She sucked in a deep breath as she opened her bedroom closet.
There it was, sitting on the top shelf, untouched, just as she'd left it.
It'd been sitting there almost a year.
It was hard to believe that much time had passed. But it had.
She took down the box, very carefully. These had been his most prized possessions. She'd hate herself forever if anything ever happened to them.
She sighed as she seated herself on the bed with the box in front of her.
She'd been thinking of him all day, and the temptation to pull out the box had been too great.
Today would have been his birthday. He would have been thirty years old. Looking at him, you'd never have thought it, but it was true.
Three years, they'd worked side-by-side at the Daily Planet.
Three years, he'd lived down the hall from her.
And, as she was about to discover, for those three years, she hadn't even really known him.
*The greatest man I never knew
Lived just down the hall
And every day we said hello
But never touched at all*
When he'd returned to Kansas, something had seemed different about him.
He was more determined than ever to fulfill his destiny, and he did. But the problem was that he wouldn't dare let her get as close as she had been before. They were still friends, best friends, but sometimes he seemed to shut himself off, and shut her out. She knew he had a lot on his mind, and a huge responsibility now, that much was obvious. But he seemed to hold it all in. He wasn't as open with her as he had once been, and that bothered her.
She knew he stayed out late every single night, and she knew why. He was patrolling the skies, doing what he felt like was his duty. But sometimes, when he'd come home at two or three in the morning, she could have sworn she hear him crying. Once or twice, she'd gone down to his apartment, and had knocked, asking if everything was all right. He'd given her a watery yes, and she'd left him alone.
She'd begun to believe that having the entire world on his shoulders was too much of a burden to him. He did everything he could, and still felt like it wasn't enough. She wished he would have come to her, and talked to her, but it was too late for that now.
*The greatest man I never knew
Came home late at night
He never had too much to say
Too much was on his mind
I never really knew him
And now it seems so sad
Everything he gave to us took all he had*
She took out his laptop, the largest thing in the box, and looked it over carefully. She opened it, and turned it on, and when the computer prompted her for the password, she tried to remember what his cousin had told her.
"He always told me his password was the first and middle names of someone he loved very much, but he never told me who."
Within several minutes, she'd inputted about every name she could think of. None of them seemed to work.
Her brow furrowed, thoughts filling her mind, trying to unravel the puzzle.
Finally, on a whim, she typed in the name Chloe Anne.
Much to her surprise, it worked. She now had full access to his computer.
Her eyes widened. "I'm his password?" she muttered to herself. She shook her head, not really understanding it, and took another deep breath.
A small smile touched her lips when she saw his desktop.
It was a picture of the two of them together, happy and smiling and dressed up, at an awards ceremony for journalistic achievements. He looked so handsome in his tux, and so comfortable with his arm around her.
She swallowed hard, blinking back tears, and clicked on the Recent Documents shortcut.
*Then the days turned into years
And the memories to black and white
He grew cold like an old winter wind
Blowing across my life*
The last thing he'd saved was the Luthorcorp expose they'd been working on together. She wasn't surprised. The story didn't even get to see the light of day.
She felt her throat tighten, and the tears fill her eyes.
He'd died because of that story.
Sadness overcame her as she remembered how it'd all happened.
They were getting too close. Lex hadn't liked it. Somehow, some way, Lex had found out who he was, and had become hell-bent on both shutting him up, and getting rid of him.
Lex had succeeded in doing both, via Kryptonite poisoning.
By the time they'd discovered the Kryptonite was in his system, it was too late, and there was nothing they could do to save him. He lasted only eighty minutes after his poisoning.
And Lex had gotten away with it. The death was known publicly to be of "natural causes", but many people figured or knew otherwise. There was nothing natural about their hero, so his death was nothing of the sort.
She and his mother knew a huge spectacle would have been made over his funeral, so before anyone had a chance to try and claim him, or do away with him, Kara had carted his body away to the frozen North, to his Fortress.
The service had been nice, simple, and small. She, his mother, Kara, and the seven other members of the Justice League had been the only ones in attendance. They had each said their goodbyes in peace, and then Kara had placed his body in a special coffin she'd constructed inside the fortress. One of the League members had created a device to keep the structure hidden from prodding eyes. Now the Earth's greatest hero would truly rest in peace.
Chloe sniffled as she closed the unfinished expose, and shivered, though she wasn't exactly feeling cold.
She wouldn't hate herself if any of his things were harmed. That was impossible, because she already hated herself.
She'd hated herself since that day up in the arctic, the day they'd laid him to rest.
She couldn't have saved him. She knew that. But there was something else she could have done.
He'd died in her arms.
He had died, cradled in her arms, and had looked as though he was trying to say something to her when his last breath had slipped from his body, and his eyes had fallen shut.
She'd been in denial of what was happening until the moment it actually happened. It wasn't fair. He was Superman. He wasn't supposed to die. He was supposed to outlive her, by at least a few hundred years.
And no matter how many tears she cried, she couldn't bring him back. She had cried and cried, but things were all too clear.
Clark was never coming back again.
And the day of his funeral, she began to hate herself.
She began to hate herself, because she'd had a chance to be honest with him, and hadn't been. She'd had a chance to tell him how much she loved him, and hadn't. She hated herself so much for that.
Tears were starting to flow down Chloe's cheeks when noticed that a conversation between he and Kara had been logged, just a few days before his death.
Perhaps she shouldn't have opened it, but she couldn't help herself.
And once she had opened it, and saw her own name in it, she couldn't stop reading.
We're both in danger, Kara. I can feel it. And I won't let him hurt Chloe again. He'll have to kill me first.
Chloe's eyes widened as she read Clark's words.
If you think you're in danger, Clark, don't you think you should be honest with Chloe, before it's too late? Before something happens to one of you? Kara's words were so strong and clear, even in text, that Chloe could almost hear them in her head.
She knows... doesn't she? She should. She knows that I have a duty here. She knows I can't allow myself to indulge in a relationship. Chloe's breath caught in her throat again, as his voice seemed to fill her head. No matter how I feel about her, I can't be with her, or anybody else, for that matter. As much as it hurts, I belong to the world right now. They need me... they need a hero. As much as I love her, I can't be with her. And I do love Chloe. More than anything.
Chloe gasped, her mouth falling open. "Oh, God..." she managed to get out before the tears started to overflow.
*The greatest words I never heard
I guess I'll never hear
The man I thought could never die
Has been dead almost a year*
She quickly hit the red X in the corner of the box, twice, and was once again greeted by his desktop.
Her hand went over her mouth, and her eyes squeezed shut as he tears flooded her cheeks.
Now she knew why he stayed at arms length.
Now she knew why he wouldn't open up to her.
He loved her, and felt like he couldn't tell her, because of his other commitment.
She sobbed softly, her hand reaching out, her fingers brushing over the laptop screen, over his face in their picture.
"Oh, Clark..." she whispered. "Why didn't you just tell me?"
The truth hurt now. Unspoken, it hurt so much.
She may have been his best friend, but she'd never really known him, in a sense.
And in that case, he was the greatest man she never knew.
*He was good at business
But there was business left to do*
Chloe looked up at the ceiling, her hand moving over her heart. She could barely hear her own words when they slipped out of her mouth. "I love you, Clark..."
Silence answered her, and she shook her head, looking back at the laptop. She'd never get an answer, and that's what hurt the most.
*He never said he loved me
Guess he thought I knew*
And in the darkness of the frozen tundra, a shadowy echo, one loud enough that it filled Chloe's dreams, soared with the wind.
I love you, Chloe.