Bruce Wayne was at a party. Also, the sky was blue, and water was wet. Or perhaps better accompanying facts would be: the air was full of smog, and the river was polluted. Things that were unremarkable in the constant reality of them, but which might seem remarkable to someone who had only just started to pay attention.
He was, at that moment, in mid-mingle; a social butterfly between flowers. He scanned the crowd in an idle sort of a way as he finished off his drink. This wasn’t his party, so he was in no way obligated to do his usual crowd control. Still. It was a force of habit to watch out for wallflowers.
His eyes stopped on a particular conversation. An unremarkable older man, pale brunette in a suit he’d paid too much for; a pretty young woman, darker but not dark, hair done up simply and a dress in a classic cut. He headed towards them before he had entirely registered why. He sorted out the reasons on approach, the various things he’d picked up on all at once without realizing he was doing so; stiffness in the way the woman held her limbs, in her forced smile, the awkward twitch of her shoulders. Trying to get the man’s hand off of her arm without making a scene, while he pretended not to notice and persisted. Trapped in the middle of a crowd.
One of the many advantages of being Bruce Wayne was a free pass to ignore all rules of polite society and butt into any conversation uninvited.
“Don’t I know you?” he asked the woman he categorically did not know, verbally trampling all over whatever the man she was with had been saying.
She looked very confused. “Uh, I—”
“Aren’t you Bruce Wayne?” the man she was with asked. He was still touching her arm.
“Yes,” Bruce said, holding up a finger in the man’s face in warning, his eyes still on the woman, “but I wasn’t talking to you, was I?” The surprise probably shut him up as much as anything. “Now, where would I know you from? Because I’m sure I know you from somewhere, I might not always be great with names but I never forget a face.”
He was fantastic with names, actually.
“I… yes.” It seemed like she was catching on. “It was the firefighter’s ball, wasn’t it? Emily Cartwright?”
“Yes,” Bruce said, triumphant. “Emily, thank you. You know what it was? I told you I could play Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy on wine glasses, and you didn’t believe me.”
“I wasn’t going to take your word for it,” she said. The man’s hand was still on Emily’s arm; he’d moved closer to her, in fact, some kind of misplaced possessiveness.
“You know,” he said, “they actually have crystal wine glasses here.” He gestured with his thumb to the other side of the ballroom. “If you’d like, I can actually prove it to you this time.” He held out his arm for her, an offer.
“I’m sorry,” said the man still touching her, “we were sort of in the middle of something?”
“Sorry,” Emily told him, not actually sorry as she grabbed Bruce’s arm like a lifeline. “I couldn’t possibly say no to a private show from Bruce Wayne.”
“I’d love to join you,” the man tried instead. “I—”
“I don’t know you,” Bruce said, cutting him off. “And I don’t really see any reason to.” He shrugged. “You can just go ahead and stay over here, not trying to talk to me.”
“Have fun,” Bruce said as he pulled Emily away with him through the crowd. He leaned a little closer to Emily as they walked. “He was being a creep, right? You weren’t just playing along because you thought I was a crazy person?”
“No, you were absolutely right,” Emily assured him. “Thank you so much.”
“Not a problem. Did he give you a name I can blacklist?”
“Uh.” Emily hesitated. “Stuart Bagley? But that seems a little extreme, he didn’t really do anything… he was just…”
“Being a creep counts as doing something,” Bruce corrected, “and quite frankly I’d keep him off my guest lists for the tie alone.” Emily giggled. “He looks like he was trying to choke himself with a sock and then pretended it was a tie when someone caught him. Now he’s committed to the lie and has to wear it out.” At that she gave a much less ladylike snort, which she tried to cover with her hand. “How’d you like me to introduce you to a very large group of young women, all of whom are planning to walk to their cars together after the party?”
Emily was still trying to regain her composure. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
“You know, I really can play Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy on wine glasses,” he said with a brief lift of his eyebrows.
“You know, I really don’t believe you.”
“Want me to prove it?”
Bruce stood straighter to figure out which of the waitstaff was standing closest to the bar. “Tobias!” he called, and the man in question looked over immediately—along with every guest of the party between the two men. “I’m going to need about fifty of the crystal wine glasses and three pitchers of water, think you can do that for me?” Tobias raised a thumbs-up above his head. “Good man!” He leaned back down towards Emily. “You’re going to want to get your phone out. It’s going to be very impressive.”
“I’ve heard that before,” she said, and he cocked one eyebrow at her as she grinned.
“Did you just sully my artistic vision with a joke about premature ejaculation?” he asked, deadpan, and she fell back into giggles. “I’m going to be honest, I’m more upset by the part about getting your phone out. Is that actually a thing that happens?”
Emily had started to blush. “You’d be surprised?”
Bruce sighed. “I should really get another ten years before I start feeling this old.”