Author's Notes: Mad props to my homegirl Lightstar Angel, who let loose the plot bunny who pimp-slapped my Muse into gear. Thanks, Shar! Credit for this fic also goes to The Monkey, and my high school friends, who could come up with a silly euphemism for damn near anything. Let it be known that the following beta readers rock: Lightstar Angel, Candy Angel Gal, Luxorien and The Monkey himself.
by Sullivan Lane
Call it intuition or something else, but Chloe knew that when she turned around, Clark would not be standing behind her.
He was gone.
There was an orderly line of students going out the main entrance of the gym into the hallway, which was a safer place to wait for the tornado to pass. Everyone but Chloe was focused on the door to the hallway.
From the corner of her eye, Chloe saw the door to the boys' locker room swing shut. She ran to the door and noticed that the lock was broken. Glancing around quickly to make sure no one was watching, she slipped through the door.
She ran through the locker room to the exit on the other side. She pushed the door open in time to see a seven-foot section of a wooden fence fly through the air, in danger of colliding with a blur of black fifty feet ahead of her ... but the blur slowed for an instant to shove it out of the way and breaking it into a thousand pieces as it hit the pavement. The figure sped off, almost faster than the eye could see, toward three intimidating funnels in the distance.
Chloe recognized the unmistakable silhouette as it paused: Clark Kent.
Her mouth dropped open in shock. The wind whipped at her face, and she grabbed at the door to steady herself. She couldn't follow him, even though she wanted to. She guessed that if he could blow a fence to pieces with one hasty hand, he would be OK in the tornado. Probably. What she had seen in the past thirty seconds answered many questions she had had about her best friend, but it prompted many more.
She retreated into the locker room, heading back to the gymnasium.
Chloe half-expected to find Clark at the Torch office when they were all dismissed, but he wasn't there, and he didn't show up all night. She probably should go homeshe wasn't even supposed to be on school property anymorebut she felt the need to be there, to write, in the only place she felt at home. It may be one of the last times if her father was to be believed and they would be moving back to Metropolis. Chloe took a long, lingering look around her office. She had made this place. She kicked off her high heels and opened a desk drawer. She kept her gym clothes in there. They weren't exactly stylish, but sweat pants, a hooded sweatshirt and sneakers were more comfortable than a strapless dress. After dressing, she tried calling out from her cell phone. It wasn't working. She tried the office's fax line and got through. Fortunately both of her parents were safe, and she told them that she would be home by morning.
Chloe wrote and revised her article on the Spring Formal, and the news report kept her informed about the tornado damage. She incorporated them into her article. Tortilla chips, half a bag of Jolly Ranchers and a four-pack of Starbucks bottled mocha Frappuccinos that she had found in her trunk kept her company. Quotes from fellow students were scribbled on a dozen cocktail napkins, which she had spread over the desk.
As the minutes passed and the sun began to peek through the window blinds, Chloe grew angry. Clark could have called. He would have known she would be at the Torch, and if he looked for her at home, her father would have pointed him in this direction. Finishing the coffee, she saved her article and began closing down the computer when her personal folder caught her eye.
She clicked on it, entering the password when prompted. This was where she stored all the Wall of Weird stuff that she could no longer publish. Her firsthand experience with the persuasion of Kyle Tippett was outlined in great detail here (including the feelings of embarrassment she felt when she realized she had kissed Clark). Just recently she had added the entry detailing her kiss with Justin, complete with floating alien dolls and laced heavily with editorial.
This was also where she had locked away Clark's adoption records.
Chloe opened that folder for the first time since she had decided to save it on the night the Talon opened, protected by another password and named innocuously "Grammar." She remembered saving it on the off-chance that someday, Clark would ask her to help him find his biological parents. She grasped tightly to the notion that he would always go to her when he needed help with something, but now she had her doubts. Did Pete know about his extraordinary strength and speed? Probably not.
She remembered fleetingly Clark's wistful comment months ago, about how he thought of his biological parents every day and the expression on his face as he said it.
When she had looked at this information before, she accepted it for the giant question mark that it posed. This time, she scrutinized each detail, hoping to find the one thing that would solve the enigma that was Clark Kent. She wondered if he knew the mysteries behind his suspicious adoption, and if that was the reason he was so dodgy during the entire English project that led to the discovery of these very files.
His life remained a question mark. For reasons she couldn't explain, Chloe's eyes filled with tears. She closed the file quickly, saved it to a disk and shut down the computer.
Clark had been at the hospital too many times in the past few weeks. He sat outside Lana's hospital room. She had a concussion (again), a sprained wrist and a lot of cuts and bruises from being thrashed around in the tornado. Clark tried calling Chloe's cell phone, but the lines were down. He wondered if and when the students would be allowed to leave the gym. He didn't want to leave Lana alone.
Nell arrived as soon as it was safe to go out, around one in the morning, wearing pajamas and an overcoat, the first time Clark had ever seen her less than put together. She rushed past Clark quickly, fussing over Lana and talking to the doctor.
After assuring that Lana was going to be all right, she came out of the hospital room, heaved a tired sigh, and placed a hand on Clark's shoulder.
"Thank you," Nell said softly.
"You should go home," she said. "Do your parents know you're here?"
Clark shook his head. It worried him that their phone line was out because Clark knew that in certain parts of town the phones were indeed working. He hoped that his parents would be all right, and a part of him felt guilty for not checking on them. He should probably do that now. He wasn't tired physically, but the events of the past twelve hours had taken their toll. He still wore his tuxedo, and the white rose that Chloe had pinned to the jacket hours ago had remarkably hung on, though worse for wear.
Chloe. She was definitely worried by now. His heart ached; he wanted to be close to her. If it weren't for the tornado warning at that moment, he would have kissed her. In his exhaustion he longed for that moment again. Clark wondered where she was, whether she had decided to stay at the high school or gone home angry with him. Nell's ringing mobile phone interrupted his thoughts.
"I guess the mobile lines are back up again. Hello?" she said into the phone. "Yes, Clark brought Lana here to the hospital. She's fine; they both are. Hold on." She held out the phone to Clark. "It's your father."
Clark took the phone from Nell. "Dad?"
"Clark, come home right now."
"What's wrong?" Clark asked when he walked into the kitchen and witnessed his parents' frightened, bewildered faces.
"You better go down to the storm cellar, son" was the only thing Jonathan could say.
The spaceship continued to glow and levitate when Clark descended the stairs into the cellar, his parents following cautiously behind him.
"It's been doing that all night," Martha whispered. Jonathan grasped her shoulder protectively. When he had come back into the cellar, they had both stared at the ship, mesmerized by the blinking lights and scared at the same time at what it would do. They feared for their lives, but after awhile they realized that the ship must have been waiting for Clark.
Clark held in his hand the plaque that his father had given him a few months ago. It was still wrapped in a piece of burlap. Clark kept it under his mattress, pulling it out at night and examining it in the darkness when he couldn't sleep. Usually it was cold and lifeless, but when he removed the cloth this time, it hummed and emitted a warmth that was strangely familiar.
Clark walked closer to the ship. The top slid open, exposing a console. There was a slot the same size as the plaque. He placed it into the slot, and a beam of light projected upward. Clark stared up at it, mesmerized.
The beam projected the three-dimensional image of two people, a man and a woman, wearing flowing white robes with identical silver crests on the front. The man was tall and dignified. He looked like Clark, but with piercing blue eyes. The woman coincidentally looked very much like Martha, with flowing red hair and angular features. But her sparkling hazel eyes were something that Clark very obviously inherited.
They were his biological parents.
"Kal-El." The man spoke, and Clark instinctively bowed his head and raised it again, a gesture of respect that he now knew was from his native land. Clark watched the images without blinking, as the infinite questions of the past twelve years answered and the man told him the story of a planet called Krypton.
The day after the tornado was the hottest day of the year so far, but inside the Sullivan kitchen it was even hotter.
Gabe Sullivan awoke to the warm, sweet smell of caramel, peanut butter and most prevalently, chocolate, wafting up the stairs, down the hall and through the closed bedroom door. He opened his eyes and turned over. His wife was still sleeping next to him. Last night was a long one, spent in the storm cellar until almost one in the morning.
The clock radio on the dresser blinked "12:00" in red digital numbers. The electricity had gone out during the night, he surmised. Gabe reached for his watch on the nightstand and balked. It was only eight. Sometimes he wondered how his daughter could function without sleep.
When he entered the kitchen, the radio was blaring the news, and it seemed most of the contents of the pantry had been emptied and spread out on the table. Three cooling racks on the counter were covered with assorted cookies.
His daughter turned around, a bowl in one hand, a wooden spoon in the other, and an apron around her waist. Her hair was pulled back with an bandanna, and she was wearing cutoff shorts, a tank top and flip flops. Beads of perspiration formed on her nose and upper lip, and her cheeks were flushed.
"What are you doing?" Gabe asked.
Chloe gave her father an exasperated face. "Baking cookies, Dad."
"For the whole town? You only bake cookies when you're worried about something."
"Well, I'm not. There are twenty displaced families because of the tornado, and they're all staying at the high school gym. I'm bringing them cookies tonight."
"Did you sleep?"
"Of course I did."
"Forty-five minutes? An hour? Something like that."
Gabe examined the cookies sitting on the counter. He tentatively raised his hand to pick one up, only to be admonished by his daughter: "Dad! That's not for you." She pointed to a plate of broken cookies next to the sink. "You can eat those."
Gabe picked up a broken sugar cookie and tasted it. For all of Chloe's posturing about being the anti-homemaker, she really did have an affinity for making cookies. Even though it was a well-known fact that she only baked when she was worried about something. "Honey ..."
"There are only sixty-seven people staying at the gym. There are enough cookies here for three times that." He sat down at the table as Chloe rushed around, pulling cookie sheets from the oven, mixing more dough and placing cookies in Tupperware containers. But when she walked by him on the way to the pantry, he grabbed her arm.
"Dad, I need to get more sugar from the pantry."
"Aren't you done baking yet?"
Chloe wiggled free from her father's grasp. "Nope." Chloe hauled out a large sack of sugar from the pantry and began pouring some into a measuring cup, then poured its contents into a bowl.
Chloe glanced at her father quickly. "I don't know. I don't know where he is, either, because he took off as soon as he heard the storm warning." She poured brown sugar into the bowl and opened a large jar of peanut butter.
"Did you try the hospitals?"
"Yes. He's not checked in at any of them. Lana is, but she's all right. Which reminds me, I should bring her some cookies, too."
Gabe didn't respond for a moment. "I'm sure Clark will turn up."
"Yeah." Chloe's eyes wouldn't meet her father's. Gabe munched thoughtfully on a cookie, watching his daughter with concern. The telephone rang in the other room and Gabe went to answer it.
A few minutes later, Chloe cried, "Daddy!"
At the sound of his daughter's frantic scream, Gabe ran into the kitchen to find his daughter on the stepping stool, emptying all the cupboards.
"I can't find the rest of the coconut! We bought four jars last month when we were in Metropolis, and I only found one, and it's half-empty. And where's the powdered sugar? Lemon bars aren't complete without powdered sugar ..."
"Mom used the coconut for the coconut shrimp two weeks ago, remember? And I don't think we have powdered sugar. You might want to call the Kents and ask –"
"What makes you think the Kents have coconut? Or powdered sugar?"
"I don't. I'm just saying –"
"I'm not calling the Kents because I'm positive they don't have coconut. Dammit!" Chloe had emptied all the cupboards and apparently had not found what she was looking for.
"Hey, watch your language, young lady."
Chloe climbed down from the ladder and sighed impatiently. "Well, how am I supposed to make macaroons with half a jar of coconut? And lemon bars with no powdered sugar?"
"Chloe, there are enough cookies in this kitchen to start your own Keebler factory. All you need are the midgets."
"Elves, Dad." Chloe was so distraught that she didn't even think to roll her eyes at her dad's joke. "How am I supposed to make macaroons with only a half-jar of coconut?" she repeated.
"Honey, go to the Kents," Gabe advised. "Take my car."
"But Chloe ..."
Chloe opened the oven door and frowned. "Dammit!"
"Chloe, this is the last time I'm telling you to watch –"
"What's that smell?"
"I burned the damnthe freaking chocolate chip cookies," Chloe replied.
Gabe sighed and tried to change the subject. "I thought you'd want to know that that was Lex on the phone earlier."
Chloe looked up at her father, concerned. "Is he all right?"
"Yes, but Lionel isn't. He's been airlifted to a hospital in Metropolis. He may have broken his back."
"Oh, my God. Will he be all right?"
"I don't know, honey. Your mother and I will be going to the mansion tomorrow, and we might go to Metropolis to see Mr. Luthor, too."
Chloe looked at her father and decided to voice a sentiment that had been left unsaid since the plant closed earlier that week. "I don't want to move back to Metropolis, Dad."
"Neither do I. I think we'll know what's going to happen after tomorrow. I'll try my best."
Chloe watched her father with sad eyes. Her guard down, she went to him and let him embrace her. She let the tears fall on his shirt, but when she pulled away, she was the picture of composure again. Gabe tousled her hair and went back into the living room.
When the message from his biological parents ended, Clark felt like a weight had lifted off his heart. His parents had not abandoned him; they had saved him, and their heritage, by sending Clark to Earth. He knew his parents' names: They were Jor-El and Lara of Krypton. His father was a scientist and a senator. His mother was Kryptonian royalty. They had sent him to Earth primarily because it was safe, and because of the similar physiology and appearance of its inhabitants. They had purposely chosen Smallville, Kansas. Clark was astounded to learn that there may be other intelligent life in the universe and other places where he could have been sent.
Jonathan and Martha explained to Clark that the reporter Roger Nixon, who had somehow gotten a hold of the key, had disappeared into the tornado. Jonathan had initially followed him, but when he saw the winds and was nearly hit by a flying tractor, he wisely returned to the cellar.
That morning, the sheriff had found Nixon's dead body, apparently mauled by a tree branch, near the main road. Jonathan found his video camera right outside the storm cellar door and promptly destroyed it.
The message that was projected should have been aired, Clark learned, in his tenth Earth year. He learned that he was almost three Earth years old when the ship had landed. The hexagonal key, missing since the day of the meteor shower, was essential to the workings of the messages. The last thing Jor-El said was that there would be another message in Clark's twentieth Earth year, and the last one in his thirtieth.
"Kal-El," Clark said, still shocked at the knowledge he had received. He had showered and dressed in clean clothes, and sat with his parents in the living room. "My real name is Kal-El."
Martha, who was sitting beside him, put her hand on his knee. "How are you feeling?"
Clark tried to step outside of his heart and examine it, trying to figure out exactly what it was composed of. It was a long time before he could answer. "Relieved. Content. Sad. A lot of other things, too."
"Well, I would think it would be understandable to feel all of those things," Jonathan said gently. "And obviously, we can't pretend to know what you're going through. Unfortunately, your mom and I can't do anything to help you get through this, except to just be here for you and to listen to you."
Clark nodded. "Thanks. I'd like to believe that Jor-El and Lara specifically picked you two to take care of me. They couldn't have picked anyone better."
Martha, with tears glistening on her cheeks, enveloped her son in her arms.
Clark walked on the familiar dirt path through the woods toward Chloe's house. It was nearing noon, and no one was answering the telephone. Some of the phone lines were still down, but Chloe just wouldn't answer hers. He knew, via Pete, that she was safe, if not acting a bit strangely. Clark wondered how upset she would be.
As Clark neared the house, he smelled the sharp, acrid smell of smoke. Was the house burning? Was that smoke in the distance? He began to run.
Clark burst through the screen door to Chloe's kitchen in a half-second.
"Chloe!" he shouted.
He was greeted by the sight of Chloe's denim-covered backside, bending over and taking something out of the oven.
"Argh!" Chloe screamed in surprise at the sound of Clark's voice, dropping a cookie sheet and spilling cookies all over the floor. She looked up to see Clark in her doorway and the screen hanging off the hinge, ready to fall off.
"What do you think you're doing?" She threw her oven mitts on the kitchen table angrily and began picking blackened cookies off the floor and pitching them into the garbage can.
Clark looked around the kitchen, which was only slightly smoky. He realized that he had seen a very faint wisp of smoke, and it was probably from Chloe opening an oven full of blackened cookies.
He began to feel very foolish, especially when Chloe stood up, put her hands on her hips and looked at him expectantly.
"I ... I'm sorry. I thought there was a fire," he stammered.
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Get out of my house, Clark," she said hastily. "I'm busy and moody because I've run out of powdered sugar and coconut."
"I just wanted to explain –"
"There's nothing to explain," Chloe interrupted.
"But Chloe –"
Chloe sighed. "Clark, not to sound like I've switched into possessive girlfriend-slash-overprotective mom mode, but where have you been all night?"
"I was ... I was with Lana. At the hospital. And then I went home to check on my parents."
"Why didn't you call me?"
"I did. The phone lines were down."
"No, but –"
"OK. That's all I needed to know. I'm busy, so please leave."
"You're baking cookies."
"Your powers of observation are growing exponentially every day," Chloe retorted.
"You only bake cookies when you're worried," Clark pointed out. "The last time you did this was when your dad was in the hospital for low blood sugar –"
"I know, Clark. I was there. Now get out. I have to deliver these cookies."
Chloe's face was determined, and Clark knew that it was futile to talk to her.
"Can I just tell you how sorry I am?" he said.
Chloe's face softened for a moment, but she blinked and the determination was back in her face. "You just did. Goodbye, Clark."
She heard his footsteps walking quickly away. As soon as the footsteps faded into silence, Chloe allowed the tears to fall. She didn't know why she was so upset. She felt betrayed because they were best friends, and he had kept a secret from her. It was huge, to be sure, and Chloe could understand why he had kept it, but she still felt an irrational hurt because of being kept in the dark. Was it because she was so curious and so vocal about everything? Did he think that she couldn't keep such an important secret?
Then there was running out on her without an explanation. He did that with increasing frequency, and perhaps last night was the last straw. Would it hurt to even give her a tiny white lie about where he was going, especially after doing so much research to help him solve most of these meteorite mysteries? Apparently so.
Finally, the burgeoning curiosity within her was only kept at bay by the pride that she harbored. She deserved better than what she was getting from Clark, and her own doormat-like behavior when it came to all things Clark-related angered her. The only way to harness that was to keep him at arm's length.
Chloe wiped away the stray tears and began placing cookies in containers. Five minutes later, Chloe was balancing a stack of plastic containers as she walked out of the house and to her mother's Jeep Grand Cherokee.
But she stopped in her tracks when she saw that Clark was leaning up against it.
"What are you doing here?"
"I need to talk to you," he said.
"You needed to talk to me last night, but you took off anyway," Chloe shot back. "I need to take these to the high school."
"Let me go with you," Clark insisted. He helped Chloe open the trunk, and she set the containers inside.
"Do I have to get down on my knees and beg?"
"I don't think it would do any good." Chloe paused to look at him. "I just need time to sort some stuff out in my head."
"How much time?" Clark asked gently.
"I don't know yet."
Clark sighed. He turned around dejectedly and headed for the path. Chloe opened her mouth to stop him, but then closed it again. She did need time to think about everything she had learned and everything that he was to her. She needed to understand, and with his pretty face clouding her thinking process all the time, it would be difficult. It was better this way.
"Chloe, what a surprise."
Lana smiled from the hospital bed when she saw Chloe standing in the doorway with a plastic container in her hand.
"How are you feeling?" Chloe asked her.
"Still dizzy from the tornado. Or the painkillers. Whatever."
"Yay, painkillers," Chloe said teasingly. She held out the plastic container. "I've been baking cookies all day. I thought you'd enjoy some. They're sugar cookies."
Lana's smile grew wider. "Thanks. They're my favorite. That was really sweet of you. Could you open the container? My wrist is kind of out of commission." Lana held up her arm, encased in a brace.
Chloe obliged and Lana picked a cookie out and began to munch on it. "Thanks," she repeated. "This is really good."
Chloe put the cookies on the nightstand. "I'm glad you're OK." She turned to leave, but Lana's voice stopped her.
"Wait, Chloe. Stay with me and chat awhile. The only person who's been around today is Nell and I feel a bit lonely." Lana looked a little embarrassed. "Unless you're ... in a hurry or something. Never mind."
"You're not expecting any other visitors today, are you?" Chloe asked carefully.
"You mean, Clark?" Chloe didn't respond. "He called earlier and said he was planning to spend the evening with you," Lana said. "I just remembered ... so that's why I said, ‘never mind.' I don't think he's going to come around."
"Uh, no, I told him I couldn't hang out tonight." Chloe sat down tentatively in the chair next to Lana's bed.
"Oh." There was a question in Lana's voice. She opened her mouth to speak and then decided to close it to allow Chloe to talk.
"He left me in the middle of the dance," Chloe explained carefully. "And ... I was really worried about him. I didn't even know that he was OK until this morning."
"He was here with me," Lana said apologetically. "He saved my life. I don't know how, but he found me, and then the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital."
"That's Clark." Chloe was surprised at the bitterness in her own voice, considering what she had witnessed the night before. "I'm not blaming you or anything."
Lana placed her hand on Chloe's, which was nervously tracing patterns on the bed. "Don't be so hard on him. You told me yourself; he's always off helping people. It's just who he is."
"That's not the part I'm upset about," Chloe said softly. "I mean, I love that he's always there when I'm knee-deep in trouble."
Lana nodded. "We'd probably both be dead if it weren't for him."
"Undoubtedly. I'm just wondering what I mean to him if he rushes off without a word. And this isn't the first time, you know. He's just so secretive, and it's not fair because I'm just a sucker for it most of the time. I need to stop doing that."
Lana nodded again. "He really cares about you," she whispered, lowering her eyes. "He told me so himself." The two girls allowed that sentiment to hang in the air between them until Chloe finally broke the silence again.
"I'm sorry," Chloe said, standing up suddenly. "You're laying there in a hospital bed aching all over, and I'm babbling about Clark."
Lana smiled. "It's OK. The painkillers, remember? It makes everything better."
Chloe smiled back. "I'll let you get some rest."
"Good luck with things," Lana told her sincerely.
Unfortunately, Monday was business as usual at Smallville High School. Graduation would take place Friday afternoon as planned, and Tuesday through Thursday were still set aside for final exams. Most classrooms were quiet with tense studying, or noisy with frantic review.
In English class, Chloe sat at the back with a copy of the literature anthology and read silently while the rest of the class reviewed.
She caught Clark turning to look at her several times from the front of the room. She avoided his piercing stare by slouching in her seat and raising her book.
Chloe purposely avoided the Torch office during study hall and lunch. Lunch was spent on the stadium bleachers amid the cheerleaders and jocks, her head buried in a biology textbook. Some of them looked at her strangely, but they didn't say anything. They knew better than to anger the school's most vocal faction.
"Where is she?" Pete asked as he walked into the Torch office. Clark was sitting at a desk, rolling two tennis balls in a circle in his palm. His feet were propped up on another chair.
"I saw her head for the bleachers with her computer," he said. Clark held up a piece of paper with his other hand. "She left a note for you to lay out the front page and e-mail it to the printer's."
Pete glanced at the note and then looked at Clark. "Why aren't you with her?" he asked, somewhat accusingly.
"She doesn't want to talk to me. I've blown it."
"Oh." Pete sat down at Chloe's terminal and booted up the desktop publishing program.
"Girls are so confusing," Clark said.
"I'm glad you finally realized Chloe's one of them," Pete said with a chuckle. "Man, I'm just glad I don't have the problems you do. Erica and I are going out on another date this Saturday while Chloe's got steam coming out of her ears."
Clark glared at him, but then his face softened. "I deserve that. So what do I do?"
"Well, first things first. Apologize."
"I did. I don't think she accepted. I even offered to get down on my knees and beg."
Pete raised his eyebrows. "She must be holding an industrial-sized grudge then."
Pete thought for a moment. "You need to figure out exactly what you want from Chloe and act accordingly."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, do you want to be her best friend like you've been for the past however long we've known her, or do you want to be more than friends?"
"I think Saturday night allowed me to figure out that I want to be more than friends."
Pete was visibly surprised. "Wow. Really? What about Lana?"
"Lana's a good friend, but I want Chloe." His feelings regarding the situation were as simple as that, Clark realized. For all the unexplained jealous feelings he'd had with Chloe's various dates and crushes and his instinct to protect her, he had been pushing away all these feelings of attraction to pursue a beautiful face. Not that that's all Lana was, but she had started off that way. Chloe was his constant, and he had told her so. Lana provided him with an outlet to dream, but Chloe's constant presence was what kept his feet on the ground and his head out of the clouds. She knew him inside and out, even so far as recognizing his inherent need to help peopleshe called it his "savior complex." She didn't know the whys or hows, but she accepted them as part of him. While making him smile at her inexhaustible energy and silly quirks, she reminded Clark that in many ways, despite his extraordinary abilities, he was human, too. It amazed Clark that he had been blind to it for so long, but he did love and care for Chloe.
"What do I do?" Clark asked Pete again.
"Show her," he said. "Like I said before, just get off your butt." Pete looked at him pointedly, and Clark let his friend's words sink in. Clark thought of what had happened the day before, and an idea began to form in his head.
"Thanks, Pete." He stood up to clap his friend on the shoulder, a gesture of gratitude.
"Where are you going?"
"Getting off my butt."
It was a good three miles from Smallville High School to the Sullivan home, and despite the overflowing bag of books she was carrying, Chloe walked it. Her father had given her a ride that morning so she didn't have to face Pete and Clark on the bus, but Gabe was on his way to Metropolis that afternoon. Absently, she took a tube of lip gloss from the pocket of her bag and slathered it on her lips. She hated herself for wearing heavy pants and a long-sleeved shirt when summer was clearly arriving early. Chloe rubbed the perspiration from her nose as she rounded the corner to her driveway.
She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Clark sitting on her porch. Three or four paper grocery bags sat next to him. "What are you doing here?" she asked wearily.
Clark stood up. "I fixed your screen door. And I talked to your dad before he and your mom went to Metropolis to visit Mr. Luthor. He told me that you're not moving to Metropolis. That's great."
"He said you were still planning on doing some baking today, and I went to restock your pantry. I got you peanut butter, oatmeal, flour, raisins, eggs, sugarbrown, white and powderedand six jars of coconut. I remembered that that's what you were upset about yesterday," Clark added.
Chloe inspected the contents of each bag, and then turned to Clark. "Where did you get all this stuff? Some of these ingredients can only be found in Metropolis."
Clark shrugged. "I have my ways."
"I'm sure you do." Chloe was still bitter, and she couldn't stop herself. She picked up two of the grocery bags and tried to balance them on her knee to open the front door. "Thanks," she added.
Clark opened the door for her and followed her inside with the other two bags. "Can we talk? This silent treatment stuff that you pull really gets to me. If you really want to hurt me, you've done it. So can we stop now?"
Chloe placed the bags on the kitchen table and turned around to face Clark. "It's not about hurting you, Clark."
"Then what is it?"
"Clark, I've had this huge crush on you since the moment we met. You were always hopeless for Lana, and I accepted that. That first day in eighth grade in your barn though, you were just so adorable and so innocent. I wanted that moment to last forever, and I kissed you so that I could take a little piece of that memory with me. But the truth is, I was content to be your best friend and my heart has gotten beaten up, and now that you're showing signs of wanting more, my heart still got beaten up. I just want to know where I stand with you because right now, I feel pretty low on the totem pole. And we both know that I deserve better than that. So no, it's not about hurting you. It's about how hurt I've been feeling."
"I made a mistake," Clark told her softly. "I acted impulsively. I'm a teenager, too, and the truth is, I need you right now. There's so many weird things going on --"
Chloe shook her head. "You can't keep falling back on me, Clark. One day I won't be able to be there for you."
Her last sentence hung in the air, and their eyes locked. Clark could see the hurt in her eyes and he felt like dying inside. He remembered when she was kidnapped and the burning ache he felt when he wasn't sure he would see her again. He never wanted to feel that way again. She broke eye contact to reach into her backpack and withdrew a blue computer disk.
"Here," she said, handing it to him. "I saved all that stuff I found out about your adoption for that English paper." She paused, trying to decide whether to go on. Taking a deep breath, she added, "Not like it would help, since you're probably some government experiment created to be the ultimate weapon or something."
Clark looked alarmed, but he was obviously trying to suppress the emotion. "What?"
"Well, it's that, or the meteor mutant theory. I actually prefer the ultimate fighting machine idea, considering what I've seen of your abilities. It would explain how you can run so fast I could barely see you, and how you're so strong you can break a doorknob, and shove a flying piece of fence out of your way and reduce it to splinters. And looking back, it probably explains how you got my foot unstuck from six inches of ice and pulled me out of a premature grave in Chandler's Field without a shovel or a crowbar. And why you're always running off sans explanation."
Clark's eyes widened, and he took a step toward Chloe. "You ... you saw me?" he said. Chloe nodded, not trusting her voice. "I'm not a government experiment. Or a mutant."
Chloe frowned. "Then ... then what?" she asked, scared of the answer.
"Can we sit down and talk about this?" Clark asked.
Wordlessly, Chloe led the way to the living room. She sat down on the couch and Clark took the armchair directly across from her.
"I understand your savior complex now," Chloe began. "I followed you when you left me at the dance. And ... and I saw you. Running fast. Faster than ... humanly possible. Who else knows about this? I mean, obviously your parents."
"Kyle Tippett. Ryan."
"They found out, like I did."
"Yeah. I really should be more careful," Clark said, avoiding her gaze.
"I won't say anything, you know," Chloe whispered. "I mean, it's not like you're going out there and hurting people. I mean, duh. I would be dead a couple of times over if it weren't for you."
Clark looked at her carefully. She was taking all of this pretty well. In a way he was glad she found out; it was one less person he had to hide from and lie to. "I know you won't," he said finally. "I'm really glad you know, because it explains a lot about why I couldn't get back to you last night."
"What happened?" Chloe was now concerned.
"Nothing bad. But ..." Clark paused, trying to figure out how to tell Chloe about everything that had happened the night before. "Maybe it would be better if I showed you."
"Show me what?" Chloe wasn't suspicious but curious.
"Do you trust me?" Clark asked.
"You know I do."
"Then let's go."
They descended the stairway to the Kents' storm cellar. The ship was quiet and dark again, but the console remained open.
Clark ran a hand across the smooth metal side of the ship and Chloe looked on in wonder.
"You're ... you're an alien?" Chloe asked, surprised at the words that came out of her mouth. In all the time she had watched "The X-Files," she would have never guessed this about Clark.
Chloe walked tentatively closer to the ship. "What happened, Clark?" she said softly.
"A few months ago, my dad finally showed me this ship. It came down during the meteor shower. Last night ... last night it finally came alive, and it spoke to me. Well, it projected my biological parents, and they spoke to me."
"What did they say?"
"That my home planet exploded, but before it did, they sent me to Earth because they didn't have time to create a larger spacecraft. But they also told me that I would develop differently from Earth humans, that the yellow sun would give me abilities that were beyond the span of humans. Kryptonthe planet where I was bornhad a red sun."
"That's why you can run really fast and have the incredible strength."
Clark nodded. "And X-ray vision and invulnerable skin." Chloe's eyes widened, but she didn't say anything. "For a long time I blamed myself for the meteor shower. Now I know it wasn't my fault."
"Wow," Chloe whispered in awe. "So, these powers. You've had them all your life?"
Clark shrugged. "My skin has always been pretty tough, but lately I don't even bruise anymoreI was shot by Deputy Watts last month, and no bruises at all. The strength and the speed developed over time. The X-ray vision I discovered this year. The only things that hurt me are the meteor fragments. They make me weak, and they're probably fatal if I'm around them for too long. Jor-El didn't tell me why. Maybe he didn't know."
"I see. So you're like, invincible. Like a Greek god. Next thing you know you'll be throwing thunderbolts from Mount Olympus."
"Well ..." Clark looked uncomfortable.
Chloe shook her head, slightly angry with herself. "Sorry. Apparently my own superpower is sarcasm as a defense mechanism."
"It's all right."
A disquieting silence followed as Chloe stared at the spaceship, marveling at its beauty and foreignness. They each had one hand on the wing of the spacecraft, and they were quiet for a long time. They began speaking at the same time:
"Listen, Clark, I'm sorry about being so mad –"
"Chloe, I just wanted to thank you –"
They looked at each other and laughed, breaking the tension at last. Clark said, "You first."
"I'm sorry I got mad at you. And this is going to sound really petty and shallow after everything I just found out, but I just felt like you never notice me unless you needed me for some meteorite-mutant wild-goose chase. Or when I'm in trouble. Your running off at the dance kind of sealed that. I didn't even know why you left. I mean, I suspected, but I wasn't sure."
Clark sighed. He looked down at Chloe, her face partly obscured in shadow. He could tell she was nervous and scared. How much of that was the spaceship sitting next to them and how much was about the fact that their relationship was so undefined at the moment remained to be seen.
"I'm really sorry about that," Clark said. "And it was a mistake. If I could have done it differently, I would have. But that night, I realized I need you, and that I care about you. Thank you so much for being the person that you are. I hope you forgive me for being so spontaneous and for leaving you." He reached out and placed a hand on her hip, looking at her to make sure she understood what he was trying to say. She didn't say anything, just stared at his hand on her hip. His other hand touched her chin, tipping it upward to look at him. "You know me better than anyone, and it took me so long to realize it. But I knew at the dance that I wanted to kiss you, that I wanted you. I thought at least that much was obvious."
"It wasn't. I really felt like you didn't notice me until you had a mystery to solve."
Clark took a step closer to Chloe, and she tilted her head up more so she could continue to look at him. "When I thought you might be moving back to Metropolis, all these things started running through my head, all the things I would miss about you."
"Like the way your hair smells like peaches. I'm going to miss hugging you because of that peach shampoo. The way you scratch your nose with your middle finger when you're nervous or when you don't know what to say. And the way you're always grabbing my arm and holding it for no reason at all and ... and ..." Clark trailed off when he saw a smile creeping upon Chloe's lips.
"You know you're going to have to make it up to me," she said, folding her arms. "After running out on me and everything."
"How?" Clark asked.
Chloe shrugged, but a hint of mischief was evident in her face. "Why don't you tell me?"
"You mean running all the way to Metropolis to get all those groceries wasn't enough?"
Chloe smiled. "Nope."
"Did you notice that there's a huge bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans in there? The kind from your favorite coffee shop in Metropolis?"
"Yeah, I did. But it's still not enough." She pretended to pout.
He pretended to think for a moment and then said, "What if I just finish that kiss we started last night?"
Chloe looked at the spaceship. "Are you sure it's not going to get mad? I mean, it might swallow me up for moving in on you."
Clark smiled bravely. "Why don't you try it and find out?"
Chloe stared at Clark for a moment, and in one sweeping movement, she flung her hands around Clark's neck, pulling his face down to hers to kiss him. Although he was surprised at first, his arms found their way around her small frame, clutching her closely to him. He allowed Chloe's soft lips to tickle his, noting the faint taste of cherry vanilla on her lips and losing himself in the feeling of being close to such an extraordinary girl. He tentatively brushed his tongue on the inside of her bottom lip, addicted to the cherry vanilla and the moist soft skin there.
When they finally broke free, Chloe breathed hard, but her hands remained at the back of his neck, and his hands clutched firmly to her back.
"Wow," Chloe breathed, not taking her eyes off him.
"You still owe me," Chloe said.
"Hey. I'm the one who got ran out on. I think I deserve a little more than a really hot, earth-shattering kiss." She broke free of his grasp and headed up the stairs, a smile on her face. Mischief again. What did Chloe have in mind?
"OK. I'll do it." Clark hesitated. "What do I have to do?"
"You have to help me bake the rest of those cookies."
"Deal." Clark followed her out of the cellar into the warm sunlight, slipping his arms around her waist from behind and kissing her neck as they walked back to Chloe's house.
The windows of the Torch office were open on the last day of school. Clark and Chloe waited for Pete to come back from the graduation ceremony so they could upload his pictures and then go home at last. The air conditioning had broken down at the most inconvenient opportunity. A fan kept the air circulating a little bit, but it was still unbearably hot.
"'Smoking the cigar' is one. Though sort of five years ago and presidentially vulgar." Chloe fiddled with the radio on her desk, settling on a pop station and leaning back in her chair. She placed her booted feet on the desk in front of her and stared at the ceiling.
"What about ‘worshipping the flute'?" Clark suggested as he tipped his chair back, then upright again. Back, upright. He gripped a miniature foam basketball in his hand and threw it at the small hoop he had installed above the office door. He missed. He picked up another foam basketball from the table in front of him and tried again. Air ball.
"Talk about gross. Here's one for you: ‘playing with your telescope.'" At Chloe's words, Clark threw the last foam basketball at her. She ducked and it hit the Wall of Weird behind her, causing one a slip of paper to dislodge from its pushpin. It fluttered silently to the floor.
"Hey, watch it!" Chloe stood up, replaced the clipped article on the wall and secured it with two extra pushpins.
"Well, that was a low blow," Clark told her, pretending to look wounded. Chloe walked over to kiss the top of his head and squeeze his shoulder before settling in her chair again.
"What was a low blow?" Pete said, walking into the room and picking up one of the foam basketballs at his feet. He threw his camera bag on the nearest table and pretended to dribble.
"Chloe's euphemism," Clark answered.
"Euphemism for what?" Pete asked, slam-dunking the foam basketball.
"We're trying to see who can come up with the best euphemisms for sexual activity," Chloe told him.
"Is this some sort of mating ritual or can I play?" Pete asked with a knowing smile.
"Ha," Chloe said dryly as Pete sat down and Clark reddened.
"There are rules to this game," Chloe told him. "No sports metaphors, and they have to be original."
Pete frowned. "Then what's the point? It's all about scoring, making the slam dunk, getting the hole in one ..."
"Those aren't original!" Clark pointed out.
"All right, all right," Pete said, standing up again to play with the foam basketball as his camera was uploading the pictures to the computer.
"It's Clark's turn though."
"Um ... ‘buttering the bread.'"
"Lame!" Pete exclaimed.
"But food is a great way to go," Chloe mused. "OK, Pete, now you."
Pete scrutinized the table in front of him and then said, "If we're talking food, I'm going to have to go with ‘double-parking the enchilada.'"
There was a moment of pregnant silence, and then Clark and Chloe dissolved into raucous laughter, causing Pete to do the same.
"That doesn't even make any sense!" Chloe hooted as she clutched her stomach from laughing so hard.
"You've got to admit though, it made you both laugh," Pete gasped out between chuckles. Pete raised his hands in a victorious pose. "I win! Best sex euphemism ever!"
When the three finally calmed down, it was Chloe's turn again. "OK. Here's one. And it's not going to top Pete's, but it's cute. And my favorite."
"OK, let's hear it," Clark said.
"'Baking cookies.'" Chloe looked at Clark with an evil glint in her hazel eyes, and he ducked his head down in embarrassment. Luckily, Pete didn't notice.
"You're such a girl," Pete commented.
Chloe threw a foam basketball, hitting Pete on the ear.