She wanted to be someplace else.
You're not nervous, she told herself. This is just a normal reaction, very understandable, very expected.
The reasoning was convincing, yet she still wanted to be someplace else. She fidgeted again, and looked at the desolated streets. Some things really didn't change. Darkened streets left to neglect and entirely forgotten, they were just as ugly and dirty as she remembered. Once when she had been a woman-child, they hadn't seemed so. Back then there had been a strong sense of novelty; of the men striding boastingly, minding their own dangerous business; the mystical drawing of forbidden fruit. That novelty had waned quickly though, as was common with such sentiments. Novelty had left to be replaced by banality, dangerous men had become gaping fools at the sight of her, and forbidden fruit had lost its appeal. She had been so young. She brushed away the memories, turning her attention inward again. She needed to collect herself. She couldn't deal with Jason with jangled nerves and it wouldn't help anything by wandering in the past through fickle memories. And Bruce sending her wary gazes every time she stirred certainly wasn't helping either.
She really wanted to be someplace else.
Fuck it… Why had she ever insisted that they found Jason anyway? Bruce had suggested turning back to find another way and she was sure if he had gotten fed up enough, he would have found a way to make Sean talk. But his compassion, his…pity at that night at the hotel, no, she had never minded pity as long as it suited her but not like this, certainly not like this. Bruce needed to understand that her father meant nothing to her. He needed to understand that no one meant anything to her. Only herself, no one but her, then perhaps he might lose his deluded ideas about her redemption and whatnot.
She cast a quick glance at him. His traveling beard was of five days now, making him look scruffy and very un-Bruce-like. He had covered his head with a baseball cap, using it to hide most of his features. His demeanor had changed significantly from an elegant billionaire to a street punk; even the loose pants with a chain around his waist didn't look out of place. When she had seen him first, she had nodded approvingly. He hadn't been kidding in Egypt, when he had said that he knew how to disguise himself.
Taking a deep breath she knocked on the door rapidly until it was opened by a beautiful young girl. She raised her eyebrows and rudely bypassed her, hitting her shoulder slightly as she stepped inside. He followed her.
The girl looked back from beside the door. "I'm sorry…but who are you?"
"Opening the door without checking it first? I wonder what he teaches you." She shook her head, disappointed. "Is Jason around?"
"Yeah…" The girl muttered. "But—"
"Sweetie pie—who…" A man in his late fifties, with the same arched nose, sharp angled features, and tilted eyes as Valerie, strode into living room with a posture openly declaring trouble. "I said—"he stopped mid-sentence and looked stunned for a second and arched his eyebrow. "Pumpkin!"
Valerie rolled her eyes.
"What no kiss for daddy?"
She inclined her head at the young girl. "Is she even legal, Jason?"
"What—Gloria—"Jason acted surprised then sneered. "Oh…she just turned seventeen."
Valerie looked at the girl and smiled sweetly. "Watch out…He's going to sell you out at the first opportunity he can get," her gaze skipped towards her father again, "If he hasn't done so already."
Bruce watched the strange exchange, standing next to her.
"Doll—"Jason said exasperatedly, with an expression very close to disappointment on his face, and it made her very angry, "Ya still mad at me?"
Blood boiling inside her veins, and pointedly ignoring the curious looks Bruce was giving her, she stared at him, raising one eyebrow. "What do you expect, Jason? I mean, really? After your unique…" she raised her eyes to ceiling, "suggestion to me?"
Jason now looked genuinely bored and disappointed. "Playing that game again, are we, dear daughter? Let's not, you know how boring it is."
She gritted her teeth and gave a poisonous glare. "And God forbid if I bore you, right?" She barked out a humorless laugh, "But yes, you're right, let's not, as I'm not here on a social call or to talk about past."
Jason looked at her carefully with his head tilted to the side. "Then, pray tell, why did you come?"
Valerie dropped herself into one of the armchairs. "I may not have been looking forward to seeing you, but one of our mutual friends would very much like to."
"Making booty calls now?" he asked, laughing.
She stilled for a moment, her body tensing as Bruce protectively moved behind her and rested his hand on her shoulder. She held back her urge to shake it off. "Jason," she replied, her voice strained. God, she was so tense she could almost feel every nerve in her body stretching. "I'm not an errand boy anymore. Those days passed long ago."
Jason shook his head, still laughing. "Ah…you've always been such a drama queen," he said with something close to what other people might have called nostalgia. It irritated her more than his horrid laugh. "You threw away my gifts too, I presume."
She responded with a glare.
Jason chuckled out a faint laugh. "Remember the day you broke the lights?"
Her body shook as Bruce's grip on her shoulder stiffened; and an old, familiar, cold fury scorched her inside. "No," she said through her gritted teeth then stood, shaking the hand off, and pointed a finger at him. "But if you insist on learning what I remember—" She paused for a second to give him a loathing look. "I do still remember you leaving. You barged into my life, fed me with your—your…" She searched her vocabulary for a word. She couldn't say lies because they both knew it would be false. Jason almost never lied. Instead when he wanted you, he just said the most obvious truths, and left you to find your own way back to him. "—your truths," she said, her face puckering like the mere mention of word disgusted her, "—got me sucked up in your schemes then you—you left me behind—" she stopped, expelling a shaky breath, her throat tight with words stuck under a fury of betrayal so old she was almost tired of feeling it.
Then she noticed her hands were trembling. No…get a grip, get a grip…get a grip.
His face was serious now, all mirth gone, his voice sounded frustrated when he spoke. "We've been over this before. And how many times do we need to do that before you accept the simple truth?" He paused, looked at her eyes. "You know very well which path that line of thinking brought you to."
Her blood froze in her veins, the trembling stopped. Her lips pulled into a forced smile, full of contempt, her voice turned cold as ice, sharp as a blade. "You don't need to worry about me. Remember, in the end, I always win."
That was a bad idea, Bruce had always known, but suddenly he realized how bad it was.
She cut him off with a raised hand. "Valerie," she informed him curtly as Bruce scowled, "and let's not play this game. It's… boring."
"Okay then, Valerie—"He stressed the word. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
She sat back on the seat again. "You're not listening to me." She crossed her legs and sighed. Just two minutes in his presence and she already felt drained. "I told you. Someone needs to see you."
"Our dear professor," Jason's face was closed off now, and in return she grinned smugly.
"Err—well," He slumped back on the seat across from her and stretched out his legs. "Thanks for the offer, but no."
"It wasn't an offer," Bruce interrupted flatly. "You will come back with us."
He snickered derisively. "Oh…so he talks."
She looked directly in his eyes. "He can do far better than that. Don't make me demonstrate it for you."
"Oh…threatening your own old man. That's no good, doll."
She leaned forward, "And I've been always such a bad girl, Jason. You know this better than anyone."
Jason leaned forward, his face now very serious. "I'm afraid I do, Sarah. And I'm so very sorry."
A dazzled look appeared on her face as she jumped to her feet, looking tense, her left hand whipping behind her on instinct. "Jason?"
Bruce looked at them, trying to catch up but before he could do anything a redhead man emerged out of the bedroom, pointing a very serious looking Browning P-35 at her head. Another two followed in his steps both holding their guns aimed respectively at Bruce and Jason.
He should have known it. The minute he'd set foot inside, he should have felt it. Valerie. He was so distracted by her he hadn't noticed he had walked into a trap. He was supposed to be better than this, so much better. He closed his lecturing mind off, trying to find a way to disable all parties with minimum damage. He could easily take them out of the game in under ten seconds but during that time it would leave Valerie and others open to assault. He couldn't do two things simultaneously and even with his armor he wasn't invincible; without it his chances lessened a great deal. He cast a glance towards Valerie and saw her looking at her father with a shocked gaze full of rage at betrayal.
"Nah—" The redhead laughed. "He didn't sell you out—your reputation, my sweet, still precedes you." Bruce started to step in front of her on instinct but the first man into room waved his gun at him. "Stand still. Don't even breath, mate."
The redhead turned his attention to Valerie again. "Now come on… You really believed that you can come and go as you please? Why are you still so bent on insulting me in every possible way? What did you expect? This is our town, you whore, my town." He took a few steps forward. "I swore when I saw you next, I'd put a bullet that lying face of yours."
Ronnie couldn't kill his whore, couldn't bring himself to do it. He had tried. She shuddered remembering how that had ended, but suppressed the dread down. But still it was a hard struggle not to touch the scar under her chin, just above her artery. She shook her head mentally, no. No. She could deal with him. She took a step forward, lifted her hands in front of her then looked at him. "Ron—"But he cut her off, shaking his gun at her.
"No!" he cried, closing in on her, then a blow hit her and she flew to the farthest edge. Oh hell, not again. "Don't talk. Don't—"he paused, as if it pained him. "—talk."
Summoning his alter ego, Bruce took a step forward and looked at the man threateningly. "Leave her alone."
"Oh—"The redhead turned aside, laughed maniacally, joggling with laughter. "Oh—she got you caught up in her web, didn't she? Ha ha—look at you, already under her spell. You know what kind of red lipped devil she is? Felicia." He told the name like a mantra, with a sick longing. "She talked you sweetly and you believed, didn't you? You can't even say a word. She touches you, her touch is like a flame, and she burns you with it, yet only you can tell how warm it is. She looks in your eyes, then you tell yourself she loves me because you think if she didn't she couldn't look like this."
He got closer to where she was sprawled on the floor, glaring at him. His free arm reached to touch her. He caressed her chin softly, then swept under and gently touched the scar. She stopped breathing, her body turned to stone, and his voice, when he talked, was softer than the fingers brushing her skin. "But still you know, still you know, but you tell yourself it doesn't matter, even though she doesn't—as long as she stays, stays at your side, nothing matters. Then you're lost under her spell." His caressing fingers brutally caught her hair and pulled her up. "But it's not a spell," he cried as he threw her again to the floor. "It's poison, slipping slowly in your veins, see it? You have to stay away; you can't see her, talk to her, touch her, you can't let her talk or else—"He pulled the safety off, "or else you'd believe."
Bruce didn't hesitate any further. He threw a kick at man nearest him, sending him down to oblivion and ran toward Valerie. Good thing that she hadn't hesitated either. Within millisecond she was up on her feet, throwing herself behind the sofa. Then three things happened all at once.
First, Bruce with a swift but clean cut motion turned the second man around and circled his neck with his arm, pressing hard on his pulse until he fell into unconsciousness. It took under five seconds.
Second, Valerie rose up behind the sofa, her body tensed like a stringed bow, ready to leap into action.
Third, there was a bang.
She ducked again, cursing under her breath. Gloria who had been stunningly silent so far started to wail. Another cry, definitely male, full of pain reached her ears. Carefully she poked out her head. Ronnie was lying on the floor, beside Bruce's feet, his body limp; unconscious but alive. Closing her eyes, she let out a deep breath. She opened her eyes and emerged from where she had hid. Bruce's hard stare was carved from stone, and fixed on something behind her. With a swish of hair, she turned around.
Jason was lying beside Gloria, his body bleeding. She turned to look at Bruce with wide eyes before turning to look down again. Jason was still lying beside Gloria, who was still screaming, tears running freely down on her cheeks. The blood was seeping through Jason's body, dripping. Blood, so much bloody blood.
She froze as if it was her blood, as if the blood in her veins had suddenly been pulled out of her body and it was what was pooling so steadily on the floor. He couldn't—he couldn't, could he?
She ran to him. The girl shrieked again and ran toward the door, out of the house, still screaming and Bruce's eyes followed her, trying to think of a plan. Valerie turned the bleeding man on his side, pressing onto the wound on his back with her palm. "Fuck…fuck…fuck it—"she muttered, her face distorted in panic.
"Don't—you hear me?" her hands shook him. "Don't you dare—no—no—"
"Doll—"he muttered, blood dripping out of the corner of his mouth. "I didn't—didn't sell you out."
"Don't go sentimental on me—"she ground out, "come on…"
"I—"Coughing blood, he stopped, and his face dropped to his side.
"No—no," She looked up at Bruce who knelt beside her, his left hand was at Jason's pulse, trying to pick up any sign. She clutched his arm, her nails digging into his flesh. "Bruce—do something."
"Valerie—"Bruce could only mutter.
"No—"She shook her head; the world seemed to be hidden under a mist. "Come on—I remember. I was at detention. You found me. You held me through the bars. 'It's nothing to do with us'. Yes, I remember everything. Please…don't." She began to beat his body with her fists. Wetness, there was wetness along her cheeks. Then she realized she was crying. "Don't you die on me—"
"Valerie, he's gone," he said softly as his hands tried to peel her away from the dead body. "We need to go. The police could come at any minute." She resisted his attempts, shrugged his arms off and shoved him. Standing up, Bruce pulled her off the ground. He spoke evenly, his eyes searching hers. "We need to get going."
She leaned on him, grabbed his arm for strength. Jason…was dead. Jason…her father…Still whimpering, her fingers clutched Bruce's shirt.
With his free hand Bruce took his phone out and dialed Alfred. "Alfred, are you all right?" he asked and listened to Alfred's calm but confused answer. "Ok, leave the motel and meet us at the second rendezvous point. And prepare our return back to Gotham ASAP. We are leaving."
"Sir, is everything all right?"
"No," he said into the phone before he closed it. Everything definitely was not all right. Bruce pulled her closer to his side, titled his head down again to find her eyes, and said gently, "Valerie—we have to go."
His soft tone made something somewhere inside twitch before it fractured. She shoved him off her, bent down, held her knees, and took deep breaths, her chest moving rhythmically. Bruce started at her, and she stared at the floor for a full minute. When he made another attempt toward her she stopped him with a raised hand. "I'm fine," she muttered.
"I'm fine." She muttered again, this time more to herself. Her head bowed, she stared at her bloody hands and the darkened spots on her clothes. She shook her head. What had just happened was bad enough; she wasn't going to lose it in front of Bruce. She was going to get herself back together. She was going to.
First things first, come on—do it; straighten up, straighten up, straighten up. Be strong, be stone…get yourself back together, you always do.
She gathered all of her strength and straightened her back. The world shook tremendously but she held still, waiting. She took a small step forward, head held high, back straight. "We need to clean up all of our trace first," she said slowly. Good, focus on the problems first. Action was good.
Bruce shook his head. "Don't have time for a thorough clean up. The girl was in shock, she might have called someone. And the shot must have been heard, one of the neighbors might have already called the police, too. And there is the matter of his fami-"
She shook her head, "No, I don't think anyone knows yet. If he'd told anyone else, others would have come too. Alfred, he's okay, right?"
He nodded, "We need to get going."
"Our finger prints are all over the place, together with a dead body, we can't just leave."
He cast a disinterested gaze the limp bodies on the floor. She was right, this was a problem but they couldn't stay here… His fingerprints wouldn't come up in any database but for Felicia…who knew? "They won't be coming to— for the next twenty minutes."
She bit her bottom lip, mulling an idea over her mind, staring at wall far ahead. "I wish we didn't have to leave his body behind," she remarked reluctantly. Bruce tried to think of something to say to that but a second after she saved him from the trouble. "But if wishes were horses, thieves would be riders." She turned to him and opened her palm. "Gimme your phone."
His incredulous look turned into a suspicious one immediately. "Give me your phone, Bruce." She ordered again, voice flat, even, not holding even a slight tremor.
With another suspicious look, he handed it to her. She dialed a number, he noticed, with an Irish prefix. "This is Felicia Bale—"she stopped for a second, "yes, the whore, my reputation does really precede me, apparently," she bit out, "now, shut up and get me Frank."
She ignored Bruce's glare and stayed silent for a while before curtly saying, "Hmm, how about this? Your son is lying unconsciousness next to a dead body, the murder weapon in his hand, and the police might come at any minute. I know it might be really hard for you, but why don't you try to stop being such an idiot for a couple of minutes and get your men down here to take care of it?"
She was silent and then huffed out mockingly, "Yes, yes, yes, I can quite perfectly imagine what manners you'll teach me when you get your hands on me, but I strongly recommend to drop the wishful thinking for a moment and return back to reality, which is, I repeat, a dead body, murder weapon, and your son, all together, lying on the floor."
"Get in line," she snapped before closing the phone. She tossed it back to Bruce then turned on her heels. "Come on, let's go."
Bruce caught her at the arm, and turned her towards him. "Valerie, this—this is not right."
She tilted her head to side. "Why? Let's let them deal with it, it's their mess after all."
"He's your father."
"I don't have a father." She pulled herself free, and walked out.
When he was on first steps to climb down, she'd already reached to the main door to street. She pulled the door open, then her motions halted briefly, and the brief hesitation stretched out as she stood in front of the door, not moving.
He stopped in the middle of the steps too, looking at her back. She slammed the door, her palm flattened over its frame, and sighed. She turned on her heels. "Can you dig?"
He stared at her, and she asked again, "Can you dig a grave?"
"I—"he started but she cut him off, walking hastily towards the steps, then took them two a time, "Never mind, we'll just find someplace to drop him," she said passing him, "and I know a perfect one." she pivoted her body on the upper steps, "Come on, hurry up. Don't have much time."
He regained his motor skills once again and trotted after her. "Security cameras?"
She tried to open the door but when they had left, the bolt must have slapped back into its lock. "Jason must have dealt with the ones monitoring the front of his house. He couldn't have the big brother eyeing his place." Her hands moved inside her leather jacket, under her blouse, and she fished a small piece of steel out of her cleavage, "God, I was being an idiot…the girl…not checking the door," she shook her head, fingers already starting to work on the lock. He pushed her aside and then took two steps backwards.
She looked at him. "Easier," he said, kicking the door open.
"Right," she walked in, and stopped dead in her tracks, then took one step back.
Her eyes fixed on the downed men and the blood, she remained on the threshold. Slowly, tentatively, he put his hand on her shoulder. "Go back to the car," he said, "Wait for me there. I—I'll take care of it."
She didn't talk first then twisted her neck up to give him a look. "Can you carry him alone?"
She nodded then and turned back, "Take photos, good ones, clearly showing Ronnie with him. We need to have an insurance policy just in case."
He nodded. He looked at the men lying on the floor then carefully went to kitchen to find some gloves. The kitchen was a mess, so instead he found nylon shopping bags, and tearing them apart, wrapped them around his hands.
While working, he closed his mind off to what he was doing.
Ten minutes later, he closed the trunk of the car they had purchased through one of his dummy corporations, and went to the front. Valerie was sitting in the driver's seat, so he went to passenger side.
She drove for half an hour in silence then started to pass through in a grove, he suspected to being around the outskirts of the Cork. She drove another ten minutes then stopped by a narrow coast on a medium sized lake.
He opened the car and went to the back. Valerie got out too, but instead of the coming to his side, she went to the front and sat on the car's hood. The weather was cold, the winter air snapping through inside their warm clothing, and the wind bit his skin. He closed his mind off further, and focused on the chill. His hands started to lose feeling, the chill cutting his senses.
The older man's lifeless body made a rough thud when it dropped in the water. This wasn't a funeral, but it was a burial, he told himself—a ceremony of sort as he watched the stone tied on the man's ankle as it slowly sunk… First he was going to be together with earth deep down in the lake, and then his—substance-his water was going to mix with the lake. He would become the lake.
Bruce stood still on the coast, his mind trying to come up with a prayer for the dead. He could find none in his blank mind. He crouched, dipped his fingers into water slowly, and then passed them through the earth before he pulled out. The water dripped through his fingers, and he closed his eyes, and said 'I'm sorry,' lips not moving.
He returned back to her side. She still sat on the hood, her head bowed, her attention fixed solely on her lap. "Do you—do you want a moment at the lake?"
She lifted her head, and gave him a look. "Why?"
He looked back at her, in silence.
She returned his stare, then shook her head, and hopped off the car. "That's not why I'm doing this," she remarked flatly, walking toward the passenger seat this time. She opened the door. He opened the driver's side and got in. "Our death like our life belongs to us, only us," she said as he started the car, and his gaze flicked to her. "And no one, regardless of how pathetic one might be, deserves to end up chopped into little pieces, shoved inside little garbage bags, and disposed of in a garbage heap. But this—" she emphasized the word again, "—this doesn't mean anything else." She turned her gaze away from him then, towards the window, the moon outside slowly fading, the lake drawing away from them.
She didn't talk any further, and Bruce drove in silence.
Bruce came out the bathroom, his hair still wet, dressed in dark pants and a simple cotton shirt. He gathered the bloodied clothes into a bundle, and swore when he was back at the Manor he would burn them and throw the ashes into the lake on the grounds.
He looked down at Valerie. She was still lying on the bed. She had been lying there since they had gotten back, her body motionless, staring at the ceiling, pretending that they didn't exist. Upon seeing him come out, she jolted back, walked toward him quickly, and bypassing him, slipped behind the bathroom door.
Bruce looked after her, and Alfred looked at him curiously, his eyes shaded with worry. "What happened, sir?"
Bruce sighed deeply. "They knew she'd returned to town. A man, I guess, a son of a local mob leader was waiting for us. He—well, it appears they have history together. He tried to kill her. We fought—there was a lone gunshot. She was able to duck, her father was not."
"And the body?"
"We—we—buried him in a lake."
Alfred stayed in silence for a while then slowly said, "More tragic than what I was expecting." He glanced down towards the bathroom. "But, sir, she doesn't seem too—um—"he paused, and frowned, "she seems quite collected."
Bruce shook his head. Then he stood up, his features hardened. "We are returning tonight. Can you arrange the details?"
"Yes, sir," Alfred said simply and he was more than glad of it. Face closed off, emotionless, he walked over to the exit, and stopped before opening it; his hand on the handle. "I was afraid that it would come to this but it seems now that I don't have any other choice. Watch her, despite what she seems, she's far from being—all right," He pulled the door open. "I won't be late."
Alfred watched his back as he walked down the hall; he was tense, his steps determined, before the door closed on his retreating figure. Batman. Batman was ready to strike. Alfred slightly, just slightly pitied whomever he was going to take all of the—the consequences of the jolly trip out on.
She felt like a train wreck, like a mess, but looking at her reflection in the mirror, her paranoia lessened considerably; at least by looking at her, no one could tell it. She hadn't a father, no, she hadn't…Jason—Jason didn't deserve to be called a father. She hadn't left him behind, not because he was her father, no—not—no, she couldn't have let that fate befall anyone she knew, as long as she could help it.
She could deal with this. It was ridiculous to feel like this, she had written him off a long time ago, at that bench, walking away from him, she had written him off. She hadn't a father. How would she have reacted if she had heard Jason had died? She would have been—she couldn't honestly tell. She might have regarded it coldly, perhaps dropping a few tears when she was sure no one else was there to see. She might have even felt the pain too, but somewhere deep down, she knew the most powerful sense she would have felt would have been relief… a strong chord of emancipation that overloaded page of her life was finally closed, and relief for knowing that the possibility of seeing him ever again had ceased to exist.
Too many things had happened…too many issues still cut a little too raw, so many old wounds, and old bitter feelings she was tired of carrying but didn't exactly know how to get rid of.
But she had tried, she was still trying, god knew she was; screaming, kicking, fighting… every day, every breath was a struggle, but she never should have returned back to him, never, ever.
But Ronnie-he was going to pay. Pay it greatly. She was going to make sure of it. Despite her intentions, tears welled up in her eyes and she gripped the side of the sink, refusing to let them run free again. Instead she opened the tap, listened the running water. Her eyes fixated on the twirling water below and it took everything in her not to collapse.
The detention room is dark and dirty. And she knows every ounce of its darkness and filth. She sits just below the window; her figure casts a shadow in the moonlight.
She raises her head and sees him. She looks away.
He offers a necklace through the bars on the window. They are the newest additions to the detention cell occupying the basement of the foster home. Cathleen has had enough of her episodes of breaking out.
She takes the trinket without interest and tosses it away. The time when she could be fooled with worthless trinkets had passed long ago. She isn't a little girl anymore.
"Hey—doll…don't be like this. I'm sorry I didn't come earlier. I was—hindered."
She shrugs. One way or another, her father is always hindered. "That witch of a woman didn't let me see you."
She pulls her lips into a bitter smile. What else could you expect from Cathleen?
"Did you break the lights of entrance hall?" he asks then.
"Don't lie when the truth is obvious."
"I didn't break them," she says through her clenched lips.
"They saw you," he points out.
"Aiihh—"she yells angrily, standing up. "What if I did? Are they more precious than your daughter?"
He clutches the bars strongly. "No…of course not," he says in that tone, his voice acute and serious, and she knows what he says is the absolute truth. "I told her that too, don't you worry." He looks at her. "But why-why did you do it?"
She looks at her feet, and fidgets, her foot poking the dirt on the floor. "They were ignoring me, father," she admits finally with a small voice. "Whenever I passed the hall, they weren't turning on. They were pretending as if I don't exist."
Her father laughs. She looks back up to him. "Doll…" he says, shaking his head, still smiling, "Well, they weren't turning on when I passed by the last time. Cheap bitches, they had tacky ones put on. It's got nothing to do with us."
After a long time she hugs her father fiercely through the bars. "Please, father, let me come with you."
It had taken less than an hour. Bruce closed his mind off to that consequence too, and the physical pain he was feeling and knocked on the door twice fast and once slowly; their password. Alfred opened it. Upon seeing the empty room, he arched his eyebrow.
Taking his hint, Alfred commented, "She's still in bathroom." And cast a glance toward him. "Will you require dressings for this?" He pointed with one finger at the cut over his left eyebrow.
He shook his head.
"Of course not," Alfred nodded. "Well, since you've returned, Master Wayne, I need to go outside to arrange the a few details. We need to contact people who have been waiting for word from us."
Bruce looked thoughtful. "Be careful, Alfred."
Ten minutes after Alfred left, the bathroom door opened and Valerie emerged. Bruce looked up. She was…well…collected as Alfred had put it elegantly before, and her face was even more emotionless than before. She at looked him, at the cut on his eyebrow. "Well?" she asked. He wanted to write her detached tone off as a show, he really tried but he knew that wasn't the case.
"I found out where your doctor is." She nodded her head. "Sean was very understanding."
She fisted her hands along her hips. "That was what we should have done at the beginning," she said through her teeth, her voice barely audible. He didn't comment. She turned back and opened one of the drawers of the wardrobe at the far corner of the room, then remarked flatly, "You expect me grieving for a man who doesn't exist for me."
Before he could say anything, she went on. "If yesterday someone told me that he had died, it wouldn't have affected me—not enough to fall into grieving." She took something out of drawer. Fidgeting in place he saw it was a small black backpack. "I honestly don't see why it should change just because I happened to be over there while it was happening."
"You didn't leave him behind, Valerie."
Her body still obstructing his view, she started fill backpack with something, her voice growing even more detached. "I told you, it was nothing to do with it—with him siring— me biologically."
"It's okay to feel grief," he said at last.
"Is it okay to feel relief too, Bruce?" she snapped back coldly, without turning back. "Relief for knowing that I'm finally free of him. Because if you really want to know what I'm feeling, that's what I'm feeling, more than anything."
One second, Bruce wanted to contradict her, shake her senseless, yell at her but the next he found that he couldn't, because he knew in deep down she was right. When Ducard had said that he had blamed his parents for not fighting back, Bruce had wanted to contradict him, to yell at him and he had, because he had been young but he had also known, deep down, that his former master had been right. Cruel, cutting, and insensitive but nevertheless right. Valerie laughed but it was a hollow one.
"Humans…" she said slowly, "We are not really decent creatures." Then his gaze caught something, something green.
He sighed and bowed his head. Suddenly he felt spent, drained. He'd expected something like this was coming, he really had. But still…it wasn't supposed to come to this.
"So…where is he?" she demanded.
"Caracas…I even managed to find out the name of the clinic he runs." That made her still her movements. He sighed again. "Really, are you testing me to see when I will challenge you for what you're doing or do you hope I will just let you do?"
She stopped, straightened. "Both, I think." She turned around, her left hand holding a small gun. She raised it.
"Where did you find it?"
"Sean. When I visited him. I couldn't wander in this town with no protection, as you have already seen why."
"I listened to all of your conversations."
"Listened? Yes. But saw, no." Then he remembered those sounds that he had presumed to be leather stretching. She picked up the bag full of his money and hung it over one shoulder. "I was hoping I didn't need to use it, well, at least not in such a case but—"She let out a small sigh. "Would you believe me if I say I'm sorry?"
He took a step forward and blocked her way out. She raised the gun higher threateningly. "Get out of my way." He didn't mind her and kept on walking slowly. "I'll shoot, don't think I wouldn't."
"Do you understand that I could disarm you easily even before you can try to pull the trigger?"
She took a step back. "Bruce—I warn you—don't get any closer."
"You won't shoot," he stated calmly and stopped when his chest was inches apart from the gun. He looked at her eyes. "You won't shoot." She couldn't, she hadn't left him behind, despite of herself, despite her justifications, she hadn't.
Then she snapped, she finally snapped. "Bruce Wayne, what kind of idiot you are! Are you really this much desperately blinded by hope?" She waved her gun at him. "Don't you see? Don't you understand? I—what Ronnie said…what he said—" Her gaze found his and Bruce was momentarily struck by her gleaming eyes, blazed like a newly raised sun reflecting over the edge of a blade, fractured on the surface. "I did all of those things and, worse, much worse, and I don't regret any of it. You think you know me? Think again!"
"I know you enough to know that you won't pull the trigger." Bruce took a step forward, even amazing himself. "You don't need this. I won't stop you. If you want out, you can go. And you're free to go with the money as well. He's running a clinic called Caramacor."
First she dropped her arm and then her head. "I'm—sorry," she said as she passed him, heading towards the door.
"I trusted you," he called after her.
She faltered in front of the door. "You just want me to stay for that ridiculous school project of yours."
"Does it matter? Whatever my reasons are, I've trusted you. I've believed in you."
The bag slipped down over her shoulder. The world was spinning again, and she grabbed the door handle for stability, held it forcefully like it was her only anchor in this strange world. Images assaulted her mind.
Bruce sitting beside his car looking at her at that fateful day when her life had turned upside down; Bruce giving her his coat when he had come to collect her at a warehouse, his lips slightly tilted up with a reassuring smile; Bruce giving her unreadable glances when he felt she wasn't looking…but Bruce Wayne, always him. If she only could open that door, if only she could set a foot out, she knew she would be free. Free of his expectations, free of his delusions, free of—him. Yet her hand was still stuck on the handle, not listening to her will.
She turned back to look at him. Standing in the middle of the room, looking at her with that strange gaze, he was different, she knew he was. She couldn't exactly say how, even with obvious facts, but she had tried, tried so many times, and failed, each time.
They stared at each other for a while then he finally pointed at her, smiling a little shy smile. "You'd better stand aside from the door. Alfred could come in any minute."
She felt a faint blush—a blush, a freaking blush—rising up on her cheeks. "Yeah," she sidestepped, and looked at bag on the floor. She picked it up. "Well, I presume you'd want this back—"She hesitated as raising the gun, "and this, of course."
"Keep the money for your doctor, I'll take the gun."
She walked over and offered it to him. He took it, and slid it through the back of trousers. He then grabbed her by shoulders. Surprised again with another intimate action, she looked back up at him. "When we've returned home safely, I'll deal with Ronnie. I promise."
She stared back at him. Home… there was no home… only places she hang around, places she hopped around. One part of her mind, the part that owned her survival instincts screamed 'RUN' as clearly as any sub-conscious messages went but her feet still remained planted on the floor.
She was overwhelmed; felt she was going to explode, was going to burst open; all these unfamiliar feelings, and those familiar ones finally overpowering her. She broke free of his grip, and ran to bathroom. It had become a sort of routine.
Bruce stared, unable to tear his gaze away from the bathroom door she slipped behind. Events had come one after another, tripling each other; the pleasure cruise had warped into a trip inside a fear tunnel. But she had stayed. Last time, she had opened the door and stopped, this time she couldn't even get herself to open it. He let himself smile a little victorious smile. She had stayed, stayed because of him, because of his—belief.
Of course, even now when he was under influence of a sudden bolt of triumph and relief; he knew that she was still unstable, and this—whatever it was—could still end tremendously in tears but it didn't matter. She had stayed, and for now that was all that mattered.
Ten minutes later, she had come out of her lair, looking in control of herself again. "Before we turn back, I need to retrieve something."
All of the curious wanderings of his mind came to a halt. He narrowed his eyes. "What kind of thing?" he questioned. This place was dangerous to her; he saw that clearly now, and not just because there were a couple of mob bosses wanting to teach her some manners. It was foolish of her to even come back here. Had she really been that desperate? Bruce wouldn't have guessed. Even now, after everything that happened, she still managed to look—collected.
"Um, the personal kind," she fidgeted. "I don't think I'll return here again. Well, and I think I should have that back…it's—"She paused and grimaced, "—sentimental." She added after his hardened face. "No funny things, I promise."
He nodded. "Okay. Tell me where it's and I'll retrieve it."
She folded her arms under her breast. "I—"
"Valerie, don't." He cut her off before she could start. He hadn't raised his voice but still it had a warning edge. She unfolded her arms.
"Okay, okay," she sighed out, "It's probably a better idea anyway," she shrugged off, "A deposit box at the train station. Box 2345, password is 4532. Inside there is a medium size box, bring it to me."
He nodded. "Alfred should return soon. I won't be long. I hope to leave tonight," he said walking toward the door. "Then we will see what we are going to do next."