It was dumb luck. A young boy gifted with a new video camera went outside one cold December morning to experiment with film making. He set up his camera on the balcony of his apartment building and filmed a stray cat poking around in the alley. He recorded something else as well.
The film was slowed down and enhanced by professional editors employed by news stations around the world. It got more airplay in one day than the Zapbruder film did in a decade. No one doubted what they saw, and what they saw turned the world upside down for one young man and all those who knew him.
The Daily Planet was besieged until the Metropolis police formed a barricade to keep out fellow reporters intent to interview someone - anyone. Smallville, Kansas was flooded with media people from around the world wanting a glimpse of the Kent farm, or one of the Kents themselves. Martha and Jonathan Kent were taken to a safe house upon orders from the President himself.
Lana Ross was hunted down and harassed by tabloid reporters who declared her pregnant with an alien baby, despite her explanations to the contrary. Her husband was charged with assault for laying into one obnoxious fellow and breaking his nose. The charges were later dropped when the governor of Kansas, a close friend of Pete's mother, came to Pete's defense.
Everyone was affected. No one who knew Clark Kent was safe, except for one individual. She quietly bided her time and waited.
She lived in a small apartment in Chicago with a cat and a state of the art computer. She made ends meet via some free-lance reporting, writing stories for small regional magazines. Sometimes she sold short fictional stories, mysteries and thrillers, to specialty magazines, and published "books" on-line. You could purchase the rights to download a novel for three dollars and fifty cents. It was a meager living, but it kept a roof over her head and food on her table.
When the story broke, Chloe Sullivan wasn't surprised. She'd harbored suspicions for years prior to delving into a working relationship with the late Lionel Luthor. Clark had no idea what she'd discovered about him. He'd only found out toward the end she was even involved, and only then just in time to save her life. Lionel had died in the fire. Chloe escaped with a badly broken leg and enough bad karma to last a lifetime. She'd kept her mouth shut about what she knew. Now she wasn't the only one who realized the truth about Superman, and someone else had not kept their mouth shut.
Lois didn't call, they were monitoring her phone lines. She'd sent, via a different e-mail address, a short note to Chloe expressing concern.
"Where is he?" she'd written.
To which Chloe responded, "I don't know. I haven't seen him."
For once Chloe was glad to be the girl everyone overlooked. It was Lana and Pete the press were harassing. It was the Kents who were in hiding, and Lex who they wanted to interview so desperately. Nobody knew about Chloe because back when Clark was just Clark, she hadn't mattered much. Nobody called her. Nobody camped out in front of her door waiting for her to show her face or for a chance visit from Clark himself. Clark had been gone since the story broke. His apartment was sealed and guarded by federal agents.
At one in the morning almost a week after Superman's identity was revealed, someone rang the bell to Chloe's apartment. Due to the racket from a hellacious thunderstorm she was up reading, her cat purring next to her. She got up only when she heard the bell a second time. Thunder roared outside. Lightning crashed. Picking up a baseball bat she had sitting beside the bed, she limped over to the door. She didn't have a peephole and knew better than to open the door even a crack.
"Who is it?" she demanded.
His voice was muffled and nearly drowned out by the storm, but still unmistakable. "Chloe it's me. Please let me in."
Hastily Chloe unlocked the door.
He blew in with the storm, bringing with him a blast of wind and water. Chloe pushed the door shut behind him and locked it again while he stood dripping on her rug. Unadorned, without the telltale glasses or cape that marked him as either one or the other of his persona, he stood there clad in jeans and a t-shirt, soaked through to the skin. His hair was plastered to his face, its darkness striking a sharp contrast to his pale skin. Oddly enough he was shivering. Chloe didn't think it was due to the cold, especially when she looked up into his face. It was gaunt, strained, with dark circles below each eye. He looked....
"Stay," she said, and went into her bedroom where she rummaged around in a box in her closet. A pair of sweats belonging to an ex-boyfriend were procured. She rummaged around and found one of her T-shirts, an extra large she sometimes slept in, then picked up a towel as well. All were presented to Clark.
He went into the bathroom to dry off and change. She made tea.
"Where have you been?" Chloe asked when he reappeared. The T-shirt was tight, accentuating his broad shoulders and chest, much like the more familiar blue suit. She couldn't help staring at first, before lowering her eyes to her cup. "Everyone is worried sick."
Clark toyed with the handle of his mug. "I have a place."
"Why aren't you there?"
"Because I...this is my home."
Chloe laughed, and looked up at him again. "Since when has Chicago been your home?"
"You know what I mean," Clark murmured. "I need to be with people, Chloe."
She grew still, her hand slowly ceasing the motion of bobbing her tea-bag. She removed the bag, and flicked it into the trash can. "Hence the duel identities?"
He nodded slightly. "I couldn't stand by and watch things happen, things that I could prevent. I wanted to help people, but I didn't want to lose my life."
Chloe stood at the counter in her kitchen. Clark leaned against it opposite her, his back toward the sink. He turned and set his cup down on the counter before raising both hands to his face, covering his eyes as he shuddered. His voice came through muffled, but broken.
"I don't know."
Carefully, Chloe sipped her tea. "You can't stop doing what you've been doing, Clark," she said after a moment. "Destroying Superman isn't a good idea."
He nodded, sighed, and removed his hands from his face. His cheeks were damp, his long dark lashes glistened with moisture, tears he'd not allowed her to see. "No," he whispered. "I can't, but...."
"So Clark Kent dies, and someone else takes his place. But you know they'll find you eventually no matter what you do. They know your game now. Superman will be under even more scrutiny than ever before, and Lex...."
Clark's expression hardened. "I don't want to talk about Lex."
"Lex now has the upper hand," Chloe went on, ignoring him. "You may not want to talk about Lex, but you damn well better be thinking about Lex. After the shock wears off and the media circus calms down, he's going to go after you and he'll start with anyone and everyone you've ever cared about. He knows Clark Kent better than he knows Superman. He knows how to get to you."
"You know, why don't I just go hand myself right over to him then, and save everyone some grief? Or better yet, swallow some Kryptonite and just put an end to everything. There's an idea." Clark spoke bitterly, angrily, and ignored the cold expression forming on Chloe's face. "That would certainly put an end to everybody's problem, including mine."
"You're a coward, Clark."
"I never said I wasn't, Chloe."
The counter was so swift, so brutally truthful, Chloe was momentarily silenced. For the first time she found herself facing the real person beneath all the masks. He had built around him layer upon layer of protections in the form of secret identities, lies and confusion. Here was not the odd and secretive young man she'd known, nor the bumbling reporter he'd become, and it was definitely not the "super" man everyone so admired. This was just a man, with weaknesses and insecurities just like anyone else.
"You don't understand what it's been like for me," Clark continued softly. "Maybe the only way you could is to be locked up in solitary confinement from the age of three. I'm alone in a room full of people."
"I know what it's like to be outside looking in, that's for sure." Chloe set her mug down. "I've known about you for years you know, long before Lana ever did. I loved you long before Lana did. I was your friend way before she ever even looked at you twice...."
"Oh for God's sake, Chloe! Are you still hanging on to...."
"My point," Chloe said crisply, cutting him off. "Is that I do understand, but you are always unwilling to give me any credit for anything.You've always been like that, and you probably always will." She crossed her arms over her chest. "My mother left me as a child. My father worked like a dog to do his best by me, but as a result, I saw very little of him. I was never the pretty girl. I was never the smartest girl. I know exactly what it's like to be alone in a room full of people, Clark. I know very well what it's like. I don't give a damn where you come from or what powers you have, you aren't as special as you think you are. So stop wallowing in self pity and decide what you're going to do, because I'm willing to put you up only as long as I don't have to listen to your incessant whining."
He stared at her, startled into silence, and Chloe turned her eyes away from him abruptly. Her voice faded, the anger seeping away as she considered her own loneliness, especially in recent years as her dreams slowly faded into the dull drudgery of an unspectacular existence. She knew what it was like to feel tired, so very tired, that anything would be better than going on with the daily battle just to get through a twenty four hour period of life.
"I never thought I'd hear you give up, Clark. You've never given up on anything."
"Yes I have," he said quietly, after a pause in which Chloe fumbled for and located a box of tissues on the counter.
She wiped her eyes. "Yeah, what? When?"
"I gave up on you once."
They stared at each other in silence. Clark smiled slightly and shook his head.
"Turning back time isn't an option, Chloe."
"Neither is suicide you big dummy." Chloe blew her nose, balled up her tissue, and lobbed it across the room toward the trash can. She missed. "So what are you going to do, besides crash on my couch and hope no one finds you?"
"Drink your beer."
Chloe laughed. "Can you even get drunk?"
"So you'll just drink all my beer to annoy me, is that it?"
He grinned. "But Chloe, you're so much fun to annoy!"
It was the old Kent charm, turned on by the same sweet smile Chloe remembered. Clark didn't smile often. Superman never smiled. Precious for its rarity, Clark's smile was something to be savored, so Chloe did, staring up at him with her own grin. The old memories of their friendship before it became tangled with love and lies, chased away the bitter feelings and the anguish they were both feeling. Chloe could fall in love with him again if she let herself. Or maybe the ache in her chest meant she'd never stopped loving him at all.
"You never said anything," he said, disrupting the moment. The brief distraction hadn't driven away the situation at hand. Clark's fear was still there, writhing beneath the surface. Chloe could see it in his eyes.
"About what?" she replied.
"About me. You said you knew a long time ago, but you never said anything."
Chloe sighed. "Another example of you never giving me proper credit, Clark. What was I supposed to do, hand you over to Lionel and have you dissected? I kept my mouth shut, and you saw where it landed me."
Almost without realizing, Chloe rubbed at her bad leg. A few steel pins, several talented surgeons, and a lot of good luck had saved the shattered limb. It ached on rainy days like this and her limp was more pronounced. If it hadn't been for Clark....
She didn't like to think about that day, and didn't want to talk about Lionel Luthor especially.
"I forgave you a long time ago," Clark said quietly, and Chloe realized she'd let her mind wander for a bit too long as she looked up at him. She saw pity there this time, and it made her mad.
"So you've said, repeatedly. What do you want, a medal? Don't you have enough, Superman?"
The wince was subtle, Chloe saw it, yet true to his nature he pressed on with his point.
"You need to forgive yourself."
Chloe Sullivan raised her chin and met his eye. "That's not for you to say. You're a reporter. You know the rules. You don't have all the information, so don't jump to conclusions."
With that she left the kitchen. Crossing the well worn oriental rug she'd purchased on a street corner once upon a time, Chloe opened the linen closet door and began pulling a set of sheets and a pillow. She'd be damned if she was going to give up her bed. He could sleep on the couch.
Clark had followed her into the living room. He stood by the bookshelf in the corner, fingering the few odd knick-knacks Chloe had there and reading the titles of her books. His eyes paused on a framed photograph of her father, then passed on to another. It was of the four of them, Clark, Chloe, Pete and Lana, dressed in the obnoxiously yellow and red robes they'd worn at graduation. It was not the better of the two pictures Martha Kent had taken that day. Clark had moved at the sound of some commotion elsewhere, something he may have had to attend to, and his face was blurred.
"Figured that one would be safe," Chloe said, dumping the pillow and sheets onto the couch. "I know it's you, but to anyone else it's the blob." Hesitantly she added, "I keep the other one in an album, somewhere out of sight."
Gently, Clark replaced the photograph on the shelf. "So many people have been hurt trying to keep me safe," he whispered. "And now it will be worse. Chloe, I shouldn't stay here. If someone were to find out...."
"Who's going to find out?"
"I don't know, I...."
"Look," Chloe went to him and took his hand.
It was possibly a bold maneuver on her part, and possibly a mistake. She hadn't touched him in years. Despite her inside knowledge, knowing he was who he was, also made a difference. She'd seen Superman tear through brick walls and bend steel with his bare hands. His hand was as it had always been though, soft and warm, and it closed gently around hers in a perfectly human grip.
"Stay," she said earnestly, giving that hand a slight shake. "You're exhausted, Clark. Nobody will find you tonight at least. Rest, and you'll think more clearly in the morning."
Chloe wasn't sure what woke her. It was very likely her subconscious reacting to the fact that the power had gone out in her apartment. There was nothing really to give that fact away, save for an eerie silence and complete darkness. Outside she could hear the distant rumbling of thunder and see the flicker of lightning through the window as the storm which had knocked out the power continued eastward. Instinctively Chloe looked toward the clock and grunted in irritation at herself.
No power, no clock, Sullivan.
Yawning, she eased from the bed. Some deeply buried and obviously unrequited maternal instinct led her into the living room to check on Clark. It only took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness and the familiar dark lumps of her furniture. She ran her fingers through her matted hair, worn longer these days than she'd used to have it styled. It was easier, and cheaper to maintain. Chloe's fashion sense seemed to have left her along with her hopes and dreams. She just didn't care anymore.
He was up, and Chloe smelled outdoors on him. Confirmed the fact he'd been out in the storm when she grew nearer and saw he had changed into his own clothes. They were damp again too. In a flickering light of a lightning strike she could see a droplet of water clinging precariously to the end of his nose. He stood in profile to her, staring out into the night through her window. Chloe wondered if his beauty was a characteristic of his race, or if it was just Clark himself.
"Old habits die hard," he said. "I heard a siren. I had to investigate."
"I lingered around in the shadows. It was a minor thing, the police handled it." There was a note in his voice Chloe couldn't define. It could have been relief, or it could have been disappointment.
"So," she said softly, coming up to stand on the opposite side of the window. "What happens when a situation arises that the authorities can't handle?"
"You talk in your sleep," he said abruptly.
"I'm sure the cops can handle that," Chloe replied, without missing a beat. Yeah, she knew she talked in her sleep. Sometimes she cried. Sometimes she screamed too, and woke herself up only to discover it was all a bad dream.
Even though it wasn't, not really.
"It was you, wasn't it?"
Chloe stared at him. It was difficult to see in the dark, but she could see him turn his head toward her. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Lionel. The official cause of death was listed as smoke inhalation, but Lex covered it up so no suspicion would be cast on him, hiding the fact that his father was shot. I looked back inside that day, Chloe. I was going to try to save him...."
"You what?" Chloe's eyes widened. "Clark, that lab was full of Kryptonite. If you'd have gone in there after Lionel it would have killed you too! Why would you anyway, knowing what he was planning?"
"It's what I do."
He's always been Superman, Chloe thought. Back when we all thought he was just flaky, or snubbing us to run off and do his own thing. He was playing the hero then too, and we - I - hated him for it.
"Lionel was dead before the fire even started. I saw the bullet in him. I didn't go in because I knew it was pointless." Clark's voice lowered to a barely audible whisper. "What did he do to you, Chloe?"
"You will tell me what you know, Ms. Sullivan, or you will regret being born into this world*!"
She told him only part of the truth. "Threatened me real good. Scared me."
"Used me as bait."
"You sprang the trap before I got there."
Chloe nodded. "I set the fire, but I didn't realize how quickly it would spread."
A broken window. A spiraling fall to the pavement. Deja vu of another night, another fall, and another time when Clark got there just seconds too late. Clark very rarely arrived too late. It wasn't until recently that Chloe understood how horrible such a situation could be for him, when despite all his powers he could not save someone.
"It's what I do."
"You saved my life, and kept my secrets. All I ever did for you was break your heart. I've never said thank you, Chloe, nor I'm sorry, and you still let me in, give me shelter."
"We were both very young and very stupid, Clark."
"Stupidity is no excuse for neglecting a friend. I am sorry, Chloe."
Something in his tone was familiar. It was something unsaid, a "but" that he neglected to add. Chloe thought she knew what it was and fought to control her emotions. She didn't love him anymore, hadn't for a long time, so she had nothing to be upset about, right? There were days when Chloe cursed being astute.
"Lois sent me an e-mail, from a different computer so it wouldn't be traced. She's worried about you."
Clark's voice contained a hopeful note which confirmed Chloe's suspicions. "She doesn't hate me?"
"No." Chloe leaned against the wall, turning her gaze out the window. The sky flashed light, then dark again as the lightning retreated. "She loves you."
"She loves Superman," Clark said gruffly. "I've always felt that was somehow par for the course."
"Or karmic justice," Chloe muttered.
"That too." He sighed. "You and Lois are a lot alike."
"Lois is a lot stronger than I am. She would have put a bullet in Lionel Luthor long before I did. Or found a different solution altogether."
"You were eighteen, Chloe."
She turned her head and laughed. "Young and stupid? Yeah, well it's no excuse, you said so yourself. Are you going to haul me in to the authorities?"
"If I were, I would have."
"Your press would be put off by that. Superman is squeaky clean, forthright and honest, perfection personified."
"Yeah, well, Clark Kent isn't, and he makes some really horrendous errors on a regular basis." A flash of white in the darkness marked his smile. "Come on, Chloe. You know that."
Folding her arms across her chest, Chloe shrugged. "So do you consider not hauling me off to prison a horrendous error?"
He didn't answer right away. Instead he looked out the window again, and wiped away a bead of moisture from where the rain seeped in through a cracked pane. Chloe started to warn him he would cut himself on the glass, then realized the futility of her concern.
"No, I consider it the correction of an error. I never should have let you get involved with Lionel Luthor."
He shouldn't have, but Chloe wasn't going to admit that, instead turning away in anger. "You aren't God, Clark. Not now, and certainly not then. I made my own decisions."
Quickly, Clark reached out and took her by the elbow before she could move away any further, gently drawing her back to the window. Again she marveled at the hidden strength in his hands. He could have easily crushed her bones.
"I should have told you the truth, then things would be different."
"No, Clark, they wouldn't, because even if I'd known about you, it wouldn't have changed how you felt about me, or Lana. You would have just given me ammunition. It was better that I found out later. Had I found out sooner, you wouldn't be here."
Clark caught his breath, a barely there sound like the footsteps of a mouse upon a kitchen counter, or the flutter of an owl's wing as it cut through the darkness.
"You would have betrayed me, Chloe?"
"I did betray you."
"No, not quite. Besides, that's in the past."
"And you trust me now?" Chloe asked. "For all you know Lex could be on his way over here as we speak."
"You had over ten years to tell Lex what you knew about me, and you didn't. Why bother now?" Cocking his head, Clark fixed her with a hard stare. "Do you want me to hate you?"
"I want you to love me."
The words came out before she could stop them, in a small trembling voice. She asked herself how she could still love him, still be hanging on to those old feelings held by a foolish high school girl. It was one of his powers, she decided, and the fact that her life was so stagnant and empty, she had nothing else to cling to anymore. Her dreams had been shattered along with her leg. Thoughts of fame and fortune ran out of her head just as Lionel's blood had run out of his body as he lay on the cold concrete floor of a Metropolis laboratory. She felt just as dead inside.
"But I'm not so stupid to think that's going to happen." Chloe continued. "Not this time. Not ever."
"Don't pity me, Clark. We both made mistakes. I just have to learn to live with mine."
Again she started to move away from him, and again he pulled her back, this time guiding her in close to his chest and wrapping his arms around her. It was a calculated move, Chloe thought, but she was glad he did it. Everything welled to the surface as she pressed her face to his chest, never minding the fact that he was still damp from the rain. He smelled of rain, and warmth, and Clark. One large hand smoothed her hair as if he were comforting a child, causing her to feel like a child, allowing the flood gates to open and the tears to fall. Shuddering against him, she sobbed bitterly over all that she'd ever lost.
"I do love you, Chloe. I always have, and always will."
"But not like that," she whimpered.
"No," he said quietly, clearly understanding what she meant. "Not like that."
The power came back on with the morning light. There was an e-mail from Lex waiting for her when she signed on to check her messages.
"I know he's there," it said.
Chloe felt a surge of fear, and turned her head sharply to where Clark lay on the couch. He'd finally fallen asleep sometime around dawn, when the last vestiges of the storm faded away with the morning sun. Admittedly he'd been days without sleep, and even he couldn't function when exhaustion eventually caught up with him. Superman, he said, needed to crash sometimes too and he proceeded to do so. Now he lay sprawled on his stomach across Chloe's sofa, one arm tucked under his head along with a balled up pillow, and the other dangling over the edge to the floor. He made her couch look like it belonged in a doll house.
When did he get to be so big?
Maybe it was just because Superman seemed so larger than life that Clark now seemed bigger physically. He'd always been tall, but he'd filled out over the years, becoming broader through the shoulders and more muscular in the thighs. He no longer looked coltish.
"Maybe," Chloe whispered to herself. "You'd better stop looking at him like that before you get yourself in trouble."
She turned her attention back to her computer. Lex would do one of three things. He would sic the public on them by revealing Clark's whereabouts to the press, he would come armed and dangerous and fetch Clark himself, or he would attempt to blackmail Chloe, much like his father had, into turning Clark over herself.
The second e-mail was from Lois, indicating that she was coming to see Chloe, but Chloe didn't get the message before the knock came on her door.
She jumped, and sat frozen at her desk, terrified that whomever was at the door had come with not so good intentions. She started again when Clark appeared behind her, apparently awakened by the soft knocking, betraying both how sensitive his hearing was and how on edge were his nerves.
"It's Lois," he said, relaxing.
Chloe looked up at him as the knock repeated. "Should she know you're here?"
He shrugged. "I doesn't matter."
There was something in his tone that indicated to Chloe he wanted nothing more than to see Lois, a desperate tone. He was craving her like a drunk craves alcohol. Chloe got up to answer the door, taking care to shut down her e-mail. Clark shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot. It was obvious he was concerned about Lois' reaction to the revelation and what he was going to say to her about it. He had, after all, been lying to them all for a very long time. Chloe's first reaction when she'd finally put all the pieces together, could have been anger. Because Lionel Luthor had been involved, it was instead, fear.
Lois stood on Chloe's doorstep. She was wearing a blond wig and sunglasses and carrying two large dufflebags.
Chloe raised an eyebrow. "Is this to be an extended stay?"
"It could be," Lois said, struggling through the door with her baggage, with which Chloe haughtily refused to help beyond opening the door wider. "You have to help me find him, Chloe. I've looked everywhu...."
Shutting the door, Chloe turned around to watch the encounter. It was irrational of her to feel the burn of jealousy, but she did when she saw the look on Clark's face. It was an expression Chloe was familiar with from countless days of observing him with Lana many years ago; Clark was in love with Lois. If she hadn't known it before, she knew it now.
"Hi, Lois," Clark said softly. He ran his fingers through his sleep mussed hair and smiled nervously.
Lois appeared to be on the horns of a dilemma, not knowing exactly who she was addressing. He certainly wasn't her Clark, with his frumpy suits and thick lensed glasses, nor was he Superman. Standing before her was an amalgam of those two men, the real Clark Kent. Chloe and those who'd known him in the past had an easier time of seeing him thus, because they'd met this person before. Lois was on new and rather shaky ground. It was if she were meeting a stranger for the first time. Chloe watched with interest, wondering what her cousin would do, much as Clark did.
"Hey," Lois replied, just as softly. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, just a little harassed."
Clark's face fell. "I'm so sorry Lo...."
Lois never let him finish. Abruptly she dropped her bags onto the floor with a thump, and threw herself at him, wrapping him in her arms. She said nothing, but instead tightened her grip in a hard squeeze. Had he been anyone else she would have crushed the air from his lungs. Clark rubbed her back and closed his eyes, his face pressed close to her hair.
Chloe looked away as she head Lois murmur, "Don't ever leave me again."
The words brought back memories Chloe would have rather forgotten; memories of lying in the hospital, her body burned, battered, and broken, begging Clark not to leave her. But he had left her, going away with Lana on his arm and pity in his expression, and it was two years before Chloe saw him again. It had taken him two years to recover from her betrayal.
"You were working with Lionel Luthor knowing it could hurt me and my family, Chloe. How could you?"
"I didn't know anything! He just asked me to find out stuff for him. I don't know what he wanted!"
He'd cautiously probed around trying to find out what she knew. She'd lied and told him nothing. He thought she was lying and said so, but until last night she'd never confessed. Likewise he'd never revealed his knowledge about who had killed Lionel Luthor, and how.
It was so easy too. All I had to do was point and shoot, and everything ended right there and then.
"I don't know what to do, Lois. My life is - no longer mine."
Lois pulled back and raised her hands to his face. Her eyes found his. "We will get it back. I promise. We'll find a way. Meanwhile Perry has come through for us. He's got a vacation home up near Cornerstone Lake. Nobody knows about it. We'll go up there, regroup, and go from there." She gestured toward the bags. "I snuck into your apartment and got some of your things."
Chloe glanced at the bags, then back to the couple standing together in her living room.
That should be me. I should be the one in his arms, the investigative reporter whose name and the word "Pulitzer" were often spoken of in the same sentence. It's not fair.
She'd thrown away her chances in a fit of irrational jealousy, a feeling threatening to overwhelm her now. They were just short of kissing. Maybe if she weren't there they would. Involuntarily her lip curled in disgust.
"I even brought a suit." Lois chuckled. "How someone didn't figure out your secret before now is a miracle because you suck at hiding stuff."
"Someone did figure out his secret before now," Chloe said, crossing her arms over her chest. "But unlike the general public, I know how to keep things quiet. The person who paid that kid for his story is a fool, a damned fool."
Lois and Clark turned to look at her.
"It's like parking your car in the path of an ambulance. How is Superman supposed to help people if he's being hounded twenty-four seven? Good luck figuring out how to salvage your life, Clark. You're going to need it."
The jaw so many writers focused upon when describing Superman, clenched tightly. It interested Chloe to note the shift from Clark to "Kal-El." One backed away from confrontation. The other met it head on and battered it into a pulp.
"You haven't changed," he growled.
"Neither have you." Chloe replied quietly, with no malice in her voice, only sadness. She met his gaze steadily. "Please go," she said finally.
Being ticked off at you is the only thing keeping me from crying.
Clark's expression softened. He took Lois' hand in his, and they both picked up a bag. Lois broke away for a moment. She gave Chloe an awkward, one handed hug, and thanked her before going to the door. Clark followed her more slowly, looking back over his shoulder.
"Thank you, Chloe," he said.
Chloe simply shrugged.
I know he's there.
She stared at the e-mail. She'd been staring at it for an hour. Lois and Clark had gotten into the car Perry White had lent them and were gone. They'd bide their time, using their experience of being the press to help them deal with the press and the public. Chloe had no doubt they'd figure out how Clark could continue to be Clark, and Superman, and still have some sort of quality of life.
Here I am again, Clark, poised between save and delete, love and hate. Why do you always do this to me?
Chloe had ruined her life in a fit of jealous rage. Maybe she could recover what she'd lost the same way.
She dug through her desk drawer and came up with a slip of paper. Reaching for her phone she dialed the number and counted the rings before he answered. It had been a long time since she'd heard his voice and she noted the change. It had become lower, more confident, more like Lionel's, and for a second she fought the urge to hang up on him.
"He was here. He's gone," she said. No hello. No introduction.
"Ah, Ms. Sullivan."
A chill ran up Chloe's spine. Lionel had always called her "Ms. Sullivan," emphasizing the "S" sound as if he were a serpent, drawing out the other syllables in his low purr as if trying to mesmerize her. Lex did the same thing.
"I know where he went," she said flatly.
"Am I to understand from that statement you want something in return for divulging this information?"
Chloe closed her eyes. "You don't get anything for free these days," she whispered. "There's always a price."
His voice was smug. "Money is no option of course. Name your price."
"I don't want money."
"Reaaaallay," Lex drawled. "What is it you want then?"
"Two things," Chloe said. "One, I want a job. I want the editor-in-chief position at the Inquisitor."
There was a chuckle. "Bob will be rather put out, literally."
"Bob can screw himself. He's doing a crappy job anyway. Your father promised me a job there a long time ago. You inherited your father's empire. You give me my job."
"Chloe, may I remind you that whatever contract you had with my father ended when you put a bullet in his chest?"
"You want Superman or not, Luthor?"
She could practically hear him grinding his teeth over the phone.
"Fine, it's a deal. Now what else do you want? I don't have all day."
Chloe inhaled deeply. "I want protection, from him, in case you fail, and I want my future secured. That is, I want the other thing your father promised me."
There was a long pause. "Helen," he whispered.
He'd put two and two together. The were actually many reasons why Lionel offed the unfortunate Helen Bryce and framed her for the attempted murder of his son. One of them was to make way for a bride of his own choosing, one he could control and who could in turn control Lex. He'd thought Chloe could eventually be that woman. Chloe wondered what Lex was thinking, now that he knew Helen had truly loved him. Whatever it was, he did not betray himself any further, shuttering away the brief glimmer of emotion she'd heard in his last statement.
"You're insane, Sullivan. I'm not going to marry you."
"Fine. Then Clark can continue to make you look like an idiot for not figuring out he and Superman are the same person. You do realize how stupid you look. The press...."
"All right," Lex hissed. "Shut up. I get your point."
Chloe waited for a moment before breaking the silence. "Deal?"
"Tell me, why are you doing this? Do you hate him that much?"
She spoke in terms he could understand. She spoke in the language of obsession.
"No," she whispered. "I love him that much."
There was a long silence, followed by a low, ominous chuckle. "I'll send a car for you," Lex said, and terminated the conversation.
Chloe was breathing heavily when she gently hit the "end" button on her cord-less. Her heart was pounding hard in her chest. When she closed her eyes all she could see was Lois in Clark's arms, and the expression in their eyes when they looked at each other. It didn't matter that the world knew Clark's secret.
"Clark is a fool," she murmured, rising from her chair. She wandered over to the bookshelf, and picked up the picture from their high school graduation. "He's always been a fool, just like I've always been the girl everyone forgot."
She turned the picture face down on the shelf.
Not anymore. Now I'll be the one everyone remembers.
There was indeed a fine line between love and hate.
Also, why not join
Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?