The sheet of photo paper falls out of the printer and on to the tray. Humming to herself, Chloe picks it up and begins the short walk back to her desk. She’s been here long enough to know her way around blindfolded, and weaving her way through the crowd of people in the basement of the Daily Planet. But then again, Chloe had always been an expert on this place, even before her job here.
Finally, she sits down at her desk, placing the photo paper next to the steel frame sporting only Michelangelo the ninja turtle’s throwing star glued to the lower left hand corner as decoration. Her hand goes to her mouse and she clicks on the refresh button of her browser. But there’s no new email, so Chloe goes to work on trimming the edges of the photograph instead. It’s not like she has anything pressing to do right now anyway.
She had been debating on what to put in the frame. She wanted something from Milliways and something new to put on her desk back home. But after that photo spree she had gone on, Chloe had come back with a memory stick full of images: random patrons, friends, and many pictures of Riley – some with her and some without. Earlier today, after finishing a short op-ed piece, Chloe had finally found one she liked to put in there.
And it fits perfectly, she finds out minutes later as she flips the frame over. Chloe holds it out with two hands, admiring her handiwork with a pleased nod. In the frame now sits a photo taken the morning after her first night together with Riley. At some point, after the morning kisses had led to an amusing round of sex, and after they had gotten out of bed only long enough for teeth brushing and a quick wash-up, she had grabbed the digital camera to take back to bed with her. She had snuggled up against him and he had pulled the blankets up halfway and with both hands holding up the camera, snapped a quick shot.
So that moment was now preserved in time and preserved on her bedside table back home in Smallville forever: she’s giggling and Riley’s beaming from ear to ear – both of them looking content with life and each other. She couldn’t have him here with her, but at least she could have that. It was perfect.
“Hey, what’s that?”
A voice from behind her interrupts Chloe from the daydream she had been quickly slipping into. Immediately, the frame is placed face-down on to her desk, but before she has a chance to place a book on top of it, an over-sized hand scoops down to intercept the frame.
Chloe jumps out of her seat and lunges for the frame, but the hand holds it out of her grasp. “Give that back, Clark! We’re not at the Torch office anymore! Come on, Clark!”
Clark shakes his head, holding the frame above her head. His other hand grasps her shoulder to keep her back away from him. “Just let me see it and I’ll give it back.”
“Chlooee,” he whines in return, nearly bumping into a hurrying woman as he backs away from the desk. “It doesn’t take super vision to know you’re hiding something. And I want to see…
Chloe bites her lip when she sees Clark’s face fall and frowns. She couldn’t keep the secret forever, not if she put this picture by her bed, but she wanted Riley and Milliways just to be hers a little while longer. She didn’t want to hurt Clark’s feelings either, not when he was her best friend and everything. But…but this was Riley and Riley was hers and Clark just grabbed the moment away from her.
Quietly, she walks up to him, touching his arm gently and taking back the photo. Chloe looks down at it – at the smiling couple holding each other close among red and orange blankets – and for a moment there, she wishes she could go back to that. But she can’t, so she guides Clark over to a storage closet, closing the door behind them for some privacy from the other busybody employees at the Planet.
She hadn’t hidden anything from him since he found out she knew about his abilities.
The shelves shake as Clark leans against them; the hurt puppy dog expression hasn’t left his face yet. She goes to stand by a stack of printing paper someone carelessly left on the floor, and fingers the photo again. Maybe Riley should come for a visit so Clark can meet him himself. That might make things somewhat better, right? But anything has to be better than this awful awkward silence between them.
“So, uh, I can explain. Riley-” Chloe begins the same minute Clark says, “That doesn’t look like Jimmy.”
They both blink and look up at each other and Chloe sighs. “Remember freshman year of high school when I showed off that blastsword you and Pete just dismissed as something from eBay?”
Clark stares at her. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“And I mentioned Milliways,” Chloe continues, exasperated. She waves the picture frame around in frustration. “And you guys didn’t believe me. But I kept going there and it seemed surreal at first, but come on, we live in Smallville, and there is a bar at the end of the universe where anything can happen and that’s where I met Riley.”
“It’s a nice name, Clark.”
“I’m not saying anything!”
“…Clark.” Chloe pauses and takes a deep breath. Stupid, stubborn farm boys! “Clark, he’s Riley and he’s my boyfriend and I’ve known him for years and I really sort of like him a whole lot and you’d like him too if you just go to know him. Please?”
Clark’s quiet for a long moment as he studies Chloe. Occasionally his eyes flicker down to the frame in her hand before meeting her eyes again. She shrugs and smiles awkwardly, waiting for him to respond. Finally:
“You met a guy in a bar at the end of the universe?”
She nods. “This round of disbelief brought to you by an alien, right.”
“Hey!” Clark flashes a hurt look in her direction and Chloe instantly feels guilty. She mumbles an almost inaudible apology. “Chloe, aliens are one thing, but magic bars? Guys from an alternate dimension?”
“I’m holding the proof here in my hands,” Chloe says softly, looking down past the photograph and at her feet. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Clark. You know that.”
“You really met a guy from an alternate universe,” Clark asks slowly, studying her closely. He leans back further against the wall and shakes his head. It’s clear he doesn’t quite believe it. “And that’s okay by you?”
“You’re the one that once dated a dangerous teleporter. And don’t forget that shapeshifter from sophomore year,” Chloe shoots back, glaring up at him. “Riley’s perfectly normal, especially compared to all the other meteor freaks we knew back in Smallville.”
Another moment of silence passes between them before Clark shrugs, smiles, and crosses the gap between them to pull Chloe into a tight hug. Whether or not he believes her on the where, at least it’s clear Clark’s accepting the outcome. “I wouldn’t have thought that normal was your type.”
“Well, he is currently on a treasure hunt that includes stealing the Declaration of Independence so these other creeps don’t get it,” she answers with a laugh. “I’ve already claimed the exclusive on that.”
“Doesn’t surprise – Declaration of Independence?”
Chloe laughs again and nods, breaking the hug. “Um, yeah. It’s a long story, Clark.”
Clark’s eyes flicker down to the frame in her hand and Chloe can see the hurt return to his eyes. He had no idea, she realizes and stares down at the photo. The guilt still nags, but she knows she can’t let it. Clark would just have to face facts. He wasn’t the only guy in Chloe’s life anymore. And maybe, he wasn’t the most important one either.
“Come on,” Chloe finally says, nodding towards the door. “Let’s get out of here before Avi starts spreading rumors around the basement. It’s just about lunchtime. We should go talk.”
“Okay,” he replies in a quiet tone, stealing one more glance at the photograph. “Sounds great.”
Chloe forces a grin on to her face as she pushes the door open. “Cool. Let me just put this away and grab my purse and we can go and I’ll tell you all about him. Maybe we’ll even beat the lunch crowd at Tony’s.”
He smiles back at her and Chloe remembers a time when that smile would have caused flutters in her stomach. But now that’s reserved to another person, also from another world but in an entirely different way. It makes her smile at the thought, and at the same time, it makes her miss Riley a lot. But today is her day with her best friend. Chloe knows she’ll see Riley again soon enough.