Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ever the Same, Chapter 13

Season 5, following my story "Never Let Me Go"
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.

The present

Clark stared up at the ceiling, watching a light dusting of snowflakes eddy through the frigid air of the Fortress. The words of the Kryptonian bonding ceremony ran through his head:

Trust me
I will always come to you
Protect you from danger...

"I can't do that," he said at last, very softly. "You know I can't."

"You must, Kal-El."

"No." Clark clutched the crystalline handle so hard that had it been an Earthly substance, it would have shattered into a million pieces. "I don't mean that I won't. I mean I can't. You understand that, Jor-El. Think back to your life as a true Kryptonian, when you were lifebonded. You must know I can't kill her."

When he'd bonded himself to Chloe, he'd vowed to protect her. It was part of who he was, right down to his bones. Hell, it was coded into every last one of his cells. He was a Kryptonian, and he could no more kill his lifemate than a human could jump over a ten-story building. It simply wasn't possible.

Jor-El paused again. "I recall enough of my true life as a Kryptonian to understand your dilemma," he said at last, sounding as compassionate as it was possible for the AI to sound. "But if you do not kill her, all of reality will fall apart very soon. At that point she will be every bit as dead as if you had stabbed the dagger into her chest. At that point, everything will be gone."

Clark looked down at Chloe, lying on the slab of ice like a sacrifice on an altar. He'd been without her so long, had been so overjoyed to see her again, and now... now Jor-El wanted him to sacrifice Chloe so everyone else could live.

He tried to imagine plunging the dagger into her heart, but cringed away from the thought. He just couldn't do it. Everything inside him, everything he was, rebelled against the idea.

"There has to be some other way," he said softly, pleadingly. "There has to be."

"There isn't." A new voice, sharper and less resonant than Jor-El's rolling tones, spoke, and the robot that called itself Milton Fine stepped out from behind a pillar. "You have no choice here, Kal-El. You must choose your lifemate, or the world."

Clark glared at the AI, feeling his lips pull back, exposing his teeth. "What the hell are you doing in my Fortress?"

"Making certain you do what must be done. I'm the one that sent Miss Lane to fetch you, you know. I want to ensure that you carry out your mission."

"Screw you." Clark spoke between his teeth. "I won't do it, damn it."

Vaguely, Clark wondered why Fine didn't simply try to kill Chloe himself. Maybe he couldn't for some complex reason, or maybe he figured trying to kill her while Clark was standing over her, armed with a Kryptonian knife, was fruitless.

Or more likely, Fine had an ulterior motive of some sort. Fine usually did.

The memories pressing at the edges of Clark's mind made him feel mildly muddle-headed, and he found it difficult to focus enough to make a guess as to what Fine's game might be. He knew perfectly well Fine was here because he intended to free Zod. He'd brought Clark to the Fortress once before, manipulated Clark into opening a portal to the Phantom Zone, and then immobilized him. No one but Clark could affect the Fortress, so bringing him here was a necessary first step to releasing Zod.

But he hadn't really expected Fine to show himself until after the rips in the space-time continuum had been repaired. The fact that Fine had appeared and tipped his hand so early was a puzzle piece that didn't quite fit. He couldn't quite figure out what Fine was up to. But he was certain the robot was up to something.

"You have no choice, Kal-El. If you don't kill her, she will simply die anyway."

"The Brain Interactive Construct is correct," Jor-El said, sounding very unhappy indeed to be agreeing with Fine. "You must do this thing, Kal-El, no matter how impossible it seems. You must."

Clark clutched the crystal handle harder. Damn it. After four decades of emptiness, he'd found Chloe, only to lose her again. One way or the other, he was going to lose her. He was about to fail in his vow to protect her from danger. And that knowledge hurt worse than forty years of solitude.

No, he thought fiercely, looking down at her inert form. I won't lose her again. There has to be another way. Somehow... somehow...

"Explain to me exactly why killing Chloe will fix things," he said, looking up at the ceiling.

"We do not have time for extensive discussion, my son."

"I'm not going to kill her without a better explanation. You have to kill your lifemate really doesn't cut it for me. Sorry."

"He explained it already!" Fine spoke angrily, his nasal voice raised. "She is at the center of the effect! If you kill her, everything will instantly collapse back in on itself, and reality will be repaired."

Clark had already seen Chloe die once, and that had hurt so badly he'd never quite recovered from it. He thought about what he'd seen on the day Chloe had died. It had been forty years, from his personal point of view, yet he remembered that day like it was yesterday. He'd found Chloe almost dead, a massive hole blasted through her chest. Her heartbeat had faded a second or two after he'd found her.

And then-- and then Fine had walked into the room. He'd been holding a purple sunstone, and when Clark had attacked him in rage and grief and ripped the robot's head off, it had triggered a huge explosion.

An explosion caused by Fine, not Chloe.

He didn't know about the other timeline, but in his timeline, Fine had been the cause of the rupture, not Chloe. So Chloe isn't the only one at the center of the effect, he thought, remembering that day. Fine is just as much at the center of things as she is. Maybe more so.

Which meant that maybe killing Fine would repair the fabric of space-time.

He didn't pause to question his logic. He didn't pause to wonder why Jor-El had told him he had to kill Chloe rather than Fine. He didn't hesitate at all.

He simply spun around and flung the dagger with all his strength, straight into Fine's chest.

Read Chapter 14 here.

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