Paper Hearts, part 4

By Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

Sasha stood watchfully to one side as Bruce finally secured the doctor's reluctant approval to transfer Alana to a private facility. A part of her wanted to argue Bruce out of the idea - the woman had just been shot. Shot because Sasha had been unable to pull the trigger at the crucial moment. That thought alone was enough to keep Sasha quiet.

Why hadn't she fired? It wouldn't have been the first time she'd taken someone down. It was what she was trained for, even if Batman - Bruce - insisted that she not use lethal force. Had he gotten inside her head enough that she could no longer do her job? That was unacceptable. The shooting of Alana Jones was unacceptable.

That poor woman. Sasha didn't particularly like her, that was true. Sasha wasn't keen on any of the women that Bruce brought home, a continuous stream of rare beauties and vacuous socialites that made Vesper a more pallatable option. Of course, Sasha had felt threatened by Vesper. She hadn't admitted it to herself at the time, but in the hard light this night's events? She had to admit the same anger and resentment she'd felt toward Vesper were part of her emotional reaction to Alana. Alana actually seemed smart enough and attractive enough to be almost worthy of Bruce.

Was that why she hadn't pulled the trigger?

That was almost more frightening than the idea that Batman's code had messed with her head. Could she truly, deep inside, be vindictive enough to let Alana be Bruce's human shield?

No, she told herself firmly. No one - not the shooter, not Bruce, and certainly not Sasha Bordeaux, could have expected that frightened looking woman to stand when she did. It just wasn't the kind of thing that people did when a gun shifted its target. But still...

Bruce was moving, and she automatically fell in behind him, still watchful. When he reached Alana's room, she put a hand to his arm to stop him. He didn't protest as she carefully cased the room, assuring herself that no one save Alana was present. She checked the bathroom and behind the curtains - any likely hiding place - sparing only a cursory glance at the woman on the bed. It was Alana, serenely still - a peaceful little creature who should be laughing on the dance floor as Bruce tried to teach her to jitterbug, not lying in a hospital bed.

Sasha pressed her lips together in a thin line and nodded to Bruce, slipping by him to take up her station outside the open door.

She didn't watch as Bruce approached Alana's bed, although she imagined him taking up Alana's hand, waking her with a soft kiss on her forehead. A soft murmur of conversation began, and for once she didn't strain to catch the words. Bruce might not be in love with her - how could he be when he so casually dated other women in her absence? When she didn't know how he spent his nights? But Sasha had seen the anguish on his face in the restaurant, and it seemed deeper than a regret that retiring little Alana had been pulled into the darker part of his world. And his tense silence in the waiting room - partly the Bat, to be sure, but also something of Bruce Wayne hurting in a way that Sasha could not answer. He might not love her, but it was clear that he cared about her more than some of his more obvious "cover" girlfriends. And given what had happened? Alana deserved a private moment with a man she clearly loved.

He must have said something funny, for Sasha heard an interrupted laugh from the young woman. She winced sympathetically - the halted sound carried a taste of pain, as did the chiding response from Bruce.

A sound of wheels in the hallway drew her attention sharply, and she scrutinized the pair of paramedics coming down the hall. Dr. Barlov walked with them, talking intently to the man who wheeled the gurney. Likely sharing his reservations with fellow medical professionals, even if he wouldn't dissuade them from taking Alana away. They wore WayneMed name badges, so they knew where their paychecks were coming from. Unless Alana's life were truly threatened by this transfer? It was unlikely they would go against Bruce's wishes.

The female paramedic, less attentive to Barlov, detached herself from the threesome and moved ahead of them to stop in front of Sasha. "Bodyguard?" she asked.

Sasha nodded, studying the small blonde woman.

"The cops checked us coming in," she reported, pulling out her ID and handing it to Sasha, "but if you'd like to pat us down anyway-" She raised her hands obligingly.

Sasha looked at the ID and matched the picture to the face, then handed it back and patted the woman down. She was clean - although if someone really wanted to get at Bruce? A medical technician would have subtler weapons than a garden variety thug. Sasha would have to trust that WayneMed screened its employees thoroughly.

"Really, Ms. Bordeaux," the doctor objected as he and the other paramedic caught up.

"It's all right, doc," the male paramedic reassured, presenting his ID and accepting the same treatment. He offered a slight smile that crinkled the skin around his hazel eyes. "She's got a job to do, too."

There was something familiar about his face, but it didn't ring any alarm bells, and it did match the ID. She nodded curtly as she handed back the laminated card. "Go on in."

They did so, and Bruce drifted back to stand near Sasha as the paramedics transferred Alana to the gurney and settled various medical equipment for the journey to the ambulance. The young man joked gently with Alana, and the woman took pains to make sure she was as comfortable as possible before they unbraked the wheels and began to move back to the hall. They paused at the doorway when Alana said, "Bruce," shifting to let Bruce come to her side. "Walk with me," she requested.

Bruce nodded, and Sasha noticed the female paramedic shoot a hard look at Bruce as they started moving again. Sasha wondered what the news reports were saying about the shooting to provoke such a look.

Bruce stayed by Alana's side until they reached the ambulance bay. Then he squeezed her hand slightly and said, "I've got to go."

She nodded. "I know. You'll come by later?"

He kissed her hand. "I promise," he said solemnly, stepping back to let the paramedics lift her into the waiting ambulance. He watched them shut the doors, then he reached for his cell phone. He entered the number and put it to his ear, and almost before it seemed to have time to ring, he was growling, "Around back."

Alfred, Sasha realized, as surely as she realized that she was no longer dealing with Bruce Wayne. He led her back into the hospital and through a maze of hallways, finally exiting the building into an alley where the limo stood waiting. Alfred wordlessly opened the door for them, and she wondered how he had evaded the press. The limousine was not a subtle vehicle.

"The penthouse," Bruce ordered, and Alfred clsoed the door behind them and took his place in the driver's seat.

Sasha waited until they were moving to speak. "What now?" she asked.

"Now we find Hatter's agents," he replied grimly.

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