Not for the first time since he'd come back, did Clark wonder if he'd been released into a Bizarro World. It was really hard for him to digest the fact that the girl he'd once loved was not only married to his father, but that they had two sons together. But it was true. It was right there in front of him. And even if he didn't have to see them together all the time, he could just see touches of Lana all over the house.
Martha wasn't completely gone, no, there were still traces of her (like pictures of her, Clark, and Jonathan) but this was most definitely Lana Kent's house. And damn it, but that felt weird. His room was indeed the only place that had escaped Lana's changes. It was just how he left it. A part of him was grateful for something that he could feel at home in, that felt familiar, and yet another part wished that they'd changed it up. It was as if his room was trapped in time – much like he was.
His brothers were amusing though, and it was hard not to like them – not that he'd tried. They were vivacious and spontaneous and got into trouble with their mother every single day. They fought over whether football or basketball was "The Boss Sport" and each begged Clark to play with them every single day. And he played with them. He wouldn't pick between football and basketball though, no matter how much they begged him to, because he felt that whoever won would never let the other one live it down.
"You're totally cool, Big Bro," Lewis announced proudly. "We knew you would be."
"We totally did," Jon agreed. "You're our Big Bro, you had to be cool!"
Clark sent them a smile as they sat on the porch after shooting some hoops. If there was something he liked about this Bizarro World, it was the twins. Sure, they'd taken some getting used to (and he was still trying to get used to them) but he genuinely liked them.
"Do you think Aunt Chloe's coming today?" Jon turned to Lewis. "She hasn't been around much lately."
"I know." Lewis pouted. "Think she's mad at us?"
Jon's eyes widened, as if he hadn't even thought of that. "Maybe."
Clark knew why Chloe hadn't been around, and he frowned as he gazed up at the cornflower blue sky. "She's not mad at either of you. She's giving me time to settle in."
"Why? Don't you like Aunt Chloe?" Jon wanted to know.
"They're bestest friends," Lewis declared. "Of course he likes her."
Of course he liked her. That didn't mean he wasn't hurt though.
"Do you think Uncle Bruce is going to marry her?" Jon asked his brother curiously. "Maybe that's why she's not here."
"No." Lewis pouted. "When I grow up I will marry her."
Clark turned towards them, curious. "Bruce Wayne?" Oliver had just made friends with the Gotham vigilante when Clark had gone to train. He didn't know much about him though, other than the fact that he was a womanizer.
"Yeah, Uncle Bruce." Jon nodded.
"Why would he marry Chloe?" Clark frowned. "She's married to AC."
Lewis shook his head with a sad frown. "Uncle Arthur's dead."
Clark's eyes widened. "What?"
Lewis and Jon exchanged looks before they scooted closer and spilled everything they knew.
Chloe Sullivan-Curry was a widow.
Clark tried to get his head around that. He'd just gotten the bare bones of the story from the kids and had asked his father for the rest of it. It'd been one of the first genuine conversations he'd had with his dad since he got back, and it'd pained Clark's heart. Damn it. Why hadn't anyone told him until now that Chloe wasn't married to Arthur but was his widow? That she was pregnant and all alone in the world? That she had no one to help her? To lean on? To be there for her?
"It's still relatively recent; she doesn't like talking about it." Jonathan motioned to a picture Clark had seen some days back on the mantle, one he'd avoided almost as much as he had the picture of his father and Lana's wedding. This picture was of a wedding as well, but the bride in white was blonde, not a brunette, as was her grinning groom. "We all try to be there for her but she's fiercely independent and wants to do everything herself. It drives Lana and Lois crazy."
"Still, she's so close to term that there's bound to be stuff she can't do for herself." Clark forced himself to really look at the picture, at the way AC and Chloe smiled at each other. They were obviously in love, and happy. It… it kind of pissed him off. He didn't understand why. He should be happy that she'd found someone who could look at her that way… Who could make her look at him that way. Clark gulped against a hard lump in his throat and cleared his throat as he glanced away, unable to look at that picture for one more second.
"Yeah," Jonathan agreed softly, sadly. "Doesn't seem to stop her, though." He cleared his throat. "She usually lets Bruce help more than the others – but that's because he doesn't really ask for her permission or even let her know what he's doing. He just does it."
Clark frowned at his father. This was the second time he'd heard about Bruce Wayne in regards to Chloe. "Why?"
"Well, if you ask me, he hasn't gotten over her," Jonathan admitted.
Clark felt himself go still. "They dated?"
"Yeah, before she got with AC she was with Bruce for a while. He's a nice guy." Jonathan cleared his throat. "I think he still cares for her and this might be what they need to get back together." He gazed at the picture. "He'd be good for her."
Clark never voiced it, but something deep inside of him tightened. He didn't know this Bruce guy, not really, but that something deep within him didn't like Bruce Wayne, didn't like him at all.
"Please don't hold Chloe accountable for what happened."
Clark looked up from where he'd been getting a drink of water to see Lana there, twisting her hands together nervously. "Why not?" He didn't blame Chloe, not really. Sure, she'd pushed, but nothing would've happened if Lana and his father weren't already in love.
"Because it's not her fault that I fell in love with your father." Lana bit her bottom lip. "She was just being my friend."
"She was my friend too, Lana, my best friend," he reminded, maybe a little harsher than he had meant to.
Lana flinched and lowered her gaze. "You weren't here, Clark. We didn't know when we'd see you again, or if we'd ever see you again."
"So that makes it alright?" He turned to face her completely. There was no ire in his tone, merely curiosity.
"No." Lana's voice softened to a whisper. "But I'm not going to ever regret loving your father. I'm happy, Clark. I'm so happy it hurts every day. It's this amazing hurt that leaves me breathless, happy to wake up each day because I wake up next to him."
It hurt Clark a little to hear that, but it also helped, somewhat. He couldn't explain, not to her, not to himself.
"I know this is hard for you, I know you feel like we've all stabbed you in the back, but we all love you, Clark." She steeled her shoulders. "And we're happy you're back. Hopefully you can learn to forgive us in time." She then turned and left.
Clark watched her and realized that she'd grown stronger since he'd been gone. Being a wife, a mother, really suited her. The thought made him smile softly.
He finished the glass of water and then sighed as he went about watching the glass. Why wasn't he angrier about all of this? His father had married the girl he loved – and his best friend had had a hand in all of it, he should be pissed! And yet, really, all he felt was hurt.
"So, you're back."
Clark turned from where he'd been hauling hay and smiled to see none other than Oliver Queen. "Long time no see."
"Who's to blame for that?" Oliver quipped as he patted Clark on the back. "So, what was it like? This super alien training of yours?"
Clark shrugged, a little uneasy to talk about it, and not sure how to explain it in mortal terms either. "It was an experience." He cleared his throat. "Though I'm sure it's not as interesting, or hazardous, as marrying Lois Lane."
Oliver grinned. "Yeah, I'm a brave one."
"My thoughts exactly," Clark admitted as he leaned against his pitch fork. "I heard it was a quick thing."
"It was. We decided to just elope and that same night we woke up Chloe and Bruce and told them to come with us to Vegas so we could tie the knot."
Clark's smile fell. "Chloe and Bruce were sleeping together?"
"Uh, no, they'd broken up by then. I meant we woke them up separately." Oliver shook his head. "We flew to Vegas and got hitched. Then we went on honeymoon and left them to deal with the fallout from everyone else regarding the fact that they hadn't been invited to the wedding." He grinned, nostalgic. "Good times, those."
Despite himself, Clark had to grin at his friend.
Oliver sent him a sideways glance. "So, Lois wants you over for dinner this weekend. The League is getting together and we want you there, like old times. Or, well, new times, considering you and Bruce never really had much of a chance to get to know each other."
Clark hesitated. He wanted to go. Want to meet up with his old friends. But a part of him wanted to hold back.
"Plus, you haven't seen his and Watchtower's verbal foreplay." Oliver anchored his hands on his narrow hips, his expression slowly turning grim. "I know that she's still mourning AC, but we all hope that once she's managed to grieve that things can work out between her and Bruce. He-he's a good guy."
"Arthur only died some months ago, it's a little early to be matchmaking her, especially when she hasn't had their kid yet." Clark hadn't meant to sound so sharp, he hadn't meant to sound sharp at all, and yet even he could hear the steel in his tone, and it shocked him.
Oliver merely sighed before he clapped Clark on the back and changed the subject.
Clark let him.
Clark Kent didn't know what he was doing here. He gazed at the Metropolis Daily Planet and almost turned around and walked away, but he couldn't. Instead of walking back to where the truck was, Clark found himself stepping into the building he'd gotten to know so well. Before he'd gone to train he'd constantly been at Chloe's desk, both early morning and late at night, either asking her to find out something about the meteor freak of the week, or complaining about his and Lana's problems, or something like that.
He'd never thought the day would come in which he'd feel uncomfortable, unsure, within these walls.
Licking his lips, he made his way down the familiar path towards Chloe's desk and stopped in mid-step. She wasn't there. Or, well, someone else was there. Someone else's nameplate sat on what was her desk. What was going on?
"CK?" A familiar voice asked him.
He turned to see Jimmy Olsen, and like always, he was uncomfortable with this guy. "Jimmy, hey."
"It's been forever!" Jimmy grinned as he hugged Clark, seeming unaware of how stiff Clark was. "Bright Eyes said you were off studying or something. How's it feel to be back? Are you here for good or are you just passing through?"
Right. Bright Eyes. Clark had never liked Jimmy's nickname for Chloe. It sounded so cheesy.
"I'm back, for now at least." He shuffled on his feet.
"Cool." Jimmy grinned. "So, what are you doing here?"
"Uh," he cleared his throat. "I was looking for Chloe, actually."
"Why?" Jimmy asked curiously. "Was she coming in today?" He must've seen something in Clark's expression because his eyes widened. "Oh! She's not here." He blinked. "I'm surprised that she didn't tell you."
Yeah, that was a lot about Chloe that was blindsiding Clark. "Tell me what?"
And then Jimmy said the one thing that shocked Clark stiff. "She doesn't work here anymore."
"What?" Clark couldn't keep the shock out of his tone. Chloe Sullivan not work at the Daily Planet? There was no way that the girl who'd dreamt of working here since she was a child would-oh my god. This WAS a Bizarro World!
"Yeah, she quit sometime after she married Arthur," Jimmy continued as if he hadn't just revealed to Clark that he'd been spat out in the wrong world. "I'll give you directions to her new office. Just wait here, I have a card of hers somewhere!" With that he took off.
Clark stood in the middle of the Daily Planet and brought a hand to his head. This had to be a Bizarro World. Or maybe, just maybe, his training hadn't actually ended. Maybe his father had only said that it had and this was actually some sort of test. That was the only explanation for all of the weirdness surrounding him.
His father marrying Lana and having twins.
Oliver and Lois marrying and having a son.
Chloe and AC marrying… Chloe being a widow…. Chloe being pregnant for AC… Chloe not working for the Daily Planet…
These all had to be clues to the fact that this wasn't the real world.
He really needed to talk to Chloe. Even if she wasn't the real one – or a Bizarro one – she'd still help him. He knew she would.
"Here you go! I knew I had it lying around somewhere." Jimmy returned with the card in time for someone to yell out OLSEN! Jimmy flinched. "Coming chief!" He turned to Clark. "It was good to see you again, CK, give my best to Chloe and let her know me and Kat are going to that party of hers." With that he hurried off towards the Editor's office.
Taking in a deep breath, Clark stared down at the card.
Chloe Sullivan-Curry – Founder and CEO of Atlantis Arising
What the heck was that?
He looked at the contact information. That was really the only thing that the card boasted of, other than a fancy design he felt he should know but didn't. The address was the only thing he knew of, though. It was Oliver's old Clock tower building. Apparently that was where Chloe did her business now – whatever the hell it was – which meant that it had to be related to League business somehow – although how it could be related he wasn't sure.
Too confused, too bombarded with questions, Clark left the Daily Planet and returned home to Smallville. He'd talk to her when his head didn't feel like it was about to explode.
It took him three whole days to get the nerve to go back to Metropolis and go to the Clock tower. Apparently Oliver had given it to AC some years ago when he'd moved to Metropolis, and Chloe had inherited the building after her husband's death. She'd quit the Daily Planet soon after marrying AC, as Jimmy had said, and they'd started Atlantis Arising, which was, well, Clark wasn't exactly sure what it was. Jonathan hadn't, either, just that it aimed to help people, animals, and especially the planet.
Clark stared at the Atlantis Arising sign and made a face. Since when had Chloe ever been an eco-warrior? When he'd known her, the extent of her eco-awareness was, well, now that he thought about it, she hadn't been eco-aware at all.
"You know, if you weren't hot, I would've snapped at you for just standing in the doorway and blocking it," a voice declared behind him.
He turned to see a spunky brunette. "Sorry." He moved out of the way.
She eyed him up and down. "Clark, right?"
His eyes widened. "How do you-?"
"Chloe has a picture with you in it in her office." She held out a hand. "Name's Maera. I'm Chloe's assistant."
This girl looked nothing like an assistant. She looked like an assassin.
"Come on in." She moved passed him and entered the building. "Chloe's in her office trying to deal with some problems we're having, and you'll be the kind of distraction she needs." She leaned in closer, voice low. "She's been having a rough couple of weeks, pregnancy wise. I'm about to force her to move in with me, at least until she gives birth. I mean, no one should have to go through this alone, you know?"
Clark nodded silently as he followed Maera and then stopped when he saw a large glass office. Chloe stood, her stomach impossibly large, as she eyed the 3D projection around her. She moved things around, entered calculations, and repeated as necessary once calculations or the changes took place. "Wow."
"I know, it's real hi-tech." Maera brushed that off. "Go on, now. Don't be shy." She moved towards another glass office and hurried up when her phone began to ring.
Licking his lips, Clark hesitated a second before he turned to where Chloe was once more. He went to the glass wall and knocked on it.
The sound jarred Chloe from her thoughts and when she turned to look at him he could see the surprise, anxiety, and slight fear in her eyes. She was worried he'd come to finally, truly, tell her what a horrible person she was.
He cleared his throat and moved to the glass door, waited for it to slide open, and entered the office. "Hey."
"Hey." Chloe tapped some things in the holographic keyboard, and suddenly the office's glass walls tinted dark, not allowing anyone from outside to see them. "Uh, I didn't expect to see you here."
"I didn't expect to see you here," he admitted as he looked around the office at the pictures and such. "I thought there was a Pulitzer with your name on it."
"Right." She nodded. "Things change."
So did he.
He didn't mean to say the things he did, or act the way he did. In fact, with most stuff, while not completely over it, he'd adapted and learnt to accept them. He'd learnt to accept that Lana was married and in love with his father. He'd learnt to accept that he had twin brothers. He'd learnt to accept that someone had made an honest woman out of Lois and had actually trusted that hellion with the task of raising a child.
Considering all that, it was beyond him why he couldn't accept Chloe. Why he couldn't accept that she'd pushed Lana and his father together… Couldn't accept that she'd married AC and was pregnant with his child… Couldn't accept that she'd left the Daily Planet to start up an Eco venture… Every new piece or detail he learnt was yet another bit to add to the "Can't Accept" pile. Or, well, maybe it was the "Won't Accept" pile.
Why was it that out everything that was screwed up in this world, what bothered him the most was her?