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She's Not Here

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They're going to freeze to death if they don't find shelter soon.

Chloe Sullivan is going to lose feeling in her feet in a few moments. She can only feel her fingers because they're tucked into the sleeves of her ugly Christmas sweater, a gift from Clark Kent's mother, Martha. He also wears one, and while he complained about it when he first put it on, to attend the Daily Planet office party, she's willing to bet he's as grateful for it now as she is.

"Chloe?" he says, trying to keep track of her in the frigid, driving wind.

"I see something up ahead," she answers, in a voice made shaky by the glacial temperatures. There, in the woods directly ahead, is a broken down structure. She's not sure how much protection it'll offer, but they need shelter, fast, before they drop dead of exposure.

Chloe struggles to keep moving, but getting one foot in front of the other has become a real chore since her feet lost feeling a couple of seconds ago. When she got dressed that morning she hadn't planned on being transported to some unknown, freezing wood. Sure, her cotton socks are fine for the job of running from a heated car to a warm office, but they're not good for trekking through a foot of snow which had, at some point, melted, and then froze again, leaving a hard crust that breaks under every step and manages to crumble into her sneakers.

The structure she's spotted is an abandoned lean-to that's seen better days, but thanks to the tarp covering it, it'll keep the wind off them. They'll be able to catch their breath and possibly warm their extremities.

Clark pulls the tarp as soon as they're inside and Chloe heaves a sigh of relief. At least the wind is off them. The cold feels like a living thing. A monster with tendrils that pry their way through their flesh to inject them with ice that will leave them as nothing but frozen husks given enough time.

"Nothing left of the heat vision?"

Clark shakes his head. "I don't think so. I'll try."

First Clark's strength drained away, then his speed quickly after. His hearing is fading fast. Chloe doesn't expect a single spark to light what's left of the half-burned logs in the clumsily constructed fire pit in front of the lean-to, but then she sees a ripple in the air, feels the heat, and the fire starts smoldering. A noise of triumph and relief escapes Chloe and she hugs Clark before they stoke the flames into a proper fire and warm their hands.

"How are your feet?" he asks.


She doesn't object when he pulls her shoes off and uses his heat vision to warm her feet and socks. It's such a gentle use of his heat vision that it feels as though he's dipped her feet into warm water. When they've properly warmed, he uses his vision to heat the insides of her shoes and she quickly puts them back on. He even takes a few minutes to warm the rest of her, making it feel as though she's been wrapped in a blanket. As soon as he stops, however, the outside cold begins to invade again. Chloe's not going to complain. He's just saved her life, and she's grateful. She's also a little jealous how warm his flesh is when she touches his hands.

"Not all of your powers are drained completely," she says. "You don't feel as cold as me."

"I'm okay," he says, slowly, and he's got that intense look on his face, which means he's listening for something. "Really. I hear water. There's splashing. Salmon swimming upstream, possibly."

"How far?"

"Half a mile, maybe a little more."

"We have to keep moving, find better shelter," Chloe says. "We can't be out here after dark with just this to keep the wind off us."

He hurries to gather more wood. When he returns he stores the fire until the heat properly floods the lean-to.

Clark nods his agreement. "I've still got some speed and strength. I'll go look while you stay here."

"Clark, I'll come with you-"

"You were barely on your feet when we found this," he reminds her. "I'll be back as soon as I can. I promise."

Chloe hates to let him go but he's right. She's barely upright, and leaving the fire now, just to freeze again, was going to cost her a few toes. She nods and hunkers down, keeping her hands and feet by the crackling flames and praying she's not attacked by wolves by the time Clark can get back.

It's just about dark when Clark returns. The fire is all but gone and Chloe is sleepy. It's not genuine fatigue but the cold, sapping her of strength. He pulls her into his arms, gathers the tarp, and takes off running into the deepening shadows. He's nowhere near as fast as he used to be, but he's still faster than humanly possible. Stronger, too.

Chloe hopes he's found people, or a cabin. Instead he's found a cave. He takes her deep inside where it's black as pitch until he levels his gaze at a pile of rocks he's assembled. He heats them until they're red hot, filling the cave with heat. Clark's rigged up a rack using sticks he's fashioned over the fire. Now he's lined up her socks and shoes to dry warm beside it, and there's salmon cooking over the heat. The smell makes her stomach ache from hunger.

"You remember the boy scouts tricks?" she asks.

Clark grins. "These are things Dad taught me on those camping trips I hated so much. I'm glad for them now."

The rocks glow red. The wind can't reach them this far into the cave. She can't really hear it, either, but she shivers thinking of it.

"I found this," Clark says. It's an old pot that he pulls out to show her. "I'll be back in a minute."

An hour later they're full on grilled salmon and blessedly warm water. Chloe's feet are toasty and dry in her socks and shoes but she's exhausted. Clark heats the rocks again before he lays the tarp out on the stone floor and insists they get some sleep. According to his watch it's only 8 o'clock, but they need the sleep. The floor is hard but warmed by the heated stones and the tarp at least provides a barrier between them and the cave floor. Chloe's so tired that she curls into Clark and she's asleep seconds later.

The morning means leftover salmon, more warm water, and waiting on Clark to return from scouting. It takes him two solid hours to return. This time with good news: He's found a cabin.

When you're trapped in the woods with nothing to survive on, a run down cabin looks like a luxurious mansion. It's about as big as a child's dollhouse, but it's got a tub and an inside pump operated well to fill it. There's a fireplace with racks for roasting meats, and, literally, a pot to piss in. There's a table with two chairs, and a bed.

"That blanket has probably never been washed," Chloe says, sitting on the bed and listening to the old springs protest with the slightest movement and eyeing it with loathing.

"It probably hasn't been used in fifty years. None of this stuff has," he answers.

Clark brings in firewood and gets a fire going while Chloe tries to cook the salmon Clark has cleaned for them.

After two days with his powers severely diminished he's growing some beard stubble. Chloe tries her best not to stare at his square jaw or his piercing green eyes. She's learned to ignore his good looks, except when she's alone in the dark with her hand in her panties. Then, in her fantasies, it's her that Clark loves, not Lana. She's the object of his desires, not Lana. He usually has this stubble in those fantasies.

He runs a bath and heats it, scrubs the sheets and blankets and pillow cases clean for her. There's no soap but at least most of the dirt is out. Chloe had read somewhere that soap wasn't absolutely necessary to clean clothes. The movement of water through the fabric did the real work. Now the sheets smell of water, not musk, and the windows stream up when he tries them.

She wonders why he's working so hard to clean the stuff when it's likely safe to sleep in. He's not just providing for her needs, he's trying to provide her with comfort as well. Does he feel guilty? Is that what motivates him? That she wouldn't be in this situation if not for him? Does he realize she's glad she's there? That him just up and disappearing would have left her in panic and distress that nothing, and nobody, would be able to dispel? She imagines his mother is in the same condition. Everyone is, but for her...well, for her, she thinks it would've been worse. She can imagine that outside of Martha Kent there's a soul on Earth that loves Clark Kent more than she does.

"Jor-El left you some of your powers to survive," Chloe says, making the bed with their clean linens.

"I can't figure out why he'd force you into this trip."

"I think it's because I jumped to grab you when I saw you disappearing," Chloe says.

Clark smiles and shrugs. "Or he knew you'd track me down and save me before I could finish whatever this is he wants me to do."

The water is steaming when Clark steps back. "You wanted a bath, here's a bath," he says.

"I don't remember saying that out loud, but yeah, I want a hot bath."

Clark smiles at her. "You don't have to say it out loud. I know you. I'll be a gentleman and keep my back turned.

Chloe undresses and slips into the water, sighing happily since this is the first time she's felt truly warm in 24 hours. The heat of the water seeps into her flesh, her bones, chasing away the chill from the sound of howling wind outside. Her eyes go to Clark, who sits facing the crackling fire. She tries not to let it sting when he doesn't try to take a peep at her nakedness.

She fails.

After a lengthy argument about sharing the bed instead of Clark taking the floor, Chloe wins and Clark agrees to curl up with her instead of on the rickety floor boards.

"I'm a big guy," he says, eyeing the narrow mattress. "It's gonna be a tight fit."

"We'll manage," she deadpans, knowing that being pressed up against his body isn't something that'll bother Chloe in the least. "Besides, this old cabin is drafty and the blanket is thin. We can put our body heat to good use."

They snuggle under the blanket, talk about their prospects, discuss how they're gonna find civilization again, both of them swearing off salmon for the rest of their lives. Chloe wants Clark to simply ask Jor-El what he wants of him, but pride stands in Clark's way.

"Something tells me it won't be that simple anyway," Clark says. "I don't think he's gonna answer."

Chloe agrees. "He wants you to discover something."

"He wants us both to discover something," Clark muses, sleepily.

Chloe gives that some serious thought but can't reason out why Jor-El would want her to discover anything. "I'm not Kryptonian. What could he want me to discover?"

"He brought you here," Clark says. "It's not enough of an explanation that you're here just because you grabbed me."

"How do you know?"

Clark's barely able to keep his eyes open when he answers. "Lana grabbed my other arm. She's not here. You are."

The grip of the weariness that tugs at Chloe's eyes momentarily weakens. Clark's made a valid point. She's here, Lana's not. Why? Why would Jor-El bring just Chloe along on this adventure and leave Lana behind? What does he want Chloe to discover?

Clark shifts beside her. He's asleep now. His body is warm, solid, reassuring. She takes comfort in the feel of see his big arms wrapped around her, and the breath on the back of her neck. She immediately falls asleep, her heart content just to be alive, with Clark, no matter the circumstances.