There was usually something about the fact of being 'on break' that she loved. The house was always warm, quiet, and allowed her to just be where she was for the moment, with no outside thoughts entering the equation. She spent so much time rushing around the town after her stories, or pulling all-nighters in order to keep up with her homework, that time off was a rarity.
Winter breaks normally meant sleeping in way past second hour, and not changing into 'real clothes', even after getting up, until she had to leaveor it was 5 PM before her father came homewhichever came first. She'd spend her days fixing up the tree and stringing the lights; perhaps a few days of absorbing herself online and gorging on the sticky sappiness of Christmas movies. A Muppet's Christmas Carol was still her favorite, even at her age.
She had hoped, seemingly in vain, that perhaps her new 'roomie' could spice up her routine a little. She could create a thorough Christmas Gift list, or donate hours down at the Talon. But no, Lana had enthusiastically rushed up to her Aunt and soon-to-be-Uncle, leaving her with the silence of the empty house. It wasn't that she didn't like time to herself; she had grown to love the peaceful feeling her breaks gave her. She was just hoping that she would have at least one close person her own age to be with this holiday. Since Pete and Clark had been slipping even further from her grasp, Lana was the only person she had left. It was puzzling why Pete was so distant, but she chalked that up to siding with his oldest friend in the whole scenario. Lana was supposed to be here, but she wasn't, and Chloe couldn't help feeling a little bummed. And her father was out of town for the week.
All she was doing happened to be watching a copy of It's a Wonderful Life, not like she needed someone to be with her to do that. And she really didn't mean to seem so cynical, curled up in her red flannel pajamas on her bed, but she was really doubting the validity of the title. Maybe it worked if your name was George Bailey, but definitely not if it was Chloe Sullivan.
She didn't feel like it was in her nature to be so critical, and she knew that George lost his dreams and the money, but the people he loved... well, they loved him back. She would be a liar if she were to claim she wasn't the slightest bit jealous of that. It wasn't as if George's mother decided one day that George was simply not worth caring about. It wasn't as if his wife left him and his children. And she didn't abandon him at the school dance either. George was a pretty lucky guy in that respect. Plus, he had an angel on top of it all.
It hardly seemed fair. But, hey that was Hollywood.
George was screaming how he wished he'd never been born. Chloe was inclined to agree with him. Today was one of those gray, ugly winter days without any snow, and it was just plain cold. Her family that should have been wasn't, her would-be-boyfriend was dumped before the first real kiss of the relationship, and her friends where obviously busy, seeing as no one had called in the last week. She felt very much like seeing the world without her. She could picture it even. Clark with Lana, Pete running the paper, her mom and dad still married .... Hey, it seemed like everyone would be happier that way. Maybe if she went to the dam and started screaming she'd get an angel too. Knowing her luck with getting anything to go as planned, she doubted it.
With an exaggerated sigh, she slid off her covers and pulled on some clothes and one of her many pairs of boots. Not really caring what she looked like, she threw on her coat, slapped a wooly hat on her head, and dropped her keys in her purse before leaving the house. Her shoes made light thuds as she briskly walked down the road. She wasn't exactly sure where she was headed, other than a simple need to be out. Her home had been oddly suffocating today, and the cold air was invigorating.
Her feet led her onwards, stopping at the dam on the opposite side of town. Gulping, she approached the side and looked over the edge. She had made a point not to come here since Ian. She cursed herself inwardly. Her brain was still really fuzzy about what had happened. She remembered the pavement and waking up back-down, not face. But she knew there were lapses in time and she knew that Ian had meant to kill her and Lana. And she had this feeling that a certain someone whom she tried so hard not to think about was the reason she was alive. Her brain didn't want to process it right now. She should be dead several times over, and she knew why she wasn't. Thinking about it just led to questions and investigations and pain. She was tired of pain.
And with that admission to herself, the scab was picked open, and she was drowned in a flood of emotion. She was tired of being on the outside, she was tired of playing the stupid 'friends card'. She was tired of not being trusted by either of them. And she was tired of knowing that Clark's connection to meteor rocks wasn't the normal mutation. She was tired of knowing that Clark really was different, that he was truly special, and of not ever being able to tell him anything at all any more.
For a moment, she was drowning in her own fears and insecurities. The next moment, she was screaming.
"I wish I'd never come here!"
"Surely you don't mean that, Miss Sullivan. In fact, it is imperative that you live here," a quiet male voice declared. Whipping around to face the owner of said voice, she studied the man thoroughly. His clothes were older-looking; a jacket with coat tails, a button-up vest, a watch and fob, and a bowler hat. More importantly, behind him was the oddest car she'd ever seen in her life.
"I surely do, and I highly doubt that anything with me involved is 'imperative' right now," she informed him curtly, looking back over the edge. She wasn't sure where he came from, or why she didn't hear him approach, or even how he knew her name. Part of her mind said that she should just do whatever it was she was here to do.
In the background she heard him murmuring about having 'no other choice' and before she realized it she was being led over to his machine which resembled more of an eighteenth century room than a true automobile. "What are you doing?" she yelped as he buckled her into the contraption.
"I'm showing you what you wanted to see, Miss Sullivan. Imagine a world where you stayed in Metropolis. A world where you never met Clark Kent or Peter Ross. A world where the Torch wasn't part of your life," he explained, twisting dials as he did so.
"Who are you, then?" she asked incredulously.
"H.G. Wells, at your service. Now, sit tight; it will be a bumpy ride."
She scoffed. The man was nuts. But he pressed on, explaining as he pulled a lever full-back. The platform began to shake suddenly and she gripped the arm rests tightly, her nails digging into the leather. Green eyes looked on as unexplained fog swallowed the machine and she gulped nervously. Not again. She couldn't possibly get kidnapped again. Chloe felt the chair moving beneath her and closed her eyes out of instinct.
She opened them when the vehicle stopped. The little man gave her a funny look from behind his spectacles. In shocked silence, she sat there for a few moments, taking in the surroundings. Everything looked exactly the same for the most part. The sky was the same color and the dam was still across the street. Her question came out in breathless puffs of air and the man chuckled.
"I took you where you wanted to bea world where you had never moved here. As far as anyone in Smallville is concerned, Chloe Sullivan never was." She peered at the strange little man from beneath her dark lashes. For a moment she believed him, but her common sense kicked in. People couldn't change time or space. She let out an unladylike snort and unclasped the seat belt. Quirking an eyebrow, she jumped off the platform and tugged her coat a bit tighter.
"I don't buy it, Clarence. You need some help." She turned her back to him, tying the sash to her purple coat as she began to storm off. The click-clack of the little man's shoes hurried after her until they were walking with the same stride and pace. He murmured about his given name not being 'Clarence' and he obviously didn't get the joke. She really didn't feel like informing him, either.
She scanned the country side, looking around for differences in this supposedly-altered land. The ground was still cold and frost-bitten, same old cars lined the roads ... Chloe didn't notice any apparent change. Shaking her head, she continued walking back to town; back towards her home.
"How about some coffee?" she offered the supposed-author in the bowler hat, as they came closer to Main Street. "Everyone loves coffee. Let me buy you a cup at the Talon; I know the assistant manager. In fact, I live with her, so I'm sure Maureen will let us have some lattes."
"How about this delightful little place?" he asked, pointing to a little business with neon lights and a sign, swinging in the chilling winter air. She read the sign in a glance, the familiar cup logo having been the symbol of her third home-away-from-home during earlier times of her youth. Inside the doorway were copies of the three most important papers to the town: The Daily Planet, The Smallville Ledger, and The Smallville Torch, if she did say so herself. Glancing inward, the room was full of people laughing amicably and a feeling of small town camaraderie that the Talon had never managed to accomplish.
"The Beanery," she whispered, incredulously. She knew it was shut down. She had seen it. Lana had done it during her minor fight with Clark; the fight that had led her to know that she was his.... No. She wasn't going there. She turned to the small man who was only a twitch of the mouth away from smirking. She could see it in his eyes, he was just waiting for her to ask the hows and whys that had already risen to the tip of her tongue. "Fine," Chloe informed him, her voice more strained than she would of wished, "the Beanery it is."
The step into the coffee house felt the same. The tiles of the floor were still crooked; the smell of mocha and espresso seemed to absorb into her very skin as it always had. The back corner of the room was still crammed full of as many jockstraps as it could hold, and Jan, the manager, still had her multicolored hairalthough this month's streak seemed to be lime green. Zoe, he favorite waitress, even rushed by her. This was more than just the Beanerythis was the Beanery before their prices had sung upwards violently, before the Talon was even up for sale. This was the Beanery as it was the first half of her freshman year, warm, inviting, and a primary source of pocket change drain.
Chloe went over at a brisk pace to her favorite little booth. She remembered sliding in over the read leather seats several times, often in a deep conversation with Pete or Clark about the meteor occurrence of the week. Her mind raced through blood drive sign ups, jock straps following one another out to the goat field, and the mystery of Kyle Tippet all taking place right here. She knew she was reminiscing, and she really didn't care. This whole thing was nuts; the fact that she was sitting in a torn-down coffee house with an eighteenth century author was nuts. But at least he wasn't babbling right now. Thank heaven for little favors, she silently remarked. A throat cleared expectantly. She glanced upwards.
"Oh, hi Zoe!" she said brightly, expecting a similar remark.
What she got was a quirked eyebrow and a "Yeeeah."
Chloe bit her lip, feeling a bit awkward. What had been a trip down memory lane and to a shut-down coffee shop was quickly seeming increasingly weird. "Just a cup of regular and..." she trailed off for the quirky man across from her.
"Ah, the same," he nodded, grinning at Zoe and then at her. Chloe nodded, somewhat disgusted. She waited as the eye-rolling waitress walked away before bending her head close to the white counter top of the table.
"What," she hissed, "are you trying to pull?" He smiled good-naturedly, his mustache bristling up slightly as he did so. With a shrug, he replied.
"I'm not pulling anything, Miss Sullivan. You expressed a desire to have never moved to Smallville. I just made that happen for you." His eyes betrayed nothing, no hit of deceit; they were mirroring her confused gaze right back at her. She shook her head. It wasn't possible. Changing the past wasn't possible. But the wary gleam in Zoe's eyes was unsettling. It was as if the girl whom she had helped to shut Jan downthe girl who she had helped get a job at the Talondidn't know her. This was weird, even by Smallville standards.
"You're off," she told him, stirring her black liquid with the tiny straw. "You're just off." She swilled the black drink down reminding herself that it was the Beanery's baked goods, not their coffee grounds, that caused the health violations. The conversation had lulled into an uneasy silence, during which Chloe had taken to toying with the frayed end of her violet coat. She glanced out through the large windows of the restaurant, people-watching this pseudo-town. Her critical eye noticed beyond the friendly exterior everyone was a tad more concerned, a tad more wary.
Glancing around the coffee shop again she noticed people.... Eric Summers in the corner with his nose in a book, a terribly thin Jodi Melville drinking green liquid. An artist pad hid a face for the most part, with the exception of brown eyes peering out... peering out at her from time to time. And over in the cluster of sport fanatics was Sean Kelvin. Chloe gulped slightly, her heart pounding in her chest.
"You're finally starting to accept it, aren't you?" he asked her. She licked her chapping lips, meeting his grey-eyed gaze. "Aren't you, Miss Sullivan? Everyone here is afraid; you can see it in their eyes." He let the whispered sentence hang for a moment before opening a creamer into his cup. "They are afraid of all those people who changed and because no one has ever stopped them." Her gaze fell onto the people, the students who had hurt people... hurt her... People she knew were dead or locked up. People who were sitting just across the room.
"C'mon, we have got to get out of here," she insisted, dropping change on the table. H.G. just shrugged and followed the blonde towards the coffee shop exit. Chloe paid the bill and looked down at the stacks of papers. Handing Jan an extra dollar, she picked up a copy of the Torch before heading out the door with her new companion.
Her eyes skimmed over the black ink as she continued her way down the Main Street. The columns were slightly askew and the articles were meaningless fluff about the SHS sports teams. Nimble fingers flipped through the pages looking for anything memorablePete's book crusade or even Clark's re-typed lunch menus, but neither were to be found. She paused for a moment on the staff box on the last page.
'Editor: Lana Lang.'
"Lana?!" she exclaimed, coming to a dead stop. "But... but... Lana runs the Talon! She doesn't even write... Clark is Kerth-worthy by comparison!" She thought she saw the man smirk slightly at her remark, but she shrugged it off. "I don't believe this. Lana, editor. Lana, editor!" She shook her head before looking at the now definitely smirking man. "You knew about that, didn't you? You know a whole lot more than you're telling me."
"Maybe," he admitted, the smile not totally gone from his face. He clasped his hands in front of him, letting his eyes wander over the block they had stopped on and waiting for her to follow suit. Chloe's face widened in surprise. Across the street, Nell Potter's Flower Boutique was still in business, flowers bursting through the window. Next door was the Talon, more battered and broken than she had ever seen it. Turning around she uttered a shallow gasp.
"Tate's? What the hell is Tate's?!" she exclaimed, stepping away from the building putting her hands on her hips. "This is Fordman's. Whitney's mom owns this store." She turned to the author and glared at him when he shook his head. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he started moving her away from the department store and back down the road.
"No, it isn't; it's owned by the mayor's wife." H.G shook his head, staring down at the ground. "There are no Fordmans." Green eyes looked at him, taking on a glassy look as information sunk into her brain, and blonde hair start whisking over his fingers as she shook her head. He continued on, despite her disbelief. "Whitney died in a car crash after his final homecoming. His father died of heart disease later that year and his mother..."
"No! No," she told him, biting back tears. "Clark saved him from that wreck. Clark saved him." She sniffled, loudly, looking down at the pavement. "He saved him, he saved him," she kept repeating in a soft voice. H.G. looked at her a moment before enveloping in a fatherly hug. It wasn't normally his place as a time-traveler to interact with the people in his travels unless absolutely necessary. But this was far from the normal case and this was the information that she had to learn to know why she had to be here in this town, at this time.
After a moment she pulled back, drying her eyes hastily. He offered her a small look of condolence before draping a leading arm across her back and leading her down the thoroughfare to the large school a few blocks away. Neither one of them acknowledged any of the damaged or rebuilt buildings along the way.
As they approached the stone institution, Chloe would almost say it was foreboding. Was it possible for stone to take on the wariness of a community? She wasn't sure, but the cream stone seemed more grey than she remembered. Pulling her key ring from her red bag, she tried to unlock the door to no avail. After a moment, she stepped back from the door and rolled a large flat stone off its spot. Lying innocently in the dirt was a brass key which she snatched up in her fingers.
"Well," she declared as she opened the door, "at least Lana is still predictable." She held the door open for her companion. With a quick step, Chloe led the way up to her second home-away-from-home, her (or rather, Lana's) Torch offices. Passing rows of red and yellow she stopped at the wooden door to open it by merely turning the handle. "Typical," she uttered under her breath. Stepping in she was amazed at what she saw inside.
The entire room was a light pink-red color with the school mascot emblazoned on several of the walls. Chloe grimaced. Where the computers had been stood three old Macintoshes, four light boxes, and a huge stack of layout sheets. She tapped her silver-polished fingernails on a can of rubber cement.
"Lightboxes...and rubber cement... They are putting together the Torch on lightboxes. That's a crime against journalism." She shook her head, gazing around the room. The Wall of Weird wasn't there, but she suspected that would be gone. "What else are they doing wrong ...." H.G. pointed to the file cabinets with his fingers.
"Perhaps those could give you some of the information you're looking for?"
Chloe nodded and moved to the cabinets which lacked the burn marks from her falling episode with a certain football coach. Yanking on the handle, she pulled out the top draw which, while a little messy, had practically every bit of hard copy Lana had ever seen. Reaching in, she pulled out two hands full of copies and dropped them to the floor, following by herself. She looked up at the amused eyes of the author and she met his gaze with a slight rebuke.
"Just, stand watch at the door, wouldja?"
"Certainly, Miss Sullivan." He maneuvered a chair near the door and glanced down the empty hallways as the sound of paper shuffling filled the room behind him. Chloe flipped through the first ten issues with nothing more than printing ink staining her finger tips. The December twelfth issue stopped her flipping frenzy, however.
"LuthorCorp Plant Closes? But, that happened in May, and this is about when Earl Jenkins held up the plant...." she trailed off reading the article by Doug Chester, some student she'd never even heard of, in the issue as the orchestrator of this whole event spoke up.
"No, Lionel pulled his heir out of town when the numbers of meteor-changed people started affecting the plant and the town's population. It also caused large amounts of real estate owners to become bankrupt."
"Lionel Luthor does something that could almost border on fatherly and it kills the entire town," she remarked, folding the paper. "Why am I amazed?"
"Yes," he told her, turning back to face the would-be-reporter, "but it in turn caused more people to move, and caused some with gifts to use them to satisfy themselves because they were realizing"
"that no one would stop them. Yes, we covered that," Chloe told him absently turning though the pages of off-kilter type. Shortly after the December issues she started seeing little boxes under the staff box every week; she saw Pete's name, then Erika's, then Stan's. It took her a moment to realize what they were: Obituaries. She looked up at him frightened, "Death notices in a high school paper, weekly notices."
Her mouth ran dry. She felt her stomach doing flip flops. February's half-page box was still staring at her before she dropped it suddenly. Dead. Issues and issues of people's names, people she knew and they were all dead. She backed up into the cabinet with a loud clang. Dead. Pete, Stan. Dead.
The awful salmon room blurred in her eyes and she tore out of the room like a shot. Dead, they were all dead
"Missshouldn't you be home by now?" a familiar voice asked her. She heard her version of guardian walk up behind her; she paid no attention to him. He was alive, despite all those who were dead. She didn't understand, and she didn't want to. Her companion on this trip nudged her shoulder slightly, prompting her own to run. So she did.
"Wait! Young lady!" Principal Kwan called after her and starting to take chase.
"My good sir," H.G. Wells said, speaking up for the first time to the man, "I am interested in making a donation to your library. That young pupil brought me in to examine some of your books and I find them completely deplorable." As he continued talking, he led the administrator further away from the door and his temporary ward. Chloe was on hew own now.
She ran, her boots making thudding noises as she sprinted towards her goal. The dirty looks at her odd clothing or her hurry meant nothing to her. She passed people she knew; most of them like Sasha and Greg who were making 'googly' eyes at one another in Nell's flower shop, were dead or in a hospital. Chloe ran past the Talon and the Beanery to the outskirts of town.
Her legs burned with muscle exhaustion as she tore through the woods and the seemingly full cemetery. Her lungs felt on fire and her feet were throbbing, but she pushed herself harder. She had to know, she had to see. Counting in her head, she passed Lana's housethe brunette sat on her porch, but Chloe did spare her a second look. She didn't care. Her goal was in sight now.
She slowed down to catch her breath before she got near him. She jogged up the walk and up the stairs to the loft. It seemed the same, the couch, the hammock, the telescope. But nothing was the same here. She glanced around, still gasping the cold air into her lungs, looking for him.
"Can I ... help you?" he asked. She looked at him and he almost looked like the Clark she knew. Almost except his eyes were more wary, were just a touch harder. His stance wasn't the warm, open boy she knew but was careful, guarded.
"Clark," she breathed, grasping the railing. So this was it. He sounded the same, smelled the same. But his eyes, and his facial expressions weren't him at all. "We... we used to go to school together." The boy looked at her disbelieving, but said nothing. "So... are you dating Lana now?" His eyebrows scrunched up tight together and he gave her a look.
"How do you know about Lana?" he asked, leaning his tall frame against the railing and giving her a glare. She squirmed under the look, but said nothing. Clearing her throat, she found her voice, although it started off quietly.
"The same way I know that you hate peas, the same way I know that you've got flannel in almost every color of the rainbow, the same way I know that you save everyoneor could."
"Wait, wait, wait lady!" he held his hands up, "If you've come here to black mail me"
"Blackmail you?! I just want to know why. Why didn't you save Whitney Fordman? Why did you let your best friend die? Who are you?" she pleaded with him, grasping at the red fabric of his sleeve as he tried to walk away from her.
"I didn't choose for any of that to happen, it was out of my control. Whitney Fordman got what he deserved. Now, please, leave before I call my step-father in here." Clark crossed his arms and stared at her again. She didn't like it, she didn't know this person.
"The Clark Kent I knew wasn't like this. He was a hero. He saved Whitney's life, and Lex Luthor's, and my own on numerous occasions. And I don't know how, but I think I know why!" She sank to the planking of the barn, tears choking her sentences. "Clark was a hero because he knew it was the right thing to do. And obviously," she ground out, "you don't know the meaning the 'right thing'... I doubt there is anyone left in this town that does. So you go onyou call your little step-father who I'd bet is Ethan, judging from the car in front, and what are you going to do? Arrest me? For saying that you're a coward?"
"Shut up!" Clark yelled, storming across the loft.
Chloe pulled her self up, wiping at her eyes. "Then you are a coward! A Coward! A thousand times over, you're nothing but a big baby." She looked him in the eyes, staring at him in equal amounts hatred and disappointment as he was with her with anger. "What happened to your dad, huh, Clarkie? Was he like Pete and just not worth your time? Or effort? Were they just something that happened? Was Lana too hard to go after even with her boyfriend dead? Were they all just 'out of your control'?" She felt two hand grasp her shoulders hard.
"Mom! Ethan!" Clark called over his shoulder. His hands held her tight, pinching and bruising. She continued on, growling out her accusations.
"You're different. You know it. I know it. But that doesn't make it right to sit here and hide while people die. Did it never cross your mind that you could, I don't know, help these people? You're a wimp. And a coward. And... and I hate you, Clark Kent. I hate you." She heard the foot steps dash up the stairs and soon a haggard Martha Kent and an extremely joyous Ethan came into sight. The conversation between the family about her went on over head.
She wanted to be home. She wanted to be home where she drank over-priced Talon coffee and had totally mutilated one side of her office with push-pins. She wanted Pete who was addicted to throwing rubber spiders at her head and Lana who used up the last of her conditioner. She wanted to see Lex pretending that he really fit in with teenagers. Chloe wanted her dad to hug her and make her waffles and tell bad jokes. And she wanted Clark who, while far from perfect, was ... Clark, her Clark who did the right thing and only pretended to hate her comma issues. She had to get out of here, away from this Clark.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute!" she piped up, an idea fitting in her head. She waited for the three of them to stop talking before continuing. "You don't think I'd come over here to just yell at some one like him, do you?" she allowed herself to scoff slightly. "No, I wanted to tell him get off his butt and help Lana Lang. Greg Arkin went a little nuts again; tied her up to the giant windmill in Chandler's Field. You know, the one that you can see Metropolis from? It's got bright red blades, you'd better hurry," she added, nodding.
"We can go down to the station and set out the APB for him," she heard Martha tell Ethan, as they hurried down the steps. As they left, Clark let go over her slightly, looking at her.
"Cross my heart, hope to die, she's up there." She smiled at him watching him make up in his mind to save her. She gave him a little shrug before noticing that he was raising his hand above her head. "What are you do" Clark caught the now unconscious girl and laid her on the floor before running out the barn.
Her head pounded between her ears a sharp, hot sting. In her head, she could hear them, the voices of her friends screaming in her ear drums as swirls of color danced upon her eyelids. Her father's voice came first, she couldn't even discern what he was saying but that melted to loud, labored breathing in her ear.
Chloe tried to open her eyes, but it hurt. A blur of blue and green came through for a moment before she clenched them shut again. The thin skin over her eyes seemed to mottle a red color over the swimming visions of people, places and objects in her mind. Trying to concentrate on one memory, she tuned out the up and down motion her body seemed to be stuck in. Clark's voice filled her head, sweet and kind, asking her once again the spring formal. Breathing in the cold, crisp air, she could see him. White t-shirt, tight jeans, and that little nervous smile she had only seen directed at her once before.
He was just beginning to ask her, when his lip curled into a sneer. His voice changed from sweetly nervous, to cruel and vindictive. The sunlight faded out of the barn and suddenly she was in his arms, but not how she wanted. Once again the grip was painful, and the vertical motion her stomach was experiencing made her push against her captor. Chloe forced open eyes at the feeling of arms pinning her legs down. Wildly, she clawed at the brown cloth covering her captor's back, trying to get free.
With a painful jolt, he set her on her feet. Inside her stomach swam and she felt ill, but H.G. grabbed her hand, forcefully, pulling her as he started to run again. Dizzy, she tried to follow suit, her feet making an awful 'gush' sound every time her boot hit the cement of the sidewalk. Clutching her abdomen, she let her wrist slip from his grasp and fell to her knees on the ground. She wretched. A second later a stern hand pulled her up, setting her on her feet again. She was still wobbling when he pulled out a vial to hold under her nose. The pungent stench made her flinch but finally meet his gaze.
"Miss Sullivan? Miss Sullivan. We've got to hurry, before he comes back," he said, clamping both of his hands on her shoulders. Her eyes peered over at him, still groggy, but she nodded and started jogging towards the machine with a slight limp, he noted. The wind picked up, blowing howling gusts over the dam. Chloe tugged her coat tighter, just trying to make it to the odd vehicle in front of her.
She pulled herself into the leather chair and strapped in. She saw H.G. get in out of the corner of her eye, and tried to concentrate on going home. She opened her eyes and saw Clark, not her Clark, staring at her. Fear struck her heart as she saw his grape green eyes start to change color into a weird orange. A distant hum started as she squeezed her eyes shut.
When she opened her eyes she was looking down at leaves covering the dam top. She swiveled on her feet that felt just fine. Lifting her arms up, she didn't feel her muscles complain. She looked up at the sky and smiled. She was home! She was home! But when she whipped her head around looking for H.G. or his contraption but they were no where in sight. Panicking, she wondered if the other Clark had gotten them. Bile rose up in her throat at the thought.
"Poor H.G." she whispered. He must have been caught. He had to have been. She felt her heart contract up in pain. After all that he did, all that he had shown her and he wasn't even here. She couldn't even thank him. Doubts started trickling into the back of her head. What if she had fallen out of the car? What if that Clark had orange-eyed the car and it broke? What if this really wasn't home and all their running had been in vain?
Chloe walked back towards the main streets of the town, her pace quickening as her fear grew. Her boot-falls made evenly spaced clicks as she jogged down the sidewalk. A few moments passed before she came along side the broken and empty shack that had been the Beanery. She cupped her hands around her eyes and peered in through the picture window.
Inside the shop was empty, stripped of every booth, counter, and light bulb. Her green eyes scanned over the filthy floor and the cobwebs which dripped from the ceiling. In the back of the room was a pile of lumber, that had probably been the mocha bar. She pulled back from the window, and jammed her hands in to the pockets of her coat. No one had been in this place for months, much less had served her coffee only a few hours ago. She turned back to the side walk and continued.
She passed The Flower Box and the Talon, both looking the same as she had remembered thembusy businesses full of customers. Chloe even spotted Zoe rushing around the Talon and smiled a bit. Her feet led her past Fordman's, which thankfully still had it's name up in the bright yellow box letters. Smiling, she hurried down the street and turned, needing to check one more place before she felt absolutely certain that this was 'her' world.
Stepping up to the side door of the high school once again, she pulled her keys out with a jangle and fit them into the locked door. With a twist the door opened and she smiled, pulling it open wide. Chloe glanced up to see a light on in her office. She wrinkled her forehead in thought as she replaced her keys in her purse and started up the stairs.
The grey door to her office was wide open as she strode towards her room. As she drew near the familiar teal walks and black-and-yellow checkered title floor made her heart swell a bit more. Chloe poked her head in the room. Her face broke out in a sunny smile as she saw her Wall, filled with tattered articles and surrounded by Christmas lights. She then noticed someone else in the room, murmuring. She walked into the room fully before asking.
"What's 'all your fault,' Clark?"
"Chloe!" he exclaimed, walking away from the desk he had been perched on, fumbling with an explanation.
"You know my name," she marveled. She was smiling now, knowing that she really was home, just like she thought. This was Clark, her Clark, and she drunk him in with her eyes. He had the same fluffy hair, the same flannel shirt as the other Clark but something was vastly different. His eyes, this Clark's eyes, had a different kind of weight behind them, that of responsibility and caring rather that the other one's look of fear and hostility.
"I tried calling you earlier but... of course I know your name, Chloe!" He looked at her strangely, as if she had grown another head. She just shrugged and walked over to him. Sitting down on the edge of the desk, she looked at the Wall of Weird. Every strange, unexplained thing that had happened in this town since the meteor shower was push-pinned onto that cork. She looked up at Clark who had gone back to sulking over some strange unknown bit of information that she wasn't privy to have. Chloe walked up to the wall, much like she had a year and half ago, and turned to face him.
"So, which one of these is your fault Clark?" she asked, cutting him off before he could answer. "Is it the time you saved Whitney's life in that truck? How 'bout that time you found Lex after his abduction? Maybe, you know, it's that time you found my shallow grave. Hmm?" She looked at him, her brow crinkling. "I don't know what you think is 'all your fault,' Clark, and I'm beginning to think that maybe I don't want to." Licking her lips, she walked over to lean beside him. "But I do know, I do know that all joking aside, you've saved a lot of people. And if that's 'all your fault,' then maybe... maybe it's something that you shouldn't feel so guilty about." She met his eyes as he gave her a small smile and slung his arm around her.
"I wouldn't of done very much with out you, you know." He pulled her closer to him with a squeeze. They stayed in silence for a few comfortable minutes, looking at the wall. She rested her head on his shoulder and felt his hand slip around her waist in an easy, comfortable closeness. "So..." he asked, "where were you earlier?"
"At the dam... kind of re-evaluating my life." She felt him inhale and draw her closer yet. She tilled her head back to look up at his face but only to see his chin.
"And?" He glanced back down at her.
"Oh, I figured that it was pretty wonderful after all." She smiled up at him, twisting around to look him in the face. He beamed at her, pulling her into a tight hug that she returned, shutting her eyes and reveled in the moment. This was where she was supposed to be and, no matter what he was or what he was gong to do, she was going to be here to see him through. Chloe had this feeling that H.G. had known that all along, and only smiled wider. Clark drew back from her for a moment.
"Wait a minute... only pretty wonderful?" he questioned, his hands firmly planted on her hips.
"Okay... really wonderful," she replied, giggling as he hugged her once again.