I found out why.
He showed me where he'd buried the tiny interstellar craft that brought me to Earth. And it ... spoke ... to me. It taught me Kyrptonese in picoseconds.
So that's how I learned the truth. That I wasn't a human being. That I was never going to have any kind of a normal life; never be a farmer like Pa, never get married or have kids like Lana or Pete or even Buzz Thachery. I wept as Lana Lang's beautiful mile faded into the sunset and then was gone. Ma fussed over me and cried along with me. That helped. I spent a lot of time by myself sitting on the Moon and watching the Universe unfold. That helped, too.
Eventually, I found my way to a quiet, accepting place nestled deep inside me and discovered peace of a sorts again at long last. I'm not human so I've no idea how long I'll live. But it doesn't matter. No matter how long it is that I live, I'll never forget that day. Never.
Yes, I know about pain and loss, all right. I guess I'm no different than anyone else there. I lost a whole world that I never even had the chance to explore. Parents who loved me that I never even knew. I'm here to tell you that you *can* mourn something you never had. You can. I have.
I can never get that back; any of it. In an ephiphany it came to me that maybe Clark Kent had something to tell Bruce, after all. Or, perhaps, it was Kal-El's turn to speak through Clark.
"I ran away from home, once," I said softly.
I remembered standing on the Moon, then, staring down at a single footprint etched in the timeless, eternally undisturbed lunar dust of the Mare Tranquilium. Listening, I could hear those immortal words reverberating outward, making their slow, joyous way to the stars, annoucing like a paen Mankinds arrival.
<"Houston, Tranquility Base, here. The Eagle has landed.">
<"That's one small step for a man. One giant leap for Mankind.">
And I wasn't a part of it. Because I wasn't a man. I was the only one like me left in the Universe, but I wasn't a man. Man had set his first foot on another planet and it had nothing to do with me. I couldn't share their joy. Lana, Pete and I stayed up half the night watching it unfold on television. Lana cried and Pete was so happy his eyes shone like the stars twinkling and beckoning for him in his mind as he held her.
I was depressed.
You see, I'd already been to the Moon. God's truth. Somewhere on the dark side of the Moon there's a footprint made by a size 8 Ked's hightop. I was eleven years old. Since the Soviet's haven't discovered it yet, I guess I'm safe. I've got big feet. Ma was always joshing about keeping me in clothes and shoes, I outgrew them so quickly. I was laying in the back yard of a soft, brilliantly clear Summer night three days after my eleventh birthday, staring up at the stars and dreaming. What was it like out there, I wondered?
And then it occured to me that I could find out easily enough.
I stood up, dusted the grass stains off my bottom, leapt, and just kept right on going. First star to the right then straight on til morning.
I've never told anybody about that. Not even Ma or Pa. I can't, now can I? Like a lot of things about myself I keep it locked safely inside and don't burden others with it. They wouldn't understand.
Bruce blinked in something as close to astonishment as he ever admits to.
"You? Ran away from home? *You*? What in the name of God *for*? You've got a wonderful family! And ... and ..." It wasstrange to hear him at a loss for words. Didn't happen too often, I suspected.
I smiled. "And you ran away from one and a half billion dollars," I reminded him cheerfully. "Lots of folks might think that just a little queer."
"Money is nothing," Bruce said.
'No, money can be important, Bruce,' I thought, 'if you haven't got it. But you're right. It isn't real and alive, it can't touch you or love you or hold you when you're frightened and crying. But someboy did that for you, didn't they, Bruce? Somebody named Alfred.'
His voice was tenative, almost uncertain. It was a vivid reminder that for all his deadly competence and skill, for all his carefully forged armor, Bruce, at heart, was an unhappy sixteen year old who'd fled his home, his security, his money ... everything he knew.
"W -Why did you do it? Run away, I mean."
I stared at my feet.for long seconds. How to answer this? The truth? Impossible, of course. But maybe ... maybe there was a way, after all.
"I ran away just last year, about this time," I told him, looking into his turbulent eyes, boiling like Ma's old copper kettle with thoughts and feelings he couldn't express. "I - I found out something I didn' know. Something ... bad." I swear I saw the embers of compassion and empathy burst into flames in his dark blue eyes. That's the trick with Bruce. You have to watch his eyes. His face is generally a mask reflecting only what he wants you to see. But his eyes ...
His eyes are another story.
I din't have to act to summon sorrow to my side. I lowered my head, closing my eyes against the pain, old and tattered now but still sharp for all that. "I'm adopted." My voice was a rasping whisper. "Yeah, Ma and Pa are trhe greatest folks in the world ... but what about my real parents? I'll never know them. I'll always wonder about them. I - I dream about them sometimes."
No one could have been more surprised at the hand that rested lightly on my shoulder in brotherhood than I. And yet not surprised at all. Bruce's feelings ran deep, I knew. We were alike there. Both of us kept a lot bottled up inside. Just because he feared to his feelings, and himself, to more pain, didn't mean that he didn't feel.
"That's the hardest part, isn't it?" he murmured. "Not knowing. Would they approve of you? *Would* they be proud of you?"
Slowly I nodded, studying my Keds intently for several moments. It was Bruce's voice that drew me back to reality, back outside of myself once more.
"Your foster parents are proud of you," he said with quiet confidence. "They're very proud of you. I can hear it in their voices when they speak your name; see it in their eyes when they look at you. It's so obvious." Not once did he speak the word love. Not once. But the word was there, nonetheless; coloring the background of all his simple words. "You're luckier than you know, Clark ... " His words trailed off unfinished. Unspoken. That was the way of it with Bruce. Always so much unsaid. My answering sigh was born of sadness and ...understanding.
'Who loves *you*, Bruce?' I wonderd sadly. 'Have you ever let anyone inside those walls of yours? Anyone at all?' Against my will I heard Bruce crying out in his nightmare, calling for someone.
And, suddenly, I knew the answer ot my own question.
I managed a decent smile for him.
"Thanks," I murmured. I knew that Maand Pa were proud of me. Still, it's always nice to be reminded, isn't it?
Yes, it is.
When I glanced at Bruce again he was thinking, lost in consideration of Lord only knows what. He does that a lot. So do I, I guess, come to that. We both have our secrets. No question about that. Taking a leaf from Bruce's book, I kept my voice calm and steady when next I spoke. I'd no idea if he'd even answer the question or not, but ... but I thought it was important to ask.
"Bruce? Who's Alfred?"
His spine stiffened as if electrified and his eyes grew wide with ... fear? For one eternal moment I was sure he was going to bolt like a small frightened rabbit before the talons of a hawk. I was *this* close to reaching out to grab him, making certain he stayed put.
Which would have been a big mistake.
Lord Above, I hate acting a fool like that. With a windy sigh I resigned myself to his inevitable departure.
But he didn't.
He surprised me, then, and that's a fact. He sat stock still for long moments. I was right next to hoping that he'd ignore the rash question before he looked me dead in the eye. He wanted to speak. I could see that reflected in the glacial depths of those ice blue eyes. But would he? Not an easy question to answer, that. Not at all. I discovered I was holding my breath. No big deal, right? I mean, I don't have to breathe unless I really want to, after all. But my chest was aching, just the same.
I didn't think it was from lack of air, though.
"Alfred is my legal guardian," Bruce finally whispered. "But he's a lot more than that. He takes care of me. Feeds me sweets when I'm depressed, does my laundry, hires my tutors ... everything. When I was small ... when - when my parents first died ... he sat by my bed to ward off the nightmares, held me when I cried. He's my father in every way that counts. He ... saved me."
I didn't have to ask from what.
"We had an argument. I ... things. I - " He closed his eyes at the piercing pain the invading memory brought with it in its unwelcome wake. The hand he ran through the inky blackness of his touseled hair trembled a bit. Unthinking, I stroked his back. Ma does that for me when I'm really upset and it always make me feel better, so I figured to give it a shot. He flinched at first, but it must have worked because after a moment Bruce seemed to settle down like a nervous, skiddish colt.
"I didn't mean it!" he mourned. "God, I didn't mean it ... "
"Alfred knows that," I reassured him as best I could. "I'm sure of it. A great guy like that, why, of course he knows. Stands to reason."
He seemed to take comfort in that and I was glad to see it. The taut lines of his body appeared to relax, settling into softer, less grim lines, now. Still he remained silent. No law against that, true. Bruce wasn't much of a talker. But it wasn't making this any easier, I had to admit. Apparently I was going to have to do this the hard way. So be it.
"What did the two of you argue about Bruce?" My voice was tentative, uncertain. Truth is, I wasn't sure I'd any right to ask the question, really. Maybe not, but it was an important question. Very important. I could sense that.
Again, Bruce surprised me.
"There's something I plan to do with my life," he began, "something I have to do. But ... Alfred ... Alfred doesn't agree. We fought about it He was very angry with me." He bowed his head for a moment, then looked up at me with earnest pleading shining from out of those changeable eyes. "Why can't I make him understand?" he cried. "*Why*?" Taking a deep breath, he calmed himself by an effort of will. "I have to do this. I have to. I need to make him understand that. I can't just sit back any longer and watch the world's insanity." He massaged the bridge of his nose as if it hurt. "I ... can't. It just doesn't make any sense. The world has to make sense, doesn't it?" His hands clenched themselves into hard fists at his side.
I could only nod and he relaxed again, to my relief. I was afraid to say anything. He was finally talking and I surely didn't want him to stop.
"That's why I came to Smallville," he admitted gravely. "I need to talk to Superboy. He's about my age and I wanted to ask him, well, what it was like. Being young and being ... a ... a ... hero, I guess." He flushed, shifting uncomftably on the bed, as if the concept embarressed him. And it did, I strongly suspected. On some deep unconscious level he shied away from the idea of fame and accolades. Not for Bruce the public limelight; billboards on the edge of town proclaiming his residence. The looming shadows were his natural habitat, I think.
"I need to know what made him decide to do it." Bruce swallowed convulsively.
"I have to do something," he explained, desperate to be understood. "I have to try and stop the madness. If I don't ... "
It wasn't necessary for him to finish the heart felt cry. He didn't need to say that it was the only way he could cope, even after all this time, with the senseless death of his parents. That was in his eyes.
For a moment, just a single moment, he was that lost and lonely little boy again.
"Afred is determined to stop me. He thinks he's failed me. That I wouldn't need to do this if' he'd been done his job of raising me properly. It hurts him, I think. Makes him so sad. I - I never meant to do that. I didn't."
"And so you ran away?"
He nodded abjectly.
Laying a hand on his muscular shoulder, I said softly, "He's worried about you, Bruce. That's all. He doesn't want want you to get hurt or killed. I mean, Jeez O' Pete, speaking of Superboy, just look at how many close alls he's had. This hero business is dangerous stuff. It's not a game."
Bruce bristled like a porcupine. "I know that!" he growled. "I'm not a fool. But I've been training all my life for this, Clark. Studied the martial arts since I was eight. My teachers tell me I have a gift for them. But it's not enough. I need to learn more. Much more. But, I'm damned good at them, even now. You saw that."
I was forced to nod my assent. Nothing else for it. He was right, after all. He *was* good. The sharp memory of Bruce in motion, flowing as easily and naturally as a river, came to me and I drew a deep breath.
And then the picture of Donnie Cadswaller, bloody and whimpering his pain, took that breath away again.
'Yes, Bruce,' I thought sad and a little bit frightened at one and the same time. 'I saw that. Did you, I wonder?'
"And I've studied criminology, as well," he insisted tartly. "Both from books and first hand on the street. I've prepared myself for this throughly. I know what I'm doing."
I bit my tongue. "I'm sure you do," I said evenly, which wasn't what I actually wanted to say at all. Looking at the sincerity shining out of his deep blue eyes, I knew that I wasn't about to dissuade him. Nothing was likely to do that. Nothing. The best I could hope to do was delay the inevitable. And who's to say he wasn't right? Why, I'd hardly been more than a hundred miles from Smallville in my whole, entire life.
Unless, of course, you count trips to the Moon, the Horsehead Nebula, the 30th century and such ...
What the heck did I know about Gotham City, anyway?
No, I had no right to speak on Gotham aznd whether they neded a hero or not.. I don't remember asking anyone's permission before I put on that costume for the first time. Lord, I was only eight. And there I was bashing crooks and flying through the sky faster than a speeding bullet; outwitting alien invaders every other Tuesday morning before school. Giggling when bullets bounced off my childish, undeveloped chest, smirking, "Hey! That tickles!" Being a superhero was a blast in those days. Now, eight years later, it was somehow a little tiny bit more serious.
But how to tell Bruce that?
Not really possible, I guess.
So, where did that leave me, hmmm?
I hadn't the right to try and talk him out of this. Even if I could have. And, without compromising my secret identity, there was no way I could really answer his question. So, short of that, how could I help him?
By helping him with what really had him so confused and bamboozled, I decided in a rush of insight. There was only one part of this whole mess that he hadn't figured out yet. He seemed to have rest of it pretty much under control, far as I could tell.
I cleared my throat and lay a hand on his shoulder. He looked at me with expectation gleaming in his eyes. And that's where I found the courage to speak. In his eyes. That look of, "Please God, have an answer ... " It made me feel uncomfortable and priviledged at one and the same time. Priviledged, because I suspected that Bruce didn't turn to many folks other than himself for the answers to his problems.
And ... uncomfortable because, of course, I didn't have all the answers. In the future, I could guess, an awfully lot of people were going to expect me to have all the answers. And I didn't. It was kind of frighteneing. Already the pressures were beginning to build. Superboy was demanding more and more of my time, leaving me ever less time for Clark Kent. What would it be like when I was Superman, I wondered?
I thrust the question sternly aside. No, I didn't have all the answers. Never would. Not *all* of them, at any rate.
But I thought, maybe, I have the answer to this question, at least.
"Bruce? How do you think Alfred is feeling right now?"
He blinked and looked away, his hands knotting into fists at his side.
I nodded. "Uh huh. I'll bet about now he's feeling mighty low," I ventured. "Don't you think? He's probably cursing himself for all kinds of a fool." His breath caught in his throat and his face fell like a demolished building. I squeezed his shoulder in compassion. "But he's not blaming you, I'll warrent. No, my guess would be he's holding himself to account for all this. For you running away."
"I didn't mean ..." he cried.
Another squeeze seemed in order. "I know you didn't. You're hurting ... and you only wanted to get as far away from the pain as possible." I remembered the stark beauty of the lunar surface, then, and closed my eyes against the aching memory. "That's only natural. No shame in it. But Alfred is ashamed right now, I'm thinking. He's probably convinced you ran away from >I>him. That he failed you again."
He didn't say a thing. Not one word. Not with his mouth, anyway. Like I said, with Bruce you've got to watch his eyes. They tell the story best of all. Sometimes they're the only part of him that does, I guess. At this moment his eyes were reflecting his own shame for being so self centered. For forgetting all those sleepless nights with Alfred perched protectively by his bedside, shooing away the ghosts The taste of chocolate cake baked just for him when he was feeling low; apple pie and hot cocoa on a cold Winter morning.
"Don't you think you ought to tell him he's wrong?"
He lowered his head and I held my breath. Bruce has a lot of courage. That's obvious. But in just what direction did that courage extend?
"Can - can I use your phone?" he asked quietly. And I found that, miraculously, I could breath again.
******************************************************************************** I'll say one thing for Mr. Pennyworth. Hed didn't let the moss grow under his feet once he started to move and that's a pure fact.
Less than two hours later Ma and Pa and I stood on the front porch, watching a helicopter land in our front yard. Heck, Ah don't think Ma had ever seen one of those contraptions before, except maybe ion the TV. But we all noticed the peominent WayneTech logo of the fusilage as the knew who it was right off. The wind from therotors whipped up something fierce and then slowly died down. With a gasp Ma grabbed her bun with one free hand and her skirt with the other.
"Jonathan!" she cried in distress. "My roses!"
And, truly, the ornamental rose bushes planted all along the porch shook and trembled for a moment as though they might uproot themselves in the windy fury. I hopped down from the porch and stood in front of them to shield them with my invulnerable body. They settled down and Ma smiled at me.
Could I have asked for a greater reward?
I don't think so.
Once the blades of the rotor ceased to spin, the helicoptor's door sprang open and two people emerged. The tall, dignified gent hung onto his blaack derby hat for a moment until the eind died down. I resisted the urge tos whistle under my breath. Impeccably dressed, within moments of his exit his expensive suit lay once more smoothly on his rangy frame, every crease hanging just *so* Just right. You could have shaved in the shiny gloss from those Gucchi shoes. He approached the porch, smiling, yet anxious. His eyes deep brown eyes flicked about, stabbinging, probing for sight of someone not there.
Ma remembered her manners. Stepping forward she held out her hand in greeting.
"You must be Mr. Pennyworth," she said. "Dont worry," she assured him. "Bruce is fine. He's upstairs, packing si all. He'll be down in a few." He seemed to breath an audible sigh of relief and relax. He took Ma's hand and made a small bow.
"Alfred Pennyworth, at your service, Madam." he said with a cultured English accent worthy of Prince Charles. Ma blushed. The butler cum legal guardian shook Pa's hand. Pasyas that you can tell a lot about a man by his handshake. Well, he must have a pproved of Mr. Penyyworth's, because the look in his eye came all over pleased as punch. After a moment, Alfred Pennyworth turned that earthen gze on me, still smiling to beat the band.
"And you," he declared, reaching to shake my hand, too, "must be Clark. Why I virually feel as though I already know you, young man. Bruce spoke very highly of you. He doesn't do that with many people, I must say. It's a pleasure to meet you. A pleasure to meet you all."
Ma sat down on the porch swing and patted the seat beside her. "Have a seat Mr. Pennyworth," she invited. Pa and I made ourselves comfortable on the steps while Alfred joined Ma sitting in the swing. I smiled. I have some great memories of that swing. The first time I ever kissed Lana Lang, we sat in that swing on a soft, crisp Fall night under the stars. Lana flat out told me later that she didn't think I was *ever* going to get around to doing it.
"I want to thank you all,"Alfred was saying when reality reasserted itself with its customary rudeness. "You've been terribly kind to Bruce. On his behalf ... If there's anything I can do ... "
"Won't hear of it," Pa spoke up. "It was our pleasure. Lord help, we ought to pay *him* for all the help he's been around the place."
I chuckled. "He's still not too sure what a cow's udder is for, but he's a champion hay baler." I declared.
"Oh, my," Alfred mused, his eyes twinkling merrily. "I should very much liked to have seen that. Bruce ... milking a cow. The mind boggles."
Turning serious, I said, "Mr. Pennyworth? That argument the two of you had ... about ... about his future? It troubles him deeply. He feels like he's failed you. That he hasn't lived up to your expectations. He's terrified that he's hurt you. And you feel the same, don't you?"
Wordless, he nodded sadness staining his feartures like spilled ink.
"I know you're worried about him. It's a dangerous course, this thing he wants to do. But Bruce isn't your average sixteen year old by a long shot. I don't think Bruce will ever be *average*. Whatever he does with his life."
"No," Alfred awknowledged with a small moe of sadness. "He's not destined to be average. I think I've always known that." He studied his quiet hands for a long moment. "I think he might be much happier if he were."
I resisted the urge to nod. 'I *know* so,' I found myself echoing in the privacy of my thoughts. 'And he's not the only one.'
I gazed about at my home. Miles away I could see the amber fields of wheat waving gently in the cooling wind of the evening, sparkling golden in the sun. The ripe corn ready for harvesting. I could hear our fiesty bantam cock crow the sun to rest in the west while Bessie lead our small herd into the barn for the night.
Sooon I was going to have to leave here. Leave here and go out into the wide, wide world out there beyond Smallville and the things and people I knew. Eventually, Superboy was going to have to grow up and become Superman. What would that be like, I wondered? If I were a normal person, if I were a *person* at all, I could stay here and be a farmer like Pa. Till the soil and tend the earth.
I'd like that. A lot.
But that wasn't the Fate meant for me. I knew that. And Alfred's dream of a long and peaceful life for Bruce didn't seem fated to be, either.
Rotten shame that.
"You bake that boy some chocolate chip cookies sometime, Mr. Pennyworth, you hear me?" Ma demanded, shaking her finger underneath the tall, dignified Englishman's aquiline nose.
"Indeed, Madame,"Alfred Pennyworth smiled, "I shall do that very thing, I assure you! Just as soon as we return home." He leaned forward conspiratorily. "Everything goes better with chocolate chip cookies. Might I trouble you for your recipe?"
Ma colored, giddy as a schoolgirl and covered her mouth with her hands. "Oh, you English gents are something else! Why, you'll turn a lady's head with such flattery!" But they talked for several minutes while Bruce gathered his things, exchanging several recipes and a good number of smiles and chuckles into the bargain.
I had to shout to be heard over the engine whine of the waiting helicopter. "I'll miss you Bruce," I mourned. "I'm sorry you never got to talk to Superboy ... "
He smiled, then. The first true smile I'd ever seen from him. The first one that reached and warmed his remarkable blue eyes. He leaned close to whisper in my ear over the helicopter's roar.
"That depends on how you look at it, doesn't it ... Superboy?" he murmured.