SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!

Ah don't own either of these folks! DC Comics does! Not for profit! No copy right infringement intended!

Rated PG-17 for non-explicit m/m sex! If'n such like offends ya'll, then skedaddle!

As usual with moi's fics, this one has no continuity to speak of! It's Post-Cataclysm Batman/Superman inspired by a recent issue of Shadow of the Bat and moi's favoite vision of Superman from "Kingdom Come":):) Special thanks to KJ who told moi to write the story and to mon chere FoL and 'rith, mes amis Alice, and company who beta read:):)

Garden Of Earthly Delights

A Superman/Batman Tale by Dannell Lites

He comes striding into my private place walking on the ground like any other man.

From the trees, I watch him closely. He must know that I'm here. Ears that can hear a sparrow fall half way around the world if he wishes it, eyes that can see molecules bond and the birth of distant planets when he chooses are surely not fooled by my simple tricks of silence and utter stillness.

I watch him pause and close his eyes, connecting to the earth beneath his boots like the roots of a tree, delving deep into the nourishing soil for sustenance. A warm, passing breeze touches his face, ruffling hair the exact color of midnight and he smiles. He inhales deeply, and I follow suit, almost without thought, tasting the crisp, sharp tang of the great apple tree that lies at the heart of Ivy's Garden here in Robinson Park. An errant sunbeam kisses his tanned face for a moment and sets his skin aglow like burnished cooper. When he reaches for the apple, I have to smile at the instant and foolish religious simile.

Carefully, so as to disturb nature as little as possible, he sits beneath the tree and begins to wait.

Oh yes, he knows I'm here, all right.

His hands reach out and touch the earth, running the rich fragrant soil between his fingers. And not for the first time I wonder if his sense of touch is as keen as his other senses. Can he feel the tiny microscopic creatures that live there in the soil he holds, aerating it and fertilizing it with their bodies when they die? Can he feel the differences in texture between one grain of earth and another? What must it be like to be him?

Not for the first time I thank God that I will never know.

He has thick, broad hands with short blunt fingers, the nails carefully clean and trimmed. A workman's hands strong and steady. The hands of a skilled craftsman. Or a farmer. I remember that his foster father is a farmer and I imagine him as a young boy, smiling and walking down the rows of a cornfield under a bright Kansas summer sun, surrounded by life and growing things. Suddenly I understand why he likes this place, this Garden.

I watch as he polishes the apple he plucked on the bright blue sleeve of his costume. With relish, strong white teeth bite into the pale flesh of the fruit and, from the inside, his face lights with pleasure like a beacon. I wonder if he is remembering the taste of his foster mother's apple jelly on buckwheat pancakes or is it perhaps the flavor of hot cinnamon spiced apple pie or the mouth-puckering tartness of fresh apple cider? There is such elegance in the simplicity with which he enjoys even so common a thing as eating. The unadorned pleasure is infectious and quite beautiful.

But then, I have watched him for a very long time, doing a great many things and that's how he does everything. Brightly, brightly and with beauty.

When he is done, when he has wrung the last ounce of joy from the apple, he carefully buries the seeds. In twenty years time there will be new apple trees to grace this Garden and I almost believe, as I watch him settle his broad back against the rough tree bark, that he might be content to simply sit here patiently and see them grow over the fullness of time.

I beat back a strong surge of envy for this man. What must it be like to be so unafraid, I wonder as he wipes his hands on the scarlet glory of his cape? To be so in control? Lightly, I touch the ground several feet away from him and approach him openly.

"Hello, Clark."

He smiles like the rising gold of the sun that gives him his powers.

"Hi, Bruce. If this is your new place, I like it better than the old one."

I decide not to sit. I am quite comfortable, towering over him. It doesn't seem to bother him, though, I must admit.

"Leslie tells me those medical supplies you brought will come in handy," I say finally into the awkward silence. I am not usually so anxious to make those around me feel at ease. Keeping others off balance is what I do. It's how I am. He smiles at me, but makes no move to rise.

"You're welcome," he assures me. His face darkens a bit and he lookes down at the earth as if to make sure that it is still there and an essential piece of himself along with it.

"It was little enough to do, God knows I - I wish I could do more." I say nothing and his smile takes on a rueful tinge after a moment. "I know, I know. I leaned my lesson the hard way the first time I was here after the quake. The people of Gotham have to help themselves. I can't do it for them. You showed me that."

"No," I tell him, and it is only the truth, "I let you find that out for yourself."

But it still hurts you that you can't, doesn't it, I think?

I saw Clark rescue a cat from a tree once. Yes, yes; I know. Ludicrous thought, isn't it? All that strength and power ... rescuing a tiny orange tabby striped ball of piteously meowing fur from a tall tree ... Fire departments don't do that anymore, you know. Rescue kittens from trees, that is. But there you have it. That's Clark. His biggest problem was keeping the little creature from injuring itself trying to bite and scratch him. The sobbing five year old girl waiting on the ground for her beloved Pur-Cat was grateful, though. Hiccuping, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. I don't think I've ever seen him look happier.

I shift uncomfortably on my feet for a moment. When I first met Clark, like almost everyone, I was afraid. There aren't many things I allow to frighten me, but Clark was one of them. I watched him fly faster than sound carries itself through the air and I was afraid. He stopped an onrushing train in its tracks and lifted it like a feather and I went cold beneath the insulation of my suit. Cold and frightened deep down in my guts where I live. I saw him perform one amazing, near miraculous feat after another, and I wondered how to control him. I wondered how to stop him if he ever became really angry.

And I didn't like the answers I found.

He still frightens me a bit. But, slowly, very slowly, I think I'm learning to trust him. Trust isn't easy for me. Six year old Bruce Wayne trusted the world to be a safe place to grow up in and the world left that little boy kneeling in an alley in a slowly spreading pool of his parent's blood and the continual roar of gunfire echoing in his ears. But Clark ... Clark is ...

I think it started with the kryptonite. Lex Luthor's kryptonite ring. The past is always painful and dangerous, isn't it? Clark's past, in the form of little tiny bits and pieces of the home world and heritage he was denied, are deadly to him. They cause him great pain and, so far as is known, they are the only things that might destroy him. When Clark defeated Luthor and took the ring he wore containing the last known piece of kryptonite on Earth, he did an extraordinary thing with it.

He brought it to me.

"I trust you," he said, then put it in my hands and told me to watch over it and keep it safe.

He didn't say, "In case it's ever ... needed." He didn't have to.

Understand. I'd never made a secret of the fact that I didn't trust Clark. That I was all too certain his veneer of altruism and goodness was just that: a veneer; perhaps even a blind to conceal something more sinister. No one is that perfect. No one. I reminded myself that he was an alien, not human. Where did he come from? Why was he here? At the time, I never knew that Clark was asking himself those very questions. Meticulously, I began to assemble data.

And one of the things I eventually realized is that, no, Clark isn't perfect. He gets as angry, as unhappy and frustrated as any of us. But he doesn't give in to these things. He controls them. I admired that about him. The fact is, he can't give in to them. If he does ...

If he does, then the rest of us mere mortals on this small backwater world are in a world of hurt.

"Bruce?"

I don't realize, until then, that I've just been standing there, staring at him. He must think I'm a great fool and I flush to think of it. Damn. How does he do that? Make me feel like a rude child and a too stern parent at one and the same time?

"Aren't you going to tell me I shouldn't be here," he asks, somewhat puzzled. "Tell me I don't belong?" I sigh.

"Why would I do that, Clark?"

He begins to look concerned.

"I'm not sure ... but you always do. I guess I just expected it."

"Always do the unexpected," I deadpan in my best tutorial voice. "Being nice is necessary, at times. It keeps the enemy off balance." The joke falls very flat.

"Are you all right, Bruce?" he asks. He is serious, I can tell. "You look ... tired."

"You mean I look defeated," I think. "Tired? Yes, I'm ... tired. But that's not it."

For obvious reasons, I've never had my memory tested. But from all evidence, I'm certain that it's photographic and fairly eidetic. I don't forget something once I've seen or heard or smelled or tasted it. And the one that lasts the longest is the sense of smell. Rooted deep in the hypothalamus, the hind brain, the 'reptile brain', the memory of the smell of a thing is always the last of the sensory impressions to fade. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to take the smell of Dick Grayson's anger with me to my grave. That and the look of betrayal in his eyes and the sound of rage in his voice.

Damn you! Damn you to Hell. Why, Bruce, why? Why couldn't you just leave it alone?

One interference too many in his life, I suppose. And now he is gone.

"I'm fine, Clark," I lie to him.

His face tells me how much credence he sets by that, but he says nothing. He doesn't shame me and for that I am grateful. But then, Clark is always courteous.

He rises up through the branches of the great apple tree like smoke and when he floats down again he holds in his hands an apple, fresh plucked and covered with dewdrops. I think fleetingly of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides ... Zues's wedding gift to Hera and I smile.

And then I remember that it was one of the Apples, inscribed "To The Fairest" and tossed by Eos, the Goddess of Discord, into the marriage feast of Peleus and Thetis for all the Goddesses present there to quarrel over, that began the Trojan War.

Let's not even *mention* Eve and the Snake in the Garden of Eden.

No, let's NOT mention that.

Innocently, Clark holds out the apple to me. "Here," he says. "You haven't been eating well, have you? Ma always used to tell me that she could tell when I was upset. She said it was the only thing that ever put me off my feed." I don't laugh at him. Not even a chuckle. I'm very proud of myself for that. It takes more restraint than I know that I possess. I still think Clark sometimes needs a keeper; someone to look after him and protect him from the world's harshness. He's much too innocent for his own good. Not naive, mind you. Innocent. There's a remarkable difference.

I'm not sure why I reach out to claim that apple. But I do. And if my hand lingeres mere moments longer than is entirely proper ...

"Batman," I tell myself fiercely, "is strong. He can do this." But if Clark notices the slight tremble in Bruce Wayne's hand he gives no sign of it. Or perhaps he did. Just before I withdraw my hand he strokes my palm with one finger.

Accidentally, of course.

The choice is mine. I hesitate for only a moment.

"Thank you," I say, and bit strongly into the apple.

I am surprised at how soft his hand is. Soft and unscarred like a child's. I'm not sure what I expected. Clark is surprising in so many ways, I can't think why I should be so intrigued by this simple thing. Of course, it is only rational. Invulnerable skin will hardly form calluses. But I've seen bullets bounce off that skin; those hands can rend steel, crush a lump of coal into a diamond. But there is no sign of such a thing in the feel of them.

Beneath my gauntlets, my hands have hard calluses, rising like mountains from the plains of my palms. I have small hands for such a large man. And I have abused them mightily. For a moment I am very afraid again. How can two people, so different as Clark and I, ever find a common ground? I begin to hope that he might ignore my response to his subtle overture.

Clark's smile seems to warm the air around him.

"I think you need a break from all this," Clark says softly. "There's something I'd like you to see, somewhere I'd like to take you," he continues, and then he hesitates, swallowing hard. "That is ... if you like."

Like a deer, caught in the headlights of an onrushing semi-tractor trailer, I freeze. My answer is very important to Clark. I think of Gotham and all the death and destruction beyond the peaceful environs of this small Park. There are a thousand and one pressing reasons for me to say no. Clark will accept any of them, I am sure. Without question. And never mention the moment again. Yes, there are many reason for me to say no.

And only one very important reason for me to, perhaps, say yes.

I don't want to watch the light of hope and passion die again in someone else's eyes, knowing that I killed it. My traitorous memory fills my world with the sound of the steady drip, drip, drip of filtered water through the porous limestone of my chosen huddling place, nestled deep within the sheltering Earth. The Batcave is gone, now; like so many other things in my life.

Bruce, you can't keep doing this to yourself! You drive everyone who loves you away. And I can't watch it anymore. I *won't*. I'm leaving..

drip drip drip

Clark is watching. And waiting.

drip drip drip

I clear my throat. "As it happens," I say in the husky little used voice of Bruce Wayne that I thought I'd drowned beneath the shadow of the Bat years ago, "I have the day free."

Clark gestures me forward. "Put your arms around me," he instructs, "and press yourself as closely to me as you can."

Startled, I blink. "Pardon?" I say, not quite believing my ears. Beneath his golden tan, Clark's face colors like a schoolboy's.

"I didn't mean ...," he blurts. "That is, I -- not *here* ... " Hopelessly entangled in his own verbal embarrassment, like a kitten in a ball of yarn, I am forced to rescue him. Stepping forward, I wrap my arms around him . He tenses for a moment and then seems to relax.

"Where are we going?" I ask. "I assume we'll be flying?" He nods.

"Ah - south," he explains. "Way south. You - ah - need to get so close because otherwise the wind friction when I fly might burn you. There's an aura close to my skin that prevents that. Protects anything close to me. It keeps my clothes from burning up or tearing when I fly." He grins impishly. "My clothes never get dirty, either, so I save a lot on laundry." I think of poor Alfred's continual battle to keep me properly clothed in various versions of the suit and I almost laugh.

"What's south?" I wonder.

He smells like sunshine. All the way to our mysterious destination I lay my head on his chest, listening to the thundering beat of his heart, inhaling the warmth of a bright summer day from his skin. He's very warm. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. His body is a great solar furnace, storing the energy of Earth yellow sun, to be released at his command. Unexpected, but not unpleasant.

"Home," he says simply and, like a coiled spring, leaps into the sky.

End, Part One

Part 2