Chapter 9: Game Changer
You're always there when I need you, Clark. I just hope, someday, I can do the same for you. – Chloe Sullivan; from Onyx
Kal-El took Chloe's hand in his own and gave it an affectionate, approving squeeze. Chloe responded to him with a small but warm smile.
"All right, then. I still insist that Ms. Sullivan remain here under observation for at least the next twenty-four hours. So that we may be certain there are no residual effects from any of her ordeals," Brainiac 5 said, emphasizing the plural. "And, I want you, Kal-El, to immediately report it to me if you experience anything out of the ordinary. There is no indication of anything wrong with you, now, but that is not to say there isn't any risk that you could develop a problem in the future. As I warned, the effects of kryptonite are highly unpredictable, even if initially subtle."
"Is any of that really necessary, Brainy?" Kal-El protested.
"Yes, it is—all of it." Brainiac 5 asserted. With a sigh, Kal-El tacitly agreed. Brainiac 5 addressed Chloe once again, "Perhaps you'd like to freshen up. There's a private bath over there," Brainiac 5 informed Chloe, pointing to another section of the infirmary, "There are fresh towels and clothing on the wall rack. Why don't the rest of you give her some privacy?"
As the others headed for the door, Diana rubbed Chloe's shoulder, saying, "It's good to have you back, Chloe." Chloe smiled to her as Diana followed the rest. As all but Brainaic 5 filed out of the infirmary, Kal-El turned back to Chloe and cautioned her, "Be careful, Chlo. Remember, you don't know your own strength anymore." With a mischievous grin, Kal-El exited the infirmary.
"Brainy?" she taunted with a derisive grin as she repeated the moniker at Brainiac 5. The living machine did not move or respond in the least way. Nonetheless, Chloe was satisfied that she'd gotten her dig in. Chloe shifted her body to dangle her legs over the edge of the platform-bed and slid off of it. When her feet made contact with the floor, she went off in the direction that Braniac 5 had indicated. As she approached a door marked "Medical Personnel Only," Chloe considered Kal-El's last words to her. She paused before the door, her thoughts suddenly filled with images of unintentionally reducing soap bars to fine powder in her hands, accidently ripping tap handles from the walls, and having to resort to crushing and/or twisting the water faucet to stop the flow of water. With some trepidation she pushed the door open and entered the bath.
It turned out that her anxieties were unfounded. The shower mechanisms were voice-activated, including setting the water temperature, pressure, and even the percent soap solution dispensed during the washing "program." The 31st century definitely had its advantages. Yet, even as one set of immediate concerns evaporated, they were replaced with a whole set of new, more long-term ones. Even as she welcomed the glorious feel of hot water splashing over her naked body, even as she was determined to fulfill her promise and see all of this through to the end with Clark and Diana and J'onn and the Legion, even then she could not help but wonder, What have I gotten myself into?
Later, after she had washed, dried, and changed into a new set of hospital clothing, Chloe made her way back across the infirmary, still drying her hair as she returned to her bed. Wringing the last of the water droplets from her hair, Chloe let her eyes drift aimlessly through the room until they settled upon a couple of new items not seen before her shower: A dozen tulips minus one—red, yellow, and violet—had been placed in a glass vase, immersed in water contained therein, atop a small stand next to the head of her bed. Boldly exhibiting bright-red pedals, another solitary tulip—the one that, Chloe presumed, had gone missing from the rest collected in the vase—adorned her recently fluffed pillow. Providing companionship was a small card placed alongside it on the pillow's soft surface. With curiosity piqued and her eyes fixed upon the colorful newcomers, Chloe withdrew her hands from her damp strands and bade them take the lone, wayward flower that having abandoned her sisters had found its way onto her bed. Wound around its green stem, were red, gold, and blue ribbons intertwined with one another and tied into an elegant bow. Chloe's face broke out into another affectionate grin as she concluded aloud to herself, "Clark…" She picked up the card next and flipped it open to see what was within. Her grin widened and brightened as her suspicions were confirmed by its simple yet caring message written in Kal-El's own hand, "Welcome to the team. Love, Clark. P.S. I missed you." Putting her palm gently to their soft pedals, she lowered her head to the tulips in the vase and breathed in their pleasing aroma. "Tulips…my favorite. He remembered," Chloe said to herself. She climbed back into bed and, still smiling, brought the decorated blossom to her nose, sampled its sweet fragrance, and then reread the contents of the card.
What Chloe did not notice was the figure in the doorway watching her closely. With one hand on his hip and his other forearm above his head resting on the doorframe, Kal-El leaned against the side of the doorway observing Chloe. As he did, his thoughts turned to what he'd done in the short time since seeing her again: The incident with the door at Belle Reve, the amazing kiss they'd shared at the top of Legion HQ (although admittedly, Kal-El had done most of the sharing), the thrill and joy of just being able to hold her to him again, knowing she was safe in his arms. He couldn't help but wonder where this was going? Was it wise to indulge his feelings? Follow them to their logical end? As far as Chloe was concerned, she was still a married woman. She didn't remember anything about her husband's death, at least not now. But, the strength of those feelings, the intensity of them, they surprised even him. Kal-El hadn't expected to feel this way. Diana was right. He wasn't used to feeling much of anything anymore. And even though she'd given him every reason to, every opportunity, he'd never felt this strongly about Chloe before…had he? It all seemed so long ago. It all was so long ago. He didn't know what to think. Only that he couldn't ignore what he felt.
Kal-El stood upright on his own two feet and brought his arm down from the doorframe and back to his side. It was still early morning, and he had to get this day started. There was a lot of work to do. Chloe would need a room and clothes. The Legion needed to be prepped to meet with her. And Connor. There were all kinds of arrangements to be made. Maybe his thoughts would become clearer once he began to work with Chloe and the Legion. Perhaps then he could make sense of all this. He took one last, long look at Chloe already asleep again and was about to turn around to leave when something happened.
Kal-El's surroundings seemed to very suddenly and completely shift. He no longer appeared to be in the Legion Headquarters' infirmary, at all. And, despite it being quite impossible, he nevertheless did know exactly where he was now. He was still in a hospital, just the wrong one. There was no mistaking the halls of Smallville Medical Center. At least, the way they looked a thousand years ago.
His clothing had changed, too, all on their own. Gone was his trademark Superman costume. In its place, Kal-El—or should we say Clark—wore a different trademark of his: a button-down, flannel shirt that was mostly red with narrow green and white stripes arranged in a cross pattern. Over that, he wore a solid-dark-blue, zip-up jacket. Clark patted down his shirt and grasped the flaps of his jacket, just to make sure they were real, as he looked down in alarm at denim jeans and sneakers.
There was no warning. No optical or auditory phenomena. No perceivable indication of teleportation or time-travel. In the blink of an eye, everything was different. Clark looked through the open blinds of the nearest window into the room beyond. On the other side, he saw Chloe. She was in bed, tucked under blankets, and wore a lemon-yellow hospital gown. She was the exact distance away from him now as she had been (will be?) from him at the Legion's infirmary. The moment Clark laid eyes on Chloe, all feelings of disorientation, surprise, confusion, and apprehension along with all awareness and memories of the future vanished as quickly as his previous environment had done. He knew where he was, why he was there, and what he intended to do now. Being there was totally natural and expected, as if this moment had already been scripted, and he was there simply to fulfill a role that had been chosen for him. Almost of their own volition, Clark's feet carried him to the door, which he then opened and walked through. He approached Chloe's bed and sat down at the foot of it. As he did, he spoke, "Hey."
"Hey," Chloe answered after a brief pause.
"How're you feeling?" Clark asked with some concern.
"Finally made the Wall of Weird. Hah…" Chloe tried to lighten the mood with.
Clark smiled a wide grin at that, chuckled quietly, looked down and away, gave his head a nod, and turned back to look at her, saying, "Congratulations."
"I heard about that thing they extracted from me," Chloe continued, then lifted her head and swallowed, "Did they get a picture I can see?"
"You don't need to see it," Clark warned as he winced with disgust.
"It's gross?" Chloe asked, her own face following in kind.
Nodding his head rapidly, Clark agreed, "Pretty bad."
"Pete's okay; he'll be fine," Clark reassured.
Clark then broached next, "So, what do you remember about what happened?"
Chloe looked down in thought for a brief moment and then met Clark's eyes again. "Pretty much everything, I think. Especially the part about you being from another planet, and that's the reason why—not the meteor rocks—you can do all the amazing things you can, like invulnerability, super-speed, heat vision…did I leave anything out?"
"No, that about covers it," Clark confirmed, not sure whether he was relieved or terrified.
"So, that would then make you like an…" Chloe mouthed the first syllable of the word "alien" but couldn't quite say it.
"Yeah," Clark confirmed again.
Chloe took on a look of unabashed amazement and disbelief. Unable to quite get out what she wanted to say (or even sure of what she did want to say), she raised her hand and began gesturing in the air as if that would enable her to formulate a coherent sentence, "Uh…but you…you look so…"
"Human?" Clark finished for her. It was unusual for Chloe Sullivan to be stunned to utter silence, but this seemed to qualify as one such rare occasion. Clark couldn't tell by her face if she was afraid, repulsed, or simply floored at the revelation she received. He turned to look off to the side and slightly down at the floor before reminding her of a simple fact, "I'm still the same person."
Chloe blinked several times before finally saying, "Clark, I…I…" She breathed an awkward laugh and tried again. "I think you're so amazing. You save people's lives and take zero credit for it. To me you're more than just a hero. You're a superhero," she declared with a slight smile replacing her previous stunned look.
"Chloe…" Clark began, shaking his head, unconvinced by the faith she placed in him.
"No, I'm serious, Clark," Chloe insisted, "If more humans were like you, the world would be a better place." Clark just looked at her. She is serious…She really means it, Clark thought to himself. He smiled a little at that. Chloe smiled right back. At that point, Clark couldn't help but smile full at her.
Feeling the need to justify herself on one particular point, Chloe revealed, "You know, Clark, back at the barn you mentioned how you were surprised that I hadn't figured out your secret already. In my defense, I did always have my suspicions—the quick exits, the miraculous recoveries, the lame excuses—even if I did need to see you catch…a falling car by the bumper with your bare hands like it was a beach ball…to kind of confirm everything. But, watching you do it through the windshield from the front seat of said car—that just shot the 'wow' factor into the stratosphere." Chloe paused before asking, "Does anyone else know? Your secret, I mean?"
Clark shook his head, "Just Pete…and Mom and Dad, of course."
"Well, I want you to know that I will never be the iceberg to your Titanic. And, your secret will never, ever leave my lips. No matter what," Chloe continued, "I will never let anyone hurt you in the only way they could. You protect all of us everyday. I will always protect you." Chloe reached to take Clark's hand in her own. "I'm proud of our friendship, Clark Kent. I always have been. And, knowing who you really are and what you really do, it only makes me love you more. And…it felt good to be wanted by you, even if you don't anymore," Chloe confessed.
The thing was, he did still want her, now more than ever. So, why was Chloe speaking in the past tense like it was over? Clark frowned in confusion.
"It's all right, Clark," Chloe responded, misinterpreting Clark's facial expression, "I don't expect you to reciprocate. I know where your heart lies and with whom. I just want you to know exactly how I feel. Even though you don't feel the same way about me."
That's it. Clark couldn't take anymore. In one clean, swift, continuous motion he turned in place, planted his knee on the bed for leverage, leaned into Chloe quickly, and taking her head in his hands, kissed her full on the mouth—hungrily, greedily. She was wrong. Chloe didn't know him as well as she thought she did. And she underestimated herself and what Clark was capable of feeling for her—if only she would give him a reason to. Now, she'd given him every reason to. She knew his secret—all of it—and she wasn't afraid. She didn't recoil from him in horror or look at him with fear. She had accepted it and him completely. She even praised him and reassured him and swore that she would protect and defend him no matter the cost. And in spite of everything, she proclaimed her undying love for him and expected nothing in return. It didn't take long for Chloe to respond to Clark's kiss with equal need, once she overcame the shock of suddenly and instantly finding his lips on hers. As Chloe's arms wound behind Clark's neck, his hand circled around to grasp the back of her head while his other hand circled around her back. Pulling her body up to meet his, their already passionate kiss deepened…
Kal-El came to with a feeling of disorientation, not knowing where he was or what was happening. He rubbed his eyes quickly and looked around. Now, he was standing in the doorway of the infirmary at Legion Headquarters, again. He looked across the way and saw Chloe still in bed sound asleep—the card and flower still in her loose grasp. After a moment, he shook off the feeling and considered what he'd just experienced.
Whatever it was, it was vivid and familiar and unnerving in its realness and left him with a distinct feeling of déjà vu. He was tempted to label it a flashback because it seemed like reliving a strong memory only more so. Like a waking dream or hallucination of something that happened in the past. Just one problem with that, though. That isn't the way it happened. A part of him actually wished it had. A very big part of him. A thought suddenly came to him that profoundly disturbed him, even gave him a feeling of panic. What if they had changed history? What if what he just experienced was some kind of temporal correction memory realignment that left him with false remnants of a timeline of events that never happened and now…Wait a minute. That can't be it. We went back only to the year 2029—decades after when I was in high school. There is no way we could've changed anything that far back in the past. So, then, what just happened?
"Kal?" a familiar voice called from behind him that made Kal-El jump. In his state of preoccupation, Diana had startled him. She'd noticed. "What's wrong, Kal?"
"I…I'm not sure. How long have you two been standing there?" Kal-El asked.
"A few minutes, perhaps," J'onn J'onzz answered.
"We were waiting for you," Diana explained.
"We wanted to talk," J'onn furthered.
"Did I…go…anywhere?" Kal-El tentatively put.
"Go? No. You were just standing in the doorway the whole time," Diana answered unsure of what Kal-El was getting at.
"Getting a good look at our slumbering, newest addition, I'd say," J'onn observed.
"You're sure?" Kal-El asked again.
"There's nowhere you could have gone, Kal. You didn't even move an inch," Diana reassured.
"Not an inch?" Kal-El repeated.
"Still as a statue. What's the matter?" Diana questioned yet again.
Kal-El laid the matter to rest, "Nothing. Never mind. What did you want to talk about?"
"Chloe," J'onn said.
"Of course. What else would it be?" Kal-El barely more than mumbled.
"And Connor, too," Diana clarified, "You know that Chloe's lack of memory is only a temporary reprieve. She's going to remember what she saw happen to Oliver. And, Connor's going to need to be told, too."
"I told you—I will take care of it," Kal-El insisted.
"But, you haven't, Kal," Diana observed.
"She just woke up only a little while ago," Kal-El explained, "Look, is that what this is about? You want me to give Chloe and Connor the worst news of their lives sooner rather than later?"
"No. It's about…Don't you think Chloe may have agreed to stay a bit too quickly?" Diana asked.
"No," Kal-El responded tersely.
"It's not as though she's visiting for only the week and then it's back to 2029 for her and her son. Not to mention that the fate of the galaxy is hanging in the balance," J'onn explained.
"Yeah, and she's used to that sort of thing from us," Kal-El replied undaunted.
"It took her all of sixteen seconds to decide to help us after she was attacked, watched her husband get shot and die, suffered a mental breakdown, was committed to an asylum, fell into a catatonic state followed by a coma, and woke up—in the Thirty-first Century with your powers not having remembered that Oliver is dead—to a request to help save the world from Apokolips again."
Clark stared at Diana for a full ten seconds without moving. He wasn't sure what impressed him more—that Diana was able to formulate that complete sentence in her mind or that she was able to get it all out in a single breath without missing a beat. Clark then blinked slowly and asked, "And your point is?"
"You don't think it strange that she didn't need any time to think it over? To really understand what she was getting herself and her son into before agreeing to help?" Diana asked a bit incredulous.
"No, I think Chloe's a strong, smart, heroic, independent woman who knows that she belongs with her friends who love her, especially when they need her because the survival of the world is at stake," Kal-El explained.
"Consequently, both Chloe Sullivan and Connor Hawke are now in as much danger as the rest of us," J'onn pointed out.
"What is with the two of you? This was the plan, wasn't it?" Kal-El asked nearing exasperation.
"Yes, it was. But, you know the history of the last thousand years, Kal-El, as do we, and we all know that Chloe and Connor are not part of it. Neither Chloe Sullivan nor Connor Hawke ever returned to the Twenty-first Century. Which means that either we win and they choose to stay here in the Thirty-first Century, or…" Diana put carefully.
"Or they both die here before they ever get the chance to make that choice," J'onn put bluntly.
Kal-El looked into the eyes of both of them, just so there was no mistaking that their concerns had registered with him, before he spoke, "I'm going to say this just once: Option two happens over my dead body." He turned past them and began to walk away down the hall.
"We are afraid that that too could happen, Kal-El," J'onn indicated.
Kal-El stopped, but did not turn around, and said simply, "Chloe Sullivan doesn't die. Period." Then he continued walking away toward his quarters.
Exactly twenty-four hours later, the following morning, Kal-El arrived at the infirmary again, eager to get Chloe out and work alongside her the way they had so often done in the past. He saw her wide-awake, reclining in an almost up-right position.
"Chloe?" Kal-El called as he stepped through the door.
"Clark!" Chloe responded, with a look of panic on her face.
"What is it?" Kal-El asked as he rushed to her bedside, instantly all serious.
"Get me the heck out of here!" Chloe pleaded.
"Calm down, Chloe. It can't be that bad."
"No, you don't understand, Clark. That so-called doctor, Brainiac? He hasn't let me leave this bed except to use the bathroom, and he's found and 'evaluated' parts of me that Gray's Anatomy doesn't have names for. This isn't a hospital—it's a medieval dungeon complete with torture chamber," Chloe whispered in an anxiety-ridden voice.
It was all Kal-El could do to hold back the laughter as he sat down beside Chloe on the edge of the bed, but his smile betrayed his thoughts. "You know, it is so good to have you back, Chloe."
"This isn't funny, Clark—I'm under duress here! Come on, you smuggled me out of Belle Reve. Getting me out of this place can't be any harder than that," Chloe continued her impassioned pleas.
"Here, I've got something for you that will cheer you up," Kal-El said as he offered her a tall mug filled with rich, dark, steaming liquid.
"Give it here!" Chloe cried as she took the cup into her hands with such reverence, one would think she was taking the Holy Grail itself into her hands, "I'd know that smell anywhere." She greedily began gulping her coffee down, and her demeanor completely changed as something approaching nirvana came over her, "Mmmmm. That's—"
"Mocha latte with almond-flavored syrup and extra whip cream," Kal-El completed the identification of her confection for her.
"My hero," Chloe said with a look of sheer joy and peace as she took another draught of the frothy, brownish nectar. Licking away the whipped cream from her lips, she added, "Clark, I could kiss you." Kal-El's eyes darkened considerably at Chloe's suggestion. "They still make these in the Thirty-first Century?" Chloe inquired somewhat surprised.
"Humans first started drinking coffee probably sometime in the Fifteenth Century, so I doubt it's going away any time soon. But, getting this particular blend now did take some doing. I'm glad you're enjoying it," Kal-El answered satisfactorily.
"It's heavenly. Thank you, Clark." Kal-El responded with an easy smile. Chloe looked at him and returned the smile in kind until she heard the sound of Brainiac 5 approaching her compartment. "Oh, God. The warden's back. Hide me, Clark!" Chloe pleaded again as she gave her coffee back to Kal-El and threw the blankets over her head as she tried to lie as flat as possible on the platform-bed.
"I don't think that would work even if Brainiac Five didn't have X-ray vision, Chloe," Kal-El said, still smiling as he rose from her bed, "Don't worry. I'll see to it that you make parole."
Brainiac 5 entered the room, approached the bed, and looked down at the Chloe-shaped mass concealed by blankets. Without a hint of surprise or amusement or any other feeling, he inquired, "And how is our patient doing this morning?"
Chloe pulled back the covers and sat up replying with a piqued tone, "Ready to leave."
"Not until your outpatient interview," Brainiac 5 insisted.
After a moment, Kal-El asked, "Are we waiting for something?"
Just then, Connor practically stumbled through the doorway, as if coming to the end of a mad rush. He paused to regain his composure and offered a quick, "Hi," to everyone as he walked up to Chloe's side.
"Not anymore," Brainiac 5 replied to Kal-El's question and then turned his attention to Connor, "You're late. I called your quarters ten minutes ago."
"Sorry, I got lost," Connor answered a bit put off by Brainiac's accusation.
"Good thing you ran into Imra, then, so she could supply you with directions," Brainiac 5 commented.
"You heard us—er, her?" Connor asked leerily.
"We all did, Connor, including your mother," Kal-El answered, smirking a bit and never taking his eyes off Chloe.
"I must say, Imra is usually a serious person, not generally given to giggling like a schoolgirl, especially when allegedly doing something as banal as pointing out which corridor leads to the infirmary," Brainiac 5 insinuated.
"We're going to need to talk later, Connor. Set some ground rules while we're here in the future," Chloe told her son.
"Garth might want a word with you, too. They are dating, after all," Kal-El informed his nephew.
"I thought we were here to discuss my mom's medical condition, so why am I the topic of conversation?" Connor asked, eager to drop the current subject and bring it over to something else.
"Quite right. I've completed a full medical workup on Ms. Sullivan and am ready to share my findings," Brainiac 5 revealed. He then opened his mouth to continue but paused before speaking. "Kal-El?" Brainiac asked expectantly.
"Right," Kal-El resignedly put forth. He started to leave but Chloe grabbed hold of his arm.
"Where are you going, Kal-El?" Chloe interrogated in a striking tone. He raised his eyebrows at hearing Chloe call him by his Kryptonian name for the first time. "Clark stays," Chloe confirmed to Brainiac 5 as her eyes shifted from the mechanical Kryptonian to the biological one. She added, "You're family, remember?" Kal-El grinned, taking her hand from his arm and gripping it in his own as he wondered in which one of the myriad ways Chloe meant that statement.
"Very well," Brainiac 5 ended that with and then continued, "I am not aware of your full medical history, Ms. Sullivan. In fact, I know nothing about your medical history post-2008, as you must know, so I have no basis for comparison. However, this is what I can tell you. You have no infections or maladies of any kind that I can detect. Your brain continues to exhibit normal activity consistent with a typical female human—a typical human female in her early-to-mid-twenties, that is. All of your internal organs are present, including tonsils, appendix, and gall bladder. You even have a full set of teeth, complete with all wisdom teeth. In short, you're in perfect health. This will also interest you: Whatever stage of menopause or pre-menopause you may have been experiencing, you will not be any longer. Welcome back to the joys and woes of fertility—so don't be caught by surprise when you experience your next menstrual cycle. Oh, and finally…you're 'intact.'"
Brainiac 5 finishing giving his medical report on Chloe Sullivan to them on that particular point left stunned faces and slight jaw-drops on her and Kal-El. Connor on the other hand observed a bit naively, "Of course, she's intact. Mom's never been in better shape!"
"No, Connor, I was not referring to her body as a whole. I meant intact," Brainiac 5 clarified, "The protective layer of tissue has regenerated inside of her—"
"Thank you, Brainiac!" Kal-El interjected visibly uneased, "For far more information than any of us needed to know!"
"Humanoids," Brainiac 5 muttered to himself, "Always so uptight about anything having remotely to do with sexuality." He then spoke up louder so as to be heard, "We're done here. You both can leave as soon as you're ready." With that, he turned away from and left Chloe's bedside.
Kal-El glanced over at Connor who looked like he was about to vomit…or pass out…or both. "You okay, Nephew?" he asked.
"I think I may be traumatized for life. I so didn't need to hear that…about my own mother," Connor replied, visibly stricken.
"Pretend you didn't," Kal-El advised the stupefied youth. He, then, took a breath and forced an awkward smile at Chloe. "So, how do you feel?" he asked hopefully.
"I feel fine," Chloe returned convincingly as she too forced an unconvincing smile. As she looked at Kal-El, she noticed that his eyes had slipped into a gaze that began to inspect every aspect of her face, as if he were trying to commit to memory every detail of her countenance. Then, slowly at first, her own eyes began scanning his face in reciprocation to all the attention she was receiving from his. She tilted her head to the side and squinted in rapt examination of him.
Something about Clark was nagging at Chloe that she couldn't place her finger on. When she finally realized to her surprise what it was, it seemed impossible. Had he actually grown slightly younger than when she left Metropolis to make a new life for herself with Oliver in Star City? Chloe attempted to confirm her suspicions by discerning just how old Clark looked to her. Definitely not before Lana married Lex…but not after I got married the first time to Jimmy, either…maybe even before we got engaged… But, try as she might, Chloe could not narrow down Clark's apparent age any further than that. How old was he now? A thousand years, give or take a decade or two? He looked nearly exactly the same—including that strangely out-of-place lock of hair dropping uncannily in the shape of an 'S' right in the middle of his forehead. Chloe scowled menacingly at it. It'd been bothering her since she woke up here. Actually, come to think of it, for much longer than that. She reached up to brush back the lock from his brow, but no sooner had she withdrawn her hand than the stubborn strands fell immediately back into place. Kal-El just chuckled and said, "Don't even bother."
"Do you know how many times I've wanted to Vaseline that thing to the top of your head? Or just cut it off with a pair of scissors? Why did your hair even start doing that after you became Superman? It never did that in high school, or after."
"I grew it that way on purpose—just to annoy you," Kal-El replied as his smile lost all pretense and became genuine.
Just as Chloe was about to break into another smile, she was suddenly aware of another set of eyes nearly boring into the two of them. Her gaze shifted away from Kal-El and centered on her son, who she sort of forgot was still there. Kal-El's focus, in turn, followed her altered line of sight until he too was looking at Connor. Like awkward teenagers, Kal-El and Chloe pulled away from each other, both dropping their gaze and then looking around aimlessly. Connor furrowed his eyebrows and looked back and forth between them. He then turned his head to focus intently on an empty space approximately three feet to his side. Finally, he momentarily turned back to Chloe and Kal-El and then moved to leave. As he exited the infirmary, only one thought was on Connor's mind: Did I just witness my mother and my uncle flirting with each other?
"Can we get out of here now, Clark?" Chloe asked at the end of her patience.
"Yes," Kal-El responded quickly. As she hopped out of bed to the floor, Kal-El continued, "We have a room set up for you right next to Connor's. It's just down the hall from Diana and J'onn and myself. And, the Legion's provided you with clothes to wear while you're here. Diana and I tried to get you a few things to fit your style."
"Great," Chloe said as she gathered her things, including Clark's flowers and card.
As Kal-El led Chloe out of the infirmary and to her quarters, the episode he'd experienced yesterday still weighed on his mind. So, he posed this question, "Chloe, let me ask you something. Uhm, how did you find out my secret?"
"What is this, a test? You think I'm not really Chloe, or something?" she responded, barely registering interest.
"It's important," Kal-El insisted.
Chloe looked at him and noticed his sincere expression. So, she answered honestly and directly, "Okay. It was senior year at Smallville High. And, Alicia Baker, whom you were sort of seeing at the time, kidnapped me and put us both in the front seat of a blue car. When she slammed the accelerator, I thought she'd gone psycho again and was going to kill us both…sorry."
Kal-El tacitly acknowledged her apology and bade her continue, "Go on."
"At the last minute, she whisked both of us out of there, and from a distance of approximately fifteen feet away, I watched you catch that car with your own bare hands as it flew straight at you at forty to sixty miles per hour? Sound right?" Chloe asked, more confused than unsure.
"Sounds exactly right," Kal-El confirmed. Then, he thought to himself, Okay, so no time travel. What the heck happened, then? The answer to that question would have to wait; they had arrived at Chloe's quarters. As the door slid open, Kal-El asked her, "So, after you're settled, do you want to start off with the tour?"
Chloe gave Kal-El a look of chagrin, "Come on, Clark, you know me. I don't want to waste time with a tour. I want to get to work. The world's waiting for us to save it. Let's get started!"
"Okay," Kal-El said ready to meet her eagerness with a challenge, "Be in the Kitchen in five minutes."
"I'm not hungry, Clark. I told you I wanted to—"
"Not that kitchen."
Realization dawned on her and she said, "Oh. The Kitchen. Gotcha. Five minutes."
"Five minutes," Kal-El repeated and headed off in the opposite direction down the hall.
THUD. Kal-El looked down at his small, blonde-haired, female friend after she was once again felled by her opponent to the floor mattress. Seeing her frustration, he offered a word of encouragement, "Hey, don't feel bad. That time you lasted a whole thirty seconds." She just looked at him as if she were gauging whether or not his comment was for real.
"Help me up," she asked curtly.
Kal-El offered her an arm and pulled her to her feet. He gave her a look of sympathy to offset her embarrassment. Kal-El then looked over at her still-standing opponent—also a small, blonde-haired, female friend of his, but one that he has known for much, much longer. His heart swelled with pride as he congratulated her, "Excellent, Chloe. That makes three in a row. You certainly haven't lost your touch." She smiled and nodded her head at him in acknowledgement.
Imra Ardeen, still burned at having lost thrice to a woman a thousand years behind the times, tugged at Kal-El to regain his attention, "Hey, Superman. The only reason she beat me three out of three matches is because she's using your superpowers."
"If Chloe really was using my super-strength, Saturn Girl, then your skull would be fractured, your neck broken, your spinal cord severed in at least three places, and your hip would be dislocated. Trust me, she's holding back and only because she doesn't want to permanently hurt anyone," Kal-El countered with absolute assuredness. He then lifted his eyes to the surrounding crowd.
The Kitchen—as everyone had begun to refer to it by now—was for the Legion exactly what it used to be for the Justice League, and then some: part gymnasium, part combat-training arena, and was outfitted with all the latest technology and equipment needed to simulate just about any battle scenario. It was a place to exercise, to play sports, to spar, to be trained in and improve one's skill at the use of weapons and hand-to-hand combat, and a place to go to if you weren't occupied with anything else. Kal-El thought it the natural place to begin Chloe's introduction to the Legion (and vice-versa). A little action might even help Chloe to shake off what she'd been through in the past few days. Imra was already there, so she volunteered to be Chloe's partner in a friendly bout between the two of them. It didn't take long for them to become the star attraction.
Several members of the Legion had gathered around the matt to watch the two women spar: one of their own founding and leading triumvirate vs. Kal-El's longtime friend and ally—a biographical fact regarding Chloe Sullivan that was made public knowledge to the Legion of Super-Heroes only very recently before her arrival in this century. This was the first real look any of them would have of Chloe, and understandably, they'd all been seized with curiosity. Some Legionnaires had looks of surprise, others of met expectation. But, whatever reservations any of them might have had before now, they all looked accepting of her now and willing to bring her into the fold.
Kal-El looked over the heads of those around to see Rokk Krinn enter with Connor Hawke. "Why don't you two take a break? I need to talk to Rokk," Kal-El suggested as he parted from them.
Diana, who had been observing from her place at the front of the assembly of onlookers approached Chloe and, like a coach or mentor, expressed her approval as well as a critique of her performance. Chloe's eyes drifted over toward Kal-El to observe him making his way through the crowd over to Rokk. She let out an unintentional sigh that caused Diana to stop midsentence and turn from Chloe to Kal-El and then back again. She waved her hand in front of Chloe's face. "Hey! You still with me, Chloe?" Diana admonished.
"Yeah, of course," Chloe grudgingly took her eyes from Kal-El and returned them attentively to Diana.
Meanwhile, Connor had come over to Imra. He made eye contact with his mother several feet away and they exchanged brief smiles. Imra commented, "Your mother's good."
"Yes, she is," Connor said factually and with pride.
"She's going to be a really big help to us. Kal-El, Diana, and J'onn think that the Legion has a real chance now," Imra continued.
Connor nodded in agreement, but as far as he was concerned the situation between both he and his mother and Kal-El, Diana, and J'onn was far from resolved. For one thing, they never did explain to him exactly why or how the police picked Chloe up, or why they were so interested in her, back in the Twenty-first Century. What exactly were they investigating and what did it have to do with his mother? What happened to push her past the breaking point and land her in Belle Reve in the first place? Connor wasn't used to being in the dark, and he wasn't used to his family withholding information from him. Sure, they were secretive, but not with him. And, now that Mom doesn't remember anything, he's still not going to get any answers any time soon. It wasn't that he didn't trust them, but it was frustrating to say the least.
"Speaking of…you want to tell to me how Brainiac came to be your head doctor in this place, or for that matter, the only doctor that I could see?"
"We know you don't like Brainiac Five, Connor," Imra said with overemphasis on the numerical distinction, "But, let me tell you. First off, he does a whole lot more around here than just play doctor. But, because he is so efficient at it, we all decided to move most of the Legion's medical personnel off-world. That way, they can respond more quickly in the field and prepare the rest of the galaxy for the coming onslaught from Apokolips. Something else you have to realize, Connor. I know it's easy to forget because we all look so human, but the Legion comprises dozens if not hundreds of species, and we can all be as different as you or your mother are from Kal-El. That's a lot of medical information to keep track of. Brainiac Five is a living machine made from Kryptonian technology. Not only can he store and immediately access the complete medical database of every planet that's part of the Legion, but he can instantly make use of it in treating a patient. As a machine, he is far more precise and careful in his diagnoses and ability to operate than the greatest humanoid surgeon. There is also his unique talent at being able to get inside a person's mind and body with minimal invasiveness. And, because he can replicate himself any number of times at once, he is his own complete medical, surgical team that can work in tandem and near-absolute unison on even multiple patients simultaneously."
"Okay, I'm sold. Just as long as Mecha-wonder doesn't short circuit."
Imra shook her head and said, "Unlikely."
By this time, Kal-El had reached Rokk Krinn, and they gave each other a nod in friendly greeting. "How's our new recruit working out?" Rokk inquired.
"So far, better than we could have hoped," Kal-El replied, satisfied with how events were thus proceeding. "No thanks to you," he added.
"What does that mean?" Rokk questioned in a way that betrayed his growing weariness at Kal-El's recriminations.
"It means that until now I haven't had the chance to tell you that your Legion Code made the mission to bring Chloe and Connor here at least five times harder than it had to be."
"Kal-El, we've already been through this. Those rules exist for a reason. You're lucky the rest of the Legion sanctioned the mission at all. Do you remember the first time you met us? How that fight with the Persuader in the Kents' barn changed how Brainiac's eventual defeat would play out? How we all inadvertently altered history in such a way that it led to your death at the hands of Doomsday? You can't imagine the state that the world we returned to was in. A world without Superman—without Kal-El. That's why I came back alone, you know, the second time to set things right. I intentionally left Imra and Garth behind so that if I failed, they could come back and try again themselves." Rokk entreated, "Look, they're here, Kal-El. They're both here. Can we please move past this and get on to saving the galaxy?"
"You're right," Kal-El conceded.
Chloe spent the rest of the day meeting many of the Legionnaires who were assigned to Earth and/or happened to be present at Legion Headquarters, catching up a bit on the history of the last thousand years, and finally taking that tour of the place Kal-El insisted on. Chloe suspected that Clark just wanted to get her alone, and they did talk quite a bit as they visited just about every floor and section of the place. She didn't want to overestimate her own importance in Clark's life, but he seemed like he had truly missed her and in a way that far exceeded anything she would have expected, especially after a millennium-long absence. Oh well, she would have plenty of time to sort out her perspective on things in the near future. They'd come to the end of the day, and Clark was now escorting Chloe down the corridor back to her room.
"So, when exactly did the Legion of Super-Heroes adopt the jargon of the Justice League of America?" Chloe asked Kal-El with a grin and raised eyebrows.
"You mean, like calling the combat-sim center the 'Kitchen?'" Kal-El sought specification. Chloe just turned away from him coyly to look down the hall ahead of them. "Probably about a month after J'onn, Diana, and I arrived here to start working with them," Kal-El answered, "It's kind of funny in a way. The squad of Legionnaires permanently assigned to Earth? They privately, unofficially refer to themselves as the New Justice League or the Justice League Reformed. I guess we've had a major impact on them. They really see themselves as the legitimate heirs and successors to what we started all that time ago. With the three of us…and now you…on board, it's only validated it even more in their minds."
"Maybe they're right," Chloe submitted.
"Maybe," Kal-El accepted.
Chloe turned her head sideways to view Clark next to her as he continued facing straight on ahead. As they made their way down the corridor, she looked him up and down several times carefully, deliberately; and although she's known this Clark from the future only for less than two days, she already began drawing mental comparisons between this Clark and the one she'd become accustomed to in the past. In many ways he was the same, but in other ways that really mattered he seemed so different. The way he carried himself, for instance. With a confidence that was both quiet but total and with a kind of masculine grace to his every movement. He seemed regal and humble at the same time, meek yet supremely strong. As though he could move the planet and the stars themselves but wouldn't lift his hand to flit away an annoying insect. The power he could call up by sheer command but would keep fully in check until it was necessary to use. And, God help the one he'd use it against because no one else would. Wisdom and knowledge of not just years but multiple lifetimes shone through his eyes, but he did not seem weighted under them, at least not that Chloe could see. There was still a child-like innocence to him, a wide-eyed wonder at the simplest things that Chloe could still definitely sense beneath his steely exterior. Chloe got a taste of this long ago, but Clark had really worked on it. Either he'd perfected the image of Superman that the public needed to see, or he had fully integrated the role of Superman into the persona of Clark Kent…or Kal-El. Whichever. And, this seemingly complete contradiction that was the man at her side ignited in her an equal contradiction in her own conflicted feelings. She liked this new Clark—a lot. But, he seemed so far from the one that she knew so well, that she had known better than anyone, all those years ago.
"Well, here we are," Kal-El informed. Chloe looked up just as the door to her quarters automatically slid open. Chloe looked demurely up at Clark and stepped into the doorway. Kal-El placed her hand on her arm and gently bade her turn around before she could step all the way into her room. "Chloe…" Kal-El said quietly, gently. She looked up at him expectantly. He took a moment to get the words out but finally said, "…I just want you to know how glad I am that you and Connor are here with us. That you agreed to stay. That we're doing this together."
Chloe nodded and agreed, "So am I." She considered the 'S'-shield that was in full view in front of her, big as life, on Clark's shirt. Absently, she lifted her finger and with it lazily traced the path of the 'S' across his chest. Kal-El's skin immediately grew highly sensitized in response to her touch through the fabric. When it reached the end of its swirling, twisting trail, Chloe took back her hand and offered simply, "Goodnight, Clark."
"Goodnight, Chloe," Kal-El returned. And, with that, Chloe turned and retreated into her quarters.
As she took a few steps across the floor, she suddenly froze as an ominous, somehow threatening image flashed in her mind's eye: Darkness…then a lightning flash that partially illuminated a figure cloaked in shadow holding an automatic firearm…No, not one—three. Chloe's heart began palpitating in her breast, she began hyperventilating, and her thoughts scattered. Another flash…lightning…she was staring down the barrel of a gun…and she was holding someone in her arms. Somehow, her mind was able to seize upon a single thought and she fought to give it voice as she cried out, "Clark…Clark!…CLARK!"
In a micro-second, Kal-El had dashed from halfway down the hall right to her side and asked in alarm, "Chloe, what's wrong? What's wrong!" He reached out to steady Chloe's wavering body, but she stumbled away from him and landed on a small table where she'd placed the flowers that Clark had given her in the hospital. She knocked the vase clear off the table spilling the tulips and water across the floor.
As her eyes captured the sight of the red tulips and spilt water another flashback burst in her memory: Blood…dark-red blood…running down the ground…running down with water…rain water. "Oh, my God!" Chloe cried out. The green stems of the soft flowers loosened another piece of the memory: Green…she could see green in her lap—in her arms…it was…"Oliver…" Chloe whispered aloud. And the image became fully formed and clear: Oliver Queen in his Green Arrow outfit very still and cold and bleeding…on her hands…on the street…so much blood.
Kal-El picked Chloe up in his arms, standing her up on her feet, and was about to say something, but seeing her look struck him dumb. Her face was one of mad fright—of sheer terror. "Chloe, say something," Kal-El desperately tried, "What's—"
"I remember," Chloe said in the barest of whispers, and then she shouted out grief-stricken, "Oh, God! He's dead! He's dead!" As she fell into Kal-El's arms, her face tightened into a grimace and the tears came streaming in torrents from her eyes down the sides of her face. She labored to draw in breath through her sobs and finally let out, amidst her sobbing, in a voice rent with agony and twisted pain, "Nooooo!...O-LI-VERRR!" She struggled to get away from Kal-El, but he only pulled her to him harder. She began thrashing and writhing and pounding away at his chest with clenched fists and arms, but despite the fact that she was hitting him with his own super-strength, he would not let go and held her fast to him. He backed up against the nearest wall and slid down it to the floor, pulling Chloe down with him. As she stopped fighting him, Chloe's body collapsed into a quivering mass of sobs and cries for her long-dead husband and seemingly endless tears. But, Kal-El would not let her go. He said nothing, but he would not let go. He held her to him, stroked her hair, caressed her body, offering to her what he could of his consoling presence. And, he kept her in his embrace and did not leave her all the endless hours of that long, dark night.
A/N: It's good to be back, and I want to reassure any of the disheartened that I did not stop writing this story since the last update, I simply stopped writing what happens next. Inspiration must be heeded, even when it does not involve the immediate future. Then, I thought, why not give a sneak-peak to you, the reader, at what is coming down the road in the future? So, in the spirit of fore-telling what awaits us on the paths not yet taken, i.e. SPOILERS, I decided to offer the chance to anyone who so desires a preview of things to come. One need only check out my profile. And, to anyone out there here in the States, Happy Thanksgiving.