Here Is Gone
She catches sight of him the night before her nineteenth birthday, in a Metropolis club only three blocks away from Clark's old digs. He looks the same as she remembers, except now there's no swagger to his step. He moves like Clark moves and his arrogance is sharper somehow, or maybe smoother. She doesn't know. All she knows is that he's changed. He's grown. She can tell by his eyes.
She remembers his eyes -- so open, so fuckin' open, and eager and afraid and all those things they shouldn't have been -- and they're none of those things now. They're dark and quiet, and she thinks that eyes like that should be dead or something, but they're not. They're kind of cocky -- the way she remembers him to be -- and mocking, like he's a part of some inside joke that nobody understands and he's sorry that they'll never get how funny it is.
It reminds of her Clark, and how he used to look at people. Except with Clark it wasn't a funny-ha-ha look. Clark's eyes always said differently. They always said: I know things you could never comprehend, and I wish I didn't.
She gets the same vibe from him. Like he has a secret. A secret he wants to share. A secret he's proud of. A secret he has pride in. Clark was never proud of his secret. Not even when Chloe found out and she told him over and over how proud she was of him, because he had this great power which he never abused and never took for granted, and he used it to save people who weren't as powerful or as strong or as moral. And she had been proud -- is still so very proud -- but Clark wasn't. Still isn't. Too many years of hiding a secret from people who would use it against him, use it to hurt him; the same people he saves day in and day out, without hesitation.
She's not sure why he's different. She's not sure if it's because he has faith in people and he trusts that, if they should ever discover his secret, they would love him for it, not hate him, or because he has faith in himself, in his own ability to protect his secret. Chloe knows for certain, though, that he's privy to something not many people are, even herself. Maybe she knows things he doesn't, but he's lived things she hasn't, and it shows.
She doesn't acknowledge him at first. Instead she elbows her way through the crowd, her college roommate in tow, and sidles up to the bar. She orders two Tequila shots and isn't at all surprised when the barman neglects to ID her. Chloe looked legal even when she was seventeen; at nearly nineteen nothing has changed.
She dances the night away with her roommate and a shy eighteen-year-old called Eric she recognizes from college.
She catches sight of him occasionally but loses track of him sometime after one. At almost three her roommate throws the towel in and retires, dragging her along on the search for a taxi. As the cab pulls up and Chloe drunkenly jerks the door open, she peers over the roof of the car and catches sight of a red and yellow flash, disappearing into the blackness of a nearby alley. She pauses for a minute, squints, sees nothing but the dark gloom of the streets, and shrugs. She climbs into the back of the cab and falls asleep against the window.
She doesn't see him again for another four months.
The next time she sees him is when he knocks on her apartment door and invites himself in. She doesn't say anything, but she's angry. It's a bad time. She's full of the flu and she's just broken up with Eric. She's not overly sad about it; she's only depressed because Eric is distraught and she doesn't really enjoy breaking people's hearts. She considers it a flaw, considering her future aspirations. Reporters are meant to be heartless, or so she's been told. She never really pays attention to people nowadays. People are fickle and shallow, only concerned with how people see them and not how they see themselves.
She knows what he sees right now and she doesn't care. So she's pale and her eyes are sunken and shadowed. Her head is full of cotton and her brain is seeping out through her nose. She's sweating in her sweats and she looks like death warmed up. She's okay with that.
She closes the door and turns around, expecting to find the arrogant little kid she once knew sitting on her couch.
Instead she turns to find him, a man, facing her. He still has the face she remembers. His features are a little stronger but still a little boyish, a little mischievous. His blond hair is shorter and still slightly spiked, exposing eyes that never belonged to the kid she remembers. They're not the eyes from the club, either. They're different now -- he's different now -- and she realizes then how so much can change in so little time. One moment, two years, four months, a mere second; time flashes by and she can't catch up. She's not fast enough. She'll never be fast enough.
He proves her wrong when he doesn't say anything. He doesn't do anything but stand there, silent and still. The moment is frozen, a freeze frame, and Chloe dares herself not to breathe, not to move, not to run.
The silence cracks and splinters and she finds herself slammed against the door, hands wrapped tightly around her forearms and lips covering hers. She didn't even see him move -- too fast for her eyes -- but she doesn't care, is tired of caring. The moments slip her by because she lets them.
She moves her hands to his chest and pushes, separating them so she can catch her breath. Too fast. She hasn't had chance to enjoy the anticipation. Sometimes the best part of living is waiting for the next moment to come along.
His eyes are darker when she looks up at him, but they're still clear and bright and not in the least bit wild like she thought they would be. The blood in her veins is pumping furiously and she can feel the heat boiling beneath her skin, but he looks calm, collected, cool, like he's used to this; like he lives like he kisses -- fast and furious and fierce.
Right now she's feeling slow and lethargic. Her mind is foggy with the flu and her senses are subdued, blocked. She feels condensed, a watered-down version of herself, and she has the strangest feeling that a lot of people feel that way when they stand next to Bart. Like they're only half-alive somehow. Like they're less. It's disconcerting.
"The hell," she says, finally, taking a step forward. "Bart, what--"
"Don't play with me, Chloe," is all he says, and she shakes her head in confusion.
"Will you just let me talk!" she demands tightly, but her throat is so sore that the command comes out in a croaky whisper rather than the angry bark she intended on. But she figures her body language signifies enough. She's cranky and tired and not in the mood to play games, especially when she doesn't even know what game it is they're playing. Everything is moving too fast and she's far too exhausted to catch up.
Wisely, he remains quiet.
"Go away," she says, after a long moment.
He blinks. "No," he counters defiantly, folding his arms across his chest.
"Fine. Stay there. I'm going to bed." She steps past him, across the lounge and into the darkness of her bedroom. She closes the door behind her and breathes steadily. She gives herself a minute before she shuffles to her bedside and flips on her lamp. The dim glow is still too bright for her eyes and her head throbs in protest.
"Nice digs," says a voice from behind her and she stills. She doesn't bother turning around.
"Get out, Bart. I'm tired."
"You felt something. I know you did."
"Yes. Nauseous. What's your point?"
"I'm a barrel of laughs," she deadpans and slips into bed, turning her back on him. She really, really isn't in the mood.
He doesn't answer and she listens for the sound of him leaving, but there's nothing. After a long moment she turns to look towards the door, only to find him already gone. She turns back.
Sleep catches up to Chloe before she catches up to it.
Three weeks later and the need to see him is like an itch she can't scratch. The anticipation she craved that night hangs heavy in the air, and she realizes with some degree of disappointment that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Anticipation makes her edgy, and not in a good way.
She returns to college, still fighting the final stages of flu, and is surprised to find that settling down behind her desk as editor of the college paper doesn't calm her any. It usually does. This chair is a wondrous chair most of the time -- it reminds her of how far she's come despite all she's lost. It reminds her that she's not really the dark and deadened cynical she once thought she'd grow up to be. She's content, and that's good enough for her.
She doesn't even have Bart's number, so she can't ring him and demand the explanation she was too exhausted to ask for, and listen to, that night. She's thought about it a lot in the last three weeks and realizes that none of it makes sense. Chloe's used to things being nonsensical and illogical, but this is way off the bat. The last time she talked to Bart properly was almost two years ago, when she was seventeen. She remembers thinking how cute he was -- but not as cute as Clark -- and how sweet he was -- but not as sweet as Clark -- and how he flirted with her the way Clark never did. She also remembers how in love with Clark she was then and how she barely noticed anyone else. A fool in love.
Two years and two meetings later and Bart has her blood up the way Clark used to get her blood up. Except Clark was her best friend then and Bart doesn't know her near as well. Two meetings -- one barely that -- and already he's asking things of her, asking her to feel things too strong for a bond too weak. She doesn't know Bart; her heart refuses to acknowledge him the way her body does. They're not even friends. They're a long way off from lovers.
But he's a memory now. He's a thought. He's a part of her subconscious in a way she doesn't like and she spends her first day back trying to shake him out of her head.
Except the harder she tries not to think about him the more she does, and she leaves work frustrated and cranky and a little pissed off. Bart gets her blood up in more ways than one, and that pisses her off even more, the thought that he has enough power over her to rile her up.
She finds him leaning against her car when she leaves college. She can make out his form even in the gloomy shadows of the underground parking lot, and maybe she's only seen him twice in the last six months but she knows his stance now. It's not arrogant, exactly, more like proud.
Okay. Maybe a little arrogant.
She can't ignore him and just drive home, either, because he's leaning against the driver's side door. She really wishes she could move him with willpower alone because she's suddenly feeling extremely tired and overly sensitive. She thinks it may be the wrong time of the month.
She lets him speak first because she doesn't have the energy to. She doesn't even feel pissed off enough to shout at him anymore.
"You look like shit," he says, and she smiles and hopes that maybe he'll cut her a little slack simply because she feels like she looks.
"Unless you've forgotten, I was playing the snotty-nosed one last week. Which makes a change, I might add. What do you want?"
He smiles, and she thinks he should be smirking, not smiling, but he's not. Funny.
"For someone so quick-witted you sure are slow."
She blinks and stares at him with feigned boredom, all the while secretly admiring the way his blonde hair falls into his eyes. It's far too sexy for words, and Chloe should know. She's the mother of words.
"I'm bored. Get to the point," she demands with soft indifference, mimicking his stance and folding her arms across her chest. She tilts her head to the side and she's well aware of the way she looks; like she's mocking him. Like she's entertaining a small child.
He's quiet for a second, gazing at her solemnly. Then, in a low, serious voice, he asks, "You really like to draw this kind of shit out, don't you?"
She shrugs. "I'm a reporter. The excitement isn't in having a story. It's in getting it."
He moves forward a step, but not far enough for her to get into her car. It makes her a little nervous.
"You mean to tell me you find no amount of satisfaction in having your story laid out for you to see?" he asks quietly. He takes another step forward. "Knowing it's your story, no one else's." Another. "Knowing that it was your passion that made it." Another, and then he's standing in front of her and meeting her hard gaze without hesitation. "Just knowing it's yours."
Chloe knows she's small and Bart's got at least three inches on her, but she's not intimidated.
She smirks and shakes her head. "You know," she starts, "I find it fitting that you've just spent the last five minutes comparing yourself to a rag." She snorts in laughter to drive the message home. Her mockery says everything she can't.
I could never take you seriously.
She can never take them seriously.
She's too grown up for games.
Don't play with me, Chloe.
She's not playing anymore.
"You're not the editor of a rag, Chloe," he argues after a long moment. "You wouldn't love your work so much if you were."
He taps into her anger with just a few choice words and the echoes of her smug laughter are drowned out. She tightens her jaw, and her fists.
"That's funny," she says. "The way you're talking, you'd think you know me." She takes a bold step forward and raises her chin in defiance, in anger. "You don't, Bart," she tells him softly. "You don't know me at all. You think you do, and you think you can twist me with words, but you forget." One more step, a whisper in his ear and control is hers again.
"I'm the master of words."
He waits another six weeks.
By the second week she's well aware that he's mocking her, drawing it out because that's what she told him she wanted.
She lied. To him and to herself. He may have tried to twist her with his words, but she's bent the truth so far to her liking that she's not even sure if it's the truth or not.
She thinks she regrets doing that. She thinks she does, but she's not certain. She's not certain of anything, and maybe that's why she draws it out so much.
She's terrified. He's a stranger to her, but he's in her head in a way she doesn't like. He has that effect on her that she hates; the same effect she knows he has on everyone else. It's almost as if, just by simply standing here and thinking about him, she's missing something.
He makes her feel slow and hollow and alive all at the same time, and Chloe reasons that if she lets him in, she'll only spend a lifetime trying to catch up to him.
Not trying to be as good as him -- she's a good person, she is -- but simply trying to be there, where he is. Trying to be with him.
It's harder than it sounds.
What bothers Chloe is that, after only a few brief meetings, she's already getting the same vibes from him that she did from Clark. If she tears away the confidence and the pride that Clark never had, there's still that same vulnerability there, the same harsh belief that no one will ever -- and could ever -- comprehend who and what they are.
Bart's special like Clark is. She knows. She can feel it. Her senses scream it at her, and after spending years of ignoring them when it came to Clark, she refuses to ignore them now.
She refuses to be left behind, left out or left alone.
Bart will probably never even be aware of doing those things, if he were ever given the chance to do them. He lives in a different timeline to her, moves through life at a completely different pace, and Chloe knows he'll leave just as quickly as he came.
She doesn't like to think that way. Doesn't like to look too far in the future and try to predict what will happen, who will leave and how they'll leave. She lives ahead of herself, always striving for more than she has, and she's well aware it's a destructive flaw. She loses what she has because she spends her days trying to find the things she doesn't. It's not healthy.
She wastes her time wondering what-if and why-not and never bothers to wonder why. Why wonder? Why think about the what-ifs and the why-nots? Why live a life of haves and have-nots? Why not simply live?
Some days she tries to reason that the only thing worth living for is the search. She's never really found satisfaction in getting what she wants. She feels accomplished, sure, but it's short-lived, and then she's after the next thing she wants, and the next.
Chloe's an accomplishment in Bart's eyes. She's a want that he has to have, and once he's had her he'll move on to the next thing he wants. It's inevitable. It's what she would do, and she knows that might make her a heartless bitch, but she truly is tired of lying to herself.
Life is one big painful search, and it never ends.
It's not how you live -- fast and furious, slow and steady -- it's what you live for.
And Chloe lives for the search.
It's why she's a reporter. It's the truth she spends her life searching for. World truth, personal truth, it doesn't matter. It hurts, but so do the lies.
She's tired of the lies. Of people lying to her. Of lying to herself. She shouldn't have to chase the truth, to search for it, but she does and she'll continue to do so.
Because that's all she has left.
The search ends (but not really) sometime after Christmas. It's all a little too clean-cut, a little too full-circle for Chloe's liking when she catches sight of him again in the same club she first saw him in.
Except this time he doesn't ignore her. He catches her just as she's leaving the bathroom and pulls her aside, down one of the dark corridors that isn't as vacant as she'd like.
She doesn't know how she ends up pressed up against the wall, but she does, and Bart leans over her with a determined gleam in his eye that Chloe knows she can't argue with.
She's not going to win this one. This isn't her game anymore. It was never her game in the first place.
But she doesn't play (does she?)
She's not a player (is she?)
This was never a game (was it?)
Except Chloe can't help but think that it is. Life isn't this big, profound thing. There's no meaning to it. There's only the search for the meaning, any meaning, and there's the games in-between that we play to keep life a little more three-dimensional.
It doesn't mean she wants to play. She's like the girl who's losing at that board game (Game of Life), because she doesn't have the big career and the big salary and she keeps running into obstacles that makes things worse and worse. She doesn't want the husband and the empty family car because she's not really the domestic type, but life keeps demanding she find these little attachments. She's poorer without them, it seems.
There's no room for the cynic (who isn't really as cynical as people think, because she still has faith in things she really shouldn't) who lives alone (content) and juggles (quite successfully) her college life and her social life without ever feeling empty or alone, without ever needing the perfect partner/life/career/children. She may spend a great deal of her time searching for things she really can't pinpoint, but perfection isn't one of them.
Nobody forgets that, in the end, when you've reached the end of the game and you're forced to retire and give up your career and your salary and your husband and your children, you have no choice but to gamble. The rich don't always stay rich, and the poor don't always stay poor (not when it comes to things that count, anyway), so when it comes down to it, it's all about choice and chance and luck, and only one of those can be controlled.
She gets that now. She gets it.
It's not because she doesn't want to play, can't play, won't play.
It's because she's really not sure if it's a game she can control. She needs that, control. She'll take choice over chance or luck any day. She may take risks but Chloe isn't a gambler.
Except that at some point in the game, everyone is forced to gamble.
But Chloe's just not ready for that yet, and he needs to know that.
"Shut up," he says -- he demands --, and for a long, shocked second, she does. When she finally manages to find her voice again, he's already talking.
"You know what I've realized in the last few months," he asks rhetorically, staring down at her without hesitation, soft hair falling into his wise eyes.
There's no room for her to answer with a snide, "What?", for a number of reasons. One, she's spent far too many seconds watching his lips, and two, he's really not giving her a chance to answer at all.
"I've realized that you talk too much," he finishes. To distract her even more, he chooses that moment to sweep his hand across her cheek and tuck a loose lock of hair behind her ear.
That was a cheap shot. If he thinks Chloe's going to go all mushy over that, he really doesn't know her that well.
"You talk too much and you think too much, and that, my sweet Chloe, is very, very dull."
She glowers at him. Could he be anymore of a chauvinist ass?
"Let me guess," she drawls in exasperation, tilting her head and folding her arms over her chest defiantly. "Women should be seen and not heard." She pauses, and then with feigned brightness and encouragement, she adds, "Please, continue. Woo me with your infinite knowledge of all things female."
He chuckles low in his throat and shakes his head at her, like her finds her immensely amusing. "You really don't know me at all," he states and she leaps on to that little slip-up without even blinking.
"No, I really don't," she says. "And I really don't appreciate being molested by near-strangers in a nightclub. Now I'll explain it all again in layman's terms for you -- you being slow and all -- and we'll see if you get the message then. I'll even say it slowly, so you don't miss a thing."
She leans up towards him, arms brushing against his hard chest, and smiles. "Fuck. Off."
She saunters off, grinning to herself, but really, she doesn't feel as smug as she looks.
Funny. Usually she considers it a victory when she manages to shut him up. And she's managed to dissuade him, too, it seems. He's not following.
And she's not disappointed.
She's not thinking that maybe she took his comment the wrong way; took it to mean more than he'd intended on. She knows what he did mean -- she was thinking it herself -- and a part of her knows he's right.
She over-analyses, over-thinks, over-talks her way out of situations she'd otherwise enjoy if she ever let herself. She's already established this as one of her more destructive flaws, but being stubborn and analytical and just a tad defensive is just a part of who she is.
Chloe doesn't like things easy. Chloe likes a challenge, and she likes to challenge everything.
Except she hasn't ever managed to establish her boundaries. She doesn't know when to back down, to say yes instead of no, no, no, to pick the battles that matter and not the ones she just happens to fall across.
She always looks for the bad in people. That's not to say that she never recognises and acknowledges the good in people -- she does -- but the defensive part of herself always identifies the bad in them, uses it as a weapon to hate them or dislike them or mistrust them. Not consciously, but she's aware of it.
She knows it's more about herself than anyone else. It's because she spends so much time seeing the bad in herself that she knows -- well, she thinks she knows -- that people can see it in her, too. These people who judge her by all the bad things they see in her, and she figures it's easier to hate them first.
But hate is such a strong word. She doesn't hate most people. She reserves such loathing and venom and poison for those that have truly earned it.
Lionel Luthor is number one on her list.
She's still not sure where her mother ranks, or even if she ranks at all. Hate is never as black-and-white as she'd like it to be.
Neither is good and bad.
She'd have the same complaints if things were the other way around. If she sweet and virtuous and easy-going. Sometimes she likes the fact that she's a little stubborn, a little self-centred, a little cynical.
And she likes the fact that she doesn't have to be any of those all of the time. No matter the times she worries about her own life and her own problems there are people who she will always put first. Pete. Clark. Her father. Even her friends from college.
Everything isn't always about Chloe, but sometimes it is.
Everything isn't always doom-and-gloom, but sometimes it is.
Everything isn't always a challenge, but sometimes...
... sometimes she wishes she believed it.
If she'd never seen that gleam of determination in Bart's eyes, she'd have let it go. If she hadn't thought for one minute that he was pursuing her because she'd turned him down two years ago and then again ever since, she'd have never given him a second thought.
But now he knows it's a challenge, and she knows that he knows.
Now she's going to make him work for it. She's going to make him play her game. And it'll be a victory she'll never forget.
It never occurs to her that after months of deliberation, of too much thought and not enough action, of coveting the chase and despising it, of losing control and snatching it back, that she has learnt nothing.
This isn't her game.
It was never hers in the first place.
She wakes up feeling drowsy and weightless, and cranes her neck to see what time it is.
Instead she's confronted by a solid wall of black and it takes her a few seconds to latch on to the fact that it's a chest.
Logic tells her that the aforementioned chest must belong to someone in her present company, so she tilts her head back and finds herself staring into dark eyes.
She knows those eyes. Fucking haunting eyes, they are. They don't let her sleep.
"I'm sleeping," she slurs, and she was sure she was going to say something different but she can't remember what. She's not a morning person.
"No, you're not," Bart replies, and carries on walking.
Walking? She doesn't remember any walking. Since when--
"I'm too tired to walk," she says, and the logical side of her brain, which is surprisingly wide awake, reminds her that she's not really doing the walking in this particular situation. She's playing possum, it seems. "Why am I walking?"
"I want to show you something."
She contemplates that for a moment, forgetting in her sleep-riddled daze that she's angry at him because he's a coward. She hasn't seen him for two months.
Seconds later and she's awake enough to analyse her situation, however half-assed it is. Logic argues that it's not normal to find yourself being carried off into the night by a tall, handsome stranger. Not without consent, anyway.
"I think you should put me down now," she argues throatily, and she thinks she's kinda grateful for the fact that she's still a little too drowsy to start panicking. Still, she should be protesting. Right?
"We're almost there."
Okay. She can't argue with that. Not much point in fighting when she hasn't even got control of her feet. Save it for when he puts her down, if he ever does.
She's close to being reasonably-awake when he stops and slides her to feet, slowly so she doesn't stumble. One of his arms stays curved around her stomach and he presses against her back.
His breath is hot against her neck when he speaks and she catches only the tail-end of his words.
"--there. Third table from the left."
He's pointing over her shoulder and she realizes then that they're standing on a street corner, looking towards Blue, a chic, intimate restaurant on the opposite side of the block. She recognizes it from her occasional visits with Lois; her cousin's way of apologizing for never having the time to do anything more than play top-notch reporter, and glamorous girlfriend to Clark Kent.
Some people -- people who never have the brains to keep their mouths shut -- ask her if she's still angry.
"No," she replies, when she isn't telling them to mind their own. "I never was."
She never says, "I only have myself to blame. I waited too long, gave up to easily, made the wrong choices and betrayed my best friend."
She's not angry, but she's a little bitter. But she keeps that to herself and doesn't dish it out to people who don't deserve her resentment.
Like Clark Kent and Lois Lane, who she can see quite clearly, sitting together at the third table from the left. If someone had said to her two years ago that her best friend and her cousin -- two people who had, up until last year, never shared her own enthusiasm for journalism -- would have ended up landing an internship at the Daily Planet together, she would have laughed. Busted a spleen from the sheer absurdity of it.
Now, at twenty-two, Lois is fast making a name for herself, and at twenty, Clark, like Chloe, is already two years into his degree at Metropolis University.
They both study at the same college, but they rarely see each other. Clark doesn't have the time to contribute to the college paper, not with the added weight of an internship on his plate, and the campus is so large that it's only on rare occasions that they ever bump into one another.
They still see each other during social calls, but they're few and far between, and Chloe learnt long ago that trying to salvage whatever friendship they may have shared in the past is a challenge not worth attempting. She's learnt to let it go with some modicum of dignity intact.
Swallowing that particular regret, she forces herself to voice the question Bart knows is coming.
"Why are we here?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he replies, and she rolls her eyes.
"Obviously not," she snaps, "otherwise I wouldn't be asking. Are you usually this dense?"
"Are you usually this ignorant?"
The comment knocks her off kilter and she whirls to face him. She's been called a lot of things in her lifetime -- selfish, ruthless, careless -- but never ignorant.
It hurts to hear him say it.
"I am not ignorant!" she protests indignantly, and she wishes he'd smirk or something, let her know that he's only teasing her, trying to rile her up. But he looks deadly serious. His dark eyes are quiet and solemn and it finally looks like he's tired of playing her game.
"It's right in front of your eyes, and you can't even see it," he says ominously, and she sputters at his use of clichés and shakes her head in annoyance. God is she tired of this jig.
He spins her around, his hold on her arms tight and harsh. He forces her to face the restaurant again and she knows what he's going to say.
"You lost that game, Chloe. You waited and you waited and when he didn't come to you, you betrayed him."
She opens her mouth, instinctively preparing mindless words to defend herself, but all that she manages to get out is, "How d--"
"You're not the only one who talks too much," he cuts in, and carries on like he hasn't just dredged up her deepest, darkest secret and the biggest mistake she's ever made; the one that almost got her and her father killed.
It was the beginning of the end of a friendship that she had treasured for years, and she's lived with the shame ever since.
But Bart blunders on past that, past the shame, and digs down into the gnarly pit of truth that sits in her belly.
She had played that game and she had lost. Her pride, her best friend, and her cousin.
All she had gained was bitterness.
And he had come to take that away, and what had she offered him in return? More bitterness. More games. A lesser man would have walked away sooner.
But he hasn't. He walks out of her life and back in again, each time never doubting that he will get through to her eventually.
Does she deserve that sort of faith? That degree of determination?
She is his challenge, but not in the way she had first thought.
And he is her challenge, but again, not in the way she had first thought.
Chloe knows there's learning to be done. He needs to learn that choices are not as simple as saying yes or no. She needs to learn that to know a person she has to acknowledge the good with the bad, and accept them as they come.
Hard lessons to learn. Hard words to hear.
This was only supposed to be a mindless liaison. But they've said things now that they can't take back, done things and felts things that have turned a simple, potential tryst into a complex affair. This has gone way past sex. They've come too far to blame the consequences on simple chemistry and there's too much hurt here for a simple resolve, an easy fix, even if Bart has yet to see it.
She closes her eyes and wonders if things would have been easier had she simply given in the first time.
And then she realises that Bart is still talking. Still trying to prove to her that playing games doesn't work. Except she gets that now, but what she also gets is that he's gone way past casual at this point. There's been too much effort of his part, too much time spent trying to persuade her into being with him. Months of tracking her down, winding her up, dragging her out at night to confront old flames and bury past regrets.
She's more than a passing fancy. She knows that now.
Whether Bart does is another matter.
"I'm going home," she says quietly, and those three simple words shut him up more effectively than screaming and shouting at him would have. He's about to protest but something must show on her face, she realises, because he swallows his words. His mouth clamps closed and his jaw tightens.
She turns to leave. When she realizes he isn't following she turns around again and looks at him thoughtfully. He's staring at her, his profile painted dark by the shadows, blonde hair shining through and falling into eyes she can't read.
She smiles gently, but knows he can't see her from here. She wants to say something, anything, to prove to him that she doesn't hate him like she pretends she does, that she doesn't really want him to leave. Just something to show that things were different now.
"I'll see you around," she promises, and knows it's enough.