Spoilers: "Crush" and those preceding.

Author's Note/Disclaimer: Chloe doesn't belong to me, and neither do any of the Smallville/Superman characters. I am not gaining any profit from the writing of this story. The title of the story comes from the lyrics of Cyndi Lauper's song "Time After Time," which was covered by Eva Cassidy.

 "The Second Hand Unwinds"

by Sullivan Lane

I walked to the funeral in the rain. My father had to work. I didn't want to burden Pete or Clark, and there was no one else. My car was still in the shop.

This is the second funeral we've attended in two days. I can't count how many I've attended in the past year. There have been a lot. It started with Coach Walt's, and it seems that every week after that we've been here burying someone else. The first time it really hit me hard was when Jenna died. And yet I pushed the feeling of sadness aside after a couple of hours, choosing to see life.

I don't know Whitney very well. I interviewed him for the paper once, and he wasn't as cocky or crude as Clark had made him out to be. He was actually pretty nice, giving an interview even though I knew he had a really tough schedule, with a part-time job, school and the football team.

But I'm Pete's friend, and Lana's. And this funeral affected them both because they're close to Whitney.

I stood off to the side, not hearing the priest's words because the wind blew away from me. Clark and Pete didn't see me. Mr. and Mrs. Kent did. I think Whitney's mother recognized me, and she gave me a brave, mournful smile. I didn't know what to do. I tried to keep my face neutral, but it was difficult.

All the death around us. I never even knew Mr. Fordman; I might have seen him once or twice at the department store. I was a secondhand mourner, but I still felt the pain and I didn't understand why. It hung heavy in the cold, moist air, all the regrets, the words unsaid, the threads of life cut prematurely, dripping with sadness and despair.

I shivered as the priest said a prayer, even though I could not hear most of the words. I'm not a religious person, but to my surprise when he said "Amen" I replied with the rest of the mourners.

I felt regret weighing down my heart, and probably most of the people around me felt it, too, for whatever reason. I could almost hear its heavy beating, like the tick-tock of an old clock, echoing in the rain.

For most of the funeral my head was bowed, unwilling or unable to look at the faces around me. It was depressing. It was sad. And Chloe Sullivan did not revel in negative emotions. I pushed them away with words and a smile. But as the casket was lowered and the people started to walk away, I looked up. Pete stood between Clark and me, holding an umbrella. Lana, Whitney and the rest of the Fordman family stood across the casket. The family began to walk away.

I walked home without talking to anyone at the service and declined the reception at the Fordmans'. I wouldn't know what to say anyway. I've always taken death pretty lightly. I suppose it was because I'd never experienced it firsthand before. The closest I'd ever been to death before moving to Smallville was a distant aunt and a pet guinea pig when I was four.

But Smallville is different from other places I've lived in. There's a funeral every week – if you're lucky. Even then, I've hidden behind the cloak of objective journalism: Just get the story, Chloe, I tell myself. Set aside your emotions and tell the story.

I looked back at the past year and realized that death escaped me but for the grace of God. I was nearly burned to death. I was shoved into a swimming pool and almost got frozen. I was pushed out of a third-story window and survived. I was dangled fifteen feet in the air, dropped, and knocked in the head with a sharp metal object.

As the rain fell and the cold wind blew around me, rendering umbrellas useless, the magnitude of the funerals and the significance of my mortality hit me. Normally I found joy in solving the puzzles and mysteries of this freaky town, but I paid a price for my bravery. Every time someone died, it took a little piece of my soul, a part that hoped to save that person by bringing to light all the terrible things that might happen and whatever caused them.

Today I finally admitted something to myself: One day I may not just give up my soul, but my life.

The thought hit me for the first time in a while, and walking down the muddy road, I began to cry. Not the soft, muffled cry of sadness, but the loud, wailing cry of helpless despair. I cheated death not once, but multiple times. And today another person, one who didn't encounter mutants, meteorites or criminals on a daily basis, was gone. And his family suffered.

My tears fell cold upon my cheeks, indistinguishable from the rain.

The mundane aspects of life seemed to fade from my consciousness. My history project, algebra test and English essay seem miles away. I didn't even want to think of my chances at an internship spot at the Daily Planet this summer; it seemed petty and small. Gone were the excited feelings of the upcoming Saturday with Clark and the thought of going to the Spring Formal with an actual date.

I walked up to my room in the silence of my house, hearing the finality of my boots hitting each hardwood stair. When I got to my room, I realized my boots had tracked mud from the road and I was soaked to the skin.

I peeled off all my clothes and threw them in the corner. I buried myself in my bed and cried for all the bodies that Life had chosen to depart.

And cried for the Life that continued to live in me.

- Fin – 05.07.2002

This story is dedicated to Rommel, a soldier who was killed in a training exercise in Hawaii last month, and our family.