Chapter 1: Alfred Arrives
Alfred leaves Gotham for a visit at Stark's tower.
I rearranged the story and added more. The original bit is the second chapter now, with an added part at the end.
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.
Chapter 2: Tony Waits
Tony hates waiting, but they won't let him just go kill the terrorists. Nuclear bomb and all. Which is too bad, really.
Tony hadn’t been this mad since he’d been fighting with Congress over his armor. “Are you sure there’s no way to figure out which truck has the damn thing in it?”
“Pretty sure.” Bruce Banner flicked another map overlay out across the volumetric display of the Gotham. “The trucks are so heavily shielded Thor says even Heimdall can’t tell you what they are carrying.”
“Weight? It’s a heavy fucking device.” Tony flopped down in a chair, waving his hand. “Right, right. I know.” He rubbed his forehead. “We don’t have a lot of time left.”
“Depends on the amount of material in the core.” Bruce sat down next to Tony. “I know you are worried about him.”
Tony grimaced. “He’s dead.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. He wouldn’t have sat on his ass for so long if he weren’t.”
Bruce touched Tony’s shoulder. “There’s a triggerman, Tony. He knows that too.”
With a nod, Tony stood up. “I’m going to go to get some coffee.”
Bruce watched Tony leave and sighed.
“He’s probably right.”
Bruce glanced over at Natasha against the far wall. “He isn’t. Bruce Wayne is a smart man. He’s alive in there somewhere waiting for a chance.”
Natasha sat in the chair Tony vacated. “He’s just a sickly, former billionaire.”
“You don’t think that.” Bruce flicked the satellite's’ view of the various routes the trucks were using up onto the display. “He’s important to Tony.”
“How they managed to not kill each other still amuses me.”
Bruce nodded at that. “There is that, yes.” He frowned. “Ohhh. What about how often they fuel the trucks? The heavy one would have to refuel slightly more often.”
Natasha leaned forward as JARVIS applied statistics gleaned from the constant overview of the city. “We can’t just shot it, can we?”
“No, but it means we know which truck to target. Block the remote signal and it can’t be triggered before we can move it.”
“How much longer before it blows up?”
Bruce rubbed the back of his neck. “Another week, maybe. It really depends on the amount of material in the core and we don’t know exactly what they did to modify the core when they made it nuclear.”
Tony paced. He banged on the spare suit with his wrench each time he passed it. If only the stubborn bastard hadn’t shut him out of his life. “Damn it. I really wish he’d at least let me help him with the suit. Something. He’s knee is fucking shot, I know it.” He’d seen Bruce come out of hiding on the news and it had made his chest ache.
He’d known something had gone sideways. Very, badly. “He probably forgot my damn phone number.” He frowned. “JARVIS, my number hasn’t changed since Bruce-y got it, right?”
“Indeed not, sir.”
“Damn it.” Tony took a sip of coffee and stared at the map of Gotham on his side project table. He circled it. “We’re sure the amount of supplies going in are going to keep them going?”
“At the projected rates they can last at the current level for several months, sir.”
“You’re pussyfooting me again, JARVIS. Stop it.” Tony flicked the map to show him Wayne Tower. “Still no sign of him?”
Tony frowned at the room in general. He hated when JARVIS got to the point of babying him. That the AI thought it was bad enough he needed to be handled with kid gloves was maddening.
Agent Coulson let himself into the lab and Tony didn’t even care enough to say anything.
“The Special Forces soldiers sent in have been killed.”
Tony glanced up at that. “This mean they are going to green light us?”
Coulson had his pissed at everyone in command face on. “No. The Avengers are benched until the nuclear bomb can be located and dealt with.”
“We don’t have a lot of time left.”
Coulson stepped up to the layout. “The time limit is considered theoretical.”
Tony rolled his eyes. He didn’t protest because he knew that Coulson knew it was real and was just as pissed about the grounding as everyone else. “How’s the chest healing?”
“Well.” Coulson looked at him. “Stark, are you feeling okay?”
“What? I can’t inquire as to the health of my favorite agent?” Tony tapped the map to give him the layout of the known criminals JARIVS was helpfully tracking as best he could.
“You usually don’t...”
“Excuse me, sir. You have an incoming call.”
“I thought I told you to hold everything.”
“You did, sir, but you should take this call.”
Tony huffed. “Fine. I’m going to reprogram you into a freezer, I swear...”
“Jesus! Fuck, where are you?” Tony stood up and stared down at the city, but the city started shrinking until the globe came up and started turning.
“I’m...ah, not in...Gotham.”
Tony’s eyebrows shot up as the globe started to zoom in on the Far East. “You are fucking across the world. You couldn’t call? Maybe help...Wait, wait, wait. What happened? How injured are you?”
”Well, I can walk again, so...better?”
“Goddamn it. I’m going to have people to you in...” He glanced at Coulson who was hurriedly talking into his cell phone. Coulson held up five fingers. “Five minutes.” Tony poked Coulson. “Who is it?”
Coulson covered his phone. “Hawkeye is in the area.”
Tony nodded. “It’ll be a white guy with a fetish for bows and arrows. You good to fly?”
“Faster the better.”
Tony sat down heavily. “You know about what’s happening in Gotham?”
”Yes. We don’t have much time.”
“Yeah.” Tony rubbed the side of his face. “You...I, ah...didn’t say anything, but I wanted you to know when Alfred left you I made sure...He is safe. He...came here.”
”That’s good. Keep him safe. Don’t let him know you talked to me, Tony. I’ve got to go back into Gotham and I’m...well...”
“Yeah. I’m not telling him that.” Tony could hear a helicopter’s rotors over the line. “You be careful.”
Hawkeye’s voice came over the line above the roar of the helicopter and Bruce disconnected.
Tony hugged the shit of the man as soon as he stepped down from the quintjet. “You fucker.”
Bruce smiled and patted him gently. “Thanks, I think.”
“I haven’t said anything, but really, you should have some backup.” Tony let him step back. Bruce looked vaguely confused at him. Tony nodded to Clint as the man passed him, nodding in return.
“No.” Bruce smiled slightly as Tony turned and supported him down the roof access stairs. “I can get back in on my own, but too many and the bomb will be set off.”
Tony nodded. “Thought you’d say that. You are getting healed up some before you go in.”
“I don’t have that kind of time.”
“And you forget I know lots of people.” Tony lead him to Coulson. “This is Agent Coulson.” Tony clapped Coulson on the shoulder. “He’s the nutcase that went up against Loki all by himself. Kicked his puny-god ass through a wall.” Tony pulled Bruce forward. “This is Bruce Wayne. His knee needs looked at.”
Coulson looked Bruce up and down. “More than the knee. Elbows. Your shoulder?”
Bruce blinked and nodded. “I’ve got scarring in some inconvenient places.”
“Road rash?” Clint flopped onto a nearby couch. “Your back looked like mine does.”
Bruce was all but shoved down next to Clint by Tony. “Climbing accident.” He looked at Tony. “I need to get back in there.”
“You need to fucking sleep.” Tony wrinkled his nose. “Yes, yes, I know. Nuclear bomb will blow up anytime now. You can sleep when you’re dead.” He pointed at Bruce. “You damn well had better not die.”
Coulson jabbed a needle into Bruce’s knee. With a yelp, Bruce glared at Coulson and then at Tony.
Coulson straightened up. “That should hold the knee for four days. You’ll need it looked at after.”
Clint pointed at him. “Assuming you are still alive.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Bruce and I figure approximately 150,000 people can get out in twelve hours if you can get at least six lanes open somewhere. Assuming an average of five people per car.”
“Low estimate.” Bruce closed his eyes. “Another Bruce?”
“Yeah, I know.” Tony stood up. “Dr. Bruce Banner.” Tony grinned. “He’s the Hulk.”
“Ah.” Bruce nodded with his eyes closed. “The glass covered dent in the floor is his doing?”
“Well, if you hadn’t stopped talking to me, I’d have told you all about it.”
“I stopped talking to everyone just before you were stuck in Afghanistan.” Bruce cracked an eye open. "You know that."
“That’s because you needed a break.” Tony gripped Bruce’s shoulder gently. “I get it." He leaned down to look Bruce in the face upside down. "You will eat something before you go or Steve will cry."
Bruce blinked. "Steve?"
Tony grinned. "You haven't been paying attention at all, have you?" He tapped the end of Bruce's nose with a fingertip. "Live and I'll let you watch the video."
"Okay." Bruce accepted a plate of food from Coulson. "I'll see what I can do."
Tony stared at the body as they pulled it in from the sea. The quintjet was hovering easy and Tony's readings agreed with the quintjet's on the radiation levels. The black cape was wrapped around the body's legs as they hoisted it into the cargo hold. "He breathing?"
JARVIS helpfully popped up vitals. "He appears to be only unconscious, sir."
"Oh, thank fuck." Tony landed next to them and the quintjet buttoned up before flying straight up. The interference from the blast should have covered them from any radar. "If he dies, I'm going to kill him." Tony flicked up the face plate before JARVIS could argue about the impossibility of that statement. "How bad is it?"
Steve grimaced as they found a wound on his side. "He's been hit."
Natasha stripped back layers of black armor and under armor. "He's been stabbed."
Tony glanced forward to see Coulson and Clint each talking to the helicarrier. "How bad is it?"
Natasha tilted her head. "He'll live." She looked up at Tony as soon as they eased off the cowl. "You knew?"
Tony shrugged, the armor's noise a small comfort. "He returns to Gotham, Batman makes his first appearance. He becomes a recluse and Batman disappears. It was too convenient, thanks."
Natasha smiled up at him. "He told you."
Tony sat down on the bench next to Batman's head. "He didn't. I figured it out at a charity event. Four months before I went to Afghanistan and ended up Iron Man. We had, what...three? I think three conversations about it. I was trying to convince him he needed better armor."
Coulson appeared at Tony’s side. “Batman is dead now. He doesn’t need the armor.”
They all looked at the pieces of armor on the cargo hold floor.
Bruce opened his eyes and quickly closed them again. “Tony?”
“Why is your chest glowing?”
“You seriously need to catch up.”
Bruce sighed. “Okay.”
“Okay? Really?” Tony bounced a little on the bed and Bruce winced. “Not even sorry. You shouldn’t have let yourself get stabbed. The city is still standing. Your police commissioner looks even more haggard. You ought to let him know you lived. Alfred is grieving. I trust once you can get off your back, which is healed very well according to the doctors, you will let him know too.”
“Yeah.” Bruce smiled and reached for Tony. “Thank you.”
Tony put Bruce’s hand back on the blanket. “And that’d be the good drugs talking.”
Bruce listened to him stand and walk away from the bed. When he could feel his fingers he’d catch Tony and make him sit still long enough to explain everything Bruce had missed, well, ignored. He’d ignored the world and he wasn’t going to do that this time. Not again.
Alfred sat down on a park bench after seeing Bruce with the young thief in the cafe. He smiled to himself as he pulled out a paper to pretend to read.
Alfred folded his paper down and looked up at Anthony standing there, ruining the line of his suit by having his hands in his pockets. "Take your hands out of your pockets, Master Anthony. Please adhere to some form of decorum."
Anthony smiled wide and sat down next to him. "Good to see you to, Alfred." He leaned back and sprawled his arms across the back of the bench. "Want to work for me? I have an opening that could use an ex-Royal Secret Service guy."
"I am retired."
"This isn't butler...ing. This is more...protection with a side of being a grandfather." Anthony folded his arms. "Bruce-y wanted to give you that little scene as soon as he could, but he's really not healed up all the way. Which means I haven't sprong any news on him." Anthony turned his head and looked Alfred in the eye. "You really, really want to come work for me."
Alfred frowned at him.
"Please." Tony shot up off the bench. "You'll love it. There's the three SHIELD agents, one with a thing for arrows, and Bruce, you met him...Steve, who still isn't over the idea that JARVIS can understand normal speach. Thor, who thinks breaking crockery is a sign of how good the food is, several kids, and a pack of baby chicken chicks."
Tony tugged on Alfred's paper. "That's what you focus on. I tell you about all these nice people who have moved into my tower and you notice that I used 'pack' for a flock?"
"I live to annoy you, Master Anthony."
Anthony threw his head back and laughed. "You'll fit right in, Alfred." He waited for Alfred to stand and then wrapped an arm around Alfred's shoulders. "We're going to have to figure out something else to call Bruce-y by. Two Bruces will annoy everyone and Bruce Wayne is dead after all."