She'd known for seven years, four months, seventeen days, five
hours, and twelve minutes by the time he finally figured out that
Chloe had to hand it to Clark—he was good. No one had ever
gotten a photograph of Superman in focus. He was simply too fast.
When he did public appearances, his form was always slightly
blurred, as if he lived life that smidge faster than the rest of
the world. So few people had ever been up close enough to see him
on any kind of a regular basis—the people he saved almost always
remembered the costume, not the face. As it should be. That was
the whole point of such an ostentatious uniform, she was almost
100% sure. She had once confided to her roommate, late one night
as they'd shared a six-pack on the roof of her building, that no
sane human being would wear his underwear on the outside unless it
was to distract people from his face.
It also helped that he rarely needed to save the same person
twice. When you're snatched from the jaws of certain death by an
angel with heat vision trailing four yards of cape, you tended to
take life a bit more cautiously. Look both ways before you cross
the street. Think twice before you cross the wrong guy. Spend more
time with your family, counting your blessings. No, like
lightning, he didn't make it a habit of striking twice in the same
spot. That distinction was reserved for about four people that she
knew of. Herself, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Lex Luthor. But near
as she could tell, she was still the only one with the
clue—though she'd lay odds that Lex, being a smart guy and all,
had his suspicions. After all, the two of them, as transplanted
Metropolitans, were the only souls from this life who had been
there from the previous life.
Lois and Jimmy came late to the party. They had only ever seen
Clark Kent the slightly nebbish-y journalist. The kind of guy
you'd ask over to help you move into a new apartment because he
looked like he'd be game for holding the heavy end of the sleeper
couch as you walked up the four flights of your
thank-god-it's-rent-controlled walk-up. They saw the guy whose
sport coats always seemed a half-size too big and in desperate
need of a good pressing, even though he was one of the best paid
columnists in the city and could afford better. They saw the
glasses and the soft-spoken, straight-off-the-farm demeanor, and
none of it came across as epic. When you're looking for epic, the
little stuff just slides on by, unnoticed.
It hadn't been like Chloe had ever caught him in the act.
Nothing so dramatic. No waking up in his arms as he sped away from
flames. No stumbling upon him spot-welding the family tractor with
his heat vision, or hand-prints in a door that was ripped away
with strength that was beyond anything any farm-boy, no matter how
strenuous his daily chores around the farm, could have managed.
She'd never seen him on his knees, gasping for breath and veins
bulging as he was exposed to the meteorites they'd all finally
started calling "kryptonite" thanks to Clark's
"exclusive" that won him the job at the Planet.
The first time she'd been saved by Superman, she had been doing
a remote with Kyle, her then-camera-man, and Casey the sound-chick
two years prior in the middle of March. She'd been one of sixteen
journalists on the Belle Starr when it capsized on the river in
the middle of the mayor's press conference. She'd hit the icy
water with a surprised yelp, her arms flailing and fingers
brushing thrashing limbs of fellow dunkees before the cold sapped
all the feeling from her leaden arms and legs. She'd blacked out
and come to on the shore, steam rising from her clothes as the air
around her was suddenly as hot as the sauna at the gym, and Miles
from WGNI was sitting next to her, mouth open and his toupee
crooked as she finally focused enough to actually see the red
boots right in front of her. Registered that heat vision really
was invisible. She'd immediately looked around for Casey and Kyle,
and ripped the hell out of her nylons crawling over to them. Casey
had been alternating between crying and laughing, and Kyle had
apologized through chattering teeth for losing the camera that
cost more than he could make in three years.
They'd never done theatre in high school, but Chloe'd marveled
at Clark's acting that day. How differently he stood, in the cape.
How his voice was pitched that touch lower, with more confidence
than she usually heard from Clark, who seemed paralyzed by simple
decisions like whether to order the tuna salad or grilled cheese
at Dooley's. Superman never smiled the way Clark did—wide, and
open, and easy. His green eyes were hidden behind lenses that he'd
said he'd needed once they all hit college. His eyes had slid over
her, never resting on her any longer than anyone else, and then
he'd been gone. He'd rolled the boat back onto its back like a
child's bath toy, and disappeared into the western sky. The Mayor
and all of her people had been whisked away by a hired car, and
once the story was filed, the lot of them had ended up at Billy's
Tavern, drinking until 2am.
Seven years, four months, seventeen days, five hours, and
twelve minutes ago, Chloe Sullivan had been packing up her
father's house the week after the funeral. The heat had been
oppressive and she'd had all the windows on the first floor open
to try and get a cross-breeze. She could have just closed the
house up and cranked up the air-conditioning, but the previous
month's electric bill had traumatized her so now she only did that
at night. Jenny Ordway's mother was a real estate agent, and had
already offered to handle putting it on the market for her, which
had been a huge load off her mind. Pete had been on his way with
the U-Haul, and the kitchen had been the last mammoth chore before
she headed back to Metropolis and college.
She'd had the radio on in the kitchen as she'd wrapped old
Charlie Brown jelly glasses in newspaper and laid them side by
side in the box to go to the Salvation Army on Main St., two
blocks from what used to be the Talon when the news came on. The
mysterious "super-man" who had saved the shuttle from
crashing the previous month had appeared again, this time saving
fourteen people from a collapsing building in Suicide Slum. He'd
set the three families and several teens gently on their feet two
blocks away, where EMTs could treat them for smoke inhalation and
second and third degree burns. Then he'd disappeared, a streak of
red and blue that rattled windows as far away as New Troy.
She'd paused in her mundane task, lips parting in surprise at
her lack of surprise as the thought had just come into her
mind "That's Clark."
There had been no great deduction at work. No Holmesian logic
games, or trickery. She'd just known. She'd never questioned it.
Not from the moment he'd ripped the door off the coffin lid and
cradled her in his arms as she gasped from breath that night in
Chandler's field. Not since she'd turned around at graduation to
whisper something in his ear as they sat listening to Reynolds go
on and on about responsibility and the new journey they were
embarking on, and found the chair empty even though he'd been
there just a second earlier. Not since he'd laid a hand on her
shoulder that morning, before she'd stepped forward to lay the
rose on the gleaming mahogany casket before it was lowered into
Clark had always been a hero. Clark had always, even when he'd
made her so mad she'd wanted to tear her hair out by the roots and
stomp her feet and scream, been her hero. He couldn't help it. It
was just who he was. Who he'd always been.
Now, as the wind whipped past them, her face buried in the
folds of his cape as they put significant distance between her and
the fireball that had been her car, the crisp December wind
cutting like knives along the sliver of skin exposed as he'd
hastily bundled her up and snatched her from the jaws of certain
death in the space of time it took for her to insert her key in
the ignition and turn the engine over—now, she was getting to
see up close and personal the job Martha had done, getting the
s-shield applied over the fabric that looked like it ought to have
been spandex, but wasn't. The thread she'd chosen had blended in
so perfectly that unless you were looking for it, you'd never see
Unless you were looking for Clark's eyes above that shield,
you'd never see them.
But he saw as he set her on her feet, in that split second, the
look on her face. Whatever he'd been going to say, whatever trite
"There you are, Ms Sullivan, now who would you know who might
try to blow you up?" was on his lips was snatched away by the
They stood there, on the roof of Metropolis General, sixteen
blocks from the charred wreckage of her Volkswagen, frozen by the
secret they didn't voice.
There was something vaguely surreal about Superman wearing
Clark's smile. But she'd analyze that later.