Packing stacks of yellowed newspapers into boxes, Chloe ignored
the rabbling sounds of the bullpen around her. Mack Fletcher had a
hot tip that Bruce Wayne had been spotted with a hooker in Rio de
Janeiro, and Fletch had gathered quite a crowd describing the
prostitute in question, down to the mole on her ass and inventive
use of body mod for enhanced oral stimulation. Somebody needed to
call him on his misogynistic bullshit fantasies, but it wouldn't
be Chloe, not today.
She had places to be; the last place she wanted to be. A pale
pink nightmare of taffeta and tulle hung from the hook in her car,
and a gold-edged invitation graced her dashboard. She was
cordially invited to witness the marriage of Lana Louise Lang and
Peter David Ross, and lucky her, she'd be witnessing it from the
altar steps, costumed and accessorized by an egregious bouquet of
Chloe didn't begrudge Lana her day; she and Pete made each
other disgustingly happy, the kind of happy people could spot in
the middle of a raucous party, the kind of happy that made even
the hardest-hearted romantiphobe point out how right they looked
together. They deserved a celebration. However, Lana also deserved
a sound beating for her cotton candy sartorial aesthetic, and for
naming Chloe the Maid of Honor, considering Pete's choice for Best
Divine intervention, or, his usual scattershot approach to all
things scheduled, had kept Clark from attending the rehearsals, so
for two weeks in a row, Chloe had step-together-stepped up the
aisle of Smallville Methodist by herself, cheeks burning with
embarrassment when Lana insisted she should at least *pretend*
Clark was there. Holding her elbow aloft for an invisible arm was
bad enough; she wasn't looking forward to hanging on the real
With a quick snap, Chloe dropped her boxes beneath her desk,
then locked the drawers to keep scavenging journalists from
raiding her Bit O' Honey stash in her absence. They'd probably try
anyway, and she'd have to call maintenance to replace her desk -
again. Already bitter about the possibility, she narrowed her eyes
at Fletch and the gang as she tugged her purse over her shoulder
and strode past. "Why don't you tell them how much you paid
an hour to "interview" Miss Chi Chi, Fletcher?"
Okay, so she couldn't help puncturing his man of the universe
routine; she considered it a design flaw. Satisfied by the waves
of jeers that rose in her wake, Chloe as she jogged to catch the
elevator. In three hours, she'd be in Smallville again; in
twenty-four, she'd see Clark. From the occasional glimpses she
caught when he walked past the Inquisitor building to raid Mo's
Diner for lunch, he hadn't changed much. Correction, he hadn't
changed at all, except for the ridiculously affected glasses she
knew he didn't need.
Maybe he thought they made him look smart, or maybe Lois liked
them- it wasn't something she wanted to think about in great
detail, because that would require a depth of examination that
would both hurt and sharpen her temper, all at the same time.
She'd made all the appropriate lies and noises when Lois asked if
it was all right to date him (oh no, it's totally okay; I've been
over him for years, go for it) so really, it was her own fault
when Lois *actually* went ahead and dated him, but that didn't
mean Chloe couldn't be quietly bitter about it in the confines of
her own head.
She had plenty of room to be bitter, too. Slipping behind the
wheel of her latest cherry red Bug, Chloe cranked the engine and
the radio up, the pleasant thrum of horsepower and alt rock
buzzing her brain into temporary silence. That bliss lasted all
the way to the highway, abruptly halted by some neo-Neanderthal
jerk in a green SUV. Contrary to popular opinion, the absurd MSRP
affixed to land-yachts did not actually confer to the owner the
deed and title to Route 9.
Which brought her back to bitter, and three hours' worth of
driving filled with nothing but cornfield vistas and time to
think. She lingered on the verge of a sneeze, degraded newspaper
particles tickling her nose, and the musty scent of near-ancient
Torch issues still permeated each breath.
The articles (the ones with her name on the byline and the
breathlessly purple reportage she'd finally worked out of her
system in college) seemed like a time capsule of her own naïveté.
'Hardcore Rage and Raging Hormones,' 'Torch Torched; Town
Tormented,' 'Fire and Ice and Everything Not So Nice,' she must
have suffered some meteor-induced environmental brain damage to
write those headlines with a straight face. Then again, she
*had* ended up at the Inquisitor, so maybe she'd always been
destined for deep tabloid insignificance.
Not like Pulitzer Lois, who'd gotten her start with stories
Chloe had written - again not that she was bitter, except when she
was. Lois had everything, even the audacity to fling herself on
Chloe's couch and complain when Clark disappeared in the middle of
dinner for the thousandth time. A couple more times, and Chloe
would bite a hole all the way through her tongue, and on the
upside, maybe she could use the existing wound to upgrade to a Rio
de Janeiro hooker stud, wouldn't that be fun?
Chloe wasn't religious, unless an intimate faith in verifiable
facts and disprovable fictions counted, but she knew that lies
were sins and sins of omission were lies, so each time she smiled
at Lois, shrugging in that carefree way she didn't feel while she
reassured her that Clark was flaky but he didn't mean anything by
his chronic unreliability, she stained her soul with a one-two
Rationally, she knew she shouldn't be angry, but sometimes,
when the moon was especially full, or her answering machine was
especially empty, Chloe wanted to grab Lois by the lapels of her
Donna Karan suits and shake her until her teeth rattled.
"Open your eyes, Lois," that's what she'd shout.
"You write about it every day, put it together!" After
all, Lois was twenty-six, not sixteen, she'd been in love before,
and grown out of the starry-eyed stupid phase. The fact that
Clark's vanishing acts tended to coincide with Superman's feats of
heroism should have been obvious to her.
But they weren't, so Chloe would pop another antacid and smile,
smile, smile though the world had an unnerving tendency to piss
her off, lately. At least she could salve her own gullibility with
back-issues of a high school newspaper; she knew the truth, now.
She'd known for a while actually, but Clark had made it
abundantly clear that he didn't want to talk about it, so she
never asked. She never even hinted. The one secret she'd managed
to keep, completely and totally, and she couldn't even expect a
pat on the shoulder for it, not, of course, that people should
expect rewards for maintaining confidences, but a little latitude
might have been nice considering she'd been sitting on the story
of the millennium for years. At least she held her tongue because
she cared, not like certain smooth-headed billionaires who'd
probably mapped it down to the second and hour, when he'd finally
reveal his hand.
Metropolis United Charities had been a sham; Social Services
had absolutely no record of a three year old boy in or out of the
system around the time the Kents adopted Clark, every kid she
could find that remotely matched as a possibility was accounted
for, oh, and Lex didn't exactly tell her to make herself at home
in the mansion when she waited to foolishly feed him more and more
information, but he hadn't told her not to, either. She had
plausible deniability, unlike the Shrine of Creepy that spelled
out Lex's obsession and Clark's real heritage for her in
de-interlaced, monochromatic blues.
Lex never asked why she gave up the research lapdog position,
which was good, because she would have had to lie, and she had a
tendency to ramble until the truth came out anyway. There were
probably cameras in the mansion, anyway- she used to wonder if he
had them in the bedroom, too; considering how many wives had gone
black widow on him, she wouldn't have blamed him- so he knew
enough. He knew she'd seen the room, but her thoughts, her very
private thoughts and revelations, stayed locked up in her head and
nowhere else. Short of mind control and torture, that's where
they'd stay, too.
Knowing Clark's secret felt like power; impotent power, because
it's not like she could use it for anything, but a little was
better than nothing. Besides, sometimes she still pulled out her
favorite daydream production: Chloe Finally Gets Her Man.
Without reality to muddy things up, Clark was passionate,
amazed at her dedication, and he couldn't keep his hands off of
her when he finally discovered just how faithful she'd been to him
since she'd sworn off adding integers to the things that didn't
add up about him.
She turned the fantasy off before it got to heavy nudity time,
though- now that she'd had real sex, she found it hard to maintain
the dewy, soap-opera perfection of fantasy without something
completely mundane slipping in. As infuriatingly clumsy as Clark
could be in real life, she preferred that he never accidentally
put his elbow on her hair, or have to stop to pull a stray pube
off his tongue, in her dreams.
To say that the State of the Chloe Sullivan Address was
conflicted when it came to the domestic matter of Clark Kent would
be understating it by a magnitude. She was older, and smarter;
most of the time, she had dates on Friday nights, even if none of
those dates had taken as a permanent addition to her social life.
She had a good job where her editor encouraged her to spend four
days in the field in search of a teenager purported to possess the
ability to walk through walls, and in spite of a few early, Ikea
missteps, she had an amazingly cool apartment.
It was a good life.
Still, sometimes, she couldn't help but think Lois had the good
life that should have been hers. Sometimes, she couldn't help
blaming Clark, because there was no point in being a *little*
irrational, when she could secure a place in the Unreasonable Hall
Flipping the bird at yet another urban destroyer pulling a
Lewis and Clark on the fast lane, Chloe muttered something nasty
under her breath and jabbed at the CD player. She needed something
up-tempo and angst-free, something that would put her in the mood
for two of her oldest friends' wedding. Unfortunately, she had
driving music, which trended toward loud and poundy, in the first
six slots of her changer. If she hadn't been knotted up bemoaning
her outcast state when she left Metropolis, she might have had the
sense to put one of Pete's mix CDs in the player, but no... she
planned to blame that on Clark, too.
She felt a vibration, and had enough time to curse the
transmission for sensing the end of her warranty, when everything
turned over. A flash of pink tulle whipped around her head, and
the invitation, with its multiple sheets of vellum and tissue
paper, exploded like a flock of frightened doves. Through a
spidered windshield, she saw the SUV skid across the highway in
front of her; then the sky, then the highway again before
everything went red in a haze of shattered glass.
Floating away from the car, she hoped that God had a sense of
humor. It was probably too late to convert, and besides, what if
she chose the wrong religion? It would be just her luck to show up
in heaven and find out it was actually Valhalla, sorry Odin, I
thought you were a Jewish carpenter. Relieved that death didn't
hurt, she *was* a little disappointed that it was so cold. Wind
whipped around her, turning her fingers to ice, and after a
moment, it occurred to her to open her eyes.
Clark smiled, a strange aura of confidence surrounding him.
Once upon a time in Smallville, they were uncertain, or sheepish;
sometimes brilliant, but they never stayed long, not like this
one. "If you wanted a ride, you could have called me."
The only thing Chloe could think to say was, "You'd better
not be God, Clark."
"Not even close." Dropping through a misty mass of
clouds, Clark scanned the horizon. The earth looked like a quilt
from up there, brown and green patches sewn together with white
fences, farmhouse buttons and blue river ribbons. Forget the view
from LexCorp Towers, *this* was the way to see Kansas.
Chloe craned to look over his shoulder, clutching an arm tight
as her expression darkened. "What about..."
A vulnerable note crept into Clark's voice; she recognized that
part of him; that hadn't changed. "Dead before I got
there." With a deep breath, he dropped a few more feet, an
exhilarating free fall that ended abruptly. "I'm going to put
you down in the ravine. If anybody asks, you weren't wearing your
seatbelt and you got thrown free."
Turning back to squint at him, Chloe exhaled a thin laugh. Just
like him to finally show her what he could do, then expect her to
lie about it. "Clark, Superman saves people all the time. I
promise, it's not a conflict of interest."
"You're the only one who survived. People won't understand
that I couldn't get there in time to save everyone." Pursing
his lips, regret rippled across his brow, then a light went off,
snuffed from within. Suddenly, he dropped again, the wind
screaming around them, and Chloe's stomach fluttered, like she was
taking the first hill of a roller coaster.
In the distance, sirens screamed toward the accident, and Chloe
nearly stumbled when Clark set her on her feet again. Reaching up
to brush the hair out of her eyes, she tipped her head back,
poised to say something witty, or amazed, or maybe just to tell
him that she'd always known, but she found herself wrapped up in
his arms again, plastered to a field of blue. The kiss was
unexpected; soft, covering her mouth, and she had the strangest
sensation of falling as the world went black again.
"I told you, I'm fine," Chloe said, brushing Lana's
hand away so she could place the last tiny rose in her upswept
hair. Tipping her gaze into the mirror, she smiled when she met
Lana's worried gaze, and shook her delicate shoulders. "I'll
admit, there's a good chance I'm in shock, but physically, the
paramedics- who were incredibly cute, but that's an incredibly bad
way to meet guys, anyway... they said it was a miracle."
Nodding, Lana started to smile, the expression faltering with
worry before recovering. "Still, I..."
"No, you nothing. I'm here, you're getting married, so I
hereby proclaim today to be an officially good day."
Cheerfully, Chloe swept around her, smoothing the department store
dress they'd picked out at Fordman's at the last minute, a warm
magenta that vastly improved on the dress currently soaking up
rainwater in a junkyard, along with the remains of her crumpled
car. "And... that's my cue."
Waving a Vanna White hand toward the door, Chloe let herself
out of the dressing room and shook her head when she found the
hall empty. She really would end up walking down the aisle by
herself, but official good day or not, Lana was out of her mind if
she thought Chloe would lift her elbow as if someone were on it.
Wedding or not, she had *some* pride.
Just as the ushers opened the door, Clark jogged up, pink-faced
and apologetic. "Sorry, I had a thing."
So that was his code word for heroics; she couldn't picture
Lois letting a lame excuse like that that one go by, but jeez, she
did, again and again. Too bad he was too busy with his
"things" to scan Route 9 for possible accidents; maybe
if he hadn't been busy with "things," she'd still have a
car. Not that she was bitter.
Slipping her arm through his, Chloe marched step-together-step
to Debussy down the aisle, soothing her irritation by imagining
what would happen if she told Clark she knew.