by Fen

"Tell me a story mommy." She opened the window letting the curtain flutter against her shoulder and turned to where her son was tucked in bed.

"What story do you want to hear love?"

"About the princess and her protector," The little boys' eyes danced like blue flames and the sweet ache that she felt whenever he requested this particular story tightened in her chest. "Tell me about the storm." Chloe slipped under the covers and snuggled her son against her as she began the familiar story.

"The people of the evil wizards' kingdom were throwing a ball to celebrate spring and the princess wanted to go so badly she begged the king to let her. He insisted that if she was going to go she had to take her protector with her."

"But she didn't mind right mommy? Because she loved him."

"Right," a sad far away look crept into her eyes as she continued the familiar tale. "The princess loved her protector so much it was like a living thing. When he asked her to accompany him to the ball she thought everything would be perfect, but the evil wizard sent a horrible storm to ruin the party."

"And the damsel." Her son prompted in a half asleep voice.

"And the damsel, because he knew that there was one thing a true protector couldn't resist and that was the damsel in distress. The protector rescued the damsel but when he returned to the ball the princess had disappeared snatched by another of the evil wizard's henchmen..." The solid weight of the boy alerted her that he was asleep and she rose kissing his cheek as the familiar surge of pain rocked her. Someday she thought she'd tell him the real story, the fear that her son would hate her clamped around her heart as she thought of the betrayal she'd been a part of. How the man she called the evil wizard had tried to destroy the lives of so many people she had loved, and how she'd helped him, the name Luthor still made her stomach clench and bile rise in her throat.

The cool night air brushed over her bare arms and she shivered as memories crept up on her like they always did when the boy requested a story about the princess and her protector. Briskly she began picking up the toys and papers that were amongst the clutter of her apartment pushing old day dreams firmly back into their place in the past, back before the deal with Lionel Luthor that nearly destroyed her, back before the night she'd thought she'd been forgiven by the man she'd betrayed.

She slipped a very carefully drawn picture from the pile of papers the preschool had sent home and tacked it up over her desk the childish scribble was obviously meant to be Superman. She sighed aware that she was probably one of the few people in Metropolis that didn't think of him as a hero, truth be told she thought of him as little as possible.

Early though it was exhaustion caught up with her and she wandered toward bed turning off lights and locking doors as she went. Kicking her worn sweatpants off as she entered her room, not bothering to flip on a light as she brushed her teeth.

"Chloe." His voice was deeper than she remembered; rough with some emotion that she couldn't read even when she turned to where he stood just inside the open bedroom window.

"Superman." She thought about trying to cover herself and bit back an almost hysterical laugh at the absurdity of that thought considering he could see through her clothes if he wanted to. Instead she pulled herself up to her full height and played the game they had been playing for as many years as she could remember. "I don't suppose you're here for an interview."

"You should have told me." He's eyes were dark, angry and she shivered, afraid of him another remnant of her time in service to the Luthor's. The need to explain rose in her throat, for Lionel, for lying to him but all that came out were the words he'd come to hear. The apology that she had told herself she'd never give when so many other things had never been apologized for.

"Probably; at first it hurt too much when you didn't come back. I was so confused, then I saw the story. By the time I figured it all out it was too late."

"The kryptonite," he nodded less angry now, sadness crinkling his eyes. "I did a lot of things I..."

"Don't say regret." She snapped suddenly in an angry whisper. "And don't apologize for treating me like I was less than dirt. You knew what you'd done, you remembered every second..." her voice caught and she turned away unwilling to let him see her cry trying to hold on to the anger she'd held for years frustrated that it disappeared merely at the sight of him. "The Planet was full of the story, so was the Star. All about how Superman had publicly apologized for his behavior. They praised how he'd made personal visits to some who he'd hurt directly with his conduct, like Lana Lang long time friend of Clark Kent." She paused and turned to face him again.

"I'm sor..." she cut him off not wanting to hear the words, afraid they'd break her resolve.

"You know I actually wondered if you'd come but you didn't and now it's too late." She laughed. "People call you a hero, Superman protector of the weak but you're a coward Clark Kent. You always have been. A coward and a liar. Makes us perfect for each other I suppose, since I'm just as much a liar as you are." She walked out of the room heading with unerring accuracy in the dark for the kitchen and something that would burn the pain in her chest away. He stopped her as she reached for a glass, pried the bottle from her shaking fingers.

"I did remember." His voice was barely a whisper and she had to strain to hear it even though he stood right behind her, the heat of his body burned into her memory as it blazed along her spine. "I remembered how freely you came to me, how you felt in my arms..." he trailed off running his hands down her arms and pulling her back against him his fingers at her bare hips. Chloe shivered feeling her skin tighten as she remembered along with him. "I remembered that you tasted like honey and cinnamon, that you brought me to my knees with the sheer force of how much you loved me. You humbled me with it. I couldn't come back, knowing how it felt to be loved by you, knowing you were in pain because of me. Knowing I wouldn't be able to stay." He turned her so she rested against the counter and brushed a stray lock of hair from her forehead letting his hands linger on her shoulders.

For a moment that seemed to last forever they just watched each other, remembered without moving. Memories of the past tumbled between them, angry words, betrayal, anger and passion. Remembered fire flared between them, the oblivion that they'd only found in each other beckoning from the silent reminiscences.

Unable to stop herself Chloe brushed her fingers over his lips; just as soft as she remembered and with a muffled groan he brought his mouth down to cover hers. The kiss was scorching, frantic as though the memory of their one night together had started a conflagration neither of them could control. With some effort he pulled away, tucking her against his chest.

"I'm getting married."

"I know," she said. "The Planet ran the story, `Lane and Kent: Partners at Last'. Do you love her?"

"Yes. She," he hesitated. "She doesn't know. About Superman, I have to tell her but I'm afraid what happened with Lex..."

"If she loves you she won't turn her back on you." Chloe looked up at him. "I understood. Lana. Pete. What happened with Lex wasn't your fault."

"But this is." He stepped away from her and she wrapped her arms around her waist suddenly cold. "I have a son."

"Yes. You do."

"What's his name?" he was looking down the hall toward where her son's night light glowed.

"Shay, it means gift." She approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder not wanting to add to his burden of guilt. "Whatever pain you think you caused me, you gave something too."

"What did you tell him? About me I mean?"

"That you loved him, but you had to go away." Clark nodded silently walking over to the large picture window in the living room and Chloe's heart contracted expecting him to leave her again.

"The prince and her protector," he scoffed at himself. "I never did a very good job of protecting you did I?"

"Of course you did. Have you forgotten how many times you saved me from being buried alive, frozen, torn to shreds or otherwise made dead?" She put a hand on his shoulder and he flinched making her retreat to the other side of the room.

"But I hurt you worse than any of them didn't I?" She wasn't sure what to say, she wanted to lie like she had for all those years every time she'd smiled instead of cried and in the end she couldn't be anything less than honest.

"Lionel was worse. You may have trampled my heart, and my pride but I knew it was never done with any malice. He ripped apart my soul and reveled in every piece he tore from me." Clark laughed bitterly.

"I never wanted to be on the same list as Lionel Luthor. God Chloe, you have no idea how sorry I am." They stood in silence the pain, guilt, anger of years of fake smiles and conciliatory lies wrapping them in a tangle of emotion that they'd never been able to escape. "I still remember that night. I think I loved you, for allowing me that honesty, the freedom to possess, it took every ounce of strength I had not to come back to you. But I couldn't."

"Because you didn't want to hurt Lois," Chloe said quietly and he looked up at her startled the truth of her words shining in his eyes. "Tell her." Chloe's voice broke. "Tell her who you are before you marry her. Tell her about the past or you'll never have a future."

"What about you, Shay, now that I know..." She stopped him.

"You needed me for one night, because I knew, because your anger at me was worse than your guilt. Because I was a part of the thing you hated about yourself. I know the secrets and the lies and I still wanted you." He stepped forward as if to protest but she continued. "I know you loved me, I felt it and there was a part of me that thought it could last but it wasn't as strong as the part that knew that you're meant for greater things than..." the tears started and she couldn't hold them back her words stuttering to a halt, he wrapped his arms around her again and she let herself be held.

"You deserve better than me."

"I got better, I have your son."

"Can I visit him? Not... not as his father but as a friend until he's old enough to understand?"

"Yes." She answered without thinking, looking up at his face turned toward their child's room knowing instinctively he was looking at the boy through the walls that separated them. For an instant she felt jealous then it hit her.

She stepped away from him her hands shaking as something Jonathan Kent had said to her once came flooding back. `My son is meant for great things, greater than I ever dreamed. Greater than I even understand. We're a lot alike, someday you'll know.' She wanted to push him away suddenly, forbid him from seeing her son but a greater part of her had already accepted what she had just realized. Suddenly she understood the sadness she'd always glimpsed in the older Kent, the dreams he'd had to shelve the things he'd wanted for his son that he never got to see. The sacrifice of his dreams balanced against the love of his family and she knew that he'd been right tell her they were alike.

Suddenly Superman cocked his head slightly and she smiled wondering how anyone thought glasses and an ill fitting suit could hide the hero inside the man in front of her.

"Go," he looked at her startled. "Save whomever it is that calling. We'll be here." He kissed her again, swift and sudden.

"I do love you and our son..." he trailed off and she pushed him toward the window.

"I know." He disappeared into the night and she sighed as she watched him go, surrendering to the truth she'd known half her life. "That will have to be enough."

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