Clark/Chloe, some Clark/Lois, Chloe/Ollie, and Lois/Ollie
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
The music is "Find Yourself," by Brad Paisley.
When you find yourself
In some far off place
And it causes you to rethink some things
You start to sense that slowly
You're becoming someone else
And then you find yourself
"This..." Clark Kent raised his voice as he tugged impatiently at his long black leather coat. "... just isn't right."
"I do not understand what you mean, Kal-El" the Fortress intoned, its somber English tones coming from somewhere far over his head. "You have been wearing this costume for almost a year now."
"Yeah, and at first I thought it was right, but I've started to figure out it's not. I just..." Clark dropped his hands away from the lapels and started to stalk restlessly across the icy floor. "It's kind of hard to explain. It's just not me."
"In what way?"
Clark blew out an irritated breath. "Some of the things the newspapers have been saying about me... they're calling me a vigilante, Father. Even... a terrorist. In these clothes... I scare people."
"Are you certain it is the clothes that are to blame?"
Clark stopped his stalking and lowered his head. "No," he whispered. "Not entirely. Some of it is the things I've done. The way I've gone about being a hero-- it isn't right, Father. I've screwed this up pretty badly."
"You have saved many people, Kal-El."
"Yes. And that's something to be grateful for. At least that much, I've done right. But some of the other things I've done, like... like knocking down those towers with my heat vision. I frightened everyone."
"You made certain no one was in danger."
"But they didn't know that." Clark looked down at his dark clothing, frowning. "This isn't me, Jor-El. This isn't what my parents-- my adoptive parents-- wanted me to be. It's like I've become someone else, and I really don't like the person I'm becoming." He sighed again, seeing his breath puffing white in the Arctic chill. "If I'm really going to be the city's hero, I can't ever terrorize the people of Metropolis. I want them to look at me and see hope, not fear."
The AI did not respond. Clark considered the matter a moment longer, then stripped off the long ebony coat and threw it to the floor.
There was a long silence. At last the Fortress spoke.
"You are certain about this, my son?"
"I'm certain," Clark answered. "I've let myself give into anger too many times. I've let myself frighten people. Even threaten people. That isn't how heroes are supposed to behave. That isn't who I am-- or at least, it isn't who I want to be."
"Do you intend to do away with your costume entirely?"
"Not exactly. I still want to wear this symbol..." Clark tapped the S sigil on his chest. "But not quite this way. I've made mistakes, Father. I want to start over, and do better this time."
There was another long silence. At last the Fortress' voice echoed through the vast chamber, its tone warmer than Clark had ever heard it.
"Well done, my son," it said. "You have passed your first great test."
Clark blinked up into the shadowy ice above. "Test?"
"Humans have an old saying about power."
"Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely?"
"Precisely. Once you accepted your full powers, once you accepted your destiny, there was a danger that you might embrace your darker side. Lurking within you is a certain ruthlessness, a certain lack of care for humans and their fragility. We have both seen this side released by the influence of red kryptonite, and we both know it still lives inside you... and that sometimes it is closer to the surface than it should be."
Clark lowered his head and said nothing. Jor-El went on.
"I have watched you this past year, and worried, but I dared not intervene. I had to know if you could be tempted into using your powers to harm, to intimidate, to terrorize."
"And I was," Clark said softly.
"You were, although never as seriously as I feared. At least you did no real harm to anyone. And you have turned away from the wrong path, recognized your errors, all on your own. I am glad, my son. Several times this past year I have worried that you would embrace the darkness inside you. It relieves me to know that you have repented of your too-violent actions. But in order to turn away from violence and terrorism entirely, you must find a way to deal with your anger."
"I'm not angry anymore, Jor-El. I'm over it."
"My son..." The AI sounded mildly exasperated, as if Clark were a wayward teenager who'd swiped the car keys. "We both know that many of your wrong actions this year have stemmed from anger and loneliness-- an anger that is too deep to simply ignore. You cannot 'get over it' without facing the problem head-on. Even a hero cannot walk his path alone, Kal-El."
"I'm not alone. I have Lois."
"And yet you are still angry."
"If you're talking about Chloe--" Clark crossed his arms defensively. "Yeah, we were once really good friends." And something more, something we never really got to explore. "But those days are over. She's made it clear I don't matter that much to her any more."
"Then you must either find a way to deal with your remaining anger... or find a way to bring her back into your life. An angry superman is a great danger to the world, Kal-El. Surely by now, you realize that. You must find some sort of resolution for this matter."
"Fine," Clark bit out. "I'll see what I can do."
"That is all I can ask."
Clark changed the subject deliberately, gesturing toward the dark leather on the floor. "What about the suit? Do you mind if I trade it in on something a little brighter?"
"Of course not, Kal-El. I never intended you to wear this costume for long. I did not send you to this world to be a symbol of darkness. On the contrary..." The AI's voice echoed in the chamber, solemn and profound. "I hope that you will become a symbol of light."
When you make new friends in a brand new town
And you start to think about settlin' down
The things that would have been lost on you
Are now clear as a bell
And you find yourself
Yeah, that's when you find yourself
"So this is your new apartment." Chloe Sullivan turned around, looking at the tiny space dubiously. "Well. It's..."
"Larger than a shoebox," Clark finished. "And that's about the best that can be said for it. I know."
She nodded, and a rueful smile touched her mouth. It was, he thought, only a pale shadow of the happy smiles she'd once flashed on a regular basis. "I figured you'd get around to moving to Metropolis eventually."
"Well, my mom rented out the farm, you know. I think that was her way of kicking me out of the nest." He started digging his belongings out of a box. A man couldn't be expected to live without his iPod, after all. "Anyway, my friends all live here now."
He glanced up, startled by the slight edge of bitterness he thought he heard in her tone. He remembered his conversation with Jor-El a couple of weeks earlier, and wondered if Chloe was carrying around some residual anger from their broken friendship, too. She'd seemed so indifferent to him, so wrapped up in her fling with Ollie, that he'd assumed she no longer gave a damn about him.
Maybe he'd been wrong.
"And Lois," he agreed. He and Lois had been dating for about six months. He was really quite fond of her, although deep down he suspected it was because she reminded him of another reporter he'd known, once upon a time.
That reporter had lost her way.
Clark knew how that felt.
He glanced at Chloe now, only three feet away, but so distant emotionally that she might as well be on another planet. There was so much standing between them now, anger and attachments to other people and a chilly reserve that neither of them could seem to break through. But once upon a time, she'd been his very best friend. And Jor-El was right. Losing his friend-- his support, his rock, his foundation-- had made him angry with the world.
He of all people couldn't afford to be carrying anger around.
Desperate to bridge the distance between them somehow, he dug into the box and found an old issue of the Torch, the high school newspaper he and Chloe had worked on . "Hey, look," he said, handing it to her. "It's that article we wrote together about that kid who could shapeshift. Remember? He was breaking into lockers by flattening himself to the width of a sheet of paper."
She took the yellowed newspaper and looked at it with a half-smile. "I remember," she said softly.
He straightened up and looked down at her. "We worked great together, Chlo."
She seemed oblivious to his hesitantly offered olive branch. Her nose wrinkled as she perused the article. "I don't know, Clark. This is pretty juvenile. The first paragraph really sucks."
He couldn't help laughing. After all these years, she was still an editor at heart. He took it gently out of her hands and looked down at it reminiscently. "Those were great days, Chloe."
"They were," she agreed. "But they're gone now."
She stared up into his eyes for a long moment, her hazel eyes wide with surprise, then looked away. "Of course they are," she answered, her voice curter than before. "I'm never going back to journalism, Clark. I have another path now."
She didn't say the rest, but he heard it: I'll never be your best friend again. I have another path now.
He remembered what Jor-El had said to him two weeks before, and persisted. "Are you sure it's the right path?"
She stiffened, as if his intrusion into the icy space between them alarmed her. "Of course I'm sure."
"Okay," he said gently, because the last thing he wanted was to piss her off. She, like Lois, would jump on him if she got annoyed. In many ways, Lois reminded him of Chloe, which was, he thought, probably why he and Lois had started dating in the first place. There'd been a void in his life, an emptiness caused by the distance that had developed between him and Chloe, and he'd tried to fill it with Lois. Lois was Chloe's cousin, and a reporter, and on the surface they were a lot alike.
But for the first time he realized how foolish it was to try to replace one girl with another, as if people were interchangeable. A void left by Chloe's absence couldn't be filled by anyone else. It was as futile as trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. Chloe was Chloe, and no matter what path she walked, she'd always be one of the most important people in the world to him.
And anyway, he hoped that someday she'd come back to the path she belonged on. Journalism... and friendship with him. Things might never be exactly the same as they'd been, but he thought he could live with that. What he couldn't live with was this cold distance between them.
"Want to help me with this box?" he said, deliberately changing the topic.
She looked at him, and in the golden depths of her eyes he saw an echo of their long friendship, undimmed by time and the distance that had grown up between them. He found that brief glimpse reassuring. Some things, he thought, never changed, no matter how much you tried to change them. Some things couldn't change, not really, and he very much wanted to believe his friendship with Chloe was one of them.
"Sure," she answered. "I'll help you."
She came around to his side-- right where she belongs, he thought-- and began helping him unpack.
Where you go through life
So sure of where you’re headin'
And you wind up lost and it's
The best thing that could have happened
‘Cause sometimes when you lose your way it's really just as well
Because you find yourself
Yeah that’s when you find yourself
"I didn't mean to write this." Sitting in his apartment a few months later, Chloe passed him a sheaf of paper, chewing on her lip and looking adorably confused. "It just kind of happened."
Clark glanced through the neatly printed sheets. He was grateful that she'd brought this to him. It was, he thought, another sign that their formerly shattered friendship was struggling back onto more solid ground. "Whoa," he said. "This looks like an expose on LexCorp's new Phoenix project."
"Yeah. It is." She swallowed. "Ever since Lex came back, I've been wondering what he's up to. Eventually I started snooping around. I couldn't help it, Clark. I had to know."
He could barely restrain a snort of amusement, because that was the Chloe he remembered, before she'd lost her way. "Every reporter in Metropolis has been after this story, Chlo. Even I haven't been able to figure out what Lex was up to, thanks to the fact that he hides everything behind lead walls and Kryptonite shields nowadays. But this..." He finished speed-reading the article, then looked up. "You have documentation for all this?"
"Hello? Have we met?"
He laughed. "Of course you do. Chlo... this is huge. This is going to totally make your career."
"Whoa there, cowboy. I don't have a career. At least not in journalism."
He handed her back the sheaf of paper, gazing into her eyes.
"Give this to Perry White," he told her seriously, "and I can guarantee you will."
When you meet the one
That you've been waitin' for
And she's everything that you want and more
You look at her and you finally start to live for some one else
And then you find yourself
That’s when you find yourself
As he'd begun to realize he was using Lois as a substitute for someone he couldn't have, the relationship between him and Lois had kind of petered out. They'd always be good friends, but that was really all they had. Lois was a great girl, but there could never be as much depth between the two of them as there had been between him and Chloe.
He didn't like to be the kind of guy who'd use a woman to ease his loneliness. And although he knew Lois had had real feelings for him, he also had a strong suspicion she'd been using him as a substitute, too. They'd used each other, without really meaning to.
One night the two of them had finally admitted that things weren't just working out between them. No tears, no recriminations... just two people facing the truth that they weren't meant for one another.
He'd kissed Lois goodbye, very gently, and said simply, "Tell Ollie I sent you."
She'd looked at him, her eyes huge and oddly vulnerable. "Ollie and I... but Ollie and Chloe are... well, it's too late, Clark."
"I don't think so," he'd answered. "For some things, it's never too late."
And he'd been right.
His own words came back to him as someone sat down at the desk next to him. Tired of what she termed "this long-distance crap" with Ollie, and tired of being stuck in the Planet's basement, Lois had accepted a better job at the Star City Journal, near Ollie's permanent residence. The desk next to him had sat empty for a couple of weeks, although he'd gotten about fifty chatty emails from Lois, who seemed to be very happy with her new job and her new boyfriend.
But the desk next to him finally had an occupant. At last, he had a new partner. The partner he'd always been waiting for, deep down. He grinned at her, and Chloe looked over at him and smiled, the old, bright smile he remembered from high school. In her eyes, he saw genuine friendship-- not just echoes of the past, but a reflection of the friendship they'd finally put back together.
"Hi," she said.
He smiled back at her, knowing his feelings for her were reflected in his own eyes.
"Hi," he answered.
When we go through life
So sure of where we're headin'
And we wind up lost and it's
The best thing that could have happened
‘Cause sometimes when you lose your way it's really just as well
Because you find yourself
Yeah that's when you find yourself
He flew past the Daily Planet's glittering golden globe. It was weird, but once he'd cast off that black coat, and all the darkness that went with it, he'd found himself slowly learning to fly. Or maybe the flying had more to do with Chloe's re-entrance into his life. Maybe Jor-El had been right, and all that suppressed anger and loneliness had been weighing him down. He wasn't sure, and tried not to overanalyze it too much.
All he knew was that he'd been lost for a while. But now, finally, he knew exactly who he was and where he wanted to go... and who he wanted to be with.
He glanced into the Art Deco building as he flew past, seeing Chloe typing away, her eyes intent on the screen, her fingers flying over the keyboard. Chloe, he thought, had finally figured out who she was, too. They were both back on the paths they'd always been meant to walk.
And they were walking those paths together, as partners... and maybe a little bit more. He wondered if he'd ever have gotten to this point if he hadn't gotten lost a little along the way. Maybe sometimes a guy needed to take a wrong turn. Maybe, he thought, it was the only way to be certain of the right path.
But what mattered was that in spite of his mistakes along the way, he'd finally found himself, and he was grateful for that.
He flew once around the globe, then headed off to patrol Metropolis, his red cape fluttering behind him, his yellow sigil shining brightly in the morning sunshine.