Title: Devolution, Act
Fandom: Smallville/Superman Returns. Followup, or counterpoint to "Echoing Street Signs". Chloe/Richard, Chloe/Clark
Rating: R for swearing and themes.
Summary: It's only a risk if you have something left to lose.
It starts in shared pain. Chloe finds this fitting as most of the interesting things in her life have ended that way. Starting out feeling numb and hollow and wanting to die is a first.
She stares down at Richard, watching his eyes and the way his jaw works as he yells Lois' name as he comes. He is beautiful like this. Strong arms and a good chest. Shoulders that are wide enough to carry a thousand and one problems of everyday life.
It's not his fault that he's not Superman.
In that moment, Chloe hates herself more than a little bit. Sure, she's only speeding up the inevitable, fucking her cousin's fiancé, but that doesn't make it right. It's an excuse, and there, working her internal muscles and riding Richard White like a pony in a trick show, Chloe knows that this is just one more way to try and hit back at Lois and Clark and Superman and this fucked up tangle that she wished to God she could leave behind.
Later, when he's finished and she's let him go down on her, she walks out into his living room in nothing but her earrings and retrieves the tequila bottle and her cigarettes.
She was sitting in a small café in Jerusalem, arguing with a local Armenian priest about a more recent translation of biblical text when she hears the sonic boom and sees a streak of red in the sky. It's a hot day, as most days in early summer are, and she's wearing a head scarf more out of necessity than tradition. She doesn't know why, but that's an important detail that sticks in her mind, even weeks later on that transatlantic flight back to Metropolis.
She is dressed in white in a city older and more blood-soaked than probably any other on the planet when he speeds through her life again. Her friend is laughing and staring at the sky, thanking God that Superman has returned, so he doesn't notice that she isn't smiling.
Later that evening, there is alcohol and there are tears in her tiny out-of-the-way room in the American sector of town. Five years. Five fucking years, and he's back.
It's somewhere around her third shot of cut-rate vodka that she digs out the last picture of Lois and Jason and Richard that came in her last Christmas card (forwarded through the Planet's foreign office) and lets herself really scream at how unfair it was that Lois had one night with Superman and got such a beautiful child and man and life out of it.
All Chloe got was a night, a fist full of ashes, and the knowledge that her best friend would rather fuck her cousin than tell her goodbye.
In the morning, she wakes up and Richard is staring back at her, eyes bright and looking like he won the lottery.
She calls Martha with an overpriced phone card on a connection that is clear as a bell. They don't say much, they can't say much because everything has ears these days. So they talk about the things they always talk about like recipes and how Martha got that package Chloe sent her for her birthday, and wasn't it nice that Clark had finally come back from his sabbatical.
She and Martha have gotten very good at saying absolutely nothing and absolutely everything in the spaces between.
"Jason and Lois and Richard are doing okay. I think I might go see them when I visit in a few weeks," she says, watching the seconds tick away on her watch. "You should come see me. We'll take Jason to lunch and he can con a trip to the mall out of Aunt Chloe and Aunt Martha."
"I'd like that. I haven't seen him in so long. He must have gotten so big. Your cousin must be very proud of her big boy."
Because those are the real substances of their conversations. Because Chloe knows and knew as soon as she held her cousin's son that very first time. Looked down into Jason's big, green brand-new eyes and felt everything inside of her rot and atrophy because of course he left another mess for her to deal with.
She started calling Martha not long after his birth. Three years of awkward silence and hurt burned away by reality and the knowledge that Jason's grandmother deserved to know him, even if it wasn't as his grandmother.
Twenty minutes after she dials the numbers, Chloe hangs up and walks away from the pay phone. Martha's parting words are ringing in her ears, and even in the heat of the early twilight, Chloe feels cold.
Mothers should never apologize for their children.
When she was twenty-four years old, Chloe watched her best friend and cousin be paired up as investigative reporters. She'd been half-sure they'd kill each other by the end of the week.
Two years later, she'd watched, silent, as her cousin's belly had swollen and the world had mourned for its lost superhero. Held her cousin's hand and cried as the news of Clark Kent's disappearance had spread in much smaller circles. No one had bothered to look close enough to see that they hadn't been tears of grief.
But he'd died, or gotten lost, or disappeared, so it hadn't mattered. Once again, Chloe and all the secrets she kept hadn't mattered.
She'd let herself start to forget.
She clears her trip with her bosses. Three years with very little leave and only the occasional trip state-side to file her stories and visit with family have earned her a stack of awards and more vacation time than she's really ever capable of taking.
When she turns in her request for leave, it's to an incredulous editor who, on her way out the door, hands her a card of a very credible therapist. She pockets the card and walks away, letting them think her sudden desire to fly home is stress. Nevermind that three years of bodies and wars and horror were nothing in comparison to her childhood.
Depravity is only shocking for so long. After a certain point, there's nothing left. Chloe hit that point years ago. It's just no one else has ever cottoned on.
She sleeps for most of the flight before changing planes in Heathrow. Lets herself wander the duty-free shops. A scarf for Martha, a bottle of wine for her father. Nothing for Lois or Jason because if her vague plans go through, that's one bridge that's going to be burned to ashes. She buys a pack of Marlbro's – a treat after the earthy too-strong clove cigarettes her contacts kept foisting on her – and locks herself in one of the smoking lounges for a couple hours.
She watches people as they rush and move and leave. Airports have always been a place of leavings. People walking and rushing away, caught in their own little worlds, completely unaware of everything else that's going on around them.
Chloe finishes half her pack before her connecting flight is announced.
She throws the remainder away, and walks towards her flight, back straight and head held high.
It's raining when she lands. She thinks that's fitting.
On the descent into the city, she stares at Luthor towers and thinks about times passed. People passed. Remembers Lana and her child and the screamed fights and the blood.
She doesn't let herself look for that flash of red. When she sees it, in the corner of her eye, across the city, she closes her blind and waits for the wheels to hit the tarmac.
He comes to her five days after Lois slapped her, hard, in Richard's kitchen.
She is smoking on his mother's porch swing, staring off into the blazing blue horizon. In the distance, there is nothing but corn and sky and alfalfa. It's always a surprise to her when she comes back to Smallville how much she misses it. Missed it.
It is nothing like the desert, covered in black dirt and growing things.
She is thinking of nothing and everything and vaguely planning on having some of the pie Martha offered earlier when suddenly he is standing in front of her. She is not startled. She has known this man for close to twenty years. Known that he's a big damned alien for thirteen. She stares at him with his floppy hair and his oversized pants and rumpled shirt, waiting.
She is always waiting for Clark. She always will be waiting for Clark. It's a shitty destiny.
"Yes?" She asks after a minute. Flicks ash in his direction because she's earned the right to be fucking petty. "Something you want to say, Clark?"
"Why did you do that to Lois, Chloe? Why… why would you do that?" His voice hasn't changed. The tone, the mannerisms. She hasn't seen this man in five years. Hasn't spoken to him in longer, and he's just the same.
She ignores the little kick-stutter her heart does and shrugs. "Same reason I do everything, Clark."
Then she gets up and goes into his mother's house for pie.
He hasn't earned the answer.
Martha smiles at her when she enters the kitchen, brushes a hand over her shoulder and gives her a short hug. If Chloe leans into it a little harder than normal, Martha doesn't comment.
The pie, as always, is excellent.
She gets a call from her editor three days before her vacation time is up. It's nothing serious, just a notification that she's going to be flying back with a new foreign correspondent. A recent transfer.
She's not stupid, so when she sees Richard walking through terminal towards her, it's not a surprise.
He looks terrible, like he hasn't slept in days or years, but his eyes are wide and she's read his work. He is a competent journalist with a keen ability to tell a sympathetic story without making it sound like a pile of broiling sap.
She nods at him. He doesn't smile, but when their flight is called, he picks up her bag and hands it to her. Their fingers touch.
He doesn't jerk away.
Three weeks later, Martha Kent gets a phone call from Iraq.