Title: The Blackest of Rooms
Summary: After living his long life in the service of others, Clark Kent had one request. He wanted his wife.
Notes: This is a strange one. A bummer for a while. Just a cathartic little drabble just to get back in the fic-swing.
Dedicated to my good friend Sunrei who said to me one day "write something." And so I did.
Special thanks to Lucy for the beta-ing.
"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone." – Orson Welles
"Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with another." – Thomas Merton
Love of mine some day you will die
But I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the NOs on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark
Catherine Kent clutched the package in her arms a little tighter, nudging the screen door open with her hip. Once inside, she caught the corner with her heel before it had a chance to slam shut, using her free hand to tuck the glossy brochure deeper into her purse.
As she moved towards the kitchen, the clacking of her heels echoed through the empty farmhouse. She had never been one for knocking, especially at the place she had come to think of as her second home, but when there was no answer she began to wonder if maybe she should have called ahead.
"Dad?" she ventured, craning to peer into each room. Nothing.
Definitely should have called ahead.
Passing the large mahogany bookshelf, Catherine stilled. A neat row of journalism awards glinted in the midday sun. Momentarily transfixed, she reached out and lightly traced one Kerth's teardrop outline, 'Lois Lane' etched boldly on its face.
A fresh wellspring of grief tapped, she felt hot tears prick the corners of her eyes for the woman she had come to love.
Heart in her throat, she quickly spun on her heels. Her father-in-law stood in the doorway, a modest pile of firewood straining his arms.
"I wasn't expecting anyone."
The statement was innocuous enough, but still guilt crept in at the edges. She cleared her throat and mustered a tight smile.
"I thought I'd come see how you were doing. Surprise you."
Clark looked genuinely touched as he nodded and began his slow shuffle towards the fireplace. His old knees popped when he crouched down to place the logs in their large brass rack.
Standing there, silently observing him, Catherine's mind's eye flashed back to the first time she had ever seen him – strong chiseled features wrapped in midnight blue and crimson. To a five-year-old he had been like something straight out of a fairytale. Snuggled tightly in her Superman sheets she would sleep a little sounder knowing he was patrolling the skies above.
It was a stark contrast to now. Struggling. Wheezing. His breathing labored from the smallest of tasks. In his youth he had moved mountains; now he hobbled as if forced to carry them on his broad shoulders. And it had only gotten worse since Lois had passed on.
She couldn't help but feel like she was watching him slowly fade away.
"Where's Johnny?" Clark asked as he slowly rose to his feet. He brushed his hand on the leg of his pale blue jeans.
"Mudslide in Peru. He's been there for hours."
Clark nodded in understanding, though did little to mask his disappointment. Between his duties as Superman and his family, John struggled to find the time to visit his father. She knew that as deeply as this hurt Clark, it hurt her husband.
After a moment of awkward silence, his eyes settled on the package she still held. Happy for the easy change of subject, she eagerly thrust it into his hands.
"Christopher's staying in a hostel outside of Cairo. He sent this along for you."
Clark studied the small parcel. He slid a finger between the folds and began to carefully unwrap, and soon revealed a mud-brown Bastet statue. Its sleek, feline head tilted proudly.
Catherine scrunched her nose at her son's questionable taste. "Well, it's the thought that counts."
Clark cleared some space on the long mantel and set his gift in the center. It looked hopelessly out of place amongst the cheery farmhouse bric-a-brac.
"Be sure to thank him for me."
"You may get the chance yourself. He mentioned coming home next month. John could fly you out."
He hesitated a moment and then said, "Absolutely."
Catherine wasn't sure why, but she found that small pause unsettling.
Before she could dwell on it, the sharp peal of the kitchen telephone cut through her worry. Clark made no move to answer, and instead fussed with the positioning of the hammerstone cat, rearranging the photos and wildflowers that now flanked it.
"Aren't you going to get that?"
He shook his head. "Telemarketers."
Catherine frowned. The phone was an entire room away, and her father-in-law's enhanced vision had gone years before.
"Are you sure? It could be someone else - "
"It isn't," he assured her, tersely.
With a helpless shrug she let it go and listened as the answering machine clicked on.
Hello, you've reached the Kents…
Her mother-in-law's voice floated into the livingroom, sending Clark's spine ram-rod straight.
We're not here right now, but if you leave your name and number we'll be sure to get back to you… in order of importance.
Slowly he turned to face her, wringing his hands as he fumbled for an explanation.
"I haven't had a chance to record a new one. The farm keeps me pretty busy now, Cath."
She wanted to tell him that she understood. That she couldn't fault him for keeping those small reminders. That no one would. But his mention of the farm reminded her of the other reason she had made the two-hour drive to see him that day.
"I know. And it shouldn't." She reached for the retirement home brochure in her purse. The one with the sprawling golf courses and glittering lakes. "You exhaust yourself. Have you given anymore thought to Grace Gardens?"
Clark's features clouded. "I'm not going to a home."
"It's not a home. It's a retirement community. And a luxury one at that."
Clark took off towards the kitchen, and Catherine quickly trailed behind, not about to give up so easily. He could be stubborn, but persistence usually paid off. She had learned that from Lois and it had served her well over the years.
When she got to the kitchen, he had disappeared behind the refrigerator door, rummaging through its contents.
"I was just about to start dinner. Stew. I know you don't eat red meat, but I can leave it out. "
She was momentarily thrown by his change in attitude. "Oh. Well –"
"It shouldn't take long. I can have it ready for us in no time."
Having collected what he required, he reappeared, his look now hopeful. "What do you say?"
"I –" Catherine trailed off. In truth, she had an appointment with a client later that day. A critical one. But words seemed to fail her as her father-in-law, the world's champion, stood in front of the open refrigerator looking so impossibly lonely. She nodded. "Just let me make a quick phone call."
When he smiled, for the first time in a long time, she knew she had made the right choice.
One Week Later
The old, rusty pickup rumbled down the long stretch of road.
Through the windshield, Clark looked out at the large plot that had once been Evans Field. Over the years, miles of cornstalks had been replaced with grazing land, and then concrete. Signs now announced the construction of a new LexMart.
It was a reminder that all things changed.
He caught his reflection in the rearview mirror. Not even he was immune.
To his surprise, as well as a team of STARR Labs scientists, he had aged relatively normally. With his Kryptonian biology, that had always been one of many question marks. But as time went on, his thick black mop of hair turned salt and pepper gray. His strength began to ebb, and one by one his powers faded away.
But up until her final days he had still been able to carry his wife, and for Clark, that was enough.
Suddenly, almost painfully, he was struck by the image of her laughing – her smile wide and beautiful.
The years rolled on, and eventually everyone had left him. First his father and then mother. Chloe then Ollie. Victor, Diana, Lana... As each friend passed away he'd clutched his wife a little tighter. Please, not her. Never her.
And for a long while it wasn't. But then, it finally was.
His nights were spent dreaming of her, his days spent wishing it were once again night. She'd been by his side for so long, he had forgotten what it was like to exist without her. Now, he was once again reacquainted with the loneliness that had defined his teenage years.
Clark nosed his truck through the wrought iron gates of the Smallville Cemetery.
It took a moment before he was able to kill the engine. Deep in his chest his heart hurt, as if it were being slowly constricted by some invisible force.
Finally, after a few deep breaths, he leaned over, his fist clenching tightly around the bouquet of white lilies resting on the passenger's seat.
It was time to say goodbye. One last time.
The rest of the day was spent tying up loose ends. He had sold off all of the livestock, and donated the leftover feed to a neighboring hatchery. He tidied up the house, made their bed (the extra pillow on Lois' side). At the last minute he moved the larger farm equipment into the barn. A storm was coming.
Finally he sat at the kitchen table, reading glasses on the bridge of his nose. They had once served as a disguise, but eventually become a necessity. He wrote a letter to his son, expressing how proud he was of the man he had become and explaining the situation he had found himself in. With one final hope that John would understand, he sealed the envelope and left it on the red-checked placemat.
It was nearly midnight when he had finally made it to the Fortress.
Clark walked to the main console and after touching a sequence of crystals, and the ice palace hummed to life.
Clark brought his hand down onto a small flat panel. "Vitals scan," he commanded. The Fortress' computer quickly ran its diagnostic. As the results began to stream on the screen in front of him, he finally addressed his father.
"All my life I have done as you've asked," Clark began in a steady voice. "I've dedicated myself to protecting the well-being of others, often at the expense of my own."
"You have served this planet well, my son."
He looked up at the calculations on the screen, the numbers confirming what he already knew.
There was a charged pause and then, "Yes."
Clark nodded and swallowed thickly. "I've never asked for anything, wanted nothing in return. But I think I have earned the right to be selfish. Just this once."
"And what is it you desire?"
Clark watched as a pink crystal slowly rose from its place in the console and morphed into a sickly shade of green. He regarded it wearily for a moment before steadying himself with a deep breath and reaching out to take it in his hand.
And then everything went black.
The first thing he felt was pain.
His whole body ached; muscles he hadn't used in years were stiff and sore.
He squinted against the glare of daylight, groaning as he struggled towards consciousness. When he had finally gained his bearings, Clark found himself surrounded by corn. Miles and miles of it.
Clark shielded his face and began to push his way through, and soon the tall, leafy stalks gave way to a dirt road. He picked a direction and began to walk.
After a few minutes the low rumble of tires on gravel caught his attention. He turned back to see a red pickup heading his way and lifted an arm to flag it down.
As the truck drew up beside him, and slowed, Clark froze in shock.
Inside the cab sat his parents, alive and… young. They looked to be in their mid-forties, his mother's long, auburn hair still untouched by grey.
"Are you alright?"
Clark snapped out of his daze long enough to formulate a lie.
"Yes, I … I went for a walk and got a little lost. My grandson was supposed to pick me up, but I'm afraid he may have forgotten."
Jonathan motioned down the road.
"We live nearby. On our way home now. You're more than welcome to use our phone."
Still reeling, Clark felt himself nod.
"I- Thank you."
To be continued…