Season 7, MHE for "Descent"
Rating: Adult. If you're under eighteen, please go elsewhere now.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Chloe Sullivan arrived in his loft along with the rising sun. Clark had been sitting at his desk, staring into the distance with his chin resting on his knotted fists, but he glanced up at her arrival. Ordinarily the sight of her made him smile, but today he just gazed at her solemnly.
"Long night," she commented, walking toward him. "It's good to see the sun again."
He looked down at the object on his desk, a silver cylinder engraved with Kryptonian figures. A message Lionel Luthor had left for him.
My greatest accomplishment is that I have dedicated myself to protecting your life and serving you.
"Too bad Lionel's not here to see it," he said grimly.
Neither of them had been overwhelmingly fond of Lionel Luthor. The guy had tried to have Chloe killed once, after all, and had come alarmingly close to accomplishing his goal. They both knew he'd murdered his parents, too.
And yet Lionel had become a different person when he'd become the "oracle" of Jor-El, the AI in Clark's Fortress of Solitude. Clark still wasn't sure Lionel had become truly good. He'd devoted himself to protecting Clark, but there was no doubt he'd continued doing evil, too. But Clark was reasonably certain Lionel had at least been fighting against the darker side of his nature.
Clark wished that his former friend Lex Luthor could say the same.
"Lex closed the funeral to any and all guests," Chloe said. "In other words... Lex is the only one invited."
Clark sighed. "Lionel deserves better."
Despite his many sins, Lionel had died protecting Clark, and for that, Clark couldn't help but feel some gratitude. The idea of Lionel's life being remembered by no one except the son who hated him enough to kill him made Clark's chest hurt. Stiff from a lack of sleep, he got slowly to his feet and stalked restlessly across the loft.
He wasn't sure if his grief was for Lionel, or for everything that had happened in the past few days. His girlfriend Lana Lang had been attacked by a sentient robot named Brainiac, and was now catatonic, locked away inside her own body, in agony that she couldn't express. He and Lana had had a lot of problems, and he wasn't even sure he loved her any more-- but she'd once meant the world to him, and he didn't want her to suffer silently, unable even to scream in pain.
Meanwhile, Chloe, his best friend, had lost her job, and although she hadn't told him the exact circumstances of her firing, he couldn't help but feel that she was just collateral damage in the ongoing war between himself and Lex Luthor. The world seemed to be falling apart around him, and he wasn't sure how to cope with it all.
Behind him, Chloe spoke reassuringly.
"At least we know how Lionel really felt about you." He could feel her gaze on his back, even though he didn't turn toward her. "He thought of you as his second son."
"Another person who treated me like a son, and died because of it."
He didn't let her finish, but went on with his bitter recitation of facts. "Jor-El died getting me on that ship. My dad died of a heart attack from the powers he took on to protect me. And now Lionel's been murdered protecting my secret."
She paused. He knew her well enough to know that she was trying to come up with an answer that was truthful, but that wouldn't hurt him.
"They did die for you, Clark," she answered at last. "But ultimately, I believe they died for all of us. There was a reason those men were in your life. Each of them added something to the man you are today."
"I don't even know who that man is," he said with a weary sigh.
"I do." Her voice rang with conviction. "He's the man who's going to save the world."
Her words, as well as her neverfailing support, warmed some of the chill in his heart. He sighed, trying to shift his thoughts away from himself and his own sorrows. "How could Lex have done it, Chlo? How does a son murder his own father?"
He could hear the heels of her shoes clicking on the floorboards as she stepped closer.
"A total absence of love," she said softly.
They both knew that Lionel had been a terrible father when Lex was a child. He'd been neglectful, domineering, emotionally abusive. Possibly even physically abusive. And with that in mind, Clark thought she was probably right. Growing up without love had to warp a man, to twist his soul into a strange, inhuman shape. Eventually, lack of love must cause a soul to wither away and die like a plant without water.
And then any love that soul had ever been capable of died too.
Clark remembered the little boy he'd encountered inside Lex's mind. Alexander, he'd called himself. He'd been the manifestation of the sweet, innocent child that Lex had once been, before Lionel Luthor had warped him so badly.
Clark wondered if that little boy was still inside Lex somewhere, or if he'd died in the same moment as Lionel.
He wondered what he himself might have turned out to be without the love of his adoptive parents, his friends, his girlfriend. He wondered if without love, he might have wound up warped and twisted just as badly as Lex. The thought made a cold shiver go down his spine.
"Some say that's the definition of evil," Chloe went on. "You have to get those keys away from Lex, Clark, before he kills anyone else."
She left the rest unsaid: Before he uses you to kill anyone else.
"He's not going to have the chance," Clark answered, remembering Lionel's warning: These keys used together unlock the secret of controlling you. "I won't let him."
He turned around and looked at her. For the first time, he realized she was wearing one of her professional, tailored suits, which were not really suited to hanging around a barn. But since she'd started working for the Daily Planet two years before, her power suits had become such a part of her that he could hardly imagine her scrounging around in jeans and t-shirts on a regular basis.
"How are you doing?" he asked gently.
"I'm fine." She shrugged, brushing off his concern the same way she'd brushed it off last time, when she'd answered lightly that she'd been meaning to escape the "black hole" of her job anyway. "It's just a job, Clark. It's not like the fate of the world is riding on my employment."
"It's not just a job. It's the Daily Planet. You've wanted to work there since you were seven."
"There are other newspapers," she answered, her voice determinedly cheerful. "Anyway, I don't want to work for a murderer, do I?"
"Chlo..." He reached out for her, but she stepped away.
"I'm fine," she repeated, a little more insistently.
He looked into her hazel eyes and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was lying. She wasn't fine. She was a mess, emotionally speaking, but she was trying to conceal it because she didn't want to drop any additional weight on his shoulders.
That was how Chloe was. She supported him, and all too often he didn't offer support back, because he was too wrapped up in his own problems, and because she tended to laugh off her own issues. But he wasn't going to let her laugh this one off. He knew better than anyone how much her job at the Planet had meant to her.
He reached out and grabbed her, wrapping his arms around her and hauling her against his chest. "Hey," he said into her hair. "I'm sorry about your job."
"I told you." Her voice quavered. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not." He lifted a hand, stroking the fine golden strands of her hair gently. "Quit trying so hard to be my rock, Chlo. Let me be your rock every now and again, okay?"
He fell silent as he held her against his chest, listening to the ragged sound of her breathing. Given what had happened to Lana yesterday, given the loss of his father two years before, he understood too well the pain of losing something you loved. And he knew that Chloe had loved her job above almost anything.
But at least they still had one another to turn to. At least they could console each other. They'd been best friends for years and years, and together, they could get through anything.
Lines from a poem he'd read in high school filtered through his mind. Though much is taken, much abides.
No matter how much they lost, he thought, they still had each other.
She sniffled against his red t-shirt, still resisting the comfort he offered. "Really, I'm fine..."
He stroked her hair a little more, and she burst into sobs against his chest. He tightened his arms around her, wishing he could protect her from her own grief somehow.
Warm affection flooded him as he held her. As upset as she'd been, as badly as her world had been shattered today, she'd done her best to support him, without ever asking for anything in return.
He thought of her words earlier: A total absence of love. Some think that's the definition of evil.
Chloe, he thought, loved him. Not in a romantic way, of course, but with a pure, selfless love that was absolute and unwavering. What Chloe gave him, day after day, year after year, was the furthest possible thing from a "total absence of love."
He thought that Chloe Sullivan was his own personal definition of good.
More to come...