Part III. III – "What he believes"
Eventually, she said yes. What else she could have done? She was stuck, until she found a way out. She might have said yes, but at the end he didn't make a specific time requirement. She shook her head. Bruce Wayne had to learn run harder bargains.
After the operation, she could run away. The money was still a problem, but since she was going to live together with a billionaire, she was sure she could do something about that. The only thing she needed beside the money was her stash. The last thought made her remember her box, too. She had packed it before the night the Joker had escaped, but had left it in her apartment while going to meet with Engels the next day.
Her lips hardened into a grimace, as something pinched her at the chest. In the last four years, she had tried to get rid of the Jason's trinkets more than a couple of times, so perhaps it was really the time to finally leave him behind, just like he had done to her. But it wasn't just the trinkets. The box also had Michael's sea shell, and her mother's only photo, and she wasn't sure if she was ready to leave them behind. The photo was the only thing she had ever known about her mother; and the seashell...well, it was the only connection to a normal life she had ever had.
She shook her head, as if disgusted. She should have stashed them in the cache, like she had always done. She must be getting old, sentimental; letting the desire to keep things close cloud her judgment. The thought brought an ironic smile over her lips, Valerie the Sentimental. Yeah. But the police should have it now, they certainly must have checked her apartment, and Bruce had said the police commissioner was a friend...
As if he had heard her thought, she heard the hum of low machinery outside. This time she knew it was him, because he had told her last night he would come back the morning to take her to the manor. Apparently, she could no longer stay in the infirmary. She was almost glad; the whiteness of the bunker starting to get on her nerves, even though she had no idea what to expect from Wayne Manor. She knew it was a sort of castle that had been rebuilding when she had first arrived to Gotham. He must have completed it. Then he remembered that he was also supposed to be the one who had burnt it down to the ground in a drunken fit. That didn't seem like the man she had come to know, but who knows. The man was full of surprises.
He appeared at the threshold of the infirmary, his eyes taking a hold of her then momentarily halted over her figure. She realized since the warehouse it was the first time he had seen her without pajamas. She was wearing a thick leggings that would hold the winter chill back, most of her legs covered with flat knee-high boots in soft leather that kept her feet rather warm and comfortable. The wardrobe choice was Alfred's, and she had to admit that the old butler had a fashion sense with conformity.
"Are you ready?" he asked, his eyes moving away from her, when she looked at him, her eyebrow half-arched; half mocking half daring.
She reached out to take the Moncler down jacket from the armchair, making an amendment inwardly; Alfred didn't only have a fashion sense, he was a fashion genius, too. "Given that I don't have anything," she said, putting the down feathers jacket on, before turning to him, "that was kinda a stupid question."
He gave her a look, his lips flattened with something like annoyance, a look she had become habituated. "Let's go," he said after a second, turning to walk back out.
With a silent huff, she followed him. What a gentleman. They emerged out of the white hall in a silence that made her nervous. She decided it was a good time to bring up what she had been thinking what he had come in. She looked at him as they left the bunker, feeling even more nervous. For a moment, she wished she had stayed in the infirmary. She shook her head slightly, telling herself this new arrangement was only temporary. His eyes drew to her as he opened the Lamborghini's car. Okay, perhaps, the arrangement wasn't that bad. Accordingly its name, the infamous sports car really looked like a bat, black and intimidating, quite fitting to its owner personality.
She slid in the passenger. "Speaking of things," she started slowly, turning to him then halted on the words. She didn't know how she should bring up the topic. Staring the motor, he looked at her in question. She decided to just get over it. "Do you know if the police searched my old apartment?" she asked directly.
His eyes narrowed as he took the car out of the park and drove toward the exit. "Why do you ask?"
She shrugged, though an unease was distorting the useless careless gesture, creating a strain at her shoulder. "There was something I was keeping," she said as vaguely as she could, "the police probably got it." She paused for a second, her eyes drawing to his, "I'd like to have it back."
For a split of second, his eyes found hers, too. "What thing?"
She swallowed, forcing herself to go on. It was her mother's photo, she couldn't let it go. "A metal box," she answered, "it's probably locked in an evidence room. You said Gordon and you have come to an understanding, so I was wondering if..." she trailed off, staring at him as he took the car out to the high road.
His attention focused on the road, he stayed silent, his eyebrows clenched in a way that was telling her that she had done something again. Her heart-beat started hastening. "The police don't have it," he said after a while. She closed her eyes, cursing inwardly. "I took it."
She thought she was going to throw up. "How?" she asked, because she didn't want to ask "why". "The police must have searched my house after I escaped from the safe house."
He shook his head. "Gordon halted the investigation on you when you disappeared because of your first deposition."
"Oh." The word left her mouth. She stopped and half-gulped, her throat suddenly dry, "So you've been looking for me." She had tried to make it as a statement, but somehow the words came out as a question.
He glanced at her, his eyes almost saying "really". She shook her head. "Okay, that was kinda a stupid question, too."
A faint smile pulled his lips in answer. They drifted into a heavy silence, loaded with questions. She half expected him to voice them, he had a good opening there; he must have seen what the box contained, but he kept his silence. She didn't speak, either, not until the intimidating castle-like building arose in front of her eyes over the windshield. She looked at the haunting figure in the newly dawn, the truth finalizing in her consciousness. There was a good possibility that she might never gotten out of this again. No! She protested inwardly, no. She had always managed before, and she was going to do it now, too. She looked at him, then broke the silence, "Bruce," she called him, "Can I ask you a question?"
"Were you really serious about what you've said," she asked, her own seriousness weighing the words with the gravity, "about...giving me a...second chance?"
Without a word, he nodded again in silence.
"Then don't search me," she demanded in return, "Don't try to find out who I was. Just accept who I am now."
He looked at her, and said in a low voice, as if he was giving out a secret only he knew, "Just Valerie."
And perhaps in a way, he was. "Just Valerie," so she affirmed, nodding back.
Her neck craned up, she watched the looming outline of the manor as it grew bigger and bigger with each step, until they had become small sized figurines at the front of the majestic entrance. After the driveway, the building had a cobblestone pathway that led to the wide staircase that led finally to the main door. Upon the sight, she felt how she had felt when she had seen the Buckingham Palace the first time, essential people sitting on their thrones inside, making crucial decisions about them; regular millions. Along with the memory, she also remembered how much she had hated the sentiment; knowing that how much you tried, how hard you worked, you would have never been inside of those walls; your struggles, your efforts, your trials didn't matter. Because you didn't belong there; it wasn't simply in your blood.
Her face souring, her mouth had a turn down; old money had always an easy way to make people despise them. On instinct, her eyes skipped toward the man walking beside her. She knew about Wayne family. They weren't some nouveau riche that had gained their family wealth during the 20th century. For generations, Waynes had always been at the heart of power, sitting on the throne. His forefathers were colonists that had fought next to Washington and Franklin in the Independence War. Where that left Bruce Wayne, she had no idea. He didn't look out of the place, no, he looked like he was walking to home, his pace had that unbind ease when you were around somewhere familiar, like the muscle memory had learned the way by habituation, but something was missing, an important thing she didn't know how to name. This was his home, and he was a Wayne, but she wasn't sure if he really belonged there.
A misfit, she thought heaving a sigh, he was a misfit, and of course, she recognized that; takes one to know one, after all. The thought brought a sardonic smile at her lips, bitter in irony; Bruce Wayne and her, soul mates. A snicker escaped as she sniffed, her head shaking. His attention immediately turned to her.
In front of the wooden-metal door, he looked at her, his eyes demanding an explanation. "When do you think we can leave?" she questioned instead, turning her mind away from the last thoughts. The last thing she needed was adding a little bit more mystery to the puzzle that was Bruce Wayne. She had already enough problems without doing that.
His eyebrows tightened in his familiar fashion, a frown setting above them. "Leaving why?"
"For my operation, of course," she shot back, huffing, "what else?"
His frown deepened, "We still need to find a doctor who can do such an operation," he answered.
She shook her head, "no need," she said, but then hesitated. Christian had always been in her mind, but to lay out that information also meant to give him an opening; a crack that he would infiltrate. It was a risk, giving away something about her past, but when you wanted to move forward, some risks had to be taken. She would at least see if he had really meant his promise; that he wasn't going to search her. Understandably, she was having a hard time believing that. In the car, he had seemed serious, but no one would know for sure. "I know a doctor," she explained, as they passed through the main door, "A doctor in—" she took a small breath, and bit the bullet, "North Ireland," she gave out, as his eyebrows again clenched, the calculation running wild and fast in the green-brown eyes, "He used to take care of some..." she gave him a half-smirk, "identity crisis problems."
She looked at him, almost in challenge. Wordlessly, he looked back at her. God, it was stupid, staring at each other dumbly, but she couldn't move her eyes away, either, as if she was in some kind of trance.
"Master Wayne," suddenly she heard Alfred greeting the master of the house from her behind, and with the familiar voice, the moment broke. She whipped her head back at the older man. "Miss Valerie," Alfred called her formally, standing in front of the hall that led to the staircase for the second floor, "please this way," his waved over the staircase, "I prepared the main guest room for you."
Walking to the butler, she arched her eyebrow, "Main guest room?" she asked, letting out a laugh, "My, you certainly know how to charm a girl, gentlemen."
Both men stayed in silence for her retort. But she climbed up, she still felt the green-brown eyes on her, drilling through her back.
A couple of minutes later, Alfred returned to the main hall. "Is she settled in?" Bruce asked.
Alfred nodded. Well, it shouldn't be hard. As she had reminded him, she didn't have anything. Apart one thing. His head rising, his eyes found the corner of the main guest room's door. He was right. It meant something to her. He didn't know what, but something. He knew it in the same way he had been keeping his father's burned stereoscope and her mother's broken pearls. "The metal box," he told Alfred, "Give it back to her."
Bruce heard the older man's shallow breath, before he spoke, voice strained, "Master Bruce—"
Shaking his head, Bruce cut him off, turning to him. "Just give it to her, Alfred," he said, "It belongs to her." He started walking back to the door. He had an appointment with Fox and Ms. Tate for his new foundation, something he couldn't put off, not even for the new guest in his house, "I need to go to the Wayne Tower," he informed Alfred, and ordered, "Look into that doctor she mentioned," he continued, "We need to know who he is."
Alfred nodded, and hesitated before he asked, "She mentioned North Ireland," the older man remarked. Bruce turned to him. "Should I rearrange the search parameters into that?"
The question was tentative, his once guardian being wary as always. Bruce shook his head, and gave him the older man the answer he had been dreading off, "No," he said, "Leave it to rest."
This time Alfred inhaled sharply. "Master Bruce," he started protesting, but Bruce cut him off again.
"What else any research would tell us about her, Alfred?" he asked back, "We already know who she is." Alfred opened his mouth but he continued even before he could utter a word, "I've decided to give her a second chance, she asks another chance."
He knew Alfred would understand, the older man always said that he should give people another chance, but Bruce also knew where his loyalty lay the most. His eyes heavy, heavy with pain and grief, Alfred shook his head. "Do you really believe that, sir?"
Bruce let a deep breath out. At the end, that was the question. He took another breath in, spoke slowly, "I watched the ferry's footage after, Alfred," he started, the memories appearing over his eyes, "There was a guy in the ferry with the criminals; a big, intimidating guy. He was convicted for two murders. They –the guards and the convicts were talking about exploding the civilian ship, the survival of the fittest. They were going to do it. But the commander of the guard couldn't do. His hand hesitated. This guy came forward, he talked to the guard. He told the man he didn't know how to take a life, but he did. He told the man to give the trigger to him. He told him that he would say later he had taken it by force. The man did, gave the detonator to the murderer. And you know what the man did after then?" he asked, but answered his own question, "He threw it out of the window." He paused, heaving another sigh, remembering what he had told him, at the brink of madness and death, not everyone as ugly as him inside. "Sometimes a bad situation brings the worst out of someone," he said, his eyes turning away, Harvey's broken face clouding them as he threw his charred coin up in the air for a cruel game of fate, "but sometimes it brings out the best."
"But what if you're wrong, Master Bruce," Alfred asked, pain coloring his voice with fear, "What if this isn't one of those times?"
A tired smile appeared over his lips, "I've made worse mistakes, Alfred."
That, he could always believe, always.