My steps slowed as I approached Martha Kent. My God, the temerity of it! Here I was an almost total strangers to her. What was I planning to say? In God's name what was there *to* say? I had no idea. None. I simply knew that I had to say something to her. For ... for Kal. I'd have to find the words somewhere; poor inadequate things that they were. Not for the first time, I wished that I were better with people; at understanding them and making myself understood.
And not just at deceiving them .... playing a well rehearsed part.
Sometimes, I think being "Bruce Wayne" is the hardest of all the Batman's many roles.
The hardest ... and the easiest since, unless I watch myself, it's the least important of all the myriad parts I play, telling myself that it's the most dispensable role I have. Dick was the first to teach me that wasn't true. Dick and ...
Kal was the final one to teach me that Bruce Wayne was necessary. That he was alive. That he was *me*. Right there in the middle of the waiting room of Smallville General Hospital, I closed my eyes and almost stumbled. Imagine that. The Batman ... so uncoordinated. So fallible ...
So ... human.
God ... what was I going to do?
How would I - what would I -
"Are you all right, young man?" Her voice, with that soft, familiar midwestern twang, reached out to me and my eyes flew open. Martha Clark Fordham Kent looked just like her pictures. Soft silver white hair framed her rosy face. Her concerned gaze peered at me through the golden wire framed lenses of her glasses, and I was almost lost in the sky blue of her eyes. I swallowed, hard.
Kal had her eyes.
Clear and far seeing. Like a cloudless Summer sky.
I realize it doesn't make any sense. Kal - Clark! - wasn't her natural child.
And yet ... how many times had I seen Kal with that same limitless patience in those eyes so like hers? The same compassion and determination to set things right? She had lost her son to senseless violence and her husband of more than thirty years was stricken gravely ill; might even now be dying, felled by the heart attack that overtook him as they symbolically buried their child. And yet she found the strength within her, the compassion, to be concerned for a stranger ... a man she did not know. I had to swallow hard, again, before I could speak.
"Mrs. Kent?" I asked softly.
Behind her glasses she smiled and regarded me warmly. "After thirty-five years, I suppose I am, at that, young man."
I stood there and lowered my head. "You - you don't know me," I murmured. "My name is Bruce ... Bruce Wayne. . " Against my will my voice trailed off awkwardly leaving me stranded and bereft of spirit, fumbling in the darkness for some way to tell her how I felt.
What, after all was there to say? I grieve with you? I ... cared ... for him, too? How pathetic. How ... inadequate. Just like so much else about me.
When her eyes widened in wonder and delight, I almost quailed.
She took one of my scarred hands in both of her smaller, softer ones and stared into my eyes.
"B -Bruce?" she stammered. "*You're* Bruce? Why, good Heavens, young man, I *do* know you! Oh, I surely do! Clark spoke of you so often I feel like you're a part of the family." She patted my hand. "I know all about you! I know that blue is your favorite color. I know that you love cool shadows and quiet rainy nights ... you're fond of Dixieland jazz and fine French food ... but you don't much like the wines or the high and mighty waiters and restaurants that go with them. You've got a ton of acquaintances, but not very many real friends. You have a son named Dick you love more than you love your life. But it's hard for you to talk to him, sometimes." She entwined her fingers with mine. "Why child," she breathed, soft as eider down, "I know you very well."
My tongue deserted me again. Left me mute and speechless as a child. But Martha remained solid and steady as a proverbial rock. She didn't let me founder on the stony shoals of my own inadequency. She has too much compassion for that. As Kal had done so many, many times, before her, she rescued me without seeming effort, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to put your son's gay lover at ease.
"I worried about Clark so," she confessed, her voice shadowed with faint echoes of sadness. "He was so ... different, I mean." She blushed, covering her scarlet cheeks with her hands in embarrassment. "Oh, I didn't mean *that* way! Heaven's no! I - I mean ... since he wasn't human. I remember the Summer he first discovered that. He tried so hard to hide it, not to bother us with it, but it nearly crushed him, I could tell. A mother knows these things. See, he always thought that he was human, push come to shove. Oh, surely not a normal human ... no. But human, nonetheless. Finding out different was such a terrible thing for a youngster! My poor little boy! Who was ever going to love him, I wondered? Love him as he deserved? Him being ... the way he was? I worried about that a lot, I'll admit. Now it never mattered to me nor Jonathan. If Clark wasn't quite sure who he was there for a time ... well, *we* knew very well who he was. He was our son. Our little gift from God. That was all we needed or cared to know."
She squeezed my hand. "But after he told us about *you* ... Well ... I didn't worry so much anymore," she said softly with a gentle smile. "You made him very happy, Bruce."
I closed my eyes and took a shaky breath.
"He - he made *me* happy, too, Mrs. Kent," I stammered like a shy schoolboy. "Very happy."
"Why, son, my name is Martha. Martha. Clark was just that way," she murmured. "With everybody, not just with us. We have a lot in common, you know. After all, we both had to share him, didn't we?" she said. "Superman belonged to the whole world." Her eyes closed but the tiny smile that tippled the corners of her wide mouth was radiant. "But Clark .. Clark was mine. Mine and Jonathan's. Our little boy ... our special gift from Heaven."
She squeezed my hand warmly yet again and God help me, I think I paled. "And Kal ... " I whispered, " ... Kal was mine ... "
I spent several days, all told, with Jonathan and Martha Kent. I helped to bring Jonathan home from the hospital when he was released. I carried him up the front steps of their ancient, carefully preserved farmhouse with it's fresh white paint gleaming in the cold Winter sun. Because Clark wasn't there to do it for him. He'd lost weight. Lifting him was like holding a fleeting gust of wind in my arms. For a moment I shivered at the fragility of the life I sheltered with my strength; at how easily it departs, leaving the survivors alone and abandoned.
As I was alone and abandoned.
I always seem to survive, don't I? It's a talent ... or a curse. I've never quite decided which.
But, still, it was a healing time. A healing time for all of us, I think.
Staying in the house were he grew to manhood, listening to bird song in the early morning, inhaling the sweet scent of growing crops from the fields, I came to understand why Kal loved this place so. I could feel his spirit here, stronger than ever. He smiled at me when I woke in the dawning crispness of the new morning, sheltered me from dreams when I lay down to sleep in the fastness, the stillness of the night.
I savored the sweetness of Martha's blueberry pancakes, covered with hot maple syrup. In the evening, I listened to the radio and watched Martha knit. When I left, I wore the sweater she knitted for me with such easy skill. I watched, fascinated, as her fingers flew through the yarn, pearling and tying French knots as the garment miraculously, it seemed, took shape beneath her caressing hands. It was heavy and very warm against the creeping chill of the advancing Winter.
"Why, this blue yarn is the exact color of your eyes, Bruce!" she declared with a brilliant smile on her lips. "How lucky is *that*? I'll just have to make you a sweater from out of it ... it's Providence!"
Most of all, I suppose, I was away from Gotham. Away from all the crime and pain that eats at the heart of my city like a cancer. That sometimes gnaws at *my* heart like a hungry, striking predator, nibbling and tearing like a well fed rat until there's not a lot left. Yes, I love Gotham. I do. The city beats in my blood and in my spirit; when it cries, I cry. But she's a demanding Mistress, my City. My Gotham. At times she doesn't leave much room in my heart for anything or anyone else, though.
Which makes Kal's presence there even more of a miracle, doesn't it?
But to be away from Gotham, if only for an instant, it seemed, was cleansing, somehow, purifying. Like a sauna, Smallville Kansas, Jonathan and Martha Kent, sweated the pollution of Gotham from out of my body through my pores and was liberated thereby.
All good things must come to their end, though, the poets say. And so my peaceful sojourn into Kal's heart -- so brief -- so achingly brief -- came to its end. Martha hugged me goodby, sending me on my way laden with jars of freshly made apple jelly and hot peanut butter cookies wrapped securely in tinfoil. Jonathan shook my hand and wished me well. It was hard for me to leave. It was. But the time for hiding was past, now. No, no more running, cowering in my aloneness, bleeding into the quiet darkness. It was time for me to face my life once more.
I could do that now.
Back to Gotham and my duties there. My *life* there.
But first, there was a stop I needed to make.
I landed in Metropolis in the early evening with the lengthening, comforting shadows to succor me. When I stepped off the plane, I took a deep breath, inhaling the invigorating fragrance of Kal's city. It seemed as if I could almost catch a whiff of the warm sunshine scent of him on the vagrant, passing breeze, blowing with such chill force on my exposed face.
Midnight. The Witching Hour. A really ugly time to visit a grave, I'm told. But I'm not at all superstitious. The fact is, I count on fear and superstition to paralyze my enemies, make them easy prey for The Batman. And it works wonderfully. There is one thing, however, about a grave late at night or in the wee early hours of the morning that I was also counting on.
You're not likely to find anyone else there with you. You're almost guaranteed solitude; no prying, inquisitive eyes to watch and probe your secrets, exposing the beating heart at the core of them for all to know and perhaps ridicule.
No one there to see *you*.
I reached out slowly, tentatively, and lay my hand against the chill of the fine Venetian marble of Kal's tomb. My naked fingers, bereft of my shielding gloves, absorbed with numbing shock the icy cold of the stone. It spread from my fingers up my arm like a creeping poison. Making me know deep in my flesh, where it could not easily be denied, that I was touching marble. Marble, pulled from the earth and lovingly hewn into the shape of a world's mourning. That and not tanned, sun warm flesh.
What was I going to say?
I didn't know.
I'm - not good with words. Action, swift and sure, is much more my forte. And so, almost without thought, I let my actions speak for me. Leaning forward, I pressed my forehead to the cold, cold stone (so very unlike Kal's lambent, soothing aurora) and closed my eyes. Kal had always understood me better than most. I knew that he would understand me, now. This was as close I could come to holding him across the gulf that separated us.
I have no idea how long I simply stood there, ignoring the cutting wind and the passage of time. It must have been a long time.
I didn't jump or start, I'm proud to say. I think I was expecting it, really. The gloved hand rested lightly but firmly on my shoulders. I didn't protest as those familiar, comforting hands eased me into the warmth of the London Fog trench coat. It felt - right, somehow. Alfred Pennyworth has been dressing me since I was a child. It's a miracle, I sometimes think, that I can tie my own shoe laces. I'd be lost in so many ways without him. Without his care, his compassion ...
Without his love.
I can say that now.
Kal and Dick taught me how.
I didn't ask how he came to be here, now, how he knew that *I* would be here. Alfred just knows these things. Because he knows *me*. And, after all, it didn't matter, did it? What mattered was that he knew; that he was here when I needed him.
But, then, wasn't he always?
"There," he declared as I passed his cursory inspection. He carefully arranged the topcoat across my shoulders, seeking just the right angle of comfort that I most enjoy, then brushed off a bit if imaginary lint. "Much better. You'll catch a chill if you're not careful, my boy."
'My boy ... '
When I was a boy I wasn't afraid to touch and to be touched. What happened, I sometimes wonder? When did I lose focus with the rest of the world? When did I become so completely The Batman?
Where did I put Bruce Wayne?
Crime Alley happened.
And then ...
... and then *Kal* happened.
That was when I knew exactly where Bruce Wayne was hiding. Like an epiphany, it descended upon me, engulfing me with its certainty, its inevitability.
In Kal's eyes.
In Dick's eyes.
And in Alfred Pennyworth's eyes, perhaps clearest of all.
I wasn't alone, after all, I realized. I had never been alone.
I reached out, then. Alfred met me half way. He drew me into his arms and held me tightly, protectively, as if I were something precious, something quite irreplaceable. For a time neither of us spoke. We simply *were*. I was the first one to find my voice, which was a strange thing, indeed.
"Hold me, Alfred," I whispered. "Please hold me. I need your strength, old friend. I need your strength."
"You have it, Bruce," he said simply. "You've always had it."
He didn't hurry me or rush me. He let me say goodby to Kal in my own time, in my own way. He stood aside, just out of sight to give me my privacy. It wasn't necessary. I have no secrets from Alfred. But he was there for me, like a strong, tall pillar holding up a shaky, ramshackle building. And when I was done, he took my hand and led me away as if I were a still a child and he still my protector and guardian.
For the flight back to Gotham to resume my duties, I put the plane on autopilot and stared out the window, smiling. My memories were full of Kal's shy smile, the blue of the open skies and the freedom there as I flew clasped tightly in his arms.