"Kitchen's closed," Vanessa said gloomily to the three men hunched over her round kitchen table, "What have we got left to do?"
Peter's curly brown head remained close to his Macbook. Vince, Jump City Times' lead photographer, poked him in the arm. Vince momentarily paused in his frenzied typing.
"We've got three usable pictures. Twenty seconds of film. If we're lucky we can sell the footage to Jump City News and earn the Times five grand, and that's only if we're lucky."
Everyone at the table groaned. They didn't have a full story on the Titans, and with three (slightly dark) pictures and a measly twenty seconds of film Jameson would probably chew his crew to pulp for not capturing anything better. Vanessa felt a flurry of guilty butterflies fluttering in her stomach. Peter and Vince had almost killed themselves to get a decent picture, and Nathan hadn't gotten enough film to make a decent profit for Jameson. Most of it, she felt, was completely her fault. Vanessa had told the crew that she was jogging around the cove and saw the fire in Titans Tower—none of them had hesitated to leap up at 10:30 p.m. and rush to get to the explosion. Vanessa had since changed into dirty jeans and a large "Jump City Rock Climbing" t-shirt that engulfed her slender frame. The men with her had been sluggish and slow since 12a.m., even though Vanessa had pumped enough coffee into them to energize a small herd of elephants.
"It's three in the morning," Nathan croaked, suddenly, "Just sell the damn footage."
Vanessa shot him a look for swearing but he was already staring blankly at Vince's computer. It gave a gentle ping and the Macintosh apple turned red, letting them know that the transition had been successful.
"Now out of my house," she yawned, "I don't stay up this late on regular Fridays."
The boys sighed and shuffled their papers, stumbling bleary-eyed toward the front door and then to their beaten-up press van.
"You guys need a new car!" Vanessa called into the chilly air.
"Tell me about it!" Vince yelled back, slamming the door.
She bit her lip and turned away, sliding one hand into the pocket of her jeans and fingering Slade's flash drive. "Give this to your Uncle Bruce…" What was that supposed to mean? Was it a bomb? Did he want to kill her uncle because he was rich? Vanessa didn't think so. Slade didn't strike her as a communistic, liberal-minded radical who would blow up the wealthy. She thought about trying the drive in her own computer, but that was probably a really bad idea, knowing Slade. The young reporter was ticked that she had to travel up to Wayne Manor Saturday. True, it meant that she would get to see her uncle, but that was a two-hour drive there, and two more hours back.
"Kitty," Vanessa said tiredly to Morgan.
She stumbled into her bedroom and saw a large fuzzy ball on her pillow. Even Morgan was asleep. Apparently she had tired herself out yowling at the bedroom door when Vanessa shut her in. But otherwise, Morgan would have clawed everyone's eyes out, since she was predisposed to hate everyone but her owner.
"And Slade," she said aloud, "Still don't know why you like him, by the way."
Yawning again and sinking into the deliciously soft bed, Vanessa decided that it would be in her best interest to snooze for just a couple of minutes, and then get up and call her uncle. She glanced at her Blackberry lying on the nightstand, and then sank down onto the pillows and closed her eyes.
"HARDER BETTER FASTER STRONGER…"
"Ahh!" Vanessa gasped, fumbling with her Blackberry and finally accepting the call, "Hello?"
"Vanessa, this is Alfred. So sorry to call at such an early hour."
"It's fine," she mumbled, "Is there a problem?"
"No problem, but Bruce has a rather unusual request…he needs you at the Lodge this morning."
She groaned. Her uncle's hunting lodge was three hours away as opposed to the two it would take to get to Wayne Manor.
"I'm en route as we speak."
"Alfred, I don't have anything decent to wear."
"There is clothing for you in the limousine."
"Thank God," she sighed, "How long until you get here?"
Vanessa bit back a string of curses and struggled to sit up in the dark room.
"Thanks Alfred. I'll be outside by then."
"See you soon."
"Up, Morgan," she whispered, turning on the touch lamp by her bed and glancing at the clock. It read 5:50a.m. She had managed to catch less than three hours of sleep. Fantastic. Vanessa knew that when she didn't get at least seven hours of sleep, she was one of the crankiest people on the face of the planet, and she really didn't want her uncle seeing that side of her. He was one of the few people she looked up to and she hated annoying or otherwise inconveniencing him. Vanessa had fallen asleep in her jeans and t-shirt so she slid on the pair of old tennis shoes sitting by her bed and looked around for Morgan. She was usually asleep on a pillow when Vanessa woke up, but she was currently rubbing up against the door and purring. Her owner started.
He didn't answer. Obviously. Vanessa immediately felt stupid for acting so paranoid.
"Come on kitty," she grumbled, pocketing her Blackberry and Slade's flash drive as she picked up Morgan, "We're going for a ride."
She slept on the way to the lodge, murmuring a sleepy "Hello" to Alfred before wilting in the backseat to take a nap. Morgan would have to find a space to curl up on the floor.
"Vanessa, we're almost there."
"Five more minutes," she groaned.
"I'm afraid not."
Alfred's voice was tinny through the speaker beside her ear and Vanessa muttered various curses before slowly sitting up. Morgan, who had been curled up on her feet, gave her owner a snarky hiss before jumping down to the floor.
"Yeah, yeah," Vanessa grumbled as she brushed her hair, "At least you don't have to change clothes."
She rifled through the Bergdorf shopping bags that Alfred had brought and pulled out a cotton Versace dress that was a little too sweet for her taste, but it was a tad more presentable than her current attire. A pair of dark pink heels was included in the bag. They matched the sash on the dress and the whole ensemble was not something that Vanessa would have picked for herself, right down to the (matching!) raspberry Urban Decay lipstick. But it would do. The limo passed the security gate and five minutes later, rolled up to a stop in front of the Lodge. It was really more of a mansion than a grubby hunting lodge, but it had started out that way. Bruce had built the whole thing up from scratch into a two-story, eight bedroom sanctuary. This vacation home was nicer than her real home.
After pulling into the circular driveway Alfred opened the door of the limo and swiftly removed Morgan, passing her along to a black-clad staff member.
"Be nice," Vanessa whispered to her cat, smiling before taking Alfred's proffered hand.
He did a quick scan of her appearance to make sure she looked presentable and Vanessa held her breath. Alfred gave her a shallow nod and she let the air out of her lungs with relief. She was anxious to see Bruce again and ask him why in the world Slade would want him to have the flash drive she now clutched in her hand. Alfred opened the towering wood doors and ushered Vanessa inside. She breathed in the familiar smell of hardwood and pine needles and walked inside to see her Uncle standing at the base of the stairs with his arms folded.
"Vanessa, welcome," he said warmly, laying one hand on her shoulder, "I'm glad you could make it."
"Thank you," she replied, "And I wanted to ask you about this. It's a flash drive and"—
Movement at top of the stairs caught her eye and she trailed off as he descended and made his way toward them.
"This is Commander Wilson," her Uncle said, gesturing toward the black-clad man standing beside him, "He'll be staying with us for a period of time while we attend to some business. This is my niece, Vanessa Gould."
The white-haired man was smirking at her, his gaze taking its leisurely time wandering over her body as Alfred gestured to Bruce and the two bent over a piece of paperwork they'd just gotten. She shifted uneasily. He may be a commanding officer or something, but that didn't mean Vanessa trusted him right away. Wilson stuck out his hand and she had no choice but to take it, wincing as he used his tight grip to pull her in close.
"Well, don't you look adorable," he taunted, his voice a low whisper Bruce couldn't hear.
A flush heated up her face and she jerked away from him, making a vague noise of disgust. "Commander Wilson" let her go with a smirk. She may not have recognized him in plain clothes, but that voice was enough to make Vanessa realize that the person who had been leering at her was Slade himself. If he noticed her outfit, then it must be really hokey—but the old moneyed set wasn't exactly known for taking fashion risks, and apparently the person who picked her dress wasn't either. Instead of the stuffy, preppy clothes of those around him, Slade wore solid black, which contrasted sharply with his white hair and made him fade into the background when he stood still. A handgun was tucked into its holster at his hip, but that really wasn't what concerned her. His very presence made her uneasy. Letting Slade in the house was like allowing a snake to sleep in your bed. She decided to try again when Alfred and Bruce turned their attention back to Slade and Vanessa.
"Uncle Bruce," she began, staring at the black patch where Slade's right eye should be, "This is"—
"An excellent time for brunch," her Uncle said briskly, "Would you like to join us?"
Vanessa bristled angrily when she realized her Uncle was inviting her to join them. It should be the other way around—or preferably, not include Commander Wilson at all. She couldn't fathom why her uncle would let Slade into the Manor at all, but she would have to go along with it—at least for now. And if Bruce wasn't aware of who he was dealing with then if she revealed Slade…he 'd probably beat her to a pulp, or worse.
"Of course I would," she replied stiffly.
Vanessa shivered as she followed Bruce and Slade into the breakfast room.
"Are you alright, Vanessa?" Alfred asked, suddenly appearing by her elbow.
"I'll be fine," she mumbled, "I'm just…a little cold."
Author's Note: I'm sooo sorry I haven't updated this in so long! Is anyone still reading? If you are I just want you to know I'm working on the next chapter right now! Please read, review, and offer constructive criticism! Thanks!