Fugitive Endeavor, part 1
Disclaimers in "part 0"
"Just don't expect me to make it a habit, darling," Jasmina cooed, a hint of fire in her green eyes suggesting the seriousness of her warning.
Bruce chuckled and kissed her lips again. "And have you away from my side for so long again? Not if I can help it."
That drew an appreciative laugh from the little knot of aldermen and lawyers that had formed around Bruce, and in turn a faint glare from Jasmina at those same aldermen and lawyers. "Well," she stated, tossing her hair, "if you want to stay at my side you'll have to follow me."
She flounced off, and Bruce took a sip of his ginger ale, watching the sway of her hips for a moment before he gave an unapologetic smile to the men around him. "Well, gentlemen, it's been fun, but..."
"Oh, don't let that one get away, Brucie," a voice commented, and Bruce waved an acknowledgment as he followed Jasmina out to the dance floor, setting his glass down on a convenient side table.
Jasmina turned to him expectantly with her arms held out, and he accepted the invitation, stepping toward her and pulling her close. They easily caught the rhythm of the slow dance the orchestra was playing, and Bruce buried his face into Jasmina's hair, breathing deeply the combined scents of fruit-smelling hair care products, a musky perfume and the ever-present undertone of Martian desert. "Thank you," he sighed over her ear as they swayed to the music.
"When I'm not saving the world I rescue billionaires," Jasmina remarked sotto voce, J'onn's humor bleeding through the fiery Latina exterior.
"And doing a beautiful job of it," Bruce acknowledged, wrapping an arm around the small of her back to pull her closer, leaning in to kiss her lips. Where their waists met, Ace wriggled, prompting a smile from Jasmina to interrupt their kiss.
"Cummerbund tonight, eh?"
"It's convenient. And it spares me Alfred's look of disdain at the hook clasps on the 20th century version."
Jasmina pulled back a little more, still dancing with him, but letting him see her disbelief. "He doesn't expect you would still wrap all those yards of fabric?"
Bruce shrugged. "Probably not, but he must keep up appearances."
Jasmina eyed Bruce critically, and one hand came to rest on the "fabric" at his waist. "Well, I suppose it does tighten your middle a bit," she teased.
Bruce cinched her more tightly to him in response, trapping her hand between them. "Do you object to my middle?" he asked mildly, one of his own hands trailing down to the top of the nearly hip high slit of her dress.
"Mmmm," she breathed, moving her sandwiched hand lower, her fingers phasing through to brush over his abs, skin to skin. "I think it's a very nice middle."
The music began to trail off, and a sudden camera flash threw a blinding light in their direction. Bruce pulled back, blinking. "Nice," he muttered. He gave Jasmina a strained smile. "Guess we know what will be in tomorrow's tabloids."
She replied with a smile of her own and brushed her lips across his cheek as she let her hand slip into his. "The press are your friends," she reminded, gently leading him from the dance floor.
"Some friends," he muttered, although he managed to keep his face blandly pleasant should another photographer appear.
"Don't let Clark hear that," Jasmina chided, nodding off toward one of the food tables. "I think we might have another rescue mission."
A glimpse of white hair over a mustachioed face was all he needed to take over the lead. "Jim!" he called out when he was close enough to do so with propriety. "Jim Gordon!"
The former police commissioner turned at the sound of his name, his expression shifting from puzzled to pleased as he recognized Bruce. "Bruce, good to see you."
The men shook hands in greeting, Jim transferring his cane to the other hand to allow the gesture. "How's Barbara?" Bruce asked.
Jim snorted. "Probably get newer information from that son of yours. But she's fine, last I heard."
Bruce wisely avoided pursuing the topic. "That's good to hear," he acknowledged, as Jasmina cleared her throat. "Oh, sorry, darling," he apologized. "Jim, let me introduce you to Jasmina del Marte. Jasmina, this is Jim Gordon."
Jasmina graciously extended her hand, and Jim took it in a gentle handshake, his eyes studying her face. "You look familiar."
Bruce interrupted with a guffaw. "Only Jim Gordon!" he exclaimed, clapping the other man on the back. "She's only the hottest supermodel of the year. The face that launched a thousand fashion magazines, with good reason."
Jasmina smiled faintly at Bruce's flattery. "He exaggerates," she excused, "but it is refreshing to meet someone who isn't immediately caught by my celebrity." She met Jim's eyes and smiled her perfect model smile, and Bruce could see a faint flush creeping up Jim's neck. Yeah, he smiled to himself, Jasmina had that effect. Some days he wondered what the reaction of the world would be if they knew that the leggy beauty was a 6' 7" green Martian.
"So what do you do, Mr. Gordon?"
Jim cleared his throat. "Please, call me Jim. And I was the police commissioner of Gotham City - retired now," he replied, lifting his cane ruefully.
"Oh!" Jasmina exclaimed. "One of tonight's honorees!"
"If you can call being paraded out in a monkey suit an honor," Jim groused. "Sorry, Wayne."
Bruce waved away the complaint. "No offense taken," he reassured.
"Monkey suit?" Jasmina wrinkled her brow. "But you aren't dressed as a monkey."
Bruce chuckled airily. "He means the tuxedo."
"But Mr. - I mean, Jim - you look so handsome in a tuxedo."
Jim ducked his head a little. "Remind you of your grandfather or something, eh?"
Jasmina shook her head. "Not at all. My grandfather is an old man. Bruce -" she turned her eyes to meet his - "you would not be offended if I have a dance with a guest of honor?"
Bruce inclined his head. "Not at all. It's only appropriate."
"I'm afraid-" Jim began, lifting his cane again.
"Oh, c'mon Jim. Indulge Jasmina."
"Yes, please," Jasmina added, again hitting him with the model smile and pleading eyes. "We can dance slowly."
"She's an excellent dancer, even when she has to deal with my two left feet."
Jasmina gave him an impatient look. "You do not have two left feet," she contradicted flatly. Then she turned back to Jim. "You hear? They are playing our song." She tugged gently at his arm, urging him toward the dance floor.
Jim cast one final look back at Bruce, but it was half-hearted. Under Jim's mustache, a pleased smile was clearly beginning to form as he hooked his cane over his arm and began to dance.
"Mighty generous of you, Mr. Wayne," a female voice remarked near his elbow.
He turned, half surprised. "Vesper?"
"Ah, so you do remember me. I thought between the novelist and the model and that poor girl you got shot I might have become one of a blur of faces."
Bruce blinked down at her, his jaw tightening. She was drunk - or at least tipsy. She was steady enough on her feet, but her eyes had the bleary expression of too much wine. Play this carefully, he told himself. "Never," he contradicted lightly.
"Tell me," she bulldozed on, "did your bodyguard ever manage to get you into bed? I know she was jonesing for you."
Bruce smiled pleasantly and took her elbow, glancing around the crowd. No one had taken notice of them yet, but he couldn't expect the luck to hold. "When did you get into town?" he asked, leading her toward the French doors exiting onto the balcony.
"I'm on assignment. My producers want to look at how cops and emergency service workers are being honored after their heroism during that alien thing. Big feature. Got me running all over the place. Didn't figure I'd run into you."
"Well, I'm glad you did," he effused, ignoring the impulse to ask who she thought she would run into at the Wayne Foundation Police Benefit. She had too much to drink, he reminded himself. "I thought we left things on the wrong note."
She snorted. "You mean that whole gaggle of half naked women in your pool? Dammit, Bruce. You could at least have had the decency to end it like a man. Tell me to my face." A suggestion of tears was forming under her outrage, fortunately now more or less out of view of prying eyes.
"You're right," he agreed. "I was callous." He stood at the railing of the balcony, staring over the city. "I have never been good with good-byes, so I sacrificed your feelings for my weakness." He turned to face her. "I deserve your hate."
Vesper blinked at him, the threatening tears subsiding and a suggestion that the fresh air was sobering her. "God, how do you do that?" she railed. "I was the wronged party, there's no excuse, but you say that and - and - oh!" She balled her fists impotently at her sides.
"Vesper." He moved forward, not quite reaching for her, not yet. "Sometimes I think - back after the quake -" he sighed and shook his head. "I think the deck was stacked against us. That maybe after that, it got harder for me to let anyone in. Even you."
She stared at him, an expression caught between incredulous and - understanding. The anger Bruce had been feeling began to dissolve. He had treated her abysmally. Another life, another time...
"You mean that," she said, watching his face.
"Yes," he acknowledged.
Now Vesper reached out, putting her hand on his forearm. After a moment, she let it drop. "That model isn't going to be the answer."
"And the novelist?"
He shook his head.
She walked past him to lean on the balcony railing he had vacated. "Bruce Wayne," she marveled. "Just a long string of women to keep the lonely at bay."
He did not reply, but in his mind he felt a gentle touch from J'onn.
"Go back to your dance, Bruce," Vesper urged. "Your model will be looking for you."
"Vesper-" he began, but there was nothing more to say. "Good-bye," he ended lamely.
"Good-bye, Bruce. I hope you find someone someday."
The words were a dismissal, and he took them as such. He turned and re-entered the ballroom, locating a small plate of canapés that he could use as an excuse.
"There you are, Bruce!" Jasmina called as he approached.
"Just getting us some snacks," he offered, letting both Jim and Jasmina choose from the plate he held.
"Jim has been telling me the most AMAZING stories. Did you know that Batman is REAL?" Beneath her words, J'onn's mental voice curled soothing tones through Bruce's mind.
Bruce groaned a little, slipping his arm around Jasmina's waist. "You didn't, Jim! Now she'll want me to take her in the helicopter to hunt for him."
Jim's eyes were sparkling as he shrugged off his responsibility for anything Jasmina might want, saving himself from answering by taking a bite of a canapé. Jasmina squeezed her arm around Bruce's waist, hiding the comforting gesture in feigned enthusiasm. "Really? We could do that?"
"He's been pulling your leg, dear," Bruce said gently, giving Jim a "see what you started" look. "Batman isn't real."
"Oh." Jasmina looked momentarily disappointed.
"But we can still go look for him some night," Bruce volunteered gallantly, returning Jasmina's side armed squeeze.
"Promise?" Jasmina asked.
He kissed the tip of her nose, the electricity of contact flowing with a reminder of what Jasmina would do when she found Batman. Bruce smiled. "Promise."