Thursday, September 29, 2005

200. Gustavus

It's been almost a week since the Client opened that case of his, and it's safe to say that things have changed significantly.

I know I've changed. Changed the way I think of him--I'm only calling him "the Client" here in an attempt to restore some focus to my thoughts, to remind myself that this is still a job, that I still have a task to perform, one which is far from complete.

I suspected long ago what Wayne's secret was, but I ... I couldn't believe it. The man who came to me for help was weak, timid, shattered. Possibly the biggest bottom I've ever seen. He had the tough exterior of a businessman, or the remnants of one, but he melted in my presence. He wanted to melt. He'd been fighting the demons inside himself for years, and he was ready to unleash them.

He's been an excellent pupil. Every time we meet I have seen the gleam in his eye--the longing to explore ever deeper and darker realms, to push himself to places he's never been.

Only now I'm not so sure about that. About not having seen these places before; a man in his shoes has seen more than most. But there was something holding him back from experiencing it all.

So: I suspected, but I did not know. Now that I do, so much about him makes sense.

After he opened the case last Friday, I said almost nothing. Tried hard not to reveal any response whatsoever. I thought for a moment that I still had it wrong: that this ... this thing he held in his hands represented who he wanted to be, not who he was. We stood there together in silence for what must have been half an hour, our eyes barely blinking, and when I was convinced this wasn't simply a fantasy on his part I sent him back to his quarters. I left that night and returned here to Gotham. I gave him written instructions to spend the time alone in quiet study as before; informed him I would be coming for him soon to continue our work.

That time has almost arrived.

Eventually, I will share something of myself with him--it must be said; there is no other way. But for now, we have other tasks to accomplish. This job is unlike any I have other done--but I have faith that I have been called to do it for a reason.

Friday, September 23, 2005

199. The omniscient narrator

The moment he was untied, Bruce Wayne left the main room and headed for his quarters. Along the way, he reviewed the events of the past summer: the time he'd invested in these sessions, and the intense sensations they had provoked within him. He remembered mornings he'd been ordered to crawl to Gustavus's side and remain there, on all fours, until his mentor reached down and mussed his hair. He recalled afternoons suspended in a sling while Gustavus conducted a series of "experiments" on his orifices with objects black and smooth... evenings bent doubled over a board until his legs went numb... midnight sessions with hot wax and cold ice. He heard once more the snap of a rubber glove over one of Gustavus's large hands, the crack of a whip as it headed for his bare back, the buzz of an electrical device attached to his flesh. He smelled leather and wood and sweat and oil and a host of chemicals intended to manipulate his body and mind, each in a different way.

He hadn't loved it all equally, but he had learned from each new exploration. His earlier training had given him practice dealing with all manner of abuse, but this time around he was taking stock of which treatments brought him ... pleasure, and how that pleasure could be used to lift his consciousness to another plane. This was not about making the world a better place, not about avenging his parents' death: this was about something entirely different. This internal quest, he was now convinced, was his true calling.

He knew, too, that his feelings for Gustavus were growing ever more powerful. He knew this was strictly a business transaction, and he knew, too, that this ever-growing emotional response was a necessary component of the "treatment," but neither of those facts diminished the intensity of what was happening.

It wasn't just Gustavus, either. There was Richard, and the Riddler, even Hugo Strange, and so many other men. A few of them he considered friends, most enemies--but he realized now those were simply categories intended to smooth over deeper concerns. There would be time, he knew, to revisit all these things--but for now, he had a mission. An assignment.

He headed straight for a slim black suitcase tucked away in the closet of his chambers, then returned to the room where Gustavus stood in waiting. He put the case down on a table and looked to his mentor for guidance.

"Open it," Gustavus said.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

198. The omniscient narrator

Bruce Wayne sat alone in the enormous room, naked, bound to a chair at the wrists and ankles. He'd been here for at least twelve hours, and he'd spent most of that period stiff as a board.

Solitary confinement gave him plenty of time to reflect back on the past month. The sessions with Gustavus had been put on hold for a week and a half when word hit that a massive storm had decimated much of the nation's southern coast. Wayne had sent two trucks of supplies to New Orleans days after the hurricane, only to find them turned away by confused and overly territorial officials. Outraged that no federal relief had yet arrived, he'd stormed into his senator's Gotham office and demanded that action be taken--but nothing came of it.

He felt powerless, a perception that only grew stronger as the days passed. Each day brought fresh reports of law enforcement officers walking off the job in a state of shock, sometimes even killing themselves. Lawlessness had gripped the land--and he, as Batman, was one man who could do something about it. Only he'd abandoned that job, a failure. It was too big, and he was too small. What use is a lone, broken being reduced to the level of "Object X" in the face of such a global catastrophe, he asked himself.

The Wayne Foundation seemed the best and only way that he could help, and he made relief efforts the organization's top priority for the immediate future. Then Richard contacted him--via Alfred--with a plan to head down South as a volunteer in the reconstruction. Bruce insisted on covering all of Grayson's expenses on the trip.

All of this made it hard to think about the dark path of self-exploration with Gustavus. The sessions seemed like an obscene luxury in the face of so much suffering. What right did he, millionaire Bruce Wayne, have to pay outrageous sums to have himself tormented and abused when, elsewhere in the nation, men, women, and children were desperate for a drink of water?

It was Alfred who convinced him otherwise. "Innocent people will suffer no matter what you do or don't do, Master Bruce," he'd said. "They have done so throughout history, and will most likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But at the moment you are suffering, too, sir--and you are unable to help them, or anyone else, until you first get help for yourself."

And so Bruce found himself here, bound to this chair, in a state of high arousal--merely the latest in another extended round of activities devised by Gustavus. He'd been caged, collared, shocked, whipped, suspended upside down, forced to drink and eat the foulest of substances, and otherwise treated like the lowest form of life. And he'd admitted, first to himself and then out loud, that this treatment brought him unspeakable satisfaction. Not pleasure, mind you: more a sense of calm, of tranquility, of empowerment. These were the things, he whispered ony to himself, that had first driven him to don a cowl and assume the life of a "caped crusader" of the kind he'd imagined as a child. Only now he knew he did not need to pretend that he was a hero, a crimefighter, anything but an explorer of private realms.

Gustavus entered the room silently and forcefully. His presence was, as always, unmistakable. He began untying Bruce.

"Before we began this latest session, I told you to bring something with you to the retreat center. Do you remember what it was?" Gustavus asked.

"Yes, sir," Bruce said meekly.

"Tell me."

"You told me to pack something that was the outward embodiment of my innermost self. An expression of all my hidden secrets. The one side of myself I have not yet shown you."

"And did you obey me?" Gustavus asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Then go get it and bring it to me. The time has come."

"I will, sir."

Sunday, September 18, 2005

197. Dick Grayson (letter from the coast of Mississippi)

Dear Bruce,
I know it's been a while, but ever since I got here I haven't had a second to sit down and write you a thank-you letter. It's way overdue, but given the circumstances I trust you can cut me some slack.

Everything has been moving so fast these last few weeks--not unlike the storm itself. It's kind of funny, because my life had slowed to a crawl over the spring and the summer, ever since I left you and the Manor.

I guess this isn't really the place to talk about that. I just hope you can somehow understand what it was like for me: knowing that a huge, unforgiveable mistake on my part nearly brought your life and my own to an end. There were times, when I got back to my own place and had to face the prospect of starting all over again from scratch, that I just wanted to destroy myself once and for all--to wipe out whatever remained of my identity after Dr. Strange had his way with me.

I want you to know that I missed you more than I can ever say. I just couldn't face you--and by "you" I mean both Bruce Wayne and Batman. I loved both sides of you, even if there were times I thought what I felt was something much darker.

It seems crass to bring up finances under the circumstances, but I'm going to anyway. I don't know how to thank you enough for your generosity. Even after I left the job of Robin, even after it seemed like you'd never see me again, you continued to send me those monthly checks, which meant that I didn't have to think about a job while I was trying to rebuild my shattered psyche.

And now you are paying for this extended trip down to the Gulf Coast! If I did have a steady job, there is no way I could afford to leave it for weeks, months, maybe a year, to do this work I am now engaged in, helping to rebuild this place. Alfred tells me that in addition to covering the cost of my travels, you have donated an immense amount to a host of relief-related charities. That doesn't surprise me, but it moves me deeply.

I wish you could see the things I have seen since I came down here. These people have lost everything. Crime is rampant, but much of it is driven by abject poverty. I spent several days in New Orleans battling roving gangs exactly like the ones we had to confront in Gotham, only these have been pushed to the point of sheer insanity. (That town needs a Batman even more than our own--I wish to god it could be you, but I know that I of all people can't ask that of you.) The kind of work I'm doing now does not involve a mask or a costume--but I know that I would not be able to do it without the training and the confidence you gave me.

I honestly don't know how long I'm going to stay. I feel like, in some small way, I am doing this in order to atone for the great damage I caused when I tried to play the role of your sidekick. Or maybe I'm trying to rebuild a community as a way of trying to rebuild my own battered coast. It sounds selfish when I put it that way, and I guess there's no getting around that. But I look at it, also, as a way to continue what I was doing as Robin, only in a different setting. Lord knows it calls for many of the same skills--skills I only possess because of your faith in me.

I hope you are well. I know we haven't spoken except through Alfred for ages now, and maybe one day that will change. But I sense that each of us has something we need to do for the time being, something we must do alone. Perhaps a time will come when ...

I don't know. I don't even want to speculate about what the future may bring. All I want to do right now is finish this letter, take a cold sponge bath (we still don't have any safe hot water), and get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be another long, long day.

We don't have much access to technology, so I don't know when I'll be able to write again. But please know that I am thinking of you. In more ways than one, I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for you.

Love always,