Clark futurefic angst (general Superman story)
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
The people of Earth didn't want me.
They still don't.
They outlawed me, and people like me. They found my family, and killed them. They would have killed me too, if I hadn't run, if I hadn't changed my identity and hidden from the government all these years.
For thirty years I've been living alone in a world of eight billion people, afraid to ever connect with another person, for fear that they might be killed if anyone finds out what I am.
Now the world needs me.
And I don't care, damn it.
The nightmare began when Lex Luthor became President of the United States. I'd donned the suit only five years before. Lex was barely old enough to be President, but in politics, money means more than age and experience. And in politics, honesty and truthfulness means nothing at all.
Lex ran on a platform of keeping the world safe from metahumans. Of course, he claimed to be in favor of superheroes who protected humans. But not long after he was elected, he began hinting, ever so subtly, that superheroes were part of the problem. His speeches began painting us as villains rather than heroes, and the people of Earth began to wonder.
Slowly, evidence began mounting against us. Batman was caught on tape robbing a string of banks. Wonder Woman was seen stopping a riot by killing several innocent bystanders. Green Lantern was shown destroying a bridge with his ring, sending cars tumbling into the river below. And for days and days, a video ran on the news which showed me setting a building on fire with my heat vision, and then flying away as people burned to death.
None of it was true, of course. But to Lex, truth was irrelevant. To him, we metahumans were dangerous, and that was the only truth that mattered.
So he manipulated public perception via doctored videos until the Earth's people grew to fear us. Fear turned to hatred, and they began to demand that we all turn ourselves in.
Left unstated was what would happen to us if we gave ourselves up to the government. I think most Americans expected we would receive a fair trial, and that eventually we would be incarcerated. But I knew better than anyone the atrocities Lex had committed against metahumans in the past, and I encouraged my fellow heroes to stay hidden.
And that led directly to the deaths of our families.
After thirty years, I still am unable to think of everything that happened that day without a terrible feeling of guilt. If I hadn't counseled my friends to stand firm against Luthor, to refuse to turn themselves in, our friends and families might still be alive.
But following my lead, the metahuman community refused to cooperate with the government, and swift retribution followed. Our friends and family were all killed.
All of them.
Lex had learned most of our "secret" identities over the years, and his henchmen ruthlessly slaughtered everyone who'd ever been associated with us. Friends, wives, fathers, mothers, children. Massacred. Human beings, casually exterminated like so many roaches. Hundreds upon hundreds of innocent people dead.
And then Lex went on television and publicly blamed us for the deaths, claiming that we'd been the ones to kill those innocent people.
I'd found the bloodied, mangled bodies of my wife and children only half an hour before, and when I saw Lex on television, accusing us of these atrocities, I simply went insane. Something primitive and violent and terrible exploded inside me. I flew to the White House at top speed, darted past all its security, and I--
Well. Of course you already know what happened that day. Everyone does.
Still reeling from the deaths of my wife and children, their blood still staining my costume, I killed President Lex Luthor, snapping his neck in front of the cameras, and by extension in front of the whole world. And that single act sealed public opinion against the metahuman community for all time.
And that, I believe, is what Lex wanted. In a way, even though he died at my hands... he won. And he knew it. I'm certain he knew it.
Because he died with a smile on his face.
I should have surrendered then and there and let myself be taken to trial, but I no longer had any faith in the government of my adopted world. I was guilty, no question of that. But I knew, with a cold, bitter certainty, that if I turned myself in, there would be no trial, no incarceration, no concerns about cruel and unusual punishment.
In the eyes of the human populace, metahumans were no longer worthy of human rights. We were just creatures, things, and all we could hope for, were we to be captured, was torture and dissection and experimentation, and endless, hopeless pain.
If I turned myself in, I knew the rest of the metahuman community would follow. And I couldn't sentence them to such a fate.
So I fled.
I'm not proud of myself for running away. But despite my abilities, I fear pain and torture as much as the next person. And I glimpsed enough headlines, saw enough commentators speaking gravely on television, to know what would be in store for me and my fellow superheroes, were we ever to let ourselves be caught. I saw what happened later to those hapless metahumans who were caught, and their fate proved I'd been right to run.
I'd proudly worn an alien symbol on my chest, a symbol that had stood for truth, justice, and the American way, back when that meant something. But now "the American way" meant persecution and torture and excruciating death for its superpowered minority. I folded the costume and its symbol away, telling myself I'd never wear it again.
I changed my appearance, concealed myself in a quiet rural community, and went back to the simple farming life that had been such a formative part of my early life. I kept myself hidden from my neighbors and the authorities, and did my best never to connect with any human being, lest they wind up dead. I farmed the land, and secretly helped metahumans who were close to being captured escape from an oppressive government.
But I did nothing to help humans. No matter how bad the world got, no matter what crises occurred, I didn't dare expose myself, for fear of exposing the other metahumans who'd concealed themselves.
At any rate, I rationalized, humans didn't want my help.
They didn't want me.
And after what they'd done to my family and friends, I didn't much care.
"You have to stop this, Clark. You're the only one who can."
I look up at my old friend. Bruce's face is furrowed and etched with lines, his once-dark hair faded to a steel gray, but his voice is as strong and deep as ever. I'm not as wrinkled as Bruce, but the years have left some signs of their passing on me, too. There are creases at the corners of my eyes, gray streaks in my hair. I don't look sixty, by human standards, but I do look decidedly older than I once did.
"I won't do a damn thing for them," I answer. "They stood aside and let my friends and family be murdered. And yours as well. Have you forgotten the way they killed Alfred?"
"That was thirty years ago, Clark."
"Thirty years hasn't changed public opinion one iota. They'd kill both of us if we came out of hiding, Bruce. You know it as well as I do."
"I do know that, Clark. But there's an alien armada over the planet. If you don't act, if you don't do something, the world is going to be destroyed."
I tap my fingers on the old oaken table. It once sat in the Kent farmhouse, and when my mother was killed, it had been sold to an antiques store. By a complex series of maneuvers I managed to purchase it without letting anyone suspect who I was. It's my last link to my childhood, my last link to the kind and decent people who raised me so long ago.
My last link to humanity.
"My father used to say, Reap and ye shall sow," I reply. "The people of Earth persecuted us. Now they have no protectors. They brought this upon themselves. They've earned their fate."
"Clark." He frowns down at me. "You know as well as I do that the world was manipulated into believing the worst of us by an evil, evil man. And many of the people who are alive today hadn't even been born then. They don't deserve to die for their ancestors' sins."
I sigh, and run my fingers over the smooth oaken surface of the table. "It's a strange thing when you're the optimist among us, Bruce."
"I'm not so much optimistic as I am human," he answers, looking at me steadily. His eyes have faded to a silvery gray with the passing of the years, but they're as keen as ever. "I never had any metahuman abilities. I was persecuted for my association with other heroes, but I have no powers, nothing that sets me apart. I am one of them, Clark. I don't want to see everyone on Earth killed, no matter what they did to us, once upon a time." He stares at me. "And I don't believe you do, either."
I think of the lifeless bodies of my mother, my wife, my children. I think of the terrible bitterness that has haunted me for thirty years. And I think of the soul-deep shame I still feel at knowing that I let my anger get the better of me, and killed a man.
No matter how great his crimes, I had no right to kill Lex Luthor. And by that reckless, violent act, I sealed the fate of metahumans, making us all outlaws, wanted criminals.
Intellectually, I know I don't bear the responsibility for Lex's evil machinations, or the deaths of my family and friends. But I do bear some of the blame for the persecution of metahumans.
And I can never forgive myself for what I did that day.
There are lives at risk now. Billions upon billions of lives. I want to protect the metahuman community, to keep our presence hidden as I always have, but there are mere hundreds of us, and billions of humans. Slowly it dawns on me that if I fail to act, if I stand aside while alien ships destroy the planet, it will be no different than if I killed those people with my own hands.
Deliberately failing to save the world, I realize, is no different from choosing to kill.
And I never want to kill again.
"All right," I say at last, taking my hands off the table and rising to my feet.
Bruce smiles. It's an unexpected expression, because Bruce never smiles. He never had much sense of humor back when we worked together in the Justice League, and any glimmers of humor he ever possessed fled when the purge occurred.
And yet he's definitely smiling.
He holds out his hand. I hesitate, because I've been isolated here on my farm so long I can barely remember why men offer their hands to each other. But then I remember, and take his hand, and shake it.
"Thank you," he says. "On behalf of the human race... thank you, Clark."
I know that his words are the only thanks I'll ever receive. Even if I succeed in saving the world from the alien armada above us, if I'm caught, I can look forward to torture and vivisection in a lab somewhere. The people of Earth see me as an enemy, a deadly danger, and if they capture me, I will pay for my sins, in the most painful ways imaginable.
And yet I go put on my costume anyway. A costume I've kept hidden away for thirty years. A costume that once represented truth, justice, and the American way, but that now represents everything humans fear.
But even though the human race hates me and everything I represent, I have to protect it. I have to. My earlier, bitter thoughts notwithstanding, I do care. I care a great deal.
I pull on the costume and fly through an open window to face the alien armada threatening the planet. Because despite everything the human race has done to me, despite what they did to my friends and family, despite the fact that most of them would see me tortured without a second thought... I can't stand aside and let them die. I have to protect them.
After all these years, it's still who I am.
I am Superman.