The eclipse would happen at 3:49 Saturday afternoon, and all the local papers agreed that this was indeed more newsworthy than the mysterious disappearance of James Mulcahy. No one really liked James for a multitude of reasons: he was crazy, he smelled bad, he scared little children by pretending to be French and saying "I'll fuck anything, rodents, snakes, chickens even."
The first time Chloe heard that, she laughed out loud. Granted, she wasn't a kid, but still. She missed Metropolis whenever James was around. In Smallville, remarks like that shocked the hell out of people. Parents led their children studiously out of James' way, telling them to ignore the dirty things James was saying. Metropolis had a way of immunizing people against that though. James would have been relatively harmless in the whole scope of things in a big city, a small crazy fish in an asylum ocean. What was someone saying they'd fuck anything compared to the drug bust going down in the street, or the lunatic who decided it would be fun to play with explosives to someone like James, who did nothing wrong but had a chemical imbalance he couldn't help in the first place.
James was honest. Nuts, but honest, and Chloe always respected that.
He disappeared in the middle of the Talon, and of course, everyone there went immediately into the `I didn't see that' mode. It was easier that way, Chloe had to admit, but how did these people sleep, she had to wonder. How do you sleep when a crazy homeless man who wandered around town suddenly disappeared in a green, acrid haze of smoke right in front of you?
Maybe it was actually easier to sleep that way. Pretend it was nothing, a bad dream, a hallucination brought on by bad coffee and a rotten apple in Mrs. Kent's pie. Chloe knew through experience that she couldn't, but then, she knew not everyone wanted everything explained like she did.
Pete's theory was green rock liquor. James was an unrepentant alcoholic, and Pete swore up and down, on the graves of many female relatives, that he saw James grinding up green rocks in his bottles. Chloe raised an eyebrow at him. He raised an eyebrow back. That was close to her theory, and she wasn't sure she liked it, that she and Pete had theories that ran along the same lines all the time.
Lana had no theories, but scrubbed the dark green spot burnt on the floor furiously.
Lex Luthor had raised an eyebrow, which made Chloe raise an eyebrow, which made him smirk, which made both Chloe's eyebrows rise, which made Lex turn away, shaking his head lightly and whisper something in Clark's ear.
Clark looked heartbroken, but then, Clark always did whenever he didn't do anything in time. His expression changed when Lex had whispered in his ear, his weird combination of sorrow and guilt changing into something that looked wistful and accepting at the same time. Chloe admired Clark's sense of responsibility but then, she admired a lot of things about Clark. Things that kept her up at night, rubbing against her pillow and feeling faintly embarrassed when she finally slid her hand delicately underneath her panties.
Why did Clark have such big feet, Chloe thought on her most agonized days, when the rush of release was followed by something she didn't like naming, but it felt like grief, like a small thorn she couldn't dislodge.
Of course, she didn't share that her theories went much in line with Pete's. Maybe the green rock made James' blood like alcohol and he evaporated. In a town with girls that sucked fat and flowers that made people act crazy and slutty before becoming comatose, who the hell was to say she and Pete were wrong? The same people who ignored people disappearing right in front of their eyes, the pragmatic part of her said. Chloe hated that but it was those people who ran this world, and all Chloe could really do was keep on doing what she was doing. Maybe if she made enough noise, she'd have more people convinced other than X-Files fans.
There was a crazy air in Smallville. Chloe thought she was used to it, but when she felt crazy herself for believing such weird crap, that wasn't much help.
Chloe remembered that before James disappeared in a puff of green smoke, he said "3:49 Saturday afternoon." Chloe almost wished that the eclipse wasn't already news by then, it would have been a fitting end somehow if James had predicted that.
James was the last thing on Chloe's mind Saturday afternoon. Like everyone else in town, and all the weird scientists who took up all the hotel lodging in town, she was prepared. She had Eclipz glasses, some cheap affair in eyewear that Lex was smart enough to tell Lana to sell at the Talon.
It was a great day. It felt like a party, everyone with goofy glasses or big mirrors they held away at an angle. The town looked like it was populated by alien sunbathers.
Chloe stepped on the gas. Everyone was going to be at the loft because Clark said it would probably have a good view. Chloe could have made a joke about telescopes but decided not to and felt quite proud of herself.
She looked at her radio. The time blinked 3:55. Perfect, Chloe thought. She'd be at least fifteen minutes early.
"How can you live fifteen minutes ahead of everyone else?" Clark had asked her long ago, when her feelings were nothing more than the twinges after her `boys are gross' phase.
"I like being ahead. I like being there ahead of everyone else, knowing things ahead of other people."
Clark had looked at her and said, "I'd like things to stay still a little bit. Things move fast."
Chloe had said not fast enough. How stupidly prophetic, she thought.
She wasn't surprised to see the red Ferrari parked near the barn when she pulled over. Geez Lex, you can't even give me time fifteen minutes of pretend time where I can think I have Clark all to myself.
She wanted to slap herself after moments like that because it was petty and stupid and...unbecoming, and lo and behold, she thought, there's a word for the ages.
The doors opened with a creak. "Hey guys," she said, as she came up the stairs. Clark and Lex were facing her already, Clark with his usual wide smile that did funny things to her equilibrium like always, the top two buttons of his shirt undone.
"Ms. Sullivan-" Lex started, but Chloe interrupted him. His fly was open and she'd laugh otherwise if she didn't say anything.
"It's Chloe, please. I know we've talked all of five times alone without Clark as mediator, but you can call me Chloe."
"Chloe," Clark said, then exhaled a small sigh and smiled awkwardly.
"Chloe," Lex said, as if it were foreign food he wasn't sure he liked.
"Lex," Chloe said. She thought it was rather civil.
The eclipse started slowly, and Chloe thought that part was rather boring. Full solar eclipses happened once in a blue moon she's been told. She wished she still felt young enough that it excited her more.
The Kents were sitting on their tractor, right outside Clark's barn window. When they thought no one was looking, they sneaked a few kisses here and there. Chloe felt a bittersweet pang. Her parents were never like that. They acted like they were in a drive-in movie; as if it were the fifties and they had snuck someone in the trunk while they made out.
Pete and Lana were beside her, all three of them wearing their Eclipz glasses. Pete looked incredibly dorky, Chloe didn't even want to think how stupid she must have looked, but somehow, on Lana, it looked like a magical artifact instead of something cheap and plastic wrapped around her eyes. Then again, Lana had one of the few pairs that didn't have the offensive neon green rims. Hers was an oddly subdued red that set off her complexion. Chloe wondered how much of that was an accident.
Clark and Lex were behind them, presences emitting vague warmth. She almost felt brave enough to turn around and look.
The sky began to grow darker, the world beginning to plunge into an otherworldly dusk. When the moon began to intrude on the sun's glow, Chloe couldn't help but gasp because it was magical. She had made it a point to study eclipses beforehand, and gave tips on how best to enjoy the eclipse. Damaged retinas are not fun, she said loudly to whoever listened, and people actually did this time, probably relieved that it wasn't some warm-up to a crazy theory.
Everything was plunged into an ethereal darkness at 4:35 on Chloe's watch. A small part of her regretted that she couldn't be ahead for this, but then, it was too pretty for regrets. She felt young again, and congratulated herself. She could take off her cynicism after all.
She heard Lana gasp and say it's beautiful. Pete was staring up, mesmerized.
Clark's parents were in a loose embrace, comfort and love and ease that Chloe envied wrapped around them like a blanket.
She turned around to look at Clark (hey, I'm brave!) because she liked seeing him looking at things he thought was pretty. When it was Lana, it was tinged with resentment, some bitterness, but she watched anyway because she memorized it. In her mind's eye, she saw him looking at her the same way and in those moments of pretend, it was everything girlish in her that squealed in delight, even if it wasn't real.
She saw Clark looking at Lex with a secretive smile, Lex's hand on Clark's lips, tracing the full outline of Clark's lips. Lex looked softer in a way Chloe couldn't put a finger on, and contentment seeped out of him, potent and breathtaking. Clark seemed to melt with Lex's touch, his hand rising to meet Lex's. It was like her secret stack of Harlequin paperbacks, Chloe thought, only prettier, gayer and real.
Chloe always asked why, but this was simple and the answer was right there, the question more a reflexive memory than anything else.
In any other Midwestern town in any other Midwestern state, when you hear hoof beats, you don't think of zebras. In Smallville, Kansas, that didn't really apply.
As far as Chloe can determine, James Mulcahy, to prolong the life of his liquor of choice, watered his drinks from a creek whose loamy bed glowed an eerie green. She went to his hideouts and poured out the contents of his various bottles. The liquor never did look right, the cheap rum's color diluted and bearing faint traces of green.
That was all she really knew about James' case, and it reeked of failure, a failure that went up on the Wall of Weird. She looked at the faces on the wall and a small, admittedly melodramatic part of her asked them not to confront her with her failures. She has never forgotten them.
After a few moments of watching Clark and feeling faintly touched and vividly bitter, Chloe turned to look at the eclipse. The moon was breaking loose and light was returning gradually. Magic time ends, she thought. She looked at the Kents below her and thought of the scene that was unfolding behind her, something that people didn't want to see but happened nonetheless and knew that magic time only ended for those watching the eclipse alone. Magic always happened in pairs.
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