Title: The Death of Stephanie
Author: Paulasj (DC Lady)
Main Characters: Bruce, Alfred


A special thank you to Djinn for the beta.

Dick, Tim, Jason, and now Leslie. The family he'd fashioned for himself lay in ruin. He didn't know how it happened. How he'd become so cold and unfeeling that he missed the signs. Or maybe he hadn't cared when he did notice them.

He was slumped in the large leather chair, pushed away from the Crays, trying to make sense of the senseless.

"She killed Stephanie," he told the approaching figure.

Bruce could see the strain on the butler's face and his posture, though straight and tidy, held none of the fortitude that had been inbred from his years of service as a proper English butler. No one else would notice in his surrogate father's demeanor that their family was in ruin, but he'd known Alfred a long time. The events of the recent past had taken its toll on him – on all of them.

Alfred's sigh was filled with anguish. "I know."

"It doesn't make sense. Why would she do such a thing?" In one swift movement the cowl was off and tossed to the floor. He rubbed his face wishing he could forget her words – forget her.

Alfred clasped his hands behind his back, his eyes firmly affixed before him. "Because she loves you."

Bruce stood abruptly and faced the man who'd raised him. "Loves me? Do you call what she did love? Do you even approve?"

"Of course I don't approve. I'm simply relaying her motivations. I do not share them." Alfred sighed again. He looked as tired as Bruce felt. "I understand her fears and concerns regarding those who would take up this cause. Those too young to fully understand or realize the severity of this life."

"You know I…" Alfred held up a hand stopping Bruce from continuing. Stopping the justifications.

"That is an argument for another day. And one that must be confronted, I'm afraid. But, an argument that Leslie had no right in confronting in the manner in which she did." Alfred took a deep, unsteady breath. "The reason, in her mind, was simple. The life of one exchanged for the lives of many. For your life – your soul."

"My soul?" Bruce mocked. "She never cared for my soul. Only that I perform according to her pacifistic beliefs. I made a vow. A vow to protect. A vow to never kill. How has her pacifism helped in this cause? She killed. Needlessly. Methodically."

Bruce turned around, facing the emptiness of the cave – the emptiness of his life. His thoughts turned inward, remembering. "When I was accused of Vesper's murder…she never doubted my guilt. She never looked beyond her own warped sense of right and wrong long enough to know me. To know that I could never do…" He shook his head, not wanting to relive that particular memory. How many memories now did he choose to ignore?

Alfred lowered his head. "I don't understand how this could have happened. How little I actually knew of a woman I have known for over 30 years. I woman I once loved."

"None of this makes sense." Bruce sunk back wearily into the chair. "I'm a trained tactician. I put preemptive measures in place with the Metas of the world to protect the innocent and yet I overlook what's been staring me in the face this whole time. How could this have happened with someone I…" He stopped, unable to finish. Surprised that this particular emotion had found its way to the surface.

"With someone you considered as close to you as your own mother?" Alfred finished for him. "Maybe that is the reason. We were both too close to notice the signs. Maybe we didn't want to see them at all."

"And Stephanie died because we didn't notice. Because I trusted."

Alfred frowned. Bruceknew that Alfred would try to put the family back together. But, he wasn't sure if all of this wasn't for the best. He would be alone, but he would get the job done. Without the emotional attachments that so often got in his way.

"What do we tell the others? They will notice her absence," Alfred questioned quietly.

"Nothing. They'll find out soon enough. But, after today, her name is never to be mentioned in my presence again." He fired up the computers. Time to get back to business.

"Understood, sir," was Alfred's reply.

Bruce knew that Alfred would probably argue the point later, or maybe not. He didn't know anymore. Didn't really know a damned thing, just that his mission was necessary. Gotham needed Batman.

The end.