What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through Fire.

by Beantree

Disclaimer: These characters are in no way mine, I'm just using them for my own nefarious purposes. Warning: Character death.
Author's note: Slightly unsatisfied by how the "big" reveal (to Clark specifically) of Chloe and Lionel's arrangement played out, I decided to make my own version. Feedback is more than welcome!

She could remember the last time she felt something-- for her friends-- for herself. It wasn't like it was lost all at once. No sudden explosion of a moment left her feeling numb, foggy and isolated. It was more like it had settled on her slowly, like a fog, precipitated by events she allowed to sweep her around. She could still find truth in the idea that she was a fighter. Her whole life had been a struggle-- with herself, --with others, --with ideas, --against anything that had ever gotten in her way. She'd always been strong and that hadn't changed, not really. The difference was that she stopped fighting quite so overtly. It just wasn't in her anymore. Too much had happened. That strength that she so often used as a weapon, as a shield, had turned on her. It began filling her insides like concrete.

She was always a nosey prick, but there was no regret there. She wasn't about to lie to herself, she had been happy in her life, nave maybe, but there's no fault in that. If there was any regret left, it was that she allowed herself to get jealous. Such an odd reaction, completely unlike her. She was no stranger to fixation, surely. Intense concentration on a captivating subject was her specialty, but this particular brand: jealously, made things hazy and emotional. She became reactionary and spiteful. The unexpected clouding of emotion was nothing like the clarity of thought usually accompanying her obsessions.

So she made a deal with the devil. In that there was regret. She could still feel it a bit, crackling on the edges. But all this had happened when she was still Chloe!, still that same girl with such vivid outward love for her friends. And that momentary anger and that oh-so-unusual jealousy had eventually faded. She was never able to hold grudges back then. She was learning though.

Even now, however, she had these moments of profound olfactory and sensation filled memories of youth, when she was nearly new to Smallville. They made such fast and hard friendships, the three of them. They were inseparable. She'd never been a part of anything like that before. Funny, at the time, she was unconscious of what a remarkable thing she had. They just existed, goofed off, watched out for each other.


She had no loyalties now. What a precious commodity. Even after she made the deal with Lionel, her loyalty had remained almost completely unscathed. She truly believed she might come out of the whole thing no worse for the wear. She thought Lionel would understand the emotional whims of a teenager, the simple revenge of being burned by love and wanting to scorch back. When she realized how wrong she was, she started making mistakes. Her impetuous nature took over. The smart thing would have been to disappear. Beating Lionel was a highly improbable, if not impossible, task. The people she loved would have been safe if she had run. But over estimation of her investigative skills and a selfish desire to preserve her beloved way of life obscured rationality. She wanted her high school newspaper; her loyalties; her happiness.

She had to admit, the dirt she found on Lionel was good. Devastating even. She concocted a ridiculous plan to bring him down. Well, not quite bring him down, more like blackmail him into leaving her alone. Problem was, he was only half a step behind her and it didn't take him long to catch-up. And one day some giant muscle-head showed up at the Torch after-hours and dragged her off kicking and screaming.

She knew exactly why he was there, knew that the whole thing presented no real danger to her. The only function of the whole show was shock value, to scare her back into submission. This guy was too much though. Rough and unapologetic, he'd thrown her into the back of his laughably clich "henchman" van, causing her to knock her head on the floor. She was dazed just long enough to delay a quick reaction. An instant faster and she could have stopped him from closing those doors right in her face. But she still managed enough of a recovery to lock eyes with a rapidly approaching Pete. She saw his shock and rage as he moved toward the van. Just a fleeting glimpse before she was shut in, helpless.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Pete's muffled voice through the door. A sound of scuffling, wham! Pete hitting the ground pretty hard, and then the van was pulling away. Even through the metal doors she could hear Pete screaming after them. --"CHLOE"--

She knew that he was hopping in his truck to follow after her, calling Clark on his cell phone. It's what she would have done. The van drove around for a relatively brief period of time. Stopping slowly, her driver came around, smiling menacingly at her before letting her out and leading her through rows of dried stalks, the corn harvested long ago. So much effort just to scare the shit out of her. And there was Lionel, waiting in all his glory. Only he could make standing around in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere-Kansas look impressive and ominous.

Despite her fear, she sassed him out anyway. He responded with evasive and unnerving threats. The same game they always played, but this time she had worked herself up. Fear abated and her anger took over. She seemed to forget the muscle-head henchman waiting in the wings; her outrage clouded her judgment. One threatening step forward toward Lionel and she went down like a ton of bricks, her 'chauffer' delivering the devastating blow to the stomach. She thought she might spit blood.

Lionel leaned his head down close to her ear, whispering, "I apologize Ms. Sullivan. My body guards are very protective of me."

His smugness dripping onto her like bile, and she could taste her own desire to lash-out, take that satisfied look right off of his face. But her will could not override the instinctual ball of pain she had curled herself into. She needn't have worried though, soon enough the gratified look melted away as his eyes snapped up quickly to fix on the figure emerging through the corn.

He followed her there. He came to save her, even brought his father's shotgun.

"Get away from her." She saw his hands shaking visibly and wondered if Clark was already on his way. "I should have known it would be you, Luthor. I should kill you right now, I'd be doing the world a favor."

In the heat of the moment Pete primed the shotgun pump for emphasis. A threat, sure, but anyone who knew Pete knew it was for show. One too many action movies, one too many reasons swimming in his head to hate and fear Lionel Luthor. Then again, Chloe was the only person there who really knew Pete. Even in the earliest days of their friendship, Chloe recognized in Pete a flare for the dramatic. Over exaggeration was his specialty. She always found it an endearing quality because ultimately it was harmless. His bravado was harmless...

In one blink his chest opened, ribbons of blood spilling onto the ground. The look on Pete's face held only surprise, as if his mind couldn't quite catch-up with events, even as his body sank to the ground. She heard Lionel curse softly behind her and the scramble of two bodies fleeing through the corn. But peripheral noises quickly faded in the face of the mangled fleshy wounds that had replaced Pete's normally strong and steady torso.

Standing unsteadily, she moved toward him, unable to make a sound. The world around her had gone quiet and everything in her head muffled; a silent bubble of existence removed from the rational passage of time. Kneeling beside his body, she put her hands on his chest, trying to apply pressure to the wound. But the bullet had gone through his back, had ripped him open. There was no wound to cover, just open space and in seconds she was covered in his blood.

Watching him almost curiously, she brought one hand up to caress his head, his cheek, his neck. He looked right into her face, a questioning look. So tender, his expression. They watched each other until his eyes were sightless, but she still didn't move. One hand on his chest, the other sweeping softly over his face, the silent world surrounding them, it was almost beautiful. She didn't even notice Clark's presence until he took her by the shoulders and started to shake her.

"... Chloe! Are you listening to me?" She hadn't heard him, hadn't even known he was there. "I called an ambulance, did you hear me? Are you hurt? You're covered in blood, I don't know if it's yours or..." He was choking, trying to keep it together but it wasn't working. He was pacing around, letting out small sobs whenever he stopped moving. So he would start wandering again, trying to bend down next to her occasionally, but unable to linger too long before looking as though he would gag. "Did I see Lionel Luthor driving away? What the hell happened? Oh God--oh god..."

Sirens were approaching from a distance. She still couldn't manage to coax her vocal chords into action, but her trance seemed to be lifting.

Pete was dead and she saw the moment he slipped away.

She leaned down and softly kissed his forehead. Still so warm. Clark was crying openly now, but she still hadn't shed a tear. Shock, she told herself. But it didn't quite ring true. All this was a horror of her own making. No different than if she pulled the trigger herself. The paramedics were suddenly upon them, but there wasn't much they could do. They insisted on bringing her into the hospital despite her apparent lack of injuries. Not that she said anything in protest. Clark rode with her in the ambulance. His crying had calmed, though little tears escaped still. As they sat side by side in the back, he crushed her body against his, half burying his face in her hair. He murmured words to her now and then, but they were always the same, over and over again.

--What happened? I don't understand what happened.

--Talk to me, please.

--We're going to be okay, Chloe.

There was nothing she could say.

They checked her perfunctorily at the hospital, but eventually were happy enough to accept the assessment of the EMT's. The police, however, were much more eager to deal with her. Clark hovered around, making a big clamor about how she might still be in danger, that she had almost been kidnapped, that he was nearly positive Lionel Luthor was involved. She didn't know exactly how to tell him that, in reality, she was never the one in danger. She was useful, maybe even valuable to Lionel. She answered the questions from the police with complete honesty and candor. What else was there to do at this point? Her best friend was dead. Protecting her own secrets seemed trivial at best, criminal at worst.

--Was Lionel Luthor at the scene?


--What was he doing there?

--He wanted to speak with me.

--Why would Lionel Luthor need to speak with you?

--We had an agreement. I would provide him with information in exchange for a column at the Daily Planet.

--What kind of information?

--Information on Clark.

--Why would he been seeking information on Clark?

--I don't know.

--Did Lionel shoot Pete Ross?


--Who did?

--A man working for him.

--So Lionel gave the order to kill him?

--No, the man shot on his own, but I'm the one who killed Pete, aren't I? I'm the reason he's dead.

Clark became increasingly quiet and still during the interrogation. After they finished questioning her, the cops dropped them both at the Kent's farm, expecting Clark to drive her the rest of the way home. And being Clark, that's exactly what he did. Though he stayed silent, never looking at her. When they pulled up to her house, she was surprised that he followed her up to the door. Perhaps not wanting her to face her household alone, maybe unable to walk away just yet.

She felt like shit. Still covered in Pete's blood, completely drained, she hadn't enough energy to focus her thoughts. Clark was the one to knock on the door. Lana was the one to answer. She gasped at the sight of Chloe; the frightening, bloody zombie on the doorstep. But Chloe couldn't deal with her then, not with Lana's tears or her pained whispered statements of sorrow. More than anything she wanted to avoid the pity that so often reminded Chloe of some sort of passive blame. She pushed past Lana gently, walked by in a daze as if not hearing the frantic questions directed her way.

A shower, a moment of solitary peace. Never had anything seemed so crucial to her survival. She heard the sounds of Clark's soothing, yet distracted tones recede behind her. Lana's voice had gone silent several moments before. She should've felt guilty, leaving him to all the explanations.

When the scalding water was finally pounding on her back, washing away all the evening's mess, she started to shake. Violent tremors that made her gasp aloud. It took a full ten minutes for them to subside, 'til she could shut off the masking noise of the water. She could remember emerging from the bathroom, hearing Lana crying softly somewhere downstairs and her father's hushed tones intermixed with Clark's. For some reason she assumed her father wasn't home. He hadn't come to the door. God, she feared so much what he would he think of her. She escaped those sounds-- to her room. Disappearing into her bed, she could recall thinking she would never be able to sleep-- funny...

Words came through the haze of empty dreams. Opening her eyes was such an amazing effort, but soon she produced an unreliable focus on Clark's face. He was kneeling next to her bed, crying again, although these were softer tears, different from before.

"Clark," her voice rusty, full of gravel.

"I was about to leave. I didn't know if I could handle talking to you right now. But if I don't say something I might never... I'm so angry, Chloe. So angry at you. I want to know why. Why did you do this? Because I didn't tell you about Lana? Ambition? I just--I don't understand."

He was so calm. His voice showed no sign of the accompanying, slow slipping tears. She hadn't known how to answer him then. Even now, she hardly knew why. She'd been jealous, yes. She was ambitious, yes. But those weren't the reasons, not really. More than anything she fell victim to the feeling of being adrift, like she had nothing that was hers only. She felt predictable, even to herself. Pathetic in her jealousy, she desired something to make her feel necessary and different; powerful even. And there was Lionel, right there, to give her just what she needed in the exact moment she needed it. She suddenly wondered if he might actually be the devil. It wouldn't have surprised her.

"I'm sorry." She could only whisper.

"Sorry? Chloe, Pete is dead." Some venom entered his voice, though his tone remained soft.

All she did was watch him battle to regain his calm. What could she possibly have said to something like that? "How's Lana?"

"Not good. She's been sobbing since I told her."

"And my father?"

"He's upset, obviously, but I think he's more worried about you. I didn't tell him about Lionel."

Emotion hit hard when Clark told her that. She would have to admit everything to her father and it would crush him. Though when she eventually did tell him, he struggled not to react badly. I'm glad you told me. His only verbal comment, but the look on his face had much more to say. He was horrified, doubting the daughter he thought he knew. Doubting his parenting skills, she was sure. They couldn't ever really connect after that. Not like they used to anyway. The substance dwindled from their relationship, until it seemed to disappear completely.

She looked into Clark's face, felt an errant tear slide down her cheek. "And you, Clark? How are you?"

He looked up at her then, right in the eyes. Sadness and pain radiated off of him. She thought it might knock her back. "I'm destroyed, Chloe. I've lost both of my best friends in one night."

She wished he had hit her. A blow would've hurt less, caused less damage. Betrayal so saturated his expression, she saw nothing else. Though later, she would understand the tenderness in that moment of goodbye. He watched her for a long time, perhaps waiting for words from her to erase this new reality, but they didn't exist, so he stood and left. They didn't speak again.

Surprisingly, Lionel too kept his distance after that; perhaps spooked by the arrest of the man who shot Pete. They could charge Lionel with nothing, of course. They never could. Chloe tried to leave it all alone at first, wanting to fade away from the pain Lionel represented. But a most unexpected development changed her plans; the sudden phenomena of running into Lex Luthor at an alarming rate of frequency.

He seemed to be everywhere she was, occasionally acknowledging her, but only in passing. At the time, her social life had taken a significant nose-dive, and even before that, she barely ever saw him around. So she became understandably suspicious. She developed an explanation for his appearances that she found plausible. He was curious about her, wanted to know about her involvement with Lionel, but couldn't risk asking his father. She was the logical alternative. She assumed he was trying to interact with her a bit, feel her out; observe her before showing his hand. After all, if she would betray Clark what would stop her from doing it to him.

His presence made her feel new guilt. Information still in her possession and she was hiding from it, ignoring it, when she could have been avenging Pete's death and helping Lex out from under his father's thumb. She took a long time deciding whether or not to approach him, but in the end she knew it was her only choice.

One afternoon, she saw his silver Porsche idling, driverless, outside the Talon. A quick run in for caffeine, maybe. Speech after discarded speech, and every one of her obsessively detailed plans of where and when to tell him were abandoned. Impulsively, she opened the unlocked door and slid into the passenger seat. Soon enough he emerged, coffee in hand. Almost immediately upon exiting the building, his awareness of her presence in his car was obvious. His gait turned slow and cautious as he approached. Slowly opening the driver's side door, he craned his neck into the vehicle.


She remained still in the passenger seat, didn't feel brave enough to look him in the face just yet. He eased himself into the car when she didn't respond, closing the door behind him.

"Is everything okay?"

"Lex, I know you're trying to decide if I'm a completely unstable headcase or a calculating opportunist. Either way I'd hardly be reliable, right? But at least one is easier to trust than the other." Her words were rambling and awkward, "Unfortunately for you, I haven't decided which one I am either, maybe both. Regardless it doesn't matter at this point."

"Chloe, what are you talking about?"

"Oh come on, Lex. You want to know what information I provided to your father."

"I think I already have a pretty good idea."

"Okay then, why don't you tell me why you've been following me."

"Following you?"

"I'm not an idiot, Lex. Don't insult my intelligence and I won't insult yours. I don't want to play ridiculous games."

"What do you want then?" his voice was so gentle on the question she answered without thinking.

"To die." She looked up at him, shocked by her own answer, but only able to produce an expression of numb acquiescence to her words.

His own face betrayed shock plainly, and such a crushing look of compassionate understanding that she was horrified. The desire for her own death instead of Pete's was something that she never allowed to enter her conscious thoughts. She had no idea why it chose this moment to emerge. Lex looked as though he was about to reach out for her. Averting her eyes quickly, Chloe composed herself before continuing hastily.

"I have information, very damaging information on your father. I was going to use it to keep myself-- and others safe, but it's a little late for that now. I think you're the person I should give it to."

"Why don't you use it? Why give it to me?"

"My credibility is compromised to say the least." She paused, suddenly tired of her own sarcasm. Her next words were stunted as her voice instinctively struggled against truth, "This rage I have for your father is so distorted by the hatred I feel for myself, I can barely distinguish the two. I'm a wreck."

"Why did you agree to help him?"

"I don't know, some misguided need to be separate, to separate myself from my life, maybe."

Lex sighed at her side. "Bringing down my father is a dangerous task. I'm not just going to let you pass this off on me. If you want this to happen you have to help me."

"I'll do whatever you need."

"What I need is a guarantee that you're not just handing over something I'm going to end up hanging myself with. Think of it as an incentive for mutual trust, if this doesn't work, we both face the consequences. I want to know that you'll see this through to the end with me."

The thought occurred to her abruptly that Lex was worried she was going to kill herself. He'd missed her meaning earlier. She considered suicide too contrary to her personality. She wanted Death to find her, she had no intention of chasing it. Her only response was to remove a large envelope from her bag, handing it to him purposefully in order that he understand her intention.

"I wrote my number inside the envelope. Call me when you're done reading."

With that she stepped out of the car, walking away without looking back. God, even now she could remember how her legs shook. How she wanted to look so strong in her retreat, but instead felt faded, gray, as if she were hardly in existence at all.

She waited three days for his phone call. When it finally came she was almost surprised to hear his voice on the other end of the line.

"Alright," he started off, sounding as if he were only resigning himself to some unpleasant task, "let's meet in an hour."

"The mansion?"

"No, I've found that discussing sensitive information there can be... unwise. Your house would be smarter."

"No-- my dad."

"Where then?" she could hear annoyance creeping into his voice. She paused for a moment, trying to think.

"I know where we can go." She said finally.

She felt strange telling him about the apartment above the Talon. He owned the building after all and she'd been trespassing on his private property for almost a month at that point. She hadn't even known it existed until the Kent's housing crisis several months before. After everything that had happened, Chloe found herself desperate for a refuge. Somewhere with no memories, somewhere Pete had never been. The apartment fit her needs better than she expected. Pieces of abandoned furniture were scattered randomly in the space. With minimal effort, she had done some arranging, some cleaning. A welcoming space emerged in her alienated life.

She heard his designer shoes make small tapping sounds on the wood floor behind her, signaling his entrance. She didn't turn to watch him approach, but heard him stop several feet behind her, remaining silent for a long moment.

"I like what you've done with the place."

"I'm sure Better Homes and Gardens will be coming around any day now."

"How long have you been coming here?"

"Not that long-- you read everything?"

"A page turner."

Dusk was settling in around them, the fading light making their surroundings look grainy and ill-defined. She turned in her seat.

"So what now?"

"You do the leg work, I'll take care of the more-- complicated aspects."

She let out a little huff of incredulous laughter, "Oh, is that all?"

"You know it's not, Chloe. Get me some statements and we'll talk again." He turned, already walking away. Tap, tap...

"Lex, have you spoken to Clark lately?"

Silence. Then-- "Yes."

"Has he been talking to you? About everything that's happened, I mean."

"A little bit, yes."

"Good... good. I'm glad he has someone, I'm glad he has you," more quietly to herself.

He hesitated a moment before turning, shutting the door as he left.

So Lionel went down. The memory of being in the courthouse after the verdict was read still so clear in her mind, even after all these years. Clark's face held only joy and triumph as he rushed forward to congratulate Lex, whose expression was much darker, though Chloe saw the hints of relief in the man's eyes. Lex caught her gaze from across the room, a soft look of appreciation crossing over his features. She nodded sadly in response, not wanting to give up this small contact, this last moment of their partnership. Beside him, Clark noticed Lex's distraction and followed his gaze, finding her on the other end. The pain from seeing the look on his face, -oh god- the memory could still her breath even now. She never went back to Smallville after that, never expected to see any of them again.

But she'd seen him today. A fleeting glimpse through a crowd and recognition hit instantly. She should have turned, gone on her way, but an unexpected compulsion to follow engulfed her rational mind. She trailed him for almost two hours, through mundane errands and bland interactions, until fear of what this little stalking adventure meant scared her away. She always imagined that when this moment came she would be able to gracefully pass him by, hadn't anticipated that seeing Clark --her sweet friend-- would affect her like this. So she drove home stunned, speeding recklessly to her destination. The compulsion to get back was overwhelming. She needed the familiar calm of her small, dark porch to still her spinning head.

It seemed an eternity before she arrived, but now she was back home and safe. She felt cold tonight. She could blame it on the chill in the air, the slight dampness the breeze left on her skin. She would be comforted if those were the reasons she wrapped her arms around herself now, trying to concentrate her own body heat inward. But the cold seemed to be emanating from the inside out. The panicked wings of a moth against her shoulder made her jump slightly. She heard it clink against the glass of the porch light and turned to watch it flutter there, wondering at the attraction. Like a moth to the flame.That overused saying running through her head now and she tried the statement out loud.

"Like a moth to the flame," coming dryly off her lips as she pushed away today's images of Clark again and again as they stubbornly swam to the front of her mind.

She closed her eyes, bringing her cigarette to her mouth, inhaling slowly. She'd always had this idea that she could measure emptiness in smoke. The absurd thought amused her, gave her solace sometimes. She considered herself comfortably alone here, not necessarily lonely. She didn't let herself think about things like that anymore.

Funny, she could still articulate exactly what it was she once expected from her life. In the blindness of youth she had wanted adventure, drama, intrigue; anything but the down-home, salt of the earth sensibility that sprawled around her in all directions. She believed that those things would make her come alive. But, in the end, her encounter with that reality destroyed the little girl she once was, along with the young woman that girl became. Only this cold being remained, doing her best to disappear into the abyss of night, trying to warm her icy insides with hot smoke. Whatever secret desire she might once have harbored in her innermost self about the path her life would take, she had wiped from her thoughts by now. She found the pain of disappointed dreams to be harder to take than the numbing acceptance of an unintended existence.

And this existence was hers. And she accepted it.

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