The day Clark leaves Lana can't bring herself to leave her room.
Lying there all pathetic and sobbing for hours on end. Chloe sits quietly by the door and listens. She can't really think of a reason why. Occasionally she glances down the stairs waiting for her dad to get home, but mostly she sits there. Half the time she can't help but roll her eyes and sigh. Sad little Lana Lang. Queen Misery sitting on her throne of angst.
Chloe doesn't know why she is sad. She was barely through the door when she hears her. She already has enough on her mind with striking the deal with Lionel. Nearly thinking she'd just sold her soul but still mad enough not to care. She didn't need this to come home to. She goes into the kitchen, trying to ignore it all, looks through the mail, glances out the window to see that Mrs. Waterman is out in her garden. Checks out the fridge for a possible snack only to find a couple cans of soda and a bottle of apple juice.
It's hard to block out someone who is crying. Even if you thought you hated them. Slowly she makes her way up the stairs and peeks into Lana's room and asks what's wrong.
"Nothing," she says in between sniffs. "I'm fine. Just close the door."
So she closes it. Sits down on the floor and hasn't moved since.
Sometimes she wonders what the world would be like, if she, Clark, and Lana, the kids who got the shaft when it came to family function, got to live their fantasies of domesticated bliss. If Chloe's mom decided that morning she could stick it out. That her reasons were selfish. She was selfish. Or would Clark even be in any of their lives had his parents decided that they would keep him. If Lana's parents weren't fireballed from flaming rocks falling from the sky. She finds the train of thought kind of pointless. No point in wishing for what obviously never will be. But for the few precious seconds, the idea seems to flourish she can see all of them happy. Content. Something that seems to be a pretty foreign concept in their town.
Lana is a survivor. Even Chloe can give her that much credit. So much death dealt with. So much loss. Though, Chloe can see that if Lana doesn't marry right out of high school, she'll more than likely Bridget Jones her way into early spinsterhood. Abandonment issues piling up on each other until she's buried alive.
Still, she guesses that Lana has a right to cry. There really aren't arguments against it, though at the moment the act seems a bit random. However there's a part of the brass-tacked blonde that wants to yell at her for it. The way she lets the pain feed off of her. How she allows herself to wallow away in it. Oh boo-hoo, the world is out to get me because I sit here and let it. Well, if she thinks about it, some of it could be true. Let's face facts. The girl is a walking curse wrapped in a pretty smile. Death and solitude following her around like an ambitious stray dog.
So Lana cries. And Chloe listens. And for the life of her she can't think of anything else to do.
The day after Clark leaves Lana drops the bomb at breakfast.
Clark is gone.
The wave of mixed feelings at the sudden information churns Chloe's stomach so much that her freshly poured bowl of Grape Nuts doesn't look all too appetizing anymore. She watches as Lana sits at the counter, eyes still red and puffy after all those shed tears. She pushes the bowl away, waiting for more, but the brunette doesn't say anything else. Only stares at the sugar bowl and plays with her fingers. It certainly explains last night's sob fest.
The first thought that crosses Chloe's mind, disturbing as it is, is that she hopes Lionel won't send her after him. She gets the feeling that wherever the hell Clark chooses to hide himself, he won't be found if he doesn't want to be.
"He is?" Chloe replies and finds that it is all she can say.
Lana nods her head but still keeps quiet. Chloe can't even bring herself to say his name out loud because she thinks it will taste bitter on her tongue.
The second thought that crosses her mind is that Clark really didn't take that long to hurt Lana. And that he took his time with her. Strung her along like a little puppy, keeping her hopeful. For Lana he just picked the easiest thing in the world he could have done to her. He left.
"Do you know where he went?"
Chloe can tell she hasn't put much thought into it. The only relevant fact is that he is simply gone.
"No," she says softly. "He took his dad's motorcycle. He's just gone."
The third thought that crosses Chloe's mind is the last person she ever expected to leave Smallville is the first one to go.
Upon entering the office she finds it a mess. Again. Must have been the third time this year. Or maybe the fourth. Chairs are overturned and tossed all along the floor. Papers and folders fanning across linoleum. Drawers pulled out, their contents standing out for all to see. She sighs and nearly chokes on the cheap coffee she bought at the gas station on the way to school. Definitely not the best part of waking up. Lana didn't want a ride when she offered, and Chloe bets on good odds she won't be coming today. Too much crying to be done.
Ignoring the mess she moves toward her computer to sign on and check her mail. Her mailbox is flooded with bits and pieces of information from her many sources but nothing of real value. No inquiries from her employer. Her brow creases at the thought. Sullivans working for Luthors. Must be hereditary.
She glances at the clock seeing that she's late for first period. She throws away her still half-full cup of coffee into the garbage. Surveying the mess once more she notices that it isn't exactly a random act of vandalism. The way the drawers are opened and emptied. Someone was looking for something. She picks her way through pads of paper, pens, random erasers, and newspaper clippings. She searches through two desks before she remembers what she had hidden away in one of them. One of the last class rings that she'd taken before the recall.
This has Clark written all over it.
The school is buzzing with Clark's disappearance by lunch. Rumors flying about his mother's miscarriage, Lex getting married, or discovering where his real parents are. The student body hasn't let the coincidence of Lana's absence escape them either. Tales of lovers' journeys the ends of the Earth and eloping mix in with other bizarre stories. Chloe does her best to ignore them all. Information passed through lines never comes out the other end one hundred percent accurate.
When she gets back into the office it's surprisingly clean. She guesses that the second period yearbook class must have picked it all up. One less thing for her to do. She signs back on her computer to check her mail once more and finds a message from Lionel.
"Progress report. End of the week."
Blunt and to the point.
A half smile graces her lips. Honesty, no matter how twisted coming from a Luthor, is still refreshing. Pete comes bursting into the room barely making eye contact and collapses on a chair a few desks away. Chloe watches him out of the corner of her eye. He doesn't look very happy.
"I'm guessing you've heard," she says casually, keeping her eyes on the screen.
"You could say that," he replies just as casually.
"Do you know where he went?"
"Did he trash the office?" she asks. "Did he take my ring?"
Pete looks at her, visibly shifting in his chair, keeping his mouth shut. Eyes speaking volumes.
She nods absently.
"Written all over it," she mumbles. "Why did he want it?"
"Why did you have it?" He shoots back.
"Maybe he wanted the same thing."
"He couldn't think to ask?"
"Well he's gone now, isn't he? It doesn't matter."
She rolls her eyes. Everyone always covering up for Clark.
"What did he need it for, Pete? What was so important he just had to take it?"
Pete keeps his mouth shut again, the eyes a dead giveaway. He knows exactly why Clark took the ring. She waits patiently for an explanation, but Pete jumps from his chair and heads out into the hallway. Chloe watches him go and tries to remember the exact moment he turned into a liar.
Two days after Clark leaves Chloe finds herself on the Kent farm. Moon shining high above her, stars glittering against heavenly backdrop. She parks nearly half a mile down the road so that the Kents won't see her car or her snooping around. Nighttime or not, nothing about the farm seems that exceptionally different. The truck seems to be damaged, the grill cracked and the roof partially caved in, but that isn't too surprising with their track record of trucks.
She slips into the barn and up into Clark's loft only to find it virtually untouched since the last time she'd been up here. Nothing to help indicate where he might have gone. No trails to follow. She takes a moment to try to remember happier times when it was easy just being his friend. The nostalgia doesn't last too long because she thinks that it was never easy just being his friend. Sighing, she takes a picture, glances back at the house to see if the flash was noticed, and makes her way down to the floor and out of the barn.
The house is still, and it's mildly disconcerting because it never looked so dead. She genuinely feels bad for Mrs. Kent. She knows what it's like to lose something you wanted more than anything. Cautiously she makes her way toward the giant hole in the ground where the feed cellar used to be. She never paid it much mind before. There wasn't ever a reason to. This is a farm. It has a feed cellar. Well, to be technical, it had a feed cellar. She takes a few pictures above it before making her way down the broken stairs into the pit. She double-checks the house to make sure the Kents can't see her.
Mr. Kent always regarded her thirst for a story as an insult. And while on the outside he never vocalized his disapproval of her actions as much as he did Lex, she always got the feeling that they were both measured on the same wavelength in his mind.
Bits of broken wood protrude through the dirt as well as assorted storing jars and torn bags of feed. Kneeling she runs her fingers through a small mound. She thinks she can see green and silver flecks peppered through the Earth. She scoops some into her hand to examine it more closely and sees that yes, there are some strange-looking particles but they are too small to tell exactly what they are. She takes a sandwich bag from her satchel and places the handful inside. No doubt Lionel will want a sample. She quickly scribbles her observations into her notebook. One last check around the premises and she runs back to her car thinking Mr. Kent might be right in regarding her curiosity as an insult.
Three days after Clark leaves Lana is back at the Talon with a fake smile plastered on her face. Running around serving highly caffeinated beverages to the masses. Chloe sits at the counter watching the denial swirling around her roommate like a rain cloud threatening downpour. Chloe guesses denial is a staple of Lana's surviving so much.
"Hey," Lana says, her voice catching with slight hesitance.
Chloe fights the smirk itching to present itself. Now that Lana isn't locked away in her tower balling her eyes out and wishing to be left alone with all her sorrow and loneliness. She guesses that the brunette now feels the pull of guilt from how she'd acted when her and Clark had gotten together. How much of a hypocrite she'd been. How "if we could just be honest with our feelings" took a backseat to a balcony make-out session not worthy of Shakespearean lore. Lana knows she was wrong. Chloe knows she feels this way and lets her squirm.
"You didn't get home until pretty late last night," Lana says, turning back to the espresso machine.
Chloe lets the blatant avoidance of the more important issue between them go for now. Lana's guilt will eventually build and force her to come to terms with her actions and confess all wrongdoings. She is sadly predictable this way. For the first time in days Chloe smiles in Lana's presence.
"I was out following a few leads," she replies.
"You could say that."
Lana looks back to her waiting for more but Chloe remains vague. Lana tucks some hair behind her ear and Chloe asks for house coffee and a biscotti. She delivers then moves on to other customers. Chloe sips absently at her cup. Truthfully she isn't in the mood for coffee but she can't eat biscotti without something to drink. It's fresher than she assumes it would be from sitting inside a glass container all day.
She proofreads a few notes, careful to keeps them partially concealed so that even the slightest glance from Lana or anyone else wouldn't reveal the content. Lionel treats her like a professional. It's only fair that she acts like one.
Ten minutes later Pete walks through the doors and up to the counter and Lana makes a beeline for him.
"Have you heard anything?" she asks, the worry and desperation evident in her voice.
Chloe keeps her eyes focused on her notes but sees Pete shake his head, hears Lana's choked release of breath before she darts into the back. She lifts her gaze from the paper to meet Pete's. She can tell he's waiting for her to ask about Clark, too, and actually seems disappointed when she doesn't. She always seems to be two steps ahead of everyone when it comes to information, but the unsaid exchange of emotion surprises her.
She thinks the fact that she could care less about what happens to Clark is perfectly obvious.
Four days after Clark leaves Pete follows.
Lana tells her this while she stands in the doorway watching the brunette get ready to head to the Talon. He hadn't bothered to say anything to her. She thinks that her attitude toward the situation finally got through to him.
"How does Pete expect to find him if no one knows where he went?" Chloe asks.
Lana shrugs before putting on a pale pink sweater and starts brushing her hair.
"He said he was going to try Metropolis. He figures it'd be the first place Clark would go."
"And if he's not there?"
"Then I guess he'll try somewhere else."
"That sounds like a well thought-out plan."
"It's better than sitting here doing nothing," Lana replies.
Nothing seems to be working just fine, Chloe doesn't say. What else she doesn't say is that she's already got a pretty good idea where Clark is. Lionel put men on it within minutes of her telling him his project skipped town. An entire army at the flip of a phone. She knows Clark is in Metropolis. Or at least he was yesterday. Maybe he moved on already. Instinct wants her to call Pete to tell him not to waste his time but that would only result in having to explain how she knew where he was. And with the tinge of desperation to find him still evident in both Lana and Pete, she's pretty sure telling them her "sources" won't be enough.
Pete has already lost one friend to a Luthor. She doesn't want to see how hurt he'll be with another.
"Why do you want him back?" Chloe asks.
Lana's whole body seems to freeze. She doesn't like the question. Chloe can tell it's one she hasn't asked herself. One she is afraid to.
"How can you ask that?" Lana replies. "He's our friend. We care about him."
"Maybe," Chloe says under her breath.
"You're not worried?" Lana asks. "I know we've all had our problems these last few months, but he's still our friend, Chloe. He's still saved all of our lives."
"Then lied about it later," Chloe shoots back.
"He..." Lana pauses, her voice growing quiet. "He had good reason," she defends.
"Oh, I'm sure he did. But did he ever bother to share any of those reasons? Did he ever clue us in? He expected us to come clean about practically everything while he rode on his high horse looking down on you and me. He's a liar, Lana. He's a hypocrite. He never told the truth but expected nothing less from all of us," Chloe flares. "About anything."
Lana flinches at the last barb, knowing exactly what she meant by it.
"We were going to tell you," she begins.
"I'm sure I would have gotten a nice invitation on your wedding day."
A tear slips down Lana's cheek and she quickly wipes it away.
"What I don't get," Chloe says, regulating her voice back to normal, "is that he's done nothing but hurt you, hurt me, all year. The way he kept on playing with our emotions like he did. The way he kept building your hopes up just to cut you down."
Lana shifts on her feet, clearly not wanting to hear any of it.
"Someone told me that love makes you blind to nearly every one of a person's faults. He's gone, Lana," she says. "He left you."
Chloe pushes herself away from the door, moving closer to Lana who's tears haven't stopped falling with the first one, and gently puts her hands on both Lana's wrists.
"Take the blindfold off," she says quietly.
"I...," Lana chokes, quickly pulling her arms away and buttoning her sweater. "I have to go to work."
Five days after Clark leaves Lana is back in her room.
Back to crying and cradling the phone waiting for Pete to call with news. Chloe peeks her head through the doorway expecting to be told to go away, but the other girl doesn't seem to notice her. She glances at her watch. She has to type out her progress report and send it to Lionel by five o'clock. It's already three-thirty.
"Lana?" Chloe asks, knocking on the doorframe.
Lana finally takes notice of her, shifts upward on the bed so that she's sitting up. "I'm fine," she says.
"I can see that," Chloe responds. "I have to go to the Torch and work on something. Dad said he was going to be late again so I was wondering if you wanted me to pick up dinner on the way back or anything."
Lana thinks this over for a minute.
"No, that's okay. I can just make something later." She hesitates. "Thank you though. I thought... I thought you were mad at me."
"Oh, I am," Chloe replies, moving from the door. "Doesn't mean I'm inconsiderate."
An hour later she's going over the final draft of her report when her cell phone rings.
"Hello?" she says, voice grated with irritation at the interruption.
"Miss Sullivan," Lionel's voice croons through the earpiece. "I trust our deadline will be met?"
"I'm looking over it as we speak. It'll be there on time."
"Good to hear. I look forward to your findings."
"What is this?" Chloe prods. "Calling to check up on me already?"
"Standard procedure with a new employee," Lionel replies. "I like to make sure young go-getters like yourself are aware of expected punctuality."
"I get it just fine, Mr. Luthor."
"We'll see in half an hour, won't we?"
"You won't be disappointed."
"See that I'm not. And by the way, it seems our mutual friend Mr. Kent has moved on to greener pastures."
"Meaning, Miss Sullivan, that he and his motorcycle no longer occupy Metropolis. My men tell me he just left town a little over an hour ago. They also tell me that a Mr. Ross also seems to be giving chase. Isn't that something I should have been aware of?"
"Sounds to me like you're quite aware."
"Do I detect sarcasm?"
"I apologize, Mr. Luthor, but if you're so intent on your deadline I suggest letting me reach it."
"While I commend your work ethic, respect of one's employer is an issue I hope won't come between us."
"I don't think it will be."
"Good. I look forward to reading what you have for me."
He hangs up without saying goodbye and Chloe finds herself humming the Imperial March.
Six days after Clark leaves Pete returns.
He knocks on the front door and asks for Lana, who isn't home. Pete nods his head at the information but makes no move to leave. Chloe stares at him wondering if this will be the extent of their friendship from now on. Small and cut sentences resulting only in an exchange of information. It is something she will definitely miss because before this year Pete was about the closest friend she had. Before everything seemed to get weirder and the meteor freaks kept popping out of the woodwork without signs of slowing down. Pete who helped her cry over Clark after their could-have-been relationship fell to hell. Pete who stood by her whenever she needed him. Pete (though under the influence of a mind-altering flower) who called her beautiful. Pete who chose his side.
"Did you find him?" she asks.
"Do you care?"
"Then why ask?"
She shrugs and waves her hand dismissively. The exchange killing her inside. This is Pete. This is your friend. Do you want to lose all your friends?
"My nature," she says, the cool in her voice chilling her to the bone.
"Did I miss something?" Pete asks.
For a second she thinks he can see right through her. That she doesn't want to stop being his friend but she's sick and tired of being pushed aside and lied to. That she doesn't want to hurt anyone but can't help that her hand has been forced.
"I had a lot to think about while driving," he goes on. "About Clark and Lana. About you and me."
She can't help but roll her eyes that he used the two of them in the same sentence.
"What happened, Chloe?" He asks. "I know you're hurting over them and everything. I know they could have handled it better than they did. Even Lana thinks so. She's the one who told me. But you knew how they felt about each other. It's not like it was some big secret."
"Oh, thanks a lot."
"I'm serious. You can't deny that you knew how they felt about each other."
Chloe furrows her brow and moves to shut the door in his face but he steps half inside blocking her.
"Would you have wanted him to fake it?" He asks. "Would you really have been happier?"
"It's not about them," she says.
"No? Got to see it where I'm looking from."
The tone of his voice incites her rage so much she nearly slaps him. Who the hell did he think he was to just coming waltzing up to her door throwing all her feelings about her part in Smallville high's inane love triangle? What did he think this would do to her? Did he just expect her to breakdown and admit that her distance, her coolness, her newfound and downright loathing of Clark Kent had nothing to do with the fact that he wasn't who he appeared to be? That she was just some heartbroken little girl with a grudge? She nearly slaps him and he knows it.
"I'm sorry," he says. "Maybe I shouldn't have said it like that."
He throws his hands up in mock surrender.
"I just wanted to know when I ended up on your 'wish they were dead' list with Clark and Lana."
This is Pete, she thinks. Pete who has been hurting you without meaning to. Pete who has been covering strange occurrences up and lying about the details. Pete who runs off with no explanations. Pete who acts just like Clark.
"You turned into him," she says softly.
"If I asked you anything about Clark," she says. "Anything I wanted. Would you answer me?"
Pete's mouth tilts downward into a frown, knowing he won't be able to answer the question. He steps back from the door, defeat and apology heavy in his silence.
"No," Chloe says. " I didn't think so."
This time she does close the door in his face.
She gets the full story of Pete's adventure from Lana later that night. Once he'd gotten to Metropolis he drove in a full circle of the city limits, then cut it down into sections for a more concentrated search. Chloe, despite herself, is impressed and thinks that her sarcasm about the plan not being well though out was unfounded. Lana tells her that he went to nearly every club, dive bar, and motorcycle hang out he could find.
"Clark doesn't do clubs," Chloe says disbelievingly. "And bars? Cutting loose to him is leaving his collar unbuttoned."
"Well, there was that one time," Lana offers.
"Yeah, but wasn't he out of his mind then?" Chloe asks. "Didn't he have some lame excuse for acting the way he did?"
"He tried to tell me that it was something else that made him do it."
"Like a flower that makes you lose all inhibition?"
Lana blushes and looks away. She knows she will never live that day down.
"Kind of," she concedes. "But I told him that it was all him. He just wasn't hiding it anymore."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. He walked away."
"That sounds more like him."
"Pete thinks he's acting that way again."
"How? And what for?"
"I don't know."
Chloe remembers when Clark suddenly lost his shyness and really let himself go. Sure he acted like a greedy, woman-using, full of himself egotistical jerk. But he sure didn't seem afraid to speak his mind. He finally, much to her dismay, took the plunge and asked Lana out. She remembers how they both still skirted around the subject in her presence. She also remembers how angry Lana was when she came home that night. How shocking it was that level-headed Lana finally blew a gasket. She remembers how Clark tried to cover up everything he'd said and done when the attitude seemed to magically disappear.
She rests her head in her hand, absently tapping her finger against her cheek while she thinks. Lana still rambles on about all Pete had seen and done, but Chloe is hardly paying attention. Clark had begun to act funny right around the time she discovered all the class rings were fakes. Cheap, red-veined meteor rocks passed off as rubies. She didn't think anything of it at the time because there wasn't anything to think about. But now as she looks back she can remember him saying something out of character nearly the second he put his ring on. He stole the ring she kept in her desk only days ago, and Pete tells Lana he's acting like rebel without a care all over again?
The connection is there but she just can't seem to bridge the two things together. She knows lots of people who bought the rings and the only affect they seemed to have on them was anger that they'd been ripped off. Clark and the class rings. Red veined meteor rocks. Clark's inhibitions flying out the window...
"Chloe?" Lana asks. "Are you okay? Kind of lost you there for a second."
"Huh? Oh. I'm sorry. I, uh, just remembered something I had to write down. Big project in the works."
"You could say that," Chloe says getting up and heading to her room for her notes.
Clark and red-veined meteor rocks.
Lionel will definitely be interested in this.
Seven days after Clark leaves Chloe sits at her computer exhausting what's left of her brainpower.
Her theory on Clark and the meteor rocks still isn't fully formed as she puts it into writing, but she thinks that Lionel may be able to comprehend enough of it on his own and maybe even form an opinion on the strange occurrence she notes. He may even be able to find another sample she could experiment with.
Her fingers ache from a marathon of typing and information gathering on everything else she could find regarding Clark. Various police reports from all over Smallville with his name constantly popping up. Most of it she already knows having been around and/or involved in a number of incidents. The reports she finds in Metropolis PD's millions of files are somewhat surprising, but only because she hadn't gotten many details from most of them. Especially the one involving a crooked cop extraordinaire. Clark hadn't mentioned that one at all. No surprise there.
She tells Lionel of fire-controlling coaches and guys falling into lakes and coming out Frosty the Serial Killer. Of shape-shifting teenage girls and telekinetic artists with crushed hands. Psychotic Siamese twin-wooing jerks and cheerleaders who suck the life from your body. Bug morphing shut-ins and bee-controlling political pugilists.
She tells Lionel all these things as well as her firsthand accounts on most of them. Of Clark's involvement and miraculous habit of saving the day. She leaves out the incident when she was buried alive out in Chandler's Field. She has no doubt that Lionel will find it interesting reading but she herself doesn't like to think about it. Sometimes before she drifts off to sleep she can feel herself in that box kicking and clawing, wishing she were strong enough to break free. She shivers now because that's the last time she remembers being honestly grateful to see Clark. Sometimes she feels the bitterness wants to eat her alive.
She leaves that part out and thinks that if Lionel really wants to know, he can find out himself.
She stops by the Talon on her way home, but Lana is far too busy to chat. She thinks it strange that the place is so busy on a weeknight so near closing time. She tells Lana that she'll see her at home but the other girl doesn't hear her. Chloe heads back to her car just in time to see Pete pull up. She almost waves before she remembers she's mad at him.
Once she gets home she finds a message on the answering machine from her dad saying he is going to be late again. She walks into the kitchen look for something to snack on. Five hours on the computer and she didn't once think of getting up for something to eat. The cupboards provide nothing worth preparing, as does the fridge. Sighing she tosses her bag on the table and grabs an apple from the fruit basket.
Right now she realizes she's growing stagnant in her investigation. With Clark not around to provide a slew of new information she's rapidly drying up the wells of the existing. She takes a bite of the apple and brainstorms other options. Interviews maybe. But then, all the people who really know anything are the ones she has to hide from. Or random passers by never really see anything worth using. She sighs and eats and thinks.
The house is empty.
She hates the quiet.
Quiet means thinking about what she's doing. Quiet means realizing what's she doing.
She has to push it away because she knows that if she thinks about what she's doing she'll start to cry.
Once that happens she doesn't think she'll be able to stop.
Eight days after Clark leaves the world finds out Lex is missing.
That his honeymoon was prematurely cut short when his plane decided to take a refreshing dip in the ocean, and the wreckage discovered only days ago by a fishing trawler. Headlines of nearly every major newspaper in the country screaming foul play.
Most of the people in Smallville aren't that affected by his disappearance. In fact a lot of them were waiting for the day he left and never came back. From what most of the reports say, it looks like the townsfolk will get their wish.
Pete, from what she sees of him lately, expresses his predictable opinion when it comes to Lex. Lana is naturally worried and wondering how it happened, and just what exactly went wrong. Chloe herself doesn't put that much thought into it. Yes, it is tragic. Yes, it is shocking. But she and Lex only had a few run-ins and stray conversations, and she's always regarded him as Clark's friend.
Authorities, what little of them actually speak to the press, admit that the plane did not go down due to any mechanical failure. And with nearly all of the reported crew was not found among the wreckage, there is the suspicion of sabotage.
Chloe wonders absently if Lionel is twisted enough to kill his own son. Then realizes that she both knows, yet doesn't want to know, the answer.
When Lionel calls her later that day to compliment another fine report, his voice shows no emotions that his son is missing and presumed dead. He merely offers his praise on her eye for detail and use of prose. And that her theory about red-veined meteor rocks won't be taken lightly.
"I look forward to seeing your name in print," he says. "Your first deadline for the Planet is next week."
He hangs up without another word, and she's left thinking of a subject for her column.
Nine days after Clark leaves Lana storms into Chloe's room.
Chloe lifts her eyebrows in amusement at Lana's indignant stance. The girl doesn't wear anger well. She puts down the notebook she was writing in and faces her guest.
"Is something wrong?" She asks.
Lana seems appalled at the question. That it is even asked. She glares at Chloe as if she expects her to melt from it.
"What are you doing?" Lana asks, folding her arms across her chest.
"I'm sitting on my bed making notes," Chloe replies. "Did that turn into a crime?"
"Why are you asking questions about Clark?" Lana fires off. "I thought you didn't care what happens to him. I though you were glad he's gone."
"What? Where is this coming from?"
"Claire Jacobs told me you were going around asking people all these weird questions about Clark. About how he's always around when strange things happen. She told me you asked her if she's ever seen him do something another person couldn't possibly do."
Chloe cringes inwardly at how sloppy she became after deciding a few interviews conducted here and there, amongst the most random clique's of people who had nothing to do with each other, wouldn't come back to blow up in her face. She wasn't even aware that Claire and Lana knew each other. Lana sees her cringe and looks momentarily triumphant.
"They are valid questions, Lana;" Chloe begins, gathering her bearings. "You know we both have them. Don't get mad at me because I'm the one who's asking."
"Is this what you were waiting for?" Lana shoots back. "An opportunity to dig into his private life when he's not here to defend himself?"
"Don't you mean deny?" Chloe counters. "That he isn't here to get mad and tell me to back off because he's afraid of what I might find out. That I might finally get a glimpse of that part of him he never let's us see?"
"Were you just going to keep this from me?" Lana asks. "From Pete?"
"Why not? It's not like we're sitting around in a merry little circle dumping out all of our thoughts into one neat little pile. All our feelings."
"Is that what this is about? Jealousy? You're jealous, aren't you? That he picked me."
Well now, Chloe thinks as the anger cultivates inside her. Wasn't expecting that from little miss let's-get-along now, were you?
"This isn't about you, Lana," Chloe says through clenched teeth.
"Oh, it isn't?"
"No. This is about him. It's always been about him. It's never been about you and me. There hardly is a you and me. We go to the same school, you live in my house, and we have some mutual friends. But we're hardly friends, are we, Lana? If Clark Kent never existed I doubt we would have ever even talked to each other."
"That's..." Lana begins, faltering. "That's not true."
"What is truth to you, anyway? Is it actual statement of fact or only what you choose to believe?"
"People say the most important thing in any relationship is honesty. Truth. And then they spend most of their lives avoiding it. We had a pact, didn't we? To always be honest with our feelings. What happened to that, Lana? You want truth? You want honesty? I don't think you'd know what it looked like."
"You're the second best liar I ever met."
Lana turns her head as if she's been slapped, her anger and energy draining from her.
"How can you say that?" She asks.
"I know what I see," she replies. "I'm going to answer your question, Lana. I'm going to be honest with you."
Lana looks back to her, her mind trying to anticipate whatever may come her way.
"Lionel Luthor asked me to investigate Clark," she says defiantly. "I said yes."
"What?" Lana gasps, anticipation serving no use. "How could you..? Why would you ever think of doing that?"
"Because I hate him."
"You don't really mean that."
"See what I mean by truth, Lana? Here it is looking you right in the face and you still don't want to see."
"I can't believe you could do this."
Lana looks at her, eyes wide with shock and near disgust.
"What about his parents?" She asks. "Do you have any idea what this will do to them? God, Chloe, Martha just lost her baby, she doesn't need this. And what about Mr. Kent, do you know how mad he'll be? How betrayed you make the both of them feel?"
Chloe falters the slightest bit, Lana vocalizing all questions in her mind she refused to acknowledge. The last sliver of her conscious crying out through the madness. What about the Kents? They'd done nothing to her. How could she do this? The questions are all relevant, all cutting deep inside. But her anger quickly takes it over, her ambition fueling the fire. She will not lose. She can't.
"They'll survive," Chloe says. "They have so far."
"It's like I don't even know who you are anymore."
Another one, cutting to bone. Chloe wonders where Lana learned to fight back like this. She's shaken a little. But she's still standing. She will not fall.
"I can't stop this, you know. I can't go back."
"Then why tell me?
"Because you hate him too."
"What? I don't hate Clark I..."
"Stop!" Chloe shouts. "Just stop, okay? Oh, you two were so in love, right? Mind if I ask a question? What the hell took you so long, huh? And why did I have to get dragged along for the ride? If you were so in love, it should have been easy. But it wasn't easy, was it? And you know it never will be.
"You hate him as much as I do. Maybe even more. You thought he was different, didn't you? The way he helped. The way he made you feel. But he just turned out to be like your parents, and Nell, and Whitney, and every other person who claimed to love you."
"T-that's not..." Lana drops off, voice quavering.
She looks away, the seed of denial sprouting in her thoughts. Chloe sees this, knows she's won, and moves from her bed to where Lana is standing, grabbing Lana's face between her hands. Forcing her to see the cold ugly truth. Tears well in Lana's eyes, threatening to spill across her fingers. Chloe doesn't move her hands, silently willing her to be that girl who believes honesty is the solution to everything.
"It's easy to hate someone for not loving you," Chloe says. "Trust me on that. But it's even easier when you know they do."
Lana doesn't deny any of what she's said, the fight in her eyes fading like a candle reaching its end. She nods mutely and Chloe feels near relief that she seems to have run out of zeal to keep going. And that maybe she's not the only one who'd do nearly anything to get this gut-wrenching ache removed from her body. That being so uncontrollably angry with someone can lead you to do things you never thought yourself capable of. It may take a little conditioning for Lana. But Chloe thinks that there will be more than enough time. Chloe knows she's going down and doesn't want to do it alone.
When Clark comes back, if he ever does. He will see that his hold over the two of them will be gone. And there won't be a damn thing he could do to get it back.
A small victory.
It feels almost powerful. Like she's getting a taste of what Lionel so whole-heartedly takes advantage of.
It's enough to make her feel sick. But not enough to make her stop.
Ten days after Clark leaves Pete follows.
She glances absently at the clock, double-checking her mind for any deadlines she may have forgotten. She sighs and looks down at the pot of non-boiling water as she stirs some of her dad's special recipe sauce. She wonders if she got it right, or if she'll just be tasting glorified ketchup.
Lana stands next to Chloe, phone in hand, telling her he'd received an anonymous phone call saying that Clark is currently in Keystone City and that if he wanted to help his friend he should leave as soon as possible before he moves on. Good ol' Pete, Chloe thinks. Doesn't even hesitate before jumping into his Camaro and once again flooring it out of town. He called and she picked up the phone. He asked for Lana. He only wanted to tell her what he was doing and that maybe this time he would actually find Clark and bring him home. Lana says good luck to him and hangs up.
"That was strange," Lana says as she puts the phone back in the cradle.
"Oh?" Chloe replies as she stands in front of the stove impatiently waiting for water to boil.
"Someone told him Clark is in Keystone City. I mean, who would know that?"
"Anyone could know that, Lana. And maybe he is in Keystone City. It's only another few hours east of Metropolis."
Lana looks at her.
"I thought it was you."
Chloe looks back and laughs softly to herself.
"Come on, you knew it was me."
"You scare me a lot lately, Chloe," Lana says softly.
"I know," she whispers dumping a bag's worth of pasta into the now-boiling water.
"So why did you tell Pete to go all the way to Keystone?' Lana asks. "Sending him on a wild goose chase?"
"Not entirely," Chloe replies. "I think Pete needs this. Haven't you noticed that he and Clark have been a lot closer this year compared to last? And even though Pete and I don't get along right now it's easy to see he feels the need to do something. Besides, the last I heard he was there. Hey, do me a favor and stir the sauce will you?"
"You know where Clark is? Lana says in a rush. "Were you going to tell me?"
"Why? You going to run after him, too?"
"No, she replies. "It's just... I'd feel a little better knowing he was all right. I still care about him, Chloe. I can't shut that off so easily."
"Yeah, I know that, too. So what about my sauce, you going to let it coagulate or what? The noodles will be ready in a few minutes."
"Sure," Lana says, moving dutifully to stir.
Minutes pass as Chloe watches the noodles and Lana stirs the sauce, each of them content to their own thoughts for the time being.
"You're probably going to think this is stupid," Lana begins.
"But I used to think of him as an angel. The way he seemed to watch over all of us. How he was always there if we got into trouble and how he always seemed to make it better somehow. Safer."
Chloe thinks about this. Remembers what it was like to feel that way.
"You're right," Chloe says as she moves to grab two plates from the cupboard. "That is kind of stupid."
Lana nods as she turns the burner off and accepts her fresh plate of pasta and pours the sauce across the top. Chloe does the same and they both move to take their seats at the table.
"It's how it felt though," Lana finishes.
Chloe knows exactly what she means. Knows and hates herself for it.
She scoops two mounds of noodles onto each plate and motions for Lana to pour sauce over the both of them. Once done she moves over to the table and sets the plates down before returning to the stove to shut off the burners. Lana sits at the table, cautiously blowing away the steam rising from her food. She takes a bite, eyes widening slightly from the flavors enlightening her tongue. Chloe notes this and smiles. Dad's recipe always got the same reaction.
"This is really good," Lana says.
Lana falls asleep on the couch. Hours of schoolwork and coffee grindage taking its toll. Chloe shakes her head. Not even twenty minutes into the second movie and she's already out. Lana's little "let's hang out and prove that we were friends, that we are friends" marathon. Chloe isn't entirely bothered that she fell asleep. She has some last-minute editing to do on her column, which is due tomorrow. She can practically feel the butterflies tornado-ing around her stomach. Her name in print in the pages of one of the largest newspapers in the country. The price so seemingly worth it.
Lana moans softly in her slumber and Chloe looks down to her sleeping form. It's hard to understand what Clark sees in her. The beauty is obvious. Everything with a Y chromosome knows it. But she knows it has to be deeper for him. You don't harness crushes for years on end based off looks. They are both practically the same height, so it can't be sheer convenience for the make-out factor.
While at one time it could have been some kinky fetish for cheerleaders, she'd given that up far too long ago for it to be an issue. Chloe looks and thinks and wonders. She's not overly talented in any one thing. She rides horses pretty well. She can take down a would-be attacker, thanks to some one-time miracle self-defense course. Nothing to make her stand out from the crowd.
She owns a coffeehouse.
Now there's something not every teenage girl can say about herself. But not something that would keep Clark's interest. It'd been finely honed long before she became an entrepreneur.
Chloe reaches down to Lana's hair, pale fingers guiding themselves through black silk.
Lana winces, face contorting against some dreamed enemy, soft moan escaping her lips.
Poor little Lana Lang and her cursed life. Destined to forever be the victim.
The answer comes to her so clearly she nearly smacks her forehead with her hand.
Clark loves playing hero. Being Mr. Superior. Being Mr. Saves the Day. He needs it. Thrives on it.
Heroes need victims.
Victims need heroes.
Chloe, as long as she can help it, refuses to let herself be cast in that role again.
Lana, as long as she's still breathing, will play it until the day she dies.
And there will be Clark, saving her, every step of the way.
They're perfect for each other.
Chloe can't help but feel sorry for the both of them.
Eleven days after Clark leaves Chloe quietly slips past the gate of the Kent farm.
Once again she parked a way down the road, keeping her car far from view. She walks softly her feet making the slightest crunch against the gravel. It's a strange night. The sky is full of clouds. No moon. No stars. She keeps her breathing regular as she approaches the side of the barn, keeping her eyes fixed on the house. There are no lights. No shadows of movement. A safe bet that both of the Kents are asleep.
Edging her way to the door she steps in a puddle collecting under a spout protruding from the wall. Biting back a curse she continues on, her waterlogged shoe making squishing noises against the ground. The door creaks slightly as she opens it, eyes darting back to the house. No matter how many times she finds herself sneaking around somewhere she knows she isn't supposed to be, her nerves never seem to get used to it. The slightest noise would make her leap from her skin.
Once inside the barn she clicks on her flashlight and pauses. She knows exactly what she's looking for, just not the slightest clue where to find it. Her latest theory, the one that formed a near pit in her stomach at the excruciating obviousness. One that didn't seemed too far-fetched considering where they lived. One that could explain fundamentally everything.
She waves the flashlight slowly back and forth, the beam dancing across machinery covered in canvas tarps. Tools that are lying unused on shelves and workbenches and bails upon bales of hay. As she looks around she lifts a few tarps, opens a few drawers, and pushes aside a few hay bails. Grinning slightly to herself at metaphorical needles.
Walking around the bottom floor she comes up empty-handed. As she expected to. She doesn't know if he even keeps it in the barn, of if he would have to have it on his person at all times. She hopes it's not in the house. Martha rarely leaves it since her return from the hospital, and she doesn't think she could stomach conning her way inside just to get a look around. Or the fact that she couldn't have enough time to get a good look in Clark's room.
Giving up on the ground floor she makes her way up the stairs.
Her stomach was full of butterflies the last time she broke in here, but now a sense of eerie calm washes over her. She moves over to the ratty old couch and pulls away the cushions. All she finds is some loose change and broken bits of old crackers. A stray Cheeto seeming a bit out of place. She tilts the whole thing on its side, gritting her teeth against the unexpected weight, only to find a dirty sock. She lets the couch drop back down, the sound cracking onto the floorboards far louder than she expected.
She knows she should leaves as soon as possible, no sense in risking getting caught in the act after such a slip up, and gives up on discretion. She plows through every little box, drawer, and bag in the loft. It has to be here, she thinks. It would explain so much.
But as with the rest of her search she finds nothing. She kicks her leg out in frustration, foot contacting with Clark's trunk sitting unnoticed under the window. Kneeling down she finds the latch locked. She doesn't have time to find a key. She reaches into her bag and finds a nail file. Shaking her head she hopes it's as easy as it looks on TV.
Jamming the file into the keyhole and twisting works to no avail. She sighs and feels slightly dumb for thinking it would work like that. Pulling back she tries to think of how to possibly finesse her way through it. She's read enough crime novels where lock picking was a regular occurrence. She re-inserts the file feeling around for the, what were they called? Tumblers. That's right tumblers. The tip of the file pushes on something, she can only guess it's what it's supposed to be pushing on. It feels like it's the right thing to do and she tries to turn the lock.
She tries again, and again, and again.
Finally she remembers the clich of using a bobby pin to pick locks and she reaches into her hair for one.
"Here goes nothing," she mutters to herself.
She sticks the bobby pin in the lock alongside the file. On the first attempt it twists slightly better than the file alone but the latch still doesn't click open. Same for second attempt. Same for the third. On the fourth try she's finally able to twist it just enough for the lock to click open. For a second she stares at it in disbelief.
I can't believe that worked, she thinks.
Shaking her head from her thoughts she quickly removes the file and bobby pin, shoving them both into her bag, before she flips open the latch. Shining her flashlight into the trunk disappointment kicks into her stomach. Nothing but books and papers sit in the trunk. A baseball glove she'd never seen before and a picture of the whole family when Clark was a little boy. Nothing of any real importance. She takes out the picture and looks at Clark, a sweet innocent smile on his face.
Her face twists into a scowl and she tosses the photo back in the trunk. She sighs heavily and is about to close the trunk when beam of light falls on an indiscriminant box sitting in the corner. Grabbing it with her right hand, she tucks the flashlight under the crook of her left arm. For a moment she hesitates and thinks that so much anticipation can only lead to disappointment.
She opens the box, awe causing her to drop the flashlight; it no longer needed as her face now awash in green luminescence. She rolls the meteor back and forth in her palm, thinking it strange that something so small can affect the town so much; along with five million other thoughts in her mind screaming "you were right."
Clark Kent is nothing but another meteor freak.
The lights in the barn suddenly flicker on and Chloe instinctively tosses the box back into the trunk, closing the lid, and then trying in vain to hide herself in front of the couch.
"I know you're up there," Jonathan Kent's voice carries over the banister. "You may as well come out now."
She remains crouched in front of the couch weighing her options. There isn't another door she can blindly throw herself through, or some secret escape hatch to quietly slip out of. Briefly she flirts with the idea of taking her chances with the window. But she doesn't think she has it in her to take another drop that big. Slowly moving from her position she raises her hands over her head in surrender.
"I'm coming down," she says.
As she moves to the top of the stairs she sees Mr. Kent standing in the middle of the floor, shotgun firmly in hand. She stops for a second noticing his tired eyes and unshaven face. His disheveled clothes and drooping stance. With everything that's been going on the last few days he doesn't look like he's slept through any of them.
Thankfully he relaxes his grip on the gun once he sees her.
"Chloe?" he asks tiredly. "Young lady, do you have any idea what time it is?"
Chloe glances at her watch.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Think! She chides herself. Think of something.
"I miss him," she says, the words tasting so foreign in her mouth. "I just wanted to see if I could find anything around that could tell us where he might have gone."
There, she thinks. Not your best work but it might pass. Honesty in these situations is all about perspective.
Mr. Kent seems skeptical.
"Is that right?" He says. "And you thought now would be a good time? There are times and place for these things, Chloe. You don't break into someone's property. Especially not on a whim."
Would you prefer it if I had a plan? She thinks.
"I know," She replies robotically. "I'm sorry."
Mr. Kent's skepticism seems to grow. His features slowly slipping from annoyance to anger.
"Are you?" He asks.
"Are you sorry?" He repeats. "Because you don't look very sorry to me. No, I see a girl who knows exactly what she was doing."
His words are like a kick to the stomach. The school bully pinning her to the ground in the corner of the playground.
"I think you were snooping around up there," he continues. "I think you were looking for something."
He knows something. He knows everything. She can see what happened clearly. Lana is scared for her. Scared of her. Lana thinks that she's lost her mind.
"Mr. Kent, I was just..."
"Looking for clues to find my son," he shoots back. "Yes, you said that already. I just don't think I believe your reasons."
Lana marched right up to their door, confessed sobbingly that she's known what crazy Chloe's been doing for little over a week. She's fallen off the deep end. She hates your son so much she'll do anything to hurt him. She can see Martha's shocked reaction. Jonathan's grim frown as he sets his jaw so tight he could crush cans. Lana the doormat. Lana the squealer. Lana the traitor. Goody two shoes Lana Lang who'll be in love with Clark until she dies from it.
"If you ever cared about my son, you wouldn't stab him in the back."
Chloe shakes her head slightly, feels that uncontrollable anger festering inside. The black pit inside her soul slowly taking over. How dare he talk to you this way, it says. How dare he assume to know what you feel?
"I'd watch what you say, Mr. Kent," she says coolly.
"I beg your pardon," he says slowly, as if he can't believe she'd take such a tone with him.
"Yes I've been snooping," she goes on. "But who's to say this is the first time? Who's to say what I've found out when you haven't caught me?"
The look on Mr. Kent's face is priceless to her. She wishes she hadn't left her camera in the car. He's caught halfway between anger at her sudden insolence, and fear of what she knows.
"Maybe I know more than you think I do," she says. "Maybe I know everything."
He swallows audibly and she shifts her feet nervously when she sees his finger twitch the slightest bit on the trigger of his gun. It scares her to see this small slip of control. But she tells herself she's only getting to him. Digging in under his skin.
"I think I have the upper hand here, Mr. Kent," she says. "Because you don't know what I know. And I think that scares you more than that gun scares me."
He looks down and the two-barrel in his hands as if he'd forgotten it was there.
"You are in over your head, little girl," he warns. "You have no idea what Lionel Luthor is capable of."
"I have a pretty good idea," she replies.
"He'll turn on you. I don't know what he offered but I guarantee the price can't be worth it."
"Was Clark worth the price you paid?" She counters. "Was he worth selling out the Ross' cream corn factory? Was he worth bringing the plague of Luthor on Smallville? I have to tell you, Mr. Kent, Lionel may not be the most honest bee in the hive, but he's much more willing to share information if you ask nicely."
"Now you listen to me," he begins, teeth gritted. Taking a step forward.
"This is the part where you tell me it was a completely different set of circumstances, right? That I'm just a kid and I don't know anything about it? Unlike you, I know what Lionel can do. I've known it from the beginning. And also unlike you I'm not expecting him to do me any favors without expecting something in return. I'm not that nave."
"Get out," he says, voice boiling over with anger. His knuckles white against his gun. "Before I do something I can't take back. Get out and never come back. I don't ever want to see you again."
Chloe thinks it unwise to reply. He is letting her go. She quickly storms down the stairs and brushes past him and out the door. Once outside she makes a mad dash for the road and her car.
It's a strange night.
All clouds. No moon. No stars.
She gets to her car, lungs aching from the run; she tries to grab her keys from her bag but drops them in the dirt and throws up when she tries reach for them. Collapsing to the ground she feels the tears stream down her face, the black pit inside her soul slowly receding away. She can't control her anger anymore. If someone threatens her she goes for the jugular.
Leaning back against her car her breathing slowly regulates and wipes her hand across her forehead. The price, she thinks, Mr. Kent's words echoing in her mind. The price she pays to see the words "By Chloe Sullivan" in bold print in some easily brushed over section of the Daily Planet. The price she pays to play devil's advocate. The price that drove Pete away. The price that drove Lana away. The price that is slowly twisting her into something she would have once been repulsed by. The price she pays to learn the truth.
How funny it seems to be so important. How funny it is at how much faith and need the human race puts into it. How funny is seems that the unstoppable search for answers has her plowing down anything that stands before her. Lionel wanted her to investigate Clark in exchange for a column. But the truth is the offer was merely an incentive. Not a motive.
The truth is she misses Clark. Her mind fights the emotion every second of everyday since his disappearance. And from the conflict comes the anger. The unforgiving and uncontrollable anger.
The truth is she's glad he's gone.
Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen days after Clark leaves the sun will still rise. The Earth will still spin. The sun will still fall.
And he won't have to see the shadow she's become.
The truth is she loves him so much she hates him.
She asks herself if all this truth is really worth everything she's paying for it.
The truth is she doesn't know the answer.
Reaching into her pocket she pulls out the meteor. Her face awash in green luminescence.
The truth is that Clark wasn't who she thought he was. And he never will be.
The only truth she can be sure about him is staring her right in the face.
The truth is that the great Clark Kent is nothing more than a meteor freak.
Love makes you blind to a person's faults. To A person's secrets.
The truth is that she's not afraid to see.
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