She was wearing lipstick again.
All the time she was with, or almost, with Clark Kent, she didn't wear it. It was her silent secret sign of hope, of kisses expected, ones she didn't want remembered as sloppy or strange or leaving behind embarrassing traces.
Her lips were bare when she thought she might have Clark, have him to hold and to kiss, but no longer.
She was wearing lipstick again.
A wine color for the fall, deep and purple dark. Pink was for the summer; shimmer in the sunlight you could glean from the bright green fields. Pink and green go together nicely, but Clark, he left her in the spring when she had no idea of what to wear, except for the dullest pink, the white-muted burgundy to match a dress she didn't really like all that much.
She wore it for him, and so it had its immeasurable value.
But Clark didn't care. He ran away during the dance and Pete watched as he left, knowing even less than he knew afterwards.
For all their lives, Clark moved ever so slowly in conversation, far too fast via unexpected means and Pete knew him by then, in ways he really hadn't wanted to.
Too late. Knowledge was the one thing you could never return -- that was ignorance's great advantage. Pete knew Clark's fearful secret, Clark knew that Pete knew and Chloe had stood alone in the middle of the dance floor at the Spring Formal, confused, the happy blush fading from her cheeks in pale waves of white.
She stayed pale for a long time after that.
Pete noticed, Clark didn't. He grew snappish while Pete grew reflective and Chloe stood grasping at the edge, still not understanding. She was uncertain of everything, not knowing who or what to trust -- except she only let Pete drive her places from that night onward, after he'd driven her home.
Sometimes to school, to the mall ... to the dam where she stood, leaning over the railing, bent in half at the waist, open-mouthed and breathing hard into the crashing water below.
"How far down is this?" she'd ask, her feet lifting the tiniest bit from the cement, dangling in the thin space of air. "How far to the bottom?"
"Too far," Pete replied, yanking her back to Earth by the worn pocket of her jeans.
"Oh, Pete. Don't be silly," she laughed. "I'm not going anywhere."
He wondered about that, but said nothing. "Let's get some coffee. Or maybe we can look into that abandoned farm on the edge of town. It's been glowing green every night, Chloe."
"Everything glows at the world's edge," she replied and turned quickly to smile at him, her light hair waving in the flowing water's breeze. "Let's go to my house instead. My dad's not home. He's at some convention Lex Luthor sent him to." She laughed loudly. "Dad used to call him Lionel's Little Boy. Now ... well, now it's who's your daddy for my dad. You know?"
"Yeah, I know." Bitterly, and Pete thought about his uncles, his family's land and the name Ross; a legacy that fought its way from the forge to the open air, then back to the forge again.
Chloe's smile faded. "I'm sorry, Pete."
Blue eyes, sad, and he shrugged with a smile. "Is the freezer stocked? That's all I need to know."
"Of course," she replied gamely. "We even have Foxy Pops. Red, purple, green, orange ..."
"And blue?" he asked excitedly. They both laughed at the old joke. "We have to have blue, Chloe. Otherwise I can't chase you around with Scary Tongue."
Chloe whirled, smacking her handbag into Pete's arm. Hard. "Your tongue was never that scary, Pete."
"You never really met my tongue," he said, chasing her to the car with outstretched arms and grasping fingers that stayed exactly one inch behind her shrieking, fleeing form.
Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was his imagination, but Pete could have sworn she wasn't running very hard -- or very fast -- at all.
The Sullivan house was empty and Pete made himself at home. He reached into the freezer, knowing every corner, even the one where the treats were hidden and pulled out two frozen pops.
A green one for Chloe, in honor of her love of the meteors and a blue one for Pete, just because he liked the way his mouth looked afterwards. Blue tongue, blue teeth, brown eyes. He was fierce, or so the eternal eight-year-old inside of him insisted still.
Clark had always taken a red one and never looked any different for it, not even when they all compared their smiles in the mirror afterwards. Clark's teeth were always white, his tongue a respectable shade of pink and Pete remembered his sad sighs as he peered in the glass, hoping against hope things might be changed, if only for a moment.
Pete didn't understand it then. He understood it now.
It still wasn't his problem.
Because Chloe was dragging the pop over her tongue and they were no longer eight years old and Pete felt the plastic wrapper grow wet in his clenching fist as he watched her.
"God, this is sweet," she exclaimed, but didn't stop licking.
Tiny pink tip of a tongue against the colored ice, wriggling back and forth and the long package broke in half in Pete's hard grip. He stared at it, then at Chloe, wondering what the hell he was doing standing in some girl's house with a baby treat in his hand when Chloe slid up to him and offered him a bite of hers.
There was no mistaking the offer in her eyes.
"Try this," she said. "You never had this flavor before, have you?"
"No." He swallowed before putting his tongue out, just past the edge of his lips. He didn't expect anything other than ice, anything more than the cold sugar of frozen candy, but what he got was something else entirely.
It was warm, soft and sweeter than anything he'd ever tasted before.
Chloe's lips against his, tasting and taking, wanting of their own accord and it took a moment to register before Pete could finally let her tongue inside his mouth. He stiffened, only to make sure he wasn't dreaming, and Chloe, bless her brave heart, didn't balk ... didn't back away and apologize for them both.
She wanted what she wanted and she took it, even if she had to put herself on the line.
Crazy, courageous soul.
Pete wanted to laugh in her mouth -- if only from joy -- but he retained his composure and instead took her by the shoulders, to let her know that this was exactly what he would have wished for -- what he would have done himself if he'd had half her fearless soul.
Gentle then, gentle even if his body began to make desperate motions for attention. There was time enough, at least for him and Chloe. He'd waited long enough, certainly and soon there was a strange taste of cinnamon on his tongue.
A gasp for air, they pulled apart and Chloe giggled.
She swiped at his lips with her thumb. "Sorry. You're all full of lipstick," she whispered. She nuzzled his nose with hers. "But it looks cute. Cuter than blue sugar."
"Then let's have some more," he breathed, and she complied eagerly.
He refused to lead her anywhere. Not to the couch, not (God forbid!) to the bedroom, instead letting her pull him along to the old armchair that had sat unused for as long as Pete could possibly remember.
Something about her mother leaving and the chair not being able to fit through the door on a moment's notice, but it was there they ended up: Pete on her lap, wrapped in her arms, her hands on the side of his face, guiding his kisses to Chloe's exact specifications.
That was all fine with him.
Pete pulled away for air once, cursing his need, and took a second to look at Chloe's face, suddenly bare and open in the afternoon light.
She looked dazed, young and eager ... and her lips, they were bare, the lipstick gone. Pink skin, pretty and soft, and Pete had to kiss her again, feeling awkward in her lap, but she seemed to enjoy the control, the feeling of him in her arms and he had no arguments with that.
Not like Clark once had.
Chloe pulled him down harder, her soft breasts against his chest, her hands wandering under his shirt and Pete didn't want to think about Clark anymore. He shifted his weight experimentally away from her lap -- only to make her more comfortable -- but she pulled him back with a growl and he succumbed gladly.
Glad even when she pushed him down to the carpet and straddled him, trapping him between slim, jean-covered legs and Pete had to remember how to breathe, even when she took off his shirt and unbuttoned his pants to take his erection in her hand, soothing it sweetly within her palm.
Nice even strokes and Pete took his hands away from her waist, letting her have her way, even when she rubbed a bit too roughly ... her fingers too tight over skin that was more sensitive than it looked.
It was still good. More importantly, it was Chloe and that was better than good. She leaned down to kiss him again, whispered that it was all right, that he should come now if he wanted to, and that this was all so much fun and please, come on, come for me now, Pete ...
He obeyed, soundlessly, his eyes screwed tightly shut.
She drew back with a pleased sound. He opened one eye and she glowed at him, tickling him with little scratches of her fingers under his arms. "I love you, Pete," she proclaimed happily. "So much."
"I love you too, Chloe," he said. He squirmed under her mischievous touch. "So much." He howled with laughter when her hands moved down to his waist. "No!" he cried, trying to get away in earnest. Well, maybe not in earnest, but he tried to put up the good fight anyway.
Chloe was unmoved. "The itsy bitsy spider," she sang, wiggling her fingertips over his stomach. "Climbed up the Petey spout ..."
"Chloe ..." he begged. "Come on."
"Down came the rain, and washed the spider out."
"Out came the sun and dried up all the rain."
"Ow! Okay, I'm serious now ..."
"And the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again."
They ended up at that Talon that night, holding hands as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Pete got up to get Chloe her coffee and Lana served it to him with a thin, secret smile. He hoped the two girls would talk later, hoped Chloe would tell Lana all about the new man she had -- the one who was going to give her the world, just as soon as he brought her the latte she wanted first.
Clark came in later. It took him a while to notice the sea change between the three of them and when he did, he looked exactly the opposite of pleased.
He looked angry as a matter of fact, and Pete wasn't sure if Clark was upset over his loss of control over Chloe, or the new factor in Pete's life in regard to Clark's terrible, awesome secret.
In return, Pete wasn't sure if he cared.
"I heard about some three-legged hens at the Giordiano coop," Chloe said, between sips of her latte and squeezes of Pete's fingers. "There was a meteor strike there, less than half a mile away."
Clark shrugged. "Maybe they come from a long line of three-legged chickens."
Pete picked up a napkin. Handed it to Chloe, before tenderly brushing her foam-speckled cheek with his knuckle. "Clark's right, Chlo. Maybe they're a victim of environmental poisoning. Didn't LuthorCorp buy the land next door during their big takeover?"
Chloe tilted her head fetchingly into Pete's touch. "They might have," she said airily. "I'll have to check."
"We'll check it together," Pete said quickly, cutting off Clark's acidic response. "Come on, Chloe. Let's blow this joint and catch us some mutants."
Her laughter pealed like a bell over the dull din of the shop. "But they have three legs, Pete."
"So what?" He looked pointedly at Clark. "It's not about how fast you go, but when you make your move that counts. Right, Clark?"
Deep hazel eyes met his. "Right, Pete."
"Good enough," he said, taking Chloe's laptop case and slinging it over his shoulder. "So let's get a move on, Holmes."
"After you, Watson," she said, without a backward glance.
They didn't make it to the coop that night, instead ending up in Chloe's room, sneaking past Lana's door, which was cracked open and they tried not to laugh too much when they heard Lana singing in the shower, even if her voice wasn't all that bad.
Pete snuck out sometime after midnight and the next day in school, he noticed that Chloe was looking rosy and bright, without any makeup and when she stuck her tongue out at him, he gave in to the urge to tug on it with his own, nibbling at its tip and together, they walked arm in arm to the lunchroom, the days ahead brighter than all the false promises, secrets and make believe colors in the world.
She wasn't wearing lipstick anymore.
He'd try to make sure she wouldn't feel like wearing it again.
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