Little Boy Lost
By: Dannell Lites

See the little boy lost:
Walking through this world alone.
He ain't looking for a lover ...
He's just looking for a home.

He'll feed you're hungry ego,
'Til you think you're quite a man!
But you better count your fingers
When he turns loose of your hand!
You're just a game he's playing any way that he can win!
And you ain't allowed to touch him any deeper than his skin!
Oh, that body that can't anybody hold -
But the Shadows got his soul!

But if you take him ...
Take him easy ...
Treat him gentle ...
He used to love me ...

adapted from "Little Girl Lost"
~Kris Kristopherson~

From the first minute I saw him, I knew he didn't belong in Smallville.

That was plain as the nose on your face. He stood there on the outskirts of town staring at old Mr.
Milgram's Jersey milk cow Goldie as though he'd never seen anything like her before. She bawled
once in alarm and moved off, herding her calf Elsie to safety with a swish of her tail. I had to smile at
the look of astonishment on his tanned face. Then he glanced up at the sign. You know the one I
mean. The one that says, "Welcome To Smallville! Home Town of Superboy!" in big cheerfully
shining red letters. The picture of me in flight on the billboard is a pretty good one, I guess. But I
still blush every time I see it.

At first I thought he might be a runaway. We get a couple or so of those through here every year.
Big city kids, mostly from Kansas City or St.Louis, running away from it all, fleeing their parents and
the nice, neat lives all properly laid out for them. They think there must be something better waiting
for them out here under the blues skies and among the cornfields. Sometimes they're right. Most of
the time they're wrong. I figured him for one of those.

Occasionally, these kids aren't in really great shape by the time they make it this far. Boy, was I
wrong about that. When I checked him out with my x-ray vision, just to be on the safe side, you
understand, he was in fantastic shape. Lord help. I've seen *oxen* with frailer constitutions than
this guy. Heart like a finely tuned engine, lungs like the bellows of a blacksmith's forge.

That's when I noticed the clothes he was wearing. The dark navy blue flannel shirt he was sporting
came from Abercrombie and Fitch, according to the label.. I saw a shirt like that advertised in one
of their catalogues once. For $350. The corduroy jeans hugging those long, muscular legs came to
about $600 if I recalled correctly from that same catalogue. Which, like almost everything in
Smallville, Kansas, was about five years out of date. They'd be more expensive now. The hiking
boots shodding his feet were custom made by some English boot maker I never heard of. But I
figured they probably had to cost more than the Kent family spent on groceries in a month of
Sundays. The unobtrusive navy and gold wind breaker he wore was All Weather Thermal Wear,
specially developed by LexCorps for adventurous travelers. It would keep you warm at either Pole
or on a simple blustery November day in Kansas like this one. I didn't even want to *think* about
how much *that* cost. I whistled low between my teeth. By Smallville standards he was wearing a
small fortune on his back. His dark, carefully styled and clipped hair was hidden under a brand new
baseball cap with a team logo I'd never seen before. But, then, I'm not much into sports for obvious
reasons. Hardly fair, right? I had no idea about the Knights or who they played for.

He was certainly no ordinary runaway and that's a fact. But he was trying really hard to blend in, in
his own odd way. Would've worked, too, if it had been anyone but me.

But it wasn't. It was me.

He was still staring at the billboard, engrossed in the smiling image of Superboy, when I brought Pa's
rickety old Chevy pick up truck to a skidding stop and leaned out the window, being sure to smile. I
didn't want to scare him off, after all.

"Hey! Need a lift?"

He studied me carefully from out of narrow, hooded dark blue eyes. "I suppose that depends on
where you're going," he said.

I threw open the pick up door and patted the seat beside me, trying hard to look harmless. "Hop
in," I invited, grinning, playing the rural hayseed, "and we'll see where the wind takes us."

Lithely, he climbed wordlessly into the cab beside me. I popped the clutch and started for home,
spying him cautiously out of the corner of one eye. I figured he had to be either very confident or
very naive. And he didn't look all that naive to me, frankly. Up close, I could see that he was nearer
my age than I'd first thought and I turned sixteen just last month. He was rather tall, so I suppose I
thought he was older. Almost six feet, I judged. Very quiet. Muscular, but there was a sense of
quickness about him. I didn't miss the easy way he'd jumped into the cab of Pa's ancient Chevy. He
moved like Streaky, Ma's old tomcat. Even in those heavy hiking boots he moved swiftly and
fluidly. Forward on the balls of his feet as if he never wanted to be caught off balance or with his
guard down. He stored his backpack and bedroll under the seat and gazed out the window.

He wasn't much of a talker. I was searching awkwardly for something to say when he, at last, broke
the silence springing up between us like a wall. As far as I knew he'd never been within a hundred
miles of Smallville before, but he looked away from the truck's cracked windshield after a moment
and studied me evenly.

"Where are we going?" he asked quietly. "This isn't the way into Smallville."

"No, it isn't," I admitted. "But, listen, you'll never find a place to stay in Smallville, okay? Not this
late in the evening. They roll up the sidewalks around six PM. So I thought you might like to come
home with me for tonight. I'll give you a lift into town tomorrow if you like. Deal?"

I waited, watching anxiously, but his brief acknowledgment was only a barely perceptible nod of his
dark head. I surprised myself with just how good that trusting nod made me feel, though. Somehow
I didn't think he trusted very many people at all. No, I'm not psychic or anything like that. Not
among my powers. But I'm awfully good at reading even the subtlest of body language, thanks to
my sensory powers. And his body gave me the definite impression of a cautious animal, crouching
and waiting, sniffing the air; always alert for any danger.

I've tamed a few of those in my time.

"All right!" I enthused. "Ma's making chicken and dumplings tonight. You'll love her dumplings!" I
made slurping noises. "Melt in your mouth! Good for what ails ya, too."

I swear, he almost smiled. He had to fight really hard not to and the corners of his mouth twitched.
I felt kind of like I'd scored a hard won victory. I guess I was giddy with success or something. Or
else I'd never have been bold enough to do what I did next.

"So what's your name?" I asked as casually as I could manage.


"I mean," I scrambled hard to cover the awkwardness, "I can't just call you 'Stranger' or 'Hey you!',
can I?"

More silence.

And then:

"Alfred," he said. "My name is Alfred."

His heart rate never varied by as much as a single beat. So at the time I thought he was telling me
the truth.

"Well, Al," I said cheerfully, pushing my round glasses further back on my nose, "my name is Clark.
Clark Kent. Great to meet you."

"The same here. You saved me quite a walk, it seems. And another night sleeping in the open."

That intrigued me. "What are you doing here in Smallville, anyway, Al? We're not exactly a tourist
Mecca." I joked.

He stared out the window for many long moments. At first I thought he was going to ignore me and
my face in the rearview mirror reflected the beginnings of an unhappy frown. 'And things were going
so well, too,' I thought to myself.

Still staring out the window at the passing scenery, he finally replied, "I'm looking for someone."

"Anyone in particular?" I inquired, relief staining my voice despite my best efforts.

He turned to look at me then. "Someone very particular," he admitted.

I raised one eyebrow in silent inquiry.

"Superboy." he said.

I couldn't help myself. Before I could stop it I'd stomped on the brakes and almost spilled us like a
ripe watermelon seed into the ditch yawning on both sides of the dusty country road we traveled.
Alfred easily caught himself on the dash with one hand and threw out the other hand to brace me. I
guess he thought that I might fly through the window or something. Well, not if I didn't *want* to.
But he had no way of knowing that, of course.

Not a lot of conversation after that, sad to say. Coloring, I put the truck back in gear and headed
once more for home, thinking hard. What was I going to do about this, I wondered? I could, of
course, arrange for him to talk to Superboy as he wished. No problem there. Simplicity itself. And
yet when I studied him, sitting silently, all drawn in on himself but still alert like a prickly porcupine, I
knew that talking to Superboy wasn't the solution to his problem. Looking for Superboy, I sensed,
was only one of the symptoms of a deeper concern. I frowned. Something was eating away at my
new friend like a spreading cancer.

Something dark and awfully lonely.

I have the greatest parents in the known Universe. And since I've seen a lot of the known Universe, I
should know. They never asked so much as a single question when I introduced Al. Pa shook his
hand like he was a grown man and Ma smiled and fed him a slice of her award winning apple pie
topped with vanilla ice cream. He actually smiled. I got the impression that he was used to folks
looking out for him; seeing to him. But about half way through that piece of pie he got real sad, as if
it reminded him somehow, of someone or maybe someone who wasn't there anymore.

He excused himself and thanked Ma very nicely. He spent most of the rest of the evening until
dinner time traipsing after me while I finished my chores around the place. He was glad to help, he
said. It seemed to ease him, being able to move and lift things, to see a job that needed to be done
and then doing it. He was a pretty physical guy.

We relaxed on the sofa after supper. Ma's knitting seemed to fascinate him, watching her busy
fingers fly with those needles as the garment took shape under her skilled attention. Found out Al's
favorite color is midnight blue. The television was going but no one was paying much attention to the
silly old sitcom with its canned laugh track. Pa was whittling away with his pocket knife. He's been
promising Ma for a few years now that sooner or later he's going to finish that Nativity scene he's
been working on. But he intends to do it right. Blowing the wood shavings away with a gentle puff
of breath, he raised the tiny figure of the kneeling lamb to eye level and studied it critically, clearly

"Getting there," he muttered.

"That's very good, Sir," Al praised him.

Pa grinned. "You whittle, son?" he asked.

A shake of that dark head. "No, Sir, but ... I ... "

"You do something else, then?"

For an answer Al picked up a discarded piece of writing paper and began to fold it intricately. Ma
stopped her knitting in the middle of a complex pearl stitch to watch, her eyes growing wide at the
sight. Pa was nodding, enthralled.

Soon, Al held out his hand.

And there, centered in the palm of his hand, crouched as if ready to take wing, hunkered a tiny
dragon. Ma reached for it and Al surrendered it gracefully under Ma's admiring blue eyes.
Breathing quickly, she held the delicate thing with cautious hands, examining it.

"Goodness sakes!" she murmured, passing the tiny paper sculpture carefully to Pa, "where in the
world did you learn to do that?"

"Japan," Al said. "One of my - ah - teachers taught me. It's called 'origami'. It works best with
heavier paper," he apologized.

Ma fetched some of her personal stationary, the heavy satin paper she uses for special occasions.
Nothing would satisfy her but she learn 'origami'. In fact, we all gave it a shot. I was surprised at
how difficult it was; even for me. It takes patience and precision to truly master origami. The
precision I've got. Bucket loads of precision. But I was almost ashamed at how little patience I
could muster.

Suddenly, as if by magic, I knew *exactly* why Al's teacher had taught him origami.

Almost before we knew it the evening was gone and the time for bed loomed at us, staring into our
reluctant eyes. I showed Al to the room that we would share and left him to unpack while I went
down stairs to finish up the dishes. Ma and Pa were watching the late night news. I'm not easily
startled, but I almost dropped the dumpling pot still soaking in the sink.

"Jonathan! Clark! Come quick!" Ma whispered urgently from the living room. "You'd better see
this. I think it's about our young guest." I put the dishes aside and went scurrying for the spacious,
comfortable living room of our ancient but well maintained farmhouse. Ma had the small black and
white television set tuned to Superstation WLEX out of Metropolis for the Late Night News. This
far out we get really bad reception, but despite the snow filled screen, like a Christmas-time blizzard,
it was still possible to make out the solemn face of WLEX Anchorman Perry White.

"Today's top news story is still the mysterious disappearance earlier this week of youthful billionaire
Bruce Wayne ... " The interference faded for a moment and it was possible to clearly see the
photograph that momentarily filled the screen. The same dark hair, same intense eyes; dressed to
the nines greeting a horde of phony smiling people in a room you could easily have fit the entire Kent
home into and still had plenty of room to spare left over.

Yes, it was "Al" all right.

He didn't look very happy.

"Kidnapping is feared," White continued. "At this time, however, no ransom demands have been
made, according to the Gotham City Police Department. Sixteen year old Bruce Wayne, heir to the
Wayne fortune, estimated to be in excess of 1.5 billion dollars, left to him upon the tragic slaying of
both his parents in a failed mugging attempt ten years ago, disappeared on Friday, September 27.
Neither of the boys legal guardians, Alfred Pennyworth nor prominent Gotham physician Doctor
Leslie Thompkins, could be reached for further comment."

Ma turned down right pale and covered her mouth with her hands. "Oh, that poor boy!" she cried.
"He must have been terribly unhappy to run away from home like that!"

"Good Lord Almighty!" exclaimed Pa. "If that don't beat all!"

This should have put a new light on things. I mean, we'd known he was a runaway. No one much
believed his claims to be eighteen. But, good Lord. There was certainly a big difference between
some middle class kid from Kansas City and the heir to 1.5 billion dollars.

I was almost ashamed of myself for thinking that. Well, of course there was no difference! They
both needed help didn't they? And "Bruce" or "Al", whichever it pleased him to be, was going to get
it right here from the Kent family. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at Ma and Pa. There was
never any question about that.

Still, I guess it was somewhat comforting in a strange way to know just how *much* trouble we
were going to be in if this thing blew up in our faces. And it easily could. Very easily. If nothing else
the Police were likely to put a little more "ooomph" into the search for the missing Wayne heir than
into looking for some kid named "Al". I knew that. Just because I was raised in Smallville, Kansas
doesn't make me a fool. The Police were going to be hot after this one, all right.

And there he was, sleeping peacefully in our upstairs guest bedroom.

I was so darned proud of my folks I could've busted a blood vessel. If my blood vessels weren't as
invulnerable as the rest of me, that is. It never crossed anybody's mind to ask him to leave or to call
the Police. Not once. What good would that do, anyway? He'd only run away again, most likely.
We had to help him. That part was implicitly understood. The only question was how? The answer
to that question was one commodity that the Kent family seemed to be fresh out of, unfortunately.

But we'd think of something.

Looking at one another in wordless comfort and support, we all nodded. "Don't worry," I told Ma,
hugging her tightly. "Everything's going to be okay, I promise." She kissed my cheek. I guess most
guys sixteen years old would've been embarrassed when their Ma kissed them. Not me. The love
and the trust I could read in both their eyes raised a lump in my tight throat.

Lord, what did I ever do to earn such unreserved love, such total trust?

I suppose I'll never really know. But without it I'd be lost. So completely lost.

Al (or I guess it was Bruce, wasn't it?) was fast asleep when I eased into the room. The light was
still on and the book lying abandoned on his chest was ample evidence of what he'd been doing just
before he fell asleep. I peeked at the title.

'The Psychology Of The Criminal Mind' by some psychiatrist, a Doctor Cyrus Arkham, M.D..

I shook my head. Pretty heavy stuff for the average sixteen year old.

But then, I realized, 'average' was hardly a word I'd ever use to describe Bruce.

I read through the book in about ten minutes before I placed it carefully on the bedside table and
turned out the light.

This Arkham guy has some pretty radical ideas about aberrant behavior. Some very radical ideas.

I thought about that for a long time before I slipped out the window to begin my nightly patrol of


I was waiting for "Al" to come out of the office of the Smallville Gazette, when it happened. I never
meant for it to, believe me. True to my word, I had taken "Al" into Smallville as promised. For a
moment I was startled when he asked me to drop him off at the offices of the Gazette. When I
realized that he intended to track down Superboy if at all possible, it sent a frozen shiver crawling up
my spine. So I was pretty preoccupied, okay? Usually I just avoid Buzz Thackery and his friends.
Every school has a bully, I guess and Buzz is it for Smallville High. Meek and mild Clark Kent is a
natural target for the likes of Buzz. And if I were to fight back ....

Well, I don't let myself think about that very much. There's no point to it, really. I *can't* fight
back. Buzz could really injure himself just trying to hurt me. So, I generally let him have his fun, his
little jokes, brush myself off and forget about it.

But most of the time, I just make sure that I stay as far away from Buzz as possible. When you can
move at superspeed it's not that hard to do, actually. But I was distracted, today; worrying about
what I was going to do about "Al". Should I tell him I knew who he was? Should I let him talk to
Superboy? To tell you the truth I was dying of curiosity to know what he had to say to The Boy Of

So Buzz and his gang caught me by surprise which they wouldn't ordinarily have been able to do.
By then it was too late, of course. We were in plain sight of just about everybody in Smallville and
all I could do was curse myself for my own stupidity.

"Hey, Four Eyes!" Buzz sneered. "How's things hangin' down on the farm, huh?"

Buzz likes to think he's hip. I've never had the heart to tell him that his slang is a least ten years out
of date. He shoved me forward and I let myself go sprawling while my glasses went flying to land on
the hard concrete. As expected, I go plunging frantically after them with a small cry of distress.
Almost as if I really needed them. I've gotten very good at this over the years.

"And the Oscar for Best Portrayal Of A Wimp goes to .... Superboy for Clark Kent!" *thunderous
applause from the audience*

'It's for the best Clark,' I tell myself for the thousandth time between gritted teeth. 'It's all for the
best. Being Superboy all the time is your only other option.' I shudder visibly at the thought. I'm sure
it was all very satisfying for Buzz since he undoubtedly thought I'm shuddering because of him. But
no. Being Clark may be no picnic at times like these but there *are* worse things, I remind myself.
I'm still reaching for the glasses when Buzz brings his foot down hard upon them, grinding them into
the concrete.

Great. Now, if he just doesn't notice that although the frames shatter nicely that the lenses are still
intact ... Cut and shaped by my heat vision from the clear plasti-steel viewport of the rocket that
brought me to Earth as a two year old. They're as invulnerable as I am.

I needn't have worried, though, as it turns out. Buzz is much too busy playing the bully to notice
anything else.

"Ooo, I'm sorry Clarkie," he croons. "Look what I've gone and done, now! Mercy me! I'm soooo
clumsy." He draws one long leg back to kick me in the ribs as I kneel on the sidewalk.

I'm still trying desperately to decide the best way to keep Mr. Macho from breaking his foot with
that blow when another voice intrudes. At first I didn't recognize that voice. Maybe because it was a
little deeper, more ominous than I was used to. Rather dark and forbidding to tell the honest truth.

"How many ways can I hurt you?" Bruce hissed. "Let me count the ways."

Buzz looked up and glared.

"Pick a number," invited Bruce. "Any number."

Buzz sneered and his friends gathered around him in a pack. I scrambled to my feet in alarm. This
whole situation was rapidly turning into a nightmare with Bruce at the center of it. How in the name
of God was I going to protect him from this horde of jackals? I *that* using my powers
surreptitiously. It feels too blasted much like cheating. But, at the moment, I couldn't see any help
for it. Not if I was going to somehow save Bruce from a bad beating.

I was wrong about that.

I was all set to use a tiny blast of heat vision to melt their Reeboks to the sidewalk when Buzz
stalked in for the kill.

And Bruce ....

... *moved* ....

I can't really describe it. It was like watching the wind howl or a river flow rushing to the sea. I've
never seen anything else quite like it. And that's saying a lot. I was frightened for Bruce, at first.
Buzz was a lot bigger than he was and he had to outweigh the smaller Bruce by at least 30 pounds.
One of those huge, beefy guys; all muscle and no brain. But for a guy his size Buzz was fast; really

But not as fast as Bruce.

Buzz charged forward like a bull. And like a matador (did you know that that name means "killer" in
Spanish?), Bruce stood his ground and waited. Then, at I swear the last possible instant, he stepped
casually aside, as if he were in no great hurry about it. I knew I should do something, but I seemed
to be riveted to the spot like a magnet clamped to iron. I don't think I could have moved to greet the
Second Coming. I just stared, lost in the beauty of those fluid, graceful movements.

And it *was* beautiful in its own dark and strangely compelling way. Violence usually is, I've
discovered. Just as true beauty is always a little frightening. And Bruce ...

Bruce had *both*.

Bruce never hit Buzz. That was the most frightening thing, I decided later when I could think. He
just ... touched .... him. At first he let Buzz stumble and bellow about, playing with him like a cat.
And always with that same cold, tiny smile stretching his lips. I'm never going to forget that smile.
It'll haunt my nightmares until I die. Buzz never even came close to touching Bruce. He was way
too slow and clumsy for that.

And when Bruce got tired, or maybe bored, with taunting Buzz he began to *touch* him. Mind you
there was almost no force that I could detect behind those skilled hands as they wandered over
Buzz' straining body. None. But they left pain in their wake wherever they paused. I don't think
they missed a single major nerve cluster anywhere except, *maybe* the one on the bottom of Buzz'
feet. By the time it was over Buzz was a mass of quivering, feebly stirring pain whimpering on the

And Bruce was still smiling.

That was when Buzz' buds found their courage at long last. Did I mention that Buzz' friends are even
stupider than he is? I should have. Because they surely proved it then. Out came the chains and the
knives, then, and the ... the ...

Oh dear God.

A gun. Clutched right there in Donny Cadswaller's shaky, terrified hand. Some sort of cobbled
together zip-gun right out of a bad 50's gang movie.

Pointing at me.

"Call off you're guard dog, Kent!" Donny shouted in a tremulous voice, roiling with his fear. I used a
quick touch of heat vision and Donny dropped the gun with a yelp of pain. It went off harmlessly,
expending its single bullet with a loud bang that seemed to echo forever on that peaceful Smallville

Bruce froze. His knees seemed to give way as if the weight of his tall body were suddenly too much
for his legs to bear. He fell to the street like a tree crashing to earth at last beneath a persistent
woodsman's ax. At first I thought that he might have been hit by the bullet, God forbid. It wasn't
until Bruce covered his ears with his hands to shut out the continual echoing roar of gunfire that his
pinched and frightened face told me reverberated through the labyrinth of his mind that I knew the
truth. For a few seconds he looked very much younger than his 16 years. So young and helpless;
lost and frightened.

Predictably enough, the rest of Buzz' gang moved in, surrounding the kneeling Bruce.

And Bruce ...

Bruce just *exploded* ...

If there was an element of dark ballet and grace, of feline teasing, about Bruce's "fight" with Buzz
there was none of that here and now. Oh, the fluidity and grace were still there. That was in his
bones, I think. But there remained nothing of playfulness about this. This ... this was a slaughter.
Every movement brought blood and howls of agony in their grim wake. Not a single motion was
wasted, not a blow misplaced. In a fury of striking lethal weapons that were parts of his body, his
flashing hands and his flying feet, Bruce brought down his prey one by one to lie still and bloody on
the sidewalks of tranquil Smallville, Kansas. There's no way I could have stopped him without letting
him hurt himself in the process. Horrified, my x-ray vision revealed a good many shattered bones
but nothing much more serious than that.

"Bruce, no!" I cried. "Stop it! For God's sake, stop it!"

For a moment he just stood there, chest heaving, angry heart pumping, breath whistling between his
tightly gritted teeth, still pale white with rage beneath his golden tan. Then slowly-oh so very
slowly-his clenched fists relaxed at his side and he was calm again.

He was *Bruce* again.

"I don't like guns," he said softly.

Before I knew it, I had quite a job on my hands explaining to Chief Parker just what had happened.
Fortunately, Clark Kent is an all around good kid; everybody knows that. The perfect, dutiful son
and student. And never, ever a liar. And, of course, it didn't hurt that Buzz and company were about
as close as Smallville gets to juvenile delinquents. Close enough for government work, anyway. By
the time I was done George Parker was looking me over with almost parental concern.

"You ok, Clark?" he probed. "Ol' Jon would never forgive me if I let anything happen to his boy!"

I blushed and nodded. "I'm just fine, sir," I assured him, putting his worries to rest. "My friend Al
here kept them from hurting me." I glanced at Bruce with admiration. He remained as still as a
statue. Chief Parker lifted one dubious eyebrow, eyeing the blood spattered Bruce with trepidation
and no small amount of suspicion. But, thank God, he didn't say anything. George Parker tipped his
hat back on his forehead and whistled low between his teeth.

"Yeah," he said slowly, "I can *see* that."

Bruce ignored him. The Police Chief of Smallville gestured at one of his Deputies. "Bob you and
Roy take those kids to emergency at Smallville General. Stay with them and make sure they're all
right. Notify their parents, too, will you?" Bob Singer and Roy Blaine began to carefully follow their
orders, loading the unconscious bodies into the back of their respective Police cruisers.

"Oh, yeah," Chief Parker said with a smile, almost as an after thought. "Tell them that they're under
arrest for for assault. With Intent. Illegal procession of a firearm. Disturbing the peace. Creating a
public nuisance. And anything else you can think of that might stick, got it?"

He turned back to me and lay a fatherly hand on my shoulder. "You gonna be all right, son? You
sure?" I nodded and tried to look shaken but not stirred. It wasn't too hard, really. Trust me.
Parker patted me on the shoulder and peered askance at Pa's beat up old Chevy.

"How are you getting back home?" he inquired solicitously. His eyes came to rest on the broken
glasses in my shirt pocket. "Can you drive without them spectacles, Clark?"

"I can make it home all right, sir," I told him. "And I've got a spare pair there. If I have any trouble
I'll pull over and Al can drive the rest of the way, I promise."

The policeman nodded. "Just you be careful, son." he cautioned. "Just you be careful, now."

What a mess. There would be statements and a trial and testimony and .... I didn't let myself think
about it. At that moment I wanted nothing in the Universe more than just to get out of there. Just to
go home. Bruce and I piled into the truck and I took off at a sedate speed. No sense taking
chances, right? I breathed a definite sigh of relief.

I should have known better.

We were hardly seated with the doors firmly closed and all safely buckled up when Bruce hit me
with it.

"How long have you known?" he asked softly.

Oh, Lord. What was I supposed to say? I'd hoped, in vain it looked like, that he hadn't heard my
gaping faux pas. No such luck. He'd heard all right. I decided to take it as a good sign that he was
so matter of fact about it. He didn't seem angry or put off at all. In fact, he looked almost relieved. I
was beginning to learn how to read the bare signs he gave, mirroring his feelings.

"Since last night," I acknowledged. "There was a TV news report on WLEX."

He nodded silently and crossed his hands over his chest. "So what are you planning to do about it?"
he demanded to know.

What could I do? Tell him to leave? My options were kind of limited here. I glanced at him out of
the corner of my eye. Still calm and relaxed as far as I could tell. Waiting. I sighed.

"What do you *want* me to do about it?" I asked.

"Nothing," came the quiet answer.

Nodding agreement, I smiled. "Nothing it is, then," I assured him. I was pretty sure he wanted to
smile back. But he didn't.

"Um - did you find Superboy?" I asked, trying for a quick change of subject.

Bruce frowned. "No, I didn't," he answered me levelly, clearly unhappy. Unnoticed, I breathed a
sigh of relief.

"Not *yet*," Bruce amended softly. My heart sank somewhere down in the vicinity of my ankles.

"But I will," he vowed. "I will."

Somehow it never occurred to me to doubt him. Not even once. Bruce was like that, I was coming
to discover. If he said it, then it was a done deal. I forced myself to remain calm, my hands gripping
the wheel only a little more tightly than I liked. Bruce remained silent. But somehow, I didn't think
he was idle. I could almost see him thinking, fitting the pieces together; watching the known facts
collide, giving quick birth to other conjectures. I could almost hear Bruce thinking.

'Superboy was first seen here in Smallville. He's seen most often in Smallville, in fact, as opposed to
anywhere else. The city claims this is his home town. Very likely, then, he's a resident. He's about
my age. Medium height. About 160-170 lbs or so. Dark haired. Blue eyes like mine.'

I sighed. Well, no Bruce, not *quite* like yours ... Thank God.

'Most often he arrives from the east, the outlying farm district ... '

Good Lord. I'd never before realized just how careless I'd been. How transparent. For most of
my life I've played games with Lana and all her endless tricks trying to prove that Clark Kent is
Superboy. I've even enjoyed them in a perverse sort of way.

But Bruce was no Lana.

My secret identity could be in real danger, here, I realized with a start. What would happen to Ma
and Pa , then, I wondered? What would happen to the life we'd make for ourselves nestled safely
here in the heart of America? Smallville was home. I didn't let myself think about it. But I was
going to have to, wasn't I? I had no idea how to go about dissuading Bruce from his appointed
course. I got the idea in my head that *that* might not be an easy thing to do. And, somehow, I just
knew that tricking Bruce was going to be just a little harder than pulling the wool over Lana's bright,
jade green eyes.

And not nearly as much fun, either.

What to do?

I thought about that all the way back home and long into the evening as the sun settled gently in the
west turning the world all scarlet and gold in its wake. I could tell that Ma and Pa were worried. It
didn't take them long to see that something was dreadfully wrong. But I had no real opportunity to
talk to either of them about what was on my mind. When we got home, Ma took one gander at the
two of us, me with my broken glasses and ripped shirt, Bruce looking like he'd just stepped out of a
slaughterhouse, and herded us beneath her wings like a hen with only two chicks.

Dinner that night was painfully silent.

And it was some of Ma's best cooking, too. That pot roast was juicy and tender enough to eat with
a fork. But I don't think anybody enjoyed it much. A real shame, that.

It was almost a relief when Bruce excused himself and climbed the stairs to his borrowed bed. And
I think he knew it. We all watched him go, then gathered on the porch.

"Family conference," Pa ordered.

In the end, we didn't decide anything, not really. But, nevertheless, I felt a lot better. My family's the
most important thing I have. Without their support to anchor me, I'd be adrift without much hope of
ever finding shore. But with them, there isn't anything I can't face. Even this.

We talked for a long time. Upstairs, Bruce was fast asleep when I left on my nightly patrol of
Smallville. I spent a good deal of time that night tracking down Lex and returning him to the Small
County Juvenile Correctional Facility after another escape, so I was not in the best of humor as I
pulled the blankets up over me and retired for my usual nightly half hour or so of sleep.. Lex is a sad
part of my life. One I wish I could do something about.

I floated into the arms of Morpheus thinking about that.

I'm not sure how long I slept. I don't think it was long, though. I was startled awake prematurely by
an unfamiliar noise. A rather loud one to my sensitive ears.

But even without my super senses this would have awakened me. The low moaning coming from the
other small bed in my room stabbed at me, jarring me back to complete wakefulness. By the time I
rose and made my way to the other bed the keening sound emerging from the thrashing figure on the
bed was getting louder. I was afraid that it might wake Ma or Pa, so I guess that explains what
happened next.

Actually, I don't *have* to sleep. Not more than the few minutes a night that it takes to dream,
anyway. Everybody has to do that. Even me. But otherwise? I never get tired so I don't need to
rest. Personally, I think sleep is a big waste of time. But it makes Ma feel better when I do it, so ...
Or at least pretend to do it, at any rate. Ma, God love her, worries a lot if I don't. "A growing boy
needs his rest, Clark," she admonishes me. I just smile. Then I usually yawn and stretch, make my
way upstairs to my bedroom, and read quietly until dawn. After all, I don't need light to see by, do

Even so, I've had a few nightmares in my time and this looked to be a bad one. Bruce was tucked
into a tight ball of pain with his arms covering his dark head, scant protection from God's knows
what, all tangled in the sheets, sweating even in the early morning chill. I think he was trying to
scream, but all that could make its terrified way past his constricted throat was a tiny whimper.

I sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. Gingerly, I reached out to touch him, to offer what
succor and comfort I could. But I sure wasn't prepared for what happened then, I've got to admit.
Bruce threw his arms around my neck, breathing in great gulping gasps and sobbed like a broken
hearted little boy. Unbidden, my arms encircled him and I held him tightly as he wept. I think he
called me "Alfred".

Then, as quickly as it began, it was over. He jerked himself out of my embrace and moved as far
away as he could get on the small bed. He stared at the wall with it's bright sun gold wallpaper for a
long time. Gradually, his breathing returned to normal and his racing heart abated. That's when I
noticed that his eyes weren't focused. Biofeedback, I realized, and wondered where he'd learned to
do that. Like a lot of things about Bruce, I was likely never to know the answer to that. I lay a hand
on his shoulder and he flinched away from my touch. Slowly, I lowered my hand.

"If you want to talk about it, I'll listen."

He still wouldn't look at me, wouldn't meet my eyes. From the rock hard set of his jaw and the
screaming tenseness of his neck, I could tell that he was drowning in humiliation for his supposed

"There's nothing to talk about," he said, so calmly, so levelly, that it frightened me. "They died. One
week after my birthday my parents took me to see a film. 'The Mark Of Zorro'. I loved the movie.
I wanted to be Zorro. On the way back to our car they were shot and killed by a mugger. I saw it
happen. I was six years old."

I closed my eyes. Dear God. When I was six years old I was playing tag in the blue Kansas skies
with eagles. When I was six years old I was learning when and how to plant crops at Pa's side in the
fields; learning to love nurturing the earth and her bounty.

Bruce, it looks like, was learning quite a different lesson.

But I knew about pain and loss, too.

At my side, my hands knotted themselves into hard fists.

The summer of a boy's fifteenth year is a golden, magical time. He teeters on the brink of young
manhood; by turns joyously leaping and then creeping cautiously toward that shining prize, almost
afraid to reach it at last. His body changes and the world changes around him, becoming a complex
and mysterious yet alluring thing. I was no different.

Not then, anyway.

My dreams were full of Lana Lang's flame red hair, her emerald green eyes, like any teen aged boy
in his right mind. Her bright smile, the touch of her hand on mine when she retrieved her school
books I carried for her. They all took on a glorious new meaning, now. I blushed and stammered a
lot and Ma smiled a good deal, watching me. Hay rides under a huge glowing Hunter's Moon ... the
Spring Dance ...

I still remember the exact moment when it all came crashing down.

If I'd noticed that Pa was unusually silent and thoughtful I didn't pay much attention, really. I was too
happy. In the barn, early of a gathering morning, I was milking Elsie our dependable old milk cow.
Smiling, I was looking forward to fudging a little and taking a sip or two of the warm, creamy white
milk straight from the pail. Milk is always better fresh. I think I was probably ten before I ever
tasted milk from a bottle, bought from a store. I patted Bessie's rump, she mooed and swished her
tail with contentment as I grasped her teats and spurted foamy milk into my waiting pail.
I knew that Pa was watching me from the doorway, of course. It's kind of hard to sneak up on me.
He snatched off his round spectacles and began to polish them on his shirt sleeve. That was my first
clue about what was to come. Pa has a nervous habit of doing that; polishing his glasses. It's usually
a sign of unhappiness, something that troubles him mightily. He held the immaculate lenses up at
arms length, peering through them squint-eyed to check for any smudges he'd missed. He hadn't
missed any because there were none there in the first place. I could have told him that.

Slowly, reluctantly, as if he were still searching desperately for a reason to keep something painful at
a distance, he slid his glasses back onto his nose and spoke. I must have gripped Bessie's udder a
little too hard because she bawled and fussed at me. I'm usually much more careful than that about
how I touch things. For me the world is a fragile place, choked full of breakable things. And
breakable people. Reflexively, I released my hold on Elsie and she quieted. In fact, that barn got so
quiet it scared me. Streaky, Ma's old tom cat, slipped up and dipped his nose into the milk, stealing
a march on me. Greedy gut. When he tries that I most often chuckle, then spurt him in the face with
a stream of milk. He purrs, licking his whiskers and preening, rubbing against my ankles.

Not today.

"Clark? Son?"

I looked up. The fear in both our eyes was an even match.

And that's how I found out I wasn't a person.

Just that simply. Not a human person, anyway. See, until then I always thought that I was. A
person, that is. Not a normal person, no. I knew that I was different, naturally. Hard to miss
something like that. I did quite a bit of reading and studying on genetics and mutation. But, honest
to God, I never suspected the truth. Not until Pa took me out into the south forty that day. That
field's been laying fallow for as long as I can remember.

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 Thackery. 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 epiphany 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, announcing like a paen
Mankind's 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 10 Ked's high top. 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's always joshing about keeping me
in clothes and shoes, I outgrow 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 occurred 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

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 was strange to hear him at a loss for words. Didn't happen too often, I

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
somebody did that for you, didn't they, Bruce? Somebody named Alfred.'

His voice was tentative, 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't
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 didn'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 the 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 expose 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 wondered 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

And, suddenly, I knew the answer ot my own question.


I managed a decent smile for him.

"Thanks," I murmured. I knew that Ma and 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

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

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 ...*said* 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
tousled 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 uncomfortably on the bed, as if the concept embarrassed 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.

"Alfred 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 calls *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

'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 thoroughly. 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 and whether they needed 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 privileged at one and the same time. Privileged,
because I suspected that Bruce didn't turn to many folks other than himself for the answers to his

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
frightening. 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
Super*man*, 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
warrant. 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 *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 The taste of chocolate cake baked just for him when he was feeling low; apple pie and hot
cocoa on a cold Winter morning.

I smiled.

"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. He 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 prominent WayneTech logo of the fuselage and we knew
who it was right off. The wind from the rotors 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 helicopter's door sprang open and two people
emerged. The tall, dignified gent hung onto his black derby hat for a moment until the wind died
down. I resisted the urge to 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 Gucci shoes. He approached the
porch, smiling, yet anxious. His eyes deep brown eyes flicked about, stabbing, 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. "Don't worry," she assured him. "Bruce is fine. He's
upstairs, packing is 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. Pa says that you can
tell a lot about a man by his handshake. Well, he must have approved of Mr. Pennyworth's, because
the look in his eye came all over pleased as punch. After a moment, Alfred Pennyworth turned that
earthen gaze on me, still smiling to beat the band.

"And you," he declared, reaching to shake my hand, too, "must be Clark. Why I virtually 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

"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 features 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 acknowledged with a small moue 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 feisty bantam cock crow the sun to rest in the west while Bessie lead our small herd into the
barn for the night.

Soon 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.

"Mr. Pennyworth," I suggested, "you're not going to be able to talk Bruce out of this, I don't think."
He looked for the briefest instant as though my simple words had stabbed him like edged, tempered
steel. "This is something he *has* to do." I told a deep breath and Alfred seemed to be hanging on
my next words. I hoped they were good ones.

"You may not be able to stop him ... but you can help him. Teach him what you know; what he
needs to know. Watch over him - protect him from himself when he needs it. Guide him. He'll listen
to you."

Astonishment colored his eyes a deeper, richer brown. The idea seemed to have startled him
considerably to my great surprise. I guess it's like that sometimes when you're so emotionally
involved in a situation. "Can't see the solution for the foolishness," Pa says.

I reckon he's right. He usually is.

Alfred regarded me with new insight and I blushed. Some folks just don't feel it's right to listen to a
teen aged boy when he speaks. And Ma always did tell me that children should be seen and not
heard. But I wasn't a child anymore, was I?

"You're wiser than your tender years, young Clark," was all he said with his mouth. But his eyes said
a whole lot more, I noticed. I blushed again to my horror.

"Always was," Pa remarked proudly. He smiled at me. "Got a good head on his shoulders, that

"You bake that boy some chocolate chip cookies sometime, Mr. Pennyworth, you hear me?" Ma
demanded gently, 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 conspiratorially. "Everything goes better with chocolate chip
cookies, don't you agree? Bruce spoke very well of your chocolate chip cookies, Madam. 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
more minutes while Bruce gathered his things, exchanging several recipes and a good number of
smiles and chuckles into the bargain.

Alfred rose and we followed suit when we heard Bruce coming down the stairs. For several
moments he simply stood in the doorway, just staring at Alfred. For a small eternity I was afraid that
neither of them would speak. Bruce shifted his backpack nervous like, then studied his boots for a
moment. When he finally looked up once more he swallowed hard.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to worry you. I had to .... think."

Alfred's answer was to step forward and embraced him tightly. Bruce seemed to melt into those
comforting arms as though his body were long familiar with their feel. Alfred stroked his charge's
hair, unable to believe he was there and safe, maybe.

He pulled Bruce closer, if that were possible, and husked in his ear. I don't think anyone but Bruce
and I heard what he had to say.

"We'll talk about going to Tibet next summer when we get home, Young Sir." Bruce's eyes lit up.
"If you're going to do this," Alfred sighed, "then best to do it properly." For a moment Bruce lay his
head on Alfred's frail looking shoulder as if he were very tired or very happy. He rested it there for
what seemed a long time before he murmured, "Thank you. Come with me? I - I need you."

Alfred only nodded. Then he stepped back, took hold of Bruce's broad shoulders (already wider
than his own slender frame), and shook him.

"And as for running away ... Young man, I hope you know how much trouble you're in! Poor
Doctor Leslie is in a quandary, I'll have you know! That sainted lady hasn't slept a wink since you
disappeared. Not a wink! Young Sir, you leave me little choice," he pronounced gravely. "You're
restricted to quarters until further notice. You're not to leave the grounds of the Manor without my
express permission. Your teachers may come there to instruct you. Am I understood?" He crossed
his arms over his chest for emphasis, looking very stern.

Bruce's spine stiffened in rebellion and my heart sank. His slow nod took me by surprise. Alfred,
too, apparently. He seemed to find something fascinating on the floor of our porch to study for a

"Yes, Sir." he acknowledged. "I deserve that for being so irresponsible. I'll apologize to Leslie, I

ALfred's eyes shone with pride in his charge, which kind of took the sting out of his commanding,
"Indeed, you will, my boy." Again, his arms went around the younger man's shoulders.

"Let's go home," he said quietly.

I picked up Bruce's bedroll and walked with him to the helicopter while Alfred said his farewells to
Ma and Pa. More to say goodby to him in private, than because he needed the help. He accepted

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.

The End