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Standards of Dating

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I lowered my standards when it comes to dating. The next man who can make me a sandwich I’m going to marry.

I hit post on my instagram account then concentrating on my scientific article again. A few seconds later my phone informed me of an alert. A BRITISH man who can make you a sandwich. The reply to my post read. I chuckled. That was my friend Sammy who was sitting in the library with me. A bit further away, though, so we wouldn’t talk all the time instead of working. I raised my thumbs to her, grinning. Whereas my friend continued working I looked around. We were the only ones in this part of the library. It was Friday afternoon, and it being a long weekend most students had already headed home. We were sitting in the reading section. I was sitting by the big window facade. Behind me the reading section was flanked by a row of books. Whereas the lights above us provided enough light to work comfortably the rows surrounding us were dark. You know you work too much when the motion detector in the library switched off the lights between the rows of books, I thought to myself.

Around 30 minutes later the lights near the entrance to the floor flicked on. Heavy footsteps could be heard as a person walked the main aisle between the book cases, coming closer to where we were sitting. I could not immediately see who it was as the book cases blocked my view. The person walked past the last one before the library opened up revealing the reading section. The dark figure stood unmoving looking around. As the final light switched on I could finally make out who it was. I was surprised by who I saw. It was Alfred. Even though my friend and I were alone, on the whole level it seemed, I whisper-yelled his name and waved at him. He turned to me and smiled slightly.

"There you are, Miss."

"Is everything ok? Is Bruce ok?", I asked in lieu of a proper greeting as he walked towards me with big steps.

"Everything is quite alright.", he smiled.

He took a chair and sat next to me, putting a little Tupperware container, which I hadn’t seen he carried with him until then, next to my computer on the table. I looked at the container then at Alfred. He smirked, a sparkle in his eyes.

"What is that?"

"This, my dear,…“, he tapped the box slightly, "… is a sandwich.“

He seemed quite pleased with himself. I beamed at him. "Thank you, Alfred. You’re the best. I am really hungry."

Alfred looked a bit flustered. He always did when I paid him a compliment. I opened the box and took out the sandwich to take a hearty bite when I noticed that Alfred was still looking at me expectingly.

"Wait, you came here all the way just to bring me a sandwich?! You really are a good man, Alfred."

Sammy cleared her throat. I looked at her questioningly. "Your post.“, she whisper-yelled.

"My post? Oh, my post! Oh!“, I blushed, looking down.

Apparently my friend immediately knew what Alfred was up to. "Plus, he IS British. When you guys marry, I want to be bridesmaid." When not if. I gave Sammy a look.

"Before we get married, maybe you would like to pick up Bruce from school with me?" I must have looked at him funny because he added: "I mean, I know he’d like to see you."

"Yes, you should call it a day. You worked hard all week." Sammy, the matchmaker, interrupted.

"Yes, ok, ok.", I laughed. I’m going to get her back for that and she knew it. I turned back to Alfred.

"I would love to pick up Bruce with you, Alfred. Let me just get all my stuff and I also have to bring back these books." Sammy gave the thumps up as I did earlier. I rolled my eyes and I got up from my chair. Alfred, ever the gentleman, carried the heavy books back to the counter for me. When I bid Sammy goodbye she kept staring at the Tupperware container in my hand. I knew what she was trying to do. I feigned shock, clutching the container to my chest.

"Alfred made the sandwich for ME!“

My friend gave me the puppy eyes. I looked at Alfred asking for the OK. Alfred stood next to me in his butler version of parade’s rest. “Of course, I could always make Miss another one."

Sammy immediately made grabby hands, including needy noises, at the container and I relented handing it to her. She put it in her backpack, thanking Alfred and promising to bring his container back next week. I bid Sammy goodbye (again) and Alfred and I made our way to the car in companionable silence.

"When I think about it, we could also have dinner together. The three of us." I squeezed Alfred’s upper arm gently, beaming up at him: "That would be lovely, thanks." Alfred opened the car door for me. After we had settled into the car seats I had to ask him: “So, since when do you check my instagram account?"

Chapter Text

It was in the early afternoon and I was preparing for teaching my next class when I got the call from Gotham General Hospital. Apparently Alfred was hurt badly but they wouldn’t give me more information over the phone. Thankfully Sammy took over my class so I could rush to the hospital immediately.

In the car my mind was racing a million miles an hour. They told me Alfred’s life wasn’t in danger but still, it unnerved me that they didn’t tell me what had happened. Apparently Bruce was with him, he was alright. Thank God. Only two days ago after Alfred had picked me up from the library we were sitting in the garden of Wayne Manor together. Alfred had made a fantastic dinner and we were enjoying the warmth of the sun. It was one of those rare days when Bruce seemed carefree, letting me chase him around the garden, barefoot. He ate properly, he laughed at one of Alfred’s stories. He seemed to enjoy it even more when Alfred and I were teasing each other, me being a bit too cheeky and Alfred trying to hit me playfully with a tea towel in turn.

When I arrived at the hospital I basically jumped out of the car (I was probably parking in a no-parking zone) and ran to the entrance. Thankfully there wasn’t a queue at the reception.

"I’m here for Alfred." I had to catch my breath for a second. The lady behind the counter smiled sympathetically at me.

"Excuse me. Alfred Pennyworth. The hospital called me. He is Bruce Wayne’s guardian."

After checking her computer, she directed me to a private room on the second floor. Alfred wasn’t in intensive care. I thought this to be a good sign. In the elevator I caught my reflection in the mirror. I looked like I just ran a marathon. My hair was all over the place and my face was flushed. I tried to make myself look presentable and more importantly not in total panic mode. OK, get a grip. I told my reflection. Alfred and Bruce need you. The ride up to the second floor took way too long for my liking. At the same time I was scared what lay ahead of me. Finally, the ding of the elevator announced that it had reached the intended floor. On my way to Alfred’s room I passed the nurse station and nodded in greeting to the nurses working there.

When I reached the right room, I took a deep breath, trying to level out my heart rate before I opened the door. I saw Bruce first. When he spotted me he immediately jumped out of the chair he was sitting in by Alfred’s bedside and rushed towards me. He fell into my arms and hugged me tightly around the waist. "He got badly beaten up.“ Bruce mumbled into my chest. As I was stroking Bruce’s hair my gaze fell onto Alfred. He had a rather big gash above his right eye, his right cheek was busted and he had a split lower lip. He was awfully pale but… my eyes met his blue ones, he smiled at me. Oh God! I took a deep breath and most of my tension that I held since the phone call seemed to flow out of my body. Alfred was awake and responsive. Except for the heart monitor, no machines. I pulled Bruce tighter to me and smiled back, even though I felt tears spring to my eyes. Yes, Alfred was beaten up badly but he was ok, he was here. Bruce and him were alright. I kissed the top of Bruce’s head, which made him look up at me. "Alright?" I sniffed slightly. Bruce, ever the brave boy, nodded.

A knock on the door made me turn my head. A nurse asked if maybe she and Bruce could look for a little snack for him. Bruce looked at me questioningly. I took his face into my hands "It’s ok. You can go." I gave him a kiss on the side of his head and let go of him. I was surprised that he went with the nurse so willingly. Then again I knew Bruce to be very wise for his age and he clearly wanted to give Alfred and me some time alone.

When Bruce was gone I took the chair next to Alfred’s bed.

"Hey." Alfred rasped.

"Hey yourself. How are you feeling?" I laid my hand next to Alfred on the bed but didn’t dare to take his, even though I wanted to touch him to reassure myself that he was really there and safe.

"Peachy. Just need a little nap and then I’ll be right as rain." Now up close Alfred looked even more awful. He looked ashen and his skin was slightly sweaty. They had cleaned up the gashes on his face pretty well but the way he was laying there, hardly moving to greet me, told me that these weren’t his only wounds.

"I see." Apparently, Bruce wasn’t the only one trying to be brave. "What happened to you?"

"Just got into a bit of a quarrel." Alfred tried to smile reassuringly at me.

I could take a hint. "I see. OK, we can talk about what happened later. I’ll better let you catch some sleep then."

As I stood up from the chair Alfred’s demeanor changed immediately. He raised his arm towards me, hissing, clearly being in pain. "You stay here."

"Of course, I’m staying, Alfred. I just wanted to see where Bruce is." I looked at him alarmed. "What do you…?" Before I could finish Alfred interrupted me. 

"It’s dangerous out there. You and Bruce, you ain’t going nowhere till I’m up and about. You hear me?!" I looked down at my shirt. His hand had grasped its hem weakly. Dangerous? I didn’t know what he was talking about and I’ve never seen him like that. I swallowed and looked at him.

"Alfred, I…". Again he interrupted me immediately.

"Promise me!" Alfred had leaned towards me and grabbed my right hand. His was slightly clammy I noticed or maybe it was mine. Alfred looked at me insistently, his eyes moving rapidly, pleading with me. To be honest, he started to worry me.

"I promise." I said, squeezing his hand. "It’s ok.", I tried to soothe him. I put my left hand on his shoulder, pushing slightly, trying to get him to lie down again. Alfred wouldn’t budge. "Alfred... " I tried again. I’m here and I’m going to take care of Bruce."

Only then did Alfred’s eyes softened and he leaned back onto the bed again, sighing. I saw his eyes getting heavier and heavier but he obviously fought sleep. "Get some sleep, Bruce and I are right here.", I whispered and sat back down on the chair. Alfred let his eyes fall closed slowly and I watched his breath even out. Only then did I realise that he was still holding my hand.

Chapter Text

Of course, it did not only require a nap for Alfred to get better. The hospital wanted to keep him for a few days, much to Alfred’s chagrin. I insisted, however, that he stayed there to make sure he was under observation. It was a bit of a struggle but in the end, Bruce did not get a guardian from the state and I was allowed to stay with him. The advantages of being a billionaire and the prince of Gotham, I suppose. Bruce and Alfred still wouldn’t tell me what had happened and I was tired of asking. I would start investigating properly once Alfred was back to his former self.

At first, I thought I would not be up to taking care of a pre-teen. So much responsibility but with Bruce it was different. He was really grown up and self-efficient for his age. Honestly, it nearly broke my heart. He really should not be like that. He should be carefree, thinking about where to build a tree house or how to best prank Alfred not who the murderer of his parents is. Yes, the murder, of course, changed everything. Now there was a life before and a life after.

In the before, I would often visit the Manor for afternoon tea or Thomas would bring little Bruce to the hospital with him. I enjoyed showing Bruce around. He was such a bright, naturally curious boy from an early age. After his parents’ death, Alfred watched Bruce like a hawk. He would not let anyone close to Bruce. Apart from Detective Gordon, maybe. (It hurt, but who can blame him.) This had changed in the last few days with invitations coming from Alfred more frequently. (I suspected Bruce being behind most of them.) Still, I was surprised that he would let me take care of Bruce. Alone.

Even under heavy pain killers, Alfred gave me stern instructions about the daily routine he would usually follow with Bruce. He would also let me know who I could expect on the estate, like the gardener. Alfred also stressed several times, not to let a “minx called Selina” in. Under no circumstances. I was confused at first. Was he talking about a stray cat? I put it down to the pain killers and did not press any further.

So for the next few days, I moved into Wayne Manor. Alfred’s territory. I was immediately scared to touch anything. Not only did Alfred keep everything impeccably clean, but I was also scared to break anything. Everything in the Manor looked extremely old, expensive and irreplaceable. I hoped that nothing crazy happened whilst I stayed there, like a pipe burst or something.

I peeked into the fridge. Thank God it was fully stocked. I first thought it was a coincidence that Alfred went grocery shopping before the “incident” but then I realised that Alfred was always prepared, was he not?

“Are you looking for anything specific?” A head popped up very close to mine. I slammed the fridge door shut, nearly trapping my fingers in the process. Behind the door stood Bruce. I held my hand over my heart. “For Christ‘s sake, Bruce. You scared me!” He gave me a little smile in response.

“I was just checking if we needed to go grocery shopping. Are you hungry?”

“No, not really. I am going back to my studies.”

“OK, let me know if you need anything. I will check on you in a little while.” Leaving Bruce to his own devices was OK with me for now. It gave me some time to get my thoughts in order and look through my list of what I had to take care of until Alfred was back from the hospital. Maybe Bruce needed some time alone, too. However, I would make sure that Bruce would not get lost in his own mind.

****

It was an hour later, I just got a glass of water from the kitchen, and was on my way back to the living room when…

“You are new!” I heard a girl’s voice say. I shrieked and let the glass fall. I saw a girl clad in black crouched on the back of the couch. She looked cute. I rolled my eyes to the ceiling, letting my arms fall to my sides in defeat when I looked at the broken glass and water puddle on the polished floor.

“You must be Selina, I suppose. Let me quickly clean that up otherwise Alfred’s gonna kill me.”

“Knowing Alfred as I do, he just might,” Selina said without malice, only amusement in her voice. Her eyes twinkled. I only chuckled, quickly going to the kitchen to grab a towel, brush and dustpan.

“He’s really something, isn’t he?”, I remarked upon coming into the living room again. I crouched down to clean up.

“More like a big grouch.” I looked up at Selina. She had changed position and was now sitting cross-legged on the couch. I smiled and got back to my cleaning before the water would leave stains. I understood that to people who did not know him he might come off as rough in some instances. “Alfred has a heart of gold. You have to understand he is only worried about Bruce.”

“What about me?”

I looked up startled. “Could you two please stop creeping up on me.”, I said in desperation.

Bruce started walking towards me asking me what had happened but once he caught sight of Selina, he stood still.

“Selina!”, he exclaimed in astonishment.

I looked between Bruce and Selina, wet tissue still in hand. Whilst Selina tried to look indifferent, he looked at her in awe? On the inside, I squealed. Bruce got a little girlfriend. Of course, Alfred would not like that. Bruce was immensely smitten with her, so much was obvious. I thought it was cute. My mind was made up. She would stay.

Chapter Text

The next few days went fine, to my surprise and great relief. All three of us agreed that it was absolutely unnecessary to tell Alfred that Selina stayed nearly the entire time. Of course, Alfred wanted to be released as quickly as possible but Bruce and I were having none of that and neither did the doctors. Although we constantly assured Alfred that we were fine and even sent him update-pictures when we weren’t visiting him, Alfred weaselled his way out of the hospital. I understood that he wanted to be at home to make sure Bruce was alright. If only he would have taken it easy and rested once he was back at the manor. But nope, not Mr. Pennyworth. He insisted, yes insisted, that he would have to thank me for taking care of Bruce. By taking me to dinner. Still limping and bruised Alfred wanted to take me out. Does this man ever rest? For a few days, I could use work as an excuse for not being able to meet up with him but now an extended weekend came up and I ran out of excuses.

“What is the problem?”

Sam and I were busy preparing study material for the students at the lab.

“He’s taking me to dinner, Sam. I mean he shouldn’t be out and about in the first place with his injuries. But anyway, he is not cooking at the manor. Taking me out to an actual restaurant. A really fancy one at that,” I rambled on.

Sammy looked up from sorting plastic bones and raised one eyebrow at me. I was always jealous of people who could do that.

“There’s a difference!”, I elaborated.

“Throw the man a bone!” Sam waved a plastic clavicle around and giggled at her own joke. “It’s obvious he likes you.“

“He does not like me!” I said a bit too loudly which earned me a look from a colleague walking by. I sighed heavily. “I mean, not in that way. He’s just being nice.”

“He held your hand at the hospital.”

“He was on a high dosage of pain killers. That doesn’t count.” I threw my hands up in mock desperation. “Stop using things I tell you against me. I’m not telling you anything ever again.”

“You like him, though.” Sam stressed the you by pointing a bone at me.

“I’m not having this conversation. Again.”

“OK. Now if you don’t like him in that way then why does it stress you out so much that he wants to take you out to dinner?”

“Because… because he should be resting and…”

“Shouldn’t you be glad? You two alone… I’m sure he’s gonna wear one of those ties you like. The blue one. It was the blue one, right? Or the sexy cardigan?”

“Sam, you’re not helping. You know I don’t like..” I waved my hands around assuming she knew what I meant.

“What? Being social? Being wooed?”

I threw her a look.

She knew exactly what I meant. I slumped into a nearby chair. I just didn’t like being in this situation with someone I liked. Had a crush on. Whatever. It just freaked me out having to sit there, in a restaurant, having to make conversation. It was only your crush sitting opposite you, the menu to hide behind and the table cloth to fiddle with. I was probably scared of having his full attention. I have never been alone with Alfred. I mean I have been alone with him but not like that. I couldn’t get any further with my musings because I heard someone clear their throat behind me. I instantly knew who it was. I looked up at Sam in fear. When she, in turn, grinned like a Cheshire Cat, I knew I was right.

“Hi Mr. Pennyworth.”, Sam called out with too much enthusiasm.

When I turned around, there he was the man of my dreams I tried to ignore for days, in his full attire, three-piece suit, at parades-rest. He looked good. Rested. Did he have his hair cut? And most importantly, had he overheard our conversation?

“Hi Alfred. What are you doing here?” I stuttered.

“Well, since the Miss is always too busy (he said that without malice) to go out, I thought I’d pick her up. Prepare a little supper for us. I hope the Miss does not mind.”

I noticed two things:
1. Alfred enjoyed calling me Miss way too much for some reason.
2. He did this little bounce on the balls of his feet, which I noticed he did when he was especially pleased with himself.
2 1/4. My heart melted right there and then.
2. 1/2 He was too good of a man.

“No, she doesn’t mind!”, Sam nearly squealed. I again threw her a look. She motioned zipping her mouth. “I think I have to…”, she pointed at the back room. “I’m just going to…”. She slowly backed out of the room. I had to smile at her attics although I was a bit stressed out at the moment. Yeah, just leave me alone with Alfred, Sammy, you traitor. I turned back to Alfred, he looked amused.

“I would love to. Thank you, Alfred.”

I have to admit I was taken a bit by surprise at first, with him showing up at the lab. But now seeing his face changing from slight disbelief that I said yes to genuinely pleased, excited even, which, unfortunately, didn’t happen often, I couldn’t be mad at him. Sam was right. I should just leave my concerns behind (for a minute) and just let it happen. Maybe he did like me after all.

Chapter Text

“So…”, I was currently standing in the kitchen of Wayne Manor modeling an apron for its older resident. “What do you think?”, I smiled brightly at Alfred. He only shook his head. I had agreed to dinner under one condition; that Alfred would take it easy and would let me help him. Alfred taking it easy, yeah alright. I should have known that this was not going to happen, although he had agreed to my condition.

I clapped my hands together. “Now, what do you want me to do first?”

For a while I happily chopped vegetables while Alfred… I do not know what he did but soon a mouthwatering aroma started to fill the kitchen. I loud hiss from Alfred took me out of my thoughts. He stood bent over by the kitchen island, holding his right side. I immediately let everything fall and rushed to him.

“It’s quite alright.”, he grunted before I could do anything.

“Alfred, please.”, I pleaded gently, putting a hand on the arm that he used to keep himself upright on the counter top. “Let me help you.” Alfred swallowed thickly and then only nodded.

I put my hand under his arm to provide some balance. “Maybe you should lay down on the couch. It would be better for your ribs.”

“No, it’s quite alright, love. I…”, Alfred began. “You don’t want to worry Bruce?”, I finished for him. He only nodded.

“Alfred!“, I said sternly. “You have to take it easy.”

Alfred raised his voice a bit. “I have to keep Master Bruce safe!”

“I understand that, but we are at home. He is…”

Alfred whipped around and yelled at me. “No, you bloody don’t!” At this I flinched, letting go off his arm and taking a step away from him. Alfred had flinched too, but for other reasons. His hand had gotten back to grasping his ribs. “Bloody hell!”, he cursed quietly. His face was turned down and contorted with pain. This time I did not run to him to help. I stood next to the kitchen island, rooted to the spot. I had grasped my hands in front of my chest. Subconsciously trying to protect myself.

“Is everything alright?”, I heard Bruce’s soft voice. I saw Alfred immediately straighten up as he saw him timidly standing by the door. I immediately took down my hands.

“Of course!”, I said a bit too quickly and loudly. “I nearly burned myself and Alfred warned me.” Bruce did not seem convinced.

I kept trying. “I’m just trying to challenge him on dinner. Spoiler alert. We might have to order in. And you know how Alfred is with the kitchen.” I made a big gesture with my arms. “Alfred’s territory.”

Bruce nodded but looked unconvinced.

“You can go back to the living room. Dinner will be ready soon.” I smiled at him.

“Thank you for not letting Bruce know.”

I forced a smile. “Maybe…”, I cleared my throat. “Maybe I should go and check on him.” Before Alfred could respond, I was already on my way to the living room. Once I was in the hallway I took a deep breath, trying to compose myself.

Dinner was thankfully uneventful. I was still rattled by what had occurred in the kitchen. It took everything not to let it show. I chatted to Bruce but honestly, I just wanted dinner to be over. After I had helped cleaning off the table I excused myself rather quickly, saying I had some important work to do. I know Bruce noticed that something was wrong. I kissed the top of his head when I said goodbye. I quickly glanced over to Alfred who avoided my gaze, instead looking at the floor.

Chapter Text

What the heck was wrong with Alfred? Seriously, what the f***? He acted so strange ever since the “incident”. Like he was constantly on edge. I did not like it. I know he was under a lot of stress but… I didn’t know. I really thought it would make him feel better if I helped him with Bruce but apparently I elicited the opposite. I decided to stop by the grocery store and get some crisps. The fancy grocery store, might as well after this evening.

I ended up standing in front of the vast wine shelves not being able to decide. Maybe I should go with cider. Screw it, I thought. I reached up for the bottle with the elaborate flower pattern on it. Just before my finger came in contact with the bottle I heard a disapproving grunt next to me. My hand froze. Glancing to my right I saw a man standing there, slowly shaking his head. A very handsome man. Tall, broad-shoulders. Short dark hair. I slowly took my arm down. “Not the right choice?”, I asked unsure.

“It depends. Are you looking for a cheap wine for cooking?”, the handsome stranger asked. His voice was smooth and I detected a British accent. He came a bit closer, and for some reason I did not mind.

“No. Well, to be honest, I’m not much of a drinker so I usually go for the nicest looking bottle.”

The handsome stranger only cocked on eyebrow. Seriously, how do people do that?

“What?! Doesn’t everyone? Also, I sometimes look at the description on the back. To see if it speaks to me.”

He sighed, a bit exasperated, but a smile pulled on his lips and his eyes had a twinkle in them. He put his basket down. “What are you looking for?”

“Something light, fruity. No red wine.”

He turned to the wine rack. “Mmh.” He furrowed his brows in concentration.

“And nothing too expensive.” I added as an afterthought.

He looked at me with an incredulous expression on his handsome features. I only shrugged my shoulders. He turned his attention back to the wines.

“Something light. Fruity. Nothing too expensive.”, he repeated slowly, looking deep in thought. What a nice voice. I was sure I could listen to it for hours. Focus! His eyes were still glancing over the selection. Suddenly he smiled, reaching for a golden bottle with mint-green highlights. Resting the bottom of the bottle in his right palm while he supported the neck with his left hand, he had turned the label towards me. Was he honestly presenting the bottle to me like in a 5 star restaurant?!

“I can wholeheartedly endorse the Beringer Pinot Grigio from the Californian Delta. With white peach and citrus undertones, finishing with a flinty minerality. Perfect for pairing with food. Very refreshing.“

What now? I looked from him to the bottle and back to his face. He held the bottle out to me. I slowly took the wine from his nice big hands. “I didn’t understand half of that.”

“You’ll like it.” He nodded to the wine. Again, he smiled at me. It was kind of boyish with a hint of mischief. I decided that I liked it. I cocked my head to the side. “Are you an expert?”

“Something of that sort.” I waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t. Mysterious. “Ok then.”, I started. “I’m sure you have better things to do than choosing wine for women. Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” He was still standing there, smiling at me. His hands were clasped in front of him. His posture reminded me of someone else’s, but this someone has the habit to have his hands clasped behind his back. As I turned around to leave, he called out to me.

“Wait! Let me…”, he seemed to have snapped out of his professional mannerism 5 seconds ago and started padding his trousers and jacket. “In case you are ever in need of a good wine.”

He was holding a business card out to me. The card had an elaborate ornate gold emblem on it. In the middle, it simply read Continental. On the backside was an address. I have never heard of it. What was the Continental supposed to be? I flipped the card back and forth as if magically an answer would appear. And the name of the handsome British man. A name would be nice. I looked up, puzzled. The stranger knew what I was wondering.

“At the reception, just ask for the sommelier.”

“Thank you. I’m sure it will come in handy.” Smooth. I smiled and turned to leave. Again.

“Oh, and Miss?” He called again. “Do enjoy your wine.” And we were back to professionalism. Did his voice just drop an octave lower, though? I shuddered slightly. As I arrived at the check out I was still clutching the wine to my chest, dazed. What just happened?