Start As You Mean To Go On
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. If I had any say in the matter, Bruce and his folks would have stayed home and watched videos. But I don't. DC and Warner Brothers run this universe. They make the rules. They get the bucks. I just get to write a few stories.
Location: Hornetverse - early fic. Bruce at age seven.
Bruce sat at the kitchen table, rolling a spoon through his oatmeal.
"Yes, Master Bruce?" The young man in the stiff white jacket glanced over but did not turn from his work.
"Tonight." Bruce hesitated, then. "New Year's Eve. Are you and Dr. Leslie going out like Mother and Father did?"
"No, Master Bruce," came the eternally calm voice. "Leslie has to work at the clinic, and I will be here with you."
"And you don't mind? Having to take care of me, I mean? Aunt Harriet says young people like to party."
"In Scotland we say 'Start the year as you mean to go on'. I promised your mother - and you - that I would watch out for you as long as necessary. So I mean to do just that."
Bruce considered that. "OK, I'm done. Can I go study now?"
"May I study, Master Bruce," the voice corrected. "Yes, you may."
Bruce sat at the kitchen table, spearing the radish bits in his salad.
"Yes, Master Bruce?" The young man in the long apron smiled at his young questioner but continued stacking dishes.
"This morning?" Bruce started again. "Every morning. You go running. Before I get up. Why?"
"Why before you awaken?" The voice took on a touch of humor." Or why run?"
Bruce thought for a minute "Both."
"Running is part of my training, Master Bruce. When I was in the service, I learned how to take care of people, and saying healthy and fit is part of that. So that is why I run." The older man smiled at the child's solemn expression as he took the answer in. " As to why I chose the mornings? It is simply a convenient time when I bother no one else."
"Will you take me with you for this training?"
"Not all of it, Master Bruce. You are much to young. I will discuss the matter with Dr. Leslie, however. If she has no objections you may certainly begin to run.
"Is that why you have the weights too?"
"Exactly, Master Bruce. You are a most perspicuous young man." Alfred reached for the near-empty bowl. "Are you finished with that?"
"Yes, sir. Can I go to the library now?"
"May I go to the library, Master Bruce." the voice corrected. "Yes, you may."
Bruce sat at the kitchen table, slicing patterns in his mashed potatoes.
"Yes, Master Bruce?" The young man in the dark suit paused in cutting the roast.
"You have a gun. Is that to take care of me?"
"Firearms are part of my training. When I was in the service, I learned how to protect people. To protect you"
"Tomorrow." Bruce hesitated, then. "Are you going down to the range? On New Year's Day even?"
"Certainly, Master Bruce. Every skill requires practice. " The voice answered unruffled. " Wednesday is Wednesday. Mr. Charles is a friend, and will open for me. As your tutor has a holiday, you may visit with Dr. Leslie or I will call Mrs. Wilson to say with you, as you would prefer."
Bruce sat still for a long time, thinking. "Can I go with you tomorrow? To the range."
"May I go to the range, Master Bruce." the voice corrected. "Yes, if Mr. Charles is agreeable, you may."
Bruce stood in the concrete chamber, quiet and still.
"Yes, Master Bruce?" The young man in the padded leather jacket turned from the row of lockers.
"Would you teach me to shoot?" questioned the young man at his side.
"You want to?" The heavy set range owner questioned before turning to Alfred for an approval slowly given.
"Yes, Sir." Came the small voice, echoing strangely in the hollow concrete room.
"Well. Alfred here is sure the man for that." He laughed. "But you're way to light for a .44. Maybe something in a derringer." He reached deep into the wall safe. " I've got a .12 double shot that should be easy enough."
"One round only, Charles." The voice was unexpectedly firm. "And tonight, Master Bruce, we shall have a rather long session on cleaning and care."
"Yes, sir." A note of resolved mixed with hesitation. Perhaps fear.
"Very well then. Glasses, ear protection, and pads." The young man paused, considering. " And "I will carry until you are on the line and in position."
"Yes, Sir." Not enthusiastic, but all hesitation gone.
"Pay careful attention, Master Bruce." Alfred bent down. " Rule One: Always assume a gun is loaded. Rule Two: Never point when you do not intend to fire. Never. Rule Three: Do not think to try this when I am not supervising. Understood? Agreed?"
A careful nod. Bruce knew how to obey rules.
"This is how you hold the grip. With both hands." Alfred demonstrated carefully, the slowly passed the handle into the smaller hands. "You watched me load it, so you know you have one round. You will not load until you are competent." With great care, he adjusted the small fingers until they were correctly positioned, then stepped back. " Keep the barrel level and pointed down range. Steady. Good. Arms out but not too stretched." Kneeling, the British man sighted over his students shoulders. " Good. Line it up so the barrel, the site, and the center of the target all come together. Hold it. Good. When you have everything in line, then very gently squeeze the trigger. Squeeze, don't pull. Gently."
A crack echoed off the concrete walls.
"Very good, Master Bruce." Alfred's voice was approving as he saw the fresh hole on the target." I will take the weapon, and you may go look at your success." He plucked the derringer out of his charges still-extended hands and passed it to the range master." I do say, Charles, the boy has some talent."
"Center shot first time up." The man laughed. " I'll reset the paper and your lad can keep this one for a trophy."
Talking together, they did not see the sudden white that swept over the boy face, or the shivers that started to shake his body. Or the clenching of his empty hands. Not until Bruce's stomach rebelled did they look down to see the misery huddled on the floor.
"Brucie". Alfred dropped beside the child, sweeping him up into strong arms. "Brucie me lad, I never meant..."
"t's all right, Penny." He sniffed, resting a minute, but only a minute, before stepping back from the embrace. "I'll clean it up."
"Brucie, I never thought.." Alfred sounded pained.
"I said it's all right." Bruce stripped off his splattered shirt and used it to mop the floor. "Mr. Charles can get me another shirt. You show me how to reload. "
"Master Bruce, I hardly think.."
"Everything is fine, Mr. Pennyworth." And this was the voice of the master of the house. "It is New Years Day, and I will start as I mean to go on."