Much later, baby, you'll be saying never mind - dwellingondreams (2024)

Chapter 1


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Bruce woke in a world swathed in rosy pinks and pale golds. For a few perplexing moments he struggled to ascertain whether he’d been imprisoned inside a champagne glass, possibly in some demented death trap dreamed by any number of rogues.

Then he realized a death trap probably wouldn’t consist of silk sheets, the stale scent of last night’s cologne intermingling with a woman’s sharp perfume, and the distant sound of a shower running.

With a groan better served for heaving himself out of the gutter, he shoved the sheets aside and sat up straight, trying to work out yet another kink in his back. Sleeping through the night in a soft, luxurious bed might have done wonders for the dark circles often found under his eyes, which even makeup sometimes failed to hide, but it’d f*cked his spine again.

There was a reason he purposefully selected the firmest, most militant mattresses money could buy for his own bedroom. Years of uncomfortable dorm beds and sleeping on all manner of hard, cold floors has ruined comfort for him forever.

Besides that, he wasn’t twenty five anymore, and after six years since his return to Gotham, he could admit that sleeping off a hangover simply wasn’t a guarantee. His head was throbbing in a way it hadn’t since his last round with Clayface.

He’d long ago perfected the art of nursing the same drink all night and pretending to get progressively tipsier, but at some point last night he’d graduated to shots, and his tolerance for tequila at thirty two was not what it had been a decade ago. Realizing he could still taste lime under his tongue, he winced, then clambered out of bed, looking for his clothes. He found his boxers on a stylish white armchair besides one of those little faux fireplaces mounted into the sleek marble wall, flickering with neon flames.

His trousers were under a pair of woman’s high heels, the kind that came with little anklet charms to match. His shirt… he found his shirt on the floor just outside the closed bathroom door, the collar covered in lipstick marks that looked more like bloodstains in the pale morning light.

Despite the cheery nature of the penthouse suite decked out in shimmery metallics and pale pastels, outside Gotham had roused itself to another dreary spring morning; rain sleeted down the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Gotham green. He could distantly make out the tiny figures of joggers and nannies pushing strollers below, heedless of the not uncommon downpour.

As he finished pulling his clothes back on and patted down his pockets for his cellphone, he heard the shower trickle off. Bracing himself, he extricated it from his trousers, sighed at the very low battery level and slew of unread messages, and texted his driver, who had no doubt elected to spend the night at the nearby Hilton, where the Wayne account was always open.

Bruce’s current location, however, was no hotel room; that much was obvious. The bedroom was covered in personal touches, from the faux-fur rugs, colorful pop art covering the walls- along with dozens of vintage fashion plates and band posters- to the night stand covered in trinkets. His gaze roved over lip gloss, nail polish, countless hair ties and clips, an obnoxious keychain complete with fuzzy pink dice dangling off the end, and a framed photograph. Despite the fact that he should have been looking for an escape route, he took a step closer to examine the small silver frame.

A blonde girl no older than ten or eleven beamed up at him from the faded photograph, surrounded by balloons and wrapped presents. A paper crown declared her princess for the day, and it sat lopsided on her head as she gripped the hands of the two adults on either side of her, her eyes turned up to them in adoration, rather than staring at the camera man. Bruce recognized both of them with ease, from countless charity galas and dinner parties.

Jessica and Leo Belgrave would have been considered heinous new money by his grandparents’ standards, but nevertheless, they were an integral part of Gotham’s social scene, at least until Mr. Belgrave was killed in a car crash just outside city limits. That would have been tragic enough, but the fact that his mistress had been severely injured alongside him pushed it over the edge from heart wrenching to prime paparazzi meat.

Bruce didn’t really know what had become of the widowed and humiliated Mrs. Belgrave or her daughter after that- he’d been attending Princeton and could have cared less about the latest scandal back home. He wasn’t even sure he’d considered Gotham ‘home’ at that point, having shuffled from boarding school to boarding school since the age of eleven.

The bathroom door creaked open. He turned away from the nightstand, sliding his phone back into his pocket, as Anastasia- Stacey, some bleary memory harkened from the night before, she insisted on Stacey, not Ana or Tasha and definitely not Annie- slipped out, clad in little more than a towel, her wet hair restrained with yet another colorful scrunchie.

“Hey,” she said, and walked past him towards her walk in closet, leaving damp footprints in her wake. “Going somewhere?”

He breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t sound particularly surprised or offended. He’d done this song and dance before, of course, but not for a while, and he didn’t really feel like juggling cold stares or tears at this time in the morning. Then he recalled the time glimpsed on his phone. Well, closer to the afternoon, really.

“I’ve got a very dull appointment with one of my accountants at noon,” he said with smooth practice, plastering on his best ‘I’d love to, but I really can’t' wry grin. “So, as delightful of a diversion as this has been from that crushing reality-,”

“Alliterative,” she said, without turning back around, and dropped the towel. “I love it. You’re like that guy who keeps hijacking the all access news hour to torture people- the Riddler, right?”

Bruce fought to keep his grin in place. “Is that a backhanded compliment, Stacey?”

“You remembered!” Despite the trill in her voice, she still did not turn as she shrugged on a gauzy dressing gown, not until she’d knotted the ribbon around her waist.

Anastasia Belgrave was stunning when made up- a full face of makeup, hair arranged in perfect loose waves spilling down around her shoulders, lips plump and rosy- and still pretty enough with her mascara running from the shower and her face splotchy from the heat.

She was tall, too, he’d give her that- only a few inches shorter than him, which was impressive for a woman not in heeled boots- and statuesque- with the muscled shoulders and thick legs of a star tennis player, even if she hadn’t graced a court professionally since college. All in all, he found it easy to admire her, and that, at least, was not entirely feigned.

“So,” she said, arms loosely crossed under her chest. “See you around, then?”

“We’ll have to make a date,” Bruce said, the same line he’d used on half a dozen people already this year, and hesitated for a moment, unsure if she expected him to step in and kiss her, or embrace her, or simply walk out.

“You’re still a good dancer,” she said, instead. “I remember from when you were at my cotillion.”

He had no memory of this; given the difference in their ages- he didn’t think she was any older than twenty four- it had likely been just after he returned to Gotham, and he’d probably been running on two hours of sleep, some serious psychotropic medications, and an ungodly mixture of caffeine and hard liquor. It was a wonder he could dance at all then, and not just shamble dumbly across the floor like a zombie.

“You’re as beautiful now as you were then,” he replied, the standard answer to call-backs like that.

To his surprise, she seemed almost stung by it, but the flicker of hurt passed quickly. “Enjoy your appointment,” Stacey said cheerily, moving towards the rain-flecked windows. “Take an umbrella from the lobby. It’s really coming down out there.”

“Will do.” He made his exit before she could turn to him again. There was something altogether unsettling about those dark blue eyes of hers. Not alluring- he’d seen thousands of seductive pairs of eyes. But dark, wet, and wounded. They reminded him of bruises in her strongly defined face.

Still, he thought, once in the private elevator; the sex itself had not been bad at all. He was surprised he remembered anything of it, but he knew she’d been enthusiastic and no more or less intoxicated than he was.

She’d left thin scratches from her acrylic nails along the back of his neck, which tingled rather than stung when his shirt collar rubbed against them, and he could still smell her perfume- something with honeysuckle in it, and maybe mango, too. He thought she’d enjoyed herself, if the way she’d cried out the night before and her body language when she’d come out of the shower said anything about it.

All the same, he doubted he could afford to make a habit of it. Bruce Wayne had girlfriends, of course- plenty of them, a revolving door of women, as Alfred would- and did- snidely remark on occasion. But none lasted longer than a few months.

Once you hit the six month mark, the tabloids started screeching about engagement rings and ‘making it official’, and the last thing he needed was that sort of personal crisis on his hands. He didn’t disdain or scorn the women he dated. In fact, he made a habit of only dating women he thought were essentially kind, respectable people, for all their wealth or vanity or ambition.

Still. Marriage was not something he needed on the table, and it was best not to raise any false hopes.

The elevator doors slide open with a soothing chime, and Bruce Wayne strode through the spotless lobby with an easy smirk, hands in his pockets, headed straight for the photographers milling about under the awning outside, cameras at the ready.

Several thousand feet above them, Stacey Belgrave peered down at the spectacle, arms wrapped around herself, then turned back to the rumpled bed and clutter of her spacious master bedroom. Tomorrow, she thought, he would send flowers and a charming note written by a secretary, wishing her the very best. Perhaps there’d be drinks at a chic co*cktail lounge a month or two from now. But that would be the extent of it.

One corner of her mouth was turning up into a bitter little smile; the other was fighting the urge to pout like a toddler.

“Never meet your heroes,” she quoted at herself, and toed the furry rug underfoot with a polished pink nail. When it came down to it, Bruce was charismatic, quick-witted, jaw-droppingly handsome, even moreso than he’d been the last time she’d seen him up and close and personal, when she was eighteen and still baby faced and he a gaunt and haunted looking twenty four year old- and, when it came down to it, decidedly passable in bed.

She supposed it could have been worse. He might have forgotten her name.

Dreary April had turned to muggy May, to a swelteringly dry June, and finally to a stormy July by the time Bruce had any reason to think of that night again. The call came in while he was on patrol, at around six o’clock in the evening, but not recognizing the number, he let it go to voicemail, and didn’t listen to that, either. Any rudeness could be excused with his current preoccupation being tracking a human trafficking operation being run by some underlings of Penguin.

He would have, he assured himself later, listened to the voicemail had it been a call from Alfred, or Dick, who’d been presented with his own cellphone for his birthday, with firm instructions that it should be switched off all day in school, and only used for emergencies.

This warning had been followed by a long discussion in which Dick openly pondered the need for a phone at all, since Bruce was, in his words ‘such a hypochondriac control freak that the only time I’m alone all day is when I have to take a crap’, but then realized the phone could connect to the internet, and the snide commentary suddenly died away in favor of a barrage of funny pictures of various cats.

“What am I supposed to do?” Bruce had demanded of Alfred as he suited up that night. “Put him on the school bus? He can’t- he’s my son. Legally speaking, now. I don’t want to think about the speculated ransom payments- he can’t just roam around Gotham after school, hit up the arcade-,”

“I don’t think the youth ‘hits up arcades’ anymore,” Alfred had said, doing an admirable job of not letting his amusem*nt show.

“Alright, well- whatever they do- of course I want him to be normal. I want him to have friends and go on field trips and get invited to birthday parties. Normal kid things.” Bruce could not recall experiencing any of this past the age of eight. He’d been homeschooled for the three years following his parents’ deaths, and then at boarding school until eighteen. Even thousands of miles away from Gotham, the rumors and whispers had followed. Academically, he’d done very well. Socially, he’d had a few acquaintances he ate meals with or made small talk to, and no close friends. Not a single one.

“Compromise,” said Alfred, “is the word, here, I believe. You want him to be safe, and to be happy. Obviously I am not advocating you let him take Gotham’s public transportation or go wandering into the Narrows alone, but perhaps you could consider a change of scenery-,”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Bruce had grumbled, as he slid his cowl on.

“Master Bruce, you own six luxury apartment buildings in Gotham City alone. Any number of them are far closer to Master Grayson’s school, and would perhaps promote some social connections-,”

“Alfred, I don’t do penthouses,” Bruce had said indignantly, and that had been the end of it.

When he finally returned home, it was around three in the morning, and he was nursing what he was reasonably sure were two sprained ribs. By the time he’d changed, dragged himself into the shower, put on a pair of sweatpants and a Princeton tee-shirt, checked on Dick to make sure he was actually asleep and not suffering from night terrors or roaming the mansion in the dark again- or on that damn phone- and made himself a cup of tea, the only thing keeping him awake was the icepack taped to his torso.

“I hate to intrude,” Alfred said, somehow utterly coherent despite being in his dressing gown and slippers, as he stuck his head into the kitchen. “But I would advise checking your voicemail.”

“Who was it? Lucius?” Bruce muttered into his mug.

“No,” Alfred said, and for the first time in months, a note of something like pressing urgency crept into his crisp accent. “A certain Miss Belgrave.”

“Who?” Bruce looked up, scowling. “Is she one of Dick’s teachers?”

Alfred arched a single eyebrow. “Which one? His language arts teacher is Miss Fields, his mathematics teacher is Mr. Lewis, I believe Mrs. Ramsey teaches natural sciences, and Ms. O’Connor instructs him in music-,”

Unwilling to admit that half of these names were completely foreign to him, Bruce finally pulled out his phone, and tapped the voicemail on speaker.

Alfred opened his mouth as if to advise against, then stepped neatly out of the kitchen.

“Hi Bruce… if this is actually your number…” A woman’s scratchy, uncertain voice filled the silent kitchen. There was a quaver of nervous, watery laughter, as if she were on the verge of tears. “I just thought I should… um, let you know… I waited until I could see my obgyn, so you wouldn’t think this was some- well, you probably do, but- I’m pregnant. And I know you would probably want a paternity test, or whatever, so that’s happening… Oh, sh*t, I just thought I should let you know I’m keeping it. Um. That’s decided.”

Her voice shook so badly for a second he thought the voicemail had dissolved into static. “Bye!” She hung up.

Bruce stared at the phone for so long his tea grew cold.

Stacey was both surprised and unsurprised when the date was set for two weeks later. Surprised that Bruce called her back himself, as opposed to one of his lawyers or assistants, and surprised that he wants to meet in person- though it might be in person with his lawyers- and unsurprised that he wants to meet at the Wayne estate, rather than in public somewhere.

“You’re not in the least creeped out by this?” Heather appraised the outfits Stacey has laid out on the bed. She was technically Stacey’s personal assistant- in that every wealthy young woman her age seems to have one, to do the tedious things like make reservations and go for coffee runs and order groceries- but in reality, she was a former college roommate paid to sit around and make acidic comments.

“Creeped out by what? The frogspawn formulating into a fetus inside of me?” Stacey scrutinized her stomach in the mirror, but at fifteen weeks, there was not much to see. “My gums bleeding at the drop of the hat?” She let her pyjama top fall back down, turning back to the bed. “At least I’m not throwing up every six hours.”

“That was awful,” Heather agreed, then leaned over to tap a coral-colored dress with a wrap neck and a flowing skirt. “This one.”

“The waist is fitted,” Stacey wrinkled her nose.

“Barely. It’s a not a f*cking corset, and you’ve not got much to show, do you?”

Stacey patted at her chest with a knowing look.

“Well, up there, you do-,”

“Thanks, darling.”

“My pleasure.” Heather went back to reading her book. “And don’t wear the wedges. Your feet will swell up like balloons.”

Against her better judgement, Stacey wore the wedges. The flats made her feel like a little girl, and she’d determined, after her frankly mortifying voicemail, that she needed to project confidence and stability, not ‘weepy former debutante saddled with your bastard child’. She was not desperate. She did not need anything from him. The only reason she told him was because he was already a father, and she felt he had a right to decide how involved he was going to be.

She had no intention of taking him to court for child support. Her family had never been Wayne level wealthy, but between her trust fund and her financial managers, she was quite comfortable. Private jets and satellites in space comfortable, no, but she could easily afford to bring up a child and send them to the best schools, give them the best toys and clothes. Just as well as he could.

All of this had been carefully considered, she reminded herself, as she slid behind the wheel of Chevy Bel Air. She hadn’t decided on some girlish whim to become a mother. Well, maybe she had, but it hadn’t been all whim. She was twenty five years old, stable and healthy. She wasn’t going back to school, she wasn’t working two jobs just to stay afloat. Or any job. She’d always known she wanted children, whether it was with a partner or not, and she didn’t want to wait another decade until she had her first child, as her mother had.

So what if the father happened to be the most notorious playboy in Gotham, and probably America? There was no need to make any of that information public, and she could afford the level of privacy necessary to conceal a pregnancy until she’d given birth. Then, yes, some paps could easily piece together the tabloid pictures of him leaving her building nine months prior and speculate- but so had dozens of other men, in a building full of Gotham’s uppercrust. She knew she hadn’t slept with anyone else at that time or for four months prior to it, but no one else did.

All the same, no amount of summery bubblegum pop on the radio made the drive any easier, as the lights of Gotham faded away and their polluted sky remained, a burnt orange brown from the setting sun. She had been to the Wayne Manor before- once, as a little girl. She thought it must have been a Christmas party of some kind, because she remembered the mansion covered in snow, like a massive gingerbread house. She is certain there were ice sculptures of various animals and a skating rink for the children, as well as reindeer in the gardens. In other words, a carnival of whimsical greed- her face was probably smeared with chocolate fondue and her satin party dress covered in glitter from the baubles on the hundreds of evergreen trees.

Now, in mid-July, all she saw was a sea of green surrounding the manor house. She’d gotten her real estate license on a whim the year before, and they were all instructed to study the most elaborate houses in and around Gotham, on the off chance any ever went on the market. Constructed in 1906, it had replaced the original Wayne manor, a colonial farmhouse that was destroyed in a fire in 1899.

She imagined the land itself must be at least ten acres, if not more- it had been a working farm until the 1950s, after all, and even now kept horses and some cattle. The entire facade was brick and elaborate scrolling stonework, with an east wing, west wing, and a horizontal great hall running between them, a courtyard and pool in the back, before the hedge maze of the gardens began. Beyond that, woods and fields and the old tenant houses, a few of them still occupied; it would take a veritable army to maintain these grounds.

Twenty bedrooms and bathrooms, a library, tea room, and a formal dining room large enough to seat sixty. A home theater, a billiards room, an indoor pool and gymnasium, a tennis court, a garage large enough for eight vehicles at a time. She half expected to see dozens of maids and butlers lined up out front when she pulled around the smooth driveway, as if this were an episode of a period drama, but there were none. She would think the house shuttered and abandoned if not for the few lights she could see winking out into the twilight.

The presence at her driver’s side door made her jump hard enough to knock her head against the roof of her Chevy.

“My sincerest apologies, Miss,” the man said, once she’d unlocked the door for him to open. He extended a gloved hand to help her out of the car, as if she were a great lady descending from her horse-drawn carriage, clutching her petticoats about her. She knew who he was, if only by word of mouth. Pennyworth. English. Obviously going to very great lengths to maintain a Received Pronunciation. He had to be in his fifties, but stood as ramrod straight and seemed as strong and imposing as a man fifteen years younger. “Did I frighten you?”

“Only a little,” Stacey said, Birkin bag in hand. Examining her nails, she realized she was due for a new manicure. She’d been biting them again, something she hadn’t done in years. “Will I have to move my car?”

“I would be happy to park it in our garage for you. Rain seems likely,” he noted, as he escorted her up to the imposing front doors, flanked by snarling stone lions. That seemed typical. There was no great family home for her to flee back to- or flee from. Her parents had kept a house out in the country but it had been sold off shortly after her father’s death, and they’d always kept their permanent residence in the city, in a series of townhouses, penthouse apartments, and hotel suites. There was no home for her to miss, which had its advantages and disadvantages, she supposed.

Where would she raise the baby? She didn’t think the penthouse would suit once they were toddling around, but could she really stomach a gated mansion in the suburbs? It occurred to her that she could try to rent one of the old tenant houses on this property, but that might be a disaster waiting to happen. She still didn’t know how Bruce would react to any of this, and it was very possible he’d insisted on meeting here so he could examine the results of the paternity test, maybe insist on another one, and coldly inform her that he wanted nothing to do with her or the baby and was willing to pay quite a bit to ensure they stayed the hell away from him and his son.

If he did offer money, she’d decided she’d take it, and put it in a fund for the baby’s college. Otherwise, she wasn’t agreeing to any other sorts of conditions, no matter how he bribed or threatened. The fact that she was not afraid, as she walked into the dark, wood-paneled foyer, passing under austere portraits of Wayne ancestors and under mounted animal heads, almost startled her.

She’d never taken Wayne for a cad or a brute with women and never heard any rumors of the sort, unlike plenty of other men in her social circle. And at times insensitive jerk or player who smiled and charmed and then never gave you the time of day, sure. She’d thought it herself, though she’d set herself up for disappointment there.

Of course, that in of itself meant nothing, but she hadn’t been afraid to come here this evening, alone, without family or friends to back her up. Heather had offered, but she didn’t think her assistant’s presence would alleviate any building tension- Heather, slouched in her seat with her hair falling out of a messy black ponytail, and her habit of chewing gum loudly when annoyed- would probably just add to it.

But she wasn’t afraid of him. She might dread whatever he’d say, might be deeply hurt by any insults lobbed or insinuations made, but she knew she could weather them with a disaffected, vapid smile in the moment, and stew over them later. As if on cue, she affixed one to her face now, as Alfred Pennyworth led her into what she assumed must be the tea room.

The fireplace alone was large enough to fit several burly grown men, though it was filled with decorative ferns now, their fronds ruffled by an unseen fan. There was an upper gallery where musicians must once have played, and she thought she detected a scuffle of movement, but she was distracted by Bruce, who had risen from his seat by the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the courtyard swimming pool.

She could see it had begun to rain from the trickles running down the panes; it reminded her of that morning in her apartment, and the sight of him when she returned from her shower, phone in hand, that handsome grin plastered back on his face. She hadn’t remembered much grinning the night before, or speaking at all, and had liked him all the better for it.

The thing about Bruce was not that his grins seemed forced or perverse, but that while the smile appeared wholly genuine at all times, it never quite met his dark eyes, which were always slightly narrowed, tense, alert, as if watching for some sort of threat, some photographer or crazed groupie or oncoming truck.

Then again, that might be no small amount of projection on her part.

“That’s like, your whole thing,” Heather had told her once, as they shared a bottle of something sickly sweet and very alcoholic on a cab ride home. “You’re like… Paranoid Malibu Barbie. You’re always looking over your shoulder and like…. Buying hot pink tasers and sh*t.”

Stacey had been drunk enough to giggle about in the moment. Now she wondered what it would be like to live alone, save for a butler and an orphan, in this massive house, and how anyone would not feel like the manor itself was preparing to swallow them whole. The tea room smelled of dried flowers and crushed velvet. Not scents she would associate with a bachelor billionaire. She wondered if he had changed anything since the death of his parents. It seemed unlikely, judging by the furnishing- they would have been new in the 40s or 50s. It was like sitting down in a museum.

Lemonade was pressed upon her. She was assured Alfred would be happy to make anything for her in the kitchens, once he’d parked her Chevy.

“I already ate, thanks.” Stacey shifted in her seat, and said, in a brisk, cheery, school teacher-esque voice. “So, I know you received the results of the paternity test. Thank you for that DNA sample.”

“It was no big deal,” Bruce said, with a sardonic edge. “I just stuck the q-tip in my mouth before I brushed my teeth in the morning.”

Then, he threw out, with exaggerated casualness, “So it looks like I’m the father.”

“Seems so,” she refused to so much as blink.

“And you’ve considered all your options.” His tone was almost jovial. Or about as jovial as the music often played at fairgrounds, typically drowned out by the shouts of angry and tired parents and hyperactive children. She wondered if this was his passive aggressive way of telling her he would have much preferred she get the abortion. She had no moral objections to it. She’d taken Plan B twice before, once when she was still in boarding school in New Hampshire, another time in college. But this time, this was her choice, and she wasn’t going to be made to feel guilty or foolish for it.

“Yes,” she said coolly. “I’m fifteen weeks along now. The baby is due in January.”

“I’d surmised as much,” his retort was verging on sarcastic, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes, but she hadn’t worn her falsies today and didn’t want to draw attention there. “Well, you should know I will support you in any way possible. I think we should consider marriage, or at least a long engagement.”

This was delivered in the offhand manner one would usually suggest ordering a pizza.

Stacey stared at him for a moment, waiting for the punchline. Again, she heard a scuffle from above, and would have looked up, but couldn’t seem to move. “Marriage?” she echoed him.

“Yes,” he said, mouth a firm line, eyes betraying no smirk or sneer. “We both have our resources, but inevitably, the baby’s birth is going to be reported on, and its parentage will be speculated. We’re both high profile people.”

“You more so than me,” she said defensively.

“You’re in the gossip columns every other week,” he replied.

“If that’s supposed to mean you think I’m this hapless party girl-,”

“What I think really doesn’t matter. What do you think? If we announced the engagement now, we could marry in October. Or even September. Or we could simply stay engaged through the pregnancy, and settle it when you’ve recovered. I’d give the baby my last name, of course, regardless-,”

“What if I don’t want it to have your last name?” she snapped.

He looked genuinely shocked at that, and she realized he’d failed to consider it at all. In his mind, it was obvious she would prefer the Wayne surname, obvious she would defer to him, obvious she would follow all of his suggestions to the letter.

“That’s fine,” he said, it clearly not being fine. “But I do think we should make some decisions today.”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” she said, clearly being a bit rude, “but it’s not the 1950s anymore, Bruce. We don’t need to be married to co-parent a child, if that’s what you want.”

“I know that,” his jaw clenched, ever so slightly. She’d never seen that happen before. It was fascinating. “Nevertheless, I think you’re underestimating the scandal this will cause. I don’t care what the papers say about me. Obviously, I never have. But you have to understand what people might say, the furor this will raise-,”

“The paps will speculate I tried to trap you into marriage, so we might as well beat them to the punch?” she drawled.

“All I’m saying is, I would hate for our child to be affected by this.”

“I’m not going to have a breakdown and be this terrible excuse for a mother because of a little media scrutiny!”

“I didn’t say that. But I would like some say in how- in how this child is raised, and us being together, formally- obviously, I wouldn’t expect any sort of relationship in private- would make things much easier.”

“Then maybe our lawyers should be talking right now about custody agreements.” She could feel a headache building. Or maybe that was just the storm brewing outside. The wind had picked up, rattling at the windows and seeping into the cracks of the old house, making it settle and creak.

There was a long pause. She took a long sip of her lemonade. He was rigid with tension, like a gargoyle poised on the side of a church. Admittedly a very striking gargoyle, even in a slightly wrinkled tee shirt and worn shorts that would have been better suited for indoor rock climbing. He looked like a very old college kid, not a billionaire. She supposed that was the point. She crossed her legs under her dress.

“I grew up being shunted around,” he said. “I do not want that for my child. I don’t want them to question where they belong. Or who wants them around.”

She flinched, and thunder rumbled outside.

“I need to use the washroom,” she said, standing up so quickly the tea room almost spun around her. Bruce stood as well, a hand half stretched as if to steady her, but she quickly sidestepped it. “Could you show me-,”

“There’s one on the left around the corner,” he said, and half followed her to the door, though he mercifully stopped once she stepped into the hall.

Inside the powder room, she sat down on the cushioned bench in front of a gold-framed mirror, head in her hands, and fought back a wave of nausea. Logically, she was aware this was unreasonable. Plenty of people were raised by people no longer or who had never been married. Plenty of people were raised in two households. There was no guarantee it would ruin a child’s life. In fact, it was vastly preferable to a cold or unhappy marriage.

Emotionally, whether Bruce had done his research or not, he’d managed to slip a blade through her ribs. She was eleven or twelve again, and spiraling. Her father was dead. Her mother was a husk of a woman. And he- and he was there, someone barely old enough to be her father, telling her with the faux-enthusiasm of a camp counselor, that they’d found a lovely school for her. Far, far away. And he was still there. Every break or holiday. Relentlessly spreading his grip over the rest of the household until she no longer recognized it. Or her mother. Or herself.

She ran the water for a little bit, trying to calm herself, and stepped back outside. Bruce must have gone to speak to Alfred or someone else, anticipating she’d be far longer, because the tea room was deserted when she entered.

Save for the creak of floorboards above. Stacey scanned the upper gallery, then crossed to the winding spiral staircase in the corner that led up. She took the steps two at a time, more irate than nervous, wondering if Bruce had gone up to observe her flustered return. Instead she found herself coughing on dust and face to face with a little boy.

Twelve, she thought, she remembered that from the papers. Dick Grayson, twelve, having been Wayne’s foster son for the past year and a half, since the high profile murder of his acrobat parents. She knew some low level mobster who’d done it was in Blackgate now, serving life, though the Gotham Mob showed no signs of slowing down.

He looked at her, and she at home. Small for his age, and skinny, almost bird-like. It was uncanny, she thought, how much he looked like Bruce, though of course they shared no relation. There had been some wild tabloid speculation at one point that the Grayson kid was Wayne’s ‘secret love child’, but she suspected that role was about to be filled by what was currently residing in her uterus. The boy glared at her; she summoned up a weak smile in return.

“I heard you up here,” she said.

“I let you come find me,” he sniped back.

“Why?” She found herself genuinely curious.

“Because I wanted to look at the gold digger trying to hook Bruce,” he said, with such ease she was certain he must have practiced that zinger in the mirror today.

She laughed aloud, not knowing what else to do, and then it morphed into a startled shriek when he brushed past her, launched himself over the edge of the gallery and leapt onto the massive iron chandelier hanging over the tea room. Chains groaned and trembled as he scampered along the edge- barefoot, she saw- and then pulled himself up into the rafters, which he scuttled along, hand over hand, until he’d crossed to a high window sill. By the time Bruce burst back into the tea room below, his ward was slipping outside into the rain.

“Anastasia?” he called out, after a moment.

She went back downstairs, and said, curtly, “Stacey. Your… son just… almost died in about twenty different ways.”

“He’s very athletic,” Bruce said faintly, and then said, “Did he… say anything?”

“Oh, you know, the usual pleasantries.” She swallowed, then added, “He did call me a gold-digger, so I think you’d better make sure that the diamond on that engagement ring is at least 2 carats. We wouldn’t want to disappoint.”

He broke his gaze away from the still open window to look back at her, almost gaping. “You… what?”

“Ring,” she said, tapping her knuckles. “Engagement. You wanted decisions made tonight, didn’t you? And I’ve got to get going before the weather gets any worse. I’ll send you my Pinterest board.”

“I- You just said you had no intention of-,”

“You changed my mind,” she beamed, forcibly. What she did not say was that she knew exactly what it felt like to grow up shunted around and uncertain of your place in your family- or if you even had one.

What she did not say was that for a split second, looking at Dick Grayson, she could have been staring at her younger self, angrily confronting her future stepfather, the man her mother had agreed to marry barely six months after her father’s death.

“Al-Alright,” he moved past her to push open a door leading out to the pool. “DICK! GET OUT OF THE WATER!” She could hear muffled splashing, and almost wondered if the boy have dove straight from the window into the water.

He glanced back at her, the wind whipping around him and into the neatly preserved relic of a room. “Are you sure?” He looked young and uncertain for a moment, and it brought a rush of confidence to her. Clearly he’d anticipated a war here, and she’d surrendered after the first skirmish.

There was no shame in it, and she found, a certain amount of triumph. He’d expected her to either capitulate meekly, or force both their lawyers’ claws out while they smeared each other across any media outlet that would listen. Instead, she’d dug in her heels- and then abruptly let go, which had left him reeling better than any punch to the nose or kick to the head.

“You have my number,” she called airily over her shoulder, and made her way out, ignoring the excruciating pain from her swollen feet.


Some Notes:

1. I'm not even tagging this as an AU, it's f*cking DC Comics, I can do whatever I want. We're messing around with age, time, architecture, fashion, whatever. If this contradicts your favorite Batman headcanons you have only yourself to blame for clicking on something tagged 'crack treated seriously'.

2. This fic concerns an unplanned pregnancy that the bearer decides to carry to term, but abortion rights in America are currently under attack. Please consider donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds to help those lacking the financial resources to determine their own reproductive healthcare.

3. Stacey is a really weird person with a lot of childhood trauma hiding behind pink pastels and Birkin bags. Bruce is a really weird person with a lot of childhood trauma who dresses up as a bat and beats the sh*t out of people. This is not healthy or normal in the least and that's why it's fun. Everybody prayer circle for Dick.

4. Stacey's name is a reference to the famous Fountains of Wayne song.

5. Bruce is usually depicted dressed to the nines but I like the idea of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne slouching around in an old college hoodie and ratty jeans like all the uber rich people we hate. Philanthropic mastermind my ass, put on a pair of nice pants, Bruce.

6. Stacey drives a 1957 Chevy Bel Air. In pink, obviously.

Chapter 2


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Gotham Belle offered $300,000 for an engagement photo spread and a 1000 word interview. Delilah offered $350,000 for an incisive article on every single social gaffe or vaguely sexist comment made by Bruce Wayne or any man in his social circle (though it could more aptly be described as a social string, of the theoretical sense- she honestly did not know if he was going to have groomsmen beyond Alfred).

Gotham Belle was the sort of magazine women like her mother read unironically- a hold down that man and get that ring publication- and women like her read ironically, or so they claimed, while their eyes strayed to articles like - Spicing it Up for Him in Bed - 8 Flirty Tips to Keep Things Hot and Wax or Shave - Your Landscaping Options This Summer.

Delilah started as a hardcore second wave feminist zine thirty years ago, then went corpo, and now picked a new giggly actress to loathe every month. Every other year they deigned to actual reporting and exposed someone famous and heinous and that kept the mill churning, Stacey supposed.

She would describe herself as a capital F Feminist but she wasn’t deluded- she could enjoy her money and her good looks- boosted by carefully tailored clothes, a makeup artist, and a structured exercise regime that delivered all her meals - while not pretending the realities of her life were anything like that of your average female Gothamite.

She didn’t have to walk home alone at night in the dark, keys slotted between her knuckles, in practical shoes because you can’t run for your life in heels. She didn’t have to put up with lecherous bosses or murderous coworkers on the verge of snapping and going on some killing spree, because she’d never had to hold a job in her life, unless you counted a few summer babysitting gigs to earn pocket money as a teen.

These were doubtless the sort of virtuous, self-effacing proclamations that Delilah’s editors would love to hear from her.

They’d also probably insist on a ‘fresh-faced’, sober, black and white photograph of her in something sleek, dark, and professional, holding a cup of tea and sitting thoughtfully in front of some bookshelves, to prove that she was in fact a Well Educated Bitch and not some rich blonde bimbo they’d have to convince their readers to like.

In the article, she’d have to casually break down her latest donation to Planned Parenthood and earnestly tidy up any scrap of dirt they have on Bruce- not that she thought they had much, or would have much, even if he had been a raging misogynist creep, because his lawyers would grind their bones to make their bread.

“What will it be?” Heather mimed juggling the phone in one hand, tablet in the other. “An all expenses paid shopping trip to Saks Fifth Avenue with les belles, or a trip to some sh*tty hipster cafe with Eleanor Carrington Woodville? She could give you tips about being married to a capitalist pig two decades older while maintaining a pro-proletariat column on your blog.”

Stacey snorted at that. She remembered that wedding in vivid detail. In fact, she was pretty sure Bruce had made an appearance with gaunt, dead-eyed model on his arm. “I went to school with Eleanor. She was vicious.”

“She’s reformed. She’s only mean to her fellow rich f*cks now. No more pissing on the poor. She’s aiming for the gold-plated toilet seats.”

“I was always a rich f*ck,” Stacey sighed, then read both emails again- and the ‘hey girl’ text from Eleanor, who was pretending- or had completely forgotten- the time she called Stacey a ‘worthless fat bitch’ during tennis practice when they were fourteen.

Stacey suspected it was the former and not the latter, because her response to that ‘joke’ had been to burst into tears and run off the court, only to find herself hanging around it an hour later, racket in hand, intent on giving Eleanor a face-lift in all the wrong places. Luckily for both of them, an assistant coach had intervened.

“Neither,” she said.

“Neither?” Heather seemed surprised but not outraged. “Are you sure? Not that you need the money, but I thought this was the sort of thing you wanted to promote.”

“I can make twice that with a week's ad campaign on Instagram. Interviews? No, not recommended in the prenup,” Stacey shook her head, and reclined more comfortably on her sofa, a hand curled around her belly- though the bump still wasn’t much to see, at twenty weeks- her doctors kept assuring her she was about to put on a boatload of baby weight, but to her dismay it all seemed to be going to her face and thighs, rather than her belly.

“In fact, I’m pretty sure his lawyers had a whole slideshow about that. A policy of non-engagement with provocative media outlets, they called it.”

“Two magazines are hardly provocative,” Heather rolled her eyes. “You really think he would be upset?”

“No, but I don’t want to do them anyways,” Stacey began the episode of Selling Sundown, where a platinum blonde was effusively describing the architectural charms of Mr. Freeze’s old hideout, now being repurposed as a party hall. “I’ve just put on ten pounds in a month, my skin itches like I’ve got a cat allergy and a dozen invisible cats, I can’t sleep, and my fiancé wants to go to Lamaze class with me.”

“He does?” Heather raised her eyebrows. “I’m impressed.”

“Of course he doesn’t, he’s just saying that to not sound like a dick,” Stacey barked, then felt a bit badly for snapping. “Sorry. It’s not just the hormones. We had lunch together yesterday at that French-Greek fusion place- they opened with a grant from that Wayne program for entrepreneurs- and he looked sick to his stomach the entire time.”

“Maybe it was the food.”

“It was definitely not the food. I think now that I actually look-,” like a beached whale, she thought, but didn’t give that the dignity of voicing, “he’s starting to realize that this is like, real. Like, really happening. Like, we’re really engaged. The announcement went out three weeks ago. People are calling at all hours for congratulations or comments. We’re getting married in a month. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was spiraling.”

“Have you talked to him about it?” Heather carefully extricated the mess of magazines, blankets, and half-opened baby gifts from the sofa, in order to perch on it next to Stacey. Her baby shower had happened the night before- she kept it as reasonably small as possible, which still meant nearly forty people packed into the penthouse, and the floor and every inch of counter space was littered with luxurious gifts.

Her mother had sent a Bichon Frise puppy, for ‘practice’, which was her bitchy way of responding to Stacey’s bitchy way of letting her find out about the pregnancy through the media. Stacey had ‘forwarded’ the dog to Bruce, supposing Dick might warm up if he associated her with a pet. So far, she hadn’t heard any report back, good or otherwise. Worst case scenario, the dog was hanging from a chandelier.

“We talk all the time,” she said idly, checking her phone. “We spent half of last week signing legal documents. He’s adding me to his will. We had to video call at 5 AM because his sleep schedule is that of a vampire.”

“Oh, sh*t.”

“Don’t even get me started.”

The sunny real estate agent on her flatscreen was now demonstrating how one of Mr. Freeze’s cryo chambers could double as a wine cellar. One of several dozen.

Heather’s phone buzzed. “It’s the appointment reminder for tomorrow,” she said. “The anatomy scan. Is he coming?”

“He said he would,” Stacey double-checked her message. “Yes. He is. Eleven o’clock, right?”

“Yeah. Are you going to find out the sex?”

“He doesn’t want to,” says Stacey. “But I do, so, yes.”

“Your mom really wasn’t happy you held the shower the night before. Or that you held the shower at night,” Heather said dryly. “She sent me another email this morning.”

“Really? Was it another screed about how I’m a ‘new age freak raising my child without gender because I have internalized misogyny’? That was actually a big term for her to know, the last bit. I’m impressed.”

Heather just exhaled, gazing around the dozens of still wrapped presents, many decked out in pink. “I guess they assumed…”

“Well, it is my favorite color.” Stacey smirked.

The morning of the scan she vomited several times, a first in over a month. Then she managed to consume a small amount of cut fruit and some granola, decided she hated the outfit she’d picked out, and exchanged it for a V-neck knit cardigan over a skimpy camisole that didn’t add even more pressure onto her sore breasts.

She made two attempts to put on her maternity jeans, which were incredibly overpriced, as was any article of clothing designed for a pregnant woman who didn’t want to look like a haggard frump, and then traded them for a pleated white skirt instead.

“You look like you’re going to play some tennis,” Heather told her, as they waited for the car. Stacey would have preferred to drive herself, but she was aware of how strange that would look, traveling separately from her loving fiancé, and Bruce seemed on the verge of a nervous tic at the thought of her driving herself anywhere these days.

Besides Gotham’s sometimes deadly traffic jams and constant stream of carjackings, he had a very antiquated idea of what pregnant women could and should do. She thought it was very likely that his mother had been pregnant when he was young, and lost the pregnancies. Whether he explicitly remembered it or not. While walking the grounds with Alfred a week before, they passed a small garden apparently planted by Martha Wayne some thirty years prior. Given the prevalence of small stone angels and a solitary bench, Stacey had a good idea of what it might be commemorating.

On the other hand, he might just be an old-fashioned control freak who felt insecure at the thought of how easily she could do all of this without him. She didn’t need his money, she certainly didn’t need his hand in marriage, and she was no stranger to familial scandal. She sometimes wondered if he regretted that it had been her, and not, say, the mousy co*cktail waitress making pennies and relying on generous tips from drunk socialites, who no doubt would have been much more amenable to whatever it was he wanted.

Truthfully, she herself wasn’t sure what he wanted. She wasn’t sure if he felt regret or bitterness that the pregnancy itself was happening, or that it was her carrying the baby, or that it was under these circ*mstances- who knew, maybe he was a secret romantic who had envisioned a very different future for his family. A beautiful but modest stepmother for Dick from a quaint background. A regular Maria, straight from the abbey, brimming with song.

“You’re kind of giggling to yourself,” Heather told her, as the car pulled up. “And crying.”

“I always cry when I laugh now,” Stacey grumbled, dabbed at her eyes under the guise of adjusting her sunglasses, and stepped out into the public with a smile, positioning her hand just so that the late summer sunlight glinted off the 2.5 carat diamond on her finger.

The ride to the doctor’s office was conducted in near silence. Stacey scrolled aimlessly on her phone, occasionally shifting irritably against the seatbelt, while Bruce stared out the tinted window and occasionally made a noise like he was about to speak but settled for an exhale or sigh instead. An outside observer might have assumed they were on their way to a funeral, if not for the pastel disruption of Stacey’s outfit against the dark interior of the car. She was just relieved Bruce wasn’t wearing a full suit and tie, or jeans from fifteen years prior.

As they pulled up and she undid her seatbelt, grumbling, he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. Against her better impulses, she felt a flutter of excitement at the touch.

“If you want me to stay in the waiting room until a certain point-,”

“No,” she said, before she could think better of it. “You might as well be there the whole time. It’s nothing you don’t already know, right? Except the sex.” She’d willingly handed over all of her medical files weeks ago, and agreed to genetic testing.

“I don’t care about the sex,” he said, for the hundredth time. She wondered if he was trying to convince her, or himself. He already had a son, of course, but maybe he felt differently about a child that would be biologically his. For Dick’s sake, she hoped not. She didn’t want to think she was marrying someone who would mistreat a child. And from the little she’d seen of them interacting, Dick didn’t seem frightened or resentful of his adoptive father, beyond some typical tween sulkiness.

But you might as well have said the same of her and her stepfather.

Not for the first time, she wondered if this was some sort of long dormant martyr complex awakening, but she doubted it. She didn’t feel any strong attachment or sense of protectiveness over Bruce’s son, no more than she would feel for any random child. Of course she didn’t want to see the boy hurt- and she hoped he didn’t make a habit of diving out of windows- but she didn’t feel responsible for him. She’d only spoken to him a few times. Most people would say he was lucky beyond belief, to have been adopted by one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Then again, she knew what it was like to be told- reminded- of how lucky you were, when you felt anything but. Had she ever wanted for anything material growing up? Ever been physically mistreated or neglected? Of course not. She was extraordinarily lucky. That had seemed to largely be the point of therapy, between the ages of eleven and sixteen. How lucky and blessed she was, how happy she should be. She still had her mother and a doting stepfather. She had a new baby sibling. She went to the best schools and wore the best clothes and knew all the right people.

She put her sunglasses back on and walked inside, only belatedly realizing she was supposed to wait for Bruce or the driver to come around and open her door.

The exam room resembled more of a luxury hotel suite than anything else. Stacey spent most of the time mesmerized by the massive aquarium on one wall, filled with colorful fish darting this way and that. Soothing music was piped in through the speakers. There were no sterile bright lights or whitewashed hospital walls. This entire medical complex catered to the rich, and money bought comfort more than anything else.

That was what her mother always said. Money makes you comfortable. It’s not about getting your hands on everything you could ever want. It’s about knowing you don’t need to worry about anything. Ever. Why do you think we’re all so f*cking bored, Stasya? A little fear is good for the soul. Promotes blood flow.

Still, she thought lying in an actual bed, not just a plastic covered cot, was a little weird, and Bruce seemed similarly uncomfortable, squeezed into a chair far too small for his six foot two frame. She’d never realized quite how broad his shoulders were; she wasn’t used to seeing him by the mundane light of day, she realized. She had the oddest sense of meeting a famous theater actor off-stage.

The doctor came back in- Stacey assumed she’d left to build anticipation, or something like that.

“So! I understand we’re wanting to know Baby’s sex.”

Bruce barely managed a nod. Stacey smiled.

The doctor sat down before the ultrasound screen, as if the tech hadn't already showed her it. Stacey had already pulled her camisole back down and had her cardigan around her shoulders.

“I’m very happy to say the two of you are expecting a daughter.”

“That’s fantastic,” said Bruce. To Stacey’s relief, he managed to inject enough emotion into his voice so as not to sound like a robot. She didn’t speak much herself- she wasn’t sure if she was disappointed, overwhelmed, or relieved. She’d avoided thinking about the sex, not wanting to bias herself one way or another, and now all she could imagine was her childhood self, which came with a sense of both fondness and dread.

She pushed the image away, and replaced it with a stranger, a little girl with dark hair and blue eyes and her father’s sharp cheekbones. That didn’t necessarily feel much better, but it was a bit less uncomfortable.

There was a rooftop garden and café in this complex, which said a lot about the level of care most of the patients expected. It had been bright and sunny this morning, but it was already clouding over now, and a slightly yellowish summer pollutant haze hung over the city. Stacey picked at her salad, which she’d really only ordered because Bruce would only get food if she would, and she was growing concerned with the fact that she’d only actually seen the man eat- well, never.

“I’m not disappointed,” he said. “Really.”

She choked on a crouton, then gasped out, “You don’t say.”

He colored slightly. “Alright, I know that sounds- I wasn’t lying, before. It truly doesn’t matter to me, and- and I am glad you wanted to know. I don’t know why I didn’t. Scared, I guess.”

That he would so candidly admit to fear surprised her; she took a few sips of her sparkling water and cleared her throat. “Of what?”

“I… of not being ready.”

“You already are a parent,” she pointed out, only a little snidely.

“Right, but- I-,” he paused again, collected himself, and said, very carefully, “I love Dick and I consider him my son. Obviously. But I didn’t raise him from infancy, and I’m not… I think you should consider moving in.”

“We agreed that would happen after the wedding,” she said, cautiously.

“I know, I just- it’s been difficult, with him, and I think-,”

“You want to use me for his exposure therapy?” Alright, that had been uncalled for, and the look on his face said so.

“Sorry.” She pushed what remained of her salad away. “I’m sorry. No, I- I understand this must be… a lot for him to process. A lot of change in very little time. I’m just not sure- you don’t think this would upset him more, for me to just… take up residence?”

“You will be in a month, regardless. I don’t see the point in waiting. Of course you can keep the penthouse for yourself, but there’s far more space at the manor, Alfred has been fussing over the nursery for weeks-,”

She decided she’d unpack his assumption that she’d feel the need to request permission to keep the penthouse she owned, and the fact that his butler had apparently designed an entire nursery without her input, later. After a glass of non-alcoholic wine.

“You’re feeling left out,” she suggested, lightly. This was a tactic she'd picked up from her mother, and it usually worked wonders. “We… don’t spend all that much time together, and you’re afraid you won’t feel connected to the baby?” That was what she wanted him to say; she hoped the look on her face communicated it. Generally you just phrased things as a hesitant question, and most men leaped at the chance to answer it affirmatively.

He nodded, after a moment. “I don’t expect us to be sitting around having family dinners anytime soon. I know you have your own life and schedule. But I do think it would… help to keep us all on the same page.”

“It would,” she said, playing with the bottle cap of her water, “but I have some demands. I’ll have my lawyer send them over later.”

“Can’t we just discuss them-,”

“Firstly,” she said, loudly, “I would like your permission to do any remodeling or redecorating that I see fit in the rooms assigned to me. Secondly, I want your word that no one lays a finger on my Chevy without my say-so. Thirdly-,”

“Or your lawyer could send them,” he muttered into his root beer.

After that, they did not speak for the entire ride home, save for Bruce to inform her that Dick, a self professed cat person, was reluctantly warming up to the puppy, who he’d named Ace. This seemed about as expected for a twelve year old boy; it could only get more wholesome if he’d called him Sparky, or Bud.

Her mother called a week later, when she was in the process of packing her things.

Stacey was tempted to let it ring, but as she’d ignored the last three calls, it seemed only fair to let this one through the gates.

“I hope you’ve thought about this very carefully,” Jessica Belgrave was managing to acidly drip over the phone. “Because in the span of the last six months you’ve managed to get yourself pregnant, wheedle the father into proposing, playact at puppy love in public, and now to put a bow on top, you’re moving in with the man.”

“You make it sound like Bruce Wayne is living in his mother’s basem*nt preparing to murder me,” Stacey managed, as she emptied out yet another drawer of cosmetics into a plastic bin at her feet. Brands sent her heaps of new stuff every week; half of it was unopened. She couldn't even dump it on Heather, who only wore eyeliner. “It’s not like I’m giving up my other properties, Mom.”

“Do not ‘Mom’ me, Stasya,” Jessica snapped, and for a moment the Soviet Moscow accent of her own immigrant parents crept in, before leaving in a huff. “What do you have? The penthouse and a condo.”

“Two condos.”

“Two condos! You pawn those off on some cousin to landlady for, you’re taking all of your things out of the penthouse, and you are setting up like Susie Homemaker with a man you barely know and some little orphan he adopted from the gutter.”

Stacey murmured an expletive, then said, more clearly, “If you keep talking like this, I’m going to block your number again, Mother.”

“Talking what? The truth? You want to have the baby, fine, fine. Be my guest, though I’ll tell you, motherhood is no holiday, Stasya. The hell you and your brother put me through-,”

“Well, no one forced you to have a second child at forty five, Mom,” Stacey said, walking out of the bathroom to fling herself - gingerly- onto her rumpled bedspread.

“Nonsense! How could I not give him a son! You girls now are lucky, it’s very different-,”

Stacey groaned into a silk pillow, then lifted the phone back up. “Do you have any actual advice for me, or is this just your chance to get the latest digs in-,”

“I am trying to protect you, Stasya! You are living in some dream world, carrying on like this. It would be one thing if you’d planned for this. Marriages don’t run on love, lapochka. But to just stumble into it like a drunk-,”

“It may disturb you to realize this,” Stacey had managed to rouse herself to an upright position in anger, despite the sharp ache in her lower back, “but I am twenty five years old, and I am perfectly capable of deciding my own life, on my terms. I’m not a teenager anymore. I’ve been on my own for years-,”

“On your own, with your father’s money,” her mother jeered, then softened, in her usual manner. “You know I wish we could have done more together, Stasya. But it was just so much. You have no idea how difficult my life is, managing so many hardheaded people. You, your brother, your stepfather-,”

“Mom, enough. We were always going to live together, what kind of marriage would it be if we didn’t? The house has twenty one bedrooms, I think we’ll manage to keep our distance if things get tense. If it goes horribly wrong, we’ll get a divorce and I’ll move back into the penthouse, or find somewhere better for the baby in the suburbs. I have two lawyers on my payroll, it’s not like I’m wanting for representation.”

“You think you can just toss a man away if you don’t like him? You’re having his child! You thank God it’s not a son, or else you’d really be in for it!”

“He has a son, Mom.”

“Adopted,” her mother said, viciously. “Pah. You’ll see how long that lasts once he holds a child of his own. And you be careful, too. You know what I think of a bachelor adopting a young boy- it’s unnatural, and you had best be sure you’re not some sort of cover for a-,”

Stacey hung up, massaged her brow in an attempt to erase the past few minutes of conversation from her brain, and would have rolled onto her stomach if not for the burgeoning bump in the way.

She heard soft footfall in the doorway. “How did it go?”

“I don’t know. Has she RSVPed for the wedding?”

“Oh, yes,” Heather exhaled. “One of the first ones.”


She dropped the first of her things off at the manor several days later, flanked by two moving vans. It wasn’t as if she needed to transport any of her own furniture, but given her palpable distaste for most of the interior decorating, it felt only right to bring every scrap of fabric, every lamp, every piece of art, in her first line of defense against a house that hadn’t changed a whit since the 1950s.

Bruce was not home; unsurprising, given that it was just after dinner, and she knew he tended to go out in the evenings. There’d been no reports of him in the gossip columns lately, or photos of him coming out of clubs or trendy restaurants, so he assumed he was either pursuing any inordinate number of hobbies, dealing with business at the corporate headquarters, or meeting a woman.

She didn’t really care either way- they’d both been very explicit with one another that the marriage would encompass no genuine vows of monogamy on either side, and while she would probably feel pettily jealous once her sex drive had recovered, for the time being she simply hoped that if there was someone, Stacey was not obliviously inviting her to the wedding.

For the moment her mind conjured up a picture of Bruce naked in bed with angular, brunette, vicious Eleanor, but she pushed it away incredulously. He’d never been stupid enough to get involved with a journalist, no matter how much of a hack they were, and he’d be crazy to start now.

She was distracted from these uncomfortable thoughts by Alfred, who insisted she sit down and have something to eat. Only after she’d innocently followed him down into the kitchens did she realize it had all been an elaborate trap, because Dick was there having his dinner.

For a moment the sight of him sitting at a table in the corner eating what appeared to be macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs shocked her, and then she realized how silly it would be for him to eat dinner alone in a massive dining room.

“Hi,” she said, belatedly deciding her tone sounded uncertain and immature, as if she were his age, and not his adoptive father’s fiancée. “How’s your food?”

“Fine,” he said, around a mouthful of pasta, and then added, defensively, “Bruce usually eats with me but he had important business tonight.”

“Yes,” mused Alfred, “otherwise, I’m afraid the meal might include more vegetables, Master Dick.”

Dick pulled a face, and returned to ignoring Stacey, though Ace, who’d been lying at his feet, trotted out to greet her.

Stacey declined the macaroni and hot dogs combination, and settled for a leftover slice of pie and a glass of iced tea instead. She ate near Dick, but not at the same table, as if trying to get close to a wild animal.

“Dick,” Alfred said, in a voice that was an odd blend of hopeful and commanding, “When you’re finished eating, why don’t you show Miss Belgrave the nursery?”

Dick muttered something that sounded like a refusal, but declined to speak up when pressed. When Stacey finished her pie, she found him hovering by the doorway, scowling, but waiting for her. He bounded up the steps to the first floor two at a time, then waited impatiently at the top for her pregnant self to catch up.

The rest of the walk across the manor was a similar pattern of Dick flying ahead, catching himself, and waiting, though his frustration seemed to fade when they moved to the second floor. Then he turned almost pensive, and she felt a pang of pity for him as he pushed open the nursery door, stepping aside to let her through.

She glanced around the room. It was full of light, with sheer curtains ruffling from the warm breeze flowing through the windows. The walls were a soft shade of green, and the furniture white, but not starkly so, and softly sculpted, rather than brutally modern. She stepped across the soft rug, looked at the crib, bassinet, and changing table, and the rocking chair piled with stuffed animals and blankets.

When she stepped back again, Dick snapped, “You didn’t even look at the mobile,” and Stacey, startled, obediently directed her attention to it. Small carved birds flew above the crib, and when spun, it played a whimsical, lilting tune. “Finch,” she said, “cardinal, blue jay, starling-,”

“Robin,” he added, tapping one.

“You like birds?” she asked, without looking at him, which she sensed was the right move. He was standing closer to her than he had before, no longer putting a good three feet minimum between them.

“This is mine,” he said. “My mobile. So. Yeah.”

“Oh,” she said, faintly. “...Really?”

“It’s not weird,” he snapped. “Okay? Can you just say thank you?”

“Thank you,” said Stacey. “That’s… this is really thoughtful of you, Dick. Or… do you want me to call you Richard? I know I’m not family yet, so-,”

“You call me Dick,” he said, sharply. “Richard’s an old man name.”

“Like Bruce?” she ventured, and hid a smirk at the involuntary snicker she earned with that jab.

The rooms she’d been appointed- which felt ludicrous, like she was visiting foreign royalty in a palace- were about as airy and spacious as one could expect to get in an home built in the early 1900s.

The wallpaper was an appalling blend of yellow and soft blue which had probably been labeled ‘perfectly charming’ when it was picked out in 1945, so that would have to go, but the windows offered a beautiful view of the gardens and the forest behind it, and once she’d gotten most of the furniture reupholstered and replaced the tragically squat bed, it would be fine.

The carpeting, too, she decided, would be ripped up. There were perfectly good hardwood floors under it, and she wanted an authoritative clacking noise under her heels when she entered a room, not the muffled indents of carpet plush.

For a few moments, as she inspected the wardrobe, walk-in closet (which was clearly a modern renovation), and the on-suite bathroom, she had the horrible thought that these rooms might have belonged to Martha Wayne. But to her relief, she couldn’t find any traces of a prior inhabitant, not even stray hairs or lint. If someone had stayed in these, they’d been meticulously cleaned and picked over since then.

In fact, as she set off down the East Wing’s main hallway, it didn’t take long to find the rooms that must have belonged to Martha- or both Waynes. She just tried every doorknob until she found one that locked. Had she been in the condition for it, she would have gotten down on her hands and knees and tried to spy under the crack beneath the door, but instead she just looked at it for a few moments, then returned to finish unpacking her clothes.

She wasn’t used to moving without Heather’s help. She didn’t think Bruce would refuse her assistant’s presence in the house, but Heather had made it perfectly clear she thought it a step too far to move into Stacey’s ‘marital home’, and that she would be on call when needed, but not sleeping under the same roof. In her shoes, Stacey probably would have said the same. Along with something along the lines of what her mother had gotten at, between her ranting.

You barely know this man, she thought, sitting on the edge of the four-postered bed, which looked almost comical with her pale pink and green quilt on top of it. You barely know this man, and you’re having a child with him, and you’ve moved into his house, with his sole servant and odd little son. What the hell are you thinking? This is a terrible idea. This is shaping up to Greek tragedy proportions. There is no ending where you don’t get hurt here, one way or another.

Did some immature part of her honestly believe they were going to bond over a screaming infant, late-night feedings, and diaper changes? That he was going to rush home to dinner every day because he was just so eager to be reunited with his cobbled together family? That Dick was going to embrace the baby like a literal sister? How had she reacted when she saw her half-brother for the first time? She’d burst into tears on the car ride home.

This whole thing was somewhat pathetic, like a limping deer along the side of the road. The sensible thing would have been to laugh off what was frankly the world’s sh*ttiest proposal, work out a custody agreement like thousands of people did all the time, and abide by it. Not cast herself as the Gothic heroine of whatever this was shaping up to be.

At some point, she kicked off her shoes, curled up on her side, and dozed, resentful of the fact that there wasn’t a television set in the room. Also, the internet connection was terrible compared to her penthouse. Maybe the router was in the other wing. Used to bizarre pregnancy dreams by now, she did not balk when her mind took her through the manor in the dead of night.

There was some sound she was following- at first she thought it was a radio, and then it became clear it was the chirping and twitter of birds. The noise grew to a cacophony as she neared the nursery, and when she pushed open the door, the room swarmed with them- birds of all shapes and sizes, from the hummingbird to an eagle nesting in the windowsill. A robin landed on her shoulder, its tiny talons drawing blood through her blouse. She brushed it away with a muffled exclamation, then stumbled over to the crib. The baby had the head of Ace, all downy white fluff and round dark eyes. It licked her palm eagerly, and then she woke up to find herself drooling onto her hand, like a toddler.

It was much later in the day now. When she made her way to her bedroom door, she found a neat note from Alfred assuring her that she could come wake him at any time to cook, or she could make her own meal in the kitchens. When she stepped out into the hall, she heard footfall on the stairs, too heavy to be the butler. She drew back, a hand on her door, almost frightened, as if she were being caught after-hours in a restricted area, and then she scoffed at herself. Wasn't the whole point that this was now her house, too? She wasn’t a little girl at boarding school anymore. No one was going to haul her into detention for being out past her curfew.

She waited, but the steps were going away from her, downstairs, not coming onto this floor. After a few moments, she crossed to the ornate stairwell, a hand on the topmost bannister. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust to the muted lamplight, before she noticed a dark splotch on the steps. Maybe it was Bruce taking Ace out; but it didn’t smell like dogsh*t. She went down a few steps, knew squatting was not a good idea, and sniffed.

Then, she wound her hand around the banister, and prodded the splotch with the toe of her white slipper. It came back rusty red.

She sat down very suddenly, with an audible thump, and froze, but whoever- Bruce- had been going downstairs was now far enough away that they did not hear. She held her slipper in her hands, like a horrified Cinderella, and sniffed it again, just to be sure. Then, when she heard a door creak loudly below, she no longer dismissed the fear as childish and let it spring her to her feet and back upstairs, tripping over herself in her hurry. She hurried past the nursery, back into her room, and closed the door behind her.

It locked, of course, and she’d kept it locked before, even as she dozed in a house she knew was perfectly safe and very far away from Gotham’s crime ridden streets. Now she locked it again, and went back to her old playbook, hauling a chair in front of it and reinforcing the legs with several heavy books, so there’d be a commotion, even if someone picked or broke off the lock. For good measure, she piled her heaviest art piece in the chair, a carved Gorgon head with neon pink sunglasses, which she’d bought in college on a lark after a boyfriend had dragged her to a modern art auction.

That done, she checked the windows carefully, and carried her slipper into the bathroom. When she was very young, a maid had taught her how you removed bloodstains from silk, and why a woman should always keep a few salt packets with her. When you add it to cold water, you can scrub out the blood from silk, so long as the stain is fresh.

She did that now, exhaling methodically through her nostrils as the sink basin turned pink. When she was done, she left the slipper to dry on the side of the tub, and sat down on the closed toilet lid, picking at her chipped acrylics.

The toilet seat here, was, fortunately, not gold plated


Some Notes:

1. Like a lot of uber wealthy people raised in a bubble, everything is very ironic and detached. On one level Stacey is aware of this and how fake and hypocritical most of her peers are. On another level, while she's (I think) down to earth and verging on self aware in some ways, in other ways she's never known anything but the very privileged life she leads. There is not a lot of outside anxiety in her life in terms of worrying about material matters like clothing, food, and money. She's never had to work and could conceivably spend her life doing... whatever she wants, whenever she wants... and all that choice can be paralyzing and depressing to some people.

2. In case there was confusion as to what Stacey's mother was so upset about regarding the baby shower - Stacey deliberately held it before finding out the sex of the fetus, so that she wouldn't get overwhelmingly gendered baby gifts - ie all pink or all blue. This failed because people just bought her pink crap anyways, knowing that's her favorite color. She also, uh, didn't invite her mother to the baby shower, which might explain some things.

3. Bruce respecting HIPAA? Lol.

4. To really hammer home how abnormal and weird this all is, let's clarify that Stacey has barely even see Bruce parent his actual adopted son, and her conclusion is 'welp, hope he's not secretly a monster!'.

5. Bruce seems to be taking the 'keep your friends close, keep your socialite fiancée who could at any moment discover your secret vigilante identity and blast it across her Twitter feed closer' stance.

6. "Did you really make Ace the Bat Hound a f*cking Bichon Frise lap dog?" Me? Never.... //Points to the 'Crack Treated Seriously' tag//

Chapter 3


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The morning of her wedding was remarkably perfect, aside from the splitting headache from the late night before. It would be one thing if it was a hangover, but seeing as she was twenty three weeks pregnant, there hadn’t been much of a bachelorette party.

She’d gone out for dinner and drinks (well, they drank, while she stewed over the bill) with the six women who would have been her bridesmaids had it been a ‘proper’ church wedding. As it wasn’t, and it was instead going to be a tiny civil service ceremony at the courthouse, with an appropriately grandiose reception afterwards, she didn’t actually have bridesmaids.

This should have stung, but in reality, it wasn’t much more than disconcerting. Stacey had always had lots of friends. She had money and good looks. Friends came easily. Confidantes, no, besides Heather, and even then- well, she was paying Heather, wasn’t she? To help organize her life, and for emotional support.

Heather was too tactful- this was about the only place she was tactful around- to point that out, but she knew it, and Stacey knew it. She had hundreds of contacts in her phone, a few million followers on social media, and she had a very, very short list of people she could actually confide in. And her soon to be husband didn’t even make said list.

Poor little rich girl mantra aside, the dinner had been fine, the non-alcoholic margarita decent, and afterwards a slightly tipsy Heather had taken her to meet up with Heather’s partner, Jordan, who worked as a paralegal under the assistant district attorney, and they’d wandered Gotham’s first circuit courthouse in a giddy stupor.

The building was state of the art, modern, and constructed to look like it had been built in the some art deco version of the 1930s, at least from the outside. The inside was all glass and skylights and mosaic floors. They’d sat on the edge of the great gurgling fountain in the middle, fringed by lush ferns, while Heather laid her head in Jordan’s lap, begging for her hair to be pet like a child.

“She was a very cute drunk in college, too,” Stacey had told Jordan with a grin.

Jordan had shaken their head, chuckling, and skimmed their fingers through Heather’s bangs, again and again. “As long as she doesn’t puke on me. Right, H?”

“That was one time,” Heather hiccuped, and rolled over, muffling her face in Jordan’s blazer and almost kicking a heel off into the fountain.

“Married, though,” Jordan had said, with profound bemusem*nt. “You’re only twenty five. I’m thirty, and I still can’t even picture it.”

“You’re a young thirty,” Stacey had assured them, and Jordan rolled their eyes, though their skin brightened with embarrassment.

She’d gotten home around one in the morning, and was not surprised to find Bruce up and about, looking as if he’d just taken a shower. If anything, he seemed more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than he ever did by day. For a few moments she’d resentfully wondered if he was waiting up for her to make sure she hadn’t gotten drunk, and then she’d remembered the blood.

While she had not been afraid last night and in fact hadn’t been afraid when she’d seen him the morning after three weeks ago, there was a strange tingling sensation that ran along the back of her neck and down her limbs, like goosebumps.

Part of her was convinced it was a horrible gut feeling she was foolishly ignoring for the sake of her pride, and another part of her was convinced it was the opposite- some instinct that she was overreacting yet again, that there were many perfectly reasonable explanations for why someone might happen to drip a small amount of blood on the stairs.

He could have fallen and cut himself, especially if he’d been drinking, or he could have hurt his hand doing any number of things, or nicked himself shaving and picked at the scab. That she hadn’t been able to find any marks on his face, neck, or hands, proved nothing. They weren’t sharing a bed and she hadn’t seen him undressed in months.

You always had a wild imagination, Annie, someone chuckled in her ear.

She brushed it away like a gnat now, inadvertently touching her hair, then regretted it when her stylist scolded her. It wasn’t as if they were doing anything wild with her hair- the dress was over the top enough that she’d been convinced loose waves were the best for it. She’d been torn between an actual vintage dress or something couture, but her mother had tempted her with Vivienne Westwood’s latest collection- though her attempts to bully Stacey into letting her buy it for her had failed.

The first was vaguely Victorian and vaguely 1980s, with leg of mutton sleeves and a cinched waist (or as cinched as it could get, at this point), in uniform ivory silk and a scooped neckline that emphasized the swell of her breasts and her collarbones, which were a little less defined than she’d liked but supposedly could be brought out with the right contouring. The skirt was floor-length and draped in the back. It was a fairy tale princess dress, for the most un-fairy-tale like of weddings. That seemed par for the course.

Once she’d changed into it, she reluctantly let the stylists file out, along with the wedding planner, who was taking this about as seriously as a Secret Service agent, and her mother file in.

“Mom, you look great,” Stacey said, by way of a peace offering; they’d gotten into two shouting matches over the phone over the span of the last week.

Contrary to her own pettiness and popular belief, she didn’t want to spend her wedding day at loggerheads with her mother. Outside this hotel suite it was a crisp and cool September afternoon, with the perfect amount of breeze and a surprisingly calm Gotham, at least in the gentrified Heights. This close to the courthouse, there was a cop on every corner and a constant stream of lawyers, judges, and corporate executives out on their lunch breaks.

“Thank you, Stasya,” her mother managed a thin smile, and patted at her bob self consciously. It’d been cut sleek and chin length since her second marriage; Stacey recalled it being almost unfashionably long when she was young, though.

Her mother was still a handsome woman on the cusp of sixty, and she’d been striking in her twenties and thirties; petite, unlike her tall and athletically built daughter, but with the same platinum blonde hair, now tinted ashen, and dark blue eyes, slightly sunken in her face, but framed with long dark lashes.

“You look beautiful,” her mother said; to insist otherwise out of spite would have been pointless. Still, her fingers plucked at a loose hair, then settled Stacey’s hands more demurely in front of her, as if to try to mask the bump, which would be visible from the side, if not head-on in photographs.

It wasn’t as if it would shock any of the public; her pregnancy was old news by now, and the speculation that she’d coerced, blackmailed, or otherwise badgered Bruce Wayne into proposing had been circling for weeks. But stronger than that was the romantic take- that they were two young kids who’d messed up but were deeply in love, and that this had been just the push the erstwhile party boy needed to sober up and become the family man everyone knew he could be.

Never mind that the two in question were thirty two and twenty five, not a pair of teens fresh out of high school.

“Are you taking a mental photograph?” Stacey teased, as her mother looked her over once more.

“I’m mourning the loss of my baby girl.” Jessica’s eyes misted. “I know we do not always get along, lapochka, but you are still my firstborn. You know how much I prayed for you? Six years. All the doctors said we would never have children. And then you came. Our little miracle. Your name means resurrection. You brought our hopes and dreams back to life.”

Stacey had heard this many times before, but it was harder to roll her eyes and turn up the music when she was in her wedding gown and her usually steely mother was on the verge of tears.

“Mom,” she said, and drew her into a hug that was only a little awkward. “I love you, okay? I am sorry that I haven’t been more… I don’t know. I know you think I’m making a huge mistake, but- but this could be good, you know? I- I want the baby to have a real family, and… and I think Bruce will be a good father.”

That was a pretty bold statement, when she could count the number of times she’d seen him parent on one hand, but she had to say something, and voicing all her doubts and fears was not going to help anyone. She was going to get married and dance her ass off, and if things went belly up in six months, oh well. She’d still have the wedding dress she paid for with her own money, and the engagement ring. And she’d make a new home for her and the baby.

“I don’t know what you see in him,” her mother said, almost sadly. “But I suppose he is very good looking, and the money doesn’t hurt. I wish he’d become a doctor. It was such a scandal when we heard he’d dropped out of Princeton. Look at Tom Elliot- he’s a neurosurgeon!”

“Bruce still has a bachelor’s, Mom. In biochemistry. From an Ivy League university.”

“And you have… what was it?”

“I was a communications major,” Stacey said, refusing to blush.

“Yes. You would have been a spectacular lawyer, Stasya, but I know not every woman wants to work…”

Okay, that did sting a little.

“I can always go back to school when the baby’s older.”

Her mother smiled condescendingly, in an ‘aren’t you cute’ manner, and patted her cheek. “I know. And he was at your cotillion, I remember that. At least he’s well trained. I couldn’t stand to see you with someone beneath you, Stasya.”

Stacey remembered the cotillion very well. She remembered dancing with him; that in and of itself had been nothing special, but they’d met in that hallway, afterwards, near the deserted lobby, and she’d seen a dozen of him reflected in the mirrored walls, and dozen hers. He’d been speaking in a low, tense murmur on his phone, but had turned and covered it when his hand when he saw her reflection; her tear-stained face and rumpled ballgown.

“I do like him,” she said, almost tentatively. “Really. He can be… he’s easy to talk to, sometimes.”

“Well, at least you don’t hate him,” her mother said, then frowned. “And the boy… he’s behaved himself?”

“Dick is fine,” Stacey insisted, almost defensively. “He’s… this is hard for him. Like it was for me, when you remarried-”

“Your stepfather has treated you like a princess,” her mother said sharply, then softened again. “But you were such a sensitive little girl. You get that from your father. Leo was always very high strung.”

“That’s because he needed help, Mom. When he took his meds-,”

“I didn’t fall in love with a drugged up zombie,” her mother sniffed, but sensing this was a battle for another day, took her hand and led her from the room.

Heather was waiting in the limousine outside, Stacey’s bouquet carefully clasped between her hands. While she was off duty for the wedding and strictly attending as a friend, she’d judged herself as responsible for the flowers, and now pressed the bundle of pink and white roses and camellias into Stacey’s manicured grip.

“Don’t drop them. I’ve been handling it like a live grenade for the past half hour.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Stacey kissed her on the cheek. “You look great. And thank Jordan again for getting us Judge Price.”

“They do have their connections,” Heather joked, then glanced warily at Stacey’s mother, who for once was holding her tongue. She’d never liked Heather, dismissing her as a unemployable social climber, and usually didn’t make much secret of it. Stacey was almost touched Jessica was clearly restraining herself from making any passive aggressive comments on her daughter’s wedding day.

At least until the limo pulled up outside the courthouse. Heather scrambled out first, to clear the way for Stacey and her dress, but her mother took her by the elbow.

“Be pleasant with your stepfather today,” she murmured. “For me, Stasya?”

Stacey exhaled forcibly in response, then said, through gritted teeth, “He’ll be there for the ceremony, won’t he? What more does he want?”

“If you were having a proper church wedding, he could walk you down the aisle-,”

Stacey wrenched her arm away and stepped out into the spotlight; paparazzi lined the steps, held back by several bored looking beat cops and the swathes of plainclothes private security her mother had insisted on hiring for the entire event.

Stacey couldn’t really blame her; anyone with any sense- and any money- in Gotham was going to hire guns. She’d had multiple birthday parties flanked by armed men in kevlar. No one wanted their special day brought to a bitter end with a bunch of guns, or freeze rays, or whatever stuck in your face as some freak in a mask made off with your valuables, or worse, your dignity. Or even worse, a limb or two.

Fortunately, the clamor and shouts died away entirely once they were inside the courthouse, where, to Stacey’s surprise, she saw her stepfather, brother, and Alfred and Dick, but no Bruce. Heather was huddled nearby, murmuring back and forth with Jordan.

Despite her unease- maybe he’d gone to the men’s room?- Stacey walked over to greet her family first, lifting her skirt slightly to not trip over her kitten heels. Even two inches heels brought her to about six feet in height, and she was several inches taller than her stepfather, and nearly a head taller than her half brother.

But she was surprised by how much he’d sprung up; she could swear he’d been three inches shorter the last time she’d seen him, which was nearly six months ago.

“Hey, Rome,” she said, kissing his cheek and becoming even more startled to feel stubble there. “You’re growing like a weed. How’s military school?”

Her brother gave her an inscrutable smile; he got those from his father, which often disturbed her, as much as she tried to hide it. “I’m back at St. Vincent’s.”

“It was the better fit,” her stepfather squeezed his son’s gawky shoulder fondly; she was almost pleased to see Roman jerk away in annoyance. “Emotionally speaking.”

“I got kicked out,” Roman told her, and then returned his attention to his phone.

“He got kicked out?”

“Some hypochondriac teacher took his journaling a little too seriously,” her stepfather drew her into a swift embrace; she felt herself go stiff and wooden as a plank in response. He smoothed her puffy sleeves ineffectively, then pressed a kiss to her brow. “You look exquisite, Annie.”

“Thanks,” she said, fighting the shiver building at the base of her spine, and was relieved to see Alfred making his way over.

Dick was sitting on a bench underneath a large stained-glass window depicting Gotham’s colonial roots, dressed to the nines, though his green tie was slightly askew, and also on his phone. She wondered if he and Roman had been introduced, then thought better of it.

“Master Wayne is running a little late,” Alfred said in a hushed voice to her, mercifully drawing away from the dysfunctional orbit that was her family. “There was an emergency shareholders meeting- one of our board members suffered a stroke yesterday, and it was crucial Bruce be in attendance-,”

Bruce had kept the shareholders’ meeting on mute for most of the chase, but now that he’d well and truly lost the thieves, he gave up the ghost, unmuted, said something vaguely supportive, and hung up- “Wedding to attend, I’m sure you all understand.”

He’d parked behind one of the many abandoned warehouses lining the wharfs of Dixon Docks, and the car the thieves had abandoned was still idling some distance away, but by the time he finished combing it for evidence it was clear this was a lost cause. They’d taken the files with them and vanished into a sunny September afternoon. The Gotham River almost looked clean in this light.

He scuffed some gravel in frustration on his way back to the Batmobile, but they’d hardly swiped anything irreplaceable. A list of passcodes and pin numbers could be dangerous in the wrong hands, but they updated everything weekly as per security protocols, and by the time they got this information back to their employer- assuming they even had one, and weren’t just hoping to hawk it on the black market- it would be utterly useless.

Ten years ago, he would have devoted his afternoon to prowling though every single warehouse, terrifying security guards and relentlessly searching for any clues as to where the perps had gone. He couldn’t afford to act like that, these days. No one was in imminent danger and if he was any later to his own wedding, he’d have much bigger problems, chiefly in the form of his mother and law, whose venomous stares rivaled many of Gotham’s most notorious rogues.

With that in mind, he was only forty six minutes late to the ceremony, and besides his hair, which could have had a bit more attention paid to it, he thought he looked presentable. It was hard not to when you were wearing an Armani suit. When he entered the courthouse, though, he was not confronted with a hissing and spitting Jessica Belgrave, but Stacey’s grim-faced assistant Heather and a wry looking Alfred, though his dark eyes were serious.

“Your pregnant bride is near tears, though doing an admirable job of hiding it,” he informed Bruce acidicly. “I’d suggest losing the co*cky grin, Master Wayne, and looking appropriately penitent.”

“Is that a British-ism for ‘You look like a massive dick right now?’” Heather snapped, and seemed on the verge of getting up on her tiptoes, even in heels, to grab Bruce by the scruff of the neck and frog-march him into the chamber.

He was almost flattered by her nerve. “Traffic was terrible,” he said apologetically, “and my suit was misplaced.” That was half-true. He’d been testing some updates to his real suit, which had delayed him getting it on in time to confront the thieves in the first place. And now he was late to his (preferably) one and only wedding.

He couldn’t imagine doing this again anytime soon. Even with a very scaled back celebration (for people of their status, anyways), the stress was incredible. He was glad the barrage of messages about floral arrangements and party favors was finally over, and only a little regretful that this was a far cry from the affair his parents had thrown nearly forty years ago.

Not because he needed even more excess in his life, but because despite the grandiose scale of it all, when you looked at their wedding album- and he had, many times- you could see how truly in love they were. The match might have been seen as favorable and politically expedient by the rest of Gotham’s upper crust, but it was undeniable that Thomas and Martha had been deeply devoted to each other from the start. They were attached at the hip in all their photographs, beaming with delight, arms thrown around each other, their giddiness seeping out from every angle.

He doubted the same would be said for his own wedding photos. They’d be beautiful, of course- every detail of the bride, groom, and their luxurious surroundings immaculate. But while he thought Stacey was a talented actress, and himself no slouch, no one could truly feign adoration and attraction through a lens. Everything would go right tonight, but it wouldn’t actually mean anything.

She was only marrying him because- well, he wasn’t entirely sure why she was marrying. He knew she didn’t love him, and wasn’t even infatuated with him in a schoolgirl manner, which he could have understood. In fact, she was remarkably level-headed, compared to her airy reputation. But despite her practical nature, she didn’t need his money, so it wasn’t that, and she didn’t seem that concerned about the potential stigma of being a single mother in the public eye.

He thought it was possible his words about the child being shunted between two households had gotten to her, given her own parent’s tragic marriage, and he knew she was not close with her stepfather. More precisely, he thought, as he passed the man now, along with her almost glowering mother and sullen looking half-brother, she hated her stepfather. Background checks had turned up absolutely nothing on the man, and there were no police or medical records that would seem to implicate him in any kind of abuse or assault.

But that meant nothing, of course. And maybe her contempt solely stemmed from how quickly her mother had remarried. But it was true, he thought, the Tolstoy quote: “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

If he truly had guilted her into agreeing to this, he was sorry for her. On the other hand, she was certainly stubborn enough that he had a hard time imagining her meekly succumbing unless she was already thinking along the same lines herself. Dick was waiting for him at the door.

“She’s pissed,” he whispered- well, stage whispered, loud enough for Bruce’s apparent in-laws to hear.

“Let’s try to fix that,” Bruce whispered back- a real whisper, out of the corner of his mouth- and then gestured for his best man to go ahead, arm in arm with Heather, no matter how silly it looked.

He followed a minute later, and was aware of how backwards this was- the bride was the one waiting for the groom, not at the altar but before the judge, who wasn’t even one of Gotham’s most prestigious but rather a woman who happened to be in the same sorority that Stacey had at Gotham-U, just a good thirty years earlier.

But she looked beautiful- Stacey, not the judge. This wasn’t surprising, though the dress was. He’d thought she’d have picked something more sleek and revealing, but it was certainly ostentatious, which fit the bill, and her blonde hair was shining brightly under the burnished light fixtures.

Her hand was smooth and flawless in his, and her dark blue eyes were glimmering. For a moment he worried she was going to start weeping at the sight of him, but she forced a game smile instead, and turned back to the judge.

He resolved to be the perfect husband (at least for the first few hours of marriage) during the reception because of it.

Stacey felt the surreal nature of the entire thing start to sink in somewhere after the third speech. She had just changed into her second dress for the reception, Lucius Fox was telling a very humorous story about Bruce’s first tour of Wayne Enterprises as a child, and she was sitting there, her hand clasped in her husbands, in a tent in the lavish gardens outside the manor house, under twinkling fairy lights.

She felt like she was a new member of an improv troupe, constantly waiting for her next cue. She wasn’t that upset about Bruce being late anymore- due to the small, private nature of the ceremony he hadn’t truly humiliated her in front of hundreds, and he’d seemed the perfect gentleman since then, following her lead, never straying far from her side despite the hordes of people who wanted to talk to him.

And the hordes of people who wanted to talk to her, both out of envy and spite. Eleanor had been circling like a shark all evening, her cronies never far behind, and even her own mother might say God knows what after a few glasses of wine. Bruce could have easily left her stranded to fend for herself while he charmed and flirted, so she was grateful he’d stayed close.

On the other hand, she was terrified. It was real, now. The marriage license signed. She’d kept her last name, but when they went home today, it would be as a couple. And not just a couple that was dating or living together, but a married couple. It felt too grown up, for all that she’d insisted she was an adult who could handle anything. This was a mistake. What had she been thinking? It was all well and good to throw herself a fancy party to assuage the insecurity and fear brought up on by the thought of becoming a mother. But a marriage was more than a party.

They were going to have to actually get to know one another, even if they tried to avoid it. She would know mundane, irritating details about him. His favorite foods- not what he ordered in five star restaurants, but the junk everyone ate at home with no one watching. What obnoxious sitcoms or cartoons he liked. Whether or not he played video games and cursed like a middle schooler. What he was like in private; if he read, or listened to music, or had any artistic hobbies. Where he liked to vacation and his favorite form of exercise.

None of this was awful and horrifying, of course, but- she’d had relationships before. Plenty of them. She’d never wanted for male attention or guys desperate to be her boyfriend. She’d even had steady boyfriends, men who met her mother, who spent days in her penthouse or whatever chic apartment she was in at the time. But she’d never lived with a lover for longer than a few tumultuous months, and she’d never had to get permanently used to someone else’s presence.

They’d have a whole mansion to hide from one another in, but there was going to be a baby. And the whole point of this was that the baby- their baby- would have both of them, fully present and involved, a united front. Mom and Dad. The thought made her feel slightly dizzy, but maybe that was just the heat of this tent, despite the cool night outside. There would be a baby, half of him and half of her. She’d have to hand the baby to him to soothe or play with. He would know things about the baby she might not.

They would have to tour preschools and kindergartens together. Attend parent teacher conferences. Sign her up for summer camps and extracurriculars. She tried to picture herself with a car seat in the back of her Chevy, or him picking their daughter and Dick up from school. No, that wouldn’t make sense. Dick was twelve now; by the time her daughter was six, he’d be in college. Would he ignore her? Despise her as a disruption, an inconvenience? The thought her of her daughter looking to her older sibling for attention, only to be coldly rejected, almost brought her to tears yet again.

God, she was a hormonal wreck.

Bruce let go of her hand with an apologetic glance. “Commissioner Gordon just arrived with some union leaders. I should go say hello. Would you like to come with, or-,”

Stacey could think of a thousand things she’d rather be doing than cozying up to the bluebloods, though it’d been engrained in her since childhood to keep all local law enforcement on her good side. So when your son or daughter is caught speeding or drunk behind the wheel, or if someone is booked on assault or harassment charges, you can smooth it away all the more easily. Just because she’d never had to use it- beyond flirting her way out of a few tickets in her lifetime- doesn’t mean she could afford to ignore it in the arsenal.

“I’ll be fine,” she said brightly, and kissed his cheek. He’d missed a small patch of stubble while shaving, though you couldn’t tell in this light. Many men his age were already graying in their sideburns, but he wasn’t.

No sooner was she alone than Eleanor mad her move, and this time Stacey couldn’t dodge through the crowd or drag her husband out onto the dance floor. She even looked half-heartedly around for her mother or brother, but only spotted Dick nearby, engaged in some awkward preteen huddle with a few other tweens in suits and dresses.

She recognized one of them, a gawky little girl with fiery red hair, as the police commissioner’s daughter, and wondered if Bruce suggested who his son’s playmates should be. Then again, they all went to the same ritzy schools, right?

“Stacey!” Eleanor was at her side, smiling coyly, her dark hair pinned up in an elegant French twist behind her head, like she’s a modern day Audrey Hepburn.

In contrast to Stacey’s wilting blonde ringlets and voluminous silk sleeves, she was clad in a subdued plain black Valentino gown which bared a considerable swath of pale torso and one skinny shoulder, as well as the side of one leg. She conceivably looked like she could both assassinate someone and do yoga in it, which did not improve Stacey’s opinion of her in this moment.

“I’ve been dying to talk to you, babe,” Eleanor crooned, and kissed her on both cheeks. “But I understand, of course- wedding planning is such a bitch! Even in the best of times. My God, your poor swollen feet must be killing you in those heels- come sit, some sit!

Stacey cast one last look around as she allowed Eleanor to tug her down into an empty chair, and managed to make eye contact with Heather, who was dancing with Jordan. With characteristic restraint, Heather doesn’t immediately bustle over, but rather began slowly angling herself and her partner in their direction.

“I’m sorry I never got back to you about that interview,” said Stacey, “but it’s been a pretty busy time, what with the engagement and the pregnancy, and Bruce is very sensitive about privacy. As am I,” she added, at the pitying look that crossed Eleanor’s long face.

“Of course,” Eleanor said, and lowered her voice as if speaking to the victim of some hideous crime. “And… how has it been going, Stace? I mean- Bruce Wayne…” she exhaled. “I can’t imagine. I count myself lucky that my husband prefers to live modestly… a place like this would drive me absolutely mad, it would. We’re quite happy with our brownstone in Coventry. And you know, it’s so nice for the boys, to be able to grow up somewhere more… grounded.”

Eleanor had two young sons; Stacey couldn’t remember their names off the top of her head, but knew said names were absurd.

“I’m sure,” she replied coolly, and added, “It’s been going really well, actually- I mean, this is strictly off the record, Eleanor, you know, it is my wedding night…”

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Eleanor slashed at her chest with a manicured finger, bracelets clinking together.

“I’m really looking forward to starting a family with Bruce,” Stacey said. “It’s been wonderful getting to know Dick-,”

“And so kind of Bruce, to even consider adoption at all. You know, what with the terrible record our city’s foster systems have… Well. You don’t have any concerns? Introducing a new element into the Wayne clan? Well, two new elements?” Eleanor chuckled.

“Not at all,” Stacey lied through her teeth. “I feel right at home already.”

Eleanor seemed to have sensed that she was not getting much from Stacey at the moment, and sighed. “Well, I don’t mean to hold you up all night… but you can’t blame an old friend for being curious, can you?” She started to stand, then paused. “By the way, what are the plans for the future of the company? Or can you not say… I mean, Richard Grayson is legally recognized as Bruce’s son, of course, but your daughter will be… well… any concerns on that front? Or do you foresee an even division of assets-,”

“You know I was taught to never talk business at a party,” Stacey smiled coldly.

“Oh, certainly.” Eleanor bared her perfect teeth in response. “Well, here’s hoping we don’t see Bruce at many more parties. We wouldn’t want another auto accident in the family.”

That was an unexpectedly low blow, even from her; if Stacey had a drink in hand, she would have flung it in her face. Instead she pushed herself up out of her seat with incredulous fury, but could only watch Eleanor glide away, speechless with rage. She was still simmering when she felt movement behind her, and turned around sharply, ready to vent to Heather, but it wasn’t her assistant at all- Heather was still navigating the packed dance floor with Jordan.

Instead she was confronted with Tom Elliot- neurosurgeon Tom Elliot, as her mother would have called him- and had to wipe the snarl off her face and replace it with something more suitable for a blushing bride.

To his credit, Tommy- as she’d always heard him called by her peers, though never in public- smiled dryly, rather than taking offense, and raised his hands in mock surrender. He was a big man, slightly taller than Bruce, and just as broad in the shoulders. “Woah,” he said. “I come in peace, Mrs. Wayne. Or is it still Belgrave?”

“Belgrave,” she said, more defensively than she meant to, and touched her belly. “The- she’ll be Belgrave-Wayne, though.”

“That’s decent of Bruce,” he laughed. “His father would have had a conniption.”

“Really?” Eager to be distracted from her loathing of Eleanor, she was ready for anything- even dirt on her long deceased in-laws.

“Well, sure, it was a different time back then, but my mother used to go on about how outraged he was when Martha Kane proposed keeping her surname. But it was the ‘60s, you know. That was pretty radical, even for those days.”

“I’ll bet,” said Stacey, and then added, “Luckily, I didn’t have to propose anything. More of a declaration of fact, honestly.”

“Confidence,” he said. “Probably the best defense is a good offense, in these circles.”

“I’m from these circles, Tom.” She wondered if he’d be irritated with her familiarity- like Bruce, he was a good six or seven years her senior, and they’d only spoken once or twice in person before this.

But he seemed unoffended, and smiled broadly, which made his blue eyes crinkle. Her, Bruce, and him. Oh, and Dick as well. She hoped the baby’s eyes were brown, as her father’s had been. It was tiring, being surrounded with icy blue glints at every corner.

“Right,” he said. “Well, then you’re well prepared, I suppose. I’d tell you the worst is yet to come, but you’re pregnant, so.”

“I am pregnant,” she agreed, tiredly, and suddenly feeling how very pregnant she was. Her back was killing her, and her feet were in agony.

“Look, why don’t you sit down?” he pulled out the chair she’d risen out of for her. “Take a load off. We’re on hour three of this shindig, and I am a doctor.”

“Right. Dr. Elliot,” she corrected herself, then giggled at the look on his face.

“You need a seltzer lime,” he said. “Where’s your husband?”

“Entertaining the police.”

“Ah. Well, that makes sense. Shall I send him your way?”

The thought of Eleanor spying her and Bruce in hushed conversation after that mauling attempt of an interview rankled Stacey. “No, I’m sure he’ll find me.”

“Most likely,” Tom agreed, and trotted off to get her a drink.

Bruce did find her, some twenty minutes later, half-heartedly sipping the seltzer Tommy Elliot had gotten her. He didn’t seem to have seen her interaction with Eleanor, and she elected not to tell him. Worst case scenario, he’d be annoyed that she’d even deigned to chat with Eleanor at all, knowing her roots, and best case scenario, he would pity her, as he had when they said their vows. She could see it in his eyes.

She found her energy sapping away after that, and was almost sleepy by the time the night started to wind down.

“I… found your brother watching some… graphic stuff behind the fountain,” Bruce told her, as guests started to trickle out, some drunker than others. Her mother and stepfather had made their exit with Roman just a few minutes ago, after Jessica had peppered Stacey with a few kisses and her stepfather had energetically shaken Bruce’s hand for what Stacey hoped was the last time.

“p*rn?” Stacey sighed into her hand, propping her chin up on her fist. Alfred was beginning to direct some of the wait staff to start taking the gifts inside the house, a clear signal to the rest of the guests- and the live band- that the festivities were winding down.

“No,” Bruce reddened like a schoolboy, to her surprise. “Someone getting beat quite badly by a few of the Penguin’s goons.”

“Yeah,” she said, unsurprised. “They’re all into that kind of stuff these days. Or like, that Youtuber who was paying homeless people to let him try to hit them with his Maserati. Did you take his phone?”

“No, I didn’t- I told him your mother was looking for him.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t want Dick exposed to any of that.”

She blinked at him tiredly. “I don’t think he’ll be seeing much of Roman.”

Something about her tone made him recoil slightly- perhaps the flat acceptance of it, as if she’d already decided- and in a way, she had- that there would be no happy union of families. She couldn’t stand her stepfather, he was clearly uncomfortable around her mother, and her brother was a brooding little deviant who he didn’t want his son within fifty feet of.

At least she wasn’t exactly losing out on much, in this bargain. She’d never had a good relationship with her mother, and in truth Roman and her barely knew one another, with an eleven year age gap and her having not lived in the same house as him, practically ever.

“Are you ready to turn in?” He laid a hand on her shoulder, then seemed to think better of it and removed it. “I’d better make sure Dick isn’t in the pool again.”

“I think he was playing with Ace,” she said, then straightened up to begin the long process of making her way indoors, stopping every few feet to embrace and thank various guests, accepting their compliments on her dress and pregnant bump with a warm smile.

By the time she made her way indoors, she was dead on her feet. The drafty mansion seemed almost colder than the early autumn night outside. There was no honeymoon trip to prepare for- she was in mood to travel at this stage of the pregnancy, and Bruce could never spend that long away from the city. Instead she changed out of her gown, ran a bath, and then laid down in bed after combing her hair out.

She was waiting to cry, she realized, after a few moments, but the tears didn’t come. Her wedding night had been stressful, yes, but not miserable. Even with the awkward tension of family, she’d got to wear a beautiful dress and be the subject of attention. For as many sneering Eleanors there’d been many other adoring faces. She’d danced with Bruce and Roman and even once with Alfred, and she’d gotten to talk to Heather and Jordan for a good hour uninterrupted for once. She had nothing to complain about.

She turned her engagement ring over and over on her finger, now with its matching silver wedding band studded with tiny diamonds.

Then she was startled by a quiet knock on the door.

It was Bruce. He had a cup of something hot in hand, which he gave to her; she took it.

“I thought I should bring you some tea,” he said, though they both knew it was at Alfred’s suggestion.

“Thank you,” she stepped back and let him into her bedroom, closing the door behind him.

He looked around as if startled to see a familiar space so transformed, and then his gaze settled back on her.

“I’m sorry I was late,” he said, “today. I know how important this was to you, and I should have been more careful.”

“I understand,” she said, though she doubted she ever would.

He seemed at a loss as to what to say next; changed out of his tuxedo and into a plain white tee shirt and sweatpants, he looked oddly boyish and earnest again.

“Are you a clumsy person?” she asked, suddenly.

He looked at her, confused. “What?”

“Do you hurt yourself a lot?”

He stared. “...No?”

“Oh,” she said. “I just… a few weeks ago I thought I heard you on the stairs, and there was a little blood.”

He paused, then relaxed. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah, I had… sliced open my finger on my razor that night, I think.”

“Oh.” Surely she would have remembered a band aid. A tiny cut wouldn’t have bled so much.

Instead, feeling that sort of heady recklessness one feels after a near-death incident, she smiled. “So not clumsy. Just habitually late.”

He seemed surprised at her turn from questioning to flirtatious, but she saw him parse it, wondering if she was trying to get something out of him, and then accept it. They were married. There was little left to ‘get’. She’d just about hit rock bottom of this goldmine, right? Now she was just hanging there limply by her climbing rope, peering into the blackness, waiting to see if anything was peering back.

He came over and kissed her; at first it felt dutiful, but when she angled herself so her robe slipped off one shoulder and nearly bared a breast, she felt him react, and she didn’t think that was feigned. Nor was it when he scooped her up into his arms; he was probably one of the few men who could have done so and still made her, five foot ten and now pushing one hundred and eighty pounds, feel dainty in comparison.

“Will it be alright?” he asked huskily, after she was wriggling completely out of her robe on the bed, and impatiently gesturing for him to disrobe as well. “With the baby, and-,”

“My God Mr. Wayne,” she mocked, “if this is the state of Princeton’s premed program, I worry-,”

He kissed her abashedly, then more shamelessly, as befitted a college dropout.


Some Notes:

1. Stacey just immediately avoiding thinking about the blood on the stairs means she'll fit in perfectly with this repressing and avoidant family.

2. Heather's partner Jordan is nonbinary, and uses they/theirs pronouns.

3. Stacey's wedding dress is based on a real dress from Vivienne Westwood's latest bridal collection. The style is called Elizabeth Bolero. It's a very obvious 80s callback (and the big mutton sleeves were themselves an 1890s throwback), which is an aesthetic I think appeals to Stacey.

4. What I wanted to get across here that this is a Bruce six or so years into being Batman. He's not as obsessive and vengeful as he was when he first started out, and it's a bit easier for him to delegate between his alter egos. So he doesn't entirely miss his wedding ceremony in order to hunt down some thieves, and he's a bit more 'mellow' in terms of responding to crimes that aren't necessarily violent. That said, is he an emotionally healthy and well rounded person and someone who should be getting married right now, no.

5. Is it a bit hypocritical of Bruce to be unnerved by Stacey's brother watching people get beat up and possibly exposing Dick to violent imagery? Yes.

Chapter 4


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

She supposed it was safe to say the honeymoon stage had truly worn off when shortly before Halloween, a little more than a month into her marriage, she was summoned to pick Dick up from school.

Stacey hadn’t even been aware she was on the emergency contact list- she would assume Alfred was listed as Bruce’s backup- but it did make sense. She was married to his father. She was his stepmother. It was a term she was struggling to get a grasp on. Her stepparent experience as a child had not been a positive one, to say the least.

Fortunately, she’d never have to endure the humiliation of her stepfather picking her up from school after a fight had landed her in the headmaster’s office, the way it had Dick. She put the Chevy into park and sat there for a moment, staring irritably out into the dreary autumn evening. After a pleasant spate of warm but crisp weather in late September and early October, they had already graduated to freezing rain.

After a few more minutes of stewing about how awkward this was going to be- added to the resentment that Bruce wasn’t answering his phone- and she hauled her six and a half months pregnant self out of the car, and strode across the muddy parking lot towards the school. Unlike her brother, Dick didn’t attend Catholic St. Vincent’s, but the Gotham Grammar School for Boys, which was of a more Puritanical bent.

Despite this, it had been coeducational for the past six years, they just hadn’t gotten around to changing the name yet. None of this impressed Stacey, who’d shuffled between three boarding schools between the ages of eleven and eighteen.

Teenage delinquent she had not been, but ‘troubled child’ was a term she had ample experience with. Initially because she was considered unduly traumatized by her father’s sudden death and her mother’s rapid remarriage, then because she was part of a disaffected, material generation that cared far too much about sex appeal, violent music and video games, and partying. According to the adults in her life, at least. She really couldn’t remember much about her time in school- not the classes she’d taken or any favorite teachers.

It blended into a blur of itchy uniforms, racing along wooded backroads in strange cars, sneaking across campus after curfew, and waiting listlessly for the cab to bring her to the airport for the flight home for winter break. She distinctly remembered that last flight, when she was newly eighteen, deposited in the Poconos for a Christmas getaway. Only her mother and brother had never arrived, their flight from Colorado held up by winter storms. She’d had to make the drive into the mountains with her stepfather, whose flight from Gotham was, of course, right on time.

The lobby doors slammed shut behind her, and she shook rain droplets from her translucent umbrella as she marched over to the receptionist.

“I’m here for Dick Grayson,” she said, fiddling with her Gucci wallet and sliding her driver’s license to the secretary- she needn’t have bothered, the gaping woman clearly recognized her from the tabloids. “I’m Stacey Belgrave, the school just called me.”

She was instructed to take a seat nearby; she declined, and was shifting impatiently from heel to heel when Dick came skulking out, followed by a teacher.

A small incident just before dismissal, she was assured. Nothing serious, and no, Dick wasn’t in any permanent trouble, but they’d wanted to speak to a parent before sending him home. So much upheaval in the past month. How was he doing? Was he eating well? Sleeping? If he needed to be excused from schoolwork or extracurriculars, of course they understood. Periods of transitions were always difficult for adolescents.

Stacey wasn’t sure she liked her recent marriage being framed like a tragic death in the family, but didn’t have the energy or patience to argue. She nodded along, smiled blandly, and only relaxed once they were walking to the car.

“So you got in a fight,” she said, as she unlocked it manually- no sensors on this baby’s keys. “Was the other boy hurt?”

“It was a girl,” he said.

“You fought a girl?”

“I didn’t fight her, I just pushed her.”

Bruce wasn’t convinced Dick had yet hit the height and weight limit to ride in the front passenger seat, but honestly, the boy was twelve and a half years old, and Stacey was willing to let this battle go. She’d drive like an old lady on the way home, just to be safe.

“You pushed some girl,” she said, watching to make sure he put his seatbelt on. The airbags in a car originally manufactured in the 1950s were… iffy. “Why?”

“She was saying stuff about me.”

“Like what?” Stacey pulled out of the space, but Dick had clearly decided he’d revealed enough.

“You know your father is going to find out about this,” she said, proud of her calm attitude. “Better to get me or Alfred on your side beforehand, right?”

“He’s not going to say anything,” Dick sounded awfully confident of that.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Stacey retorted, as she pulled onto the street. “I know he’s been busy lately, Dick, but-,”

“Busy with you,” Dick snapped.

Stacey resisted the urge to show him all the missed calls she’d made in the span of the last hour. “Bruce is not just busy with me. He has very important work to do at the corporate headquarters-,”

Dick rolled his eyes so loudly it was almost audible. “He just says stuff like that so you won’t give him a hard time.”

“Oh really? What is he actually doing, then?” Stacey almost added ‘Hookers and co*ke?’ to the end of that question, but caught herself at the last moment.

Dick shrugged, sharply, and angled his body away from her as much as possible, staring out the window.

“Did the girl say something about me?” she asked after a long silence. “And… your dad marrying me?”

“He’s my adoptive father, not my dad- not my birth dad,” Dick sounded almost pained to correct himself. “It’s not- not everything is about you.” He should have come across as angrier, but it was almost a guilty confession.

Stacey flushed and was glad she had to keep her eyes on the road as they sped across one of Gotham’s many bridges. “I know that. I’m sorry if it… I’m sorry, Dick. I know you must miss your parents a lot.”

More silence.

“I lost my dad when I was around your age,” she said, tentatively. "That messed me up for a long time.”

“So I’m messed up?” he snapped.

“No! I just mean that I know what it’s like to lose a parent, and when my mother remarried, it was very hard for me-,”

“There is nothing wrong with me,” said Dick. “That girl was just being a bitch.”

She glanced at him incredulously. "Are you serious right now? Where did you learn it was okay to talk like that?"

“You call people bitches all the time. On the phone.”

Great. She was being wiretapped by a middle schooler. “You listen to me on the phone?”

“It’s hard not to when you do it by the pool.”

"It's different when I say it. I'm an adult, and a woman, and sometimes adult women need to call each other certain not so nice names to let off a little steam so they don't do something really bad-," As if to reprimand her, the baby kicked. She didn’t say anything, but a look must have crossed her face.

“Are you okay?” Maybe Dick was only concerned in case she suddenly lost control of the wheel and sent them spiraling into the river.

“Fine,” she said. “The baby’s moving a bit, is all.”

“It does that?” He sounded torn between disgust and fascination.

“At this point, yes. It’s not the first time.”

When they were within twenty minutes of home, Alfred called, and Dick answered Stacey’s phone for her. He spoke for a few moments, then hung up. “He says he’s sorry he couldn’t come get me, but he was dealing with the gardeners. They did a slapdash job again.”

Stacey looked at Dick out of the corner of her eye. Involuntarily, he snickered, and she cracked a smile.

“Sorry you had to come get me,” he said, begrudgingly but not as coldly as he could have, as she pulled into the long, winding drive.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I- look, I don’t have to mention this to Bruce. Alright? I think you’ve suffered enough.”

It didn’t matter, because Bruce didn’t get home until half past ten that night. Stacey was up reading in the tea room when he walked in. He didn’t look like he’d been in the office all day, unless he’d changed before leaving the city. But if he’d been to the gym before this, she'd thought he might have already showered. He looked like he needed one.

“Dick was in trouble at school,” he said, as if she wasn’t the one who’d retrieved him.

“Nothing serious,” she didn’t look up from her magazine. “He got into an argument with a classmate.”

“About what?”

“Family things,” she shrugged, then decided she probably came across as rudely dismissive, rather than understanding and casual. “We talked it over; he’s fine.” That was verging on a lie, but she felt at least a little duty-bound to smooth things over, the way she would have wanted when she was a child.

Bruce looked at her as if he was trying to decide whether she was bullsh*tting him to his face or not, then said, “How are things going for the charity gala on Hell Night?”

She stared at him blankly.

He stared back at her. “Alfred hasn’t mentioned it?”

“...No?” She was now trying to recall if Alfred had- she would admit that at times, she began to tune the man out midway through lectures about how to treat silverware and where various events should be hosted within the manor house.

“Every year the Wayne Foundation hosts an event the night before Halloween to raise money for the boys and girls’ groups of the city,” he said, as if patiently explaining to a child. “I don’t often attend personally, but I think, now that I’m married, it would be assumed…”

That she would jump in to play the merry hostess.

“Unbelievable,” she said, and flipped the magazine shut. Usually it would take more than this to rile her, but honestly- was he delusional, or just trying to make her look like a fool? Maybe Alfred had mentioned it, and in a pregnancy fugue she’d forgotten, but Bruce was her husband, and he hadn’t even thought to mention this before tonight-

“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t give more forewarning, but I honestly assumed-,”

“I’m not-,” she struggled for words that wouldn’t make her sound like a spoilt brat, then gave up. “I’m not your party planner just because we’re married! If you want to do things like this, you need to tell me personally! Well in advance! Christ, Bruce, I don’t even have a caterer, or a florist, or staff for something like this- how big is the guest list?”

“Around a hundred?” He had the grace to sound mildly abashed.

“Around a hundred,” she repeated, and resisted the urge to pick up her magazine and chuck it at his chiseled face. “And will you be among those hundred?”

“No,” he said, far too calmly for her liking. “I have other engagements that night-,”

“Where?” she snapped. “Where in the world could you be-,”

“I have a meeting in Metropolis-,”

“So I’m just supposed to….” To her relief, she wasn’t so angry she felt like she could cry, but rage some more, yes. “Do you see how unfair this is?”

“Forgive me for assuming you’d enjoy party planning, you’ve certainly thrown enough of them in your time-,”

“For my friends! At my penthouse, on my terms, not some- not a goddamn charity gala, I didn’t go to school for event planning, Bruce! I didn’t even plan our wedding!”

“Well, that was obvious. You spent most of the weeks leading up to it fighting on the phone with your mother, so I don’t know when you would have had the time.”

He said it so casually and without hesitation that for an instant she was breathless, as if she’d been socked in the stomach. She felt her eyes watering. Then his expression shifted slightly, as if he’d heard an echo of himself played back, and she saw regret cross his face. “Anastasia, I’m sorry, I didn’t- that was uncalled for.”

She stared at him for another few moments, and realized she’d drawn her knees up against her chest, like a child who wanted to clutch their teddy bear to them for comfort. Only she was a little old for stuffed toys. Instead she straightened, shoulders back, and walked past him to the door. He stopped her, but let go when she jerked silently away from him.

“Don’t come to my room tonight,” she said, not because they made such a regular habit of it, but because she wanted to hurt him, and she knew if she said it with the right blend of contempt and haughty disdain, it would wound his pride. She saw that it had from the look in his eyes, and kept walking, wishing she still had heels on, and not fuzzy pink slippers.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps she’d overreacted. Though Alfred admitted he could have been more direct about making sure she was aware of it, he had the preparations well in hand. All she was required to do was finalize the menu and approve the plan to move everything indoors to the ballroom from the courtyard in case it rained.

Bruce made himself scarce for the following week, only materializing in the same room as her during family dinners. The general norm seemed to be that he tried to eat dinner with Dick at least thrice a week, whether it was in the kitchen, the tea room, or any number of absurd locations- Dick had once insisted they eat on the second floor landing, of all places, so he could show them how he could descend the stairs without once touching the steps with his feet.

She would give Bruce this- after a month, it was obvious he genuinely loved his son, and wanted him to be happy and comfortable. He was firm with Dick without being tyrannical or overtly controlling, and he seemed intent on making sure Dick had everything he could possibly want- without spoiling him. Experiences, not material goods. Gymnastics and ballet and trips to museums and theaters and parks. True, Bruce could not always be with him for these outings, but he made sure his son went on them regardless, and he almost always attended meetings at the school in person.

He was a good father, from what she’d seen so far, or at least a decent one. He certainly made more of an effort than her parents ever had. Her mother claimed she was deluded and idealized her dead father based on a few scattered happy memories, but Stacey wasn’t that oblivious. She’d loved her father- still loved him- but she knew he hadn’t been a good one.

Doting, yes, in an erratic sort of way, but not like Bruce was with Dick. Not committed. He’d heaped gifts upon her and then gone days without seeing her. He spent more time with his latest fling than at home, helping her with schoolwork or teaching her how to ride a bike.

Not that her mother had made up for it. She didn’t think her mother’s coldness was deliberate or meant to be cruel, rather, a defense mechanism borne of insecurity and fear. But that didn’t make it any easier to swallow. Ultimately, they’d both failed her. She didn’t value therapy much but she was capable of recognizing that much. She had problems. Maybe she still would have these problems had she been raised in a happy, normal, middle class home, but wealth and tragedy had only magnified them.

Sometimes she wondered if Bruce, for all his playboy antics, were somehow more well adjusted than her. He certainly seemed to keep up an active work schedule and still made time for his son. He had a good relationship with Alfred, who was clearly family to him, not just a servant. He was physically healthy and in better shape than most thirty somethings she knew. It had barely been a month and she was already almost jealous of her own spouse. Jealous of how neatly compartmentalized his life was, even when it hurt her.

But he had a point, even if he hadn’t been bold enough to voice it. He didn’t need to coddle her. He didn’t owe her anything more than he’d already offered. He wasn’t her parent; it was her responsibility to keep abreast of these things, now that she’d married into the Waynes. All she had to do was ask or look at the calendar once in a while. She had plenty of her own resources- financial, legal, social- to use as she saw fit. So why was she sitting around moping, like a puppy waiting for its owner to take it for a walk?

What did she expect? That he was going to fall in love with her overnight and tell her all his deepest darkest desires and needs? Did she even want that? She would have been uncomfortable and wary had he suddenly flipped a switch and started doting on her. Maybe she was being unfair and demanding. It wasn’t as if he were trying to be cruel or petty towards her. It couldn’t be easy for him to have someone so essentially a stranger move into his home like this, and of course there was going to be a period of adjustment for everyone.

All that aside, she was still annoyed, so she’d decided the gala was going to off without a hitch, so he’d read about it the next day in the paper and feel some combination of pride and guilt. She could handle her sh*t. She was twenty five years old, and pregnant or not, she knew a thing or two about how these things worked. In fact, she’d been all in favor of a masquerade, but Alfred had (gently) implied that this might be an unpopular choice, given recent developments in Gotham. Slapping on masks and flashy outfits was right out when it conjured up unpleasant memories of heists, bombings, and kidnappings.

Instead she swallowed her disappointment and decided on a historical theme. She’d encourage everyone to wear vintage outfits (or at least pre-1980s), and bring their children. She wanted to prove she could handle it; be a society wife and understand what was acceptable in mixed age parties. Plenty of them probably associated her with drunken ragers on rooftops full of shrieking college students and girls dancing on table tops or diving naked into heated pools. They’d dunk for apples and do a haybale maze in the courtyard. She’d even serve pumpkin ravioli as an appetizer, and plenty of mulled cider.

As par for the course, it not only rained the night of October 30th, but poured and thundered to such a degree that the violinist quartet occasionally trailed off nervously at a particularly loud crack of lightning. Still, Stacey was in her element, and was almost resentful of how much she enjoyed playing the hostess, especially for a gala where she was expected to constantly circulate and not remain locked in conversation with any one person for too long. To add to that, her mother and stepfather were not in attendance, which was a significant stress reliever, she’d admit.

And she was in her element, in a gold sequined evening gown that called to mind the starlets of the 1930s, trailing a metallic sunburst from her puddling skirt wherever she went. It was slightly itchy around her chest, given the halter top, but she knew she looked fantastic, her hair coiffed into immaculate blonde curls around her collarbone, her lipstick a violent shade of red, and a fake beauty mark stenciled on her cheek. Dick had elected to dress as circus ringmaster, complete with scarlet waistcoat, which she’d almost thought would have been too raw for him, but he seemed entirely unfazed, and she doubted anyone would dare bring up his parents.

She’s chatting to a young social worked named Lena Kelly when there’s a general furor. Stacey turns, bracing for some unseen disaster, only to see Bruce make his entrance. She has to fight to keep her expression composed- of course he was two hours late to the whole affair- she’s pretty sure he’s going for Robert Redford in 1974’s The Great Gatsby, and unfortunately pulling off an all white wide fit fit very well.

She saw Dick made a beeline to him, and, determined to not be seen looking both forlorn and relieved as her husband approached her, urged Lena to enjoy the rest of her evening and looked for someone of higher stature to engross herself in conversation with. Fortunately, Tommy Elliot was nearby, enjoying his cider and having committed wholeheartedly to a patriotic minuteman outfit- complete with jaunty tricorn hat, wig, and high socks up to his knees. No rifle, thankfully. She wouldn’t want security to panic.

“Tom,” she said, crossing to him warmly, lifting her skirt as she did so to avoid it snagging on another guest's voluminous petticoats. “We’re so glad you came.”

“Does ‘we’ include our slightly tardy host?” he chuckled, but clasped her hand in greeting. “He could have fished that suit out of his father’s closet. Or mine.”

The comment could have been snide, but Tom exuded enough jovial charisma that it seemed fully joking. Stacey laughed, and said, “I hope you have better things to say about my outfit.”

“Of course. You’re a star,” he bowed his head to her, clasping his hat to keep it from falling off his wig. “And you seem to be reveling in this; not that I blame you. It is a beautiful house.” He toasted his cup of cider to the mahogany paneled ceilings and intricate crown molding. “I’m envious.”

“You could host this year’s Christmas party,” she suggested. “At the Elliot estate.”

He frowned, though not sadly. “You hadn’t heard? The old homestead burned down last year.”

“Really? Tom, I’m so sorry, I had no idea-,”

“We hushed it up, of course, at least in the newspapers I still have stocks in,” he waved her off amiably. “The house is still standing, but it was completely gutted. I wasn’t that heartbroken- truly. No one was hurt, thank God- no one was living in it at the time. After my mother passed, I’ve stayed at my place in the city pretty exclusively. Much more convenient for my work.”

“Still,” she said, overcome with genuine pity. “That must have been horrible.”

“It was,” he shrugged. “But nature does nothing in vain.” He smirked a little at her puzzled look. “Aristotle.”

“Oh,” she retorted, laying a hand on her chest in mock offense. This was not the first or last time a man had quoted philosophy at her with the same expectations he would have had of a dog understanding it. “Forgive me for not picking up the reference sooner, that was never in my required reading-,”

He chuckled again, then broke off abruptly as Bruce finally made his way over, having shaken off Dick.

“Tom,” he said, “I wasn’t aware we were celebrating the Fourth of July again so soon.”

“Bruce,” Tom shook his hand energetically. “You look like the pale horse Death rode in on.”

They shared smiles that verged on sarcastic, before Tom tipped his tricorn to them. “I’ll let you two lovebirds catch up. You’re a lucky man, Bruce!” He took a swig of his cider as he walked away.

“You don’t like him,” Stacey observed, once he was out of the earshot. The flash of irritation in her husband’s pale eyes proved her right. “I always thought you two used to be close. That’s the way everyone put it.”

“We were shoved together at every social event at boys. We went to the same schools and summer camps,” Bruce shrugged. “I have nothing against Tom. He didn’t have an easy childhood himself. But we were never… good friends, no. He was always very competitive.”

“He’s a surgeon,” Stacey said. “That’s what they’re like. co*cky, egotistical…” she trailed off and looked him up and down. “Why the hell didn’t you go to med school, again?”

“Oh, very funny,” he said, swiping a drink off a passing waiter’s tray. “Plans changed. The meeting in Metropolis was rescheduled for next month.”

“And what was that meeting about?”

“Our entertainment department,” he shrugged. “We’re looking to expand into streaming. Metropolis is the tech hub.”

“Ouch, that must sting.”

“Well, there’s very little competition for me here, so I can’t complain.”

She made a ‘ka-ching!’ money noise under her breath, and then waited. After a few moments, he drew closer, and said, more soberly, “I’m sorry for how I handled this. It was… unfair to expect you to… Well. I shouldn’t have put such pressure on you like that. Especially not with the baby, and-,”

“I’m pregnant, not an invalid,” she scoffed, but didn’t deny him his groveling. However mild a grovel it was. She doubted his pride would ever allow him to well and truly roll over, belly up.

“Still. Alfred… pointed out to me that my…. Manner of communication could use some work.” He had the composure not to flush, but he was close.

“Is that so?” she drawled, taking a sip of her own non-alcoholic cider

“Apparently,” he muttered.

“Well,” she rolled her tongue around behind her teeth. “You can make it up to me by taking over the hosting. I need to use the powder room.”

She was touching up her lipstick when the lights flickered, then went out. There was a brief chorus of gasps and yelps from the ballroom, but no great crescendo of screams or stampede of running feet, so she felt safe enough stepping out into the darkened hallway, and feeling her way along the wall towards the dim glow of wall sconces. Good thing Alfred had insisted on lighting so many genuine candelabras, no matter how silly she’d thought it.

Thunder rumbled overhead as she entered the ballroom once more, and the guests were standing in despondent clumps as flashlights and matches were handed out. When it became obvious the power was not returning anytime soon, the band began to pack it up, and the guests with small children started to make their way out to their cars.

All in all, it was a somewhat jarring end to the festivities, but she couldn’t say she was that disappointed- at least it hadn’t happened earlier on, and she’d get to change out of this dress and these heels soon. Her obgyn kept hinting it was time to transition to flats for the rest of the pregnancy, but she’d been dragging her feet about it, literally.

About twenty minutes after the last guest had left, there was the dull roar of a generator, and most of the lights came back on.

“We didn’t have to send everyone home early, then,” she said, mildly accusatory, looking between Bruce and a chagrined Alfred. Dick had already raced upstairs to change out of his costume. “We could have just had them wait for the generators to kick in…”

“It must have slipped my mind,” Bruce said, casually, and wandered off to change himself.

She was surprised by a knock on her door a while later, when she was wearing her favorite silk pajamas and ruminating on whether or not she should sneak downstairs for some ice cream.

It was Dick, this time.

“Bruce wants to know if you want to watch a movie with us,” he said, not enthusiastically, but not as sullenly as he might have, either. She decided to take that for a good sign.

They watched Frankenstein, the 1931 version, which she supposed fit with the night’s theme.

She expected Dick to be bored spitless, but he put up a valiant show of interest before dozing off in the seat beside his father, head lolling on his shoulder. Eventually, Bruce turned down the volume to a low crackle, and pulled the lopsided bowl of popcorn out of Dick’s lap. His pajamas were patterned with tiny sharks and fish, which Stacey found bizarrely adorable for a twelve year old boy. At least he wasn’t self consciously fronting some weird version of grownup masculinity yet.

“I thought we should talk about baby names,” Bruce said.

She looked from him to the sleeping Dick and back again. Bruce prodded Dick’s shoulder. Nothing. “He’s out like a light,” he said. “Crashing from the sugar high you generously provided, no doubt.”

“Alfred designed the menu,” Stacey defended, then said, “Okay. Names. What are your thoughts?”

Bruce paused, then allowed, “I know you likely don’t want Martha as a first name-,”

She hesitated, there being no way to say ‘no, I don’t,’ without looking like a heartless bitch-

“But I’d like to consider it as a middle name. She could have multiple. It’s up to us. And I’m sure you have people you want to honor as well-,”

“We’re not calling her Jessica or Yekaterina, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Who is Yekaterina?” he laughed.

“My mother. Once she hit sixteen or so she decided she needed a trendy American name.”

“Couldn’t she just have gone with Katherine, then?”

“She didn’t want to be ‘just another Kathy’,” Stacey sighed. “I would like to use Elena or some version of it in some way, though. That was my grandmother. Yelena.” She added, defensively, at the look on his face, “She was a wonderful woman, for your information. My mother is just- my mother. My grandparents were warm, generous, lovely people. My grandfather was Fyodor.”

“No, they’re…. Those are nice names,” he said, somewhat lamely. “I do like Elena.”

“Good,” she said, rubbing her stomach for a moment. The baby kicked softly in response. It occurred to her then that she had never even asked him if he wanted to feel it. She could sense him watching her.

She stood up and came over to his seat. He half stood as well, bracing himself with one hand on the armrest. She carefully guided the other to her belly, and waited. “Say something.”

“Like what?” he snarked, and the baby kicked again. He stilled. For the first time she saw naked amazement on his face.

“We made that,” she said, after a moment, letting go of his hand. He let it linger for a few seconds more, hopeful the baby would kick again, and then removed it. She’d meant to sound jokey and wry but to her embarrassment, found she seemed and felt entirely earnest. So much for showing him up and giving him the cold shoulder. He’d won her over by surprising her- two hours late- and asking her if she wanted to watch a movie. This was pathetic. She was acting like a dazzled teenager.

Her one comfort was that he didn’t laugh or say something sly in response.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, quietly, “I think someone who cares as much about- everything- as you, will be a very good mother.”

Was he really comparing her flipping out about this gala to parenthood? Still, she blushed bright pink. “Well, don’t think you’re going to waltz in late- again- to the birth.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” he replied. “I think your mother would make you a widow before I even had a chance to see my daughter.”

She laughed at that, and woke Dick up. Grousing, he insisted he could watch another movie, then burst into bleary giggles himself when Bruce swung him up over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried him upstairs.

Stacey followed, careful not to trip over her baggy pajama pants, listening to their intermingled chatter and laughter.


Some Notes:

1. It's fitting to the overall zaniness of Gotham that I'm posting a Halloween-themed chapter on Christmas Day.

2. For non-Americans: the Poconos are a mountain range in Pennsylvania that are a very popular resort area, especially in the winter.

3. Dick has was officially adopted by Bruce less than a year ago. Before that, he was his foster child for about a year. He obviously has come to trust and love Bruce over this time, but he still has vivid memories of his parents and feels some guilt about 'replacing' them with Bruce.

4. Stacey is torn between wanting to be the cool casual stepmom and... not wanting to grow attached to Dick in case he never truly accepts her as part of the family.

5. Bruce 'oh I'm sure my wife can handle 100 guests on a short notice' Wayne, ladies and gentlemen.

6. Yes, I know of the character Helena Wayne (who was later retconned as Helena Bertinelli.) I also happen to really like the name Elena. And while we saw Selina briefly in this chapter, I don't think her and Bruce will be having kids together anytime soon.

7. "Aw how cute, they're finally starting to get along." Wow, I sure hope nothing nefarious happens to ruin this family bonding!

Chapter 5


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Last chance to ditch and order food instead,” Stacey said wistfully, as Bruce pulled into one of the few guest parking spots left in the garage under her mother and stepfather’s high-rise.

She hadn’t been here for nearly a year, and Bruce and Dick’s company was not improving her nerves. It was bad enough when she was alone and visiting her family; now she’d have to worry about their impressions.

Between Halloween and Thanksgiving she felt like she’d made real progress with Dick- he was still not warm or even friendly with her, but he was civil and not openly hostile or sullen, which was an improvement. Occasionally he made small talk with her or conveyed messages from Bruce or Alfred, which she knew was deliberate on their part, to force him to talk to her.

She also thought her advancing pregnancy had something to do with it; at seven months pregnant she was now constantly, visibly pregnant, and she knew it affected how people treated her- how could it not, when the bump was the first thing they saw? It felt strange and at times infantilizing; she’d been condescended to because of her looks and style of dress, had people assume she was a ditz or a slu*t or a catty mean girl- but the assumptions were different when it was pregnancy.

People rushed to open doors or gave up their seats, or even tried to touch her belly, asking how far along she was, if she had a name picked out, if the baby was a boy or a girl. Bruce was generally very good about cutting in when he could sense her becoming aggravated, or steering her away from awkward conversations, but Stacey knew even Heather was unsure of what to make of her now, and Heather was her closest friend.

But she and Heather saw less of each other, since the marriage- they texted and called constantly, but in person was perhaps only once or twice a week, as opposed to every waking hour of the day. She knew this was probably a healthier employer-employee balance- it was unfair to expect Heather to act like her personal maid or valet and to abandon her own life with her family and Jordan.

Still, it felt weird. Last Thanksgiving she’d dined with the Chens- Heather’s parents and older brother and his wife and children. Stacey knew them all well by now, so it hadn’t been that uncomfortable or stiff, but she’d still felt a bit like an interloper.

“If you really don’t want to see them, we can call the whole thing off now,” Bruce said calmly, as he turned the engine off.

Now that her bump was starting to require her to adjust her seat so that it wasn’t jutting up against the steering wheel, and given the horrible traffic- and weather, it was a windy, snarly, freezing cold November evening- she’d agreed to let Bruce drive them, and he’d let Dick pick the car, so they’d pulled up in a 1972 Buick Riviera, which Thomas Wayne had probably bought brand spanking new that very year.

It was no safer, design-wise, than her ‘57 Chevy, but she could admit it looked cool, in a manner universally appealing to 12 year olds and 32 year old billionaire playboys alike.

“I can call your mother and tell her you’re feeling unwell, and we’ll go back home and order food,” he said, in that faux-reasonable tone that meant ‘I don’t actually think we should do this’.

“I want Korean fried chicken,” Dick interrupted from the backseat, looking up from the game he’d been playing on his phone.

Stacey gritted her teeth, and undid her seatbelt. “No. Fine. But don’t say I didn't warn you. My mother is probably going to be passive aggressive and snide-,”

“I’m used to dealing with passive aggressive and snide,” said Bruce. “I live with Alfred.”

Dick snickered.

“My brother is… an acquired taste because they never bothered to properly socialize him-,”

“Dick can handle himself,” Bruce said calmly.


“-And my stepfather is….” Stacey trailed off at the sudden scrutiny from Bruce, who always tensed a little, as if prepared for the worst, when she referenced her stepfather.

“He’s annoying,” she concluded. “And condescending. And arrogant. And he hides it behind a jolly grin and a firm handshake.”

“Sounds like half of my board of trustees,” Bruce deadpanned.

Stacey gave up. Bruce was right. She could say the word, and he’d turn them right back around without protest. But she’d let herself be swayed into accepting this invitation- Bruce had mentioned- as gently as he could, which wasn’t very, but he’d tried to be tactful- that he didn’t want her to feel like she needed to avoid her family just because she felt he disliked or disapproved of them.

And it absolutely wasn’t about him- she’d been estranged from her mother well before she’d ever found out she was pregnant. But she understood that from the outside, it looked like she was isolating herself, at a time when you’d expect her to be clinging to family- her birth family, not the husband she was only starting to get to know.

Bruce and her had certainly had a warmer relationship this past month- he was more casual with her, and they made jokes and shared amused looks during dinners and meetings. But it was like the friendliness of someone you’d only been dating for a few months.

Things were going well right now, and neither of them was all that stressed. They could afford to flirt and joke with each other and treat this like a casual relationship between two people just starting to get to know one another.

But that wasn’t the reality of it. The reality was that in two months she’d be giving birth to their child, and they’d have to start all over again. Bruce couldn’t surprise her with a reservation at a nice restaurant when she was breastfeeding a newborn. And she probably wasn’t going to be in the mood for him to touch or kiss her when they were both sleep-deprived and frantic because the baby wouldn’t settle.

Honestly, he probably thought that he should encourage her to make up with her mother before the end of the year, so that at least if their marriage deteriorated, she’d have someone else besides Heather to turn to. And that was shockingly thoughtful of him. Compassionate, even.

Unless he also thought she was becoming clingier as the pregnancy wore on, and didn’t want her to get any ideas. She could understand if there was a limit with him, and that he would be content to treat her as just another casual girlfriend for the rest of their marriage.

It would piss her off, of course, since she thought she was being remarkably open-minded and honest with him, flaws and all, but she could understand it.

She checked her reflection in the mirror one last time before getting out of the car, and looked over Dick and Bruce’s suits approvingly. Chances were her brother would be lounging around in sweatpants and a faded tee shirt, but her mother and stepfather would be dressed to the nines to make up for it, and the last thing she needed was one more ‘billionaire who can’t even bother to dress himself properly unless there’s tequila involved’ aside from Jessica.

Owing to both the weather, being in the third trimester of a pregnancy, and her desire to avoid any arguments with her mother, she was dressed more conservatively than usual, in a salmon colored sweater dress with three quarter sleeves that didn’t make her feel like she was straining against her bump.

The skirt came down to just above her knees, and she couldn’t decide whether or not it looked coquettish or like she was a struggling preschool teacher when combined with shimmery tights and ankle boots. She’d had to give up heels- even kitten heels- a week or so ago, finally accepting that the agony of swollen, smarting feet and crushed toes weren’t worth it.

They had to present ID to the guard by the elevators even to access the building itself, but Stacey had lived in a place much like this until very recently, and supposed that the irritation of constant security checks was worth not coming home to find your place ransacked by a cat burglar or worse. She doubted her brother had ever walked down a Gotham street alone, or taken any sort of public transportation.

For the time being, though, she was glad she wasn’t alone right now- even if she wasn’t going to be in any physical danger at a family Thanksgiving.

The penthouse, of course, was immaculate, and decorated exactly to her stepfather’s taste. The townhouse Stacey had lived in until the age of eleven or so had been in her father’s name and his alone, but he’d let her mother do whatever she wanted with the interior of it. Stacey would give Jessica this- she had tasteful, if boring, classical taste. Lots of soft colors and fabrics, perhaps some French or Italian inspiration, but nothing tacky or ostentatious. The perfect end goal for someone who desperately wanted to avoid looking like gaudy new money.

Her stepfather, on the other hand… the only reason it wasn’t gaudy was because of how spartan and modernistic it was. Everything was black, white or some shade of grey or dark brown. The floors were hardwood or black and white tiles. The floors were white or pale grey. Most of the furniture was dark brown or white or some blend of the two. Any art hanging on the walls was minimalistic and unnoticeable.

Stacey wasn’t sure if her mother was content with this or deeply discomfited by it but refused to say anything. She’d never lived with her mother and stepfather in this penthouse long enough to find out.

Once she’d been accepted at Gotham U, she’d refused to come home during breaks. She’d either relied on the charity of friends to stay at their houses, maxed out her credit cards on expensive hotels suites, often prompting screaming matches over the phone with her mother- who never cut off her cash flow for fear of Stacey being out on the street- or, once she’d joined a sorority, had simply stayed at the sorority’s house full time.

None of it had been ideal, but at least she’d gotten used to moving around all the time and traveling light- or as light as someone like her could travel, at least. But she was essentially a stranger to this home because of it.

Roman was nowhere to be seen, likely locked away in his room playing video games or trolling some chatroom, her stepfather was mixing drinks at the sleek bar in a corner of the living room, and her mother was in the kitchen, pretending the food she’d had catered and delivered perhaps an hour ago was all the efforts of her home cooking.

When she was young, before her father had died, they would go to her maternal grandparents for Thanksgiving. Despite not having immigrated to the US until their thirties, Fyodor and Yelena had wholeheartedly embraced American holidays. Her mother had always been distinctly uncomfortable in her parents’ small but cozy home- a home they hadn’t been able to buy until she was around fifteen or sixteen, after a series of cramped, drafty apartments in Gotham’s crummier neighborhoods. Moving into the suburbs had been their version of the American dream, even if it was only a one-car garage and no in-ground swimming pool.

After the usual pleasantries, Stacey abandoned Bruce to make small talk with her stepfather and went in search of Roman with Dick. They found him in his room, mercifully fully dressed, albeit in jeans and a slightly frayed sweater, watching some streamer play with a VR headset.

“Are you getting one of those for Christmas?” Stacey asked him blithely, ignoring the fact she’d never mastered the ability to make easy conversation with the half brother over a decade her junior.

Roman shrugged noncommittally, but didn’t protest or look annoyed when Stacey announced she was leaving Dick to hang out with him.

On her way back, her mother cornered her and menaced her into the kitchen to help finish plating the hors d'oeuvres.

“You look very cute in that dress, lapochka,” she said, patting Stacey’s shoulder. “Like a little… well, I should not say little, you’ve always been such a tall girl-,”

“I appreciate the effort being made to compliment me, Mom,” Stacey said dryly, shrugging her off.

“Don’t be so sensitive, Anastasia. I am trying to be pleasant with you after you’ve given me the cold shoulder for so long.”

Stacey sighed, and poured herself a champagne glass of sparkling cider. “I’m not giving you the cold shoulder, Mom. Things have been very busy with getting ready for the baby, and I have responsibilities with the Wayne Foundation now…”

“Yes,” her mother sniffed, without looking up from the co*cktail sauce she was stirring. “I heard about that gala in October. How long did it take to get the power back on? Days?”

“It was back on by the morning. It was just a storm.” Stacey wanted to add that her mother could have complimented her for handling it all so gracefully, but then again, her mother hadn’t been invited.

“I hope you’re picking up a salary for all this party planning he has you doing.”

“It’s just been a few small events, and he cut me a check for two million dollars in lieu of a proper honeymoon, so-,”

“Don’t talk about money at Thanksgiving,” her mother said sharply. “It’s crass.”

Stacey stared at her in disbelief, then brought out the appetizers.

Bruce, as it turned out, was very good at navigating the thin ice of interactions with his in-laws, and managed to be his most charming and gregarious self without coming across as though he were trying too hard. Her stepfather was easily won over and smiled and nodded along to all of his jokes, while her mother smiled far less but was remarkably subdued, even after two glasses of wine.

Dick and Roman did not seem to have made friends, but at least appeared to tolerate one another’s presence. Stacey was beginning to get a little co*cky that they could get through the evening unscathed, and that she would be able to smugly depart within an hour and a half, when naturally, all hell broke loose in between the clearing away of the plates and dessert being served.

There was no explosion of noise from Roman’s room; rather, a long, suspicious silence, and then a high pitched cry of pain. Bruce was up out of his seat so fast he almost upset the table, while Stacey sprung up as well- as much as anyone seven months pregnant could spring- while her stepfather murmured something about teenage boys roughhousing as usual.

In the hall, they found Roman’s bedroom door wide open, and him slumped on the bed, clutching his bleeding mouth. Dick was unharmed and livid with rage, fists clenched, and one of them with scraped knuckles. It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together.

“Let me see your mouth,” Stacey said, brushing past Bruce, who was tugging Dick aside. She was surprised by the flicker of anger she felt towards Dick- but Roman was her brother, her only sibling, even if they’d never been close, and she could never stand to think of him hurt. To her relief, his teeth were fine, and his lip was split and bloody but not to the point where he would need stitches.

“I’ll get you some ice,” she said, smoothing Roman’s long hair away from his face, but he jerked away from her and curled into a ball facing the wall. Bruce had already pulled Dick out into the hall, where she could hear a low, terse conversation, and beyond that, her mother’s voice rising in anger.

“Out,” said Jessica, as Stacey came back from the kitchen with an icepack in hand. “I want you out of my house- how are you raising this boy, that he hits people like some street thug?”

Bruce was doing an admirable job of keeping his temper, but Stacey detected a familiar twitch in his jaw. She’d never actually heard him shout, per se, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

“He called me a g---y,” Dick said, in a low, almost adult voice- Stacey had never heard him sound like that before. “I don’t care that he was joking. He shouldn’t have called me that.”

Her stepfather looked confused. “Well, you’re not, are you? What’s the big deal?”

Stacey handed her mother the icepack in stony silence.

“Dick’s parents are of Romani descent,” said Bruce, after a moment. “And I’d appreciate it if your son could refrain from calling mine slurs.”

Jessica opened her mouth, and Stacey barked in warning, “Mom,” so loudly her mother almost jumped.

“We’ll get our coats,” said Bruce. “Thank you for the meal. It was delicious.”

No one said a word during the very long elevator ride down, nor on the quiet, cold walk to the car.

“I’m sorry I punched your brother,” Dick offered, as they got into the car. Bruce closed Stacey’s door for her.

“I know,” said Stacey. “I’m sorry too.” She was not sure what else to say. She felt guilty and ashamed, as if she’d been the one to say something offensive.

“The food was really good, though,” Dick said, as they pulled out of the garage.

As they turned a corner, her skin began to crawl the way it used to just before she would vomit from morning sickness.

“Can you pull over?” she asked Bruce very quietly. “I don’t want to be sick on your floormats.”

He shot her an incredulous, angry look- no one just ‘pulled over’ in Gotham, unless you were one of the world weary cab drivers, who risked their lives every day.

Still, he found an empty lot near an intersection, and got out as Stacey fumbled with the door lock and her seatbelt. She braced herself on her knees, legs shaking in the cold.

She retched twice, but nothing came up. Dick had gone very still and silent in the back of the car.

“Do you want to stand up?” Bruce asked, and gave her his hand, but when she took it and looked up, there were two of him. Her mouth went dry and scratchy, like someone had stuffed wool in him.

“Stacey?” he asked, and moved to grab her by the waist, as if worried she would faint. “Are you alright?”

“I..” she slurred something even she couldn’t understand, and her vision fractured further, with throbbing black spots. He said her name louder, then lifted her bodily and put her back in the passenger seat, slammed the door shut, and ran back around to the driver’s side.

“Stacey?” Dick’s voice had gone high and frightened, like a very small boy’s. She felt him touch her elbow, and then she slumped forward.

She had the strangest vision that she was eighteen again, winding her way along a darkened, icy road, snow peppering her face and hair. She was dressed warmly, but her exposed face was freezing, and she was skidding and slipping with every step. Every so often she thought she saw bright headlights emerging out of the dark, but it was just a trick of the moonlight cutting through the thick tree cover.

She knew if she fell, the road was steeply slanted enough that she would never be able to get up again. She knew she would slide right off the edge of the ridge, and vanish into some frozen ditch. She plodded forward jerkily, and then headlights washed over her again.

It wasn’t headlights, but a flashlight, searing her eyes. She was lying on a gurney, and people were talking all around her. In the distance she heard doors slamming open and shut and pounding feet. Her coat was missing, and her hair had been pulled back in a messy ponytail that tugged painfully at her scalp.

The flashlight switched off. A man was speaking, but he kept his gloved hand on the side of her head. It was a warm, big hand; she leaned into it.

“She needs surgery,” he said. “Now. Before it ruptures. It will be much more difficult to control the bleed then.”

What bleed? She wasn’t bleeding. Had they been in a car accident? She couldn’t remember if Dick had put his seatbelt back on. Had he?

“Bruce,” she said, or tried. It didn’t sound like his name at all. Her tongue was thick and foreign in her mouth. She wanted to sit up, but she couldn’t. She didn’t know if she was strapped down to the gurney or simply had lost control of her limbs.

Someone roofied me, she thought blankly. That had happened once, in college. Nothing had come of it; she’d realized her drink had been drugged almost immediately and had managed to communicate as much to Heather before anyone could corner her alone. She’d slept it off the next day.

But roofying someone didn’t usually make them bleed or need surgery, did it?

“Bruce,” she tried again, to say. She wanted to tell him that maybe Dick hadn’t put on his seatbelt.

“Bruce isn’t here right now,” someone said gently to her. “You’ll see him later when you’re feeling better, Anastasia. Can you breathe in?” They’d put a mask over her nose and mouth. She breathed in.

“I want her prepped right now,” the man said, again. “Let’s get a close shave.”

Were they going to cut her hair? That offended her.

“You just rest, Anastasia,” the man was saying. “I’ve got you. Don’t worry about Bruce. Just breathe.”

She breathed, and slept.

She woke up feeling bleary and swollen, and after a few moments of staring at the sterile white ceiling, realized she’d never even asked about her baby. She’d been on a gurney being prepped for surgery and she’d been more concerned about them shaving her head than her baby. Fat, hot tears bubbled up at the corners of her eyes. She was no longer seeing double, though there was a dull ache behind her eyes as if she were recovering from a migraine.

She didn’t have an oxygen mask on or anything up her nose, which she took for a good sign. There was an IV in her arm and a patient wristband around her wrist. She tried to move her limbs, and was relieved to find she could. If she’d had a stroke, at least she wasn’t paralyzed. She sniffled a little and wiped at her eyes in time to hear the door creak open.

Tom Elliot walked into the room looking exhausted but pleased with himself. His coppery hair was a rumpled mess and there were dark shadows under his eyes, but he brightened at the sight of her awake and alert. Seeing him in a white coat and faded trousers and sensible work shoes confused and almost alarmed her, before she realized that he was a surgeon and probably looked like this most of the time when not attending dinner parties and galas.

“Stacey,” he said, quietly but warmly, and drew up a chair to sit at the edge of her bed. “How are you feeling?”

Stacey swallowed hard, and reached up to touch her head. Her hair was loose from its ponytail and combed over to the left. The right side of her head was shaved. Not the entire side, but enough to give her a significant undercut.

“I’m sorry,” said Tom. He reached out and gently guided her hand back down. “I tried to preserve as much of it as possible. But I had to perform a craniotomy to close the base of your aneurysm with a surgical clip. You’ve got some titanium in there now.” He knocked his knuckles against his palm.

Stacey flinched. “Am I…. I had an aneurysm?”

“Fortunately, your husband got you here before it ruptured. You’re not in any danger now. The operation was successful, and we’ll keep you here on medication to prevent seizures for the next week, and to make sure the clip isn’t rejected by your body. But you’re young, in good health, and you don’t have any genetic risks. We monitored the fetus throughout the surgery, and your baby is in good condition as well.”

Stacey looked at him as these words washed over her like a series of tidal waves, and then said, “What caused it?”

“Any number of factors. But nothing you did would have triggered the aneurysm, Stacey. You have low blood pressure and you were- you are- in great health. These sorts of things just happen.”

What if she’d been alone when it happened? Asleep, in her room at the mansion? Or driving around Gotham? What if she’d never moved in with Bruce and was still living by herself? What if Bruce hadn’t been able to get to the hospital in time? Her last words with her mother were Jessica demanding for her to get out of her house. She tried and failed to conceal the tears dripping down her cheeks.

Tommy Elliot cleared his throat, sounding slightly uncomfortable. “I know this must be overwhelming. But you were in good hands, Mrs. Wayne.”

“Belgrave,” she corrected him in a mumble. “Still Belgrave.”

He smiled slightly. “Right. I’ll let you rest. I’m sure you have a whole slew of visitors lined up to see you now that you’re awake.”

Twenty minutes later Heather burst into the room. When she saw Stacey sitting up and gingerly sipping some water, she stood there, frozen, then managed, “What’s up, Lobotomy Barbie?”

Stacey choked on her water, set it down, and then let out a weak laugh. Heather swooped in on her like a bird, and gave her a crushing hug. “You freaked me right out. Don’t ever pull sh*t like that again, got it? Who else am I gonna mooch off of?”

“Shut up, you bitch,” Stacey mumbled into her hair, then kissed her cheek. “I look like hell.”

“One of the nurses must have washed your makeup off. You look fine. The hair will grow back.”

“I always wanted to try a pixie cut,” Stacey muttered. “Better that than a comb-over.”

She felt the baby kick, as if amused by her comment, and then the guilt washed over her again. Her shoulders trembled.

“Stace, what’s wrong?” Uncharacteristically gentle, Heather perched on the edge of the bed and held Stacey’s hand in her own. Her acrylics were chipped again. Suddenly she hated them. She wanted to claw them off until her fingers were raw and bloody. She deserved as much.

“I didn’t… the baby could have… I didn’t even think about…”

Heather stilled, and then said, coldly, “Look at me.”

Stacey looked at her, unused to this shift in dynamic. Usually it was Heather waiting on her judgment or comment, not the reverse. But she saw now the Heather she didn’t usually see- subordinate to no one, fiercely independent, pragmatic and intelligent, with those cutting dark eyes and long, thin face.

“This was not your fault. Your health is not your fault. If there had been anything you could do to protect your daughter, you would have done it. But there wasn't. You didn’t know. You’re not a fortune teller. It just happened. sh*tty things just happened. It’s over now, and you’re okay.”

Heather left after an hour or so, having transitioned from comforting her to showing her random memes on her phone. Her absence was quickly replaced by Stacey’s mother, who crossed the room in brisk steps, wordless and wan, and climbed into bed beside her daughter, her tailored clothes rumpled, her pristine bob disheveled.

No words passed between them; Jessica held her like a child, and Stacey was not sure who was in more need of comfort. Her mother left in the very early hours of the morning, when Stacey was dozing off.

When she woke up, she’d been moved to a much larger and more private suite, and her IV had been removed. She didn’t have her phone on her, but the bedside clock told her it was six thirty in the morning. Outside the window snowflakes were flurrying down from the granite sky. A nurse came in to help her use the bathroom and shower, and to make sure she took her meds- both for the pain in her temple and to prevent seizures.

When Bruce entered, looking bleary but like he’d just showered- his hair was still wet, and he smelled like deodorant- Stacey was so stunned by the bruising on his face that for a few moments they just stared at one another.

“What happened to you?” she asked shakily.

“I fell asleep in the shower,” he said, “cracked my chin on the faucet.”

It looked more like someone had swung at his jaw, but Stacey wasn’t in any shape to investigate. “Good,” she said, instead. “I was worried you dropped me off here, then turned around and went back to fight my baby brother or something.”

He offered a tight smile at her joke, then sat down beside her. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up. I would have stayed, but-,”

“It’s fine,” she interrupted him. “I understand. You had Dick to think of. I didn’t expect you to camp out by my bedside.”

“But I-,”

“Bruce, it’s okay,” to her disgust, she realized she was tearing up again, and prayed he didn’t comment on it. She didn’t know what she’d do if he tried to baby her. Slap him, maybe.

How could she admit that some part of her loathed the fact he had not been there when she’d woken up, terrified and alone? That he hadn’t been right there, assuring her the baby was fine, that she was fine? The first person she’d seen had been Tommy Elliot, for God’s sake. Granted, he was her doctor, but-

“I brought you something decent to eat,” he said, instead, producing a paper bag. “I know hospital food is terrible. No matter how much you pay for a nicer room.”

She rooted around in the bag and produced a blueberry scone and a tightly sealed cup of coffee, surrounded by sugar packets and creamer. He had to help her put the straw in and sip it the first few times, to her dismay, but then let her be.

He’d also brought a suitcase of clothes and makeup for her- he admitted Heather had called him- how she’d even gotten through to his personal line, Stacey had no idea- and badgered him into letting her drop by the manor to help him with it.

“A for effort,” said Stacey, pulling out a favored pair of Juicy Couture sweatpants she’d had since freshman year of college.

He smiled wanly again, ran a hand through his damp hair, and assured her he’d be back in a few hours. He seemed afraid to kiss her on the cheek or even embrace her. She didn’t know if that gratified her or upset her. She was being ridiculous. She was transferring the guilt and anger she felt towards herself onto him. He had saved her life, getting her to the hospital so quickly. She had only him to thank for that.

Everything was fine, and he probably just didn’t want to upset or trigger her into a crying fit. He’d brought her food and clothes, something he easily could have passed off onto some underling or even Alfred.

She got up by herself without setting off any bed alarms, changed out of her hospital gown and into her sweats, and then sat back down in bed, fumbling with the remote to watch the morning news. A bubbly blonde anchor and her grey-haired counterpart were recounting the latest night of disturbances, crimes, and crime-fighting. The Bat Signal had been lit up again, and the city had therefore been shaking with the usual mixture of relief and terror.

Stacey, like most Gothamites, could boast of an up close and personal encounter with the Dark Knight himself. Once he’d burst onto a train car she was sitting in, evacuating the subway before it was flooded with fear toxin. She’d been very, very drunk and possibly done a little molly as well that night, which explained why she and her boyfriend and friends were even taking public transportation in the first place.

She had a vivid memory of tottering off the train in her sparkly pumps, laughing as the crowds of people raced up the stairs in a panic, because for some reason it was so funny to see them fleeing like children during a playground game of Red Light, Green Light, and she loved them all so much, adored them even in their terror. Adored them more for their terror. At some point, someone had hauled her up those steps as well, and they’d burst out into the cold, dark night above ground, even as the pavement shook beneath their feet.

Heather had been doubled over vomiting, another boy crying, and Stacey’s boyfriend at the time, thinking it all very romantic, had grabbed her and kissed her soundly, which she’d enthusiastically reciprocated, until a passing cop on a loudspeaker had roared at them to evacuate the f*cking block before they got themselves gassed.

Already bored with the news, Stacey changed the channel.


Some Notes:

1. I did warn you the fluffier bits would be coming to a swift and brutal end.

2. This is not medically accurate, I am not a healthcare professional, do not look to comic books or fanfiction for accurate depictions of various medical issues. I needed a reason to get a neurosurgeon involved, and unfortunately when a neurosurgeon is involved in your life, things are generally not going too well.

3. Stacey's mother Jessica did not grow up wealthy, which may explain some of her behavior as the daughter of immigrant parents who married 'up' and faced a lot of scrutiny and gossip because of it.

4. There is a use of an anti-Romani slur in this chapter (which begins with a G). I blanked it out because I really don't know what the protocol for this is, and I am not Romani myself. Dick being of Romani descent was established in a Titans run in 2000.

5. Slurred speech and seeing double is actually a very real symptom of some actual serious neurological conditions, though. Please see a doctor if you ever experience that out of the blue.

6. "What is with Stacey's random vision of walking down a mountain at age eighteen? Did that actually happen to her?" Hm, that would be telling!

7. I only just realized we're 5 chapters into this story and none of the characters except for Bruce has even mentioned Batman.

Chapter 6


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

She was released from the hospital with very little fanfare two weeks before Christmas. By then, the paparazzi had other holiday scandals and tragedies to chew on, so there were no longer a sea of photographers waiting outside for her.

And even Eleanor wasn’t stupid enough to press Stacey for a comment so soon- she’d grown up around money, she understood how these things worked. Near death experiences of any kind generally required at least a four month cooldown before the victim consented to an interview, no matter how discreet. Not that Stacey had any intention of giving Eleanor- or anyone- one.

A small, childish part of her had found it fun and exciting to revel in the hubbub surrounding her rapid-fire engagement and wedding announcements, as though she were still a little girl playing pretend. This was different. She’d almost died. She had no intention of ever speaking about it again, and she could only imagine Bruce’s reaction if he saw her flippantly talking about it in the papers.

It was difficult, when she came home. Whatever friendly dynamic they’d managed to cultivate before Thanksgiving had vanished. It wasn’t really that they were angry with one another- that would be absurd. What was there to be angry about? Neither of them could have known what would happen. And if they were a normal loving couple, they would simply have been relieved Stacey was alive and well and that the pregnancy continued to run its course smoothly.

And Stacey was relieved. So relieved. She knew how lucky she was- not just to have survived, but to never have to worry about medical bills or insurance or anything like that. Paying for those sorts of things was just a swipe or a click away, for her. She’d seen Heather on the phone for hours simply trying to resolve a mixed up bill from the dentist. And it wasn’t that she didn’t think Bruce was relieved. Whether he really liked her as a person or not, he certainly would never wish harm upon her, she knew that. He wasn’t a spiteful person.

But it was… she didn’t know. She didn’t know if he sensed her discomfort or if she was simply feeding into his, or what. They didn’t know how to act around one another anymore. The genuine smiles and easy laughter had vanished. It was as if they were strangers again. They made small talk when they had to, for Dick’s sake, or to appease a clearly worried Alfred, but it didn’t flow naturally or feel simple and straightforward. They avoided one another’s gaze. Sometimes she almost wished he would snap- just do or say something, anything, tell her resented her, confess some secret fear or grudge- but of course he didn't, and neither did she.

As if to balance that out, though, Dick was suddenly- well, he was clearly making an effort, Stacey would say that. He all but followed her around like a lost puppy for the first few days of her return home, making excuses to stop by her bedroom or sit near her while she read a magazine or watched TV. He was always lingering. Not in a weird, creepy way, nor did he chatter incessantly, but it was obvious something had sparked a change in him.

Maybe her experience had scared him, reminded him of his parents’ sudden death. She felt even more guilty for that, as ridiculous as it was. She didn’t mean to dredge up old hurts or retraumatize the poor kid.

Alfred, too, was hovering more than usual, but also more assertive with her- he didn’t censor himself as much, and was quite blunt when he wanted to be, so now she understood Bruce’s sometimes sarcastic comments about his butler being the real authority around here.

He took her and Dick out to cut down a seven foot Christmas tree on the property and put his foot down at Stacey’s suggestion that she could help him set it up in the stand. Even though she and he were the same height, or thereabouts. So too did he ban ladders, even a stepstool- “The last thing we need, Mrs. Belgrave,” he said, severely, “is for you to suffer another head injury.”

“Ugh, don’t call me that, you make me sound like my mother,” she wrinkled her nose, while Dick snorted, so he amended it to “Miss Stacey” instead, which seemed as casual a title as he was willing to go with her.

Bruce was consistently tied up with work as the days ticked down towards Christmas Eve, but Stacey found herself almost relieved about that, too. It meant less awkward interactions, and she thought maybe the space before the winter break would do them good, especially if it snowed as badly as it had last year. Snow rarely stuck to the streets of Gotham for long, but outside of the city, it could really blanket the ground.

She hated it. Half of the time she spent the holidays somewhere warm and tropical, though that obviously wasn’t an option right now. Winter was not for her. It was depressing and suffocating. Being cooped up inside made her skin crawl. Maybe this manor house was more spacious than her penthouse had been, but it was still dark and dreary, no matter how much Alfred and her decorated. Wreaths and lights and tinsel could only do so much.

“If I had my way,” she reflected, as she and Dick unpacked boxes and boxes of antique ornaments for the tree, “I’d gut this place. Ditch all this wood paneling, add some skylights, whitewash the kitchen-,”

Alfred was staring at her as though she were describing some grotesque murder she planned to commit, while Dick tried to warn her off, shaking his head furtively.

“I mean… that’s just me. Personally,” she said, breezily, and then turned back to the tree. “Dick, help me hide the pickle ornament.”

Bruce missed dinner that night, but she heard him come in later, while she was upstairs getting ready to brush her teeth. She listened near the stairwell, clad in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, as Dick excitedly led him into the tea room to see it in all its glory. She couldn’t hear their discussion well in there, but their voices were clearer as they came back into the hall.

“I think it’s even taller than last year,” Dick said. She could hear his slides squeaking on the hardwood floors. “And guess what, I got that solo for the winter concert.”

“That’s great,” said Bruce. She could hear the warmth in his voice, and imagined his hand on Dick’s skinny shoulder. “What’s the piece?”

“Traditional Holiday Melodies,” Dick said, with the pride only a seventh grader could bring to such a reveal.

Bruce cleared his throat to break up any amusem*nt, then said, “I’m sure you’ll kill it, Dick.”

Their voices faded down the hall; Stacey stood there for a moment longer, then swallowed, and brushed a stray lock of blonde hair out of her eyes. She thought her new pixie cut suited her alright, though she was eager to grow it back out as soon as possible. Heather had suggested extensions, but she hadn’t worn them since college, and it wasn’t as if she’d be going anywhere anytime soon.

Bruce had bowed them out of most of the usual holiday parties, owing to her recent ‘poor health’, and she couldn’t say she begrudged him for it. Physically she felt fine, but emotionally, she doubted she was up to the scrutiny. Besides, it was now a month or less until the baby was here. She wouldn’t be going out with a newborn.

A few days later, she was surprised to get a call from Tommy Elliot while she was trying to settle on Heather’s Christmas gift. Ultimately, she’d settled on getting Heather and Jordan tickets to the Gotham Film Festival in March, but that was easier said than done when her usual go-to contact had been replaced by some dull-toned college kid who insisted they’d already handed out their max amount of ‘publicity passes’ to various social media influencers.

The call broke Stacey off mid-rant about how she was a goddamn Belgrave and married to Bruce f*cking Wayne, not some 19 year old Instagram bunny who made a living selling diet pills and sex toys, but ultimately, she thought that the intern had gotten the message.

“Hi, Tom,” she said, switching calls. She was standing in the kitchen, partaking in Alfred’s latest batch of holiday cookies. She wasn’t sure if the man had ever attended culinary school or if he were self taught, but if he ever got sick of Bruce and decided to open up a bakery… she’d invest. “Is everything okay?” She worried he was going to tell her she needed to go back on the seizure meds, or that some blood test had shown a problem, but he waved off her concerns.

“Everything’s fine,” he said, “but I would like to do a routine checkup- neurological, really, to make sure you’re still doing well.”

She wiped crumbs off her mouth and glanced at the time. “Now? I don’t think I’ll make it back into Gotham before night, with rush hour traffic.”

“How about I stop by myself?” he asked calmly. “There’s no need for you to rush out. It will only take a little while, and it’d be good to see you in person.”

She stood there for a moment, surprised, then said, “Okay, sure. I- but you’re not worried about anything in particular, right? With me being pregnant?”

“Of course not. It’s just for my own peace of mind. And yours, right?”

“Right,” she agreed, and hung up. She spent the next twenty minutes wandering around the house trying to tell Alfred they were expecting company- he didn’t like to be surprised- before she recalled that this was one of the days that he picked up Dick from school, and Dick had concert rehearsal, so they wouldn’t be home for another hour.

Tom arrived sooner than she expected- he must have taken a back-route out of the city, because traffic at this time- and in this weather- was sure to be sh*tty. She’d changed into a more presentable sweater and leggings before she met him at the door, and self consciously caught her appearance in one of the foyer mirrors- her chopped hair and pale face. She missed her summer tan with sudden longing.

“You look great,” he said, as if sensing her insecurity, and as if to set her more at ease, let her pick where he’d examine her. She sat down on the edge of a sofa in the tea room, just in front of the massive Christmas tree, which he looked over, impressed, before turning back to her. “Alright. Let’s get down to it, yeah?”

As he’d promised, the check-up itself was very brief. He examined her eyes, and then tested her motor skills with a few simple exercises, as well as her reflexes, striking her knees with the small mallet, having her stand up and walk in a straight line to him and back, making sure she wasn’t dizzy when she stood up and sat back down. He also asked a few standard questions about her mood and mental state, and had her recite a tongue twister to test her speech.

When he was done, he checked the now barely visible stitches in her skull, to make sure they were dissolving properly.

“Everything looks good,” he said, but he wasn’t smiling.

Stacey frowned. “What’s wrong, then?”

“I- well, truth be told-,” he glanced around, as if worried about someone walking in on them, though it was obvious the mansion was deserted. “I was worried about you, Stacey.”

“But when I was released from the hospital, you said everything looked fine, and it still does, so-,”

“About your emotional welfare,” he said, more flatly.

Stacey stared at him, and then flushed. “What do you mean?”

“I… well, I don’t mean to pry, and you should know I am asking- as your physician, of course, and a concerned acquaintance- are you happy? This has been a very… eventful year for you and Bruce both, and-,”

She struggled to control her defensiveness, but managed an icy, “I don’t see what this has to do with my neurological health, Dr. Elliot.” She sounded like her mother when she used that voice, she realized with disgruntlement.

He stilled, then said, “I only ask because Bruce said something concerning to me, while we were preparing you for surgery.”

Stacey furrowed her brow, and scooted back slightly on the sofa, her gut slowly twisting into knots. “About what?”

“He- well, he was very insistent that if… if it became clear you were… that there was some danger to….” Thomas trailed off, then exhaled. “I’ll be honest with you, Stacey. He told me to do everything in my power to make sure the baby survived.”

“Okay,” she blurted out, ignoring the stinging in her eyes, “Well, that’s fine, I would have said the same-,”

“He said that if I had to choose whose life to preserve, that I prioritize the fetus,” Tom Elliot said calmly, and almost sadly.

Stacey blinked, then said, in a muffled tone of disbelief, “Did… is that something you had to ask him- I mean, who he would choose, if it came down to-,”

“Sometimes that is a question we must pose, unfortunately, but in this specific situation, no one had broached the topic with him. That was his… own idea.”

Stacey folded her hands into her lap, and tried to make herself a statue, a mannequin. She used to practice this just after her father died. Pretend she was no longer a living, breathing human who could be hurt. Make herself hard and compact instead. “Okay.” Her voice sounded cold and hollow, even to her.

“I don’t- you can understand that this is… deeply distressing to me as well, and of course I would never cast aspersions on Bruce. He’s a good man, and in the moment, I’m sure he was panicking, and under a lot of stress, and people say strange things-,”

“Okay,” she said, again, wooden. “That’s… thank you for telling me.”

“But for my own peace of mind,” said Tommy. “I just wanted to check in with you. And I wanted you to know, that if you’re not- if you don’t feel supported in this marriage, or if you’re… in any way concerned for the future, especially after the baby is born… I am always available.”

“You’re a licensed marriage counselor, too?” she asked, tartly, regaining some of her fire.

He flushed himself. With his skin tone, he showed it very easily. “As a friend. I’m sorry. I’ve overstepped, clearly, and-,” he gathered up his medical bag and swung his coat over his arm. “I’m sorry, Stacey.”

She stood up with him, stomach lurching- or maybe it was the baby kicking again-, and stopped him with a hand on his broad shoulder. “No, I- that was rude, Tom. I’m sorry. I… thank you for… but there’s nothing to worry about, really. I’m not angry with Bruce. He- it’s like you said, so much was happening, and it must have been terrifying for him.

“It was terrifying for you as well,” Tom said softly, glancing back at her. His blue eyes were darker than Bruce’s, but now they softened into twin pools of concern, and she could understand why her mother- and many others- considered him one of the most eligible bachelors in Gotham. It wasn’t just about the money and the pedigree. He was a good looking, sensitive man.

He cleared his throat, and walked with her towards the door. “I know a baby can be a stressor. For everyone in the family. And you two really don’t know each other that well. Of course I wish you both the best, but I… believe me, I know not every marriage is what it appears to be on the outside.” He exhaled again. “My parents’ certainly wasn’t.”

Stacey had heard the odd rumor about that, chiefly from her mother, but wasn’t about to admit it. And she felt a prickle of… something, all the same. “Bruce has been- he’s worked really hard to make this work,” she said, firmly. “We both have. He’s a good man.”

“I know that,” said Tom. “But- look, good men- well, they can’t be good all the time. As much as they try. And sometimes it’s those closest to them who pay the price. You’re very young, Stacey.”

“I turn twenty six next month,” she said, more firmly, setting her jaw. These people- him, her mother, even Bruce- they wanted to treat her like some naïve child, when she was far from it. She knew how the world worked. She knew how marriages worked. She’d seen them fall apart overnight.

“I know. But sometimes- these things only become clear after the fact. So if you ever need anything- well, I’ll give you my personal number, alright? Don’t hesitate to call.”

As he stepped out into the freezing night, she said, quickly, “There’s nothing wrong with- with being willing to sacrifice anything for your child. Alright?” She wasn’t sure if she was telling Thomas Elliot this, or herself. Surely she would have done the same, if it came down to Bruce or her baby. That was what you were supposed to do, as a parent. The child came first.

He looked back at her, sadly, then pulled the door shut behind him. She stared at it for a moment, then shivered, her arms wrapped around her chest, and leaned her forehead against the cold wood, blinking back tears.

“So,” said Bruce, leaning against the sleek white tabletop in something like stunned dismay, which was quickly being replaced with crackling anger, “my office has been bugged for the past three months.”

“I should say so,” Lucius was unflappable as ever, barely looking up from the fragments he was inspecting under a series of increasingly high-powered microscopes. “I wish you’d brought them all back intact to me.”

“I got you three out of four,” Bruce said, defensively. “I lost my temper when I found the first one.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Lucius said drolly, sweeping aside the shattered fragments of the first recording device. No bigger than insects, they’d been discovered by Bruce today. His office was professionally cleaned and inspected for any such devices once a week, but these were state of the art, certainly must have cost millions, and incredibly discreet. He’d only noticed the first because one of the ferns by the door had unexpectedly died, and as he crouched down to inspect the roots, he’d found one recorder buried in the potting soil.

That had only been picking up audio. But two others had recorded visuals as well, transmitting the images and sounds back to an unknown observer. Bruce had been spied on before, of course. Both more mundane corporate espionage, star reporters looking to make their big break- and, as always, the ever-lingering fear his identity had been discovered and compromised.

He’d been prepared for such an eventuality for years, and regardless of what these devices had picked up, they never would have heard anything that could even suggest he was Batman. He wasn’t naïve enough to trust even his office as being that private.

Still. Three months worth of conversations, phone calls- for God’s sake, he’d called Alfred from his office, had called Dick, even Stacey- he’d had personal conversations with them, with Lucius in his office, with any number of employees who might also now be compromised in some way professionally.

“I’m going to have to announce it at the board meeting today,” he said. “If this got out and they realized I’d covered it up-,”

Lucius made a noncommittal affirmative noise.

Bruce broke off and looked at him. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m still furious, I just-,”

“You know, ten, even five years ago, you couldn’t stand the business side of this,” Lucius said, finally looking up all the way. He massaged the lines around his eyes, then smiled slightly at Bruce, almost in wry exasperation. “You hated being Bruce Wayne, the businessman. It needled at you, like a too small jacket. You’d skip meetings, show up hung-over or beat up to work, you’d skip out of here at noon, or swing by a three AM to give security a hard time…”

Bruce had the grace to look ashamed of himself.

“I’m not saying this change is a bad thing,” said Lucius. “It’s good you take this seriously now. Both the corporation and the foundation.”

“I was always serious about the charity work-,”

“Serious, yes,” said Lucius. “Of course, Bruce. You never blew that off. You were always your mother’s son. But you hated that, too, because it felt disingenuous to you. The penance you were paying for what you went out and did at night.”

“Forgive me, Father,” said Bruce, rolling his eyes, “for I have sinned-,”

“Exactly. But you’ve grown up. The jacket just about fits now. It’s not an act anymore. That’s good!” He shook his head at the look on Bruce’s face. “It’s good to have some balance. It is. Take it from an older and wiser man, who thought he was a brilliant hotshot businessman-,”

“I still think you’re a brilliant hotshot businessman, Luce. And an even better armorer.”

“Until his wife and kids knocked some sense into him. I should have gone back for that engineering degree. Instead I let my parents bully me into finance. And you should have been a doctor,” said Lucius, looking him up and down. “It’s not too late. But for what it’s worth, you’re a damn good chairman, too. An honest one.”

“Okay,” said Bruce, who wanted a definitive end to the pep talk. “So… it was Riddler?” That sounded more like a question than he would have liked, but by now he was used to putting his pride aside with Lucius, who could read him as well as Alfred, most days.

“You tell me. Does this seem like his style?”

“He’d want me to know about it. But there weren’t any other clues, and if he does know my identity-,” Bruce broke off, and sighed.

“If he does know your identity, he’d be- or is- planning something much bigger,” said Lucius. “We’ve been kicking around this ball for a year now. I’m unconvinced. He’s impulsive. He wouldn’t be able to help himself from gloating, if he knew. He’s never even alluded to it, in any of your conversations, has he? Not once.”

“He could be playing the long game.”

“Riddler doesn’t do long games. He does a series of short matches he knows he can easily win. It’s a self assuring strategy. He’s like a gambler. Lots of little victories, building up that ego, the inflated sense of self-,”

“If it’s not Riddler, then it’s plain old corporate espionage. And I don’t have any ideas there,” Bruce folded his arms across his chest mulishly. “I don’t have competitors.”

“You don’t,” Lucius agreed. “But there are other reasons people within Wayne Enterprises might want to keep an eye on you. It might not be about competition.”

Bruce snorted humorlessly. “You think someone thinks the CEO needs babysitting?”

“Maybe they’re worried you’re losing your edge. You’re starting a new chapter of your life. Married, expecting a baby-,”

“That has nothing to do with my job.”

“It has everything to do with your job,” Lucius said impatiently, adjusting his glasses. “You might not like to think of it this way, but this company has been essentially patrilineal from the start. A series of sons- and occasionally nephews or brothers- taking over where their fathers left off. You have a son who will be starting college in another five or so years. You have a daughter on the way. I know you don’t want to think like this, but I assure you, the shareholders and board members already are. They’re going to talk about your successor, who you will groom to replace you.”

“The person who replaces me when I retire someday will be someone I’m confident can do the best things with Wayne Enterprises. That’s not dependent on whether or not they happen to be my child-,”

“You may think differently in twenty, thirty years, Bruce. Meritocracy is all well and good, but when it comes down to it, no one is going to believe you’d pass over your own flesh and blood. And that means people- not just the paparazzi and the gossip columns- will always be very interested in your children. That includes business partners. Investors. The board. And keeping a very close eye on you- even if they are vastly overstepping their bounds to do so- is one way of appeasing that interest.”

Bruce was silent for a moment, thinking, and then said, coldly, “Is it worse if that makes me almost wish it were Riddler?”

Lucius laughed. “I’ll send you the security files from that break-in. You can get a look at the thieves again. Maybe follow up on that. I know it happened to coincide with your honeymoon, so I understand if you were a little lax-,”

“Oh, very funny, Lucius!”

The board meeting was a joke and ran over time, to his dismay. Response to the bugging was met with muted acceptance. Suspiciously or not. The board of trustees member who’d suffered a stroke back in September was permanently resigning her position and needed a replacement. The board had already collected several possible candidates, and to his dismay, were heavily pushing for Tommy Elliot, who’d been a shareholder in Wayne Enterprises since his twenty first birthday.

Bruce didn’t see how he was going to be able to avoid approving of Elliot as a new board member, since the man had saved his wife’s life less than a month ago. And he felt guilty for his dislike and suspicion of Tom, who had never actually done anything specific to merit it. He’d been a bit of a bully when they were boys, sure, but had received nothing but warm accolades since graduating from med school, and it was completely unfair to put the sins of the father on the son.

Bruce had nothing good to say of Roger Elliot, who’d been an abusive alcoholic and a miser at that, hoarding his money the way a dragon hoarded gold and beating both his wife and son, if the rumors were anything to go by. But Roger Elliot had died nearly twenty years ago, when Bruce and Tommy were still boys themselves, not much older than Dick. And his wife, Marla Elliot, was now dead as well. If Tom had seemed utterly casual and unfazed at his father’s funeral, well, that was to be expected, given what he’d suffered.

And if Bruce had often harbored the niggling sense that the fire that had destroyed the Elliot family home had been arson set by Thomas himself, not some homeless drifters- well, that was a crime, sure, but not exactly a wrongdoing. No one had been hurt- no one was even residing in the house at the time. Wanting to purge yourself of the past- if Bruce couldn’t relate to that sensation, he could at least understand it. He’d made the past his prison for a very long time. If anything, he should be giving Tommy kudos for refusing to let the horrible events of his childhood define him.

He’d saved Stacey’s life. Bruce did not have to fake gratitude, there. The thought of- his throat still hitched at the thought. Maybe he didn’t love her, but he cared for her, and she was a good person and would be a good mother. The thought of someone like her dying when their life was really just getting started- Gotham had lost enough decent people. It didn’t need to lose anymore.

He had Tommy Elliot to thank for that, even if Bruce had rankled when Elliot had ordered him from the operating room, and bristled even more when he’d been only briefly allowed to see her after the surgery. He’d wanted to be there when she woke up, so she wouldn’t be alone. He knew what it was like to wake up alone in a hospital bed.

After the meeting, he retreated to Lucius’ workshop- or what he sometimes referred to as the downtown Bat Cave- and pushed the two blurry headshots he’d managed to get of the thieves through his facial recognition software, over and over again. After an hour or so, he finally got a result on one of them, but the man was reported to have died of a drug overdose that October, a mere three weeks after the robbery. The other thief, a woman, was missing. But given her last known address, he thought he might have a lead on her.

Or at least someone who might have known her.

Selina Kyle wasn’t stupid enough to agree to meet him in broad daylight, but he’d generally worked out that if he hung around the Narrows just outside of Gotham’s Chinatown for long enough after dark- you could see Arkham Island’s dull lights glowing across the dark waters of the dockyards- she would come around. The trick was not to make any sudden moves, and let her come of her own accord.

He heard her land on top of the Batmobile with a thud, then slide off smoothly onto the gravelly ground.

“I hope you didn't chip my paint job,” he said, still facing the docks.

“You’ll have to send me the bill,” she purred. “So. What’s the Bat doing on patrol so early? It’s barely half past five. And a school night.”

He almost started at that, but she was just goading him, insinuating he was a little boy playing dress-up. “I was wondering if you knew someone I’d like to talk to,” he said.

“Talk to? Depends on if they’re a friend or not,” she mused. She came close enough that she could speak in a low murmur, but not so close that he could reach back and grab her. He could tell how she was standing, just by listening. Poised, ready to run at any moment, a hand on the whip at her belt, another lingering near one of her stiletto knives. “No offense, Bats, but we know how your little chats tend to go.”

“Her name is Allison Rossi. She’s also gone by Alex Rosa, or Alina Rossetti. Three months ago, someone hired her and another associate to stage a robbery at Wayne Enterprises.” He deliberately did not mention the listening devices. He just wanted to see if the name rung any bells for her. “I know she lived in your neighborhood. I thought-,”

“That we met over lattes to network?” Selina sneered. “You’re too cute. Ooh, maybe we got matching Girl Power tee-shirts, is that it? Giggled and gossiped while we hit a few department stores at two in the morning? You think I just so happen to know every other female thief in the Narrows?”

He didn’t rile. “I thought it was a worth a try.”

“I knew of her,” said Selina, after a moment. “Knew she had more guts than sense. She was too eager to take on these big-name contracts, without considering what that might mean for her. I prefer to keep it small. I’m self employed. That way, only one person f*cks me over. Me.”

“Of course.”

“Of course,” she mocked him under her breath, then said, “She’s missing?”

“Yes. Her associate is dead. Overdose.”

“Either they f*cked it up, or they did their job too well. Whoever hired her, didn’t need her going on bragging about her clientele. She’ll be at the bottom of the river. One of them, anyways.”

“Maybe she skipped town after the payout,” said Bruce, more optimistically than he felt.

“You’re so cute when you’re pretending you’re a glass half full kind of guy, honey.” For a moment, he could feel her warm breath dance across his back, but she was no more than a shadow scaling a nearby building when he turned around.

Only when he was back in the Batmobile did he realize he’d lost track of time, and recall that Dick’s winter concert had started twenty minutes ago.

By the time he made his way into the packed auditorium, his suit rumpled and shoes scuffed from sprinting across a muddy parking lot in winter, Dick was just finishing up his clarinet solo. He saw Bruce sliding into his seat besides Stacey, and smiled bravely for the camera as he sat back down. Stacey gave him one venomous glance, and then was silent until the concert ended.

To Bruce’s shock, Dick came right over to them afterwards, chatting with a few friends, and introduced Stacey as his stepmother without hesitation. He didn’t seem to hold any grudge with Bruce, either, assuring him that Stacey had recorded the whole thing on her cellphone, and, “Seeing you there watching when I started would have made me even more nervous, anyways.”

Then he went off with Barbara Gordon to get cookies and punch from the concessions stand, while Stacey marched over to an empty hallway, Bruce in tow.

“What the hell happened?” she demanded, bright spots of color in her cheeks. Her new pixie cut framed her face nicely, he noticed, and made her dark eyes seem bigger than they ever had before. Right now, they were wide with fury. “He was looking all over for you, and I kept telling him you’d be here- I tried calling you, it went straight to voicemail, I called Alfred, he said he’d call you-,”

“I’m sorry- I’m- look, I’ll make this up to Dick tonight. But it’s great you recorded it-,”

“Apologize to him, not to me!” She looked stung, and then said, curtly, “What if it had been an emergency? What if I called you, and you didn’t answer, and something had happened- with me, or Dick-,”

“Let’s not overreact,” he said, and immediately kicked himself for it. That was not the thing to say to a woman in her third trimester who'd just got out of the hospital.

“Overreact? You can’t just go off the grid like this! I don’t care how busy you are at work, this is your son, and I am-,” she hesitated, then said, firmly, “Dick is your son, and this was important to him. Maybe it seems like nothing to you, but you weren’t there. He needed you to be here.”

“I know what Dick needs,” he snapped, instead of backtracking and apologizing again. But once on this route, he couldn’t seem to turn off it. Where did she get off, insinuating he was a neglectful father? She barely knew him, or his son. “I’ve been his parent for a lot longer-,”

“Don’t even start,” she said in disgust. “You cannot play that card with me. Am I your wife, or not? Am I his stepmother, or a house guest? You cannot- why are we even doing this, if you’re going to pull that sh*t with me? Tell me, Bruce. Why? Because you want total access to our daughter? Because we could work something out in court, alright-,”

“No!” He almost raised his voice, but caught himself. “I- you’re right, that was immature of me. That’s now what I- I’m sorry. No. I didn’t mean to insinuate- you are his stepmother. It’s natural that you would have opinions-,”

“There you again, trying to reason it out for both of us! Opinions! Yes, I have them! I’m not overreacting! I was here, okay! You weren’t! Where the hell were you? I know I’m not the perfect wife or his mother, but I show up, okay! When I give my word, I mean it! When I gave my vows at our wedding, I meant them-,”

He took her by the shoulders. “Stacey. What is this about? Have I- has something else happened? Did I do something-,”

She didn’t try to tug away from his grip, but she would not quite meet his eyes, and then, after a moment, said, more calmly. “No. Let’s go. Dick will be looking for us.” She shrugged away from him, and walked quickly back towards the bright lights and clamor of the school lobby. He stayed there in the shadows a moment longer, watching her, a hitch in his throat again.


Some Notes:

1. Even in the most loving and healthy marriages I think a medical crisis like this would shake things up a lot, and Stacey and Bruce did not have this great solid foundation to begin with.

2. Wow, how convenient that Dr. Elliot is here to tell Stacey all about how her husband supposedly told them to prioritize the life of the fetus over her! So coincidental how that plays exactly into Stacey's insecurities and mistrust of Bruce!

3. Remember when Bruce was late to his own wedding because someone supposedly broke into WayneCorp?

4. Not to turn this into Succession fanfic, but in this storyline Bruce has not turned over the position of CEO to anyone else and many people assume he would groom one of his children as his successor.

5. Selina Kyle is my favorite DC character, so I had to get her in here, even briefly. She's actually a year or two younger than Stacey, here- so this is a very 'new' Catwoman, who hasn't been around for more than a couple years and doesn't have as deep a history with Bruce (who has only been Batman himself for about 6, going on 7, years).

6. Yes I know the Narrows are a Nolanverse invention, but they've been adapted by other writers since then. It's a cool neighborhood name.

7. Wow, how convenient that Tommy Elliot got Bruce kicked out of the hospital room so he couldn't be there when Stacey woke up! It's almost like he's trying to drive a wedge between the newlyweds or something!

Chapter 7


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

It was the second Christmas morning Dick had ever spent at the Wayne Manor, but it felt like the first. His parents had been killed a week and a half after Christmas two years ago. He was being fostered by Bruce less than a month later, but the first Christmas he spent with him and Alfred had not been much of a celebration. The man who’d arranged for his parents’ ‘accident’ had just been arrested and Dick had still felt raw and spitty, like a live wire hissing and sparking.

He knew he’d probably come across as hostile and ungrateful, after everything they’d done for him, but he hadn't cared. He hadn’t cared because it didn’t matter that the guy was going to trial, they weren’t gonna kill him, just send him to prison, and that didn’t feel like justice. Dick wasn’t sure what justice would be then and still wasn’t sure now, but in his dreams it had looked and felt something like heaving a great weight off a very high ledge and watching it spiral down to the ground hundreds of feet below, splattering like an overripe melon.

He felt better about it now, if no longer dreaming about murdering his parents’ murderer counted as better. He wasn’t so angry. He was starting to accept that no amount of rage would change what had happened. That was how his therapist had put it to Bruce, who sometimes regurgitated these things to Dick, in a blunter manner. Sometimes, mid-lecture or pep talk or whatever you wanted to call it, Dick was tempted to blurt out that maybe Bruce should take his own advice, because he was still fueled by the rage from seeing his own parents die, wasn’t he?

But he didn’t, because Bruce didn’t know that his adopted son knew he was Batman, and Dick felt honor-bound not to tell him. Yet. Eventually, he would, but for now, it felt oddly even, like they were weighted equally. Bruce had lied to him and hid it from him, and still was, and maybe always would unless Dick called him on it, but he’d also been the one to catch the guy. And he hadn’t killed him. Dick might have fantasized about that, but it was always him, in the dreams that would make his chest throb and his teeth ache. It was never Batman doing the killing. That would feel dirty, almost. Batman wasn’t a killer. He was a lot of things, but not a killer.

Dick wasn’t a killer, either, which maybe wasn’t that surprising, since he was only twelve and a half. He figured if Bruce hadn’t realized that Dick knew by the time he was eighteen, Dick would do one of two things: either tell Bruce that he’d known for years, and- and then they’d figure something out, some way Dick could help Batman, or be like Batman, or something like that- or never tell Bruce, and work out a way to get access to Blackgate and kill his parents’ killer. Both seemed feasible. He had a good long while to decide the man he wanted to be. Alfred had always made that very clear.

He’d decided to be on his best behavior this Christmas, to make up for all of that. Not because he worried about not getting presents if he acted like a little sh*t- he’d acted like a little sh*t all of last year, and Bruce had still bought him thousands of dollars worth of toys and games and clothes. None of it had seemed to matter, then- Dick would have gladly given all the shiny gifts up for just five more minutes with his mom and dad, just to talk to them, to hear their voices, to go to their favorite greasy diner or walk along the river.

But because he thought Bruce and Alfred and even Stacey had enough to worry about and argue over without him adding to the mix. Especially after Stacey’s brain thing, the aneurysm. That had really scared him. She wasn’t his mom or anything like it, but she was, he thought, an essentially good person, even if she could come off really snotty when she was annoyed, and even if she dressed like a real life Barbie doll. And seeing her in a hospital bed with her hair all cut off and her eyes so big and hollow in her square face had freaked him out.

Besides, she was going to have a baby girl, who would pretty much be his sister, and while he still wasn’t eagerly anticipating it, he’d grimly resigned himself to the duty ahead of him. He was going to be the baby’s big brother or the closest thing they had to one, and while he’d never wanted a sibling, he thought it was his responsibility to be a good one. Especially if Bruce and Stacey were going to be the parents. Not that they were bad people or would be bad parents but sometimes he really thought they were just making sh*t up as they went along. He’d once heard Alfred tell Bruce something like that, only without the ‘sh*t’ part and in an English accent.

So on Christmas morning he roused himself at the reasonable hour of nine o’clock, rather than six or seven like some kind of maniac, clambered down from his lofted bed- Bruce had let him design how he wanted his room renovated last summer, and Dick had insisted on sleeping as high up as possible- and dutifully changed out of his regular crappy pajamas and into his nice holiday pajamas because Stacey would probably want pictures.

She didn’t put pictures of him online or anything and had even told him once that she would never ever post a picture of him on social media without his permission, but she just liked pictures in general so he thought he should be nice about it. He combed his hair, brushed his teeth, and went downstairs with Ace at his heels. To his surprise, everyone was already sitting a little too neatly in the tea room where the grand Christmas tree was, obviously waiting for him. He felt like an actor walking onto a set.

Ace ran over to Alfred, yipping, because Alfred was the biggest dog person ever, and Dick went over to Stacey and Bruce, who were sitting on opposite ends of the sofa, with a space for him in the middle. He still felt bad about them fighting after his recital, because he probably could have double-reminded Bruce about it, and also, if he was late, 9/10 times it was Batman stuff, and what was Dick going to do, say, “I wish you spent less time saving lives and kicking ass and more time watching me play the clarinet.”?

But they’d put on a good show of being okay with each other again after that, and he knew they didn’t want to ruin Christmas for him anymore than he did for them. So it was all smiles and hugs, albeit an awkward one-armed hug with Stacey, and then the gift parade began. There were fewer gifts than last year, but still so many that at some point he couldn’t even keep track of what he’d already opened.

Less toys, now that he was almost thirteen, and some more clothes and practical things, but Stacey got him a VR headset and a bunch of games that weren’t supposed to release until after the new year. When he gaped at her, she just said something about having a friend of a friend in the industry. He wondered if she’d remembered that this was what her brother had wanted, too. Had she gotten Roman the same gift? But she seemed so anxious to know if he really liked it that he just smiled and thanked her.

His favorite gift from Bruce was a multi-tool in his stocking. “It has a lockpick,” he said, holding it up to the glimmering lights of the tree. “Sweet.”

“I know you wanted to start learning,” said Bruce, squeezing his shoulder affectionately. “You can start the next time you manage to lock yourself out of the house.”

“That was one time!”

“And you never tried to sneak out at midnight again, did you?”

Actually, Dick had, and successfully, but a true magician never revealed all his secrets.

After the gifts Stacey invited her personal assistant slash best friend slash babysitter Heather and Heather’s partner Jordan over for brunch. She made it clear Bruce and Dick didn’t have to hang around if they didn’t want to, but from the look on Bruce’s face it was obvious he was trying to make a whole lot up to Stacey by being Super Husband for Christmas, so Dick thought he’d better stay for brunch too. Besides, he liked Heather, who was a cool grownup because she didn’t try to get kids to like her, and Jordan was a paralegal who knew all this gossip about Commissioner Gordon and the other bigwigs.

Nothing really bad, except Gordon was getting a divorce, which he'd already known, since Dick was friends with his daughter. Barbara was nice but she was really intense and wanted to work for the FBI. For Halloween at school she’d dressed up like Agent Scully from the X Files. She’d tried to convince Dick to be Mulder but he’d never seen the show and he’d wanted to be Green Arrow instead.

They didn’t see Stacey’s family for Christmas or anything, though Bruce and her went alone to have lunch with her mother the day after. Dick didn’t really care- he didn’t hate them or anything, he just thought her little brother was a prick, but that was nothing knew. He knew a lot of pricks. Some of them called him ‘charity case’ at school because they knew he hadn’t really grown up with any money until Bruce adopted him. He’d gotten into a ton of fights last year, but Bruce had enrolled him in jiu jitsu and taekwondo lessons, which were supposed to teach him discipline.

Honestly, he learned more about controlling his actions in ballet. Dancing with a partner who was relying on you was different from sparring. It wasn’t about disengaging or shutting them down so they couldn’t do anything to you. You had to let them guide your actions and move with them. He got a lot of sh*t for that at school, too, since he’d never tried to hide that he danced, but he’d been doing ballet since he was six and was long past caring. His PE teacher said he had more core strength than most grown men.

On the last day of December, he was fiddling around with the VR headset, trying to kill some zombies, when there was a soft knock on his door. Ace, who’d been sleeping on his desk chair, let out a happy bark and jumped down as Dick hollered, “COME IN!” still flailing wildly.

“It’s Stacey,” said Stacey; he could sense her hovering in the doorway. No one nearly nine months pregnant could be discreet anymore. “Take that thing off before you get a concussion.” But she said it in a friendly, teasing way, not a bitchy ‘I am your mother now’ way, so he removed it, blinking at her blearily and mussing his rumpled bed hair.

“I have a last minute gift for you,” she said. “Well, from me and Bruce. And my mother, I guess. She knows some people who work for the Metropolitan Theater, and-,”

Dick’s eyes darted to the tickets in her hand. “What’s it for?”

“Have you ever seen The Firebird?”

He had, but only on YouTube. He almost embraced her, but the fear of her belly and of himself- it was one thing to be nice to his father’s wife because he didn’t want to make things more difficult for Bruce and because she’d almost died, another thing to start cuddling up to her like a baby- held him back, and instead he just made a jerky head motion and held the tickets cradled in his hands like a precious egg.

His parents were acrobats, but both had danced in their youth and they’d always had friends in various troupes and ensembles. He’d go to at least a dozen performances a year; expensive, stuffy ones, too, put on for rich people, who’d look askance as the Graysons shuffled into prime seats in one of the upper boxes. His mom and dad never made him wear a suit, just a nice dress shirt and trousers, and sometimes a stupid sweater vest over it. He hated the itchy clothes and would spend most of the trip to the theater complaining loudly, but he’d forget about the discomfort once the curtains rose.

He thought his parents looked beautiful in two distinct places- when they were in the air, their features contorted by the dramatic lights and their costumes glowing with color and life, and when they were in the audience, eyes shining up at the stage. They weren’t handsome, wealthy people- not like Bruce and Stacey- they were common, ordinary looking, with toned, slight bodies and average looking, normal faces, when they weren’t wearing their stage makeup. But in those instances, they seemed like movie stars, celebrities, famous beauties.

He’d sit between them; his dad was the more sensitive one, who would sometimes grip Dick’s hand, or lean over and kiss his forehead. His mother was more spirited and aggressive; she would lean forward in her seat as if she wanted to spring up and join the action on the stage. His dad always said Dick had her temper- Mary Grayson didn’t take sh*t from anyone, not her employers, not her fellow performers, not her husband- she was an orphan, a runaway, small and scrappy. His dad, though, was just a normal kid, Gotham born and bred. He used to joke, that he, Jack Grayson, had joined the circus to get away from home, only to find himself constantly orbiting it- they visited Gotham every year, sometimes twice.

He was calm and gentle and good with his hands- he liked to draw and sculpt, and he could never have worked a normal 9 to 5, he just didn’t have the soul for it, Dick’s mom used to say. Or the lack of soul for it. He liked animals and outcasts and broken, odd things that needed fixing. His mom was a firecracker who’d jump to anyone’s defense, no matter the consequences, but his dad would stop and chat with homeless people like they were old friends, would attend AA meetings with coworkers for support, would give the shirt off his back if you needed it.

After the ballet, they’d always go to the cast parties, where Dick would run around with the other children of dancers and designers and choreographers and musicians, and his parents would drink wine and laugh and talk until the wee hours of the morning. He was homeschooled, so it never mattered much what time they finished. Often they got a taxi to the theater, but would get the bus and train back to whatever motel they were staying at. He remembers riding on his mom’s back, his dad standing behind them, so he was sandwiched between their warm bodies, lulled to sleep by the jostle and sway of the bus as it wound its way through the slick city streets.

His parents were probably the best people ever, which is why what happened to them was so unfair and sh*tty. “They died doing what they loved,” he’s heard a thousand times, but they shouldn’t have died at all. They should still be here. He should still be on that bus with them, though he’s too big to ride on anyone’s back anymore. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that he can still find videos of them falling online. It’s not fair that they are buried here in Gotham, locked underground, when they loved to be on the move.

Bruce and him had that much in common. Their parents died for nothing. And now he had to live for something besides getting older and angrier every day. That’s what his therapist said, though Dick’s attendance had been flaky this past year. He didn’t really need it anymore. Even Alfred admitted he’d calmed down a lot and he wasn’t rebelling in school or sneaking out to wander the streets looking for answers. He did his homework and he got good grades and he had friends. Not just Barbara but other kids, normal, albeit rich kids, who didn’t say nasty things about his background or treat him like a freak.

The performance was on New Year’s Eve, and he felt so happy about it that he volunteered to wear a suit of his own accord, not because Alfred nudged him into it. Bruce really didn’t care what Dick wore, so long as his clothes were clean and his hair was brushed, but Bruce was, in Dick’s view, probably born in a little tuxedo, so wearing suits of any kind was never that big a deal for him, even if he schlepped around the mansion in a tee shirt and jeans or sweats. Dick was proud of himself for not needing any help with his tie, and put Ace’s bow tie on, though of course he wasn’t coming. In Stacey’s words he ‘did not travel well’.

When he went out onto the ornate landing and looked down into the wood-paneled foyer below, he saw them there, waiting for him, as they had on Christmas morning, only now they stood on separate ends on the room, rather than sat on separate ends of the sofa. Bruce was leaning against a table, checking his phone, and Stacey was preening in front of a gilt mirror hung on the wall. She’d been very morose about her appearance now that her belly was so big, but it wasn’t quite as obvious with that big white faux-fur coat on. She wore a scarf around her short hair, too, like some old fashioned movie star, only it was too late in the day for sunglasses.

They both looked up and smiled at him, his adoptive father and his stepmother, and he saw once again that they were trying to make things good for him, holding back from whatever they wanted to argue about, being patient for his sake. He felt a stab of guilt and a twinge of resentment- he hadn’t asked for any of this- but went downstairs to them, head swimming with thoughts of the ballet.

The Gotham Metropolitan Theater was huge and covered in red and gold poinsettias and evergreen trees for Christmas. The lobby was so massive that every footstep echoed and everyone talked in hushed murmurs, even though the ballet didn’t begin for another half hour.

They had seats in the box and while Dick immediately made himself comfortable, Bruce and Stacey kept turning around and getting up to greet people conveniently dropping by to say hello to them. The doctor from the hospital, Elliot, for example, though he left pretty quickly. Bruce didn’t like him much, Dick could tell. And there was even that reporter that Stacey hated, Eleanor Carrington something.

She and Stacey tittered back and forth in sickly sweet tones before Eleanor flounced off and Stacey sunk back into her seat with a groan.

“You don’t have to interact with her if you don’t want to,” Bruce pointed out, and Stacey rolled her eyes at him, the way Dick would.

“You didn’t have any issues saying hello. What was I supposed to do, glare at her while you grinned away?”

“I was just trying to follow your lead-,”

“Well, clearly you’re not nearly as observant as you’d like to think-,”

“Be quiet, it’s starting,” Dick snapped, even though they still had another ten minutes to go, and they shut up. He didn’t really mind the bickering, it wasn’t like they were screaming at each other, but it was annoying, and he knew neither of them actually enjoyed the ballet, and were only here for his sake. He could have just gone alone with Alfred, but how pathetic would that be?

He didn’t even know what they were fighting about. He didn’t think they knew, either. At first he’d been sort of relieved because it probably meant they weren’t having sex anymore, and it was gross to think about Bruce and Stacey doing it, because they were both old and she was pregnant anyways. How much more pregnant could she get?

Then it had just felt weird because Stacey had almost died and Bruce seemed even more distracted and cagey than usual. But there wasn’t anything big going on in Gotham right now except Riddler’s usual antics, so Dick thought Bruce had to be hiding something. Dick wanted to know whatever it was so he could help Bruce out with it, but that was kind of hard when Bruce didn’t even know that Dick knew he was Batman.

The curtains went up, and the ballet began. And Dick stopped think about anything else but Prince Ivan and the magical Firebird, the woman in red and orange with flames running off her sleeves and hair, who could bend the forest’s creatures to her will and help Ivan rescue his beloved princess and her sisters. Koschei the Deathless skittered across the stage and the maidens sighed and swayed and the orchestra reached dizzying fever pitches of ecstatic sound. Trees bloomed with glowing, crystalline fruit and wind billowed and the dancers floated across the stage and around each other.

He was riveted that intermission felt like the fuzzy dream, not the ballet, and once back in his seat he was sucked in again. The dancing was so furious and the stage shook with the pounding of feet and cloven hooves and Koschei’s skeletal mask shimmered menacingly in the fog pumped through the curtains. When it was over and the lovers were united in a dozen embraces Dick was still craning his neck for a flash of orange or red or yellow, as the Firebird vanished back into the wilderness.

“Hey, the theater’s letting out,” someone nudged him, and he realized he’d still been sitting there, frozen, long after the final applause had faded.

Bruce smiled as Dick stood up shakily. “You seemed to really enjoy that one. We’ll have to make this a tradition.”

Stacey was putting her coat back on, but looked happy at Dick’s expression. “The costumes were beautiful. I used to think I’d like to design clothes for movies. The way the fabric moved- just incredible.”

“This was way better than a move,” Dick blurted out, then said, “Thank you for getting the tickets, Stacey.”

“You’re welcome!” She and Bruce exchanged a look that was not hostile, at least.

He really must have been sitting in a stupor for a long while, because by the time they got to the lobby the theater had cleared out, except for the people sweeping up the floors and emptying the trash cans. “Wait here and I’ll bring the car around,” Bruce said, as they reached the doors, but Stacey shook her head.

“It’s only a short walk. I’m roasting after two hours in here.” She looked hot, too, her face pink and flushed. Dick felt stuffy himself, and the blast of cold air was almost comforting as they stepped out into the night.

It was a quiet walk down the avenue to the parking lot, where a few cars still remained, all as nice as Bruce's. The theater district had been a lot seedier when Dick was little and here for a show, but now it was quietly refined, with new apartments and trendy cafes popping up all over the place. They were even planting trees. Dick kicked gravel and ice across the street as they crossed, and then passed through the wrought iron gates.

“They’ve got to fix these lights,” said Bruce, as they passed under yet another flickering lamp, but by then they were nearly to the Buick. Dick darted ahead as Bruce pulled out his keys, only to slip on a patch of black ice and land hard on his butt.

“Are you okay?” Stacey called out, while Bruce said something dry, and Dick picked gravel off his gloved hands and struggled to his feet, only to freeze.

But before he could say anything about the figure who came around the car- who must have been crouched down waiting, because there was nowhere else to hide- someone yanked him back so hard he almost fell again. Only it was Bruce, who’d all but vaulted to his side in a second, who thrust Dick behind him and snapped, “Stay with Stacey.”

Dick saw the glint of the gun, then.

“I just want your wallet, man,” the person- it sounded like a teenager, honestly- seemed nervous, almost, which was funny, since they had a gun, and Bruce didn’t. “Just your wallet and your watch, and then you can go-,”

“Just give it to him,” Stacey’s voice had not gone high with fear, to Dick’s surprise, but sounded flat and cold. She grabbed Dick’s hand, like he was a little kid, and pulled him up beside her.

Bruce took out his wallet and handed it to the mugger, then undid his watch. As he was doing that, the kid- Dick saw him more clearly now, and he couldn’t have been any older than sixteen or seventeen- looked at Stacey, and her fancy fur coat and the diamonds in her ears and on her fingers, and shakily jerked the gun towards her. “I want the jewels, too-,”

He made a noise like a mewl, and then staggered, and Dick saw Bruce’s watch, now cracked and covered in blood fall to the ground, because Bruce had wrapped it around his knuckles and punched the kid in the face with it.

Stacey screamed then, and pulled Dick behind her, backing up so fast she almost toppled them both over, and the gun fell to the ground a moment later, and Bruce was on top of the boy, who screamed, once, horribly, and then managed to wriggle away- because Bruce had let him- and took off running like a shot, tripping over himself.

Bruce just sat there, on his knees on the icy concrete, and picked up his watch and wallet. Dick broke free of Stacey and came a little closer, and saw that there were teeth on the ground, tiny and white, like pearls.

Bruce was shaking all over, like he was shivering, and when he tried to stand up, wobbled for an instant, as if on ice, though there was none here. Stacey gasped and brushed past Dick to grab Bruce's arm, saying something over and over again- Dick realized a few moments later it was “Where are you hurt, where did it hit you?” because she thought he’d been shot, even though there had been no sound, and that was why he was shaking and staggering.

But he hadn’t been. He managed to get his balance and stood there for a moment, slouched, as if he couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. Dick heard his teeth chattering, too, but Bruce’s face was slick with sweat, hotter even than Stacey, who was nine months pregnant, wearing fur, and had just come from a packed theater, had been.

“You’re having a panic attack,” Stacey said. “Come over to the car.” She sounded like she was forcing the words out between gritted teeth. Dick followed, grabbing Bruce’s other arm, and between the two of them they managed to get him into the passenger’s side seat. He wouldn’t say anything. Dick wasn’t even sure if he saw them, really. He kept looking down at his trembling hands and the bloody, broken watch clutched in one pale fist.

Stacey got into the driver’s seat, and Dick into the back.

“Aren’t you going to call the police?” he asked, not very passionately, as she adjusted the seat so she could fit behind the wheel.

“I will,” she said, “once we’re the hell away from here.” She was stammering a little herself, and Dick watched nervously as she fumbled with the keys, but she got the Buick started and sped out of the lot and onto the street. Then she didn’t stop driving, even as they passed more populated, well-lit areas. Bruce was still silent and stiff in the passenger seat, and put his head down against the window, like a child trying to fall asleep, after a few minutes. Dick stayed tense and alert in the back for the entire ride home, until Stacey told him to call Alfred and tell him what happened.

“Also,” she said, “tell him to call the midwife. I think I’m having contractions.”

Bruce started at that, though they were pulling up to the house now, and leaned in, saying something in a very low voice to her, but Stacey snapped, “No,” in response to whatever he said, and jerked away from him as if struck.

Alfred hurried out to meet them, and that was that. Dick was sent up to bed, assured everything would be alright, though it really didn’t seem like it. He went up and changed, but promptly snuck into the gallery overlooking the tea room. Bruce was nowhere to be seen, and Stacey was sitting alone on the sofa, staring in the dark at the glowing lights of the Christmas tree. They turned her face green and red and blue, a strange neon blend. Dick watched as she put her head in her hands and began to cry- not soft, demure weeping, but throaty, hoarse sobs, full body ones, the way people cried when someone had been killed. But no one was dead.

Dick had seen her upset before, and it had disturbed him, but now he felt the weight of it the way he would have had he seen- as he just had- Bruce in such a state, or Alfred, or one of his friends from school. He felt for her, beyond vague pity. She was crying like a little girl, her fur coat falling down from her shoulders, her makeup running.

When her phone started to ring, she composed herself, and answered it in a shockingly calm, if slightly nasal voice, answering a few questions. The conversation didn’t last long; she hung up, looking a little more in control of her emotions, but did not move from her seat, only took off her shoes. When Alfred came in, he asked her something so softly even Dick, who prided himself on having the ears of an elephant, could not make out, but she answered clearly, “Braxton Hicks. She doesn’t think it’s real labor.”

Alfred gave her a cup of tea and squeezed her hands in his own, which shocked Dick, then went back out.

Things were very quiet after that, and Dick almost crept back to his own room, at least assured he wasn’t going to wake up to a little sister, when he the door opened again, and Bruce came in. He’d changed out of his suit and into a tee shirt and sweatpants. He looked like he’d washed his face and had something to eat; he was steadier, and moved purposefully again, not wavering or shaking. But he did not come right over to her; he came near, then stopped, and Stacey looked at him, but from the way they were angled, Dick could not see the look on either’s face.

Stacey seemed to start to say something, then stopped, then said, in a tone somewhere between accusation and genuine horror, “Why did you hit him? Why- he could have shot us. All of us.”

“That was my father’s watch,” said Bruce, blankly.

They kept staring at each other, and then she said, “Oh, God, I’m sorry,” and opened her arms.

Dick was so taken aback by this that he almost made a small noise of surprise, but hushed himself. Bruce went to her and crouched down beside her, on the floor. She was a tall woman but he was a big man; even crouched, there wasn’t much discrepancy in height. Stacey felt at his face with her hands, like she’d never seen it before, and then wrapped her arms around his neck. “I could kill you for doing that,” she sobbed again. “Your son- your son was there, I was there-,”

Dick was not sure if she was angry at Bruce for disarming the kid- he could understand, she didn’t know he was Batman, she didn’t know how unevenly matched it was, she thought he’d been reckless- or if she were more so angry that she and Dick had witnessed it at all. She was someone who cared a lot about appearances. Not just in a vain sense, but in an everything sense. She acted like she didn’t, tried to play it off like she was so casual and breezy, but he could tell. So he did not know if she was even mad that Bruce had done it, or that he’d done it like that, in front of his family. That was interesting.

“I’m sorry you saw it,” Bruce was saying, though he did not embrace her back, and when she let go of him, he stood, and blocked the twinkling lights from the tree. Stacey was wiping at her eyes. “I know it was- it was rash. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking straight.” He took her tea cup from her and put it on the coffee table. “Alfred said the contractions weren’t real labor.”

She shook her head mutely.

“That’s good.”

“You hit him so many times,” said Stacey. “His teeth… they were dribbling out out of his mouth, he was drooling like a dog…”

Dick had not realized Bruce had. It had seemed so sudden and swift to him, so perfect, like a scene from a movie. Now he wondered if his brain had just sped things up to protect him, the way it had when his parents fell. Everyone assumed it must have been so slow for him, watching them plummet. It hadn't been. It had been almost comically fast, like a video tape playing at twice the normal speed.

“I let him go,” said Bruce. He sounded almost irate with himself. “I let him run.”

“He was just a kid,” said Stacey, and then she sounded furious, not with Bruce, but with herself, “Oh, Christ, he was just a kid, but when you were hitting him, I didn’t want you to stop.”

Bruce stepped away from her, then, and turned around, running his hands down his legs as if searching for pockets to put them in.

“We should both get some sleep,” he said, in a forcibly casual tone.

His eyes darted up to the gallery, and Dick flattened himself against the dusty floor, tongue thick in his dry mouth.

Stacey heaved herself up from the sofa, leaving her fur coat behind, and trudged out of the room, shoes in hand. Dick waited, and watched Bruce, who turned his back on the Christmas tree and stared at the low fire in the hearth, before sitting down on the floor like a child, cross-legged, his head in his hands.


Some Notes:

1. It took me a while to get the hang of Dick's voice; he is obviously very smart and world weary for his age, but he's also still 12. He clearly already thinks of himself as a 'protector' of this dysfunctional family unit and I think that's a major part of his character. At this point he borderline idolizes Bruce for bringing his parents' murderer to justice, even if he still thinks the man deserves to die. That's not to say there isn't genuine love between father and son, but this is not a normal parent-child dynamic. Dick knows Bruce is Batman, which Bruce is not aware of.

2. I don't think it's ever stated in the comics that Dick has any interest in dance or ballet but it seems fitting to me and I personally like ballet (as an observer, I can't dance for sh*t), so that's what we're going with. I chose The Firebird because of the bird imagery (obviously), its roots in Russian folklore (for Stacey), and that it has a prominent male lead (Prince Ivan). Also, if you've ever seen clips of it being performed, the costumes are often very creative and fun, especially for the female lead, the Firebird, and for the villain, Koschei.

3. As far as I am aware, Dick's parents have yet to be given any significant characterization in any comic run. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. So I wanted to give them some depth here. I'm not trying to bash adoptive parents, but the reality is Dick spent 10 years of his life with his birth family, and it makes sense he would have vivid recollections of them. That doesn't 'betray' his love for Bruce.

4. "Why the f*ck would Bruce agree to walk back to the car in the dark with his wife and kid after a trip to the theater? This is really on the nose!" What????? Something on the nose and borderline incredulous happening in DC Comics? Nooooo, that would never happen! Okay sarcasm aside I think a major reason Bruce takes this risk is because in my opinion, his identity as Batman is largely constructed around triumphing over his trauma and terror resulting from his parents' murder. And so for him, in this moment, he makes the (arguably poor) decision to take this risk as a sort of deliberate 'f*ck you' to that memory and fear, because he's Batman now, and he's faced down a thousand violent criminals and come away without serious injury, etc.

5. Obviously there is a large difference between when he's being Batman and when he is being Bruce Wayne, but I would not be surprised if internally those distinctions occasionally blur. Is this arrogant? Probably. Is it on some level understandable? Yes. Especially when he is trying to convince himself he has made (parts) of Gotham a safer place - a place where a wealthy couple and their child can walk down the street without fear of being held at gunpoint. Does this one incident mean he's failed? I mean, no, because I don't any of my readers are naïve enough to think this is a random coincidental mugging. The kid with the gun was clearly waiting for them, or at least for Bruce, had he made Stacey and Dick wait back at the theater.

6. "Who in the world would set up a mugging to possibly make Bruce Wayne look bad or even to hurt/kill him?" Hmmmmm

7. Was it a really big risk to take a swing at someone with a gun pointed at Stacey and Dick? Yes lol. "But Bruce is Batman, so he knew he could do it! The kid was clearly untrained and nervous! He's disarmed hundreds of people!" That's true, but inexperienced, freaked out people still frequently kill other people with guns, and it was still a risk, and Stacey doesn't know what degree of risk it was.

8. I think a major theme of Batman (should) be mental illness and trauma, and not just in the sense of 'Bruce is helping others overcome their mental illness and trauma!' That is one take many writers have explored, but I think an equally valid take is looking at Bruce's own mental illness and trauma, and how that affects both him and the people he cares for. On a slightly separate tangent, despite what movies and comics often portray, the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than to commit violent crimes themselves. Even when mentally ill people are found to have committed violent crimes, there are generally other factors at play such as childhood trauma, substance abuse, and the environment they are living, such as neighborhoods were crime is common regardless of whether or not the perpetrator has an illness.

9. Dick is not an unbiased narrator! At the end of this chapter we see that he and Stacey have a very different recollection of what happened! Dick recalls Bruce hitting the kid once. Stacey witnessed multiple blows, even after the mugger had been disarmed.

Chapter 8


Around the midpoint of this chapter, one character recounts a traumatic experience of grooming and sexual harassment. No sexual assault is described, but I wanted to warn readers nonetheless.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The alarm on his phone went off around 11 o’clock in the evening. Bruce heaved himself out of his chair, bracing his palms on the cold hardwood of his console, before turning off the monitors. He’d been on this strict schedule for about a week, at Alfred and his own internal urging.

No staying up in the Batcave chasing leads past 11, unless a life or death situation was unfolding. No patrolling between 7 o’clock and midnight on Tuesday nights; he had a rotating schedule worked out, and barring any problems at home, he’d leave in an hour, patrol Gotham until four in the morning, then return and crash.

He was used to constantly shifting his sleep schedule- that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that his investigations had ground to a halt for nearly a month now. By the time he’d been able to locate and search the apartments of Allison Rossetti and her associate, both had been entirely cleared out, either by the inhabitants or someone else.

No surprise there, since they’d both been missing or dead for over a month by the time he was on the trail, and he was still kicking himself over that. He should have pushed himself further back in October, to allot more time to investigate the seemingly innocuous break-in. Instead there’d been a series of carjackings, two bank robberies, one and a half jewel heists, and a bomb on the metro to attend to.

It used to be that he had to carefully balance between the more ‘mundane’ and random Gotham crimes of impulse, opportunity, and desperation, while contending with an ever-growing list of rogues who didn’t just want to commit crimes but look good doing so, but now he had that and a homelife to actually worry about. Even after he’d first adopted Dick, it had seemed simple enough to consider himself ‘off the clock’ for parenting as soon as Dick was in bed, or at least pretending to be in bed.

That was no longer the case. It was harder to rationalize these kinds of things when he had both Alfred and Stacey breathing down his neck, and truthfully, he didn’t want to be the kind of father who was distant, unreliable, and clearly preoccupied with something much greater than a family. His own father had been an acclaimed surgeon, but had still managed to always make it home for dinner.

On the other hand, it was hard to keep his son safe when he didn’t quite know what was out there possibly waiting to hurt him. Bruce desperately wanted to believe the mugging had been random happenstance. He’d taken unnecessary risks; why the hell had he agreed to let Stacey and Dick walk with him to the car? Why hadn’t he taken longer to park somewhere closer? Why hadn’t he just hired a f*cking driver? He’d grown complacent and slow; maybe not physically, but mentally.

Some spiteful part of him even wanted to blame it on Stacey- they’d been arguing, he’d been in no mood, he’d just wanted to get them home quickly- but that was absurd and he knew it. It wasn’t her fault he’d been naïve enough- as naïve as his parents had been, for all that he loved them- to assume Bruce Wayne and his wife and son were untouchable.

And it was more than that. He’d needed to prove it to himself. Prove that Gotham was safer. Prove that the everyday middle or upper class citizen had nothing to fear. He wasn’t narrow minded enough to pretend that after six years as Batman, Gotham was safer for everyone. But he’d thought it was safer for a certain class of people. And surely any step forward was better than continuing to slide backwards into the dark. But it wasn’t.

They were still in the dark. He was still in the dark, and he’d felt it like a cold shroud settling around his shoulder while he was punching that boy in the face, beating him, really. As soon as the kid had dropped the gun Bruce could have grabbed it and let him run. Instead he’d- he’d- What was worse was that he felt guilty about not feeling guiltier. Because he didn’t really. He’d restrained himself all this week, but a niggling voice in the back of his head kept hissing to find that kid, and- and-

The monitors were all black now. Bruce turned around and walked back upstairs, mind still ticking along. It hadn’t been happenstance. Someone had sent that kid, and he was wasting valuable time not immediately tracking him down to interrogate him, but if he’d gone after him right away, he was honest enough to admit that Batman might not have been able to hold back. No Stacey or Dick shouting his name then, watching in horror and terror. So he’d waited. But he’d waited long enough. He needed to find that kid, find out who sent him.

It was sticking pin-holes in his working Riddler theory, though. This was not Riddler’s style, even if the surveillance equipment was. Sending some street kid after Bruce Wayne and his family with a gun? Riddler had no qualms about firearms or hurting women and children, but not in so uncouth a manner. He would have done it with more style, more aplomb, even if that meant a car bomb or a series of cryptic messages. He wouldn’t just decide he’d had enough, that Bruce Wayne had to die without warning.

And even if he had- or whoever had given the kid orders just to kill Bruce, or all of them- well, the mugger had been hiding behind the car. He could have very easily shot them from there. Yes, the visibility was poor, but they were so close. He didn’t have to come right up to them. He could have stepped around the car, come close enough to get his bearings, then fired. Bruce might have reacted in time to save himself, but Stacey and Dick were sitting ducks.

No, it seemed more like this had been a deliberate scare tactic, a shakedown. That- that this kid had almost been set up, somehow, Bruce reflected as he climbed the stairs to the second floor, the wood creaking underfoot. Assured all he had to do was hold up some smug billionaire and his trophy wife, that it’d be a walk in the park. Just grab their wallets and their jewelry and go. Only- whoever had sent the kid had to know. They knew how Bruce’s parents had died and they knew exactly what pressure point to attack. They had to know that Batman-

Cold apprehension trickled down his spine. Worrying that the Riddler or any other villain he’d tangled with before knew his identity and might attack his family was one thing. Worrying that it was someone he’d never even heard of, a dark horse, was even worse. Because right now, he couldn’t predict their next move. He didn’t even know what the end goal was. Money? Didn’t seem like it. The company? What did a staged mugging have to do with Wayne Industries? They’d deliberately kept it far from the public eye. No one knew what had happened except the people in this house, Lucius Fox, and Jim Gordon. There was no bad press here. So then what? What the f*ck were they after, beyond rattling him?

He checked on Dick, who thankfully was fast sleep, though Ace’s small furry white head popped up to regard Bruce suspiciously. It’d been nearly six months, and that dog still hadn’t much warmed up to him. He couldn’t remember if he’d liked dogs or not as a boy. He knew Alfred used to have one, but his mother had been allergic and he’d never interacted with them much. As Batman, he’d been attacked by more dogs than he could count, though he’d never suffered a serious bite.

When he reached Stacey’s room, he paused outside the door. He knew it was locked, and even if it hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have casually walked in, even if she was his wife. They’d established some firm boundaries there; he stayed out of her space, night or day, unless she invited him in. She did likewise; she’d never set foot in his rooms or office. But he just liked to listen for a moment or two. Well, didn’t like to, but felt he had to. What if she had another aneurysm? Or a seizure? What if the baby came and she panicked and froze up, afraid to ask for his help? He knew how much she resented feeling like an invalid. They had that much in common.

She’d stated more than once that while the pregnancy was medically speaking ‘easy’, she had no intentions of going through it again. He was never sure if she was just making conversation or deliberately warning him. Did she think he would press her for another child? Did she worry he was desperate for a biological son? The thought almost repelled him.

Maybe once, a very long time ago, he’d briefly entertained the thought of filling the manor with a large extended family- wife, children, grandchildren, friends- but he’d put that aside. He was happy about his daughter, of course- he wouldn’t say excited, but happy, eager to meet her, for the waiting to be finally through- but she’d have Dick for a brother, and he couldn’t ask for a better one. He was very proud of how Dick had matured this past year, how kindly he treated Stacey now. It was better than Bruce had ever dared to hope.

He stayed outside her bedroom door a moment longer, then started when he heard a low moan. It sounded pained. He paused, then knocked very softly on the door. “Stacey? Are you alright?”

There was no response; the moan went on, then cut off abruptly. Next, a high pitched whimper, like Ace when he got underfoot and was almost trod on. Bruce gripped the doorknob and tried it, already preparing to break the door down with one kick aimed at the hinges, but to his surprise, it easily swung open. She must have forgotten to lock it. He stepped into the room, alert and tense, but realized quickly she was asleep.

Deeply asleep- usually Stacey was a very light sleeper, from the few instances he’d spent the night in her bed. The morning after their wedding, she’d been awake well before him, which was jarring him. The thought of her watching him, unconscious and vulnerable, had disturbed him, though it was laughable to consider her a (physical) threat. It had been the same way the first night they… well. But she didn’t so much stir now, even as he closed the door behind, cutting off the patch of dim light from the hall.

“Stacey?” he called quietly, as he approached the bed. She was sleeping on her side in a contorted, awkward position, over to her very pregnant figure, a long pillow tucked between her legs. Despite it being January, she slept in a flimsy sheer slip that barely reached her knees, a very old man’s cardigan on her top. She always said her upper body tended to be colder. She seemed to alternate between this outfit and very baggy silk pajamas for bed.

He stopped beside the bed; her face was screwed up in distress, one fist tucked tightly under her chin, the other gripping the sheets. She mumbled something he couldn’t make out in her sleep.

“Stacey, wake up,” he said, trying to be gentle, and dared to touch her shoulder.

“Stop!” she snapped, and he startled, thinking she’d jerked away, but she hadn’t. “Stop, I don’t- Mom will be here soon,” she seemed to tell herself, or whoever she was talking to in her sleep. Her brother? “Let’s just wait for her…” She trailed off, and seemed to relax. Bruce backed away a little more. Maybe the nightmare was passing. He could slip out silently.

Then she said, clearly, her stepfather’s first name, in such a tone of fear and disgust that Bruce was riveted to the spot. She never called him that. She never called him anything.

“Please,” she whimpered, and Bruce had had enough. He crouched at the edge of the bed, took her firmly by the shoulders, and said, loudly, “Stacey, wake up!”

Her blue eyes snapped open; she let out a muffled shriek and he let go of her immediately. His gut twisted as she shrank back against the pillows, pulling her cardigan over her chest, looking at him with her eyes as big as saucers. Not quite afraid, but close.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He felt, unfairly, that he was constantly apologizing to her, often for things out of his control, simply to smooth the road over. But that was the price to be paid for this kind of life. “I- look, I heard you crying in your sleep, you were having a nightmare-,”

She was breathing hard; he worried he’d set something off, but gradually she calmed. She winced and palmed her belly; to his surprise, he could sense intuitively that the baby was moving, just from the look on her face. “I’m fine,” she said, thickly. It was clearly a cue for him to leave, but he didn’t.

“You said your stepfather’s name,” he said, watching her closely.

If she paled, he couldn’t tell, but she swallowed hard.

“Okay. People say weird things while dreaming, Bruce.”

“You were crying. You were telling him to stop-,”

“Oh, so I said stop, too?” Now she was sarcastic, acidic. He backed up a little more, to give her space. “Look at you, putting the pieces together-,” she winced again.

“Are you alright?”

“Your daughter’s sitting on my bladder.”

“I can help you to the-,”

“I don’t need your help!” she barked.

“Stacey,” he said, softly. “Did your… you’ve never had a good relationship with him. You’ve told me as much. Has he- was he ever… did he ever hurt you?” This was blunt and crude and not the way to do it, but he couldn’t- he had too many uncertainties in his life, and his wife sitting on a chest full of childhood trauma could not be another ticking timebomb in his field of vision.

“No,” she said, through her teeth. “Please leave me alone now. I’m tired.”

“Because if he- there are still things that can be done, even with the statute of limitations-,”

“Bruce, stop it.”

“-You don’t have to ever be around him again, I never want him around Dick again-,”

“Is that what this is about?” she closed her eyes. “That you think I- I misled you, and let your son be around some sort of child predator-,”

“Of course I’m not blaming you!” But he was, a little. If her stepfather had ever behaved inappropriately with her, and she’d hid it from him- but of course, it was he who had pushed to go to her mother’s for Thanksgiving-

“He’s not a child predator,” she snapped. “He’s not a predator, Bruce! A predator has to actually f*cking do something! He didn’t, okay? He didn’t. Touch. Me. I just thought he might, and I freaked out-,”

“What?” Bruce said it more harshly than he’d meant; he could tell she was on the verge of tears.

“I was eighteen,” she hissed. “I was eighteen- even if he had, that’s not- it’s not illegal, and nothing happened, you’re twisting everything-,”

“What the f*ck happened?” he demanded. “When you were eighteen-,”

“Nothing! I just said, nothing happened-,” she started to cry.

He’d seen her cry far too often, it seemed.

He let his shoulders relax, and waited a full moment, then sat down on the edge of the bed beside her. She did not push him away or scream for him to get out, though she had every right to.

“You don’t have to tell me,” he said. ‘Sorry’ seemed trite and pointless now. “You have every right to not tell me. It’s your… what happened to you is yours to decide how you… if you share it. No matter how old you were. I shouldn’t have pushed.”

She was silent for a very long time. Finally, she carefully turned herself around, so she was facing the opposite side of the bedroom, but let her shoulder brush against his.

“When I was eighteen,” she said, “it was my last year of high school- boarding school, I went to Saint Catherine’s in New Hampshire. You know loads of people who went there. Eleanor, for one.” Her tone soured, but then continued, more listless. “Anyways. I was already eighteen, like I said. I wasn’t a child.”

“You were still in high school, Stacey.”

“I knew- I wasn’t this naïve little girl, Bruce. I was fooling around and smoking and drinking-,”

“You might not have been a minor, but you were still a kid.”

“I guess,” she seemed to tremble a little, physically, as if she’d been waiting to hear that for a long time. “We always went away for the holidays. My stepmom had just bought this place in the Poconos. I was supposed to fly from Portsmouth into Philly. My mother and my little brother- he was like seven then- had been in Colorado for a ski trip, but their flight was held up. My stepfather had stayed behind in Gotham for work. He met me at the airport in Philadelphia, and we drove into the mountains together.”

She was quiet a while longer, after that.

“He was never- I’d never gotten any sort of… vibes from him,” she said. “I barely saw him, growing up. He was the one who thought I should go away to school. He certainly never tried to get me alone, or- or made any creepy comments. Nothing. I wasn’t afraid of him, Bruce. He annoyed me and I really hated him, some days, but I wasn’t- I wasn’t afraid.”

Until this trip, he thought.

“We were- well, we were arguing because I wanted to take my car back to school with me in the spring, but he and my mother thought I was too irresponsible, and I was a total bitch to him, basically. But he took it in stride, and… I guess he wore me down or I felt bad because we weren’t fighting by the time we got to the house. The weather was okay when we got there, but that night it was certain we were getting snowed in. It wasn’t an emergency- the power wasn’t out, we had food and water, but… anyways.”

She swallowed again, and he could feel her twisting her hands together in her lap. “And… the first day, it was fine. We did our own thing. He was mostly on the computer trying to check emails or- or taking calls from work, and I was reading, or on the phone talking to friends, complaining about how bored I was. Then later on, that night, um… basically he made himself a drink and I made some snide comment about how I guess he’d never let me have one, even though he and my mom knew I’d been drinking for a while by then. I was just trying to goad him but he was like, “Okay, have at it.” And he let me make myself one at the bar. And… I thought that was cool of him.”

“Did he get you drunk?” Bruce tried to ask this calmly, but it was difficult. There was a dull rushing noise in his ears, as if he were being held underwater. He was surprised by how much this affected him, how angry he felt. Not that he didn't care about her, but this was different, no one was holding them at gunpoint anymore.

“No,” said Stacey, fiercely. “I had one drink, he offered me more, I said no, he said okay. He wasn’t- he never got aggressive, he didn’t push it. But he was tipsy, yeah. And we talked a bit- about school, and my college plans, and stuff, and it was… almost nice. Because I’d always had this grudge with him, and I always thought he knew it, and just didn’t care, but he seemed almost sad I didn’t like him, and I started to feel bad. Like, he made my mother happy, and… I don’t know. I thought maybe this was a turning point. Now that I was basically a grown up. Maybe we could be okay with each other.”

“And then…” she trailed off, then said. “It just… you know, I could tell. His whole demeanor changed. He was… he was talking to me like I was an adult, and I liked it- nothing inappropriate, just, you know, not being patronizing, for once, and then… then I realized he was talking to me like an adult woman. Like a woman he… the way he talked to my mom. I… he never put his hands on me.”

“He just… you know, he never said anything direct, either, right, either because he was tipsy and thought he was being smooth, or because he thought if I told my mother, if it didn’t go well, then he could just say I’d misunderstood, that I was this drunk, hysterical teenager and I’d come onto him, or something, because I had daddy issues…” she trailed off and gave a watery chuckle.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Bruce said in a firm, low voice. “Nothing that happened was because of you. It was his choice.”

“Nothing happened! That’s the kicker, right? Because in the movies, or on TV, they like- there’s this struggle, or it goes to black and you hear the girl scream, or you see a lamp get knocked over… nothing happened. I’m not lying to you, or trying to cover up for him. But I thought something might, and I got uncomfortable, and I said I was tired and I went to bed and then I was listening to him in the house and I realized my bedroom door didn’t even have a f*cking lock. And he wasn’t passed out on the couch, he was up, and still drinking, and I…” she exhales.

“I packed some stuff in a backpack- like a few energy bars I had, my water bottle, a flashlight, extra socks- and I got dressed, put on snowpants and everything but my parka. And I climbed out a window. I wouldn’t fit with a big jacket on, so I put that on last, once I was on the ground outside. And I… I walked down the road, and I just kept walking until I got to the bottom of the part of the mountains we were in. I walked for two hours in the snow. A car passed once, but I hid. I was wearing all white. I thought maybe he’d realized I ran and was looking for me. I was overreacting.”

“Stacey…” He had no idea what to say. He was trying to picture her, eighteen years old, picking her way along icy roads in a snowstorm. “Did you even have a map?”

“I just kept going downhill. Eventually I got to a gas station, and I called a cab. I had my wallet and credit cards with me, and two hundred dollars in cash. I got a cab to a motel and spent the night and the next morning I called my boyfriend- he lived outside Scranton, it was only forty five minutes away, and told him I had this screaming meltdown fight with my stepdad and he needed to come get me before I got raped and murdered at this seedy motel.”

She turned back to Bruce then, just her head, and smiled sardonically, sadly. “And he came and got me and my mother called me about two hours later and said the police were out looking for me and that was a whole other issue.”

“What did your stepfather tell her?”

“The truth. That he’d let me have just one drink and I’d seemed fine and went to bed, and then when he checked on me in the morning, I was gone.”

“And you never…”

“What could I have said, Bruce?” She sounded so brittle and fragile. She blinked, hard, and he had the urge to cradle her face, not in a romantic sense, but a tender one, nonetheless, as she'd touched his face after the mugging, in that coaxing, reassuring manner. “What would I say? That I got some bad vibes off her husband? That he was tipsy? Oh no! He didn’t touch me. He didn’t call me any foul names. He didn’t threaten me. He never even directly propositioned me. He made a few coy comments and said I was beautiful and smart and that I must be so popular at school. Not exactly a crime.”

“He crossed a line-,”

“Maybe. But I wasn’t a minor. He’s only fourteen years older than me! He’s not even legally my father. He never adopted me. He offered, once, and my mother shut that down really fast.”

“Do you think she ever suspected-,”

“No,” said Stacey. “No. We have our problems, God knows, but she is not that woman. If she even got the slightest hint he was a danger to me, she would have left him. Immediately. She has never put me in harm’s way. I mean- not physically, ever. But- what was I going to do, blow up her marriage because I freaked out? There’s no case here. And he never- I mean, I’ve never been alone with him again, but he’s never even seemed to reference it…”

“What matters is how he made you feel,” Bruce got up and walked around the bed to face her. He wanted her to see how serious he was, that he was not just humoring his very pregnant and emotional wife. He got down on one knee. “He scared you, Anastasia. He scared you so badly you risked getting seriously hurt- even dying- because you knew you weren’t safe with him. That matters. That’s real. And I… if there is anything I can do, anything you need-,”

“I don’t need your pity,” she said coldly. She sounded like her mother, not that he'd ever dare say that aloud.

“Have you ever talked about it with anyone?”

She withered, slightly. “...Heather, sort of. I gave her… an abbreviated version. In college, we were both drunk one night. I’m not sure she even remembers me talking about it.”

“I’m here,” he said, and put a hand carefully on her knee. “If you ever need to. I- I know we’re not… close, but- I don’t take this lightly, and-,”

“It’s fine,” she said. “Part of me wanted to tell someone who… who doesn’t really know me that well. It feels… safer, that way.”

That stung, but it was true. “Still, I shouldn’t have demanded you unpack everything-,”

She yawned. “I have to pee.” She did sound exhausted. He stood up and helped her up as well.

“Don’t go,” she said, as she shuffled into her bathroom. “Okay? Can you not?”

That shocked him. He stood there, awkwardly waiting, until she returned. She did seem calm now. Almost… normal. He wondered if she felt some sort of release, or was just relieved to have that over and done with. He listened to her pee, and wash her hands, and then she shuffled back out.

“I want you to lie down,” she commanded. “And let me put my head on your chest and my leg over yours. You’re a good brace.”

This felt almost objectifying, but in a not unpleasant manner. He lay down, and she arranged herself around him, tossing and turning until she was comfortable. “Please rub my back,” she said. “Slowly. Don’t touch my ass.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he couldn’t help himself.

“Yeah, that’s not what I remember.”

And then she giggled tremulously, and he chuckled.

He thought she fell asleep quickly after that, and started to nod of himself, only for her to whisper, “Bruce?”


“If I asked you to hurt him, would you? Like you did to that boy?”

She seemed to cringe against him. He felt nauseous.

He’d stopped rubbing her back, but now he splayed his palm against her spine. “Yes.” He could feel the baby moving against his side. Prodding at his ribs.

“Okay. Don’t, though. Please don't hurt him.”


“Sorry,” she whispered.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he whispered back.

He fell asleep quickly after that.

He slept completely through his midnight alarm; when he woke, it was two in the morning. He cursed silently, and was trying to see how he could extricate himself without waking Stacey again, when she jolted up in bed.

“Woah-,” he reached for her, but she shook his hand off and scrambled off the mattress, then stumbled and yelped, bracing herself on the night stand.

To his horror, there was a trickling sound, and more than a little.

“That was my water breaking,” she said hoarsely as he sat up in bed, running a hand through his hair. She sounded mortified, as if he were about to accuse her of peeing on his hardwood floors.

“Okay,” he said, getting out of bed himself. “Okay- do you have a bag packed, or-,”

“Yes, by the dresser.” Her voice sounded increasingly strangled. “Oh, God, hurry up!”

He had no idea if she was talking to him or the baby, and didn’t plan to find out. He grabbed the bag, wishing he had shoes on, and dashed out into the hall, calling for Alfred.

Despite the continued snowy weather, there wasn’t more than an inch or two on the ground outside at the moment, and little to none on the streets of Gotham besides a thin sheen of slush on the pavement. Bruce hadn’t been back in the city as Bruce Wayne since New Year’s Eve, and couldn’t deny how tense he was when they reached the hospital parking lot. Alfred, perhaps anticipating this, had insisted on coming along, assuring Bruce that at nearly thirteen, Dick was old enough to stay home alone for an hour or two.

So when Bruce pulled up a private entrance they’d reserved months ago- Gotham’s wealthiest were not in the habit of being seen trudging through the public waiting rooms- Alfred insisted on taking the wheel, leaving Bruce to get out and hurry Stacey inside.

It got very blurry after that. Not because he was exhausted- he was used to operating on little to no sleep- but because the doctors were so calm and unaffected by what seemed to him and certainly to Stacey like a momentous occasion. They confirmed that her water had broken, and encouraged her to walk around the spacious hospital suite, or listen to music, or to take a bath.

“Isn’t she coming now?” Stacey demanded, fiddling with her patient bracelet. Bruce remembered she’d done the same with the last one.

“We’ll check on you every hour,” was the most common response. “You’re at five centimeters dilated now. We want at least six before we think about you pushing.”

Stacey took a shower, and cajoled Bruce several times to get her food, which he refused, reluctantly, because he’d been told she shouldn’t have anything but water or ice chips, since she was verging on active labor. The second time he reminded her of that, she looked close to hurling the cup full of ice chips at his head.

But by four in the morning, she was seven centimeters dilated, requested her epidural, and then the pushing started. By five, eight. By six, nine. And by seven o’clock in the morning, ten. Bruce had read about a dozen books on pregnancy in the last year and so none of this was shocking or unknown to him, but in the books it had seemed abstract and clinical, like his premed classes at Princeton. Something that happened in a distant place, to strangers. It was different when he was sitting there holding his wife’s hand.

He felt admiration for her, he realized, something he’d felt only a few times before. That wasn’t to say that he was usually embarrassed of Stacey, but he just didn’t- well, he supposed he wasn’t always around enough to have opportunities to feel pride or admiration in her as a person.

He complimented her at dinner parties and when others asked about her, he thought he was kind to her in private, whether he agreed with whatever she was doing or saying or not, but he’d rarely thought, “That’s my wife,” with that warm sensation in his chest. It was somewhat similar to when he’d realized he truly saw Dick as his own son, when he felt paternal pride in his successes and happiness, but different, of course.

Not that she was bearing labor with the patience and serenity of a martyr at the moment, but he didn’t feel as unnerved as he’d expected to, he didn’t feel like he was intruding or that this had all been some colossal mistake. It was just what was happening, and it was unpleasant, and hard, and he found her endurance admirable. She grunted and moaned, but rarely screamed, which was a relief to his nerves.

Shortly after eight o’clock in the morning, she gave birth to their daughter, who slid out silent and white into the waiting doctor’s gloved hands. Two raps to the back later, and the infant girl spluttered and began to wail, pinkening up at a rapid pace. Stacey was slumped up against the pillows, her short blonde hair a rumpled mess, her nails making white indents in Bruce’s hand. She let go of him now, and held out her arms.

“Elena,” she said, triumphantly, as they bundled the infant into her embrace.

Elena, Bruce thought, and reached out and trailed a finger across his daughter’s chubby back, before she was securely latched onto Stacey’s breast, sucking greedily.

He felt as though he spent the next two hours either on the phone or rushing in and out of the room to get things. Stacey’s mother arrived close to eleven o’clock, and despite Stacey’s insistence the night before that Jessica had no knowledge of her husband’s behavior… Bruce couldn’t help but feel his plastered on polite smile hardening into something more mulish and stony.

Fortunately, Jessica seemed too preoccupied with her daughter and granddaughter to notice, and for once put any barbed remarks to rest, instead focusing on Stacey’s comfort, mopping her bangs out of her eyes and offering to hold the baby while Stacey changed out of her stained and crumpled hospital gown and into fresh pajamas. Jessica left by noon, and then Heather arrived, though only briefly. Unlike Jessica she didn’t coo as much over Elena, and listened to Stacey dryly recollect her delivery with wide eyes, occasionally shooting Bruce little looks he couldn’t quite read.

Heather left around the time Alfred arrived with Dick. By now it was two in the afternoon, and a bright and sunny but crisply cold winter’s day had arrived outside. To Bruce’s pleasant surprise, snowflakes were flurrying past the large windows overlooking the harbor, and Gotham seemed almost clean and tranquil for once. It helped that he couldn’t hear the sounds of traffic from this far up.

Dick hovered near the door awkwardly for a while, clearly uncomfortable with being around a bed-bound Stacey and an occasionally whimpery infant, but finally came over of his own accord and at least poked the baby’s feet.

“Elena Martha,” he read aloud off the name tag that had been clipped onto the bassinet. “So her initials will be EMW?”

“EMBW,” Stacey corrected, tiredly. “Elena Martha Belgrave Wayne.”

“I hope you’re not monogramming much stuff,” Dick snarked, and Stacey laughed, then winced, a hand hovering around her middle.

“You should take a nap,” said Bruce, moving to close the blinds. “Neither of us got much sleep last night.”

“So should you,” she retorted, but didn’t protest as he ushered Dick out.

“I know this is going to be a big adjustment,” Bruce told him, as they stood in the hall outside the suite. “But… look, I don’t want you to feel pressured to be involved in… anything, alright? Stacey and I are both adults and we can take care of Elena. And Alfred will too, of course.”

“Obviously,” Dick scowled.

Bruce exhaled. “I know sometimes you feel… responsible for other people, Dick. And I hope you will come to love Elena like your sister. Because she’ll need her brother. But I also want you to know that you’re still my son, and you’re still a kid. This isn’t going to change anything.”

Dick looked at him skeptically, but not angrily, then slid his hands into his school sweatshirt pockets. “Okay. I’m gonna go home and play video games and eat junk food now.”

“That’s my boy,” Bruce rolled his eyes, then pulled out his phone- his ‘work’ phone, which was buzzing. His chest tightened a little when he recognized the caller ID. He found a deserted stairwell, went all the way to the bottom, near an emergency exit he could use to slip out onto the parking garage roof, if need be, and answered.

“What is it?”

“And here I thought bats slept during the day,” Selina drawled, then cut to the chase. “Out of the goodness of my heart, I did a little digging on our mutual friend Allison.”


“Patience, my dear man. I know you’ve been to her place- but unlike you, I also know that us thieves tend to keep a few hidey holes, just in case things go south.”

He tensed. “You found her?”

“No,” she said. “But I’ve found a few things of her you might be interested in. I’ll text you an address later. I wouldn’t waste much time. If I could find it, well… I don’t like to sell myself short, honey, but I’m not the only one who might have gotten curious.”

“What sort of things?” he pushed, almost a growl.

“Ooh, someone’s all hot and bothered already. I knew this was the right call. Get it?” She had a husky laugh, then continued. “”Oh, you know, this and that. But I could swear I’ve seen some of this tech before. In fact, it reminds me of another friend of yours… he’d want me to make you guess.”

“Riddler,” Bruce snarled. So his first instincts had been right all along.

“Buh-bye, Bats! Remember, I do you a good turn, you do me one!” She hung up, probably far too pleased with herself.

But he couldn’t resent her for that. She’d just given him a leg-up. Stuffing his phone back into his pocket, he started climbing the stairs, mind racing far ahead of him, up into the shadows above.


Some Notes:

1. Well, at least Bruce figured out how to set a simple alarm on his phone.

2. Obviously it would melt anyone's brain to figure out Batman's actual schedule. He can't possibly be out patrolling the streets literally every night, and even alternating nights and days would be unfeasible. So there must be some sort of complex rotating schedule worked out here lol. Especially in this scenario, where there is not yet an extended dysfunctional family of teenaged and young adult vigilantes to pass the torch too whenever Bruce is too beat up, tired, or otherwise preoccupied to go on patrol.

3. I think Bruce is self aware enough and intelligent enough to admit that after six years as Batman, a lot of his crime-fighting work has been to the benefit of the middle and upper classes - ie. making them feel safe and comfortable enough to not abandon the city entirely, rather than to the benefit of the working classes and the poor, who are facing structural inequities that a single vigilante is not going to fix. Whether a single 'benevolent' mega-corporation like Wayne Industries is the solution to these inequities is an entirely separate discussion.

4. While the most logical thing to do would have been for Batman to immediately track down this kid and find out who sent him, Bruce also knew that if he did that, there was a good chance he would lose himself completely and seriously harm or even kill the young would be-mugger. Bruce is also smart enough to know that this sort of set-up is truly not Riddler's style- way too crude for Nygma to be sending some random teenager with a gun after the Waynes.

5. I'm sorry I just can't see Bruce as a dog person. Imagine how many dogs have attacked Batman lmao.

6. Stacey and Bruce might have an emotionally constipated and unbelievably rocky marriage at the moment, but at least they're on the same page about not having more (biological) children!

7. While Stacey constantly minimizes her experience with "He didn't touch me" and "I overreacted" and "I was a party girl, not an innocent virginal teen", that doesn't make what happened any less wrong or traumatic. No stepparent should be behaving that way around their stepchild, no matter how old the stepchild is or if they've been drinking. It's been seven years and this still haunts Stacey. She felt unsafe to the extent where she risked going outside at night in a snowstorm just to get away from that situation.

Chapter 9


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Stacey didn’t have to worry about inadvertently sleeping in on the morning of her daughter’s christening into the Russian Orthodox Church, because she’d been up since three AM with Elena anyways. Her mother had always warned her that a fairly simple and straightforward pregnancy and delivery guaranteed a fussy baby, and she’d been right, as if some divine karma was playing out.

For all that Jessica made it out as though Stacey had been hellspawn from the moment she could talk - spoilt, defiant, and demanding - her mother had always proudly noted what a calm and happy baby Stacey had been, after a brutal pregnancy and emergency C-section. “All my pain and suffering was worth it,” she’d say, fondly stroking Stacey’s hair.

“Because you were a little angel from the moment they placed you in my arms, lapochka. You always took a bottle and went right to sleep, and you were always such a smiley, giggly girl. Your father used to show you off in front of everyone- you never cried, even when strangers held you!”

She’d made it sound like Stacey had been passed around some board room full of 80s-era businessmen with combovers puffing on cigars, grunting, “That’s a damn good baby, Leo! Look how calm the little tyke is!”

Much as Stacey had bemoaned her pregnancy to anyone who’d listen- the swollen hands and feet, the flushed and sweaty skin, the back pain- aside from the aneurysm, it had been a fairly easy and laidback one. So it seemed fitting, if miserably so, that her daughter had turned into a hellion by three weeks after birth.

Stacey had been warned an infant would wake every two to four hours to feed, but Elena woke up every hour on the dot, shrieking her head off. 24 ounces of breast-milk a day. Well, 12 ounces, because at this point Stacey wasn’t producing enough to securely feed Elena, so they had to go halfsies with the formula.

Thus far she didn’t feel guilty about it- and why should she, she indignantly thought, it was her body and she didn’t have to breastfeed if she didn’t want to- but it did feel a bit pathetic and lackluster. So much for the serene, perfect image of the glowing mother cradling her happily gurgling infant in her arms. Stacey didn’t feel any halo of euphoria hovering around her. Most of the time she felt like she was fritzing out with static electricity, liable to blow up at any moment.

And it wasn’t as if she didn’t have cause. She hadn’t grown up with a large extended family of young cousins to see as infants. She’d barely been around her own brother as a baby, being off at boarding school. She’d never babysat a day in her life, and none of her friends had small children. For God’s sake, she was only twenty six, and most people- especially rich young women in Gotham- didn’t feel duty bound to pop out three kids by age thirty anymore. It wasn’t as if she had all these fine examples of newborn parenting to look to.

Turning to her own mother for advice would have drove her to drink, and she couldn’t even do that while halfheartedly breastfeeding. And no amount of condescending maternal lectures could have prepared her for the amount of puke and sh*t an infant produced. Or the fevers. Over the last three weeks Elena had run what seemed like dangerously high fevers twice, each prompting frantic calls to the pediatrician, only to be reassured that actually, Stacey was a hypochondriac, and 100.3 was nothing to worry about.

And even if it hadn’t been the middle of winter, good luck with going out anywhere- she was supposed to avoid crowds with a newborn for the first month, she was supposed to not let people touch the baby unless she’d seen them wash their hands and was reasonable sure they weren’t sick, and she was supposed to be constantly wiping the baby down like a f*cking countertop.

She was only supposed to let the baby nap for three hours a day, never mind if Stacey was exhausted after running on very little sleep and just wanted some peace and quiet to mindlessly watch television or read a book.

On top of all that, she was very aware that at three weeks postpartum, the chances of getting back the body she’d had before getting pregnant was slim, unless she was prepared to immediately undertake a rigorous exercise and diet regime. She didn’t want to exercise beyond pacing around the nursery and up and down the stairs, a wailing infant in her arms, and she certainly didn’t want to f*cking count her calories when every meal was interrupted with a diaper blow out or more tears and snot and puke.

She’d never boasted defined abs before, but she’d been in good shape- reasonably fit, any doctor would say- and she’d been, well, hot. Sexy. She was attractive. Even while pregnant, when she often felt like sh*t, she still knew she was attractive to most people.

She got looks, smiles, deference. People liked to look at her, at her face, at her breasts, her ass, the way she walked and danced. They matched her smiles and nods and openly admired her hair and makeup. Even when she was eight months pregnant, they looked at her outfits with approval and expressed disbelief at the shoes and jewelry she squeezed on. That wasn't to say she looked forward to or happily tolerated leers and gropes and lewd comments, but she'd be lying through her teeth if she said she hadn't learned at a relatively young age what an ego boost attention was.

Yes, it was vain and arrogant. Yes, she was a self-loathing fake feminist who’d bought hook line and sinker into the male gaze, who’d decided to cash in her self respect for flattery and material goods. Not that she needed any man to spoil her when she was fully capable of spoiling herself, but that was besides the point.

She was proud of the way she looked. She was proud of being beautiful and alluring. She was proud of the adulation from both men and women. Not that she always was- certainly not when she was sick to her stomach or hungover or taking a sh*t- but mostly, from the age of sixteen or seventeen, she’d always known she was beautiful. Always been assured she would remain so.

That wasn’t the case anymore. She still looked sort of pregnant. She still felt sort of pregnant. She was still bleeding. No one had warned her about the fact that she would be bleeding for up to six weeks after pushing a kid out. She didn’t feel as sore as she had the first week or two, but the thought of sex made her sick to her stomach.

Not that she particularly wanted to have it right now, with Bruce or anyone else- and she was starting to realize how stupid this ‘we can both see other people’ rule was.

As if it could ever be applied equally. Bruce could pick someone up any night and have fun. Not that she thought he was doing that right now, but still. What the hell was she going to be doing, six months from now? Going out to the club with a baby monitor in hand? Going back to some guy’s apartment and realizing she was leaking breast milk and smelt like diapers? It was absurd. She’d been so naïve and stupid. Even after Elena was older, even once she felt comfortable leaving her daughter in the care of Bruce or Alfred- it would never be the same.

She would never have the same amount of freedom again. And if the paps found out, they’d have a field day with it. People might chide and sigh if a man like Bruce was exposed with a girlfriend while his wife stayed at home caring for their infant, but that was normal, expected, certainly for a man of his status. If it became public knowledge she was fooling around with some boytoy while her husband’s butler gave her baby a bottle? They’d want her head on a spike.

And here she was, wrestling her three week old into her christening gown while Bruce showered and shaved and more or less got ready like it was any other day. It wasn’t that he was a bad father. That would almost have been a relief, horrible as it sounded. If he’d been disinterested or just mediocre with infants she’d have felt justified and proud- no matter how hard it was or how much she hated it, at least she was putting in the work! No one could call her a bad mother!

Instead, Bruce adored Elena. He had a natural ease with her. She settled faster with him. He was calm, put together, and unruffled by bodily fluids and loud screams. He was a good father. Stacey was the one snapping and sulking and pushing him away, insisting she could do it. He’d try to take Elena from her last night- well, this morning- and Stacey had insisted she’d finally gotten Elena back to sleep. Ten minutes later, Elena was shrieking again.

The worst part of it was that Bruce had now seemed to accept, with the patience and reserve of a saint, that he had three children. His twelve year old son, his infant daughter, and his hysterical, strung-out wife, who hadn’t properly washed her hair in days and who refused to come down to dinner half the time because she was afraid she’d fall asleep on her plate.

After the first week, he no longer tried to reason or argue with Stacey. He didn’t lecture or snap at her to get ahold of herself. He treated her like a mildly troublesome roadblock who would have to be deftly maneuvered around so the household could still function properly.

Case in point, he now strode into the nursery, hair still damp, dress shirt half buttoned, smelling of the kind of cologne that had driven her mad the first time she’d crawled tipsily into his lap at that club where they’d met. “There she is,” he said warmly, brushing past Stacey to scoop up the fussing Elena. “Look at you, your sleeves are all crooked.”

Stacey stood there, rigid, staring at the cheerful mural of an idyllic forest scene behind the crib.

“Aren’t you going to get ready?” Bruce asked with, with careful casualness, after a few moments. Elena was cooing happily as he slid on her lacy white socks. “We need to be at the church by ten, right?”

She muttered an assent and stalked out like an angry teenager. He’d been great during her delivery. No grudges there. He’d doted on her in the hospital, as if to make up for lost time. He’d carried Elena over the threshold and into the house, after fussing over the car seat the entire ride home. She’d found him asleep in the nursery more times than she could count. His sudden disappearances were limited. He’d never left Stacey alone with a crying baby or refused to change a diaper or clean up spit-up.

She had no rightful reason to be so angry with him. He was an amazing father and a decent husband. This wasn’t a romantic relationship and while she knew he could be affectionate, he wasn’t going to lie down with her and rub her back when their focus should be their child now. She’d worried he’d treat her like a some delicate broken bird after she’d told him about what had happened in the Poconos, but he acted as if he’d never heard about it at all. Sometimes she wondered if he’d repressed the memory.

But what she understood now was that while he was obviously fond of her- when she was acting like a normal, functioning human woman who could flirt and tease and make conversation about intelligent, grown-up things that didn’t concern infants- he didn’t really care how they functioned as parents so long as Elena was provided for. That was to say, Elena had a father. And a mother. Not a mother-and-father. They weren’t a couple. This wasn’t a team sport. They were competing for each other against the highest score. No hard feelings, of course, but it was still a solo endeavor.

Her hair grew fast- it framed her cheeks now in a spunky pageboy cut. It wasn’t really her style, but it was better than buzzed. She put on an ivory, preppy dress meant to mimic a fitted trench coat- and draw away attention from her still visible bump- and her most conservative pearls, because she was going to be in a church for the first time in a decade. At least her boobs looked perky, she thought critically, and the flared skirt showed off her legs nicely, though it came down to her mid-calves. Her ankle boots were heeled, but barely.

With a full face of makeup on, she thought she seemed tired, but presentable, and she put on a smile when she came downstairs. Elena was already in her carrier, playing with the mobile, Dick was playing a game on his phone, and Bruce was checking the time. “You look great,” he said to her, as he put his phone back in his pocket.

“Thanks,” she said, and moved to pick up the carrier, but he already had it in hand, pulling open the door for her and Dick. Alfred had already gotten the car idling in the drive. An SUV, this time, rather than the Buick, which wasn’t very infant friendly. Stacey dug her nails into her palms as she walked down the steps, the wind whipping at her fur coat, and fumbled in her purse for her sunglasses. It was a cold and brightly sunny February morning.

The First Russian Orthodox Church of Gotham had been established in 1909. In a city brimming with statuesque Gothic cathedrals, its greened copper domes and red bricks stood out. Stacey had never regularly attended services as a child, besides for the holidays with her grandparents, but she remembered believing it was a giant gingerbread house, or an escaped snow globe interior as a little girl. It was charming, she supposed, still, even if she wasn’t a religious person.

Truthfully, she didn’t think her mother was a religious person either, but it was tradition and it was what her grandmother would have wanted, and Stacey could hardly name Elena after her grandmother and then spite her memory by raising the child godless. Or something like that. Bruce was not devout in any faith; his father Thomas had been nominally Episcopalian like most of Gotham’s upper crust (besides a few Lutherans), and the Kanes were secular Jews. He’d been baptized in an Episcopalian church and then never set foot in one again.

Stacey didn’t feel too aggrieved about any of this; yes, it was mostly about appearances, and Tradition, and keeping up a social itinerary. She wasn’t throwing a massive party for her three week old- they were having a small reception in the church hall, which some would find laughably quaint, but it was what it was.

For once she was too worn out and tired to care much about the menu, table decorations, or music. Three hours, and then she could change out of these pantyhose and tight shoes and crawl into a bath.

“Stacey,” Dick said, for the tenth time, as they pulled into the church lot. “I can hold her after the ceremony, right? In the pictures?”

‘What?” It sounded more flat than she would have liked; Bruce frowned at her in the rearview mirror. Stacey bit her lip, then looked back at Dick, smiling. “You want to hold Elena in the pictures?”

“Ellie, yeah.”

Bruce sighed.

“Elena,” Stacey corrected.

“Ellie is easier to say.”

“Dick, you speak mostly fluent Spanish and French, I find it hard to believe you find Elena too difficult-,”

“I just think she looks like an Ellie,” Dick was taking another picture of the infant to send to his friends. His insistence on nicknaming her daughter already might annoy Stacey, but she could hardly complain otherwise. Dick clearly adored the baby and had yet to utter an even remotely critical word about having to live with a shrieking infant. Granted, living in a mansion meant he didn’t have to worry about being sleep deprived because of it, but still.

‘Whatever,” she said, then, “Of course you can hold her in the pictures. Just support the head, okay?”

“Okay.” Dick was playing with Elena’s small booted feet again, kicking them up and down while she gurgled at him.

Her mother, stepfather, and brother met them at the doors of the church. To Stacey’s surprise, it was Roman who scolded them for almost being late, not her mother, who seemed mostly relieved Stacey hadn’t changed her mind at the last minute. She hadn’t expected Roman to care about any of this; he’d never struck her as remotely religious and no one could seriously argue that her fourteen year old antisocial brother cared about public appearances.

All the same, he and Dick traded glowers as Dick all but positioned himself in between Roman and the baby carrier again and again, like one of those videos of a German Shepard guarding a small child playing alone. Bruce, to his credit, kept his usual affable composure and didn’t telegraph any hostility through his tone or body language towards Jessica or her husband. All the same, Stacey’s stepfather was not an unperceptive man, and Stacey thought she detected a wary shift in his demeanor; he didn’t try to joke around with Bruce, or shake his hand.

The church service was as short as could reasonably be done without it looking rushed and tacky. Stacey had somewhat awkwardly named her mother and brother as Elena’s godparents; it was just a religious title, after all, and meant nothing outside of this building. She certainly wouldn’t name her mother and a literal teenager as her daughter’s guardians in the event of her death or impairment.

Bruce was Elena’s father, in every sense of the word, and should something happen to both Stacey and him- she thought of that snowy night in the theater district and her stomach churned- Alfred was listed as the next of kin in the will. Should Alfred also be out of the picture, Bruce had an uncle, Jacob, though he was frequently out of the country on deployments. Stacey also had two cousins from her father’s side, both normal, well rounded adults with stable jobs and happy families. Who didn’t happen to live in Gotham.

Stacey had been expecting Elena to be fully submerged in the baptismal font- no tepid sprinkling across the infant’s brow here- but Bruce hadn’t, and she had to grab his wrist with a manicured death-grip to prevent him from snatching their daughter back from the priest when she came back up sputtering and sopping wet. Not that Bruce couldn’t have easily shaken Stacey off and lunged across the font anyways, but he restrained himself with the knowledge that Elena was crying, which meant she was breathing and alert.

The reception was very subdued; they were hardly going to have ballroom dancing and a live band for a baptism, but Stacey was surprised by how many people showed up. A good seventy, by her count. Of course it was minuscule compared to their wedding guest list, but Eleanor was there, fussing over her small sons who kept attacking the chocolate fondue fountain before passing them off on her assistant. Tommy Elliot dropped in, making the rounds of the room like he was planning on running for office in the near future.

In that vein, the assistant District Attorney stopped by as well, Jordan in tow. Jordan seemed a bit lost without Heather, who was visiting family in Toronto for Chinese New Year. Truthfully, Stacey felt a bit lost without Heather too; she could have used her dry comments and jokes at the moment, to lighten the tension she felt bearing down on her spine.

Dick had held Elena for all the photos, as promised, and even wanted to hold her more than he seemed to want to eat his meal, but his usual preteen self came skulking back when Jim Gordon arrived with his carroty-haired daughter in tow, and he deposited Elena back in Bruce’s arms to go talk to his friend.

As if on cue from this sudden jostling, Elena started to spit up, and while Stacey was secretly, spitefully thrilled that for once it was happening on Bruce’s watch, and on his silk dress shirt, she couldn’t just sit there innocently eating cake while her ‘doting husband’ tended to their squalling infant. She could imagine the story Eleanor would be printing about that next month. A real Marie Antoinette moment.

She followed Bruce out when he took Stacey into the coat room to change her into yet another new onesie, ignoring his insistence that he could do it by himself and that she should enjoy her food.

“You need to take it off from the top down,” she pointed out, relieved to be the one correcting and nitpicking for once, as Bruce sighed upon seeing the diaper as well. “Oh my God, she’s totally covered in it. I guess all that water really loosened things up-,”

Had she made this snide comment at home, she thought there was a decent chance Bruce would have laughed; it was pretty funny, even if not necessarily kindly meant. Now, for the first time, she saw a crack in his calm composure as he extricated yet another wet wipe from the bag. “I can think of a dozen things you could be doing right now,” he said, grimacing slightly as he tossed the dirty diaper into the bin, “isn’t there a mirror somewhere around here you should be preening in?”

And had he made that snide comment at home, before she gave birth, she would have taken it lightly, and laughed it off, too. Instead, it hit her like a tidal wave of indignation and outrage- the insinuation that she didn’t care, that she was an irresponsible, miserable mother better suited to checking her lipstick and mascara than taking care of their child, that she wasn’t worth much else than her, to be frank, somewhat faded good looks-

Had he meant it specifically that way, of course not, but it felt like he had, and what was more, there was no moment of regret or hesitation, because he genuinely didn’t care, he was so involved in changing the diaper and getting Elena into the new set of clothes.

“f*ck you,” said Stacey, so quietly she wasn’t even sure he heard her retort, but then she saw him stiffen from behind, and knew he had. They’d said some cold, petty things to one another over the past six months or so, but she’d never told him to go f*ck himself with such blunt simplicity.

He finished changing Elena, who was not happily burbling again, and said, without turning around, “Don’t worry, I certainly don’t go to you for that anymore.”

Again, had it been any other silly spat, a heat of the moment comment designed to prick, she wouldn’t have thought anything of it. In this moment, she stood there, stiff and still, then went and done as he’d suggested- she found a mirror in the corner to fix her hair and makeup in.

Seeing her haggard reflection, she was disgusted. She was disgusted with his disgust. She saw herself now the way she imagined her mother must, the way she thought he was beginning to, too.

Cheap and tacky and contrived; a woman in her mid twenties who wore too much makeup and sometimes still styled her hair like she was a perky eighteen year old. She didn’t look like anyone’s mother or wife. She looked like the slu*tty, stupid second wife you saw in romantic comedies, the one prized by the despicable deadbeat ex-husband who’d left his brilliant, devoted partner for someone younger and shallower.

Though, at least those characters were actually wanted in some sense. She wasn’t really necessary anymore. Bruce had realized that by now and soon Dick would as well. She’d been a vessel to convey Elena to them. Now she paled in contrast to an innocent, perfect creation. She tried to envision divorce proceedings. Bruce’s lawyers would have a field day.

A litany of scantily clad pictures of her- posted by herself and numerous ex-boyfriends and friends- would parade across the courtroom. They’d drag up horrendous posts from when she was a teenager. Bruce would probably have an itemized list of every inappropriate, overly emotional comment she’d ever made to him. Her complete and total disinterest in her newborn daughter would be brought up, again and again.

Worst of all, she felt no real heartwrenching terror from this fictional scenario playing out in her head- no humane fear of losing her daughter- just emptiness and dread. She stood there, surrounded by the coats. A phone was buzzing somewhere. She realized it was coming from hers, but then realized that couldn’t be right, because her purse was in the function hall at her seat. It had to be Bruce’s.

She stuck her hand into his coat pocket and pulled it out, but didn’t recognize the cell phone at all. It had to be a work phone, she realized, a few moments later. She vaguely remembered Alfred mentioning him having one. A contact labeled only SK was calling him. She couldn’t answer it without unlocking the phone, so she let it go to voicemail instead, standing there, the phone in her hand. She’d meant to bring it right out to him, but she couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She just didn’t want to.

SK didn’t leave a voicemail, they left a text message instead. This she briefly saw as it flashed across the screen.

We can meet tonight to discuss. I’m not just giving this up for free-

That was all she saw before the notification vanished.

Stacey stared at the phone in her hand for a moment longer, a sour taste in her mouth. She was slipping it back into Bruce’s coat pocket when someone entered the coat room.

“I was just on my way out,” Tom Elliot seemed almost sheepish; he skirted along the far side of the room, as if wary of approaching her directly.

She wondered if he still felt badly about insinuating that her marriage was a farce and that her husband would inevitably mistreat her and take advantage of her. She wondered if she still felt this was a ridiculous claim. Granted, she was no angel in this herself, and for a moment, she could hear her stepfather’s voice quite calmly remark that she never had been.

You always did like to play the victim, Annie.

“You’re going so soon?” she finally asked, as he put his coat on.

“Well, my shift starts in an hour, so… a good doctor never sleeps.”

“But you slept before my surgery, right?”

“Of course,” he said, too smoothly, then seemed about to laugh at the look on her face. “Your surgery was a masterpiece. These hands didn’t shake but once.” He held them up as if to show her. He still kept his distance, though, so she came up to him, boldly.

“There’s that co*cky surgeon trope we hear so much about.”

“You’re right, religion brings out the worst in me. But you have a beautiful little daughter. You and Bruce should be very proud.” He sounded genuine there, at least.

“I am,” said Stacey. “I was surprised you didn’t drop by in the hospital.”

His smile faded slightly. “That would have been wildly unprofessional. I- I should apologize, again, for coming to see you like that, back in December. That was… regardless of my misgivings, it was inappropriate, and unwelcome-,”

“You’re on the board for Wayne Industries,” she interrupted him. “Who’s SK?”

“What?” he seemed baffled.

“Isn’t there someone named SK? Like, working for the company, or on the board-,”

“I’m sure there’s someone with those initials employed there, but your husband has thousands of employees, I really don’t know-,”

“Well, they want to talk to him,” she said, and knew she shouldn’t have said it, but it was too late, she had. “They just called his work phone.”

“Ah,” he said. “My father had a ‘work phone’, too. A burner, really.” Then he winced. “Not that I think-,”

“That you think what?” she goaded. She had the heady sensation that she was standing on the edge of a cliff, and was now convincing Tommy Elliot to step up beside her, so they could peer over the edge together.

“Well, my father had a second phone so he could meet up with women. I’m sure that’s not the case with Bruce.”

“You and he go way back, so why don’t you tell me?”

For the first time he seemed annoyed, not just unsettled or piqued. “Come on, Stacey,” Tommy said, almost bitterly. “You know his reputation as well as I do. Let’s be realistic here. I’m sure you two discussed this before the big day, what to expect from one another-,”

In fact, they had. It had all been very egalitarian and progressive. “Well, saying we’ll leave a window open is one thing. It’s another to know who’s been climbing through it-,”

“The playboy bachelor lifestyle was never for me,” Tom says irritably. “My last serious girlfriend was in med school. So I really couldn’t tell you who he has or hasn’t been seeing, Anastasia-,”

“But he is seeing someone. In your opinion.”

He looked at her pityingly, and she knew then how pathetic and crude she sounded. She was cornering a friendly acquaintance as if he knew all her husband’s secrets. Why didn’t she go ahead and ask Tommy Elliot if he’d ever known Bruce to be accident prone? Or capable of pummeling someone into the ground? Or evasive, disappearing at all hours of the day only to turn up much later, perhaps with a mysterious bruise or two?

There was acting the fool, as her grandfather used to say, and then there was being the fool. Best the former and not the latter.

“I really do need to go,” he said, and stepped around her.

She stayed where she was, resisting the urge to get that phone back from Bruce’s coat, hack his password, and read every single message between him and this SK.

A hand settled on her shoulder. She turned back around, and Tommy Elliot cupped her cheek with one large hand, then kissed her on the forehead. It felt almost paternal. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wish there was something I could do, but I don’t know how or what would fix this. I’m very sorry if he isn’t the man you thought he was.”

I don’t even know what man he ever was, Stacey thought. She’d met too many different versions of Bruce to ever be quite sure. He was charming and playful, he was cold and sarcastic, he was protective and dedicated. She did not love him but she’d be damned if she didn’t want to nail him down.

How could you even begin to sort out your feelings for something you’d never truly examined from all angles? He was lying to her, she knew, and had always known, whether directly or through omission. All the time, he was lying to her, either to spare her feelings or to protect her from some hard truth or to coddle his own pride.

She looked up at Tommy Elliot, then tilted her chin up and kissed him on the mouth. He was warm and receptive and kissed the way one of her old high school boyfriends had, very tentatively but with the sense that he was holding a lot back, as if afraid he might scare her off if he unleashed it.

She could say a lot about Bruce but he never held back a kiss or touch. He did not treat her as though she were fragile or delicate and he did not go to great lengths to disguise what he liked and how he liked it.

She broke it off. Tom looked at her carefully, as if recalculating something in his head. She could tell she’d shocked him. “If you need anything, give me a call,” he said, and left. She did not even remember ever taking his personal number but she supposed it was in her phone somewhere, from some text thread or group chat from years ago.

Bruce was not pleased that he’d spent the last three weeks essentially being extorted for a trail of breadcrumbs leading him to the Riddler, but he’d learned long ago that as fond as Selina was of him, nothing came free.

Nothing came cheap, either. Catwoman might not know his identity but she knew Batman had access to the sort of money that bought all sorts of gadgets and suits and weapons, and she had no qualms about seeing that money put into her own pocket before she handed over any kind of valuable information, regardless of whether or not lives were at stake.

The alternative, of course, would be to refuse to play ball and to instead physically force the information out of her, but he’d also learned long ago that while he was much stronger than Selina and could inflict much more damage on her than she could on him, she never let him walk away without a scar.

The first time they’d thought- a violent sort of consummation, after weeks of toying with one another, edging around it- he’d broken her nose and several ribs. He could tell from the way she hobbled away from the fight- and as she hobbled, flung a knife at him that sliced open his forearm he’d raised to block his face.

Later, when the adrenaline had worn off, he’d realized she’d knocked out one of his teeth, split both his lips, left small but painful cuts all over his body, and broken three of his toes with a single vicious stomp of her booted foot. Two of the cuts had been infected, as if he’d tussled with an actual cat.

He’d apologized, once, for breaking her nose- that seemed particularly unchivalrous, which was silly, since the ribs could have punctured a lung and killed her- and she’d been almost violently angry with him for it.

“Now,” she’d said, examining her steel-tipped ‘nails’, “you’re really starting to piss me off, babe. Come on now. Are we playing dress up so we can slap each other around and flirt, or did you mean what you did? Don’t f*cking lie to me.” That last bit had not been a crooned remark, but a furious threat.

Selina would always run rather than fight- unless something she valued more than her safety was on the line- but she hated more than anything not to be taken seriously. Bruce apologizing for hurting her was more offensive than hurting her in the first place, because it meant he hadn’t seen their fight as a fight at all, but as a mistake, the way an abusive father might claim his blows and insults had been ‘a mistake’.

Either way, he didn’t particularly enjoy breaking someone half his size’s ribs, so it was easier to just pay her off when she had information he wanted- so long as it wasn’t a frequent occurrence.

“You hit the jackpot tonight,” she told him, and pressed a slip of paper with a phone number into his hand. “Weren’t you getting all tuckered out from running around Gotham following clues? I just got you a direct line.”

Bruce actually enjoyed following clues, but this enjoyment was tempered by the fact that his family’s lives could be at stake, and so he wasn’t going to complain that Riddler had been gratified enough by seeing him put the work in, decoding this and that, scaling that building, researching whatever vague historical reference- and had decided Bruce had done enough to be granted a brief chat.

He waited until he was sure she was gone, then broke into the Gotham Public Library after hours to use their phone. Moonlight filtered through the green-glass windows of the mausoleum-esque building, which felt and sounded like a tomb in the dead of the night. He wasn’t reckless enough to call Riddler himself, even with his work number. God knew what he could do with that alone.

Riddler picked up on the fourth pitchy ring. Bruce had spoken to him over the phone before, and in person- briefly. He had the warm, jovial voice of a game show host, tempered by just enough brittle, perverse pleasure underneath it all to be unsettling. Like honey laced with arsenic.

“I’m honored you saw fit to approach our mutual friend for this line,” he said. “How surprisingly civilized of you, Batman. And here I thought you much preferred stalking me across Gotham, injuring my employees, and breaking down my door at all hours.”

“We’ve tried that before,” Bruce said flatly.

“Yes, aspiring to a lighter touch lately, aren’t we? This is a thrilling turn for you. You’re making such progress! You know, when I heard Batman had let that poor child go- after Bruce Wayne cleared out his dental records, of course-,”

“Did you send that boy after the Waynes?” Bruce cut him off.

Riddler scoffed in disgust. “Did I- oh, I hope you’re joking. You have to, Batman. Because you couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to think I’d contrive such a dull, spiritless scheme-,”

“But you know who did,” Bruce was already moving to plan B. Riddler’s reaction had seemed genuine. He’d never not passed up the chance to proudly own a crime, no matter how heinous (or pointless). He’d brag about tripping a toddler on a tricycle, never mind attempted murder. “You’re working with someone, is that it? You helped them bug Bruce Wayne’s office, and you know they sent a mugger after him and his family. Why?”

“Why? Well, because they paid me, of course. I do have to eat. A ravenous mind requires nourishing, you know. I assume you ingest protein shakes by the pound, but some of us like to sit down, put our feet up, and enjoy a little good old fashioned home cooking from time to time-,”

“I really don’t care what you eat for dinner, Riddler. Tell me who you’re working with. You clearly don’t have a very high opinion of them.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Creative differences aside, I can respect drive and passion when I see it. Our interests simply don’t overlap much, but who was I to deny such a generous business venture? My tech, infiltrating WayneCo? It was too good to pass up. The rest, though… A pity, what happened to Ms. Rossetti and her friend. But unlike our darling Selina, they simply didn’t have the people skills for this lifestyle. You have to know what lies behind a man’s smile.”

“So it’s a man.”

“Oh, did I say too much?” Riddler yawned. “Dear God, what hours are you keeping? It’s four AM, Batman. This is a bit late, even for you. Troubles on the home front? You know I like to imagine you live a quite sad and pathetically normal life. Perhaps we’ve even run into one another on the street. You, a slovenly, horribly mundane office worker- perhaps an accountant, that would suit you-, and me-,”

“Tell me his name.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly. It’d be quite bad for business- who’s going to work with a man who’d sell them out after a little sweet talking over the telephone? You haven’t even had the decency to take me out to see the sights first.”

“That can be arranged,” said Bruce, who was starting to envision Riddler hanging upside down from a ceiling beam, seeing stars.

“Unfortunately, my schedule’s fully booked. I’ve an awful lot to do this weekend. Places to be, minds to challenge, bones to break. And as I was saying, I really can’t tell you his name. I might break it.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, it’s what I like to call a riddle.” Riddler chortled, and hung up.

Bruce replaced the phone onto the receiver, and leaned against the reception desk, thinking.


Some Notes:

1. I know we all tuned into this fic for detailed descriptions of newborn parenting and postpartum depression, right? Right?

2. The sad reality is that at a young age Stacey learned to compensate for a lack of fulfilling personal relationships with outside attention and admiration. Which isn't to say she *likes* being reduced to just her looks, but... maybe just a little. And she also is experience genuine depression and anxiety after giving birth, which is not at all uncommon, regardless of whether the pregnancy was planned or traumatic or not.

3. Stacey is not a neutral, unbiased POV, and she is catastrophizing in this chapter. The stress of a newborn and still being flooded with hormone does not always lead to the most logical conclusions. Bruce getting annoyed and making a sh*tty comment that insinuates he's seeing someone else does not help matters.

4. Subconsciously Stacey knows that if Bruce is hiding something, it's probably not just a simple affair. Unpacking why she is actively avoiding this truth up until now would take hours.

5. If this chapter seems weird it's because I had a whole different outline planned and then scrapped it because I wasn't enthusiastic about spending 5000 words describing Bruce tracking down the Riddler. Sorry.

6. I think it's dumb when stories water down Bruce and Selina's clashes pre-romantic relationship. Come on. Does anyone honestly believe Batman is going 'I'd never hit a woman!'.

7. I debated whether I wanted to actually show Riddler in person in this fic, and decided against it, because he's not the main villain here. My personal interpretation of Riddler is that exposing Batman's identity would be very very boring to him, and that he actually doesn't give a sh*t about Bruce Wayne. He's certainly smart enough to figure it out, but very obvious riddles are not so fun to solve.

Chapter 10


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Bruce came prepared to the office of Dr. Leslie Thompkins; it’d been seven months since he’d last seen her in person beyond the odd check-in email, and he knew better than to approach her clinic without pastries and coffee. He’d deliberately dressed down for the occasion; very down, in worn and faded jeans, a nondescript winter coat with fraying sleeves, and a grungy baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes.

This attire, combined with a scuffed pair of boots and a black backpack slung over his shoulder, might have provoked concern or even alarm at most of the high-end medical practices in Gotham, but Leslie Thompkins didn’t serve the elite or even the middle class. Her practice was located on the very outskirts of the Narrows, wedged between a takeout restaurant and a nail salon with a flickering neon sign.

The windows of the clinic were barred, to prevent thieves from shattering the glass, and there was a defunct metal detector just past the front doors. The waiting room was clean but noisy and outdated; ceiling panels were chipping, the floor was being mopped by a young nurse trying to keep mud from tracking across the tiles, and the chairs and tables were a mismatched jumble of furniture.

Bruce waited patiently for the receptionist to finish dealing with a haggard looking mother with one toddler on her hip and the other tugging at her handbag; when she shuffled off, he stepped forward. “I have a meeting with Dr. Thompkins,” he said gruffly, and when asked to provide a name, simply said, “Thomas,” after his father. No one in this clinic ever bothered to request ID; half the patients didn’t have any.

“I don’t see you on the list, but if you can make time tomorrow morning…” a pager beeped, and the receptionist answered it with a frown. “Yes? …Ah, he’s standing right in front of me, Doctor. Yes, I’ll send him in.”

She set it back down, looking at Bruce, puzzled. He kept his eyes cast down, confident that his unshaved face and worn clothes were doing most of the work at hiding his identity.

“I guess today’s your lucky day,” she said, and waved him down the narrow hall.

Leslie Thompkins’ office looked just as it always had; barely more than a broom closet, with an ancient PC gasping its last breath and faint Christmas music playing from the radio, despite it being February. The sole bookshelf seemed on the verge of collapsing, laden down with medical tomes and journals, and the tiny desk was similarly covered in various papers, pens and pencils, nick-nacks, and framed photos. None were of Leslie herself; almost all were of her patients, often children or teens, smiling shyly at the camera as they stood outside the clinic or on a street corner.

Only two photos stood apart; the Leslie in the first photo was not the grey-haired, no-nonsense, woman of the present, with a deeply lined face and callused hands constantly plucking at her faded lab coat, but a young medical student, her hair dark and permed around her square jaw. She was flanked by two other young people; one closely resembled Bruce, albeit with a different haircut and prominent sideburns, and the other did as well, albeit less overtly so.

Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane stood on either side of Leslie at some unnamed, long forgotten New Year’s Eve party in what looked like a dingy dormitory kitchen, squinting into the glare of the camera. The photograph was not particularly flattering or well composed, nothing like the glossy professional shots that filled the Wayne Manor, presenting Thomas and Martha as elegant and demure and nigh perfect, but it had its own strange charm.

The Leslie Thompkins in the second photograph was significantly older and less bubbly looking, but she was smiling proudly all the same, side by side with Alfred, while an awkward looking Bruce tried to slouch his way out of his high school graduation. His cap was crooked, the tassel hanging over one eye, and he seemed on the verge of shrugging out of his navy blue graduation gown entirely, but he was forcing a smile for the two adults, who both looked at him with warmth and affection.

“Well, well, well,” said Leslie, not looking up from her furious pecking away at her computer. She still typed with just two fingers, to his amusem*nt. “The prodigal son returns.”

“I did invite you to my wedding,” Bruce reminded her, after the door was firmly shut behind him. He kept his voice down, but wasn’t overly worried; the office door was unusually thick and even the bottom frame was packed with lining to keep any sound from escaping through the crack. “And to my daughter’s christening.”

“I sent presents,” Leslie said, dispassionately, but then finally looked up from her typing. She frowned. “You know those sort of occasions aren’t for me, Bruce. The people you surround yourself with… I had enough of that in your father’s day.”

Bruce bristled, even as he rummaged in his backpack. “I invited you because you’re practically family, Leslie. Not to subject you to public scrutiny. You do incredible work here. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not,” said Leslie. “But I don’t much appreciate pity, either. And I understand, that you have to put up a certain front… I just never thought you’d go as far as marrying to preserve it.”

That stung, but he wouldn’t let it show. He was used to her disapproval, however gently put it might be. He handed over a coffee and a bag of donuts. “Here.”

“Thank you,” she squeezed his hand affectionately, then exhaled. “I’m sorry, Bruce. I know I must sound judgmental, and… I have my criticisms, but they shouldn’t extend into your love life. I just hope that’s what this is. Your parents were flawed people, like all of us. But they truly were devoted to one another. You don’t find a relationship like that very often.”

“I didn’t come here for relationship advice,” Bruce said stiffly, neglecting to also add that he was not in love with his wife, which he was sure Leslie suspected, even if she’d never met Stacey in person or seen them interact.

But Leslie knew him, and had known him all his life- there were pictures of her holding him as an infant, for God’s sake. He’d seen very little of her during his teen years because he’d been away at school, but she’d been one of the biggest proponents of him attending Princeton and going to medical school, despite his apathy for higher education at that point.

“You came here,” said Leslie, pulling up the email he’d sent her a few days prior, “because you want to crush HIPAA and doctor-patient confidentiality underfoot.”

“I’m not asking for medical details, I just need you to confirm a few things,” Bruce insisted, but noticed that she’d begun sipping the coffee. If she was about to kick him out of her clinic, she wouldn’t have touched any of the food.

Leslie raised a bristly eyebrow, then sighed. “Shoot.”

Bruce pulled up a grainy image on his phone, and showed it to her. “Do you recognize this boy? His name is Devon Fernandez. He’s seventeen. His mother’s name is Lisa, and his father is Eric.”

Leslie studied the photo for a few moments; her lips pursed grimly, and she gave a slight nod.

“Has his father been in here? I know he’s… sick.”

“His father,” said Leslie, after a long pause, “is a good man in a terrible situation. No one asks to be diagnosed with a tumor a few months before Christmas.”

Bruce had been surveilling the Fernandez home for the past week and knew most of this already, but simply said, “He’s dying.”

“Yes. He’s run into trouble at work for… coping with it.”

“He’s turned to dealing and using opioids to suppress the pain of his migraines.”

Leslie’s dark eyes flashed. “Batman may think he knows everything,” she said tightly, “but he still has no idea how the poor of this city live. That not every dealer and seller is doing it out of personal spite or apathy for their community, but because their community is in shambles and they need something - anything - to bring in income and chase the pain away.”

Bruce said nothing. It was true that seven years into crimefighting, he had a radically different perspective on what made people criminals, and what crimes were really worthy of persecution. But it also didn’t change the fact that flooding the streets with hard drugs was not making anyone feel safer, and that he’d seen countless bodies piled up- children, often, boys not much older than Dick- who’d been pushed into selling or caught in the crossfire of some gang war over control of this block or that.

“Eric Fernandez isn’t my concern,” he said. “I’m looking for the son. I know their family has visited this clinic before.”

“I was the one who suspected a tumor in the first place. I referred them to Gotham General- they didn’t have the money, no one has the money, but there are certain charitable funds set up, I at least wanted them to get a diagnosis from the best-,”

“Wayne Industries supplies most of those charitable funds.”

“Wayne Industries is still a corporation, a business. It looks out for Number One,” snapped Leslie. “I told your father this and I’ve always told you the same. Charity is wonderful. You have invested millions of dollars in this city. Its hospitals, its schools, its transportation. But until you carve out a path for lasting political change-,”

“Dad always said you wanted him to run for office, too,” Bruce snorted, and she shook her head.

“I would never want that for you. I just think no city should remain enthralled by one corporation for so long.”

Things were still and silent for a bit, and then he said, “That makes two of us.”

“I referred them to Gotham General,” she repeated herself. “Their neurology unit is highly advanced.”

“Neurology?” Bruce paused. “The tumor is in his brain?”

“Yes. Hence the regular migraines and vertigo. God knows I can’t stand the administrators, but General has some fantastic surgeons.”

“Tommy Elliot, for one,” he couldn’t help but snipe. Leslie had mentioned Elliot’s career more than once to him over the years, in a ‘that could have been you’ manner.

“Yes,” said Leslie. “But as generous as men like you and Elliot are, brain surgery is not cheap, especially not the experimental kind that could buy a dockworker a few more years.”

Bruce had known Eric Fernandez was mortally ill, and that it was a tumor, but not the location, or that he’d been referred to Gotham General. He sat there for a moment, processing this, and then said, “His son Devon has gotten mixed up with some very dangerous people.”

“When you grow up in the Narrows, you tend to thrive around dangerous people,” Leslie remarked dryly.

“Someone convinced Devon Fernandez to attempt to mug Bruce Wayne and his wife,” said Bruce, with a sardonic edge.

Leslie froze, and then leaned back in her seat, exhaling. “Where is Devon now?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. He’s been missing since New Year’s Eve. His parents are distraught.” Bruce did not mention that he was not doing this out of the kindness of his heart, of course, and that he knew Devon’s parents were distraught because he’d bugged their apartment for a few days straight. “And if someone promised him, say, the money to fund a surgery for his father…”

“No amount of money could be worth throwing that boy’s life away,” Leslie said, her voice hard. She obviously suspected Devon was dead already, if he hadn’t been found by his family or the authorities yet. Bruce was inclined to agree with her. If two experienced thieves could be disposed of so swiftly, an impulsive and trusting teenager was likely no trouble for whoever Riddler had been sought out by.

A genial man with a vested interest in either making Bruce Wayne’s life uncomfortable or triggering Batman into doing something rash. Or both. A man who must know Bruce Wayne, know Wayne Industries, know Bruce Wayne’s schedule. A man whose name could be broken just by saying it.

E-l-l-i-o-t he spelled out in his head. Six letters, perfectly divisible in half. T-h-o-m-a-s. Same with his first name. But was that what the riddle referred to? It seemed a bit simplistic for Riddler, a mere counting exercise. The amount of syllables wasn’t even, either. And Elliot meeting Devon’s father and confirming he had a brain tumor didn’t mean he was guilty of some grandiose plot against Batman.

Bruce didn’t trust the man, but he could say the same for half his board of trustees. Coincidences piled up like this all the time. If he went off on a rampage every time he suspected anyone, his career as Batman would have been brutally short. And besides that, while he didn’t think Tommy much liked him, many, many people could say the same.

Still, it was worth investigating, but he’d have to be cautious. Spying on people in the cramped and crowded Narrows was one thing. Trying to track a renowned doctor at a prestigious hospital brimming with security, cameras, and important officials was another. Men like Elliot had their own resources and in many ways were just as guarded, if slightly less paranoid, than Bruce himself.

“If you do find Devon,” Leslie said, breaking him out of his thoughts. “Bring him back here, please. In one piece.”

Bruce decided not to mention that he’d already scattered some of the boy’s teeth around a parking lot, and inclined his head. “I’ll try my best.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dick slammed his locker shut with a vengeance, and finished cramming his notebooks into his backpack, grimacing at the flood of students rushing past him and out the front doors.

His school did offer busing services, but most of his classmates would rather eat literal dog sh*t than be seen on something as gauche as a school bus, so they were picked up by various private cars or taxi services instead.

He was no different from the other little rich f*cks, something Barbara was fond of saying, because she was here on half-scholarship. Her dad had only been made police commissioner three years ago and before that she’d been full scholarship. Dick thought she hyped it up a little too much; he’d been to her house and the Gordons were certainly upper middle class, though they lived modestly. And Barbara certainly wasn’t spoiled.

All that aside, though, he greeted her with a scowl when she sidled up to him as he heaved his overstuffed backpack up onto his shoulder.

“I can’t talk,” Dick said coldly, trying to stalk ahead of her, but she was tall for thirteen and easily kept pace with him.

“I just wanted to give you this,” she retorted, and slapped one of those cheap Valentine’s cards you buy in bulk onto his chest. He almost flung it away, but resisted the impulse at the angry, wounded look in her green eyes. That was the problem with Babs.

She was really, really hard to ignore, no matter how much you wanted to ice her out, and it wasn’t just because of her distinctive appearance. She hated her red hair and freckles, said she stood out like a circus clown in their class photo, but at the same time, had no interest in smothering her face with foundation or dying her hair or anything lots of other girls their age seemed preoccupied with.

Well, not all of them- Barbara was always on him to stop generalizing, as if she didn’t spend every waking hour of the day doing that. She was so aggressively law and order that she’d managed to get kicked out of Civics class twice for arguments with the teacher. It was a bit disturbing. He’d never met anyone who had more faith in the system than Barbara. Sometimes it was kind of idealistic and inspiring, and other times, it made him wary.

Alfred said that seeing the world in black and white was a privilege of the young, but Barbara made it into a mission creed. She wasn’t stupid, but she’d go through any kind of torture before ever admitting she’d been wrong about something. Or that the Gotham police had been wrong about something. Or that her hero dad had been wrong about something.

Or that she was a total asshole for not telling him that she was moving back to f*cking Ohio because her parents were getting divorced. She couldn’t admit she’d been wrong about that one, either.

“So what, you’re not even going to talk to me anymore?” she demanded, as he shoved the crumpled up card into his pocket.

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

“Wow, that’s so mature, Dick.”

“Yeah, almost as mature as hiding this from me for like two months, right?”

“My mom wasn’t even sure it was happening until three weeks ago when she got the call about the house-,”

“Well, some warning would have been nice!”

They’d reached the front lobby; it was a windy February afternoon outside, and looked like it was threatening icy rain.

“You’re being so self absorbed right now,” she huffed.

“And you’re acting like a-,” he cut himself off, swearing under his breath. “Look, just go. I’ll see you tomorrow. I guess.”

“I didn’t ask for my parents to split up,” she snapped, setting her jaw to keep her lips from trembling. “I didn’t ask for my mom to decide to move us back to her hometown-,”

Dick felt a stab of guilt and looked away, but then muttered, “They’re not even your real parents.”

There was a long stretch of silence, and then he heard her turn abruptly on her heel and walk away. He almost went after her, but some people were watching, so he stopped himself. He couldn’t take anymore ‘jokes’ about how ‘they must be breaking up’. Everyone was so stupid about it, just because they were different genders. If they’d both been girls or guys, no one would say stuff like that.

He liked Barbara, of course, she was his best friend, but he didn’t like her like that. He didn’t like anyone like that, not really. Sometimes he had- thoughts, obviously, normal teen boy thoughts… and feelings… but they weren’t specifically directed at any girl. Or guy. Just like, fantasy stuff. Which was fine.

What he had never fantasized about, though, was his one friend up and leaving him. Barbara was the only person he'd ever really confided in. He'd told her all kinds of stuff about his parents, his past, and she'd never judged him or made him feel like an outsider. And for all her (many) flaws, Barbara wasn’t a spiteful, cruel person, and she’d never have flung the fact that she was actually his only good friend here in his face. Unlike him. He sat down on the steps, groaning, and hoping she might come back to yell at him so he could apologize, but after a few minutes he realized she was long gone.

Stacey rarely picked him up from school these days, and Bruce only twice a week, so today it was Alfred, as usual. He asked about Dick’s day and ascertained that he’d eaten all his lunch, but seemed to sense Dick’s low mood and didn’t pry as much as possible, instead chatting about how he could have sworn Elena had smiled at him this morning, and the latest recipe he was trying. Something with ginger; Dick wasn’t really paying attention.

“Is Bruce going to be home early today?” was all he asked, as they approached the manor.

Alfred paused, and then said, “I think this will be a week of late nights for him, but you know he always tries to make time for family dinner.”

Dick wasn’t sure if you could call it ‘family dinner’ when as far as he could tell, Bruce and Stacey were still angry with each other, only now it was more avoidance than bickering. They sort of said stuff around each other and to him but never actually had direct conversations.

He’d never heard them yelling or slamming doors, but they both seemed pretty tired and checked out all the time. Maybe that was just the reality of dealing with a newborn, but he was surprised to realize that he’d been hopeful Elena would permanently smooth things over between them. But that was just dumb, a little kid talking.

A baby couldn’t fix something that was already messed up. And it’s not like they’d ever been madly in love. That thought had used to comfort him- there was no chance of Bruce forgetting about him if he didn’t really care about Stacey Belgrave- but now it sort of made him sad. Not that he wanted to see them kissing and hugging and cooing at each other, but it had been nice when they at least seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Maybe some small, pathetic part of him had almost started to pretend they were a real family.

His usual routine upon getting home was to stuff his face, do his homework right away so he didn’t have to worry about it, practice his gymnastics and dance for two hours or so, and then play video games or watch TV. Today he had no energy for any of that, and after finishing his homework, stared aimlessly at his phone for an hour until deciding to see what Stacey and Elena were doing.

Elena was doing tummy time, which mostly consisted of her just lying on a plush blanket on Stacey’s bed. Stacey was painting her nails, which Dick cautiously took for a good sign. At least she’d stopped coming to dinner looking like death warmed over. Not that he thought she needed makeup to look pretty, but for a while there she’d constantly seemed like she’d just escaped a burning building.

He was pretty sure Bruce had said something about it to her at one point, because he recalled a night a week ago when Stacey had not come down for dinner at all, and Alfred had been right outside the door giving what sounded like a particularly brutal speech to Bruce about how he needed to watch what he said in the presence of a new mother. Bruce had said something defensive in return, only for Alfred to cut him off with a, “For her, she might as well be doing this on her own.”

Dick had no idea what that meant; Bruce seemed like a very involved father to him, and no one could claim he didn’t love Elena or look forward to spending time with her. He certainly wasn’t neglecting his daughter. But he hadn’t been about to ask; the last thing he needed was having to play ambassador between two warring adults. Although, it really wasn’t a war anymore. It was sort of just like two sad island kingdoms with a broken drawbridge between them.

“Hi, Dick,” Stacey looked up from her magazine. “Did you come to see us?”

“Mostly her,” he said, jerking his head at Elena, and was relieved when Stacey laughed, rather than looking stung. Maybe she really was doing better. She’d been so sensitive lately. Once he’d found her crying at a commercial for dish soap. She’d never been this weepy, even during her pregnancy.

As he sat down on the bed to poke and prod at his sister, hoping she might smile for him, too, he realized that Stacey hadn’t just painted her nails, but was fully dressed, not lounging around in pajamas or sweats. Her hair seemed a little shinier than normal. “Are you… going out somewhere? I thought Bruce was working late this week,” he said, frowning.

Her expression wavered for a moment, before she shrugged. “I just felt like dressing up a bit.”

“Oh. Are you hoping Bruce might take you out somewhere? Because we could just go out somewhere ourselves,” he said, not actually wanting that but also thinking it would be pretty funny. ‘Table for three!’ And it would be him in ratty jeans and a tee shirt, Stacey dressed to the nines, and a four week old baby with a bib.

“You’re very sweet,” she said, bemused. “No. Sometimes girls just like to look nice.”

“Okay,” he said. Barbara’s definition of ‘looking nice’ was her good pair of Converse and this stupid black blazer she thought made her look ‘professional’. It looked ridiculously oversized on her.

Maybe his reply sounded a bit crestfallen, because Stacey said, after a moment, “Did something happen at school?”

“No,” he said, too quickly. The last thing he needed was a pep talk right now. And talking about Barbara’s parents’ divorce with Stacey felt like pushing the envelope a bit too much. He didn’t actually want Bruce and Stacey to get a divorce.

Then he’d only see Elena on the weekends, or something. Or, maybe he would see Elena all the time, but only Stacey on the weekends? Bruce would probably get custody; he and Stacey both had really good lawyers, but he had way more money, and knew a lot of the judges. That felt a bit uncomfortable for Dick, so he stopped thinking about it.

He played with Elena for a bit- there was a limited number of things you could ‘play’ with a newborn- and then left her and Stacey alone, but was still skulking around in the hall when he heard her get a phone call. It was that Eleanor woman, the reporter. He could tell by the way Stacey's voice instantly soured; and a short, hushed conversation followed.

“Nice to know you haven’t changed at all from high school,” Stacey snapped at the end, loud enough to be heard down the hall, and then hung up. Dick was dying to know what it was about, but didn’t dare go back and ask. Stacey was usually pretty patient with him- except when he stole her tennis balls- but he didn’t think she’d enjoyed being eavesdropped on.

He returned to his own room, just in time for Bruce to call him.

“Hey,” said Bruce, as Dick dangled off the edge of his lofted bed, testing how far he could go before he’d have to catch himself. “Is your homework done?”


“Remember you have auditions for the dance recital on Friday.”

“Like I’d forget!”

“Just checking. Are you alright? You sound kind of down.”

“I’m fine. When are you coming home?”

“Ah… about that,” said Bruce. “I don’t think I’ll be there for dinner tonight, okay? But I’ll say goodnight to you when I get in.”

“So that means I can stay up until three AM?”

“Nice try. You still have school tomorrow.”

There was a pause, and then Bruce said, “I heard about… the move, from Commissioner Gordon. I’m really sorry about that, Dick. I know Barbara is a good friend.”

Dick didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing.

“I’ll see you soon,” Bruce promised, then hung up.

He was onto something, Dick knew it. And something new, too, to warrant all this time out and about. Now that he was about to turn thirteen, he was tempted to clue Bruce in- to be like ‘hey, I’ve always known- well, almost always.’ Thirteen wasn’t such a kid anymore. Bruce would have to start taking him seriously.

Dick didn’t expect to be welcomed onto the team or anything, he just thought- there was still stuff he could do. Stuff no one would expect of a teenage boy. Who better suited to it than him? It wasn't like he was going to have much of a social life in high school.

He ate dinner by himself in the kitchen; he’d been hoping Stacey would come around with Elena, sort of, but she never did, and after he was done helping Alfred wash the dishes, he threw himself onto the mats in the gym, practicing flips and rolls and cartwheels. He wasn’t allowed to use the ropes or trapeze without someone spotting, so he ran laps instead, then swam in the heated pool for a while.

After showering, he made his way up to the nursery, and realized it was later than he’d thought, past nine o’clock. Alfred saw him in the hall, and tapped his wristwatch meaningfully to tell him to head to bed soon, but seemed on his way to his room himself. At this point, he didn’t see the need to shepherd Dick around like a toddler, and he was a notorious early retiree and early riser.

When he pushed open the nursery door, he found Elena fretting softly in her crib, and Stacey asleep in the rocking chair. She was so still she looked like a store mannequin; it was almost freaky until he noticed the rise and fall of her chest. She was still fully dressed, and the blanket was falling off her lap.

Dick pulled it up back over her legs, then approached the crib, and almost guiltily picked up Elena. He knew how to hold her by now, and had done so loads of times, but he still felt like he could get in trouble for this. But her warmth against his chest was reassuring, and he tried to think about what it would be like when she was his age.

He’d be an actual adult by then, with a job of some sort and a place of his own. There was no way he’d still be living here, no matter how big it was. Maybe he’d pick her up from school and let her watch TV at his apartment, instead of whatever stupid extracurriculars Bruce and Stacey made her do.

He walked out of the nursery and down the hall with Elena, then dared to go downstairs, when it became apparent Stacey was fast asleep and not about to wake in a panic looking for her daughter. He took Elena downstairs, along a winding back hallway that connected the two wings of the house, and then paused in front of an ancient grandfather clock. As usual, it was several minutes behind.

With Elena in one arm, Dick reached out, opened the clock face, and corrected the minute hand.

There were a few metallic whirs, and the grandfather clock sunk into the floor, revealing a very narrow set of steps leading down. Dick had watched Bruce do this many times while hiding, but had only dared sneak down here alone twice.

Now, though, he felt bolder, and sadder, and the worst case scenario, Alfred caught him. Oh well. Secret blown out of the water. Too bad, Dick already knew. And Elena was a baby, so not a very good witness.

“Want to see something cool, Ellie?” he whispered to her, and brought her down into the dark.

It wasn’t dark for long, though- as soon as he entered the Bat Cave, lights began to flicker on, detected by the motion sensors, and the security system kicked in, asking for a passphrase.

“Mephisto,” said Dick, clearly, and the blinking blue sensor lights faded away. There was silence besides the quiet hum of the computers. Bruce hated most chatty AI systems and refused to install one in here, as far as Dick knew.

“So this,” said Dick quietly, holding Elena up so she could see; she seemed interested, eyes darting this way and that at all the cool stuff on the walls and tables and in glass cases, “is where the magic happens, right? One day, I’m gonna help Dad with all of this.”

He felt he should say ‘Dad’, since Elena obviously wasn’t going to call Bruce ‘Bruce’. That would be weird.

“You can, too,” he said. “If you want. You’ll probably be super smart. I can’t show you the suit, ‘cause he’s using it right now, or the car… your mom likes cars, and so do I. The Batmobile is really sick, um…. Oh! I can show you the security cameras for the manor.”

He darted over to the console table and jiggled the mouse, then held her up again as he flicked through the footage. “See, that’s the foyer…. Dining room… Look, there’s the kitchens, Alfred’s eating the leftover pie from tonight… see, this is your nursery…. sh*t.”

The camera footage of the nursery clearly showed that the rocking chair was empty. Stacey was gone.

“sh*t, sh*t, sh*t,” Dick chanted, spinning away from the monitors and starting quickly towards the stairs. “sh*t f*ck sh*t, god f*cking damn it, ughhhhhh- Ellie, don’t ever tell anyone about any of this, okay-,”

He trailed off at the sound of footsteps and was still standing there, rooted to the floor with fear and shame, when Stacey stepped into the Batcave, looking around in a horror only momentarily abated when she caught sight of him and Elena.

“I can explain,” said Dick, quickly, but whatever excuse he was going to come up with in the moment was cut off by the muffled roar of an engine approaching.

“f*ck,” said Dick, for probably the hundredth time that day, as the sound of a garage door ground up, shaking the floor beneath their feet slightly.

Stacey was still staring at him in shock; she opened her arms, and he handed Elena over.

“Maybe we should go upstairs,” Dick suggested weakly.

She turned away from him entirely, shielding her eyes from the glare of the headlights that momentarily swept over the cave before dropping her hand entirely.

“Stacey, we should really, really go upstairs-,”

Dick gave up the fight, but Stacey made a small sound and backed up several paces, bumping into him, as Bruce walked in, cowl under his arm. He stopped some distance away, and just stared at them.

Didn’t say anything, didn’t rush over to them, or away, just stared blankly.

Dick stared back, and felt his eyes begin to treacherously brim with tears. He’d managed to mess everything up today, hadn’t he? He wiped at them in annoyance, but Stacey seemed to think he was crying out of fear, and there was a strange look on her face he’d never seen before.

“Dick,” she said, and handed him Elena, to his shock. “Go upstairs.”


“Go upstairs, right now,” she said, and he realized she sounded exactly the same as she had that night outside the theater. Cold and flat and firm. Her face was an unreadable mask. “Take your sister and go find Alfred.”

He started to shake his head, to explain, but she gave him a little push, and Elena was starting to whine and wail, disturbed by the draft of cold air from Bruce’s entrance, so he went, ducking his head so no one would see him starting to cry again, like a baby.


Some Notes:

1. I don't know how familiar people are with the character of Leslie Thompkins, but in several versions of Bruce's backstory, she is a former friend and colleague of his father's and one of the few adults in his life besides Alfred after his parents' murders. She is also aware that Bruce is Batman, which in this fic has led to something of an estrangement for the past 6/7 years, as she took Bruce dropping out of med school to become a vigilante pretty badly.

2. I didn't want to drag out Bruce beginning to suspect Tommy Elliot could be involved much longer. At the same time, Bruce knows better than to leap to conclusions, and he is rightfully wary of directly confronting someone as wealthy and well connected as Elliot, who is not just some middling gangster or low level goon. He also has no idea what Elliot's motive might be.

3. I know there's a lot of 'f*cks' in Dick's POV, but he's at that age where you start swearing just because you can and it's fun.

4. My take on a young Barbara Gordon is that much like Dick, she idolizes her dad and idealizes his line of work, and given how chaotic Gotham is, the police to her seem like the brave soldiers fighting against the enemy. Yes, this is a very reductive view of law enforcement and police corruption, but again, she's 13. She has a very narrow view of the world right now.

5. In this version, Barbara is the adoptive daughter of James Gordon and his wife, which is another thing that connects her and Dick. Unlike Dick, Barbara was adopted as a toddler and has no real memories of her birth parents, and has lived for almost her entire life in Gotham. Unlike in her very first backstory, here Barbara's father was the brother of Gordon's wife, Eileen, not Jim himself. Hence why Eileen is taking Barbara with her back to Ohio.

6. Hey, I mean, Stacey had to find out at some point, and as smart as Dick is, he's still an impulsive kid, so if anyone was going to let the cat out of the bag...

7. I had a lot of IRL stress going on this week that impeded me from writing at my usual pace, so this entire chapter was written in the span of one day. Apologies.

Chapter 11


This chapter begins with a flashback to seven years earlier.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Stacey woke up with a horribly itchy taste in her mouth; flailing slightly, her foot connected with flesh and she heard a faint groan. Exhaling through her nose, she forced her sleep-encrusted eyes open and propped herself up on one elbow. She didn’t recognize the cramped room around her in the slightest; the brick walls were scabbed and faded, and the bed she was lying on was barely more than a mattress on the floor.

She wasn’t alarmed, though, because she did recognize the warm body beside her. His name was a complete loss to her. Trent, Travis, or Troy. It wasn’t worth the risk of getting it wrong the first time. Men were so sensitive about these things. Licking her dry lips and tasting the remnants of last night’s lipstick- she was surprised she had any left on her mouth- she traced her fingers down his shoulder blade.

“Baby,” she settled for, which seemed like a suitable place-holder. “Baby, where are we?”

He mumbled something into his pillow. Rolling her eyes- and rubbing at them with one hand- she stroked his hair dispassionately until he stirred again. “Is this your place?” she murmured. It could be his parents’. Or his girlfriend’s. Or his wife’s. She didn’t want to repeat that mistake again. “Babe?”


“Okay, and what neighborhood is this?”

“East End… Castle Point…”

She was already calculating the cab fare to the Heights in her head. At least she hadn’t gone home with some loser from Burnside. There was nothing more mortifying than spending a night out in the city and waking up in the tidy suburbs. Plus, fewer bridges to cross during rush hour morning traffic. At least, she hoped it was still morning. She fumbled around the sheets and found her underwear and crumpled up dress, but not her phone.

“You threw your cell out the window…” he huffed, his face still buried in the crook of his elbow.

“Out your window?” she winced in disbelief.

“Out the cab window. It wouldn’t stop ringing.”

That would be her third phone in a year and a half. Drunk Stacey was a self righteous stupid slu*t. “Kay… do you have a phone I can use?”

“Depends… you gonna tell me your new number when you get it?” he finally rolled over to face her, grinning sleepily.

She felt a brief spark of affection, but the pulsing desire from the night before had vanished. Two shots in, he’d seemed impossibly attractive. By the light of day, he was an average, cute but shabby guy. A bit older. Maybe twenty four or twenty five.

As if he were evaluating her the same way- and since most of her makeup had rubbed off- he frowned. “You’re eighteen, right?”

And just like that, the romance breathed its last.

“I’m nineteen,” she said sweetly, which would be true in a few weeks. “That legal enough for you?”

“For sure.” He reached for her chest- she batted his hands away playfully and put her hand to her ear in the universal ‘phone’ symbol.

“I really need to call a cab.”

“What’s the rush?” he groaned, but jerked his head. “Got a phone on the table.”

“I have a party to go to,” she said sympathetically, but let him ogle her as she stood up naked from the mattress, shedding black sheets. These guys always thought dark sheets did a better job of hiding the fact that they washed them maybe once a month. She was craving a shower (and a massage) but she wasn’t going to use his bathroom. God knew what was growing in there.

She plucked the phone off the receiver and stepped into the tiny bathroom all the same, squinting at her reflection as she dialed her usual car service. She’d memorized the number ages ago, after one too many mishaps with her phone. She didn’t even have her own mother’s number memorized- for good reason.

After conducting the conversation in a voice barely above a whisper, she hung up, splashed some water on her face, and scrubbed off what was left of her lipstick and foundation with a few tissues. She wasn’t even going to touch her stained mascara at this point. She came back out, replaced the phone on the receiver, and sashayed back over to the mattress, where Trent-Troy-Travis was sitting up and pulling a shirt on.

“You left scratches on my chest,” he said proudly, as she sighed in relief, having located her purse on the floor. He hadn’t gone through her wallet, which was probably the only mark in his favor right now. “It must have been good.”

“You were amazing,” Stacey gushed- she had a policy of always being very effusive and complimentary when she went home with a man. And truth be told, last night hadn’t been bad. Not fantastic, either, but okay. Fine. Mediocre normal hook-up sex. They’d both been drunk, but not insensible. She’d been well aware of who she was with and what she was agreeing to, and so had he. Had she brought him back to her place, she might have been a bit more brusque, but as it stood, it wasn’t worth it. She figured she had enough people out for her blood this week.

While he preened, she shimmied back into her clothes, gross as it felt to put them back on after a night on the floor, and located her heels as well. One of them was nearly broken, so she decided against putting them on, and hoped the floors of his building weren’t too atrocious.

“So what sort of party are you going to?” he asked, as he pulled on his boxers. “Like, a birthday party? It’s only eleven.”

f*ck. She’d agreed to be at the hotel by ten. Well, it was probably for the best that her phone was gone. “Nah,” she said, “This girl I know is getting presented as a debutante. I was invited to the party.”

He scoffed aloud as she tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “You actually know those kinds of rich bitches?” Then he had the grace to color a little. “I mean…. I don’t know where you’re from-,”

“Oh, it’s totally ridiculous,” said Stacey, pulling a compact out of her purse to examine her nose. She was worried it might be red and splotchy after a night of drinking and dubious hygiene. “And you used a condom, right?”

“It’s stuck to the bottom of your shoe heel,” he pointed out, and she swore and shook it off with a squeal of disgust.

“I’m gonna see you again, right?” he pressed, as she turned to go.

Stacey shot him a flash of white teeth. “Of course, baby.”

“Trey,” he offered hopefully. “It’s Trey.”

She laughed, then waltzed out the door and into the narrow hallway, raced down the stairs, grimacing with every slightly sticky step, and hurried through the small lobby, dodging around a young mother returning from a morning walk with a stroller.

Stacey smirked at her look of disgust, then felt a throbbing in her skull as she met bright winter sunshine. She’d been roasting last night, but now she didn’t even have so much as a coat, and her teeth were chattering as she flung herself into the waiting cab.

“Gotham Grand,” she said, rifling through her wallet. “Two hundred dollars if you break traffic laws.”

“You got it, honey,” the driver said, palming her cash, and hit the gas pedal so hard she almost slammed up against the front passenger seat.

Cradling her head with one hand, she did her seatbelt with the other, then leaned against the cold windowpane to watch the dreary city race by. She reluctantly put her shoes back on by the time they reached the Gotham Grand Hotel, located in the center of the Heights, some twenty minutes later.

Despite the driver’s cash-induced speed, traffic was excruciating. Stacey tipped generously, then tottered out of the car and into the hotel, relieved there were no paparazzi lurking outside at this early hour.

Still, the doormen looked askance at her disheveled appearance, and she could sense one of the receptionists zeroing in on her, about to radio security to politely but firmly escort her off the premises before she vomited all over their freshly polished marble floors.

Fortunately, her aunt Victoria reached her first. Some eight years older than her father, Stacey had only seen Victoria a few times a year growing up, if that. Her aunt had moved out of Gotham and across the country to Metropolis shortly after her own marriage. She had two daughters, both much older than Stacey, and her husband was a dermatologist.

Stacey had never been close with her aunt, but right now she vastly preferred her presence to her mother’s. She watched as Victoria bustled over, irritably waving away the doormen, wrapped an arm around Stacey, and all but dragged her into an elevator.

“Good morning to you, too,” Stacey said; Victoria let go of her as if scalded as soon as the elevators door closed with a gentle chime.

“Unbelievable,” her aunt said. “Do you know your mother didn’t sleep a wink last night? You said you’d be home by midnight! Then Eleanor and Michelle and April and all the other girls traipse back in from the clubs at one in a morning, and all they can say is you went home with some man!” The look she shot Stacey was not venomous; they simply weren’t close enough for that, but contempt was close enough. “Jessica was worried sick. Why didn’t you at least call?”

“Cell service was bad,” Stacey shrugged; she didn’t feel like confessing she’d drunkenly tossed her phone away at the moment.

“Well, at least you’re alive,” Victoria scoffed. “Not for lack of a death wish. I know you were away at boarding school in the sticks for years, Anastasia, but really! First you girls go out partying in the Bowery, of all places, and then you decide to split off from the pack and walk out with some stranger! He could have been any number of things! One of these days, you are going to wander off with the wrong wolf, and find yourself dead in the gutter, or locked up in some freak’s basem*nt.”

“Don’t worry, Auntie,” said Stacey drolly, inspecting her chipped manicure. “We steered clear of the last club to get held up by gangb*ngers, and the DJ didn't even overdose mid-set last night. Of course, they don’t even raise the house lights when it happens, there’s just a skip in the track….”

“I hope you were smart about at at least one thing,” her aunt cut her off, as the elevator finally opened up on the sixteenth floor. “Because the last thing your poor mother needs is you needing the money for an abortion.”

“Don’t worry,” Stacey sneered, stalking out ahead of Victoria. “I’d just get it in Metropolis. The clinics are less likely to get firebombed there, right? Superman’s gotta be pro-choice. Decrease the surplus population of humans for the coming invasion?”

Like most Metropolitans, transplant or not, her aunt reacted as if Stacey had impugned the honor of some religious figure. That was what made them so damn annoying. Gothamites were unhinged, true, had a certain sick pride in how they recounted seeing dead bodies in allies or stolen guns tossed out windows and into the river. But Metropolitans were much, much worse, either pretending that their caped crusader didn’t exist, or loftily talking about how it was too bad Superman couldn’t spend more time patrolling Gotham, too, so it could be as successful and perfect as their haven of justice and equality and the American way.

Stacey wasn’t one of those rabid anti-alien freaks who thought Superman was here to mind-control the American government into surrendering to the Russians or the Chinese or whoever, but it was fun to rile her aunt up all the same.

The hotel suite was a hive of buzzing activity. Given that they were spending tens of thousands of dollars on the costs of attending this ball alone, her mother had rather economically decided to split the suite with a few other young women and their retinues of female relatives, personal assistants, and hair and makeup artists.

Stacey didn’t care about sharing- what irked her was that one of the people they were sharing with was Eleanor Carrington, but she’d done a pretty decent job of ditching Eleanor last night, so at least the worst was over.

The chatter muted as she traipsed in. The other girls, looking drawn and tired but freshly showered and in the process of having their hair done, gawked at Stacey as she kicked off her platform heels once more.

“Oh my god,” Eleanor finally asked, brow knitted in mock concern. “Stacey, we were so worried! Your mom was about to call the police! Are you okay? You literally look like you were hit by a bus!”

“You literally look like such a c*nt,” Stacey said under her breath- Eleanor couldn’t hear her over the blow dryer going, but scowled for a split second all the same, before Jessica pounced on Stacey.

One hushed whisper fight in the bathroom later, Stacey showered, washed her hair, and sat down for it to be styled, flipping boredly through a magazine. As her mother had just reminded her, she’d agreed to all this. She was eighteen, going on nineteen, and a freshman in college. She wasn’t a child who could be forced into anything she didn’t want to do.

She’d wanted this; why wouldn’t she? It was expected of girls of her status and of course she wanted to wear a pretty dress and be the belle of the ball. Who wouldn’t? The food would be excellent and at least half of the young men present would be attractive. It was only one night, and then she’d be back to her normal life.

She regretted that she’d lost her phone- she could have texted Heather a status update on this whole thing.

Her hair had a slight natural wave to it but it was glossy and straight now, pinned back behind her head to as not to detract from her ballgown, which was a tiered, ruffled monstrosity that looked like it belonged on a plastic figurine on top of a wedding cake.

Stacey didn’t really mind; there was a limited range of options when you had to wear something white and vaguely virginal, and she didn’t want to look anything like Eleanor, who was clad in a much sleeker number that emphasized her thin frame and sharp features. Still, the waist was cinched so tightly she felt like she was in a corset, and the tulle was itchy against her legs.

But she got through it, and all on some yogurt, granola, and iced tea, which was about all anyone was willing to offer them, insisting that they’d need to fast before the ‘big dinner’ tonight. As if any of these girls would be digging into her plate of spaghetti or veal, and risk slopping sauce down the front of her stark white outfit.

Eleanor was escorted down early, flanked by her grim-faced mother and sulky younger sister, while Victoria had left an hour ago to meet an old college friend for drinks before the ball. Which left Stacey, still fanning her hands to let her fresh coat of nail polish dry, and her mother, who perched on the edge of the hotel bed still cluttered with makeup and empty hangers, looking as if she’d just survived a war.

“I don’t know why you see the need to punish me like this,” Jessica finally said, flatly.

“I’m not punishing anyone,” Stacey retorted, proud of how calm and level she sounded. This was nothing like the screaming matches they’d endured the summer before she left for university. The distance had done wonders for her temper, if not her mother’s. “I’m sorry I didn’t come back last night, but I was fine. I had my purse with me and I knew I could call a cab at any time-,”

“You knew- you think you know,” Jessica snapped. “You think you’re a grown woman now. Well, you’re not. You’re a spoilt child who doesn’t know the first thing about the real world. You could have been killed, acting like that. This is not some sleepy little rich neighborhood, Anastasia! Listen to me, damn it! You go out to the dregs of society to party, and you think you can waltz around untouched! Sooner or later, you are going to get yourself into some trouble your credit card can’t get you out of!”

“You’re so right, Mom, I forgot that muggers don’t take Amex-,”

“That’s not funny,” Jessica said. “You are not funny, little girl. You think you are. But one of these days you are going to have to grow up, Anastasia. Soon.”

For a moment, Stacey wavered on the edge of asking whether fending off the possible advances of her stepfather made her ‘grown up’ yet or not. But she couldn’t bring herself to open that door, and instead settled for a baleful stare.

“My nails are dry now.”

“Good,” her mother sighed, “let’s go down for the pictures.”

The evening was no different than any other society gala. Stacey didn’t feel any special charm of womanhood pervading her pores. There were some gushy speeches from middle aged matrons welcoming in a new generation of ‘astonishing young women’, and a few coy nods to feminism here and there with reference to college degrees and high powered careers, something they certainly wouldn’t have been applauding thirty years earlier.

The food was good, though Stacey filled up on bread, while watching Eleanor desiccate her salad, leaf by leaf. The live jazz band was decent. Her date was a baby faced eighteen year old son of a judge. He was sweet, but the sexual attraction was that between a Barbie doll and a stuffed rabbit. He looked like he’d just gotten his braces off, and his acne was still clearing up. Stacey was three inches taller than him, even in kitten heels.

She debated stealing Eleanor’s date- a middlingly attractive son of an investment banker- but Stacey had assured herself she left those spiteful tactics behind in high school. Instead she was content to play the martyr, not particularly happy or excited but not miserable, either, sustaining herself with croutons and the occasional sly sip of vodka passed around in a small silver flask under the table.

“Oh my god,” April spluttered mid-sip at one point. “Is that Bruce Wayne?”

Eleanor went rigid, then carefully twisted around in her seat. “Whose date is he?”

“No one’s!” April was struggling to contain her excitement; she passed the flask to Stacey, who held it between her knees under the table, enjoying the sensation of the cool metal between her legs. “He came in with some model!”

“His mother was presented with this society,” Michelle said, totally unruffled- she would be, Stacey thought, everyone knew she was a lesbian and only here to avoid her deranged stepmother convincing her father to write her out of his will. “He’s probably a donor.”

“So technically we’re all his sugar babies,” someone giggled tipsily.

“You sound like a complete slu*t, Megan,” Eleanor said coldly, finally removing her pale gaze from Wayne’s tuxedoed back. “He’s not going to look twice at any of us.”

“He’d better not, unless it’s you, right, Elle?” Stacey couldn’t resist; she took a discreet sip to avoid looking at Eleanor’s reaction to that barb.

“Why don’t you wander over and make a pass, Stace,” Eleanor sniped back. “Maybe he’ll go in for a pity dance.”

“You’re giving Bryn Mawr a bad rep, honey,” Stacey smirked. “I think you might single-handedly be the reason they still say women aren’t funny.”

“Interesting that you have to attack your own gender to get a dig in,” Eleanor began, puffed up with the self righteous pride only a newly appointed editor of a student newspaper could acquire, but before Stacey could point out that Eleanor had certainly gotten in more than a few gendered insults tonight, she spotted Jessica waving her over.

Secretly relieved for the chance to leave their table, she casually wandered over, but stopped a little ways away from her mother’s seat, forcing Jessica to leave her husband behind and come over to confer with her.

“The father-daughter dance is next,” she said to Stacey. “I wanted to give you some forewarning.”

Stacey blinked. “Fine. I’ll go out for a smoke break.”

“You don’t smoke,” her mother hissed, appalled, then recovered in record time. “That’s not what I meant, lapochka.” Her voice softened slightly. “It would mean so much to him- to both of us, if you would just go along for tonight…”

Stacey stared at her blankly for a few moments, uncomprehending, then jerked back as if scalded. “What? No! Mom-,”

“It’s one dance, sweetheart!”

“No, that’s- no! He’s not my father!”

“He’s as good as, he’s my husband-,”

“That’s not how this f*cking works, Mom!” she snapped loudly enough to draw the attention from a passing waiter; Jessica flushed scarlet.

“Lower your voice! Anastasia, I am not asking you to move heaven and earth-,”

“I’m not dancing with him! He’s not- Mom, just stop. No.” She angled her body away from his very presence, several yards away. He wasn't looking over yet, but in an instant he would, and she was terrified she would crumple like a ragdoll.

“You are being very childish right now,” her mother said through her teeth. “I know you’ve had your differences, but he is a good, stable man, Stacey. You have no idea how fortunate we are. He’s an excellent provider and he has only ever wanted what’s best for you. He offered to pay for your college!”

“I don’t need his money,” Stacey snarled. “I have my own. From my father, remember? And I don’t need yours, either-,”

“You don’t come into your trust fund for another two years, young lady, so I suggest-,”

“What? You’re going to try to force me out of college if I don’t put on a smile and do some Shirley Temple tap dance with your boy toy?”

To her shock, her eyes were stinging with tears; she hadn’t cried in front of her mother since her father died. Stacey tore away from Jessica before she could respond, and walked quickly out of the ballroom, through a small atrium, and into a side hall lined with mirrors.

Her feet were already throbbing from the dancing earlier, and she sat down on the carpeted floor, took off her shoes, and drew her legs up under her voluminous taffeta skirts. She half expected her mother to come hurrying after her, but after a few minutes it became clear Jessica had decided to preserve what was left of her dignity.

Stacey sat like that for some time, staring at her reflection across the hall. She looked like an overgrown little girl, an adult dressed up for a child’s fantasy birthday party. Put her blonde hair in pigtails and smear some more lipstick on her, and she’d be a total joke. She didn’t look sexy or even stately and dignified. She looked cheap and pathetic and she kept replaying that night in her head.

It was over a year later and it just wouldn’t let up. Not in the winter months. In the warmth of summer she could forget and fill her days with endless sunshine and fruity drinks and new swimsuits. Not in winter, not in Gotham. He was always around. She wiped at her runny nose. This was stupid. Like she was some extra on Law and Order. Nothing had happened. There was no ‘incident’. No one had laid a finger on her besides the guys she chose, sleazy as they might be.

If she still went to therapy, they would probably say her promiscuous behavior was a method of self harm, that some part of her depraved psyche was actually hoping something bad would happen to her, so she would have a reason to feel like a victim. And that really, this all dated back to her issues surrounding the paternal absence in her life, that she was doomed to spend the next twenty years simultaneously craving and fearing male authority. That she was looking for a patriarch to rebel against, and lacking one, had ascribed those traits to her mother.

Maybe she really should consider declaring a psych major this year. She was melodramatic enough for it.

She heard footsteps and tensed, trying to clamber to her feet, but wobbled and almost lost her balance, bracing herself with one palm against the cold mirrored wall. A dozen reflections wavered with her. Her headache was back in full force. She should have taken more Tylenol this morning.

Bruce Wayne rounded the corner, speaking quickly and tersely on his cellphone; his tie was slightly askew, and his hair looked like he’d just been running a hand through it in dismay. He froze when he saw her, said something else, and snapped his phone shut, pocketing it.

“Hello,” he said, cautiously, as if he’d just run into a lost child. He was about the same age as the guy she’d went home with last night, only he actually saw her as a kid. A snotty, sniveling kid in a ballgown.

“Hi,” she brushed at her eyes. “Sorry. I was just- getting some air.”

“Me too.” He came a bit closer, and she saw how thin he was, almost gaunt. She’d never seen him up close in real life, but the last tabloid pictures had been him as a hard partying college freshman himself, and he’d seemed much more lively and healthy then, even if he was drunk as a skunk. He wasn’t drunk now, or at least, didn’t smell like it, though he seemed tense, edgy.

“Do you need help getting back to the party?” he asked, sounding torn between impatient exasperation and genuine concern.

“No,” she spat, and kicked her diminutive heels out from under her skirt. “I’m fine.” She carefully picked them up, then stared at them and tossed them even further down the hall. You couldn’t even see her shoes with this dress.

“Okay.” He was staring.

“Bye,” she said, coldly, and started to walk away. After a moment, she heard his quick pace behind her; he had a long stride and was beside her in an instant.

“I’m sorry,” the taut look had erased itself from his finely featured face. He looked almost handsome again, albeit in a delicate, almost waifish way. She didn’t find it very appealing, despite his height and full head of dark hair. Maybe if he put some muscle back on, sure, but-

“Where are my manners?” He held out his hand. “Bruce Wayne.”

“I know who you are,” she snorted, but shook it, tentatively. “Stacey Belgrave.”

“I thought you were a Belgrave. You look like your mother.” He saw the look on her face, and amended, “Taller, though. And… much prettier.”

She rolled her eyes and let go of his hand; he had a strong grip.

“Beautiful?” At this point he was just throwing out suggestions. “Here, I’ll do you one better, Miss Belgrave-,”

“Please don’t.”

“Can I reserve the next dance with you?” he asked, and sounded almost earnest. Not in an interested way- there’d been no flicker of attraction or lust when he looked her up and down, just razor sharp curiosity- but he seemed genuine all the same.

Stacey was flattered, despite- or because- of that. “Only,” she said, “if you come over and ask me in front of my friends.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Is this going to be your claim to fame?” He didn’t sound offended, just bemused, almost condescendingly so.

“No, Mr. Wayne,” she said, pityingly. “My father is Leo Belgrave. You know, the one who wrapped his Corvette around a pole and wrote his wife out of his multimillion dollar will to leave me everything. I’m already quite famous.”


Stacey leaned against the cold enforced steel of the bunker wall while waiting for him to change. She knew that was what he was doing, though she couldn’t remember actually hearing him say it, just his lips moving and a ringing in her ears.

She was hardly trapped down here with him; the narrow stairwell she’d come down was still accessible just a few feet away, unless Dick or Alfred had sealed it from above, which she supposed was possible, but she thought unlikely. She had her cellphone in her hand, which Bruce had seen, and he’d made no moves to take the phone from her or to in any way restrain her.

She checked her phone now. There was no service, but a dial to emergency services should still go through, right? She was certain that was a thing. Mostly certain. But even if she had felt her life was in mortal danger, she doubted she would call the police or anyone else. Bruce was on friendly terms with the commissioner, and it now appeared obvious why.

Apparently vigilantism got a smile and a wave from the cops so long as you were outrageously wealthy. Outrageously wealthy and in possession of what seemed like an armory full of weapons, judging by the cases on the wall and even inlaid in the floor under her feet. She’d never heard of Batman using a gun, ever, but Bruce had plenty of them, and other things she couldn’t even identity. Batons? Tasers? Grenades? It was a teenage boy’s wet dream. A cold, sterile shrine to jackbooted masculinity.

Apparently, her shock and anger were turning her into something of a slam poet.

Stacey surveyed the room, listening to what sounded like rushing water- an underground river?- nearby, and listening for footsteps or raised voices from above, but they never came. She knew that she’d been taking a risk by putting Elena back in Dick’s arms. Of course she didn’t think Richard, an innocent and trusting child, would hurt his infant sister, but Alfred was deeply devoted to Bruce and if one of them was a threat, so was the other.

Yet she couldn’t picture Alfred harming Elena, either. Keeping her from her mother, possibly, but physically hurting a baby, no. She liked to think her gut was still somewhat reliable. Even if this seemed like blatant proof that it had steered her very, very wrong. But truth be told, she didn’t even think Bruce would harm his daughter. You couldn’t feign the paternal love and tenderness she’d seen him display to both Dick and Elena. And while plenty of abusers loved their own children deeply, and believed they were doing what was best for them, this didn’t feel like that sort of situation.

If she was being honest, she hadn’t sent the children upstairs because she was afraid Bruce would harm either of them. It was because if something unpleasant happened to her, she did not want Dick- old enough to understand what was going on- or Elena, who thankfully would never remember any of this- to witness it.

She heard footsteps, and saw Bruce come back out, stripped of his suit and back in sweatpants and a tee shirt. He was a big man and never looked unintimidating, even dressed so casually, but there was a visceral tension in her chest, like a coiled up viper, that had never existed there before. She was very aware that while he was not charging right at her, if she made a run for the stairs, he would reach her before she reached them, and while she was not a frail, delicate woman, he could very easily overpower her.

He stopped several feet from her. His face was as unreadable as she hoped her own was. His eyes were slightly narrowed, his brow furrowed, but not angry or panicked. She wasn’t sure if his calm reaction should be relieving or a warning to her. Desperation might have indicated that he hadn’t made up his mind about what to do yet. This steely resolve seemed to say that he’d decided what he was going to do the instant he saw her.

“What are you doing down here?” he finally asked. It was not a furious demand, or a snide remark. He sounded unhappy but not shocked.

“I was looking for Dick. I fell asleep in the nursery and when I woke up he and Elena were gone.”

Bruce nodded, as if he’d already considered this possibility and just wanted to confirm it with her. “You saw him come down here?”

“No. I heard him in the hall up there and when I turned the corner, he was gone. There was no way he could have vanished into thin air like that. No doorways or windows to duck out of. Nothing but the clock. I noticed it was different. It was always ten minutes behind, before.”

He nodded again.

“And what did he say, when you found him?” Only then did a note of tension creep into his voice, and she froze, but then it washed over her, the realization.

His main concern, at least emotionally speaking, was not that she knew, but that Dick did. If he was upset about anything, it was that Dick had found out. His concern with her knowing was merely logistical.

“He said we should go back upstairs. …You never told him, did you?”

Bruce shook his head.

“How long do you think he’s known?”

Bruce shook his head again, reddening slightly, as if in shame.

Stacey studied him, then said, “He must not be afraid of you… of it, if he took Elena down here. He loves her. He would never bring her somewhere he thought was dangerous.”

“This is dangerous,” Bruce snapped. His hands were shaking a little, before he noticed and controlled the tremors. Maybe it was a good thing he'd never become a doctor after all.

Stacey looked away breaking their eye contact, not out of submission, but because she felt it was the wisest decision. Bruce noticed and softened his tone. “None of this is your fault. I’m so sorry that you had to find out like this.” If he was lying, it was smooth, practiced, and rehearsed. Perhaps he’d said it before.

“I know it’s not my fault,” she said, to the floor. He was no longer wearing the steel-capped boots, and had traded them in for moccasins instead. That should have been funny, even cute, but she didn’t feel much of anything except icy numbness.

“Stacey, can you please look at me?”

She looked back up at him.

“This…. This has nothing to do with our…” he trailed off, then said, “I am still who- I’m not so different from the man you married. This is just another… side of me.” As if he were confessing a slightly embarrassing but innocent hobby he’d picked up. Like she’d found his massive LEGO collection or something.

“Okay,” she said. “What is the man I married going to do if I take Elena and leave, right now? Is Bruce Wayne going to let that happen? Is Batman?”

He was silent.

“What if I call the cops on the way out of here? Or, since Gordon would probably squash that real quick, what if I tweet about it? Or text a reporter friend? Bruce Wayne’s going to be okay with that? Batman won’t have any issues, right?”

She swallowed.

“Because, you know, if I’m having a spat with my husband and it gets leaked to the media, that’s embarrassing, right, that’s so annoying, but it’s not that big of a deal. These things happen. But if it comes out that my husband is Batman… I mean, you can’t let that happen, can you?”

He was silent.

“You can’t,” she said, “Well, maybe you can, the man, because you’re not a brute, or you don’t want to be, but Batman can’t. So. I mean, this vigilante thing, I imagine it has to be some sort of ‘the greater good’ scenario, right? Not really conducive to a family life. That’s where you messed up, I guess. You wanted the best of both worlds. Bruce Wayne. Billionaire playboy, happy family man, and brutal protector of the peace. Or something like that.”

“Stacey,” he said, “I would never hurt you. You know that. You have to know that.”

She believed him, or at least, that he genuinely believed in what he was saying.

“You don’t have to hurt me,” she agreed. “Come on. We’re not going to like, have a hand to hand fight, right? I’m half your size. You just have to take my electronics and put me on house arrest. I assume that’s what’s going to happen now, right? Dick is still a risk, because what if he says something at school? But you could always keep him home for the week. Phone in and say he’s got the flu while you do damage control. And… if he hasn’t said anything yet, he probably won’t. He adores you. You’re his hero,” the last bit came out close to a sneer, she could admit.

“I’m not going to take your phone,” he said.

“Do you even need to? You have to be pretty tech savvy, to do what Batman does. I’m sure you can brick my screens without physically taking them from me, or at least keep me from accessing the internet. Don’t worry, I already forgot our WIFI password,” she smiled thinly. “We didn’t go in for that family cell service plan, though, so you might have to shut off my phone for real. In case I text someone about this, or try to call my mom to raise hell. That would be unpleasant. She’s friends with a lot of lawyers. My lawyers. The ones whose salaries I pay with my own money. My accountants, too. Actually, they might get a little nervous if I suddenly drop off the grid.”

“Is that a threat?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Do you want my phone or not?”

“No,” he snapped. “I’m not- for God’s sake, Stacey, you’re jumping to conclusions- I am not taking your phone, or- or locking you up in the attic, for the love of- let’s just discuss this. Reasonably. We’re both adults.”

“I’m an adult,” she said. “You’re a traumatized little boy playing dress up, as far as I can tell. Children don’t tend to react well when you infringe on their imaginations.”

That had been a test to provoke him, and he passed, if not with flying colors. He stiffened and stepped slightly back from her. “You must have questions,” he said after a moment. “I can answer them. I don’t expect you to- to like my answers, but-,”

“I don’t have any questions for you,” Stacey replied flatly. “Why are you doing this? Because your parents were the victims of a violent crime. Because we live in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Because you can. Did that cover all of it?”

“I’m not- this isn’t some ego trip, Anastasia,” he exhaled through his nose. “I’m not trying to…. I didn’t begin this for the right reasons, I’ll admit, but I am doing my best to make this city a safer place. Not to… to enact some revenge plot, or to exert my will over everyone-,”

“Okay,” she said. “It’s not about your ego. You genuinely believe you are our savior. Let’s move on. How are you doing this? I guess those long nights at the office weren’t really at the office. This place-,” she gestured broadly, “lets you leave your home suited up and undetected. You have billions of dollars and hundreds of offshore accounts to discreetly purchase whatever supplies you need. Your butler is in on it and helps you take care of your son and home. Some of your staff at WayneCo must be in on it, too, to cover for your ass. Gordon knows, as we’ve established.”

“I never confirmed that.” But his jaw was twitching.

She’d be lying if she didn’t feel a brief spark of smug pleasure, piercing through the fog of anxiety.

“We’ve covered the why and how. Anything else? You don’t need to give me some speech about how this changes nothing, Bruce. You married me because you needed control. As the mother of your child I would have some role in your life regardless and it was best to keep all those eggs in one basket, in this case. You pushed for me to move in as soon as possible so that you could monitor me, make sure that if I ever began to suspect- or God forbid, found out- I’d be close at hand so you can settle things quickly and quietly.”

He looked stricken, but more importantly, he denied none of it. Not angrily, not weakly, just… nothing. Whether it was entirely true or only partially true, it didn’t matter. She’d struck a nerve.

“You love our daughter,” she said. “You don’t love me. You never have. That’s okay. You never lied about that, at least. And I know you wouldn’t intentionally put Elena in danger. At least not anymore than you have just by being her father. I guess you must have a lot of enemies by now, and if any of them ever found out you had kids…” she trailed off.

“I will never let Dick or Elena come to any harm because of what I do,” Bruce said firmly, and reached out towards her, but stopped when he saw the look on her face.

“It’s not all on you,” she said. “I agreed to marry a man I barely knew because I was insecure and frightened. And weak. I didn’t want to do any of this alone. My mother was right. This was probably the biggest mistake of my life, and I’ll regret it until the day I die. I’ve put Elena in terrible danger by letting you be anything more than a sperm donor. Even worse, I care about Dick, and I don’t think I could leave him with you.”

Bruce recoiled as if slapped, and now she saw genuine fury flash in those blue eyes. “I would never hurt Dick,” he growled.

There didn’t seem to be much point in arguing with him.

“I’m going to go upstairs and put Elena back to bed,” she said. “I’m not going to do anything rash, don’t worry. People would probably believe I was stupid enough to have never known the truth, so I’m not worried about my own skin, but I can’t do this to my daughter. Or Dick. I don’t want them to grow up visiting their father in max security prison for the next twenty years.”

He reached towards her again, albeit more hesitantly, and she smartly stepped back, though she was proud that she never flinched or cringed away.

“I told you things I’ve never told anyone,” she said. “Even for a second, did you ever consider telling me the truth?”

Bruce set his jaw, and dropped his hand. “No,” he said. "But I need to tell you something now. Someone set us up to be mugged that night. And someone has been spying on me at Wayne Industries. I need you to stay very close to the manor for a bit. And I need you to not go anywhere near Tommy Elliot or Gotham General, do you understand?”

Well, that was very convenient. She almost retorted that Elliot had warned her about him, albeit for very different reasons, but caught herself. Ironically enough, Tommy had been right for all the wrong reasons. This marriage was a massive mistake and Bruce had been lying to her from the start. Worst of all, she was a wealthy, independent woman who’d willingly walked into the trap herself. She had no room to judge her own mother anymore.

“I understand,” she said. “Don’t leave the house and don’t talk to anyone. Funny how we’ve come full circle back to that, huh?”

He was not amused; she waited until he glanced away for a split second, then dared to turn her back on him and climb the stairs, slipping her phone back into her cardigan pocket.


Some Notes:

1. As many of you may have noticed, I keep the actual time period of this fic very vague on purpose. I don't want it feel super dated or overly futuristic or to be super focused on exactly what year it is, and there are some deliberate contradictions/anachronisms. I think any superhero related media, unless it's a deliberate period piece, should feel sort of nebulous in terms of time. That said, I have a very specific early 2000s vibe to this flashback, which is intentional. No smartphones or Uber here, folks.

2. This flashback is a host of things I would strongly advise against doing in real life. Such as: going home with guys you just met in some sketchy club without your cellphone, walking around an apartment complex barefoot, urging your cab driver to break traffic laws, leaving your family to think you may be dead in a ditch somewhere, drinking vodka while hungover, only eating salad and bread all day.... Also, apologies to all the people named Trey out there, you guys are usually cool.

3. Victoria is the older sister of Stacey's deceased father, Leo. She is on pretty good terms with her sister-in-law, Jessica, much to Stacey's dismay.

4. I do not endorse or support anti-Kryptonian language, Stacey is just being an edgy, snarky teenager and ragging on Superman for no reason. That said, there is definitely an Alex Jones lookalike in Stacey's world going on about how Superman is only pro-choice as part of a plot to decrease the number of new humans.

5. I think it's funny to imagine a real rivalry between the people of Metropolis and Gotham. During this flashback, Bruce has only just started out as Batman, and he's not really this well known figure yet, so Gotham is not considered to have a patron superhero of any sort. Gothamites are weirdly proud of this and view Superman with a lot of suspicion and derision. I know it is common to envision Gotham and Metropolis as being cities that are located quite close to one another, to emphasize the contrast, but in this story, Gotham is on the northeastern coast of the US (like, the sh*ttiest possible version of NYC and Jersey City), and Metropolis is a large midwestern city (think like, the best possible version of Chicago).

6. Jessica is not a good mother, but she has a point that Stacey is behaving in a very reckless and unsafe manner, especially given where they live. Not only is Stacey a young woman, she is a notoriously wealthy young woman, and could be the target of any number of violent plots designed to get her inheritance money.

7. Bryn Mawr is an elite all women's college in the US, located in Pennsylvania. It is one of the 'Seven Sisters'. Stacey is making a nasty joke about Eleanor being held up as proof that women aren't funny, while making fun of Eleanor for calling herself a feminist but constantly calling the other girls slu*ts and insulting their looks.

8. This has never been explicitly mentioned before, but when Stacey's father had basically written his wife out of his will when he died. Jessica got very little of his money. Most of it was funneled into a trust-fund for Stacey to acquire at age 21. This obviously provoked as much of a scandal as his death- not only was he with his mistress and driving intoxicated and high, he also seemed to leave a final 'f*ck you' to his wife.

9. Sorry if anyone was looking forward to a screaming match between Bruce and Stacey, and maybe that would have happened had there not been children in the mix, but Stacey's behavior is obviously going to be focused on her daughter's safety and wellbeing first and foremost. What I wanted to show here is that like Bruce, Stacey, for all that she can be impulsive and jump to conclusions, is a pretty logical and analytical thinker while under stress, so she doesn't go into hysterics, and instead calmly breaks everything down.

10. Wow Bruce, great job at handling this reveal and making sure Stacey is fully aware of the danger she might be in and that you actually do care about her beyond just making sure she doesn't reveal your identity! Oh, wait! You suck at this! I am debating upping the chapter count to 13, we'll see how many words it takes to wrap this story up. We are basically teetering on the edge of the climax right now, obviously.

Chapter 12


Well you guys were right, I'm not wrapping this up in 12 chapters. Let's hope for 13/14.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

It wasn’t that Bruce didn’t feel guilty. He did. He felt awful. He’d never considered himself a callous person, though he was certainly good at compartmentalizing his feelings. And while he had a spiteful, vindictive streak, he’d never genuinely enjoyed causing anguish in someone who didn’t deserve it.

By no means did he think Stacey deserved it. Even had their relationship been far more contentious than it already was- and perhaps always had been- he still wouldn’t have taken any pleasure or relief from her discomfort or sense of betrayal. In her shoes, he would be outraged and infuriated as well.

But he couldn’t just simmer in his guilt, because there were too many other factors at play here. He wasn’t the only one at risk if Stacey, in a fit of temper or anxiety, revealed his identity, whether deliberately or inadvertently. And it was still mostly his own fault, because he’d chosen to involve Alfred and Lucius and Gordan and even Leslie. But that didn’t mean he felt he could just stand by and watch their fates dangle off the edge of a hook as well.

So of course, he kept very close, and he kept watch on his wife. It didn’t feel good, or righteous, and he certainly didn’t enjoy it, but what else could he do? She’d taken it far more calmly than he expected, all things considered, but her composure also unnerved him. He’d seen Stacey cool and collected before, and it was generally when she was in a rage or plotting something. Like him, she knew how to shut down everything else in order to function, and he suspected it had served her well, given her childhood (and adulthood) trauma.

For all her assurance that she didn’t want to ruin Dick or Elena’s lives, he couldn’t trust her anymore than she felt she could trust him, and so for the following week, they participated in a very strange ritual of mostly circling one another like wild dogs. He did leave the house to patrol and visit Wayne Corp, but very, very infrequently, and only when he was certain she was preoccupied with an infant or otherwise out of commission.

Alfred, of course, thought this was utter lunacy, and told him as much.

“You need to extend a little grace,” he said to Bruce, who was carrying a tray full of dirty dishes into the kitchens. “Is this really how you intend to spend the rest of your life? Treating your wife like a feral cat you’re worried is about to start shredding the furniture?”

I thought we were talking about Stacey, not Selina, Bruce almost retorted, but Alfred was as humorless as he’d ever been, and it didn’t seem the time to be cracking jokes. “Obviously not,” Bruce said instead, exhaling as he dumped the dishes in one of the industrial sized sinks.

“But can you blame me for being cautious? I need to give her time to cool off. Then we can make more long term arrangements. But for now- you’re the one who’s been insisting how fragile and sensitive a time this is for her, Alfred. Now you want me to act like everything’s normal and skip off to work? She could have a breakdown at any moment, hop on Instagram, and then where the hell would we be?”

“If you truly feel she’s that unstable, perhaps you should confiscate her electronics,” Alfred said primly, but his eyes were narrowed.

Bruce flushed; he knew a trap when he heard one. “Of course I’m not going to do that. She’s not a child, and I’m not her keeper. I’m not going to imprison my own spouse-,”

“Well, you’ve been acting like a guard all the same. Do you honestly think circling like you’re doing rounds in a psychiatric ward is making her feel any more trusting of you? You need to consider her position, Bruce. She has a five week old infant. She won’t be fully recovered- physically or emotionally- from childbirth for some time, never mind the bombshell you just dropped on her.”

“Dick was the one who-,” Bruce cut himself off. He sounded like a child, throwing his son under the bus. “Of course I know she must be frightened. At least if she could admit that to me we could get somewhere. Instead she’s completely iced me out, and I don’t know what she’s thinking. And that scares me.” The words echoed hollowly in the cavernous room.

Alfred gave him a grim look, and said, “She isn’t the only one who made the foolish decision to marry someone they barely knew. Now you’re reaping what you’ve sown, and I can’t say I feel very sorry for you.”

Bruce braced himself against the cold metal of the sink, shooting Alfred a slightly stung look, but unable to really counter that point. In a sense, he’d been just as reckless as Stacey. She wasn’t… wrong. Marrying her had seemed safer, easier, than a potentially unpredictable relationship with the unattached mother of his child. He’d been worried about never seeing Elena again, even before she was born. If Stacey were to demand a divorce tonight, he wouldn’t vocally protest, but- Yes, this was a mess. One he’d not exactly done much to prevent beforehand.

He’d underestimated her, had told himself he could easily tolerate a business-like arrangement with a young woman he thought was good-natured and clever, but ultimately flighty and shallow. Someone who could be easily patronized and placated. He’d pigeonholed her into one box, only to discover that she refused to be confined anymore than he did. He admired her; her willpower, her stubbornness, her dark sense of humor. He could only imagine what she might have become had she taken those skills into the boardroom or the sciences.

“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted. “I don’t know where we go from here. And I also know that she and the kids might be in danger. And I don’t know why. And it’s pissing me off.”

“Chances are,” said Alfred, more mellowly, “you are not going to magically solve all your problems within the next few hours. But there is a decent chance you could begin to make some amends with your wife, if you put your impressive mind to it, Master Wayne.”

“This from a man who’s never been married before.”

Alfred gave him an inscrutable smile, than shooed him out of the kitchen.

Trying to keep this sense of calm and purpose, Bruce set off in search of Stacey, and found her in the gym, enthusiastically hitting tennis balls rocketing out of a ball machine he hadn’t even realized he owned. He hadn’t seen her do anything this active… well, ever, and he was shocked to see her in exercise shorts and a tank top, her blonde hair scraped back from her face with a neon pink headband. It was now just past her chin- she looked more similar than ever to her mother, though much younger and taller, which was a bit disconcerting.

At the sound or vibration of his footfall she turned. He winced as a ball careened towards her, but she ducked slightly and it slammed into the wall past her head. “Can you turn that off?” he called.

She made a gesture with her racquet that indicated he was closer, so he did, and stayed on the opposite side of the net.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, a little too sweetly.

Bruce fought the urge to scowl, then said, “I don’t want to continue on like this. My behavior has been… reprehensible. You didn’t deserve to be lied to or manipulated. I thought I was doing what was best for our daughter, but I was selfish and arrogant. I know you may never agree with my job-,”

“Your job?” she mouthed incredulously, but he forged ahead-

“But that’s not what this is about, not really. We’re partners, even if this isn’t a traditional marriage, and I should have been as honest with you as you’ve been with me. I… this isn’t easy for me, but I want to trust that you wouldn’t do anything to put the kids at risk. So…. so I want to trust you. And eventually, I think, maybe you could start to trust me again.”

She stared at him, racquet in hand, then walked over and shoved it in her bag. She returned, wiping her sweaty hands on her shorts, and said to him, “So I’m assuming you haven’t checked social media today.”

His blood ran cold. “What did you-,”

Her apathetic demeanor shifted to something a little tenser, and he pulled his phone out of his pocket, opening his newsfeed. He didn’t even have to bother. He had six new text messages from various associates, all demanding to know if he’d seen the ‘blind item revealed’ from one of Gotham’s many gossip blogs. Which was now sitting at close to ten thousand retweets on Twitter.

“Anastasia,” he said, as calmly as he could manage, “why is there a photo circulating of you kissing a man who looks remarkably like Thomas Elliot?” The photograph was incredibly blurry and skewed, true. But it was undeniably Stacey in the image, and the man- albeit turned away from the camera, and wearing a winter coat- seemed to have ruddy colored hair.

“Simple explanation, really,” she said, voice prickling with anger. “I was pretty sure you were f*cking someone named SK during our daughter’s christening, so I had a bit of a moment in the coat room.”

Logically, he should have been far more concerned with what Stacey might have told Elliot, as opposed to what looked like a pretty chaste kiss. Emotionally- “What the hell were you thinking?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Bruce, I didn’t know you’d invented time travel? Shall we go back and yell at past me for not knowing that you have some paranoid delusion that Tommy Elliot is out to get you?”

“Why the f*ck would you be kissing him, regardless-,”

“Because I felt worthless and he was there!”

“And I’m not- I’m not seeing anyone, right now,” he felt the absurd need to put that out there, “so honestly, if we’re talking about paranoid delusions-,”

“Oh, you smug, condescending bastard-,” They were both now so close, on opposite sides of the net, that they could have touched through it. He could feel her breath and see the sweat on her face. But she looked better than she had in weeks, lively and vigorous once more, powerful, not agonizing over breastfeeding or diaper changes.

“This is ridiculous,” he broke the stand-off first. “No. Putting that aside- he is dangerous.”

“And I’m just supposed to take Batman’s word for it, is that it? Because I’m some dumb blonde bimbo who you think couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag-,”

“Because he treated the father of the kid who tried to mug us for a brain tumor! Because he is part of my board of trustees! Because he has the money and the influence to make my life very difficult, and showing feigned interest in you would play right into that-,”

“Feigned,” she said, “of course. Because if any man were interested in me- like you pretended to be- it would have to be because it’s part of some master plan- do you even hear yourself? It sounds like you have a sh*t ton of conjecture and assumptions, and not a lot of hard proof, which is pretty par for the course for a vigilante-,”

“I don’t save lives based on conjecture. I’m trying to be honest with you, not that you’re making it easy right now-,”

“You are so full of sh*t,” she spat. “The only times you’ve ever been halfway human and decent with me is when you could get something out of it. Christ. The amount of dirt you have on me- I should be paranoid, not you! I should be the one making threats and leaping to conclusions-,”

“I’m not threatening you!”

“You’re Batman! You are a threat, period!”

“Fine,” he threw up his hands. “Fine. You’re right. I’m a threat, So is he. I don’t give a sh*t if you don’t trust me right now, if you hate me, but if you care about our daughter at all, you will give me the benefit of the f*cking doubt, and just listen. Someone with millions to throw around bought tech and information from the Riddler. They bugged my office. They arranged for us to be mugged. They sent someone with a gun to where Dick was. Alright? You were pregnant. This is not someone who cares about loss of human life.”

“That kid they hired- gone. The thieves they hired- dead. This is not some two bit thug with a grudge or some gangb*nger on the up and up. They are serious about this. And I have reason to believe Elliot is involved, which makes it a little too convenient that he’s been extending a sympathetic ear to you. Whatever he’s told you about me-,”

Stacey opened her mouth, then closed it, brow furrowed.

“-is probably not the most accurate information, okay? You are an adult woman. You can do what you want with your body. But do not go to him. Please, Stacey. And do not let him anywhere near the kids.”

“Do you honestly think,” she said after a moment, “that I’m such a desperate slu*t that I would put your son and my daughter in danger so I could get laid?”

“No,” he said, “because I really, truly doubt that you kissed Tommy Elliot because you wanted sex. It’s because you felt alone. And I was- I have been- a pretty sh*t husband. I’m trying to be less sh*t. I cannot do that if you are dead.”

For a moment she seemed to soften, before the walls came back up. “Fine,” she said. “Noted. I will not go to the hospital. If one of us is dying, we’ll get Alfred to slap a bandaid on it.”

“I can give you the number of a doctor who I trust-,”

“It was a joke, Bruce! Jesus. You’d better hope I don’t have another aneurysm. Don’t think you got to the neuro part of med school.”

He stepped back from the net. “I have to go.”

“I’m sure Gotham cries out for its savior,” she drawled.

“I’m not going out as Batman,” he put his phone away again. “I have a social call to make.”

She shot him a suspicious look, but let it go, and went to fetch her water bottle.

Ultimately, it wasn’t a very difficult decision. He was Bruce Wayne; he should do what Elliot would expect Bruce Wayne to do. He had no real evidence, after all, that Elliot or whoever was behind this knew for a fact that he was Batman. He couldn’t even confirm that Riddler knew, or that Riddler would have sold the information.

So it seemed prudent to react in a way that one would expect Bruce Wayne, the furious and prideful husband to, rather than Batman who was - ideally - more calm and calculated. Not that he could really own that title after Stacey had managed to work him into a near apoplectic fit. He made it into the city in record time, despite taking the Buick, and not the Batmobile, and arrived at the hospital at around four in the afternoon.

It was an unseasonably warm day in late February, and he had to navigate around puddles and muddy patches on his way inside, but Gotham General seemed remarkably calm, for a hospital that treated a record number of trauma victims every year. His footsteps echoed quietly in the halls, and security did not stop him at any point, or question the ease with which he moved past nurses’ stations and checkpoints.

A few even smiled and waved; Bruce had famously donated millions of dollars to this hospital, after all, and had been here for countless charity events and fundraisers, smiling and posing for the cameras with the most photogenic doctors, nurses, and patients. Gotham General was where he’d been taken in the direct aftermath of his parents’ deaths, though it had been remodeled twice since then. And bombed and set on fire a few times in between.

He knew where Elliot’s office was without having to ask; Tommy, had, after all, given Bruce his personal card after performing the surgery that had saved Stacey’s life. Even thinking about it gave Bruce pause; if Elliot was truly out to get him, for whatever convoluted reason, why would he work so hard to save the life of Bruce’s wife? Tommy could never had predicted Stacey would suffer an aneurysm, or that he’d be on call that night, and it would have been the perfect chance to hurt his target- letting his pregnant wife tragically pass away on the operating table.

Even the thought made Bruce’s throat close up slightly. He might still be furious with Stacey, but the nightmare of seeing her lifeless body- of never having met Elena- was chilling. Where would he be right now, if that had happened? It would have broken off another part of him, leaving behind another vicious, jagged edge. And wouldn’t that have been to Elliot’s benefit?

He knocked on the door, wondering what he’d do if Elliot had already gone home for the day, but there was a low murmur of conversation, and then a well-dressed, petite young woman opened the door, shooting Bruce a slightly coy smile, before flipping her dirty blonde hair over her shoulder and walking out. Bruce took a few moments to recognize her, and then couldn’t help himself, as he stepped inside.

“Is that Sean Riley’s daughter?” he asked acidly, as he shut the door behind himself.

Thomas was reclining in the chair behind his desk; he seemed utterly unfazed by Bruce’s sudden entry, but offered a sheepish smile, which made his blue eyes crinkle in a charming manner. “Peyton was consulting with me about a case. She’s practicing law now, you know. Defense attorney, and a damn good one. Had some questions about brain injuries.”

“Last I heard, she was in med school,” said Bruce, who still kept a very close eye on Gotham’s Italian and Irish mobs, respectively. No offense intended, but the Irish (or, the Americans who were vaguely descended from the millions of Irish immigrants who’d flocked here in the 1800s), were a joke compared to their Italian-American counterparts when it came to control of the city’s drug, prostitution, and gambling circuits, but far from harmless, either.

Sean Riley’s only child was someone worth keeping tabs on, sweet and preppy as she might seem in her blazer and skirt.

“That’s where we met,” said Tommy. “But plans change. She found her passion somewhere else. Just like you, Bruce.” He smiled disarmingly, but there was a flinty look in his eyes. “So what do I owe this visit to? You’re not usually one for social calls on rainy weekdays.”

“You were never one for making moves on other men’s wives,” Bruce retorted, playing into the outraged frat boy he could summon up at a moment’s notice. “So what’s changed, Tommy? Peyton and you aren’t getting back together, so you decide to look elsewhere?”

Tommy winced, then said, delicately, “Nothing serious happened between me and Stacey. I know it looks… bad, but Bruce, come on. You know me! I would never- I was trying to be a shoulder to cry on. She seemed overwhelmed, and she was my patient… I still care, you know.”

“Caring doesn’t generally require mouth to mouth. Unless she was asphyxiating on pure air.”

Elliot seemed about to chuckle at that, then thought better of it. “It was a mistake,” he said. “I’m a sleep deprived emotional wreck. Any other doctor here will tell you the same. I regret that it’s been dragged out into the open like this, but it won’t happen again, Bruce, you have my word. Stacey’s a lovely woman, but she’s not my type, really.”

“And what is your type?” Bruce sneered, a hand on the back of the chair in front of the desk.

Tommy exhaled and said nothing. “You look like a wreck,” he admitted after a moment. “How much sleep have you been getting these days? You’re not a young man anymore, Bruce…”

“Thanks for the reminder, I’d nearly forgotten, you pompous ass.” Bruce let himself exhale as well, pretending at an ease of tension. “You always did like to get under my skin, Tom. Even when we were kids. You’d start the fight, then point fingers when our mothers came running to see who was hurt.”

“You had a mean right hook,” Tommy snorted. “I won’t apologize for my crocodile tears.”

Then or now, Bruce thought sourly, then said, “Look, I believe it when you say it was a one time thing. And… I will forever be grateful for what you did for Stacey- for us- back in November, You saved her life, Tommy. That can never be repaid.”

Elliot shrugged. “Your father saved my mother’s life, once.” His tone had shifted, though. Too light and airy. No one would talk about his mother’s near fatal accident so casually. Certainly not when it was the same accident that had killed his father.

Bruce paused, then said, “That must have been a terrible time for you. I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend, then.”

“We were barely friends, Bruce. Our parents shoved us together because were antisocial spoilt little rich boys,” Elliot reasoned. “I don’t hold it against you. How could I? Your father saved me from becoming an orphan.” His tone, though… it made the hair on the back of Bruce’s neck stand up.

Bruce decided to press it. “It’s not just that, though. Your father… I know he wasn’t an easy man to live with. For you or your mother. I’m sorry my family couldn’t do more for you. You were just a kid caught in the middle of that…”

Tommy stood up suddenly, and Bruce tensed, readying himself for a fight.

But Elliot did not lunge at him, only said, in a raw, quiet voice that pricked at Bruce’s sympathy, “I can’t say I was very sad to see my dad laid to rest. But at least my mother had some good years without him dragging her down. I know we’ve had our differences, Bruce, and we’ve taken very different paths in life, but we’re grown men now, not sulky teenagers. I hope you know that I wish you the best in life, and your family as well. You’ve done so much for this hospital- for this city. You’re an inspiration to us all. Even when you’re being a bit of a self righteous prick.”

Bruce regarded him for a long moment, debating whether or not to try to rile Thomas up again, hope he revealed something more- should he mention Devon’s name? But no, it wasn’t worth the risk. The instant he explicitly tipped Elliot off that he was onto him…

“Thanks,” he said, instead, and shook Tommy’s hand, fingers brushing against the other man’s class ring. Unlike Bruce, he hadn’t attended Princeton, but Harvard, and he was proud enough to still wear the ring everywhere he went. They let go, and Elliot saw Bruce out.

Bruce paced down the hall, thinking, as he headed for the elevators. That hadn’t been the confrontation he’d been hoping for- Elliot had remained remarkably calm- but it hadn’t eased his suspicions, either. Despite his claims to the contrary, he didn’t really believe that Tommy had been so relieved to not be orphaned at a young age.

Something about the way he’d spoken of his mother- it wasn’t so much what he’d said, but the tone, his demeanor… He’d been trying hard to hide it, but it was there all the same.

Bruce was so lost in thought that at first he didn’t notice the muscle spasms in his jaw. It was only when his breathing began to tick up in the elevator that he realized that something was very, very wrong. By the time the doors dinged open into the lobby, he stumbled out, more so than walked, and when he tried to speak, could only slur. He couldn’t even swallow.

A mounting pressure was building behind his eyes, and his last coherent thought was that at least he was already in a hospital.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Stacey was organizing some shoeboxes with Heather when Alfred knocked lightly on the door. Despite his calm demeanor, she could tell something was wrong from the set of his jaw- he might not be Bruce’s biological father, but they shared plenty of tics in common, as anyone would expect from adoptive father and son. She saw the same tendencies in Dick. It was almost sweet, but also a little creepy at times.

She stood up, leaving Heather to reluctantly watch over Elena, who was cooing happily on the bed, and followed him out into the hall.

“Bruce is in the hospital,” he said.

“I thought that was the idea. To dig up dirt on Elliot. If there is any.”

“Well, he’s been admitted as a patient,” Alfred said tersely. “They’re claiming it’s an advanced case of tetanus.”

Stacey supposed that could be plausible- Batman spent enough time scrapping in alleys and junkyards to have gotten cut up by rusty metal on the regular, even with all that body armor. “Is he coherent?”

“He’s sedated to ease the muscle spasms. I’m going to see him immediately. I want him transferred out of there as soon as possible.”

“Good luck,” said Stacey, then grimaced, because she knew she sounded blasé and unkind. “I just mean, that’s on all his documents, Gotham General. He’s in their database. Where would you transfer him to? St. Mary’s?”

“I don’t know,” said Alfred, who was clearly struggling to stay composed. “But I’m his emergency contact, and that has to count for something. I don’t want him in the same building as Elliot. And you need to be extraordinarily careful, Stacey. This is all far too convenient.”

Stacey thought her life up until this point was all ‘far too convenient’, but she couldn’t deny the unease she felt in her gut, or the trickle of fear that had dripped down her spine when Alfred said Bruce was sedated. It was one thing for him to be sick but recovering, as if from a bad case of the flu. It was another thing for him to go from fully functional to completely incapacitated within a matter of hours.

This was still circ*mstantial evidence at best, but she’d be lying to herself if she said it didn’t have her hackles up, or that she wasn’t worried for him. Part of her was convinced she now loathed Bruce with a fiery intensity she’d only reserved for her stepfather, but now she knew that wasn’t entirely true, if she was this distressed that he was ill. It wasn’t just worry for lack of protection. She hadn’t felt very safe in this house lately to begin with.

“What about Dick?” she asked after a long pause. She’d barely spoken to him all week; she thought he was hiding from her, or Bruce, or maybe both of them. She knew Bruce had had a long private discussion with Dick, and it wasn’t as though he’d been punished for finding out the truth, but it had to be shaky between the two of them, surely.

“Dick knows that Bruce is ill and in the hospital for a brief stay,” Alfred said. “He knows nothing about Elliot or anything else. I think it’s best it stay that way.”

Stacey wanted to argue that after finding out his adoptive father was a masked vigilante who traded in violence the way some men traded in playing cards, it couldn’t be that much more traumatizing to know there were people out there who might use Dick to hurt Bruce. But instead she nodded tightly, said, “Keep me updated,” and returned to Heather.

She told Heather what Alfred had told Dick, no more. But Heather knew something was up- how could she not, when Stacey had summoned her here so suddenly, loaded down with boxes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton?

“You are not having a good week, huh?” Heather said, as she idly rubbed Elena’s back. Stacey just hoped it would relieve the colic a bit. “First Eleanor leaks you and the good doctor getting cozy, and now hubby’s laid up in the ICU.”

“He’s not in the ICU,” Stacey snapped, but rose and walked to the window, watching Alfred’s car leave. She turned back to Heather; all traces of snide humor had fled from her friend’s thin face.

“Something’s up,” said Heather. “You gonna tell me?”

“It’s nothing,” Stacey forced a snarky smile. “Just Paranoid Malibu Barbie sh*t.”

Heather snorted, then lifted the lid off one of the shoe boxes, pushed the gold flecked tissue paper aside, and lifted a small handgun carefully onto the bed. It wasn’t loaded, of course- Stacey had the ammunition in a separate box- but she scooped up Elena protectively all the same, putting her back into her cradle in the corner.

“This is a piece of sh*t,” said Heather, “as far as pieces go. I can’t believe you still have this.”

“Well,” said Stacey, “before my Paranoid Barbie days… remember that space themed party we had junior year? At the sorority house?”

“You brought a real gun to that party?” Heather demanded, though she didn’t sound shocked, to Stacey’s chagrin.

“It wasn’t loaded! I found it at some garage sale the summer before. I thought it was cute. It is cute!”

“The Whitney Wolverine,” Heather picked it up and mimed blowing gunsmoke, then seemed a little disgusted with herself and set it back down. “Is this actual aluminum? Did they use this on Lost in Space? Season one of Star Trek?”

“It’s a semi-automatic,” said Stacey, slightly defensive. “I have practiced with it, you know.”

“Wow, you made it down to the range what, twice a year? That’s gonna come in handy.”

“If hundreds of toddlers in this city can manage to accidentally shoot their family members with unattended guns every year, I think I could manage to get a shot or two off in the moment.”

“Oh, for sure. f*ck.” Heather flopped back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. “I thought marriage might mellow you out, you know? Now I have to worry about whether or not you’re gonna shoot your husband when he comes home from the hospital.”

“Believe it or not,” Stacey muttered, picking the pistol up and putting it carefully into the top drawer of her bedside table, “he is not top of the list at the moment.”

Bruce’s hospitalization plunged them all into a strange sort of limbo. Alfred spent hours on the phone, fighting with the hospital, who perhaps understandably were not keen on the optics of one of the biggest donors abruptly refusing to continue care with them.

Stacey spitefully reflected on Bruce’s warning to go nowhere near Gotham General, which meant that visiting him was out of the question, and then felt lashed with waves of guilt over it. Dick (almost) got into another fight at school, fortunately not with another girl.

Stacey felt her cabin fever growing, until she returned from the gym one afternoon- the sole upside of all this uncertainty being that she exercising again, and had stopped breastfeeding, and felt physically and mentally better for it- and found Alfred gone, leaving behind only a scribbled note that the hospital had summoned him, and he would call as soon as he knew more.

That his usually impeccable handwriting was almost indecipherable gave her considerable pause.

I am not ready to be a widow, was her first thought, so if you are listening, God, do not pull this sh*t with me. I have eons of filth to read him for. Don’t you dare turn him into a martyr because you pulled him out of the game too early. Do not make me grieve for a man who lied to me and manipulated me for months on end. Do not take my daughter’s father away from her the way you took mine.

Her yearly threat to divine power completed, she realized someone had to pick Dick up from school, or call him a cab. She waffled over it for a few minutes, before hardening herself, getting Elena up from her nap, and hunting down that carseat she’d meant to install in the Chevy weeks ago.

She was late, of course, but at least it wasn’t raining. Dick was quiet, and chose to sit in the back with Elena, rather than the front, chatting with her under his breath.

“Your dad’s going to be fine,” Stacey ventured, as they left the city. “Okay? He’s pretty tough. I think we both know that.”

“Are you guys going to get a divorce?” Dick asked after a moment.

She resisted the urge to look at him in the rearview mirror. “Of course not.”

“But you hate each other. You hate Batman.” He sounded torn between accusation and heartbreak. She was shocked that his distress was making her eyes string.

“I don’t hate Bruce, and I don’t hate Batman,” she said. “It’s just… not as easy for me to accept as it is for you. I’m older. I have a different perspective on things.”

“He’s a superhero,” said Dick, as if that should clear everything up. “Would you be mad if he was Superman?”

I think I would have noticed a lot sooner if he were Superman, Stacey thought, then said, “I don’t agree with all of Batman’s tactics, is all. And I’m very upset with him for lying to me.”

“But he had to! It was for the greater good, Stacey,” Dick explained. He sounded more earnest than condescending, but in a couple years that lofty tone was going to send her skittering up the walls.

“Well,” she said, “here’s the thing, Dick. Once you have kids, the greater good flies out the window.”

“Not for Bruce.”

“Not for him,” she agreed, tartly, as she turned into the driveway.

He gave her a wide berth after they entered the house, running upstairs to his room, which made her feel even worse. She wasn’t trying to turn Dick against his own father. But she wasn’t going to plaster on a smile and pretend everything was okay. She checked the garage, but Alfred’s car was still gone, and he still hadn’t called. Then again, Gotham General had notoriously bad cell service.

She left a note for Dick in the kitchen about there being some leftovers in the fridge if he wanted them, since he inhaled food like it was nothing, being in the midst of a growth spurt. Then she went upstairs to settle a fussy Elena, who’d been remarkably well tempered during the long car ride, but who now was beginning to rouse again.

As she carried her daughter into the nursery, her phone began to buzz in her pocket.

Huffing in dismay, Stacey tried to cradle a whimpering Elena with one hand and fish it out with the other, then gave up and set her daughter down in her crib. It was Alfred.

“Stacey,” he sounded relieved that she’d answered. “Where are you right now?”

“Home,” she said, “I got Dick from school. How’s Bruce?”

Alfred didn’t answer, and instead said, “I need you to take the children and go into the Batcave. Right now. I can’t access the manor’s security system. I think it’s been tampered with.”

“Are you sure it’s not just an internet outage?”

“You need to go,” he said, in a commanding, cold voice she’d never heard before. “Now.” His voice was breaking up on whatever he was saying next.

Stacey paused, phone in hand, the other trying to give Elena her binkie, and then jumped and dropped her phone into the crib when she heard footsteps behind her, too heavy to be Dick’s.

Tommy Elliot was standing in the doorway; unarmed, not particularly threatening, just… there, his broad shoulders filling the space. He was dressed as if he'd just come from the hospital, but his shoes were covered in mud. He must have parked some distance from the house and walked up.

“Alfred,” said Stacey, as loudly as possible, “call the cops.” But when she dared to glance down at her phone, the call had already dropped. Her cell service was gone.

“Sorry about that,” said Tommy, “but I did have to cover all my bases, and it was very near-sighted of Bruce to give his security system control over whether or not anyone could get a cell signal in this house.”

“How did you get access to the security system,” Stacey asked breathlessly, rather than “How the f*ck are you in my house?” since the former would answer the latter.

“Well, I put a bug in Bruce’s ‘work phone’ a few weeks ago at the christening,” he said, “and once I had access to his password manager, I could enter the app for the security system. I think Lucius Fox must have helped design it; it’s very cleverly done, and Bruce is smart, but not much of a coder. He relies on other people’s intellect and technology.”

Stacey realized that Elena had abruptly stopped crying. She was almost afraid to look at her daughter, that the infant would see the naked terror on her face and go into hysterics.

“And for a smart man,” said Tommy, “his blindspots tend to be, well… glaring. Both technologically and emotionally.”

“You have to go,” said Stacey, ignoring the fact that her knees were starting to shake. “You really, really have to go.”

“I know,” he admitted. “It was reckless of me to come here like this, but you can’t call the police - or anyone- right now, and I think you’re going to have to extend a little trust with me, Anastasia. I want to believe this is worth it.”

“I don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about, but you have to go-,”

“How long have you known your husband is Batman?” Tommy interrupted her blithely. “A week or two? Same here, honestly. I had no idea until I got into his phone. And when I did… I was floored, I’ll tell you. But it must have been so much worse for you. That betrayal, from a spouse? That has to sting.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her voice sounded cold, but high and fragile, like cracking ice.

He shrugged; his hands were in his pockets, but when he took them out, there was a gun. About as small as her own pistol, actually.

“I know your stepson is in the house,” he said, “actually he’s in his room in the west wing right now, listening to music. But I think he’d hear a gunshot. So let’s not let it come to that, alright?”

Stacey took a small step back, bumping against the bars of the crib. She almost wished Elena would start to wail again. Anything to break this horrible moment.

“Hush now,” said Elliot, with a familiar sheepish, self conscious smile. “You don’t want to upset the baby.”


Some Notes:

1. If anything I think Alfred should be meaner to (adult) Bruce in most stories. Stop this enabling bullsh*t. There's this very specific tendency to valorize Bruce's every behavior and decision as inherently well-founded and for the greater good, and I think it weakens him as a character, just because people want to write cute Batfamily dynamics, and they can't do that if Bruce is actually a flawed and f*cked up person who exposed his kids to some awful sh*t. That said, I have nothing against fluffy or light-hearted stories set in Gotham... I just don't like it when fans pretend they are the 'superior' version of canon.

2. That angry phone call Stacey had with Eleanor was Eleanor revealing she'd gotten a photo of Stacey in an uh.... compromising position with Tommy Elliot at Elena's christening.

3. "Why would Bruce go to confront Elliot alone? That was really reckless of him!" It was undeniably a bad decision, but Bruce is still not thinking of Tommy Elliot as a supervillain or someone who he couldn't necessarily easily incapacitate if it came down to it. He's thinking that the main threat from Elliot is his money, nothing else. And he had hope that he could manipulate Elliot into accidentally revealing incriminating information by surprising him at the office. If he showed up at midnight at Elliot's apartment as Batman, then it completely confirms that Bruce = Batman. Also, you know, I needed narrative drama for the climax.

4. Peyton Riley is in my opinion one of the most ridiculous characters DC has ever come up with, but she's fun, and I'm waiting for a halfway decent writer to do something with her besides have her be a crazy ventriloquist. So this was a nice little cameo.

5. This is absolutely not how tetanus works lol. Again, this fic is not intended to be medically accurate.

6. The Whitney Wolverine is an actual gun. It looks ridiculous. It did not sell well. This fic does not offer advice on firearms anymore than it does on medical maladies. Guns are not toys or badass accessories. They should not be left unsecured around children. This is my last author's note public safety announcement, promise.

7. Next chapter we get a few villainous monologues, Dick takes inspiration from Die Hard, and this storyline is potentially wrapped up for good.

Chapter 13


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Stacey had sat through her fair share of awkward, tense conversations. She liked to think she was immune to them by now. When your father died suddenly and tragically and you were shuffled from therapist to therapist and constantly called in to speak with guidance counselors at school and being lectured by teachers and your mother about your wasted potential… you got used to it. Granted, none of those conversations had ever involved guns. More’s the pity.

She sat on a chair in the kitchen, bottle feeding a now drowsy Elena, who seemed unperturbed by Tommy’s presence past the initial shock. Elliot was eating some of Alfred’s last batch of cookies. Watching him eat she was struck again by how ordinary and approachable he seemed, and how she would not been able to fully accept the panic coiling in her gut had it not been for the gun on the table in front of him.

He really did not need to thrust it in her face; she was holding an infant and that automatically rendered her more or less helpless. Even if she wanted to lunge for it, she had her child in her arms and would be far slower and weaker than him. To avoid looking him at head on, she focused on the dumbwaiter behind him, and the dead security camera in the corner.

Beyond that, she did not understand why he hadn’t shot her while her back was turned, but she’d concluded based off a dozen or so years of true crime documentaries (Gotham produced a lot of them), that he either had some things he wanted to do to her before he shot her, or he wanted to remove her from the house entirely before he shot her. Or both.

Or he’d just been really, really craving a snack.

When he was done with his cookie, he wiped his hands with a napkin; he’d been wearing gloves, but had removed them to eat, and put the gloves back on. Elena did not need to feed anymore, so Stacey set the bottle down

“You’re a natural,” Tommy said. “Truth be told, I think Bruce was concerned about postpartum depression for a while there, but it seems like you’re bouncing back. And look at that baby! She’s adorable.” None of this was delivered in a mocking or cruel manner. There was no malicious glint in his eyes as he said it. He seemed genuine, which was the worst part. Perhaps a bit patronizing, but genuine nonetheless.

Stacey said nothing; she had no idea what she could say to possibly improve the situation. She was praying Dick did not come looking for her. In fact, she hoped he had realized there was an intruder and that he’d been sensible for once and hid. She did not know what she would do if he burst in, but she had a good idea of what Tommy would do. She was hopeful Alfred had in fact contacted the police and that they were on their way, but even then, they were a good ways from the city, and there would be no instantaneous response.

There were lots of things that could happen before they got here.

“I’m sorry,” said Tommy. “I feel like I’m frightening you. I don’t want to scare you, Stacey. I don’t take any particular joy from it. You seem like a good person. I mean that. It’s just a pity you ended up in this situation. I really did try to think of how I could leave you out of it- well, after I took a liking to you, that is, but it just wasn’t feasible. You’re much smarter than the media gives you credit for and I just don’t think you could have been left in the dark forever.”

“Why did you take a liking to me?” she asked. Her voice sounded breathy and spineless, to her disgust.

“Oh,” he seemed surprised she needed it spelled out for her. “Well, you’re quite funny, and you’re a damn good kisser. And very... Sharp-minded. Sure, maybe you didn’t know all of Bruce’s dirty secrets right from the start - neither did I! But you always knew something wasn’t quite right. And you wanted to do something about it.”

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” said Stacey, dully. “Didn’t Aristotle say that?”

Elliot nodded approvingly, seeming delighted that she was playing along with this conversation and not sobbing or begging for mercy. “See, this is what I’m talking about. I hope I don’t sound too effusive here, but you really are a very interesting person. Back when I thought you were just some silly whor* who wanted a billionaire baby daddy, it was very easy to think of how I could set Bruce up for your murder. But I realized early on that just wasn’t fair.”

Hearing him speak so casually about killing her made her breath hitch in her throat. “Why… why would you want to do that to begin with?” she rasped.

He frowned. “Well, to get Bruce out of the way, of course. That’s what this whole thing has been about.” Seeing her staring, he clarified, “I just couldn’t make up my mind, that’s the problem. All these new variables kept being introduced. Let me tell you, that aneurysm of yours really threw me for a loop.”

“You could have just let me die,” she whispered.

He seemed stricken. “Well, yes, but that seemed a bit… low-brow, you know? I do have my duties as a surgeon. Medical ethics and all that. And by then I had come to know you a bit, and I really didn’t want you dead anymore.”

“This isn’t medical ethics?” she jerked her head weakly at the gun.

“Of course not,” he scoffed. “Now, I did cross the line when I infected your husband with tetanus, but it was the simplest neurotoxin I could introduce to his system without having to consult with even more outside help. I’ll admit, that wasn’t very medically ethical of me. But I was never his doctor, just yours.”

“He’s not going to die, though,” she said. “Not from… I mean, he’s in treatment for it.”

“Well, yes,” said Tommy patiently. “He’s not going to die yet. I just needed to lay him up for a bit, and I figured he’d come sniffing around as soon as that photo leaked. And then, of course, I realized I had better pay another visit to you, just in case he broke from his usual anal-retentive ways and confided in his partner for once. He did, didn’t he?”

She pressed her lips together.

“It would have been much better for you if he’d never said anything at all,” sighed Tommy. “But I suppose once you found out he was Batman, everything else was up for grabs, too. It’s a bit awkward for me. I actually feel entitled to killing him, now. He’s objectively been quite terrible for this city, if you consider the average working class citizen.”

“I didn’t know you were so class conscious,” she managed.

“I’m not. But it’s oddly nice to feel as though this all might be a net positive. I think I’ll make much better decisions with Wayne Industries.”

Oh. That made sense. He was in it for the money; the simplest motive. Though he was practically a millionaire himself. But she supposed it was never enough for some people.

As if he’d read her mind, Elliot’s eyes narrowed. “Now, don’t go thinking this is just base greed. It’s more than that, though I will be far more responsible with the Wayne family’s resources once I’m elected acting CEO after Bruce is dead… or in a permanent coma. Haven’t quite decided yet. Anyways, it’s really about my parents, if we want to get pathological.”

Now he sounded mocking, as if she were his skeptical therapist, tapping her pen on the table, waiting for a breakthrough.

“See, I did a very good job of trying to kill them when I was a kid, and then Thomas Wayne- same name, I know, I hate it too- went and saved my mother’s life, though she was paralyzed from the waist down all the same. That was pretty uncalled for. I had it all figured out. I was going to chart my own path, and then Dr. Wayne saddles me with an invalid mother and hands me a lollipop on my way out the door. That triggered a lot of teen angst, believe me.”

“Why didn’t you just kill your mother?” she murmured.

“Well, it would have been awfully suspicious to do it right then. Don’t worry, I did finish the job eventually. The woman was no picnic, trust me. My father used to beat her six ways to Sunday, and then she’d come traipsing into my room to lecture me about my grades. God, you’d think she had bigger things to worry about, with him! But I was her precious only son, and she never let me forget it.” Genuine anger flickers across his face for a moment, before it recedes.

“Did he beat you, too?” Stacey watches his hands, to see if he goes for the gun, and hopes she sounds soft and sympathetic, not critical and evaluating. Like his mother.

“Not really,” Tommy shrugged. “I think he liked a bit of a fight, and I couldn’t give that to him. But I think I did the world a favor, killing him. The crash nearly decapitated him, that’s what the coroner’s report said. He must have some inkling it was me, when he realized the brake lines were cut. I used to help him take care of our cars all the time. It’s just the unfairness of it all that killed me. Here I was, taking care of my cripple of a mother, and Bruce was footloose and fancy free mere months later. Wouldn’t that bug you, too?”

He leaned forward slightly. Stacey leaned back. “Your father died in an accident, too. Not that I’m accusing you of anything. But they say he could be a bit of a bastard.”

“Not to me,” she said; her voice came out in a near whimper, to her disgust.

“Oh.” He seemed disappointed. ‘Well, good for you. Anyways, have we pathologized enough? I do realize the police may be on their way, you know, and I’d like to keep my alibi tight. The car should be well hidden, and I’m supposedly in a video conference with some charity I invented, but still, time’s a-ticking.” He glanced at the clock. “So, are you going to be here to meet them?”


“The police. Will you be here to meet them? Or do we have to take a drive?”

Stacey clutched Elena to her chest. He grimaced. “I’m not going to make you take the baby, don’t worry. I don’t even want to hurt the boy, either, unless he makes an appearance. I don’t think he will. Family tensions must be pretty high right now. I imagine it would hurt him if you went missing and were found dead, though. Failed ransom attempt, the usual Achilles’ heel of heiresses.”

So they’d finally worked their way around to the ‘threaten to kill her’ part again.

“I did think I ought to offer you the option, though,” he said. “You can get on board, and we’ll work something out- I could use someone on my arm in public, going forward, and you clearly enjoy having a man in your life, and not for monetary reasons…”

“What?” she said, again, a little louder.

“Well, I’m offering you an in here, Anastasia. We can have a working relationship going forward- I can’t imagine you ever really loved Bruce, or have much fondness for him anymore- or I can kill you,” he said, with an apologetic shrug. “It would be quick, I promise, and relatively painless, or so they say. But you can’t just leave me hanging. I have to be reasonably sure you won’t immediately rat me out as soon as the cops show up for a wellness check.”

“Then why wouldn’t I just say whatever,” she said, not wisely, but in genuine confusion, “to get you to leave, and then immediately tell them everything?”

He blinked. “Well, because if you did that, I’d come back and kill the kids. I mean, what would I have to lose at that point? But we both know you’re not going to do that.”

“I don’t think you could go up against the entire Gotham police department.”

He chuckled at that. “Stacey, sweetheart. Men in top hats with ray guns run circles around the Gotham police department every other day. I think you’re being a bit naïve. Let’s be reasonable here. We get along well, we have things in common, and we both really, really have a bone to pick with your husband. Do what’s best for you. Be selfish! Can you imagine if you actually left Bruce a widower? Sure, he might join you soon after, but wouldn’t that feel so… cheap? And tawdry? Does he really deserve your sacrifice?”

No, she thought, but said, “You do realize how delusional you sound, right, Tom? I mean… you go on about trust, but how could you ever trust me?” She said this not because she was feeling particularly brave, but because the tiny LED light in the camera in the corner of the kitchen, had suddenly flickered back on. The security system was live again.

“I’m willing to take a leap of faith,” he put a hand on his chest, then smiled sheepishly. “And if I’m wrong, at least I know I gave you a fair shot. That would make me feel better, you know.”

You’re a liar, she thought. You won’t lose a wink of sleep at night regardless of who you kill. You want a shiny trophy and a pat on the head because Mommy never gave you one. And you’d quite like it if you could f*ck the trophy, too.

“I appreciate it,” she said, bracing her legs in such a way that she ready to jump up and run. Her eyes darted around the room; she couldn’t help it, and he tensed, picking up the gun again.

The lights went out, plunging the kitchen into darkness. Stacey dropped into a crouch on the floor, clutching Elena, who did not even cry out. She was oddly grateful for her recent exercise as she scrabbled around the other side of the kitchen island, trying to keep a map of the room in her head. She could hear Elliot breathing hard, though he was silent aside from that, trying to pinpoint where she might be.

Stacey twisted up again, hoping he wouldn’t start firing wildly, and lurched herself towards the dumbwaiter. A child or very small woman could have possibly squeezed themselves inside, but she stood no chance of that. But she yanked up the cover, placed a swaddled Elena on the platform, fought back every maternal instinct screaming not to do this, and hit the button, sending it up.

Then she dropped back down to the floor, all but crawling across the smooth tiles; the lights flickered but didn’t come back on, and she caught a glimpse of Tommy’s silhouette blocking the only exit up the stairs. She pushed herself up and off the floor towards the kitchen sink and the knife rack besides it; now Elliot had glimpsed her as well, and rather than firing, lunged for her. Stacey felt her fingers close around a butcher’s knife, before a hand gripped her shoulder and flung her to the floor; only by sheer luck did her head not connect with the sharp edge of the island. She sprawled there; the knife clattered beside her, and he was on her then.

She let out a muffled shriek as one gloved hand closed around her throat, the other knocking her flailing arms aside. His weight settled across her legs and he lifted her head up, then slammed it back down onto the floor, not hard enough to crack her skull, but hard enough that she saw stars and her teeth clacked together. She moaned and went limp, stunned.

“I didn’t want to do this,” he said, “and I didn’t want to kill the boy, but if this is how you want to play it, so be it, Stacey. I’m going to be very, very irritated if the cops arrive before I can make a clean escape. I might just take it out on your daughter.”

She mumbled something slurred and incoherent; her tongue was not cooperating with her brain.

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t shoot an infant. Waste of a bullet. You have a pool, right? Guess it’s too early for those baby swim lessons. More’s the pity.” He squeezed her throat, hard enough for her to gag and cough, though it cleared some of the stars from her vision, and she clawed at his strong arms and chest. In the dark, she couldn’t even make out his face, but she could smell his cologne and the rain and mud on his clothes.

“Please,” she rasped, letting her arms fall to her sides, trying to pinpoint how close the knife might be. She had long arms, but if she tried and failed to snatch it-

He let go of her throat, to her relief, and seemed to scoff in disgust. Tears were rolling down her cheeks; he brushed one away with a gloved knuckle, and she flinched, which he seemed to enjoy.

“I’m not my father,” he said, “I don’t get off on hurting innocent woman, though ‘innocent’ might be a stretch with you. Still, this is disappointing. I thought you had your head screwed on straight. We would have been the toast of the town. Hero neurosurgeon and his society darling wife. I would even have taken little Richard under my wing. After an attitude readjustment, of course. I’m sure you could have recommended some nice boarding schools.”

She retched again, though he wasn’t choking her, and struck out with her right arm; her hand closed around the knife, and even as he recoiled she slashed up and forward with it, slicing deep into the side of his neck and shoulder. He shouted in pain, scrambling off her entirely, and the lights pulsated again, then turned a deep, jarring red, before flashing to blue.

If this triggered another aneurysm or seizure, she was f*cked, she thought, as she scuttled towards the stairs, then managed to propel herself back onto her feet, knife in hand, racing up them two at a time. Bleeding or not, he was after her like a shot even as she made it back onto the first floor, racing for the foyer.

“I wouldn’t risk the front door, Anastasia!” he shouted after her. “It’s awfully cold out there, and you’re really not dressed for a hike!”

But like the foolish blonde heroine in a horror film, Stacey veered towards the massive mahogany stairwell as well, slipping on the freshly polished wood. Tommy managed to laugh aloud- the adrenaline must be kicking in for him as it much as it was for her- and loped after her as she scrambled up them.

He nearly caught her again on the landing, but she slashed at him again with the large knife, slicing at his gloved hands. He managed to pin her wrist in a crushing grip, but only long enough to force her to drop the blade; she kicked out, hard, and knocked him off balance, then ripped away and kept rushing upstairs.

By now he knew she was trapped, though, and his pace slowed as she staggered down the hallway, her head and wrist throbbing. A wave of vertigo settled over her and the wood paneled walls spun, severe portraits of Wayne ancestors tsking and glaring at her for behaving in such an unseemly manner. The lights were back on up here, though much dimmer than downstairs, which she was grateful for; she’d never have made it to her bedroom otherwise.

Still, Elliot was no more than a few paces behind her as she ripped the door open, and slammed it shut behind her, locking it. The knob jiggled and she heard him curse, then throw his weight up against it. The door was old and strong but he was a big man, verging on burly, and she didn’t think he’d have to struggle with it for long. She limped towards her nightstand, yanked open the top drawer, grateful she hadn’t locked it, and pulled out the pistol and ammunition.

It was very hard for her to load it, though she practiced just a few days ago. Her hands were clammy and shaking and her vision was blurred. By the time she was done the door had splintered, and then burst open. Sagging back onto her bed, she aimed and misfired. He said something snide, and pulled his own gun at last.

Stacey choked back a scream and pulled the Whitney’s trigger again. This time, a bullet embedded itself in the door frame; he lurched backwards, and she pushed herself to her trembling legs and fired once more, hitting him in the shoulder. He collapsed with a groan. She stood there, frozen, gun in hand, and shuffled forward cautiously.

He sprang back up faster than she could have expected, like a panther, or a bear, and the impact of his tackle broke a rib, she was sure of it. They both fell to the floor. She made a mewling noise like a kicked cat and tried to roll over, tried to grab her fallen pistol, before he grabbed her by the back of the neck and dragged her back up, kicking and shrieking.

“Hey, asshole!”

She smelled something acrid and Elliot sagged, his grip on her loosening. Stacey tore away to see him waver and lurch onto one knee. Dick was a few feet from him, a buzzing baton in hand.

“Get out!” Stacey screamed at him; Dick’s dark eyes were huge as saucers in his face; he jumped back as Tommy struggled back to his feet.

Stacey ripped the carved Gorgon head off her dresser and smashed it into Elliot’s face; she heard his nose crack and smelt the coppery gush of blood that followed. He struck out at her with one fist, but she evaded it, spotted her gun half under the bed, and dove for it. Dick advanced with his baton, then shouted when Tommy dragged him to the floor, still gushing blood.

He raised his own gun- and then Stacey fired at close range, without thinking, two feet from him. The bullet entered his head and stayed there, for all she knew. Her ears were ringing so badly she couldn’t even hear her own breathing anymore. He collapsed again, half on top of Dick, who was screaming something. Stacey stood there for what seemed like minutes, then leaned down and dragged Dick out from under him.

They hobbled out of her bedroom and into the hall, where she started to sit down, but Dick pulled her back, saying something else, and led her by the hand, like a child, around the corner and onto the stairwell, then down to the foyer, where lights were flashing blue and red, not from the security system but from the police cars pulling up outside. Stacey staggered open to the front door and threw it open for them, then sagged against the frame, feeling faint.

When her hearing came back, it was not for Jim Gordon’s interrogation or the EMT trying to inspect her for wounds, but to Elena’s crying; she was safe in Dick’s arms, little arms and feet kicking wildly. Stacey held out her arms for her daughter, and let herself be guided over to a seat, blankly watching police rush upstairs, guns and shields drawn. EMTs followed with a gurney several minutes later.

“Leave him,” she almost wanted to say, and then considered whether she actually wanted a Tommy Elliot sized bloodstain in her plush carpeting.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

She was released from observation at Gotham General the next morning.

Even with Elliot seemingly out of the picture, it was not so shockingly difficult to get a good night’s sleep in a hospital bed, given her recent experiences with doctors. She woke at one point to find that her mother had materialized in her room, slumped in a chair underneath the staticky television set.

When Stacey woke up again, though, Jessica had vanished, and she wondered if she’d dreamed her mother there. The barrage of texts to her cellphone confirmed that it had not, in fact been a dream.

Going to visit Bruce and then go home, she texted her mother, not responding to the rest of the questions and demands levied at her, and then texted the same to Alfred. She’d seem him last night when she and Dick had been admitted for observation- he’d been distraught, naturally, as upset as she’d ever see him, trying to apologize to a slightly hysterical Stacey who was giggling about how ridiculous her arm looked in a sling and whether or not she was concussed. She was in fact concussed, as it turned out, and her arm was sprained, as was one of her ribs. No physical exertion for at least two weeks.

No complaints from her there. Every muscle in her body was on fire. She couldn’t imagine going out every night and doing this. Maybe when she was eighteen she could have walked it off with a co*cky grin. She wasn’t eighteen anymore. She didn’t know how Bruce didn’t have a painkiller addiction. Maybe he did. As they’d confirmed, there was a lot she didn’t know about her husband.

Dick was also fine, besides a few scrapes and bruises. There’d been no reason for him to stay in the hospital at all besides keeping them together. It was still early when she woke up, and Elena was at the nurse’s station being entertained, so Stacey went across the hall to check on him. He was completely conked out, sleeping peacefully and contentedly the way only a thirteen year old boy could.

Not that she didn’t think last night had been traumatizing for him- he could have been killed, he’d almost seen his stepmother murdered in front of his eyes- but at least he’d been somewhat removed from the action, until he came charging in to save the day.

What was she even supposed to say to that? Hey kiddo, next time, don’t save my life? She felt embarrassed and upset and grateful. And she was so, so relieved he was okay. She was surprised, still, by the raw terror that had invaded all her senses when Elliot had turned on him. She’d expected to only feel that sort of concern for her daughter. He stirred as she stood there, watching him, and then blinked, sleepily.

“Hey,” she said, “go back to sleep, honey.”

“Barbara called me last night,” he mumbled into his pillow. “I want to call her back.”

“She’s probably still asleep, too.”

“No, she’s not. She’s a freak. She gets up at five in the morning with her dad and drinks black coffee.”

“Okay,” Stacey said, and patted his shoulder. “Are you guys gonna make up?”

“Who told you we were fighting?” He was already dozing off again.

She found her way to Bruce’s room after that. He just had an IV drip in, which she took for a good sign. He was awake, watching the news, like the stereotypical middle aged dad. For some reason she found that so funny that she started to seize with silent laughter in the doorway. He glanced over at her, startled and then said, sharply, “Are you having a seizure?”

That made her laugh so hard she almost crumpled to her knees, clinging to the doorframe, her stomach aching, and then realized she was sort of crying, too. She made her way back up to her feet- she was wearing cheap hospital slippers, having lost her shoes at some point- and came over to the bed.

“How are you feeling?” She’d never seen him in the throes of tetanus so she had nothing to compare it to. He looked paler than usual, and his hair was a bit greasy. There had always been those dark shadows under his eyes, she realized now, in this sterile, unflattering light.

“Well,” he said, “in the span of the last 24 hours alone, Alfred was lured here under some false pretense that I was dying while the man who put me here invaded my home, disabled my security system-,”

“Your son reenabled it.”

“And tried to kill my family. So. I’m feeling terrible, if we’re being honest.”

“At least we’re being honest,” she murmured, and sat on the edge of the bed beside him. He seemed surprised she’d want to be so close to him.

“I was reckless. And arrogant.”

“You’ve been saying that a lot lately.”

“It’s one thing when it’s only my life at stake, but-,”

She held up a hand to pause him, and then realized she’d need a new manicure soon. One of her nails was cracked. “It’s never just going to be your life at stake. Not unless you lived like a hermit, right? And you haven’t done that since you started a family. I mean, that’s the whole crux of the issue. You can’t act like… both sides of your life doesn’t exist simultaneously. You can’t expect them to always neatly slot together.”

“Have you been taking instruction from Alfred?” he asked dryly.

“Haha,” she rolled her eyes. “That was the only pep talk you’re getting. I thought you’d want to know that our pal Tommy is in a coma. So my thoughts are, if they don’t cut life support in the next twenty four hours, we could take a field trip upstairs, and just-,” she made a snipping motion with her fingers.

He stared at her in distress for a few moments, and then said, “Will you ever forgive me if I don’t kill him?” it could have been a joke, but it wasn’t.

She let him hang for a moment, then said, “Him? He’s got a bullet in his head. He’s attached to so many tubes he’s more a sack of meat than a person anymore. So, no, Bruce. I’m not going to divorce you if you don’t get up right now, rip that IV out, and go strangle the man in his deathbed,” the last few words rolled out in full sarcastic flourish. At least she was feeling semi-normal, she thought. The shock would probably return after another few hours.

“Where’s Elena?” he winced.

“With some nice nurses.”

He didn’t look convinced- after all, Elliot has been a ‘nice surgeon’, so she added, “Some nice nurses overseen by several cops and Dr. Thompkins. Alfred introduced me.”

He closed his eyes, and leaned his head back against the pillow. “And Dick is alright?”

“Yes. He was… he was really, really brave last night. I mean, stupid, but- he’s thirteen. Almost thirteen. Whatever.”

She studied Bruce for a few moments longer, and then said, “Are you crying?”

He didn’t respond. He didn’t wipe the tears away in manly denial, either. She pondered this, then laid down beside him. Some sick part of her, she realized, was almost pleased he was tearful. Not because she took sad*stic pleasure in his guilt and distress, but because at least it wasn’t an icy front. She’d broken down in front of him before. This felt like it was evening the odds.

She arranged herself so she was not lying on her sprained wrist, and put her head on his chest. “Don’t you want to hear more about how I kicked ass?”

“You have bruises all over your throat and and arms,” he said thickly, “so, no, not really. I want to hurt someone.”

Acceptance was probably some sort of progress, she figured.

“That can be arranged,” she said, and was shocked by the sudden spurt of affection that she felt for him like this. She should have been disgusted and infuriated. She should have been coldly informing him that she was taking her daughter and leaving this city as soon as possible. Instead, she was lapping this up like a cat with a saucer of warm milk.

“You don’t have to pretend,” he rasped. “You can- I won’t fight it, at all, a divorce. I won’t. Not even about custody.”

She wasn’t a child- it was one thing for him to say these things now, when he was distraught and vulnerable, and another to keep his word in the courtroom, but she appreciated the humility all the same.

“I don’t want a divorce,” she said. She put her leg over his; he stiffened, as if expecting some trick, and then relaxed after a moment. “I want you to treat me like a partner, and I want us to have a plan for if something like this happens again, and you can’t be there to stop it.”

“Of course.”

“And I want,” she said, “you to promise that you will never, ever, involve Dick in this. Because he idolizes you. And in a few years he’s going to be a testosterone-filled, angry teenage boy who wants to prove himself. And he’s got a f*cking armory hidden underneath his feet.”

There was a long pause, and then Bruce said, “I swear-,”

“Swear on your parents.”

“I swear on my parents I will never deliberately involve Dick in this. No matter how old he is.”

She could have quibbled over wording, like a lawyer, but she’d never gone to law school. Her phone was ringing in her pocket. It was Heather. She answered it, whispering back and forth so as not to deafen Bruce, and then hung up.

“Heather wants to know when you get discharged so she can kick your ass.”


“I’m f*cking with you, Bruce. We’re getting lunch.”

“The press…”

“You’re not the only one who can disguise themselves in public,” she snorted, and patted his cheek. “You need to shave.”

“Yeah,” he grimaced.

“Do you want me to do it?”

Bruce appeared to be seriously considering the risks of her with a razor close to his face. He dared to put an arm around her instead. “Maybe later.”

“Kay.” She curled up closer to him. It would be ridiculous to say that all was forgiven. She was still furious with him. No amount of apologies, heartfelt or not, were going to change that. They probably needed to see a therapist of some sort if they wanted to stay together, even as co parents. He was a pathetic, mentally ill manchild. Her mother wanted her to serve him papers immediately, and she didn't even know the half of it.

But the reality was that Batman hadn’t almost gotten her killed. Elliot hadn’t even realized he was Batman until the very end. Bruce Wayne had almost gotten her killed. And she’d been under no delusions so far as marrying Bruce Wayne. And if they’d just been a ‘normal’ obnoxiously wealthy family - if such families existed - the reality was that she and Dick would be dead right now.

Not that she now considered herself a begrudging Batman fangirl. He was a sick f*ck. And maybe she was too, for cuddling up to him and watching the morning news hour like nothing was wrong. She tried to imagine explaining any of this to her daughter. Eventually, she would have to. She would have to explain it, perhaps to an angry teenage girl, the way her mother had tried and failed to explain what could have driven her to remarry so quickly and to a young man she barely knew.

She would try and fail to put things into context, to clarify. She would be on the receiving end of the scorn and derision from her own flesh and blood. She would regret this, probably. She would forget his appeal when wounded and raw- the same thing that drove someone to approach a still vicious but clearly injured wild animal like a wolf or bear- and she would learn to hate him again. The tenderness would be replaced with savagery.

“Change the channel,” she nudged him, after a few minutes. “I want to watch cartoons.”


Some Notes:

1. "Excuse me! You didn't wrap up every plot thread! What the f*ck is this cliffhanger!" Okay in my defense comic logic is very much in favor of me putting the villain in a coma and not explicitly confirming his death. Also, of course I'm not going to tie everything up neat and tidy. I want to leave space for sequel or spin-off works.

2. "Okay, so this is the start of a series? I'm slightly mollified." Do I have plans for a sequel, yes. Is it outlined or anything, no. Can I guarantee it will come out anytime soon, no. I have other projects that take greater priority for me right now. That said I have really enjoyed playing in the DC universe in this fic and I would like to do other stories with these characters in the future. The tentative plans for a sequel are that it would focus mainly on Dick (Stacey and Bruce would be present, of course, but most chapters would be from Dick's POV), and it would be set a couple years down the line, when Dick begins a career as Robin.

3. "Um, you just had Bruce promise his traumatized wife that he wouldn't involve Dick in vigilante work." What???? Bruce Wayne, making a promise and then not being able to keep it? Damn. That's never happened before.

4. "What about all the other characters you made up? Would we see them in a sequel?" Yeah, probably, I mean, I made them up for a reason. There are also other DC characters I'd like to write about, such as Lois Lane or Selina Kyle.

5. Okay all sarcasm aside, I am so grateful and thankful to everyone who has interacted with this fic and supported it. I went in with very low expectations as I've never done a DC fic before, and I did not know whether this would be ignored or immediately hated because Bruce is married to an OC in it, even if it's not really a romance. I'm blown away by the response and you all gave me such enthusiasm and excitement for this story. I normally write ASOIAF work but if you subscribe to me on here you will get notifications when I publish a new fic. You can also find me on tumblr @dwellordream, where I mostly rant about ASOIAF but also talk about DC, my hatred of the MCU, and a lot of history and fashion.

Much later, baby, you'll be saying never mind - dwellingondreams (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Edwin Metz

Last Updated:

Views: 6261

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (78 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Edwin Metz

Birthday: 1997-04-16

Address: 51593 Leanne Light, Kuphalmouth, DE 50012-5183

Phone: +639107620957

Job: Corporate Banking Technician

Hobby: Reading, scrapbook, role-playing games, Fishing, Fishing, Scuba diving, Beekeeping

Introduction: My name is Edwin Metz, I am a fair, energetic, helpful, brave, outstanding, nice, helpful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.