TITLE: Citizen of the world
SUMMARY: Loosely based on parts of the trailer for the Man of Steel movie, but likely AU. Clark's life, in the lead-up to becoming Superman.
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this fic aren't mine, I'm merely borrowing them for a short time.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This isn't an action-villain fic, it's about the man beneath the cape. My knowledge of the superman mythos is sketchy at best so this very probably non-cannon, but I hope you like it anyway.
He had to find his niche, and a purpose for his life. He didn't know if the world was ready for him: but what Clark did know was that he wasn't ready for the world.
He didn't wear the suit, not at first.
He travelled constantly: a single night in Paris, three weeks in Ho Chi Minh City. He journeyed by train from Qinghai to Lhasa.
Degree in his pocket, he took freelance work wherever he could find it: writing for obscure publications, national magazines, local papers, anything. The internet was his friend.
Flying was a new freedom, and he couldn't stay out of the sky. He zigzagged the globe, donning black jeans and a nondescript grey hoodie, soaring high and fast as the planet unveiled its splendour far below below him. The world was big, but he was beginning to feel that it was his world; he'd make it small again.
He flew. The traces of space junk orbiting the earth intrigued him, and on and off for several weeks he followed the trail of debris and examined its contents: there were minute flecks of paint as well as clumps of twisted metal as big as his hand. He searched the debris for traces from his own spacecraft now buried beneath his parents' shed, and for anything else that wasn't man-made; but everything had a density and molecular structure similar to what he'd seen previously on earth.
It came as no surprise that his flights across the globe were noticed eventually, and he left the space debris when the familiar pattern of an orbiting satellite turned its clumsy sensors his way. There weren't any cameras recording on the primitive instrument, but there were monitors, and he became more careful not to give his presence away.
Once, lured by the promise of too many conspiracy movies, he disguised himself and broke into an Area 51 storage facility. Was there anyone else like him? He craved answers and found soldiers, guns, dogs and alarms. But he'd had time to utilise his gifts wisely: there was nothing for him there, and he didn't go back.
Still, he kept travelling: the Dominican Republic, Israel. He had to know, to experience, to connect: he needed to be one of them. But even surrounded by people, loneliness was often his shadow, and he felt it at times with a tight, almost overwhelming sense of pain.
But he had a duty to himself, and to the world.
It was his nature to observe, but he couldn't allow himself to be aloof, and he interacted with people everywhere. The mass of humanity differed from country to country in beliefs and culture, in traditions and gods to worship, in housing and in preferences of differing food. But in essence, people had the same basic needs everywhere: everyone needed a place they could call home, food to eat, and family and friends to love; everyone needed somewhere where they belonged.
Perhaps he was not so different after all.
He sat alone underneath the giant Buddha in the dead of a Hong Kong night as the harsh wind ripped around him. His t-shirt had worn thin: he'd learnt early on that button-up shirts did not survive flight. His jeans were still stiff with salt from a sojourn beneath the sea. His bag and battered laptop was in a cheap hotel room far across the ocean. Was it his destiny to serve the world? To save it? To be its judge and jury? He wasn't a god and he wouldn't become one.
Maybe his role on this planet was fated, but journalism was a passion on par with his love of soaring unencumbered through the atmosphere. He didn't know how he'd fit his desire to write with the man he had to be, but still, he built his writing portfolio in conjunction with an electronic trail of passports and entry via plane to countries whose borders met the sea. He flew cattle class in the noisy, human-engineered planes: he ate meals and dozed for hours on United, Qantas, SAA, Emirates, China Southern and tiny airlines that flew on a wing and a prayer.
But once away from the ocean, he crossed continents in seconds. Radar would notice him but he made sure there was no pattern to follow.
He travelled. Mongolia bought a different kind of freedom. His clothes were falling apart from continuous cycles of flights over Russia in heat and rain and from camping on bare dirt, he'd stopped shaving and grown a beard; and in this country, considered poor by Western standards, it was his scruffiness that made him less conspicuous, less of an outsider.
He traded some US dollars for a second-hand motorbike and rode through the country. Much of Mongolia's nomadic population lived in simple houses, many without electricity or running water, and he wondered what he could ever be for these people. He understood cities: catch a thief, stop a runaway car, save a doomed plane. But here his worth seemed more difficult to define.
He explored Mongolia for several months. Languages came easily to him: he learnt the national language and some of the less common dialects, and stayed for a while in a one room ger with a family of nine. He drank airag, and ate meals of mutton and khuushuur. He shared the fresh oranges he'd bought one night from a small corner store in LA. He herded yaks and fetched water and built bridges across swollen streams.
After Mongolia, he sold the bike and used the funds to buy a ticket across the sea. He spent a few days in Skagway, then took passage on a fishing trawler in the gulf of Alaska, fishing for crabs in the Bering Sea. But what drew him in to the small fishing community also forced him out: too long a time spent isolated on the lonely seas, and a limited amount of people to mix with when on land. He was fond of the burly trawler captain; a man that reminded him in looks of Jor-El, but in speech and manner of Jonathon Kent.
However their growing friendship had been strained when Clark hadn't developed even mild hypothermia like the other greenhorn had when a freak wave had washed them both into the freezing sea. Clark had barely managed to give what he hoped were credible shivers, and he saw the unease in the crew's eyes for something they could not understand.
Sometimes, it wasn't that the world was too big, the problem was that it was too small.
Australia was heat and sunshine. He stripped down to boardshorts on Bondi: his muscular build drew attention, but he was nothing out of the ordinary mixed in with the crowd of bronzed and toned beachgoers. He surfed in the ocean and exchanged travel stories with locals and tourists alike. And later, when the sun was a memory long gone from the sky, he flew further north to the top of Mount Warning and waited as his new acquaintances had told him he should, for the brilliance of the new sunrise.
He sat on a dew-damp patch of grass in the darkness on the summit of the mountain as the wind tore through his hair and blew his hoodie aside. Distant pin-points of light from cars and houses dotted the countryside far below. Would his time now exploring the globe be his last hurrah to normal life?
He listened to the world; to the nocturnal snufflings of unknown animals, the fluttering of a fish's heartbeat from a stream hidden in the depths of a valley, and the occasional conversation between the small groups of people still climbing up the mountain far below.
Sunrise was a slow awakening of streaky pinks and oranges, and from his perch on the mountain's zenith it was almost like he'd been flying. As the new day dawned and his inherent power stirred under the growing rays of sun, he felt a sense of peace wash through him.
He exchanged small talk with other climbers, and as the heat began to build he peeled off his hoodie and tied it loosely around his waist. He drank deeply from the water bottle he'd bought with him, and tipped his face into the sun. He shut his eyes as he bathed in the sun's familiar warmth: and he realised that the continents, and the people of the world he'd first glimpsed through google, were gradually becoming something closer to his heart.
With the sun in the sky, he couldn't fly away from the mountain. He was the first to leave the summit to begin the slow trek down, it was a descent that would take a fit person up to two hours. But as he descended via the steep chain to the lower part of the mountain, he came upon men whose clothing bore the insignia of a rescue team. A young boy was lost, had disappeared from the campsite below to make his own night climb to see the sunrise. Had the child been sighted?
The mountain was rife with waterfalls, broken cliffs, and treacherous terrain. The boy was only seven years old. He wasn't at the summit, and so he hadn't stayed on the defined path. The rescuers' faces were grim.
Clark listened to the discussion over the crackled radios as they co-ordinated searches of the mountain. He waited until they'd gone, then he stretched out his senses. He found heartbeats, but mixed with people up and down were too many unknown animals spread across the land. He focused his vision: he could see through trees and scrub but the inconsistency of the terrain made making sense of what he was seeing difficult to process; his surroundings were nothing like the simple lines of buildings in the cities he was used to.
After a careful glance around, he pulled on his hoodie. Normal humans would find it was far too hot to wear it now, but he needed to be concealed as much as he could, and it covered his head. He launched himself into the sky, doing his best to stay hidden within the top canopy of the thick vegetation.
It took over an hour for Clark to find the boy. He was half-curled beneath an overhanging rock on the far side of the mountain, in the opposite direction to the rescue team, nowhere near the path, and not far from a churning stream. And Clark couldn't mask his approach from the air: the boy was staring straight at him as he floated down through the trees.
Clark landed slowly, pushing back his hood and crouching down on the ground slightly away from the child. He scanned the boy quickly: apart from a slight inflammation around one ankle, and an accelerated heart rate which could be explained by seeing him land, the child's vitals were fine. The boy was wide-eyed, and Clark made his voice as gentle as possible. "Hi. You must be Jack. Everyone's been worried about you. Are you okay?"
For a moment Clark didn't think the boy would answer. His clothes were filthy, his face was smudged with dirt and he had a long, thin scratch running down one leg. Then he nodded, once.
Clark inched forwards. "Are you thirsty?" The boy nodded again, and Clark shrugged off his backpack, thankful that he'd bought along to appear normal, as he hadn't really needed it. He dug through it and pulled out his water bottle and an apple. "Here, would you like these?"
The boy took them, taking a hasty gulp of water before biting into the apple, not taking his eyes off Clark all the time. Clark sat down on a rock on the ground beside him, deliberately not looking at him in an attempt to appear as non-threatening and normal as he could.
"Are you an angel?"
"An angel?" Clark turned, the boy was solemn, and still staring.
"You flew in the air."
Clark smiled. "No, I'm not an angel. I just heard you were lost and so I came to help find you."
The boy frowned a little. "I wasn't really lost."
Clark raised an eyebrow. "You weren't? You look a bit lost to me. And where's your other shoe?"
"Oh." Jack's glance skittered away guiltily. "I don't know. But I still have my torch, see?" He moved to one side and Clark saw a torch half-hidden beneath his leg. "But the battery went flat and it was dark. Mum got it for my birthday."
Clark nodded. "And your mum is probably very worried about you. Are you ready to go back now?"
"Um ..." Jack rubbed a dirty hand across the side of his face. "I was gunna see the sun rise."
Clark stood up and reached out a hand. "Maybe another day. How about I carry you back?"
Jack looked at him for a moment, and his little face scrunched up in thought. "Are we gunna fly?"
Clark worried his lip. He could carry the boy and walk, but he'd already estimated it would take around three hours of walking under normal human speed before they could reach the rescue headquarters at the base of the mountain; Jack had been fortunate to get so far uninjured. And that three hours would involve flying up a waterfall if they didn't go the long way around. And not to mention, the boy had already seen him fly.
Clark sighed inwardly, and focused his hearing further around the mountain: the rescue party were gearing up for an expanded search, this time planning to send several dozen volunteers to the southern side. He extended his vision: a woman who was probably Jack's mother was on the verge of tears; she was clutching a small toy and was being comforted by a man and an older child.
Clark made a decision. "All right," he said. "We'll fly, but not too fast. Let's go then."
He kept just above the tree line so Jack wasn't hit by stray branches, but Clark was uneasily aware of the low hum of what was probably a rescue helicopter heading their way. He glanced down at the child in his arms; from this angle he couldn't see the boy's face but his little body felt tense, and Clark hoped he wasn't too scared. "Jack, are you okay?"
"This is fun!"
Clark smiled despite himself. "Well, you might want to shut your eyes now as I'm going to go faster, and the wind might sting your eyes, right?" He couldn't let the chopper see him. He tucked the child's head into the crook of his neck. "Ready?"
Clark waited for the Jack's nod of assent, and he increased their flight in a sharp burst of speed before landing under the cover of the thick trees near a parking lot at the base of the mountain.
"Was that okay?" The boy didn't seem to want to be put down, and the arms around Clark's neck tightened. Jack nodded, but didn't let go. "Then let's go find your mum." Clark pulled up his hood again, and shifted the boy to his hip.
They were greeted with shouts of excitement as they emerged from the trees, and Jack was taken from his arms by the woman Clark had correctly guessed was Jack's mother. The boy's father clapped him on the back and began babbling his gratitude, and Clark found himself swept away inside a nearby tent.
It was almost noon, and far too hot now to be wearing a jumper, but Clark didn't dare to take it off, he was too conscious of the TV news crew which had not yet realised Jack had been found; he could hear them speaking into their microphones as they filmed further away, up the path a bit. And Clark could hear the whirl of electronics hidden inside everyone's mobile phones: the possibility of a camera recording him was too close for comfort.
"Mum, I want him to come here." The little voice piped out from behind the medical team, and Clark edged his way over, two of the rescue volunteers nodding their appreciation to him as they stepped out of the tent.
"Thank you so much for finding him." The woman put her hand on Clark's arm, her eyes full of tears. "There's waterfalls, and cliffs, and we didn't know if ..." She stopped, and pressed a trembling hand to her mouth for a moment. "I can't thank you enough, and I don't even know your name?"
Clark smiled quietly at her and sidestepped the question. "I'm glad he's okay."
"He's an angel mum, he can fly. We went in the sky!"
Clark swallowed nervously, and the boy's parents frowned, glancing at the medical team. Jack's mother's voice shook a little, and she said to one of the men anxiously, "Is he confused? Do you think he's hit his head? Does he have concussion?" She stroked her son's hair again, slow and gentle movements up and down. "Could there be something you've missed? You said he was okay?"
The medic cleared his throat, sharing a fleeting look with his colleague beside him. "He certainly seems unharmed, his vitals are fine and other than a slight sprain to an ankle he appears in good health. But we'll take him to hospital to check him over anyway."
"We were flying, weren't we?"
Clark shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and tried to avoid the appeal in the young boy's eyes. Jack was seven, and that was old enough to know what he'd experienced, and old enough to keep insisting what he'd seen was the truth. After such an experience – being lost in the bush and being rescued by a flying man - it would be difficult for him over the coming months and years if his experience was disbelieved.
Clark glanced around: there were only his parents and the two medics in the tent with them now. Two walls forming a corner of the square tent had been pulled down for privacy: the back opened to bushland, and on the other side the ambulance and rescue vehicles acted as a screen.
"He carried me in the sky, we were flying!" Jack's voice ended on a wobble and tears sprung from his eyes, and his mother said something soothing and brushed her fingers through his hair again.
Clark crouched down beside the stretcher, placing one hand on the boy's shoulder, looking carefully into his eyes. He said quietly, "Yeah, Jack, we did."
And Clark took a deep breath, and just for a moment he closed his eyes. He wasn't ready, not yet, and not for this. He adjusted the hood of his jacket and and turned his head slightly so the adults couldn't see his face: they had seen him already of course, but he didn't want them to see him again with a view to remembering what he looked like. He could hear the helicopter landing; there must be space for it nearby.
He said to Jack, "You know you're the first person I've ever carried in flight. I thought you'd be scared, but I was proud of you."
"It was fun, can we go again?"
Clark ignored the presence of the adults in the tent, and kept his face turned away. His voice was low and gentle, but perfectly audible to the adults with them. "I'm sorry, we can't. You see nobody knows I can fly. It was a secret, but you were lost, and I didn't want you to get hurt. Thank you for being such a good passenger."
"Okay." Jack had relaxed, and he gave Clark a small smile.
Clark stood, still shielding his face. "Jack, I have to go now."
Jack nodded a little unhappily, but regarded him trustingly.
The news crew were coming down from the path, Clark could hear their footsteps and their heartbeats, they'd be here soon. He spoke without turning. "For future reference, tell the rescue team he was way off their search map. It would have been a few hours by foot, I found him on the western side, in the bottom of a valley near the large waterfall that comes down the mountain, near where it merges with another stream. I've put an X into a tree."
He didn't wait for a response, instead he floated up a foot into the air and he heard the gasps of shock behind him. He bent his body slightly so he didn't brush the tent's roof. "No more going off by yourself Jack, you stay with your parents, and do what they tell you, okay?"
Clark waited a moment for Jack's nod, and then he was off, twisting his body in a graceful movement over the stretcher and out the side of the tent and into the sky, leaving the excited babble of voices far away. He flew high and fast, not fast enough to leave a telltale sonic boom in his wake, but fast enough to be out of sight within a second or two.
He scanned the news that night and the next morning, but there was nothing about a flying man anywhere. Still, he took a plane out of Sydney as soon as he could, buying a ticket to the east coast of America the very next day.
He returned to the arctic, to the fortress in the ice. He stood for a long while in front of the suit hanging suspended in mid-air within its own small chamber. Could he be that man forever? Had this been his last taste of freedom, a curtain call on normal life?
But then ... Gotham was a revelation.
He hovered almost out of the atmosphere, keeping a wary eye out for approaching satellites as he tracked the progress of the creature of the night they called the batman. It was a simple matter to discover the masked crusader's secret, but it was a long time before Clark did anything about it.
"Who the hell are you?"
The voice erupting from the inky darkness behind him was hard and furious, and Clark didn't have to see him to know Gotham's reclusive millionaire was still wearing his disguise, which Clark supposed was fair enough, since they were deep underground in what Clark had privately, and with some amusement, dubbed the "batcave".
He'd had a good look around the cave, and was sure it was the discrete presence of the fourteen cameras monitoring the cavern that had alerted the batman to his presence. It was, after all, still quite early tonight, far too early for the bat to return to its roost.
Clark turned around and leant back against the railing, stretching his hands out either side of him as he eyed the batman for the first time close up. He was curious about the man's disguise, from his location in the sky he'd zeroed in on the outfit closely and found there were some armour deflecting elements in the suit rarely seen in current human technology.
The railing creaked slightly with Clark's weight on it; there was a steep drop to the inky depths far below where he'd watched the batman fly in in some odd looking vehicle and park over the faint lights of the small helipad inside the cave.
"I'll ask you one more time: who the hell are you?"
The batman's heart was elevated: Clark guessed this was anger, not fear.
"Who the hell am I? Um ..." Clark offered a slight smile and stuck out his hand and said deliberately, "I'm Clark, Clark Kent."
The hand was ignored and the batman took a threatening step closer. "Well, Clark. You've got about ten seconds to tell me just how the heck you got in here."
Clark rubbed his chin with the tip of a finger, smiling inwardly. "The same way as you. I flew." He didn't mean to goad, it was the truth after all.
"You flew." The Batman didn't bother glancing around. "Somehow I doubt that. Five seconds. Tell me."
Clark just shook his head, smiling wryly. "You know, your methods leave a lot to be desired. Violence to detain criminals –" Clark tut-tutted just to see the look on the batman's face. "I'll never condone it."
And then he spun away too fast for the human eye to track, shooting up in the air above the batman's head before twisting around and zooming across to the other side of the railing. He hovered over the black void below, enjoying the shock on the man's face which was clearly visible to him through the man's mask.
Clark nodded to himself and offered, "You know I've never been friends with a millionaire before. But I think I could grow to like you, Bruce."
Clark waited, but the batman appeared to be at a loss for words. "So, tomorrow night then? I've caught you by surprise, perhaps tomorrow you'll be feeling more hospitable? And that should give you enough time to look up some details about me." He let the amusement he was feeling seep into his tone, and the batman recovered admirably.
"Very well then. I look forward to it, Clark Kent."
Clark took one more look at the man beneath the mask, then he flew off as fast, which was fast enough to be nothing but a dark blur on the batcave's security cameras. Once he was well clear of the cave and any monitoring devices he slowed his speed, but the pressure against his t-shirt had been too great, and the already strained material ripped down one shoulder and partway across his chest. But the inconvenience with his clothing didn't matter and he laughed, exhilarated. Someone would know him.
He stopped his feverish travels, after that. He was ready.
He settled back in America in one of its biggest cities: his physical appearance was mainly Western, it would be where he'd blend in best. He'd chose a cooler climate, somewhere where he could disguise his build in layers of clothes, and wear the suit underneath if he wanted to. He'd checked facebook and made sure none of his school or uni friends lived there. They didn't and so the city became his new home: Metropolis.
He had an apartment now. He smoothed down the unearthly material of the red and blue suit which was hovering safely in its own dimension in the back of his wardrobe. He'd make friends in this city, but he'd have to keep them at arm's length because he'd have a secret to keep soon from the world. The life that had chosen him wouldn't leave time for him to give himself individually: he'd belong to the world. He would never love, truly, deeply and completely, and be loved in return.
He said "yes" when Perry White called.
Jimmy Olsen was eager to be friends, and wanted to please.
But within a week, all his carefully reasoned plans spiralled completely down the drain: happiness and agony, her name was Lois Lane.
A/N: Hope you liked it, reviews are welcomed. I've marked it complete as it can stand alone as is, but I can probably expand it if you're interested – feel free to hassle me. This is my first foray into this fandom and I'm not sure if many people are reading Superman fic at present. Hopefully there will be a fic explosion when the new movie comes out!