Trinity: Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woolen Mittens
Alfred made his way down the hall more by memory than sight. The mansion was dark, all except for the dim nightlights that ran the length of the hall and a gentle light that spilled out from under the door of the room he'd made up for Clark and Justin. He saw something cross the light, then the door opened and Clark stood silhouetted.
"Just finishing up, sir." He moved closer, so he could see Clark's face.
"You don't have to call me 'sir.' You know that."
"It's what I'm used to. It's how things are."
"Don't you ever get tired of how things are?"
Alfred wondered just how deep that question went. What was Clark tired of? "I've found that it's rarely worthwhile to rail against fate."
"Fate." Clark's smile carried a note of bitterness. "Is it fate if you bring it on yourself?"
"No, sir. Then it's just life." With a smile, he put a hand on Clark's shoulder. "And I don't presume to judge, as you well know. Now, if you want to go talk to Master Bruce, I'd be happy to watch Justin."
"Talk. Right." Clark seemed embarrassed.
"Go on, then. He'll be waiting." Alfred peeked in, saw that Justin was asleep, hoped the longing he felt for the boy--his grandson--didn't show. "I'll just sit with him for a while, if that's all right."
"No one I'd trust more with him." Clark turned to look at Justin, then glanced across the hall to Bruce's room.
"Go, sir. He's waiting."
"Good night, then."
"Good night, lad." Alfred closed the door gently, then sat in the rocking chair he'd brought down from the attic. He leaned back, watched the grandchild he never thought he'd live to see sleeping peacefully.
He'd lied to Clark. He wasn't planning on just staying awhile. He'd stay all night if he could.
He found himself breathing in rhythm with Justin's gentle inhale and exhale. He remembered when Bruce was this age, how he'd sneak into the nursery once Thomas and Martha had gone to sleep, watching his son--the son he could never acknowledge--sleep.
Bruce had been the most beautiful child he'd ever seen. But the memories of his boy were tinged with the unreality of those first days--the realization that they'd all made this child. That something he'd never been sure was right had brought about this wonderful little boy. A boy who'd been hurt beyond all measure, who now had to watch his own son grow up with a man who wasn't his father.
Was it true? The sins of the father...? Only how could a child as sweet as Justin be a sin?
Alfred heard the baby fussing. He was awake now and making the noise that was a prelude to crying. Alfred stood, picked Justin up, holding him the way he'd held Bruce all those nights, cooing the same sounds.
Justin quieted immediately.
"That's my boy." The words seemed to hang in the room, and Alfred took a deep breath as emotion choked him, made his throat full and his eyes suddenly wet. "I'm your grandfather," he whispered to the boy. Just this once he'd indulge himself. "I'm your paternal grandfather and you'll never know that--or probably not while I'm still alive."
That too needed to be said. He knew Bruce and Clark would wait until Justin was much older to even think of telling him the truth. And Alfred wasn't getting any younger. He had aches and pains, and someday he might have something worse. He'd already passed the ages his father and grandfather had died at. Pennyworth men weren't generally long lived.
Maybe they'd not had as much to live for, though?
He held Justin close, rocking slowly, smiling as the child gurgled happily, then fell asleep. Alfred sang little nonsense songs to him, the kind he'd made up when Bruce had been a child, only these were about his parents and his uncle and aunt--superheroes all. Also very silly people who loved each other in ways the world might not always approve of.
He grinned at how well it all rhymed, even if it was getting a bit bawdy. Justin smiled in his sleep, and in the distance Alfred could hear the mantle clock striking the half hours until it was well into the wee hours.
The door opened nearly soundlessly. A gentle voice, one he'd heard for so many years said, "You're going to spoil him. Holding him all night."
"I used to hold you this way, Master Bruce. It never did you any harm." He turned to look at Bruce. "Do you want to hold him?"
"No. You two look right together. Besides, I'd wake him up and there'd be burping or diaper changing or something." A gentle grin, one that seemed both for Justin and for Alfred. Then the grin faded, and Bruce met Alfred's eyes. "Have I ever said thank you?"
"For everything. For living this life? I mean, I understand now. How hard this must have been for you. And you were always there for me. You must have wanted to tell me so many times."
Alfred looked down. "You never have to thank me, my dear boy. I was blessed to be a part of your life while your parents were alive. I thank God I was still there when they were killed. Everything I've done since you were born...it was never an obligation. You're..."
"Your son. I'm your son." Bruce sat down on the bed. "But..."
"But didn't it hurt?"
"Yes." He swallowed, watched as Bruce looked away. "And it was a joy. And you made me angry at times. And I have been and still am ever so proud of you. Isn't that what loving someone is all about?"
Bruce took a deep breath, finally nodded slowly. "Why did you want me with Clark tonight?" He ran his hand through hair that was already tousled. "Why did Diana seem to want that too?"
Alfred shifted a bit, trying to ease stiff muscles without disturbing Justin. "You care for him."
"Does that mean he should be sleeping in my bed?"
"Well, one could argue that as you're not currently in it, it's not much of a problem." Alfred grinned at Bruce's glare. "Sir, to be perfectly blunt, you've made an incredible mess of this. All of you. That said, there's this little bundle of love and innocence that stands as an example of something you all did very right."
Bruce nodded, his smile gentle as he looked at his son. "So it's all right, then? He makes it all right?"
"No, sir. He just makes it real. And, I'd say, imperative that the four of you find a way to make this work. In whatever combinations you need to." He took a deep breath. "It's not what I would have wished for you, but I'm afraid this is your life now."
"This is my life." Bruce stood slowly. "When Diana and Lois get back, it will get strange again."
"No, it's strange now."
Bruce started to laugh, the sound starting low then growing, but not so loud it would wake the boy. "It is, isn't it? Man, could we have fucked this up any worse?"
"He's too young to take that in." But Bruce looked contrite. "So, you think Lois and Diana are sharing a bed?"
"Do they have beds on Themyscira? I rather pictured a war cot. Or maybe a hammock of some sort."
"But you pictured them in it...being ummm friendly?"
"Oh most assuredly, sir." Alfred smiled as he imagined just how friendly Diana and Lois might get.
Bruce was wearing a slightly dreamy look himself. "I think I'll go see if I can wake up Clark." He glanced at Justin. "Unless you need a break?"
"A break? Oh, no, sir. I'm fine just where I am." He took a deep breath as Bruce left the room. Justin cooed in his sleep, and Alfred bent down and kissed him gently on the forehead. "Perfectly fine."
To be continued