By Laurelnola and Elly
These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to us.
Read Chapter 7 here.
Chloe blinked. They were still standing in the Fortress, but she had the unnerving impression that she wasn't standing in quite the same place she had been, and neither was Clark. Hadn't she been over there, standing nearer the door? And hadn't Clark been over at the console, pulling out a crystal? Now he was standing in front of her, holding something in his big hand.
She dismissed her confusion. Clark moved like lightning, and that could be a little disorienting sometimes. She shrugged mentally and looked down at what he was holding out to her.
"What's that?" she said, cocking her head.
Clark swallowed, very hard, and opened his mouth. "Uh..." His voice wobbled, and he swallowed again. She looked up at him with an amused smile, wondering what had thrown him off so badly. In high school, Clark had stammered quite a lot, but he'd gotten past it as an adult. He didn't stammer much except when he got really rattled.
"It's a bracelet," he said at last.
She gave him an eye roll. "I can see it's a bracelet. Why are you holding it?"
"Um." He shifted his weight from foot to foot. "I wanted you to have it."
Her eyebrows shot up. Clark Kent, giving her jewelry. Go figure. And in other news, there's a frost warning in Hell.
"I mean..." He struggled for words, looking more awkward than before. "You're talking about leaving, Chlo. I just wanted to give it to you as a kind of... reminder."
She frowned at the bracelet. It was a silver cuff bracelet, and looked vaguely familiar. "Kara wears one a little like that," she observed.
"Yeah. It's Kryptonian. Kind of a family thing. I just..." He hesitated, then blurted out, "You saved me from Fine here, Chlo. You saved the whole world here once. And you've saved me a bunch of other times, too. No matter where you go, I want you to remember me. I just want you to remember that no matter where you go... you're a hero. My hero."
Tears stung her eyes. Clark had always been her hero, but she couldn't deny she'd pulled his ass out of danger quite a few times, too. She stared at the bracelet, remembering all the times she'd saved Clark. The time she'd Tasered a plant that had impaled him. The time she'd dug him out of a shallow grave and thrown away the kryptonite that had been buried with him. The time she'd covered for him, protecting his secret, when he'd lost his memory and been unable to cover for himself. For the first time, she found herself worried about what might happen to him if she left.
If I go away, she thought, who's going to protect Clark?
She tried to push the thought away. Lana knew Clark's secret now. Lana was Clark's soulmate as well as his secret-keeper, and she could protect Clark as well as Chloe could. Maybe better. Lana had martial arts training, while all she had was a trunk of toys and snarky bad attitude. Clark didn't really need her when he had Lana.
Chloe gave a long, heavy sigh, remembering the wall of the cave. Despite Clark's words, there wasn't any room for her in his life.
But she liked the idea of something to remember him by, so she held out her arm.
"Thank you," she said simply.
He pushed the arm of the too-big red jacket up and slipped the bracelet on her wrist with an air of ceremony, and a expression of grave solemnity that didn't quite suit the occasion. She had the odd, disconcerting impression that something else was going on here, something she didn't quite understand.
She lifted the bracelet and looked at it. It was beautiful, a wide silver band with a diamond-shaped turquoise stone. She'd always liked bracelets, and this particular one looked really good on her.
"It suits you," he said, an odd, hoarse note in his voice.
"It's beautiful, Clark. Thank you." She looked up at him, then, on impulse, suddenly stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips to his cheek. He stared down at her, eyes wide, his expression as frozen as the walls around them.
"Uh," he said at last. "Um. You're welcome."
She almost laughed, because it was funny how even a kiss to the cheek could make Clark stammer. He'd never been really smooth around girls.
Not that she was really a girl, as far as he was concerned. She was just... Chloe.
The thought made her feel unaccountably depressed, and she shoved her hands into the pockets of the jacket. "So is that all you had to show me?"
"Yeah." There was a deep sorrow in his green eyes she didn't understand, but that tugged at her heart regardless. "That was all."
"Okay," she said. "Let's go back. I have stuff to get done."
He went toward the console, withdrew the crystal from his pocket, and shoved it back into the console. She wondered why on earth he'd pulled it out to begin with, since he hadn't done anything with it, at least not as far as she could tell.
But Clark didn't mess around with crystals from the Fortress lightly. They both knew what those crystals could do, the incredible power that was concealed in their transparent depths. Her investigative reporter instincts activated, and she wondered exactly what was going on here, and what the crystal might have had to do with Clark's desire to visit the Fortress.
But he didn't offer an explanation. He simply turned around and trudged toward the portal wordlessly. She followed him, noticing the way his head was held low, the way his broad shoulders slumped. His posture was unmistakably one of unhappiness. Something was definitely bothering him, something he didn't want to talk about. She guessed it was the fact that she was leaving.
He'll miss his search engine, she thought with a touch of bitterness, but knew she wasn't being fair. She was more to Clark than a search engine, and she knew it, despite her angry words earlier. She and Clark had been friends a long, long time. He might not love her the way he loved Lana, but he loved her as a friend. Even though they'd drifted apart recently, she knew he was still really fond of her.
But fondness wasn't enough for her. Not any more.
They passed through the portal with a flare of brilliantly hued light, and then they were in the darkness of the cave. Clark turned around and headed for the exit without a word, and Chloe followed him, glancing up at the wall as she passed, seeing the figures painted on the wall. Numan, Sageeth, and the mystery woman.
Except... she frowned at the picture of the mystery woman, and shock hit her like a two by four to the head. She was so startled she tripped and almost fell over her own two feet.
Right beneath the picture of Numan's soulmate was a symbol she hadn't recognized earlier. But she'd just seen it, not thirty seconds ago, so she couldn't help but recognize it now.
She was wearing the symbol on her wrist.
“Chlo?” he called.
Clark had almost reached the exit when he realized that Chloe wasn’t right behind him. Turning around, he saw her standing, transfixed, staring at the bracelet he’d just given her.
And then she leaned her hand against the cave wall, as though needing to steady herself.
Rushing back to her side, he grasped her arm gently, “Are you alright?” he asked, more than a little concerned. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Her hazel eyes lifted slowly to meet his, “I...I,” she stammered, and now he was downright worried. At first he thought that the time shift might have made her feel somewhat faint, and that was why she’d paused, leaning against the wall. But her eyes didn’t look cloudy or confused. In fact, they looked alive with recognition.
Do you think some part of me will remember? He recalled her words from just minutes ago, and crazy though he knew it was, a wild, reckless hope swelled in his chest as he stared back into her eyes.
“Tell me, Chlo. What is it?” he whispered, his heart hammering so loudly he was sure even she could hear it.
Tell me you don’t remember, said his brain, his resolve to protect her.
Tell me you do! cried his heart.
“I think,” she said, her gaze never leaving his face as though she was searching for an answer there. And then her eyes clouded over, like the shade of a window being pulled down, “I think I must be seeing things.”
She shook her head and her laughter crashed over him like ice water, bringing him to his senses.
He lowered his eyes, “Yeah,” he sighed, then took her hand. Even now, he wanted to put off the moment when he could no longer touch her, when she would be back at her desk, and he would be back at the farm, separated by miles of land and an ocean of painful sacrifice.
“Come on,” he said, trying not to let the weight of his sadness show in his voice, “Let’s get you back.”
He swept her into his arms again, trying not to moan aloud at the warmth of her body, the sweet fragrance of her hair.
“Clark..” she said softly.
“I really do love the bracelet. It means more than you know.”
More than you know, he thought miserably. He’d said that to her before, as well, when he’d come out of that horrible zoner vision and had first begun the lie that had set them both on this mountainous path. He’d told her he still loved Lana, the great deception that started it all, and even then he couldn’t keep completely quiet, adding quickly that she meant more to him than she realized. She’d rolled her eyes, even then, because what was a paltry pat-on-the-back next to declarations of love over the perfect Lana Lang.
He squeezed her a little tighter in his arms, wanting more than anything for it to be ten minutes ago.
“I should have given it to you a long time ago,” he said, his voice strangled. “I shouldn’t have let myself get so distracted that I forgot about you.”
I never forgot about you, Chlo. Not for one second.
Chloe shifted lightly in his arms, weighing nothing to him, even though the sight of her made him feel as though he carried the whole world.
“Hey,” she smiled, with her too-bright smile, “It’s okay. I mean, you’re in love, aren’t you?” she shrugged, “We all do crazy things when we’re in love.”
“Yeah,” he choked out, “We do.” It was all he could do to not bury his face in her hair and cry his heart out, to confess all over again.
Her brows came together as she gazed at him, “Hey, are you alright? You almost look like...” she laughed at the idea, “...like you’re about to cry.”
“I must have gotten some cave dust in my eyes.”
She looked even more skeptical, “Dust? Yeah, right. Last time I checked, you were completely invulnerable.”
He stared at her for a long, long moment, “Not everywhere, Chlo.”
And he ran with her from the caves as fast as he could, because if he stayed any longer he would lose every bit of resolve he had left. He would break down and make love to her on the dirt floors, where generations ago a native people had predicted his fate, and hers.
Read Chapter 9 here.