Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
"I love you."
She turned around and looked at the man standing behind her. He stood on the other side of her desk, and on first impression all she saw was dark-rimmed, round glasses, a rumpled mass of waving dark hair, and a dark suit with a navy silk tie. All the darkness didn't make him look dangerous, just unremarkable. She lifted an eyebrow.
"I said, I love you."
The voice tickled a memory at the edges of her subconscious. She cocked her head, trying to track the memory and failing. Which was strange, because there was something so damn familiar about that voice, as if it were a part of her somehow, as if it were deeply ingrained into her, so integral to her life she could never forget it. His voice was low and resonant and far too sexual to be attached to a nerdy guy wearing glasses.
She felt a shiver run through her, but ignored it, because she didn't get the shivers for nerdy guys who acted strangely. She frowned at him. "Have we met?"
He hesitated. "I guess not." He took a step forward. He was big and bulky, but not in a muscular sort of way. The way he slouched said clearly he was no athlete. If she had to guess, she'd speculate there was a fair amount of fat beneath the loosely cut suit.
He held out a hand to her, avoiding her eyes. "I'm Clark Kent. Just started work here today."
She shook his hand briskly. "Lois Lane," she said.
"Are you sure?"
She stared at him again. This guy was definitely a bit on the weird side. "Say what? Of course I'm sure."
"Yeah," he said softly. "Of course you are."
She shoved a hank of medium-brown hair behind her ear. She vaguely recalled there had been a time when she'd worn it blonde, but one day she'd awakened and decided to let it go back to its natural color, for no good reason except she'd felt like it. "What exactly did you mean by telling me you love me?"
"Your work," he said, looking down and fiddling with the pen he held in his hands. "I meant I love your work. I've read all your articles, Ms. Lane. They're amazing."
"Thanks," she said, slightly mollified. The man might be odd, but at least he recognized talent when he saw it. "So what are you going to be doing for the Planet?"
"Reporting." He didn't meet her eyes, only continued to fumble nervously with the pen. "I'm a reporter."
Not a very good one, she suspected, considering he couldn't look people in the face. She doubted he'd be very successful at prying an interview out of anyone. "No kidding. What other papers have you worked for?"
He shrugged a big shoulder. "I've written for small papers all over the world. But I got my start at the Smallville Ledger."
"Smallville." She frowned, thinking. "That's a little spot on the map in Lowell County, right?"
"Yeah. Ever been there?"
"Never." She laughed at the very idea. "I'm a city girl."
"It's a nice town. I grew up there."
"Oh." She was mildly sorry for the little spot on the map crack, but only mildly. She was all about the truth, even when the truth hurt. And besides, how big could a place called Smallville be?
"Anyway..." He fidgeted with the pen. "Perry said you could show me the ropes. Because we're going to be, you know, partners."
"Partners?" She stared up at him. "Excuse me? I don't work with a partner."
"Uh, well, Perry said..."
"Oh, crap. I don't believe this. He's getting back at me for what happened with the LexCorp story, isn't he? Damn him."
She stood up, kicking her chair out of her way, and stalked past the big, awkward guy, Clark whatever-his-name-was. She headed toward Perry's office, her shoulders squared and her chin tilted in the air. She didn't care how many witnesses Lex Luthor had managed to bring forward to "prove" he hadn't been creating an army of superpowered freaks in his labs. She'd done the research, and she was right, damn it. But Lex's spin doctors had managed to get her story killed before it ever saw print, and Perry had been pissed with her ever since, because she'd come thisclose to getting the Planet slapped with a libel suit.
But she wasn't getting stuck with a cub reporter, a guy who wrote for smalltown newspapers, just because she was on Perry's shit list.
"Uh, Ms. Lane..."
She spun around and regarded the big man impatiently. "What?"
He lifted his gaze for the first time and looked at her. Behind the glasses, his eyes gleamed a brilliant, clear green, like emeralds in the sunlight, and a shock of recognition and longing jolted her, so intense it hurt. Clark, she thought. Oh, Clark, Clark...
She shook herself impatiently, because she'd never met this guy before in her life. She was certain of it. And she didn't believe in prior lifetimes or reincarnation or any of that silly psychic stuff. She believed in facts she could prove. And the fact of the matter was, she'd never met this guy before.
"Uh," he said, for the umpteenth time. "It was really nice meeting you, Ms. Lane."
"Lois," she answered. "Call me Lois."
She stormed toward Perry's office, leaving Clark Kent standing alone.
Chloe, he thought as he stared after her retreating form. Not that she remembered being Chloe Sullivan. No one remembered Chloe Sullivan except for him. And like so many other things, that was entirely his fault.
He recalled his conversation with Jor-El just before he'd left Smallville for good.
"Certain memories will have to be altered, my son," Jor-El had intoned in his deep, solemn voice. Jor-El was a Kryptonian AI, into which the memories and will of his biological father had been stored. "Otherwise your mission on this planet may be compromised."
Clark had frowned into the shadows of the cave. "Memories? You mean my memories?"
"No. Your memories cannot be changed. But human memory is a fragile thing, and it can be altered or erased quite readily, if one possesses the technology."
Comprehension dawned. "Chloe," he said softly. "You're talking about Chloe."
Chloe Sullivan had been his best friend for years, and recently they'd grown a lot closer. They'd begun dating a few months ago, and he'd fallen for her, hard. He'd tried not to, because he knew he was probably going to have to go to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic for training very soon, but he couldn't help himself. He'd fallen madly in love with Chloe, and he didn't want to ever leave her.
But the time for his training had come even sooner than he'd anticipated. He'd made love to Chloe for the first time last night.
And Jor-El had called him to the caves this morning.
He'd left her sleeping in his bed, wrapped in sunlight and a warm blanket, her blonde hair spread out over his pillow. He hadn't even said goodbye. He'd expected to be given a chance to go back and wrap things up, to gather a few personal things together, to beg her to wait for him. To assure her he'd come back to her, no matter how long it took.
But clearly that wasn't going to happen. Jor-El spoke, his voice grave.
"There are many who will be involved in your future, who must have no memory of you as a boy. You will need to keep your identity secret in order to move freely amidst the populace of this world, and you will not be able to do so if so many people recall your face and history. Their memories will be altered."
Lex, Clark thought. Lionel. Lana. Maybe even his mom. He hated the thought of people's memories being altered without their permission, but he could understand Jor-El's reasoning.
But Jor-El couldn't take Chloe's memories away. He wanted Chloe to remember him, to remember the long years of friendship, the way their lives had been so closely intertwined for so long. He wanted her to remember what he meant to her, and how much they loved each other.
He wanted her to remember making love to him last night. He wanted her to remember it for all time.
"You don't have to change Chloe's memories," he said softly, pleadingly. "She can be trusted with my secret. You know she can."
"It is not a matter of trust, but of her safety. It is not safe for her to be associated with your past, my son. It will make her a target for villains who want to know your true identity, and that will lead to her death. I have foreseen it. To keep her safe, she must be given new memories and a new identity, and all record of her ever having been involved with you, of ever having known you, must be erased."
The Kryptonian witness protection program, Clark thought grimly. "But I love her," he said, his voice more plaintive than he wanted it to be.
"If you love her so greatly, Kal-El, you must want her to remain safe."
He bit his lip. Jor-El had him there. He didn't fully trust the AI, but there was no doubt that Jor-El knew far more of what the future held than he did. If Jor-El thought Chloe wasn't safe with her memories intact, she probably wasn't.
"Are you telling me I can never see her again?"
"I will arrange it so that when you rejoin the human world, you can see her again, although she will not remember you. But there will come a time when it is once again safe for her to be associated with you. I assure you that once your training is accomplished, and when that time has arrived, you will have a second chance."
Clark bowed his head and stared at the floor of the cave for a long moment, while emotions rioted inside him. He didn't want to leave Chloe behind, but he knew he had to. He certainly didn't want her to have her life stripped from her, without her knowledge or consent. And yet he couldn't demand that Jor-El let her keep her memories if it meant she would die.
He would do anything he had to in order to keep Chloe safe from harm. Anything at all.
Pain and loss and anguish roiled within him, but he forced them back. "All right," he said. "Do what you have to do."
"Are you ready to embark upon your training, my son?"
He looked up at the cave wall, at the symbol of the House of El that was painted there. The symbol of his destiny.
It was time for him to grasp that destiny.
"Yes," he said. "I'm ready."
Clark came back to the present to see Chloe-- no, Lois-- walking toward him, her mouth set tightly in annoyance. The real Lois Lane had died a year before he'd left for his training, so he supposed it had been easy for Jor-El to insert Chloe into Lois' identity. He'd probably erased a few memories here and there, too, so no one in Smallville remembered either girl, and perhaps even altered her father's memories so Gabe Sullivan believed it was his daughter who'd died years ago.
He knew for a fact that Jor-El had been very thorough. He'd already looked up Chloe's earliest articles for the Daily Planet, and found that the bylines all read Lois Lane. And the articles she'd written that had anything to do with Smallville or him, even tangentially, had disappeared entirely.
Technology or no technology, he couldn't imagine how Jor-El had accomplished what he'd done. It sounded horrifically complicated to him-- but to Jor-El it was probably all in a day's work.
"Okay," she said to him, not sounding like it was okay at all. She sounded seriously pissed. "Perry says you're my partner, so I guess that makes you my partner. Just don't expect me to like it."
"Okay," he said, trailing after her. "How about showing me around?"
"Sure, because I've got nothing better to do than to play tour guide to some farm boy."
He couldn't repress a smile at the familiar, snarky tone. She stalked toward the staircase, and he walked down the stairs beside her. He'd walked down these stairs shoulder to shoulder with her a hundred times before, and a feeling of nostalgia came over him, so strong his eyes smarted with tears. Thank God for the thick glasses.
Unable to stop himself, he shot a quick look at her. She looked great with brown hair, he thought. There were little lines around her eyes and mouth that hadn't been there before, and she was a little thinner, probably because she never remembered to eat when she was working. But she was still beautiful, the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Everything he'd ever wanted.
And she didn't remember him at all.
She glanced at him, her eyebrows drawing down. "What are you looking at, farmboy?"
"Nothing," he said softly, looking away. But it wasn't true, and he knew it. She was still everything to him.
She strode down the staircase a little faster, looking more irritated than before. But he knew her better than he knew himself, and he knew the irritation would wear off soon. Chloe had never been able to stay mad at him, and he was pretty sure "Lois" wouldn't be able to, either.
Even though he hadn't seen her in five long years, he realized he still loved her, just as intensely as he'd loved her the night before he'd left for the Fortress, the night they'd made love. She didn't love him, of course, because she didn't remember him. But he had a feeling he'd be able to make her love him again, too.
After all, Chloe had adored him almost since the day they'd met. He hated that their long history of friendship and love and trust had been simply erased, brushed aside as if it had never happened. But even if her memories of him were gone, she was still Chloe... and Chloe had always loved him.
He stole another glance at her from behind his glasses, and smiled.
You will have a second chance.
Somehow, he felt certain that would be enough.
Posted by Meg at 7:01 AM