Superman arrived in Metropolis with only one mission in mind and that was to save anyone left to save and clear away the mess he made in his battle with Doomsday. Although his body was far from healed, he had a duty here to his city. Calling for first responders to step aside, his first act was to dig out a group of six trapped people, who had been trapped in the rubble of a collapsed buildings for days. A pocket of protection was formed in the stairwell they headed down, but so far no one had heard the noises they were making. The first responders carefully removed them as they were too injured and weak to move on their own, as Clark held back the debris that had buried them. After that he flew around the area using his x-ray vision searching for other survivors. He found another trapped woman under a pile of debris, but that was the last of the living he found. There were no more lives to save, so now he needed to recover bodies and clean up his city.
"Hey, Supes," Flash called to him, "you're back in the saddle."
The Flash along with several other leaguers was surprised to see their fellow leaguer. Superman handed the young woman to a paramedic then turned to address the Flash.
"You can pull the league back," he said. "I am going to clean this up."
"We're here to help, Big Blue," said Flash. "You know I have your back."
Superman's face softened for a moment. He heard the plea of friendship in his fellow leaguers voice, but this wasn't about friendship. This was about something deeper, something his adoptive father taught him.
"Clark Joseph Kent, because of who you are, you have to take responsibility for your actions. Even if there are others involved, you must take responsibility for your actions and the outcome of your actions, otherwise it could lead to you taken things for granted. The moment you take thing for granted is when you start down the road to being a dictator, son. Always stand up and take responsibility for your actions," Jonathan Kent told him. "Remember, a dictator is nothing more than bully and you know how I hate bullies and so don't you."
"This is my mess, Flash. I have to clean it up. I know you understand what I am saying," Superman spoke softly.
The Flash looked at him and nodded, "I understand, Big Blue. Why don't I send almost everyone back to the Watchtower? A few of us will stay to help first responders. They are exhausted. We'll stay out of your way."
"You're a friend, Flash," Superman replied.
"It's good to see you are doing better, Blue. We were afraid that you were seriously hurt," Flash told him.
He wasn't fine, though. At best he was at 70 percent of his power, more than likely less. His body needed more time to rest and recharge, but he didn't have more time. He had to fix what he broke.
The Flash returned to his fellow Justice Leaguers and started to send some of them back to the Watchtower. He would be staying himself in order to keep an eye on his friend.
Heroes of all powers cleared out of the way as an angry Wonder Woman stormed down the corridor. After leaving the Fortress of Solitude, she returned to the Themysciran Embassy to check up on her duties. Checking the news, she saw that Superman was now on a thirty hour straight cleanup of Metropolis removing the debris of the fallen buildings and repairing the ones he damaged, as well as respectfully recovering dead bodies. Knowing something had to be done she had herself transported up to the Watchtower. Once she arrived she heard that Bruce had transported up to the Watchtower early and she wanted to speak to him. According to the Black Canary he was in conference room C, so she headed straight there. Opening the door, she saw Bruce seated at the table with his cowl down sipping a coffee and Zatanna seated across from him.
"He needs time. I know Clark and I know one thing about him and that is when he loses his temper you don't prod him because you'll get the opposite result of what you wanted. Clark can be stubborn," said Bruce.
"He is going to hurt himself. Even Superman needs rest, Bruce," said Zatanna.
"He's tough to hurt," replied Bruce with a grim smile, "And stamina is one of his super powers. Give him space and time."
Zatanna smirked then said, "I knew there was a reason I wanteded to meet him. Super stamina. Tell me about his other hidden powers."
"Zatanna, Clark isn't Constantine. He is a better man than that," growled Bruce.
"I'll behave, Bruce," she said and her smile suddenly morphed into that of an innocent. "I was just teasing. We can use a looser mood around here right now."
"I know you well, Zatanna. Behave," said Bruce.
"I spoke to Kara and she is worried about him, but when she went down to help him, he ordered her as the head of the House of El to go to the Fortress of Solitude and rest and repair," Zatanna told him. "Her Kryptonian upbringing couldn't disobey him. He is head of the family. She told me he never acted like that with her before."
"He's feeling guilty," Bruce stated as if that was all that needed to be said.
Diana cleared her throat.
"I knew you were there, Diana," said Bruce.
"I wanted to speak to you in private," said Diana.
"I guess that is my prompt for me to make an exit," smiled Zatanna, "and you know how I love my exits, Bruce."
"Zatanna, you don't have to worry about Superman. I'll talk to him," said Bruce.
"For some of us newer members Superman is more than a fellow Justice Leaguer, he's an icon and an example we'd like to emulate. I know that is a burden to place on someone but he is Superman," she said.
"He's also my friend. I'll talk to him," said Bruce then he leaned in close and whispered to her, "Remember, Zatanna, Clark doesn't like magic."
"Well, Bruce, he just hasn't met the right magical person then to teach him to appreciate it," she smiled.
With some sassy wiggle in her hips, Zatanna exited the conference room C causing Bruce to shake his head. He knew she was doing it goad Diana a little. He knew Zatanna well enough to know that in her way she was letting Diana know that she was interested in Superman as more than an icon and example. Bruce shook his head and exhaled.
Diana let the door shut then she started pacing. Bruce watched her. Reading her body language, he knew she was angry but also feeling guilty and it all involved Clark. He sighed.
"What happened with you and Clark, Diana?" he asked.
She stopped pacing and turned and glared at him. For a moment he thought she was going to attack then her offensive stance relaxed.
"I yelled at him," she snapped then she took a breath to calm herself down. "He was blaming himself for what happened and I got angry at him. I assumed that he was feeling sorry for himself… and he had tears in his eyes and I thought that unbecoming a warrior such as Kal. The creature needed to be stopped and he did it. The warrior in me couldn't stand seeing himself taken the blame for something he had to do. Bruce, the creature had to be stopped."
"Diana, Kal isn't an Amazon, who finds honor in battle. He is a Kryptonian. His father was their leading scientist, a man of logic and integrity, who stood up against the warrior class in General Zod. He was raised on a farm in Kansas by a man and woman who taught him to care for other people and not take advantage of them because of his superior powers. Jonathan and Martha Kent taught him protect those who are weaker than him. In his eyes he failed the people of Metropolis. He failed to protect them. He is feeling guilt over his inability to save people," Bruce lectured.
"He's wrong. Yes, many died, but he saved more lives than were lost by stopping that creature," Diana replied hotly.
"I'm not sure that is true, Diana," growled Bruce.
"How can you say that, Bruce?" she asked him.
"Because I want Superman to regret his actions, I want him to feel deeply when normal people are injured due to his actions. I fear a Superman who doesn't regret and doesn't feel. That Superman becomes a danger to us all and one that will be difficult to stop," replied Bruce.
Diana thought about what Bruce said. Even though, she had learned a great deal during her time in the Patriarch's world, she knew that she still had her own biases and misconceptions. She didn't want Kal to be like her. As a matter of fact, she appreciated him for his difference, yet she was angered by him for not reacting to the situation like she would have.
"I need to fix this with him," she said.
"You need to give him time and space," said Bruce.
"That will be difficult," Diana admitted then left the conference room.
Bruce took another sip of his coffee then sighed.
"You better not do anything stupid, Clark," he said to himself.
Forty hours straight of repairing and moving large piles of debris and Clark was done with the cleanup. Anything left to be done was in the hands of the city and contractors. He looked over his shoulder to see A Colonel directing his troops to pack up their gear into the trucks and Humvees. Military were used to supplement the Metropolis Police Department, as a large area needed to be quadrant off to make sure no one else got hurt in the wreckage of the mid-town Metropolis. The Colonel walked over to Clark.
"Superman, the area is safe, so we can pull back now," he said to Clark.
"Thank you for your help, Colonel," said Clark. "I've appreciated not having to worrying about people interfering while I did clean up."
"It's Colonel Doheny, Superman," said the Colonel, who observed Superman for a moment.
He could see that it was more than exhaustion effecting super powered hero. Stepping closer to Superman, so that his men couldn't hear him, he spoke in almost a whisper.
"In the Civil War when someone had seen too much battle they'd say I'd seen the elephant. Think about that, I'd seen the elephant. Most of those men hadn't even read what an elephant was let alone seen a drawing of one. Well, I've see the elephant and I can tell that you have, also, Superman. It isn't a pretty sight, is it?" asked the Colonel.
Clark shook his head in the negative.
"You see too much battle, too much death, it can change you. Damn, you've seen too much battle under the wrong conditions it can destroy you. I've seen strong men weep because of battle and good men lose their faith. Hell, I considered leaving the military after the Gulf War because of some of the things that I had seen, but I changed my mind," Colonel Doheny said.
"How did you change your mind from walking away from it all?" asked Clark.
"I took a boring assignment, a desk job. I swore I'd never be a desk jockey, but I became one. I loved leading a boring life for a while, even got married and had a child. In other words I grounded myself and gave myself perspective. After a while I was ready to lead men again into battle or into peace, it didn't matter because I had the proper perspective in life," Doheny said. "I don't know if there is a desk job in the super hero business, but if there is I'd take it for a period of time. Well, I should join my men."
"Thank you, Colonel. You gave me something to think about which I appreciate."
Doheny walked away from Clark, who gave his surroundings one more perusal, and then he rocketed into the air and disappeared with a sonic boom.
Amanda Waller walked into Colonel Trevor's office. He was on the phone, so she motioned him to get off. Making a quick excuse, he hung up.
"You want something, Director," he said.
"How is your relationship with the Justice League?" she asked.
"Good. Diana and I are still seeing each other. She keeps me abreast of league matters," he said.
"Find out about the status of Superman. It appears he is back in action," said Waller. "He spent the last thirty odd hours cleaning up Metropolis then took off without speaking to anyone. I want to know his status."
"Next time we have dinner with each other, I'll bring it up," said Trevor.
"Good," she said then turned and exited.
Clark held the phone to his ear in his living room, as he paced back and forth.
"Yeah, Cat. I was in the hospital a few days with a head injury from falling debris. I didn't think to call you, but then again I had a decent concussion. It was my mistake," said Clark.
"Clark, we are partners right now. I should be on your list of people to contact if you are injured. I've been worried sick about you. I even asked Jimmy to look for you," she chided him. "Without out you our news blog would be ruined. You're important to me, Clark."
"I apologize, Cat, and I promise that it won't happen again. We are going to turn our site in a financial success and I'll be a better partner to you," he swore.
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. Clark meant what he said to her. He knew that Cat Grant had sacrificed a lot to start the news blog with her and he'd be cavalier in his approach to its success. For now he was going to make an effort to make their site successful and profitable.
"How are you feeling, Clark?" she asked him.
"I'm fine now, Cat. Are we okay?" he asked her.
"Yes, we are okay, Clark. Should we get together tomorrow?" she asked.
"How about I buy you lunch on Wednesday?" he countered.
"You'll buy me lunch," she restated. "I'd like that."
"I'll meet you at Mama Leone's at one for lunch," he said.
"I'll be there, Clark."
"See you then," he said then hung up his smart phone.
Diana was nervous. A meeting had been called by Kal with the board members, which included herself, Dinah, Barry, Oliver, Arthur, Mera, Hal, and Bruce. As she strode down the corridor, she caught sight of Zatanna talking to Kal outside of the conference room's pneumatic doors. Sex appeal and flirtatiousness wafted off Zatanna like an expensive perfume. For reasons she didn't understand she felt her blood boil and her temper rise. When she reached them, she nodded and entered the conference room without speaking a word.
Clark watched Diana enter the conference room and from her attitude he suddenly felt reassured at the decision he had made. It was time for him to be Clark Kent and Clark Kent only. He was going to take a desk job for a while, as the colonel suggested. Superman needed some time on the bench.
"Superman, I mean Clark, I've read your news blog and like it. You know I'm performing in Metropolis next week. It's a benefit to help rebuild the city. I don't have any interviews scheduled yet, but I could change that and give you an exclusive one for your blog," she suggested.
"Actually, that would be a boon for us. We haven't had many exclusives," he replied. "How do you want to set it up?"
"If you give me your number, I'll call you," she said.
"Um, uh, sure," said Clark sounding more like Clark Kent than Superman in his hesitancy. "My number is 555-4594."
Zatanna smiled, "I'll call you. Maybe you can come to the performance and the after event as my date, so you can write about it."
"Yeah, that would great," he replied.
Zatanna turned and walked down the corridor keeping his attention until she finally turned the corner. Clark exhaled slowly then he entered the conference room. The Board of Directors was seated already. Diana sat next to Bruce. Clark looked over at her and could see that she was angry. He decided to ignore her.
"You're all here. Good," Clark started.
"As the chairperson of the board," started Dinah, "I wanted to express my happiness at that fact that you recovered so quickly after the attack from Doomsday."
"Thanks, Dinah," Clark said softly. "It's that attack that brought me here. I may have recovered from my injuries but too many innocent people in Metropolis didn't. To be exact four thousand six and fifty eight people died that day because of me and Doomsday. Mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters lost because I didn't get that damned creature away from the city. I failed them. I have on duty and that is to protect them and I failed. I can't live what that. The thought that so many innocents lives were taken haunts me. I need some time away from this, from being Superman."
"You mean that you are running away from you duties, Kal," snapped Diana. "You are possibly failing them again by taking time off."
With her temper already in the rise, she spoke out, even though she knew it would have been best for her not to do so. Clark looked over at her. His eyes couldn't hide his disappointment. As Diana and Clark stared at each other, Bruce could feel the tension mounting in the room.
"Clark, I recommend you take a sabbatical instead of doing anything rash," Bruce offered. "Step away from this for several months. Live life as Clark Kent and allow yourself to come to grips with what happened. The Justice League can setup monitoring duty for Metropolis while you take this time off."
"I think that is a great idea. More of us should do it, take time away from the madness to meditate why we do this," offered Oliver.
"Agreed, Clark. Take some time, six months even. You deserve it," said Arthur.
"Hey, Big Blue, I'll help Kara out with Metropolis. I can do a quick run through every night and be on stand bye," offered Barry.
Clark smiled at his friends. Diana was about to speak when Bruce placed a gloved hand on her forearm and squeezed. She turned and looked at him.
"Your temper is on the surface, Diana. Talk to him later," whispered Bruce. "You have already said the wrong thing to him."
She nodded her head.
"Clark, I think all of us here agree that you should take as much time as you need," said Dinah. "I can have you taken off the duty roster as of today."
"Thank you, Dinah," said Clark. He then looked at the rest of the board. "Thank you all."
"Clark, we should talk," said Bruce.
"Tonight?" Clark asked.
Clark nodded then he looked at Diana. There was still a hint of sadness in his eyes. Diana felt the need to speak to him, but she couldn't, at least not yet.
Clark exited. Everyone was quiet for a few moments, as they thought of the Justice League without Superman as part of the roster. He was the backbone of the league, the one everyone could count on.
"So, we have to rework the roster," said Dinah.
Bruce had no powers in which to fight crime, just well-earned skills, a honed intelligence, and the willingness to push his body and mind beyond it physical limits. Dressed in a black gi, Bruce went through a series of offensive and defensive moves before he attacked the punching bag he had set up in the Batcave.
He started to do a series of kicks against the bag, when a stiff wind sent a chill through him. Suddenly, Clark was holding the bag for him.
"You're early," said Bruce.
"I need to go to the Fortress to change some security codes and take care of some other business, so I thought we could get my lecture over with then I can get to work," said Clark.
"I'm not going to lecture you, Clark," said Bruce.
"Bruce, of course you are going to lecture me. I've know you for enough years to know that a lecture is coming," sighed Clark.
"Actually, Clark, I just wanted to get a sense of where your head is at. If we are attacked by Darkseid or some other force, will you be standing on the sideline or will you join us?" he asked.
"I won't stand by in case of a cataclysmic event or Darkseid," said Clark.
"I take it you'll be in full Clark Kent mode for now," said Bruce.
"Yes. I mean there will be visits to the Fortress, especially to give my senses a rest now and again, but on the whole I don't intend on using my powers. I want time away from Superman in hopes that it will help understand being Superman," Clark told him.
"Sounds like you are feeling guilty and need to punish yourself, Clark. I can understand that. I've done it to myself," said Bruce.
Clark looked at his friend with an expression of annoyance but didn't respond.
"Get your head on straight, Kent, then get back to work. The world needs you. Don't stay away too long. You'll be missed," said Bruce.
"We'll talk again, Bruce."
"I know we will, Clark," said Bruce and Clark disappeared with a strong wind. "I hate how he does that."