Manip by Khyla. Used with permission of the artist.
Season 6, after "Crimson"
Rating: Adult. If you're under eighteen, please go elsewhere now.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
“What exactly did you mean by what you said yesterday?”
Clark Kent was sitting in a gnarled, ancient apple tree when he heard her voice. He wasn’t startled, because he’d heard her footsteps coming across the meadow. Not to mention her heartbeat. He could always hear her heartbeat, whenever she was within a hundred miles of him.
But he was relieved to hear her voice, because he hadn’t been sure she’d actually speak to him.
He wasn’t surprised she’d found him so easily. It was February, and although there was no snow on the ground, there were no leaves on the trees, either. This had been his favorite summer hiding place when he was a little kid, but it wasn’t much good for hiding in winter. He looked down through the thick, intertwined branches.
Chloe Sullivan was standing ten feet below him, glaring up at him.
At the expression on her face, he cringed, feeling just as guilty as he’d felt when he’d accidentally thrown a baseball through a wall when he was ten. He’d taken refuge here, and when his mom had found him, she’d stood beneath the tree, her face stern, looking just like Chloe did now.
He was obviously in deep shit as far as Chloe was concerned.
“Hey, Chlo,” he said meekly. “Listen, I’m really sorry…”
She rolled her eyes and spoke right over him. “Did I ask for an apology? I don’t think so. You didn’t mean to get infected with red K, after all. It just happened.”
He was a little relieved she was letting him off the hook so easily. His mom had pretty much ripped him a new one for the things he’d said to her at the party, and with good reason. He hadn’t been quite as rude to Chloe, but even so, he felt pretty guilty for the unpleasant things he’d said to her. She was his best friend, and he hadn’t had any business humiliating her in public, even if he had been under the influence.
“I know,” he admitted. “But I’m still really sorry I said all that stuff to you.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and scowled up at him, her chin at a belligerent angle. “What did you mean by all that, anyway?”
He thought about what he’d said to her. His memories were a little distorted—the result of being on a red K bender—but he remembered what he’d said clearly enough. Too clearly, maybe. If he had to act like an ass, it would be nice to be able to forget it afterwards, the way drunk humans could. Unfortunately, he wasn’t human, and he didn’t have the luxury of forgetting it.
He remembered kneeling next to her chair and saying, I’m not surprised to see you here celebrating, Chloe. Maybe once Lana’s off the market, all those years of unrequited pining will pay off. Then he’d lowered his voice and whispered right in her ear. Can’t say I haven’t thought about it.
“Um,” he said. “I just, well…”
Her eyebrows drew down. “Do you really think of me as some sort of backup girlfriend?”
Unfortunately, after a day of contemplating everything that had happened, everything he’d done and said while he was under the influence, that was pretty much the conclusion he’d come to. He was in love with Lana Lang, but part of him wanted Chloe, too. He apparently had a classic case of dog-in-the-manger syndrome.
He tried to avoid answering the question. “Come on, Chlo. I was on red K.”
“Which makes you say what you really think,” she said tartly.
He sighed and looked away from her stormy eyes, staring across the meadow at the farm’s windmill, which turned briskly in the cool breeze. “It’s all kind of academic anyway, Chlo. You’ve got a boyfriend.”
“Not any more,” she answered.
He whipped his head around and blinked down at her. “What?”
“Jimmy broke up with me. He was tired of me constantly making excuses for you. He feels like I choose you over him, every time.”
Guilt flared through Clark. He’d really screwed up, even if it hadn’t truly been his fault. After everything he’d done, he knew he was lucky he hadn’t wound up in jail for assault and kidnapping. But he’d rather have found himself serving ten years in jail than to have screwed up Chloe’s life this badly.
“I’m really sorry,” he said again.
She started to stalk back and forth under the tree. “It’s my fault, not yours. He wanted me to admit you screwed up, and I wouldn’t. I kept defending you, and I obviously couldn’t explain why. I should have just agreed that you screwed up and left it at that. Even if you didn’t, really.”
Clark watched her pacing restlessly beneath him. “Do you think maybe he heard about what I said to you at the party?”
“I’m sure he did.” She sighed. “And that probably didn’t help. But the truth is, he’s right. Every time you call, I choose you over him. Every freaking time.”
Clark sat there for a moment longer, then dropped out of the tree, landing gently in front of her. “You’re mad,” he said, studying her face.
“Yeah.” She sighed. “But not at you. At me. I hurt a perfectly nice guy who doesn’t deserve to be hurt, just because I can’t quit chasing after a guy who thinks of me as a backup.”
Pain cut into his heart. He didn’t want Chloe to think of herself as his second choice, or as somehow inferior to Lana. Chloe meant everything to him. But he couldn’t stop loving Lana, either. “It’s not like that, Chlo. I mean, not exactly. It’s complicated.”
“I know.” She looked up at him, her green-gold eyes filled with sorrow. “It’s complicated with me too.”
The cold winter breeze blew over them, ruffling her blonde hair around her face. She’d been styling it straight, but the wind blew some wave into it. He liked it that way. Suddenly his fingers itched to touch her hair, to feel how soft it was, but he kept his hands to himself. He’d already caused enough problems in his relationship with Chloe, without adding unauthorized touching to the list.
“It’s really cold out here,” he said. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, because as a Kryptonian he was invulnerable to extremes in temperature, but she was shivering, her cheeks reddened with cold, despite the long faux fur coat she wore. “Let’s go inside and talk, okay? It’ll be warmer inside, and we can have some coffee.”
She hesitated, looking like she thought it might be smarter to refuse, and he looked at her pleadingly. He didn’t want the cruel words he’d uttered while intoxicated to ruin their friendship. “Come on, Chlo. My mom’s gone for the week, and I’m lonely. Let’s hang out together.”
She pressed her lips together, then turned toward the house. “Fine,” she said.
They walked back to the house, shoulder to shoulder, without speaking. Even though they generally talked a lot when they were together, they were just as much at ease not saying anything at all. Comfortable, peaceful silences often punctuated their conversations.
But this wasn’t a companionable silence. It was filled with tension and awkwardness.
Once they got inside, he started a fire with his heat vision to take some of the chill out of the house, then headed for the coffee maker on the kitchen counter and poured two big mugs of coffee. Instead of sitting in front of the fire in the living room, she’d chosen to sat down at the kitchen table. He sat down across from her, very conscious of the wide expanse of wood between them, and pushed a mug toward her.
She accepted the mug and took a long sip. “So what are we going to do about this?”
He looked over at her. “About what?”
“This whole backup boyfriend/girlfriend thing. I guess it’s time we get it all out into the open, and quit pretending it isn’t a problem. You love Lana, but you kind of have a thing for me. I love Jimmy, but I kind of have a thing for you, too.”
The idea that she loved Jimmy hit him harder than he would have thought possible. He almost spilled his coffee as jealousy poured over him in a wave. It wasn’t that he wanted Chloe himself. Not exactly. It was just that dog in the manger thing again.
He tried to shove the jealousy away and took a long swig of coffee to steady his voice. “I’m not sure,” he answered. “Maybe we should just agree we’re friends. Maybe we should just agree that’s all we’ll ever be.”
“Yeah.” She snorted into her mug. “Because that’s worked so well in the past.”
She was right. Every time they declared they were “just friends,” they somehow wound up kissing the hell out of each other not too much later. Deep inside, he knew they were a lot more than just friends. But they were also less than lovers. Both of them had their hearts engaged elsewhere.
Well, mostly engaged elsewhere. Which was the whole problem. If he really loved Lana all that much, he wouldn’t be thinking about Chloe all the time. And if he was going to be honest with himself, he thought about Chloe at least as often as he thought about Lana.
“I don’t know, Chloe,” he said with a sigh, staring into the dark depths of his coffee. “I’m really not sure what the answer is.”
“I have an idea.”
Of course she had an idea. Chloe always had ideas. He glanced at her, lifting a quizzical eyebrow. “Spill.”
She lifted her head and looked straight into his eyes.
“Let’s have sex together and see if it helps us figure out how we feel about each other,” she said.
Read Chapter 2 here.