Fifty shades of black. Or gray. Add in metallic silver.
Except for the flickering colors displayed on the wide screens and smaller monitors, everything within seeing distance, that was not enveloped in total darkness, was color coordinately muted. As if a brooding, sarcastic, optimistically challenged person was in charge of the interior decorating.
At the thought of the word sarcastic, Alfred immediately came to mind. He remembered being totally surprised this morning with Alfred's demeanor when he mentioned that a certain guest was dropping by. Instead of being asked a barrage of questions or bombarded by enthusiastic plans for his reproductive system and securing the Wayne legacy, he was met with an indifferent stare and a slightly lame quip about the weather and a mocking reminder about the increasing quantity of empty wine bottles. And when he retreated to his so called workspace later in the day, Alfred was nowhere to be seen.
He shook his head. Maybe he was worrying too much.
He shifted in his seat, deciding to focus on the task at hand, leaning in a while to pause a certain image in the screen fronting him and the tiny squeak of the chair was magnified by the silence in the surroundings. He cradled his chin in one hand as he examined, in detail, the paused image, feeling the grating texture of stubble and realizing with some dismay that he did not have time to make himself presentable. Well, he did not have to pretend as a playboy tonight so scruffy looking would have to do. As if shaving would erase his gruff disposition at being so blatantly rejected earlier in the week...by a man with long, wavy hair. Really, Bruce. Your standards are getting weirder every minute.
He glanced at his black watch, which totally matched his otherwise drab but very expensive ensemble of button down shirt and a pair of pants. And just as he did a distinct sound notified him of a car approaching the lake house. Albeit the vehicle being very familiar, he still made the necessary precautions, confirming the vehicle and the driver before granting access to the entrance of the underground tunnel.
A sudden and funny thought occurred to him as he waited for the vehicle to halt when it crossed the entry. If she was wearing something in any shade of yellow, or pink, she would stand out like a very sore thumb considering the dim and quite disappointing surroundings. Not that she seemed the type to wear anything pink. And like she did not stand out anywhere after all.
But he had to smirk when he saw that she was wearing a black, long sleeved, v neck top and skirt as she climbed out of the small car and made her way to the sliding steel doors that he opened on his side.
"Good evening." Her voice was polite. Nothing more.
Ever since he knew her, which was really not that long, her voice always had that somewhat flat tone. Much like his, only feminine. And she had that air about her. Entitlement, probably. Well...considering her origins...
"So this is...your base of operations." Her accent only accentuated the fact that she was not that impressed.
"Yes." He motioned for her to have a seat.
Instead of sitting down, she continued her appraisal of her surroundings. Then she crossed her arms on her chest, the movement making him wonder if she was wearing her gauntlets underneath the sleeves. And if, somehow, that was a cause for concern.
"And we are going to find them...how?"
"Actually..." He turned from her to the screen. "I already found them."
She followed his gaze, but her expression was still doubtful. "Again...what makes you think..."
A loud metallic clang rang around the enclosed area. Both their eyes darted to the cause of the sound.
"Pardon me..." Alfred excused himself while replacing a gadget that the older man accidentally dropped.
Or was it really accidental? he mused. He was suddenly suspicious of the impeccable timing. "Diana Prince..." he began rather indifferently. "Meet Alfred Pennyworth...my-"
"Trusted butler, occasional paramedic, sometimes a stand in...when you count piloting the drones safely from here a stand in," Alfred prattled on in his very distinguished accent. "Oh, and I must say I am the voice of sanity in this outfit...most of the time. It is a pleasure to meet you, Ms Prince."
"Likewise, Mr Pennyworth," she smiled.
And just like that, he was suddenly caught off guard.
He remembered overhearing, or reading, somewhere a sappy comment about how a person's smile could light up a whole room. He even used that corny line several times to get what he wanted. Though it was not entirely sincere, he was able to play the deceiver so well that it had served the purpose every single time.
But now, looking at her face...it was not that sly smile she used on him once. Instead, it was a warm smile...the kind that reached up to the eyes. It was actually enchanting...like the first time he saw her.
But he was quick to put a stop to his inner observations. This was not the time for enchantments. Not now, not in the near future. There were a lot of things, more important things, that needed to be accomplished.
"Now that we're over the pleasantries..."
"I was just about to ask our guest...our lovely, absolutely stunning visitor, if she cares for any refreshment."
There it was. Alfred was up to something. And he nearly rolled his eyes at the cheesy lines.
"Coffee, tea? Wine perhaps? I am sure there are a few bottles more left in the cellar. Last time I did the inventory there was still a reasonable quantity left."
"I will have coffee, please. Black. Thank you."
"Ah...just the way Master Wayne takes his coffee."
And now, the agenda was clear. It was too obvious that it was a little embarrassing. He, the great Bruce Wayne, was embarrassed that he was rendered speechless for a while. A quick retort or a good comeback was nowhere to be found.
"How about something to go with your coffee, Ms Prince? Cookies, perhaps?"
He knew that if he remained passive for five minutes more, it was likely that Alfred would have fixed him up on a date by that time.
"Alfred. Seriously." He had to put a stop to his butler's schemes, even if they were just a tad damaging to his self-esteem. "Ms Prince would not be interested in those things that come out of round tin cans."
"Those things that come out of tin cans are reserved for you," Alfred retorted. "For Ms Prince, a fresh batch of cookies just made its way out from the oven. It is a pity that the bat excrements here overpower the aroma of the finest quality butter."
"I'd love to try some cookies." She, on her part, seemed to be enjoying the banter.
"Finally, someone is excited about my cooking," the older man muttered. "I will add in a slice of a very decadent chocolate cake that you most certainly must try."
"Well...if you insist."
Again...she was smiling that damned smile. It was making him feel things that he did not want to feel. But he could not seem to stop looking at it. And it was hard to pull away.
Stop it, Bruce, he reminded himself with a grunt that was evidently more audible than he intended when two pairs of eyes looked his way.
"When you said we are going to have company over I took the liberty of using the kitchen which you, yourself, furnished with top of the line cooking equipment." Alfred seemed he felt the need to explain. "That turned out to be a bad investment. Until today."
"Really." He placed his hands in his pockets to keep from scratching the back of his head. Knowing Alfred, there was more to come.
"It is a very welcome change to deal with pots and pans, high end pots and pans, instead of all of these. Not that I am complaining," Alfred began. "Of course, saving the world takes top priority. But every now and then, it's refreshing to...smell home cooking. Not some aroma of a dry burger coming out from a silly, brown paper bag."
As his butlers lips moved, he zoned out from hearing the familiar words used to chastise him ever since he reached the age of forty. Cautiously, and very carefully, his gaze returned to her face and he examined her features as she intently listened, her face registering different expressions. It was strange how her stoic facade from earlier when she arrived was replaced by genuine interest and a certain degree of amusement. Even if most of the latter was at his expense.
"And, Master Wayne..." Alfred was trying to get his attention, though he could see that his butler was more pleased than insulted that he was not listening. "It has been a while since you had someone over that could actually say more than two sentences that are not slurred in the slightest by alcohol. Actually...this is the first time you had a woman down here."
"To the Wayne legacy it is."
"Alright," he shrugged. He was getting a little impatient. "The cookies?"
"And cake, Master Wayne."
"Cake...cookie. Whatever. Give me a slice as well."
"Really, sir?" Alfred was genuinely surprised.
"I need the sugar. Trust me."
"Very well," the Englishman was grinning. It was a very triumphant grin. "I see that you have lots to discuss."
"Yes we do." His flat tone and matching semi glare implied that he was getting irritated already. But Alfred, as usual, was not intimidated in the slightest. Alfred was probably the only one who was never fazed by his moods.
He opened his mouth and was about to speak when Alfred beat him to the task. Apparently, it was not yet over.
"I already prepped the dinner table before I attend to the steak and potatoes that I am about to cook. You do remember the dining room, don't you?" A pause as an aged brow rose in a rhetoric.
Here it goes, he thought and nearly closed his eyes as he waited for Alfred's line concerning his...other night time habits.
"You ordered such fine woodwork from the Philippines, excellent craftsmanship I must say. I think it's about time you use that area of the house. Not just the bedroom at the other side. If you know what I mean."
Classic Alfred, right on target. At this rate, he would be married off by the time the night is over.
"Alfred...too much information. Our guest might think I am such a...philanderer." He looked at her. She was grinning. He was beginning to get used to her smiling face. Great, he inwardly groaned.
"I read the tabloids. I am...well informed," she stated, her voice laced with a little humor.
"That's the public persona I intend to keep."
"I understand. You have to pretend to be a...womanizing swine to keep people from guessing the other side of you." She gave him a look that understood, though something deep inside told him that she did not entirely agree with his methods. After all, she was an Amazon.
"Swine..." he considered her word. "Actually...I believe they used a more vulgar word."
"I know. I was just being...diplomatic. The word was pig."
She was trying to keep a straight face. But a small laugh was able to escape from her. It was hard for him not to smile with her. And he did.
And count on Alfred to relish the moment. "Is that a smile, sir?"
He broke free from the momentary spell. "What?"
"That thing you did seconds ago. Not with your lips. But with your eyes."
It was Alfred's turn to turn on a knowing smile. "That tone implies I have overstayed my welcome. I will just ring when dinner is ready. I expect the both of you to be at the dining room later, enjoying a decent, filling meal. For starters..." Alfred looked at him slyly. Then the older man turned to Diana, taking her hand and bending slightly to place a chaste kiss on her hand. Now, he could not keep from really rolling his eyes. "It was...enchanting to finally meet you, Miss Prince."
"Thank you," she acknowledged. "It was good to meet you as well, Mr Pennyworth."
"Since I am most certain we will be seeing more of each other...you should better start getting used to calling me just Alfred," Alfred mentioned before turning to him with more gleam in the eyes. "Am I right, sir?"
He did not bother with an answer as Alfred walked away.
And suddenly, it was a little awkward. He had Alfred to blame for that.
"I have to...apologize." He pulled up a chair for her to sit in.
"You don't have to. His honesty, his straightforwardness, is quite refreshing."
He took the chair he earlier occupied. "He's afraid the Wayne family name will die with me."
She turned the swivel chair to face him. "It is a great name. You must continue the legacy."
He considered her statement for a while. It was also an excuse to stare at her face. It seemed she was studying him too, as her eyes looked at him thoughtfully. It was a while before she turned to face the monitor. And even as she was turned away, he still studied her profile as the light bounced back on her face.
Now, there were no pretensions, she was not trying to steal, or borrow, anything from him, she was not hiding what she was from him anymore. And he was not hiding from her as well. They were two individuals set on a purpose to find others who were willing to fight for the world.
And, he had to admit, he was glad she said yes. To fighting for the world, that is...he thought with a smirk.
"It is good that you have someone like him in your life," she broke the silence with eyes still fixed on the images before her. "We all need someone to keep us...grounded."
Silence stretched again while he was debating with his common sense whether to ask her or not. It was difficult since he never really debated with himself regarding those trivial kinds of questions before.
"So you'll stay for dinner?" It was asked casually. Or so he thought.
"Yes," she answered. He could see she was smiling at the monitor. "Just because Alfred insisted."
"Of course." It was safe to smile in return. She was not looking. She could not see how vulnerable he felt that moment. For that one, small moment.
"So you found them? You found him?"
She turned to him. "He said he'll fight with us?"
"More or less." He did not sound convincing at all.
"More more. Or more less?"
"Probably more less," he muttered.
"He said no."
"He said no," he conceded.
There was no use beating around the bush with her. And, he resigned himself to the truth. He was really beginning to like her.
And he was sure Alfred could never be any happier.