Continuity: Smallville/Batman Begins/The Dark Knight
Genres: Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Summary: Clark and Bruce establish a daily routine, but the world of the Phantom Zone is still harsh and unforgiving.
Date Of Completion: February 11, 2010
Date Of Posting: February 12, 2010
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 2932
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Note: Written for help_haiti for patrese1. Pairing: SV Clark/BB/TDK Bruce. Prompt: She requested a continuation of Phantom Sands I: Stinging.
The entire series can be found here.
Clark tried to slow his breathing, the pain still searing through him. Bruce said that he was healing, but sometimes he wondered. He was still amazed that Bruce and other humans could function as well as they did while enduring such pain. He could also feel a low-grade fever running through his body.
He was propped up against the same boulder that had served as his backrest the first night (or was it day?) they had arrived in this cave. Bruce had tended his wounds, and was now out fetching more water and greens. The greens didn’t last more than a few days before shriveling up and becoming inedible, so they had to be picked frequently. Unfortunately, that meant exposing themselves to the wraiths that prowled the Phantom Zone.
Wraiths or phantoms, it was all the same, as every day’s existence here. The dull gray of the skies rarely changed unless a sandstorm hit, and even on a good day the sand blew around, gritty and stinging. The only way they had to gauge night and day was the lengthening of shadows in the bright light that wasn’t sunlight.
Clark was worried over Bruce being out there alone, but Bruce had been firm: Clark was still too weak to come. He had accompanied Bruce the first time, but had nearly drained himself to dangerous levels. So Clark had reluctantly agreed to stay in the cave but worried himself nearly sick until Bruce came back.
“Ready for breakfast?”
The voice wasn’t cheerful, but it was a dearly welcome sound.
“Yes,” Clark rasped. Their voices were scratched by the particle-filled air.
“Good.” Bruce set the bucket down on the hard ground, followed by a sheaf of the scraggly long vegetables that were keeping them alive. The water sloshed in the bucket.
The bucket had been a miraculous find, a crude receptacle made out of soft wood. They had to be careful of getting splinters when they handled it. Clark wondered who the poor soul was who had left it behind, half-buried in sand.
Bruce pushed back his hood. The long, ragged robes they’d found tucked away in some rocks in this cave had helped with the sand, as it seemed to get everywhere, but at least their skin could be better protected.
“Here you go, have some water.” Bruce put a hand behind Clark’s head and helped him drink. “Okay, this one looks like it should still be pretty fresh.”
Clark took the long, stringy vegetable and chewed on it. It looked like the top of an onion but way longer, and the taste was a little like celery. He was rapidly growing tired of it, though, because they hadn’t eaten anything else for days.
Bruce ate his share, and drank the water using a small ladle they’d found with the bucket. “Your people must have left these things around when they created the Phantom Zone. If they had no intention of killing the criminals they sent here, they had to provide food and water. Clothing, too, because there aren’t any animals to shear for wool and certainly no looms to weave the fibers. Though this bucket and ladle does look like a resident might have made it.” He studied the bucket. “There must be trees around somewhere.”
“Maybe with a better oasis of water.”
“Maybe.” Bruce settled back against another boulder. “Clark, we’ll have to move when you’re better.”
“Move? Why?” The cave wasn’t much, but it was shelter.
“Our supply of food is dwindling.”
“Oh.” Clark took another vegetable. “You’re right, the designers of this place (hellhole was a better description) would have to provide food sources, otherwise it’d be inhumane to let people starve.” Though from what Clark had seen, the Phantom Zone was worse than death.
He suspected that Bruce thought the same, but his lover said nothing.
They spent the day with Clark resting and Bruce meditating. He usually prowled the cave with restless energy, but apparently had decided that conserving that energy was best for the hard road ahead.
By nightfall, he settled the two of them on the hard-packed ground and put his arms around Clark, letting the sick man nestle against him, and drew their tattered cloaks over the two of them while they slept.
Clark stumbled, Bruce keeping him upright. Despite his recovery, he was still weaker than his companion. They were walking endlessly, the sand swirling around them in the eye-achingly bright daylight.
Bruce must hate all this light.
Clark was beginning to hate it, too. It wasn’t natural, like Earth’s sunlight, and it was like an annoying fluorescent overhead light that sizzled and popped while blinking off-and-on, giving you a headache.
Clark had a beauty right now.
They stopped in the shelter of an outcropping of rocks and took a drink from the pouch Bruce had made from the cloth of their cloaks. Scraggly trees were the only vegetation they could see, and they hadn’t come upon any water holes.
Bruce wordlessly urged him forward, and Clark wondered if this environment reminded him of his training in the Far East years ago. The Himalayas had snow, but the surroundings had been just as harsh for the uninitiated.
Suddenly, a tug on his arm made him look up.
A large outcropping of rocks had appeared as the mild sandstorm had blown away. There was a cave mouth. They could at least get some rest.
They struggled up the incline, and then gratefully tumbled into the darkness of the cave.
Once their eyes adjusted, they were amazed to see broken ruins of some kind of structure. The white columns were discolored by the sand and age, and it was a wild guess as to how old they were. A few columns remained intact, but most were broken, pieces scattered around the cave. A gray-blue plinth was in the center, worn smooth by the sands.
Bruce pulled back his hood. “What is this?”
Frustration edged Clark’s voice. “I wish I knew.” The lack of knowledge of his own culture was irritating at best, dangerous at worst. “But it could have been a religious site.”
“Hmm, maybe.” Bruce was carefully looking at the ruins, trying to find some clue as to what purpose the site had served. Clark smiled despite everything. Bruce would never stop being curious!
“Or it could have been a scientific project. Rao was…is…the Kryptonian God, but science was often the primary religion, according to Kara.”
Bruce let his hand slide over a column. “Not that I’d want to sentence your cousin to our fate, Clark, but she’d sure come in handy.”
Clark chuckled. “I’m sure she’d appreciate the sentiment.” He felt shaky and reached out to touch a pillar. Bruce had him sitting on one of the broken columns in the next minute.
“Here, drink up.”
“We have to conserve, Bruce. We haven’t found a new water hole yet.”
“We will.” Bruce’s voice was confident. “Unless it’s dried up, there’s one around here. Otherwise this site wouldn’t have been built here.”
Clark could see the logic in that. “Let’s go look for it and for some food, too.”
Bruce nodded. He walked around the ruins, allowing Clark to rest, then they headed out again.
Jovial voices echoed around the cave. Clark and Bruce laid out a veritable feast on the cave floor. The fruit that resembled Earth peaches were a little small and bruised, but their mouths were watering. Their canteens were full to the brim with water.
Eagerly they reached for the fruit when Clark pulled back abruptly.
“What if…Bruce, you know that fruit can be deceiving. What if this is poisonous?”
“Well, Clark, this Phantom Zone is an artificial construct. I doubt that the creators would have put poisonous food here for the prisoners.”
“Of course, you’re right.” Clark felt a little foolish.
“Don’t be embarrassed. It’s a good caution to have.” Bruce picked up a peach. “It’s refreshing to see you have it.”
Clark glared as Bruce’s eyes sparkled. His lover bit into the peach and despite their conversation, Clark held his breath.
Clark snatched up a peach and bit into the skin and pulp beneath, delighted that the taste was indeed similar to a peach. The sweet juice thrilled his taste buds and was a cool balm to his parched throat.
“We’ll have to go back periodically and pick them off the trees. I have a feeling they’ll spoil too quickly if we take them all,” Bruce said as he crunched carefully, not knowing whether there would be a pit in the fruit. He had no desire to break a tooth.
“If there are peaches, maybe we can find other fruit trees.”
“It’d be nice to have some variety.”
They feasted on as many peaches as they dared and carefully rationed their water. After their meal they found a spot on the ground that wasn’t as hard-packed as the rest and stretched out, tired from fighting the winds. A mild sandstorm howled outside the cave, Clark feeling sleepy. Bruce gathered him close and Clark rested his head on his lover’s shoulder, feeling the best he had in days.
They fell into a routine: a light breakfast of peaches and water, then every other day they journeyed to the peach grove and water hole in the morning while they were still fresh enough to fight the harsh winds and walking on sand.
In the afternoon after a lunch of greens and water, they studied the ruins, Bruce excited when he found some markings that looked vaguely Kryptonian. Clark couldn’t decipher them, but it kept them both busy looking for other markings and trying to figure out what the ruins had been used for.
Their evening meal was peaches again, and the blessedly cool water. Their throats tended to parch in the extremely dry atmosphere, and their skin felt riddled with tiny sand particles.
“Wish we could get a decent bath,” Clark grumbled one evening.
“Spoiled farmboy,” Bruce teased.
Clark threw a green at him.
They ate in comfortable silence, then Clark asked, “How long do you think we’ve been here?”
“By Phantom Zone time, two weeks.”
“Yeah.” Bruce frowned. “Do you think that Kara can figure out a way to get to us, or do we have to get out of here ourselves?”
“I don’t know. She told me a little about the Zone, but not a lot. I just worry that Jax-Ur was the point man for Zod.”
Bruce looked grim at the mention of the Kryptonian general. “Zod took over Lex years ago and failed in conquering Earth. You think he’s back?”
“Jax-Ur was one of his top lieutenants. I can’t believe that he would just show up out of the blue and hurl us into the Phantom Zone without Zod being involved somehow.”
“Kara makes a fine Supergirl,” Bruce smiled.
“She’s taken to defending Earth as much as we do.”
“It must be hard for her, remembering Krypton.”
“Yeah.” Clark took a sip of water. “She had a hard time adjusting to Earth. I’ve always felt at home there, because, well, Earth is my home.”
Pleased, Bruce said, “We’ll get back home, Clark. We’ll figure the way out.”
Clark took Bruce’s hand and smiled. “I know.”
The sandstorm caught them by surprise. Howling and savage, it tore at their cloaks and whipped their skin, tearing the breath away from them. They grabbed each other’s hands, but the force of the wind separated them.
“Bruce!” Clark screamed, but his voice was snatched away by the wind. Panic flared in his chest. If they lost track of each other out here…!
Clark’s hand found a strip of cloth and he held on for dear life, unable to see but knowing that Bruce was at the other end of that thin piece of material. He tried to tug Bruce close but was terrified of tearing the cloth.
Bruce found him. They clung to each other, gasping and trying to breathe. Bruce pressed his lips to Clark’s ear.
“Down behind this boulder.”
Clark could barely hear him, but he pushed against the wind, holding tightly to his lover. They managed to get to the boulder and hunkered down, praying that they wouldn’t be buried alive in sand.
When the winds finally stopped, Clark stirred from his huddled position, still clutching tightly to Bruce. He was relieved to find that they hadn’t been buried. In fact, the sand had blown in huge drifts away from them, creating a pocket next to the boulder that had probably saved their lives. Their lower bodies were immobilized by sand, but they could get out with a little effort.
Clark looked at Bruce, whose face was hidden by his cloak’s hood. He looked so much like the Batman in that moment that he shivered. He wished they were back home and Bruce was prowling Gotham again.
Well, he didn’t have time for wishes. He had to see if Bruce was all right and they had to get back to the cave.
Bruce mumbled, and Clark was immensely relieved that he sounded all right. He began to dig Bruce out.
“What are you doing?”
“Digging you out. We have to get back to the cave before another storm hits. I don’t like the look of that sky.”
“Doesn’t change much.”
Perturbed at Bruce’s lack of fire, Clark gently pushed the hood back.
Bruce’s face was much like his own, stubbled and scored with nicks from the stinging particles of sand. They’d managed some shaving, Bruce grumbling that he didn’t fancy a beardful of sand, but they couldn’t get a close shave with their crude instruments. It broke Clark’s heart to see the usually-impeccably-groomed Bruce so ragged.
“C’mon, Bruce, let’s get going.” He looked around and was glad to see their canteens and pouches filled with peaches still in easy reach. “Boy, we got lucky. We didn’t lose anything.”
Bruce grunted, trying to sweep the sand away that held his legs down. Clark helped him.
They finally dug themselves out, Clark looking out over the landscape. “It’s all changed,” he said softly, trying to tamp down his panic.
“Hmph.” Bruce shielded his eyes as he gazed over the rolling dunes.
“This is the general direction we came from…I think.”
Bruce pushed his hair back from his eyes. They both needed haircuts, but that wasn’t happening anytime soon. “The Zone’s sun…we can navigate by that.”
Relieved, Clark picked up the canteens and pouches and Bruce took his. “Then let’s get started.”
It was a hellacious struggle through sand and up and down dunes, their strength quickly sapping. Walking through sand was always exhausting, and even more so when anxiety lurked around the edges. They thought they were going in the right direction. What if they weren’t?
We’ll just have to find another cave, then, Clark thought grimly, he and Bruce forging ahead with hopelessness beaten back, at least for now.
His thoughts swirled in his head like the sand around them. His people certainly had created a hellhole for criminals. Undoubtedly some deserved this punishment: murderers, rapists, those who killed on a planetary scale. But a small part of him still felt that this was cruel and unusual punishment.
A death sentence might have been more humane after all.
He was thankful for the hood covering his face and eyes. The sun was brutal. Pity it wasn’t natural yellow. Instead it just seemed a strange blue-white, and Bruce grumbled that a place without night wasn’t real.
Clark had laughed at that complaint. Of course Bruce would feel off-kilter without shadows to hide in. That’s why the caves they’d made their homes in suited him right down to his toes.
Bruce stumbled and Clark quickly reached out to catch him, smiling even behind his hood. He thought he sensed a smile from Bruce, too, and they continued on.
Clark despaired of ever finding any shelter. They must be irretrievably lost. He shivered at the thought of trying to find a new water hole and source of food, clinging to the thought that there had to be something around, because as Bruce had said, would the creators of the Phantom Zone be so cruel as to sentence prisoners here without both?
He wearily put one foot in front of the other, his feet hurting as the rags tied around them were falling apart. His body ached, as he still wasn’t one hundred percent recovered from his encounter with the phantoms, and he was thirsty and hungry. He forced himself to keep going, holding onto Bruce’s hand as he balanced his pouch and canteen. Each time one stumbled, the other would help him up.
A tug on his hand brought his head up. Bruce was pointing, his canteen swinging from his arm.
Buoyed by the prospect of some rest and a meal, Clark and Bruce picked up their pace, exhausted as they were. They climbed up the dunes that turned to hard-packed cliff, and stumbled into the cave, falling to their knees as they gasped for breath, the sting of sand particles nearly smothering them.
They fell into each other’s arms, pushing their hoods back, and weary eyes held a hint of sparkle as they gazed upon each other’s weatherbeaten faces.
They would find a way out of the Phantom Zone, but until then, they would survive.