Official disclaimer:I don't own anything that DC Comics does.
Personal disclaimer: This story is my love letter to Superman, and is a product of reading All-Star Superman, every Superman/Batman back issue I could get a hold of, and dude, even Wednesday Comics – all of which reminded me of exactly *why* I love him. I don't know how much pull Superman has in the JL fandom, but if this happens to be your kind of thing, enjoy! I know I did.
Chapter 1: Suppression
Lois: Just think what it would have been like for him if he'd lived. First finding out he wasn't...well, you, and then his home, his whole world destroyed in one day. Could you imagine?
Superman: Yeah, I think I can. He'd probably feel a lot like I did when I learned I wasn't human. You don't know who you are, where you belong, why you're here.
- "Bizarro's World," Superman: The Animated Series
He dreamt about his family again last night. Not Ma and Pa. The other family. The one in which his glamorous and talented wife showered him with affection in thanks for his unwavering support. The one in which his gruff, worldly father didn't get along with him because their convictions were at loggerheads. The one in which his son looked up at him adoringly, his young eyes gleaming underneath his lashes like two starry amethysts.
Clark woke up drenched in sweat. He put his head in his hands and tried to steady his breathing. Mongul had ambushed him with the Black Mercy over a month ago, and while anger had carried him through the first couple of weeks after it all happened, the anger was fading, and it couldn't blunt his sadness any more.
His heart's desire. His family. His farm. His ordinariness – all wrenched from him. And now that he was awake again, and back in the real world, he wondered if it would be enough.
Afraid of dreaming about them again, Clark turned over and saw that it was almost six in the morning anyway. He had time to duck into Smallville before work. Helping Pa milk the cows and having a stack of Ma's buckwheat pancakes would make him feel better. It always did.
"Did you hear about the Martins, Martha?" Jonathan Kent asked his wife as he came into the house. Clark was right behind him, dusting off his hands on his jeans. He grinned. He loved listening to his parents gossip over breakfast – he always had.
"You mean how they're planning on moving to Florida? I heard." Martha set a mound of pancakes on the table and took some time to beam at Clark before returning her attention to Jonathan. "They're thinking of selling their land in smaller plots."
"Maybe you should look into buying some of it, Pa," Clark suggested, "Their farm borders ours – it's a golden opportunity." They washed up and sat down to the breakfast. "I can see what sort of price they're asking for before I go into work," he offered eagerly. He was enamored of the idea of expanding the farm.
Jonathan looked up from his plate. "I don't know, Clark. These days I think that it would be better to just follow Phil Martin to Florida rather than buy up his land here in Kansas."
Martha let out a laugh at this. "Think about, sweetheart," Jonathan insisted, "Us, retired. Me, in one of those floral shirts. Wouldn't you like that?" They both chuckled at the thought.
But Clark didn't join it. "You can't be serious, Pa."
"Son, I certainly can't move to Florida and not wear that kind of clothing." More laughter.
"…About leaving the farm."
"Oh, I don't know, Clark." Jonathan scratched the back of his head. "I would hate to leave the farm, you know that. But your mother and I can't run it forever. I should start trying to get used to the idea of selling this place and moving on."
"But you've got me," Clark said in a small voice.
"You've got other responsibilities, sweetheart." Martha put her hand on her son's arm. "Your destiny is bigger than this farm. It would be a shame for you to use your gifts here instead of places where they're needed more."
He suddenly remembered the view from his bedroom window of a field of cornstalks rustling under the red sky. His heart's desire.
"But this land has been Kent land for generations."
"All that's our past." Jonathan looked at his son over his glasses. "You're our future. You're all that matters to us."
Clark Kent took his lunch break at around two o'clock after waving goodbye to Jimmy Olsen. A blink of an eye later, Superman was seen shooting across the Metropolis skyline.
He arrived at the Metropolis University Medical Center surgical ward B, where Dr. Evgenia Stacy was waiting for him. Truth be told, Clark was in awe of Dr. Stacy. She was around his age, but she had been conducting groundbreaking research in the field of childhood cancers for nearly two decades. She had saved more deserving lives than he could possibly imagine.
He thought it was a shame that Dr. Stacy didn't take more pride in all the good she had done. For her, pediatric malignant tumors were a purely intellectual pursuit, and the real-world implications of her research were just incidental. She was a certified genius, and kind of a loner. She spent all of her time in the lab, fueled by each journal article she published in the NEJM.
At any rate, Superman was her newest research assistant. The surgeon would take biopsies of tumors, Dr. Stacy would treat them with her experimental pharmaceutical preparation, and Superman would use his enhanced vision to give real-time reports on the drug's efficacy.
It was the same today. Clark watched as the drug molecule – "a minor modification to doxorubicin" as Dr. Stacy had explained – inserted itself between two base pairs on the DNA helix and uncoiled it. He had never seen anything so fascinating. Excitement lit up his face, and when they were finished, Dr. Stacy couldn't help but smile back with the same intensity.
"It must be enthralling to actually watch it happen," she sighed as she sorted through the papers on her desk back at her office.
"It is." Superman nodded solemnly.
"Well, thanks to you, this whole process is going by lightning quick. Otherwise, I would have been at it for months."
"I'm glad I can help," Superman said sincerely. He drew his brows together in such a way that some dormant maternal instinct flared up within Dr. Stacy. It caught her by surprise, but she quickly quashed it. "So, this strain of doxorubicin can target any gene that isn't normal?"
"Theoretically," she answered, a little disarmed by how boyishly endearing he was. "Abnormal genes replicate faster, and these drugs use replication rate as their mainstay. I'm working on something that's a little more selective. That way, anything beyond our normal forty-six chromosomes can be suppressed."
"I have fifty-one."
Dr. Stacy observed him with interest. "Maybe my drug could suppress your five extra chromosomes, then," she suggested offhandedly. She was itching to get back to work now. She had had enough of pleasantries, even if it was with Superman.
But to her surprise, she saw Superman's eyes flicker at her statement for the briefest of seconds. And then, something occurred to her.
"This is a completely spur-of-the-moment thought," she began, "but if you ever feel the need to drop the 'super' from your title, I could help. My drug could inhibit any of your genes that aren't identical to those in humans."
Superman hesitated, but then laughed. "I don't see how that would help me fight crime any better," he joked.
"It wouldn't," Dr. Stacy agreed at once. "But if you ever wanted to…for personal reasons." She took one of her business cards and wrote a number on the back. "This is a direct and protected phone line. Should you ever decide to go ahead with something like this, please contact me."
He made no move to take the business card from her hand, so she set it in front of him on her desk. At that moment, her phone rang. She excused herself and took the call, her eyes drifting towards the window behind her desk.
When she turned around a few minutes later, Superman was gone, and so was the card.
"Where's your head, Kent?"
Clark had only time to blink when he heard Batman's low growl in his comm. link before a telephone pole came hurtling towards him. He moved out of the way just in time, or else it would have snapped in two when it impacted with his neck.
"I'm sorry," Clark said quickly.
It was another breakout from a high-security prison, and five villains that the Justice League was all-too-familiar with were out for revenge. As founding members, Superman and Batman were meant to take a backseat in order to allow Vigilante and B'wanna Beast to gain combat experience, but Clark had taken this time to become completely lost in thought.
"This is getting ridiculous," scoffed Bruce. "You take care of Star Sapphire. I'm going to show Vigilante a trick to deal with Luminus."
"Fine," agreed Clark, eager to busy himself with something. If he zoned out like that again, Bruce would be out for his blood. His friend didn't want to train new members; he was only here because Clark had insisted. And if Clark wasn't really all here, well then…
It was too late. As Clark met the impact of Sapphire's energy beams, he heard Bruce grunt out between breaths, "What's the matter with you?"
Clark would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for the melancholy sigh that he couldn't suppress in time. He struggled to push against Sapphire's rays, which was more difficult than it looked.
He heard Bruce sigh too, but it was a bracing, aggravated sigh. "I don't want to know what happened," Bruce began, "I have no interest in knowing what happened. If you want me to take the bait and insist on asking you what happened, that won't happen either."
Clark considered for a moment. "That's okay," he decided, and glowered at Sapphire to initiate his heat vision. There was a long pause in the conversation as he and Sapphire tried to overcome each other's energy beams.
Finally, Bruce spoke. "Tell me what happened." He said this so begrudgingly that Clark couldn't help but break into a smile. So he told him about his morning – about how he went to Metropolis University to work with Dr. Stacy, about her offer, about the card she left on the table. As he recounted his story, he defeated his opponent and ended up back-to-back with Bruce to finish up the capture of the escapees.
Bruce listened to all of this impassively. "So what did you do?"
"I took the card," Clark admitted. He exchanged a glance with Bruce, who raised an eyebrow. But the rest of the conversation was cut short when a near-unconscious B'wanna Beast was hurled into their midst.
In fact, it wasn't picked up again until much later, when they returned to the Watchtower after the mission. Clark headed straight for the commissary, and once he had grabbed a plate and found a table, he was surprised to see both Bruce and Diana by the espresso machine. Bruce had his cape drawn over his shoulders, and he was speaking into Diana's ear as she poured herself some coffee. Something he said startled her, and made her cast a furtive glance over in Clark's direction. It didn't take super-hearing to know what they were talking about.
Thus, Clark braced himself when Wonder Woman and Batman, each armed with a steaming mug, swept towards him. They seated themselves at his table and stared at him intently.
Wonder Woman broke the silence. "You're actually considering this…offer?"
He took a pensive sip from his glass. "Yes."
Diana looked aghast. "You would willingly give up your powers in exchange for nothing?" She narrowed her eyes, as if it would help her understand. Maybe it did. "I know it's difficult, Superman…Clark. Our abilities can often lead us to be ostracized by others." She put her hand on his. "But no matter what the temptation to give up your abilities" – here, Clark politely ignored the flicker that Diana's eyes made towards Bruce – "surely you know that they do more good than harm."
Clark listened to her. Put his other hand on hers and squeezed it. Smiled wanly. "I don't know that for sure."
Diana withdrew her hand and curled it into a fist. "Forgive me for asking, but what is wrong with you?" She glared at him. "What?" she then demanded coldly as she touched her ear. She had been called away on a mission. With one final swig of her coffee, she briefly regarded her two companions and left.
"She's right, you know," Batman grumbled as soon as Wonder Woman was out of earshot.
"I didn't know you cared, Bruce," Clark joked as he collected a forkful of food.
"Hmph," grumbled Batman as cheerfully as ever until he realized that Clark was referring to his feelings about Diana and not Clark. Admitting out loud that he cared about either one of them made him uncomfortable, however, so he decided to ignore this and move on. "Since you're pretty calm about this life-altering decision, I'm assuming that you've thought about this – powers thing – before."
"I have," Clark agreed, "my whole life." The Black Mercy had helped him realize this.
"It's not because of Lois, is it?" Bruce asked pointedly.
Bruce leaned back in his seat. "Explain it to me." It was almost a challenge.
"…Bruce." Clark furrowed his brow. He tried anyway. "I'm eating dinner right now. I can taste it. I'm going to digest it and everything. But I don't need to eat it. I've been eating three meals a day for my entire life. But I've never needed to eat them." He sighed. "I want to be able to need to eat food."
Batman listened to all of this, and when Clark finished, didn't respond at once. Clark's words hung in the air between them.
Finally, Bruce cleared his throat and he looked at Clark squarely in the eye. "You're the most powerful person on this planet, and several others. It's lucky that you're one of the good guys. Do you want the bad guys to win while you're pandering to some philosophical debate on identity?"
"This is my life, Bruce." His voice rose. "I think about who I am all the time; even when I don't want to, I have to. Now, for the first time in my life, giving up my powers wouldn't be selfish, it would actually be possible – look at the League roster. And if that doesn't work, you've even got Kara." Both of them got up slowly, annoyed. "It's important to me to finally understand who I am."
"You're Kent," said Bruce as he pointed his thumb to his friend's chest. "That's all you need to know."
He couldn't stay in the Watchtower after that. Normally, he valued Bruce's opinions more than his own, but this time it was different. Bruce's opinion held very little weight in his current situation. Even Bruce's Diana card, although cleverly played, wasn't enough. Diana grew up in a place where everyone was like her. She couldn't possibly understand the temptation to be human. She hadn't had her humanness forcefully ripped from her – he had, twice. Once, when he was a teenager, and then again, when he was freed from the Black Mercy. Diana had made a choice.
Until now, Clark had never been given a choice.
He went to the Fortress. Fed the animals. Rested his forehead against a glass pane of the menagerie without thinking, and accidentally cracked it. It was his own fault for forgetting who he was for a moment.
His animals were all just like him – the last of their kind. Forced to make their own way, with no examples to follow. It was why he had rescued all of them from the Preserver's ship; they were all Clark Kents. One of the animals was especially strange – it looked almost exactly like a golden retriever, but every time it barked, it released a volley of flames from its mouth. Sometimes, Clark thought it was his favorite of them all.
He kneeled onto the ground. "Don't you get lonely, boy?" he inquired of the dog look-alike, "Don't you ever get tired of being careful, of wanting to just breath easy for once?"
The retriever twirled around once and then barked, singeing a nearby animal. The animal squawked indignantly, and the dog whimpered.
Clark laughed humorlessly. "You can't afford not to be careful."
He made his way over to the statue of Jor-El and Lara. It was a part of the cave that he almost never visited, one that he had designated to them out of a sense of duty, and perhaps even out of guilt. He looked at the parents he never knew smiling broadly as they held aloft a world he had never known.
What had Jor-El and Lara wanted for their son when they sent him to planet where everyone else looked like him, Clark wondered as he gazed up at their faces. Surely they wouldn't have guessed that their son would grow up to be a Superman. They had only wanted to ensure a future for little Kal-El, an almost normal future, if their selection of Earth was any indication. He had decided himself to shoulder greater responsibilities, because he felt that his powers compelled him to serve humanity.
And Jor-El had said something: "Remember who you are and the legacy you carry inside of you."
But he couldn't carry on a legacy that he had never known. He tried, of course – it was why his birth family crest was emblazoned on his uniform. Yet even that was because of Ma and Pa, who had instilled in him too much about responsibility and honor.
He took out Dr. Stacy's card and twirled in between his fingers. Thought about the recently expanded Justice League. About little Van-El.
Ma and Pa would support him no matter what he chose in the end. The memory of the angry looks on Bruce and Diana's faces made him hesitate, however.
But if he was honest with himself, he knew that he would learn to deal with all of their opinions, no matter what he decided in the end. There was only one person whose point of view he needed to know before he made his choice. Lois.
AN: Coming up next: Another trip to Smallville! Lots of Lois! And can Dr. Stacy be trusted?
Another AN: Jor-El and Lara's advice to young Clark is from the first episode of STAS.