Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
It was time to go home.
Clark Kent knew it was time to go back to Kansas, but somehow he couldn't quite bring himself to leave. He'd been alone here, in his crystalline Fortress of Solitude, for three years now. It was quiet and peaceful and safe. He wasn't inundated with the sounds of other people, the way he'd been in Kansas. Here he didn't have to listen to a vast cacophony of footsteps and voices and beating hearts. Here he could hear nothing except the wind, the soft shush of snow, and his own heartbeat.
And being here, learning everything there was to know about his home planet, had brought him closer to Krypton and his dead family than he'd ever dreamed possible. He'd grown up on Earth, which the Kryptonian records referred to as Terra, but he'd been born on Krypton. His home planet was gone, destroyed in a terrible cataclysm that had ripped the planet apart, and yet when he viewed the holograms stored in the Fortress' computer, it was almost like being there, among his own people.
Maybe it was irrational, a thought born of being utterly alone for three years, but he didn't want to leave his people again.
He'd just finished reviewing some old records of political debates on Krypton and walked from the hologram chamber one afternoon when he became aware of a sound. A sound he hadn't heard in three years.
The beat of a human heart.
His own heartbeat speeded up, whether with nervousness or anticipation he wasn't sure. He'd longed for company many times over the course of the past three years. And yet he'd been alone so long he wasn't sure he even knew how to respond to another person at this point.
He stalked through the crystal formations that divided the Fortress into rooms, his cape swirling behind him, and turned the corner to see Chloe Sullivan.
Back in Kansas, Chloe had been his best friend, the woman he'd admired more than any other. They'd been friends for a long, long time, and he'd had some deep-down romantic feelings for her he'd never dared to let himself examine too closely. She was clad in a navy blue business suit, her darker, longer hair falling past her shoulders, and she looked a little older than he remembered. But despite the slight lines at the corners of her eyes, he thought she was more beautiful than ever.
He stopped and stared. She stared back.
"Wow," she said at last, her familiar snarky tones breaking the silence between them. "It's a big change from flannel, for sure."
He blinked, confused, then looked down at himself and realized what he was wearing. "Oh. Yeah. It's Kryptonian clothing."
"Kryptonians sure liked bright colors." She walked toward him, very slowly, as if afraid she might spook him. She paused in front of him and lifted her hand to his chest. At the touch of her hand, his heart began to thud, so heavily he was worried she'd be able to feel it beneath her palm. "And you had a crystal with this symbol once. What is it? It looks like an S."
"It's not," he answered. "It's the sigil of the House of El. The symbol of my family."
"Oh." She traced the five-sided symbol, and he was hard-pressed not to shiver. No one had touched him for three years, and for her to touch his chest like that-- well, it was a bit overwhelming.
"Chloe," he said, forcing himself to speak, when he'd rather just stand here and enjoy the sensation of being touched for the first time in far too long a time. "What are you doing here?"
"Well... I'm not sure, actually." Her hand fell away from him, to his immense dismay. "I was working in my office at the Planet when I suddenly had this compulsion to go to the caves. So I got in the car and drove all the way out to Smallville, wasting an hour and a half of my time, even though I have this story on a string of bank robberies I really should be writing for Perry..."
"My editor. Perry White, remember him? Anyway, it was like I couldn't help myself. I drove all the way to the caves and walked in, and next thing I know I'm here."
A light dawned. "Jor-El brought you here," he said. "To bring me home."
She lifted her eyebrows. "Are you telling me you're finished training?"
He nodded and avoided her eyes, studying a nearby crystal formation as intently as if he hadn't already memorized every formation in this structure long since. "I finished a couple of weeks ago, actually."
"That's great!" She grabbed his arms, grinning. "Your mom will be thrilled, Clark." She looked up at him, and her smile slipped a little. "But if you're finished... why haven't you come home? Won't Jor-El let you go?"
He looked down at the wide, beautiful eyes he hadn't seen in three years, and a mass of conflicting emotions tangled inside him, longing and fear and something very like panic. "Jor-El told me I could leave," he answered, very softly. "But I'm not sure I want to."
She stared at him, looking bewildered. "You don't want to? Why on earth not?"
It didn't have as much to do with Earth as it did with Krypton, but he wasn't sure how to explain that to her. He tried, although he was aware his conversational skills were a little rusty. "I just... I've been spending all my time learning about Krypton," he said, awkwardly. "The Fortress downloaded me with the language, and I've studied the myths and the history and the people. I've spent three years doing nothing but learning about my people. And now..." He took a deep breath. "It's like I'm more Kryptonian than Terran, Chlo. I honestly don't know if I'll fit in on Earth any more."
"Of course you'll fit." She shrugged, and offered him a wry smile. "I mean, as much as you ever did."
"No. I'm not sure I will. I just..." He frowned, wondering how to explain himself to her. At last he caught her by the arm, gently. "Come this way, and I'll show you."
She followed him, although he couldn't help but notice the little crease between her eyes that meant she was worried about him. Small wonder, he thought. She hadn't seen him for three years, and practically the first thing out of his mouth was the statement that he wasn't sure he wanted to go back at all. He guessed he was coming across as a little strange.
He drew her into the large chamber he'd been in earlier, and hit a switch on the wall. Instantly the room filled with a hologram of a vast crystalline city. The silver and crystal spires reached proudly toward the sky, glittering in the light of a large red sun, and people walked down the snowy streets, clad in form-fitting, brightly colored outfits with capes, like the one he wore.
"These are my people," he said, struggling to explain himself.
She stared, wide-eyed, at the lifelike scene. And then she turned around and pressed the switch, and the bright light of the hologram flickered out, leaving nothing but a dark, empty ice cavern.
"Your people are gone, Clark," she said, very gently.
He blinked at her. She reached out and took his hand.
"Look," she said, "I guess you're right. Jor-El brought me here to bring you back. And you know, I understand you feel close to your heritage and to Krypton here... but Krypton's gone. And I figure Jor-El didn't spend three years training you so you could hide here in the Arctic and pretend to yourself you're on Krypton. He trained you so you could help people on this planet."
"I don't know if I can help anyone, Chlo." He looked down at the floor and voiced his greatest fear. "I don't think I can blend back into human society. I've forgotten how to act Terran. I've forgotten how to be anything but a Kryptonian."
"No, you haven't." Her hand tightened around his. "You were brought up on Earth, Clark. I know you've been pretty well immersed in Kryptonian culture for the past three years, but the minute you set foot in Kansas, everything you were brought up with will come back to you. I promise."
Still he hesitated, and she lifted her hands, cupped his cheeks, and pulled his head down. Her lips brushed over his, in a very gentle kiss, and he froze for a second, then automatically responded, his lips moving against hers.
At last he lifted his head and frowned at her. "What was that for?"
Her hand still rested on his right cheek, and her thumb stroked the mole there. "I've missed you," she said softly. "I've really missed you a lot, Clark."
"Yeah," he answered, his voice gruff. "I missed you, too. I've missed everything."
He couldn't keep the yearning out of his voice, and she smiled a little. "Then come back home."
He hesitated another moment, and then words spilled out of him. "I'm afraid, Chlo," he whispered. "I'm afraid no one will remember me. I'm afraid people will think I'm some kind of freak. I'm afraid that I'll try to save people, and fail. That I won't be able to do any good for anyone."
"You've been alone too long," she said gently, still stroking her thumb over the mole on his cheekbone. "You've been thinking about everything that could go wrong, instead of everything that can go right. When you're alone, and you have nothing else to think about, it's normal to focus on the bad. But even if you're scared, you can't hide up here by yourself forever."
He looked down at her and spoke very earnestly. "You could stay here with me."
She rolled her eyes, in so familiar a way it made his mouth quirk in an involuntary smile. "Yeah, because I've always wanted to live in a refrigerator. No, Clark. I have a life in Metropolis. I have a career that's important to me. I have things to accomplish. If you're going to hide from the real world... you're going to do it alone."
He looked around, at the vast, empty structure, and for the first time he let himself acknowledge the terrible loneliness that had pressed down on him for the past three years, let himself admit that he was tired of solitude. "I don't want to be alone any more," he said softly.
"Well, okay, then. Let's go home."
She stepped away from him and stretched out her hand. He hesitated again, then reached out and wrapped his fingers around hers. Her hand felt very small and fragile in his, but it also felt warm and soft and solid, a reminder that she was no hologram. Chloe was real.
Earth was real.
He'd spent three years looking at images of Krypton, imagining it as the productive, happy world it had once been, but the truth was, that world was long gone. Terra-- Earth-- was his planet, not a world that had long since perished in a huge explosion.
Krypton didn't need him. But Earth-- Earth was noisy and busy and alive, and crowded with people who needed his help. He'd been trained to protect this world, and it was past time for him to begin. It was time for him to go back to the people who needed him.
Hand in hand, he and Chloe walked toward the portal that led back to the Kawatche caves.
The portal that would take him home.