Part III. II – The Bargain
It was time to act. The storm from the earlier day was still going on, heavy rain drops clashing on his armor furiously, the wind speed closing on 60 mph. Up at the roof he had taken cover across the warehouse where a team of highly equipped Irish thug and Riley were waiting for their last shipment, things were even worse for Bruce. The airborne sprays were reducing his visibility almost to nothing, even the fiber-glass protector over his eyes was no help. He outstretched his arm in the air with a practiced ease, his hand spread, facing at Riley, then pointed with two fingers; 70mils. Acquiring the range of his target, he took the spotting scope from his utility belt, and started with other calculations. The wind speed had already passed sixty; 61.2 mph; he also rechecked the range with his rangefinder, and saw that his calculations had been on the mark. Though, it didn't mean anything as he couldn't use his cape in this weather to glide over in the sky to the spot he had estimated to get the newly Irish boss.
He was going to have to do it in the traditional ways.
Raising the binoculars to his eyes, this time he surveyed the whole perimeters. Scattered around the warehouse, there were five men, armed with semi-automatic guns, two of them also carrying three salivating dogs as it was norm in these days for the protection against the Batman. The Gotham mobs had been always easy to adapt. There was also one man with a machine gun, carrying ammo in his pocket vests. The guards weren't a problem, but the machine-gun was problematic, so as the dogs. But at least, there was no sniper nest. Bowing his head, he called Alfred, "Alfred, trackers?" he questioned.
"All clean," Alfred answered, "No police in your vicinity, sir."
Gordon had warned him that the police snipers were out, and as soon as he was sighted on, they would be open in the field, and he had no power to stop them, either. Though, to halt them the commissioner was doing all he could do. Bruce was aware of the pressure that the Mayor had been putting on the older man's shoulders for not being able to bring in Harvey Dent's killer to the justice. His mood souring even more, his teeth gritted at each other.
Above his head, the wind hastened. "Master Bruce," Alfred started, updating him, "the wind speed is approaching to 65 mph. The NWS just reported that they're waiting a tornado, too." He paused for a second. "Perhaps you should try another time," he suggested, voice uncharacteristically hesitant. Bruce knew the reason of the hesitance. "This can wait."
No, it could not. He had decided, and he needed to act now.
Riley had to understand Cameron Reese was off-limits. He couldn't stop the mob bosses, not now, not when the cat was out of the bag, but he could at least buy her some time. "Alfred, cut the circuit coming to the warehouse," Bruce ordered, pretending he hadn't heard what the older man had said. He wasn't being fair to Alfred, he knew, was asking too much, but never offering anything in return, but they were family. Alfred was his only remaining family, but still it wasn't fair to the older man. Perhaps she could help him with that, too, Bruce thought, his eyes sweeping over the perimeters, she was capable, evidently had some kind of training. The rest, he would teach her. She seemed to be a quick study... It would be a fair bargain.
It had to work... There was more to her than what she pretended. All of her options, she had called him.
The warehouse below him turned to dark, as Alfred informed him through their wireless, "Done, sir."
Bruce didn't wait any longer. Blocking all other thoughts, he focused on the task ahead, letting Batman take the control of the situation. There was no use with getting another update on the situation, though. The storm was still roaring; no adjustments would do any good to him now. So he opened his arms to the sides, run the electrodes over his gloves, activating the memory-shape cloth, and dived into the storm freestyle.
He pressed a button in his cowl, and activated mil-dot reticle over the lens that covering his right eyes for the trajectory to thread in the sky as best as he could, gliding over the storm. The weather was a disadvantage, but it was a disadvantage for his opponents, too. And lights out, darkness and element of surprise were on his sides. Spotting the Irish men with infra-red projector, he folded his arms, and dived down fast, and prepared himself on a rough landing, coming in hot.
The element of surprise, even in the darkness, could only work for a while; the mobs of Gotham were also always a quick study. As soon as his feet touched the ground, the machine gun went off. With quick reflexes, and practiced ease, he pulled out a shuriken shaped-as-bat and threw at it at the man's hand as the same time he rolled over the ground, taking cover behind a medium-size metal crate. The machine gun stopped, the man's howls of pain mixing with the rage of the storm.
"Bats!" someone yelled above the storm, "Bats is attacking!"
Then everything was in chaos. The gunshots were coming from everywhere, with no real marksmanship whatsoever. They weren't shooting blindly in the air, though. No, the wind was just distorting their aims as it had distorted his owns plans. "Stop! Stop!" someone of their company shouted, Bruce poked his head out over the edge of the crate, "It's no use—" the man lifted his head at the sky, "Come on, Bats, can't you take a day off?" he yelled, "We wanna go home. This storm is like hell."
"I'm the hell!" Batman shouted back, charging toward the man. The gunshots bounced back from at his armor, as his hand grabbed the man. Holding him tightly at the neck, he threw the mobster at one of his friends, tackling both of them on the ground. Someone barked out, then the dogs were leashed out. One grabbed him at the leg, another bit his arm, while the last one was bouncing on his back paws violently, barking at him. He was fucking hating dogs. He clutched one that was around his arm at the back of its neck, while a gun shot hit the one hanging in his armored leg under his belly. The dog dropped dead on the ground. Enraged more, Bruce threw the other away, as the last one backed down under the gunshot. He took a hold of the man closer to him, breaking his wrist, and shot the man shooting at them from a safety distance at his legs twice, taking him out temporarily, while knocking out the one he was holding.
He took a flash bomb and clashed at the ground, and used the sudden blinding brightness to take out the rest of shooters. Then he saw Riley, looking at him at the edge of the threshold of the warehouse. He quickly held the man at his front, tying to his belt, then hoisted them up to the roof. Two minutes, he had two minutes before the SRT of the task force that had been set to capture Batman would arrive. But two minutes were more than enough to have a chat with Riley. After all, Batman was a man of action, not of words.
Closing to the edge of the roof, Bruce hanged the young boss in the air, still clutching the fur collar of his leather jacket tightly. "Cameron Reese!" he roared at the man above the storm, as a lighting stroke behind him, completing the whole scene divinely. The man's eyes grew to the size of saucers. "You think I wouldn't know!" Bruce barked out at the man's face, yanking him closer.
Despite of the heat of the moment, there was an acute pain in his arm where one of the dogs had bit his upper arm at the same place another of his species had beaten him. That was one of the problems with the dogs, too. Because of the body structure, they were able to attack him on at a few places; arm, leg, and neck; he was able to protect his leg and neck, but his arms were another matter as he was carrying much more weight now with the thin titanium leg bracelet. He pulled the man back to the roof, and threw him at the ground.
"She's not with me!" the young man shouted, sliding backward on his bottom as Bruce marched on in him, "One of my former called, said he had found her. The guy is in the hospital now, and she's—gone." His hand reached out in the air, as if to stop him, "I don't know where she is!"
Bruce grabbed the man at the throat again, and pulled him at his face. "You. will. stop. looking. her!" His voice was like a clap of thunder in the storm, "She's MINE!"
He dropped the man back at the ground, as soon as the words echoed in the night over the storm, his mind suddenly drawing blank. In his ear, Alfred was in silence.
When Bruce returned to the cave, Alfred already was waiting for him in front of his work station, that look all over his face. Wordlessly, Bruce started walking to his dressing cabinet, peeling the armor off with each step. Inside, he directly walked into the shower, and stood motionlessly under the hot jet of the water that chased away the winter chill outside together with blood, sweat, and dirt.
He stayed under the shower more than necessary, even after he washed his hair. He remembered the times he had used to hide from Alfred on his parents memorial's days, in the hopes that he would stayed undiscovered so no one would have looked at him at that way in the service. Though, he wasn't a child any more. He couldn't hide. His jaw clenching, he turned off the tap, and walked out of the shower. He didn't know what had made him utter those words. It was just—he had told it to Alfred before. This had been always between them; she was a problem; his problem. Outside the cave, he sat on the bench where Alfred was waiting him, a needle already between his fingers. Over the course of last two years, Alfred had gotten used to this; as if patching him up every time he returned with an injury was expected.
Eyes keen, delicate fingers gentle, and steady, he started patching him up, his attention entirely focused on his upper arm, but to his ear, the silence was telling another story. "I can hear you thinking, Alfred. Just say it," Bruce said, almost with a defeated voice. He just wanted to get over it. It was how he had used to deal with those memorials, too. He only had been telling himself with each passing moment, he wouldn't have done it again for a year.
Steady, and practiced as they were, as he spoke, Alfred's hands still faltered. "Are you sure about this, Master Bruce?" he asked, his tone clearly indicating he thought it was indeed not. "This is a lot more than what you've bargained for."
He shook his head. All of this was a lot more than he had bargained for when he had decided he needed to do something for his city. He had wanted to create an example, an idea, a symbol for the people of Gotham, to get them out of apathy, but instead he had had become to a scapegoat. He wasn't complaining. He had made his own bed, and he had no rights now to complain, he was going to be whatever Gotham needed him to be, but still none of it was what he had bargained for. "What else can I do, Alfred?" he asked in return, wincing slightly as Alfred put a little more pressure than necessary on the needle, "I can't send her away on her own."
Alfred's hands faltered again briefly, "Send her to Gordon," and he offered the same thing, "He can take care of her."
Bruce wasn't surprised, but he was getting tired. He shook his head again. "We've already talk that before. A lot," he added the last, his voice thinning a bit, "Gordon has already a lot on his plate. He can't deal with her too," he continued, "Besides, if someone learns he's hid her, then he'd be in the deep problem, likewise us." He looked up at him. "We can't risk that. No one else can handle the situation, but me." As soon as the words left his mouth, Bruce mentally cursed himself.
Alfred's hand halted again, giving him that look, then pulled the thread through his skin, "Because she's—yours?"
"It's not like that," he muttered, bowing his head toward his wound, mostly to avoid the older man's eyes, "I didn't mean it like that."
"Which way did you mean it then, sir?" he questioned.
He frowned, a bitter retort almost at the tip of his tongue, but this was Alfred. The only family he had left. "I meant that she's my problem," he answered, the emphasized words uttered out slowly, pointedly, "my security risk."
Alfred finally relented, nodding slowly, "I know, Master Bruce, I know," he said, putting the needle on the counter, "I just want you to fully know the dangers."
"I do know them, Alfred." He stopped, his eyes skipping to left, where her photo still hung over the glass board, "This has to work, Alfred. Something good," he said slowly, his eyes on the picture, and repeated, "Something good must come out of this."
Alfred closed his eyes, "Master Wayne—"
"No, Alfred…" Bruce cut him off, "To learn to pick ourselves up, we have to fall first."
Bouncing those words back to him didn't move Alfred as much as he had hoped; instead he looked sadly at him. "You can't save everyone, sir."
"She has potential, Alfred. For all the things she had done, when she believed she had run out of options, she called me. It couldn't be just because she believed I'm the lesser of the two evils." He shook his head, thinking what she had said, "There is still hope for her. Someone needs to give her a second chance."
Alfred looked at him skeptically. "And do you trust her enough to do that?" he asked.
Did he? He didn't know. Trust was a leap over a chasm of belief, where many fell and perished... He wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall... But hope was bigger than life, and desperation was heavier than death. I just want another chance. If one push was enough to make someone fall, then one pull would be enough to raise someone else.
It must be, he told himself determinatedly. He had to believe that.
A mirror in her hands, Valerie studied her face. She hadn't been doing anything else since the last day. She had always liked her features; a long oval face cut with definite harsh angles, an open forehead set above it, lined with high cheekbones, a nose with the slightest tip that gave the whole structure a characteristic quality. Not a Barbie face; her chin was too pointed, her nose had arc, but they added to her a charisma. And if a certain billionaire said yes to her proposal, they all were going to turn to something else; something familiar but not the same.
Over the reflection, her gaze found her eyes; a light green that would turn into a yellowish light brown whenever she was upset. That would the same, always. But would she forget how she looked now after a time? Would the lines on her face be buried in a forgotten place in her mind, as just a memory from the past? She grimaced. She had no love for memories. They were fickle, always altered with nostalgia, whether it was bad or nice. Jason was always a wise voice in her mind. She was always happy with Michael, and equally miserable with Cathleen. She scowled, stopping her odd thoughts. This wouldn't do any good. She didn't do sentimental and she had already made up her mind. Stressing over decisions wasn't her. Life goes on.
She was at least alone. Alfred hadn't still come in, and she was glad for the solitary. Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, was another matter. She couldn't read that man, couldn't understand him, couldn't understand what was going through his rather handsome head. He still made little sense. After she had learned he was what he was, she had thought of him somewhat insane, losing people affect everyone differently, but then he had saved her at the crash. Still, she hadn't known what to expect, what to expect from a killer. She knew she was the last person on earth who should justice anyone on morals, she was a confidence trick after all, but it was kinda nice to know that he was no better than her, too.
Doing the right thing has always a price, echoed in her mind. A justified killer, she had become sure of it, he had had to kill Dent and other police officers for something, she didn't know for what, but she was sure of it. And when she was sure of something, she tended to be right about it, too. God, she was really getting out of her depths here. She got up from the bed, and prepared herself a drink. The infirmary seemed like a home to her now. There were clothes scattered around, clothes Alfred had brought with him, and a few books and magazines to pass time. There was no other technological equipment; nothing would connect her to the outside world, she knew because she had searched, first thing she had done when she found herself alone. The white empty hall outside was devoid of life, the infirmary wasn't. There were signs of life, a warmness that a place would only acquire when it was used by people. Perhaps not frequently, but it had been still using before she crashed into their party. The room was also heated to a point that she had started wearing only a tank top with first three buttons opened over her pajama bottoms.
When she heard the platform's moving outside, she was pouring herself the second glass from the scotch. Instead of going back to bed, she walked to the armchair next to it, schooling her features into an air of indifference, and waited for the new arrival. Her expression was neutral; no trace of previous exasperation over her face, the practiced stoicism flawless.
Dressed in his elegant designer suit, Bruce Wayne appeared at the threshold of the infirmary, looking equally flawless; face relaxed and at ease, his manner not quite the spoiled filthy rich man covering the tabloids every day, or the gloomily brooding dark figure that she had seen a few glimpses since the time he had come to rescue her, twice. Somehow he looked in the middle of the wide spectrum now; more real and perhaps saner too.
At the threshold, he looked at her, announced rather unceremoniously, "I've decided."
Tilting her head side, she narrowed her eyes. Then she nodded. She folded her arms under her chest, a useful trick to burst out breasts, mostly to see how he would react. That was another thing that made little sense. There was this tension between them, thinning air with silences they drifted into, but something was lacking. She wished he had acted on it. It would make things easier. She knew how to deal with that.
But Bruce Wayne seemed to be adamant to proving himself being one of a kind. He didn't react to her free show. He didn't even glance. "I'll accept your offer on one condition," he said instead, his eyes fixed on her eyes.
She wanted to sigh but containing herself reconciled with waving a nonchalant hand. There is always a price, kiddo, nothing comes free, Jason's wise voice spoke in her mind. Perhaps it would be better for both of them, the debts being settled. "Of course," she said in return, and looked back at him, waiting to hear what would be her price this time.
He walked into, and sat on the chair at the opposite of hers. "After the operation," he started, "you won't leave America—" He paused to look at her again, carefully eyes searching her to gauge a reaction before he declared, "You won't go anywhere. You will stay with me."
She looked at him, astonished. A whole minute passed before she was able to speak again. Then she burst out into laughter. "You're kidding, right?"
He shook his head. "Don't be ridiculous." Face sobered now, she bit off every word.
"If you refuse, I'll send you back to Gordon."
She narrowed her eyes into a challenge, as her tone dropped a tone down, "You wouldn't dare."
He gave her a pointed look as a comeback. It took a second his look sunk in. A second later, she exclaimed, her eyes widening, "He can't be your man inside." She half craned her head up at the ceiling. "For god's sake, he's the police commissioner."
He shrugged. "We came to a sort of understanding."
"He knows who you are?"
He shook his head in answer. Her eyebrows clenched into a frown. "And he's still willing to help you after—um—what happened?" she asked.
His face wasn't cheerful or anything before, of course, but suddenly it became like carved out of stone. "We came to a sort of understanding," he repeated gravely then leaned forward. "Don't look so shocked. Apart from you, the only people who know my secret—" He halted, a pained expression briefly crossing his face, "—are Alfred and Lucius Fox. Fox helps me with the technological equipment and designs but for anything else, I'm entirely dependent on Alfred. I need someone resourceful, smart, and capable; someone who can take out a police officer without blinking an eye." He looked pointedly at her, "Someone already knows who I am."
Despite the jab and the words, she smiled, a mocking thinning her lips. "That's very—kind way to tell me that you don't trust me on my own."
"Can you blame me?"
Unfortunately, she couldn't. Anything she had planned related in any way to Bruce Wayne had an annoying habit of getting out of control; especially out of hers. Since the day she had met him, her life had become a pitiful attempt for damage control. She wasn't like this; she was a force of nature; people around her reacted to her, not the other way around.
Then he leaned forward, his eyes fixed on hers, and captured her gaze. "You told me you want a second chance, and I'm offering it to you," he spoke heatedly, "This is a bargain."
The words rung in her mind, and she found herself asking, "What bargain?"
"Your silence and skills for my money and protection," he answered simply.
She stared at him wordlessly. This wasn't her… she was a force of nature… a tempest… a hurricane… Yet whenever it came to her versus him, she found herself in a position of a twirling leaf in a vortex, trying desperately to stay above the surface.