Air of December, part 4
Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"
The air shimmered slightly, and then Gypsy stood there, expression caught between defiance and shame. Alfred sympathized; she was not truly the culprit here. "Miss Cassandra," he said without turning, "do not disturb my oven."
In contrast to Gypsy, Cassandra slid out from behind Alfred with a triumphant expression on her face. "See?" she said to Gypsy, but the other young woman only continued to stare at Alfred, looking more than anything like a child awaiting punishment.
Alfred turned to the cupboard to pull down two glasses. "Dare I ask, Miss Cassandra, what you were trying to demonstrate for our guest?"
Cassandra had already plopped down into a chair at the table, claiming a still-warm cookie. "You know," she determined. "Sit down," she ordered Gypsy. "Alfred not mad."
Alfred collected a gallon of milk from the refrigerator and filled the glasses. Returning the milk to its place, he raised an eyebrow at Cassandra. "Indeed," he stated. "One develops a sixth sense for stealth tactics after several decades."
Cassandra smirked, and Gypsy looked uncertainly at Alfred's face as the older man set down the glasses of milk in front of the two girls. "Please, do have a seat, Miss Gypsy. This would be far from the first case of invisible cookie snatching this house has seen."
"J'onn not steal cookies," Cassandra objected.
"You are right, Miss Cassandra," Alfred agreed, noting with approval that Gypsy had finally taken a seat. "But only because it is rather difficult to steal something that was procured expressly for you." He directed this last toward Gypsy with a kindly smile.
"It was just a dare," Gypsy offered, clearly feeling the need to explain herself. Likely worried, Alfred imagined from what he knew of the young woman, that she was showing herself as the sneak-thief she had been known as in her youth.
"It seems to me Master Tim has offered that explanation as well when Miss Cassandra has persuaded him to mischief," Alfred remarked, turning sternly to Cassandra. He wasn't angry at her - not truly. It had been something of a relief to see a playfulness emerging in this too serious teenager, and he was beginning to suspect there was something more behind the teasing routine she had developed toward Alfred.
"I'm good influence on Tim," Cassandra defended, still grinning. "Dick says so."
"And we all know how good Master Dick's judgment is," Alfred remarked dryly, aware that Gypsy was watching this exchange wide eyed. It was clear that the young woman had felt intimidated by Alfred, by the Manor, uncertain of how to behave. Until Dick had brought Cassandra, Gypsy had practically been creeping around, staying wherever Alfred installed her until he came to direct her to come eat or go sleep.
"He's smart enough to date Barbara," Cassandra pointed out, snagging another cookie.
A corner of Alfred's mouth quirked upward. "A point well taken, Miss Cassandra."
"So it's okay if me and Gypsy spar in Cave, right?"
Alfred blinked and glanced at Gypsy, who sat frozen in her seat. "Miss Cassandra, non sequitur aside -"
"Non sequenc-?" Cassandra interrupted, and Alfred had to fight back another smile. He wondered sometimes if she were being manipulative, drawing the teacher out of the butler to flatter him into giving in on some request. Still, her desire to learn, her willingness to pause other business to answer a question managed to charm him.
"Non sequitur," he corrected.
"It does not follow, right?" Gypsy put in. "From Latin?"
Now Alfred did allow a pleased smile to cross his face. "You know Latin?"
Gypsy shrugged uncomfortably. "Only a little bit. J'onn taught me some when I was - that is -"
Cassandra patted Gypsy's wrist reassuringly. "J'onn a good teacher."
Gypsy nodded, and Alfred remembered that she had been a run away, living on the streets. Suddenly the instant and unexpected connection between Gypsy and Cassandra made sense, the challenges facing young girls on their own, the experiences of a superhero lifestyle. Even across the four or so years that separated them, that shared background must be something of a relief to both of them.
"Well, you're quite right," Alfred said briskly. "It does translate to it does not follow. So when someone interjects a statement or question out of blue into a conversation-"
"A non sequintor," Cassandra pronounced.
"Sequitur," Alfred corrected. "And do bear in mind that we'll be having a late luncheon at 3:00. I'll expect you both presentable for table."
Cassandra nodded. "Bruce and J'onn back then?"
"They plan to arrive around two," Alfred confirmed, noticing the way Gypsy's face seemed to light up at this news. "I believe Master Dick and Miss Barbara have plans at her father's for the evening, and Master Tim will be obliged to his family, so it will be up to you two to keep up the festive air."
Cassandra took a final gulp of milk and grinned. "Cool. C'mon, Gypsy."
"That means no black eyes," Alfred called after their retreating backs.
He shook his head as Cassandra's answering laughter came back. They said the holiday season was for children, but, he reflected as he returned to his baking, it seemed to him it was for old men defending cookies and seeing too rare joy in the eyes of their juniors.