Crossing the Rubicon

Part VIII-II

Part VIII. II — "Lonely Paths"

Taking a deep breath, she adjusted the sling of her backpack, and knocked the door. Bruce opened it a second later. "Are you ready?" she asked, looking at him at the threshold.

He stepped aside from the door. "In a bit," he said, opening the way for her.

She walked in, and sat at the edge of the bed as Bruce dismantled the equipment he had installed as his work station at the round table in the corner. She looked around the room that she had spent her last week, her eyes falling back to the bed where she had slept next to the enigmatic man in front of her, a whole fifteen inch between them.

Something pinched in her chest again. She wished she could have just walked away, never looking back. But there was time for that. She needed to get back to America first. Crossing the border to South America from North was easier than hopping around the world with only her backpack. She needed to go to Gotham first then find herself a hide-in until she retrieved the money in the bank account. Then she would find Christian... She tugged her hands insides her coat's pockets, and found the bracelet...Bruce's queen bracelet.

For a second, her thoughts stopped, her breath caught in her throat, the pinch in her chest growing into a tug. Walking to the bed, Bruce sat beside her, carefully putting another fifteen inch between them. She almost laughed. Then she noticed the letter he was holding in his hand. He extended it toward her. "When he left, Jason asked me to give you this," he explained.

She let out a sigh, but shook her head. "Valerie—" Bruce said with a low voice, not a rasp, but a soft timber, gentle, "Won't you even look at it?"

She shook her head again. No. No. She was not, because it wouldn't make any difference. "Whatever says there, Bruce, it doesn't change the truth," she answered, "I accepted it."

"Valerie—" Bruce said, "he cares about you."

She stood up. "And that's the exact thing that doesn't change anything."

She needed to leave. She just needed to put this all behind her, and carry on. Their paths had collided, and they walked together for a while, and it was time now that they went back to their own lives.


After a long time, Bruce finally dreamed something else than Rachel.

The cell was dank and cold, and dirty, vile and depravity rotting it inside out. "A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification," Ducard says, with his immaculate manner that clashes everything else in the world that surrounds them; untainted, like no dirt can touch him.

"He can be destroyed or locked up." Like how it happened, in his dream, the words accompanied a look. He tries to say something, but couldn't find the words. They're at the tip of his tongue, but before he says them out loud, he hears what changed his life entirely, irrevocably;

"But if you make yourself more than just a man," Ducard whispers, crouched in front of him, "if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you—" He pauses to look at him, "then you become something else entirely."

"Which is?" His voice asks.

And Ducard answers, "Legend, Mr. Wayne."

Suddenly the scene shifts, and he finds himself looking at the light green eyes in the motel room Valerie rented after they had sex. "Don't be hard on yourself," she says, shaking her head, "you're only a man."

"I can't be only a man," he mutters, bowing his head.

His eyes snapped open, and Bruce gave out a labored breath out, his dream turning in his mind. He closed his eyes, and slowed his breathing. A second later, he opened his eyes, and found Valerie as she lay at the other side over a sleeping mat at the cargo plane's hull, a blanket stretched out over half of her body.

Slowly, Bruce crawled to her, and watched her as she slept. There was still a slight frown over her eyebrows, a faint line over her lips, her jaw clenched decisively; even in sleep, she was keeping up her guard. A man could just take her in his arms and ease her pain, but he couldn't be just a man.

Giving out a sigh, he pulled the blanket over her shoulders, and returned to his seat.


When they arrived to Gotham, the night was aging. Alfred had met with them outside the hangar he had prepared for their return, a black car waiting. As they drove back to the manor, Valerie watched the city.

Gotham skyline was the same ever; countless city lights glinting in the heart of darkness like fireflies, the long and sharp silhouette of skyscrapers painting a blank canvas with shadows and light; a breathtaking tableau that veiled an ugly truth inside; a truth that only so few people cared enough to see through all the glittering and dazzling.

One of those few people who had seen the ugly truth was sitting beside her in silence, born just in the middle of it. There was something emitting out of him now, something like a...tremor, and it was reverberating everything around him.

Bruce had returned to his city, and his city was welcoming him.

Her eyes skipped at him, and with a glance, they shared a look. "Valerie—" Bruce said, as Alfred drove into the Wayne Manor's driveway, but she interrupted him, shaking her head.

"Let's talk about it in the morning, Bruce," she said, "when it's a new day."

He gave her a look, a long look, and one moment, she thought he knew what she was going to do. But the next, he nodded.

She stepped out of the car. Directly, she went to the guest room, her head decisively bowed down. She didn't want to look up and see the manor. She didn't want to look up and see something that would get her marveling at the reality that Bruce Wayne was the Batman.

It didn't matter anymore. He was who he was; and she was who she was.

With a quick goodnight, she went to the guest room then she looked around. There was it, sitting at top of the desk, just the way she had left it. Her eyes fixed at it, she approached to the metal box. She had sworn she was going to throw it away when she had returned, this time she was going to manage.

Her hand reached out, but before her fingers touched it, she pulled back her hand. No, she wasn't going to open it. It didn't matter anymore, either. Standing in the middle of the room, she listened to the house.

It sounded like dead, no sound whatsoever. She wondered if Bruce...went out. His base probably was around somewhere here, and something was telling her that Bruce hadn't waited another day to be what he was.

Batman.

She walked out of the guest room, and started a quick search. If he was really out, then it was the opportunity that she was waiting for. She first checked the master bedroom, and found it empty. Without casting another look, she quickly shot the door close.

She swept the first floor, and the second; the dinner room, the other guest rooms, the ball room, they were all empty. For the last, she tried the study.

Before she opened the door, her hand hesitated. For some reasons, she didn't want to see the room. It was the room she had spent most of her time when she had been in the manor, where she had first seen the glimpse of the real Bruce Wayne.

"Why you're doing this?"

"I cannot not."

The memory flashed over her eyes, the words turning in her mind... I cannot not... I cannot not... He really could not otherwise, she was seeing it now.

Taking a breath, she cracked the door open, and glanced inside, but he wasn't there, either, just like she had thought.

She was alone, and it was time to go. But her feet stayed rooted over threshold, her eyes riveted at the room, and she just couldn't turn and walk away. Goddammit!

Losing the battle with herself, she stepped into the room, and looked around, heaving a deep sigh out. Her eyes drew to the window she had been standing when he had told her those words, and she remembered how she had felt then; the desperation, and the feeling of being stuck, and how she had wanted to run away.

It felt like they were just running around the circles, but nothing seemed to change, not really. She took his bracelet out of her pocket, and looked at it. Heaving out another sigh, she clasped it around her wrist, and walked to his study desk.

No, she really couldn't leave before she said a goodbye. Not this time.

Letting out a low sigh, she sat at the desk, and took a pen, and pulled out a paper from the drawer.

Dear Bruce, she started.

I'm sorry I lied, but a new day wouldn't change anything, so I'm leaving. I'm also sorry I don't have enough courage to do this face to face but sometimes it's easier to write than say, and I've been never good at saying goodbyes. You know, in the old days I would have just walked away.

With the words a smile appeared over her lips, and she continued;

But I'm trying to change what I am, am I not? So I'm saying goodbye.

And it sounded like truth. That much at least had changed. Her eyes wandered around the room again, before she turned back to the paper.

Cathleen always used to say you can recognize a good man by his hands. A good man has good hands. You have clean hands. They're not soft, but gentle. They know the kindness, and they knew me. I never thanked you for saving my life, but thank you, thank you for caring enough. I hope I'm not letting let you down.

Her hand flew over the paper without hesitation, as if she was waiting for this moment, even though she hadn't been aware of it, words pouring out of her on their own records. .. This is your life, and I've been just a guest, and guests always should know when it's time to take their leaves. Please be assured that your secret will always be safe with me, and I will protect it until my last breath and then will take it to the grave.

Another truth she realized just as she wrote it. One day perhaps someone would learn about Bruce Wayne, but it wasn't going to be because of her, if there was something she could swear on it, it was that. She continued;

I will not take off your bracelet. I'm still wearing it, and I'll keep doing it. I know you know now I lied to you about Christian, but there is no way I can stop you from finding me if you want it, so I simply ask you not to. You once accepted me for being who I am, now please, also accept this. I'm leaving, Bruce, because this is the way how it's supposed to be.

As her hands finally hesitated, she closed her eyes, and wrote what she had thought before they left Belfast, her eyes pricking, that thing pinching her chest again; Our paths crossed, and we walked together for a while, but now it's time that we go back to our own lives.

Valerie.

She looked at the last words, the moments they had shared rapidly blinking in and out of existence before her, tears threatened to break over in her eyes. They had been through too much, had survived too much, it didn't seem right...their story ending this way... It wasn't right. With a frantic vigor, she pulled the paper toward her, and started writing again;

PS: But perhaps one day our paths collide again, and somewhere else, we meet again. Momentarily, her hand stopped, but she started again hastily, giving out shaking breaths, then she noticed the wetness over her cheeks. Without breaking her flow, she swept her tears away with her other hand, then put a period after her last sentence.

An end to the life she had shared with Bruce Wayne.

She folded the paper, wrote his name on it, then walked out.


Hours later, before the dawn broke, from the top of a radio tower, the Dark Knight watched over his city. He took of no account of the cold winter air as he stayed like a statue of dark, smooth marble, a haunting figure from Poe's dreams. Darkness enveloped him, and the night welcomed him like a woman embracing her absent lover back.

Whispers slowly ruffled in the darkened alleys, "He's back—" the thugs muttered between scared breaths, "He's returned."

"Batman has returned."


At the dawn, when he returned, Bruce found her letter.

He knew what was there even before he read it. Still, he approached it slowly, taking his time, but perhaps prolonging his torment. His eyes looked at his name over the paper for a second, then he opened it.

Dear Bruce,

I'm sorry I lied, but a new day wouldn't change anything, so I'm leaving. I'm also sorry I don't have enough courage to do this face to face but sometimes it's easier to write than say, and I've been never good at saying goodbyes. You know, in the old days I would have just walked away.

But I'm trying to change what I am, am I not? So I'm saying goodbye.

Cathleen always used to say you can recognize a good man by his hands. A good man has good hands. You have clean hands. They're not soft, but gentle. They know the kindness, and they knew me. I never thanked you for saving my life, but thank you, thank you for caring enough. I hope I'm not letting let you down. This is your life, and I've been just a guest, and guests always should know when it's time to take their leaves. Please be assured that your secret will always be safe with me, and I will protect it until my last breath and then will take it to the grave.

I will not take off your bracelet. I'm still wearing it, and I'll keep doing it. I know you know now I lied to you about Christian, but there is no way I can stop you from finding me if you want it, so I simply ask you not to. You once accepted me for being who I am, now please, also accept this. I'm leaving, Bruce, because this is the way how it's supposed to be. Our paths crossed, and we walked together for a while, but now it's time that we go back to our own lives.

Valerie.

PS. But perhaps one day our paths collide again, and somewhere else, we meet again. We must be older then; dry bones and wrinkled skin, but your eyes must still have the same glint like the day you saved me. I see you from the other side of the street. You're sipping your mocha in a café, and there is a woman with you. You look...content. Then across of the sea of people, you see me too. We don't talk to each other, but we smile, at the same time. The woman asks you who I am, and you say... "An old friend."

Until then, my friend, stay well.

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