Title: A Conversation and a Corpse
Universes (Crossover): Batman and Neil Gaiman's Sandman
Rating: PG (to be safe)
Warnings: Angst, a corpse
Author's Note: Batman's natural desire to help has unforeseen consequences. This is my entry for the Crossover Contest, and my first crossover.
The copse lay amidst the alley clutter, unmoving, while the first spots of rain splattered on his Armani suit. The night buried him in shadows, the distant streetlights barely illuminating him. Thin rivulets of blood, black in the weak light, pasted down a few graying tufts of hair. His head bent backwards at an angle no living person could achieve. Knowing the futility of it, Batman still reached over and checked for a pulse.
Looking at the dead never got any easier. It was ugly, no matter how peaceful the passing may have been. Yet still, Batman crouched besides the unmoving form, gently closing the man's eyes. The rain pattered against his hood and cape while he stood his silent vigil. His breath condensed into thin wisps, carried away in the autumn breeze.
"You shouldn't be too hard on yourself," a voice said, interrupting his contemplation.
He spun around. Just a few feet behind him stood a young woman. A black umbrella shielded her slender form. Despite the chill, she wore only a black camisole. Black wavy hair fell past her shoulders. A large ankh pendant hung from her neck. In the sparse illumination available, her skin appeared unnaturally pale, almost white. Her eyes were decorated with dark eyeliner, the line from one eye falling into a delicate swirl.
"Are you alright?" Batman asked.
She appeared fine. No visible wounds, no swaying, her speech sounded clear. But considering the events of tonight, after what Dent had done, he had to be sure no more innocents suffered from his failure.
The woman smiled, her face lighting up even in the darkness. "I'm fine. Thank you for asking. I'm just here on business. And since I was here anyway, I figured we could chat. I meant what I said, you know."
Batman narrowed his eyes slightly, considering her. She might be in shock, especially if she'd seen Dent push the man to his death. That would explain the odd reply. He'd already called the police. They could take care of her, get her statement if need be.
"Really," he answered, more interested in keeping her talking than the subject of the conversation.
"Don't be too hard on yourself. You do a good job here." She twirled her umbrella. Droplets arched through the air, tiny diamonds sparkling in the scant light.
"He might not agree," Batman answered, looking at the corpse. Given the circumstances, he couldn't bring himself to humor a fan right now. Even one suffering from shock.
"Actually, Peter did. He told me." She gazed down at the businessman, an unreadable expression on her face.
That caught his attention. "You know him?"
"Yes. I know everyone."
Batman arched an eyebrow. Yes, definitely suffering from shock.
"The police are coming. You'll need to give them a statement. Identify … your friend."
"I'm not here for that. And you're not listening. You did everything you could." She stood, both hands grasping the umbrella propped against her shoulder.
"No, I didn't. This man is dead because of me." Kevlar creaked as Batman clenched his fists. The last hour replayed itself, detail by detail, painfully reminding him of how he could have prevented this. He had no reason to discuss this with her. He did not, as a rule, chat with random citizens. But something in her calm insistence demanded an answer. He pointed to the sixteen story building next to them. "On the roof, Dent tripped near the edge. He would've fallen to his death, but at the last moment, I grabbed him. I saved his life. A lackey jumped me from behind and knocked me down. They fled. On their way out, they grabbed this man" – Peter, she'd said his name was Peter – "as a hostage. They reached the fire escape. Dent just shoved him off. I couldn't save him. I saved Harvey Dent, and this man died because of that." He jabbed at finger towards the motionless corpse.
The woman listened to him recant his story, lips pursed. Once he had finished, she gazed at him, tapping her index finger against her chin. "Hmm. Let's try this. Using five words or less, tell me why you do the hero thing."
"That's easy. To save people."
"Exactly." She moved the finger away from her chin, dropping it down to point at him. "Not to stop villains. Not to seek vengeance. 'To save people.' That's what you do."
He shook his head. "Except I didn't."
"Yes, you did. Harvey Dent would have died. But you saved him. It's what you do. You save people. Harvey was in trouble, and, just like you would have with anyone else, you saved his life. There was nothing else you could have done. So you see, Bruce, you did everything you could do."
"What did you say?" He jerked his head back in shock. "How do you know that name?"
"I told you. I know you. I know everyone."
He examined her, every feature of her face, her build, her stance, the sound of her voice. He searched for anything familiar. Had he ever met this woman, as Batman or Bruce Wayne?
"Have we met?" he asked.
"Once, but that was a long, long time ago. I don't expect you to remember that. No one does." The corner of her mouth lifted in a brief smile.
"Who are you?"
"I'm just me. But if you must have a name, call me Death."
"That's an unique moniker. Is that some kind of a gang name?"
"Nope. It's who I am. Death, the Grim Reaper, one of the Four Horseman, et cetera."
Batman raised his eyebrows. "Right…"
"It's okay, Bruce. Most people don't believe me. At least, not at first." She rolled the umbrella handle between her fingers, twirling it again.
He narrowed his eyes. Regardless of her unique conclusion regarding recent events, or however she came to learn his identity, there was one unavoidable truth. This woman was disturbed, either from shock or just another victim of the delirium that Gotham seemed to attract. She couldn't seriously believe that she was the real Death.
"I've heard the Grim Reaper has a scythe, not an umbrella," he said.
"Scythes are cumbersome. And don't stop the rain worth a damn. Besides, what would Batman do to someone standing behind him with a large blade on a stick?"
He raised an eyebrow, but did not respond.
"Bruce, listen to me." She tilted her head, eyes staring intently into his own. "I like you. I really do. Don't be so hard on yourself. You do good things here. It can be difficult, but never forget, you do good."
Glaring headlights splashed over them, throwing stark shadows throughout the alley. Instinctively, Batman turned to face the oncoming vehicle. Red and blue lights flashed in a strobe effect. The cruiser's engine thrummed as the Gotham police pulled to stop. Two uniformed officers hopped out. Batman turned back to the woman.
She was gone.
The first officer rushed to the body, kneeling down to examine it. Holding a hand up, Batman stopped the second.
"Where did she go?"
"Uh, who?" The officer looked around.
"The woman. She was right here. She had an umbrella. Your headlights were right on her. I saw it."
The other man shifted uncomfortably. "There was no one here. You were alone."
"That's … not possible." He gazed at the empty spot where she had stood. There was no where she could have hidden, no way for her to have ducked out of sight before the officers could see her. He'd seen some fantastic things as Batman. But her claim, surely that wasn't possible.