By Laurelnola and Elly
These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to us.
Read Chapter 8 here.
Clark dropped out of superspeed about three blocks from the Planet and lowered her feet to the sidewalk. Chloe blinked up at him, unwrapping her arms from around his neck.
"Hey. What happened to my express?"
"It's a nice day." His voice still sounded odd, hoarse and rough. "I thought maybe we could walk the last little bit."
"Okay." She unzipped the red jacket and shrugged it off, feeling a strange sense of loss as she removed it. She'd enjoyed being snuggled in the embrace of his jacket. It was almost as good as being snuggled in his embrace.
Which, she reminded herself, wasn't going to happen, ever. Friendly hugs, maybe, but nothing else. The thought made her feel alone, despite the crowded sidewalk and Clark right beside her.
She handed him the jacket and started to walk briskly, toward the golden globe that gleamed in the distance. He strode along beside her.
"It is a nice day," she admitted. A cool breeze blew, sending brilliantly hued leaves wafting to the sidewalk, and the bright sunlight reflected off the tall glass buildings that lined the street. A plane flew low overhead, on its way to a landing at Metropolis International Airport. It all looked very familiar to her. The sights and sounds of Metropolis were a part of her now.
And very soon, she would be leaving it all behind.
She tried to imagine herself walking down a sidewalk in Edge City, or some other city, heading for a building that didn't have a glittering golden globe spinning slowly on top, and failed utterly. She couldn't imagine living and working in another city, or writing for another newspaper, any more than she could imagine walking through life next to some other guy.
She sighed at that thought. Clark wasn't hers. She really needed to get over him. Somehow, she had to.
But as she walked beside him, the bracelet caught the rays of the sun, flashing silver, and she frowned down at it. The bracelet was part of a pattern of events she didn't quite understand. Clark had asked her to come with him, saying, Come with me. I want to show you something before you make your decision. He'd taken her to the Fortress and pulled out a crystal, saying, Yeah, that's the one we need.
And then nothing. She'd found herself suddenly standing in what she thought was a different place than where she'd started. Clark had given her a bracelet that clearly meant a lot to him, without a great deal of explanation, then he'd put the crystal back into the console, apparently without ever using it at all.
And the bracelet he'd given her matched the symbol on the cave wall beneath Numan's soulmate.
None of it added up. She had the distinct feeling that something had happened at the Fortress that mattered, something that had made a huge impression on Clark. And yet all she had to show for the trip up there was a bracelet, which Clark could easily have fetched without dragging her along.
There was definitely something she was missing here.
It was a mystery. And Chloe Sullivan had never, ever been able to resist mysteries.
She sighed, wondering if she was just making up excuses in her head to allow herself to stay. Maybe she was. It seemed pretty likely, really.
But then again, if leaving made her heart ache this badly, maybe she was making up excuses because deep inside, she knew that leaving wasn't the right decision.
She turned her head and glanced at Clark. His head was still held low, and his broad shoulders drooped unhappily. He looked as sorrowful as she herself felt, and it didn't take a student of Kryptonian psychology to know that he didn't want her to leave, either.
Most likely she thought, he just didn't want to lose his long-time friend. She could understand that. It was hard to let a friend slip away from you.
But then again... she looked down at the bracelet again, and a little spark of hope lit inside her.
Maybe, just maybe, there was a little more to it than friendship.
"Remember when I saved that guy Graham on this street?" he said suddenly.
His deep voice pulled her out of her instrospection, and she nodded. She remembered. A horn had blared, and Clark had instantly gone into SuperClark mode, jumping over a bench in superspeed, grabbing the guy, and getting him out of the middle of the road before he could be turned into a pancake.
"Yeah," she said. "And then he turned out to be a psycho stalker."
"Right." He nodded, frowning a little with the memory. "He buried me alive, remember? And then you rescued me."
"It was me and Lois, actually."
He turned his head with a slight smile. "Lois told me how you guys found me, Chlo. You're the one who thought to dial my cell phone. Lois never would have figured out where I was on her own." He looked down at her, very seriously, and his voice fell almost to a whisper. "It was you, Chlo. It's always you."
Tears rose to her eyes as she recognized something she'd once blurted out when he rescued her, long, long ago. She remembered the heart-stopping sight of Clark in that shallow grave, pale and still. And suddenly all her earlier worries filled her again.
If I leave, who will protect Clark?
Lana, she reminded herself. He has Lana.
But the truth was, she didn't trust anyone but herself to watch over Clark. She'd been doing it for years, and she wasn't sure she could just delegate the responsibility to someone else.
She looked up at his strong, chiseled profile. He was striding along steadily, his head lowered, his gaze on the sidewalk, and a song flashed into her mind.
She'd curled up on the couch in the Talon, alone and lonely, last Friday and watched Toy Story for the umpteenth time. She loved Toy Story, maybe because she identified with Woody, the staid, loyal, slightly dull friend who was thoughtlessly tossed aside in favor of a flashier model. Lyrics rolled through her mind:
Some other folks might be
A little bit smarter than I am
Bigger and stronger too
But none of them will ever love you the way I do...
She was fairly certain Lana loved Clark. But she was also certain that Lana didn't love him the way she herself did. Because Chloe loved Clark so much she'd gladly give up her life for him She would make any sacrifice to keep him safe.
She would protect Clark, no matter what.
She couldn't believe anyone else loved him quite as much as she did. And that meant she couldn't leave him. She just couldn't.
As she made the decision, she felt a weight lift off her shoulders, a weight she hadn't even been aware was resting on her. She opened her mouth to blurt out her decision to Clark, but then closed her mouth, deciding not to tell him quite yet. She couldn't keep letting herself be so impulsive. She needed to think it through, to make certain she'd thought the situation through totally.
But deep down, she knew her decision wasn't going to change. Because Clark needed her. And besides... she still had a mystery to solve.
A faint smile curved her lips, and a feeling of contentment, of rightness, flowed through her. This was where she belonged, and this was who she belonged with. Maybe someday Clark would recognize that, and maybe he wouldn't. But it didn't really matter either way. Because a girl couldn't run away from her destiny.
And Clark Kent was her destiny. On some level, she'd always known that.
She walked toward the Daily Planet, shoulder to shoulder with the man she loved, an alien bracelet glinting on her wrist in the morning sunlight.
Clark’s arms felt weighted and sluggish and he stood at the kitchen table, folding laundry. Lana, mercifully, was nowhere to be found this morning, but that hardly surprised him. Doing anything as mundane as laundry would never have been on the top of her to-do list. Lana only tried to act like a pie-baking housewife when she was trying to worm her way into his good graces because she wanted something. Or she was covering something up. No, with Lana in the house, it was Clark who was expected to serve.
With a frown, he tossed Lana’s frilly underthings to the floor, and thought wistfully of a time long ago when he and Chloe had stood at this very table, folding clothes with the familiar, comfortable ease of a couple who’d been together for years. Chloe hadn’t been afraid to dive right in, not if it was something to help Clark. But, that was Chloe all over.
He sighed, missing her so much it was like a dull constant ache. He’d been forcing himself not to pick up the phone, just to hear her voice for a few minutes, even a few seconds. But in a way, the phone had become his enemy. He was waiting for Chloe to call to let him know when she’d be moving.
He’d already practiced his reply of encouragement, extolling Edge City’s virtues, and how he’d always come visit her, and…
He turned abruptly because the phone was ringing, and his heart was in his throat.
Tentatively, he picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
There was a long pause, and then a sigh, a sound of breath that he’d know anywhere. “I decided not to g….”
And he was out the door before she could finish.
“So… you’re staying?” he practically yelped, and knew he was failing miserably at keeping a toothy, dork-faced grin off his face.
Chloe didn’t turn around, but then, the way her papers shuffled wildly from the force of his usual entrance was always something of a giveaway.
But he could tell she was smiling. And that her heartbeat had just sped up.
“I am,” she confirmed, “And as far as my editor knows, supermouth, I was never leaving in the first place.”
Clark grimaced, and glanced back at the office where Chloe’s new and not-improved editor was talking to another underling. “Oops,” he whispered, crouching down to her, “Sorry.”
He was practically collapsing with relief, he knew, and trying desperately not to let it show. He hadn’t known it was possible to go from abject misery to ecstacy so quickly, but then, Chloe could always make him feel things that ought to be impossible. Now that he knew she was staying, he could breathe again. Now that he could come to the Daily Planet and know that her small form would be charging around the newsroom like the little blonde bulldozer she was, all seemed right with the world, even if she no longer remembered he loved her.
She swiveled around and let her hand drop onto his shoulder, smiling as she shook her head at him, “What am I going to do with you?”
Ah, Chlo, he thought, if you only knew...
And then he caught sight of her wrist, resting lightly against his arm.
“Hey,” he frowned, “What happened to the bracelet?”
She followed his gaze, looking a bit guilty, “Oh, well,” she maneuvered, “I left it at home. I didn’t think it was a good idea to walk around with an alien artifact in the middle of a newsroom. I mean,” she amended with skillful distraction, “apart from the walking, talking alien artifact who’s here on a daily basis.”
He rolled his eyes, but couldn’t suppress the feeling of disappointment that curdled in his chest. Somehow, he’d had this crazy hope that once she put it on, it would never come off again.
Reflexively, he reached out for her bare wrist and his thumb stroked idly across the delicate bones of her hand, “That’s too bad. It looked…” like it was meant for you, his mind screamed, but he finished lamely, “…nice.”
Clark could feel her pulse beating wildly, could hear her breath coming faster, and he wanted to bend over and brush his lips against the smooth skin of her palm. But she pulled back with an insistent jerk, and put both hands back on the familiar territory of her keyboard.
“You know what would be nice?” she breathed, slightly harder than normal, “If I could get this article done so that I don’t get shipped to the Edge City Post in a nice, big care package from my editor.”
He resisted the urge to sigh, and nodded with resolved understanding.
“Sorry,” he said again, with an embarrassed smile, “I say that a lot, don’t I?”
Now she really did grin at him, her happy, Oh, Clark, you doofus smile that he adored almost as much as the smile that said she loved him.
Yeah, well,” she shrugged, “It’s your thing. You always did take on everyone’s problems.”
He laughed, because she had no idea how true it was. And, because her smile could make him feel so happy even when his heart was close to breaking, he scooted closer to her once more, “Hey, that’s a great idea.”
Her brows came together, “What’s a great idea?”
“How about if I help you with your article?”
She was surprised. “Since when have you been re-bitten by the journalism bug?”
He gave her a look of utter seriousness, “Let’s just say I’m good at repression.”
“Do you want help or not?” he stood up, hands on his hips.
She rolled her eyes and sighed, “Fine. Take my laptop,” she pointed at the computer directly across from her on the other side of her big desk. “Pushy,” she added, though not without a smirk, as he practically skipped to the other side and sat down, looking back at her with the big Daily Planet newsroom all around them.
It felt like home.
He looked up and saw Chloe was watching him intently. Her lovely mouth was slightly parted as she stared at him, just as he was staring at her.
“Something wrong?” he asked, knowing his own heartbeat was rapidly rising. Could she see it in the way he was looking at her?
Her brows furrowed in concentration, and slowly her head turned so that she was gazing out the window, up into the sky, at almost the exact spot where they had sat suspended on the wing of an airplane, their mouths pressed hungrily together.
He could almost hear her mind whirring at a fever pace, as if the pieces of a puzzle were falling into place, only she couldn’t quite make out the final picture. But Clark knew.
She turned back to him, eyes half-glazed, and then spoke.
“Yes, Clark,” she said, and it wasn’t a question at all. It sounded very much like an answer.
Watching her eyes, it was almost as if she, too, knew that something inexplicable hadn’t ended, but just begun. And then, just as suddenly, the fleeting moment was over and her eyes refocused.
He sighed and watched her shaking her head once more, clearing it.
He wanted to reach across the table, gather her in his arms, and kiss her, like they’d done in this very room a long time ago. But instead, he merely smiled at her.
“So,” he said, clearing his throat, “What are we looking for?”
Snapping out her trance, she looked back at her monitor.
“Umm,” she breathed deeply, back in reporter-mode, “It’s this new company,” she said, “called ‘Isis’, of all things.”
“What about it?” he asked, ready to flex his own less-skilled research muscles as he began to type.
“Dunno yet,” she frowned, “But the funding seems fishy.”
“Fishy, huh?” he arched an eyebrow, risking another glance at her. God, he loved to watch her. Chloe was never more beautiful than when she was in the pursuit of truth and justice. “Maybe it’ll end in a Pulitzer.”
She didn’t even break stride, just kept attacking her keyboard, “Or maybe it’ll end with the villain wagging a finger at us, yelling” she made her voice all rough and gravelly, “’And I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids’!”
He laughed out loud, and fell in love with her all over again.
It didn’t even matter if she didn’t wear the bracelet. It was just a symbol, after all. So what if she’d tossed it in her jewelry box the second they got back. He looked at her once more, starting at the top of her gorgeous head and following down. His x-ray vision flicked on without him even trying so that he could see her whole, behind the desk, and as he did so, he caught sight of something else.
There was the bracelet, in her desk drawer. It was resting on top of the picture she had of them at the Spring Formal.
A kind of mad glee filled him, and he had to fight the urge to start whistling again, just as he’d done in the farmhouse.
"Hey, are you slacking on the job ten seconds into it?” she playfully snapped at him, breaking him out of his reverie.
He looked up and knew the grin was so wide, it was probably stretching into the next room.
“Don’t worry, Chlo,” he said, “I’m not about to let you down.”
His eyes met hers for a long time, then they both smiled as though afraid they’d been caught. But that was hardly new, he thought. Every innocent touch, every glance that lasted too long would always be their way of saying “I love you.”
For a moment, it was as though nothing had changed. When in fact, everything had.
Clark took a deep breath, and was barely surprised when Chloe did too. She grinned at him, embarrassed, but to him it was like hearing her say that she was his, just as he belonged to her. To him, it was as if their breath, their heartbeats, were linked by more than a small piece of metal, lying innocently in the desk drawer shared by a Daily Planet reporter and the man who loved her.
Soon, Chlo, he promised her again, and sent up a silent prayer of thanks that she had decided to stay and fight. Because he would never give up fighting for her. Tomorrow she might go back to acting like she didn’t care, and he might have to do that, too. But today she was smiling at him and that was enough to last him a long, long time.
Saying no more, they both turned back to their screens, clacking away tirelessly, because there was work to be done.
After all, the world wasn’t going to save itself.
- The End-