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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2266470
The trouble with onions is the aftertaste.
She just sat there staring at me. And there was a certain ruthlessness in it. Anticipation that at any moment she would strike with an unbridled ferocity. Unforgiving and with purpose. There was undeniable confidence in that stare.

Filled me with anxiety. Made me nervous no matter how calm I managed to appear.

I set my jaw, popped a forkful of the fish into my mouth and sat back scratching my head. Felt good to scratch. Friggin' wigs really did a number on one's scalp.

She turned her fork over, flipping it between gloved fingers. Mentally I cringed considering, at any moment, that silver implement might be protruding from my forehead.

All the while she never withdrew her stare.

"So how would that work?" she said finally.

"Well I might suggest we start by moving you into the h ..."

"And how the hell do you know my name?" she snapped.

I dug the edge of my fork through a bit more of the meat on my plate, stabbed at a cubed potato, sat back and chewed.

"We know a great deal about a great many people Ms. Gordon ... or may I call you Barbara ...?" She waved me off as if it was of little consequence either way. "I felt digging around in the details of our allies a bit of an affront. And I made my voice heard upon the matter. But he ..." I waved my fork around in the air, "HE insisted it was of the utmost importance we understand as much as there is to know about friend and foe alike ..."

She sat back considering and, leaning back in her chair, folded her hands behind her head.

"And you know what?"

"Mmm?" She appeared to be studying the firmament above. I glanced up for the hell of it. Stars were always striking this far away from downtown. Yeah, those were stars alright. I went back to making my point.

"He was right. You remember Talia? Don't you?"

She nodded absently.

With a tearing like velcro, she separated the fabric at the back of her head. The tightness drawing against the skin at her jawline released it's grip, and she yanked her cowling forward over her hairline.

I averted my eyes. Felt as though I might be walking in without knocking. Picked up my glass, raised my chin as I gulped the contents down.

Ahem I cleared my throat, snatched up the wine bottle, and poured myself another. When I turned my gaze back to her, I was stunned to find a young lady sitting opposite me, couldn't be more than 20.

20 years old at the most. With huge eyes, a youthfully sculpted chin. But what was most striking really was the rough cut tousle of short, brown hair where once had been assumed a flowing full head of red ... bad dye job aside ... who might think this was the reality.

I snatched up my fork and pointed it at her grinning ... "al Ghul's daughter."

Her eyes went wide as she scratched at her head and tossed her headgear into one of the unused chairs.

"All the reports I got were she and Bruce were tight ... for years ..."

"Quite true; but consider what might've happened had we not dug deep enough."

"And what happened there. All the entertainment exposure and regalia just seemed to vanish?"

"Yeah he confronted her against my better judgement. She was just too close. And he was devastated."

Barbara rolled her eyes, smirked. Gingerly picked up her glass. Her wine glass.

"Pardon me if this comes off a bit too forward ..." I watched her raise the rim to her lips. "But are you of age?"

She swallowed. Replaced the glass at its place upon the table. Leveled a severe glare in my direction. "Relax. I'm older than I look."

"Okay okay." I apologized, hands raised, "So Talia ended up on a plane purportedly headed for Jordan. She disappeared somewhere inside the Emirate ... some time ago.

"Bout 5 years. 5 years now."

"Yes." I said nodding. "Yes, that's right."

Which woulda made you about - what - 15? How would you know about any of it. Are you carrying a torch of some kind?

"But getting back to the matter at hand. We needed to know all there was to know about anyone and everyone, and that meant extensive investigation into each individual within the circle of contact and those worthy of criminal investigation alike."

She pensively forked a bite of food into her mouth.

"Man." she muttered chewing. "Rough. I mean it must've been, just, really rough having to be upon your toes like that."

She crossed her boots under the table. I relaxed a fraction. Inwardly.

Outwardly, must needs appear as if nothing had changed. She was definitely coming around. And quickly.

"Well, sure. But it was a lifestyle which had become customary. Almost routine. As anyone else might wake to coffee and read the paper each morning. All the insight and research mostly fell to me anyway. Left the "heavy" to do his work unabated ... if you get my meaning."

She sipped some wine, interlaced her fingers behind her head and leaned back as if considering.

"Mostly."

"Excuse me?"

"You said, the intelligence gathering "mostly" fell to you."

I fell silent. Thought about it a moment.

"We ... shared ... some responsibilities. Certainly" I said, eyes downturned, nodding.

"... and he was the heavy."

Just continue nodding.

"Always?"

And then I froze. How in the hell did she ... ?

I froze. Flicked a sideeye at her sitting there smirking at me with arms crossed confidently across her stupid, youthful, little, chest.

Turned my head. She was just staring at me like before. Far less imposing without the cowl and the glimmering, whitish eyes, and the flare of red, but still. Sitting there confidently, full of purpose. Dangerous as hell ... and reminding me now of someone else. Definitely.

"No. Not always."

"And you ... you've said you were here from before?"

Oh god. Where was this going?

I picked up the bottle, offered to pour. She shook her head.

"Yes, I did. I said that." I replaced the wine upon the table and picked up my goblet full of water. Gulped at it.

"Before. Before what?"

"Before his time." I drew myself up and straightened my napkin.

"Which was when?" she pressed.

I locked her eyes with mine. Studied her face. That sharp little jawline, those sparkling, bright eyes. Considered my place. Considered what was intended with this meeting. Considered the risks. Thought about Talia.

And then there was the other. That thing that had occurred and that had almost brought all of this crashing down. Who's fault was that after all? Reckless. Dangerous. And ultimately ... deadly. You can bring youth along for only so long before their ignorance and their arrogance gets the best of them. You can only spare the rod for so long ... Jason was the greatest example of how horrifically things might spin beyond all control.

"Alfred." she was snapping her fingers in the air between us. "Yo. Hulloah!"

"Oh I ... excuse me ... got caught up in my thoughts ..."

"Ya. Think so?"

"Yes well. Where were we?"

She shook her head. "Nevermind." she said rising.

She slid her chair beneath the table, stepped around to her cowling and situated it over her head and around her shoulders, fastening everything snuggly.

'Wait." I said stumbling out of my seat. "I'm sorry ... I ..."

She extended her gloved hand, palm up, demanding I quit my clamoring.

Her eyes erupted in a dull blazing white. She turned her head slowly around the back yard and around the patio to the rear of the house.

Calibrating. She has variable light spectrum optics. Hmmm. Probably Police Band in there too.

She stood up straight, diverted her attention back to me, and grinned as if she knew what I was thinking.

"Alfred." she said extending her hand. "I've had a lovely time. Thank you for having me."

I took her hand. Small. Long fingers. But man ... really tight. Strong. Really strong."

"My pleasure Madame" I said reverting to my butler's gate and intonation.

She appeared to cock an eyebrow and then studied me a moment, much as I had been studying her throughout our dinner together. She then turned and began to walk away.

"What ..." I began and then thought better of it. No need to appear too eager.

She stopped mid-stride and turned slowly back in that way causing an alleyway ruffian's skin to crawl.

"Yes?" she called.

"I meant to say; How shall we proceed?"

"When can we get started?"

"Soon as you are comfortable." I reassured.

"Be around tomorrow." She replied. Electricity, that familiar tingling, shot all the way groin to fingertips.

And turning on one heel she dashed into the shadows. Disappeared completely right in front of my eyes.

Next thing I knew, one of the gargoyles appeared to dislodge itself, a very small one, and scamper away across the roofline in the moonlight.

"See you then" I muttered to myself.

Plates, glasses, linens, a particularly aerodynamic grapple, about 200 feet of rope, and a particularly grumpy patch of churned earth would need a catering.

My work. Never done.

I smiled.


Chapter 5:
 Graceful Imbalance 5: All Together Now  (13+)
Center of the onion resides the rabbit hole.
#2266601 by Dekland Freeny



Chapter 3:
 Graceful Imbalance 3: Make Your Choice  (13+)
2 minutes chopping, and you're all tears
#2266302 by Dekland Freeny
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