At four o'clock in the morning, in the kitchen lit by soft lights, Alfred stands as tall and as ageless as ever, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, his back turned at him; the room is filled with the aroma of lemon and freshly made tea, and the only audible noises are the running water from the sink and the occasional swoosh of the sponge on the ceramics of the dishes.
It’s an old, familiar scene, drawn directly from his childhood and never changed over the years. One of Bruce’s rare and precious idyll.
He will finish his tea a few moments before Alfred finishes washing the dishes - Bruce’s numerous offers to buy a dishwasher have always been rejected on the pretext that the bloody machine would just ruin the fine porcelain. And his subsequent offers to buy cheaper dinnerware have always been greeted with nothing but a glare. So Bruce has come to believe that Alfred simply likes to wash dishes - and then they’ll say goodnight, and Bruce will go to bed, and for once the sleep will come easily, and the bruises won’t hurt too much, and there’ll be no shadow looming from the corner of his mind.
Tonight is going to be a quiet night.
The soft crackling of his mother’s rocking chair is what attracts him into his parents’ bedroom. That sound too comes from a distant past, from other quiet nights forever treasured into his memories.
There had been nights, before, when that sound had been nothing more than a figment of his imagination and his nostalgia, and even while being well aware of it, Bruce would open the door with the impossible hope of a miracle that would never happen. That could never happen.
Not tonight, though. Tonight he opens the door with caution, but without hesitation, already knowing what he’s going to find. Who is going to find.
Light bursts from the hallway into the room, showing him the sleeping form of a child half-hidden under a heavy blanket. The rocking chair sways gently under him, and the dog, at his feet, fills the silent spaces between the creaks with its quiet snoring.
Once upon a time, Bruce had been that boy, asleep in a chair so much bigger than him, waiting for his parents’ return from a night spent, out of duty, elsewhere. He wonders how many times his father had opened that very door after a long, exhausting night, and smiled the same way Bruce’s smiling now, looking down at his own son. He wonders how many times his mother had brushed his hair with a hand so very gentle, just like Bruce’s doing with Damian right now.
His chest hurt, but it’s not a bad hurt.
It takes him some maneuvering, but Damian doesn’t wake up when Bruce picks him up in his arms. Titus does, but the dog only yawns and follows them as Bruce moves towards the large bed in the middle of the room.
He doesn’t remember the last time he slept here, in his parents’ bed. It probably was the night after their death, he realizes, as he lowers Damian down on the fresh sheets that Alfred still changes every day. It had never felt right, to sleep here alone. It would be too sad, too painful. It would be mourning. But Damian is a warm weight in his arms, real and alive. With Damian here, it’s just legacy. Tradition. Family.
He kisses his son’s forehead and Damian burrows a little closer to him. His breathing has changed, and by now he’s definitely awake, but he doesn’t say anything. Tonight he doesn’t protest his father’s affection. Doesn’t question it either.
Bruce closes his eyes.
Yes, it’s going to be a quiet night.