Monday, March 31, 2008
Clark/Chloe, Bob Parr
Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me.
"I just can't do it, Bob. I can't propose to her."
"Geez, Clark. You're such a wimp."
Since Clark Kent-- otherwise known as Superman-- was battling a giant robot from outer space at that precise moment, he bristled a little.
"I am not a wimp," he answered, squinting at the robot and unleashing a brutal barrage of heat vision. Unfortunately, it had absolutely no effect on the silvery alien alloy that made up the machine's casing. "I'm just worried about Chloe, that's all."
"You think I wasn't worried about Helen?" Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible, couldn't fly, so he was busy on the ground, trying to rip off the robot's eight legs with his superstrength. Bob was a large man with blond, receding hair, who wore a bright red suit with a stylized I on the front. He'd been a world-famous superhero back in the old days, and had returned to the public eye a few years ago, when the government had finally relaxed its restrictions on superhero activity.
Bob was inhumanly powerful, nearly as strong as Clark himself was, and the two men had become fast friends over the past year or so. Bob was also something of an expert on dealing with giant robots, which was why Clark had contacted him for help. But whatever the robot was made of, it was resisting their joint efforts to tear it apart-- and since they were two of the strongest men in the world, that was somewhat alarming.
"It's different with Helen." One of the robot's flexible arms caught Clark in the midsection, sending him flying into a brick building. He shot right through it. Fortunately the area had been evacuated, so he did no damage to anyone in the process. Gasping, he flew back over the building and headed for the robot at top speed.
"It's not different at all." Bob managed to grasp two of the robot's legs and unbalance it. It crashed heavily to the ground, smashing several cars. "I love Helen. You love Chloe."
"Yeah, but Helen has superpowers. Chloe's just an ordinary woman."
The robot got to its feet, with impressive dexterity for so large a machine, and started firing lasers. One of them singed Clark's cape, and the acrid scent of burning fabric rose to his nostrils. He dodged to the side, uncertain as to whether the blasts could actually hurt him. He was invulnerable to most earthly weapons, but alien weapons had been known to do him some damage. And this robot was tough.
"An ordinary woman," Bob said, rolling his eyes behind his black domino mask. "Didn't I hear she could raise people from the dead?"
"She lost that power years ago, Bob. Now she's just like everyone else."
"No, she's not. She's amazing, and you know it. In her own way, she's just as incredible as Helen."
"Except when someone tries to kill her, they might just succeed."
"Helen isn't invulnerable either. Just very flexible." Bob grabbed the robot by a leg, swung it around like a lasso, and flung it hard. It went flying, and Clark helped it along with a puff of superbreath. Despite its weight, the thing flew a good hundred feet before colliding with the pavement, very hard.
It bounced right up again.
"Damn it, this thing is stubborn." Clark zipped toward it in the air, and Bob raced toward it on the ground. Bob wasn't as fast as he was, so Clark matched his pace to Bob's. They tackled the thing together, and it went over again.
"Too bad you're not this stubborn," Bob commented as he made a really sincere effort to rip the gleaming metal legs off. "You're just going to let Chloe go, aren't you?"
Clark hammered at what ought to be the most vulnerable part of the machine, its optics. But although they appeared to be made of glass, he couldn't break them. They didn't even crack.
"I don't see... what else... I can do," he answered, gasping with exertion. It was a rare day that caused him to really exert himself. If nothing else, this robot was giving him a good workout.
"You can get a backbone and propose to the girl," Bob answered. He couldn't get the robot's legs off, but he had managed to tie several of them together, in a very complex knot. He and Clark backed away.
The machine tried to stand up, then crashed to the pavement again. The two of them converged on it, battering it with everything they had.
"I have a backbone," Clark answered, letting some of his irritation fuel his punches. He was so used to holding back that it felt good to hit the robot as hard as he could. But even at full strength, his fists didn't leave a dent in the shining metal surface.
"No, you don't. You young people today... you've got no guts."
Clark rolled his eyes. Bob was only forty, not ancient by any means, and the only real sign of his age was a rapidly receding hairline.
"You're a fine one to talk," he answered, somewhat indignantly. "What about your generation of supers? The minute the government told you to quit saving people... you quit. Where do you get off saying I have no guts?"
"Clark," Bob said mildly, "if I weren't already busy with this robot, I'd beat the living heck out of you for that comment."
"You know it's true. Where do you get off accusing me of being spineless, when all of you hid for fifteen years?"
"Okay." Bob's big fists bashed ferociously at the robot's underside, making no more of an impact than Clark's had. "So we screwed up. I admit it. People died because we let ourselves be forced underground, and that was a huge mistake on our part. So how does that justify your screwing up? How does that justify your cowardice? Huh, Superman?"
"How can I justify putting Chloe in danger?" Clark demanded. He gave thought to picking up the robot and dragging it out to space, but unless he managed to destroy it out there, it would just fly right back to Earth. Not a permanent solution. "It's not about cowardice. It's about protecting the people that matter most to me. And what if we have kids? You have three kids, Bob. And they're in danger every freaking day. I can't do that to my family. I just can't."
"If you don't take a chance on Chloe, you'll never have a family. Is that what you want, Clark? To live alone for the rest of your life?"
"I'd rather do that than endanger the woman I love."
He realized there was a slightly self-righteous note in his voice a little too late. Bob rounded on him. His mild blue eyes were blazing.
"Like me, you mean?"
"Um... alien robot trying to take over the world, Bob. Focus."
"I don't think so. Where do you get off lecturing me, you sanctimonious young whippersnapper?"
Despite the anger in Bob's voice, Clark could barely restrain a snort of laughter at the last word. Bob often spoke as if he were ninety, which amused the heck out of Clark. But he kept his face straight, because Bob was his friend and mentor, and he really wasn't trying to antagonize the older man.
"I just think that it isn't right to endanger the people you love..." he began.
"When we're done here," Bob remarked, turning back to the robot, "I'm going to pound you into a pulp, little boy. I'm one of the few people on Earth who can beat some sense into you, and by golly, I'm going to."
"Listen, Bob, I didn't mean to insult you. I'm just saying that for me personally..."
"Oh, I get it, believe me. You're just saying that taking the coward's way out is superior to actually committing yourself to the woman you love." Bob went after the robot again, pounding against its joints, presumably in the theory that the metal alloy might be weaker there.
"I am not a coward!"
"Look," Bob said, a little more calmly. "I understand your point, Clark, trust me. I know how scary it can be to see the woman you love in danger. But the fact is that Chloe's in danger every day. She's the star reporter at the Daily Planet, and villains of all description are after her. Not because of you, but just because of who she is."
"I work at the Planet too."
"Yeah, but you're just an ordinary reporter, not a star. No one's after you. Heck, no one's ever heard of you."
"Gee, thanks so much. Anyway, I just meant I keep an eye out for her at the office."
"As best you can. But you have other work to do. You can't protect her every second of the day. And she knows that, Clark. She accepts it." Bob squinted at the robot. "How about you take it up a few thousand feet and drop it?"
"If it can withstand reentry into the atmosphere, I don't think that's going to faze it." Clark frowned. They had the robot temporarily disabled, but it was still thrashing and firing lasers wildly. Sooner or later it would untie itself, and go right back to its path of destruction. "I have to admit, I'm out of ideas. I really don't know how to take it out, Bob."
The new voice belonged to a blonde, who was racing down the street toward them. Clark turned around, frowning, and dropped to the ground. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "I thought the police got all the civilians out."
"I talked my way past the police blockade. I needed to give you this, Superman."
Chloe Sullivan was the woman he loved, his best friend and his lover, but she always called him Superman in public if there was the slightest chance she could be overheard. She'd protected his secret for years, and he knew she'd protect it to her dying day.
And in return, he didn't even have the guts to commit to her.
Bob was right. He was a wimp.
He took the small rectangle she offered him, frowning. "What is this?"
"I've been doing research since this thing landed," she said. "I went through the JLA files and finally figured out it was U'rdan in origin. The JLA fought something like this before, a few years ago, and the only way they figured out to take it down was with a virus, which they saved onto what's essentially an U'rdan flash drive. All you really have to do is introduce it into the robot's systems."
"But we can't open it."
"You don't have to. There's a computer port on the outside somewhere. At least that's what the JLA records indicate."
The robot got one of its legs free, with a terrible grinding and squawking of metal, and Clark looked at it dubiously. "As simple as that, huh?"
"As simple as that. Trust me, Superman. Sometimes brute force is the only way to cope with a situation-- but sometimes a little research is the best way to save the world."
He looked at her, and his heart swelled. She was beautiful, but she was also the smartest person he knew. And he loved her. God, he loved her.
Bob was right. If he didn't take a chance on her, he was going to lose her. He didn't want to endanger her-- but he couldn't lose her. He couldn't live his life without her.
He reached out a hand and cradled her face in his palm. "You're amazing," he said softly, staring into her eyes.
There was another awful creaking of metal behind them as the robot struggled to get loose. Bob cleared his throat.
"Um... Clark? Alien robot trying to take over the world? Focus?"
Oh, yeah. Right. Mentally kicking himself for his moment of distraction, Clark spun around and flew straight at the robot, looking it over with every aspect of his supervision. Half a second later, he found the external computer port and inserted the flash drive, despite the robot's very sincere efforts to incinerate him.
The robot began to emit a high-pitched squealing noise, and Clark dove for the street. He scooped up Bob in one arm, and Chloe (busily snapping photos of the robot with her cell phone) in the other, and flew for cover at top speed.
Ten seconds later, the robot exploded.
Clark flew cautiously around the corner. There was a smoking crater where there had previously been a shiny chrome robot. He grinned at Chloe.
"Good work, as always."
"I told you she was incredible," Bob said.
She smiled at both of them. "Happy to help, gentlemen." She turned away from them, toward the Daily Planet building. "But I have to get back to the office now. I have a really big story to write."
"Hang on a minute," Bob said. "Clark has something to say to you."
Chloe turned around, her eyebrows raised inquisitively. "Uh," Clark said, immediately beginning to stammer. "I do. I mean, yeah, I have something to, uh, say. I, uh, well..."
"Clark." Bob looked like he was about to start pulling his hair out-- not a good thing, when he had so little of it left. "Get a grip on yourself, man."
"Um. Well, I just kind of wanted to, uh, well..."
"Good grief," Bob said in disgust. "Your name should be Superwimp."
"Shut up, Bob. You are not helping."
"Yeah, because you're doing such a great job of this on your own."
"Clark," Chloe said calmly. "Whatever you're trying to say to me, just spit it out."
Clark sucked in a long, steadying breath, and then let the words come out in a rush.
"Will you marry me, Chlo?"
She looked at him incredulously for a long moment.
"Well, of course," she said.
He instantly felt very stupid for his nervousness. "Um... okay then. Great. Uh, I'll see you back at work, I guess..."
"You'll want to get a ring," Bob reminded him in a stage whisper.
"Oh. Right. A ring. Maybe we can go shopping after work."
"That would be fine," she agreed.
"Women like it if you kiss them after you propose," Bob prompted him, still in a very loud whisper.
"Uh, yeah. Okay." Clark took a step forward and put his arms around Chloe, but she pushed at his shoulders.
"Hold it. You're dressed as Superman. You can't--"
"No one's around," he said. "Anyway, I want to kiss you."
He lowered his head and kissed her, long and hard. At last he lifted his head, and gazed into her eyes again.
"I love you, you know."
"I know," she answered.
"You're incredible, you know."
"I'm a big idiot for not proposing to you earlier, you know."
"Believe me," Bob said, rolling his eyes behind his mask again. "She knows."