A/N: This will be the first in a collection/series of fics involving major character death in various fandoms, with various pairings/gen. There will be no resurrections, no miracles. I want to see how a death affects the other characters, and though I will never not be tempted to just give everyone a happy ending, I am resolved to leave them buried till the end.
As always, crossposted from Ao3.
It's raining the day Clark's world goes silent. He loves the rain, loves the rolling thunder that echoes through the city, the tapping of raindrops, the sense of being in the grip of a power greater than himself. It's an illusion where it matters though, for he can still hear the steady thump, thump, thump, across miles, through storms. He closes his eyes as he gently dries a plate, focusing on the fragile thing he's holding in his hands, and then a jump and a stutter are all the warnings he has before the rain pounding against the windows are no longer obscuring an infinitely more precious sound. Suddenly the rain is just rain.
His mind jumps, stutters as he tries to will his body to move, to do something, instead of standing there frozen, a wet plate in one hand and a cloth in the other. It might not mean anything. Bruce goes dark all the time, he's always vanishing, tracking leads to bitterest depths of the world, without ever having the thought to tell Clark. But even as his mind trips over the thoughts, he knows that this time is different. There's no more silver thread leading him back to Bruce.
He flinches a little at the sound of the raindrops viciously striking the ground, the building, the trees, and then there's a crash as the plate shatters into pieces on the tile floors of his kitchen.
Already halfway to Gotham, Superman still hears each shard just fine.
The scene that meets his eyes is one he sees more often than he would like, being both a reporter and a superhero. The horror of it never lessens though, no matter how many scenes of destruction he sees, that he's too late to prevent.
Nothing prepares him for this though. A three car pile-up. A red Mustang, dark blue mini-van, and a terrifyingly familiar dark grey Lamborghini. Only a lifetime of seeing far more gruesome sights than this allows Superman to keep his expression still. He wants to throw up.
"Superman?" a bystander is talking to him, asking him a question, and he realizes he's been staring blankly at the wreckage. The wailing sirens he'd heard on arrival are getting louder. He looks down to see a woman, eyes wide with shock. "Is, is there…did anyone…?" she trails off, unable to finish.
Clark knows he should shake his head gravely, tell her that there were no survivors, give her a gentle press on her shoulders. He knew that he should do something, try to keep the onlookers back in case there was a fire. He should… but he couldn't. Not when he could feel a howl rising in him, threatening to split his being in two. He should sweep the scene again, check to see if maybe there had been a miracle, but he couldn't, he couldn't bear to use his powers to tell him again what he already knew.
The left side of the Lamborghini is almost completely crushed by the front of the Mustang.
He can't toss the cars apart like he wants to, is afraid to. The world doesn't know, they'll know if he does this, they can put it together, if Superman breaks down at the sight of Bruce Wayne's destroyed car, and there's hysterical laughter bubbling up inside him that, here and now, at the end of everything, all he could focus on was Bruce's paranoia.
"Good," Bruce would tell him, approval lacing Batman's gruff voice.
The police are here now, and the firefighters too, cautiously approaching the scene of twisted metal and smoke choking the air. Dimly, he wonders how he's still in the air, when his world has just been ripped apart.
The reporters arrive, and he's still floating there, frozen.
"—several eyewitnesses who saw what happened and Superman is on the scene. The dark grey Lamborghini has been confirmed to be Bruce Wayne's, owner of Wayne Enterprises. As of now, it is unknown as to whether he was the driver or on board the vehicle. Police are still unaware of the identities of the other victims, and there seems to be little hope that anyone survived," a woman is speaking into a camera, calmly narrating Clark's nightmare.
Oh god. Dick. And Alfred, and Tim. They could be watching this right now, or perhaps they haven't seen yet… Superman abruptly takes off, thoughts of Bruce's family briefly holding at bay the pain that threatened to swamp him.
When he arrives at the Manor, he realizes he's too late. Nobody comes to the door, so he goes to the 'Cave, a wild thought setting his heart beating again. Maybe it had just been coincidence, maybe Bruce hadn't been in the car, maybe he'd happened to be testing a new armor that dampened his heartbeat. The maybes danced around his mind and strangled his breath, and he put on a burst of speed to arrive to an empty 'Cave. He staggers at the sight of the screens; Batman's usual monitoring systems are lit up with muted news channels, shots of the accident from all angles. It's eerily silent.
Clark focuses his x-ray vision and finds that Alfred is sitting slumped in the living room, Dick next to him. A moment more and Tim bangs into the house, eyes red and a lost look in his eyes. Dick rises and opens his arms. Tim throws himself into them.
Eventually they all leave, probably to the accident site.
Clark stays motionless in the 'Cave, wanting to turn the feeds off, but unwilling to disobey Bruce's rule of never turning the feeds off. He doesn't want to look at them though, so he stares at the ground instead. Studies each crack. Dims his hearing down, makes the quiet even quieter.
"Clark?" A hand lands on his shoulder, and he spins around violently, is up in the air in a flash.
Dick slowly raises his hands. "It's me, Clark," he says softly, voice rough. A moment passes by with agonizing slowness. Clark lands on his feet, feeling the ache in his knees—and when had he slipped into kneeling position anyways?—despite being invulnerable. He's glad of it, glad of the physical discomfort that makes even the slightest dent in the pain blossoming in his heart.
"Clark," Dick's voice is still gentle, but he can hear the edge of steel beneath it. "Your eyes are red."
Clark blinks in surprise at that, and the room suddenly returns to normal, no longer being viewed through flame. "I'm sorry," he says. Dick's arms are suddenly around him, as if he can't help himself. Clark's mind flashes to when he'd first met Batman's young protégé, then only a child, the joy with which he lived his life. He brings his arms around him, now grown into a young man whom Bruce is so very proud of, and strokes his hair like he had when Bruce's snarling personality had been too much and Dick had run to him for comfort. He realizes Dick is sobbing into his chest, as he hadn't done so for years, his shoulders shaking slightly, as he tries to hold the tears back.
"It's okay, Dick," he says softly, because that's what is expected of him, what he expects of himself. And back then it had been. Dick would cry himself out, and Clark would give him ice cream, and Bruce would apologize in his own ways. There's ice cream in the freezer in the house, but their usual routine won't work because Clark can't keep his own tears from sliding down his face.
"I put Time to sleep," Dick mumbles against his chest. "And Alfred… he looked so old, I can't…"
"Shh," Clark murmurs, because if he tries to speak, he doesn't think he can stop his voice from trembling.
"How're you… how do you…" Dick can't seem to finish his sentences, but Clark understands. He'd been briefly startled out of his careful study of Bruce's floor by a flash of motion that seemed too real for the monitors. He'd watched as Dick had shoved through the crowd, dodging the policemen who tried to stop him, to fall to his knees at the sight of the crushed Lamborghini. He must've screamed himself hoarse, Clark thinks.
He'd watched Dick fall apart on the monitors, unable to move, wracked with guilt.
Now he tightens his arms around him in response, because he's still incapable of speaking. Some kind of Superman you are, he thinks bitterly.
Dick's harsh breathing eventually evens out and Clark carries him up the stairs to his bedroom, where he tucks him in as he hadn't done for him for years. He stands in the doorway and watches him sleep for a moment, eyes still wet. When he turns to leave and check on Tim, he finds Alfred standing before him.
"I have already seen to Master Tim," Alfred says gravely. His eyes are rimmed with red, the most uncomposed Clark had ever seen him, but the worry in his eyes is directed at Clark.
Clark nods, tightly.
"I'm sorry, Master Clark," Alfred begins, but Clark holds out a hand; he already knows what Alfred is about to ask him.
"I know," he says, "Batman needs to be seen tonight."
As he heads back down to the 'Cave to put on the suit, he thinks that Batman is a real bastard sometimes.
He does a careful patrol of Bruce's beloved city. It's shrouded in mist tonight, and the moon is full above it. He's just thinking that there's not much going on tonight, a fact which he is grateful for, when the bat signal lights up the night sky, piercing dimly through the mist. He swings up to the familiar roof, to find Commissioner Gordon standing there waiting for him. Not for him, he reminds himself. For Bruce, for Batman. But the police commissioner would have to make do with Superman tonight.
Gordon looks terribly relieved when he sees him, but as soon as Batman's feet touch the roof, the smile that had begun to grow on his face died. "Batman," he greets, but his eyes are bleak.
Clark inclines his head, "Commissioner." When Gordon simply continues to stare at him, he says, "Do you have a case for me?"
"No, I just wanted to check in with you," Gordon admits after a moment.
Batman might have growled something about not wasting his time, but Clark doesn't have the heart to take the charade that far.
"There's no need to keep tabs on me," he says instead.
Gordon shakes his head a little, doesn't reply. Batman begins to melt back into the shadows and Gordon's shoulders slump. "Thanks for having my back," Clark rasps in Batman's voice. Empty words in the darkness, and too late, forever too late, but it seems to help Gordon anyways. Clark leaps off the building and swings toward one of Bruce's favorite vantage points, where he spends the rest of the night and early hours of the morning staring out across Bruce's city, standing vigil over that what was most precious to him, trying not to think, not to feel, every time he catches sight of the edge of a black cape in the corner of his eye, trying to ignore the pained leaping of his heart, trying not to hold his breath to see if the shadows would whisper to him.
The sun rises slowly, as if it can't bear to push the darkness back, but eventually its rays pierce through the mist and dissipate it, and Clark has to return to his broken world.
Later he would remember, with the vagueness of a dream, the funeral, played out exactly to Bruce's specifications, the aftermath of the funeral, the cream of Gotham in somber black, still glittering with diamonds, who swirled around in an atmosphere that reminds Clark too much of the parties that Bruce had so hated. He'd remember how he'd forced himself to stay until the last guest staggers out the door and then stood in the center of the ballroom draped in black, Batman's colors in Bruce Wayne's space, staring blankly, Alfred's gentle hand finally tugging him out of whatever dark place his mind had wandered to. How he'd shaken his head dumbly at Alfred's suggestion that he retire to the room he'd shared with Bruce to rest.
How his heart had almost shattered again at the pained lines in Alfred's face that hadn't been there before, how Clark'd almost reached out a hand to comfort him, only to still the motion before it began, for how could he offer comfort to Alfred, he who had been a father to Bruce, when he is still falling apart?
He'd shaken his head and promised to return to his apartment to rest. And he had, briefly, but he couldn't stand the silence and had walked, still in a daze, to the Daily Planet. If he's not going to sleep, he might as well get caught up on the work he's fallen far behind on.
Clark realizes that he must have sat at his desk the entire night when Lois appears at his shoulder, and how come he hadn't sensed her approaching, hadn't heard the elevator door's cheerful chime? It all serves to show, he thinks dully, that his decision to resign leadership of the Justice League. He's in no fit condition to do anything.
"Oh Clark, honey," Lois says, and she doesn't sound herself. She sounds sad and Clark doesn't think he can take any more sadness in the world. She pulls him up, as if he is light as a feather and not the Man of Steel, and wraps him in her arms, and isn't, not today. He closes his eyes in her embrace for a moment and is surprised to find that he is trembling. "Go home, Clark."
"Can't," he finds himself whispering back. "It's gone."
She's still for a moment and then her arms tighten around him, saying nothing.
It's always silent in the world these days.
He's crouched on the floor of his bedroom in the Fortress of Solitude. He's got his hands clamped to his ears, and he could make the horrible noise stop whenever he wants, the sound of worlds living their lives as if his hadn't been destroyed; he's had his powers under control since childhood, but he craves the sounds crashing in on him, no matter that it gives him headaches and nausea. He needs to fill the silence.
"I think I love you," Bruce had said one day, when they were Batman and Superman, and Clark's never heard Bruce's uncertainty bleed out into Batman before.
He doesn't like it, so he kisses it away.
"The world needs you, Kal," Diana says. "We need Superman."
Clark looks at her for a long moment. "I kinda need him too right now," he says softly, and Diana's stern features crease a little at the edges.
She's wrong, he thinks when she leaves. The world is just fine without him.
Sometimes he wonders what Bruce would think of him, of how he'd become unhinged—yes he could admit it to himself—at his death. Would he be understanding, the way it seemed only Bruce could, not so much in words as in his solid comforting presence, or would he order him to snap out of it, to remind him that there were more important things to deal with?
Probably the latter, he decides. Bruce doesn't—didn't—ever put up with his shit. And he hadn't let Bruce get away with anything either.
But he'd let him die.
Clark spends a lot of time sitting in his Fortress, turning away all visitors. He watches the stars at night, occasionally recognizing a system he's been to, but that brings him memories of Bruce, and he still feels hollow inside. He spends a lot of time thinking, though Bruce would probably have called it moping.
Bruce, who had loved him.
He clenches his hands into fists. There's no sense in it, no sense in anything anymore, but Clark can't control the anger that sweeps through him whenever he remembers. Bruce had told him that he loved him, had declared himself to be Clark's, and Clark to be his, and had then promptly gone off and gotten himself killed.
In a car crash of all things.
The universe had a sick sense of humor sometimes.
Clark briefly considers remaining here, entombed in ice, for the rest of his long days. He plays with the idea for only a few moments before tossing it out. He knew what Bruce would have to say to that.
The message that scrolls across the screen of the computer comes as a surprise, though it hindsight, it probably shouldn't've. Trust Bruce to have contingency plans for his death.
"You've had a week. Stop moping," it read. It was signed "B," as if Clark wouldn't have known.
He waits a little, hoping for—hoping for what exactly? "You're a bastard, Bruce," he says with no real heat.
He's turned away when a soft chime signifies another message, and the shot time between the two makes Clark imagine how Bruce must have paused, in an uncharacteristic moment of indecision.
"I love you."
The words shine on the screen for a moment before fading away, leaving Clark with his arm half raised, reaching out toward nothingness.
"I love you too," he says softly.