Part VI. II – "Telling Scars"
Pain, the whole world was in pain. On her knees and hands, Valerie swallowed a helpless cry inside her throat, clutching at her right side where the man had hit her. A feet away from her, she could see Bruce fighting with her attackers as another two pushed Rory inside the van.
Lifting her neck, she looked for her father, only to see him sprawled out on the ground. For a second, her breath caught inside her chest again, but this time not for the hot pain. Then she noticed the movement his chest. She let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding, the tightness in her own chest dissolving. Bracing herself for the pain, she tried to straighten up, Rory... despite what she had told Bruce, she couldn't let them take him away. Before it had been just a possibility, something could have happened, but now it was different. It was reality, and she couldn't watch it standing aside... Bruce's words echoed in her mind... or was it also a lie?
The words had stung, more than she would admit, more than she thought they would have, but they did, and she didn't like it. She pulled herself on the trembling legs, even though she wasn't sure what she could do. These men...they were trained, much, much better than her. Against them, she didn't have a chance. Bruce, despite all of his training, could barely hold himself up without the help of his armor and gadgets, while trying to protect a civilian. Clutching at her side, she turned to him, and saw him... and for a split of second her mind drew blank...seeing him fighting with her attacker, fighting like that, each move calibrated, his defenses as effective as his attacks. She had seen him fighting before in the locale in Egypt, but that had been nothing but a brawl, but this...this was different. The thoughts started spinning in her mind, but she shut them off; it wasn't time now for gawking at the reality that Bruce Wayne was the Batman.
Then she noticed it. Her former attacker was charging at him again, under moonlight there was a glinting.
Her heart rose to her throat, as she rushed toward, but it was already too late. She skid to a halt on her knees in front of him, suddenly her own pain diminishing, and clutched the knife in his stomach.
"Bruce—" she gasped, her hands wetting with warm blood, "Bruce—!" Pressing her hand on the edge of the wound, she tried to get his attention, but it was focused upward. Craning her neck up, she followed his gaze, and saw that he was looking at the van driving away.
"Bruce—" she called again, and his eyes finally turned to her.
"I'm fine—" he muttered roughly, trying to stand up. Bending forward, she caught him at his back, her arm wrapping across his back, rounded around his shoulders. "We need to move," he rasped, "The police..." he trailed off.
She nodded, her eyes tilting up to spot the security cameras. They needed to deal with them. Soon this place was going to swarm with cops, and before the police retrieved the footage, they would need to erase them. If their faces were spotted on the cameras...she shook her head defiantly at the thought. There was still the matter with the attackers, they had seen both of them, but they would think that bridge when they were going to cross it. Her first priority was to get Bruce to the medical attention he needed. The wound didn't look like deep, she estimated the blade of the knife about three inches, but it was needed to be removed safely.
Lifting her head up, she looked at her father. "Jason—" she called, but there was no response. She tried another time, this time higher, "Jason!" Still no response... Her heart skipped a beat again—"Father!" she shouted, standing up, and ran to his side.
She put her fingers over his jugular vein, and felt a rhythmic beating under her skin. She let out a disheveled breath, hitting his cheeks. "Jason—hey—hey, wake up," she called again, catching with the corner of his eyes Bruce standing up, staggering on his steps to find his balance—"Bruce, for god's sake—" she cried out, "Stand still."
"We need to move," he repeated again, rasping roughly, lurching toward to the car, "Take him," he ordered her.
She looked at the unconscious man. Take him how exactly? He possibly weighted twice as her. Lashing out a catty hiss, she grabbed his arm, and pulled his body into a sitting position. Positioning the body in the technique that paramedics used to extricate the unconscious injured out of the cars, he stuffed his right arm under his left armpit, and passed her own over the other, and caught her arm that lying across his back at the wrist. She then pivoted her body aside, and rested his chest over the length of her side, and started standing up, hoisting him up together with her. She took small but quick steps, and thankfully, when she arrived to the car, Bruce had already managed to sit down on the passenger seat.
Covered with sweat, she opened the back door, and dumped her father over the backseat as gently as she could manage in the circumstances. The last thing she needed was a man having concussion at the back seat, when another was bleeding serenely at the passenger seat. Her breath labored, her right side aching with the activity after she had gotten punched with brass knuckles, she sat on the driver seat, and started driving toward the motel.
Turning his head, Bruce looked at her. "Are you fine?" he asked, his voice still rasping roughly.
Her eyes skipped aside, fixing at him a glare. "You're the one who is sitting there with a knife stuck at his guts," she shot back, "and you're asking me if I'm fine?"
"I'll survive," he muttered, before he asked again, "How are you?"
She gave him another look. "I'll survive." His lips pulled out in a ghost of a smile, barely there, eclipsed by the reality; everything had turned to worse, just how like she had been afraid of. She always liked being right, but this time it didn't bring her any satisfaction, in fact, she would have gladly preferred to be wrong instead. "Those men—" Sucking in a breath, her eyes turned back to the road, "Military used guns, highly-trained defense techniques," she continued, "they aren't your regular street thugs."
As impossible as it sounded, his face turned even more stoic, as he nodded. "I know."
Her eyes shifted at him again. "What are we going to do?" she asked, but she already knew the answer. It was all over his face; for the first time she had known him, she could read Bruce Wayne's expression openly, without any trace of doubt.
"We're going to get him back," he answered, words sounding like an oath to her ears.
Thanks to all things good and sacred, before they arrived to the motel, Jason came to himself. She was already preoccupied with how they would get Bruce inside; another unconscious man tagged along would have been hard to explain. Harder.
His hand clutching the back of his neck with a loud groan, Jason straightened in the back seat. "Oh boy," he grunted, "I hate this." He looked at her. "What happened?"
Her eyes darting at the visor mirror, Valerie threw at him a glare, "I don't know," she shot back, "We're hoping you could tell us, father." The last word was an accusing hiss, spoken directly without any insinuation or allusion. She couldn't help but notice how those men had appeared after he had started asking around.
His eyebrows arched, looking at her back. "I beg your pardon?"
"Those men—" she snapped, her voice rising, "They appeared after you started messing around!"
"Valerie—" Bruce uttered her name as if a clear warning, as Jason barked out, "Do you think I did this?" he asked, his voice rising, too, as his eyes clenched, "I sold you out?"
"I didn't say that!"
Jason's eyes narrowed further. "Then what's that you're saying, daughter?" he snapped back, and his eyes turned to Bruce, "You—" then he stopped. "What the hell happened to you?" he exclaimed, looking at Bruce.
"One of them stabbed him," Valerie answered, before Bruce could do, "What I said was that you started your fishing—" and continued, Jason's eyes still fixed at Bruce, "and we're in a mess now."
"How are you?" he asked to Bruce.
Her neck craned back, she answered in Bruce's place again, "Oh, god, don't overreact. He'll survive."
Bruce threw at her a glare as Jason smirked. "Your worry brings tears to my eyes," Jason taunted, "I'm fine, too, by the way. Thanks for asking."
Parking the car in front of the motel, she growled under her breath. Bruce started getting out of the car, but placing her hand on his upper arm, she stopped him. She turned aside to her father. "Go ahead, keep the clerk at the desk busy," she instructed, "I'll bring him in."
Without a word, he nodded, and stepped out of the car. When they were alone, Bruce gave her a look. "Oh, please," she fumed, "don't tell me you didn't think of it, either," she shot back at his unspoken accusation.
Clutching his side, he shook his head. "That's not the point," he said, rasping.
"Well, I believe, it's just," she rejected, opening the car, and came to his side. She helped him out of the car, supporting him along her side, his arm wrapped around her shoulders. She half lifted her head up at him. "It can't be a coincidence," she whispered fiercely, "They appeared just after he had made his contact."
His head angling toward her, he nodded gravely. "I know—" They started walking toward the entrance, "I'd already asked Alfred to dig deeper about Rory." He paused, his voice tensing even more, "There must be something we're missing."
For that, she didn't have any opposition. "Yeah..." she paused, walking into the hall, her eyes shifting toward the reception. It was empty. Jason had done his magic once again. "Those robberies..." she said then, directing him to the staircase, "We need to look closer to those robberies."
In silence, Bruce looked at her again. She shook her head. "It's how their ways collided..." she muttered, "I don't like this." Bruce didn't say anything again, but she still knew he agreed with her. He had asked a deeper search, too. His nature wouldn't let him do anything else anyway.
"We need to clear our images from the security cameras," he said after a second. She exhaled a sharp breath. "We can't let anyone see us around here."
Crisply, she nodded. The problem was that there were so many things to do, so many things to consider, but not enough time, nor enough man power. "I'll...ask...Jason," she finally said, admitting defeat, admitting that they still needed him, whether they liked it or not.
The same sentiment souring his white-sheet face further, Bruce nodded back. In front of their room's door, Jason was waiting for them. Extending her arm out, she opened the door with the skeleton key, the technology of pass cards hadn't still visited this place.
Bruce still supported by her side, she walked into, and disposed him on the chair around the table that still operated as their work station. Jason followed them inside, too, as she went to look for the first-aid. They needed to extricate the knife quickly, and then stitch the wound, before he bled to death. He didn't seem like he was someone he had lost almost a tenth of his blood, but she had already understood what kind of appearances Bruce Wayne could pull off.
Then he stood up, and started walking to the bathroom.
For the love of God!
She rushed after him, and caught him before he walked into the bathroom. She turned him around to her. "Come on, Bruce," she whispered at him, shaking her head. She started taking off his bloodied shirt, but he caught her hands.
"It's fine," he rasped out, his eyes darting up at Jason for a second over her shoulder, "I handle this."
She rolled her eyes, taking her hands off, and continued unbuttoning him, "Don't be stupid," she said, but he caught her hands again, this time tighter, his eyes almost firing.
She narrowed her eyes, glaring at him. "For god's sake, Bruce Wayne—" She pulled herself free, ripping the shirt off, "It's not time to be a prude... She titled her head up at him, "It's not like it's something I haven't—" the rest of the words vaporized in her throat as her gaze caught a glimpse of his chest.
In utter shock, she stared... Because it was something she hadn't seen before, it was something she had never seen before. Scars ran over the wide length of his chest, old ones, and new ones... Bruises, some already healed, some still fiercely purple and read. She couldn't see his whole upper torso, but the way it looked, she knew they were running also across his shoulders, upper arms, and back...
You're the goddamn Batman.
She had known it, she had just seen it an half of hour ago, but she suddenly understood that she had never realized what that meant truly. She had never realized how truly Batman he was. The truth was there, etched onto his body with fierce lines covered his skin...leaving its mark undeniably, irrecoverably.
Bruce Wayne was really the Batman.
Her eyes still fixed at his chest, she looked at him, as if she was seeing him the first time. She knew, she shouldn't, not Jason was standing a few feet away from them, certainly assessing the situation, she knew she had to stop, but she just couldn't tear her eyes away.
The world suddenly made so little sense. All of this made so little sense. An urge to run away rose strong in her, run away and never look back, she had done it before, she could do it again, but she just couldn't move her legs, either.
Understanding her immobilized stupor, Bruce finally decided to act in her stead. He covered his body with her, and looked at Jason over her shoulder. "Can you check the footage from the pub?" he asked her father, his voice close to a rasp, but also clear, not giving away anything, his demeanor stoic; he was the Batman, how she couldn't see it before...
She couldn't see her father's expressions, but she could still sense his eyes on her back. With that thought, she willed herself to crane her neck aside, and pivoted her body at him. Just like how she had expected, lighted keen eyes were staring at them, speculative... She cursed inwardly. "We need to clear our traces," she said, trying to keep her voice even.
Jason gave her a look then a second later, he nodded, turning to the door. "Don't worry about it," he said, walking out.
As the door closed after him, she let out a breath, dropping on a chair at the table. "I'm sorry—" she muttered, though she wasn't sure what exactly she was apologizing for.
Clutching at his side, Bruce sat opposite side of her. "It's okay," he muttered, taking off his shirt, "You wouldn't know."
Her eyes shifted toward him, as the scars appeared without any filter. Turning her eyes, she shook her head, as he looked down at the knife. She stood up and walked to the mini bar, her hands shaking, her throat dry like fallen leaves. She needed a drink, god, she needed lots of drinks. She took one of the small bottles of scotch from the fridge. Walking back to the table, she sat back.
"I'm fine," Bruce said, as she placed the bottle on the table.
She softly laughed. "Not for you," she opened and brought it to her lips, "it's for me."
From his wound, his eyes titled at her, and he gave her a look. She pretended she didn't notice. Swallowing a big gulp, she settled it down on the table, and neared toward him.
Slowly, she bent toward his abdomen, his muscles tense and straightened. She touched where the knife entered into his body, her eyes trained on the wound. She didn't want to look up, didn't want to see those scars, that look in his eyes. For a little while, he stayed in silence, too, letting her probing him with her fingertips, then he slowly spoke; "Your hands are shaking."
She let a hollow breath out at the remark, her eyes still on the wound, "Yeah."
He was silent again for a second, then slowly said, barely above a whisper, devoid of any accusation, "I'd packed diazepam," her shaking hands halted, as she swallowed, but she didn't react any further. "If you need—"
"No," she cut him off, her own voice close to a whisper, too, her eyes still fixated at his abdomen, "I'm fine. It'll pass."
In silence, he nodded, but she would still feel his eyes on her. So he had figured out her little alcohol problem. She wondered what else he had figured out, but she didn't ask. She didn't want to, she really did not. "The point of entry isn't wide," she said instead, studying the wound, "and it's not deep, either," she finally lifted her head up, "but it's gonna hurt a lot," she paused, her eyes darting across his chest, spotting even a bullet wound close to his heart, "but apparently you've survived a lot worse."
His lips pulled out a thin smile. She bent her head again, and taking the pad of gauze with her left hand, she pulled out the knife with the right one. As she quickly pressed the pad on the open wound, his head dropped back, a guttural hiss rising out of him.
She quickly lifted her eyes to check him, and saw that he was breathing hard through his nose, his eyes shot tightly close, his Adam's apple rising with each labored breath. Her eyes stuck on the sight before her. That was something she had noticed before, but she hadn't realized the extent of it, either; Bruce Wayne was really a fine specimen. Her eyes again darted across the length of his chest, but this time for different reasons. He was hot, the scars were even adding a different charisma to him when you came to think about it.
She shook her head, as if to dispel the sudden thought. It wasn't the time to think of those things... not when he was bleeding under her hand. She opened the first-aid kit, and took out the surgical needle, thread, and other utensils. She first cleaned the wound with peroxide, then started patching him up.
As the needle tore the wounded skin, he let out another hiss. "How that happened?" she asked, pointing the gun wound with her head, mostly to take his mind off the pain, "A lucky shot?"
He looked down at her in silence for a second before he talked, "Quite the opposite—" He paused, "It was an unlucky shot."
She smiled faint, without humor, making another stitch, "For you," she said, "You got shot."
"It was Dent," he said then.
The retort died on her tongue. She swallowed, remembering Alfred's words... She shook her head, pulling the thread again with forceps. This time he didn't make a sound. The silence though became suffocating. "That?" she asked roughly, just to break it, pointing the zigzagged scar pattern over his upper body that looked close to teeth marks.
His eyes skipped over the odd scar, too. He then let out a breath, close to a hiss, and muttered, "Dogs."
Her hand halted over his wound as her head jerked up. "Dogs?" she asked back.
He nodded. "Yeah, big ones..." he continued, then shrugged half, "I'm carrying too much weight with the armor. It's hard to fight with rabid dogs."
Her hand still suspended, she blinked. Unlucky shots, armors, rabid dogs... Things made so little sense again, but she also understood that was the norm with Bruce Wayne. "And that?" she asked, directing her eyes another scar, because she didn't know what else to do.
"Fell off of a rooftop, landed on the top of a car," he answered placidly, no trace of humor for what he had just remarked.
And she lost all the sense in the world. Her eyes turned away from the telling scars that he carried like a badge, each retelling another story. She wondered what was hers; what was the scar he kept on his body because he tried to save her from a madmen? She let out a shaky breath. "This is crazy," she murmured, starting stitching up the wound again.
Under her bowed head, she felt his gaze on her. "You knew who I am," then she heard him say as she tied the last stitch.
Straightening back, she nodded, running her eyes away again, "Yeah."
"Still hard to believe?" he asked in a whisper.
The words had her head snap at him. She stared at the man that lay ahead her, naked, literally, as he looked at her back. The moment when she had seen first him, the real him, flashed before her eyes, him crouching beside his damaged car, making "her" scar. Somehow he now looked closer to that dispersed man who had just gotten out of an accident. His eyes were the same, too; keen, probing, intruding, to see what lay beneath, although there was a small difference now. This time he really looked like he could, as if she was transparent, bone and flesh, and he could see all.
But what he was seeing she didn't know. What he could tell if someone asked him how he got her scar, she didn't know. Her heart skipped a beat, racing against her ribcage, and she understood how close they stood, inches away, she could feel even his breath over her skin, gentle, and favored with mint, and hot, so hot, it felt she was on a fever, her blood heating... then she noticed he had drawn closer, his eyes skipping at her lips.
She swallowed. It was so hot, and she was burning...her heart beating inside her eardrums... He came even closer, his eyes riveted on her lips, her heart skipped another beat then she understood something wasn't right. She was about to get kissed, but she wasn't thrilled as she would have expected her to be, no, she was...scared.
In a heartbeat, she stood up. "I—I—" she murmured, as Bruce flinched back, as if snapping out of a trance, and looked at her, "I—should check Jason," she muttered, pointing the door at her back.
Wordlessly, he nodded, his face closing, the look inside his eyes veiling, as his gaze turned away from her. She turned, and walked to the door, and it took all of her self-control not to run to it.