Author's Note: This was inspired by the lack of Chloe-ness in "Rogue." I was quite puzzled that Chloe got so teary-eyed when Lana asked if there was something going on between her and Clark. This story attempts to explain Chloe's breakdown. Reviews are appreciated.

"Torch" by KMP

Rating: PG (language)

Premise: A missing scene from "Rogue"; this takes place immediately after Lana tells Chloe she is the new editor of the Torch.

Genre: Drama

Chloe ran out of the Torch office and around the corner, away from direct view of the Torch entrance. She wiped the stray tears from her cheeks and took a deep breath, but she was still trembling.

"Damn you, Lana Lang," she whispered to no one in particular. The Torch was her haven, her place to escape. But now it had been invaded, and there was no place to go.

"Are you all right?" Chloe looked up to see Pete standing before her.

"Where have you been?" she asked, ignoring his question.

"I was playing hoops," Pete said. "I came back to turn in my article this week. You didn't answer my question."

Chloe felt the tears returning to her eyes. She fought them off. "Lana talked to Kwan, and she's the new editor of the paper."

Pete's eyes widened in shock and his mouth dropped open. "Oh, my God," he whispered. "I'm sorry, Chloe." He approached her and held his arms out. She laid her head on his shoulder and let the tears burst through unadulterated this time.

This was the reaction she had expected from Clark. But instead he had turned Benedict Arnold and sided with Lana. Like it really should've been a surprise, Chloe thought bitterly. He would drop to his feet and kiss the ground Lana walked on before taking the opposing side against her. The one time she needed an ally, Clark let her down. In a way that hurt more than losing the Torch.

"Uh, Chloe?" Pete said, pulling away slightly.

"Yeah?"

Chloe lifted her head and turned around. Clark was standing there behind her with a crestfallen look upon his face.

"Chloe …" he began, but Chloe was too quick for him. She wiped her nose with on her arm and sniffed.

"I'll see you later, Pete," she said, turning on her heel and walking right past Clark without acknowledging him.

"Chloe, wait!" Clark started to follow her, but Pete grabbed his arm.

"Let her go, Clark," he said. "She needs to cool off."

Clark ran his fingers through his hair, feeling helpless. Could anything else go wrong this week?

***

Chloe didn't show up to seventh period American literature, which was her favorite class. Neither did Lana. At lunch she had said something about getting a head start on the paper's layout, and she was now holed up in the Torch office with Pete, who said he needed to do a major revision on his weekly column.

Unfortunately, Clark was clueless as to where Chloe would go. Normally she would have been at the Torch. As Mrs. Wilson droned on about the merits of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age, Clark's brain was on Chloe.

The moment the bell rang, Clark dashed out of class and headed for the Beanery.

The door chimed, signaling his entrance. He looked around frantically, but the coffee shop was nearly empty.

"Looking for someone?" a voice said behind him.

Clark turned around. It was Zoe, the waitress he had saved not long ago. Anytime she worked she hooked him up with his favorite – a blueberry scone and a double latte. She said it was the least she could do. She was always happy to see him.

"Hi, Zoe," Clark said. "Have you seen Chloe? You know, the blond girl who always comes in here with me?"

"Oh, yeah, double mocha, extra whipped," Zoe said with a smile. "She was in here around lunch. She looked kind of upset. Is something wrong?"

"I hope not," Clark said honestly. "You wouldn't happen to know which way she headed, would you?"

Zoe frowned. "No. I wish I could help. You two fighting or something?"

"It's a long story. Thanks, anyway."

"You want coffee to go?"

"Maybe next time. Thanks."

Clark ran out into the street and dashed back to school. He checked the bleachers, which were a hangout for almost everyone else at school. But they were empty this afternoon.

Where could she be? Clark headed for the last place he could think of.

A silver Jeep Grand Cherokee was parked in the driveway of the Sullivan house. Chloe's mother was unloading groceries from the car.

"Hi, Mrs. Sullivan," Clark said.

Mrs. Sullivan turned around. "Clark!" She let the bag of groceries rest on her hip. She looked worried. "Chloe's in her room."

"OK. Did you need help with those?"

"No, go ahead. I think Chloe needs a friend right now."

"Thanks." Clark walked into the familiar house and took the stairs two by two. He knocked on Chloe's door.

"Come in, Mom," Chloe called.

The door opened. "Sorry to disappoint you," Clark said, walking in.

Chloe was sitting sideways on her window seat, a large coffee mug wedged between her knees. The curtains were drawn and it was dark, but her head was turned toward the window, peering through a slice of sunlight. Chloe looked up in surprise. Her expression was angry at first, but then it softened.

"I don't have the energy to be angry with you," she said, sighing. She went back to gazing at the pattern on her curtains.

"May I come in?"

Chloe waved her hand around, a gesture that was as close to welcome as Clark could hope for with her in this mood.

"I just wanted to apologize," Clark said. "I was trying to be diplomatic, but it backfired on me. I was really insensitive to how you felt, and that was wrong. So I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry, too," Chloe said, turning to look back at him. "I just … Well, I don't know."

"I do," Clark said. "You *are* the Torch, Chloe. No one mentions the Torch without mentioning your name half a second later."

Chloe's lips upturned in a forced smile, but the tears started to flow all over again. "It's like the only thing I'm good at," she said tearfully. "And it's like being told … 'No, you're not good at it.' Clark, I know I got a little … carried away with the things I was printing. But he didn't even give me a chance to try to do better. And then to hand the paper off to … to *her.*"

"Lana was just trying to do the right thing," Clark said. "Just like you."

Chloe put down her coffee mug. Clark noticed for the first time that past issues of the Torch were stacked in a pile next to her. "He was right, you know. I've been so cocky and self-righteous. Just because it's plain to me, I just assumed … And reporters should never assume. A real reporter wouldn't."

Clark stood next to her and laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"I've been a horrible, irresponsible journalist."

Clark knelt so they were eye to eye. "You are not. It's all right. We're teenagers. We're allowed some mistakes. No one expects you to be perfect all the time."

"Except me," Chloe said, trying to laugh through her tears.

Clark finally put his arms out, letting her sob uncontrollably on his shoulder. He held her firmly, as if to let her know that he would always be strong for her.

"You're right. I'm going to do better," Chloe said with the old edge back in her voice. She wiped her tears away. "I'm just going to take this as a learning experience and move on. I'm going to show Mr. Kwan and Lana and everyone that I am the *best* person for the job." She sighed. "But first I have to get my job back."

"I have faith in you," Clark said, running his hand over her head protectively.

Clark pulled away slightly so he could look into her eyes. They stood up, still holding each other. "Chloe, I love you." Chloe's eyes widened, and she couldn't say anything. Her heart seemed to cease beating altogether. "And Pete loves you," he continued. "We're your friends, and we always will be."

Chloe let out a breath that she didn't know she was holding. She felt new tears threatening to spill out, but for a different reason.

"Yes, Clark," she whispered with all the strength she could muster. "We will always be friends."

-Fin – 01.22.2002