As the bewildered heroes watched, millimeter by steady millimeter, the unmoving form of Galactus grew smaller and smaller, as if the great body were consuming itself in it's frantic efforts to find energy to sustain it. Reed Richards knelt by the side of their vanquished foe and scanned the rapidly shrinking form with an arcane instrument whose purpose was unknown to all but a few of the astonished onlookers.

"What the hell is going on here, Big Brain?" demanded Guy Gardner.

Looking up from his instruments, Reed Richards frowned. With a definitive snap he closed the instrument case and shut it off.

"He's dying," said Mr. Fantastic, putting away his scanner in a hidden pocket of his uniform. The news shook Kal-El.

"Dying? No! He can't be! He - no ... "

With his ring hand Guy Gardner made a sharp gesture, cutting the air like a blade and smiled.

"Let the sucker croak," he annonounced. He brought his Power Ring to bear on the dying alien. "In fact, I'll be glad to help the dirtbag on his way." A slender bracleted hand with strength enough to sunder steel flashed out and caught Gardner by the wrist.

"Guy, when was the last time someone called you an insensitive maniac?" said Wonder Woman and squeezed hard enough to bring unbidden tears to Gardner's eyes and a snarl to his lips. When he tried to snatch his hand away, the Amazon warrior released him.

"Not since this morning," the one true Green Lantern shot back.

"Sometimes I really miss Hal," murmured the Flash.

"Yeah, you and every other wimp on the planet, speed-geek."

When the pugnacious Gardner began to advance on the scarlet clad protector of Central City, he was halted by a dark guantleted hand that grasped him from behind by his rust red hair. Spinning him about, disorienting him completely before he had time to think, another dark guantleted fist lashed out, striking him squarely in the face. He went limp in his opponents hands and The Batman let him fall unceremoniously, but carefully, to the rooftop.

"We can't just let him die," the dark vigilante said, his gaze falling on the grieving Kal-El. "We have to do something." A sharp ripple of unease passed through the ranks of assembled heroes. No one, of course, wanted to be the one to say it. It was Steel who finally took upon himself the unpleasant task. Clearing his throat, he regarded The Batman levelly.

"What do you suggest we do, Batman?" he said softly. "If we save him now, we'll just have to face him again ... sooner or later. And the next time we might not be so lucky. I don't like it anymore than you do. But there it is. Reality bites." The Batman recalled the many, many times he had captured The Joker and his ilk and sent them to Arkham Asylum, only to have them escape and kill again.

And still he could not bring himself to countenance it.

"It's wrong," he insisted. "It's not our place to judge him or punish him. Just to stop him. He's an intelligent being. We should be able to reason with him. He might agree to leave the Earth in peace." He glanced again at Kal-El. "He has honor, of a sort."

"He's also got a humongus appetite, Bat-Dude," pointed out The Scarlet Spider. Reed Richards shook his head in sad denial.

"I'm afraid the point is moot, gentlemen ... Princess. At this juncture I don't see any way *to* save our foe. We don't have the technology or the power. There's nothing we can do for him."

Most of the heroes were somewhat ashamed of the relief that washed through them at the hero-scientist's announcement. Mercifully, the situation was out of their hands. They had defeated Galactus and the painful question just raised by that victory had but one answer.

Whatever happened, their consciences were clear, they told themselves.

"I - I should be getting back home," said the Flash.. "Iris will be wondering what happen to me. 'll be worried ... "

"Yeah, me to, I guess," said the Scarlet Spider. "You guys gonna be okay here without me?"

One by one the heroes began to take their leave of the sad, uncomfortable situation. Wonder Woman was one of the last to depart. She lay a slim hand on Kal-El's broad shoulder.

"Do you have someplace to go?" she asked. Silently, the kneeling Kal-El shook his head.

"You could come with me," the Amazon Princess offered. "My friend Julia always has room to spare." Princess Diana smiled fondly. "She'll make you pay for the privilege with the answers to a thousand questions. But you'll be welcome in her house." The young alien said nothing. Galactus hand was small enough, now, that he could encompass it within his own and he did. The Amazon squeezed Kal-El's shoulder lightly, knowing that it was little enough solace to offer.

"You should come away from here," she told him. "You can't help him. No need to punish yourself so." Again, Kal-El shook his head.

"No," he said, "I can't leave him." His throat worked and he swallowed hard. "No one should die alone."

"If you left, I don't think he'd know the difference," she said kindly.

"I'd know," said Kal-El and made no move to rise or leave.

Feeling bereft, like a mother deserting her child, Diana of Themyscira sighed. As the Amazon caught a passing breeze and lifted herself upon it, she smiled, though. Sharp eyes brought her the sight of the dark clad figure waiting patiently in the deep shadows of the rooftop.

Kal-El would not be alone, after all.

It took some time for the drama to play itself out to it's inevitable end; for Galactus to die. The great body was powerful and did not give up the struggle easily. Kal-El did not abandon him.

And The Batman did not abandon Kal-El.

He never spoke to Kal-El. He was simply there, a silent, caring presence, sitting unobtrusively nearby. He did not intrude on Kal-El's grief, if such it was. He was simply there.

When the Devourer of Worlds was gone completely, faded like a night mist in the dawning light of day, The Batman rose and approached Kal-El. He did not touch him as Wonder Woman had. But his voice, when he spoke, was low and full of rough, little used compassion, like a rusty hinge given the succreae of soothing oil to lighten it's burden.

"Go home," he said.

Kal-El thought of the kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent, who loved him, and nodded.

**************************************************************************************

EPILOGUE

Six Months Later:

The great panoply of stars spread itself above him like a glittering cloak, twinkling and bright with allure. They seemed so close. It was as if he could reach out his hand and touch their brilliance. For a moment he lifted his hand to try and seize them. But no.

They were out of his reach, now.

Like so many, many other things.

His body tingled with the memory of the Power Cosmic surging and burning its way through him, spilling out his eyes and his hands, shaped by his will. But like the stars shining so far above him, unreachable now, it was only a memory. And with time, like any memory (even so unique a one as that) it would fade.

He hoped.

"You miss it, don't you?"

Calling from out of the looming darkness, the voice startled him and Kal-El spun to face it. When the stygian figure stepped out of the gathering shadows, he relaxed. "How does he *do* that?" the newly christened Superman wondered. "To *me*"

"Space, I mean," said The Batman. "You must feel trapped here, now."

The other man returned to watching the twinkling stars overhead. Eyes that could see atoms collide if he willed it, ears that could hear a cell divide, watched and listened to the birth of a new star. The light of it would not reach Earth for centuries. Once, the man in the colorful new costume would have journeyed faster than the speed of those hurtling rays of light to be mid-wife at that birth.

But no longer.

He closed his eyes and looked away from the splendors denied him, now.

"Sometimes," he admitted. "Sometimes I miss it."

"The top of the Daily Bugle building here in Metropolis is probably as close as you're going to get, I'm afraid." A brief half smile flickered about the corners of those thin lips for an instant, no more. "I doubt that J. Jonah Jameson(16) would approve." The wry thought seemed to please The Batman.

"Of either of us," Superman chuckled in agreement. Laughter threatened and the Dark Knight stanched it, as if putting his booted foot on the neck of a supine criminal.

"I can live with that," he said with no small amount of sarcasm staining his deep voice. The young alien at his side frowned slightly.

"Sometimes I wonder if there's anything you can't live with, Bruce," he said softly. The Batman folded his cape closer about his broad shoulders and it was only Superman's keen eyes that allowed him to notice that the other hero also used the simple, unassuming act to step back slightly, to distance himself a bit from his companion in the night.

"You'll know it when you find it, Clark," The Batman said. Superman smiled.

"Oh, I think I already have," he announced. When silence was the only answer to his foray, he wasn't surprised. But he didn't let it deter him, either.

"We have more in common than you think," continued the bright figure gleaming in the starlight. "It takes a singular man to do what you do -- what *we* do. More than dedication ... more than a sense of justice and what's right. It takes ... obsession almost." He paused and watched the other man as something dark and lonely flickered through those chill blue eyes.

"Something bad happened to you, didn't it?" asked Superman. "Someone died, I think. And you were all alone in a world that didn't make sense. I know all about ... being alone. I understand you better than you know. Because when it's all said and done ... when you tear all the outer trapping away from the heart of The Batman, the cape, the cowl, the shadows and the night ... what you're left with is a man. A man who, more than anything thing, doesn't want to see anyone else die. When my Mast - when Galactus was dying ... you were the only one who spoke for saving him." The man beside him remained still as a statue. Superman closed haunted eyes.

"I watched worlds perish. And I finally leaned the truth about the death of my own world and everything I *should* have become. I don't want to see it happen again, either. I *won't* see it happen again. I won't." For long moments neither spoke. When the silence was finally shattered, Superman was surprised that it was his companion who wielded the hammer. Staring off into the vast night sky, The Batman drew a deep breath.

"You have a lot to atone for," he said. "This is a good place for that. This world could certainly *use* your help." Superman nodded.

"You'll help me?" he ventured, unsure. The Batman seemed startled.

"Me?" Again, Superman nodded in affirmation. The Batman frowned. "You're the one with powers and abilities far beyond us mere mortals," he pointed out, his voice gone acerbic with irony. "What can *I* do to help you?" Superman stared down into the heart of the bustling city of Metropolis from high above it's still crowded streets.

"This is your world," he told The Batman. "Your place. I may never understand it, totally. But if I'm going to try ... I'll need someone to help me. Someone to talk to and advise me. You think I'm too trusting, don't you? To eager to please and find a place to belong. That's why I stayed with Galactus for so long, right?" The Batman said nothing, but his silence was confirmation enough.

"Would it surprise you to know that I agree with you? More than most," Superman continued, "I'm going to need someone to help me fit into this world. A man. A *good* man. Someone who'll keep me centered; someone who'll think of all the things I may not see. Someone I can trust." Scarcely daring to breath, Superman waited. The answer, when it came, made him smile for all that it was only a simple nod and a tiny smile that lingered far too briefly on those sharp, angular features. It was several moments before The Batman spoke.

"I can't imagine what it was like out there," he mused softly. "The things you must have seen ... I suppose I can't really blame you for wanting to return. This world must seem a poor place to you."

"Only to a native who takes it for granted," Superman assured him with a laugh and, this time, The Batman's responding smile reached and warmed his blue eyes.

"But, then," Superman remarked, "I have something here that I never had ... out there ... " He looked up into the sparkling night sky and then back at the grim man at his side. Underneath the cowl, he could see an eyebrow raise itself in silent, eloquent inquiry. His answering smile rivaled the night stars in its radiance.

"Friends," he said.

The End

SCORECARD

(1) Galactus - In the Marvel Universe, Galactus is a menace on a Cosmic scale. AKA "The World Devourer", Galactus does just that. Very much in the same way that humans consume lesser animal and plant life, Galactus consumes the energy of entire planets and all the life on them to survive. He is always accompanied by a (sometimes not so) faithful Herald, who wields only a fraction of their Master's Power Cosmic. Galactus' *Heralds* are some of the most powerful beings in the Universe. Let us not speak of Galactus himself. In the Marvel Universe, the first heroes to confront Galactus were the Fantastic Four.

(2) Kal-El - is, of course, Superman's Kryptonian name. Just checking:):)

(3) The Fantastic Four - In the Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four were among the first modern day heroes. Lead by scientific genius Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, the FF are basically a family unit. Reed Richards, his wife Sue Storm Richards, The Invisible Woman, his brother-in-law Johnny Storm, the Human Torch (Sue Storm's kid brother) and close family friend Ben Grimm, the Thing. Mr. Fantastic is able to stretch his body to - er - fantastic lengths ... (think Plastic Man or the Elongated Man heah!), The Invisible Woman's power is pretty self-explainitory. The Human Torch, not surprisingly, has flame related powers and the Thing has great super-strength, but an unfortunate appearance -- hence the name.

(4) Iron Man - In the Marvel Universe, the original Iron Man was master weapons inventor and industrialist Tony Stark who posed as his own bodyguard, Iron Man, wearing a gold and crimson suit of high tech armor. Iron Man's armor allows him to fly very swiftly, enhances his strength and does a good many other useful things. His main offensive weapons are his patented "repulsor rays".

(5) This one is a bit complicated ... *sigh* The Scarlet Spider is Ben Reilly, a clone of Peter Parker, the original Amazing Spider Man. He is gifted with the proportional strength of a spider, super agility, and high-tech web shooters of his own invention that allow him to ensnare his foes or web-sling from building to building, etc.

(6) Moi's little tribute to one of the finest writers in comics today. JMHO!

(7) Peter Parker - In the Marvel Universe perennially broke and beset grad student Peter Parker often earned money as a photographer for the Daily Bugle. He was also, the original Spiderman:):)

(8) Jean de Wolf - In the MU the late lamented Jean de Wolf was a detective with the NYPD and a very good one. She was also a friend of Spiderman who assisted him many times in his crime fighting efforts. In memorium to a grand character, Ah have made her a member of the Metropolis S.C.U.

(9) Roxy Leech - okay ... so ONE more DCU character to explain! Roxy Leech is a companion of the Post-Crisis Superboy. Since she has recently joined and trained with the Hawaiian branch of the ubiquitous S.C.U. Ah thought Ah would include her!

(10) Nick Fury - In the MU, Nick Fury is a decorated veteran of WW2 where he was the fearless leader of Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos. Nick is a Colonel now and the Director a world wide law enforcement and peace keeping organization known as

(11) S.H.I.E.L.D. - Acronym for Scientific Headquarters International Enforcement Law Division; the aforementioned world wide organization. Very gadget prone and oriented.

(12) Frank Castle - In the MU Frank Castle is the Punisher. A multi tour vet of Vietnam, Frank Castle came home to his wife and children only to lose them to gang violence during a picnic in Central Park on a sunny day. A *highly* trained Marine combat soldier, Frank Castle declared war on crime and criminals. Big guns ... lotsa dead bodies.

(13) Magneto - In the MU Magneto is The Master of Magnetism. He has been described variously as "The most powerful mutant on Earth" and "virtually a force of nature". He has almost total control, of the Earth's electromagnetic spectrum, particularly in the realm of magnetic phenomena. A survivor of Auchwitz death camp, Magneto has good reasons for believing that unless stopped humanity will commit genocide against it's mutant offspring. He's seen it happen before. He's determined it won't happen again. He has been portrayed both as a villain and a hero.

(14) The X-Men - Do Ah really have to explain this one?? Very well. For those of ya'll who have been living on another planet for the last twenty years, the X-Men are a group of mutant superheroes banded together to assist mankind and protect them from evil mutant menaces and all manner of such like:):) They are feared and often mistaken for villains by a frightened humanity. In the MU they are led by the redoubtable, telepathic Charles Xavier, Professor X. Had things been just a bit different, they might very well have been led by the man who became their chief adversary: Magneto.

(15) The Dazzler - In the Marvel Universe, Alison Blaire, The Dazzler is a mutant and former memeber of The X-Men. She is also a singer of some repute and a cinema actress. As she says, her power is the ability into convert sound to light of any kind at her discretion from lasers to concentrateds sunlight. Think of her as an MU equivalent of the current heroic version of Doctor Light.

(16) J. Jonah Jameson - In the Marvel Universe, JJJ is the redoubtable editor of the Daily Bugle. JJJ is a hard, harsh man, but a fair one. He does not support the activities of various vigilante superheroes. Most especially Spiderman:):)

Thassit:):) As for anybody else in the DCU in heah ... ya'll are own ya'll's own! Hee!