He had buried him today. Her son.
Clark Kent sat alone in his fortress, long since named The Fortress of Solitude, looking out at the whiteness of the Arctic landscape. Hollow, lifeless, blank. Just like how he felt.
The funeral had been well attended, despite the cold rain of the wintery day. Afterwards, others had gathered for the wake, others that had loved Johnathan as much as Clark had, but he couldn't attend.
It would raise too many questions.
Johnathan had been an old man.
Clark still looked like he was twenty-five, though he was closing in fast on the century mark.
Clark had only been able to visit him alone for decades, otherwise the people in Johnathan's life would have started to wonder why his "old friend" never seemed to age. At all.
And now Johnathan was gone. Her son...dead.
It was times like this that Clark wished alcohol affected him. He remembered back a lifetime ago to his youth, when he and Lex had been friends and not the most twisted of enemies. Lex had always turned to a glass of scotch in good times and bad. The ritual seemed to give comfort, to smooth both the highs and lows. Clark wished it were so easy for him. That a glass of fiery liquor could dull his own senses. Since that option was not open to him, he stared blankly out at the unforgiving white of the winter Arctic from the equally white crystal fortress. His black funeral attire the only variation in a world made of white.
A crystal to the side of his chair began to glow and pulse with a green glow. Company was coming, and by the color, that company was J'onn. Clark released a heavy breath, but didn't move from his spot. If the Martian insisted on finding him, Clark would let him, but he wouldn't make it easy. Clark would have preferred to remain alone in the fortress. Well, maybe not exactly alone, but mostly.
There was always another here.
J'onn appeared in the hallway behind Clark, and though he didn't turn, Clark watched the Martian's approach reflected on a thousand icy crystalline facets. J'onn had come in his natural green form today, probably because he had flown here instead of taking human transportation means. Flying in human guise took more energy, and reaching the Fortress in winter was not easy. As Clark well knew. He had hoped the challenge would keep just such visitors at bay. He should have known it was a vain hope. Both J'onn's compassion and his duty as Clark's guardian would drive him to check on Clark now.
"Hello, Clark," J'onn's basso voice rumbled quietly.
Clark grunted a reply.
"It was a lovely service. Why aren't you at the wake?"
"Someone might recognize me."
Clark could see J'onn lifted brow in the reflections. It was a very human gesture on the alien face, but then J'onn had lived among them even longer than Clark. "Really? You haven't met with Johnathan's family in decades. You really think they would remember you?"
Clark shrugged. "Maybe not, but I couldn't risk it. Johnathan always wanted the human life. The ageless 'friend' would have thrown that off. I couldn't go against his wishes even now that he's gone."
J'onn was silent for a long moment, before replying in a whisper soft voice. "And with him gone, you've also lost your last connection to Her."
Clark didn't reply.
J'onn moved around to stand in front of Clark, blocking the view of the icy plains. Reluctantly, Clark raised his gaze to meet the Martian's eyes. Even without pupils or irises, Clark had no problem reading the sorrow and compassion in their glowing red surface. J'onn held his gaze long enough to make sure Clark read the sympathy before hunching down on his heels so his face was level with Clark's seated view.
"You know that on Mars, I had a family."
"A wife, children. I loved them very much, but they were taken from me."
Clark nodded again.
"But that doesn't mean I lost them."
Clark frowned, puzzled.
J'onn smiled sadly. "They may have died, but they yet lived." The Martian put a green hand over his heart. "They still live within me. They live within my heart..." His hand shifted to place a finger on his head. "...and in my memory. They go with me every day. The give me strength." J'onn inched forward and took one of Clark's hands where it rested limply over his legs. "Clark, you powers may be fueled by the Yellow Sun, but your heart has always been sustained by those you love. Their death does not stop that love, for they live still...within you."
Clark nodded his understanding, only now aware that the tears he had held back for so long had begun slipping down his face.
J'onn arose from his crouch. "That was all I came to say. I will leave you now." He moved around Clark, but stopped when a single raspy voice choked out. "Stay...please."
The Martian moved back to Clark's side. A crystal chair, the same as the one Clark occupied, formed out of the Fortress floor next to Clark. J'onn took the seat and joined Clark in silent vigil over the white winterscape.
Night came to the Arctic very fast this time of year, though it hadn't yet reached total 24-hour darkness as it would in the heart of the season. J'onn had left when night had settled firmly over the landscape. Darkness didn't bother the other alien, but he did have other commitments beyond Clark.
But that was fine, for Clark still needed to break the news of the death to someone.
With a heavy sigh, Clark got up from the crystal chair. It began to dissolve back into the crystal of the fortress as soon as he was up. Clark paid it no heed. The Fortress was his now and knew and obeyed his thoughts and whims.
Clark silently walked into the depths of the Fortress. It had grown and changed exponentially since he had first come here under Jor-El's duress. Now the Fortress was a haven, not a prison.
Now it was where he had his greatest treasure.
Clark looked through the clear brilliance of the large crystal to the figure caught within. At Her.
As he looked at her, Clark was once again glad that J'onn was unable to read his mind. Not that the Martian used his powers intrusively, but this was Clark's secret alone. When J'onn had said that Johnathan's death broke his last connection to her, Clark had not corrected him. After all, Clark had done exactly as she had wished. He had let her die.
He just hadn't let her stay dead.
Clark placed a hand on the cool, smooth crystal. He spoke to her quietly, his throat threatening to close off with each word.
"Chloe. I buried our son today."
Thirty years. That was all the time he had with her. And so much of that had been wasted time. Time when she had loved him and he had been too stupid to know it or seize upon it. Time he had lost with her that now he would do anything to take back. He knew he should be thankful for the life they had together instead of the time lost, but it was hard on a day like today.
On the day he buried their son.
Jonathan had seemed like a miracle when he had been born to them. Doctor Emil had told them Clark's Krytonian DNA was incompatible with human to produce children. It was only by luck that Johnathan had been conceived after an incident with Blue Kryptonite had left Clark temporarily human. Unfortunately, that Blue-K had been destroyed, and none since found. So Johnathan had been their only offspring, and he had been completely human.
And human meant he was vulnerable to the aging and disease of that species. Just like Chloe.
Though Chloe hadn't gotten to age very much before dying.
Cancer was a heartless bitch.
Cancer was also something Clark was completely helpless against. He had saved her so many times, been there just in the nick of time, the great rescuer. But he hadn't been able to do anything to save her from the disease eating her from within.
"Ten weeks, tops. I'm so sorry," the doctor told them.
"But...isn't there anything you can do?" Clark had pleaded with the doctor.
'I'm afraid not, the cancer has spread too much, at a rate that is almost unprecedented." The doctor looked into Chloe's stunned eyes. "Have you been exposed to the Smallville meteor rocks?"
Chloe nodded numbly.
The doctor's expression was highly sympathetic. "That would do it. Exposure to the rocks can be highly toxic over time, especially with direct contact."
Both Clark and Chloe were silent. They were both thinking of the hundreds of times Chloe had been exposed to the rocks over the years. The dozens of times she had touched them with bare skin to get the deadly rocks away from Clark, unknowing that with each touch that she was the one being poisoned.
She was only 45 years old.
"Clark..." Her voice was weak as she lay in the bed, holding his hand.
Chloe had always looked so much younger than her years. Her habit of coloring her hair blonde had hidden most of the grays that had started to form in her late thirties. Her figure was kept strong and nicely proportioned due to a rigorous training regime she had picked up during her time with the Suicide Squad. Her bad eating habits had gone away with Johnathan's birth. She had looked fit and lively and no older than 30 until a few weeks ago. Now her hair was completely gray and her face lined with pain. It had been too late for chemo or surgery, so they had seen no point in having her hospitalized. So she was here at their home. The farm she had insisted on buying back after he had foolishly sold it when he had thought he would marry Lois.
Now he couldn't imagine what his life would have been like if he had gone through with it. For that matter, he wondered if Lois and Oliver thought the same way. The week prior that pair had celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary and looked forward to many more together.
Not like him and Chloe.
Johnathan held her other hand. Tears running down his face.
Chloe struggled to swallow, as she spoke again. "Clark...I know what you're thinking. This isn't your fault. I wouldn't have changed anything in my life. In our life..." She shook his hand gently, before turning her face to smile on her son as well. Then looking back at her husband, she continued, "I wish it had been longer too, but I am only human, and you have to let me die. It's my time."
He could hear her heart slowing, but he fought the truth. "No..." he gasped out in a broken voice.
"Yes. I can feel it." She paused and swallowed. Her words came softer now and strained. "I love you, Clark. Always have, always will. Take care of our son. Take care of our world. I love you..."
Then her heart stopped and she was gone.
Clark hadn't wasted a single second on grief. There was too little time. He had flown at his top speed with Chloe's body to the Fortress. He had done what she wished. He had let her die at home.
But that didn't mean he had to leave her that way.
Using a crystal he had created weeks earlier, he pressed it into Chloe's heart. Her still heart began to beat. That sound drove him as he cleaned her, dried her, and even dyed her hair back to her beloved blonde.
But she didn't wake, barely breathed.
She might not be "dead" anymore, but neither was she truly alive. The crystal would keep her heart beating, but was not a cure. There was no cure.
At least not yet.
So he would place her in suspended animation in crystal until there was.
If he was going to be nearly immortal, he needed her to be there too. He could wait.
So now his Fortress of Solitude was no longer so empty. When he stopped and listened, he could hear the slow, steady thrump-thrump of her heart throughout the whole structure.
Clark had suspected for decades that Johnathan knew he lied.
They had had a funeral and an urn full of ashes for Chloe. Clark had secretly filled the urn from the fireplace and said were Chloe's.
It wasn't until Johnathan lay on his own deathbed that he finally broke the unspoken accord. Clark had sneaked in after the hospital's visiting hours to hold the ancient, papery hand of his son. Johnathan's body had become small and frail with age despite having his father's height. Even so, his son's blue eyes, so like his own, were still sharp.
"Hi, Dad," Johnathan whispered.
"Hi, son." Clark squeezed the delicate hand very gently with his own strong young-seeming one.
Clark blinked in surprise. Johnathan let out a dry chuckle which turned into a racking cough. After several moments, Johnathan settled back again, but he was still smiling. "I know that urn of ashes isn't hers. I don't know what you did, but I know that wasn't her in there." He smiled sweetly at his father. "I've always imagined you took her to some other planet, somewhere beautiful and exciting where she was happy and well, but she was unable to return." His smile flickered out briefly with pain -- both physical and remembered -- before he put it firmly back in place. "And unable to contact us."
"No, Dad." His son squeezed his hand back. "I don't want to know what you did." He paused and looked at his father with determined blue eyes. The color in those eyes may have been Clark's, but the expression was pure Chloe. "And whatever it is, I don't want it for me. I want to die and be buried next to my wife." His voice became soft. "Five years now, and I've missed her every day." He looked at his father with sympathy. "As I'm sure you understand."
Clark swallowed hard. Johnathan was right on both counts. Clark knew exactly how it felt to lose his other half, but he had been selfishly planning to bring Johnathan to the Fortress as well, even though Johnathan's life had always been very human.
"Yes, I understand. I'll make sure you are buried with her."
"Thank you, Dad. And when you have time, can you check in on the family once in a while? I know why you had to separate yourself from them for their safety, but I'll feel better knowing that they have their Superhero Grandad and Great-Grandad looking in on them."
"I will. I promise, son."
A few days later, their son was gone.
Clark looked into the crystal at his wife. His heart. His soul. The time he had with her had gone by in an eyeblink. Though not even the decades he had with Johnathan had been enough. As a near-immortal, Clark knew he was doomed to lose everyone he loved too soon. He would outlive them all. For the most part, he already had. Everyone human from his Smallville youth was long gone. His parents. Oliver and Lois. Even Lex.
But J'onn had been right. It was still the ones he loved that gave his heart strength. Every time he put on the suit given to him by his fathers and went to help people, save people, make the world a better place, he did it for them. For Chloe and their son.
But now they were both taken from him.
Chloe lived on here in that frozen crystal, too young to die, and to precious to let go. Her heartbeat breaking up the desolate isolation of the The Fortress of Solitude.
Johnathan lived on in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
And they both lived on in Clark's heart and mind.
"Chloe. I buried our son today," he told her. "But he lives still."
---- THE END ---