Part VI. IV — The Reason
The tense silence ruled in the car, as Bruce drove to the dealer's bunker. Her eyes fixed at outside, Valerie gazed at the darkened sky, a myriad of emotions and thoughts swirling into turmoil in her, her insides close to a vortex. The heat of the moment passing, the fierce opposition had left its place to a confused haze, obscurity shadowing every little thought and emotion. Her voice had been so certain when she had told him "then we strike" but now she could hardly believe that decisive woman had been her. Bruce had been right on that part; this was not her fight; but she had been right, too; she couldn't escape from it.
But at least, he had accepted to deal with it in a discreet manner. Somehow she had suspected he would have instead preferred the direct approach, and picked up Sean from the warehouse.
As much as she would like him to blow off some steam, it would do no good, but only mess things up further. They had to be careful. It wasn't the time to be driven by impulses. Bruce wasn't one to act on basic instincts, even though he was impulsive, tactfulness was always in his actions; a calculated precision, even when he did crazy things like crashing into the beasty vans in order to stop them.
She had looked at the accident later, while she had been in Metropolis. She had found the reports on the papers. The way he had crashed... any lesser man wouldn't have gotten out of that car alive. No, he had calculated the impact, had spotted the weak points and the strongest and had moved accordingly like a stunt artist. Bruce Wayne was driven by his objectives, not by impulses; the man she had seen fifteen minutes ago wasn't the man she had seen in Gotham. He wasn't even the man that had come to collect her from the warehouse a month ago.
But all things considered, she wasn't the same woman a month ago, either. God, she wished this would finish as quickly as possible, or else she didn't know what kind of people they would turn into. She needed to find Christian, and start anew, and Bruce Wayne needed to go back to his city, and continued to be the idiotic hero that he wanted to be.
That was it of course they didn't end up dead at first.
She let out a frustrated grunt, shaking her head. Even not moving her attention away from the window, she could sense his eyes skipping at her for a second, before he turned back to the road. She shifted, and looked at him. His profile seemed like it was carved out of granite, stoic and taciturn, the face covered with beard giving his whole ragged demeanor even more edge. He really looked nothing like the man who had put his coat over her shoulders with a small assuring smile. This man looked like he had never smiled before. He had never even attempted too.
She slowly exhaled a contained sigh. "They wouldn't hurt him, Bruce," she said, softening her voice. She wanted to see the Bruce Wayne she knew, the strained man with a bit of darkness and violence, and hidden depths, but not this man who had forgotten how to smile. "Whatever they want him for, they also want him alive," she continued, her voice once again certain. Whatever the reason was for this kidnapping, they wanted Rory alive, she was sure of it. There was still time. "Sean was fighting with Hayes," she reasoned, "He was furious."
He stole another glance at her again. "Sean—" she started again, exhaling another breath, "He can be son of a bitch," she said, "but he's not a cold-hearted murderer." She paused a second, recalling their first talk, "He wanted Jason in because he wanted to deal with it peacefully." She looked at him. "I think he was telling truth. I don't know why—" she continued, "But he thought Jason would avert this."
She had expected the words loosen him up a bit but they had the opposite effect. Suddenly, he got even more wired up, his face darkening further. His head snapped at her. "Do you really don't know?" he almost growled, not just that rough rasp, but a deep guttural snarl, "Really, Valerie?"
Looking back at him, her face sobered. "Don't I know what?" she snapped back.
"Don't play naïve, Valerie," he told her, "it doesn't suit you."
Her expression soured even more, her mouth setting in a grim line. "What do you mean?"
"What I mean—" he answered; his voice dangerously low, "your father would be very well involved too."
She felt the blood pulling off her veins. She wasn't going to think about that. She wasn't going to believe that. He was here because she was his daughter, no hidden agenda, no other purposes. For the first time all in her life, he was at his side, because he simply cared. "No—" she said, "He would've said," she said, silencing the dubious voices in her mind, she wasn't going to listen to them. "He didn't want to know about you. He doesn't care." She looked at him. "He's here because I'm his daughter."
Bruce gave her a look back. "And you believe him now?" he asked.
She wanted to. God, she had never wanted something to be true this much before. "I don't know," she said, and gave him the answer he had given her before, "I would never learn for sure if I don't."
Ten minutes later, parked in a corner that faced Sean's bunker, they were waiting for the dealer to hit back to his home. As her phone chirped, Valerie took it out, and checked the message she had received. Bruce looked at her in answer. "It's Jason," she replied with an even voice, "Says he's back in the motel." Wordlessly, he nodded. The air between them had grown even tenser after their last talk. Bruce swore he wasn't going to open his mouth again until they found the dealer.
Talking didn't seem to do anything good to them, but only made things more difficult. He wasn't being fair to her, almost cruel, pressing on her too much, his reserve snapping as his hands tied down. His words at the warehouse had possible hurt her, even though they had truth inside, and now after his last statement, she had pulled inside in her own shell even more.
He needed to return Gotham. He needed to save Rory, found about that doctor, and turned to Gotham. This wasn't his battleground, Valerie was right. He was slipping away, his control dissolving. His grip at the wheel tightened, as if the fingers would tighten his own grip over himself, too. Valerie next to him tossed at him a quick look, but didn't talk, instead turn her head away. She was getting tired of it, too, he knew.
He almost opened his mouth, but then his eyes caught the figure walking on the sidewalk. Valerie straightened in her seat, her eyes heating. She shifted aside for a second. "I'll be quick," she said, reaching to the door, but just like she had done to him before, Bruce caught her at her forearm.
She swirled at him. He shook his head. "You're not going alone," he told her sternly, as she sucked in a sharp breath, her eyes narrowing, "Not this time."
He cut her off, "Already dangerous enough," and completed for her, "I don't want you alone with him." She tried to remind him the dangers, of course, he could hear her words even before she made them out, but it was too late for those, too.
He let out a deep breath, weighted with all of his frustration, worry and grievance, and edged with everything he had been feeling since she had dropped into his life, since the time she had looked at him, battered and baffled at the crash side. "Valerie, for the sake of my sanity," he rasped out, the coil in his stomach releasing with his breath, "Don't argue."
He didn't want to think of the possibilities. She was already at a risk. She was already in danger. If he could help it, he would have locked her in the motel. He had already enough problems, if they got her, too... The moment when the man had his metallic fist ready at her face flashed in his mind. He didn't want to make that choice again. Once he had, had chosen one person over another; one life over another; and he had failed. The guilt was still on his shoulders, he couldn't add another. He just couldn't.
For a second, Valerie stayed silent, looking at him, then she let out a breath, too, and shrugged. "Well, you don't look like anything like Bruce Wayne now anyway," she remarked silently, and left the car.
His gaze caught his appearance at the visor mirror. She was right. He was a ghost of the man whose face covered the tabloids every day in Gotham, even the man her father had seen in a no man's land. No, the strain of the last days had left their marks on him.
He opened the door and stepped down. Valerie came to his side before they crossed the road to the bunker. Before she knocked the door, he caught her wrist.
She looked at him in question, he shook his head. "This time I'll do the talking," he told her, his voice dropping a tone down on instinct, and pulled back from the door.
Her eyes still locked on him, Valerie took a step back in answer. Without another word, he turned to the door, then kicked it open.
It felt fucking nice.
Her eyes widened, Valerie watched Bruce as he tore apart whatever reserves that had been keeping him intact. Age hadn't slowed down Sean. Quick on his reflexes, he swirled around as Bruce walked into the bunker, his hand reaching out to his back, but before he could even aim the gun, Bruce closed on in him. With a quick and deft move, Bruce pried the weapon out of the older man's fingers then effortlessly disassembled the weapon, letting hard metal pieces fall down at his feet, hardened eyes fixated at the smuggler through the whole event.
From behind, Valerie gaped at him. For a man that remarked distaste for guns at every opportunity, his hands had a crazy custom that suggested habituation. She had sworn nothing about Bruce Wayne would have surprised her anymore, but each time the damn man found a way to make her eat up her words.
Still without a word, he caught Sean at the back of his neck, and dragged him toward the armchair. "What the fuck—" the older man exclaimed, his hands rising, then his eyes finally caught her. "Fi!" he cried out, "What the fuck are you doing?"
Bruce threw him at the chair. "No," Valerie said, approaching to Bruce, her own steps adopting a predatory carefulness on their own accord, "the question is—what the fuck are you doing?" She stopped beside Bruce and looked down at the man. "You lured me into this shit, Sean," she said, "I want answers now."
"From the beginning," Bruce completed with a rasp, walking closer, "Start from the beginning," he ordered, "with those robberies."
Bruce's hovering figure was a very intimidating sight, but Sean had seen some intimidating figures in his own time. A smile cracked up his lips, and his eyes found her. "Felicia—" He shook his head, "You know this isn't the way to get me talk."
She looked at back, her lips not moving an inch. "Just answer him."
Sean smiled further. "Or else?" he challenged.
Bruce took another threatening step forward, but Valerie stopped him. She approached him closer instead, and knelt in front of his legs. "I saw you fighting with Desmond—" she told him evenly.
His eyes narrowed. "How?" he questioned.
She shook her head. "It's not important," she answered. "What's important is that—" she said, "I know you don't want this happen. I know you want to help Rory. And we can get him out—" She paused for a split of second, "But you have to help us."
The light suddenly winded down in his eyes, and he seemed old, not like the man a second ago. He passed a hand through his hair, and shook his head. "You can't help him now," he said, "I doubt if anyone would."
"We can—" Bruce countered, "But if you only start telling truth," he rasped, "What those men want from him?"
Sean's eyes darted between them, then heaving a sigh, he started talking. "Seven years ago, Rory fell in with a group—"
"Yes, the crew that used to rob jewelry stores," she interjected, standing up, "but they disbanded themselves. They robbed a bank for the last time, but got greedy after it, and finished off themselves," she paused, and amended, "—aside Rory."
Sean nodded. "Yeah, Rory was only a wing man, spotter," he confirmed. "They didn't think of him a real crew member."
She nodded back. "But Rory got caught later too—he went to the prison," she said, "and Jason helped him to get a free time."
"Yeah—" Sean confirmed again with another nod.
"And files—" Bruce pressed in, "The files on him are redacted by Hollis's old partner, Hayes—the man you have been fighting tonight."
The older man looked at him, then his eyes found hers, and shook his head. "Jason shouldn't have gone to see him in the open day light. It rattled them."
"Who are they?" she asked.
"Former RUC officers, special task forces, some even former MI5 agents," he answered openly.
She frowned. "And what the hell they want from Rory?"
"From Rory?" Sean shrugged, "Nothing really. They only want the glorious old days, I suppose," he said, "The times they had a goal, a purpose in life. None wants to see them now. No one wants to be reminded of them, of their sins." He sighed out. "They want what every discarded tool in the history wants, Fi—" he remarked, "They want to matter again."
The words hit something in Bruce, Valerie could see, could even sense. He took a step to the dealer. "What happened?" he asked, his voice edging on a growl, "Tell us from the beginning."
Sean stared at him for a few seconds, his eyes measuring, unblinking. She knew she should have gotten worried, but she found herself not caring any longer. "A month ago, in one night, Desmond found me in the pub around the corner," Sean started retelling after the moment, "He told me Rory has returned to the city. Rory had left Belfast after the prison. The money from their last heist—no one found it. They got him pretty badly a couple of times in the prison, but no one figured out what happened to the money. The rumors had it that they had lifted close to a quarter million pound from the bank." He paused for a second for breath, then started again, "Desmond said people have started looking for him. It made sense. It's big money. He asked me if I wanted to be in, and I said yes. I learned about his—friends later." Her face soured, as Bruce next to him almost creaked with tension. Sean gave them a look, shaking his head. "At first, I really thought they were just after the money. I thought they just spun that—story for a cover." He heaved another sign. "I didn't understand until tonight."
"So you asked me to bring Jason in," Valerie asked, "because you thought Rory could talk to him about the money?"
"Damn man," Sean muttered, "If he didn't upset the applecart..."
Bruce shot him a look like dagger. "Because the others don't only want the money—" Sean nodded in approval. "They want the war again."
Bruce had been right all along. "It was the only time when they mattered," Sean said back, "No one wants tools in the peace times."
Then she understood why his words had struck at Bruce earlier. In the words was laying Bruce's own life; his past. She remembered how easily people had discarded Batman at the feet of the Joker. One day that was going to be his future, too. When this all ended, when Gotham finally had peace, no one would want to remember the Dark Knight again. He was going to be like a forgotten memory, a necessary evil for the war times, a tool that had no place in peace.
Unfairness of the whole situation had a foul taste in her mouth, her chest constricted, something deep in her trying to claw out of her chest. It wasn't fair. He was a fool, willingly accepting this fate, and she knew he would carry that cross too without any utterance. The damn man could shoulder the whole world's weight without a single resistance.
It wasn't fucking fair. She wanted to slap him, she wanted to shake him off this ridiculous self-blame that somehow had convinced him that he deserved the cruelest punishment in the world, but who she was to say anything the way he chose to live his life? The person who he chose to be. It wasn't her place.
Besides, Bruce Wayne didn't look like he needed her to save him anyway. He was closer to Sean now, his demeanor having an urgency that she had never seen in him before. "How many of them are there in the warehouse?" he demanded, "Where they're stationed? The weapons and their arsenal, how long they can hold themselves up? Is there more coming?" he asked relentlessly, "Tell me everything!"
As Sean gave him the information he sought, she stayed behind, weariness returning. She felt tired, of everything. Another question turned in her mind, echoing in the depths of her consciousness, trying to be recognized, but she wasn't sure if she really wanted to do that. Some things once they were spoken, despite how much you wished, would never be forgotten again.
Some lies were just too lovely to turn your back... she wondered how her life would have been with Michael if she didn't leave him that night. She would have been happy. In deep down, she knew it would be a lie, but at least she would have been happier than she was now. Sometimes it was really the best not to know. Ignorance is bliss...
But uncertainty was a poison that tainted the soul and mind. Bruce took a hold of her arm, taking every answer he needed, but her legs didn't move. There was still one answer she needed to know. She couldn't let it go. She could live a lie, but she couldn't believe it. She turned aside, but Bruce caught her again. "Don't—" he told her, as if he realized what she was going to, "Valerie, don't ask. Let it be. You don't like the answer you will receive."
She shook her head. She knew she would not. She had walked that path once, but still..."I have to know—" Like the last time, even though at the end it was only going to break her heart. You know the answer, you have always known it.
And perhaps that was her curse. She always knew. She took a step further away from Bruce, and looked at Sean. "You didn't ask Jason in just because he helped Rory before," she announced, her shoulders straightened as if she was facing an enemy, and in a way she was. "You knew it would rattle the cages," she remarked, steeling herself, the moment surely feeling like a battle. "Desmond reacted fast," she continued, "It disturbed them," and only paused for a second before she asked, "Why?"
Sean's lips parted with a smile. "Come on, Fi—" he almost taunted, "You've been always a smart girl. You know why."
Her front dissolved, words echoing in her ears. You know why... She closed her eyes, struggling to keep tears at bay, "The files mentioned a boss..." she managed through dry throat, "The boss betraying them..." She opened her eyes, "It was Jason, wasn't it?" she asked, "and Rory was his mole."
Sean's smile grew, almost in resignation, and the pity in his eyes was like a sharp knife twisting in her insides. "He told you he's here because of you, and you believed him, right?" he asked.
No, no, she didn't, but she wanted to. For the first time all in her life, she wanted to believe that she wasn't alone.
Some fool she was.