Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me
"So how do you like being back in the city?"
Clark flew low over Metropolis as the sun set, Chloe cradled in his arms. He held her so close, with such gentle care, that she felt very precious and loved. Which was dumb, because he probably just wanted to make sure he didn't drop her. But even that practical thought didn't extinguish the little flame of warmth that glowed in her heart.
At her question, he looked across the tops of the buildings, his eyes thoughtful.
"After four years of the Arctic, it's different," he said. "You know how quiet it is up at the Fortress. No sound except the wind. I had to retrain my superhearing to deal with all the noise here, or I would have gone crazy pretty fast."
"Why did you decide to come here instead of Smallville?"
"There's not much for me in Smallville now," he said. "Mom's in Wichita most of the time. She sold the cattle and horses and leased out the land and the house. I can go back eventually, but not until the renters leave."
"But that's not the only reason you're here."
"No." He looked over the city again. "There are so many more people here, Chloe. They need me. Smallville had more than its share of issues, but Metropolis has ten million people living in it. The scale of the problems here are immense."
"You can't save everyone," she said gently, echoing the words she'd said to him many times before in Smallville.
"No. But I can try."
The sun dipped below the horizon, bathing his face in crimson and gold that matched the cape rippling in the wind behind him. "Listen, Chloe," he said, looking at her intently. "Can you hear them?"
She listened, but heard nothing but the wind whistling past her ears. "Hear what?"
"All the voices," he said. "Ten million of them. They all have problems. Some have big problems, and some have little ones, but every person in this city will need help at one time or another. That's why I came here, Chloe. Because they need me."
All of a sudden she understood why he'd wanted her to come fly with him-- because he wanted to make her see the city the way he saw it. She looked over the tall spires of the city. The glass and metal glinted in the dying glow of the sun, and from far up in the sky the city looked beautiful and flawless, the people crowding its streets as insignificant as ants.
But she tried to see it through his eyes, trying to see it as more than a collection of tall buildings and swarming crowds. He didn't see the people of Metropolis as a faceless throng, the way humans were prone to do. He saw each of them as an individual he could help. He could even hear each heartbeat if he wanted to.
Ten million heartbeats. She couldn't quite imagine what that sounded like to him, but she guessed it must be overpowering. She wondered how he could stand the city at all, how the massive wall of sound and the awareness of so many people didn't drive him mad.
"I like it here," he said, apparently reading her expression. "It's different from Smallville, for sure, but I like it. I like knowing I'm helping people. And besides, I came back for another reason. I..." He hesitated. "I liked knowing I was in the same city as you."
His softly voiced confession melted her heart. "You should have come to see me."
"I was afraid of how you'd react," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "I didn't think you'd want to see me, after I just left without any sort of warning."
"I guess I misnamed you in my article for the Planet," she said acerbically. "You're a superwuss."
He winced. "Don't hold back for fear of hurting my feelings or anything, Chlo."
"Your feelings?" Anger sparked inside her chest. "What about my feelings, you big dope? The last time I saw you, you made love to me, kissed me goodnight... and then just disappeared. Don't you think I was entitled to an explanation when you came back?"
"Well, that's why we're here."
"No. We're here because you saved me from a mugging this morning. Because of random chance. You should have come to find me, Clark."
He was silent for a long time. "You're right," he said at last, quietly. "I just didn't want to look into your eyes when you told me you'd moved on."
"But I didn't move on."
"Well, I didn't know that, did I?" He frowned. "I thought you would. I expected you to."
"So you figured I was superficial and disloyal?"
"Why are we arguing here all of a sudden, Chlo?"
"Because you're a moron."
He sighed, but the corner of his mouth twitched up. "Glad we're clear on that."
"Look," she said, a little less stridently. "I told you before, I love you, Clark. And I understand that you have to save people. I think I can cope with that."
"Are you sure?" He looked down at her, his eyes serious. "It's not easy being in love with someone who has to work weird hours, and who has to leave without any sort of warning."
"I work weird hours too, Clark. I'm a writer. And sometimes I have to climb out of bed at strange hours, too."
"It's not quite the same thing."
"In some ways it's worse. I can get hurt or killed, a lot more easily than you can." As she said it, she recognized the truth of her words. It was distressing to let him put his life on the line every day, but it must be even worse for him, knowing the people he loved could be killed so easily. Humans were so much more fragile than he was that he must be terribly conscious of the dreadful possibility of losing them. She lifted her head and stared at him challengingly. "If you can stand it, I can. Do you have the guts to let me go out into the world and risk my neck?"
He looked away from her. "To tell you the truth," he said softly, "I'm not sure."
"Well, think about it. I can tell you that I won't put up with you stalking me, or hovering. When I have stories to write, I don't need you following me around and trying to protect me."
"I can't just let you get hurt, Chlo."
"You can't watch me every hour of the day, either. You have other things to do."
"Yeah," he said with a sigh. "Which is why I was really trying to avoid any sort of emotional entanglements."
"I told you before," she said impatiently. "You can't live your life without emotional attachments. That's not the kind of person you are, Clark. You care about people too much."
"I care about you too much," he said, his voice so soft she could barely hear it over the wind. "I care about you a lot more than I ever wanted to."
Joy swelled in her chest at the admission. She tried to suppress a foolish smile, and totally failed.
"Same here, farmboy," she said. "I really wish I could hate your guts, but I can't."
"You probably should."
"Probably. But I've always found it hard to hold a grudge where you're concerned." She looked down over the city, which was draped in blue-purple shadows. "Are we getting lower?"
"Yeah," he said. "It's getting late. I thought I'd take you home."
She looked down on the city as they dropped, trying again to imagine what it was like to hear ten million heartbeats, or to hear thousands of people crying out for help at once. She still couldn't quite envision it. In some ways, Clark was perfectly human-- but in a lot of ways, he was wildly alien. It had never been easy loving him.
But it was utterly impossible to fall out of love with him.
"Fine," she said. "We can have some dinner. And then... you can spend the night."
He blinked at her. Concealed by the shadows of twilight, he dropped into the alley behind her house, his feet hitting the ground with a thud so soft she barely felt it. He put her down carefully and stepped back. Even though she was watching him this time, she couldn't see the instant in which he changed his clothing, transforming himself from superhero to ordinary guy.
His eyes looked back at her from behind the thick glasses. "Spend the night?" he repeated, sounding shocked. "Isn't that moving a little fast, Chlo?"
"It's been four years since I made love to you. I think that's moving a little slowly, to be perfectly honest. Maybe we should make love and then eat."
She unlocked the door, and he followed her in. She flicked on the lights, closed the door behind him, and looked up at him, studying every line of his face, wanting to memorize it in case he ran away and she never saw him again.
But he wasn't going to do that again. She wouldn't let him run from her a second time.
"So," she said. "Food first, or sex?"
He looked down at her, looking as if she'd stunned him into speechlessness. His mouth opened, but no words came out.
"How about we order pizza?" she suggested. "Then we can have it in bed. The best of both worlds."
He stared at her a moment longer, then the shock faded, replaced by reluctant amusement. He grinned widely.
"Chloe," he said, "I've missed you an awful lot."
She smiled back. "Come show me how much you missed me."
"What about the pizza?"
She rolled her eyes. "Later, Clark. We'll order some pizza later, okay?"
An hour later, in the darkness of her bedroom, his voice spoke in her ear.
"So what about the pizza?"
"Are you really hungry?"
She chuckled. "You sure want a lot."
"No." He tightened his arms around her. "Not anymore. I've got everything I've ever wanted now."
"Except for pizza."
"Well, yeah," he admitted. "Except for pizza."
She laughed, amused. In some ways he was so alien, yet in most ways he was a perfectly ordinary guy. He liked pizza and football and sex... when he wasn't defying the laws of physics and flying faster than the speed of sound. "Fine, Clark. Hand me the phone, and I'll get you some pizza."
She ordered a large pizza with the weird combination of ingredients he'd always liked-- pepperoni, ham, and pineapple-- then hung up. "It'll be about half an hour," she told him. "Just enough time for you to run out and save some people if you need to."
"I'm taking the evening off, unless something really bad happens," he said.
"I'm glad you realize you need to take some time off," she said, gently squeezing the bulging muscles of his arm. "Even a superman can't be on duty twenty-four/seven. You need some time for yourself."
"And for you."
"For a life," she said. "You're going to have to find some way to balance being Superman with being Clark Kent. Some way for your life to be as normal as possible, without compromising who you really are."
She heard him sigh. "I really don't know how to be normal, Chlo. Not anymore. I've been alone at the Fortress for too long."
"I'll help you figure it out. It might take a while to find the right balance, but we'll work it out. In the meantime, we'll start with pizza. Pizza's nice and normal. You need some normalcy in your life."
"Sex is nice and normal, too," he said hopefully.
She batted at his questing hand, which was sliding upward from her waist. "Knock it off, Clark. The pizza'll be here in less than half an hour."
"That's plenty of time," he said, nuzzling her neck.
She giggled, surprising herself. She hadn't laughed like that in a long time. But she had a feeling she'd be laughing a lot more frequently now. "Yeah," she agreed, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "Plenty of time."