Monday, April 03, 2006

Redemption, Chapter 2

Season 5, sequel to "Vengeance"
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC comics, not to me

I found an empty table at the Coffee Depot with no problem and sat down, sipping a black coffee. The caffeine in coffee doesn’t really affect me, but I like its taste okay, thanks to years of hanging out at the Talon in Smallville. I knew I didn’t have long to wait. The Daily Planet was a few blocks away, and Chloe was just leaving the building.

No, I’m not psychic. I have superhearing, and I could hear her footsteps. Ordinarily hearing one particular set of footsteps from three blocks away is a stretch even for me, especially in a city of eight million people, but I’m unusually attuned to Chloe for some reason. I think maybe it’s because we’ve been through so much together, or because we’ve been friends for so long. Anyway, I can hear her from a very long distance away. I sometimes think that if I was on the farm in Smallville and consciously focused on her, I could hear her talking in Metropolis.

Not that I’ve ever tested that. Even though I’ve got superhearing and X-ray vision, I try really hard not to intrude on anyone’s privacy, particularly Chloe’s. Having an alien for a best friend is hard enough without worrying the alien might use his powers to spy on you. People have a right to privacy, and I try to respect that.

Since I was waiting for Chloe, though, I figured it was okay to listen to her footsteps. They came nearer, her high heels tapping briskly along the sidewalk, and then they suddenly faltered, then started up again faster, like she’d started to run. I put my coffee down and listened more intently.

And then I heard her scream.

Instantly I was on my feet and headed out the door. I couldn’t superspeed in a restaurant—people can’t really see me when I superspeed, because I’m going too fast, but they do notice when I suddenly disappear. The minute I got outside, though, I went into superspeed. That was probably safe enough, since no one ever really looks at anyone else in Metropolis. It’s a huge city, and its inhabitants all somehow fear making eye contact. Not at all like Smallville’s Main Street, where everyone smiles and says hello when you pass them.

Even so, the sidewalks were crowded, and I could only go so fast. Chloe had fallen silent, and I desperately wanted to go top speed. But I couldn’t take the chance of running into anyone, either, because if you’re a human, getting hit by a speeding Kryptonian can be hazardous to your health. It’s not unlike being hit by a speeding truck.

By the time I had traversed a block, I saw Chloe sprawled on the ground. There was a guy crumpled on the ground next to her. And a few steps away, I saw Andrea, wearing her caped Angel of Vengeance costume, standing and looking down at them.

I dropped out of superspeed mode. I knew Chloe was still alive, because I could hear her breathing, but why she was on the ground wasn’t immediately clear. I focused in on the guy and established that he was still breathing, too. But why they were both on the ground, I couldn’t be sure. Aside from Chloe’s scream, I hadn’t heard much useful information to help me make sense of this scene. But the fact that both of them were unconscious on the ground, while Andrea was still standing, made me nervous, particularly since I knew for a fact she didn’t always take the moral high ground.

Despite the fact that Andrea had killed a guy, and given serious consideration to killing another, I hadn’t thought she was the type to try to kill Chloe to keep her quiet, but I’m not always the greatest judge of character, so it was possible I was wrong. Anyway, regardless of why she was here, Andrea and I had some unfinished business to take care of. I knew she’d be leaving in a second or two, because she never stuck around for long, and Chloe’s single scream had called a lot of attention to the scene. People were already milling around.

Andrea happened to glance in my direction, spotting me through the crowd, and behind her black silk mask her eyes went wide. She immediately took off down an alley, running at top speed. I followed.

Andrea is a meteor freak, thanks to a heart transplant from someone who died in the most recent meteor shower, and her particular mutation allows her to jump long distances without hurting herself. She was capable of cruising right up the side of a building by jumping. I could jump pretty high, too, but in broad daylight I didn’t want to do that if I could help it. Even in an alley, it was risky, especially considering all the people swarming around at the entrance to the alley, drawn by Chloe’s scream. I figured my best chance to avoid unnecessary attention was to stop Andrea before she jumped.

I went to superspeed for a fraction of a second and grabbed her from behind, pinning her arms and lifting her right off the ground. Thanks to the meteor mutation, she’s unusually strong, strong enough to toss me into a wall—and the macho part of me hates to admit it, but she’s actually done that more than once. But I’m stronger, and with my arms wrapped around her, she really didn’t have much of a chance.

She struggled against me, helpless.

Behind me, I heard Chloe’s voice, and the clicking of her heels as she hurried toward us. “Clark!” she said stridently. “Let her go!”

I turned around, Andrea still held firmly in front of me, her feet dangling. Chloe’s straight blonde hair looked a little mussed, but otherwise she didn’t look any the worse for wear. “Don’t be stupid, Chlo,” I said. “I don’t know what happened back there, but we need to turn her in. Or have you forgotten she killed someone?”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Chloe said. She glanced back over her shoulder, making sure no one had followed her into the alley. “But she just saved me from a mugger. He had a gun, Clark. He had it shoved right up against my temple. He could have killed me, but she swooped down and stopped him before he could even hurt me.”

I swallowed. A couple of days before, my mom had had a knife pressed to her throat by a mugger. Andrea had saved her, too.It was almost painful to know I owed this woman a debt for saving my mom and my best friend, and yet still be aware that my duty was to turn her in to the police.

And the hell of it was, I could understand Andrea pretty well. I’d been seriously tempted to choke the life out of the guy who’d mugged my mom and stolen my dad’s watch. Humans are fragile, compared to me, and it would be easy enough for me to kill one. When you’re superstrong, there’s a really fine line between rage and murder. I’d come terribly close to stepping over that line, and I knew it.

It was hard to blame Andrea for something I’d come so close to myself.

Still, my duty was clear. Like my dad had always said, “You know the difference between right and wrong, Clark. We raised you to know the difference.”

I did know the difference. And no matter how much I hated it, it was my responsibility to turn in Andrea to the cops.

“I’m sorry,” I said in Andrea’s ear. “I really am. I wish I didn’t have to turn you in.”

“I understand,” she answered in her lightly accented voice. “I knew the risks when I came back to Metropolis.”

I wished with all my heart she hadn’t come back, and wondered why on earth she had. But there wasn’t much to be done about it now. She was here, and I had to turn her in.

I looked at Chloe. “Do you have your cell? Phone the cops, okay?”

She set her jaw. “No, Clark. I’m not going to do that.”

Great. Somehow I wasn’t surprised. When she sets her mind on something, Chloe can be about as sweetly reasonable as a rhinoceros with a toothache. But her refusal to help left me with two choices. Either I could carry a struggling Andrea all the way to a phone through the crowded streets of Metropolis, since I didn’t have my cell on me, or I could knock her out. I’ve knocked people out in the past, but it’s a little risky to hit someone in the head, even if you possess merely human strength. It makes me nervous, and I don’t do it if I can help it.

I sighed, slung Andrea over my shoulder like a sack of wheat, and headed for the entrance to the alley.

“Clark,” Chloe said, stepping in front of me and crossing her arms. She had that stubbornly determined look on her face that means trouble. “Wait.”

Like a hundred and twenty pound woman was going to stop me. I kept walking. “Get out of the way, Chlo.”

She started to move toward me, holding up her hand. Something green glittered there, and suddenly I realized what Andrea had come back to Metropolis for. Her necklace. Last I’d seen it, she’d put it under me to keep me from interfering when she killed that guy. But it obviously meant a lot to her, so much that she’d come back to the city to find it. She wore it to remember her mother, and the way her life had changed in an instant when she’d been stabbed through the heart.

Now the kryptonite pendant dangled from Chloe’s fingers. In the scuffle with the mugger, it must have fallen from Andrea’s neck. And Chloe had picked it up.

“Chloe…” I said weakly, stumbling backward.

“I’m really sorry, Clark,” she said in a soft voice, and kept advancing.

The muscles in my legs went weak as every nerve in my body flared with pain, and I couldn’t stagger back fast enough to get away from her. When she was about three feet away, I collapsed. It was a small enough piece of meteor rock, but even small pieces burn me like the fires of Hell. Andrea squirmed hastily out of my loosened grip and leapt out of the way as I hit the ground. I lay there on the dirty pavement, writhing against the pain, gritting my teeth in order to prevent myself from crying out. I could barely heard their voices through the buzzing in my head.

Gracias,” Andrea said.

“You’re welcome,” Chloe answered. “I owed you one. But only one. You need to get the hell out of Metropolis, because next time I won’t stop Clark from turning you in. Do we understand one another?”

Si,” Andrea replied. “I understand.”

The pain suddenly grew more intense, wrenching a yelp of agony out of me, then subsided, and I realized Chloe had tossed Andrea the necklace, right over my body. Andrea must have grabbed it and hauled ass out of the alley, because the pain receded quickly, and I discovered I was able to sit up. I could have jumped into superspeed mode and tried to catch her, but I had no clue which way she’d gone. And besides, I was too busy staring up at Chloe, blinking in shock and hurt. I couldn’t believe she’d waved that damn rock at me.

Chloe dropped down next to me, totally unconcerned that the pavement was filthy and she was wearing a good suit. People were starting to wander into the alley, but she ignored them. “Clark,” she whispered, stroking my hair. “Oh, Clark. I’m so sorry.”

All the shocked anger drained out of me at the expression of regret on her face. I narrowed my eyes, trying to look pissed, but it wasn’t easy when she looked so remorseful, or when she was touching my hair that way. I was surprised to realize I kind of liked the feel of her hand in my hair, so much so that I had to work hard to make myself sound irritated. “Sorry for waving a deadly substance at me, or sorry for letting a murderer go?”

She lifted her chin and met my annoyed look with one of her own. “I’m not sorry for letting her go,” she said fiercely. “She saved my life, Clark. She saved your mom’s. She’s saved a lot of people and done a lot of good here in Metropolis over the past few months. I really think she deserves a second chance.”

“Regardless of the good things she’s done, she killed someone, Chloe. She would have killed Lionel Luthor too, if I hadn’t stopped her.”

“I think she regrets it.” She looked me straight in the eyes. “Haven’t you ever done something you regretted, Clark?”

Instantly I thought of the summer I’d spent in Metropolis when I was sixteen. Overwhelmed by all the bad things that had happened to me that year, I’d deliberately put on a ring made of red kryptonite, knowing perfectly well that it had a really bad effect on my personality and turned me into a hedonistic thrill-seeker, and run away to Metropolis. I’d spent three months doing totally illegal stuff that should have landed my sorry ass in jail. I hadn’t gone so far as to murder anyone, thank God, but I’d done some pretty serious crap, like knocking over banks and ATMs, not to mention stealing a couple of very expensive cars.

Chloe and my parents knew about every horrible thing I’d done, and they’d forgiven me anyway. If I’d gotten a second chance, maybe Andrea deserved one too.

“It’s not the same thing,” I said gruffly, looking away from her frank gaze. “Murder is unforgivable. Isn’t it?”

She shrugged. “I’m not sure, Clark. All I know is, if she’s in jail she’ll never get the chance to redeem herself. Maybe if she regrets what she did, she’ll try harder to do some good in the future.” She smiled slightly. “Regret can have that effect on people. Don’t you think?”

Chloe knew me too well, I thought ruefully. I’d spent years trying to make up for that one summer in Metropolis, and she knew it.

“Anyway,” she said. “If we let Andrea go, she can go on saving people, like she’s been doing.”

“Or she could wind up killing someone else.”

She sighed. “I don’t know, Clark. I don’t think she’s a cold-blooded killer, really. She just wanted vengeance, and she stepped over the line.”

The line that I’d somehow managed to step back from. I suppressed a shudder, thinking how much I’d have regretted killing that guy. I wondered how Andrea could live with the knowledge that she’d murdered someone. I wasn’t sure I could.

“Maybe you’re right,” I admitted, looking back at her. “Anyway, it’s an academic question, because she’s gone now.”

“It was the right thing to do,” Chloe said, staring earnestly into my eyes. “I really think she’ll redeem herself.”

“I sure hope so.” I stood up, offered Chloe a hand, and pulled her to her feet. Her hand rested in mine, soft and warm. “So are you okay, or do you need to see a doctor?”

“I’m fine. I just got knocked over in the scuffle and hit my head.”She looked down toward the end of the alley, where a police car had just pulled up, its lights blinking. “I guess I need to go make a statement. After that I need to get back to work.”

“No coffee?” I feigned outrage. “After waving kryptonite at me, you’re going to stand me up?”

“I’m sorry about that.” Her mouth quirked. “Maybe you could give me a chance at redemption, too. What about a raincheck? Want to do dinner here in Metropolis tonight?”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll come by around six.”

She looked at me a moment longer, then wrapped her fingers more tightly around mine, squeezing my hand with a fierceness that would have injured a human male. “I’m really sorry I hurt you, Clark.”

I decided to lie, both to spare her feelings and preserve the remnants of my masculine dignity. No guy, whether human or Kryptonian, likes to admit he was practically crying from pain. “It was a small piece of kryptonite. It didn’t hurt all that much.”

She rolled her eyes at me, and I knew what she was thinking: What a lousy liar. “Yeah, sure. Which is why you were rolling around on the ground. I really am sorry, Clark. I know it hurts like hell, and I wouldn’t have done that to you if I knew any other way to make you let her go. You can be really hardheaded sometimes.”

“That must be why we’re friends,” I answered lightly, letting go of her hand. “We have a lot in common. See you later, Chlo.”

She waved and walked toward the police car, and knowing she’d be safe, I headed the opposite way down the alley, away from the cops. After that summer in Metropolis, when I’d practically thumbed my nose at the entire police force, I’d learned to stay off the police radar as much as possible. Once I’d turned the corner, I went into superspeed and headed home… although not with a whole lot of enthusiasm.

Everything in my life had suddenly changed, and the farm wasn’t the safe refuge it had once seemed to be. My dad had died of a heart attack, and instead of going to college, I was keeping the farm running pretty much by myself. My girlfriend had decided we needed “a break,” and I’d come so close to killing a man that I still got cold chills every time I thought about it. In just a few weeks, things had gone all to pieces, leaving me feeling like I was adrift.

The one thing in my life that hadn’t changed was Chloe. She was still there for me, just like she’d always been. Even the fact that she’d used kryptonite on me today didn’t bother me much. I’d have found it hard to forgive anyone else, but I understood why she’d done it, and as always, her reasons made a lot of sense.

Anyway, I’d always found it hard to be angry with Chloe, and that was more true now than it had ever been. Chloe was the one constant in my life right now, which was why I visited her at the Daily Planet almost every day. I realized with surprise that I’d come to rely on her in a way I didn’t rely on anyone else. When I felt like I was losing my grip, she held onto me. When I felt like I was drifting aimlessly, she helped keep me anchored to reality. I didn’t think I could have made it through these last weeks without her.

A few minutes later, I sped through the gate marked “Kent Farm,” slowed down to normal human speed, and headed for the barn to get some work done. Shelby, our old golden retriever, came trotting to see me, waving his tail, then settled down to watch me work.

I started mucking out the stalls, but my mind wasn’t really on my chores. My thoughts kept flowing back to my morning in Metropolis, and I wondered if Andrea would find a way to live with herself. If Chloe was right, her regret might spur her to redeem herself by performing more good deeds, in which case I had a feeling we’d be hearing more about her in the future. I really hoped so.

But after a while, I realized I wasn’t thinking too much about Andrea and what was going to happen to her. My thoughts had drifted elsewhere.

I was thinking about having dinner with Chloe tonight.

-The End-

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