Batman #1—Alfred’s Niece
This story takes place several months after the events in the movie, The Dark Knight, and has no connection to the movie trilogy’s third installment, The Dark Knight Rises. Call this an alternate advancement of The Dark Knight storyline.
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Kendra Carmichael ran across Gotham International’s baggage claim and jumped into her uncle’s arms.
“Ello, sis,” Alfred said with a squeeze.
As he set her on her feet, he took hold of her hand the way he’d done when she was small. Kendra remembered thinking her uncle was as tall and strong as a god back then. Years had passed since Alfred’s last visit home to Sussex, but he still stood tall and broad across the shoulders, though white-haired now and a bit thicker around the middle. His face held the same sly humor and intelligence.
Alfred smiled at his grinning niece. Her honey-brown hair fell in waves to her collarbone, her smoky blue eyes danced. “Welcome to the States, Dr. Carmichael,” he said. Welcome to Gotham.”
Bruce Wayne stirred awake. Mid-afternoon, the naked glass panes of his penthouse walls streamed with winter sunlight. He rolled over carefully, feeling every bruise and pulled muscle from the Batman’s night. He thought he heard voices through the corridor from his bedroom. Happy voices, he thought. Then, he remembered—Kendra came today.
Jumping out of bed, he pumped quick pushups to take the stiffness out, then padded to the shower. As the steamy water rolled over him, Bruce recalled the summer Alfred took him to England to visit his family—the summer after Bruce’s parents died. The first day there, he hid in the Carmichael’s tree house until Kendra found him. She plunked down next to him and talked—about starting the scary Year Nine of school in the fall, about the fort her brothers had made in Bruce’s honor, about how much she missed her own father. She offered him a peppermint, and as he sucked it, he started to talk. He told her how his parents had been gunned down in an alley behind the Gotham opera house. It was all he could think about. Kendra cried and threw her thin arm around Bruce’s neck. They cried together—two thirteen-year-olds trying to comprehend what had happened to them. Afterward, like fresh air following a storm, they scurried down the tree house ladder and joined the boys at the fort.
Bruce dressed quickly, again hearing a hint of happy laughter. That summer showed him a way back from grief. Kendra did that for me, he thought.
He found them in the kitchen, a modern expanse of marble and titanium. Alfred sat at one end of the long worktable, polishing a tea service. Kendra, with her back to the door, strummed an old guitar.
“Another,” Alfred requested. His cheery eyes flicked up to Bruce, leaning in the doorway.
“Very well,” Kendra laughed, “but then I’m helping you with the rest of your polishing.”
She tuned the guitar carefully, and then walked her fingers down a blues progression. Her voice changed into a cigarette-smoking, hardened, no-nonsense mama as she sang about lost love and men gone wrong. Blue notes floated over the chorus. Kendra growled a sexy counter melody in the bridge that made Alfred laugh out loud. When she feathered her last chord, both Alfred and Bruce applauded.
“Bruce!” she cried, jumping up.
She hugged him fiercely, and he flinched at the pressure on his shoulder.
“You’re hurt,” she said, taking a step back.
“Tennis and martinis—not a good mix,” he shrugged. He watched her watch him, a ghost of the thirteen-year-old he once knew in the beautiful woman before him. A mature caution slid over her natural sunny disposition. At least he recognized her clothes—ratty jeans and an old T-shirt. Bruce wondered what Kendra saw. Was his thirteen-year-old self still present? Still vulnerable?
“You should be more careful, Bruce,” she said at last.
“Oh, I tell him that daily, luv,” Alfred muttered. “Does no good.”
“Your reputation reaches even to Sussex,” she said, sitting back in her chair. She laid the guitar across her lap and strummed absently.
Bruce came into the room and perched on the worktable. “You can’t believe everything you read.”
“No,” she said, smiling up at him. “I don’t.”
“Are you settled?” he asked, changing the subject. “Are your rooms all right?”
She nodded. “It seems such a shame to have a beautiful bed and not be able to use it.” A yawn distorted her words.
“Now I’ve told you,” Alfred scolded, “you must stay awake until tonight, otherwise you’ll just feel worse.”
“Let’s go out,” Bruce said. “There’s a party I have to go to this evening. Come with me. It’ll keep you awake.”
“A party?” Kendra repeated, her eyes brighter. “Me on the arm of the world’s naughtiest billionaire? The paparazzi won’t recognize you without your entourage!”
Bruce smiled wanly.
“Seriously,” she continued, “I could damage your reputation…once they find out I’m actually smart.”
“This would be your first research scientist, sir,” Alfred added.
Hands loose in his lap, Bruce looked at his shoes and chuckled. “I don’t have a prayer here, do I, Alfred.”
“’Fraid not, sir,” his butler said cheerfully. Kendra grinned.
Christmas lights sparkled along the curved drive and up the sides of the DuPont mansion as the Wayne limousine approached. Fat snowflakes fell in slow spirals.
“Lovely,” Kendra murmured, peering out the window. She turned to Bruce, who sat beside her. “Difficult to put twinkle lights on a penthouse, I gather.”
“You’re going to bust my chops the whole time you’re here, aren’t you?”
“Be truthful. You expected nothing else.”
He smiled in spite of himself. “Nothing else.”
Kendra laughed and clapped her gloved hands together. “Truce. I shall be a properly delicious date tonight, Mr. Wayne.”
He shook his head, fearing the worst.
Bruce got out and handed Kendra out of the car. Other parties arrived at the same time, and the front steps bustled with greetings. Kendra met the head of Gotham Medical Center, a financier, and Oliver Queen. Inside, Bruce took Kendra’s coat, uncovering a short, black, sleeveless dress with a kicky skirt sprinkled with glitter dust. Kendra knew she looked fine in this dress with her swimmer’s shoulders and muscular legs, but it was old, and she knew this crowd would notice.
“You look great, Keni.” Bruce’s breath puffed by her ear.
“Thanks, mate,” she said, smiling at the old nickname. “Let’s mingle.”
Bruce introduced her to two senators, a congressman, Gotham’s mayor, and the city’s police commissioner. She turned on her Sussex charm while asking intelligent questions. Most of the men looked like they’d had seven bells kicked out of them when she and Bruce left to socialize elsewhere. They were not used to intelligent conversation with Bruce’s escorts.
Bruce watched Kendra maneuver the shark-infested waters of Gotham’s elite. She deflected personal questions, and turned the conversation around on her companions. The wives and powerful women in the room watched her with slitted eyes, but Kendra treated them sweetly. Yet, she left no doubt that she was with Bruce Wayne, and that all others before her had been mere posers.
Bruce excused himself for a few moments to talk to a business associate. In the interim, Kendra chatted up the police commissioner and his wife. Jim Gordon was an unassuming, average-looking man. But the sharpness behind his glasses denoted a keen intelligence and, Kendra believed, tightly honed intuition. He seemed ill at ease in this crowd, and kept tugging on his dinner jacket. Kendra imagined he would be more comfortable organizing a manhunt or yelling at rough cops. She liked him. His self-conscious awkwardness was endearing. Barbara Gordon seemed to slide in and out of the different worlds as needed. Kendra admired her grace and classic beauty. She made Kendra laugh. It felt like she’d known them both for years.
Bruce found her again after a time, and brought a fresh flute of champaign.
“Thank you for inviting me,” Kendra said. “This is wonderful fun.”
“I’m glad,” he smiled.
She saw that the smile still didn’t reach his brown eyes. They seemed guarded now rather than wounded when he was thirteen, but the disconnect was still there. Unconsciously, she reached up and pressed her hand against his face. After a moment, his eyebrows went up.
“Sorry,” she said, pulling her hand away. “Ghosts.”
He made a noise and took a sip of his drink. “I know what you mean. This afternoon when you were singing, all I could think of was that awful show we put on for Alfred and your mother.”
Kendra laughed. “Crowded House. Boy George. Cyndi Lauper.” They both laughed.
Kendra glanced around, sipping her champaign. “I’m mad hot. Do you think we’d freeze if we stepped out?”
Bruce led her to a balcony. Other partygoers were standing by the rail, gazing at the fall of snow and the lights. The cold air snapped some of the fatigue out of Kendra, but she was still weary. Very glad to be having fun with Bruce, but weary.
“We can go anytime,” he said, slipping off his dinner jacket and draping it over her shoulders.
“The night is yet young,” Kendra smiled. “Who knows what scandal we’d miss.”
“It’s after midnight,” he said. “You’ve lived with jet lag long enough.”
“Would you mind?”
“I took care of my business here,” he said, turning her back towards the ballroom.
“Let’s dance once before we go,” she suggested, “just to give the gossip mill another turn.”
“Okay,” he said dubiously, taking back his jacket.
They stumbled through a sloppy box step, Kendra giggling while Bruce tried to count the steps for her. Finally, they clicked into place. Bruce led Kendra around the floor, gaining confidence as they danced. A few couples joined them, but most of the guests rimmed the dance floor to watch. This was the first time many of them had seen a sober Bruce Wayne behave himself. He and Kendra made a beautiful picture, their athletic bodies strong and graceful. Speculation buzzed.
“Maybe I’ll be in the papers tomorrow,” Kendra said gleefully. She headed through the crowd, Bruce right behind her. “Something for my scrapbook.”
They looked for their hosts and spotted them with a group of bankers. Mr. DuPont pumped Bruce’s hand and kissed Kendra on the cheek. Mrs. DuPont held out a limp hand to both of them.
“So interesting to meet you, dear,” she said to Kendra. Then to Bruce she added, “Will we see her again, or is she one of your typical girls?”
Kendra felt Bruce tense beside her, almost as if he prepared to leap. She felt for the sleeve of his jacket and grabbed onto it.
“No one has ever described me as typical, Mrs. DuPont,” she said, smooth and cool as ice. “And I seriously doubt our paths shall ever cross again. Good night.”
As she and Bruce wound through the crowd to the cloakroom, Kendra could hear the DuPonts and their companions whispering and clucking.
“Hypocritical, self-righteous, egotistical…” he muttered, yanking on his coat.
“Just jealous,” Kendra said quietly, slipping into hers. “Come on.”
She took his arm as they left the mansion. Frigid air replaced the snowfall. They stood close together waiting for the limo.
“It’s not like you to care what people think. At least you didn’t used to care.” Kendra let go of Bruce’s arm and shoved her hands into her pockets. Her breath came in white plumes.
“I don’t,” Bruce said darkly. “But she insulted you.”
Kendra pressed her temple against his shoulder. “No, mate, she insulted you.”
Bruce pursed his lips and stared out at the cold grounds. The limousine pulled up.
“So, let it go,” she said as they started down the steps. “Even I know you’ve survived worse.”
“You’re right,” he admitted, opening the door.
Once they bundled themselves inside, Kendra peeked at Bruce’s tight jaw and thinned lips. “I remember that look,” she said. “You threw a stick at me last time I saw it.”
He took her hand, squeezed it, and kept hold of it. But he didn’t look at her.
“God help the people who reallymake you mad,” she muttered.
Kendra opened the Gotham Gazette to the Society section and squeaked.
“What is it, luv,” Alfred asked around his teacup.
She flipped the paper so he could see. A half-page photo showed her and Bruce dancing at the DuPont party. The headline blared “BILLIONARE BAGS BRITISH BOMBSHELL.”
“Bombshell,” she said hopefully. “That’s a good thing, right? Yanks don’t have another meaning?”
“It means beautiful and … well … curvaceous. ‘Bags’, however…”
“That’s alright, Uncle, I know what ‘bags’ means.” She tilted her head and smiled. “I do look smashing in this photo.” She bolted upright and started to laugh. “I’m a Wayne Girl now! Oh, it’s too delicious!”
“Speaking of which, your breakfast is getting cold.” Alfred’s teacup covered most of his scowl.
Kendra chewed toast. “Oh, I have a wicked idea. Ooo! Two of them. Can Sam drive me this morning?”
“Yes,” Alfred answered warily.
“What time will you take Bruce’s tray up today?”
“He asked to be awakened at noon—why?”
Kendra took back the paper and thumbed through the other sections. “You’ll see,” she sang. She stopped at the front page. “Ah. Batman was out saving the City again last night.”
“I’ve been following him in the papers at home. The London Times can’t get enough of him.” She read farther into the story. “It says here he ‘led police to the lair of a known arsonist’. It’s so perplexing. Gotham seems to want him to catch these criminals, yet they hate him for it. The article says the police chased Batman to the arsonist’s apartment. What do you think, Uncle Alfred? Is Batman a hero or a criminal?”
“From what I’ve read, I’d say he’s trying to do good.”
“But what about his character? Is he evil? Or is he someone’s loving father?”
Alfred smiled. “That’s more your area of expertise, sis.”
“He is a puzzlement.” She sat back in her chair. “I wish I could meet him. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll ask Sam to take me to the Library, and I’ll just read about him.”
She picked up her dishes and washed them in the sink. Alfred sipped his cold tea.
Kendra sat in the front seat with Sam, the driver, as they navigated Gotham’s streets. She explained her plan to him, and he let loose a throaty laugh.
“You don’t see Mr. Wayne laugh much,” he said. “This will be good for him.”
He let her out at the Library and promised to pick her up in two hours. The huge vaulted entrance and murals made Kendra feel at home. She used a map to find Reference and asked the librarian there for help with the old-fashioned microfiche. Once settled, she went back over the first stories of Batman to see if she’d missed anything. Most of the stories from over the past two years had also run in the Times, so she found very little new information. The Gazette did have more pictures, and she poured over them to no avail. Disappointed in her search, but happy to be in a world-class library, she packed up her notebook and read the medical research journals before heading off in search of Sam.
She waited inside the front doors, watching for the long limo to peak around the mounds of snow. Then, she felt someone behind her. She smelled alcohol and body odor.
“Hello,” a deep voice breathed in her hair. A strong hand squeezed her arm.
She twisted free and scurried to the other side of the door. “Leave me alone,” she told the man. “Now. Or I’ll alert the authorities.”
“No need.” The filthy man smiled at her, exposing rotten teeth. His eyes were so blue they looked white. He sauntered through the door and down the front steps.
Kendra held her notebook tight against her as she watched the man head down the street. Her legs felt like jelly, and she stomped her feet to put heat back into them. She had encountered homeless people in London, but none of them had ever threatened her. Where’s Batman when you need him, she thought shakily. Kendra ran down the steps as Sam pulled up.
“Where to now?” he asked as she closed the door.
“Home, Sam,” she said quietly.
Alfred set the breakfast tray on Bruce’s bedside table. He could hear the shower running as he bent to make the bed. Bloodstains smeared the sheets. Alfred pulled the soiled sheets off the bed without a second thought and shoved them in the laundry shoot. He checked the pillowcases, the spread, and the floor for other stains, but found none. The shower shut off as Alfred finished making the bed and stepped down into Bruce’s private sitting room.
“What’s on the calendar today, Alfred?” Bruce called as he dressed.
“A board meeting at 2:00 to vet the new financier. Your tailor will be here at 4:00 for a final fitting. Tonight you’ll dine with several members of the women’s Olympic swim team. And I’m to direct your attention to your breakfast tray, sir.”
After a long pause, Alfred heard the rarest of sounds—Bruce Wayne’s laughter. It warmed Alfred’s heart and made him give thanks for his niece. He knew Kendra would be good for Bruce, but he never realized what a difference she might make in the whole house after only one day. Ever since Batman had come into existence, first the mansion and then the penthouse had become deathly grim. Kendra brought light and air to a very heavy, very serious house. Alfred would miss her terribly when she left for Metropolis.
Bruce joined him in the sitting room. Dressed in gray slacks and a white shirt, he displayed no obvious wounds—to Alfred’s relief. He held a glass of orange juice in one hand and a small pepper mill in the other.
“Rumor mill,” he explained, grinning. “Kendra said we’d make the papers. She looks great in that picture, doesn’t she?”
“She certainly does, sir. I want to thank you for making my niece the topic of conversation at breakfast tables around the world.”
“She’s the one who wanted to dance,” Bruce protested happily.
Hearing someone clear their throat, they both turned. Kendra stood in the corridor to the sitting room. “Are you decent?” she asked.
“Usually,” Bruce replied. “Come on in.”
“I have a present for you,” she said brightly.
Grinning, Kendra struck a pose, displaying the black T-shirt she wore. In hot pink letters the shirt proclaimed, “I’M A WAYNE GIRL!”
“I had these made for your friends tonight.” She draped four T-shirts over his arm. “You’ll have to hire someone to maintain enough stock, I’m afraid. We all know how fast you’ll go through them.”
“All right, all right, very funny.” Smiling, Bruce tossed the shirts and the pepper mill into a chair.
“I believe I see the genius of the plan, sir,” said Alfred. “In a crowd of Gotham’s finest, we shall see islands of black and pink T-shirts. It’s an advertising coup.”
“Advertising for what?” Bruce laughed.
“That, mate, is up to you.” Kendra turned for the corridor. “You can thank me later. Ta.”
“Hey,” Bruce called as she reached out for the titanium wall. He crossed to her and gently touched her arm. “What happened here?”
Kendra flinched away from Bruce’s touch. The area above her elbow ached deeply. Alfred joined them, concerned.
“I went to the library this morning,” she said simply. “A man there grabbed me.”
“Where else are you hurt?”
“Did you notify security?”
“What happened to him?”
Kendra put her hands on both of them. “He was just a deranged homeless man. He wanted to scare me, and he did.”
Bruce nodded at her arm. “This is more than scaring someone.”
“I’m all right, you two. Let’s just drop it.”
Both men scowled at her, but resigned themselves to silence.
Kendra smiled, “My heroes.”
She spent much of the afternoon writing notes to the people she’d met at the party. She tried to make the missives light and personal, but she crumpled sheet after sheet of stationary. I can write a grant proposal, she thought, but a social note is beyond me.
She saved the Gordons’ for last. She referred to both her own and the commissioner’s sudden promotions and wished him luck. She complimented Barbara’s taste in music, as it was so much like her own, and suggested a couple of British bands she might enjoy. She also asked Barbara to lunch soon. Uncle Alfred and Bruce were lovely, but she felt the need for some girl time. She hoped Barbara accepted. And then the image of the two of them in a vast restaurant gave her a chill.
As she licked the envelope, she wondered if she cut off Uncle Alfred and Bruce too quickly earlier. Maybe she should tell the police about the man in the Library—surely Library security should be told. Could she call what happened an attack? He only grabbed her arm…
She left her room and wandered around the penthouse until she found Bruce with his tailor. He stood in front of a full-length mirror, trying on a beautifully cut blue suit. The tailor fussed with the cuff of the pants, adjusted the fit of the coat across the shoulders.
Kendra tentatively stepped in. “I’m so sorry to interrupt…”
“You’re fine. We’re done, aren’t we, Anton?”
The tailor nodded and took the coat.
“Let me get dressed. I’ll be right back.”
He slipped into his dressing room, and emerged a few moments later. He tossed the pants to the waiting tailor, who bustled out the door.
“I think I was too hasty earlier,” Kendra said, “about the man at the Library, I mean. What do you think I should do, Bruce?”
“Report him to the police,” he said at once.
“But, I’ve never had any dealings with police. They scare me more than that man.”
“You know Jim Gordon. He didn’t scare you.”
Kendra shook her head.
“Let me see if I can arrange for you to talk to him.”
“I could do that.”
“Give me a minute.” He went through another door to an office, then disappeared from sight.
Kendra gripped her hands together to stop her trembling. It seemed her reaction to the morning’s events only got stronger as the day progressed. She disliked the scared rabbit she was turning into. At home, she navigated London without any thought to her personal safety. Of course, she wasn’t stupid about it—she stayed aware of her surroundings and kept pepper spray in her purse. She knew enough about self-defense to scare the wits out of a would-be attacker. But now, she just wanted Uncle Alfred, or even Bruce, to make things all better. Bruce was right. She needed to take come action, if only to stem this fear.
He came back through the door. “Gordon said he can see us if we come right away. Get your coat, Keni, let’s go.”
Jim Gordon ushered them into his old-fashioned office. A big oak desk dominated the room. Filing cabinets and books filled most of the other space. Two padded oak chairs sat in front of the desk. Gordon led his visitors there.
“I so enjoyed our time together last night, Commissioner,” Kendra said nervously. “I sent your wife a note this afternoon.” She felt Bruce’s hand at her elbow and knew she was babbling.
“Barbara was very taken with you, Dr. Carmichael.” Gordon glanced at Bruce, then focused on Kendra. “Why don’t you tell me what happened at the Library?”
Kendra repeated her story and showed Gordon her arm, which had started to turn purple-black.
“Can you give me a description?”
Kendra cleared her throat. She had practiced this in the car with Bruce. “Caucasian, six foot one or two, blonde, a craggy face—I’d say he was forty-five to fifty years old. And blue eyes so light they looked white.”
Gordon looked up from his note pad. “Was he wearing army fatigues?”
“Yes.” Kendra sat up straighter.
“Could you pick him out of a mug shot book?”
“If the picture shows his eyes, yes.”
Gordon got up and stuck his head in the other room.
Bruce sat up and leaned toward Kendra. “You didn’t tell me about his eyes,” he whispered.
“Why? Is it important?”
“Maybe.” Bruce leaned back in his chair as Gordon returned.
“Here,” he said to Kendra, opening the big binder to a double page of faces. “Is he here?”
Plain-clothes officers bunched up at the door as Kendra scanned the pictures.
“Here he is,” she stated firmly. “This man.”
Gordon closed his eyes. Bruce’s jaw tensed.
“It’s the Iceman,” Gordon confirmed to the men in the doorway.
“What’s the Iceman?” Kendra blurted.
Gordon held his hand up to her as he barked orders to his team. Then, he looked at her. “This man is the worst kind of serial killer. We just got word that he escaped from Arkham Asylum today. Dr. Carmichael, you’re very lucky to be alive.”
Trembling, Kendra reached for Bruce’s hand. “You’ll catch him, won’t you?”
“Yes. We will,” answered Gordon firmly. “Don’t worry about that.”
“Thank you, Commissioner,” Bruce said, standing. “We’ll get out of your way.”
He had to practically lift Kendra from her seat, but once she got moving, she found her legs. Bruce kept his arm around her as they rode the elevator.
“I’ll cancel my plans for tonight and stay home,” he told her.
“Nonsense. I just have the willies. I’ll go for a swim when we get back—that will set me to rights. Besides,” she looked up at him with her usual impish grin, “those girls need their T-shirts.”
“Uncle Alfred will be home with me. I couldn’t stand to have you both staring at me all night.”
The elevator deposited them on the main floor. Dusk turned the world ashen, the piles of snow pale blue. Sam waited for them with the car. Having heard Kendra’s story earlier, his worried eyes caught hers in the rear view mirror. She smiled back reassuringly.
“Here’s my cell number.” Bruce scribbled on a business card. “If you need me tonight, call. Don’t hesitate.”
She took the card. “Unless you’re just being a mother hen, I’d swear you think Mr. Iceman will come looking for me.”
“I don’t think that, Kendra,” Bruce turned toward her. “If he was going to hurt you, he would have taken you from the Library. But I know you’re upset, no matter how you try to joke it away.”
“All right, I’m upset, and you’re lovely to be so concerned. But you have several women you must entertain tonight in your charming Bruce Wayne style. You shouldn’t be of two minds when you’re working so hard.”
Bruce smiled at her. “Okay, I’ll stop.” He took her hand and held it all the way home.
Kendra glided through the water, each stroke working the tension in her shoulders and neck, each kick pushing heat and power through her legs. She came to the end of the lane, turned, tucked, and pushed off. Her lungs started to burn, and she pushed on. Reach, pull. Reach, pull. Flip another turn. And another. Her mind cleared of everything except her body’s rhythm, turning her head to gulp air, the churn of the water. At last she turned over and started a slow backstroke to cool down. Back and forth across the pool, Kendra kept a lazy pace as her breathing slowed.
Unbidden, she felt fingers clamp onto her arm, smelled putrid breath whispering in her hair. No, she told herself, don’t go there. Instead she thought of Metropolis and her last meeting with Dr. Sanchez. He showed her the beautiful apartment that was part of her hiring package. She planned to put pansies on the patio.
In her daydream, Bruce was there, sitting at a kitchen table, reading a newspaper. Golden sunlight fell on a red grapefruit half, and also on the lighter brown highlights in his hair. Kendra imagined herself walking in and planting a big kiss on his delicious mouth.
Oh, dear, she thought, pulling herself from the pool. It’s the daydream I had when we were thirteen. Well, a person does regress in times of stress. Pulling off her goggles and cap, she toweled off and slipped into a short robe and flip flops. “I’m going to miss both of them—more than I thought,” she muttered to herself.
Guitar music floated through the kitchen while Alfred prepared their dinner. A mug of hot cocoa steamed on the worktable—her uncle’s timeless cure for all ills. As Kendra fingered a complicated run, she remembered him at her mother’s stove when she was ten. He came back to England that first time to support his baby sister through a divorce. Kendra had never seen a man at a stove. She stood next to him while he stirred milk, cocoa and sugar. She remembered feeling very safe as she watched his big hands whisk the concoction. She felt just as safe in this kitchen.
Her song jangled to a stop. “You’ll come visit me, won’t you?”
“Of course, we will.” Alfred checked the oven. “And you’ll visit us.”
“It won’t be like this, though,” she said, “This time together feels special somehow.”
“Yes, it does, luv.” Alfred smiled at her. “But don’t say goodbye just yet. You’ve only just arrived.”
She struck up a new tune, hummed along for a while, then asked, “Are any of the women Bruce sees special to him?”
Alfred eyed her as he set their small table. “They are all special in their own way.”
“But, anyone in particular?”
“These are personal questions, young miss.” He waved a fork at her. “It’s not my place to answer them.”
Kendra set her guitar aside. She laid napkins and set water glasses. “There was someone, wasn’t there? Who was she? What happened?”
“You’ll have to ask Master Wayne,” Alfred said tightly.
“He seems so alone. I just want to understand.”
“Kendra Elizabeth Carmichael!”
“Sorry.” She rubbed her uncle’s arm. “I’m sorry. I’m bollixed because of today. Please forgive me.”
Alfred kissed her cheek. “Forgiven. Now make the salad, will you?”
In the middle of the night, Kendra woke up screaming. Heart throbbing in her throat, she threw off her covers and pulled the switch on her table lamp. She scrubbed her face with her hands, moaning, trying to wipe away the image of the Iceman from her mind’s eye. She reached for her glass of water, shivered, and knocked it to the floor.
“Bloody hell,” she grumbled as the glass shattered. Picking her way around the shards, she crossed the room and headed for the kitchen. The darkened penthouse gave her more shivers—every noise made her jump. Kendra found the lights to the kitchen, snapped them on, and quietly searched the cupboards for a broom. No luck.
“Pisser,” she hissed, and wondered how mad Uncle Alfred would be if she woke him. “Bloody pisser.”
She tapped lightly at his door, calling his name. When there was no response, she knocked louder. Finally, she eased open the door. A pristinely made bed greeted her. Confused, Kendra checked the clock—3:30.
“I don’t like this,” she said out loud.
She trotted back through the penthouse, turning on lights as she went. Practically running down the short corridor, she burst into Bruce’s private chamber.
“Bruce!” she cried, hysteria turning her voice shrill. But his bed was also smooth and empty. Kendra spun in circles, gulping down screams, crying. She flipped on every light in the room. Sitting on Bruce’s bed, she grabbed a pillow and held it close.
“Stop,” she told herself. “There’s a logical explanation. Bruce is still with the swim team. Uncle Alfred…he…Bruce needed him, that’s it, on the boat or maybe the jet. Sure. They probably won’t be home until morning.”
“Right,” she licked her dry lips. “Right. But I’m still leaving all the lights on.”
Kendra padded through the penthouse, muttering to herself. She crawled into bed from the non-glass side and fell asleep with Bruce’s pillow.
Out in the night, a lone figure stood atop the Queen Industries skyscraper. A hand to the side of his cowl, he listened to police communications.
“No reports, sir,” Alfred broke in over the chatter.
Batman stepped to the edge of the roof. “It’s past his target time. I’m coming in.”
He leaped from the building like a high diver. As he descended, vast wings unfurled. Gliding over the city, he headed home.
Kendra woke with a start, listening. All she could hear was the ticking of her clock. Morning sunshine hit the big panes, painting her room gold. Her overhead light still burned. Glass still littered the floor. Silently, she left her room and stood outside her uncle’s door. From within she heard his gentle buzzing snore. Kendra let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.
“One down,” she muttered.
She crept along the corridor to Bruce’s rooms, noting that the lights there had been turned off. From the sitting room she could see him asleep in bed—his dark hair on the pillow, his bare back exposed. Anger bloomed in her belly as she retraced her steps to the kitchen. She punched in some toast and ground beans for coffee, not caring now who she woke up. She yanked cream out of the refrigerator and slammed through cupboards looking for sweetener. Then, she rested her head against the wall.
“What a horrid way to start the day,” she whispered, fighting tears. “I’ve got to get hold of myself.”
A few minutes later, she was back in the kitchen. Wearing her swimsuit and flip-flops, she left a note for Alfred. “Gone for a swim. Where WERE you last night?”
When Alfred found Kendra’s note, a thrill of panic shot through him. He never thought she would be up late enough to miss him. Now he had to dream up an explanation—and make sure Master Bruce followed it. He went to her room to see if she’d returned. Glass crunched under his shoes.
Alfred stood very still, thinking. He looked into the hallway, remembering how all the lights had been on when he and Master Bruce returned.
“She must have been quite frightened,” he deduced, “alone in this mausoleum.”
He heard the elevator engage and hurried to the foyer. Kendra stepped out, toweling her hair.
“A good swim, sis?” he asked.
She looked at him. “Good morning. I’m shocked you’re up so early.”
“About last night…”
“No need, Uncle Alfred. I’m sure it was important.”
“No. Really. I don’t need to know your private business.” Kendra’s words carried a touch of chill. “If Bruce doesn’t need Sam this morning, I’d like to go shopping.”
“That’s fine, luv.”
“I need a broom and a dust pan.”
“I’ll take care of the glass.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
“I’m sorry we gave you a fright, sis.”
Kendra’s hard face melted. She threw her arms around Alfred’s neck. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she sniffed. “I keep thinking I’m pulled together, then I fall apart again.”
“Completely understandable. Wait until Master Wayne rises before going out. He may want to go with you.”
“I doubt that very much.”
Alfred found the broom and dustpan in a closet, then walked with Kendra to her room.
“Could you give this back to Bruce?” She plucked his pillow from the bed. “I stole it last night.”
Kendra laughed. “Timmy’s Wubby—that nasty old blanket?” She cradled the pillow in her arms. “Yes, I guess it was a Wubby.”
“How is Tim?” Alfred asked, sweeping under the bed. “I’ve not heard from him in awhile.”
They crafted gentle conversation. Back and forth, back and forth, their words rewove the small tear in the fabric of their relationship. Back and forth, back and forth, the rhythm calmed Kendra. It rocked her back into a sense of self. They shared another hug before Alfred left Kendra to shower and dress.
By the time she wandered back into the kitchen, Bruce was sipping coffee at the worktable.
“Good morning,” he said, smiling carefully. “I understand Alfred and I are in the doghouse.”
“No, you’re not,” she said quietly. “I had a nightmare about the Iceman, and no-one else was in the flat, and I scared myself silly. I’ve already made too much of it.”
Bruce stood up and took both her hands. “I said I’d be there for you last night, and I wasn’t. I knew you were scared, but I went out anyway. I’m sorry, Kendra. I won’t let you down like that again.”
He gathered Kendra to him and held her. She burst into tears. They murmured to each other. And from across the room, Alfred watched very carefully.
Barbara Gordon waved from a window booth as Kendra entered the pub.
“What a wonderful choice,” Kendra said, sliding in opposite her.
“I thought it might feel like home,” Barbara smiled. She wore casual slacks and a pretty sweater set.
“It smells like home, that’s for sure,” Kendra laughed. “Roasting meat and ale. Reminds me of a pub down the street from my old lab.”
“I was so glad to get your note, Kendra,” Barbara said, “Jim and I are new to the high society crowd. Like Jim says, we’re impostors. So you don’t know what a relief it was to find you at the DuPont party.”
“Honestly, I felt like a poser myself. But I had fun because I had such a lovely accessory.”
“Bruce Wayne,” Barbara laughed.
“He does sparkle and shine, does he not?”
“Very much so.”
“Before I forget, Barbara, please congratulate the Commissioner for me on catching the Iceman.”
Barbara leaned forward. “Jim told me the Batman actually caught him. He was all bound up and deposited outside the precinct doors. The rumor is that Batman got wounded capturing him.”
“Why didn’t the papers report any of this?”
“Batman is persona non gratisnow since Harvey Dent died. Jim has to keep any involvement by the Batman secret.”
“What a quandary,” Kendra shook her head. “How did it all get so complicated?”
“The City is starting to turn around,” Barbara answered. “The Crime Lords ruled for so long, until Batman and Harvey Dent came. Jim says the corruption and crime will get worse before it gets better, but that it will get better soon. Still, good, trustworthy people are in the minority.”
“It must be hard, being the wife of one of the good guys.”
Barbara’s smile faltered. “It’s terrifying.”
The waitress arrived, and by mutual silent agreement, their conversation slid into fashion and music. Barbara talked about her children. Kendra told her about the job waiting in Metropolis.
“You mean you’re leaving?” cried Barbara. “Who will I talk to at those awful parties?”
Kendra smiled. “Text me, and we’ll have long conversations.”
Standing on the sidewalk after their meal, the two women hugged before Kendra climbed into the car. She waved at Barbara as they took off. If I lived here, she thought, Barbara Gordon would be my friend. For the first time, she wondered if Metropolis was the right city for her.
She stepped off the elevator into a silent penthouse. She meandered through the rooms, through the kitchen, and finally to her uncle’s bedroom. He lay flat on the bed, one foot on the floor.
“Uncle Alfred, are you all right?” she asked quietly.
“Just resting, luv,” he said, not moving. “Master Wayne had a very busy night last night.”
“Is he up?”
“You rest. I’ll listen for him and get what he needs.”
“Thank you, sis.”
Kendra shut the door, took off her coat, and settled on the living room couch to wait. She almost nodded off herself when she faintly heard him coughing. At that she returned to the kitchen and prepared a light tray. Walking through the short corridor, she heard his shower running. Setting the tray on his stand, she retreated to the sitting room and sat with her back to the bedroom. Soon, she heard him rustling around the bed, coughing once in awhile.
“Alfred,” he called.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with me this afternoon,” she called back. “You’ve exhausted my poor uncle.”
“Kendra?” he said in a funny-sounding voice.
“How may I serve you, m’lord?”
“Could you come help me a minute?”
She turned around and saw him sitting on the bed, trousers on, shoes in both hands. Medical tape swaddled his torso. A wound sliced across one pectoral.
“What on earth?” she muttered, hurrying to him. “Have you broken a rib?”
“Cracked three,” he said. “Motorcycle.”
“This wound needs to be dressed.”
He nodded toward the bathroom. Kendra found disinfectant, gauze pads and tape. She scrubbed her hands before gathering the supplies.
“Whoever stitched this wound is a butcher!” She applied butterfly bandages to compensate, but feared he would sport a large scar once the wound healed. “Any other gashes or broken bones I should know about?”
Bruce shook his head. He was pale as snow.
“You should get back in bed,” she told him. “And you need something for the pain.”
“I’m all right.”
“Listen to the doctor. I’ll help you back into bed where you can eat this nice breakfast. After that I want you to sleep, if you can.”
Bruce closed his eyes. Eventually, he nodded.
Once Kendra had him settled, she put the dressing supplies away and searched his medicine cabinet for pain medicine. Not surprisingly, there was plenty.
“Motorcycles,” she muttered. “Bloody hell.”
The next day, Bruce felt better, but Alfred still had to help him with his shoes and socks. Kendra noticed how he protected his right side with his arm, but she made every effort not to scold him about reckless behavior unbecoming a billionaire.
The three of them sat in the kitchen with their breakfast. Alfred seemed very quiet, more so than usual. Kendra had to wonder just what had happened two nights ago.
“I want you to meet somebody today,” Bruce told her.
“And he is…?”
“He’s the CEO of Wayne Enterprises. He was also the director of Research and Development for many years.”
“I didn’t know Wayne Enterprises had a R&D department.”
“We don’t now, since Fox was promoted. I thought you might have some ideas.”
Kendra set her teacup down with a clatter. “Oh, Bruce. Creating a plan, even a proposal for a plan, would take weeks. I’d have to see what you’ve got… resources… contracts…staff… You’re not serious.”
“I’d just like you two to meet. Would you do that for me?”
“Of course. When?”
“How about now?”
“Wha…? Honestly, Bruce, your omnipotence is rather irritating at times. Could I at least change out of my pajamas first?”
As Kendra trotted toward her bedroom, Alfred set his teacup down. “What’s going on in that brain of yours, Master Wayne?”
“We could use Kendra. I’m going to see if Aloysius can convince her to stay.”
“You’re what?!” Alfred boomed. “Over my dead body, sir. The job in Metropolis is my little girl’s dream. I’ll not have you destroy it for her.”
“She could be the director of R&D, not just some project manager. What I’m saying Alfred, is that I’m sure Fox and I can best LuthorCorp’s offer.”
“No, sir,” Alfred argued. “She could have had a dozen jobs across the country. LuthorCorp is what she chose, and LuthorCorp is what she’ll get. I’ll make sure of it.”
“All right, Alfred, I see your point. Can I at least introduce her to Fox?”
“I suppose. But I’m going along with you, just to keep you honest.”
Lucius Fox met them in the foyer of the top floor at Wayne Enterprises. He was a tall, elegant black man with freckles and shrewd eyes. Kendra immediately liked his bow tie and the way he carried the weight of the huge corporation. His hand, when she shook it, was warm and dry, his smile genuine. He led them into his office, small by most CEO standards, and called for tea.
“And how do you like Gotham, Dr. Carmichael?” he asked politely.
“Actually, Mr. Fox, I’ve not paid much attention to the City. I’m more concerned with spending time with my family before I leave for Metropolis.”
“Yes, I understand you have a plumb position waiting for you there. What is it again?”
“Project manager for the bio-tech division.”
“That’s right.” Fox pursed his lips and rocked a moment in his chair. “Our R&D department is practically non-existent now. I have dreams of a medical biotech unit, as well as defense, weapons, and eco-tech. Of course I’d need the right manager to get R&D started again.”
“It sounds like a huge undertaking.”
Fox continued, “Mr. Wayne has shown me your resume, you know.”
She looked over at Bruce, who sat silently next to Alfred. “No. I did not know. How enterprising of him.”
“Dr. Carmichael, you’re exactly what we need as a director of R&D.”
“Really. How interesting. I hardly know what to say.”
Fox scratched a figure on a pad of paper and passed it to her. Kendra kept her game face in place, but inside she nearly fainted. The number on the pad was almost three times her salary at LuthorCorp. That’s indecent, she said to herself. She pushed the pad back to Fox.
“That’s a very generous number,” she said. “And if I hadn’t made a commitment to LuthorCorp, I would definitely consider it.”
Fox tore off the sheet, folded it, and slid it back to her. “Do me a favor and consider it anyway, Dr. Carmichael.”
Kendra stood up, shook his hand. “I will. Lovely meeting you, sir.”
“My pleasure.” He came around the desk, shook hands with Bruce and a reluctant Alfred. “My door is always open.”
A few days later, Alfred and Kendra meandered through the tropical beds of Gotham Botanical Center. The air smelled green and brushed moist against Kendra’s skin. The winter coat over her arm felt unbearably hot and heavy. But all she had to do was look past the glass enclosure to the frigid, gray day outside to remember why she carried it.
She tucked her hand into the crook of her uncle’s arm and smiled up at him. “What a lovely day you’ve given me. We could have spent weeks at the museum alone.”
“I think the greenhouse is rather pleasant on a wintry day.”
They walked past flowering trees and spiny ropes with splashes of tangerine blooms. A group of children and their teacher passed by single file.
“So where are you and Master Wayne dining this evening?”
“I think he said The Purple Thistle.”
“Really?” Alfred exclaimed, looking at her. “Really?”
“Yes,” she laughed. “Why?”
“The Purple Thistle is the most romantic restaurant in town.” Alfred stopped. “Does Master Wayne have designs on you, Kendra?”
“I-I don’t know,” she stammered, taken aback by her uncle’s vehemence. “But I certainly have designs on him.”
“Oh, Uncle Alfred,” she chided. “You know I’ve been madly in love with Bruce since we were children. He is the love of my life.”
“Kendra, don’t say that. Not even if you’re joking.”
“Crossing barriers, am I? Sorry.”
“So you are joking?”
“It’s too bad Bruce didn’t get up in time to come with us. Honestly, Uncle Alfred, he sleeps all day and carouses all night—don’t you worry about him?”
“He’s awfully lucky to have you watching over him.”
“Master Wayne is a complicated man, luv. Don’t underestimate him.”
“Well, he’s like two different people, isn’t he? There’s the Bruce we know—sober, intense, thoughtful. Then there’s the other Bruce—the one who stole a race car last night and took La Boehm’sdiva for a ride.”
Alfred suppressed a smile.
“What does he think he’s doing? Blowing off steam? Overcompensating?”
“Put your psychology degree back in your pocket, please.” Alfred patted her hand. Kendra grunted.
She felt like she had successfully dodged a bullet.
The violin player paused at Bruce and Kendra’s table. Kendra rested her chin in her hands and closed her eyes. Sweet music trickled over her. When she opened her eyes, Bruce was watching her, his face softened by the table candle, his new blue suit resplendent.
“The orchestra is in town,” he told her. “If one violin can make you look so beautiful, I can’t wait to see you listening to the orchestra.”
“Yes, let’s go,” she said, blushing. “I haven’t been to a concert in years.”
Kendra wore a caramel colored chiffon dress with a fitted halter bodice. Golden threads caught the candlelight just as golden highlights gleamed in her hair. She felt beautiful, but hearing Bruce say it flustered her.
“Working too much?”
“Is that why you haven’t been to a concert?”
“School,” she answered, taking a sip of water. “Then, my residency, then the lab.”
“Not much time for a private life—was there ever anyone special?”
Kendra smiled remembering her uncle’s harsh words about asking personal questions. Bruce obviously had no such compunction.
“I dated, but if the lads got serious, they tried to talk me out of my dream—living and working in the States. One gentleman became so distraught, I decided to give up dating, at least until I could get settled here. Maybe Yanks will be more reasonable.”
Bruce picked at his entrée. “I doubt it.”
“So what about you?” Kendra decided to wade into forbidden waters. “Is there anyone in your life?”
Bruce set his fork down carefully. “Not any more.”
Kendra sat quietly, respecting his silence.
“Rachel Dawes,” he said at last.
“The girl you grew up with?”
“Yes, how did you…”
“Uncle Alfred mentioned her quite a lot in his letters.” Kendra didn’t add that she’d been sick with jealousy that some other little girl caught her uncle’s attention and could be with Bruce whenever she liked. “What happened,” she asked.
“Oh, Bruce,” Kendra sat forward in her chair. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Did you read about the Joker last year?” he asked.
“Yes—wait—that warehouse fire?” Kendra’s throat threatened to close. “That was your Rachel?”
“My Rachel,” he murmured.
Kendra wished she had listened to her wise uncle and kept her mouth shut.
Bruce pulled his sorrow back from the surface, surprised once again at how fresh it felt. This time it didn’t seem so heavy, as if Kendra carried part of it for him. He refused to let his grief spoil the evening. He smiled at Kendra’s concerned face—her beautiful, familiar face—and reached for her hand.
How could he still grieve for Rachel and have all these complicated feelings for Kendra. He knew he was in love with her, but it felt so different. Loving Rachel had been a natural act. He slipped into love with her. Kendra seemed more like a fairy tale. He had to prove himself worthy to the princess, and especially to the King. Bruce wasn’t sure what Alfred would say if he told him he loved his niece.
“Bruce,” Kendra patted his hand. “Are you all right? Do you want to leave?”
“Sorry, I was wool-gathering.” He smiled, really smiled at her and squeezed her fingers. “Let’s order dessert. I still want to hear about your research.”
Kendra leaned back in her chair. “All right,” she said gently, “but I promise to stop before your eyes glaze over.”
Bruce turned and snapped for the waiter.
Bruce and Kendra stood in the kitchen, two mugs of cocoa steaming on the worktable. Kendra turned from the stove, barefoot in her caramel chiffon. Bruce had loosened his tie and popped the top button open on his shirt.
“What?” He looked sharply at her.
She handed him a mug and sat down. “At dinner. We were having a wonderful conversation when that business associate of yours stopped by the table. There’s no other way to put this, I’m sorry, but you acted drunk and dumb. You two jollied it up about some escapade involving a boat and the Moscow ballet. What’s going on? Do you wantpeople to think you’re an idiot?”
“Yes,” he answered, setting down the mug.
“If they underestimate me, then they underestimate Wayne Enterprises. That makes doing business a lot easier.”
“But at what cost? It must be exhausting playing a dolt all the time.”
He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, shook his head. “It is sometimes, but it’s necessary.”
“I’ve never pretended to understand high finance, but this completely baffles me.” She looked over at him. Blotches of color bloomed under his sharp cheekbones. “Is there anything I can do to help?” she offered. “Should I act differently when we go out?”
“How?” Bruce laughed gently as he sat down. “Like an empty-headed Bunny?”
“I could do it!” Kendra argued. “I’d have to go shopping, but I could pull it off!”
Bruce continued to laugh as Kendra stood up and assumed a sex kitten pose. “Oh, Mr. Wayne!” she breathed, sidling over to him. “Your money is so big and strong.” She sat on his lap and draped her arms dramatically around his neck. “See?”
“You make an exceptional Bunny.” He grinned at her, his hand against her back. She started to get up, but Bruce pulled her back. “Don’t go,” he said. “This feels right doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.” She said, her grin fading. “Remember when we were kids and my Mum said I was to think of you as my brother?”
“I found you in the tree house crying, and I kissed you.” Bruce’s face was still, waiting.
“I never could think of you as a brother,” she said softly.
He stretched up and brushed her lips with his. Kendra shifted her shoulders and leaned down to him, her hair falling past their faces like a veil. Their mouths came together gently, but decisively. Bruce cupped her knee. Kendra held his head in her hands.
Time ground down to nothing. Lips and tongue, the taste and scent of cocoa, the light rasp of stubble on Bruce’s jaw, heat, earthy perfume, a brush of fine chiffon and cotton, the hardness of Bruce’s thighs under her, breath, the feather softness of his chocolate-colored hair against her fingers, heat between his hand and her back, and back again to their mouths, which came together in an increasingly volatile give and take.
Kendra stood up from his lap and held out her hand. Bruce stood and took it.
“Are you sure?” he asked her.
“I’ve always been sure.”
In the gray pre-dawn, Kendra shook Bruce. He slept like the dead next to her. “Bruce!” She whispered as loud as she could. “Wake up!”
He moaned as she threw the covers off him, exposing his taped ribs. Such a beautiful body, but so many scars. The ache in Kendra’s chest flowered in many complicated colors.
“You’ve got to get up before Uncle Alfred does!”
“Damn!” He sat up stiffly and reached for his clothes.
Kendra pulled on her flannel pajamas. “I’m going to the kitchen to keep him occupied.”
“Hey, wait.” Bruce snatched her arm as she started past. He pulled her to him and kissed her. “Are you still sure?”
Kendra cupped his face in her hands. “Sure as sure is.”
A brilliant smile broke across his face. She matched his smile. Another kiss then she pushed open the glass door and raced to the kitchen. Bruce pulled on his pants from the night before and bundled the rest of his clothes. He stuck his head out Kendra’s door and heard her talking down in the kitchen. Sliding through the door, he trotted across the living room and down the short corridor to his bedroom. He dropped the bundle of clothes on the floor and stared at it.
Bruce looked up as the sun poked over Gotham’s towers and spires. A new day. New. Something new was coming.
Kendra held her coffee cup close to her chest, fragrant steam rising up into her face. “I can see why Yanks like their coffee. This is heavenly.”
Alfred tended the stove, frying sausage and eggs. He looked over his shoulder at Kendra and found Bruce, half-dressed, in the doorway.
“Master Wayne?” He pulled the skillet off the burner and wiped his hands.
“Alfred, there’s something you need to know,” Bruce said.
“Oh? And what would that something be?”
“Bruce—no,” Kendra begged.
Alfred looked at Kendra, then back at Bruce. “Bloody hell!” he cried. “You’ve slept with my niece! My niece!”
Shocked, he dropped into a chair. “How could you? How could you drag her into this?”
Horrified by her uncle’s reaction, Kendra bolted from her chair to go to him.
Bruce caught her arm. “Let me talk to him.”
She nodded, her face tight, and marched from the kitchen.
Bruce pulled a chair close to his old friend. “I love Kendra, Alfred. I never thought that would happen again.”
“I suppose she loves you, too, and it’s nothing I can talk her out of.”
A ghost of a smile softened Bruce’s mouth. “Yes, she loves me.”
“She’s moving to Metropolis day after next. You’ll not take that away from her, will you?”
“Of course not—that lab is her dream. We know we have a lot to figure out.”
“What about Batman?”
“I want to tell her, Alfred. Today.”
“Jesus.” Alfred bowed his head.
Bruce clutched his butler’s arm. “She’s going to handle it. I know it.”
“She shouldn’t have to handle it, should she?” Alfred spat. “For twenty-five years, I’ve been her protector, trying to be the father she didn’t have. I’m sorry, sir, but you’re not the man I’d pick for my little girl.”
“I know, Alfred. I’m sorry.”
Alfred sat a moment looking at Bruce, then he straightened. “Well, there’s nothing for it.” He wiped his eyes and returned to the stove. “You go talk to her. This is ruined.” He tossed the skillet, sausage and all, into the sink with a loud clatter.
Kendra waited in the middle of the living room, her arms wrapped tight around her, watching the kitchen door. She couldn’t stand to be the cause of a rift between them. When Bruce emerged, she covered her mouth with her hands. He looked hard, blasted, determined. It could mean anything.
“Why did you DO that?” she whispered as he drew close. “Why didn’t you trust me?”
“I couldn’t lie to him—not to Alfred.”
Kendra started to protest, but Bruce interrupted. “He’s angry about the secrets I keep, because you’ll have to keep them now, too.”
“Secrets? Your dual identity?”
“Get dressed, sis,” Alfred said, coming up behind Bruce. “We’ll show you.”
Alfred stopped the car in front of an abandoned rail container yard. A “Wayne Enterprises—No Trespassing” sign hung from the chain link gate. Rats scurried across one overturned container. Bruce unlocked the gate and pulled it open for Alfred to drive through.
“I don’t like this,” Kendra said ominously. “What are we doing in this part of town?”
“All part of the plan, luv. Wait and see.”
He pulled up next to a rusted shell and got out. Kendra watched Bruce chain and lock the gate. He opened the car door for her. She looked up at him.
“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “I promise.”
“I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” she said, finally getting out.
“Common sense,” Alfred said, then walked into the container.
“He’s still angry, isn’t he?” Kendra asked, holding Bruce’s hand.
“Angry with me, worried about you. Makes him nasty around the edges.”
They followed Alfred into the darkness. Something rustled in the back. Bruce squeezed her hand. And the floor started to move. They stood on a section of the container that slowly lowered into a huge, lighted room. What looked like a tank sat parked at one end. Along one wall work stations sported schematics, blueprints, and print outs that Kendra couldn’t fathom. Computer screens blinked to life.
She took it all in, as much as she could understand, touched the tank that looked more like a car, then turned to Bruce. As if that were his cue, he touched a tell on the wall. A large, cylindrical section of the floor rose, exposing a black suit. Kendra came closer, inspected the cowl, the cape, and the protective plating.
“This looks like the Batman’s suit,” she said.
Bruce watched her. “It is Batman’s suit.”
She looked at Alfred. “You…you work with the Batman?”
“Yes, luv,” Alfred said gently. “I work with him everyday.”
Her eyes found Bruce again. “You?”
“Me,” he answered.
“Oh,” she said, then staggered back against Alfred.
“She’s going down,” he said, grabbing her under her arms. “A chair, if you please, Master Wayne.”
They got the chair and Kendra into it with her head on her knees. “Sorry. Sorry,” she kept saying while Alfred rubbed her back vigorously. “I was just a little surprised.”
“And you said she’d handle it,” Alfred muttered to Bruce.
“I am handling it,” Kendra’s muffled voice replied.
She straightened up in the chair. “Some things are starting to make sense—the playboy Bruce Wayne, the late nights, the injuries. I wish I could stay in Gotham. I know there must be some way I could help.”
Bruce squatted in front of her. He took both her hands and kissed them. “Keni, you’re going to Metropolis to follow your dream. I’ll be there as often as I can.”
Kendra gripped his hands. “Helping you, helping Batman, seems much more important than a LuthorCorp lab.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’d like to stay.”
Bruce’s eyes flicked up to Alfred, then back at Kendra. “No,” he said. “You can’t give up your dream.”
Kendra looked up at Alfred. He was nasty around the edges.
“My dream was to live and work in the States. Well, I’m living here, and I believe Mr. Fox has a job for me.” She stood up shakily. “But there was always more to my dream—a part I never dared hope for.”
She slipped her hand into Alfred’s. “Let’s be a real family,” she whispered.
His face struggled to hold onto its nastiness. “Only if it makes you happy, sis.”
She took a step toward Bruce. “Is it all right with you… if I stay?”
Bruce Wayne pulled Kendra Carmichael into his arms and answered.
◊ ◊ ◊