In the Midnight Hour
a Justice League story
by Merlin Missy
Disclaimer: DC and Warner Bros. own the Man of Steel. Is all I'm saying.
Summary: Clark and his notebook OTP. Written for the Free Verse Challenge. Spoilers up through "Divided We Fall."
A/N: Why yes "Secret Identity" was cribbed from the first two paragraphs of this. Good of you to notice.
Dreams, like canaries,
are sent down into our mineshafts
to discover how long we might survive
A short, sharp noise jars him from sleep.An alarm? An alert? No, a car horn outside his building, and he knows where he is if not who.
Another dream, Van-El again, and it merges with the gloom of his darkened apartment and he doesn't know who he is for another precious, terrifying fraction of a second. And then he is fully awake, and he still doesn't know. Sometimes he thinks he's an alien pretending to be a journalist, and some nights he wonders if he's a farmer caught in delusional dreams of being a hero.
The people, the other, I ordinary /I people, think him a saviour. Or a monster in waiting. Both, maybe. Luthor wanted the latter. He hadn't been trying to "make him mad," like he told poor Question before he'd pummeled him senseless. Luthor wanted to turn him, mold Clark into a dark mirror of the man he wakes up every morning trying to be. Hoping to be. And Luthor almost succeeded.
Clark turns on his bedside lamp, opens the drawer in the nightstand, and removes his notebook. It isn't a journal, isn't a diary or a dream book, isn't anything but a place to write. Lately he's been using it to scribble down the thoughts racing through his head, capture them before they escape, or worse, turn back on him and nibble away at his mind.
"Every man is his father's son."
He wrote it last night, and now he stares at the phrase, wondering. He's been dreaming of Van a lot recently. It's Bruce's fault, not unlike so many other things.
"Mongul," Bruce said, and Clark tensed.
"What about him?"
"He gave you your ideal life. You were married. You had a son."
Clark shrugged, ignoring the stab of pain that always accompanied those memories. "What about it?"
"You met Van-El, saw him. You remember every detail about him. He was real to you."
The lump formed deep in his throat. "Yeah."
"What would you do to have him back? To make him real? What would you give?"
"Anything," Clark said without pausing. And then Bruce told him what he and John had seen in the future, and then they both started watching John, just a little, just in case.
Clark puts pen to paper, closes his eyes, lets his hand move. Automatic writing, Ma would say, and frown. She files that with fortune telling: tea leaves, palm reading, and the rest. Clark would explain that it wasn't automatic, at least not in the sense she was thinking. It's his way of letting the words flow through him and get out. Sometimes it's gibberish. Sometimes it's poetry.
Another word for "journalist" is "writer."
Jor-El was a scientist, not a writer except maybe of technical papers. Countless times, Clark has wondered what his biological father would make of Clark's life, if he would approve. Countless times, Clark has come up with different answers. At the core of things, at the core of himself, he understands that he can never know. Jor-El was Kryptonian, and for every drop of blood that zips through his veins stating otherwise, Clark is human. He was raised by humans, he thinks like a human, he acts in almost every way like a human. His closest link to Krypton is Kara; sometimes he stands back and watches how she thinks and reacts, and she is I alien /I to him for all she's managed to assimilate.
Clark is alien to himself sometimes. An alien believing himself human.
He remembers devouring Pa's small collection of Asimov books when he was ten. He still knows by heart the story of the robot who did everything he could to be human, who dreamed of being human, and was only accepted as such when he chose to allow himself to die.
Clark died. More than once, the world has thought him dead, and still he is not considered human. Still he is the Other, and people fear him even as they thank him yet again. God, no wonder Captain Marvel vexed him so much, still bothers him at the edges of his soul. Clark sunk so low as to be jealous of a child. Tonight he's not certain he's climbed back out of that pit.
He turns the notebook to a fresh page, conscientiously writes the date at the top.
Kara disapproves of him sometimes. While the rest of the world believes him to be insufficiently human, she believes him to be insufficiently Kryptonian. She wants him on his knees before Rao in daily prayers and rolls her eyes --- not where Ma and Pa can see because she's not stupid --- when he tries to tell her he's a Methodist. She counters with questions: when was he last in church, could he even explain the difference between his religion and the rest of the carpenter-worshippers? Clark is also insufficiently Methodist, he thinks.
It's nights like these that he wishes alcohol had any real effect on him. He wishes he could go out with his friends and have a few beers and not think about the nature of life, religion and the whole universe (or just a child that never was) every time he tries to get some sleep. Even that would be too complicated: too many secret identities, too many well-known faces even without masks. Once, just once, Wally took John out with the intention of getting him drunk, right after the invasion, and hell, they all would have gone, but again the identities got in the way. Wally told him, later, that someone recognized John at the third bar they hit and that was why they cut the night short. Every time Clark thinks about asking some of the gang out to dinner, he thinks I Someone recognized John/I and he knows it could be him next.
He lives in fear of coming home to find a ransom note for Ma's safety. Or worse. Clark can imagine a lot worse.
He needs to get back to sleep, not lie here and keep writing nonsense, and he checks to ensure that it is nonsense streaming from his hand tonight. No great insights. No fantastic inventions, like surely Jor-El would have created in his spare time. The best Clark can do is copy the works of his forebears and hope not to blow himself up in the construction. Clark's not a scientist, not an engineer. He's not a farmer either, although the dreams of Van include running through large fields and laughing under a fat red sun.
Clark is …
When he was ten and looking for spare change to get ice cream, Clark went through his parents' bedroom. He knew he shouldn't, but the thought of one of Mr. Michaelson's extra large double dips with fudge and nuts had proven his undoing. So he rummaged and in his father's closet he found a shoebox with musty, yellowed paper inside. The ice cream forgotten, he sat on their floor, scanning through page after page cribbed in his father's neat handwriting. Space aliens, robots, heroes. Some stories had dates penciled at the tops of the pages; none were later than five or six years before Clark's arrival on Earth.
Now he knows how derivative most of the tales were; he can remember the prose well enough to know it was at best uninspired. But he can also remember the longing he felt radiating from every page, how there was a kind of innocence in the flow of the words. The author believed in the stories he told. Clark has never forgotten this.
He closes his notebook and stores it away again. He's calm enough to go back to sleep, and if he's lucky, he won't dream of anything but deadlines and a cranky editor. He clicks off his lamp, closes his eyes, tries to relax. He imagines Pa telling him the old standby of "Early to bed, early to rise," and there's a crinkle at the edge of Pa's eyes when he smiles. Clark smiles back, if only into his pillow, and thinks there are worse things to be than his father's son.