Title: On the Half Shell (1/2)
Rating: Adult, NC-17
Length: 5194 words
Spoilers: no real spoilers
Warnings: slash, angst, odd humor
Disclaimer: Not mine, seriously. All belongs to DC Comics, CW/WB and Al & Miles.
Summary: Lois breaks it off with Clark. Bruce makes his move. It's pure disaster.
Superman stands five feet away from Batman. They're in the cave and it's been a long night. Once again, the Joker is on his way to Arkham for what seems like the fiftieth time to Superman. And maybe he shouldn't even be here. It's not like Batman called him in or anything. This time the Joker had reached out to Metropolis and well, he had to respond, didn't he?
And so he's here. Just standing. He should go. Home. He doesn't want to think about it. She was right and...
"Go home to Lois, Clark," Batman—Bruce--says with his back to him, facing the monitor, dismissive as usual.
"She's not there," Clark says simply. And he looks down.
Bruce turns, still in cowl and mask. "You didn't say anything. Is she...?" In trouble. Kidnapped. In desperate need of help. Bruce only implies these things, but Clark knows what he means.
"No, she's fine. She left." Left her engagement ring on his desk. Brought in Bekin's to move all her things out of the apartment. And it wasn't the danger, she thrived on that, so strong and determined. It just didn't work, plain and simple. Happens to people all the time. And Superman.
Bruce's mouth sets in that familiar line. He doesn't say anything for a few seconds and then a few more. "You've told Diana, I assume."
"Well, yes, we've talked..."
"And she offered...comfort?" Bruce says this flatly so it sounds more like accusation than a question.
Comfort? In the form of a hug, sure, but... "Are you implying that I'd...? We're friends!"
Bruce pauses. His mouth appears less grim, and he tilts his head down by just a fraction. "The two of you appear to get along. Logically, she'd be your next choice."
"Lois and I have only been broken up for a few weeks. I'm not really thinking that far ahead."
Bruce nods. "Understandable." He turns back to the monitor, drums his fingers along the table. "This might affect our performance together. We should discuss this."
Clark, lingering before, feels the urge to flee. Discussions with Bruce can be either soul baring or a painful lecture, and Clark's never sure which one he's going to get. "Now?"
The fingers drum again. "Now is not the time. I'll contact you." Bruce faces the monitor, back fully to Clark, once again dismissive.
Clark floats, hovering and hesitant. "Well, okay. Goodnight, Bruce."
Bruce doesn't say another word. Clark turns in the air and flies out of the cave.
Two days later, his extension rings at the Planet.
"Hello, Kent here."
Bruce's voice, gruff and business-like. "This Friday. Six o'clock. Come to the manor."
And Bruce hangs up before Clark can say yes or no.
Great. Bruce is probably having another one of his parties. They'll have exactly five minutes for a heart-to-heart while Bruce pretends to stagger to the bathroom to elude one of his many companions.
But come Friday, Clark doesn't see any valets or cars for that matter as he walks up the long driveway from the gates to Wayne Manor. Most of the house lights are dimmed. Maybe he got the day wrong? He rings the bell.
Alfred opens the door. "Good evening, Mister Kent. Please, come in."
Clark smiles. "Hi, Alfred. How are you?"
"Very well, sir. Your coat?"
Clark sheds his trench coat, revealing his best suit, pressed and crisp, beneath. "I'm sorry," he says. "I thought tonight would be another one of those, well, parties."
Alfred gives him a small smile before putting up his coat. "Just myself and Master Bruce, I'm afraid. He's in the drawing room."
A few moments later, Clark finds himself in said drawing room, Bruce standing in front of the fire. There are candles spread around the room and none of the lamps are on.
"Ah, Clark! Great timing, I was just about to open the wine." Bruce is actually grinning. "Have you eaten? Alfred makes the best appetizers, seriously." He turns toward Alfred, who has an eyebrow raised and looks a little stiff.
"Sir," he says, "Perhaps something a bit simpler for our guest would be more appropriate." There's a slight emphasis on the word 'appropriate'.
"Oh no, only the best for our Clark here. As you say, he is our guest." And there's an emphasis on the word 'guest.' Bruce's grin gets just a little harder.
"Very well, sir." Alfred turns his back and leaves.
"Bruce, really, I don't want to put either of you out..." He doesn't get it. This isn't the first time he's been here. Not even the tenth. Or fiftieth. Usually, they just grab a bite in the kitchen. Except when Bruce has to put up a front for the Gotham set. "Are you expecting someone else?" he adds, a whisper.
But Bruce isn't looking at him. Instead, he's busy pouring two glasses of wine. "Just you and me, Clark," he says, handing him a glass. "I promised you a little chat. Conversation always goes better with a little food, a little wine, a little music..."
"Music?" Even dressed as Clark, he's more articulate than this. Bruce is just acting odd.
"Silly me! Did I forget that?" Bruce sashays, that's the only word that Clark can come up with, to the music center, one hand in his pocket, the other on his glass of wine. He peers for a moment, pushes a button. "Here we go." Soft jazz fills the room. He turns to face Clark again. "Try the wine. I picked it out with you in mind."
Clark looks at him quizzically, takes a sip. It's very dry yet spicy. But what does he know, he's not a wine person.
"Gewurztraminer. Some would say it's a sin to pair it with oysters, but I feel like being daring."
On cue, Alfred arrives. "Oysters on the half shell, sir." On the coffee table by the fire, he puts down a platter with oysters on ice, lemon wedges and some sort of sauce. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need me." And he says this more to Clark than to Bruce, which makes Clark more confused than ever. Clark fiddles with his wineglass, takes another sip, suddenly nervous, but with no idea why. Maybe he's just not used to Bruce going all out. He's used to lectures about discipline, stern looks, the brief touch on the shoulder and back to business.
Bruce must really feel sorry for him.
"That will be all, Alfred, thank you." Bruce says. Clark looks up from his glass. Alfred hasn't left the room. Alfred looks from Bruce to Clark.
"If you need me, sir," he repeats. And he leaves.
Clark stares after him, the now empty doorway. "Is...is he mad at me?" Clark says.
Bruce looks at him, a small smile, more real than the odd grin. "You would think that, wouldn't you?" He shakes his head. "We had a small argument earlier. Nothing for you to worry about." Bruce drains his glass. "Well, would you look at that?" he says. "I already need another." The grin returns. "You'll have to catch up, Clark," he says while pouring himself another glass.
Catch up? Clark could drink a case of wine if he wanted but to no effect. He sighs, drains his own glass out of politeness, walks over and hands it to Bruce. Their hands brush in the process. And maybe Clark's imagining things, but Bruce's fingers seem to linger on the back of his hand before he reaches for the bottle and pours Clark another.
"Oysters, shall we?" Bruce sits on the couch, pats the cushion next to him. "Don't be shy."
And when Clark sits next to him, feeling gangly and uncomfortable, all hands and feet, Bruce drapes his arm across the back of the couch, leans in slightly and whispers, "Although I have to admit, I rather like it."
"Like...what?" Great, that just came out goof times ten. But he can feel the slight breath on his neck, fingertips glancing his shoulder, an answering drop of sweat on the small of his back. All nerves and the whisper of something else. Something confusing and inappropriate.
"You really are," the breath says as Clark stares straight at the fireplace. "Shy, I mean. At first I thought it all contrivance, a brilliant and calculated act. That has nothing to do with bravery. You're fearless in so many ways, courageous." The breath gets closer, a whisper in his ear. "But the shyness, that's real. You're so genuine, Clark."
Clark risks turning, only to find that Bruce has pulled away, leaning forward to the oyster plate.
"Oyster?" Bruce says, handing a shell to Clark and then retrieving one for himself.
"I don't see any forks," Clark says. He's not a complete bumpkin. He's been to enough dinner parties and charity events to be pretty sure that these are they kind you're supposed to, well, slurp down. He's read Miss Manners and Emily Post, recalls something about utensil-less food and propriety, but he feels inexplicably awkward, unsure.
The corners of Bruce's mouth twitch. "We don't need them," he says. He takes his shell, a demonstration, and tilts it toward his mouth. Eyes never leaving Clark, he...well, it's obscene, the way his tongue darts out, lips parted to draw in the oyster meat and brine. And Clark, with an old pang and new pain, can think of nothing else but the darkened bed, his mouth moving up from Lois's thigh, up and into, on...He closes his eyes briefly. Accidentally suggestive. It must be. Maybe if he were one of Bruce's dates, this would be Bruce's prelude, a show of skill.
"Clark, are you all right?"
Clark opens his eyes. "Yes," he says, "I'm sorry. I just..." But his voice trails off, he can't bring himself to voice what he'd been thinking. Stupid, really, to be remembering that. Plus, he's not a woman, and Bruce's actions spoke all about how he'd be...with a woman. Clark shakes his head, gets the thought away, looks at his own shell.
"Your turn," Bruce says, eyes twinkling from concern to amusement. "Would you like a lemon wedge?"
"No, that's..." And Clark can only stare as Bruce takes the wedge he offered Clark, bites and sucks.
"Mmm," he says. "Go ahead, Clark." And he waits, tilting his head so that the side of his face leans against the couch. Sensual, predatory, daring.
Clark blinks. Unable to turn away, he brings his own shell to his lips, tilts it. Instead of bolting it, he takes his time, letting the meat slide in, the juice. Somehow he manages not to spill a drop.
Not saying a word, Bruce takes the shell from his hand, places it on the table. Clark feels every second that Bruce's thumb slides across his palm.
"Do you really need these?" Bruce says, reaching out, taking off Clark's glasses. "It's just me." He places those on the table as well.
"Bruce?" This comes out a little hoarse, rough. Bruce can't possibly mean to be doing any of this. They're supposed to be talking about Lois, how the breakup might affect their jobs, how they work together. Clark isn't supposed to feel pinpricks dancing across his skin. He's not supposed to notice the curve of Bruce's arm, the graceful patrician hand reaching out to his large and clumsy one.
"Yes, Clark?" Bruce says as he takes Clark's hand in his, squeezes. He shifts, closer, his other hand brushing back Clark's hair and staying there.
"I...Are you...?" He can't get it out, the words stuck in his throat.
Just then, the music changes, no longer the soft instrumental jazz that Bruce had put on earlier, but something with vocals. Something...
"Is...is that Marvin Gaye?" Clark's spluttering and Bruce's hand is still in his hair.
"You know your Motown, Clark." Bruce sounds like he's purring. "You're full of surprises."
Down the hall and from the kitchen, Clark can hear a plate shattering on the kitchen floor. And Alfred muttering, "Oh dear lord!" This is followed by a determined march down the hall, footsteps getting closer until Alfred appears in the doorway.
"Master Bruce, a word with you in the kitchen, if I may, sir."
Bruce doesn't turn, but his shoulders tense. "Whatever it is, Alfred, I'm sure you can handle it."
"Then if Mister Kent would be so kind--"
Clark starts to rise, but Bruce doesn't let go of his hand, holds him gently in place. "We have urgent matters to discuss," Bruce says. "Matters of the heart. Am I right, Clark?" The words are meant for Alfred, but he says these to Clark. And they're supposed to be talking about Lois. Even if, with Bruce's roundabout tactics and odd behavior, they haven't so much as broached the subject.
"Yes. Yes, we do," Clark says.
"You heard the man, Alfred. He's fine where he is. Just fine." Bruce does turn now. "But I thank you for your concern. You might want to prepare a room, amend the breakfast menu, since Clark isn't our usual guest." He shifts, looks at Clark again, a small smile. "Waffles, if I remember correctly."
Clark's stayed over before, but not since Dick lived here. He'd arrive the night before a camping weekend so that he and Dick could leave bright and early the next morning. He and Dick would go through a heap of waffles, backpacks by the door, while Bruce would sit at one end of the breakfast table, a surly and mostly silent grouch in a bathrobe, clutching a cup of coffee. "I didn't bring anything," is all Clark says to this unexpected invitation.
Bruce gives his hand a squeeze. "I'm sure we can find you something."
Alfred relaxes at this small exchange. "Very well, sir." He leaves.
On the sound system, Marvin Gaye insists, "Ain't nothing like the real thing..."
"But Bruce, you didn't say anything about an overnight." In fact, Bruce hadn't said much at all. About anything.
Bruce brushes back Clark's hair again. "Our conversation might prove strenuous," he says. "The least I can do is invite you to stay."
This didn't sound like the Bruce he knew at all. In fact, if Clark didn't know any better, he'd say that he was getting the act. Which doesn't make any kind of sense. Why put on the elaborate charade if Clark knows all about the charade? Bruce, the real Bruce, just isn't the touchy-feely type. He stiffens at every presumptive hug, shifts away from the reassuring hand on the shoulder. The only times that Clark has seen Bruce touch anyone, initiate it, it's either the whole Brucie act or sex.
Bruce's time with the League hasn't been entirely celibate, no matter how discreet he thinks he is. Even Wally's remarked, after seeing Bruce reach out, touch a woman's arm for no definitive reason, "Okay, they are so doing it." And all of Clark's journalistic instincts silently agreed as he turned back to the coffee pot and replied, "That's really none of our business."
"Ah, come on, Supes. Don't tell me you two hetero life partners don't discuss all the nitty-gritty."
Clark had choked on his coffee. "Hetero what?"
"You and Bats. Superman and Batman this, Superman and Batman that. If you were a girl, Bats would be all over you. He'd be willing to break his teeth just to bite onto your ass."
"Heck, if you were a girl, I'd do you." Flash grabbed onto him then, made humping motions against Clark's leg. "Oh, Superwoman! Oh!"
Instead of pushing him away, because well, it was funny, Clark turned slightly, grinned. "I like it fast," he had said. "Think you can keep up?"
Wally just laughed. "Oh baby, now you're talking. Rough me up."
They knocked over a coffee cup or two as they mock-wrestled, giggled even, down to the floor, Wally making dramatic smooching noises. Of course, they stopped when a pair of black boots somehow got in their way.
"Don't you have anything better to do than to annoy people?" Batman said, glaring down at Wally, arms crossed.
Wally scrambled up. "Hey, Bats, coffee break. I--"
"—are in my way. Leave. Now. We're on the job, learn to observe propriety."
"Hey! Why aren't you yelling at him?" Wally had said, pointed at Clark who was standing now too, straightening his cape. "We were both--" He paused, held up his hands. "Sorry I touched your boy."
"He's not my boy. He's--"
"Excuse me, sorry I touched your man."
"He's a founder of this league and deserves respect. Go." Batman loomed forward, impending threat. Wally took off with a wink and a wave to Clark.
Clark only raised an eyebrow. "Bruce, was that really necessary? We were just horsing around."
"He was on top of you, Clark. Unseemly behavior. Remember where we are."
Clark had to laugh. "Would you rather I was on top?"
"Don't be crude."
"Fine. If you can't take a joke--"
Bruce reached out then, ran his glove up Clark's arm. "To answer his question: no, I wouldn't break my teeth and no, I don't wish you were a girl."
Oh. So he had heard that part. "That's just Wally. You couldn't possibly have taken any of that seriously. I never said..." Clark's voice faded. He could feel the drumbeat of Bruce's pulse through the gauntlet that hadn't left his arm. He couldn't ignore Bruce's arousal. Clark flushed. Bruce said nothing.
A quick scan revealed the auxiliary member, the very female auxiliary member, of the league in Bruce's quarters, disrobing. Clark said, "The meeting starts up again in ten minutes. You'd better hurry."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Bruce's hand left his arm.
Clark only raised an eyebrow again. "Ten minutes, Bruce. Wally will give the propriety lecture in front of everyone if you're late."
"I'm never late," Bruce said as he left.
Clark turned back to the table, warmed up his coffee. He smiled and warmly greeted the other members as they each grabbed a cup in turn before heading back to the meeting room, gave Diana a hug. Something made him turn, a faraway whisper. And even though he didn't want to, his vision opened up and once again he saw Bruce's quarters. The fact that Bruce had only bothered to open up the parts of his uniform necessary for his current task as he pinned Something-girl—and why her name escaped Clark and his eidetic memory bothered him—to the wall was just this side of disturbing. The whisper entered Clark's ear again, Bruce's mask pointing toward the lounge.
"Are you watching, Clark?"
Something-girl didn't react, Bruce's whisper subvocal and only meant for him. Clark stiffened. Bruce didn't sound accusatory, angry. He sounded...Clark tried to narrow his focus back to the room he stood in, his coffee, something, but he didn't manage it before the hushed and gritted sounds of Bruce's hurried orgasm washed through him.
Throughout the meeting, for which Bruce had made it back on time, Clark couldn't meet his eyes. He didn't know if he'd ever understand Bruce's particular brand of humor.
Bruce and Something-girl didn't last two weeks. He never did, as far as Clark could tell, remove his mask in front of her.
"Clark?" Bruce said now, his hand still in his and the other having slipped from his hair down to his neck. "Will you stay? I think you could do with a night away from Metropolis." The firelight and candles softened the otherwise harsh planes of his face.
"I...I suppose I could," he said, feeling odd and exposed without his glasses. "I have to keep my ears open, you know, if something comes up."
Bruce smiles, open and unfamiliar. "Of course. Duty first."
"Don't you have to go out for patrol?"
"I made arrangements. It's covered. I'm all yours for the evening."
Flirting. Clark can't think of another word for it. Bruce is blatantly flirting. "Nice suit," Bruce says, hand working his way from Clark's neck to his tie, fingering it and then loosening it. "But it must be uncomfortable."
Marvin Gaye, in the background, suggests, "Let's get it on..."
Clark's tie slides off, falls to the floor. "Clark, has anyone ever told you that you have the most amazing eyes?"
Ordinarily, Clark would laugh at such an old and tired line. But the line is accompanied by Bruce shifting closer, hand sliding back around his neck. Bruce's own incredible eyes, a subtler blue than his own, are now half-lidded, his face tilting toward Clark's. Clark closes his own eyes when their lips meet.
And why not? For the first time in years, Clark doesn't have to back away, explain that he's involved with someone. He only has an empty and dark apartment to go home to. And although he's never really thought of doing this with Bruce, it all comes so naturally now. Everything with Bruce suddenly makes a startling sense, the odd possessiveness, the tension, even this cute little set-up. Of course it comes to this. They're kissing in earnest now, mouths open and slow.
"Did you put something in the wine?" Clark asks, mouth along Bruce's jaw.
"Not a thing," Bruce says, sounding amused, arching his neck so that Clark's mouth slides down, the slight tang of aftershave.
"Good. This is just me then. What we both want."
Bruce brings him up for another kiss, a long one and breathless. Soon he places a hand over one of Clark's, presses down until Clark's palm rests on top of his erection. He grinds up, pushing. "That's for you, Clark. All for you." And then he pushes Clark's shoulders past any hint of suggestion until Clark finds himself kneeling on the floor, between Bruce's spread legs, with Bruce hastily opening up his trousers.
Clark blinks. Bruce's hand is at the base of his cock now, the other hand pushing Clark's head forward. Bruce is beyond pushy. Clark looks up, uncertain.
"You don't have to," Bruce says, hushed and looking a little uncertain himself. "I know you've never...We could just...Jesus, Clark, get back up here."
But Bruce's words only reassure him, that maybe this is the right thing to do. So when Bruce takes his hand away, Clark leans forward, takes Bruce in his mouth. Slowly, at first. Clark hasn't done this for longer than he wants to think about. In fact, he rarely thinks about that time at all. But what the mind forgets, the body remembers. Bruce gasps above him, a good sound, as he swallows him down. Soon his hands are in his hair, hips moving, as Clark's hands roam and tease. There's nothing but this room, its dim light, mouth full and moving, thighs quivering under his hands. And then the tensing, the salty release.
Clark swallows, opens his eyes. Bruce is staring at him, mouth slightly open, shuddering down. Clark smiles, hard as anything himself now, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He rises, sits next to Bruce on the couch. Bruce still stares down at the floor where Clark had been.
"Hey," Clark says, attempting to kiss him, but Bruce refuses to turn. Oh, the aftertaste. He's never minded it, but Bruce might. Clark reaches for his wineglass, takes a hasty swish and swallows. It's his turn. In a minute, Bruce will return the favor. Or now that Clark's taken the edge off, they can go upstairs, take their time. Bruce practically said they had all night. He tries to kiss him again, but Bruce turns his head away. Bruce stands and zips himself back up.
"I should get ready for patrol," he says, still not looking at Clark. He goes to the door, smoothing his collar, the creases on his trousers.
Maybe patrol is Bruce's idea of a date? "I'll come with you," Clark says. His erection protests, insists that he grab Bruce right then and there, even things out. He ignores it until it petulantly slinks away.
"No," Bruce says. "You have your own city. You should go home."
Clark stands. "But Bruce--"
"I'll walk you to the door."
Clark finds himself standing in the entryway, Alfred hurrying down the hall from the kitchen. He whispers, far away and in shock, he can't bear for Alfred to hear, "Wasn't it any good?"
Bruce just smiles, fake as anything. The act, it had all been the act. "The best, really." And then he actually says, turning as he's walking away down the hall, "I'll call you."
Alfred stands next to him as Bruce disappears into the study. He doesn't get his coat.
"Mister Kent," he says, knowing and sorrowful, "Please, have a cup of tea before you go. It's no trouble."
Clark sits slumped slightly forward in a kitchen chair, a cup of chamomile in front of him. Alfred sits across from him. The kitchen clock ticks.
"I'll speak to him about his boorish behavior," Alfred says. "And if I have anything to say about it, and I certainly will, you'll have your waffles in the morning."
Clark looks up at that. "Thank you," he says, "But given the circumstances--"
"Nonsense. You've always been a welcome guest in this house. Even if certain persons momentarily forget that. And their manners."
Guest. That's how Bruce referred to him earlier, and Alfred had bridled at the word. "He does this a lot," Clark says to his tea cup. Of course Bruce does this a lot. Clark's just another member of the parade.
"He's spoken of your recent circumstances. I'm so sorry."
Clark takes a hasty sip of tea, glances back up. Alfred sips from his own cup, leans forward. "He speaks of you quite often, actually. More than anyone in your particular trade."
He can only let out a small laugh at that, tiny and bitter. "I find that hard to believe." If Bruce does talk about him, he's sure most of it isn't good.
Alfred reaches out then, pats him on the hand. "Recent events aside, I can assure you that he has a great deal of respect for you. He's been angry on your behalf on several occasions, quite protective. As I'm sure you're aware, Master Bruce doesn't take to people easily. And he certainly doesn't invite them into his home."
Considering what just happened, Clark wants to contradict that. But he knows that Alfred is only trying to be helpful, reassuring, bolster a cracked and fragile ego, so he says nothing.
"Did I forget the biscuits?" Alfred says, rising. "Goodness, where are my manners?" He goes to the cabinet, but instead of pulling down a tin of cookies, he gets a jar of peanut butter and another one of jelly, bread from the breadboard. He proceeds to make several sandwiches, cutting them into small triangles and placing them on a plate. Comfort food. Dick's favorite, from years ago, back when he still lived here. Clark can easily imagine a younger Dick slumped in this same chair, Alfred comforting him with words and similar sandwiches for some inexplicable thing that Bruce had done. When Alfred places the plate in the center of the table, Clark gives him a genuine smile, thanks him.
"You've been more than a friend to us over the years, Mister Kent. You're family. I can't imagine what we would have done if you hadn't been there for Master Dick during our troubles. You were there when Master Jason..." Alfred's voice trails off. He coughs and resumes. "You've even been a help with Master Tim." He pauses, finishes his tea. "There are members of this house that do appreciate you. And he does as well. I can only hope that what transpired this evening doesn't serve to alienate you. You will be missed if it does."
From below, Clark hears the batmobile peel out of the cave. He lets out a breath that he didn't even know that he had held in.
Alfred pours himself another cup of tea, tops off Clark's cup. "He's gone," he says, noting Clark's reaction.
"Yes." Suddenly, it occurs to him that Alfred has another motive for keeping him here in this house. If he had left when Bruce had shown him the door, Clark may very well have confronted Bruce on some back road. At the moment, he can't say that he wouldn't have done that, been above it. The small kernel of anger that burns in his chest wouldn't have been soothed with chamomile, may very well have blossomed into something terrible. "You're protecting him," he says.
Alfred looks down at his hands. "I've half a mind not to," he says. He looks up. "But yes. Always."
Clark picks up one of the small sandwiches, but doesn't eat. "You're protecting me too," he says.
Alfred smiles, pats him on the hand again. "As I said, Mister Kent. You're family." He waits for Clark to finish the sandwich, his tea. "I've something to show you."
Clark follows Alfred down the hall to the study. Alfred takes an ornate box down from the mantle, retrieves a small key from a smaller box, opens it. Inside it, wrapped in satin blue ribbon tied off in a bow, lie a stack of envelopes of various sizes.
"You'll have to use your special gifts to peruse these, I'm afraid," Alfred says. "I'm betraying a confidence by showing you this much."
Clark scans the envelopes. Within them are every single card, the occasional letter, that he's given Bruce over the years. The ribbon has several creases, as if it's been untied and retied several times. Some of the letters have additional creases as well, as if they've been opened and refolded more than once.
"Master Bruce," Alfred says, "Is at heart a very sentimental man. His aloof air is an indication of great feeling, not a lack of it." Alfred closes the box puts it back on the mantle. "If I could show you your room, sir? Perhaps the two of you can speak in the morning."
Clark does feel tired. "I can't stay, Alfred. You know that."
Alfred smiles, wistful. "You can't blame an old man for trying. Please, Mister Kent, don't be a stranger. I'll get your coat."
As he stands in the entryway, coat now on and tie in his pocket, Clark holds out his hand. "I don't know when or if I'll be back, Alfred. I just want to thank you. For everything."
Alfred clasps his hand. His hand is firm but his voice not when he speaks. This is goodbye and he knows it. "You're quite welcome, Mister Kent. Safe journey."
When Clark reaches the gates, he turns, takes a good long look at the manor. He has no intention of returning here ever again. After a minute, then two, he's done. He turns his face upward, lifts, and goes home.