Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me
She knew he could travel faster than the speed of sound, so she didn't have much hope that he'd hear her angry call. But he had superhearing, too, and suddenly he was standing in front of her again, his eyes wide with shock. "Chloe?" His eyes narrowed a bit. "What the hell did you do to your hair?"
She glared at him, annoyed that he hadn't even recognized her, just because she was a brunette now. The man had such preternaturally keen vision he could spot an ant ten miles away, yet he hadn't even bothered to glance at her face. She was just another damsel in distress, as far as he was concerned.
"I quit dyeing it," she said shortly. "What the hell did you do with your flannel shirts?"
He looked down at his bright costume with a wry twist of his mouth. "I quit wearing them."
"Doesn't look like your fashion sense has improved much."
He studied her seriously for a few more seconds, then a grin broke through. "Doesn't sound like your tact has improved much, either," he countered.
She stared at him, awestruck, unable to look away. He was as handsome as ever, a square, chiseled face of perfect male beauty framed with thick dark hair, but there was something totally different about him, something indefinable but unmistakable.
Maturity, maybe. He'd only been twenty-one when she last saw him, barely grown beyond boyhood. Now he was a man. He no longer gave the slightly bumbling, awkward impression he once had. Instead he carried himself with a sort of regal dignity, an authority she'd never seen in him before. His chin was tilted high, his shoulders squared, and his spine straight, making him appear as majestic and imposing as a king.
He'd grown into the potential she'd always thought lay beneath his surface, accepted his destiny, and become something entirely extraordinary, something no one else in the history of the world had ever been. A protector and defender of the weak, a savior of the endangered. A superhero.
No one could possibly look at him and doubt it.
His crimson cape rippled in the wind like a banner, and he looked so noble, so inutterably splendid, that she suddenly felt herself to be completely unworthy of him.
No wonder he hadn't come back to see her, she thought wretchedly. He wasn't the Kansas farmboy she'd known and loved four years ago. She could sense the power surging beneath his surface just by looking at him. He was incredibly fast and strong, and he could soar through the skies like an eagle, unfettered by gravity, oblivious to the physical laws that bound humans.
He was so much more than human. He was a superman, just as she'd dubbed him in the paper.
And she was nothing but an ordinary woman.
He turned his head slightly to the side in a gesture she recognized, even after all the years that had passed. "The police are coming," he said. "I have to go."
She couldn't let him just fly away now that she'd found him again. Maybe she was only an ordinary woman... but she was an ordinary woman who loved him. She stepped forward, holding out a pleading hand.
"Take me with you," she said softly.
He looked at her for a moment longer, then swept her up into his arms and leapt into the sky.
The glass and metal and concrete of Metropolis' buildings blurred past them, and then they were high over the city. Chloe wrapped her arms around his neck in an instinctive reaction, even though they didn't seem to be going terribly fast. They just drifted along, the blue vault of the sky overhead, the city streets so far below that all she could hear was a vast and profound silence.
"So when did you learn to control the flying?" she asked.
He lifted an eyebrow. "Is this an interview, Miss Lane?"
She laughed at his use of her pen name. "I won't print anything you don't want me to print," she assured him. "I'm just curious. It's off the record, I promise."
He was silent for a long moment. At last he spoke. His voice seemed different, too, deeper and more resonant, filled with self-assurance.
"I went to the Fortress to finish my training," he said at last. The Fortress of Solitude was an enormous crystalline structure in the remote Arctic. "I had to. Jor-El insisted."
"Did he make you leave without telling anyone where you were going?" It was what she had hoped, the belief she'd clung to for all these years-- the hope that Clark's Kryptonian father had made him leave abruptly, without giving him time to talk to her. Because she couldn't believe he'd just walked away from Smallville and left her behind voluntarily, with no discussion. All he'd left her with was a tersely scribbled note: I have to go now.
Five simple words that had shattered her world, and made her cry for days.
"No." His deep voice was quiet, almost inaudible over the wind. "That was my decision."
"Clark." Her eyes stung. It's the wind, she assured herself. "How could you do that to me? How could you leave without even saying goodbye?"
"I knew I wouldn't be back for years," he answered softly. "I didn't want you to wait for me, when I didn't have the slightest idea when I might be back. It wasn't fair to ask you to do that."
"Clark..." She sighed. "Did you really think it was fair just to leave me with no explanation?"
"No." He looked down at her, the cape billowing behind him. "There was nothing I could do that wouldn't hurt you, Chlo. I chose what I thought was the lesser of the two evils."
"I think you chose wrong."
"Maybe. But you needed to go on with your life, Chloe. I couldn't ask you to put everything on hold forever. And I know you. You would have. If we'd talked about it, if you'd known why I was leaving, you would have decided to wait for me. I couldn't let you do that."
She lifted her head and looked straight into his eyes."Did you really think I'd go on without you?"
He frowned a little. "I've been checking into your career since I got back, Chlo. You ran into a little trouble a few years back with Luthorcorp, so you borrowed Lois' name. Right?"
She nodded. "She's in Coast City. She didn't much care."
"But you didn't let your issues with Lex slow you down. You have a great career. And..." He hesitated, and for the first time she could see a shadow of the awkward boy he'd been. "I hear you have a boyfriend."
She blinked, then laughed. "Oh, come on, Clark. You remember Jimmy. There's no way I'd ever date him. He's a dork."
"I was a dork once. You dated me."
"You weren't terminally dorky. It was more of a phase you were going through. Jimmy, on the other hand, is going to be a dork until the day he dies."
He was silent. "My mom told me you and Jimmy were an item."
"Your mom was wrong. Jimmy and I are just friends. Good friends, but nothing more than that."
"You and I were good friends once, too."
"We were always more than good friends, Clark, no matter how much we pretended. You know that."
"Yeah," he said, very softly. "I do know that."
She let her hand brush over the slightly overlong, curling hair at the nape of his neck, enjoying the feel of his hair beneath her hand. It had been four long years since she'd touched him,and she was surprised at how familiar he felt, how comfortable and reassuring it felt to run her fingers through the dark strands of his hair.
"I did put my life on hold," she said at last, softly. "Not my professional life, but my personal life. I had to. I knew you'd come back to me someday."
"Chloe," he said, his voice oddly rough. "I left you without any kind of warning, with nothing more than a note that said I was leaving. I hoped... you'd go on without me. That you'd forget about me. Are you telling me you waited for me anyway? For four years?"
She was silent for a long moment, unable to squeeze words out past the tears in her throat. At last she spoke. "Take me back to my apartment, Clark. It's on Sullivan Place."
He drifted along for a few more seconds, then swooped down toward the city, so abruptly that she yelped and clung to him more tightly. Her eyes closed in an instinctive, fearful reaction, and she pressed her face against his chest, hearing the steady pounding of his heart, feeling the radiant warmth of his body.
Suddenly she felt a slight impact as he landed in an alley. He put her down gently. She swayed for a moment, then regained her land legs and headed for the back door of her apartment.
She opened the door, then turned back and saw that "Superman" had disappeared. Behind her stood an unremarkable guy in jeans and a t-shirt, with an oversized pair of black-rimmed glasses perched crookedly on his nose. She frowned at him.
"How the hell did you do that, Clark?"
"I've gotten pretty good at changing quickly," he said, grinning.
She stared, baffled. All of a sudden he looked much more like the boy she remembered, his mouth curved in the crooked, self-deprecating grin she remembered. His bearing was much less stately, his shoulders slumped a little, and he carried his head lower and didn't quite meet her eyes, as if he were a bit on the shy side.
If she hadn't known him, she could have passed him on the street without ever guessing he was anything other than a perfectly ordinary, somewhat nerdy guy. She blinked, startled by how drastically he seemed to have changed, right before her eyes.
"Uh," she said, then found her voice. "Come on in."
Her apartment was dim, and all of a sudden she remembered she was supposed to be at work. Well, even Perry White, her slavedriver of a boss, would accept the explanation that she'd been mugged.
He followed her into the apartment. "This way," she said, and led him down the hall, toward her bedroom. He hesitated, his forehead wrinkling.
"Come on," she said impatiently. "I just want to show you something."
She stepped into her bedroom and flipped the light on. He looked around the room, and she saw him give a start as his gaze fell on the silver-framed photograph of his face sitting on her nightstand.
"Chloe," he said, his voice hoarse.
Part of her was afraid to confess what he meant to her, but she couldn't let him leave without hearing her say it. Yes, she was just an ordinary woman, and not nearly good enough for a superhero, but she had loved him unwaveringly for years and years, and maybe that counted for something in the grand scheme of things.
At any rate, she had to tell him what he meant to her. She just had to. She'd kept her feelings to herself for four long years, and she couldn't keep quiet a moment longer.
"I've never moved on, Clark," she said softly. "And I've never forgotten you. I've been trying to find you since you came back to Metropolis. Not so I could do an interview, but so I could tell you..." She hesitated, then blurted it out in a rush. "So I could tell you how much I love you."
Read Chapter 3 here.