Author's Notes: Thanks to wook, yahtzee, maure, slod, tresca, disbelief, sully, teri, and all of the very best betas in the whole wide world.
by Tara LJC O'Shea
Chloe Sullivan was drowning in Tori Amos and lots of it.
Every album she owned, plus a handful of bootlegs and imported singles, was in the cd-changer, set to random and repeat. Tori was her personal music for teenage heartbreak. Some people had country music as their "music of pain." Others head-banged. Chloe lost herself in lyrics that perhaps had only ever made sense to the singer, pianos and harpsichords, and a particular brand of chaos and delirium aimed squarely at the fairer sex.
She pitied her father whoas a man who believed Wings to be the pinnacle of modern musicno doubt had been stuffing cotton in his ears since Saturday night, but as yet he hadn't complained. Not that she'd given him much opportunity.
She'd gotten home late, and without a word of greeting had slipped into her darkened bedroom, throwing the dress she'd chosen so carefully into a heap at the back of her closet. She'd scrubbed off the carefully applied makeup, and washed out the hairspray.
The face that had looked back at her from the steam fogged mirror was pale and plain, and seemed to belong to someone else. It was impossible for her to believe that hours earlier she had grinned into it as she'd slipped on her earrings, fretting over every last curl and deliberating over which shade of lipstick actually matched her dress.
There had been voicemail on her cellphone when she'd gotten out of the bathroom. Two from Pete, one from Lana, and one from Clark.
She'd listened to Pete's as she'd brushed her teethhe'd called after he'd dropped Erica at home, to check up on her and to ask if she'd heard from Clark. Lana's was to let her know she was okay. She'd felt tears prick her eyes then, but they didn't fall. The last message from Pete started off, "Hey, just talked to Clark" and she'd stopped it right there.
He was okay. He was alive. He was talking to Pete. That was all she'd needed to know, at that moment. It was just about all she could handle.
She hadn't listened to Clark's message.
In fact, she'd turned her cell phone off and turned the ringer on the phone in her room down before turning out the lights. Crawling under the covers, the shabby and faded stuffed dog she'd named Mister Shoes on her third birthday tucked beneath her chin, she'd let the tears fall. But she never made a sound.
She hadn't remembered falling asleep. The next thing she'd known, it was morning, and she could smell burned toastthe familiar smell telling her it was Sunday.
When they'd shared the closet-sized apartment in New Troy, the smoke alarm had often awakened her long before the alarm clock, as her father had never mastered the fine art of knowing when to manually force the bread out of the toaster before it became charcoal. She had actually come to associate the smell of charred raisin bread with her dad, and she'd smiled before the events of the previous night came rushing back like a train at 90 miles an hour, and she was Pearl White tied to the track. She'd lain in bed, her breath caught in her throat, and blinked until the tears went away.
It had taken a while.
When, after she finally came trooping down the stairs in her t-shirt and shorts, her dad had told her over breakfast that Clark had called four times that morning, she had just shrugged and kept on eating her slightly charred bagel.
Gabe Sullivan was a smart man. He did not ask her how her evening had gone. He did not ask her what happened. He did not even threaten to kill the young man who had reduced his normally perky if cynical news hound of a teenage daughter to a pale shadow of her coffee-chugging self. Instead, he handed her a plate full of scrambled eggs, a glass of juice, and the Sunday Planet. He didn't even bat an eye when she disappeared back upstairs, paper under her arm, and she knew he could hear "Father Lucifer" blaring out of her speakers, even through the closed door.
Monday, she'd called in to school sick. Her dad had spent the morning workingdisappearing for most of the day, she assumed with Lex, working out details of the buyout. She'd surfed the net, alternating between reading wire stories, and really truly awful fan fiction. Worked on the Torch's final issue, via modem. Gabe had come home a little after three, and they'd vegged, eating pizza and watching The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer on cable before she'd excused herself and cocooned herself back in her bedroom once more, hiding behind pianos and harpsichords.
She didn't hear him knock. She'd cranked up "Jackie's Strength" and almost jumped out of her skin when the door opened a crack.
She'd frozen at the sound of his voice, and then reached over and turned the music down. Not off. But down.
Clark opened the door enough that he could peek in, and saw her sitting on the end of her bed, legs tucked beneath her and Mister Shoes in her lap.
"Your dad let me in," he offered by way of explanation as he slipped inside, and stood leaning up against the closed door.
"Remind me to shun him like the Amish," she said. It came out less venomous than she'd thought it would. Silence stretched between them, and Clark stared down at his shoes, a flush creeping up his neck.
"When you weren't at school today, I was worried."
"I wasn't really up to it," she said, absently playing with the stuffed dog's floppy and threadbare ears.
"I thought maybe you were avoiding me. I've been calling"
"I know," she said with a shrug. "I just haven't really felt like talking."
It only took three steps and he was kneeling down in front of her, green eyes earnestly searching hers. "Chloe, I'm sorry."
She shrugged again, feeling something inside her twist. "For what? Hey, it was just my last chance at a perfect high school memory with my two best friends before I have to start all over again somewhere else."
That seemed to take him by surprise. Perhaps he hadn't realised what was at stake was more than just a dance. Perhaps she had never made that clear to him. Perhaps she hadn't realised it herself.
He reached out and laid his hand over hers. She slipped her smaller fingers out from under his with effort.
"Look, maybe we're just... meant to stay friends," she said, chewing on her bottom lip.
"What if I want to be more than friends?" he asked, fighting a blush, his eyes never leaving hers.
She laughed. She hadn't meant to. But she did. It came out more like a short sob.
"You know, a couple of weeks ago, I would have jumped for joy if you'd said that to me," she said, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
"Chloe, I'm sorry" he began, but she held up her hand, and ignored how it shook.
"Please, let me finish. Because I don't know if I'll ever have the courage to do this if I don't kinda do it quickokay? Like pulling off a Band-Aid. Hurts like hell, but then at least it's over."
"And you want it to be over?" He looked so hurt, and so confused.
"God, don't look at me that wayI don't know if I can handle the puppy-dog eyes right now."
"Chloe, I want to try and make this work."
"This," she repeated.
"Us," he clarified.
"It always amazes meyou have this uncanny ability to pick the absolute wrong thing to say at times like these. I don't knowmaybe if you'd said 'I care about you,' or 'I can't stop thinking about you,' or even 'you looked really hot in that dress' instead, then maybe I wouldn't be feeling quite so... I dunno, like a wood shop project that's not working out, but you've committed to seeing it through."
"That's notChloe, I do care about you. I think... I think that I care about you a lot more than I realised-"
"I know. But I don't know if I can do this, Clark. I can't do this. I can't spend every minute I'm with you wondering if I'm just the consolation prize."
"Aren't I?" she asked, cutting him off. "I waited, Clark. I waited for hours. You never came back."
"You don't understand. I promised Whitney I'd look out for her" he began.
"What about the promise you made me, Clark? Why do I always have to come in second to Lana Lang?"
"Did you want me to just let her die?" he asked, and she just wanted to shake him sometimes. See if anything was actually rattling around up there.
"Clarkyou're a sixteen-year-old kid! What the hell could you possibly do that the police or the fire department can't?"
Clark opened his mouth, as if he were going to say something, and then closed it again, his large hands balling into fists at his sides. There seemed to be some kind of internal struggle going on that she didn't think she would ever understandand right now, she wasn't sure if she wanted to.
"Do you have any idea how scared I was?" she asked, angry tears springing to her already red-rimmed eyes. "You ran out into a tornado, Clark. You could have been killed. For all I knew, you had been killed."
"And I'm an idiot, because I waited for you. And I hated myself, and I hated you, and I hated Lana Lang, and I hated the fucking weather. But I waited. And you never came back."
His face had gone very still, he had gone very stillas if time had slowed down for the both of them.
"Do you still... do you still have feelings for me?" he finally asked.
"Of course, I do, Clark," she said through her tears. "I can't just turn them off and on, no matter how much I want to."
"But you want to," he said slowly.
"I think you should go now," she said, hugging Mister Shoes to her chest and rolling over on her side so he wouldn't see her cry. She heard the door open and close, and leaned over to turn up the stereo.
Can't stop what's coming, can't stop what is on its way... Tori sang, as Chloe buried her face in her pillow.
Martha Kent was in the kitchen when the curtains rustled from a sudden breeze, and wooden frame of the screen door banged against the doorframe. Trooping up the stairs, she knocked on her son's door lightly before stepping inside.
He was sprawled on his stomach on his bed, chin resting on his hands. She sat on the edge of the bed, and ruffled his hair.
"Honey, how did it go with Chloe?"
He looked up at her, his face the perfect picture of teenage misery, and she leaned down to give him a one-armed hug.
"Oh, sweetie, just give her some time. I'm sure she'll understand."
"No, Mom, she won't. Because I can't tell her the truth." Clark sat up, swinging his long legs around, and hunched over them, his forearms resting on his thighs. "I hate this. I hate that I'm losing my best friend because of this."
"Clark, do you really think Chloe will never speak to you again?" she asked, her lips curved in a slight smile despite her best intentions. There was nothing like a sixteen-year-old boy for melodrama. Except, she supposed, a sixteen-year-old girl.
"C'mon, Mom, can you blame her? I promised her a night to rememberand boy, does she. She thinks I left her in the middle of the dance for Lana. Which I kinda did, but not for the reasons she thinks I did. Only I can't tell her." He turned to face her, green eyes bright with sudden tears. "Is this what it's always going to be like? Am I always going to be alone?"
Martha put her arms around him, resting her cheek on his shoulder. "Honey, you're not alone. You've got me and your dad."
"Mom," he gave her a look. "You know what kind of alone I mean."
"I know this is hard"
"No, you don't," he snapped, and then looked stricken at lashing out at her. "Mom, I'm sorry. It's just... You don't. You've got Dad. And even if you didn't, there's nothing stopping you from falling in love and living happily ever after."
"Clark, someday, when you're olderand you've found the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with" she began, brushing the dark hair back from his forehead. He flushed, and pushed himself off the bed, away from the comfort of her touch.
"How am I ever going to get to that point? I can't ever be honest with the people I care about. Not Chloe. Not Lana, or Lex, or Pete. And now I may lose Chloe, and I just... I don't know what to do."
"I'm sure you two will be able to work it out. You've been friends too long to give up now."
"I just hate lying to her, Mom. I wanted to stay at the dance. I wanted to stay with her. But I don't know how I can prove that to her."
"I know it's hard, but you'll find a way," she said, and meant it. "If there's one thing I know about you, Clark Jerome Kent, it's that when you set your heart on something, nothing gets in your way."
She tousled his hair again, and was rewarded with a wan smile.
"Now, come help me with supper. Your dad will be back from the south field soon. I'm making pot roast and apple pie, and could use a hand."
"I'll be down in a sec," he said, and she got up and paused for a moment in the doorway, sneaking a surreptitious look at her son.
She was struck, suddenly, by how grown-up he was compared to the silent little boy who had ripped the door off their truck in a smoking crater all those years ago. Yet at the same time, he was so youngso incredibly, painfully young, and she remembered the exact kind of hopelessness that could embrace a teenager. How you could become convinced that no one in the world had ever faced the same challenges and problems you faced, and the terrible, crushing loneliness of it.
The only difference was, Clark was truly unique. And as a mother, it just broke her heart that she couldn't give him a hug and a cookie, and promise that everything would be all right. Because she wasn't sure it would be.
The Talon wasn't crowded when Clark got there. Nell was still at home with Lana, so Monique was behind the counter. Clark ordered a cup of coffee from the smiling young woman, and looked for a quiet corner in which to drink it.
After dinner, he'd just wanted to get out of the househe needed some time to think. Usually, this time of night, he'd be in the barn, stargazing. But somehow, the stars had no appeal for him tonight.
"You look like a man who just lost his best friend."
Clark looked up to see Lex standing in front of his table, his hands in the pockets of his black dress pants, his grey silk shirt slightly wrinkled. There was a cut over his right eye covered with a "butterfly" dressing. His lips were curved in a half-smile, but there were dark circles beneath his eyes.
"Hey, Lex," Clark said, pushing the other chair out with his foot. "I heard your dad was injured in the stormis he going to be okay?"
Lex's normally jovial expression faltered. "He was medevacced to Metropolis an hour ago."
"Why didn't youI mean, didn't you want to go with him?" Clark could feel a blush rising to his cheeks, and he took a quick sip of scalding hot coffee to try and cover his embarrassment. If Lex noticed, he didn't even give Clark a flicker of reaction.
"I'm going to drive up in the morning," Lex said, picking an imaginary piece of lint off one shirt cuff. "How about you? I heard Lana and your dad got pretty banged up."
"They're okay. Lana just has a concussion and a sprained wrist, and my dad has some cuts and bruises, but they didn't even keep him overnight in the hospital."
"Then why the long face?"
"Chloe..." Clark began, and then stopped, not sure how to begin. "I left her at the dance, and now I don't think we're speaking."
"Let me guessyou're speaking, but she's not much in the mood for listening?"
Clark sank lower in his chair, and nodded. "I just can't seem to do anything right, you know? The last thing I want is to hurt Chloe"
"But you did." Lex took a sip of Clark's coffee, and then made a face. Monique waved a waitress over with a fresh cappuccino. "It's not your faultyou're a sixteen-year-old boy. It's how you're wired."
"Thanks. That's encouraging," Clark scowled as Lex tipped the waitress, and stirred the coffee with a plastic stir, that damned half-smile back on his face.
"At least you're self-aware. That's something. Give Chloe some time. I'm sure she'll come around."
Clark signed. "Time is the one thing we don't really have. She's leaving for her internship Saturday, and her dad's been talking about moving back to Metropolis permanently."
Lex leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on the table. "Look, Clark, I'm not going to lie to youlosing an old friend is not the same thing as losing a potential lover. What you need to decide is what you want. Do you want things to go back to the way they were before? Or are you serious about pursuing Chloe romantically?"
"I just miss my best friend, and want her back. But at the same time..."
"You want more," Lex finished for him, and Clark nodded.
"You can't ever have Chloe the best friend back exactly the same as before," Lex said, his tone gentle, but firm. "It's different now, and it's always going to be different. You took a step forward, and it was like jumping off a precipice. Now, you need to let go and let gravity take over. If you want her, show her that you want her. Let her know that she's the person you're interested in being with."
"Woo her," he said, and then leaned back in his chair, arms crossed.
"Woo her?" Clark couldn't help but smile. "What, are we in the 18th century suddenly?"
Lex chuckled. "Chloe's a girl. Girls, no matter how modern and self-sufficient, still want to be wooed. They need to believe that they are desirable, that they are needed and wanted."
Clark shook his head. "I don't knowChloe's not like other girls"
"Sure she is. And the quicker you realise that, the better," Lex said frankly, and then waited for that to sink in before continuing. "Send her flowers. Write romantic notesokay, emails, instant messages, whatever. Be patient, be gentle, but be persistent. Don't let her push you away or scare you off."
"Isn't that technically stalking?"
"This from a guy with a telescope in his barn," Lex said, one eyebrow quirked. "In your case, I'd say stalking will either lead to a restraining order, or true love."
Clark had the grace to blush.
"Look, do you love this girl?" Lex asked, and Clark stared down at his hands. "Not just as a friendbut in love with her?"
"I... I don't know."
"But you think you could."
"Then fight for her," he said as he finished off his coffee. "Don't stay here too lateit is a school night, after all."
"Thanks, Lex. I mean it," Clark said as Lex stood.
"Hey, what are friends for?"
Chloe had successfully avoided Clark Kent all day.
It started in homeroomshe'd been late, and slipped into a seat in the back. She could see Clark and Pete in their usual seats, over by the window. Pete's head was bent to Clark's, and they were whispering. She'd slipped out into the hall the second the bell rang, and headed straight for the Torch office, where she'd spent most of the morning with the door locked.
The tornado had actually bumped the Principal Kwan retrospective off the front page, and she's spent most of the last two days culling wire reports and photos from the 'net. She'd taken her camera out on her way to school that morning, and snapped a few shots of the old Miller farm, west of town, which had been reduced to kindling by the three funnel clouds which had touched down nearby.
She'd seen Jed Miller, who had graduated last year, picking through the wreckage with gloved hands, and her heart had gone out to him. He had only arrived home from Kansas State a few weeks before, and his parents had hoped to sell the farm and retire. Now they were staying with his mother's sister in Wichita, and Jed was trying to salvage anything he could. The back of his pickup truck was loaded with a few boxes, and not much else. He'd given her a few quotes, his expression a little glazed, his tone flat. She couldn't imagine what it was like to have your homethe house your great-grandparents had built, which had withstood almost a hundred years of good and ill-fortunereduced to rubble in a matter of seconds.
Somehow, it made all her problems seem awfully petty by comparison.
Now that finals were over, her schedule was fairly lightshe'd even gotten a note from her dad getting her out of gym, so the balance of her day would involve whipping the final issue into shape.
Two people had tried the door while she's been inside. The first had been Shelley Peterson, dropping off her epic 'why girl's basketball is just as cool as guy's, and not just all about chicks running around in sports bras, like some jocks want you to think it is, because they're just jealous the girls went to state and kicked ass' article. The second had been Assistant Principal Byrne, who had stopped by to make sure she remembered to turn in her copies of the Torch office keys once school had ended for the summer. She felt it wise not to mention she'd had copies made for Pete and Clark.
She felt bad for Byrne. He'd gotten blasted for interrupting the Spring Formal before the tornado sirens had even gone off, and it hadn't mattered much anyway, as Trevor and Kyle had propped open a window in the boy's bathroom and most of the senior class had snuck out. She'd already heard rumours that Byrne was calling it quits, and that the board was head hunting for a new principal for next year. She wondered idly if the death toll had anything to do with it.
When the bell rang for lunch, Chloe stepped out to the teacher's lounge to get her pasta salad and frappuccino out of the fridge in the faculty lounge. It was one of the few perks awarded by her position as editor, and she rarely took advantage of it as she usually ate lunch in the cafeteria with Clark and Pete. In fact, for the last two years, she couldn't remember more than a handful of days where she didn't spend every waking moment with Clark and Pete.
"Get it together, Sullivan," she muttered beneath her breath as, lunch in hand, she slipped back into the Torch office.
The room was full of flowers. Every surface held vases, coffee mugs, and plastic cups brimming with wild flowers of every description. Tiny wild roses, smiling daisies, little blue and purple loosestrife, dame's rocket, and larkspardozens of flowers, many she barely recognised, let alone knew the name of. Her desk, Pete's desk, even the filing cabinet and window sills were overflowing with foliage. The entire room smelled like a meadow. It was just like when she'd fallen out of the library window at Lex's.
They're my favourite, she'd told Clark when he'd brought her a freshly gathered bouquet of roses and wildflowers. It had stood out among all the store-bought arrangements that had overflowed her hospital room and had lasted longer than the hothouse flowers as well. She'd taken them home, and kept them by her computer in her room until they'd finally started to wilt and drop blossoms.
She'd only been gone a minute, perhaps two. She checked the wall clock to be certainconvinced that she was having some weird kind of "lost time" experience, straight out of an X-File. But the clock still read 12:17pm, the second hand ticking away as she just gaped, her lunch forgotten.
She closed her eyes, counted to ten, and took a deep breath. The flowers were all still there when she opened them.
"Clark..." she said softly, leaning against the door and closing her eyes.
Pete found Clark in the parking lot, staring up at the Torch office windows. The other boy didn't even notice his approach, and started when Pete waved a hand in front of his eyes.
"What's with the Kent thousand-yard stare?" Pete asked, and Clark started.
"Nothing, Pete. I just..." he trailed off, and shrugged. "Just wondering if Chloe's up there."
"She still not talking to you, huh?" Pete asked, and Clark shook his head. "Don't worryI'm sure she'll come around."
"Everybody keeps saying that." Clark couldn't keep the exasperation out of his tone.
"C'mon, this is Chloe we're talking about. She never could stay mad at you. Even when you deserve it."
"Thanks, man. Good to know you're on my side."
"Hey, I love her like a sister. And if you were any other guy, I'd totally kick your ass."
"You'd try," Clark grinned, and held up his hands as Pete rabbit punched him in the chest. "Seriouslyare you mad at me?"
"NahI mean, you blew off Radiohead and Lana to keep Chloe from getting turned into a human Popsicle. And you ditched Lana's birthday party to keep Jodi from eating me alive. I figure, I can cut you some slack on the whole hero thing," he shrugged. "But man, I'm not Chloe. Girls are weird about that kind of stuff."
"I noticed. Hey, wanna see if Chloe needs some help with the Torch?"
Pete gave him a look, and then just cracked up laughing. "You are just a glutton for punishment, you know that?"
"Yep," Clark said with a grin.
"Lead on, MacDuff."
Clark's eyebrows disappeared into his bangs. "Wow. Shakespeare referenceI'm impressed."
"I am so kicking your ass," Pete muttered as they made their way back into the building.
"You know it's actually 'Lay on, MacDuff.'"
"See this foot?"
Chloe started when the door opened and Pete and Clark came in.
She'd been working on the lead, and found herself staring at the digital picture of Jed Miller and the remains of his house. So far, there had been a handful of deaths reported, and the medical centre was brimming with injuries. Yet life was just... going on, despite the craziness. There had been a few news vans around towntwo from Metropolis, one from Wichitawith perky blow-dried reporters who stuck microphones in people's faces constantly. But other than that, school was back in session, the roads had been cleared of debris, and Smallville was... Smallville again despite the fact that the residents were still shell-shocked. She wondered idly if this was what it had been like 12 years ago, when the meteors hit.
Pete grinned at her, and she felt a dim, if genuine smile curve her lips in response. But it faded when she met Clark's eyes, and she guiltily glanced away.
She wanted to smile.
She wanted to break into a grin, and scoot her chair over so that Clark could take a look at the current front page.
She wanted everything to be back the way it was.
Just then, Assistant Principal Byrne stuck his head in the office. "Ms. Sullivan, thank you for supplying the flowers for the faculty advisor luncheon. That was very thoughtful of you."
Chloe could feel her cheeks burning as she continued tapping keys on the iMac's keyboard, and she fought to keep her expression neutral. "Actually, it was Clark's idea," she said smoothly. "He did all the actual workI was just the delivery girl."
"It was very much appreciated, Mr. Kent."
Clark flushed. "Um, it was my pleasure, sir."
Byrne shut the door, leaving behind an awkward silence during which Chloe stared resolutely at her computer monitor, and Clark at his shoes.
"Okay, what was that all about?" Pete asked, bewildered. "You trying to butter the Administration up or something?"
"Nothing," Chloe said quickly. "Um... so, what's up?"
"Clark thought you might need help with the final issue," Pete said as he moved to turn her monitor so her could get a better look at the front page.
"Actually, you knowI've got it covered. I mean, most of it was done before thedone last week," she said quickly, batting Pete's hand away.
"We can at least help you proof," Clark offered.
"You know, Clark, I think I've got it," she said, more of an edge in her voice than she wanted. Beneath the table, she dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand. "I'm sure your Mom could use you at home."
A look of hurt flashed across Clark's features, but he masked it with a shrug. "You're right. Hey, Pete, I'll see you later?"
"Yeah, sure, man."
Chloe looked back at the screen, counting the seconds until she could hear the door close, and Clark's footsteps disappearing down the hall.
"Don't you think you're being a little hard on the guy? He's trying"
"I know he's trying," she said, pushing her chair back from her desk. "He's trying a little too hard, okay?"
"What do you mean, trying too hard?"
"He's just... he gave me too many flowers."
"He what?" Pete asked, and she cringed.
"Flowers, okay?" she said, throwing up her hands. "Flowers everywhere. My desk, your desk, every surface that could hold a coffee cup, had flowers. I have no idea how he did itI mean, I was only away from the office for two, three minutes, tops."
"That's Clark Kentman of mystery," Pete laughed. "C'mon. You can't tell me that wasn't romantic."
"I don't want romantic right now."
"Excuse me, where is Chloe Sullivan and what have you done with her?" Pete sat on the edge of her desk, and picked up the green alien doll that sat next to the pencil cup and began tossing it in the air. "Are you not the same girl who has spent the last eight months sighing and crying over Clark Kent? And now the guy is begging, and you're suddenly all 'talk to the hand'? Girl, I just don't get you."
"Pete! I don't wanna hear it, okay?" she snapped, and then sighed. "Just... be my friend. That's all I really need right now. I just want to make it through the next three days, and then I'm off to Metropolis."
"And this is how you wanna go? Fighting with your best friend?" Pete asked, his tone serious for once.
She bit her lip, feeling her eyes start to smart. "No," she whispered.
Pete leaned over and brushed her hair away from her cheek.
"Hey, I know it sucks. But you twoI swear. You make me crazy." He jumped down off the desk and came around and gave her a one-armed hug. "Look, I will always be your friend. No matter what. I just hate seeing both my best friends all torn up, you know?"
"I know. And thanks. I mean it. Even if we do end up moving back, you'll come up and visit me in the big, bad city, right?"
"Are you kidding? I fully expect you to take me to every hopping club and hot night spot the town has to offer. Now, what work do you desperately need done on the Torch that you didn't want Clark to know about?"
"Oh God, you have no idea," she said, wiping away the sudden tears. "Can you start on the layout for the ads?"
"Your wish, fair lady, is my command."
Clark lay on his back on the couch in the Fortress of Solitude. His copy of "Men Are From Mars" rested on his chest, unfinished. He'd decided to give it another go, but hadn't been able to concentrate. He stared at the rafters, trying to picture Chloe's smile.
The last time he'd seen a real 1000 megawatt Chloe smile had been at the dance. Her favourite song had been playing, she'd been in his arms, and she'd been happy. He'd been happy precisely because she'd been happy. And then he'd bent to kiss her, and...
And the spell had been broken, and he had no idea how to cast it again. His chest felt heavylike when he'd been locked in the sauna with the meteorites by the Coach. Only this time, the pain had nothing to do with irradiated rocks from outer space, and everything to do with the fact that he had been the one to snuff out the light of that smile. All his fault.
There were footsteps on the stairs behind him, and he slipped the book under the couch.
"Chloe?" he asked, and was surprised when Lana's head appeared as she climbed the stairs to his loft. "Lana!" Clark jumped to his feet. "I'm surprised Nell let you out of the house."
Her arm was in a sling, and she had a nasty bruise across one cheek, but she was smiling. "She's at the Talon."
"How are you feeling?" he asked as she sat down on the couch.
"Like I drove a truck into a ditch, got picked up by a tornado, and put down again at 60 miles an hour," she replied with a serene smile, and he laughed.
"But none the worse for wear?"
"Thanks to you," she said. "How's your dad? Nell told me he got caught out in the storm."
"The doctor said he should take it easy for a while, but he'll be okay."
"So, what's up?"
"I just came by to thank you. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't found me. You're always there for me, Clark."
"Nice I can be there for somebody," Clark muttered.
"What's wrong?" Lana asked, brows drawing together in concern.
"Chloe's really upset with me for leaving her at the dance."
"I'm sure she'll forgive you," she said with a smile.
"Everyone keeps saying that," Clark burst out, his tone more forceful than he'd intended, and Lana's eyes widened in surprise and shock.
"I'm sorry," he sighed, immediately contrite. "It's just... I don't think it's fair to Chloe. I really don't."
"How do you mean?"
"I was a jerk," he clarified, "and she shouldn't be expected to just forgive me every time, just because she had a crush on me. But everybodyyou, my Mom, Pete, even Lex. They all just keep assuming that no matter what I do, Chloe will just cut me slack. And I'm starting to feel like I'm not worth it. Not when I hurt her the way I did."
"Clark, you're a great guy," Lana said quickly, looked indignant on his behalf. "If Chloe can't see that"
"That's just itChloe did see it. She saw it before... " he began, a blush rising in his cheeks as he almost said before you ever did. "Before anyone else did," he said quickly, rising from the couch to stare out the window. The sky beyond was streaked with gold and rose, darkening to blue, with a few early stars twinkling above.
"She always stood by me," he said softly, "even when I was a really lousy friend to her. She's always been there for meboth as a friend, and as someone I always knew I could go to for help. She would drop everything to help out one of her friends. I just can't stand it that I've let her down."
He leaned against the windowsill, hands stuck deep in the pockets of his jeans.
"I want to be the guy she fell forI want to be able to see myself the way she sees me, sometimes," he said with a shrug. "Because maybe that guy deserves a shot with her and right now, I sure feel like I don't."
Lana rose from the sofa, hazel eyes shining with concern.
"I don't think you give yourself enough credit," she said, laying a hand on his arm. "You're a good person, Clark."
"I just... I wish I could make her smile the way she used to," he said with a sigh. "It's killing me to see her every day, and feel like we're strangers. Worse than strangers, because she used to be the person I could tell anything to. Go to when no one else was there for me."
"You love her, don't you," Lana said, her voice barely above a whisper.
For the last four years, ever since he'd first decided that girls weren't "icky", he'd fantasised about the girl next door. Lana was beautiful, sweet, kind, and completely unobtainable. He'd spent countless hours over the last few years just watching her, imaging the conversations they'd have, the picnics they'd share, the dances and kisses and the sweet nothings they'd whisper into each other's ears. From a safe distance, he'd lived a very rich fantasy life, while wistfully longing for more.
But until eight months ago, they'd never said more than six words to one another in a row in real life. The girl of his dreams was just thata dream. A construct. Lana was a real person, one he had finally gotten to know over the past few months, and he was glad Lana was his friend. But Chloe...
Chloe was more.
He'd spent so much of the last few weeks obsessing over the idea that Chloe could be more to him than just a friend, he had somehow missed the part where she already was.
He loved her. He was in love with her.
He'd always thought that he'd mourn the missed opportunities; that it would feel like a door closing. But he realised now that despite how he'd felt about Lana, and whatever feelings she might have ever had for him, that door had never really been open.
It was nothing like how he'd pictured this moment. Instead, he was suddenly filled with a curious mix of hope and wonder. The situation may not have changedbut he had.
He took a deep breath, and nodded. "Yes. I love her."
Lana nodded slowly, as if she was processing this new information. There was a flash of somethinghe wasn't sure if it was sadness, regret, or simply empathy across her features before it was replace by a gentle smile. She gave his arm a squeeze before she took her hand away. "Then I hope it works out between you two. I really do."
"Thanks," Clark said, and meant it. "I think I know what to do, now. At least, I'm going to try."
The smell of burned toast woke Chloe early Wednesday morning, and she groaned.
She and Pete had stayed at the Torch until almost ten, when Judge Ross had called to remind her youngest son that despite the fact that Graduation was Friday it was still technically a school night and that his curfew hadn't changed. Chloe had dropped him off, and then driven the long way home.
The way that took her past Hickory Lane.
She had pulled off the road and killed her engine as soon as she could see the Kent farmhouse. She could see a light on in Clark's barn, and she'd chewed on her bottom lip, debating whether or not she should go up and talk to him.
She'd tapped the steering wheel with her fingertips, and then glanced at her watch. Almost eleven. The lights in the farmhouse were already out. She'd imagined Mr. Kent would actually be awake in a few hours. She wondered how much Clark and his dad actually saw of one another, sometimes. Probably still more than she and her dad spent together. Some nights, he was already asleep by the time she got back from the Torch. Other nights, she never even heard him come home from the plant.
She supposed all that would change, once they moved back to the city.
Pete's words had been rattling around inside her head all night. She didn't want to leave things like this. Especially not if it meant leaving Smallvilleand himforever. But she couldn't quite get up the courage to turn into the driveway. Because she knew that if she wasn't careful, she'd throw caution to the wind and just jump Clark. Just fling her arms around him, and throw caution to the wind, and let him have his merry way with her. And as appealing as that might sound, she wasn't looking forward to the heartache that would follow.
As she'd turned the engine over and pulled back onto the road to home, she'd realised she missed her friend. It had been the last thought she'd had before she'd dropped off, and her first thought when she'd opened her eyes that morning. That no matter what happened, she didn't want to lose her best friend.
As she pulled her chair up to the breakfast table, her dad handed her a steaming cup of fresh coffee and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
"Hi, honey. How'd you sleep?"
"Not enough," she grumbled, dumping two teaspoons of sugar into the cup.
"What time did you get in?"
"A little after eleven. Sorry I didn't call."
"Mrs. Ross actually called here last nightI figured you and Pete were at the school," he shrugged. "The Torch going to be out on time?"
"If I have to crank up the presses myself," she assured him, reaching for the folded paper next to her dad's plate.
Chloe opened the Planet, and choked on her coffee. There, splashed across the front page, was a photo of her and Clark in their formalwear, smiling for the camera. The headline read:
Clark Kent Leaves Chloe Sullivan At Spring FormalTownsfolk Shocked and Appalled
Her jaw dropped as she scanned the front page story, bagel in hand, apparently forgotten.
"I don't blame her if she never speaks to him again," newly crowned Prom Queen Felice Chandler told reporters at the scene. Ms. Chandler had only recently recovered from a coma, the result of being stung over 1000 times by a swarm of africanised honeybees. "That's a lousy thing to do to a girl, and I hope they throw the book at him."
Pete Ross, attorney for the defendant, however, had this to say. "Yeah, my boy made a mistake. He screwed up, big time. But he regrets his actions, and at this point only wishes to make restitution and prove to Ms. Sullivan that he can in fact make a good boyfriend. That not only does he care about her deeply, and can't stop thinking about her. But also, dudeshe looked really, really, really hot in that dress."
Mr. Brian Madison, Smallville High School wood shop teacher had this to say about the accused and his attitude towards his class-work. "Clark never simply commits to seeing things through. He's a true artistone of the best underclassmen ever to build a bird feeder at this school."
While to date, Ms. Sullivan has continued to spurn his advances. The contrite and repentant Kent still has hope. "I regret all the time that was wasted, when we could have been together. I realise now that not only did I take our friendship for granted, but that I was too blind to realise that the girl of my dreams was right under my nose. Not only is Chloe always there for me, as a friend, she's smart, funny, driven, and she's willing to take risks and go after what she wants. She's braver, in that respect, than I am, and I really admire her for that. Plus when I'm being a jerk, she calls me on it. That's a rare quality, and one I know my father certainly values in my mother."
Martha Kent, former Metropolis resident who moved to Smallville in 1979 after marrying local farmer Jonathan Kent, had this to say about her son's relationship with Sullivan. "I've always liked Chloe, and see a lot of myself in her. In the time she has been my son's best friend, she's become like a member of our family. I hope that she and Clark can work this out, because I really do believe that she's good for Clark. She challenges him, and keeps him on his toes. And while I have nothing against him dating Smallville girls, I have to say, we Metropolis girls have to stick together."
When contacted for this article, Sullivan's father, respected Smallville businessman Gabe Sullivan, said "Of course, as Chloe's father, my preference would be that she not date until she's at least 35, and even then, accompanied by a suitable chaperone. That said, despite his heinous behaviour on the night in question, I will forever be in Mr. Kent's debt for locating my daughter when she was abducted earlier this month. If I cannot convince her to take up the monastic life, then I suppose I could consider Mr. Kent a suitable suitor. However, in the end, I understand that it is my daughter's decision to make. And as her father, I will support her choice."
Lana Lang could not be reached for comment.
"Did you really say that?" she asked, eyes narrowed.
Gabe didn't even look up from his bacon and eggs. "No comment."
"Dad!" she slapped the paper down on the table, making her cup rattle, and coffee spattering the page.
Gabe shrugged, taking a sip of his orange juice. "I'll say this thing for the boyhe's persistent."
Fully expecting to see his best friend shuffling to class, the very picture of despair, Pete Ross was shocked when Clark slid into his seat at homeroom beaming.
"Chloe talking to you again?" he asked in a whisper as Mrs. Randall began taking attendance.
"Then why are you smiling?" Pete asked, confused.
"Because I figured something out," Clark said, if anything, his grin widening.
"Okaaaaaay," Pete clapped Clark on the shoulder. "Whatever works for ya, buddy."
As the first bell rang, and students poured out into the hallway, Chloe frantically worked at her combination lock.
She had gotten to school late, having completely missed the bus due to re-reading the Planet "article" three times through while her dad smirked over his breakfast. When she'd realised she'd missed the bus, she'd had to beg him to borrow the car. She'd stopped by the acting Principal's office, to report herself for being late, but with only two days of school remaining, no one actually seemed to notice or care. All they'd done was ask her if the last edition of the Torch would be out on Friday.
Chloe sighed as the padlock finally gave way, and opened her locker. Inside was a single red rose, its petals just starting to open, tied with curling plastic ribbon to a six pack of vanilla frappuccinos. A note in Clark's handwriting was tucked between two of the bottles.
CarefulIf you give this to Byrne, he'll start to
think you have a crush on him.
"You dork," Chloe muttered, leaning forward to smell the rose. It didn't have that smell hothouse flowers from a florist shop had. It actually smelled like roses. She wondered where on earth he'd gotten it.
She pulled two bottles of coffee out of the six-pack and dropped them into her bag. She closed the locker door, careful not to crush the flower and almost jumped out of her skin as she turned and saw Clark leaning against the lockers next to hers.
"So, I'm a dork, huh?" he asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Yes," she said with a genuine smile she couldn't hold back. "You are."
"But a dork you're speaking to, today," Clark observed as he fell in behind her.
"So, that's progress?"
Chloe considered this for a moment. "I'd have to say 'yes'."
"Will you go out with me?" he asked as they navigated the halls on their way to Mr. Austin's English class.
"No," she replied blithely.
Clark continued, undaunted. "But we're friends again?"
Clark beamed, and held the door open for her.
"Clark, I'm sorry I blew you off yesterday. I just... I don't want to go to Metropolis fighting with you. Especially not if... if I end up staying there for good. I figure, two years of friendship isn't worth throwing away over a silly dance. So, anyway, I'm sorry."
"It wasn't a silly dance," Clark said, brushing her hair away from her cheek. She froze for a second, lost in the simple touch. She blinked, and shied away from his hand.
"Anyway, I just wanted to make that clear," she said, trying to focus on Mr. Austin as he called attention from the podium, and not the still-smiling, slightly goofy, yet utterly charming Mr. Kentwho was leaning half out of his desk, chin cupped in his hand as he stared at her with mirth shining in his green eyes.
"Crystal," he assured her in a stage whisper.
"PlusIreallyneedhelpwiththeTorch," she said quickly, and Clark laughed.
"Mr. Kent!" Mr. Austin called from the front of the class, "I'm sure you find Ms. Sullivan utterly fascinating. However, despite the fact that finals are over, classes are still in session. So would you care to join us?"
The other students snickered, and Chloe blushed. But Clark just kept on smiling.
"Okay guys" Pete hit "Save" and leaned back in his chair, pushing off from the desk so that he rolled into the middle of the office. "Ads are done, front page is done. What have we got left?"
"I've got sports," Chloe said, "and the editorial."
The three of them had convened after lunch, and in the three short hours before the final bell, had done a gang-bang on the final issue. Clark had noted with some amusement and not a little glee that Chloe had one by one powered through the six-pack of coffee, and her desk was now littered with the empty bottles.
The rose was in one of the empties, which she had washed out and filled with water from the fountain outside the girl's bathroom. Pete had raised a brow when he'd seen it.
"What? It's pretty," Chloe had said with a shrug, "And it came with coffee. That was wise."
"Interiors are proofed," Clark put his feet up on the desk. "Remember your comma issues? I'd say, take all the extra commas of yours I'm forever deleting, and give them to Elliot. He obviously needs them."
"Yeah. I almost wish Greg hadn't mutated into a killer insect and got squishedat least he understood basic grammar," she lamented. "Okay, looks like we're in the home stretch. If you guys want to take off"
"We can't leave you now" Clark began, while Pete grabbed his backpack and was halfway to the door when he turned back around.
"Sweet!" he said with a grin. "Erica's waiting for me at the Talon. You two crazy kids have fun," he winked at them as he stood in the doorway, "and don't do anything I wouldn't do!"
"Yeah, like that leaves us much!" Clark called after him, shocked. But he was gone. "Jerk."
"I'm surprised he lasted this long," Chloe said with a shrug. She leaned back in her chair, grimacing as she rubbed at her neck and shoulder.
"What's wrong?" Clark asked.
"Mouse knot," she replied. "I swear, I only get it when I have to edit Shelley Peterson's girl's basketball coverage. Someday, with the aid of electroshock and chemical conditioning, I will teach her the difference between 'effect' and 'affect', and why sentences are supposed to have verbs."
"My mom says I have magic fingers," he said as he knelt down behind her chair and waved the digits in question to demonstrate.
"No, really, I just need a long hot soak and some Advil and I'll be ohmygod that feels really good."
He'd decided to completely ignore her protests, and she was rightthere was a crunchy, vicious mouse knot that he could feel beneath the pads of his fingers.
"Like I said, I get plenty of practice," he said, his mouth next to her ear.
"Your mom is so totally lucky," she muttered as he gently worked out the calcium deposit at the top of her right shoulder blade. The tension drained out of her and she leaned forward, eyes closed and chin dropping to her chest. Using one hand to continue working on her shoulder, he gently kneaded her neck muscles with the other, sliding his fingers up to run them through the hair at the nape of her neck.
She shuddered, and he looked down to see her bare arms suddenly covered in gooseflesh. He chuckled.
"You like that, huh?" he said softly, lightly scratching the back of her neck, and was rewarded by her breathing becoming more rapid, heart-rate increasing. Clark was pretty sure he had just located what one of Pete's magazines referred to as an "erogenous zone."
He practically held his breath as she nodded, making a small sound of pleasure that just shot through him like a lightning bolt. His own heart pounding in his ears, he leaned forward and pressed a light kiss to the back of her neck.
She froze, and it was just like when someone took a shot at him, or came at him with a baseball bat. Time slowed as she shifted in her chair, turning to face him. He could see every golden hair as it caught the late afternoon sun, and her eyes were a brilliant shade of moss green.
"Clark" she began, and her mouth was right there and so close to his, and the next thing he knew, he was kissing her.
It was nothing like kissing Lana by the pool, when she was under the influence of the Nicodemus pollen. The entire time he'd been kissing her, a voice had been screaming in the back of his mind that what he was doing was wrong. That for all it was a fantasy come true, it felt hollow and empty.
It's wasn't like when Tina Greer came to him, wearing Lana's face. That had been violent and surreal, and he'd barely had time to register what was happening before he'd seen the stars flying past his eyes and felt the crunch of metal and glass beneath him as he'd landed on the truck.
It wasn't like when Kyle Tippet had compelled Chloe to kiss him to prove his "gift." He'd been too shocked to respond then, and as quickly as it had begun, it was over. He'd been embarrassed more than anything else.
It wasn't anything like eight-grade Chloe, surprising him in the hayloft on the day they met, with his very first kiss. That had been short, and she'd tasted like cinnamon chewing gum, and he hadn't even closed his eyes.
It was tentative, and it was slow, and it was the first time he had kissed a girl, instead of the other way around and that alone made his heart beat just a smidgen faster. At first he thought she was trembling, and then he realised nohe was, his hands shaking as he reached up to cup her face.
She was the one to break the kiss, her forehead resting against his for a second and then she pushed away from him.
"I can't do this," she said, her voice choked as she stumbled up from the desk chair and she ran out the door.
"Chloe!" Clark called after her, pushing himself up from the floor, and he was halfway to the door before he realised he had no idea what to do.
He slammed his first into the wall, and grimaced as his arm sunk into the wall up to elbow, showering the floor with bits of paint and plaster.
Chloe ran. Tears blinding her, she ran all the way out to the parking lot. She got into her car, fumbling with the keys until she found the ignition. She tried to turn the engine over, and it sputtered twice and then died. She leaned her head against the steering wheel, and closed her eyes. Her shoulders shook with her silent sobs, and she could feel the scalding hot tears hitting her bare thighs as she tried to pull herself together.
She jerked her head up as the passenger door opened, and the car dipped as Clark slid inside.
"Clark, get out of the car," she said, wiping the tears away with the back of her hand. "Please?"
"You can't keep running away."
"Sure I can," she said bitterly. "Watch me."
He took the keys out of the ignition, and tossed them out the window. They landed with a soft "clink" in the distance, and she craned her neck to try and see where.
"We need to talk," he said.
"Oh, is that what we were doing? Talking?" she asked, trying to keep her voice under control and failing. "Seemed more like sign language, to me."
"I love you," he said, and she felt like she'd just taken a sucker punch to the gut. Her hands closed reflexively around the steering wheel, and she fought for breath.
"That's low, Kent. That's below the belt," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "What, can't be with the one you love, so love the one you're with?"
"It's not like that," he said, reaching out to brush the tears from her cheek. She jerked away, as if his touch burned. He looked stricken, and she tore her eyes away.
She wanted to lean into his touch.
She wanted to throw her arms around him, and feel safe and protected, and cared for in his embrace. Because she knew she would be. Knew it deep down inside where she couldn't lie to herself any longercouldn't throw up the protective shell of cynicism and sarcasm.
Instead, she braced herself against the driver's side door, as far away from Clark as she could get in the front seat of the Ford.
"Chloe, pleasejust hear me out."
"Why? So you can tell me how Miss Perfect was just a passing phase?"
"That's exactly what I'm trying to tell you," he said, turning sidewise in the passenger seat, his green eyes deadly earnest. "Chloe, I was an idiot"
"You'll get no contest from me there."
"idiot for not realising how I felt about you until it was almost too late. At least, I'm hoping it's not too late," he said quickly. "Because I mean it. I love you. I love how you go after a story. I love your stubborn streak. I love the way your eyes crinkle up when you smile. I love your smile. I love"
"Please stop saying that," she said softly, cutting him off. She stared at her hands folded in her lap.
"Why?" he asked, leaning forward and lifting her chin so she would meet his eyes. She pulled back, blinking back tears.
"Do you have any idea how hard this is?" she asked, her voice raw. "God, it was all so much easier before. Sure, it hurt like hellbut at least I still had my best friend, you know? Even if it was killing me, at least I still had that." She closed her eyes, hating herself for being a complete emotional wreck. "Why can't things go back to the way they were?" she asked, voice breaking.
"Because once you cross that line, you can't hide behind the cloak of friendship anymore," he said simply. "What are you so afraid of?"
"Having my heart ripped out of my chest and stomped on?" she offered with an involuntary laugh even as the tears slipped down her cheeks again.
"And this doesn't hurt?" he asked, and this time when he reached to brush the tears from her cheek, she let him.
She'd been so good, Chloe thought as Clark's fingers curled around her ear. She closed her eyes, relishing the feel of his fingers in her hair. She'd fought so hard, she'd been determined not to let Clark back into a position where he could break her heart.
"Chloe, you can't spend your whole life avoiding love just because you're afraid of getting hurt," he said softly, and she opened her eyes to see his face, so serious, so close to hers. His thumb was tracing and re-tracing the curve of her cheekbone almost absently as he spoke. "You're the one who taught me that you have to take chancesthat life's not worth living from the sidelines."
God, she'd tried so hard...
She'd sort of missed the point where her heart was already breaking.
"What if I like the view from the sidelines?" she asked, blowing her nose in a McDonald's napkin she found in the map pocket of the driver's side door.
"Trust methere's not much of a view way out there," he said, offering her a handkerchief. "I've spent the last 15 years there. It's not a fun place to hang out."
"What if it doesn't work?" she asked. "What if we learn to hate each other? Then I won't have a boyfriend or a best friend. What then?"
He considered this. "Well, we'll both have Pete."
"What if I want to keep Pete?" she asked, eyes narrowed. "What if I get Pete in the settlement?"
His mouth twitched into a smile. "You want to sign a pre-nup before we can start dating?"
"Yes," she said firmly, feeling slightly light-headed. She was doing this. She was actually doing this. She would be panicking if it weren't for the fact that she was too freaked out to even panic. "If we break up, I get to keep the car, the house, Pete, and any items of clothing you leave behind."
She ticked the items off on her fingers, and he caught her hand in his and she thought she could actually feel her pupils dilating as he gently sucked on her index finger. She was suddenly aware just how very close he was to her. Intimately, maddeningly aware.
"Deal?" she said, using just about every brain cell she had to force that single syllable out, as she was for the first time in her life being rendered effectively non-verbal from the combined effect of Clark's proximity, and exactly what he was doing to her hand with his tongue.
He released her hand, letting her damp finger trace the curve of his bottom lip as he smiled.
"Deal," he said, leaning forward and brushing her lips with his.
This time, she was the one who was shaking as she leaned into the kiss, bringing her hands up to run her fingers through his hair and pull him closer. Her heart pounded in her ears as he pulled her up onto his lap, and his mouth opened under hers. His slid his hands under the hem of her shirt, nails scratching lightly as they roamed her back which was slightly damp from sitting in the warm car. She groaned, and sucked on his bottom lip in reflex. His arms tightened around her, and his breathing grew ragged as she dug her fingernails into his shoulders.
The knee-length denim skirt she wore rode up as she scooted forward, and Clark made a small sound of pleasure in the back of his throat and crushed her tighter to him. His hands slipped down to her waist and she shivered as they lightly skimmed her thighs, stopping just short of the hem of her skirt. He smiled against her mouth, and she rocked forward slightly, just to hear him gasp. His hands gripped her hips, fingers kneading as he explored her mouth with his tongue slowly, languorously.
It was pretty much just like every fantasy she'd ever had, except for the part where it was actually happening, and it was about a million times better.
"So, wanna go steady?" Clark asked when they finally came up for air. His hair was mussed, cheeks flushed, and his bottom lip was slightly swollen. She could only imagine how she must have looked. She felt like she had a raging fever, and her heart was pounding as if it would burst out of her chest any second.
"Gee, can I wear your letterman jacket?" Chloe giggled, playing with the dark hair at the nape of his neck.
"Aren't you the one who referred to my joining the football team as tantamount to suicide?" he said as he kissed her jaw all the way to her ear, gently tugging the lobe between his teeth.
"Yes, well, I wasn't dating you then..." she said a little breathlessly as Clark's lips found the sensitive spot where her neck joined her shoulder. She closed her eyes, biting her lip to keep from actually moaning out loud.
There was a tapping at the window, and Chloe scrambled back off of Clark's lap so quickly she whacked her head on the roof. She grabbed her head with both hands as tears of pain sprang to her eyes.
"Mr. Kent, Ms. Sullivan," Assistant Principal Byrne crouched down next to the passenger-side window, one pale red brow lifted in dry amusement. "I assume that the final edition of the Torch shall in fact be hitting my desk tomorrow morning?"
Clark, whose face was matching his favourite red plaid shirt right about now, nodded vigorously. "Yes, sir."
"Absolutely, sir," Chloe assured him through clenched teeth, rubbing at the back of her head.
"Then perhaps you two might want to retire to a more appropriate venue?"
"As soon as we find my keys, sir," Chloe told him with a smile and a pointed look to Clark, who sank lower in his seat.
"So how'd you do it?" Chloe asked Clark, resting her chin on his chest.
They were on the couch in Clark's loft, beneath one of the heavy Indian horse blankets that usually hung over the railings. Chloe had her arms wrapped around Clark, and had rucked up his white t-shirt in the back so that she could run her fingers along his sides. He squirmed when it tickled, and she liked to figure out exactly where his ticklish spots were.
So far, she'd found a lot of them.
Outside, the sunset was finally fading in the west, and the stars were starting to come out. Mrs. Kent had made fried chicken, salad, and mashed potatoes for dinner, and although she'd never mentioned a single thing about the dance to Chloe all evening, she'd beamed the whole time. As Chloe was helping to clear the dishes, Martha had winked at her, and told her in a whisper designed not to carry to the kitchen table, "We Metro gals have to back each other up."
After strawberry and rhubarb pie topped with home-made ice-cream, Clark had muttered something completely transparent and pathetic about wanting to show Chloe something in his loft, and they'd practically run out to the barn.
"Show me what, your etchings?" Chloe had asked just as Clark had wrapped his arms around her waist and spun her around until she threatened to toss her pie and ice-cream all over his Fortress of Solitude if he didn't put her down. They'd landed on the couch, and hadn't moved since. Well, moved in the sense of getting up and going anywhere else, she appended mentally as she traced lazy circles on Clark's abdomen with one fingertip.
"Well, I didn't throw the keys all that far" he began.
"Not the car keys, you dork," she playfully whacked him in the arm. "The 'special edition' of the Planet!"
"Oh, that," he said with a chuckle. "I got the picture from your dad, and wrote up the story, and Lex kinda called in a favour"
"What?" Chloe yelped, getting her hands on either side of Clark's torso and pushing herself up so that she was looking down at him. "You've got my Dad's boss acting as yenta?"
"What's a yenta?" Clark asked, completely sincere.
"Oh my God, this is so embarrassing," she sat up, swinging her legs around and burying her face in her hands.
"Clark, I'm gonna be at the Planet on Monday to start my internship, and everyone's gonna know"
"Chloe, no one will know." Clark laughed and peeled her hands away from her face, and leaned in and kissed her nose. "Lex called in a favour at The Journal. One of the managing editors did it up on her computer, and used the presses at the paper after hours to run an edition of exactly one. I picked it up this morning, before school."
"Really," he assured her. She blushed, and curled back up next to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I'm gonna miss you," she said, taking his hand and twining her fingers around it.
"Heyyou'll only be three hours away," he reminded her. "And it's only the summer."
"Unless the buyout doesn't happenand I end up back in Metropolis."
"Hey" Clark brushed her hair back from her face, and gave her a feather-light kiss. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"You'll come visit me?"
"Every day, if you want."
"It's three hours there and back!" she laughed.
"You'd be amazed how fast I can get around," he assured her.
They laid back down on the couch, Clark's arms wrapped around her. Chloe noted with a sigh that she felt safe and protected, and cared for in his embrace.
"Can I ask a stupid question?" she asked.
"What about Lana?"
"What about her?"
"Do you... Do you still have feelings for her?"
"She and I are just friends. That's all we're ever going to be."
"You are I were 'just friends,'" she reminded him, chewing on her bottom lip.
"We're more than friends," he said, cupping her face with one hand. "And I wouldn't have it any other way."
Chloe couldn't help but smile as Clark leaned forward to kiss her.
Jonathan Kent was staring out the kitchen window at the barn as he dried the dinner dishes. Martha had one half of the sink filled with scalding hot, soapy water, and was up to her elbows in dinner dishes. Usually Clark helped her with the clean-upas a part of their nightly ritual, it was special mother-son time. However, this time, she didn't mind one bit. She followed her husband's gaze, fighting the smile that was tugging at the corner of her mouth.
"Don't you think, maybe..." he began, frowning. "Maybe one of us ought to, well... Go out there?" he asked as Martha handed him another dish.
"Why?" she asked, all innocence.
"To, you knowchaperone?"
"Chaperone," she repeated, drying her hands on the dishtowel threaded through the drawer handle. "We've never worried about Clark and Chloe before."
"Yeah, but everything's different now."
"That's very observant of you."
"Jonathan, are you telling me that Hiram Kent used to follow you and Nell Potter around to keep an eye on you?"
"No," Jonathan said quickly. "But he should have," he added under his breath.
"Oh really?" she raised a brow.
"Look, I'm just saying..." he trailed off. "I'm not sure what I'm saying."
Martha took the dish from his hands that he had been drying for the last two minutes. "You're saying our little boy is growing up."
"This scares me more than the whole floating thing. I can't understand defying the laws of nature. But being a hormonally charged sixteen-year-old? That, I understand."
"If we can trust Clark not to reveal his powers, I think we can trust him not to have premarital sex in his loft."
Martha paused, letting the words sink in.
"I think I'll go take them some milk and cookies."
Carrying a tray with a pitcher of milk and a plate full of ginger snaps, Martha mounted the stairs slowly. She was torn between the desire to sneak up on her teenage son and his brand new girlfriend and catch them unawares, and go galumphing up, giving the kids enough warning to spare them the embarrassment of being caught necking by Mom.
She hadn't quite made up her mind when the couch came into view, and all her anxiety and parental panic melted away as she came the rest of the way up the stairs.
The two of them were fast asleep. Martha set the tray down silently, quickly taking stock. Chloe's cheek was pressed against Clark's t-shirt-clad chest, and one of his arms was draped across her back and they were snuggled together, a horse blanket mostly on the floor, but still covering their legs. She noted with relief that they were fully clothed and no one's hands were in forbidden places.
As she always did when she saw her son's sleeping face, Martha smiled. In sleep, she saw the child she had cradled in her arms the night he had come into her world. He was a giant, nowa child with a grown man's body, ruled by a child's dreams and heartaches.
But he was no longer alone.
Still smiling, Martha crept back out of the barn.