They sat in the kitchen, drinking the coffee that Jeannette had brewed, both contemplating a strange new centerpiece that had appeared sometime in the night. It seemed to be some sort of jade dragon statuette, a conclusion that Scandal reached after observing the way it curled in on itself, and the ridge of spines that ran down what she supposed was its back. It was mostly obscured by a pair of unfortunately familiar, unfortunately short green shorts and topped with a jauntily cocked pixie boot.
“If you’re so fascinated by it,” Jeannette said, breaking the silence, “why not try it on?”
“Because I love you, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you refer to the shoe,” Scandal answered, sipping her coffee. It was excellent, dark and rich and unspoiled by sugar or cream.
“Of course,” Jeannette answered, opening her beautiful eyes very wide. There had been a time when Scandal had allowed those eyes to enchant her, and though there had never been true feeling between them beyond the love one feels for a sister, still sometimes she entertained the fantasy of slipping between the sheets with Jeanette again.
“Do you know where they went?” Scandal asked. Jeannette reached out, tipping the boot off of the statue’s head. It was indeed a dragon, though its fierce expression was worn smooth by time.
“No idea, my dear,” she answered. “Floyd was home with me all night.” Her expression left little doubt as to what the two of them had passed the night doing, and Scandal rolled her eyes fondly. Though she questioned Jeannette’s taste in men, she was pleased that the two of them had found some happiness with each other. “I think it was just Blake and our charming Doll.”
“No,” Scandal said. “Bane was with them.” And she hid her face behind the cup, attempting to block out the smirking curve of Jeannette’s lips.
“Was he?” the banshee murmured. A long white finger tipped Scandal’s mug back down onto the table. Liquid gurgled and splashed as Jeannette refilled the cup. “You sound very certain about that.”
“Lift your mind from the gutter,” Scandal said as calmly as she could. “I saw him come in last night.”
More and more often lately she walks the halls at night, looking for reprieve from nightmares which she despises more for their implication of weakness than for the emotional distress they cause her. Walking does not help, particularly, as the dark passages of the house offer no succor but it is preferable to lying in her bed and staring at the dark plane of the ceiling.
Bane is leaning against the wall as she comes around the corner. It is clear that he has just come in from outside; the scent of cold night air is on him, that mixture of stone and rain and the effluence of a thousand industrial sewers. He has been in Gotham. The sweat is cooled on his skin, but he has the spike of adrenaline about him, those great muscles flexing and relaxing as he turns his head to stare at her.
She regards him, appreciating his form and strength but feeling towards him only cautious wariness.
“You are up late, Scandal Savage,” he says. His voice reminds her of her childhood, a connection which she emphatically rejects. The hints and lilts of his heritage, distant cousin to her own, recall the honeyed cadences of her mother’s speech. It is one of the relics of her childhood that she is most eager to leave behind, not because she does not love her mother but because the heaviness of loss still weighs on her.
“As are you,” she answers coldly. His hand moves, the start of an aborted gesture, a dismissive wave to send her on her way. Scandal stands her ground. “Where have you been?”
“Taking care of things,” he says, turning his great head away from her. “Paying my respects.”
She realizes for the first time that Bane, perhaps, has felt the Bat’s death more keenly than the rest of them. She knows from long experience that to kill a worthy enemy forges a lasting connection, perhaps particularly if that worthy enemy fails to stay dead. It did not even occur to her that Bane might feel pain. He seems invulnerable, shielded by his size and intellect, and the thought of him as tormented by any sort of emotion is ludicrous.
“I’ll leave you to it then,” she says. For a moment, it seems that he will speak and she hesitates, eyes narrowed. But he looks at her face, the combative set of her shoulders, and he raises a hand. It is farewell not dismissal and she accepts it as such, turning and choosing another path through the midnight hallways.
She cannot, for the rest of the night, shake the feeling that she should have offered him some sign of comfort, and she vows next time she will not be so eager to escape him. He has saved her life. She owes him that, at least.
“He’s taken a shine to you,” Jeannette suggested, adding sugar to her second cup of coffee. “I believe he aims to show you the benefits of fatherly care and attention.”
“I have no interest in fatherly care and attention,” Scandal snapped. “I’ve had my fill of it.”
“Calm down, darling,” Jeannette said mildly. Her spoon clanked lightly against her mug, masking the sound of Scandal’s teeth as they ground together. “It was only an observation.” She took a sip, made an approving sound in her throat. “You could benefit from a relationship with him, though.”
Scandal snorted derisively and would have replied but Blake chose that moment to shuffle into the kitchen. He stopped in the doorway, stared at the two women, scratched his stubble. “What are we talking about?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Scandal said.
“We were just discussing the fact that Scandal has difficulty distinguishing one man from another,” Jeannette said loftily. “To her detriment, if you ask me.”
“No one did,” Scandal growled.
Blake stared at them for a long moment then, clearly deciding that it was much too early to attempt to puzzle out their meaning, shrugged his shoulders and went to the refrigerator. He pulled out the carton of eggs and began to crack them, one by one, into a frying pan. Scandal and Jeannette shared a look and, though Scandal was inclined to stay mad, her irritation towards Jeannette melted in the face of their shared amusement at the sight of Blake hunched over the stove.
“Every morning,” Jeannette murmured, closing her eyes. Scandal eyed her profile, the graceful sweep of her features. She knew Jeannette meant well, but she of all people should understand Scandal’s discomfort. They had both been ill used by men in their time and of that was born a sisterhood between them, one that Scandal relied on more that she would have liked to admit. To have Jeannette suggest that Bane’s attentions might be beneficial was disturbing on many levels, not least of which was the fact that over the years, Scandal had come to trust Jeannette implicitly.
And so perhaps she was right. Perhaps she saw something that Scandal did not, a void to which Scandal herself was blind. So be it. It was, at least, something to consider rather than actively oppose.
Setting aside the argument, she leaned over her coffee, conspiratorially close to Jeannette and whispered, “One minute.”
“Less,” Jeannette countered and, in exactly forty-five seconds, Floyd shuffled in, more rumpled than Blake but looking considerably more satisfied.
“Eggs again?” he muttered, throwing himself into a chair. Scandal snorted softly and Jeannette, with a knowing little smile on her face, picked up the pixie boot and perched it back on the dragon’s head.