by Chicago

Follows Only Human, Alienated, Comforts of Home and Flames Characters are not mine (they're DC Comics'), although the situation is. Not written for profit or anything.

Sasha pulled the car carelessly up to the front of the Manor. She should put it in the garage, but if she found out where her charge had gone off to, she was damned sure she would be ready to take off at a moment's notice to do her job. He'd been giving her the slip entirely too often lately, and she couldn't figure out what else he could possibly have up his sleeve. Another secret life?

She opened the front door a little more forcefully than necessary and stomped into the foyer. The nerve of him. She'd explained to him that she was going to do her job, like it or not. She'd put up with his insufferable demands to train up to his standards. She'd even put on a mask and done the vigilante thing since that seemed like the only way to keep him under watch. Apparently, even that wasn't enough.

Now what? she wondered. Go read a book? That's probably what he'd like her to do. Or get some sleep. Or...

A slow, nasty smile crossed her face. There was that big fancy computer downstairs...

She started in the direction of the den, then froze, her hand going automatically to the holstered revolver (hey, if he wasn't home, he couldn't complain about firearms in his house).

There it was again.

Voices, and a hint of a laugh. Sounded like -

She relaxed suddenly, scowling at herself. Alfred. Alfred and that woman - Ms. Jones? - that Bruce had brought home night before last.

She'd completely forgotten them.

She hesitated. She could still sneak down to the Cave, although she suspected that Alfred would be wise to her based on her earlier experiences with him. Better to join them, she decided. There was always an off chance that they'd know where Bruce was so she could track him down and give him hell for ditching her again.

She shifted direction and headed for the kitchen. The conversation was too muffled for her to make out, but she could distinctly hear Alfred's proper tones and a warmly female voice that must belong to Ms. Jones. She certainly sounded well enough, despite Bruce's explanation that her little fainting display when Bruce had helped her out of the car the other night was due to some illness. Probably drunk, Sasha thought uncharitably, remembering the green tinge to the woman's face as she'd collapsed into Bruce scarcely three steps from the car. Bruce hadn't let Sasha get close enough to offer any help beyond opening doors for them. Sasha pushed open the kitchen door and stepped through. "Hello," she greeted neutrally. The occupants of the kitchen looked up, but they didn't seem at all surprised.

"Miss Bordeaux! I was just preparing some sandwiches for myself and Miss Alana. Would you care to join us?"

Before Sasha could respond, the brunette at the table smiled at her. "Please do. I can't imagine Bruce has allowed you time for a proper lunch."

That was true, Sasha reflected, aware suddenly of her empty stomach, but it galled her that this woman should know Bruce well enough to know that. "I think I will," she said decisively, taking a chair kitty- corner from Bruce's latest squeeze.

"So," Sasha began with an air of false casualness. "How long have you known Bruce?" Might as well get some intelligence on this woman.

Jones shot an amused looking glance at Alfred. "Not that long, I guess. Ten years?"

"About that, Miss Alana," Alfred confirmed.

Ten years? There certainly was no Alana Jones in the list of known associates of Bruce Wayne. Then again, Robin wasn't in his list of known associates either. But this girl? She could barely have been out of high school ten years ago, and although she had a certain athleticism, she looked too frail to be part of the superhero set. Sasha kept her face neutral. "Huh," she remarked. "Seems like a lot of old girlfriends of Bruce's have been dropping by lately."

She caught Alfred's look of disapproval out of the corner of her eye, but she kept her attention on Jones. She was almost surprised when the woman began to laugh - not a hurt laugh, but an honest, pleasant one. The sound quickly trailed off as Jones brought her hand to her chest, but she still smiled. "There's a picture - Bruce and his bevy of old flames."

Alfred, meanwhile, had left the counter to lay a gentle hand on Jones' shoulder. "Are you all right, Miss Alana?" he asked, his eyes noting the hand she still held to her chest.

"Fine, Alfred," she reassured. "Just hurts to laugh."

Alfred lingered a moment, concern evident on his face, and Sasha felt a gnawing sense of guilt. Maybe she'd misjudged this Jones.

"I'm sorry," Sasha apologized. "I think I've been making some wrong assumptions."

Jones smiled kindly, her deep brown eyes clear and untroubled.

"It's okay. I know how it must look. Bruce does not exactly have the social graces down to a science."

Sasha snorted. "You can say that again."

"Bruce does not -" Jones began, a smirk on her face.

Sasha shot her a look. "Cute."

"I try," Jones responded. "Thank you, Alfred."

The old butler, who - Sasha had noted - was continuing to watch Jones narrowly, had set a plate of Chocos in front of the young woman. Jones began nibbling on one almost immediately, and Sasha suspected that without an audience, she'd have downed five or six by this point. Weird, she thought.

"The sandwiches will be ready in just another minute," Alfred announced, and Sasha noticed he again put a solicitous hand on Jones' shoulder. A stray thought occurred to her, that perhaps this Alana Jones was somehow linked to Alfred...

Her train of thought was disrupted when Jones began to choke a little on her cookie.

"You okay?" Sasha asked, leaning over to give her a pat on the back.

Jones shied from the contact, nodding as she took a swallow of milk. "Fine, I'm sorry. Down the wrong pipe." She smiled again, this time with a hint of embarrassment.

"Sandwiches," Alfred announced, setting plates in front of both women. Sasha stared at the masterpiece in front of her, her stomach rumbling audibly.

Jones chuckled. "That's Alfred's cooking - or assembling. You're joining us, right, Alfred?" Her tone had a hint of little-girl expectation in it, and it seemed to have the desired effect on the butler.

"Of course, Miss Alana," he agreed easily, reminding Sasha that during their briefly overlapping time at the Manor, she'd never seen Alfred eat.

Jones was already attacking her food with gusto when Alfred set a third plate on the table and sat down. It did seem the thing to do, Sasha reflected, picking up the fragrant sandwich and taking a bite. Once started, she found herself devouring the first sandwich half at a pace that out- stripped Jones.

For a few minutes, the only sound at the table was companionable chewing. Then Alfred broke the silence.

"Miss Alana?"

Sasha looked up from her food to see that Jones' face had lost color and she was leaning her head into her hand. "You okay?" she asked.

Jones swallowed hard and after a moment, raised her face. Her eyes were wildly unfocused, but she took a deep breath and nodded, seeming to slowly come back to herself. She accepted the water glass that Alfred pressed into her hand, taking a few careful sips. As she did so, her color improved and life seemed to flood back into her eyes.

Alfred, noting the improvement, rested a hand on Jones' forearm and looked at Sasha. "Just a spell," he said as if that explanation would suffice. His gaze returned to Jones. "Would you like me to call Master Bruce?"

Ah - they did know where he was - or at least, Alfred did. Jones was shaking her head. "No. No - although it might help if I put in an appearance -"

"Absolutely not." The firmness of Alfred's tone distracted Sasha from what that last comment had meant. "I've been asked to keep you home and safe until you are fully well, and I do not take that responsibility lightly."

The young woman sighed. "It would ease things -"

"Let him deal with whatever issues they're having. I do not doubt whatever the problem is was of his own doing."

Sasha was utterly confused. "What are you -?"

"I'm sorry, Miss Bordeaux. Master Bruce is meeting with some of his and Miss Alana's - mutual friends. They are undoubtedly unhappy that Master Bruce has arrived without Miss Alana at his side."

"They don't know how ill I was," Jones added.

"Still are, by the looks of it," Sasha pointed out.

"Miss Bordeaux has a point, Miss Alana. I think perhaps you could use more rest."

"I'm really fine," she protested, although she stood at Alfred's prompting. She did look substantially better, and Sasha wondered about the nature of her supposed illness. Her behavior seemed more consistent with an injury.

As if to give lie to Sasha's suspicion, Jones swayed the slightest bit on her feet, grabbing hold of the chair back to steady herself. Alfred instantly had her arm as the woman smiled weakly at him. "Or maybe I should rest," she admitted.

"Miss Bordeaux, you'll excuse us?" Alfred asked without looking at Sasha, his attention riveted on Jones. Without waiting for a reply, he led the young woman out of the kitchen.

Sasha watched them go, entirely puzzled. This Alana Jones was some kind of mystery, but she couldn't quite identify what was going on. A ten year relationship with Bruce Wayne - or Batman, she reminded herself - that no one knew about? Mutual acquaintances who would be unhappy that Jones was not at Bruce's side?

She picked up the second half of her sandwich, chewing thoughtfully. Jones had pulled away from her contact, had been holding her own chest earlier. Alfred, in leading her away, had not made the obvious gesture of supporting her around her shoulders but had instead lead her by her arm. Injury, she decided, not illness, discarding the idle thought that maybe the girl was pregnant. Somehow, despite his reputation, she suspected Bruce Wayne was not in the habit of knocking girls up.

So if Jones was injured, how had it happened? Something Bruce or the Batman had done? That would explain his bringing her home, summoning Alfred to look after her. Sasha'd already seen Bruce's guilt in action.

Or perhaps - she seemed young enough - perhaps she was in some sort of weirdly abusive family situation. One of Bruce's collection of kids that he might keep half an eye on, intervening when things got truly bad. Had he stopped a beating that had gotten out of hand, and was even now confronting the people who had hurt her?

The only problem with that scenario was the way Bruce had behaved toward her - not protectively paternal, or even fraternal, but with the tenderness of a lover. More such tenderness, in fact, than Sasha had seen him express toward Vesper during their whole interlude in Gotham and his efforts to distract her from her pursuit of the Batman.

The whole situation was decidedly odd. She took the final bite of her sandwich and carried her plate to the sink, pausing for a moment to listen. She could hear nothing of Alfred or Jones. This might be the moment to make a break for the cave.

She kept her ears open as she left the kitchen and walked toward the den. Still nothing. She imagined Alfred would busily fuss over Jones until the young woman either fell asleep or asked him to leave. Based on the grateful way Jones looked at him, she suspected it would not be the latter.

She reached the den without incident, crossing to the clock. Just a quick trip downstairs, a database search on Alana Jones, and -

The clock swung outward before she could touch it, and Bruce Wayne stepped out.

He saw Sasha instantly, his mouth immediately adopting the classic Bruce Wayne smile. It would have been more successful if the eyes of the Batman had not been drilling into her.

"Why, hello, Sasha," he greeted, his tone one of happy surprise that didn't match his eyes.

"Bruce!" she began indignantly. "Where the hell have you been? I've told you that -"

"I already know what you were up to," he interrupted, the smile still fixedly in place. "Where's Alfred?"

Sasha stared hard at him. "He's helping Ms. Jones."

That seemed to shake Bruce. "Is he okay?"

Sasha cocked her head. "Alfred? He's fine."

Bruce shot her a hard look. "I asked if she's okay. Alana."

No you didn't, Sasha thought, but she filed the puzzling slip away. "She had a bit of a spell over lunch or something, so Alfred thought she might want to lie down."

Bruce's entire face was now Bat-dominated as his mouth pressed into a thin line. "A spell, eh? Damn them." He walked forward briskly, heading with determination toward the door.

Sasha stared after him, then shook herself, turning back toward the clock. Before she could take a step, Bruce was addressing her.

"Don't even think about it."

She turned, but he still had his back to her. He had an air of expectancy, as if he was waiting for confirmation that he would be obeyed before he continued.

Sasha sighed heavily. "Fine. But you owe me an explanation."

"No," he replied, "I don't."

Then he was gone, leaving Sasha to slam a frustrated fist into the side of the clock. The solid wood bruised her hand, but she was beyond caring. She would get to the bottom of this one. Maybe not today, but it would happen. Damnable man with his secrets!

She gave the clock a final snarl and turned away, opting to leave the den. As she headed down the hall toward her room, her hand brushed against her holster, and she almost stopped in her tracks. She didn't know who this Alana Jones really was, but she had Bruce good. He hadn't even noticed Sasha was still wearing her gun.


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