The Hour When I Was Brave
"And I will feel for you in the music,
And I will send that river home.
And I will cry for you sometimes,
When the night is down.
And I raise my head up to the mountains,
Talk to the birds and I fly,
'Cause the spirit lives on,
When the body dies."
Clark shoved his hands in the fleece-lined pockets of his jacket, more in an effort stay dry than warm. He wasn't really cold. Not the sort of cold that pockets could fix, anyway. His jacket was zipped up tight under his chin, hood pulled up, to keep the softly drizzling rain off his head and neck. Headlights from a passing car flash across his face briefly, and when he sees the drops caught on his eyelashes, he blames it on the rain.
He hadn't told his father he was leaving. He had just started walking, his leather dress shoes carrying him through his old stomping ground like walking in a memory. Like his mother was still at home waiting for him with warm cookies and warm arms. A smile that was better than a closet full of expensive jackets. He wasn't sure when he'd turned onto Simmons Run Road, but he could see the bridge up ahead, and he wasn't surprised.
It was only a matter of time.
The old bridge was the same, perhaps a little more worn than he remembered. This bridge, a favorite place of his once, forgotten as time went by, and life was filled with distraction. No time, Clark. No time for standing on a bridge, absorbing quiet and reveling in solitude. No time to note the way the sunset reflected off the water like a celebration of the day that had been, or sunrises that bounced and spun on the shifting water, heralding a new day. No time for the closest thing he'd ever known to a spiritual tradition.
Lex wasn't the only one who had died a little then. Clark hadn't realized how precious those fleeting moments of introspection and peace were until they were all gone. Until a part of him was gone, dead. Missed too late to be saved. After that day, the bridge wasn't his anymore.
Once, about a year after Lex had left Smallville, and everything was different, Clark had been visiting from Metropolis University, and he'd come back here. He'd been walking home from Pete's new place downtown, leaving Pete to work on some busted pipes in the basement. His offers to help had been turned down, something about Pete "being a man", fixing his own home with his own hands. Something utterly ordinary and solid and just like Pete. Clark had smiled, and left him to it.
Without thinking, his feet had led him down the overgrown path that served as a shortcut through Doc Markham's back pasture, out onto Simmons Run. The afternoon had been sticky hot, walking like swimming through the thick air. More than once, Clark had waved his hands, swatting at the buzzing clouds of insects he never seemed to remember until he was standing in the middle of them. The dust on the side of the road where he walked hadn't really stirred with his steps, instead just lending his footfalls a dull thud.
Reaching the bridge, Clark hadn't walked out onto it like so many times before. Instead, he followed the littered path to the bank below, where the dirty water lapped against worn, rounded rocks and old, discarded chucks of cement. Dangerous and slippery, he and Pete had played here as children, taking their lives in their hands, or, maybe just Pete's. So many near misses with the ugly, jutting pieces of rebar and scattered shards of glass.
There had seemed to be more garbage here than he remembered. Soda cans, fast food bags, a broken fishing pole, and, not as surprising as it should be, a pair of women's underwear caught in a nearby bush. It made him sad just to stand there. Just to see it through his adult eyes.
There was nothing to signify the importance of that place to him. No memorials or headstones, though many things had come to an end here, had died here. And so many things had seen their beginnings here, too; things that were still not anywhere near over. But driving by, no one else would know. How could they? They wouldn't feel the irresistible pull that this place had for Clark, this water and land, with a bridge spanning them both to make them whole. It was something he couldn't define, and couldn't deny. Like hallowed ground.
He had been so alone then, and so sad.
He hadn't heard the truck. Hadn't heard the footsteps approaching behind him. He stood there, feeling utterly alone in the world until he felt a small, firm hand grasp his. Looking into those eyes, Clark felt his already tenuous hold on composure slipping, the tears held back suddenly pouring down his cheeks.
She had been caught off guard, perhaps, shocked at the despair in her son's voice. But a gentle tilt of her head, auburn hair glowing in the sunshine, reflecting the light like a celebration or a herald, and she just knew. Always did.
"*I'm here*, Clark."
She had pulled him close, her delicate frame so powerful, her embrace fierce and almost angry, like she would challenge even his bad memories, ward off any sadness as easily as she had the monster in the closet. By the sheer force of her presence, with the near-tangible intensity of her love. Unstoppable.
Holding her back just as tight, he'd buried his face in the space under her chin, and cried bitterly, the sobs echoing under the bridge. Together, they'd slipped to the ground, and she'd held him there, making soft, soothing noises and stroking his back until he calmed. When he'd finally pulled his face up, he saw the moisture on her shirt, both from the heat and his tears, stains that would fade, and he saw the tears on her own cheeks. She brushed the hair off his forehead, and managed a weak smile.
"*Let's go home*, Clark."
He had nodded, and stood quickly, offering a hand she hadn't needed. Wrapping an arm around him, she led him up the embankment to the truck. Despite his powers, it had been her strength to rescue him that day. Led him away from fear. From himself.
That was when he'd been sure he wouldn't be back.
But he'd been wrong.
Just this one, last time.
Standing there now, Clark looks down at the dark, swiftly moving water as it collides with the pylons below him. The moon, fat and full in the sky above, shines brightly through the thin clouds, making it easy to see, even without superpowers. He is grateful for what dark he has, though, blurring the edges, dulling the power of his memories. If the sun were shining, the water sparkling in his eyes, this might all be too much.
He can smell the water now, metallic and mossy. Reaching inside his jacket to his inner pocket, he pulls out a folded page. Opens it slowly, watching as the rain hits the paper, darkening it, his mother's name now a smear beneath some prayer about valleys and death and fear. He knows that place.
From inside the folds, he removes a white rose, pressed thin yet still firm with lingering life. It shimmers, doused in rain, catching moonlight through the shifting clouds, like a ghost in his trembling hand. The black water is louder now, somehow, impossibly whispering to him.
I know, Clark. I have seen it all. I mourn them, too.
He leans into the metal guardrail, a little shinier here, a little less tarnished than the one on the other side, and reaches out his hand. A simple twist of his wrist, and the flower is descending to the river. He watches as it lands, nearly imperceptible on the rippling surface, and floats out of sight. Bends forward, leaning his head down onto his arms, closes his eyes and listens to the river thank him.
He shivers when a breeze moves against his neck, insinuating inside his hood, like fingers.
"I miss you, Mom... I love you."
He doesn't hear the truck. Doesn't hear the footsteps approaching behind him. He stands there, feeling utterly alone in the world until he feels a large, strong hand grasp his. Looking into those eyes, Clark feels his already tenuous hold on composure slipping, the tears unshed suddenly pouring down his cheeks.
"I know. *She's still here*, Clark."
Clark breathes in deeply, and stares at him. He sees moisture darkening his father's only suit, both rain and his tears, stains that would fade. He brushes the hair off Clark's forehead, and manages a weak smile. Where does he get his strength? Perhaps they all have their traditions.
"*Let's go home*, Clark."
Clark glances up at the moon, pushing his hood back and letting the rain settle softly on his face, and, at last, he nods. Wrapping an arm around him, his father leads him back to the truck.
Now he knows he won't be back.
He doesn't have the strength anymore.
"Moon, moon, rise in the sky to be a reminder of comfort and the hour when I was brave." - Elizabeth Smart
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