by Fen

It hadn't always been like this, or maybe it had. Maybe it had always been under the surface of her very being, tainting everything she ever said or did. That was exactly it. She had never liked who or what she was, and that subtle dislike bubbled and boiled and grew until it overflowed into pure disdain for an otherwise perfectly sane individual.

She looked into the mirror and cried. She cried for what she was, for what she would never be again and for all the things she wanted but didn't let herself have. She hated what she saw staring back at her, who she saw staring back at her; the stranger with the life she had always wanted. The hair was too dark, angles of her face too sharp, cutting wit not quick enough to keep her past away. There was nothing special about her, nothing to be proud of; she was just a faade with a tendency toward choosing the wrong people to place her trust in so she kept her secret and could never trust anyone.

She sank to the floor, tears running freely down her pale cheeks, over her nose, her chin, and her lips. She was a mess. The crying had turned her cheeks and nose red, and made the skin around her eyes dark and puffy. She could never go to work like this. How could anyone bear to even look at her when she couldn't stand to look at herself? The phone call to her boss was short. She simply was too sick to make it to work today, and she apologized profusely for any inconvenience she may have caused. She said goodbye and again looked into the mirror.

She hated herself even more now because she had been defeated by her own weakness. The stinging tears flowed again down her cheeks, making wet paths from her eyes to the bottom of her chin. She dropped the cordless phone and got back into her bed. She pulled the green check comforter tightly over her head, and fell back asleep wondering what had become of Chloe with the flashing eyes, witty comebacks, and a life that didn't eat at her soul.

Chloe was not an ugly person, inside or outside. She was small but sturdy, as a child she had often been the smallest one in class usually with the biggest mouth. She had piercing eyes, the kind that changed color with mood and made people notice them. She was outgoing, smart and articulate, so to the untrained eye there was absolutely nothing unusual about her.

She awoke to the sound of someone yelling outside her apartment window. Her head ached from so much crying, and she vowed that would be her last bout of tears, for today anyway, well at least for the next couple of hours. If she kept herself busy, she could go for days without tearing herself apart, but as soon as she stopped, she immediately began flogging herself for an assortment of downfalls and past crimes.

It wasn't as if she couldn't function outside of her own home, go grocery shopping, talk on the phone, have drinks with friends, get the story no one else could get. It was simply that these things, so mundane and simple for the rest of the world, required so much preparation time for Chloe. She literally had to force herself out the door by a series of self-motivational pep talks. Sometimes they worked, other times she just ended up back in her bedroom, curled up under the covers with her teddy bear, soaking her pillow with enough tears to drown them both. But it never seemed to drown the ache in her chest.

What had become of her? Where had Chloe gone and when was she coming back? It hurt so much to breath and it hurt even more to look into the mirror and stare back at her own dead eyes. This was going to be a day where she did not leave her room, and there was nothing anybody could do, or say to change that. On days like this she spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling, picking invisible lint off of the bedspread, folding and re-folding the clothes in her dresser, and if she felt up to it, writing in her journal.

She flipped to the last entry and couldn't remember when it was she had written it. Two weeks ago? Last month? She lost track of all the days she had spent holed up inside the walls of her fortress. She no longer dated the pages because it no longer mattered what day it was to the girl who wrote on the worn pages. Chloe relaxed a little behind closed doors, and in the darkness of her apartment after getting through one more day without anyone actually seeing her; at least not anyone who would recognize her; no one to deceive, nothing to do, no effort required.

That is what had become of Chloe Sullivan. She was alive in the physical sense, but she had killed off whatever may have been living inside her a long time ago. She was never happy and though she understood why it didn't help. In her mind she attributed it to many things, none of which made much sense at all. She felt there must be something wrong with her because people who succeed and people who go through life happy are flawless; and Chloe had major flaws.

This at least is what she continually told herself because she could not let go of the idea that she was unworthy somehow of feeling good about herself. Where did it begin? Was there someone to blame? There was no logical answer Chloe herself could pinpoint exactly when she began hiding from life and it was long before her own face became a stranger.

It had been hard because of her inherent inability to believe people wouldn't desert her but she had managed to make friends all throughout her academic career. She had always been a cute kid, if a little odd. There were no clues, nothing to grasp as the reason for her discontent unless you'd known her in her youth; before her bargain with Lionel and subsequent dismantling of her life by the Luthor's.

She had always had the need to be special; followed by the desperate desire to be nothing more than a peripheral character when she realized that special often meant pain for people she loved. Like her father; sitting alone in a house in Smallville wondering where his daughter had disappeared to and Clark; flying over the city oblivious to the secrets hidden in front of him.

She picked up her journal once more, fingering lightly its worn pages. She sifted through years worth of turmoil strewn onto tattered pages, and began to read snippets of her life as a prisoner in her own body.

Sometimes I feel like there's nothing to lose other times I feel like I've already lost. Today was one of those days. I felt defeated without ever playing the game. Lionel said I would regret defying him; and maybe it wouldn't hurt so much if I had actually done something about his threats.

When had she written that? Sometime after her dad lost his job, and the Planet had stopped accepting her stories; the day the Torch was nearly gutted by Lionel. She called it her moment of clarity. She had known what was happening to her exactly as it was occurring. It was as if she had been existing in slow motion while writing. She read the journal entry once more and promptly threw the whole thing against the wall.

It landed mere millimeters from a picture of her and her friends, laughing and happy; the only memento of her old life. They seemed to glare at Chloe who was already in a fit of uncontrollable tears. She pushed herself to a standing position and went to retrieve her journal, apologizing to Pete, Lana and Clark's images on the way. They simply looked back at her woefully, not to be won over so easily.

The notebook back in her hands, now shaking slightly, she opened it and began to read once more.

Can you imagine what it would be like to come undone? Can you picture the slipping, sliding, tumbling decent? Can you? Where are you as you unravel? Are you inside? Or out? Are you safe? Are you home?

She remembered the day she had written that. She had come home from a relatively normal day at work, there was new blood at the paper; new talent in the form of one Clark Kent. Nothing had gone wrong, he hadn't known her, and if he had he'd kept her secret as she kept his but as soon as she walked in the front door she fell apart.

The journal she had grabbed to try and distract herself from the impending descent into hell and this passage had been the result. She felt herself unravel as she read it again and again; felt every fiber of her being turn on her until she cried so hard her chest felt like it would cave in at any moment. She buried her face in her pillow and let her sobs slowly subside to tiny shudders and never noticed the caped man outside her window.

She looked up and briefly caught her reflection in the mirror. What was happening to her? Why could she not stop herself from shattering into a million pieces?

She went to find a glass of water and an aspirin for her head would not stop pounding. It felt like a railroad spike had been wedged inside one ear, clear through her head, out the other ear. Her eyes hurt, her chest heaved, she felt like she had been crying forever. What time was it? How long had she been crying? The picture caught her eye as she left her room, they were smiling again, they forgave her for everything she hoped though she knew that wasn't possible.

She needed a shower, coffee, to feel like a real person again. It was Monday and she had been feeling like this since Friday night, not wanting to see anyone, do anything, or go anywhere. She was perfectly content to lie in bed avoiding all contact with the outside world. Chloe dabbed gently at her eyes with a soggy Kleenex. Her stomach hurt and she realized she hadn't eaten all day. How could anyone forget to eat?

She made the shower pungently hot, losing herself in the steam, and aroma of her vanilla shampoo. She decided to stay under the running water until it ran cold and made her ashen skin tingle. The door opened, but she didn't notice, through it wandered wayward curls, and a face creased in concern.

The water cut off and the shower curtain swung open letting out a blanket of steam as she pulled a towel off the rack; followed by a soaking wet Chloe. Grabbing her robe she caught sight of her partner in the mirror and turned to where he stood in the doorway.

"Like what you see Farmboy?" she asked her with what she hoped was enough sarcasm to mask the shaking of her voice.

"Perry said you weren't feeling well so Jimmy and I brought some soup; you were in here for so long we got sort of worried." Chloe started to feel her head again begin to pound and turned away from Clark as she pulled on her robe and dropped her towel. She was losing it; she needed to get back under the covers, needed quiet, needed to cry.

She loved Clark, and Jimmy too, but their concern hurt more than helped; concern for a woman she hated, the woman who had stolen her life.

"I'm feeling better. Let me get dressed, then we can all eat," a quivering Chloe whispered at the man who had known her longer than anyone else. Clark saw his partner shutting down, and forced himself to nod looking at her intently trying to see beyond the tough veneer she was presenting.

"I thought we could spend the evening here, just the three of us." Suddenly stifled by the wet heat that surrounded them Chloe pushed past him and ran out the door leaving Clark to stare at the place where her reflection had been. The reflection of a little girl with blond hair and laughing eyes flitted through his mind and he followed her out into the hall.

Chloe reached the bottom of the stairs desperately trying not to collapse into a shuddering heap. Clark on the stairs above, watched her fall to pieces in her head and drag them back together. Jimmy stood watching the whole devastating scene unfold and simply shook his head.

Chloe took a deep breath and slowly walked to the kitchen, tears beating behind her eyes. Was this how she wanted to live her life; unable to even spend an evening with her friends without feeling the desperate need to run away?

"You can't keep running away from yourself," murmured Lex in her head. "You have a world to change and you don't even bother getting out of bed in the morning, why?" That was a good question and one, so painful to answer yet so simple it was almost laughable. Almost laughable, but not quite because the pain flowed from a wound that stayed raw no matter how many Band-Aids were fastened to it. Nearly as absurd as having a love affair with a man who had helped ruin your life.

She hated herself. She refused to allow herself any joy, and from this hate sprung constant fear of living of being seen. Clark and Jimmy moved around her kitchen, heating soup and making grilled cheese sandwiches that made her think of Martha Kent's kitchen. Chloe did not move from her spot on by the sink. She felt like she was glued in place, her whole body ached and she wondered if this was what they referred to as "rock bottom."

What could she do? Did she want to die? Again. Was that what this was all about? No, she had never considered suicide and cringed at the thought of slicing her wrists, or downing a bottle of Clorox bleach but she'd put herself in the direct line of danger enough times to question her motives.

A picture flashed through her mind just then, of Superman showing up an instant to late to save her from whatever horror was unleashed on the city this week. In her mind he screamed. She screamed in her head, at herself, at no one, at her cousin's cat who was the only one in the room now that her friends had taken the food into the living room.

What had become of Chloe Sullivan? Was she ever coming back? She wanted to be happy, to have a normal life; but how could she with the secrets and loss that hung to her like fog.

Chloe needed to re-evaluate her life, which up to this point had been written off as one oversized burden. There was no room for Clark, for happiness, for a family, and that wasn't right. She needed to try and gain some perspective. Most people would kill for a second, chance at life, and Chloe just took it for granted hating the woman she had become.

Of course she did, just like she took life in general for granted. Running through it, instead of living it, needing to discover the truth about everything in her path and sacrificing the people she loved and her life in the process. She was by no means ready to go out and face the world, but right there, in the half lit kitchen Chloe began to feel. She felt for her dad who had loved her unconditionally, for Clark who had lost a friend and kept a secret of his own, for herself whom she had sorely neglected for so many years.

She wanted to be happy, wanted both faces to be written in joy instead of regret. She wanted to go to work and spar with Clark, wanted to bring down Lex Luthor even if it meant using her body to do it; she wanted to believe in the things that could happen, things that belonged on the wall of weird.

But mostly, she wanted to be Chloe Sullivan again at least in spirit; wanted to look in the mirror and be able to see the woman she was instead of the woman she pretended to be. In the other room she could hear Clark and Jimmy arguing over the remote control; she wanted to be the woman they cared about, wanted to go running into the room and fling herself on the couch with them and laugh at whatever was on TV like she had years ago with Pete and Clark in his loft.

For the first time she understood her own sacrifice and smiled; she wanted to be Lois Lane.

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