Gotham – The Present
"They call him Mr. Tibbles," Bruce announced to an ecstatic Helena when he arrived home and presented her the dog found at Oliver's apartment.
"I love him!" Helena exclaimed, petting the small, cream-colored, dog carefully but with great enthusiasm.
"Mommy sent him to you," Bruce said, squatting down to pull her close. "She's very sorry she can't call you so she sent Mr. Tibbles to keep you company."
"She did?" Helena's trusting brown eyes were wide. The gap in logic of her father's story escaped her.
"Yes," Bruce said, hugging her to him. "She wants you to take care of him until she gets back. Do you think you can do that?"
She nodded solemnly, serious with the task her mother entrusted to her.
"Mr. Tibbles?" Alfred asked, eyeing the dog with suspicion. "Is that a name you came up with, sir?"
"No," Bruce replied, his smile fading as he rose to face Alfred. "Selina's friend, Oliver, named him."
"Oliver?" Alfred's interest was piqued.
"The John Doe," Bruce replied under his breath though that was not necessary as Helena was thoroughly enthralled with the newest addition to the Wayne household.
"What do we do with him?" Helena asked.
"Well," Bruce replied. "He's been cooped up for awhile so how about you and I take him to the park?"
Helena, with the dog following, ran upstairs to get her jacket.
"I see you've had a productive day," Alfred commented.
"If you consider finding a car and a dog productive, then, yes, it was."
"So nothing substantial then?"
"Only more questions," Bruce said as he texted the security detail of his intention to walk Helena to the park. By the time father and daughter walked the five blocks, the highly trained personnel would have the entire ten acre park secured.
"And Ms. Kyle?" Alfred's voice lowered.
"The same," Bruce replied quietly.
"The dog is a nice distraction, sir, but it won't pacify Miss Helena for long."
"I know," Bruce said, looking in the direction of the staircase. "I don't want Helena to see her mother until she's awake."
"And when will that be?"
"I have no idea," Bruce replied quietly, his tone one of frustration mixed with worry.
"If it's much longer, you'll need to reconsider before Miss Helena thinks her mother's abandoned her."
Bruce's pensive expression changed to a smiling one when Helena ran down the stairs, the dog following on her heels. Eager to leave, she rushed to her father and grabbed his hand.
"Up for another trip to the park, Alfred?" Bruce asked, as he fastened the leash to Mr. Tibbles.
"Tempting but I think I'll sit this one out." Alfred regarded the unkempt little dog with a wary eye envisioning the mess the thing would make on the Italian marble. Mr. Tibbles regarded him curiously before shifting his happy gaze from Bruce to Helena back to Alfred then abruptly started licking himself.
"Lovely," Alfred murmured as he eyed the dog that looked like it had been found behind a dumpster. "Shall I call a grooming service?"
"What do you say we give him a bath when we get back, Helena?" Bruce asked, zipping up Helena's jacket.
After sliding on a ball cap, he handed her the leash cautioning her to hold it tightly. Bruce adjusted the cap so it partially shielded his face from the casual observer. Now was not the time for the press to discover Bruce Wayne had returned to Gotham with a daughter. With his paws sliding on the floor, Mr. Tibbles led them toward the elevator.
"Oh, and Alfred?" Bruce said as he pushed a button in the elevator. "Don't panic when you see the car parked next to the Rolls." Bruce grinned a mischievous grin that Alfred hadn't seen in awhile.
After the elevator doors closed, Alfred went to check the security feed for Bruce Wayne's private section of the underground parking garage. He had no trouble locating the source of Bruce's amusement. The incongruous the sight of the rusty, dented, American muscle car flanked by a late model Rolls Royce and the hardly driven Lamborghini would have been far more amusing if things weren't so dire in the Wayne household. There was no mistaking the owner of the vehicle.
Twenty years ago, Alfred's greatest fear was that his young charge would fall victim to unscrupulous fortune hunters eager to exploit the vulnerable heir. After Bruce returned to Gotham from his eight year absence and assumed his Batman persona, Alfred's worries unexpectedly turned in another direction, and he often yearned for the days when his only concern was whether an unsuitable woman would ensnare the lonely billionaire. When he learned the identity of the mysterious woman that had changed Bruce's life, his old fears resurfaced but he had no choice than to trust Master Wayne's judgement that, frankly, wasn't the best when it came to women.
After spending time with Selina, Alfred's fear of Bruce falling prey to a gold digger proved unfounded. Considering how she first became acquainted with Master Wayne, Selina's indifference to Bruce's money surprised Alfred. She was not impressed with the penthouse, had no desire to mix with society, and, most pleasing to Alfred, made no demands for jewelry, expensive clothes or anything else Alfred had imagined when he indulged in his worries.
When they first arrived from India, Alfred had presented Selina with an impressive array of no-limit credit cards. Alfred had anticipated a greedy glimmer in her eye but she merely regarded him blankly for a few moments before offering a breezy comment about hitting the jackpot. In the six months since they returned, other than petrol, a few things for Helena, a dress for the Wackford-Squeers party and a fashionable athletic outfit, she bought nothing.
Switching off the security monitor, Alfred stared at the blank screen a few moments before tending to household duties which now included checking Selina's voice messages. Other than her friend, Jen, there had been no other texts or messages left for her in the last few days. Anything prior to the incident at the warehouse had been deleted by Selina and, thus far, proved irretrievable. Until today.
With a small amount of guilt, he listened to the voicemail that had been left earlier in the afternoon. He called the number but it went straight to voicemail, he decided against leaving a message not knowing the proper protocol of informing a stranger of bad news. As he began to trace the number, Bruce and Helena returned.
"Are we really gonna put him in the tub?" Helena asked.
"We are," Bruce replied as he helped her take off her jacket.
"And wash him with shampoo?"
"Are we gonna dry him with a dryer?"
"Have you ever washed a dog?"
"Will he drown?"
"Can I get in with him?"
"What'll he do in there?"
"That's the mystery," Bruce said, smiling at Helena. "Take him up to your room and I'll be right there, okay?"
Mr. Tibbles followed her until he understood the direction she was taking him, then ran ahead, prompting her to run after him.
"Would you like any help with...this process?" Alfred asked.
"I wouldn't do that to you, Alfred," Bruce said. "Besides, I have a job for you." He handed Alfred a list of names. "Miriam's guest list. See if anyone grabs your attention."
He turned to follow Helena up the stairs.
"Mr. Bashir called," Alfred called out. That bit of information was not what he wanted to impart but broaching the subject about accessing Selina's private phone could be touchy. "Isha told him about Selina. He and the little one wanted to go to the hospital. I put them on the list of approved visitors."
"That's fine," Bruce said.
"They also wanted to come by to bring Miss Helena a gift. They seemed concerned for her."
"She'll like seeing them," Bruce replied as he headed toward the staircase.
Alfred hesitated; he hadn't told Master Wayne that he had managed to access Selina's private phone. The one thing that she kept strictly separate.
"Sir…I've been monitoring Ms. Kyle's incoming calls. In case something helpful turned up."
Bruce stopped and turned to face him.
"What did you find out?" He asked, looking at him with apprehension.
"Nothing bad," Alfred assured him, wanting to put him at ease. "All of the messages and texts have been from Ms. Kyle's friend who dropped off Helena. That is, until today."
Bruce still had that guarded look.
"It's a woman," Alfred said. "A friend from the sound of the message. I had hoped she would have something helpful for you but…"
He beckoned Bruce over to the computer so he could play the message.
"Girl, you are not going to believe this. Kev's ex showed up and asked if she could live with us! Is that fucked up or what? What kind of person does that? Anyway, I've got this weekend off so I thought maybe we could get together. I'm going to work now. I'll call you back over my break."
"The number is registered to Ms. Desdemona Lonargin with only a Northpoint P.O. box listed as an address," Alfred said.
"So that's DeeDee…" Bruce said.
"A friend of hers?"
"A good one" Bruce nodded. "Earlier today, I stumbled onto someone who knows her. I left my number for her to call. If we don't hear from her, we'll give her call. Helluva way to meet her."
"You haven't met her?" Alfred frowned. From what he could tell from the message, this DeeDee was gainfully employed and probably not a criminal. He tried to think of reasons why Selina chose to keep Bruce so in the dark about her life. "Ms. Kyle doesn't seem the sort to be ashamed of her friends."
"It's not them she's ashamed of, Alfred," Bruce replied. "Let me know if any interesting names show up on that list."
After Bruce left the study, Alfred helped himself to a snifter of fine brandy and sat at Bruce's desk. He studied the list; he did indeed know more about these people than most would expect. Alfred had always been the receiver of what people considered titillating society gossip. Thinking that Bruce Wayne's top servant would return the favor, other highly placed servants eagerly shared juicy stories about their own employers. Even though Master Wayne had once told Alfred to "give 'em something to chew on" Alfred felt it would be a betrayal to Thomas and Martha Wayne and refused to say anything at all. His only concession to furthering the Bruce Wayne Society Playboy facade was to offer a mysterious smile that invited whatever speculation someone wished to draw.
Miriam Wackford-Squeers' guest list held no surprises: politicians, business moguls, society mavens ...the creme of Gotham society was all there. Other than consummate snobbery, ruthless business dealings and a few sexual escapades, the guests were not known to be involved with any criminal activity. If Selina had robbed one of the people on the list, there was no one that Alfred could see who would resort to such extreme measures to exact revenge. The crowd was certainly influential but, in his opinion, a passionless lot. He made note of a few names that could possibly have lurid connections but a few phone calls later and he was back to having no suspects.
After finishing his brandy, Alfred rose. He was curious to see the state of the elegant bathroom after father and daughter bathed the newest member of the Wayne household. He found Helena lying on her parents' bed, coloring and watching television.
He kept his frown to himself at the sight of the newly washed dog lying on an expensive towel next to her. Sitting on the bed away from the dog, Alfred spent a few moments admiring the pictures that were intended for her mother.
After checking the bathroom - and noting that it was perfectly clean - he went to find Bruce. The master bedroom was suited with two separate dressing rooms, each with adjoining closets that were bigger than Alfred's first flat. Bruce's was full to the brim as Alfred had contacted Bruce's former tailors who were more than happy to refit one of their best customers.
Bruce, however, was in Selina's closet. He sat on ottoman in center of the mostly empty closet, staring at the dress she'd worn to the Christmas party. Laying by his side was the picture of the mystery woman.
"The dog washing was successful, was it?" Alfred asked.
Distractedly, Bruce nodded. He had a faraway look in his eye as he considered something. Whatever it was pleased him for he smiled. Alfred stepped closer, waiting for Bruce to share in whatever it was that seemed to lessen some of the tension he had carried with him in the last few days.
"I know what you all are thinking," Bruce said. "Up until about five minutes ago, I thought the same thing. But, that's not what's happening."
"That Selina was cheating on me," he replied, quietly. "It's just not her thing."
"She'll steal but won't cheat?" Alfred asked, trying to keep the scoff out of his voice.
"Oh, she'll cheat…," Bruce said, with a quick grin before becoming serious. "Just not like this. If she found someone else, believe me, she would let me know. She has her standards."
"I see," Alfred said.
Bruce's attention returned to the gown hanging all alone in the large closet. "There's two things about Selina that I let myself forget."
"One of her biggest fears is people will realize she has a heart. Selina is a sucker for hard luck cases and she spots them easily. Did I ever tell you how we ended up in India?"
"No," Alfred said, sitting down beside Bruce.
"We were in Kazakhstan. Selina was out for a run, Helena and I were at a sidewalk cafe having breakfast. Selina shows up with this woman, Isha, who seemed terrified. The woman didn't speak English and Selina didn't speak Hindi but somehow Selina learned that the woman's husband had recently been killed and she was destitute. Alone in a foreign country, not speaking the language, and treated like a slave by her brutal husband, the woman ended up begging on the street. If it had just been me, I would've given her money then moved along but Selina saw the woman's desperation. Paid attention to it. She saw this lonely, frightened woman and wanted to help. She sees people, not the big picture. Not the forest, but each and every downtrodden tree."
Alfred picked up the photo of the woman. "You think something like that is happening here?"
"Then why the secrecy?"
Bruce shrugged. "If this has something to do with her past, it must involve something she doesn't want me to know about."
"What was the other thing, sir?" Alfred asked. "You said you had forgotten two things…"
Bruce looked at him steadily. "I forgot that Selina's the best thing to ever happen to me."
"Daddy!" Helena rushed over to her father. "Mr. Tibbles pooped on the carpet!"
The dog who had followed Helena, sat down and looked up innocently at Bruce.
Alfred rose to take care of the mess but Bruce waved him off.
"That's not in your job description. Helena and I will take care of it." Bruce said as he followed Helena and Mr. Tibbles to the scene of the crime.
"I knew this was going to happen," Alfred muttered. And he was not talking about Mr. Tibbles.
Somewhere on the way to India – Two Years Ago
The dusty Land Rover travelled through a region that was as dangerous as it was picturesque. Not that anyone in the vehicle could see the beauty of their surroundings. It was the dead of night, not an ideal time for travelling, but Bruce and Selina had decided to push through until they safely crossed the border.
Slowing periodically to navigate the treacherous twists and turns of the winding road as they ascended higher and higher into the mountains, Selina easily maneuvered the vehicle through the mountain passes. She swerved to avoid yet another pothole. At least this portion was paved though no one was sure if that was a good sign.
In the backseat, nestled comfortably in her car seat, Helena slept deeply. The long hours spent in the car were difficult for the toddler, and, as a consequence, everyone else. During the day, they made frequent stops, finding isolated areas where Bruce and Selina felt comfortable allowing their daughter to roam around. Freed from the carseat, Helena spent her time participating in her new favorite pastime: running from her parents.
Beside Helena sat Isha. It had been three months since Selina had found her, begging for food on a side street that saw few charitable pedestrians. The first few weeks with the Americans were terrifying and confusing. Isha could not understand the whys of their kindness and stories of enslavement swirled about her mind but as she lay in a comfortable bed with her belly full, she decided that if these people were slavers, it was a far sight better than living in the streets.
Unable to sleep, the older woman, with her sari wrapped protectively around her, gazed out the window seeing nothing but inky blackness. The black of the pre-dawn hours invited dark imaginings of what lurked about them as they travelled the deserted road. Isha looked away from the window to meet Selina's eyes in the rear-view mirror. Selina gave the older woman a reassuring smile and, despite her anxiety, Isha responded in kind because the sight of Selina's grin on this tense night calmed her, reminding her of when they first met.
Selina's was the first kind face Isha had looked upon since her husband had taken her from India. The worthless man had recently died which was no great tragedy but for the fact that he'd left her alone in a foreign country with no money, no papers, and no family or friends. Except for supervised trips to the grocery store, he had forbidden her from leaving the small apartment keeping her isolated and unable to become familiar with her surroundings or learning to speak Kazakh, Russian or any other languages of the region.
Absently, Isha's hand caressed Helena's head, liking the feel of the soft, dark hair against her rough skin. The little one had helped ease her terror of trusting strangers. Helena was a joyous creature and Isha had never seen two people so devoted to a girl child. People who had such a lovely and loved child couldn't be too bad.
As Isha spent time with the small family, her initial terror faded although she couldn't shake her fear of The Man, as she thought of him. Seeming to sense her anxiety, Bruce kept his distance, leaving the communication to Selina as he consulted an electronic device, quietly feeding her Hindi words and translating what Isha said. Before long, he no longer required an electronic translator.
"Bruce," Selina said quietly as she slowed the vehicle. Her tone was calm but there was no mistaking her urgency.
Instantly, he was awake, leaning forward to see what had drawn her concern. The headlights of a crowd of vehicles cut through the blackness of the night revealing that the narrow road was blocked.
"Turn around," he said, keeping his voice low.
Selina nodded but before she could put the car in reverse, the headlights of another vehicle approached from behind. The truck travelled in the middle of the very narrow road, blocking their escape.
They quickly traded places, Selina rising up so Bruce could slide beneath her to sit in the driver's seat. Instead of sitting in the passenger seat, Selina climbed into the backseat. Isha handed her a long, black scarf to cover her head. This area was not kind to women improperly dressed.
A bearded young man, complete with a too large gun slung across his torso, walked toward the Land Rover.
"Is she secure?" Bruce asked, as he studied the vehicle behind them in the rear view mirror.
"Yes. You think we may have to break through?" Selina asked, arranging the scarf so that only her eyes were visible.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Bruce said.
The young man gestured for Bruce to roll down the window. Bruce affected a deferential manner which seemed to allay the man's suspicions. It also helped that Bruce's appearance did not suggest that he was a Westerner. In the months that they had been travelling, his beard had grown in, his hair almost touching his shoulders. Perhaps by design - it was Isha's impression that this man was prepared for anything - Bruce's appearance slowly altered so he blended in better than he would have when she first met him.
As he accepted the passport with a false identity that Bruce passed to him, the young soldier scanned the interior of the vehicle. Selina bowed her head submissively but her eyes were alert. One hand rested protectively on her still sleeping daughter. The man's eyes rested ever so briefly on the women in the backseat before dismissing their presence of no consequence and returning his attention to Bruce.
When the soldier spoke English, Bruce feigned ignorance of the language. It took the men a few tries before settling on a language they both spoke: Russian. Throughout the exchange, Bruce's bearing was relaxed, indicating he had nothing to hide, but Isha knew him enough to know that he was not relaxed at all. There was nothing at all in his bearing to indicate otherwise but Isha recognized a man preparing to strike. For once, the realization did not frighten her.
"What's going on up there?" Isha whispered to Selina as the men talked. The weeks of travelling afforded ample opportunity for Selina and Isha to learn enough of each other's language to communicate without Bruce's help. "What does he say?"
"Something about catching someone," Selina whispered back in heavily accented Hindi. "That can't be good but it's not our problem."
Satisfied with whatever story Bruce concocted, the man beckoned Bruce to move the vehicle forward. All within the car were silent, the quiet only interrupted by Selina's shocked intake of breath as they approached and could see the scene ahead.
In the middle of the road as a group of armed men screamed at them, a man and woman knelt on the jagged pavement. The man was bound and gagged, the woman tearfully trying to calm the situation. Her words were unclear but there was no doubt that she was begging for their lives. The armed men yelled and punched her husband who couldn't cry out. With each punch to her husband, the woman cried out in pain on his behalf.
"See who's behind us," Bruce said quietly.
"Give me a minute and I'll make sure you have no surprises." Selina checked to see that Helena was still sleeping. Satisfied the toddler still slept, she opened her door to exit the car. Before slipping out into the night, she looked at Isha. "It's alright. We're going to be okay."
Bruce nodded, his eyes not leaving the scene ahead. He, too, started to exit the vehicle but any plans or strategies the couple had silently communicated vanished when one of the men put a pistol against the crying woman's head and fired. The woman crumpled to the road. A young girl appeared, screaming as she ran to crouch next to her mother's lifeless body.
Shocked, Isha looked to Bruce but he had disappeared, the driver's side door left open. As the chaotic sounds of a fight broke out ahead, Isha leaned forward to close it. She put a shaky hand on Helena, willing the child to stay asleep, then rearranged Helena's blanket, bunching the soft material around her little ears. When the sound of gunfire penetrated the vehicle, she placed her hands over the blanket hoping to muffle the sounds so the child wouldn't awaken.
An explosion of gunfire rang out from behind. Isha covered Helena with her body, darting a quick glance up to see that it was Selina who fired a gun. The sounds from outside and the jolt of Isha's body covering hers finally woke Helena. Isha comforted the scared toddler, who looked bewildered at being suddenly awake.
Another shot rang out, Isha risked a look to see what was happening. She saw Bruce towering over the man who pulled the trigger that killed the woman. The illumination from the headlights gave her a clear view of his angry face as he delivered blow after blow to the man. As she watched, Isha remembered her first impression of Bruce. After her husband's death, their landlord quickly evicted her from the dingy hotel that had been her home for the past year. Not only did he thrust her out into an unfamiliar world but he kept the precious few items of value she owned. Including her clothes. When Bruce and Selina figured out what happened, Bruce disappeared, returning a few hours later with her clothes. A violent man, Isha had concluded as she noticed the fresh cuts on his knuckles. She watched him warily, waiting for the inevitable male temper to rear its head, waiting for him to angrily lash out at the woman or child. Despite Selina's adamant assurances that Bruce would never lay a hand on her, Isha's fear remained.
But, at that moment, seeing him, his hands bloodied, his face a cold mask of fury, she understood that he would never hurt her. This was no coward to prey upon the weak and helpless.
Selina rushed to the little girl who remained next to her mother's body. Holding the crying child against her, she touched the stunned man's shoulder, prodding him to get up. "We need to go!"
"We're not leaving her!" Bruce yelled, as he dropped the last of the soldiers to the ground. The rest of the gang lay unconscious, their unmoving forms strewn about the road.
Leaving the man kneeling next to his wife, Selina carried the little girl to the Land Rover. Isha opened the door, her arms open to accept the child that she pulled onto her lap. Helena's cries subsided as her eyes found the newest passenger.
Selina opened the rear door, rifling through their few possessions, throwing out unnecessary items until she made a space.
As the man watched, numb with shock, Selina helped Bruce wrap the dead woman in the large blanket they had picnicked on earlier that afternoon. Gently, Bruce placed her body in the back, arranging her to fit with as much respect as he could.
Selina led the man to sit in the passenger seat. Instead of getting in the car, Selina went to the big truck that was blocking the road and climbed in.
Selina moved the truck out of the way, making a path for Bruce to drive the Land Rover past the other vehicles. As Selina moved the truck back to where it was, Bruce went to disable the other vehicles. After they were satisfied that the road was sufficiently impassable, Selina returned to the car. A few moments later, Bruce returned, holding a doll Isha had seen laying in the road. He wiped off the flecks of blood from the face before handing it to Selina who was trying to calm Helena.
"Someone's coming!" Isha exclaimed.
Bruce put the car in gear and tore off. The little girl continued to sob, Isha held her close rocking her. Selina dug through her leather satchel until she found a knife. She scooted to sit on the console in middle of the front seat. After cutting the rope around the man's wrists she helped him remove the gag. As soon as she slid back to her spot next to Helena, the man reached behind to touch his daughter who still cried in Isha's arms, murmuring something to her in their native tongue.
"If that's their people, it won't take them long to clear the road," Selina said as she coaxed Helena to accept the last-resort pacifier.
Bruce nodded. His hands clenched the steering wheel, his whole bearing was different, tense and coiled. He glanced back, his eyes taking in the scene behind them before briefly resting on Helena.
"She's fine," Selina said softly, reaching up to touch his shoulder.
It was another ten minutes in the tense but not silent car before they saw the gleam of headlights in the distance behind them.
"They're getting closer!" Selina cried, casting nervous looks behind her.
Still silent, Bruce nodded in acknowledgement. He accelerated, taking the dangerous curves faster than what was comfortable.
"Let's hope they don't have friends ahead of us, we'll be cut off," Selina said, looking at Helena who seemed to be on the verge of falling back asleep. "We need to get off this road."
"There is a village east of here." It was the man who spoke, his voice tired and sad, his English perfect. "You cannot get to it from this road. It is quite remote."
"Are we going to have problems there?" Selina asked.
He shook his head. "It is safe. I have family there. That is where we were headed..."
He trailed off, staring out the window.
"Won't they know that?" Selina asked with another quick glance behind them.
"I don't know why they would," he replied.
"Even if we get there, they'll keep looking for us," Selina said. "We'll be putting your family in danger."
"Not if they think they don't need to look for us," Bruce said, his eyes meeting Selina's in the rear view mirror.
"How far a walk is this village?" Selina asked.
"A few hours."
"The sun's almost up," Selina said, picking up toys that Helena had tossed around the back seat. She stuffed them in the leather satchel at her feet. "We need to do this now."
"There!" Bruce pointed up ahead. "This is as good a place as any."
He pulled to the side of the road. In the first strains of the light of dawn, Isha could see that he parked next to a cliff. She looked back at Selina who nodded her head.
"There's no other way," she said as she unbuckled Helena, gently lifting the sleeping girl and holding her close. She took a moment to smooth the little girl's hair, settling her head on Selina's shoulder.
The man took his wife's body from the back of the car, carrying her to the other side of the road to wait for the others. His daughter kept close, one hand clutched her doll, the other held one corner of the blanket wrapped around her mother.
There was no time to waste, Isha helped Bruce as they gathered only necessities. They could take only what they could carry.
Bruce got back in the car and drove back a few hundred feet. Selina nudged Isha to the safety of the wooded area next to the road as Bruce turned the car around. He accelerated, the car sped up quickly, heading for the cliff. Just as it appeared he was a lunatic about to drive over the edge, he slammed on the brakes. A loud screech tore through the early dawn as the vehicle abruptly stopped next to the cliff leaving a long trail of black skidmarks on the pavement.
Without turning the car off, Bruce climbed out, found a rock and placed it on the gas pedal. After cautioning everyone to stand back, he put the Land Rover in gear then jumped back as the vehicle went over the edge of the cliff. The sounds of the car crashing down the mountain echoed through the air.
Selina went to stand next to Bruce at the edge of the precipice to watch the descent. After the last of the crashes, they looked at each other, their expressions inscrutable to Isha but she knew they understood each other's thoughts.
The rumble of a truck approaching prompted everyone to move to the safety of the forest. As the group started up the steep incline to go deeper into the woods, Bruce stopped.
"You go on," Bruce said with a quick look at Selina. "I'll catch up."
Reluctantly, Selina turned away and followed the man who carried his wife into the forest. Isha waited for her at the top of incline.
"He's going to make sure our ruse worked," Selina explained, her face betraying her concern.
"I'm sure he'll be fine," Isha said, remembering him as he fought the group of men.
"It's not that...No one will see him. It's just…," she nuzzled Helena's head with her face. "That was upsetting. For all of us but different upsetting for him."
Isha could see that there was more to it than that, but she said nothing. They moved slowly, the terrain was rough and overgrown. By the time Bruce reached him, everyone was exhausted. Since the ruse had worked and no one was looking for them, Bruce said it was safe to stop and rest. Everyone found a place to sit except Helena who ran around the clearing squealing with happiness at the freedom. The ground was uneven and rocky, and Helena was still unsteady on her feet so she fell a few times but jumped up without hardly a pause. When she started to run toward the grieving family, Bruce collected his daughter, taking her a respectful distance away.
Selina went to them, handing Helena a snack. While the girl ate, Selina regarded Bruce closely. His hand absently rubbed Helena's back as he watched the little girl and her father whose silent sobs contrasted with hers.
"I'm fine," he said, his gaze not straying from the devastated father and daughter.
The snack eaten, Helena was eager to be on the move. She fidgeted, wiggling until her father put her down. She started to run away but Selina grabbed her hand, leading her to Isha.
Isha smiled at Helena, drawing her to her, distracting the toddler as her mother went back to Bruce. Selina touched his face as she talked to him. He drew her close, his head dipping to rest on her shoulder.
Isha looked away, embarrassed at spying a vulnerable moment for the man who had earlier seemed invulnerable. She entertained Helena with a song from her childhood. Helena responded with chattering that included both English and Hindi.
Selina returned, sitting next to Isha as Bruce went to the father and his daughter. Squatting down, he talked quietly with them, his attention mostly on the little girl who regarded him with dull, shocked eyes.
His name was Atash Bashir, his daughter Maliha, Bruce told Selina and Isha when he returned. The group soon continued on to the village, arriving just before nightfall. They remained in the very small village until after the funeral when a trusted cousin drove them across the border using roads that were not on any map. Isha breathed a sigh of relief now that she was back in her homeland.
They continued travelling until they reached a town with a satellite phone.
"Where will they go?" Isha asked Selina several days later as they watched the plane land on the dirt road that doubled as a landing strip.
"Gotham," Selina replied, with a hint of wistfulness. "Bruce knows someone who will help them get established."
"That's your home?"
Isha had often wondered about the people who had found her and then took on the mission of returning her home. Money seemed no object, the man hadn't batted an eye at the destruction of an expensive vehicle. And then there was this plane, flown to a very remote region for the sole purpose of taking Bashir and his daughter to safety.
"It's alright to leave me here," Isha said to Bruce, as they watched Helena wave enthusiastically to Maliha. "It's too dangerous. Take your family and go home."
"We said we'd take you to your daughter and we will," Bruce replied.
Her daughter. That had been the purpose of this trip but since Isha had little experience with having wishes and wants fulfilled she never considered that it would actually happen. She met his steady gaze, the first time she made eye contact with him, and realized what safe felt like.