Season 6, end of "Labyrinth"
Rating: Adult. If you're under eighteen, please go elsewhere now.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
At the familiar voice, Clark Kent spun around. His friend Chloe Sullivan was running toward him, across the barn. She caught him by the arms and looked up anxiously into his face. "Are you all right?"
"Chloe." Relief struck him in the chest, leaving him breathless and lightheaded. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his shoulder. She felt warm and solid, and he almost collapsed to his knees in gratitude.
Because earlier this evening, he'd seen her die.
"Chloe! Wait! Just stay here, and we can figure this out!"
He ran after her, down the crumbling stairs of an old movie theater that had never been refurbished. At the bottom of the staircase, she spun to face him.
"There's nothing to figure out, Clark. I know who you really are, and they're going to kill me for it."
"No." He shook his head in denial. It had always his greatest fear, the fear that someday the people he loved would die because of his powers. The thought of being the cause of death for someone he loved haunted his nightmares and lurked at the edges of his waking thoughts. "You aren't going to have to die for me, Chloe. I'll protect you."
"You can't protect me from them, Clark."
"Yes, I can. I won't let you die. Ever."
He stared into her eyes, trying to convince her that he would be there to protect her from harm, no matter what. Suddenly a movement caught his eye, and he lifted his gaze, seeing the two men who'd chased him at the Luthor mansion.
"Just take it easy, Mr. Kent," one of them said.
He didn't see Chloe pull out the gun she'd put in her purse, but suddenly she was aiming a gun at them, and they lifted their own guns. He heard the report of a gun and tried to go into superspeed to save her.
But he couldn't superspeed.
He wasn't faster than a speeding bullet. He couldn't catch a bullet out of the air, or throw himself in front of her to protect her. Somehow, in this reality, he was utterly powerless.
There was nothing he could do to save her.
Shocked and horrified, he stared at Chloe as she slowly turned to face him. Blood bloomed, a dark crimson flower on her white shirt, and in her eyes he thought he saw a silent accusation.
You didn't protect me, Clark. You didn't save me.
"Chloe," he whispered, and caught her in his arms as she started to fall.
Chloe smelled good, and he couldn't stop himself from pulling her closer. He turned his head and buried his face in her neck, inhaling the sweet fragrance of her skin. He wanted to press a kiss against her throat, just a little one, to let her know how much she meant to him, how much he cared about her, how grateful he was to see her alive. But he didn't quite dare, so he settled for hugging her harder.
Somewhere at the edges of his consciousness, he heard a dog bark. He lifted his head to see the old golden retriever, Shelby, trotting down the barn staircase. The dog came to them, wagging his tail, and Clark reluctantly let go of Chloe and knelt to pat the dog.
"Shelby," he said softly. "Thanks, buddy. You saved my life."
He saw Chloe shoot a curious glance at him, but he ignored it, because he wasn't sure how to tell her everything that had happened to him. He wasn't sure he could talk about it, because it still hurt to think about it. Even now that he realized it hadn't been real, it still hurt.
Shelby had saved his life, but he hadn't saved Chloe's.
He lowered her to the floor carefully, afraid of worsening her wound. "Chloe," he whispered, his arms still around her shoulders. He was afraid to let go of her. "Chloe, no."
"Clark..." Her voice was pitifully weak, and her eyes looked dull. He touched her cheek gently.
"I won't let you die," he whispered, bending over her. But he knew she was dying, and it was his fault. His fault. He couldn't even sweep her up in his arms and superspeed to the nearest hospital to save her.
She was dying, and there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't protect her. Pain swelled inside him, so intense he could hardly breathe.
"Clark," she whispered again. "I'm not crazy, Clark."
"Chloe..." He held her by the shoulders, clinging to her, trying to keep her with him, struggling not to let her go. But her eyes closed, and he heard a rattle as she took her last breath.
"No," he moaned. "No."Desperate, he called her name again, but she didn't stir, didn't draw a breath. A terrible, dull ache filled him, so agonizing he couldn't even cry. He dropped down on the floor next to her, pulled his legs up against his chest, and buried his face against his knees.
He didn't struggle when the men put him into a straitjacket, loaded him into a car, and took him back to the Fairview psychiatric center.
There wasn't any fight left in him.
Once they got back to the house, Clark started a fire with his heat vision, because the old farmhouse was drafty and cold, and he didn't want Chloe to be chilly. She made him sit on the sofa, poured coffee, and brought two cups on a tray.
He was amused by her mothering, which was very unChloelike. He'd told her most of the story on the way to the house, although he'd left out a few key details. Obviously his terse description of his experience had worried her.
He took a long swig of his black coffee. "You're sure I was only out for a minute?"
She sipped her own coffee, laden with cream and sugar, more slowly. "I told you, I got out of my car, and heard you fall. By the time I'd gotten to the barn, you were back on your feet."
He frowned into the coffee cup. "It felt like a lifetime."
He still remembered her dying in his arms, the awful emptiness he'd felt, and he swallowed. Thank God it wasn't real, he thought. Thank God.
But it had felt very, very real.
"I have to give the phantom props," Chloe said, cradling her cup in her hands to warm them. "Dangling the Lana carrot in front of you was a pretty tempting offer. But clearly the phantom hasn't ever encountered the steel will that is Clark Kent."
He frowned. "The thing is, Lana was trying to betray me the whole time. To get me to give up my powers for her, so we could be together. And I think maybe when we were dating in the real world, she would have wanted the same thing."
"You could be right. You always acted like you were afraid she wouldn't accept your powers, anyway."
"I honestly don't think she would. But even so... I think I still love her, Chlo."
"Still?" Chloe tilted her head and regarded him thoughtfully. "Do you really love her, do you think? Or do you just love the idea of being normal?"
He blinked, taken aback by the question. He thought about everything Lana had offered him in the other world, and realized he wasn't sure what he wanted more-- Lana, or a life in which he didn't have to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders all the time.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm not sure. I guess I'm kind of confused."
"Confused about your emotions. Wow. There's a shocker." She followed up the words with a gentle smile to show she was teasing, and changed the subject. "So who was I in your alternate universe? The editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet? A Pulitzer-prize winning journalist?"
In his mind, he saw her dying in his arms again, saw the accusation in her eyes, heard her whispering, I'm not crazy, Clark, and he stared at the fire for a long moment.
"Something like that," he said at last. He kept staring into the fire, because it seemed safer than looking in her direction. "The important thing is, everyone else thought I was crazy, but you accepted me without question. You were the only person who believed in me. " He hesitated again, and his voice dropped almost to a whisper as he turned his head and looked at her. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Chlo."
"Awww." She flashed an irreverent grin. "Is this where I'm supposed to cue the Barry Manilow music?"
He laughed softly, amused by her snark. "Seriously, Chloe." He found himself staring into her eyes. "You mean a lot more to me than you know."
And the truth of the matter was, she meant a lot more to him than he'd ever known, too. He remembered seeing her die in his arms, remembered hearing her last rattle, and pain filled him.
He couldn't ever lose her again. He just couldn't. She meant too much to him.
All of a sudden the foot or so of space that separated them felt like far too much distance. He reached out, took her cup, and put it on the table, then put his arms around her and pulled her against him, hard. He felt her hesitate, and then her arms went around his waist, and she pressed her face into his shoulder.
He held her for a long moment, feeling the rise and fall of her ribcage under his hands, feeling the warmth of her skin, hearing her heartbeat, strong and steady and reassuring. She was alive. This was real, and she was alive.
Thank God, he thought again, and turned his face against her neck again, feeling the pulse beating just beneath the skin. This time he couldn't help himself.
He kissed her throat.
Read Chapter 2 here.