Disclaimer: DC rules this universe, I'm just borrowing it.
Title: Of Paint and Pizza's
Summary: Alfred and a memory…
Warning: Dark, depressing and disturbing.
Notes: This has been loafing around, half finished, on my hard drive for, well, years. But I was in a black mood, for no reason at all, and this suited it…and it got an end.
Of Paint and Pizza's
The feather duster flicked over the pristine furniture with practised ease. Alfred watched with satisfaction as the already gleaming bureau was enhanced even further. This was one of the smaller rooms in the house, unused and unoccupied for many years, but the butler still strove to keep them clean and welcoming.
He glanced around as he worked. Despite all his efforts, these empty rooms felt especially…hollow.
His duster struck something solid. A rustle broke the eerie silence of the room, followed by a light flutter/thump at his feet.
Alfred looked down. A crumpled paper lay beside his immaculately polished shoes. Startled, he bent and retrieved it, his breath stopping as he realised what it was.
It was old now. The paper curling at the edges and the globs of child's paint had begun flaking away. His finger's tightened on the paper. It was the first, and only, picture Master Richard had made.
Alfred's stomach lurched as he stared at it, much as it had the first time he'd seen this terrible, terrible depiction. He closed his eyes, trying to rid himself of the image in front of him, but succeeded only in bringing the memories into sharper focus…
The telephone in the study rang about midday. Alfred put down the stationary he was sorting and went to answer it.
"Wayne residence." He said.
"Hi, this is Anne Matthews, the secretary of Bristol Middle…" A woman's voice began and Alfred sighed inwardly. The young master had been "testing his adolescent boundary's" of late and both he and Bruce were concerned. But the woman went on to inform him that Dick was ill and needed collecting.
Alfred assured her that someone would be along shortly and hung up. He hoped briefly that Master Bruce could be encouraged to go and show the lad some support. The boy's behaviour of late was indicative of how sorely it was needed.
But in the end, as he'd known he would, Alfred took the car to the school.
Dick was curled up on a chair in reception when Alfred arrived. His jacket was laying over him and two bright spots of fever burned on his cheeks. How on earth had he missed that at breakfast?
"Hi, Alfie." The boy said, sitting up.
"Come on, Lad, let's get you home."
Dick got to his feet and followed after Alfred. If he wondered at Bruce's absence, he made no mention of it.
The journey back to the mansion seemed to aggravate Dick's stomach and Alfred had barely stopped the car when the boy was grabbing at the door release and stumbling out.
Alfred heard, rather than saw, the youngster vomit; a fact he would always be grateful for.
Appalled, Dick stammered, "I'm-I'm sorry, I couldn't…"
Alfred was at his side in a moment. "I know. Do not concern yourself, Master Dick."
But Dick didn't appear to be listening. He was staring down at the large puddle of his own sick with morbid fascination and growing paler by the second.
Alfred sighed and steered Dick around it. The boy's eyes seemed glued to the mess and he had to physically lead him away and into the house.
"Come, Master Dick. I do believe that bed is the best place for you at the moment."
Inside, Alfred was surprised, and a little pleased, to see Leslie waiting in the lounge. While he thought that calling the doctor away from the clinic for what was probably nothing more than a bout of influenza was a little extreme, Alfred appreciated this small, and often rare, show of Bruce's concern for his ward.
The butler ushered Dick upstairs to his room, encouraged him out of his clothes and into bed. He was very quiet and Alfred doubted that he had heard a word the butler said. Dr Leslie joined them just as Alfred was tucking the boy in.
She smiled. "Hello again, Dick."
The youngster wriggled listlessly in the bed. "Hi."
"Bruce tells me you're a bit under the weather. Why don't you tell me about it?"
"My head hurts." He said after a moment. "And my body. And legs."
Another smile. "Just about everything then?"
"Yeah." He lowered his eyes and shuddered at the memory. "And I was sick all over the ground."
Leslie exchanged a look with Alfred, her eyes sparking with a little mischief. "How uncouth!" She teased, and winked at Dick so he'd know he wasn't the intended target of her humour. "It's OK. One pavement pizza per illness is allowed. Alfred knows that."
Dick didn't smile and the doctor exchanged a questioning frown with Alfred. "Is there anything else you'd like to tell me, Dick?" She asked.
The boy shook his head.
Unsatisfied by his answer, she sighed. "Are you sure?"
She studied him a minute before getting up. "Well, I don't think it's anything serious." She said. "Make sure he gets plenty to drink and some rest."
The boy slept fitfully for a while. When he woke up, he was restless and sweaty, and very little seemed to help. Alfred bought him some books, but he was too fidgety to concentrate.
In the end, Alfred had searched the library for something less demanding, such as puzzle. After a long and unproductive hunt, he had found a set of paints – proper oil based paints. He had no idea who had brought them or how long ago, but he was glad they had.
He took them up to Dick's room and was relieved to see the interest on the boy's face. Dick examined the set carefully, lining up the brushes in order of thickness and sorting the colours, using his innate attention to detail that even sickness couldn't conquer.
But when he ready and Alfred laid a tray with paper across his lap, he frowned.
"What should I paint?"
"Whatever you wish. Still life, perhaps; I could bring you a bowl of fruit or some flowers."
The boy's nose wrinkled in disgust.
"A landscape is always a possibility. The view from the window is quite lovely this time of year."
Dick glanced at the curtains and shook his head.
"You might consider a portrait?"
"This place has enough of those."
It was very difficult not to smile.
"Abstract then. Paint whatever comes to mind."
Dick picked up the paintbrush. "OK."
Satisfied, Alfred left him to it and returned to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
He was gone longer than he planned and when he returned he found Dick had finished painting and was sitting up in bed, hugging his knees and staring fiercely at his masterpiece. The picture was lying on top of the covers.
Alfred leaned over to take a look, but his prepared compliments died on his lips and all he uttered was a ragged gasp as he staggered back.
In the centre of the picture was a badly drawn face and surrounding it was a large spiky circle like a grotesque sun. On one side it was coloured a deep red, on the other, Dick had created a brown speckled effect.
The face was even more hideous than the rest of the picture. It stared out with wide open eyes and an even wider mouth, stretched in an approximation of a scream.
Dick looked up. "You said paint what was in my mind."
"Indeed I did." His voice trembled and pulled his eyes away from the horrible depiction.
He bit his lip. "It's my mom."
Alfred closed his eyes. That explained the scream. He knelt down. "Master Dick, does this image often trouble you?"
"Not so much anymore." He shrugged. "Just sometimes, like earlier." He flopped back on the bed, obviously exhausted. "When I threw up."
Alfred's eyes were drawn back to the picture and finally understood. The brown surrounding the face was vomit, splattered over the pavement, the red…
The red was the blood it had reminded him of. The blood from his mother's shattered skull.
He found no words to say. And he berated himself fiercely for it.
But Dick wasn't waiting for any response. He simply wiggled down under the covers and closed his eyes, too worn out by his activity to notice Alfred's quiet horror. He was thankful for that.
Alfred laid a hand against the boy's forehead and brushed back his sweaty hair. He was burning up.
This wasn't the time to talk, however much Alfred wanted too.
He continued stroking gently, smoothing away the tension until he assumed the boy had fallen asleep.
Finally, he got up, limbs aching from kneeling too long.
The boy's eyes flickered open. "You don't like it do you?"
Sadness filled him. "Master Dick…"
"It's OK…" He murmured, turning over. "I'm better at other things."
Dick had never painted again. And in the morning, the picture was gone. He'd assumed the Master had removed it, but…
It seemed he was wrong. Dick must have hidden it here, behind the dresser, much like Alfred had buried the memory.
The boy had noticed his horror, after all.
He should not be surprised.
Alfred sighed and took one last look at the picture. Mary Grayson's dead eyes glared back at him.
He shuddered. Then gently pushed the picture back into its hiding place…
…and back into the past.