Part IV. I – The imminent danger
The next weeks went in a hazy blur, days spent on planning a recon mission to Northern Ireland to find that doctor, nights passing to make sure no other mob boss sniffed off her trail, before he returned to the manor, half dreading to find her again in his room. He had never. Though, her presence in the other parts of his house became a constant one. At the moment he had seen her waving at him coyly over the railings, smiling that smile that looked anything but a smile, Bruce had gathered how the life was going to be with her now. He was sure she was doing it on purpose to prove her point. The challenge had become a sort of game to her, one that he wasn't planning playing.
Aside his study, despite her injuries the gym was the most frequent place she must be found whenever she wasn't in the guest room. In the first week they spent together, Bruce had realized that she was one of those people that hated sitting idly around. She quickly had developed a routine. In the mornings, if it wasn't raining she was jogging lightly, before she did anything else. If it was raining, she went to the gym to get...her steam off. Then she was reading on the constructive surgery everything she could find, if not she was getting over his plans for the recon. Bruce had also noticed her hands went toward the scotch bottle less whenever her mind or her body was busy with something. The Macallan 21 bottle was finished even before the first week, and she had started with the second. He had asked Alfred to keep a close eye on the drinks in fears that she had an alcohol problem. At first, he had been afraid of worse things, but when she had been in the bunker, he had run blood tests; she was clean.
The only place in the manor that didn't bear her mark was dining room in the second floor that had the lift to the cave. He hadn't still let her see the cave. He knew sooner or later he was going to have to, they had made a bargain, but he felt there was still time. Frankly, he wasn't even sure how she would react to it. With the exception of that night, she had never even made any connotation that she knew what he was doing at nights. His alter ego was like the pink elephant that they pretended not to exist, even though they knew with a perfect clarity that it was indeed in the room. Breathing out a subtle sigh, he walked into the study before the dinner time. Eyes focused on the engineering magazine she was reading, Valerie didn't acknowledge his arrival as she lounged over the couch at the corner, sprawled out.
He sat in his seat behind the desk, and turned on his computer. He needed to go over the details for their trip to Belfast. They were going to smuggle into Rathlin Island at the northernmost point of the country, then were going to use the local ferry to pass to the mainland. The small island was almost deserted, barely inhabited; a perfect getaway place to sneak through the border undetected. The voyage though was still going to be problematic. After a brief talk with Valerie, Bruce had decided not to risk passing the borders with fake passports. He could find an alibi for himself easily, but with her, everything was a wild guess. That unfortunately left him little choice. His eyes stole a quick glance at her, wondering how she was going to take the trip to the island from America. Not good, understandably.
Over the couch, she straightened, her eyes focused on the magazine, as if she wasn't aware that her deep V-neck sweater was baring to his direction a handsome amount of cleavage with the act. "Bruce—" she called him, her head titled aside, her eyes narrowed at the page she was still gazing at, "Do you happen to have a 3D printer?"
He stared at her. She lifted her head, and smiled back at him with that smile, and somewhere along the way, it had also become their routine. "For what?" he asked tentatively, before he admitted he actually had one.
She put the magazine away. "We're trying to create a new me here. I think I'd like to see a real 3D model first." She leaned on her knees with her elbows, her cleavage revealing more flesh, a shadow lining between her breasts, "I mean, what if I won't be as gorgeous as I am now?" She flashed at him a smirk, sly and roughish, "imagine that!"
Bruce didn't react to her antics. He turned to the screen. "I thought you were going with creating a sibling."
Her head lolling aside, she gave him a look. "A beautiful woman can have ugly sisters, Bruce," she retorted, "We can't leave something like that to chance."
He barely held the urge to sigh. "Applied Sciences should have one," he said instead, "I will look around."
She stood up. "Ah," she inhaled softly, walking to the door, the low breath almost a moan, "What I'd do without you, sweetheart?"
Bruce glared at her retreating back. This—game was starting getting on his nerves.
Ten minutes later, Alfred came with his evening meal in his hand. "Miss Valerie told me you saved her life again, Master Bruce," the older man commented dryly. Bruce made a nonchalant noise. "She will grow out of it, sir, eventually," Alfred assured him. He nodded. He was depending on it. "I suppose it's her way of dealing with pressure," Alfred commented further, and Bruce nodded again. He already knew that, but it didn't make any difference. It was an annoying habit, and a tiresome distraction.
"Did you purchase the items she required?" Bruce asked.
This time it was Alfred's turn to nod gravely. She had said she would need a change of wardrobe, and one look to the list she had made had been enough for Bruce to gather why she had called it a change. Most of the requested clothes included leather and shoes, down to specific brand names. He had stared at her when she handed him the list but she had shrugged. "I can't go back to my old buddies in these," she had said, pointing at the yoga pants and light sweater she had been wearing. "Whoever said 'beauty is only skin deep' was only lying."
Though, she didn't look quite bad in yoga pants, either, he had to admit. He shook his head. She was preparing herself, like how Batman prepared for a battle, only her armor wasn't of Kevlar, and her war paints didn't come in black, but a dark red.
A few minutes after Alfred had left she joined him at the table while he was having his dinner, and stole one of his French fries. "Did you retail the car?" she inquired, while munching the fry. The ferry from Rathlin Island was to arrive at a small town called Ballycastle in North Antrim, and from there, they would need to drive to Belfast.
The word echoed in his mind, while he kept his eyes trained on his plate. Belfast, a doctor that had been used to associated with IRA. The questions were clear in his consciousness, the indications palpable, though still he had kept his promise; he hadn't searched her. But with the word, he couldn't help himself but tossed at her a glance, his eyes searching for characteristic Irish features over her face; high cheekbones, tilted eyes, pale face, red hair. Her hair when she had been "Cameron" had been dark honey blonde, now it was the darkest brown that fell in loose curls but the roots of her dark hair suggested that she wasn't a natural redhead. With a closer look though, on could spot a few faint freckles around the base of her nose underneath a layer of foundation. There was no trace of Irish accent in her voice though, in fact there was no accent in her rich tones that could link to her any particular place, nor any special phrases suggesting where she came from. As she had said, she was just Valerie, and Valerie didn't like to be singled out.
Returning his attention to his dinner, he nodded slightly. "Yes, everything is settled," he said, "We leave in two days."
Before she reached out to another fry, her hands halted. Dropping her hands off, she looked at him, her eyes narrowed, "I thought we still have problems with the main trip. How we go to North Ireland?"
"With my private jet," he answered, but his answer only made her eyes narrowed further.
"I thought we're not passing the borders regularly."
His attention turned back to his plate, "We're not," he shot back, cutting his steak, then threw the piece in his mouth. Before she could ask another question, he lifted his head, and beat her to it, "Are you really sure you can find that doctor?"
For a second, only for a second, the corner of her mouth twitched as she darted her eyes away before her postured returned to her usual suave mannerism but like her presence, Bruce had also become accustomed to her body language. Hesitation was bad news; just like how he had expected. Alfred had looked in the doctor, and the man seemed to be off-grid, sound and nice. "Well, when I saw him last, he was there," she said, reaching again to the fries.
"When was that time?" he questioned further.
Another hesitation, before she spoke fast, "A couple of years ago."
Slowly he set his fork down on the table. "A couple of years ago…" he repeated, his voice almost turning into a rasp, "You haven't got any idea where he's, have you?"
Her jaw squared off, she dropped the fry she was about to pick up and crossed her arms defensively. "If you happen to know a surgeon that could do such a surgery off the books, well, be my guest." Raising an eyebrow, she waited for him. He didn't speak. She smiled smugly. "Since you apparently don't—"
"I can find one," he interjected.
An expression of utter dread, horror, shock appeared on her face at the same. "Find one?" she seethed out, leaning over the table toward him. "We're talking about my face here!" she exclaimed. "I can't trust it to any second rate butcher who barely knows how to snitch a bullet wound back!"
"And you trust your guy?" he asked back, skepticism dripping off his words.
She hesitated again for a second, then straightening back she slowly answered, "I can trust him—being—him." She shook her head. "Don't worry, Bruce, I know how to deal with Christian."
"And if he isn't in Belfast?"
"Then I guess I'll ask around."
"You're wanted by GCPD, FBI, and Interpol with a red notice. You can't go ask around," he almost sneered.
Her face twisted whether at his tone or words, he wasn't sure. But the look she gave him as she leaned toward him might be enough to kill. "My life is at stake here, Bruce Wayne. Do you really think that I go chat with people who keep track of Interpol red notices?" she snapped, annoyance and frustration sharpening the husky edges of her voice into steel. His eyes narrowed. Most of times she managed to keep that suave aloofness effortlessly, but her self-control was slipping, and as of the moment, he wasn't sure of the reason. His eyes narrowed further, as he regarded her even more closely.
Suddenly, as if she also gathered that she was slipping away, she straightened back. "They're just local gangs, small time stuff," she said, her voice now cool, a confident timbre in it, though he wasn't quite sure who she was trying to reassure.
"They might have heard of what happened in Gotham," he returned.
When a half sneer-half smirk flattened her lips into a mockery of smile, he knew all of her agitation was once again repressed. "I know this may come as a shock to you, darling," she whispered at him, leaning forward, "but not every one's life revolves around Gotham." She stood up from the table, giving him a mocking smirk. "You worry about how to get us to there, Mr. Wayne," she said, walking to the door, "I'll handle the rest."
She didn't look like she was handling it well. Two days later, she was looking at the wooden crate in the hangar of one of the front of companies he had, her eyes widened almost comically. "I thought you said we're going with your private jet," she hissed, her eyes still fixated at the crate.
"We do," he said simply, "We only don't share the same place."
She half turned to him, anger flashing in her eyes, and pointed at the crate, "You possibly can't expect me going to Rathlin in this!" she cried out. In answer, Bruce gave her only a look. She fumed more. "It's a eight hours trip!"
"I will sedate you," he explained, "You will sleep through the way."
She pressed her hand over her heart, laughing exaggeratedly, "Now I feel much better, thanks!"
Heaving a subtle sigh, he closed to her. "Look, it won't be bad. You—"
"Says the man who will sit in his comfy seat, enjoying drinks," she interjected.
"I don't drink," he shot back stiffly.
"You're missing the point!" she cried out.
"Valerie, we can't use a fake passport," he said in return, softening his voice a tone down, "It's too risky."
She shook her head, almost in resignation, exhaling deeply in acceptance. "I know—" Her eyes darted at the crate again, "I really don't like it."
She let out a sigh, opening her hands to sides in the air, "So what I'm supposed to be?"
"My bike," Bruce shot back.
She looked at him, her eyes narrowing into a slit, assessing him. Then she asked, voice demanding, as if on a challenge, "Ducati or MV Agusta?"
Bruce smirked. "F4 1000R," he answered, "It's faster than 749."
She pursed her lips down, "Clearly you never sat down on a 848."
He took out a syringe of his pocket, "Actually, I did." He approached her, opening his palm to reveal the medicine, and looked at her arm, "May I?" he asked, raising his eyes under his bowed toward hers.
She let out another sigh, pulling off her sweater off of her arm, and offering it to him. "Well, I was accused of being worse things."
It was dark, dark and cold, so much that she could see her breath turning into a smoke tendrils coming out of her mouth, twirling in the dark. She shut close her eyes tightly, as the panic rose inside, feeling the hard smooth coldness of the metal under her. She couldn't be here, not again. Oh, god, please not again. Her heart in her throat, her hands arose, trying to find the hatch; Clara hadn't closed the handle...Clara! Her breath turned colder, as her blood froze, Clara! She shook her head. Clara was dead, she had listened to it. Panic raised further, the small interior closing in on her even closer... No! The crate wasn't small! It was big enough to house at least five bike in it, Bruce had prepared enough room for that end, but then why she was feeling she was in that narrow metal box again... She shook her head... Not real, not real. She was inside in a wooden crate, not in a cold metal grave... But what was that coldness she felt, and the screams! God, screams, high scratching screams for help... But help wasn't going to come...
Her eyes popping open, she jolted up from the nightmare, her hands clawing the cushions under her, her nails starching the soft fabric. God, she was going to kill that son of a bitch, first she was going to kick his ass, then kill him. Then she was going to kick his dead ass. Groaning, she pulled herself on her hands and knees, standing on her fours, her head bowed down. It was just a dream, she told herself, but her mouth made no sound. She swept her sweaty palms under the cushions, proving herself once again it wasn't metal. God, her head hurt, the drug running in her blood stream, and she really hated small places.
As her panic rose again, she fumbled her pockets getting out the cell phone Bruce had given to her, and called the only number the phone had. "Get me out of here!" she barked at the phone, "Now." She threw the phone away, and lay down. It was still dark, but it wasn't cold anymore. In fact, it was getting hotter, almost suffocating. She pulled the zipper of her leather jacket down, and yanked the collar of her sweater down. She couldn't breathe; her chest tight like a stone, no air left in her lungs. With reflex, her hands went to her throat, as her eyes closed. For Christ sake, she hadn't had an attack for almost in four years. She forced herself to breathe, opening her mouth, and tried to settle herself down. Whatever happened, happened. Nothing would have changed the past now. She couldn't have done anything, she couldn't have stopped it. She could have only survived, and she had. She wasn't going to apologize for it.
Suddenly, the tightness lifted off her chest as the air filled in her lungs. She inhaled deeply, savoring the moment, her blood running high, both with drug and being almost suffocated.
The next moment, she heard rushing footsteps over the hum of the machinery in the jet then the lid of the crate was pulled off. Above her, where she sprawled out, Bruce Wayne's worried face appeared, looking at her, his eyes glinting with a craze, his hand holding an iron lever. A smile pulled out her lips. He should have lost his mind after her call, dashing to her rescue; always the heroic one. "Are you okay?" he asked, narrowed eyes searching her.
Her smirk grew wider. "Just peachy," she said with a smarmy voice, her breathing now turned to normal, "Wanted to see how quick you'd come."
He gave her a hard look, enough to suggest that he might stuff her again in and send her back to Gotham. Raising her hands in the air for a peace offering, she wiped the smirk off her face, and started standing up. "I don't like small places," she explained, climbing down out of the wooden box. She let out a sigh, looking at it, "You should've doped me more," she muttered.
His look turned even sterner. "I gave you a dose that should put you in sleep at least for nine hours," he shot back.
And it had only passed five hours. In answer, she only shrugged, not giving away any other explanation, but she could still see him drawing his own conclusions. God, even without setting a foot back to home, this had turned into a mess. What the hell she had been thinking of calling him like a mad banshee anyway? She shook her head slightly, and looked around. "Is there something to eat around here?" she asked, mostly to break the silence, "I'm famished."
He pointed the crate. "I'd prepared a small pack for you," she looked down, and saw the black backpack at one of the corners inside, "There is water and some biscuits, and sandwich."
Shaking her head, she reached out below, and took the bag. "You have to think of everything, haven't you, Bruce?"
His face squared off, "Do you complain?"
She grinned, yanking off the sandwich's package, and taking a bit off, "Not at all."
The rest of the trip went...eventless. Bruce hanged around for a few moments then returned to his seat, securing her again inside the crate, neither of them questioning her "moment" furthermore. For a moment or two, she opted for asking him to stay, but she forsook the idea as soon as it entered into her mind. If she had another crisis, she preferred to face with it alone. It was more dangerous, but at least this way, she wouldn't need to answer some noisy questions later, and she really preferred to be free of any prying eyes, especially of Bruce Wayne's prying eyes if she was to get another breakdown.
One hour later, the jet started landing down. She lay down, closing her eyes, her hands gripping the soft cushions under her tightly. She wished she had asked for a drink. She closed her eyes and forced herself to stay steady while the crate cleared through the customs without any problem. Another half of hour later, she was free again. She climbed down out of the crate, breathing heavily the fresh air, blinking at the midnight. Bruce had arranged their arrival around the midnight, mostly to use the cover of the darkness, and partly to lessen the effect of the time difference. Back in Gotham, it was only seven in the evening, though, her body was already feeling spent with the stress of the journey. Supporting her weight along the wooden surface, she looked at the empty hangar. She had heard this place before. The private civilian airport had been used for smuggling in the times of Troubles, and now was simply using for regular smuggling. They left the hangar with an old pick up, driving to the ferry that they would use to cross to the mainland, then to Belfast.
A shiver passed through over her skin; back to home. She opened the water's bottle cap, and took a big sip. She told herself there was no reason to feel nervous, but the words didn't give her any comfort. Bruce Wayne giving her side-glances as he drove whenever he thought she wasn't looking wasn't helping the matter, either. But at least, he stayed in silence, didn't make any comment. And she appreciated, she really did. Catching the ferry, they made to North Antrim in silence, and picked up the white Golf he had retailed to drive to the address she had given him, still in silence.
Then an hour later, he finally broke it, approaching to the old "Double Is" that had built a few decades ago. "Valerie," he told her with a voice authoritative but also—gentle, as if he was trying to build a civility between them, "If there is a ...danger here lurking around," he continued, "I need to know it now."
She suppressed a long tired sigh. During the last weeks, he had tried a couple of times questioning her about Belfast, but every time she had managed to maneuver the topic with evasive answers. She wasn't still sure what to make of it. If he had searched through the newly formed PSNI's servers, she was sure he was going to find a rather endearing photo of her in an orange jumpsuit; a certain Sarah Allen serving a-year-of-sentence for breaking and entering seven years ago at age twenty-two. Though, she wasn't certain what else he could find about it. 2001 was the same year that Royal Ulster Constabulary had turned into Police Service of Northern Ireland, and she knew for a fact that most of its databases were raided by the former IRA operatives, whether it to be for retaliations or for a fresh start. Even she had had Jeremy's help severing her ties completely with "Sarah" when she had created Cameron Reese, and both Felicia and Cecile were merely nicknames. It was possible that he had indeed searched her past despite his promise but couldn't have found anything. She would never know for sure, because she wasn't going to ask.
When she didn't answer, this time he asked directly, "Have you ever operated here?"
She shook her head, letting out a breath, but finally accepted; she didn't see any purpose denying the truth now. "It was a long ago time."
He shot at her a quick look. "Four years weren't that long." Her head snapped at him. So he had searched. She swallowed down a sniff. What she had really expected? That he would honor his words, and give her really another chance? This was real life, not a fairy tale. "I didn't look," but he said as if he had heard her thoughts, "Cameron Reese," he continued, "I could track her trail only to four years back," he explained, "but before then there was nothing to suggest that she actually existed as more than a name." His eyes darted at her again, before he declared, "You came to America four years ago."
In silence, she looked at him back, but neither accepted or denied his statement. "Valerie—" but Bruce Wayne wasn't one to leave something off the hook easily, she was starting to understand, even while keeping his promises, "Is there an immediate danger?"
Giving up, she shook her head. "No."
He stopped at the address she had given to her, his eyes staring at the old decaying the apartment complex building that had surveyed both a world war and a civil war, "But of an... imminent one?" the cunning son of bitch pressed further.
This time she accepted, "Yes."
On the walls covered with moss and dirt, The Easter Lily glinted bright in green, orange, and white, a symbol of endurance for to those who worn it, and clear warning to those who didn't. His eyes turned from the badge plastered on the wall toward the woman who climbed the steps ahead of her. The building was old, the metal railings moaning with metal fatigue under their feet, plaster peeling off with each step, but her steps had an easy that clearly indicated that it wasn't her first time climbing the tricky staircase. Their last conversation in the car echoed in his mind, but he chased the thoughts away, and focused on. Speculating would only turn things to worse.
"Are you sure she's going to talk?" Bruce asked, his eyes skipping to her. Somehow he was finding it hard to believe that she could help them.
Without bothering to look at him, she simply shrugged, "It never hurts to ask."
"She's his mother," he stressed out.
"Again," she retorted, "never hurt to ask."
It didn't work. And Bruce barely held himself barking out a "told you so". In front of the building complex, she shrugged again. "Well, it was a long shot," she accepted, heaving a sigh. Bruce shot at her a look. She shook her head. "Come, let's go to the motel." Her eyes swept around, "This place is giving me creeps without the Granny."
He looked at her, but this time didn't bother with any question. It wasn't like that she was going to answer truthfully any of his questions.
Half an hour later, they were climbing to their floor in the motel in silence; the motel she had found was lacking elevators, among other things. Crossing the room, he threw his backpack on a twin bed, realizing this little excursion to the other side of Atlantic might take more time than he had initially planned. And Batman had already missed one night. He turned aside and looked at gritty Belfast skyline in the approaching dawn. This was another city where crime and corruption of mankind had been rotting for a long time but his priorities always lay with Gotham, where his life had begun and would end one day, nowhere else but Gotham, he was determinate on that.
The room had all the luxuries of ramshackle rattraps—stale air, broken furniture, filthy walls with peeling painting and moss, but he hadn't seen any graffiti of the Eastern Lily. Walking into the room, Valerie settled on the bed deep in thoughts still in silence, her mouth turned down in a scowl. Then in a heartbeat, she was on her feet. "All right…" she inhaled, as if coming to a decision, a decision he wasn't sure if he was going to like. "I need to see someone else."
His eyes immediately narrowed, "Who?"
She shrugged, "Another old friend," she replied, her tone getting him even more suspicious; he had learned about her body language rather well. "He might know in what hole Christian is, too."
"Who?" he repeated.
Letting out another breath, she shook her head, as if she understood she couldn't win that game, and she wouldn't. "A smuggler," she stopped and clarified as soon as his expression turned sterner; he was getting sick of this; "of alcohol, no weapon etc.," she went on, "When you want to find someone who doesn't want to be found, you go to Sean. He has close ties with Sinn Fein."
His eyebrows clenched further, and he couldn't help anymore. After all, he had given her word not to search her, but he didn't make any promises not to—question her. "And what's your ties with them?" he asked, walking to her.
Getting in defense, her arms crossed over her the fitted leather jacket she was wearing like a second skin, almost in protectiveness, but still tried to play the dumb. "What do you mean?"
He shook his head. "Both your doctor and contact are ex-IRA," he stated bluntly, his voice almost a raspy hiss, "I think it's quite obvious what I mean."
At his words, she dropped her arms off, easing out a breath close to a huff. "I'm not ex-IRA," she told him, "they're just old—" she punctuated the last word with a look, too. He looked at her back. She shook her head, a frustrating entering into her voice again, "Back in those days, you were either a Unionist or a Loyalist," she said, "There was no other option."
His eyes didn't leave hers. "I'm coming with you."
"No, not this time," she replied flatly, turning away from him.
"I wasn't asking your permission. I speak, and you follow my word," he set out the rules with a hard stare to remind her that he was in charge. There would be no comprises in that regard.
She was a smart girl, Bruce already knew. She knew when to retreat. Nodding curtly, she backpedalled, changing the direction of approach. "Look, he's not an old woman that turned out already death. I bet Sean doesn't know where Gotham is, but he still might recognize Bruce Wayne's famous features," she said, shaking her shoulders apologetically. "Be reasonable. I can't take you with me."
"I don't like it," Bruce growled out.
Shrugging again, she walked to mirror to apply more lipstick to her already burgundy lips. "Well, honestly? I'm not a fan of it either." She checked her appearance, unzipped her jacket to reveal a daring cleavage, and tossed her hair. She then turned around, put a hand on her hip, and posed for him. "How do I look?"
Unpredictable, dangerous…wild, Bruce thought. "Nice," he said out loud.
She made a face, displeasure pulling the corner of her lips down. "Not quite what I was going for."
He smiled at her falsely and fished out a tracking device from his pocket. He tossed it to her. She caught it in midair and arched an eyebrow. "Is this really necessary?"
"You need to ask?"
She gave him a filthy look in response. Then not averting her eyes from him, she dropped the device between her breasts. "Happy?"
No, he wasn't. His battle instincts were telling him the imminent dangers were lurking around at the every corner, but he wasn't sure which corner he needed to cover at first. He wasn't on his usual turfs, this wasn't his battleground. He was on the unfamiliar territory, and Batman wouldn't show around. Even Bruce Wayne couldn't be sighted around.
They were alone. The truth soured his mood even more, as he gave her a wireless ear piece. He had already blue-jacked in the phone he had given to her, so the wireless connection was the only thing he needed to listen to her conversation with her mysterious contact.
Without a word, she pushed the ear piece into her ear then strode to the door. "Wait for me," she said, opening the door, but before she walked out, her eyes skipped to the twin bed momentarily. A tight smile appeared over her lips, "I take the left side."