Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me
Clark gazed at her, silent. She didn't know whether to take his silence as shock or horror or perhaps a little of both, and she stared back at him, unblinking, crossing her arms in an unconsciously defensive gesture.
"After all these years," he said at last, "after I left you without any warning or explanation, after I didn't come find you when I came back to town... you still love me?"
She nodded, feeling tears sting her eyes. "I know," she said hoarsely. "I'm stupid."
"Not stupid." There was a flicker of amusement in his deep voice. "Just stubborn as hell."
She waited for him to say something else, along the lines of I still love you too, or even, I'm sorry, but I don't love you anymore. Anything to let her know how he felt, and where he stood. But he only looked at her, his eyes grave behind the glasses.
"What?" she said finally, the silence grating on her already raw nerves. "What are you thinking?"
"I just figured it would be safer if I didn't have any... attachments," he said softly. "No girlfriend, no family in the city, no friends. That way no one can possibly get hurt."
"Don't be stupid, Clark. You can't live your life with no attachments. You're not going to live without friends forever."
"It would be safer."
"Maybe it would be. But it would be awfully lonely."
He looked at her steadily, and she could see the loneliness that already shadowed his green eyes. "I've been alone for the past four years, Chlo. If I could stand it that long, I figure I can stand it for the rest of my life if I have to."
"You don't have to." She stretched a hand out to him. "You shouldn't have to. You're alone enough already, Clark. You're the only Kryptonian on Earth. You shouldn't have to live without friends and family, too."
He stared at her hand, looking torn, as if part of him wanted to take it, and part of him wanted to turn and fly out the window. "It's not safe, Chlo. I couldn't stand it if anything happened to you."
"Life isn't safe," she answered. "This morning I had a gun pressed to my head, and it had absolutely nothing to do with you. I've been in serious danger a dozen times in the past four years, and none of it had anything to do with you. I have a dangerous job, Clark. I piss off people on a regular basis. I'm never going to be one hundred percent safe, no matter whether I'm involved with you or not."
His eyes looked vulnerable behind the thick glasses. "I don't want you to get killed because of me."
"Well," she said, "maybe no one will connect Clark Kent with Superman. You are going to have a life as Clark Kent, aren't you? I mean, you need a job."
"I have a job. Saving people."
"You need a job that pays the bills." She frowned in thought. "You graduated with a degree in journalism. Have you thought about writing for the Daily Planet?"
"Uh... I've been freelancing for the Inquisitor, actually."
"Well, there you go. If you spend enough time there, you'll make friends. You can't keep yourself in isolation forever, Clark."
"Friends are one thing. A girlfriend or a wife is another."
"Jumping ahead a bit, aren't you? Did I say I was interested in getting married?"
He blushed a little, which amused her, because it was so typically Clark. "I was just sort of thinking out loud."
"Anyone you're close to could become a target," she said. "I admit that. But I also think you can't live alone forever, Clark."
He crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his head in a haughty, almost arrogant gesture. All of a sudden, he looked very like Superman, despite the glasses and the casual clothing. "Maybe I'd rather live alone," he said. "Did you ever think of that?"
Her throat went tight at his sudden remoteness. But she had risked too much to let him back off now, without knowing what he really wanted. Without knowing how he really felt about her.
"Fine," she said. "If you're sure you'd rather live alone, then that's okay. But let's find out if that's what you want before you make any decisions."
She stepped toward him, stood on tiptoe, and kissed him.
Clark stood as frozen and unyielding as an ice sculpture. Desperate to provoke some sort of response, Chloe wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed closer to him, feeling his heat, feeling the reassuring strength of his body against hers.
He hesitated a second longer, then abruptly gave in, responding to her kiss, his mouth moving against hers with a sudden desperate hunger. "Chloe," he whispered against her lips, his arms going around her waist in a tight embrace. "Chloe."
Tears stung her eyes at the sound of his deep voice saying her name. For a brief moment in time, everything was perfect. It felt like the past four years had never happened, as if they'd never been apart.
Her thoughts drifted back to the last time he'd kissed her. They'd made love in a field at Kent Farm, under the stars, then he'd driven her back to her father's house and kissed her good night. She could still remember the sounds of summer, the frogs singing in a chorus and the insects droning, as his lips lingered over hers in a long, passionate kiss.
Now he was kissing her in Metropolis, and instead of the summer music that filled her memories, she heard the dull roar of traffic, the whirring of helicopters, and the distant sound of sirens. It was totally different, and yet somehow exactly the same. Because even though their surroundings were different, even though years had passed, her feelings for him had never changed. She loved him. She'd always loved him.
And now she realized she would never stop loving him, no matter what.
She parted her lips, and he groaned and slid his tongue into her mouth, exploring her intimately, hungrily, as if he was afraid he might somehow have forgotten the taste of her.
She hadn't forgotten the way he tasted. The memories of kissing him, of making love to him, had filled her dreams through the empty years of his absence, darting into her mind at the most inopportune times, bringing sudden tears to her eyes in the middle of the lonely night, or while she was working at the Daily Planet, or while she was trapped in rush-hour traffic.
For four years, memories had been all she'd had to hold onto. But now she had Clark to hold onto, and she wasn't letting him go. Ever.
She dug her hands into his hair and kissed him harder.He pulled her against him more tightly, a soft moan rumbling in his throat. But all of a sudden he pulled away from her, lifted his head, and listened intently, as if responding to a sound she couldn't hear.
"Chloe," he said tersely. "I have to go now."
His rejection cut into her like a knife, sending agonizing pain through her heart. "Clark..."
"It's not you," he said in a rush, staring into her eyes, as if he desperately wanted to make her understand. "Someone's in trouble. I have to go help."
She stared at him, her lips trembling, unsure whether he really needed to go, or whether he was simply giving her the Clark Kent brushoff.
"Chloe," he said, a little impatiently, "this is who I am. I have to help people. It's what I do."
She knew that was true, and recognized that it didn't have anything to do with her. It was who he'd been ever since she'd known him. She pressed her lips together to stop the quivering and lifted her chin.
"All right, Clark. Go."
Affection and gratitude lit his eyes, and he brushed a hand over her cheek. "I'll come by tonight if you want, Chloe. We can fly together again. Will you come fly with me?"
She nodded, a little shakily.
He smiled down at her, and then suddenly he was gone, so quickly she didn't even see where he went. She wasn't sure if he'd gone out through the back door or flown out through the window. But all of a sudden her apartment felt very empty.
Shaking from reaction, she sat down on the edge of the bed. After all these years, she'd found Clark again. But her memories were filled with kisses and lovemaking and laughter. She'd let the less pleasant memories fade-- the memories of his sudden exits, the way he cheerfully put himself in danger to save others, the way he'd come precariously close to getting himself killed more than a few times.
Somehow she'd forgotten how genuinely difficult it could be to be involved with Clark. Even as a teenager he'd tried to take all the problems of Smallville onto his broad shoulders. He had a savior complex, and always had. Probably more so than ever, now that he was "Superman." He'd decided to dedicate himself to saving Metropolis, and maybe even the world.
Which meant that any woman who loved him would have to share him with the world. And that wouldn't be easy.
But it was something she'd have to learn to deal with. Because she loved him too much to ever let him go again.
Read Chapter 4 here.