Dev was staring so intently at the empty counter he didn’t even notice when Bruce entered the cave. It was mid-afternoon and an unusual time for either of them to be there, so it was perhaps understandable when Bruce stopped abruptly by the computer and asked, “Are you alright?”
“Hm?” Dev asked, looking up and blinking. “Oh, hullo. I’m fine. Just thinking through something.”
“Alright,” Bruce said with a very slight frown.
“I was making artificial cerebrospinal fluid earlier,” Dev said when Bruce started tabbing through files on the computer, as if this explained anything.
“Do you do that often?” Bruce asked without turning, half-absorbed in reading.
“Now and then,” Dev said absently. “I think it’s rather useful but I’m in the minority of the medical community.”
“Hn,” Bruce said.
“I’ve just been wondering since then,” Dev said, trailing off and picking up a notebook. He flipped through it.
“Was that a complete thought?” Bruce asked, still perusing the information on screen and beginning to type.
“I think I’m going to bloody try to make it with household ingredients. See if I can distill them enough,” Dev said, snapping the notebook shut.
“Why?” Bruce asked, his fingers pausing. They resumed again just as quickly.
“For emergencies,” Dev said casually.
Bruce stopped and turned in the chair to look across the cave.
“What kind of emergency would require that?”
Dev shrugged and bit his lip.
“Oh, you know. Emergencies,” he said vaguely.
“You just want to see if you can.”
“Bloody hell, yes,” Dev said with a loud exhale. “I mean, sod it all, wouldn’t you?”
Bruce turned back to the computer and Dev looked around the medical unit again.
“What do we need to do?” Bruce asked, while studying the screen.
“To make it. We can use the catering kitchen. Alfred might not even notice if we work there.”
“Darling, are you offering to help?”
Bruce glanced over his shoulder and fixed Dev with a level stare.
Four hours and seven unnoticed mobile notifications later, the stainless steel catering kitchen off the east wing ballroom was full of carefully labeled cups, half a dozen reference books, and sheets and sheets of handwritten notes on lined paper.
Bruce and Dev stood side by side scowling at a pan of separating fluids when there was a sizzle and hiss from the stovetop and then a loud pop and flash.
Within seconds, the room had filled with smoke and it was still dissipating for long seconds after the puff of a fire extinguisher spewed powder all over the stove, settling into a blackened bowl and on the burners.
“Well,” Dev coughed, holding the collar of his shirt over his mouth.
“The potassium nitrate,” Bruce said, his shirt held up in a similar fashion and the extinguisher still in one hand.
“Yep,” Dev agreed with a sigh. “I should have been paying more attention.”
“Good thing it wasn’t the magnesium,” Bruce said, his gaze falling on another container across the kitchen.
Dev laughed and coughed again.
“It’s not too late, then,” Dev said. “If you’ve still something left in that extinguisher.”
Bruce hefted the metal container to test it and just said, “Hnn. There’s enough. We could–”
“What have you done to my kitchen?” Alfred Pennyworth’s demand cut through the kitchen and the faint, lingering smoke.
“Uh,” Dev said, freezing. He was perversely relieved and slightly terrified when he caught sight of Bruce’s face, and the man so rarely startled had the same deer-in-the-headlights expression Dev knew was on his own face.
“Would it help to point out that we are not in the main kitchen,” Bruce said slowly, not looking at Alfred but at the scorched stove.
“Probably not,” Alfred said stiffly. “Goodness gracious, did you turn the smoke alarms off?”
Up on the ceiling, the two smoke detectors dangled from their bases with one wire each detached.
Bruce closed his eyes and Dev scuffed the toe of his shoe across the tile and pressed his mouth together into a tight line.
“Words fail me,” Alfred said. “I don’t even think you ought to try and tell me what it is you were doing. I can hardly think it will do much to redeem either of you.”
“You have been telling me to find a new hobby,” Bruce said, turning at last to look at the older man. The response he received was a sharply raised eyebrow.
“It’s my fault, Alfie,” Dev said, shooting the stove a dirty look as if the appliance was at fault.
“No,” Bruce said, “it was both of us.”
“Why?” Alfred asked, despite himself.
“Science,” Dev shrugged. “What else?”
“For emergencies,” Bruce added. “Preparation. We’ll clean it up, Al.”
“I dare say you will,” Alfred snapped. “And I’d ask you to keep explosions restricted to the outside of the manor in the future.”
The older man shook his head once and left them alone in the kitchen.
“That could have gone worse,” Bruce said wryly.
“Shite,” Dev answered, slouching against the counter. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Bruce said, setting the extinguisher down on the counter. “Alfred wasn’t that upset. And it was a good fire.”
“It was, wasn’t it?” Dev grinned. “Not the sort of thing I’d put in a brain, but I’ll figure it out eventually.”
“We can keep working,” Bruce said, looking at his watch. “I didn’t say when we’d clean it up, and it’s technically my kitchen.”
“Will he keep back tea?” Dev asked with a worried frown.
“For you? No. But I might be stuck with sandwiches for dinner.”
“Bloody hell, I am sorry,” Dev said, putting both hands over his face.
“I like sandwiches,” Bruce answered, patting Dev on the shoulder. “C’mon, sweetheart. Back to work.”
Dev took a deep breath and peered at the fluids they’d been separating.
“I sodding hope we never actually need to use this.”
“Let’s give it another few hours for today and if we’re not any closer, we can take that magnesium outside.”
“And set it on fire, mate?” Dev asked, hopefully.
“We’ll bring the extinguisher,” Bruce answered, jotting something down in the notebook. “It’ll be fun.”
“Brilliant,” Dev said.
And it was.