‘Master Bruce. On a scale from one to ten— and think very carefully about your answer— how much pain are you in at the present moment?’
Bruce let out a short breath and looked up at the brightly coloured chart with a grimace. The reds, yellows, and greens all seemed to merge together in a disorienting blur of printer ink, causing him to blink his eyes and squint at the diagram, a slight frown crossing his face.
Alfred raised an eyebrow at him in suspicion, and Bruce pretended to be pondering the chart in a serious manner. Truth be told, he couldn’t even focus on the text long enough to read the indicators of each pain level; so he picked a number at random that was both low, and green.
‘Three,’ he said, his chest throbbing even as he sat there, stoic, his back straightened and face expressionless to hide all evidence of how badly his injuries were really affecting him.
‘Three,’ Alfred repeated slowly, the faint glowering look in his eyes suggesting that he did not believe Bruce for one second. ‘Well, then. In that case, you should have no trouble at all doing ten push-ups for me, Master Bruce.’
‘Ten…’ Bruce stammered. ‘What.’
Bruce hesitated, momentarily unsure of whether Alfred was being serious or sarcastic. ‘Now?’
‘Unless your pain levels have suddenly escalated in a mere thirty seconds, leaving you incapable of exerting the necessary energy for ten pushups… yes. Now.’
This was a mistake. And Bruce knew it was from the moment he had lied so unconvincingly. But he sure as hell wasn’t about to admit to Alfred that every bone and muscle and ligament and joint in his body was on fire even as he sat there, and he probably wasn’t going to be able to do much else other than eat and sleep for the remainder of the week. Or at least, not if he wanted to heal properly. Which Alfred would most certainly insist upon.
Thus, after sitting there in a brooding silence for a moment, Bruce gritted his teeth and heaved himself off the table with a wince.
Ignoring Alfred’s cutting gaze drilling through the back of his head, he crouched down on the floor of the batcave, muscles screaming at him as he lowered his body down to the floor and pushed up, once. A burning sheen of sweat clung to Bruce’s forehead, dripping like dew down his back. Alfred’s mouth turned down in a deep, disapproving frown, watching Bruce’s entire body tremble in stubborn, petulant denial.
He went down for his second push up, and he struggled, fighting against gravity. He strained to push himself back up again, and a sudden wave of nausea hit him like a truck. His shaking arms gave out under him. Bruce collapsed into a heap on the ground, grunting in pain as the side of his head met with cool stone and sent his head spinning in a blinding flash of light.
Alfred observed the pitiful, groaning man he had raised lying still on the floor, his lips pursed.
‘Nn… what happened to the other pain chart,’ Bruce said into the ground, his voice muffled. ‘The one with the faces.’
‘Master Bruce, your face is always a four,’ Alfred sighed, massaging his forehead. ‘Always. It is not a useful means of measuring pain because you refuse to truthfully express any until you are practically lying on death’s doorstep. And even then, I’m afraid your face is less expressive than is normal. Now, let’s get you back on the table…’
He helped Bruce up into a sitting position and then slung his weak arm over his shoulder.
‘…and try this again.’
How Alfred was capable of supporting Bruce’s body weight in his sixties was beyond everyone. The best guesses thus far were Tim’s cyborg-enhancements theory since Alfie’s war days, and Duke’s waxing philosophical suggestion that “maybe Alfred is an eternal being who is Other, and is not confined by all the laws that govern normal human beings.”
At a close third was Damian, who had scoffed at his brothers’ preposterous theories.
‘Tt, my grandfather has lived for half a millennia, and can lift at least, if not more than my father’s weight.’
‘Ra’s al Ghul lifts?’ Tim had asked, a wide smirk spreading across his face even as Damian lunged at him with his sword and a look that could kill.
But no one had dared to ask Alfred if he’d by any chance taken a bubble bath in a Lazarus Pit recently. And Bruce certainly was in no condition to ask as he sat down once more on the metal operating table, grimacing and looking up at Alfred with a resentful expression.
‘On a scale from one to ten,’ Alfred said, unperturbed, holding up the pain chart once more. ‘How much pain are you in, Master Bruce?’
Bruce scowled at the chart for one long beat, the quiet draft of wind the only noise in the cave as the Batman and unrelenting butler had their stand-off.
But it is a truth universally acknowledged that, no matter who his opponent, in a battle of wills Alfred Pennyworth always and without fail, wins in the end.
‘Eight,’ Bruce muttered in defeat.
I wrote some tags for this post, and thought I may as well just turn them into a flash fic. So here you go. Bruce is ridiculous, Alfred is having none of it.
Thanks to @audreycritter for suggesting that Bruce’s face is perpetually stuck at an impassive “four” on the smiley faces pain scale… LOL
-honestly they cuddle a lot, like those beanbags??? 10/10 for cuddles. also good for kisses? they kiss a lot because jeremy is Really Sad after the Squip Drama -they play video games together and jeremy sits on michael’s lap??? how cute amirite??? -except jeremy is a tallass beanpole and michael is pretty short so like, he has to curl up to actually fit -jeremy’s ok with that tho bc it gives him an excuse to bury his nose in michael’s jacket (michael smells like vanilla and soft drinks - the discord chat) -so yeah that’s fun, also when they’re playing competetive games michael kisses jeremy to distract him. -they call each other pet names, it makes jeremy v flustered and blushy but michael thinks its cute. -just like…them