Part IV. III – The ghosts of the past
Bruce looked at the door that she just got lost behind, her last words still ringing in his ear. He's my father... In his mind, another memory resurfaced... wouldn't know, grew up in a covenant. He knew he shouldn't be surprised; lying was as natural to her as breathing was to others but all of things he had been expecting this Jason to be, father wasn't even in the list. He wondered this was also the reason she had been upset with the prospect of returning to her home town, even though he had an inkling that her father wasn't in the city. God, this had really turned more than he had bargained for. Shaking his head, he took a step forward to the bathroom, intending to bring her out for further questioning, but before he reached his destination the squall of his phone stopped him. He took it out and saw that Alfred was calling.
"Sir," the older man greeted him as soon as he opened up the line, "You've missed our rendezvous call," Alfred said, even though the words were accusing there was no resentment in his voice, only a slight worry. "Is everything okay?" he asked, "Do you want me to arrange the hangar for your return?"
Bruce let out a sigh. No, everything was not okay. "I don't think we're returning tonight as arranged, Alfred," he remarked, his eyes still fixed at the door, then accepted, "This recon is getting out of control."
Alfred stayed silent for a second, weighing his words, surely holding another "but I bloody told you" at bay. "What happened, Master Bruce?" he asked the next.
"We couldn't find her doctor, but found a contact that might know where the hell the doctor is," he answered.
"That's good," Alfred said, but he could still hear the question mark in the older man's tone.
"Yeah, the only problem is the man in return wants her to bring her father in to collect one of their old friends who might be very well planning a terrorist attack," he summarized the situation bluntly, "And she's lost her wits when she heard about her father. She's in the bathroom now, locked herself in."
It took almost a full minute before Alfred digested the shit storm he had just rained on him, then he carefully commented, "I thought she said she didn't have any family."
"Apparently she lied," Bruce sneered bitterly. "What a shock."
"What are you going to do, Master Bruce," Alfred asked, ignoring his last remark on good instinct.
His eyes turned to the bathroom's door again. "For starters," he answered, "I'll bring her out of the bathroom."
Valerie sat at the edge of the small bath tub in the bathroom. She had to escape because a good fighter always knew when it was time to fight or retreat, and her flight instincts had been always the best. The look Bruce had given her after her declaration; the astonishment and curiosity underneath the pool of frustration... nope, they weren't promising good things. He had managed to drill the truth out of her but he wasn't content with the answers he had gotten, not yet. He wasn't going to let the subject drop. He was far too stubborn for that. She cursed, feeling like breaking something. But it would bring his attention back to her, so instead she settled with banging a fist on the surface of bath tub.
If she had to be completely truthful with herself, she had to admit she had completely lost the control of the situation. Her end was still clear, she needed to get herself out of this mess, but her means had become...tangled. Christian was a paranoiac shit of piece, Sean was a certified son of a bitch, Jason was a can of worms that she didn't want to open, not now, not ever, and Bruce...well, Bruce was difficult to categorize.
She repressed the urge to shiver remembering the state she had left him in the room. He was nothing, nothing like the man she had seen before; the gloom of danger that she had seen only in glimpses before emitting off his every pore. People nicknamed Batman the vengeance of the night, and now she knew the reason. It was disorienting; one moment he acted like a gentleman in the old movies, the next a taciturn man; easy to smirk dark but hard to smile light, and then a creature of night. It was confusing, and she hardly became confused by people. She knew what they wanted. He was an enigma and there had been that thrill of pushing his boundaries, measuring his barriers, testing his edges, but now she felt like they had crossed a line. You're the goddamn Batman.
She still had no idea what had made her utter those words aloud, but she had said it, and she couldn't take it back anymore. They had been protected behind an invisible ward of impersonal subjects and indifferent pronouns, but now things had changed, once again, she could feel it deep in her bones.
You're the goddamn Batman.
She wondered what was she was supposed to do now, try her chances again for five-minute frolics? She wished they could have, but somehow she still knew he would just give her that look again for another attempt. She shook her head, as if to dismiss the memory. She decided if there was a thing called Fate, it must hate her. One fatal mistake and her life were doomed, and once again she was striving against the stream. She had been dreaming of tropical beaches and colorful cocktails as her happy ending, not crawling back to her father. She had spent her last years taking every bothersome precaution not to see his ugly face again, too many things had happened, too many issues still cut a little too raw, so many old wounds and old bitter feelings she was tired of carrying but didn't exactly know how to get rid of, either. But she tried, God knew she did; screaming, kicking, fighting… every day, every breath was a struggle, but she could see now that it wasn't enough, nothing would be enough. You always come back to your crime.
She walked in the grey corridors of the Hydebank Wood prison, glancing at the insignia of the newly formed PSNI all over the walls. It wasn't bad, seeing it finally happening, but the feeling didn't give her any comfort, understandably. "Is this really necessary?" she muttered, her eyes skipping to the handcuffs around her wrists.
"Shut up and keep walking," the female guard in plain blues snapped, walking beside her, her fingers tight around her upper arm.
She let out a sigh, but followed the order. Two days of prison life and she had already learned when one should keep talking, and when one should keep her mouth shut. She wanted to ask who had asked her presence, but the sullen woman hadn't given away any information the first time she had asked, and she didn't see any reason it should be different now. She passed in mind the possible candidates; the public defender will come the next week before her trial, and she had made crystal clear to Jeremy the last time that she didn't want to see anyone else. The hacker had made a case for Jason, of course, but she hadn't heard of any of it. What she had now to talk with her father? He had talked enough. "Call the fucking police!"
The guard opened the door of the interrogation room and made her sit at the left side of the metal table in the room. Only a few times inside, yet she already hated this room. Leaving her hands still bound, the woman walked out. A few moments later, the man she least wanted to see walked in. Her face turned thunderous. "What the hell are you doing here?" she spat, leaning over the table, as he walked toward her, his hand holding a dossier.
He threw it down on the table, with annoyance of all things. "We don't have time for this," he warned before saying anything else.
Of course not. He wasn't one to ask how she was actually doing. If she was okay or not. She laughed out, a sound bitter and dark. "I don't know you, but I do have nothing but time now." He sat down at the opposite side, giving her a look in silence. "Visitation is restricted," she remarked evenly, looking at him carefully, "How did you manage to get in without my permission?"
"Ryan," he explained plainly, "the guard brought you in. She owed me one."
Sniffing, she nodded, but didn't speak. He didn't, either. After a second, she stood up, shaking her head. Her bounded hands rose to knock the door, then she heard his voice from her back, "Sarah—"
Upon hearing the word, an anger she had never felt before swept over her. She spun on her heels, her eyes flashing, furious and unhinged, "Don't call me that," she hissed, "We both agreed I can't be Sarah."
He let out a sigh. "Kiddo, you can be whatever you want," he told her, "you just didn't want it."
"Didn't you like it?" she spat.
He shook her head in exasperation. "We really don't have time for this," he muttered under his breath.
Her lips flattened into a tense smile, the corners of her mouth twitching. "Yeah, you possibly have more important stuff than me," she bit out, "so why are you?"
He gave her a look, aloof and measured, but not disturbed even an inch by what he had seen. He was Jason Allen after all, and he didn't do sentimental. "I arranged a deal with Simon," he answered, voice plain in matter-of-factness, "We're giving him back the formula, and in return he'll recant his deposition. We arranged the prosecution, too. They will offer you a one-year-deal. We're settling this down without a trial. Simon accepted it."
She laughed bitterly. "Only because he will try here later," she shook her head, "One year!"
"It could be worse," her father countered, "We—"
She couldn't take it anymore, that placid coolness, like it didn't matter, not at all. "Don't talk in plural—" She snapped, raising her hands in front of her, "It's me sitting here with handcuffs, not you."
With her words, his coolness finally broke, his face distorting with anger. It felt good, like a victory, albeit a small one that didn't matter, either. "What do you want, Sarah?" he asked curtly, leaning down, "You want me to say I'm sorry? You want to see me in tears, dropping on my knees asking for forgiveness? It won't change anything. Won't make you feel better, either. You want to blame me for what happened, go ahead, blame me all you want," he said, then straightened back in his seat, "Blame me for your decisions."
"I don't blame you for my decisions," she spat, voice barely a hiss, the anger thinning it, "I blame you for yours—Call the fucking police!"
"I did what I had to do," he retorted, unapologetic ever, "There is no shame in trying to stay alive."
Bounded hands raised in the air, "By throwing me in the fire?!"
"If our positions were reversed what would you do?" he asked, "Would you try to save us all?"
"Yes!" she shouted.
"No!" he shouted back, his hand hitting on the table, "You wouldn't! Do you know why?" he asked, and went on even before she could open her mouth, "Because dead people cannot save anyone. And if I tried to do it in your way, that's what we'd have been, Sarah. Dead." He stood up. "So if you want to sit here playing the tragic victim, fine, do it. But if you want to survive this—" He threw the dossier at her, "— take a look at this goddamn thing I prepared to keep you alive."
She guessed at the end he had been right. One year wasn't that long, but it had been a madhouse; the transformation under the Police Act 2000 had affected also prisons; with each draw you made, you would have never known which end of the stick you might get. The file he had prepared was perfect. He had detailed the guards; giving names from the new transfers, and the former RUCs, and specified each gang to infiltrate, and each to stay away. The file also contained one certain doctor Clara Reilly. She had had no idea how he had managed to prepare such a detailed analyze but she had never questioned Jason's sources, either. He knew things, she had always accepted that. Without the information in the dossier, she couldn't have possibly made it out of there alive, for one thing; she could have never coaxed Clara to attain the safety of the medical wing, but then again Clara wouldn't have been dead, either. She stopped her thoughts. Jason had been right; sometimes you just needed to do what you had to do, despite the outcome; it wasn't fair, yes, but life was never. Perhaps she was really her father's daughter. She had thought she had built herself a normal life with Michael and it had taken him only a look seeing through her lies. There are no second chances, not in this life time. She shut close her eyes tightly, shaking her head, as if to dispel the words. No! There was. She had proved him once, and she was going to do it again. She was.
A thud on the door broke her thoughts. She turned to the door. So Bruce Wayne decided that he had waited long enough. She couldn't stay here forever, she knew, at some point she needed to leave—her lair, but as of the moment, it was the last thing she wanted to do, not that it mattered. She still needed to do it. She cleared her throat, evening her voice. "Yes?" Hearing the unshaking tone made her feel a bit better. Yes, she could do it.
"I ordered room service," Bruce said from the other side, his voice poised like hers, too, nothing like the man who had cornered her just moments ago in the every sense of the word. "If you want to eat something—"
His words trailed off, but she recognized the olive branch. He was offering them a safe exit out of the position they had put themselves in, and she sure as hell wasn't going to waste away his diplomatic efforts.
She opened the door, putting a frown above her eyebrows, going along with the play, "This rattrap has room service?"
Standing behind the little round table at the corner of the room, he shrugged in disinterest. "They managed with a toasted sandwich and potato salad."
She sniffed, taking the smell of toasting, walking toward him, "Good," she sat down on a chair, "I'm starving."
He settled on the opposite chair, and took one of sandwiches. He started eating it in silence. She did the same but couldn't help herself from giving him side-glances. He pretended he hadn't noticed. The silence in the room grew tenser with each moment they sat in front of each other without uttering any word, until she felt all of her muscles strained under duress. She took another bite from her sandwich then locked her eyes on him.
He looked at her back motionlessly. Swallowing, she shook her head. "So you aren't gonna ask me questions?" she demanded, almost furiously.
Putting his sandwich on the table, he only said, "I figured out if you wanted to talk about it you would bring it up—" his eyes found hers again, "and now you have—"
"You say that like you'd have let me off the hook even I haven't," she cut him off, not buying it.
"Not going to apologize for being who I am, either, Valerie," he shot back the words at her. He stayed silent for a second then said, voice plain and simple, "You told me you don't have any parents."
Grimacing, she shook her head in refusal. "No, I didn't." He opened his mouth, but she continued before he could say a word, "I told you I grew up in a covenant, which is still true," she said pointedly, "but it doesn't mean I'm an orphan myself."
The matter-of-fact words had him grimacing, too, the lines around his lips hardening, his eyebrow clenched. "Your parents left you there," he remarked with a small voice, his voice almost rasping, but she could sense the anger simmering beneath it.
She shook her head again, taking the cup of potato salad in her hand. "My mother was working in the covenant's kitchen. She died giving me birth," she explained, bringing a full spoon of salad into her mouth, "Jason wasn't even aware she was carrying me." She waited until she gulped down the salad, "He wasn't even in the country."
"But he found you later," he pressed further.
Her back turning stiff, she placed the cup back on the table. "Let's get one thing clear, Bruce," she told him curtly, "My mother is dead, and my father...I wish him dead," she said bluntly, her eyes turning to him. "Parental instincts can be an excuse only so far. I don't get a father just because he accidently dropped a few sperm upon an ovary in some distant past in a moment of...bad luck."
And once again, there was that look in his eyes as he looked at her, the prying eyes probing her, making her feel she was under a microscope, and he was the looking glass, and she was transparent until her last cell, and he could see the whole. But this time, inside that interrogative gaze there was something else too; underneath his inquiry, there was also pity.
She shook her head in defiance at his unspoken words. He leaned forward over the table, and his eyes caught hers. "Valerie," he spoke with a soft voice she had never heard from him, "If you don't feel comfortable with it, we don't need to find him."
She felt something seized her at chest, leaving her breathless, bile rising in her throat, her mouth was in ashes, her stomach burning with acid. She wanted to lash out, stroke down, clawed his eyes out of his sockets. She clenched her fingers into fists, and tightened them until her nails drew blood. "Don't expect me to feel uncomfortable," she hissed, "for someone who doesn't exist for me." She stood up then let a breath out. "I need to find Christian," she said, "and if this is what it'd take, then so be it."
Turning, she called another retreat. She walked back to the bathroom.
This time Bruce didn't try to get her out, but eventually she did, with wet hair and reddened skin. She had taken a shower, a long shower judging by the look of her and the vaporized bathroom. Walking toward the bed in silence, she glanced at him, then sat on the left side of it, and started pulling her yoga pants out of her backpack.
Bruce decided he needed to take a shower himself, as well. He walked to the bathroom. He cursed inwardly at the motel that hadn't bothered with separate beds, and he hadn't wanted to place her in another room. Now, they needed to share the same bed. He sighed out, stepping into shower. This was turning into a further mess with every passing minute.
The moment of tension inside the room had subdued into their usual strain but there was still much to discuss. He tried to think of a way to bring up the topic again, but his focus was slipping. He wasn't sure which side he needed to dwell now; there was clearly history between Valerie and her father; and there was her contact who wanted to bring them a rogue in, and he didn't even know where this father was.
When he returned to the room, he found her lying on her back on the sheets at the left side of the bed, as she had demanded. His eyes took a glance of the skeleton armchair and he walked to there. Slowly, he sat on the chair. She was pretending asleep, and for the moment Bruce didn't see any reason to call her on the act. Another minute passed in the silence then she shook her head. "Don't be shy," she called him slyly, her voice roughing, her eyes still closed, "It's big enough for both of us."
Her eyes opened, and she turned to him, her look drawing to him. He shook his head, shifting in the chair. "It's fine," he murmured.
A coy smile appeared over her lips. "Come on, I won't bite," she taunted silkily then paused for a bit, her smile turning to wolfish, "unless you ask."
"It's fine," he rasped out this time, his voice hardening.
"Suit yourself," she shrugged, turning to lay on her back, "It's not my back that would hurt like a bitch in the morning." She closed her eyes again.
Shaking his head, he looked at her, but didn't make any further comment. Granted she wasn't the first woman who made a pass at him, in fact, over the last year he had become habituated throwing women off his neck, but with her, it was different. First, she knew how to play that game rather well, and second, she knew what the other women didn't. This wasn't just an attempt to get him...in the bed, but a diplomatic approach as much as his own dinner offer; a way to clear off the tense air. And he appreciated it, even though he didn't approve her way of doing it.
He thought of the options. He would wait until the morning to question her about her father, or he would benefit from the olive branch she had extended. His eyes turned to the windows, looking at the darkened skyline. Darkness was a good blanket. It shadowed the truth, created a safe passage. He knew some things were easier to talk about in the dark than light, and he surmised her father was one of those topics. "Valerie," so he started, keeping his voice neutral but soft, "If you're serious about this, you know, we'll need to talk."
Despite his words, she didn't make a movement, pretending she was asleep. Bruce simply waited. After a second, she wielded, "Can't it wait?" she asked, her eyes closed.
"It can," he answered evenly, "But...there's no time like the present."
She laughed softly, opening her eyes. "Good motto," she straightened over the bed, and leaned against the headboard, "What do you want to know?"
"Is he ex-IRA, too?" he started.
She gave her a slight nod. Well, that would explain most of things. "But he left the country?" he asked the next, "after the Belfast Agreement."
She shook her head. "No, before it," she said, "he lost the...purpose, I guess. I don't know. He wasn't used to talk it about much," she went on, revealing finally they had been in touch in the past, "Once he said he was an idiot, a grateful idiot. He wanted to change the world then realized the world doesn't need them changing it." She paused. "Everything turns out the way it's supposed to," she intoned, shrugging.
"He's a deserter?" he asked, his eyebrows clenched with a frown. That hardly made a sense. She shrugged again. "That guy—Rory," Bruce went on, "Your contact said he adores your father. How does a rogue adores a deserter?"
"I don't know," she said, opening her palms to sides, "But if Sean says it, it must be correct." Bruce gave her a look, doubt clouding it. "Sean wouldn't demand something like this, unless he's certain that it'd work," she insisted, then paused, her lips turning down in thoughts. "Perhaps something happened in the past. He helped him out of a tight spot, saved his life—" Her eyes found him, a mocking smile appearing over her lips, as she gave him a meaningful look, "You know, there is honor among thieves."
He scowled at the mocking words, staring at her hard. She smiled wider. "So you were together with him before in the past?" he asked back, getting on the defense, his eyes promising if she pushed, he would push even harder.
She got his unspoken threat. Her smile vanishing, she nodded stiffly. "For a while," she muttered, her voice strained, "He learned about me when I was six. He wasn't a fatherly type, but used to come to see me once in a while." She shrugged, pausing, "When I left the covenant in fifteen, we—hung around together—" She halted again, and repeated, "For a while."
He knew she had skipped over many things, there was one thing that mattered more than others; "Then?" he asked, pressing further.
She looked at him in challenge, and said slowly, "Then we grew apart."
Nodding, this time he let her. "So where is he now?" he asked for a brief pause.
Her eyes turned up to ceiling, staring at the ceiling. "Where he belongs to the most," she answered, her voice turning a bit darker, "In a no man's land."