Well, I've always thought so, anyway. There you are scared spitless, finding every excuse you can, snatching at them like candy, without the vaguest idea of what to say, all vulnerable and exposed. I *hate* that. But today, I promised myself as I dressed hurriedly, is going to be different. For once I knew just what I wanted to say to Jean-Paul.
Starting with, "Thanks."
Thanks for wanting me. Thanks for making me feel worthwhile. Thanks for caring.
Hey, I can dream can't I?
I was all the way at the bottom of those endless steps, looking around eagerly for Jean-Paul before my bubble burst. I was still nervous as hell; that's why I missed it at first. There were two voices coming from the Cave ... two different sets of noises. One of them I recognized instantly, of course.
"No, that's not right," instructed Bruce. "Lead with your right foot. Otherwise you're off balance and vulnerable."
"Like so?" Jean-Paul inquired.
I frowned. There's this tiny little spot at the base of my spine where the Joker once shot me that goes numb when I'm really, really frightened.
Before I knew what I was doing, I slipped into a convenient shadow. Oh yes, I've learned an awful lot from Bruce. Not all of it pleasant. On the mats I saw Bruce guiding Jean-Paul through the motions of a complex tuck and roll, their bodies pressed very close together.
I've got to hand it to Bruce. He was handling Jean-Paul's little games a lot better than I did. But then, nothing much phases Bruce. If I hadn't figured that out by now, then I wasn't paying attention. Like an idiot I was still holding the damned rose. It was starting to wither and die and it had already lost that intoxicating sweet smell. I moved to throw it away but stopped. As I watched the two of them on the mats, my teacher and my would be lover, I began plucking the petals off one by one. You know, the old, "he loves me, he loves me not" game.
Guess which it foretold.
"You," he remarked, "look like you need some exercise." I saw him toss a bo-staff at the Dark Knight. Bruce managed to catch the yew wood weapon, but I watched his suddenly nerveless fingers tremble.
"I need - something..." I heard him agree.
When that stone melting smile blazed forth once more, I closed stinging eyes. So I didn't see Jean-Paul's face when he spoke. But I could *hear* him well enough.
"I know what you need," Jean-Paul said. "I know *exactly* what you need."
My stomach spasmed and for a moment I was in serious danger of spilling those marvelous blueberry pancakes of Alfred's all over the Bat Cave floor. I couldn't feel my feet.
Jean-Paul stepped forward lightly on the balls of his feet, blue eyes sparkling. "If you want something, mon ami, then come and take it," he challenged, his soft, lilting voice making subtle music of the English language.
Like I said: it's the accent.
When Bruce looked his opponent up and down with slow care, taking in the broad chest, the narrow waist, the flat stomach, I paled. Awestruck, I watched a single drop of salt sweat trickle from the hollow of JeanPaul's throat down to the swell of a sculptured pectoral muscle. For just an instant, it hung from the edge of one dark nipple. Then, like a coy lover, it hurried its glistening way over the washboard stomach to plunge beneath the waistband of the gi hugging his narrow hips and disappeared. It wasn't just my imagination that Bruce swallowed hard. His throat worked silently but his eyes gave him away.
You can always tell when Bruce wants something really bad. Not even anger turns his eyes quite so dark. I was almost 17 before I learned to recognize that look after an encounter with Selena or Talia. Mostly, he gets it when he wants something he can't have.
Bruce had to grab for the bo-staff to keep it from slipping out of his traitorous fingers. He just barely caught it and Valley chuckled low in this throat.
"And if you lose," he said, with the devil staring out of his sapphire eyes, "I get *you*."
Bruce doesn't like rock and roll. Jazz is his forte. He likes the sleek mathematical progression of tones; the complexity of rhythm appeals to the puzzle solver in him. The sharp, biting beat of Gene Kruppa's drum's, the dexterous sweetness of Duke Ellington's piano or the soft cry of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong are more his style. In particular he doesn't like Bruce Springsteen. The Boss irritates the crap right out of him. But that didn't seem to stop him now.
"Did she go away and leave you here all alone?
With the end of his bo, Jean-Paul reached out and divested the sweating Bruce of his mesh shirt, sending it flying into a forgotten corner. "That's better," he advised. With a flick of his supple wrist, he sent Bruce's bo-staff flying out of The Batman's unresisting hands. A heartbeat later, the former Azrael tossed his own staff aside to join it. Crouching in a defensive stance, he gestured his opponent forward with a predatory smile. And still, I listened, mesmerized, as Springsteen sang on.
"Tell me now, baby is he good to you?
Bruce shook his head to clear it and eased forward. Their first exchange was indecisive to my well trained eye. Valley spun away from Bruce, side stepped, and unleashed a Flying Dragon Kick that left the larger man hard pressed to avoid the blow. Come on, Bruce, I cursed, you can do better than this! Quickly, Valley reached out to grab Bruce's passing ankle but he was too late. Twenty years of deadly experience let Bruce Wayne, The Batman, Gotham's Dark Knight sail past his reaching opponent, roll, and spring to his feet behind Jean-Paul. Overhead on the PA, the Boss crooned in our ears.
"Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby,
Almost before I could breathe, Jean-Paul found himself on the mat staring up into Bruce's bright blue, hooded eyes. How many times, I wondered, had I seen those same eyes staring down at me?
But never quite like this.
"At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
As he straddled Jean-Paul's prone body, I glimpsed Bruce's eyes when he stared down at the young man I had trusted with so much of myself.
"Are you sure about this, Jean-Paul," he asked quietly. Staring up at my mentor and teacher, Azrael smiled like an angel.
"Oh yes," he said softly, "I'm sure. Very sure."
Bruce let the fingers of one hand whisper up the inside of the younger man's thigh, gliding over the swell of flesh he left in his wake. I saw Jean-Paul's toes curl and Bruce smiled against the tanned skin. I remembered then that Azrael, beautiful as he is, is the Angel of Death and Vengeance. Warm, moist lips kissed their way up to the hard nub of one nipple. Covering it with his mouth, Bruce nipped playfully and I listened as Jean-Paul gasped in pleasure.
"Can you groan for me, Azrael?" Bruce demanded.
Throwing back his head and arching his back, Jean-Paul Valley obliged with a groan that made water of my knees, then pulled an answering moan from deep in Bruce's broad chest.
Then Jean-Paul leaned forward, banishing all distance between them as he pressed his lips to Bruce's. It was a chaste kiss, a seeking kiss, testing for a response that my eyes told me Bruce was more than eager to give.
And whatever else he is, hero or villain, lover or cold seductor, Jean-Paul Valley is no saint.
Jealousy is an ugly thing. As I watched them, it gripped me with bloody talons that ripped and tore at me mercilessly.
At the time it never occurred to me to ask myself which one of them I was jealous *of*.
Arching his neck, Jean-Paul's long blond hair fell across his face. But even that couldn't hide the sight of those full lips drawn into a small, round O of perfect bliss.
"Ah, Dieux!" cried Jean-Paul, "Ah! Ah!"
French is a great language for passion, isn't it?
Bruce brushed aside the strands of Jean-Paul's sweat slick hair, the feather-light tendrils teasing his nipples. He kissed his way down the muscled chest until he came to Jean-Paul's gi. With his fingers Bruce traced the outlines of Jean-Paul's hard, rising flesh through the thin cotton fabric. I had to unclench my hands. I didn't even notice the small, bleeding wounds my fingernails left behind until much later.
Joey always told me that I had a strong streak of masochism in me. I thought he was joking. But, standing there, watching the two of them make love, I was proving him righter then he ever knew, wasn't I? I glanced down at my denuded rose. On it's way out of my hand the thorns (all that was left of it now) drew blood one last time.
Bruce ghosted his lips over the hard ridges of Jean-Paul's chest. When Bruce lifted his eyes to Jean-Paul's it seemed to me that his whole body shook. From out of the roots of Bruce's dark hair a rosy sexual flush crept, spreading like fire until it engulfed his body entirely. His skin shone in the bight lights of the Cave, glowing like burnished cooper.
The same thing used to happen to Wally. Sexiest thing I ever saw. Always turned me on something fierce.
I brought my hands together loudly and started to clap slowly, methodically, the sound echoing eerily in the vastness of the Cave, reflecting back thunderously from the walls.
"Hey!" I called out to them, "that was spectacular. I'm some kinda impressed."
To his credit Bruce scrambled away from Jean-Paul and snatched at a towel to cover himself. For a moment he looked as if he were waiting impatiently for the earth to open up and swallow him. Jean-Paul only smiled that angelic smile.
"Dick ..." Bruce hissed.
"Bruce," I snarled, "if you say one more word, I'll hurt you. Honest to God, I'll find some way to hurt you. So please shut up. Just shut the hell up." He must have believed me because he remained silent. Jean-Paul studied me from out of the depths of those blue eyes. Quickly, he strode to my side.
"You are both great fools," he said pleasantly. "Neither of you can see the truth, can you?"
"You," Jean-Paul lifted my lowered chin, forcing me to look up into those startling eyes. I didn't want to, God knows. "When you dream," he inquired, "when you dream yourself into your perfect lover's embrace, whose face do you see?"
From my dreams last night a pair of smoky blue eyes stained so dark with passion they were almost black came back to me.
"Not mine, is it?" said Jean-Paul, sadly. With one long, elegant finger he traced the curve of my cheek, then lowered his hand slowly, his fingers curled neatly into his palms. I wasn't the only one whose palms would bear scars from this, I realized.
"No, not mine," he said and this time his voice was bitter as brine.
Jean-Paul's eyes don't darken like the ones in my dreams. They're always a clear dark blue, sparkling like the gems they resemble. So, he was right. They weren't his eyes. I remembered the many times I watched Bruce drive and expend himself with practice after The Catwoman lead him on another merry chase. I could almost hear Selena's mocking laughter.
No, not *Jean-Paul's* eyes.
My horror must have shown in my face. Jean-Paul nodded imperceptibly before he turned that calculating visage on Bruce.
"And *you*," he cried. "How long will you hide like this, huddling from the world and yourself like a frightened child behind your carefully erected walls of silence? Do you even know if there's anything of *you* left behind them anymore? Where is Bruce Wayne?" He lay his hands on either side of Bruce's still face.
"He's in there somewhere," Jean-Paul pleaded. "I know he is. He made love to me just now. He held me in his arms. He was happy. Bruce Wayne not The Batman. The Batman needs none of these things. But Bruce Wayne does." He stepped back to give us both a better view of him.
"Look at me," he said. "Do either of you see *me*? No, I think not. You see only one another. When you made love to me you were making love to one another. I was only the conduit." He turned to me. "I never meant to hurt you. You were alone ... and so was I. I thought - " he shook his head as if to clear it of a foolish notion. "But when I knew the truth, I thought I could help you both."
I dropped my eyes in shame. But Bruce is bolder than I am; he never wavered, only frowned slightly.
"Jean-Paul - " he began, but Azrael cut him off with an abrupt gesture, sharp like the blade of his ionic sword.
"You need each other," he declared. "You want each other. I'm not even a real person and even I can see that."
I bit back anger. "What do you mean you're not a real person," I demanded. "Of course you're a real person!" I saw Bruce nod and toss me a pleased glance, but he held his silence. He always does.
"I'm not, you know," Jean-Paul closed his eyes in pain. "The Order Of St. Dumas made me. Fashioned me the way you would craft a fine blade or an object d'art. A little of this gene from there, a bit of that animal from this DNA sequence. They designed me to kill their enemies. I have no other purpose." He reached and grabbed a handful of his beautiful long blond hair, pulled it out and threw it to the floor. Fat droplets of bright red blood trickled down his neck over his ear.
"Chamophlage," he insisted, "false beauty to hide the ugliness beneath." He reached for another handful of hair. Alarmed, I flung my arms around him to stop him before he could hurt himself again. I have no idea what I had in mind if he resisted me. But he didn't. Instead, he sagged into my embrace, laying his head on my shoulder.
"Ah Dieux!" he mourned, "pardonne moi, ah Dieux!"
It's easy to forget how religious he is. After all, he was raised a very devout Catholic by people who consider themselves priests and nuns. He's not ostentatious about it but most Sundays will find him in Gotham at St. Thomas Cathedral. There's a tiny out of the way room in the Manor that used to be a chapel when Silas Wayne first built Wayne Manor more than a century ago. It's a reading room now, but the beautiful stained glass windows are still there. More than once I found Jean-Paul there, on his knees, praying. I used to wonder, but I finally decided that Bruce believes in God. I'm not sure he believes in salvation; but he believes in God, alright.
You don't get that angry at someone or something that doesn't exist.
Me? I'm neutral.
"You've got to forgive yourself first," I told Jean-Paul, stroking his hair, holding him tightly. "God'll fend for himself."
"J'l'animal," he accused and his shoulders shook. "J'n'ai l'aime ..." My French is lousy but Bruce can parlon Francais with the best of them.
"Who told you that!" he cried. "You are NOT an animal! Don't ever let me hear you say that again! I don't make love to animals. And if you can worry about not having a soul then I think that answers that question right there." Jean-Paul almost flinched when Bruce reached out to touch him.
But Bruce was suprisingly gentle when he wiped the blood from the side of Jean-Paul's slender neck. Calmly, he pressed a towel to the seeping wound.
"You'd better have Alfred take a look at that on your way out," he said and brought a smile to my face.
"Uh huh," I assured Jean-Paul, recalling the endless bowls of hot chicken soup, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and peanut better and grape jelly sandwiches of my youth, "Alfred always makes everything better."
Jean-Paul looked steadily at Bruce, his face still, prepared for rejection. The muscles of his jaw tensed.
"And where will I be going?" he asked subdued.
"To your apartment to gather your things," said Bruce and Jean-Paul's eyes widened. "You'll be moving in here."
"I - I *will*?" he stumbled over the simple words.
"Well, you're going to need clothes, at least occasionally," Bruce returned smoothly. "And I may be a wealthy man, but I draw the line at buying clothing for other people." Jean-Paul smiled. And this time it reached and warmed those remarkable eyes.
"Yeah," I supplied, mocking at grimness, "as a couturiere he sucks. Trust me on this. He used to dress me. White sweaters, blue blazers, button down shirts and navy slacks all over the place. You don't wanna know. It was an ugly sight."
When Jean-Paul hurried away with light, joyous steps, Bruce and I just stared at one another for a long time. There was so much to be said. Where to start? Bruce ran tentative fingers through my hair and I shivered.
"You let your hair grow," he said, apropos of nothing, stumbling in the darkness looking for a light.. He finally smiled. "I like it. It suits you."
Oh God, this wasn't going to be easy. But nothing worth fighting for ever is, is it? And I've always been a fighter. So has Bruce. I reached out and took his hand in mine. I remembered all the endless hours of practice; all the things he'd taught me. I remembered his patience and the many times he caught me safely when he was teaching me to fly over the rooftops of Gotham in the night. I was always safe with Bruce.
"Don't worry," he'd say, "I won't let you fall."
"You don't have to be afraid," I told him softly. "Everything's gonna be okay." He didn't say anything. But his eyes told me a lot about fear. He was very frightened. I squeezed his hand. At the sound of my voice his eyes grew trustful and calm.
"Don't worry," I assured him, "I won't let you fall."