Needless to say, after the Waynes' death, both son and butler had honored their wishes, keeping the kitchen just as it had always been, with the small table ringed with chairs, and its adjacent pantry. The pantry itself was even a testament to Wayne family history, one wall of shelving removable to reveal a passage that ran along the main foundation walls of the Manor - a standby from the days of the Underground Railroad. Nowadays, however, the corridor branched off just behind the study, a few rooms down, and led to the Batcave. It was from this passage that Bruce Wayne emerged, knocking a box from the shelving with his shoulder as he squeezed his way through the entrance.
"Mind the rigatoni, then, Master Bruce," Alfred piped up from his place at the counter, nonplussed.
The billionaire vigilante gave a sheepish smile as he bent to pick the package up from the floor and set it back in place. "Sorry, Alfred."
"Uh, no thanks. I was thinking of going out."
"... Master Bruce." Alfred set down the box of Earl Grey and turned, raising his eyebrows almost imperceptibly over his full-moon spectacles. "I do hope you're not still bothered by the lack of solid information on that poor botanist."
"Dr. Jason Woodrue," Bruce said absently, settling into a chair. "No, Alfred. It's not that. It's Alexander Knox."
"And Mr. Shreck." The butler nodded slowly. "I did happen to read that article in the Gotham Globe. He is, indeed, one of the city's more truthful reporters. ... And well-financed, may I add." He directed a small, wry smile at his charge, remembering well the time when the reporter had, jokingly, asked for a grant, and Bruce had complied without a second thought.
Normally, the jest would have at least earned him a smile, but Bruce's brow remained furrowed, his hands folded on the smooth tabletop. Alfred mused, briefly - and not for the first time - that between Master Bruce and his father, there was most likely a permanent hand-rest worn into the wood of the table. "... Pardon me, Master Bruce, but surely you aren't letting the thought of someone as odious and thoroughly managable as Max Shreck worry you this much?"
"Huh?" Bruce blinked, still frowning. "Oh. Oh, no. No." He shook his head, licked his lips briefly, his voice distant. "No, Max I can deal with. If it comes to it."
A frown of Alfred's own burrowed into the lines on his face as he slid out a chair and seated himself cat-corner from Bruce. He said not a word, simply watched quietly, his eyes inquisitive but gentle, patient.
Bruce sighed, pushing his glasses up to pinch at the bridge of his nose. "It's Selina," he said at length. "She and Max, well. She's got some grudge against him. A really, really bad one. I don't know how old it is, or why it happened. I don't want to talk to her about it in case..."
"Say no more," Alfred nodded, his shoulders rising and falling slightly in a silent sigh. He knew all too well that Selina and Bruce shared the curse of a double life - he'd seen her come in late, nights, in that strange vinyl patchwork, a mask tucked in the crook of her arm, found thick, white cotton threads scattered in the carpet. Also, though he was not certain, he had quite a rather sound hunch that she was not quite as stable as Master Bruce - even though that in itself was questionable.
"Thing is, Alfred," Bruce continued, "she's gonna find out. She's gonna know he's alive. And she's gonna think I knew all along."
"Didn't you, sir?" He asked, carefully.
"Only when you told me. I didn't see him ... Didn't talk to him. Dick did. And he hasn't told me any details. I figure, if it was important, he would have."
"Then what have you to fear?"
"I dunno," Bruce groaned, scrubbing a hand over his face and dislodging his glasses from one ear in the progress. "She's just ...." He raised his eyes, and Alfred almost found himself as much as startled by the innocence there, the surprise. The concern. That in itself said something. "She's really ... god. She's fragile, Alfred. Seeing Max ... in a newspaper or otherwise ..." He averted his eyes, staring off into space for a brief moment - remembering? Alfred couldn't be sure - before heaving a sigh.
The butler placed a hand on his shoulder, carefully. "Master Bruce?"
"It could break her. I ... I can't let that happen."
Well, doesn't that just cut the cake, Alfred thought. "You do love her."
"... Yeah, Alfred. Yeah, I do. And I want to help her."
He considered for a moment, then got smoothly to his feet, crossing over to the counter. Picking up the portable phone, he placed it on the table before his charge, then tapped the speed-dial list on the back of the reciever calmly.
"I believe, sir," he suggested, "that this conversation is no longer in my realm."
".... Leslie," Bruce realized. "That ... that's a good idea, Alfred. I think I could stand to talk to her."
"The thought also crossed my mind," Alfred glossed, hiding a small smile as he turned back to his tea. If there were any person in Gotham City who had enough problems to be a psychologist's dream patient, it was Bruce Wayne. But if there were any psychologist who Bruce Wayne would not only see willingly, but look forward to seeing, it was Leslie Thompkins.
And that, Alfred decided, setting the teapot on to boil, said the most of all.