Anyway You Slice It by Maveness
'Chloe knows, but half the fun is in the telling.' (pg-13)

Someone to Watch Over Me by SullivanLane
'Clark would always remember her that way, despite all that they had gone through.'  (pg)

Witness by Amy
'Before she could formulate any words, her
best friend was gone in a blur of light.' (pg)

A Faustian Bargain by Medie
'Chloe Sullivan puts it together...and finds herself with a choice to make.'  (g, stargate crossover)

A Definition of Power by Hope
'Since Chloe was being irrational anyway, why not go for the Unreasonable Hall of Fame?' (pg-13, s3 spoilers)

Americana Tails by Regina
'Chloe. Seriously. You‘ve known about me for almost a year now, and I‘ve spent the majority of that year doing your bidding.' (pg)

Fixate by JollyCynic
'When Chloe finds out, it's not Clark who makes her blood boil.' (pg-13, s3 spoilers)

Moment by Huffy the Campfire Slayer
'Chloe and Clark exchange their secrets and Clark ponders how the two of them can be walking such parallel paths, yet be on such different journeys.' (nc-17)

Windfall by Wiccid Sister
'An encounter in Burnham Woods leads to a discovery.'  (nc-17)

Countdown to the Inevitable by Tara O'Shea
'She'd known for seven years, four months, seventeen days, five hours, and twelve minutes by the time he finally figured out that she knew.'  (pg)

Twist by Chiriru
'Her own curiosity had made her hang on to the ring; it was her fault that he had it. She had to stop Clark before he hurt himself because of it.' (pg-13)

My Immortal by Paperbkryter
'She was tired of watching him bleed to death.' (nc-17)



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The day had begun innocently enough, if you could call nightmares innocent, when he had awakened that morning after another bad one. Clark had been through enough traumatic events in his relatively short life that he had ample fodder for lots of them. Many things came back to haunt him in his dreams; foes fought over again, strategies rehashed, decisions regretted and consequences relived. Not infrequently, Clark dreamed of the summer spent in Metropolis when he ran away from home. Staying hidden from family and friends and skirting the law when he thought it was the only way to protect those he loved had been a bad time, too and it haunted him still, even in his waking hours.

But for some reason, the events of that disastrous spring in his freshman year at Smallville High returned to him over and over as he slept. His mind simply refused to let go of that time, as though the raging winds of that spring still whirled through his alien mind, creating havoc and bringing a new wave of remorse each time they resurfaced. Clark’s dreams were often extremely vivid, seeming so very real, he felt as though he was actually there, living through it all again.

It began, as it so often did, with his race to Chandler’s Field that night after Lana’s vision had revealed Chloe’s deadly peril; when he’d arrived he’d climbed the tall windmill for a better vantage point and seen Chloe buried alive in her glass coffin. Instantly, Clark was across the field, plunging his hand into the earth, grabbing the coffin’s handle and pulling it up with one great heave. His heart had pounded as he ripped off the lid and he was shaking and terrified as he called her name and pulled her up into his arms, . She cried as he hugged her, saying, "I knew it was you; it’s always you," and relief washed over him like a welcome breeze. Watts must have truly hated Chloe for having the gall to ruin his plans by trying to escape; burying her alive was a thoroughly gruesome revenge. He’d only wanted to shoot Lana outright, apparently not feeling the need to torture her, as well. Thank God he’d managed to save them both.

Next he had dreamed of being in the barn when Chloe had come to tell him she’d been picked for the internship at the Daily Planet; she’d been so thrilled and he could still feel her small form in his arms when they’d hugged, practically vibrating with excitement before she’d pulled away and hesitantly asked if he’d visit her in Metropolis, both of them suddenly feeling awkward and shy. All that morning, he’d been trying to pluck up his courage and ask her to the dance. As he fed the animals and repaired a section of fence near the tool shed, he’d debated on whether he should take a chance and ask her to be his date for the Spring Formal, risking their friendship in the process. He’d had few enough close friends and the risk seemed enormous; he’d felt as though he were jumping off a cliff when he opened his mouth that day and it took every ounce of courage he could muster to finally stammer out his question.

All those feelings had come back in his dream; his abject terror that she’d refuse or that she’d laugh because Chloe was one of his best buddies and you didn’t ask your best buddy to a dance… In that heartbeat after he’d asked her if she had plans, his terror had overwhelmed him; Ryan had misread her, Pete had been yanking his chain, someone else had already asked her because he’d been such a wuss… When she came a step closer and said, "Not at the moment." he started to breathe again, managing to forge ahead and actually ask her to come with him, nearly faltering once more when he got to the "as my date…" part. When she said, "I’d love to, Clark," he’d gotten positively light headed. At least, he’d managed to mutter an apology for not asking her sooner and Chloe had graciously told him it was worth the wait. After she left he’d been absolutely giddy with relief; his grin had been plastered to his face for the rest of the day.

Sometimes, the dream stopped there but this time it had continued on through the entire Spring Formal debacle, allowing all those feelings to boil to the surface once more. He experienced everything again, in minute detail; his indecision over what to wear; which suit, what color cummerbund then the ensuing difficulties in locating a dress shirt to fit his broad shoulders and long arms and where to find new dress shoes on such short notice for his huge feet. And there was still the search for the perfect corsage, finding out belatedly that Chloe had chosen a strapless gown and having to come up with that wrist thingy at the last minute. He’d felt like a naïve idiot through it all and had profoundly thanked God, once again, for his mom when he’d finally broken down, in desperation and asked for her help.

So many decisions; how did girls do it every day? And it was so expensive; he’d never really given any thought to such things and when he’d complained to Lana and she’d basically told him his problems were minor compared to the tribulation and expense of finding the right formal gown for such an occasion, he’d been floored. His dream had allowed him to relive even that moment, as well. Flannel and denim had never seemed so appealing.

Then his sleeping mind began to sift through the events surrounding the Luthorcorp plant closing, the shock and anger that rippled through Smallville at the news and Chloe’s revelation that she might move away. Especially clear had been his words to her in the Torch office that the night of the dance would be one she’d never forget; oh, he’d kept that promise, alright. Next, he got to relive building the new fence near the windmill, hurrying through his work using his formidable strength to pound fence posts into the ground with his bare hands while he wondered at Whitney’s sudden decision to join the Marines and worried that Chloe might leave forever. In his dream, time slowed as he walked over to the old blue truck, getting in and turning the key, instantly being engulfed in flame, struck by debris, assaulted by the sound and smell of the explosion before he stepped back out into the field, disgusted by this new disaster as he flung off his burning jacket and shirt. His first thought was, there goes the prom transportation, selfish, though it may have been, followed immediately by gratitude that neither of his parents had been in the truck when it exploded.

Then he’d been in the Talon where he’d first encountered Nixon and realized he was in big trouble. His revelation to his parents of Nixon’s knowledge and Lex’s possession of the spaceship’s key had actually gone better than he’d expected; he’d thought his father would go ballistic but his response had been tempered with sympathy and concern. When he had to tell Chloe he couldn’t pick her up, she’d taken it in stride, delighted, it seemed, he was still taking her. He wondered if she really thought he’d try to back out and moments later was surprised when she revealed her fear that he’d desert her for Lana when Whitney left town. Clark had leaned over and tenderly kissed her cheek, reassuring her that he was not going with her by default.

At last, the moment came when Chloe arrived to pick him up. His hand rested on the old picket fence out front, the weathered wood rough under his palm as he watched the aging Falcon approach, its engine puttering loudly. He stood, transfixed, as she got out of the car, the wind fluttering her hair and dress. She came close, asking if her dress was too pink. "No…you…you look beautiful…" he’d offered, feeling lame because he’d thought, in that moment, that she was more than beautiful. Clark stared, a huge grin on his face until she had to ask if the corsage he held was for her. He breathed a sigh of relief when she seemed to like it; it had, after all, been one of the last minute acquisitions and he’d run, literally, to Metropolis to get just the right shade to match her gown after peeking into her closet with his x-ray vision. Then she’d pulled out his boutonniere, a white rose and he could feel the scrape of the pin on his skin as she attached it and hear her gasp in alarm when she thought she’d hurt him. He only mumbled, "Nuh uh," as he gazed into her eyes, realizing he was falling for his best friend.

From that moment, things sped up, running into the gym as the wind kicked up, having the talk with Whitney, guy code for watch over Lana and don’t steal her away, telling Chloe again how beautiful she looked but always just shy of saying everything he really felt. Then the band and Chloe’s favorite song and Pete’s surprise that he’d actually cared enough to request it for her. And then Chloe telling him he’d surprised even her and his words, "I’m still here." Holding her gently and wanting to kiss her, looking down into her eyes and leaning in and just as his lips brushed hers, the loudspeaker feedback that heralded the ruin of everything.

If only he’d at least said something before he’d left though he knew Chloe would have tried to keep him from going. He should have gone back to the dance after taking Lana to the hospital; Pete had told him Chloe had gone out looking for him, searching for three hours before giving up. His concern for his parents had overwhelmed him but he should have returned to make sure Chloe was okay; she’d been his date and he’d ignored her, not even a phone call until the next day. Yet she’d come to help in the search for his dad without a word of rebuke.

Now came his apology for leaving her and her quick response about remaining friends because, "anything else is just too complicated." His brow furrowed and he stared at her in mild confusion, his fears for their friendship still just below the surface and he’d agreed, saying, in all earnestness, that nothing was more important than that. She’d seemed okay with that and he’d gone on, thinking that’s really what she wanted. Then the dream ended and he woke abruptly, as he always did. He’d crushed her hopes that day and never even realized it at the time, eventually allowing himself to indulge in his fantasies about Lana, once again, to the total exclusion of everything else. Had he always been such an idiot? Yes. Yes, apparently, he had.

Clark threw back the tangle of his sheets and sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his face, trying to chase away the remnants of his dreams. Today, the dream clung to him, refusing to dissipate, smothering him with regret. Perhaps it was because he was meeting Chloe at the Talon later that his mind was dredging up all those old memories, not wanting him to forget how badly he’d screwed up so many things in his life, from that one point forward. If there were pivotal points in your life, moments in which the path of your existence branched off in new directions, for good or for ill, that had surely been one of them and many other things had come to pass as a result. Chloe’s emotional distance and her entanglement in the Luthor family’s bizarre web could certainly be traced, in part, to that moment when he’d acquiesced to her declaration that they remain good friends and nothing more.

Now that he was older, he could look back to that day and see the hurt hiding behind her words but he’d been too wrapped up in the search for his dad and his fear of Roger Nixon, not to mention the disappearance of the spaceship, to see it then. Of all the times for Chloe to decide not to speak her mind… She hadn’t followed through on her threat to never speak to him again if he deserted her for Lana and left her stranded at the dance. Maybe it would have been better, if she had. So many other things might not have happened if she’d only confessed her true feelings- but there was really no need to follow the endless logic loop around again; he knew where he’d failed, even if it hadn’t been entirely his fault.

Clark had been thinking a lot about Chloe, lately; maybe that’s why he wanted to pay special attention to her. It had taken him some time to come to grips with the fact that her curiosity and pressure from Lionel had led her to delve into his past again and even longer to fully move past it. She was insanely curious about mysteries and he had apparently been one she couldn’t ignore, even when they’d been on the outs, all those years ago. A little truth and misdirection would have gone a long way toward short circuiting the whole mess in the first place when Chloe had initially looked into his adoption but at the time, Clark hadn’t yet mastered that particular art. Her anger and ambition had drawn her into the alliance with Lionel, his offer of a Daily Planet column in return for information about Clark, had been one she’d found impossible to refuse. In the end, however, Chloe had never given Lionel any information beyond that which he already possessed. She’d played a dangerous game and her subsequent refusal to continue the investigation beyond that had helped to keep Lionel at bay but at great personal sacrifice for both Chloe and her father. Apparently, Lionel had initially thought Clark either suffered from some type of split personality, as a result of exposure to the meteor rocks or just from an uncontrollable temper, as a result of being raised by Jonathan Kent and any additional conclusions Chloe may have drawn, she’d kept to herself and for that, Clark would always be eternally grateful.

Clark stood and lumbered into the bathroom to wash his face. He thought better of it and decided on a shower, instead. His parents were already gone, off to Topeka until the following week and he had the house to himself. Though he also had the farm chores, that was no problem and he was actually looking forward to the relative peace and quiet. As is so typical of a Kansas summer, the day was already warming up and the heat and oppressive humidity hinted at the possibility of foul weather later on. As he wandered back into his bedroom, he glanced at the clock on his nightstand and saw he’d taken longer than intended in the shower. Clark dressed hurriedly and ran downstairs, grateful that his speed would allow him to finish his chores in no time. Moments later, he was racing into town, flying low through the woods and cornfields where he could, a recent incident having made him afraid to chance anything higher up at this hour. When Clark reached Smallville, he sped through the back streets and alleys of the small town and came up behind the Talon, threading his way up the small side alley between it and the building next door. He was just slowing to normal speed as he approached Main Street when Chloe stepped out in front of him at the corner of the old theater. He came to an abrupt halt and nearly took a header right in front of her.

"Where’s the fire, Clark?"

"Chloe! I’m sorry if I’m late; I…overslept. Didn’t mean to keep you waiting."

"Actually, I’m running late, myself. Don’t…worry about it. Let’s get some breakfast."

Clark opened the door and bowed, waving her inside. Business was still brisk early in the day although by midmorning it would slow considerably, the demand for hot drinks in the heat of the summer slacking off as the day wore on. Even now, it would be easy to get a secluded table in the back, if you wished, something Lex still liked to do so he could watch others without being seen. If you preferred, the Talon now boasted an outdoor patio where you might sit and watch the comings and goings of the people of Smallville. Clark enjoyed sitting outside and watching the town’s inhabitants as they went about their daily routines; it comforted him to think that there were normal people with normal lives, unlike himself. People he someday hoped to help.

Chloe pointed to a pie on the top shelf of the display case. "Look! Cherry pie! And lemon poppyseed muffins. Decisions, decisions!"

Clark smiled, "We’ll have two of each of those, a tall low fat almond mocha latte with an extra shot and extra whip and a large cup of Kona, please." He turned to her and asked, "Did I get that right?"

"Why, yes you did, Mr. Kent. Although the double pastry order was totally excessive but very much appreciated." She smiled back.

"Wanna eat out front?"

"Okay; I guess it’s not too hot yet."

Clark casually surveyed the back while they waited, the sounds of the espresso machine punctuating his thoughts. Soon he was lost in them, only returning to reality when Chloe’s voice penetrated the woolgathering in his mind.

"Clark? We’re ready." Chloe picked up their drinks as Clark shook his head.

"Sorry. Still not awake." He grabbed the pastries and some napkins and held the door for Chloe as she went out. They picked the table near the far corner of the building. Clark moved the table, angling it so he could have a good view of the street.

"Curious, are we, Clark? Or are you watching for someone in particular?"

"No, not really, I just like to see who’s passing by," he stopped and cocked his head at her, "and no, I’m not watching for Lana, if that’s what you’re implying. She doesn’t usually come in this early in the summer, anyway."

Chloe shrugged and added, "Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time."

"Lana and I are not involved like that, Chloe; we’re friends but that’s all we are…we’re best that way and I’m okay with that."

"Sorry. That just popped out. I didn’t mean to open up any old…wounds. I know you two have had a rocky time."

"Chloe, so have we. Look, I didn’t ask you here to discuss my relationship with Lana. I asked you here because I want to…to work on us. I know I’ve always had a bad habit of getting involved in things and ignoring my friends, at times. I feel like I’ve been doing that again lately and I want to apologize." Clark looked up, hopefully.

She sighed, looking him in the eye. "There have been times over the years when I really needed a friend to lean on and you just weren’t there. And other times when you came through with flying colors and I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for you so I guess I have to take the bad with the good. I always hoped we’d at least be friends no matter what; even when we dated other people-" Chloe frowned and looked away. "So, what was it this time? You’ve been away for awhile." She stared down at her plate for a moment and stabbed a piece of pie, her fork clinking on the china.

Clark reached out and placed his hand over hers. "Don’t take it out on the pie." Chloe looked up, a tiny smile beginning to quirk the corner of her mouth. "I’ve been traveling again. The Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East. But I’m home for the rest of the summer, helping out around the farm. I’m sorry; I should have kept in touch more since last year."

"Every time I don’t hear from you for a while, I think there’ll always be a part of you that doesn’t completely trust me and I don’t have any right to expect…" She turned away for a moment, feeling the sudden sting of tears.

"When I was younger, I was oblivious to a lot. But I’m older now and I like to think I’m not so oblivious anymore. Give me a chance, Chloe, please? Because I want that; I want that a lot."

Chloe stared into his eyes for a moment then looked away. "In spite of the information I gave Lionel Luthor? Not that there was really much of it and I never understood why he became so interested in you. It had all the earmarks of an obsession. And frankly, before you came to Smallville, there was nothing about you anywhere that I could find. It was like you just fell out of the sky. In the end I just couldn’t do it, no matter how much I wanted that column. Small consolation, I know but it’s something. I wanted to write for the Planet so badly and I was so sure I could handle Lionel-"

Clark covered her hand with his and said softly, "I know, Chloe; I know. You’ll…work for the Planet again, Chloe; wait and see."

Her lip quivered and a tear made its way down her cheek which she hastily wiped away. "Damnit! I’m sorry; I have to go-" she jumped up and reached for her bag.

Clark stood and grabbed her arm before she could bolt. "Wait. Chloe…" then he took a step and pulled her into his arms, resting his chin on her on the top of her head and holding her while she cried. He had forgotten how good it felt to hold her. After she was calm again, he lifted her chin and smiled down at her, brushing away her remaining tears with his fingers. "How ‘bout it, Chloe? Can we be good again? Because I’ve missed you."

She hugged him tightly and sniffled out, "I missed you, too."

"Then let’s start over." Clark walked behind her, making a show of pulling out her chair. "Have a seat and let’s finish breakfast." He sat back in his own chair and began toying with his coffee cup.

Chloe sat and looked around, checking to see who’d witnessed her display. "The whole town probably saw that. Some tough reporter I am."

Clark took her hand again. "Tough enough for me. Now…" he leaned over the table, looking suddenly serious, "would you like to do something later?"

"Like what?"

"Oh…maybe…we could go hiking in Burnham woods. What about it? Just the two of us. Catch up on old times. Whaddaya say?"

Chloe cocked her head, intrigued by this turn of events. "Okay. What time?

"How about around noon? We could picnic along the way. I’ll bring sandwiches and…mmm...some kind of salad." Clark leaned even closer and whispered, conspiratorially, "And I just happen to have the last of these fresh baked pies stashed at home. Mom made one with strawberries and I begged to keep it." He sat back, waggling his eyebrows. So. How ‘bout it?"

That brought a smile to Chloe’s face. "Okay; that’s an offer I can’t refuse. I love strawberry pie!"

I know. "I’ll pick you up around noon then." Chloe seemed genuinely excited and Clark suddenly had hopes that they might really get back on track, at last.

"I’d better get going then; I have some things to do before I can go." Chloe got up to go and Clark stood. "Can I bring anything?"

"Nope. I’ll take care of everything. Where’re you parked? I’ll walk you to your car."

It was a little after noon when they actually entered the notorious haunted woods of Smallville. Many a strange thing had happened there even before the meteor shower of 1989 and many local denizens were afraid to enter them, especially after dark. The deadly Nicodemus flowers had grown there near the original settlement on the outskirts of the woods from which the town of Smallville eventually grew. The early Kawatche Indians had made their home deep in the heart of those same woods which had stretched almost to Grandville at one time and their legends described all manner of strange beasts and supernatural forces said to inhabit the area. But the forest had retreated as civilization slowly encroached until only the dense thickets and ancient trees around Smallville remained. The Indian village which had once flourished on the banks of the river had long since disappeared, leaving only an ancient burial ground to mark its passing.

Chloe Sullivan had been in the woods many times as she pursued a hot lead or some pet theory and she’d really never been that nervous about being in them. Once she’d walked all the way from the eastern edge of the woods at Schuster’s Gorge to Crater Lake in an attempt to track the exact path the infamous meteors had taken on that fateful October day. She’d thought, with the aid of topographic maps and news articles from that time, she could follow the trail of meteor rocks and more fully envision their trajectory as they had begun to rain down on the unsuspecting town. She’d managed to drag Pete along but Clark had refused to go. Her quest had been unsuccessful, anyway; either the rocks hadn’t fallen as she’d thought or they’d been buried so deep that no trace remained on the surface.

Now, as they made their way into the forest, Chloe kept her eyes open just in case she ran across any meteor fragments, unlikely as that might be. She had her digital camera along, too, in case she had the sudden need to document some earth shattering event such as the Monster of Crater Lake deciding to take an afternoon stroll in the nearby woods. Beside her, Clark walked in silence, wearing a heavily loaded backpack and carrying a jug of iced tea.

Chloe jumped as something rustled in the underbrush and tripped over an old boot that someone had abandoned in the middle of the path, nearly dropping the pie she carried. Clark caught her before she could fall.

"Hey, you okay? What’s the matter?"

"I just-there’s something in the bushes!" Warily eyeing the still moving bush, she edged closer to Clark. She watched him as he stared intently at the undergrowth for a moment.

"Aw, it’s probably just a squirrel or something." As soon as he spoke, a squirrel shot out of the bush right in front of them and scurried across the path into a thicket of wild blackberries. They seemed to grow everywhere throughout the part of the woods closest to the Kent farm and Clark often came here to pick and snack on them, their brambles never more than a slight annoyance even when he was young. When his skin had grown impervious to even minor scratching, he came even more frequently; it had bordered on an addiction and his parents never failed to tease him about it. A few yards ahead, Clark turned onto a smaller trail, following it for a few minutes until he came to a break in the bushes that lined it. He led Chloe through the break and after another, shorter hike, came to a wide but relatively shallow pond. It was somewhat overgrown and largely surrounded by the ubiquitous blackberry bushes except for the near side where a small sandy area sloped down to the water’s edge. It was the perfect spot for a picnic, quiet and remote.

Clark handed the pie to Chloe, placed the jug of tea on an old log and shrugged off his pack. He unloaded it, producing, in turn, an actual tablecloth which he placed on a broad flat rock that overlooked the beach, real plates, glasses and silverware, watermelon, fresh tossed salad complete with avocado and dressing on the side, a loaf of bread, real butter, a casserole dish and finally, a soft blanket which he spread out next to the rock.

"Ooh…what’s this? I thought we were just having sandwiches!"

"Eggplant Parmigiana. I…thought you’d enjoy something special."

Chloe sat the pie down on the makeshift table and pulled out her camera, taking a picture of Clark fussing over the table. "Have you been cozying up to the cook at the Luthor mansion?"

"I’ll have you know, I made this myself. I’ve been practicing and Mom says I’m getting good." She reached for the covered lid of the casserole but Clark shooed her away.

"Not yet. Uh…could you get the napkins? I forgot ‘em." Chloe put her camera back in her bag and went over, digging the napkins out from the very bottom of the pack.

"Real cloth. You went all out, didn’t you?" She returned and placed them on the table, eyeing the casserole again. This time, Clark lifted the lid and to her surprise, it was steaming hot; the wonderful aroma wafted out into the little clearing.

"How’d you keep it so hot?" Chloe leaned over, inhaling deeply, once more.

Clark smirked, saying only, "Trade secret." He placed the lid aside and gestured to the blanket. "Have a seat, Chloe." First, he poured tea then leaned over and cut several slices of the fresh, warm bread before sitting down beside her. Clark began to serve then waited, expectantly, as she took the first bite.

"Your mom’s right. This is great! Feel free to practice your culinary skills on me anytime." She took a bite of salad, relishing the perfectly ripe avocado and speared a piece of watermelon. "Mmmm…this is really sweet. From your garden?"

"Actually, Fred Smith gave Dad a couple of his square melons and I had to do something with them. I couldn’t stand to see them sitting on the counter; they’re just too weird." Fred and his melons, both, he thought.

"Why do I have the feeling there’s more to it than that?" She narrowed her eyes and stared at Clark for a moment, as if daring him to invent a more plausible explanation.

Clark stared back, giving her his most disingenuous look. The melons had reminded him of the inadvertent destruction of Fred’s garden shed back when Clark had first been learning to control his speed and the memory still filled him with guilt but of that, he gave no indication. He was all wide-eyed innocence as he looked up at Chloe and not about to go into any further details. "I just think melons should be round. Fred thinks they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. They are nice and sweet, though; I’ll have to admit."

"Your dad thinking of growing some, himself?"

Clark shuddered at the thought. "I hope not. More eggplant? Salad?"

"Oh, Clark, I couldn’t. Everything’s wonderful but I just can’t eat very much when it’s this hot." She fanned herself and sighed. "It’s really getting warm; a lot worse than yesterday; bet it’s ninety-five in the shade." Chloe scooted away and lay back on the blanket, staring up at the tall trees beyond the pool. Dust motes danced in the light that filtered down through the leaves and nothing stirred in the oppressive afternoon heat. Sighing, she turned on her side, looking into the distance. "Wish there was just a little breeze…" Instantly, a cool breeze wafted over her, actually making her shiver. "Did you feel that?"

She sat up and Clark was suddenly very close behind her, leaning over her shoulder, a mischievous smile spreading across his face. "Feel what?"

His breath tickled her neck when she turned her head to look at him. "That cool breeze just now…couldn’t you feel it…and why, uh…why are you smiling like that?"

"Me? I’m just enjoying the view."

She closed her eyes, trying to ignore his closeness and the long buried feelings that threatened to come flooding back; there was no point. She sat, lost in thought until her reverie was interrupted by another wonderfully cool breeze enveloping her body. For a moment, it felt as though she was in an air conditioned room.

Her head jerked up, her eyes widening as Clark’s large hands gently rubbed her arms. "You’ve got goosebumps." He laughed, softly, in her ear. "How can you be cold? Weren’t you just complaining about the heat?"

She turned, instantly suspicious. "Are you telling me you didn’t feel a cold breeze just a moment ago?"

Clark shook his head, all innocence. "Well, maybe a little one," he stopped, looking up at the trees before returning his gaze to her, "but I’m not sure I’d call it cold." He leaned in even closer, "This is the haunted woods…maybe…" his voice dropped to a whisper, "maybe there’s a ghost…" When he saw the look in her eyes as she seriously considered the possibility, he tickled her sides, eliciting a high pitched squeal. Clark jumped out of the way as she went on the offensive.

"Clark Kent!" He rolled over, laughing while trying to escape her questing fingers. "That was rotten!" But she was laughing with him. First she aimed for his armpits, always the perfect target when they were younger and Clark squeezed his arms tight to his sides in defense. Before he could wiggle out of reach, Chloe quickly straddled his stomach and went for his neck. Clark tucked his chin down onto his chest as she tried to worm her fingers underneath. He raised his arms to grab her wrists and she went back for his armpits, giggling as he had to squeeze his arms tight again to protect himself.

"Chloeeeeee…..Chloeeeeee…eee…ah…" he was really squirming now, "please…"

"Say it, Clark." She wrapped her hands around his wrists and slowly stretched his arms out above his head, leaning over him until they were face to face. She smiled down at him, "Say it or else I’ll…" Chloe scooted backward, preparing for another assault, the stomach this time; belly buttons had always been another favored target.

Clark’s eyes widened in alarm and he yelled, "No! Stop! Uncle! Aunt! I give!" She rolled off, flopping onto the blanket next to him and he abruptly flipped over onto his stomach. They laid there for quite some time before their laughter finally subsided, Clark ever watchful for a sneak attack. It had been like old times when Chloe’s unerringly accurate ability to find her victim’s most sensitive spots had helped to keep both Clark and Pete in line. This time, however, it hadn’t been the threat of further tickling so much as the effect of her proximity to another sensitive area that had caused his rapid capitulation; times, it seemed, had still irrevocably changed.

Eventually, her gaze fell on the pool and she got up, heading down the sandy slope toward the water. "I wish I’d known; I’d have brought a suit. Come on, let’s go wading."

"I thought you were cold."

"Well, now I’m warm." Chloe kicked off her sandals and lifted up her calf length skirt as she ventured out into the shallow water.

Clark got up and threw his flannel shirt onto the chair, removed his socks and shoes and rolled up his pant legs before walking out into the water. Had he been by himself, he would have stripped and gone for a swim in the deeper end near the spring. Chloe looked over at him, her eyes glinting with mischief then turned her back toward him. She reached down and loosened the ties that fastened her skirt then, it seemed to Clark, was excruciatingly slow in unwrapping it before she threw it back onto the little beach. His eyes were riveted to her shapely curves and the abbreviated thong she was wearing as she moved deeper into the water. "Come on in, Clark; the water’s nice and cool."

Clark took another step then stopped, suddenly made nervous by the thoughts that were beginning to flit through his mind.

"I dare you." She looked into his eyes and proceeded to pull her shirt over her head, flinging it, too, back onto shore before she went farther out. Clark tried not to stare at the small and very revealing undergarment which barely covered her breasts. The tight, filmy fabric did little to conceal the effect the cold water was having on her. Without conscious direction, his eyes gave him an up close and personal view of that effect, in exquisite color and high definition detail. Clark gasped, squeezing his eyes tightly shut as he spun away from her. When he opened his eyes, he tried to distract himself by focusing on something else-anything else-there-an old stump that jutted up out of the water on the far side of the beach. Instantly, with a small explosive pop, the stump burst into flame.

Chloe jumped at the sound and shouted, "Clark!" in surprise when she saw the flaming stump. Clark quickly moved toward it, frantically splashing water over it to extinguish the fire. "What the hell was that?" Chloe stared at the smoking remains of the tree stump then at Clark who’d turned his back on her again and was now staring intently up into the sky overhead as though it was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. "Clark! Are you listening to me?"

"Yeah, I hear you, Chloe. Um…I’m not sure what caused it but maybe the decaying organic matter in the stump created a methane build-up and the heat caused it to ignite. It is awfully hot, today… Weird, though, huh?"

Chloe floated over to the charred, still smoking stump, examining it more closely but there was very little left. She poked it experimentally and half of it fell off into the water. "Why are you staring up at the sky?" she asked as she turned back in his direction.

"Um, I, um…thought I heard something overhead."

Chloe stared at him for a moment, waiting for any possible further explanation that might be forthcoming. When none came, she sighed and swam out across the pond, occasionally glancing back at the stump in case it flared up again.

Clark was still trying his best not to think about the scantily clad body swimming nearby. Afraid his eyes might again betray him if he looked at Chloe, he looked instead into the bushes ringing the pond and tried to locate those with the most berries. Chloe swam close and splashed him from behind.

"Clark! What are you doing?"

"Um…thinking about blackberries…"

She came closer, swimming around so she could see his face but he turned so his back was toward her.

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Are you coming or not?" She waited then splashed him again.

"Okay, okay! Just give me a minute." He turned away from her, hesitating for a moment before slowly pulling off his t-shirt and dropping it at the water’s edge. Next he unfastened his jeans, hopping first on one foot then the other as he stepped out of them then throwing them over next to his shirt. Behind him, Chloe giggled. When he turned around she had disappeared. Clark waded further out into the water, thankful she wasn’t near and floated out into the middle of the pond, trying to spot her. Finally, he stood on a submerged tree trunk near the stump he’d set on fire, x-raying the pond when she came up behind him and snapped the elastic of his boxers before quickly diving under the water again. "Hey! Okay, I will get even for that."

He turned in a circle, determined to capture her but she managed to get behind him again, snapping his waistband a second time before she jumped away, laughing and swam to the far side of the pool. "Hey, is it deep enough to dive in over here?" She climbed out onto a rock and looked around.

"Yeah, but be careful; there’s a big log under there. Don’t-" Chloe dove in and disappeared from sight. A moment later, her bra floated up to the surface. Clark started to dive down after her just as she popped up right in front of him, giving him a wonderful view before she sank back into the water.

"Clark! I lost my-"

He quickly turned away, his cheeks a fiery red and mumbled, "I know!" The rogue garment slowly floated past, teasing him.

"Well, where is it?"

His voice went into a higher register when he said, "Here," and he picked it up, very pointedly not looking in her direction as he held it out behind him with thumb and forefinger, as though he was afraid of it.

Chloe reached for it but he was waving it around so much she couldn’t get hold of it. "Will you hold still!" Finally, she snagged it and put it on. One of the straps was hanging by a thread. "Rats! So much for Victoria’s Secret." Clark abruptly dove under the water, coming up on the other side of the log where he quickly sidled up close to the submerged portion of the branch, attempting to appear casual.

"Clark, where…oh…" she laughed, seeing his blush and dove under again, emerging opposite him next to the log, smirking at his apparent shyness. Clark moved even closer to the log. She reached over and made another grab for him but Clark jumped back out of reach and quickly dove underwater. A submerged limb that jutted out from the old log snagged his shorts, neatly peeling them off as he went by. Clark shot across the pond at high speed, oblivious to his loss, Chloe following in hot pursuit. She stopped suddenly when she encountered the errant underwear wafting on an underwater current; grabbing them, she headed to the surface, bursting upward with her prize held high.

Clark’s smirk at eluding her turned to panic when he saw what was in her hand.

"Didja lose something, Clark?" Chloe snickered with delight at his predicament.

"Alright. Hand ‘em over." He moved toward her, trying to appear intimidating but it wasn’t working and Chloe kept just out of reach, waving his shorts around like a proud banner. Clark made a grab for them when he got close, lunging up out of the water momentarily to reach them.

"Nice view, Clark." A look of horror crossed his face and he sank back in the water, his hands instinctively covering his groin. "Too late for that, Clark. I’ve seen it all, now: Clark Kent in all his glory." He dove underwater, once again, giving Chloe a good look at his ass on the way. She tossed his boxers aside and followed him under but Clark was quick and he circled around behind her. When she surfaced, he grabbed her around the waist, turned her upside down and dunked her, her squeals echoing through the forest.

Clark laughed, holding her at arms length. Just as she reached out to extract her revenge his sensitive ears picked up a snuffling sound somewhere close. His head snapped up, his face suddenly serious. "What’s that?"

"That’s original."

Clark turned her right side up and pulled her close as he listened, turning around in a circle, x-raying the dense bushes that surrounded the pond. She giggled as she reached down to tickle him but he clapped a hand over her mouth and whispered, "Shh." As quietly as he could, he moved through the water, holding her close and rose up on the far bank where their clothes lay. He mouthed the words, "Get dressed," and hastily slipped into his jeans.

She stared at him suspiciously as she started to dress.

Clark’s eyes widened and he yelled, "Run!" A moment later something huge and black came tearing through the thicket on the opposite side of the pond, roaring at the top of its lungs and pounding toward them along the bank. Chloe took off at top speed wearing only her shirt and panties although she snagged her camera bag in passing. Glancing back, she saw that Clark had somehow managed to get fully dressed. Now he was close behind her, practically goosing her along. "Don’t look back!"

The bear gained on him and Clark turned to take a look just as it leaped forward and took a vicious swipe with its monstrous claws, raking his face and neck and ripping the front of his red t-shirt. Not far off, he saw another rustling in the bushes; a quick scan revealed a second bear coming in their direction. At that point, he’d decided a tall tree would be the safest place for Chloe so he sped up, grabbing Chloe as he passed by and hauled alien ass up the tallest tree he could find. Everything was a confused blur until Chloe found herself sitting against the main trunk on a broad branch near the top of one of the largest fir trees she’d ever seen. It was certainly the biggest tree she’d ever been in.

She stared at Clark as he settled next to her. The tree limbs were large and close together, forming a platform of sorts and allowing him to hold her close as they waited. Far below, the bear came to a halt, pacing around the trunk and snorting in disgust at the loss of its prey. The bear stood and clawed at the rough bark, sniffing the air as though contemplating climbing up to get them. Clark watched intently, ready to discourage the creature if necessary.

Chloe was still breathing hard, eyes wide, her whole body shaking, not sure whether she was more afraid of the bear or of being so high up. She really didn’t like heights and she definitely hated being up in trees. Chloe chanced a glance down at the ground and immediately felt dizzy; a moment later she was scared all over again when a second bear appeared and ambled over toward their tree. She clutched at his shirt and he pulled her over into his lap, wrapping his arms around her. "Clark," she whimpered then started to cry.

"It’s okay, Chloe. Everything’s okay; we’re fine." He rubbed her back, trying to comfort her. "We’ll just wait here for a little while-"

Suddenly, she became aware that her fingers were grasping his shredded shirt. "Clark! Clark, he clawed you! Oh, God!" She started running her hands over his chest, frantic to see how badly he was hurt. "How bad? Talk to me!" Now she was beginning to sound really panicked.

Clark held her even tighter, making it impossible for her to examine him any further. "Chloe! Listen to- Listen to me! Calm down; I’m not hurt. My shirt’s ripped but that’s all. I’m fine; honest." He smiled, wiping her tears away with his fingers. She seemed calmer when she looked up at him. "Okay…better now? Come on…"

She hugged him tightly. "I don’t like heights, Clark…"

"I know, Chlo. But we have to stay here until they leave. I promise I won’t let you fall, okay?"

She relaxed against his chest, grasping his shredded t-shirt in one fist. After a while, her breathing grew more regular. "What’ll we do if they try to come up here?"

"I don’t think they’ll try it but if they do, I’ll…throw things. We have the high ground after all." He tried to give her a reassuring smile. Chloe looked down just as the larger bear leaped up onto the trunk and went up several feet before sliding down.

"Clark!" She was shaking again.

"Chloe, we’re really high up; I don’t think these branches would hold those bears. They’ll give up eventually and we’ll go home. Odd; I didn’t know there were any bears in the woods."

Clark felt her shiver. "Are you scared or cold?"

"Both. And this wood’s rough."

"Well, your, your, uh, uh, underwear is practically non existent. No wonder."

Chloe glared at him, not sure if she should be surprised he’d even noticed or angry at his remark. "Well, Mr. Kent! I didn’t anticipate having to sit on hard wood, thank you very much! And you can just leave my underwear alone!" She crossed her arms and stared off in the other direction, adding an emphatic "Hmph!" to underscore her displeasure.

"Chloe…come on…Chloe…here-" Clark took off his flannel shirt and handed it to her. "Wrap this around your legs. I’ll hold onto you…" She looked back at the proffered shirt, still frowning. "Come on; this will make it better." He smiled before tentatively placing his hands on her sides. She immediately began to squirm.

"That tickles!"

"Hold still!" Clark closed his large hands around her again, his long fingers brushing her stomach and she wiggled again in protest. "I’m not trying to tickle you-"

"Well, you are!"

"You’re gonna fall if you don’t stop-"

"Okay, okay…just…just…go slow…" She was panting, trying not to laugh but she shivered again when he touched her. The sensation of his hands on her sensitive stomach was one she couldn’t ignore and not just because it tickled. Eventually she got her giggles under control, allowing him to steady her while she wrapped his shirt around her bare legs. She tied the arms around her waist and leaned over, buttoning the shirt for good measure. She added another "Hmph!" and frowned again. "I suppose you’d like me better in Daffy Duck shorts."

Clark stared at her for a moment and added, "No, I…wouldn’t. I mean…what you’re wearing or not wearing is fine; I mean, um…it’s just not suitable for tree-climbing…" He stared down at his shoes with sudden intensity. I like what you’re wearing... "Now…" He reached down and began untying his shoes. Chloe immediately lost her balance, tipped sideways and had to grab an overhanging branch to keep from falling.

"Whoa! Uh…Clark, what are you doing? I don’t think those shoes will fit me…"

"No, but I was thinking…" he pulled off one shoe and then a sock, "this might." He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a roll of duct tape. "And we’ll give you a custom fit. Duct tape- don’t leave home without it."

"And all this time, I thought you were just glad to see me."

Reddening slightly, he raised one eyebrow at her as he handed her the sock. "You’ve really been in fine form today, you know that?"

"I’s just so easy to tease you." Chloe punched him lightly on the arm and sighed, somewhat wistfully. "Like old times…"

Clark removed the other shoe and handed over his other sock before putting his shoes back on and tying them. He held her again while she pulled on his huge socks; they hung like bags on her small feet. "Here, scoot back and I’ll fix your footwear." He pulled her feet onto his lap and snugged the socks with duct tape around each ankle then pinched up the excess on top, wrapping it with strips of tape. As an afterthought, he taped the bottom of the socks. "There. Long lasting treads. Eat your heart out, L.L.Bean." A sudden wind rustled the leaves making her shiver again. When she glanced away, looking for the bears, he warmed her with a mild sweep of heat vision.

She looked back at him and wiggled her feet in approval. "I feel warmer, already. And I like the little elvish tips." She eyed his tattered t-shirt. "Aren’t you chilly at all?"

"Nope. Not really. It is kinda breezy up here, though."

Chloe was quiet for a moment. "Will your parents miss us?"

"They’re in Topeka until at least next Thursday or Friday. Your dad?"

"Fertilizer convention in Omaha. Back next Wednesday, at the earliest. Maybe Pete’ll miss us."

"Last I heard, Pete’s gonna help Lana reorganize the stock room at the Talon this afternoon." Clark chuckled. "I wouldn’t count on him noticing we’re missing anytime soon."

"Okay, so…we’re on our own," she sighed. They sat in companionable silence for a time; Chloe wondering if the bears really would leave without trying to climb up to get at them. She relaxed a bit when they moved off a ways. She stared at Clark’s rugged profile, wondering how he’d managed to get them both up into their high perch.

Clark felt her eyes on him and turned toward her. "What?"

"Just wondering how you got us up here so quickly." Mercifully, for Clark, another thought preempted the first. "My mouth’s dry. You got any gum?"

He dug into his front pocket, past the duct tape and down to the pocket lint level. "Nope." Then he checked the other pockets and came up with a few pennies and a piece of chalk which he held up. "Sorry; unless you want to suck on a piece of chalk or some duct tape, you’re out of luck."

Chloe pulled up her camera case and looked in a side pocket. "Eureka! She held up a couple of candy pops. "I forgot about my emergency stash. Here; supersize cherry blowpops."

"I don’t think I’ve ever had cherry." He tore off the wrapper and took an experimental lick. "Mmmm…" Popping it in his mouth, he pronounced it, "Werry wood."

Chloe giggled and went to work on her own, running her tongue over the outside before sucking the entire pop into her mouth. A trickle of cherry juice dripped down her chin and she laughed, pulling the pop out and trying to catch the drip with her tongue. Clark’s eyes widened, riveted to her mouth as an old memory of Chloe saying, "What can I do for you, Clark?" while very suggestively licking one of those pops, came rushing back. She’d been infected by the parasitic worm, at the time, though he hadn’t known it then.

Clark could still remember his discomfort as he’d left the Torch office in a hurry that day, castigating himself for his attraction to her, especially since he’d just asked Lana on a date. To his further embarrassment, he’d later acted on that attraction quite publicly when he’d been affected by the Red Kryptonite, not to mention their more private interaction in the backseat of Pete’s car where they’d been all over each other. Clark had thanked God many times that he’d come to his senses when he did. Not that his body hadn’t regretted it. He’d been doubly thankful Chloe hadn’t remembered the incident but he’d never been able to forget how much he’d wanted her.

Chloe had her camera out, staring through her viewfinder at one of the bears when she yelped, "Hey! He’s got my-" she stopped abruptly.

"What?" Clark grabbed the camera, looking through it once for the sake of appearances. Then he lowered it, allowing his telescopic vision to kick in, revealing a small pink package in the bear’s mouth. Now bringing the microscopic component into play, he could easily see the numerous holes where pills had been punched out. Clark turned to Chloe, one eyebrow raised in a Spock-like arch. "Is that a package of-"

"Birth control pills! He’s got my birth control pills! Ooohhh!" She broke a little twig off a nearby branch and threw it down in the bear’s general direction. "I hope I have another package at home." She crossed her arms, adding a "Rats!" in disgust.

"Um…well…guess maybe you’re seeing someone, huh?" He found the thought rather depressing, though Chloe had never given him reason to think she wanted to be more than friends now. And who could blame her? Having ignored her on so many occasions, he was lucky to have even that. A small voice, his own little devil’s advocate, pointed out she had performed that little impromptu strip tease for him at the pond. No, that was nothing. "Someone in Metropolis, I bet. So…who is it?"

Chloe glared at him and grabbed her camera away, stuffing it back into its pouch. "Just because I’m taking the pill doesn’t mean I’m having sex with someone! Men! Everything revolves around you! Of course a girl would only be taking the pill because she’s getting horizontal with some hunky stud! The fact that there are other reasons for using oral contraceptives would never cross your mind- You…you…"

"Chloeeee! Did I say that? I only thought-"

"You’re just as oblivious as any other human male."

Clark’s mouth hung open for an instant at that improbable slander before he said, "Hey! I didn’t mean it that way- "

Clark cringed away in mock fear as Chloe reached out to smack him on the arm but before she could land the blow, she lost her balance and slid from her perch. Clark dropped, quickly grabbing her around the waist with one arm while catching hold of the main trunk with the other. "You okay?" he asked as he climbed, effortlessly lifting Chloe back up into their little sanctuary. She nodded and Clark hugged her close.

"I’m sorry, Clark. I-"

"Look, I didn’t mean to offend you. You’re right and I’m sorry. It’s none of my business, anyway. Truce?"

She leaned against him. "Yeah, truce."

Eventually, as the afternoon drew on toward evening, the sky darkened and the wind began to pick up. A strong gust shook the little platform of boughs on which they sat and Clark gently pulled Chloe into his lap, wrapping his arms around her for added warmth.

Chloe surveyed the dark thunderheads building in the distance. "Looks like a storm’s coming…" She watched Clark who was also looking anxiously at the foreboding sky. "What’ll we do if-"

"Well, we can’t stay up in this tree if it storms." The first deep roll of thunder could be heard in the distance. "Great." Clark surveyed the woods below and decided he couldn’t wait any longer for the bears to leave. Trying to sound casual, he said, "Hey, I think the bears are gone; I’ll go down and take a look. Just stay put."

"Ah…maybe we should wait a while longer…" Thunder rumbled again and Chloe shifted nervously.

"I’ll be right back; don’t move." Clark lifted her off his lap and scooted out from under her. Stepping onto a smaller side limb a couple of feet below, he started down the main trunk. One of his sleeves caught on a twig and ripped, completing the ruin of the shirt so he shrugged out of it and left it behind. Chloe could hear the rustling of the branches as he moved down through the tree.

"It’s okay," he called up. "I’m down; I’ll just look around a bit." He scanned the immediate area and saw the bears moving back in the direction of the pond.

"Don’t go very far! I don’t want to be up here by myself…" Chloe leaned over, peering down through the tree, trying to spot him on the ground. The dense foliage made it hard to see and the light was failing as the sky grew more dark and ominous. She thought she’d caught a brief glimpse of Clark a few feet away; cautiously, she moved over to get a better view, holding onto a small branch for support. "Clark?" Chloe craned her neck, leaning out as far as she could. With a sharp crack, the little branch abruptly gave way and she tumbled forward, plummeting straight to the ground.

Clark caught her easily; she barely had time to scream. "Whoa! Didn’t I tell you to stay put? What were you trying to do?" She was shaking and he held her close; finally, she laid her head on his shoulder. "You okay?"

She stared up into the tree, then back at him and after a moment, shook her head. "Yeah…I guess…" She ran her hand over his bare chest. "What happened to your shirt?"

"It caught on a limb as I came down so I got rid of it. Wanna sit down?"

"No…um…can I just stay right here for a minute?"

Clark laughed softly. "Yeah, sure."

Something rustled in a nearby bush and she whimpered, "What’s that?"

He glanced behind her and smiled. "Just an old possum. I’ll wrestle him if I have to. Now, why don’t we head home before the storm breaks?"

"Okay. Well, wait a minute. I’ve been up that tree a long time. I-"

A twig snapped behind Clark and he whipped around in alarm. A second later he was practically throwing her up the tree trunk. "Get up there, now, Chlo!"

She scrambled up a ways into the tree before she realized Clark wasn’t behind her. Stopping, she called out, "Clark? Where are you? Come on!" She felt the tree trunk shake as though something had slammed into it. Now terrified, she eased back down a few feet until she could see the small clearing near the base of the tree. A tall figure stood in the fading light that filtered down through an opening high up in the forest canopy. "Clark!" She sobbed as two huge shapes leaped out from the bushes at the edge of the clearing, charging the man who stood in the middle.

Clark yelled once, in a voice that demanded obedience, "Chloe! Do NOT come down out of that tree! Get back up there NOW!"

Chloe screamed out, "No! Clark!" and took another step down, pausing when she thought she saw one of the bears beneath the tree. Clark said nothing and she yelled again, "Clark, where are you?" The bear’s angry growls filled the clearing; Clark was being badly mauled by the sound of it. Next to her, she spotted a tree limb, broken off by some violent wind and tangled in the branches above; a weapon, if she could only get it down. She pulled on it, trying to yank it free without success. Stepping onto a lower limb for better leverage, she put her full weight into it and finally pulled it loose but her victory was short lived as she lost her footing and slid down through the tree. Chloe was still holding tight to the branch when it finally caught in a dense tangle of ivy, leaving her hanging some ten feet off the ground. She was certain she could hear a bear right below her.

The clearing was briefly illuminated by a flash of lightning and for a moment, it looked like one of the bears had grabbed Clark by the throat. When the light faded, she heard only their vicious snarling. It had grown almost completely dark now, the only light coming from the strobe flashes of lightning overhead. The first patter of heavy raindrops began to fall around her. Terrified, she yelled for him again; her hands slipping slightly when she turned her head. "Clark!" Directly beneath her, one of the bears stood up against the trunk, reaching for her with one huge paw. Chloe heard its low growl and knew it was probably climbing up to get her. There was a loud thump below her, another fork of lightning streaked across the sky and she saw the bear pinning Clark to the ground. "No!"

Then she began to lose her grip and with agonizing slowness, her hands slid off the branch. She cried out once as she fell and suddenly, she was in Clark’s waiting arms, once more. She threw her arms around his neck, crying with relief. "Clark! Oh, Clark!  I saw that bear on top of you! How did you-"

"Chloe, can we play twenty questions later?" He put her down. Rain was falling more heavily and muddy rivulets of water ran through the little clearing, over the bank and into the stream that flowed beyond it. Clark turned away, staring into the distance for a moment. His tone was urgent when he turned back to her. "We need to find shelter. There’s a small cave not far from here but we’ve really gotta go." Behind them, a brilliant fork of lightning struck a tall tree not far beyond the clearing, splitting it in two and showering them with sparks and splinters. Clark grabbed her, shielding her from the wave of debris. Picking her up again, he said, "I’ll carry you; close your eyes."

"Why do I have to close my eyes?"

"There’s a lot of debris in the air."


"Chloe. Now. Do as I say. Don’t open your eyes until I tell you to." He turned her head into his chest, covering her face with one large hand as best he could. "No more questions." Reluctantly, she obeyed, closing her eyes as Clark took off. She felt the rush of the wind and what she imagined was dirt, leaves and other debris whipped up by the storm as Clark ran toward the cave. In a moment she was out of the rain. Clark put her down just as another bolt of lightning struck a tree close by the entrance, part of which toppled over onto the mouth of the cave. Chloe shrieked, burying her head against his chest as Clark pulled her to him.

"Can I open my eyes now?"

"Yeah, you can open ‘em." She gazed up at him for a long moment, somewhat dazed then turned to look at the downed tree. "Stay back away from the entrance. That was too close." Clark, however, went to the mouth of the cave and stared into the distance.

The wind quickly became so strong that large trees were beginning to bend over and she could hear the sharp crack of breaking limbs outside even from where she stood. "Clark, maybe you’d better come back here-"

Clark turned, his jaw set and yelled over the violent wind, "Get to the back of the cave!" She turned but before she could take two steps he grabbed her and carried her to very back wall of the cave where he pushed her to the ground, covering her body with his own. He yelled one word: "Twister!" before the world was reduced to a freight train roar as rocks and tree limbs swirled around them, beating against Clark’s body. Chloe peeked up, whimpering when she saw a crack form in the limestone overhead. Clark followed her gaze, watching as the crack spread and widened until an entire section of the ceiling threatened to come loose. He yelled, "Close your eyes!" and she did, thinking it was the last thing she’d ever see. Clark moved to make sure her face was shielded just as the slab crashed down, shattering across his back. The air was thick with dust and debris for a moment then everything grew quiet; the only sound the steady fall of rain outside.

Chloe opened her eyes, surprised to be alive. Lightning still flashed outside and Clark’s big eyes stared down at her, filled with concern. She remained silent for a moment, pleasantly aware of his body on top of her own, especially his bare skin. Years ago, her dreams had often been filled with such things; occasionally, they still were.

"Are you okay?" Slowly, Clark rose up on his elbows. "You look a little flushed."

Clark was covered with stone dust, some of it turned to mud where water had splattered across it. Chloe looked overhead at the spot where the slab had come loose and around them on the cave floor where chunks of stone lay scattered about. She looked back into Clark’s eyes and whispered, "I’m…okay…are you okay? What happened? How can we be okay?"

"Just be glad we are, Chloe." Clark sat back on his knees then stood, offering her a hand and helped her to her feet. He steadied her when she swayed a little then just pulled her to him, holding her tightly. "Better?" he asked, waiting for her nod before letting go. "Why don’t you sit down? The storm’s still pretty bad and we’re gonna have to wait here for a while." Clark guided Chloe over to a suitable rock. "I’ll build a fire." He picked up some twigs and small branches and began piling them up in a shallow depression at the rear of the cave.

"How you gonna start a fire? All this wood’s soaked?"

"You let me worry ‘bout that." Clark walked to the cave entrance again and picked up a couple of bigger logs. Looking back at her, he said, "If you’re up to it, you can gather some more kindling. Looks like most of the little stuff blew back there." He pointed to the side of the cave a few feet away. Chloe slowly stood, still a bit unsteady. "You still look wiggly; maybe you’d better let me-"

"Oh, Clark, I’m fine. Good grief!" She stomped over and began collecting twigs. Behind her, Clark quickly dried the pile of wood with his heat vision and started a small fire in the center. He grabbed up a couple of nearby stones and smacked them together, making Chloe jump. "What the hell?"

"Sorry. Just making a spark to start the fire." Clark made a show of poking at the fire and blowing on it. "That’s probably enough; you can bring those over and put them right here."

Chloe walked to the fire and got down on her knees beside it. She began adding her twigs to the fire, occasionally glancing at Clark who sat, tailor fashion, quiet and distant, his face lit only by the flickering flames. The fire grew, warming the cave and Chloe began to relax. She sat, leaning over against Clark who stretched out his long legs to accommodate her. Her eyes kept returning to the ceiling of the cave. Finally, she got up on her knees and leaned around behind him. Clark shifted uncomfortably under her gaze.

"What are you doing?"

"As far as I can see, there’s not a mark on you; how is that possible?" Hesitantly, she touched his mud encrusted skin, running her fingers over his back. "That slab should have crushed us. Why didn’t it?"

Clark closed his eyes; sighing, he ran his fingers through his hair, creating a small dust cloud around his head. "Chloe…can’t you just let it go? Be glad we’re okay."

"I am glad we’re okay but I can’t help wondering why we’re not pancakes. How did we…or is this another math mystery?"

Smiling, he said, "Look. It’s really not such a mystery." He pointed to the cave ceiling. "See that stain?"

Chloe looked upward. "Not very well. It’s too dark in here to see much of anything. But what about it?"

"Water’s been seeping in here for so long it rotted the stone; made it soft so it lost cohesion. Eventually, it was bound to give way and the suction of the wind pulled it loose. Luckily, it fell at an angle and hit the ground right next to us. Then it disintegrated and we were mostly hit with small stones and dust. We were just very, very lucky. See? No mystery. Nothing for the Wall." Chloe was silent. "Chlo?" He started to turn around, stopping when he felt her hands on his back again.

"Hold still." She examined him further, still not believing he was unhurt. "Alright…I…guess that might make sense…but what about the bears?"

"What about them?"

"Their claws are like razors and I thought I saw one of them grab you-"

"It tripped on a tree root or something and fell. Must’ve been knocked out ‘cause it didn’t get up." She was silent for a moment as she ran her fingers under his chin and around his neck. Clark bit back a little moan when her fingernail scraped the sensitive skin under his jaw.

"One of ‘em had you down; how’d you get away from it?"

"Smacked it in the head with a rock and it just took off."

"Um…did I happen to mention the seat of your pants got ripped?"

Clark’s hands flew behind him to assess the damage. A flap of denim hung down exposing him as though he was wearing a pair of old fashioned long johns; only the waistband held his jeans together in the back. He tried, unsuccessfully, to tuck the flap back in place.

"Better be careful. They look like they could go at any minute." She giggled and after a moment she sat down next to him, again. "You’re a mess, you know it?"

Clark looked down and brushed at his bare chest. "Yeah, I guess I am." He smiled over at her and Chloe tried to wipe away some of the grime on his face. She succeeded only in making stripes across his cheeks.

"Hmm. Not sure that’s an improvement." Leaning over against him, Chloe sighed and stared into the fire which was now burning quite merrily. Outside, lightning flashed, followed by the low rumble of thunder and rain was still coming down heavily. They sat quietly for a while as the fire burned down.

Her thoughts drifted back to earlier days when Clark and Pete were her best friends and together they spent many hours searching for answers to mysteries linked, in one way or another, to the meteors that fell on that fateful October day. Mutation in the local population had seemed pretty common, especially in children who were very young at exposure. Lana, who had no doubt tired of being stalked by the various meteor freaks who’d resulted and who had never completely gotten over the death of her parents when the first meteors hit, had railed about them on many occasions. Oddly, Clark who claimed he hadn’t been affected by the meteor rocks, had often seemed haunted and saddened when she went on one of her rants. After the Gillboy incident, and subsequent sniper attacks, Lana had been angry with Clark for pointing out that those people hadn’t asked to be altered. She’d banged around the house for a while complaining about Clark’s sympathies for "those freaks," and when Chloe had tried to be sympathetic to her while agreeing with Clark on the matter, she’d stomped upstairs and refused to come down for quite some time. Well, that was just Lana; she had a quite a temper at times when she got her mind set on something and refused to compromise until she worked through it. Chloe, having lived with Lana, had seen that first hand on several occasions and thought of it as Lana’s Pink Pissy Mood.

As she sat watching shadows dance on the cave walls, she wondered what the glyphs in the Kawatche cave had meant and why Clark was so fascinated by them, almost to the point of obsession. In fact, everyone had been fascinated by them; the Kawatches certainly were because the drawings and symbols were supposed to tell their history and they’d taken to Clark as though he were one of them. Had he been a long lost member of their tribe, perhaps and sensing that, they’d taken him into their confidence? Both Lex and Lionel had been extremely interested in what had been discovered there. Lionel had hinted that Clark might have some secret knowledge of the cave language. Bet it really pissed him off to think a Kansas farmboy knew something he didn’t.

Lionel had claimed the cave symbols were rearranged the day of the explosion on the Kent farm, implying that Clark was somehow responsible, although how he thought Clark could have done so was unclear. She certainly hadn’t seen any evidence of tampering on the wall itself but photos taken of the symbols there before that day did appear to be different. Lionel had also mentioned a metal disc of some sort that he said would have fit into an octagonal depression in the wall, also no longer evident after that day. She had been truthful when she’d told him she hadn’t been in the cave all that much. Her last visit with Clark during that tumultuous spring had resulted in her being infected with the parasitic worm and the cave had given her the creeps, ever since. The early settlers had reported hearing voices in the area and except for Ezra Small, had refused to go there. The Kawatches had always considered it sacred ground, never entering the caves without the guidance of a medicine man so she wasn’t alone in her reluctance. As recently as the spring when Clark had discovered the newer chambers, locals had occasionally claimed to see and hear odd things in the vicinity of the caves.

The Kawatche caves and the meteors were somehow linked, she was certain, but how was the mystery she had never solved. Ezra Small’s Diary had mentioned at least one earlier meteor shower in the Smallville area, implying there’d been others, if she’d understood him correctly; he spoke of the shapeshifters among the Kawatche tribe appearing after one of them. Perhaps they were the first meteor mutations and the meteors were actually a periodic phenomenon. That was a cheery thought.

Chloe was getting drowsy when Clark jostled her. "Sorry, Chloe; I need to get more wood. Chloe…"

She sat up, yawning. "Okay; I was nodding off." She watched as he walked to the cave mouth and paused to watch the storm. At one side of the cave, a torrent of water poured down from the hillside above and out over the entrance below. Clark stepped under it, throwing his head back, arms outstretched, letting the water hit him full force in the face and chest, in an effort to remove some of the dust and mud. Lightning flashed and Chloe caught a glimpse of Clark as the water cascaded over his body. The image of Naked Clark rising up out of the pond kept trying to intrude into her thoughts; it had been an incredible sight… Anyone could see that Clark Kent was an amazing physical specimen and events over the years had made it obvious that he possessed physical strength beyond that of an average man. Maybe it was just the rigors of farm chores that had given him such impressive strength but having watched Clark toss heavy feed bags and hay bails around like they were weightless while his dad strained to do the same made it seem unlikely. His dad’s well known objection to Clark’s playing football was also impossible to understand. Claims that he was needed on the farm didn’t ring true; his dad, after all, had helped out on the family farm and he’d played football… No, there was something more but it was part of the Clark mystique that he refused to reveal and she had never uncovered an explanation for it. Perhaps Clark’s sudden bursts of temper were the reason...

Clark turned to let the water wash over his back and practically moaned, "Aaahhh…much better…" Finally, he stooped to grab two more large pieces of wood and came back. "God, that felt good-" he realized Chloe was staring at him. "What?"

She tore her eyes away from him to stare at the waterfall. "You…that…looked great! Think I’ll try it." She jumped up and headed to the front of the cave where she stuck her whole head into the stream of water and came away shivering and spluttering.

Clark laughed out loud. "Hey! You’re gonna drown that way. Hang on-" he stopped to add the wood to the fire and went to her side. "Go easy. Wait…" He reached up above her head and put one hand under the water, letting it splash first on his palm before hitting her.

"Oooh…f-feels g-good but it’s so c-cold…"

"Close your eyes and try not to think about it. Mind over matter." He tried to follow his own advice and ignore the revealing contours of her wet shirt.

"R-r-right. Th-that’ll work." But Chloe did as he suggested and surprisingly, the water began to seem warmer. In a minute or two it was actually quite pleasant; eventually it felt almost hot, in fact.

"Had enough?"

"Uh…yeah…wow, that did feel good." When she stepped out from under the water and opened her eyes, the whole cave seemed warm and steamy. "It looks like-"

"Steam; I know. The fire’s warming the cave enough that the cold moisture is starting to precipitate out into fog."

"Well, aren’t you Mister Science Wizard, today? You’re just full of explanations."

"Now, stand over there by the fire and dry off." Clark positioned her in front of the fire, drying her off with gentle bursts of his heat vision when she wasn’t looking. She was fairly dry in no time and Clark sat down, holding out his hand and inviting Chloe to sit close. He put his arm around her shoulders and she snuggled against him, sighing as she watched the flames catch on the wood he’d added. A noise startled Clark from behind and he turned to see a small trickle of dust and pebbles falling from a crack beneath the section of collapsed ceiling. He stood, eyeing the wall and ceiling.

"What’s wrong?"

"I heard something…just…making sure the rest of the ceiling isn’t coming down on us…" Suddenly, his eyes widened and he ran to the crack he’d been studying. Chloe rose, grabbing up a burning twig from the fire and more cautiously picked her way over the debris to see what ever it was that Clark had suddenly found so fascinating. "Careful…"

Chloe shoved her torch up to the crack and gasped. "Is that what I think it is, Clark? That looks like the glyphs in the Kawatche cave…"

"Yeah, it is! We’re actually not that far from the other cave…maybe this one’s connected..." Clark stared at the crack intently then started to stick his hand in.

Chloe grabbed his arm. "Wait! Remember those parasites in the cave walls? What if there are more here? Maybe you shouldn’t just stick your hand in there."

"Nah, there’s nothing in there." He started to reach in again.

"You don’t know that! Don’t-"

"It’ll be okay." He put his hand inside and moved it upward along the crack, his eyes widening as he felt past the revealed glyph. "Chloe! It’s-" he stopped, excited as he felt the familiar octagonal depression meant for the Kryptonian key. He pressed his face into the narrow opening, feeling farther along the rock face inside. "I see more drawings! And…some of them are carved into the wall instead of painted on…"

Chloe angled her head around beneath him, trying to get a look for herself. "Is that the two headed figure?"

"Naman and Seget. Yes but…the one beyond it is just Naman and there’s a symbol…I don’t understand…it looks like…"

"How can you see anything? Wait-" She hurried back to the fire to get another torch. "Here! This one’s bigger! Can you see any better?"

"Oh, yeah…yeah…I think there might have been a passageway here but it’s been filled in over the years." Clark turned to Chloe, sighing. "There’s no way we can get in there now; we’ll have to come back later."

"Did Joseph Willowbrook ever say anything more about his theories on extraterrestrials observing us? The Ledger reporter didn’t really take him seriously and except for mentioning whenever further research was being conducted in the caves, that was pretty much the extent of coverage in the local media." Chloe stared at the figure then asked, "Does the whole tribe believe the legends about Naman being "The One" who’ll be a force for good and help all mankind?"

"Joseph and Kyla came from a family of shamen, so their viewpoint was probably a bit more…traditional than some. "But, yeah…they believed the promise made by the first visitor that another like him would return one day. Naman is the one who’ll the prophecy."

"You sound like you believe it, too."

"A lot of Indian legends involve beings from the sky who interact with humans. It’s not an uncommon belief among indigenous peoples."

"What exactly does the legend say about Naman and Seget?"

"They were close, like brothers then they became enemies."

"Well, that’s depressing."

"Yeah, kinda."

"Did Joseph Willowbrook ever say anything about the sprits in the caves? Ezra Small talked about hearing disembodied voices there; the settlers were afraid to go near them because of it."

"Not specifically, no." Looking at her thoughtfully, he added, "I’d appreciate

it if you didn’t mention this to anyone, Chloe. I’d like to do this myself. Okay?"

"If you say so." Smiling, she added, "I could help…if you want a second pair of hands…"

"Alright. We’ll come back and see if we can find a way in. Maybe there’s another entrance somewhere." Clark narrowed his eyes, staring hard at the wall for a moment before turning away. "Come on. Right now we just need to sit tight and wait out the storm." They settled by the fire again, Clark occasionally glancing back at the crack and Chloe snuggled up against him, once more. Gradually, she became aware of Clark’s warm hand gently rubbing her arm.

"I meant what I said, earlier. We used to be so close; I miss that." He chuckled as he stared down at her.

"What are you laughing at, Kent?"

"Just thinking it’s never boring when you’re around, Chlo; you’re always in the middle of things even when you don’t cause them. I…never appreciated that like I should have when we were younger."

Chloe pulled away and moved closer to the fire, putting some small sticks into it. Without looking at him, she said, "Well..yeah…" sighing, she added, "I know there were times when I pushed too far and I should have backed off. I…I just have this problem with curiosity and I have a hard time letting go of anything that piques it."

"I hadn’t noticed." She glanced back at Clark and he could see a tear making its way down her cheek. "Hey…Chloe…"

"It just seemed like sometimes, well, our entire sophomore year, really, I never knew what would set you off; like…that symbol that was burned on your barn; I was sorry that people harassed you over it but…correct me if I’m wrong…did you ever ask me not to print the picture I took of it?"

"No, you’re right, I didn’t and I was wrong to yell at you over it; I had no right to interfere between you and Lana."

"It just really ticked me off; it was personal and I was angry that she invaded my privacy…and then you came to get me to forgive her- well, you were just riding to her rescue. That’s what knights in shining armor do, right?"

"Chloe…if it’s any consolation, she never told me what she saw."

"It was just some pictures; I should have gotten rid of them a long time ago." They didn’t really mean anything." She turned away again, busying herself by adding more sticks to the fire.

"They must’ve meant something if you’d saved them…Chloe…I didn’t mean to

dredge up a lot of bad memories…" Clark sat up and took her hand, pulling her back to sit beside him. "Come here." He put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her.

"That’s okay, Clark. We’ve both had our share. Like the time you ran away and went wiggy; that was a bad time for all of us."

"I know…I’m sorry. At the time…I thought I had no choice."

"Why were you…so different in Metropolis? It’s like you were your own evil twin." Clark turned away, ashamed. Chloe stared at him, waiting but he remained silent. "It was the ring, wasn’t it? The first time you acted so strangely, I thought you had some sort of bi-polar disorder. But that wasn’t it at all; the red meteor rocks affect you, somehow, almost like a drug."


"I just don’t understand why everyone who’s affected by the green rocks is changed for the worse except you but the red rocks make you go all Jekyll and Hyde."

Sighing, Clark got up and started to pace.

"When I…followed you back to your apartment, I didn’t know what to expect but it was like you were your own evil twin. And you got so…angry the last time I came back …you…you really scared me; I was afraid you might-"

Suddenly, he turned, yelling, "Hurt you? You’re right! You should have been afraid! You have no idea what a chance you took! I was out of my mind- I always knew you’d come looking for me and I didn’t want to be found! The longer I’m around the red rocks, the more they affect me and when you came that last time I…it was like I was overdosing or something; if it makes you feel any better, I threw you out because I didn’t want you to see me like that."

"Why didn’t you take it off?"

"Oh, I took it off but every time I thought of my mom and all the pain I caused, I put it on again."

Chloe stood and walked toward him. "Lana was so sure she’d get you to come back. She said you were just waiting for the right person to find you. I only came because, well, I thought I owed it to you to try again, to tell you everything was falling apart at home; I knew, deep down, you’d never listen to me. A woman’s got to know her limitations; the Spring Formal should have taught me that, if nothing else."

"Don’t say that! I never meant to hurt you…"

Sighing, she looked away. "I know you didn’t, Clark but it was inevitable. I was shocked when you asked me; I couldn’t believe it, it was just too good to be true…"

Clark spun around and was in front of Chloe in two long strides. "I meant it when I said I wanted to take you to the dance, Chloe! And I thought you meant it when you said you just wanted to be friends. Why’d you tell me that if you didn’t mean it?"

"I figured I’d just cut my losses and go back to being a best friend. I mean, you’d already left me behind at the dance. And I know you had to look for your dad but I was so worried and I searched for you and you never even tried to get in touch! It really hurt when I had to hear it from Lana that you were okay because you’d brought her to the hospital! But it would have been okay…and I tried to deal with it even though it was hard except then-" she stopped, wiping away another tear before it could get very far. "it seemed like, that whole year, I felt like I was barely a friend at all. At least, it got better after you came back from Metropolis and the whole Lionel fiasco was finally out in the open. I was actually relieved-"


"Forget it, Clark; water under the bridge at this point. It was a mistake to ever think we could be more than friends; I should never have tried to cross that line."

Clark reached out, touching her cheek. "You’re wrong, Chlo; there was nothing wrong with thinking that." He drew her into his arms and held her close, slowly rubbing his hand over her back.

"It’s okay, Clark. Anyway," she sighed, "it’s not like you ever really noticed I was a girl-"

"Chloe…I’m so sorry…but that’s not true." Clark held her for a moment, resting his cheek against her hair, memories of the Spring Formal suddenly flooding his mind. Gently nuzzling her cheek, he whispered softly, "Not true at all. I’m very much aware that you’re a girl." He lifted her chin, looking deep into her bright green eyes and saw they were brimming with tears. One lone tear made its way down her cheek as she started to turn away and Clark gently brushed it away with his fingers. Then slowly, he leaned down and kissed her. His touch was soft and tender and the smallest of sighs escaped her as he kissed her once more. When he pulled away, he said softly, "Chloe…can we try this again? Maybe I can get it right this time…"

Before she could utter a word, his lips moved on to brush the sensitive skin behind her ear then Clark teased her earlobe with his lower lip and all she could do was moan. She arched backward, shivering as he touched her and sighing as he began to nibble his way down her neck. Then he was back, delicately tracing her inner lips with the tip of his tongue before plunging deep inside.

"Mmmm…oh, God…Clark…" she gasped when he broke the kiss. After a moment, he slid his hands down over her ass and pulled her close. "What…are you doing…" she moaned again.

"Proving my point."

Lex Luthor walked cautiously along an old trail that led through the heart of Burnham Woods. He had come searching for Chloe and possibly Clark, at Lana’s request. He’d returned from Metropolis just in time for the late afternoon thunderstorms which had driven the Talon’s customers inside and Lex and Lana had both been at the coffeeshop when what appeared to have been a twister touched down, mangling the Talon marquee. It had also turned Lex’s newest Porsche upside down and deposited it right outside, blocking the front doors; he wondered if he’d get another ticket.

Lana, even though terrified, had managed to herd everyone into the storeroom at the rear of the building and no one had been injured except for Lana who’d been struck on the head by a jar of maraschino cherries. The whole incident had badly frightened Lex, at first, when he’d whirled around to see her apparently covered with blood, then totally grossed him out when Lana started giggling and licking the blood from her hand, saying it was delicious. By the time he’d figured out it was cherry juice, she’d consumed quite a bit of it, as well as the cherries and when he finally tried one, at her insistence, he discovered they were fermented. Lex couldn’t decide if it was the blow to the head or the fermented fruit that had caused her to begin her prognostications but she’d immediately started saying Chloe and Clark were missing and in trouble, insisting Lex go to find them.

He called for his staff to bring the fully equipped Hummer, assist with the clean-up and tend to his fallen Porsche, so he could search for Chloe and Clark. Fortunately, Pete Ross had been helping Lana rearrange the stock room when the twister hit and was quite capably managing the aftermath. Pete seemed adept at juggling situations as they arose; Lex thought he might have a future in politics ahead of him. Pete’s only serious problem, at the moment, was keeping Lana, who was now fairly well flown, out of the fermented cherries.

One of the waitresses who’d been at the Talon that morning said she’d overheard Clark ask Chloe to go hiking in Burnham Woods and no one had seen them since. Pete had offered to help with the search but Lex insisted he stay with Lana. He’d added that Clark and Chloe were probably fine, anyway and that Lana really needed him more. As soon as his Hummer arrived, Lex had fled, leaving Pete in charge.

He’d stopped by the Sullivan house and the Kent farm, first, but found nobody home and had decided to take a little jaunt into the woods, just in case. Not far in, he’d spotted Chloe’s car near a hedge of blackberries in an area of the woods known to be a lover’s lane, of sorts. That started a new train of thought in his mind regarding Clark and Chloe and what exactly they were doing out in the woods but her car was vacant so Lex drove on, following the path as far as he could in his gigantic SUV. Soon, however, he came to a point where he couldn’t navigate the trail any further and had to decide whether to go back and look around near Chloe’s car, wait for help or proceed on foot. In the end, Lex had decided to go on his own, without even a bodyguard. No one had threatened him for a long time now and he figured a short walk in the woods was surely safe.

Lex parked the Hummer next to a copse of poplar and took out a small backpack stocked with water, a first aid kit, flashlights, an emergency blanket and a flare. He also retrieved a handgun from under the front seat. Earlier, he’d thought about mounting a full scale search party but since he’d first thought most of the storm’s damage had been in the downtown area, he’d decided Clark and Chloe had probably just taken shelter when the storm first blew up and were undoubtedly fine. Clark knew how to survive in storms; they were, as he’d once told Lex, a way of life here. In fact, it seemed Clark managed to survive almost anything.

Once in a while, Lex had the feeling he had known something about Clark that would explain his often incredible luck, knowledge that still lurked in the recesses of his mind, just out of reach, like a word on the tip of your tongue that refuses to be uttered. He wondered if it was somehow linked to the bad time when his father had locked him away in Belle Reve, turning his life upside down, causing his memories to be altered or lost, some forever. Many of his memories had gradually returned but if he’d ever possessed any explanation for some of the things Clark did, it was inaccessible now.

Lex took off down the foot path at a fairly good clip. The night sky had been clear and the full moon had made for a fairly bright night when he left town but here in the heart of the haunted woods very little light reached the forest floor, even though the storm hd taken out some of the trees. When he’d been walking for a few minutes, he began to wonder why, exactly, they’d started calling them the haunted woods, anyway. The hoot of an owl added to the eerie feeling and Lex quickly began to doubt his wisdom in heading off alone; he really thought he’d have found them by now. He was ready to turn back when he abruptly stumbled over something; shining the light from his lantern around he saw a lump in the path and closer examination revealed it to be a large muddy boot. Perhaps Clark had been here, after all. Lex dropped the abandoned footwear, determined now to continue on.

He came to a fork in the trail where a smaller path led off in another direction, and halted, uncertain which way to go. He’d been trying to look for footprints but the rains had left the ground largely turned to mud. Here, however, a rock wall ran beside the trail for a ways and next to it, where the other trail branched off, were some suspicious depressions that had been shielded from the heavy rain by the overhang. Suddenly, the owl hooted close by and Lex trained his flashlight in its direction. The owl flew off in a panic but he spotted a swatch of plaid caught on a thorn bush growing out of the stone. Taking it as a sign, Lex headed off on the side path. A few minutes later he came to what had once been a thick hedge, now flattened by the storm. He aimed his light past it and saw a pond with a little beach and what looked like a blanket near some rocks.

Stepping through, Lex played his lantern around as he walked. He had indeed seen a blanket, as well as the scattered remains of a picnic. It had been a fancy meal with real china dishes, now shattered in the dirt and a casserole dish that had been smashed on a large flat rock. An actual table cloth and real napkins were strewn about the clearing, ripped and now muddied and an antique jar that had once held sun tea lay shattered nearby. Lex recognized it at once because he’d enjoyed Martha Kent’s deliciously sweet sun tea from it many times. Now he was really worried.

He shined his lantern around the little beach and out across the surface of the pond. At the water’s edge, he spotted the charred remains of an old tree stump, burnt recently, too, because he could still smell it. Lex wondered if it was the result of a lightning strike but since the damage seemed confined to the stump itself, he doubted it. Halfway down the slope, something caught his eye; a piece of fabric that matched a skirt he’d seen Chloe wear on many occasions, presumably, one of her favorites. Another look around the sandy beach revealed something floating at the water’s edge; carefully, he made his way down to it and speared it with a long stick. It turned out to be a pair of Daffy Duck boxer shorts. Whatever Clark and Chloe had been doing, even if it had been a lovers’ tryst, something else had happened and Lex was getting a very bad feeling about it.

Deciding it was time to call for reinforcements, Lex whipped out his cell phone and dialed 911. The message he got was: out of service. Another attempt failed, as well and on the third try he got: low battery, even though he’d installed a fresh battery just before heading to the Talon earlier. He had another battery in his back pack and he quickly changed it, trying again only to get: out of area. Lex doubted that local emergency services, which were, along with Smallville itself, only a few miles away had moved and were no longer in his service area. The cell tower was on the road he’d taken tonight; he’d driven by it on his way out and had even checked in with Enrique before turning into the woods so he knew it was undamaged by the storm. Lex began to try other numbers: the mansion, the Talon, even people he knew were just outside the woods but it was useless; he even tried some long distance numbers, just for the hell of it but to no avail. He might as well have been in a black hole because it seemed he could not reach beyond Burnham Woods, at the moment.

Jamming the cell phone back into his pocket, he decided to push on. The far edge of the clearing was littered with debris from an obvious lightning strike which had shattered a huge oak tree. Lex searched around the trunk and through the bushes nearby, thankful neither Clark nor Chloe had been there. The entire area looked as though the storm had been quite bad here and there seemed to be a definite path of destruction leading away from the pond. He began calling out for Clark and Chloe again and headed west, along another narrow path that followed the bottom of a rocky outcropping. This was the very heart of the woods and many of oldest and tallest trees could be found here. Well, formerly tallest because many of them had been broken or toppled by the storm and Lex now wondered if a twister had hit here, as well. The more he thought about it, the more certain he was that something was very wrong beyond the fact that severe weather had hit the area and Clark and Chloe were in the middle of it. Before he got very far, he pulled out his gun.

Lex had walked only a few more yards when he found another shred of flannel cloth hanging on the bark of a tall tree. He stopped, shining his light up into the tree branches, thinking perhaps his friends had taken refuge there. Suddenly, something wet plopped down onto his head, covering his face; startled, he stumbled over a tree root and fell, sliding downhill backward and losing both his flashlight and his gun in the process.

Over the years, erosion had taken its toll on the old tree; some of its large roots had become exposed where the soil had washed away, forming a covered pit on one side and it was here that Lex now found himself. Somewhat dazed, he felt around in the dark; all around him were tree roots and mud. Reaching out through an opening between two roots, he encountered something…it felt like wet fur. His nose wrinkled in disgust at the pungent smell. Pulling his hand back, Lex wrested the wet cloth from his face and saw, illuminated by the beam of his flashlight, now wedged under one of the roots, an enormous bear. The bear glared down at Lex, its fetid breath filling his nostrils. He rolled away from it just as it bent down and reached under the roots to get at him. Frantically, he looked around for his gun…and there it was, right in front of him; the bear was standing on it, one scimitar-like toenail curled around the trigger.

Inside the cave, Chloe sat in Clark’s lap, straddling him, her hands exploring the bare expanse of his chest; he groaned loudly when her fingernail raked over his nipple. He felt the smooth slide of her hands caressing his stomach then slipping lower, tentatively stroking the front of his jeans. Clark unbuttoned the flannel shirt that had covered her legs and tossed it aside then grabbed her hips, sliding his big hands down over her ass, now covered only by the thin strap of her thong. Holding her tightly, he lifted his hips, thrusting up to meet her as she rocked against his hardness. He nipped at her throat, smiling against her skin when he felt her racing pulse beneath his lips; then he moved back, devouring her mouth, his tongue sliding deep inside, hot and wet against her own. Clark fell back on the hard cave floor, pulling Chloe down on top of him. For a moment, he stared up at her, running his hands along her stomach and raking his fingers beneath the curve of her breasts. He teased her nipples, already so very stiff then he turned, flipping Chloe over onto her back and quickly moving on top of her, grinding his cock against her until she was whimpering and wrapping her legs around him. They were both panting when he pulled back and reached down to unfasten his jeans. Before he could, a gunshot rang out.

Clark rose up, staring into the distance then he sat back and stood. "Crap! I’m sorry! That was a gunshot. Stay here, Chloe; you’ll be safe and I swear I’ll be back!"

"No! Wait! Don’t-" but he was gone and out of sight before she could stop him. This time, however, she wasn’t going to be left behind; hastily, she tied the flannel shirt around her legs again and grabbed a couple of flaming sticks from the fire, running after him as fast as her makeshift footwear would allow.

Startled by the gunshot, the bear had retreated, circling wide around the tree before renewing its attack. Now it was shoving its long arm into the wide opening between two gnarled roots through which Lex had fallen. He’d scrambled back as far as he could and only the bear’s huge girth had kept it from coming in after him.

Clark arrived at the clearing just as the bear made another grab for Lex; he fired off a tiny burst of heat vision at its outstretched paw and the bear pulled back, howling in outrage. Turning, it pounded across the clearing, heading straight for Clark. He aimed

another blast of heat vision at the muddy ground in front of the bear, slid in the thick mud and fell into it, face first. The ground beneath him was instantly superheated and a fountain of hot mud shot upward into the air like an erupting volcano. The bear howled and turned tail, heading away at top speed.

Lex stared out into the clearing from beneath the tree, at a complete loss to explain what had just happened. Just when he’d been sure the bear was going to get him, it had run off; he’d heard a sort of giant squelching sound out in the clearing, followed by a loud bubbling noise, like that of a kettle boiling over onto a hot stove and then he’d watched as globs of what appeared to be mud splattered down onto the ground next to the tree which was still illuminated by his flashlight. When everything got quiet, Lex tentatively reached out and was surprised to find the mud was hot.

Some of the mud had been vaporized into dust and hung in the air of the moonlit clearing. Fog had rolled in from the direction of the pond, adding to the surreal tableau that greeted Lex as he cautiously emerged from the tree pit. The mist hung so thickly in the clearing in front of him that he could easily imagine himself to be looking out on an ancient Scottish moor. The dust made his eyes water and his nose itch and clumps of the awful smelling fur were everywhere; he could barely see. Lex sneezed violently several times, in rapid succession. He walked around and picked up his flashlight and gun, both of which were covered with mud. Soon, his nose began to tickle and another round of sneezing and coughing overtook him.

Clark rose up on his elbows from the muddy pit in which he found himself and surveyed the clearing. The first had taken off and Clark stood, trying to locate the second one. Suddenly the other bear jumped him from behind, knocking him over through the bushes at the edge of the clearing. The bear took Clark’s head into its mouth, attempting to crush his skull. God, the smell! The smell of moldy leaves and the horrible bear breath were too much, even for Clark. Eeewww! He pushed the bear away and then he felt it: a tickle in his nose. He was going to sneeze- "Ah…ah…ah…" but the urge left him and he slowly exhaled. Then suddenly the urge was back, just as the bear came at him again and a sneeze erupted, violent and powerful. The startled bear flew backward, propelled by Clark’s sneeze, rolling him end over end across the clearing. Lex watched as the creature flew past him like a giant furry beach ball. When it finally came to a halt it lay stunned for a moment then leaping up, it dove into the underbrush in search of easier prey.

Clark appeared out of the mist in the middle of the clearing, illuminated by a sliver of moonlight shining down through the trees. Lex aimed his flashlight at him as he got closer and he could see that Clark’s hair was wet and plastered to his head and he was covered with mud, leaves and patches of what looked like fur. His face was caked with a layer of dried mud and he smelled incredibly foul. "What happened to you?"

"I fell in a hole-"

Chloe burst into the clearing, holding a flaming branch in each hand. "Wow," she panted, "I didn’t think we were that far away!" She dropped them both and ran to Clark, throwing herself into his arms.

He groaned, "Chloeee...I told you to stay in the cave!"

"No way I was staying back there by myself. Anyway, what if you needed help?"

Clark sighed and hugged her tightly. "What if you’d gotten lost?"

"No danger of that! I just followed the noise." Chloe stared around at the clearing, now illuminated by the fiery branches she’d dropped. "What happened here? There’s mud everywhere…even the trees are covered with mud…" She pointed over to a sizable depression in the middle of the clearing and asked, "What caused that?"

Lex walked over to the edge of the pit and leaned down to touch the side. "It’s hard, like mud that’s been baked in the hot sun. See the cracks? What could possibly have caused that?"

Clark shrugged. "I dunno…but I think that’s what I fell into when I got here."

Chloe looked up, tenderly brushing Clark’s mud-encrusted cheek. "Hey, the mud on your cheek is hard as a rock! Why is-" she stopped when she caught a whiff of something rank, her thought mercifully interrupted. "What is that smell?" She started to run her hands through his hair but stopped when she encountered something gooey. "And what’s in your hair?" She pulled her hand away, trying to see what it was.

"Um…I think it’s bear slobber…I really need a bath."

"Eeewww!" She shook her hand then wiped it on the shirt tied around her legs.

Lex looked nervously in the direction of the bears retreat. "We should really go before they decide to come back. Come on." Lex looked over at Clark. "What happened back there, Clark? I thought that bear had me for sure then it just took off."

Clark looked uncomfortable. "Maybe you scared ‘em away when you started sneezing…"

"Where did the hot mud come from?"

Chloe’s ears perked up at that. "Hot mud?"

"Hot mud rained down all over the clearing. I could see it steaming in the beam of the flashlight; it was hot to the touch."

"Wow! There have been several documented cases of frogs and fish falling out of the sky associated with tornadic activity. The winds lift them high up into the atmosphere then deposit them miles away from the site of the storm."

"Yeah…but…why would it be hot?"

Chloe bit her lip, deep in thought for a moment. "Maybe…"

Clark interjected, "Lightning strike?" Then, anxious to change the subject, he asked, "I thought you weren’t due back from Metropolis ‘til tonight. What brought you back so early?"

"My pilot thought we should try to get in ahead of the weather front. And the weirdest thing…we were almost home, over these woods, in fact, when we ran into some kind of turbulence. I thought it was just the storms blowing in but when we landed, the side of the helicopter was scorched; the paint was actually blistered in streaks all up and down one side. Freaky thing. You see anything odd here earlier?"


"Not really…strange things happened out here long before the meteor shower. It was the Indians that first called it the haunted woods."

Chloe added, "Apparently, there was another meteor shower here before the first white people settled the area. Ezra Small mentioned it in his diaries. I thought he was saying spirits fell with the meteors and the Indians thought they inhabited the woods near the caves…"

"Right… Okay, I’m in the hummer out by the main path. I followed your trail to the pond; what happened? Were you there when the storm hit?"

"We were picnicking when the bears showed up. We-"

"Clark carried me all the way up into the top of this tree…" Lex shined his flashlight up into the tree as high as he could.

"That’s a long way up…"

"We took shelter in a cave when the storm got bad. A tornado went right through here. Was there any damage in town?"

"Actually, there was a touchdown in front of the Talon. Some damage to the marquee and my Porsche got flipped but no one was hurt very badly. Lana got everyone into the store room before it struck and the only actual injury was Lana getting hit by a jar of maraschino cherries."

"Is she okay?"

"Yeah, except for getting drunk."


"She started eating the cherries and drinking the juice while we waited out the storm; she’d had quite a bit when I discovered they’d fermented. I wasn’t sure she knew what she was saying, at first; she was talking crazy but she insisted I had to come find you. Pete offered to come along but I thought he should stay and watch Lana." Lex chuckled. "When I left, Pete was trying to talk her out of the projection booth upstairs; I think she’d found another jar of cherries. You know, Pete’s really good in a crisis." Lex aimed his flashlight under the tree roots that had trapped him and saw a muddy lump. "What is that? Something fell onto my face; I fell into this pit and hit my head. I couldn’t figure out what was happening, at first."

Clark looked down. "I…think that’s my t-shirt. What’s left of it, anyway. I took it off when we were up in the tree." He winced when he realized how that sounded.


"It was all ripped anyway and it caught on a branch when I came down so I just left it!"

"Well, that clears that up." Lex looked back at Chloe and saw her smirk. "Something you wanna add, Chloe?"

"Nope. I’d say that about sums it up."

"Uh, thanks for coming to get us, Lex; …um…we’d better go, just in case the bears do decide to come back."

Lex picked up his pack and dug out a second flashlight, handing it to Chloe. "Here, you might need this."

"Thanks, Lex." They made their way back to the pond where Clark stopped to survey the damage.

"I got really worried when I saw your mom’s antique tea jar."

Clark sighed as he picked up one of the pieces. "This has been in my family for generations. Mom’ll be really disappointed." He dropped it and glanced around.

Lex picked up a muddy lump of cloth and handed it to her. "Found this over there; yours?"

She took it from him and held it up in the flashlight’s beam, trying to shake it

out without much success. "This was my favorite skirt."

Clark looked around, disgustedly and sighed. "Come on, let’s go. He looked at Chloe’s feet and scooped her up.


"Those aren’t the best hiking shoes, Chlo. Better let me carry you." They walked back to the Humvee, Clark occasionally pretending he was going to drop her and Chloe laughing and squealing, pretending to believe him.

Lex could hardly keep from smiling; there was definitely something going on between them. When they arrived at his car, he thought to mention the cell phone mystery. "That’s another thing. My cell wouldn’t work when I got in the woods. It worked just fine right before I got here."

"Mine fell out when we ran from the bears. I don’t know why a cell wouldn’t work out here but all kinds of bizarre things have always happened in these woods, Lex. Maybe the spirits don’t like cell phones interrupting their peace and quiet." She shrugged, smiling and climbed in.

Lex gave them a ride to Chloe’s red Beetle, watching as they drove away and laughing at Clark’s tall frame scrunched into the little car. He sobered and wondered what had really happened out in the woods tonight. As he cleared the woods, he tried his cell phone again. It worked just fine.

Chloe headed toward the Kent farm in silence, stealing furtive glances at Clark. He really was filthy. She’d probably never get the seat covers clean. He turned toward her and gave her an embarrassed smile, as if he could read her thoughts. She slowed for the turn onto Hickory Lane and eventually came to a halt behind the dark farmhouse. She looked over at him. Can he read my thoughts, now? Because I’m thinking he looks really great even when he’s revoltingly dirty and half naked. Especially when he’s half naked…

Clark stared back at her for a moment. "Look, I really need to take a shower."

That sounded like a dismissal. Was Clark going to pretend they hadn’t gotten all hot and bothered in the cave, despite his earlier words, expecting her to ignore what had almost happened? Stung, she mumbled, "Oh." and turned back to the wheel, staring straight ahead. "Well, right, I’ll just-"

He leaned close, cupping her chin in his hand and turning her face toward him. "Chloe…no…come in…" then he kissed her.

"Oh." Chloe stared back at him, wide-eyed. "Come in." Butterflies were suddenly flitting about in her stomach as she smiled back. "Sure." She turned the key, the little car’s engine puttered to a halt and for a moment, the crickets were the only thing she heard.

As they walked up to the kitchen door, he stopped and turned to her. "Sorry about, well, everything. I never thought-" and now, he was so close…those big eyes…mesmerizing… She was just staring at him. "Chloe…are you with me?"

"What? Oh, yeah, I’m with you…Clark…" She was still just smiling up at him. All naked would be even better... The image of Clark emerging from the pond, naked and wet was one that would be indelibly etched in her mind for all time. He was just as impressive as she’d imagined. So very beautiful…and after touching him in the cave…oh…God…

Clark leaned down and kissed her tenderly; bits of dried mud cracked and fell off as he drew away. He stood back, opening the door and gesturing for her to enter. "Listen…if you’d like to take a shower first, I’ll wait…"

She touched his filthy face and smiled. "That’s very gallant of you but I think we’ve established your need to wash off all that mud and bear drool. Go right ahead."

"Um…" Clark hesitated, staring down at her.


"Are…we okay? I mean…in the cave…I…we…"

Chloe ran one hand down his muddy chest then looked him in the eye. Her eyebrow quirked upward as she said, "Yeah…I…when we were sitting in the car, I thought you’d changed your mind and you were gonna say it was a mistake-"

"No, Chloe…" Clark gently kissed her again, the tip of his tongue lingering on hers before he pulled away, "there was no mistake."

"Then…" she stared up at him, feeling strangely light headed. "I’ll, um, I’ll just wash my face off and go see if I’ve got some extra sweats in the car; now go on…and don’t be a water hog because I really need a shower, too…"

Smiling, he said, "I’ll hurry."

"Sure." She continued to stare at him as he headed up the stairs.

He called down to her as he rounded the corner at the landing. "Make yourself at home. You can get a t-shirt from my room, if you want…"

After a few moments, Chloe headed outside to grab her duffle bag. Just as she came back in and locked the door behind her, she heard Clark start the shower. Chloe went down the hall to the half bath where she stripped off her duct tape slippers before brushing her teeth and washing her face. Padding back into the kitchen, she was suddenly nervous; her mouth was dry as dust. She got a glass of ice water and sat at the kitchen table for a moment, trying to calm her racing heart. Finally, she turned out the kitchen light and tiptoed up the stairs, hesitating for a moment when she reached the landing before going on.

Chloe stopped just outside the bathroom door. The old farmhouse was filled with squeaky, ill-fitting doors and this one was no exception. Conveniently, it had fallen open, allowing the steamy moisture from the shower to waft into the hallway and Chloe peeked inside. His huge, mud covered boots sat on the far side of the room, the remains of his jeans piled next to them. Inside the shower, Clark turned around, eyes closed, his face covered with soap and brushed up against the curtain, accidentally pushing it aside at one end and giving her an even better look; she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Nice assets, Kent… Chloe watched quietly while he finished lathering, imagining her own hands running over his slippery skin, her fingers teasing his inner thigh, touching him, making him hard… A sudden liquid heat spread between her own thighs, at the thought. Clark tilted his head backward under the shower nozzle to rinse his dark hair. Rivulets of soapy water ran over his face and down the front of his body, further accentuating his muscular physique; without realizing it, she licked her lips, wondering how it would feel to run her tongue over his swollen cock…

Clark turned around and spread his hands against the shower wall, leaning over to allow the spray to hit his shoulders and back. He lifted his head once more, letting the water hit him full in the face. As he stood, enjoying the sensation of the hot water cascading over his body, the memory of touching Chloe in the cave flooded his mind; her gasp as he’d pulled her down on top of him, her breathy moans as he held her tight, and the feel of her hand on the front of his jeans…if they hadn’t been interrupted by the gunshot- Clark banged his head on the shower wall, groaning at the image of Chloe open and eager before him, his cock hardening at the thought of slipping inside her.

"Clark?" Chloe’s voice came from the hallway, interrupting his thoughts. "Are you using up all the hot water?"

"No, I…" he was quiet for a moment; when he spoke again his voice was low and seductive. "Join me…before it’s all gone."

"Are you propositioning me?"

Clark stood unmoving, his arms outstretched, still leaning against the shower wall. "Yeah, I am." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his flannel shirt drop to the floor. He heard the rustle of fabric as Chloe pulled her shirt over her head and flung it onto a nearby chair, her bra quickly following the same trajectory. The shower curtain moved and Chloe was behind him, her hands running over his hips then moving slowly upward, exploring his broad chest.

"Chlo…" then all he could do was moan when her hands made their way back down over his sculpted abs and bumped his erection. Suddenly, he moved, turning to face her and pulling her against him in one quick motion, his hard shaft now pressed firmly against her stomach. Reaching down, she touched him, circling his swollen head with her forefinger before leaning over and repeating the path with her tongue. Clark groaned, thrusting upward when she took his head into her mouth. Wrapping her hand around his shaft, she stroked downward until she reached his balls, cupping and caressing them in the palm of her hand. She gripped him more tightly then, rubbing his shaft until he was thrusting into her fist.

"How am I doing, Clark?" she whispered.

Clark groaned again and pulled her hand away. Lifting it to his mouth, he ran his tongue slowly up the center of her palm until he reached her fingertips and sucked them into his mouth, one by one. Leaning down, he kissed her, slipping his tongue deep into her mouth as he rubbed his cock against her, drops of pre-cum mixing with the spray of the water on her skin.

Clark pulled back slightly, nipping the underside of her jaw and whispering, "Why are you still wearing your panties, Chlo?"

Before she could answer, he licked at her ear and down the side of her neck; she could barely speak. Breathlessly, she answered, "In my fantasies…I always imagined…mmmmm…you taking them off…you wanted to, in the cave…"

"Really?" he whispered, arching one brow. Clark slipped his fingers beneath the scrap of fabric, dipping into her wetness, making her gasp before easing the thong down over her hips; it fell in a puddle at her feet and she was bare before him. Clark watched droplets of water trace the full contours of her breasts then he lifted her up, repeatedly suctioning one rosy nipple until Chloe whimpered, pressing her breast into his mouth. Then he moved to the other one, licking and sucking until it was stiff as well; she gripped his shoulders, spreading her legs and wrapping them around his hips. Slowly, he rubbed his length back and forth along her slippery entrance, spreading her wetness until she moaned out loud.

When he could wait no longer, Clark cupped her ass and slid deep inside her, stretching her with his thick shaft until she cried out. She was wonderfully tight around him. A few sharp thrusts had her moaning again before he withdrew. Scraping her neck with his teeth, he plunged inside her again, harder this time and held her there, impaled on his rigid cock. Then he pulled out and with maddening slowness, began to tease her, barely entering her several times, until she arched against him, breathlessly moaning his name. Clark felt her nails scratching his back, raking rough and hard across his skin. She nipped at his neck, lifting her hips and urging him on. Moaning loudly, he pushed in harder, increasing his pace as the feel of her nails on his neck and chest spurred him on. Suddenly, it was too much; overwhelmed, he thrust deep inside her, over and over, harder and faster until she tightened around him, biting his shoulder when she came. Clark pushed deep once more and cried out, pinning her against the wall and filling her with his hot cum.

Clark held her there for a long time, panting and savoring their connection then slowly, he withdrew, setting her down and kissing her tenderly. He nuzzled her cheek and softly whispered, "Chloe…Chloe…I…didn’t hurt you…did I…"

"No…no, Clark…you were fantastic, incredible-"

"Showers will never be the same."

"Amazing," she continued, "let’s do it again…"

"Shower?" he teased.

"No," she poked her finger into his belly button, "and I didn’t get a shower, I got this-" she smiled, running her hand over his stomach and down between his legs, teasing his cock and provoking an instant response. "Ooohhh…"

"Chloe," reluctantly, he pulled her hand away, "Close your eyes."

"Aw, Clark, I’ve already seen it," she reached for him again, "and I don’t mind telling you, I think it’s reeeally impressive-"

"Chloe. You said you wanted a shower; now close your eyes."

"Do I have to?"

"Yes. Unless you want to get soap in them." Clark leaned down to her ear and whispered, "Chlo. Just relax; I’ll do all the work." First, he washed and rinsed her hair, massaging her head and neck while he was at it then he lathered his hands and carefully washed her face. "Now rinse." Chloe put her face under the spray. "Turn around…" his soapy hands rubbed over her shoulders then down her back; she smiled when he made a sudden foray over the cheeks of her ass and commented, "Interesting birthmark," before moving down her legs to her ankles. "Feet," and she obligingly lifted first one foot then the other. Clark moved and said, "Okay."

Standing behind her, he soaped his hands again while he watched her rinse then put his hands on her hips, guiding her away from the spray and pulling her back against him, his hard cock gliding over her slippery skin. Clark looked down as he raised her hands over her head, admiring the firm swell of her breasts as he ran his soapy hands over them, rubbing her nipples until they were stiff. Slowly, his hands caressed her stomach and slipped down along her inner thighs, moving back up to tease the thatch between them before pulling away and pushing her into the spray. After a few moments, he nibbled one earlobe before leaning over her again and gently sliding his long fingers into her slick opening. She pushed upward, inviting him deeper.

After a few moments, Clark whispered, "Wait," and slipped out of her, running his hands back up over her breasts and teasing one ear with the very tip of his tongue.

"Mmmmm….oh…don’t stop-"

He whispered, "Tell you what..." he reached over and turned off the water, "let’s take this to the bedroom." Clark picked her up, kissed her thoroughly once more and carried her off to his room.

When he rounded the doorway of his room, he practically threw her onto his bed, spreading her thighs and leaning down between them, his tongue lapping at her slick entrance like a cat with a bowl of cream. Chloe squirmed beneath him as he licked the hard button of her clit, groaning in protest when he unexpectedly pulled back. Clark got to his knees and lifted her legs up over his shoulders before leaning close again and sliding his tongue into her wet heat. She could feel his cock rubbing against her back, smearing his milky wetness on her skin. Chloe threaded her fingers through his hair, suddenly yanking hard when she came against his tongue, clenching her thighs tight around his head and yelling his name.

Clark stared down at her for a moment before easing her legs down off his shoulders, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. "You okay?" She nodded.

"Oh, yeah. Just…wow…double wow…" Chloe lay panting, unable to move for a moment. Clark moved aside and she reached out to caress him before he could even lie back. She leaned in, licking her way up his engorged shaft as though it was an especially sweet lollipop then sucking until he was thrusting into her mouth. Abruptly, she pulled her mouth off him with a smack and turned, rubbing her ass against his erection. "Mmmm…care to go for a triple wow, Clark?"

"Anything you say, Chloe…" Clark lifted her up as he rolled over onto his back, Chloe ending up sitting across his hips, his long legs stretched out before her. She scooted forward and began rubbing herself along his shaft. Then she leaned over and sucked the head into her mouth, making Clark buck up off the bed in his excitement.

"Does this mean you’re ready for me?"

"Ohhh, yeah… I need you right now, Chlo, right now!"

She licked him once more for good measure then sat back, parting her thighs in anticipation. He positioned himself at her slippery opening then pulled her down hard onto his cock, moaning out loud when he was buried deep. Clark was so close, he had to still himself to keep from coming right away; he held Chloe tight, stilling her, as well then slowly, he began to move, sliding in and out in a gentle, steady rhythm. But he quickly abandoned all effort at holding back, groaning louder with every hard thrust, sliding his fingers over her clit and in moments she was screaming out as she road him, her orgasm sweeping over her.

"God, Chlo! God!" Another loud groan and Clark was coming hard inside her, his hips frantically jerking up off the bed as he spilled every last drop.

"Oh, yeah, that was a definite triple wow!" She leaned forward, panting, then reluctantly slipped off him and moved to lie next to him and Clark pulled her close, nuzzling her cheek then kissing her softly. She lay still for a long time, listening to the sound of Clark’s breathing as it slowed, thinking he’d fallen asleep.

Clark leaned over and kissed her again. "Chloe…" he whispered, "Chloe…you awake?"

She turned onto her back, looking up into his eyes. "Yeah, I’m awake. I thought you’d fallen asleep…what?" She brushed his cheek with her fingers then ran her hand over his shoulder, wondering if she’d hurt him earlier. "Did I hurt you when I …I think I bit you…I’m sorry…"

"No…I’m fine…" Clark nuzzled the top of her head and whispered, "I can’t believe you’re here with me…"

"This…was the last thing I ever expected. I never thought I’d end up in your bed."

Clark was silent for a moment before confessing, "I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought about this. I just never had the wit or the courage to act on it." He waited, wondering what her reaction would be to that revelation.

Chloe stared up at him, astonished.

Clark leaned down and kissed her again. "I’m serious, Chloe. I’m sorry everything’s been so…rough between us, at times and when we got over the really bad patches, I was too afraid to cross that line again." He held her quietly for a while then said, "I still dream about the Spring Formal when we were freshmen."

"Ah, yes," she said, wryly.

"When you came to pick me up, I mean. I dream about that time a lot; dreamed about it last night. It was so clear; like I was living it again…you driving up in that old Falcon and watching you get out of the car…you were so excited…and so beautiful…" he stopped and looked down into her eyes. "And I screwed everything up that night."

"Clark…look…it was a crazy time but…it was just that you never told me what happened or let me know you were okay-"

"When I got-found Lana and started searching for Dad I…but that’s no excuse; I should have come back for you or gotten in touch."

"Three hours, Clark. I searched for you for three hours; I was terrified I’d find you injured or worse-" Her lip trembled as the old fear from that terrible night came back. Chloe buried her face in Clark’s warm chest. "I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened to you!"

"Chloeee…don’t…it’s all in the past and I’m fine and…I’m here with you now. Shhh…come on…" Clark ruffled her hair and kissed her tenderly.

Chloe snuffled, adding, "And what’s got-found? A new verb?" She looked up at him. "I know you saved Lana from the storm, somehow. You didn’t just find her. She once confessed, she’d been in the truck and felt it being lifted off the ground; later, when I saw there was nothing but the bare frame left, I don’t think there was any way she could have survived. But you were there and she did, somehow."

Clark sighed and stared up at the ceiling for a moment then he stared into Chloe’s eyes, sighing once more. He opened his mouth then closed it. Finally, he said, "I was lucky. I almost lost her."

"Is that an admission or a denial?"

"Neither. But I almost lost you, too and I won’t make that mistake again. Just…come here." Clark snuggled closer, wrapping his arm around her and pulling the blanket up. Raising up on one elbow so he could see her face, he traced the shape of her mouth with one finger. "You won’t let this go, will you?"

Smiling, she said, "No, but I promised I’d wait ‘til you felt you could explain; I’m just hoping it’ll be before I’m gray-haired and have grandchildren."

Clark grinned. "I’ll try to make it sooner than that…I’m just afraid the truth would

freak you out."

"After living in Smallville? I doubt it. I hope you realize, after all this time, that I can’t just turn off my curiosity like a light switch but I care about you, no matter what."

Clark laughed and kissed her. Then he rested his chin on her shoulder, giving her his most disarming smile. "So…does this mean I get to call you my girlfriend?"

"Yeah, I guess it does."

Clark pulled her close again, nuzzling her hair. "I think I’m gonna like this."

The crowing of a rooster awakened Chloe and she quickly covered her head with a pillow. After a few seconds, her eyes flew open as the memory of where she was and what had happened came flooding back. Lifting the pillow up, Chloe saw Clark still sound asleep next to her, his handsome face relaxed and untroubled. He was certainly an incredible sight. She leaned over and examined his shoulder where she was almost certain she’d bitten him earlier, in her enthusiasm. His skin was absolutely unblemished there or anywhere else, for that matter. She’d thought there would surely be some injury revealed come morning; at least a few scratches or some bruising she’d missed, having been otherwise occupied the night before. But there was absolutely nothing to indicate Clark had been attacked by bears, pelted with debris in a tornado and pounded by falling rocks from the cave-in. Or marked by his lover, Chloe thought smugly, as she sat back.

In fact, now that she thought about it, you’d expect a lifetime of farm labor would result in some pretty rough skin but his hands were uncalloused, his skin velvety soft. Everywhere, she could now attest. Many of the farmers around Smallville had skin like leather, darkened in the warmer months from long hours under the summer sun but Clark’s skin was always the same soft golden hue; she’d never seen him burn even after being out in the hot sun all day, come to think of it.

The blankets had fallen aside allowing her an unobstructed view of Clark as he lay sleeping. Chloe leaned over on one elbow, her eyes following the tantalizing line of his obliques down to the dark curls below them. She was quickly becoming obsessed with his body; well, okay, she’d always watched him, sneaking admiring glances when he was unaware but now that she could touch him whenever she wanted…she couldn’t help it.

Clark opened his eyes and smiled. Leaning over, he kissed her before adding, "Good morning," as he caressed her cheek. "I’m glad you’re here. I…" Looking over at the clock, he groaned. "I had something else in mind but it’s getting late and I gotta go…" He kissed her again, "the animals…" and again, nibbling her lower lip, "it’s a farm…" and again, this time brushing her neck which she arched to give him better access. Her eyes were closed now and she was moaning as his lips found their way along her collar bone. His large hands cupped her breasts as he ran his tongue down between them, moving to taste each hard nipple while his thumb teased the other. Chloe felt his hard cock slide across her inner thigh as he moved on top of her. Clark whispered, "Maybe the animals can wait a little longer," as he spread her thighs and slid between them.

Milking took awhile and he had to take some extra time to tend the sheep his father had recently acquired. A ewe and two lambs were now residents of the Kent farm, given in trade for some work his father had done for a neighbor. Clark hated sheep, owing to an incident when he had first learned to fly but he had to admit, the lambs were pretty cute. He smiled as he watched them gamboling about in a small area out behind the barn. As a result, he’d have to hurry through mucking out the horse stalls before Chloe woke up. He glanced back at the house and saw that Chloe was still in bed. A little superspeed and he’d be finished in no time.

Normally, the horses were kept in the newer part of the barn, built against one of the low side walls by Clark and his dad one year when they’d boarded some horses for an old friend of his mom’s. An encounter between Clark and a meteor freak who’d tried to use the combine as a weapon had severely damaged some of the stalls, however and until Clark repaired them, the stalls in the older part of the barn were once again in use.

Clark moved some bails of hay, stacking them for use near the entrance between the barn and the addition. Then he moved some miscellaneous items back into the tack room where they belonged, made note of the fact that he needed to make a run to the feed store later and began to move the horses from the barn into the back pasture so he could begin mucking out the stalls.

Chloe yawned again, stretching as she sat on the side of the bed; she hadn’t gotten much sleep last night. Smiling at the memory, she went over to the open window and leaned out, looking blearily across the barnyard where she could see Clark leading some horses out to pasture. It was a beautiful morning and there was little evidence that a tornado had swept through the area, at least on the Kent farm itself. That was Kansas for you, especially Smallville. Things seemed to change in a heartbeat here, for better or for ill. Well, this time things had certainly taken a surprising turn and in a very interesting direction. Chloe threw herself onto the bed hitting the clock radio in passing as she hung over the edge, looking down inside her open bag for a spare pair of shoes. Might as well head out to the barn and see what Clark is up to. Instead of music, a news report mentioned a couple of bears had escaped from the Metropolis zoo earlier in the week when high winds had damaged their enclosure; last seen in the Grandville area, they were still being sought. Aha! Wait ‘til Clark hears that!

Clark turned the last of the horses out to pasture and returned to the barn. Before he began, he glanced back toward the house. A quick x-ray revealed Chloe was still sprawled on the bed. Perfect. He picked up his tools and headed to the newer stalls first, making quick work of what would be a rather arduous task for anyone else. Clark finished cleaning and spread fresh straw around before moving back to the older part of the barn.

Standing next to the barn door, Chloe peeked inside. It was somewhat dim compared to the bright light of midmorning and rays of sunshine shone in through cracks between the aging boards. She spotted Clark, standing with his back to her, holding a shovel in his hands. The sight of him in that tight white t-shirt still made her almost giddy; he had the most amazing arms; correction: he had the most amazing everything. She smirked at the remarks she’d often heard other women make, complaining about their boyfriends various shortcomings; that they were under-endowed or lacking in stamina or simply in imagination…well, she’d never be able to contribute anything to those conversations. Well-endowed would be an understatement; as for stamina…the memory of bracing herself against the headboard of Clark’s bed while he mounted her not once but three times in a row before she had finally fallen asleep, pleased but exhausted, with the evidence that he could have easily continued, hard against her thigh, was still fresh in her mind. As far as imagination…well, perhaps his world travels had given him a broader education that she’d realized.

Or maybe…that wild summer in Metropolis had been an eye opener for one innocent farmboy. Considering how he’d looked when she’d discovered him at the nightclub…his hair long and tousled, clothes clinging to his well muscled body as he moved with a new confidence and grace that belied his years; he’d absolutely radiated sex and power. Later, when he’d returned to Smallville, having reassumed the mild mannered mantle of Clark Kent, some vestige of the man he’d been in Metropolis had still remained. Looking back, she could easily imagine Clark indulging his sexuality along with his newfound freedom during that strange summer; surely, he had. She felt a pang of regret that it hadn’t been with her…but she had him now and that was what mattered…

She shook her head, breaking out of her reverie, smiling again at the sight before her. Suddenly, right before her eyes, Clark became a blur and disappeared. Her mouth hung open in astonishment while she watched, as the horse stalls were shoveled out, one after the other. Occasionally, Clark would slow enough that she could see his form then he’d blur as he sped up again and she couldn’t see him at all. Chloe clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from gasping out loud and stepped back around the doorway before peering in again. The invisible being was still at work and in only a few moments, the stalls were clean and he appeared again, smiling, a look of satisfaction on his face as he rested both hands on the handle of the shovel in front of him. Suddenly, he looked up, his smile disappearing when he saw her. His eyes widened with apprehension.

"Chloe…I thought you were still asleep…"

"I…I was just coming out to watch you work…so…are you all done?" She smiled nonchalantly and Clark relaxed.

"Uh, yeah, all done here. Want something to eat?"

"Yeah! What’s on the menu?"

"Mmm…how ‘bout…pancakes! Strawberry roll-ups! Strawberries right from the garden and fresh whipped cream! How’s that sound?"

"Absolutely wonderful. Come on, I’ll race you!" She took off running but stopped abruptly when Clark didn’t follow. Looking back, she saw he was standing still, arms crossed and grinning broadly. Laughing, she yelled, "What’s with you, Kent?"

"I was just enjoying the view." He ran to catch up and easily lifted her off the ground, whirling her around in a circle ‘til she was giggling. Then he pulled her close and she wrapped her legs around him as he kissed her. Judging by what she felt pressed against her, breakfast would be delayed.

After a very late breakfast and yet another delay, Chloe had gone home to pick up some clothes and, most importantly, another package of pills; she could ill afford to miss one now. She smiled, remembering what had made her so late in leaving the Kent farm, wondering if she’d ever be able to eat at the old farmhouse table again with a straight face. But those weren’t the only thoughts swirling through her mind; what she’d witnessed in the barn kept intruding into her more erotic thoughts. Wow. Clark was able to move faster than the eye could see… Well, it actually made sense of a lot of things that had happened over the years. His perennial ability to come out of nowhere and save the day had always puzzled her; now she understood. Clark appeared when he slowed to the relative snail’s pace of normal human beings; she wondered if it was tedious for him when he had to match the rest of us. Chloe couldn’t help smirking as she thought there were, thankfully, some things he seemed to enjoy doing at normal speed.

Had she not seen him moving things around in the barn while he worked she would have suspected he could teleport like Alicia. All those times he’d missed the school bus…and she’d always wondered how Clark had gotten to her in time to save her from any number of crazies, like Coach Walt or Justin Gaines or that bastard, Deputy Watts, who’d buried her alive and now she knew. Clark might well be the fastest man on the planet.

Chloe had always guessed he possessed unusual strength; things like somehow pulling her coffin from the earth by himself or breaking through six inches of ice with his bare fist had clued her in but it had become something she’d accepted as part of Clark and never thought much of it after awhile. But for some reason, Clark was one of the few people whose apparent brush with the meteor rocks hadn’t left him psychotic and homicidal. He was still sweet and caring, determined to help whenever he could and unlike Eric Summers, who’d relished the limelight, Clark was reticent and unassuming, wanting no recognition at all for his numerous good deeds. Despite his denials, it had to have something to do with the meteors, she just didn’t know what.

Chloe had decided to take a shortcut back to the farm by following an old cow path that wound its way past the old Luthorcorp site and the entrance to the original Kawatche caves. From there, the dirt road cut across a remote corner of the Luthor property and then ran on toward Burnham Woods where it joined the road that ran past the cell tower near the forest entrance. Had it really been only yesterday she’d come here with Clark? It seemed like a lifetime ago.

As she approached the trail that led into the forest, she slowed, looking at a huge oak tree that had been uprooted by the storm. The damage caused by the tornado had been pretty bad on this side of town, especially along the county highway after it had cut its swath through the Haunted Woods. The main path they’d taken into the woods had been widened by the storm’s passage; with most of the fallen limbs and downed trees tossed off to one side, Lex had been able to drive his huge vehicle far into the woods. Thoughts of her lost billfold and cell phone prompted her to turn in; she thought she could probably drive almost to the trail that branched off toward the pond and from there it was not really that far to the beach. It wouldn’t take that long to see if she could recover anything else.

She wasn’t able to get as far as Lex had in his Humvee but she got pretty close and made it to the pond in good time. In the daylight, the amount of damage from the twister was much more obvious, especially here; the hedge near the beach was mostly flattened and a lot of the huge, old growth trees here in the center of the woods were no longer standing. It was lucky Clark had known there was a cave nearby. Chloe smiled as she remembered Clark carrying her to the cave; now she realized why it had taken her so much longer to run back to the clearing. Chloe got goosebumps thinking he had carried her to shelter using his amazing speed.

She walked down the sandy slope to search the beach and located a few of the missing items from her bag, including her wallet and a couple of CD’s; unfortunately, her cell phone was still missing and probably ruined, anyway, even if she could find it. Beside the flat rock where they’d eaten, lay the remains of the casserole dish and Martha Kent’s antique tea crock…which had been gathered into a neat pile. Chloe bent down to pick up one of the pieces and spotted some large footprints that appeared to be fresh. Thinking Clark had come back to look at the cave glyphs, she headed off to find him.

An odd noise caught her attention as she got closer. She walked quietly up to the cave’s entrance and peered in. Clark was staring into the crack at the rear of the cave, oblivious to her presence. The air was heavy with dust and piles of debris lay at his feet. What on Earth has he been doing? The answer came abruptly as he reached deep into the crack and pried the sides apart with his bare hands as though he was opening a curtain. The sound of rock grating on rock echoed through the cave as rocks and dust poured down and out onto the floor. The earth shook and the crevice widened, spreading up into the ceiling above his head and out across the cave floor, behind him. He stopped, withdrawing his arms and stood motionless for a few seconds, staring once more into the widened crack. Chloe’s mouth hung open in shock.

Chloe backed away from the cave mouth, for a moment, stunned by what she’d seen. Peeking inside once more, she hesitated then slowly crept inside. Small rocks trickled down from the ceiling, masking the sound of her footsteps as she inched her way into the cave. She made her way over to a row of stalagmites nearer the back wall and crouched down behind them.

The crevice was now big enough that Clark could squeeze his body into it; stepping inside, he raised his arms and pushed, spreading the sides of the crack much wider. Another cascade of rock tumbled down around him and the overhead fissure widened and spread; the ceiling sagged ominously. Clark wiped his hands on his jeans and pulled out a small shiny object from one pocket. Chloe could now see another wall beyond the short tunnel he’d just opened and as she watched, Clark held the disc up against it. The wall around it began to glow and Chloe edged forward from her hiding place to get a better look. A bright light enveloped Clark, he said something in a language that was definitely not English and another voice from somewhere in the cave replied. She could see more clearly now that some of the dust had settled and what looked like a shiny triangular doorway had opened up in the far wall. Clark stepped through it and disappeared.

What exactly had just happened and where did that doorway lead? A low rumble outside caused her to turn; she watched, horrified to see dirt and rocks pouring down from the hillside over the cave mouth. A huge slab of rock came loose and crashed to the ground, blocking the entrance. Above her, the crack widened and pebbles and dirt began to rain down around her. Chloe sought shelter under a low rock ledge, coughing in the thick dust; it was all she could do to choke out, "Clark!"

Clark shot out into the cave to see Chloe crouching beneath the ledge; in a heartbeat, he raced to her, scooping her up in his arms, carrying her into the passageway and through the portal just as the entire ceiling gave way. He called out over his shoulder and the little disk sailed through behind him just as the door slammed shut.

The doorway was actually transparent and Chloe watched as tons of rock and dirt rapidly covered it until she could see nothing more of the cave outside. She looked into Clark’s eyes then laid her head on his shoulder and hugged him. "Thanks."

"Are you okay?" She nodded, her head still nestled against him. He looked her over, checking for injuries but saw nothing major. Sighing, he turned and walked down a hallway.

"Clark…where are we? What is this place? Where are you taking me?" She pointed at the disc which was still hovering in the air behind them, following along like an obedient dog. "And what’s that?" Clark carried her through another triangular doorway into a small room and placed her on a soft bed set into one wall. He kissed her forehead, gently caressing her cheek as he drew away. Holding out his hand, Clark spoke again and the disc fell into his palm. After slipping it into his pocket, he sat on the edge of the bed, sighing again as he leaned forward and put his head in his hands. "I’m sorry, Chloe."

She laid a hand on his arm. "For what?"

"For…not having the courage to admit the truth before we…I should have told you… It’s just that…knowing is so dangerous; I always thought I should keep it to myself to spare whomever I could."

"Clark-ow!" She put her hand to her head. "Ow! I have a bump." Clark leaned over and felt for himself. "Ow! Yes, that’s it! Ow, ow, ow!"

Clark stared intently at her head for a moment. "Yeah, you do. But no fractures."

"What are you, a human x-ray machine?" she asked, wincing and putting her hand to her head. Clark got a rather 55-63pained look on his face and looked away.

"I’ll go see if I can find something for that. Why don’t you just lie back and rest for a little while." Gently, he caressed her cheek. "Do you trust me, Chloe? You’re safe here, I promise. Will you wait here for me?" She nodded and he rose but Chloe grasped his hand before he could get away.

"Clark, what is this place? Can you at least tell me that? And who were you talking to, before?"

"That’s what I’m going to find out. Wait for me…and remember that I meant it when I said I loved you." Turning away, he said something in the other language and the walls began to sparkle. "Stay put. I’ll try to be quick." He spoke again, quickly stepping through the doorway and it closed behind him, leaving no trace that it had ever existed.

Chloe yelled out, "Hey!" The doorway became transparent, though there was no seam visible; she ran to it and she could see Clark walking away down the hallway outside. When she touched it, her fingers tingled mildly but it felt as smooth as it looked. She huffed and stomped back to the bed, throwing herself onto it and stared up at the ceiling. "Okay, waiting here. Where does he think I could go?"

After a few minutes, Chloe got up and paced around the room, running her hands along the wall. A few feet away from the bed she felt a cluster of small bumps along one wall; when she touched them, they became visible…damned if they didn’t resemble the cave glyphs… and a doorway opened up revealing a smaller room with what looked like bathroom fixtures. Sort of. She reached into the room with one arm and it was instantly illuminated; withdrawing her arm caused it to grow dark once more. Close to the door was a basin; reaching over to a certain spot above it caused water to pour into it. For a time, she amused herself by activating the lights and making the water turn on but she was afraid to enter and examine anything else, fearing the wall would close and she’d be trapped inside.

In about fifteen minutes, a small man or boy, she wasn’t sure which, appeared outside the doorway. He was a bit over four feet tall and his features were smooth, almost childlike in quality and he had rather large eyes and long dark hair. He reminded her vaguely of Clark although she wasn’t quite sure why. The door opened and he stepped inside, carrying a tray. She sat up and waited nervously, as he approached the bed and began to speak in the strange tongue she’d heard before. It was unlike any language she’d ever heard and she’d heard plenty in Metropolis. Chloe had a friend whose mother was originally from Czechoslovakia and whose father was Chinese and she spoke both Czech and Mandarin flawlessly. She imagined someone trying to speak them both at once, mixing vocabulary and syntax at will, would sound a lot like this. "I’m sorry…I don’t understand."

"I am sorry," he began again in English, speaking with a very proper British accent. "Greetings, Chloe Sullivan. I am the avatar of Kelex, servant of the house of El. Lord Kal El has asked me to bring you ice water and an ice pack for your head." He held out a tray and Chloe took a container from it, eyeing it dubiously. "I assure you it is only water and will not harm you."

What the hell…Clark said I’d be safe. She took a sip and found it was quite refreshing. Mmm…just as good as Tynant.

"Is it to your satisfaction? Do you wish anything else? Lord Kal El said you would no doubt have questions."

"Yes, the water’s fine. So…who is this ‘Lord Kal El’ and where is Clark? He said he’d be back soon." She eyed the little fellow curiously. "Avatar?"


"Who are you? Where are you from and why do you live in a cave?"

"I am an avatar, a construct made in the image of the faithful servant Kelex who once served the great House of El hundreds of years ago; I do not live here because technically, I am not alive." Chloe Sullivan was rarely at a loss for words but at the moment, she could only stare. The little man stared back, patiently awaiting another question. Finally, he got a faraway look in his eyes and asked, "Is there anything else?"

"Oh, yeah. What’s this ‘House of El,’ you mentioned?"

"The greatest of all the houses of Krypton. The illustrious Family of El has a history ten thousand years old and more, from the first who was marked by God and freed the people from a great tyranny to the last who lives among you."

"Lives among…what do mean, ‘lives among you?’ Us? Among us?"

He was quiet for a moment then said, "I must go; Lord Kal El requests my presence. Please wait here." He turned to leave.

"Hey, could ya leave the door open? It’s kinda stuffy in here." She smiled hopefully.

Kelex frowned. "Stuffy? The air is continuously refreshed and should be well within-"

"I’d just like it open, okay? I’m claustrophobic. Do you mind?"

Tilting his head at her, he said, "Claustrophobic? You fear being enclosed? Lord Kal El commanded me to make you comfortable but he didn’t really say to leave the portal open…"

"Well, if he didn’t really say one way or the other then it’s okay, right? If he said to make me comfortable, that’s what I need. I mean, we wouldn’t want to disobey Lord Kal-El, would we? Why don’t you just go ask him and I’ll wait right here. Come back soon and tell Clark to hurry if you see him, alright?"

After a moment’s pause, he nodded. "Very well; but you must remain here until I return." He turned, eyeing her suspiciously as he passed through the door but he continued on and she sat back casually on the bed, waving a cheerful goodbye as he walked away. She took another sip of water and held the ice pack to her head, watching as the little man disappeared from view.

Chloe counted to twenty then tiptoed to the doorway and listened for any sounds at all. She heard nothing and stepped out into the hall, quietly making her way back in the direction Clark had gone. Rabbit hole, rabbit hole; I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, here. Clark, Clark, Clark, where are you? We gotta get out of here.

A few yards down the passageway, she thought she heard something and shrank back around a corner. Kelex walked by, heading back in the direction of her room. As soon as she though it was safe, she took off, faster now. She ducked down a side corridor when she thought she heard the little man’s footsteps again, this time running down the hallway. He ran past and disappeared around a bend in what was apparently, the main corridor of whatever this place was. She went farther along the side corridor into which she’d turned and came to another door. Frantically, she felt along the side for the control symbols and after several tries, the door opened up and she cautiously crept inside.

The room grew light as she entered stood in the doorway and leaned in. Still fearful of being trapped, Chloe took only a couple of steps into the room but when she thought she heard footsteps outside she jumped back and the door slammed shut. "Rats!" she muttered. Moving away from the door, she surveyed the room; it appeared more like a large storage closet than a room as there were a number of containers and boxes stacked up in rows. Resting up against the innermost wall, were several tall metallic objects, the front surfaces of which were smooth but irregular; instead of being cold as she’d expected, they were warm to the touch and she felt the tiniest of vibrations beneath her hand. For some reason, they reminded her of coffins. She pulled away, uneasy and nearly lost her balance. Her finger tips slid over another set of the control symbols as she steadied herself against the side of one crate and the front of it instantly became clear.

Leaning closer, she saw what was stored inside and backed away. It was large and silver with a humanoid body and face except for a single visor covering the area where eyes would normally be and suddenly she was getting a very bad feeling about all this. A loud hum was now coming from the container and the interior seemed brighter; suddenly, a deep red glow spread across the visor. Uh-oh… Images of Cylon robots from the early and oh so cheesy Battlestar Galactica series flashed through her mind and Chloe was beginning to think maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to leave the relative safety of her room, after all. She made a dash for the door, frantically running her hands over the controls but nothing happened. Chloe spun around to see the front of the container disappear completely and the thing inside lumbered to life. She ducked down behind some plastic barrels next to the door as it rose up out of the crate and stood, turning its head from side to side as if it knew she was here. Suddenly, a scene from The Day the Earth Stood Still appeared in Chloe’s mind: Gort’s inexorable advance as the robot cornered Patricia Neal against a wall, its visor sliding back to reveal a terrible beam glowing brighter as it prepared to disintegrate her, in living black and white. Klaatu, barada nicto? Oh shit! In one corner, she spotted a large pile of metallic cubes, piled high and Chloe crawled behind them, sinking quietly to the floor and tried to make herself very, very small.

Clark’s head turned at the sound of running footsteps. He had a mild headache

from the intense download he’d just received, the second in a very short time. The cave’s keeper, little Kelex, came racing up, stopping abruptly and bowing to his master, returned after so very long. "My Lord Kal El! Chloe Sullivan is gone from her room! I can’t find her!"

"What? How’d she get out? And stop calling me that! I’m no lord of anything."

"She…she…said she was claustrophobic and asked me to leave the portal open."

Groaning, he said, "She said…you left the door open?"

"But my Lord Kal El, she promised to stay inside! She told me to come ask for your permission but she left before I could."

"Kelex…never mind. She’s probably exploring and I doubt she can get into too much trouble if we find her right away." Running his hand through his still dusty hair, he asked, "What’s the worst that can happen?"

A light flashed on the console in front of him and Kelex said, his voice filled with alarm, "One of the intruder defense robots has been activated."

Clark closed his eyes for a few seconds, rubbing his forehead as the jumble of information and images began to make sense. He looked back at the board and asked, "Which one is it, Kel?"

"Oh, it’s the big one, My Lord! The Eradicator model; charged with protecting Kryptonian life and eliminating any threat to us here. I’ve never had to call it up; they’re difficult to control-"

"Where? Quick! Where is it?"

"It’s kept in the forward armory!"

Clark ran from the room, Kelex following as quickly as he could. One second later, Clark burst through the door of the forward armory. He shouted at the robot just as it fired its laser, launching himself into the air to put himself to between Chloe, who was now huddled in the very corner of the room and her attacker. Behind him, Chloe covered her head, whimpering in fear. The blast slammed Clark into the wall next to her. Before he even hit the floor, he twisted and landed on his feet, returning fire with a blast of heat vision as he advanced toward the robot. Chloe peeked out from under her arm to see Clark’s eyes glowing faintly as he glared at the thing; its head was melting into slag as it slumped to the ground, the smell of burnt metal and plastic filling the air.

Chloe sobbed out, "Clark!" and stood, wobbling slightly before she threw herself into his arms; she was trembling as her fingers traced the hole in his shirt where the laser had struck and the unmarred skin beneath. "Are you alright? What happened? What was that thing?"

He whispered, "It’s okay, Chloe…" nuzzling his face into her hair. "As long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters." She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "Okay…it’s time, Chloe."

Behind him, Kelex cleared his throat. "My-"

"Kel, what did I say?"

"But…surely My Lord Kal El…would…"

"Want you to listen to him." Sighing, Clark turned to his apparent servant. "Kelex,

I’m going to take Chloe back to her room and I don’t want to be disturbed. I’ll let you know if I need you and…and," he waved his hand dismissively at the robot, "why don’t you clean up this mess. Make sure that thing is completely out of commission; destroy what’s left. Come on, Chloe. We really need to talk." Clark picked her up and carried her away.

She smiled, hugging Clark’s neck as he walked down the hall, his big boots echoing down the corridor. "I could get used to this."

"Used to what?"

"Being carried everywhere by a big strong guy like you." Clark looked away, his cheeks reddening. "Oh, good; I can still make you blush."

As they approached the doorway of her former room, Clark spoke once more in that strange language then he said, "Open," and the door slid aside.

"What’d you say?" she asked, as he placed her on the bed, once more.

He stood in front of her, shuffling his feet, seemingly unable to meet her eye. "I told the cave to speak English and to respond to you." Clark rubbed his hands together, nervously. "Figured maybe…you’ll be less likely to go running off and getting into trouble if I made you a part of this. I didn’t mean to make you feel like a prisoner, Chlo, I just thought you’d be safer in here." He raised one eyebrow, "Obviously, I was right."

"What am I a part of, exactly? And who is this ‘Lord Kal El’ that little guy keeps talking about? Is he like the big high mucky muck in charge here? "Cause I gotta tell ya, that little fellow seems to worship the ground he walks on. He started telling me about the Great House of El and how they’re marked by God and…by the way, how is it you get Kelex to listen to you, anyway? He tried to tell me he wasn’t alive…how nuts is that; he’s obviously delusional… That’s when I decided I should find you and get the hell out. You were gone a long time… And what was that language he was speaking and why does that little man live here and what is this place and what was that thing that attacked me and how did you stop it and were your eyes glowing because-"

He raised his hands to stem the tide of questions. "Chloe…the language is Kryptonian."

"Where’s it spoken? I’ve never heard of it."

"No one has, as far as I know. Well, Dr. Swann heard it; he received it in a message from…from…outer space although it was encoded, at the time. It’s an alien language, Chloe." Clark sat down beside her, pausing to gather his thoughts. "This is, well, was, an outpost; it’s been here for hundreds of years. People came here to study…the culture, Earth culture."

"Earth culture?" Chloe stared into the distance, her eyes unfocused and for a moment, Clark thought she’d lost it. Then she exclaimed, "Oh, my God! Willowbrook was right! There were aliens here and this was their outpost and you found it! They really were watching us. Okay, okay, I still have a lot of questions about these abilities of yours; I mean, come on, Clark, the meteors must have affected you…but this, this is huge, Clark! Huge!" Clark held up his hand and tried to speak but Chloe wouldn’t let him. "Did you know there was another cave all along? Come on, give, Clark! I’ll keep the secret, cross my heart. Who were they? Where did they come from? How did you learn to talk to the cave’s…computer?" She was practically bouncing with excitement; smiling, Clark put his hands on her shoulders to calm her.

"Chloe…it’s an AI, actually and I…it downloaded the information into my mind years ago at the first site but I didn’t know about this set of rooms. Apparently, this site predates the first and it contains different files. I got another download just now-"

"Can I do that?"

"No! Don’t ever try that! It’s too dangerous! Walden used the disc and got a direct download; it nearly killed him. My dad talked to the AI after I ran away and it weakened his heart; that’s why he had to have surgery."

"Then how did you survive it? Why weren’t you injured like Walden or your dad?"

"I…because…" he sighed and got up, nervously running a hand through his hair. "The first time it happened, it was really intense; kind of information overload, there was so much and I wasn’t expecting it. Lex found me unconscious on the cave floor but I woke up right away…"

"Clark…was it because…the meteors gave you some kind of psychic power and it allowed you to communicate with the AI? Is that how you know when people are in trouble? Wow…" She caressed his cheek and repeated, "Wow…"

"No…I survived because…" he stopped, looking down at her; reaching out, gently placing his fingertips on her lips, he whispered, "it was meant for me. I’m…one of them, Chloe. I’m an alien." His eyes were wide and scared. "The cave held the knowledge then it sort of…called to me until I came with the key. It gives me more from time to time; my parents, well, my biological parents, sent programs with my ship that prompt the cave when the time comes to tell me things but the key was lost until freshman year so the ship never did anything. Nixon discovered my secret and stole the key from Lex. He snuck in during the tornado and activated it and the ship took off. Maybe it was searching for me, I don’t know. But the key fell out and the ship went down in a field where Pete found it the following fall when he rescued that guy whose truck crashed and that’s how he found out; he was pretty upset but he got over it. Then when I found the key again I started having dreams about going to the caves and I started sleep…walking. Lex found me out in the middle of Route 8 one morning; he nearly hit me again. Finally, I went there one night and put the key in the slot and got fourteen years worth of updates in about thirty seconds; it took me years to comprehend what it had told me. Then-Chloe? Are you alright? I mean…I know this is a lot to take all at once…"

"You’re serious? You’re saying you’re an alien and not the kind who has a green card?" He nodded and she mumbled, "Wow…just…wow…Clark math finally adds up…" she touched his face where one lone tear was making its way down his cheek.

"Oh, Clark…I promise, I’ll never tell a soul." Searching his beautiful green eyes, she added, "Please don’t be angry with me…I wasn’t following you; I stopped by the pond to look for my cell and billfold. I didn’t come with the intention to spy on you."

"I’m not angry…just…sorry. I didn’t want you to know the truth about me but now that you do…"

"And what was that about a ship?"

"My…my…spaceship. We kept it in the storm cellar." Forlornly, he added, "I blew it up."

"Why’d you…aaahhh…that’s what happened to the storm cellar.

"Yeah. I’m sorry…I should have told you before we…were intimate. I just thought I could finally make things right and I was falling for you again and I wanted you so much…" he stood and walked away, nervously running his hand through his hair. "Kind of a shock to find out the guy you’re sleeping with isn’t human, huh?"

"Clark?" He turned and she placed one hand on his chest. "So you’re really strong and you can do chores in a heartbeat because you’re an alien? The meteors have nothing to do with it?"

"I…yeah…well, that’s not completely true…the meteors…wait-what about my chores?"

"I saw you in the barn this morning cleaning out the stalls. It was amazing!"

"You…saw me? You didn’t say a word and you let me, I mean, you…you acted like nothing had happened."

"Well, I’ve always known you were different and I figured it was just something else you’d explain when you were ready. But…are there others here like you?"

"Well, that’s the thing…my planet was destroyed. Some Kryptonians came to believe they were so superior to other races and cultures that eventually they cut themselves off from most of the galactic culture. They stopped venturing out into the galaxy and Kelex was left to maintain this outpost. Eventually, their arrogance caused their destruction. It’s complicated."

"Tell me later. And this Lord Kal El…is that the AI that oversees all this?"

His voice fell to a whisper, "No…that’s…me. Kal El, son of JorEl…the last son of Krypton. My parents were scientists but apparently we were related to the ruling family somehow. I think, from what I just gleaned that my mother’s family was directly descended from the ruling clan; my father was a member of the high council but more distantly related. No matter. My people…are all gone; as far as I know, I’m the last. Kinda funny, huh? Dorky farmer from Smallville, Kansas turns out to be alien nobility. Lord of nothing, now." Clark hung his head, quiet and distant. "No fairy tale ending there, I’m afraid."

Chloe was quiet for a moment, her heart aching for him. "Your entire planet…everyone?" When he nodded, she slipped her arms around him and held him close. "Oh, Clark… I’m so sorry…what a terrible burden…"

"I think the meteors are what’s left of Krypton. I get sick when I’m around them, the green ones, anyway. The red ones just make me crazy. I don’t really understand it, Chlo but the red rocks take away all my inhibitions. Not a pretty picture. You took an enormous risk when you confronted me in Metropolis. I could so easily have hurt you; I could have killed you-"

"But you didn’t, even then. You scared me and you freaked us all out but you came back to us."

"I know this must be overwhelming, Chlo; I should take you home. I’ll leave you alone, if that’s what you want. I always wanted to tell you but when someone finds out, it usually doesn’t go well. I never meant to…to…if you...this is probably really creeping you out I know you probably wanted a boyfriend who was human and I completely understand if you don’t ever want me to touch you again."

"So…leave it to Chloe Sullivan to fall for a guy from another planet." She frowned and poked her finger at his chest. "Clark Kent, you are more human than a lot of people I’ve met. I love you and I’m not going anywhere."

"Well, Chloe, I only thought-"

"Kal El of Krypton," she kissed him, "you need to think again." She took his arm and said, "Now…I’d like the five dollar tour, for starters. Then we can discuss our plans at length and whether we’ll go back to your farm tonight or stay here in your secret lair."

Laughing, he said, "My secret lair? This is my secret lair, now?"

She bounced over to the door, looking down the hallway outside. "Cool, huh? My boyfriend has a secret lair. Yeah…I think I wanna stay here, tonight." Clark wrapped his arms around her, kissing the top of her head.

"You’re really not freaked out? I never thought…I could just tell someone and they’d be okay with it, just like that."

"No, not really. It’s a lot to take in but…this is Smallville, after all. Actually, it seems rather fitting that aliens would come here, don’t you think? There’s always been weird here, long before the meteors." She turned to face him. "And anyway…are you saying you always blurt out you’re an alien before you have sex with someone? I can’t believe the inquisitor didn’t spread that all over the front page. ‘Rash of women claim alien encounters in the summer of ’03…"

Clark backed up and sat down on the edge of the bed, blushing furiously. "Chloe!"

"Oh, come on, Clark. I’m not blind. Or…oh…you didn’t bother because you were under the influence."


"Clark, it’s alright. I have to admit, if you’d come on to me, I’d have had a hard time saying no."

"Chloeeee…what exactly do you think I was doing that summer?"

She walked over to the bed and sat in his lap. "Experimenting." She pushed him back on the bed. "On your own and looking really…really hot."

"I won’t deny I thought about it; a lot. But I decided I didn’t want the entanglement. I became involved in other things…"

"The Daily Planet Globe, the ATMs-"

"You knew?"

"I suspected."

He turned his head, staring at the wall. "I gave most of it back and I worked for a long time to pay off the rest. The banks found anonymous bags of cash for years."

Chloe smiled, "Ah…the break-ins where there was extra cash in the vault instead of money missing. Good one, Clark."

He looked back at her. "I…have another confession…even though I thought about it and came really close, I’ve…I’ve…I’ve never had sex with anyone before."

She stared at him, her mouth open. "Oh, Clark, come on! You are lying now. Last night was so not your first time! Nobody does it like that their first time!"

"Chloe…I swear…it was. I mean, I’m an alien. I was always afraid I’d hurt someone or…or maybe I’d do something to reveal myself and…and…"

"Well, you certainly revealed yourself, alright," she smirked. "And there was, if I may say so, a lot to reveal." Chloe reached down to stroke the front of his jeans and asked, "So…you wanna reveal it again?"

A while later, Chloe looked down, smiling at her lover. He was staring at her, curiously. "What?" She laid down along his body and kissed him.



"There’s something else I haven’t told you."

"Oh…and what would that be?"

"You remember when I mentioned sleepwalking to the first cave when it called to me?"

"Yeah, and Lex almost hit you again and I’m thinking we’ll have to discuss that."

"Well, yeah, there’s that but it’s more about the sleepwalking."

"What about it. I guess even aliens can sleepwalk," She smiled again.

"I wasn’t…exactly sleep…walking. I was sorta sleep…flying…" Clark winced at this final revelation.

For a moment, her expression was blank then another smile appeared and she playfully swatted his chest. "Clark, now you are kidding."

Looking ever so serious, he said, "Mmm…no, I’m not, Chlo." Clark glanced down at the bed and Chloe looked, too.

She gasped out loud when she saw they were floating a couple of feet above the bed. "Oh, my God! You can fly! You can defy gravity?" She looked back, excited, eyes wide with wonder. "You can just do it whenever you feel like it?" She felt him thrust up between her legs.

"You said I could…"

"Alien smart ass! You can fly whenever you want? That must have been hard to cover up."

"Oh, I couldn’t always do it. All these abilities seemed to come with age; the older I got, the more things I could do. This was the last thing I learned to do, at least, learned to control it. Sometimes, I used to float when I dreamed but I’d crash when I woke up. Lost a lot of bed frames that way." Chloe giggled at that. "Then I got to where I could float and fly a little but sometimes I’d float up in public when I didn’t want to then I couldn’t count on being able to do it when I needed to. When I got close to eighteen, it got easier."

"I think you can land now." He dropped a bit fast and made her squeal.

"Are you okay with that? I was afraid this would be the last straw…I mean, it still freaks me out a little."

"After everything else? Piece of cake. Had to get over your fear of heights, didn’t ya." He nodded, smiling broadly. "In fact…"


"Even though I’m not fond of heights, I have to see this for myself. Will you take me on a little test flight in the great outdoors? We could stay in the woods so no one could see…how ‘bout it?

"Okay, Chloe…I promise I’ll go slow and be careful."

She ran a fingernail down the middle of his sculpted chest. "Truth is, I always wondered what it would be like to join the Mile High Club. I just never envisioned I’d have a chance to do it without a plane."

Clark raised one brow in a Spock-like arch; his smile was as broad as it could be.


talk about windfall on the story thread