Author: Kat Lee
Character/Pairing: Alfred, Batman/Catwoman
Challenge/Prompt: fan_flashworks #185: Mending and beattheblackdog #57: Scratch
Word Count: 1,921
Date Written: 19 March 2017
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to DC Comics, not the author, and are used without permission.
He remembers when mysterious holes first started showing up in Master Bruce's clothes. He was concerned for his young charge, but at the time, he could never have imagined the true reason behind the rips and treads that he mended dutifully every morning. He imagined all sorts of scenarios, but everything he thought of was very far indeed from the truth. Eventually, of course, he learned the truth behind the tears, but it did nothing to ease his mind. It only worried him a thousand times more.
Bruce tells him not to worry every night when he's around and he sets out into the city in the Batmobile. He is trained in a plethora of fighting styles, and there is no man, hero or villain, who is more adept at what he does. Still, Alfred can not help but to worry. What kind of a friend, of a guardian even, would he be if he didn't worry when he knows the life of his charge -- and though he may no longer be young, he will always be Alfred's charge -- is in jeopardy every moment of every night and sometimes well into the daylight?
Every night, he busies himself mending holes, washing dishes and even walls, cleaning the manor from top to bottom, and utilizing the Batcomputer however he can to help his charge until he finally passes out. He's almost always fast asleep these nights by the time Bruce slips back into the manor, but every morning, as soon as he wakes, he slips into Bruce's room and checks just to make certain he's present and sleeping. Then he always goes for his uniform.
The old costume has changed in many ways over the years his charge has been fighting crime. It started out being mere cloth, and now it's Kevlar and leather and lined with one of the strongest materials known to man. It's no small feat for a villain to put a hole in Batman's uniform now, but it still happens. Almost every night, it still happens.
Alfred can tell a great deal about his charge's previous night by the way his costume looks in the bright light of the morning sun. He can tell rather he was shot at or stabbed and how deep any wounds he may otherwise hide from him are. Most of the time, he can even tell which ruthless villain left their mark on the man who could not be more his son if Alfred had given birth to him himself.
This morning is no exception. The butler frowns deeply as he sticks two fingers through a slash in Batman's uniform. There's no doubt at all in his mind who Bruce was with last night. The very next thought that crosses his mind is wondering if he let her go, as he sometimes does, or if he threw Selina into Arkham, where the conniving woman belongs. He makes a mental note to check the morning paper and see if the headlines can tell him anything of use before he wakes Bruce for his breakfast.
It's rare that Batman lets any criminal walk away, but Selina has walked the most out of all the ones they've known. Bruce will not voice his feelings for her, but all who know him well know the very reason why the Catwoman remains on the loose. God help them, but the man loves her! Which is exactly the reason why Alfred considers her to be one of his most dangerous enemies. She's certainly a conniving, little tart, using his charge's feelings to keep her own hide safe in the dangerous games she plays.
He'd like nothing more than to see her locked up in Arkham and stay there for once, but goodness knows everybody who goes to Arkham, eventually manages to get out. It seems to be one of the unspoken rules of the universe that his dear charge will have to chase after criminal he locks away again and again as long as he insists on protecting a city who doesn't deserve protection, let alone protection by him.
Alfred's fingers wriggle up at him, and the old man sighs, his mustache quivering with his worry. That Catwoman keeps her claws hooked into his boy so well that Alfred fears she will be the reason why Bruce doesn't come home one of these nights. She's kept him from coming home before, and indeed so have other things he faces as a masked vigilante, but he's always come home to him eventually. Alfred's greatest fear is that there will come a time when he doesn't come home -- ever, because he's not able to.
Tears moisten the butler's eyes. His mustache twitches again. He sinks back against the washing machine and starts the dutiful task of mending his charge's uniform yet again, but with every stitch, he thinks about the claws that scratched his child and left these marks behind. The body heals, but he knows better than most that the heart never truly does. The marks Selina left on Bruce's body last night will eventually fade and heal until there's nothing left behind but perhaps the faintest mark, a hint on his skin of what had been and might be again, but the marks she left on his heart are unreachable by any one else.
It's not the first time Alfred thinks about donning the costume himself and going after the wily bitch. If he was to catch her, he'd lock her away in a place where she'd never be found or heard from again. He'd keep his master, and charge, safe. He sighs again, knowing that that still wouldn't heal Bruce's heart. There's nothing he can do, he knows with a sinking feeling in his own heart, to heal the wounds Selina Kyle leaves behind.
His charge has almost been killed countless times. He still has nightmares to this day because of the things the Joker has put him through and the parents the maniac took from young Bruce at such an early age. They've both lost friends and loved ones due to the bad elements of Gotham City. But of all the pains they've suffered and endured, this is surely the worst one.
Yet again, Alfred wishes he had the power to change some one. If he did, Selina would go from using her love as a weapon against his beloved charge to feeling the pains of love herself, and when he was done with her, she'd never dare hurt Bruce again. Yet, as is, there is little comfort he can offer his charge. He can try to give him sage advice, but it never works. He can hug him, but the embrace of one, old man only goes so far.
And, of course, Alfred knows too, Bruce will never let on that he's hurting so badly. He'll never allow him or any one to see him cry. He'll have his walls up today from the moment he wakes and the memories of last night start to come back to him. He'll try to be the immovable rock that Alfred knows he can't be, and all these actions will make it harder still for Alfred to console him.
Tonight, he'll hunt out the criminal element even harder. Tonight, he'll pass from one fight to another to another and yet another. He'll fight all night long for the more violence he endures and dishes out, the further he is from last night's events, the further his thoughts and heart are from a love that they all know will never work out. Selina uses it as a weapon, and it truly is Bruce's greatest weakness. Alfred almost wishes he wouldn't love so easily, so tenderly, so thoroughly -- but then he wouldn't be the man Alfred himself loves.
Alfred sighs, having finished mending the costume and throws it into the wash. It will be ready again for tonight's outing, but he can't help admitting, if only to himself, that he wishes he could beg Bruce to stay. He wishes he could keep him safe, alive, well, and unharmed at home with him, but they all know that's never going to happen. "The injuries will mend, but the heart never will," he whispers, mustache bristling.
With his arms loaded with fresh clothes for Bruce Wayne, Alfred ascends the stairs, wishing he could talk to Master Bruce truly. But what would he say? he ponders again. He already knows his charge will deny everything. He'll tell him he doesn't love Selina, because it's what he tells himself every time he leaves her. He doesn't love her. He can't, because if he does, he can't do what's necessary to keep Gotham City safe and lock her away when she does too much harm.
The problem is he doesn't see the greatest harm she does. He doesn't see how her claws are still hooked deep inside of him, twisting his heart and making it putty for her claws. She plays with him like a normal cat plays with a ball of yarn, and Alfred is so very weary of it. He wants only to shut his charge away from the world, and especially from the Catwoman's hooks, and keep him safe forever more, but of course, he can't do that. Master Bruce would never allow it. He's got a city to save and people to protect after all, but as he heads first to the kitchen to prepare his charge's breakfast tray and then to his room to actually wake him, Alfred can not help wondering how he himself is supposed to protect the young man he loves far more than anything else in this cruel world.
Bruce groans, as he always does, when Alfred pulls his curtains aside to let the sunshine flood into his room and further wake him. He shields his eyes from the bright rays. Alfred catches his gaze as he sets his tray before him, and for a moment, he sees the pain and the unacknowledged tears wetting his master's eyes. For a moment, he sees the weak and gentle, very human man Bruce tries so hard not to be every night. For a moment, he sees his hurt, and he wishes again with all his might that he can remove it.
But he knows he can not, so just as he does every morning of every day, Alfred stands by his charge and watches him hide from the harsh truths of his life as he prepares to save others, wishing all the while that he could save him. He can mend costumes. He can set broken bones and give advice, answer questions when they are asked. He can cook him breakfast every morning and reheat his dinner every night when it grows cold. He can even pretend to be him when it's needed.
He only wishes broken hearts were as easy as mend, but if they were, his beloved charge would never have set on the path of the Batman in the beginning. He would have been healed from his parents' murders instead of still looking for a way to atone for their deaths. His heart would have been whole, and their lives would have been so much better, so much easier, so much happier. But it's not, and they're not, so Alfred does the one thing he can: He stands by his charge every day and every night while there's still breath left in his old body, always wishing he could mend broken hearts.