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.
Raya pointed to a small cot in one corner of the rude structure. Chloe shook her head firmly.
"I don't have time to rest. Anyway, it's broad daylight."
"It is always broad daylight here," Raya answered. "The sun rises and falls in the sky, but it never sets. You have been through much since you arrived in the Zone, and I suspect you suffered through even more before you arrived. You must rest so that your wounds heal."
Chloe shrugged her shoulders experimentally, discovering that the worst of the pain was already gone. Whatever Raya had daubed on her injuries apparently had some sort of healing properties, because the pain had died to a dull ache. She shook her head.
"I can't," she said. "I need to get back right away. I told you, Clark-- Kal-El, I mean-- is in trouble."
"And you are trapped in your Earthly way of thinking, Chloesullivan. As I said before, time matters little here."
"So you're saying time moves more slowly here? When I go back, I'll arrive about the same time I left?"
Raya bit her lip. "I am not certain," she admitted at last. "I am not certain time moves more slowly here, exactly. It is simply that the Zone is not... relevant... to the normal universe."
"So you really don't know if I can afford to sleep or not."
Raya frowned imperiously. She was clearly not accustomed to having her decisions questioned. "It is a long walk to where we must go, Chloesullivan. It is evident to me that right now, you are not capable of walking so far."
"I'm a phantom."
"In normal spacetime, yes. Here in the Zone phantoms are more substantial, and when the crystal affected your phantom form it made you solid, as far as this reality is concerned. You will grow weary, just as you would on Earth. In fact, I believe you are already weary. Right now you simply do not have the strength to attempt such a trip through the desert."
Chloe didn't like to admit it, but she was pretty sure Raya had a point. She'd had a rough couple of days even before she'd had her body stolen by a megalomaniacal dictator. She was mentally exhausted, her brain fogged with fatigue, and she was pretty sure if she was going to be of any help to Clark in fighting Zod, she needed to be awake and alert.
Which meant she needed to sleep.
She was reluctant to do that, because she still wasn't certain she could trust Raya, and lowering her defenses so she could sleep made her nervous. But she would have to sleep at some point, and it was obvious that if she left this shelter, and the protection of the crystal, the phantoms would rip her to pieces. So she really didn't have much choice but to trust Raya.
"Fine," she said at last, unwillingly. Even if time wasn't the same here, she still begrudged every second she remained apart from Clark. They'd been apart too much already. But she wasn't made of steel, either, and Raya was right. She needed to rest.
She rose awkwardly to her feet, hobbled across the small dwelling, and stretched out on the bed. After everything she'd been through, she expected to have difficulty relaxing enough to sleep, even fitfully.
But sleep hit her like a freight train almost the minute she closed her eyes.
For the first time in an eternity, there was no pain, at least none to speak of. They'd left him where he'd fallen and walked from the cell, the iron door clanging shut behind them.
He lay on the floor, trying to work up the nerve to approach the door. He wasn't stupid, and Zod didn't have to draw him a picture. He understood clearly enough that the minute he touched the door, he'd receive another bolt of pain from the collar that was wrapped around his neck.
But he had to try. Because the people of Earth were suffering and dying at Zod's hands. With a stab of misery, he remembered Zod's words: While you lie here helpless, more and more of this world falls under my rule. Your people are fighting me, and they are dying.
The people of Earth needed him. He had to try to escape.
He forced himself to a sitting position, looking at the door the way a child might peer at a terrifying monster under the bed. Slowly, very slowly, he rose to his feet.
He stood shaking, unable to work up the nerve to approach the door.
He remembered the terrible jolt of pain he'd experienced when he'd tried to touch the collar. He remembered the long waves of excruciating anguish he'd suffered through before that. The memories were too clear in his mind, too fresh, and the thought of bringing more agony down on himself frightened him.
No. It terrified him.
He stood staring at the door for long moments, then surrendered to his fear and slowly sank back to the ground. He drew his knees up against his chest, wrapped his arms around his legs, and buried his face against his knees.
Right now, people were struggling to save the Earth, and dying in the process. People were suffering because of political intrigue from his home planet. He'd brought this catastrophe down on his adopted planet, however inadvertently. It was his fault, and thus it was his responsibility to stop it, or at least to try.
But the terrible truth was that he simply didn't have the guts.
I'm a coward, he thought grimly, and shame curled deep in his belly. He'd always wanted to be a champion for the people of Earth, a hero, someone who could do good in the world. Someone who would work tirelessly to save people.
And instead he'd brought pain and suffering down on his adopted world... and he didn't even have the nerve to try to stop it.
Some hero, he thought bitterly, and his shame grew until it threatened to overwhelm him. But shame wasn't enough to drown out the terror of being hurt again. It wasn't enough to impel him to get to his feet and approach the door. He just couldn't do it.
Nothing on Earth could make him voluntarily face that pain again.
Read Chapter 7 here.