Chapter 4: Expression
Clark: Suddenly, people are calling me "Superman." They want to know everything about me; some are even afraid of me, just like Jor-El and Lara warned. Does this mean I'm going to have to give up my life?
Jonathan: No, son. It doesn't matter where you were born, or what you can do – you'll always be Clark Kent. Superman just helps out now and then.
- "The Last Son of Krypton," Superman: The Animated Series
When Bruce had pulled the Black Mercy off of Clark, there was a moment when he realized that his heart had stopped beating. And somehow, he knew at that moment that he could decide whether or not it would ever beat again. Van-El's sad little face was burned into his eyes.
But then he saw Bruce on the ground in front of him. He knew that Bruce was real. He knew that he was his best friend. He decided to let his heart beat.
That memory was the only thing that registered in his mind as Diana flew out of the Daily Planet building. So the last ten days, none of it was –
"Clark? You don't look so good," Jimmy noted with concern.
"Yeah, Kent, why don't you let your face spend some quality time over a toilet bowl?" Lois supplied.
Lois. He knew Lois's voice. He turned to look at her. Her display of humor was completely incongruous with the look she gave him. She was giving him a chance to make a convenient getaway. To make a decision. She would be behind him no matter what he decided.
But there wasn't a choice. He was farmer Kal-El again, struggling, aching to hold on to little Van as the planet literally crumbled around them. He was fifteen year-old Clark again, his whole world ripped away from him without warning just because he held a tiny box in his hands. "But I am normal!" he had shouted at Jor-El and Lara. Who would listen to him now? Who would believe him?
"Yeah…I…" He was dazed. It was not an act. "Feeling—not so…great…" He made a wild dash towards the elevators. No one noticed. Everyone's attention was directed at the battle raging before them.
And then in almost a blink of an eye, there was a red-and-blue streak up in the sky.
Clark flung himself into the battle. Didn't think about things like betrayal, or disappointment. Concentrated on how the radioactive flames from the robot were slapping against his skin. Felt almost grateful for the distracting physical pain.
He struggled to make it to the machine's trunk where the reactor was present. He destroyed it. The robot fell. The day was saved.
But his heart was heavier than it was before, because now the pain was gone, and the shock of Diana's revelation had worn off. He needed Lois. She always waited for Superman on the roof of the Planet after he took care of business in Metropolis, so Clark headed there while the rest of the Justice League worked on clean up; he was too distracted to be polite.
And just as he had hoped, as soon as he touched the ground, Lois ran into his arms. They held each other, and Lois let him be sad, because it was what he needed right then.
"It's okay," she said into his chest, "We'll just say in the Planet that your fake sabbatical was to lure this robot out of hiding, and then you can try again." He gave her a sad smile; finally let her go and smoothed the hair around her face. It was then that his eye caught the flutter of a black cape in the distance by the Daily Planet globe.
Gently, he steered Lois aside and curled his hands into fists. Something was replacing his sadness. Anger. "You had no right."
Batman stared back impassively.
Clark expected this response, but right then, he didn't have the patience or humor to put up with it. "I knew that you didn't agree with my decision, but I had no idea that you would go behind my back and sabotage me."
Without realizing it, Clark was closing the distance between them. "You may think it's stupid to put value into things like having a picnic when it's nice out or practicing your free throw, but I couldn't disagree more. I want the little things without having to worry about the consequences that I can't control. Just because you don't want what I want doesn't give you license to keep those things from me. Just because you're too afraid to get too close to someone, doesn't mean that I don't want to. Just because you don't understand the value of human rel—"
"That's enough, Clark!" snarled Bruce. "No one craves 'normalcy' more than I do. But I can't have the normal life I want, and neither can you. You'd realize that in a couple of years if you had actually given up your powers, when you'd see the world going to the dogs because there was no more Superman. The guilt would have eaten you alive! You've got to forget whatever fantasy the Black Mercy showed you, because that's all it was. A fantasy."
And then Clark punched the part of the Planet globe that was next to Bruce's head. His eyes flickered when he realized what he had done. He drew back in horror. He hung his head. "But I can't forget," he tried to explain. His voice faltered.
Lois drew closer. "Why can't you forget, Clark?" she asked softly.
He turned his back to them and closed his eyes. "…I had a son. Van-El."
It was quiet for a moment. Then he felt Lois slide her hand in his. He felt Bruce's hand on his shoulder. His shoulders started shaking, but the other two didn't move. They stood like that for a long time.
It was late afternoon when Lois and Clark made it to his apartment. Bruce had stayed with them long enough for Clark to know that his friend had reached his limit. They landed on his balcony, and he slid open the doors and gaped in disbelief when he saw his parents sitting on his couch.
Martha rushed over to her son at once. "Oh, Clark!" she cried as she hugged him. "We were so worried!"
Clark's heart swelled. He squeezed his mother in his arms, and then his eye caught sight of who else was there. Kara was still in her Supergirl costume, coming directly from another League mission. She waved at him excitedly. Lana was sitting across from Pa, nursing a glass of something which she now raised in his honor. Batman and a bandaged Wonder Woman stood together in the far corner. He nodded, and she smiled.
He let go of Ma and goggled at Lois. She shrugged modestly. "It was a bad news, good news kind of a situation. The bad news was that you didn't get what you wanted. The good news is that it may not matter as much as you think, because you've got so many people who love you." She swept her hand with a flourish to indicate the people occupying his living room.
Clark swallowed. And then he beamed. "Thanks," he said to all of them, meaning it.
Lex Luthor was not a happy man. As he watched the news coverage of Superman destroying the robot that it had cost him millions of secret dollars to make, he wondered how he could have been stupid enough to believe that Superman would ever want to give up his powers. Why would anyone want to give up Godliness?
With a roar, he hurled the remote control at the TV in his office. He had good aim.
He barreled out of the office. Without waiting for Mercy, he swept into one of his Porsches and drove heedlessly to the outskirts of Metropolis. There was only one person he wanted to see right now.
Lex arrived at the unmarked building. He slammed the car door behind him. Stormed inside. The guards nervously cleared a path for him.
"Oh, no, Luthor, spend millions on the damn robot if Superman is out of the picture," Lex muttered to himself as he made his way to a particular office, "The ball's in our damn court. When the world sees that the Justice League is weak without Superman, we'll come in and—" He found the door he wanted and flung it open.
"I applaud you for your incompetence," Lex mocked the woman sitting at the desk, "You didn't act in time. Now I'm the only one who's implicated in this ridiculous nuclear-monster fiasco, and that means that you can kiss your funding goodbye." He pounded the wall next to him and glowered.
"It was unfortunate that Superman wasn't eliminated as we had hoped."
"Unfortunate?" Lex bellowed, "Your plan was to undermine the Justice League in front of the world and to swoop in with metas of your own who could save the day! Now how are you going to get the world to side with you against the Justice League, Ms. Waller?" he demanded. "Enlighten me."
"Calm down, Mr. Luthor," said Amanda Waller coldly. She crossed her fingers under her chin. "We'll just have to come up with another way to introduce the League to Galatea and Project Cadmus."
A while later, Lois, Clark and Bruce found themselves standing together again. "How did you manage all of this, Lois?" he wondered.
"Well, I may have stolen your comm. link a couple of days ago for emergencies, and when you left the Planet, I used it to contact Wonder Woman." Lois looked smug. "She brought your parents over from Smallville, and I took care of Lana and Bruce."
Bruce stood characteristically stock still, but this time, it was only to goad Lois. Lois ignored him and continued, "I met Wonder Woman today for the first time and already I'm asking her to do things. What's wrong with me? I mean, she's Wonder Woman. I should be terrified of her!"
"Actually, Lois, I think it should be the other way around," Bruce offered.
Lois glared. "I'll take that as a compliment," she said, still glaring, and turned away before he could respond with more of his standing still.
Clark chuckled. "Thank you," he sighed, "I needed this."
"I know," she agreed emphatically. "You really don't give yourself enough credit, Smallville. You're naturally a gentle and bumbling guy. It's in your nature to worry, Kryptonian or not. You were so busy moping around and feeling lonely that I was forced to remind you of all the people that would stick by you no matter what."
He contemplated the scene before him. Pa was in deep discussion with Diana – Jonathan Kent had seen all nature of beast and machine, but he found Diana's Invisible Jet to be the most fascinating of them all. Lana was grilling Ma about her former classmates still in Smallville, while Kara went through Lana's phonebook and paused every few pages to squeal at the name of a celebrity. They were his family. And the two people standing next to him—
"I'm going to try to wrangle an exclusive from Wonder Woman now that I've got her here," Lois decided, "Do you think that would be okay?" She didn't wait for an answer before she charged away.
It was just Clark and Bruce standing together now. Clark gently cleared his throat. "I'm glad that you're here, Bruce."
Bruce lifted his head. "Yes, I'm behaving quite nicely."
"…You were right."
Clark laughed softly, then grew solemn again. "And I'm sorry for everything I said earlier. I was just upset. I know that that isn't an excuse—"
"Don't worry about it."
"It's just that…" Clark wrinkled his forehead, "You could live a normal life if you wanted to, Bruce. You've got a couple of terrific kids, a steady income, a woman who—"
"We have different ways of coping with loss, Kent," Bruce said brusquely.
Clark nodded. It was a topic that he had tried to venture before, and would most likely breach again. But for now, this much was enough. "Well, I still like you for some reason."
"Charming personality," Bruce grunted in explanation. He looked over at Clark. Frowned a little. But finally managed to say it – "Despite what you or anyone else may think, you'll always be a good person, Clark." Clark wanted nothing more in the world than to give Bruce a hug then, but he didn't, of course. He didn't want to push his unseasonably good luck.
Later that night, Ma and Pa were asleep in the guestroom, and Lois had decided to stick around too. Clark had blushed furiously as he had given her his room. He himself decided to sleep on the couch tonight.
But he couldn't fall asleep. He could only count his blessings and think of the future. He had managed to live a week of his life on his own terms in spite of his powers. Who was to say that he couldn't have moments like that in the future? And what the Black Mercy had shown him – maybe he and Lois could start a family some day. They could even adopt. He knew a thing or two about that…
"Kent?" Lois whispered, "Are you awake?"
He opened his eyes to find her standing in front of him in one of his robes. When she saw that he wasn't asleep, she gave a sly grin and loosened the robe to reveal something purple and lacy that made Clark turn bright red.
"Lois!" he exclaimed, "My parents are in the other room!"
"Your parents are a little less conservative than you are, Smallville," Lois assured him with a roll of her eyes as she retied her robe and deposited herself next to him on the sofa. "I honestly don't know why you think there's a difference between you and Superman," she muttered, "No matter what outfit you're in, you're still a goody two-shoes," and promptly pushed herself closer against him so that she could feel his chest move against her back.
"Lois?" he pleaded again, but with much less conviction. He pressed his lips against the back of her head.
Lois gave a triumphant smile, and Clark placed an arm around her waist. "So tell me, Clark," she began,
"What did a teenager with Kryptonian DNA and cornfed good looks have to do to get a girl in Smallville?"
"Oh, it wasn't very hard," he played along, "I had a method."
"A method? You don't say. What did you do, take 'em out for root beer floats?"
"Actually, it went a little something like this." He swung Lois in his arms to face him so swiftly that she gasped, and then he kissed her. Sweetly. Firmly.
"Jeez, Smallville," she whistled. She brushed his ever-present curl back from his forehead. "You need to teach me a lot more of this kind of country wisdom."
He smiled at her, his heart's desire.
AN: And they lived happily ever after! I've just started reading the "World of New Krypton" arc and – poor Clark! But if anyone can find a way to juggle a whole mess of identities, it's him. Thanks for reading!