Futurefic oneshot, 2400 words
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Note: AU. Chloe was always a reporter, Lois worked for the Daily Planet but now lives in Star City with Ollie, and Clark never worked for the DP until now. Written for marikology.
But her story is far from over, Chloe Sullivan thinks as she walks back to the Daily Planet with a group of other reporters. They all just took her to lunch to celebrate her birthday. An enormous bunch of black balloons bob above them, the ribbons clutched in her hand.
She's thirty today, and despite the black balloons and the Over the Hill cake she just ate, her life is just getting under way. She won her first Pulitzer a few months ago. Her first, but not her last, if she has anything at all to say about it. She's just had another hard-hitting front page series published, this one about LexCorp's criminal exposure of workers to toxins. She's one of the best reporters in the city, and she knows it. And she's got friends, she thinks, looking at the group around her. Lots of good friends.
On some level, of course, she wishes her cousin Lois were still here. Once upon a time, her cousin Lois worked at the Planet too, but she'd married Oliver Queen a few years ago, and they'd gone off to Star City to live happily ever after. Now Lois is a mild-mannered reporter by day and a superhero (the Green Sparrow, the papers dubbed her, much to Chloe's amusement) by night. Chloe's happy for her. She loves Lois. Lois deserves a superhero of her very own.
She sighs, missing her own superhero.
She still thinks about him all the time. She can't help it. They'd been good friends, the best of friends, for ten years. And finally, five years ago, they'd cautiously embarked on a more serious relationship. But only a couple of weeks after they'd begun dating, things had gone terribly wrong.
A bridge had collapsed, and the Blur had saved thirty-five people. But it wasn't enough, according to the local media. Over a hundred more had died, and he'd been crucified in the newspapers, villified on the local news. In the worst tradition of local news, the media had played up all the people who'd died rather than those who'd been saved. She'd done her best to write sympathetic pieces in the paper, pointing out all the good he'd done, all the lives he'd saved, but she'd only been a junior reporter at that point, and no one paid much attention to her little articles.
He hadn't been able to bear the weight of the public condemnation on his broad shoulders, and he'd left his beloved farm behind, left her behind, and fled to Fawcett City.
She'd called him, sent him texts and emails and IMs, trying to get him to come back, but he'd been crushed by all those deaths, and wouldn't listen to reason. She'd even gone to see him, but he'd avoided her, and even all her reporter skills hadn't enabled her to track him down. She knew how he sometimes tumbled into pits of self-loathing, and imagined he hadn't wanted to listen to anything but the sound of his own guilt clamoring inside his head.
But she could only take so much rejection, even from him. Eventually she'd quit calling.
And still she hasn't forgotten him. Well, how can she? He's in the paper, every day. Articles come over the wire about him, and are dutifully reprinted in the Planet. She reads every one compulsively, reads about his good deeds, exults in everything her Boy Scout accomplishes.
He's not the Blur any more. He's Superman.
He's become a symbol of truth and justice, and the media's darling. She's so proud, and she wishes she could tell him so. But too much time has passed. She can't just pick up the phone, not now. Not when he's made it so clear that he isn't interested.
She sighs, because despite all the friends she has, despite a job she loves and a boss she respects... sometimes she feels alone.
As they near the Planet she hears a voice, far off on the crowded street. "Look! Up in the sky!"
A chill runs down her spine despite the spring warmth, and she looks up, but she doesn't see anything, only a hazy blue sky and the sun burning far overhead. She lowers her head and blinks hard, because her eyes are watering from the noon brilliance of the sun.
At least that's what she tells herself.
Back in the office, she's barely started in on her email when her editor Perry White approaches. "Ms. Sullivan," he says, "I'd like you to meet someone."
"Hmmmm," she says, barely glancing away from the computer. There's a dark-haired guy with glasses standing next to Perry. A bit on the hefty side. Looks like he might live in his mother's basement. "Hi."
"This is Chloe Sullivan," Perry says. "One of our best reporters. She's going to show you the ropes."
Wait a minute. What? She's a busy woman. She doesn't have time to break in newbies. Irritated, she looks up from the screen and glares at the guy. Shaggy dark hair, blue eyes behind the glasses, and an ill-fitting suit. He looks a little like an oversized Clark, she thinks with a pang, except Clark was never such a dork...
"And this," Perry says, "is Clark Kent."
Shock hits her between the eyes, all but knocking her from her chair, and slowly, very slowly, she rises to her feet. Now that Perry's said the name, she can see it's him. But there's something about him that makes it oddly hard to focus on him. The glasses, maybe? Whatever it is, it's effective. He's been her best friend since middle school, and he's the man she still loves, and she didn't even recognize him.
Clark smiles-- an oddly goofy grin, nothing like the happy bright smile she remembers-- and offers her his hand. He inadvertently knocks her coffee mug onto the floor, and the remnants of her coffee spill everywhere. She blinks, taken aback by his clumsiness, and he hangs his head and shuffles his feet, looking embarrassed.
"Sorry," he mutters. "I'm always doing things like that."
She's beginning to get it. Protective coloration. A man who can move in superspeed is incapable of being genuinely klutzy. But once he stopped being the Blur and allowed himself to be seen, then naturally he'd have to make sure no one could tie Superman to Clark Kent. Most of the superheroes she knows-- the Green Arrow, the Batman, Hawkman-- wear a mask to protect their identities. But everyone knows what Superman looks like.
Somehow, Clark Kent is the one wearing a mask.
"Nice to see you again," she says.
"Oh," Perry says. "You two have met?"
"Well, of course we've met. You--"
But a quick glance at Perry shows her that he doesn't remember Clark, not at all. He doesn't remember a day spent in Clark's company in Smallville. He doesn't remember Clark risking his own life to save him as he dangled at the end of a rope. He doesn't remember all those times Clark came to visit her at the Planet.
Interesting, she thinks, her reporter mind clicking rapidly. Is it the glasses, or... something else?
Regardless, she's not going to be the one to give the game away. She's guarded Clark's secret for years. She'll keep doing it till the day she dies.
"I guess not," she admits, looking straight at Clark. "I thought for a minute I recognized you, but I guess you just have that kind of face."
Another goofy grin unfurls. "Yeah," he says. "I guess I do."
"Anyway..." Perry is in a hurry. Perry is always in a hurry. "Clark here's been working for the Fawcett City Register for the past few years, and he's not bad, but he could use you to help him sharpen up his prose a bit. You two are going to be partners."
She's never before had a partner, and she wonders how Clark managed that, exactly. She sighs, because that's what Perry expects, and rolls her eyes.
"I work alone," she protests. "Always have. I'm your best reporter, Perry. Find someone else to babysit. I don't have time to teach him how to punctuate."
"Find time, Sullivan." Perry turns and walks away. "Oh, he says, turning back as if something has just occurred to him, "by the way, happy birthday. I almost forgot."
She finds that unlikely, since the black balloons are looming over her desk like a storm cloud. "Thanks," she says.
"Why don't you take the afternoon off?"
She blinks at him. "Seriously?"
He breaks out in raucous laughter, amused by the success of his own joke. "Hell, no. Get back to work, Sullivan."
She doesn't grin until his back is turned. Then she allows herself a chuckle, and sits back down at her desk. The tall stranger-who-isn't sits down at the desk across from hers.
"What are you doing here, Superman?" she hisses. "And why doesn't Perry remember you?"
He shrugs one big shoulder-- and now that she can properly see him, she can see he's not hefty beneath the suit, but solid muscle and bone. He's a big, strong guy, and about as far from dorky as it's possible for a man to be. He doesn't seem surprised that she knows his superhero identity. "I decided it was time for me to quit running," he says softly. She notices he isn't addressing the other question, and decides to let it go for now. "Fawcett City doesn't need me. It's got Captain Marvel. It's protected. But Metropolis... Metropolis needs me, Chloe."
She looks at him, and the truth spills out. "I need you too."
She wishes she could take the words back the minute they're uttered, but he doesn't look embarrassed or dismayed by them. His eyes-- still a vivid green behind the glasses, not the blue she thought she saw at first-- shine with hope.
"Yeah," he says softly. "That's why I came back, Chlo. If I'm going to be really honest about it, that's why I came back. Not because I missed Metropolis. But because I missed you."
"You're the one who left in the first place," she points out.
He sighs, and papers in her inbox flutter to the floor. She bends to retrieve them, and when she sits up he's watching her alertly. She can see his heart in her eyes, and it makes her own heart ache.
"I was scared," he admits. "I was upset. I let all those people die..."
"You saved as many as you could. The rest of them-- it wasn't your fault they died, Clark. You're fast, but you're not instantaneous. Even you can't always save everyone."
"I know that. I know it now. I even knew it then. It just... it felt like my fault, Chlo. It hurt enough to blame myself, but then when the media started blaming me too..." Another sigh, another gust of wind. If he really wants to conceal his identity, she thinks, he's going to have to learn not to do that.
"I understand," she says. "But why wouldn't you talk to me about it?"
He lowers his head, looking ashamed. "I wanted to start over," he says. "I got rid of the Blur and created an entirely new identity. I was trying to start totally fresh." He shrugs. "I guess it was just habit, Chlo. You know how I always used to hide up in the loft when things got tough? I guess Fawcett City was just another barn for me to hide in."
"You should have let me in," she says softly.
"I know. I was stupid to shut you out. Really, really stupid. I know that now." He takes a deep breath, and meets her gaze. His own gaze is filled with contrition and sorrow. "I'm sorry, Chlo. Really, really sorry."
She understands. She'd understood then. She'd seen the hurt in his eyes, seen the weight on his shoulders. It had been his first major failure as a superhero, and he just hadn't known how to cope.
She wishes he'd let her in to help, but it's very like Clark that he'd try to deal with it on his own.
"And now you're starting fresh again," she says.
"Not entirely." He gives her a little smile, nothing like his artificially geeky grin. "I'm keeping the identity this time. I'm never giving that up, Chlo. Never. I'm going to be Superman till the day I die."
She glances around, a little nervously, but none of her colleagues are listening. It's almost as if none of them can hear him talking. Interesting. Another effect of the glasses, maybe? She's going to have to find out how those glasses work, just for the sake of her own curiosity.
"Annnnnd," he says, a little more shyly, "I'd sort of like to go back to being friends with you, too."
He stammers, not like the geek he's pretending to be, but in the same way her farmboy always stammered when he had to deal with women and emotions. "Um," he says. "Well, I thought... I mean, it's been five years... I was a little worried that... well, that there might be someone else..."
"There's no one else," she says softly. "Not for me. What about you?"
"No," he says, very firmly. "No one else."
"Well, then." She leans back in her chair and smiles at him. "Not just friends, then."
He grins back at her, and she can see the farmboy she knew so clearly now. He's a little older, and so is she, but he's still young, with all that potential in front of him. And so is she. And so is their relationship.
"I've missed you," he says softly. "I've missed you an awful lot."
"And since it's your birthday... I was wondering if maybe you'd like to go out for dinner."
She laughs. "My, my. You are a newbie, aren't you? You think we get to have dinner here? You think we get to have lives here?"
Sure enough, as if on cue, Perry steps out of his office.
"Sullivan! Kent!" he bellows. "Big metal robots down on Church Street! Well, move it! What are you sitting around twiddling your thumbs for? Get your asses in gear and get me that story!"
"Come on," she says, and they're running for the stairs, side by side. She's missed this an awful lot, missed working with him, missed helping him save people, missed having him beside her. She has a good life, a great life, but seeing him again makes it even better. Having him here is a birthday present she never expected. It's the best birthday present she could have asked for.
Thirty, she thinks again, isn't the end.
It's just the beginning.