Season 6, following my story "Ever the Same"
Rating: Adult. If you're under eighteen, please go elsewhere now.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Read the previous chapter here.
Read the story from the beginning here.
All the fight had been taken out of him.
At long last the pain started to ebb, but Clark didn't try to get up off the floor. He couldn't.
Somewhere in the depths of his mind, he knew, very vaguely, that he should attempt to make his escape now, when he at least had a chance of standing up.
But after hours-- or days, or weeks, or eons-- of constant, relentless pain, he was too drained to do anything but rest.
The pain didn't go away entirely, and he knew he was still being exposed to low levels of kryptonite radiation. But the pain was so much less extreme that he felt intense relief. For the first time in a long time, he was able to draw in oxygen without stabbing pain in his lungs. He lay on the floor, his head turned to the side, and sucked in long, grateful gasps of air.
Eventually he heard the iron door clang open, heard footsteps, and he knew he should leap to his feet and attempt to flee. But somehow he still couldn't summon up the willpower to move. Exhaustion kept him pinned to the floor as effectively as a kryptonite boulder.
Hands grabbed him roughly by the arms, yanking him to his feet, and he stood on unsteady, shaking legs, swaying back and forth. His head spun dizzily, and his eyes were still blurred.
Despite his physical and mental confusion, he was barely conscious of someone snapping something shut around his neck. It felt cold, like metal, and a sensation of vague curiosity impelled him to reach for it.
As his fingers got within two inches of it, an awful stab of pain shot through his body. His already wobbly knees gave out, and he fell heavily to the ground, instinctively flinging out his arms in an effort to break his fall.
The pain receded almost instantly, and a voice he knew well spoke.
"You have learned your first lesson, son of Jor-El. Try to remove the collar, and you will experience intense pain."
Pain wasn't a sufficient word for it. That stab of agony, though brief, had been every bit as excruciating as the worst pain he'd endured today. There was no possible way he'd raise his hands to his neck again.
He remembered Zod's words. A collar, he thought grimly. Evidently Zod still didn't trust him, and had come up with a way to keep him under control. A way to keep him subjugated.
Despite the miserable fatigue that weighted down his muscles and his mind, rage bubbled somewhere deep inside him at the notion of having to wear a collar. He forced it back. He was weak and exhausted and sick, and he knew that getting angry was futile right now. For now, he realized he had no choice but to allow the collar to remain in place around his neck.
For now, he was Zod's lapdog.
Raya lived in a small, primitive shelter among the nearby rocks. She guided Chloe to her home, almost hidden among the jagged gray stones, then sat her down on a rock that served as a chair and began cleaning out her wounds. Chloe gritted her teeth.
"If I'm a phantom," she said irritably, "why does it hurt?"
"For the same reason that your shoulders were beginning to burn in the sunlight," Raya answered in her even tones. "Because the rules of reality are different here."
Chloe sighed. "Yeah," she admitted. "I guess I already knew that. I've been in another pocket universe pretty recently."
"Then you know that the normal rules of existence do not necessarily apply here. On Earth, you would be a phantom, without substance or form. Here, you seem to have substance, and as such you can be hurt."
Chloe shut her eyes against the brightness, which was unbearable even in the shelter. "Even so," she said softly, "I have to go back to Earth."
"You are a phantom, Chloesullivan. A disembodied soul. Without a body, you can accomplish nothing on Earth."
"Then somehow I have to get my body back. How can I get my body back from Zod?"
Raya finished washing her wounds, then put the basin of water aside. She was silent for a long moment. "The crystal is the only way," she said at last.
"But I can't take that from you. You told me it's the only thing keeping you alive here." Chloe twisted, despite the pain in her back, and looked at the other woman. "Or can you come with me to Earth? Is there even a way out of this place?"
Raya bit her lip as she handed Chloe dark robes. Chloe stood up and pulled them on gratefully. Even in the meager shade afforded by the shelter, she felt like her skin was beginning to fry.
"Zod is a soldier," Raya said at last. "He is a murderer and a tyrant. He will kill you if you return to Earth. And if I go with you, he will kill me as well."
Chloe looked at the other woman steadily. "If there was a way for you to save the man you loved," she said, "wouldn't you risk dying?"
Raya looked back at her, and Chloe could see the sorrow in her eyes. She imagined the other woman was thinking of another El, a man she'd loved, and whom she hadn't been able to save.
At last Raya's lips curved in a slight, approving smile.
"You truly are an El," she said.
Read Chapter 6 here.