I just want to say thanks to everyone who took the time to read this story - and give me feedback. It was fun to write - my first big attempt at a serial fic (along w/ Future Tense) - which is probably why I put off writing the Epilogue for so long.
This was always meant as a short little wrap up - just a smattering of call-backs. So, I hope it's at least semi-satisfying.
Here we go…
I saw what you did
I was right there with you
I won't let you sink
No, I forgive you
Grace needs a little more freedom
Love needs room to breathe
- "Phobic" Plumb
Metropolis University, 2007 – In a Future That Once Again Existed
The couple on the bench pulled each other close and mugged for the camera. Clark nuzzled Lois' neck, sending her into a fit of giggles. Chloe framed the scene in her viewfinder and snapped off the shot.
She lowered the lens and smiled. "That's a keeper."
Lois untangled herself from Clark and sent her cousin a 'no duh' look. "Of course it is. We're a very photogenic couple." She hopped to her feet and pulled Chloe into a tight hug. "I missed you, little cous."
Chloe laughed as she pulled back. "Let's never leave each other again," she exclaimed, dramatically. "How was Daytona?"
Lois smiled. Her features were slightly pinkened, but hardly betrayed a whole week of fun in the sun. So either her cousin had been extra generous with the SPF or…
"Wonderful," Lois gushed, her eyes taking on that glassy, far away look. "Lots of palm trees and sand and –"
"Hardly left the hotel room, huh?"
Lois grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Nope."
"Lois!" Clark exclaimed, his cheeks flushing a red that rivaled his girlfriend's.
"Relax, Smallville. I'm not going to tell her all the sordid details of our sexual escapades…"
"…in front of you."
Clark leveled a look at her. "Why do I subject myself to this?" For a minute he seemed to be actually considering this. "Oh, right. I love you."
Lois laughed. "Of course you do. What's not to love?" she challenged lightly. She gave him a quick kiss on the lips and punch on the shoulder. It was a twofer Clark had become accustomed to since they had begun dating.
Chloe scrunched her nose in mock distaste. "I'd tell you to get a room, but most likely that'd end up being our apartment and the last thing I need after a long day of classes is to come home to you two practicing your naked tumbling routine. Again."
"What?" Lois scoffed. "It's not like we don't stretch first."
Chloe's eyes narrowed. "That better not be an unwitting reference to where my missing yoga mat has been for the past month."
While Lois plastered on the best look of innocence she could muster, Clark glanced down at his watch. "Oh would you look at the time? I have to be anywhere but here." He leaned in and pecked Lois on the cheek. "I'll see you tonight?"
Lois just nodded before pulling him back down and kissing him thoroughly. When he was finally released from her grips, Clark awkwardly cleared his throat and bumbled off in what was hopefully the right direction, the dopey grin never leaving his face. Chloe feared for any trees that might get in his way.
When he was out of super-earshot Chloe asked, "Any idea what he has planned?"
Lois sighed. "No clue. But you know Clark. It'll probably be completely cornball. I caught him watching Sleepless in Seattle the other night."
Chloe hid her smirk. As much as Lois complained about Clark's romantic tendencies, she knew her cousin secretly loved them. "It's your one year anniversary. I think he's allowed to go overboard."
"It's just that Clark's attempts at romance have a tendency to end in smoke alarms."
"You're the only couple I know whose idea of protection is a fire extinguisher," Chloe chuckled. "Incidentally, has Mr. Kent let you two back in the loft unsupervised yet?"
"No. And Clark's still paying off the damages. It was the most expensive make out session in history."
"And worth every penny."
Lois nodded curtly. "Damn strait."
"Well, whatever Clark has planned, I'm sure it's wonderful and operates within all the necessary parameters of fire safety."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Oh please. Don't pretend you don't know exactly what surprises Farmboy has up his flannel sleeve."
"I may be somewhat in the know," Chloe replied airily. Truth be told, she knew the whole itinerary. From chocolate covered strawberries to a grand tour of the fortress of icicles.
"Just tell me if I need to wear something flame retardant."
"Actually, I think a scarf may be more appropriate."
Lois frowned. "Scarf? It's, like, 80 degrees out."
"How about coffee? My treat," Chloe quickly changed topics, side-stepping that landmine. Clark would likely dangle her off the Daily Planet's globe for fumbling the ball this close to the endzone. If she could just hold out a few more hours then her cousin would finally have her newcomer's chip for Intergalactic Travelers Not-So-Anonymous.
And the days of keeping that pesky secret would be over.
Lois waved off the invitation. "Pass. I woke up early this morning to finish a paper on bridging the digital divide between bloggers and the traditional press, had to go heavy on the caffeine just to get through the first paragraph."
"Lemme guess. Hummingbird?"
"Naturally," Lois drawled. "You know there is something seriously wrong with the world when you have to reference Edward R. Murrow and Perez Hilton in the same sentence."
"Isn't that the second sign of the apocalypse?" Chloe laughed. "Well, how about lunch at the Bagel-ria then?"
This time Lois' eyes lit up. "Now that is an idea I can get behind."
As the two girls began the short trek to the campus café, Chloe couldn't help but stick close to her cousin. Spring break really had been kind of lonely without her.
As if reading her mind, Lois asked, "So what did you do for a whole week without me?"
"Locked myself in my room with all the curtains drawn and wrote free verse poetry about the gaping void left in my life."
"My personal favorite was 'Lois went away, now I spend each day, with a bottle of Grand Marnier.' Although the syntax was a little clunky."
"Stick to your day job, Chlo."
Chloe just laughed before rattling off her real list of humdrum activities. "I got a lot of work done. Met with some professors about summer credits. Finished off the last few shots for my final portfolio in photojournalism class."
"Am I being replaced?" Lois tugged on Chloe's camera strap. "That Nikon D2H hasn't left your neck all semester."
Chloe's fingers fidgeted with the aperture ring. "I admit I was a little reluctant to attempt a journalistic endeavor that didn't involve a pen and paper, but, I don't know. I guess I found out I kinda like it. Capturing moments. Telling a story through images. -"
"Acquiring blackmail," Lois tossed in.
"The list goes on."
"Well, I guess it does have its upsides," Lois agreed. "I definitely need a copy of that last shot."
"Will do. I'll just have to remember to make triples." Chloe pulled a slip of paper from her bag and jotted down the note.
"Triples?" Lois asked.
"I give copies of all the pictures I take to Lana," Chloe explained. "She's fostered an unhealthy obsession with scrap booking. I think she even took a class."
Lois raised an eyebrow. This was new. "Are we talking about the same Lana that went on a two day Parisian bender and ended up with a tattoo?"
"Yeah, well, she is also the girl currently working as an assistant to the librarian at the Metropolitan Institute. She's apparently an individual of many layers."
"Still, can't say I saw that one coming. The only crafts Lana's ever engaged in have been of the witch-y variety," Lois countered. "Unless this time around she's possessed by the spirit of Martha Stewart."
"Martha Stewart isn't dead."
Lois shrugged. "Details."
"People change. Evolve. It's not like 3 years ago you ever would have believed you'd end up dating Clark Kent of all people."
"This is true."
"I think we were all a little blindsided by that one."
The day Clark had approached her for help in pursuing Lois, Chloe had sworn he'd taken a big swig of the red K kool aid. At first blush Lois and Clark looked about as compatible as caramel and catfish; the brash city girl and the dorky farmboy were hardly the poster couple for likely love connections. But as Chloe began to really watch them, if only to catalogue just how bizarre it would be if they ever did fall in love, she came to recognize that at some point, when she wasn't looking, they already had.
And that somehow, it made a weird kind of sense.
Chloe glanced over to find Lois deep in thought. She was chewing her bottom lip, pensively, as if debating her next words.
Finally Lois stopped and asked, "Do you ever think about what it would be like if things had been different?"
"What do you mean?"
"Like if I never came to Smallville. If maybe, post-Lana, Clark had turned to you?"
And there it was. The question that seemed to loom over them, unasked for fear of what the answer may be. Chloe knew that it was always present somewhere in the back of Lois' mind, no matter how supportive she had been of their relationship. For her part, Chloe never addressed it either. Perhaps a little frightened of what a thorough investigation of her true feelings might reveal.
It seemed that, finally, for whatever reason, Lois wanted to hear the unvarnished truth.
On Lois' first day back after a long week apart, this really wasn't the direction Chloe had hoped their homecoming chat would go. But Lois' anxious expression told her there was no skirting the topic now.
So Chloe closed her eyes and asked herself the hard question: had she ever imagined a world in which things had in fact veered in another direction? Led to another destination?
And when she was done Chloe had come to a wonderful realization.
"You know," she said, turning to Lois. "I really haven't."
Lois let out the breath she had been holding, and smiled brightly. She slung an arm around Chloe's shoulders, ushering her through the front doors of the Bagel-ria.
And that was that.
"Oh, hey. Can I borrow your red heels for tonight?"
Chloe nodded. "Sure. But you might want to bring along your rubber boots," she advised as she leaned into her cousin's embrace. "The forecast is calling for rain."