Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
The music is "What I've Done," by Linkin Park
So let mercy come
And wash away
What I’ve done
I’ll face myself
To cross out what I’ve become
And let go of what I've done
The Kent Farm was a quiet, peaceful place, a hundred acres of flat, fertile fields broken by sparse stands of trees. Even the barn was peaceful. Clark Kent enjoyed mucking out stalls, even at normal human speed, because it gave him a lot of time to think.
It still felt kind of weird to him to deliberately refrain from using his powers. They might be extraordinary here on Earth, but they felt perfectly normal to him. It seemed silly to spend an hour mucking out the horse barn when he could accomplish the task in three seconds. But Lana had insisted.
"I don't like it when you use your powers," she'd said, her eyes wide. Lana was a beautiful woman, with long, dark hair and huge dark green eyes, and he'd adored her since he was very young. His mother, who now lived in Washington, DC, hadn't been thrilled that they were living in sin, but she hadn't put up much objection, because she knew how long Clark had worshipped Lana.
"It's hard not to use my powers," Clark had objected. "They're part of who I am."
"Oh, I know that," she said, very earnestly. "And it's not that I don't love you for who you are. You know I love you. But your powers... well, the sooner you get out of the habit of using them the better, really. That way you won't be tempted to use them for, you know, other things."
They both knew what other things meant. When she'd agreed to move in with him on the farm, he'd agreed to give up trying to save the world. Lana wasn't comfortable with his savior complex, because whenever he left to go save someone she was never quite sure he'd be back. She worried about him. So after many long discussions, she'd finally talked him into agreeing to quit saving people.
Deep down, he really wasn't comfortable with that decision. But if it was the only way he could have Lana-- well, he didn't have much choice. Because he'd loved Lana forever, and he couldn't give her up now.
He looked up as his friend Chloe Sullivan walked into the barn. There had been a time when she couldn't possibly have sneaked up on him, but now he deliberately avoided using his superhearing, along with all his other powers. Even flying, his latest and coolest power. It really hurt to give that one up, but he had. Because after all, he'd promised.
"Hey," he said, smiling. "What's up, Chlo?"
She didn't smile back. "Nothing good, unfortunately. I've been helping clean up the mess in Metropolis."
He shifted his weight uncomfortably and moved his pitchfork from hand to hand. "Yeah. I've heard people talking about it. I guess things aren't so great there, huh?"
"You've heard people talking about it? Clark, don't you even watch the news any more?"
"Lana doesn't like it," he said, shrugging. "She says it's too depressing."
"It's the truth." Her eyes were blazing. She'd been a journalist at the Daily Planet, the biggest paper in Metropolis, for several years now, and she didn't like hearing her occupation derided. "It's the truth, and it's important. You majored in journalism, Clark. How the hell can you act like the news doesn't matter?"
He shrugged again, uncomfortably, avoiding her eyes. "It's just... Lana and I moved back to the farm to get away from all that, Chlo."
"You and Lana moved back to the farm because she didn't want you to save people any more. Because your powers creep her out."
"They do not creep her out. She's just afraid of losing me."
Chloe's eyebrows drew down, but she didn't argue the point. "You and Lana have a nice little idyll here, don't you? A hundred acres of peace and tranquillity. Your own little paradise. The two of you just hide out here on the farm and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist."
She was right. He'd done his best not to give any thought to the rest of the world since Lana moved in with him. But he remembered the night a week ago, when Chloe had called from her cell phone, panic in her voice.
"You have to come to Metropolis right now, Clark. You have to."
"I can't do that, Chlo," he'd said, leaning against the horse he'd been currying. "It's over an hour's drive, and I still have to feed the cattle and the horses..."
"You can get here in three seconds, and we both know it. Listen, Clark, there's some big monster out there on the streets. It's tearing up the buildings in the business district, and it's huge. The cops can't seem to stop it."
"I can't help." He swallowed hard. "I don't use my powers any more. I promised Lana."
"You have to!" She sounded frantic. "It's destroying buildings, Clark! People are going to get killed, damn it!"
He hesitated for a long moment, staring into the afternoon sunlight, imagining the panicked screams of people running in fear for their lives, imagining the sound of sirens wailing and buildings being smashed by huge fists. A shudder ran through him.
Just my imagination, he told himself firmly. All those sounds were just in his imagination, because he'd promised Lana he'd stop using his superhearing, and he had. He wasn't really hearing the people in Metropolis, screaming for help. It was all in his head.
Even so, part of him wanted very much to superspeed to the rescue, to run to Metropolis and do battle with the monster that was hurting his city. He'd been brought up in Smallville, but he had a soft spot for Metropolis. It was the place he'd imagined himself eventually taking up residence. He'd gone to college at Met U, spent some time interning at the Daily Planet, and he'd always somehow figured he'd wind up living in the big city.
Until the lease on the Kent farm had expired, and Lana had suggested the two of them move back to Smallville.
But even though he was living in Smallville, on a farm four generations of Kents had cherished, Metropolis was his city, and he didn't like the idea of leaving it and its people to fend for itself. He opened his mouth to tell Chloe he was coming, but just then he heard Lana's voice calling him from a slight distance away.
"Clark? Clark! The bay mare's gotten loose again!"
"Sorry," he mumbled to Chloe. "I have responsibilities here."
He broke the connection.
Now, a week later, he looked at the anger in her eyes and wondered if he'd inadvertently broken the connection between them in another way. He and Chloe had always been close friends, but they'd drifted apart since he and Lana had set up housekeeping, and she'd begun to treat him with a trace of disdain he didn't much care for. That disdain was in full evidence now.
"Metropolis is a mess," she said, her voice sharp. "You wouldn't believe what that monster did to the business district before they finally managed to take it down. It broke gas mains, electrical lines, water lines, tore up the streets-- the city is pretty much back to the Dark Ages. People are rioting, Clark."
"It sounds like you need to stay clear of the city for a while," he said, feeling anxious for her. "Maybe you could stay here for a while."
"Are you nuts, farmboy?" She scowled at him. "Aren't you listening to me? Metropolis needs all the help it can get. People lost their homes and their businesses to that monster, and there are looters in the streets. There are people who can't find food and water, people who don't have a place to live. Volunteers are coming from all over to help."
He shuffled his feet uncomfortably, looking away from her bright gaze. "Look, Chlo, if you're trying to suggest..."
"I'm not trying to suggest anything," she answered coolly. "I really don't think I should have to suggest anything to you, Clark. If you can't figure out what you ought to do on your own, then... well, you're so damned whipped I don't have anything left to say to you."
She turned her back on him, her shoulders very rigid, and stalked away. He watched her go, uncertain as to what to say or do. At the door to the barn, she paused and looked back at him.
"I used to be proud of you, Clark," she said, very softly. "But now... I'm ashamed of you."
She strode out the door before he could answer.
Put to rest
What you thought of me
While I clean this slate
With the hands of uncertainty
"I need to go to Metropolis."
An hour later, Lana gazed at him over a steaming plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, her dark eyes solemn. "Clark," she protested in her gentle, soft voice. "We agreed you wouldn't go back to saving people."
"I'm not talking about just randomly saving people all the time," he said, and wondered suddenly how saving people could possibly be considered a bad thing. He shoved the thought to the side and pressed on. "I mean, it's just that Metropolis is in trouble."
"I'm sure things aren't all that bad."
"How would you know?" He spoke with sudden anger. "We don't get the Daily Planet or the Ledger or even the Inquisitor. We never go online to check the news. We don't even have a freaking TV set. We just live with our heads buried in the sand."
Her eyes got even bigger. "We agreed that what we both wanted was a quiet, peaceful life on the farm."
He scowled at his plate. "Yeah, well, maybe we were wrong."
Her voice went very soft. "Are you talking about leaving me?"
He lifted his head at the note of alarm in her voice. "You can come too," he said. "Chloe said Metropolis needs all the hands it can get right now. I'm sure you could volunteer somehow. You could help too."
"But I don't want to leave the farm." Her voice was plaintive. "I don't want to leave our life here. And you don't want to leave, either. You know you don't."
There was a sound in his ears, a roaring he couldn't quite identify. He looked at her and wondered when he'd taken on her dreams as his own, and cast his own aside. He wondered why he'd allowed himself to be talked into doing something he didn't want to do. Something that he never should have agreed to. Something that he now realized was very, very wrong.
He was suddenly aware that he did want to go back to Metropolis. Just the thought of the city was enough to set his heart pounding. He missed the noise and the excitement and the sheer energy of the city. And he wanted to use his powers, the way he'd been born to do. Suddenly he was sick and tired of pretending to be normal, of pretending to be something he wasn't.
The truth was, he was anxious about the city and its people, and he wanted to use his abilities to help. After six months of sharing a dream with Lana, both of them pretending nothing mattered outside the borders of the Kent Farm, he'd finally awakened... and he was worried.
"I do want to leave," he said. The strange roaring in his ears grew louder. "I need to go, Lana."
"You can't." She looked wide-eyed, almost panicked. "You can't."
"I'm not leaving for good." His voice sounded sharper than he intended. He never liked to be sharp with Lana, because she made him think of a fragile, skittish doe who might run away at the slightest harshness. But he couldn't quite contain his anger. "I just want to go until the city is repaired and the streets are back under control. That's all."
"No. You promised." She pouted like a child. "Don't leave me, Clark."
The noise in his ears grew even louder, and suddenly he knew what it was. His superhearing sorted through the wall of sound as he instinctively separated it into components, so that he could identify it as the sounds of sirens and people shouting and windows being smashed. The sounds of chaos. The sounds of Metropolis.
Tonight, he realized, Metropolis needed him more than Lana did.
He stood up. She glared at him and flung her fork against her plate with a clatter.
"If you leave," she said, her face filled with rage, "don't bother coming back."
He looked at her for a moment, appalled by the self-absorbed nature of the girl he'd always thought he'd loved. And just as horrified by the realization that he'd been every bit as selfish, hiding here on this farm and pretending to be normal, when he had important things he should be doing.
He remembered Chloe's words: You're so damned whipped... For some reason, the memory made him smile a bit.
Chloe always told it like it was. Thank God he had someone in his life who did.
"Don't worry," he said. "I won't be back."
He supersped out the door.
I start again
And whatever pain may come
Today this ends
I’m forgiving what I’ve done
I’ll face myself
To cross out what I’ve become
And let go of what I’ve done
A week later, Clark stood at the smudged, grimy window of a grungy old apartment, staring out over the tall spires of the city as the sun set. He was pleased to note that the noise level had receded to a certain extent. Metropolis was always loud, of course, but the sounds of chaos and rioting and looting were pretty well gone now. Due in some small part to him, but thanks more to the hard work of policemen and firefighters and volunteers from all over, all of whom had worked tirelessly to heal the city's wounds and restore order.
He was painfully aware that his inaction had caused this disaster, or at least contributed to it. Fifty people had died in the monster's attack, and millons of dollars' worth of damage had been caused by the monster-- and it perhaps could all have been averted if he'd just come to help when Chloe called him. Or if he'd been using his superhearing to monitor Metropolis. Or, hell, even if he'd had a TV and watched CNN.
Instead he'd been content to live quietly on the farm, pretending nothing mattered except him and Lana.
And as a result of that choice, innocent people were dead.
He shoved the guilt away impatiently. Not that he didn't deserve to beat himself up about it, because he did. He'd screwed up hugely, and he knew it. But he also knew guilt was an unproductive emotion that didn't do much good. Chloe had told him so the other night, when she'd dropped by to see him. Her smile had helped brighten his gloom, and the approving kiss she'd pressed to his cheek had practically made him glow in the dark.
Chloe was right. Guilt wasn't productive. What he needed to do from here on out was simply to make certain he never put his own desires and wishes over other people again.
He'd made a terrible mistake, a mistake he could never fully put to rights. But from this point forward, he was going to do his level best to make it up to Metropolis. From now on, he was going to devote his life to Metropolis and the people who walked her streets. From now on, he'd protect Metropolis and her people with his life.
He pushed the window open and flew out into the gathering dusk to watch over his city.
A crimson cape rippled behind him.