When Bruce swung open the back veranda doors and rambled into the parlor with a bruise glowing on his left cheek, Jim couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow, sitting up stiffly. Selina didn’t bat an eye, just kept picking at a croissant next to him on the sofa, popping small bites into her mouth.
Alfred followed shortly, flicking a deft arm out to button his cufflinks once more, not a hair out of place. “Everything alright, Detective?”
Jim nodded, eyes still following Bruce. “I should ask the same for you.”
Bruce sat down on the sofa next to Selina, face automatically turning pink the second she smiled at him. “Alfred’s teaching me how to fight,” he said. “I still think he takes it easy on me, though.”
“I wouldn’t take it easy on you,” Selina said, wriggling her eyebrows, and Jim shot her a tired look. What, she mouthed, all innocence. He flicked a crumb of croissant at her.
“I assure you, we’re taking care of each other,” Alfred said, tone clipped as he swung open the double doors to the kitchen. “I’ll be starting supper, then.”
Jim cleared his throat and stood, buttoning his jacket. “Are you going to behave if I leave?”
“Of course, Detective,” Bruce said, face gentle and trusting.
“I’m not worried about you,” Jim said, glancing at Selina, who pretended not to notice.
Jim always felt weird walking through Wayne Manor, like he was going to break something just by looking at it. Barbara had nice things but not priceless things, not things that would cost Jim his entire savings, life insurance, and then some. The kitchen was even worse. That was Alfred’s domain.
“I assume one of the children is on fire and that is why you’re entering my kitchen,” Alfred called over the sound of rushing water. He dried his hands on his apron. “Or somehow a war has broken out since I’ve been in here.”
“Neither, fortunately,” Jim said, lingering in the doorway. “I’ve shared your bed but I can’t share your kitchen?”
Alfred turned around, trying not to smile. “I think we both know the answer to that.” He wiped down the marble counter-top, sleeves rolled up to his elbow, muscles strong and hard as he moved a cloth across the gleaming surface. “But if you must be in here, take a seat.”
“You know how you hate when I try to give you advice about Bruce?” Jim slid onto one of the tall chairs at the counter, loosening his tie.
Alfred gave him a weary glance. “Go on.”
“I’m worried that this fighting thing isn’t good for him,” Jim said, folding his arms across his chest. He didn’t dare touch to just-cleaned counter top.
“Oh, so you’re a father now? I somehow missed this, my congratulations.” Alfred resumed his duties at the sink, dunking his hands into the soapy water.
(That’s where Jim approached him for the first time months before—Alfred stood over the sink, Jim’s hands on his hard biceps, nervous that he’d read Alfred wrong and would be thrown out on his ass.
But all Alfred did was turn around, cup Jim’s jaw in his damp hands, and kiss him hard right there in the kitchen, pulling back only to growl, “Now back into the parlor with you before I chase you out with a broom.”)
“Come on, I didn’t mean it like that,” Jim said, hopping off the stool and sidling up next to Alfred. He rolled up his own sleeves and grabbed a clean cloth from the drawer, ready to dry the rack of plates and silverware in the sink. Alfred grunted in displeasure but didn’t try to stop him. “He’s so angry all the time. He has a right to be, that’s for sure, but an angry kid is one who’s bound to make stupid decisions.”
“A boy at school insulted the late Madame and hit Bruce,” Alfred said, softly, like he was afraid Bruce would hear. “I can’t stand for it. I won’t.”
Jim brushed his wrist against Alfred’s. “I get that. I’d probably deck the kid if I was there. But you can’t drive Bruce to schoolboys’ houses to put a hit on them, Alfred, come on.”
Alfred looked over, eyebrows raised. “How did you know about that?”
“Bruce tells Selina, Selina tells me. There are no secrets in this house anymore.” Jim nudged Alfred in the shoulder. He always got a kick out of pushing and prodding Alfred, this intense and stern man built like a brick wall under his suits, and Alfred would never in a million years admit he liked it. “Do you have a gun?”
Alfred turned off the sink and dried his hands, leaning against the counter. His eyes were dark and Jim shivered, not for the usual reasons, the reasons that involved his wrists being pressed into the mattress. “What are you asking me, James?”
“Do you keep guns in the house?” Jim didn’t back down.
“Yes,” Alfred said, low and hot. “In a locker to which Master Bruce does not have access to, the bullets stored separately. They were Master Thomas’. He rarely used them.”
Jim nodded, keeping his face expressionless. “And you?”
“I’ve got a Winchester Model 12 in my bureau drawer,” Alfred said. “Loaded.” He surprised Jim by sliding a hand beneath Jim’s suit jacket, his warm palm settling at the small of Jim’s back. “Listen to me. I will do whatever it takes to keep this family safe. That means Master Bruce, Selina, and you.” His hand found Jim’s holster at his waist, fingers grazing the leather. “I know you understand.”
Jim nodded, eyes going hazy surrounded by the scent of Alfred—cologne, the warm kind men rarely wore anymore, dish soap, gun-powder. Jim always wondered about the gun-powder, but he’d never complain. “A Winchester Model 12? How old are you?”
Alfred pulled Jim closer for a kiss, both of them grinning into it like boys. “Old enough, cheeky brat. It was my father’s.”
“Don’t let Bruce use a gun,” Jim said, almost a whisper. He grazed his knuckles against the buttons on Alfred’s shirt. “Please. At least not now.” It all started with guns; he knew that, Alfred knew that.
“You know I can’t promise you that,” Alfred said, clasping Jim’s hand in his. “But I’ll keep teaching him how to fight hand-to-hand. A few bruises won’t hurt.”
“Okay,” Jim agreed, and rested against Alfred’s chest, listening to beat of his heart. He liked being there, being enclosed in Alfred’s steady arms, but he chose those moments sparingly. He liked being held down in bed, kissed until he couldn’t breathe, Alfred looming above him with hooded eyes, their breath hard and heavy. But he couldn’t lose control outside. He never knew when he’d have to harden up again, go out into the rot of the city, fight a war in Gotham.
But at least he knew he had Alfred on his side when the time came.