Friday, May 26, 2006

A Hundred Years, Chapter 3

Clark/Chloe future fic, angst
Spoilers for "Hourglass" but mostly set in the future
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me
The music is "100 Years," by Five for Fighting

Another blink of an eye
67 is gone
The sun is getting high
We're moving on...

When he was sixty-seven, Clark Kent watched his wife dying, and it scared the hell out of him.

Chloe lay in the bed they’d shared for years, looking very frail, her skin very white against the dark green sheets. Her hair was almost completely silver now, her face lined, and her body rounder and softer than it once had been.

And yet she was still the most beautiful thing in the world to him.

Chloe had changed over the years, but he hadn’t changed at all. He’d dyed his hair steel gray, and had been forced to use stage makeup to age himself when he went out in the world, but underneath the cosmetics he still looked twenty-five, just as he always had.

The fact that Chloe was growing old, and he wasn’t, didn’t merely irritate him any more. It infuriated him, because she was dying, and he was going to have to live on forever without her. The knowledge enraged him at the same time it brought tears of stark sorrow to his eyes. Chloe was his soulmate, and he didn’t want to live without her. He certainly didn’t want to live on without her for centuries, even millennia. The prospect was too horrible to contemplate.

“Mr. Kent?”

He turned his head and saw the nurse he’d hired standing at the door. He blinked away the tears, let go of Chloe’s small, fragile hand, and stood up.

“I’m just going to check on her,” the young man said gently.

Clark nodded wordlessly and headed for the door. He hated leaving Chloe alone, even for a second, but he didn’t want to sit there and weep in front of a stranger, either.

Too restless to stand still, he headed for the staircase and stalked down to Chloe’s office.

The walls were covered with framed articles, reminding him of the “Wall of Weird” she’d posted on a wall of the newspaper office of Smallville High School, where she’d once been the editor. The only difference was that these articles were all written by her, all but the earliest under the byline “Lois Lane,” and many of them had rocked Metropolis, and even the world. There were articles on Superman, articles on Luthorcorp, articles on every metahuman who’d threatened the world or saved it.

He let out a long, tremulous sigh. Chloe had devoted herself to her work, and she’d been a very, very good reporter. When she was gone, these articles were all he’d have left of her.

And she would be gone, very soon. With modern advances in medicine, most older diseases had been cured. Cancer, AIDS, heart disease were all a thing of the past. But newer diseases, many of them engineered by humans, had sprung up to take their places. Chloe was dying of Starker’s Syndrome, a deadly disease that had its origin in a lab somewhere, released into the population by a malevolent criminal who’d wanted to bring the world to its knees. It caused cellular degradation, and eventually an affected body lost its cellular cohesion, resulting in death.

There was no cure.

But Clark still had a faint hope. His daughter.

After she graduated from college, Jonni had gone out to Coast City to visit the other Lois. She’d adored California and decided to stay, then fallen in love with a local boy and married him, going on to have several children. Following in her father’s footsteps, she’d adopted the city as her own and begun to protect it. She wore a red costume, and that, along with her red aura, had caused locals to dub her the Crimson Flame.

She possessed several talents that were not exactly like Clark’s, and one of them was the ability to heal others. She’d joined the loose confederation of metahumans known as the Justice League of America, and while working with her, Clark had seen her heal cuts and scrapes easily, using her electromagnetic aura in a way he couldn’t.

Her healing abilities, however, were modest at best. It was a rather distant stretch from healing minor abrasions to healing total cellular degradation, and he knew it.

But it was the only hope he had.

Unfortunately, Jonni hadn’t inherited his ability to fly, and flying with him made her nervous, so she was flying into Metropolis the human way—on an airplane. It seemed to him that it was taking forever for her to get here. He paced restlessly around the room, looking at the articles, then headed for the door, intending to go upstairs and sit with Chloe again.

A dark head peered around the doorframe. “Dad?”

Relief and affection flooded him. “Jonni,” he said, and wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug. He adored his only child, was fiercely proud of everything she’d accomplished, and just like any human parent, firmly believed she was the most remarkable person on the face of the planet. She was undeniably a lovely woman, only three inches shorter than he was, and her bold jaw, high cheekbones, and green eyes were all his, along with the dark hair that she wore in a long fall down her back. But the stubborn set of her mouth echoed Chloe's, just as he’d seen when she was only a baby.

She hugged him back, then looked up worriedly into his eyes. “How’s Mom?”

He swallowed, trying to keep his voice steady. He didn’t want to have hysterics in front of his daughter. “Dying. They’re telling me she’s only got a couple more days.”

She blinked hard. “Damn.”

“Jonni,” he said softly, “is there anything you can do for her?”

She shook her head. “Dad,” she said, gently, “I can heal little stuff. Cuts, bruises, sometimes even broken bones. But something like Starker’s Syndrome is way beyond my abilities. You know that.”

“Even so,” he said with quiet intensity, “it's her only hope. You have to try.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I intend to. But I have to be careful, Dad. Last time I tried to heal someone with really big injuries, I fried my powers for three days. I don’t want to burn them out entirely.”

“Be careful, then. But try.”

They headed upstairs together, and the nurse looked up as they entered the room.“She’s resting quietly,” he said. “But her condition is starting to deteriorate a bit. Are you sure you don’t want her to be in the hospital?”

Clark shook his head. “She’d want to be at home. As long as you’re sure she’s not in pain…”

“No, the suppressor is taking care of that.” The nurse waved a hand at the blinking device on Chloe’s forehead.

“Then she stays here,” Clark said.

"All right. I’ll leave you alone with her, then. I’ll be back to check on her in an hour. Just let me know if there’s any change.” The young man headed for the door.

Jonni walked across the room, reached down, and took her mother’s unresponsive hand. It looked like a gesture of affection, but watching closely, Clark saw the red glow of her aura begin to pulse around her. A moment later, the glow faded, and Jonni put her mother’s hand back onto the coverlet gently.

“It’s pretty bad,” she said. Her voice sounded a little choked, as if she hadn’t fully accepted the grimness of the situation until now. “I don’t see how I could possibly fix all the damage, Dad. But I’ll give it a shot.”

She sat on the bed next to her mother, put her hands on Chloe’s cheeks, and frowned in concentration. The red glow built around her, expanding to encompass Chloe, and flared brighter and brighter. Moments later it flickered out again.

“That didn’t help much,” Jonni said dispiritedly. She gave a long sigh of frustration. “I’m just not strong enough, Dad. I’m sorry.”

He walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Jon. You did your best. Your mom would appreciate the effort.”

“I just hate that my best isn’t good enough,” she said unhappily.

Clark understood her frustration. They were both accustomed to being “super,” to being able to pull miracles out of thin air, and the feeling of helplessness angered them both. “I know. But people die, Jonni. Sooner or later, everyone dies. You just have to accept that.”

“Mom’s too young!” she snapped, her voice lifting in anger. “She’s only sixty-seven. It’s not her time, Dad. It’s totally unfair.”

He understood her anger, but he knew that life wasn’t fair, and that people died before their time on a regular basis. He’d seen enough people die over the years to understand that. But he didn’t like it any better than she did. He squeezed her shoulder, offering wordless support, knowing nothing he could say right now would make her feel any better.

She turned her head and looked at his hand, and her eyebrows suddenly drew together. “Dad. You have an aura, too.”

He lifted a shoulder. “Yeah, but it doesn’t work like yours, Jonni. I’ve never been able to heal people the way you do.”

“I’m not sure that matters.” She stood up and faced him, her face brightening. “Our auras are similar. We both use them for protection, but I can use mine to heal people, too. The problem is, I have the ability to heal, but I don’t have enough power in my body to fix this. You have a lot of raw power, Dad. If I could just channel it somehow…”

He stared at her, understanding what she was saying, and hope began to flicker within him.

“Let’s give it a shot,” he said.

Jonni sat back down and placed her hands on Chloe’s face again. He dropped his hand onto his daughter’s shoulder, and her crimson aura began to glow again. He could feel it encompassing him as well as Chloe. It didn’t feel quite like his, somehow. It was weaker, of course, but it also had a different feel to it, almost like it was on a slightly different frequency. He wondered if his energy field was compatible with hers.

A corner of his brain recognized that this was a dangerous idea. If their energy fields weren’t compatible, there might be some sort of... feedback that could kill Chloe.

But Chloe was dying anyway. They had to try.

Never having attempted anything like this before, he had no idea how to channel his own energy into Jonni, but he hoped the physical contact might be enough. It seemed to be, because the red glow flamed more and more brightly. She frowned, her face contorting with effort.

“That’s helping, Dad. But I need more.”

He could feel the power flowing out of him now, and it made him feel oddly weak. “That’s all I’ve got, Jonni. I can’t give you any more.”

“Yes, you can. For crying out loud, you’re Superman, Dad. You’ve got a whole lot of power we haven’t tapped yet. I can feel it.”

Maybe she was right, although he felt pretty drained. But if he had power left, he wasn't sure how to tap it. He focused, frowned in concentration, and looked at his wife’s still form on the bed. Desperation filled him.

Chloe, he thought. Oh, Chloe.

Power flared through him, through his daughter, and into Chloe in a crimson bolt of lightning.

And then pain exploded deep within his body, and he collapsed to the floor.

*****

Dad.”

He woke up to the feel of someone shaking his shoulder. He opened his eyes, blinked because his vision was hazy, and managed to focus enough to see his daughter’s face. “Jon,” he said blurrily. “What happened?”

“Not sure, Dad. I think you kind of fried yourself the way I did that one time."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Most of that power was coming from you, not me. Can you stand up?”

She held out her hand. He grasped it and managed to get his feet underneath him, managed to stagger upright. He stood swaying, and memories dawned in his foggy brain.

“Chloe,” he whispered, and turned toward the bed, then paused in disbelieving shock.

His wife’s eyes were open, and she was smiling at him.

“Chloe?” he said.

“Hi, Clark,” she said softly.

He felt weak and sick and cold. His legs were shaking beneath him, his vision was blurry, and his stomach was lurching so badly he thought he might throw up. But he didn't care about any of it, because Chloe was all right.

He dropped onto the bed next to her, picked up her hand, and kissed it, feeling tears stream from his eyes and totally unable to prevent them.

*****

“So your powers are totally gone?”

Chloe was perfectly healthy, her cure having been pronounced "a miracle" by a team of doctors at Metropolis General. She'd been weak at first, but before long she'd been sneaking out of bed and typing stories like a madwoman, especially after Jonni had returned to Coast City. Clark had finally had to threaten his wife with restraints to get her to relax a little. Chloe had never understood the meaning of the term relaxation.

Clark shrugged. “It seems like it,” he said. “It’s been two weeks, Chlo. I don’t think they’re coming back.”

“But how could that happen? Aren’t your abilities a permanent part of you?”

“Sort of. But my abilities seem to be powered by the sun, and I think my cells are like solar collectors. I’m guessing that the power surge that happened when Jonni and I healed you destroyed my cells' ability to collect the sun’s radiation. Which means... I’m pretty much like everyone else now.”

The sensations of cold, dizziness, and nausea had passed, but his vision had been permanently blurred, and he’d actually had to visit an optometrist to get a prescription for glasses. He still felt weak, but he had determined that he was no weaker than any other man of his age.

And he was rapidly beginning to feel his age. He could see real wrinkles on his face, and he suspected that when he let his hair go back to its natural color, it would be liberally streaked with silver. He could feel the weight of years pressing down on him, but he didn’t mind. In fact he welcomed it.

He remembered the words he’d said to his mother all those years ago, after Cassandra’s vision: I don’t want to wind up alone. All his life, he’d feared he would live on forever, outliving everyone who mattered to him. And now it seemed he wouldn’t.

He was incredible grateful to know that someday, he would die, just like everyone else.

Chloe sighed, sipping her coffee. Even after all these years, it was still her beverage of choice. “That’s too bad, Clark. The world needs Superman.”

“The world has had Superman for a long time,” he said. “There are other heroes out there. Jonni is only one of them.”

“Still, I hate that I’m the cause of the world losing Superman.”

“You were the cause of the world having Superman in the first place,” he answered. “Everything I became was thanks to you, Chloe.”

“And your parents.”

“Maybe. But they always tried to get me to keep my abilities to myself, to protect my secret. You’re the one that encouraged me to use them to help people.”

She smiled a little, obviously pleased by the thought, then looked at him more seriously. “There’s one other thing, Clark. Ever since the day you and Jonni healed me… it feels like there’s a sort of… connection between us. Almost a physical connection. You know what I mean?”

He nodded. He’d felt it too. “I think it must have happened in the power surge,” he answered. “You and I got kind of fused together somehow. I can’t explain it, but it feels different.”

“Uh-huh. It’s like you’re in my soul somehow.”

He put a hand on her cheek, looked into her eyes, and smiled.

“That's where I belong, Chlo.”

*****

I'm 99 for a moment
Dying for just another moment
And I'm just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

When he was ninety-nine, Clark Kent knew he was dying… and it didn’t scare him at all.

He lay in the bed he’d shared with Chloe for most of his life and held her in his arms, listening to the rasping sound of her breathing, listening to the slow, irregular beat of her heart. Chloe was dying, her body simply wearing out from age.

She’d celebrated her hundredth birthday a few months ago, surrounded by her family, their daughter and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Jonni was getting older, so she had retired from the superhero business, but her daughter was now the Crimson Flame of Coast City, and one of her sons had become the Cobalt Flame of Gotham City. Clark was no longer saving the world on a daily basis, but his descendants were, and that was enough for him.

Clark’s hundredth birthday was tomorrow, but he was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to live to see it. He didn’t really care. The date that marked his “birthday” had been picked off a calendar at random by his parents, and he had no way of knowing how old he really was. The odds were he’d actually passed the hundredth anniversary of his birth some time ago.

Either way, he felt old. Very old.

After he lost his powers, the years had caught up with him quickly. He was as lined as Chloe, his face etched with deep crevices, his shoulders bent, and his hair was sparser than it had once been, and almost white. But a hundred years was long enough for a man to live, as far as he was concerned, and he was content knowing that his daughter and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would live on long after he was gone. There had been a time when he’d been terribly afraid of outliving them all.

He’d gone out to the graveyard in Smallville a few months ago. Jonni had come to visit, and she’d driven him out there, since flying and running were no longer options for him, and he’d never learned to drive one of the new aircars. She’d grounded the car, and together they’d walked out into the foggy graveyard.

It stretched out in all directions, seeming to go on forever, and he’d walked through hundreds of grave markers, just as he had in his vision long ago. As he walked, he saw the names of his parents, saw the names of friends long departed—Pete Ross, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang Luthor. He’d outlived them all.

But there were no gravestones for his wife or his daughter or any of his descendants, and for that he was profoundly grateful. All he’d ever wished for was the knowledge that he wouldn’t live on and on forever, endlessly alone, and he was thankful that his wish had come true.

He was even more thankful for his years with Chloe. They’d been married for more than seventy-five years, and he’d loved her without reservation, loved every day of their lives together. He’d never doubted she was his soulmate, and the connection that had been forged between them the day he and Jonni had saved her had only strengthened that bond. Somehow he knew that when Chloe died, he’d die too. Which was fine with him, because he didn’t want to live without her.

He couldn’t live without her.

Chloe stirred slightly in his arms. Through the connection that bound them, he could feel that she was drifting away from him. Instinctively his arm tightened around her, trying to protect her, the way he always had.

But there were some things no one could be protected from, and death was one of them.

“Chloe,” he said, very softly. “I love you.”

Her eyes flickered open, and she turned her head a little and smiled at him. She was too weak to say anything, but he saw her lips move, saw her mouth the words she’d said to him every day for almost eighty years.

I love you, Clark.

He pressed his face against her hair and held her as the sound of the heartbeat he’d listened to for so many years faded into silence. He heard her breathing slow to a stop, felt the connection between them fade, felt her slip away from him.

He listened to the silence for a moment, then closed his own eyes and followed the woman he loved into the darkness.

…There's never a wish better than this
When you only got 100 years to live

-The End-

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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amazing story. It made me happy and sad all at the same time.

Susana said...

This is so beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

*sniff* such a beautiful yet sad story!!!
Keep up the awesome chloe/clark storys!!!

blackheart_me said...

OMG I LOVED UR STYLE! I loved the song quotes and the way u emphasized his fear and then the end. They died together like the soulmates they are and the fact his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren took over is so wonderful. WHAT AN AMAZING STORY!
It's a bit sad that they only had one kid thou. But Elly ur story was just beautiful ^_^

Heidi Velasquez said...

OMG!!! Elly this is my first time commenting on one of your stories. As I read this I just had to write something...Like all your stories before it was beautiful and sad at the same time...tears were running down my face as I read this...the ending reminded me of the ending of "The Notebook" I don't know if you have seen that movie but as I read the end I should see Clark and Chloe holding each other in bed and just passing away. I love your stories very much but this one by far was one of my favorites...keep up the good work. You write so beautifully...thank you so much for sharing your stories with us!!

Anonymous said...

Aww this is just perfect...
I'm glad Clark didn't end up immortal and he got to die with Chloe.
And i love the description you go into when Jonni is born
Fantastic story Elly!!!

Anonymous said...

This story has tears streaming down my face. So incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. Thank you for sharing, Elly. This was amazing!

amethystian said...

The ending actually made me cry!
This is a beautiful story, Elly :D
~N~

marikology said...

I dunno how I missed this story before, but I really loved it. Songfic is my guilty pleasure and this one is one of the best. I'm also secretly glad that Clark gave up his powers so he wouldn't have to live forever without Chloe. They way they died at the same time reminds me of "The Notebook" which I thought was creepy in that movie, but here it was sweet and fitting. Thank you for sharing it, Elly. I really loved it.

Mari Anne said...

So touching and beautiful, even in its sadness. You write their enduring love story so perfectly.

star-majesty said...

I still love this story after all these years. It shows Clark actually having a life outside of Superman.

I also have an aversion to the idea of immortality. It's not a valid concept for living things, y'know? It's a human thing to fear what comes beyond "the end", but the idea of inflicting that, even on an imaginary being, seems a cruel punishment.