Part VII. I — "The way things were meant to be"
Inside the bunker, everything was in a slow mo, on the pause, as if a spell was casted out, the whole world squeezing until it was a tiny bubble just large enough to fit her. As Sean faded off her sight, snapshots flashed over her eyes, filling the bubble...
Are you always my father? Don't worry I'll bring you another one the next time I come...
You're missing it... You can't run away from who you're. No one of us can.
You know why... You have always known it. Some people are not meant to be parents.
With the last words, the bubble exploded. She gave out a labored out, her blood drumming in her ears, and realized Bruce had come closer, his hand gently holding her arm, his eyes searching hers to make sure she wasn't going to have a break down.
Hell no! It didn't matter, it didn't make any difference. She had wanted to know for sure, and she had her answer now. She pulled her arm back from Bruce's touch. "Valerie—" he slowly said.
"I'm fine," she stopped him with terse mutter, and turned to Sean again. "You're coming with us," she told him.
The older man looked at her, his eyebrow arched. "I beg your pardon?"
"You're coming with us," she repeated again stiffly, "We will need your—expertise, Sean." At her statement, Bruce gave her a look, his eyebrows clenched. Pivoting aside, she turned his look, challenging him.
He needed his help, if he was going to do this, if he wanted to get Rory out of that warehouse, he was going to need all help he would find, both knew it. His eyes stayed on hers for a second while, then as if he accepted defeat, he spun on his heels, and started walking to the door.
She turned back to Sean, and pointed the door with her hand, "After you."
Outside in the street, Bruce surveyed the area, as Sean quickly got in the car, trying to spot any prying eyes. Valerie followed his example, too, until he became satisfied that no one was checking on them. Then he shifted toward him, and the look in his eyes told her even before he made any word.
"I'm fine, Bruce—" she told him again, "Everything turns out the way it's supposed to be." She realized how much her words held the truth as the moment she had spoken them. It was the truth, and it was okay. This was the way how things were meant to be.
"I finished a whole bottle yesterday," the blonde woman remarked with a teary whisper, her head bowed in shame, perhaps to hide her watered eyes, or perhaps she wasn't strong enough to face off with the pity in their eyes. She didn't know. She tried to remember her name, but her mind also drew a blank. She realized she didn't know her, not really; they were all anonymous here.
She ran her eyes away, her hands fidgeting the water bottle in her lap. Club soda and water, they had been the only liquids she had been drinking for a while. It sucked, as most things did in the life. "I saw him yesterday—" the blonde woman continued to retell her failure, "at the pub on the corner of my block." Her voice faltered, as a sob escaped from her throat. "He was eating dinner..." the word came out like a tearful cry, "...laughing, talking, joking, like nothing happened." The woman stopped, exhaling a shaky, sobbing breath, "My little boy died because of him, and he was laughing...like nothing happened," she cried out, then dissolved into the tears, "My whole life ended, but it was like nothing happened to him!"
She turned and looked at the pitiful figure, as the woman cried her heart out, her shoulders shaking, her face hidden behind the trembling hands. Her own hands were steady. She opened the water bottle, and took a sip. The counselor of their little "Anonymous" group said something but the words didn't reach to her ears, her eyes stuck at her hands. Her hands hadn't been trembling since the day she started following the group six months ago. Inside the group, everyone had a different problem; the blonde woman who had just talked had lost her child because of a drunken drive in an accident, the bald old man sitting next to her had lost his wife because of cancer, the other got date-raped by her co-worker, but couldn't prove it... Their problems were all different, but their miseries were common. And it was good to know that she wasn't alone, wasn't the only one who was suffering in the world, that there were people faring far worse than her. Her eyes found the woman again. She really looked worse, like her whole life had really ended.
"Sarah—" she heard her name called out, pulling her out of her thoughts, "Sarah, how is it going for you?" the counselor asked, kindly, leaned in her seat in the middle of their circle.
She frowned, whether for the usage of the name or for the question she wasn't sure. She wasn't sure why she had chosen to give away her birth name, either. The name sounded as authentic as Felicia or Cecilia was; nothing more than a shell now, a wishful thinking. "I'm doing fine," she answered curtly, her eyes fixed at the counselor, almost in challenge. She was doing fine. In fact, she was doing excellent. Her eyes skipped down at her hands, hands once had been decorated with handcuffs, now free and steady, "Everything turns out the way it's supposed to be."
The ride back to the motel passed—uneventful, for their standards. Sean sat at the back seat with watchful eyes, but keeping his mouth shut as Valerie pretended she was alone in the car. As edgy as it was, Bruce favored the quiet moment, feeling a blast soon would come to.
He wasn't sure with how the older man would evade it, he wasn't even sure if he was being completely truthful with them, but either way it was better to keep him before their eyes. Besides, Valerie was probably right, they might need his expertise. She had mentioned before the former guerilla was good with explosives, and Bruce knew it wasn't an exaggeration. This wasn't his battleground, so he needed to fix that, before he did anything, he needed to turn on the tables.
And a little bit gun powder would certainly help. Valerie hadn't said anything, but he knew it was what had passed in her mind when she had tagged Sean along with them. His eyes shifted toward her, and he stole a glance. She really looked fine, there was nothing in her expression that would suggest what she had just gone through, but Bruce learned better than to be fooled with her masks.
She was harboring a storm inside, and much like him, her control was slipping away. He couldn't let that happen. He needed her intact, functioning, now more than anytime, and now they were approaching to the lion's den, where her father lay. He couldn't imagine how she would react seeing him again.
His eyebrows clenched, as his grip tightened on the wheel. He had told her not to ask. He had told her let it go. Some secrets were best not to be discovered. Sometimes truth only made things worse. He had made that mistake before, and people had paid with their life. Harvey's face flashed in his eyes, followed by Rachel...
He tossed another glance at Valerie, as he parked the car in front of motel. Sean stepped down, walking to the motel quickly, as Valerie followed him, but he stopped her at the last moment, catching her at the upper arm.
She shifted aside, and looked at him in question. "Valerie," he told her, "Do you want me to hire a room for you?" he asked as tactfully as he could manage, deciding it was the best to keep father and daughter apart as long as he could help it.
But she stayed expressionless, asking simply, as if she hadn't understood, "Why?"
He sighed out briefly, and gave out the things he had been hearing thrown out regularly, "You know why."
Her expression suddenly hardened, as a reaction finally appeared in her features. It felt like a victory. "Never—" she spat, "Never say that thing to me, Bruce," she warned, "Never again."
He exhaled sharply. This...he needed to deal with this. There was someone he needed to save, before it was too late, and a city, he needed to go back. "Valerie," he started, strain thinning his voice, "I'm sorry, but you need to sit this one out."
Her eyebrow arched, "Why?"
"Why?" he asked back, holding back another "you know why" at the tip of his tongue, "For God's sake, be reasonable. I don't want any trouble anymore."
She flinched back. "Trouble?" she asked, "Do you think I'd cause you—trouble?"
He shook his head fast, and amended, "I didn't mean that!"
"Then what did you mean?" she hissed.
He leaned forward toward her. She needed to understand. He needed her, the thought was frightening, but he needed her, intact and functioning. This wasn't his battleground. "I listened to you at the warehouse, Valerie," he said, "And you need to listen to me now. Go and hire another room, and find me the warehouse's blueprints."
In silence, for a second, she looked at him then a small smile appeared on her lips. "Does it frighten you, doesn't it?" she asked, "Me having a break down?" The smile widened, "causing you more trouble instead of helping you to solve them?"
His face hardened too. "I need you, Valerie."
She shook her head, giving him a pitiful look, "Bruce, darling," she said, her hand rising to touch his cheek, "You only need to save someone." Smiling at him the last time, she walked away from the car.
Her back turned on him, Valerie climbed up the stairs that led to their room, Bruce on her heels. He hadn't tried to say anything after her challenge, but let her be, understanding he couldn't change her mind. She wasn't even sure if the words had hurt her or not, she honestly couldn't tell the difference any more. She knew at the end that was why he wanted to keep her around, another thing she had always known; his idiotic heroism always needing someone to save, to redeem. She was his school project, and if he failed with her, he would easily find someone else. It looked like it was his own drug, his own way to find relief. Each to its own. She had found reprise with other people's miseries, and apparently he found it with others' tragedies. It hardly made any difference. Jason was right on that part. Everyone used each other, and the reasons were always selfish. She had thought Bruce might have been an exception, but she was wrong. He was just selfish in another way. She had seen worse people.
But she had really seen worse people. "Bruce—" she called him in the corridor before they reached to the corner that Sean was waiting them, halting her steps, "Don't think I don't appreciate everything you're doing for me, everything you're willing to do me for me," she said with an earnest voice, because she did, she understood him. She smiled at him again slightly, "I know it's hard to deal with—" she paused, trying to find a suitable word to describe her connection to him; nothing seemed to fit in—"with an asset," she decided at the end the closet thing she could think of, because the only other word she could think of was "tool" and she didn't want to say it out loud, "and I know I'm not making it easy for you either," she said, letting out a breath, "But you can't fight my battles."
He looked at her, as if her words had taken him surprise, but then shook his head. "I never said you're an asset, Valerie," he told her slowly.
She looked at him back, rising her shoulders up, "Then what I am?"
His eyes bore through hers. "I was hoping one day you would be a—friend."
"A friend?" she laughed out, shaking her head, "I don't have friends, Bruce," she whispered under her breath.
"Neither have I, Valerie," he countered, "Not really." He took a step forward, his eyes still fixated on hers, "Perhaps one day we learn how to be one then," he said, before he started walking to Sean.
She looked at his retreating back, her eyes tearing up with something she didn't know how to name. Then ahead of him, walking from the other side of the corridor, she saw him.
She froze where she stood, as the same time Bruce stopped and caught the sight of him, his sculptured back stiffening. Jason's eyes darted between them, lingering on Sean, then recognition lit in them. With an exasperated sigh, a small weary but still horrid smile lifted his lips up, and it was enough to reanimate her again. The life returned to her, with a surge of heat, sweeping all over her, boiling her blood. She started walking toward Bruce, as the same time Jason did. "Valerie—" he called her with the preferred name, punctuating the word with tip of his tongue when they reached to Bruce, but she didn't spare him a glance.
She bypassed him, only hissing at Bruce, "Bruce," she spat, "Get this man out of my way."
Inside the room, she was behind the computers, looking for the warehouse's blueprints, as Bruce took out his second pack back from the wardrobe. "You were finding them marks to hit?" he asked, opening the bag, while fixing a glare at Jason. She continued to her act. She wasn't going to acknowledge him anymore. Once he had just someone she had known, but now he was dead to her.
Her fingers hit the keys, with more force than necessary but she still kept her eyes trained on the screen. "Something like that," Jason said, "They were childhood friends," he started explaining, "The leader of their clan's mother got seriously sick, and they needed money—" He paused, his eyes feeling on her, she sensed them burning over her head. She still didn't lift her head. "Rory joined up to help, but then they got greedy—you know the oldest story." He shrugged then his words halted again. "Rory didn't. He started telling me about stuff. I wanted to take him out, but he was afraid they would hurt anyone."
Sean let out a sinister laugh. "They did," he said, "Themselves."
"Yeah—" Jason answered, "See, the oldest story."
"Money—what happened to it?" Bruce asked, cutting the chase.
"Rory had told me before he had given it up to people in need," Jason answered. She couldn't help herself. A snort escaped out of her. "He pulled a Robin Hood act."
Bruce's hands halted over some little round black metallic balls. "You know he doesn't have the money?" he asked, looking at Jason.
"Of course, I do," Jason answered, with an obvious shrug in his voice, "How do you think he managed to survive this long with all people looking for him? I arranged a safe spot for him." He let out a sigh. "He should have never returned."
With the corner of her eyes, she caught Sean's expression souring, "But if you knew about the money," he asked, "Why did you return?"
Jason looked at him back. "Isn't it obvious?" he said, "I returned because my daughter asked me to."
A silence followed after his statement, as her hands pulled into fists. She felt every eye in the room turning to her, their silent gazes burning her skin. Anger rising high in her, she stood up from her chair. Perhaps Bruce was right. She should have just hired another room. She didn't need to listen to this mockery.
Without a word, she started walking to the door. She didn't neglect slapping the door back behind her. It made a good noise. Outside in the corridor, she walked to the staircase to get herself a room, but before she reached it, she heard another door bang behind her.
With a frustrated sigh, she spun on her heels, "Bruce, I'm really not—" she started but stopped as soon as her eyes fell on the figure looking at her in front of the door.
"Sarah—" Jason said, walking to her, "We need to talk."
She shook her head, as if she couldn't believe what she had heard. "Talk?" she hissed, "What we have to talk now, father?"
She took a step closer to him, "Don't call me that!" she cut him off, "I'm done with hearing your justifications, your excuses—" She shook her head. "I'm done with you."
He let out a sigh, exasperation, still, despite everything, still tinting his breath, it fucking felt like the old times. "Do you see why I haven't told you about it before?" he asked, gesturing with his hands, "This is the exact reason." He took a step closer, too. "You will never learn to look beyond your own pain."
"Oh, now is it me to blame?" she asked, her eyes widening, her hand pointing her chest. This time she really couldn't believe what she had heard. "You could have told me!" she screamed at him, "For once in your life, you could be honest with me!"
"God's sake, Valerie—" he cried back, "You knocked my door after four years, tagging along with you a fucking billionaire that kicked my people's ass, then asked about someone I didn't hear in ages." He looked at her. "What did you expect me to do? Seriously, what would you do?"
She shook her head back at him in resistance. "You should have told later. Just hours ago, I asked you there—" she pointed backward toward his room, "I asked you!"
His face suddenly became old, his shoulders sagging. "I didn't tell anything, because I knew you would never understand."
She let out a broken laugh. "You were right. I don't—" she said, her voice breaking much like her laughter, "I don't understand."
He took another step closer. "Sweetheart," he said, "I just didn't want to lose you again—" his hand reached to her cheek, "Not after I found you."
She slapped his hand away. "Finding me?" she hissed at him, "Finding me how exactly?" she asked, "I found you. I came to you, not the other way around. Four years, father, four years, and you never even tried once. You just let me go." She gave out a shaky breath. "So don't stand there, telling me that you found me. I don't believe you. You're not here because of me," she started moving again, "You're here to make sure none of this come to bite your ass."
He caught her elbow. "That's not true."
She looked at down at his hand first, then her head lifted, finding his eyes. "Is it?" she asked, then shook her head, gulping through a lump in her throat. "Maybe we got it wrong, father. You once told me you were sorry for being a disappointing father, and I'm sorry for being a disappointing daughter, too."
She shook her head, cutting him. "I'm seeing it now. I'm not the daughter you wish to have. I'm—week, not strong as you. I'm someone who can't see beyond her own pain." She flashed at him a small smile, turning the words back, "possibly had it from Mother." She smiled more, looking around. "You know, I never blamed her for not wanting me, I was just a possibility to her, not like you, not a reality in flesh and blood. My childhood passed watching you leave me behind, and asking myself why? Why he's leaving? Why he's not taking me with him?" Her eyes found him again. "Guess I know the answer now."
"Sarah—" he called her name softly. This time she didn't correct. It hardly mattered anyway, too.
She took a step up closer to him. "You were right about the baby. I didn't keep it, because I was afraid if it was born, I would get stuck...My lie would become a...reality that would change everything." She stopped, swallowing hard, words now like beaded glass in her throat, words that she had never uttered before, words she had never even passed in her mind before, "but that was only one part. The other part, another part was afraid it wouldn't," she said, "Was afraid that it would change nothing at all. I would still leave my child, like my father did." She looked at him, tears threatening in her eyes, "What if I was just like my father? Someone who would leave his own blood? The answer was there, and I was scared to find out."
She took a step down, and squared her shoulders. "Now I have that answer, too," she said, "I'm not your daughter. I'm not like you," she paused, a single tear escaping out of the corner of her eye, "Though I'm no better, either." She held the railings, and started climbing down, giving him a last smile, "You were right, Jason Allen. Some people are really not to be parents."
Outside, she pulled up the collar of her coat, turned and started walking away. She told herself it was okay. This was the way things were supposed to be. They were never meant to be parents, nor a family.
There was a small but fatal difference between her and the rest of her group, after each session, there was always someone to pick them up, whereas she always left alone. The blonde woman had her husband, the balding widower had his child, and the working girl had her lover to gather them up in their loving arms. Each time, outside the safe heave where Alcoholics Anonymous held their meetings, she watched the companionship they had created shrink until it became a tiny bubble to only fit her in.
Climbing down the marble steps, she told herself it didn't matter. It was the way things were supposed to be. She didn't belong with them, she had made her choices.
She pulled up the collar of her jacket, and started walking away then she saw him. Her body froze, steps faltering. How long had passed since she had seen him the last time? Ten month, a year... she couldn't remember. He was waiting at the last step, hands stuffed into his pockets, a bored expression over his face as he looked around with disinterest, and it was the exact look why she didn't want to see him again. She walked to him with quick, agitated steps, a slight tremor shaking her hands. She clenched them into fists.
When she stood in front of him, he finally turned and looked at her. "What are you doing here?"
The words were barely a hiss spoken through the clenched lips. She had thought she had been clear enough not wanting to see him again the last time they had spoken. "I wanted to see you," he said though, as if it was the most obvious thing, "How are you doing?"
She let out a snort. "Don't act like you care."
In return he let out a sigh. "Sarah—"
"Don't call me that," she snapped, "I'm not Sarah!"
He looked at her. "Then who you're?"
"I'm the one who you threw into the fire to save your hide," she retorted, her eyes flashing, her voice thinning even more with anger.
"For god's sake, it passed almost three years now! When will you let it go!" he cried out. She gave him a seething look in silence. He shook his head in exasperation. "Don't—don't color me as the villain of this story, sweetheart. I never forced you to do anything."
"No, you only manipulated me to your ends!"
"I never lied to you."
"You never needed to."
A smile broke over his lips. "Yes, I never needed to do."
The force of truth in his words shattered something in her. Yes, he had never needed to do. You're missing it, passed in her mind. And yes, she had, God burn her soul beyond the hell, she had. "Why are you here, father?" she asked, her voice breaking much like her insides.
"You know why."
"No—" She shook her head, "No, I don't know." "For two years I've been wondering if you're ever going to acknowledge, show some little remorse for what happened because obviously you feel something, but of course you're not because it's you—" The words rushed out in a frenzy as she let out a bitter laugh, "and you can't accept it because it also means you can't pretend any longer that it means nothing!"
"You're my daughter!" he protested, "It means everything!"
"Then why do I have to go there—to those people I don't even know—" she cried out, waving her arm at the building behind her back, "to find some little solitary that would remind me that I'm not alone!"
"Is that why you go there?" he questioned, taking a step further, his eyes questioning, "Really?" he asked, then shook his head. "You know what your problem is—you never stop lying to yourself."
She looked at him with disdain in answer. He shook his head.
"You don't go there because you're alone, Sarah," he said, "You go there to find relief. You go there because to you want to see you're not the only one whose life is in shit. You go there because misery loves company. That's why you all do that little gathering; you all want to tell yourself you're not alone, it makes you feel...relieved, because you can't accept something, either."
"Bad things happen to people all the time. And nothing, neither any wishful thinking nor any remorse would change it. You built a lie, because you thought you could have started over, had something different, but there are no second chances, kiddo, not in this life. We just born, live, and then die."
"Then why the hell are you here?" she shouted at his face, "Why did you even come at the first place? I was having a life with Michael until you came and fucked it up."
"Were you?" he asked, "for real?" She looked at him. "Sarah, I know what you did."
"I know what you did," he repeated. "I know you were pregnant." She closed her eyes, tears filling in. "Sweetheart, you can tell yourself as much as you like you built a life, but only thing you built was a lie. And you knew it, and you didn't keep it because you knew if there was a baby involved things would have turned into a reality, a reality that you couldn't easily leave."
"It didn't stop you," she rasped out, "You left me."
"I didn't even know you exist until you were six," he said in return, "then it was my reality, too," he said, looking around, "Don't you see it? Why do you think I'm here?"
"I don't know—" she said brokenly. She had never. "Why are you here?"
"I'm here because I care—" he admitted, as if the truth was costing him all of his, "There you go," he said, "I said it. I care about you. And I wish it would be enough." He looked at her, letting out another sigh, "I know I'm not the father you wish me to be, I know I disappointed you more than you can count—" She laughed bitterly, her tears mixing with her smile, "But no one asked me what I wanted. No one asked me if I wanted to be a father."
She turned her eyes at him. "Then what would have you said if they did?"
He looked at her back, his eyes heavy, clouded but she saw the truth even before he spoke. "You know the answer. You've always known it. Some people are not meant to be parents."
"No, they're not," she agreed then exhaled a heavy breath, squaring her shoulders. "Then in that case, I should release you off this burden," she remarked, her voice now clear, "You're not my father anymore. You don't need to care about me anymore. You don't need to feel any remorse." She looked at him. "I'm just someone you once knew. And you're the same to me."
...and it was the way how things were supposed to be.
She looked at the pub at the opposite side of the street, where the last time she had seen Rory fighting in front of it. For a moment, she weighted her options. She could turn her back now, and leave. She had the USB stick from Bruce's pack back, and after all of this, she was sure Sean wouldn't deny her request now, if for nothing, then for the old time's sake.
But she had a debt to Bruce Wayne, and be damned her if she left before she paid it back. If that was what he wanted, then she was going to find him a means to achieve his end.
As she crossed the street, her telephone chirped. She checked the screen, and saw that he was calling. "Valerie—" his tone had a frightened urgency, something that had brought a smile on her lips, "Valerie, where the hell are you?"
Looking at the locale, she asked back, "Do you really want to save Rory, Bruce?"
"Valerie," he said, suspicion entering into his voice, "What are you doing?"
"Paying my debt—" she simply answered, and closed the phone.
Taking a deep breath, she walked into the pub.
As soon as she put a step inside, all men inside looked at her, then all at once pulled out their guns.
She flashed a smile with all the poise she could gather, and walked to the only man who wasn't holding a gun pointed at her head. Smiling further, she stood in front of him. "Hello, Ronnie," she greeted him, "I heard you've been looking for me."