To the Ages
Superman stood on the stony ledge looking down at the boiling, bubbling torrent of molten rock in the crater below. He strained his eyes as hard as he could, pressing his x-ray vision to the limit. The dark gray box he held felt cool to his hands despite all the heat radiating off the volcano. The fumes and thermals billowed his cape behind him and locks of his midnight hair danced in the winds.
"This should do it," he said out loud, though nobody was there to hear him. His voice was drenched with mixed emotions that boiled inside him like the glowing pool below him. He chest burned with love and loss, pride and sadness. His strong jaw clenched tightly and he fought against the building pressure of tears behind his eyes. His mouth involuntarily struggled between frowning over the reality of it all, and smiling because of the joy he tried to foster.
He swallowed hard, and launched straight up into the air – up above the sulfurous vapors and sour clouds of gas wafting out of the cauldron far below him. He hovered for a moment, absorbing as much of the setting sun's energy as he could, then drew in an enormous breath.
He hugged the box tight to his chest with one arm, then tilted his body over and dove head-long into the lava pit at blinding speed. The heat seared at his impervious skin and he held his eyes closed, using his x-ray vision to navigate through the molten column of magma. He sliced down further and further still, down the volcano's shaft, ducking and dodging the protrusions of harder rock that would have slowed his journey.
Willing himself through the crushing pressure, he drove on, deeper through the Earth's crust, down into the first layers of the mantle itself.
"That should be far enough," J'onn's voice sounded politely within his head.
"Thanks, J'onn," he thought back.
With one last superhuman effort, he kissed the box and grudgingly let it go. It felt like he was ripping out a piece of his soul and the part of his chest to which he had held it now felt as empty as his heart. But he needed to do this, even though he knew that he may never feel the closure that he longed for.
He felt like there was something more to do, something more he should fight for. But the logical side of his brain stepped in and he recalled one of Jonathon Kent's many wise sayings;
'Sometimes, son, you just have to let them go…'
Kara was sitting at a table in the cafeteria. It had been a long, hard day and she was doing her best to relax from all the tension of her latest mission. She cradled the glass of ice water in her hands and let out a well-earned sigh.
She hadn't been among these people long, but already it felt like home. For a while her new colleagues didn't know exactly how to treat her – she was strange in so many ways. She had as much knowledge and know-how of current technology as any of them, but her mannerisms and attitudes were still very foreign. Some people saw her as an oddity, like a visitor that would soon leave. Some treated her with unnatural reverence, as if she were a god (after all, she had walked the Earth with Superman and the original Justice League that had been immortalized in haunted tales and lore).
Others challenged her, believing that she was old-fashioned and couldn't possibly understand 'today's world'. Those were the people that Brainiac 5 liked to remind of the goings on the day she had been pulled from the past to help stop the Fatal Five. He especially liked to point out how she had single-handedly taken on the entire Legion of Super Heroes in their frenzied state. And he would always revel in the final point of his argument for her inclusion; 'and she has the good taste to not remind you how she kicked your ass.'
It was hard for the young woman, just weeks after he 21st birthday. She had been promised many a rousing adventure with some of the older Justice League women, now that she was of-age and 'legally' considered an adult… in Smallville at least. Her new life kept her busy, and with her warm and energetic personality, she had no problem making friends, but she still had her moments of reminiscing. She still spent quiet moments remembering her old friends and the members of that amazing organization.
And she missed him.
Back then, nobody had ever promised her that it would be easy, but then again, nobody had spoken to her, in terms that a 16-year old could relate to, about the importance of their life missions. To a teenage girl with superpowers, it had seemed almost natural that she would become a member. After all, she was Superman's cousin. That, and she could toss around dump trucks like beanbags. There was never any question in her mind that her destiny would lay with the League. In fact, she could even recall (with a touch of embarrassment) how standoffish she would get when somebody would say something that even hinted that she had to earn the right to be included.
With the years, however, came the wisdom and a toning down of what she thought she was 'owed.' She learned a lot from the heroes around her, but she also found that her maturity allowed her to learn so much more from people that she had never even met. Captain Marvel was a good lesson in her life and she had nothing to do with the incident that led to his resignation.
That particular event had solidified in her mind the realization that, just because somebody had amazing powers, doesn't mean that they are destined to be part of the Justice League. When it came right down to it, inclusion was still a choice one had.
The expulsion of Huntress was a lesson that she only understood in retrospect, as she was too young, too naïve at the time. Eventually, she had to acknowledge that inclusion in the folds of the League was also subjected to the members of the League itself. Just because one is capable of being a superhero, it doesn't mean that they are welcome.
Clark, however, was always a conundrum. He was such a dork at times. When she was first allowed to go on missions, she absolutely hated the fact that he would 'check up on her.' She had deliberately chosen to make her costume her own expression, thus trying to prove that she was her own person. She berated anybody that dared to make a comparison between her and him. She even reduced another rookie hero into a quivering panic when her eyes glowed a fierce red after an off-color comment about her fighting style compared to his. In short, she wanted very little to do with him and tried to prove to anybody and everybody that she was perfectly capable of being a hero in her own right.
It wasn't that she disliked Clark – on the contrary. She absolutely adored him away from the League. He was funny and warm. He could be firm without being harsh. They had countless hours and days of fun alone in the countryside pastures and forests around Smallville. He could make the most mundane things fun and he could make her laugh even when she tried to act 'cool'. When they were alone, she loved him for it. If they happened to be around her friends, it would irritate her to no end that they found Clark Kent funny. Even out of his costume, he cast a hard shadow to live in.
All teen angst aside, however, she did grow up in his shadow and it cast a darkness in her life at times. It also protected her from the trappings that other metas dealt with who didn't have such a pure and good role model. She heard over and over and over how lucky she was to be Superman's cousin – so much so that it made her sick. But she only recently started to understand how true it was.
Steel had told her about how special the Original Seven were. And she liked Steel. She thought the world of him. To hear him speak of Superman like that was eye-opening. Not because he said anything that was new or revolutionary, but because of the way he said it. He talked to her like a person, not Superman's little cousin. He told her of the importance of all seven of them, not just him. It gave her a sort of third-person perspective of Superman that she had not considered until that very moment. And she pondered on that until they came back from their battle with Luthor/Brainaic.
She saw him with new eyes from that point on. He wasn't dorky ole Clark. He was The Man of Steel. He was the purest hero she could imagine. Green Arrow's speech only cemented it for her. She was in the crowd when he poured on about the world needing the Justice League and the Justice League needing Superman. She stood amongst the others as one of them, not as his cousin any more. She cheered with the rest of them, cheered for Superman because he was who he was, not because he taught her how to drive Pa Kent's tractor. It was then that she realized how mature she must be getting, because she no longer felt that there was any obligation that the world or the League owed her because she happened to be endowed with super powers or because she happened to be his cousin. It as then that she knew that her life was about her choices, and she chose to admire Superman.
And she finally felt lucky. Lucky to have had him in her life. Honored that he had stuck by her through thick and thin. And proud… damn proud to call him a friend.
It wasn't long after that she decided to attack her missions with a renewed gusto. She listened to the wisdom of the more experienced members. She helped out those that needed it. She didn't take offense at comparisons with Superman any more, because in reality, she was striving to be more and more like him.
Then came the day she had to leave. After the initial turmoil of being dragged five thousand years into the future, she was able to relax and approach the situation at hand. "What would Clark do?" she had found herself thinking. And she attacked the situation as another mission to complete, another job to do. But she hadn't counted on feeling what she did before it was all over.
Sure, there was the cute, blue-skinned man that brought her coffee every morning, but the whole atmosphere of this new, modern world had awoken a sense of belonging in her that she had been struggling to recapture for years. That void in her heart that she used to fuel so many teenage rebellions with was suddenly filled with a warmth that she hadn't felt on Earth before. That warmth, and the tingle that she got when he held her hand helped her make up her mind. It was a hard decision, but she made it; she was going to stay.
Now, with several weeks' worth of time and odd quite moments to absorb the weight of that decision, she wrestled within herself to put to rest the doubts that kept creeping in. But Clark had always taught her the importance of living with the responsibilities of her decisions. He had taught her that it took courage to make decisions, because so many people feared that responsibility – to the point of actually forfeiting their right to decide. She learned that lesson well.
And as she took a long, refreshing draw off the sweating glass of ice water, she told herself that its coolness down her throat was the sweet reward of a job well done, because, if she needed more reward than that, then she wasn't doing it for the right reasons.
The bottom of the glass tilted up and the ice slid forward against her lip. She allowed the last of the cool liquid to trickle into her mouth before one last swallow. She brought the glass down and rested her elbow on the table, holding its coldness against the side of her face.
Then her ears started to burn. She clumsily tried to set the glass down, but it wound up tipping onto its side, the ice skidding across the table. She didn't care, she just thrust her fingers into her ears, trying to stop the screeching.
The others around her looked on in wonder. Had she not been fighting the sound, she might have noticed that they didn't seem to hear what she did. Her mouth and eyes flashed from wide-open, to clamped shut and she twisted to try to get away from the agitating pitches that burrowed into her mind. It was no use.
She got up and staggered down the hall, trying to escape it, but to no avail. A part of her wanted to scream out for somebody to make it stop. She wanted to punch a hole in the wall or tear something apart. But she didn't do any of that. Instead, she took a deep, calming breath, straightened up and regained her composure. The noise didn't go away, but with a little patience and determination, she found she was able to block it out, 'till it was little more than an annoyance. Just like Clark had taught her to do.
With a renewed determination, she marched past the people that had gathered around her out of concern and towards an open window. She calmly opened it, rather than smashing through it like she was aching to do. Outside, she lofted high over the city and focused on the direction the noise seemed to be coming from. Once she had a bearing, she blazed through the sky in search of this new menace.
Her path took her hundreds and hundreds of miles, over different landscapes and terrain. Mountains and forests, rivers and lakes. There were odd towns and forgotten wastelands left over from who knows what. Eventually, she found herself standing on the rocky edge of an island shore. The sound was loudest there, but she saw nothing that seemed like it should be generating that kind of signal. Whatever it was, it wasn't in a building or structure she could see. She scanned the area and found absolutely nothing that suggested to be her target.
So she focused her attention to the ground beneath her red boots. Whatever that thing was, it was deep underground. She vaulted high into the sky, and steeled herself for the staggering task. Taking one last breath of motivation and courage, she launched herself straight down into the earth.
Blasting away through the untold layers and beds of rock, she drove herself towards the source. Deeper and deeper she burrowed and louder and louder it grew. When the rock grew stubborn, she swung a mighty fist at it. Gritting her teeth with unwavering determination, mile after mile she plunged until she found it; a small, unassuming dark grey box no bigger than a briefcase.
The second she touched it, the screeching stopped. She snatched it up in her tremendous grasp and headed back towards the surface. The journey back was laced with as much confusion as her journey down had been with determination. Whatever this box was, it seemed to be as meek and harmless as teapot now.
She breached into the daylight, and landed softly on the rocky shoals, the white spray of the ocean breaking not far from her. She stared dumbly at the strange object in her hand, it's dark surface looking metallic, yet feeling almost soft and waxy. She sat herself down cross-legged and placed the object on the ground in front of her. Part of her felt compelled to take it back to Legion HQ for analysis. Part of her wanted to hurl it into the sun. But something about it made her simply look at it in wonder, as if it were speaking to her. And she felt no fear.
For some reason, she didn't jump when the box suddenly burst to life. Right before her eyes, it started go glow brighter and brighter until it was as bright as the sun shining on her face. The waxy, metal surface seemed to swirl and shift as if it were being drained into itself. Within moments, it wasn't a box any more at all, but instead, a small, silver bowl-shaped device, electronic looking and clearly of ancient technology. It took her a second to realize what it was, but when she did, her face fell with profound understanding. She was meant to find this thing. It was from him.
It was just at that moment when the device activated. A tall, soft glow appeared above it, flashing and dancing until it focused into a humanoid shape. As the image became clearer, she was able to recognize the familiar build even before the colors or the bright red "S". But when she saw the strong blue eyes, and the weight of emotion they held, her mouth dropped just a little further.
"Clark," she whispered, a slight smile creeping up her cheeks.
"Hello, Kara. I hope you get this message. I also hope that you're not too upset with the way I had to have it contact you or where I had to hide it so it would be safe for all those years."
She saw the familiar, goofy grin and she brought a hand up to cover her own in turn.
"I… wanted to get something off my chest, Kara. Something that has been bothering me since you didn't return from your latest mission… well, your last mission with the Justice League, really."
The recorded hologram took a deep breath and Kara used the pause to contemplate that thought; her last mission with the Justice League. It sounded so final. And logically, she knew that it was true, but the impact of hearing him say it was still hard to handle.
"I've watched you grow up, from a head-strong teen stuck on a farm in Kansas, to an impressive woman, sound of heart and mind, even tempered… with a good soul. A part of me believes that you will have absolutely no problem establishing yourself and creating a new life in the future. But I have to admit, it's hard not to worry.
"I tried to look out for you and still allow you to make your own choices, even if that meant making your own mistakes. It was a little more difficult for Ma and Pa with you than it was with me… I came to them as an infant, with a clean slate, and they were able to raise me as their own. But you… you had all the experiences and memories of living on Krypton, of growing up in Argo City. It must have been very difficult to come to this planet and live that kind of life, knowing what you did. And I'm sorry that I wasn't there for a lot of it. I'm sorry that I didn't have the time… didn't make the time to… well, to be there for you."
Kara saw the pain of regret on the strong, handsome face, and she felt the emotions, too. She felt the sympathy that comes with wanting to tell somebody that they have nothing to be sorry for. She shook her head as she listened to Clark's recorded confessions.
"No, Clark," she whispered, even though she knew he wouldn't hear it, "no, you were everything I could have asked for…"
"I love you, Kara. I hope you know that… I mean really know that. I hope you find the happiness there that I could never give you here. I know why you stayed, and I have no reservation at all that you made a good decision… the right decision. Because I trust you. Believe it or not, I do – I always have. I trust that you're smart enough to make good choices in your life, and although this choice has taken you away from me, I'm very impressed with the amount of courage that it took for you to make it."
The hologram flickered slightly, punctuating the reality that this was a recording made thousands of years ago from a man that she would never, ever see again. It would be the only thing that she could have and touch that would connect her with that life, with him. And it brought out the sadness that much more. As strong as his words made her feel, her heart was racing and breaking and her young eyes strained red with building tears.
"And it may be selfish of me to even make this recording… because maybe you don't need to hear any of this… maybe you don't even want to hear any of this, but… It broke my heart that you left and I never got the chance to tell you how proud I am of you. That was the hardest part. I'll miss you very much, but I blame myself for not telling you in person all these things I'm trying to say now. I should have told you more often what you meant to me. I drove you harder than I did the others because I saw you as a great leader some day. I saw the strength of your character and the goodness of your heart and I knew that some day you would do amazing things. I just wanted to build in you the drive and motivation to realize your potential, but it seems that you never needed anybody to do that… you had it in you all along. Even if you weren't my cousin, I could say with all honesty and sincerity that you are… that you were… one of the most impressive people in the League… that you were an inspiration to us all – especially me."
The tears finally broke free and left streaks on her dusty face. She wiped them away as they ran and tried to cover a stray sob with a forced giggle.
"I hope nothing but the best for you, Kara, because you deserve it. You deserve to find love and peace and happiness and I pray that you do. I'm going to miss you, more I think than you'll ever know."
Kara's mouth twisted with a heartbreaking smile and she cupped her hands in front of her quivering lips. The tears started to flow freely and her body shook as she wept.
"I do love you, Kara. And I'll miss you very much. Goodbye," he said with some difficulty. His strong chin sank down to his mighty chest, then the image was gone. She quickly reached up to where her cousin once stood and her heart broke that much more remembering that she couldn't even touch him or say goodbye back.
It took some time for her to find the will to stand up again. She felt drained, both emotionally and physically. She stared at nothing in particular, but found that her eyes always seemed to wander back to the little silver bowl-shaped device on the ground in front of her.
He was Superman, after all. His legend had endured for millennia after the rest of her friends in the League had been forgotten. She had learned in her short time here that he had oftentimes been thought of as to a deity. Odd cults and religious organizations had popped up here and there, and they would have thrived had he not left behind an indisputable message that he should not be worshiped.
But worshiped he was, in one way or another. Some canonized his power and abilities, but most held his example on a pedestal. He was still the superhero standard that all other superheroes were measured by. And she was his own, personal pupil.
And she learned his examples well.
So, after allowing herself a few moments of grieving, she quickly reminded herself that crying like this was a selfish thing to do. She stood up and dusted herself off, adjusting her skirt and pulling down her shirt bottom back into place. She adjusted her posture and stood straight and proud. She hadn't fully purged the sadness from her heart, but one couldn't tell by her composure, because (as Clark always said) she should appear brave even when she didn't feel brave – after all, nobody could tell the difference.
She took one last look around the rocky shoreline and the splashing waves, leaving their white foam among the black crags and sharp angles. It was a perfect scene and looked with new eyes at the setting sun, her long shadow cast behind her. She noticed that, among the oranges and pinks and purples, there were strong streaks of red and yellow spread across the darkening blue sky. It reminded her of him. She glanced down at her own "S" for a moment. It felt like a shield across her chest, over her heart. It was a symbol of him, and now, a symbol for her. Her eyes raised once more to watch the final arc of the sun as it disappeared behind the sea. It was the end of a chapter in her life and she was now free to write the next chapter on her own.