Chapter 1: 8:00 AM
Martín rubbed between an anxious Winnie’s ears, making sure the bulldog sat obediently in the foot-well between his knees. They were impatiently waiting for Olga to come out to the car.
“I w—wish you liked car rides,” Martín whispered. “Be good, or you can’t…” Distressed at the thought, he finished off by signing, Or you can’t come with me to visit Harley, Ivy, Leta, and Phin.
Winnie’s ears perked as she watched Martín’s hands give the sign for each familiar name. She barked, jumping up to put one paw on the seat and the other over Martín’s right wrist.
“Shhh,” Martín hissed, setting her back on the floor as Olga’s shoes crunched toward the car. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.
“If you bark like this while I drive,” Olga teased as she opened the driver’s side door, “you stay.”
“She’s ju—just excited,” Martín protested while Olga carefully backed them down into the lane.
“Is remarkable, how this dog knows signs,” Olga said, her hands moving against the steering wheel, partly recognizable as the sign for Winnie’s name. “Sorry, cannot talk and watch road.”
It’s okay, Martín signed, knowing from experience that her peripheral vision was sharp.
The women Martín thought of as his aunts lived about three miles from the Van Dahl Estate, a short drive around part of the Palisades. He hadn’t learned to conceptualize their neighborhood as an island until his family had temporarily been driven from it, because it was during that time that he’d briefly been stranded on it with his unlikely new aunts and unlikelier new uncles.
Five minutes later, Winnie was still on her best behavior as Olga slowed their speed and took them up the long driveway that led to his aunts’ mansion. It was smaller than the one he lived in, and even smaller still than the one his uncles lived in, but it was secretly his favorite house on the island. That the kitchen never ran out of either Lucky Charms or Pop-Tarts was the main reason.
As soon as Olga had parked in the gravel roundabout encircling the crumbling fountain full of koi and water lilies, Martín dashed out of the car with Winnie at his heels. The door wasn’t open like the first time he’d ever turned the knob, and it was definitely too warm for him to see his breath. His memories of February last year were as profoundly sharp as the cold had been.
While Martín repeatedly rang the doorbell and Winnie started to bark her head off in response to Leta and Phin barking their heads off, Olga huffily joined them on the doormat. She was always grumpy this early on Saturday mornings, because she had to go to her other job.
Harley answered the door, pretty even though her face wasn’t painted and her hair was in a bun.
“There’s my favorite boy wonder!” she said, opening her arms to Martín while Leta and Phin tore past her out the door to play-chase Winnie into the back yard. “Oof. Whatcha been up to?”
“The same he is always up to, what do you think?” asked Olga, in the same long-suffering tone she used to talk about her niece. “Making Oswald crazy and trying to explode Edward’s lab.”
“Accident,” Martín insisted, cheeks burning, his face still buried against Harley’s shoulder.
“Hey, you gotta tell Uncle J about that when we see him later today,” Harley said, holding him out at arms’ length. “He’ll be proud.” She glanced at Olga, beaming. “We’ll bring him to the Manor around five this evening, how’s that?”
“Whatever you want,” Olga said, placing a hand on Martín’s head. “Bud’ khoroshim.”
Martín rolled his eyes, pleased when Harley covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. “Da.”
While Olga drove away, Harley took Martín’s hand and dragged him excitedly through the house’s homey, modern interior. His uncles had paid for the renovation, but Ed had helped Ivy to set up the greenhouse and her lab.
“You’ve gotta see these weird things Ives got to sprout last week,” Harley said, ushering Martín into the greenhouse. “I’ve only ever seen ’em in the woods, and that was when I was a kid. They’re kinda creepy.”
Ivy came from where she’d been hidden behind a row of impressively tall potted tomato plants.
“Ooh, right,” she said, adjusting her reading glasses, tossing her dirt-smudged textbook on the ground. She beckoned Harley and Martín around to the other side of the tomatoes and pointed to the mulchy space beneath the shade of one of them. “Scattered some Montropa uniflora in here, because why not. I heard they were impossible to cultivate.”
Not impossible for you, Martín signed, wide-eyed as he brushed one waxy white blossom in the alien-looking cluster. “Ghost pipe?”
“Yup,” Ivy said proudly. “Indian pipe, ghost plant, corpse plant. Got a buncha cheerful names.”
“She’s gonna make some kind of tincture if she can grow enough,” Harley said, strolling around behind Ivy to mess with her loose, wavy red hair. “Thinks it might help J’s nerve stuff, an’ one of my more hippie-dippy psych profs said it might calm some of Ed’s trauma symptoms.”
“Hey!” Ivy scolded, side-eyeing Harley before she winked at Martín. “This is coming from the lady who thought adopting a Dalmatian and a Morkie at the same time was a great idea.”
“Oh, like you coulda left Leta behind in that cage any more than I could after takin’ precious Delphinium away from her,” Harley griped. “Leta started cryin’ the second that guy at the pound got Phin out for us. I wasn’t gonna let that stand.”
Martín hugged Ivy and then looked at the plants again, noting how the eerie whiteness of them was accented with reddish pink. He thought of the skin around Jeremiah’s pale, perpetually tired eyes, and then of Ed’s fragile-seeming moodiness after a hard day.
Thanks, he signed once he’d released Ivy. Both of you. Can we make breakfast now?
Chapter 2: 10:00 AM
Alfred resisted the urge to take over adjusting his tie while Lee worked on it with fierce concentration. Her eyes lifted to meet his every few seconds, her smile wry.
“I think I’m finally getting the hang of this,” she said, painstakingly placing the tie pin she’d got him for the holidays last year, “but you’re the expert. Have a look?”
Turning to face the mirror behind him, Alfred completely forgot he was meant to be rating her technique. They made for a striking photograph. He had so many of Lee, and so few of them together. He sucked in his breath to say as much, but bit his tongue.
Lee fumbled her mobile out of her lab-coat pocket, holding it up in front of them. “Jeez, smile.”
After she’d taken a few snaps, Alfred wrangled the mobile out of her hand while she laughed and only halfheartedly tried to escape. God, he loved her. How could he not?
“I appreciate the fuss, but I’ll be fine today,” he insisted, tucking the device back in her pocket.
“You’d better be,” Lee said, tugging at his waistcoat lapels until he’d backed her against the mirror. “I only have five minutes left on this break before I’m due in Triage.”
Alfred kissed her, didn’t stop her when she pressed against him and held on like it was the end of their world all over again. They’d become something different in Gotham’s long months of brutal isolation, but at least they’d changed together.
Out the other end, a year and three months since reunification, the Narrows had a new hospital.
Lee had accepted the post of Medical Director, but it had taken her several months to persuade Alfred that he was up to the task of Executive Director. Knowing it would mean making quarterly reports to the Board of Directors at Wayne Enterprises had made his blood run cold.
“You can’t hide from him forever,” Lee had said. “I’ll never think of him the same way again, either, but look at what he’s done for this city. He’s making the only amends he can.”
“Yeah, all well and good,” Alfred had sighed, “but what about that—what about who he’s put in charge of Industries? Bad enough he decided to take up with that monster, isn’t it, let alone give him run of the division he once used for his own nefarious ends.”
Lee’s eyes had gone hard at that. “Whether it’s right or not, Jeremiah’s been cleared of what happened that night. Fox’s tests confirmed his story about being hit with some kind of insanity gas left by Crane and his brother. Bruce was hit with a fear variant, even—you were there when it happened. The story about Ra’s and his crew being the ones to take the bombs and place them on the bridges adds up. I want this city to heal. I want my territory to heal—my people. You took up with a monster, too, remember?”
Alfred had closed his eyes, had only nodded. Even he had made compromises for love’s sake.
“Hey,” Lee said softly, patting his cheeks as they finally drew apart. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Leslie, my darling,” he said, watching her break into a grin at his turn of phrase, “I promise.”
The commute from Martha and Thomas Wayne Memorial to Wayne Tower was as simple a GTA trip as he could have asked for. Alfred’s irritation lay in the fact that this month’s second meeting had been moved from the fifteenth to the twenty-second.
Alfred had been making reports at those meetings for months, and he’d never once met Bruce’s eyes across the table’s vast expanse. He’d never once responded to Bruce’s habitual, earnest statement of thanks before he’d put his papers back together and left.
Well, to hell with that. He was early this time—and, as expected, the boardroom wasn’t empty.
“Alfred,” Bruce said brightly, alone at the table, getting to his feet. “You’re looking well since last time. You always arrive late and leave early, so I haven’t been able to…” He trailed off, shaking his head, the scar on his cheek lending an air of grave dignity as he glanced downward. “I’m sorry. That was unfair of me. Can I get you anything?”
Alfred felt his throat clench as Bruce approached. The boy he’d loved and raised was still in there, twenty years old and running around in disguise of an occasional night or not.
“Can’t tell you how much I’ve missed asking you that,” he said tightly, “even though I shouldn’t.”
Bruce broke into a rueful smile that made him seem a little older than his years, a little wiser.
“I’ve missed seeing you,” he replied. “I’ve missed talking to you, I’ve missed…everything.”
“Don’t know if I’m ready for that, but…” Alfred sniffed and steeled himself. “I’ve missed you, too.”
Bruce’s pensive eyes darted away from Alfred’s face to stare piercingly through the glass wall behind them. He touched two fingers deliberately to his lips and lowered them slowly.
Alfred glanced over his shoulder in time to see the figure in the hall mirror the gesture and turn to go: the curve of its cheek deathly pale, its hair vivid copper in the May sunshine.
“Our free time doesn’t overlap much the days we’re both here,” explained Bruce, apologetic.
Sticking his hands in his pockets, Alfred nodded at the floor with a measure of intense chagrin.
“I know how that goes,” he replied. “I’m lucky if Lee and I get ten minutes of a full workday.”
Bruce’s smile radiated relief. “He worries, believe it or not. He doesn’t want us to be at odds.”
“Us as in you and him,” Alfred asked cautiously, “or us as in you and me? There’s a difference.”
“Us as in all of us,” Bruce said, offering Alfred his hand. “The others will start arriving soon.”
Aware that the foremost of his misgivings had fallen away, Alfred shook it. “Let’s get started.”
Chapter 3: 12:00 PM
Edward lounged with his elbow against the bar, idly flipping through Oswald’s latest text messages. Part of him wanted to rush to Oswald’s side, but he had an important rendezvous to keep right where he was.
This press conference re: library
reopening is boring me to tears.
Please send wine.
Never mind, there is wine.
Reception. Mendel took point;
I didn’t have to say a thing.
You would think this young lady
ought to be on the ballot. She can do
my job and yours with her eyes closed.
If Judge Bamford wins, I hope she’ll see
sense and retain Mendel as her CoS.
Under normal circumstances, Edward would’ve been at city hall performing his duties as Interim Chief of Staff. As it was, Oswald had taken his year and change as Interim Mayor in remarkable stride—but the election couldn’t arrive soon enough.
“Another of these, Ms. Bellson,” Edward said, sliding his martini glass across the bar. “Single.”
“I’d be in trouble if they were doubles,” Sveta groused. “Boss texted this morning before I opened, telling me to cut you off after one.”
“Then two singles are permissible,” Edward replied, distracted as his phone lit up with a photo.
Ed, just look at these! Ivy grew
them! They’re those ghost
plants you were telling
me about? She did it!
Sveta slid Edward’s glass back to him. “Auntie Olga took the kiddo to his aunts’ place this morning, so hopefully he’s not bugging you.”
“My son has texted once to my husband’s half-dozen times,” said Edward, flatly, and drank.
Sveta whistled and went to collect the cash their only other patron had left at the bar’s far end.
“Managing this place is no problem for me while the clientèle’s still sparse,” she said. “S’like working nights back out west, off the rez. But once more of the evacuees make it back—not to mention the gentrification that the Wayne heir’s projects will bring—I’m gonna need Oswald back on point. He’s half the reason people used to come anyway.”
“Believe me,” said Edward, “there’s nothing Oswald would like more. He’s counting the days.”
Sveta leaned over the bar, peering at Edward’s phone. “Man, those dogs are so fuckin’ cute.”
Edward stared at the second photo Martín had sent. It was captioned PUPPY PILE.
“Nope nope nope. I could never deal with all three. Winnie’s enough of a headache.”
“I think it’s sweet that Auntie nicknamed her,” Sveta mused. “Edwina’s a cool name, but…”
“But exactly,” Edward replied, downing half his glass in a few swallows. “Overkill.”
“Hey, the fam loves you,” Sveta said, pausing in the midst of filling out a restock form, pointing her pen at his nose. “Auntie hates her own damn brother for runnin’ out on me and Mom, and she helped me kill my abusive douchebag ex-boyfriend.”
“Right,” said Edward, feeling a pang of kinship with her sentiment. “I don’t take it for granted.”
“You better answer a couple of those before Oswald and Martín start to worry,” Sveta suggested.
Edward fought the urge to make a retort along the lines of Oswald making sure he was never left unsupervised, but thought better of it. He picked up his phone and started to type.
If I was there, would you let me
have any? You used to love
me tipsy back in the day.
Neato! Has Ivy reminded you
what the scientific name is?
“It’s weird seeing you like this,” Sveta said, apropos of nothing. “You look like a regular nerd.”
Edward couldn’t be bothered to bristle at her remark. Dressing down to a degree was useful.
“As opposed to one that should be wearing a shamrock on his face, if I recall your exact words?”
“I’m not the one eatin’ Lucky Charms for breakfast as often as Martín, okay? You deserved it.”
Reflexively, Edward ran his tongue across what had once been tender, stitch-riddled spaces on either side of his mouth. The oral surgeon had been able to heal him swiftly, and Oswald’s dentist had done skillful bridge-work. His phone lit up again.
I love you tipsy even now.
“This is swell,” Edward scoffed, changing the subject. “Should’ve been here ten minutes ago.”
“So what? Those GCPD asshats coming in here isn’t my favorite to begin with,” Sveta said.
“This one’s no slouch,” said Edward, defensively. “He’s the only person I would’ve wanted to see take my old job, and you can quote me on that.”
“You must have been adorable way back when,” Sveta deadpanned. “Murder will do that.”
“Oh my God, what line in my certificate don’t you understand?” Edward snapped.
Pressing the back of her hand to her mouth, Sveta snickered. “I’m just messing with you.”
“Messing with him’s not the wisest thing you could do,” said a familiar voice behind Edward.
“Foxy!” Edward greeted, breaking into a grin as he turned around. “Long time no see, huh?”
Lucius’s smile was strained, but there was no malice behind it. “Thanks for clearing some time.”
“For you, Captain Harper, and Commissioner Jimbo?” said Edward. “All the time in the world.”
Taking a seat on the stool next to Edward, Lucius slid him the folder. “You can’t keep the file.”
“This one must really be busting Alvarez’s nuts if he asked you to consult me,” Edward muttered, flipping the folder open. He whistled at the autopsy report and accompanying photographic evidence. “That’s a gruesome m.o.”
“Yeah,” Lucius agreed, nodding to Sveta in thanks as she passed him some scotch. “Chilling.”
“I didn’t know you could do that to someone’s ribcage,” Sveta said with veiled admiration.
“Is the crime scene closed?” Edward asked, flipping the file shut. “Has your new crop of flunkies finished bumbling around without having noticed those filings in the dust? And why they’re present, for that matter?”
“Goddamn it, Ed,” Lucius said, snatching the folder back. “Are you going to give me a hint?”
“Only if you’ll let me tag along,” Edward replied, grinning, fetching his bowler from the bar.
Chapter 4: 2:00 PM
Taking a few leisurely bites of her blueberry bagel, Barbara went on sorting the previous evening’s receipts. If there was anything she’d missed during Gotham’s exile from the rest of civilization, it was proper baked goods and caffeine.
Across the table from her, Tabitha yawned repeatedly into her mug while she flipped through that morning’s Gazette. She must have made the coffee shop run half asleep, which was a fetching look on her.
“See, this is where Oswald has got it all wrong,” Barbara said, skewering the sheaf of receipts on its spindle. “Open in the evening instead of mid-afternoon, and you get to sleep as late as we do.” She pushed the remaining half of her bagel at Tabitha. “Granted, it’s not like he’s there much. He’s a nine-to-five working stiff just like in the good old days.”
“If you think he’s actually at city hall from nine to five,” Tabitha muttered around a bite of bagel, “then you’re dumber than you sound right now.”
“Hey, I don’t know what part of that paper you’re reading,” said Barbara, snapping her fingers in front of Tabitha’s face, “but Vale’s been all over reporting how he’s actually doing his job. I call bullshit when she suggests he ought to run again in earnest, but it’s refreshing.”
Tabitha shut the paper and glared fondly, scattering crumbs. “Theo would roll in his grave.”
“Yeah,” Barbara sighed dreamily, reaching across the table to pat her hand. “If he had one.”
“Goes to show you just how far the Wayne fortune can go toward keeping everybody in line.”
“Oh, baby, I know,” Barbara replied, sipping her latte with gleeful malice. “I’ve never seen Ozzie and Eddie so well-behaved. Jim looks so bored every time he goes on TV that it gives me warm-fuzzies. Our only major competitor does a side-racket in rumors, so we’ve got the firearms market. What part of it’s not to like?”
Tabitha took a few more sulky bites of bagel, wiping some cream cheese off her lower lip.
“If you knew this city’s history, you’d be cautious,” she said. “Gotham hasn’t been ruled with such ruthless efficiency in almost two centuries.”
“Sure, Bruce and his sideshow hottie are tyrants,” Barbara replied. “At least they’re benevolent ones. I’m not sure you can say the same about your ancestors, and you definitely can’t say it about the Court or your brother—may they rest in pieces.”
“If we ever slip up, there’ll be a price,” Tabitha insisted. “That’s how this kind of thing works.”
“Here’s what’s cool,” Barbara said, patting her hand again. “If we stay in our lane, we’re fine.”
“You and I have a better shot at that than Oswald and Jim. How long till they try to pull shit?”
Barbara shrugged, turning it into a luxurious stretch. “Don’t know, don’t care. Not my circus—”
“Not my monkeys,” Selina yawned, wandering into the room looking even more worse for wear than she’d looked the previous weekend. “You’ve gotta—” she winced as she sat down between them, hissing in pain “—get a new catchphrase.”
Tabitha reached out in concern, prodding at the right side of Selina’s ribcage through her robe. She got up and made Selina stand when she winced again, untying the garment so she could examine her more closely. Selina’s entire right side was covered in greenish bruises.
Barbara set down her coffee, briefly stunned into silence. “Does that mean you found Firefly?”
“Nope,” Selina said, indignantly wrapping herself back up. “It means one of the back-alley randos whose ass I kicked got in a few kicks of his own.”
Tabitha glanced at Barbara and sat back down, wide awake. “Since when does looking for your friend entail beating every low-life you meet? This is a bad trend. I’m concerned.”
Selina rolled her eyes and poured herself some orange juice. “Since my ex ditched his knight-in-shining-armor complex, fucked a better class of clown, and turned to white-collar crime. Duh.”
Barbara choked on her next swig of coffee. “You don’t mean to tell me Bruce and Jerome—”
“No!” Selina groaned, hiding her face in her hands before reaching for the bagels. “Still.”
Passing her the plate, Tabitha was all big, concerned dark eyes. “I understand that you’re angry. I know it hurts not to know what happened to her.”
Selina hesitated, smearing cream cheese on an onion bagel without slicing it. “Jim’s collected some intel, so he’s been feeding me leads. We’re getting close, I know it.”
“First of all,” Barbara said, “hell no. That’s gotta stop. Second of all, honey, that’s great!”
Selina made a long-suffering, that’s-so-cute face. “No offense, but you’re not my moms.”
“We’re the closest you’ve had in a long time,” Tabitha said. “Would it kill you to listen?”
Barbara stared across the table at the folded newspaper, realizing she’d gone from having a fantastic morning to a stomach-churning one in several minutes flat. She tapped the table.
“Are you really looking for her,” she asked, “or did you decide to fill some vigilante vacuum?”
“Look,” Selina said. “Whatever Ivy gave me when I was shot, it made me stronger than ever.”
“And you…what?” Tabitha prompted, tilting her head in confusion. “Feel obliged to use it?”
“Uh, kinda,” Selina retorted, ripping off a mouthful of bagel. “Plus, if I ever run into those billionaire freaks blowing off some steam after dark...”
Shaking her head, Barbara rose and took the receipts to the bar. Inexplicably, her heart ached.
“No sign of Joker and Jack in months. Not since that stand-off that left Fries on the GCPD’s doorstep, only to be bailed out the next morning in return for a research lab in the bowels of Wayne Industries. Now that they have the best minds left in this city at their command—Eccles and Pepper included, since the Wayne Foundation’s paying for their degrees—something tells me those boys have shoved the alter egos into retirement.”
“Gonna keep trying,” Selina replied, leaning against Tabitha’s shoulder. “Bridgit’s out there.”
Chapter 5: 4:00 PM
Two doubles of Jameson down, Jim wasn’t feeling anywhere near as drunk as he’d like to be. It hadn’t been difficult to sneak away; no one in city hall seemed to care if he did. Bad enough, that he'd had to go in for a press conference.
“Hey, uh, Harv,” he said, resting his elbows heavily on the bar, gesturing, “I’ll have another.”
Harvey turned from settling the only other patron’s tab, grabbed the whiskey, and went to him.
“I never thought I’d hear myself say this,” he said, pouring what must have been at least a triple, “but I’m gonna have to cut you off after this one.”
Jim shrugged, swilling what was left of his ice before taking a gulp. “Rules are rules, I guess.”
“Damn straight,” Harvey said, reaching to pat Jim on the shoulder. “This is my fuckin’ bar.”
“I’ve only been here half an hour,” replied Jim, grinning. “Surely you’d like more business?”
“Hate to break it to ya, gorgeous,” Harvey said, pointing over Jim’s shoulder at the door as the bell jangled, “but I spy with my little eye somebody who’s gonna drink this place dry.”
Oswald shot Harvey a disgusted look as he hobbled to the bar and claimed the stool beside Jim.
“If you’re gracing all your patrons with Tetch impressions, it’s no wonder this place is dead.”
“Mayor Cobblepot and Commissioner Gordon in one night!” Harvey said. “Hashtag: blessed.”
“God,” Oswald scoffed, pointing at Jim’s drink to indicate that he’d have some, “my son would be cringing with contact embarrassment about now.”
“How is Martín?” Jim asked, glancing sidelong at Oswald while Harvey slid him a full glass.
“He’s been popular at school since the St. Ignatius administration heard about his…misadventure during reunification,” said Oswald, dully, drinking about a third of his whiskey in one swallow.
“Say what you want,” Jim sighed, clinking his glass against Oswald’s, “but you’re lucky he fell in with the people he did. Doubt you would’ve got him back alive otherwise.”
“The headmaster’s asking him if he could persuade their illustrious, now-pardoned alum to come in and talk,” Oswald went on, tossing the rest back so fast that he started to cough.
“Sure, that’ll be the day,” Harvey muttered, hovering surreptitiously while he cleaned glasses.
“Sure as in that’s the worst idea in the history of ever,” Oswald said cattily, “or sure as in Mr. Valeska’s too high and mighty to even consider it?”
“Can’t be the latter,” Jim replied, loosening his tie. “If Martín asked, you know he’d say yes.”
“This is not the kind of notoriety I want for my child, Jim,” Oswald lamented. “If he’s going become infamous, I’d rather it be on his own steam.”
“Look on the bright side,” said Harvey, topping off both their glasses. “He’ll have the best legal counsel money can buy, assuming Uncle Bruce doesn’t just pay off Dent.”
“Let’s not go counting our indictments before they’ve hatched,” Jim muttered, and both of them stared at him. “The kid’s got a level head.”
“That’s thanks to his aunts, no doubt,” Oswald said. “He’s at their place today. Small mercies.”
“Then don’t you have somethin’ better to do?” Harvey asked. “If I was off, I’d be with my kid.”
“Which you don’t have, Harv,” Jim reminded him, sipping down to the dregs. “Just let it go.”
“Guess Ed must be with him,” Harvey said, stacking the glasses he’d just rinsed. “My bad.”
“Alas, no,” Oswald chuckled, turning to Jim as he finished his drink. “If my husband were anywhere but terrorizing your lead forensic tech’s crime scene, I would be with him.”
“That’s better than Ed running amok,” Jim said, crunching one of his ice cubes to boozy grit. “Harper says his consulting work’s an asset to Fox and the team. No offense.”
“None taken,” Oswald sniffed, his cheeks pink. “I’ll be the first to admit he needs supervision.”
Jim reached over the bar and grabbed the bottle before Harvey could move it, pouring another shot into his glass and Oswald’s in turn. He relinquished it when Harvey glared.
“Here’s to seeing you finally settled down and honest,” Jim announced, raising his glass.
Oswald nodded with a level of seriousness only intoxication could impart. “Hear, hear.”
They drank the shots fast, and then sat swaying in dazed silence for fully half a minute.
“That’s it,” Harvey said, staring from Oswald’s empty glass to Jim’s. “You two are done.”
Oswald slid off his stool and produced two fifty-dollar bills. “Pleasure. Jim’s are on me.”
Frowning, Harvey accepted the cash. “Do you need me to get you a cab or somethin’?”
“Of course not,” Oswald replied, waving over his shoulder. “My driver’s outside.”
“Give Ms. Fowler my best!” Jim called, turning back to face Harvey. “That was fun.”
“Well, if this city’s gonna keep going to shit,” Harvey said, “at least it’s organized shit.”
Jim slid his glass and Oswald’s across the bar to Harvey, wobbling slightly where he sat.
“You’re right,” he said unsteadily, letting his forehead drop to his hands. “I’m pretty done.”
Harvey leaned over and rested his cheek against the back of Jim’s head, rubbing Jim’s wrists.
“D’you think Oswald realizes that partners drink free? No way am I turning down his cash.”
“I don’t think Oswald realizes what he’s looking at,” Jim slurred, resisting the urge to laugh.
“Think my heteroflexibility throws off his gaydar, or is he too distracted by how hot you are?”
“Beats me,” Jim mumbled, lifting his head so that Harvey would lift his, too. “Close early?”
Jim leaned in as Harvey kissed him slow and fond. Harvey’s whiskers were scratchier than usual, but it was nothing that would get him kicked out of bed. They didn’t usually get Saturday evenings together, so he would take it.
“You’re the reason this place is gonna go under,” Harvey chided, “and I don’t mind one bit.”
“Actually,” Jim said, smirking at him, “my salary’s the only reason it’s going to stay open.”
Chapter 6: 6:00 PM
When it came to taking out hits these days, Victor could say one thing: it was a buyers’ market. There was too much order, and most of the remaining street-scum were being picked off and hauled into the precinct by a masked vigilante with a whip.
Victor only knew two people in the whole of Gotham’s underworld with a schtick like that, and neither one of them was exactly the do-gooder type.
Uneasily, Victor rubbed at the scar on his neck. One of them was kind of morally grey, but they also tended to look out for number one before playing Good Samaritan.
After reunification, first chance he got, Victor had gone upstate to see his Bubbe. He’d texted her intermittently during the crisis to let her know he was alive, but he supposed there was a huge difference between hearing about his worst injury and seeing the evidence up close.
His grandmother had run her fingers over his newly-healed wound, asking who had saved him.
Ashamed that she’d instinctively known that this one almost killed him, he had said: a friend.
Victor hadn’t seen Selina Kyle since Lee Thompkins stitched him up, let alone since reunification. Not for lack of trying, either. He’d spent night after night haunting the old dives—or what was left of them, anyway—in search of both work and word of what the kid was doing with herself.
He’d had little luck on the former, zero on the latter.
It was shaping up to be a chilly evening in spite of the May weather, so Victor did what any brooding marksman worth his salt would do. He headed for the docks, where it was even more mercilessly bracing than Gotham’s wind-tunnel alleys that looked cleaner by the day.
The warehouse that was rumored to have been converted into a mirror-maze by Jeremiah Valeska in his terrifyingly successful courtship of Bruce Wayne sounded neat. His crew, which had disbanded and evacuated the night the bridges blew, would’ve enjoyed the trip.
Victor took his sweet time. Sunset had begun to hint at its presence by the time he arrived, a subtle darkening of the clouds and sharpening of the light. The Docklands hadn’t yet been a huge development priority aside from the restoration of bridges and ferries.
As soon as he was within a stone’s throw of the warehouse entrance, the racket inside was startling. Skirmish of some kind, probably, because not many things sounded like that.
Flattening his back against the outer wall, Victor cautiously approached the entrance and listened. Young voices, a ton of yelling, and—be still his heart. Whip-cracks.
When it was obvious no bullets were in play, Victor drew his handguns and stormed inside.
“Seriously, didn’t anybody tell you kids not to play in here?” he shouted. “You’re gonna…”
His breath caught as Firefly and Selina Kyle stopped their deadly bickering and stared.
Firefly glared at him, aiming a cautionary jet of flame in his direction. Always cranky, sheesh.
“Gonna what?” Selina challenged, heaving for breath, keeping her stance low. “Cut ourselves?”
“We’ve gotta stop running into each other like this,” Victor said, keeping his weapons at the ready. “What’s the problem here? All I wanted was to see where the magic happened.”
“If you mean by magic what I think you mean by magic,” Firefly said disdainfully, “gross.”
“See, that’s the part we agree on,” Selina sniffed, wiping her nose on the back of her hand.
“What’s the part you don’t agree on?” Victor asked, uneasy at how ready to strike they were.
“What to do with that bag of dicks over there,” Selina said, indicating the shadowed corner beyond Firefly. “He has a shit-ton of crimes to answer for, and I want him to suffer long and slow in Blackgate.”
“I just plain want him to suffer,” Firefly countered. “Fire’s a nasty way to die, take it from me.”
Keeping the girls in his sights, Victor edged with his back to the wall until his eyes adjusted.
The figure lying there, hog-tied with duct-tape over its mouth, was a bloodied Hugo Strange.
“I’ll be damned,” Victor said, dropping to a crouch beside him. “You sure got on these ladies’ bad sides, huh? One of ’em up close and personal, even, if I remember right?”
“See?” Firefly snarled at Selina. “Even this weirdo recognizes I have the right to revenge.”
Selina closed her eyes, lowering the whip. “Bridgit, I didn’t wanna fight you. Bad timing.”
Strange, calm despite his poor condition, opened his eyes with an air of weary resignation.
“This place has become quite the Lovers’ Lane,” Victor informed him conversationally. “It’s where the cool kids are going to stage their romantic melodramas, I guess.”
“It’s where I went to kill this asshole in peace,” Firefly said, “and then Goody Cat-Ears here—”
“Did you know human experimentation is hella rude?” Victor asked, and shot Strange in the head.
Both girls stiffened where they stood as Victor got to his feet, their eyes wide in the dimness.
“Did you do that because you think you owe me one?” Selina finally said. “Uh, you don’t.”
“Owe you one?” Firefly echoed, lowering the flame-thrower like her arm was tired. “Huh?”
“Yeah,” Victor said, holstering his guns. “Your old flame here saved my goddamn life.”
“He’s just lucky I was passing through,” Selina said dismissively. “Jeremiah shot him.”
“With the angle of the bullet, I’m not sure. Sounded like a revolver. Came from the right-hand fire escape,” Victor thought aloud. “That would’ve been the one to your left.”
“Oh my fucking God,” Selina muttered, freezing in the midst of coiling her whip. “Figures.”
Firefly approached her cautiously—hands outstretched, palms at an angle. “Selina, what…?”
“You, um, missed a lot while you were hiding and hunting Strange. Like…a lot a lot.”
Fascinated at the exchange that had begun to unfold, Victor forced himself toward the door.
“How about you two save the city another literally explosive lovers’ spat and talk it out?”
Chapter 7: 8:00 PM
When Olga finally emerged from Wayne Manor’s echo-chamber of a garage, it was dark.
There hadn’t been much for her to do in the kitchen this time aside from some meal preparation as per the cookbooks left open to recipes on the counter, so she’d given each strangely immaculate room a thorough vacuuming and headed outside. Do anything she found that needed doing, her contract stated, as long as said task was within her skill-set.
Olga took pride in the fact that her skill-set included vehicle maintenance. She’d kept her own car in perfect running order; working under her mechanic aunt and uncle had been useful. That had come along with the rest, judicious use of bullets included.
Admittedly, that these boys did more cleaning up after themselves than her full-time employers ever would in a lifetime was both irritating and useful. All it took to shame Oswald into taking his wine glasses to the kitchen was mention of her part-time employers.
Wiping the grease from her hands, Olga took the servants’ entrance and binned the Clorox wipes immediately. Alfred Pennyworth had organized and kitted the Manor’s behind-the-scenes spaces to such an intuitive degree that Olga had slid right in.
Any butler worth their salt could work on the move, continuously, and she was no exception.
Olga dried her hands with a single brush to her denim chore-jacket and removed it, hanging it on one of the well-worn wooden pegs. She straightened her waistcoat and donned her suit-jacket, glancing briefly at her reflection in the mirror above the pegboard.
She’d changed nothing about her hair and make-up, given she’d always had complete freedom on that front, but her wardrobe had gotten an overhaul. She’d threatened to leave Oswald and Edward altogether if she couldn’t do away with skirts. The threat of losing her to Wayne Manor full-time, of her absence in Martín’s upbringing, was enough.
The hallways she traversed now were warm, warmer than the Van Dahl Estate had ever been. Soft light emanated from the library as she approached, shot through with even softer voices. She stepped into the doorway and paused, struck by a memory she’d long since buried.
Martín sat sideways on the leather sofa immediately ahead, the back of which faced her. He was proudly holding up three of the paper birds that Edward had taught him to make when Oswald had first taken him in.
“Penguin and m—mourning doves,” the boy said to his audience, “or m—maybe they’re…”
Even more striking than his obnoxious twin had ever been, Jeremiah Valeska winked at Olga.
Passenger pigeons, he signed, and then applauded. All in the eye of the beholder.
“You are more polite than your brother,” Olga said stepping right up to the back of the sofa.
Jeremiah gave her his attention, but he took the pigeons when Martín pressed them on him.
“It wouldn’t take much,” he replied, each word carefully measured, “but thank you, Olga.”
“Once, he came into our home waving gun,” Olga sniffed distastefully. “No invitation.”
I missed it! Martín signed unhappily. They made me go upstairs to take a nap.
“I’m told your course of action was effective,” Jeremiah said, eyes glinting with satisfaction.
Olga mimed firing her shotgun into the middle distance. “Should have blown his brains out.”
I wouldn’t have liked him very much, Martín signed, but I still wish I’d seen.
Jeremiah’s pale, sharp eyes flicked to Martín’s face, bright with something like melancholy.
“Jerome would’ve liked you,” he admitted, the sound of his brother’s name on his lips startling for its rarity, “but it wouldn’t have ended well.”
“No,” Martín agreed. You’re the one who deserves a happy ending anyway. Olga, look!
Once he’d finished signing, the boy grabbed Jeremiah’s left hand and held it up for Olga to see.
“Engaged?” Olga asked, studying the rounded white-metal band. “Or maybe married already?”
“Please tell your fathers that their low-key example was admirable,” Jeremiah said to Martín, and then glanced back at Olga. “I would’ve enjoyed an extravagant affair, but—not wise.”
Bruce is taking him to Paris, Martín signed excitedly. They’ll bring me something from the Louvre.
“Maybe your fathers will take you,” Jeremiah said mischievously. “If not, come with us sometime.”
Olga imagined the fit Oswald would have on hearing the offer. She bunched her cuff and checked the time, tapping her no-nonsense steel Rolex.
Dad and Ed expect us by nine o’clock, she signed. We need to go get your shoes.
“Ugh,” Martín protested, his eye-roll such an uncanny facsimile of Oswald that it was startling.
Jeremiah took the boy’s impulsive hug with grace, if a bit stiffly. He held up his two pigeons.
“This is us,” he said, winking conspiratorially. “We’re the rarest birds of all, and don’t forget.”
Martín nodded with grave admiration. I’m going to make more for my school project.
Behind Olga, a shadow stirred soundlessly in the hall. She turned, glimpsing Bruce in the doorway with his finger to his lips.
Martín caught the exchange and covered his instant grin with both of his swift, skillful hands.
Unsurprised, Jeremiah wound Bruce’s arms around his neck as Bruce hugged him over the sofa.
“He always beats me home,” Bruce explained, eyes briefly closed as he kissed Jeremiah’s cheek.
Olga glanced surreptitiously at Bruce’s left hand, deciding the understated band-set was tasteful.
“Dinner is in fridge,” she said, beckoning Martín. “Will only need heat. We must get Winnie.”
Martín stood up and grinned at Bruce, who hadn’t even bothered to let go of his husband.
Ivy says the tincture will be ready soon, he signed proudly. It will probably help Ed, too.
Bruce smiled back nodded, rubbing Jeremiah’s wrists when Jeremiah, pensively, said nothing.
“Please tell her we appreciate the research,” he said kindly. “And pet all the dogs for me?”
Jeremiah wrinkled his nose, but his wry demeanor had returned. “Better you than Bruce.”
“This, we will do,” Olga promised, taking Martín’s hand as he joined her, leading him away.