A/N: I only saw Superman Returns a week ago, and fell in love with it (with Brandon Routh too, LOL). So far I've read about forty fanfics in this section of ffnet and haven't found any that dealt with a similar situation that this fic does (that doesn't mean there aren't any like this, I just haven't yet stumbled upon them). I hope I've managed to write something unique, if sad.
Please note that English isn't my native language. I had a British beta who corrected my grammar mistakes, but no one's perfect, so it is possible that some are still left. It happens… so bear with me, please.
Thanks to Michael for reading through the fic to correct my grammar while he hasn't even seen the movie. You're such a dear friend, Michael!
Disclaimer: Superman belongs to DC Comics and Warner Bros. There are two or three more or less hidden Harry Potter references and one – as far as I remember – from Artemis Fowl. HP naturally belongs to J. K. Rowling, Artemis Fowl belongs to Eoin Colfer.
o O o
More Than Life Itself
Jason couldn't believe what was happening. He'd come. Superman had come, despite the fact that he'd known it was a trap. He'd willingly walked – flown – into the trap. And now he was lying on the ground, his breath shallow, his face as white as a sheet. A single question popped into Jason's head: why?
o O o
The past few hours had been a blur for the boy: Lex Luthor and his thugs had captured him and his mother in Metropolis, using the opportunity that Superman was elsewhere, trying to help evacuate the people of an Indonesian island where a volcano had erupted.
They had brought Jason and Lois up into a cave in the Rocky Mountains, sending Clark Kent an email in which they let him know about the kidnapping.
The moment he'd entered the cave, Jason had felt he was weakening. His legs had started to shake, barely able to carry his weight, and he had felt that another asthma attack was imminent. He hadn't had any asthmatic attacks for at least three years. He had entered the cave as a healthy, strong ten-year-old, but it had seemed that the very walls of the cave were radiating something that made him feel sick. At least, at first he'd suspected the walls, but later it had turned out to be that huge, round, green crystal hanging from the ceiling.
He had had no idea why his mother had gasped upon first seeing that crystal. It looked like an enormous emerald, nothing more, nothing less. And yet, it was leaching his strength, making him dizzy, making him want to throw up. A memory had run across his mind: a memory of Lex Luthor showing him a very similar but much smaller crystal on board the Gertrude, and asking his mother who his father was. He still didn't understand that question… His father was Richard White, even though he had broken up with his mother four years earlier. Jason had never known another father.
Shortly after they had been brought into the cave, Luthor's thugs had bound Jason to a pole as though he were someone to be sacrificed at a cannibal banquet. Then they had waited. At first Jason hadn't known what they were waiting for, but after a while their captors had got bored and decided to pass time with mocking them. 'Bet Superman won't come to save you this time!' 'Nah, he's too afraid of what he'll find here!'
"Superman isn't afraid of anything!" Jason had caught himself blurting out, only to get an icy glance from Luthor.
And indeed, the Man of Steel had proved to be not afraid of walking into the trap. He had entered the cave with his head held high, even though Jason immediately saw a flinch of pain on his face. The boy was sure that Superman had felt the danger caused by the green crystal from a great distance, and had still come. This green stuff is affecting him exactly as it is me… or even worse, he'd thought. It nearly killed him once, I can't let that happen! "Go away, Superman," the boy had spoken up all of a sudden. "Go while you can or you'll die!"
Superman had shaken his head. "Not without you." Jason had seen Superman's eyes meet his mother's and wondered whether those two were communicating without words. A determined yet gentle glance from him, answered by a pleading, desperate, but loving glance from her. Jason had realised that his mother was practically beseeching the Man of Steel to leave. To save his hide while he could. Superman's reply was a small shake of the head, his deep blue eyes gleaming with emotions.
Someone had started clapping, and Jason had seen Lex Luthor emerge from the shadows with a wicked grin on his face. "Oh, I knew you'd come, Superman! Welcome, welcome to my little execution chamber! Make yourself at home!"
Superman's facial muscles had twitched, revealing how much pain he was in, but his eyes had remained determined, his jaw set. He had looked ready for anything and glowered at the bald man with crossed arms. "Let them go, Luthor. It's me you want."
Their captor had seemed contemplative for a second. "Let me think about it…" He scratched his jaw. "No. Someone will die here today, and if I let them escape like last time, you too might survive somehow… I can't risk that. I could stab you with Kryptonite over again and throw you off a cliff, but knowing Miss Lane, she'd be foolish enough to come back for you." The man's lips had tucked into a nasty smirk. "The world doesn't need two supermen. And I'll make sure it won't have two, ever. See that crystal up there?"
Superman had glanced up at the harmless-looking crystal hanging from the ceiling. Jason had seen the Man of Steel's eyes flash, and couldn't decide whether it had been due to anger or fear. Fear. He couldn't imagine Superman afraid of anyone or anything. Apparently, the only thing he ever feared was a rock that glistened like emerald.
"What are your plans concerning the Kryptonite, Luthor?" Superman had demanded, his voice low and rumbling as ever, but a keen listener might have noticed a small waver in it. Even if he had been in great pain, he had been fighting with his facial muscles, with his whole body, not to show it.
"Oh, let's see…" The bald man had pressed his fingertips together, forming a tower of his hands. He had again managed to look like a person deep in thought, but Jason had seen right through him – Luthor wasn't contemplating anything, he'd planned out everything, and was only drawing things out, probably to keep Superman as long in the cave with the lethal Kryptonite as possible. To weaken him as much as possible…
Finally Luthor had resumed speaking. "I've been doing lab tests on Kryptonite, and simulated a smaller nuclear explosion. You know what happens when Plutonium gets mixed with Kryptonite? No? Well, the Kryptonite completely absorbs all the harmful effects of Plutonium, and for a single second, its radiation grows tenfold. While a Kryptonian like yourself would die slowly when exposed to the crystal's normal radiation for a long time, this single second of radiation will kill you in the blink of an eye. Well, probably a little longer, but not much. The point is… this Kryptonite up there will flash, green light filling the cave for one single second. It will not harm me, or my friends, or even Miss Lane… but you and Superboy over there will be strongly affected. Unless…"
"Unless?" Superman had asked darkly.
Luthor's smirk had grown wider by the second. "Unless something… or someone shields the boy from the green light. Someone who isn't his mother, of course…" He had glanced at Lois who was held firmly by two of his men, then directed his attention back to his Kryptonian 'guest'. "I'm giving you a sporting chance, Superman. You may leave now, and the boy dies. Or you can stay and save him, and then you die. No one can accuse me of not being just. One life for another."
Jason had seen Superman knit his brows. "What proof do I get that the child survives if I die?"
"Superman, no!" This had been the first time since they had been brought here that Lois had spoken. A rare thing for a talkative person like her to be silent…
Luthor had presented her with a cruel smile. "Anxious about your beloved hero, are you, Miss Lane?"
"Superman, please…" Lois's voice had faltered.
Superman had given her a small, encouraging smile, then turned back to Luthor. "What is the proof that Jason and Lois survive?"
"My word. I don't want to harm the kid, as long as he stays just that – a normal kid. And without you and your guidance… how could he be more than that?" The bald man had said amusedly, and again glanced at Lois. "Why, not even Miss Lane seems to remember… things, does she? I don't know how you did it, but you very effectively wiped her memories, Superman, which I'm thankful for. Without her memories, she can't help the boy, and you won't be around to help him either. So why should I worry? I have no reason to harm the kid. As you said when you arrived: my target have always been you."
o O o
The next few minutes had passed in a blur for Jason – he'd heard his mother protesting, he'd heard Luthor instruct his thugs to start the mini nuclear explosion, he'd heard his own voice scream 'NOOOOO!' as Superman engulfed him in a tight embrace, his huge form shielding the boy from the deadly light. Jason had screwed his eyes shut, but even through his eyelids, he'd seen a flash of green light. He felt that for a second the blow of the impact shook Superman, but he still held the boy firmly… Then Jason had heard Luthor's laughter, the scrambling of feet as their captors left the cave, then the sound of a helicopter leaving… then silence.
o O o
Jason opened his eyes and looked up at Superman. The man's eyes were closed, and all the blood had drained from his face. "Su…Superman?" Jason stammered. "Are you all right?"
The Man of Steel opened his eyes, and Jason was surprised to see that the bright, sapphire blue eyes had turned a sickly, pale blue. Superman tentatively reached up to cup the boy's face. He ran a thumb down Jason's cheek, while his eyes never left the boy's. A relieved smile spread on the man's face at the sight of the boy being all right. And then he collapsed.
"Superman!" Jason gasped.
"Superman!" Lois screamed and ran up to him.
Jason wanted to do something. Anything. But he was still bound to the pole. A feeling of anger surged through him at his own helplessness, and for the umpteenth time in the past few years, he managed to do something extraordinary. Before he knew, he was free of the thick ropes binding him, the ropes lying torn on the ground, the pole to which he'd been bound, shattered in a hundred pieces. If only he had managed to display his inexplicable talents before they had been brought into the cave…
"We have to take him out of here," Jason said as he crouched down next to Superman and his mother. "This chamber is killing him…"
Superman presented him with a small, weak smile. "It's… it's no longer affecting me… nor you. Look…"
Jason followed the man's glance to the ceiling from where the Kryptonite had been hanging. Now there was nothing there.
"The explosion… it destroyed the Kryptonite. That's why… that's why you could use your powers," Superman wheezed. "But… I won't be better... not even if you take me out of here." He reached out and squeezed the boy's hand. Jason was shaken by how weak the Man of Steel's grasp was. This wasn't the same superhero who'd taken him flying on a few occasions. This man before him was broken… sick… exactly like a normal human being. Jason's heart clenched. Superman had saved him and his mother so many times… they had to pay it back to him somehow…
"We're going to save you…" the boy said, sounding determined. "Mum and I are going to save you, like we did last time…"
Superman again smiled, a brave smile it was. "Last time… last time it was only a chunk of Kryptonite… embedded in my back… This time… it's built itself into my whole body, my every cell. I can feel it. There's no way out of this. Not for me, at least."
Jason saw tears well up in his mother's eyes. "Superman… don't die," she whispered. "The world needs you."
The Man of Steel kept smiling. The smile hadn't left his face ever since he'd seen that Jason had been unharmed by the green light. "The world will have Jason."
"But… Superman…" Lois sniffed.
"Call… call me Clark."
Jason saw his mother's eyes widen. He himself wasn't surprised, he'd realised that Clark Kent was Superman as soon as he'd first met him. But his mother hadn't known. Or… had she?
Jason felt as though something was trying to compress his gullet, making him just as difficult to breathe as though he were having another bout of asthma. Superman wouldn't have revealed his true identity… unless he was truly dying. But Superman couldn't die! Could he?
Jason glanced at his mother and realised that she seemed far away… as though that single name had awoken suppressed memories in her… "Clark…" she whispered, her eyes wide with recognition and full of mixed emotions.
"You remember now?" he whispered back.
A single tear ran down Lois's cheek. She didn't care to wipe it. She reached out and took Superman's hands into hers. "Every single bit. Oh, Clark…"
"Forgive me, Lois. I thought… I thought I was doing the right thing… to place the world before those I love. I… I might have been wrong."
"No." Lois shook her head. "You did the right thing… even if you caused me… us… to suffer."
With the last vestiges of his strength, Superman freed his hands from her grip, and cupped her face, gazing intently up at her. "I love you, Lois. You and Jason… you mean the world to me. I love you two more than life itself… Never… never forget that."
She covered his hands with hers, her lips trembling as she spoke. "I won't. I love you too."
Superman nodded weakly. "Take Jason… to the Fortress. I have… I have grown new crystals that will… help him… guide him. He will… figure out how to use them." A tremor ran down his body, a pain so intense that it made him squeeze his eyes shut. When he opened his eyes again, he looked at Jason. "Take… take good care of your mother. And of yourself. I want… want you to know that I'm… very proud of you… Son."
Jason just looked at the crippled man before him, and couldn't believe what he was seeing. Superman… the strongest man on Earth couldn't even sit up, couldn't even talk properly… The boy was so much in shock that he hadn't even registered that the one-time Man of Steel had called him 'son'.
"Superman…" Jason's voice trailed off. He wanted to say 'thank you', but found that his vocal cords had completely failed him. So he just bent down, and did something he hadn't done since he'd been five: he kissed the world's saviour on the forehead. When he sat back up, he saw an unearthly smile on Superman's face. The man was dead already.
Thousands of questions zigzagged in Jason's mind, like how he had had been powerful enough to tear the ropes, why he had felt sick when exposed to Kryptonite, why Luthor had referred to him as 'Superboy', where his mother was supposed to take him and what guidance he was about to get there, but the only question he managed to utter was "Why? Why did he do it?"
His mother slipped an arm around his shoulder and looked into the boy's bright blue eyes. "Because he was your father, Jason."
That single sentence explained it all. The weird powers he had had from a young age, his mother's affection for the Man of Steel… and now his father's sacrifice.
Jason looked down at the peacefully smiling man, and his heart clenched again. All these years he'd spent together with Clark as his friend, knowing that Clark was Superman and keeping his secret… but not knowing about his other, even greater secret. This man had sacrificed himself to save him, because he loved him. Because he, Jason, was Superman's son. It was simply too much to bear.
Fighting back his tears, Jason reached out and placed his right hand on his father's still warm right one. "I swear by everything that is sacred… that I will avenge your death. There won't be a place on Earth… where Lex Luthor can hide from me. I will hunt him down… and make him pay. I won't disappoint you and… I'll do everything to live up to your name and your expectations. I swear… Father."
A/N: so, I killed off Superman. You have no idea how hard it was. I was in tears throughout writing this piece.
You may shout at me now… I'm waiting for the curses with downcast eyes and a sense of loss. I miss Him, you know…