The first time Alfred hears from Bruce after Italy is in October. He’s at Wayne Manor helping John Blake decorate the orphanage for Halloween when his cell phone goes off. He doesn’t think much of an undisclosed number when he sees it- when Lucius calls him from the lab, it’s always an undisclosed number.
“Master Wayne?” Alfred lowers his voice at first but then decides not to bother. There’s no doubt in his mind that John had long figured out that Bruce Wayne was still alive.
“Alfred- how are you?”
“Good- we’re decorating for Halloween at the moment.”
“Will there be bats? You could also just leave all of the furniture covered.” There’s something mirthful in his tone that Alfred hasn’t heard in a very long time.
“Of course there’ll be bats, sir. And if I might add, you weren’t ever very good at planning parties.”
“No I wasn’t Alfred.”
“And how are you Master Wayne?”
“Good. I’m good.” Bruce says genuinely meaning it and sounding surprised at himself. “Selina and I are both doing well.”
“Send my best to Ms. Kyle- shall I be expecting a visit from you two soon?”
“Actually, I was hoping you could pay us a visit…and I was wondering if you knew anything about diapers.”
Alfred hasn’t taken care of children since Bruce and he forgets how exhausting it can be. He’s too old now to play tag with Helena, so he leaves that to Bruce, Selina, and the dog- a shiny, energetic golden retriever.
Hide and go seek is also mostly for the parents, but Bruce and Selina get distracted sometimes. Especially when Bruce sneaks up on Selina- there’s always a lot of laughter, silence, and then closed doors. At which point, Alfred will collect Helena, and he’ll teach her the way to have a proper tea party.
Helena has a very active imagination, which doesn’t surprise Alfred at all. After all, Bruce always had a penchant for stories about dark things- monsters and ghosts. For a long time when Bruce was growing up, Alfred always thought that Bruce would become a mystery writer- maybe he still will. He has the time now.
Helena likes her dark things too but she also likes her fantasy stories. Alfred becomes her favorite bedtime story reader. He thinks it’s because he’ll actually do all of the voices properly. Bruce tries sometimes, but all he can do well really is a gruff, low raspy voice. And that’s only good for seasoned peg-legged pirates and monsters. Selina’s actually really good at voices- but she’s too good, because Helena almost always gets scared and has nightmares after her mom reads her stories. Even innocuous monster stories like Where the Wild Things Are.
It surprises Alfred a little when Helena comes home often with scraps and bruises. He had hoped he’d teach her to be a bit calmer than Bruce had been. After all, he never taught Bruce how to hold proper afternoon teas. But she’s her parents’ daughter, and he can see that clearly.
What surprises Alfred is the picture Helena brings home one day after school. It’s in crayon- there’s a rough sketch of their house in red marker for the brick. Out front there’s a gold colored dog, a little girl, a tall dark haired man, a thin dark haired woman, and a white haired man.
“What’s this Helena?”
“Family picture. Look there’s you, daddy, mommy, Buddy, and me. Do you like it?”
“Helena dear, can I put this on the fridge?” Alfred turns around and spends some time moving the fridge magnets around so that Helena won’t see. He must be getting old, because he’s not really the sentimental type at all.
“That girl does what?” Alfred has not seen Selina so furious since Helena’s third grade teacher told her she was having Helena read books that she was not mature enough for.
“Betty Hofstadt’s the school bully. She steals her lunch money and pushes the kids around. We had a conference yesterday with the parents.” Bruce says as he puts a Band-Aid on Helena’s knee.
“But if you had the conference yesterday, why is she coming home today hungry with bruises!”
“Selina, whatever it is you are planning on doing, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Alfred-“
“Best not to upset the Mistress, Master Wayne.” Alfred says politely trying to stay out of this. “Ms. Kyle, where do you want me to take you?”
Alfred is surprised when instead of driving to the Hofstadt residence, Selina has him drive her to the neighborhood playground. She’s already stepping out of the car and walking briskly to the playground when Alfred stops the engine. It’s easy to tell who Betty is because she’s the only kid on the playground sitting on the swing having two kids take turns pushing her.
“I need to talk to you.”
Alfred’s not really sure what Selina says to Betty but afterwards, Betty looks remorseful. She tells the two kids who had been pushing her on the swings to get on, and she pushes them, gently. Helena never comes home from school hungry or with bruises again.
These days, Alfred mostly sits around. He needs a cane to walk. He’ll probably need a walker soon. It’s good that Helena is now in high school and doesn’t really need someone to play tag with. Helena gets into arguments frequently with Selina and even with Bruce sometimes, but since Alfred isn’t technically one of her parents, she and Alfred still get along quite well.
Alfred teaches Helena how play chess when she’s in middle school and she’s a natural. When Alfred goes back to visit Gotham form time to time, Lucius tells him he’s greatly improved. Today when Helena finally beats Alfred at a particularly challenging game, Helena doesn’t woot or cheer as much as she usually does.
“Everything all right Helena?”
“Yea. Things are good.” She says but Alfred can tell she’s not telling the full truth. It’s in the middle of a second round that Helena is finally ready to talk.
“Alfred, can you keep a secret? Don’t- you can’t tell my parents okay?”
“Okay, but if you’re in trouble or anything, I would encourage you to tell them. Believe it or not they were once your age too.”
“I don’t know about your mother, but your father certainly had his moments at your age too.”
Alfred thinks it’ll probably be about a boy or maybe even a girl.
“Alfred, I found some of my mom’s old stuff in the attic… she used to be a thief or something right?”
“Yes, but also a hero in the end.”
“Well, I’ve been playing around with some of the stuff, figuring out how to use it. Making some things on my own too…”
Alfred is a bit worried of course, but he surprises himself by giving her advice on how best to train. He never thought he’d miss Batman and staying up nights worrying, and maybe it’s just the nostalgia.
Helena has probably given Bruce a few dozen gray and white hairs by now. “Can you please talk to her Alfred? Tell her to stop?”
“Wouldn’t that be hypocritical sir? If I recall correctly, you disappeared for seven years when you were her age to infiltrate the criminal underworld.”
“She’s nineteen Alfred!”
“And you were twenty-two. Helena has both of you to help her. Ms. Kyle’s been-“
“Starting to train her. I know.” Bruce sighs and Alfred sees that he’s slowly giving in. “You two agree a lot more than I thought you would.”
“You’re happier than you thought you would be.”
“I-“ Alfred thinks Bruce is going to make a snarky retort about how he likes to say “I told you so,” but instead he looks serious. “Thank you.” Bruce says instead. Alfred nods and the two sit in silence listening to Selina and Helena sparring downstairs.