When he was fifteen, Clark Kent tried to cure cancer.
To him, it seemed the obvious thing to do, and he went about sharing his cure in what again, to him, seemed like the most obvious way to do so.
The trouble started from the second he picked up the phone. It didn't aide his case that he was a late bloomer, and during the entire phone conversation with the very skeptical receptionist, his voice cracked on each third syllable.
His father had given him a pat on the back and kindly refrained from saying "I told you so." He had. He'd warned Clark that no one in their right mind would believe that a teenager would call up on a Monday afternoon with the cure to cancer.
Clark just couldn't understand why no one was interested in hearing what he had to share.
He went to individual doctors after that, painfully shy but compelled by the knowledge that he had to do something about it. He couldn't just let people suffer when he had a way to help them. That would go against everything that his parents had ever taught him.
The doctors were a shade more patient with him, perhaps because his earnestness was much more palpable in person, but eventually they all sent him away, too.
His mother made him his favorite peanut butter cookies. She gave him a hug and a kiss, told him that he was doing the right thing, but he saw how visibly she relaxed when he said he'd stop trying. Although she hadn't told him as much in words, Clark knew the way that children know about their parents, that she worried that he would be taken from them if they weren't careful.
He tossed his papers into the cold arctic water surrounding the Fortress.
Later, Jor-El admonished him.
"Do not do for humans what they can do for themselves, Kal-El. You are bound guide, never to push. Do not to interfere in their development: that is their own."
Clark listened, but didn't understand. He wouldn't for many years yet.
When he was twenty-five, he found a friend in the most unexpected place.
"It's never enough."
"Try and tell that to me and Lois. Without you we wouldn't be alive. We wouldn't have our son." The emphasis that Richard put on the word our gave Clark a strange flutter in his stomach.
"But… I can do so much more." Clark took his glasses off. "Every day, I hear them. All the people I could be saving." The glasses snapped in two.
Over the next few hours, Richard gently coaxed out the stories of his youthful attempts to, in the most literal sense of the words, save the world.
"But you could now, couldn't you?" He asked, his face flushed with excitement. Clark said that yes, he had access to information that would effectively cure every ill the planet had.
"But I can't."
Richard looked as confused as Clark had felt at fifteen. "Why not?"
"I'm not… I can't. I'm not human." Clark looked away. "It's not my right."
As Jor-El had told him more times than he could count, he was neither the mild-mannered reporter nor the Man of Steel.
Neither a man, nor a god.
When he was thirty, he wished he'd never met Richard White.
"Full remission," Richard breathed after he hung up the phone. Clark helped him walk over to the couch. He was trembling uncontrollably.
Richard lay down with his head in Clark's lap.
Clark could feel Richard smile against his thigh.
"I think I understand now." Richard had been the one to help him erase the information from his memory and the crystals. The commands were impossible to override.
He cried as Richard slept, because he'd never understood less.
* * *
When Jason White was fifteen, he wanted to cure cancer.
He didn't understand why his father told him it was better that he couldn't. Why, no matter how many hours he spent at it, he couldn't crack through the security in the Fortress.
Dad was even less helpful. He thought of all people, Clark would understand about duty. About their responsibility. But Clark just warned him that no one would take a fifteen-year old seriously.
When he was twenty, he figured out the cure on his own.
Clark looked briefly at his sheaf of papers before he sighed, and bolted up into the air.
Jason followed, silently fuming. Clark always did this; the thin air didn't impair him, but Jason couldn't speak this high up.
"I want you to listen," Clark said, as if reading his thoughts.
Jason briefly considered forcibly dragging his dad down.
"I need you to listen, Jason. To really listen."
He rolled his eyes before closing them. The sounds of the world crowded into his ears.
Jason took a deep breath.
"That's it. And let your hearing expand until it's everywhere. Let the world open to you."
And so it did.
The deep curls of the ocean, the wide groans of the tectonic plates were the bass; the movement of feet on ground, the bustle of cities, the high lilt of voices, birdsong, animal voices and thrum of civilization counter-pointed against the slow hush of respiration and water moving through the atmosphere. It all melded, twirled, twined, until it was a song, rich and full, bursting over with… life.
"Isn't it amazing?"
Jason nodded, enthralled.
Clark's voice dropped. "I don't think we were ever meant to hear it."
Jason opened his mouth to protest, rebel against the idea: it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever witnessed.
"Think about it, Jason. We could destroy that. We have the technology and strength to make it sound however we want it to."
There wasn't enough air in the world to tell Clark all the things Jason hated about what he'd just said. But his lips silently shaped one word: never.
"I know. So: how do we draw the line? And where do we draw it?
Do we stop when we've saved everyone, imprisoned every criminal? When there's no suffering, no pain? Do we give humanity the gene recombination therapy that will make them more Kryptonian and less human, but able to live forever?
Do you ever wonder why I haven't been asked for the cures? Why only the power-hungry want to know my secrets?"
Clark put a hand on his shoulder. "Think about it, Jason. And then draw your own line."
Ten years later, Dr. Jenar Masandra, a classmate and friend of Jason's, made the discovery that led to a cure and was hailed worldwide as a hero.