He didn't knock.

When Chloe turns away from the filing cabinet towards her computer terminal, he is standing stock-still in the doorway, watching her with dark, sad eyes.

She swallows, the file in her hand forgotten for a second as her world turns sharply on it's axis, leaving her mouth dry and her heart pounding.

God, she knows those eyes. They're Clark's I'm sorry eyes, which means things have changed, that her best friend is finally home after three, long, heartbreaking months.

The last tendril of hope within her shrivels and dies at the sight of him.

She'd missed him, once upon a time. She'd missed him every single second of every single day from the moment she'd learnt of his disappearance. Yet at this very moment, she's not happy he's home. She misses Kal, with his hard eyes and fierce attitude that had stung at first, but had not cut as deeply as his betrayal had. She'd gotten used to his harsh words, his biting tone. Had to for the sake of her own sanity, and also because she was a little selfish, too. The new Clark didn't give two shits about fairy princess Lana Lang and if she were perfectly honest with herself, she'd admit that she found that side of Clark far more intriguing, far more bearable.

But this Clark, this Clark she hates now, because he's going to destroy everything again. He's going to fuck up her happy little world that she's learnt to appreciate these past few months. Because she knows something Lana doesn't. She has something that Lana doesn't, something the town sweetheart will never have now. And she's proud of that fact, as cruel as it sounds. But now Clark's here to ruin everything, he's here to steal away her pride, and she hates him for it.

Damn you, she thinks. Let me keep this. Let me keep one goddamn memory, you son of a bitch.

But no. No, she can tell by his eyes, by the soft, downward curve of his mouth, that he's not going to let her. Clark always has a way of shattering her delusions, of tarnishing all her nice, little memories because that's just the way he is. So righteous, so moral, even at the expense of his friend's emotional state--her sanity.

She's determined, though. She's determined to see this thing through and she'll do whatever it takes to make sure no apologies slip past his full lips, because by God, if he even tries to say he's sorry, she knows she'll scream. She doesn't want to hear it, is tired of hearing it. She wants the heartless side of Clark back; the bastard who was cruel enough to tell her the truth. Even Kal appreciated her more than Clark does. So why can't she just have him back? Why?

She wonders if Clark even knows how his Jekyll-and-Hyde routine really fucks with her inner emotional balance. She was already tittering on the edge before he left and then there was that moment and everything was fine again, if not a little screwed-up. She knows things have changed since then, but like a fool she thought things would only get better. That even though Clark was royally fucked in the head, they'd still be able to work something out.

But now here he is. Here he is, and she just wants to scream at him to go away because it's going to start hurting all over again. The bastard is going to fuck things up.

Kal was never this cruel, she realises. Even when he was insulting me, fucking with my head, he was never this cruel.

It doesn't make sense. Clark is supposed the nice guy, the guy who saves everyone, but why did he never save her? Why did he lie and pretend? Make her feel that for once she wasn't second best? For once in her life she'd known what it felt like to be Lana Lang - loved, adored, cherished, desired, worshipped--

Fuck it, she thinks. I'm worth more than the cheerleader, anyway. I don't need Clark to prove that.

She chuckles to herself, feeling almost hysterical now, because honestly, if she truly believed that, she wouldn't be standing here wishing her best friend would disappear. She wouldn't be standing here looking into his apologetic, brown eyes, which have suddenly grown darker, sadder.

She realises she's still laughing, outloud no less, and she can only guess how maniacal it sounds to Clark's ears. She doesn't care, though. Let him think she's crazy. At least then she'd have a viable excuse for having done the things she's done. She's sure Clark will buy it. He's naive enough, after all, though part of her wonders whether their little moment together has maybe stripped away some of that naivety, that innocence, and replaced it with something more experienced.

She hopes so. Maybe now he'll start treating her more like an adult instead of a typical, angst-ridden teenager with a crush. Maybe now he'll realise they're playing for the big leagues, because the rules have finally changed.

It's a whole different game now.

But by the looks of things Clark isn't willing to let this go. Chloe knows he wouldn't have bothered to come all the way out here tonight if he didn't have anything important to say. At one point in their friendship he may have; there were times when Clark would drop in for a visit just for the pure fun of it all. But no, not now. Now Clark only comes by to unload his burdens and it is usually Chloe who shoulders the majority of his troubles.

Great. Fuckin' great.

Clark's still looking at her funny. She can't blame him. He hasn't even said a word - neither has she - but up to now she's managed to laugh at him and freak him out with her meaningful silences. She's managed to make Clark Kent uncomfortable.

She smiles; bitter, mocking, and above all, feigned. The story of her life.

"Clark," she manages to say by way of greeting, fully aware now that he isn't going anywhere, that remaining silent won't change the inevitable, only delay it.

The boy relaxes an inch but his shoulders remain hunched, his eyes downcast. He steps into her office on hesitant feet and smiles that nervous, shattering smile that she hasn't seen in so long. Once upon a time she found it endearing, but now it's just painful; painful and heartbreaking.

"Chloe," he breathes, oblivious to her inner turmoil; ignorant of the damage he's already inflicting.

Damn you, her mind echoes, but she shuts it out to gaze at her best friend.

Her fuck buddy.

Her lover?

No. Never her lover. The word doesn't quite fit; too sentimental, too fuckin' fluffy. It implies affection and love and passion, and maybe they had a truckload of that last one but the other stuff was never really there. In a way the things they've done--did--were just a mockery of that, just a frosted reflection.

They weren't lovers. Lovers lasted, lovers were devoted and loyal and in love.

This? This was a mistake that Chloe will never, ever regret. Ever. Because it was the greatest mistake she's ever made and given the chance she knows she'll make it again, and again, and again. Because Chloe knows what it's like to be kissed by Clark, now. She knows what it's like to have his hands on her skin--her body, her face, her--

She swallows. Shifts uncomfortably, trying to dispel the sudden warmth buzzing between her legs. Nowadays Chloe doesn't need to think too long or too hard to turn herself on. One flashback has her writhing on the bed for hours.

"How are you?" he asks in that sadistic, timid tone that makes Chloe want to laugh again. The heat in her cheeks spreads as anger pulls her spine ramrod.

She turns away from him then, towards her desk. The file she's holding lands on it's surface with a soft slap and with a deep, quiet breath, she settles herself down in her chair, picks up her pencil and says nonchalantly, "What do you want, Clark?"

Footsteps behind her and she knows he's inching closer. He's hesitant. She can tell by the quiet rustling of his clothes, the barely audible spurts of breath that escape him everytime he attempts to say something.

It's nearly a minute before he manages to spill whatever he's come here to say and the pencil in Chloe's hand comes close to snapping when his apology reaches her ears.

"I'm sorry, Chloe. I'm so sorry. I--"

She's failed. She was determined not to hear that word tonight and already it's sailed past his lips twice. God, forgive her, she wants to hit something. She wants to kill.

"Get out, Clark," she commands tightly. "Before I ram this pencil down your throat."

The venom in her voice surprises even herself and she's shocked by the simple fact that she isn't exaggerating. She can feel the tool still clutched between her fingers and in her mind's eye she can see herself plunging it towards her best friend. Because she's angry, so angry, and she wants to him to hurt like she hurts.

More silence, shorter than the last bout though, because suddenly he's stepping forward with long, determined strides. He's standing beside her desk now and Chloe forces herself not to look. She knows what she'll see. She knows, and she hates it.

"Chloe, I know I hurt you. But you have to understand, I wasn't myself. I was--"

"--Kal, right. Your infamous alter ego," she finishes. "But you know what, Clark? I prefer him over you any day. He didn't hurt me, you did. You always do. So get out, shut the door behind you and leave me the hell alone."

She's scribbling madly, now, writing incomprehensible notes on a file she shouldn't even be writing on. Briefly she glances at what she's writing and somewhere in the mindless scrawlings she catches snippets of her inner turmoil.

... addictive... let it go and I don't want... lies, fucking lies... she's winning again...

She flips the page over so Clark can't read her rants and moves on to the next page. She's forgotten what file it actually is and why she got it out in the first place, and then she catches a name.

Clark Kent.

It's the weekly report she's made up to give to Lionel Luthor. It's full of nonsense, of course, but the mere sight of it still brings bile to her throat.

I sold my best friend out, she reminds herself. Then I sold myself to my best friend. Talk about karma.

"You really prefer him over me?" comes Clark's soft, uncertain voice, which cuts short her train of thought and compells her to turn and look at him.

Apologetic Clark is gone now and in his place is Forlorn Clark. She knows he's trying to comprehend how she could possibly prefer Kal over him, because in his mind's eyes he truly believes she's hurt because he took advantage of her, because he seduced her.

Because he slept with her.

But he's wrong. That's not what hurts. What hurts is that he regrets it, that he's sorry it happened. To him it means nothing because Lana Lang is top priority again and Chloe can't understand how he can be so cruel. She can't understand why he would go to so much effort to seduce her only to realise that it was all a mistake and that he did in fact love the town sweetheart and not her.

It's twisted. Twisted and sick and Chloe hates him for it. She wants Kal back because Kal doesn't lie to her, he doesn't fuck with her like this. He fucks with her in a whole different way.

Her mind flickers back again and more heat pools between her legs. She tries to force the memories back by speaking but in the end she only trusts herself enough to answer with a simple, "Yes."

She watches with a slither of satisfaction as Clark blanches and the hurt is painted over his face in bright, bold colours. She admires his portrait for a second and rolls the sweet taste of revenge around on her tongue.

Then comes Angry Clark. His strong, sharp jaw tightens, his lips purse and his shoulders straighten an inch.

"Why?" he says in that curt, accusatory tone that he uses whenever he's about to lecture her. Three months ago it would have made her feel ashamed, guilty, but now she can feel anger rolling in her stomach at the simple question.

"Was it because he was willing to jump into bed with you without a second thought?" he continues. "Or maybe it was because when he was around it was just you. Lana was out of the picture and it was finally back to Chloe. Just Chloe. And you loved it, didn't you? Being the centre of attention? You loved--"

"Say another word, Clark, and I swear to God, I'll never speak to you again," she whispers, silently proud of herself for not shouting, for not attacking him. She doesn't know how she managed to say that without her voice breaking, because inside that's exactly what she's doing, breaking. His words hurt more than she expected them to and now tears are threatening to flood her eyes.

Clark is silent for a brief second and then she hears him exhale loudly, slowly. "I don't get it, Chloe," he says. "I don't get you. How can you want him back? How can you prefer that side of me? He was a bastard. A cold, heartless bastard who used you. Can't you see that?"

She drops the pencil in her hand, not trusting herself with the makeshift weapon. She shifts her chair a little, wheels over to the left so she can slide her fingers over her keyboard. She has an editorial to write and though she knows she's not going to get it done while Clark's still standing here, she's going to pretend anyway.

"You're right, Clark. You don't get me and you never will. Now I suggest you leave, for good. Don't bother coming back here until you've managed to sort your shit out because I'm tired of the Jekyll-and-Hyde routine. This whole identity crisis thing you've got going on is getting dull, and I'm sick of being the one who gets screwed over in the process."

She tilts her head to look at him, determined to drive her message home. She doesn't want him here because he doesn't understand. He doesn't understand why she did what she did, why she gave in. He just doesn't get it.

"I mean it, Clark," she says. "You don't get to come here and claim that you're not to blame for the mistakes you've made. You can't just pretend it was someone else that made them, because it wasn't. You made a mistake, Clark, just like I did, but unlike you I'm not busting my guts trying to pretend it didn't happen. It did happen and fuck you if you think I'm going to pretend otherwise. I've accepted it. I've moved on. But you just can't seem to do that, can you? You just can't seem to grow up. Well I think it's about time you did, and I think it's about time you realised that not everyone is as moral and as righteous as you. I took my chance with you. I lived, and if you've got a problem with that, then deal with it in your own time because I've got more important things to do."

She turns back to the computer screen and takes a deep, quiet breath, her tirade over for the time being. She hopes he will take the hint now. She hopes that the next time she turns around he'll be gone.

She waits a full three minutes before she turns to scan the office. She instantly catches sight of Clark standing solemnly beside one of the desks and his presence serves only to irritate her further. Jaw locked tight she twists her head again and chooses to ignore him.

"Why did you do it, Chloe?" his voice suddenly breaks the silence. "Why did you sleep with him?"

"You mean why did I sleep with you?" she rectifies bitterly.

She's not surprised when he doesn't answer. She didn't expect him to.

Her hands slip from the keyboard and tiredly she wheels the chair around to face him. This is her chance, her opportunity to make him understand why she did the things she did. She wants him to know how much that night meant to her because even though he--Kal--was a bastard, he made her feel things she'll never forget. She knows the taste of lust, now. She knows what it feels like to truly want someone and since then she's never been able to forget.

She remembers it so well. It plays like a movie constantly, day in, day out, and everytime she thinks about it she can feel her heartbeat in her groin and the buzz of liquid heat between her legs. She loves it. She loves it, because it's all because of him.

She looks at Clark with heavy, dark eyes and consciously she skims his large frame. She follows the sharp lines of his face, the soft curves of his chest and arms that wind down to his strong, soft hands. For a long moment she gazes at them, eyes studying the long, graceful fingers, and she remembers vividly how it all started there...

---

When Tess, a fellow editor at the Daily Planet, finally managed to sneak Chloe into one of the newest clubs in Metropolis, she was more than excited. She was buzzing with apprehension and a little bit of pride, because Chloe Sullivan, at the young age of seventeen, had done what most of the teenagers in Smallville only wished they could do: she'd wangled her way into one of the hippest clubs in the city, with the help of her good friend Tess, of course.

So here she was. Good ol' cynical Chloe, with a skip in her step and adrenaline in her veins, wishing her friends could see her now.

She followed Tess to the bar on light feet, fully aware of the appreciative looks she was receiving as she bypassed a number of club-goers. She sidled up to her friend at the bar and leaned against it on folded arms. Smiling widely at the curly-haired barman in front of her, she listened to Tess as she ordered them both a shot of tequila. Then, swiftly, she turned and rested her back against the bar so she could scan her surroundings.

Her eyes caught the sight of a young, spiky-haired blonde attired in a traditional, white shirt that was unbuttoned at the collar and sleeves. She liked that in a guy. It made him look classy and confident.

She eyed the blonde appreciatively but he didn't notice her. Instead his attention was drawn to a beautiful brunette that resembled an older version of Lana.

Typical. No matter where she went, Chloe could not get rid of the trauma that was Lana Lang. She loved her surrogate sister, she did, but she couldn't seem to shake the bitter feelings that had been embedded in her since day one. Though she knew it wasn't the brunette's fault, Lana managed to steal away everything important in her life. It wasn't intentional on her part, she knew, but it still hurt nonetheless.

Chloe sighed heavily and brushed the thought of Lana Lang aside. She didn't want the brunette to ruin her night tonight. She wanted to have fun, to chill out with her friend and forget about all her worries. Which was exactly what she was going to do.

With a shake of her head she averted her gaze from the young blonde--

--and caught the sight of one runaway, Clark Kent.

---

He was leaving, pushing himself through the throngs of people crowding the club. Cracking her slacking jaw shut she turned hastily towards Tess and gasped out, "Tess, I gotta go. Emergency."

Then she was moving, leaving behind her bewildered--and justifiably angry--workmate, heading towards the muscled form of her best friend as he slipped out of the front entrance, mindless to her approach.

She flew out into the cool, night air, catching a glimpse of him as he disappeared down an endless, black street. She didn't give it a second thought before she started following him, trailing quietly behind him, her back low to the wall that circled the winding streets he prowled. She crept on, and on, and on, until the noise and the lights of the city dimmed into the quiet buzz of downtown Metropolis. All too quickly there was nothing but the silence and the sound of her own breathing and fleetingly Chloe wondered what the hell she was doing, following a guy she wasn't even a hundred percent sure was her runaway friend.

She barely had time to contemplate the thought, though, before she saw him take a sharp left, disappearing from her field of vision altogether.

She bolted after him, mindless of her feet pounding on the pavement and when she came to a skidding halt on the corner, there was nothing, no sign of him anywhere.

And then there was a scuffle. The world tilted for a second before she felt the sharp pain of the wall digging into her back. Warm pressure circled her throat and she peered down to see a strong forearm that was undoubtedly attached to the hand wrapped around her neck.

She blinked, momentarily dazed, and stared up into the feral eyes of her best friend. For a moment her mind did not register him, because the look on his face was one she had not seen before. She'd seen Clark angry before, but she'd never seen him look so cold, so hard.

The loss of oxygen in her lungs had nothing to do with the hand clutching her throat, but the look in his eyes. Eyes that had once held such warmth, such sincerity, seemed mocking now, and, if she admitted it to herself, maybe a little cruel.

God, that wasn't right. Clark Kent and Cruel did not go together. They never would. How could--what had--

"Clark," she choked out disbelievingly, and suddenly the taste of his name on her lips turned her legs to jelly and she sagged against the wall, drained. "God, Clark, I've been so worried." Understatement. "Where have you--"

"--what are you doing here, Chloe?" Clark interrupted icily, and the hand around her throat tightened. Black dots danced across her vision and for a second she was taken aback by the sheer brutality of his actions. "How'd you find me?"

"C-lark!" she raged, clawing at the hand currently crushing her windpipe. His name came out as a broken gasp but her anger at his actions was made clear by the sharp glare in her eyes. "Get your damn hands off me, you son-of-a--"

He let go and the sudden loss of support left her in an ungraceful heap on the pavement. Beyond pissed now, the blonde was not happy when Clark clamped a hand on her arm and propelled her up, tossing her against the brick wall with the same brute force, leaving her dazed and confused yet again.

What the fuck was he playing at? Clark Kent did not throw people around, especially his friends. If he thought he was going to get rid of her this way he was clearly mistaken.

Eyes narrowed she managed to right herself, and after rooting her feet firmly to the ground she made a show of cleaning herself off.

"Looks like you left that Kent Charm back in Smallville, farmboy," she sniped, not bothering to look at him. "Maybe next time you might try a simple hello."

"There won't be a next time," he said. "Now get the hell out of here."

She heard him moving and peered up to see him striding away from her, down the street she'd just followed him down. Hastily she forced her feet to work and jogged after him.

"Nu uh!" she argued."Nice try but I'm not going anywhere, chickenshit. Mind telling me what's going on?"

He froze. Turning slowly to face her, he pinned her with narrowed, angry eyes. "Go home, Chloe," he said, his voice hard and tight. "And don't come back here again. You'll regret it."

"Is that supposed to scare me?" she countered, silently laughing at her own mockery because in actual fact, she was terrified. She was terrified of this boy who stood a few feet in front of her, because this wasn't Clark Kent, her best friend, the one she could trust implicitly, the one that would never intentionally hurt her, push her away. This boy -- this boy adorned in tight black and denim blue, with dark locks that were outgrowing its usual semi-tamed style, and hard, brown eyes that didn't belong, who was throwing her aside with the carelessness and indifference of a stranger -- frightened her beyond measure. Because this was unfamiliar territory. She'd expected to find a distraught Clark or even an angry Clark. Hell, she'd hadn't expected to find Clark at all, but nothing could have prepared her for this. There was nothing in him, no simple actions or mannerisms, no veiled looks or cryptic riddles, that reminded her of her former best friend.

It was like he was a completely different person.

Not good.

"What happened, Clark?" she asked when it looked like he wasn't going to answer. She knew the question was vague - she could have meant a number of things. What happened back in Smallville? What happened to make you run so far? What happened to you?

But it didn't matter because she knew he wouldn't answer. So far this stranger didn't seem that desperate to enlighten her.

He was still staring at her with flat, indifferent eyes and Chloe guessed that he was trying to make her feel uncomfortable, hoping she would eventually give up, turn around and go home.

Not a chance.

She marched towards him with all the pride and determination she could muster, and planting herself bare inches away from him, she said, "Drop the hard act, Clark. It's not working. You want me to leave? Then you give me answers first."

She stared, resolute, secretly proud of herself for not flinching under his scrutinising gaze. She wasn't about to back down, because Chloe was tired of being pushed around, by Clark, by Lionel, and even by Lana. For the past month the brunette had done nothing but sob over how lonely and heartbroken she was, and at the time Chloe had wanted nothing more than to scream at her that she'd felt that way since the moment Clark had made the decision to choose Lana over her.

But she hadn't. Instead she'd offered Lana comforting words, because even though the brunette had stolen away the one good thing in her life, she was still her sister, if not biologically, then in every other sense of the word. Chloe knew the bitter taste of loss and heartache and it was a feeling she would not wish upon anyone, Lana included.

It still did not change the fact that during the last month Chloe had inadvertedly been pushed aside. No one had considered that maybe, as Clark's best friend, she may have been hurt over his disappearance, too. She knew it was unfair to feel that way when she herself had committed the ugliest crime - she'd betrayed her friend to Lionel Luthor, of all people - but she still felt invisible nonetheless.

"Don't play with me, Chloe. I'm not in the mood. Turn around, go home, and if you tell anyone I'm here I'll just run again. You hear me?"

"No," she argued defiantly--stupidly?--tilting forward to glare at him. "You can't expect me to do that, Clark. You can't--"

"--Kal."

Her eyebrows dipped. "What?"

"My name's Kal now," he explained, as if dictating to a six-year-old. "Use it."

"Bite me."

"You want answers, you'll use it."

She stared and noticed he was deadly serious.

She sighed, defeated and triumphant all in one breath, and then nodded. "Fine, Kal, have it your way, but I'm still not leaving without an explanation." She folded her arms and waited.

After a long moment Clark--no, Kal--tore his gaze from hers to look back over his shoulder. She peered past him to see a block of modern apartments standing out of place on a desolate expanse of land and concluded that this must be Clark's current place of residence.

He turned back to look at her. "Walk," he said finally, sharply, and spun so quickly that Chloe was forced to take a step backwards. She recovered quickly, and taking a deep breath she hitched her chin and followed him towards the apartment complex.

---

The apartment was nice enough, if a little bare, and Chloe found herself relaxing as she settled herself on his bed. He'd not bothered with furniture except for a comfortable-looking armchair in the corner. Apart from that there was nothing but a modern kitchen situated just past her line of vision, and the bedroom that seemed to double as a living area. She glimpsed to her left where instead of a wall there was a large, full-length window that peered out onto the Metropolis skyline.

She stared out at the glaring lights of the city and for a short moment she forgot entirely the reasons why she was here in the first place.

Clark, however, was eager to remind her.

"Ask your questions and get out," he said brusquely, and then disappeared through a door, which she assumed led to a bathroom. She heard the sound of running water; a moment later Clark reappeared, his dark locks damp, his sharp features stern, and his chest--

--good God, what was that? The ugly scar marring the soft skin of his chest looked intensely painful. It was slightly raised and glowed faintly red against his flesh.

"Clark!" she exclaimed, rising from the bed without a second thought, moving over towards her best friend who was gazing at her with indifferent eyes again. "What the hell happened?" she demanded, mesmerised, her fingers outstretched towards the pattern etched upon his sculpted chest--

--he caught her wrist in a firm, bruising grip and held it. Fierce eyes glared into her own and for a moment she forgot that this was Clark Kent, her best friend. He was a stranger again; a boy--no, no, a man--with the power to hurt her if he willed it so.

"Penance," he answered simply, and let go of her wrist, turning away from her as she stood bewildered and shaking in the middle of his apartment. She watched him silently as he moved to a chest of draws, opened it and drew out a white wife-beater, which he slipped over his head. She couldn't say anything, couldn't argue, because it seemed that this was another secret Clark wasn't going to share with her.

Finally she managed to beat her voice box into submission and turned her body to face him. "How've you been?"

Trivial question, but she didn't know where to start.

"You have five minutes, Chloe," he said. "Don't waste it."

"Why'd you run Clark?" she asked immediately, concern furrowing her brow. "What was so bad that you couldn't stay in Smallville?"

He looked at her. "You wouldn't understand," he answered, almost softly, and for a split second Chloe caught a glimpse of her best friend beneath the hard, icy exterior. The vulnerability that broke through the sharp sting of his words reassured her and reminded her why she was here; to convince her best friend to come home, to drop the hard act and return to his friends and family, who were missing him intensely.

"Try me," she countered, determined and slightly exhilarated at the thought that maybe Clark would finally confide in her, share his secrets with her.

He never confided in Lana, she mused, and then pushed the young brunette from her thoughts before she had a chance to ruin this moment. Finally, it seemed that Chloe was once again stepping into the shoes of Clark's best friend and she was amazed at how familiar it felt, how comfortable. For this brief moment she forgot all about Lionel Luthor and her betrayal. She was just Chloe, for the time being, Clark's childhood confidante who was ready to listen.

Clark had obviously noticed the hope shining in her green eyes because now he was grinning smugly, leaning against the chest of draws with his arms folded over his chest. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" he mocked. "You've been dying to get your hands on a few of my secrets for a while now." He leaned forward. "Why the intrigue, Chloe? Planning on selling my story to the Daily Planet?"

The hope wilted and she watched as his grin stretched into a satisfied smirk. Angry now, she stepped forward, itching to smack the smirk from his face, and said softly, "You really think that low of me, Clark?"

"Yes," he replied plainly, and the answer was so casual, so smooth, that it knocked her back again. Shock rippled through her, because Clark had never been this blunt before, never this honest, and she sensed the truth behind his answer. He truly did think that low of her and the fact hurt more than she cared to admit.

Still slightly shaken from the constant shifts in Clark's mood, Chloe settled herself on his bed again. She tilted her head to stare down at the black comforter covering clean, white sheets, and watched her fingers pick idly at the threads.

"You trusted me once," she reminisced in a soft, desperate voice. She ignored the thought that she had no right trying to convince him to trust her, because it was only last month that she'd agreed to sell out her best friend to the devil himself. She'd betrayed Clark in the worst possible way, yet here she was, manipulating his memories of their friendship and trust they had once shared, all because she wanted to be his best friend again. She wanted to know that there was still a piece of Clark that belonged to her, a piece that Lana would never get her hands on. And even though she had betrayed Clark, she was still honest in her belief that he could trust her. So far she had not told Lionel anything incriminating about him and she knew she never would. She'd regretted her decision the moment she'd made it, but it did not change the fact that she had made it; it had been a conscious effort on her part to hurt her friend.

"Clark may have trusted you, but I don't," he responded casually.

Chloe's head snapped up and she glared at him fiercely. "What is with this Jekyll-and-Hyde shit?" she inquired angrily. His casual, laid-back stance and smug look only served to spur her on and she was standing again, approaching him. "Are you suffering from an identity crisis? Or do you think changing your name makes you a different person? It doesn't, Clark! You're still the same old farmboy you've always been and a new name and a new attitude is not going to change that!"

Chloe was taken aback when Clark actually snarled at her. His smooth features twisted into an angry scowl and with a forceful shove he pushed her back onto the bed. "Clark's dead!" he declared loudly, stepping towards her where she lay, sprawled out ungracefully on his bed, staring up at him with wild eyes. "And he's not coming back!"

"Clark, please--"

"--Kal," he snarled.

She sighed inwardly, knowing she wasn't going to get anywhere by taunting him, baiting him. Better to accommodate him before he threw her out. "Okay," she said, admitting defeat, pushing herself up on her elbows. "I get it. Clark's dead."

Obviously satisfied with her response he turned and settled himself down in the armchair in the corner. She watched him intently, eyes grazing the hard lines of his face that was still as beautiful as she remembered. He was right in a way. Right at this moment, in this room, Clark was dead, because it wasn't her best friend who was sat in that chair. It was someone else entirely. Someone who had no qualms about hurting her. What she had noticed though, was that this person--Kal--was honest, brutally so. It was something Clark had never been. However innocent the farmboy was, he'd had no problems stretching the occasional white lie, until finally those white lies had jumped from harmless to heartbreaking. Chloe needed honesty. A reporter she may have been, but the truth was always her top priority. It always had been. Yet Clark had not respected that, and by attempting to protect her and her feelings, he'd inevitably caused her more emotional damage by weaving a complicated web of half-lies and blind deceptions. Kal, however, seemed to have shed his old habits along with his old name.

The truth still hurt, though. Even now Chloe had yet to recover from his stinging words, though she had to admit that his honesty was refreshing. It was also unnerving and it threw Chloe off balance. She wasn't used to honesty when it came to Clark, not this clean-cut or brutal anyway. She supposed that it was easier to think of this person sitting in front of her as a completely different entity to her childhood best friend, even without the obvious name-change, and she found it no hard task to respect his request to call him Kal.

"Are you going to answer my question?" she asked.

"What question?" he answered blankly, gazing not at her, but at some distant point past her shoulder.

"Why'd you run?"

His eyes seemed to focus then. They trained in on her and the electricity of his gaze made her wary.

"I had no reason to stay," was his nonchalant answer and Chloe blinked in surprise.

"No reason to stay?" she echoed in disbelief. "What about you and Lana? You--"

"I answered the question, Chloe," he interrupted sharply. "Pick another or get out."

She huffed loudly and collapsed on to the bed. "What's the point," she said. "It's not like you're going to tell me the truth."

"I don't lie, Chloe. It's not worth my time."

Chloe sat up in one fluid motion and cocked an eyebrow at the stranger sat in the corner. "That's new."

He shrugged. "Clark was an idiot."

She found herself nodding, agreeing with Kal's simplistic yet accurate description of her best friend. Her gaze travelled skyward and then moved swiftly across her surroundings, taking in the finer details of his apartment in the silence that reigned.

The first thing she noticed was that the place didn't have any real personality of its own. Though the room was bare in the ways of common luxuries there was still nothing in the apartment that screamed Clark. No flannel shirts strewn across the floor, none of his little knick-knacks like his CDs lying about the place, no pictures, nothing.

It was then that Chloe realised that she was striving to identify a personality that no longer existed. The apartment did have a personality, but whereas she'd been searching for signs of her runaway best friend, all she'd found was Kal. His personality was written in the bare necessities that filled the apartment, the sleek, modern, empty kitchen to her right and the lack of pictures framed on the wall.

The apartment was stark, cold and simple, the embodiment of the man who was sat opposite her. His actions and his words were cold, often clean-cut in their brutally. His way of thinking was simplistic in that Kal merely bypassed the pretence, the lies and the complexities of any situation and got straight to the heart of it, the real truth of it. What Chloe had spent months trying to say, Kal had summarised in one sentence, and despite his cruel words and his cruel attitude, she couldn't help but admire him for it. It was refreshing. She now knew that all the answers she had been looking for, answers Clark had refused to give her, lie here, within this stranger, and Chloe wanted nothing more to unravel the mystery that was Clark Kent and Kal all rolled into one.

"Are you ever coming back?" she asked, already knowing the answer but waiting anyway for Kal to confirm her suspicions.

"No."

She nodded. "Don't you miss your friends? What about your mom and dad?"

Nothing. He gazed at her intently but refused to answer.

"Not even Pete? Lana? Lex--"

"--you?" he cut in, raising an eyebrow. "What? You think I've been wasting my time worrying about you?" he mocked and the smirk on his face pulled at something inside Chloe, because yes, she had thought that maybe he would spare her the occasional thought. After all, they had been best friends since eighth grade and a single day hadn't passed since she hadn't thought of him, whether it be in the context of best friend or potential love interest. The thought that maybe Clark, or even Kal, hadn't found her important enough to even think about hurt more than Clark's lies ever had and she found herself blinking back tears.

"No," she lied, dropping her head because she did not want Kal to see her cry. She refused to arm him with more ammunition.

"You did, didn't you?" he taunted and she glanced up to see him smiling broadly at her, a cruel, smug smile that made her angry. "Poor Chloe Sullivan. Spends months mooning over her best friend only to find he doesn't give a damn. Must hurt like a bitch."

"Stop it," she whispered firmly, because the tears were stinging her wide, green eyes now. His words were growing painful and Chloe had indulged in enough self-torture over the weeks; she didn't need Kal rubbing salt into the wound.

Surprisingly, he did. He rose from the chair and stepped towards her, his large frame towering over her as she peered up at him with bright, shining eyes.

"Go home, Chloe," he said. "Go home and waste your tears if it makes you feel any better. But stop wasting your time on someone who never gave a damn about you."

He knelt down so his face was level with her own. Reluctantly she raised her head to look at him and the obvious concern shining in his alien eyes threw her. He was Clark again, her best friend, her confidant, and he was staring at her with the eyes of a friend who wanted nothing more than to make things better. It was a look she knew well because Clark had worn it on more than one occasion. It was Clark's look; the look that said things would work out, that if he could he would make the pain go away, he would put the world to rights and Chloe would have nothing to worry about.

And now Kal was wearing that look and she didn't know what it meant. She didn't understand and the confusion left her head whirling. His constant shifts in mood made her tired and now Chloe felt immensely drained.

"He didn't love you, Chloe," he said softly, and Chloe closed her eyes against the words.

Not true, not true, not true, not--

"Look at me."

She did. Green eyes met warm brown and all of a sudden she wanted Kal back. Cold, harsh Kal who wouldn't say such things with such--such regret, like he pitied her. Only Clark pitied her and sometimes she hated him for it.

"He didn't love you," Kal repeated, still knelt in front of her, face bare inches from her own. "Not the way you wanted him to. You can hate him, if it helps, but don't cry over him. He never cried over you."

Oh God, she thought, oh God, he's right. He's right.

Against her will a tear slipped free and she heard the silent breaking of her heart as it carved a path down her cheek. She wanted to sob because Kal was right. Clark had never loved her, not the way she'd wanted him to, and over the years she'd wept an ocean for him only to find that he had not spared her a single tear, not a drop.

How unfair. How unfair and cruel and heartless. How could Clark be so heartless?

She sniffed and watched as the tear slipped off the edge of her chin and landed on her knee. "He doesn't love me," she said, echoing Kal's words. "He doesn't--"

"--no," Kal said, wiping the tears from her eyes with a firm thumb. "He doesn't."

She peered up at him and found herself asking in a quiet, timid voice, "Do you?"

"No."

She nodded and dropped her head. Of course not. If Clark didn't love her, why would Kal? He was compassionless, after all. He didn't care about anyone, especially her. He'd even said himself he hadn't wasted his time worrying over her, over any of them. And now she was asking him if he loved her, as if this was someone other than her best friend, someone other than Clark who loved Lana Lang and Lana Lang only.

This isn't Clark, she reminded herself. Not really. Clark wouldn't tell me these things. Clark wouldn't be so honest.

"Does it matter?"

Chloe's head snapped up and her gaze locked on to Kal's own curious ones. The concern was gone from his brown eyes and all that was left was brutal honesty and a questioning gleam and--

Oh God, she thought with alarm, eyes wide. He wants me.

And she was right. Kal's eyes were clear but dark with intent, with need. This wasn't love or affection or even friendship. It was simple need and unadulterated desire and the blazing look in his eyes sent her heart jack-hammering in her chest, because Kal wanted her.

He was waiting for her, waiting for her answer to his question. He'd made it clear that this wasn't about love and now he wanted to know if simple want and need and passion was enough for her, for them.

She swallowed, gazing at him with uncertain eyes.

Was it enough? Could she walk away knowing that they'd done this? Could she?

The decision was torn from her though, because suddenly Kal's lips were brushing against her own, firm but surprisingly soft. She whimpered and the questions sliding through her mind disappeared as she opened her mouth to him, allowing his tongue to probe against her own. Her hands lifted from the bed cover to tangle in his dark locks and she pulled him closer, desperate to taste him, desperate to feel his body against her own.

She leant back and shifted her legs, ready to accommodate his large frame, but found herself suddenly lifted in the air. A mewl of surprise escaped her before Kal crushed her to his chest. Instinctively her legs wrapped themselves around his waist, pulling him closer, bringing her into close proximity with the hard bulge in his jeans. She groaned and pressed herself against him, secretly pleased when Kal groaned out his own satisfaction.

Suddenly she felt the wall behind her back and then Kal's hands were cupping her ass, pulling her tighter against him. He ground himself against her roughly, sliding his lips down to feather her neck with kisses. He sucked harshly at her pulse point, causing liquid heat to pool between her legs and with a low moan she bucked against him, willing him closer still.

Kal, it seemed, was happy to oblige. He pushed at her skirt until it was riding up thighs and then, swiftly, he tore away her panties with one hand, leaving her exposed to his gaze. She didn't care, though. All she knew was that right now the object of her fantasises was pressed up against her warm heat, his hot mouth against her neck, tongue flickering against the sensitive spot behind her ear.

She tightened her legs around him but then his hands were on her thighs, pulling her loose, and she whimpered at the loss of his presence between her legs. She felt his hands shift again to cup her ass and then he was pushing her roughly against the wall, one hand steadying her as the other slid around to caress her thigh.

She shifted her hips, trying to signal to him what she wanted and in a husky whisper she didn't recognise, she begged, "Clark."

He squeezed her thigh painfully and Chloe hissed.

"I'm not Clark, Chloe."

She nodded, barely acknowledging his words, bucking her hips towards him in demand. God, she just wanted him to touch her.

"Look at me."

She struggled to open her eyes but when she did she found Kal looking at her, his gaze angry and lustful all at the same time.

"Who am I?" he questioned her, moving his hands so his fingers came to rest against the wet folds of her sex. He slid a single digit along her entrance and she hissed her satisfaction. "Who am I, Chloe?" he asked again, taking his hand away to press himself roughly against her.

"K--Kal," she bit out, breathless. Her head was spinning and her body felt overloaded with too many sensations. All of them so, so good, and she didn't want him to stop. "You're Kal," she repeated.

Obviously satisfied with her answer he moved his hand again and, without warning, slid a finger inside her warm heat, causing a loud moan to escape her. She bucked against him, eyes clamped shut.

"Jesus," she hissed, breath escaping her in ragged gasps as she waited for his next move. He kept his finger still and Chloe almost cried out in frustration. If he didn't do something soon, she was--

--another finger slid its way in and this time Chloe did cry out. He started to move his fingers in and out, curling them so his fingertips hit that sensitive spot right there. She moved her hips with him, willing him deeper and deeper, until he pulled out, leaving her gasping in pleasure and frustration, moving to slip off his jeans while she waited, waited, body alive and thrumming.

She felt him again, the cool skin of his bare thighs resting against her own, and the warm pressure of his erection brought with it a sickening sense of clarity. Chloe's eyes snapped open and fear threaded its way through her veins, because God, she'd never done this before and she was afraid.

"K-Kal," she gasped, thankful that she had managed to use the right name. Calling him Clark would not help the situation right now.

He was parting her thighs now, wider, hitching her legs up and pressing himself against her wet heat. Desire and fear battled it out within her body until she was pushing at him with a shaking hand, calling his name over and over.

"Kal, I've never--"

Thankfully, he stopped. He loosened his hold on her and she slid down the floor until she was finally stood on two, unsteady feet. He braced his arms each side of her, hands resting each side of her head, and he gazed at her with dark, intense eyes that caused more heat to flow to her centre.

"I've never done this before," she told him, voice as uncertain and as embarrassed as she felt, because she didn't want Kal to think any less of her. She hoped that he wouldn't mock her or taunt her, make her feel even worse than she already felt. Because she wanted him, God, she wanted him so bad, but she could not ignore that small, irrational slice of fear that had managed to slither through the heavy haze of her desire.

"Do you trust me?" Kal suddenly asked and the question made Chloe blink.

Gaining her momentum, she said, "No," which was both a lie and the truth. She shouldn't trust him, she knew. He was basically a stranger, one that had made it painfully obvious that he didn't give a damn about her. Yet she did trust him, explicitly. He had not lied to her, he had not lured her here under false pretences. He had not claimed that this night would be about anything other than sex.

Maybe he was a cold-hearted bastard but he was an honest one, and despite herself Chloe found that she trusted him. Whether she trusted him with something of such an intimate nature was another matter entirely, because she doubted Kal had any idea what she was feeling right now, the anxiety, the apprehension, the God awful fear that even now she was ashamed of.

"Yes, you do," he countered, hard eyes boring into her own. "You wouldn't be here if you didn't."

"I don't trust you with this," she answered honestly. "I don't trust you to take care of me."

"I'm not your best friend, Chloe."

She stared at him. "No, you're not."

"I'm not here to take care of you," he told her. "But I can make you feel good." He smiled. "Is that what you want?"

Despite her better judgement she found herself nodding, because she did want this, she wanted this so bad.

Pushing aside her doubts and her fears, she leant forward and brushed her lips against his. He responded eagerly, tongue slipping between her lips to tangle with her own, his fingers mimicking the same actions as he slipped them inside her again, pressing his fingertips against the back wall of her sex until she was mewling loudly in his mouth. His hands moved from beside her to grip her waist and he pulled her towards him, causing shockwaves to vibrate throughout her body at the movement. Suddenly his thumb slipped down to rub at her clit and with a sharp buck of her hips she came, white heat shattering behind her closed lids as she writhed against him.

It took her a moment to come back to herself. She sagged tiredly against Kal's large frame, hands sprawled against his chest. She took several, ragged breaths to calm herself and let her eyes slip closed as the warmth of his body cocooned her, lulling her.

Then she felt his chest vibrating beneath her cheek and realised that Kal was laughing. The bastard was actually laughing.

Her head snapped up and she glared at his laughing face angrily. "What's so funny?"

He sobered up quickly and gazed at her with dark, solemn eyes. Seriously, he said, "That was your first, wasn't it?" He laughed again and moved a hand to caress her cheek; a mocking gesture. "Poor, chaste Chloe Sullivan," he teased, curling a finger around her hair. "With your blonde locks and your big, green eyes." He dipped his head to nuzzle her neck and the hand on her waist tightened, pulling her close again, pressing himself against her.

Chloe's anger dissipated at the feel of him between her legs, the warmth of his sex pressed against her own. Instinctively she moved towards him, meeting his thrusts with the same ferocity as he rocked his hips against her. Her arms moved up to curl around his neck and then she was pulling his head up, kissing him with an intensity that was alien to her. Her hands slid down from his neck around his broad shoulders until she was caressing his chest with long, sure strokes, secretly memorising the feel of hard muscle and soft, smooth skin beneath her fingertips.

Chloe found herself pressed against the wall again, and then he was hitching her leg, settling himself between them. She felt him position himself at her entrance and with one, unsteady breath, she braced herself, clamping her eyes shut.

"Relax," she heard him say, and the breath expelled from her in a heavy sigh, though she found it impossible to relax, to let the tension drain from her limbs.

"Chloe, it'll be worse if you don't stop tensing. Relax or we're not doing this."

"I'm trying!" she seethed, angry at herself and at Kal because he was talking as if this was an inconvenience, as if her virginity meant nothing to him.

It does mean nothing to him, she thought solemnly, but pushed the thought aside roughly, willing her body to relax beneath his.

She felt his fingers caressing the bare skin of her hip, massaging until she finally felt herself relax. His fingers did not stop but his hand curled around her thigh to hitch her leg higher as he repositioned himself. Tilting her face towards him with his other hands he looked her directly in the eye.

"Breathe, Chloe," he said, and she did, exhaling quietly as she felt him push into her. The sensation was strange, disconcerting, but she ignored it, pushing herself on to him, wanting nothing more than for the anxiety to fade, for it to just be over so she could enjoy this, enjoy him.

And then, with one fluid thrust he was all the way inside her. It was so quick, so unexpected, that Chloe had not had the chance to react. Now all she felt was an insistent stinging and a solid pressure between her legs.

She let out a loud hiss and clamped her eyes shut. "Shit," she breathed, thankful that he wasn't moving, because right now it hurt like fuck and any movement would be a bad thing. "Give me a minute," she gasped out, forcing her eyes open to glance at Kal, who was looming over her, one arm braced above her head. He was smiling broadly, his once cold eyes alight and warm, and Chloe found herself sorely tempted to call him Clark. But she quelled the urge and instead asked, "What're you smiling at?"

He grinned even wider. "You. You're actually kinda cute when you're pissed or turned on. Or both, as the case may be."

Chloe growled at him and he laughed, the act causing mini-shockwaves to vibrate through her. The sensation was almost... pleasant, and with small, hesitant movements, she began to thrust toward him.

Kal, having gotten the message loud and clear, began to move, too, his strokes more confident, more powerful. Setting a steady rhythm, they moved together almost fluidly, Chloe growing steadily confident and Kal growing steadily faster. Chloe found that she was actually enjoying the experience. It was nothing like the white-hot heat of having his fingers inside of her, caressing her, but instead it was more of a gentle, warming sensation; a steady buzz that was slowly growing.

Chloe grew more bold in her actions. She thrust her hips sharply, tearing a satisfactory groan from Kal's lips. She dragged her lips down the column of his neck, nipping at the skin, sometimes biting when he managed to hit that spot inside of her that made stars dance before her eyes. He repaid her in kind, flickering his finger against her clit until she was moaning his name.

"Oh, God," she groaned, letting her head tilt to the side so Kal could feather her neck with wet, open-mouthed kisses. She bucked her hips again when he began sucking on her pulse point and then, with a loud, audible groan, he stiffened against her. He thrust twice more and then she felt the cool wetness between her legs as he came.

Chloe drew several ragged breaths as he leaned against her, absently trailing kisses down her neck and across her shoulder. She ran her fingers through his dark locks, feeling her heart beating beneath his mouth, her hot, clammy skin resting against the cool wall that she'd paid no mind to during their lovemaking.

This wasn't lovemaking, she reminded herself harshly, attempting to catch her breath and failing miserably. This was sex. You knew that.

She pushed aside the nauseating feeling she had at the thought that she'd just made one of the biggest mistakes of her life and instead concentrated on steadying her breathing. She pushed Kal away from her and stepped away from the wall, pulling her skirt down her thighs and moving towards the bathroom to clean herself up.

She returned to find Kal fully dressed again, laid on his side on his bed, head resting against his hand. He was facing in her direction and when she stepped back into the bedroom he was staring at her indifferently.

"What?" she snapped, bending down to pick up her ruined panties, which she shoved into her bag sitting on the bed. She settled herself down next to it, next to Clark, and rubbed a tired hand down her face.

"So--" she started, but her sentence was cut short as she found herself pulled backward onto the bed. Kal loomed over her, his eyes the same cool, blank shade they had been earlier that night.

"You tell anyone I'm here, Chloe, and you'll never find me again. Do you hear me?"

She stared up at him with wide, wounded eyes. God, how could he talk to her like that? After what they'd just done? After what she'd just given him? She felt sick and angry and suddenly she was struggling to fight back tears again.

Damn you, she thought. Damn you for doing this to me. You used me.

But she knew, deep down, that that wasn't true. He hadn't used her because he'd told her from the get-go that he didn't love her, that this was just sex, pure and simple. He could have lied to her, lured her here under false pretences, but he hadn't. It was Chloe who had made the mistake. It had been her who had made the conscious decision to take this step, and though her heart was breaking, though an intense agony was spiralling its way through her stomach, she found that she didn't care. She didn't regret what they'd done because now she finally had a part of Clark that Lana Lang would never have. Now she knew what it was like to be kissed and touched by Clark and she knew she would never give up the memory for anything in the world. She would never turn the clocks back or even attempt to pretend this night had never happened.

Because it had, and a secret part of Chloe, the part that wasn't screaming in pain, was secretly proud of what she'd done. Clark might not ever love her but now she knew that for one night, for one, whole night, he had wanted her. Nothing would ever change that.

So she did nothing but nod and promised Clark--Kal--that she would not tell anyone of his whereabouts and that this night would remain their little secret. She told him she would not tell Lana about it but Kal simply said that he didn't care if she told Lana or not, as long as she kept her mouth shut about his current residence.

Then she left, tears in her eyes, chin tilted proudly, and she returned to Smallville a different girl, a woman, irrevocably changed by the decisions she'd made. She looked into the mirror, into the big, green eyes that stared back at her, and she no longer saw the same innocence Kal had seen there. There was a secret wisdom in them now, a touch of pride and a little glint of arrogance, too.

The following night, when she caught her surrogate sister in the hallway, she refrained from telling the brunette all about her night with Kal, with Clark, because though a part of her longed to share the secret, some selfish part of her decided to keep it to herself, this one thing that Lana would never have. She knew something Lana didn't now, and the thought made her feel special, honoured... strangely loved. It made her feel trusted and it was a feeling Chloe had been lacking lately.

The next morning she booked herself in at the hairdressers and watched the mirror silently, as lock after chaste, golden lock fell away, revealing to the world wide, green eyes that were a little wise, a little proud, and also a little arrogant, too. And the bleach that stripped away the innocent gold of her short tresses was the last step, until finally the mirror showed nothing but the heartbroken young woman she had become.

---

She stares at Clark now with the same eyes, but now they're not so arrogant, not so proud, because Clark has stolen that away from her with his righteous words and his morals. He'll never understand why she did what she did and she knows there's no point in trying to explain it to him.

So instead she turns away from him, to her computer screen, and answers so honestly, so bluntly, that Kal would be proud of her.

"Because I could."

And she hears him take a deep, sharp breath, and that pride's back again because she's managed to hurt Clark. He's finally realised she's not the girl he left behind, but a woman now. He stole something from her, and maybe she stole something from him, too, but in his eyes they will never be even. In his eyes she's done wrong and she knows he will never forgive her for that. She also knows that he won't forgive himself, either. It's the way Clark is.

"I'm sorry," he says again, after a long minute, and she wants to cry now because that's the third time. She's not angry anymore, she's just disappointed, in him, in herself, for failing to explain herself so adequately. And in this moment she hates him just a little bit more, because not only does he pity her, but he regrets what they've done. He's striving to make her regret it, too, though Chloe refuses to. She knows he's waiting for her to apologise for her actions, to say it was all a mistake that shouldn't have happened, but she can't lie, not anymore. It was a mistake, she knows that, but it's not one she will regret, ever.

"I'm not," she answers, her honesty flaring up again. She supposes she has Kal to thank for that, but secretly she knows she'll no longer have the chance to.

She hears the shuffling of feet and realises that Clark is leaving. She waits for a few minutes until she's sure he's gone before she tilts her head to look back at the doorway. Momentarily her face softens and a hint of longing enters her green, green eyes, and for a moment she's Chloe Sulllivan again, Clark's best friend, teenager, student.

"I'm not," she whispers again in his absence, and then her face hardens and her green eyes grow sharp again; a little wise, a little proud, and also a little arrogant, too. And she turns back to her computer, fingers sliding over the keyboard, and she glimpses, in the light reflection of the screen, the silhouette of the heartbroken young woman she has become.