Part VI. III — Full Circle
With a grimace, Bruce stared at the door, even after Valerie disappeared behind it, what just had transpired between them turning one corner of his mouth down, even though he didn't have any inkling how it had happened.
How he had almost kissed her, he didn't know. How the urge to get closer to her dimmed all the other realities in his mind, he didn't know. The moment just had evolved into something he wasn't sure what it was, her asking him about his scars, hovering just above him, and she was so close; apart like planets, but Bruce didn't know if he had ever gotten this close to a woman, if any woman had ever seen him like she had...not even Rachel, not even Rachel had seen him the way Valerie did.
This is crazy...
No wonder she had run out of the room. The first time since he had known her, the woman who had been throwing herself at him repeatedly had chickened out at the first sight of who really he was. She was a smart girl, after all, Bruce always knew.
She understood what Rachel hadn't; any closeness to him was trouble.
The truth didn't bring him any pain, like it used to. It didn't matter. There had been times he thought his story would have a happy ending, but that was a long time ago. That book had already closed. All things considered, he was even glad that Valerie had seen it, understood he wasn't a knight in the shining armor. No, he was the Dark Knight, a fallen hero, and it was okay. It was his choice, and he had accepted it. Steeling his mind off, he turned his eyes away from the door, and focused on the present.
It wasn't time for kisses anyway. There was someone who needed his help. Putting a clean shirt on, he turned on his computer. His only relief was that he had a way to track down Rory. The lack of mobile phone would have been a problem, but luckily Rory was wearing the same jeans that he had placed a bug inside.
The computer opened, and he quickly typed a few commands, and the map of Belfast appeared over the screen. The red dot was there, at the north side, close the port, and already stationed. They had moved him into a secure place.
He sprung on his feet, and rushed out of the room.
Her head spinning, her heart drumming, Valerie stood her back against the door, and exhaled shakily, her hands trembling again. The frightened sense turned to confusion that she didn't know how to clear. This was ridiculous. She couldn't feel like this just because he might kiss her.
She was a seductress, a woman that would bring men on their knees, not the other way around. This was...embarrassing. She forced herself to get a grip, resting her head over the door, and stilled.
She had a work to do, things she needed to take care of; it wasn't time to act like a blushing virgin because of a kiss. As the thought steeled in her mind she felt calmness washed over her. She took a small step away from the door, and tossed her hair before she walked to Jason's room.
It was time to deal with that, too.
She knocked the door, and a few minutes later, it cracked open, creaking, and Jason appeared at the threshold, holding his jacket, as if he was about to leave. Her eyes narrowed immediately. "Where are you going?"
He fixed a glare back at her. "To deal with the security cameras," he answered in a sharp tone, edged by exasperation, "like you requested."
She walked into. His eyes followed her back. "You made another contact?" she asked.
"What else would I do?" he asked back, slapping the door close, "Hack into their servers?" He shook his head. "You know it isn't my style."
She let out a snort. "You mean you called Hayes?" she asked, turning around, and looked at him challengingly. It was time to have that talk, as well. She couldn't delay it any longer.
At first, Jason gave her a look then a small smile pulled out his lips. He threw the leather jacket in his hand over the bed, as if he understood his plans might wait for a bit. "So that was the thing in the car?" he asked, walking to the table at the corner, and picked up an apple from a bowl on it. He sat on the chair, taking out his knife, and started slicing the apple. "You followed me," he remarked, throwing a slice into his mouth.
There was an accusing timbre in his voice. She shook her head. "Can you blame me?"
"For not trusting me?" he asked, his smile fading off then he put the apple down, "Not really," he muttered, pocketing the knife back.
For a second, she closed her eyes, exhaling deeply then opened them, and looked at her father. "Jason—" she started in a serious voice, "If you have something to...say, it's time to do that."
His head tilting aside, he looked at her back, his eyes unblinking. Under his close scrutiny, she felt fidgeting, but firmly stayed where she stood, immobilized. She would not move an inch. "Do you really believe I'd betray you?" he asked, his voice was now almost a whisper.
Yes... She passed in her mind, but she couldn't say it out loud, she didn't want to say it out loud, she didn't want to feel the same disappointment again... The urge to run rose strong again, and she turned around. "I need to check Bruce," she said this time, calling another tactical retreat, and walked to the door, "Deal with cameras."
Her hand held the door when she heard his father slowly ask from her back, "You will never forgive me, won't you?"
She stilled, her steps halting, for a split of seconds memories returning. She wished she had a way to stop them, it was too late. No one could run from the past, the past was what they were now, and what she was now...? A desperate woman with a desperate act. "Forgive you for what? For betraying me," she asked, turning back, "or for behaving like it was no big deal?" The words cracked, her voice rough with emotions she couldn't let him see, let anyone see, but she couldn't hide them, either, not any longer... It was too much, so much. Was this what she deserved, for what she had done, for what she had caused...? Her own blame, her own sin; Clara, Michael, her baby... Her thoughts stopped, as sudden as a flash in the dark, and crushed down. Her eyes found him. It was there... The source of all of her sins, it was there, asking her forgiveness, and she still didn't know how to do that. Even if she did, even if she forgave him, how she could forget?
Looking at her, Jason let out a deep sigh, shaking his head, as if he was seeing that truly. "You can't change who you're, kiddo," he said, turning his eyes away, his voice echoing from the past, "you can only choose." He looked at her back. "And we both did. We both made our choices long ago."
She recalled what Alfred had asked her back in Gotham and she couldn't help herself but repeat the question, "And what about the consequences of our actions?"
He let out a smile, sadness covering it. "They always follow us," he answered, "Like death always follows life, and one day they will catch us."
He looked at her. "And then we die."
She shook her head, feeling life draining out of her. The world was suddenly behind a blur, her eyes pricking. Their last talk flashed over them, and she realized she still didn't have an answer for what she had asked him at that day, so she repeated again, "Why are you here, father?" she asked in a whisper, blinking away tears, "Why did you come with me?"
He smiled again, remembering that forgotten day, "You know why." She laughed, broken laughter cracking in her throat. "I'm here," he continued, walking to her, "Because you're my daughter. And I didn't want anything but the best for you."
Her laughter became louder, more broken. She shook her head. He took another step further. "I waited—" he whispered to her, "I wanted to see—I wanted to see if that was really what you wanted, not just a wishful thinking. I waited, sweetheart—" He let out a sigh, "—then I heard it." Her eyes snapped up at him, "And then I knew what I had to do."
She closed her eyes, a long trail of tears running down over her cheek. "Because you couldn't let me live a lie?" she whispered.
"Because I couldn't let you believe a lie," he corrected fiercely, and grasped her at the shoulders. "We all tell lies. Do you think I'm not aware of your lies with the man over there?" He pointed at the door with his head, "But they don't matter. Because you know them as what they are."
Her heart suddenly skipped a beat. "Wh—what do you mean?"
He gave her a look, his hands dropping at his sides. "Kiddo, give me some credit. I know he's not your lover—" he said, sighing out, "I was suspicious before but after I saw the way you looked at his scars..." He looked at her, "like you have never seen them before...the man you're supposed to be love in with...?" His eyebrows arched in question. Suddenly spent, she ran her eyes away. "It's okay," Jason said, his voice almost assuring, "You don't need to explain."
Her head snapped back at him. "You don't want to know?" she asked, confusion kneading her eyebrows.
He shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he refused with an adamant voice, "It's your—secret."
That moment she knew he knew. He knew about Bruce. He had figured it out. He didn't look like he knew the details, but he had understood the gist of it; Bruce's true identity. "Do you really don't want to know?" she asked slowly. It wasn't him. Knowledge was the most important tool for Jason Allen. It was his nature.
But still, he shook his head in answer. "I know you need to do what Sean wants you to do," he said, "and that's enough for me."
She let out a shaky breath. She wanted to believe what her ears heard. She wanted to believe the words. She wanted to believe her father. She wanted to believe that he was only here because he cared. She didn't know. She couldn't. But Bruce was right. She would never know it for sure if she didn't let him in, if she didn't give him another chance. It was what she was after, too. If she deserved a second chance, why her father wouldn't? Her decision became adamant. She had to take the leap. "Christian," she said, turning to him, "I'm looking for Christian, father."
The walk back to their room was like a moment from a dream, something she couldn't be sure if it was real. She had told him. She had told him she was really going to kill herself, and be another person. The thought was frightening, but at least Jason hadn't reacted much. Ever the practical one, he had simply nodded, taking the surprise, and announced that he needed to deal with the security images. Perhaps it was just a front for him, too. She still couldn't know for sure.
She let out a frustrated sigh. This was all Bruce Wayne's fault. He had softened her. A small smile appeared over her lips on its account, remembering him, then dropped off. She stopped. Bruce! God, he was going to kill her! Once again she screwed things up. Jason discovered his secret. She closed to the door, and reached to the handle but her hands hung in the air as the door suddenly opened, the man in question appearing behind it.
Her eyebrows furrowed. "What are you doing?"
He left the room, taking a hold of her by grabbing her elbow. He started dragging them downstairs. "I found Rory," he simply declared.
Her steps faltered, "How?"
"The tracker in his jeans," he answered, still maneuvering them outside, "It's still with him." His eyes looked around, "Where is your father?"
Walking out of the motel, she paused before she answered, "Went to the source material."
Bruce looked at her hard. "He's gonna bribe one of his contact to erase the data," she explained, "it's easier than hacking into their servers."
"And more risky," he shot back, walking to the white Honda, "What if the man takes a copy?"
She shook her head, and answered with a more certain voice than she was feeling. "Jason wouldn't let that happen." She opened the door and sat on the passenger seat. "We should worry about Rory."
His hands stilled at the wheel, his eyes turning to her. He gave her a long, searching look, then his eyebrows tightened, and a scowl appeared, his eyes darkening. Her heartbeat quickened. "He figured it out, didn't he?" he asked, his voice edging, "He knows."
She gulped, running her eyes away, but words followed out even before she knew what was she doing, "I'm sorry."
He started the car, giving her the same answer from half an hour ago, "You wouldn't know." But the words this time had a strain, like he was getting tired of it. She could hardly blame him. Her eyes went toward his abdomen.
"How's your wound?" she asked.
"Fine," he answered crisply.
She let out a soft sigh. How things had turned this ridiculous between them she didn't know. "Bruce—"
"It's okay, Valerie," he cut her off, "It was only a matter of time before he realizes anyway." His eyes darkened further, his voice a sharp rasp, "I'll talk to him."
Ignoring the last statement, she shook her head, as he took a turn to exit to high road. "Don't," she said, softening her voice, "Let me deal with it," she asked to him, "We haven't talked much, either. I don't even know how much he knows."
His eyes skipped away from the road for a split, "What do you mean?"
"He said he doesn't want to know, because it doesn't matter." He glanced at her again. She let out a contained sigh. "I think he's trying to protect himself," she said slowly, "Jason has been always smarter than me." She gave her a small smile with close lips, "He's aware the less he knows the better it is for him."
Sometimes it's best not to know, she remembered, looking ahead. She wondered how much truth her words held. Perhaps he was really just protecting himself. Jason had been always the smartest. Look at how her life had turned out because of Bruce Wayne's secret. He might have definitely seen that. He was protecting himself, but perhaps he was protecting her, as well, a small little part of her whispered. If he didn't know, he wouldn't betray her. Her eyes skipped at Bruce. She wanted to tell him, but she couldn't, she couldn't confess... so she did the best next thing she seemed to be able to do; she asked for his forgiveness. "Bruce, I'm sorry."
His eyes trained on the road, he muttered, "It's okay."
She shook her head. "No," she said, "no, it's not." His eyes turned to her. "But I'm still sorry."
Turning his attention back to road, he slowly nodded in silence, but it didn't feel like absolution.
The tense silence in the car was disturbed by the long chirp from the tablet. Valerie quickly grabbed it as if it was a lifeline, and Bruce could understand the sentiment. After the talk they had had he wanted nothing else but to reach the warehouse, and do what he always did, trying to save an innocent.
The rest he could deal later. The only thing important now was Rory. It was apparent something had happened with Valerie, not only them almost kissing, but something even more demanding that had her apologizing. Mentally, he shook his head, chasing the thoughts away. He had a job, a mission; he had no other purpose in life now.
"It's Alfred," Valerie said, her eyes scanning the screen, "He sent us the police records."
He nodded. The file Sean had prepared hadn't mentioned it but he became suspicious. "See if he ever left the city," he ordered. She lifted her head from the pad, looking at him in question. "While talking to Jason, Rory said it's good to be home...like he left it at some point," he explained, "Sean's file doesn't mention it but check it," he told her again, "I want to see."
This time she nodded, and turned her attention back to the tablet. A few seconds later, her eyebrows clenched. "That son of a bitch," she muttered, shaking her head.
He knew it. His mouth set in a grim scowl, his suspicions confirming. Valerie was right in some point. This wasn't just about a misfit that didn't know how to fit in. "He left Belfast after he got out of the prison," she told him a second later, "he's just returned."
His hands gripped the wheel tighter. "The robberies," he rasped out, "What the file is saying?"
Her eyes darted over the screen. "A team of a four," she answered quickly, "operated between 2001 and 2003, usually jewelry store robbing. Their last job was a bank robbery in 03, possibly their retirement plan, but it didn't go according to the plan." She paused for a second, her brows furrowing further, "Jason had said they had disbanded themselves." She ran her finger over the screen. "There it is," she announced as Bruce glanced at his phone to check the map. They were closing to the port where the red dot was still stationed. "They seemed to have a fight...about a mole..." she paused, "and something about "the boss betraying them..." She then stopped.
She quickly passed her forefinger over the screen, but shook her head after a second. "The rest of the file is redacted," she told him, lifting her head.
His eyes shifted at her. "What?"
"The citations...the names..." she said, looking back at the table, "they're blackened."
Somehow he wasn't surprised because of that. "Look for the money," he ordered, closing to a seemingly warehouse district, "Did the police find it?"
Valerie's eyes darkened, as she understood. "No—" she answered a few second later, "No mention of it." She paused, "Do you think is it?" she asked, looking at him, "They're after the money?"
Bruce grimaced. "Possibly."
She let out a sigh. "Ah, that sounds more like Sean," she muttered.
He drove in silence, his eyes checking the darkened streets. Next to her, Valerie was doing the same, now holding his phone in her hand. She turned to right, and pointed ahead. "There."
Bruce looked at the three stories warehouse at the right side. He stopped the car at the corner, bowing his head to look closer. There was a lone fading light at the roof. The rest of the building was in the shadows. His senses stood out, his gut feeling giving a clear warning. His eyes bore through the fade yellowish light. Then he glanced at Valerie, his hand moving to the door's handle..."If I don't come out in fifteen minutes," he said, holding the handle, "call the police."
Her eyes widening, she looked at him. Bruce opened the door. "No—!" she cried out, and grabbed his forearm. He turned his head as Valerie pulled him toward herself. "What are you doing?" she exclaimed, "Are you mad? You can't go in there just like that!"
He pulled his arm back. "I have to," he muttered before he left the car.
She quickly mimicked his action and caught him again before he walked away from the car. "Valerie—" he called her sternly, "Stay here."
She did, she stayed firmly where she was, even though shaking her head. "It's insane." She looked at him. "You are insane." He opened his mouth, but she didn't let him speak. "You don't even know how many people are there. They're highly trained and you're wounded."
He started walking. "It doesn't make any difference."
But she caught him again. "Yes, it does," she shot back, turning him to her, "Bruce, I know it's hard, but you don't have the upper hand. You're not—" She paused, gulping, before she completed, "Here you're not the Batman." Her eyes moved toward his abdomen as she reached out slowly to him, her fingertips brushing over his jacket where his wound lay beneath, hidden, "This isn't your battleground."
He took her hand, and tightened her fingers around his. "It doesn't make any difference, either," he told her, "In my backpack, there is a thumb drive. There is information for a Swiss bank account—"
She shook her head fiercely. "No—"
"Call the police if I don't—" he warned her again before he turned to walk away, but at the last moment his eyes caught something; two figures at the opposite side of the sidewalk, walking to the warehouse. Grabbing her at the waist, he pulled them into shadows. As Valerie followed his eyes, she released a soft gasp, "Oh, fuck," she silently cursed, as the police officer they had seen the last time with Jason walking together with another man around his fifties.
Bypassing them, the older man shook his head, clearly with irritation. "This wasn't our plan, Desmond," he ranted angrily. The tones...the words... they were familiar to his ears; he had heard the voice before... "I told you to wait—" Then he recognized it.
Sean. It was Sean talking with Desmond Hayes.
His eyes turned to Valerie, as she did the same. In utter silence, they stared at each other.
She should have seen this coming, she definitely should have. Nothing would be simple neither with Sean nor with Jason. She shook her head. "Well, this explains, I guess," she whispered at Bruce. "The police officer...the police who made redaction was Hayes."
Bruce nodded, his eyes still glinting with that dark gleam. She almost shivered. He was just about to walk to death, without blinking an eye, without any reservation. It was mad, going there with nothing, it was sheer craziness, but Bruce Wayne didn't seem like he knew that word's meaning. Or he did but it didn't make any difference, either.
She wondered, among all of those things he carried on, if he had also a death wish. That seemed to fit. She turned to him, and saw his face. Her eyes struck at him, she held her breath. The truth was all over his face. Nothing had changed. He was still going in. She shook her head. "Don't be stupid, Bruce," she whispered at him, "Please." At her own wonderment, she realized her voice turned to imploring. The damn man was going to get himself killed, and the very idea was squeezing her chest.
He looked at her, a small sad smile suddenly appearing. "I thought you don't care—" he told her, "This is the time, Valerie, you wanted to leave—" The words had her breath catch in her lungs, like someone suddenly grabbed her at throat. "Go. You have the money. Find another doctor. This isn't your fight."
She flinched back. Her eyes narrowing, she looked at him coldly. None of this had been her fight, yes, but there she stood, together with him, and it was a reality, a reality she couldn't escape. "And is it yours?" she snapped, walking on in him, "Because you want to save Rory? So tell me," she demanded, her voice heating, getting even closer, "How do you plan to do that when you're dead? Because if you insist to go in there right now," she pointed at the warehouse behind her, "that's what will happen." She paused, looking straight into his eyes, "Dead, both of you. But what would I know, right?" She smiled back at him. "I don't care."
At first, he looked at her, a dark fire glinting in the depths of his eyes, then it slowly quenched, as if he finally saw her point. It felt like a full circle. She was doing what Jason had done; because he was right. Dead people couldn't really save anyone. "So what do you purpose then?" Bruce asked a second later.
She didn't hesitate. "We find out what they really want," she replied adamantly, "then we strike."