This little story happens right after the events in Alfred’s Niece.
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Bruce Wayne pushed himself up in bed. “How did he take it?”
“Not well, I’m afraid.” Kendra Carmichael climbed over him. “Dr. Sanchez kept saying I signed a contract. Over and over and over.” Her voice squeaked up an octave. “But, you signed a con-tract.” She sighed. “He vowed to take me to court, to ruin my reputation, on and on and on…”
Bruce shook his head. “Sounds like LuthorCorp. What did you say?”
“I just kept apologizing. Then, I happened to let it slip that I’d fallen in love with Bruce Wayne, a man whose solicitors could harass LuthorCorp for decades.”
“That’s my girl.” Bruce leaned over and kissed her soundly. “Problem solved?”
“Problem solved.” She smoothed his bed-hair and pushed him back into his pillows.
He reached for his orange juice on the nightstand. “What else is on for today?”
“Actually, darling, we need to discuss some details.”
“Details? About what?”
“About how to maintain your Bruce Wayne alter ego now.”
“Mmm?” he said around his orange juice.
“In my opinion, you need to keep up the playboy image. It might be hard to do with a girlfriend.”
Kendra glanced at his immobile face, but pressed on. “So I thought I’d should find my own flat.”
“And we mustn’t attend public functions together anymore.”
Bruce set down the orange juice.
“Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking.”
“I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” he said, “but your plan stinks.”
Kendra sighed with relief. “I know.”
He tossed the bed linens aside. In pajama bottoms, he padded to the big panes of glass that served as his bedroom wall. Inches away, Gotham’s high-rise community conducted business. Curious, Kendra went to him, ignoring the vertigo that often seized her next to the windows. Bruce gazed unseeing at the city. The bright light pouring through the glass turned his brown eyes into honey.
“I have a better idea.” He took her hand. “Marry me.”
She stopped breathing. How many times had she imagined his thirteen-year-old self saying those words when she was a young girl? Part of her was still thirteen. She felt it in the way her heart pounded and in the tears that threatened. But the adult part kept a cooler head.
“Of course I’ll marry you. But that doesn’t solve the problem.”
Bruce stared through her for a moment, then strode to his wardrobe. He pulled out clothes for the day and threw them on his rumpled bed. Kendra waited. Her heart slowed back to normal while she watched him work the problem.
“How about this,” he said from his closet. “We’ll modify the bad boy behavior. I’ll still play with my toys and drink too much—just do away with the womanizing.”
“But, the girls are a key element. Do you really want people to think you can reform?”
“No.” He scowled, considering. “But, even the spoiled and entitled get married. They just do it badly.”
“And often,” Kendra added. “And in public.”
“That’s it,” he grinned at her. “We just need to put on a good enough show.”
“Hmm.” Kendra sat on the edge of the bed and considered. Her fingers tapped a thoughtful rhythm on the thighs of her jeans. “History is full of powerful, philandering men eventually brought to leash by wily women.”
“Wily, beautiful women.”
“So, we’re talking about ongoing public scenes—you showing up sotted with someone else on your arm, me reacting.” Kendra caught her breath, the possibilities coming fast now. “I jet off to Tahiti in tears, and you drag me back in a jealous rage.”
“We keep the public relationship volatile, keep people guessing,” Bruce added. “Are they together? Are they apart? Perfect misdirection.”
“Oh!” Kendra clapped her hands. “Unseemly displays of affection! Merry fights everywhere we go! A row in the middle of some important fund raiser! With food or champaign in the face—perhaps a hearty slap.
“Whoa!” Bruce laughed. “Easy on the rough stuff.” Then, he raised an eyebrow. “Unless you like that that sort of thing?”
Kendra stopped short, blinking at him. She gave him what she hoped was sultry, simmering look and slid across the bed.
“I like all sorts of things,” she said in a smoky voice.
He coughed out a laugh. “Oh, you’re good. This won’t be difficult at all.”
“You have no idea how good.” She arched toward him.
Bruce’s dark eyes widened, then he swept all his clothes to the floor.
“C’mon, bad boy,” she said, gathering him in. “Let’s make a scene.”
Lucius Fox, Bruce and Kendra toured the defunct Research and Development department. In the basement of Wayne Tower, the atmosphere felt much like the rail container Facility—low ceilings, wall-to-wall fluorescent lights, poured concrete pillars, plenty of room to test vehicles and rockets.
Boys built this, she thought.
“I wanted you to see what you’re up against,” Fox said. “Basically, an empty box the size of half a city block. The architects can design your labs any way you like.”
“What happened to the equipment?”
“Some is in storage,” Fox answered, “but most of it we simply sold.”
“You had a lot of projects in mid-production when the department shut down,” Kendra said. “I’ll need you to prioritize them for me before I can recruit the proper project managers. Then, once the P.M.s are in place, we’ll decide what we need in the way of facilities and equipment.”
Fox smiled. “A sound plan of attack, Dr. Carmichael.”
“And, what about… special projects?” She looked from Fox to Bruce.
“Ah.” Fox glanced at Bruce. “Those I’ll continue to handle.”
“But, we’ll need your expertise from time to time,” Bruce said. “In a professional capacity, of course.”
Fox shook his head. “You two must be torture for poor Alfred. How is he holding up?”
“He’s been very quiet lately,” Bruce said.
“Uh huh.” Fox leveled his gaze at his boss, then turned back to Kendra. “You’ll be working with Applied Sciences. Dr. Mason is in charge over there—a good man—I’ll introduce you.”
They ended up at a double set of blast doors. On the other side, Applied Sciences occupied the rest of the basement—along with a massive inventory of warehoused goods. The standard labs and offices seemed cheery compared to the stark, empty R&D space.
“Here’s Dr. Mason,” Fox said.
He indicated the tall man approaching them. Darkly handsome, he moved like a dancer. Then he grinned, and Kendra recognized him.
“Hugh Mason!” Kendra exclaimed. “Your research threw bioengineering ass over tea kettle!”
“Thanks,” he laughed, taking her hand. “What a coup to steal you away from LutherCorp, Dr. Carmichael. I read your paper on nanotechnology—brilliant.”
“Looks like you two will work together just fine,” Bruce interjected. “How are you, Mason?”
Dr. Mason’s buoyant expression dulled. “Wayne,” he acknowledged stiffly. “Getting your hands dirty today?”
“Not if I can help it.”
“We have some business to finish upstairs,” Fox said, eyebrows high.
“Lunch tomorrow?” Kendra asked.
“I know a great diner down the street.” Mason gave Bruce one more searing look. “See you tomorrow.”
Once they were in the elevator, she cleared her throat and waited.
“Long story,” Bruce said.
“Apparently,” Fox agreed.
“I’m nervous,” Kendra confessed as they drove up to the restaurant.
“Nothing elaborate tonight, remember?” Bruce said. “Think of it as a test drive.”
She nodded and sat up straighter. “Right.”
Bruce stepped out of the car amid photographers’ flashes and opened Kendra’s door with a flourish. He already looked a little fuzzy around the edges. How does he do that, she wondered.
The establishment boasted vaulted ceilings and gilded colonnades. A string quartet played in the cavernous foyer. Reservations, if they could be had at all, took months to secure. Bruce steered Kendra past a long line of beautiful people waiting to be seated.
“How are you?” He nodded to an older woman in furs. She blushed and tittered like a teenager.
“Mr. Wayne!” the maitre’d rushed to them. “We’ll have your table set in just a moment.”
“Albert,” Bruce said, the tiniest slur to his words, “I want you to meet Dr. Carmichael. Remember her.”
“Yes, sir. Enchante, Dr. Carmichael.”
Kendra smiled. With all the power and money standing behind them, Bruce introduced her to the waiter. Genius. Not only did it make him appear tipsy, but it also put her name out again to the gossips. Kendra wanted to bow—she was in the presence of a Master.
On the way to the table, Bruce chatted up a judge, a Hollywood actor, and a board member at Wayne Enterprises. They eyed her as they indulged Bruce. She didn’t look like his other girls. Her deep purple dress showed off her shoulders, but not her cleavage. The skirt covered all her derrière. She had wanted to make a respectable impression. But as the entire restaurant scrutinized her, she felt far from respectable. Her nervousness vanished. She’d forgotten how much fun make-believe could be.
As they sat, Bruce nodded at someone across the room, then tipped his chin at someone else. He leaned back into his chair, creating a Big Presence.
“How are we doing?” he asked covertly.
“Fabulously.” Kendra gave him her most radiant smile.
“You’re a quick study, Dr. Carmichael.”
“Why thank you, Mr. Wayne.”
Kendra pitched her voice a tad higher and softer. It was her practiced Bunny voice. She hadn’t perfected the breathiness yet, but it affected Bruce nonetheless. He chuckled and looked down to pull his poker face back together. Luckily, the maitre’d arrived with Champaign. He offered Bruce the cork.
“It’s going over, Albert. Perhaps a ’37.”
“My apologies, sir.” He bowed and hurried off.
Bruce nodded at someone else in the restaurant.
“You know,” Kendra said, keeping her voice quiet. “If you really wanted to impress a girl, you would focus your attention here.” She snapped her fingers in front of her face. “Do the others really put up with this peacockery?”
“Ah, well,” he said under his breath, “Bruce has a vanity problem.”
The maitre’d returned. Bruce glanced at Kendra with wicked eyes as he rolled a taste of the wine around in his mouth and pronounced it adequate. As the maitre’d left, Bruce sloshed the expensive Champaign in the direction of their glasses.
“Tell me about this vanity problem,” Kendra prompted, dabbing at his sloppage with her napkin.
“Usually, he’s the jewel in a setting of beautiful women. But you’ve turned him into little more than arm candy. He has to make sure people are looking at him, not you.”
“Ahh.” Her peripheral vision caught heads turning. “Perhaps it’s time for me to look hurt and irritated.”
Bruce smiled, his face full of good humor, and lifted his glass. “Here’s to long-suffering.”
Kendra clinked the crystal gently. “And peacockery,” she whispered.
The next day, doctors Mason and Carmichael stomped through the snow to a light and cheerful diner. They talked before they ordered, they talked while they ate, and they dawdled over coffee with more talk. Mostly, they discussed their work, but a few stories slipped through. Enough to give Kendra an opening.
“You and Bruce Wayne seem to have some history,” she noted mildly.
Mason blew air through his lips. “Long story.”
“That’s what he said.”
“Okay, I’ll make it short. He dated my sister a couple of years ago, dumped her, and I punched him in the face.”
“Oh!” Kendra exclaimed.
“Yeah, I’m not proud of it—okay, yes, I am. That prick needed to get knocked on his ass.”
“And yet you work for him.”
“I work for Lucius Fox,” Mason said firmly. “Wayne just blows through when he needs money.”
“I think there’s something I need to tell you.” Kendra studied her coffee cup. “I’m dating Bruce Wayne.”
Mason dropped his head. “No. No, Kendra.” He looked up at her. “Really?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“You know what a dog he is?”
“Dog,” she pondered. “Does that mean something a bit different here in the States? At home we might use it to describe someone who’s not particularly attractive. I don’t think that fits Bruce Wayne.”
“A dog,” Mason said vehemently, “is a guy who chases women. Lots of them. I’m talking about sex. Lots of sex. Never-the-same-girl-twice sex.”
“Oh… Ah… Kendra stammered. “Well… yes, I have heard that about him.”
“You’re in for a world of hurt, girl. That jackass couldn’t stick with one woman if his life depended on it. And many have tried to hold him, I’ll tell you.”
“I’m hoping there’s more to him than that.”
“Yeah, there’s cars and booze,” Mason muttered.
He held up his hands in surrender. “Maybe you’re The One—you’ve known him since you were kids—it’s possible.” His expressive eyebrows arched menacingly. “But if you need me, my door is always open.”
Kendra managed a pained smile and finished her coffee.
She came home to the smell of breakfast and followed it into the kitchen, a thoughtful expression on her face.
“How was lunch with Mason?” Bruce asked around his toast.
She sat down on a stool, looked at Alfred, looked at Bruce. “Your reputation is truly horrible.”
Bruce laughed. “He told you about Angelica.”
“That was early on, when Alfred and I were testing out this playboy persona. I made a mistake, and Mason cracked me a good one.”
“Well, your persona is firmly entrenched in the basement of Wayne Enterprises.”
“As it is across Gotham,” Alfred said. He watched Kendra carefully.
She bit her lips. “Uncle, would you excuse us for a bit.”
“Finally,” Alfred said, throwing down a dishtowel. He narrowed his eyes at Bruce, then stomped off toward his rooms.
Kendra studied her hands. “This must be said,” she finally managed. “I know you’ve been with a lot of women. Part of it is to create the persona…” She glanced up at Bruce, then back to her hands. “… but you are a powerful man. Powerful men have… appetites. I know this. It’s biology. It’s natural.”
She glanced up again. Bruce’s face revealed nothing.
“The other day you talked about ‘doing away with the womanizing’ as if it were nothing… like a light switch you could flip. It’s not realistic, and we’d both be fooling ourselves to expect it.” She took a breath to slow the words down. “All I’m trying to say is that I understand. It will take time for me to get straight with it… but… I love you and… and I’ll do my best.”
“Ohhh.” She covered her face with her hands. “I just felt we needed to bring it out in the open. Acknowledge it. Discuss it if you want to, but we never need talk about it again.”
She looked at him. His face carried an odd expression—thoughtful, curious, and tender. He leaned forward in his chair.
“You would do that for me?”
“That’s my intention,” she said hoarsely. “As I said, I’ll do my best.”
“Listen to me.” His dark eyes locked with hers. “I’ve been celibate since I came home from Nepal.”
“Wha…” Her mouth gaped open. “No. No you haven’t.”
He nodded. “Until our first night together. Didn’t you wonder why everything happened so fast?”
“I… I took it as a compliment.” She barked out a nervous laugh. “But… wait… what about Rachel?”
His brow furrowed. “I loved her very much. But we were never intimate.”
“It’s part of the act. I learned to pick women who wanted what I could buy, who wanted to have fun. I was always ‘too drunk’ at the end of the night to follow through. They had a good time, got sent home in a cab, and could tell their friends whatever they wanted. I’m not saying its been easy. It was a choice. I had to stay focused. I couldn’t afford an entanglement or a distraction.”
“Two years. You haven’t had sex in two years? Never?”
“Not with anyone but myself.”
Kendra took that in, gulped, and went on. “You said Angelica was a mistake…”
“She was looking for more than just a good time. I hadn’t learned how to spot that yet. She got hurt, and I learned.”
“I… wha… wow.” She studied him carefully, her words finally coming back to her. “You are atypical,” she said slowly. “You’re an alpha male in a city of alpha males. The act you put on would be considered normal. I don’t know what to call this.”
“Call it dedication. Call it rechannelled energy. Call it self-discipline.” He smiled at her. “Call it good timing.”
He held out his hand to her. “Come over here.”
Once she settled onto his lap, Kendra touched his face as if seeing it for the first time. “You took an incredible risk with me.”
“Does Uncle Alfred know about all this?”
Bruce shook his head. “He was always pushing me to have fun, to lighten up. I let him believe whatever he wanted about the women. It kept him from nagging.”
“So, that might be part of his distress about us, that you’ll hurt me.”
“Keni…” He held her tighter. “…he’s worried that I’ll get killed, and how much that will hurt you.”
“Oh,” she breathed. “Yes.” She met Bruce’s eyes. “I can see how he’d worry about that.” She touched his face again. “He’ll get used to it.”
“Maybe it’s time we told him our plans.”
“Yes, I think so, too. I’ll get him.”
They stood up. Kendra’s fingers traced the front of Bruce’s shirt, making sure of him. “Give us a minute?”
“Take your time. I’ll wait in the living room.” He smiled at her. “I’m good at waiting.”
“Uncle Alfred?” Kendra tapped on his door.
“What is it?” came his curt reply.
“May I come in?”
She pulled open the tinted glass door, and found him sitting on his bed with an old scrapbook. Half-glasses perched on his nose. Kendra sat next to him.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to an old black and white photo. It showed three boys and a little girl in bathing suits.
“That’s me,” he said, pointing to the tallest boy, “and there’s your mum—barely out of nappies. Now look at this one.”
He flipped to the back of the album and opened it to a spread of color pictures. Alfred’s finger pressed another photo of four children in swimsuits—three boys and a girl.
“That was your first swimming race,” Alfred said quietly.
“I remember. Mum took pictures to send to you. You’re her hero, you know.”
“She’s my baby sister. I promised our father I’d look out for the children when he died.”
“Of course you know you’re my hero, too.”
“I might have been once, sis, but you’ve got a new hero now.”
“Yes, I do.” She gripped his hand. “But, no one will ever take your place. I’m the luckiest girl in the world—I have you both.”
Alfred smiled at her, a bit sadly, then showed her more pictures. They sat together reminiscing over them until Kendra grew quiet.
“Bruce and I would like to talk to you in the living room.”
“Yes, all right,” he said evenly, setting the book aside. “We’ve come to that now, have we?”
She led him through the corridor, through the kitchen and out into the living room. Bruce stood when they came in. Kendra noticed how he clutched his hands and realized he was nervous. She loved him for it.
“I asked Kendra to marry me,” Bruce said, “and she said yes.”
Alfred’s expression didn’t change. “I suspected as much. Congratulations, Master Bruce.”
He extended his hand. Bruce took it, and pulled Alfred into a bear hug. Kendra could hear Bruce murmuring to her uncle. They clapped each other on the back and stepped back. Alfred’s eyes were moist. He turned to Kendra and gathered her up.
“You’ve chosen a difficult road, sis,” he whispered, “but we know what a good man he is.”
She kissed him, then kissed him again. “Yes, we do.”
Alfred cleared his throat, letting her go. “When are you planning this glorious event?”
“I’m afraid we haven’t thought that far ahead,” Kendra said.
“I have,” Bruce smiled. “How soon can we put a wedding together?”
Alfred thought a moment. “Depends on the venue, sir.”
Bruce looked to Kendra, his eyebrows raised in a question.
“The Cathedral,” she said. “Oh, please, The Cathedral.”
“Let’s see how soon we can get the Cathedral, Alfred.”
“Very good, sir…”
“No,” Kendra said firmly. “My uncle will not be making arrangements. I’ll hire a wedding planner.”
“Sorry, Alfred, old habits.”
“No harm, sir. As long as I have the honor of giving the bride away.”
Bruce clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Absolutely.”
Kendra took hold of their hands, making a tight circle of three.
“All’s well, then,” Alfred said, and grinned at them both.
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