by M. Edison

Alternate Universe, prequel to Mistress Of The Manor

One last pass of the lacquered brush through her glossy black hair and then Lana set it down on the vanity's surface. She looked into the mirror and watched as her husband removed his suit coat and handed it to the butler.

Spying the look in her eyes, Alfred wisely whisked the suit from the room knowing it was time to be elsewhere. The impending conversation was one best kept between husband and wife.

Lana removed the diamond earrings she'd been wearing and dropped them into her jewelry case. "Are you sure?" She asked softly, "You have to do this?"

She didn't turn but Bruce met her troubled gaze in the mirror. "You know I have to."

"Do I?"

Abandoning his tension-induced battle with his tie, he crossed the master suite to stand behind her. "Yes, you do." He rested his hands on her slim shoulders and bent to kiss the crown of her head. "Deep down you do."

Glossy strands of her hair whispered through his hands as he lifted it away from her neck. "If I don't go . . . "

"You'll be here," Lana insisted, rising to her feet and turning to face him. "With me - safe."

Her imploring gaze met his, hypnotizing him, and he cupped her face in his hands, his forehead resting against hers. "I'm coming back."

"Are you?" She asked, trying to mask the tremor in her voice. "How can you be sure?" Her fingers stroked down his cheeks, brushing over the faint stubble at his jawline. "How can you be sure that some thug with a gun won't get lucky and take you away from me . . . "

Lana's voice grew ragged with emotion and she stopped speaking, trying to rein in her fear. "I know you have to do this . . . but honestly, Bruce . . . can you tell me why?"

He held her gaze for a long moment then dropped his mouth to hers, kissing her deeply, with as much passion as if it were the last time.

With an agonizing pang of her heart, Lana's grip on her husband tightened as she knew it very well could be the last time. "Please.' She begged as soon as they parted. "Don't."

In a low, husky voice she'd never heard him use before, Bruce replied, "I have to."

She'd lost track of how many times Alfred had heated the kettle, how many cups of tea he'd poured, how long it had taken to drink them. All she knew was it felt like an eternity had passed since Bruce - Batman - had left. She could still hear the sound of his voice, that voice, insisting he had to go.

And she still didn't understand why. It wasn't as if he could return his parents' lives to them by sheer force of will. She knew he was angry, she knew part of him raged at the helplessness he'd felt as a child, watching his parents die. That, at least, on some level she could comprehend. But, as for why he felt so compelled to spend years preparing for this night, to don a costume of his own design and rush out into the darkness to exact his own revenge on a world that had betrayed him . . . she couldn't understand why it had to be this way. She'd tried and failed.

A part of her, a very small part, wondered if somehow it wasn't her fault. After all, shouldn't her presence in his life, the sanctuary he'd told her she'd given him, been enough? Shouldn't that have eased the intense rage in her husband's heart? Could anything?

"He will be all right, Miss Lana." Setting yet another cup of tea, with a chocolate chip muffin this time, before her, Alfred sat down with his own and smiled gently at her. "He has prepared himself well. Nothing's been left unconsidered."

"One thing has." She responded bitterly.

"And what is that?" He asked in a supportive tone. He well understood the feelings she was battling. Many of them he'd been dealing with himself. They both blamed themselves, both believed they'd failed him. And both were frustrated that, perhaps, he hadn't wanted that help.

"What am I supposed to do?" Pushing herself to her feet, Lana nearly knocked the chair over in her vehemence, Alfred discreetly preventing such an occurrence, steadying it beneath the table with his foot. She ignored the action and rested her hands on the counter top as she stared out into the darkness. "Is there some handbook for the wives of vigilantes somewhere that I need to read?" She offered a self-mocking smile, turning to face him. "Knit socks for cold nights out on the town, iron his capes, maybe organize his `tools'? Any suggestions, Alfred?"

The silver-haired butler's smile was gentle and his voice was without rebuke. "Only what you're already doing . . . Pray."

Her face crumpled and she lowered her gaze, letting her dark hair swing forward to hide her tears. "How can he do this? Go out there . . . " And leave me here.

Rising from the table, Alfred took her into his arms and let her cry. "It has always been something he's had to do, my dear, you and I have always known it would happen. Better we support him in the endeavor than . . . "

"Hinder him and get him killed because of his own indecision." She muttered, her voice muffled by the butler's perfectly starched shirt. "I know . . . I . . . "

"Hate it." He finished. "As do I. We may have seen it coming, we may choose to support him, but that does not mean we have to like it."

"I'd feel better, I think," Lana continued, looking up at him. "If he wasn't out there alone."

"That, Miss Lana, is what our prayers are for." Alfred smiled again, holding up his handkerchief for her. "Perhaps, they will be heard and Master Bruce will be protected from any harm that could befall him."

"God, I hope so." She sniffled, a part of her noting her disarray with horror. The wife of Bruce Wayne, crying in the butler's arms, and looking an utter fright? Whatever would the gossip columnists think? "If I lose him, I think I lose myself."

"True love they say," Alfred noted with a sigh, "is suicide."

"A comforting thought." She returned dryly, looking down at the formerly clean handkerchief. "I can't lose him, Alfred . . . I can't. He's the best thing that's happened to me in a long time . . . maybe ever."

"And I can assure you, Miss Lana, you are most certainly the best thing that has ever happened to him." The butler responded fervently.

She smiled tearfully and patted his shoulder. "No, I'm not, Alfred. You are."

"He will come back." He vowed. "He can do nothing else. Leaving you is most certainly not an option for him."

"It might not be . . . " Lana countered sadly. "But he may have no choice in the matter."

It was very nearly dawn when Alfred finally convinced Lana to go to bed and even then he thought he would have to forcibly carry her up the stairs. In the end, she conceded she was exhausted and made him promise that when Bruce did come back, he would wake her immediately. He fully intended on doing otherwise as he suspected her husband would want time to compose himself, to shed the persona of the night, before seeing her. She was not yet even remotely comfortable with the idea of this new aspect to Bruce Wayne and they would not force her to become so overnight. Alfred didn't see how he could at any rate, since he was not comfortable with it himself.

He missed the young boy that had been. The child who had worshipped his parents, and in turn had been adored by them, and laughed with delight at every little thing they had taken care to show him. A little boy with dark, smiling features, already so much like the father that had sired him, strong, loving and happy.

The little boy that had died in a side street now known as `Crime Alley' and the man that had replaced him . . . well, sometimes he allowed faint traces of that little boy to shine through, particularly around the woman he'd married, but only rarely. As if, what did remain of that innocent child couldn't bear to face a reality without his beloved parents and, thus, remained locked away in what little sanctuary he could find.

It was those thoughts that haunted Alfred when his charge returned to the cave beneath the manor, his tall frame heavy with exhaustion but flush with triumph. His first night out - as Batman - had apparently been a success.

Stiffly, the butler stepped forward to take the cape and cowl as it was removed. "Your night, sir?" He asked formally. His gaze surreptitiously searching for any sign of injury and, blessedly, finding none.

Running a hand through sweat-dampened hair, Bruce offered a small, tight smile. "Satisfactory." He looked around. "Is she . . . "

"I finally, and with great difficulty may add, convinced Miss Lana she required rest. She is asleep in the master suite." Alfred looked sternly at him. "I would suggest, Master Bruce, the next time you wish to take another...outing such as check in. It is quite trying on her, not knowing where you are."

His charge nodded grudgingly. "A two way commlink might be an idea." He agreed. "I may need you to check information for me from time to time."


Feeling much like he was a young boy again, being chastened for some misdeed, Bruce looked at his feet then at Alfred's stern features. "To keep in touch."

"Good, I'll start work on it straightaway." The butler decided, carrying his armload back into an antechamber. "Perhaps we can find a way to build it into the suit."

Bruce followed, considering the idea. "Better than having to carry something around with me."

"Voice activated perhaps?" Alfred considered, putting the cape and cowl away and turning to help with the remainder of the `uniform'.

"An idea..." The younger man agreed. "Alfred...How was she...really?"

"Terrified." His guardian responded curtly. "Worried about you...We both were...."

"I have to do this..."

"We know that." Alfred murmured. "But that may not mean we understand it."

Changed into his regular clothing, Bruce made his way upstairs and through the halls of Wayne Manor until he came to the master suite he shared with his bride. Quietly, he eased the door open to see her lying on his side of the bed, wearing one of his shirts, and clutching his pillow as if her life depended on it.

Regret lanced through him at the situation Lana had taken on. She may have argued against his plans but she had stayed when he wouldn't have blamed her for leaving. Silently, he moved into the room, drawn to her side like the stereotypical moth to a flame, and eased down beside her on the bed.

She stirred slightly, a moan of protest passing her lips, but he leaned over, kissing her temple, and guiding her back into sleep with whispered words of comfort. She did so, sighing his name in relief, and he smiled faintly.

With the utmost care, he lay down with her, resting his cheek on her midsection, his arm wrapping itself about her slim form.

The dark presence that had dominated his night abated and, like it always was with her, Bruce rested as his demons gave him peace.

When they woke, they'd deal with the previous night, and with the fact there would be many more nights exactly like it, but, for now, there was only each other and the soft light of morning.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to M. Edison

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