A/N: This is in response to Trisha's challenge, although I don't think it's exactly what she had in mind. This isn't beta'd and I wrote it in a flurry of inspiration, so there's a good chance there will be mistakes. Here you go!
At the Day's End
The sun's slowly creeping down the horizon, signaling the end of yet another day as the still active city is bathed in a warm glow of reds and oranges. It's a sight that has become familiar, maybe even more so than anything else in this world. Still, it never fails to hold the rapt attention of the most powerful man to ever live and in the same instant steal his breath.
Even as the years passed and the surrounding view slowly developed into something different, Clark would find himself in this same, never altering spot, staring out as the city he called home was touched by the hands of time.
Lois had once commented that he liked the symbolism of it all more than the actual view. At the time, he had laughed good naturedly at her sarcastic wit, now though, he wonders if she had been serious. Long after those words were spoken, he realizes the truth hidden in their depths. Thinking back to that sunny afternoon so long ago, Clark feels a light chuckle rumble through his chest, still amazed at her ability to make the most intuitve comments under the guise of a joke. It was a gift he only recently discovered she had used often with him through the years.
Sometimes, in quiet moments like this, Clark can't help but laugh at the thought of all the things he's failed to notice in his lifetime. Lois sure as hell never could keep from snickering at his oblivious ways, but never before she pointed them out to him with an eye roll and put upon sigh. Still though, he likes to believe that if something truly mattered, he'd notice- eventually.
Sighing to himself, Clark drank in the vision of color in the sky, knowing he would have to wait another long day before he could find this moment of solace once again. In only a few short minutes, he would have to return to his life, and the responsibilities that came with it.
The world couldn't afford a hero that ignored his duties, but he thinks he's earned this small reprieve. Besides, if they need him, they know where to find him. He's never been unpredictable and this has become his nightly routine that no one dares to impede upon. It's an unspoken agreement and Clark thinks that they understand; now more than ever, he needs this.
Before his mind can process what's wrong, Clark feels himself stiffen at the subtle changes in the air around him, alerting him to an intrusion on his moment of quite reflection.
In an instant, the moment of tranquility is shattered and gone are all traces of the vulnerable man that stood gazing out at the city. In his place is the hero that the world has come to depend on, ready to fight any possible threat.
Instead of facing an unknown enemy, Clark blinks back his surprise at the sight that meets his wide eyes.
His first love. His first heartbreak. The woman that had such an impact on his youthful days standing there, a small smile touching her lips as she gazes at him with an expression of joy and relief. Her eyes linger on his outfit, briefly flickering to the red cape that flaps in the breeze.
She looks the same as he remembers from those last days they spent together, the years apparently slipping past her with no consequence. "Hi."
It's so simple, and yet holds so many unspoken words that Clark feels his head start to pound. That's something he remembers clearly about her, how nothing could ever be as it seemed. There were always hidden meanings and puzzles that he had to figure out. Today though, he doesn't bother to try and simply nods his response.
Apparently this is the only acknowledgement she needs, because suddenly she's moving forward, her arms stretching toward him. Before she can reach him, Clark instinctively takes a step back, the memory of the agonizing pain her nearness brought in their last moments together making him wary. It's not a sensation he wants to relive and even with the hurt look that crosses her features, Clark can't bring himself to step closer.
Biting her lip, she takes a hesitant step forward and her hand reaches out to stop his retreat. "It's okay, Clark."
Instead of processing what that could possibly mean, a frown mars his features at the casual use of his real name. Even out of the public eye, it's too dangerous. Years ago, it had become the first rule to form; walls have ears and even the most secluded areas can have spies lurking in the shadows. Everyone privileged with such sensitive information lives by the rules that have come to pass.
It takes a moment, but Clark realizes that she's not part of his inner circle anymore and wasn't around to see the birth of the code he had a hand in creating. She may know his secret, but the rest of his life is no longer within her realm of knowledge.
He doesn't know what she's expecting him to say, but his lack of response is obviously putting her ill at ease. In the silence, she shivers and wraps protective arms around herself, eyes holding a haunted look as she takes in their surroundings.
Suddenly Clark realizes that it's not his silence that's making her uncomfortable, but being in this place again, almost as though it's a scene from her worst nightmare.
Clark can't stop the frown that touches his face at this realization, because this place has become the fixture of so many moments in his life. All of them different, but most with the same person.
Maybe it's weird that one spot can hold so many memories, good and bad, but he likes it. There's something comforting about being able to look around him and remember flashes of anger, passion, laughter or just stolen moments of intimacy.
This is his haven, he thinks. As he listens to the cars honk in the distance, and the people far below him on the street shouting angry insults, Clark can't help grinning inwardly. He had always thought the farm would be his personal sanctum, but this is where he found out what that truly meant.
When he first revealed this fact to Lois, she had found it hilarious that her farmboy left the quiet country life and found peace in the always bustling city. He remembers how she laughed until he finally had enough and looped his arms around her waist before taking off into the sky. She hadn't complained, and when she snuggled into his arms, he knew that maybe he had been wrong about where his haven really was.
Within a second, he's back in the present and looking expectantly at his first love. She's here for a reason, and as the sun slowly dips lower, all he can think about is the lovely display he's missing.
She gets the hint and doesn't try to approach him as she speaks this time, though her eyes hold a longing in them that Clark thinks was always there- even when they were a couple. He doesn't have a chance to piece over this new puzzle, because she's talking, her voice hopeful. "We don't need to worry, not anymore. I'm cured, Clark."
There's a pause, as though she thinks he's going to do more than give her a gentle smile. He doesn't know what she's waiting for, because he really is happy for her. A flash of what can only be considered disappointment crosses her face, and then she's speaking again, slower this time. "All these years, I've been searching for a way- and I finally found a doctor that could fix our problem."
Clark's mind whirls at the thought, because if she's found a cure from the infection his home planet caused, then maybe there's hope for so many other people that have been written off as lost causes. He's already forming a plan, calculating just how to put it into motion when he notices that Lana is staring at him.
At the lack of joyous celebration her revelation has invoked, Lana tilts her head to side, a patient smile touching her lips as she explains what this means. "We can be together now."
The words that at one time would have hit him like a ton of bricks, sending him in a tailspin of confusion and hope, now do nothing but make his brow furrow. Maybe he was naive, but it didn't cross his mind that this was the reason behind her sudden return.
He should have known though, Clark realizes now, because really, everytime she's ever reappeared in his life, it's been for this reason- and long ago, it probably would have been his first thought too, but even if time doesn't seem to have effected her, it's touched every aspect of his life.
He's not the boy that she once knew and Clark can see that these changes in him still haven't registered with the woman in front of him.
"Lana." His voice holds none of the relief that she has dreamed of all these years, but as his eyes drift down to his hand, she thinks she understands what his hesitance is about.
"I heard…" The rest of her sentence catches in her throat. Even after all these years of coping with the news, she still can't speak the words. Instead, her eyes slide meaningfully down to where his were resting a moment ago, the glint of gold making her heart clench painfully. Before the same feelings of betrayal can seep into this moment, she's brushing the past aside, granting absolution to the man she's longed for from his ultimate crime against their love. "I was gone, and I know it seemed hopeless. You were lonely, so you moved on. I get that, Clark. I do."
At her obvious show of forgiveness, Clark's head shoots up, the words swirling around him and stinging his skin like a dozen pinpricks.
Out of everything he's ever done in his life, his marriage is the one thing that he's never even thought to regret. In fact, he's always viewed it as his saving grace, because he still can't imagine how his life would have been any other way. That Lana feels it's something she should forgive him for only emphasizes how she doesn't know the man he's become. And maybe, Clark muses, she never even knew the boy he once once, because no matter how young and foolhardy he was, he could never have considered Lois Lane to be second best.
There are a thousand ways to enlighten this fact to his ex-girlfriend, and even though all of them would get the point across, Clark doesn't feel the need to prove anything to her. It's not her opinion that matters and even though it baffles him that anyone could harbor the possibility, he knows with absolute certainty that Lois never did, and that's enough to calm down his churning stomach.
Reigning in his inner turmoil, Clark's returns his attention back to the woman that's now staring at him with wide disbelieving eyes, her pale face scrunched up in despair. Clark briefly wonders just what his face has revealed, but whatever she had seen, clearly it was enough to force Lana to settle on a conclusion she never thought possible.
Clark sighs, and once again thinks about how he should learn to curb his reactions. It had always been a point of amusement for Lois that he was such an open book, her teasing nature never failing to linger on the fact that such a terrible liar protected the biggest secrets the universe held.
There's a strain in the air that wasn't there only a minute earlier and not for the first time, Clark wishes he was alone on this rooftop with nothing but his memories to keep him company, but since that's not an option right now, he waits.
It doesn't take long, Lana is pulling herself together in record time, recovering from the blow she's been dealt with dignity as her eyes blink back moisture. Her voice is softer than it's been tonight and she takes a small step closer to him. "I wanted to be there for you after..."
She doesn't need to finish her sentence, because he knows what she's referring to and Clark feels the dull ache in his heart flare up even as his mind mockingly whispers one question.
It's not as though her presence would have helped. If there's one thing he's learned, there's little that can ease the pain he carries with him moment to moment, and he knows instinctively that no matter how hard Lana tried, she would have failed.
He doesn't know how to explain to her that she's not the one he would have moved heaven and hell to see for just one more second, the one that he still thinks of the instant anything noteworthy happens during his day. No, Lana Lang is not the woman he dreams of every night, and consumes his every waking thought. At one time, maybe, but even then, Clark thinks it was a childish notion his mind clung to instead of a flesh and blood person.
A start of surprise jerks Clark back to the moment as he feels a tear slip unhindered down his cheek, and he wonders why it still hurts just as much now as it did those first few weeks. Sometimes, he thinks it gets worse as time goes by.
"…god, I'm so sorry, Clark." Lana whispers, her arms aching to pull him to her.
Is she?, Clark can't stop the bitter thought from crossing his mind, and he feels detached from the situation as he wonders if Lana would have been willing to broach this topic if the conversation had gone as she planned. He doesn't think so, and it irritates Clark that in her mind, this is just something that can be brushed aside.
As quickly as his anger rises, it's falling again. Lately nothing can hold a reaction in him for long, and he thinks it's probably for the best in a situation like this.
If Lana noticed his brief spark of anger, she's not deterred and as she takes another step closer, bringing herself within arms reach of him, Clark thinks that she's finally getting back to the point of why she's here. "Nine years is a long time."
"An eternity some days…" Clark whispers to himself, his eyes settling once again on his left hand. In this place, so far away from the rest of the world, it's the only time that such precious gold is allowed see the same light of day as flowing red. "…and others, nothing but a split second."
"It doesn't have to be this hard." She pauses, her eyes taking on a pleading note as she gazes up at him. "Clark, I'm here for you."
Understanding dawns on Clark, her meaning ringing clearly in his ears.
She's waiting for him to cave into his grief, Clark knows; his fear of being alone her greatest ally at this point. He loved Lana once, and maybe being with her would take away the stab of lonliness that has become his constant companion, but it doesn't matter what arguments she's prepared to throw his way, because anything not with Lois will always be a fraud. Most of his youth had been spent in search of true, everlasting love, and now that he's experienced it, he refuses to belittle what he had by settling for a pale imitation.
"Goodbye Lana." His tone is firm, holding an undercurrent of steel and he can see the shock that spreads across her pretty features.
Lana wasn't expecting this outcome, he knows that, and as her face registers the futality of trying to fight his decision, Clark gives her one last nod of goodbye before turning on his heel to watch the last few rays of light fade into darkness.
For a few seconds, she's frozen in place, staring at the straight line of his back, her breaths coming out in short gasps, but there's no wavering in his resolve.
Her broken sob reaches his ears, and then she's gone. Unlike all their other goodbyes, Clark doesn't feel sadness, only a faint stirring of hope. It's never been more obvious than right now that Lana's never had a chance to experience true love- not like he has, and Clark hopes that she'll be able to let go of him enough to discover what she's been missing all this time.
As the last lingering traces of light are replaced by bright stars sparkling above him, Clark bids goodbye to this place one more time, his mind already anticipating his return. Shooting into the sky, Clark looks down at his hand, his fingers gently rubbing over the gold band, feeling the same thrill as the first time the cold ring was lovingly slid onto his finger.
In a world that thrives on change, it's comforting that there are some things that will always remain the same.