The rights to the characters of Smallville belong it its producers, DC Comics and the WB Network. I own them not.
"If I was crowned Prom Queen then…why was I in the boiler room? And why…exactly…did you take my tiara, Clark? I'm still a little unclear about that." Chloe asked, looking upward quizzically at her tall friend as they walked back toward the Smallville High gymnasium.
"Um…" Clark mumbled, distracted by the fact that his dad had suddenly increased his pace, quickly making his way down the corridor in front of them. Narrowing his eyes, he growled slightly as his dad fled around the corner up ahead, certain he'd been quaking with silent laughter when he disappeared from sight.
"Huh?" he said, looking down at her.
"I said I'm still a little unclear about what happened." Clark's blank look prompted her to add, "The boiler room, the tiara. And my jaw really hurts…" she added, massaging her cheek.
Um…" he said again, wondering how to word it. "Um…"
"Yes, you said that already. Three times now. Could you move it along?"
"Well…Dawn possessed you. I suspected it when you started talking kinda…crazy during your acceptance speech-"
"I made a speech? I don't remember…"
"Lois forced me into coming when Dawn possessed her and-"
"Really? Couldn't stand up to Lois or Dawn? Well, they had better luck than I did."
"Chloe, I'm sor-"
"Nevermind, Clark. Just…why exactly were we in the boiler room?"
"Dawn wanted to burn down the school. Guess she was angry at missing her last chance to be queen."
"Okay then…you took the tiara because…" She rubbed her cheek again.
Clark's cheeks reddened. "I…Dawn possessed me and then she…she wanted the tiara back. God, I hit you; I'm so sorry I hit you, Chloe…" Gently, he stroked her own red cheek with one huge hand then moved to wipe the smeared mascara from beneath her eyes. He looked like he was about to cry. Impulsively, he pulled her into a hug. "If you hadn't hit the rag pile before you landed on the floor-"
"Oof!" she exclaimed as she was suddenly enveloped in his arms. "It's okay, Clark," she said, her voice muffled against his chest. "So…you tossed me across the room and I landed in that disgusting pile of rags before I hit the floor…and…" she stared up at him for a moment, trying to remember… "did you call me a-"
"God, Chlo! Please forgive me!" Clark's face was absolutely crimson with embarrassment.
"I'm surprised one of your punches didn't hurt me worse," she added, pulling back.
Puzzled by her remark, he stared down at her for a moment before asking, "What do you mean?"
"Oh…I just meant…you know…" Chloe tapped one of his biceps, "those farm chores making you pretty strong and…you have a really good punch…is…all…" Faltering, she put both hands on his chest. "Uh…you can let go now, Clark; I think I need to wash my face. I feel like I've been crying."
"Oh…sorry…Dawn was crying and your mascara was all…streaky when I found you." He released her and she turned to go into the nearby bathroom.
"I think I'll just go in here and assess the damage." He started to follow her and she turned back, putting her hand on his chest again. "Uh, Clark?" Chloe pointed to the sign on the wall. "Unless possession by Dawn resulted in changes beyond your wanting to wear my tiara, I think you need to wait out here."
"So you keep saying," she said as she walked away into the restroom.
The inner sanctum, as Pete always referred to it. Where girls perform their mysterious rites of beautification. Crossing his arms, he leaned back against the cream colored concrete wall and waited. And waited. What the heck was taking her so long? Resisting the temptation to peek, he settled for calling out to her. "Chloe? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah," she shouted out to him.
He heard the squeak of the ancient faucet as she shut off the water then her footsteps as she returned. "What took you so long? I was getting worried."
"Geez, Clark. I was putting cold water on my face. Crying made my eyes a little puffy; Dawn must have been really upset."
"Aw…I think you look fine."
"Yeah, like you're the beauty expert. Wish I had some hand cream."
"My dad might have some Cornhuskers lotion in the truck or…or…maybe some Udderbalm; he uses it on the cows when their…um…" he trailed off, realizing his suggestion might not be appreciated.
"Ooh…now there's a hot beauty tip. No need to explain, Clark; I get the picture. Somehow, I'll try to get by without an application of Udderbalm." She started walking and he had to hurry to catch up.
"Chloe! I didn't mean…I thought maybe you were desperate." he said, catching her arm and getting in front of her. "Slow down." Smiling softly, he leaned down, adding, "I'm just trying to say, I think you look great! You don't need anything. You look…"
"Udderly adorable?" She laughed. "Sorry, Clark. Couldn't resist that one."
Clark groaned out loud. "Chloe…" Beautiful…you look so beautiful…and…the thought of kissing her suddenly popped into his mind.
Before he could act on this sudden urge, a couple of girls called out to Chloe as they approached, shattering the moment. "Hey Chloe; congratulations. Brad Stevens is looking for you; I think he wants to ask you for a dance…" they giggled as they walked by.
Smiling back, Chloe said, "Really?"
Clark didn't really like the thought of Brad Stevens, one of the more notorious Lotharios on the football team, putting his hands on his best friend who's a girl. Who looks so beautiful tonight… "Chloe? Wait a minute! Where're you going?" he asked, whirling around to follow her when he realized she'd dodged around him and was now walking away.
"My loyal subjects await."
"But…but…" He caught up to her easily with a couple of his long strides.
"You got me into this, remember?"
"I know…but…I just wanted to…to…" Clark abruptly stepped in front of her again.
"What? At this rate, the dance will be over before I get back there." He stared down at her, his mouth hanging open though his tongue refused to carry out its end of bargain. "Okaaay then…" Sidestepping him once more, she started out again. Whirling around again and trailing after her, he tried to think of something else to say.
"Just…be careful. Brad's known for-" Chloe stopped so abruptly, Clark ran into her. "Sor-"
"Clark!" She turned around suddenly, barely avoiding bumping heads. "I have been here for four years. As a senior and valedictorian and editor of the school newspaper, do you not think I have some clue about the people in Smallville High?"
"Uh…yeah…yeah! Of course you do. It's just-"
"I know even the cheerleaders call him the guy who seems to have more than two hands, the Octopus Man! No doubt for a good reason!"
"Well…I just didn't want you to get-"
Rolling her eyes, she said, "It's just a dance with a cute guy, Clark. Geez!" She turned, muttering under her breath as she headed toward the gym once more; "It's not like I'm gonna run off to a Las Vegas hotel with him!"
Clark stood staring at the spot newly vacated by his petite friend. "I-Chloe! What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, turning to follow. When he got close, Chloe turned to face him again.
Letting out a long, slow sigh, she said, "That I'm going back in to the dance and I'm not going to be in any great danger in the Smallville gym as far as I know." Turning away, she walked purposefully toward the gym once more, now muttering, "It's not like I'm dating someone who's already tried to kill me."
"Hey! I heard that!" Suddenly, he was in front of her again.
"Clark!" she said, gesturing toward him with her outstretched palms. "I'm sorry, but you've got to admit that was out there and not the smartest move you could have made."
Shaking his head, he struggled to say something but again his tongue would not cooperate in the least. Finally, he mumbled, "You're right. It wasn't but-"
"Yet here you are warning me to be careful because I'm contemplating having a dance with some guy, a fairly normal and innocuous activity considering we're at a dance, wouldn't you say, all things considered?"
His lips moved this time, opening and closing several times though nothing even approaching erudite attempted to emerge. Finally he managed to offer, "Well, I was just…worried…maybe…maybe…"
Sighing again, Chloe patted him on the shoulder. "Clark, I appreciate that but I'm gonna go back into the dance before the clock strikes midnight and the coach turns back into a pumpkin, okay?"
"And I'll call for help if I need you and you can come to my rescue." She walked away and Clark stared after her, silent and dejected.
He stood, watching her retreating back, whispering, "Maybe…maybe…we could dance…later…" as she passed through the doors and was lost to sight. It took a while before Clark gathered his courage and followed her inside.
Later, when Lana Lang left abruptly, claiming something important had come up, Clark heard Lois suggest to Chloe that perhaps Jason's scowl when he peeked in the door to see Lana dancing with him might have had something to do with it. Clark stared after her for a moment then he came back, sitting down with Lois and Chloe once more.
"Okay," he said, "now it really is your turn, Lois. Though neither of us exactly came of our own free will you're still my date and I owe you that dance."
"Smallville, you're pathetically well mannered. Okay, once around the floor and I've gotta go. I promised the General I'd be on base tonight and we wouldn't want the Special Forces troops descending on your prom if I'm late."
Smiling, Clark pulled out her chair and held out his arm for her as they made their way back onto the dance floor. As they threaded their way between the numerous dancing couples, he asked "I thought you said your dad sent out a tank escort for your prom and you just said you missed it; which is it?"
"Both, actually. The General sent out the tank and soldier escort and made them wait and I slipped out the back door. He was furious and I was…well…gone all night and we didn't speak for a while after that and I got restricted to base. Not a pleasant memory. Although we didn't have any alleged spirit possessions, I'll say that," she smiled. "Smallville's sure got the lock on weirdness."
"It's not alleged! You may think we're nuts but Chloe's right. We've investigated a lot of instances where meteor rocks were definitely involved. Hasn't she told you about the shapeshifters and the guy who could split in two and-"
"I'm sorry I brought it up; don't think I wanna hear that."
"What about the Ginsu kid who turned his arms into knives? And why did he explode-"
"That brings up some images I'd rather forget. As far as I'm concerned, it was some kind of trick and any other speculation I can definitely do without. He was just a psycho who killed people and…and…maybe he had so much metal in his body it overheated and he just exploded."
"Don't you think that's reaching, completely denying what you saw-"
"Claiming a guy can alter his body at will and turn his arms into knives is reaching."
"Plus there was weird here even before the meteors. Ezra Small and ghosts…did Chloe ever tell you about the haunted mansion we stayed in one night and the ghost we-"
"Yes but I refused to listen. I don't believe in ghosts and haunted houses."
"Then what happened here tonight?"
"In a moment of madness I made a really atrocious choice of hairstyle."
"Lois…you've got to admit-"
"No, I don't."
"There was this guy who became a human bug and kidnapped Lana and wrapped her up in a cocoon because he had a crush on her and wanted her as his mate-"
"Eeewww! Remind me to stock up on insect repellant."
"We've seen things…if it weren't for Chloe a lot of people in Smallville could have died."
"Okay, you've gotten me around this dance floor more times than I intended so thanks for the scintillating conversation and I'm gonna go now." She started to pull away but Clark continued.
"Chloe always takes me seriously. She always listens."
"Well, I'm not listening. Going now. You go on reminiscing and…thanks for the dance, Smallville."
"I should take you home."
"I brought you, remember?"
"Two words: Black helicopters. Coming soon to a prom near you if I don't go. Bye." She stopped, hesitating for an instant. "Oh, and one more thing. Pay more attention; I was not referring to Lana Lang."
Then Lois stomped away and Clark stared after her, puzzled for a moment before he turned back to look for Chloe but her chair was empty. He felt empty, too, as he slumped down in her former seat, suddenly hit with another wave of melancholy. For a while, he sat watching people he knew well and some he knew barely at all. He watched his parents, dancing again though things were beginning to wind down; the crowd had dwindled, Lifehouse was taking a break and he suspected they would soon play their last set and the Smallville High Prom of 2005 would draw to a close and pass into memory like so much else.
In only a few more weeks, high school itself would be only a memory and his mother would never yell, "Clark Kent, you're gonna miss the bus!" again. Graduation was almost here and with it, childhood's end. One last summer hanging out on the family farm and then, no matter where he went to college, life would never be the same. Some of his friends would leave; some, like Pete, already had. And even though he'd see them again from time to time, they would never again have same the close knit relationship they had now. Everything he knew was about to change, his life branching off from all that was comforting and familiar and most likely heading in a direction vastly different from that his friends would take. It was coming fast and even Clark Kent couldn't stop it.
Soon, he would turn in his last article for the Torch and Chloe would put the paper to bed for the last time. Chloe was the only freshman ever to be named editor of the Torch; an outstanding achievement in itself and she'd worked incessantly to make the Torch a well respected high school newspaper. It would be hard for her to finally let it go. Even though her quirky interests had led her astray and gotten her in trouble more than once, the paper was better under her stewardship than it had ever been. And it was due to Chloe's encouragement and sometimes outright nagging that he'd gotten interested in journalism; he really owed her for that. How had she known he had it in him to turn investigative reporter like that? He'd probably stay late one night and help her finish what she'd started four years ago. Selfishly, he hoped it could be just the two of them that finally closed this chapter of the Torch for good.
Clark stood, edging his way around the tables of friends who still remained, trying to savor these last moments of their youth. Walking by the punchbowl, he smiled as he remembered Pete's grin over another punchbowl at what had turned out to be a disaster of epic proportions at the Spring Formal in their freshman year. But that moment, so clear in his mind tonight, had been when the band started to play Chloe's favorite song and Pete laughed at him as he hung over the punch bowl, surprised he'd had the foresight to arrange for it to be played. Was he really that dense? At times. A lot of the time, if he admitted it; he'd never been good at relationships. He took one last cup of punch, sipping slowly as he committed it all to memory and walked to the door, looking back one final time. Who'd spiked the punch? Pete had spiked it then and only Clark had known it. Sighing softly, he left the room to wander down the halls and soak up the essence of the quiet hallways all by himself.
Walking by the Trophy case Clark saw himself pictured, the one time star quarterback being hoisted up onto his teammates shoulders after their first big win last fall. Leading the Crows to victory time and again all year long but no more. He'd thought being on the football team was so important high school would be ruined if he didn't play. He'd given it up in freshman year only to find the yearning was still there and he had to try again. Accolades and camaraderie came with it; he could finally be a part of something greater than himself…he could finally be one of them, a friend, a teammate, a normal guy.
Sometimes, Clark felt like Pinocchio. Dreaming of being human instead of the alien he really was. Desperate to be a real boy instead of Kal-El, son of Jor-El, the Last Son of Krypton come to Earth in the most tragic of circumstances imaginable. He'd craved being normal and tried all his life to fit in but at last he'd come to realize normal was something he would never be. His differences were too great for him to have what he'd always wanted and whatever life held in store for him normal would never be a part of it. And now he knew that would be okay.
Ambling down the hall he passed by his locker, smiling at the memory of Pete opening it for him when he'd been blinded. Pete said he'd always known his combination. Chloe probably did, too. Translation: I am so predictable. Clark placed his hand on the cool metal, touched the lock and thought about the dark narrow confines within that had helped define his life these last four years. The first time he'd gone back to Smallville Middle School after he'd started here, he'd been stuck by how small the hallways seemed and how tiny the lockers were. Perhaps in a few short weeks the same would be true of these hallways and lockers as he moved on out into the real world at last and the world he inhabited now would be relegated to the category of a past life.
At the end of the hallway, he peeked into the science lab where he's set the screen on fire in at the beginning of sophomore year. And he'd thought the advent of x-ray vision had been tough. Alien hormones…geez. He would never admit the connection to his developing heat vision to anyone; how utterly embarrassing. He walked down the stairs and headed toward the other end of the building.
Shop class. The door hadn't quite latched; no doubt Mr. Gilroy had been in a hurry since he was spearheading the chaperone squad tonight. Probably wanting to make sure he was there to greet the chaperones and remind them one last time to keep an eye out for couples making out in dark corners or other out of the way places. Decorum must be maintained and all that, ignoring the fact that any serious making out would be accomplished in the wee morning hours at more private parties after the prom itself was long over. Most of his classmates would be at those after prom parties drinking more than spiked punch. Unlike himself who was wandering the deserted halls of his soon to be former high school lost in thought and mired in the past.
Clark let himself in and walked around the room skirting the closet where he and Pete had found their shop teacher's body and shortly afterward been the target of attempted murder by Ian of the ultimate split personality. Briefly, he wondered if Black Kryptonite could have made him reintegrate. Not really understanding how Black Kryptonite worked or how the green variety could be transmuted into the black through heat, it was hard to say. Had Red been created in a similar fashion or was it always different? Clark laughed out loud at the strange path his thoughts were taking now. He was certain most seniors didn't contemplate things like body splitting due to alien rocks no matter how maudlin or sentimental they might become with the advent of graduation.
Quietly he left the room, gently closing the door behind him. If there were ghosts, they surely swirled around him now in these empty halls, calling out to him as his life's path unfolded before him and he prepared to follow it while they would be consigned by fate to remain behind forever. Were they whispering to him tonight as he walked the silent halls, filled with longing and regret that they could not join him? Would Dawn's spirit haunt the halls Smallville High for all eternity, wishing for her one last chance to be crowned queen?
Shivering, he walked on a little faster and came to the pool. The pool door was unlocked, too so Clark opened it and wandered inside. The smell of chlorine assaulted his nostrils, the humidity clinging to his tuxedo as he stood at the edge. Smallville High was lucky to have an indoor pool; swimming classes all year round and after hours swims if you didn't mind braving the occasional Kryptonite mutant stalker with gills or the hate crime advocate who wanted to shoot at them. Easy to get caught in the crossfire here. His mind called forth the memory of the pool frozen over with six inches of ice and Chloe trapped in it as Sean Kelvin prepared to suck the living warmth from her body. Or become the target.
On a whim Clark stepped up onto the diving board. Walking out, he bounced a bit, the board creaking as it flexed beneath him. Bouncing harder, he jumped upward, enjoying the brief rush each time his feet left the board and feeling a pang of sadness when Gravity reclaimed him. The sound of his dress shoes striking the board each time he touched down echoed over the water, underscoring Gravity's insistence that he follow its immutable law. Clark remembered, more clearly than he cared to admit, the sensation of soaring upward into the sky through the cottony white clouds that covered his adopted planet. Someday, he would feel that exhilaration again, severing his connection to the Earth and soaring into the sky whenever he pleased. And Gravity would have nothing to say about it. Tonight, as this chapter of his life drew to a close and adulthood loomed before him, he had the feeling it would be soon.
For a moment he contemplated jumping in, tuxedo and all. But the urge passed and in a few moments he turned and stepped down, leaving the springboard and another part of his life behind. There would be other springboards and they would take him farther than the bottom of a pool. Quietly, he closed the door behind him.
Dreams and aspirations, goals and deadlines. Things you hoped for and worked hard to achieve. If you were lucky, you had a calling, like Chloe, who'd seemingly always known what she wanted to do. For all Clark knew, Chloe had declared her intention to be a reporter for the Daily Planet immediately upon arrival in the world when she drew her first breath. He envisioned her mom and dad in the delivery room anxiously awaiting the doctor's pronouncement when he shouted out, "It's a reporter!"
And sometimes, you were largely clueless until Destiny called you. In Clark's case, it had been necessary to thump him on the head repeatedly just to get him to pay attention to the fact that Destiny had something to say. Then further thumping had been required to make him listen to what the message actually was and there were still some parts he didn't understand. He suspected more thumping would be necessary before he did.
There would be other demands and struggles as he continued to decipher his role, but he would move on, like his fellow classmates and so many more before him, trying to follow his path, spurred on by the inexorable march of time. For an instant, he had another vision of bearded Father Time running behind him, chasing him onward until he finally met his fate. He suspected that no matter what his abilities, Chloe would always be running ahead of him urging him to hurry up.
Up ahead was the Torch office, situated at the end of one wing of the school. Chloe's Lair and home of The Wall of Weird. It was here he'd found his feet, been inspired, had grown the most in these four years. They'd had some awful fights here but on the whole, the times had been good and he had always considered the Torch his refuge here at school. Pulling out his key, he unlocked the door, relocking it behind him then sitting down in his chair in the middle of the darkened room. He wanted to savor this moment, remember it for the rest of his life however long that might be. A real question mark that, too, he thought.
Around him in the darkness he could see the things that made this space uniquely Chloe's own. The gorilla in the Crows suit by the door, the giant tennis racket in the corner and after all this time he still wasn't sure where she'd gotten it. The green alien head pencil holder. The cabinet where she kept office supplies and the closet where she kept the bulkier things, dark room chemicals and paper and old issues of the Torch, some of which dated from the Jurassic Era, or pre-computer; P.C., as Chloe called it.
And of course, The Wall of Weird. Originally she'd kept it inside the darkroom, a secret shared only with Pete until that fateful day in the fall of their freshman year when she'd finally shown it to Clark and the mantle of guilt had settled so heavily on his shoulders. All my fault. No matter how many times his parents told him it wasn't, he still felt responsible for the all the pain and weirdness caused by the meteor shower which had accompanied his arrival. He probably always would.
Coincidentally, the Wall's hidden location had saved it from destruction when Coach Walt set fire to the Torch office. After that, The Wall had rapidly outgrown its original home and Chloe had eventually moved it out into the office proper, never realizing it was a constant, painful reminder of both his heritage and guilt. Ultimately, the Wall had grown so large she'd split it up, part of it now spread out on a board supported by a wooden easel. He examined it, first one side and then the other and noticed for the first time that some of the articles were missing. The article recounting his discovery of the Kawatche caves was gone, as was the picture of the Kryptonian symbol burned onto his barn. Odd…in fact, he didn't really see much of anything in which he'd had a part anywhere on the board. They'd been there once, detailing his own incidental involvement in things which Chloe had found intriguing or about rescues in which he'd played a part.
Why had she taken them down?
Sighing, Clark looked around the room again then narrowed his focus to the top of his own desk. Next to his computer sat his Met U pencil cup, meant to be a harbinger of his full scholarship ride there and now just a reminder of what might have been. Sympathetic magic; the Met U emblem emblazoned on the front was supposed to bring him luck and ensure he'd have a place there, just like ancient man who'd painted deer and bison thundering across his cave walls in the hope the game would come when it was time to hunt. Or mysterious cave markings that heralded the arrival of another being from the sky, apparently somewhat overdue. Well, at least that had worked.
Clark picked up the cup and rattled the pens and pencils it held. On the end of one long pencil sat a miniature Sammy the Crow with the big Smallville High 'S' on his chest, complete with little red cape. Chloe had given it to him when they finished middle school. For good luck, she'd said and he'd kept it all these years. A little luck now wouldn't hurt, he thought, as he contemplated his need for financial aid. Whatever happened next, he would no longer be sitting here. All too soon there would be no more late nights here at the Torch researching the latest Kryptonite mutation with Chloe, waiting impatiently while she gained illegal entry into secured files and found some critical piece of information so he could zip off and save the day. He was really going to miss that.
He was really going to miss her.
About the zipping off part…to be honest, Clark knew Chloe had figured out things about him and for some time now he'd been making his sudden departures from her presence with virtually no attempt at subterfuge. He just waited until she barely turned her head and took off and lately, it had gotten to the point where she hadn't even blinked when he did it. It had become routine and she seemed totally okay with that. She no longer even raised an eyebrow at his abrupt exits or feigned surprise when he made an impossible save. Like after that little incident with the foreign exchange student who used his ability to control people so he could win long odds on bets…even though people in the stands had seen Clark get tackled when Chloe was being miraculously saved beneath the stadium, their late night conversation in the kitchen made it clear she knew it had somehow been him who'd rescued her.
Now it was like she expected it, turning away so he could leave while she was technically not looking at him, allowing the fiction to be maintained; in fact, a couple of times he could have sworn for a moment that Chloe was trying to help him come up with an excuse when something happened. Other than some vague hints, she wasn't pressing the issue but they'd fallen into yet another comfortable rhythm and he had to admit it was one less thing he had to worry about, one less believable excuse he had to make. Perhaps he should confide in her completely…but his experiences with Pete not to mention Lana, whose insistence on full disclosure made him crazy and of course, the absolute disaster with Alicia, held him back.
That had certainly been another crash and burn, something Clark seemed to do a lot. Sometimes, even little mistakes mushroomed into big ones. He'd just wanted someone he could be open with. Someone he didn't have to hide from when he used his abilities. Someone he could trust. And Alicia…hadn't been that girl. He was heart broken that he hadn't been able to save her but in the time that had passed, he'd come to his senses and begun to realize his parents had been right; she hadn't had his best interests at heart or she wouldn't have slipped him the Red K. That he'd refused to see it even after that, even after she'd started pushing him to reveal himself to the world…well…human children often didn't listen to their parents either. He'd thought himself so grown up he refused to even consider their advice, even when the truth was obvious and trying to pound its way through his thick Kryptonian skull. Ultimately, his mother's disappointment more than his father's anger had been what crushed him, finally sinking in after Alicia had died, with no additional pounding needed. Alicia hadn't been the real thing after all.
Kryptonians. Super powerful, not, apparently, super rational. But then, when it came to matters of the heart, who is?
Staring over at Chloe's computer, he remembered so clearly standing here and asking Chloe to hack into the Belle Reve records to see if Alicia might really be cured, making it obvious even to Chloe he was considering giving her another chance and remaining oblivious to any feelings Chloe might still harbor. It hadn't even crossed his mind that day that perhaps it was tacky to ask Chloe to help him decide if a girl was suitable dating material. His only thought had been that Chloe would help him, that Chloe would know what to do. Because she always did.
Now, of course, sitting here in the dark as he relived his missteps, he remembered the great Kryptonite Gatorade episode and telling Chloe he wasn't ready to get involved with someone, saying he'd let her know when he was and sealing it with a tender little kiss. Denying what had almost happened between them in his loft the night before because by god, he'd been ready then. Had Chloe not come down from her Kryptonite induced devotion when she did…well, it's a good thing her memories had been a bit foggy afterward.
Mixed messages. A Clark Kent specialty.
And still, no matter what he said or did, Chloe stood by him. Apparently, she'd always help him no matter what. Even after the Alicia debacle, Chloe had been there for him and…and it had been shortly after that when Chloe had first…said something that sounded like a cover. How much does she really know? Had she somehow stumbled upon the full truth? Did she know he had fallen from the sky with the meteors?
Nervous at this new train of thought, Clark opened his desk drawer and rummaged around for his candy stash; Milk Duds or…he briefly considered breaking into Chloe's desk for some Dots; he didn't even have to x-ray it to know she'd have some hidden there. Chloe always had Dots but …ooohhh…home made caramels! He'd forgotten he had those in there. Not surprisingly, his mom made the best caramels he'd ever tasted; better than anything you could buy. She used plenty of heavy whipping cream and they were sweet and smooth and extra chewy, so chewy, in fact, that they were known to be capable of sucking the fillings right out of your teeth. His dad had even lost a crown once. Pete had given up even trying to eat them after more than one visit to his dentist as a result. Of course, Clark had no dental work to worry about so he could eat as many as he wanted without fear. His mouth was watering before he even peeled off the first wrapper and popped one in his mouth, sucking on it and moaning as he savored the creamy buttery flavor. God, I love my mom!
One was not enough. Clark dragged the bag out of the drawer and proceeded to unwrap a couple more, popping them quickly into his mouth. He sat, staring around the office in the dark and eating caramels. In the very back of the middle drawer he found a couple of Butterfingers and devoured those, too. He then dug out a box of Milk Duds which he went through at a fairly prodigious rate but he went back to the caramels, popping in one after another. They were just that good. And it helped take his mind off worrying about what Chloe might really know. Across from his own computer desk was Chloe's computer…he got up and walked around when he noticed a faint glow indicating it was asleep not off. Apparently, she'd forgotten to shut it down for the night so he reached down to do that for her, moaning in pleasure once more at the sweet taste of the homemade candy. He was practically drooling.
There was a loud thump from the closet and Clark's hand poised in mid air over the mouse. Straightening up, he turned, easing over to the closet, listening as he x-rayed through the door. Someone was inside. He was reaching for the knob when the door flew open and the figure emerged. It was Chloe although he had to look twice to be sure because the figure was wearing a football helmet. "Chloe…" he said, or tried to but his mouth was full of sticky, gooey caramel. She gasped and he knew he'd frightened her and he tried to say, "It's me!" but he accidentally inhaled and started coughing as the caramel stuck to his back teeth. "Chloe!" he tried again but this time it sounded like a gargle as he tried to dislodge the gooey lump; before he could get another word out, she screamed and threw a heavy tape dispenser at him. It shattered against his chest.
Chloe yelled again, grabbing her Louisville Slugger and whacking him soundly several times before it broke apart and the splintered remains fell to the floor. Still clutching the handle menacingly, she lowered her head, charging him with a loud yell. Clark grabbed her shoulders, stopping her before she made contact just as he managed to swallow the caramel and say her name intelligibly. "Chloe! It's me!"
"Clark!" she stood, panting, "Clark, you scared me to death! I'm sorry but…I didn't expect anyone here tonight. Why aren't you still dancing or partying or something?"
"Wow…sorry I scared you…maybe you should have joined the team this year."
"Uh, oh, did I hurt you?" she asked. To Clark's ears it sounded almost like an afterthought. "I just…I just saw this big hulking thing lumbering around the office and didn't realize it was you. Why didn't you say something?"
"I tried to but my mouth was full of candy and I sort of inhaled when you started hitting me… Why were you in the closet in the dark?"
"The light's burned out or the switch is broken or something…and you're sitting here in the dark indulging your sweet tooth because…" Not even a question about what happened to her bat.
"I was…kinda reminiscing. Just walking around and thinking. What are you doing here? Why'd you leave so early? Isn't the Prom Queen supposed to stay 'til the bitter end?"
She turned on the small desk lamp by her computer, lending an eerie glow to the office. "Makes it seem like a campfire but without all the bugs," she said, smiling.
"You didn't answer my question."
"Hey, it's my first time. I didn't know that was a rule. Besides, no one missed me. And I had some things I needed to do here."
"I missed you. I came to sit with you but you were gone."
"I…" he heard her hesitation and knew something else had been on the tip of her tongue. "I got tired of sitting. It was time to go."
Clark stared at her and it dawned on him she was wearing sweat pants. "You took off your gown."
"Formal gowns aren't really the best thing for cleaning out closets. Besides, it clashed with my helmet."
"Why are you wearing a..." he looked at the helmet more closely, "my football helmet?"
"Just in case something fell on my head. Last time I cleaned in there, I got brained when some old trophy fell off the top shelf."
"Ah. So that's what's wrong with you."
"Very funny, Kent," she said, quirking one eyebrow at him. "Anyway, that closet's a disaster area. I thought I might as well do some reconnoitering and form a battle plan, maybe even do a little cleaning when no one was around to bother me."
"Now? Shouldn't you be out at some after prom party instead of housecleaning? Anyway, I wish you hadn't changed…you looked so nice…I… You left before I got the chance to…to…" frequent reminders are always appreciated… her voice floated back to him through time, "tell you again."
"Well, the gown got stained in the boiler room when I tried to set fire to the school, anyway, so it's not looking so good not to mention that the skirt got a little torn when I got clocked by a certain farmboy who demanded his tiara back. I'm thinking that could prove to be pretty good blackmail material, by the way."
He smiled despite her dire threat. "I'm serious, Chloe; I want to see you all dressed up again no matter what the dress looks like. I think the Prom Queen should still be in her gown. Why don't you put it back on?"
"Is that another rule? That's…Clark...that's silly…prom's over and I have-"
"Things to do; you said that. But I nominated you and I want to see you in the dress again. Come on, Chlo."
She looked at him strangely in the dim light of the lamp. "Clark…"
"Please, Chloe, one last request from this loyal subject." Smiling, he turned away and promised, "I won't peek."
She walked over, getting the dress down from behind the door and going into the darkroom. "Well, I'll just go in here and unless you can see through walls, I'm not worried. Do I have to put on the shoes?"
"So," he called to her through the door, "who'd you dance with?"
He could hear the hesitation again. "I…didn't dance much; I had too much to do. Wielding the axe, starting the fire…being a homicidal arsonist takes a lot of time, you know. Sometimes you have to let the finer points of your social life go."
Had she even danced at all? God, I'm such an idiot. I should have asked her. "So…you didn't dance with…"
"No; I didn't dance with Octopus Man," she replied through the door. "By the time I got back to the dance floor he was chasing Felice Chandler around the punch table; you know…he really does move fast…I wonder if it's a meteor power…"
"A meteor power? Seriously?"
"Yeah…" he heard her chuckle. "Superspeedgroping or something."
"Chloe!" he blurted out, unable to suppress his own chuckle at this latest theory. "Are you going to be ready anytime before we actually graduate?"
"Yeah, yeah; geez, Clark, what's gotten into you? Since when are you so gung ho about this stuff?" She opened the door, mincing her way across the room into the circle of light where he still sat. "Ta da! There. Satisfied?" She turned around once hurriedly and started back for the darkroom.
"No," he answered, jumping up and grabbing her hand to prevent her escape. "I'm not. For starters, you're not wearing your tiara." A quick glance around the office revealed it was currently adorning the head of a stuffed Sammy the Crow doll which sat over on the old couch. "There it is," he said as he led her across the room. He plucked it off Sammy's dark head and placed it back on Chloe's golden locks. And stared…he couldn't help it…she really was beautiful tonight.
"Okay, now are you happy?"
"Not quite. We didn't get our pictures taken together, either. Get your camera," he added as he went to turn on the lights.
Rolling her eyes, she went to her purse and retrieved it. Clark held it out in his long arm and they leaned in together, smiling for the camera. She put the tiara on his head and insisted he take another one.
"Nuh uh; not unless you wear the helmet."
"Okay." Clark placed it on her head with due care and tried to fasten the chin strap for her. "Clark, did I ever mention these chin thingies look like little tiny jock straps?"
"Yes you have. Stop wiggling!" The helmet fell down over her face when she glanced up at the ceiling. "Chloe! Hold still!" Clark repositioned it, quickly fastening it before she could move.
Chloe hunkered down like she was waiting for a pass, and growled menacingly.
"That's good, Chlo. Very good." Clark went to his desk and produced a football from the lower drawer. "Here," he turned, yelling, "Hut, hut, hut," and threw it to her. She caught the ball in picture perfect form. "Go, Chlo!" Grunting, she postured for the camera as Clark clicked away, coming ever closer. She dissolved into laughter along with him as he took one final close-up.
"Okay, Clark; your turn." Chloe carefully set the tiara on his head and made a great show of fluffing up his hair.
"What are you doing?"
"Your hair's supposed to be all pouffy. And," she said, wiping something from the side of his mouth, "you shouldn't have any food stuck to your face. Also, no lipstick smears."
Clark ran his fingers over the spot she'd just wiped. "Caramel. And I'm not wearing any lipstick!"
"Okay, Mr. Star Quarterback," she said, ignoring his indignation, "let's see you in this tiara." She kept stepping back so she could get all of her tall friend framed in the shot. Finally, she said, "Now…hold still…" At the last second, Clark went up on his tip toes and spread his arms out like he was about to pirouette across the floor. Chloe was giggling hysterically when she came in for a close-up of just his face. She took one then he grabbed her and pulled her in so they could both be in frame together, Clark in his tiara and Chloe in her helmet.
"Mutually assured blackmail."
"Somehow, I think the pictures of me in the tiara have more blackmail potential."
Smiling, she agreed. "Why, so they do. Remember that, Clark." Pulling off the helmet, she handed it to Clark. "And I'll take that, thank you," she added, plucking the tiara from Clark's head and walking over to return the camera to her purse. "Now…I can finally get out of this dress!" she announced as she turned to go back into the darkroom.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not just yet," he said, coming over to take her hand once more. He turned out the lights, leaving only the small circle of light from the lamp next to her computer and led her over to the middle of the room beyond her desk.
"Now what, Clark?"
Drawing her to him, he asked, "Would you like to dance, Chloe?"
"Oh, Clark…really, that's very sweet of you but I didn't expect you to dance with me; I just wanted you to be here; you know, solidarity and all, especially since you got me into this-"
"You didn't?" he asked as he drew her closer, noticing she was not resisting. "Why not? You're my best friend." He drew her closer still. "You're the girl I nominated. I…should have asked." Waiting until she relaxed and laid her head against his chest, he slowly began to lead her around the darkened office. "I'm sorry; I should have come here with you."
So long ago it seemed like another lifetime yet he still heard the band playing Chloe's favorite song, remembered holding Chloe in his arms as they moved across the dance floor. Hidden feelings suddenly realized only to be scattered by the ill winds that blew on that turbulent spring day. Now they moved in time to that same music, an echo from the past that only the two of them could hear.
How did she do it, his small blonde friend? She made him laugh, she made him furious, she made him see things he never knew existed. And she listened. She always listened. And despite their many conflicts, it was always her on whom he could depend. By the time they'd danced at the Spring Formal, he'd been falling for her so completely…
He hadn't seen it coming then.
Abruptly, she raised her head and tried to pull away just as they went gliding past the big green alien head on her desk. "Okay, that's…this was really nice Clark but I need to-"
"What?" Gently, he brushed his hand over her cheek when he saw the tears glistening there. "You were right. I had a vision of how prom should be and I thought if I couldn't have it the way I'd imagined then it wasn't worth going to. But you were here and you were worth it and I'm sorry I had to be forced into coming."
"It's okay, Clark. I'm glad you came no matter what got you here."
"I should have asked you to come with me," he whispered as he leaned down, "as my date." Softly, he kissed her cheek. "What's wrong?" he asked when she drew back.
"It's just that this is all…about to end and I've been down here trying to figure out what to do with the Wall and feeling all maudlin and sentimental and you don't have to humor me."
"I'm not humoring you."
"Yes you are. You're giving me the little cheek kiss of potentially more than friends when we both know you're still mooning over Lana Lang, as evidenced by the look on your face earlier tonight. And that's okay but you have got to stop kissing me then dating other people. I wish you'd come with me, too, just as friends, but you didn't so we need to move on here. And there's something else. Now, I want you to remember that I care about you even though we are just friends and as such…I might point out that Lana is still officially dating Jason as far as I know and you should be careful. Just once, you really ought to think first with your head instead of with your…um…other…parts."
"Chloe!" Clark exclaimed, not sure whether he should be appalled or amused. Probably both because she was right.
""I'm just sayin,' as a friend, and now I think we should really-"
"Then let me say something for a change," he said, pulling back a little more so he could see her more clearly. "First of all, being friends is important. Friendship doesn't have to carry this big disclaimer in front of it like it's not ever as important as being something else. I know you don't believe this but I care about you and I trust you more than anyone. You're my best friend, Chlo; I just don't show it very well. And tonight, after I danced with Lana, I realized something."
"Clark…I really don't need to hear this…look…I'm glad you asked me to dance even if it was after the fact but-"
"Shhh," he said, gently touching his fingers to her lips. "The way I'd always imagined I wanted prom to be wasn't really the way I wanted it at all. When I saw you were gone, I realized the one person I'm going to miss the most when this is all over wasn't her. It's you and if I wait, I might never get the chance again to tell you how important you are to me. I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to realize it."
Clark stared into her eyes for a long moment then slowly leaned down and gently kissed her, softly brushing her lips with his own. "Clark…what did I just say? You can't keep-" She gasped as he pulled her closer, cutting her off with another kiss, this one deeper and more passionate; he felt her hands clutch at his arms, uncertain if she was going to pull him closer or push him away.
He was terrified of either possibility.
The soft little sigh she finally made sounded like a good thing so he kissed her yet again, the tip of his tongue darting inside her mouth for an instant. Then he nibbled on her lower lip before he finally drew back, just barely, and waited to see what she would do.
She seemed dazed, her lips barely parted as she attempted to speak but no words came out, her eyelids fluttering as she tried to regain some measure of coherence or composure or something that would allow her to process what was happening. "This is probably not a good idea…"
"You're right. But not about that. I can't keep kissing you and dating other people. So…" his heart leapt up into his throat and threatened to escape. "So…can I ask you out on a date instead?"
"What?" He noticed Chloe glanced over at his right hand before she looked back into his eyes. Finally, she stammered out, "Are you serious? Maybe you're feverish or something because Dawn pos-" Another kiss and Chloe was rendered speechless again for the moment.
"I'd like to take you out for breakfast tomorrow…or…well…I guess it's already tomorrow…" Clark kissed her once more; he liked the way it seemed to make her eyes glaze over, especially when he plucked at her lower lip with his own as he pulled away. "So…would you like to go out to breakfast with me? I have to make a delivery to the Talon but then…I'll pick you up after…" Chloe was staring up at him, still somewhat unfocused. "Chlo?" He shook his head a little, looking down into her eyes. "Chloe? There's a new restaurant in Grandville…I'd love to take you there or…would lunch be better? Maybe you'd like to sleep in since it's so late…we could go to bed and then…" Suddenly embarrassed, his cheeks reddened as he began to stumble over his words, "I mean…I didn't mean… God! I'm screwing this up!" He put his hands firmly on her arms and said, with all the earnestness he could muster, "Please go out with me!"
Chloe stared up at him for a moment then at last she smiled and said simply, "Wow, Clark. Now, that was definitely worth the wait. Awkward stammering included."
"So…you'll go? Out? With me? On a date?"
"Well…maybe we should make it a practice date. So there's no pressure or anything. After all, we've done this before and it didn't work out so well and we don't want to screw up our friendship again or rush into anything-"
"Chloe…we've been not rushing into anything for years! And besides…" he stopped, uncertain if he should continue what was sure to be a revelation of sorts.
"What? You can't stop now. Whatever it is, out with it."
"Well…Pete said half the school thought we were dating already."
"What? Why would they think that?"
"'Cause we spent so much time together…and we were always working together…in the Torch…late at night…" Clark's cheeks were beginning to redden.
"Oh?" For a moment, Chloe seemed taken aback. "Really?"
Then she smirked and Clark asked, "What? You knew?"
"Yeah, Clark. I've been denying that rumor for years, pointing out that no matter how it might look, you weren't involved with me."
"Pete said once that we…we…fight like an old married couple."
"Yeah, he told me that, too. I threatened to staple him to the Wall for it though…I suppose there's some truth to it."
"Look…can we forget about that and get back to the subject at hand…I think, considering what we've been through and the fact that we're still friends…I'm not worried. Please, let's take a chance…"
"Okay, Clark. After lengthy consideration…" she tapped her finger on her chin as though contemplating one of the great mysteries of the cosmos, "yes. I'd love to go out with you, Clark. It's sweet of you to ask, especially after you stole my tiara and everything…" she added, rubbing her jaw again for effect as her mouth quirked upward into a grin.
"I'm so sorry, Chloe…I'll make it up to you," he whispered as he leaned down and kissed the line of her jaw. "I promise…" he added before moving on to her mouth once more.
"But what about my idea of a practice date?" she asked, dreamily. "Aren't we getting a little ahead of ourselves here?"
"Oh…" he whispered, kissing her again, "I'm all for practice…"
After a few moments he pulled away, an odd look on his face as he stared down at her.
"What? Is something wrong?"
"No…I…is there anything else you know that I don't?"
"Oh, sure. The list is endless."
"You didn't know I was going to ask you out tonight."
"Well no, that was a complete surprise, I will admit."
Smiling down at her, he said, "Then let's go back to my place. I'll see if I can surprise you some more."
The Milky Way spread out above the Kent farm like a sparkling trail of fairy dust as Clark and Chloe snuggled together on the front porch. The rhythmic creaking of the old swing drifted out across the fields and away into the night as Clark slowly rocked it back and forth with one long leg. Chloe's blond head lay on his shoulder as she drowsed contentedly. He warmed her with a gentle sweep of heat vision then pulled the blanket up around her, nuzzling the top of her head for a moment before looking back up into the sky. What had his home been like? And had there been anyone like Chloe there to help him on his way and keep him on his toes? Of all the places in the universe, he was glad he'd ended up here. Glancing down at her, he wondered what she'd think if she really knew the full truth about him. In time, perhaps, he'd be brave enough to tell her. Clark smiled down at her when she stirred briefly, rubbing her face against his flannel shirt then scratching her cheek before settling in again.
Clark had whisked her away, holding her hand as they ran side by side from the Torch office until they burst from the double doors that opened onto the lower parking lot. There he picked her up, making her laugh when he began swinging her around in a circle.
She wobbled a little when he sat her down. "Whooo…dizzy here…"
"Okay; I'll drive. In you go," he opened the passenger door and helped her in, giving her a soft kiss on the tip of her nose after he buckled her in. As they pulled out onto the road, Chloe leaned back, looking as though she was about to laugh as she stared over at him.
"What?" He knew it was because she thought it hysterically funny that he barely fit in her small car. Unless he hunched over a bit, his head bumped the cloth top of the little convertible. Rolling his eyes, he turned his attention back to the dark road.
"I'm gonna miss seeing you all scrunched up in those little chairs in Lit class, too."
"Are you now?" he said, looking sideways at her.
"Yeah. It's so cute when you look like you don't fit-" There was a loud ping and Chloe yelped as she fell backward, abruptly staring up at him from the suddenly reclined passenger seat.
Clark stopped the car and looked down at her. "Uh…you okay Chlo?"
"Yeah…the latch is a little loose." He pulled over in front of the wide gate that led to the Millar's cow pasture and reached across her, fumbling around for the latch. He leaned over farther and by the time he found it, he was practically lying on top of her; Clark looked deeply into her eyes and kissed her once then once again and, tempting though it was to stay right there for a while and…in fact he was having some decidedly NC-17 thoughts about what he'd like to do right here on the side of Route 8, he forced himself to pull the seat upright, bringing Chloe into a much less provocative position.
"Mmmm…" she let out a little moan as she watched him pull away. "You know," she added, "that's the strangest thing…sometimes your eyes change color…for a second there they looked almost…glowy."
"Reflected moonlight!" he said, a little too quickly, his eyes darting away. He pulled back onto the main road, also a little too quickly and blinked repeatedly before daring to look over at her again out of the corner of his eye again, trying to gauge what she was thinking. Great. Now my eyes glow when-
"Ah… Rats!" she exclaimed. They were just making the run onto Hickory Lane when she realized she'd forgotten her duffle bag. "I forgot my sweats!"
"Uh…" he glanced over at her, "I'll find something for you to wear." The thought of Chloe slipping into something more comfortable in the privacy of his bedroom tried to invade his mind; his eyes were starting to tingle-
"Is it getting hot in here?" she asked. She rolled her window down halfway and fanned herself. It just seems really warm all of a sudden…"
"Uh…yeah…maybe a little…" He rolled the driver's side window down and stuck his head out.
"Wow, Clark…it's getting awfully foggy, isn't it?" Chloe looked to the side then out the front window. "That's weird. It's mostly foggy right in front of the car. It looks almost like steam rising. In fact…" she waved her hand around over the dashboard, "it looks like there's steam in here."
"Must be some weird weather phenomena…you know…where…humidity is really high and the heat from our bodies- Ack! is…is enough to…to…produce steam and…like a micro climate…"
"Inside my car?"
"Uh…" Another sideways glance.
A raised eyebrow in return. "Whatever. I'll look into it later."
They turned into Clark's driveway and a moment later the little car puttered to a halt out beside the barn; quietly, they made their way into the kitchen. Clark deftly opened the old door without making a sound. Chloe snickered and Clark put his finger to his lips. "Sh!" he whispered, adding, "Take off your shoes." They tiptoed up the stairs, holding their shoes then, when they reached the landing, Clark picked her up, stepping over every creaky board mapped out through years of practice until they got into his room and he quietly shut the door. Chloe flopped onto his bed for a moment, bouncing up and down a little and making the bed creak rhythmically beneath her.
"Chloe! Stop it! You're making too much noise." His eyes were tingling again and he tried to think about something other than Chloe and the sound of the bed springs squeaking underneath her- He starting digging through his dresser drawers for something she could wear and Chloe jumped up off his bed and came over beside him.
"Can I help? I always wanted to root around in your drawers," she added, an evil glint in her eye.
"Sit," he pointed to his desk chair then turned, going to search in the closet hoping he could find his composure along with some clothes-there! An old pair of sweat pants stuffed into a corner, outgrown in freshman year though they'd still be huge on Chloe. Taking a deep breath he turned back to her and held out his prize. "Here. Try these."
"These are the smallest you've got?" she said, eyeing them dubiously.
"Sorry. Best I can do." Dutifully, he'd turned away, staring out the window of his bedroom as she pulled them on behind him. Although she was able to tie the pants tight enough to keep them from actually falling down they were voluminous on Chloe's petite frame and even when she pulled them up to her armpits, they hung in a puddle around her ankles. He couldn't keep from laughing when he turned around. Ever the gentleman, Clark had ignored her grumbling and, kneeling at her feet, rolled up the pant legs while Chloe held up her prom dress. The skirt kept drooping lower, the crinoline underpinnings tickling Clark's nose as he worked.
"Can you keep that thing out of my face? It's scratchy; makes my nose itch."
"Well, think how I feel."
He stopped, raising one eyebrow as he looked up at her. "It makes your nose itch?"
"No, but it's not exactly comfortable. This should give you a new appreciation for the discomforts girls have to suffer to be all proper and formal."
"Oh, and guys don't have to suffer? I hate dressing up. I hate this tuxedo; give me flannel any day-"
Chloe promptly dropped the skirt and the scratchy crinoline on his head, making a point of rubbing the irritating fabric in his face.
"Chloe! Get that thing off me; I can't see what I'm doing," he said, his voice slightly muffled. "I'll probably suffocate."
Of course, he could see and there was no chance he'd suffocate from lack of air but his thoughts about Chloe were already starting to stray into rather adult territory and this wasn't helping at all.
Instead, she leaned over onto his broad back. "Will you hurry up?" Laughing, she rustled it over his head again.
"Chlo…just take it off. Off my head," he added hastily.
Giggling, she lifted the dress up once more then stepped backward, tripping on the one long leg still trailing on the floor. She fell backwards, landing on Clark's bed with her skirt now up over her head. "Oh!" She exclaimed, quickly sitting up with her skirt now bunched up around her waist. "Well; is that better?"
"Yes…" he choked out, trying to quash the vision of Chloe lying on his bed that kept trying to come back. "Just…" he squeaked out, clearing his throat and attempting to bring his voice down into its normal register, "just hold still." Crawling over to the edge of the bed, he finished rolling up her other pant leg.
He had then given her a pair of his huge socks which she pulled up over the pant legs to help keep them in place and loaned her a pair of his mom's old tennis shoes which more or less fit. Now she needed a shirt of some sort so, to top off her ensemble, Clark opened his dresser and dug around for something she could wear. He started to hand her his football jersey but, deciding the memory that brought back would be much too provocative, he handed her a red Smallville High t-shirt instead.
Seeing him hesitate over the football jersey, she asked, "What's wrong with the football jersey? Saving it for posterity? Thinking of having it bronzed?"
"Nothing; I thought the t-shirt might fit better."
Chloe stared at the jersey still folded up in his drawer then at Clark for a moment, a quizzical look on her face. "Clark…I have this weird memory of wearing your football jersey…did I ever-"
She stared at him again, her eyes narrowed in concentration. "Are you sure I never wore-"
"Yes, now could you hurry? I'd like to change out of this suit. Please."
"Okay, okay…" He started to turn away again but Chloe stopped him.
"Uh…Clark? How about a hand with the zipper here? It's one of those concealed things and it's really awkward anyway and I think it got caught on the fabric when I zipped it up in the darkroom." He quickly stepped up behind her and yanked on the zipper. "Whoa there! You don't have to tear my dress off! Easy."
"Sorry." Then he turned away again, stepping over near the half open window to wait. Clark held his breath then blew it out, puffing repeatedly in an effort to distract himself. He was acutely aware of the rustling sound of her dress being removed.
"What's happening, Clark?" she asked as she slipped the t-shirt over her head. "Sounds like you're giving birth over there."
"I'm just…anxious to get undressed. Out of this thing, I mean." He winced. He was Freudian slipping all over the place and it was totally Chloe's fault.
Finally it was his turn and Chloe stood looking out his window as he quickly changed into his familiar t-shirt and flannel; just as he was pulling up his jeans, Chloe exclaimed, "Wait a minute! I can see your reflection in the window! Were you watching me?" She turned, pointing an accusatory finger in his direction.
"No, I wasn't!" he denied, whirling away from her and quickly zipping up; in his haste, he caught the zipper on his boxer shorts and swore under his breath.
"Hey, is that the WB Frog on your boxers?"
"Do I question your underwear choices?"
"Awww…I like your Froggy underwear."
Clark turned back, adding, "And how long were you watching me?" then faltering when he saw she was about to laugh.
"I wasn't; well…only long enough to see The Frog trying to escape."
Clark yanked on the zipper, still snagged on Michigan J. Frog's jaunty cane. "Do you mind?" He turned away slightly, shielding the embattled Frog from view. All this attention to his nether regions, already threatening to leap to attention, wasn't helping at all.
Chloe moved over and offered more advice. "Well, you're gonna rip it if you keep pulling like that. Rib it! Rib it!" she added in a deep froggy tone.
"You're a regular laugh riot tonight." He turned again and Chloe moved, too, getting a little closer and gesturing with one hand. "You're never gonna get it that way! Back the zipper up and work the fabric out…not so fast!" She moved a step closer and pointed with one finger. "Now go slow…don't rush or you'll-"
"I can do this myself!"
"I have no doubt," she smirked.
"Chloe!" he turned completely away as he finally loosened the trapped fabric; something other than Michigan J. Frog's cane would make an appearance if Chloe kept this up and he wanted desperately not to let this get so physical right away although that was becoming increasingly difficult with each passing moment and every suggestive remark. The memory of pressing up against Chloe in the elevator in Metropolis popped into his mind and that was not at all what he needed to be thinking about. Had she realized the effect she'd had on him that day?
"And anyway, why are you so shy all of a sudden? I hear you were apparently flashing people all over Lowell County last year."
That made him pause as he turned to confront her once more. "What?"
"Well, according to Lois and some of my sources at the Med Center, you were exhibiting some serious southern exposure when she brought you in."
"That was-" he stammered, "I had amnesia! I don't know what happened… Lois found me out in a field-" Clark stopped then growled, "I'm gonna kill your cousin-"
"Hey…don't shoot the messenger. She just told the truth. And witnesses at the Med Center corroborated her story."
"Which was?" he frowned at the still sketchy memory.
"That the old adage is true…"
"What are you talking about?"
"You know…um…" she giggled, "that you have really big feet…"
For a moment he frowned, drawing a blank then, when it dawned on him what she was implying he sputtered, "Chloe!"
"Shh! You're gonna wake your parents! I'm just sayin' that it's a little late for you to be worrying about revealing yourself."
Clark snatched up his boots and grabbed her upper arm. "I think we'd better go. Come on." He guided her out the door and down the stairs, trying to tread quietly. "Stop looking at my feet!" he whispered loudly when he saw her pointedly glancing down.
"Well, I was just trying to gauge for myself."
"No need to be cranky. It's just…so easy to tease you." Chloe was still giggling as he ushered her out the front door. Gesturing toward the swing, he waited until Chloe sat before joining her.
"Yeah, I get that. Torturing me is one of your favorite pastimes."
"Awww…does this mean you don't wanna practice anymore?" she asked, her lip extending in a mock pout. She pointed to the tiara which still sat, incongruously, on her head. "I'll let you wear my tiara."
"You're very bad. But no." His lip curled up in a wry smile and he leaned over, kissing her again. "Practice is still good."
Now they'd been sitting here most of the night and the sun would soon be up. "Wake up," he whispered.
"What…" she mumbled as she looked up at him. Focusing in on his face, she asked, "What is it?"
"Sun's gonna be up soon. Wanna go up into the loft and watch the sunrise?"
"Um…" she sat up, rubbing her eyes, "really? We've been here all night?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah."
"Wow…I'm not even cold."
"Come on; I'll even carry you." Scooping her up, he made his way into the barn and past his normal haunts into the opposite end of the loft. It was relatively unfurnished compared to the western end of the barn with only some hay bales covered with blankets and an old trunk filled with some of Clark's most prized childhood possessions. Inside were the few surviving Masters of the Universe and Warrior Angel action figures and Clark's rather extensive squirt gun collection. Clark had been a dead eye shot with a squirt gun; many a summer afternoon had been spent chasing Pete through the fields with them. They represented many fond memories of his childhood and he just couldn't bear to give them away. As for the action figures…well, Clark had always been a sucker for a good heroic tale. Besides, after he no longer played with them, they made excellent targets.
Scooting around the old trunk he gently placed Chloe on the blanketed hay. Then he joined her, both of them stretched out side by side on their stomachs as they watched the still dark eastern sky.
"So…what's in the trunk?" Chloe asked.
"Toys. And squirt guns. I've given away almost everything but those. I just couldn't let go of some stuff."
"I'm the same way. I got rid of a lot of stuff when we moved here from Metropolis but there were a few things I just could not leave behind. I still have Mister Bear."
"You still have stuffed toys?"
"Yeah. And you better watch it because I still have my favorite squirt gun, too." Sighing, she added, "We're just emotional pack rats, huh, Clark?"
"Yeah, I guess we are."
The very first reddish glimmer of dawn shown faintly as the sun began its climb and Clark wrapped one arm around her, pulling her close as they waited. Their big rooster began to crow out on the fence and soon the sun's warmth began to flood the barn loft and Clark smiled, staring dreamily up at the sky as the sun's golden rays washed over him. After the events of the solar flares of two years ago, Clark was almost certain the sun was the source of his powers and he'd come to realize just how good it made him feel to be bathed in its warmth and light. And now, lying next to Chloe, he felt not only energized but emboldened, basking in the sun's warmth as well as her own. Relaxing into the moment, he was beginning to feel-
"Clark…you should really be careful staring into the sun like that; you might hurt your eyes...actually, they look kinda red right now."
His eyes snapped open wide and he quickly looked away. When he turned back to her he said slowly, "Chloe…I know you know I'm different."
"Yeah Clark. Goofy, geeky farmboy. With really big feet.""
"Hey! Am I really so geeky?
"Yes," she nodded, "but geeky is good, Clark. Geeky is cute. Still a little goofy, maybe. Why?"
"I mean…remember when I told you there were things about me that-"
"Wouldn't add up? So we're talking about Clark math here?"
"I-yeah-I guess…" suddenly shy, he smiled back at her, "you could say that."
"You're really okay with that?"
"Clark. Of course I am. You oughta know that by now. But I knew you were different the first time I met you. So that's nothing new."
"But…" he faltered before he could say anything else.
"But what if I was really different?"
"You are really different. I know this."
"I mean really, really different. More different than you could imagine. Just," he quickly added the disclaimer, "hypothetically."
"Well, I've seen a lot of people here who are pretty different from the average person on the street. And-wait-are we talking about your feet here? Because I feel, as a potential date, I have a vested interest in-"
"Chloe! This is not about my feet!"
"Okay, look, Clark. I know a lot of people don't like those who are different. I know your crush doesn't either-"
"Former crush. I want to emphasize that point."
"That's good, Clark," she smiled brightly. "You may yet prove to be trainable. Now…may I continue?" He nodded, one eyebrow cocked. "Okay. Now I understand Lana's fear; she really can't help it but she's not the most tactful person at times and I know she hurt you when she said those things. I could see it. And honestly? I think, in time, she might be able to accept whatever it is you're so terrified of revealing. But you don't have to tell anyone. If you want to talk it over with someone, I'm here for you and it might make you feel better. If you don't then I'm still here for you, no matter what. Either way."
"I…I appreciate that, Chloe. I'm just…I'm scared. It's something…it could be considered really big."
"I thought you didn't want to talk about your…um…feet?"
"Chloe!" he buried his head in the blankets beneath them.
"Well, you can think about it when you take me out for breakfast. Or brunch or whatever." She rolled over and sat on the edge of the hay bale then bent over and opened up the old trunk. "Ah…very interesting." She picked up a mid size squirt gun.
Clark rolled over onto his side and eyed her as she picked through his old toys. "You're really nosey, you know that?"
"Of course I am. That's what makes a good reporter. And do I need to point out that you, too, like to snoop into other people's business. Maybe it'll get you a Pulitzer someday."
"Chloe…why don't we-"
"Something in here you don't want me to see?"
"You got your Playboy collection in here?"
"I don't have a Playboy collection!"
"How'd you know that?"
"Because I'm snoopy, remember?"
"Ooh…and what have we here?" Chloe pulled out a ragged, threadbare Winnie the Pooh. "So I'm not the only one who still has a stuffed animal?"
"That's…I didn't know Pooh was in there…"
"Well, I've got your little bear, now," she said in a voice like the Wicked Witch of the West. Picking up the squirt gun, she ran from the loft as fast as her socks and oversized pants would permit because the legs were starting to sag a bit.
Clark laughed and grabbed up another gun, waiting before following her down the stairs. He allowed her time to load the gun in the nearby trough and find a hiding place before running over to fill his own. Then he cheated, using his speed in a flanking maneuver and targeting her before she realized he'd gotten behind her. She turned, giggling and squealing and in minutes they were both soaking wet.
Martha Kent was staring out her bedroom window watching her son chasing Chloe across the barnyard.
Jonathan mumbled, "What is Clark doing now?" as he rolled over, yawning.
"Well…he's chasing Chloe around the barnyard with a squirt gun."
"A squirt gun?"
"Yeah. And…now…he's…kissing her."
"Kissing her? I thought…I mean, didn't he say-"
"Yes, but people don't always know what they want…maybe he changed his mind…or finally admitted to himself how he really felt."
Jonathan sat up halfway, wiping the sleep from his eyes and said, "I heard talking in the hall early this morning…" he stopped, yawning before he continued, "why was Clark telling Chloe not to look at his feet?" Yawning again, he pulled the covers back up.
"Well now, for that, I have no explanation."
"Martha…maybe I should take care of the cows and see what's going on." She watched as Clark and Chloe ran across the yard and around the front of the house. A few minutes later, the sound of Chloe's car starting up set the rooster off again and Jonathan started to sit up.
"Let them go," she said finally and she didn't mean the cows.
"It's time." A light breeze stirred the wisteria vines just starting to blossom outside the open window, ruffling Martha's hair in passing. Chloe's red Bug appeared at the end of the driveway, slowing briefly as it turned out onto Hickory Lane then speeding up again, eventually lost from view as it passed beyond a low outbuilding. She listened to the sound of the little car fading into the distance until she could hear it no more before she turned and crawled back into bed next to her husband. The old farmhouse was silent now, the creak of aging floor boards in the kitchen the only sound she could hear as Shelby, now thoroughly spoiled, ambled over to his bowl to eat a little; Clark had probably given him an extra helping of kibble earlier on his way out. Martha and Jonathan held each other close, lost in thought and knowing their lives were about to change. It happened to all parents; their children suddenly growing up, or so it seemed. Had it really been so long ago they'd carried a small child from a smoking crater and hid the spaceship that carried him in their storm cellar?
That small child was grown now, all too soon and they both knew Destiny was waiting for him and he would go to meet it far beyond the boundaries of his small home town. As they lay quietly in the early morning stillness, listening to the familiar, comforting sounds of the family farm where they had nurtured their special child, the very air seemed to herald the promise of change. They could only imagine the heights to which their son would one day soar.
But something told them it would be soon.