanted... Pure ecstasy!" Yeah, that was not worrying at all! That devotion and twisted loyalty to someone dragging an already unstable man into places he should never go.
Her lack of personal enjoyment over the issue must have shown, or maybe he just realized how his wording must have sounded, because his smile turned nervous before it fell off his face, leaving him to sag with shoulders slumped, "It was a big moment for me." He told her like a defense.
Brooke tried to smile, she really did, but listening to him talk had her extensively worried. Not that she hadn't been before, of course. "I'm sure... there will be... a lot more chances for you to... show off." What could she say?
"And I'll bet I'll owe them to you, again!" He grinned, letting her know that wasn't something he considered negative. He was nothing like the men she worked with in the business world who took such things as declarations of war.
"I'm sure you don't need me for that. I'll help you any way I can though... of course. If you need anything." Preferably nothing to do with crime. "And, you know... we'll still be friends after this is over so... I could help you other ways too." Like getting him out of a tunnel and into an apartment with nice people around him. She could buy a building he could have all to himself if needed.
"You're the best! Like I always knew you were." He held up his pinky finger, still trying to explain things to her, she thought, "I shoulda known right when we pinky-sweared that everything would work out great!"
"Yeah..." Just great. What would he say if he knew the truth? She nodded absently, diverting her eyes to keep herself from shaking the sense back into him. He was not well and he could not really be held responsible the way most of the others could. But then, maybe all of those people were crazy too. They all had a healthy checklist of signs for a lot of mental issues. Maybe they had all been like John at some point. Too bad no one had been around to save them. Too bad she was in such a poor, precarious position or she might be able to help John before he turned into them.
Leaning his elbows on his knees, his face twisted up into a sweet little look of concern, John studied her, "Something wrong, buddy?" Every time he called her that it reminded her how out of his depth he was outside Arkham as far as social norms.
She could not look at him directly for long, but also could not look away for long, "I just don't..." Brooke cut off the 'don't want to see you end up like them' because she could not admit that when she was supposed to want to be 'one of them'. She opted for something else closer to acceptable, the reason she came to talk to him because Batwoman was needling in the back of her mind for efficiency. "Harley wants me to try to get in good with Bane and Freeze-"
John cut in with enthusiasm, so eager to cheer her on, "I think you're well on your way to doing just that." Such a sincere look on his face!
"You think?" She tried not to sound sarcastic.
"Oh, absolutely! No one could resist you for long! You're Gotham's best known, most loved humanitarian! They call you 'Gotham's princess!""
"Not recently..." She chuckled, making as light of it as possible. "And I'm pretty sure Bane wanted me dead before I got here..."
"Give them time! Everyone loves you! I know they do, even if they don't know it yet! Things will work out and you'll show them all!" So enthusiastic, eyes bright like a Christmas tree.
He was literally always her biggest cheerleader, constantly building her up, praises on his lips for her. She never had such a fervent admirer, and one so willing to forgive her any wrong. He said she was his pal, his buddy, but even after he denied being in love with her, she questioned it. Part of her, a shameful little part, wanted him to.
What she would do with him if his obsessive friendship turned to more, she had no idea. She could see him turning into a stalker very easily. Just this once she might not even mind. Though how she would explain it to anyone else, she couldn't say. Nor did she care to examine the possibilities. It was not a good path.
She could already picture Alfred's face if she tried to explain why she invited John to dinner and how it was they first met if he was not already perfectly aware of John's criminal association. Being aware would make that look all the more interesting, the eyebrow raise a bit higher. Fatherly disproval building like a storm cloud behind the man's diplomatic facade.
Besides, how twisted was it to want to turn his pure, honest friendship into anything else when friends were too precious a commodity to risk. It was the way of society pages to want to turn every friendship into a scandal. Normally it was men wanting to be more than friends with her, and her wishing they could just accept friendship as a valid option for once. Ever conflicting, those pesky emotions.
Relationships were complicated and too dangerous for someone with her sheer amount of secrets. She didn't need that and neither did he. He already had a twisted enough relationship with Harley. Friends were rare and they were very nice to have. They were better than any love affair. She was content to have him as a rare friend. Of course she was!
"I'm glad one of us thinks it's going well." She muttered not particularly enthused, even with his assurance. More than likely she was going to end up dead on this undercover stint.
"It is, Brooke, it is! You're gaining on them! I mean, you're still alive so that's a good sign. It's a great sign! And, I've been doing..." he continued, eager and nervous in one, "you know... what I can to help, too..." Her confusion was both at the conversation and trying to gather her mind back to hand, "You didn't catch it?" He asked coyly.
She felt suddenly out of the loop.
"When it looked like Bane might kill you, I set off that E.M.P." He chuckled like it was a great scam he pulled off, one he was flippant but proud of, "You know, as a distraction. Thought it might give you a chance to show off your technical skills in front of Freeze."
A moment of memory, John with his hands raised, backing away from Freeze, breath a hot cloud in the fridged air. Good God!
"You didn't!" Her terror might have been peeping through because he had the decency to look sorry.
"Trust me, it was the easiest way to sway Freeze and get Bane off your case. You couldn't show off your skills if nothing went wrong, right? Skills like that are the only thing I think Freeze really respects." John finished simply like it had all been ordinary, something anyone would do.
Too many things flashed through her mind, gratitude was one of the most prominent but maybe fear was even higher. Her fingers were shaking and she didn't know why they wouldn't stop. He should never have risked it! Never! It was too dangerous! Though she was more than slightly in debt. He deserved her gratitude, and acts of kindness rather than violence should be encouraged, lest he turns into the others. Reward first, then her gut reaction to warn him away from being so utterly reckless on her behalf ever, ever again!
She took a deep, steady breath, "Thank you. Really." For a rare moment she allowed her emotion into her voice, let the affection and gratitude bleed into her response honestly, "...I owe you my life, John."
"It's what pals do. I know you'd do the same for me." He was so confident in it, and he wasn't wrong.
She would have done it for him if things had been reversed. He had a more firm grasp on friendship than she expected. There was more good in him than she once thought. He might have relied on some interesting rules of friendship in Arkham, but he was potentially the most selfless person she ever met, or simply that insane. She would think him ingenuine but he just seemed too real to be faking it. His emotions were ever on his sleeve, for good or bad.
His lies seemed mostly a twisting of words and simple omission. She couldn't say she thought he was skilled at it. Maybe he was even honest at his core considering how he usually owned up to his omissions, like at the bar when he confessed Riddler's involvement.
He had seemed honestly worried while she was in danger. Now that he pointed it out, she had noticed his perpetual glances while he fiddled with the machine. She saw the way he winked at her, knew the "whoopsie" had been less than genuine. In the chaos following she never had time to ponder it or even remember it. Puzzle out the why of the events.
But she refused to see it happen again. She would not rely on him like that.
She leaned forward a little more, "But that was too dangerous, John. I don't want..." there was a momentary flash of the man that died saving her from Bane the last time, "you getting hurt because of me. Don't take a risk like that for me again, please?" A voice, traitorous and dark, reminded her it wouldn't be the first person in a long line to die helping her.
Maybe he saw more of her than she planned the way his brows arched in surprise for a moment before he nearly dissolved into a puddle, his features at least. He looked at her so fondly, gentle the way she had only seen a few times. "I wasn't worried. And wouldn't you know it...? Ya nailed it!"
He risked his neck around all those murderous lunatics, put himself in danger with no definite way to get back out other than her. That was a lot of trust and a lot of recklessness. He might as well have been undercover with her for all he risked. He saved her life, again. She had a moment, flashing back to the first time she ever saw the man, that lightning-fast reflex, the quick way he put down two men, and that truly unnerving smile shining down at her. He growled about those men not being "nice" like it was both a crime of the century and biggest understatement of the year.
"Maybe, but that's not really the point." She pressed, not satisfied.
"Sure it is! We have each other's backs! That's all that matters." He smiled wide and happy, handsome in the strangest of ways that made her heart swell with fondness and something protective.
Still, there was something else bothering her about the new information. "John, how did you do that? How did you know..."
John's expression turned incredulous, "Know Bane was going to kill you? Seemed like a safe bet."
"No, no, not about that. Lucious would've put safeguards on the E.M.P. to keep you from doing exactly what you did."
That look turned sly but he tried to hide it, "Then I guess we both got really lucky."
Who on earth had this man been before he was committed? He was far more than he seemed, probably more than anyone gave him credit for. Luck had nothing to do with outsmarting Lucious' gadgets. It would take some serious intelligence or prior familiarity. Considering he knew entirely too much about he father, could he once have been an employee? Perhaps, in another life, worked with Lucious on a project? As far as she knew, Fox never saw a picture of John, and even if he had, who knew how much green hair changed his appearance since there was no way it was natural.
A loud yell, some kind of command from Bane made Brooke jump, honestly jump, jerked forcefully from her thoughts. She felt so safe in John's little home she forgot for a moment how close the battlefield still was. She clasped her hands over her knees, trying to find that center where the Bat rested in her.
Harley was mostly in hand. Sisterhood and a lot of guesswork fast-talking, and also John, helped win that.
Freeze, she felt she could handle. As John said, there was only one thing he respected, and she had already demonstrated her skills for him. That look and the slight nod from him told her what she needed to know. She had his attention, for the good or ill. Powers or not, she could use her wits with him and hopefully come out of it with her blood still pumping and unfrozen.
She was afraid of Bane, deep down in that fleshy, sour, untouchable place she left everything she did not want to face fester. He nearly killed her. She was still hurt from their last tangle. Looking at him was enough to tell her the first time that her usual tactics would not be enough. Facing him, she understood that he was stronger so she would have to be that much better; she thought she was better, if only by the sheer need to be, until he used that substance and got that much stronger. Batwoman was not cowed and she did not give up, but failing stung deep. One man did not normally best her but he ground her under his heel. It shook feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability loose inside her, which she never handled well.
Batwoman would never be afraid of him, but Batwoman and all her tools had nearly been killed so where did that leave Brooklyn in the flesh? She hated it when he grabbed her, displaying her lack of control and power, dangling her in the air like a doll. She hated being picked up but having it done like that, cuffed and at the mercy of others, that was unpleasant on too many different levels. She understood it for the mind game it was but understanding did not lessen the burn of it against her pride.
She never wanted to see the man again let alone try to win him over. There was no choice though.
"How do you do it?" She asked before she could think it over, just floored by John's ability to face down absolutely anything without blinking. It was like nothing frightened him.
He cocked his head to one side, bird-like, questioning, "Do what?"
"Face them every day? I suppose. Bane... Freeze... Freeze doesn't worry me as much as Bane. He's logic and calculation without much emotion, but Bane is a fanatic, driven by imagined ideals he seems to make up as he goes, from what I can tell. His code seems to change when it fits him, he's volatile." She didn't use the word fear because that would seem weak, using worry sounded less pathetic.
He watched her a moment before standing slowly, straightening his back at the very end, like he was stiff. He tugged open a drawer and pulled something from it before he came to her side, sitting beside her even though he must only have had a sliver of space to sit. He grinned that happy show of teeth she used to find sinister but now found entirely endearing.
When he snapped the old style cut throat straight razor open inches from her face, she didn't flinch. It surprised her to realize it was not to do with her training but because she knew bone-deep that he would not hurt her. She trusted him implicitly, even with a blade right under her nose. She took a look at it, at the shiny, slender green handle, noticing the little HA HA's painted on in purple.
"This is my lucky razor." He explained excitedly.
That was his explanation? But no, he got that wrinkle between his brows, focusing, searching for words.
"I've noticed that you don't keep any kind of weapon on you, which is fine. It's not really the best idea to carry things openly around here when you're new, but I'd imagine it might make you feel... less equipped." John shut it and placed it gently into her palm, "Not that I'm saying you should ever pull it, but if you ever really, really needed something, you'd know, in the back of your mind that this is hiding in your pocket. I think... it might... give you a little confidence boost." He grinned so wide at her she thought even he might split his lip, "That's all you need! Just a boost, a shot in the arm. I know you've got this! All you need is to remember that."
Her fingers curled around the blade. The gesture was odd but also indescribably sweet, as was the little pep talk. He really had so much faith in her, or he let her think he did. It was... it made her chest feel warmer inside. Having someone so devoted, so in her corner was unfamiliar. Alfred was always there for her, but usually, other people were less consistent. Friends one day, enemies the next. Harvey had been the closest, but that ended rather poorly. John might be her new, less politically inclined, Harvey. Hopefully, this friendship did not end the way that one did. She was running admittedly low on friends since her father's criminal reveal. John though, he knew a lot of her darkness and didn't shun her. He saw her soft side and her claws, and somehow, liked them both. She did not know anyone else like that.
It sort of made her throat want to close up. She hoped John did not end up like Alfred either, teetering on a breakdown after everything he was put through because of her. Her "piercing accident" would always remind her of what she nearly lost.
He stood and she stood with him, expecting the talk to be over. She even started to leave, but his hand on her shoulder stopped her. His body pressed up against her back when he reached around her to wiggle a full bottle beside her ear.
"Bane loves that beer. I bought some for when I need to talk to him. He's scarier than anybody in Arkham." He settled the bottle into her hand, "It can't hurt to bring it along when you talk to him."
Telling her he was afraid too, letting her share a vulnerability with him might have been the kindest part of that.
She gripped the neck of the bottle, turned to face him, and did what she almost never did. Chin settling onto his collarbone, she circled her arms around his narrow waist, "Thank you, John. For everything. You're a better friend than I deserve."
He made a little choking sound and she thought she might have overstepped somewhere, but he hugged her back with sudden fierceness. Too tight for her tender ribs, and she struggled not to groan at the unintentional abuse, "Brookie, don't say that. You're the best friend a guy like me could ask for. I'll always help you if I can."
She let herself relax into the hug even if it hurt a bit. "Best friends forever." She echoed the cheezy line that usually did not ring true. Forever was a long time. It was a comforting sentiment though, all the same.