Manip by leothelion. Used with permission of the artist.
Season 5, "Arrival"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
"Kal-El, you have come far." The voice was deep and solemn. "One journey has ended. Another is about to begin. Welcome, my son."
Clark Kent stared at the vast walls around him with shock and confusion. A few moments ago, he'd flung a crystal-- the product of three crystals, which had somehow welded themselves together into a single glittering, diamond-clear stone-- and this huge structure had erupted from the place the crystal had fallen to earth.
He wasn't sure if the edifice was constructed of ice, or crystal, or both. But it bore no resemblance to any building he'd ever seen. And the bleak, snowy landscape was utterly different from the Kansas farmland he'd grown up on.
"I thought Krypton was destroyed!" he shouted, raising his voice to be heard over the howling of the wind, which whistled through the structure.
"It was." Jor-El, the AI that had previously resided in the caves in Smallville, spoke solemnly. "But here in your Fortress of Solitude, the geography of Krypton has been replicated for your training."
My training? Clark thought of the people of Smallville, coping with the aftermath of yet another meteor shower, and he shook his head, an emphatic gesture of refusal.
"I know there's a lot I can learn from you," he said diplomatically-- because the AI had already abducted and brainwashed him once before, and diplomacy seemed prudent-- "but I have to get home. That's where I'm needed."
"The meteor shower is only the precursor." Jor-El's voice was grave. "A dark force from Krypton has been awakened, Kal-El, and its sights have been set on Earth."
Clark thought about that for a moment. As desperately as he wanted to go home and reassure himself that everyone was all right-- his parents, his best friend Chloe Sullivan, and the girl he was in love with, Lana Lang-- he didn't like the sound of the whole Earth being in trouble.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked at last, warily.
A blue light wrapped itself around him. It flickered hynotically, and he discovered he couldn't move away from it. He wanted to, deep down, but his muscles seemed locked into place. He was trapped, helpless to escape, just as he had been the last time Jor-El had decided to train him.
"You must do as I tell you," Jor-El intoned. "Study with diligence... for that is the only way to save this planet."
Wherever this was, it was cold as hell.
Chloe Sullivan shivered uncontrollably as she struggled through the deep snow, fighting her way toward the enormous edifice that gleamed in the sunlight. She had no idea how she'd gotten from Smallville, Kansas to this snowy wasteland, but it must have been one hell of a journey. She wasn't even sure she was on Earth any more.
All she knew for sure was that she needed to get inside, and there was only one building anywhere in sight. So, being a practical sort of girl, she headed for it.
She hoped she'd find Clark inside it. Moments before, she'd seen Clark through a crack in a cave wall in Kansas, surrounded by an odd glowing light. She'd run toward him, and the light had flared, and then... she'd found herself here, lying in the snow.
Hopefully, wherever she was, Clark was too.
She stepped into the huge structure. It was only marginally warmer indoors than out, but at least the crystalline walls cut down on the wind. She walked through a few empty chambers, and came to a halt when she saw a dazzling blue light.
Clark stood inside a glowing azure column, motionless. Her first thought was that he was trapped, because he seemed too still, and unaware of the outside world. She stepped toward him, intending to try to free him somehow.
A sudden gust of icy wind blew like a hurricane, chilling her to her bones. She fell to her knees, huddling in on herself, trying to protect herself, but the wind battered at her as savagely and relentlessly as if it were a living thing.
This building had defenses, she realized. Apparently it didn't like intruders-- and she was an intruder. The wind the structure had generated was so bitterly cold she couldn't fight against it.
She collapsed onto the floor and curled up in a ball, her body racked with shudders. She barely managed to gasp out a single word.
Clark was entombed in blue light. He'd never made a conscious decision to stay, but he didn't seem able to step away. He couldn't even try to move out of the column of light. He stared at the images flashing in front of him as if hypnotized.
But slowly, something started to tug at him. A familiar voice, pulling him back to reality. Pulling him back to himself.
"Clark." The voice sounded weak. "Can you hear me? Clark!"
With an effort that took everything he had, Clark wrenched himself free of the hypnotic blue light. The column of light rippled, then faded. He spun around and ran toward the voice.
His best friend Chloe Sullivan lay curled in a shivering heap on the icy floor.
"Chloe?" He had no idea how Chloe had gotten here, but she was one of the most important people in the world to him, and he didn't like to see her suffer. Forgetting everything else, he lifted her into his arms and held her, cradling her against his chest, trying to warm her. "Chlo!"
"Kal-El." The voice from above sounded disapproving. "You must continue your education. You cannot stop."
Chloe shivered violently, and he tightened his grip on her, holding her closer to his chest. Anger filled him, because he'd never agreed to undergo this "education" in the first place. And because Chloe was in danger. Somehow, he needed to get her out of here.
"She's my friend!" he snapped. "She needs my help!"
"Your destiny is far greater than saving one human life."
Chloe shivered harder, and rage surged through Clark in a hot wave of temper. "No!" he shouted defiantly. "I won't let her die!"
The AI seemed unmoved by his outburst. "Each time you let your emotions guide you, the fate of the whole planet is at risk. That is your weakness, Kal-El."
Clark looked down at Chloe. Her face was pale, her lips blue, her hair encrusted with snow and ice. She was going to freeze to death if he didn't get her out of here, and soon. At the realization, more anger swept through him.
He didn't want to endanger the Earth. But he couldn't stand by and let Chloe die, either. He just couldn't.
If it was a weakness to try to save people's lives, then he didn't want to be strong, damn it.
Angry though he was, he realized he couldn't get her out of here if the AI didn't allow it. All it had to do was throw up one of those damned columns of blue light, and he'd drop right back into a state of hypnosis, staring blankly at symbols and images while Chloe froze to death. If he wanted to get her to safety, he needed to moderate his tone and his attitude in order to placate the AI.
"Please," he said, raising his head and staring up at the ceiling far overhead. He let his voice reflect his desperation. "I'm begging you."
There was a long silence. At last the AI spoke.
"Very well," it said. "Under one condition. Return to me before the yellow sun has set."
Clark blew out a breath of immense relief. "I'll be back," he said. "I promise."
"Do not fail me, Kal-El." The AI sounded implacable, almost dangerous-- and Clark knew all too well that it could be. "Or the consequences will be grave."
Clark stared at the dark shadows far above. He didn't want to pledge himself to staying here for God only knew how long, while his friends and family and townspeople struggled with the aftermath of the meteor shower, and whatever else might come. They needed him.
But he saw no other choice. If he was going to get Chloe out of here, to get her to safety and warmth, he had to promise. He was out of options.
"You have my word," he said.
The AI fell silent, and Clark looked down at Chloe, giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"H-h-hey," she murmured, shivering so hard he could barely understand her. "I think it's time you shift into S-superClark mode now."
He blinked down at her, shocked. "SuperClark?"
"I know you run faster than a speeding bullet, Clark." She looked right into his eyes. "Take me along for the ride."
He stared back at her for a moment longer. She'd known he was superpowered, and she'd never said anything. He wondered how long she'd known, how long she'd kept his secret, why she hadn't ever mentioned it to him.
But he didn't have time to wonder about it right now. He had to get Chloe out of here.
He remembered what the AI had said: One journey has ended. Another is about to begin.
He realized that the AI hadn't meant it quite so literally. But he and Chloe did have a long journey ahead of them. He needed to get her to safety quickly, before she froze solid.
He had a friend to save. A life to save.
This, he thought, was what he was meant for. His purpose in life had nothing to do with hanging around a remote fortress of ice, learning facts about a long-dead planet, and everything to do with saving people. Saving people was what he did, what he had to do.
Because yes, he wanted to save this planet.
But he wanted to do it one person at a time.
He looked down at Chloe, shivering in his arms, and a rush of affection hit him. No matter what Jor-El said, he couldn't see his love for the people he loved, and his desire to protect them, as his weakness.
It was his strength.
He shrugged off his red jacket and wrapped it around Chloe-- because the Arctic cold didn't bother him, not even in shirtsleeves, but her body temperature already felt perilously low-- and stood up.
Her head fell against his shoulder in a gesture of weary trust, and she spoke in a bare whisper. "Go, Clark."
He wrapped his arms protectively around her and leaped into superspeed, running as fast as he could toward civilization, his best friend cradled in his arms.
Because before he saved the world... he was going to save Chloe.