Warnings: Fluff with a little drama/angst.
Word Count: 2257
Universes: Batman Begins/Smallville. And the Justice League.
Summary: Alfred observes.
This is for bradygirl_12 and jen_in_japan, both of whom have provided Alfred inspiration recently.
Alfred Pennyworth was waiting. Master Bruce would be home soon. He hoped.
It was not that he was unused to living with uncertainty. His life before the Waynes had rarely been calm, save for a brief halcyon period. After Dr. and Mrs. Wayne died, he’d had to fight to retain custody of Master Bruce, and then raise a highly intelligent and sensitive child on his own while dealing with a very personal grief. When Master Bruce ran off, he’d cross-examined Miss Dawes. Shouting at her would have gained him nothing, though he’d felt a flash of fury at her lack of understanding. Mr. Wayne, though- he understood him too well.
His charge had finally turned up in the Far East. God alone knew where he’d been before that. The scars he’d seen were informative in their own terrifying way. At least Alfred had been able to bring him home again, though he was unable to protect him anymore.
Alfred Pennyworth was a man with two fears. First, that he would die and leave Bruce Wayne alone. The second was the thought that someday he might have to perform the agonizingly unnatural act of burying his child again.
He heard the Batmobile’s distinctive growl. He could relax, for now.
He’d guessed that Mr. Wayne had found a new interest. He’d been less glum lately, almost cheerful. Alfred had been willing to accept anyone who’d gotten him out of the mental slump he’d gone into after Rachel Dawes left him. She’d not been right for him, being unable to accept all of who he was, but Mr. Wayne had held that memory tightly.
However, he had not expected that the new interest would be Superman. Considering the amount of fulmination he’d listened to about super-powered aliens who thought that a plan and crashing through walls were the same thing, Alfred would have thought it more likely that Batman would bring the Joker to Wayne Manor for a spot of tea than that he would bring Superman home with him. Seeing Bruce Wayne hauling around a man who could have played catch with the Batmobile would have been amusing except for the fact that Superman was clearly injured and Batman was about to detonate.
Alfred collected some supplies and headed upstairs. Batman was between explosions when he entered the master bedroom and he smoothly interceded. “Good evening, sir. Perhaps you would like to go deal with matters in the Cave while I tend to your companion.” In Alfred-speak that translated to “Go calm down before you rupture a blood vessel, sonny.” He was gratified to see that the tone he’d used on a six-year-old still worked.
Mr. Wayne stalked off as Superman smiled. “You’re very good at that.”
“One does one’s best, sir.”
As Alfred advanced on him, Superman rose, protesting and wincing. “Really, it’s not necessary. I can-”
“If you’ll come this way, sir.” Alfred interrupted neatly, assisting Superman into the bathroom. The younger man conceded defeat.
“What are the odds of you calling me Clark?”
“Practically nonexistent, Mr. Kent.”
“What I figured, Mr. Pennyworth.”
Alfred’s mouth quirked. He had a sense of humor. He’d need it.
Mr. Kent came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. “Thank you for the opportunity to clean up. I’ll just change and be...on...my- I’m not leaving. Am I.”
“No, Mr. Kent. If you’ll just sit down here...”
By the time Mr. Kent was settled in bed Alfred had made several salient observations. One, that Clark Kent was well brought up. Two, that he was a highly intelligent and quietly charming man. Three, that he was desperately in love with Bruce Wayne. While Alfred had no fondness for the Spanish, they did have a point when they said that love and a cold could not be hid.
Mr. Wayne entered the room shortly after Mr. Kent had dozed off. “Let me go shower and I’ll sit with him.” He looked subdued, so apparently his time cooling off had helped. Alfred nodded. Once Mr. Wayne had vanished into the bathroom Alfred rose stiffly. His knees weren’t what they used to be. He gathered the detritus and then went to retrieve the tray he’d prepared.
When Mr. Wayne returned from the shower, still damp but calmer, Alfred preempted any potential argument. “Mr. Kent has not woken up. He’s quite thoroughly exhausted.”
“I won’t yell again,” Mr. Wayne replied, responding to the unspoken reprimand of And you will not wake him up, young man. Alfred hadn’t been a sergeant for nothing.
“I brought up some food. I’d suggest you eat, Master Bruce, and then get some rest yourself.”
“I will, and thank you, Alfred.”
Alfred decided to go take care of some of the things he’d been putting off. After an hour of puttering around sorting mail, checking weapons and polishing silver, he decided to go back up and check on his charges. He entered the room to find them asleep, cradled in each other’s arms. Alfred hadn’t seen Mr. Wayne look so relaxed in a very long time.
Apparently Mr. Wayne had come to some sort of epiphany, because young Mr. Kent became a frequent visitor to the manor. Mr. Kent didn’t seem to notice the change, but watching the two of them sneak glances at the other was rather sweet. He was a model guest, unobtrusively helping Alfred without ever taking over. And he always referred to him as Mr. Pennyworth. Alfred was pleased. This man was worth keeping. He supposed he should care that Bruce wouldn’t have children and a normal life, but then, he hadn’t been normal in years. At least he was happy now.
Alfred would probably never know what had happened that day when Mr. Kent fled the manor so precipitously. Mr. Wayne had rushed off to deal with Justice League business, and then come home to get ready for yet another social event. He was clearly perturbed, and when Alfred asked if Mr. Kent would be accompanying him, he said only, “I hope so.”
They had been so happy. What had gone wrong?
He was standing in the hall when they returned, Mr. Wayne again steering Mr. Kent along. Poor Mr. Kent was utterly shattered and Mr.Wayne acted as if his world had gone completely off-kilter. Alfred hovered near the study door, trying not to listen. His patience was rewarded fifteen very long minutes later when the young men exited the study holding each other. Mr. Wayne behaved like someone who had just been handed his heart’s desire and was desperately afraid he’d drop it. Mr. Kent looked exhausted, but more at peace than he had ever seen him.
Alfred decided to set breakfast back an hour the next day.
The next day was spent at the manor. There was a quiet joy in the air that made Alfred want to smile and cry at the same time. He wished that Thomas and Martha Wayne could be there to see their son in love. He was being careful to announce his presence before he entered a room- Mr. Wayne was impossible to embarrass but Mr. Kent blushed rather charmingly.
Alfred was finally alone with Mr. Kent when Mr. Wayne went to take a business call from Lucius Fox. Mr. Kent had collected the dinner dishes and was assisting Alfred in washing the Spode. He’d insisted on helping from his first days at the manor. Alfred didn’t mind, somehow. It was comfortable, standing there talking while they had their hands in non-metaphorical hot water. Alfred had just made a desultory comment about soup when Mr. Kent turned to him and said calmly, “I love him very much, you know.”
Alfred nodded. He hadn’t expected Mr. Kent to be quite so blunt.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help and protect him, but I won’t stop him from being who and what he is. All that he is.”
“That’s all I can ask. Just, be careful with him. He's a strong man, but he's not as invulnerable as he's convinced himself he is.”
“I will be. And my intentions are mostly honorable.”
Alfred cracked a smile at that one. “Glad to hear it.”
“I know you’re important to Bruce and he’s basically your child, so I just wanted to tell you...” The poor man was blushing like a rose and Alfred just had to put him out of his misery.
“I started working for the Waynes before Master Bruce was born. I haven’t seen him look so contented since before his parents died.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, Mr. Pennyworth, how did you come to work for them?”
Alfred hadn’t told this story in years, but somehow he thought Clark Kent would understand if anyone could. “Once, I had a family of my own.” He stopped. This was harder than he’d expected
“I was a bright young spark in intelligence work, living abroad in Spain and plunged deep into the middle of the latest version of Kipling’s Great Game. It was all a fascinating chess match, one I thought I’d mastered. Until the day I came home to find my darling Mary in a pool of her own blood. My daughter Claire and son Peter lay like discarded dolls, their brains spattered against the walls. Mary’s last words were about three brutal men who had only said, “Tell Pennyworth, checkmate..” Clark’s hand rested gently on his arm, helping ground Alfred in time and place. For just an instant he’d smelled the charnel house that his cosy home had become, reliving those last moments. A soft gasp, a fine spray of blood across his face and she was gone.
“My memory of the next few years is alternately crystal clear and muffled in a fog. Breaking a man’s fingers is perfectly sharp, but I retain no images of my family’s funerals. I wasn’t even sure where they were buried until I checked the paperwork later.
“I did things…things that no man should ever be driven to do in the names of revenge and justice. The powers that be finally transferred me to the SAS, probably hoping that the problem would be taken care of in some obscure firefight. Finally, shortly after making sergeant, I’d come back wounded from a particularly vicious mission. The doctor was a calm young American named Thomas Wayne. I did my best to pick at the man, unable to work out his frustrations any other way.
“In the midst of an argument Dr. Wayne stopped, tipped his head to the side and asked me why I wanted to die. I froze. Then, for the first time since I’d killed my family, I talked about that night. Dr. Wayne sat quietly, listening, bearing witness as I lanced the boil. I fell asleep finally, totally drained. When I woke an hour later, Dr. Wayne was still there. He didn’t offer advice or platitudes, just commented, “Guilt is a poor basis for a life. Your family deserves better and so do you.”
“It wasn’t a magic cure-all. It did give me food for thought, though. The day I found that I’d never be able for field-work again, Dr. Wayne came to me with a proposition. His father was ill. The odds were Paul Wayne wouldn’t last out the year. Thomas needed to go home to take care of things. He would also be helping out from time to time with intelligence issues and there was the family philanthropy- in short, he needed a reliable assistant. Would I consider it?
“I took a course on being a butler and arrived in the US shortly before Paul Wayne’s death. I was there for Dr. Wayne’s grief. I was there when Dr. Wayne met Miss Martha Kane and nearly tumbled down the stairs because he was watching her and not where he was going. I helped plan the wedding and kept Dr. Wayne from panicking. I was the third person to hold Master Bruce after his birth.”
At that moment, a part of Alfred’s heart that he’d thought was gone forever had reopened. He watched Master Bruce grow until that horrific day when the world shattered again. All he could do was endure, holding on for his ward.
“No wonder you’re so good for him.” Clark said softly. “You, better than anyone, understand how guilt can cripple a person.”
“Yes.” Alfred’s throat was dry. Clark was there with a glass of water and a chair, guiding him into it and helping him take a sip.
After a few moments, Alfred rose again, taking up the dish towel. Clark put the chair back at the kitchen table and turned to the dishwater, inquiring, “Was there saffron in the soup?”
Alfred gratefully turned to discussing menus.
They had settled the soup’s recipe and were discussing a rather interesting version of syllabub when Mr. Wayne spoke from the doorway.
“Putting him to work already, Alfred?”
“There’s nothing wrong with honest work, Bruce. Clark was brought up correctly, and in any case, there’s no pressing need to stand on ceremony within the family.”
Alfred wasn’t a demonstrative person and this was the closest he could come to saying, “I’m glad the son of my heart picked you.” Clark seemed to recognize it, though. He reached over and lightly clasped Alfred’s arm. “Thank you, Alfred,” was all he said. Alfred met his eyes and felt for the first time in ages that things were going to be all right.
Bruce pushed away from the doorframe, walking over to stand behind Clark and pull him back into his arms. He rested his chin on Clark’s shoulder, smiling over at Alfred. “No, there’s no need.”