Manip by Khyla. Used by permission of the artist.
Season 5, during and after "Vessel"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me
Clark Kent is trapped. He can’t hear, can’t see, can’t feel anything. He’s a consciousness drifting alone through space, unable to do anything except reflect on the past and worry about the future.
And there’s a lot for him to worry about. He’s just unleashed a tremendously destructive force on the Earth, the very same destructive force that obliterated his home planet of Krypton years ago. General Zod has been released from the Phantom Zone and is walking around on Earth in the body of a human, Lex Luthor. And when Clark tried to fight Zod/Lex, tried to protect his adopted planet he wound up trapped in the Phantom Zone himself.
At least he assumes that’s where he is. If “where” is even the right word, which he doubts. It doesn’t feel like a place or a time. It just feels like a vast nothingness, with him stuck in the middle of it. He feels very small and very irrelevant. And terribly alone.
He has no idea how long he's been here, because time seems to have no meaning here. His mind keeps going over his last twenty-four hours on Earth, considering all the mistakes he made, thinking about what he could have done differently. He’s worried about his friends and his mom, who are in danger from the riots that were breaking out in cities everywhere. He’s worried about his former girlfriend Lana Lang, who’s gotten herself mixed up with Lex and probably doesn’t have a clue that he’s been inhabited by an alien, and a nasty one at that. He’s even worried about Lex, who once was his friend. He and Lex have had a serious falling out, but Lex has been taken over by a megalomaniac who plans to destroy the world, using Lex’s body, and he wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone.
In short, he’s worried about everything, about what’s going to happen to everyone on Earth, about what’s going to happen to the Earth itself. But events have already been set in motion, and there’s not a damn thing he can do to prevent any of it from happening. He’s never felt so impotent in his life. He’s used to being able to change things, to fix things, and the thought that he can’t do a damn thing to protect his world crushes his spirit. He wishes he could go back and change everything he did in those last twenty-four hours.
Almost everything, at least. There’s one bright spot that stands out for him, amidst all the chaos and fear and turmoil, and that’s the moment Chloe Sullivan kissed him.
Chloe has been his friend forever. He’s extremely fond of her, although he’s aware that he’s prone to taking her for granted, assuming she can drop everything to help him with whatever he needs. He loves her as a friend, but he’s never seen her as anything other than a friend. Lately his life has shifted a little, though, and he’s been wondering if maybe he feels a little more for her than he thought he did.
He’s been obsessed with Lana Lang for years, but they broke up a month or so ago, and she immediately started dating Lex, so quickly it made his head spin. The quick shift of her emotional focus from him to Lex makes him wonder if he and Lana really had what he thought they had.
The more he thinks about it, the more he suspects the answer is no.Lana obviously didn’t love him in any deep, meaningful way, and he’s starting to think he never really loved her, either. He never trusted her the way he trusts Chloe. He never spent time talking with her the way he’s spent hours talking with Chloe. He never laughed with her the way he laughs with Chloe.
And he never once kissed Lana the way he kissed Chloe.
The thought of Chloe sends his mind drifting. He’s weary of worrying about what’s going to happen to the Earth, because there’s nothing he can do about it anyway. He’s well and truly trapped, and there’s no possible way for him to get out of this place, because he has no physicality here, just a consciousness. He wants to think about something a little brighter, something that gives him a flicker of hope.
He lets his thoughts flow back to the moment Chloe kissed him.
He and Chloe were standing in the offices of the Daily Planet, the major newspaper in Metropolis. The lights flickered, then went dark, leaving the room lit only by the green light of computer screens. Milton Fine, a Kryptonian artificial intelligence, had just unleashed a computer virus. Computers were going down everywhere in Metropolis, totally disrupting services and causing the infrastructure to collapse. Even more ominous, computer screens everywhere were displaying alien—Kryptonian—words.
The sudden disruption in services, along with the eerie alien symbols, had caused people to panic, and chaos was breaking out all over. Clark had had to fight his way into the Daily Planet building, past a flood of frightened, stampeding reporters, and he could hear people screaming in the streets outside.
Chloe’s eyes were wide with alarm as she listened to a radio broadcast warning of looting and rioting in the city. “If this keeps up,” she said, “every major city in the world will be infiltrated.”
Clark gritted his teeth together, infuriated. He knew Fine was trying to force him to release General Zod from the Phantom Zone, but that was the one thing he couldn’t do. Because no matter what was happening now, it was nothing compared to what Zod might do to the world.
Suddenly he heard the sound of a car engine, heard the sound of screeching brakes. He glanced up, seeing headlights coming through the stained glass window over their heads, seeing glass begin to shatter everywhere, and his body moved instinctively into superspeed.
He grabbed Chloe, hauling her against his chest, and spun around, protecting her from the flying glass with his invulnerable body. And then, as the car burst through the window, he reached out and caught it by the front bumper, stopping its trajectory.
It hung there, its undercarriage resting on the window frame, and Clark scanned it quickly with x-ray vision. The driver was unconscious, but there were no serious injuries that Clark could see. He guessed the guy had swerved to avoid the people pelting through the streets and driven into the wall, and the airbag had knocked him out.
He suddenly realized he was still holding Chloe protectively against his chest, and he pulled away and looked down at her, making sure she was all right. He was relieved to see there wasn’t a scratch on her.
She could have been hurt, even killed, if he hadn't been there. Other people were going to be hurt. People were running wild in the streets because of him, because of political intrigue from his home planet, and he felt the burning need to do something to help. He couldn't just stand here. He had to accomplish something, damn it.
He turned away from Chloe, and she grabbed his arm. “Clark, it’s no use. You can’t save everyone.”
He spun back to her, his jaw set. “And I can’t release Zod.”
“What if Jor-El’s right?” she demanded. “What if the only way to stop Zod, to stop Fine, to stop all of this—is to destroy that vessel?”
The “vessel” referred to Lex Luthor, whose body had apparently been somehow prepared so that it could host Zod’s will, and Clark felt his heart sink. Even if it meant stopping Zod and saving the world, he wasn’t sure he could kill someone in cold blood. Lex had once been one of his best friends, and that made the idea that much harder to contemplate.
Even so, he knew he had to do something to stop Zod. And that meant facing Lex. Maybe he could come up with a plan that didn't involve killing.
“What if something goes wrong?” He left the rest of the words unspoken: What if you get hurt? He was afraid to leave Chloe alone here, in the midst of a chaotic city filled with panicking people, afraid of what could happen to her. “I don’t want to leave you here.”
“You have to,” she said firmly, and he could see confidence in her eyes, her unshakable faith that he could save the world. Chloe had always believed in him, even when he didn’t believe in himself.
He hesitated for a long moment, then nodded. He needed to go back to Smallville, to confront Lex and to see if he couldn’t stop this all before it began. He knew it might result in his own destruction, but that was a small price to pay, really. He couldn’t let Zod do to Earth what he’d once done to Krypton.
"Let me take you back with me," he said. He could carry her back to Smallville easily, could get her to safety in three seconds. "It'll be safer at home."
She shook her head. "People are in trouble here, Clark. I may not have your abilities, but I have to see what I can do to help."
Her answer didn't surprise him. He hated leaving her here, in the midst of all this uproar, but he understood the desire to help people in trouble well enough. He sighed, spun on his heel, and walked away from her, only to be stopped by her voice.
He turned back toward her.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to see you again,” she said, and walked quickly toward him. She reached up, brushed her hand over his cheek, and touched her lips to his.
Part of him was shocked, but part of him realized that he’d been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her against him, and kissed her back.
Their lips only met for a moment, but it was the deepest, most profound moment of his life. He was stunned by the depth of his feelings for her, feelings he'd never recognized before now. The noise of the frantic crowds in the streets faded out, his fears about Zod dropped away, and for a brief space of time there was absolutely nothing in the world for him except Chloe Sullivan in his arms.
At last he lifted his head and looked down at her. Her hand rested on his cheek, her thumb stroking lightly over his cheekbone, and his arms were still locked tightly around her waist. Random thoughts rioted in his head like the looters rioting in the streets outside, but he couldn’t seem to articulate any of them. He didn’t think he really needed to say anything, anyway, because he was pretty sure she understood everything he was thinking.
Their kiss had pretty much said everything there was to say.
He stared into her eyes, wanting to kiss her again so badly he ached, but aware he had a duty to perform. And then a phone rang.
Clark looked over his shoulder, seeing that it was the phone in the old-fashioned phone booth in the corner of the basement. Considering phone service had been disrupted, along with all other services, the phone shouldn’t be ringing. He felt a strange certainty that the call was for him.
He looked back down at her, and she brushed her fingers across his cheekbone and stared into his eyes with an expression of calm stoicism, telling him without words that she understood.
Chloe always understood.
Lana would have cried and sulked because he was leaving her, would have been distraught at the thought of him risking his life. But Chloe would never try to stop him from doing what he had to do. She understood that he felt a duty to protect people, even more so in this situation, and she was willing to let him go, even knowing she might never see him again.
He was willing to let her go, too. But that didn't stop him from fearing what might happen to her. And he didn't even like to consider the notion of never seeing her again. He wasn't sure he could survive without Chloe in his life.
He didn't want to let her go, but he stepped away from her, picked up the phone, and held it to his ear without saying anything.
“Hello, Clark,” Lex’s voice said.
And now Clark is trapped in the Phantom Zone, with no way of telling Chloe what she means to him, of what that one brief kiss meant to him. He thinks she already knows, that they told each other everything during the brief, endless moment they looked into each other’s eyes, but even so, he wishes he had the chance to tell her how he feels.
He hopes she’s all right, that nothing bad has happened to her. He wishes he could be there to protect her. The thought that something might happen to her, might hurt her, worries him almost as much as the fate of the whole world.
If he ever gets out of this place, the very first thing he’s going to do is save the world from Zod.
And then he’s going to find Chloe Sullivan… and kiss her again.
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