Paper Hearts, part 30
Disclaimers in "part 0"
She stared emptily at the room that had been her home for over a year, cheerfully lit in the late afternoon sun. Just the end of an assignment, she reminded herself forcefully, returning her attention to her suitcase.
Rafael had been surprised to hear from her, but he hadn't asked any questions. He'd seen the news. She could tell from the sympathy in his tone as he offered to let her stay as long as she needed, maybe set up a meeting with Walker for her on Monday. Was she ready to go back to government work? She wasn't sure. She wasn't sure of anything at the moment, just that she needed to leave here.
Voices drifted in through her open door as they had all afternoon - happy, bantering voices. Sounds of a family. She remembered how Bruce had once told her that things had been different in the Manor, not so empty and lonely. True, they'd been less empty of late, but it took until she saw them all gathered, playing some silly board game Alana had brought over a few weeks before...
She'd resented the idea that she might be one of "his people." She hadn't realized then that when he said "his people" what he meant was "his family." But when she'd walked into that gathering earlier, looking for Bruce, that's when it hit her. They were there: Dick, Tim, Cassandra, Dinah - or Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl and Black Canary. A room full of Batman's "people," all save the redhead in the wheelchair and Alfred. Yet even those two seemed at ease, happy - a family.
She wasn't part of it.
She didn't want to be.
She closed the suitcase.
A light tap on her door drew her attention, and she turned.
Bruce offered her an unreadable smile. "Hi, Sasha."
"Is Alfred waiting for me?"
He shook his head. "He'll wait until you're ready to go."
"Well, I'm ready." No sense making this harder than it had to be. They'd already had as much discussion as she cared to, enough to make it clear that he had no intention of stopping her or changing her mind.
"I thought -" He held out an envelope.
She took it from him. "What's this?"
"A list of people who might want hire you. And a letter of introduction. You're good at what you do, Sasha."
She tucked the envelope into her jacket pocket. "Thanks."
He shifted, seeming uncharacteristically uncertain. "I don't want you to feel you're unwelcome here," he stated. "If you want to come back..."
She shook her head. "I think we both realize that would be a bad idea."
He didn't say anything for a moment. Then, "Have you decided what you're going to do?"
"No. I think I just need some time."
He nodded. "I understand that." Another awkward pause reigned. "Have you considered the DEO?"
Sasha started. "Wouldn't that-?"
"I know you won't compromise me," he pointed out. A sly sort of look came across his features. "And it never hurts to have someone on the inside."
A smirk twisted her lips. "Always the tactician."
He shrugged, neither affirming nor denying. After all this time, she still couldn't read him, still wondered what was going on in his head.
Not her problem anymore, she decided, reaching for her suitcase. Bruce stepped back from the door, letting her pass in silence. She didn't bother to say goodbye to the others, just went to the front door where Alfred joined her.
"Ready, Ms. Bordeaux?"
"You still want to-?"
"Very good, then," the butler answered smoothly, taking her case before she could protest and leading her down to the waiting car. While he put her luggage into the trunk, she went around the car and slid into the front passenger seat. One last thing to do, and then she could go to the airport and catch her flight to DC and try to make the last 24 hours disappear like a bad dream.
Alfred got into the car beside her, wordlessly starting it up and putting it into gear. There were no more reporters at the gate - Bruce had issued some statement earlier in the day about villains wrecking holidays and his gratitude to the GCPD, making it clear he would have nothing else to say. The press vans had headed back to the city, recognizing a story that had become yesterday's news and seeking fresher excitement.
All the better. They'd undoubtedly catch wind of Sasha's departure eventually, and she would rather not have to answer their suspicious and intrusive questions today.
She didn't want to deal with her _own_ suspicious and intrusive questions. Instead, she stared blankly out the window, trying not to think, blankly registering the familiar landscape of Bristol. Mansion, mansion, golf course, mansion, mansion, riding club, mansion...
She wasn't entirely sure where she was when Alfred finally pulled the car into a long driveway to a secluded, faintly institutional looking building.
"This the place?" she asked.
Alfred nodded. "Would you prefer me to wait here?"
Sasha considered. It had been clear in recent months that Alana had become Alfred's favorite to win Bruce's heart - he genuinely liked the young woman with the shy smile and bright eyes. But this was going to be hard enough as it was. "Do you mind?"
"I have already visited her once today with Master Bruce," he pointed out. "And I shall undoubtedly see her again this evening."
Sasha nodded. "I don't think I'll be too long."
Alfred didn't answer, and she exited the car with a vague sense of dread. Alana. The woman she'd failed to protect, alive not because of anything Sasha had done, but by a freak chance of a bullet's trajectory. The nurse at the front desk seemed unsurprised to see Sasha, led her unquestioningly to Alana's room. Sasha's bodyguard instincts wanted to scream - shouldn't they check her ID, do something to protect the girl who took a bullet for Bruce Wayne?
A more rational part of her mind reminded her who Bruce Wayne was. He'd probably phoned ahead and sent a photo of Sasha.
"Here we are," the nurse announced cheerfully, opening Alana's door. Then she frowned.
"Alana Jones, didn't I tell you that you should be avoiding this kind of excitement?" She crossed the room to turn off the television, and Sasha caught a glimpse of a basketball game before the tube went dark.
Alana, propped up in the bed, gave a mischievous smile. "It wasn't exciting, honest," she offered ingenuously. "Gotham was getting stomped 68 - 21."
The nurse hmphed and offered her charge a half-hearted scowl. "Well, don't watch anyway. Besides, you have a visitor."
Alana gave a careful laugh, prompting Sasha to wince. She could hear how it hurt. "Tell Bruce he's brought enough flowers," Alana remarked, gesturing toward the various arrangements covering nearly every available surface.
Sasha steeled herself and stepped forward. "It's not Bruce," she corrected.
"Sasha!" Alana exclaimed, sounding genuinely delighted. "I was worried something had happened to you. Bruce let slip that you were recovering this morning. Are you okay?"
Sasha glanced pointedly at the nurse, who took her cue and left the room, closing the door behind her. "I'm fine," she reassured Alana. "The real question is how are you?"
"The doctor says I only have to stay here a couple days so long as I take it real easy and let my body heal. And Bruce is coming by tonight with a nice dinner - or as nice as the docs will let me have." She giggled a little self-consciously. "I think I'm getting a little spoiled."
Sasha smiled a little, suspecting she'd get more evasions if she pressed the question. Instead, she reached into her jacket behind the envelope Bruce had given her and pulled out a card. "I brought you this," she said.
"Oh, Sasha, you didn't need to do that!" Alana protested, accepting the card with shining eyes. She opened it and read it, a faint smile staying on her features. Then she laid the card down on the blankets. "Thank you."
"It should actually be an apology card," Sasha confessed. "I-"
"An apology card!" Alana's face wrinkled in confusion. "Whatever for?"
Sasha swallowed hard. "I wasn't doing my job well enough last night," she said. "I should have-"
"Oh, please," Alana interrupted. "I was the silly fool who spoiled your shot at him."
"You weren't foolish at all-"
"Yes, I was. I always did have to learn lessons the hard way. You can't beat yourself up for that."
Sasha sighed. Alana just didn't understand-
"No sighing," Alana said sternly. "You must promise me that you won't blame yourself."
Sasha met Alana's serious eyes, noticing for the first time that they weren't brown, as she'd always assumed, but a dark shade of green. She also realized the young woman would not be happy unless she thought she had secured the promise. "Okay," she conceded.
"All right, then," Alana settled. "And don't think I won't hold you to that. If I see you moping around the Manor-"
Sasha couldn't help the flinch that crossed her face.
"What? What did I say?" Alana fretted.
"Nothing," Sasha hastened. "It's just - I quit my job today."
"Because of last night? Oh, you can't!"
"Alana," Sasha chastened gently. "I've already left the Manor. I'm flying out to DC tonight."
"It's not really about last night. That just clinched the decision. But I wanted to see you before I left. And-" She took a deep breath. This was the hard part, but she'd promised herself she wouldn't leave Gotham without doing it. "I wanted to warn you about Bruce."
"Warn me?" Alana looked shocked.
"Alana, I know he seems like a really nice guy - and he is, in his way. But I've been around him longer than you have. That playboy reputation he has is earned."
"Is this about that model he's been taking out?" Alana asked, her expression softening to amusement.
"You know about that?" That was a surprise.
Alana took Sasha's hand. "That's so sweet that you care enough to tell me, but I do watch the news, you know. I even told Bruce it was a good idea to have such a high profile friend to go out with." She smiled that shy smile. "I don't like the spotlight."
Sasha gave Alana's hand a little squeeze. So naive! She didn't know that Bruce wasn't always leaving Jasmina at her doorstep... But looking at that trusting face, she didn't want to tell her that Bruce and Jasmina were more than just friends. Time for a different tactic.
"Fair enough. But it's not just his playboy style. He's - the man's got a lot of issues, Alana. Secrets."
"He's not involved in anything illegal, is he?"
"Oh, no," Sasha reassured, unless you counted vigilatism, she added to herself. "He's just - you know about his parents?"
Alana nodded, her face taking on a sad expression.
"Thing like that - scars a person. I'm not saying you're not good for him, just - be careful around him, okay?"
Alana studied Sasha's face thoughtfully, then gave her hand a squeeze. "Okay," she promised.
"Good," Sasha concluded, rising to her feet and letting Alana's hand fall away. "I have to go so I don't miss my flight, but you get better quickly, okay?"
"Yes," Alana agreed. "And take care of yourself. Bruce is going to miss you."
Sasha forced a thin smile onto her face, fighting against a part of her mind which wanted to believe that. She turned, then, and headed out of the room, out of the little private hospital, and out to the car.
Alfred waited for her to get in, but he didn't say anything. She didn't know if she could've kept her composure if he had. She just pulled on her seatbelt, and, staring out the windshield, said, "Okay, let's go."