To call retreat
Is to call defeat,
Is the better part
"The Korean Winter
Of My Soul"
Bruce was angry.
The JLA mission was an unmitigated disaster. The Battle of Chosin on the planet of Koree had started out well enough, the Southerners making a major incursion into the black hill country to push back the Northern attack.
Then the Northerners had counter-attacked.
The Southerners had been surrounded and cut off, the JLA part of the troops caught in the trap.
Black Canary, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman and Batman had found themselves fighting desperately to keep themselves and the native troops alive.
Superman had been recovering from Kryptonite poisoning, a result of the first battle the JLA had taken part in. He had insisted on coming with them on the Chosin expedition, below par but still formidable. The planet’s yellow sun was blocked by a dark miasma, fall-out from a nuclear explosion half-a-world away.
Now Clark was missing.
His colleagues and their allies were retreating, barely fending off the ferocious Northern attack.
“Where are you, Clark?” muttered Bruce under his breath.
Wonder Woman parried a hail of bullets with her bracelets. Green Arrow and Black canary fought savagely, Batman lobbing explosives from his utility belt.
They were covering the Southern retreat admirably, the soldiers running for their lives, leaving their wounded behind. Gritting his teeth, Batman shouted for help for the fallen, ignored as the retreat continued pell-mell. The enemy skewered any fallen as they inexorably advanced.
The numbers were overwhelming the JLA heroes, who began their own retreat.
As Batman saved one fallen from disembowlment, he saw green glittering rocks embedded in the hilt of an officer’s sword.
The Dark Knight cursed, cape fluttering as he swung up to the rocks. His colleagues followed.
& & & & & &
They spread out, searching among the dead and butchered for their missing comrade. Batman had tersely relayed the information on the sword.
They were looking for a probably-wounded Superman.
Batman’s visage was grim as he searched, clamping down on emotions as he saw mutilated bodies up close. The smell of decay mixed with smoke borne on the wind, the temperature dropping rapidly. Snow began to fall, covering the bodies and rocky ground.
Clark, where are you?
Bruce felt his stomach clench as he thought of his lover hurt, maybe dying. Was he lying amongst these bodies, gasping for breath? Staring up at an alien sky? Earth’s sky was the one he knew best, the one he called home with either sun or stars.
Careful, Bruce. You’re getting poetic in your old age.
But Clark brought that out of him, the sense of poetry that life could give, because while Clark knew better than most the darkness that life could offer, he also knew its beauty and brightness, gently reminding Bruce that not all was darkness and despair.
Bruce had to cling to that brightness while wearing the cowl, surrounded by death and despair, his own heart aching.
He continued the search, driven and desperate under the grim visage.
As the snow fell heavier and the skies grew darker, the Batman continued to search among the dead.
& & & & & &
At his nadir, Bruce found Clark.
Joy turned to terror to relief. The body half-covered with snow was stiff and blood-smeared, a faint green glow around the edges of two nasty stab wounds.
Bruce immediately checked for a pulse, a gust of wind blowing Bruce’s cape in a fanned-out pattern.
He saw a shack nearly hidden in the hillside. He tugged on Superman’s cape, parts of it frozen to the ground. He finally got it free and took Clark into his arms, carrying him as quickly as he could over the frost-hardened ground. He kicked in the wooden door and laid Clark gently on a rickety bed.
Bruce pushed back his cowl, activating his JLA communicator but there was nothing but static. He studied Clark’s wounds. There were sprinklings of green dust in the slices, and Bruce grabbed a battered pot, going outside to scoop snow into it. He lit a fire with a miniature blowtorch from his belt to the wood in the stove, melting the snow.
He irrigated the wounds, glad that Clark wasn’t awake to feel the pain. When he finished cleaning the wounds, he dressed them with bandages from his utility belt.
He checked outside but didn’t see the enemy or his friends. He shut the door and returned to the bed.
Clark coughed as he came awake, confusion and pain in his eyes.
“Right here.” Bruce grasped Clark’s hand, using his other hand to rest on his lover’s brow. “You feel a little feverish.”
“I do feel a little hot.”
“Do you remember what happened?”
Clark frowned. “I was going up against one of the Northern officers and he cut me with a sword. I don’t remember anything after that.”
“Probably just as well.”
“Where are we?”
“Some shack in the hillside.” Bruce tightened his grasp. “We’re probably surrounded by the enemy.”
Clark grimaced. “What about Ollie, Dinah, and Diana?”
“Out searching for you.”
“…aren’t working, but I’ll try again. It might have cleared up.” He tried. “Still static.”
He let the fire in the stove go out. Smoke would attract attention of the unwanted variety. He’d taken a risk before.
A small sound turned his head around. “Oh, Clark,” he said softly. He shut the door and hurried over to the bed, nearly slipping on the frost-rimed floor.
Clarks’ teeth were chattering while he shook with chills. Bruce quickly climbed into bed, wrapping his body around his lover, trying to stop his own chills.
“S…Sorry,” Clark chattered.
“It’s okay.” Bruce rubbed Clark’s arms and chest. “Try and get some sleep.”
Bruce drew Clark close and huddled against him in the cold shack as darkness fell.