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And After

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“You're sure you can handle this?” Tim asks for what has to be the tenth time. “I mean, a lot is going on right now with her. And you're all alone here. And if something happens and the Bat signal goes off? You can't dump her in a play pen or let a robot watch her or anything.”

Bruce refrains from rolling his eyes. Sometimes he thinks his children find him completely stupid. “Alfred just went to the grocery store, Tim. Not to Mars. He'll be back within an hour.” Tim looks at the clock, clearly trying to decide if he can wait out the hour. “Really,” Bruce repeats. “I think I can handle Ruby for an hour.”

“Only think?” Tim counters. “Seriously. She crawls now. Everything she finds goes in her mouth. She's basically an electrocution waiting to happen because she also drools everywhere. And she's terribly cranky because she's teething.” He looks down at his daughter who is sitting by his feet almost angelically, belying his description of her as a demon.

Bruce sighs, standing up to come near his granddaughter. He hefts her up and onto his hip, refusing to show any traces of awkwardness. “We'll be fine. Go have a date.”

But still, Tim hesitates. “You know I wouldn't ask except...well no one else is available. And I completely forgot we'd even scheduled a day just the two of us and I feel kind of like a jackass. I don't want you to feel like you have to-”

“Tim,” Bruce repeats. “Go. I am thrilled to be able to spend some time with Ruby and Alfred will be back shortly in case I have any trouble.”

Tim leans forward and headbutts Bruce, then kisses Ruby solidly before rubbing his cheek against her. “Behave yourself,” He urges her and then he takes off without a word, or even a look back. Tearing himself from the situation like ripping a bandaid off quickly instead of peeling it back.

Ruby seems used to this behavior, and totally unfazed by being left with her grandfather alone. She pats his cheek, rubbing a soft hand against the stubble he'd forgotten to shave this morning. Ruby is an oddly touch-fascinated child. She doesn't seem to care about scents, which is rare for a child her age or so Bruce has read, and he wonders if Jason's ever changing one might have something to do with that. He just takes it as a sign of Ruby's uniqueness. “Well,” He says to her. “What shall we do for an hour?”

She wiggles to be put down so he places her on the rug. He's at least in the room they use most often for lounging. Ruby immediately starts to crawl and she is extremely fast now. She makes it to the curtains before Bruce realizes what she's doing, grabbing on to them to try to haul herself to her feet. The heavy fabric of the drapes is perfect for her to climb, and the curtain rod secured after years of rough housing in this room resulting in it falling on people's heads.

He doesn't expect her to be so good at it. She scales the curtains like she was born to do it and, with her parentage, maybe she was. She climbs easily, but she tires quickly with only her arms to pull her up. He snags her before she gets far enough to hurt herself and there is instantly a pout on her face. “Really,” He comments. “I don't know why your Papa doesn't trust me with you. I've had you to myself plenty of times before.”

Those times were when she was less mobile. Usually they were for show, for his Brucie image at parties with someone hovering anxiously in the wings, ready to take her back. He hasn't raised any of his children from babies, that much is true. He's still read a good number of parenting books and even watched a few instructional videos. He's observed Alfred and, surely, if he can be trusted with the fate of Gotham City he can be trusted with an infant.

Ruby leans forward into his arms and he's touched for a moment before he realizes that she has his lapel pin in her mouth. Her lips have closed around the gold WE logo nearly instantly and he gently pries her loose...only for the pin back to drop off and the pin to go further into her mouth, no longer attached to anything.

“Don't swallow,” He tells her, horrified and tipping her forward. His finger pushed quickly into her mouth and she squawks in outrage, gnawing on him with enough power in her little jaws that he almost yelps. The pin is still there, in her cheek, and he sweeps it out without stabbing her with it. A victory, and one no one needs to know about. Tim had said everything went into her mouth and he can already hear the lecture he would get once the all clear was given for her swallowing a piece of kind of pointy metal.

What has the world come to, wonders Bruce, when he fears his children because they have children of their own? It's not like he's Dick, who drew a Nightwing symbol on her in permanent marker when she stayed with him for an hour. And he hasn't already tried to teach her ninja skills like Damian has. Really, he's one of the more reasonable choices for babysitter.

Well, he thought he was. Until he hears the doorbell ring. He's confused for a moment until it occurs to him. Clark. He asked him over to discuss League business more casually. And probably with him, Diana.

Well, it's not like they don't know. He totes Ruby to the front door, draping her over his shoulder like she's armor instead of a child. He opens the door casually, but both sets of eyes from his visitors are instantly glued to her. “Her father had an emergency,” Bruce explains in a way that hints he really should need no explanation.

“Nothing serious, I hope?” Clark asks and it's clear he's listening for Tim already.

“He went on a date,” Bruce admits. Tim's not the only forgetful one, these days. “Come in,” He offers, because really their business shouldn't take that long.

“By Hera,” Diana breathes. “Such a lovely little girl. May I?” Her hands are already on Ruby despite the request, and the baby goes without more than a curious mewl to Wonder Woman, who instantly begins marveling over her tiny hands.

“She looks like you,” Clark informs Bruce as he strokes one finger over her dark curls.

Bruce groans. “Don't start. I swear her father has a miniature aneurysm any time anyone says that and Tim might sue you for slander.” Most of the rumors have died down as a result. Bruce doesn't want to risk beginning things again.

Diana is wiggling Ruby back and forth happily. “Look what powerful legs! You will be a warrior for certain. A short-sword would be best.” She looks to Bruce. “When is her birthday?”

“Please don't give my granddaughter a short sword,” Bruce monotones, but he's actually thinking it might be a decent idea. He doesn't want to create another Damian but there could be no harm in her knowing how to protect herself. Not with who her parents are.

Both Superman and Wonder Woman are distracted with the infant, and Bruce wonders how they would fair in a battle with her nearby. Of course he knows, logically, that they can focus themselves. It's simply so odd to see them in this situation. Maybe not so much Clark. He's made his love of children quite known and insists that since she's named after his teenage clone that it makes him an uncle or something. Bruce has refrained from asking if it's Uncle Clark or Uncle Superman and not pointed out how long it will be before Ruby can understand his relation to Conner, let alone to her. “We had matters to discuss,” Bruce reminds them. “We can begin and Alfred should be along shortly to collect Ruby.”

Clark is being given his turn holding said baby, who looks completely confused now and keeps tipping her head back to find Bruce. Drool is running from the corner of her mouth and Clark wipes it away without a second thought. Bruce is a little jealous, actually, of the easy way he handles Ruby. He never acts disgusted. Bruce even bets that he wouldn't let her almost swallow a pin off his lapel.

“Mister Kent, Miss Prince. I do apologize for my absence. I was unaware of your appointment.” Alfred's crisp tone cuts in, and the look he gives Bruce is mildly displeased. They all know who is responsible for failure to inform the butler of their gathering. “I will take charge of Miss Ruby if you would like to retire to your study, Master Bruce, and I will serve beverages shortly. Will you be taking coffee or tea?”

“Coffee,” Clark says meekly, offering Ruby out to Alfred who scoops her up. It makes Ruby grin and nestle against the older man. Diana nods her agreement along with Bruce before heading in the direction of his study. The sooner this is over with the sooner he can focus on getting competent parenting tips for an over eager, teething infant.

Alfred deposits Ruby in her usual seat as soon as he is in the kitchen. He chats to her about his trip to the market, about the appetites of all the young men who come and go in the house, and about how her grandfather isn't frightened of her, he is simply unsure of himself. Ruby, for her part, watches him intensely and chews on her fingers no matter how many times Alfred guides them out of her mouth.

He puts her on the floor when the coffee service is ready, letting her crawl behind him as he returns to the study to serve. It's a frequent occurrence, actually, for him to allow his young charge to trail after him. It gives her exercise and improves her coordination, as well as keeping her out of trouble. She sits and patiently waits for him to distribute the cups of coffee, paying no mind to their visitors, and she follows him back out of the room. He expects it.

What he doesn't expect, however, is her pulling herself up when they get to the kitchen. She uses the side of a cabinet to haul herself unsteadily to her feet and she grins at Alfred immediately, bouncing and offering him a happy, eager coo. “Very good, Miss Ruby,” He compliments her as he washes out the coffee pot. “In no time at all, you will be walking.”

She seems to take this as a personal challenge, because she lets go of the cabinet. Alfred watches, breath held, as she lifts one foot. Then she steps. Once, and again, without tipping over. She makes it all five baby steps over to his leg, wrapping herself around it with a joyful sound of accomplishment and he can't help but beam proudly. He takes a moment to dry his hands before picking her up, lifting her over his head and placing a kiss on her forehead. “Very well done! In preparation for your parents, I expect.”

Ruby smiles. She's a relatively quiet child, of few words despite her vocabulary being quite extensive. “We shall just not tell them of this moment until after you have walked for them,” Alfred decides. He would never want to rob any of his boys of something as cherished as seeing their child's first steps. He's entertained notions from all of them through the years, of how different things might have been were he able to raise them from a younger age. With Ruby he can, and he's grateful.

Then she reaches for a coffee cup, trying to get it to her face. Truly her father's child in that, Alfred thinks wryly. “Well, then,” Alfred says when he's finished the washing for the time being. “Shall we dust?”

She crawls after him. Alfred makes a note of the time and decides an hour will be the appropriate time to interrupt Bruce's meeting if it is still going on. He will return Ruby to his care. Spending time together is the first part of being a good parent, after all.