Chapter One: They Were Stargazers

An old Ford F-150 came to a rickety stop in the middle of the cornfield. The occupants of the cab stepped into the crisp December air. Caryn had a thin coat on over her grandma-made wool sweater. Temperature extremes didn't bother Caryn like it bothered Mark. She was Caryn Kent, daughter of Clark and Chloe Kent, and had most of her father's rather odd non-human attributes. Mark didn't know this about her family. He assumed she was cold because he was cold. His teeth chattered in the night as he unzipped his leather jacket.

"Man, Caryn," he said intermittently. "Here, put this on before frost bites you."

Caryn swallowed hard as Mark held out his coat. She really had to tell him sometime what she was. She just didn't know how to best approach the subject.

"No Mark," she patted his hand. "I'm okay and we'll be warm enough under the blankets, we always are."

"Nonsense."

Mark wouldn't hear of it. Caryn was his girlfriend and he was fine with being uncomfortable for her sake. He was assisting her with the sleeves as they argued over this minor point. He even zipped her up before depositing a small, loving peck on her forehead.

"Thank you. My Knight."

Mark smiled in response. He might have had a rough upbringing, but he was a gentleman through and through. She didn't want to deny him chivalry.

Caryn unlocked the gate on the truck and Mark fished out the blankets and pillows from the storage bins. He spread one blanket out on the metallic bed. He sat so his back was against the cab. Caryn sat next to him and draped the other blankets over their bodies. She copied his posture and sat straight up and tilted her head back too. Always at first, it was about the constellations in the sky.

They were stargazers.

Sometimes Caryn and Mark would eat popcorn as they pointed upwards to discuss the changes from last week. If they saw a shooting star, they would kiss. It usually ended with Caryn's head in the keep of Mark's armpit and his arms wrapped around her trim torso.

"Are you warm?" Caryn asked. "Your nose is cold."

"There haven't been enough shooting stars."

"Well, it's cloudy. Here, is this better?" Caryn turned to her side and together they let themselves stretch completely out on the floor of the truck.

"We don't do that much stargazing anymore, do we?" Mark murmured as he thought back to when they were still in high school.

*/*/*

Mark can't believe his luck. His geometry and algebra tutor is the prettiest girl in Kansas. She's a good teacher too, very patient and kind. She makes studying fun. He catches on quickly, making up for so much lost time.

They become good friends. She really cares about his odd life as a ward of the state.

He visits her frequently and pesters her in the barn. He knows her well enough to push her buttons. She's embarrassed that she's so smart. She hides it. He ruffles her feathers with his flattery. He asks Caryn about her college-level calculus class. He's still doing simple geometry proofs as she's trying to compute the orbital path of Superman's home planet, Krypton.

"You're such a science geek," he says, twirling a pencil. Mark's officially caught up to the point of satisfying the guidance counselor, but he still insists he needs the study sessions with Caryn.

"I have reasons for the madness."

"Sure you do," Mark flirts.

She blushes profusely and turns to her papers. Mark's confidence and grin excite her. Caryn's never had a boyfriend or even suffered from the crushes and bouts of puppy love her girlfriends claimed. Yet lately she's had a bubbly warm feeling about Mark. He praises her to his bandmates and teachers. He's complimented her parents about saving him from being another statistic. She likes him more than she can say.

Caryn looks at her stopwatch and pencils in some constants in her formulas. She's trying to figure out how long a trip to Krypton would take her. To Mark, it looks like gobbledegook.

"Why don't you show me how mad you are?"

Caryn gives Mark a crash course in astronomy. She uses the old telescope in the barn. It's not a very good telescope, but she likes that her dad used to use it too. Mark then suggests to Caryn that they look at the sky with the naked eye. Problem is, Caryn's house is a little too close to Smallville and the city lights obscure the view. They wander to Potter's field, talking all the way. Mark takes her hand and pulls her into the rows of corn, and when Caryn lifts her head back to look at the sky, he kisses her.

"You're beautiful. You know that?" Mark says. "I'm seventeen now, I'm emancipated. I don't have to move if I don't want to." Mark cups his hand over her face. "We're friends, but can we try for more here?"

"I think that can be arranged," Caryn breathes.

They kiss again, oblivious to anything but each other.

"I think I like stargazing."

*/*/*

"Two and a half years of stargazing," Caryn said. "I'm so glad we've started this. I think I'll keep you."

Mark squeezed Caryn in response. Mark had shared with her some tragic stories of being returned to an orphanage. It was during their quiet times Mark had gotten a lot off of his chest. She listened and didn't judge.

She was always quick to tell Mark how important he was to her.

Her life was ridiculously insane, being the daughter of Superman, but at least she had a home and loving parents and an extended family. As an unwanted foster kid, Mark had it worse. He had reasons to feel lonely. Three times he had been told that he would be adopted, and three times he suffered the pain of a broken promise.

Caryn knew if Mark promised her something, it wouldn't be in vain. He would mean it. When Mark said to her, "I'll call you tomorrow." "We'll dance after my set is up." "I'll wait until you're ready." Caryn could trust that.

Telling him she was half Kryptonian wasn't something she was prepared to do. She didn't want to do it because she thought it would change the way he'd look at her. She nearly always could argue a reason not to share, even when it was evident that Mark would always be her friend and comfort. Her dad's super-suit was more embarrassing than Grandpa Sullivan's fart jokes.

Her reluctance to take a risk with her secret matched Mark's uncertainty in saying the big three words. I love you.

Mark and Caryn were better at saying I love you by holding hands, with kisses, or when Caryn rested her head on Mark's chest. Sometimes their touching grew reckless. He was shy about sex. He could barely go to second base with her without blushing and apologizing. They hadn't done it yet. He was a simple, traditional guy that wanted his own home and family. She wanted to be a virgin until married. The fact that Mark was willing to wait spoke volumes to her about how he really felt.

Caryn was about to fall asleep when Mark took her left hand into his own. She felt the cool trail of the band slide down her ring finger. Her eyes snapped open and she sat up, giving him her full attention. Her heart was bursting with joy. He was refusing to look back at her but she thought she saw a slight smile on his face.

"Mark," Caryn called.

She saw Mark's Adam's apple bobble. He clenched her left hand and twirled the ring there. He tried to remove it from her hand as if he had made the worst mistake in the world.

Caryn stopped him.

"It stays."

"I love you, Caryn," he said. "You know that I do, right?"

She pressed her nose to his sideburn and started to kiss his jaw. She felt his fingers twist her hair, passing lightly over her ear.

"Caryn Kent, will you marry me?"

"Yes, Mark Slouka, yes I will."