Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 10
Bruce glared at his latest printout. Fox had suggested ways to sway the crowd in his emailed critique, but none of them worked. The whole speech felt as artificial as the bimbos with the billionaire routine had always felt. He dropped the paper onto his library desk next to his pen. He wanted to pound this frustration into a punching bag, but had promised Selina and Alfred to not exercise until the end of January. His eyes fell onto a cardboard bankers' box Alfred had suggested he go through yesterday. It was a better alternative than starting the damn speech over.
He moved his chair in front of the box and lifted the lid. It was full of things kept in the library nine years ago before they moved into the rebuilt Manor. The stuff must not be that important if they had left it stored in the penthouse. The topmost item was a pile of papers dealing with his payment to the Moscow Ballet. He dropped those in the trash can.
Next he found a campaign photograph of Harvey Dent, another copy of the one Bane had torn up outside of Blackgate. He leaned back with a sigh. He had failed Dent. If he had stayed with him, had stopped the Joker from preying on his mind, his victims wouldn't have died, Gordon's family wouldn't have been terrorized, and the Dent Act travesty never would have passed.
He shook his head. It was past time to look beyond that catalogue of failures. He couldn't bring back the dead, but maybe he could finally convince the politicians to repeal that horrible Dent Act. After all, nobody returned to Blackgate would qualify for parole within their lifetimes after the Occupation. He jotted down a note about that and set Harvey's photograph aside.
A small velvet box inside the larger box hit his hand. He stared at the modest emerald earrings and remembered he meant to send them to Natasha and forgot about it dealing with the Joker. He should ask Selina if they'd make a good gift for Stephanie or Jen. He set the box down on the desk and pulled out an eight-by-ten picture frame.
Rachel looked back at him. It wasn't the picture he had at the Manor next to his parents. That was one her mother had picked out for her funeral. This picture he took back when he was on break from Princeton and she had finished her accelerated law school classes. She had wanted something artsy for the announcements. They had found an old, wall-sized mirror in the Manor and used it as a prop. Bruce loved how this photograph turned out, sexy and serious with her blue spaghetti-strapped dress and her confident smirk, and kept it on his desk.
He missed her. She should be here: trading pregnancy secrets with Selina, teasing him for offering Selina a job, telling Stephanie to call her Aunt Rachel. Now that she was free from being his one chance at a normal life, his guilt over failing her had eased and let him miss his best friend who had tried to understand him and loved the part of him that she had.
"I know your name is on the building," Selina said as she opened the library door, "and the show is limited to locals and National Guard troops this year, but we still have to get to Wayne Tower." She strutted to his desk wearing dark jeans and a familiar black sweater that swallowed her. "I knew you weren't working on your speech."
"I was until I got sick of it." She tugged the picture frame and he let it go. "That's Rachel."
She looked at the photograph with a blank expression. He wondered what she was trying to hide from him. "The infamous Rachel, nice dress," she said.
"In this group at least." She pushed the desk lamp aside and perched on the desk.
"You've seen her before. Nikolai Ondrejko's fingerprints were on her picture at the Manor."
She chuckled. "If you had been a normal reclusive billionaire, those would have confused the police for weeks. Still if you're going to set up a shrine in here, you better take a picture of me now before I get all fat."
"You're volunteering because I have a photograph of the infamous Rachel on my desk?"
"I'm not trying to be derogatory. She earned your loyalty, so an adjective seems called for."
He dropped his teasing tone. "We shared so much. It isn't right that she's not here. She should be the one to hold our baby once Alfred releases him or her."
"Really?" Her blank mask was back.
Bruce stood, cupped her head, and pulled her into a kiss. He leaned back to breathe. "You've got no reason to be jealous of Rachel's memory."
"Feel free to demonstrate that any time you have the urge." Her brown eyes looked through her long eyelashes at him.
He kissed her again for looking at him like that. "I'm taking a photo of you for my desk as soon as I find a camera." He took back the picture frame.
"You need to get through your speech first, then worry about decorating." She twisted and picked up his printout. She read over it. "Okay, problem number one, don't bring up the Dent Act, that will confuse everyone. Problem number two, you don't know the difference between a speech and a street brawl."
He scowled since Selina wasn't put off by it. "I'm not lying to the people of Gotham. They've been lied to enough."
"There's a big difference between lying, sugar-coating, and beating them into submission with words."
"Lucius said I was too blunt."
"Lucius' edits are too much sugar-coating even if he is right. You need to tell people the same thing you told me. Why you started ignoring the details."
The internal recoil to that idea jerked up his chin. "That's personal."
"It's the best way to woo them into following the Prince of Gotham City."
"I've always hated that title."
Selina slid off the desk and leaned over him. "I know. But Gotham has a history of being ruled behind the scenes. If you don't do it, a power-hungry asshole will fill the vacuum and then we'll all be in trouble."
Bruce pulled her onto his lap. "You know they will cast you as my Cinderella."
"As long as we know who saved who."
He shifted his arms around her before he kissed her. A small foot stomped at the door. "We're never gonna see fireworks if you just stay here kissing," Stephanie said.
"We're coming." Selina got off his lap. "Do you have your sweater and coat?"
"Wearing my sweater." Stephanie tugged on the colorful, winter-themed one she had on. "Alfred has all the coats by the elevator."
"Okay, Bruce needs to put on his sweater and then we can go."
He stood up and pulled his blue sweater off the back of his chair. "Is that my sweater you're wearing?"
She smirked. "I liked it better than mine."
Alfred pressed a full picnic basket on them as they put on their coats. "The event is different for those with backstage access."
"Bruce told me we get bathrooms," Selina grinned.
"Indeed, but refreshments are not available and Miss Stephanie is liable to get hungry before the show begins."
"Are you sure you don't want to come, Alfred?" Bruce zipped his leather coat.
"I can see the fireworks fine from right here, sir. And I'll have hot cocoa ready when you return."
Selina drove the silver Lexus SUV they had bought when Blake returned the car he had commandeered. "I don't think I realized how many tourists came out for this until this year. Driving has never been this easy."
"I haven't been in years," Bruce admitted. Since the year after his parents died, when he discovered he hated the crowd focused on the richest orphan in America.
They parked a couple of blocks away in a parking garage reserved for workers and participants in the ball drop show. A National Guard soldier bore down on them as they unloaded. "You're not authorized to park here." His hand hovered over his sidearm.
Stephanie cringed against his chest as he lifted her out of her car seat. "The Wayne family is authorized to be here," Bruce answered as he kept the child in his arms shielded. "Do you need to see I.D.?"
"Here comes someone who can probably vouch for us." Selina nodded at a long-legged, young man striding toward them. She turned enough to be unthreatening, but her grip was tight on the basket's handle to swing it as a weapon.
"Mr. Wayne!" The badge clipped to the young man's jacket read Steve. "Mr. Strauss was afraid you decided not to come." Steve led them away from the disgruntled soldier and down a path created with metal barricades down sidewalks and across intersections. Wayne Square was on the west side of Wayne Tower, so they didn't have to postpone the ball drop thanks to the damage the bomb truck did on the south side of the building. The barricade path ended behind the screens erected to block behind the stage and a check point where another intern let them pass.
Selina pressed closer to him once they were backstage and stepped out of the way of the man dragging electrical wire. "I'm glad I never wanted to go into show business."
"It's not normally this crazy." A pot-bellied man with thinning red hair handed a clipboard to Steve and stretched his hand out to Bruce. "Of course you would pick the year that we had no time to plan to end your boycott."
Bruce shook it while holding Stephanie. "I promised Stephanie fireworks. Selina, this is Jeff Strauss, he puts on the ball drop ceremony. "Strauss, Selina Kyle."
"And I've enjoyed everyone I've been to." Selina shook Strauss' hand.
He laughed. "I like you, Ms. Kyle. We've got an area set up for you, but it's got the heater so people will be in and out to get warm." He led them around the stage to a couple of beat-up sofas under a tall patio heater. A couple of teenagers got up and faded away. Strauss shook his head. "If you can shoo them back to their jobs after they've thawed out that would be a big help. I gotta go feed the ego of the show's volunteer entertainment."
"We'll stay out of the way." Bruce set Stephanie on her feet as Strauss left them. "Are you all right?"
"So many people." She peeked around the end of the sofa.
"Stay close to me and Bruce so you don't get stepped on," Selina said.
"That's not funny."
Bruce bit back his smile. He split his attention between watching their surroundings, Stephanie, and pondering what Selina had told him about his speech. He trusted her viewpoint and her ideas on how to fix the speech.
Celebrities drifted in and out of the backstage rest area, not that Bruce recognized them personally. He knew the signs of fawning from the workers. He let Selina take the lead since she knew their music. But they all knew him and commented on his saving the ball drop show got them to volunteer their talents after harrowing stays in the Dungeon or surviving by hiding. He admired one rapper's strategy when Bane's Army and disgruntled people showed up on his doorstep; he invited them in for a party. "I'll never replace all that booze, but it beat the Dungeon, dog."
He left to perform and Selina turned to Bruce. "Fess up. Why do they keep saying you saved the show?"
"Strauss has been giving me too much credit. I just accessed one of the offshore accounts and gave the Wayne Square Alliance a donation for the fireworks."
"You never were as broke as the news reports claimed."
"In their defense, I didn't save it under my name." And when the light bursts reflected in Stephanie's delighted eyes, he didn't resent the credit at all.
Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 14
Fox double-checked his note cards as he stood in the anteroom of Wayne Enterprises public conference room. The door to the hallway opened, and Bruce ushered Selina and Stephanie inside. "Brought Alfred too?" Fox asked.
"Stephanie doesn't like staying at the penthouse with Alfred," Bruce said.
"You don't think we make a nice showing of moral support?" Selina smirked, but her chic black dress and jacket matched Bruce's severe black business suit. Stephanie's mauve dress matched Bruce's tie and she wore a black cardigan over it.
"We need more chairs on the stage," Fox replied.
"They're staying back here." Bruce nodded at the muted television already turned to the closed circuit channel for the conference room. "You'll be able to see me make a fool out of myself."
"Please, we all know you only make a fool out of yourself on purpose." Selina's hand grazed Bruce's before she headed to the couch in front of the television set. "It won't cause feedback or anything to turn the sound on?"
Fox shook his head. "This room is soundproofed. Ready, Mr. Wayne?"
Bruce gave a curt nod. Fox already felt sorry for the reporter who asked the wrong question. They closed the door behind them and looked over the sea of faces and cameras, television and photograph. He strode to the podium at the front of the stage while Bruce sat on the stage to his left in one of the two chairs placed there.
"Thank you all for coming. Wayne Enterprises was in the news prior to the Occupation concerning the ouster of then president Bruce Wayne. The SEC proved fraud on Mr. Wayne's behalf and Wayne Enterprises' Board of Directors reinstated him as CEO last Friday. Now I'm turning the announcements over to Mr. Wayne."
They exchanged places and Fox focused on Bruce. Bruce swore Selina helped him knock the rough edges of what he had planned to say. Now was the moment of truth. The reporters all focused on Bruce; most of them were used to Wayne Enterprises announcements being handled by Fox or Fredericks.
"Thank you, Mr. Fox," Bruce started firmly. "Eight years ago, I steered Wayne Enterprises to build a fusion nuclear reactor, what in many circles was decried as a save-the-world vanity project. It wasn't for me though; it was for the people of Gotham. My father," he paused for a wry expression. "People tell me he partied more than I did until my mother focused him on charity. I knew him after he built the elevated rail system for the city. I wanted to give Gotham clean, safe, and inexpensive energy because of the example Thomas Wayne set for me. The city has been good to my family, and everyone deserves that same fortune. Miranda Tate invested in the reactor project as well."
The reporters stirred at the mention of the briefly-tenured CEO. Bruce let them settle again. "I shuttered the reactor project when Dr. Pavel's paper on how to weaponize the design was published and decided the best thing I could do for Gotham was to let it be. I am sorry," Bruce paused to swallow hard, "sorrier than I can put into words that we did not dismantle it entirely. Since I didn't, all Bane had to do was organize a takeover of Wayne Enterprises and steal it. Miranda Tate, who I trusted because of her involvement with the project, was part of his terrorist group."
"Can that be confirmed?" A reporter on the front row interrupted.
"Commissioner Gordon gave us permission to inform the public before his press conference tomorrow. He will have more details about the investigation. The people of Gotham deserve the truth. This is an ugly truth and one I deeply regret, but I still believe in Gotham City. Wayne Enterprises is moving forward on rebuilding it. Our building crews reported two days ago to the Department of Public Works and started repairs to the Downtown infrastructure and bridges destroyed during the Occupation. We are also in talks with supplying the police department with the non-lethal weapons that ended the siege in Grant with no loss of life. Manufacturing will be done in Gotham, creating new jobs for all sectors of the economy." Bruce fanned his cards before tucking them into his jacket. "That's all I have, ladies and gentlemen. Any questions?"
"Can you give us any more details on this deal with the police department?" Vicky Vale asked.
"Of course, once we have a signed contract."
"As one of the few companies functioning in Gotham City, do you have any plans for any mergers?"
"Not at this current time."
Another reporter lifted his digital recorder. "Mr. Wayne, you eluded to your mother's influence on your father's behavior. Is the mysterious brunette spotted in your company recently responsible for the change in yours?"
Bruce's posture didn't change from what Fox could see. "No more questions. Have a nice day, everyone, and thank you for coming." He turned from the podium and Fox met him at the door into the anteroom. The younger man waited until the door shut between them and the reporters. "That went well."
"Better than I expected," Fox admitted, "especially considering the last question."
"Speculation about my private life will not be tolerated at business functions."
"You may have been a bit too subtle with your displeasure with that," Selina said from the couch.
"I'll repeat myself until it sinks in," Bruce said. "Ready to move me into my office?"
"Sure, let's get the staff gossiping now." Selina took Stephanie's hand as they headed to the door that bypassed the public foyer.
Fox followed after them with a small smile on his face. Tom, if you could see your son now.