Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
"She's not really gone, you know." The old woman at the funeral had smiled reassuringly, patting his hand. "Death can never truly separate us from the ones we love."
Clark Kent thought about those words endlessly, a thousand times a day. He knew they were something of a cliche, and recognized that the woman had simply been mouthing customary words of condolence, words that she might not even believe herself.
But he wanted to believe them.
He wanted to believe that Chloe Sullivan Kent was still out there somewhere. They'd been married for over thirty years, and he had always been incredibly attuned to her, able to hear her from half a world away. But now that she was dead, even with his enhanced senses, he couldn't hear her or see her or feel her presence in any way.
If her spirit was anywhere at all... she was far, far away, where even he couldn't find her.
He did have one bit of knowledge to console him that humans lacked, though. Many humans had faith in the concept of an eternal soul, but they possessed no actual proof that such a thing existed. But Clark knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that living beings could be separated from their spirits. His father had used the technique to imprison incorrigible criminals in a dimension called the Phantom Zone, imprisoning their spirits while destroying their bodies.
So people's bodies could be separated from their spirits. That much, he knew for certain. The question was, what exactly happened when humans died? Did their spirits simply fizzle out, or did the spirit lift out if its corporeal body and float into Heaven somehow?
After weeks of contemplating the question and coming to no firm answer, he finally broke down and asked the question of his "father," the AI which held the memories and will of his long-dead genetic father Jor-El.
"It is an interesting question," the AI responded after a moment's thought. "But the truth is that I do not know, my son."
"I just can't stop myself from thinking that maybe Heaven really exists." Clark stalked back and forth across the icy floor of his Fortress of Solitude. The air was bitterly cold, but cold didn't affect him. "Not Heaven per se, not in the sense of angelic choirs singing and halos and harps. But couldn't there be another dimension, not all that different from the Zone, where human spirits go when they're, well... detached from their bodies?"
"It is..." The AI hesitated. "A possibility. But I do not know how one would go about finding such a dimension."
"You found the Phantom Zone, didn't you? Or did you somehow create it?"
"The Zone itself already existed. All I created was the gateway."
Clark nodded. "How did you do it?"
"This device." A crystal rose out of the Fortress' console. It looked just like every other crystal, but to Clark's Kryptonian vision, it was as individual as a snowflake, and had clearly been designed with a very specific purpose in mind. "It can scan the dimensions, and even form a gateway to them when needed."
"How many dimensions did you scan to find the Zone?"
"Approximately nine million, two hundred sixty-two--"
"Okay." Clark reached out and grasping the crystal. "I get it. A lot."
"Yes. It would be an enormous job, my son, even with your abilities. To find a human afterlife, if such a thing exists, would be extraordinarily difficult."
Clark looked down at the crystal gripped in his fist, and sighed, thinking of Chloe's laughing eyes, her smile, the soft caress of her hand against his. After thirty years of marriage, losing her felt like losing one of his limbs. He longed for her so badly it hurt.
"I have to try," he said softly.
He spent the next six months trying. He didn't abandon Metropolis, the city he'd guarded for three decades, but he did quit his job at the Daily Planet, providing himself with a substantial amount of spare time. In the hours when he wasn't flying patrols over his city, he sorted through data he'd gathered for dimension after dimension.
Over half the dimensions were filled with "real" life rather than spiritual life, and he discarded those easily. But the rest-- well, it wasn't easy to determine where a human afterlife might be found, because his crystal hadn't been calibrated to differentiate among different sorts of spiritual entities.
After months of working on the problem, though, he at last discovered that spiritual "life signs" were oddly similar to brainwaves, and by searching for frequencies similar to human brainwaves, he was able to narrow his search down to a mere ten dimensions.
At last, one morning, he found Heaven.
"I wish you would not call it that," the AI grumbled, as querulously as it was able. "It is not a religious or mythical place, my son. It is every bit as real as the Phantom Zone."
"I understand that," Clark said patiently. He'd dealt with Jor-El observing over his shoulder for the past six months. It was irritating, but the AI sometimes made useful suggestions, so he'd tolerated it. "I realize it's not a perfect place with no strife and no sin. If it contains human spirits, then it's just as flawed as Earth is."
"And that is extremely flawed," Jor-El said dryly.
Clark couldn't hold back a laugh. The AI had always had an odd mixture of disdain and protectiveness toward the denizens of Earth. "True," he admitted. "But the one thing that makes it like Heaven, Jor-El, is that it's eternal. It's forever. The spirits there... they never die. They never fade. There are billions of spirits there. And... and Chloe is one of them."
He'd checked and rechecked against the record he had of Chloe's brainwaves, and he was absolutely certain. Chloe was there, somewhere.
Jor-El was silent for a long moment. "And you wish to be with your love forever."
"Yeah." Clark heaved a sigh. "It's been six months, and I still miss her as much as I ever did. I don't want to stay here without her. Somehow, I have to find her."
"Even if that means giving up your life here on Earth?"
Clark closed his eyes.
"Without her," he said, very softly, "it's not much of a life."
"You do understand that you cannot pass into such a dimension physically, do you not? Do you understand what that means?"
Clark nodded solemnly. "Yes. I do."
"Perhaps you could wait," the AI suggested. "You are not immortal, my son. Eventually, you will die, whether of old age or in the course of your work. And then..."
"And then we won't be reunited, Jor-El. There aren't any Kryptonian life signs in this particular dimension. I don't know where Kryptonians go when they die, assuming we go anywhere at all, but it isn't the same place Chloe went. If I die... I'll never see her again."
That was his greatest fear, the fear that he might die, and live on in another eternal dimension without her. The idea that he might live forever and yet never see her again. The thought ripped at his gut with agonizingly sharp claws. He couldn't bear the thought of an eternity without her.
"And what of your responsibilities to Earth's people, Kal-El?"
Clark sighed. "I've worked to protect Earth for thirty years, Jor-El. I hate to leave it. But there are other superheroes. Younger superheroes. They can continue to do my job, maybe better than I can now. I'm not as young as I once was. And besides..." He uttered another sigh. "My heart's just not here any more, Jor-El. It's with her."
Jor-El was silent again. At last he said, "I understand what it feels like to lose your soulmate, Kal-El. Do what you must."
"Thank you," Clark whispered, strangely grateful for the AI's approval. He and the AI had often been at odds, but they had slowly developed a grudging respect for one another.
He lifted the crystal, and activated a different control. A portal began to form in front of him, glowing a silvery white. Beyond it, he could see a gleaming, ethereal bridge that seemed made of mist and rainbows.
"The bridge back to Chloe," he whispered. "The bridge to forever."
"Goodbye, my son," Jor-El said, very gravely. "I hope that you find happiness there."
Clark thought about Chloe, his wife, his soulmate, his one love.
"I will," he answered, just as solemnly. "I'm sure of it."
He squared his shoulders and walked into the portal, and as he crossed through the glowing light, his body collapsed to the ground, lifeless. Clark-- the essence of the corporeal being who had called himself Clark Kent-- looked back, aware that he couldn't change his mind now. He was only a disembodied soul now, although he felt as solid as he ever had. But he knew he could never pass back through the portal.
As he looked back at the sight of his lifeless body, and the stark interior of his Fortress, the portal closed behind him. He looked away from the past and started across the bridge.
Beyond its misty borders, this dimension stretched out, bright and beautiful. It didn't have the eerie, alien look of the Phantom Zone. It looked like a glorious sunny day on Earth.
It also looked vast. In point of fact, it was vast. There were billions of spirits here, and he had no idea how to find one specific soul among so many.
But he had all eternity to solve the problem. Somehow, sooner or later, he'd find her.
He looked away from the distant, sunlit vistas, and saw her waiting for him at the other end of the bridge, smiling.
Joy flooded him. He smiled back, filled with gratitude and relief and an intense joy beyond any he'd ever known. He'd found her. After all his months of searching, he'd found her. And now he would never be parted from her again.
He quickened his pace, and walked into forever.