Polaroids

by Philadelphia Tuesday


Author's note: This takes place before Insurgence.


Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, nor do I own the song "Polaroids" by Shawn Colvin.

/ and he just took Polaroids
of her smile in the light
of the dawn of the menacing sky /

He remembers the night after her first day on the farm. They sat together on the porch in the heat that was just beginning to wane, a cool breeze absurdly chilling his bare arms and her bare legs after a long day in the sun. She turned to him and twisted a sigh into a laugh: "This is going to be harder than I thought." She hadn't been built for this, he knew, but the words "going to be" provided comfort. She would stay, she would work at it, become what she wasn't. For him. When she kissed him, her lips were cracked and hot.

These days her kisses are glossy and cool, almost cheapened by miles of slick lipstick, applied for the benefit of a man who can't even see it. He recognizes the taste from their first dates, and it's an unpleasant reminder that she seems to be changing again, becoming who she used to be, or maybe who she always was. It wouldn't bother him except for the implication: who is she changing to please this time?

He remembers the first time they went out. Her appearance was intimidating but her voice felt like home, every minor disclosure an intimate confession, every silly admission a gilded invitation to enter her confidence. It took him a few more evenings to accept that invitation; he tried to look for clues, solve the mystery of why she would possibly be interested in a poor farmer's son. Finally he decided that her true face was that of a reasonable, down-to-earth person, and everything else must have been employed as camouflage in an attempt to please her father.

Now he wonders if the adage is true: a man who presents one face to the public and another to himself soon forgets which is which. Or maybe he simply overestimated her.

Her voice can still be slow like honey when she wants it to be, but the purpose is different now; she's usually working to cool him down, not heat him up.

He remembers the night after that last disastrous meeting with her father. The ironic part is, though, that her father had been right all along. Jonathan had pretended to be offended, and maybe a part of him really had been, by the fact that Mr. Clark refused to see his potential, reduced him so carelessly to a few withering adjectives. She had rushed to his defense, and he had been proud that she cared enough to take that stand. That was a long time ago. Twenty years later, and they'd ended up exactly where her father had predicted: chin-deep in bills, and at each other's throats.

That night she'd crawled into bed beside him, and he had tried to speak. He wanted to tell her it was okay if she wanted to go home. He wanted to remind her that this life was not for everyone. Instead, she said, "He's just angry because I made a decision for myself, instead of letting him make it for me. But I know what's best for me. This is where I belong."

He thought: if there is a God, she'll be here in the morning. And she was.

They had weathered some rough times, and he knew she could have left any time she wanted. She could have gone home, apologized to her father, started over. But she stubbornly clung to his side, dug her heels in, worked as hard as he did to keep things going. Over the years, the thing he had appreciated most had been the ability to guess her answer to any question he might ask. He would test this, once in a while: ask her something, see if her answer lined up with the one in his head. And until she had gone to work again, it always had.

He didn't want to think about that.

He remembers the day she told him she wanted a child. He'd felt grateful and troubled at the same time: it was another sign of her commitment to making this work, but it could also mean she was bored with him, looking for something else to fill up her time. He didn't let his face betray that conflict, though, just let her tentativeness dissolve into joy as she realized his silence indicated agreement. When they discovered it wasn't a possibility, she locked herself in the bedroom all day. He went back to work to clear his head, to try and silence the voice that said: this is it, you've finally failed her, this will be the straw that breaks you. Later she emerged with red eyes, her mouth poised to form an apology, but he silenced her, held her to him as her shoulders shook. She said, "I'm sorry," and he said, "It's not your fault." He didn't let his voice betray his relief, at the news and at her failure to blame him.

It had turned out to be better and worse than either had anticipated; Clark was responsible for bringing them together then and, by virtue of the blind trust he placed in the younger Luthor, was almost responsible for breaking them apart now.

He would apologize now for every intentionally missed signal and every purposeful silence if he thought it would make a difference. She probably still didn't blame him for holding her back. She probably thought he'd done it without realizing, a well-intentioned oppressor. Maybe she had simply overestimated him.

Clearly, it's too late now; all that's left to do is wait for the inevitable, just as he had in the first weeks of their courtship. And it makes him angry, and it makes him miserable, but it's his own fault.

The hour is late when she quietly slips into bed. "Are you awake?" she whispers.

He waits a long time before answering. Is tonight the night? "Yeah."

"Good." A tense pause. "You have no idea how good it feels to be home."

Home.

"I guess balancing all of this is going to be harder than I thought," she sighs. "Sometimes I feel like I'm losing touch with myself." Her voice is dangerously low. "And you." Her lips are bare when she presses them against his neck. "Is that what you think?"

"No," he says, and it isn't the first lie he's ever told her, but he thinks it might be the wisest. "I know it's been difficult, but we can do this. You can do this. It's good for you." That part, at least, is true.

He can tell this is the answer she was looking for, but she just says: "I hope you're right," so quiet he almost doesn't hear it.

"Me too," he says, but despite the heaviness in his voice, he's feeling better than he did before. After all, she's here. She's glad to be home. And maybe that matters more than the doubt and the suspicion and the frustratingly uncertain future.

Maybe it's all that does matter.

/ before they went overboard
she turned and held up a card
and it said "valentine." /



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