Author's Notes: Big thanks to Edie and Christine for the beta. All remaining mistakes are my own.
It was summer again.
He could hear it humming around him in the buzz of insects and the quiet creeping of growing things all around. He knew that he could hear it while no one else could. One time, when he was much younger, he had asked Chloe about it and she had looked at him like she didn't quite understand what he had meant, and then she had laughed and told him to quit playing with her. He hadn't brought it up again.
Summer was always his favorite time of year. He could smell it on the air, in the soft fragrance of grass and flowers. He knew that this was something that everyone could sense because his mother had once mentioned it, had said that she could smell summer approaching. She'd also said she could smell spring and winter and snow and rain as well. He'd believed her because he could smell it as well. There's little he couldn't smell, actually.
Seasons change and each one has a smell, a sound, a taste, and a touch. Most people didn't notice it. Most of them just went through life seeing the changes and accepting them, never making them a part of themselves the way he can when he takes it all in.
In times like that he could almost convince himself that he was human. He felt so grounded, so much like he belonged here on this planet, and maybe he does. Maybe he belongs here except for a strange accident of birth. He's more connected to this planet at times like that than almost any other being. It's exhilarating.
It was summer and they were lying in a back field on his parents' property. The field had been left fallow that year, the soil was regenerating itself right underneath their bodies as the soft grasses grew in place of the tall corn that was there the year before. Renewal, he could almost feel that too, imagined that he could hear the soil singing in relief at the lifting of its burden of growing strange green things with yellow ears. It knew it was supposed to be filling with grasses and flowers and all sorts of other native, wild things. The field had gone back to its roots, and so had they.
They had arrived in town around noon. The drive out of Metropolis had taken slightly longer than he had thought, the traffic heavier than normal for this time of year. They had left just before eight, had made two stops on the highway, and had arrived just as his mother was finished preparing lunch for them.
The farm never seemed to change. It was a bastion of yellow in the middle of an ever-changing landscape of green and gold. It was the same that year as it had been the last, as it was every time he came to visit his parents. His father still tended it the same as he always had, although he had needed to hire a few men from town after Clark left for college. His mother still made sure it all ran smoothly, managing it silently from the sidelines and making sure that his father didn't push himself too hard.
She had been so excited when Clark had called two months before and asked if he and Chloe could come stay with them that week. Over the last year, Clark had come home at Christmas and for a week in the spring to help his father with the planting, and to see him again this summer was an opportunity his parents simply couldn't pass up. He had wanted to come more, but his job kept him busy and when he did travel, it was rarely out to farming country. New York, Boston, Los Angeles, they were all places he'd been in the last year. They were all busy, dirty, sprawling. He preferred Smallville, but knew it wasn't the place he was meant to be.
A bird cried overhead and his eyes tracked it across the sky. It was almost lost against the huge blue expanse of sky. He could feel himself relaxing in waves as he slowly reintegrated himself into his old home.
"I wonder if anyone else is here, yet," Chloe said from beside him. She was lying in the wild grass, too, staring up at the sky. They were sprawled out parallel to each other, their hands touching, fingers brushing, but not clasped.
"Mmm," Clark muttered.
He rolled over slowly and moved so that his elbow was planted in the ground and his head was resting on his palm. He looked down at Chloe and smiled. Her blonde hair was fanned out against the ground, looking wild and slightly tangled. Her eyes were closed, and there was a soft smile on her lips that conveyed the peacefulness of the landscape surrounding them. His eyes drifted lower, over her chest and the soft blue tank top she was wearing, down over her bared stomach, and then on to the blue and white patterned shorts, and finally her long toned legs.
He reached out with his free hand and placed it on the bare, smooth skin of her stomach. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at him. Her smile grew until it seemed to light up her entire face.
"Pete was supposed to drive in this morning and Lana's flight is likely just landing in Metropolis now," Clark said softly. "I don't know about Lex."
Pete, who now lived in Oregon, had decided to drive down to Smallville. When Clark had spoken with him the week before, he had said he would likely arrive around lunchtime. Lana had been flying in from England, where she had been studying for the last two years. Clark had tried to contact Lex and see if the older man was planning to meet them, but all of his attempts had ended in secretaries and messages.
It had been five years ago tomorrow that they had sat in the Talon and promised that, no matter what, they would all meet back here in five years. The next day Chloe had left for Metropolis and her summer internship at The Daily Planet. It had been the first year she'd gone with no intention of returning at the end of the summer. A month later, Lana had left for New York, where she would be studying for the year. Then eventually Clark had gone to Metropolis, Pete to Washington to study, and Lex to Singapore, where he would head the Asia-Pacific operations of Luthor Corp for the next five years.
Except for him and Chloe, they hadn't kept in touch anywhere near enough over the years, but Clark had always remembered their words, and a year ago he had started to track down his friends again. Chloe had helped him.
Pete hadn't been too hard to find, but Nell had move from Smallville two years previously, and he'd needed to track her down first before he'd found Lana. Lex was still in Singapore, at least that's what the Luthor Corp people told him, but after about twenty calls to the Singapore office he'd never been able to make contact. He hoped the man would show up, but he had promised himself that he wouldn't be too let down if he didn't.
"Why aren't we having dinner with them tonight?" Chloe asked the question that she'd asked him several times over the last few days. Clark hadn't been able to answer her before, but now he was finally able.
"Because I want to have dinner with my parents," he told her what he'd said every time she'd asked the question previously.
"We can have dinner with your parents anytime," Chloe said reasonably. "We're here for the entire week."
"This time is different," he said cryptically.
She cocked her head slightly and raised an eyebrow at his words.
"Chloe," Clark said softly and lifted his hand from her stomach to reach up and brush a stray lock of hair off her face, "I love you."
"I love you too, Clark," Chloe told him with a slight laugh.
"Chloe... will you marry me?" Clark asked quickly. He sounded less nervous than he had thought he would, and much less than he felt.
As he lay there, staring down at the shock on Chloe's face, he felt like he was standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down, and waiting to fall. His entire heart was in Chloe's hands right then. If she said yes, it would change everything. If she said no, it would change everything in an entirely different way.
Her mouth opened in shock, and then closed slowly. The smile that had been wiped out by her surprise began to replace itself on her face. Clark's stomach fluttered and his heart pounded. He loved her so much. She had been everything to him for the last four years and he almost couldn't imagine his life without her in it now.
"I... yes," Chloe managed to force out and then launched herself at Clark.
Her body hit his, and they rolled over so that Clark was lying on his back once more and she was partly on top of him.
"Yes?" he asked, almost disbelieving the words that were coming out of her mouth.
"Yes. Oh god, yes," Chloe confirmed for him. "I love you so much."
And then she was kissing him and there was nothing else that either of them could say. She tasted sweet and slightly tangy against his tongue, like the lemonade they had drank right before coming out here to the field. Her tongue plunged into his mouth, tasting and exploring his, and Clark moaned against her. He was instantly hard, aching, and needy.
He found himself growling softly before flipping them over so that Chloe was lying underneath him. He lifted his mouth from hers and buried his nose in the crook between her neck and shoulder. She smelled like the sap from newly crushed plants, clean soil, and warm sweat. It was lovely. He couldn't help but reach his tongue out to take a broad sweep of that sweet spot and taste. She tasted like she smelt, the two senses blending together for Clark and nearly causing him to forget everything else.
His hands were working before he even registered he had moved. He pulled her tank top off and nuzzled his face into the soft, warm valley between her breasts that was made by the bra she was wearing.
"Clark," Chloe protested with a laugh and Clark could feel her pushing against his head with her hands.
Reluctantly he moved his face from her chest and looked up at her. "Yes?" he managed to force out.
"We can't... Not out here."
"Clark, we're outside," she said loudly.
Clark looked around slowly, using his enhanced sight to scan the area. He saw three birds standing in the field a distance from them, some insects, and Mr. Kendler's dog off in his southeast field, but nothing else. He would need to remember to call their neighbor about the dog later. "No one's around," Clark assured her and then turned back to his nuzzling.
"Clark," Chloe protested again.
He ignored her for the moment, but lifted his head just enough so that he could reach over and lick her left nipple through the fabric of her bra. Chloe groaned and pressed up against him. She wanted this, needed this, as much as he did.
"What if your father comes out here?"
"He won't. We didn't plant this field this year. And I would hear him long before he could see us," he told her seriously.
Chloe accepted that with a little nod. It hadn't taken her too much to be convinced, and Clark was glad.
He returned his mouth to her cloth-covered nipple and this time suckled softly through the fabric. It tasted of Tide and cotton with faint hints of her skin oils mixed in. It tasted like home and safety and comfort. It tasted so much like his future and Clark couldn't help but grin at that thought. Chloe was going to be his wife. He was going to taste Tide and cotton and Chloe for so many years to come.
Chloe groaned and arched up against him again. "Clark," she cried. Then she was scrambling at the fabric that separated his mouth from her flesh and then pale blue cotton was being pulled back to reveal creamy smooth skin.
"Mmm," Clark hummed appreciatively and took the pebbled nipple into his mouth.
After a minute, he switched to her other breast, paying it the same attention with licking and sucking. He lifted her up slightly and then reached behind her and released the clasp of her bra.
The fabric fell away from her skin and she was topless. Clark pulled back and then sat up so that he could remove his own shirt. As he did it, he took the time to admire his lovely partner. The years they had been together hadn't changed the thrill he got from seeing her naked. Her breasts were just right, large, but not overly so, with wide, dark pink nipples that hardened into perfect peaks when he touched her.
She caught him looking at her and smiled. He blushed softly in response.
"You're so beautiful," he told her and then it was her turn to blush.
He reached down to the waist of his jeans, then carefully popped the button and lowered the zipper. He did the same for Chloe's pants and they both wriggled out of pants and underwear together. He saw her wince slightly as her naked bottom met with the grass of the field. It was soft and comforting to him, but likely itchy and irritating to her.
"Here," Clark told her and reached out to pick his own shirt back up. "You can lie on this. We should probably have brought a blanket, but..." He really hadn't planned ahead for this part of their activities.
"Thanks," Chloe said with a smile and took the soft flannel. She arranged herself on it and then looked back up at him with her wide eyes.
Clark settled himself between her legs and smiled down at her. His cock brushed against her soft heat and they both shuddered.
"Please, Clark," she begged quietly and he could only nod. They both needed this so badly.
He shifted so that he was in the right position and then sunk into her tight, wet heat and groaned loudly. Every time he was inside her, her body wrapped around him, it was like coming home. This was where he belonged, this was where he fit. Chloe was his and he was hers. Nothing would ever be able to change that.
"Chloe," he groaned as he started to move inside her.
She wrapped her legs around his hips and thrust up against him.
Clark felt like he was in heaven. There simply couldn't possibly be anything better than this feeling.
"I love you," she whispered. Her hands clutched at his arms and it felt incredibly possessive.
"God, Chlo," Clark groaned. He thrust deeply inside her, felt her tighten around him, and came almost unexpectedly.
He cried out loudly and then felt her shuddering against him as well. A smile spread across his lips and he buried his face in her hair. Clean, Chloe, grass, sweat, summer. It was all there.
Clark moved to kiss her deeply for a few minutes before eventually pulling out and rolling onto his side next to her. He drew her to him and held her tightly for several long moments.
Time passed, wild things grew quasi-silently beneath them, and the birds that had been standing in the field took flight. Clark watched them as they reached the sky, floated on the currents for a few moments and then headed off to the north. So free, so wild. To be able to fly with impunity was one of his fondest dreams. Now it was reserved for night times in sparsely populated areas and absolute emergencies.
Chloe snuggled against his chest and murmured softly. Her eyes were closed and Clark could tell from her breathing that she had drifted off into a light sleep. She'd only sleep for ten minutes or so; Clark knew this from experience the same way he knew so many things about the woman he was holding. She liked to nap briefly after they made love. It was sweet and endearing and Clark didn't mind it at all. He loved holding her during these quiet times when it was just him and her and the rest of the world fell away.
Chloe moaned softly and started to move against him and Clark knew that she was starting to wake. She nuzzled into his chest and he held her tightly against him. She was so small, so delicate, but she fit just right into his embrace. She was stronger than she looked. Clark remembered the first time they'd made love and he'd been so worried that he would hurt her some way. But he hadn't. She hadn't broken somehow and now here they were still together after all these years. Through school, and graduation, and Chloe's master's program, and a job that took Clark too often out of the city, they had made it. Clark felt like they could make it through almost anything together.
"Clark," she murmured as she woke up against him. He stroked her hair gently and leaned down to press his lips against the top of her head. He felt the soft-rough texture of hair against his lips and smelt the sweet smell of peach-scented shampoo and conditioner.
"Clark," she said louder and struggled against him to sit up. Eventually he reluctantly allowed her to move out of his embrace. She sat up and stared down at him. "You asked me to marry you," she said, her voice full of excitement.
"I did," Clark confirmed with a smile and a small nod. "And you said yes."
Chloe's eyes lit up. "You're going to be my husband," she told him with a laugh.
"God, I hope so," Clark replied. He sat up so that he could pull Chloe back into his arms.
"I have to tell my dad," Chloe said suddenly and pulled away from Clark again, but not far enough to leave his embrace this time.
Clark nodded his agreement with that. Although he knew very well that her dad already had a good idea of what was going on. The week before, when he was supposed to be working late and following up on a story, Clark had driven out to Smallville to speak to Gabe. He knew it was rather old-fashioned asking the older man for permission to marry his daughter, but Clark had felt that it was necessary. Chloe's father had always treated Clark like a son and Chloe was his only daughter, his only child. Clark wanted to do this right and that meant asking her father and making sure that everything was okay. Chloe's father had been delighted and touched by the gesture. He'd also been so sure of Chloe's answer that he'd welcomed Clark to the family on the spot. Regardless of that, Clark had still been nervous right up until the moment that Chloe had said yes. He supposed that was normal.
"Your father first and then dinner with my parents?" he suggested.
Chloe nodded and then smiled brightly and started laughing. Clark was about to ask her what was funny when she suddenly pounced on him again and started kissing him. It was a while before they managed to get dressed and head for Chloe's father's house. That was okay; the world moved on without them for a while.
Chloe yawned, stretched, and hit Clark's head hard enough to hurt her hand. She shook it slightly to dull the pain and then turned to face her boyfriend. Fiancé, she reminded herself and then smiled at it. He was her fiancé. It was just too wonderful for words.
Everything had gone well the previous afternoon. First they had gone to visit her father. As soon as Chloe had told him that Clark had asked her to marry him, she had known that her father already knew. He was happy, but not surprised. Clark had gone and asked him for permission, she was absolutely sure of it. She had been both touched and slightly offended at that realization, but she instinctively knew that it had made her father happy so she didn't make a big deal over it. He had congratulated them and promised to help them with whatever he could.
Their dinner with Clark's parents had gone just as well. Both his parents were so happy for them, and almost instantly Martha had started to make plans for the wedding. She had insisted that they have the ceremony at the farm in spring and Chloe had felt the rightness of that suggestion and agreed to it almost immediately. It was only right for them to get married there in Smallville where everything had started.
"Chloe," Clark said with a hint of laughter in his voice, "you're glowing."
"Sure are," Clark confirmed.
"I'm happy," she told him. "I'm really happy and I love you so much."
"I love you too, sweetie," Clark said and drew her into his arms.
That's when Chloe noticed that Clark was dressed. He had jeans and a tee shirt on. She peeked under the blankets and saw that he was even wearing socks. He'd already been up that morning.
"You're dressed," she accused.
Clark shrugged. "It's after eight. There were chores to do. I wasn't sleeping anyhow, you know that."
Chloe nodded. It was true. Clark slept so little these days that at first she had worried if there was something wrong with him, but as the pattern dragged on from days into months, they both came to the realization that this must be normal for him. He was down to somewhere between three and four hours now. In a way it was good, he managed to get a lot of work done in those silent, solitary hours between the time he woke and Chloe eventually rose, but in another way entirely it was bad. Chloe liked to wake with Clark pressed up against her body. She liked being held, she liked being cuddled. Usually he came back to the bed before she woke, like today, but it just wasn't the same when she knew he had been gone.
"So everything's done?" Chloe asked. Clark nodded his agreement. In the two or so hours he had worked out there, Clark had probably done more than his father could have done in a week. It was a boon for his parents when he visited, especially when the farm needed to hire as few people as possible to remain in the black. It was too bad that they didn't come there more often, and Chloe resolved that she would make sure that they did so in the future.
"Yep," Clark told her, "And my mom has breakfast ready, so get up, sleepy." He reached down and poked her in the side.
"Hey," she squealed a protest.
Clark laughed and slid off the bed. "I'll meet you downstairs," he said and let himself out of the room.
Chloe sighed and then pushed herself up out of the bed. She still felt tired, but she knew it was time to get up. She looked down at what she was wearing and decided it was okay. She had on a pair of sweatpants and a Met U tee shirt. It was fine. If breakfast was ready then she didn't have time to shower and she didn't really want to dress until she had. She left the room and headed down the stairs to the kitchen.
They had arranged to meet at The Talon at noon. Clark and Chloe were there just a few minutes early. Clark liked being early; being late was something his parents had always frowned on, and as much as he had done it when he was a teenager now that he was an adult, he finally understood what they had been trying to teach him. That and the fact that Lex had once explained to him the psychological benefit of being somewhere first. Clark had never forgotten it and he'd very rarely been late after that piece of advice.
The Talon was much the same as it had always been, although it seemed to lack Lana's flare for decorating now. As far as Clark knew, Lex still owned the place, but once Lana and then Nell had left Smallville, management of the place had fallen to other hands. Sometimes Clark wondered what it must have been like for Lana to leave the place. Had it been hard? Had it been like finally letting go of her parents?
The smell of coffee was so thick in the air that Clark thought he could taste it. It was dark, rich, full of memories. More than any time before, Clark really felt like he had come home. It wasn't like the other times that Clark had come here, with or without Chloe, to visit his parents. In all those times, he had never come here, it just hadn't felt right. And now he was going to see Lana and Pete for the first time in five years and everything was going to be like it had been before he left, or at least as close as possible.
They arrived together just after noon. Lana was staying at Pete's house. Clark had offered his parent's home, and they would have been happy to have Lana, but they didn't have a spare bedroom. Pete's house, on the other hand, was just full of empty space. Even when they had been teenagers it had been a good place to sleep over. Pete's older brothers had both left for college by the time they started high school and they'd always had extra room for whoever wanted to stay. Clark also suspected that Pete wanted Lana to stay with him for a completely different reason.
Pete had always liked Lana, but had never had the courage to say anything about it. It had been kind of ironic considering the number of other girls Pete seemed comfortable with asking out, but Clark suspected that none of them had ever meant to Pete what Lana did. Besides, when Clark had been openly crushing on Lana, it would have been rather insensitive for Pete to make a move. So, he'd never done anything. But now that they were all getting back together, and he knew that Clark was dating Chloe, maybe he'd finally found the courage to do something about his feelings.
The first thing that Clark noticed about his friends was how different they looked. Lana looked older and more sophisticated than she ever had, but more than that, she looked really happy for first time that Clark could remember. She'd always had this shadow over her that Clark assumed had been baggage from her parent's death and that was finally gone. Pete also looked older and more in control. Gone was Clark's goofy friend. He had been replaced by this new version of Pete, who really looked like he could be the law student he claimed to be. He also looked like he had grown since the last time Clark had seen him, and he wondered if that could be true. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to take Pete out of the short category and place him firmly within the average, which was good. Sometimes Clark really hated being so tall, although so few people seemed to understand his objection.
The second thing that Clark noticed about his friends was how much the same they were as they always had been. Lana was still Lana with her soft, friendly, dark eyes and long black hair. She smiled prettily and Clark was surprised to find that the little flicker of interest he had assumed he would feel was simply not there. Lana was just a friend and she inspired no more interest than Pete. Clark breathed a soft sigh of relief at that. He had been a little worried about that, especially now that he'd decided that Chloe was the one he wanted to be with for the rest of his life, but he had still been worried. Pete was also still himself, especially after he smiled at Clark and Chloe and Clark saw the goofiness that still lay hidden in the depths of his eyes. Pete hadn't so much changed as masked his nature. He was still the same person underneath.
"Hey Clark, Chloe," Pete greeted them as he and Lana walked across the room and came to stand next to there their table.
Clark stood up and pulled Pete and then Lana to him for a hug. Chloe came to stand beside him and then hugged both of their friends in turn as well. Pete felt solid in his arms. He hugged Clark back and patted him on the back. When he pulled Lana into his arms she felt small and delicate. He noticed that she smelt really good, like flowers and springtime, but it still didn't make him feel any type of desire to be with her.
"It's been way too long," Clark said as the four of them sat down at their table.
"It has," Lana agreed.
One of the servers came over and took their order. Their conversation stopped while the four of them placed their orders and then waited for the young woman to walk away. Clark, Chloe and Pete all ordered coffee, and Lana ordered tea.
"I can't believe that you're living in England," Chloe said to Lana once they were alone again. She sounded so excited and impressed and Clark wondered if she wished her life were a little more exciting than grad school and Clark in Metropolis.
"I know," Lana said. "I could barely believe it either when I was accepted into the program."
"You're studying history?" Pete asked from where he was sitting beside her.
"Yeah," Lana confirmed. "It's great being there close to where everything happened. And the professors are so knowledgeable. The only hard thing is being so far away from Nell and everyone I know."
Clark nodded his understanding. He honestly didn't know how she could do it, being so far away from everyone. Of course, he didn't see his parents as much as he wanted to anymore, but at least he was close and he knew that they were only a few hours away if he wanted to see them. And he also had Chloe. He simply couldn't imagine leaving her for any length of time.
"It's a two year program, right?" he asked. He seemed to remember her telling him that when he had talked to her on the phone.
"Yeah. I can't believe that it's half over all ready. Then I'm going to have to try and decide what to do with my life after I graduate."
"Are you working this summer?" Chloe asked.
"Part time. I'm taking a class as well. I have the scholarship and I'm lucky that Nell saved enough money for my education that it covers most everything else."
Clark nodded again and tried not to feel too envious of his friend. Things would have been so much easier for him if he'd had the luxury of a college fund, but it simply hadn't been a possibility with his parent's financial situation. So Clark had worked all the way through college. Maybe it had helped him, though, because he'd managed to get a job right out of school, and that had been good for both Clark and Chloe since Chloe had wanted to go to grad school right away and there would have been no other way that they would have been able to afford it.
The server returned and dropped off their drinks. They all thanked her and watched as she left the table.
"You've done really well for yourself," Pete told Lana and turned to look directly at her. Clark was sure that he could still see that spark of interest in the other man's eyes. Clark hoped that it would work out for Pete, since both of his friends deserved to be happy. It wouldn't be easy with Lana so far away, though, and Clark also hoped that he wasn't setting himself up to be hurt even more.
"So have you, Pete, with law school and everything," Lana returned. She smiled and what Clark saw there was enough to give him hope for his friend.
"Clark and I have some news," Chloe said after a moment of silence between the four of them.
"Yeah?" Lana asked.
Clark nodded slowly and took a sip of his coffee. They had decided that Chloe would be the one to tell their friends. She was so excited that it only seemed fair for her to be the one to share their happy news. Beside Clark wasn't always best with those types of situations anyhow; he tended to become nervous and flustered. Chloe reached out and took Clark's hand and laid them on the table in front of them.
"We're engaged," Chloe said happily. On her face was one of the biggest smiles that Clark had ever seen.
"Ohh," Lana squealed. "That's so cool. Do you have a ring?" She looked down and Chloe's hands, but there was nothing there to see.
"No, not yet," Chloe told their friend.
It had been something that Clark had debated with himself for a couple of weeks. On one hand he had really wanted to get Chloe a ring before he asked so that she wouldn't think that it was just a spur of the moment type of thing and so that she knew how serious he was. On the other hand, they'd never discussed whether or not Chloe would want to wear a ring and, since she rarely wore any type of jewelry, he'd wanted wait and talk with her about it. Maybe it wasn't traditional, but with Chloe sometimes making assumptions was more dangerous than anything else. So, the night before they had talked and they'd decided that Chloe would like a ring, but nothing extravagant, and they were planning on going shopping for one before they returned to Metropolis.
"Way to go, Clark," Pete congratulated his friend and reached out across the table to punch Clark on the arm. "I still can't believe that the two of you got together after you went to Metropolis. I mean, in high school it seemed like it would happen so many times and then nothing came of it, and then as soon as you left it's like you figured it out."
"Well not as soon as we left," Chloe said with a laugh.
"No," Clark agreed. "It took another year for us to get it right. It was actually when we were back here over the summer after freshman year that we finally got together."
"We spent a lot of time together that summer and it just sort of happened," Chloe supplied.
Clark smiled as he remembered those days. It had been a long lazy summer of working for his parents during the day and seeing Chloe in the evening. It had felt so much like every other summer he'd ever had, and yet so different because most of the people he'd grown up with were missing. One day he'd just been leaving the house to go meet Chloe for dinner when his mom had commented that it was so nice that he and Chloe were finally dating. Clark had started a protest, but his mom had just smiled at him and shooed him out of the house.
After that he had really started to think about Chloe and what he was feeling for her. It was obvious to him that he liked being with her. She was his best friend now that Lex was gone. They did everything together; she made him laugh and always feel like he belonged. When he was away from her and something happened, she was always the first person he thought of telling, before his parents or any of his other friends. When he'd finally thought about it, he'd realized that the only thing they didn't share was a physical relationship and the more he tried to reason why that was, the more he realized that he didn't know the answer to that question.
So, less than a week later, Clark had finally asked Chloe out for real and they'd been together ever since. They were still best friends and now that they lived together they really did share everything. He loved her more than he had ever thought it was possible to love another person and he knew that she felt the same way about him. Their life together was really good. He was happy, and he was pretty certain that Chloe was happy as well.
"When's the wedding?" Lana asked excitedly.
"We haven't set a date yet. Clark just asked yesterday," Chloe told her.
Clark saw Pete raise his eyebrow at that and he silently promised his friend that he would tell him all about it in private at some point.
"This is so exciting," Lana exclaimed. "Do you have any ideas?"
"Clark's mom wants to do it next spring."
"At the farm," Chloe said.
"Oh, that will be beautiful. It will be all green and the flowers and everything. In the back of the house, right? Where she has her flower garden?"
"Umm hmm," Chloe nodded.
Clark sighed softly and looked over at Pete who seemed to be similarly bemused by the girls' discussion of the wedding plans. Clark smiled at his friend and Pete returned the gesture. He was happy, he really was. And he was glad that he had asked Chloe to marry him, but this seemed like it was going to be a lot more work than he had anticipated.
"I'm so excited for you," Lana said. She was literally bouncing in her seat by then and Clark could almost see the wheels turning in her head.
"Me too," Chloe exclaimed.
"I wish I could fall in love like that," Lana said with a slightly dreamy look on her face.
"So, you're not seeing anyone?" Chloe asked.
"No. I mean, I've dated on and off, but nothing serious, you know. Most of the guys I meet are really serious about their studies and stuff like that. They don't have a lot of time to pursue a relationship. And nothing ever felt right. I always thought that when I met the right person that I would just know, but now I wonder if that's true."
"Sometimes the right person is already there and you just don't know it yet," Clark told her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Pete sit up a little straighter next to Lana. Oh yeah, Pete was still interested. Clark would have to talk to Chloe about the situation and see what she suggested that they do about it.
"It's true," Chloe said and leaned slightly into Clark's side. He reached out and wrapped his arm around her. He knew he was smiling broadly, and he also knew that they probably looked too sappy for words, but that was okay. He was in love, he was allowed to look like a fool sometimes. In fact, it was almost expected of them.
"Maybe," Lana admitted. She took a long drink of her tea and then looked around them. "This place hasn't changed too much," she said.
"No," Pete agreed, "although it was better when you were here. You could always make this place feel so alive."
Lana blushed slightly and giggled. It was cute and it was so like her that Clark couldn't help but smile back in response. "Thanks," she said. "It's weird to come back and have things be so much the same and yet just slightly different at the same time."
"It is," Clark agreed with a nod. That seemed to lead to each of them thinking a little bit and there was silence at the table for a couple of minutes.
"Do you think that Lex is going to show up?" Lana asked somewhat absently.
"I don't know," Clark admitted. "I called the Singapore office so many times..."
"And our telephone bill reflects that," Chloe interjected.
"...but he never called back. I really don't know what he's up to or if he plans on meeting us."
"It's strange," Lana said.
"Oh, come on," Pete objected, "It's Lex. You didn't honestly think that he was going to show up, did you?"
"Actually, I did," Clark said. "He promised."
"Five years ago," Pete reminded him.
"Still," Clark said.
He wanted to protest Pete's lingering dislike of the older man, but Chloe's hand descended on Clark's arm and reminded him that it wasn't really worth the fight. During their high school years, Lex had become Clark's best friend, but Pete had never quite been able to accept him. In a way Clark understood how Pete could be angry with Lex, but really, anything that had been done to his family had been done by Lex's father, and Lex had turned out to be nothing like the elder Luthor. Clark had often wished that Pete would just let the past rest where it was.
"So, what do we want to do this afternoon?" Chloe asked and suddenly changed the subject.
"I wish that Nell still lived here," Lana said. "We could go riding. That's something that I've really missed doing since leaving Smallville."
"Maybe we can just go out to the farm and hang out like old times," Pete suggested. He turned to look at Clark, "What do you think the chance of your mom making pie for us is?" he asked.
Clark laughed at that. Pete had always loved his mom's pie. It didn't seem to matter what type it was: apple, cherry, or lemon. Pete liked it all. And more often than not, Clark's mom had been ready with the pie when Pete came over as well. Clark was pretty sure that it wasn't a coincidence. She probably loved to see someone enjoying her baking as much as Pete.
"Oh I see your evil plan now, Pete. Come back to Smallville and eat my parents out of house and home."
Clark laughed. "I'm sure that she's already got one baking for you, Pete," he assured his friend. "I mentioned that we might come by this afternoon."
Pete's eyes lit up and he was out of his seat almost immediately. "And we're waiting for?" he asked.
"Nothing," Clark replied after looking over at Chloe and making sure that she was ready to leave as well.
The four of them stood up, went to pay for their drinks, and then headed out towards the farm.
"It's good to see them," Chloe said once they were in their own car and headed back to Clark's parent's place.
"It is," Clark agreed. He couldn't quite make himself sound as happy as he should. He was still worried about where Lex was and why he hadn't shown up yet.
"I'm sure he'll come," Chloe told him gently.
"I hope so," Clark replied. "I just worry that he hasn't contacted me at all." He hoped that nothing had happened.
Pete and Lana ended up staying at the farm all afternoon reminiscing and watching movies. The four of them had dinner with Clark's parents and went out to the barn for a few hours.
The barn was much the same as it had been when Clark was a teenager, and whenever he visited he went out there to do upkeep on the place. He had thought about taking it apart last year after he had graduated from college and knew that he would be coming home less frequently, but Chloe had convinced him not to. The barn held a lot of memories for the two of them and it had a great deal of sentimental value. It was a great place to just go and hang out together when they visited his parents.
Pete and Lana had left to go back to Pete's place soon after dark and that had left Clark and Chloe alone in the barn. They had made love out there watching the stars and then fallen asleep on the old couch under a blanket. That was why Chloe found herself waking there the next morning with Clark kneeling beside her and shaking her gently.
"Mmm," Chloe mumbled and snuggled into Clark's side.
She reached out to stretch and one of her arms hit the back of the couch. Chloe's eyes opened wide and she looked around her. "We're in the barn, Clark," she told him.
"We are," Clark confirmed with a smile. "I brought you some jammies so that you can go inside and take a shower without having to put your clothes from yesterday on."
Chloe blushed slightly and then looked under the blanket that was covering her. As she had suspected, she was naked. She groaned inside and could only hope that no one had come into the barn yet that morning other than Clark.
"I went and met my dad outside this morning, if that's what you're worried about, Chlo. No one's come in here, honestly."
"Okay," Chloe said and then sat up and started to dress herself. She could feel Clark's eyes on her as she moved, but she didn't mind. She was glad that he thought she was beautiful, even if she didn't always see it in herself. To her girls like Lana were beautiful, but girls like her were just pretty. She had long ago convinced herself that it was okay, but Clark always made her feel like she was wrong, that she really was beautiful.
"What are our plans for today?" she asked as she finished pulling the soft cotton shorts and top on.
"Hiking, swimming," Clark told her, "maybe some riding. I'm going to go visit our neighbor and see if he'll let us take his horses out for the day."
Chloe groaned slightly. She'd never been the best at riding and next to Lana she looked like a complete amateur. Spending her first twelve years in Metropolis had made sure that she had never even seen a horse up close until she came to Smallville. And the first time that Clark had coaxed her on to one had been a disaster.
"It will be fun," Clark insisted. "And I know that Lana really wants to do it. We'll go as slow as we need to."
Chloe nodded slowly and tried not to feel the pang of jealousy that was rising up inside her. She knew that Clark thought of Lana as a good friend and that he would do the same for any good friend who had expressed an interest in doing something, but still. This was Lana Lang, the girl that Clark had a crush on their entire high school career. And when she had left, it had taken him an entire year to get over it. She knew that Clark had chosen her, but she couldn't help but wonder if he would reconsider now that Lana was back, even if just for a little while.
"I love you," Clark said and bent down a little bit to kiss her deeply. "Come on," he said once he had released her lips. He took her hands in his and pulled her up from the couch. "Mom said that breakfast is in fifteen minutes, so if you want to have a shower before that we should go in now."
"Okay," Chloe agreed and followed Clark into the house. She was still a little bothered by the Lana situation, but she was resolved not to let it get to her too much. Lana would be leaving at the end of the week and then it would just be her and Clark again and everything would be fine.
Mandy, Mr. Kendler's dog, came running up to Clark's side as soon as he stepped foot on the property. She barked and sniffed Clark and then sat back on her haunches and panted happily. It suddenly hit him that in the excitement of asking Chloe to marry him, he hadn't called and told Mr. Kendler that his dog was out in their fields the day before. He felt a twinge of guilt at forgetting, but it was soon dropped, since the dog had obviously gotten home safely.
"Hey, Mand," Clark said fondly and reached down to scratch the large dog behind her ears. Mandy was a large German Shepard cross of some sort. She was darker and slightly heavier than a purebred dog would be and Clark suspected that she might be part Black Lab or something like that. "You wandered a long way yesterday, didn't you?"
Mandy just panted back at Clark and then stood up to follow him as he resumed his movement towards the front door. Clark had always liked dogs and Mandy was a good one, even if she did wander a little bit more than anyone would have liked. He had often wished he'd been allowed to have a dog as a child and even now he wished that he could get one. But he spent too much time at work and Chloe spent too much time at school. It simply wouldn't be fair, not on them or the dog.
Clark reached the front door and rang the bell. Mr. Kendler's truck was parked next to the front of the house, so he had to be around there somewhere. He didn't know if the older man would be in the house, but it was the best place to start. If he weren't there, then Clark would just take a scan of the rest of the property to find him.
"Mr. Kendler?" Clark called out after a minute or so of waiting on the doorstep but there was no response.
"Where is he, Mand?" Clark asked the dog.
Mandy just panted at him and waged her tail. No help there.
Clark smiled absently and leaned down to pat the dog again. When he was done, he straightened up and used his x-ray vision to scan the barn and other out buildings in the area to see if Mr. Kendler was in any of them. Strangely, Clark didn't find the man. He found the chickens, and three of the man's four horses. At first, Clark thought that two of them were missing, but then he reminded himself that his parents had told him that Star, the first horse Clark ever remembered riding, had passed that spring. So now there should have been four horses. Molly, Prancer, and Ben were all there, but Midnight was missing.
"Odd," Clark muttered to himself. Midnight was Mr. Kendler's favorite horse, and if he was missing, it probably meant that the man was where ever the horse was.
He wandered around the back of the house to see if there would be any indication of where Mr. Kendler had gone. Around the back on the house was the tractor, so Clark scratched off another possibility on his list of places his neighbor could be. He was getting confused and had just decided that he likely wasn't going to find the other man when Mandy started whining behind him.
Clark turned around and looked at the dog. She was whining and pawing at the ground next to a large metal bowl. Interested, Clark went over and looked at what she was doing. The bowl was stainless steel, and didn't appear to have anything in it. He didn't know what it was until he realized that there was a second, smaller plastic bowl next to it. In the plastic bowl was a brown, dusty substance. Clark leaned down, touched the brown power with his fingers, and then brought them to his nose. It was... dog food. Mandy's food dish. Which likely meant that the large metal one was for water.
But it was empty.
It had been warm the day before, but it hadn't been so warm that the entire bowl would have been empty this morning if it had been filled the previous day. And besides, if Mr. Kendler had been there, he would have noticed the lack of water and filled the bowl. So the man had been gone since at least early the day before, if not longer.
"Where is he?" Clark asked the dog again. Mandy barked and panted.
She must have been thirsty, Clark realized. He quickly picked up the bowl and took it over to the tap that was on the far side of the back door. He turned on the water, and Mandy didn't even wait for him to start filling the bowl before she was lapping at the stream of liquid. When she was done, he filled the bowl and placed it back where he had found it. Clark scanned the farm buildings again until he found the dog food in the barn with the other bags of animal feed and went and retrieved that for Mandy as well.
She ate quickly and looked up expectantly at Clark when she was finished.
"I don't know," he told her. "The truck's here. Where would he have gone?"
Clark knew that short of breaking into the house, he was unlikely to find any clues to where the other man was. And he didn't want to take that step quite yet, besides if Mr. Kendler was missing then the police would want to look in his house and find it as undisturbed as possible. All that left was going back to his parent's house and telling them what he had found.
"Stay here. Be a good girl," he told her and Mandy barked her agreement. Clark took off in the direction of his parent's farm, careful to avoid the road as he ran.
Clark had gone home and told his parents what he had seen over at Mr. Kendler's place. They had seemed concerned, but not overly so. Mr. Kendler had lived alone for the last five years since his wife's death and it was possible that he had simply gone somewhere for the night and forgotten to make sure the Mandy was taken care of. Or perhaps he had asked one of the local children to look after her and they had been neglectful. They had called the sheriff, though, and the man had said that he would go out to the farm and check it out.
Clark wasn't convinced. He still had the sneaking feeling that something was wrong. Why would Mr. Kendler leave and not let anyone know where he was going? Why would he leave and not make sure Mandy was cared for? And where was Midnight? Clark wished that he had remembered to call on Sunday night and tell the man about his dog. Perhaps they would have known sooner that he was missing, or perhaps Clark would have a better idea what had happened.
Clark's parents insisted that he shouldn't worry, that he should simply let the sheriff handle it and go out with his friends and have fun. Eventually Clark had agreed and he and Chloe had met up with Pete and Lana and the four of them had gone out to the lake with a picnic lunch and plans for swimming and sunbathing.
Clark tried to have fun, he really did, but by the middle of the afternoon he was so worried that he almost didn't know what to do with himself.
"Clark," Chloe approached him and sat down next to him on a log. Pete and Lana were in the lake swimming. Apparently Pete had said something funny because they were both laughing. "You're not having a lot of fun here, are you?"
"I'm trying, Chlo," Clark assured her and wrapped him arm around her shoulders.
"You know that it's not your job to save everyone, Clark," Chloe insisted. They'd had this conversation in the past, but not recently. Recently Clark had settled down into his job and the pressures and demands of it and had managed, for a while, not to think about how many people he could be helping but wasn't. The problem was that he wasn't sure how much longer he could continue to do that. He knew that Chloe worried about him, but he also knew that helping people was something that he was meant to do.
"How do we know that? How do we know that isn't exactly what I'm meant to do?" Clark insisted.
Chloe didn't know everything about his secret, but she knew most of it. She knew the strength and speed and the vision thing, but she thought that he was a mutant like so many of the other children in Smallville. He'd never been able to tell her the part about being an alien, and he didn't know if he ever would be able to now that he'd avoided it for so long. How would she feel knowing that he had kept it from her all these years?
"Clark," Chloe protested. "Even you have limits. Even you are allowed to have fun with some old friends."
"I just feel like I should be doing something. This isn't right. I know it. Something's happened and I need to go help find Mr. Kendler."
"Well, maybe you should go then," Chloe said. It was said without malice or annoyance or anything else. She knew how he was and she knew that he simply wouldn't be happy until he had made sure that everyone was okay. This was obviously not where he felt like he needed to be right then.
"Would you like me to come with you?"
"It will be faster on my own," Clark told her and they both knew that it was simply the truth. Clark could move faster on his own than he could if Chloe was with him.
"Okay," Chloe nodded.
"Can you tell them that I'm sorry?" Clark asked and gestured towards Pete and Lana who were still in the lake seemingly having a great time. Pete looked up then and saw Clark and Chloe sitting on the edge of the lake looking at them. He waved and Clark waved back.
"It will be okay," Chloe insisted. "Just keep safe, okay?"
"Of course," Clark assured her, although he was pretty sure that nothing short of exposure to the meteor rocks could hurt him any longer. He knew that she still worried about him all the same, mostly because she didn't know the whole truth.
"I love you," she told him.
"I love you too, Chloe," Clark returned. He leaned down to kiss her gently and then sped off back towards town and Mr. Kendler's farm.
Clark had headed back to his parent's house and found out from them that the sheriff had gone out to Mr. Kendler's place and looked around. He hadn't seen anything suspicious and had told the Kents that the man was probably just out overnight on a hike or something similar. If he hadn't come back by the same time tomorrow, his parents were to call again and the sheriff would start a search of the area. Clark hadn't been impressed, nor convinced, and his parents seemed to have started to feel the same way.
Clark had taken off to look for the man. He had used his sight, his hearing, his speed, and, in the more heavily wooded areas, even some levitation to find the man. It had taken him two hours in total, but he'd finally come across Mr. Kendler at the bottom of a gully. The man was alive, but barely. He appeared to have been thrown from his horse and then to have rolled down the hill. Using his x-ray vision Clark determined that he had a broken arm, a couple broken ribs, and most devastating, a fractured spine. It looked bad, possibly more so due to the length of time he had been lying there unattended, and Clark had been terrified to move him.
Clark rushed back to his parent's place and called the paramedics and then the sheriff's office. Fifteen minutes later there were emergency vehicles arriving, but the remoteness of the area made it difficult. Clark had taken two of the paramedics with him and they had hiked into the area. They had left the sheriff back at his farm, calling Metropolis General to send out a helicopter to evacuate the man.
It all took several hours, but eventually Mr. Kendler was safely on his way to the hospital and everyone else was leaving. The prognosis didn't look good for the man, unfortunately. The severity of his injuries and the amount of time he had been exposed to the elements without medical treatment were making everything touch and go. The paramedics had told Clark that he could call the hospital and enquire about Mr. Kendler's condition later that night once the doctors had seen him. They hadn't seemed hopeful, though, and Clark was worried.
The paramedics assured Clark that they could find their own way back to the farm and so Clark spent the next half an hour finding Midnight and taking him back to Mr. Kendler's barn. By the time he returned to the farm with the horse, it was starting to get dark. Once there, Clark rubbed the horse down, made sure he was settled, and then fed all the animals for the night. Mandy seemed to understand that something wasn't right and stuck to his side the entire time he was there.
When Clark went to leave, Mandy followed him. No matter what Clark tried, he simply couldn't convince the dog to stay at the property, and so, instead of fighting with her, he had eventually given in and simply brought Mandy home with him. Once back at his house, she curled up on the front step, seemingly content to stay there, and Clark had allowed it.
He then went inside to find his parents and Chloe. The three of them, along with Pete and Lana, were sitting in the living room watching the news and waiting for Clark.
"Clark," Chloe exclaimed and shot up off the couch as soon as she saw him enter the room. She rushed across the small space separating them and threw herself into his arms. Clark wrapped his arms tightly around her and simply held on. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Chlo," he murmured against the side of her head.
"I was worried. We were coming back from the lake and we heard the sirens, but by the time we got here, you had already left again."
Clark could hear the tears in Chloe voice and he knew that she was close to breaking down in front of everyone. He also knew that wasn't something that she would want them to see. "It's okay, sweetie," he told her softly. "I'm fine, really. You know how hard it is to hurt me." He said the last so softly that he knew that only he and she could have heard it.
Chloe nodded against his chest and then took a deep breath. After a moment she stepped back and wearily looked up at him.
"Clark, man," Pete asked from where he was sitting. "How'd you know where he was?"
"I don't know," Clark said and blushed slightly. He hated talking about this stuff with people. He hated them thinking that he was some kind of hero or something. He was just a guy who could do some things that other people couldn't and because of that he felt an obligation to help. "I just... I guess I was lucky."
"That's some luck, Clark. To find him out there in the middle of the gully?"
"How is he?" Lana asked softly from where she was sitting next to Pete. Lana had known Mr. Kendler and his wife rather well. They had lived on the other side of Clark's farm from Lana. Nell and Mrs. Kendler had been friends, and since Mrs. Kendler had been as interested in riding as Lana, she'd often invited the young woman over to ride with her.
"He's... He's pretty hurt," Clark admitted. "They don't really know yet. Said that I should call the hospital later and see what they knew then."
"I... I just can't believe it," Lana said softly and then she did start crying. It was just a couple of tears slipping down her face, but it was enough to cause Pete to pull her towards him. She accepted the comfort he was offering as if he'd always been the one there for her. And in the middle of fear and pain, Clark saw hope for the future. He almost smiled before he remembered what else was happening.
"We should probably go," Pete said eventually as he released Lana from his embrace.
"You sure you don't want to stay and eat with us?" Clark's mother asked him and Lana.
They both shook their heads. "No, I'm sure my mom has something put aside for us," Pete told her. Clark's mom nodded and then Pete and Lana slipped out almost without Clark noticing.
The four of them ate dinner. It was quiet and subdued. Clark still thought that there was more that he should have done. He should have realized that there was something really wrong right away. He should have insisted on going and looking for the man that morning instead of giving in and going out with his friends to the lake. He should have called Mr. Kendler on Sunday afternoon and maybe the older man wouldn't have had to spend two nights out in the bottom of a gully. There were just so many things that he should have done.
After dinner, his parents tried to talk to him, but Clark insisted that he just wanted to go to bed. Eventually they had let him and Chloe followed him upstairs to the bedroom. The two of them got changed and climbed into bed. Chloe pulled him into her arms and Clark finally let himself break down.
"God, there's so much more that I should have done, Chlo," Clark admitted after several long minutes of silence during which she simply held him and rocked him gently.
"Clark, you did everything that you could have," she insisted.
"I... I should have gone out looking for him this morning."
"And how were you supposed to know that there was something wrong?"
"I knew," Clark told her. "I knew, but I wanted to spend time with you and Pete and Lana and I let that take precedence."
"Clark, even you need to have a life."
"You don't understand, Chlo," Clark muttered softly.
"You're, right, I don't. But it's because you won't let me in. Do you think that I don't know that there's more to whatever you are that you're not telling me? Maybe if you let me know, I would understand this need you have to place everyone in front of yourself."
Clark froze against her and didn't breathe for a long moment. "You know?"
"Clark, it's me," Chloe said with a small laugh. "I live with you. I know when you're telling me the whole truth."
"I... I want to tell you."
"I know you do."
"But I can't. Not yet. I'm... I'm trying."
"I know you are," she assured him and held him tighter to her, his back pressed up against her chest. "Before the wedding, though?"
Clark nodded slowly and Chloe seemed to be satisfied by that. They just lay there for several minutes until her rolled over in her arms and buried his face in her neck.
"I love you," he muttered.
"I love you too," Chloe returned.
"What if... What if he dies?" Clark asked softly a moment later.
"Then we go on, Clark. It won't be your fault."
Clark didn't respond to that directly. He held on tighter to Chloe and then very slowly moved his head back from where it was buried in her neck and reached up to kiss her. His lips touched hers and a shock ran through Clark. Suddenly he knew exactly what he needed. He needed Chloe. More than anything he simply needed Chloe.
Their kiss deepened and Clark was moaning into Chloe's mouth and she was letting him press his tongue past her lips and deep into the warm cavern. She opened under him and let him take what he needed. He tasted her and groaned. She was his and his alone. She was the reason all of this was worth doing. She grounded him and he suspected that he would have lost it a long time before that if she hadn't been there for him every time something like this had happened in the past, not that it had been too often. Unfortunately, Clark thought that it might start happening all the more frequently in the future. He simply wasn't going to be able to convince himself to stay detached any longer. Chloe would have her work cut out for her and Clark only hoped that she was up to it.
He rolled them over as gently as he could so that Chloe was underneath him and then started to pull off their clothes. It only took a moment and then they were both naked. Chloe moved underneath him, spreading her legs so that he could more easily settle against her. They both knew that Clark needed this and Chloe seemed willing to give it to him. When he was sure she was ready for him, Clark sunk deep inside her. She wrapped her legs around his back and he groaned. For long moments they simply rocked together in silence and Clark was able to convince himself that everything was going to be okay. He built slowly and steadily, and when he finally came deep inside her, it was like a release of all the fear and pain he'd built up inside himself all day long.
Clark felt a single tear roll down his face and Chloe reached up to kiss it off.
"Thank you," Clark whispered.
Chloe just hummed her acceptance and held him tighter to her.
Wednesday morning it was raining hard. It was the first thing Chloe noticed when she woke up. It was falling hard and fast on the roof and for a moment she thought that it might have been hail. A quick look out the window confirmed that it was only rain, though. The second thing that she noticed was that she was alone. Again. Not new by any means, but she had thought after the night before that Clark might have stayed with her. But she also realized that even if he had wanted to that the storm would have driven him outside to help his father. Things needed to be done and Clark just did them. She knew that, but it didn't mean she was used to it and she wondered if she ever would be.
"Well I might as well get up, then," Chloe said to herself and rolled out of the small bed.
She got dressed and then headed downstairs. Clark's mother was in the kitchen, but, as Chloe suspected, neither of the Kent men were around.
"Chloe," Mrs. Kent greeted her.
"Good morning Mrs. Kent," Chloe said as she sat down at the table and watched the older woman do whatever it was that she was doing. After a moment it appeared that she was making bread dough. It was something that she had never done before and Chloe was only happy that Clark had never seemed to hold Chloe's cooking skills up to his mom's standards. Not that she did a lot of the cooking in their house anyhow. Often it was Clark himself making their dinners or they went out to eat.
"Martha," the older woman insisted.
"Martha," Chloe repeated with a nod and a smile. It was going to take a while for Chloe to start thinking of Clark's mother as anything other than 'Mrs. Kent'. And his father would be even harder, but they were right, if she was going to be part of their family it simply wouldn't be right for her to go around calling them Mr. and Mrs. Kent. Not to mention that soon she would be Mrs. Kent as well. Well, maybe. She and Clark hadn't discussed whether or not she would be changing her name and Chloe wasn't really sure where she stood on it either. She had always thought that she wouldn't change it, but now, faced with the decision, she wasn't as sure any longer.
"Clark and his father are out making sure everything's secure. It's quite a storm coming in," Clark's mother said without Chloe having to ask.
Chloe just nodded in response. Martha came over to sit at the table with her and brought two mugs of coffee with her. Chloe smiled her gratitude and took a long drink of the dark black liquid.
"Okay," she said slowly.
"He never takes these things well."
"He thinks that it's his fault, that there was more that he should have done."
"I know," Martha said with her own nod. She drank her coffee and looked contemplative.
"I try to help but sometimes I just don't know what to do," Chloe admitted.
"Sometimes there's nothing you can do besides be there for him, Chloe," Martha told her.
Chloe nodded slowly and then smiled. "That sounds like experience."
"Mmm," the older woman murmured and took a drink of her coffee.
Chloe only wished that she were better at the whole comfort thing. She knew that there were things going on with Clark that she didn't know, but she also knew that until she did she wouldn't be able to help him like she wanted to. She wondered if it would always be there between them or if at some point Clark would trust her enough to tell her what was going on. Maybe it hadn't been fair for her to tell him that she wanted him to tell her before the wedding, but Chloe knew that there was no way she could marry him if there was this huge secret between them. She also knew that, no matter what Clark might think, there wasn't anything that he could tell her that would make her want to leave him.
"You'll do fine, sweetie. It will all work out for you two. I can tell how much you love each other."
"It's not easy."
"It never is. You never really know what tomorrow's going to bring," Martha told her.
Chloe nodded. She was going to say something else, but before she could Clark and his father came banging through the kitchen door.
Clark ran his hand through his wet hair. It was really raining outside and more than was strictly normal for the end of June in Kansas. It hadn't been expected, so there had been a couple of things that needed to be brought inside before the worst of the storm hit. His father had also wanted to move the cattle in from one of the far fields to one that was closer to the farm. All together it had taken then about two hours. It had started raining hard about half way through and now both he and his father were soaked.
Next to Clark, Jonathan started to step into the kitchen only to be stopped by his mother. "Jon, no," she cried and jumped up from the table. "You're dripping all over the floor. Let me go get some towels for you two."
Clark watched his mother as she hurried out of the room and smiled. Nothing had changed during the years that he had been away from home. There was still no way that his mother was going to let anyone walk through her home wet, no matter who they were.
He noticed Chloe sitting at the table drinking coffee and smiled at her. She must have just gotten up recently because it didn't appear that she'd been in the shower yet. She was sitting there in her pajamas with her hair pulled back and looking like it hadn't been brushed yet. Clark thought she looked beautiful.
"Morning Chloe," he greeted her.
"Morning. Out working hard already, I see," she teased him gently and continued drinking her coffee.
His mom hurried back into the kitchen with two huge towels before he could respond to that. He knew that she was likely a little annoyed that he hadn't been in bed when she had woken up that morning, but there wasn't a whole lot he could do about it. He'd woken up early, smelled the bad weather coming in, and known that there were things that would need to be taken care of before the rain hit. He'd gotten up and found that his father was just heading out as well. The older man might not have had the strangely enhanced senses like his son, but as a farmer he had instincts about those sorts of things.
Clark took the towel his mother had brought him and dried off the best he could. His jacket had kept most of his upper body dry, but his pants were soaked through and he could feel the water trickling down into his boots. His father was in much the same state. His mother took their jackets and carried them into the laundry room. Clark could hear the dryer come on a moment later.
Shoes and socks off, Clark's father headed to the bathroom to shower and change into dry clothes and Clark headed up to his bedroom. Chloe followed him upstairs and into the room.
"Everything okay?" she asked him as he quickly stripped out of his wet clothing and pulled on an old pair of sweats.
"Yeah, Dad wanted to move the cattle and bring some stuff inside before the storm hit, and I made sure Mandy was in the barn with food and water. I didn't want her to get spooked by the storm. Nothing major, but it all needed to be done."
Chloe nodded and sat down on the bed to wait for him to finish dressing. He pulled on a pair of socks and then turned to look at her.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't here when you woke up this morning," he said. He ran a hand through his hair to try and unsnarl the curls. He really needed to get it cut, but hadn't had the chance recently so it was longer than normal.
"It's okay. I understand that sometimes there's other things you need to do," she told him.
Clark nodded and hoped that Chloe really did understand because he had a feeling that he was going to start being gone a whole lot more than he had in the past. After what had happened with Mr. Kendler, Clark just knew that he couldn't let something like that happen to someone else. If he was able to stop it, if he was able to save someone, then he was going to have to do it. It was simply who he was and he really believed that it was also what he was meant to do with his life. He had been given these abilities for a reason and if it wasn't to help others, then what was it? If he followed his instinct and did that then there would be many nights when he might not get home at all. It would be hard to balance everything and he only hoped that Chloe would be able to do it.
"Of course," Chloe said and laughed harshly, "I'm not that much of a bitch. Am I?"
"God, Chlo, no," Clark protested and sat down on the bed next to her. "Not at all."
"Well, good. Did you call the hospital this morning?"
"Yeah, first thing this morning before Dad and I went out." The truth was that he simply couldn't have left it any longer. It had bothered him all night, not knowing what was going on with Mr. Kendler and he had known that there was simply no way that he would have been able to do anything before he knew that the other man was going to be okay.
"He's pretty beaten up. His spine was fractured but they can't tell yet if there's any damage to his spinal cord because everything's swollen, but he'll live."
"That's great, Clark," Chloe said and reached out to place her hand on his thigh.
"Yeah," Clark said quietly. "He might not walk again. What will he do then? That farm is all he has. He won't be able to run it if he can't walk."
"It's hardly your fault that his horse threw him, Clark," Chloe assured him.
"I... I know," Clark admitted slowly, "but I can't help feeling that there was more that I could have done."
"No one could have done more," Chloe insisted.
"I could have," he replied. "I... I'm different, you know that, Chlo."
"I know," she told him with a nod. "You're strong, fast, and it's really hard to hurt you. I also know there's more that you haven't told me, but Clark, it doesn't make you any different from anyone else around here. You're still human. You still have limitations, even if they are less than other people's."
Clark cringed and turned away from her. That was the problem right there. That he wasn't human, that he wasn't like anyone else. How was it possible for him to tell her now and not make her feel awful that he hadn't told her sooner? He'd known her for over ten years now. They'd been sleeping together for the last four and living together for the last two. He should have told her so much sooner, but he just hadn't known how to do it.
"Clark?" she asked and reached out to lay her hand on his shoulder as he turned from her.
"You're not what?"
"I'm not human, Chlo," he whispered. He could hear the fear in his own voice and the quaver in it scared the hell out of him.
"Of course you are, Clark," Chloe told him and then shifted closer so that she could wrap her arms around him. "We all feel like that sometimes, but being different doesn't make you any less human."
"You don't understand," he ground out. "I'm really not."
"I'm serious," he snapped and cut her off. Why couldn't she simply understand? This was the single hardest thing he'd ever said to anyone and she just wasn't getting it. It wasn't making the situation any easier.
"Okay," she said slowly. "So what are you then?"
"I... I don't know."
"Then how do you know that you're not human?" Chloe asked him calmly and Clark realized that it was a reasonable question.
Had he really expected that he could just come up to her some day and tell her that he wasn't human and she'd just believe him? He realized he had. But maybe just because he'd known it for so long himself that it had become something that he could accept without too much effort. He tried to imagine Pete or Lana coming to him and telling him the same thing and realized that maybe it would be a little hard to believe at first.
"I... I have a ship," he told her quietly.
"A ship," Chloe repeated.
"I came in it. During the meteor shower. It's in my parent's storm cellar."
"There's a ship in your parent's storm cellar?" Chloe asked him.
He turned back to look directly at her and saw the slightly glazed look in her eyes and wondered if he had somehow broken her. She only seemed to be able to repeat what he was saying and she didn't seem to be able to comprehend it properly.
"You're an alien?" she asked him eventually. Her voice was soft and a little fearful.
"Chloe," Clark said softly and reached out to touch her.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
Clark sighed softly. "I didn't tell anyone, Chloe. I... I guess I was scared when I was a teenager. I didn't know what people would do to me if they found out, and then it had been so long and no one knew and I just didn't know how to tell you. I know that I should have told you when we got together, but..." he trailed off because he didn't really know what to say after that. How could he tell her that he hadn't told her because he didn't know for sure if they would last?
"You wanted to wait until you were sure," she finished for him.
Clark nodded and wondered how it was that she knew exactly what he was going to say. "I... I'm sorry."
Chloe nodded. She looked down at his hand and then back up at his face. "You look so human," she said softly.
"I... I know."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, sweetie, I am," Clark told her softly. He moved so that he could wrap his arms around her and draw her into a hug. She let him and Clark knew then that everything was going to be all right. She hadn't freaked out. She hadn't told him that she didn't want to be with him anymore. He suspected that she hadn't really processed everything yet, either, and that there would be more questions and more discussion later, but it really hadn't been as bad as he had thought it could be.
"Your mom was right," she whispered into his shoulder.
"You never really know what's going to happen tomorrow," she muttered.
Clark nodded. It sounded like his mother and it was certainly true in this situation. He'd never suspected when he got up this morning that this would be the day that he told Chloe everything.
"I love you," she told him.
Clark smiled and held her closer to him. "I love you, too." Everything was going to be okay.
"I really love it," Chloe said and looked down at her ring. Clark smiled from where he was watching her from across their table at the Talon.
Pete had called the house around ten that morning and told Clark that he and Lana were going to spend the day at Pete's house. It was raining too hard and neither of them felt like going out, but Clark and Chloe were more than welcome to come over and join them. Clark had gotten a definite feeling that Pete really wanted him to say no and leave the two of them alone for the day and so he'd begged off saying that he and Chloe needed to go into town and look at rings. It had been part of the truth, anyhow. It was definitely something that they had been planning on doing, but originally they'd thought that they would leave it until Saturday afternoon once Lana had left. If Pete wanted some alone time with Lana, though, Clark had no trouble changing his plans and it hadn't been too difficult to convince Chloe.
The worst of the storm had passed by one and that was when he and Chloe headed out to the jewelry store. Finding a ring that Chloe liked had been both easier and harder than Clark had anticipated. It was easier because there had been many rings that Chloe liked, and harder because they needed to pick just one. Eventually they settled on a rather simple ring that seemed understated in a sophisticated way, Chloe hadn't wanted anything too large or too flashy.
"I'm glad," Clark told her with a smile. He was happy. He loved Chloe and she was going to be his wife. And for the first time in his whole life, he felt like he knew what he needed to do with it, like he'd finally found his purpose. He knew, somehow, that Chloe would understand it. They would be able to work their lives around his need to help others.
"How did I know I would find you here?" a voice that Clark was sure he recognized called from the entrance of the Talon. He swung around to look and knew immediately that he had been right.
"Lex," he called out and gestured for the older man to come over and join them.
Lex looked older than he had before, but other than that very little about him had changed. He still carried himself with a careless arrogance that spoke of exactly how much money he had. If nothing else, he was dressed better than before in his black pants, blue shirt, and long, long jacket. As Clark watched Lex cross the room, he noticed that people turned and stared. They still looked at Lex like he was the spawn on Satan and he still pretended not to care, although Clark knew that it was an act on Lex's part. He had tried so hard to make the people here believe that he was different from his father, and, for a while, he had almost succeeded, but five years was a long time and they had obviously forgotten the difference since then.
"Clark, Chloe," Lex greeted them as he moved to take the seat next to Clark.
"Lex," Chloe greeted him with a nod.
"I wasn't sure that you were going to make it," Clark told his friend.
"For a while, neither was I. I had some business that I needed to finalize and at the last minute it got held up. That's why I wasn't here on Monday. Then there was the storm this morning. My pilot didn't want to chance it."
"You brought the helicopter?" Clark asked with an incredulous note in his voice. Sometimes he didn't understand Lex at all. He could have simply driven out here. Why on earth would he have needed to bring the helicopter? It was things like that that made people think that the Luthors thought they were above everyone else.
"Yes," Lex said and waved over one of the servers. He made his order quickly and then turned back to look at Clark. "My cars," he started again and there was a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, "the ones here in the States, anyhow, are all at the castle."
Clark nodded. "Did you just come in this morning, then?"
"Flew all night," Lex confirmed.
Clark couldn't help but feel that there was something slightly off about Lex. It was almost like he was jumpy about something, maybe something that he wanted to tell Clark, but didn't want to say in public. He doubted that anyone else would even be able to tell, but Lex had been his best friend for years and Clark was perhaps more in tune with what the older man was thinking and feeling than anyone else.
"You're okay?" Clark asked slowly.
"Yes," Lex said, "now I'm fine."
Clark wasn't sure what to say to that. He wasn't even sure what Lex was talking about.
"You never called back," Chloe accused quietly after a moment of silence between the three of them.
"Ah, Chloe," Lex said with a smirk, "Never one to be subtle. No, I didn't. I'd rather not talk about why here. I was hoping that I could invite you back to the castle for dinner and we could talk there."
"Unfortunately, we're having dinner with Chloe's father tonight," Clark told him.
"Mmm," Lex nodded his acceptance of that, "Maybe you could come over after, then. I would leave it until tomorrow, but it's kind of important that we talk tonight."
"I guess we can do that," Clark conceded.
"Good," Lex said. The server finally came back with the coffee he had ordered and placed in on the table in front of him. Lex picked up the mug and took a sip before grimacing slightly and placing it back on the table. He stood up and pulled his wallet out of his pocket. "I should be going," he told them. He pulled a five out and placed it on the table.
"We'll see you tonight," Clark said.
Lex nodded and started to head for the door. He was almost out when he called back over his shoulder, "Oh, by the way, I like the ring, Chloe." The door closed heavily behind the older man.
Clark groaned. He had wanted to tell Lex at the right time and knew that it hadn't been here in front of all these people. He'd thought that night at Lex's place would have been perfect, but the other had beaten him to it. And really, Clark shouldn't have been too surprised, Lex had always been observant and Chloe wasn't exactly hiding the ring, nor did Clark want her to.
"He's still bitter, isn't he?" Chloe asked softly.
"Apparently. Not that you need to worry."
Chloe snorted and went back to drinking her coffee. Clark smiled. She was so unladylike when she did that. And he only loved her more for it.
The Luthor Castle was almost exactly the same as it had been five years ago when Lex had lived there full time. Clark had almost been expecting that. The lawns and gardens weren't overgrown, so obviously someone was being paid to come out and tend them, but he had somehow expected that the interior would be different, or at least that it would feel less lived in than before. But it didn't. It almost felt like Lex had never left the place and had Clark not known better, he would have believed it to be true.
"Clark," Lex called as he came to meet the younger man in the foyer.
"Lex," Clark greeted his friend.
"She's still at her father's place. Figured that we needed some time to talk. You were acting a little... strange earlier," Clark prompted.
"Forgive me, I didn't mean to be rude," Lex insisted.
"Yes, you did," Clark returned.
Lex didn't answer. He simply turned and started to lead Clark through the house. He could tell from the direction they were heading that they were going to one of the sitting rooms. It was a place that they had hung out in many times before and it felt like coming back to a part of his past that he thought he had left behind long before. The friendship that he had shared with Lex had always been particularly intense, and not even Lex's unexpected expression of desire for Clark had been able to force them apart, not until time and distance did it for them, anyhow.
They entered the sitting room and Clark sat down on one of the sofas.
"Do you want anything to drink?"
"Water, if you have it," Clark answered. He rarely drank, and, even though he knew that it was likely second nature for Lex, he wasn't going to indulge that night either.
For a moment, Lex looked like he was going to say something but, at the last moment, he decided against it. He nodded and then turned and went to the bar in the corner. He opened the little fridge at the bottom and pulled out two blue bottles of water. He walked back across the room and handed one to Clark before sitting down across from him on the other couch.
"It's like you never left," Clark observed and gestured around himself to indicate the entire place.
"Hmm," Lex muttered around his drink of water. "I had some people come out here earlier this week and get it ready for me to come back. I hate arriving to a closed house."
Clark nodded and drank his water. He didn't know what to say to that. He couldn't agree or disagree because he'd never really had the experience.
"So," Lex said eventually, "you're marrying her?"
The older man nodded. Clark watched the soft light in the room reflect off his bald head. "You love her," he said eventually.
"You're sure?" And Clark knew that he was asking about the whole situation and not just his feelings for Chloe.
"We had this conversation a long time ago, Lex, and I don't feel any differently now than I did then. I love Chloe. We're right together. I'm sure."
Lex nodded slowly. "Then I'm happy for you, Clark," he said and held Clark's eyes.
Clark knew that Lex was telling the truth. He was happy that Clark was happy. Clark knew it wasn't what Lex would have chosen if this were his choice, but it wasn't. He had managed to change enough to know that he couldn't force Clark to feel differently than he did.
The two of them sat in silence for a few moments, both of them drinking their water and not saying too much. The tension had eased, but it was still there somewhat. It was mostly just the time and distance that separated them now as opposed to the other stuff.
"So," Clark started eventually, "you wanted to talk to me about something?"
"Yes," Lex agreed with a nod. He sat forward, placed his bottle of water on the table in front of him, and then put his hands on his knees.
Clark tilted his head in a question and waited for Lex to continue.
"I know you think there's something up and that's why I haven't been returning your calls. And you're right, there is something up and it's fairly big. I didn't call you back for a couple of reasons. The first was that I needed absolute confidentiality about this and as much as I trust you, Clark, phone lines are known to be trouble. The other reason is that I didn't want to make you chose between me and your journalistic integrity."
Clark's eyebrow shot up at that. He hadn't even known that Lex knew that he was a reporter now.
"Oh, you thought I didn't know? Did you really think that I wouldn't keep tabs on my best friend?"
"I guess you would," Clark conceded. "And I would have chosen you. You know that, right?"
"Yes," Lex agreed with a nod, "but it still would have been hard on you and that was something that I didn't want."
"So, what's going on then?"
"I took over part of my father's company," Lex said calmly. Too calmly for what he had just said.
"You heard me. The Asia-Pacific operations, the division that I've been running for the last five years."
"I... I haven't heard anything about it," Clark said. He felt a little stunned. He had always known that Lex would do this someday, but he hadn't expected that it would be now.
"Of course you haven't," Lex chided. "I take control at midnight. It's been a strict secret until now."
Lex laughed softly. "I'm going to assume that you're not asking me why it was a secret and go right on to why I'm telling you now."
"I want you to write the story."
"What?" Clark blurted out again.
Lex just looked at him in a way that clearly told Clark once more that he had heard exactly what Lex had said and that he shouldn't be questioning it. But he was. Why would Lex want him to write the story? He was just a year out of university, a junior reporter at the Planet. There were so many people more qualified than him to do this.
"You're my best friend," Lex told him.
"Which makes me biased," Clark insisted.
"You'll be fair to me."
"Lex... I haven't even seen you in five years," Clark protested.
"This would seem to be an argument in my favor, farmboy," Lex said with a smirk and leaned back into the cushions of the sofa.
Clark bristled at being called that and frowned. "If you're really sure this is what you want..."
"It is," Lex assured him.
"Okay," Clark gave in with a sigh. Really, he had known from the start that there was no way that he wasn't going to do what Lex had asked, but he hadn't wanted it to seem too obvious. If Lex wanted him to do this, then Clark would do it for him, because that's what friends did, they helped each other out.
"Good," Lex said.
He dug his phone out of his pocket and tossed it at Clark. Clark caught it easily.
"Call whoever you need to, and let's get this done tonight."
Clark nodded and punched in a number he knew by heart.
Chloe felt the bed move as Clark got in beside her and she was immediately awake. She rolled over slightly so that Clark had more room and then wrapped her body around him as he settled in next to her.
"What time is it?" she asked softly.
"Just after one," Clark told her and turned so that he was facing her. He pulled her to him and she buried her face in his chest.
"Yes," he agreed. Clark kissed her on the top of the head.
"You get everything done?" she asked after a moment of snuggling.
Clark had called her earlier in the night after he had spoken with Lex and told her what was going on. She'd been a little annoyed at the time, she knew how Lex sometimes liked to play games where Clark was concerned, but he had eventually convinced her how important this was. Not that it had taken much convincing. The knowledge that Lex had finally managed to oust his father, even if only partially at this point, was big news. Doing this story would instantly make Clark known amongst his peers. Something that Chloe was sure that Lex was well aware of. This was another way to pay his friend back once again for saving his life all those years ago. Or maybe that wasn't all that it was, because Clark had agreed to it, and Chloe knew that he wouldn't have if he felt it was only gratitude that made Lex ask him.
"Yes," Clark told her. "It's printing now."
"How was he?"
"Good," Clark said. "Still Lex, you know?"
"It's pretty wild, though. Taking over his father's company and all."
"Yeah," he agreed. "I guess it is."
He was silent for a long moment and Chloe just left him to his thoughts. She had a feeling that Clark had a lot of things to think over right now.
"He'll be thirty next month," he said eventually. "Did you know that?"
"No," Chloe admitted. She hadn't and she didn't really know how it was relevant except that Clark obviously thought that it was.
"We're getting old, Chlo."
"Not that old," she said with a soft laugh.
"And I'm twenty-three, Clark," she chided him. "We're not exactly over the hill here."
"But we're not kids anymore, either. Things... things are changing."
"I'm not going to be able to stay out of it anymore," he told her suddenly.
She had no idea what he was talking about. "What?" she asked.
"When people are hurt or in trouble or whatever. I'm not going to be able to stay out of it. I just can't. I can help and I need to do that."
"O... okay," Chloe stuttered. She was willing to go along with almost anything for Clark and she knew that the situation with Mr. Kendler had hit him hard. If this was what he felt he needed to do, then he was certainly more than physically capable of doing it. "How do you see that working?"
"I... I really don't know yet," Clark said with a sigh. "I just know that I need to do it."
There was a note of desperation of in his voice and Chloe instinctively held onto him tighter. She ran her hand up and down his back and nuzzled her face into his chest. "It's okay," she told him. "We'll figure this out together."
"Together," Clark repeated.
"Always," Chloe said with a smile. She reached up and kissed him gently. She knew that this was all going to work out in the end. She simply loved him too much for it not to.