The Dark Knight Rises: Weapon of the Shadows

Chapter Twenty-Two

Summer in Florence, Italy was cool this year. Alfred Pennyworth needed a light jacket as he left his hotel. Or maybe his old bones felt the chill sharper now. It had been a hard spring, probably the hardest he had ever lived through. If one ignored the personal pain, the previous four months held so much success. The children thrived at Wayne House. The Wayne Foundation secured charitable funding to rebuild Gotham, and the competent people he had hired saw that the money was spent on projects to improve the city or those directly affected by the Occupation.

He shuffled his newspaper between his hands as he pulled out his cell phone. He scrolled through the messages. His assistant wanted an answer if he wanted to present the scholarships to the children of the officers who died in a ceremony or not. He tucked the phone into his jacket pocket as the waiter approached him. Alfred put that decision off until tomorrow as he sat and ordered his Fernet-Branco.

The newspaper didn't hold his interest when a young couple two tables away him laughed. A black-haired man and a blonde woman leaned closer together, both of them strangers. Of course, they're strangers, you bloody old fool. They will always be strangers now that he buried the boy.

Alfred drained the tiny glass, and the bitter taste squared his shoulders. He'd go back to the hotel for supper. Bad habits didn't tempt him there. He pulled out his wallet and his gaze drifted across the café tables. His hands froze and he blinked.

A familiar face stared back at him a few tables away. Bruce Wayne--alive, relaxed, and dressed like a man on holiday--tipped up one corner of his mouth and nodded. The young brunette woman sitting with him turned her head. Alfred recognized the cat burglar's profile as well as the pearl necklace she wore.

He did it. He finally found someone to fill that hole in his heart. But Alfred only nodded. He set his payment on the table and moved to the door of the café. He'd leave before he broke down and ruined their cover.

A small hand seized his before he went through the door. He looked at a little Asian moppet with brown hair braided into two pigtails down her back. Her blue cheongsam top was closed with pink frogs that matched the embroidered flowers on it. "No leave," she told him.

The smile raised his lips more easily now than it would have this morning. "And why not, little miss?"

"Eat with my family."

She tugged him back inside while Alfred thought of how to apologize to her tourist parents for being misidentified and dragged around by their daughter. A chair scraped the floor and Bruce stood up. The apology floated off his tongue.

Selina's amused voice filled the vacuum. "Send her to wash her hands and she comes back with a date. You did wash your hands?"

The little girl climbed into her seat across the table. "I washed."

Bruce clasped Alfred's hand and smiled. "Join us for supper, please."

"Yes, please," Selina echoed.

Alfred blinked away the wetness in his eyes. "I'd be happy to."

He settled into the last chair and Bruce began introductions. "Selina, you've met."

"Briefly." Her wide mouth stretched into a grin. "Did you bring the baby book?"

"I hope he didn't." Bruce smirked, but his eyes were warm. "And this is our daughter, Cassandra." The moppet looked up from the red cat figurine she danced on the tablecloth and grinned.

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