The Sounds of Silence


Stargazer Nataku

Alfred watched as the squad cars pulled away, his face stoic and inscrutable, ensuring they had passed through the Manor's gates before he shut the door and turned back into the kitchen, made even emptier by the utter desolation of the rest of the house. Had it just been yesterday he and Bruce had argued about the home Bruce called a mausoleum before he went to the hearing? It already felt like decades past, though it had been just over twenty-four hours. Alfred had seen the young man on the news, staring as they worked over the murderer, had seen Rachel carefully draw him away when the first responders gave up on bringing the man back to life, knew Bruce was safe when they had left.

He had not come home.

A cold feeling settled into Alfred's stomach as he moved to clean up the coffee he had offered the detectives, finding momentary respite in the simple, familiar motions of washing the mugs and putting them away. When that was done he gave all the kitchen surfaces his habitual nightly wipe-down, then stopped himself from checking the cupboard for the chocolate chip cookies Bruce always asked for when he came home.

He had always been highly attuned to the living sounds of Wayne Manor, the gurgling of the pipes, the creaks and settling of the foundations, the wind brushing against the windowpanes, even, in happier, long past times, the sound of speech and laughter. Tonight, no friendly voices sounded and the other noises were muted as Alfred tuned them out, listening for other, more important sounds.

The crunch of tires on gravel. The sound of the door opening, footsteps in the hall, a voice calling his name.

He stood in the kitchen for a long moment, waiting, but the only sound was the forlorn howling of the cold winter wind outside. He turned, pondered the tea kettle, and finally moved to set it to boil, seating himself at the small table set aside for kitchen work. He sat, the familiar and safe noise of the kettle heating working on frayed nerves, giving his straining ears a little distraction as he sat and waited. When the kettle started whistling, he was thankful for the excuse to rise and take it off the heat, busying himself with preparing a perfect pot of Earl Grey, stopping himself in the last minute from taking two cups down instead of one, a motion of long habit that was not necessary tonight.

He poured a cup, adding a little milk as he liked it, before returning to the table. The next half hour found him slowly working his way through the cup as the tea cooled and he sipped only half attentive to the motions. The wind pressed hard against the windows, masking softer sounds, making Alfred strain to listen for the sounds he yearned to hear.

When he realized he was attempting to drink from an empty cup, he rose and washed first the saucer, then the cup. Yet, as he turned the water off, his ears strained into the dark night outside the Manor, and caught the first hint of sound.

The crunch of tires on gravel.

Alfred froze at the sink, dishrag in one hand, saucer in the other, dripping water onto the spotless floor as he turned and waited, watching the door to the kitchen, finding he couldn't move.

The sound of the door opening and footsteps in the hall.

It was not the police; they would have rung the bell. Only someone who belonged to and at Wayne Manor would enter without a knock or a ring to request admittance. Alfred's grip on the dishcloth tightened as he stared at the door, heart pounding in his chest.

A voice calling his name.

A soft voice. A feminine voice.

The tension shattered, as did the saucer, for Alfred had let it slip from suddenly limp fingers. He turned to lean heavily on the edge of the counter, forcing his breathing to even, trying to regain control of himself, the hope of the moment dying in his chest. He had mostly managed it when he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Alfred? " the word died in Rachel Dawes' throat, and without another word she moved to pull the broom and dustpan out of their place in the pantry, cleaning up the shattered china while Alfred managed to regain control of himself.

"I am fine, Miss Rachel," Alfred finally answered, his voice once again stoic and in control. "It was wet and slipped through my fingers." She studied him for a long moment and decided not to comment on the obvious lie.

"Have you heard anything?" she asked, her face lined with worry. Alfred shook his head. "I'm so sorry, Alfred, I…I shouldn't have just left him there. This…"

"Isn't your fault," Alfred told her, vehemently enough it was obviously the truth of what he thought. "Bruce…" He paused a moment. "Hasn't been right in a long time."

"No, he hasn't," Rachel agreed. "Is there anything I can do, Alfred?"

He shook his head. "No, Miss Rachel, but I thank you. I'll manage everything until Bruce returns." She hesitated, studying him for a long moment before she spoke.

"I...could use a cup of tea, if you don't mind, Alfred. " He hears the unspoken offer behind it, to stay with him for awhile, to hold silent vigil for the missing young man. Alfred nodded and got out a second cup and saucer as he reheated the tea he had already made. He made a second cup for himself and one for her, and they both took seats at the kitchen worktable.

The silence fell again, heavily, only now, two sets of ears listened to the workings of the manor, seeking noises in the night. The crunch of tires on gravel. The sound of the door opening and footsteps in the hall. A voice calling their names.

Hearts that hoped reached out into the night, answered only with silence and emptiness and the forlorn cry of the winter wind thrashing against the old stone home. They waited together a long time, listening, as the tea grew cold and the night seemed to grow darker. Just after midnight, Rachel shook herself a little from a tired stupor and looked to Alfred, whose face was drawn and tired.

"I should go, Alfred. I don't want my mother to worry," she said quietly. The words were harsh, breaking the silence of the kitchen not only by their existence, but by their meaning. Alfred gripped the table for a moment before rising.

"No, you do not want her to worry," Alfred said. "Thank you for coming, Miss Rachel. Give your mother my best."

"I will. And you let us know if you need anything, okay, Alfred?" He nodded.

"Of course, Miss Rachel."

He rose and accompanied her to the door hospitably, and watched as she got in her car and drove away. Shutting the door again against the chill of the night, Alfred went back to the kitchen, washed the teacups and emptied the teapot, and returned again to the kitchen table to wait and listen.

There would be no restorative silence of sleep. Not this night. Perhaps not for many nights to come.

Author's note: Thanks for reading. Again, not much plot and something feels off about the ending, but oh well. The plot bunny bit and I had to comply. I love reviews if you have the time. ^_^