Author's Note: Thanks to my kickass friends and betas, particularly jenn for once again performing above and beyond the call, and kicking my sorry ass. Portions of this story originally appeared in a slightly different form in Raincheck.
Silver and Gold
by Tara O'Shea
Part I: In Which There Are Kisses
Chloe thumbed through one of the files in the filing cabinet, chewing on her bottom lip as she went through clippings from past editions of the Torch. Finding the story she'd been looking for, she turned to go back to her desk and almost jumped out of her skin as she came face to chest with Clark Kent.
"Jesus, Clark! You scared me. I didn't hear you come in. You're not gonna believe this, but I've been doing some checking into the company that made our class rings—um, Clark? Personal space?"
She tried to sidle past him to get back to her desk, but he was blocking her. He smiled down at her, and reached out to brush her hair back from her face. "Chloe, I've been wondering something all morning."
"What?" she asked, annoyed with herself that his sheer proximity was making her cheeks warm.
"I've been wondering," he said lazily, curling a lock of her hair around one finger, "if your lip gloss was grape or watermelon."
"Clark?" she asked, confused, "What's going—" she began, but her question was lost as his mouth covered hers.
Chloe had always laughed at the trite, flowery descriptions of kisses in romance novels. Stuff like "His lips descended on hers, his tongue plundering the warm depths of her mouth," etc. However, she couldn't help but be struck by the fact that that was exactly what he was doing.
Her eyes went wide as he backed her against the filing cabinet, the drawer handle digging into the spot between her shoulder blades as he slipped one denim-clad thigh between her legs. She completely forgot how to breathe as pretty much all her girl parts were suddenly in close proximity to his boy parts.
His really excited boy parts. In the Torch office. In the middle of the day. Where anyone could waltz right in and witness this little porno-in-progress. Using both hands braced against his shoulders, she dragged her mouth from his and he quirked one eyebrow as he licked his bottom lip.
"Strawberry? Now, see, that I never would have guessed."
She tried to back away, but she was trapped between the filing cabinet and three miles of tight black t-shirt clad farmboy with a predatory gleam in his eye. The only thing Clark was ever predatory about was his mother's peach cobbler. She felt like she'd stumbled into the Twilight Zone.
"Clark, what the hell?"
"C'mon, Chloe, who are we kidding?" he said with a shrug, and leaned forward, lips brushing her temple, tongue tracing the curve of her ear. "At the Formal, I wanted to kiss you. You wanted to kiss me. I know what I wanted, and I know what I want," he whispered huskily, his breath tickling her neck, "I don't want to be friends anymore."
She blinked, her mouth suddenly dry. He was saying everything she'd ever wanted to hear, but he didn't seem quite... well... Clark. Klaxons continued to go off in her brain as his hand drifted down to her hip, pulling her flush against him.
"Um, Clark? You didn't happen to run into any extinct sunflowers that spit glowing green pollen into your face this morning, did you?" She pressed her hand against his forehead, trying to see if he had a fever. "Or maybe last night? Or, you know, any time in the last two—"
He cut her off with another kiss, even hungrier than the last, and she was fighting for breath when he finally let her come up for air.
"...or maybe hyenas?" she asked, dazed, and he chuckled.
"Don't tell me you've never imagined one of those nights where we're working late on the Torch." He smiled again, and it was as far away from the familiar doofy smile she'd come to associate with the Kent charm as it could be while still being called a smile. "And we just threw caution to the wind..." he picked her up and the next thing she knew she had her back against the Wall of Weird, a few articles ripping free from the pushpins that held them and floating lazily to the floor. Her hands gripped his shoulders and legs were wrapped around his waist to keep from falling.
Oh great—excited girl parts up against excited boy parts. So not good.
"I mean, I know I always said I didn't want to end up on your Wall," he said with a chuckle, "but I have to admit, the mental image of you on it turns me on."
"Have you been reading Pete's Maxim magazines again?" she asked, trying to keep her voice light despite the way her heart was jack-hammering in her chest. "Because only in Neanderthal-world do women really want to be dragged off to a cave by their hair."
"Come on, Chlo—I know you want me."
Not like this, her brain screamed as he took her hand from his shoulder and began sucking on her fingers one by one, while simultaneously demonstrating that friction was a wonderful thing.
Okay, maybe kinda like this—she admitted to herself even as she bit her lip against a moan— but not with whoever this pod person is. His grip on her thigh loosened slightly as he leaned forward to kiss the side of her neck, and she took the opportunity to get her legs beneath her again. It took a Herculean effort, but she pushed away from him and side-stepped his reaching arms.
"Clark, we so can't do this—" She backed toward the door, feeling for the knob with her fingers as he leisurely stalked her. "I mean, we could, but we shouldn't." She shook her head. "We really shouldn't."
"Why?" he asked, green eyes boring into hers as he closed the distance between them in one stride. He slipped one finger inside the v-neck of her low-cut shirt and ran it along her collarbone. "Go out with me. Tonight. There's this bar outside of town. We can totally cut loose."
"The Torch, I mean, this week's issue—"
"Didn't anyone ever tell you all work and no play makes Chloe a dull girl?" he cut her off. "I'm just asking you to have a little fun, and stop being Ms. Junior Daily Planet for a night. We're in our prime—"
"You're in your prime." She was babbling as she felt her hand brush the metal doorknob. "Technically, my prime won't actually come until my early 30s."
Her hand closed on the knob, and before she could twist it the door opened from the outside. She jumped as Pete stuck his head into the office.
"Pete!" She didn't think she'd ever been so relieved.
"Yo, Clark—we've got gym in three minutes—where've you been?"
"Just helping Chloe with the Wall," Clark said as he picked up one of the fallen clippings from the floor and pressed it back into the corkboard scant inches from her head. His hand brushed her shoulder before dropping back to his side.
"Coach is gonna kick our butts." Pete grabbed his arm.
"Too bad you have to work tonight, Chlo," Clark said with a wicked grin as he allowed Pete to drag him out into the hall. Chloe nodded before she could stop herself, and felt hot blood rush to her cheeks.
"What the hell was that?" she muttered to herself as she tugged her shirt back down.
"Okay, table four has coffee," Lana muttered to herself as she set the orders on the tray, "and hazelnut decaf with cinnamon and whipped cream. Table four. Table four..."
Ever since Sherry and Corrine had gone off to Met U, the Talon had been short-staffed. Nell was interviewing two new girls tomorrow, but in the meantime, instead of just working the counter like she usually did Fridays after school, Lana was waiting tables. She still had nightmares about her three day stint as the Worst Waitress In The World at the Beanery, and even after three months of working part-time at the Talon, still managed to mix up at least four orders per evening.
She placed a tall glass and dark pink mug on the tray, and was reaching for the cinnamon shaker when Clark came through the double doors. Her eyes widened when she saw the black leather jacket and noted lack of flannel as he made a beeline for the counter.
"Lana, we need to talk."
"Clark, please." She tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice, but she could see table four staring at her expectantly from across the floor. "I really need to get these orders done."
"Your coffee can wait," he said, and she bit back the urge to snap at him that no, it really couldn't. "I got the impression that you were jealous when you saw me with Jessie." All she could do was gape at him.
"Don't be ridiculous!" She plastered a smile on her face. "You can spend time with anyone you want."
She picked up the tray and stepped around the counter, but he blocked her path. She resisted the urge to glare at him.
"Don't get me wrong—I was happy you were jealous," he said with smile that threw her completely.
"Clark, what is going on with you?" she asked, confused. This was not the Clark Kent she'd gotten to know over the last year. Between this, and him blowing off last night's study session, this was not the Clark Kent she'd known last week.
He leaned casually against the counter. All of the farmboy charm had vanished, replaced by a smooth confidence and something else. Not menace, exactly. But whatever it was, it made her nervous. More nervous than she'd ever been around Clark Kent before. "I've decided to tell you the truth, Lana."
"About... About everything?" she asked, wary.
"Try me," he offered with a teasing smile. "What do you want to know?"
She set the drinks back on the polished wooden bar and decided to just go for it. No holds barred. "Well, for starters, how 'bout what happened the day the twisters hit?"
"We'll get there," he smirked. "But right now, we should concentrate on more important things, like... I've had feelings for you for a long time."
He was being completely sincere. She felt like she'd stumbled into a parallel universe. She swallowed, feeling a knot forming in her throat.
"And I know that you've had feelings for me too," he went on, green eyes boring into hers. "So I think we should stop pretending."
"So, so... what?" She picked up the tray of drinks, avoiding his eyes. The fake smile was back in full force, while her mind whirled with the implications of what he was saying. Of all the things they hadn't said to one another over the last four months, but he was dragging kicking and screaming into the daylight. "Is this supposed to be some, um, all new Clark Kent?"
"Well, that depends." He took the tray from her with one hand and set it back on the bar, and her protest died on her lips as he moved in closer.
"Do you like him?" he said, eyes half-lidded and just radiating... Sex. That was it. Pure, raw sensuality as he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him. And before she could finish even processing that thought, he was kissing her.
He was kissing her. Clark Kent, shy boy next door, was all over her like white on rice. Sensory overload didn't even begin to cover what she was feeling right now. Her arms went around him of their own volition. Her breath caught in her throat as his mouth moved against hers, and he reached up to tangle one hand in her hair.
Table four was still waiting for their order. Chloe was never going to speak to her again. And Lana was kissing him back, as if she'd never kissed a boy before. As if there wasn't a restaurant full of people no doubt gaping at them this very second. As if she hadn't Dear John'd Whitney via videotape, and then avoided calls and emails from him for a week and a half, drowning in guilt.
She closed her eyes as his lips left hers. Resting her forehead against his, her breath came in gasps.
"Clark, I, ah..." She struggled to find her voice. "What about Jessie?"
"Jessie who?" he murmured, reaching up to brush her hair from cheek with a sexy smile. "You're the one I want to be with," he said, his thumb caressing her chin. "Pick you up at eight."
And then he was gone. She stared dumbly at the space he'd just vacated, trying to will the blood from rushing to her cheeks.
Who the hell was that? she wondered as she picked up the tray with shaking hands, coffee sloshing over the side of the mug and leaving a pool around its base. Because it sure as hell hadn't been the Clark Kent she knew.
Chloe kept touching her bottom lip lightly with two fingertips, reliving that morning in the Torch office. She'd be in the middle of working on her ring story and just stop and stare off into space.
She picked up the chunk of meteor rock sitting on her desk, and stared at the red vein of crystal which ran through its centre.
Clark had kissed her. A whole lot. And she had kissed him. And it was wrong, and confusing, and she couldn't stop thinking about how his hands had felt as they'd stroked her spine beneath her shirt. How his breath had tickled her neck. How she'd almost let him deflower her up against the Wall of Weird in the free period between History and Gym.
She looked up as Pete walked into the Torch office, momentarily banishing all thoughts of Clark's tremendous upper-arm development.
"Pete! You're not gonna believe what I found out. Our el cheap-o class rings are, in fact, fake."
"Chloe—there's something wrong with Clark," Pete said without preamble and she felt slightly sick.
Of course there was. He'd come onto her. There was obviously something wrong with him if it pierced the veil of Lana-lust, a mocking voice in the back of her head informed her smugly as she stepped out from behind her desk.
"More than usual?" she asked, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice.
"Last night at the Talon? The Motorcycle?"
She reached over and picked up the chunk of rock, passing it from hand to hand. Part of her was dying to tell him about her story, since she'd spent most of the last two days working on it and so far this year, Clark and Pete hadn't actually been working on the Torch much, so she was busting at the seems to share her journalistic prowess with someone. However, the other part of her—the part that was somewhat preoccupied with a tall, dark, and dorky best friend—was starting to panic.
"...other stuff," he added, looking vaguely guilty.
"What kind of other stuff?" she asked, while the voice instead her screamed like sticking his tongue down my throat, ya mean?
"The kind that has Mr. and Mrs. Kent calling my house," he said, his voice thick with concern. "They're really worried. It's like—they think he's on drugs, or something."
She smiled. She couldn't help it. "Clark would have to be on drugs to be on drugs." Part of her worry faded at the preposterousness of it. Clark didn't drink, he didn't smoke—he held doors open for women and walked little old ladies across the street. Nobody was straighter and more square than Clark Kent.
She ignored the memory of his hands on her ass.
Pete looked down to see what she was playing with, and took the rock from her hands turning it over in his hands, curious. "Ah, just... be careful with that."
She'd had to seriously sweet-talk Mr. Summers into letting her abscond from the geology lab with the meteor rock, and he expected it back—in the exact same condition she'd gotten it—bright and early Monday morning. He was not a man known for his patience with his students, and she was pretty sure it went far beyond a "You break it, you bought it" mentality.
"What is it anyway?" he asked, concern for Clark apparently momentarily eclipsed by curiosity regarding the chunk of meteorite.
"My exposé. See this lovely $300 piece of 'school spirit'?" She extended her hand, the red stone in her ring flashing under the florescent lights of the Torch office. "It's a rip-off. The jewellery company was substituting worthless meteor rocks for rubies to save money."
"Ah, Chloe? The ring's red. Meteor rock's green."
"Not the lode they found near Hob's Pond," she said sweetly. "Note the red vein." She held out the rock, and Pete stared at it, eyes narrowing.
"You can read all about it on page one of today's Torch," she said with a grin. Her smile vanished as Pete looked from the rock to the ring on his finger and suddenly bolted out the door with her "evidence."
"Ah, Pete!" she called after him, but he was gone.
"I kinda need that back," she said softly to the empty office. "Crap."
Part II: In Which There Is Guilt
Lana didn't think she'd ever been so happy to see Cyrus McKay as his battered and faded yellow and green taxi pulled into the Harley-strewn lot of the Wild Coyote. For one blissful second, she almost wished he'd sideswiped Lex's Ferrari, but she didn't have anything against Lex and that was just pure mean-spiritedness.
Cyrus was one of three drivers for Smallville's lone taxi company, and she'd lucked out that he'd been close enough to swing by and get her so fast. It had turned out to be a rather chilly fall evening, colder still when one is wearing a flimsy girlie top with cap sleeves. Both her arms were covered in gooseflesh and she rubbed them, waiting for the blower from heater in the cab to reach the back seat.
Lately, with Nell out with Dean half the week, she'd taken to calling up Flash Cab to get rides after closing up the Talon when she couldn't get the car for the night. She'd been lucky the cab company had been in her cellphone's call log. Otherwise she'd have been stuck.
Calling Nell would have been out of the question—there was no way on God's green earth she was going to let her aunt know that Clark Kent had ditched her at a bar in another county. She would be grounded for a month and forget ever seeing Clark again before she turned 30. Not that she was all that keen on him at the moment.
She knew that if she'd called Chloe, Chloe would have come and gotten her. She was her friend. That's what friends did for one another.
She hadn't called Chloe. She had no idea what she would say to Chloe right now. Even where to begin.
She hadn't told Chloe about her "date." In fact, she'd avoided Chloe since that afternoon, when Clark had kissed her in the Talon. She'd been the one to insist Clark not come between them, yet she was the one who felt completely guilty for going out with him. For letting him kiss her. For having feelings for him at all, feelings that went back to when she was supposed to be Whitney's girlfriend.
And it wasn't like she'd stolen Clark... Clark had said he wanted to be with her. Of course, the part where he'd ditched her for Jessie wasn't exactly filling her with optimism at the moment.
"You're a bit far from the Talon tonight, aren't you, Miss Lang?" Mr. McKay asked her as he pulled out of the lot and left the bar, Clark, and his skeezy new flame behind in a cloud of dust and rapidly fading neon lights.
"I sure am, Cyrus," she said with a wry smile. "Farther than you know."
The living room lights were on when Lana got home. Nell was sitting on the couch, paperwork from the Talon spread all around her—covering the coffee table, and the couch cushions. Her feet were tucked under her, and the reading glasses she detested needing were perched on her nose. Nell never wore them when Dean was around—she told Lana they made her feel old.
She always thought of Mrs. Kent when Nell said things like that—pictured Clark's mom in her jeans and work boots, driving the tractor or weeding the vegetable garden out beside the house, her light auburn hair held back in a barrette. Somehow, despite almost twenty years of farm work, Mrs. Kent hardly showed her age. Nell never seemed old to Lana until she grumbled about her glasses, or went to the salon to cover some newly-noticed grey. She supposed it was true—you're only as old as you feel.
Nell looked up at the sound of the heavy front door closing, slipping the glasses off her nose. The ear pieces snapped against one another as she set them on the table atop a pile of receipts. She seemed surprised to see her. "You're home early. How was your date?"
Lana sighed. "Not much of one." She leaned heavily against the laquered wood entrayway of the living room, her shoulders slumped.
"Honey, I'm so sorry." Nell rose from the couch and offered Lana a one-armed hug. Lana let Nell lead her back to the couch, and she moved a pile of order forms to make a place for her to sit. Lana cradled one of the embroidered throw pillows to her chest and toed her shoes off before tucking her feet under her.
"Maybe you and Clark are meant to just stay friends?"
"If we're even that, anymore." Lana was surprised at how much that hurt to say, and Nell gave her a sharp look.
"Did something happen?" her aunt asked, and she could almost see Nell's occasionally annoying over-protective streak widening. "He didn't... try anything funny, did he?"
"Not really." She shrugged. "He's just not the guy I thought he was, I guess. It was all just so... weird."
Nell hugged her again. "Would you like some cocoa?" she asked, and it was exactly the Mom thing to do. Lana couldn't quite remember the last time Nell had done that. She wanted to take her up on it, but she was just so out of sorts, she didn't imagine it would help. If anything, she'd only drag Nell down with her.
She shook her head, and pushed herself up off of the couch. "I think I'm going to go straight to bed."
She leaned down and gave Nell a peck on the cheek.
"Good night, Honey. Sweet dreams." Nell picked up the calculator in one hand and her glasses in the other.
Lana started trudging up the stairs when Nell's voice stopped her on the fifth stair.
"Oh, Honey, before I forget—your friend Chloe called while you were out."
"What did you tell her?" Lana asked, leaning over the banister.
"That you were on a date."
She came back down the stairs, swallowing her panic as best she could. "You didn't tell her... you didn't tell her I was with Clark, did you?"
"I honestly don't remember," Nell admitted as she slipped her glasses back on. "I was just so happy you two seem to be getting along."
"Chloe's a good friend," Lana murmured, feeling a knot of tension starting to form in the pit of her stomach.
"Since you quit the squad last year, you haven't had very many friends who were girls your own age." Nell got back up, and came over to the foot of the stairs. She reached up and brushed Lana's hair from her forehead. "Sweetie, I've... well, the truth is, I've been so worried since Whitney left. You work so hard at the Talon, and the rest of the time you've got your nose in a book, or are out riding. You just never seemed to be hanging out with kids your own age."
Lana opened her mouth to protest, but Nell wasn't finished.
"Lana, I know I don't say it often enough... But I'm so proud of all the responsibility you've taken on since we opened the Talon."
"Thank you, Nell," Lana said, taken aback.
"Laura and Lewis would be so proud of you," she said, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "Just like I am. But you're sixteen years old. You should be out having fun like other girls your age. I'm sorry your date with Clark wasn't what you hoped it would be. But don't let that stop you."
"I won't." Lana dredged up a smile from somewhere inside her that felt more real when it broke the surface. That surprised her. "I promise."
"Now—scoot! It's a school night. And I've got to get the storeroom restocked and the coffee supplier paid off if I'm going to get to bed before midnight too."
"Good-night, Nell," Lana called over her shoulder as she barrelled up the stairs.
Chloe slung her jacket over her arm and walked into the Talon. It was bustling, per usual, and she could see Lana with her back to the door as she re-stocked the dessert display.
"Hey," Chloe said softly.
Lana gave her a wide smile. "Hey!"
"So," Chloe decided to skip the preamble and jump right in with both feet. "I heard from a source that you had a big date with Clark last night."
She neglected to mention the way she had found out was by going to Clark's barn the previous night, to tell him she'd put the Torch to bed early and was free if his offer still stood. She'd even stopped at home, and put on her best "No, Mr. Bartender, I'm not 16, why do you ask?" ensemble first.
However, she'd found Mr. Kent alone in the barn, and he'd said only that he hadn't seen Clark all day and that if Chloe saw him, to please let him and Martha know. Clark's dad had looked more tired and worn than Chloe had ever seen him, and was stiff and distant compared to the warm reception she usually got from his folks.
She'd walked back to her car, trying not to let it get her down, and called Lana's house to see if she wanted to get together. After all, the Kent Farm was only a mile away, and she was technically in the neighbourhood.
Nell had told her Lana was out. With Clark.
So much for not wanting to be "just friends" anymore.
Lana looked a bit stunned, but recovered quickly. "I wouldn't call it a date when the guy you went with leaves with someone else," she answered with a wry smile as she used tongs to array cookies and pastries on the lazy susans and tiered plates.
Chloe nodded as she processed this new information. She bit back the urge to mention it must have been some girl, to get Clark to ditch the love of his adolescent life on their first official date. "Wow. You just went from the gossip column to page one," she said instead.
Lana looked at her, and what she saw in the other girl's eyes made Chloe wince. Obviously, she hadn't been the only one taken in by Mr. Kent's amorous advances the day before. "Sorry," she said, immediately contrite. "Sometimes my glib-o-meter goes into overdrive."
"No," Lana said quickly, shaking her head. "I guess, I mean... he's so secretive. I guess I was thrown for a loop by a Clark that could say all the things that the old Clark couldn't."
I wanted to kiss you. You wanted to kiss me. I know what I wanted, and I know what I want.
Lana was still smiling gamely, but Chloe felt as if a lead weight had settled squarely on her chest. She fussed with the strap of her purse, nodding in what she hoped Lana perceived as sympathy.
Chloe pulled a smile out of the depths of her misery, determined not lot let the hurt show. "Well, welcome to the conundrum that is Clark Kent. Part knight in shining armour, part 'Where did that come from?'"
"Miss?" came a voice from behind them, and Chloe turned to see an older man in a grey suit waving to Lana. "Can I get a refill here?"
"Yeah—just a second." Lana threw the last two tarts onto the platter.
"Can you—" Lana began, reaching for the coffee pot.
"Sure," Chloe said, taking the tongs and plate as Lana went over to deal with the customer. She picked up a crumb between two fingers and put it in her mouth as she took them behind the counter and set them next to the plastic tub of mugs and plates to be washed.
"Jeez, you'd think the guy would at least tip you," Chloe said as Lana returned to the counter, coffee pot in hand.
"Yeah—he's been in here all afternoon."
"So long as he pays his bill." Lana shrugged. "Chloe, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about my date."
Chloe blinked at the change in subject. "What? Please—don't worry about it," she said with a laugh and a shrug. "It's not like I have any claim on Clark. Quite the opposite, in fact."
An uncomfortable silence fell between them, and Lana seemed to be looking anywhere but at Chloe. Great, the inner Chloe's glib-o-meter was turned up to eleven. Now you've done it. Only girl friend you've got at the moment, and you just laid a guilt trip on her over a guy you recently let's-just-be-friended and groped. Nice job.
Chloe bit her lip, and slipped her jacket back on. "Anyway, you're busy. And I've got homework I really should be working on."
"I'll see you later," Chloe called back over her shoulder as she pushed through heavy glass doors.
Sudden tears blinded her as she walked across the street to her car.
Part III: In Which Second Chances Are Proffered, Taken, And Lost
Chloe knocked on the wooden door of the barn.
She'd never actually knocked before. It was a barn. She'd even joked with Clark about that fact. But the days when she would just waltz into Clark's Fortress of Solitude seemed long behind them, so she waited next to the open door, jacket open to take advantage of the warm afternoon sun. She could see Clark taking the stairs two at a time. He was wearing a blue flannel work shirt, buttoned halfway, and she could see a faded grey t-shirt in the gap it left at the neck. He froze at the bottom of the wooden steps when he saw her standing there.
"I figured it was time for the mountain to come to Muhammad," she said with a shrug and stepped the rest of the way inside. "Expecting someone else?" She forced a smile that she was pretty sure looked as plastic as Barbie's.
"No, I just... I mean..." It looked like his new-found slick confidence with the opposite sex had vanished along with his dress sense. "I was going to call you, actually—"
"I came by Friday night, but, ah, you weren't around," she said with a tight smile. "I heard you had a big date."
He looked completely panicked and then sank down to sit on the steps that lead up to the loft. He stretched his long legs out in front of him and rested his forearms on his thighs. "Chloe, I am so sorry." He looked up at her, pure misery reflected in his light eyes.
"For what?" she asked, playing with the strap of her bag absently as she came to rest directly in front of him.
"Friday, at the Torch, I... I wasn't myself."
Her smile faded, and she could feel her cheeks burning as he continued.
"What I did—what we did—it wasn't me. It wasn't us. God, Chloe—I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to talk to me again."
He looked utterly miserable, and as much as she really wanted to hate him right now, all she could feel was pity.
"What makes you think that I'd hate you?" she asked, sitting down next to him.
"I used you," he said simply. "Chloe, I was a jerk. I was beyond a jerk. I was an asshole."
"I'm listening," she said carefully. "I'm not exactly disagreeing—but I'm listening."
"It was, like..." he paused, struggling to find the right words, "I didn't care anymore. About any of the stuff that really matters." He looked down at her and reached out to take her hand. Her fingers disappeared in his, warmth radiating all the way up her arm. "And your friendship matters to me, and I just don't know what I'd do if I threw that away for some cheap thrill."
"Hey, I'll have you know I'm an expensive thrill, buddy," she said, trying to keep her tone light. "First class, all the way."
That won a smile. She basked in its warmth for a second, trying to make herself believe that this whole trauma of the last two days was worth it, just for the memory of that smile. It had been a while. She gave his hand a squeeze and sighed when he released hers and the brief contact was broken.
"So ,what brought on this sudden bout of adolescent rebellion that turned Clark Kent, mild-mannered farm kid into a teenage Lothario?" she asked, and he stared down at his shoes.
"I mean, my money was on meteorite jewellery," she continued, undaunted, "but since Pete wasn't the one grabbing my ass, and the wildest thing I'd done since I put on the ring was lie repeatedly to Mr. Summers about the whereabouts of one of his rock samples, I figured there must have been something special going on with you."
"I... I wish I could explain..." he said, glancing down at his hands guiltily. For the first time, she noticed that he wasn't wearing his ring. "There's just been so much going on, with the farm, and... And I guess I just... snapped. I wish I could just blame it on run-of-the-mill meteor rock weirdness. God, that would make my life so much easier. I wish..." he trailed off, brows drawn together in a frown.
"I just wish things were different," he said finally. It was a heartfelt wish she shared, and it was frustrating as hell, but she knew even before she opened her mouth that she was going to let him off the hook.
Because this was Clark—not the guy who practically sexually assaulted her. That had been some stranger she'd barely recognised. But this was the guy she'd been crushing on since forever, who had always given her half his sandwich when Gabe Sullivan had stayed at work so late the night before that he'd forgotten to pack his daughter a lunch. The guy who had saved her life three times at least in the last year. The guy she was nuts about, even if he was still mooning over Lana Lang. Obviously, she was a glutton for punishment.
"It's okay. I understand."
He smiled at her again, and pulled her into a one-armed hug. She buried her face in his chest for just a second, breathing in the smell of sweet hay, sweat, and laundry detergent, and then pulled back and brushed her hair off her forehead.
"So, in the interests of journalism, was Jessie Brooks worth blowing your shot with your dream girl?"
If she thought he'd been blushing before, she'd obviously been mistaken. By an order of magnitude, or three.
"Let's just say, she turned out to have been an expensive thrill. As in, the kind you're gonna be paying off for a very, very, very long time. And my 'credit rating' is currently in the toilet."
Lana let Robbi have her head, trying to lose herself in the simple pleasure of racing across the field, the leaves of the trees just starting to edge from green to gold in patches. The sky was a light blue and seemed so far away you could chase it for a hundred years and never catch up.
Lana had called Chloe twice since yesterday but gotten her cellphone's voice mail. She wasn't sure why she kept calling. Except that as angry as she was with Clark, she was just as angry with herself. The look on Chloe's face at the Talon, when she'd asked about the date, still haunted her. Chloe had tried to make light of it, but Lana could tell that it had bothered her. And she hated it. Wanted to make it right somehow. Fix it. Because right now, her burgeoning friendship with Chloe was about all she had left to hold onto. Whitney was gone—really gone. Nell was wrapped up in her upcoming wedding plans, not to mention the Talon. And Clark...
Her mood, which was only just beginning to lighten, turned sour when she caught sight of a familiar figure. She slowed Robbi to a trot as Clark approached the wooden fence. He was wearing a shapeless blue flannel plaid shirt, and clutched in one hand was a bunch of wildflowers.
It seemed the old Clark was back.
"Nell told me you were riding. She said this is one of your favourite places. It's pretty. I got a little lost along the way, but... here I am."
Clark was obvious uncomfortable, and Lana just regarded him coolly from atop Robbi.
"Those for me?" she asked, her tone flat and unaffected. The Kent charm was, for the moment, wasted on her.
"Yeah. I wanted to apologise. I was hoping maybe we could be friends? Like we were before?" He looked so hopeful, and maybe a week ago, that would have touched her.
But she was not going to let him off the hook this time, because he'd crossed a line with her. He didn't get to just go back and pretend it never happened, because it had happened. Clark Kent had told her flat out how he felt about her. He'd kissed her. He'd made her believe that there was something more than friendship between them, and then he'd ditched her for another girl. He didn't get to play the friends card with her.
"Hmmm," she cocked her head, as if she was actually considering accepting them. "So you thought that if ya brought me flowers, I'd pretend like nothing happened?"
His face fell. "You have to believe me—all right, the things I said, the way I was acting... That wasn't me."
"Even the part where you had feelings for me?" she asked, her spine perfectly straight, and even the wind seemed to have stopped rustling the leaves of the trees, the silence that fell was so complete.
"Lana..." Clark began, and she just wouldn't let him start. She was tired of the lies and half-truths. She was tired of the bullshit. If Clark wanted any kind of relationship with her, then it was up to him to be honest with her. If not about what had happened the day of the twisters, then at least about how he felt about her. They had to start somewhere, and she had decided that this was it. Her line in the sand.
"Clark, you can't have it both ways. Either it was you, or it wasn't."
There. She'd said it. She'd given him his last chance, and now, she waited for him to take it. Part of her desperately wanted him to—for the sake of their friendship, for the sake of the relationship they could have, if only he trusted her. Because she had wanted to go out with him. She'd wanted him to kiss her since that moment, back on her porch, half a lifetime ago. She'd wanted to be on his arm at the Spring Formal. She'd wanted to spend the summer at the Kent fishing hole, maybe even learning from his mother just what made her apple pies the best selling sweet at the Talon.
She wanted so much, but it was all up to Clark this time. She'd crossed her line, and now it was up to him to catch up with her.
"I wish I could explain, but I can't."
So much for second chances.
"Story of your life."
"Lana, I really am sorry," he said, but she was already gathering the reins in her hands.
"I know you are. It's not enough anymore," she told him simply, tightening her grip on Robbie's sides with her thighs and calves, and the horses shifted from foot to foot, waiting for her signal. "Think you can find your way home?"
"Hope so," he said weakly, and she turned Robbi back towards the wind, and left Clark Kent behind her. On the other side of the line.
Epilogue: In Which The True Nature of Friendship Is Explored, Lies Are Told, And Keanu Reeves' Abs Are Discussed
The last person Chloe Sullivan expected to find at her front door on a Sunday afternoon, arms full of junk food and DVDs, was Lana Lang.
"Okay, I've got Much Ado About Nothing, Speed, and The Matrix," Lana said with a smile.
"Wise choices—certainly the best of the Reeves oeuvre," Chloe observed as she held open the screen door and took a plastic bag filled with two bottles of Cherry Coke and what looked like two pints of Ben & Jerry's Metropolis Mudpie and New York Super Fudge Chunk. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"It's an apology," Lana said as she set the rest of the bags on the counter.
"Lana, you don't need—" Chloe started, but she held her hand up, the little plastic butterfly hair ties holding her braids making clicking sounds as she shook her head.
"Yes, I do," the other girl insisted. "Because I should have told you up front about my date with Clark. I know I said I didn't want to let him come between us, but I'm the one who put him there. And that wasn't fair to you. So, I come with peace offerings in the form of chocolate and Canadian actors."
"Okay, I kind of have a confession to make, too," Chloe said, feeling a flush rise in her cheeks. "And you may deny me chocolate, once I tell you." She took a deep breath. "You know, when I told Clark I just wanted to be friends, I kinda thought we'd at least, you know, be friends. But he hasn't exactly been around much lately. I mean, he and Pete are thick as thieves. But the two of them have the 'No Girls Allowed' sign up at the clubhouse these days. So I've been feeling kinda left out, you know? And then..."
Clark kissed me. The words were there, she just couldn't seem to force them past her lips. Clark Kent, who has dreamed of you and no one but you for the last three years, threw me up against a wall and tried to ravish me. And I wanted him to. God, I wanted him to.
Lana was still staring at her, waiting, and the ice cream was leaving rings on the kitchen counter as moisture beaded on the cardboard cartons. She imagined she could hear crickets chirping in the distance beyond the kitchen windows.
"Anyway, Friday night, when I found out he'd asked you out... I was jealous," she said, wincing at the blatant half-truth. "It just seemed like I was always going to be on the outside—of everything. Whole last picked for teams thing, you know? So, I was jealous. And that's why I was so snarky the other day, and took it out on you, and I didn't mean to."
"Chloe," Lana began, "I'm so sorry—"
"No. God. Please, don't be sorry!" Chloe said quickly. "It's not your fault that Clark wanted to take you to some bar instead of me. Please, just... don't be sorry," she pleaded. "There's nothing to be sorry about. You are not at fault for the whole entire epic saga-quality mess that is my relationship with Clark Kent, platonic, romantic, or otherwise. And I guess I just... wanted you to know that."
Lana still looked dubious, and Chloe's inner voice was at this point screaming obscenities at her. But then Lana sighed and held out the movies.
"Okay. Clark-free evening. You pick which Keanu—shirtless, oiled up and lit by candlelight, black leather and gun-totting, or crawling around under a bus?"
"I think I'm in the mood for mass destruction," Chloe said with a smile as she held up Matrix.
Ice-cream in hand, they popped in the DVD and flopped down on the couch. As Trinity ran across the wall, and kicked a cop in the head, Chloe stole a look at Lana.
"I'm glad we're friends," Chloe said, and was surprised to realise she meant it.