Part VI. I – "The Hero"
As it was norm with them, a silence followed after his statement, Valerie staring at him, the light green eyes wide, but this time for different reasons. They were hawkishly skeptical, processing what she had heard fast, he could even see the wheels turning in her mind rapidly. "Someone is framing him?" she repeated at last, slowly as if to buy herself time, but also making certain every word was uttered with a certainty so there wouldn't be any misunderstandings.
Bruce simply nodded. "May I ask why?" she asked further, raising her eyebrow.
He turned to her, and looked at her back. "It was your idea, Valerie," he pointed out. It was. She had been the first one who had noticed it, Bruce thought, the truth souring his fool mood further, his stomach turning to acid. He should have done, too. And if he would have done, hadn't he been occupied with her and with the past this much. Inwardly, he let out a frustrated sigh.
Always mind your surroundings, echoed in his mind.
Ducard's lesson had almost cost him of his life, he could still feel the cold deep in his bones, but they had been also scalded down to his marrows with the bite of the frost. His eyes turned to the streets, looking at gathering storm outside, as Valerie shook her head.
"No, I was merely making an observation," she rejected, "not suggesting a conspiracy."
His attention turned back to her. For a moment, he wondered why she was opposing the idea, as if she didn't want it to happen, as if...he wasn't sure. It disturbed her, things had gotten out of their control, yes, but things had gotten out of their control long before. He thought of Gotham, and night, and the weight of his armor, and the heat inside it... the call of night was like a siren's song in his mind. He turned his mind away, and focused himself on the grey streets, on the grey sky that was harvesting a downpour inside. Soon, it was going to start, he knew, he would. "Can you find any other explanation that would reveal the whole mystery here?" he inquired, his eyes finding hers.
Her lips flattening into a grimace, she stopped fighting whatever it was she had been fighting with, and let out a contained sigh. "So—" she breathed out, "who is it?"
He shrugged, his eyes darting to the pub, waiting the men leave the locale, "I don't know. At this point, both sides are a safe bet."
"Both sides?" she mirrored his words into a question, her eyebrow rising again.
He nodded. "Rory was right. This truce isn't going to last forever." It hardly ever did. He wondered how long Dent Act would keep his streets clean, how long it would take before things turned to what it always had been, and people started realizing what it was they had traded off for their safety. Dent Act...much like his sonar, the newly enacted public law was dangerous, he always knew. He had agreed with Lucius to take down the sonar after they had finished, because he knew the older man had been right. No man should have given that much power.
"The streets are harvesting a fire storm, both sides are equally unhappy, and the only thing they need is someone to ignite it," he said, his tone turning rough with possibilities, "Then they would catch fire."
She closed her eyes, with another deep sigh, as if she was seeing the possibilities, too and rested her head back. "Okay," she huffed the word out, her eyes still closed, then spoke in one rushed breath, "Mark these words, Mr. Wayne, because you are not going to hear them again, but I should have listened to you—" she paused, "and let you find a doctor."
A small smile pulled out his lips. All things considered, perhaps that was what he liked about her the most, the way she admitted the defeat, with a certain tact and grace, barely blinking an eye. Then her face shifted, the lines along her mouth flattening into that tight grimace that appeared over her features whenever she decided something she didn't like. His smile faded, as she opened her eyes. "So—can you?" she inquired, her expression now deadly serious, voice stern, "Can you find one?"
His smile vanished off completely, as he understood what was that she had been fighting off. "Do you want to leave?" he asked slowly, his eyes narrowing.
She ran her eyes away, shaking her head. "We're in a situation we can't even understand," she told him, her voice heating, "This is more than what we bargained for—" She turned back to him. Motionlessly, he looked at her. She shook her head. "If we don't get out now, it'd only get worse."
"What about him?" she asked back.
His voice rose, as he stared at her as if seeing her the first time, and perhaps in a way he was. "Someone is framing him!" he rasped out, "He needs help."
"You don't even know him!"
"That doesn't make a difference," he snapped, "When someone needs help, I help them—" His eyes captured hers, unforgiving, "You should know that better than anyone, Ms. Reese."
She flinched back as if he had slapped her, looking at him with an angered look, but also with hurt. The next moment, she shook her head, and reached to the door's handle. Before she pulled it open, Bruce locked the doors. He had had enough.
Her head whisked at him, her eyes widening, the light green turning darker, her mouth almost ajar, but then, with a hiss, she turned aside, and tried to open the mechanism manually. He launched fast at her and caught her hand tightly above the door.
"What are you doing?" she exclaimed, trying to pull her hand off, pushing him with the other, "Let me go, you moron!"
He didn't. "Tell me something, Valerie," He turned her toward him, trapping her between the door and his body, "Why did you stay in Gotham after the Joker made his threat? Why didn't you leave? Why did you show up at Engels' show?" he asked in a single breath, and continued, not even giving her a second to collect herself, his right hand still gripping her fingers tightly. Her resistance ceased, too, and motionlessly, she started looking at him, stupefied. "You told me you did it because I wasn't doing anything," he rasped out, his breath an inch away from her, "and you wanted to help. Or was that also a lie?" he asked relentlessly.
The last word broke her stupor. Her hands on his chest, she pushed him off with all of her might. "What's the difference?" she yelled at his face, "I did it, and look at my life now!" She shook her head at him. "Why I would do the same mistake again, Bruce, why?"
"Because if someone doesn't interfere," he yelled back, he had had really enough, enough of all of this...why she couldn't see it... "something bad is gonna happen to him."
"And I would care WHY?" she shouted, rising her hands, "Bad things happen to people all the time, it's life." She made another attempted to open the door, but he caught her again. She wouldn't have meant it, he knew she didn't. She cared... She had called him.
"Valerie—" he started, but stopped as soon as his eyes caught the figure that was watching them outside the car, a frown over his eyebrows. Valerie noticed his hesitance, too, and followed his eyes, then frowned back at her father.
As he pulled back, she finally opened the door, and left the car. Bruce stepped down, too. "What's happening here, kiddo?" the older man asked, his eyes moving between them.
"Nothing," Valerie snapped back, "What's happened there?" and asked, pointing the pub with her head, "What was that?"
"I cut the chase," Jason answered, shrugging, then turned to him. "He's innocent...well, on this case, at least," he amended, "someone must be framing him." Valerie scoffed heavily, throwing her hands in the air.
Her father's eyes skipped at her. "What's wrong with you?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
Her eyes narrowed, too. "What's wrong with me?" she seethed out then barked out a laugh, close to hysterical, "with me?"
As her eyes widened, a look he had never seen appearing over her face, Bruce realized she had had enough too. Quickly he walked to her. "Valerie—" he started again, gentling his rasping voice into a civilized timbre, but his words interrupted again, this time by her.
"No," she whispered roughly, her eyes fixed ahead of him.
He craned his head, and saw that Rory had exited out of the pub, looking at the street as the same time a black van approached him at the top speed from the north, its plate number darkened. The younger man noticed the van as he placed a cigarette in his lips, and recognized the trouble as quickly as he did.
Bruce turned to Valerie. "Go back to the car," he ordered with a rasp.
He turned back, but her hand clawed at his fore arm. Halting in his steps, he looked at her then pulled back his arm. "It's okay," he said, "start the motor." He shifted a look at Jason, turning away, "Come with me. We're getting him in."
He crossed the street as the same time the black van parked along the curb, men in balaclavas spilling out of it. With the corner of his eyes, she saw Valerie getting in the car, preparing their quick getaway. At least, she had listened this time, understanding that they would probably need a fast driver. He shot a look at the older man next to him, as the man narrowed his eyes. "This's not good," Jason murmured, as a man with P90 stepped down.
Taking a hold of Jason, Bruce quickly dove, taking the cover behind a car. He made a hand gesture, directing the man to stay still. The man titled eyes narrowed further. Bruce decided it made little difference now. Barely making a move, he rose from the car, and approached to the men, assessing the situation.
Rory was surrounded by three men, the one with P90 taking the head. Bruce gazed at the personal defense weapon. It was a standard military issue, 5.7×28mm cartridge, with picatinny rail, something that should not be in the possession of a street gang. Something was amiss. These men weren't the same group from the last night. Their whole body structure and body language spoke differently. He wasn't sure who they were, but as of the moment it hardly mattered.
At the sidewalk, Rory was looking at them, his eyes widened, his back on the pub's door. Then with a spring, the younger man took a step backward, and fell back into the pub. As the man followed him, Bruce took a turn to left, Jason on his tail, and circled the block outside to the back exit. He touched at his ear, "Valerie," he called in, "Come to the back door."
"Copy that," Valerie confirmed, as he heard tires stretching, then ordered back at him after a brief hesitance, "Ask Jason if he has a gun."
His face soured. She was already aware of his "no gun" policy, as he had made it to her clear with "no-drinking" policy, but judging by the situation, this time it seemed he was going to have to make an exception. Without his armor, the chances of standing against a full automatic machine gun were below zero. While running, he shifted his eyes to the corner, and caught a glimpse of the older man, his hand holding a Beretta.
They took a cover at the street that opened up to the back door of the pub as Rory ushered out of it. "Aim for the hands and kneecaps," he ordered, his eyes falling to 19mm gun, "Take the P90 at first."
As Valerie parked at their left side, he saw men appearing from the other side of the street. Rory had already stared hoisting himself up the fire ladder. He passed the structure in his mind. Before they had taken the cover in front of the locale, they had circled it, to get their bearings, and that information had become vital now. "Valerie," he called in her again, remembering the maintenance platform lift he had seen at the other side of the building, "Turn around the block," he instructed. Her father's eyes sharpened with something that Bruce wasn't sure if he liked it. He was aware how things must be looking to the older man, but he couldn't stand by and watch an innocent person die without doing anything. He simply could not. He gave a last look at Jason, before he stepped out, "Cover me."
Closing his mind everything, he engaged. The men were surprised seeing him at first, but they quickly recovered. The man with machine gun held it up, the barrel directed at him, but before he went with the first around, he was shot from his hand, then his kneecap. With a howl, the man stumbled down, blood spurting out of him, coloring the grey pavement red. Like he expected, Jason proved himself exactly the man he had assessed him to be; a former guerilla, who could spot and shoot even a bird in the sky with a perfect projectile. Both shots were meticulous, just Bruce had instructed, at the joints that had the man incapacitated for further fight.
Without wasting any time, Bruce turned his attention to the man who pointed a Glock at him. He held the wrist reaching out to him to disarm but the man's other arm raised up in self-defense, wrapping around his throat. With his free arm, Bruce grabbed the man around his neck, as they fought for dominance. It had been a while he had made this dance, this openly, this vulnerably, the protection of his armor and cowl getting remarkably clear in his mind as the hand tightened around his windpipe mercilessly.
In a way, Batman had weakened Bruce Wayne.
He crushed the thought, as his hands crushed both wrists, an animalistic growl on the tip of his tongue. He was opening of a can of worms, he was aware, but as of the moment, it didn't matter, either. The only thing was mattering right now to take Rory out of this in one piece.
Bruce tackled down the man. His opponent countered the move, bringing both of them on the ground, using the momentum. Flipping back, Bruce caught the man's neck with his crisscrossed legs, and squeezed, as reaching to the gun the man had dropped down. He grabbed it, tightening his inner things further around the neck, and shot the kneecap of the last attacker that was approaching. His own attacker's rough grunts reached to his ear, as he straightened, catching the man's flying arms. The next moment, he was out.
Releasing a labored breath, adrenaline pumping in his veins, Bruce turned to Rory, as the man stared at him with widened eyes. When Bruce took a step forward, he took one back. Bruce pointed at the fire ladder. "Quick," he ordered, taking a hold of the man's upper arm, "We need to move before reinforcement arrives." Something was telling him they were about to. These men...he was right about his first assessment. Much like he had expected, they were highly trained, not simple street thugs.
His eyes widening more, Rory slipped out of his grip and took another step back. "Move out?" he asked, his eyes darting around in a vain hope to understand the situation, "I don't even know you."
He looked back at him straight in the eyes, a look most of times he only directed at people behind the cowl. "I'm the one not holding at you a P90, Rory," he told him, his voice turning into the distinctive rasp on its account, "You're in trouble," he stated, "and you have exactly two seconds to decide which side—" he pointed the men on the ground, "you're going to choose."
He had hoped the words would have moved him, but stationed where he was, Rory continued to look at him baffled. Releasing a frustrated breath, Bruce caught the man again. The younger man made an attempt to fight back, but Jason's voice stopped his resistance. "He's fine," Jason stated, taking Rory's arm from him, and led him to the fire ladder, "Come one, we need to move."
"Jason?" Rory asked, but his feet had started moving. Bruce followed, his eyes surveying around to spot any trouble, "What are you doing here?"
Jason flashed at him a cocky smirk, "Having a drink with an old friend?"
"Valerie—" Bruce called in at the same time, "Everything is clear?"
"For now," she answered.
Upon the roof, he brought them at the other side of building. As he had expected, the open-air cage lift was there, dutifully waiting for them. On the lift, he pulled the leverage to move the mechanism, and they started having a free style drop toward the ground, at the top speed. Rory held the barriers tightly, as Bruce studied the street from his vantage point. The white Honda was parked a hundred feet, its motor running as he had instructed, Valerie behind the wheel, again as he had instructed, her face set, her eyes turned to that darker shade of green.
For a reason, the way she looked reminded him the time she had showed up in his room. There was the same predatoriness in her darkened eyes, the same reserve that suggested she could anything. The lift touched the pavement with a loud thud, and he quickly disposed them, as the same time another van appeared at their six o'clock.
Jason brought out his gun, already aiming, and already late. Another man in balaclava hit him, sending him down to pavement. As Bruce jumped over the railings, the man held Rory, as another put a black bag over his head, and then a white blur passed by.
Rory threw himself down on the ground, as Valerie hit his attackers with the front side of the car. His blood boiling, he threw at her a glare, she wasn't supposed to get involved, but she was already out of the car, too. Before she walked around the car, the men drew back from the ground, and held again Rory, their steps halting.
Bruce charged toward them, but two other men caught him before he moved, his arms twisted behind his back. The third man in front of him punched him under his ribcage, his fingers armored with brass knuckles. For a second or so, as the impact darkened his vision, it also cut short the breath in his lungs. He doubled in two, as the man threw another one at his stomach. Before the third blew out at his chin, he launched forward, toward the attacker, bringing his holders too. His momentum broken, the man's punch beat the air instead of him.
He broke himself free, and turned to Rory. Two men were stuffing him inside the van. He moved but then with the corner of his eyes, he caught something, something that had his steps halt dead. Valerie was running toward Rory, her face set with sternness, her eyes darkest green, but blind to the man was coming at her from her right side.
The man caught her as Rory dragged his feet with all of his force, his fingers gripping the van's doors, blood running over his fingertips. Throwing a quick glance at Jason, he saw the older man was out with the blow he had gotten. His eyes went between Rory and Valerie's fighting figure, as the man hit her at the stomach with brass knuckles, too.
With a painful scream, she dropped on her knees, her hair wrapped around the man's hand, lifting her head up, his free hand fisted... Bruce didn't hesitate any longer. He dashed toward them, and knocked out the man on the ground, jumping on him, with a flying kick. Valerie first arched backward, as the man swirled in the air, then the grip on her hair loosened, she dropped on all her fours, her eyes watered red with pain. Her attacker flipped back, and landed on his legs then sprinted at him, his torso bend down, his hands tightened at his sides, something glinting...
He noticed it too late. With the impact, he felt a scorching pain in his side, his knee protesting the heavy fight without his bracelet. The man, rolling over him, jumped back on his feet, and rushed toward the van. His hand grabbing the knife in his stomach, his fingers slick and wet with his own blood, his eyes leveled up the van's tires, he watched it go, taking Rory away.
Another person he had failed to protect.