Crossing the Rubicon

Part II-II

Part II. II – Contact

The night was cold, rain beating his armor hard. Stirring slightly on his bad leg, Bruce twisted an inch away, and immediately frowned afterward. He had used to stay still in his post for hours, but even a full hour hadn't passed since he had crouched at the fire escape of a building at the opposite side of Castillo's bodega, and his leg had started giving him troubles. In the last five months, his leg had improved and he had gotten used to the ache in his joint, but winter had worsened the structure. He would need to see Fox on that. The prospect had his eyebrows pull tighter together. Hissing silently, he pressed his ear outside the cowl. "Alfred, where are they?" he asked, his eyes checking the bodega at the corner of 13th Street in the Bowery. The homicide detectives would have already been here, especially given how Burke usually drove.

There was a brief silence in his ear as Alfred checked the trackers. "They're approaching, sir." As soon as Alfred finished, Bruce heard the tell-tale motor sounds, and the black Ford Mustang that Detective Burke patently drove passed on the road like a beast, and skid to a halt in front of the bodega, his tires stretching. Even from his post across the street, Bruce could see the way his new co-worker Isley grabbed the handle at the door, balancing herself for the impact. First grade detective, a good cop, but the homicide task force officer was still the worst driver Bruce had ever seen, and coming from him, that was saying something.

The detectives got out of the car and walked to the bodega. Bruce pulled out a small device from his utility belt, and linked the detective's cell phones to his wireless radio, his attribution to the force once again coming handy. Over a faint static, the conversation started coming into his ear. "Mr. Castillo," Isley called the owner, as the balding man in his early forties gave outside a wary glance. Bruce could understand the wariness. Since last week the detectives had been frequented the bodega stubbornly, trying to get the man to testify against the weapon dealer that Bruce also had been after for two weeks. Hector was a leader of a street gang called SP-10 that had started supplying guns for the Russian. He had used to run a small business in dismantling the stolen cars, but after the power vacuum that the Dent Act had left in the streets, the man had started to look for greener pastures. His gang had started to cause trouble, and Bruce was determined to close his business before the man got more—influential in Gotham's underworld. Castillo had witnessed a hit go down in front of his bodega last week, a young man Tobias Lazio gunned down after he had backed down from testifying against Hector. Burke and Islay had been assigned to Tobias's case, and they had been trying to get the man testify against the weapon dealer since last week. Bruce knew the bodega owner would never. Not without some encouragement first. He would have already tied this matter, days ago, but standing with the police at the opposite sides, things now didn't carry on as fast as they once had been.

The redhead detective let out a subsided sigh, looking at the man. "You didn't come to the precinct," she told Castillo, her words almost accusing.

Next to her, Burke took a Lays bag and opened it. He took two chips out and threw it in his mouth. "We been waitin' for you, buddy," he said, munching the chips.

Castillo shook his head. "Look, I told you—" the man said, his voice almost imploring, "I can't... I have a family. The last man tried to cross Hector gunned down just in front of my shop."

"And you witnessed that," Isley shot back, drawing closer to the man. There was a heat in her voice, and a fire in her eyes that every time surprised Bruce to hear. She was a petite young woman, just out of the Academy, but there was a fierce resolve in her whenever there was an innocent involved in her work. "You have to stand out. You can't let Hector go like nothing happened."

Castillo gave them a pained look, almost ashamed. "I can't," he repeated again, "I'm sorry... I knew Tobby," he continued, "We went to the same high school. I liked him, he was a good guy, but—" He shook his head. "You don't cross Hector. Tobby backed down too—"

Burke cut his words off, throwing his mouth another chip, "Didn't save him, tho," he said, wrinkling his nose with a sniff then got closer too. He brushed his hand over the man's apron to dry the oil off his fingers then grabbed the owner at his shoulder. "Look buddy, we been talked that before," he spoke in a friendly voice, "Whether you like it or not, whether you testify or not, you're in Hector's radar. So why don't you help yourself?" He gave the man a look, raising his eyebrow, "You testify, we put Hector away, and everyone lives happily ever after."

Castillo gave him a suspicious look, "And then afterward?" he asked, "What happens then?"

Burke threw the chips away, his expression finally getting serious. "What do you mean "then"?" he asked, "I told you we all live happily after."

The owner shook his head, as if in sadness, "Do you really believe that, detective?" he asked, "Or you just hope I would?"

Isley walked to him, her dark green eyes aflame, "We can protect you, Mr. Castillo."

"No, you can't," Castillo objected, and shook his head again at them, "This isn't our city, detective, this is the city of people who want us death." He turned to leave, "You can't change that."

Behind the cowl, Bruce's eyebrows tightened, as the words turned in his mind. They were true, despite the improvement the Dent Act was making on the streets slowly, the city still wasn't of regular people that only wanted to live their lives with their families and loved ones. With each criminal he put away, another two were stepping in; they were fighting the same battle, just with different players.

The detectives left, their faces set, jaws clenched, because they both knew what Castillo had told was true. They couldn't protect him. But Batman could. Standing up from his post, he climbed up, and jumped to the roof of the bodega, consciously landing on with a heavy thud on the cement floor. He stalked to the edge over the back exit and waited until Castillo came outside with a wary pace. He jumped down. With a squeak, the man pulled back from the door, but he caught him. "You don't need to fear Hector," he rasped out, his gauntlet hand still on the man's shoulder, his grip tight, "He won't be a problem for you," he continued, looking at the man's eyes, "Not after tonight." The man's eyes widened with shock and fright, he nodded, but Bruce wasn't sure if he had understood what he had meant, so he added, "You will go to Detective Burke's precinct tomorrow morning, and you will testify."

Looking at him still frightened, Castillo nodded agitated, "Okay...okay," he whispered, "I will—I swear." He paused, his lips trembling, "Please-please don't—don't hurt me." His hand pulled back as if his skin had burned. He looked at the owner, as the man trembled more under his close scrutiny. "Please—please," he whimpered out, imploring words pouring out of him, "I have a family."

Bruce took a step back, what he had seen inside the older man's eyes had his bad leg almost stumbled on the payment. In his eyes, there was fear, but it wasn't because of the weapons dealer, no, it was because of the Batman; the killer of Harvey Dent.

When he returned to the cave, Alfred was silent, as if he had already sensed his fool mood after his talk with Castillo. Jumping down from the Batpod, Bruce took the cowl off, and tossed it off on the ground, every muscle in his body still strained like he was wired to a bomb that would go off in any minute. "Master Bruce," he heard Alfred's weary voice from his behind as he walked to the cabinet to take off his armor.

"I don't want to talk about it," he told Alfred tersely, entering in the cabinet. Inside, he took off the joints of the armor, with more vigor than necessary, and peeled off his thermal jumpsuit. He didn't want to talk about it. He didn't even want to think about it. He had made his own bed, and now he was going to lie in it. His teeth bared against each other on their account, and he grounded out a frustrated sigh. He could take it. He could be whatever Gotham needed him to be.

Grabbing his right shoulder with his left hand, he rolled his shoulder, opening the shower in the cabinet. After he had left Castillo, he had gone to find Hector and he hadn't been easy on him, not one bit. He had made sure to the weapon dealer if he had seen him out in the streets in the next two decade, he was going to make him very, very sorry. Nodding frantically at him, Bruce knew, the weapon dealer had seen in his eyes what Castillo had seen.

If Batman was going to pretend to be killer, he should at least benefit from it.

He stepped out of the shower, quickly got dressed, and left the cabinet; the night had aged, but he knew the sleep wasn't an option tonight. He might at least get some work done. He stalked to his work station in the newly equipped cave, feeling rather grateful of the gloom as he could pretend he didn't notice the look Alfred was giving him. A month ago, the construction of the Manor had finished and they had moved back. The manor though didn't feel like his old house, even though they had built it back in the fashion of the old one brick by brick. He knew what was missing. The tiles were squeaking under his feet whenever he walked in the corridors, the staircases were steady, unlike the former. The walls were too pristine, projecting the truth that no one lived here before; his father and his mother never climbed down this staircase hand to hand, Rachel and he had never ran through these corridors, chasing each other, laughing and screaming; the house wasn't the same. It was just a reflection of good times, now forever lost. And he shouldn't be surprised, either. He had a tendency to lose everything that mattered to him the most.

The cave, however, was the same, from the sturdy small pebbles under his feet to the bats chirpings up above his head, from the light splashing sound coming from the left corner where the entrance covered with the fair waterfall to the faint echo even the smallest breath made in depths of its majesty. It was the only place he would find any relief, sometimes. "Master Bruce," Alfred started again after a pause, walking to him closer, never giving up on him, never, "You need to rest—"

He cut off the rest of his words, "I'm fine, Alfred," he said automatically, and asked, his eyes skipping toward the square metal box over the counter, "Did you check them?" He pointed the box with his head.

Alfred looked at him, a silent sigh over his lips. "Sir, they're just trinkets—"

"Did you?" Bruce interrupted him again.

"Yes—" the older man replied, as Bruce pulled the metal box closer and opened it. "Nothing specific." Bruce looked at the cheap trinkets; bracelets, necklaces, earrings, pendants, rings, even bangles, things could be found in any street stall in the world. He had found the box when he had gone to her home in the midtown to search the house. His objective had been to find a set clear of fingerprints, and a few personal items that would have given him an opportunity to find her. He hadn't. He had found out a fingerprint that also checked with one of prints he had discovered in her office but there was nothing related to it in the databases.

Her building was one of the few walk-up buildings in the outskirts of the midtown, close to where 11th Av crossed Broadway, in the close proximity of hot spots of the city but still secluded from the rush of the city life. The building also didn't have a concierge, as he suspected it was one of the reasons she had chosen it. One bedroom flat was decorated stylistic; modern and new age, but it was lacking any personal touch. The metal box had been inside a black backpack, together with her wallet, three thousand dollars, and with a Glock .27, 19mm. He discarded the gun as soon he had touched it, and left the money, but took the metal case and the wallet with him.

The wallet had been useless, and the metal was hard to tell. He hadn't been sure what to expect from it, besides giving him a clue to find who Cameron Reese really was, but what he had found had baffled him even more. He had expected many things; identities, passports, money, bonds, jewelry, flash drives, but cheap trinkets would have never been in his list even in his wildest dreams. He didn't know what to make of them. First he had tried to assort them in a way that would suggest a pattern, but they were at random; one moment the item was a necklace with a peace sign dangling at the end of it, the next it was a bangle in Indian style. He had also tried to discover a mark that would set them apart, some Sherlockian clue that would solve the whole mystery but there was nothing. Inside the box, apart from the trinkets, there was a velvet pouch. Inside the pouch there was a small sea shell, and a picture of a woman.

Pulling the box closer, he searched for the photo. "You go up, Alfred," he ordered, "I'm working a bit."

Even his eyes cast down he could still see Alfred's eyes as they bore a hole behind his neck. Dutifully, Bruce kept his eyes at the box, searching through its context. For a moment, he thought the older man was going to protest, or even worse he was going to give him one of his lectures, but the next moment he heard his soft footsteps as he moved away. He had been a long day, and sometimes even Alfred would give up. Heaving a sigh as the metal lift revived with a grunt, Bruce took the photo out.

There she was; a woman who had a clear resemblance to "Cameron". She was wearing a midi skirt and a sweater that were dating a few decades earlier. She had shadows under her eyes, the light in her eyes dimmed through the lenses. She was sitting on a stone bollard at a quay, giving the camera a sad smile. All indications were telling she was a relative, perhaps even her mother. He had run it through the databases, but once again had come up with nothing. He had run his chances in the face recognition program, too, even though he had known he wasn't going to find anything.

But he wasn't going to give up, either. Last night, he had separated the quay she was in from the rest of the photo, and tonight he would check it to find at least a point of origin to limit the parameters of research. The quay wasn't anything extraordinary. It seemed to be a river coastline, but there was no vehicle; no ships, no boats, not even rowboats to pinpoint its location; it was a deserted place, like the only living souls at that moment were the woman that was sitting on the bollard and the person who was taking the shot.

Still, he tried his chances. First he crossed the enlarged image with every port or wharf he could find in New York, then Gotham, then all in America. Like he had expected, nothing had come up. Not giving up, he turned to the other parts of the world, too, as he was beginning to suspect she wasn't even from America, but it was like looking a needle in the hay. Heaving a sigh out, he leaned back in his seat, resting his head over the headrest of his chair, his eyes closing.

This wasn't going anywhere. Perhaps he should just accept the defeat and stopped looking for her. Her message in the safe house was clear. She hadn't sold him out, perhaps because she had felt some small gratitude, perhaps because she hadn't seen any reason to do it, or perhaps just because she hadn't want to put herself further into the mess that was his life. But whatever her reason was, she had made another thing painfully clear. She didn't want his help, or anyone else. She wanted them to leave her alone.

She could apparently take care of herself, even though she had been stupid enough to put herself in the middle of Batman and Him, but it looked like she had gotten wiser. Perhaps he really should leave the case, he was getting obsessive, he knew, but he didn't know how. She knew about him. In a matter of speaking, besides Alfred and Fox she was the only person who really knew him. And he couldn't even remember how many times they had spoken, actually spoken to each other... Twice? Three times? Certainly not more than four times.

He had possibly flirted with her at the day they had met; she was an attractive woman, and Bruce Wayne flirted with every attractive woman in his vicinity. Hell, he might have even asked her out, if he had felt the need to play particularly the dickhead, getting his employees squirm uncomfortable with his eccentrics just because he had to keep up the appearances.

And how much she herself had had to keep up the appearances; he could still remember how Fox had used to drill him about LSI Holdings deal before he had figured out the truth behind the company, chiding him about the lawyer at his neck, not giving him a moment of reprise.

The faint sunlight started creeping inside through the small opening at the cave's roof, chasing the shadows with the new dawn. He let out another sigh, his eyes skipping toward her photo over the glass board as she had been about to ruin his whole life.

Over the soft hum of the machinery in the cave, he heard the sounds of the lift again. His eyes draw toward it, and he saw Alfred exiting out of the metal cage a few seconds later.

He let out a breath, "Alfred—" he started, but his words stopped as soon as he saw Alfred's expression. Suddenly alert, he straightened in his seat. "What happened?"

Alfred raised his arm, his fingers holding the phone, "Sir—" Alfred said, "She—she's calling."

His hands were steady as he put a trace on the line before he reopened the connection, his eyes skipping toward her photo for a second. Briefly he considered how to answer then decided to go with the thing he had been thinking just before the call had arrived. "I didn't expect you to call," he said to the phone, getting his tone impassive, nothing to suggest of his incredulity or his wariness, "At the police custody your message was very clear."

For a while, there was no sound from the other side, as he knew she was trying to find a suitable answer for his unspoken inquiry. Then she spoke, her words bluntly simple, "I need your help."

He asked with the same bluntness, "Why should I help you?"

"I didn't sell you out."

A bitter laugh came to the tip of his mouth but he surpassed it at the last moment. "No," he retorted unaffected, then stated the facts, "You merely blackmailed me and then tried to expose me for money."

"What would you have me to do? People were dying and you weren't doing anything."

He frowned. If she really believed that he could buy that she was the half of the woman he was suspecting her to be. "Don't expect me to believe that you did what you did for the good of people," he remarked placidly, "You—"

She cut him off, "Mr. Way—" but halted before she completed the word, a brief hesitation entering into her voice, then she started again, this time going with his first name, "Bruce—" She paused momentarily again, as if to weigh his name on her tongue. He knew what she was trying to do, she wasn't going to call him with formalities; they had already passed them. "We can all point fingers at each other whole time but let's not," she said, her voice almost earnest, "The bottom line is that you owe me one. I could have gone to mob or stayed with the police. But I didn't. I kept your secret."

And that was really the bottom line. His eyes skipped again to her photo for a moment, before he asked, "And why's that?" Because he was curious, god, he had been curious about that reality since the time she had escaped from the safe house.

Again there was a silence, but this time it talked to him in volumes. "It's—" the word came out in a low voice, as if she was struggling with the words, as if she was making a confession she didn't want to, "—possible that I might have behaved—inconsiderately…" She faltered, heaving a breath out. "What you did for me that day…" The words trailed off again, and he could almost see her shaking her head at the other side, feeling at lost. "I don't expect you to understand," she said after a while, clearing her voice, then swallowed lightly as if to absorb the sudden tense moment. A second later, she started again, her voice again bluntly simple; "But understand this," she said, something close to a warning edging her tone, "I'm a liability to you. You wouldn't want me to wander around without help."

The words had his eyebrows rise. He brought the phone close to his mouth. "Ms. Reese," he rasped out the fake name in a low rasp, his own voice edging too, "are you threatening me again?"

He heard almost a gasp from the other side. "No!" she objected in a hurry and then continued in a more collected tone, "No. I just advise caution. I won't go to the mob or the police if you refuse me now." She sounded sincere, but Bruce didn't know how much he could trust on that. "I'll do my best," she went on, "but let's be realistic; sooner or later one of them will catch me." She paused again, leaving the rest of the words unsaid. She didn't need to say them aloud, what she had meant was already crystal clear. "If you can't bring yourself to help me, then help yourself," she concluded finally, her tone wasn't imploring but matter-of-fact.

In silence, he lifted his head, and looked around. It was odd to have this conversation. For five months he had been looking for her, but now he understood he hadn't any slightest idea what to do with her once he found her. He had become so focused on just finding her, that inevitable outcome had gotten lost behind that. Now, she had found him—again, and she was asking his help, and he was no idea to where that fact was putting them. Their lives had tangled too much, there was so much—confusion. And she had called him for help.

"Look," she started again, her voice suddenly weary as if she had sensed the same confusion that tied themselves to each other, "I've brought this on myself, and I'm trying to deal with it." This time the words was truly sincere, there was no doubt in there. "It's not easy for me either, groveling to you like this. And believe me I wouldn't if I had any other option. But truth is, I, um, I—don't—" She faltered on words again, then heaved a loaded-sigh as if it took everything in her to complete the words, "I don't have anywhere else to go," she confessed.

Her image appeared in his mind, as she looked at him at the crash... Then another image flashed, and the light green disappeared, leaving their places to brown, and Castillo looked at him, fear and dread darkening his eyes to black... "Say something…" she whispered out from the other side, from far away.

And he did, with a quiet voice, he did, he told her what she was to him; "You're a threat to me."

She swallowed, "Yes, I am."

"And how can you trust I won't eliminate it?"

From the other side, he heard her taking a sharp breath, clearly understanding what he had meant; that she was asking the help of a killer. "You—" she whispered out, "you helped me once."

"That was long ago," he stated coldly, Castillo's face going through his mind again, "A lot of things have changed since then."

He could hear the trembles in her voice when she answered slowly, "I was hoping it still means something."

His eyes found her photo again, and he admitted, "Yes, yes, it does." He meant everything. He heard her letting out another deep rough breath, but this time it was one of a relief. "Where are you?" Bruce asked.

"I'm not—sure—" He frowned, his mind already starting speculating, then she made a noise, close to a sniff, "Aren't you tracing the line?"

The question brought a sudden smile over his lips, and he almost laughed, almost. He checked the computer that was trying to find her location, close to Gotham, but it wasn't still clear. "I need more time," he told her truthfully, his voice unaffected as in the way of hers.

"Well, hurry up," she shot back causally, "Can't say I'm in the best shape."

His eyebrows pulled into another frown. "I want to ask you one thing." Something he had been wondering now for five months.

"I'm listening."

"What's your real name?"

"Valerie," she answered without missing a beat.

Closing the phone, she threw herself on the couch, heaving out the zillionth deep breath, her whole body started trembling again uncomfortably, drained and spent. She wished she had had a drink. No, she wished she had had lots, lots of drinks. She pulled the coats over her body again, and lay over the couch, telling herself her tremors had nothing to do with the call she had just forced herself to go through.

She also told herself she hadn't done a mistake. How can you trust that I won't eliminate it?

How indeed, she asked herself. The man had killed Harvey Dent, the White Knight of Gotham. But why, that was the thing that wasn't making a sense. He had saved her, throwing himself on the way of danger whilst doing it, even after what she had tried to do to him. Why such a man would kill someone like Dent? It made little sense. It was possible that he had had to do it, as a last resort or something, she didn't know, but she couldn't see a man like him would do something like this without any reason. There had to be a reason, she was sure of it, even though she didn't know it. What Harvey Dent had gone must have been hard, something must have happened, enough to resolve Batman to take his life, perhaps even a mercy kill, or a last resort, but a justification nevertheless. No, the question wasn't he killed Harvey Dent. The question was what the justification was. And what would justify in his mind ending her existence as well?

She broke to a sudden cold sweat, her body shaking uncontrollably with tremors. She passed a hand over her forehead, heat emitting out of her pore, her teeth clattering. Okay, this was nothing to do with Bruce Wayne. With each second she was wasting here, the chances that she got the pneumonia were raising. But she had nowhere else to go to, either. The thought brought back her confession from moments ago, how she had forced herself to admit that fact. Honesty...honesty didn't really work with her. But still she had done it, because it was truth, because truth sometimes was the best tool to—handle people like Bruce Wayne. Some might call it a blunt act of manipulation, but it still didn't change the fact; it was true.

She let out another loaded sigh, pulling the coats tighter around herself. She closed her eyes. What happened, happened. There was no point stressing over it now. She had called him, and he had accepted to help. The rest they would see at the new day. Her last thought before she drifted into a restless slumber was if she should call him again to ask bring warm clothes...

It was a hard callous hand shaking her slightly at her shoulder that had pulled her out of the land of dreams. She jerked up to consciousness, her fingers reaching to the hand on reflex, but her hand met with nothing as the sudden movements trembled her torso with a jolt of pain, her whole body burning with heat.

Momentarily she closed her eyes, biting inside of her cheek to choke out a rough moan rising from her throat. It hurt. Every muscle hurt, every cell burned. For a moment, she felt she would faint, and she almost wished she could have, but she couldn't afford such weakness, not now.

Not when, standing just a few feet from her, Bruce Wayne was looking at her, eyes squinted warily. There was a gloomily air around him she had never seen before, somber and brooding; his face was pale and seemed to be carved out of stone without his usual quirky smile. Somehow he looked closer to the man she had seen only a glimpse after the clash than the man who fell asleep in board meetings. His eyes were the same as that day, too; sharp, measuring, keen; taking everything around and about her into perspective.

His hands went toward his back and instinctively she took a step back, her body tensing. Her fear must have projected off her face clearly because he immediately raised his hands up in the air, palms facing her in the universal sign for peace, and smiled. It was faint, barely there, one edge of his mouth slightly tilted up, eyes not breaking their contact, and she kept his eyes, hypnotized, and watched him as he took off his long coat. He drew her closer slowly, her eyes still stuck on his. He draped it over her shoulders. "You really aren't in the best shape."

In her better days, she would sniff at such a comment, but evidently it wasn't one of those. So instead, she nodded and put her arms through the coat. The brief smile gone, his face was closed again. "Let's go."

She nodded again and searched for her scattered clothes, trying to wipe her traces. Her shoes were still wet, and so were the socks when she found them. Twisting away from him, she added her underwear to her little bundle of garments. Her job finished, she looked at the shoes, trying to decide which would be worse; walking in the dripping shoes or walking barefoot over the asphalt in the winter cold. It was hardly a difficult choice. With a sigh, she walked to the shoes and put them on.

She turned to him. "All right, that's it," she announced, her voice getting rougher, even talking was getting hard, "I think I'm done." Despite the words she stayed still, though, looking around. There was still something, a small uncertainty turning over in her brain. "I tried to avoid any security cameras while I broke in," she explained, "but I'm not sure I've been careful enough. And I want to be sure that none of it come back to bite me in the ass again."

He shook his head, took her arm, and led her toward the main door. "I'll deal with them later."

Riiiight… They walked out as dawn painted the sky in a mystic orange and purple. She wondered if they appeared like a scene in a classic movie, two lone figures, walking side by side to a future unknown…two strangers whose paths had collided with an unexpected twist of fate. Her odd thoughts came to an abrupt halt upon seeing his car; another Lamborghini. This time she recognized it well enough; Murcielago. She started laughing silently. She had lost it, she had finally lost it. Her fever finally had melted her brain. But there was something so irrelevantly ironic with the situation. She couldn't help it; her laughter became louder.

Scowling, he looked at her, hard. "What's it?"

Shaking her head, she settled on the passenger seat, "Nothing."

Inside the car, he gave her another look and started the engine. The beast came alive with a deep growl and lunged forward. She leaned back then and took in the comfort of her warm environment. She passed a hand over her head, and her hand almost burned. She tugged off her wet shoes and pulled the visor mirror down to look at her face. When her eyes met with her reflection, she winced at what she saw.

She hadn't exaggerated, nor had he; definitely not in the best shape, nope, not even close. The residue of blood and dirt was still apparent on her skin, and a small-size lump sat just above her hairline; surely from when Danny had smashed her head to the pub's door. Her eyes were glinting feverish, her face flustered with heat. The slashes and bruises over her face was almost lost behind the redness. She touched the corner of her mouth where Daniel's ring had caught her skin, and ran her nail along the trail.

Every contact leaves a trace, Jason had used to tell all the time. And yes, they did, you couldn't wipe off their marks, no matter how hard you tried. You couldn't change the past, nor could you run away from it.

"What happened to you?" Eyes focused on the road, Bruce Wayne finally asked.

She snapped the mirror back, and answered simply, "I got kidnapped." She pointed at the navigation. "Is this where we are?" He nodded. "Your mobile, is it untraceable?"


"May I use it?"

He gave her another one of those hard looks, eyes sharpened and narrowed into a faint scowl. She tilted her head toward him and forced herself to pull on a thin smile, lips not parting. His left hand went to his pocket; he fished the phone out and threw it in her lap. She took it and dialed nine-one-one.

Gathering her last resolve, she barked out to the phone in a voice close to hysterical, "OH—GOD, OH—GOD—" as she faked hysteria, his scowl deepened. She didn't care. By now he must have already understood she wasn't what she seemed on the surface. "Oh-my-god, there's a crash on the outside of Gotham, on the—" She leaned forward to read the zone's name. "—on the Gullain, at the roadside—someone is stuck there—no…I can't…No, I don't know but he's injured pretty badly." She lowered her voice, "I don't think he's a good guy," then added almost as a whisper, "he's handcuffed to the wheel."

She closed the phone and gave it back to him. "I was tending a bar in Metropolis," she explained flatly. "He found me there. Made his move tonight. Drugged me before I understood what was happening, and when I came to myself, we were heading back to Gotham. He said he was going to give me to the Irish." She gave him a pointed look. "He said they put a good price on my head."

His hands gripped the wheel tighter until his knuckles became white. "The accident?" he questioned.

"Threw myself at him to cause an accident," she answered, "I came to before him, handcuffed him to the wheel then ran away."

"Handcuffs?" he asked with a growl that was getting on her nerves.

"He handcuffed me," she snapped back. "I'm not running around with handcuffs." Although she was really starting to consider making it into a habit. "If you still have any further inquiries they will have to wait. I'm really not in best shape for questioning either." She rested her head back again, closed her eyes, and refused to acknowledge him any further. If he was going to kill her and throw her into some God-forsaken pit, then they were going to see.

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