Author's Notes: Massive thanks to Wookie for the awesome beta, and to Teri Leigh, who is my goddess. You rock, babe.
The truck is totaled.
Whitney never asked Clark to look after his wheels, though. Just his girl.
Clark looks down at the girl in question, currently prone but alive in his arms. Lana manages to look beautiful even post near-death experience, long lashes resting on flawless honey skin, shiny dark hair swinging in a graceful curtain. Her full pink lips are parted slightly and if it weren't for the enormous purple bruise on her forehead (and the fact that he just pulled her from a now two-dimensional vehicle), Clark could almost believe she was just sleeping.
Clark avoids a broken fence, flung down in the middle of the street like a discarded toy, and looks up to see the school building is closer than he thought it was. His original plan was to speed back to the gym as fast as possible, but that plan hadn't involved his complete and utter exhaustion.
Sure he had been tired before, and sometimes, after combating whatever meteor-freak was doing the rounds, he could even have described himself as...worn out. Fatigued. Weary. But they were always relatively easy fights, if he's completely honest with himself. Clark's biggest weakness in battle isn't anything you can measure in terms of strength or stamina. In fact, Clark realizes it's usually his unique sense of timing.
No, strength is something he has. But it had turned out that a tornado was something to be reckoned with even if you could break tree trunks in half with your bare hands. For a start, it was no good being able to run faster than the eye could see if you couldn't stay on the damn ground. And a truck smacking you repeatedly around the head at a hundred miles an hour was no fun even if said head was seemingly indestructible.
But, as unpleasant as they had been, it wasn't the physical trials that were causing Clark to trudge slowly towards the double doors of the school. It wasn't the amount of time he'd spent getting flung around like the world's best dressed rag doll by winds that had no respect for the fact that he was a super strong alien. It was the fact that this time, he hadn't been able to just throw someone thirty feet or leap on top of them, using his own body as protection. And he'd very nearly lost.
"Lana!" Calls some indistinguishable voice.
Clark feels rather than sees the rush of bodies moving towards him when he finally stumbles into the school. Lana is pulled from his arms and borne away in a wash of worried voices, and Clark has only one thought - get away before the voices turn on him. He ignores the faces peering up at him, gratitude and concern on every one, pushing through arms and outstretched hands to get to the door. When he hears Pete calling after him he knows he should probably stop for that, but he deserves to be a little selfish now, right? Clark decides, on his way down the hall, leaning a little into the poster-covered wall for support, that he's earned this. People rush past him, back and forth, clutching cell phones and blankets and Clark's glad that even in the middle of all this chaos, he knows exactly where she'll be.
The few students who are in there scatter quietly when he leans heavily into the door frame. He watches as she turns, gown and hairstyle so out of place amongst newspaper clippings and computers, and yet it fits perfectly, because this whole room is so...Chloe.
It strikes Clark as odd that he just successfully rescued Lana from a tornado. He fought the centrifugal forces of nature and won. He managed to retrieve a truck from whizzing around in mid-air. He got Lana back, safe and sound, and although his tux was hanging off him in tatters by the end of it, he was still standing. And yet one syllable from her brings him, quite literally, to his knees.
"Clark? Clark, what happened? Are you okay? Oh my god, we have to get you to a doctor."
"No. I'm okay. Lana's okay. I don't need"
"No?" Chloe looks down at him, all folded arms and don't-mess-with-me-face, completely incongruous with the worry and confusion clearly evident in her voice "No? Don't be ridiculous, Clark, you have to get checked out. You could have a concussion, or"
"Chloe," Clark doesn't really know what he's going to say; he just knows he wants Chloe to stop talking. Wants her to be nearer, or something. He isn't entirely sure, but the speed of her speech is making his head spin and right now closer sounds good to him. "Down here. Come down here." Clark manages, tugging at the hem of Chloe's dress with numb fingers.
Chloe sinks down into a cloud of deep pink satin, the material puffing out around her before puddling onto the floor. It looks like she's sitting at the center of a rose.
"What?" Chloe says with a look of surprise that quickly gives way to concern. "Clarkdid you see the doctor already? Are you on painkillers?"
Huh. Apparently he said that out loud. Weird.
"Clark?" Chloe's peering at him out of wide clear eyes and Clark can't remember ever feeling this weak before. He's pretty sure he couldn't stand up right now, let alone find the energy to explain his complete lack of injuries to a suspicious doctor, or worse, an even more suspicious Chloe. Besides, he has more important things to do right now.
"I don't" Wow. Apparently he can hurt because that's one hell of a painful lump in his throat. Clark swallows, hard, and tries again. "I left you. At...at the gym. I'm sorry."
"What?" Various emotions war on Chloe's face for a minute before her expression settles into something like ‘incredulous'. "Clark, don't be ridiculous. That's not even an issue."
"No, it is, I" It hadn't occurred to him just how important it actually was until he'd lost his grip on Lana's truck somewhere in the middle of the tornado. And yes, it had struck him that his brain had a weird sense of timing. "I said I wouldn't. And you asked me to wait and I'm...I'm sorry."
"Clark, there's really nothing for you to be apologizing for. But if it makes you feel better," Her small warm hand cups his cheek and he leans into it like it's his last link to humanity. Such a slim wrist. Soft skin. "If it makes you feel better, then I forgive you. Okay? Now can I take you to the damn medical centre already?"
The medical centre? He guesses that they had to set it up for the casualties of theoh, god. He didn't even ask. "Are you okay? Did you stay indoors? Are you hurt?" Clark can't stop himself from running his hands up Chloe's arms and over her shoulders just to be sure.
"For god's sake, Clark, I'm fine! We all are, and Lana" Chloe looks down and the impatience is gone when she speaks again. "You saved her, apparently, although I'm really not clear on how."
It's important, suddenly, that Chloe understand how close he came to losing. That she understands why he had to leave.
"I almost didn't make it, Chloe. If I hadn't left you when I did, I don't think I could've"
"Clark," Chloe shifts and gets her other hand on his face, moving onto her knees to meet his gaze and Clark can't do anything but breathe, trying not to shake too obviously. "No ifs or buts, okay? You did the right thing. God, look at you."
Her hands slip off his face, down to his chest to examine the torn remains of his shirt. Clark follows her fingers with his eyes and watches as she tries to push the edges of the fabric back together.
"Guess that's a deposit you'll never see again." She says softly, and Clark reaches up to cover Chloe's hands with his own and hold them against him. His eyes slide closed at the touch o her hands and he finds himself considering that maybe tornadoes aren't all that bad. He has to stifle a laugh, and then he feels her little fingers curl around his and she's holding on to him so tightly it would probably hurt anyone else.
"You really scared me." Chloe's voice reaches his ears, low and thick with what he realizes must be tears.
"I'm," But before Clark can finish there are two strong arms around his neck and a wet cheek pressed against his face.
"You don't have to say you're sorry." Chloe's fingers are in his hair, her heart thudding frantically against his chest. Clark folds his arms around her, all soft, solid girl-warmth and shaky breath in his ear. "But you could tell me what the hell you thought you were doing running off into a freaking tornado."
Intense flash-memory of the few seconds, minutes, hours before he'd started to win, before he'd managed to pull the unconscious Lana out and race them both out of harm's way. "Chloe, there's so much I" Bright slice of knowledge like pain that he can't tell her about how it felt. Years of training kicking in and pulling the words back from his lips. Don't tell your secret, son, never tell, never tell. There's nothing to do but bury his face in her shoulder and breathe her in. Chloe, warm and sweet and always there. Clark wants somebody to talk to. He wants Chloe to talk to. "I wish I could tell you. There's so much that I wish I could - "
Chloe cuts him off, her words muffled against his shoulder. "You know what? It doesn't matter. I thought it did, but then there was the whole not knowing if you were alive thing, and really..." she pulls back a little to face him. Clark feels something tugging inside him at the sight of her red-rimmed eyes, watery and huge in her tear-stained face. "I'd rather have you here, secrets and all, than...not"
"You don't ever have to worry about me, Chloe." That, at least, is true.
"Maybe not. But I always will."
Clark smiles at that, at the quiet determination and sweet promise in her voice. And it's a promise that she lives up to, because her next words are,
"We really should get you to a doctor. Just to check you over."
There's actually another laugh bubbling up inside him, and Clark lets it escape with not a little surprise. He hadn't figured on laughing so soon after almost losing one of his friends. One of his battles. But then, he reflects as Chloe winds herself around him again, he hadn't really figured on Chloe.
"I don't need a doctor. My tux may well be beyond repair, but I'm fine. I promise." He rests his cheek on the top of her head, as she currently has her face buried in his chest. Her breath is warm on his skin and when she sighs, Clark feels a shiver run through hima shiver he's not sure is entirely appropriate, given the recent events.
"Show me." Chloe says quietly, and she sits up, her hands going to the few buttons his shirt has left.
"Chloe, I told you, I'm"
"Clark." Chloe fixes him with the ‘do as I say' stare that Clark knows so well. It scares him a little, even now. "I need to know that you aren't hurt. I won't ask any questions, I won't ever mention this again, if that's what you want but I. Need. To. Know."
Well. What else can he say to that, but,
Clark isn't sure he remembers how to work buttons, so he lets Chloe pull him up into a chair and she perches on the edge of the desk, lower lip caught between even, white teeth as she undoes the few fastenings left on his shirt. Pushes the jacket off his shoulders and slides the ragged white remains of his shirt down his arms.
"You're really okay." Her words are something like a question and something like a fact, and are tinged with amazement. Clark makes a noise somewhere low in his throat that really has nothing to do with the way Chloe's hands are sliding over his skin. Not at all, he told himself firmly.
"Mmmm. M'okay." Okay, maybe it has a little to do with that. It's just....she's so warm, and so gentle, and he can't really remember the last time anyone was gentle with him, and he definitely can't remember anyone touching him like this. Probably because nobody ever has.
"Nobody ever has what?"
"Uh..." Dear God how hard did the damn truck hit him?
"Clark? I really, really think we should get you to awoah!"
It's easy, too easy really, to pull her into his lap and just hold her there, arms around her waist and face in her neck. Easiest thing ever to just close his eyes against the world and breathe out with a sound that he doesn't want to classify as a sob.
And Chloe lets him. Her hands smooth up and down his back, over and over, each caress soothing every bruise that isn't there, and forgiving him for every secret that is.
Later, when Chloe writes about Lana Lang and the boy who saved her, she'll keep this part for herself.