Title: Just Another Day
Author: DC Luder
Rating: M for language and adult themes.
Summary: Our Dark Knight faces his own day of infamy. His 50th birthday. And just as can be expected, it turns out to be the worst/best day of his life!
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Notes: Just a quirky look at an old, crotchety Bruce. Brief references to Batman's past (as he reflects on life) and all characters belong to DC and company.
"Do you think you'll ever give up?"
"I'll be too old someday. If I'm lucky."
Nightwing and Batman, Detective Comics # 725
I heard him enter the room silently, with uncanny precision. Even with my trained hearing, I could barely make out the slow, deep breaths and even quieter footsteps. I knew what was coming. He did it to me every time.
I prepared my defenses and covered my head with a pillow.
"Good morning, Master Bruce, what a splendid day," Alfred declared as he whipped back the thick velvet curtains. Mind-numbing light flooded the room and I pressed the pillow tighter over my eyes. I refused to get out of bed, that day of all days. If I did, something was surely to go terribly wrong.
"Sir, must you continue this sophomoric behavior? Is there anything better than having a brilliant sun and a clear sky on your birthday?"
He pulled back the covers and my body nearly shivered at the sudden drop in temperature. I held fast to the pillow, not about to lose my shield. Even with scrunched eyes and five inches of down, I could picture the so-called brilliant sunlight. Alfred was standing to the left of the bed, folding the blankets he had obtained, "Sir, honestly. This is not the way to start any day……."
I suddenly felt his long fingers jab a pressure point above my collarbone. I released the pillow and made a grab for his fingers. But of course, he evaded my grasp and ripped the pillow away as well. I covered my eyes with my right arm and slowly sat up in bed, "What time is it?"
"Nearly eight. Almost three hours rest."
"Don't remind me."
I let the light pierce my eyes and allowed them to adjust before standing. I stretched my arms towards the ceiling until both shoulder emitted an audible crack. I smiled slightly as Alfred muttered to himself. My feet languidly shuffled to the bathroom as I heard Alfred's all-to-cheery voice behind me, "Miss Gordon called. She said she would like to take you out to lunch this afternoon."
"Tell her I'm sick."
"Oh. That's a shame. I already made reservations……."
I glared at him as I turned the hot water on. As steam filled the marble tiled room, I stripped and stepped into the shower. Alfred continued with the list of the day's events, "Also, Master Dick inquired as to your evening schedule, as well."
"Let me guess," I said as I let the water splash over my face, "You've already made reservations."
My eyes caught a faint grin on his face as he collected my discarded clothing, "Sir, did you ever consider a line of work as a detective?"
I frothed shampoo into my hair and mumbled, "Who is going?"
"Such enthusiasm, sir."
"Fine. Gee whiz, Alfred, who's coming to eat dinner tonight to celebrate my old-ness?"
"Much better. To my knowledge, Master Dick, Master Timothy, Miss
Cassandra, Miss Gordon, Dr. Thompkins, myself… And possibly Commissioner Gordon as well."
"He's not the commissioner, Alfred," I stared at him through the glass, "You're going?"
"You expected me to stay here while you celebrated going over the hill?"
"Don't say that. Ever. Again," I glared at him as viciously as I could.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, sir. I remember my fiftieth birthday…….."
I moaned and rinsed my hair as Alfred went on about the wonderful day he had officially lived half of a century. After shutting the water off, I exited the shower and took the towel he had offered me and wrapped it around my waist. He had already wiped the main mirror clean, which allowed me to get a great look of myself.
The white hair had definitely conquered the region by my temples and had had been forcing its way to the main body of my once jet-black hair. However, my hairline had yet to show any signs of retreat. The bags underneath my eyes seemed to have become a permanent fixture, as had the wrinkled creases at the corners of the eyelids. The scars that laced my arms and chest had faded, but were still evident. I remembered every accident, every stab, every broken bone. As did Alfred.
He stood by the door and watched as I stared at myself.
"Quite a history, huh?"
He nodded, "Many stories."
"Too many, almost."
I touched the ragged bullet scar in my left arm. The one that had started it all.
I could still feel the shock dominating my system from that night, the searing pain, the hopelessness of my quest finally realized. And then the bat. He had saved me, by replacing my soul with his.
"Twenty-one stitches," Alfred said suddenly.
"What was that?"
"The left deltoid. Eighteen external and three internal. And you even refused the local….…"
I nodded. After one last look, he left me to my memories.
I turned the water on in the sink and adjusted it to a warm temperature. I then retrieved a can of shaving cream and lathered my face in a beard of foam. A slight smile formed on my lips at the thought of watching my father shave day after day. He had even let me practice, without a razor though….
"Damn!" I yelled as I felt the razor dig into the flesh of my neck. I pressed my cream-covered fingers to the oozing wound and made a grab for a washcloth. As the wound burned with the presence of the shaving cream, I cursed under my breath some more after dropping the washcloth.
After retrieving it and pressing it to the cut, Alfred made his way into the room, "Everything all right, sir? I pray my ears detected a problem…"
"I'm fine," I muttered.
"If you feel faint, I shall be finishing breakfast. Don't hesitate to curse."
The blood flow ended and I finished shaving without any more incidents. I re-wrapped the towel around my waist and sat on the left side of the bed and stared out at the treetops as they swayed back and forth in the wind. Back and forth…
The phone rang suddenly and foolishly, I grabbed it, "Yes?"
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, OLD GRUMPY MAN! HAPPY BIRHTDAY TO YOU!" Dick's voice sang completely off-key.
"So, what's it like on the other side of the hill?"
"What color hair dye do you want for your birthday?"
I remained silent.
"Just kidding. So how is your special day going?"
He giggled, "So, Alfred never told me…….."
"Which girl did you want in your cake?"
I hung up after hearing him laugh himself hoarse.
After turning the ringer off of the phone, I stood and finished toweling myself off. Alfred had left it up to me to select the day's wardrobe, a very rare gift. I dressed casually, not about to go all out for such a horrible day that it was destined to have been. Khaki pants and a navy polo shirt. Comfortable was key.
After combing back my bangs, which in Alfred's mind were "quite in need of some taming," I headed out for the main stairwell. I had made it half way down the varnished steps when my balance seemed to leave my body for a moment. I missed the next step and landed on my backside, staring up at the two story high ceiling of the main entrance.
I stood slowly and put a hand on my now sore rear. It had always boggled me… I have been shot countless times, but when I trip or stub my toe, it hurts ten times as much.
I walked into the kitchen with a frown on my face and seated myself at the island where a cup of black coffee and the morning's paper waited for me. Recently, Alfred had accepted my presence in his holy place as long as I wouldn't try to help or touch anything. I had readily agreed.
Alfred was busy wiping off a spotless countertop as I took a sip of the scalding liquid. The day had officially gotten better.
After skimming the news and real estate pages, I left and holed myself up in my library. The room, for the most part, was dark, cool and quiet. A perfect place to hide from everyone. I shut the door behind me and then seated myself in a deep over-stuffed red leather chair. With a bottomless sigh, I reclined and allowed my head to rest on the top of the chair. My eyes closed as silence overcame the room.
With calculated breaths, I calmed my internal systems and regulated my vitals. A time-consuming, but effective, way of meditation. I let my mind go blank and warded off any pestering thoughts. Recent drug smuggling in the South Harbor. Fourth new commissioner in as many years was coming next week. Dinner tonight with people who would most likely enjoy themselves too much and leave me the bill.
Not even ten spent as a happy and carefree child.
Another decade as a solemn and obsessed youth, and then globetrotting in order to become a master of everything.
Thirty years donning the cape. Night after night. Pain upon pain. Loss after loss……….
"Sir, I hate to interrupt your pouting session………."
"What?" I snapped.
"Ms. Gordon is here."
"Your lunch date, sir. It's a quarter to twelve now."
I jumped and looked at my watch. Indeed it was. I rose and sighed as Alfred led us out to the entrance. After opening the oak coat closet, I selected a black leather coat. I double-checked that I had my wallet and phone before making my way to the door. Perhaps Alfred would suddenly need my assistance and I would be able to leave lunch early.
I smiled slightly as I recalled the countless mantras I had mentally recited at meetings, dinners and formal functions for the Batsignal to sear the dark sky.
My body prepared itself for the brisk cold as I opened the door. Barbara waited with a grin on her face, "Happy Bir…"
I glared, "If you finish that thought, I may not be able to control myself, Barbara."
She grabbed my hand and kissed a knuckle, "Fine, 'happy over the hill' day."
That was even worse.
Having way too much stress racing through my veins, I offered to drive us back. Perhaps we would hit major traffic and I would be able to curse out my fellow travelers. That would be a nice gift. Unfortunately, traffic was light and Barbara wanted to make conversation.
"So, you seeing anyone we don't know about?"
I ignored her until she repeated the question. After switching lanes rather abruptly, I replied, "No."
She smirked and looked at the city from her window.
God only knew what that question was for. She better not have anyone………
"You know who called me yesterday?"
"Do I want to know?" I grumbled as my fingers clenched around the steering wheel.
She sighed, "Selina. As in Kyle."
"I know her last name."
"Ugh, you are impossible, you know that?"
"I never noticed before…. I'll try to be less impossible. For New Year's," I flashed her a smile and then returned my gaze to the mini-van full of kids that was in my way. The two cleat-sporting tykes in the back seat were sticking their tongues out at me through the tinted windows.
"Bruce, she wanted to know……….."
"Where are we going? Downtown exit is coming up," I interrupted.
"Just take exit three. Restaurant's more towards the shoreline." She paused for several moments, thinking out her words, "Bruce, she still cares."
With her emphasis on 'still', my pulse quickened. Selina and I had tested our fate nearly ten years ago, surrendering our identities and discovered who we were without the masks, just as we always had wanted to. For six years we were blissfully happy. Marriage was the rumor all about Gotham. But it would never have been possible. I wasn't meant to have a wife and to be happy.
But when she asked me to hang up the cowl for her, I snapped.
We had fought restlessly one night, our screams echoed through the empty halls of Wayne Manor. Alfred had attempted to intervene once and we both glared at him and ordered him to stay out of it. Selina had tried to justify her demands, saying that the others agreed that my time was literally up. That it wasn't necessary for me to waste what was left of my life.
She had said I needed time to myself, that it wasn't safe anymore. I had replied clearly that it had never been safe, when I was twenty-six or forty-six. I had never been so angry with anyone in my entire life. What right did she have to tell me that my life was a waste? I had dedicated my life to the city and I wasn't about to back off because of my age. Or because she felt I wasn't necessary anymore.
I recalled her standing before me, throwing it in my face that she had given up her mask when we became serious. That I should have done the same.
I almost hit her for that.
And had regretted it.
She had jerked, knowing all too well what my fist felt like, as I knew what her claws ripping into my flesh felt like.
I watched stoically as she gathered her belongings and said to send the rest of her possessions to her apartment in town. Selina had paused at the door and turned back, her face tear-stricken and solemn.
She had whispered, "I loved you……… Not the mask."
"Bruce, the exit……." Barbara's voice said suddenly.
I jerked and ripped the steering wheel sharply to the right to make the turn. A few horn honks later; we were heading towards the shoreline. After a few directions from her, I pulled up to a small Spanish eatery with valet parking.
I hopped out after pulling up to the curb and went to help Barbara out of the passenger side. As much as she was rough and tough when it came to caring for herself, I had never been one to openly show chivalry or that I had cared. Thus she thanked me as I set in the chair.
Our table was in the rear, surrounded with large windows and a decent view of the white-capped waves of the ocean. The business harbor was about two miles south where seagulls flocked to pick at wasted catch by day and where smugglers attempt to infect my city by night.
At least they tried.
The lighting was dimmed, even for midday, and the walls were painted a deep red and were decorated with framed posters for bullfights and festivals. I have been to Spain many times and it became too obvious that the decorator hadn't been there.
The wait for our waiter, pardon the pun, was nearly six minutes. In the meantime, Barbara tried to make even more small talk, asking about dinner that night and what my plans were for the weekend. Unfortunately, I was in public, so Bruce "the grumpy old man who didn't want to be there" had to step aside so that Bruce "the social bunny" could emerge. I smiled and fiddled with my tablecloth as I told her how nice the surprise dinner was and that I was excited to be going.
She laughed quietly, translating my message into the exact opposite.
A young brunette appeared and took our drink orders as she simultaneously recited house specials and what she recommended as far as seafood and prime cuts. I chose raspberry lemonade while Barbara ordered lemon tea. After a brief glance at the menus, we decided to share a seafood paella griddle as well as an order of "fresh baked Spanish bread".
Once alone again, I gazed about the near empty room. Three men in somewhat nice suits chatted over tall glasses of Labatt's and plates of seared beef and vegetables. Other than that, assorted clusters of the young and old occupied only six other tables. All laughing, smiling, telling bad jokes………
I felt warm fingers on my forearm and looked over at Barbara. She winked, "Penny for your thoughts?"
"You couldn't afford me," I frowned and pulled my arm from under her fingers. Instead of withdrawing, she dug a fingernail into the flesh of my triceps to catch my attention. I offered a puzzled look before reaching over and poking her in the ribs, emitting a soft giggle.
"Oh, play nice now," she sat back a bit and tilted her head towards me, "So, how's life. We haven't had much time recently to chit chat."
"We never chit chat, Barbara."
Another bright smile, "We should change that. I am like the shrink to all of you crazy people. Got a problem with your girlfriend/boyfriend? Come to me. Can't get your boot off because you sprained your ankle and it's swollen? Come to me. And last but not least, if you need to go to the bathroom but have a deathly fear of public facilities….?"
That brought a smile to my lips, "Come to you."
She nodded curtly and continued, "Do I look like a doormat?" I opened my mouth to reply when she pointed at me, "Don't finish that thought, Bruce."
Our meals arrived and turned out to be more Spanish than the interior design. Spicy, flavorful, and they even put in the whole clam instead of just the meat. We ate slowly, both of us letting time slip by. It was rare in any life to sit back and relax, let alone to do so when you have an alter ego to support. Especially in Gotham.
"So, Bruce, I have a question," Barbara asked as she wiped her mouth.
Oh, this should be good.
"About dinner tonight, you don't mind if Dad comes, right?"
I shook my head, "No at all. And Alfred even said he was tagging along."
After another bite of pilaf she replied, "He even asked to come, we didn't have to bribe him or anything."
Alfred had always been a stickler for staying out of my business, but after so many years of being together, we had trained each other to accept our being in each other's lives.
I being in his kitchen.
Him attending my birthday dinner.
Myself following him on countless afternoons in the manor as a young child.
His deft fingers suturing countless wounds over the years.
"Is there anything else I can get you?" a voice called out. I looked up to see our waitress paused with pen and pad in hand. I looked over to Barbara as she ordered, "I'll have a small serving of orange sherbet."
Both of the women then gazed to me, "I'll just have coffee. Black." The young woman grinned and left us. I remained silent, hoping Barbara would also.
But she had never been the silent type.
"Bruce, I need to drop something off to someone after lunch. Slight detour before we head back to Bristol."
"Bruce, it's……… It's Selina. I have to go to her apartment."
Icy shivers radiated up my spine at just her name. The thought of her apartment triggered hundreds of memories. Catching her sneaking back into her terrace. Dinners for two on her living room floor. Making love in her bed.
Dropping off her belongings after she left me.
Her cold gaze and even icier words.
"Thank you, Bruce."
"Just set them there."
"Fine," I said, "I can wait in the car."
She nodded, "I just didn't want to make you……… uncomfortable."
My eyes closed as I refrained myself from glaring at her. Since we fell apart, no one would dare speak of her in my presence, as if it would anger me or bring up bad memories, as Dick once said. I had replied that I had more bad memories about other things to worry about and that I didn't fret over her like everyone seemed to think I did.
Instead of snapping at her, I replied with a slight smile, "I'm old, remember. I'm always uncomfortable."
Her face remained impassive as her dessert arrived.
And as I paid the bill.
And the ride to Selina's.
I parked in the underground area beneath the complex. I spotted her black Lexus in the rear and quickly found a parking spot as close as possible. While Barbara went upstairs I could break in and…… No. I wouldn't. That was ridiculous. I have hardly even thought of her in all these years, why was I so worried suddenly?
"I'll be back in a few minutes," as she grabbed her purse and a small brown box from the rear seat.
I gripped the steering wheel and stared in front of me, "I'll come up with you."
"Oh, Bruce, you don't have to."
"No problem. Really," I exited the vehicle and came to her side, assisting her once again. She was overcome with a slight aura of nervousness. Perhaps she was going to tell Selina about me. About how miserable and crotchety I was. Well, I wasn't about to let that happen. I was over her. She had no right to force me to sit in the car to pout while she and Barbara chatted.
No right at all. No power over me. None whatsoever.
The ride up to her floor was done so in silence. I stared straight ahead, my face calm and collected while my mind ran wild with thoughts of how I was going to show her that I didn't need her just as she didn't need me. Barbara tapped softly on the box in rhythm with Muzak.
When the elevator car stopped, my gut lurched. What was I doing? I hadn't seen her since that day four years ago, when I had brought her belongings from the Manor to her apartment. She had already packed up my stuff and thrown them in a box. Labeled in black marker "Yours!". I walked steadily, not portraying my sudden anguish. This was insane. I should have stayed in the car. I watched as my finger extended and pressed her doorbell.
It chimed softly from behind the pale blue door. The fall of footsteps on carpet followed and a murmured voice came from behind the door. Her voice. I knew that tone; she was talking to her cat.
My body froze, as the door was unlocked. It opened slowly and revealed a smiling Selina Kyle, "Thought you got lost, Barbara……." she trailed off when she saw me. Her fine-featured face grew shocked as her mouth gaped and her eyes widened. Her perfectly arched eyebrows heightened on her forehead as she stared at me.
She stepped back and tried to regain her composure as Barbara made her way into the apartment. I was about to do the same, but my feet wouldn't move. Every fiber of my brain was focused on her as Barbara slipped past. She was barely a few years my junior but hardly looked it. Her raven hair was free of random grays and her face was smooth and youthful.
She was dressed in a black skirt that fit snug to her body as well as a fitted white blouse unbuttoned to the middle of her sternum. Her feet were clad in stockings and navy blue slippers. As we both stood their staring at one another, my body became aware of its location suddenly, recalling the colors of her furniture, the smell of her perfume and the soft mews of her cats.
Barbara said something from inside, but I didn't hear it. I stared at her, unable to move. I could feel her eyes as they glazed over my body, taking in every inch of me. I had to regain control, this was unbelievable. We hadn't even spoken yet and I was losing it.
"Well, you want to come in or not?" she asked softly, pushing the door opened a bit more. Her apartment had been redecorated with dark purples and blacks. Moody colors. Catwoman colors.
Since my voice box had suddenly disappeared, I simply nodded and walked into the entrance. I paused and stood a few feet from her as she closed the door. I was a silent spectator as Barbara and Selina exchanged pleasantries and chatted a bit. All as if I hadn't been there at all. Ridiculous women. That was why I would never be able to get married. I couldn't stand when women were, well, women. They were impossible. First they flirted with you and then the next minute they would hate you.
My mind couldn't keep up with itself. I had rationally thought this out, hadn't I? I was going to come up to her apartment to show her that she couldn't ruin my life. That she didn't control me. And there I was, standing like a zombie, transfixed on her every move. I was literally hypnotized.
So much for playing it cool, Old Man.
After fifteen minutes of eternity, Barbara moved towards me, "Okay, we're all set, Bruce."
I nodded slowly, my eyes still on Selina. She was sitting on the arm of a sofa, casually looking at me. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I heard my voice yell at me to say something. To prove how powerless she was.
Somehow that was translated to my lips as, "Um, well. Bye."
She nodded quietly, "Sure."
I was a near genius! An IQ of 220, educated around the globe. The World's Greatest Detective. And in her presence I was a bumbling idiot.
The ride back down to the car was less then silent. I pounded my fist twice into the wall, leaving a substantial dent in the metal. Barbara asked what was wrong but I simply growled obscenities to myself.
And from her years of experiences with me, she took that as an instant hint to leave me alone.
I made the drive back to Bristol in fifteen minutes, testing Barbara's sedan beyond its capacities. I almost smiled as she fidgeted in her seat. Almost. I was furious with myself for acting like such a weakling in front of her, of all people. Any error of mine was not only far and in between, if it occurred at all, but to have it happen before her judging eyes.
Her deep, rich green eyes.
Jesus, get a grip, Bruce.
As I approached the drive in front of the house, I hit the brakes hard enough not only to anger the car enough to spew gravel, but to also infuriate its owner. Barbara turned sharply and glared at me, "Bruce, you don't have to take your issues out on my brake pads."
I stared ahead, my breath hot and quick. I wanted to lash out, to yell at her. To show her I was in control…….. Control. I slowed my breathing and counted in French. Backwards. She called my name, her voice eased from its angered state. "Bruce, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought into this."
"This?" I replied softly, my grip loosening from the wheel. As blood and feeling rushed back into my knuckles, I continued, "I brought myself into this."
Not about to question my mumblings, Barbara smiled slightly and inched over to kiss my cheek, "Great lunch, really. So, tonight at Cape Red, right?"
I nodded and undid my seat buckle, "Sure." After I climbed out of the car and helped her make the move from the passenger seat to the driver's the word slipped out, "Thanks."
"For what?" she asked, buckling herself in.
I pondered her question as I studied my feet. It was getting colder each second I stood in the windy afternoon, but I just couldn't seem to move until relieving some great burden deep within me. Call it senility, or just plain growing old and finally realizing that I wasted my whole life pushing them away instead of drawing them near. Or causing pain and misery in hearts that I would never dream of harming.
"For being you," I managed and then stepped off towards the house, leaving Barbara's jaw hanging in a shocked expression.
Alfred met me as I entered the atrium but wasn't quick enough to catch my coat as I let it fall from my shoulders. He quickly retrieved, muttering to himself and then stashed it in the closet before pursuing me with his unbelievably quick strides.
"I take it that your first outing as an 'old man' was far form enjoyable, sir?"
As much as I wanted to stop myself, I couldn't. I lashed out at him, "Why can't everyone just leave me alone?!"
I almost expected him to quake with fear at my bellowing. I had expected anything but, "Very well, sir. Your eveningwear is in your dressing room and the Mercedes is fueled for this evening." He then offered a curt nod before turning away and heading for the kitchen.
"Where are you going?" I asked, my voice resembling that as a confused and much younger version of myself.
I paused briefly, "I, sir, am leaving you alone. As wished."
Helplessly, I witnessed as he entered the kitchen without another word in my direction. I foolishly waited for him to return but then realized that it was Alfred. And when you messed with Alfred, he never got mad, just even.
Somehow, I decided in my subconscious to mope in my bedroom. I took the steps slowly, one at a time instead of my usual two. At the second floor landing where the stairwell divided in opposite directions to lead to the separate wings, I paused and studied a painting of a winter landscape. Everything was frozen and dead, yet the sun still poured its rays upon the Earth.
I then looked out the window to see a similar landscape with exception to the cloud-masked sun.
After making the rest of the trip to my room, I seated myself in the small couch near the windows. I had pulled back a set of the drapes and left one open. I sat quietly with my thoughts. Which for me tended to lead to either marvelous revelations or horrible realizations of my shortcomings.
Unfortunately, I found both.
Not wanting to meditate in fear of uncovering yet another disaster from my subconscious, I simply decided to let my mind loose while watching the winter clouds as they skated through the air. Was it possible that the sun was gone from my life, eclipsed by the infamous "hill"? I had not faltered recently in my nights out, scouring the city with as my lust for justice as I had when I was a younger man.
After decades on the street, I had grown to be a master and knew how to avoid errors and misjudgments. I no longer over-looked risk and instead calculated it with formulas of experience. The most fatal wrongdoings had been committed as a youth, not in recent years. When was the last time Alfred even had to stitch me up? Three, maybe four months at most.
When in the last decade had I ever showed a hint that I was loosing my touch?
My lips pursed before the inevitable answer came, "Selina."
But that had not been my fault, but hers. It was her poor judgment and accusations that destroyed us, not my refusal to conform to her unjust demands. Yes, she did put the whip up, but she had been a criminal, and I was still needed as a crime-fighter.
My fingers found their way to my brow as the slight throbbing of a headache emerged. Why was I even pondering this? It was a thing of the past, not something I needed to fret over, especially on my birthday.
Who needed to be tormented by her chilled words or green eyes?
Certainly not me.
Slowly, I reclined on the couch and covered my head with a small pillow. Maybe I could wake up and everything will be okay. I would even live the day all over again in order to right my wrongs. Alfred would come in again; I would rise and smile at him. We would have breakfast together and discuss how much longer it would take for Dick and Barbara to figure life out. And then lunch, I would be cheery and open to Barbara instead of playing the fool.
And I wouldn't go up to Selina's apartment.
And dinner would be fantastic, I thought, now looking towards the evening. Everyone would be happy and order drinks all night long. We could share stories of our past and laugh heartily with one another.
And we would live happily ever after.
Yeah, time to get off your cloud, Bruce.
In a method I taught myself in situations of extreme danger or after being severely wounded, I did a mental check of myself. Not for any therapeutic reasons, but just to pass the time.
Two size twelve feet. Each toe had been broken at least once in my life and were far from attractive with all of the calcification. A little sore, yes, but for two feet to bear my weight all day, it was understandable, especially when wearing Italian shoes.
Two hairy and battle-scarred legs. Although I have only broken my legs maybe three times each, I couldn't begin to count the numerous stab wounds, gunshots and burns. But they were still in good working order, able to leg press in excess of one thousand pounds. How's that for and old crippled man?
One torso severely battered but still ticking. Three of my ribs were wired together and pinned to my spine from so many consecutive breaks and injuries. Countless abdominal injuries. Three feet of my small intestine gone. A small but permanent tear in my diaphragm. Just as Alfred and I had agreed on that morning, lots of stories. Hundreds of hours laying silence as he dabbed at blood while stitching my flesh together. And just as many, perhaps, sitting at my bedside, waiting for me to recover from anesthesia after he and/or Leslie had operated on me.
Ah, the thought of Leslie filled my head with another concern. Annual check up had been last week, one while I was not ill or wounded in order to determine my true health. Or lack there of. A suspicious lump in my abdomen had called for a biopsy and an MRI. A small mass had begun to form on my liver. Whether it was cancerous or not was yet to be determined. And as I left her office that afternoon, I swore her to secrecy. I wouldn't even let her tell Alfred.
No one knew except us.
Back on track……….
Two arms that cracked and popped when flexed. A last set of radiographs from last year showed deterioration in the cartilage of the shoulders as well as the elbows. Arthritis, as Leslie had warned, was in my all-to-near future.
And last but not least, one mixed up and gray-haired head. Was it a pig-headed head? Arrogant and selfish? Morally disoriented and ignorant? I liked to think not. Then again, I never got to be who I was through being Mr. Friendly………
"Master Bruce, I know this is my second attempt at ruining your moping," Alfred's voice solemnly from the door. I threw the pillow in his general direction and must have missed, "Ah, I see. Well, what seems to be the cause for concern? Surely, you wouldn't assault me with a throw pillow unless disaster was at hand in your world."
"It's none of your business." Well, it wasn't, was it?
"Indeed. Well, your 'business' is on line two, sir."
I rose slowly and looked at him. I did not glare nor did I snarl. I simply looked at him with an honest face. "Business?"
"Yes, sir. Ms. Kyle."
I drew a quick breath before replying, "Tell her I'm packing for the retirement home."
Usually, Alfred would just fetch the phone and force me to be social. However, to my utter surprise, he walked to my bedside, seated himself and picked up the receiver, "Ms. Kyle? Ah, good. Master Bruce is unavailable, I'm afraid. He is in the process of gathering belongings. For what? He has enrolled himself in an adult care facility in upstate………"
With all of the grace of a fifty-year-old crime-fighter, I leapt across the room, flipped over the bed and snatched the phone from him. I then did allow a glare to wash over my face, but it only amused him even further.
Before I could open my mouth to speak with Selina, Alfred asked, "Shall I fetch the good luggage, sir?" After I growled at him and pointed to the door, he smiled proudly and exited the room. I had unintentionally covered the bottom of the phone while trying to catch my breath. My nerves were on fire, just as they had been earlier as I watched her speak with Barbara. This was ridiculous. I was a grown man and she a grown woman. We could be civil adults, despite our issues.
"Bruce? Alfred?" her voice came softly.
After a deep breath, I replied in my deep voice, "Yes. I'm here."
"Thought I heard a ruckus."
"It was nothing," I replied quickly. I was trying to ease my voice, to be more open, but with each word, my voice became quicker and darker. Back to the old days, when she would trace my chest with her claws, turning my orders into sexual innuendo…….
"So, how've you been?" she asked innocently.
"Pretty good. I redecorated this summer….."
"Yeah," she paused, "So, the big five-oh, today huh?"
I allowed a slight smirk, "Thanks for reminding me."
She laughed, "Hey, now. I'm coming up right behind you."
"Never would know," I mumbled, visioning her my mind, as graceful and young as ever.
"What was that?"
"I, uh said, that you would never know, compared to me anyway. God, I have like seven black hairs left."
She laughed again, "It's not that bad. It's the wrinkles for me. Ugh, I have to paint my face up every night to keep the little buggers away."
"Don't forget having your back go out more than you do."
Selina rebutted, "Oh and when gravity becomes your worst enemy."
I continued, "Or when you order a steak and they ask how you want it done and you tell them pureed."
She was giggling like a child, "Or when one of the throw pillows on your bed is a hot water bottle."
I almost laughed at that one until I realized one of the throw pillows on my bed was a hot water bottle. We let the cheery moment die out in silence. We hadn't spoken to one another in four years and our first reconnection was beyond enjoyable. It was exciting and energetic. Had we lost everything?
Was there a little bit of us left?
She broke the silence first, "Well, I just called because……. I didn't like hat happened to day."
"It ended too awkwardly. God, you were a nervous wreck and I just ignored you."
"A nervous wreck?" I asked.
"Bruce, please. You just sat there and gawked at me…….."
"I didn't gawk."
"Whatever, but what I'm saying is that, you know if I had known you were coming…….. It was just such a shock to see you again."
"Well, Bruce…….. How would you have like it if when Barbara came to pick you up this morning, I was at your doorstep?"
I thought to myself that it would have been the greatest birthday gift ever, but instead said, "I see your point."
"I mean, I don't want to sound bitchy here or anything, but, Jesus, this is not going the way I had planned it to be. I mean, I don't mind seeing you, but Bruce……. Four years and you just show up. God, all I could think of was when you brought my things from home, uh, from the manor."
"Right. Me, too."
The uncomfortable silence returned. I decided to step up that time, "Listen, Selina, I have to get going."
I suppose couples did start to act alike after so long. After all the years she lectured me about being monosyllabic, there she was, doing it herself. "Fine, well, thank you for calling."
I could hear her breaths clearly over the line. Was she crying?
"Nothing, I guess, bye," and then the soft dial tone.
I set the phone down and then moved to the bathroom to wash up. The cut on my neck was now an angry red, in opposition to the aftershave I had slapped on that morning. After washing my face and dampening my hair, I retrieved a small box from the bottom drawer of the bathroom counter. Inside, it held a concealing agent that I used to cover up scars on bruises. And since it was "Hollywood" quality, it would take an act of God and/or a good scrubbing to remove it.
I removed my shirt and then my watch. As I dabbed on the agent over the cut and then touched up several old scars on my face, neck, hands and forearms, I sensed Alfred's presence. After my emotional roller coaster conversation with Selina, I was in no mood to be openly social.
"Sir, you have a call. It is from your fellow cape and tight wearing companions at their…….. base of operations."
Grief, could this day get any worse?
I wiped my hands on a towel and then headed over to the phone when Alfred cleared his throat. "The call is downstairs, sir."
I nodded and returned to the bathroom and retrieved my shirt and put it on as I made my way to the grandfather clock. After unlocking it and shutting it behind me, I sighed as I made my way down the steps in complete darkness. Once near the bottom, the glow of the monitors in the computer bay provided sufficient lighting.
I heard voices, but they weren't from the speakers. They were from various points in the cave.
"Shh, be quiet, dude." Wally, over behind the giant penny.
"Quite shoving me, I was here first." Kyle, with Wally.
"I don't see why we have to be doing this." Diana, half concealed by a stalactite.
"It's a landmark day. For any person." Clark, lying against the ceiling.
"Never knew he celebrated birthdays. Never seemed the type." Arthur, over in the medical bay.
"You do realize he is in the cave. He just heard everything you said." J'onn, translucent and leaning against the work desk of the computer bay.
And then collective groans of people accusing each other as being stupid.
I stepped into the main floor of the cave after turning on the lights. Each of them stepped out of their "hiding spots" and as I cleared my throat. In near, well, not quite unison, they wished me a happy fiftieth birthday. I nodded in thanks and stepped over to stand by my chair. They all seemed at different levels of uneasiness. Only J'onn, who had grown to be quite a companion over the years, seemed calm as he asked, "Do tell. The other side of the hill, is it green?"
The others paled as I laughed, "As your forehead, J'onn."
Each then approached me, either shaking my hand, the brave ones such as Clark and Diana, or simply nodded at me with a quiet smile, as in the rest of them. My Martian friend and I held a silent conversation.
Who's idea was this?
Figures. He would be foolish enough to wish me well into my second half of the century.
laughs Fear not. When you reach my age, you will miss being fifty. Trust me.
God, look at Kyle. Boy looks scared out of his mind.
We had to practically drag him here. Was afraid to go to "your city."
Diana looks pissed.
Another member who did not want to come.
Myself, and Flash. He had joked earlier if we thought he would let you drive the car.
After the others seemed to be completely confused at the smile that was on my face, I spoke up, "This was an interesting surprise."
Clark approached me, "I thought you would like it."
"I didn't say I liked it, Clark. I said it was interesting."
Clark's face fell as Diana stood up, "Arrogant bastard……."
"Thanks, Princess. Going to give me my birthday spankings now?"
Arthur let out a healthy laugh as Kyle and Wally bit their lips, all to well aware that you didn't joke around with Diana in such a way. But I had been doing it for decades I was still alive. She glared at me for a moment and then tried on a peaceful smile that came out more as forceful. And she was to represent her nation as an ambassador?
To my surprise she whispered, "Bend over."
I was the first to laugh and slowly the others nervously joined in.
Maybe this wasn't so bad. A moment with my thoughts cleared and free of more burdening things. Alfred arrived with a tray of coffee and a small pound cake. Everyone gathered around to snatch up the food except Clark and myself. He nodded towards the gallery of my monuments and memorabilia and I followed. Once out of normal hearing range of the others he said, "Thirty years."
I nodded and brushed a smudge of dirt off of a glass case enclosing a Riddler bowler hat.
"How many more?"
I faced him, every fiber in my body telling me to deck him for that comment.
Instead I shrugged my shoulders, "As many as it takes."
"Until you are dead?"
"Maybe," I said softly.
"Until someone else dies?" he asked nodding in the direction of the glass case that held Jason's suit.
At that, I couldn't control my temper, "Clark, I will not retire. It is the answer I have given every single person that has asked me. I will fight until I can no longer do so. If it is through death, than so be it."
He nodded solemnly and then began to head back towards the group. I kept behind him a step or so in lagging. When we rejoined the group, the coffee and cake was gone and everyone was asking Alfred for recipes and if he wanted to come and live at their house. Alfred politely reclined, "No, my alliances lie with a certain pointy-eared gentleman."
"At least the recipe?" Kyle asked.
"Alfred never divulges top secret information. He used to be a secret service agent in Great Britain," I said solemnly.
They all gawked at him, never picturing him before as anything other than my butler. Just as Kyle asked if he ever met James Bond, J'onn contacted me, Be safe, old friend.
I nodded and touched his shoulder, You, too.
The Justice League, sans Batman, made their way to the teleportation chamber and then offered a few more "happy birthday" 's and congratulations as they disappeared one by one. Once the last of them had left, I made my way back upstairs, Alfred at my heels.
It was time to get ready for my birthday dinner.
With every step I took in the direction of my room, I found myself dreading the night's events even more. I had barely done anything today besides go to lunch and then drop by my ex-girlfriend's apartment and my mind was flooded with stress. Unexpected arrival of the Justice League and then the all-to expected questionings of my future by the man in blue…….. Selina calling. Selina crying.
Jesus, what a day.
I returned to the bathroom, removed my shirt and finished concealing my scars. I than dabbed on some more cologne, brushed my hair once more and then smiled at myself in the mirror while saying, "Hey good lookin'."
With time drawing close, I put on the aforementioned eveningwear. I stripped my khakis and pulled on black socks before pulling on the black trousers. Before cinching them on, I donned a slate blue shirt and tucked it in to the pants. I then slipped a black leather belt on and then moved on to button up the shirt. I decided to roll up my sleeves and took the tie and tie tack into the bathroom. Facing myself in the massive mirror for the third time that day, I flipped up my collar and began to secure the Versace Gray Greek tie around my neck.
It was a nice tie. Dark gray, almost silver background with horizontal lines of black and light gray in interesting Greek patterns. I tended to pick out interesting ties so that I would have something to study during board meetings.
I then inserted an onyx and gold tie tack at my midsection before unrolling my sleeves and placing the matching cuff links into my shirt. After my shirt was secured, I grabbed my vest and buttoned it quickly before adding my coat to the outfit. One last look in the mirror assured me that even if I was old; I was still a dashing old.
From my closet, I selected a pair of black Bostonian Lorinos. Classic lace ups but ten times more comfortable. I paused at my dresser and grabbed my watch and my wallet. I almost grabbed the cell phone but decided to leave it.
Alfred met me at the front entrance with my beige camel hair topcoat and assisted me in getting it on over my suit. He then led the way to the already running Mercedes Benz CLK 320 and held the passenger door open for me.
I nodded at him and then made my way over to the driver side door and took the seat. Alfred stood, I must say, completely shocked in the evening winds. After a moment of looking about, he slowly took the passenger seat with the timid and watchful eyes of a gazelle on the African safari.
As I shifted in the leather seat and adjusted it back to allow more room for my legs, Alfred quickly fastened his seat belt and sat upright, hands close to his sides. I smiled, "Relax, Alfred……."
"Relax, sir? I recall many adventures in cars similar to these after your sixteenth birthday. And you cannot look at me in the eye and say you have matured. I have witnessed many accounts of you driving that monster of a vehicle in Gotham, tearing up the streets, so to speak."
I suddenly felt like a teenager again and put my hands on eleven and two 'o clock on the steering wheel. After a moment, I gunned the engine, which let out a monstrous roar. Before Alfred could even begin, I shifted into gear and flew down the drive.
After taking a few years off of both of us, I pulled onto the main drag of Gotham: the Midtown District. We zoomed past Wayne Towers and moved past the looming skyscrapers until we reached the end of Harden Boulevard. After a left onto Exeter, we traveled another sixteen blocks through, pausing at red lights and then breezing through anything else. And at 1450 Exeter Street, I eased on the breaks and pulled into the valet station.
Before exiting, however, I gunned the engine once more, still unable to understand how that simple sound was so empowering. Ah, the psychology of men and motors.
The valet looked barely seventeen and was glassy-eyed as I handed him the keys. I handed him a twenty and asked for a nice spot. The kid managed, "Best spot, in whole lot. Sure thing."
Cape Red was one of the oldest and most popular restaurants in all of midtown. The building itself was divided into variations of services, form the actual restaurant to a fully-stocked bar, motel suites, gym, café, gift shop as well as a few underground things, such as gambling and such. However, since Bruce Wayne didn't know about that, when he waltzed into the red velvet décor of the Cape Red's lounge, he smiled graciously at the hostess and winked at her. Even though Batman knew she, as were most of the employees, was heavily indebted to the managers for their countless losses at the crap tables.
My party had reserved a third floor dining and dance hall specifically for "the occasion." How my birthday could possibly be considered an occasion was beyond me at that point. Alfred and I were lead to the elevator bay and were then escorted to our room. I tried to let the tension slid off of my mind for the evening. I almost had half of it gone by the time the doors opened.
A few more people than the original party greeted us.
Quite a few more.
Dick, Barbara, Leslie and Jim sat at the table, conversing quietly while Tim and Cassandra were playing with the DJ station, specifically the bubble machine. Dinah and Ollie were talking by the bay windows, each well intoxicated. I almost grimaced when I saw the entire Justice League all helping themselves to the appetizer table, which was conveniently located adjacently to the bar.
Lois Lane-Kent sat on the bar, mind you not the stool, but the actual bar, complaining quite loudly that I had never been able to make anything on time. But what perhaps bothered me the most was that sitting on a stool in a long navy blue dress was a woman who was nearly my age but hardly looked a day of it.
A woman who had called me earlier, crying softly.
I managed to clear my throat loud enough to gain everyone's attention, which ended up being more of a bark. Everyone glanced at the door, minus Selina and Kyle, (coincidence, perhaps, Selina Kyle), and cried out "Happy Birthday!"
"Oh boy," I mumbled and then approached the large table, which was set for nine. Looks like not everyone was staying for dinner. Pity. I sat beside Dick as he slapped my shoulder, "Thought you were going to bail out on us."
"And miss this. Never," I said solemnly.
Jim laughed and raised his glass, "To a sense of humor."
I smiled and grabbed a water glass, "Cheers."
Once everyone had settled after my arrival, which didn't take long, I selected a rye roll from a small plate and began to eat it. No too bad. Kyle and Wally stumbled over and handed my a bottle of Merlot and a glass and laughed out, "Drink up. You gotta catch up with us before we leave."
I smiled briefly and took the bottle and glass from them. It was half gone and there weren't any saliva marks on the lip so I poured myself a small ration and drank it slowly. The aroma tingled my nose and attempted to soothe my senses.
Dick stood slowly and began to round up the unwanted guests. Most of them had brought presents and had left them by the door. Before heading out, several dropped over for a handshake. Dinah opted for jumping on my lap and locking onto my lips. She winked, and whispered into my ear, "Can't wait for my fiftieth birthday gift from you, Brucie."
After Ollie dragged her off and apologized on her behalf, the others had left and Dick ushered those who didn't want to leave to the door. Once he shut it there were eight people.
Alfred, the ever-controlling force that he was, situated us in a specific seating order. I sat at the head, Leslie and himself at either side; then Tim and Cass would sit across from one another. Next to them, Barbara and Dick would together on one side while Jim would sit opposite of them. And at the far end, Selina faced myself.
Once situated, the waiter and an assistant formulated from literally nowhere, ready to take orders. They looked like twins, both mid-thirties with short brown hair, plain hazel eyes and razor-sharp lips. They introduced themselves as Alex and Carter before reciting the evening specials.
While the duet sang on about the lamb, haddock and other entrees, I remained fixated at Selina. She was ignoring my gaze completely, a move only she had mastered. Even Alfred succumbed to my eyes after a time. I watched her as she studied a menu and then the wine list. After she had mentally made her selection, her eyes focused on the water glass in front of her.
Why had she come? Earlier, when I was at her apartment, or even when we spoke over the phone there had been no indication of her being there. And above all, she didn't look quite too thrilled to be in my acquaintance once again.
I suddenly felt a tapping on my arm. I looked up to see Leslie smiling at me and nodding towards the waiter. I put on a slight smile and study the menu briefly before boasting, "How's about the herb crusted tuna, that's good isn't it?"
Alex nodded readily, "The finest, sir. Chef Miguel recommends medium rare. It is served with tender Balsamic grilled vege…….."
I nodded, "Sounds delish. And let's get a few bottles of the good stuff out here. Red and white."
My attention waned after I placed my order. I tried to act as if I were listening to the others as they decided on their meals, but somehow my mind wasn't in balance enough to be in Bruce Wayne's shoes. Of all the nights, of all the places and with all of the people in the world, right then and there at my fiftieth birthday dinner party, my mind could not get out of the set of the dark knight detective.
As Jim ordered the smoked chicken and broccoli sauté, I found myself looking from face to face as they sat at the table. All of them were smiling and chatting with their neighbor delightfully, sipping drinks and commenting on how nice the food was there. Tim and Cassandra made facial expressions at one another in order for a silent communication of their disgust for where they had been seated. Barbara and Dick spoke in soft tones with one another and I overhead, with my fifty-year-old ears, what they had gotten me as a gift.
Dick had bought me a year supply of aspirin and an ivory and metal cane.
Barbara had gotten a gift certificate to a getaway island for aged individuals.
I made a note to myself to exact revenge when they turned fifty.
Or when they got married.
Which ever came first.
The waiters had left the conversation picked up a bit to include the whole group. Leslie grabbed my hand and affectionately squeezed it. "So, Bruce, any plans for this weekend?"
I shook my head and took a sip of ice water, "Not particularly."
"Well, you were going to take they weekend off, correct? From work," she continued.
I knew where she was going with this. Every birthday, Christmas and Easter she made this speech. How I needn't "work" every night, especially when there were other capable beings around that were more than willing to help. I squeezed her slender digits carefully, "I don't work the weekends, you know that."
"And what exactly do you call your gallivanting about the rooftops, sir?" Alfred asked as he repositioned all of his silverware into its "appropriate" spots.
"That's not work. That's a hobby. Volunteer work, right Bruce?" Tim smiled as he finished his wine. Everyone offered a soft laugh. Well almost everyone.
Selina drew pictures on her napkin with a long, glossy white painted fingernail. I studied the designs carefully as she repeated them over and over. I felt my heart beating a little quicker when I realized what she was drawing.
A small, pointy-eared bat. Just as she would draw in my chest after I had caught her in mid-act of a crime. Where she would whisper in my ear……..
The wine and salads arrived just in time.
I quickly downed two healthy servings of red wine and then slowly nursed a third. I watched silently as those at the table began to eat Romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Selina picked at hers slowly, alternating her gaze at her bowl to my face every five seconds. Conversation picked up a few minutes later after a bottle or so had been emptied.
"So did the JLA actually have a surprise party for you in the Cave?" Tim asked as he munched on a cucumber slice.
I nodded, "And Alfred even made a cake for them."
"Did Wonder Woman give you birthday spankings?" Dick asked as he traced Barbara's hand on the table with his fingers.
After a smirk, I replied, "Not yet."
The group laughed, and I even smiled at the sheer thought of Diana smacking my backside with her palm. Or even better, her lasso. I found it coincidental that I had offered her to do so earlier that evening, but alas, great mind do seem to follow the same line of thought.
"Wonder what they got you, they left a few gifts before high-tailing it out of here," Jim smiled and gazed back towards the infamous "gift table".
"You missed it Bruce, before you got here Superman was kidding around that you could borrow his Wonder Dog as a service companion," Barbara snorted as she wiped her mouth with the corner of her napkin.
"How thoughtful. You tell him I've got Kryptonite Preparation H with his name on it."
Everyone laughed heartily as the doors opened to several men in suits pushing our entrees on silver carts decorated with white sheets. How many social functions had I been to that evildoers hid beneath such sheets, preparing to take over the building and demand money of incalculable amounts for hostage trade offs? And how many times had Bruce Wayne mysteriously disappeared about the same time Batman arrived through a skylight to save the day? A hundred and twenty, but who's counting?
Steaming crystal dishware was placed at each seat with rich aromas of flavors for every palate. As mine was set before me, I suddenly realized I wasn't hungry at all. I had always been an easy keeper, living off of the basic food groups in a sparse one maybe two meals a day with sufficient "in between" sandwiches and snacks provided by Alfred to keep my blood sugar levels up. But more than one big meal a day would do me over, especially in recent years.
However, since in public, I picked at the actually flavorful fish and vegetables and moved them about my plate, a skill in which many children learn in order to make it appear as if they have eaten their least favorite food. My father had taught it to me as a six year old whenever we had lima beans or zucchini. And that lasted about a year or so and then I had to move onto hiding food in my pocket or napkin and then have to answer to Alfred whenever he caught me.
A soft smile had crept onto my lips, thinking about my youth. There really was a great amount of details, permanently ingrained in my mind, and yet I rarely reference them. Aside form being alone, drunk, miserable or all of the above, I tried with a great deal of effort not to recollect certain portions of my past. Picturing myself as a smirking six year old burying lima beans beneath some potatoes made me human.
Made me think of them, cold and lifeless deep in the ground at the top of a hill in the city's cemetery.
"Bruce? You all right, dear?" Leslie's voice came softly.
I nodded slightly, "Sure, never better."
Her eyes locked onto mine. I had always been intrigued as to how her eyes changed form blue to gray with her emotions. When she was happy, they were soft shades of gray with slight hints of gold. And when she was upset or sadden, they were deep blue with silver highlights.
At that moment, they were very blue.
Of course, her life was happy, now retired and keeping Alfred's social life busy with golfing and walks along the winding paths in Robinson Park. And of course our monthly lunches and occasional midnight examinations or injury evaluations. She had promised me to burden her before Alfred, since his hands were starting to age finally with arthritis. Hers were still clean and strong enough to do the fine motor skills that drove Alfred to the edge of unbearable pain.
And then our recent fiasco with the lump.
Happy birthday, old man.
Before I could assure her, Dick rose as he loudly clanged on his wine glass with a fork. I checked my watch to see that it had already become quarter of nine. Where had the night gone?
"Everyone, fill your glasses one more time, all right." He paused and waited for the group to do so. While he waited, he looked at me with his boyish smile and winked. His face had taken on the youthful charm that had captivated me when he took down henchman as Robin with silly puns and solid roundhouses. The charm that made him Dick, the last flying Grayson. The Boy Wonder. The protector of Bludhaven. An officer of the law and a class clown to the soul.
"All right, we set? Okay, well, yeah I suppose if anybody should propose a toast to Bruce, it should be me," he smiled brightly and faced me with his body as well, "Twenty-four years ago, Bruce Wayne became my father. Not legally, but in another sense. He was there when I needed him, a paternal characteristic. Although it would take a few years, okay a lot of a few years for it to be all on paper, it didn't matter to me. He was everything I aspired to be.
"Popular wealthy guy, cool hair, nice cars, chicks digging him and most of all…" he paused and lowered his glass a bit as he did his eyes, "He was my father. Sons want to be everything that their dads are; it's the way it is. And I wanted to be Bruce. Well, now that I see him, twenty-four years after that night, gray, wrinkled, pouting a little bit," a few people laughed at his remark, but I remained stoic, "I still couldn't think of a better man to be. Ups and downs, and twists and turns, Bruce, you have always been there, broody and glum to secret smiles that you try to hide from us. You're always there. And you always will be."
He raised his glass and took on a serious tone, "I propose a toast, to Bruce Wayne. Billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, cranky-ass, sheer genius, dark knight, protector of Gotham, father of the brilliant and sexy as hell Richard Grayson," again a few laughs "Jazz-lover, tabloid hater, tight wearer, guardian of the innocent, closet chocolate cake addict, best friend," Dick's smile began to quiver, "Hero."
The room was silent.
My breath was caught in my throat as Dick finally laughed, "Salut!"
Others chimed glasses and cheered.
I sat, positively stunned. With all of the mental turmoil in that day, Christ, I was going to stroke out……..
We finished our meals in moments of heart conversation or lapsed silence. Dessert was offered by our ever-helpful assistants but no on felt up to it. Instead of one of those surprise "the bill is on the house, Mr. Wayne", Alex returned curtly with the bill. A three-page bill. Before Dick or any other person who would honestly be harmed by paying the check, either financially or physically, I grabbed it and skimmed the contents, making sure the duo knew how to add. To my surprise, the restaurant gave the party a bottle of wine free for every four bought. There were three free bottles of Merlot. Damned JLA drinking on my tab.
The grand total was indeed grand, at a clean thousand twenty-five. Nine entrees and salads, service of the special staff, use of the ball room on top of the bar and appetizer fees. Not too shabby. I retrieved my wallet and supplied them with a plastic card to drool over as they left to tend to the billing. The group rose slowly, filled with fine cuisine and ready for a relaxed evening. There were some suggestions made by Tim of retiring to Wayne Manor for a "kegger". I simply smiled as Alfred lectured "Master Timothy" just as he had when the man was fifteen.
Leslie linked an arm with mine as we made our way towards the coat closet. She kissed my cheek softly, "Mind if I still the old man tonight?"
"Sure, I'm free…."
"Not you. Alfred." She released me and allowed me to help her with her long coat.
I nodded, "Sure."
After another kiss on the cheek she snagged Alfred and took off as quickly and least attention causing as possible. Tim and Cass had volunteered to carry the gifts down to my car; or rather Alfred had volunteered them. I watched as Jim kissed Barbara and shook Dick's hand before coming over to me. He paused and shook his head.
"What?" I asked.
"Can't believe it."
"What that I'm fifty?" I proposed.
"No. That you are going to go home, change and be on the streets before I even pull into my garage."
After tilting my head slightly, "You know me too well, Jim."
"Don't I know it. Well, happy birthday. You ever want to take up golfing again, you know where to find me."
He offered his hand and I shook it as my free palm rested on his shoulder, "You're on."
Jim followed Tim and Cass, laden with bags and boxes, out the door. Dick and Barbara came up to me next. Dick slapped his arms around me into a harsh embrace, "I love you man!"
I looked over his shoulder to see Barbara pointing at him and then pretending to sip form an invisible alcohol bottle. I nodded and patted his back. "That's good, Dick." I forced him off of me and then leaned over and kissed Barbara's cheek, "Hope he doesn't get sick in your car……. Ow!" I yelped as she promptly ran her wheel over my toe.
She winked at me and said, "Come on, Dickie, we need to get you some coffee."
As I faced the door, I donned my own coat and was about to turn the lights out when I realized I wasn't alone. I turned my head to see Selina sitting at her chair still, staring out at the city through the floor-to-ceiling windows. I cleared my throat twice and she elicited no response.
Instead of being rude and further ruining my relationship with her, I walked over slowly and seated myself beside her. Her eyes moved to study me momentarily before returning to the window.
I grunted slightly before saying, "What are you thinking about?"
A smile almost poised on her lips, "Isn't that my line?"
"I don't know, is it?"
"Aren't you the detective?"
"Do have to answer everything with a question?"
"Why, does it bother you?"
The feeling of us lingered in the air. The same warmth I had felt earlier when we had traded old people jokes over the phone. Were we completely gone? Was their enough left to rekindle the flame? Could we risk being burnt again?
God, I hoped so.
"Are you ready to leave?" she asked.
I smile briefly and answered with a question, "Am I?"
"I think you were ready to leave when you got here."
"That is correct."
She rose slowly and approached the window, her arms wrapping around herself. "City looks quiet tonight."
"Yes it does."
"You going out?"
"Debatable. I drank a few glasses of wine."
"Drank? You guzzled."
"I didn't……. guzzle." I almost caught myself as I recognized the childish bantering that we always participated in when we were having a good time out and about. Others who hadn't understood our relationship would think we were arguing, when indeed we were having more fun than anyone would think possible. Why was she bringing this back, center stage? What did she want? All I wanted was to go home and crawl into bed and hope that the disaster of a day had all been a dream.
"Well, in that case, I'll drive you home. I barely even finished a glass. Hate to have you wrap the Mercedes around a tree on your birthday," she turned and walked over to the coat closet and pulled out a long black silken coat and wrapped it about herself. She then retrieved her purse and walked out the door, leaving me in the dark. After a moment of sitting there in absolute confusion, she returned to the door and said, "Come on, Bruce, let's go."
Then, I knew it was a dream, just by the way she said my name. So gently, so innocently.
"Coming," I said and rose to follow her. We walked down the hall mere inches form one another, so we were definitely out of the accidental "bumping into" area. The ride down the elevator was remarkably quiet and I had to restrain myself as her perfume filled the car. When the doors opened to the lobby, I gestured for her to go first, always the gentleman in the public eye. A few eyes lifted from their meals and stories and widened as they watched us make our way to retrieve my credit card and receipt.
Selina fronted a pleasant little smile as I gathered the card at the main desk. I tried not to blush when I over heard the conversations on our way out to the car.
"Didn't he come in here alone?"
"Surprise party upstairs. God, he looks good for fifty…….."
"…… Thought they broke up a while ago?"
"They did. But maybe it's his birthday present."
"I want to turn fifty………"
"……… Think they finally figured life out?"
"Hope so. Make one helluva wedding. Think she would invite her old pals?"
"Ha, Poison Ivy as the maid of honor."
"Isn't his boy a cop?"
"Bludhaven. Yep. Not his real son though…….."
We stepped out into the nightlife of Gotham just before I lost control of my temper. As a younger man, I had always chided along with society's elite as the joked about my life. But with each passing year, I grew less tolerant for such air-headed dimwits. The valet saw us coming and raced off to retrieve the car. I stood solidly and gazed down the street, watching as people got out of theatres and hurried off to a late dinner. Couples strolling hand in hand down the streets. Happy people. Safe people.
I felt an arm graze mine and saw the car had arrived and Selina had gone past me for the driver's seat. She seated herself, adjusted the seat, windows and rear view mirror all before I had even opened my door. Once in, I buckled myself, not truly sure whether Selina was going to be a cautious driver or rabid and road-raged. Her manners of commuting in a vehicle were easy definitions of how she felt.
The drive to Bristol was without peril. Aside from the downtown exit where there had been a three car collision, no sever injuries but lots of destroyed imported cars on their way to the clubs and accompanying pissed off young adults. Ah, youth.
When we pulled up to the garage at Wayne Manor, she cut the engine and faced me. I was about to offer her the car to drive back to town with when she said, "We need to talk."
"All right. Must we do this in the car?"
"Well, we could go to the house."
"We could. I do have a key to get in."
"As do I."
I smiled, when I recalled how I had refused to take her copy of the Manor key back.
We stepped out, locked the car and walked into the garage and then through the side entrance of the Manor. The lights in the kitchen were on and a note rested on the refrigerator. Written to me form Alfred: Sir, if your meal was unsatisfactory, you shall find cherry cheesecake within this machine. However, do not touch anything else. The cake is pre-sliced and there is a plate and fork resting on the table top near the burners. I would wish to find my kitchen in pristine order upon my arrival. A.
"He really doesn't trust you yet?"
"I tried making soup a few months ago when he was in town. Wasn't pretty."
She laughed slightly before opening the doors and retrieving the said-mentioned dessert. As I located another fork, I failed to find another plate. Selina shook her head, no need, I'll just eat off of the cake."
"Do you want Alfred to kill you?" I asked, stunned by her reply.
"Well, if we both pick at it, I'm sure we could finish it. Got any milk?"
Ten minutes later, seated on leather couch before the glowing fireplace, with two full glasses of milk and a third of the cake gone Selina set her fork down, "Well, as much as I love a calorie fest, we still need to talk."
I had just put a rather large forkful in my mouth and as I chewed I nodded and looked at her. She laughed and averted her eyes. I mumbled, "Whuh?"
"Your cheeks are…… Puffed out, you look like a monkey…….."
I swallowed and touched my cheek solemnly, "Gee thanks."
"Sorry, but you really did. Like a silver haired baboon."
"I prefer gorilla."
"Whatever tickles your fancy. Ever think about dyeing it?"
"Sure. I do mine, although I barely have any grays compared to you. You've aged so much……."
"Since we last saw each other. Stress does that to a person. I can see you haven't been to worried."
She sighed, "Bruce, don't think I haven't been stressed."
"You left, I didn't."
"Well, you drove me away!" she stood and stepped towards the fireplace, "Bruce we had everything, and you wouldn't give it up for us."
"Give what up, my life? My entire purpose for being? Like I could throw that all away," I stood as well and approached her, trying to calm my breaths. This was the strangest bout of déjà vu I had ever had. It was just like the day we broke up, fighting over my decision to stay in the cowl.
"And that's why I left."
Silence fell over us as the crackling logs burned at our feet. In the glow of the room, she looked so young and burdened with pain. I bet I didn't look any younger in the soft light of the fire, but I knew my features were lagged with distress. "You know why I can't give it up. Why did you even ask me to?"
"Because I wanted us to work because of us, not the masks or our past. Just for us. But you were too damned stubborn……."
"Stubborn? Is it stubborn to want to right the murder of your parents?" I bellowed as I glanced above the fireplace to their portrait. Selina had averted her eyes from it the whole night. "Is that stubborn? To want to make the lives of others as safe as possible?"
"It is if you ruin the lives of those who love you." She turned and walked out of the room. I hesitated and then listened for the door to slam. None ever came. When Selina was angry she always slammed doors. I didn't even hear one open. Intrigued, I followed her path to the hall where she was nowhere in sight. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw her dress flittering and turned to see her stepping behind the grandfather clock. I followed briskly and listened intently as her heel clicked on the granite steps.
After I turned the lights on, I found her rummaging about the costume vault. I stepped towards it and saw her holding a cowl. She held it at arms length, as if it would bite her.
"Him or me? You can't have both."
"Don't make me choose, Selina……."
"You know," she sneered, "I've been debating my actions since I left you. I never wanted to leave. I told you, I loved you, and I couldn't give a damn about the mask. Now you have another shot at life, Bruce. A better life, a happy one. Him or me?"
I knew she wasn't being rational. The tingle of alcohol in my mind as well as perhaps the most stressful day I have had in years and then her asking me to choose. She couldn't be serious. Could she?
"Please what, Bruce?"
My hand moved out and enclosed her wrist that held the mask. I pushed it down to her side. Gently. Innocently. Affectionately. I stepped forwards and looked down at her, no longer in control of my actions. My thoughts were completely blank when they should have been racing and blurred. My heart was eerily calm when it should have been pounding in the constraints of my chest.
My lips should have been reasoning with her instead of kissing her.
As her arms wrapped up and around my neck, I felt the mask land on my foot. Be that as it may, I sacrilegiously kicked it aside and embraced her. It was my fiftieth birthday, not his. Why should he enjoy it by making my life miserable, yet again?
"Bruce?" Barbara's voice came suddenly. I jumped as did Selina before we both realized that it was the comm. link.
I stepped out after straightening my coat and tie and replied, "Yes, Barbara?"
"Um, well, I was just wondering if you were going out tonight. Dick's a little Looney tunes on the Chardonnay. Clark said he would have no problem filling in for a few hours and either did Diana. Seeing how they are the only sober members of the JLA, aside from J'onn."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Selina undoing her dress zipper.
"No, I better sit out tonight, I did consume alcohol, after all."
"All right. And Bruce?"
"Yes?" I looked up to see her grinning.
"Tell Selina I said hi."
I acted shocked when the screen faded to nothing. How did she……..? Selina was well out of camera range. I then saw it in my reflection of the screen. Aside from tousled hair, which could have been from anything, I had quite the smear of lipstick across half of my mouth.
World's greatest detective.
"Happy birthday, to you. Happy birthday to you…….. Happy birthday, Mr. Wayne……." A sultry voice came from behind me.
Shortly after, we found ourselves stumbling up the stairs, as we embraced and kissed one another, not really paying attention to the actual placement of our feet. Selina lost both of her shoes, an earring and her dress by the time we made it to the first landing of the main stairs. By the second landing, I had lost my coats, shoes, and tie as well as my shirt, of which Selina had ripped half of the buttons off when she pulled it off, too impatient for the task of unbuttoning.
We both tripped and fell on the final landing and lay on the floor next to one another, laughing. I'm not sure why we were laughing, but it felt like it was proper. "You need an elevator, Bruce."
"We have two of them. Three if you count the one that goes down to the cave."
"Why don't you use them?"
I sighed, "Because they belong to Alfred and Barbara. I was only allowed to use them when I was in the wheelchair or if I had a broken leg or two."
I sighed and rolled over onto my back and proceeded to get up. Selina remained horizontal and offered her hands to me. I pulled her up and stared down at her. She looked up at me and smiled, "We left the cheesecake out."
"Oh well. I'm sure Alfred will understand the circumstances."
She laughed and then dashed off down the hall towards the bedroom and then slipped inside. My heart had begun to race and my thoughts had returned to their regular chaotic level. I hadn't given her the answer she wanted, why was she acting like this? I hadn't even given her an answer at all. I had just given her what her eyes had asked me to.
I had given her a night with Bruce, not Batman. He wasn't even in me at the moment. I smiled, thinking he was down in the cave, storming around all pissed and throwing things at the cavern walls in fury over how a woman had taken control of me. Again.
Then I saw a black bra fly out from my room and land in the hall.
With stockings and a matching set of panties following shortly after.
When I stepped into the room, it was a sea of darkness. I could barely make out the outline of her lying on the bed, pinning her hair up, completely nude. Her teeth were clear in the darkness, "So, what did you want for your birthday?"
"Not much really," I began as I removed my undershirt and watch, letting then fall to the floor. She sat up on the edge of the bed as I paused next to it and removed my belt. "Well, I wanted to survive it, first of all."
"And you have," she smiled again.
"Well, there are a few hours left, let's not jump ahead of ourselves."
She undid my slacks and let them fall to the floor, "What else?"
"Um, you know, a tie maybe. Nice dinner and a birthday cake."
"Which you got," she replied and wrapped an arm around my neck pulling me down to the bed. "Is that it?"
"I think so. Anything else would just be…….. Extravagant."
She giggled before kissing me, "That's an interesting way of putting it."
My lips slowly slanted across hers and drew her breath away. She tasted of a deep red wine and something more powerful. The corners of her mouth twitched upwards as she wrapped her other arm around my neck, drawing me down to her. Our lips parted as her hands pushed my shoulders down until I was lying on the bed, allowing her to move on top of me. They then traveled to circle my neck as her legs straddled one of mine.
We kissed again, our emotions running loose thorough out lips and tongues. I scored her body with my hands, tracing the curves of her spine and the swell of her hips. She did likewise, scratching the muscles of my shoulders and then the flesh of my buttocks. Our lips separated only to speak each other's name or to gasp in sensory delight. We tumbled to get under the covers after she had removed my undergarments and then she laid on her back for me. I laid upon her, resting most of my weight on my forearms. Her body shivered as she moaned, "Bruce…"
My mouth lapped at the skin on her neck, causing her to gasp and inhale deeply at random moments. Undecipherable words emitted from her lips as her fingers traced the lines of my hips and moved towards me. My one hand moved and engulfed her breast, just barely touching the pebble-like nipple. She bit her lip again, her mouth twisted in the bittersweet smile of pleasure and pain. I proceeded to spread her legs, of which she readily did. She arched her back slightly and lifted herself, pressing up against my loins. I took a sharp breath and entered her.
Our bodies took control over ourselves at that point, and no words were uttered. As we rocked together slowly, Selina began mumble my name over and over through our kisses. She climaxed shortly after the initial coupling, wrapping her legs around mine and pulling herself tight to my body. I joined her in ecstasy and cried out at the release.
Slowly, our hearts slowed and I withdrew and lay beside her, facing her. Selina turned on her side as well and then embraced me. After settling her head in the crook of my neck, I heard soft snores and felt relaxed breathing ruffle my chest hairs.
Unfortunately, I remained awake for another two hours, watching her as she slept. She was an amazing woman, and always had been. Short fused, unbelievably attractive and of course a worthy adversary. You never crossed lines with her when she was onto the path of something she desired. Unfortunately, she wanted me but Batman always seemed to mess things up.
I yawned softly and laid back with Selina's arms hooked about me. She moved closer to me, if possible, and calmed. I listened to her heartbeat and breathing as well as the sounds of the old house. At ten after one, I heard a car pull up to the house, recognized the four-cylinder engine of Leslie's old sedan. Their voices barely reached my room, only muffled whisperings and muted laughter.
Once the door had opened and after a few brief words, Leslie left. The next sound I heard was water running in the pipes and faint rumblings of Alfred from the region of the kitchen. He had found our dessert mess. Oops.
And then foot steps on the stairs and more ramblings as he found our other mess. Once he was on my floor, I could distinctly make out his foot steps as he muttered to himself, "Fifty years old, still acts like a testosterone driven teenager……."
Instead of opening the door, I heard him pause and then set our articles of clothing down on the floor in front of my room. "Ought to interrupt and have him clean up that cheesecake….. Crumbs on the good sofa…….. Impossible. No wonder Master Dick and Ms. Barbara can not settle down, look at their role models. Such rubbish……."
A little before three, I began to doze off, thinking of how wonderful my birthday had been, from the razor cut to Selina in my arms. Although I had never been one for happy endings to a day, since usually I went to bed sore and exhausted, and if not injured than surely mentally drained.
But I couldn't have thought of a better way to end such a wonderful day. Sharing my bed once more with the feline foe that had once whipped me for calling her "miss kitty." The elegant woman, entertaining me through evening dinners and then afterwards on the rooftops of Gotham. The woman who had laughed at my monkey cheeks while eating cake.
If my fiftieth birthday had been so much fun, I sure couldn't wait for seventy-five.