Disclaimer: They're not mine and they're not gay. However, Clark does occasionally eat breakfast at Wayne Manor. And, in my opinion, this is the best thing I have ever written. Grin.
Coffee with Alfred
It was two minutes before seven o'clock on a bright, sunny Monday morning, and Bruce was just getting home after another sleepless night. The Batmobile was at the bottom of the river again, and all three of his back-up communication devices had been short-circuited by the little swim he'd had to take. The fact that two of those devices were supposed to be waterproof had put him in a bad mood. Plus, it had been a long walk, and various layers of his costume tended to chafe when wet.
Cape, cowl, Kevlar and waterlogged equipment were all abandoned in the cave, and Bruce made his way up the stairs to the manor, thinking only about the absolute necessity of sleep.
He was only half a hallway away from his bedroom when he thought he heard a sound. He paused. There it was again. It sounded like laughter. He frowned, confused. Lately, the only laughter he'd heard had been the evil maniacal kind, and he didn't like it very much. This sound was different, but it was still getting on his nerves. Who was laughing, and why?
Ever the detective, he took one last longing look down the hall, and turned to investigate.
The sound, it turned out, was coming from the kitchen. It was actually two voices, talking and practically giggling, and as he got closer he realized that they were talking and laughing about him. One voice was immediately familiar: Alfred's. And the other, he realized with simmering anger, he recognized as well.
Pushing open the door to the kitchen with one hand, Bruce scowled in at a scene that he did not understand.
Alfred, sleeves rolled up, wearing an apron instead of a bowtie, was sitting at the kitchen table across from one slightly frumpled-looking reporter from Metropolis.
"Bruce!" exclaimed the reporter, grinning up at him from behind a ridiculously unnecessary pair of glasses.
"What's going on here?" Bruce asked, voice flat and urgent.
"Breakfast, sir," Alfred answered, holding up his cup of tea as evidence and nodding slightly in his master's direction.
Alfred could be such a smartass.
"What are you doing here?" Bruce asked in the next heartbeat, locking his eyes on the reporter.
"Drinking coffee," came the good-natured reply.
There was a small pause as the breakfasters awaited some kind of reaction from the Bat. The clock over the sink ticked. And ticked again.
"I'm going to bed," Bruce growled.
"Very good sir," Alfred approved immediately. "Do put your wet clothes in the hamper this time, instead of leaving them on the floor?"
The reporter tried his best to snuffle a laugh into a tactful cough, and very narrowly avoided spilling his coffee.
Bruce let the door swing shut, and stalked away.
Tuesday morning came all too soon after Monday night. Covertly dredging the Batmobile out of the river hadn't been easy. At one point, the winch had broken and Bruce had grabbed the cable and consequently hurt his shoulder, which put him in a very bad mood, as he had little patience these days for non-combat-related injuries. The subsequent appearance of Killer Croc had done little to improve his disposition.
He'd been asleep for maybe three hours when the sound woke him up. He lay still for a minute, hoping he'd imagined it. He squinted at the clock on his nightstand—7:00 am. And there it was again: Laughter. From the kitchen.
He came barging in, in his pajamas this time, hair sticking up at odd angles.
"We were just talking about you!" the reporter said, delighted to see him.
"I know," Bruce grumbled. "I overheard."
"So sorry if we disturbed you, sir," Alfred apologized. "Perhaps if we shut the door at the end of your hallway—"
"I'll do it myself," Bruce declared, making it sound like a threat. He stood in the doorway, tense, as if waiting for someone to try to defy him.
Alfred was at the stove today, rather than at the table. He turned around, sizzling frying pan in hand, and smiled. "Care for some eggs, sir?"
"No," Bruce said. The reporter raised his eyebrows and slurped at his coffee. Bruce's posture shifted in the doorway. "…no thank you, Alfred," he corrected himself, in a lower voice.
"Just as well I suppose," Alfred remarked cheerily, shoveling a heap of eggs onto the reporter's plate. "I only made enough for the two of us."
Bruce glared back and forth between 'the two of them', and then tramped back upstairs to his bed.
24 hours later, a sonic boom rattled the manor. Bruce, who had once again just crawled into bed, leapt out of it and was downstairs in a moment.
"Alfred! Call the FAA— that was in my airspace and I never authorized--"
One somewhat windblown-looking reporter greeted him with a sheepish grin. "Mornin', Bruce," he said, fixing glasses that were slightly askew. "Sorry- I was running a little late today."
"And you do have that meeting this morning," Alfred reminded him, appearing from the kitchen with a steaming mug of coffee.
Bruce's eyes narrowed.
"Your coffee, Mr. Kent?" Alfred said.
Mr. Kent accepted the proffered mug, beaming. "Thanks, Alfred." He took a sip. "Mmm."
Alfred disappeared into the kitchen and came back a moment later with a warm tray of muffins. "Your favorite, sir," Alfred said, and not to Bruce.
Mr. Kent took a muffin, ate half of it in one bite as Bruce watched, dumbfounded. "Delicious," he reported.
"This is the third time," Bruce growled, his voice like rust on the gates of hell, "that you have woken me up." His hands clenched, perhaps unconsciously, into fists at his sides. "Explain."
"Have you tried this coffee?" Mr. Kent asked enthusiastically, taking another sip. "Best in the states. Maybe in the whole world! I always stop by for a cup on my way to work."
"You work in Metropolis," Bruce seethed.
Mr. Kent tipped his glasses down, and spoke in a low voice. "Right. But I'll let you in on a little secret, Bruce. I'm Superman." He and Alfred shared a little chuckle as Bruce continued to glare at them. "Besides, I always bring this." And he produced a folded newspaper from the inside of his jacket, which Bruce snatched out of his hand.
"The Daily Planet?" he said, incredulous. "I don't have a subscription for this."
"That's correct, sir." Alfred reached over and took the paper away from him. "But I do."
"How long has this been going on?" Bruce asked Alfred, appalled.
"Oh, at least three or four months I should say," Alfred supplied, setting the muffins down. He put one hand in the air and made a small 'come here' gesture to the reporter.
Obligingly, Mr. Kent held his coffee mug out to the side while Alfred leaned in and deftly straightened his tie.
Bruce's mouth fell open. Seeing Alfred straighten someone else's tie was the last straw. It was practically adultery. He felt so…so… so betrayed! "Whose butler are you?" Bruce demanded, enraged.
"Yours of course, Master Bruce," Alfred answered matter-of-factly. "But as Mr. Kent doesn't have one of his own, and is our guest, I don't mind taking care of him."
"You don't mind?" Bruce nearly roared. "Well, I do! I am out all night, putting my sanity on the line for this city, and when I come home to my house, I expect only one thing, and that is a few blessed hours of sleep, uninterrupted by muffin-eating alien paperboys and traitorous butlers!"
The reporter choked on his muffin, coughed, washed it down with the rest of his coffee. "Well," he said, clearing his throat. "I, ah, better be going—uh, running late, you know. Meeting and all." But there was no hiding his amusement. He had to fly out the window before he burst into laughter. He took two muffins with him to eat on the way.
Alfred sighed, unfazed, and turned to his master with a stoic expression. "Anything I can do for you, sir?" he asked, with just a bit of disinterested nasal cynicism.
"Just let me sleep," Bruce rumbled, shoulders slumping. He turned away, put a hand over his eyes.
"Goodnight sir," Alfred said.
For several days after that, Bruce got the sleep he needed. And then he had a particularly bad night, and wound up poisoned, and just managed to hide himself in a dumpster before passing out. The last thing he remembered was scrabbling at his belt, his fingers numb, his vision fogging to gray, trying to find the button, his throat closing up as he struggled to speak, to whisper: "…Alfred…"
And he woke up in his bed, in his pajamas, glass of water waiting for him on the nightstand and Alfred dozing in an armchair across the room. It was just after four o'clock in the morning and he felt a little dizzy, but knew he was safe.
He drank the water and went back to sleep.
A few hours later, he opened his eyes again. The first thing he saw were the numbers on the clock: 7:04. He turned, looked for Alfred, but Alfred wasn't there.
And then, faintly, he smelled bacon, drifting up from the kitchen, warm and welcoming and not for him.
Instantly feeling sick, he put his head under the pillow.
"He's been in a terrible mood ever since," Alfred confided, prying a perfectly golden waffle out of the iron.
"And it's been a whole week?" Clark asked, concerned. "Hmm. The poison ought to be out of his system by now." Alfred handed him the waffle, and poured the batter for the next one.
"Yes, I'm sure it is. It's something else that's wrong with him. I just wish I knew what."
"For starters, I'm hungry."
They both whirled, staring wide-eyed at the doorway, where a dark shadow lurked. Squinting at it, it looked like it had bat-ears, but as it stepped forward into the light the illusion vanished. This was not Batman, this was an unshaven, bleary-eyed Bruce Wayne, in a bathrobe and slippers.
"Master Bruce!" Alfred exclaimed. "Good morning, sir! I'm surprised you aren't still in bed."
"So am I," Bruce grumbled, sitting down at the table. "I couldn't sleep."
"Have a waffle, Bruce?" Clark suggested.
Bruce nodded. "Coffee'd be nice too," he grunted.
Instantly Clark was out of his seat and reaching for the pot, but Alfred stopped him with a noise that was almost literally a "tut!" and brought the coffee over himself. Clark sat back down, pushing his glasses back up on his nose and smiling as Alfred poured his master a cup.
"Thank you," Bruce said, something like guilt creeping its way into his voice. He gazed at the abstract reflection on the surface of the dark liquid in the innocent mug, the source of so much truth and comfort for the world. The iron beeped and Alfred eased another waffle onto a plate, carried it to the table, set it down in front of Bruce.
Somewhere between the counter and table, Alfred had managed to add a dollop of whip cream, a dusting of powdered sugar, and a trio of perfect raspberries as garnish. Bruce stared at the lovely waffle, lost.
Waffles and coffee. Holy communion. He wasn't worthy.
Clark was busy sprinkling chocolate chips on his. "Alfred's been worried about you," he said conversationally.
Like a robot, Bruce drank some coffee. It seemed to help. Less rigid, he turned his head. "What time do you wake up, Alfred?"
"Six o'clock, sir, on the dot," Alfred answered, standing at attention with coffee pot in hand, a magically conjured, spotless dishtowel draped over his arm.
"My God," Bruce said, horrified. He looked up at his butler as if he'd never seen him before, and then waved him forward. "Sit down," he pleaded, his voice soft.
Alfred quirked an eyebrow, and sat neatly at the table. Clark grinned and passed him the maple syrup.
"All these years?" Bruce asked, as Alfred added a perfect spiral of syrup to his own waffle.
"Used to be five o'clock," Alfred said brightly.
"My parents were morning people," Bruce submitted as fact.
Bruce's eyes hardened. "Breakfast is your favorite meal." It was an accusation.
"Mine too," Clark said cheerfully, coffee mug held aloft in a toast. "Most important meal of the day."
Something about lower teeth clenched over upper teeth always looked more ferocious. "You don't even need to eat," Bruce snarled.
Defiantly, Clark shoveled a big bite of chocolate-and-whip cream-covered waffle into his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and wiped his mouth on a napkin. "I don't just come here for the food, Bruce," he said, smiling. "It's the company."
"Mr. Kent is a good friend," Alfred added, backing him up. "And mornings do tend to get a bit lonely around here."
Bruce was emitting an ominous silence. Clark seemed relaxed, his mouth full of waffle again, but the glint behind his glasses surely meant that he was prepared to catch the kitchen appliances if Bruce started throwing them.
But Bruce only sipped his coffee. The tick of the clock over the sink was deafening.
He had a confession to make. He cleared his throat.
"Clark is a good friend," he echoed, reluctantly, looking down at his plate. Then, humbled but determined, he looked up at Alfred, and years fell from his face. "And Alfred is a great cook."
"Thank you, sir," Alfred said, honored.
"And I'd," Bruce hesitated, gathered his nerve. "I'd like to join you," he said, gruff but sincere. "For coffee. Breakfast. Sometimes."
Clark sat back, triumphant. "See?" he asked Alfred. "What'd I tell you?"
Alfred came up out of his seat, leaning across the table, his hand on Bruce's arm. "Very good sir," he said, with poorly concealed joy. "We'd always hoped you would."
Bruce blinked. "You did?" he asked blankly.
Clark laughed, clapped him on the back. "Of course. You're all we ever talk about anyway. You're like the missing piece of the puzzle around here-- but I knew you'd come around eventually."
Bruce smiled, really smiled. "This is ridiculous," he muttered, looking back down at his waffle and not fooling anyone. "It is way too early for me to be conscious. However--" He emptied his mug, still smiling. "This is really good coffee." He looked up at Alfred, who looked back at him with nothing but love. "Pass the syrup?"
Salvation had never tasted so sweet.