Season 8, SPOILERS
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
"Flowers? For me?"
She looks surprised, and he can understand that, because she's getting married next week, and he's just her friend. Her best friend, but just a friend.
Even so, he offers the little bouquet of blue flowers to her with a smile. He suspects he looks more sorrowful than he ought to, but he can't help it. Every time he looks at her now, grief hits him, so hard it almost sends him to his knees.
"Forget me nots," he says.
She smiles. Her smile is bright and happy and genuine. There's no reason it shouldn't be. There's nothing weighing heavily on her, no reason for her to be anything other than radiantly joyous. She's marrying the guy she loves in a week. Of course she's happy.
"Like I could ever forget you," she answers lightly.
They've known each other for almost nine years now, since middle school, and they've been best friends all that time. So yes, it's ridiculous to think she could ever forget him. Of course it is.
She finds a vase in her desk, presumably left over from some flowers Jimmy sent her previously, and gets up, heading to the small washroom to fill it with water. He trails after her aimlessly.
Everything he does now feels aimless, like he's lost his rudder. As if in losing her, he's lost himself. He doesn't know how to fix this, how to fix everything.
He can't fix everything. Hell, he can't fix anything.
There's nothing he can do to fix any of this.
She disappears into the washroom for a moment, and he bows his head, blinking hard.
He hopes she won't notice his tears.
"All her memories are gone," he says, his voice desperate. Chloe is clutched in his arms, inert, motionless, helpless. "She's gone. Please, Jor-El. You have to help her."
The Fortress rises high above him, as tall and cold and remote as ever. He hates the AI that's an integral part of the Fortress, and once it was destroyed, flattened into a plain of ice and snow, he'd sworn he'd never rebuild it.
But for her, he'd rebuilt it. He had to. No one else on Earth could save her. Rebuilding the Fortress was his only hope of getting her back.
"Her memories are being erased as a result of her infection," Jor-El intones. "In order to avoid any possible conflict with her id, the Brain Interactive Construct is erasing her personality and her memories."
"We have to get them back." Clark knows he sounds desperate, maybe even frantic, but he doesn't care. He's finally begun to realize how much Chloe means to him, and he can't just let her forget everything. He can't.
"We can try." The AI sounds dubious. "But the Construct has been growing within her for quite some time. Some memories may already be damaged beyond repair, or inextricably entangled with Brainiac's programming."
Clark places her still, limp body onto a flat slab, and looks up pleadingly at the vast structure. "Try. Please."
The AI hesitates only a moment.
"Very well, my son," it answers. "I will try."
Chloe emerges from the washroom, smiling brightly, and puts the flowers on her desk. She works at the Isis Foundation now, helping the meteor afflicted, while Clark works at the Daily Planet, where she used to work. He'd been certain she'd come back to the Planet when she was back to normal, and that the two of them would be able to work together, but she seems oddly happy where she is.
He thinks maybe her change in career plans has to do with Jimmy. Jimmy was never totally comfortable working with her, because she's frankly better at journalism than he is. Jimmy isn't the kind of guy who can handle a girlfriend or a wife who's better than he is. Clark figures Jimmy is encouraging her to work at Isis, where the two of them aren't in any sort of competition.
But she's a journalist. She's always been a journalist. It really bothers him that she's willing to put that aside for Jimmy.
Everything about her relationship with Jimmy bothers him. But there's nothing he can do about it. Not now.
"Want to do lunch?" he asks, a little hesitantly.
She sits down at the desk and smiles up at him. "Thanks, Clark, but I have a lot of work to do here."
There's a distance between them that didn't used to be there, and it makes him want to spin around and put a fist through the wall. Her attitude is still warm and friendly, and yet somehow all the intimacy of their relationship has vanished. They're friends, but they're not friends. Not any longer.
He hadn't realized how much he relied on the intense closeness between them until it was gone.
"I have saved most of her memories," the AI reports at last, "and eradicated as much of the Brainiac infection as possible."
Clark doesn't like the sound of that. Most of her memories. As much of the infection as possible. He wants back his friend, Chloe Ann Sullivan, not the zombie who's been taken over by Brainiac, her memories and personality erased. He wants Chloe to be restored intact to the person she used to be.
"What memories has she lost?" he asks.
The AI is silent for a long beat of time.
"Your secret," it answers at last.
"What?" Clark lifts his head and glares up at the soaring pillars of ice, far overhead. "You can't take that away from her! After everything we've been through together, everything she's done for me--"
"It was not my decision." The AI's voice is even and calm, and Clark can't tell if it's lying or not. He can never tell. "Brainiac's programming was utterly entangled with those memories, Kal-El. It is difficult to explain this in organic terms, but when Brainiac infests a mind, he roots into its deepest and most cherished memories, like a weed digging its roots deep into the richest soil it can find. The only way I could remove the programming was to remove those memories along with it."
Clark takes a deep, steadying breath, trying not to let his anger overtake him. He isn't quite sure how it could be possible for Chloe to forget his secret. It's tangled up with everything the two of them have done for the past few years. But if Jor-El says it's gone, then somehow it's gone.
"Okay," he says. "So I'll just tell her my secret again."
"No," Jor-El answers. "She cannot relearn your secret, my son. If she does, the remnants of Brainiac I was unable to eradicate may be able to take root again."
It sounds crazy, and he only half believes it. Part of him suspects it's a ploy by Jor-El, a way of removing what the AI sees as a danger. He knows Jor-El has never been happy with humans knowing his secret, and he suspects this might just be a way of removing what Jor-El sees as the danger that Chloe might one day spill his secret.
But he doesn't know that for sure. That's the problem. If he tells Chloe his secret-- maybe she'll be fine. But then again, maybe the AI is right, and knowing his secret will leave her open to another takeover by Brainiac. And this time-- losing her mind to Brainiac might be fatal.
He can't risk it.
He can't tell her his secret.
He hadn't fully understood how much the shared knowledge of his secret lay at the foundation of their relationship. For years now, she'd been his secretkeeper. They'd done everything together, worked together, hung out together. And much of the easy warmth of their relationship had been based on a shared secret.
Take away the secret, and suddenly the intimacy is gone.
It's hard to define how, exactly. But without the knowledge of his secret, without the full knowledge of everything they've shared over the past few yars, Chloe's simply no longer focused on Clark. He's not at the top of her priority list any longer. He's just a friend, a friend who's rapidly losing out to Jimmy Olsen.
Jimmy's her fiance, and that means he's her top priority. Clark has the uncomfortable feeling that it's very wrong to let her marry a man when she no longer remembers everything, when she's operating on incomplete information. But there's nothing he can do about it. She's focused on Jimmy, not Clark.
It isn't the way things used to be. It isn't the way things ought to be.
He aches for the way things used to be. He wants Chloe back, his Chloe, the Chloe who put him first, the Chloe who was always there for him, no matter what. The Chloe he shared everything with.
But she's gone, and he can't get her back.
He doesn't dare tell her his secret, just in case Jor-El is right, in case knowing the truth will allow Brainiac a foothold into her subconscious. He loves her too much to let Brainiac in again.
He loves her.
He thinks about that, startled by the thought. He does love her. He never realized how much he loves her, how much he's willing to sacrifice for her. He loves her so much that he'll step aside and let Jimmy have her. He'll let her go if it means Brainiac can't hurt her any more.
But letting go of her hurts. It hurts an awful lot. It makes his chest ache and his eyes sting and his throat tight. He thinks maybe he's going to burst into tears, right here in her office. And he can't, because he can't explain to her what the problem is.
He can't explain to her how much he once meant to her, how he'd been more important to her than Jimmy, in some ways at least. He can't explain to her how the two of them had shared a secret for years, how she'd protected him with her life, how she'd defended him.
All the times she saved him, all the times he saved her-- they're gone, vanished from her memory, never to be seen again.
Everything that made their relationship special, unique... it's all gone now. He can't get it back.
He can't get her back.
She gives him one last smile, then turns back to her computer, the little vase of forget-me-nots sitting next to her. He mumbles a goodbye, then turns and walks blindly out of her office.
And once he's outside, he gives up trying to hold back the tears. He's lost his best friend, and the woman he loves. He's lost a relationship that's unique and irreplaceable in his life. And for Chloe's sake, he has to let her go. He has to. But he doesn't want to.
He walks down the sidewalk, and lets the tears fall.