Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 4
The elevator doors opened on the first floor of the penthouse. Alfred Pennyworth stepped onto the marble floor and tugged the wheeled cooler and his suitcase out with him. The security measures in the elevator had not been tampered with, but he frowned at the morning sunlight streaming on the haphazardly-uncovered furniture. Someone was living here now, someone who still hadn't learned to pick up after himself.
He continued to the kitchen area with the cooler and suitcase. Water, gas, and electricity all operated normally. Reports from GCN had been less than clear if the utilities would be available. He tested the temperature in the freezer and the refrigerator before unpacking the cooler's contents.
The box of military ready-to-eat meals on the counter he recognized as the same brand stored in the city bunker. Proof his hunch had been right. He picked up the open box and carried it to the pantry around the corner. The last set of cleaners had not put the supplies away properly.
While he reorganized the pantry and made room for the box of MREs, the smaller elevator came down from the second floor. Bruce Wayne didn't step into the pantry, so Alfred continued his task. Better to have it done before that confrontation. Once he was satisfied with its state, he stepped back into the kitchen.
The television set at the other end of the penthouse moved through the channels. Most of them hadn't returned to the air. The set silenced those static-filled screens while the watcher moved on. The wielder of the remote control didn't linger on any news shows either. Alfred frowned at the odd behavior and moved closer.
A little blonde girl, maybe four or five years of age, stood in front of the armchair facing the television. He had never seen her before. Her left hand balanced the remote against her stomach and her other hand mashed the buttons. An adult-sized T-shirt had been knotted in the sleeves and hem to fit better on her tiny frame. He cleared his throat. "Who do you belong to, little miss?" he asked with a smile.
The remote clattered against the floor. She stared up with wide blue eyes. An expected response since he surprised her with his presence. However, the scream from her driving all the air from his lungs was not. While he stepped back, she ran past the couch to the curved staircase, grabbed the metal handrail, swung herself onto a higher step, and bolted to the door at the top. She screamed again as she opened it.
Guilty children run and get hurt, Alfred's experience told him. What she was guilty of besides trespassing, which she did not accomplish alone, he had no idea. But he ran up the stairs after her to prevent the harm. "Now see here."
She glanced over her shoulder and gained a new burst of speed with a fresh scream. She didn't duck into any of the rooms, but headed straight for the master suite. He barreled after her as fast as his aged but longer legs could run. A door opened behind him but he ignored it.
The child ran across the room to the dividers straight to a familiar brown-haired woman wrapped in the disturbed bed's flat sheet, and flung her tiny arms around a draped leg. Alfred jerked to a stop as the woman raised a bullwhip.
"Selina, no!" Bruce leapt off the bed and grabbed her other arm. "It's Alfred."
The child inhaled and began to sob.
"Not exactly how I thought we'd meet again." Selina lowered the bullwhip and grabbed the sheet before it dropped to the floor. Alfred placed her, the cat burglar who pilfered Mrs. Wayne's pearls.
A loud yawn behind him drew Alfred's attention back to the doorway. Officer Blake dressed in sweat pants uncovered his mouth. "Oh, you guys got this."
"You keep inviting--"
"I didn't!" Bruce interrupted Selina. "Go back to bed, John."
The little girl sniffled. "Just wanted to watch cartoons."
"It's all right, Stephanie." Bruce petted the back of her blonde head. Alfred quailed at the walled-off expression he received. "Alfred, what are you doing here?"
"I saw you on the news." Bruce's face shifted enough to tell Alfred that he knew the bomb detonation ended up on every front page in the world. "Leaving City Hall," Alfred added. "The camera appeared to be set up across the street."
Selina and Bruce looked at each other. "How tired were we that we all missed a camera crew?" she asked.
"Every cop in City Hall wanted to shake my hand, Stephanie freaked out about all the people, and Blake was shooing us out to the car. We'll never have another opportunity to not see them ever again."
"Better give everybody one of those tiny EMP generators then. Where's the bathroom?" Bruce pointed to the hallway against the south wall of the building, and Selina turned her attention down to Stephanie. "Help me get dressed. You can pull my suitcase." Stephanie released Selina, grabbed the suitcase handle, and pulled it along.
Bruce turned to the duffle bag left alone next to the dividers. Alfred couldn't contain his shocked gasp at the black sutures on Bruce's side. "What happened?"
The younger man stood up from his squat with clean clothes in hand. "That, I'd rather stay out of the news." He flung the T-shirt and sweat pants onto the mattress.
He left, so his explanation must come first. "Lucius didn't know anything, so I drove up to the Manor from Philadelphia. The League of Shadows left it alone this time. The bunker was empty as well, except for the mess you left behind. So I decided to check here. I didn't expect to find you here with the jewel thief."
Bruce pulled the black sweat pants over his boxers. "Sorry if you had your heart set on the chimpanzee."
The incision must not be that painful if Bruce could be sarcastic. "And your dismissal of her was half-hearted at best."
The younger man's lips quirked into an amused smirk. But Stephanie ran back into the room. "Bat-no-Bruce! Selina's sick!"
The child knew? That was a different recklessness for Bruce, and Alfred wasn't sure what it meant. He took refuge in the familiar. "Celebrated the liberation of the city a little too much last night?" He eyed the young woman's clothing festooning the bedroom space.
Bruce pulled on the black T-shirt. "She's pregnant," he answered. Stephanie tugged on his hand. "I'm coming."
Alfred retreated as they went to the bathroom. For as badly as he wanted Bruce to start a family, it may have happened too quickly to be healthy. He took the elevator down and went to the kitchen. Regardless if he and Bruce were able to mend things, they all still needed a good breakfast and dinner. Blake sat at the dining bar, held the bag of coffee grounds under his nose, and inhaled. "It usually works better with hot water, Officer Blake."
He opened his eyes. "It's been three months since I smelled good coffee. Oh, and it's Detective for now."
Alfred took the bag. "For now?"
"Until I can give the Commissioner my resignation."
"Law enforcement no longer the career for you?" Alfred filled the coffee pot carafe with water.
"There is a point when the structures fail. When the rules aren't weapons any more; they're shackles, letting the bad guys get ahead. Bane used that against Gotham." His smirk chased away the seriousness. "Plus I promised Bruce I'd help him."
"That is generous of you, Detective Blake. And I do apologize for disturbing your slumber."
Blake waved it aside. "I need to check on things during daylight, so no worries. Plus you need a warning not to meddle."
Alfred raised his eyebrows.
"Selina's got a huge button dealing with not being good enough for Bruce. And she killed Bane to save him. And they were both flirting like crazy until Bane caught them. Don't know what happened then, but they've been wearing those homemade rings for days now."
"Just trying to save you from the bullwhip." Blake stood. "Be back after I get dressed."
Selina reached up and flushed the toilet. The master bath had a blue and steel color scheme. She was glad she had gotten her yoga pants on before her stomach rebelled. They kept off the cold from the marble-tiled floor. She blinked at the metal toilet filling with clean water as her stomach settled. What had Bruce's decorator smoked on this job? No doors, no curtains, and bathroom fixtures that belonged on a plane.
Her peripheral vision caught movement at the door. "See, she's sick." Stephanie moved to Selina's right side and petted her arm.
Bruce stopped at the blue concrete counter and wet a washcloth in the sink. "I believed you, Stephanie. It's all right."
"I tried to stop her, but our kid decided to protest the MREs from yesterday." Selina looked at her bare stomach. "I'm your mommy and we are done with this shit. No more morning sickness." She took the washcloth and ignored Bruce's half-smile. "We weren't trying to interrupt you and Alfred."
"Don't worry. Alfred will be here until he gets an explanation. I don't know if he will like it, but he'll get one." He rinsed a glass on the counter and filled it with water.
"But you want him back."
"If he wants to come back."
"He found you." The water she sipped stayed down. Selina turned to Stephanie. "I'm not sick, sweetie. You didn't have to run and get Bruce."
Stephanie's cupid bow mouth frowned. "You threw up. That's sick."
"Not when I'm going to have a baby. It's annoying, but normal, and hopefully done now."
Stephanie looked at Bruce. "Didn't you use the stuff?"
"The stuff to not make a baby."
"I remember being a lot older when I learned about that." Bruce's light tone didn't match his serious eyes.
"The ladies said they couldn't work if they got a baby so they used the stuff."
Selina wanted to punch everyone at the Evermonds in the face. Did no one even try to shield Stephanie from anything ugly? She hid her desire where Stephanie couldn't see it. "It's different for me and Bruce. We want the baby. But if you don't want a baby, you should use the stuff."
Stephanie's eyes welled with tears. "I'm gonna have a baby!" She jammed her fingers into her mouth. Selina reached for her, but she skidded back. "The bad man!" Her tears burst loose. "Just like the ladies."
Selina lunged and pulled Stephanie onto her lap. The little girl stiffened before her hand wrapped around Selina's bra strap and pulled herself against the larger torso. She hugged Stephanie. Bruce's arms wrapped around them both. "Biology doesn't work that way," he said gruffly.
"Only adults have babies." Selina rubbed Stephanie's back. "You're not having a baby because of the bad man."
Stephanie hiccupped as her sobbing wound down. "You're mad. I was bad."
"Not at you." Bruce kept talking. "You did nothing to deserve being hurt. But the bad man," he swallowed hard, "I am mad at the bad man."
"How mad?" Stephanie peered from under Selina's chin.
"I'd feed him some of Scarecrow's drugs and watch as he deals with his nightmares made real."
Stephanie sniffled. "No punching?"
"Punching last after he screamed himself hoarse."
"Nightwing put him in jail."
"And as long as he stays there, he's safe from me." Bruce's squeeze tightened. "No one will hurt you ever again."
"Okay." They sat on the bathroom's marble-tiled floor, arms interlocked around Stephanie. Selina brushed her head against Bruce's shoulder. Stephanie let go of Selina's bra strap. "I'm hungry."
"We're all hungry." Selina and Bruce let her go and climbed to their feet. "Let's get dressed." Selina found her knit blouse made a passable dress once the sleeves were rolled up and Bruce looped a thin belt around Stephanie's waist. He wiped her face while Selina put on a clean shirt and brushed her teeth. Then the girls took turns brushing hair while Bruce brushed his and shaved off his stubble.
The girls finished before him, and left the bathroom. Selina dropped the sheet onto the rumpled bed when they heard the thump and crack. "What was that?" Stephanie asked.
"A decorator's expense account jumping up and down." She looked down at Stephanie's confused face. "Never mind. Wait here while I get Bruce, okay?" She trotted back to the bathroom. Bruce stood in front of the wall with his fist against the cracked tile. "Feel better?" She pulled him to the sink.
"I kept telling myself that you got to her before the worst happened." He shook his head. "She didn't see?"
"You take out your anger on an innocent wall? No. But next time hold it in until you get to a punch bag." She put his hand under the cold running water. "I know she dropped a bomb on you right after Alfred did--"
"I'm not upset with Alfred," he interrupted.
Selina rolled her eyes. "For a man with a secret identity, you are a terrible liar."
"First aid supplies are in that cabinet." He pointed to the third stainless steel tall cabinet on the wall next to the massive shower. Selina found the gauze and tape on the shelf at eye level. "I'll do better next time," he said. "I don't want her learning my anger management skills."
"That sounds like a plan." She dried off his hand and studied the bruising. "Yeah, this won't take long to heal."
"What did you do to him, Stephanie's bad man?"
"Don't start that."
"No secrets, Selina."
She wrapped the tape around his hand and over the gauze on his knuckles. "We'll talk about it. But right now we have a four-year-old to feed because she's too scared of Alfred to get food from him."
"Right." He flexed his bandaged hand and the tape stayed in place.
Stephanie noticed it as soon as they got into the elevator to the first floor of the penthouse. "What happened?" she frowned.
"Punching a wall is not a good thing to do."
They found Alfred at the stove and toaster and Blake sat at the counter nursing a mug of coffee. Selina spied a wheeled cooler parked next to the refrigerator. She detoured to it.
Bruce scooped up Stephanie and set her on a stool. "Stephanie, this is Alfred Pennyworth. He took care of me after my parents died. Alfred, this is Stephanie and she's living with us now."
"Please to meet you, Miss Stephanie. I'm sorry for frightening you earlier."
"Okay. How come you talk funny?"
Selina wrapped a dish towel around the cold pack from the cooler. "No need to be that blunt, sweetie." She handed Bruce the ice pack and nudged him to the empty stool between Stephanie and Blake.
He sat, put his bandaged hand on the counter, and set the ice pack on top of his knuckles. "And this is Selina Kyle."
Alfred nodded at her. "A pleasure to formally meet you, Miss."
"Likewise." She sat on the last stool next to Stephanie.
"As for how I talk, Miss Stephanie, it's called an accent. I grew up in England and this is how we talk. Now how do you like your eggs?"
Stephanie's eyes widened and she tugged Selina's arm. Selina dropped her head down so the girl whispered in her ear, "I don't know how I like eggs."
"Try them scrambled and say please," Selina whispered back.
"Very good," Alfred beamed. "Scrambled all round?" Bruce nodded and accepted the mug of coffee Blake scooted in front of him. Blake held the pot up for Selina, and she nodded. A small juice glass full of milk was set down in front of Stephanie before Blake sat down again. Alfred whisked together fresh eggs into a bowl with practiced ease.
Bruce swallowed some coffee before broaching a new topic. "Gotham Bridge is open to everyone?"
"I would assume not at this point, Master Wayne. After finding the Manor empty, I decided it would be easiest to reach the bunker by boat. So I borrowed the Riva Aquariva you left in the Palisades Marina because it wasn't fast enough for you." Alfred poured the egg mixture into the sizzling pan.
Blake chuckled. "Hope you hid it on this side of the river. Bane sunk everything else that floated."
"It's well hidden, but available for use." The look Alfred shot Blake called him a fool for even thinking he would have not considered that and explained why the catering staff had feared him so. Selina hid her smile behind her coffee mug. "I did take the liberty of bringing fresh groceries and the goose is already in the oven."
"Did you bring any Cocoa Puffs?" Stephanie asked.
"I'm afraid not, Miss."
"We'll find you some as soon as the stores open," Bruce said. "But why a goose? We only have goose for Christmas."
"It is Christmas, Master Wayne." Alfred set down plates of toast and scrambled eggs in front of Selina and Stephanie first. "Christmas Day, in fact."
All the adults at the counter blinked at him as he served Blake and Bruce. Selina found her voice. "The kids at St. Swithin's said that they wrote to Santa and I completely forgot. Merry Christmas, where do you keep the tree?"
"Keep the tree?" Bruce asked.
Blake's laugh had a tinge of hysterical weariness to it. "We're not a household that does artificial, evidently." Alfred poured more coffee into his mug. "And nobody opened a tree lot this year."
Bruce had that same look on his face when Stephanie asked who else lived her last night, embarrassed that his standards were so far beyond normal.
"Bane stole Christmas like the Grinch?" Stephanie asked between bites of toast.
"The stuff to have Christmas. You can't steal Christmas," Blake said as he wiped his eyes. "So you didn't bust your hand to get out of decorating."
"He punched the wall because I talked about the bad man," Stephanie said into her milk.
Blake shook his head. "Don't get worked up over Cly. Selina didn't leave much for you to hit."
"What did she do?" Bruce asked.
"Later," Selina answered.
"She hit him with the whip," Stephanie said. "He screamed a lot." She shoveled scrambled eggs into her mouth. Bruce looked over her head at Selina.
"Don't give me that look. I was having a bad day and he's still breathing." She stabbed her eggs.
Bruce turned to Blake. "Are you heading out?"
"I still have a badge. But if Gordon doesn't need me, I'm going back to bed. Thanks for breakfast."
Alfred moved the empty dishes to the sink. "You are welcome, Detective Blake."
The young man left in the main elevator down to the garage. Selina shook her head. "I hope he has had enough coffee to stay awake." Alfred scooped up her and Bruce's plates. "You and Bruce go catch up; Stephanie and I can clean up."
Alfred stiffened. "I understand you are used to doing household tasks for yourself, but I--"
"Quit because Bruce was being an arrogant, neurotic mess," she interrupted.
"Ouch," Bruce said. "Accurate, but ouch." His eyes crinkled.
"So go talk and get rehired while Stephanie and I wash dishes because I know nothing about cooking goose."
Bruce stood and kissed her chastely. "Come on, Alfred. Neither one of us wants her to get the whip." Alfred's shrug was almost a throwing up of hands, but he followed the younger man down the penthouse to the staircase.
She poured Stephanie more milk, loaded the dishwasher, and turned it on before tackling the egg skillet. Order now restored to the kitchen, she and Stephanie headed upstairs via the elevator. Wherever the men had retreated to, it wasn't the master bedroom.
She found her now-charged cell phone and saw it had a signal. "Okay, let's go back downstairs. You can find cartoons while I make a couple of phone calls, okay?"
"I'll be quiet," Stephanie promised.
Catwoman's communicator chirped. She hoped nothing had happened to Blake this quickly as she grabbed it off her black work belt. "Hello?"
"I wrote off that odd phone call from Alfred as something I dreamed last night, an unexpected side effect of the pain killers," Fox said. "So imagine my surprise when I really woke up, turned on GCN, and saw Bruce Wayne alive and helping GCPD. It's the headline story of the day so far."
Selina winced at his dry tone as they got in the elevator again. "Lucius, I am so sorry. He woke up from surgery saying he wanted to keep Bruce Wayne dead. I didn't know what to tell you when you called."
"I'll forgive you if you sit on him long enough for me to chew him out."
Stephanie ran at full speed to the television sitting area. Selina followed at a slower pace. "If Alfred leaves me anything to sit on, I will."
Fox chuckled, "So Alfred tracked you down."
"We're at Bruce's penthouse."
"I'm on my way."
Selina clipped the communicator to the waistband of her pants. "We have company coming, so don't scream at them."
"Okay." Stephanie pointed at the television. "I found Frosty."
"That's a good one to watch. I've got two calls left to make."
"Okay." She climbed into the armchair closest to the glass wall facing the television.
Best to take care of the business call while everyone was distracted. Selina went to the end of her contacts list as she wandered toward the fire pit.