The Sound of Silence, Part III


Stargazer Nataku

Alfred awoke with a start, squinting into the darkness to read the old-fashioned alarm clock at the side of his bed. The hands stood at just after four, and for another instant Alfred wondered what had awakened him at such an ungodly hour. Then, breaking through the normal night noises of the Manor, the sound repeated itself.

The telephone was ringing.

Alfred swung his legs over the side of the bed and into his slippers, grabbing the robe hanging on the back of his door before he threw it open and hurried down the hall. Again and again the harsh noise broke through the stillness of the empty house as he struggled into the robe and tied it tightly shut, all the while moving to the kitchen, hope rising against his will in his heart.

The telephone rarely rang at Wayne Manor. It hadn't on a regular basis in seven years. Seven long years of worry and waiting and, though most thought he was foolish, hope.

Alfred grabbed at the receiver and picked up the phone. "Wayne Manor," he said, and received only silence in response. With a sigh, he laid the receiver back into its cradle and flipped the lights in the kitchen on, moving to fill the teakettle, his heart still pounding in his chest with such force he could almost hear it. A prank, most likely, Alfred decided. That did happen, every now and again. A nice, settling cup of tea, and he'd either return to bed relaxed or start his day earlier than planned.

Yet as he moved to get a cup and saucer out of the cupboard, the phone began to ring again, causing Alfred's slowing heart to again race. This time, he crossed the room in two steps and picked up the receiver.

"Wayne Manor," he said, his voice steady. Ten seconds passed without a response, and Alfred was just about to hang up when a voice, made fuzzy by distance, crossed the line and made itself heard.

"Alfred?" asked the man on the other end, the voice Alfred waited for years to hear coming almost hesitantly through the telephone. He had to turn, and he gripped the counter for support with the hand not crushing the phone to his ear while taking several deep, steadying breaths. After seven years of alternating doubt and hope, his voice cracked his next words; he could not keep his stoic, unflappable butler's mask, not now.

"Master Bruce?" he managed in practically a whisper. There was another long pause.

"Yes," came the answer, and Alfred felt a thousand unvoiced questions bubbling up inside of himself in response, threatening to overwhelm him. He bit back the first—Where the bloody hell have you been?—, knowing even in his agitation that it would be counterproductive and not what he wanted to impart anyway. He took another deep breath, seven years of worrying and waiting and often despair shattering inside him into a thousand knife-edged pieces.

"Master Bruce," he repeated again as he tried to reform his fractured emotions into something steady, more himself.

"Yes, Alfred."

"You're all right." It was as much a question as it was a statement, the only of the thousand he decided it was safe to voice. The silence stretched longer on the other end of the phone, and finally Bruce answered.

"I am," he said, and the undercurrent in his tone implied everything while revealing nothing.

It was that knowledge, long yearned for, which allowed Alfred to steady the feelings rampaging through him, allowing him to manage a good façade of his usual calm when he spoke again.

"Shall I expect you then?" He could not keep the hope from his voice.

"Yes," Bruce answered. "But I need a lift. Can you send the jet?"

"Of course, Master Bruce. Where shall I send it?"

"Tibet. There's a small airfield outside the city of Shigatse."

Alfred wrote that down, the scratch of the pen on paper loud in the silent kitchen. "It's all in hand. I'll make the arrangements immediately."

"Thank you, Alfred. I'll be watching for it." A soft click, and the line was dead. Alfred stood, listening to the silence of the phone for another moment, before carefully replacing the receiver. A moment brought out a list of phone numbers, dusty from disuse, and he made the calls necessary, a sense of calm stealing over him as he did so, the questions churning his stomach fading into the background as he worked. When the arrangements were made, Alfred gently set the phone down, and then turned to take the teakettle off the stove.

He shook his head. "Never did think about going to Tibet," he said into the silence of the empty kitchen, then shrugged to himself. "First time for everything, I suppose." Taking a deep, steadying breath, he stepped into the hallway to return to his room. There would be plenty of time for questions and answers once he had reassured himself, with his own eyes, that Bruce was alive, well, and most importantly, coming home.

Author's Note: Okay, I figured out what was perhaps wrong with the story…it ended too quickly. Alfred needed closure. He's got it now. Please let me know if you like the addition, or if you like the fic in general. Reviews make Nat a very, very happy person. Thanks for reading!