Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Manip by Chlarkookie, used with permission of the artist. Story inspired by the manip; title is by Chlarkookie too!
Sunset streaked the sky gold and crimson. She sat beneath the tree, and waited.
The fall sunset was spectacularly brilliant, impossibly vivid. But all too quickly the sky darkened, to amber and burgundy, and then to charcoal, and the world seemed to dim around her.
She rose, conscious of the sudden chill that fell with twilight, and turned toward the old yellow farmhouse. Disappointment pooled in her, a dark, still pond of loneliness and grief and hopeless longing.
She would wait for him again tomorrow. And the next day, and the next.
Sooner or later, he would come back to her.
"I have to talk to you." The voice on the other end of the phone cracked with excitement. His voice cracked all the time now. He was beginning to grow taller, day by day. Which figured, because they were almost in high school now.
She rolled her eyes, even though he couldn't see her, and cradled the phone between ear and shoulder, typing notes about the weird stuff she'd seen in Smallville this week. "So talk."
"Not right now. I have to finish my chores. Mom's gonna kill me if she comes in here and finds me on the phone... Hey, can you come over later?"
"Um..." Chloe blushed a little. "I don't know, Clark. Your mom was pretty mad with me last time I was over there. Remember the pie?"
He laughed, proof that he did indeed remember the pie. Mrs. Kent had just placed a steaming apple pie onto the counter, fresh from the oven, and Clark and Chloe had been hanging out in the kitchen. Chloe had been walking back and forth, talking with her hands, as she all too often did. The pie and her hands had suffered an unfortunate collision, and the next thing she knew, it had flown off the counter and crashed against the spotless tile floor, splattering apples and piecrust everywhere. She wasn't sure she could ever face Mrs. Kent again.
"Okay," he said. "So meet me underneath the big tree in the backyard. Mom can't see you there from the house."
She knew the tree he meant. Ancient, enormous, it stood sentry at the very back border of the lawn, overlooking the vast spread of fields that stretched out behind the house, like a benign, watchful king observing its kingdom.
"Okay," she agreed. "When do you want to meet?"
"Sunset," he said.
Colors streaked the sky. This sunset was less vivid, cooler, but no less beautiful-- peach and strawberry, like ice cream, dotted with golden puffs of cirrus.
Her eyes scanned the sky, looking for him, but nothing flew overhead except a straggling V of geese, heading for Crater Lake. The distant sound of their honking floated back to her, a wild, lonely sound.
Slowly, darkness overspread the sky like a blanket, and she rose to her feet and walked toward the old house.
"Chlo. We have to talk."
She somehow managed to resist the urge to slam down the phone. "I told you, Clark, I've had it with you."
"Please." He sounded very earnest. "I didn't mean to make you mad, Chloe."
She tried, very hard, to ignore the sorrowful penitence in his tone. They were sophomores in high school now, and she'd lost track of how many times he'd pissed her off, and gotten away with it, simply because she couldn't resist his puppydog eyes. She knew perfectly well that if she saw him, and he gave her The Eyes, she would relent.
She didn't want to relent.
"Well, you should have thought of that before you opened your big mouth," she said tartly.
"I'm sorry." He sounded more grief-stricken than ever, as if the prospect of a Chloe-free future was enough to send him to his knees. She knew perfectly well he was just trying to get back in her good graces, but even so, his tone made something inside her chest clench. She didn't like making Clark unhappy.
"Sorry isn't good enough, Clark."
"Please. Come on, Chloe. Come talk to me. The tree at sunset, okay? I swear, I'll make it up to you..."
She growled, and hung up on him.
But she knew that at sunset, she'd be waiting beneath the tree.
Sunset spread across the sky like long crimson fingers stretching toward something just out of reach. She waited, watching the sky, and thought about the last time she'd seen him.
He'd told her he had something to do, something very important. Something he couldn't take the time to explain, but that he must do.
She'd been frightened by the grim, stark note in his voice. But he was Superman, and she'd never tried to hold him back from what needed doing. So she nodded and wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders, holding him close, one last time.
"I'll be back," he'd whispered. "I promise, I'll come back to you."
She believed him. If Clark said he'd come back, then he'd come back, sooner or later.
So she sat beneath the tree, and waited.
She watched as the crimson fingers curled inward and faded away. The sky darkened to steel, and a single star appeared against the gray backdrop.
She rose, pushing back her disappointment, and walked toward the house.
Maybe he'd come tomorrow. Or the next day.
Sooner or later, he'd be here.
"I can't believe you're going to Met U next week."
She chuckled into her cell phone. She was currently going through all her stuff, the accumulated detritus of a lifetime, trying to figure out what she could toss or give to Goodwill, what she wanted to take with her. Her dad was moving to Florida, so whatever she wanted, she needed to take.
She looked a little sorrowfully at her massive pile of books. The books of her childhood, Little Women and The Jungle Book and A Little Princess, as well as biographies of favorite journalists and novels and political nonfiction. She couldn't keep them all in a dorm room, but Clark had agreed to keep them for her. He loved books as much as she did, and neither of them could imagine giving books away.
So the books, at least, had a home.
She pushed back the slightly bitter thought. Dad was entitled to move. He had a life, too. But she couldn't imagine herself ever thinking of his new house in Florida as home.
Smallville was home.
She blinked at the strangeness of the thought. When she'd first come to this "leafy little hamlet," five years before, she'd thought of it as the sticks. Hicksville. Bumfuck Egypt.
And yet, somehow, over those five years, it had become a home to her. She'd put down roots, sunk them deep into the soil here, without the slightest intention of doing so.
And she had a feeling those roots had a lot to do with the deep voice currently rumbling in her ear.
"Met U," he was saying again. "Things are going to change, Chloe."
"Not really," she said, turning her attention from the books and beginning to sort clothes. "It's not like you can't come to see me any time you want. If you want."
"You know I'll want to hang out with you, Chlo. I'll be there as much as I can. But I'm going to be taking classes, too."
She sighed. "I guess maybe you're right. Things will change, won't they?"
"One thing is never going to change." His voice was firm. "We'll always be friends."
"Awwww," she snarked. "Cue the string quartet."
"Shut up," he said amiably. "Hey, Chlo, I know you're busy, but you want to hang out tonight?"
She looked at the piles of junk she had yet to sort, and almost answered that she didn't have time. But she caught herself. Things were going to change. That was inevitable.
But if there was one single thing she wanted to hang onto from this part of her life, it was her friendship with Clark.
"Sure," she answered. "I'll meet you under the tree at sunset."
Another sunset. An iron-gray rain drizzled from heavy clouds that glowed a dark red, like embers smoldering behind dense smoke.
The tree's leafy canopy acted as an umbrella, shielding her from the worst of the rain. But its leaves were changing, turning amber and yellow, and in another week they would fall, leaving her unprotected.
Clark had gone away at the beginning of the summer. Now it was fall.
Clark, she thought, staring at the roiling dark clouds. Clark, where are you?
It wasn't as if she'd spent the summer waiting beneath this tree. Of course not. She was a reporter at the Daily Planet, a busy job that was even busier now that her husband, who also worked there, was on an "extended vacation." She went to work early so she could be home in time to wait here at sunset.
Intellectually, she realized that if Clark returned, he'd come find her, wherever she might be. But somehow she couldn't shake the thought that this was where she should wait for him.
This was where she had always waited for him.
So she waited.
She'd looked everywhere for him, searched the Fortress and the caves and all of Metropolis, while the Justice League scoured the globe for him.
But no one had been able to find him.
She knew that their mutual friend Oliver Queen thought Clark was dead. Most of the League thought likewise. They kept an eye out for him, of course, but they were certain that Superman would never have left Metropolis unprotected for three months.
She knew they were right.
I promise, I'll come back to you.
The glow behind the clouds faded, like cooling embers that no longer cast any warmth. Sighing, she rose, and walked through the drizzle that chilled her skin and seemed to sink into her bones, toward the empty house.
Meet me at the tree at sunset.
She'd found the note, written in his slashing handwriting, on her desk at the Planet. It was an odd request, because the two of them both lived and worked in Metropolis now. She knew the current lease on the farm had expired, and it stood vacant, so no one would mind if she drove onto the Kent farm.
Still, she wasn't sure why he wanted her to drive all way to Smallville, when he could pick her up and whoosh her there in the blink of an eye.
But Clark had conveniently disappeared on the trail of a story, so she couldn't ask him what he was up to. She got into her little car at five o'clock and drove to Smallville. The sun rode low in the sky as she drove onto the familiar gravel driveway.
She parked her car, got out, and walked toward the back yard, where the great tree spread its leafy branches. Clark wasn't there, so she sat down to wait. The tree stood like a sentinel at the very back edge of the lawn, and from here she could see fields spreading out, rustling corn and velvety pasture, in a gold-and-green checkerboard that seemed to go on forever, until it met the sky.
As the sun touched the horizon, there was a rush of wind, and he was there, looking down at her.
She stood up and looked into his eyes, cocking an eyebrow. "What's this all about, Clark?"
He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. "I just sort of missed the place."
"Yeah," she admitted, looking around at the broad, flat fields that spread out, seemingly to infinity. "Me too."
"I know you like Metropolis," he said, and she was surprised to note he was shuffling his feet. It was a nervous habit he'd had when he was younger, but nowadays he rarely displayed much nervousness. "And your apartment."
She nodded, but decided not to say anything. He was clearly working up to something.
"See, the thing is..." He looked around again, and she was struck by the look of longing in his eyes. He'd clearly missed the farm a great deal, more than she'd realized. For that matter, she'd missed it more than she'd ever realized. "Mom's putting the place up for sale."
The thought of the Kent farm falling into the hands of strangers forever hit her like a two by four to the chest. She drew in a deep, shocked breath. "Oh, no."
"Well..." He looked down at her and offered a small smile. "She's offering it to me first."
"Oh. I see."
"Yeah. And I didn't know if you'd want to... I mean, I know our lives are in the city... but this is... well, it's home... and I can hear people from here... it's not like I'd have to stop working as Superman or anything... I can be there in less than a second... and I can get you to work... every day, if you want..."
"Clark." She put a hand on his arm, cutting off the flood of awkwardly stammered words. "If this is what you want, that's fine." She looked around at the green and gold fields again, warmed not just by the fact that he was asking her to move in with him, but to move home with him. "The truth is, I think I'd like to come back, too."
"Really?" His face lit up in his sudden brilliant smile.
"Really," she said softly.
He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly against his chest. The last tendrils of crimson faded from the sky, but the two of them stayed beneath their tree until the stars appeared.
Another day, another sunset. This one flamed against the sky like fire, garishly orange. She sat beneath the tree, waiting, and thought of what Ollie had told her that day.
I found a witness. He's an old homeless guy, a little on the crazy side, so no one bothered to talk to him before. But I think he's for real. He saw a bright light, heard a loud noise, and saw Superman just disappear, vanish out of existence. I'm sorry, Chloe, but I think he's gone for good.
Gone where? she'd asked.
I have no idea, Ollie had answered. Sounds like some sort of tunnel through space or time. Not a boomtube, but something similar. I don't know who took him, or why. But I don't think he's on Earth anymore.
She'd called in sick to the Planet, and spent the day combing through Justice's records, trying to figure out exactly who or what might have taken her husband, but she'd come up empty. At last, tired and dispirited, she'd come home to sit beneath the sheltering branches of the tree.
Her vigil was hopeless. She knew that now. It seemed likely that Clark wasn't on the planet at all. Or perhaps he was trapped in a different era.
Regardless, he just wasn't here.
Her eyes stung, and the brilliant colors of the sunset ran together. She blinked her tears away and stiffened her shoulders.
She wasn't giving up on him, damn it. She wasn't.
He was Superman. Wherever he was, whenever he was... somehow he'd find a way back to her.
And when he did, she'd be waiting for him.
They sat together beneath the tree, looking at the sunset.
"It's beautiful," she said. Her voice was a whisper, because this moment of the day always seemed special, almost sacred. To speak loudly would be a desecration, like shouting in a cathedral.
"It is," he agreed. He reached out, and took her hand in his, and spoke very softly. "It's always beautiful. Chlo... I want to watch the sunset here with you every day for the rest of our lives."
She looked down at his big, strong hand, resting on hers, and understood what he was asking her. He wasn't offering a ring, or making flowery speeches. He didn't need to. He was just uttering the truth-- that the two of them couldn't live without each other, that their lives were intertwined, and always would be. She understood as well as he did that marriage was simply the inevitable next step in their relationship.
"Yes," she answered. "Me too."
He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it, and then the two of them fell silent, watching the sunset.
The leaves crunched under her feet as she walked out to the tree. She sat, hearing the brittle sound of the leaves littering the ground beneath her, and looked up at the bare branches that spread out above. The days were growing shorter, the sun setting earlier.
The sky was beautiful tonight, blue and crimson and gold. His colors, she thought wistfully. She closed her eyes against a sudden spark of anger.
She'd done everything she could to get him back. She'd researched, interviewed, sought out every speck of information she could on whatever phenomenon had taken him from her.
But in the end, there was no way for her to find Clark. This time, she couldn't be there for him, couldn't rescue him. She had to simply believe in his strength and intelligence and physical abilities. She had to believe that somehow, some way, he could find his way home to her.
It was the age-old pain of Penelope-- the knowledge that she couldn't save her husband, or even try to help him. The knowledge that there was no action she could take, that she had to sit passively, hoping against hope he'd come back to her. The knowledge that she had to simply wait for him.
Wait, and believe.
She opened her eyes and looked up at the sky... and saw something blue and red rushing toward her.
A sudden, brilliant flare of hope sent her to her feet. An instant later, he stood in front of her, staring at her.
She stared back, frozen with shock.
He looked haggard and tired, but intact. He was clad in his costume, and his tattered red cape waved behind him in the breeze. She stared into his beloved face, joy and relief swelling inside her, and a thousand questions rose to her lips: Where have you been? Are you all right? What on earth happened? A thousand declarations rose as well: I missed you so much. I've been so worried. I was terrified I'd never see you again.
She choked back the words and stepped forward, wrapping her arms around him, telling him wordlessly how much she loved him. His arms came up, holding her tightly, and he buried his face in her hair.
All her questions, all her words of love and concern, faded away in the reality of his embrace, and she spoke the only words that needed to be said.
"I've been waiting for you," she whispered.