As I Lay Dying
By: Arian (arianstarr)

Disclaimer: don't own, don't profit, just like to play



He was 200 feet in the air when a blow to his side from one of the aliens sent him spinning. Clark righted himself and rose after the thing, a grimace fixed across his features as he pushed upwards. Whatever these things are, he thought, they're nearly as fast as I am. The communicator in his ear activated and Batman's voice filled his senses for a moment.

"Superman, we've lost visual contact. Where are you?"

"About 250 feet up. I'm following their leader." The corner of his mouth twitched as a huff of air in his ear told him Bruce was holding back inappropriate laughter. "I should intercept in approximately 15 seconds."

True to his estimate, he overcame the humanoid-like creature soon after. It raised its long, thin arms and planted its hands against Clark's chest as they collided. The bright, lancing pain that shot through him was unanticipated, and it gave the alien time to launch another attack. His body seemed to contract and expand at the same time, and a searing heat coursed through his veins. It was gone as quickly as it had begun and Clark was falling, plummeting back to the earth at an alarming rate.

Bruce's voice was in his ear again as he dropped back into their line of sight. Clark willed his body to slow, but he was powerless to halt his descent. In the distance he could see other League members fighting and turned his eyes down just in time to see the ground rushing up to meet him before everything gave way to a quiet, inky black.

* * *

"Shit." Shit, shit, Clark god damn it! The litany of curses looped through his mind as Bruce raced towards the crater Clark's body had formed on impact. He scrambled over the edge and caught a glimpse of Clark's prone form, uniform blindingly bright against pale skin and dark earth.

"Superman," he called out, fighting the instinct to yell Clark as he scrambled down.

"Batman?" He glanced up long enough to see Diana following him, dirt slipping free with each step and cascading down to land around Clark. "Is he alright?"

"I don't know." Above them the battle waged on and the League was starting to gather an obvious lead. "Go help the others."

"I can get him out of here faster." Bruce looked up at her with expressionless eyes before turning his focus back to the unconscious man at his feet. From her vantage point several feet above them, Diana could see him tracking the steady rise and fall of his chest. "I will get him to the tower, Batman."

Bruce nodded and turned his attention to the battle above. "This ends now," he growled.

Cresting the top of the crater, Bruce moved into action with a fluid ruthlessness he hadn't shown since his younger years, before Clark gave him a reason to be careful. From the corner of his eye he could see Diana disappear with Clark's limp body cradled to her chest as she retreated to the Watchtower. Bruce moved smoothly through the battle, watching as the aliens began to retreat, abandoning their dead and taking the wounded with them. He didn't wait around to help clean up the mess.

* * *

"Sorry," a voice said as Clark squinted against the bright lights above him. They were quickly dimmed enough to open his eyes with ease and J'Onn into his line of sight. "How do you feel, Kal-El?"

He paused before responding, evaluating his body. "I feel fine," he offered as he shifted to sit on the edge of the single bed. Looking around, he was surprised to find himself in the Watchtower's medical facility.

"You should lie down," Bruce said as he strode through the door. He was out of costume and clad in scuffed black boots, worn denim and a grey t-shirt that hugged his well-defined torso.

"I'm not hurt." Clark looked down at the pale blue scrubs that had taken the place of his suit. "Whatever happened doesn't seem to have had any lasting effects."

"What <i>did</i> happen?" Bruce pushed on his shoulder until Clark let himself be manipulated onto his back again.

"I think I can answer that," J'Onn spoke up. "While I haven't been able to identify exactly what those things were or where they came from, preliminary tests indicate they emit low levels of red sun energy. On its own, the amount projected by one would not harm Kal-El; however, the sheer number of their forces combined to make him vulnerable to injury."

"Do you think they were aware of that?"

J'Onn took his time formulating an answer. "Kal-El did not appear to be singled out. If they wanted to remove him from the equation temporarily or permanently, I suspect their attack would have focused on him in a more obvious manner."

"But you're not sure." Bruce's tone was cold, serious.

"I'm sorry, no." J'Onn took Bruce's nod as the dismissal it was and left the two alone.

Clark sat up again and swung his legs off the bed, pulling Bruce to stand between them. He let his hands rest on Bruce's hips as the other man leaned forward to examine his pupils and press worried fingers against his face. "Bruce."

"I'm getting too old for this."

"You're not."

"I'm 47."

"And you'll still be doing this at 60."

Bruce groaned and moved back enough to see all of Clark's face. "I'll stop at 59 just to spite you. Are you sure you're not hurt?"

"Yeah. I feel good, normal. How long was I out?"

"Almost two hours."

"That all?" Clark smiled in an effort to smooth the worried crease from between Bruce's eyebrows. "Just a power nap." He knew he had him beat when Bruce rolled his eyes and pushed at his chest lightly.

"Alright, smart ass, are you hungry? We haven't been to Bella's in a long time."

"Fettuccine Alfredo?"

"Two helpings if you want."

"I'm starving." Clark slid off the bed and followed Bruce as he moved into the hallway.

"That's nothing new." Bruce glanced over his shoulder in time to catch Clark mouthing the words with him. Clark fixed a look of innocence on his face and raised his eyebrows as if to ask, who me? Bruce smiled and kept walking.


"Who pissed in your cornflakes, Smallville?" Lois glared at his back as Clark stormed across the office and angrily punched the buttons on the printer when his article wasn't ready and waiting.

Chloe appeared behind Lois and seated herself on the edge of the desk. "What's wrong with him?"

"No idea. He's been grumpy for weeks." She dropped her voice and leaned in. "Do you think he and Bruce are on the outs?"

"I saw them a few days ago and they seemed fine." She stopped talking as Clark returned with papers in hand.

"I can hear when you do that you know."

"We're just worried about you."

"There's nothing to worry about. I'm fine. Work is fine, Bruce and I are fine, everything is –"

"If you say fine one more time, I'm going to hit you."

"Lois, I appreciate the concern, but –"

"The only thing I'm concerned about lately is getting through the day with my head intact." Clark's eyes darkened briefly before sighing and letting the tension drain from his shoulders.

"Sorry," he muttered.

"Don't be sorry, Smallville. Just stop being an ass."

"Will do." Sitting at his desk, Clark ducked his head sheepishly; a habit he hadn't quite lost with age.

"Staff meeting's been moved up to eleven!" A collective groan could be heard through the bullpen when an intern called out the news as he moved across the floor.

"That's in ten minutes. Is he trying to piss us off on purpose, or is he really that clueless after all these years?" Lois continued to grumble as she started getting her papers in order.

"Give Perry a break, Lo. He's retiring next year and he's just trying to make sure he leaves the paper on a good note."

"He's well on his way to creating a mutiny, is what he's doing. He's not around to hear you suck up, Chloe, so save it."

"And you think I'm the grumpy one?" Clark cocked an eyebrow at her.

"I'm not sucking up."

"You've got your sights set on his job. I'd be sucking up."

"There hasn't been a decision made on who will take over for him."

"You're Perry's right hand woman, Chloe. I'd say you have a pretty good shot at the job. Right Smallville?"

Clark glanced up and nodded faintly.

"You know something you're not sharing?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well," Lois said as she moved to sit on the edge of his desk. "Your boyfriend owns the paper. Who knows what passes for pillow talk with you two."

"He hasn't said anything."

"Are you sure?"

"Lois, even if Clark knew something – and I believe him when he says he doesn't – it's not his place to say. Lay off him."

"You guys have been best friends for years and you're telling me you wouldn't be mad if he knew something and kept quiet?" She turned back to Clark. "Come on, Smallville, you've gotta know <i>something</i>."

"Sorry, I'm as in the dark as the two of you."

"Now why don't I believe you."

"Lois," Clark's voice grew deeper in warning. "I said I don't know anything. Back the hell off."

"Hey, take it easy! I was only asking."

"That wasn't asking; that was accusing."

"You've been on enough interviews with me that you should know by now what the difference between asking and accusing is."

Clark stood suddenly, his chair rolling back to bump lightly against the desk behind him. "Lois," was all he said.

"Break it up you two or we'll be late for the meeting." Chloe placed herself between the two of them.

Clark grabbed his notebook and walked away, leaving Chloe and Lois to stare after him in bewilderment. Slipping into the conference room, he kept his head down and ignored the greetings several co-workers sent his way as he moved to a sit in the back where there was only one available chair. He didn't look up when he heard Chloe and Lois enter soon after him and take seats at the table near Perry.

He stayed unusually silent as assignments were doled out, scratching out notes he wouldn't need for appearance sake and waiting for Perry to ask the staff to pitch their story ideas.

"Kent," Perry called out towards the end of the meeting. "What have you got?"

"Hardwick Industries has been buying up small businesses in the area, all failing, all relating to weapons technology. Victoria Hardwick was seen meeting with a high-ranking military official last week. Her company deals in electronic and computer technology, not weaponry."

"You've got proof of that meeting?"

"Tabloids ran pictures a week ago citing an affair. The guy's married and Victoria's a slut, but she's not stupid. If she was meeting with him, there was a reason for it that didn't involve getting laid."

Perry's eyebrows rose at Clark's glibness. "I trust no one will be referring to Ms. Hardwick as a slut in print," he said.

Clark smirked. "If the shoe fits."

"Collins, you look into it. Kent, I want your full attention on the Senator's ongoing investigation."

"But Chief -"

"Collins is our military correspondent," Perry said, cutting off Clark's protests. "Wilson, you're up."

Clark leaned back in his seat, hand clenching and unclenching around his pencil until it snapped quietly in his fingers. Lois cornered him after the meeting and didn't let him leave until everyone else had vacated the room.

"I don't have time for this, Lois."

"Make time. What the hell is wrong with you, Clark? Since when do you go around calling women you've never met sluts?"

"I've met her, and she is. We done?"

"Not a chance. You've got about five seconds to spill before I break out the green stuff."

Without warning, Clark turned and his fist went through the wall before he spun back around to face Lois as the dust settled around them. "Threatening me is not a good idea, Lois. Now get out of my way before I do something I might regret."

"Like what, hit me? You don't have it in you, Clark, mood swings aside."

"What part of <i>move</i> don't you understand?" He pushed roughly past her and stalked back to his desk. He left the building before Lois had a chance to make her way back over to him, breath coming in short pants as he struggled to push down the anger filling him.

* * *

"You alright Clark? You've seemed a little... off lately." Bruce pulled the razor across his cheek as he spoke and for a while the only sound in the room was the scrape of blade against stubble and the faint plink of water droplets connecting with the tiled floor of the shower stall. He glanced in the mirror as Clark stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist.


Clark met his eyes in the mirror. "Why is everyone asking me that lately?"

Bruce took in the dark smudges beneath blood shot eyes and the sallow tone to his skin. Setting the blade down, he turned and caught hold of Clark's chin in one hand. "Because you don't look like you are."

"I've just been busy. I'll try to slow down, promise."

"Hey, really Clark. Are you sure?"

"Yeah Bruce. You don't have to worry."

"Comes as part of being together, so spill it."

Clark gave under several seconds of Bruce's intense stare. "I've been feeling a bit weird I guess. Short tempered, easily annoyed. Maybe I just need a vacation."

"Things have been kind of crazy for both of us lately," Bruce agreed with serious eyes still fixed on Clark.

Clark lifted a hand to Bruce's temple, stroking the dark hair there. "Yeah, I think I see a grey hair or two," he teased.

Bruce batted his hand away and ran his own across Clark's bicep, stretching his fingers to surround as much as he could of the muscled flesh. "Get Friday and Monday off work. We'll take a long weekend Give you a chance to breathe."

Clark nodded and dropped his towel at Bruce's feet. "Sounds great. I'm running late, so I'll see you tonight?"

"Ass," Bruce said as his eyes raked over Clark's naked body.

"Later?" Clark offered him a confident smirk and glanced down at Bruce's crotch meaningfully.

"I've got watch with Bart tonight. After?"

"I'll come by with dinner. We'll find somewhere private to... eat."

"Leave now or I'll make sure you're late."

Clark shifted in against Bruce's half-dressed body and kissed him lightly. "See you tonight." He headed out of the bathroom and slipped into super speed.

Bruce heard the front door slam a few seconds later and turned back to the mirror to finish shaving, going through the motions on autopilot. His mind was racing to catalogue and analyze Clark's recent behaviour.

He'd been quick to anger, that much was true, but also quick to cool down. Bruce was a light sleeper, and Clark's unusually erratic nocturnal movements had been waking him for the last month or so. He'd often turn on the bedside lamp to find Clark's eyes squeezed tightly shut and a sheen of sweat covering his body. It was nearly impossible to wake him at those times. Bruce had credited it to nightmares, but now he wasn't so sure.

Lois had called him the night before to arrange a meeting. She hadn't disclosed the topic, but he was sure it had to do with Clark's attitude of late. Finishing in the bathroom, Bruce finished dressing and made his way into the kitchen to put on a fresh pot of coffee. Lois would be arriving soon and past experience told him that he'd prefer to keep her caffeinated. As if on cue, the doorbell of their modest, three-floor home rang and Lois let herself in a few seconds later.

"Bruce?" she called out as she dropped her bag to the floor and shrugged off her tailored black jacket.

"In the kitchen. Coffee's almost ready. Come on in." He was used to her letting herself in. It was something she'd been doing for years with the Kent family and he had grudgingly accepted it once he'd trained her to stop storming into their bedroom whenever she had a lead and needed Clark right that instant. They were seated at the kitchen table a few minutes later, steaming mugs in front of each as Lois cut right to the point.

"He's been acting weird, Bruce. Little things at first like walking away from people mid-conversation or ignoring our co-workers when they try to talk to him, but lately it's been getting worse. He punched a hole in a conference room wall after the staff meeting on Monday." Lois was quick to reassure Bruce after catching sight of the expression on his face. "We were the only two left in the room. Perry threw a fit when he found it and half-an-hour later it looked like new. Clark never said anything about fixing it."

* * *

Clark strode into the Planet ten minutes late and stuffing down the irrational urge to knock slow-moving pedestrians out his way. Storming across the bullpen, he arrived at his desk to find a stack of files he'd had arranged neatly on one side now spread across the floor with a red-faced intern scrambling to pick them back up.

"I'm sorry, Clark," she said as he stopped in front of her. "I clipped them as I went past."

Before he could tell her to watch where she was going, Perry was bellowing his name. "Where the hell is Lane? Her article's due in by lunch and she hasn't shown her face in here yet."

Clark closed his eyes and sighed, trying to focus his hearing on Lois. He picked up her voice on the tail end of a sentence.

"… never said anything about fixing it."

Clark froze as Bruce's voice responded.

"He's been acting oddly at home as well. It's beginning to slip into the Superman aspect of his life."

"Kent!" Perry's voice broke through his concentration, booming too loudly in his ears as he lost focus. "Find Lane and tell her I want her in my office in one hour." Perry walked away.

"I'm not your fucking messenger," he muttered angrily, startling the intern still crouched over his files. "Have those back on my desk in their original order by the time I get back," he growled at her.

Clark took the stairs to the roof at top speed and launched himself into the air. He arrived in his kitchen with a burst of air that sent Bruce's newspaper scattering across the floor. Lois stopped with her mug raised halfway to her mouth.

"Clark –" Bruce started to stand but Clark's glare stopped him.

"What the hell is going on?"

"You punched a hole in the wall at work?"

"You were eavesdropping, Smallville?"

Clark's voice dropped an octave. "Perry wants to see you in his office, Lois. So if saving your ass at work again is eavesdropping, then yeah, I was. Go." He turned cold blue eyes back to Bruce. "If you've got a problem with me, you talk to me. Not Lois."

"I initiated this Clark."

"Didn't I tell you to get out of here?"

Lois stood, her chair screeching across the tiled floor. "I don't care what kind of mood you've been in lately, Kent. You don't get to talk to me like that." A startled breath escaped her as Clark pinned her against the window.

"Clark!" Bruce was at his side, one hand curling around his arm. "Let her go, Clark. This isn't you. Something is wrong and you need to let me figure out how to help you."

Clark turned bloodshot eyes to face him, hands still holding Lois firmly in place. "Help me? Two minutes ago you were bitching about me, and now you want to help? I don't believe you."

"You're scaring me." Lois whispered.

He leaned in and spoke softly in her ear. "Maybe next time you won't talk about me behind my back."

"Your own paper is starting to report the changes to your personality. Clark, let me help you." Bruce found his body airborne and then he was crashing into the opposite wall and his vision was greying at the edges. The last thing he saw was Clark's angry expression leaning over him and consciousness blinked out on Lois' scream of, "Clark, stop!"

"This isn't you, Clark, please. Stop! Just stop!" She was on his back, legs dangling, clinging to the fisted hand held ready to bring down on Bruce.

Clark shook her off and turned to face her, saw the fear in her eyes and whispered, "You're never afraid." Then he was gone, speeding away and leaving Bruce unconscious on their kitchen floor with a shaken Lois hunched over him.

* * *

Clark stood in the entrance to master bedroom suite in the manor. He hadn't known where else to go, arriving on instinct and bypassing the bat cave, the only frequently used part of the building now, in favour of the bedroom. Looking inside he could see phantom images of Bruce sprawled next to him in sleep, smiling from behind a book in the sitting area, or coming out of the bathroom clad only in a towel with a cloud of steam at his back.

It was to the bathroom he headed, spreading his hands on the counter and looking into the mirror at a face he hardly recognized. Pale skin, tired eyes, and a grimace painted across his lips. He felt like he was drowning inside himself. He didn't know where the anger was coming from anymore. They had been right; this wasn't him. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, staring, trying to hold on to himself in the midst of the darkness filling him.


Clark's head shot up at Tim's voice. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize anyone was here."

"I wasn't. Bruce called and asked me to check the place out. He seemed worried."

"Is he okay?" Clark's heart was trip-hammering in his chest.

Tim gave him a questioning look. "Why wouldn't he be?" At the negative shake of Clark's head, Tim instinctively let the subject of Bruce drop. He moved to put a hand on Clark's forearm. "You look like shit, man. Something wrong?"

Clark shied away from the touch. "I'm fine."

"You sure? You've been acting really weird these days."

Clark rose from the hunched position he'd been holding in front of the mirror, eyes turning glacial as they fixed on Tim. "I said I'm fine. You suddenly stop understanding the English language?"

Tim took two steps backwards to clear the bathroom door, leaving space to manoeuvre between himself and a suddenly very angry Clark."

"I understood."

"Good," Clark said as he pushed past him. "Now get the hell out of my way."

Tim let Clark walk away and disappear from sight in a burst of speed. His cell phone was ringing a second later.


"He was here. Found him in the master bath completely spaced out. It's not every day you can startle a guy with super hearing."

"Did he hurt you?" Bruce's voice was low and urgent in his ear.

"No. He seemed pretty concerned about you, though. Something you want to fill me in on?"

"Not until I've had the chance to gather more information."

"Bruce. What the hell is going on?"

"Not now, Tim."

Tim glared at his phone as the call disconnected. "He gets more secretive every damn day." With a final glance around the room, he made his way out to the garage and pulled away on his bike.


"He hasn't been to work in a week, Bruce. Perry is furious, and Lois and I are running out of excuses for him."

"I haven't seen or heard from him either. He doesn't appear to have gone to the fortress, he's not at the farm, and he hasn't been back to the manor since Tim found him there. Chloe, hold on a second."

Chloe could hear voices and shuffling noises in the background then the sound of a television flicking on. She strained to pick up on the words, but the volume was too low. Bruce came back on the line again.

"Turn on the news. Now."

Chloe reached for the remote and flipped through the channels until she caught sight of a flashing breaking news message. A female reporter stood solemnly before a taped-off crime scene.

"This is Rebecca McHart reporting live from the scene of a very disturbing crime. Eyewitness reports started coming in not more than thirty minutes ago of an attempted rape stopped by Superman. The almost-victim, an unnamed 20-something female, told authorities that Metropolis's own hero arrived on the scene and pulled the man off her. We are told Superman snapped his neck and throw the body approximately 50 feet to land in a nearby park. Sources at the scene say Superman's last words to the young woman were, "Don't worry, he'll never be able to hurt anyone again."

"Oh my god." Chloe's hand was frozen in mid-air, finger still poised to flip to the next channel. "Bruce!"

"Diana's on her way to deal with the authorities. The rest of us are organizing a search for him. Keep your communicator on and alert us immediately if you see him."

"Okay," Chloe whispered, but the line was already dead in her ear.

* * *

The rapist was only the first in a series of brutal acts that Superman called "justice". A purse thief was found with his foot cut off, the limb removed and cauterized with laser precision. A bank heist was prevented when the guns were melted into the flesh of the robber's hands. An abusive husband was beaten to death, and a group of drunken teenagers in a stolen car died when Superman picked up the vehicle and threw it into a tree.

By the time the third week of brutality had bled into a fourth, the city of Metropolis was in a state of panic. LuthorCorp, at Lex's orders, had stepped forward to provide the Metropolis Police Department with kryptonite bullets. The Justice League had taken up near-permanent watch in Metropolis and crime was on the rise elsewhere as a result. The public made demands for the League to find and stop their rogue member, but Bruce and the others were at a loss to stop a powerful, angry Superman.

Until the day he came after Lex.

Lex had been expecting it. He knew Superman would come after him for stocking the guns of the Metropolis Police Department with the one thing that could hurt him, and he also knew it would be the League's best – only – chance to capture and destroy him. Which was why he approached only Bruce.

"He'll kill us both," Bruce told him, unwilling to believe the words even as he spoke.

"He won't. Something's got him, but whatever is going on there's enough of Clark still in there that he won't take the life of someone he cares about."

"How do you know that?"

Lex smirked at him. "You haven't figured it out yet?" Bruce's glare was answer enough. "He's only killing or hurting 'bad' people. He's still in there somewhere and he's trying to fight back. If we can capture Superman, we'll have time to figure out how to save Clark."

"Who says we can capture him?" Bruce wasn't yet willing to acknowledge the glimmer of hope building inside him.

"You're the Batman, Bruce. Don't tell me you can't take down one measly rogue super hero."

"You're an ass, Lex."

"I've got enough kryptonite to subdue him for however long it takes." The playful tone dropped from his voice as Lex became serious. "We both know the others won't hesitate to destroy Clark in the process of destroying the enemy. You love him, Bruce, and this is the only chance we've got."

Lex was met with a lengthy silence before Bruce spoke. "Tell me your plan."

* * *

The facility was 60 feet below ground. With lead-lined walls throughout and a series of security protected doors and elevators separating the entrance from the main rooms, it was a suitable location in which to keep Clark until they could stop what was happening to him.

Bruce stood in the mid-sized room that would be, if all went as planned, a holding area for Clark. His prison, he thought grimly. A titanium table graced the centre of the space complete with restraints for ankles, legs, hips, chest, wrists, arms and head. The device Lex had created to shield the kryptonite solution was tucked into one corner, plastic tubing coiled neatly on top, and several other pieces of equipment were placed around the perimeter. Bruce tried and failed to repress the shudder that raced through him. Lex, for his part, did not acknowledge the sign of emotion.

"It will attack when I leave the facility. This place is completely soundproofed to go along with the lead walls, and I've no doubt it's been keeping tabs on us by our voices, heartbeats and other distinctive sounds up to this point. It'll come when it can hear me again; we've been out of range too long now and that will have angered it." Lex's cold, professional exterior dropped for a moment as he fingered his wedding ring and brought his eyes up. "Bruce, this is our only chance. We either catch Clark or he kills me and comes after you. If I die –"

"What happened to 'he won't kill us' Lex? Clark won't let it. Getting hurt, however, is a very real possibility."

Lex forced his hands back into his pockets and began again. "If something happens to me, you need to stop that thing."

"I know."

Lex nodded and turned away, parting from Bruce when they reached the control room and continuing up to the surface. He paused at the last door and glanced briefly at the camera, tipping his chin back and squaring his shoulders as he opened the door and stepped out into the stone and lead-lined alcove that separated the door from the forest and hid the facility from public eye.

Superman was there as the door swung shut behind him, lifting him by the throat and driving him back hard enough to imprint the door with the shape of Lex's upper body. His grip tightened and Lex squeezed his eyes shut against the flare of pain and sudden oxygen deprivation.

"You betrayed me, Luthor. I always knew you would. You'll pay –"

That was all he had a chance to say before Bruce activated the kryptonite gate. It slid out of a hidden panel in the wall and slammed home on the opposite side, trapping them. Superman dropped Lex as he crumpled, face a mask of confusion and body curling in on itself as pain raced through his veins. Lex, momentarily stunned by the attack, had the door open and was reaching for the kryptonite-based sedative they'd created to contain the thing just as Bruce appeared behind him.

"You hurt?"

"I'll live."

Bruce didn't flinch at the agonized howl that spilled from Superman when Lex injected the mixture. "We need to get him away from the gate," Bruce said as Superman's body went lax. "It's too much for his system to handle at once."

They dragged an unconscious Superman through the door, slamming it shut and cutting off the effects of the gate before lifting him onto a waiting stretcher. Superman whimpered at the change but did not stir. It took them an hour to manoeuvre him back to the room, strip him of his bloody uniform, clean him, and hook him up to the equipment that would sustain his body for as long as necessary.

"He was most like himself when he first woke up," Bruce said quietly. Lex looked up from where he'd been fussing with the soft cotton pants and t-shirt they'd dressed him in.

"It's too risky."

"He's still in there, Lex. Whatever has hold of him... Clark is still in there. I need –" He stopped, shaking his head and looking at a spot on the wall over Lex's shoulder.

"A few seconds, Bruce. That's all I can safely give you."

"Take your samples before he wakes up. The sooner we start, the sooner we can fix this."

* * *

An hour dragged by before Clark's eyes started to move beneath their lids and ten minutes more until Bruce saw a slim line of blue. "Clark? Can you hear me?" A quiet groan was followed by another flicker of blue.


"Hey, Clark. Listen," he glanced up at where Lex waited to start the flow of sedative. "We don't have much time, but I need you to know that I'm going to save you. We're going to save you. I just need you to hang on, okay? Can you do that for me?"

"Promise... to make it stop?"

Bruce shoved down the hurt caused by how small Clark's voice sounded. "Yeah Clark, I promise."

"'k Bruce. Me too."

Bruce leaned forward to press a kiss against Clark's dry lips. "Just hang on."

Clark's body trembled and his eyes opened wider and Bruce could see the thing was clawing back control. He looked up at Lex in time to see him start the sedative. The thing that wasn't Clark growled and strained against the titanium bonds, screeching angrily as the kryptonite hit Clark's system.

"I'm sorry Clark." Bruce's voice was a whisper, too quiet for Lex to hear, but the thing caught it and laughed.

"Sorry won't save him. It won't save any of you." Then it was unconscious and Bruce's body went cold at the realization he'd just been thinking of Clark as an 'it'".

"It's not him." Bruce looked up to see Lex standing opposite him and realized he'd spoken out loud.

"Let's start the lab work."


"Mr. Wayne?" His assistant's voice came through the intercom, pulling him away from the paperwork he'd been trying to go over for the last hour with little success.

"Mr. Wayne?"the voice came again.

"Yes Robert?"

"Mr. White is on the line for you with an urgent matter."

Bruce sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "Put him through." He flipped the folder closed and waited for the line to connect.

"Perry, what can I do for you today?"

"You can tell me what's happened to Kent to start with. And then you can tell me what the hell went wrong with Superman."

"This isn't a secure line."

"Then make it one."

He sighed inwardly and scrubbed a hand across his chin. "Free your afternoon. I'll be there in an hour." Bruce disconnected the call and buzzed his assistant. "Robert, clear my afternoon and arrange a chopper. I need to be in Metropolis in under and hour." Picking up his cell phone, he sent a brief message to Lex that read, Will be late. Nosy reporter.

* * *

Bruce left a wet, dreary day in Gotham to find the rain had already come and gone from Metropolis and the sun was doing its best to peak out from behind the clouds. After a quick phone call and a brief wait, Perry White was climbing into the waiting limo parked outside the Daily Planet, and Bruce was giving his chauffer instructions to just drive.

"What's going on, Wayne. Clark's disappeared off the face of the earth, and no amount of made up excuses from Lois and Chloe has covered that fact. Oddly enough he disappeared right around the same time Superman abandoned ship."

"This is all off the record, Perry. I need your word on that."

"You have it. Kent is like one of my own. You don't betray family."

Bruce took a moment to evaluate Perry's words before asking, "What do you know?"

"We're safe here?" Bruce nodded. "I know Clark is Superman."

"What has led you to that conclusion, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Morgan Edge told me just before he died."

Bruce kept his eyes trained on the smoky glass partition separating them from the front of the vehicle. "That would mean you've known for approximately -"

"Fifteen years, Mr. Wayne. And I've never breathed a word to anyone. Kent isn't even aware that I know. Tell me what happened."

Bruce took a moment before answering, nodding once to himself before drawing in a shallow breath and speaking. "We've been able to trace the originating event back to the invasion seventeen weeks ago. His behaviour has been slowly changing since then, virtually unnoticed by anyone at first until he started to aggressively act out."

"No one knows what those things were yet, do they?"

"No. There are certain things known about them, but what they are and where they came from is still uncertain. Clark was weakened by the red sun energy they emitted, and that gave them the opportunity to implant something inside of him. An entity. A weapon."

"Weapon," Perry repeated. "What kind of weapon?"

"It's taken him over. I can't guess at what it would have come to in the end, but it was using Clark's abilities to its advantage."

"Clark fought it."

"Yes. What could have been mindless violence was instead focused on those Clark would normally have dealt with using the confines of the law. Clark delivered justice while the entity influenced his actions with its natural destructive behaviour."

"Where is he now?"


"The League has denied knowing where he is for the last six weeks. They've been lying to the public?"

"They have not. The League has no knowledge of Clark's whereabouts."

"But you do."


"Can you cure him?"

"I'm trying. The entity is adapting, and in trying to contain it Clark's life may be lost."

Perry glanced down at his hands. "I'm sorry."

"Do you have any further questions?"

"If you can get it – the entity – out of him, how will you contain it?"

"I don't know yet."

"You said it's adapting."

"The entity is intelligent within its brutality and Clark is suffering for it."

"Could the League help?"

"The League would kill him."

"You know that for a fact?"

Bruce turned cold eyes to meet Perry's for the first time since he had entered the vehicle. "Yes."

Perry nodded. "Can I do anything?"

You can save him in name, tell the world what really happened, restore their faith in the things he stands for."No."

"The Planet won't run another negative word about him. That much I can do."

"Don't make a promise you might have to break, Perry."

"I don't break my word, Mr. Wayne."

"Can I drop you back at the paper?"

Perry glanced out the window, recognizing the area they were in. "I think I'll walk. I could use the fresh air."

The car pulled over and Perry opened the door before the approaching driver could reach it. He paused before shutting it behind him and leaned his head back in. "Thank you, Mr. Wayne."

"Good-bye Perry." The door shut with a click and Bruce let his head fall back against the seat as the vehicle started to move again.

* * *

"What happened to being late?"

"Perry wasn't as troublesome as I thought he would be."

Lex looked up from the monitor. "Perry White? I would have put money on Chloe or Lois digging where they aren't welcome."

"Give them time." He dropped down into the chair next to Lex and glanced at the screen where Clark lay still in medicated sleep. "Perry wanted to know what happened to Clark. To Superman." Bruce relayed their conversation.

Lex listened in silence, his expression growing darker as he leaned back in his chair and pressed a loosely clenched fist over his mouth. He waited until Bruce finished before dropping his hand and shifting forward. "You trusted him."

"He's kept Clark's secret for over a decade."

"He claims to have kept Clark's secret. For all we know tomorrow's headline will scream his identity."

"You forget who owns the Daily Planet, Lex. And I'm not sure how much it matters anymore. The latest data shows that Clark's body is growing weaker every day. It is just a matter of time before his heart gives out or his body starts to shut down. Look at him, Lex!" Bruce gestures angrily at the monitor. "We're losing him!"

As if on cue, Clark's eyes opened and his head turned to face the camera, a smug smile creeping across his lips. Bruce had to look away.


"I promised him. I promised him and now I'm going to fail."

"We won't fail."

"We already have."

"The defeatist attitude doesn't suit you, Batman." Bruce glared at Lex and left the room. He appeared soon after on the monitor, taking a seat in the chair at Clark's side and letting his head rest in his hands.

Lex shut the screens off and retreated to the kitchen in search of coffee and a solid wall to take out his frustration on.

* * *

"Bruce?" Tim moved in front of the older man and snapped his fingers. "Hey, anybody home in there?"

"Hmm?" Bruce glanced over at him with empty eyes before a shake of his head cleared his thoughts. "Sorry. Where were we?"

"You called an emergency meeting. What about?" Diana was looking at him with a carefully schooled expression that belied her concern.

Bruce nodded curtly and jumped right in to the subject at hand. "I'm retiring. Effective as soon as this meeting is over." His announcement was met with stunned silence broken finally by Oliver.


He considered holding back, but the strain of the last several weeks was catching up with him and he couldn't care enough to maintain the stoic image for another second. "I can't do this anymore."

"Do what anymore?" Bart asked.

"Play the super hero. I couldn't even save the one person that matters to me most in this world. What kind of hero does that make me?"

It was Tim who spoke up this time, voice softened by past hurts of his own. "You can't blame yourself for Clark turning bad."

That statement brought Bruce's eyes snapping towards Tim. "Clark didn't 'turn bad' Tim."

"Then how do you explain the sudden 180 in his personality? He was killing people. The guy who stood for truth, justice and the American way turned into a murderer, Bruce, and that is not your fault. It's not anyone's fault."

"You wouldn't understand." He made to walk away but Tim's hand on his arm stopped him.

"Try us," Oliver said.

"Let it go."

"No," came from several people at the table and followed by Tim's frustrated, "You can't quit!"

"I think you'll find I already have."

"This is not the only answer," J'Onn offered.

Bruce ignored them as he disconnected his communicator and tossed it on the table. Oliver followed him from the room, stopping just outside and closing the door behind him.

"You know where he is, don't you?"

Bruce turned to face him. "He's gone, Oliver. Please just let it be."

"I can't do that, not in good conscience. You know what happened. Why are you hiding him?"

Bruce strode forward and reached to grasp Oliver's shoulders, pulling him in close to hiss in his ear. "Because not one of you would hesitate to kill him, that's why. He's as good as dead anyway; drop it, Oliver. You don't want to be on my bad side right now."

Oliver stared after him as he made his way out of the Watchtower for the last time.


Chloe had no proof to go on; just the feeling in her gut that Clark was still out there somewhere and that Lex knew where. That feeling was all she came armed with as she stood outside the door to Lex's outer office, long after business hours, waiting for her knock to be answered. Inside the sound of activity reached her ears and she stepped back slightly when the door flew open and Lex emerged still shrugging into a light jacket to combat the cool, autumn air. He looked up and did a double take when he saw her.


"Guess you didn't hear me knocking."

"No. I'm pressed for time; did you need something or is this a social call?"

"A little of both. I came to see how you are; Lana says you've been gone a lot lately. And I came to find out where he is."

"I'm fine, thank you. I can't say I know whom you're talking about though. Where who is?"

"You may be the king of bullshit in the board room, Lex, but I know you. It doesn't work with me. Where is Clark? Is he still alive?"

"I'm sorry, Chloe, but I really am running late."

"You've been travelling an awful lot these days. I've noticed Bruce has, too."

"I don't have time for this."

"LuthorCorp built a facility a few years ago that was never put to use. I don't know where – the location was kept very quiet – but I do know it was built with lead walls. Now I know that Clark and Bruce have come and gone from your life over the years, but I don't think you've done anything worthy of hiding behind lead walls in a long time. I'm not sure how that facility fits in yet, but I'm confident that once I figure out where you and Bruce have been jetting off to, I'll have a better idea."

"I'm afraid I have to leave now, Ms. Sullivan." Lex held back a wince at his slip of the tongue.

"So we're back to formalities after all these years? I guess I'm closer than I thought. You're slipping, Lex. There was a time you would never have given me that edge."

Lex had shouldered past her and was halfway down the hall by the time she finished speaking so Chloe was shocked to find herself suddenly pinned against the wall by the weight of his body.

"He's my best friend," she whispered before he could speak. "Please."

The tension drained from Lex's body and he turned away from her. "Repeat any of this, Chloe, and I'll make sure you'll wish you were dead." He held himself unnaturally still as Chloe touched a hand to his forearm.

"You know better than anyone that I would never betray him. Is he alive, Lex? Is he alright?"

"Let's go inside."

"You were on your way to see him."

"I was. It can wait."

"No it can't. Take me with you."

"It isn't safe."

"I'm not above begging. And if that doesn't work, I'll follow you."

"You know you wouldn't be able to follow me, Chloe. Come on." He started down the hall again, pausing to wait for her to catch up before pressing the button for his private elevator.

The drive to the airport wasn't nearly enough time to explain everything that had occurred over the last several months, but Lex was able to give her the bare bones. Chloe sat in silence through the helicopter ride to a small, busy airstrip in North Dakota and didn't speak until they were an hour into the drive to Clark's location.

"Tell me you can save him."

"I don't know."


He looked over at her quickly before swinging his eyes back to the road. "I really don't know, Chloe."

"What do your instincts say?"

"That we've lost him." He drew in a deep breath. "My instincts tell me it's too late. That the kryptonite has inflicted to great a damage for his body to heal from even if we could find a way to rid him of that thing." Chloe flinched slightly at the venomous tone with which he said "<i>thing</i>".

"And Bruce?"

Lex gave her a non-answer, but it was the only one he could offer. "Bruce doesn't like to lose any more than I do. It'll be a few more minutes until we can park, and then it's a twenty minute hike." He glanced down at her high heels. "Longer in those. I should have noticed; I wasn't thinking."

"I have flats in my bag." She smiled when he flicked his eyes over to her. "You never know where a lead will take you."

"Fair enough." Lex pulled off the main drag and onto what was probably once a logging road years before, steering the car into a clearing several minutes later.

"Is he aware?" she asked as they started walking.

"Sometimes. It's better if he's not. The thing is violent, so we keep him unconscious."

"Is he ever... Clark?"

"In the beginning – before the entity learned to feed off the kryptonite – there were moments of clarity. They never lasted long."

"If Clark were human, could it survive in him? Could he survive it?"

"I'm not sure. From what we can tell through the limited tests we've been able to run, it needs Clark's abilities to sustain itself. And if Clark were human, the damage to his body might be reversed. It might also kill him. There's not really a way to be sure about that. Why?"

"He's been human before. Lightning or some form of electricity and kryptonite. The combination will transfer his powers to someone else."

"Transferring his powers may cause the entity to jump to the new host."

Chloe nodded thoughtfully. "You said it's feeding off the kryptonite..."

"It's intelligent to a degree. Once it figured out we were trying to weaken Clark's body to destroy it, it adapted, started to use the kryptonite as a source of power."

"But Clark is still getting weaker."

"Every day."

"How is he still alive..." she whispered, more to herself then to Lex.

"It's keeping him alive." Lex answered her anyway. "And he's strong. A fighter. He made a promise to Bruce, and he's trying to keep it. We're here."

Chloe looked up to find they'd arrived at an outcropping of rock three times as tall as she was. A door was recessed in the stone with lead walls surrounding either side to create a small alcove. You wouldn't notice it if you weren't looking for it. Lex activated a hidden control panel and punched in a code. The doors slid open before them, and they began the trip inside.

"Paranoid, Lex?" Chloe asked after the third secure door they went through.


"Why did you build this place?"

"In case something like this ever happened."

"You were betting on Clark being taken over by an alien."

"No, I was betting on being able to save him if the unforeseen ever happened."

"What about taking him to the fortress?"

"We thought of that. There were too many unknowns to make it a viable option. If the entity ever had access to the technology and resources in the fortress, there's no telling what kind of damage it could do."

"And Bruce is here?"

"Has been since he left the League."

"That was almost four weeks ago."

"He's starting to smell." The corner of Lex's mouth twitched at Chloe's startled laughter. "This is the last door." Lex punched in another code an inserted a key into a panel revealed by his password.

Chloe took in their surroundings in silence, her eyes slipping from one piece of equipment in the control room to another and finally settling on the bank of darkened monitors.

"We can watch him from in here," Lex explained. "And we can control every aspect of the facility from that panel. I could turn on the stove in the kitchen if I wanted to." Lex walked across the room and started firing up the screens.

"Wait," Lex looked up at her. "I don't want to see him on a screen, Lex." He nodded and stood.

"You'll have to keep back. Every now and then it's able to put on a good show."

Chloe's step faltered as Lex stopped them outside a door just down the hall from the control room.

"Are you sure?"


Another code entered and the door was opening. Bruce turned to look, surprise colouring his tired features when he saw her. He had several weeks of growth on his jaw and his clothes were starting to hang off his frame from the weight he'd lost. Dark smudges marred the skin under eyes filled with fear and loss. The first tears filled her eyes as she took in the sight of him and spilled over and down her cheeks as her attention turned to Clark.

"Chloe, what are you doing here? Lex, why is she here."

"She needed to know. It was time," Lex said simply.

On the table, Clark's eyes snapped open and his body jumped, thrumming with energy as it started to strain against the bindings holding him in place. Chloe took an involuntary step back as the table rocked on its hinges before Clark's body settled and his eyes closed again. No one said anything for a long moment, and then Clark's eyes were fluttering open and his breath started to come in shallow gasps. Bruce was at his side in an instant, one hand rising to brush sweat-damp hair off Clark's forehead. Chloe rushed forward, Lex on her heels.

"Chloe?" he panted, eyes squeezing shut against the pain sending a wave of fine tremors through him.

"Hey Clark," she said as if it were any normal day and there weren't tears streaming down her cheeks. "Thought it was about time I came to visit. Give you a break from these two guys." She jerked her chin at both Bruce and Lex.

"Thanks," he said quietly. "They were g-getting kind of b-boring."

Bruce laughed and Chloe looked away from his red, liquid-filled eyes. "Clark," he said, turning serious. "Listen to me carefully, okay? That promise you made. You don't have to keep it. I won't hold it against you if you let go." His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "Okay, Clark? None of us will hold it against you."

"We're doing everything we can," Lex added. "Just do whatever you can. Don't –"

Clark hummed deep in his throat, interrupting Lex. "Shut up. Made a promise."

"Only keep it if you can, Clark," Lex said quietly.

"It's... letting go. I th-think. Can feel it slipping. Losing control. H-hurts when it loses its gr-grip. S'how I know." His body jerked once as his energy ran out and his ragged breathing evened in sleep. The others looked at each other across Clark, hope gleaming in their eyes.


Chloe stayed a week before she had no choice but to return to Metropolis. It was Bruce who drove her back to civilization. They were minutes from the airport when he turned to her.

"Will you tell them? After everything is over, I mean. I don't –" He stopped talking abruptly.

Chloe watched the tail end of the car in front of them, unable to look at Bruce without crying again. There had been enough tears that week already. "Of course. Who do you want me to tell?" She asked even though she already knew.

"The world. Superman should not be remembered as a murderer. Its' not fair to Clark."

Chloe nodded, her whispered 'ok' lost to anyone's ears but her own.

Three weeks later

Clark's screaming woke Bruce and Lex from their fragile grasp on sleep. Bruce knocked his chair over as he rushed across the few feet of space to Clark with Lex at his side. Clark's eyes were open wide and his body arched up off the table, straining against the bonds holding him down.

"Clark?" Bruce called as he leaned over him.

"What's happening?" Lex shouted.

Bruce shook his head. "I don't know. I –" The sudden silence seemed to vibrate off the walls of the room. Clark's eyes slipped closed only to open again a few seconds later as he let out a pained whimper when his body fell back onto the table.

"Clark?" Bruce tried again.

"Gone," Clark whispered.

"Gone?" Lex moved closer to hear him.

"It's gone. Too weak."

"Stop the IV, Lex, now!"

"No!" They looked down at Clark, startled by the sudden strength in his voice. "It's waiting."

"For what?"

"A sign of strength. It'll c-come b-back."

Bruce looked up at Lex. "If we don't stop it now, he'll die. That thing has been keeping him alive."

"Bruce, n-no. S'over now. M'sorry."

"No. No you don't get to be sorry, Clark. Stop that. You don't get to be sorry!" He turned to Lex again. "We'll find a way. Reduce the dosage." Lex moved to the machine and Bruce couldn't look Clark in the eyes when he whimpered in pain.

* * *

Three days went by with Clark sleeping, hiding from the agony his body was suffering while Lex and Bruce lowered the dosage of the kryptonite mixture a little more whenever they thought it was safe enough. Both steadfastly ignored Clark when he asked them to end it.

"No, Clark," Bruce finally said on the evening of the third day. "I made you a promise. I'm going to save you."

"You have saved me."

"Damn it, Clark."

"It's gone now. It won't hurt anyone else. I can't heal, Bruce. N-not from this. Please. Please just let me go."

"I can't."

"What if it comes back? If I live and it comes back..."

Bruce bent close to him and whispered, "I won't let that happen. Not again."

"Please, Bruce."

Lex appeared in the doorway. "I think it's safe to move him into a bed now, don't you?" Bruce looked between the two and made a soft noise of assent as Lex stepped into the room and reached for the locking mechanism.

"No," Clark gasped.

"Is it still here?" Lex pulled his hand back.

"It'll hurt m-more if you m-move me."

"Okay." Lex moved back to the lock again. "Okay, we won't move you. I'm going to undo these though. Alright?"

"Mmm." Clark's eyes slipped shut as he undid the restraints and moved them back off his body.

Lex hissed at the bruised, raw looking skin at Clark's wrists and ankles, and Bruce had to force his eyes away from the sight.

"I'm so sorry, Clark."

Clark's eyes slit open to fix on Bruce. "Don't."

"I should have saved you."

"Told you already, you did save me. Just not the w-way you wanted. S'all I could have a-asked of you. Either of you." Bruce read the look in his eyes and nodded grimly.

"You're sure?" he asked quietly.

"I'm sure."

Bruce leaned down to speak into his ear. "Don't make me watch you die on a table, Clark."

Clark turned his head slowly so that his lips brushed against the shell of Bruce's ear. "Okay."

Bruce shifted red-rimmed eyes to Lex and understanding dawned across Lex's face. "Help me move him."

"Clark," Lex pleaded.

"It's time."

Lex unhooked the IV line a moment later. Bruce stood and as carefully as he could with Clark held close against him. For his part, Clark did not to cry out. Then they were moving towards Bruce's sparse bedroom. He laid Clark on the bed and glanced over to Lex before backing to the door.

"Take your time," he said. "Come get me." When it's my turn to say good-bye, was left unspoken as the door shut behind him and he let his body fall against the wall and slide to the floor, staying that way until Lex crouched in front of him some time later.

"Look at me," Clark said as Bruce came back in. "It hurts to move, to b-breath, to even op-pen my eyes. I need you to let me go without carrying it with you. Promise me you'll do that." Bruce shook his head no and didn't say anything. "Why not?"

"I'd be lying to you."

"Then lie to me."

Bruce looked up sharply and really saw Clark this time; muscle mass all but eaten away, eyes sunken and lacklustre, body a mere shell of what it had once been. In that moment Bruce knew it really was over. He was going to say good-bye and never be able to spend another second of his life with the man who had changed everything for him.

"Fucking hell, Clark." The first sob that wracked his body came as a shock. The second and third drove him to his knees and then down further until his forehead was pressed against the unforgiving concrete floor.

"I don't –" he choked out, struggling to draw oxygen into his lungs. "I can't –"

"You can. You w-will. T-take a shower, Bruce. Shave and change your clothes. You'll f-feel better."

"Better!" It came out with a bark of laughter and Bruce pushed himself to his hands and knees and finally to his feet. "There won't ever be a better again, Clark."

"You're wrong."

"You're going mad with the pain."

"I'm p-perfectly sane."

Bruce leaned over to stroke a hand across Clark's cheekbone. "You've never been sane, Mr. Let's Have a Cow Motif in the Kitchen."

"You liked the cows, admit it."

The smile playing at his lips felt stiff and forgotten, but it was honest. "Maybe I did. A little."

"See? I knew it." His expression passed through a dozen different emotions in just a few seconds before he cleared his throat and cocked his head to the side. "Lex is probably pacing. Go tell him to calm down."

Bruce nodded in understanding and moved out into the hallway to find Lex walking up and down it at a furious pace. He huffed out a small breath that could almost pass for laughter. "You've become predictable in your old age, Lex."

"What are you doing out here so soon?"

"Giving him a minute to get himself together."

Lex stopped his movement and bobbed his head once thoughtfully. "How did it get to this point?"

"I don't know. For a while there, Lex, I was actually starting to think life might be a little bit fair."

"Go back in. Take your time."

"Stop pacing," Bruce said as he turned back to the door.

There was moisture on Clark's face when Bruce returned to his side. He leaned down to kiss one of the salty tracks, swiping at another with his thumb.

"I have a will. It's at the farm. Top drawer next to the fridge under the cutlery tray."


"I left the house and the land to you. You don't have to keep it if you don't want to."

"I want to keep it. It should stay in your family; our family. I'll figure all that stuff out, don't worry about it."

"Will you bury me or take me to the fortress?"

"Whatever you want me to do, I'll do." Bruce barely held back the new round of sobs threatening to overtake him.

"Bury me next to my mom and dad. Please?"

"Of course."

"Bruce. Bury me with kryptonite."


"You have to."

"There's no reason for it."

"I've come back from the dead before."

"With help from the sun. Something there's a distinct lack of underground, if you hadn't noticed."

"Smart ass."

"Don't ask me to do that, Clark, because I won't. And I don't want to have to deny you anything right now."

Clark let it drop, giving Bruce that one concession. "Give my books to Chloe? The ones you don't want to keep. Except for the dictionary. G-give that to Lois."

"Still can't spell, can she?"

"Weather still gets an extra 'h'." Clark drew in a deep, shaky breath and his body went tight against the pain.

Bruce waited for him to relax as much as possible before speaking again. "I love you, Clark. I'm a better man for having known you."

"Don't get sappy on me now, Wayne." Clark grinned faintly. "No giving up, okay? Go back to the L-league."

"Lex told you I quit."

"He said you t-took early retirement."

"We'll see."

"You'll see."

Bruce eyes dropped to where his hand was stroking across Clark's cheekbone. "Yeah."

"You know I love you."

"I know."

"Go get Lex."

He held back the tears threatening to spill over as he made his way to where Lex waited. "How do we do this?" Bruce asked him quietly.

"We sedate him and inject him with kryptonite. His heart is already weak. It won't take long. We talked about it."

"That's what he wants?"



Lex was right in that it didn't take long. Bruce held on to Clark's hand while the sedative took him down and didn't let go through the 73 seconds it took Clark's heart to stop after the massive dose of kryptonite was delivered. Clark's expression was peaceful in the end.

"It looks like he's sleeping," Bruce whispered, still holding on.

"I'll be in the kitchen whenever you're ready." Lex took one last look at Clark and let his fingers graze the pale skin of his forearm before leaving the room. Bruce rested his forehead against Clark's still chest and let go of everything he'd been holding inside.


The funeral was small. Private. League members clad in dark clothing stood alongside the people closest to Clark. Only those who would remember him as both Clark Kent and Superman were present.

When Chloe's article appeared on the front page of the Daily Planet one week later, Metropolis – the world even – felt a mixture of grief and relief. Superman was gone, but the truth was known. The skeptical and non-believers were quietly ignored as people agreed that the being who had taken dozens of lives before disappearing was not their Superman. The city of Metropolis had their hero back, if only in name.

Superman's memorial was attended by thousands of people. Metropolis had swiftly becomes a sea of mourners. Streets were closed and businesses shut down while people came out in droves to say good-bye; to say they were sorry. It took another week for things to return to almost normal in the city. Clark had been gone exactly 18 days when Chloe knocked on Bruce's front door. When it opened, she was surprised to see a well-dressed and clean-shaven version of the man.

"That big of a difference, huh?"

"Sorry." Chloe smiled at being caught staring. "Can I come in?"

Bruce stepped back to allow her entrance and lead the way into the kitchen. "Coffee?"

"Please." She took a seat at the table and fidgeted nervously with her bag. Bruce arched an eyebrow at her curiously.

"Is everything alright?"

"Yeah. I just. No." She wrapped her hands around the mug he set in front of her.

"Mind reading is J'Onn's thing, not mine," he said gently. "Tell me."

"I found something," Chloe said as she reached for her bag and pulled out a large envelope.

Bruce set his mug aside and took it when she offered it to him. Pulling the contents out, he spread them across the table in front of him. It was mostly papers, data mixed with lab results, and a small shard of something gold. "What's this?" He picked it up and turned it over in his hands.

"Gold kryptonite." He glanced up at her, eyebrows raised again in question. "I had Oliver run some tests against samples from Clark."

Bruce's eyes skimmed the pages before him. "And?"

"Before Clark died, I asked Lex if that thing could survive if Clark weren't... Clark. If he were human."

"We didn't think it would."

"I know. He also thought if Clark were human, the kryptonite damage might be reversed. But he wasn't sure." Chloe paused to draw in a deep, steadying breath. "Bruce, the gold kryptonite changed Clark's blood samples. It made it normal. Human."

"What are you trying to say?"

"It could save him."

"He's dead."

"He's been dead before."

"It's too late. The body starts to breakdown, Chloe, decompose."

"The human body. Clark isn't human."

"Wasn't human," Bruce corrected quietly. "No. I'm not letting you play god with his remains. You have no idea what could happen."

"Bruce, please hear me out. The samples, some of them were skin cells. They regenerated and –"

"I said no, Chloe!" She jumped at his shout. "I don't want to hear this. Go. Get out!"

Chloe nodded and began gathering up the papers, leaving behind the sliver of meteorite Bruce still clutched in one hand. "I'm sorry." She left without another word.

Bruce sat at the kitchen table staring at the small gold fragment of meteorite until long after his coffee had gone cold, his mind racing. Was it really too late? Finally he pushed back from the table fast enough to send the chair flying into the wall hard enough to dent. He raced towards the front door, grabbing his keys and cell phone and running down the front steps. All the while he kept whispering, <i>please don't be too late</i> over and over again as he climbed in his car and took off after Chloe.


feedback home