Look and See
[Author's notes can be found at the end of the story.]
and there's this moth outside my kitchen door
she's bonkers for that bare bulb
~ ani difranco, 'evolve'
"Rowr!" Lois purred as she clicked through the photos from the wire service. Superman had been on the scene of a minor earthquake in Bolivia just that morning. Thanks to a convenient rockslide and some artistically placed rips in his costume, suddenly the whole world knew just why he was called the Man of Steel. "Ooh," Lois said, clicking to the next one. "Oh my." She clicked again. "Hachi machi!"
Across the desk, Clark heaved a sigh, hitting the keys on his keyboard a little more forcefully than he really had to. "I really don't know what you see in him, Lois."
Lois didn't take her eyes off her computer screen. "Yeah. Amazing how some women like a real man."
Clark pushed his thick glasses up the bridge of his nose and glared. "Not every woman thinks big muscles define masculinity."
"Lucky for you." Lois smirked. "I think it's only cliche-loving romance novelists like your friend Sullivan who go for tall-dark-and-idiot any more. I was referring to Superman's personality."
"What personality? The guy's a brick. He's got no sense of humor, no irony." Clark said. "Who would pick the name 'Superman' if they-- Oh, crap."
"You just reminded me. I was going to bring Chloe some chicken soup today."
Lois arched an eyebrow. "You forgot?"
"Hello, earthquake in Bolivia!" Clark said, glancing sideways. "Which I was, um. Researching. As you know." He stood up, then paused. "Oh, by the way, she's not going to be able to make it to lunch with us on Thursday. I know it's like the third time she's cancelled, but this flu bug that's going around--"
"Whatever," Lois slouched back in her chair, carelessly examining her nails. "I don't know why you're always trying to introduce us, anyway. I can't even begin to imagine what we might have in common."
Clark gave her a disappointed look, grabbed his jacket and headed for the stairs. The instant he was out of sight, Lois was out of her chair and on her way, only daring to quicken her steps once she was out of the elevator and in the lobby. Once outside, she ducked behind a pillar, kicked off her four-inch heels and ran.
Ten seconds later and a couple of dozen blocks away, she paused, hesitated, then kicked the top off a fire hydrant. Car alarms began to blare as water gushed into the air and pattered down on the sidewalks. She zipped away before the spray could dampen her clothes.
Clark would be passing by in a second or two, she told herself. He'd take care of it. All in a day's work, right?
Home! She broke her key jamming it against the lock, sighed, hit the door with her shoulder to dislodge the deadbolt, and slipped inside. She tossed her shoes and long, dark wig into the back corner of her lingerie drawer, popped out her brown contact lenses and scrubbed a washcloth over her face. Luckily, she was supposed to be sick, so a tousled 'do could be excused. Still moving in super-speed, she pulled a terrycloth bathrobe on over her blazer and miniskirt and collapsed on the couch, waiting for Clark to knock.
Which he did, five seconds later. "Hey, Chloe? It's me."
"Come on in!" Chloe called. She gave Clark a pitiful sick smile as he let himself in, a bag over his arm. She stared at it hard as he hung up his coat. For once, the x-ray vision worked without giving her a splitting headache. Chicken soup and bagels from the corner deli. "Your hair's wet," she said. "Is it raining out there?"
"Oh, um. Yeah. A little." Clark put the bag from the deli down on Chloe's coffee table. "Are you sure you're okay here all alone? You're flushed."
"I'm totally fine!" Chloe grabbed a handy legal pad and fanned herself, thanking her lucky stars that Clark had stopped to get soup. She was fast, but not that fast. "Just brainstorming for the next masterpiece. That's the nice thing about the novel-writing gig, you know... I can work just as well when I'm sick."
"Oh. Okay." Clark looked around, fidgeting with the knot of his tie. "You want a glass of water or something?"
"No, I'm fine." Chloe reached for the bag with the styrofoam cup of soup in it, then blinked as she heard, somewhere close, the crack of concrete, the spray of debris. An explosion, and a huge one if she were judging the distance correctly. She knew Clark had heard it, too. Well, of course he had.
"You know, I just remembered--" Clark began, already edging towards the door, and Chloe stood up.
"I think I'm gonna throw up." She dashed for the bathroom. "Run to the corner store! Get ginger ale!"
"Okay!" Clark sounded as though he were already in the hall. Up, up and away.
For Chloe, of course, it was wig, contact lenses, heels, makeup, purse, sunglasses, out the fire escape, down the alley and away. Clark was at least twice as fast as she was, so she didn't have any hope of getting there in time to actually help. But that was okay, because she wasn't half as strong or resilient as Clark was, either. She'd gotten a dose of Clark's powers by accidentally getting in the way of a contraption that Lex Luthor had built, apparently in order to turn Superman powerless-- but she hadn't gotten all of them. According to Pete, Clark had regained all his abilities in a couple of days. At the time, Chloe had hoped her new powers would fade, but they hadn't. Six months later and she still had the strength, speed, hearing and some x-ray vision. All of which were coming in really handy in her quest to find out what the hell Lex was really up to.
She arrived at the waterfront just in time for the thrilling denouement: speak of the devil, Lex was there, decidedly stone-faced as Superman handed over a couple of unconscious bad guys to the cops. Digging in her bag for her digital camera, Chloe got a couple of shots of the tableau. Sometimes Lex's bodyguards tended to confiscate cameras, so she used the wireless function on hers to e-mail them to her account at the Planet, cc'ing them to Jimmy Olsen just in case.
She'd been startled to see Lex there, but only for a moment. Since the accident, she'd been doing a lot of digging. She'd been able to tie him to more than half the underground and illicit goings-on in Metropolis-- and she'd found out what generally happened to people who did a lot of digging in Lex Luthor's affairs. It was all Pete's fault, really. He was the one who'd said, 'Maybe you ought to have a secret identity.' Okay, so he hadn't been serious, but if Clark could do it, why couldn't she?
"Mr. Luthor!" Chloe shouted, elbowing past a LexCorp security guard and putting just a little bit of super-strength into the shove.
It had taken surprisingly little effort to establish Lois as a viable alternate identity. Thanks to her inside sources with the cops, the DMV and various other organizations, Chloe had been able to plant the appropriate paperwork with a minimum of fuss. And hey, back in tenth grade, who could've known that Chad the Goth would eventually be a really good contact at the state department? Buy a guy one pair of thigh-high fishnets in high school, and apparently he owed you for life.
"Ms. Lane." Lex turned to Chloe with an expression of loathing just microns less hateful than the look he'd been aiming at Superman. Once again, Chloe was glad she had a disguise, even a lame one. "How do you always manage to be the first at the scene?" he asked thoughtfully. "More exclusives from the alien?" He made it sound obscene.
Chloe lowered her voice even more than she usually did as Lois, making it a husky, accusing growl. "I suppose you're going to claim that it's just a coincidence that you were in the area?"
"As I told the police, I've been interested in this property for months, and the scheduled inspection has been on the books for weeks--" Lex's gloved fist tightened around the silver head of his walking stick as he spoke. Chloe kept her eyes narrow, her mouth tight in Lois' constant, knowing frown. Suddenly, unexpectedly, her eyes went out on her, x-ray vision turning day into night, human forms into blue puzzles, buckles and rings and bones. She tried to keep her expression neutral, though the pain stabbing through her temples was hard to ignore. Dropping her gaze, she swallowed a sudden gasp.
She brought her hand to her face, miming a careless yawn to cover her shock. With an effort, she dragged her eyes back up to Lex's face, watching his skull with its empty eyes flicker beneath his pale, drawn face as he finished laying out some thinly veiled insult to Lois Lane's journalistic integrity and/or skirt length. Chloe didn't take it personally. She kind of meant for people to focus most of their attention on Lois' legs.
"You can't hide forever, Luthor," she said. "The day you get careless, you know I'll be there."
Whatever Lex was going to say, he cut off as Superman approached them. "Miss Lane." Superman said. "Any problems here?"
"None at all," Chloe said, raising a hand to flip her hair back off her shoulder.
Clark looked at her, his expression soft and concerned. For a moment Chloe wondered how anyone was ever fooled by the glasses, the cape, the disguises Clark wore to shield himself from the world. But of course they were fooled, and most importantly, Lex was fooled. If he had even had a glimmer of an idea that Clark was Superman, none of Clark's friends or family would be safe. That had been obvious since the night Chloe had gained her powers.
"Luthor." Clark acknowledged Lex, his voice hard. Chloe still didn't know how Lex had lured Superman to that underground facility, but she wouldn't have put it past him to use Clark's friends or family as bait, if he'd known. There wasn't much she'd put past him, now.
Lex nodded icily. "Superman. Your assistance is appre--"
"Do you need a lift back to the Planet, Miss Lane?" Clark turned to her, cutting Lex off mid-word. She was smiling, moving toward his outstretched arm before she remembered she had to get home, not back to the Planet.
"Actually, that's all right," she said. "Maybe some other time."
He smiled back, almost a Clark-like grin, and lifted off. Chloe glanced back at Lex one last time, but he'd already turned his back, stalking away,
Chloe took a step back, turning and shouldering through the crowd that was beginning to form around the periphery of the action. Clark had to go back to wherever he'd stashed his pants, and also buy ginger ale, so Chloe just had time to make it back to the apartment and change. As soon as she was safely out of sight, she ran.
Pete shrugged off his long wool coat as he stepped into the Roosevelt, heading for a booth near the back. He was fifteen minutes late for lunch with Clark, but of course Clark wasn't there yet. Clark was always twenty minutes late to everything, and Pete had learned to plan his schedule accordingly.
He ordered a Heineken and spread his notes across the table. Just as he'd figured, Clark showed up less than five minutes later, running his hand back through his hair and adjusting his glasses. "Hey, man, sorry--"
"No problem." Pete pushed the budget papers into a messy stack and shoved them back into his briefcase. "By the way," he said, pulling out a folded copy of one of Metropolis' small alternative newspapers. He shook it out, handing it across the table to Clark. "Check it out."
"Hey, all right!" Clark grinned as he saw where Pete was pointing. He read to himself, "Blah blah region's projected growth rate blah blah business tax... 'The 2.5 percent increase just makes sense,' said Peter Ross, aide to city councilman Erik Dorsey, who initially favored an additional... Hey, Pete, this is awesome."
"It's not bad." Pete grinned.
"You know if you have a big exclusive, though, you gotta come to me." Clark pointed across the table at him as the waitress approached. "Hi," he said, "I'll have what he's having, and the--" He broke off as his cell phone rang. "Scuse me... Hello? Uh, hi, Lois!"
Pete sighed. "You have onion rings, right?" he asked the waitress as Clark tried unsuccessfully to interrupt whatever lecture he was receiving. "And you have cheese fries? Okay. Put the cheese on the onion rings, nuke it. That's what he wants."
He glanced at Clark for confirmation, and got a big, sunny grin. The waitress saw it too, and got that 'what a cute couple' look as she wrote the order down. Pete sighed. He couldn't take Clark anywhere.
"Lois," Clark said, a persecuted tone creeping into his voice as the waitress walked away. "No, I did. No, it's on your desk. Your desk! Yes, Lois, I know I took a half day yesterday-- I'm with a source, okay? What do you mean, what sources? I do too have sources!" He winced and held the phone away from his ear.
Even from across the table, Pete could hear Chloe on the other end of the line, barking in the husky Lois-voice she used when she was being Ms. Hotshot Reporter. He made a sympathetic face at Clark. He still couldn't get over how that deep, sexy growl came out of tiny little Chloe. It was like something out of the Exorcist. Sure, Clark sounded different as Superman, but he didn't do a whole other voice.
"Lois, I have to go. No, really, I'm, I'm going now." Clark insisted. Finally he just clicked the phone shut. "Oh God, I'm gonna pay for that one." He sighed and looked across the table at Pete. "Now you have to give me a scoop."
Pete thought about telling Clark 'Hey, your partner secretly has superpowers.' But Chloe had sworn him to silence, after all. "Commissioner Schiele is secretly a sex kitten."
"Oh yeah," Pete said. "Sure, she looks all severe, but in person? She smells like peppermint."
"Peppermint," Clark said.
"Sexy peppermint," Pete clarified just as the waitress came back with Clark's beer and cheesy onion rings. She beamed at them some more. Pete rubbed his hands over his face. "So," he said, "how is Lois?"
"Enjoying making my life miserable, as always," Clark grumbled, grabbing for an onion ring and stuffing it in his mouth. Pete tried to pick one up, but they were too hot. He sucked on his fingers and took a drink of his beer instead. "She's only lived in Metropolis for what, a couple of months now? But she has all these connections, she knows everything, and she's always getting places before I do. How does she do that? I mean, seriously, it's inhuman!"
Pete pressed his lips together and didn't say a word. He didn't even smirk. God, Chloe owed him big. He still remembered the night she'd shown up at his apartment, shaking like a leaf. Only Chloe Sullivan could run across a secret scientific installation underneath the LexCorp public basketball fields while doing research on a romance novel. Only Chloe would investigate it all on her own, and only Chloe would run between Superman, a fucking evil genius and his meteor-rock-powered laser.
"Yep," Pete watched Clark eat onion rings, feeling a sudden urge to be evil. "It is pretty amazing how someone you've only known a little while can get under your skin like that."
"She's that annoying!" Clark insisted, the subtext flying right over his head. "I mean, she's always stealing my pens, she's always commenting on my glasses, on my ties-- I like my ties!"
"I know you do," Pete said sympathetically. He'd heard both Clark and Chloe's versions of the story. When Chloe had been knocked out, Clark had panicked. Tried to get them out, but he'd lost the power of flight, plus his heat and x-ray vision, too. Superman had torn his way out of the installation with his bare hands, leaving Lex behind, and run an unconscious Chloe back to her apartment. Luckily, Lex had never seen Chloe's face, and Clark had gotten all his powers back in under a week. Everything could've gone back to normal if it hadn't been for Chloe waking up just a little bit... super.
"--and she corrects my grammar when I haven't even finished a rough draft yet, and she hums when I'm trying to work, and she's always calling me a flake--"
"Well, you are," Pete said. Clark gave him a look that managed to convey hurt feelings and 'I could fry you like this onion ring' at the same time. "Hey, I know you're not really, and you know you're not really, but you were twenty minutes late for lunch--"
"Four-alarm fire," Clark muttered.
"And you stood me up completely the last two times I called you, and man, I don't want to know what that's like when a person's trying to make a deadline."
"But it's not even that," Clark said. He frowned, scraping at the label on his beer bottle with his fingernail. "If she just doesn't like me, that's fine. I can deal. But she-- I mean, I'm him! The guy she admires!" he finally burst out. "It's like she doesn't even see me! I mean, she's supposed to be a reporter!"
"Wow," Pete said, wide-eyed. He pressed his lips together, then thought, the hell with it. "I guess some people are just dumb." Oh, Clark was going to kill him for this someday, but right now, it was worth it. "I mean, there you are, right under her nose all day long. Mister Secret Identity. That's pretty stupid."
"Not stupid," Clark hedged, picking desultorily at the last of the onion rings. "Just blind. How can she be so blind?"
Pete stifled the urge to reach across the table and poke Clark in the eye with his fork. After all, it wasn't like it would hurt Clark, and it would make Pete feel a lot better. "Pretty mind-boggling, all right."
Chloe was curled up on the couch working on her latest novel; specifically, the sex scene in the hayloft. Cody was just about to unbutton Darcy's jeans when Chloe heard a knock at the door. She glanced up, squinting to look through the door with her x-ray vision.
"Hi Pete!" she yelled, hiding her notepad under the couch cushions and hopping up to let him in. Okay, she was only wearing her rattiest sweats, and her hair was tied up in two dorky ponytails on the top of her head, but Pete had seen her looking worse. Besides, he had two bags of Chinese food hanging off his arms. "Well, Mr. Ross!" she said, affecting a slight Southern accent as she opened the door. "Whatever brings you to my humble abode?"
She grabbed for the Chinese food, but Pete held the bags out of her reach, looking at her suspiciously. "I thought you had the flu!"
"Why would you think that?"
"I had lunch with Clark the other day. He said you were sick."
"Hello, freakish alien powers?" Chloe rolled her eyes. "Clark doesn't get sick, I don't get sick-- bring back those spring rolls or I'll crush your head!"
Pete rolled his eyes right back as he came in. "Next time let me in on the cover story, okay? According to Clark you were puking your guts out." He shoved the Chinese takeout boxes into Chloe's arms and poked her in the forehead. "You should just tell him already. I can't keep this crap straight."
"Pete!" Chloe dropped the takeout boxes on her coffee table and faced him down, hands on her hips. "Don't tell me you've been giving Clark hints about me."
"Only since we were in middle school." Pete pulled his scarf off, giving Chloe a dry look.
"You know what I mean!"
"No, I haven't been giving Clark hints about you, in any sense," Pete said, shrugging off his coat.
"Good. Because you know what? I am so over Clark," Chloe said, heading into the kitchen. She waited for Pete to express his skepticism. She couldn't really blame him, considering this was maybe the third or fourth time she'd been over Clark. This time, though, she was pretty sure she honestly was. Okay, so she got a little residual tingle when Superman swept Lois Lane into his arms, but Chloe was fully aware that neither one of them was real.
Pete hadn't said anything so far. Chloe swung the fridge door open and kept chattering. "I was worried about working with him? But all it's done is show me that I couldn't get further over Clark without suddenly developing, you know, flying powers. What do you want to drink?" She waited. "Pete?"
"Uh," Pete said after a pause. "What do you have?"
"Water, orange juice, hard lemonade."
"Lemonade," Pete said.
Chloe came back out with two plates and two bottles. Collapsing on the couch next to Pete, she handed him a plate, then popped the metal cap off her lemonade with her teeth. Pete winced and handed his back. "You want to get mine too, Supergirl?"
"Don't make me crush you like a bug," Chloe said. "Anyway. Sure, there's always going to be some little part of me that's, you know... fond of him. But even if I wasn't over him? He still wouldn't be into me." She grinned, taking a long drink of her lemonade. "There's someone else in our boy's life."
"What? Like who?" Pete sat up. "He didn't say anything about that to me."
"Oh, he wouldn't have mentioned this." Chloe ripped the wrapper off her chopsticks as Pete opened up a few of the takeout cartons. "See, Clark's fallen boots over ass for Lois Lane."
She used the long pause to pile some lemon chicken on her plate. She offered the carton to Pete when she was done, and he took it, looking at her disbelievingly. "But he hates her! At lunch the other day he couldn't stop talking about her! He literally spent half an hour... Oh my God. He totally wants her."
"I know, I know!"
Pete shook his head. "But you are Lois Lane!"
"I know!" Chloe said, louder and with arm gestures this time. "Ironic, isn't it!"
"But then what's the problem?"
"Well, Clark's problem is that Lois is a bitch to him and has a crush on Superman." Chloe said. "I thought it would annoy him!" She stabbed repeatedly at an innocent shrimp with her chopsticks. "I guess he just thought it was cute."
Pete continued to stare at her. "You know what this is? This is a good sign," he finally said. "No, it is. You know why? Because you're both fucked in the head. You are so insane you just have to get together."
"I'm over Clark!" Chloe insisted.
Pete just sighed and reached for his lemonade. "Whatever you say."
After Chloe and Pete finished eating, they decided to watch a movie. "What do you have?" Pete swung open Chloe's DVD cabinet and looked inside. "'The Saint'? That Val Kilmer, he's a hottie. Or 'Charade.' Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant-- classic."
"I'm sensing a pattern. Is that you trying to be witty?" Chloe put her feet up on the coffee table. "Something without secret identities, please."
"Order of the Phoenix? Third Spiderman movie?" Pete pulled out the DVD and waved it over his shoulder. "Oh, wait, no."
Chloe leaned forward, searching the coffee table for something to throw at the back of his head. Her fingers closed around Pete's gloves, and she shivered, suddenly remembering what she'd seen at the waterfront. She'd tried to put it out of her head all afternoon, but she didn't think she'd ever be able to entirely forget. Lex's hand... the bones... that silver-headed walking stick wasn't just for show. Chloe wasn't a doctor, but she was beginning to be familiar with what healthy insides looked like, and Lex's hand-- it had looked like cancer. It hadn't looked good.
"God," she said suddenly, and Pete turned around to face her.
"Chloe?" he said. "I'm sorry, I was just kidding--"
"No, it's not that," she said. She was clutching the gloves a little too tightly, she realized. They were still somewhat warm from Pete's hands. She made herself put them down. "It's Lex. He has cancer. I saw it today."
Pete looked at her across the table. "Give me a hint. Am I supposed to look sad?"
"Pete!" She stood up and paced to the edge of the room, rubbing at her arms. "Don't you get it? That's why. That's why he put that machine together, the one with the laser beam and the meteor rock. It wasn't about taking Superman's powers away, it was about getting them for himself. Getting better... God, I knew something was going on. I snuck in that night, got between him and Clark, got these fucking powers and I never knew why. Well, that's why." She looked down at her hands. "He's dying."
"You think it was that ring?" Pete said, his voice low. "The one made out of meteor rock."
"Probably." Chloe shook her head, her mind flying back over the events of the past six months or so. A lot of things were falling into place, making sense. The part of her mind that talked in the Lois voice was glowing with excitement. What a story this was. She told her brain to shut up. "It was after that night that he really changed. Even Clark said, once. I don't think they'd been speaking to each other for a while, but after that... It was like he just didn't care any more."
"He could have killed you that night," Pete said, standing up. He came over and took Chloe by the arms. "He could have killed Clark. I'd say he stopped caring a while ago."
"I know they hadn't spoken to each other since Clark was in college or God knows when. We both know they were lying to each other from day one. But--" Chloe's voice was shaking now. "God, if they hadn't? He could've just asked! You think Clark wouldn't have found some way to help? If he'd just, if they'd ever been honest with each other, instead of all the lying and--"
Pete sighed, pulled her close and kissed her.
Chloe froze, eyes going wide. Pete slid his arm around her waist and tilted his head to get a better angle for the kiss. His mouth was soft and warm, and his tongue, brushing gently against hers, tasted like sweet-and-sour sauce.
"You're a crazy woman with freakish alien powers," he said when he pulled back for breath. "And I've been in love with you for half my life."
Chloe stared at him, blinking rapidly, then hugged him close, leaning her head on his shoulder. "Pete..."
"No, it's okay," Pete said with a sigh. "Go on, shoot me down, we'll watch a movie, it'll be fine. I just figured I'd be the one guy in your life who actually put his cards on the table."
"They're good cards," Chloe said. She didn't know why she felt even more like crying. "Really good."
"Thanks," Pete said, like he knew she was just saying it to be nice, but she really wasn't. She wasn't, so she sniffled, found his face with her hands and leaned up to kiss him.
Pete made a squeaky noise, his mouth dropping open in totally unsophisticated surprise. Chloe rocked back on her heels. "Don't you want to kiss me?"
"You're not going to shoot me down?"
Chloe shook her head. Pete laughed, and kissed her cheek and the corner of her eye and the side of her nose, and then her mouth again, although by that time Chloe was laughing too.
Ten minutes later, they were on the couch, and Chloe's heart was pounding like it just never did any more, even when she ran twenty miles in two minutes. Pete's hand slid up her thigh, gently.
"Don't crush me," he said into her hair, and she smacked him.
Pete pulled back a little. "I didn't mean like that," he said. "I meant--"
"Pete. You believe me, right?" Chloe interrupted. "That I'm over Clark?"
Pete looked at her for a long moment, bringing up a hand to toy with one of her ponytails. He flicked it, then drew his finger down the side of her face, regarding her with a strange, patient look in his deep brown eyes.
Chloe blushed. "What are you doing?"
Pete didn't answer for the longest time, but when he did, he was smiling. "Just looking at you," he said. "Seeing you."
Author's Notes: I was soliciting ideas for a good Chloe AU when Fox said this: *Maybe Chloe's going to go into the witness protection program, change her name, dye her hair, and become Lois Lane. And Clark, who's "special", will never notice.*
I was inspired. The rest is history. :) Thanks to Spike and LaT for beta'ing, and Becc and Pearl-o for their thoughts. I welcome every sort of feedback.
The summary of the story is also from 'evolve' by ani difranco. Sorry about that. I suck at summaries.
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