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A Handprint on Glass

Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A story from the Absolute Power AU arc (Other stories here).
Rating: G
Summary: This one came from Jen saying, "OK, who else isn't accounted for in the AU? The original JLA is all dead. Wonder Woman is showing up at the end of the arc, can't use her. I've written Dick. I've written Joker. I assume Lex is dead. We've seen Lois and Selina. Who else...oh. Oh no, no no no, oh...I don't want to write this one." *sighs and goes to write it*
Word Count: 1905



The cookies are almost done. The scent of vanilla extract and melting chocolate chips fills the kitchen. Alfred Pennyworth is washing dishes. The whisk, the spatula, the bowl. He dries them carefully. No water spots. He wipes the marble countertops until they gleam again.

A shining silver timer dings once. Alfred removes the cookies from the oven, placing them carefully on a cooling rack. He looks at the clock. There is probably time to dust the library once more.

In the library, he wipes the thinnest layer of dust from the bookcases, the end tables. The furniture polish smells like lemons. The portrait of his employers looks down on him. Dr. Thomas Wayne, his eyes stern and friendly at the same time. Mrs. Martha Wayne, one elegant gloved hand resting on her husband's. They are smiling. One of the books on the bookshelf is slightly pulled out. He gently pushes it back into the right place.

: : :

Two months ago, the bodies of Thomas and Martha Wayne had been found, shot to death. A robbery gone bad, a struggle, fatal bullets. It would have been just another crime, except the murderer's body lay next to them. Forensic evidence indicated, unbelievably, that he had been killed with the same bullets that killed the Waynes.

There was no sign of their son. Bruce Wayne had vanished into thin air The police had turned up nothing, even with a substantial reward as incentive.

Two days ago, Alfred Pennyworth had received a handwritten note in the mail. He had recognized the scribbly black handwriting immediately. Dear Alfred. Please don't worry about me, I'm safe. Some friends killed the bad guy who shot Mom and Dad. They saved me and took me here. I'm sad but they're good people and they treat me well so don't worry. I want to see you so don't call the plice so I can come see you. Sincerely, Bruce." A date and time was added at the bottom.

Plice. Two months ago Alfred had corrected that spelling error in a detective story Bruce had written. Bruce had teased him about it and said he'd always spell it wrong from now on. Then the Waynes had left for a movie and never returned. Plice. Alfred understood. It's really me, Alfred, and this is the truth.

Alfred didn't call the authorities.

: : :

He arranges the dark green curtains in the library so the folds fall properly. He looks out the window. The rose bushes out front need a little watering, and the spruces near the gate could use some trimming. He makes a mental note. He walks from the library back to the kitchen, his footsteps echoing loudly, like a ticking clock. He notices a smudge of chocolate on the oven door and gets a damp cloth. The doorbell rings.

: : :

Alfred Pennyworth opened the door and saw young Bruce Wayne standing on the doorstep, quiet and grave. He smiled slightly at Alfred, his eyes sad. "Hi Alfred. I'm sorry I made you worry."

Alfred felt a sudden, uncharacteristic urge to scoop this solemn child up in his arms and hold him. "Master Bruce, it's a pleasure to see you. Please, do come in...all of you," he added belatedly, taking in Bruce's companions. Behind him was a young couple. They both wore their clothes as if they were slightly uncomfortable in them. Both wore the same large ring, with a stylized "L" on it.

Alfred Pennyworth had not always been a butler. He knew dangerous people when he saw them. And both of these visitors were dangerous people indeed.

Another child darted out from behind the adults and ran to stand beside Bruce in the hallway. Alfred had a quick impression of turquoise eyes, unruly black hair, and a great deal of barely reined-in energy. The child looked about the massive hall. "Wow, this is where you used to live?"

"Yes." Used to. Alfred felt cold stab through him at Bruce's casual acceptance of the past tense. He cleared his throat.

"There are some freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen, Master Bruce."

Bruce's eyes lit up. He punched the other child's shoulder. "Race you to the kitchen, Clark!" They were gone, with the other boy's plaintive "But I don't know the waaaaaayyy..." echoing after them.

Alfred looked at his guests. The red-haired woman held out a hand to him. "My name is Eve, and this is my husband Mike." Her husband, whose prematurely white hair framed an unlined face, shook Alfred's hand gravely.

"No last names?"

"None we care to give." For a moment the air crackled with tension. Alfred looked away first.

"Would you care to have a seat in the library while we discuss the situation?"

"What a lovely grandfather clock!" Eve said admiringly as they entered the room. "Mike, just look at it." The pair did seem very taken with the clock. Behind them, Alfred cleared his throat.

Mike turned around and looked apologetic. "Mr. Pennyworth. I'm so sorry we can't be perfectly straightforward with you. Suffice to say that we came along too late to save Bruce's parents on that tragic night, but we did save him, and we intend to raise him as our own son now. He has no surviving relatives. We can give him a family. We've come to love him very much." Alfred gestured politely and the two guests settled into the large leather chairs near the fireplace.

"And yet you have not gone through the proper legal channels." Outside the window, Alfred could see Bruce and the other boy, their hands full of cookies, running around in the garden. Spotting a lizard, they squatted together to examine it, their dark heads almost touching. The bench near them needed some re-varnishing, part of Alfred's mind noted distantly.

"Our own legal status, alas, is...not altogether settled. I'm afraid adopting him openly and legally is out of the question." Illegal immigrants of some sort, then. "When it becomes possible for us to declare ourselves openly, he will take possession of this estate and his legacy again. Until then, we know that you have been named to hold it in trust for him indefinitely. All this will remain in your care. You may use the estate as you like until that day."

Alfred decided to ignore the insulting assumption that he could be bought. It was a common assumption people made about servants. "I cannot simply allow two strangers to take the boy away--"

The red-haired woman stood up abruptly, her posture angry. "What can you give him? What? An empty old house?" She swept a hand out to indicate the immaculate library. "An empty life of hopelessness, an empty struggle he can never win? When we can give him so much more?" Her voice became pleading, cajoling. "We love him, we'll raise him as our own. He and Clark are like brothers already. His life with us will be wonderful, I swear it to you."

Alfred looked at her, so young and hopeful, so clearly passionate about Master Bruce. These were people of power, yes: but what kind of power and to what purpose? He couldn't see enough to judge.

Into that silence, that balancing moment, Bruce and Clark came running from the garden, playing tag. They rampaged about the library, chasing each other until Clark ran right into Alfred's immobile form and fell backwards. "Oh, I'm sorry, sir," he said cheerfully, getting up and dusting himself off. "This is a great place. Did you know you have lizards in your garden?"

"Eumeces fasciatus, the five-lined skink. Yes."

Clark looked impressed. "Cool."

Bruce was looking at Alfred, the playfulness gone from his face and figure. "Alfred, are you going to let me stay with them? They said it was up to you if I could stay with them or not."

"Master Bruce...do you want to stay with them? Truly?"

Bruce pondered the question for a moment, then nodded resolutely. "Yes. I do, Alfred. They've told me I can do great things with Clark. I'm going to make the world a safe place, so nothing like...like that ever happens to anyone ever again." He looked for the first time at the portrait of his parents on the wall behind Alfred. For a moment, something cold and frightening passed behind his eyes. "I'm going to, even if you don't let me go with them." Alfred had worried that the boy had seemed too unaffected by his parents' deaths; now suddenly he found himself wondering if Bruce had been more deeply affected than could possibly be seen on the surface.

The grandfather clock ticked loudly. Alfred felt the weight of the whole house pressing down on him, the whole massive, empty house. What kind of family could he ever give his young master? What kind of life, what kind of hopes?

Still, it did not feel like victory when he bowed his head and said he would not alert the police. It did not feel like triumph when Clark and Bruce whooped and danced about the room.

It felt like defeat.

Alfred saw the little family off, Mike carrying a small suitcase with all the items Bruce had deemed most important to take with him. At the doorway, Bruce shook hands gravely with Alfred. Then, suddenly, he flung his arms around the older man, who found himself on his knees, wrapping the boy up tightly and holding him, rocking back and forth, back and forth, with Bruce in his arms.

"Take care of the house for me, Alfred. I'll...I'll come back! I'll come back and visit all the time!"

Alfred held Bruce tightly, fixing in his memory the feel of those small arms around him. "Be well, Master Bruce." The sound of the boy's voice. "Be safe." He paused. It wasn't his place, but... "Be good."

: : :

Bruce pulls back and runs down the lane to where Clark is waiting for him. They walk away slowly. Bruce looks back at Alfred one more time, as though he's thinking about running back again, about staying...and then Clark puts a hand on his arm and says something, and Bruce turns away. The woman called Eve looks back at Alfred a bit longer, her strange aquamarine eyes steady.

He knows that he will never see Bruce Wayne again.

Alfred Pennyworth watches until the family is out of sight, then watches where they were a little longer. Eventually he turns and goes back into Wayne Manor. His knees hurt, and he moves slowly. He stops to shine a mirror and notices the first silver hairs threading through the black.

The hallway floor could use another waxing. He stops to put a piece of bric-a-brac in its correct place. In the kitchen, there will be cookie racks to put away. And the bench in the garden will need varnishing. So much to do.

He walks into the library. The bookshelves are immaculate. He runs a cloth across them anyway. Scent of lemons. The ancient grandfather clock ticks, every tick another moment gone. And so many more to come.

He moves to dust the clock. There is a small handprint on the glass door, the whorls distinct as a crime scene fingerprint. Alfred reaches out to wipe it off. He pauses.

He turns and walks out of the room, leaving the handprint there on the glass.

Comments

( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
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victoria_wayne
Jul. 9th, 2006 11:08 pm (UTC)
This was so sad and wonderful. You really captured Alfred.

I love the symbolism at the end, too.
jij
Jul. 9th, 2006 11:22 pm (UTC)
You really captured Alfred.

That's a huge relief, because DAMN he was hard to write. If you could see my house you'd understand that I have zero ability to empathize with Alfred. *grin* I had to imagine my father, who is actually a lot like him.
arch_schatten
Jul. 10th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
Oh god, Jen. *wibble* I kept expecting the house so explode with Alfred inside it or something, and I didn't want Alfred to die but.. this is so very sad. The tiny fingerprint.. aww, man. This is great, and everything this world wasn't to be, for better or worse.

"Race you to the kitchen, Clark!" They were gone, with the other boy's plaintive "But I don't know the waaaaaayyy..." echoing after them.

Awww, so pretty!! Cunning little Bruce is going to hoard the cookies like the cookie monster he is. Oh-oh. My plot bunny sense is tingling...

"Be well, Master Bruce." The sound of the boy's voice. "Be safe." He paused. It wasn't his place, but... "Be good."

It isn't his placeeeeee? That's so Alfred! But of course it is. Ack, it kills meeee.

I loved this, thoroughly. It's sad and... *sighs* At least he's alive!
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 01:03 am (UTC)
I kept expecting the house so explode with Alfred inside it or something, and I didn't want Alfred to die

I really, really wavered on whether it would be kinder to have him stand up to the villains and get killed, frankly. But it didn't seem to be in his character so much at this point. Bruce is still his employer's son...he loves him, but the relationship is not what it becomes in canon. So he lives, but...it's certainly not a happy ending, is it?
scotchsour
Jul. 10th, 2006 12:49 am (UTC)
I had to skip over a lot of stories including the ones before this because I wanted to see who you missed. Damn, I could of left this alone because you made me cry over poor Alfred... :(

*going back to read the stories in her queue, the way she planned it.*
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 01:00 am (UTC)
Aw, I'm sorry! This was...the happiest I could get for Alfred, actually, I think.

Hee, let me know what you think of the others...they're weren't all pulling teeth to write like this one.
(Deleted comment)
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 02:48 am (UTC)
He's the greatest, isn't he? He's featured heavily in the next canon story as well...which is too bad because he is not at all easy to write. MM/Hawkgirl might be a welcome break this week. :)
cmer
Jul. 10th, 2006 01:42 am (UTC)
You did it again, Jen! You wrote yet another heartwrenching fic. A beautiful wonderful sweet tale, and you really brought out Alfred's voicein this one. I really enjoyed it. And it makes me wonder, truly wonder, if it was ever worth taking Bruce away from what would have been his real life growing up. He'd be much happier with hs lover brother, he'd have "real" parents... everything our-world!Bruce doesn't have. And yet... Alfred ends up having nobody, no one but an empty house to clean... clean for nobody.

God, you're good. Now I have to go to bed feeling depressed, this fic made me feel so sad (but please don't feel bad, it's GOOD that you affect your readers this way). ;)
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 02:44 am (UTC)
It's one of those sad realities that in any world where Bruce is happy, the collateral damage for the people who loves is appalling. I have to keep writing these little sad pieces (like this and the Nightwing) to remind myself that Bruce would never prefer this world to the real one, because the cost is too high not only for the world, but for people he cares for.

Hee hee, I'll try to balance with something a little more cheerful next! After I finish the JLU challenge and...and...*looks ahead* Hookers? How can I write a story about hookers for [Bad username: worlds?finest]? LOL, they might have to wait a while for that one.
batfan_sarah
Jul. 10th, 2006 02:21 am (UTC)
Dude...I cried.

No, seriously. When he thinks he'll never see Bruce again, and then leaves the handprint.

Wow. That was so damn sad. I love it.

Beautifully executed.
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 02:38 am (UTC)
I got sniffly myself...poor Alfred. He knows in his gut this is all wrong, but can't find a way out.

*nudges you to draw a picure of the boys and their skink! LOL*
(no subject) - batfan_sarah - Jul. 10th, 2006 06:31 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jij - Jul. 10th, 2006 07:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - batfan_sarah - Jul. 10th, 2006 11:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Jul. 10th, 2006 05:50 am (UTC)
I'll just bet that it was Bruce's decision to stay with his new parents that saved Alfred's life. I have no doubt that if Bruce had expressed any other emotion, Alfred would have met with an unfortunate accident that would have sealed his affection to Saturn Queen and Co. even more securely. What I'm not sure about is if Bruce realized this?

No, I guess not... this aspect of Bruce is still too young and trusting to realize that his new parents are dangerous, amoral killers.... I guess all he cares about is staying with Clark and pursuing his new mission.

Anyway, this was quite sad and poignant, and the symbolism of the hand on the glass was wordlessly appropriate. Thank you for not killing Alfred... it makes me feel that somehow some of Bruce's humanity managed to survive the purge in that horrible world.
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 06:11 am (UTC)
You know, I really struggled with having a version where Bruce realizes, at some level, that Alfred is in danger here (because he most certainly is...if he had resisted any more that would have been it). But at this point if he had realized Alfred was in danger I think he would have done something to fight his parents. Also, I kind of wanted Alfred to be more fully aware of how dangers the parents are, but similarly, if he knew, he'd fight to keep Bruce, and get killed. So both Alfred and Bruce had to be mostly unaware of how precarious the situation really is.

I still haven't decided if it was kind or cruel to leave him alive there alone. I console myself that perhaps he and Leslie...but I think I'm just kidding myself.
Forgot to log in... - kungfunurse - Jul. 10th, 2006 10:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
stranj100
Jul. 10th, 2006 06:04 am (UTC)
Alfred loves Bruce so much. There's no doubt in that.
jade_dragoness
Jul. 10th, 2006 07:21 am (UTC)
*bursts into tears* Oh, Alfred! *wails* My heart's all broken now.

I can just picture all the years slowly going bye, and Alfred cleaning and cleaning trying to keep an empty house alive when all it's owners are gone. And him slowly getting older and older with nothing to look forward to by cleaning the dust and polishing the silver.

*cries harder*

*curls up into a tiny ball*
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 01:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, that's exactly the feeling I wanted to evoke! *happy dance*

Um, oh. *gently pokes ball of dragoness* I'm...sorry? Tell you what, I'll write a happier version of Alfred for the next canon story (it can't be perfectly happy since the boys are all gone, but at least they'll come back this time, right?), ok? You can uncurl, really. *patpats*

yamheads
Jul. 10th, 2006 07:38 am (UTC)
afk;jsdlfkjasdfl;kadsf *rendered inert*

Oh, Alfred. D: Oh, ALFRED.
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC)
I know...I know. The poor guy. He was soooo hard to write, too. So you can console yourself that he took revenge for making him suffer.
rubynye
Jul. 10th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC)
*applauds* This is absolutely excellent. I'd always wondered wat he thought of the situation...

katethetigeress
Jul. 10th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)
*heart breaks*

You just killed me with that one. Poor Alfred *huggles him*
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 01:54 pm (UTC)
I guess it was inevitable to balance out the last happy story. :-( I'll write in some moderately happy Alfred next story though. I can't leave him all sad like that, even if he never existed (thank goodness).
cero_ate
Jul. 10th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, ouch. Big ouch. Poor Alfred. Another stunning addition to your series. That was great.
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 10:47 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks! I have to write some relatively happy Alfred in canon fic to make up for what I do to him here...
schala_kid
Jul. 10th, 2006 09:24 pm (UTC)
Well Bruce is finding more happyness with his new parents because they not only have promised him security and the fact that no one will be killed the way his parents were but they have Clark whom Bruce has developed an attachment with and really likes. Also during this time Alfred's and Bruce's relationship didn't grow to be the way it is in the comics so it was easier for Bruce to let go of him.

As for who else is not accounted for in the AU, mhhh...Well you can still use some of canon!Clark's friends like Lana or Pete? or maybe villains like Brainiac? I know Brainiac would be a good choice since he would identify Clark right away as Kryptonian and would probably prompt Clark to ask more questions about his heritage to his parents, better question does young Clark even know he's adopted? (with two dads I think it's safe to say that he knows).

And speaking of Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen and Cosmic King, from what I've gathered in your fic it seems Bruce becomes more impatient and less trusting of his new parents than Clark, maybe because unlike Clark Bruce was not raised by them his whole life.

As for poor Alfred, I am sure Leslie will comfort him.
jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 11:07 pm (UTC)
Oooh, Brainiac, now there's a good idea for a major threat to show up... *files idea away*

I do assume the parents have never hidden from Clark that he's adopted--you7re right, it would be difficult to hide! And interesting insight on Bruce growing distrustful of his parents. I actually don't think he does in the original stories! In part he's got more of a temper in this world too, so I see him as more likely to lash out at them in a moment of anger. This freaks his parents out. :)
zarabithia
Jul. 10th, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
This really was heartbreaking. Not only because of the sense of Alfred's loneliness but the sense of Clark and Bruce being so *happy.* Given how the whole affair turns out. . . just *ouch.* In the good kind of hurty way.

The last line really rips your heart out of your chest, too. :(

Loved. Muchly.

jij
Jul. 10th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC)
This really was heartbreaking. Not only because of the sense of Alfred's loneliness but the sense of Clark and Bruce being so *happy.* Given how the whole affair turns out. . . just *ouch.* In the good kind of hurty way.

You know, I had an awful moment quite a while ago where I was absent-mindedly thinking about the direction of the AU and thought, "Well, I wonder how it all will end and if I can make it a happy ending?" And then I realized I had gotten so into making the AU that I had forgotten...we already know how it ends, there's no way around it...and it isn't happy! I got very depressed. :) I try to remind myself that returning to the canon world is a happy ending...but...
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