Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Screencap from Kryptonsite.
He could be hit by a truck and hardly notice it.
He could jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon and land at the bottom unscathed.
He could be hit by a falling meteorite, and walk away none the worse for wear.
Nothing on earth could hurt him... except for Chloe Sullivan.
"Chloe... you're not serious."
He knew he sounded plaintive, almost pathetic, but he couldn't help it. He stared at her, wide-eyed. She didn't seem to be swayed by his puppydog eyes, the way she always had been. She stared back, unblinking.
"I'm very serious," she said, her face as blank as the dark computer screens that surrounded them. "I don't want to be friends any more. Not after what you did. What you said."
"I was wrong." He shifted from one foot to the other. "I was upset, Chloe. I was freaking out."
"As opposed to me," she said dryly. "Because Jimmy was so much more important to you than he was to me."
"No. I mean, I know you were upset. I knew that, but I..."
"But you thought it would be a good time to walk away and leave me totally alone anyway." She sighed. "Clark, you haven't always been the greatest friend in the world, but I never, ever thought you'd walk away and leave me alone when I was grieving."
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Sorry's a nice word," she said coolly. "But it doesn't do much to make up for the three weeks I've spent crying into my pillow every night."
He felt pain wrench inside his chest. She should have been crying on his shoulder, with his arms around her, and they both knew it.
"I didn't mean to..." He stammered to a halt, because he had meant to, sort of. The truth was that he'd been afraid of what might happen between himself and Chloe now that Jimmy was dead. He'd held her in his arms, and she'd felt so right there that he'd been afraid he'd never let her go.
And so he'd backed off and run like hell.
It wasn't like this had never happened before in the course of their relationship. The two of them had a pattern of gravitating around each other for a while, drawing closer and closer, almost to the point of collision, and then suddenly yanking away and establishing new barriers.
But neither of them had either backed away while the other was in such distress. He imagined how he would have felt if she'd told him to go away when he was grieving for his father's death, and a fresh wave of shame washed over him.
"Chloe," he muttered. "Don't push me away. Please."
Her golden eyebrows drew down. "I'm not pushing you, Clark. Remember what you said? Clark Kent is dead? This was all your doing. You walked away on your own."
"And I'm sorry about that," he said in a desperate rush. "I was just scared, Chloe, scared and upset and when I'm scared it makes me stupid, and I knew what I said was stupid the minute I said it, but I couldn't seem to stop myself..."
"How unfortunate for you." Her voice was still glacially cold. "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, okay?"
She started to turn back to the banks of computers lining the room in her tower, and he felt panic and pain and a terrible loneliness explode inside him. He couldn't lose her. He couldn't, he couldn't, he just couldn't...
He dropped to his knees in front of her and looked up at her, as imploringly as he could manage.
"Please, Chlo," he whispered. "Please. I'm begging you."
She looked down at him, her expression as cool as ever, but he thought he saw a flicker of warmth beneath the ice. "Clark," she said, a little less stridently. "I just can't let you back into my life if you're just going to do this to me again, the next time you happen to freak out for some reason..."
"I won't." He gripped the sides of her chair so hard he was amazed it didn't shatter in his hands. "I swear I won't, Chlo. I won't ever leave you again if you'll just take me back. Please. Please."
"Clark," she said softly. "I really think maybe we'd be better off if we..."
"No." He let his hands move to her hips, clutching her with the desperation of a frightened child clinging to its mother. "I can't live without your friendship, Chlo. We've been friends forever. I just can't... I can't..."
His voice broke, and he bent his head and pressed it into her lap. His shoulders shook. He had all the normal masculine horror of crying in front of someone, and yet he couldn't hold back the sobs that wracked him.
Through his pain and embarrrassment, he felt her hand stroke his hair, very softly.
"It's all right, Clark," she whispered. "It's all right. We're friends. We'll always be friends."
Relief swept over him in a wave, and he lifted his head, wrapped his arms around her, and buried his face in her shoulder.
"Once again, you have failed the test, my son."
Clark blinked. Slowly he realized he wasn't in the tower in Metropolis at all. He was in an enormous icy structure, held captive in a cylinder of light.
He was the prisoner of an AI that wanted to wipe all human feeling from him. It was as if the AI had picked up on his fear, the fear of intimacy that had led him to turn his back on Chloe and to declare that "Clark Kent was dead." Yet whereas Clark had almost instantly seen his impulse was wrong, the AI was determined to take that idea to its logical conclusion, and to turn him into an emotionless automaton not unlike itself.
And he was in big trouble, because he couldn't stop himself from having feelings for Chloe, no matter how hard he tried.
"I can't help having feelings," he said, trying to reason with the machine. He'd come to the Arctic to take his training on the same day he'd decided to back away from Chloe, but he'd regretted that decision almost instantly. He'd been reasoning with the AI for days, perhaps weeks, but to no avail. Still, he kept trying. "It's normal to have feelings. Friendship and love and loyalty aren't just human traits, you know. They're Kryptonian traits, too."
"They are weaknesses you cannot afford if you are to be the protector you should be, the protector you must be," the AI intoned. "You must eradicate them."
"I can't, damn it!"
"You will learn." The AI's voice was implacable. "I am sorry, my son, but once again you have failed this scenario, allowing your emotions to rule you. You will be punished."
The cylinder of light flared around him, and Clark gave an involuntary yell as the pain began. Although he was invulnerable to almost anything on Earth, the AI possessed Kryptonian technology, and it was able to hurt him.
It was able to hurt the hell out of him.
"Stop it!" he screamed frantically. He'd endured these bouts of agony for God only knew how long, days or weeks or months, and he'd gotten to the point where he'd have offered the AI almost anything to avoid it. If only there was anything the AI wanted that he was able to give. "Stop it stop it stop it!"
"Learn to let your past go,." the AI droned. "Learn to let your feelings go. If you can do this, Kal-El, I will no longer need to hurt you."
"I can't... I can't..." Chloe's face swam in his mind, blurred and distorted, and he knew he couldn't let his feelings for her go. She was his friend. His best friend.
No. She was more than his friend. He loved her. And no matter how much pain the AI inflicted upon him, no matter how great the agony it put him through... that could never be taken away from him.
"She is not worth this, my son. No human is."
"Make it stop. Make it stop!"
"Very well, Kal-El." The light dimmed, and Clark gasped in desperate relief. If he could have collapsed to his knees, he would have. But the column held him upright, and helpless.
"Please," he whispered in a frantic litany. "Please, please, please..."
The AI seemed unmoved by his pleas, as it had been unmoved so many times before. "Very well, Kal-El," it repeated. "Let us try the test again."
He stood above Metropolis, clad entirely in black, an alien symbol on his chest. His long coat rippled behind him in the nighttime breeze. At long last he had returned to protect the innocent, to guard the weak, to save those humans who needed saving. He was the protector of Metropolis, the guardian of the helpless.
But he knew now that he must remain above the denizens of the city, both literally and figuratively. He must not ever allow himself to become close to any of them. For to be close to humans was to invite pain.
He closed his eyes, remembering the pain, unremitting, agonizing pain that had been all her fault. Pain, he thought, led to weakness, and weakness was something he could not afford.
He had a destiny, a great destiny, and she was not part of it. No human was.
He had no desire to ever pursue a friendship with a human again, least of all with her. Emotions made him vulnerable, easily wounded, open to pain, and that was the one thing he could never allow himself to be again.
From now on, he would stand above Metropolis, distant and invulnerable.
From now on, he would stand alone.