Fandom: DC
Title: Anniversary Ritual
Author/Artist: Cold Nostalgia
Theme(s): 7. Flowers
Characters: Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 483
Warnings: None
Disclaimer/claimer: Don’t own them.  No profit is being made.  Don’t sue.
Summary:  It’s as automatic and easy as breathing.

Alfred doesn’t even have to look at the calendar to know that the anniversary has crept up upon them.  After all these years the knowledge has long since become branded into his psyche, like an animal who instinctively knows of the coming winter and the time for sleep fast approaching.

The ritual is automatic and as easy as breathing.  On the morning of the anniversary of their deaths he wakes to find Master Bruce in the study pouring over old family mementos, photographs, newspapers clippings.  The pain of his loss still as fresh and tender as the day he lost them.

Like a fairy tale castle fallen under a dark curse, the manor is cold and still during those hours. Through many failed attempts in the past, Alfred knows there is nothing that can be done to lift it.   Instead he spends the long minutes with dusty trophies and un-waxed floors, despite his age Alfred is grateful for the mind numbing, unthinking work. 

It never ceases to amaze him how much satisfaction can be derived from gleaming brass and shiny floorboards in the face of ineffectuality

Alfred is called to the study at noon; Master Bruce rises from behind a desk of half-truths, what-ifs, pedestals and untouched tea.  He asks Alfred to drive him into the city.

Master Bruce does not need to tell him the destination and Alfred does not need to ask.

The drive to Williamson’s is mindless and slow.  The air is thick with half-remembered memories and dreams that never were.  It is here that Alfred truly begins to feel his age; his limbs are heavy and stiff in their movements, his old bones feel the cold winter chill too readily. 

Even after all this time he is still surprised that his heart breaks each time he glances into the rear-view mirror.

The butler does not go into the florists with the closest thing he has to a son.  The time when Alfred would hold his hand as the young master selected four of the most delicate and beautiful roses has long since passed. 

With a tiredness that he does not truly believe is his own, Alfred is content to watch Master Bruce through the windshield of the car; study every expression that crosses his face, examine every passing shadow and curse each one with all of his heart.

By mid-afternoon they are back at the manor.  Alfred begins to prepare a meal that will go left untouched and Master Bruce retires to the cave with the flowers clutched in his hand, preparing for a patrol that will begin in Crime Alley and end by two gravestones.  Two dead flowers for two lifeless places.

It is at those accursed locations that Master Bruce will mourn two lives that were taken away too soon.

In the manor, as starlight turns to twilight, Alfred will mourn for a life never truly lived.
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