Part III. IV – "Truth"
Half an hour later, Alfred knocked the main guest room, the metal box he had retrieved from the cave in his left hand. He should trust his foster son's judgement, but that shadow of doubt was clouding every other hope. Alfred had been always the hopeful one; he had always believed one day Bruce Wayne would finally find his happy-ending; perhaps not here in Gotham, but somewhere out there. But he wasn't sure anymore. Rachel had been right. He didn't know when that day would come now. This was big, bigger than they had bargained for, and if it didn't work, the end results were going to be once again catastrophic. If there had remained a little shed of doubt before, after the talk they had just shared, after the words Alfred had heard, it had vanished. Bruce Wayne had placed his hopes in her.
The door opened, and revealed her figure as she looked at him, then her eyes lowered toward his hand. He could see how her back stiffened as soon as she realized what he was holding in his hand. Her hand reached out. "I believe this is yours." Alfred raised his arm too.
Her look turned into a glare, she didn't like his words. Her mouth soured, too, turning down, and she tore the box off his hand, "Thank you," she sneered, "You're so kind keeping my stuff." Then she slapped the door on his face.
Alfred heaved a sigh. This had to work, but he had no idea how it would; of all people in the world, Bruce Wayne had chosen her. Or she had chosen Bruce Wayne, if one looked at it from in a certain way. Returning to the study, he let out another sigh. He started looking for the doctor she had mentioned. Christian Newman. Born in Northern Ireland in the late 60s, the doctor had been almost a progeny in the field of the newly developing reconstructive surgery and microsurgery, until one day he had joined in the ranks of the provisional Irish republican army, IRA. His trail after that was expectedly fuzzy. And ten years ago, after the Belfast Agreement the man had gone completely off-grid.
He wasn't surprised. Some of the IRA had chosen to leave the country after the agreement, finding it hard to adapt into a new place that hadn't the same struggles they had once had. Alfred could understand the feeling, if it hadn't been the late Thomas Wayne, the young man, the young doctor, who had saved his life in a god-forsaken jungle years ago, he would have never adapted into a normal life himself, either. The apple didn't fall far from the tree; Bruce Wayne was offering her a chance for a new life in the way his father had done to him. He could trust that.
Outside the door, he heard footsteps. His eyes sharpening, he stood up. He could trust that, he really could, but it didn't mean he should be also blind-folded. He opened the door, and in the staircase hall, he saw her looking around; her neck craned up, the studious, keen eyes taking every detail in. Alfred understood what she did at the first glance; she was surveying the area. Her eyes lingered over the windows and doors, and she closed to the floor length window, and peeked at the sky. Another storm was gathering, the heavy rain clouds darkening the sky. Then her eyes dropped, sweeping over the field below. An escape route, she was calculating an escape route.
Clearing his throat, he coughed a little. The sound had her attention as she snapped back at him. "You seem to be lost, Miss," he remarked gently, yet with a voice was like steel, no trace of softness underneath. He knew she was smart, she would understand what he had meant. And she had.
She looked at him in silence for a second, then her lips pulled out with that smile, half daring half taunting, an "who me" expression coloring her features in mockery. "Just looking around," she murmured, shrugging, her eyes moving around then they returned to him. "You know this is going to be my...new home," the sneer in her tone was silky, dripping over her words. Alfred frowned. He really wanted to trust to her, wanted to see what Master Wayne was seeing, but she wasn't making it easy. "So I thought I'd get my bearings," she completed, and looked around again, her eyes sweeping the whole interior... "This is a lovely place Bruce built for himself. If I didn't know, I wouldn't believe it was newly—" She halted, and turned aside, her eyes gleamed as she asked eagerly; "Did he really burn the house down?"
And at that time, in that moment, Alfred decided he needed to interfere, before this had turned into another mess. If this would work, she needed to understand why she was here, for real. "If this manor is going to be really your new home—" he began, stressing the last words, "I believe there are things you must know."
She gasped, a feign show of terror, "Why, more secrets?"
"It wasn't Master Wayne who burnt the manor down," Alfred stated instead stiffly, countering the mocking in her voice with the dryness of a fallen leaf, scratching. "It was a terrorist known as Ra's al Ghul. He was the man behind the fear attack last year. His men burnt the house down and left Master Wayne for dead. I saved him."
All mockery dropped off her face, as she stared at him, digesting his last words. It passed almost half of an full minute before she spoke again, "Why did he burn it?"
"Revenge for one thing," Alfred answered truthfully, "He was Master Wayne's old mentor."
She blinked twice. "Ok…I'll shoot," she muttered, shaking her head, "Why's a terrorist Bruce Wayne's old mentor?"
Alfred smiled at her little. "There are things you don't know about Master Wayne, Miss."
Her face soured. "What I know about him was enough to ruin my life," she snapped back harshly, "I don't think I want to know any more."
He shook his head in ruined. "You've ruined your life all by yourself. Master Wayne didn't do anything except save it, not once but twice."
Looking at him, eyes challenging, she nodded slowly. "Yes, I've lied, I've blackmailed, I've tried to expose him just for money," her voice stressed each word as she stated the facts, "Yes, I'm a terrible person who uses other people for her own benefits—" Her eyes bore through his, her eyebrow arched, "but at least I don't go killing them when I feel it's justified."
For a second, Alfred stopped and thought of the answer, his eyes searching through hers. "And are you all right with it?" he then asked, "With him being a killer…as justified as it is?"
She let out a laugh, a taunting sound low from the throat. "Who am I to judge him?" she shot back, "I am a liar, a con artist, a common thief. And according to you, he's the savior of the mankind."
"But those people who died…?"
She shrugged. "Sometimes we do things we don't want to. We don't mean to. Believe it or not, nothing of this was my intentions. I didn't want this. In fact, in some way I even wanted to help. But nevertheless my intentions, it happened. What's the use of stressing over it now? Everything turns out the way it's supposed to."
She turned to leave, but Alfred asked behind her back, "And responsibilities of your decisions? What about them?"
She turned back, her eyes narrowed in annoyance. "My only responsibility is to survive," she snapped heatedly, closing in on him, her eyes burning, "And I'm not going to apologize for it—" She shook her head. "I'm not going to apologize for being what I am." She turned again to leave.
"You're in denial." Alfred remarked after her back.
She let out another derisive sound, but didn't return this time, only shot back, "I'm being pragmatic."
Alfred inhaled sharply, and prayed that the truth would be enough this time, he prey on it feverishly, because he saw now it was the only thing that would change things. "He didn't kill Harvey Dent," he told her the last, the only secret she didn't know. She stopped dead in her steps. "He didn't kill any of them."
She turned around. "Pardon me?"
"It wasn't him," Alfred repeated, "It was Harvey Dent."
For a moment, it was impossible to read her expression, then she heaved a sigh. "Well, that explains, I guess," she muttered, "I was wondering..."
His eyes snapped at hers. "Wondering what?" Alfred questioned.
She shrugged. "It was making little sense, him killing Harvey Dent. I mean, I tried to blow him off, and he came to my aid. Why would he kill Harvey Dent?" she asked, and Alfred knew it wasn't the first time. "There must be a reason."
He nodded. Despite many other uncertainties, there was one thing certain with her; she was smart. "He was threating to kill Commissioner's child."
She frowned, "Why?"
"To revenge his dead fiancée, Rachel Dawes—"
She cut him off, "The assistant D.A who died in another explosion on the same day?" she asked to confirm.
Alfred nodded. "The Joker had made Batman chose one of them. Master Wayne went to Miss Dawes's location but it turned out that the Joker had led him to Harvey Dent on purpose. Commissioner Gordon had gone after Miss Dawes. Batman could save Harvey Dent but the Commissioner could not," he explained as she absorbed the situation fast.
Then she discovered the thing he was trying to hide, still. "Why didn't he go to Harvey Dent?" she asked, "I thought he "believes" in Harvey Dent." A frown appeared over her eyebrows, "When come to think of it, why that maniac made him choose between Dent and his fiancée at the first place?"
Yes, she was smart; they would always remember that. He passed in his mind what he could tell her, then decided once again nothing else than truth could be enough, not now. "The Joker knew she was—" he halted for a second, "important to Batman."
"Oh," she said.
"Miss Dawes was Master Wayne's childhood friend," Alfred explained vaguely. "Her mother had used to work here."
"Hmm," she hummed, calculations going fast behind her eyes then a small smile broke over her lips, "I see." And Alfred knew she had. She had understood the situation even more perfectly, but she didn't make any further comment. Her smile, however, had said it all. "So Dent wanted to revenge Gordon by killing his child?" she asked the next, "What about other police officers?"
"He wanted to revenge all involved parties. The Joker had profited from his weak mental state. He found the police officer that had handed them to the Maroni's men," he explained further, "Went for the last Gordon's child. Master Wayne threw both of them over a roof to stop him. Master Wayne survived the fall, but he didn't."
She nodded, but then frowned again, as if she couldn't understand something. "But why did he take the blame on himself?" she asked, her eyebrows clenched with something very akin to confusion, "Why all this pretense?"
"Because he needs to," Alfred remarked sternly, "Gotham can't learn the truth about Harvey Dent."
She frowned further. "That's stupid."
"That's what Gotham needs him to be," Alfred shot back, his own words returning in his mind. Batman could endure what no one else could have, could be what no one else could. The words now sounded to him like a prophecy, self-fulfilled.
She, on the other hand, just rolled her eyes. "What Gotham needs is a wake-up call and to stop wishing for heroes."
Alfred shook his head. "Batman isn't a hero. He's more."
His words deepened her frown, as her eyes narrowed, looking at him directly in the eyes, and finally asked the question he had been waiting her to ask. Alfred knew she would. She was a smart girl. "Why are you telling me this?"
In his answer there was no hesitance. "He believes...there is more to you, and a bad situation brought out the best of you. All of your options, you called him," he told her his once foster son's words, "And for that, he's willing to give you another chance." He paused, taking a step closer, "But I've wanted you know him, really him."
She looked at him, her face bearing a bewildered expression as she finally understood what he had been telling her in reality. The next, she started laughing, shaking her head. "So that's why he wants to keep me around?" She opened her arms to the sides, gesturing around, her eyes narrowing, "What's this? A school project? The Joker was able to bring the worst out of the White Knight, so let's us try our chances with the Wicked Witch of the West?" she asked snappish, a fury entering in her voice, "Well, sorry to disappoint," she spat, "but I don't need you saving me."
"Then why did you call Bruce Wayne?"
For that, she didn't have any answer. She only glared at him, eyes flashing in her rage, then without a word, she turned, and left.
Valerie had retreated to the guest room after the talk with Alfred, and she had been telling herself it hadn't changed anything ever since. It didn't matter, not at all. So what if he hadn't killed Harvey Dent, what was the difference? No, she shook her head. It didn't make any difference. A forked lighting flashed in the heart of the dark sky, lighting her reflection on the window. The storm had started an hour ago, and she hadn't moved from her spot over the floor length window since then, either. Somehow she felt it suit her current situation. Truth changes everything, passed through her mind, but defiantly she shook her head. No, it didn't change anything. She was still the woman she had been; only a name; and he was the Bruce Wayne, the eccentric billionaire.
She turned and walked to the small round table at the corner, and poured herself a drink from the Macallan 21. She had lied to him before. She had had one thing to bring from the bunker. As she took her first sip, the door opened, and he walked into. As soon as she caught a glance of the look over his face, she knew that he knew. Alfred must have told him what he had done, thought it was impossible to tell if he liked it or not. Possibly not. Once again, he looked grave, that dark gloom weaving itself around like strict-knitted-net, his back rigid, his muscles holding tension. Watching her, he stood up in the middle of the room, legs apart, and stuffed in his hands into his pockets. Definitely not. The silence was suffocating, a living breathing thing between them. Because both knew something had changed now, irrecoverably. He wasn't a killer, he hadn't killed those men. Alfred was right. Bruce Wayne wasn't a hero, a hero couldn't do what he did, but she wasn't sure what he was, either.
She took another sip, bigger this time. "Why didn't you tell me?" Over the rim of the glass, she asked directly, not bothering with playing niceties. They had already passed that.
He gave her a look, but her only explanation was a few simple words, "I didn't think it was relevant."
She let out a choked, humorless laugh, and it mixed with the sounds of the thunder outside. She half turned to the windows, watching the storm, sucking up another sip. "Are you going out tonight?" she asked suddenly, making an allusion about the fact that she knew what he had been doing away in those hours the first time. But it wasn't what she had wanted to ask. What she had really wanted to ask was that 'Are you going to out in this storm, to get yourself killed for people who hate you so much so that they can continue to waste away their pitiful lives with an eased conscience, not stopping to ponder what's really going on in this fucking world even for the tiniest of seconds?' but she hadn't.
He nodded. "Yes. But further in the night. I have a fundraiser to attend to first."
To play the fool of the town… "Why are you doing this?"
She hadn't thought she really cared; that was his life, his choice, his problem but somehow the question popped out of her mouth, and she didn't really expect him to answer her inquiry but for unknown reasons he did, with a voice so slow, so distant, like it was coming from another planet, from another world, "I can't not."
Not talking further, she gulped down a lump her throat. In silence, she finished the drink, and walked back to the window. He left then, without a word. Resting her forehead on the window, she closed her eyes. A drill bore its way through her temples, a nameless ache squeezing her insides, trying to fit whole world inside. She wanted to run away, far away but she felt she didn't have the energy to even move her finger.
Opening her eyes, she studied her reflection in the window. Subject: Caucasian woman, twenty-nine years old; status: in one word, screwed.
This, whatever it was, had to stop.
Later in the night, when Bruce returned, he found her in his room. He stopped just at the threshold, closing the door behind him slowly, his brows pulling into a scowl. He then turned to her. There was something different in her now, not like the woman he had seen in front of the window for the last time. She seemed to be fresh out of bath; semi-wet hair falling over her shoulders in loose curls, clad in a knee-length night robe, her feet bare. He didn't need to deal with it. "What are you doing here?" he didn't mean the question came out this harsh, either, but somehow it did. He really didn't need to deal with it, not now.
She looked at him, shrugging carelessly, "Couldn't sleep," she said simply, "Thought we'd keep each other in company."
His eyebrow arched. A leery smile split her lips in two, and slowly, she walked to him, her usual confident steps had a lazy sway, close to a strut. His eyes narrowed. She stopped in front of him, just at the edge of his personal space. Then she reached out, toward his belt. On reflex, he caught her hand. "What are you doing?" he asked, their hands hovering in the air just above his pants.
She tilted her head to side. "What does it look like?" she asked, taking a step further, and caught his fingers, too, getting their hands tangled to each other. "It's been a stressful week for both of us," she breathed out low, "and I really want—" she paused, her smile widening, turning sultry, "—company." She took another step.
Releasing her hand, Bruce took a step back. "Don't do this."
She came forward again, "Why not?" She looked at him, almost questioning, "You're a man, I'm a woman; we have needs. And there is this—tension between us—" Her hand reached out to his upper arm, "Why not let off some...steam?"
He shook his head. He really didn't need to deal with this. He had been expecting she might try something like this, he had seen how she had been with young Jones at the footage. She was an attractive woman. She was aware of that fact, and she wasn't shy of...demonstrating it, either. But he had no desire to be used in such regards. Especially just after what had happened tonight. It couldn't be just a coincidence that she dropped by his room at the day he had brought her to his house, after Alfred had told her the truth about Harvey Dent. She hadn't taken it well, he had realized, it had changed something for her, enough to get her in his room, looking for sex. "You don't need to do this with me," he told her flatly, almost a warning.
The smile dropped off her face, as her eyebrows furrowed, as if sensing his thoughts. "Do what?" she still asked, though.
His eyes bore through hers. "This," he answered, emphasis strong in the word, "It's got nothing to do with...our situation."
"Our situation...?" she repeated then she smiled again, pursing her lips, "It's my understanding that our situation is extremely...intense. This bond between us—" She wetted her lips, her eyes fixated on him, "We know each other like no one else does." She closed in on him again, and rose on her tiptoes, so close to an inch that her breath was warm over his skin, "It's...sexy."
His eyebrows clenched further, as he pulled back. He shook his head again. "It's nothing to do with it," he repeated, voice strained despite the words, "Go back to your room."
For a second, her face dropped again, annoyance striking the wanton look in her eyes, but the next, collecting herself she smiled again. She stared at him, her head tilted aside. He didn't like that cat-smug look, either. "So let me see if I got it right," she asked, strutting toward him, "You're trying to say that the fact that you're willing to give me another chance hasn't got anything with me being an attractive woman," she stated mockingly, "and you'd have been still as open-hearted to the idea as you're now even if I was a sleazy seedy weaseled little man?"
In answer, she let out a loud laugh, as if his answer had amused her. Shaking her head, still smiling, she started walking—strutting to the door. "Keep telling yourself that, Wayne," she whispered to him before she walked out.
The following morning before he was out of the manor she was already above the stairs, leaning over the rails on her elbows, looking at him, and smiling that smile. When he glowered at her, she waved coyly.