2: What's Left of Me
3: On Your Own
4: The World Around You
Rating: Adult. If you're under eighteen, please go elsewhere now.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Powered Down, Part 1
"Come back to me, Clark."
In the murky shadows cast by the tall, looming buildings of Gotham City, she could barely see him, but she knew he was there. She stepped forward, squinting into the shadows, and slowly the darkness resolved into the form of a man, sitting in the filth of the alley, his knees drawn up against his chest.
"Chloe," he whispered, his voice barely audible over the dull roar of city traffic. She saw the glint of his eyes as he lifted his head and looked at her. "How did you find me?"
"Bruce told me you were in Gotham." She walked toward him, slowly, afraid of panicking him into running. A shadow flitted by, and she glanced up, seeing a dark cape ripple overhead as something, or someone, disappeared onto a rooftop above. "He's been keeping tabs on you, you know."
"I didn't know." He uttered a soft, mirthless laugh. "But I figured he would."
"He's worried about you, Clark. We all are."
"Don't worry about me." His deep voice was low and bitter. "I'm not worth your concern."
"Of course you are." She knelt beside him, put a hand on his arm, and looked into his eyes. He'd disappeared without his wallet, without any money, without so much as a Visa card, so she wasn't particularly surprised to find him living in an alley. But she was shocked by how haggard he looked. His hair curled, shaggy and disheveled, around the angular features of his face, the bangs so long they all but concealed his eyes. Several days' worth of dark stubble covered his square jawline, and the green eyes behind the bangs looked as faded and dull as winter grass.
"No." He pulled his arm away from her hand and looked away, into the shadows. "Go away, Chloe. I'm not good enough for you."
A dark memory rose up in her mind, the image of a much younger Clark, dragging her toward the door of his Metropolis apartment and yelling, Get out! Get out! He'd been sixteen and in self-imposed exile, young and scared and lonely, and high on red kryptonite. He'd closed himself off to her then, and she'd allowed herself to be intimidated into walking away from him.
But she was older now, and there were many more years of history between them, and she wouldn't let him intimidate her this time. She wouldn't let him push her away again.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said sharply. "You're a better person than I am, Clark. You always have been. And besides, you're my husband."
She thought she saw his lip quiver, but in the deep shadows, she wasn't quite sure. "You married Superman, Chlo. The Last Son of Krypton. Not an ordinary guy."
"I married you for better or for worse," she said fiercely, reaching out and capturing his hand in hers. "For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. And with superpowers or without." She clutched his hand tightly in hers. "I love you, Clark. Not your superpowers."
"I can't go back." His voice trembled. "I can't, Chlo. Metropolis needs a Superman. No one needs Clark Kent."
"I need you." Her hand tightened on his. "And Metropolis needs Clark Kent, too. The articles you write do a lot of good, and they've brought a lot of people to justice, Clark. Journalism isn't a waste of time, and you know it."
They were both journalists, working together at the Daily Planet, and journalism was her life, although she was aware it wasn't his. He loved writing articles, but hero work was his true calling. It always had been. And now he was no longer a superhero, so she understood why he felt lost.
He shrugged. "Okay. So maybe it's not a waste of time." His voice was as dark as the shadows surrounding them. "But I can do so much more..."
"You could do more, once upon a time," she said sharply. She wanted to hold him, to console him, but right now she figured he needed a kick in the ass. Clark would mope forever if she let him. He'd always been that way. "But you can't now, Clark. You lost your powers when Darkseid invaded. You sacrificed them to save the world. And there's no way of getting them back now. All you can do is go forward with your life and do the best you can as an ordinary mortal."
His head sank back onto his knees, concealing his face. When he spoke, his voice was muffled. "But I can't protect you, Chlo. What if someone figures out that I was once Superman? What if they try to hurt you?"
"Do you think living in an alley in Gotham City will prevent that somehow?"
Silence, broken only by the rough sound of his breathing.
The shadows seemed to have darkened, and she glanced upward. The tall buildings blocked most of the view of the sky, but she could see a narrow sliver of ominous pewter clouds. A summer storm was obviously brewing. She really wanted to get under cover before the clouds broke loose.
She reached out and stroked his hair, running her fingers through the coarse waves, just as she'd done a thousand times before. She could barely force words out past the sudden tightness in her throat. "Come home, Clark."
A shudder ran through him. "I can't." His voice was a barely audible whisper. "I don't have anything to offer you, Chlo. Without my abilities... I'm nothing."
"Not true." She slid toward him, put her arms around his neck, and pressed her face into his shoulder. "You're everything, Clark. To me, you're everything."
He sat frozen for a moment, and her heart sank. Somewhere deep inside, she was afraid he'd run away from the love she offered, run further into his self-imposed exile, and never come back to her. An echo from another time and place rose up to haunt her-- Clark's voice, saying angrily, If you tell anyone where I am, I'll go so far away that no one will ever find me.
Fear swelled inside her, fear of another scathing rejection. Fear of losing him again. But then his arms came around her waist, and he pulled her against him, clutching him to her tightly. He pressed his face against her, and she could hear the uneven rasp of his breathing as he inhaled the scent of her hair.
"Chloe," he whispered, and the sound of her name on his lips made tears spring to her eyes. She hadn't seen him in two weeks, and she hadn't realized how much she'd missed the simple sound of his baritone voice saying her name.
She turned her face into his neck and pressed her mouth against his skin. He smelled a little sweaty, but not too bad, so evidently he'd found someplace he could shower and wash his clothes. That didn't surprise her, because Clark had always been pretty fastidious about that sort of thing. Obviously he didn't make a very good homeless guy.
But she was so relieved to have found him, to actually have her arms around him, that she didn't much care how he smelled. She brushed her lips over the rough stubble that covered his throat, and he moaned, his arms tightening around her waist. His big hand splayed out over the small of her back and began to slide up and down, over the t-shirt she wore. She wondered if he'd noticed the big S on the front of her blue shirt-- the sigil of the long-gone Kryptonian House of El, now known all over this planet as the symbol of Superman.
Superman might be gone, she thought, but all the good he'd done over the past eight years would be remembered for a long, long time.
She pressed kisses over his ear, his throat, his jaw, kisses of love and adoration and desperate need. "Clark," she whispered, her voice shaking. "Don't ever leave me again."
"I'm sorry." His voice was low, and filled with remorse. "I didn't know what else to do. I'm sorry, Chlo."
"Idiot." She ran her hand up under his black t-shirt, feeling the vital warmth of his skin, feeling his muscles flow and ripple with every movement of his body. "You need to quit running away every time you're scared, Clark. You've been doing it since you were sixteen, and I really think you're old enough to have grown out of it by now."
He dropped his head against her shoulder, looking chastened. "I'm sorry you were worried about me."
"Worried about you?" She laughed softly, trying to downplay the lonely fears that had haunted her for the past two weeks. "Once I figured out you were in Gotham, I didn't worry. Bruce wouldn't let anything happen to you, and we both know it."
He spoke very softly. "If you knew where I was, why didn't you come sooner?"
Her heart melted at the admission that somewhere deep inside, he'd wanted her to come find him. "Bruce told me you were here a week ago," she said. "But he wouldn't tell me where to find you. I think he figured you needed some time alone. I've spent a week asking around, trying to find you. But I wasn't all that concerned. I knew Bruce would be watching out for you."
"I guess you're right." His hand settled onto her waist, and his fingers curled, digging into her flesh a bit. She didn't mind. She liked being held like he'd never let go. "I'm lucky to have people who care that much about me."
"Clark." She turned her head, pressing her face against his cheek. "We all care about you. All of us-- your friends, your family, everyone at the Daily Planet. We all care."
"I know," he said gruffly. "I just couldn't..."
His voice trailed off, and she reached down and took her hand in his, threading her fingers through his. "I can't even begin to imagine what you're going through," she said softly, lifting her head and looking straight into his eyes. "I couldn't even imagine what it was like to have the powers you had, so I can't possibly imagine what it's like to lose them. But things must be very different for you now. I guess maybe it's like going blind and deaf all at once. It must have been a huge shock."
"Yeah." His eyelashes fluttered down to conceal the pain in his eyes, but he couldn't hide the hoarse, raw note in his voice. "I'm not sure how to be an ordinary human, Chlo. It's been a long time since I've tried it."
She recalled that he'd lost his powers once, long ago, when he was eighteen. At that point, he'd welcomed the chance to be just like everyone else. But he'd rapidly discovered that being just like everyone else wasn't quite the idyllic situation he'd envisioned. And since then, his powers had blossomed, and he'd grown a great deal in strength and ability. Being without his powers now must be terribly unsettling for him. Perhaps even frightening.
From his perspective, he was suddenly weak, almost defenseless. He couldn't see through objects, couldn't hear the sounds he'd always heard, couldn't put his hand through brick as if it were paper. She imagined what it would feel like to suddenly find herself weakened by a factor of a hundred or more, thought about how it would feel to lose most of her senses, and admitted that yes, that would be scary as hell. No wonder he'd panicked and run away.
"I think I can help you adjust to it," she answered softly. "But not if you're living in a cardboard box in an alley, Clark. You have to come home."
"Actually..." He lifted his eyelashes and looked at her, then quickly glanced away, as if he were embarrassed. "A couple of guys stole my box."
"Really? So you don't even have a box?" Poor Clark, living out in the cold and rain and fog without the invulnerability that had protected him all his life. She thought with wifely concern that it was a wonder he hadn't come down with pneumonia.
Well, okay, it was July, so maybe it wasn't all that cold. Still, it could get chilly at night, especially when it rained. She hated to think of Clark curled up on the pavement, unprotected from the elements, in the middle of a thunderstorm.
"I tried to stop them, but they didn't fight fair." He sounded miffed. "One of them hit me from behind."
She could understand his pique-- he was formerly the world's strongest man, and he'd been taken down by a couple of homeless guys. She managed to restrain her smile. To him, it obviously wasn't funny. "I'm sorry," she said softly, stroking his back in a gentle, reassuring motion. "Gotham's a rough town."
"I hate being here," he mumbled, turning his head back and pressing his face against her hair. "I hate Gotham City. I want to go back to Metropolis. But I just... I just wish everything could go back to the way it used to be."
"Things can't go back to the way they were, Clark." She ran a hand around to his front and caressed the solid muscles that overlaid his ribcage, feeling the heat of his skin against her palm. "Your powers are gone for good. But you don't have to live in an alley all alone, either. Come home with me."
Her fingers slipped over his nipple, and she heard a quick, indrawn breath. He'd always been kind of easy that way. She ran her thumb back and forth across his nipple, which hardened at the attention, and he dropped his head back and gave a long sigh of pleasure.
"Chloe," he said softly. "If Bruce is watching..."
"He's not a pervert, Clark. He's not going to watch us while we make out." She imagined Bruce rolling his eyes beneath the black cowl and silently stalking away, his cape billowing behind him. In his real life, Bruce was known as a playboy, but in his hero persona, he was almost asexual, contemptuous of the very idea of sex. He thought sex weakened men, making them vulnerable.
But Chloe was pretty sure Bruce was wrong. Sex-- warm, loving sex with her-- had strengthened Clark, helping him through pain and grief and loss, more than once.
She continued to stroke his nipple, continued to run her lips over the rough stubble on his throat, and he didn't fight her. He leaned his head back against the brick of the wall behind him and closed his eyes, and she heard his soft gasps and exhalations of pleasure.
One big hand was still intertwined with hers, but the other began running over her body beneath her shirt, caressing her skin, leaving searing heat in its wake. Wherever he touched her, her skin warmed and her nerves seemed to shimmer with electricity, and soon her whole body sang with desire and sexual awareness. A craving for intimacy filled her, a craving that was sharper and more intense than any she'd felt in a long time.
Then again, it had been a long time since she'd gone two weeks without sex, because Clark was an attentive and enthusiastic husband.
She'd missed him, so much that the touch of his hand, the feel of his body next to hers, brought tears to her eyes. She blinked the tears away. Her tongue flicked out and slipped over his throat, tracing the tendons, moving down to the hollow at the base of his throat, and a low groan broke from him. He tugged his hand from hers, put both hands on her waist, and pulled her onto his lap, facing him. She wore a short denim miniskirt in deference to the summer heat, and it rode up, exposing most of her thighs. She slid forward so that they were in very intimate contact, and began to move against him.
The bulge of his erection was unmistakable, even through his jeans, and it brushed over her panties over and over again, which felt incredibly good. His head fell forward, onto her shoulder, in a familiar gesture that meant he really liked what she was doing.
"Chloe," he whispered, his voice harsh with need. "Make love to me, Chlo."
She lifted her head and blinked at him. "We're in public, Clark."
"I don't care." His hand dug into her hair, and he held her fiercely and stared into her eyes. His eyes no longer looked faded and empty-- they were as vividly green as ever. In the darkness of the alley, they almost seemed to glow with an inner light. "I've missed you, Chlo. I want to make love to you."
She looked into his eyes and saw the need and the desire there.
"Okay," she said simply.
At her acquiescence, sparks lit in the depths of his gaze, and he bent toward her, capturing her mouth with his. His lips were hard and demanding, and beneath the onslaught of his need, her lips parted automatically. His tongue delved inside her mouth, tasting her hungrily, like he'd been denied a taste of her for far too long, like he'd dreamed of nothing but tasting her for the past two weeks.
His tongue was velvety against hers, and he tasted incredible, like heat, like summer, like sex... like mint. She realized with amusement that he'd not only scrounged up a place to shower-- somehow he'd managed to get hold of toothpaste and a toothbrush, too.
Her farmboy made a really lousy homeless guy.
She tangled her hands in his hair-- which was already somewhat tangled to begin with-- and pulled his mouth against hers harder, returning his kiss just as fiercely. Their bodies moved together in a fast, urgent rhythm, and their hands explored each other's bodies as if they were teenagers again.
Somewhere on the edges of her consciousness, she felt the warm drizzle of summer rain, and she looked up, seeing that the clouds had become almost black. Seconds later, rain began to fall in earnest, drenching her hair and her upturned face.
"I think we could really use that box about now," she remarked wryly.
His beautiful, full lips curved in a suggestive grin. "I don't mind getting wet," he answered, and kissed her again.
The kiss went on and on, getting hotter and deeper and more intense. At last, just when she thought she might spontaneously combust, he broke away from her and began kissing her cheeks, her ears, her throat, showering kisses over her like raindrops. Or maybe some of what she felt on her skin was raindrops. She was lost in a sensual fog, so lost she wasn't quite certain what was Clark and what was the rain.
Her body burned with need, and she reached down and unzipped his jeans, shoving them out of the way, then wrapped her fingers around his erection. He was hard and hot, so hot she was surprised the rain didn't sizzle against his skin. At the touch of her hand, he groaned and pushed her skirt up further, settling his hands on her hips.
"Now," he whispered. "Now, Chlo. I've waited two weeks for this. I can't wait any longer."
She didn't want to wait, either. She rose up on her knees, heedless of the rough pavement, and moved so that the head of his erection nudged against her body. He felt wonderful against her, slipping easily in her moisture, and another desperate surge of craving shook her.
She slid down onto him, very slowly, feeling her body stretch as the head of his cock entered her. She'd made love to him a thousand times, yet he was so big they always had to go slowly at first. She paused with him barely inside her, and he gave a long, low groan, his hands digging into her hips harder.
Usually he touched her very lightly during sex, for fear of losing control and hurting her, maintaining an iron control over himself even while in the throes of orgasm. He wasn't a weakling even now, and his hands could leave bruises if he gripped her too hard, because even at merely human strength, he was a powerful guy. But it was nice to know he didn't have to hold back as much as he once had.
Rain cascaded over them, washing away the smells of the city and replacing them with the clean scent of a summer storm. She slid down another inch, and he gasped, burying his face in her shoulder. She could feel him shaking with need, and her body responded with a rush of warmth and heat, making her slicker than before. She took still more of him inside her, and the stark intimacy of it made her eyes sting with tears.
"Chloe." His voice was rough. "God, Chlo. I've missed you so much."
She understood that he wasn't just talking about sex. She'd missed him too. Not just his lovemaking, and the way his body felt inside hers, but everything about him-- the sight of his smiles, the smell of his hair, the way he fell asleep on the couch while watching television at night and then claimed he hadn't been napping, even when she'd heard him snoring.
But her throat was suddenly too tight to tell him all that. "Me too," she whispered, unable to say anything more.
She was pretty sure he understood what she was trying to convey with those two words. His arms tightened around her, holding her closer. He flexed his hips, and suddenly he was deep inside her, so deep that she gasped with mingled shock and pleasure. She moved against him, and he rose up to meet her. She could sense him holding back a bit, struggling to control himself.
"Clark," she whispered. "You don't have to hold back any more."
His eyes opened, and he looked into her face with surprise, as if he hadn't thought of that. "I can still hurt you," he said softly.
"Not really. You can make love to me as hard as you want."
His eyes went dark with lust, and his hands dug into her hips, holding her in position. He thrust upward, really hard, sinking so deep inside her that she could feel him pressing against her womb. She gasped and jerked her head back, and he froze, looking at her with concern.
"Did I hurt you?"
"No." Her hands clutched at his shoulders, digging into them. "God, no. Do it again."
He thrust again, harder than before, and she sobbed and clung to him. Even though she was on top, he suddenly seemed to be in charge. He held her hips, slamming into her, harder than he'd ever dared to before, over and over again. For the first time in their long relationship, he didn't have to hold himself back.
She couldn't believe how good it felt.
They moved together, both of them making strangled noises of pleasure, his body pumping into hers hard. She could feel herself spiraling upward, her body clenching around his, and she knew he was as close as she was, because his cock was jerking and twitching inside her, and he was moaning with every movement.
At last he stopped, pressing his face against her shoulder and gasping for breath.
"Chloe," he whispered. "I'm afraid I'm going to... to hurt you..."
"No," she said softly, stroking his hair in reassurance. "You won't hurt me. Make love to me, Clark. Hard."
His hands caught her hips again, and then he was driving into her in fierce, violent thrusts that made her forget where she was and scream with pleasure. Ecstasy poured over her like the summer rain, drenching her with warm moisture, and her body clutched his more tightly than before.
Beneath his rain-slickened skin, she felt all his muscles tense, and his movements became even more frantic. For the first time in their relationship, he wasn't holding back anything at all. He was giving her everything he had.
His body shuddered, and his voice rose in a roar as he came deep inside her in long, hot bursts.
Afterward, he pressed his face against her shoulder, looking drowsy, like he might just fall asleep despite the rain that fell over them both, soaking them. She felt his heartbeat slow beneath her hand, heard his breathing go back to its normal slow, regular pattern. His arms were around her waist, and her arms were around his neck, and for the first time in two weeks, everything seemed normal.
Well, except for the fact that they'd made love in an alley, and now they were sitting in a rapidly forming puddle, while warm rain beat down on their heads. They were both soaked to the skin.
"Come home with me," she said softly, nuzzling his neck.
"Home's quite a ways away when you don't have superspeed," he answered, leaning his head back against the brick wall and regarding her lazily through half-closed eyes. "And we're both pretty wet. Maybe we should bum a room off Bruce for the night."
"Good idea." Although she hated to leave the warm circle of his arms, she moved off him, pushing her skirt back down. He stood up and zipped up his jeans, then stood looking down at her. The lazy satisfaction on his features faded, and she could tell he was starting to mope again. That meant trouble, because Clark and moping were never a good mix.
She rose to her feet and looked up at him warily. "What are you thinking?"
He shrugged a big shoulder. "I just don't know where I ought to go from here, Chlo."
"Back to Metropolis, I hope."
"Besides that. I mean, I don't quite know what to do now. I know I'm a journalist. I'm just not sure it's... enough. You know?"
She looked up at him, his overlong hair plastered to his head, looking almost black in the rain. Rivulets of water streamed down his face, and drops of water fell from his nose, and she had to smile. He didn't look much like a superhero just now.
But he'd always been a hero. As far as she was concerned, he always would be.
And that gave her an idea.
"You know," she said slowly, "heroes don't have to have superpowers."
He rolled his eyes. "Sure, Chlo. I'll get rid of the S and stitch a big O onto my costume. For OrdinaryMan."
"I'm not kidding," she said, looking at him with a little more intensity. "Heroes don't have to have superpowers, Clark. Look at Ollie. He doesn't have powers, but he still does lots of good in the world. For that matter, what about Bruce? Criminals are more scared of him than they are of Superman. There are times I think he's the only thing standing between Gotham City and anarchy."
He looked down at her, his head cocked, as if the idea intrigued him. "But Bruce has all that training, Chlo. I can't even fight off two homeless guys who want a cardboard box."
"Bruce would train you if you asked," she said softly. "You know he would."
He stared at her for a long moment, and she saw hope begin to glimmer in his eyes. "But I wouldn't be Superman," he said softly. "I'll never be Superman again."
"So take another name," she said impatiently. "Dick Grayson switched identities, remember? If he could go from being Robin to Nightwing, then you can go from Superman to... whatever."
He looked torn, and she took his hands in hers. "You don't have to make a decision right now," she said softly. "I know you're still trying to adjust. Just think about it, okay?"
"Chloe..." His voice sounded strangled. "It's an interesting idea, but the truth of the matter is, I'm not a hero anymore."
"Yes, you are." She held his hand more tightly and looked up at him, trying to make him understand what she saw when she looked at him. "With or without superpowers, Clark, you're a hero. My hero."
"No," he said softly. "Without my powers, I'm no hero."
"Yes, you are," she insisted, squeezing his hand. "Being a hero isn't about what you can do. It's about what you choose to do."
He stared at her for a moment longer. The hope in his eyes began to shift into a look of determination she'd seen in his eyes many times in the past. She knew that he didn't have to spend any more time thinking about her suggestion, that he'd already made his decision. And that didn't surprise her.
Because what she'd told him was true. At his core, he was a hero.
Time to take him home, she thought. "Let's go, Kent," she said, tugging at his hand. "I'm soaked."
He looked at her, then, unexpectedly, grinned. "You do bear a striking resemblance to a drowned rat."
"Look who's talking," she sniffed, turning toward the street. "Come on, Clark. Let's go to Bruce's house."
"Okay," he agreed. "It'll be nice to sleep in a bed."
"Yeah." She smiled, thinking a bed with Clark in it sounded great. She'd hated sleeping alone for the past two weeks. "You and Bruce can talk about training over dinner. And then tomorrow... we'll go home."
"Home," he repeated softly, smiling down at her. "That sounds great."
She led him out of the alley, out of his exile, and back to their life. Side by side, hand in hand, they walked through the rain-drenched streets of Gotham City... together.
Read the sequel, What's Left of Me.