Alfred took a breath before he opened the door of the cab and stepped out onto the curb. He looked up at the building and then down the street towards the mostly repaired streets. He wasn't even sure why he'd come. It wasn't likely for Master Anthony to remember a offhand suggestion that Alfred come work for him that he'd made nearly nine years ago.
Stepping forward, Alfred pressed the button neatly hidden near the door.
"May I help you, Master Alfred?"
Alfred mentally rolled his eyes. He knew Anthony made JARVIS call him that just because Alfred refused to shorten Anthony's name. "I'd like to speak to Master Anthony, if you please."
"One moment, sir."
Alfred glanced up at that. It normally took JARVIS eight or nine times before the AI stopped using the full title when speaking to him. Then the door in front of him popped open and Alfred stepped into the tower. He frowned when moments later Anthony appeared and hugged him.
"Alfred!" Anthony squished Alfred to him for several seconds before backing up and holding Alfred by the shoulders. "How's Bruce-y? I saw the news coverage. You okay?"
"I...I left." Alfred tried not to pull away from Anthony. Alfred’s habit to reinforce any positive contact more powerful than his confusion at being hugged.
"Yeah." Anthony wrapped his arm around Alfred's shoulders and herded them towards the elevators. "Figured you might someday. He kick you out?"
Alfred allowed Anthony's robot to take his bag. DUM-E rolled towards the couch against the far wall dragging Alfred's bag along. Alfred settled into the empty chair in front of Anthony's desk. He watched Anthony flick plans from the air until the workspace was clear of the clutter in the air.
"Not as such. Master Wayne is risking himself for..." Alfred stopped to take a breathe. He looked at his hands. Anthony handed him a glass. Alfred sat it down next to himself.
"The knee? It has to be bad." Anthony pulled a rolling stool over and watched Alfred as he took a drink of his own glass.
"Not just that." Alfred rubbed the back of his hand with the fingers of his other hand. "He will get himself killed."
Anthony grimaced and rolled closer. "Alfred, you and I both know that if he feels like he has to do it, then it'll get done. The knee be damned. The consequences don't matter."
Alfred blinked hard and nodded. "I've failed him."
Anthony sighed and picked up Alfred's glass, knocked it back, and handed the empty to DUM-E after taking the dirty cloth the robot was holding out towards them. "Thanks, Dummy. Take these to the sink. Don't drop them! You drop them and I'll turn you into the next punching robot for Steve." Anthony turned back to him. "Fuck that, Alfred."
"Language, Master Anthony."
Anthony rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Look." He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. "You only failed him when you burned that note from Rachel. Sometime in the second year of mopping I'd have shoved that under his nose." Anthony straightened up. "Given him a slap upside his head, the stubborn ass."
Alfred didn't admonish Anthony on his choice of words this time. "That would not have helped."
"Maybe." Anthony shrugged. "Gotham isn't good for Bruce-y. He was happier when I got him to spend the weekend in Malibu."
"He speaks fondly of that, yes."
Anthony beamed at him. "What I'm saying is, maybe if he's got to be the Bat, we should try to talk him into being an Avenger."
Alfred raised an eyebrow. "You have room on the Avengers' team for a wanted vigilante?"
"Depends on how long he stays a vigilante, doesn't it?"
Tony settled Alfred into a guest suite for the night and went to check on the stockmarket. Whatever that crazy motorcycle nutcase was doing, Tony bet it was going to be connected to Wayne Enterprises. He looked over the futures the news was saying Bruce had bet and lost on. "Fraud. It has to be. Hammer isn't even that stupid." He pulled up the winning sides of the futures. "Oh. Hey, JARVIS, when did we start messing with futures?"
"You ordered me to help ensure Wayne's assets were within five percent of your own as often as possible, sir."
"I did?" He didn't remember...Oh, oh, yeah. "I remember now." They'd been comparing bulters and talking complexities of sprawling companies that didn't want to change. Tony now wished he'd been on the side of change back then instead of having his head up his ass. "How much of it did you get?"
JARVIS put up the figures on the screen in front of him. Tony nodded. He'd gloat about this until Bruce gave him that really good bitchface expression Tony liked on him. Then, Tony frowned because he remembered that Bruce would have to talk to him for that to happen.
"Sir, there appears to be a problem in Gotham."
Tony's screen changed and he watched a scientist his Bruce had lamented the death of six months ago get killed all over again. "Shit. JARIVS, we're going to need satellites over top of Gotham, sooner the better."
"Ignoring privacy laws again are we, sir?"
Tony laughed just a little as he started mapping the size of the device and trying to figure how fast it'd degrade. Fuck, so many variables. "Get Bruce up here, JARVIS."
Tony patted Alfred on the arm. "I'm sure he'll be kicking ass."
"Language." Alfred sounded tired. He looked even more tired than he sounded. "Hopefully, Master Wayne will keep his head down."
"We both know that won't happen." Tony flicked the display up for the city and overlayed the population estimates from the satellites. "Those rolling tank-cars look familiar."
Alfred's eyes hovered on the count of the dead rising. "Prototypes."
Tony snapped his fingers. "Batmobile." He grinned at Alfred's glare. "Not enough black. It took me a moment."
Tony grinned at him. "You got admit it, Alfred. Bruce-y totally has a fetish for black."
"I have a what?" Bruce Banner eased into a seat across from Alfred and Tony.
Tony waved his hand. "Not you. Bruce Wayne." He pointed at the map. "That river they are executing people with, do you think SHIELD would let us pick them out of the water?"
"We can't get a quinjet in that close and you know it, Tony."
"I didn't say above the water line, did I?"
Alfred looked at Tony. "SHIELD doesn't have a submarine small enough to be useful."
Tony shrugged. "That's fixable. JARVIS, don't we have an underwater robot for this sort of thing? That one that doesn't break surface ice for Capsicle hunting."
"Capsicle?" Bruce frowned. "Tony, you can't be serious."
Tony pointed at the ice in the image. "Sure, the ice is solid enough to hide the movement of it. All you have to worry about is bubbles from air tanks and warming the rescued people back up." He looked at them. "Simple."
"Simple." Bruce shook his head. "I'm pretty sure Fury won't call it simple."
Tony beamed. "Even better." He pulled the image up to show the river and expanded the view of the bay it feed into. "I wonder if Batman has any underwater vehicles. Maybe he's busy saving the exiles."
"No." They both looked up at Alfred. He tilted his head in a half-shrug motion. "The Batman seems content with being above the ground."
Tony smiled. "Just like a bat. Crazy fucker."
"Language, Master Anthony." Alfred took a sip of his tea.
Bruce Banner smiled softly as he changed the overlay on the map to show the trucks and their tracks through the snow. "Master, huh?"
Anthony ducked his head a little. "Yeah, can't break Alfred of it. Couldn't on Jarvis either."
Bruce glanced up confused. "JARVIS doesn't..."
"No, Jarvis." Anthony rolled his stool over to his desk. "He was my butler before I built and programed JARVIS."
"You have the voice very close." Alfred defended his nearly empty cup from DUM-E. "Although, Edwin would be appalled at the level of sarcasm you've allowed."
Anthony grinned as he rolled back over with his tablet that showed the calculations on the nuclear bomb's possible decay. "Trust me, Jarvis could do sarcasm very well." Anthony handed the tablet off to Bruce. "I think he might be dead, Alfred."
It took Alfred a moment to figure out who Anthony meant since Edwin had been dead for years. "Ah, yes, well, Master Bruce isn't known for his ability to keep silent, is he?"
Anthony gave him a quelling look. "Alfred."
"Perhaps you are right." Alfred let DUM-E take his cup and then sighed when the robot fumbled its hold resulting in a broken cup scattered across the floor.
"How about you take a vacation, Alfred?" Anthony tapped the map display. "This certainly isn't going anywhere. You can go to that place you were always talking to Jarvis about. Florence, right?"
"Right, you retire there and don't let your old job talk you into a desk job. You'll hate a desk job." Anthony titled his head. "Do you still want that thingy you told to Jarvis when I was...eleven, I think?"
"What thing are you refering to, Master Anthony?"
Anthony titled his fingers at Alfred. "That thingy...fantasy...happy ending in a fairytale. Thingy."
"Ah." Alfred sat his hands on the edge of the table. He looked at his fingertips and avoided blinking for a minute to keep from crying. "It...changed some over the years."
DUM-E held out a cloth to him.
"Take the rag, Alfred. Dummy won't leave you alone if you don't."
Alfred took the cloth and rubbed the top of DUM-E's actuator. "I just wanted to see him happy."
"Go to Italy, Alfred." Anthony patted his shoulder. "I'll yell at him for you. It'll be fun."
Alfred stood. "Oh, yes, fun. While you are yelling, please remind him that he has people who care for him."
"Yeah. I'll mention that." Anthony's eyes went sad and Alfred made his way out of the workshop.