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.
I've been sleeping a thousand years it seems
I've got to open my eyes to everything
Without a thought
Without a voice
Without a soul
Don't let me die here
There must be something more
Bring me to life...
-Evanescence, "Bring Me to Life"
She held him while he wept, her arms around him, her hands stroking his hair and his shoulders, murmuring soft words of comfort in his ear. He didn't listen to her words, only to the gentle sound of her voice, the reassurance and affection she'd always given him when he needed it.
Eventually his pain faded to a dull ache, and his shoulders stopped shaking. He buried his face against her throat, sniffling, embarrassed by his display of emotion.
"I've really been worried about you," she said softly, her face against his hair. "When you wouldn't pick up the phone, and no one could get you to answer the door, I didn't know what to think."
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice thick with tears. "I didn't mean to freak you out. I just didn't want to..."
"Didn't want to do anything. Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, Clark. I wish I'd been here for you."
"You can't always be here." He rubbed his eyes against her throat. "Usually I'm okay, but this... I just couldn't handle it, Chlo."
"You can handle it," she said softly. "You just need a little help."
"I don't know, Chlo." He was silent for a moment, then blurted out his deepest concern. "I don't know if I can go back out there. I'm scared."
She was silent a moment. "Scared of what, exactly?"
"Scared I might fail again. Scared someone might die." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I don't know if I can go back to being Superman, Chlo. The truth is, I'm scared shitless."
"Well," she said, "like I said before, if you don't go out there, people will still die."
"Yeah." He sighed, feeling trapped. "But that's... I don't know, Chlo. Sort of passive. It's not the same as going out there, and trying to save people, and failing."
"Clark." She stroked his hair gently. "You've failed to save people before."
"Never like this." He shuddered. "I was moving as fast as I could, Chlo, but I knew I wasn't going to make it. I was going for the last bomb when it blew up. I was close enough to see it all, Chlo. I saw those twenty-two people get blown apart."
He could still close his eyes and see it, playing out in terrible slow motion as he dove toward the bomb in superspeed. He could see the bomb exploding, sending shrapnel and chunks of concrete and steel in every direction. He could see the victims being blown apart, see their flesh and bone ripped to pieces, see the horror in their eyes, hear the agony and fear in their voices as they screamed...
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "That must have been terrible."
It had been terrible, the most dreadful thing he'd ever seen. Watching those people die, watching their death unfold millisecond by millisecond, but being unable to get there quite in time to save them, had been absolutely horrifying.
He'd gotten there just in time to be covered with human flesh as they were torn to bits, a horrific, graphic reminder of his inadequacy as a superhero.
"Yeah," he said roughly, unable to put any of his memories into words. He just didn't know how to describe the horror of it, and even if he could, he wasn't sure he wanted to load it all onto Chloe's shoulders. "It was pretty bad."
She stroked his hair some more, and he knew she understood there was far more to it than he could tell her. "I know you're freaked out, Clark. But somehow, you have to begin to put this behind you."
"Twenty-two people dead, Chlo. I can't put that behind me."
"Yes, you can." She pushed at his shoulders, and he suddenly realized he was too heavy, and was probably crushing her into the mattress. He rolled off, and she got up and started toward the window.
This time, he didn't stop her.
She pulled the shade open, and sunlight flooded the room. He lay on the bed, feeling it flooding into his cells, recharging them. Power surged through him, filling him with strength he wasn't sure he wanted.
She stepped into the walk-in closet, and a moment later she emerged with his suit in her hand. She tossed it at him.
"Chloe." He recoiled from the red, blue and gold suit as if it were a chunk of kryptonite. "I'm not ready to go out there, okay?"
"I know you're not ready to go out and save anyone, Clark. That's okay. But you still have to go out." She turned around and faced him, looking solemn.
"The memorial service is this afternoon, and Superman should be there."
Clark sat up, drew up his knees, and wrapped his arms around them, curling himself into a protective ball. "I can't," he whispered. "I can't face the friends and families of all the people who died. I can't face Metropolis. I can't."
"Clark." Her voice was gentle. "Metropolis doesn't blame you."
"You don't know that. They should blame me. If only I'd been a little faster..."
"Don't," she said in a sharper tone. "For heaven's sake, don't start with the if-onlys, Clark. You and I both know you did everything you could."
"Okay. Fine. We know that. But does everyone else?"
She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, looking as if she were struggling for patience. "Clark," she said at last, gently but firmly. "You should go, to pay your respects. You know you ought to go."
He looked at the suit and remembered all the shredded human flesh and blood he'd cleaned off it. Just looking at it made him want to throw up.
But he knew Chloe was right. All the people who'd died deserved to be remembered with respect.
And that meant he had to go to the memorial service.
A ripple of shock and awe went through the packed pews when Superman strode into the church and headed for one of the back rows. He lowered his head, trying not to call attention to himself. This service wasn't about him, after all, but about those who had died.
The people who'd died in the bombing had all had private funerals as well, of course, and he wished he'd been able to attend those, too. Superman rarely attended funerals, however, because his attention tended to detract from the deceased, who ought to be the main focus.
But this was the city's memorial service for all the people who'd died, held in the massive cathedral downtown, and he was glad Chloe had encouraged him to come. He needed to be here, both to show respect to the dead, and for his own personal closure.
He really wished Chloe could be next to him, holding his hand, helping him through this. In private, Chloe was always there, standing next to him, supporting him. But Superman had no wife that anyone knew of, and he could never be seen publicly displaying affection to anyone.
In public, Superman stood alone.
He took a quick glance around the church and saw Chloe, sitting in a section reserved for the press. She gave him a small, private smile, and then quickly looked away. He looked away too, and settled into a wooden pew.
Feeling very lonely despite all the people that filled the cathedral, he bowed his head and blinked back tears as the minister began to speak.
When the service ended, Superman headed for the massive doors at the back of the church, intending to make a quick exit. But something caught his cape, and he hesitated, looking over his shoulder.
A young woman was standing there behind him, one hand holding a fistful of his crimson cape.
Surprised, because no one had ever dared to grab his cape before, he turned around slowly and looked down at her, lifting an eyebrow questioningly.
"Superman," she said, gazing up at him. She was perhaps thirty, with smooth, clear skin the color of cocoa and long dark hair. She was very pretty, but her eyes were red-rimmed, and she wore a tailored black suit. "I'm sorry I stopped you that way, but I knew you'd disappear right after the service, and I wanted to speak to you. Just for a minute. Please."
Clark suspected his own eyes were just as red-rimmed as this woman's were, and he really wanted to get out of the cathedral before he disgraced himself, but that small, plaintive please caught at his heart. He couldn't turn away from someone who wanted to talk to him so badly.
He swallowed hard, trying to make sure his voice was steady, and carefully spoke in his deep Superman voice, which was lower than the voice he used as Clark Kent. "Were you on the street that day?"
"Yes," she said, looking earnestly into his eyes. "I wasn't near one of the bombs that went off, but my fiance..." She sniffled.
Clark blinked hard. He'd thought he'd cried all his tears out earlier, while Chloe held him, but he was beginning to realize that tears ducts refilled pretty quickly, and had an unfortunate tendency to overflow when you least wanted them to.
Damn it, he was going to embarrass himself in public. He could just imagine the headline in the Inquisitor: Superman is a crybaby!
"Is he..." He wasn't sure how to ask the question tactfully. "Is your fiance all right?"
"No. He's one of the ones who..." Her voice quavered. "He didn't make it."
Clark remembered the awful sight of the people on the street being blown apart in slow motion, blood and flesh exploding in every direction. He remembered what he'd said to Chloe earlier: Twenty-two people dead. I can't put that behind me...
And this woman very probably blamed him for her fiance's death. He wished he'd never come, so he didn't have to cope with this, didn't have to face her accusing eyes and her angry words. He wobbled, feeling suddenly lightheaded, and the world went dark. The noise of the crowd around him began to fade away, and he thought he might just black out.
Behind the woman, through the throng, he saw Chloe watching him. She gave him a quick, steadying smile, and he managed to pull himself together.
"I'm sorry," he said, very softly. "I wish I could have saved him."
"Oh, I don't blame you." She caught at his arms, looking earnestly into his eyes. "That's why I wanted to stop you, Superman. To say thank you. Because I know... I know you tried."
He closed his eyes for a long moment, trying to get control of his wildly churning emotions, then opened them and looked down into her pretty, earnest face.
"Thank you," he said, struggling for words, trying to come up with polite platitudes, when what he really wanted to do was fling his arms around this woman and hug her, to comfort her. But he couldn't even do that. Someone might form the wrong impression and conclude that she was his friend or lover, and then she'd be in danger. He spoke solemnly and formally. "I did try. I tried my best, and I'm sorry I couldn't save your fiance. I'm very sorry for your loss."
He tried to move toward the door, but she still held him by the forearms. "Won't you stay for the reception, Superman?"
"Thank you," he said again, "but I have work to do."
She smiled, a little sadly. "I suppose you have to go save people."
He looked down at her, then lifted his gaze and looked at Chloe. She was still watching him, her eyes giving him all the comfort and support he needed.
He was surprised to realize he no longer felt alone. Chloe's support, and this unnamed woman's gratitude, made him feel as if he'd rejoined the living.
"Yes," he answered simply. "There are people out there who need me."
She let go of him, and he gave Chloe one last quick glance, then turned around and supersped out of the cathedral. And then he was leaping upward, lunging up into the sky, his cape rippling behind him as he began to fly a patrol over Metropolis.
Part of him wanted to go hide in the darkness some more, to avoid the possibility of failure. He was superfast and superstrong, but he wasn't omnipotent, and some other day, he might fail to save even more people. Even so, he understood now that he couldn't hide away from the world, no matter what. He couldn't leave his city and his adopted planet unprotected. They needed him.
He remembered Chloe's voice: You did your best.
And the woman's voice in the cathedral: I know... I know you tried.
The memory of those voices helped. Two women had faith in him. One knew him intimately, and the other knew him hardly at all, and yet they both believed in him, more than he believed in himself.
And they were right. He'd done his best to save the victims of the bombing. And he'd continue to do his best. Encouraged by Chloe and the people he loved, as well as by every stranger in Metropolis who believed in him, he'd keep doing his best to protect his city and the world.
He knew that no matter how hard he tried, he wouldn't always be able to save everyone.
But he also knew he couldn't let that stop him from trying.