Season 9 (my version); spoilers for upcoming episode "Charade"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
As Clark Kent knelt in his mom's garden, pulling weeds, a butterfly fluttered right past the end of his nose. He looked up from his work, smiling a little as he watched the brightly colored wings flitting lightly through the spring flowers.
He recalled the words that had passed through his mind, and shook his head wryly. His mom's garden. His mom hadn't lived here in two years. It was his garden now, and he tended it just as carefully as his mom ever had. Maybe it wasn't really manly to work in a flower garden, but he enjoyed it. He liked seeing things poke up out of the dark earth, and slowly blossom in the sunlight. He liked the mingled scents of rich soil and flowers. He enjoyed weeding out the bad plants, and encouraging the good plants to grow.
He ran his hands through the dirt, letting himself enjoy the sensation of the soil against his skin. It was good to feel something. He hadn't felt much of anything this past eight months or so. He'd thought he'd just learned to be cold, learned to shut out his human emotions so that he could be a better hero, the hero the world needed. Instead it had turned out a guy named Maxwell Lord was manipulating him, trying to change him into something he wasn't, trying to turn him into a puppet.
Lord had succeeded pretty damn well.
Clark still remembered standing on top of a building in Metropolis, watching twin towers collapse, with a crowd of people on the sidewalk just beneath them. At the time, he hadn't been at all concerned about his actions. But now, in retrospect, the memory made him break out in a cold sweat. Thank God no one had been hurt. Thank God.
He could have killed so many people. Probably would have, sooner or later, if it hadn't been for Chloe.
He remembered his bitter feelings of betrayal when he discovered she'd been stockpiling kryptonite weapons. Not for use against him, she'd assured him, but against the Kandorians. He'd been angry-- anger being one of the few emotions that was left to him at that point-- and felt that she was unjustly assuming all aliens were monsters.
He hadn't realized that he was becoming a monster.
In the end, the only thing that had saved the world had been Chloe. When he'd defeated Zod, killing him and exiling his followers into the Phantom Zone, and then decided that he should be the one to rule the world... Chloe had been the one to stop him.
She'd used one of her kryptonite weapons on him. It had hurt like hell.
He remembered her standing over him, her eyes wide with pain and confusion, a sharpened rock glowing emerald at his throat. "Something's wrong, Clark," she'd whispered, her voice hoarse. "I don't know what, exactly, but something. For most of this year, you've been drifting away from me, and I thought... I thought you were just growing out of our friendship somehow, so I let you go. But... but you've gotten worse and worse. Hurting people, taking risks with human lives, siding with the Kandorians even when they were doing experiments on humans... something is very wrong with you."
"Nothing... is wrong... with me," he'd gritted out through clenched teeth. "You bitch... betrayed me... always knew you would, sooner or later..."
He saw her flinch, but she didn't back off. The kryptonite spear was still at his throat, and he didn't doubt she'd use it if she had to. He could see the grim determination in her eyes, along with grief and sorrow.
"I can't let you take over the world, Clark," she answered steadily. "I don't think you really want to, anyway. It used to be one of your greatest fears, that you'd turn out like Jor-El wanted, that you'd grow up to rule the world instead of helping it. You've never wanted that. Never before now, at any rate. Something is so wrong, and I don't know what it is. But I have to get to the bottom of this somehow."
He struggled against the pain, straining to get up but only succeeding in baring his teeth at her. "The world needs me," he snarled. "They need someone, someone to help them, to watch over them, to rule them..."
"No, Clark." Her voice was very quiet, but very firm. "The world doesn't need a dictator. Not even you."
He struggled, because something in his mind was beating at him, telling him he must fulfill his destiny, the destiny that had been laid out for him so long ago. The world did need him, the world was lost without him, and one little blonde couldn't stand between him and his destiny, a destiny he'd killed Zod to fulfill, a destiny that he'd once fought against but now embraced with open arms.
Lois, he thought bitterly, wouldn't do this to him. Lois would understand why the Blur she adored so much must be the one to save the world, by any means necessary. Lois would stand by him when she knew who he truly was. He knew that. But Chloe... Chloe would fight against him with everything she had, which was why she'd had to be kept at arm's length, why his friendship with her had fallen apart...
He blinked blurry eyes against the sickly green glow of kryptonite. The truth was he hadn't understood exactly why his friendship with Chloe had collapsed so abruptly. All he knew was that she was an impediment, that she was holding him back somehow, that her support had been forcing him down the wrong path, moving him further and further from the path his Kryptonian father had laid out for him so long ago.
When Lois knew who he was, she would embrace his destiny, encourage him, love him no matter what he did. But Chloe... Chloe didn't love him enough to support him. He and Chloe no longer had the same goals. She didn't understand why he needed to be in control. She didn't understand how badly humanity needed him. She simply didn't accept his destiny.
Which was why she'd wound up standing over him, a kryptonite spear against his throat and a look of agonized sorrow in her hazel eyes.
From this vantage point, kneeling in his garden, his mind entirely his own once again, he knew that Chloe had been right. He'd been under the influence as surely as if he'd been wearing red kryptonite. Someone else's thoughts, someone else's motivations, had begun carving at his own personality, wearing it away like rock beneath a steady flow of water. The changes had been subtle at first, but eventually...
In his mind, he saw the towers collapsing again, and shuddered.
The sound of a car drew him out of the haze of dark memories. He looked up, seeing Chloe's yellow car bouncing up the dirt drive, a cloud of dust in its wake. They hadn't talked much since her discovery that he was being used. She'd captured Clark so that the JLA could make him "disappear," then gone undercover, working with Tess Mercer and Checkmate, so that she could break into their records and find out exactly what was going on.
Once she knew, it hadn't taken much effort for J'onn J'onzz, who possessed telepathic abilities, to help Clark break free of the alien thoughts poisoning his mind.
When he shook off Lord's influence, two days ago, he'd been pathetically grateful, profusely apologetic. Chloe had assured him it was all right. But in her eyes, he could see it wasn't. Too much water had flowed under that particular bridge. After eight months of him giving her the cold shoulder, she couldn't quite bring herself to reach out to him again.
He understood that, but it depressed the hell out of him. Chloe was his best friend. She'd always been his best friend. And before all this had happened, he'd begun to realize that maybe she was a little bit more than just a friend.
He understood why Lord had pointed him toward Lois. Lois had just been a pawn in Checkmate's game, a distraction, a way of keeping him away from the woman who knew him best. If he and Chloe had remained as close as ever, Chloe would have figured out what was going on long before she did. As it was, it had almost been too late for her to stop him.
He'd come so damn close to putting his plan to rule the world into operation. He broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
Chloe's car door opened and closed, and he heard her footsteps moving toward him. He looked up from his weeding, and offered a tentative smile. "Hi."
She didn't smile back. "Hi." She stopped about ten feet away from him and looked at him solemnly. "I just came by to see how you were doing."
He appreciated that. God knew it had been a long time since he'd stopped by to see how she was doing. He still remembered, with a dull throb of shame, her efforts to tell him how unhappy she was, with the state of their friendship and with life in general. He remembered how he'd blown her off, ignoring her hesitant efforts at conversation and her hopeful overtures of friendship, and gotten right down to business. As if he and Chloe had never been anything more than co-workers.
The memories of his own chilly demeanor, his own icy words, made him cringe. He understood it hadn't been him. Not really. But even so, he couldn't forget his callousness and coldness toward her. He was uncomfortably certain she couldn't forget it, either.
"I'm okay," he said gruffly. "Things look kind of different, though."
"Yes." A very faint smile curved her lips. "I imagine they do."
He rocked back on his heels and looked at her. Suddenly he wanted to make certain that she understood, to convince her that everything he'd done and said had been influenced by someone else. "I haven't really seen the sky in months," he blurted.
She lifted an eyebrow. "You mean you never looked up?"
"I mean..." He floundered, finding it hard to explain how his perceptions had shifted under Lord's manipulation. "I mean I stopped seeing things. I stopped seeing everything around me. I couldn't think about anything except what Lord wanted me to think about. I was..." His gaze fell on the butterfly, still fluttering aimlessly around the garden, bright wings flashing in the sun like jewels. "It was like I was wrapped up in a cocoon," he said, looking back at her earnestly. "Like everything was dark gray."
He looked up at the clear blue sky, drew in a long breath of warm spring air, and sighed. "It's like a whole new world, Chlo."
"I can imagine," she said softly.
He knew that wasn't hyperbole, that she could imagine, perhaps better than anyone else could. She'd been slowly taken over by an alien computer last year, had her memories erased one by one. If anyone in this world understood what he'd just been through, it was her.
So why couldn't he talk to her about it?
He stood up slowly, brushing his hands off against his jeans, and stared at her, feeling every inch of the space that separated them.
"Chloe," he said, his voice choked. "The things I did... everyone I hurt..."
She stared at him for another moment, and then she crossed to him, wrapping her arms around him. He hadn't realized till that moment how badly he needed to feel her arms around him. It had been so damn long since he'd hugged her.
Overcome with relief and gratitude, he buried his face in her hair.
"I never wanted to hurt you," he mumbled into the golden strands. "Of all the people in the world, the last person I ever wanted to hurt was you."
"You didn't hurt me."
"Didn't--?" His arms tightened around her waist. "Chlo, I almost killed you."
He'd managed to escape from the JLA's prison, and driven by the demands in his mind, he'd gone to find her. He'd had his hands on her throat, had her up against a wall. He still remembered her desperate struggles, the fear in her eyes, the strangled sound of her voice pleading with him, begging him to stop.
"No," she said softly, lifting a hand and stroking his hair, the gesture so gentle and loving it brought tears to his eyes. "You weren't the one who almost killed me. That was Maxwell Lord."
It had been his hands at her throat, but he didn't say so. He knew she was right, but that didn't make it any easier to know that he'd come perilously close to killing his best friend with his bare hands. It didn't make it any easier to forget the memories that haunted him every time he closed his eyes.
"I couldn't stop myself," he said hoarsely, clenching his eyes shut against the tears that burned his eyelids. "If it hadn't been for J'onn..."
"Actually," she answered, "you did stop yourself."
He was silent for a long moment, trying to process that. "What?"
"I was talking about it with J'onn yesterday, and he told me that he couldn't get there fast enough to stop you. He tried to make mental contact with you, but by the time he managed it... you'd already let me go."
"But I..." He swallowed hard. "It was like I heard someone in my head, telling me to let you go..."
"Yes," she said softly. "That was you, Clark. Fighting against Lord."
A warm feeling of relief spread through him. He'd done a lot of terrible things under Lord's influence, but it was good to know that even with someone taking over his mind, he couldn't be forced to kill his best friend.
He held her a little more tightly, enjoying the feeling of her in his arms. She fit so well there. He closed his eyes and pressed his face into her hair again, enjoying the feel and smell of her.
At last it dawned on him that the hug's length was getting dangerously close to exceeding just-friends limits. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was the butterfly, its jeweled wings fluttering as it lifted toward the sky. He loosened his grip on Chloe and stared at it as it rose upward.
"What is it?" she whispered.
He glanced down and saw her looking at him intently. He looked back, staring into her eyes. "I was just thinking..." He hesitated, remembering how he'd plummeted from the Statue of Liberty like a safe in one of those old cartoons. "I was certain I was ready to fly this year. I was sure of it. But when I tried... it was like something dragged me right down to the ground."
"Lord," she said softly.
"Yeah. I guess. It was like there was this incredibly heavy weight inside me. But now... well, the weight isn't there any more."
She looked up at him, tilting her head in that inquisitive way she had. "Do you think you can fly now?"
He hesitated, because after everything he'd done in the past eight months, all the harm he'd caused, there was still a lot of guilt weighting him down. But he also knew he had to move beyond the guilt, the same way she'd moved past everything Brainiac had done to destroy her life. He couldn't let his bad memories weight him down forever.
"I can try," he said at last.
"That's all anyone can do," she said.
He smiled back. It was, he thought, the first time he'd really smiled at her in eight months. It felt like the first step on his road back to normalcy.
He tightened his grip on her, holding her against his chest. He was shocked to realize how much he'd missed having her in his arms, and in his life. On some level, no matter how much Lord had tried to change his feelings and his perceptions... he'd missed her an awful lot.
He tried consciously to let go of the past eight months, to forget the pain and the guilt and the bad things he'd done under another's influence. He tried to let go of the darkness, and to let himself enjoy the sunshine. He tried to let go of everything that had weighted him down, and to hold onto everything good in his life, everything that helped lighten his load. Like Chloe.
He looked up at the butterfly, fluttering far above their heads, so high it was only a silhouette against the brilliant blue sky.
And then, with Chloe in his arms, he slowly followed it, and rose into the sky.