He hoped they'd be nice.
At least, some part of Clark did. After all, these people were supposed to be his new family, right? Supposed to take care of him. But they weren't his family. They couldn't be. They were just a random group of people taking him in.
In the passenger's seat of the Chevy, Clark let out a snort. Take care of him. In a very real sense, he didn't need taking care of. He didn't need to eat. He didn't need to rink, or breathe, or sleep anymore. Not since…not since the last time he'd been happy. But he still did, as much because it still connected him on some level to those people he'd had in his life. Because without his humanity, he'd just be…power. Just like Alex.
And that was the last thing he wanted.
And it was also why he knew he needed some people to be around. Because without something to hold him down, he'd probably just fly off into space and end up going mad in the depths between the stars. Even with his speed, it would take four and a half years to reach the nearest sun – and that one was red. Red sun hadn't affected him the first time, almost two lifetimes ago, but he didn't want to chance it again. Slowly dying in space as his powers slipped away under Beta Centauri's light was a chilling thought, and Clark quickly pushed it from his mind.
Because there had to be a little of his Earth in this one, didn't there? If all the worlds in the whatever-verse had combined together into this one, some of Earth-Prime had to be there. Maybe he could find it. But would he even know it when he found it?
The car slowed to fifteen miles an hour as the social worker pulled off the road and up into the driveway of his soon-to-be foster family. Foster kid. It sounded dark, ugly in Clark's mind. He was never supposed to be a foster kid. Adopted, maybe, but that was different. Adopted meant your parents just couldn't have kids of their own. Foster meant your dad was a drunk, or your mother a whore. It meant you were beaten. It meant the world didn't expect much of you, just hoped that you could prove yourself to at least turn out to be a reasonably benign member of society.
I am not a foster child.
I am Clark Jerome Kent. Son of Naomi Clarke Kent and Jerome Thornton Kent.
Who didn't exist anymore.
What a messed up world it was.
The house seemed nice enough, Clark thought as he shut the door of the car behind him. He took a minute to survey it on the outside. Pretty typical ski town home, kind of 70's, walls the color of dark wood. Probably nicer inside than it was outside. Clark pulled the eyeglasses off his face and cleaned them on his shirt, something he'd found himself doing with surprising regularity since he'd started wearing them. It was just a precaution, Superman had warned him, to make sure that nobody ever made any connections between the Superboy who tore up Smallville and Keystone City and Clark Kent, average sixteen-year old from New England. Clark had appreciated the way this Superman had tiptoed around the fact that Clark had a) killed and maimed people, b) caused massive destruction, c) lost his whole family, and d) was being forced to live in foster care. The Superman he'd known in that prison wouldn't have danced around it; he would have been much more blunt about what Clark had done.
When Superman had asked him where he wanted to be, Clark had told him he wanted to be somewhere kind of like where he'd grown up. He'd been hoping for New Hampshire, maybe even Cape Cod, but the best Superman had been able to do was central Vermont. It wasn't all that easy, Superman had explained; not just any family would be willing – even on a subconscious level – to take in a superpowered teenager. Tests had to be done. Mental scans, all done without the knowledge of the people being scanned. This family turned out to be the most compatible.
Clark gulped. A strange thought leapt into his head.
I hope they like me.
"He's here! Everybody ready?" The voice from within came through strong, deep, in Clark's ears, cutting above the ever-present background noise that Clark had grown accustomed to. There was a collective thud-thud-thud of feet as the people inside headed for the door, and Clark let out the breath he realized he'd been holding in.
The door opened, and one by one, out spilled the O'Connell family. They social worker had given Clark their names, but not their pictures, so he had to guess who was who. It wasn't hard. The tall, large man with the mustache would be Rich, the father. The social worker had said Rich was a hockey fan; Clark could tell from the Bruins jacket Rich was wearing that the social worker had been spot on. Clark never really liked hockey that much.
Beside him was Julia, his wife. Surprisingly tall – probably nearly five-foot-nine – a pair of rimless glasses sat perched over her nose. She was unexpectedly pretty, Clark realized with a bit of embarrassment. She was an accountant, but she didn't look like it.
Next in line was their son, Leo. He, again, was taller than he'd expected – Clark was sensing a pattern here – but lanky where his father was burly. Leo, they'd said, was Clark's own age – only a couple months younger. With a freckled face, a short hair cut, and surprisingly high cheekbones, he looked like a potential Abercrombie and Fitch model – in four or five years.
(Clark hadn't known what Abercrombie and Fitch was until just a few weeks before.)
Finally, there was the surprise of the bunch. Taylor, the girl of the family, was nineteen – a freshman in college, she went to Middlebury College a little over an hour away. Hockey scholarship. After hearing that, Clark had immediately pictured a six-foot tall, two-hundred pound lesbian with shoulders wider than his and an army-close crew cut.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
She was beautiful.
Tallish, maybe, but not more than five-seven. Again, those high cheekbones and freckles, like her brother and mother. Brown hair, streaked with gold, flowed down her neck. A body like he'd never seen; lean, toned, but still curvy in all the right places. And eyes…hazel eyes, like nothing Clark had ever seen. Strong eyes.
He remembered something he'd once read somewhere, back before he'd become Superboy. Every Superman has his Lois Lane.
Clark gulped. This was one thing he hadn't been expecting.
"Ah, Mister O'Connell!" the social worker exclaimed, gazing up at the tall man on the deck beside his family. Lined up the way they were, they reminded Clark of the von Trapps for some reason. Perhaps they realized just how silly they looked too, because the family quickly descended from their posts along the deck and came down to the driveway where Clark was. He could hear their hearts beating, racing. They were nervous, too.
"You must be Clark," Rich said, and stuck out a kind hand which Clark shook gently. "I'm Rich. Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you, too," Clark said softly, faking a smile. All of a sudden, he realized how much he hated this.
Julia, instead of shaking his hand, reached up and gave him a big hug. "I'm Julia," she said as she squeezed him tightly. "I'm going to take care of you, okay? You won't need to worry about a thing."
He wanted to say, No shit, lady. I've faced the Anti-Monitor. I fought alongside heroes you'll never know existed. I've battled and beaten beings more powerful than you can understand…including myself.
And that was all since his parents had…gone away. But he didn't say it, because she wouldn't believe it or understand it if he did. So far as the O'Connells were concerned, Clark Kent (no relation to the reporter, but I do get that a lot) had lost his family six months earlier in a car accident. On this world, the people who should have been his parents had died in a car accident, so it was sort of true.
On the other hand, it was completely false.
Out of the corner of his eye, Clark saw Leo and Taylor roll their eyes at their mother's behavior. He couldn't help but smile a little in their direction, as if asking them playfully, Is she always like this?
They both smiled back. Good sign.
"Hey," Clark offered to the two teenagers once Julia had let go of him. It was the standard teenage greeting in 1986, and it was just as true 20 years later.
"Hey," they offered back, one at a time.
"I'm Leo," Leo said, "and this-"
"Taylor," she cut him off. "I can introduce myself, you jerk."
"Don't call me a jerk, you jerk." Leo playfully slugged his sister in the arm; Clark's eyes went wide, but she just slugged him right back.
"Guys!" Julia's voice was scolding, but Clark couldn't help but smile as he looked away from the commotion. It was going to be odd, getting used to having siblings.
Except they're not your siblings.
There was a click behind Clark, and he turned around to see the trunk lid of the social worker's Impala raise into the air on gas cylinders.
"Go ahead and grab your stuff, Clark," the social worker said. "I'm afraid I have to get going, but there'll be somebody to come by and check up on you tomorrow. You gonna be okay?"
"Sure," Clark said. The O'Connells seemed about as nice as he could have hoped for, and besides, it wasn't like they could do anything to really hurt him. He grabbed his backpack out of the trunk of the car and swung it over one shoulder as he closed the trunk lid with the other hand. "Thanks for everything."
The social worker smiled. "Take care," he said, before climbing into the driver's seat and cranking the engine. Clark turned back to the family before him as the car backed down the drive. They were looking at him a bit funnily, and his heart sank. Oh, God, I've gone and done something wrong already, they're already judging me –
"Is that…all you have?" Rich asked, obviously the question on everyone's mind.
Clark breathed a mental sigh of relief. He hadn't realized how odd it must look, all his possessions in this world in one backpack. "Yeah, this is it."
"Well, then," Julia said, "why don't you come on in and get settled."
The room they'd given him was very nice.
It wasn't all that big, but it was on the corner of the house, so there was a window overlooking the back yard and one looking towards the trees between the house and the road. Light from the warm lamps bounced off the peach-painted walls, over the old wooden desk in the corner and onto the double bed pushed to one side of the room. Someone had been nice enough to put a poster for Star Wars on the wall – the original, not those crappy new ones Clark hadn't seen but had heard were terrible – from both Superman and Batman, no less. Clark placed the backpack on the floor and dropped onto the bed. It was soft. Clark was glad for that.
He sat up and put the backpack next to him on the bed, unzipping it gently and taking out, one by one, its contents.
A spare pair of blue jeans with a red tee shirt, wrapped around some extra socks and underwear. Other than the clothes he had on him, they were the only normal clothes he had. Superman had bought them out of his own reporter's salary, just for Clark, a fact which made him feel a bit…spoiled.
A laptop computer, Apple, MacBook Pro 15.4" model. It seemed so high-tech next to the ones his father had used to repair. Then again, computers had come a long way since Jerry Kent had opened his at-home computer repair business in 1982. Clark didn't know what he'd use it for, but he figured he could find a good use for it.
A small bag of toiletries: toothbrush, floss, soap, shampoo, deodorant. The deodorant was force of habit.
The torn remains of his old Superboy costume. It was still wearable, if barely, but it meant more than that. It was, other than himself, the only remnant of Earth-Prime left, and he wasn't about to throw it away.
A black T-shirt, rolled up. Clark solemnly unrolled it, unfurling it until the red outline of the Superman symbol on it was completely visible. It had been Connor Kent's; Clark had asked Superman if he could have it as a way of showing his respect.
And, finally, a long red cape. The Superman's cape. The last known relic of the first superhero.
"So, what do you think of him?"
Clark's head turned at the sound of the hushed voice a floor down. It was Leo's voice. Clark glanced downwards, towards the sound's general direction, and stared through the floor and walls until he could see Leo in the living room talking with Taylor.
"He seems all right. Nice enough," she said honestly.
"How can you tell? He's barely said ten words." Leo seemed angry, and Clark could understand why. Clark was an invader into Leo's territory – direct competition. Clark would have been angry, too, under the circumstances.
"Come on. He's lost his family. He's got nobody left. He spends a couple months bouncing around the foster care system before he gets here. This is probably pretty normal. I'd be more worried if he was talking a mile a minute," Taylor said.
Leo still seemed unsatisfied. "I know. It's just…something about the guy…"
Taylor reached out and put her hand on her brother's shoulder, and Clark found himself surprisingly jealous. "Just try and think about how we're helping him. He seems like a good person…he's just lost a lot, and he needs something to hold onto. That's what we are, now."
"That's what we are, now."
Ten thousand feet above Smithville, Vermont, Clark kept running her words through his head. That's what he had now. Two "parents," people who weren't his parents. Two "siblings," who weren't his siblings. A "home" that wasn't his home.
He was already moving, as soon as the thought crossed his mind. He'd been putting it off ever since the Crisis, but it was time to see his old town. Winnicut Mills, New Hampshire, was only about 120 miles as the crow flies from Smithville. He figured he could make it there and back well before the O'Connells started getting worried about his "walk in the woods."
The sky blasted against his face as Clark accelerated into the wind, rosy clouds rushing by as he shot away from the sun towards the Atlantic. Clark loved the flying. It was the best part of being who he was. Even going slow enough to make sure that he didn't tear up his clothes (his protective aura, which he could have sworn he didn't have when he first got his powers, only could do so much to protect loose-fitting T-shirts and jeans), it only took thirty seconds to reach his old home town.
From up in the sky, it didn't seem too different. But it was only when he saw the cemetery that he realized how much things had changed.
Clark dropped to the Earth in front of a pair of headstones, flat granite monuments to the people buried underneath.
Jerome Kent: 1952 – 1987.
Naomi Kent: 1954 – 1987.
But they weren't his parents. Clark couldn't admit that they were. Like this world's Superman, they were based on his parents perhaps, but they weren't his mother and father. They couldn't be.
"You don't know who I am, do you?" he asked the headstones. "Well, I didn't know you, either. I'm from a different world. Where I came from…is different than here. There weren't super-people fighting all over the world. People didn't die by the millions in horrible acts of super-war. There were just…men. Not Supermen. Maybe I wasn't supposed to be a part of that world. Maybe I was supposed to be your son, in this world. But…we'll never know, will we?"
He sighed. "I'll never know."
Clark glanced up, scanning the rows of tombstones for the one he was looking for. There – ten rows up, eighteen stones over. He was there in the blink of an eye.
Laurie Lemmon. 1970 – 1987.
She would have been thirty-six by now. Just like he should have been. Clark didn't know if they would have gotten married or not; hell, he didn't know if they would have made it until junior prom or not. Most high school relationships didn't last, even ones with your oldest friend.
But I'll never know, will I?
"If you can hear me, Laurie…my Laurie…I hope that you're all right, wherever you are. I hope I'll get to see you again someday."
But Clark didn't see the point in speaking to the dead any longer. At least, no point in standing in a cemetery and doing it. Theoretically, they could hear him anywhere, he supposed; it wasn't exactly like he needed a phone booth.
I should head back, he thought, when something caught his eye.
Tom Standward, 1971 - 1987. He'd been in Clark's classes since first grade. He happened to die, too?
Clark began to glance up and down the rows of headstones, looking for names he recognized.
Stanley Gonzaga, 1964 – 1987.
Francis Tanaka, 1956 – 1987.
Susan Gingers, 1970 – 1987.
Harry Dervish, 1952 – 1987.
It didn't make sense. These were all people who he'd know, people who'd lived on his Earth. Alex had said the universe didn't discriminate. Why would they all have died?
Clark kept counting, faster and faster, until he'd scanned every name in the cemetery three times over. The count kept coming up the same. Two hundred and eleven names of people he'd known. Out of them, seven had been people who he'd known had died while he was still alive on his Earth; their dates of death matched up with what he remembered.
But out of the other 204….all of them had died in 1987.
It didn't make sense. If everyone from the planets which had been merged in the original Crisis had been reported on this New Earth as having died, there should have been a hundred billion tombstones with that year on them. That wasn't the case, Clark knew. So, one question kept coming back to him.
Who wiped out the remains of Earth-Prime?