Thursday, October 19, 2006

Something Above

Chlark angst, futurefic
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me.

Could someone deliver us
And send us some kind of sign
So close to giving up
'Cause faith is so hard to find...
Believe it or not, everyone
Believes in something above...
-Nickelback, "Believe It Or Not"

For having been put to the test himself, he is able to give help to others when they are tested. - Hebrews 2:18

It was a long way down.

The summer sun shone warm and bright on Jenna Sand's bowed head as she stood on the roof of the Daily Planet building, looking over the edge. Her stomach roiled with a stark, deep-rooted terror, but she managed to pull herself up on the wall and swing her feet over.

The faces of her two kids flashed through her mind. She loved them, but she hadn't been good for much since Ron died. Every day she got up, got the kids off to school, and came to her job here at the Daily Planet. And then she went home and tried to go through the motions.

They were all just going through the motions, and she was miserably aware she wasn't much good as a mother any more. Her kids would hardly miss her.

She took a deep breath and rose to a standing position... and jumped.

The wind whistled in her ears, and terror choked her, cutting off her oxygen. She looked down at the pavement rushing up at her, and felt a moment of horrible regret. My kids will see this on the evening news. If only...

But of course it was too late for second thoughts now.

Her descent stopped abruptly. Jenna yelped in surprise and flailed, because she was suddenly and inexplicably floating in midair.

"It's okay," a voice said behind her. It was a deep voice, kind and gentle, and it calmed her in spite of the weirdness of the situation. "I've got you."

She twisted her head, looking over her shoulder, and saw a man with a square jaw and vivid green eyes, his dark hair brushed off his forehead in a severe style. He wore a blue and red costume, a crimson and gold cape rippling behind him.

Her mouth dropped open. "Superman."

"You sound like you were expecting someone else," he observed, a slight curve to his lips. "How many men have you encountered in midair?"

"But I--" She realized they were still drifting downward, toward the street, but at a much less deadly velocity. "I was trying to kill myself."

"Oh. I thought maybe you just didn't want to wait for the elevator."

She blinked at him, baffled. Nothing she'd ever read about him had prepared her for the realization that Superman had a sense of humor, albeit a morbid one. He looked back at her, that slight smile still on his face, and said, "Here's the question. Why were you trying to kill yourself? Don't you have anything to live for?"

Two small faces immediately flashed into her mind. "My kids," she said in a whisper, guilt filling her.

His eyes went very serious. "What's so bad that you can't stay around for your kids?"

She suddenly found herself unable to look into those eyes. Not that he looked like he was judging her, not at all. In fact, it was the sheer sympathy and compassion in his gaze that made her look away as her own eyes filled with tears.

"My husband," she whispered. "I lost him three months ago, and I can't go on without him. I just can't."

They paused in midair, then started to float upward. She should have been terrified, but she wasn't. This was Superman, after all. She knew he wouldn't let anything happen to her. In fact, she was safer right now than she'd ever been in her life.

"I can understand that," he said softly.

"No, you can't." She sniffled, and a tear ran down her cheek. "Everyone knows you're not from this planet, Superman."

"I've lived on this planet since I was very small," he said gently. "I have a human family, and friends."

She looked up, startled. Somehow that had never occurred to her. Everyone knew Superman was an alien, but she'd never before recognized that if he came to this planet as a baby, he had very likely been brought up by parents who loved him, even despite his strange powers. And if he lived among humans, he certainly must have friends. Maybe he even had a girlfriend, or a wife.

"Are you married?" she blurted out.

He gave his gentle smile. "If I were," he said, "I couldn't tell anyone about it. Some people aren't too fond of me, oddly enough, and they might be inclined to take out their dislike on my family."

Despite his words, there was something in his eyes, a softness that made her think he did have a significant other, or kids, or both. She wondered what it was like to be superpowered, maybe even immortal, and in love with a human. He had to know he was very likely to outlive everyone he cared about.

Maybe he did understand a great deal more than she'd given him credit for.

They were high above the city now. He looked away from her for a moment, gazing across the towers and spires of Metropolis. She looked, too, and for a moment imagined what it must be like to fly over the city daily, struggling to save people. The expression on his face told her clearly how important every single person in the city was to him.

"Look," he said, "believe it or not, I know what it's like to lose someone. You have my sympathy."

The gentle compassion in his voice made her throat tighten. He went on, "But you have two kids relying on you. You have to keep going. Will you promise me you'll keep going?"

She nodded, and her eyes filled with tears again.

"Maybe you should talk to someone about it. A therapist. That might help."

"Nothing will ever help me forget my husband," she said hoarsely. "I don't want to forget him."

"I understand. I'm not suggesting you should forget him. But you have to learn to go forward by yourself. Your kids are depending on you."

The two small faces flashed in front of her mind's eye again, and she nodded slowly, accepting the truth of his words. Superman was right-- she had to go on. It wouldn't be easy, but it was what she had to do.

He seemed to recognize her decision. "So," he said. "Should I take you back to work, or do you want to go home?"

She wondered vaguely how he'd known she was at work, but it seemed like a logical enough deduction-- after all, why else would she have been on top of the Daily Planet building? "Home, I think. I'm going to take the rest of the afternoon off and hang out with my kids."

"Sounds like a good idea."

She told him her address, and seconds later they were there. He deposited her on the doorstep, smiled, and was gone in a whoosh of wind, his crimson cape waving behind him.

The door flew open, and two little kids stood there, gaping at her. The babysitter who cared for them after school stood right behind them, gaping just as widely. "Mom," the five-year-old, Joshua, said. "Was that Superman?"

"Sure was." Jenna didn't want to go into exactly why Superman had dropped her off. She hugged her kids, loving the feel of their little arms around her neck, then went into the house, her shoulders squared. As soon as the babysitter was gone, she'd make that appointment with the therapist. Because Superman was right-- she had to learn to go on without Ron, no matter how hard it was.

Joshua tagged along behind her. "Mom," he said, yanking on her blouse to get her attention. "Is Superman your friend?"

Jenna thought about the way Superman had saved her, the quiet compassion in his voice, the love for her and for all humanity she'd seen in his eyes.

"Yes," she answered firmly. "Superman's my friend."

*****

I'm going to take the rest of the afternoon off and hang out with my kids.

Jenna Sand's words echoed in Superman's ears as he dropped into a quiet alley, transforming himself into the unremarkable reporter Clark Kent in the blink of an eye. He was slightly amused because he passed Jenna in the offices of the Daily Planet almost every day, yet she hadn't seemed to associate mild-mannered Clark with Superman. No one ever did.

Clad in a gray suit and tie, with round, dark-framed glasses perched on his nose, he headed for the front door of his apartment.

Squeals of "Dad!" rang out the instant he opened the door, and three kids attacked him. Good thing he was a man of steel, because otherwise they would have bowled him right over. He dropped down on one knee, laughing, and managed to hug all three of them at once.

He had two little four-year-old girls, identical twins with golden locks and laughing green eyes, and a two-year-old boy with serious hazel eyes and hair so dark it was almost black. They all clung to him, and he managed to stand up, despite the fact that they all seemed to be stuck to his legs with suction cups. Apparently he was raising a pod of octopi.

"Hey," he said to his mother. "I decided to come home early."

"The kids seem happy about it," she answered, smiling. Martha Kent had recently moved to Metropolis, selling the farm he'd grown up on, in order to be closer to her grandchildren. He was immensely grateful that she was willing to watch the kids for him several days a week.

Martha walked across the room, kissed his cheek, and hugged the octopi goodbye, then waved and headed out the door. His kids bounced back onto the sofa and went back to what they'd been doing before he walked in-- watching a Disney movie-- and Clark stood there and watched them for a second. Then he turned around and saw his wife's smiling face.

He walked across the room and picked up the silver-framed photo of Chloe Sullivan Kent on the fireplace mantel.

The photo was all he had left of her now. That, and the clippings he'd placed carefully into scrapbooks after she died. In only eight years at the Daily Planet, she'd written a great many stories. Every time he paged through the scrapbooks, he was filled with pride at all she'd accomplished in her short life.

He looked at the picture, staring at the smile he'd never truly see again. He vividly remembered the day she'd died. It wasn't something he could ever forget.

He'd been on the far side of Metropolis, saving an old woman whose house had gone up in flames, when he'd heard Chloe's cry for help. It had only taken him a few seconds to get the old lady to safety, and then he'd flown for Chloe as fast as he could, so fast he caused a sonic boom.

But he hadn't gotten there fast enough. He'd arrowed out of the sky just in time to see her being slammed to the pavement by a truck.

He'd later found out it had been a deliberate hit, retribution from a shady businessman who hadn't appreciated Chloe's front-page expose detailing his so-called business transactions. But at that moment, all he knew was that the woman he loved had been crushed, and was bleeding her life out on the street.

He all but crash-landed next to her, dropping to his knees. "Chloe."

Her eyes were still open, and he wanted to gather her into his arms and fly her to safety. He knew he could get her to the hospital faster than any ambulance, but a quick scan with x-ray vision told him he couldn't pick her up. The damage to her body was too extensive, and it would almost certainly kill her to be moved.

Behind him, people were calling 911 on their cell phones. Knowing that help was on the way, he shut out the world and focused on her, touching her cheek very gently.

"Chloe," he whispered, his voice rough. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. The one time it really mattered, I wasn't fast enough."

"It always matters." Her words were barely audible, even to his superhearing. "What you do... always matters, Clark."

Her eyes drifted shut, and terror stabbed through him. "Chloe," he said, his voice breaking. "Don't leave me. I love you."

But she didn't answer, and he realized she was already gone.

A year later, the thought of her battered, lifeless body on the asphalt still brought a lump to his throat. He'd never forget the desolate sense of loss and anguish that had filled him in those first few months after she died.

With the passage of time, he no longer felt quite so empty, but he still grieved every day. That was the reason he'd begun keeping an eye on Jenna Sand after her husband passed away, because he'd recognized the bleak emptiness in her eyes. He'd seen it in his own eyes for months, every time he looked in the mirror, and he'd been concerned that Jenna might do something drastic. And he'd been right.

But he was beginning to learn to live without Chloe, to go on without her, and he hoped Jenna would eventually learn to live without her husband, too. It helped to have kids to focus on. He looked at his kids, who were squabbling about what they wanted to watch next, and grinned despite his heartache. He could see Chloe's golden hair in the girls, her hazel eyes in the boy-- and her kickass attitude in all three of them.

His kids gave him something to live for. So did the memory of Chloe's last words to him. At first he'd been overwhelmed with guilt. He'd been infuriated that he'd been saving someone else, an elderly woman who really didn't have much life left to live, when he should have been saving the person who mattered most to him. But he'd slowly come to accept that he couldn't blame himself for saving a life. He wouldn't be the person Chloe had wanted him to be if he didn't endeavor to save as many people as possible.

Chloe had been right when she told him it always mattered. What he did made a difference.

Everyone in Metropolis was worth saving. For that matter, everyone on the planet was worth saving. Unfortunately, he couldn't save billions of people. But he could try. He did his best, and tried to save as many people as possible.

He'd saved Jenna Sand today, because he'd recognized the despair in her eyes. He'd saved countless other people over the years. Sometimes he didn't get there fast enough, and that was hard to cope with. And sometimes he didn't get there at all, because he had other things he had to do.

But even a superman couldn't save everyone. What mattered was that he tried.

He put the framed photo gently back on the mantel, walked over to the couch, and sat down. Instantly three kids swarmed into his lap, and he smiled, wrapping his arms around them.

Balancing the various parts of his life wasn't always easy. Being a father was a vitally important job. But being Superman was important, too. He remembered the shock and awe in Jenna's eyes when he'd caught her, and realized that somewhere along the line, he'd become more than just a flying guy in a cape. To his kids, he was just an ordinary dad. But he wasn't merely a man any more, as far as the city was concerned. He was a symbol.

All he'd set out to do was help people with the abilities he possessed, but in so doing he'd given the people of Metropolis faith.

And now when people stared up into the sky, they were often looking for him. For Superman.

He didn't have a Superman to look for when things got rough. When he gazed up into the sky, he couldn't expect to see a superhero coming to save him. All he had was three kids who loved him, a city that depended on him, and the memory of Chloe's last words to him: It always matters. What you do always matters.

Those words had kept him going for the past year, through despair and loneliness and anguish. He didn't have a superhero to turn to for help, only the memory of a wife he'd loved, and who had loved him in return.

What he did mattered. He had to believe that. He couldn't give up.

He had to have faith. Because Chloe had had faith in him.

-The End-

9 comments:

monicaop said...

So sad!!! So truly and totally sad, dont' ever do this again girl.. for my sake, hugs!! Be well and take care.

sally said...

Awe. So sad but moving great Job Elly. How do you do it?

Opal said...

This was so touching. It made me cry. I think what touched me the most was the learning to move on part. I can relate to that.

Beautiful job!

Anonymous said...

Elly...this was so sad yet so amazing.
-arundhati

Cherry said...

Elly, great ficlet!! You are truly an amazing writer. I was moved to tears. Wonderfully written!!

Anonymous said...

Elly I agree with Monica..please don't do that again.. It made me cry , the show itself is depressing this days..

I can't say enough what an amazing writer you are!

Sara

Anonymous said...

So sad, and so moving. It brought a lump to my throat. You are a great writer. I agree with Monica too, please don't do that again!

SelfAppointedCritic said...

Of all the fics I've read, there are only a handful of fics that have moved me "near-to-tears", and this one is now at the top of that list. Powerful and moving Elly. The depth and range you bring out in Clark and Chloe is truly astonishing. I'm so hopelessly addicted to your Chlark, I can barely watch the season 6 sabotage of SV. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing gift and keeping my little SV world alive!

darthpatch said...

sad