Title: Chelsea Grin – "Something of the Terrible" (7/?)
Characters: Pamela Isley, Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth. Brief mentions of others.
Summary: "Yes, a Bruce Wayne party," she comments, smirking knowingly. "They're just as infamous and exclusive as their namesake, aren't they? And at the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor, too. Who wouldn't want to come?"
Word count: 1,872
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to DC. I'm just messing around.
Author's Note: All the scientific stuff? All true. Didn't make it up. Seriously, look it up on Wikipedia if you don't believe me. Also, the title is from "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe. :)
"Yeah!" Bruce shouts automatically, waking himself up. His eyes fly open and, realizing that he's slouching over his desk, sits up quickly before anyone can see him. He shakes his head once and blinks furiously, trying to shake off the disorientation and failing. He regrets falling asleep at his desk, but he can't really blame himself; yesterday was a long day and an even longer night. He barely slept an hour before he somehow got himself to Wayne Enterprises – he can't remember how he got here, let alone why he's here at all. Something about an appointment. He holds his head in his hands and tries to remember through the bleariness, but all he can think about is the stinging sensation in his eyes. He needs sleep, but he knows he won't get it anytime soon.
Then he hears a smooth voice, and he remembers why he's here. She says, mocking and friendly all at the same time, "Looks like you forgot about me, Mr. Wayne. Have a nice nap?" She smiles sideways, halfway in the door and enjoying Bruce's blank stare of surprise.
He recovers quickly and smiles his widest, brightest Bruce Wayne smile. "Very nice, Dr. Isley," he replies pleasantly, "but I didn't forget about you. I just… dozed off." He nods his head in a self-deprecating manner and gestures to the chair in front of his desk. "Please, come in."
She slips inside, closes the door behind her, and crosses the room quickly, all business now. "So," she says briskly as she sits down. "Mr. Fox said you had some last minute questions." Bruce blinks. She gives him a small smile, coldly amused. "About the fundraiser?"
"Right, the fundraiser, of course," Bruce breathes, maintaining a sheepish smile as his stomach tightens. He completely forgot about the fundraiser. Feigning embarrassment, he chuckles weakly and says, "Well, I, uh – I guess my first question is, did we ever decide on a date?"
Isley narrows her eyes disbelievingly. "New Year's Eve. That was the first thing we decided – your butler insisted on it. Don't you remember?"
He does remember; he just wants confirmation. He masks his dismay with an apologetic smile and laughs, "Right, right. You know, I'm sorry about this." He makes a flippant gesture toward his head, indicating his seemingly faulty memory, and continues with more honesty than he intends, "Long night."
She laughs bitterly at this and says, "Same here. Though I'm guessing you didn't have an old friend call you up early Christmas morning and ask for a place to stay, did you?" Her eyes are just as bitter as her tone.
"On Christmas morning?" She nods, and Bruce whistles. "Sounds like your friend's a bit of a nuisance," he comments, inwardly glad that the conversation is no longer about him.
"More than you know," she replies, smiling poisonously. She adjusts her glasses and disposes of her sour demeanor with a quick shake of her red hair – back to business again. "Your questions, Mr. Wayne?"
He scratches his cheek and says quickly, "Yes, well, I just wanted to know more about this compound – what is it, farcorinal?"
"Yeah, that – before the fundraiser. You're sure – I mean, absolutely sure – that it can cure cancer?"
One corner of her mouth goes back into a smile. "Well, no one can be absolutely sure about anything when it comes to cancer," she explains evenly, "but one study conducted in England showed some promising results."
"Uh huh," Bruce murmurs, looking Isley in the eye. "Well. That sounds wonderful, but you're a botanist, aren't you?" Her pleasant, rather superior expression disappears quickly, replaced by a dead calm. "What I mean is, you're not a medical doctor, so I guess I'm a little confused as to how this rather specialized subject fits into your area of expertise." He provokes her on purpose, simply to verify her legitimacy. She seems too distant to be a cancer
"I'm not just a botanist, Mr. Wayne, I'm also a chemist," she counters sharply. "I'm good at creating new compounds, compounds that help people. And it just so happens," she adds with an icy smile, "that falcarinol is found primarily in a plant that is very much a part of my area of expertise, as you say."
"And what plant is that?"
"Ivy. Falcarinol is the stuff that makes you itch." A smile forms around her words, and Bruce knows that she relishes the thought of giving somebody an agonizing rash – at this moment, probably him.
Still, in spite of his put-on persona, Bruce is interested. He leans back in his chair and pretends that he is only vaguely interested. "Huh. So this stuff, what, irritates the cancer cells into oblivion?"
She chuckles a low and throaty chuckle. "Something like that," she admits. "The only problem is that it's going to take a lot of research - years, even – to perfect a formula that will target the cancer cells and the cancer cells only." She pauses, then adds nonchalantly, "Which, of course, means I'm going to need a lot of money."
Bruce waves his hand dismissively. "That won't be a problem. Even if we weren't doing the fundraiser, Wayne Enterprises would be more than happy to invest in something as important as this. I mean, curing cancer – who wouldn't want to invest?" He laughs his arrogant Bruce Wayne laugh. He annoys himself.
"Yes, I've been wondering about that," Isley says, taking her glasses off and giving Bruce a distant look that seems rather practiced. "I don't see why you're holding a fundraiser at all, when you and Fox could've given me a blank check months ago if you really wanted to."
Her question throws Bruce for a moment. He's not quite sure what to make of it – it wasn't quite an accusation, nor was it just a question. It was almost a calculated challenge, but he has no idea what exactly she's challenging – maybe it's a response to his doubting her skills as a scientist, or maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, her face maintains a look of careful disinterest, and he attempts to match it. "You'll get more money this way, trust me. You wouldn't believe what people will pay to get into one of my parties."
"Yes, a Bruce Wayne party," she comments, smirking knowingly. "They're just as infamous and exclusive as their namesake, aren't they? And at the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor, too. Who wouldn't want to come?"
"Who indeed," Bruce murmurs, and his stomach tightens again.
"Alfred, we have to cancel the party."
Alfred briefly glances up at Bruce and continues chopping his carrots calmly. "It's a fundraiser, Master Wayne, not a party."
Bruce sighs briefly, goes over to the sink, and leans over it, staring intensely out the window and into the snow-covered gardens. "Doesn't matter. We have to cancel."
Behind him, Bruce hears Alfred pause, then set the knife on the cutting board. "And why, may I ask, is that?"
Bruce laughs to himself and turns around. "I don't want a surprise guest showing up out of the blue, that's why."
Nodding once, Alfred turns back to his carrots and begins chopping again. His face is completely blank and he remains silent, but Bruce can tell that, for whatever reason, Alfred doesn't approve. Rolling his eyes, Bruce says exasperatedly, "Alfred, you know he's going to show up." He pauses, and Alfred keeps chopping. "I'm not going to have any more people die because of me."
"That's the right sentiment," Alfred says slowly, "but not the right idea." Chop, chop, chop.
"What do you mean?" Bruce asks, slightly perplexed.
Alfred sets the knife down again and turns to Bruce. "It's really quite simple," he explains, smiling crookedly. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but the only way to stop the Joker is to catch him, yes?"
"Think, Bruce. The only way to catch the Joker is to draw him out, to lure him into an environment that only you control. That was the problem last time – he controlled everything, and you only managed to catch him because he never factored your violent gauntlets into his plans."
Reluctantly, Bruce smiles. "That's one way to look at it, I suppose. But, seriously, Alfred – you want the Joker to crash the party?"
"Of course I do! It'd be nothing less than a blessing if he showed up! All we have to do is make a few more security modifications, and the manor is as good as a mouse trap."
"Which makes me the cheese, right?"
"Not exactly," Alfred says slyly, popping one of the carrots into his mouth. "I'd say you were more of a Prince Prospero, actually."
"Prince Prospero?" Bruce laughs skeptically, and he takes a carrot as well. "In case you've forgotten," he comments through his chewing, "the Red Death kills Prince Prospero at the end of the story."
"Kills everybody, actually." Alfred's eyes twinkle mischievously.
Bruce shakes his head. "Not exactly reassuring."
"Well, Prospero was an idiot," Alfred says cheerily, "and you, thankfully, are not. And neither am I, for that matter."
Bruce looks down for a moment, and then looks back at Alfred. His eyes are bright, filled with the promise of a brilliant plan, and Bruce lets himself be convinced. "Alright," he says. "Let's hope this works."
Triumphantly, Alfred returns to his carrots. As Bruce leaves, he hears Alfred call out, "By the way, Master Wayne – you are definitely the cheese!"
"And don't I know it," Bruce calls back, unable to keep himself from grinning, and then he murmurs softly to himself, "This had better work."
Over the next five days, everyone prepares for New Year's Eve. Most of Gotham's citizens call their friends and family and invite them to casual get-togethers; some stock up on booze so they can forget that they're spending New Year's alone. Others, however, prepare in different ways.
A vigilante prowls the streets looking for a dead man. A billionaire, a butler, and a CEO discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a gas that can knock out a crowd quickly and harmlessly. A billionaire vigilante lies awake at night, tries not to regret, and fails.
A dead man slowly breathes life into a dead mafia. A scientist spends hours in her greenhouse, tending to her plants and imagining a formula that will eventually become a powerful drug. A puppet stands behind the scientist and juggles two lives in her mind. Which will she choose? Which should she choose? When the scientist goes shopping for a dress, she slips away, pumped full of morphine and invisible save for the sloppy bandage around her ankle. She chooses the wrong one.
A clown summons clowns and caterers. The puppet finds the clown; the clown is amused, but apathetic. At the last minute, he gives her an important task. If she doesn't succeed, everything will fall apart. She succeeds, just to please him.
A vigilante dons a billionaire suit. A butler double-checks. A scientist paints her lips a toxic red. A clown erases his grin and gives it to a puppet, giggling monstrously at the whimpering children behind him.
Time to party.