Disclaimers: Superman stuff belongs to DC, X-Files to Chris Carter. Not me. I just treat them better.
Warnings: No connection to my other Jimmy/Superman series (entitled 'Numbers', which can be found on the [allslash] archive or in the 'Myslash' section of the Tips site). I've played a little bit with the Superman timeline, but then again so has everyone else in the world. For the X-Files stuff, figure sometime after Red & Black. Despite initial appearances, this is NOT that kind of death story, maybe. Sort of. I think. Contains mild descriptions of male/male sex and affection which may upset the terminally uptight. If you don't want to read about it, what are you doing here?
Synopsis: Mulder and Scully investigate the death of a former newspaper photographer, and uncover some history. Mulder finds some insight into his own life and loves, while the Ratboy gets taken by surprise and Scully remains basically clueless.
As Moonlight on Water
i know i can't come with you
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Reuters/AP Friday, 08/12/00
Olsen, James Bartholemew (1916 - 2000)
Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, 17 August, 2000 at the Meuller Funeral Parlor, Smallville, KS. Mr. Olsen received the Hearst Award for Excellence in Photojournalism in 1961 and 1967. He is survived only by a nephew. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for the Kent Scholarship Fund (18A Main Street, Smallville, KS 43365). Mr. Olsen died on Wednesday, 10 August of natural causes.
Mulder read the e-mail again, wondering why some anonymous tipster would think he might be interested in the death by old age of a former news photographer from Kansas. The name rang a bell somewhere in the depths of his memory, but the only James Olsen he could think of was from the Superman comics of his youth.
Jimmy Olsen first appeared in the comic in 1941, and had been portrayed as a teenager, so the dates didn't quite match. Besides, he was supposed to be an orphan, and this Olsen obviously had some family, if he was survived by a nephew. Still, the name of the town, combined with the name of the deceased could be more than just coincidence.
Mulder laughed quietly at himself under his breath. Speculating on the life history of a comic book character was a bit extreme, even for a guy nicknamed "Spooky".
He put the subject out of his mind, there was no real indication it might be an X-File, and he was already treading on thin ice with both his partner and his boss this month. Scully would never go with him, even if he could get Skinner to authorize it, not on the unsupported evidence of a single anonymous e-mail.
But something about it kept tickling at him all day, intruding on his other work. Finally he gave in and ran the name through the computer, just in case.
That was more than enough to set his alarm bells ringing. He ran the name again, varying the spelling, but there was no record of any person ever coming to the attention of the federal government with that name and birth year. He widened the search parameters, and still found no match. Social Security, the IRS, draft records all came up negative.
Intrigued despite himself, he copied the e-mail and sent it on to the Lone Gunmen, with a note to ask if they could track either the man in the obituary or the sender of the tip, then settled back to wait.
Smallville, Kansas was too tiny to show up on most maps, let alone support an airport. They'd flown into Wichita and rented a car, and the rental agency had been able to provide them with a map to the town only after some searching.
Three hours later they arrived at their final destination. From the Interstate they had transferred to a lesser State Route, then a narrow County Road, and last a one-lane that couldn't be called a 'highway' by the most forgiving of drivers. The town sprang up suddenly; one moment nothing but cornfields, the next one and two story homes. They passed through a three block area that might charitably be described as a 'downtown', if you crossed your eyes to double everything.
Locating the funeral home listed in the obituary was simple, there was only one. They found the building empty and locked. A hand lettered sign thumb-tacked to the front door announced the times and dates of upcoming services. 'Olsen' was scheduled for the next day at 10:30am, with a notation that the memorial had been moved to a graveyard just outside the town, with apologies for any inconvenience.
The gravesite lay at the bottom of a slight hollow, just deep enough to cut off the horizon, so all they saw was the grassy sward around them, and the endless Midwestern sky stretching above. Mulder and Scully stood at the back of the crowd, listening to the solemn words of the service. They held themselves quietly, silent amidst the mourners. Scully in particular felt out of place, her Catholic upbringing called for a different set of rituals, a different attitude toward death than this seemingly casual Protestant acceptance.
When the minister finished each of the people gathered stepped forward and stooped down to take a handful of the loose earth, sprinkling it over the coffin. Some paused, gazing down into the hole, expressions of fear or bewilderment overlaying the normal grief. Watching them, Mulder thought about the democracy of death. Everyone, no matter their station in life, no matter their accomplishments or temperament, eventually came to this place. The lucky ones were acknowledged, remembered and mourned, the marks their lives had left on the world remarked upon and celebrated. Those left behind could share their memories, bond in their healing and know where their loved ones had gone to. Others, the unworthy, or just plain unlucky, might get only an anonymous pine box and disappear off the face of the planet as though they had never existed. No one mourned the faceless ones, no one might even know of their passing.
Mulder might never know, might go the rest of his life wondering about the fate of one man... if he even let himself think of him at all.
He shook himself from his reverie at Scully's light touch to his elbow. The mourners were moving off in clumps of three and four, speaking quiet words of comfort to one another. They were the last two standing by the grave, the only two who hadn't spread their offerings, said their good-byes. He took her arm, a rare gesture for him, needing the reassuring feel of her next to him, warm, alive, and most importantly, there. They ascended the slight rise slowly, each wrapped in thought. At the top he let her go ahead and turned back for a last look.
To his surprise there was a man by the open gravesite. Mulder was sure he hadn't been there a moment previously. Dressed like the other mourners in a dark, conservative suit, he knelt in the dirt, hands pressed together in front of his chest. The FBI agent could make out the tracks of tears shining on the man's cheeks, gleaming in the strong sunlight. He felt embarrassed to catch the man in such a private moment, a moment of near inexpressible grief.
He turned away, wanting to give the man solitude, and had taken a few more steps when the sound hit. At first Mulder thought it was an explosion of some kind. It struck him in a wave, almost knocking him from his feet. Then he made out the meaning.
Just the one long drawn out syllable, an anguished cry of negation. A world of loss packed into a single word, a howl of denial flung out to an uncaring universe.
Mulder threw himself back towards the gravesite, and froze as it came into sight. The man, the lone mourner, knelt in the same position, but had thrown his arms wide and his head back. His face was contorted into a grimace, a rictus of pain, eyes screwed shut.
Suddenly his eyes flew open and simultaneously there was a blinding flash of light. Mulder had the impression it flowed upwards, leaping from the man toward the sky instead of the reverse. But when his own vision cleared, there was no man, and no indication that there had ever been anyone but themselves to stand by the lonely grave.
Scully appeared by his side, slightly breathless.
"Was that lightning?" she asked. "Are you allright?"
"No. And yes..." he said quietly.
"What are you talking about? What did you see?"
He shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Scully."
The farmhouse stood at the end of a long and dusty blacktop lane, its front shaded by an ancient oak. Two stories high, a well maintained but somewhat faded paint job gave it the appearance of a working home, not simply a residence. A large and weather beaten barn squatted just behind and to its left. Aside from these buildings, nothing man-made marred the endless stretch of cornfields, the green and gold stalks waving gently in the sporadic breeze.
As they emerged from the car the August heat struck them fully. The mid-afternoon sun shone down on them from an oppressively vast and cloudless expanse of sky.
Mulder drew a rumpled handkerchief from the inner pocket of his jacket and wiped away the sweat that was already forming on his forehead. He looked over the car to his partner, wondering once again that even in this inferno she radiated a quiet calm. Nothing seemed to faze her, not the possibility he had dragged her here to investigate, not the waves of heat rising from the cracked pavement of the driveway, not the unnerving, unbroken plain they stood on. None of these things could pierce the cool and faintly ironic poise in which she wrapped herself.
He was possessed for a moment by the illusion that she wasn't really there, that the woman standing on the other side of the rented car wasn't his partner and friend, but was instead some animatronic FBI agent from a more prosaic and paranoid version of Disneyland or Universal Studios. He could almost hear the clicks and clacks of her internal clockworks. All he had to do was provide the proper stimulus, push the proper buttons, and she would burst into a tinny rendition of "It's A Small World" or, worse yet, "Be Happy, Don't Worry".
Then she moved, eyes squinted against the fierce sunlight, and the idea evaporated. No craftsman, no matter how much of a genius he might be, could create a mechanism to express the combination of almost infinite patience overlaid with the merest patina of affectionate sarcasm which she turned on him.
"Well, Mulder," she said. "Remind me again what we're doing in the middle of Kansas in August?"
He grinned back at her, grateful for the solid grounding to reality her presence always brought him.
"We're investigating the death of a comic book character, Scully. Where else would we go?"
She scowled at him, both fondly and repressively at the same time.
"This is where he lived," Mulder gestured at the farmhouse, hopefully offering it up to her inspection.
Together they climbed the three steps onto the porch. Scully took in the swing hanging motionless from the beams, the flowerpots along the railing in need of water, the scuffed and faded doormat. Innocuous totems of middle America, they seemed unlikely accessories for the person Mulder hoped to find here. Somehow she couldn't see Superman growing geraniums in his old age.
Mulder walked ahead of her, unaware of her musings, to ring the bell. For a time there was no response, then they heard slow footsteps approaching. They sounded tired, weighed down with fatigue, almost hopeless.
The man who answered appeared to be in his mid or late thirties, with a single lock of crisp black hair curling over a wide brow. Bright blue eyes, hard and intelligent, looked out at them through thick lashes. His mouth was wide and firm, his nose aristocratically slim. All in all a handsome face, but wearing a less than friendly expression. His shoulders nearly filled the narrow doorway, and he had a good two inches on Mulder in height.
"Mr. Kent?" Mulder asked.
"Yes." The voice was smooth, the accent a perfectly flat Midwestern, giving no hint of its owner's feelings.
"I'm Agent Mulder, and this is my partner, Agent Scully." Mulder held his ID up for inspection. "We'd like to speak with you, if we may."
"Yes, sir. May we come in?"
Unlike most people, this man didn't seem impressed by their badges. He didn't move out of the doorway or even step out onto the porch.
"Do you have a warrant?"
"If you want to enter my home."
Scully stepped forward, putting herself into the conversation. "Sir, we're not here to intrude on your grief, but we'd like to ask you a few questions about Mr. Olsen."
The merest flicker of some strong emotion crossed Kent's face. "You can ask," he said, giving no indication that they would be answered.
"Mr. Kent, just what was your relationship to Mr. Olsen?" Mulder said. Scully winced, sometimes her partner had all the tact and delicacy of a pitbull, and this seemed to be one of them.
There was a long pause, long enough that she feared Mulder wouldn't get an answer. Then the man spoke, rhythmically, almost chanting. "He was my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest..."
To Scully's surprise she heard Mulder's voice softly join in this quiet lament.
"My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong..." they said in unison.
Something passed between the two men, a look of shared loss. Scully could see them relax, now that they knew they had something in common. She assumed her partner spoke from the depth of his feelings for his sister, missing since childhood.
Mulder's thoughts, though, were far from his family. Instead his mind was filled with the elusive memory of jade green eyes meeting his from beneath a bad haircut. A hand stretched out in genuine respect, the soft brush of lips on his cheek. He shook off the memory, the uncertainty. He mourned not the death of a man, but the death of a possibility.
"May we come in?" Mulder asked again, this time much more respectfully. Kent backed slowly into the house, freeing the doorway. They stepped through after him, into the cool dimness.
"Let me tell you a story, Agents. Indulge me for a moment, and I think all your questions will be answered." He sat back into his chair, steepling his fingers before his face, composing his thoughts. "Imagine a middle aged couple in 1903, a good middle class farming couple. They have an excellent spread, healthy crops and sturdy stock. The only thing lacking is a family. They've tried for years to have children, but to no avail. For the sake of argument let's call these people Jonathan and Martha Kent, and say that they lived in a town called Smallville, a town not unlike this one."
"One day on their way back from a trip to the general store, their horse was frightened by a flash of light and thunder from an otherwise cloudless sky, almost overturning their wagon. Something crashed into a nearby field with a mighty blow, the earth fountaining up from its force."
"Intrigued, they investigated. You wouldn't believe what they found if you saw it with your own eyes. It was a space capsule, a vehicle from another planet. Still glowing from its descent through the Earth's atmosphere."
"As they watched, afraid to approach lest they burn themselves, a panel in the side of the capsule slowly opened. Inside was a child. A baby boy. He appeared human, but what country, what organization would be so callous as to send an infant into space?"
"Fighting his way through the waves of blistering heat coming off the craft, Jonathan Kent rescued that child. Pulled him from the metal womb which had protected him on his voyage from a distant star, and held him up to feel the first rays of his new sun."
"Things were different in those days. Fewer records were kept, fewer questions asked. So when the Kents claimed the child as their own, no one gainsaid them."
"The child grew up normally, if somewhat slowly. On his eighth birthday they began to discover what he truly was. He was an adventurous child, and that day had climbed into the hayloft to nap in the summer afternoon. When his father found him, he woke, startled and disoriented in the heat. He stumbled and fell from the loft onto the tines of a pitchfork carelessly left on the ground below. His father feared the boy was dead, but it wasn't so. Instead the steel tines of the fork were bent and broken while the child hadn't even a scratch to show for his tumble."
"Over the next few years they discovered other odd things about their adoptive son. He could lift enormous weights, objects not even the strongest adult should have been able to budge. His strength surprised even himself sometimes. He.. he killed a beloved pet, entirely by accident, not realizing the power of his own muscles."
"Imagine being that boy, growing up surrounded by creatures so much more fragile than himself. His own body ready to betray him and hurt the ones he loved if not kept under the strictest control. Where an embrace of love could become one of death but for his constant vigilance. Knowing that he was different, not the same as his playmates and parents."
"His 'parents' loved him. They taught him to love the land, to respect the animals and plants. To tell the truth and stand up for what he thought was right. But they couldn't teach him about himself. Couldn't tell him where he came from or what he might become. He would spend hours in the cornfields, dreaming of what his future might be. He would make up elaborate fantasies of finding others of his own kind, people he could touch without fear. Who would teach him how to use his powers, how to control them. Who could tell him why he was made this way."
Kent's face as he told this story remained calm, almost placid. His eyes were distant, lost in the mists of the past. Scully could almost see the things he spoke of, the white-haired woman baking in the kitchen, her husband returning tired from laboring in the fields. Their son sitting at the table, studiously doing his homework. A scene of common domesticity, if ever there was one.
"When he was 20 his father died. Mangled in an accident with the thresher. The boy was there, driving the horses. He didn't see his father fall, didn't hear until it was too late. For all his powers, the boy couldn't save his father's life."
"His mother followed her husband into the grave only six months later. She didn't blame him for the accident, though he blamed himself, but Jonathan's death took something of her as well. Some spark was gone, some essential part of her went missing after that. I know it sounds cliched, but she died of a broken heart. It was a turning point for the boy. He knew he had to do something special, perform some great task to redeem himself, if only in his own eyes."
"He sold the farm, and used the money to travel the world. He was searching, desperately seeking anyone who could teach him what he needed to know. He saw Europe in the days just after the First World War, and Africa, and Asia. He found many men of wisdom, teachers and guides, but never another like himself."
"When he returned to the United States in the early 30's he settled in New York, and took a job with one of the major newspapers of the time. By day he was plain Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter. But when danger called, when criminals threatened or disaster struck, he strode forth as 'Superman'..."
At this Scully's heart leapt. Until now she'd followed the story, recognizing the general outline, but not ready to take his words at face value. She'd thought he was making a point, drawing some convoluted metaphor.
"Sir, are you seriously asking us to believe that Superman was real? An actual, living person, from another planet?" she said, before she could stop herself.
"Of course not, Agent Scully." The look he gave her was completely opaque. "No one believes in heroes anymore."
"But what about the newspaper strips? The comic books? The cartoons and movies?"
"You're investigators, you must realize that there are three ways to tell a successful lie. The first is relatively easy, children learn to do it almost as soon as they can speak. Tell a complete lie, something that is totally fabricated, but do it with a straight face and you can get away with it. The second is a little more difficult. Use a mixture of truth and falsehood, shading what you say to put the best interpretation on it. The third method is by far the best, but also the most chancy. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but tell it in such a way that your audience hears it as a lie. The real story, once branded a fabrication, will never be believed."
"That's what they did to.. Superman. The newspapers began by reporting his activities as straight news, but no one who hadn't actually seen him would believe that a man could do these things. Leap a tall building in a single bound, laugh off a hail of bullets as though they were nothing, run faster than the fastest train. It was only later that he was turned into a cartoon, a fantasy. But we're getting ahead of our story."
"I've read some of the early strips," Mulder interjected. "They didn't say anything about him being able to fly, or having heat vision. Was that part fabrication?"
"He was young, he hadn't come into his full powers yet. He never fully knew their true extent. He wasn't given time."
"For nearly two years he led a very strange life. Publicly acclaimed as the protector of the city, champion of the weak, adulated and adored. Privately, well, he basically had no private life. As Kent he was a nothing, a non-entity his co-workers barely knew existed."
"Until the paper hired a new copyboy. He wasn't really a boy, in fact he was 20 when he first came to work with... with Kent." The man rose and chose a framed photo from a nearby table. He looked at it for a moment, then handed it to Mulder, who studied it briefly before passing it on to Scully. She saw a faded image of a young man in slacks and a striped button down shirt. Thumbs hooked under gaily patterned suspenders that looped over broad shoulders. His hair was short on the sides, the longer top slicked back in a stylish way. It looked dark, even in the washed-out sepia tones. He squinted against some bright light, and she could vaguely make out a thick scattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks. But his smile was what captured her attention. Whoever had taken the picture must have been very lucky, for it was the most nakedly loving look she'd ever seen on the face of a man.
"You can't see from that old picture, but he had the most amazing hair. It was true auburn, not carrot-red or washed out pink, but a deep, rich red-brown. It was the most beautiful thing.. Kent had ever seen. From the first time they saw one another he longed to run his hands through it, to find out if the texture could possibly match the sensuousness of the color. His fingers would itch sometimes, with the need to touch that hair."
Kent looked around him as though waking from some deep dream. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm being a terrible host. Would either of you like something to drink? Water? Milk? Coffee? I have a cake in the kitchen that one of our neighbors dropped off this morning if you're hungry."
Scully shook her head, she didn't want to distract him in any way. Mulder apparently felt the same, as he waved off the offer.
"No, thank you," she said. "Please, continue your story. It's... it's fascinating." She handed the photo back to him.
He looked at her for a long moment, perhaps considering her sincerity, then shrugged and returned to his seat to resume his tale.
"That boy was named Jimmy Olsen. He must have noticed Kent's attraction, and he certainly returned the favor. He would hang around the older man's desk at all hours of the day when he was supposed to be doing other things. He would bring Kent tips he'd heard on the street from his friends, mostly garbage, but every once in a while one which would lead to a real scoop. He had the nose for news, that instinct that every really great reporter has."
"Kent didn't know how to handle the boy's attentions. For all his life he'd repressed any physical desires, mortally afraid that acting on them would be dangerous. Not so much for himself, as for his partner. But his feelings for the boy consumed him."
"You're both much too young to have any inkling of what life was like in the mid-30's for men who preferred the company of other men. There were only two types of homosexuals depicted in the media, the queens and the suicidal. You either wore make-up, did drag, and cruised sailors for rough and possibly fatal sex, or you took your own life in despair. Even in New York, the 'pansy craze' of the earlier decade was waning. The nightclubs and bars from Chelsea to Harlem which only a few years before had hosted female impersonators and same-sex dancing had been shut down. The Motion Picture Code was being ruthlessly enforced by the Legion of Decency, and the average man would have been mortified if anyone suspected he might possibly love another man."
"These were the only models for Kent, the only things he knew about same-sex relations. Neither of these fit with either of his personas, as Kent or Superman he couldn't picture himself with this boy."
"Nonetheless, picture himself he did. Night and day he dreamt of finding a better place, some place where he could make a life with Jimmy. He dreamt of Jimmy's hands, of the feel of his skin, of the taste of his lips. As Superman he began concentrating on crimes against what would be called the 'gay community' these days. As Kent he could never been seen in the few remaining gathering places for homosexuals, but he could protect them from the sidelines."
"One night the inevitable happened. As he was patrolling the city he came across a group of men engaged in beating a youth, screaming imprecations and attacking him with their feet and fists. He barreled into the fray, tossing the assailants about like so many matchsticks. When he freed the unlucky victim, he discovered it was his copyboy."
"Jimmy was bruised and bloody, unconscious in a heap on the ground. Kent could barely bring himself to touch the boy, to see if he was alive or dead. Carefully he rolled the boy over, checking for broken bones. Gently he patted the freckled cheeks, trying to rouse the youth. When his eyes opened, when he saw his savior, he smiled joyfully and called Kent by name..."
"He had known all along that the quiet reporter and the superhero were one and the same person. He'd seen past the mild-mannered exterior and into the heart of this man who so many others simply dismissed out of hand. That was when Kent knew he couldn't stay aloof any longer, couldn't cut himself off from his feelings."
"That night they did no more than kiss, and hold one another, and whisper the words that new lovers have said since time began. But it was the beginning, merely the first of many nights together. It amazed Kent that no one remarked on the changes in him. He felt so different that he believed it must show on his face. No longer alone, no longer locked in isolation, he now had a companion."
"Sometimes, sitting at his desk in the newspaper offices he had to pinch himself, to reassure himself that this really was his life. He felt reborn, recreated in the image of a new man, one who could allow himself to love and be loved, that was worthy of such a precious gift. The boy became his lodestone, the axis around which his days revolved. An hour without seeing him was an hour wasted, an opportunity missed and forever irreplaceable."
"Oh, they had their share of problems, especially in the area of sex. The difficulties inherent in conjugation between an experienced youth and an older, but less so man. The imbalance in their physical forms, one human, one not. But with perseverance and patience, and a goodly helping of ingenuity, these were overcome. Their love, it seemed at the time, could surmount any obstacles fate might have in store for them."
"They thought they were being discrete, as lovers always do. They thought no one would notice the lingering looks, the blinding smiles, the not-so-casual touches. They were so wrapped up in one another that they seemed to exist on a separate plane from the rest of the world."
"But something must have given them away, someone must have taken notice of the copyboy and the reporter leaving together, or arriving together, or just being together."
"The men who first approached Superman claimed they came from the government, and simply wanted to arrange matters so that they could contact him, could ask for his support in times of emergency. He agreed readily, being a patriotic American, and a system was quickly settled on."
"His help was required only a few times in the ensuing months, but then the requests became more frequent, and their nature changed. Instead of tracking saboteurs or foreign spies he was asked to assist in the arrest of a famous writer for 'deviance', to use his super senses to collect evidence of political unrest. He refused, believing in the freedom of speech and conscience. That was when they told him they knew of his other identity, and his relationship with Jimmy. They threatened to make both his secrets public, to hold him up to ridicule. They even threatened to arrest him for sodomy."
"If not for Jimmy's strength of character he might have given in, might have let the shadowy group control him. But Jimmy held fast, said 'publish and be dammed to them'. He was.. in his own way he was the stronger of the two. Jimmy didn't care who knew about them, he wasn't ashamed of their relationship. He was the one who taught... Kent what it truly meant to be human."
"They told the supposed 'government' men that Superman would no longer work for them. For a time nothing happened, for a time they thought they had managed to escape unscathed."
"It came as a terrible shock to them when in 1938 the first of the comic strips appeared, in a rival paper. Not only did it paint Superman as a vigilante, at constant odds with the police and other authorities, but it revealed his other identity, just as had been threatened."
"Kent had to go into hiding. Jimmy went with him, naturally, even though he hadn't been included in the comic. Too many people could connect them for him to safely remain behind. Besides, they didn't want to be separated."
"Things weren't easy for them. The economy was only beginning to recover from the Depression. They took any job they could find, from sweeping floors to washing dishes, anything to keep themselves above water."
"Kent tried to keep on with his work, but this time he maintained a lower profile. His actions were anonymous, his good deeds went unrecorded, almost unnoticed. He thought he could still make a difference, make life better for the people around him. But every time they felt the beginning of some security, some safety, someone would show up and remind them that the government was still watching. They moved a dozen times in the following year and a half."
"Kent didn't take it well. Jimmy was providing most of their income, supporting them as best he could in those lean times. Kent took to patrolling whatever city they were in at night, dressed not in his signature outfit, but in dark clothes to better blend with the darkness. He still helped, still played the hero, but it was coming to seem more and more of a game, a fantasy of what his life should be, of what he could do if only he were allowed."
"In February of '40 they were living in Chicago, under assumed names in a ramshackle tenement. One morning, just after Jimmy had left for his job in the stockyards, a 'government' agent knocked on their door. But this time, instead of threatening Kent, he offered him a job. One job, and enough money that they could begin new lives, get a new start. It seemed like an innocuous enough proposition, and Kent was so tired of moving, of hiding, of keeping to the shadows and watching over his shoulder, that he took it."
"Oh, not without trepidation. But he'd been shaken by the months of dependence on Jimmy, his pride was hurting and that weakened his resolve."
"The job turned out to be anything but innocuous. Kent hadn't told Jimmy what he was going to do, somewhere inside he felt ashamed of his weakness, felt he was giving up. But when the papers ran the story the next day, even without reference to a Superman, Jimmy knew instantly what had happened."
"It might have been easier if he'd raged or screamed or made accusations that would have been all too true. But he didn't. He forgave his lover, told him he understood why he'd done it, why he'd given in to temptation. Kent.. he didn't know how to deal with that kind of love, that much compassion. What guns and villains and publicity hadn't managed to do, Jimmy did with a single look."
"But, sir, what was the job?" Mulder interrupted. "What did he do?"
Their host snorted in contempt, his expression bleak. "Look it up, Agent Mulder. I assure you you'll know it when you see it."
"This incident almost tore them apart, but they weathered the storm. And the money was enough for them to return to Kansas, and buy back the farm where... he had grown up. They settled there, and started growing corn. They rose each morning to till their fields, and went to bed each night to wrap themselves in beloved arms."
"The government must have known where they were, but they were never bothered again. They suspected occasionally that they were being watched, but the townsfolk remembered Kent, and closed ranks to protect one of their own, though they had no idea what they were protecting him from."
"But why would Kent, as Superman, just give up?" Mulder asked. "How could he give up what made his life worthwhile?"
"Which is it more important to believe in, Agent Mulder? Ideas?" He looked down at the picture he held in his hand, and his features softened momentarily. "Or people?"
He didn't wait for Mulder to respond, but continued talking. "You have to understand, Jimmy was the only person to ever know his secret and not want something from him. The only person to love him unconditionally, the only person to look on him as a man, not as savior or tool or freak."
"Faced with the choice of living an ordinary life with Jimmy, or being the paid enforcer of a government he increasingly distrusted, the decision was easy. He had been told in no uncertain terms that his help wasn't wanted, unless he toed the line, played the part. Would you have rejected your lover under those circumstances?" He looked directly at Mulder as he asked the question.
Scully was astonished to see her partner blush, a bright, burning red that flashed up his face. His mouth worked, but no sound came forth. She had no idea what might cause him to react so intensely to such a question, and filed it away for later consideration.
"How could he just stop helping people?" she asked quickly, trying to cover the moment.
Kent's smirk said clearly that he had noticed the reaction he'd provoked, but he let the question lie. "Have you ever stopped to consider the ethics of power, Agent?" he said instead. "Here is a.. a being with the capability to wipe all life from the face of the world, conceivably to destroy the planet itself. He could kill you where you sit, without raising a finger. Even with the best of intentions, he could forget himself and crush your bones to powder while giving you the friendliest of handshakes."
"What comes with that power? We hear much talk of rights these days. Does that much power give him the right to take control of the governments of the world? He could have done it, easily, and imposed peace from above. Created a social system that would have provided food and shelter and education for everyone, and freedom for none. Does it give him the right to be judge, jury and executioner? He was never an accredited member of any law enforcement agency, in fact, technically he was not even a citizen of this country."
"And what of responsibility? While he saves a single life in New York, a dozen others are lost around the country, hundreds more around the globe. How does he choose which person lives and which dies? And if he does choose, how does he sleep at night, knowing how many his choice condemned to death?"
"Or shall we speak of duty? Does the world, by virtue of its relative weakness, have the right to impose the duty of protector on him? To require his services night and day, his energy, his time and love? Who are they to him, that they could compel him to take on such a burden?"
"You are Catholic, aren't you, Agent Scully?"
Her fingers lightly caressed the crucifix hanging from her throat. "Yes, I am."
"How do you reconcile the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God with the sight of children starving? With war and death and bad things happening to good people everyday?"
"I.. God moves in mysterious ways," she said. She knew the response was weak, but it was the best she do while he gazed at her so intently. "He created mankind in his image, and gave us free will. What we do with it is the test. Do you mean to say he thought of himself as God?"
"Not at all. But even if he did, better that than identifying with the Devil, who can only destroy, not create."
"Besides, how do you know he hasn't been active all these years? Perhaps there are events that you haven't heard about because he prevented them. The airplanes that didn't crash, the bombs that didn't go off, the people who didn't die wouldn't exactly make the evening news, would they?"
"You asked me who James Olsen was. He was the man for the love of whom a hero became mortal."
He stopped talking, and the agents waited for him to take up the tale again. But the silence stretched out, a contemplative quiet descending on the room and blanketing their thoughts. Somewhere in the house a clock ticked loudly, the only sign of life or movement amongst them.
Finally Mulder cleared his throat, and shook himself, returning to the present. "Sir, may I ask what became of.. of Kent? Of Superman?"
Their host simply shrugged. "Does it matter? You came here to inquire about Jimmy. I've told you a story, possibly even a true story. His tale is finished, what happens to the other characters is no longer a part of it."
"Possibly a true story?" Mulder asked, distracted by the phrasing.
Kent raised an eyebrow and smiled. It wasn't an entirely pleasant smile, but one which suggested the smiler knew something you didn't, and wasn't about to spoil the fun by sharing. Mulder recognized it instantly, from seeing its twin many times on another face. He was disoriented by the similarity, the only thing missing was a pair of green eyes.
"Did you think I was telling you Jimmy's life history? Really, Agent Mulder. Aliens? Comic books as an Orwellian tool to rewrite the past? A flying, invulnerable superhero who gives it all up for the love of a good man?" He turned to question Scully. "Is he always this trusting?"
"But.. but.." Mulder sputtered. "Is this a true story or not?"
Kent shrugged again. "What difference would it make? You said yourself that there were no records of this James Olsen. And you won't find any for Clark Kent, either. If a tree falls in the forest with no one to hear it, does it make a sound? If a life is lived with no one to record it, did it really happen?"
"Yes," said Mulder, with a false surety in his voice.
"I wish I had your certainty, Agent. As it is, I've said all I have to say. I think it's time you left." He stood and gestured toward the entryway, reinforcing his point.
"May I use your restroom, at least, before we go?" Mulder asked.
"Certainly. Upstairs, first door on the left."
Mulder slunk away, radiating disapproval and disappointment with every step.
Scully took advantage of his absence to ask the questions she knew he wouldn't. "Why have you told us this?"
His hesitation before speaking was long enough that she was afraid she had finally gone too far. "Someone else needs to remember him, needs to know..." he said.
"Sir, your name is 'Clark' Kent, isn't it?" she asked him.
"Yes, that's correct."
"Then this story you've told us, is it.. is it your story?"
"Really, Agent Scully. Do I look as though I were born in 1903?"
"Well, no.. you don't," she admitted, ashamed that she had let the depth of his tale blind her to such an obvious fact. "You would have to be his grandson, at least."
"Yes, I would. Though I suppose, that if the story I told you were true, and if Clark Kent were actually an alien being, it might be possible that he would have a much longer lifespan than the human norm." His smile was cold and slightly mocking, but something haunted looked through his eyes as he spoke. "That he might be forced to remain young while watching the one he loved grow old. Watch his lover loose his faculties one by one, watch as he faded away slowly, inch by inch. Watch him die, unable to prevent it, just as he had watched his father die. While Clark remained always the same."
She stood stock still, horrified, as he paused for a moment, then continued. "But that would be a terrible ending for such a story, now wouldn't it?"
"Yes," she whispered, barely able to force the words through a throat suddenly tight and dry. "It would."
Mulder's return from the bathroom finally broke their strained tableaux, and they headed for the door.
"Thank you for your time," Mulder said. "I apologize again for bothering you on such an occasion." He reached out to take the man's hand. There was a perceptible pause before the gesture was returned, and then it was hesitant, almost shy.
They stepped out of the house into the dusty gloaming. Their host stood for a moment in the doorway behind them, looking out over their shoulders into the yard, then moved back into the shadows and disappeared without another word. In the dwindling light of day their time spent listening to Kent took on the misty distance of a dream, something that had happened years ago instead of only minutes.
Scully shook her head, trying to shake off the almost palpable feeling of history that pervaded the house. She looked at her hands, small but strong, and imagined them gripping her gun, or flying over the keyboard of her computer. Anything that might anchor her to reality, to the time she lived in. There was a line of dirt under her left thumbnail, and somehow this seemed to her to be evidence that she was awake. Surely she wouldn't dream having dirty fingernails?
Mulder didn't speak until they were sitting in the car again, doors wide and air conditioner struggling mightily to disperse the stifling heat. Gazing out over the expanse of cornfields, his voice was soft, almost musing.
"So which do you think is more important, Scully? Ideas, or people?"
For a moment she had no clue what he was talking about, then she remembered Kent asking him the same thing. She didn't know how to answer, until she realized what he was really asking. Did she believe in him, or his ideas?
"Both, Mulder. Both."
Apparently this was the right answer, as he smiled slightly and put the car into gear. They slammed their doors shut, and he pointed the car into the sunset.
They had driven perhaps half the length of the lane when Mulder gasped and spun the wheel, skewing the car across the narrow road and headlong into the ditch that ran alongside it. Scully threw her hands up to protect her face, and was slammed into the seatbelt as the car came to rest at a decidedly disconcerting angle.
Mulder was cursing steadily under his breath, a stream of broken profanity that didn't quite connect into a coherent sentence. Scully shakily unbelted herself and managed to get her door open. She stumbled out of the car and looked at her partner.
"What the hell was that?" she demanded.
"An animal, a dog maybe, ran across the road. What was I supposed to do? Run over it?" His voice held an uncharacteristic edge of hysteria.
"Are you hurt?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Just.. just startled." He tried the door on his side, jerking futilely at the handle. "But my door is jammed." He clambered awkwardly over the gearshift and out toward her.
They looked each other over, and she had to laugh at his expression. That set him off, and they spent a minute in that almost fevered hilarity a near-miss leaves in its wake.
The car lay at about a 30 degree angle, its nose buried in the soft dirt that lined the bottom of the ditch. The rear wheels were held off the ground by the edge of the roadbed, and it was obvious that a tow truck would be needed, at the very least.
"Well," Mulder said, when their laughter had finally died down. "I suppose we'd better go back and ask if we can use the phone..."
They began walking toward the farmhouse, the landscape around them fading into darkness.
"So, Mulder, what did you think of the story he told us?" she asked when they had gone a hundred yards or so. That made it sound so prosaic, as though they were talking about just another case, just another statement from a witness.
He pondered the question for a few steps before answering. "There were some inconsistencies, but basically it held together. Nothing that flatly contradicted what I know about the period, and much that fits with what we know about the Consortium's methods. I'd like to come back out tomorrow and talk to him some more."
"Yeah. Just think what a great ally he'd make. He could get into places you or I wouldn't be able to, find out things, bring back real evidence."
She stopped walking in amazement. Mulder continued on a few paces before noticing that she was no longer by his side and turning to face her.
"Are you insane, Mulder? You can't possibly mean that?"
"For one thing, he offered us no proof whatsoever that anything he said was more than the fever dreams of an overactive imagination, or of a personality so weak it has to take it's focus from a work of fiction. In which case he'd be less than helpful."
"For another," she continued. "If his story were true, if he actually could give you that kind of assistance, don't you think he's been through more than enough? What makes you think you have the right to drag him into your delusion, Mulder?"
His words finally penetrated her diatribe. "What?" she asked, irritably.
"Turn around." There was a wide grin on his face, an expression of glee, almost.
"What? What are you trying to pull?"
"Turn around. Look." He gestured behind her with his chin.
She spun on her heel, not sure what to expect, but ready to dismiss it and return to berating her partner.
She was just in time to see the car descend the last few feet to the ground. It rocked on its shock absorbers for a second, then settled to sit in the middle of the lane, facing them innocently, as though it had never left the road. In the gloom she could barely make out a figure rising up behind the car, standing up and dusting its hands. He stepped clear of the car and made a gesture, a mocking offering, then abruptly disappeared, leaving only a streak of color against the sky to point the direction of his passing.
Scully stood rooted in place, her mouth working silently.
"What was that you were about to say?" Mulder was barely holding in his laughter.
When they returned the next day, the farmhouse was gone.
The blacktop lane still ran from the main road, but it ended abruptly in the middle of a field. Nothing remained to indicate that there had ever been a house, or barn. Not even the trees stood to mark the spot.
Back in the town, no one would admit to knowing the names 'Kent' or 'Olsen', not even the minister who had presided over the funeral. When Mulder insisted on checking the gravesite, they were unable to locate it. The graveyard was as flat a piece of ground as it was possible to find in Kansas, with no sign of a hollow or recent digging.
They searched for two days before giving up and returning, empty handed, to D.C.
"One question, Mulder. Ask me anything, and I promise I'll tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
Mulder examined his face closely. He knew the man was an accomplished liar, could live a lie so completely that no crack showed to tell where the truth lay buried. But... nothing ventured, nothing gained, he decided.
"Did you ever really love me?" he asked, surprising them both with the question. It certainly wasn't what he'd intended to say.
Krycek's eyes blazed with shock. He'd been expecting yet another round of 'did you kill my father' or 'when are the aliens coming', had in fact been looking forward to seeing just how far he could push Mulder's buttons. This, however, wasn't in the realm of what he'd come here to talk about.
"Yes," he said, the answer leaping out of him before he could stop it.
The moment stretched out. A single bead of sweat rolled down Krycek's temple, and Mulder watched in fascination as it made its way down the elegant cheek. He felt poised on the cusp of something momentous, some great event which he would later look back on as a turning point. His arm trembled slightly, the gun in his hand a huge weight, cool and deadly and altogether much too real.
Mulder found himself remembering their time together, the all too brief span between becoming lovers and finding the smoking man's spoor. The nights spent watching TV and eating pizza before retiring to the rarely used bedroom and making a mess of the sheets until dawn. The days learning one another's ways, the shy smile Alex would give him just before beginning to undress him. The way his eyes looked in the morning prior to his first cup of coffee. The pain he'd felt when he'd realized the depth of the deception, the extent of the betrayal. The silk of Alex's lips beneath his own, the crunch of them beneath his fist later. The look on Kent's face when he'd talked about Jimmy.
Suddenly he heard again the question that Kent had asked him, clear as day in his ears, as though the man were standing at his side. It was so real he almost turned his head to look over his shoulder. 'Which is it more important to believe in, Agent Mulder? Ideas? Or people?' the voice asked.
Deep in Krycek's eyes something moved, some faint hope either dawned or died, and Mulder couldn't tell which he wanted more.
"People" Mulder answered. "Definitely people," he said, and kissed him.
He knew the farmhouse would stand out like a sore thumb in the middle of the Arctic tundra, so he had built a new mountain of ice around it, effectively camouflaging it from overhead observation. Inside, though, nothing had changed. The kitchen windows no longer looked out on the apple tree he'd grown up with, and the cornfields lay thousands of miles away, but the pictures on every wall were enough to remind him of his former life. The power plant from the original Kryptonian space capsule lay buried far below the ice, and would support his needs for centuries. The 'liberated' equipment he'd gathered from supposedly secret government facilities in several countries was installed and running smoothly. The links he'd added to various spy sats were feeding him a constant stream of data.
He had nothing now to do but wait, and watch. Especially the skies.
will we burn in heaven
So there it is. I hope you enjoyed the reading of it half as much as I did the writing.