"Oh, there you are, Master Bruce," Alfred sighs in relief, standing in the doorway of the small study, "I should have known you'd hunker down somewhere and do your homework, you-"
Alfred frowns as he catches sight of the paperwork Bruce had in front of him and his words catch in his throat. Arkham Asylum documents. Where did he even find such things? He thought Thomas had kept all of those locked away, not even he knew where the key was.
"What's all this about, now?" He asks warily.
Alfred sets down the tray of afternoon snacks and a juice box on the coffee table and peers over Bruce's shoulder.
"Homework, like you said," Bruce grumbles.
Alfred tenses. Something was wrong, very wrong, and it was unlikely Bruce would ever tell him unless he performed some innocent prying. Luckily, Alfred didn't think he'd have to use his British Intelligence interrogation skills on him just yet.
"It was your first day back at school today. You looked very handsome in that new boy's uniform of yours," Alfred says, taking a seat beside Bruce and folding his hands in his lap.
"It was okay, I guess," Bruce replies dejectedly.
Oh dear, something really was wrong. Bruce had been absolutely ecstatic about the uniform this morning, even if Alfred did have to tie his tie for him.
"You were happy when you walked in to school. Did something happen while you were there?"
Bruce slowly places the file he had his head buried in down on to the table. He turns his head toward Alfred, but doesn't have the courage to look him in the eye. Alfred reaches a gentle hand up to push the hood of Bruce's hoodie away from his face and when he does so he's met with a small, purple bruise just below the boy's eye.
"It's fine, Al," Bruce murmurs before the butler can react.
"It's not fine, Master Bruce, this is not fine at all."
Bruce squeezes his eyes shut, "You sound angry, don't be angry with me. It was just some kid at school."
The teachers and staff at his school respected Bruce's new name and pronouns; they didn't dare speak a word out of line, not when Bruce had enough money to sue them for it. But some of the older boys, whose parents had just about as much money as Bruce and who were on the more conservative spectrum, were not so afraid to pick on him.
"I'm not angry, Master B. Just tell me what happened," Alfred soothes.
"He was a lot taller than me. He said- he said, 'did you hear? The Wayne kid went nuts. Thinks she's a boy after her parents died.'" Bruce shrugs to keep any tears away, "Then he said they put crazies like me in Arkham and I had to know, Alfred. I had to know if he was right. And-and look!"
Bruce points to a list of cases and a chill runs down Alfred's spine - they were all conversion cases.
Alfred smiles sadly at the young boy, "That was so long ago, Bruce, when the Wayne's had little influence in Arkham. Before your father and mother began to make a real impact there. It's not like that now."
Bruce frowns, a determined glint in his eyes and a pout on his face. "Still. I want to go there. To see what it's really like first hand."
Alfred stares blankly at him. It wasn't much of a shock that Bruce had matured so quickly - he had just wished for Bruce's own sake that he hadn't.
"There are people that look after that sort of thing. Adults. Trained professionals, who-"
"Alfred," Bruce almost snaps at him.
There was a superiority in the way Bruce said his name that Alfred didn't like. He got that way about him sometimes when he was upset - treated Alfred like staff. It was a kind of dehumanization that didn't sit right with Alfred.
Still, he holds his tongue for the moment, "I'll... get some ice for the cheek, then, shall I?"
"Yes, please," Bruce says, and waves a dismissive hand at him.
Alfred tenses, "I will get the ice, yes, but if you ever speak to me in that manner again, Master Bruce, you shan't be seeing Arkham any time soon."
Bruce's shoulders slump, "...Sorry."
Alfred hides his smile of pride and gently ruffles Bruce's newly short hair, "We'll sort this out."