Wicked – Chapter 1
By Christopher W. Blaine
DISCLAIMER: All of the characters and events portrayed in this work of fan fiction are ©2004 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related entertainment purposes only. This original work of fiction is ©2004 by Christopher W. Blaine.
The boy stood, as he did every night, looking down at the headstones. While there were several markers he could have studied, some of them dating back to the time of Gotham City's founding, he always remained intent on the newest. Two marble monuments, testifying to the spot where the parents of Bruce Wayne lay in eternal slumber.
Some nights he cried, but not so many now. In the two odd years since the murder of his parents, he had learned to internalize his tears. He had nothing to hide; Alfred had seen him sob and bawl since the time he had been born. Instead it was an exercise in control; first he would master his emotions and then, God willing, he would master the city.
So it was on this night that he was not crying, but instead found himself reflecting on how empty his life seemed without the love of his parents. Alfred was a good man and even in his ten-year-old mind Bruce understood how deeply the man cared for him. But it wasn't enough. He was tired of the social workers calling him the "poor, sweet boy" who had suffered such great tragedy. He wanted to be known as the son of Thomas and Martha. The only time he was ever given that moniker was when someone did their annual story on the murder of the Wayne parents.
It was required reading in the city now. Once a year the Gotham Gazette would publish an article about the murders and the current progress of the investigation. There were few leads being leaked out and many felt that the case would never be solved. Bruce could not afford to look at it that way; he had to believe that there would be justice for his parents.
Often he would pay more attention to the grave of his mother than that of his father. Thomas Wayne had died fighting to protect his family and in a way Bruce's heart filled with pride when he thought about it. True, he missed his father greatly, but the man had died for a cause, protecting those who could not protect themselves. In a way, his father had become Zorro, defender of the innocent and a favorite heroic character of Bruce's in the times before the murders. In fact, it had been leaving a theater after having watched a special Zorro film showing that the events had transpired.
But when it came to Bruce's mother, he found himself fighting harder to keep back the tears. He had stood in front of her, but not completely, as she had pushed him to the side to protect him. Had he been faster, or taller or older…
And that was the thorn that constantly dug into his soul. He remembered so clearly the fear he had felt and it shamed him. Yes, his father was gone, but his ten-year-old mind could balance that. Brave men sometimes died doing brave things. But his mother had been innocent, had not attacked and had complied.
Bruce should have protected her he told himself. He lacked the maturity and the experience necessary to logically reason that there was really nothing he could have done. Instead he blamed himself, trying to even control his grief.
"Ahem," a voice said softly behind him.
Bruce closed his eyes and bit his bottom lip. It was time for his punishment and he refused to be afraid. He turned to regard the gaunt form of Alfred, dressed in pajamas, slippers and a robe that had been a present from Thomas Wayne. "I'm sorry, Alfred," Bruce said.
Both of them knew the apology was more for form than substance. He wasn't sorry at all for what he had done and they both knew it. If he was apologetic about anything, it was mostly because Alfred was still awake and had a full day ahead of him. Not only was he Bruce's caretaker along with Dr. Leslie Thompkins, but he was also responsible for maintaining the Wayne Estate until Bruce reached the ripe old age of 18.
"If you were truly sorry, Master Bruce, then you would not have done this again," Alfred said, his British accent predominant. Even a scolding sounded like Shakespeare when Alfred spoke. "You promised me last year it would not occur again, yet here we are, one year to the minute, having the very same discussion."
"I don't know what to say, Alfred; I hoped I wouldn't get caught," he replied.
His guardian shook his head. "Getting caught is not the point. You made a promise to me and I expected you to keep it."
Bruce turned back to the window. "I made a promise to them first, Alfred. I don't want to choose…"
Alfred sighed and shoved his hands into the warm pockets of his robe. The boy spoke with a wisdom that he should not have possessed. Ten-year-old boys were not supposed to have knowledge of irony or be forced to weigh the moral implications of vows broken. Bruce should have been worrying more about breaking toys or getting on the basketball team at the local elementary school. Well, private elementary school at least.
Instead he saw a grieving man inside the body of a child; a wounded tiger waiting to lash out at the hunters who pursued it. "Master Bruce, it is simply inconceivable for a child of your age to be out roaming the streets of the city at this time of night unchecked."
"Would you have taken me?" he asked, not turning away from the window. "If I had asked you, would you have helped me, Alfred?" There was a tremor to the boy's voice and Alfred could not begin to even guess at the horrid thoughts that now ran through the young boy's mind. Did he relive the moment every day…every night? When he closed his eyes, did he smell the gunpowder? Taste the coppery bouquet of blood in the air? Did he feel the hot tears running down his face from that night?
"No, I would not. Leslie agrees with me that it is not healthy for you to revisit that place. Sneaking out to do it certainly is worse!" Alfred took in a deep breath and relaxed. He wanted to go to Bruce and hug him, tell him how happy he was that he had made it home, but that would not do.
He knew Bruce loved him, but not as a father. Alfred was something else entirely, something that could not be readily be explained in terms like "father", "brother" or "uncle". Perhaps favored cousin? Bruce was uncomfortable showing his emotions around Alfred, the softer ones at least, though he tended to lighten up around Leslie.
"Are you going to punish me?" Bruce asked.
Alfred started to say "yes", but then caught himself. What could he do to the boy that wasn't already being done by the demons that tormented his every waking moment? He had no friends. He played no games. He had given all of his toys to charity. All he did was read, watch the news and practice his martial arts.
He supposed he could lock him in his room, take away his television and encyclopedias, but the martial arts training was about the only exercise he got. It was nothing serious, just a few hours every other day, training in the basics of Japanese-style fighting, mainly ninjutsu.
"I would think disappointing me is proving to be punishment enough, but it is so hard to tell with you. I swear there are times when I think your antics shall cause my untimely demise…"
Bruce's head shot around and immediately Alfred was shamed by his casual, off-the-cuff remark. The young man's eyes were watered up and in order to save his master from making an emotional display in front of him, Alfred lowered his head and coughed. "What I meant to say is that I worry about you."
"I wouldn't do anything to hurt you, Alfred," came the weak reply. "Never. That I truly promise."
Alfred nodded and continued looking at the floor. "I try to believe that I am raising you in the same spirit of parentage that your father would have applied. Unfortunately I am afraid I do a very poor job of it." He brought his head up to look at the boy who had become the center of his universe. There was true sadness radiating from Bruce. "I cannot punish you, young sir, for keeping a promise to them, for my own task of raising you is the completion of a similar oath."
"I think that means I'm not grounded?" Bruce asked.
Alfred smiled. "Indeed." Then another thought came to him. "No dessert for a month and I want your promise that this will not happen again, at least not until you reach an age where you can drive yourself and not bother with a car service."
Bruce's expression visibly relaxed. He would miss the desserts but he was happy not to be grounded. Every week he made a trip to the public library where he picked up books that he would devour on the weekend. He had already exhausted the books he could understand in his father's personal collection and he had never been a fan of comic books. "I promise you will not be bothered by this again, Alfred," Bruce said as he turned to close his curtains.
Alfred made to comment; that particular assurance was not good enough. By not being bothered, the scamp was indicating he would try harder not to get caught again next year. But a whole year to plan a way to thwart young Bruce was an advantage Alfred was not about to surrender. "Very well, Master Bruce, I accept that," he said as he ushered his charge to his bed. As Bruce hopped in and got under the covers, he turned to look at the photograph on his nightstand. It was a picture of Bruce with his parents, faithful Alfred in the background. It was his family.
"I miss them," Bruce said as he put his head to his pillow.
"As do I, Master Bruce, as do I?"
Minutes later, Alfred leaned against the closed to door to Bruce's room and took stock of his situation. He was alive and Bruce was alive, though two years before he had not been so sure. When Leslie had called about his employer's murder, he had been shaken to his core. When she had told him Bruce had survived, for a moment instead of being relieved, he had been angry, ready to rage against his Creator for putting the boy through such hell.
But he had spent years learning to control his emotions, a skill he was uncomfortable to admit his charge was learning very quickly, and after several acts of contrition over the next few weeks, he assumed that things were right between him and God. But between him and Bruce it was another story.
This night marked the second anniversary of the murder and like the year before, Bruce had escaped from the manor, called for transportation, paid for it in cash (Alfred was still searching for where Bruce was hiding his weekly allowance) and had gone back to the very spot where his parents had fallen. It was as if every year he needed to baptize himself in misery and pain to purify his soul.
Ten-year-old boys should not feel that way! He wanted to scream in rage and at the same time wanting to get down on his knees and pray for help. "Oh, Master Thomas, this is becoming much more difficult than I had imagined," he whispered before getting his composure back. He pushed off from the door and made his way down the stairway to the first floor and moved immediately into the library.
Of all of the rooms in stately Wayne Manor, this was the one Bruce seemed to enjoy the most, most likely because this was the place the significant family gatherings had taken place. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and the like, all of them attended to studiously by Alfred. This was also the most private of rooms, specifically designed to reduce noise and so it was that Alfred came here to make a very important phone call.
From an original copy of Moby Dick, Alfred pulled a small slip of paper. On it was a name and number given to him by a detective that Thomas Wayne had made contact with on a case several years back before Bruce had been born. His aid in helping the detective solve the case had made them fast friends and Alfred had used that connection to get the information on the paper.
His initial request had been simple enough: put him in contact with someone who had the ability to bodyguard anyone. Many people in the personal protection business specialized in a certain type of client, but Alfred understood that trying to put Bruce into any sort of classification was a lesson in futility.
He punched in the number, not caring what the time was; the person he was calling had to be used to odd hours. Finally the line picked up. "What the hell do you want?" an angry voice, thick with a Brooklyn accent growled.
Alfred remained nonplused. "Good evening…"
"Evening my ass! Alan? Is that you? No wait, that accent…Justin? Justin, you old son of a bitch!" the voice replied back.
"My name is Alfred Pennyworth and I represent the estate of Thomas Wayne in Gotham City," Alfred said, ignoring the previous outburst. "I assume I am talking to Theodore Grant?"
"What the hell? Listen fancy-pants, nobody calls me Theodore unless they have a big set of knockers and are laying underneath me, catch my drift?" the voice said with obvious ire. "Wayne? Wasn't that the doctor that got killed?"
"Ah, good, you are aware of the circumstances of my employment then."
There was some rustling on the other end including the squeal of at least two distinct female voices. "Sorry about that, Mr. Pennyhaven…"
"Pennyworth," Alfred corrected.
"Yeah…anyway I do know about the doc and his wife; I have friends in Gotham City," he confessed.
"Shall we dispense with the normal formalities, Mr. Grant? I am aware that you are the super-hero Wildcat, as well as a former boxing champion. I have also been informed that you occasionally take on person protection duties," Alfred explained.
"I'm not cheap, Mr. Pennyworth," Ted said, his voice now more businesslike.
"And I am a most determined man to ensure that I only hire the best, regardless of expense."