Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 223
Helena's cry woke Selina. The other side of the bed was empty and cold. She waited to hear Bruce's voice through the intercom in the nursery, but only Helena cried again. She slid out from under the sheets, wrapped her robe around her, and went across the hall to the bedroom to the left of Stephanie's.
The nursery was empty of anyone but Helena kicking in her crib. So much for Bruce beating her here. "Oh my fierce girl, are you hungry?" It was time to feed and Helena didn't sleep through meal times. She sat in the rocking chair. Her daughter latched onto her breast, letting Selina think in the quiet.
Helena was eight-weeks-old, and Bruce had yet to sleep through the night again. His nightmares were quiet and he always managed to sneak away if she was sleeping, but that was what worried her. Why did he keep sneaking away?
Selina changed Helena's diaper before putting her back in the crib. Her tiny face scrunched up and she wailed again. "What's a matter? You want to go for a walk? Okay, let's go find your daddy." She stopped at the laptop in their bedroom. None of the other computers on the network were in use, including the Batcomputer. Helena squirmed and Selina adjusted her hold. "Okay, okay, we're walking now." As long as they moved, the squirming stopped. She went down the hall and down the stairs.
The silence of the mansion was broken by a thunk against wood. She remembered that sound and turned into the east wing drawing room. Sure enough, the light was on in the parlor beyond it. She pushed the ajar door open further.
Bruce pulled the string of the composite bow back with his left hand. This arrow hit the colored section of the target hung on the wooden armoire. He pulled the second arrow back with his right hand and that shot nestled with the two already in the bull's-eye.
Helena protested with a kick and a small cry when Selina stopped moving. Bruce turned and set the bow on the marble-topped table holding the arrows. "I'll put it away before Stephanie wakes up."
"Why don't you get a real archery target instead of using the furniture?"
He took the squirming infant and swayed with her. "I have a target. Alfred refused to have it in the house and I refuse to light up the grounds when I want to practice archery at night."
Selina stretched her arm that had held Helena. "So why are you practicing archery at night? You have back-to-back meetings with Wayne Enterprises, Revitalize Gotham, and the Foundation in the daylight today."
"I would have worn you out if you just asked."
"That hasn't stopped the nightmares."
"And this does?" She touched the bow.
"Nothing does." His face drooped in a way she last remembered seeing in this room almost a year ago. It didn't help that he was dressed nearly the same way that he had been then. "At least this gives me something else to focus on to shut up the rest."
Selina peered at Helena's closed eyes and open mouth resting on his shoulder. "She's finally asleep. Put the archery set away and help me put her to bed." He passed the sleeping baby to her arms, picked up the arrows and bow from the table, and carried them to the armoire. He pulled the arrows free of the paper target and the wood underneath but crumpled the target and pitched it into the wastebasket.
He adjusted the intercom while Selina laid Helena in her crib. The baby exhaled a tiny sigh but didn't open her eyes. Selina seized Bruce's hand as they crept out of the nursery. His shoulders slumped as she led them into their bedroom.
She didn't pull him to the bed, but the breakfast table. His eyebrows knit together as they sat. "Why haven't you talked to me about it? You've told me about other nightmares."
"I didn't want to worry you."
"Lover, we're way past that point." Bruce winced. "No secrets," she added, "or I'll go brush up on KGB interrogation techniques."
"You think a gulag is worse than this tomb?" He sagged in the chair and rubbed his face.
Selina raised her eyebrows. She suspected it might be location based. His nightmares hadn't been as bad in the penthouse and he hadn't relied on what Alfred called his bad habits to avoid sleep there. So much for all of them living here dispelling the gloom.
"It's a nightmare I've had since childhood." His uncovered eyes focused on the table between them. "I'm walking through the Manor, turn a corner and I'm in the ballroom at my parents' funeral."
"Their funeral was here?"
He nodded. "I thought changing the décor when we rebuilt would be enough to stop it. No such luck, now it's not just my parents and Alfred; it's you, the girls, Jen, and John."
"God, Bruce, I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything. I'm well aware of how morbid I am."
"And this dream didn't change when I got myself kidnapped?" He flinched before he caught himself. She stood in front of his chair. "So I insist on making you feel better."
"What did you have in mind?"
She combed her fingers into his brown hair and tipped his head back further. He craved physical affection, but for eight weeks, he had been considerate and refrained from anything while she healed. She dropped her mouth on his before straddling his lap.
He wrapped his arms around her, anchoring her against him as her hands moved down to his shoulders. Their kiss broke and he gasped for air while her lips rasped against his stubble-covered jaw. His lean fingers got under her robe and nightgown to squeeze her thighs and ass.
She moaned with the pressure. Her hands pushed the robe off his shoulders. "Are you trying to tie me up?" he asked before sucking on her collarbone.
"Do you want me to?"
His breath caught. "Not this time." He shrugged out of the robe one arm at a time and then untied hers. She dropped her arms to her sides and he tugged the robe off.
Her hands slid under the T-shirt he wore with his pajama pants. His muscles bunched under her touch. His fingers traced the curve of her back before finding the edge of her nightgown. He kissed his way down her breast. "The nursing bra has to stay on," she reminded him.
"Pity," he muttered before burying his face in her cleavage.
She raked her fingernails across his torso. His hands roamed down her body and tightened on her ass again. This time he lifted her when he stood. She latched onto his shoulders until he lowered her on the mattress. He shucked off his T-shirt while she peeled off her nightgown. She ended up on top of him, kissing every scar across his body, and riding him until they both climaxed.
He laid back and she rested her head on his shoulder and then draped her left arm and leg over him for good measure. "Brain shut off yet?" she asked.
"No, but I appreciate the effort." He kissed her forehead.
"Lay here with me?" His body needed to rest even if he couldn't face sleep.
His arms tightened around her. "I'll stay."
Selina dozed off after that, but it felt entirely too soon before Bruce was stirring again. "Stay in bed," he said with a kiss. "But I need a shower."
The room was bright enough; he had stayed past dawn at least. "Fine," she slid off of him. "Go get ready for your meetings."
He kissed her again on the lips this time before leaving the bed. She glanced at the clock. Alfred would be in soon with breakfast and Helena would wake up for hers. She retrieved her robe and stared out the window.
Nothing Bruce had told her changed her plans for the day. If anything, it made them more necessary. She stared at the forest that filled in the Wayne Manor grounds beyond the acres of grass. The entrance to the cave was out of sight in that direction.
Alfred brought their breakfast tray in while she was still at the window. "Good morning, Missus Selina. I hope you slept well."
"I slept." She moved to the table. "Married life is not what I thought it would be."
"While I don't have any personal experience, I understand that's a common enough feeling." Helena wailed through the intercom. "I'll go get the little Miss."
Selina swallowed down her juice and some water before settling Helena on her breast with Alfred's help. Bruce joined them in his crisp, white Oxford shirt and grey slacks. "Late nights doesn't bother her any." He touched Helena's hair and kissed Selina before sitting down.
"All she has to do is eat and sleep. How are you functioning?"
He drained his green juice. "Don't worry. Lucius knows how to run the board meetings if I pass out."
"After much practice," Alfred said.
Bruce picked up the printout next to his plate. "Why is there a meeting with Lorry after the Wayne Enterprises board meeting?"
"Because the inventory of personal property is complete and it was either meet with him today or he would camp out here all weekend," Alfred said. "I picked the lesser of two evils for you."
"Thank you, Alfred. But we haven't even discussed options yet."
Helena finished nursing and Selina shifted her to her shoulder to burp. "Go get the options Lorry has thought up. Then he won't feel like you're avoiding him again. And you're staying in bed all night tonight. I'll tie you down to make sure."
"I'll have you know I am an escape artist."
She matched his smirk. "But you won't want to."
Bruce had to leave before Selina finished eating. It was Alfred's day to have the cleaning service in, so Selina promised to keep the girls from underfoot. She dressed in a pair of jeans that fit and sturdy boots. She fastened on her Cartier's bracelet. Last thing she wanted was Bruce to panic about them getting lost.
Stephanie's room was Selina's first stop. "Morning, sweetie. We're going hiking today." She set down Helena and the bouncer before going into Stephanie's closet.
"What's hiking?" Stephanie left her play kitchen to hang on the closet doorjamb.
"A long walk through the woods." She found a pair of jeans, T-shirt, and a long-sleeved, button-up shirt to wear over it. "Let's go to the bathroom and get dressed."
Helena took even less time to dress in an onesie than getting Stephanie ready. Stephanie helped by packing the diaper bag with extras of everything. Helena snuggled against Selina's chest in the infant pack carrier as Selina knocked on Blake's bedroom door. "Up and at 'em, Boy Wonder."
Blake opened the door already dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and heavy-duty khaki pants. "I hate you with a fiery passion right now."
"And if the Riddler or Bane found this potential back door?" She held up a folded map of the Manor grounds.
"I'm awake now, aren't I?"
Stephanie wrapped her arms around his legs. "You don't hate Mommy, do you, Uncle John?"
"No, I don't, I'm just grumpy." He ruffled her hair. "No one else can follow your research, right?"
"The maps are public access, but I have the key in my possession."
"And we're surprising Bruce." He handed her a palm-sized radio that had a belt clip attached to its back. "Fox swears these can talk to outer space, but I think testing its range at the greenhouse is our first step."
"Okay, where's the rest of your gear?"
"In the cave already. And I better go before the cleaners get here."
They avoided Alfred and Jen who was getting ready for her lunch date and split up on the ground floor: Blake into the study and Selina took the girls out via the west wing patio. "When can I go see the Batcave?" Stephanie asked as they headed down the lawn steps.
"Why did you call it that?" Selina was certain they hadn't referred to the wildlife that lived in it in Stephanie's presence.
"It's where all the Batman stuff is, right? So when can I go?"
"When you're older and after you learn how to swim. I'm thinking ten."
"That's so far away."
"Something to look forward to." Selina stopped next to the locked greenhouse in the formal garden. "Reached the greenhouse," she said into the radio. "You ready?"
"Read you just fine. Rope secured, helmet headlight on. The compass direction for the underground river is northwest."
Selina unfolded her map. "That's the same quadrant the lodge is supposed to be according to the 1820 survey." She turned northwest. That direction would take them around the rear of the mansion's hill and into the nearest arm of the forest. "Okay, we're setting out." She clipped the radio onto her waistband and picked up a set of heavy duty hedge shears. "This way, Stephanie."
Stephanie darted ahead until they got among the old growth, and returned to Selina's side. "These trees are as big as buildings."
"Nobody needed to cut them down."
There wasn't a path, but there wasn't thick undergrowth to cut a path through either. Stephanie touched every trunk they passed. Selina switched which shoulder the diaper bag hung from and carried the hedge shears in the opposite hand.
The radio clicked. "Selina, I think you are onto something. There are posts sunk close to the wall for a narrow deck. Somebody wanted to walk down here without wading," Blake said.
"The way is clear?"
"Wide enough for the Tumbler. Since I'm not wearing a wetsuit, I haven't tried to see how deep the middle is."
The ground under foot changed. She could see the remains of a cobblestone path. The undergrowth that surrounded them now was hedges allowed to grow into small trees. The branches also had grown together into a wall across the stone path. "I think we've found it, but I have to cut a path. Selina out."
"Stephanie, I need you to sit next to this tree while I cut through." She set down the diaper bag and made sure the carrier protected Helena's face.
Stephanie moved the diaper bag to her lap and watched Selina give the pair of hedges a lopsided trim. "The gardeners wouldn't like that."
"They can make it pretty later. We have to stay with Uncle John." Selina pulled the cut branches out of the way. "We can fit through that, let's go."
Stephanie carried the diaper bag through the hole in the hedge. Grass and small trees pushed through the stone drive in front of what was left of the house. The roof that had capped the three-story, brick, colonial Georgian mansion was gone and a maple tree spread its branches where it had been and through the missing third floor side wall. A few panes of glass still clung to some upper windows. A small pediment was supported over the front door by a pair of pilasters, but the front door had fallen off the hinges a long time past. The whole thing would fit in one wing of the current Wayne Manor.
"Is this what we were looking for?" Stephanie asked.
"Yes, this is the house that the Wayne family lived in before they built the Manor we live in." Selina unclipped the radio. "John, we found the lodge."
"Holy sh-eets, Selina! You were right. There's steps carved in the rocks down here."
"Trust me to find the forgotten back door. Can you get out?"
"I see daylight. The basement wall eroded away."
Selina peered in through the front door. "I think the floor has rotted away too." Helena kicked in the carrier and wailed. "Hang tight, John. That is Helena's diaper change cry."
"Roger. I'll poke around down here."
She found a rootless spot on the ground for a baby blanket. The cell phone rang while she was wiping Helena's butt. "Answer it, please, Stephanie."
Stephanie found the phone in the diaper bag's outer pocket. "Hi, Daddy, we're hiking. Mommy's changing Helena. We found a broken house in the woods and Uncle John is underground."
"Should I pack a ladder as well as lunch?" Bruce's voice said over the phone's speaker phone function. "Alfred's put out that you didn't tell him you were leaving for hours."
Selina's radio cackled. "Selina, did you plan on a dead body being down here?" Blake asked.
"I heard that," Bruce said. "Where are you?"
"At the broken house," Stephanie answered. "It must be a tree house."
"I'm wearing my bracelet," Selina said as she scooted a clean diaper under Helena. Then she answered the radio. "I wasn't expecting a dead body." She put it down and drew the diaper around Helena's legs.
"Mommy's wearing her cat bracelet," Stephanie said helpfully to Bruce.
"He's not fresh dead, but we still have to call the police," Blake said through the radio.
"I'm on my way," Bruce said through the phone.
"Okay, bye," Stephanie said. Selina rolled her eyes as she buttoned the onesie around Helena's kicking legs.