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Batman and the Case of the Fading Philodendron

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"It was a gift from my Ma," Superman said as he handed the pot over to Batman, his brow furrowed. "I don't know anyone I'd trust with it more." Batman eyed the pot. It was spilling over with glossy, green, heart-shaped leaves. "It's a philodendron," Superman added.

"I know what it is," Batman snapped. "Just how long are you expecting me to...plant-sit for you?"

"It might be a while." Superman cast a worried glance at the plant. "The mission could take a couple of months. The Sq'rxthians--" He pronounced the name fluently; no human could have done it, "--feel it's a sign of great status to have a Kryptonian as a mediator. Hal asked me to help out. With some luck and hard work, we could head off a massive civil war. But it might take a couple of months."

Batman waved a hand; Clark's eyes widened and he almost grabbed for the plant. "No problem."

"You're sure? I don't want to impose. But Ma gave it to me when I moved to Metropolis; it's a cutting from Smallville. It means a lot to me and I wanted to make sure someone I trust was taking care of it."

Bruce sighed. "Clark. It's one plant. I think I can keep a plant alive for a month or two."

: : :

From Bruce Wayne's journal:

July 5: Put Kent's ridiculous plant in dining room; lack of sunlight in cave problematic. Temperature also less than ideal. Philodendrons apparently thrive best with at least moderate light. Figures.

July 8: Noticed small fluffy white bugs on underside of plant's leaves. Looks like mealybugs. Applied alcohol on a swab. Should take care of problem.

July 11: Leaves of plant are slightly yellow. Perhaps I've been over-watering. Meticulousness might not be a virtue here.

July 13: Alfred suggests I let him take care of Kent's damn plant. Like hell. That plant is my responsibility and it will be returned to Kent in good condition. Mealybugs still a problem. More alcohol applied.

July 14: Considering internal application of alcohol to plant-sitter. Stupid mealybugs.

July 16: The leaves are still turning yellow, despite much stricter watering. Perhaps plant is root-bound. Might have to try re-potting.

July 17: Alfred suggests we simply buy a new philodendron. Not an option. He would know.

July 18: Damnit.

July 19: Damnit.

July 20: Damnit.

July 23: Pamela Isley was surprised to discover a visitor in her Arkham cell tonight. More surprised to find me asking advice on plant care. After she finished laughing, she actually took me quite seriously and asked a lot of questions to pin down the source of the problem. Gave some good advice too. Told me there was no reason some poor plant should suffer just because I was a pompous jerk. Typical Pamela.

She offered to give me some "special fertilizer" for the plant, but I'm desperate, not stupid. I can see it now: "Oh, welcome back, Clark. Your plant? It's doing great, really thriving. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an emergency to deal with--Killer Philodendron is ripping apart a bank in downtown Gotham."

July 25: Clark's plant is hanging on. Still rather yellow and losing a couple of leaves a day, though. Alfred suggests I try talking to it. I have little to lose at this point.

July 26: Alfred clarifies that "threatening philodendron with Batman-voice" was not what he had in mind. Damn.

July 27: Am at wit's end. The damn plant is not going to make it, I just know it. How can I face Clark and tell him I wasn't able to keep his mother's plant alive for one month? Unacceptable.

Options: I could fly to Smallville and get a new cutting from the same plant. Genetic material the same, surely that would count. Probably not. Damnit.

Could say that Bane broke into the Manor and trashed the place, smashing the plant. This would involve actually trashing the Manor for veracity's sake. Alfred would never allow it. Also, would have to actively kill plant. I hate the sight of the damn thing, but not enough to kill it. I suppose.

Perhaps should try talking to it again.

: : :

Bruce Wayne sat down at the dining room table. On the place mat in front of him was Clark's philodendron, its heart-shaped leaves drooping and yellow. Bruce sighed. "All right, Philodendron. Can I call you Phil?" He looked around hastily to make sure no one was overhearing this. "Phil it is, then. Look, Phil. I know you miss Clark. So I figured I'd just talk to you about him a little. I'm sure you'd like to hear his voice instead of mine--hell, I'd like to hear his voice instead of mine right now. It would make you feel better to hear his voice, wouldn't it? It would be like sunlight, or clear water, or the richest soil. He can be like that, I know. Believe me, I know." Bruce leaned closer to the plant, dropping his voice. "The fact of the matter is, Phil, that I'd really hate to disappoint him by killing you. He deserves better than that. So I figure a half-hour a day talking to you about him--well, it can't hurt at this point, right? And I figure I can work on some other things while I talk--I might take you down into the cave while I work on the car and just talk about him. I know it's dark and cold there," he said hastily, "But it's only for a half-hour, after all."

He settled back in his chair. "Now, I guess I'll start by telling you how the two of us met. I mean, how Clark and Bruce met, not Superman and Batman. It was on a cruise ship, and there was a major mix-up in the reservations..."

: : :

Superman heard Batman talking as he approached the cave: "It turns out they'd been to some alternate timeline where I was a freedom fighter or something, and he was just glad to see me again. But that didn't mean he had to go hugging me like that. I mean, when he came back from the dead, you didn't see me grabbing him and hugging him." A pause as if he was listening to a response Clark couldn't hear. "Okay, I'll admit it was tempting, but I do have my reputation to maintain--" A booping noise meant the perimeter alarms had picked up Superman's approach; Batman's voice broke off abruptly.

When Superman arrived in the cave a moment later Batman was busy typing on his computer; on the console was the philodendron, a bit yellow but not much the worse for wear. "Welcome back," said Batman without turning around. "Negotiations go well?"

"I think we made a difference," Clark said. "How'd the plant-sitting go?"

"I'm not keeping it down here for long stretches of time," Batman said a bit defensively. "I promise."

"I didn't think you were," Superman said, bemused.

"It went fine. No problems."

"Thanks. I brought you back a little something." Batman turned around and Clark held out a little alien fern, its silver-blue fronds glistening. "It doesn't use photosynthesis, so I thought it might be good to have down here in the cave with you."

Batman took the tiny electrum pot from Clark and put it next to the other plant. "I suppose you want Phil--I mean, your philodendron back." He brushed a finger down one heart-shaped leaf. There was an awkward pause.

"If you like," Clark blurted, "You could come to my apartment for dinner sometime. To check and make sure I'm taking proper care of it."

Bruce frowned. "You're not keeping it in direct light, are you? Philodendrons like light, but direct sunlight can burn the leaves."

"I keep it in the bedroom on the nightstand. It's out of the sun." Clark stepped forward and picked up the pot, cradling it in the crook of his arm.

Bruce nodded slowly. "It probably wouldn't hurt to come by and check up on it. Plant care can be a complicated topic."

"Next Friday?"

"Sure."

"For dinner?"

"I'll see if I can make time."

"It's a date, then."

"Yes."

They stood for a moment, blinking at each other in the gloom of the cave. "Well," said Superman, backing up an awkward step. "I'll be...I'll be looking forward to it." He nodded down at the plant in his arms. "We both will." A blur of motion and he was gone.

Batman sat down slowly, eyeing the shimmering sky-blue fern. "You do realize I'll have to run some tests on you to make sure you don't have any...problematic pollen issues, right?" After a moment, he reached out and ran a finger lightly along one of the fronds. A crystalline humming noise filled the air briefly. "Hm," he said. "Well." He started typing again. "So I see you've met Superman, Fern. Would you like to know how I met the big lug? I mean Clark Kent, not Superman--that's the name he goes by when he's not in those ridiculous tights. Anyway, we were both on a cruise ship, and there was a mix-up with the reservations..."