"She stole my phone!"
Bruce looked at Alex. "Alex?"
Alex glanced up from her phone, and after a moment, shrugged. "I threw it in the pool." Bruce looked out the open window, down to the patio on the ground floor. It would have taken a pretty aggressive throw to get it in the water, but someone did in fact seem to be fishing it out with a net.
"You bitch," the other girl spat, and Alfred rolled his eyes as he continued holding the two furious models at bay. They looked the same age as Alex, about nineteen, but it could be hard to tell with models. It was an industry that rewarded women for looking like girls. Bruce's eyes lingered on Alex's left arm. She'd gotten a full sleeve tattoo since last he saw her, butterflies from her wrist to the middle of her upper arm. Alex was looking at her phone again, and making no effort to defend herself.
"Did you have a good reason?" Bruce asked her.
"Yeah," Alex said, but didn't elaborate.
"No she didn't," one of the other girls protested.
Bruce sighed. "Alfred, could you see these ladies out?"
"What?" The girl who'd had her phone stolen looked as baffled as angry. "Why are we the ones getting kicked out?"
"I'm sorry," Bruce said, and he really was. "Alex is a family friend, and if there's been a disagreement between you two, then I'm going to have to ask you to leave until it's sorted out. If you'd like to come back tomorrow, I can write you a check for the value of your phone."
"This is bullshit," said the other girl, but Alfred was already leading them to the stairs. Alex had not looked up from her phone.
Bruce waited until they were out of earshot. "Do you want to tell me what that was about?" Alex shrugged. "So no, then."
"I can go home if you want," she said, eyes still on the screen.
"That is not what I said, and that is not what I want." It was a very subtle motion of her shoulders that had her drawing in on herself. "I'm not mad at you, I'm just confused." How strange, to think that she was Dick's age, when she seemed so much younger. "I'm pretty sure I've seen you ignore everything short of a punch to the face, so right now I'm imagining that they must have committed some kind of war crime." She smiled faintly, but said nothing. "Does it have something to do with the fact that my bedroom door seems to be open?" She shrugged. "Were there pictures involved, or...?" She shrugged again. "Did one of them steal your voice in exchange for legs so that you could walk on land?"
She snorted a laugh despite herself, a smile with teeth. "Bruce."
"If you've been a mermaid this whole time, I think Jane has a right to know."
She looked up from her phone just so that she could give him A Look. "Yeah, Bruce. You got me. I'm a mermaid."
"Knew it." She tried and failed to hide her smile. "That why you pitched her phone into the pool?"
The smile faded with another shrug. "I didn't know if her phone did cloud backups or whatever."
"So you figured you'd completely destroy it before it could." It wasn't a question.
She was back on her phone. "I guess."
He sighed. He almost crossed his arms, put his hands in his pockets instead. Less threatening. "You could have just gotten me. Maybe I could have talked to them to start with, instead of trying to do damage control?"
"They wouldn't have listened."
"Already knew them, huh?"
"Were they aware you hated them before you chucked a phone out the window?"
"I don't think so."
"Ah." Bruce glanced outside. It wasn't really a party, more of an informal get-together. Mostly people he knew well, but he didn't mind if they brought someone along. A low commitment, low effort way to keep up appearances. Primarily to avoid people assuming he was having some kind of depressive episode. Once Dick had left for college, it suddenly became much more acceptable for acquaintances to swing by unannounced with soup. Why did they always bring soup? He didn't even like soup.
Parties as a soup prevention tactic were probably one of the weirder aspects of his lifestyle.
"I like the tattoo," he said, and Alex smiled.
"I like it, too," she said, holding up her arm and looking at the butterflies.
"That won't make it harder to find work?"
"No," she said, going back to typing on her phone. "I'm planning to get into porn, anyway."
Bruce froze. "… ah." He paused. "That's… a… valid decision. For you to make. As an adult. If that's… what you want to do. With your life. For… whatever reason. Which you… are not obligated to explain to me, obviously. Because you are a grown woman."
Alex lifted her phone without warning to snap a picture of him, then grinned.
"… you were fucking with me, weren't you."
"I'm texting this to Jane."
"That wasn't funny."
"Your brain basically broke."
"That was rude."
"Watching you try to reconcile the fact that you think I'm a baby with the fact that you didn't want to disrespect sex work or my bodily autonomy was a-mazing."
"I think you were disrespectful enough for the both of us."
"I can barely even talk in front of people," she reminded him. "How would I do porn?"
"I—I'm not answering that," he said. "That's a trick question and I'm not falling for it." She laughed. "You're growing up into a horrible young woman, you know."
"Nuh-uh," she countered, shaking her head and swaying as she did it. "You're proud of me."
"I am," he agreed.
She looked up from her phone. "… well now you've ruined it."
"Was I supposed to pretend I'm not?"
"Maybe? Now it's all feelings-y in here."
He considered this statement. "Gross."
"Still proud of you, though."
She balled her hands into fists, one of them around her phone, and rubbed them over her cheeks. "Oh, whatever."
"I'm going back out to get a burger," he said with a nod of his head. "You coming with, or are you going to keep wandering around my house unsupervised?" He offered his arm.
Alex slid her phone into her pocket. "Sure." She put her hand loose on the crook of his elbow, and let him lead her down the hall.
"You don't need to defend my honor, you know," he said when they were halfway down the stairs.
"Someone has to."
"I can take care of myself."
"You can." She stopped, and he did the same two steps lower. He was still taller than she was. She extended her left pinky towards him. The corner of his mouth twitched.
"What exactly am I promising?" he asked.
"Let people do stuff for you sometimes."
"That's very vague," he said. She waited. So did he. Finally, he hooked his pinky around hers. "There. Happy?"
She started descending the stairs again. "I'll be happier with a burger."
"Your wish is my command."