Part IV. V – Operation Bat
If she had felt the tension in the air would have suffocated earlier, that was before she saw the looks Bruce was giving to Jason. Seated around the table, Jason pretended he didn't of course notice, instead took out his pocket knife out of his jacket with a smooth but disinterested movement, unconcerned of the bomb he had dropped unto them. Carrying with his aloofness, he provided an apple out of nowhere, and started slicing it with a meticulousness that clashed with everything else of him, his eyes still fixated on Bruce. He brought a piece to his mouth, the thin slice balanced on the sharp edge of the knife. His tongue flicked over the edge before the apple vanished into his mouth.
Barely keeping herself rolling eyes as a surge of irritation washed over her, she reviewed the situation. She wasn't sure how he had realized the truth. Bruce's camouflage was good, in fact one of the best she had ever seen, and she didn't like what that implied, either, that Jason knew their—connection. Her face soured, her mouth sat in with a grimace. Goddamn him to hell. But whatever he might know, there was another thing she couldn't help but notice, either; he had waited until they were alone in the back room to make his declaration, clear of any prying eyes or ears. Jason Allen had already started playing.
"So?" he asked, cutting another slice from the apple.
"So?" she asked back, frowning. Bruce stayed in his unnerving silence, not that Jason looked affected a bit. For a moment or so, she thought of sending him a warning look, he was out of the character for the playboy persona that he usually displayed outside, but she didn't see any reason to be bothered with it now. Jason had already seen of what he was capable in the brawl, proof of his victory decorated over his face in bruises and cuts. God, she knew they shouldn't have come here, never. Getting involved with her father never boded well, never.
Her face turned sterner, the memories threating to resurface. She pushed them down relentlessly, not letting them into her consciousness. She didn't want to think anymore. Despite her best effort, though, her mind still stayed occupied, her eyes staring at him, but no words came to her tongue. "Come on," Jason said then in her stead, "Give me some credit," he continued, sounding almost affronted, "You really thought I wouldn't notice?"
Her eyes skipped to Bruce, and they shared a quick glance but neither of them spoke. Jason took another bite of apple from his knife. "You waited until we're alone," she found her voice after a second. "I assume others don't know?" she asked to confirm, as vaguely as she managed. She wasn't even sure what exactly they were talking, beside Antony's real identity. He might have recognized Bruce's infamous features, though, she doubted it. How many billionaires were there in the world, and how many of them had their faces known all over the world, down to this no man's land that everyone minded their own business? No, Bruce Wayne was a figure in Gotham, in America, but for the rest of the most world he was just a name, a famous name... Unless you didn't have a reason to give the name a face. One could never know it with Jason for sure. He had many, many reason to do something. Her thoughts halted for a second, remembering what she had told Bruce only an hour ago.
"Because it's him." And he always had a hidden agenda. Upon her close scrutiny, still holding the pocket knife with the tips of his fingers, her father gave her that smile, all teeth and edge, "Of course," he said under his smile, "They don't know you the way I do."
She felt the familiar anger rising again, but before she could snap at him a retort, she felt again Bruce's hand over her body. He briefly touched her knee under the table, a slight brush, barely there, but it was enough to kill the lashing on her lips. She shot a glance at him, to see if he was aware what exactly he was doing, but his focus was solely on his father, the keen brown-green eyes giving him that stare she most of times observed directed at her. Bruce Wayne was doing his gig, she realized the next second, analyzing the situation, calculating the moves, evaluating the options before he engaged into yet another battle. The problem was that Jason knew how to play that game, too.
The tension between turned into a silent battle of wits as they stared at each other, both clearly coming to conclusions. "Do you know I saved her life, Mr. Allen?" Bruce asked suddenly, then clarified, "In Gotham."
Her head jerked at him. That was a bad idea, she had no idea what he was trying to do, but still she knew, whatever it was, it was a bad thing. "Bruce—" she tried to interject, but he didn't let her.
"He already knows," Bruce only said, his eyes never leaving off Jason.
Jason nodded. "More than anything it was a coincidence," he asserted, pocketing the knife back into his jacket after brushing the blade over his jeans to dry the juice off. She simply waited, every cell in her brain running wild, trying to come up with a plan. She could see where these was leading, and it was a very, a very bad thing. As a passing thought, her mind caught a memory, what she had presumed about Bruce at first, then, the cover story she had thought of while she had been on the run in the event that she was ever put on any real questioning.
Jason gave them a look, shaking his head a little. "Even bad news don't reach here fast, but some things are inevitable," he started again, then stated unceremionally, "We heard about the Joker." She could see Bruce's eyes turned to a darker brown but from his expression it was impossible to read anything else. Oh, fuck, she did really not like where this was going. "No one cared, me included," he continued, "But then I heard about his—social experiments and I must admit I got a bit—" he shot at her a look, shaking his shoulders off, "—interested."
Of course he did. She bet he had found it—funny. "I started reading about the boats, and that threat to the corporate lawyer—" He paused and looked at her, "Cameron Reese."
She felt all of her blood pulled out of her veins. "I saw your picture," Jason said, still looking at her, "Couldn't almost recognize you, you looked so different, but it was you—my daughter, almost lynched by a mob—" a hardness entered into his voice, his face turning sterner, then his attention turned to Bruce, "and saved by a drunk billionaire who wanted to catch the green light." He halted again, then said, with a finality in his voice, assertive and certain, "You don't look like to me a guy who drive drunkenly, Mr. Wayne."
A silence followed his words, the implications sitting heavily in the air. None of them had made a single reference to the Batman yet, but she knew the same thing was passing their minds. Tossing at Bruce a look, she decided to take the matter in her own hand; it was her mess after all. She started the damage control. Whatever Jason knew, he didn't know what had happened, didn't Bruce Wayne, not the way she did. "He was trying to save me," she remarked with a cool voice.
Jason laughed. "I gathered that much, kiddo," he said in return, "but why?"
She threw at him a look, meaning crystal clear; she didn't have friends; she had either partners or marks, sometimes at the same time. "What do you think?" she asked, her lips pulling into a wolfish smile, the same kind his father had given to them; all teeth and edge. Thanks to all things good and sacred, Bruce didn't react, but stayed unaffected, his poker face firmly on. "I infiltrated Wayne Enterprises to get the information for LSI Holdings," But as she followed he couldn't help but glance at her. She pretended she hadn't noticed, her attention still on her father, "Do you know the Chinese company?" she asked to him.
He nodded. "But in the meantime," she said, "Bruce and I—" she gave out another smile, "You know...got a thing."
"I see," Jason murmured, as Bruce's eyes skipped at her again. Her owns implored to him—"trust me." He looked at her for a fraction of second, his expression not changing, but she knew he got it.
"I was there three months, mostly sniffing around to pick a trail for LSI, but one night, I—stumbled on something," she halted, her pause straining the air in the room even more, her eyes finding them, "something that changed my life."
Jason's eyes skid to Bruce, "The truth about the Batman."
"Yes," she said, slowly, the affirmative word uttered with a certainty that roughed her voice, "Yes, I found the truth. I discovered what Batman is." With her declaration, both men stared at her, but for different reasons. She smiled, turning to Bruce, "What was that thing you called it, honey?" she asked, frowning, "The Bat Project?"
His eyes glinted, a small almost-not-there reaction, but she knew he got it, truly, got it. "No," he shook his head, "It's called "Operation Bat."
Bruce always knew she was smart, but all things considered, he had never realized how smart she truly was. "What" had been his first clue, the way she had said it instead of "who", but after "project" he had become sure. The details were still fuzzy, but he understood the gist of it; quick on her feet, she was spinning a tale.
"Do you remember "the masked guy in a dark suit" case back in 90s?" Valerie asked, leaning back against her seat, "IRA was robbing banks, but all the police knew was a man in balaclava wearing a dark suit. There were five different cases, but suspects, until one day the police caught three guy that seemed to fit the criteria."
As soon as he heard the beginning of her explanation, he realized completely what she was doing; he knew that story, too. In fact, he had even used it once with copy-cats in some extent. His eyes turned to her. He could acknowledge her...talent, but he still sensed there was more to meet the eye for that...tale.
Her father's look was still fixated at her, an understanding coming to his tilted eyes, too. "But they couldn't stick it up to none of them," he slowly murmured, a frown pulling his eyebrows. "They all fit the profile, but the evidence was telling one man, instead of a gang."
She flashed a smile, victorious in her strife. "At the end they had to release all of them because they couldn't decipher which one of them was their guy," she said, "In reality, all of them were their guys. Because there wasn't just "the masked guy in dark suit."
"No, there were masked guys in dark suit," Jason completed, and grounded out a sigh. "There isn't one Batman, is there?" he asked, "It's an operation—"
Valerie cut him off, "A black op," she said, "shouldn't exist." She paused for a second, her eyes skipping to him, but unlike other times, he knew this time her look was deliberate, "Wayne Enterprises works for Military, develops technologies for them. In the operations "Batmen" uses their—gadgets." Bruce inwardly smiled. She was tying the story to their case. "When I stumbled upon one of the stuff they're using—" Bruce's attention perked up again. He knew she had discovered the plans of the Tumbler, but he couldn't still understand the reason. As she had just confessed, she had been in the company for LSI Holdings, just as he had reasoned, but how or why she had found the plans was still a mystery. The plans had nothing to do with LSI. What she had been looking for, he still didn't know, and it was still as disturbing as ever. "I confronted Bruce about it," she continued, skipping those parts, "then he told me about it."
His mind tried to find holes in her story, but it seemed sound enough, their so-called "relationship" was a good cover for the confession he had supposedly done. Again, he couldn't help but feel an appreciation for the lie, despite how she had played with him before. At first, it had come across a way to provoke him, something he couldn't accept, but couldn't deny all together, either, but it was also counterproductive. She could really multi task, he was going to give it to her, killing two birds at once.
"Then the Joker thing happened," she said, a resigned sadness entering in her voice, her eyes skipping to her. "We had a fight," she continued with the same tone, her expression clouded with the same morbid sentiment, as if they had really had a fight, an awful quarrel that had no winning side. Inwardly, Bruce sighed. She was a damn good actress, so much that it was disturbing to watch her "playing". "I—I wanted to stop it, wanted to tell the truth, he didn't let me."
Jason was staring at her, hard. ""But you did," he stated, but the words were still looking for a confirmation.
She shrugged, "People were dying," she said, "I could stop it." Her statement made him almost frown. They sounded true, like she really wanted to stop it, wanted to help. Alfred had told him that she had said in a small way she had even wanted to help when she had called Engels. Could that to be true, that she might have another reason to do what she had tried to do beside the money, he didn't know. Her words passed through his mind like a flash; what would you have me do instead? People were dying and you were doing nothing. He had always taken them as a way of justification for her act but perhaps in deep down, on a subconscious level, she had been saying the truth. She thought she could stop it, by throwing him to the lions.
His eyes turned to her father, and he saw the older man looking at her in a way he couldn't decipher. "Of course, you did," the man muttered, voice sounding...exasperated. This time he frowned, her eyes turning to that darker green. The statement angered her again. He shot at her a glance, a warning, and she got it immediately. His eyebrows pulled an inch further. They were getting rather good at this, talking with only glances.
"So you decided to go to that coverage?" Jason asked in the sudden brief silence.
Her expression neutral once again, Valerie nodded. "I was going to tell the truth, that there was no Batman, not in the sense of the words," she explained, the shrugged, "but well, it didn't work."
Jason scowled. "So what happened?"
Valerie gave him a fleeting look, and he got it, too. She almost looked lost, as if she was running out of fuel. The eyes looking at him were pleading, asking help. After that there was only thing he could do. Like always, he came to her aid. "After the words about the Joker got out," he answered in her stead, the mention of the clown straining his voice, "The order was to stay put," he said slowly, "They wanted to clear her out without getting their hands dirty."
"But you didn't listen," her father said, his mouth turning down into a grimace.
He nailed his eyes at the man, and spoke clearly, making every word poignant and precise, taking the bar to another level, "She's the woman I love. I wouldn't have let anything happen to her." His look skipped to her, as Valerie stared at him, eyes widened, "I would never."
As they walked back to the room upstairs, the last words were still echoing in her ears... She's the woman I love... His professing of love wasn't anything but a lie, of course, but there was still some truth in his words, that he wouldn't have let anything happen to her, because he hadn't. Whenever she needed, she always found him there, offering help. With a shake of head, she dispelled the thought. He had his own reasons to help her, reasons that she couldn't understand fully, but she still knew none of them was about "love."
His declaration had put a stop in the discussion, as if the mere words would explain everything. For a moment or so, she wished they would really have, it would be easy; love would explain many, many illogical stupid thing.
She let out a sigh. They had managed to get around this at the last moment, but she had no idea how they could dodge the eventual conversation that Jason was going to demand from them. She knew he was, it was his nature, wouldn't do anything else. For whatever reasons, he had accepted to help her, perhaps because of "love", too, she passed in her mind derisively, but he was still going to want to learn what she wanted from Sean. There was only one answer for that question that would sound acceptable, and it was unfortunately the truth. And she most certainly didn't want to do it, didn't want to tell him that she was looking for Christian.
Why anyone would want that?
Bruce opened the room and locked the door behind as soon as she walked in. "Do—" she started, but in a heartbeat he walked in on her, getting her back pressed on the door, his hand covering her mouth.
Her eyes widened. "Baby, I'm hungry. You?" he asked, closing his mouth to her hair, "Bugs," he whispered into her ear.
Ah. Not making a noise, she nodded. He released her and turned to walk over the bed. He took his backpack. "No, I'm fine—" she said, her voice words clipped. No, she wasn't hungry. She was angry. Bruce must have gotten suspicious of something, something she hadn't. She had missed something. Her face soured, as he stood in the room, turning a slim black portable tracker on.
Quickly, he surveyed the room, and stopped at the left corner, where the bed stand was placed with an empty vase on it, watching the red flash at the top of the device turning to crimson. Bruce tossed at her a quick look before he reached out inside the vase. When his hand was out again, he was holding a small bug between his fingers.
Shaking his head, he put it on the bed stand, "Hey, let's get a shower first," he said, walking to the bathroom, "It's been a long day."
He opened the door, and waited for her. She passed through, and he locked them inside. As soon as he entered, he ran the device again, but the tracker stayed the same. At least, Jason had some dignity not to bug the bathroom. "That son of a bitch!" she fumed with muttered voice, then asked, "How?" she perched at the edge of the toilet's lid.
Bruce chose to stay standing, his back pressed against the door. "I counted five men before," he said, "two were missing as we walked to the backroom. They probably came here while we were talking to him."
She shook her head in disgust. "And why I am not surprised?" She let out another angered breath-sigh, and looked up at him. "Do you think he bought it?" she asked what she was going to before he had stopped her.
He gave her a tense nod, "Yes," he answered then looked at her again in that way. Ah. There they were starting again. Another interrogation. She could see it clearly, the way his eyes scrutinized, his eyebrows clenching with calculations. "How did you manage to come up with all that on such a short notice?" he asked.
She played the usual angle first. "I'm quick on my feet?" she asked, rising her eyebrow. He didn't buy it. She let out another sigh, and told him the truth, "I didn't come up with it just now. I'd thought of it before. When I was... away. Figure out it might be good to find a cover story that somewhat would explain the situation if I ever put on—" she shrugged, "you know, real questioning."
Getting her meaning, his jaw clenched, his eyes darkening. "You told the police you'd lied," he said the next, a strain entering into his voice, because of that prospect or the fact that she had thought a cover to save his ass, she wasn't sure.
But she wasn't surprised to see he knew her deposition. He was really best-friends-ever with the commissioner. "What else would I do?" she asked in return, "Tell them that Batman is a black op that runs by military?" She shook her head, "I have no desires to end up in a cell in Guatemala, Bruce."
Slowly he nodded, in acceptance, his eyes darting away. "It was a good cover," he accepted, words even slower, as if he wasn't sure how to voice them.
She shrugged, then confessed for reasons she couldn't fathom at the moment, "It wasn't exactly a cover." His eyes snapped at her. She looked at him back. "It was what I thought at first," she paused a second, "Kind of."
In silence, he looked at her. Heaving another small sigh, she started to retell. "When I found the plans, I thought you were giving him the stuff in Archives. The whole division of Applied Sciences was disappeared around the same time you started pancaking police cars and there were all those stuff," she explained, shaking her head. "You're a billionaire, and you have sources, so I just assumed you were backing and banking up. It was...logical..." she trailed off.
Again he slowly nodded. "How did you figure it out then?" he questioned.
She shot out a laugh, small but wry, "I didn't," she said, "It was Fox."
"When I went to see him—" She hesitated again, tossing at him a quick look, "—to have a talk," she remarked, his expression closed off, "he asked me, and I quote, "and your plan is to blackmail one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world who is secretly a vigilante—" she clicked her tongue, "—that spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands—" She shook her head. "I got it figure out."
His expression was impossible to read. "Fox told you that?" he rasped out the next second.
She nodded, "Hmm-hmm."
He looked at her, eyes heavy but focused. She barely held herself not to squirm. "So you didn't know it before, not really," he stated, voice rough.
She couldn't decide if he had liked that truth or not. So she shrugged. "It was you—the man who was sleeping in the meeting, driving fast cars, dating supermodels," she muttered, bowing her head, "How could I think of it?" she asked, letting out a derisive sound through her nose, "I can hardly believe it now."
A sudden silence followed after her last words, in her mind her voice echoing; you're the goddamn Batman. She cursed at herself, her eyes hesitantly leveling up to his.
There was again that look over his face, eyes checking her carefully. For a moment, she thought of leaving the room, and she would have done, too, if only she could have torn her eyes away off his, and stood up. She couldn't; stuck at where she sat on the toilet, she was just gawking at him like a moron. "How did you find them?" he abruptly asked, his eyes still riveted on hers.
Her eyebrows knitted together, "Huh?"
"The plans for the Tumbler," he elaborated, and repeated, "How did you find them?"
Getting out of her stupor, she frowned tighter. "You know it. I found them in the Archives."
"They were hidden well," he countered fast, shaking his head. Inwardly she cursed again. "You can't stumble upon them," he pressed further, his tone getting sterner, "Unless you're looking around." Pausing, he gave her a look. "What was it?" he demanded, "What were you looking for?"
Oh well, fuck it. She wondered how long he had been waiting to question her about this. And she had just given herself to him on a silver plate. She gave up a breath in surrender before she told him the truth, "I was looking dirt on Fox."
For the first time she had known him, Bruce Wayne truly looked like surprised. "Dirt?" he asked, confusion tinting his voice as much as his expression, "On Fox? What does that mean?"
At the words, she suddenly felt the anger, and tiredness, sweeping over her, finally the stress of her day snapping. God, it had been a long day, a looong day that ended up being stuck with Bruce Wayne in the bathroom, getting questioned. Her face twisting, she stood up, the agitation simmering in her veins, and walked to him. "That means, darling, you were both beyond the reason. You were dragging your feet, not signing the papers that would close the deal that would get me the fuck out of Gotham, and your dearest friend was just giving me those smiles whenever I tried to do something about it," she snarled, as quietly as she could manage, her face inches apart of his, "So I tried to do something about that," she said, "so I could get back at him those smiles." A smile the kinds that she had just referred to appeared over her lips.
Anger broke over his expression, too. He took a step further, closer to her in the small bathroom. "Let me get it straight, Valerie," he shot back at her face, crowding her, "You're telling me that we're in this goddamn mess because you were MAD!" he fumed in, voice rising.
Her face twisting, she shoved him off toward the door, hitting his chest, "For god's sake," she cried out, "We're in this goddamn mess because you couldn't help yourself!" She walked into him, "I warned you. I told you he's dangerous. But did you listen? No, of course, not. So don't try to lay the blame over me on this one." She looked at him hard, and repeated curtly before she opened the door, "I'm not gonna apologize for being who I am, Bruce Wayne."