Ether

by kathe
http://www.ladifreakingda.com/halogen


"Looking through the mirror of lost time"


There's no reason that all of her memories should be happy ones. She still wakes up in the middle of the night with the smell of freshly tilled earth hanging heavy in her room. Then there's the bitter chill that grips hold when she steps into a slush puddle in January. Guns and flowers shouldn't have a correlation, but with Chloe they do. Then there's the falling -- endless falling with rushing water beneath. There are other memories too. More than she will ever admit to having.

They are battle scars. Proof of survival, but they're not the scars she wants anyone else to know about.

She's earned other scars to be proud of, to show off.


Wet mud and grass caked her shoes, brand new ones too. She had decided to walk to the Kent farm that morning. The roads were still strewn with debris, making passage with any sort of car -- much less her ocean-liner of an American classic -- quite the task. Besides, walking gave her time to think. Chloe walked with purpose, like a soldier into battle. She knew her objective, knew her battle plan, knew that she couldn't give up any ground to Clark and his apologetic eyes.

Assuming he was apologetic.

He was.

He didn't even try to stop her as the words spewed forth from her mouth. No argument. They were over before they had even begun. It was a fine ending for her time in that little burg. The image of the dust motes dancing in the sun that spectacular day stayed was with her, always.


"I always know where to find you."

"Maybe if you quit holding your parties here, then I wouldn't have to keep looking at the same old paintings."

His voice rumbles low in her ear. "Maybe I should take charge and give you something else to study." Goose flesh appears on her arms. Chloe leans back, just enough, so she feels the heat radiating off his body.

"Perhaps." She lets the question hang in the air. Lex will bite if he wants to.


It was the first of too many funerals she had to attend in Smallville. It wasn't the last where loaded looks, or verbal exchanges for that matter, took place over an empty grave.

But that day, in the cold, spring rain at Mr. Fordman's funeral -- that was the day she started to give up hope.

Later she realized it wasn't just hope for getting Clark.


"See, I told'ya she'd be back!" Pete bounded down the stairs to greet her as she got out of the car. The house hadn't even sold yet and Pete was waiting on the porch when she returned.

Pete had that gleam in his eye, the same one he always had when they bet on whether Clark would miss the bus or not.

"You bet on me, didn't you?" He hugged her with enough force to knock down a team of Clydesdales. She took it as an affirmative. Chloe pulled out of the embrace and smiled, "I'm going to report you to Gambler's Anonymous."

There was one person not at her humble homecoming.

Chloe learned what burning bridges really meant.


A print of a painting of the "Edmund Fitzgerald" had absolutely no place in a bar, no matter how eclectic it claimed to be.

Cell phones were never one of Chloe's favorite things. Useful yes, but intrusive as hell. There was nothing worse than a cell phone waking you up in the morning. Especially when you were in an unfamiliar bed and could barely remember exactly how many fingers and toes you were supposed to have. But at that moment the call was standing between her and a very nice looking man who happened to be her source.

Damn Lex and his timing.

"Lex, isn't that what a press secretary is for?" She held the phone close to her ear and plugged the other with her finger. It didn't help out to noise all that much.

"I'm practically handing you a career on a platinum, diamond-encrusted platter, Chloe."

"I already have a career, thank you very much. One I got without any of your help." Technically it was a career, even if she was second string on a second rate newspaper in Edge City. At least she knew all the best restaurants (and private clubs) in Chinatown.

"This will be the only time I offer this to you."

Chloe quickly scanned the cramped bar. With one word she could exchange corned beef, Jack Daniels and the stench and decay of her low class digs for mimosas, foie gras, and the light and airy smells of wealth, power and luxury.

And all she had to do was sell her soul.

One little word.

Saying it wasn't as hard as she thought.


Graduation day and Chloe had Clark's breath on her skin to go along with her diploma.

It was sunny that day too.

Her black shirtdress was crumpled on the floor a few feet away. Clark's shirt was flung over the unused telescope in the corner.

He gripped her hips and she smiled down at him. She moved in a rhythm known only from instinct.

It was a cruel way to say goodbye.

She made it her trademark.


"Oh," she stopped in the doorway. "I was just --" Chloe turned and gestured wildly with her hands. "Looking for my father."

Lex leaned back and smiled. "He'll be back in a few minutes."

She wasn't nervous, no matter that her stomach was doing tricks that would make an Olympic gymnast turn green. This was exactly why she never visited her father at the plant. The few minutes they shared in the kitchen in the mornings were plenty.

"I can come back, you know. Or I could just drop this," she waved the permission slip in question, "off and --"

"How's Clark?"

She wasn't nervous at all.

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "You're probably the best person to ask."

A flicker of doubt crossed his eyes then, and Chloe felt a surge of pride that she could make the mighty Lex Luthor fumble, if even only for a split second.

"You're probably right."

'Seeing as how I'm fucking him and all,' was the unspoken tag that neither of them had to add.


"Poor, poor, Christina. She couldn't escape even if she wanted to."

Chloe turns her head to the couple beside her. The people at these parties always make her blood boil.

"Probably had someone carry her back to the house," the woman sniffs indignantly into her champagne glass.

Boxing the woman's ears would be too nice.

It had been the golden tone that had first drawn her to this painting, one of Andrew Wyeth's most famous: 'Christina's World'. The color reminds her of Smallville: a place of farms and pies, of Homecoming games and princesses riding on floats.

Not a place where people died far too often. Not a place where the fairy princess was orphaned by a giant rock hurtling through the atmosphere. Not a place where she had cheated death time and time again.

She wishes Christina wasn't paralyzed and could run far, far away.

Chloe wishes she could have run with her.


"And what was wrong with Nathan?"

"Same thing that's been wrong with Scott, Eli, and Patrick. Then again, you never liked any of them either."

"That's not true. I liked Nathan."

"Only because of that t-shirt of his that I stole."

"Well, 'A Treat in Every Sheet' is quite clever."

"Even if it was from a frat," they said in unison.

"Lex?"

"Yes?"

"Am I ever gonna figure out what the problem is?"

There was silence on the other end of the line.

"If you do, then you can tell the rest of us how to do it too."


The call came a year ago and got her out of a hellacious and boring meeting with the editorial board. Any call from Lex Luthor, especially to the star reporter, was one to be answered immediately.

Lex had said two words and she was on the next shuttle to Metropolis. Deadlines be damned.

Chloe mourned the loss of their relationship more than any of her own. They were something beautiful and beyond -- beyond everyone and everything else.

That night she came as close to calling Clark as she had in years but she didn't pick up the phone. Neither did he.

The lines had been drawn. They both knew where she stood.


"Brad, good to see you!" It was Lex's business voice. The charming one. This is the suave voice that can swindle little old ladies out of a 50 year pension. Chloe knows that Lex hates it as much as she does.

The moment is broken. The reassuring heat from his body is gone and she takes a second to throw a casual glance to the man that's approaching. He's tall and smartly dressed. Lex will probably be talking with him for a while. The parties aren't about charity, they're about deal-making, and Lex is the best in the country.

Chloe takes the opportunity to move away without being noticed. She's tired and her feet ache from standing all night. She's played her part as the "curiosity" of the night. What's the Gazette's highest profile reporter doing at a glorified society function?

She wonders herself.


'Three am on a Saturday morning. Do you know where your children are?' Chloe read the flyer out loud. "Okay, who wrote this?"

Clark ducked his head behind the filing cabinet just before Chloe's careful aim with the deadly Koosh ball could find its target.

"You'll pay for that one, Kent."

"What? It's true!" He extricated himself from his defensive position. The grin on his face made Chloe burst into a fit of giggles on sight.

It was three in the morning after all. Maybe the time and the toner fumes were starting to go to her head. She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "Thanks for staying, Clark."

"Anytime."

Her final edition of the Torch would actually get out on time.


It was a means to an end. She had ambition and wasn't at all altruistic. Altruism hadn't gotten her Clark, and it hadn't gotten her that job at the Planet. It barely got her out of Smallville alive. Chloe said goodbye to altruism a long time ago.

A few well-timed articles had brought her to the forefront of investigative journalism. She was the number one person on the LuthorCorp hit list, but if anyone had bothered to look a little deeper they would've seen a different story.

Everyone that she took down deserved it. She could deliver the goods. The only problem was that the goods came from Lex, and the goods were always to his benefit.

Lex got the power he wanted and Chloe got the position she craved.

Altruism was for the weak.

END


"It is like sniffing ether, and everything is sweet and sad and far away."

The first quote is a line from "Reflections" by the Supremes, the last quote is from All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren.

Christina's World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth: http://www.big-dish.co.uk/christina.htm


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to kathe


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