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Assumption of Risk
Another story in Cereta's Hanging Work universe, set after "Casing." Thanks to Livia for the beta.

Arkham was especially noisy that evening. Passing through the halls meant walking down the center of a trough between waves of howls. The din reminded Batman of the fragility of the order there; it might break apart at any second and spill a tide of madness on the city. His skin crawled with revulsion at the thought.

He wished he could say he didn't know why he came there, but he did, all too well. Harvey Dent was the last real friend Bruce Wayne had had. Visiting him was a ritual reminder of the long-past days when he'd tried to be a human being.

As he shut the door of Two-Face's cell behind him, silence fell. The soundproofing had been his own suggestion to the authorities, couched in terms of deterring conspiracies among the more gifted inmates. It was late, but Harvey was still up, with a book in his hand and the chessboard set up on the fold-down table. The left side of his face scowled up at him at once, sullen and watchful, but the right remained fixed on the book until he reached the end of the page.

"Oh, there you are," he said, finally looking up completely. "I was beginning to think I'd been formally renounced."

"No," Batman said. There was an unsettling cheerfulness in Harvey's voice which coming from the Joker would have braced Batman for impending disaster, but here meant only that the good side of the coin had come up that evening. That was good. It meant he wouldn't have to deal with an attempt on his life this time. He leaned over the board to study the pieces.

"Well, it's been over a month."

Had it really been that long? Time didn't run for Arkham inmates the way it did for others, but Batman was shocked to realize that Harvey had, if anything, underestimated the time lapse. "Yes."

"So who is it?"

"What?"

"Who is it that's taking up your time these days? Pretty girl? Some new supervillain you find more interesting than me?"

He pushed away the image that immediately came to mind. Not here. "I've been busy."

Harvey sighed dramatically, addressing the air. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand before you charging Batman with neglect. He claims his work has been keeping him away, but let us look at the evidence. Batman is always busy. The crime and corruption of Gotham demand it. Yet, as you have heard, in the past he has always made time for our game. Until now, anyway. Does his story stand beyond a reasonable doubt?" He looked back at Batman. "Come, Batman, candor before the tribunal!"

He'd given plenty of thought to the unacceptable risks Selina had exposed Dick to when she'd led him astray. He hadn't considered the threat he could pose. How the Joker might enjoy defacing such a beautiful canvas, what bizarre logic Harvey might use to justify "punishing" him. "It's no one you know, Harvey, and it's no one you're going to know," he growled, knocking the chess pieces over with a swipe of his hand.

"Order in the court!" and Harvey was grinning now with both corners of his mouth. "If you can't control yourself, the bailiff will have to escort you out. There's not much danger of my threatening your precious lady. I don't exactly mingle with high society here."

Batman stared at his face, trying to trace the man he'd known in the ruins. The pretense that there could be kinship, recognition, was so dangerous; it was the cultivation of an illusion, and he couldn't afford to have any. "Goodbye, Harvey."

Harvey sniffed haughtily. "You'll be back. She'll break your heart."

No more than Harvey had. Batman made his getaway fast and clean. It was only when he was safely back in the Batmobile in Gotham proper that he realized he was shaking.

With what emotion, he didn't know.


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