Fork in the road

by philtre



Title: Fork in the road

Author: philtre

Disclaimer: It's way too depressing anyway, so I don't even want to claim ownership!

Category: AU, Angst, Established Relationship

Rating: PG-13 (nothing you haven't seen on TV)

Spoilers: No.

Players: Clark, Chloe, Pete, Jonathan, Martha, Lex.

Summary: Please don't read this if you can't handle the death of a character. The first 500 words are NOT an indication of where the story ends up.

Author's Note: I didn't even want to write this. I've had the idea for months now but I kept pushing it to the back of my mind. However, the muses woke me up insistently at 5 in the morning, and I knew that it eventually had to be written. (Only because I need the sleep, hons. I've got a job to hang on to!)

Thank you: to the poor sweethearts who I forced to beta for me - Kathryn, moss, and Alison. Also, my favourite previewer, Alax for assuring me that it isn't horrendous and that I should send it out into the world.

Archiving: Please inform me.

Feedback: Don't send me hate mail; I don't think I could handle it after writing this. But if it's love you share, then I don't mind.


Today

"This is Chloe's favourite sparkling grape juice." Clark said, as though that in itself should have been self-explanatory.

"And so we have to drive three hours each way to pick up a bottle." Pete was tired and not feeling particularly charitable.

"She was really disappointed they were out of it for our anniversary." Clark picked up a second bottle. "And not just one bottle, two bottles."

"You are so whipped!"

Clark turned to glare at him, but instead broke into a huge grin. "I shouldn't even deny it, should I?"

"Dude, no one would believe you." Pete laughed and shook his head as he walked past Clark. "Well, can't blame you - she's hot."

"Did you just call my girlfriend hot?" Pete was already walking away, but Clark just called out louder. "Ross, did you just call my girlfriend hot?!"

Pete turned around and flashed Clark a grin. "She is one hot tamale! Especially that green tank top she wore last week. Yowzer!"

"Oh ho ho ho! Tell me, you were not checking my girlfriend out!" Clark punched Pete's shoulder lightly.

"Oh, I so was." Pete laughed in return.

"She is so going to kick your ass."

The laughter fell from Pete's face. "Promise me you're not going to tell her about this. Because you ..." He poked Clark's chest. "... are a teddy bear, but your significant other? Significantly more significant!" Pete couldn't resist laughing.

Clark stifled the last of his laughing and looked down earnestly at his friend. "A good couple has no secrets."

"I know it's bad when you start quoting your dad."

The both of them were still laughing as they left the store. Pete stole a quick glance at his friend. Clark looked happier than he had ever been, and Pete was happy that his two closest friends had finally found each other.

"You know, your dad's really whipped too."

Clark merely smiled at Pete.

"Like father, like son." Pete chuckled as they climbed into Clark's truck. "Did I mention that your mom was pretty hot? OW!!"


Yesterday

"Happy first anniversary."

"Happy first anniversary to you." Clark was grinning like he had never grinned before. This was exactly where he wanted to be - lying on his couch in the loft, his girl firmly in his embrace, soft hair tickling his cheek.

"Have I told you recently that I love you?"

"Only every time that you're in my arms." Clark's grin grew, if that was even possible.

"I'm sorry, when did you lay claim on all the cheese in Kansas?" Clark wrapped his arms tighter around the frame that was now wracking with laughter, then Chloe grew serious as her hand snaked up to caress Clark's cheek. "But that's okay. I still love you to pieces, and don't. You. Forget. It!" He smiled as Chloe's slender fingers tapped against his jaw, emphasizing each word.

Clark turned the luscious bundle on his body around to face him, breath catching as limitless green eyes came to rest on him. "What, Clark?" He could spend the rest of his life staring at her smiling.

"I ... um ..." He involuntarily frowned, and immediately wanted to take it back.

Her expression turned serious as she placed a finger on his lips. And for what must have been the hundredth time in their relationship, she whispered, "Sometimes, some things are better left unsaid."

Maybe he didn't want it left unsaid, maybe he was tired of all the things that were left unsaid. But when she leaned down to kiss him with those full lips, he forgot everything that he had wanted to tell her. He had the rest of his life to tell Chloe everything he needed to.


Today

Clark frowned as he stepped out of the truck; the grin that had been on his face all day melted into the thickening night air. There were police cars and ambulances parked on the street, and people were standing around quietly talking amongst themselves. His heart caught in his throat as he saw a police officer walk out of the house Clark was heading for.

Oh God! Clark ran as slowly as he could, trying to control himself, but knowing that he was, at the very least, not concealing the fear on his face too well. He grabbed the arm of the nearest policeman.

"What's going on?"

"I'm sorry, young man. I can't disclose any information from the crime scene." The man's voice was uneven.

"Crime scene!" Clark felt as if his head was going to explode. "What the hell is going on!?"

"Clark?"

He turned to see his parents with their arms around each other. His mom looked as though she had been crying.

"I'm sorry, Clark." His dad reached out an arm to him.

Clark stepped back slightly. "What's happened, Dad?"

He watched as his dad's eyes flickered down hesitantly to the ground. "Dad?" Clark could barely recognize his own voice, strained and intense. He could feel his fists tightening, mirroring his insides empathetically.

His parents shared a worried look, and then his father said quietly, "Both Gabe and Chloe were victims of an attempted robbery gone bad."

He felt as though something had burrowed through his chest. "What?! Chloe...?"

"Chloe's dead."

"No." The words barely whispered across his lips. "No."

"I'm so sorry, son."

Clark's eyes glazed over as he stared blankly at the road. He should have been here. He should have never let her out of his sight. Clark's world had just disintegrated into a million different pieces. The bag in his hand fell, and far away, Clark heard glass shattering in the midst of the cacophony around him.


Many tomorrows

Clark fell to his knees on the dirt, reveling in its punishing hardness. It had been years since he had been here. The pain still too much for him to bear. He reached out a tentative finger, never knowing if he had the guts to touch the stone.

'Chloe Sullivan. 1986-2004. Loving daughter, cherished friend.'

Words could never sum up Chloe. There weren't enough in the universe. Clark felt his insides clench unbearably, reminding him why he never returned to Smallville. It was easier to try and forget Chloe when he was miles away from all the things that still harbored remnants of her.

Metropolis was an easy place to hide. The loudness of the city quickly drowned any introspection. He didn't have to think in the city. There were things to be done, lives to be saved at every street corner. It was easier to turn his mind off and simply let the unforgiving pace of the city yank him along his day. Easier to relegate his thoughts to the back of his mind.

But here in Smallville, that wasn't even a possibility. Smallville was the deep, dark recess of his mind.

Although it had been seven years, he still remembered that night as though it were yesterday. Two men had attempted to rob Gabe Sullivan of some top-secret plans from LexCorp and had panicked when Chloe tried to call the cops. In the confusion, both father and daughter had been shot in the crossfire.

Clark should have been there. He should have saved the one person that was worth saving. But he wasn't. It didn't matter that the two men would spend the rest of their lives in prison, or that one of them would never walk. That was no consolation to him. He would never see her again for the rest of his life, and that felt like more punishment than this life could ever conceive.

His father had tried telling him that he couldn't be everywhere at the same time. For the first time in his life, he knew that to be true. He finally realized that he couldn't save everyone, and that scared him in ways that his own death could never. Every time he became even slightly close to someone, he could feel himself pull back. He didn't need another person to fall in love with - just another person he couldn't save.

The worst of it though, was that with Chloe's death, he lost so much more than just Chloe. The rest of Smallville became a painful reminder to him. Pete, Lana, everyone in the town just made the memories of her that he tried so hard to bury surface again. He could never quite look Lex in the eyes. It hurt to lose a friend, but that just commingled with the anguish of losing the love of his life, making the two almost indistinguishable.

Lex had tried to patch things, offering his shoulder in consolation, but there were some things that even a billionaire couldn't fix. It was Lex's fault that Gabe had been working on those plans. His fault that the plans were so coveted. His fault that Chloe was dead. Somewhere in his mind where reason still endured, Clark knew it was wrong to blame Lex, but the alternative was to blame himself, and that had finally taken its toll on him.

Over the years, he had seen Lex at parties in Metropolis. Their eyes met across the room, hurt clearly painted in Lex's eyes. Clark couldn't go back, the years of agony burned paths against his brain. He knew that Lex could tell even through the distance and time between them. So Lex always turned and walked away.

Clark reached out and fingered her carved name. He wanted to take back all the times that he had nearly told her about his true origin. All that wasted time, passed opportunities. As though her knowing would have made a difference. It was easy to lose logic in the chaos of his mind.

Particularly since Chloe intermingled with every synapse in his brain, refusing to let go of even one random memory. He wasn't even amazed by how much she had affected his life even after she was gone. She was the reason he spent every free second trying to save everyone he could. Just so someone out there would never have to feel the agony that he felt each waking moment.

He didn't even bother denying that he majored in journalism because of her, didn't deny that he joined the Planet because of her. Longed to be closer to her. Wanted to fulfill all of her dreams, if only so that she could look down and live through him vicariously. Ironic that the one thing that he yearned so much to detach himself from was the one thing that motivated him in nearly every facet of his life.

"She would have wanted you to let go eventually."

Clark paused before he turned to look up at the owner of the voice, the last person he had expected to see.

"She would have wanted you to you to actually live your life."

Words were beyond Clark, as they often were when he knelt before Chloe's grave. He stared blankly into compassionate eyes, sympathized at the caution clearly painted on the face of his unanticipated visitor.

"She would have wanted you to occasionally be happy."

Clark stood up and wrapped his arms around the lithe body before him. He could feel the cold wetness on his cheek, but he simply couldn't care less. He needed to cry; he hadn't cried in seven years and it was hurting so much that he could barely breath. Clark surrendered, as he let his sorrow seep into the warm frame pressed against his.

"I know, Lex, I know."




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