Part VII. V — "Alone"
Her last words were like a punch in the guts, cruel but well-played. He guessed he deserved the cutting words after what he had told her—after what he couldn't tell her, but still he couldn't prevent a bleak resentment press his lips into a hard line. It wasn't just sex. And she knew it damn well. But he had also become wise to her defense mechanisms; he could still remember how she had lied to Jason about her mementos, claiming that she had thrown them away, in reality the metal box had been the first thing she had asked from him to get back.
For a moment, Bruce thought standing up and caught her before she walked out the room, but he didn't. What they had—shared wasn't "just sex", yes, but for both of their sakes, it couldn't be anything else, either. Smart girl as she was, Valerie also knew that.
There were no happy endings with him. He couldn't be that man. He had made his bed long ago, and now was going to lie in it.
He stood up, and left the room, too.
Outside the motel, she lighted a cigarette under the alcove, and pulled a long drag, filling her lungs with smoke. The pure nicotine slowed her rushing blood, as a feeling of serenity slowly settled in her insides. She would have preferred a glass of scotch or at least weeds, but she was determined to keep her mind as unaffected as possible. Bruce should have been proud of her, she thought dryly, and crushed the thought as soon as it appeared.
Bruce Wayne and his wishes could fuck themselves to the end of the world for all she cared. Her face soured as she inhaled another puff, but she didn't let the thought wander other places. She had no reason to be resentful, not really; Bruce had never lied to her about anything. Granted he had never told her the whole truth, but at least he had never lied. Just like Jason had never lied to her.
Her hand stopped over her lips before she took another breath, the realization bringing a sudden halt in her actions. God, she had never realized how much Bruce and her father had common points when it came to caring people, especially her.
She couldn't believe she had fallen into this trap all again. Jason's words echoed... I care about you, there it is, I said it. And I wish it could be enough. But it could never be. And she was a fool if she ever believed for a tiniest of seconds that it would have.
But she had never, hadn't she, she had never believed it would have; she always knew this wasn't a fairy tale. She was the Wicked Witch of West after all, not the princess. Who the Wicked Witch had on her side? No one. She had herself, and it was enough.
She pulled the last drag from her cigarette, and threw the butt away in the rain. She raised her arm to check her watch, but before she could see the time, she saw the bracelet.
With a sneer, she yanked it open, and tugged it inside the pocket of her coat. She might need to keep it on herself, but she wasn't going to wear it, she was not. When she turned back to Gotham, she was going to throw away Jason's gifts too, until to the last item. She imagined herself tossing them out of window into a dark sky, finally free of the ties that bound her to the past. The thought brought a content smile over her lips. She deserved at least that much of a happy ending.
As the butt of her cigarette faded into a small pond of watered mud and dirt, Bruce exited out of the motel. She checked her watch again; 23:35. They had to move out. "We're being late," she said, turning toward the entrance, "Where are they?"
"They're coming," Bruce answered stiffly, nothing like the man she had left a few minutes ago, the man who had confessed her he couldn't be only a man. "Jason went to rent another car," he explained, "We might need another one for a quick getaway." She nodded. "Sean was preparing—" he paused for a second, "molotovs."
She smiled with a mock, looking at him, "Each to its own."
Bruce frowned. "He had brought too much arsenal," he rasped.
"I would worry about it if he didn't," she shot back, her eyes darting around to check out the streets. They were going against a team of fucking former MI5 operatives. If he didn't want this ending in tears, they needed all weaponry they would get their hands on. But this was also the man who had dangled a whole SWAT TEAM like a men-talisman over a building. Oh, she remembered that, she had seen the footage. Her eyes skipped at him, as her mind once again marveled at the man in front of her, still, despite all things had happened between them. She couldn't help herself.
He was the fucking Batman.
Not only a man.
A wave of sadness hit her all of sudden, her breath catching. She felt her eyes burning. She quickly turned around, and let out a shaky breath. She could feel Bruce's eyes staring at her back with her sudden reaction, but she couldn't care any less.
Bruce didn't seem to care, either, though, as he stayed where he was, giving her the space she needed. For a moment, she thought if her last words had hurt him, because this wasn't the Bruce Wayne she had become habituated, but somehow she found the idea appealing. What he had thought? She would have begged at him to—fuck her on regular basis just because he was Bruce Wayne?
She held a catty hiss at the tip of her lips then noticed a white Honda parking just in front of them. Jason stepped out of the car, looking at them with heavy, critical eyes.
Fucking great. Just the thing she needed. She wondered what he had realized, because something inside his eyes changed, as he frowned then he shifted to Bruce, his look turning into a glare.
He closed to her. "Sweetheart—" he called her softly, tenderly, like it wasn't them who had had that talk on the stairs, "Are you okay?"
The question brought almost a laugh out of her. No, she wasn't okay, but she had no idea what was wrong, either. She sent her father a seething look, all anger and sorrow she had been feeling in the last days raising like a sonic wave out of her, and it hit the first target she had. "Leave me alone," she growled at him, walking away.
She went to the other Honda. She was about to get in the passenger seat, but this time Bruce caught her before she could. "Valerie—"
"You should go with Jason," she interjected, pulling her arm free.
"Valerie—" he said again.
"For the love of god," she hissed at his face, "Just leave me alone, okay?"
"What's happening between you two?"
The question brought his attention from the warehouse's plans to Jason as the older man drove to the warehouse, with tightened eyebrows and grim face. The question was also very clear, Valerie had made it certain with her scene in front of the motel. Bruce, however, had no desire to discuss it with her father. Actually, he had no desire to discuss it with anyone. "Nothing," he said stiffly, turning back to the blueprints.
But Jason Allen wasn't the one to let things go easily. Bruce knew from where Valerie had inherited her stubbornness. "That didn't look like nothing," Jason pressed in.
"It's none of your business," Bruce rasped, his eyes still focused on the plans.
"It's my business," Jason retorted, "She is my daughter." This time Bruce didn't respond. What he could tell for that? "And something obviously happened," Jason continued, an angered tone roughing his voice, "What did you tell her?"
The question had his head snapped at the older man. "I don't understand what you're trying to imply."
"Oh, you don't?" Jason asked again mockingly, "Come on, Wayne, do you think I'm blind?" Bruce stayed silent again. "What's happened?" Jason demanded.
"Nothing—" he repeated, turning back to the plans, "Nothing happened."
Jason shot out a snort. "That doesn't look like—nothing, either, boy." From the road, Jason's eyes skipped to a bruise over his skin, colored as Valerie gnawed at his neck just before she had climaxed. The moment assaulted at him suddenly, without any heed; the way she clung onto him, desperately holding, as she shattered in his arms, muffling her screams gnawing at him... He exhaled with a sharp breath, the memory flashing over his eyes, his blood running... He shook his head mentally, and chased the vivid image away. It was just sex, he repeated inwardly, just sex...
With his reaction, though, Jason's eyes turned heavier, almost accusing. "I don't care who you are," he told him, slowly but evenly, "or what you are, but you can't fuck with my daughter, you understand? You can't hurt her."
Bruce stared at the man. "You're the last person who can talk about hurting her, Mr. Allen," he remarked curtly, unflinching; "It's not me but you she's refusing to talk."
"Careful, Wayne," Jason seethed, "Be careful of what's coming out of your mouth."
He grimaced further, "Or else?"
Stopping the car at the corner away from the warehouse, Jason shook his head at him. "No elses." With the last word, Bruce looked at the older man as the other's attention turned to his left side. Bruce followed him. Ronnie was there, waiting for them with his men. Bruce's eyebrows clenched. Jason turned back at him. "I don't get worried over things easily, Bruce," he said, now deadly serious, "My daughter is a tough girl. She can take care of herself. I trust her to deal with Ronnie, or any other man, but with you..."He shook his head, "It's different."
"Why's that?" Bruce asked.
Jason looked at him again then opened the car's door. "You're really a son of a bitch, Bruce Wayne," he said, shaking his head, before he stepped out, "a stupid one, too."
Closing his eyes for a second, Bruce took in an edged breath, the implications of Jason's words painfully clear. He exhaled slowly. No, they had decided it was just sex. He couldn't do it. She didn't want to do it, either, despite Jason's words. No. It was madness.
He stepped out of the car, too, then at the corner, he saw her walking to Ronnie, as the man watched her with a crook, cutting smile as she approached, his men lined behind him. Valerie stood in front of him. The man's smile grew wider as he leaned toward her, whispering something into her ear, then caught the back of her neck abruptly, and pulled her into a kiss.
Valerie simply stood, her body almost pressed at him but he could still see the way her back straightened. A sudden rage coursed through him, although he knew he had no right to feel like this, but his legs didn't listen to him; he took a step forward. A strong grip at his elbow stopped him. "Don't be stupid," Jason warned, then gave him a smug smile, "Besides, you have no reasons to get jealous."
Bruce sent him a glare. Jason pretended he didn't understand. He simply turned back and started walking toward them.
Steeling himself, Bruce followed him. Ronnie had left Valerie, instead now was looking at Jason with cynical eyes. The gangster's eyes skipped at him for a split of second, but Bruce saw no recognition in them. He didn't expect anything else, like how Sean hadn't recognized him; he was miles away from the billionaire they might have seen in the tabloids. Yet, the man's attention stayed on him for a little while, clearly appraising then turned to Jason.
"Ah, so the circle is complete—" Ronnie sneered, and looked at Valerie. Her lips were flattened into a grimace, the chafe around the corner of her mouth redder than before, as if the man deliberately had worried the skin. His muscles tensing, Bruce almost growled out.
"I see that you made peace with your daddy the dearest," Ronnie taunted, still looking at Jason. Valerie grimaced further. Ronnie laughed. "I'm happy for you, love," he snickered, "No one likes to be alone. We all need someone." He brushed his fingers over her arm with the words.
Bruce's eyes glared at the gesture, momentarily wanting nothing to do more than to rip off the man's arm. Not because he touched her, but because his touch had a sick gentleness that harbored violence inside. It was close to the painted maniac's touch as he had held Rachel against the blade, and seeing the same thing with Valerie was hard. He made a half move toward them but Valerie's eyes shot at him a silent order not to react.
Ronnie caught the look they had exchanged. "Who is he?" he asked to her.
"A friend," Valerie replied monotonously, and looked back at him, "Are you done with introductions?" she asked, "Because you know, we have a man to get."
"Ah, you've never been that much into the foreplay," Ronnie laughed back.
Valerie curled her lips back at him. "You know me, I prefer the Casanova way—speaking of which," she continued with her business tone, "That's the plan. We're in and out. Tell your men to create as much as confusion as they can manage at those ramps—" She pointed at the docking ramps ahead of them, and warned stiffly, "But no collateral damage. These men are trouble, wouldn't want to get your hands dirty."
His face turning to serious, Ronnie nodded back at her. Valerie slipped an earpiece into her ear, and turned to her father. "Jason, you're with Antony, covering the back exit," she said, her eyes darting at him momentarily. She was letting him take Rory, away from the danger and Ronnie, leaving herself in the middle of it. She was a tough girl, Bruce passed in his mind. She knew how to deal with them. He had to trust her with that. She turned to Sean, "Sean, you're with me. Ronnie—?" and looked at the gangster.
The man smiled at her, taking out his balaclava from his pocket. "Of course with you, love."
She nodded, her eyes skipped at him again. "Let's move out," she ordered, as they shared a last glance, before Bruce pulled his own balaclava over his head.
She knew what she was doing, he repeated mentally, as he walked with Jason. He had to trust that.
"We're in position," Valerie confirmed, taking her Glock 17 out, as from the other side of the building, Bruce most probably sent an EMP charge to the electricity hub. Lifting her head, she watched as the warehouse turned completely to dark, the sole light at the roof fading. For the good measure, Sean shot the security cameras as Ronnie gave the order to his men, and a big boom echoed in the dark, with no smoke or fire. They had exploded a sonic bomb.
On the cue, they breached into managed offices, as from the warehouse side she heard the certain sounds machine guns made as they rapidly fired. So it had started. Taking a deep, cooling breath, she surveyed the hall. To her left, there was the staircase that led to upper floors, but she didn't pick up any movement. With one hand, she pointed her flashlight at it, her other hand aiming the gun.
Sean had taken the right side, Ronnie at her left. She turned to Sean, and let him lead the way. The former guerilla nodded at her, and moved his fingers first in the air, then gestured the forward motion, shaking them. They took the staircase, her back covered with hall, carefully hiding in the angles, Ronnie taking up their six.
Which would be a grave mistake, given the situation.
Mentally, she shook her head, and forced herself to focus on. She needed to focus. She knew what she was doing, and everything was under control.
When a bullet wheezed in the air, just above her head, she knew she wouldn't have been that lucky. For a crazy second, she wished instead two men she couldn't trust to watch her back, she had Bruce beside her, but she squeezed the idea as soon as it entered in her mind.
No, she had what she had always had; she had herself.
With a curse, she raised her gun, and shot back.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The gunshots blared in his ears, as men dropped on their legs. Stuck for a moment, Bruce watched them as they screamed, holding their bloodied legs with their bloody hands. His eyes darted below, toward his own hands were holding the gun. They were steady. All hell was on the loose around him, chaos wild in the screams, and he was holding a gun, but his hands weren't shaking.
He knew what he had to do.
His eyes caught a movement from his left side, and he turned, and shot at the opponent that had just come out of the place he had covered, just right in the knee and wrist. Another approached, in stealth, like a tigress approaching to his prey, and jumped on his back.
Shifting aside, Bruce threw the man over his shoulder, holding the arm that had tried to coil around his neck. He twisted the arm up in the air backside, until he heard a popping sound. The man cried with a curse, before Bruce knocked him out.
He watched himself shooting, fighting, snarling like it was someone else, not him, but another man, another creature he wasn't aware of; another Batman.
Then he saw him; the man he had come to rescue, the man he had been trying to save for days, sitting on a bolted chair, tied with wires and ropes; beaten and ruined, and a gun pointed at the back of his head.
Jason pulled off his ski mask. "You shouldn't have come, Jason," Desmond Hayes remarked, looking at the older man, his eyes shining with malign.
"It's over, Desmond," Jason said back placidly, not moving an inch, "Let him go."
The man barked out a laugh. "You know the world doesn't work that way, old man," he said, then smiled, "What was that thing you used to say? The new always triumphs the old? And, at the end—" Halting, the Inspector's eyes skipped below, toward the gun Rory, then back at him.
Jason completed, glancing at him, "—and, everything turns out the way it's supposed to." He saw Hayes's finger moved on the trigger with Jason's last words.
And he knew what he needed to do. Before the man pulled the trigger, Bruce fired.
Hissing, she clutched her upper arm, her fingers painted red, her head bowed. Sean shot at the man in front of her, and turned to her. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Briskly, she nodded. "It's grazed," she said, realizing that she had earned her second battle scar. The first time flashed in her mind, as the young patrol officer tried to shoot her, to save her sick wife. The memory felt like a life time away, like it was a different time.
And perhaps in a way it was. Neither life nor she had been the same since that day. The revelation though didn't have any big impact, no halo circled over her head, no shine of enlightenment. She would have expected lights explode in the sky, but only thing that was exploding was gunfire. With tooth and claw she fought, but for the moment, it felt the same ever.
Not that it would matter.
"You idiots!" a voice shouted from the other side of the corner, "You made a grave mistake!" She laughed. "You came for nothing!" the man shouted again, "There is no money. The fuck had given up on everything!"
She laughed again, but it seemed like a joke, not funny but neither cruel, just a joke; she was the savior; at least, but there were still no lights shining on her. Ronnie looked at her, his eyes clenching. "What's—"
Before Ronnie finished, Bruce's voice rasped in her ear, "Valerie, retreat. We have him," he ordered, "I repeat, retreat immediately."
She pressed her finger on her ear, "Copy that," she called in, and turned off the radio. She looked at Ronnie. "We're going out," she said, nodding at Sean.
She slipped away from the corner, this time taking the lead, the man at their back, still screaming, "You fools! You fools!" She took a smoke grenade from her sleeve, and threw it out of the way.
A few inches away from her, smoke filled in the air, and she took a step, but a hand at her arm stopped her. She shifted aside, and saw that Ronnie's thunderous face, looking at her. Then she knew. "You knew it?" he asked, "didn't you?" Over his shoulder, she looked at Sean, "All of this—all of this talk, it's not for the money... Why?" Ronnie asked.
Her eyes fixed at Sean, she shook her head. "You wouldn't understand," she said, as Sean raised his gun at his back.
On their way back to the fire exit, Rory stopped over a corner, clutching his side with his bruised hands. "I don't understand," he said, "Jason, what you're doing here?" the younger man's look turned to him, but Bruce knew his confusion wasn't because of the beatings he had suffered.
"We came to get you, boy," Jason answered, simplistically as ever, taking his arm to move him again.
The man's feet halted. "I don't understand—who are all these people?" Another sonic bomb exploded, machine guns following. Rory's eyes moved to him again.
Bruce took off his balaclava, and looked at him back. "You," Rory whispered, "It's you—"
Bruce took the man's arm from Jason's grip, and led him toward the back exit. "We need to move."
Rory's eyes became graver. "Thank you," he said, as Bruce opened the back exit.
"You don't need to thank me," he remarked before they stepped out.
They never needed to, never.
Ronnie shook his head. "I should have known," he muttered, his fingers tightening on her further.
"Don't be stupid, Ronnie," Sean whispered from behind, "Let her go."
The gangster laughed. "You, Sean, too?" he asked, "She's ensnared even you?" Sean stayed quiet. Valerie only looked at him, too. "What are you doing here?" Ronnie asked, "and don't tell me you came to rescue that idiot."
Sean opened his mouth, but before he said something else, Ronnie made a sudden movement, shifting around himself, and caught the hand pointing the gun at him. He corked it outside then hit it on the wall.
She made a move, as Ronnie knocked out Sean, but before she could do anything, Ronnie turned and pointed the gun at him.
"Don't move—" he ordered, she stopped, "Not even an inch."
She exhaled a sharp breath, hearing voices from other side of the hall. "Ronnie—"she said, but the back of the gun hit her before she could utter another word.
"Not a single word," he warned, grabbing her, and threw her into narrow corridor next to them, "Not a single word, I'm done with you, Fi."
She tried a finger toward her ear, but Ronnie shook his head. "Don't be smart, love," he warned, "Don't." She stopped. Ronnie looked at her. "I should have just shot you," he muttered.
She smiled, "What are you waiting for then?" Suddenly the hall fell silent. They were retreating back, all of them. Hayes wasn't a fool, he knew his operation had gone south, and they were leaving as well.
Ronnie nodded, and loaded the magazine, "You're right? What am I waiting for?" He aimed higher. She let out a breath, her eyes burning. This was how her life would end? She had never believed it. She never believed he had in it. Another mistake she had made.
Then Ronnie shook his head. "No—No—I can't—"he said. A small hitch of hope broke in her chest. He couldn't. Of course, he couldn't. But then Ronnie continued, "Not looking into your eyes. Turn around." Staying still, she looked at him. "TURN AROUND!" he bellowed, "On your knees."
Closing her eyes, she obeyed. She turned and dropped on her knees. Ronnie didn't say anything, but she heard him approach from the back, and a few seconds later she felt the cold metal of the barrel at the back of her neck. She swallowed, exhaling a shaky breath out. "Beg."
She gave out a broken laughter, and shook her head. "You know I won't," she refused. If she was going out, she would at least go with dignity.
"Beg," Ronnie repeated.
This time she stayed silent. "Oh, playing the brave, eh?" he snickered, "Well, that's new."
Valerie the Brave... the new her; it really seemed like a joke. She shook her head. "I'm not brave, Ronnie," she said, "I'm just not afraid." The words were true. She was sad, she was tired, she was even angered perhaps, but she wasn't afraid. The moment of the crash came to her again, and she remembered how scared she had felt, how alone... She was still alone, but at least she wasn't scared. "A year back, I almost died, Ronnie. It—" she halted, as if she was making a confession, "It changed things for me."
"Do you really think that I'd believe that you're only here to save that fool boy, Fi—Really?"
She shrugged. "Believe whatever you want. I know why I'm here," she answered, then paused again before she continued, "Funny things go through your mind when you're about to die—" Her lips drew into a faint smile, "Feel glad you put clean underwear, wonder how your hair looks like," Her smile vanished, "or what anyone would tell about you afterward—"
"Oh, I know what people would say after you," Ronnie said laughing, "Fi...? Ugh, she was a stupid bitch."
"Ronnie," she called him seriously, "Can I have my last wish?"
She smiled again. "Please, don't let anyone say I'm stupid."
Ronnie laughed back. "I suppose I can do it—" He paused for a second, as if he was listening to something, then he leaned toward over her shoulder, "Fi—do you hear it?" he whispered.
"I don't hear anything."
"Yes, nothing," Ronnie agreed, his lips inches away from her ear, "It's good that you're not afraid, love, because there is no one coming—No one cares." He laughed in her ear, "You're alone."
And, he was wrong. She had what she had always. She craned her neck to look back at him, and smiled at him. "I've got me—" she said, her hand slipping through her sleeve, "who else do I need?"
First there was a clinking thud as the metal ball crushed at the ground, then a flash, so bright she could even see it under her closed eyelids.
Then there was a bang.