By Marnie Rowe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2001
Summary: Superman has had a really, really bad week. Now it just has gotten worse. What is he going to do?
Author Note: This story is set pre dating of Lois and Clark, probably in early second season. All characters are borrowed and no profit is being made.
Clark flew over the site of the accident and his stomach clenched in response to what he saw. The tangled and twisted mass of multi-colored metal that lay below him had been several cars once, now it was hard to tell where one had begun and another had ended. Little blossoms of flame bloomed here and there amidst the wreckage; firefighters were quick to put these out, but they could do nothing for the thick pall of dark smoke that rose sullenly into the sky and yet still hung like a shroud over the scene.
Clark was hovering over the mangled mess scanning for 'hot spots', the places where the rescue workers could not readily or easily get to. The roar of the rescue vehicles mingled with the only slightly less muted voices of the crowd of people that inevitably gathered at a disaster site. Together, they rose up to his vantage point drawing his attention, 'rubberneckers' he thought to himself with disgust. Did they not have enough going on in their own lives that they had to stop and gawk at the misery of others?
Clark had not been having a good day, or rather a good series of days. He had not gotten more than an hour or two of sleep in four days and this horrifying tragedy did nothing to alleviate his feeling at low ebb. No matter how much his mother and father or even Lois, in her abstract way during her discussions with him as Clark about the hero, told him that he could not prevent every bad thing that happened, he still felt that he could do more. How many lives had been lost today because he had not been there?
A flash of movement where there should not be anything moving caught his scanning eye, he zeroed in and stopped breathing. There was a child still alive in the middle of the mess— a young boy still strapped into the safety seat that must have somehow saved his life. He had been unconscious until now and since his parents had not been as lucky as he, Clark had not noticed his life signs in the rest of the din surrounding him.
Clark quickly formulated a plan of action, and just as swiftly darted down to implement it. He cut the car that the boy was in away from the other wrecks that pinned it into place, leaving more of the other cars in place. Thinking that hauling a little extra would not hurt him— but molten steel could drip and really cause the child trouble. He settled the misshapen lump of steel and debris down on a cleared shoulder within the rescue enclosure, knowing that it was going to be very touch and go getting the child out.
A paramedic ran over as soon as the dust settled. "Superman, is there a survivor in that car?" The young ambulance worker was craning his neck to try and see something through the loops and bulges of metal and shards of glass, but his eyes snapped back to focus on Clark when Superman replied in the affirmative.
"Just one," Clark's voice was a grim monotone. "It's a child, all his vitals appear to be stable for the moment. Now if you would, please stand back. I don't think that anybody can help me here." Clark gave the other man a sad but purposeful look and turned around to face his task. The young man ran back to inform the others that he worked with to keep a stretcher free if at all possible for the newest survivor that Superman had found.
He had to figure out how to do it. With the way that the crash had happened, a compactor would not need to do much more work. All dimensions of the car had been radically decreased, the trunk and engine block had both been pushed into the seating area of the car. Both doors had been staved in and as a result the roof had fallen down so that it was just bare centimeters away from the child's face.
Then to add to the complications he was already dealing with, there was the way that he had to cut the car out, he had not wanted to disturb any of the fragile support that there was left in the doors or roof and so he had left the part of the other cars attached. That left out the brute strength option, he was not going to be able to just rip off a door and get the boy out that way. Shearing off the mass of crumpled metal that used to be the trunk could have equally disastrous consequences.
Clark finally decided that his best course of action would be to peel back the roof of a car like a sardine can lid. Cutting through the metal with ultra focused beams from his heat vision but blowing streams of his 'superbreath' to cool the cuts before they could even think about dripping. It was going to take a lot of his concentration and he was already suffering from having a serious lack of sleep. Clark hoped for his and the child's sake that he was up to it.
It was just as grueling as Clark had thought and then some, he had not taken into consideration that he would have to hold onto the roof of the car with one hand constantly as it kept trying to buckle and fall down in onto the still mostly unconscious child. Then there was the added factor that just like everybody else, he was used to doing things in short bursts, not this marathon effort utilizing several of his abilities at once. He was so tired. Clark could not remember ever being this tired before and was worried that his control would start to slip. He was also worried that if he did not get things moving along a little faster that the shock might kill the child even with all his efforts.
He was so intensely focused on what he was doing, a little heat vision there, now a quick but gentle burst of cooling breath, adjust grip on roof, that when the flashes of light impinged on his consciousness and the voice registered on his ears he almost lost it.
"Yo," a laconic voice droned, "Superman, buddy, think that you could move over a bit, to the left; you're blocking the cameras…" The voice belonging to the cameraman was as uncaring as it was clinical, the only reason the guy was there was for the 'story'. He and the rest of his fellows cramming in behind the TV crew. There were more on the other side of the car and generally surrounding him, so far they had not violated his workspace but would that very slim amount of courtesy may be taken away if they decided that they could get a better shot or angle if they plain just didn't stop and think.
Clark's teeth clenched and his breath hissed out of him in surprised anger. He was very glad that his reflexes were so quick that the shock that he had felt when the cameraman from the local news station had spoken to him so callously had translated into nothing more than the slightest of shivers, like that of tired and over-strained muscles. It wasn't his muscles that were tired and over- strained though, it was his mind, his emotions—his tolerance.
Clark knew that to most of his colleagues that the 'story' was the 'be all and end all' of the job, after all you were only as good as the next one you wrote but there was such a thing as decency. Clark thought wryly, 'now there is a word that is reverting only to textbook usage'. Decency: to follow kind and moral standards. He thought of what he had dealt with on an average lately, nope definitely textbook usage only. There had been a number of things like this at quite a few of his latest rescues, things that showed how people had no respect for what was happening other than doing things to get his attention, or the attention of the cameras that were trying to get him to edge to the side right now.
It wasn't just the cameramen, or the reporters; it was the regular people on the street doing bizarre things just to get attention. Clark did not understand these people and their attitudes at all. As far as he was concerned there were just certain things that you did not do. One of those being that you did *not* shoulder a rescue worker out of the way in the middle of a delicate operation just so that you could get a better angle for your photos!
For crying out loud, if they had done this to a regular rescuer, it was likely that the poor rescuer would have lost it with *their* surprise, exhaustion and slower reflexes. The results being that the patient would be lost, in most probability, tragically and messily. Clark was bitter as he thought, 'Yeah, I bet that would have suited them just fine too, made an even more spectacular story.'
Clark took the only stand that he could with his hands so occupied, he stared the photographers down and back. When they had removed themselves from his work area to what he considered a respectable distance, he said very quietly but firmly, "Thank you." Satisfied that he had conveyed his message of not being disturbed, he got back to work and soon had the roof of the car off and was lifting the child out.
Like a flock of vultures swarming down on a wounded bit of prey, the press began to swarm forward as soon as Clark stepped away from the opened car with the child in his arms, but when the man of steel just glared at them they subsided back again and contented themselves with the occasional hollered question that he did not answer and a literal strobing of flashbulbs.
He walked the child over to the waiting paramedics, they seemed to respect his silence and mood, only asking him something if it was essential to what they were doing. He was grateful for that and felt able to wait on the scene to see if the boy was stable or if he needed to be flown to the nearest hospital. It also made him have the presence of mind to ask if there were any others that needed to be flown out. As soon as he was told that yes, the boy was stable and that no, there were no other people that needed him, he took off. He did not see the strange looks that he received when he did not exchange his usual little courtesies with the rescue workers, which was his standard operating procedure.
He flew quickly to the arctic and landed in one of his favorite places to meditate, near an old radio tower. It allowed him to hear if there were any truly major disasters, but still allowed him to have time to think without tons of tiny little rescues interrupting him. And he really needed some time to think.
The problem was that he was beginning to seriously wonder if being a superhero was worth it. It wasn't that he begrudged the time that he spent on it, or that he felt that he was not making some kind of difference. There was the problem too, that he had made the suit so that he could help openly, he had always done it, and he doubted that he could ever stop. Being able to help was something that made him feel good, yes, it made him feel like he was more useful to the world at large than your average freak out of the circus.
But when you have your freak status shoved into your face every single time you are trying to help, when the rescue scene turns into a raving media and pedestrian circus, that just hurt. There were the people out there that worshiped him as some kind of messiah, which made him very nervous, but then there were the ones who just see his suit and run to follow, knowing that there might be a chance, however slim, that if they are on the sidelines they might be captured on film.
They were the worst, the 'want-to-be-seens'. The religious fanatics were just zealots, they were not looking for anything from him except to see what he did in any given situation and then try to find meaning in it. Harmlessly crazy. The media, it was their job, he knew that one intimately enough, he just thought that there could be a heck of a lot more class in the rest of his peers. But the rubberneckers and the want-to-be-seens, he just could not understand them. He grunted and thought sourly to himself, < how do you approach the scene of an accident with the thoughts of > 'Oh boy, live entertainment!' < or > 'Oh wow, pain and suffering of my neighbours, whoopee, there's a chance that I might get to be on T.V.!!'
There was a total lack of anything that even resembled empathy in a lot of people the world over, in the millions that lived on the planet, or the thousands in Metropolis alone. He had seen so many atrocities perpetrated, stopped as many as he could and yet there were still so many that he missed, and yet more that were being thought up every day by someone new. The Hollywood people had not helped things either, with the way that they portrayed the tragic and horrifying as merely entertainment. What were people as a whole supposed to do? What have we become? What is it in our genetic and racial makeup that makes us able to so totally ignore and disdain the pain and suffering of our fellows?
< Man, the thinking beast >, Clark mused to himself. The only animal on the planet that was cruel by whim and not by nature on a regular basis. Man is the only animal on the planet with a full frontal lobe, or at least a fully functioning frontal lobe. It was what made abstract thought possible, the ability to plan ahead, and what some humans used it for made Clark physically ill.
Oh sure, animals look cruel, true. But what looks like cruelties to humans are not, they are things that are done for the good of the species. If you stand back and take the long view, you can see and empathize with the motives that the acts are carried out with. The constant testing within the ranks is not because of wanting to know who is better but for the continued survival of the pack as a whole, the battles with the pack leader is not for personal prestige but for procreation and protection. If a pack leader cannot protect himself anymore, how can he protect the rest?
But humans were another story, they had guns and other props for their wholesale destruction of each other, they practice and perpetrate senseless cruelties. If you stand back and look at the larger view of humanity, why they are doing the things that they do, it does not make sense; there is no rhyme or reason for the violence or other acts. Most often it would be to just add glory to the personal honor of just one ego driven man or woman. It is done to satisfy and amuse individuals— not a reason but a perversion.
How is one man going to be able to stop that? Even if he is Super-powered?
Clark felt like he had not even touched the surface of the problems, there were a few things that he knew that he had helped with, some things that were changing and granted, he had not been at this for very long in comparison to how long the other trends had been in place. But even with the small things that he had managed, he still felt that his presence was negligible. < Or bad >, his negative experience with Luthor running him through the gauntlet had been bad enough; Luthor was evil through and through and Clark knew that. What was bothering him now were the so called 'little people', your everyday average Joe's that he encountered each day that went about their lives and still did all their petty little evils that were sapping at his strength the most.
Clark knew that a little selfishness was perfectly healthy, after all nobody could operate totally on a level that they did nothing but give, or they would have nothing left of themselves. He, himself, had his parents, his job, his friendships with Lois, Jimmy and Perry. All the things that made up his own private life, a private life that he guarded jealously. But his private life being kept private hurt no one, in fact in some ways it protected more than anything else. It protected those that he cared about; the people that would attack the ones that he loved did not know that he loved anyone. He did not feel that the world needed to know any of these things, it was not like he didn't help whenever he was able to; he even left his paying job to help out. Not that they knew that, or needed to, but he felt that he did do more than enough to be entitled to his privacy. He did not know what he would do if he ever got Lois to go out with him on a date like he dreamed about though— would he ignore everything but the largest of emergencies? And if he did, would that be the right thing to do?
He sighed and leaned back into the snow, the northern lights strobing across the sky like nothing else but Mother Nature's laser show. Musingly he thought that he should cut back to just the most major of emergencies anyway, limit his helping out. Or go to a more sinister version of my costume—maybe that would keep the curiosity seekers at bay, make him more serious looking. < Nahh >, he thought to himself after going over the ideas for a while. Yeah, he could and probably would cut back on the sheer amount of rescues that he did, but the costume being dark and sinister was just not workable. His mother and he had designed the costume with the bright colours with the whole idea of making him easy to see and to make him appear friendly and more approachable in any circumstances by anyone.
So far it had worked admirably as well. His mother had really hit on a winner when she had designed his *supersuit* and here he was considering dropping it and all its copies into the deepest ocean that he could find. Clark idly thought back to an old show that he had watched as a child, The Greatest American Hero. Through the aid of a suit that had been given to him by aliens, the main character, Ralph Hinkley, had been able to do a lot of very heroic things—even if he had been rather abysmal at utilizing the suit having lost the manual. After a while and a lot of bad guys later, the show had been cancelled with a finale of the suit being passed on to another deserving and good willed human.
Ralph had been an inept hero, but he had had a good heart and he had utilized the powers that the suit had given him without being corrupted. He could have just thrown it all in when it got to be too much for him, very easily by just ditching the suit. Clark thought ironically, < it's not like I have that option. My suit is the camouflage, not the powers. I would still have to hear all the screams of pain, the cries for help. > Clark groaned and threw an arm over his eyes. He really did not know if he could keep being Superman.
Sitting in the snow deep in the arctic with a lightshow put on by nature more spectacular than anything that man could make, Clark sat and considered his options. He could stay here, the cold did not bother him and he could reach the biggest of the emergencies quick enough when he heard about them from the old radio tower. He could even build himself a very nice fortress type house from the indigenous materials, bring in anything that he might want or need… < anything that I might want or need? > Clark knew himself a bit better than most people knew themselves out of sheer dint of spending so much of his time keeping his own counsel and he knew that living up in the arctic away from the rest of humanity was not the answer because he *needed* humanity. He could not bring Lois up here or anyone else, so that cut out the anything that he wanted.
Clark sat up in a sudden movement as he realized that he had not been thinking, he had been just reacting with blind emotion to some very bad days and that he had not solved anything sitting here except to further his own despair. In short, he had been wallowing.
Clark decided to make a mental list of why he should remain Superman and why he shouldn't. A list made stemming from emotions was going to be hard to do but it was the only way that he could logically think to decide. Emotion was what had driven him to assume the guise of the hero in the first place after all. The pure driven need to help when he knew that he could, the need to alleviate the suffering of those in trouble with the best of his ability. That was certainly going to be very hard if he gave up being the hero, he had barely been able to take it when he had had to stand by before the creation of the suit. The number of times that he had moved from place to place when his *angel* activities looked to be getting him caught had hurt more than he had ever let on. The fact that he could fly did not seem to preclude that he was the type to put down roots easily and he never wanted to leave Metropolis, not without Lois, which was not looking to be too likely at the moment.
On the other hand there were the zealots, the religious fanatics that looked up to him to be their savior. They referred to him as the 'second coming'; it was freaky enough to want to send him screaming back to the good old ritual corn worship at home! His lips quirked as he remembered Lois saying that. He guessed that as long as he kept to his strictures of being Superman, the truth, justice and generousity, that they would follow in his example and be better people for it. Better people than average and harmless for the most part…
Who or what would be next on the list, Lois? Lois was a whopping *stay* both as Superman and in Metropolis, there was no question there. He knew that he could not leave her, not and keep his sanity. She helped him keep his sanity even now when she did not know the full truth, she so totally believed in Superman and what he stood for—< what he stood for >, Clark thoughtfully considered what he had just thought to himself. Lois believed more in what Superman stood for than in what he could do. Perry and Jimmy were of the same mind too.
It made sense; it was the same thing that she fought for everyday in her life in her job. She fought crime tooth and nail, exposing corruption to the public every chance that she got and never stopped prying if she thought that there was something wrong. It was what made her such a fantastic reporter, but then Clark thought over a lot of her stories. They were not all focused on the little guy getting squashed or eaten up by the big guys, but a great deal of them were. If something stunk, then Lois made it her business to sniff it out. She was as much a hero in her way as he was.
Lois did not have to deal with the publicity of being a living freak show though, most of her work was done when she was undercover and the little head shot that appeared beside her byline was smudged on purpose. The sheer volume of publicity was something that he had not really thought of when he had first donned the suit, it was rather daunting, especially to a shy country boy.
It was also more than a bit outrageous; he often did no more than what some of their fellows did. The rescue workers at that accident, they did not have his guarantee of not getting hurt if something goes wrong and they still were deep in the mess that had been so many cars— trying to reach all the survivors that they could. He felt humbled by them, they were the true heros and they were just seen as doing their jobs. The same went for any police officer that he had met, they went out day and night, often working shifts which made it impossible to get any truely decent sleep and still they were there on the streets and putting themselves constantly in danger to keep your average person safe. Then there was the real kicker for them, they were seen as only doing their job at the best of times, far more everyday people hated the police, or at the very least did not want them around.
Policework was a truely thankless job, they rarely got public accolades and there were not enough awards for officers even in house. Firemen and paramedics were more likely to get the public accolades but what they generally had to deal with in the line of duty never really made it worthwhile unless you were the type of person to do that type of work anyway. He knew it from personal experience. And that was part of the reason that he knew that he could not give up the Superman persona, those true heros needed as much help as they could get and if he could give it then he could feel that he was doing something for them, the true heros of the world over.
Clark was beginning to feel pretty good about himself again, he had almost totally reaffirmed himself of being Superman. There were other heros out there all fighting for the same things that he was, the fact that they did not get the recognition of their work was something that he could do something about in some op-ed pieces for the Daily Planet. That thought made him feel warmer inside than he had felt in days, that he could use his more mundane talents to make a difference.
He did not know how many of the ravening mob would read his work but putting the pieces together would help him. Ravening mob, my oh so glorious public. Wonder what they would think if they heard their *hero*, Superman, describe them in those terms, would it wake them up? All the rubberneckers, all the glory hounds, all the people out there that are out for no one but themselves, they truely do make me want to quit at times.
Thinking of the people that had caused his inner misery of earlier dampened his spirits some but he had forgotten about the other heros in the world that balanced out the lunatics looking for attention. The police and their endless work under revilling of their fellows, the tireless paramedics, the firemen who risked life and limb whenever disaster struck. He had forgotten that there were other subtle ways of fighting and aiding than just direct action, Lois, Perry and Jimmy all fought that battle alongside him at the planet with a lot less hubub.
And then there were his parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent who had taken in a very strangely arrived child, first to their home and then to their hearts. True it was because they had desperately wanted a child and had been denied through all other avenues, but selfish their motives might have been for accepting him so blindly at first, they had been the best parents that he could have ever asked for. No matter what changes had occurred, they had been there and been supportive, even to his idea of creating Superman.
And of course there was the very last argument, < how can I give up being able to go and freely do the things that I can do when at long last I am able to do so openly? > An old saying came to him at that moment and he matched it to what he was feeling, < the freedom is heady and too much to lose over a few rotten apples in the larger basket. > Clark smiled ironically at himself with his last thought before he took off to head for home and one last patrol over his city, < his own selfish needs to help and to be able to use his gifts that made him want to stay Superman after all. >