Friday, March 13, 2009

The Illusion of Now

Clark/Chloe futurefic angst
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.

Written on the second anniversary of my soulmate's death.

"I want her back, Zatanna."

Clark Kent spoke softly. He wore his Superman costume, because he was on duty in the JLA's headquarters on the moon. Zatanna Zatara, fellow member of the Justice League and magician extraordinaire, sat next to him, wearing her costume, her long legs encased in fishnet stockings, a silk tophat crowning her dark hair.

She gazed at him, not without sympathy. "I can't bring people back from the dead, Clark. You know that."

"But you can create illusions."

She frowned a little. "Is that really what you want, Clark? An illusion?"

He thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "I can't live without her," he said, very softly. "I've tried for two years, and I just can't do it. I'd rather have an illusion than nothing at all."

She hesitated a moment longer.

"As you wish," she said. "But if you change your mind--"

"I won't."

"If you change your mind," she repeated, "all you have to do is say, No more, Zatanna, and she will vanish."

He shook his head firmly.

"I won't change my mind," he said. "This is what I want."


Chloe was waiting for him when he walked back into his apartment on Earth. He stood and stared at her for a moment, drinking in every detail of her. It had been two long years since he'd seen her, and he'd missed her in every moment of those two years. She looked just like the Chloe he'd known and loved-- bright, inquisitive hazel eyes, a brilliantly happy smile, a long tumble of blonde hair. Even the three little moles on her left cheek were exactly as he remembered them.

He stood staring, stupefied by the sight of his dead wife standing in his living room. He'd asked for this, so he shouldn't be shocked. But somehow, he was.

She ran to him and flung her arms around his neck, and he wrapped his own arms around her and held her close.

She felt solid.

She felt real.

He clutched her to his chest and buried his face in her hair, trying to hold back the tears.


She was there waiting for him, every evening after work. She couldn't go back to her job as a journalist, obviously, because explaining how his dead wife had been resurrected from the dead after two years would be difficult, if not impossible. At any rate, he wasn't sure if anyone could see her except him. He was a little afraid to find out.

Every evening, he told her about his day at the Daily Planet, and what he'd done as Superman that day, and she listened. She didn't have much to say, because her world was bounded by the walls of this apartment. He wasn't sure if she even existed during the day, or if she only popped into existence when he walked through the door of their apartment.

But none of that mattered. What mattered was that he had his wife back. He held her hand and talked to her as they shared dinner together, and then he went to bed and held her in his arms.

And it was enough.


After about a week, he tried taking her out with him, just to see what would happen. But it rapidly became obvious that no one else could see her, and since he didn't want to wander around in public talking to himself, he decided that it was best to keep their life together private.

He was happy enough to spend time in the apartment with her. But on some level, he missed his helpmeet, the woman who'd worked side by side with him, who'd been boundlessly energetic, who'd fought tirelessly to expose injustice, who'd risked her life to save the world over and over again.

This Chloe's world revolved around him. She listened, she smiled, she even talked. But she didn't do anything. She was passive, not active.

And that wasn't Chloe.

He pushed the thought away as soon as it occurred. This Chloe was an illusion. He knew that. But he also knew he'd rather live with an illusion than nothing at all.

For the first time in two years, he was... not happy, exactly, but content.

It was enough.


Zatanna appeared at their door, two weeks after she'd conjured up Chloe. Clark invited her into the apartment and escorted her to the kitchen, where Chloe was cooking dinner. Zatanna sat down in one of the chairs at the old farm table he'd inherited from his mom, and watched. It was obvious that she, at least, could see Chloe.

"So," she said. "Are you happy with your wish, Clark?"

He smiled, but he had the uncomfortable feeling it looked forced and brittle. "Of course. It's good to have her back."

She studied Chloe for a moment longer, then turned her head and looked at him closely, giving him the unnerving impression she was looking right through him.

"Even the best simulacrum isn't perfect," she said. "It's easy to reproduce someone's physical appearance. But reproducing a soul is beyond my abilities."

He sighed, more heavily than he meant to.

"It's fine, Zatanna. She's fine. It's enough."

"Is it?" She turned her head again, watching Chloe stirring pasta. "Do you really want to be trapped in the past for the rest of your life, Clark?"

"I don't understand."

"No?" She smiled sorrowfully. "I think you do. You can't move on from her, because she's right here. Even if you meet another woman you could be happy with, you won't explore the possibility, because in your mind, you're still married. And yet you can't move forward with Chloe, either, because she can't grow or change. This is your past, Clark, but you're trying to force it into your present, trying to make it now. But this now... is an illusion."

He gritted his teeth. "She's not real, Zatanna. I know that. But it's enough."

She shrugged, and spoke quietly. "If you say so, Clark."


Late that night, after Zatanna had gone, he sat down and looked through the scrapbook he'd kept of Chloe's articles. Every professional article she'd ever written, from her very first Smallville Ledger story, to her best-known front page articles on Superman. His eyes smarted as he flipped through the pages.

Chloe sat down next to him on the couch. "What are you looking at?"

"Your articles," he said gruffly. "All the things you wrote."

She looked over his shoulder at the articles. He glanced at her, and in her eyes he didn't see recognition. He didn't see the flare of desire she'd always had to be a reporter, to expose the truth, to expose injustices. He didn't see the burning ambition she'd always had, or her powerful desire to help him save the world.

In her eyes, he didn't see much of anything.

It's easy to reproduce someone's physical appearance. But reproducing a soul is beyond my abilities.

For the first time, he truly understood what Zatanna had been trying to tell him-- what she'd warned him about the very first day, in fact. That the illusion of Chloe, the illusion of now, wasn't enough.

That Chloe without a soul wasn't Chloe at all.

He looked down at the scrapbook he held, and his eyes stung worse than before. This was everything she had been, everything she had given to the world in her too-short life.

This was Chloe's soul.

He held her articles in his hands, and let a tear fall.


In the middle of the night, he stood next to the window, watching her sleep. Bars of moonlight slanted through the slats of the blinds, illuminating her face, making her hair glow like molten gold.

She was beautiful. She was the woman he'd loved for a very long time.

And yet... she wasn't.

He thought about the real Chloe, the Chloe he'd buried two years ago. For the first time it occurred to him that asking for this illusion wasn't respectful of her, or of the life they'd had together. She would have been insulted by the very idea that everything she had meant to him, everything she was, could be replaced by an imitation.

Chloe had been irreplaceable.

Even so, he thought about lying down next to her, imagined going on with the illusion, trying to convince himself that he was happy, that this was really what he wanted. But he knew that it wasn't.

What he really wanted, he could never have again. And somehow, he had to learn to live with that fact.

He'd been a fool to imagine this could ever be enough.

He closed his eyes and whispered into the darkness.

"No more, Zatanna."

When he opened his eyes, Chloe was gone. He was alone.

He sighed, and lay down in his empty bed.

-The End-


Anonymous said...

absolutely heart breaking!!
amazing Elly, as always.

Anonymous said...

babes you broke my heart! :-( beautiful

WaveDancer said...

Sad, but true. And beautiful.
I'm so grateful you write these stories Elly. It's not just that you get to the essence of the characters on SV, but that you write about things that truly touch and speak to people using them. As always, thank you.

DeeDee said...

I'm honoured that you shared something so personal with us, Elly.

Beautiful and heartbreaking. Well done, and thanks.


Anonymous said...

That was beautifully written and heartbreaking Elly. I'm sorry for your loss.

Ghani said...

Wow ... I think this story was very introspective and it felt so true. I love your writing, Elly, especially how full of emotion it is. You moved me to tears with this beautifully heartwrenching tale. Thank you very much for writing this story and sharing it with us.

Anonymous said...

Really heartbreaking...

Anonymous said...

That story has my throat tight. There's so much pain and longing in this story, Elly. *hugsyoutight*

Anonymous said...

That was enormously moving. I guess anyone who's ever lost a loved one can understand Clark's yearning to bring back some echo of that person to ease the loneliness. And yet, Zatanna is very wise to warn him that the attempt just stops the healing process, however long and painful it may be.

Anonymous said...

How heartbreaking. Thank you so much for sharing this story, sooo amazing.


Anonymous said...

That was so heartbreaking and beautiful. You really brought the emotions out. Wonderful story and I'm so sorry for you loss as well. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us!

Inked said...

I was bawling my eyes out through the whole thing - it was a beautiful, perfectly thought out piece and I loved it.

Anonymous said...

Like others, I'm so sorry for your loss as well. This story is a wonderful tribute and has moved me and others as well.

Thank you for sharing so much of your soul and your talent with us.


Anonymous said...

I cried when I read this. So true.
Sincerely, IolantheAlias

Katie said...

*Heart breaks into a million million pieces*

Anonymous said...

My tear ducts burned along with Clark's. Brilliantly written as always. I've come to expect nothing less. Off to read something else of yours I've missed.

blackheart_me said...

Oh Elly this almost made me cry. This was very touching and sad. Wow, I loved it :)

RJChasez said...

OMG Elly... I'm on the verge of tears. Beautiful.