Clark, Chloe, JLA
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Sequel to Men in Black.
If there's something strange
In your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call?...
-Ray Parker, "Ghostbusters"
"There's a ghost in the Watchtower."
Clark had been tossing bales of hay up into the loft of the barn, but at Oliver Queen's words, he paused and raised a quizzical eyebrow at his friend. "You're kidding, right?"
"Not exactly." Ollie wore a suit and tie, and looked very much like what he was-- a billionaire businessman, completely out of place on a farm. Clark, on the other hand, wore a flannel shirt and tattered jeans, and looked every inch the farmer he was.
And yet neither of them was quite what he appeared to be.
"Not exactly." Clark mulled that over for a moment, then went back to tossing hay. "Are you going to explain that, Ollie, or are you just going to go all mysterious on me?"
"Put it this way. There's an entity in the Watchtower that we can't identify. Several of us have seen it. But it doesn't register on the sensors, and whenever one of us tries to touch it, it disappears."
"Has Chloe seen it?"
Chloe was Clark's best friend, and an investigative journalist, and he considered her a highly reliable witness. Ollie nodded.
"Yes. She's seen it a few times."
"Okay." If Chloe had seen it, then it was there. Chloe saw more with her eyes shut than most people could see with a telescope. Clark turned around and sat on a bale of hay, looking over at Ollie, who was seated on the old rickety staircase without the slightest concern for his expensive suit. "What does this entity look like?"
"It's diffuse. Translucent. Bluish-white, without defined borders. It kind of floats."
"In other words, it looks like a ghost."
"Pretty much, yeah."
"Huh." Clark thought about it for a moment. "So what's the issue, exactly? Is it causing problems? Haunting anyone in particular? Screwing up your equipment?"
"No. Not that we've noticed, anyway. I just don't like having an unidentified entity wandering around the Watchtower. I don't believe in ghosts, Clark. For all I know it's a meteor affected person Luthor's using as a spy. Or it might be a manifestation of some technology I'm not familiar with. I need to figure out what it is, and get it the hell out of my headquarters."
"I'm not a scientist, Ollie. I'm just a slightly unusual farmer. So what exactly do you think I can do about it? You want me to pound on it and see if it whimpers?"
"No." Ollie grinned. "But superstrength isn't your only ability, Superman. I thought maybe your weirdly enhanced senses could pick up something the sensors couldn't."
Clark winced slightly at his code name, which he preferred only marginally to the first code name Ollie had hung on him, Boy Scout. "Okay," he said, shrugging. "I'll give it a shot."
"I have to give you fair warning, though. It might take a while before you spot it. It's kind of intermittent."
"Okay. So are we talking days?"
"Probably. Better bring a toothbrush."
"Awww, Ollie. I thought you'd never ask."
"Shut up, Supes. If you're sleeping with anyone, it sure as hell won't be me." He flashed his boyish grin, the smile that had been featured on magazine covers nationwide. "There's always Watchtower, though."
Clark recognized that in this instance Ollie wasn't referring to his headquarters, but to Chloe's code name. He frowned, and voiced a concern that had been worrying him since Chloe had moved out of her cousin's apartment and into Ollie's headquarters, along with some other people who worked with Ollie. "I thought, uh, maybe Chloe and you..."
"Oh, hell, no. Are you kidding me? She's only got eyes for one guy, and ordinary guys like me pale in comparison. Hell, she won't even give Bart the time of day, and God knows he's tried everything to get her to go out with him."
Bart was Impulse, a superfast kid who worked for Ollie. Bart had never made any secret of the fact that he liked Chloe. Clark had always felt a big brother sort of affection for Bart, but at the news that the kid was still hitting on Chloe, he thought longingly of pounding him into the ground.
Embarrassed by the uncharacteristic violence of the thought, he dragged his mind away from Chloe and back on topic.
"Okay," he said. "For a few days, I'll hang out with you guys at the Watchtower."
Ollie grinned and got to his feet. "Thanks, Supes," he said. "I appreciate it."
"No problem. It'll give me a chance to get off the farm, anyway. This place has been pretty dead lately."
"You mean since Chloe moved to Metropolis."
Clark winced. Metropolis wasn't far away by his standards, but Chloe had been busy since she moved into the Watchtower. She was juggling night classes, a day job at the Daily Planet, and odd jobs for Ollie, and she was so busy he hardly saw her any more. She'd been an important fixture in his life for years, and he missed her a lot.
He was a little embarrassed to realize that he was looking forward to helping out Ollie a little more than he should, simply because it meant a chance to spend some quality time with Chloe.
"Hey," she answered absently. She was typing away at a laptop in the Watchtower's living area, and barely seemed to have noticed Clark's entrance. He'd kind of expected a hug, or at least a big bright smile, and her lack of interest in his arrival stung. He pushed away his disappointment and sat down on a chair across from her.
"So," he said. "Tell me about this ghost."
She looked up from the laptop, and he saw her love of paranormal mysteries light her eyes, in a way his arrival hadn't. Chloe had always been fascinated by the paranormal and unexplainable.
"It's really cool," she said, putting the laptop on the table in front of her and leaning back on the couch. She was wearing a purple t-shirt, and the way she leaned back made the fabric pull taut across her breasts in a very distracting way. Clark tried not to stare. "I saw it for the third time yesterday. It was in the hall upstairs."
"Did it move around? Or did it just sit there?"
"Oh, it definitely moved. It followed me down the hall."
He thought about that, and wondered if it was sentient, or if it just followed movement somehow. "Is it just visual? Or can you feel it, or hear it, or something?"
She bit her lip, frowning in concentration. "I reached out and touched it the first time I saw it," she said. "It didn't feel cold, the way ghosts are supposed to. It didn't feel hot, either. But I did get this kind of buzzing sensation. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it made all the hairs on my arm stand up."
"Okay. So it's not just a visual thing." He considered the matter. "Where am I most likely to see it? Where has it been spotted the most?"
She reached for her laptop and began clicking. He could barely repress a grin. He wasn't surprised that Chloe was keeping careful and extensive notes on the phenomenon. Researching and documenting the paranormal was what she'd done, ever since he'd known her.
"Upstairs hallway... five sightings. Library... three sightings. Sleeping quarters... four sightings. Downstairs living area... six sightings. No place really stands out as the most likely place to see it, Clark. It's been spotted all over."
"Any particular time of day?"
More clicking. "Not really."
"Okay." He shrugged. "I'll just walk around for a while and see if I spot it, I guess."
"All right." She went back to typing, looking lost in whatever she was doing, and he stood up, feeling a twinge of dismay. There had been a time when he and Chloe had talked all the time, about everything. She'd been his best friend for years, and he didn't like the feeling that he'd been downgraded to a business associate.
Intellectually, he knew he shouldn't be surprised. Chloe had a new life and new friends here at the Watchtower, a life in which he was peripheral. And the truth was he'd been pushing her away just a bit, because he didn't quite dare get too near to her. His feelings for her were muddled, to say the least, and he was afraid to act on them, so pushing her away seemed like the safest thing to do. Still, her apparent indifference to his presence rankled.
He wanted his best friend back. He wanted to fix the problem, to bridge the space between them. But he just didn't know how.
He stood there for a moment longer, watching her, then turned and left the room to see if he could find the ghost.
Three ghostless hours later, he wandered back into the big living room, which seemed to be being used as a kind of common area. Chloe was still seated on the couch, typing, while Bart a.k.a. Impulse sat way too close to her, whispering in her ear. On a modern black leather chair, A.C. (code name Aquaman) sat, drinking a tall glass of water. Ollie leaned over the couch behind Chloe, looking at whatever she was working on, and Clark noticed his hand was resting familiarly on her shoulder. He had to resist the urge to superspeed across the room and yank it away from her.
He thought that it was a little odd he didn't mind all that much that Bart was practically drooling on Chloe's cleavage, but that he so strongly resented Ollie hanging over her. He figured it was because Bart was just a kid, and not really a rival as far as he was concerned. Ollie, on the other hand... Ollie was a billionaire, good looking, and famous. All of which made him very definitely a rival.
He shook himself, remembering that he'd decided to not get tangled up with Chloe romantically. Which meant that Ollie wasn't a rival. Ollie could have Chloe. Chloe deserved a good guy, and Ollie was very definitely a good guy.
He started across the room again. As he approached, Ollie looked up. "Hey, Superman," he said with his roguish grin. "Find anything?"
"Not a single glow." Clark threw himself down in one of the black leather chairs with a sigh.
"I warned you that you might not find anything right away, Supes. Just hang out with us for a few days. You'll probably see it eventually."
Clark's gaze slid to Chloe. She was still typing, apparently oblivious to his presence. He noticed the way Ollie's hand was still on her shoulder, and jealousy hit him like a ton of kryptonite bricks.
"Don't worry," he said. "I'm definitely planning on sticking around."
There was a blur, moving faster than even his eyes could follow, and Impulse was sitting next to him, grinning. "So when are you gonna join the cause, Superman?"
Clark sighed. "I still have things to take care of at home, Bart..."
"Last year you said you wanted to be a part of this," Bart said, talking at his usual warp speed. Clark noticed he had a bag of Doritos in his hand, which hadn't been there a minute ago. God, the kid was fast. And he ate like a starving wolf, devouring everything in sight and then looking around for more. "You said you had something you had to wrap up first, and then..."
"It's not quite that simple, Bart. I have a cousin who's new in town..."
"You're blowing us off for family stuff? This is important, man. We're talking survival. We're talking the fate of every freak, everywhere."
Clark saw Chloe wince, just a little, and anger lit inside him. "Don't," he said sharply, "call people with abilities freaks."
Bart looked at him oddly. "Why the hell not? I'm a freak. You're a freak. A.C.'s a freak. What's the big deal?"
"Just find another word," Clark said through his teeth.
Bart stared at him a moment longer, looking thoughtful, then flashed his carefree grin. "Whatever. I guess it might make Ollie feel left out, being the only normal guy in the place."
"Yeah," Ollie drawled. "It makes me feel like a freak."
Chloe winced again, and Clark glared at Ollie through narrowed eyes. Obviously Chloe hadn't told the team that she'd joined the ranks of the meteor-infected. Not surprising, since they still weren't clear on exactly what her power was or how it worked. But she'd developed a real sensitivity to the term "meteor freak" recently, and Clark didn't blame her. They'd used the term casually for years, but somehow it didn't sound the same when you were talking about your best friend.
Chloe wasn't a freak. She was just... Chloe.
"Look," he said, trying to pull the conversation in another direction, "it's not that I don't think you guys are doing great work, because you are. It's just that there's a whole hell of a lot of stuff I have to deal with in my own neck of the woods. I'm happy to help you guys out, but..."
He trailed off and cocked his head. Chloe glanced at him, and instantly recognized that he was using his superhearing.
"What do you hear, Clark?"
"Not sure." He frowned, straining. "Do you guys hear it?"
"Don't hear a thing," Bart said.
"Not that anyone can ever hear anything over Bart's yammering," Ollie said. "But I don't hear anything, either."
Clark shot a glance at A.C. He knew the blond guy's range of hearing was wider than most people's. But A.C. listened intently for a minute, then shrugged.
"Sorry, dude. I don't hear it."
"Clark," Chloe said. "What does it sound like?"
"I don't..." He strained, but couldn't quite tell what the noise was. It was like listening to something very, very distant-- he knew the sound was there, but he couldn't quite make out what it was. "It's a long ways away," he said at last. "And it... it sounds almost like music."
Chloe stared at him. Whatever she'd expected him to say, clearly that hadn't been it. "Music?"
"Yeah. It's faint, but I think it's music."
"Supes," Ollie said. "Are you sure you're not just picking up a garage band practicing somewhere? Or, you know, an AM station on one of your fillings?"
"I don't have fillings. And no, I'm not sure, but..." He listened again. "It doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard before, guys. I think it's our ghost."
Chloe started typing, making notes, and he filtered out the sound of her clicking, and continued to listen. But a moment later the music faded into silence.
"It's gone," he said, feeling an inexplicable sense of loss. Faint though the music had been, he'd gotten the impression that it was beautiful and somber and sorrowful. Which figured, really. He wouldn't expect a ghost to be belting out drinking songs.
Ollie instantly went into Green Arrow mode. "Watchtower," he said. "Cyborg's manning security. Talk to him and find out if the instruments registered anything. The rest of you... get off your asses and fan out. Maybe we can find this thing and get Supes a closer listen."
The team instantly went to work, and Clark went back to listening.
But all he heard was silence.
"We didn't find a damn thing on the sensors," Cyborg complained at the dinner table. It was a huge, round, glass-and-black-wood table, and Clark was annoyed because he'd somehow found himself a long distance away from Chloe. He'd intended to sit next to her and talk to her, but before he'd managed to sit, Ollie had sat on one side of her and Bart the other, and he'd wound up sitting next to A.C.
"Didn't think you would," Ollie said mildly. "The thing hasn't caused a flicker on any of the sensors yet."
"Maybe if we recalibrated them." Cyborg, whose real name was Victor Stone, looked thoughtful. "I mean, if Supes can hear it, then it's real. The sensors ought to be able to pick them up if we calibrate them right..."
He pushed his plate away and stood up, but Ollie spoke, his voice quiet but filled with authority.
"Sit down, Victor. This isn't a rush job. You need to eat your dinner."
"Oh, yeah." Victor looked down with a wry smile. "I forgot about dinner."
"Cyborg," Ollie said to Clark, "is just like Watchtower. Neither of them would ever remember to eat if we didn't remind them every so often. They're both workaholics."
Clark felt mildly annoyed by the familiarity in Ollie's tone. "Chloe doesn't need food," he answered, smiling at her rather than Ollie. "She can run off coffee for weeks."
Chloe didn't seem to hear his gentle jab. She was listening to Bart whispering in her ear, and laughing a little at something he said, and Clark felt even more annoyed. His fingers tightened on the fork in his hand, and to his dismay he felt it crumple. Surreptitiously, he began smoothing it out with his thumb.
Great, Kent. Destroy the guy's ancestral silver, why don't you? What the hell is wrong with you, anyway?
But he already knew what was wrong with him. Chloe was acting like he didn't exist, while talking and laughing and flirting with Ollie and Bart. Flirting. That really pissed him off.
Not that he was interested in Chloe romantically, not really. It was just that he and Chloe had always been close, and now she was acting like he wasn't even there.
Like he was the ghost.
He thought about that grimly. Maybe here, he was just a ghost. A ghost from Chloe's past. Maybe when she'd come to live in the Watchtower, she'd decided to say goodbye to Smallville, and to him as well. Maybe she simply wasn't interested in being friends with him any more.
The thought made him sigh and push his plate away. Bart looked at it with interest.
"You gonna eat that, Superman?"
"No," Clark answered. "I guess not."
There was a flash of movement, and the food disappeared. Bart grinned at him, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
Clark looked at his empty plate and sighed again. Empty... just like his life without Chloe.
For the first time he admitted to himself that without Chloe, he was very, very lonely.
The truth was, he didn't want to stand aside and watch her make new friends, a new life, and leave him behind. He wanted to hold onto his place in her life as her best friend, to talk to her every day, to see her laugh at his jokes the way she was currently laughing at whatever lame thing Bart had just said.
He didn't want to lose her.
The next morning, Clark got up, showered, and dressed. He'd slept in a very nice bedroom, on a very nice mattress-- a far cry from the fifteen-year-old mattress he slept on at the farm-- and yet he'd had a very hard time getting to sleep. He wanted to think it was because he'd been listening for the ghost, but he knew it was really because of Chloe.
He'd tried one more time to talk to her last night. After dinner, she'd disappeared, and he'd steeled himself, then headed to her room to talk to her.
But when he'd hesitated outside the door and listened, he'd realized she wasn't alone. She'd been talking with Ollie.
Ollie had been in Chloe's bedroom. Alone with her.
Clark had been shocked by the strength of the fury that flooded him. He wanted to storm into the room, grab Ollie by the scruff of his neck, and throw him out, then grab Chloe by the arms and kiss her senseless, until her arms were around his shoulders and she was kissing him back...
Of course, he hadn't done any such thing, because he was a civilized person, and he wasn't interested in kissing Chloe anyway. He'd forced back all his anger, turned, and trudged away, careful not to eavesdrop. What Chloe and Ollie were talking about was none of his business.
What they were doing together was none of his business.
And when he saw Ollie this morning, he'd be polite and friendly, same as always. He was definitely not going to rip Ollie limb from limb. Because that would be a rude way to treat his host. Anyway, Clark's mom had always taught him not to make messes while visiting people's houses.
Ripping off Ollie's arms would almost certainly make a big mess on the floor.
Sighing, he followed the sound of voices and the smell of very expensive coffee to the kitchen. Chloe was seated at the granite-topped island, sipping at a cup. Bart and Vic were grabbing plates, fighting over slices of bread, and insulting each other, and Ollie was standing at the stove, frying eggs.
Naturally, Clark thought sourly. The guy's a billionaire, but he can cook.
Ollie was dressed in jeans and a green shirt, and somehow managed to look just as much like a billionaire as he had in an expensive suit. Even in jeans, he looked heroic. Clark was suddenly conscious of his own tattered Levis and his old flannel shirt, which was fraying a little around the cuffs. He didn't look much like a hero. He certainly didn't look like a "superman."
He looked like what he was-- a farmer who was barely scraping by.
No wonder Chloe hardly looked at him any more. Who'd look at a poor farmer when there was a billionaire around?
He knew he was being unfair to Chloe. She wasn't the type to be interested by money. Still, he couldn't help but compare himself to Ollie, and he felt like he came up lacking in just about every department. He wasn't as mature, or as handsome, or as rich, or as generally together.
Compared to Ollie, he wasn't really much of anything.
Chloe was seated at the end of the island, but the stool next to her was unoccupied. Clark headed for it.
Suddenly there was a whoosh, and Bart was sitting next to Chloe.
"So, gorgeous," he said to Chloe. "How do you like your eggs? Easy? Or... hard?"
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Eggs and double entendres don't mix, Bart."
Bart gave his too-wide grin, not at all offended. "Have I mentioned how beautiful you look this morning?"
"Yeah. I'm sure the bedhead is very flattering." She laughed at him, her eyes dancing, and turned away. Her gaze caught Clark's, just for a fraction of a second, and instantly the light died out of her eyes. She lowered her head and sipped her coffee, looking much more serious.
The fact that she'd laugh for Bart, but not for him, irritated the heck out of Clark. He stalked over to the island.
"Bart," he said. "Go make some toast."
Bart grinned up at him. "I'm kind of busy here, Supes."
Clark grabbed him casually by the arms and removed him from the stool, fairly gently, then sat on it himself. Bart stood there and rubbed at his arms, looking put out.
"Ow," he complained to the room at large. "Superman just broke both my arms."
"Too bad he didn't break your jaw," Ollie said mildly. "Then maybe you'd have to quit talking so damn much. Come on, Impulse, get the toast made, or you won't get any food."
Bart apparently took that threat seriously, because with a whoosh he was back at the toaster. Clark turned his attention to Chloe, who still wasn't looking at him.
"Hey," he said cautiously. "Good morning."
She turned her head, as if she hadn't noticed him till just now. "Hey, Clark."
The total disinterest in her tone cut him to the quick. He looked at her a moment, wondering how to get past her walls. Assuming they were walls. Maybe the truth was that she just didn't care about him any more. Maybe their friendship was dead, and he'd just been too self-absorbed to notice.
"Are you mad at me?" he said at last, tentatively.
She cocked her head, regarding him over the rim of her coffee cup. "No. Why?"
"You just seem really... distant."
She shrugged. "Just drinking my coffee, Clark."
He knew nothing got between Chloe and her coffee and survived, so he could almost have bought the excuse but for the way she'd been laughing at Impulse a moment ago. There was a clear difference in the way she was treating him, as opposed to the way she was treating Bart and Ollie.
It was like he was... irrelevant.
"Want another cup?" he offered. He remembered the days when he'd brought her lattes every morning, and every morning she'd smiled at him like he'd saved the world. "I can go to Starbucks and get you a latte if you want..."
"No, thanks." She lifted the mug a little. "I'm fine."
He felt like banging his forehead against the granite counter. Not that it would accomplish anything besides put a hole in the granite. Still. He was frustrated, because talking to Chloe was inexplicably like talking to a wall.
"You want eggs, Clark?"
At the sound of Ollie's voice, Clark realized he'd been staring at Chloe. He jerked his head around. "Sure," he answered. "I can pour the juice or somethi..."
He trailed off, tilting his head. Chloe turned her head and looked at him with sudden sharp interest.
"Guys," she said. "I think our ghost is back."
"It's nearby," Clark said softly, straining to hear the music. It was, he decided, definitely the sound of singing. He could almost hear the words, but not quite, and he strained his superhearing to its limits.
"Words," he said softly. "I can almost hear them..."
"Words?" Chloe looked around frantically, and he realized she was looking for her laptop. She must have left it in another room, because she bit her lip, looking aggravated, and stayed beside him. "What words, Clark?"
"Not sure..." He listened harder, and suddenly he could understand the lyrics. He listened carefully, a few times through, and then spoke the words he'd heard. Spoke, not sang. Singing on key was definitely not one of his superpowers.
"Baby darling, I love you
More and more with every day
Baby darling, I love you
With my boy I'll always stay.
Baby darling, I love you
You are my beloved child
Baby darling, I love you
Sleep now, boy so sweet and mild."
He broke off, shaking his head a little. Now that he'd finally managed to hear it, the song seemed to be on repeat in his head. It was a bit annoying, really. He tried to dial back his superhearing, but it didn't work.
"Clark?" Chloe must have noticed his expression. "You okay?"
"Yeah." He rubbed absently at his ears. "I just... well, it keeps repeating. Over and over again. There's a tune, but I'm not really good with tunes. I could try humming it, but..."
"Don't worry about it," Ollie said. "I know the tune."
He started to sing it, and sure enough, it was the same tune, although it sounded different in Ollie's tenor voice. The ghostly song went on in Clark's ears in a high soprano voice, lovely and eerie... and kind of irritating. Distracting, even. He tried to focus on Ollie's singing, with limited success.
"Okay," Victor said when Ollie had finished. "I never heard that one, but I guess it's a lullaby, huh?"
"Yeah," Ollie answered, frowning. "Is that it, Supes?"
"Uh-huh." Clark rubbed at his ears again. "That's it. I've never heard it before, either."
Ollie looked worried. Behind him, the eggs were starting to smoke, but he didn't seem to notice. "That's because no one outside my family ever knew it," he said softly. "My mom used to sing it to me when I was little. She made it up."
They all stared at him. "Are you saying," Chloe said at last, "that the ghost is..."
"Yeah," Ollie answered. "I think the ghost is my mom."
"I don't get it," Bart said as he zoomed back into the kitchen twenty minutes later. "Supes can still hear her, but we don't see her anywhere."
Clark sat in front of a plate of cold eggs. Despite the fact that he'd hardly touched his dinner last night, he somehow wasn't hungry for breakfast, either. He felt weird... confused, unable to focus, dazed. The song was still repeating in his head, and despite his efforts to turn off his superhearing, it just seemed to get louder and louder.
"Are you sure you still hear it, Superman?" Ollie asked.
"Trust me," Clark said. "I still hear it."
"Is it getting any further away?" Chloe asked. She'd found her laptop, and was busy taking notes in one window, and Googling for information on Ollie's mother in another. Chloe had never met a situation she couldn't multitask.
"No." Clark barely resisted the urge to clutch at his head. "It's getting closer."
"Closer?" Ollie frowned. "But we haven't spotted it anywhere. Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure!" Clark suddenly realized he'd snapped, and everyone was looking at him oddly. He made an effort to tone down his voice and his attitude. "I mean... it's getting louder. I guess I don't know for sure that means it's closer, though. Maybe I just... I don't know, maybe now that I've tuned into the frequency I can't get rid of it. I'm not exactly sure."
"Ollie." Chloe clicked rapidly. "Your mom died in 1989, right?"
"That's right. She and my dad were together on the yacht when it went down."
"Have you ever felt like she was haunting you before?"
"No." Ollie shook his head firmly. "I've never believed in ghosts, Watchtower."
"I do now." Clark sighed and pushed his plate away.
"I just don't understand this," Chloe said. "If the ghost is singing a song that only your mother could know, then maybe you're right, and it's a spiritual manifestation of some sort. But it's been almost twenty years since she died. Why now?"
"My mom made that song up," Ollie said, shrugging. "But that doesn't mean she's the only person who could have known it. We had lots of servants, Chloe. A nurse, a housekeeper, maids... I guess any one of them could have heard it."
Chloe bit her lip, concentrating. "I guess if they were trying to communicate with you, they might sing a song you'd recognize. Did any of them die recently?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Give me their names."
Ollie began reeling off names, and Chloe started Googling. Clark bowed his head and tried really hard to ignore the music in his head, but he couldn't. It was getting so loud it hurt, so loud he couldn't hear anything else, so loud he couldn't even think. He moaned and clamped his hands over his ears, but it didn't help.
Chloe had stopped typing, and suddenly she was beside him, her arm around his shoulders. He became vaguely aware that he was rocking in the chair, moaning in distress. He leaned his head against her and closed his eyes, trying to shut everything out.
But all he could hear was the song, over and over again.
Ollie said something, but Clark couldn't hear the words over the roar of the music. It wasn't soft and ethereal any more, but agonizingly loud. He struggled against it, but couldn't make out anything other than the music.
And then Chloe spoke, right in his ear.
"Take it easy, Clark. I'm right here."
"Chloe." He realized he was huddled on the floor now, his knees drawn up, his face pressed against his knees, his arms over his head. Chloe was there, right beside him. "Chlo."
"What's wrong, Clark? Is it the music?"
He nodded miserably. "Make it stop, Chlo. Please."
"Cyborg's working on it," she whispered, stroking his hair. He leaned his head against her hand. Even through his misery he liked the feel of her hand in his hair. "He's doing everything he can, Clark. Hang in there."
Twenty more minutes passed, and the music still didn't stop. It went on and on in his head, a terrible, overwhelming roar that drowned out everything else. By now he was curled up in a ball on the floor, his head in Chloe's lap, but even the feel of her hand stroking him didn't comfort him. All he wanted was for the music to stop.
Around him, he was very vaguely aware of voices speaking.
"I can't find a frequency to block it." Cyborg's voice, sounding anxious. "I've tried everything, GA, and nothing's working."
"It's hurting him." Ollie's tones were clipped and angry. "It's hurting the hell out of him. We need to make it stop somehow."
"Maybe if we got him out of here..." Bart suggested. The cheerful, kidding note that normally marked his voice was gone. He sounded just as worried as the rest of them.
"I don't know if we can pick him up safely," Ollie answered. "He's kind of freaking out, and I think even Watchtower is having a hard time keeping him calmed down. If he panics and flails around, one of us could really get hurt. He can even put a dent in Cyborg. Anyway, if the ghost's focused in on him, it might just follow him."
"What about earplugs?" AC's voice. "You tech guys are always looking for a technical solution, but maybe a lowtech solution would work better."
"Not a bad idea," Ollie admitted. "Bart..."
Clark heard the sound of Bart whooshing, and then the triumphant sound of his voice. "Got 'em."
Someone-- Chloe, he thought, from the gentleness of the touch-- inserted the ear plugs. It was a good idea, but it didn't help much. He could hear through anything, and a little plastic pair of earplugs didn't muffle the noise worth a damn, as far as he was concerned.
"Doesn't... help," he muttered thickly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Chlo." He clutched at her hand desperately. "Help me. Please, help me."
"I don't know how," she said softly. "I would if I could, Clark, but I just don't know what to do."
He listened to the soft, reassuring sound of her voice, and realized that it seemed about five times louder than anyone else's. Maybe that was because she was so much closer.
Or maybe it was just because she was Chloe.
Superhearing was a matter of focus. When the ability had first developed, sounds had seemed so loud they'd almost overwhelmed him, but he'd learned to focus on what he specifically wanted to hear, so that he didn't have to listen to irrelevant ambient noises. Otherwise, just the chirping of the crickets in the country would have made him crazy, not to mention the roar of traffic and the conversation of millions of people when he was in Metropolis.
Somehow the ghost's song had screwed up his focus.
He needed to get his focus back.
"Talk to me," he mumbled into her lap.
"Anything. I don't care. Just talk."
She hesitated, just a moment, then began talking, very softly.
"I miss you, you know," she whispered. "I miss Smallville, too. I never thought I'd miss it, but I do. I miss it so much I'm afraid that when you go back, I might go back too. And I don't want to do that. I have a job to do here. A life here." A pause. "And I'm afraid I might give it all up, just to go home with you."
He could barely understand her words, but he focused very intently on the sound of her voice, and slowly, the awful music began to recede. The ghostly, sweet voice sang the words over and over in his head monotonously, but with effort, he slowly managed to turn it down to a bearable level.
But every time she paused, his concentration slipped, and the music came roaring back.
Her voice didn't work as a focal point, because she couldn't talk to him all day. Sooner or later, she'd stop talking, and he'd drown in music again. He focused on her really hard, struggling for something he could keep listening to, and heard the steady beat of her heart.
Yeah, he thought. That'll do.
He listened to the sound of her heartbeat, letting it fill his ears and his mind, and slowly, the music faded. Somehow the ghost's song had made him unable to turn off his superhearing, and he had to focus on something. So he attuned himself to Chloe's heartbeat instead of the music.
A moment later, the soft, rhythmic sound of her heartbeat was all he heard. He sat up, blinking and rubbing at his eyes. To his horrified embarrassment, they were wet. Jesus. He'd been curled up in her lap, crying like a three-year-old, in front of her and all of Justice.
Just kill me now.
He wiped off his cheeks with an impatient gesture. "Okay," he said. "I think I managed to fix the problem. Sorry it took so long."
Ollie stared down at him, his forehead wrinkled. "Can you still hear it, Clark?"
"Yeah, but only when I listen for it. It's not driving me crazy any more, but it's still there."
He turned his head and shot a shy glance at Chloe, and she looked back at him, as cool and indifferent as ever. Suddenly he remembered what she'd said to him. He'd hardly heard the words, only the sound of her voice, but now that his head was clear, he could call the words to mind clearly enough.
I'm afraid I might give it all up, just to go home with you.
She wasn't nearly as indifferent to him as she pretended. In fact, he meant a lot to her, or she wouldn't be thinking of giving everything up to go back to Smallville with him. The thought made his heart lift like a helium-laden balloon, and he could barely restrain a goofy smile.
He wanted to grab her and kiss her.
But right now, they had a job to do.
"Come on," he said, rising to his feet. "Let's go find our ghost."
"I think it's nearby," Clark said as they all walked down the hall. AC had returned to monitor duty, but Chloe walked beside him, and the rest of them followed. "I'm pretty sure it's trying to communicate with us. That's what the music thing is about. It's trying to get through to us. And in my case, it got through to me a little too well."
"How do we know it didn't intend to hurt you?" Ollie demanded. That was Ollie, always worrying about the people who worked with him.
"I don't know. It's just..." Clark shrugged. "A lullaby doesn't feel like an attack. I don't think it meant any harm. I think it just managed to tune into a frequency I couldn't quite stop listening to. It wanted me to listen."
"If only we knew what it wanted," Chloe said beside him. "It can't just really want to sing lullabies to us, can it?"
"I guess it might," Clark said. "Do you think it's sentient?"
She frowned. "If it's really a ghost, I guess it would be."
"I don't believe in ghosts," Ollie put in. "I don't know what it is, exactly, but I still don't think it's a ghost. I mean, I don't think it's my mother's dead spirit come back from the afterlife or anything like that. I admit I gave into superstition for a couple of minutes this morning... but I just don't believe in ghosts."
Clark turned into an open doorway and found himself in a large, book-lined room. "Nice library," he said, reminded of the study where Lex Luthor spent most of his time. But where Lex's study was all dark, gloomy mahogany and daylight filtered murkily through stained glass windows, this library was light-stained oak and brilliant sunlight shining through tall windows and skylights. And books. A hell of a lot of books.
"The ghost has been spotted here three times," Chloe said. "This is the first place we saw it, in fact."
"Really?" Clark walked slowly into the room, adjusting his superhearing-- very carefully-- and listening. The music didn't sound any louder here, and his other senses didn't pick up any hint of the ghost. "What were you doing in here?"
"Ollie and I were..." She hesitated. "Talking."
The way she paused sent a sudden, violent spike of jealousy through Clark. He felt his eyes narrow and his nostrils flare. "Talking about what?"
Chloe hesitated some more. "It's personal."
Clark decided he was very definitely going to rip Ollie's arms off. But Ollie seemed unaware of his anger. He looked thoughtfully at Chloe.
"Actually," he said, "personal or not, what we were doing might be relevant, Watchtower." He looked at Clark. "See, we were kind of... well..."
I do not want to know this, Clark thought.
"...talking about my mom," Ollie finished.
Clark's taut muscles relaxed in relief. "Okay," he said. "So you guys were talking about your mom that night. But just talking about someone can't conjure up their spirit. Can it?"
"I don't know." Ollie shrugged a shoulder. "I was feeling kind of depressed over things, and I was in here, looking at my old scrapbook of my parents, and Watchtower came in and started trying to make me feel better."
The idea of Chloe trying to make Ollie feel better sent another hot spike of rage through Clark. He did his best to fight back his roiling emotions. "Okay," he said, carefully keeping his voice even, with no hint of the anger and jealousy he felt. "So you and Chloe were looking at a scrapbook. Can I see it?"
"Sure." Ollie went over to a glass-fronted cabinet and opened it, pulling out a leather-bound scrapbook. He placed it lovingly on an oaken table, and Clark began to page through it, very carefully, seeing clippings about the disappearance of Ollie's parents from almost every major paper in the world, along with photographs and other, more personal mementos.
"So the two of you were looking through this," he said, "and the ghost just... popped in?"
"The truth is..." Ollie shut his eyes, looking terminally embarrassed, and then opened them again. "I was kind of... crying over the scrapbook."
Suddenly Clark didn't feel so humiliated about crying in Chloe's lap. If Ollie Queen, billionaire, playboy, and hero, could cry, then so could he, damn it.
"I see," he said in a carefully neutral tone.
"Anyway... Watchtower came in and sat with me, and tried to make me feel better. But we got to talking about her mom, and she started crying, too." Ollie sounded wry. "We were both a sappy mess that night."
Clark frowned as he turned the pages. He paused on a page with a lock of golden hair, in a shade very similar to Ollie's, that someone had taped into the album. "Ollie," he said slowly. "Is this your mom's hair?"
Clark thought he saw a faint glow in the far corner of the library. He turned his head and squinted, and sure enough, the glow began to brighten.
"Hey," he said softly. "I think our ghost has stopped in for a visit."
Everyone froze, and heads turned. The ghost hovered in the corner of the room, bluish-white and glowing slightly. Clark could hear the music, sweet and gentle, and no longer overpowering.
He squinted, using every aspect of his vision he could, but there wasn't much to see. It was intangible and translucent, exactly as you'd expect a ghost to be. There really wasn't much there.
Clark frowned, looking down, and his gaze fell on the lock of hair again. The idea that was forming in his head was crazy, absolutely insane, and yet...
"Chlo," he said, very softly, for fear of scaring the ghost away. "Did any of your tears fall onto this album?"
She'd been staring at the ghost, but now her head jerked around, and her eyes went wide. "You don't think..."
"I don't know." He shrugged, remembering she hadn't told anyone else she was meteor afflicted. "You want to talk about this outside?"
"No. No, it's okay. I guess... I guess they really ought to know."
"Know what?" Ollie was beginning to scowl. "You know, when the two of you get together, you start talking in code, and the rest of us can't understand what the hell you're talking about."
"Yeah," Cyborg agreed. "You two really ought to just get married."
"Shut up, Vic," Clark said without heat. "Look, Ollie, the thing is..." He trailed off and raised his eyebrows at Chloe. Go on, tell them.
She hesitated a moment, then blurted it out. "I'm a meteor freak."
Clark didn't like hearing her refer to herself that way, and he wished she wouldn't use the term. But no one seemed upset by it but him. Bart grinned broadly.
"No way! Cool!"
"It's not all that cool, actually." She shrugged. "We're not even sure what I can do. I'm not certain, but I think my tears have healing powers."
"Healing powers?" Ollie looked intrigued. "That could come in handy, Watchtower."
"The problem is," Clark said, "the only time she's used the ability so far, it killed her."
"Killed her?" Bart grinned more widely. "For a dead person, she talks an awful lot."
"I came back to life," Chloe snapped.
"It wasn't funny, Bart." Clark spoke seriously. "She was declared dead and put into a drawer in the morgue. She could have suffocated. It scared the hell out of both of us."
"No kidding." Ollie still looked fascinated. "So you can heal people, but it kills you?"
"I'm not sure, actually." Chloe looked embarrassed. "I'm not quite sure how to practice, or figure out how it works. See, Lois was killed, stabbed in the stomach. And when I cried over her... well, it hurt an awful lot. I felt like someone was stabbing me, and then I blacked out, and the next thing I know, I'm waking up in darkness. Which turned out to be a morgue drawer."
"Holy shit," Bart said. "Just when you think you know a person. Chloe's got powers."
"Stupid powers," she snapped. "Powers that kill me."
"Okay," Ollie said, holding out his hand in a chill-out-people gesture. "But getting back to this situation... Clark, what exactly are you thinking here? What do Chloe's abilities have to do with..." He nodded toward the glowing light. "Our friend here?"
"I'm thinking," Clark said, "that one of her tears dropped onto your mom's lock of hair, and her power activated. Maybe it activates on contact with organic material or something, I don't know. But anyway, I'm guessing she sort of tried to heal your mom."
"Only... my mom is dead. So..." Ollie looked freaked out. "She called her back from the grave? Is that what you're saying?"
"No." Clark shook his head, studying the light carefully. "I don't think it's a real ghost, Ollie. I think it's kind of an... echo, created by Chloe's power. That's why it's only singing a lullaby over and over again. I thought it was trying to get my attention so it could communicate with us, but the truth is, that's all it has to communicate. It's not sentient, and it's not really a spirit. It's just sort of a snapshot of your mom. I'm not sure why it sings that particular lullaby. Maybe she had just had you when this hair grew. It would make sense that you'd be the most important thing in her life right then."
"So you're suggesting her experiences got imprinted into her hair? How the hell would that happen?"
"How would I know? I'm just speculating here, Ollie. Maybe it's your memories, not hers. Did any of Chloe's tears get on you?"
Clark imagined them holding each other, crying, and he barely choked back his jealousy. "So maybe it all got tangled up together somehow, your mom's... essence mixed up with a memory of yours. I'm not sure. Maybe... maybe Chloe wasn't even trying to cure your mother at all. Maybe she was trying to cure you. To cure your sorrow by giving you something of your mother."
"I wasn't trying to do anything," Chloe muttered defensively.
"The thing is," Clark went on, "we don't know how Chloe's power works, or what the extent of it is. But I think it's a pretty safe bet that your ghost and Chloe's tears are connected somehow."
"Okay," Ollie said, studying the glowing light. "Why is it intermittent, then? How come it comes and goes?"
"Ever since I first heard its song," Clark said, "I've been able to hear it. So I don't think it's as intermittent as you think it is. I think it's been wandering around, trying to get through to someone, trying to make someone hear its song. I wouldn't be surprised if it's been roaming all over this part of Metropolis. But I don't think it's crossing over to other planes of existence or anything. I think it's been nearby. We just don't always see it."
Ollie was silent for a long moment. At last he spoke.
"That," he said, "has to be the craziest damn thing I've ever heard."
"Well," Chloe answered, "crazy things can happen with meteor rocks."
"So..." Ollie walked over to Clark and looked down at the scrapbook, then glanced over his shoulder at the hovering blue light. "I guess it isn't really hurting anyone."
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "It isn't a problem for anyone but me, and I think I've figured things out so it doesn't bother me much, either. I don't think it's dangerous. And that's a good thing, because I don't know how to get rid of it. I'm not sure we can get rid of it. We don't know much about Chloe's power yet, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't work in reverse."
"I'm not sure I'd want to get rid of it," Ollie said, very softly.
Clark glanced at the older man, and frowned at the look in his eyes. "Look, Ollie," he said, as gently as he could, "it's not really your mom, okay?"
"Yeah, Supes. I get that." Ollie stared across the room at the blue light. "But if it's an echo of my mom... well, I kind of want to keep it around."
Clark looked down at the watch on his wrist, the watch his own father had worn every day till the day he died, and then back at the glowing blue light.
"Yeah," he said at last. "I guess I can understand that."
"So I guess you're going home, huh?"
Bart flung himself down next to Clark on the couch in the living room. Clark noticed there was another bag of Doritos in the kid's hand. God, the kid ate like a horse.
Ollie was sprawled in a black leather chair a short distance away, his long legs stretched out comfortably in front of him. Across the room, Chloe sat at a desk, typing like a madwoman, apparently oblivious to Clark's presence. Clark looked at her, and felt his heart sink like a lead weight inside him, right down to the floor.
"Yeah," he answered at last. "I guess I might as well."
"You could hang out with us for a while," Bart suggested. "Battle bad guys. Rescue damsels in distress. Save the world. Stuff like that."
"I could. But there are still a lot of problems in Smallville, Bart. I can't just turn my back on my hometown."
Ollie lifted his head from the book on Asian philosophy he was reading, and studied Clark with dark eyes. "What about Metropolis, Clark?"
"What about it?"
"There are millions of people here. They have problems, too. There are a lot more problems here than there are in any small town."
"Yeah," Clark admitted. "But the people in Smallville-- they're my friends. My family. My neighbors. They have to be my first responsibility. I have to take care of them."
Ollie looked at him, very seriously.
"Superman," he said, "sooner or later you're going to figure out that everyone is your friends and family and neighbors, and you have to take care of them, too. When you figure that out... come on back."
Clark shifted uncomfortably. He had the distinct impression that Ollie was right, and that made him feel slightly defensive. He looked away from Ollie's dark gaze and over at Chloe.
"Chlo," he said. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure," she responded without lifting her head. "Talk away."
"No. I mean, you know... privately."
Bart gave a wolf whistle, and Clark aimed a punch at him, which Bart dodged adroitly. He flashed his most irritating grin. "Getting slow in your old age, Supes. I had time to take a nap. But then again..." The irritating grin got broader, and even more irritating. "I am the world's fastest man."
"Too bad your brain doesn't work as fast as your mouth does," Clark said coolly.
Bart burst out laughing, and dropped the empty bag of Doritos on the floor. "God, you gotta come work with us, man. You totally fit in here."
"That's a scary thought." Clark got to his feet. "Chloe?"
She put the laptop aside, got to her feet, and stalked out into the hall without comment. There was still something very icy in her manner. Clark followed her out and closed the door behind him.
"Chlo..." he said very softly.
She turned to look at him, crossing her arms over her chest. She looked very defensive, and all the half-formed words he'd had in his mind just dried into dust in his mind and blew away.
He wasn't really sure what he wanted to say to her, anyway. He couldn't ask her to come back to Smallville with him. Not after everything she'd said.
He still remembered her words: I miss Smallville, too. I never thought I'd miss it, but I do. I miss it so much I'm afraid that when you go back, I might go back too. And I don't want to do that. I have a job to do here. A life here.
She had work to do here. Meaningful, serious work. She had friends. And most of the time, she was happy. He knew her well enough to tell. Maybe there was a little melancholy in her eyes, and maybe she missed him to a certain degree, but for the most part, she was pretty happy.
He even suspected there might be a little spark between her and Ollie that neither one of them was aware of. They were obviously getting to be really good friends, and he figured that was the first step toward something more.
He thought unhappily that he and Chloe had once been really good friends, too, and he'd always thought it would lead toward something more. But maybe those days were gone. Maybe he was stupid to keep trying to hang onto her.
It was all his fault, anyway. He'd backed away from her, afraid of getting too close, for fear she'd be hurt if something happened to him. He risked his life on a regular basis, and he hadn't wanted to get involved with her as a result. And now that he'd realized how much he wanted her, realized he didn't know how to live without her... maybe it was too late.
Because his life was still in Smallville.
And her life was here.
He remembered what Ollie had said: There are millions of people here. They have problems, too. There are a lot more problems here than there are in any small town.
But he couldn't just walk off and leave Smallville. He couldn't. The people there needed help, too.
"Are Oliver and company going to help you learn to use your powers?" he said at last, breaking the awkward silence.
"Yeah." She nodded. "We're going to work out a way I can practice. Not sure how yet, but we'll figure it out."
"That's great. I hope you can learn to use them without, uh..."
"Dying. Yeah, me too. I didn't like dying much."
"No," he agreed. "I didn't like it the time I did it, either."
Another long silence, while he looked at her and she studied the plush Oriental carpeting at her feet. Her heartbeat echoed in his ears. He hadn't stopped hearing it, as a soft, steady background noise, since this afternoon, and he wondered just how far away he could hear it. He wondered if he'd still be able to hear it back in Smallville . "Well," he said. "It's been interesting."
"Yeah. It has." She still sounded awkward, as if she were talking to a stranger. "We're going to keep on studying the ghost and try to figure out how it's related to my powers, and exactly what caused it. And why it seems to have one particular memory, and nothing else. Cyborg's fascinated with the thing."
"That's cool. I just hope Ollie doesn't get... attached."
"I don't think he will. Ollie's a pretty practical guy, deep down. He knows it's not really his mother."
Another long pause ensued. At last Clark shuffled his workboots on the expensive carpeting. "Well. I guess I should be going."
"Yeah. Okay. Take it easy, Clark."
He turned around before he could kiss her, and headed swiftly down the hall. "Goodbye, Chlo," he said without looking back.
He heard a wobble in her voice, and suddenly he knew that on some level, she didn't want him to go. He thought of Ollie comforting her tonight. He imagined her crying against Ollie's shoulder, imagined him lifting her face and kissing her tears away, maybe sweeping her up in his arms and carrying her to his bed. He thought of her heartbeat accelerating, thought of himself unable to stop listening to it as Ollie touched her, and her heart pounded faster and faster as they made love...
Suddenly pain and jealousy and hurt twisted inside him, so intense he couldn't ignore it any longer.
He broke stride, hesitated, then spun around. She was already moving toward the door, her hand almost on the knob.
In a flash, he whooshed back toward her, caught her by the shoulders, pushed her against the nearest wall, and started kissing the hell out of her.
He heard her make a startled little sound, and then her arms twined around his neck.
And she kissed him back.
When he finally lifted his mouth from hers, her hands kept stroking his hair, but she glared at him defiantly. "I'm not going back to Smallville, damn it. I'm not."
"I know," he whispered, looking into her eyes. "Neither am I."
"But the farm... and Kara... and the town..."
He opened his mouth, and words spilled out. Sometime in the last two minutes, things had straightened themselves out in his mind, and he knew what he had to do. "Kara can live on the farm if she wants, or she can come to Metropolis. Either way, I can be there twenty or thirty times a day with no problem. I can take care of the farm till I find someone to lease it out to, too. I might not be as fast as Bart, but I'm fast enough." He lowered his head and kissed her again. "But I'm moving here. Ollie's right. Metropolis has bigger problems, and a lot more people in need, than Smallville does."
"That's very selfless of you," she whispered against his lips.
He pulled back, just far enough that he could look into her golden eyes, and his mouth twisted wryly. "So I'm not ever allowed to make decisions based on what I want?"
"No," she murmured. "I guess it's okay to do what you want every once in a while. You belong here anyway."
"Yeah. I do." He tightened his arms around her and listened to her heartbeat. He thought maybe he'd never stop hearing it again, and the thought didn't worry him. Unlike the music, it was a sound he wanted to hear all the time. "You think Ollie will let me stay in the spare room?"
"No." She pressed her face into his shoulder. "I think Ollie needs that room for other stuff. I guess you'll have to sleep in my room."
"Damn. I was afraid you were going to say that."
"We all make sacrifices for the cause, Clark."
"True." He did his best to sound noble. "I guess I can give up sleeping alone if I have to. After all, it's for the good of the world."
"Of course it is." She lifted her head and kissed him again, a long, intense kiss that made him tingle right down to his toes.
They kissed for a long, long time.
And then the two of them went back into the living room, holding hands, to tell Justice that Superman was staying in Metropolis.