Disclaimer: I do not own the Dark Knight Rises or the rest of the Nolanverse Batman and I make no money off this work.
The characters Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and Alfred Pennyworth as used in this story come from the Dark Knight Rises movie. The character Princess Diana of Themyscira originates with DC Comics, and I revised her origin in Batman: Entwined Fates.
This story is set after Signs and Portents: Entwined Fates and the day after the final scene in the Dark Knight Rises takes place.
Selina blinked as she heard the music from Rampiamo, rampiano, che il tempo ci gabba erupt in their dark bedroom. Bruce rolled away and groped for his cell phone on the nightstand. "What is it?" He growled in his Batman voice.
She wasn't surprised. He had deflected her questions of why that selection from the opera Mefistofele was Batman's ringtone, but he always answered it in character. Even before dawn when one of the few people who had the number called.
"That wasn't part of our agreement." Bruce sat up. "Who talked!" She heard the shrill panic through the speaker, but the words were indistinct. "I'll decide that for myself." Bruce ended the call with a jab of his thumb. "I miss working with Gordon," he said normally.
"What's wrong?" Selina scooted to lean against the headboard.
"A news story has been published on the breakup of the League of Shadows." He turned on the bedside lamp. "And that capes led the attack."
"But they're all captured now; what's the problem?"
"It didn't need to mention us at all."
"But there's no more strategic advantage to being hidden, right?"
Bruce's frown tightened. "Depends on how this reporter learned about us. Were they chasing the League or chasing us?"
Her mind whirred. Her plans for the daylight hours didn't include humoring his paranoia. But at the same time, his paranoia kept them safe. "I don't think the leak is from us, and if that call was from your Interpol friend, he must think there's something to deflect from his organization."
"Your professional opinion?" Bruce's frown eased.
"It's either a leak you threatened them not to have or Agent Verdi is good at C.Y.A. What's your plan?"
"Anything else you want to do in Rome?" He tossed back the bedcovers.
"I got tickets to go to the Galleria degli Uffizi today. If you need me to keep you calm, okay, but you get more out of the law enforcement types without me."
He stopped walking to their en suite bathroom. "We were going to Uffizi today?"
"You weren't invited after the way you acted at the Galleria dell'Accademia. So go to Rome with a clear conscious."
"I wasn't that bad," he muttered as he headed into the bathroom.
She pulled on her thick terrycloth robe. She walked through the second floor living room and dining room and entered the attached medieval tower. The stairs led down to the tower's ground floor, which previous owners had converted into a cellar with patio access. Bruce locked both doors and filled the bottommost room with computers and other equipment. She put in her code, and settled at the computer desk.
He found her reading the article an hour later, and handed her a mug of coffee. "What have you found out?"
"I would love to be a fly on the wall when Lois Lane reams Homeland Security." Selina set down her mug and passed his laptop to him. "I downloaded a copy of the article and Ms. Lane's dossier. Got you a ticket on the Italo 18003, an hour and twenty-five minutes trip but they have WiFi available if you need to do more research."
"Lois Lane is the reporter?" He sipped his coffee.
"From the Daily Planet in Metropolis, and either they don't like her or she's an adrenaline junkie. She has reported from every problem area of the decade. Won a Pulitzer Prize for her story on famine in East Africa. She may have been in Uzbekistan and just stumbled on what we were doing."
"I hope." He set his empty mug down on the desk. "But if she thinks we're newsworthy?"
"The tone of this article is thank you capes for ending a terrorist threat that attacked an American city twice, now why couldn't the government manage that with Homeland Security?" Selina grinned at the screen. "It's ruthless!"
"Ah." He plucked his ticket confirmation off the printer before tipping her head up. "You do like ruthlessness."
She pulled him down for a kiss. "You're my favorite ruthlessness. Want breakfast before you go?"
"I'll get something on the train." His fingers combed into her long brown hair. "Leave the artwork in the museum."
"What if I find something I must have for the house?"
"Buy a print in the gift shop." He kissed her again.
She poured herself a bowl of cereal after Bruce left, and poured out the cold mug of coffee. The sunlight eased into the windows and bounced against the white walls of the kitchen and connected living room on the second floor. She sat at the table and pulled a print out from her robe's pocket.
Agent Antonio Verdi deserved something for distracting Bruce. She could have found Bruce's hacking into hotel reservations, but doing it while Bruce could catch her at it decreased the appeal. Her target was staying at the Four Seasons until next week. Not to mention it could occur to Bruce to ask who the second ticket to the Uffizi was for if he was still at home. Verdi saved her hours of tracking her target from last night's café and deflecting Bruce's observational skills. He deserved something besides Batman growling at him. Maybe a fruit basket fashioned like a bouquet.
Heavy footsteps descended from the bedroom suite in the attic. Selina tucked the print out into her pocket. Diana dropped into the chair opposite Selina and then dropped her wavy black head onto the table. "Why must I get up at this insane hour?" she groaned.
"Because you didn't listen to Bruce and scheduled classes way too early." Selina poured her a mug of coffee and set it down in front of her eyes.
Diana pushed herself upright. "He's not awake yet?"
"He went to Rome. A reporter told the world that we took down the League of Shadows. Bruce is off to make sure they don't know who Batman, Catwoman, and whatever Interpol called you really are."
"As long as it is not Greek Goddess. I do not want worshippers." She gulped the coffee. "But why am I pretending to be something I am not? Is it only to keep people I care about safe?"
"Bruce isn't wrong." Selina rinsed her cereal bowl in the kitchen sink. "But it also frees you to do what Princess Diana can't. Like enrolling in classes and learning how badly patriarchy has screwed us up. That'll make teaching us the Amazon way easier."
Diana blinked. "You invoke my charge? But you call it an excuse for my mother to exile me from Themyscira?"
"I'm not the one who has to go to class in an hour. Cereal?" She shook the box.
A Greek oath exploded from the princess when she checked the clock. "Thank you, but no, I will eat on campus." She scooped up the text books she had left scattered in the living room. She looked over the half-walls separating the kitchen from the living room. "You are seeing the healer today?"
"That was yesterday. The doctor said I'm fine."
Blue eyes studied her. "You've gained weight."
"Amazons probably sit around and talk about weight issues, but women raised in Man's World are not so enlightened. Get to the university before I make you vulnerable to bodily harm." Selina pointed in the direction of the University of Florence. Diana shook her head and headed down the stairs.
Her slacks' snug fit caused Selina to growl. She looked respectable in the mirror, even if she felt like a fat cow. The purple blouse fit better and set off the pearl necklace. She grabbed her purse, locked up the house, and headed across the Arno River.
Selina stepped into the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel, smiled at the statue of Bacchus holding court under the glass ceiling, and then ducked into an alcove. She dialed the room's phone with her cell phone. The male British voice answered and she let out a stream of passionate Italian. He pleaded for English, so she ended the call with "Scusa, wrong phone."
Pleased that her quarry was right where she needed him, she sauntered to the front desk, set apart from the lobby in an adjacent room. She smiled at the male clerk. "Can you help me with a surprise for one of your guests?"
"That depends on the surprise, signorina." He returned her flirty smile.
"I need to get this ticket to the Uffizi to my uncle. The rest of the family is setting up the birthday luncheon with the restaurant, so he must not expect the ticket is from me. I will accidentally meet him at the museum." She snagged a blank envelope from the pile on the desk, addressed it, and slipped the ticket and note inside. "Can you please deliver it and tell him it is part of his vacation package?" She held the envelope out with a ten Euro note.
"But of course, signorina. And what a thoughtful gift."
She favored him with another saunter as she left and found a seat out of the front desk's sight but in view of the Il Palagio restaurant and the lobby's front door. The white-haired gentleman left the elevator and went straight to the front desk. From there, he carried a newspaper into the restaurant. She dug through her purse, pretending something was eluding her. He ordered before opening the envelope. His confused expression grew sharper until he shrugged and slipped the ticket and her note into his jacket. He opened the newspaper.
Selina realized that Bruce had another reason to be upset with Lane's story and she could have slapped him for not mentioning it. Instead, she held her make-up compact in front of her face and watched his flush of anger fade under guilt and sorrow before he folded the newspaper closed. She left him prodding his eggs and bacon.
Galleria degli Uffizi began as the Florentine magistrates' offices back in 1560, bringing together the administrative office, the Tribunal, and the state archive. Over the years, the Medici family used more of the palace to display their art collection. Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici, the last Medici, stipulated in her Patto di famiglia that all the art collected by her family for three centuries remain in Florence. In 1765, the Uffizi opened its doors as one of the first art museums in the Western world. It always had a line of tourists and locals that filled the cortile before opening for the day, even if you bought your tickets in advance.
Selina spotted her target when he joined the line a dozen tourists behind her. Thank Bast for the curiosity that compelled him to keep the mysterious rendezvous despite nasty shocks. The doors opened and the line surged. She moved around the tourists, up the stairs to the third floor gallery, and waited in the corridor, facing a sculpture displayed near the stairs.
He came up the stairs faster than she expected. All those years of service were better for his health than she thought. He didn't notice her as he stared up at the ceiling frescos. He consulted the museum guide sheet, skipped the archeological room, and headed into the Thirteenth Century room.
She followed him and waited for his attention to settle on the "Santa Trinita Madonna" by Cimabue. "So you're the reason Bruce picked Florence." He whirled around. "I know I'm breaking every one of his paranoid protocols to keep us all safe, but I can't be as rude as he can." She held out her hand. "Selina Kyle, Mr. Pennyworth."
He took it and bent over it. "Alfred, please, Miss."
He glanced at the tourists now filing into the room. "You sent the ticket."
"I did. Bruce is in Rome, giving somebody chiroptophobia over that news story that upset you at breakfast."
He looked at her sharply before turning to the next painting. "Bruce taught you his ninja tricks?"
"I have my own ninja tricks and learned them long before I met him." She grinned. "I'm better at picking senseis too. Mine sends me Christmas cards, not assassination attempts."
"You can laugh about that?"
So that's where Bruce got his tone of disapproval from. She dropped her voice. "I killed Bane to save him. I took care of the holes Talia gave him. I fought Amazons who wanted to keep him. I made myself bait for the last of the League of Shadows, so we could wipe them out. And Bruce laughs when I put it like that."
Alfred blinked. "Bruce laughs?"
"Not every day, but I've got him up to twice a week."
Alfred moved to the next painting, the "Ognissanti Madonna" by Giotto. "But he is still--" He didn't turn his face fast enough to hide his guilty regret.
Selina sighed. "Would you like to see my favorite painting in the whole collection? Unless you have a fascination for Gothic art."
"I would like to see it."
"It's in the Early Renaissance room." She led the way to adjacent palatial room and stopped in front of a dark, egg tempera on wood painting over three meters long. Two armies of armored knights dominated the painting with their red and yellow lances held above their heads. Two of the knights in black in front of the army on the left had lances down, one inside the grey knight on the fallen horse, and the second unhorsing the knight on the white horse. "'The Battle of San Romano' by Paolo Uccello, and it reminds me of the War for Gotham."
"Because the knights in black are winning?" His tone was just short of sarcastic.
"It's actually silver leaf, tarnished to black over the centuries, and hiding the nobility of the combatants. Like Bruce hides his with his theatrics."
"Nobility is not a trait Bruce displays often."
She smiled as she tilted her head. "You should know him better than that."
"Maybe you're the one who doesn't know him. Or do you think it's noble to throw his life away?" His hands curled into fists and he turned to Fra Angelico's "Madonna and Child."
"But he didn't throw his life away and now it's safe for you to know that."
Alfred sighed. "That's not what I meant, though I dare say I deserve worse from Bruce after what I did to him. But he always said he would stop his nocturnal activities. And not only has he not stopped, he's recruiting!" He realized he was speaking to one of Bruce's recruits and looked apologetic. "Not to slight your abilities, Miss."
"There's a café on the terrace. Let's hash this out over drinks and get out of the tourists' way." Selina led them to a table that overlooked the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno. Alfred ordered a caffelatte and she sipped an orange Italian cream soda until the waiter left them. "I'm not sure where to start. I was expecting a you're-not-good-enough-for-him attitude."
He set down his cup. "And if I said you were not? If I threw your criminal past in your face?"
She touched the pearls around her neck. "I only regret one thing and he forgave me for it. That's how I learned how noble he is. I'm his partner now and I could never hurt him again."
"You're seeing me behind his back. How will that not hurt him?"
"Bruce picked Florence, not me. He hacked into hotel reservations looking for you. He took me out to supper last night to that delightful café on the Arno. Now why he didn't call you up and invite you to the house or walk over to your table and introduce me himself like a normal person," she chuckled. "I thought he was being paranoid. Maybe he's scared of you."
Alfred choked on his caffelatte. "Scared of me?"
"I didn't know you had a falling out. I thought he sent you from Gotham to keep you safe from Bane."
"He wasn't taking Bane that seriously, or rather, he didn't care if Bane was the one who put an end to his existence. I couldn't--" His voice cracked with the emotion he suppressed. "I still can't stand by while he commits a slow suicide."
She licked the flavored cream off her lips before answering. "Is that what we're up to?"
"You weren't there." His gaze landed on the Ponte Vecchio, but she knew his eyes were seeing Wayne Manor. "I didn't worry while he worked on the reactor. It was a glimpse back in time, how his father obsessed over his train. Then he shut it down and shut himself away. I should have told him then." He closed his eyes. "Instead of waiting until he put on that bloody suit again."
"I am here now, and I do know you can't tell him he can't do something."
"Lord knows that is true. Ever since he was a little boy, so stubborn, so angry, so hurt." Alfred looked at her again. "I don't know what put the mask on your face, Miss, but he dips into his pain every time he puts on that cowl. How happy are you making him if he can't stop putting it on?"
She propped her chin in her hand and considered the wounded man sitting across the table. The waiter decided to enquire about their needs. She ordered a sandwich and a raspberry cream soda and Alfred got a refill. "So that's why Bruce kept pushing that I really didn't want to help him."
He glanced to make sure the waiter had retreated. "That doesn't answer my question."
"I'm not afraid of his pain or how it bubbles out in anger. Maybe it's my superpower, since I seem to be the only one on the planet who isn't."
"You haven't seen it."
Selina shook her head. She wasn't sure if she had the right to clue him in to what he had missed, but Bruce wasn't here. "I saw it when he fought Bane. I saw it in Uzbekistan when we fought the last of the League of Shadows. I counted on it when we had to get off Themyscira. It's there, it'll always be there, and he has found a way to channel it into fighting for justice. I only wanted to even the score."
Alfred digested that as the waiter brought their second orders. After she bit into her sandwich, he spoke. "And what kind of future can you possibly have with what you do?"
Selina swallowed. "We're not patrolling Florence. The focus is different than just one city. But I don't think you want to believe me. You need to hear it from Bruce." She ate her sandwich while he sputtered through a denial. They were quite a set. Both men terrified the other wouldn't forgive him for whatever they fought about, and she was equally terrified neither would welcome her real surprise. Now, what were they a set of?
She wiped her lips with a napkin after Alfred wound down. "I understand you don't want to see him hurt better than you think I do." It wasn't the time to share her nightmares about Bane and Bruce fighting, and there probably would never be a time she'd want to burden him with that. "But full retirement didn't make Bruce happy either, so why are you pushing for it so hard?"
Alfred sighed. "He promised Miss Dawes that he would give it up when Gotham didn't need him anymore."
Rachel Dawes--she should have guessed--the ghost that Bruce carried that she liked the least. "I'm telling you the same thing I told Bruce. She was an idiot to promise to wait when the truth scared her so badly. And I am not that stupid."
This splutter wasn't half as hard as his earlier one. Selina didn't let it gather steam.
"I know, speaking ill of the dead, but it's the nicest way I have of putting it. As much as Bruce separates his identities, they are both all of him. To deny either one, well, he ends up scruffy, pale, and practicing archery indoors. Rachel couldn't love Bruce terrified of half of him. She may have believed him when he said he could quit, or she was in love with the memory of what Bruce could have been, but that's not the love you can build a relationship on. So she picked Dent." She sipped her cream soda. "I, on the other hand, find both his halves sexy as hell, they compliment my halves, and if he gets a stupid idea of protecting me by cutting me out of his life, I'll kick him in the head until he returns to his senses."
"You told him all that?" Alfred blinked.
"Not all at once." She smirked. "But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know."
He didn't deny her observation. After all, he had watched it all play out. "I don't know your intentions. What are you basing this… partnership on?"
"Love." Her finger slid along the pearls again. "First came mutual butt saving and then love. Partner is his word for it. He doesn't like me in danger, but he can't keep me out of it either. So we make our own normal. And to go back to a question you asked earlier, he misses you--even if he can't open his mouth and say it." She dug into her purse for her wallet and a pen. She pulled out her business card, wrote their address on the back, and passed it to him. "Come for tea tomorrow. If Bruce wants to fly to Metropolis, I'll sit on him."
Alfred signaled for the check and then looked back at her. "He would fly to Metropolis over that news story? He never cared about his press before."
She set enough Euros on the table to cover her part of the tab and tip. "He was sneaking out of Gotham and was letting us think he blew himself up when I found him. And now it's not just his secrets. So I don't put it past him. Caio."
Selina leaned the new painting against the wall and stepped back. The red wallpaper with white leafy branches and Chinese pagodas failed at a toile effect and clashed with the colors in the Impressionistic painting. Diana hadn't said, but Selina suspected the wallpaper was the reason why she had chosen the third floor bedroom suite instead of the roomier first floor that could be a separate apartment.
The realtor had been honest about the needed renovations, and Bruce had latched onto it as a project for after the League of Shadows was gone. This painting was her contribution. Did it work in this room?
Keys jingled in the main door and she moved to the hallway between the living room and red-wallpapered dining room. Bruce blinked in surprise as he shut and locked the massive door. "You didn't have to wait up for me."
"Don't flatter yourself. Diana is making me proofread her essay paragraph by paragraph, so I thought I'd rip down the god-awful wallpaper."
He followed her and raised an eyebrow at the sliver pulled away by the doorway.
"They glued it down with cement. Maybe we should paint over it."
"That's not a print." He stopped at the painting, an Impressionist view of Florence from the southern hills that almost matched the view from the top of the tower.
Selina wrapped her arms around his neck. "Very good. Next we'll work on the differences between oils and watercolors." She grinned. "I found it at a gallery near the Uffizi. You like it?"
"I like it." His hands on her hips tugged her closer before he kissed her.
She rubbed his neck and shoulders. "You're tense. Bad news?"
"More unsure of news." He kept one arm circled around her waist as they headed upstairs.
"I don't like it when you're unsure of something."
Diana looked up from the desk in the second floor living room. "What did you learn?"
Bruce steered Selina to the nearest couch. "Selina was right."
She settled closer to him. "About what? Agent Verdi was covering his ass?" Diana's forehead furrowed, so she added. "It's slang for what you do to not get blamed when something goes wrong."
"Agent Verdi considers it giving us a heads-up." He smirked. "But you were right about Lois Lane. She was in Uzbekistan to write about the Aral Sea ecological disaster and embedded herself with Interpol when she found out about the League of Shadows operation."
"So you don't want to growl at her? That's good; I don't want to go to Metropolis again."
Bruce squeezed her. "Is there a story to go with that?"
"Not one to go into now. What were you unsure about?"
He looked back at Diana. "The Interpol office was flooded with inquiries after Lane's story broke. The agent fielding the calls had issues with Greek and stopped calling you Polemistήs."
Diana's blue eyes widened. "What did they start calling me?"
Selina felt Bruce stiffen beside her. "Wonder Woman."
Diana's jaw dropped. "Because I'm so wondrous? Why on earth?"
"I'm sorry, but after finding out twenty news outlets had already used it, I didn't have the patience to figure out his psychological reason for latching onto it."
"It could be worse," Selina said. Diana's stunned expression turned to her. "He could have picked Eagle Woman because of your shield and you teamed up with Batman and Catwoman. Or Lasso Girl, Bondage Babe, skipping right over Greek Goddess for Zeusette--"
"Stop, please." Diana turned back to Bruce. "They have all called me by this title?"
He nodded. "And more of them will. Not only is it official from Interpol but it's as catchy as your armor."
"So I must continue using it?" Her nose wrinkled.
"The best way to own something is to take it," Selina answered. Bruce twisted to face her. "Hear me out. This Interpol doofus gave her a name she doesn't care for, and because you don't like it, they'll use it even more. You think I liked those headlines calling me the Cat? Never let them know it bothers you. Princess Diana of Themyscira will answer to Wonder Woman because the media doesn't know any better. That Diana Prince is also Princess Diana is the secret we don't share."
She stood up looking shaky. "I am sleeping on this decision. Good night."
Bruce waited until the footsteps stopped overhead. "Must all your analogies refer to stealing?"
"I warned you I wasn't reforming completely." Selina laid her head against his shoulder. "But you broke her brain, so you get homework duty tomorrow."
He hummed his assent. "What happened in Metropolis?"
"Ever had any dealings with Lex Luthor?"
"There were some when Earle ran Wayne Enterprises. Lucius and I stopped them. Too many rumors of dirty dealings."
"You were right, he is dirty. And I don't want to run into him again." She stood and tugged on his arm. "Let's go to bed."
"I'm not sleepy."
"I didn't say anything about sleep, did I?" She tugged on him again and Bruce pushed himself off the couch.
Sometimes, Selina wondered if Bruce had a mental illness. Not because of Batman, but because he could open his mouth and ruin the mood. And it happened too damn often to be chalked up to some strategy on his part.
Like now, when she had to peel his hands off her suddenly tender breasts without screaming, his face scrunched up and he blurted out. "You've gained weight."
"Seriously? Way to kill the sexy time mood." She rolled off him and pulled the bedcovers with her. Her breasts appreciated it, even if the rest of her body screamed no fair!
"You said the doctor said you were fine." He told the back of her head.
"That's because he did." She tugged the sheet higher. Maybe if she hid her head he would get a clue without her kicking him to the couch.
"Then how did he explain the weight gain?"
"He didn't. We live in Italy, the land of pasta and I haven't been working out as much since you don't want me breaking into people's houses. Do the calorie math since you are not having sex tonight!"
"You just called me fat!" She turned so he saw her upset face. "You can't do that and expect sexy times to continue."
"I didn't mean it like that." He brushed her hair back. "I'm worried."
"That I caught a disease in Uzbekistan that causes weight gain?"
He pushed her back onto the mattress and kissed her under her jaw. "Sorry," was muttered against her skin before he continued kissing down her neck. He was bringing her back to sexy time--especially when he touched that spot--he was distracted for now.
Alfred would get tomorrow to clear the air with Bruce before she confessed.
The Four Seasons of Florence was housed in the five-hundred-year-old Palazzo della Gherardesco and a conventino, and possessed the Giardino della Gherardesca, an eleven-acres walled park for their guests. Alfred barely perceived the layout preserved from the Nineteenth Century as he paced along its paths.
So the beautiful cat burglar who enticed Bruce out of the mansion had snared him. Or had he snared her, given the heroics Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox had praised and her passionate reaction to all things connected to Bruce? But she had also seemed like a meek maid.
Regardless if she was attempting something more sinister or if she truly had Bruce's interest in mind (with the caveat that if it was what Bruce wanted, it probably wasn't in his best interest), she was right. Alfred didn't want her to be right and had covered three acres arguing with himself that she couldn't possibly be right. But he needed to make his own observations of Bruce and not from across a crowded café. So she was right.
Damn it all, why hadn't Bruce just quit! He found a woman who loved him; why couldn't he be happy for her sake? Selina claimed he was, but he was still fighting. He wasn't fighting the battles alone, but he was recruiting women?
Selina said it was different now, but all Alfred saw was a never-ending crusade against crime now stretched across the globe. Bruce wasn't dead, and Alfred wanted nothing more than to return the Wayne estate and care for the boy again. Only Bruce hadn't quit and Alfred had promised not to help Batman again. But the true door slam had come from the lie.
His shoulders slumped before he straightened them. He would accept Selina's invitation and if Bruce didn't like it, that would be the best indication of how things were now. So under that resolution, Alfred took himself to bed.
The address led him to a small villa on Viadi Santa Margherita Montici, much smaller than Wayne Manor and much closer to their neighbors. They couldn't store any of Fox's death machines here. A tall woman, lovelier than any of the models Bruce had paraded with in Gotham and who had both arms loaded with filled grocery bags, struggled with the electronic gate. "Allow me, Miss."
Her blue eyes level with his narrowed. "Who are you?"
"Alfred Pennyworth, ah, Miss Kyle invited me to tea." He held out his arms.
She eased a bag into his arms and punched in her code. The electric gate swung open ahead of them. "I am Diana Prince. This way." He followed the olive-skinned stranger down the driveway curving around a privacy wall. The driveway ended in a small lean-to carport against the tower looming over the property.
A motorbike and a sports car were parked under the roof and shrouded with vehicle covers. The wall opened before it reached the tower. What stonework he saw beyond the ivy was older than the long tan house facing him. The ivy spread from the tower to the arches of the loggia of the L-shaped house attached to it.
Miss Prince crossed the paved yard between the wall and the house, and stopped at the open wooden door onto the loggia. "Selina, you have company."
He stopped in the shadows with her. Footsteps jogged across stone floors to meet them. Selina grinned in the doorway, matching Miss Prince and Alfred's height thanks to the house's higher floor, and dressed in a blue blouse and jeans. "Alfred hi! It's okay, Diana, I invited him over."
Diana took back his bag of groceries in the crook of her arm. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Pennyworth. One cannot be too careful."
"Yes, of course, a pleasure, Miss." Diana carried the bags up the stairs in the hallway.
"I was afraid you changed your mind." Selina ushered him inside. "Don't mind the first floor. We're just starting renovations." They went through a room wallpapered in red with white vines. "Ignore this. I want to rent a jackhammer. Bruce thinks we need a stronger solvent. The second and third floors are better, but we'll give you the tour later."
They headed through another door into a galley kitchen. "The kitchen upstairs meets health code requirements." She opened a windowed door to a square patio. "I know I said tea, but we actually don't have tea. Do you like lemonade?"
Alfred realized her quick patter was due to nervousness. That made him feel better, oddly enough. He faced her. "Lemonade is fine, Miss Selina."
She grinned again. "I'll go get Bruce."
"And if he doesn't want to come out?"
Her smile grew more confident. "You think he can tell me no? Make yourself comfortable." She walked through the archway between the house and the tower.
Alfred took in the patio. A square patio table with a shade umbrella was set in the center with cushioned chairs and benches. Two doors led back into the house, plus the archway. A wall as old as the tower extended from the house, and hedges and small trees were planted between it and the flagstones under his feet. The plants continued around the sides, creating an intimate space and one not easily escaped from, unlike the front loggia. That was no coincidence, he was sure, but for whose benefit?
Selina took a deep breath. Bruce went to the computer room after lunch. He hadn't come out annoyed with her surprise yet. She punched her code into the tower door and descended into the cellar. "Honey, we've got company."
He turned from the computer screen. "You uninstalled my translation program. Probably with the pretense that I should learn Italian."
"Viviamo qui, quindi si dovrebbe imparare l'italiano."
He reached for the CD storage book on the desk and opened it to the empty sleeve. "But why hide the installation software?"
"Why hack into my medical records?" She pointed at the computer screen.
"Because you've been acting strange for four days now!"
"Congratulations, now you can come up and visit."
Bruce folded his arms. "What's going on?"
"You have no hobbies, so I gave you a mystery to unravel. I'll have to do better for Christmas. Now come up, be nice, and I'll give you back your software."
"You want to blackmail me?"
"Blackmail involves threat; I'm bribing you." She seized his hands and tugged him out of the chair. "Come on, soak up some sunshine."
He didn't fight her, even though he grumbled. "I got plenty of sun yesterday. Why do I have to be nice when you're the one who wants to be sociable?" She pushed him out onto the back patio. The older man turned. Bruce stiffened. "Alfred."
"Hello Bruce." Alfred smiled tentatively. "Your. . . partner invited me."
"I'll get the drinks." Selina backpedaled away.
Before she left the patio, Bruce surged forward and clasped Alfred's hand. "Of course she did. Can't wait for the Christmas surprise." She sighed with relief.
Diana cornered her in the second floor kitchen while she put together the serving tray. "What are you up to?"
"Giving Bruce a family." The ice cube tray refused to twist. She handed it to the Amazon. "Pop those out without breaking the tray."
"But Bruce said his family is dead." The ice popped free when Diana twisted the plastic.
"His parents are dead. Alfred raised him after they died." The second tray behaved for Selina, and she filled the glasses with ice.
Diana peered out the window at the umbrella hiding the two men seated at the table. "So it is safe for him to know Bruce is alive now that the League of Shadows is vanquished?"
"Yes, as long as their testosterone doesn't screw it up." Selina poured the glasses then topped off the glass pitcher with more lemonade.
"Do you need back up?"
"Don't worry, I'll yell if I do."
For as much as they made their own normal, Selina added more ideas from people who didn't dress up to fight or commit crime. Bruce hadn't hidden how much he cared about Alfred and she had decided that the estrangement had gone on long enough, so surprise! Alfred stood on their patio and looked as shell-shocked as Bruce felt.
So he grabbed Alfred's hand, reassuring himself that it was Alfred, and reassured Selina that he was playing along. "Of course she did. Can't wait for the Christmas surprise." Alfred looked confused, and Bruce glanced over his shoulder. Selina had vanished from the back patio.
He smiled and ushered Alfred to the table. "She said she had a surprise for me and would come up with a different one for Christmas." Not that Bruce believed that Alfred was the reason why she flinched in bed last night. Something was wrong, had been wrong since they left the League of Shadows stronghold, and he would convince her to go to another doctor. But Alfred didn't need to worry about that. "Enjoying Florence?"
"I am, though probably not as much as you are, living with two women." Alfred leaned back in his chair and pierced Bruce with a stare Bruce thought he had learned to ignore. So why did he feel like squirming again?
"It's not like that. For one thing, Selina would make me wish I was dead." A bleak look filled Alfred's face. "Diana helped us, so now we're helping her." Alfred nodded, trying to blink away the expression. "I should have told you."
"I was hardly in your confidence, Master Bruce."
"Don't let me off the hook. You were right about Bane and you were right about me and you didn't deserve to get lumped in with rest of the world who thought they knew Bruce Wayne."
"I'm just glad to see it isn't true." Alfred sighed heavily, despite the relief flooding his eyes. "Are you happy?"
"Because Batman showed up in Uzbekistan?" Alfred nodded and Bruce chuckled. "He has Catwoman to come home to now."
"And if he doesn't come home, Catwoman will drag his butt home." Selina set a tray of glasses and a pitcher filled with lemonade on the table.
"Mustn't forget that, that's the most important part." Bruce guided her next to him on the bench. She had gained weight, but he wasn't mentioning that again. He took his lemonade and another clue added itself to his checklist. He hadn't seen Selina drink any alcohol or caffeine since they returned from Uzbekistan.
"That sounds like more than your fair share of work, Miss Selina," Alfred said.
"He can drag my butt home if I'm out too late." Her brown eyes darted from Alfred to Bruce to size-up their relaxation. "Like Ubu found out."
"The League of Shadows member who was taking over leadership," Bruce answered.
"But he didn't have the chops for it." Selina grinned. "He did know enough to get reports that Catwoman killed Bane and his mistress, so when Catwoman showed up in Uzbekistan, he scooped me up. After that it was just too easy to play them. I killed Bane, I helped kill their puppet master bitch--"
"Talia al Ghul," Bruce supplied. Selina never used that name or Miranda Tate when referring to her.
"So I should be in charge," Selina continued. "Said it enough times and in front of enough members, ole Ubu had to fight me to gain any control. Just like Bruce planned it."
"My word," Alfred muttered.
Bruce smirked. "League of Shadows training never prepared him for the way Selina fought. He couldn't force her in one spot to hit her." Which wasn't her fighting style with Bane's men in Gotham or the Amazons on Themyscira, he reminded himself.
"I don't let anyone pummel me. And Ubu was so pissed because he couldn't follow me in the rafters."
"And you kept hitting him with the whip," Bruce added.
"When Batman busted in, Ubu charged straight for him. Less than a minute, flat on his back ready for Interpol!" She sipped her lemonade.
Alfred nodded. "So you share Master Bruce's taste for wonton destruction."
"Oh no, precise destruction is much more fun."
"That tore it." Bruce shook his head. "He'll never approve of you now."
"Oh but he has to. Who else is going to put up with you? And introduce you to new concepts like vacation? Next I'm going to make him find a hobby."
"Good luck with that one." Alfred leaned back again. "The last time I suggested he take up something, it got reported that he burnt the mansion down on a drunken rampage."
She twisted in the hold he had around her waist. "You burnt your house?"
"I didn't burn it, Ra's al Ghul did. Thought it was poetic symmetry. We're on vacation?"
"For the next six months, maybe seven. Unless there's an alien invasion, you're off the hook for that. I think you should take up painting. You have the patience for it, you like to stare, and I could pose nude for you."
He squeezed her. "Behave. You're going to make Alfred blush."
"It might even give you an appreciation for fine art." She turned back to Alfred. "I took him to the Galleria dell'Accademia and he spent the whole trip critiquing their security!"
"They don't want the David statue vandalized again."
Alfred shook his head. "They always said you never applied yourself in art classes."
"I knew it!" Selina laughed.
"She doesn't need ammunition."
She whooped. "Only you would consider childhood stories ammunition."
"Oh, and how am I supposed to look at them?"
"Insights into what you're contributing genetically to our child." She reached for her lemonade.
Why would she care about that? But he already knew the answer: no caffeine, no alcohol, slow weight gain, tender breasts, changing her fighting style so she wouldn't be hit, the jag of vomiting in Uzbekistan he had feared had been poison, the fatigue on the flight back to Italy, and three months since "Themyscira, we didn't use protection. Didn't even think about it."
"Busted," Selina said with an amused tilt to her lips.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Plan B didn't occur to me until we were way past where they were available. And then we were busy with the bad guys. And we just got home."
"Did you want me to learn it from your medical records?" Bruce tapped down on his feelings that he had done something to hurt her, and this was her payback.
"That's why I uninstalled your translation program and hid the software. Did he always shake his Christmas present to figure out what was inside?"
"Will you stop bringing Christmas up. Why didn't you just tell me?"
Selina inhaled and he braced himself. "I love you, but you are a control freak! I work with it, but you never mentioned kids. I couldn't decide if it was a blind spot because you're a guy or if you didn't want any because they make convenient hostages. And believe me, I had lots of time to dwell on the either or while I was stuck in Ubu's idea of a guest room. And then you were all I can make the plane go faster if I intimidate the pilots, which doesn't work unless you're in the cowl, Honey, and all I wanted to do was sleep with you. And both you and Diana ganging up on me and the doctor only confirmed it two days ago and I am fine for fifteen-weeks pregnant!"
Bruce reached through her gesturing hands and cupped her jaw. He kissed her, regardless that Alfred was watching. She blinked when he pulled back. "No child of ours will ever make a convenient hostage."
Her brown eyes searched for his reaction. "So good oops?"
He rubbed his thumb over her cheekbone and grinned. "Great oops."
Alfred coughed so they turned back to his beaming face. "Congratulations, sir, miss. Now when do I move in?"
"Move in?" Bruce's jaw dropped.
"Precisely. What do either of you know about infants, hm? Miss Selina has her hands full with you, Master Bruce. Someone has to tend to the child."
Bruce looked at Selina. Surely, she had something to make Alfred realize he had earned his retirement.
"I'm getting Diana." She slipped away from Bruce's side. "We can't move somebody in without giving her a say."
"Wait a minute!" But Selina was already through the first-floor kitchen door calling for Diana. He turned back to Alfred's satisfied face attempting to hide behind a raised lemonade glass. "Welcome home, Alfred."
"Thank you, sir, it's good to be back."