“It’s Father’s Day, you know,” Alfred informed Bruce in the mansion’s back garden.
“And?” Bruce broke his stance to lunge at the hedge, neatly clipping but one leaf from the left side with his rapier.
“Traditionally, one does not spend the day trimming the shrubbery.”
“Hmph,” was said in his breath moved from form to form.
“You haven’t touched the gift left by Master Grayson?”
Bruce broke his stance, literally taken off guard, before recovering almost immediately, holding his sword above his head with bent arm and two fingers pointed upward with the outstretched other.
“There was no gift.”
“Well, I don’t know what else to call the brightly colored wrapped object found on the kitchen counter. I know the young lad has only been here a few months, so perhaps he doesn’t realize that you don’t regularly visit the kitchen, preferring instead the hobby of topiary.”
Snip! This time, the stance went a little deep, and a whole branch fell to the ground.
“Or perhaps,” Alfred continued in Bruce’s silence, “he means to mark the six month anniversary of the final paperwork that made him your legal ward?”
Bruce brought the hilt to his chest, ending his series of forms with a rest position. Closing his eyes, and with a deep sigh, he asked, “I suppose I should open it and thank him.”
“It would seem the appropriate course of action.”
And yet Bruce didn’t move toward the house. He sat to sheath the sword, then busied himself with a towel. “But I guess I should wait for him first? Does he want to see me open it? I don’t have to get him anything, do I? I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here.”
“I dare say.”
“The boy is my ward, I am his guardian. That’s all.”
“Bruce. There is more in that ‘all’ than you seem to understand,” Alfred said. He noticed that Bruce had knicked his left forearm during his practice, and he immediately lifted the arm to inspect it, wiping away a thin stream of sweat and blood with his thumb. Bruce flinched his arm away.
“Every day that goes by includes me questioning that decision. What made me think I could do this?”
“You mean, to take on a ward? To bring a young person into your life?”
“To be a trainer, a mentor, I can do that. I am a guardian, a protector.”
Alfred sat next to Bruce, who stared at the mansion that was his boyhood home. “What was I thinking?” Bruce asked the air, “When I saw that young boy, his parents killed right before his eyes– I just wanted to… protect him. That’s all.”
“Again with the ‘all,'” Alfred said. “Remember, I was here when you brought him home. I saw it ‘all’ in your eyes. Yes, you wanted to protect him, but not to shelter him. You wanted to help him understand the world. To equip him, to watch him grow. To help him rise above and to become something truly great.”
Bruce turned to look at Alfred and found a softly smiling face gazing back at him with warmth but stern concern.
Alfred continued, “I also remember what you said that night. You said your heart went out to the boy. Now, far be it from me to remind you that you have such an organ in the first place, but every day that goes by includes you giving your heart more and more, bit by bit.”
Bruce considered. “Do I really have a … ward?” he chuckled in spite of himself.
Alfred stood. “Not if you don’t go in there and appreciate a gift.”
Inside, young Dick Grayson was slumped back on the couch in the rec room, playing a handheld video game. He never heard his guardian enter, so when Bruce finally said “Hey,” Grayson snapped to his feet in surprise, sending the game clattering to the floor with the electronic beeps dying in decrescendo.
“Relax,” Bruce said, although smiling did not seem to come naturally. “I just, well. Uhm. Thank you.”
With one sudden left roundhouse, his arm enfolded the boy in a mighty hug. Bruce slapped his back with the appropriate two, staccato slaps, then released. “I mean, a tie, though? Really? Still, I suppose it’s the thought that counts.”
Alfred’s voice came from the doorway as he entered, “I’m sure as you get to know each other more, that his gift next year will be more… appropriate.”
Bruce chuckled, then left to go change.
Dick turned to Alfred, “What was that all about?”
“Don’t worry about it, lad. You heard the man, though, we will have to do better next year.”
See also: A Mother’s Day Superhero Story