SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!

Ah don't own these guys ... DC comics does:) The lucky so and so's:):) This is a work of fan fiction for entertainment purposes only and not intended to infringe on any copyright held by DC Comics or others! So don't sue moi:(:( *eeepp*

All That's Best Of Light And Dark

A Bat Tale by Dannell Lites

Numbly, I wondered if this sort of thing had ever happened to anyone else. Surely it must have, I realized. But it certainly isn't every day that a man can watch someone he ... cares for ... literally beaten to death on national television, is it?

From Alfred's first breathless and painfully urgent, "Master Bruce, Master Bruce! On television! WGBS Metropolis!" until I watched it unfold, I was helpless. Helpless as a ... a child ...

Clark ...

*Kal* ... Oh God ... Kal ...

I couldn't seem to take my eyes off the screen. They were drawn and locked there like a magnet onto iron and I could *not* look away. As if electrified, I sat up in my chair, my back like a ramrod and gripped the arm rests. I watched Kal and his opponent pummel one another and pummel one another; brutal blows that I could almost feel on my own flesh ... Windows shattered and tall buildings trembled from the sound of their striking fists. And Kal ... Oh God! ... Kal was bleeding! That - that wasn't possible. I *wasn't*. That monster ... Doomsday? ... went crashing into a building and then lay still.

My body began preparing itself to relax. I could feel my death-grip on the chair ease. I drew in a deep breath. My lips moved of their own accord. Kal had won. I told myself to smile. Of *course* Kal won. Superman always wins. But this ... this ... this mindless *thing* they were calling Doomsday ...

I lost any religion I might ever have had long before I even old enough to knew what it was. But I think I was about to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving ...

And then

And then Kal swayed slightly like a man caught in the teeth of a harsh Winter wind. He reached out for support and I wasn't there to catch him. He couldn't seem to catch his breath. His knees buckled and he went crashing to the earth like ripe wheat before a scythe. I think that's when I leapt to my feet, stumbling back away from the screen and sent the chair spinning wildly on it's casters behind me. I remember a high pitched scream. I'm almost certain it wasn't me.

On the screen, I saw Lois Lane-Henderson rush into the street, throw herself to her knees, and cradled Kal's head. On the screen, some sadistic bastard of a cameraman zoomed in for a close-up of Kal's battered, bleeding face. Lois was sobbing wildly and Kal tried to say something but I don't think anyone but me knew what his last words were. I'm an expert at lip reading, after all.

His lips moved and he said, "Bruce ... "

He died in Lois' arms and I was helpless to do anything. Helpless. I could only watch. I was hours away from him even by jet ... safe and sound in my tidy little huddling place beneath the earth, the Batcave.

So why did I suddenly have to cover my ears against the continual roar of gunfire? My head swam to the musky scent of my mother's floral perfume . The soft plink! plink! plink! of pearls hitting concrete.

All at once, now, it was *my* knees that wouldn't support me. *I* was the one who couldn't breathe. I fell back heavily onto the floor and just sat there. For a long time, I think. Even when I closed my eyes I could still see Kal's face; his bleeding lips saying my name.

Alfred is a lot stronger than you might think just at first glance. I'm no lightweight, but he managed to pull me to my feet and guide me gently to my abandoned, overturned chair. I tried to thank him, but I was still gasping; breathing in the cool, dank air of the 'Cave that my lungs didn't seem to want. Wordlessly, he lowered my head between my knees.

I have no idea how long we sat there. Time lost all its meaning. I just sat there, not moving, trying very, very hard not to think, not to *feel*; to numb myself against the wall of pain that lived inside me. Alfred never left me. He sat with me, wordlessly pouring hot tea between my lips against the paralyzing cold that took me in waves like the sea. He even held the cup for me when my hand shook so badly that I sloshed the hot drink over my chest and burned myself. I barely noticed.

Eventually he lead me, docile and unprotesting as a child, to my bedroom, gently undressed me and put me to bed. I'm almost certain that he was the one who must have called Dick. For I did not wake alone. There, when I woke, stationed at my bedside like a sentinel, guarding my slumber sat Dick Grayson sleeping fitfully, stuffed into the ridged confines of one of my bedroom chairs.

"Oh God, Bruce," my son mourned when I woke him with a touch, "what are we gonna do? What the Hell are we gonna do?" I couldn't even bring myself to rebuke him for cursing. Instead my memory, that damnable cursed thing that never lets me forget, conjured up visions of a nine year old Dick Grayson, awestruck with hero worship in the presence of Superman. And Kal's grace and kindness to a lonely little boy. I steadied my hand and lay it on his shoulder in comfort. Gathering myself, I pushed my own agony of grief aside. I must be strong. For Dick. I would not fail him. Not again. It felt so good, so *right* to be needed like this.

And when I told him, "What we've always done, Dick. Our best to carry on. He - he'd want that ... " it was as if I were answering my own question. I did not flinch when he lay his head on my shoulder and cried.

Alfred took special care of us both and somehow, the three of us, Dick, Alfred and I got one another through the next few days. When I saw Dick off, back to Bludhaven and Garth, he was slowly healing himself.

Things happened so fast after that. Much too fast. The speed of the thing left me breathless. The funeral loomed at me like some great gigantic monolith, overtaking me at every turn. I couldn't seem to escape it no matter where or how fast I ran. It was everywhere. On everyone's lips. The JLA met at the Watchtower to discuss it. I wasn't there, but I heard about it. They had to issue me my invitation to march in the cortège through Jim Gordon. His hand trembled when he handed me the embossed LexCorps envelope but he didn't say a word. Equally stricken dumb, I left him abandoned and forlorn standing in the cold night rain and fled.

I couldn't bring myself to think about it. I couldn't. To be there when they buried Kal. It was too final. The thought of laying him in the ground, consigning him back to the earth he so loved ... seeing his tomb and acknowledging it ... left me cold and weakened my knees. It was too much. No, no. When they didn't hear from me the League sent someone to talk to me. They wanted me to be a pall bearer. To carry Kal's casket and give him up to the love and grief of strangers. Diana was so angry with me she was trembling when I sent her away. Tears of anger sparkled in her blue eyes.

"Hera take you, Bruce!" she cried, "how can you be so cold -- so cruel?"

It was Alfred who saved me. But, then ... doesn't he always? Faithful Alfred. Alfred ... the closest thing I've ever had to a father. Alfred who cares for me and understand me much better than I shall ever understand myself. Once more I fled, roaring into the dark, chill Gotham night in my Batmobile. But not before I heard Alfred's final words to the Amazon Princess.

"Miss Diana," Alfred said in that soft voice he uses for very important things, "please, you must allow Master Bruce to mourn in his own way. Not everyone bleeds on the outside where you can see it."

It must have worked. When I returned Diana was no longer there to accuse me with her eyes and the League left me alone after that. Alfred never spoke to me of the funeral. It was understood that I would not attend. That I - that I could not. If my failing distressed him, and I think it did, he did not mention it.

And yet ...

And yet when the time came I found the Batplane fueled and prepped for the flight to Metropolis.

Alfred was waiting, standing patiently beside the ready F-4 Phantom jet. Surrounded, as ever, by his almost palpable air of dignity, he handed me my spare utility belt and a box lunch for the flight.

"I thought you might need these, sir" he said.

I don't think anyone even knew that I was there. I hope not. I tried very hard to remain unseen. I - wasn't ready yet to face them. Any of them. To step forward, pick up the pieces of my life, and begin to live again. But then, there are plenty of people who wouldn't call what I do *living*. Until I met Kal I thought they were all huge fools. Hiding is one of the things I do best. Ask anyone. To let the night and the shadows cover me ... protect me. Comfort me. My armor has many layers.

From the shadows atop the towering buildings along the funeral route, I followed the cortège, safe and numb in my anonymity. It wasn't until I saw the bomber that I truly came alive.

I spotted him almost immediately, moving silently through the still crowd, tagging in the wake of the many heroes and diplomats. It was the coat that gave him away. His long, thick concealing coat worn close to the body and buttoned securely in the stifling heat of the burning Summer sun. It was telling how careful he was not to touch anyone in the thick milling crowds as he made his way along. From my utility belt I palmed a small sensing device, aimed it at him, frowning at the reading it gave me. When the cortège turned the corner and began marching down the long broad length of Prospect Avenue, I swooped down upon him like an avenging angel and whisked him away from the crowd, coming to rest atop an adjoining building.

"Explain the bomb in your coat pocket!" I rasped. The would be terrorist struggled on the end of my line dangling over the side of the high building where we perched.

"I - I - I'm a patriot!" he declared in a loud, self righteous voice. "Fighting oppression!"

My hand shot out and my finger wrapped themselves around his throat. My lips skinned back from my teeth in a feral snarl and my voice rumbled low in my throat. But no other sound emerged. For my life, I could not find words to match the hot wash of hate that flooded over me like a torrent threatening to drown me. But he must have seen my desire in my eyes, I think. My wish to see his bones break and shatter on the pavement of the streets stories below us, my *need* to see his blood splash and stain those streets; my need to see him die for all the innocent people he would have killed. For making a mockery of all my pain and grief. He choked in my tightening grasp. His mouth popped open and a thin, shrill keening emerged like the wail of a lost child. I wanted to cover my ears against the pity of it. To harden my heart, but I could not.

And suddenly ... suddenly

Kal was there. Standing beside me as he so often had. He looked so very, very sad my breath caught in my throat ...

"No, Bruce," he pleaded, his voice low and soft. "Please don't do this to yourself. You'll never forgive yourself if you do this thing. Please. If you love me ... "

And then he lay his hands, those hands that can level mountains, change the course of mighty rivers, those hands that had given me such pleasure and love, those hands that had given me back so much of myself, gently on my shoulders and then he looked into my eyes. I found myself engulfed, cradled in the peace and calmness I saw there. Of their own will it seemed, my fingers loosened their grip on the terrorist.

"Don't tempt me," I growled and he paled even further if that were possible. I stared into his panicking eyes and brought his terror stricken face within inches of my own grim and stony visage. Squealing and struggling in my hands, he was close enough to smell my anger and I could smell his terror. A heady brew. I think he almost passed out, then, but I shook him ruthlessly until his teeth rattled to prevent it.

"But Metropolis is *his* town ... Superman's town ... " I hissed in his ear. "And for today I'll.play it his way." I shook him again.

"For *today*."

I left him bound and trussed, hanging from a flag pole, swaying in the brisk wind between the man-made canyons of Kal's city, his bomb disarmed, begging to be arrested.

"Hurry -- please!" he cried, pleading with the air. "Batman -- Batman might be back!"

From my high, unguessed sanctuary, so familiar and soothing, among the buildings lining the crowded streets, I followed the mourning crowds. Proudly, I saw Dick marching at the head of the other Titans, his dark head held high in spite of the grief haunting his eyes. I was happy to see him among friends. And I was suddenly ashamed that I wasn't there for him when he might need me. Oh God Dick ... I'm sorry ... I'm so sorry ... But when I saw Garth at his side I felt better. He was with someone who loved him and that was good.

When I saw Tim striding quietly along, also at Dick's side, I nearly burst with pride. I heard Kal's warm voice again, then.

"For a loner," he averred when he met the third Robin, "you sure know how to pick a partner, Bruce." I remember lowering my eyes and giving in to the small, soft smile that stole involuntarily over my features lurking at the corners of my mouth and curling my lips. Taking his hand in mine, I nodded.

"Yes," I answered him, "I *do*."

Blushing, his responding smile outshone the sun.

I watched Hal and Diana lay Kal in his tomb and closed my eyes against the sight. I almost fled then. My traitorous body cried out for me to do it. To run and run and run until I was too exhausted to think ... to weary to feel ... or to hurt ...

I stumbled away, found shelter in a convenient shadow, in the shade of a fiercely menacing gargoyle at one of the buildings farthest corners. Crouching, I wrapped my cape about myself to ward off the chill of the brisk breeze whistling through the air this high up.

It must have been the cold wind that made me shiver. Not - not anything else. Only the wind ...

I did not see them, but even from my aerial perch, I heard the voice of President Clinton and the First Lady speaking words of comfort and wisdom.

""Superman himself would probably remind us to care for the many victims of Doomsday's attack. And so we do," the President of the United States reminded the gathered mourners. "But how could we not especially honor the man who died to save so many more?" he asked with quiet dignity. "His powers and abilities were amazing ... but how much *more* amazing was the way he chose to use those powers. If there is a lesson in this, it is that the greatest power of all is our own ability to help each other." A short speech, passionate and stirring. I thought that Kal might have approved. But it was Hillary Rodham Clinton's strong voice ringing out over the loudspeakers that pieced me to the heart. For she was talking to *me*.

"We also send our thoughts and prayers," her soft words touched me, "to Superman's loved ones ... whoever they may be."

I unfurled myself from my tight ball of pain, making my way back to the edge of the buildings roof and my birds eye view of the crowd and the many dignitaries. When I saw Rex Leech approach Jimmy Olsen I frowned. With a flick of my fingers I activated the auditory sensors built into my cowl. I wanted to hear this. I have no love for Rex and his ilk. Parasites of the worst sort. To say that I did not trust him was to ennoble the depths of my sewer like opinion of the man. And I was right, too.

Young Olsen hit him when Leech turned nasty at Jimmy's refusal to sell him the rights to that last photo of Kal. The one of Kal laying pale and bloody in the street, dying but triumphant. I heard Leech threaten the youthful photographer in a loud, strident voice and as his bodyguards moved in for the kill upon their master's orders, I cursed under my breath and made ready to strike.

As it happened, I needn't have bothered.

Tim, who was closer, got there before me.

As I watched him defend Kal's young friend and co-worker, sending Rex Leech and his hired goons packing, nursing their well deserved bruises, I've never been prouder of him. I don't delude myself that Tim learned his morals from me. He always had those. But I like to think that I had a hand in shaping them, nonetheless. If the Batman has any future it rests with Tim. When the Mantle of The Bat no longer sits upon my shoulders, it will be Tim, I think, who takes it up and carries it on. Dick is his own man these days and that's as it should be. He has his own legend to create, his own mantle to pass on if he wishes. I never meant for him to languish in my shadow. And, hard as it is for me to let my son grow up, I'm glad he's found his own way.

My hand reached to shut off the enhanced audio pouring into my ears, but another voice stayed my hand and it fell limp to my side. The tearful voice of a young girl, echoing my own heartsickness.

"But, mommy, Superman saved us from that fire. He was awesome. It ain't right ... a guy like that shouldn't oughta be dead ... "

Other voices ...

"Dude pulled me outta that wreck ... "

"I remember, Bashir, how he stopped those thugs who robbed our deli ... it was plain that he cared for everyone ... "

"They say Superman was an alien. Funny isn't it how he was also Earth's greatest hero ... ?"

So many, many voices ...

All of them grieving.

Like me.

I reached up to shut off the enhanced audio flowing into my ears from the mechanism hidden in my cowl. But, once again, I was betrayed. Betrayed by the voices ... Why is it always the voices of children that rip and tear at me with such sharp talons? These voices were young, so very young.

Young and very, very *angry*.

"Stop whimperin', Teddy-bear! It's Superman's fault our Daddy ain't with us no more. Serves him right he's dead!"

The other voice was likewise young, sniffling back choking tears, but still defiant.

"Superman made Daddy stop hittin' Mommy. And I'm glad!"

With a flick of my fingers I engaged the zoom lens in my mask and brought the combatants in this tense, little puerile drama into sharp focus. They weren't hard to spot. Just two small boys, one of them bigger and probably older than the other. The larger boy shoved the younger one hard with a harsh hand. The smaller child stumbled backward before he caught himself with with unsteady fingers. I frowned beneath my cowl.

But, then, an unlikely savior emerged.

A young black boy, about Teddy's age I estimated quickly, surged forward. "Come over here an' stand with me, Teddy," he invited. "I won't let anybody hurt you. Superman wouldn't like that." The large white cat lounging with languid, feline grace in his arms purred loudly. Like an offering, a precious gift, the youth proffered his contented pet to the other, weeping boy. Nearby, Teddy's older brother snorted back hot derision.

"I bet you're sad 'cause Supeman's dead, huh?" the boy with the cat whispered. "That's okay, Teddy ... see, I'm cryin', too. Here, why don't you hold Tiger? It won't bring Superman back, but maybe it'll make you feel better."

Teddy clutched the purring Tiger close to his chest, protectively, and a few salt tears found their way into the pristine, shining white fur. Tiger meowed loudly and licked Teddy's hand.

I knew who they were, then. I had recognized the youthful cat owner almost immediately from Kal's vivid description. Not only had he saved the adventurous Tiger from his own folly, stuck in a tall tree with no way down (I could still smile at the incongruous image), but he'd also saved Tiger's owner and his entire family from a raging tenement fire shortly thereafter. Only weeks ...

... only weeks before he died.

I closed my eyes at the pain gnawing once more like a living thing at my gut.

But the other two boys ... could it be? Was I really that unlucky?

Or ... perhaps fortunate?

Kal's last case ...

I could still yet recall with perfect clarity the pain and hurt staining those blue upon blue eyes. In all our time together ( ... short ... so very, very short ... But, then, would Eternity have been long enough? No.) I had only rarely seen Kal angry. It's ... It - it *was* ... his habit to suppress his rage and his baser instincts. Thank God. If he hadn't been invulnerable I'd have worried about his blood pressure or even the possibility of bleeding ulcers. But this wrath he'd gladly vented.

"Good God, Bruce! The Metropolis PD almost arrested *me*! For breaking and entering of all things. But - damn it! That ... *man* ... " his lips curled back in a sneer, magically transforming the simple unassuming word somehow into a foul epithet. "... was *beating* his wife! Couldn't they *see* that?" He ran nervous fingers through his night dark hair in grinding frustration.

"And the very worst part," he cried, "was Andrea's refusal to press charges. When her husband threatened to have me arrested for breaking and entering, she just stood there. Stood there like a lifeless statue with the blood still dripping down her face." Heavily, like a stone sinking beneath the surface of a still, quiet pond and disappearing from the ken of man, he fell back into a nearby chair, shaking his head in confusion. He'd looked up at me then, his eyes begging me for an answer, something to make sense out of a senseless world.

"Why, Bruce, *why*? How could she do that?"

I knelt beside him. "She was afraid, Kal. Just afraid, that's all. Of her husband ... of facing life without him ... strange as that sounds. Fear makes people do some odd things. Believe me, I *know* about fear."

Briefly, he squeezed my hand gently. He's always so careful when he touches other people. For him the world is such a fragile, breakable place. His smile lit the somber, dark corners of the Batcave and the ones lurking deep inside my troubled spirit like the gold of the rising sun.

"You don't frighten *me*," he murmured. "Not anymore."

I let my smile creep into my voice if not onto my lips. "I'm glad of that," I said.

The story has a happy ending. Of sorts. Andrea eventually found the courage to press charges against her abusive spouse and he was sent to prison. But now it had begun to look as if her eldest son was preparing to follow in his fathers footsteps.

Not if I had anything to ay about it.

By the time I came swooping down upon the small scene of school yard style violence, things had heated up considerably. Teddy's older brother nursed a potent scratch, courtesy of the annoyed Tiger, and advanced menacingly upon Tiger's hapless owner. A hard young fist shot out and the smaller boy fell back clutching his nose. Springing to the defense of his new found friend, Teddy was headed for much the same fate.

Again, the fist flashed out.

But this time the blow never landed. I didn't let it.

Engulfing the angry, aggressive boy's fist in my much larger kevlar clad one, I held the gesture in mid-air, silently, for some moments. Shocked, the boys eyes rapidly grew to dinner plate size as he scrambled to get away from me. His eyes widened even further in dismay ...

And fear ... ?

"Mine's bigger," I informed him softly. He gulped, swallowing hard, as if his throat were somehow constricted. "There's always someone bigger than you are," I told him. "Remember that."

I knelt down beside him and my new, less threatening, posture seemed to allay some of his fears. He relaxed a bit, but still never took his eyes off me. I released his hand and he instantly retreated several steps just for prudence sake.

"Son, do you love your Mom?" I asked him quietly. It had been a long time since I'd used that particular voice. Not since Dick was a small boy. But, I discovered that I hadn't forgotten how. He frowned as if he'd never heard such a silly question, but he found his voice.

"Sure I do!" he declared loudly, taking care that there should be absolutely no mistaking his meaning.

"Did you enjoy seeing her hurt when your Daddy hit her?" I pressed gently, like probing a sore tooth.

He lowered his eyes and looked away. His voice seemed to desert him, then. The muscles of his face writhed with conflicting emotions and his throat worked, but nothing emerged. A timid shake of his small, bowed head was all he could manage.

Gently, I lifted his chin and noted the sheen of threatening tears in his wide eyes. "I know it's hard," I said, my voice low and vibrant, "you miss your Daddy. I - know - about missing a Daddy whose not there ... " I was suddenly engulfed in the scent of a certain cherry flavored pipe tobacco, carried away upon the sensation of loving, approving arms around my small shoulders; lost in the sound of a deep baritone voice. For the first time I realized that I sounded a lot like my father. I shivered.

"But your Mom is depending on you, now. While your Daddy's away you're the man of the house. Right now your Mom is in a great big scary place that she's never been before. She's all alone except for you and Teddy. And she misses your Daddy, too. So does Teddy. She needs you to be strong for her, okay? Can you do that, son?"

He straightened his back, drawing himself up to his full height, eyes gleaming with determination and cried, "You bet, Batman! I'll do whatever I can, I promise!"

I gave his shoulder a comradely squeeze. I didn't smile, but I don't think he'd have believed that in any case. I'm not known for it. "I know you will, son. I know you will." I assured him.

The last thing I heard, as I melted into a convenient, lengthening shadow, was the soft susruss of flesh upon silken fur and a contrite young voice.

"He's a good kitty. I'm sorry I made him mad. And I'm sorry I hit you. That wasn't right. I shouldn't oughta done that."

*Will* it last? Perhaps not. But, then again, perhaps it will. Only time will tell. I just know that I had to try. Had to try and break the viscous, repetitive cycle of abuse.

For Kal's sake.

" ... a guy like that shouldn't oughta be dead ... "

I told myself that it was only the adrenaline rush of flying over the city that made me tremble like an ancient with an ague. Only that.

Ambushed again. This time by a familiar, soft feminine voice that stabbed me in the heart.

Lois Lane-Henderson.

I found her standing at a phone booth just off the main street, as the funeral cortège made its solemn way away from the gave site. I didn't need my eyes to see the white of her knuckles as she clutched the phone frantically as a drowning woman clutches at a life raft. Her despair coated her contralto voice like rotting, cloying honey from a dead hive.

" ... Oh God, Martha! Wha - what do the doctors say? I - I see ... Heart attack ... No, no ... I'll be there as soon as I can get a flight out of Metropolis ... "

Gracelessly, I landed on a nearby rooftop, skidding to an abrupt stop and falling forward like the rankest amateur. As though I'd never done this before. I was going to feel this folly in the morning. Groaning, I pulled myself to shaky, unsteady feet and tried to think, tried to pull myself together. I thought of Martha Kent, Kal's mother. With a sinking feeling in my suddenly queasy stomach, I knew that something had happened to Jonathan Kent. " ... heart attack ... " Lois had said.

With numb fingers, I fumbled the miniature satphone from my utility belt. My hand shook so badly that I had to enter the security code three times before the delicate WayneTech instrument would acknowledge my signal.

"Alfred?"

"Master Bruce! So very good to hear your voice, Sir. Are - are you well?"

"I'm fine, old friend," I lied. I'm not very good at it, so I don't imagine he was fooled for even an instant. But he didn't shame me by calling my bluff. Alfred would never so that to me. The best he could manage in reply, though, was a poignant, waiting silence. Soon enough, I forced myself to fill it.

"Alfred, I'll be in Smallville, Kansas until further notice. Direct any emergency calls to me there. But ... but otherwise, I don't want to be disturbed, all right?"

"Very good, Sir," came those clipped British tones that have filled so much of my life.

For some inexplicable reason, that I did not bother to try to explore or justify, I felt somehow better; lighter of spirit, as I plunged into my mission of mercy.

End, Part One!

Part 2!