A LONG WAY FROM THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Valerie waited out on the street, hidden within the entrance to an apartment building. She intercepted Alfred as he walked to his car.
"Sergeant Wells, I was hoping we could talk."
That name came like a thunderbolt. Alfred hadn't heard it - or used it - in almost twenty years. Alfred took a deep breath, trying to keep his face and demeanor composed.
There was no pretending that Valerie wasn't talking to him. She was standing right in his way.
"And what's your name, miss?" Alfred asked quietly. He was playing for time. He had to be careful. He had to think...
Valerie looked the butler over before responding. He seemed to be doing the same to her.
Valerie was looking at a man in his late forties or perhaps early fifties, but who wore his age quite well. He was meticulously dressed in a slightly old-fashioned suit, and carried himself with definite authority. A much younger woman could quite conceivably find him attractive.
Valerie suddenly realized that she certainly did.
Then she squashed that thought. She had a job to do.
Alfred saw a slender and very attractive woman of Asian - perhaps Chinese or Korean - descent. She was dressed in a blouse and a modest skirt underneath a long black jacket.
Actually, Alfred recognized her. Although they had never actually met, at one time she had dated a friend of his. And he'd seen her face more than once on both the telly and in the papers.
She was a reporter.
And that was not good.
"Vale. My name's Valerie Vale," Valerie finally replied.
"I'm with the...," she added, about to name her newspaper.
Alfred interrupted. "Well, Miss Vale, I'm afraid you're mistaken. My name is Pennyworth. Alfred Pennyworth. Now I've known a Wells or two in my life - it's a common enough name - but I can't say I've ever met a Sergeant who went by that."
Valerie nodded, but not in agreement. "You're Sergeant Harry Graham Wells..."
Alfred actually laughed. "H. G. Wells? Really, Miss Vale? Are you serious?"
"Sergeant Harry Graham Wells," Valerie repeated firmly. "With a good - hell, excellent - record as a soldier in the British Army. You were supposedly killed in a training accident back in 2002, when a gas furnace in an old farmhouse exploded. The same accident killed most of your men. You were given a closed casket funeral with all appropriate honors. Your wife, Annie, attended. So did a private named Cooper. He was the only member of your unit to survive the explosion."
As Valerie finished, Alfred was shaking his head in an almost pityingly manner.
"Miss Vale. I'm sorry, but you are mistaken. And your own story doesn't make sense. I'm obviously alive."
"You didn't die in 2002," Valerie countered. "You should have, but you didn't."
Alfred was silent for a long moment, his face now very still.
"And how did I - this Wells fellow, I suppose - happen to survive?"
Valerie took a long, long, breath before answering. "You and your men ran into something really strange during that last mission. It killed the others. It almost killed Cooper."
"And it changed you," Valerie finished.
"I dinnae know what you're saying," Alfred said quietly. Valerie noticed that his accent was suddenly a bit stronger.
"After the army recovered you, they put you in a hospital until you recovered. And you recovered fast. Impossibly fast."
Alfred shook his head briskly. "This is ridiculous, Miss Vale. I'm sorry, but I have business. Good day."
With that, Alfred walked around her. He knew Valerie's pugnacious reputation and half expected her to all but tackle him, but she didn't.
"Werewolves!" Valerie suddenly yelled after him. Heads turned all up and down the block. Valerie had a strong voice when she decided to use it.
"You ran into a family of werewolves! Your men died! You became a werewolf! And the Army kept you around for jobs that nobody else could do!"
"You're out of your flipping mind, you daft woman!" Alfred snarled over his shoulder. His hands were shaking as he fumbled with the keys, but he forced himself to concentrate and managed to get inside and start the car.
"You're a werewolf!" Valerie screamed.
Dear God, Alfred thought in horrified awe, she was screeching it right aloud in the middle of the bloody street.
But there was nothing he could do. And he had to go.
He had to pick up Master Bruce.
Valerie was having dinner in a local diner when Alfred sat down at her table. She smiled as she put her burger down on her plate. She knew that Alfred - Sergeant Wells - had no choice. He had to talk to her. After the scene in the street, all she had to do was wait until he did the inevitable.
"What do you want?" Alfred asked as a waitress put a menu in front of him.
"A story, Sergeant Wells. All I want is a story," Valerie said quietly.
The waitress came and went. A cup of coffee that Alfred didn't really plan on drinking appeared in front of him.
"I am most certainly not a werewolf," Alfred calmly told Valerie.
Valerie actually chuckled. "Really, there's no point in denying it, Sergeant. I know way too much to let this go. Just give me some of the details, and I'll leave you be."
"And then what?" Alfred snapped. "What happens after you have your details?"
Valerie shrugged. "I change everyone's view of how the world works - as if Gotham isn't already doing that. Then I rake the British government over the coals for keeping secrets. After that, I hope to get a Pulitzer prize and become the most well known journalist since Bob Woodward."
"So destroying my life is about ambition," Alfred said tonelessly. It really wasn't a question.
Valerie shrugged again. "I'm being honest with you, Sergeant. I'm a journalist. I report. You were a soldier. You killed. Neither of us are virgins - in any sense of the word."
"It's possible to not be a virgin, yet not be a whore," Alfred suggested.
"I have every intention of keeping your name out of the story as much as possible. Just give me something to work with and I'll be on my way."
Alfred finally took a sip from his coffee. My God, he thought to himself, this woman thinks I'm an idiot. Once the story broke, nobody involved would have the slightest hope for privacy ever again. And if some of the deeds he did during his time with the ugliest part of SAS become public...
"You already have the gist of it, Miss Vale. A training mission went awry. We found a family of werewolves in the middle of nowhere. And then there was a lot of screaming, shooting, and dying."
"What about you?" Valerie asked.
"I died in the middle of transforming," Alfred told her with surprising calmness. "That somehow prevented the worst from happening. I meant it when I said I'm not a werewolf, but I am different from almost everyone else. I heal, Miss Vale. I heal very, very quickly and very, very completely."
Valerie nodded. "There's a story going around GPD. You were once brought in with all kinds of injuries - the sort of thing that would leave a man laid up for weeks or even months. Some cops noticed that you were on your feet in just a few days. You really have to stop hanging around with Jim and Harvey, Sergeant Wells. They're smart. Maybe not smart enough, but still smart. One day they had a talk about you in Jim's living room, while I was in the bedroom. I heard them. That got me thinking, and I started checking your background. Then the damndest things turned up. A lot of men you served with are out of the Army and very angry about some of the things they had to do. That makes them talkative."
Then she smiled. "And your friend Cooper even told the newspapers what happened."
"And nobody believed it!" Alfred snapped.
"I can play the news game a lot better than some well-meaning soldier!" Valerie shot back.
Alfred contemplated the woman sitting across the table from him. "You were shot recently. And then you left Jim Gordon. Or perhaps he left you."
Valerie was very still for a moment. "Jim made a choice. I don't fault him for that, but it was a choice. And I damn near died."
"Is that what this is about?" Alfred asked softly - his tone almost fatherly. "You're angry? Hurt? Scared? You wanna show the world that you're still Valerie bloody Vale? And you'll do that no matter who gets hurt? Believe me when I say I know how that feels. I killed a lot of people doing bad things for Her Majesty's government after I recovered from my little walk in the woods. I was trying to prove something, but it didn't work. All I proved was that I really was some kind of monster."
Valerie studied Alfred's face for a long time, but said nothing.
Alfred took a very deliberate sip of coffee. Then he looked Valerie in the eyes.
"I saw how you walked yesterday. The limp. The way you were twisted to the side when you stood still. That bullet clipped your spine, didn't it?"
Valerie still didn't say anything, but a strange look had appeared on her face.
"Maybe I can fix it," Alfred finished quietly.
Valerie's eyes went wide.
"I'm not a werewolf, Miss Vale," Alfred continued. "But I'm not just a man. I'm something in-between. And I can make you like me. I was missing limbs, burned over ninety percent of my body, and paralyzed when they brought me to the hospital. I was walking within a month, with not a scar on my body."
Suddenly, a desperate look appeared on Valerie's face.
"Please," Valerie whispered. She put an infinite amount of desperation in that one word.
"I can't promise that it will work," Alfred replied. "It might go very, very, bad. And if it does work, you'll spend your life looking over your shoulder, waiting for someone like... you... to appear."
"Please," Valerie repeated. By then there was a glimmer of tears in her eyes.
"You'll give up the story?" Alfred asked.
The way Valerie nodded her head was like the sudden jerk of neck being broken by a hangman's noose.
"Finish your dinner, Miss Vale. There's an alley just next door. We'll do it there."
"Screw dinner," Valerie said abruptly as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and awkwardly clambered to her feet. Then she began limping to the door.
She'd left her coat behind. And she hadn't paid for her food.
Alfred tossed a bill on the table, picked up Valerie's coat, and followed her out the door and into the night.
It was just supposed to be a bite. Not on the neck, of course. Alfred planned on biting Valerie low on the shoulder. If it worked for her that way it had worked for him, the injury would persist for a day or two before vanishing. A shoulder bite would be easy to hide.
Valerie was posed against a not terribly clean wall, braced on her good leg. She'd already opened her blouse and slipped it over her shoulders. She was wearing a translucent bra. Really, it would be better if they went deeper into they alley and got completely out of sight, but Alfred checked over his shoulder as he entered the alley and decided it was safe enough.
He hung Valerie's coat from a dumpster handle. Then he stood in front of her, waiting for just a moment to see if Valerie would change her mind.
Valerie guessed why he was waiting. "Do it," she said.
Taking her upper arms in his hands, Alfred bent his head down and bit Valerie. He immediately drew blood as Valerie gasped in pain. Then he let her go.
After that, it got weird.
Alfred looked into Valerie's eyes. Her mouth was slightly open and she was breathing hard. Then she unsnapped the front clasp of her bra. After that, she began working the hem of her dress up her legs.
Alfred maybe chuckled. Or maybe it was more like a growl. And then his mouth covered Valerie's. He had her panties down as soon as she had her dress up over her hips.
"It's not sexually transmitted," Alfred said once he broke the kiss.
"Let's just make sure," Valerie said as he hooked her good leg around him.
A howl split the night.
In the diner, the waitress cleaning up Valerie's table looked up in surprise. Then she glanced at the other waitress. Except for them and the cook, the place was empty, and it was closing time.
"What the hell was that?"
The waitress at the cash register shook her head. "A dog?"
"Must be a damn big dog."