Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Haunted 3. Follows Haunted.
There's a life inside of me
That I can feel again
It's the only thing that takes me
Where I've never been
I don't care if I lost everything that I have known
It don't matter where I lay my head tonight
Your arms feel like home
-"Your Arms Feel Like Home," 3 Doors Down
I'm not crazy.
Chloe Sullivan remembered the words she'd said to her cousin Lois Lane the previous afternoon, and sighed.
She didn't feel crazy. But the problem was that the available evidence tended to suggest that she was.
She'd spent more than a year seeing brief glimpses of a man she'd lost a long ago. Clark Kent, the boy she'd adored in high school, the man she'd dated in college, the man she'd meant to marry, who'd been killed by a blast from a piece of alien machinery.
She'd gone on to marry another guy, Jimmy Olsen, but their marriage hadn't lasted very long once she started seeing quick flashes of Clark. Her mind had been on Clark, not Jimmy, and inevitably, Jimmy had noticed her distraction, and resented it.
And after Jimmy left her, Clark had moved in.
That really sounded crazy, she thought glumly. But after Jimmy had left, she'd started feeling Clark's arms around her at night, and she couldn't help believing that he was there with her, holding her, comforting her.
She remembered Lois' cynical words: If Smallville's really following you around, how come he didn't start till after you and Jimmy got married?
She had to admit it was a good question. Clark had been dead for several years, and she'd never seen him, never had a clue he might be there somehow.
But three months or so after her wedding, Clark had simply begun appearing wherever she was, so fleetingly she could never be certain he was really there. She'd begun seeing his solemn green eyes, his dark tangle of hair, his smile. And yet whenever she focused on him, he'd disappear. It was like she could only see him out of the corner of her eye.
How come he didn't start till after you and Jimmy got married?
She frowned, and spoke to her empty living room.
"It's a good question, Clark. Why didn't you show up until then?"
There was no answer. She hadn't expected one. But she had the sense that someone was sitting down next to her on the couch and putting an arm around her. She sighed, wishing she could lean her head against his shoulder for comfort, as she had when he was alive.
"Lois thinks it was guilt," she said. Over the past year, she'd gotten in the habit of talking to him constantly. Lois had caught her at it yesterday afternoon, which had sparked the "crazy" discussion. "Just my imagination working overtime. But I... I don't know, Clark. I don't think you're a figment of my imagination, but I don't know what else you could be." She blew out her breath in frustration. "I feel like I'm missing something here."
She wanted to turn to the side and catch a glimpse of his emerald eyes, but she knew if she did, he'd disappear entirely. It was like he was only hanging around the edges of her mind, and if she focused too hard he faded out. Just like the very first time she'd seen him, in that LexCorp lab...
The phrase echoed in her mind, suddenly taking on immense significance. LexCorp lab.
No, she thought with sudden vivid understanding. He wasn't hanging around the edges of her mind.
He was hanging around the edges of reality.
"LexCorp is no longer interested in discussing the Loki project with the press, Ms. Sullivan."
Chloe offered a politely friendly smile to the scientist who'd conducted the experiment a year ago. It had been, she recalled, an experiment designed to show how LexCorp could mix matter with antimatter without causing an explosion in the process. The scientist's name was Dr. Wilson, and he was a tall, rangy man with a sad, lined face that made her think of a basset hound.
"This is off the record, Doctor," she said, giving him a slightly warmer smile-- a smile that had wormed all sorts of information out of people over her years as a reporter. "I'm personally interested in this experiment."
Dr. Wilson's eyebrows drew down, making him look more melancholy than ever. "I understood that you were a journalist, with no particular background in science. You don't focus on scientific articles for the Planet, do you?"
"No," she said, still smiling. "But I've always been interested in the strange and bizarre. I'd really like to see that experiment replicated, Doctor."
"I'm afraid I can't do that," Wilson said.
She heard the edge of irritation in her own voice, just a little too late. Wilson narrowed his eyes at her, looking suspicious.
"The experiment was unstable," he explained. "It's true it didn't create an explosion, but it did create certain... curvatures in the fabric of reality. It's not easy to explain to a layman, so you'll just have to trust me, Ms. Sullivan. It's not something we want to do again."
She took a step toward him and glared. "You have to reproduce that experiment, Dr. Wilson."
"I can't do that," he repeated. His eyes looked sadder than before, but beneath the soulful eyes there was a hint of steel. "And I've already explained the reason. Now please leave, before I have to call security to escort you out."
Chloe sighed. She'd really hoped it wouldn't come to this. But to save Clark, she'd do what she needed to do. She always had.
She reached into her purse, pulled out a gun, and pointed it at the hapless Dr. Wilson.
"Let's reproduce that experiment, Doctor," she said.
An hour later, Wilson was ready to perform the experiment. He didn't look happy about it, but he clearly wasn't ready to lose his life over the sake of a few curvatures in reality, either.
"All right," he said in his mild tenor voice. "I'm going to begin the experiment, Ms. Sullivan. I'll do my best to reproduce the exact same conditions. The duration will be fifteen seconds, just like last time."
"No," she said, remembering the flash of solemn green eyes she'd seen in the lab. "You need to keep the experiment running until I tell you to stop."
"I can't do that," he said, sounding scandalized. "Even with a duration of merely fifteen seconds, this experiment had a significant deleterious effect on the fabric of reality. Holding the effect longer could theoretically create rips or tears in space-time itself. If it goes wrong, do you realize the magnitude of the explosion that could result?"
"I have faith in you, Doctor. You won't let it go wrong." She gestured with the gun. "Now get started."
I'm not crazy, she assured herself again, but the thought had lost much of its hopefulness in the past hour or so. She must be crazy, to hold a scientist at gunpoint and demand he reproduce a dangerous experiment, just on the wild off chance that it might somehow bring her lost love back to her.
Crazy or not, she'd be going to jail after this, and she knew it.
But if there was the slightest hope it could help Clark, she was more than willing to make the sacrifice.
The experiment began, and the odd, unearthly light that she remembered filled the room. She lifted her head, looking for Clark.
Ten seconds passed, and nothing happened. But then she saw him. Not just his smile, or his eyes, but all of him. He was only a faint, blurred outline, like a ghost, but he was undeniably there.
He's not a ghost, she thought. He's not. He's real. He's just... trapped.
"Excellent work, Doctor," she said. "Keep it up."
"I can't," Wilson protested. "It's already been twenty-five seconds. I don't dare..."
Chloe lifted the gun and pointed it straight at his face.
"Dare," she said.
Wilson swallowed audibly, and the glow continued. Chloe looked away from the scientist and stared, watching Clark becoming more solid-looking all the time. The space around him seemed to ripple and churn, and Wilson spoke, sounding anxious.
"The effect on space-time, Ms. Sullivan-- we need to stop before we create a wormhole, or destroy the fabric of reality altogether."
"Just a few seconds longer," she said through her teeth. She stared toward Clark, unable to look away. Wilson turned his head, looking anxiously at the ripples in reality, and she saw his mouth drop open as even he saw Clark beginning to materialize.
Ten seconds later, Clark looked as solid as he ever had. He took a step forward, smiling at her, and she forgot about Wilson, forgot about the experiment, forgot about everything except the man she'd always loved.
She dropped the gun and flung herself into Clark's arms, feeling the solidity of him. The reality of him.
The glow faded, but Clark didn't. He was real again.
"Given the rather extraordinary circumstances," Wilson said half an hour later, "I won't press charges, Ms. Sullivan."
She managed to look away from Clark's face for a moment, and smiled brightly at the scientist. "That's very kind of you, Dr. Wilson."
He shrugged. "If I lost my wife-- well, I can imagine myself going to such extremes if I thought there was even a possibility of getting her back." He looked at Clark with interest. "How long were you-- gone?"
"I don't know," Clark answered.
"Five years," Chloe said. "He's been gone for five years. And until last year, I thought he was dead. When I started seeing glimpses of him then, I thought maybe I was crazy, or deluded. It wasn't until this morning that I finally figured out what might have happened."
He squeezed her hand. "I hoped you'd figure out a way to bring me back eventually."
"I wish I'd realized what was going on earlier," she said softly, feeling immense guilt. Clark had described what it had been like for him all these years. It had been a half-life, in which he could see and hear everything, but couldn't feel anything, or touch anything, or interact with anyone. Even after the first experiment had pulled him slightly back into this reality, he hadn't been able to make himself known to anyone but her. She could hardly imagine how horrible it had been for him.
"It's all right," he answered, squeezing her hand. "I'm here now."
She leaned her head against his shoulder. He felt solid and warm, so real that her eyes smarted with tears. They'd discussed the matter at length with Dr. Wilson, but they hadn't quite figured out exactly where Clark had been.
Wilson postulated that the alien device that had "killed" Clark had warped space-time somehow, flinging Clark into some sort of alternate reality, slightly out of phase with the one they lived in. Clark hadn't belonged there, so he hadn't existed in any real sense. Which was lucky for him, because otherwise he would have starved to death. In a way, he had been a ghost.
But he wasn't a ghost any longer.
"Yes," she said softly. "You're here. And I'm so happy, Clark. Thank God you're back."
"I'm back," he said. He wrapped his arms around her, and she pressed her face into his chest, grateful for his strong chest to lean on. "I'm home, Chlo."
"I'm glad," she mumbled into his shirt. "Don't ever leave me again."
He held her against him more tightly, and whispered into her hair.
"I never left you, Chloe."