"You see?" Lois asked her cousin, both radiant and ready for a night out. "He does this all the time!" She folded her arms, covering her chest, her eyes blazing angrily.
"Well, Lois, maybe he got held up." Chloe replied, rubbing Lois' arm comfortingly. "Clark is never on time either." Clark and Chloe were chaperoning the middle school dance, since Martha was out of town, and Bruce and Lois were going as well, for moral support.
"Well," Kara said, dipping into a bowl of cereal, her hair pulled away from her face in a pony tail, which then been separated into thick curlers. Lois had put some subtle makeup on her, giving her the appearance of being older. "Clark isn't late this time." She smiled loyally at her cousin. "and he has something to say.."
"Thanks, Kara." Clark smiled, and Kara grinned back. "Aren't you supposed to be getting ready? Maybe minding your own business?" Their smiles were identical, and Chloe loved the sight of it. Being an only child was fine, Chloe thought, but seeing Clark with Kara made her wonder what it might have been like to have a sister. Clark was fidgeting in his pocket with something, and Kara snickered, moving away with her cereal, the cuffs of her pajama pants dragging on the floor.
"What do you have to say, Clarkie." Lois turned, one eyebrow raised, to look at Clark. He frowned good naturedly at Lois and took Chloe's hand.
"Nothing for you to hear." He replied, pulling Chloe to the porch, ignoring Kara's squeal and thunderous footsteps to the window.
"What is it, Clark?" Chloe asked gently, looking up at him. "You don't look good."
"I'm fine." Clark took her hands. "Listen, Chloe, I want to tell you something. We've been through a lot these last few months. And I know you say we are too young for a commitment as big as being engaged. I don't blame you, and I don't think you are wrong." He smiled. "Thing is, we are. I asked the Archive about a Dedication and it's the same thing as being engaged here, except there is a five year period between that day and a marriage. It's binding." Clark reached into his pocket. "Wear it or not. It's up to you, Chloe, but once it goes on, it can't come off. That's what Khyla told me when she wore it." He handed her a bracelet, making no attempt to presume to put it on her.
"It's identical to the ones I wore on Krypton, Clark." Chloe whispered, turning it over in her hands, the cool metal refreshing her skin as purely as water. "It's beautiful."
"It's yours. The other one is, under construction." Clark smiled, rubbing the back of his neck. "I have it up at the Fortress with some silver, trying to copy it. The Archive is giving me the directions."
"Oh, Clark." Chloe stepped up and kissed him softly. "I don't believe it."
"Believe it." He smiled. "I almost failed metal shop, too." She grinned, her eyes sparkling as she slid the bracelet on her wrist. Surprisingly, there was no great reaction, and Chloe frowned down at it.
"I don't feel any different." She said, disappointed and Clark laughed.
"What did you expect, Chloe? To be able to fly?" He touched her cheek gently. As he touched her, the stones in her necklace and bracelet glowed.
"Whoa," Chloe gasped, and hearing Kara giggle from the window, she smiled, biting her lip. "Wonder what that means."
"We'll have to ask the Archive later." Clark smiled, leaning down to kiss her softly, only to be interrupted by the sharp beep of a car horn. The car rolled to a stop, and Bruce got out, perfectly in control as always, but Clark could detect an edge of something off about his friend. Bruce came up the stairs, and looked in the window at Kara.
"You aren't ready for the ball, Boss." He said, pointing at his watch. "Come on, I think I saw your date riding down the road on a Vespa."
"OHMIGOD!" Kara squealed, darting up the stairs at a human girl's long legged pace. Clark laughed, knowing that her super speed would have her ready in no time, and that a half hour delay would only be for appearances. No sooner had she disappeared up the stairs but Dick Grayson appeared on his scooter, dressed more like a prep school boy than a world travelled performer. A small clear box from the florist in town made Chloe smile, squeezing Clark's hand. He looked down at her, smiling too. It didn't seem like all that long ago that they had gone to the spring formal back in freshman year. But all the same, they had grown up quite a bit, and now Dick Grayson was walking up the path to the farm house. He smiled nervously at Clark and nodded.
"Hi." He waved with the corsage, and Chloe smiled, putting her hand over her mouth to stop the giggle. "Is Kara ready?"
"Yeah, but you're not going to be able to take her on the scooter." Clark eyed the red scooter and nodded toward Bruce's rented car. "You guys will come with Chloe and I."
Dick nodded, swallowing, and then, reached up and unbuttoned his top collar button. "Thanks." Dick walked past them and into the house, where he was met by Bruce and Lois. As was their habit, they were bickering pleasantly about lateness and phone calls. Bruce quickly looked the boy over, barely turning his head. He seemed fine, well dressed and polite. Clark and Chloe had come in behind him, and at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. The first thing anyone saw were silver strappy sandals, and then the soft deep blue of her skirt. Chloe held her breath and saw Lois cross her fingers. The dress had been an accidental find at a vintage store in Metropolis, dark blue silk gauze, exactly the shade of Kara's forget me not eyes, it's neckline off the shoulder but not at all immodest, and the sleeves were right out of a fairy tale. Finally, Kara came entirely into view, and Chloe and Lois grinned at the collective gasp the three young men exhaled as she smiled at them from the steps. Her long silver blond hair was a cascade of soft curls. She was absolutely beautiful.
"Wow." Dick said, staring up at her transfixed. The word seemed to break the spell for Clark and Bruce, both of whom moved toward Kara to take her hand and lead her from the stairs, but the younger boy was faster, and soon, Kara's radiant smile was nearly blinding.
"Thank you." She said, looking at Chloe and Lois. "I would have never found it on my own."
"You look amazing." Clark smiled, and Kara winked at him. "Ready to go?"
"Yes." Dick and Kara said at once and they all laughed together. Things could not be more perfect.
Later, as the music played and young couples danced, Bruce watched Kara closely. He hadn't pulled the data from the mp3 player yet, but seeing Dr. Starke and the little girl had been enough for Bruce. The child was a perfect duplicate of Kara. Except for something Bruce had a hard time defining. Karen, as the Doctor had named her, was slightly lighter completed, her hair a slightly deeper shade of gold. The eyes were the same shade but just a little differently shaped. Looking around the room, Bruce spotted several girls with the same hair color, other with the same complexion. He scanned the room until his eye fell on Chloe. She was talking to a teacher and laughed. It was the smile that made him stop, not because he found Chloe attractive, but because the smile of little Karen Starke was identical to Chloe's. Bruce felt in his pocket confirming the presence of the mp3 player. There would be plenty of time tomorrow to go over all of this data. A little frisson of chatter made him look up. Kara and Dick were dancing, and Bruce felt himself smile a little. Not too many people had gotten under his skin since his parents died, but since coming to Smallville, several had, and this little girl was one. He looked at the boy with her, and sighed. Good luck, kid, he thought, watching how Dick leaned in to whisper in Kara's ear, and how she smiled back up at him.
"You look all mushy and sentimental." Lois said, and Bruce nodded.
"I like to appear that way from time to time. Makes people feel more comfortable." He said, looking at her. An eyebrow raised over her dark hazel eyes.
"You can't fool me." She replied with a smile, "You are a softie at heart."
"Right, Lois. You figured me out." Bruce kissed her cheek. " You and Alfred."
"Good." She grinned wider, and leaned her head on his shoulder.
"You look amazing." Dick said, and Kara rolled her eyes.
"I hate these shoes." She winced, and kicked them off, pushing them across the dance floor to where Chloe and Clark stood. Relief flooded her face, and she grinned up at Dick. "I like being shorter than you."
He smiled back, unsure of what to say, and then, "I'm glad I invited you. Will you keep in touch after we leave Smallville? I…well, I just don't want to lose touch."
"Me neither." She looked sad. "I'll definitely keep in touch."
"Good." Dick smiled, and then, feeling brave, pulled her just slightly closer, in spite of the warning glance from her cousin. Maybe it was the encouraging grin on Clark's girlfriend's face, Dick thought, but really, it was the girl he was dancing with. Throwing all caution to the wind, Dick smiled and kissed Kara. Just once, and quickly. She blushed, and smiled gently, bringing head down on his shoulder. They didn't need to say anything, and they both knew it.
Clark started, and Chloe pulled him back. "Whoa, there, big fella, where are you going?"
"I was going to cut in…" Clark looked over at Kara, and then back at Chloe. He grinned ruefully. "Too much?"
"Just a little." Chloe laughed. "Let her be happy, Clark."
"Right." Clark exhaled, nodding. "She's not going to be ours long, is she?"
"Kara will always be yours, Clark." Chloe said, "Family is family."
Epilogue – Nine years later:
He sat alone in the dark conference room, the little box on the table before him. Oliver and John had left him to be alone with his thoughts. It had been news that was hard to take, and worse, terrible news he had now to deliver to his wife and mother. They would never see her again, never hear her laugh, never see her fly through the sky like a blaze of stray sunlight. Worse still, Clark felt the pain he'd been so accustomed to as a child, and one he'd forgotten when she came – that isolated, alone feeling. The only true Kryptonian left. Clark gasped, dropping his head to the polished table. Kara had grown up, and had gone, to find her own destiny. She was in love. And in the thoughtlessness of youth, had only said the briefest of goodbyes.
The doors behind him slid open, and Clark could hear Bruce whispering to someone, someone Clark first assumed was Diana Prince. Instead, the footsteps were silent, as silent as Bruce's own, perhaps even more so. They were the footsteps of someone long used to walking lightly. Dick Grayson sat down beside Clark and looked at the holobox on the table.
"Ollie said she left this." Dick said, picking it up to examine it. "I'm sorry, Clark. I don't know what to say."
"I know." Clark sat up, attempting to look 'super' again. "Go ahead, watch it."
Dick carefully set the box down on the table and pulled off the black mask he wore around his eyes, rubbing them to clear the emotion from them, another trick learned from Bruce. "I don't think I can. I mean, she and I...well, I know we were over a long time ago, but Kara will always be special to me. She was a good friend."
"Yeah, it's like that." Clark smiled, "Growing up stinks."
Dick smiled and nodded. "It sure does."
The doors opened again, and when the woman entered, Dick stood.
"Sit, sit." Her voice was so familiar and yet so different, that Clark turned to make sure. Karen Starke stood there, out of uniform and lost looking. Her short hair was in ruffled, and her smile was Kara's but older. "Hey." But as always, after a moment, Clark could see a flickering trace of his mother in law across Karen's features. Lex hadn't counted on the subtle influence of the human DNA during his cloning process, but Clark was thrilled for it.
"Hi." Clark felt his eyes fill and he shook his head. "Man of steel, my butt."
"I'll tell Chloe you said that." Karen smiled, sitting down. "You okay?"
"No." Clark said. Dick sniffled himself, and Karen laughed.
"I don't know how I know, of course, but she's fine. Happy and fine. I gotta admit, I might even be jealous. Ollie told me that the future Brainy was pretty cute."
Clark and Dick looked at each other and then at Karen, who smiled gently at them shrugging her shapely shoulders. "Sorry. Look, she was lonely here, Clark. For so long, too. When I showed up, she was thrilled. We could at least be friends, neither of us really having anyone…" Karen paused. "I had been waiting to take her out for her birthday…"
"With Oliver and Dinah." Clark nodded. "I know."
"You know, Clark, it's okay that she chose this." Karen said gently.
"I know." Clark said, "It's selfish, but I'm going to miss her."
"Me too." Karen hugged herself. "Me too."
Dick stood, clearing his throat. "I…well, I'd better go. Star and the others.."
"Right," Karen agreed. She walked to stand next to Dick. "You'll be okay?"
"Yeah." Clark nodded, looking out at the stars. "Tell Bruce to come in, would you?"
"You got it, Big Blue." Dick smiled. "See you later."
"Karen?" Clark called again, and she turned, all at once so like Kara that Clark felt his throat close. "Come for dinner. The whole family will be at the Sullivans. You aren't alone."
She stood there, and then smiled, Chloe's funny wide grin and nodded. "I'd really like that, Clark. Thanks. I'll be there." She waved, and walked out of the conference room.
After a few moments, Bruce entered, menacing in his cowl and cape. "Come on, Clark. Why not call it a day? Been through enough, I think."
"It's been awhile since I allowed myself to be miserable." Clark said, smiling. "You should be proud of me."
"Well." Bruce came to stand beside him at the window. "I never thought I'd rub off on you that much." He chuckled, looking out at the stars. "Remember what you told me when Dick went off on his own? First with the Titans and now with the Outsiders?"
"Refresh my memory." Clark leaned against the clear window. But he already knew. It was one of those moments that his dad's platitudes had seemed to make sense, so Clark steeled himself to hear it again.
"They have to choose their own path." Bruce said, "You told Diana that when Donna took off, too."
"I have a big mouth." Clark laughed, and Bruce nodded. "I should shut up more."
"But you were right, Clark. Granted, I never would have dreamed Kara would leave the entire century, but you people never do anything small, either." Bruce shook his head. "I'm going to miss my Boss though."
"Dinner at the Sullivans tonight. Can you make it?" Clark asked, and Bruce nodded.
"I'll call L.J., tell her to get there. She's digging Lucy out of some hassle in Edge City. Mixed up with Lucas Luthor or something." Bruce said, "It's always something with the Lane girls, you know that."
"Nice." Clark laughed. "Go figure."
"Yeah." Bruce clasped Clark on the shoulder. "I'll see you later."
"Okay." Clark said, and when Bruce was gone, Clark flew off also, knowing he could get there and back in time for dinner.
The Fortress glowed in the late day light, and Clark felt his breath catch, knowing that she wouldn't be there, but someone else was waiting for her. He flew into the fortress and was greeted by the large white dog that had come to rule the roost here at the Fortress. The useless red cape Kara had made for him hung around his neck, but even with the silly thing, Clark had to admit, Krypto had turned into one fine dog.
"Down, Krypto." Clark said, and the dog sat obediently, expectantly. "No, boy, she's not coming. She's gone, out into the future. With a Brainiac. A real one."
Krypto, understanding, hung his head. He looked up and howled, one long burst of sound that Clark swore sounded like a human moan. Sinking to his knees, Superman hugged the grieving animal and they both cried together, for the loss of their girl to her future. The nest was empty. The Fledgling grown into a glorious bird never meant for this Earth at all. After a long while, Clark stood, and the archive showed him the galaxy Kara had chosen for her new home. Looking out at the star system, Clark took out the metal plate that his uncle had sent with her, the benediction and plea. He ran a hand over the inscription, and then spoke aloud, in flawless Kryptonian.
"Out there, you will find my beloved cousin, Kara Zor-El
from the now dead planet Krypton and of Earth,
Treat her as you would your dearest child, for you will see
A treasure she will be, for your world."
Chloe stood on the porch of her parents house, waiting. No one had to tell her that something was wrong. The crystal that had been given to her so long ago by Lara had imparted the information, and Chloe had wept by herself in the barn loft. She had not told Martha, or her parents. The news would be better heard by the whole group. Clark flew in, and landed silently in the front yard, Krypto at his side. He'd changed out of uniform, and Chloe smiled to see the familiar blue plaid shirt and jeans. He was in disarray emotionally and physically. She went to him, closing the distance in three or four steps.
"Hi." Chloe said, looking up at him. "I'm so sorry, Clark."
Clark reached into his pocket and handed Chloe the holo cube. "Turn it around and then open it."
"Out here?" Chloe took the cube. "Did you see it already?"
"The part meant for me. Go ahead."
Chloe shrugged and opened the box. Kara, all of twenty three, and grinning happily waved.
"Hi, Chloe. By now, Clark has told you about me going, and I want you all to know that I miss you all already." Kara wiped her eyes. "But, this is so the right thing for me – to get out of from Clark's long, long shadow. I already know what is going to happen with your children, so I can tell you, I'm pretty darn proud." She grinned. "That's all I'm going to say. I don't want to pollute the time stream or anything. Please tell Bruce and L.J. that I miss them too. But look…" She reached out of the frame and pulled in a tall, blond handsome young man, and smiled up at him. "This is Brainy. I know Clark will be upset, but he's not like Brainiac in your time." He waved awkwardly, and Kara poked him. "Be nice, Brainy, this is going to the closest thing to parents I have. Isn't he cute? Anyway, I just want you both to know that I love you guys so much." The message ended, and Chloe looked up at Clark sadly.
"The closest thing to parents." She whispered, her hand going to her stomach, that had not even begun to swell yet. "Clark, I…"
"Yeah." Clark nodded, taking the box back. "I'm going to miss her too. It's a good thing, Chloe. I realized that up at the Fortress." Clark put his arms around his wife and sighed. "I'd have done the same thing."
"You would have?" They walked to the house, and Chloe smiled. "For me?"
"Absolutely." Clark smiled back. "Every time."
Today was not the day for her news, but the fact that Kara knew already was something Chloe was thankful for. Tomorrow, Chloe would tell Clark about the babies, the miracle twins they never dreamed they could actually have. And he would not be alone anymore.