PART #: Part 7/12
ALL DISCLAIMERS etc in Part 1
"How did Perry like your preliminary articles?" Bruce asked as the waiter walked away.
"Modern Myths and Legends?" I asked. Bruce nodded. "He said he wouldn't have superstition in his paper."
"I pointed out that many people hold Superman in the estimation of a superstition," Clark said. Lois and I exchanged a look and giggled. It's funny hearing Clark talk about Superman as if he's a completely different person, though I suppose to a certain extent he is. Sometimes I feel that way about my 'Slayer' persona.
"I told him I would use references and everything. He eventually said yes," I smiled. "I handed in my first draft this morning and he liked it and so did the Gotham editor and the article will be published in both newspapers."
"You should be proud of yourself," Clark said. "Perry is a hard task master."
"What I'm most proud of Clark is that I researched it myself."
"Yay Buffy! You'll be Research Girl soon. Are you trying to take my job?"
"You're Wicca Girl now Wills. Remember?"
She nodded, "But it's weird thinking of you cross-referencing and everything."
"I know," I giggled. "But I figured that if Xander could do it so could I."
The dinner conversations were noisy and often the participants were involved in more than one conversation at a time. Corrections and taunts were slung across the table in a melee of noise and laughter. It's a good thing Bruce is so rich. I think that's the only reason we weren't booted out of the restaurant. Cass and Tim are both very funny and often had us in stitches as they argued and joked. It's great to be able to relax with them, to see Bruce so relaxed. He watched over us like the patriarch of a large and happy family, and I think we have become that, even though Willow is completely clueless and Lois pretends to be about the secret identity situation. Dinner came, was eaten and empty plates were taken away. It was then that Barbara gave me a short nod and I cleared my throat.
Everyone went quiet and looked at me. "Bruce," I began for want of a better start, "We, Alfred, Dick, Tim, Barbara, Cassandra, Willow and I wanted to give you something special for Christmas and would have given it to you on the day but you declined my mom's offer to join us in Sunnydale so we decided this was the next best time. We figured that it had to be something non-mall because if it could be bought and you wanted it, you'd buy it for yourself. So with Alfred's help we put this together." Cassandra put the Christmas wrapped box on the table in front of Bruce.
"And this," Willow added, placing an envelope on top of the present.
Bruce opened the envelope first and seemed to take his time reading it. The longer he was silent the more Willow fidgeted. "It was cast last time I was in Gotham. It's a simple spell. Just some stinky herbs and some Sumerian. It protects the ground around them, even underneath, and their headstone from defilement and abuse. We thought..." Willow stopped when Bruce looked up at her, twin tear tracks on his cheeks.
"It just means you have two less people to worry about in your city," she said quietly.
"Thank you," he whispered, swiping at the tears with the back of his hand before replacing the card in the envelope and carefully placing it on the table. He sniffled and was offered a napkin as a tissue by Babs. He smiled and took it. "Am I going to need more of these?" he asked.
"Maybe," she smiled, giving his hand a quick squeeze. I tried not to send a 'I told you so' about Bruce and Barbara, grin across the table to Dick.
Cass looked between me and Willow nervously as Bruce unwrapped his present. She moved the box away when he lifted the leather bound album out. I don't know who Alfred's got to make it and how they did it in such a short time but it's beautiful work.
He opened the cover, which bore the Wayne family crest, and sobbed suddenly and loudly. He held the makeshift tissue to his mouth as he quietly turned the pages, taking his time to absorb each of the images and comments.
The early pages were photos of his family; parents, grandparents, great-aunts and uncles. Alfred had supplied timeframes and comments where possible. He'd even given us the genealogical information which Barbara had calligraphied onto pages that comprised the back half of the album.
His tears were replaced with fond smiles as he moved into the section with photos of him and Dick. He chuckled at some of the comments and arguments Alfred and Dick had written to accompany the photos.
More chuckles over photos that included Barbara then those that included Tim, then Cassandra. He laughed out loud at a photo Tim had taken of me and Dick where I was obviously shouting angrily at him, a finger pointed threateningly in his direction while the male subject looked embarrassed and apologetic. Bruce sighed happily when he reached the last photo.
Taken in the lounge room of the penthouse apartment only the day before. Babs sat in the middle of the photo on the sofa, Alfred standing proudly behind her, Dick to her right, Tim to her left. I stood behind Dick, Willow behind Tim with Cass sitting on the floor. All of us grinning maniacally at the camera. Underneath Alfred had simply written, 'Family'.
He looked up at is all and smiled. "Thank you," he said again.
"Do you like it?" Cassandra asked shyly.
"I love it," Bruce said, gently caressing the leather cover.
Cass smiled broadly. "Oh good." She stood up and hugged him. "Merry Christmas Bruce."
Dessert was brought to the table then and conversation began about the photos and the comments.
When the restaurant closed at eleven, we left bidding Lois and Clark a goodnight and piling into the limo.
"Good thing this is a stretch limo Bruce. We'd never get everyone in otherwise."
"We probably could you know," Tim answered Dick.
"It'd certainly be fun trying," I grinned.
Cassandra and Barbara were escorted into their building by Bruce and Alfred then we continued home where we went straight to bed. As I fell asleep my only thoughts were that I had eaten way too much.
Day four saw the completion of the second draft of the sacrifice traders follow up and with a few more corrections Perry finally approved it and I left that day a happy woman.
Bruce was still at the WayneCorp office when I got home, Tim and Willow were at Barbara and Cassandra's apartment where Alfred was en route to pick them up from.
I had finished my meditation, my study and my exercise, called mum and Dawn and Giles. My conversation with Giles, where he asked if anyone had been watching me through windows again, reminded me that I had a question to ask the man sitting in front of the TV. "Dick..?" I began hesitantly, standing in the doorway wringing my hands.
"What's wrong Buffy?"
"Nothing's wrong," I smiled. He's so sweet to think of me as a damsel in distress. "I was... just wondering... when we first met, why did you dress as Nightwing and watch me through the window at night?"
He smiled at me and indicated I should sit beside him, which I did. "I'm tired Buffy... When we first met I thought it was amazing how unaffected by everything you were, your humour. You looked bored and weren't trying to hide it, like there was something slightly less boring that you could think of to do and were wishing you were there instead. I figured you weren't the sort of woman we, Bruce and I, have the dubious fortune of meeting at those sorts of things. You were with Lois and the newspaper people so I determined you had to be with the paper and that meant you had some semblance of a working, intelligent brain in your head. But when you echoed my remembered sadness, me about my parents, you about Merrick, I knew I hadn't been fair to judge you.
"There are very few women that can get Bruce's attention the way you seemed to, almost as though you were the fabled damsel in distress. He was worried about you. I don't pretend to know how he thinks. It hurts too much to try so I followed and stayed in the shadows.
"And then to discover you had a secret that, though you only hinted at it sounded like my own, I felt I had discovered a kindred spirit. You gave up something of yourself for duty. *That* I understand.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to tell you about my 'alter-ego' but I needed to see you and lunch with you wasn't enough. It was the only way I could think of."
"But why? Not that I wasn't flattered and impressed..."
"I'm tired of all of the deception and the vigilante life in general Buffy. I've been doing this since I was 9. That's most of my life and I'm not sure I could give it up even if I really wanted to. But you... you breathed life into me. Just being able to see you seemed to revive me. I'd say you gave me a purpose again but it's not true. That's not what it was. I don't know *what* it was but you are so vibrant and alive, and then to find out you really did understand about duty and that you didn't judge me or my family because of it, you just accepted it... I think that's when I began to think I could love you."
Ok... Speechless. My mouth is flapping but there ain't no sound coming out. "You're falling in love with me?" I managed to gasp, staring anime-eyed at him, not really sure that that was what he was trying to say but not sure that it wasn't.
"Headfirst, uncontrolled freefall into a volcano," he nodded solemnly. "I don't want you to feel pressured or anything Buffy... I just wanted you to know all of this stuff and to give you an opportunity to get out before..."
I leaned across the space between us and placed my lips over his, pressing gently but firmly enough to stop him speaking. His lips didn't stop but his vocal cords did. Well except for the soft moan which I'll take to mean he was pleased because it was accompanied by hands and arms that pulled me closer.
Slowly I pulled away, realising with some consternation that I ended up sitting in his lap. "Don't give up on us before it starts, but you realise you have to deal with my family don't you? That includes one, maybe two vampires, an ex-vengeance demon, a witch, my Watcher, an ex-cheerleader, Xander, an ex-watcher, my mom who nearly knocked Spike out once, and my teenage sister. You are free to run screaming." He smiled at me, gently brushing the hair from my forehead. "Ok, but don't say I didn't warn you."
"Giles and your mum already know how I feel about you."
"They do?" Stunned and surprised.
"Uh huh. I told them the first time I met them. They deserved that honesty."
"Oh... so once again Buffy is out of the loop," I said bewildered.
"I didn't mean that Buffy..." he said quickly, trying to explain.
I chuckled. "Calm yourself former boy wonder. I told Giles something similar once."
"I like you. You're cute and sweet and kind and you don't have the potential for turning into a demon if we ever... well anyway, that's a definite plus as far as I'm concerned. You have a great family. You're mostly mentally stable," I said with a wink, "and my mum and my watcher seem to like you, which is also a bonus." I stood up and looked back at him. "I'm falling in love with you too Richard Grayson and it's hard not to fight it. It's hard not to resist the promises that you make without saying a word. I *know* you will never fail me, you will never leave me, but I've been burned badly before by someone who thought he was doing what was best for me and it's... hard sometimes to just accept this.
"I love being with you. You make me laugh and you understand." I happened to glance at the clock on the VCR and noticed it was passed eleven p.m. "I love that you at least seem patient," I chuckled as I settled on the sofa where I planned to fall asleep beside him.
I woke up in my bed assuming I had in fact fallen asleep on the sofa, again, and been put to bed. I felt somewhat like an escapee from a Mills and Boon novel as I recalled last nights conversation with Dick and chuckled to myself about that thought as I prepared for work.