AN: Okay, before you read this thing, let me explain how this story came to be, how it died, and how I am trying to bring it back to life.
So, those of you on this site who are Burns/Smithers shippers may remember a little story that used to be on here titled, "Fears and Trembles." It was a sequl to a previous story the author had written and told the tale of the abuse Smithers suffered at the hands of an evil man. It was written by an author called Lisbeth Simpson, who sadly no longer exists on this site. That story also does not exist. It was removed several weeks ago.
It was removed because of me.
Yes, I am the one who killed "Fears and Trembles."
I didn't mean to. As part of my blog on Tumblr, I take fan fics that I don't like and MST them with the twin intents of trying to achieve some sort of comedic effect and trying to give my readers advice on what not to do on their own stories. Needless to say, I MSTed the fan fic, "Fears and Trembles," exclaiming my everlasting hatred for the thing.
What I did not expect was for Lisbeth Simpson to find out.
I don't know how she found out about me or my riffing, but once she did, she was very hurt. So hurt that she removed every single story she'd ever written and asked me not to continue the MST of her story. Well, to comply with her wishes (and because I didn't have any other choice) I have not MSTed any more of the story.
But I felt really bad. It was never my intent to make her stop writing. It's never my intent to make anyone stop writing. And, even though I really hated the story, I still feel like there were some good ideas in it. And I personally hold the opinion that any story can potentially be saved if the right things are done to it.
So, as a thank you gift to Lisbeth Simpson, and because I really wanted to try my hand at telling this story, I present to you my own version of "Fears and Trembles," titled, Fears and Trembles - Redux. I've changed around a lot of things, but I think the core values that Lisbeth Simpson was trying to get across have remained the same.
So, I've built this thing up long enough, let's begin. Here we go, Fears and Trembles - Redux!
Chapter 1 – Sweet Tooth
The message had come in over the intercom in Smithers's office. "Smithers, I'm expecting a very important guest this morning. Do not let anyone into my office."
Smithers pressed the button in front of the little microphone on his desk and answered with a brisk, "Yes, sir." He briefly wondered who this "important guest" was, but he quickly brushed the thought aside and got back to alphabetizing the list of the plant employees' mortal weaknesses. He was not the type to question if he felt that it was not necessary. If Mr. Burns thought it was important for him to know who this guest was, then he would have told him. And if Mr. Burns didn't think it was important, it probably wasn't. He trusted his boss.
So, in addition to his normal duties for the day, Smithers preoccupied himself with keeping people away from Mr. Burns' office. It wasn't that hard. Most people were terrified of the old man and kept away if they could. Of course, Smithers knew better. Underneath that hard and hasty exterior was a kind, gentle, and magnificent soul, and it was always quite amazing to Smithers that more people didn't seem able to see that.
As the morning went on, Smithers busied himself with finishing the filing, composing yet another lengthy email to the EPA, and chasing out a wild raccoon that had somehow snuck into the break room. He was just beginning to start on that report of the employees' safety record (abysmal, as usual), when he heard the heavy, mahogany doors to Mr. Burns office open, then close. Since the person had not knocked, and there was no outburst coming through the intercom, Smithers assumed that this must be the "important guest." He checked his watch and smiled, a little pleased that the person had come in before noon (It was always so rude when people came in late.), before returning to work, thinking no more of it.
It was just before lunch, after he had finished chasing Hans Moleman (who was repeatedly asking to go home for the day on account of the large pipe that had been wedged through his hand) away from Mr. Burns door for the third time that morning, when he heard the distant click of the intercom in his office. Quickly, Smithers rushed back and picked up the mike. "Yes, sir?" he asked.
"Smithers," Mr. Burns ordered, "Bring up some tea for me and my guest."
"Right away, sir," answered Smithers.
So, he stepped quickly into the private kitchen (the idea of having his tea made in the break room along with all the other employees had always been repulsive to Mr. Burns) and quickly put together a tray with a pot of Earl Grey tea, just the way Mr. Burns liked it, and added two cups. Balancing the tray carefully on one arm, he made his way briskly back to Mr. Burns' office, the various pits of china on his arm not making a sound. Humming a little tune, he reached out with one hand, twisted the heavy brass knob, and opened the door.
And as soon as it was open, he froze, the china clattered heavily against the edge of the tray, the tune he'd been humming choked and died in his throat, and he stared.
There was a man sitting in front of Mr. Burns' desk, half-leaning back in his chair, his arms propped up and reclining in an attitude of jaunty friendliness. He looked to be about in his sixties, with snow-white hair and a wrinkle across each cheek, yet his seemed to be the type of face that starts out life merely cute and then becomes slowly more and more attractive with age. As it was now, this man was tall and handsome, with hair that hung over his forehead in just the right way and a kind, open smile that invited you in.
The immediate instinct of every cell in Smithers's body was to drop the tray and flee. And yet, curiously, he did not seem to be able to move. He stood there, his eyes wide, rooted to the spot.
Mr. Burns grew impatient.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" he snapped. "Hurry up and get in here!"
At this point, Smithers felt the tray begin to slide and totter from his arm. He hastily moved his other arm to support it, almost dropping it in the process.
"Uh, s-sorry, sir," he mumbled before forcing himself to walk forward, moving as man forced to walk himself to the guillotine.
The other man kept his gaze focused on Smithers as he passed by.
As he walked, the china continued the rattle in his arms. This went unnoticed by the two older men and probably would have not seemed notable by anyone else, but for Smithers, who was always completely calm and in command of himself at work, who always carried the china smoothly and without a sound, this small rattling was indicative of a storm raging inside.
As soon as he reached the desk and set the tray down upon it, the rattling escalated to full-blown shivering, and, before he could do anything about it, the sugar bowl rolled from his grasp and shattered on the carpet.
"What the devil's gotten into you today, Smithers?" asked Mr. Burns, clearly annoyed.
Smithers hung his head, ashamed. "I-I'm terribly sorry, sir," he muttered, as he bent down to pick up the bowl. The other man's mouth twitched slightly, as if he were suppressing the urge to burst out laughing.
"Never mind!" shouted Mr. Burns, waving his hand dismissively. "Just clean this mess up and go fetch some more sugar!"
"Yes, sir," said Smithers. Quietly, he gathered up the jagged pieces of the bowl and walked away.
He soon returned with a dustpan and brush. As he pushed open the door he could hear the other man say in a smooth, baritone voice, "Kind of a jumpy assistant you have there, Monty."
"Feh! It's always something with that one," said Mr. Burns, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling.
Smithers quietly brushed up the dusty sugar from the carpet, getting as much as he could, before rising to his feet and reaching into his pocket. He then pulled out a handful of pink sugar packets, and half-heartedly dropped them in a pile on the table. Then he quickly turned to leave, hoping perhaps that he could make it out the door before…
"Ah, Smithers, stay in here a while. I might need you for something else," called Mr. Burns.
Smithers stopped, one foot over the doorway, and cringed mentally. Of course, he knew the real reason Mr. Burns wanted him in the room. Mr. Burns liked to have Smithers standing behind him while he had a "guest" in his office, as a means of intimidation. Not because he thought Smithers was particularly intimidating (he wasn't) but because showing off an incredibly loyal lackey helped keep up an air of power and control, which Mr. Burns loved dearly.
Smithers swallowed the protestation that he felt building up against his will and answered, "Yes, sir," as he always did. As soon as he'd dumped out the dustpan, he took his normal place behind Mr. Burns' chair, his hands clasped his back.
The other man had taken his gaze away from Smithers and was now busy pouring quite a large quantity of cream into his teacup.
"Now," said Mr. Burns, stirring his own tea idly. "What did you say your name was again?"
The other man chuckled as he ripped open a sugar packet. "It's Alfred. Alfred Spencer. C'mon, Monty, I told you that already." He dumped the contents of the packet into his tea and shot a winning smile at Mr. Burns. "Heh, not much of a spring chicken, are you Monty?"
Mr. Burns gave a fake chuckle back. "Oh ho, yes. Of course," he said. He then turned to Smithers in a not-so-subtle movement. "What the deuce is he talking about?" he hissed out of the corner of his mouth.
"It's a metaphor, sir," said Smithers, struggling to keep his voice steady. "It means you're not young anymore."
Mr. Burns adopted a look of surprise before bursting into a genuine laugh. "Oh, well why didn't you just say so!" he said, turning back to Alfred. "Why, I've spent such a small portion of my life being young it's ridiculous!"
Alfred laughed as he dumped in another pack of sugar. "I hear ya," he said. "I hear ya." He then ripped open and dumped in a third packet. Then a fourth. He had dumped in the fifth when he noticed Mr. Burns staring.
"Oh, sorry," he said, holding up a sixth packet. "I got a bit of a sweet tooth."
Mr. Burns, who always took his tea completely black, didn't seem to understand, but he was apparently willing to let it go. "Ah, yes," he said, bemusedly, "Anyway, I think this merger you've proposed sounds promising."
"Oh, yeah, I agree!" said Alfred heartily, stirring his tea at last. "I've heard a lot about you, Monty. You seem like a fine business man." He took a sip of his milked and sugared tea and gave a smile of complete satisfaction. He held the cup out to Smithers with a wink. "Mmm, you make a mighty fine cup of tea, sir!" he said.
Smithers swallowed and cast his eyes to the floor. "Ah, thank you," he managed.
Mr. Burns cleared his throat, apparently thinking that the conversation was straying off-topic. "Yes, well," he said, "How exactly did you hear about me?"
Alfred settled back in his chair. "Well, as you can see, I'm not too young anymore myself," he said, "So I came here to Springfield to retire."
"Retire? Here? In this backwater town?" repeated Mr. Burns, grinning. "Whatever for?"
Alfred grinned and shrugged. "What can I say?" he said, "I'm a weirdo."
"Yes," said Mr. Burns.
"Anyway," Alfred went on, "I got myself a nice house here, big, with a pool, just like I always wanted, and I happened to hear your name around town. Montgomery Burns. The richest son of a bitch in this fine state of ours."
Mr. Burns scoffed teasingly and waved his hand in the air, in a way that clearly meant, "Oh, go on!"
"So, since I am retired and have nothing to do, I looked into your plant a bit. And I must say, this is a very promising facility you have here. Why, I've looked at your safety record! Completely spotless! Very impressive!"
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Burns, smirking. "We all try our best." He shot a quick conspiratorial glance at Smithers, who managed to smile back weakly. Of course, the record was not spotless, but Smithers made a habit of wiping the record completely clean before releasing it to the public. ("Just call me your own personal dry board eraser, sir," he'd said. "My what?" said Mr. Burns)
"And so," Alfred continued. "I thought to myself. 'Now Alfred, here's a good investment opportunity!' Because even though I'm not working anymore, there's only one thing a rich man wants, as I'm sure you know well enough."
Mr. Burns nodded. "Yes," he agreed.
Both of the rich men took the moment to take a sip at their teas.
"Now," said Mr. Burns, setting down his cup. "Tell me, what exactly is it that your company does?"
"Oh," said Alfred, "I'm into electronics."
Alfred laughed. "Little electric gizmos that you keep in your pocket," he explained patiently. "We actually specialize in remote-controlled RVs, virtual pets, things like that. For kids, you know?"
"Ah, yes," said Mr. Burns. He then turned to Smithers and gave him a look to show that he was completely lost, before turning back to Alfred. "Well," he said, "I think that's all I need to know. We just need to discuss an exact amount, and then we can get to signing that contract."
"Great!" said Alfred enthusiastically, clapping one fist into his other hand. He beamed. "I'm really looking forward to working with you, Monty. In a matter of speaking, of course."
Mr. Burns smiled, a little less warmly than Alfred. "Naturally," he said. "So, your starting price?"
"Actually," said Alfred, leaning back in his chair. "Before we talk about that, I was wondering if I could ask you a favor."
Mr. Burns' eyes narrowed, and the smile dropped from his face. "What sort of favor?" he asked.
"Oh, don't worry!" Alfred laughed, waving his hands in front of his chest. "It's nothing big. I'm not asking you for money or anything."
Mr. Burns seemed to relax slightly. "Oh," he said, "Well, what is it?"
"Well," said Alfred, "I was wondering if I could have a word in private with your assistant, there."
Smithers paled. Mr. Burns frowned, clearly perplexed. "With him?" he asked. He quickly shot a confused glance at Smithers, as though he was trying to ascertain whether Alfred meant the same assistant he thought he did. He confirmed that he did, indeed, and looked back, completely flabbergasted. "Why?"
Alfred shrugged. "Oh, just a whim of mine," he said. "I find him very interesting."
"Tch, well!" exclaimed Mr. Burns, clearly finding the idea absurd.
"He is an employee of yours, right?" asked Alfred. "I'd just like to ask him a few questions about the working conditions and such. You know, find out a little bit more about what I'm putting my money into."
"Well…" said Mr. Burns, twirling his fingers together. It was clear that he could not fathom why this man would want to speak to Smithers, but on the other hand, he trusted Smithers to say exactly what he would want him to. Behind him, Smithers held his breath, waiting for the answer.
"… I suppose it wouldn't hurt…" he finally said. Smithers felt a chill carve its way through his body.
"Ah, great!" said Alfred again. He made a move to rise from his chair. "So, should we step into the hallway, or-?"
"Ah, that won't be necessary," said Mr. Burns, rising from his chair. "I'll leave you two in here to discuss whatever-it-is-you-wanted. Besides, if we're really going to sign this thing, I have to get my good quill."
"Quill?" repeated Alfred, lowering himself back into his chair. "Can't you just use a pen, Monty?"
Mr. Burns snorted dismissively. "I don't go for that newfangled technology. I'll be right back." He made a move to go.
Panicking, Smithers quickly reached out and grabbed his boss by the arm. "S-sir?" he stuttered. "C-Can I talk to you for a second?"
Mr. Burns made a face and shook off his assistant's hand. "Not now Smithers. Just stay here and entertain this fellow for a second. Be sure to tell him the 'truth.'" And with a grin and a wink, he began to walk away.
"Wait!" cried Smithers. "But, sir!"
"I'll be back as soon as I find that quill!" called Mr. Burns, not bothering to turn around. He grabbed the door and with some effort managed to swing it open. He turned around and as he closed it behind him and said, "Now, you two just stay here and chat." He shot one more smile at the two men in his office before he disappeared and the door swung shut.
Now Smithers and Alfred were all alone. Smithers forced himself to keep looking at the man who sat before him, forced himself to keep standing tall in front of him. It proved unimaginably difficult.
"Well," said Alfred, rising out of his chair. "I'm glad we finally got a chance to talk." He stood up and, with a smile, held out his arms, as though he were expecting a hug. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, Waylon?"
Smithers didn't move from where he was standing behind the desk. He stared at this man with as blank an expression as he could muster. "What do you want?" he asked.
Alfred dropped both his arms, and his smile turned a little sad. "Now, now, Waylon," he said. "What kind of greeting is that? After all, I haven't seen you much in the past few years."
"You haven't seen me at all," said Smithers quietly. "And that's the way I like it."
Alfred was not to be deterred. "Enough about me," he said cheerfully. "Let's talk about you. I mean, look at you!" He around the desk to Smithers and threw his arm around his shoulder. Smithers, who had been trying to stand up straight before, now became rigid. Alfred grinned, leaning on Smithers a little. He was quite strong. "Your own job, your own office, your own suit…" He tugged at the padded shoulder of Smithers's coat. "It is your own, right Waylon? That's not the uniform or anything, is it?"
Smithers felt his lip trembling with suppressed emotion. He couldn't help it; his gaze dropped down to the carpet. "Please don't touch me," he muttered, barely audibly.
Alfred sighed and shook his head. "Really, Waylon. We've got to work on those people skills," he said. "After all, what kind of way is that to talk to your old man?"