Making sure that nobody was around, he slowed to a speed at which he was visible and then to a walking pace. Several prematurely fallen leaves crunched beneath his tan shoes as he dragged his feet along the sidewalk, hands in his pants pockets and eyes trained down at his feet. Chloe's screams were still echoing in his head, her tortured face still floating through his mind.
He had never imagined that he would come back to find everything so badly awry. He had resided in the Fortress of Solitude for two months, unaware of the happenings of his hometown despite his new knowledge of his own roots. What pained him the most was that he hadn't even known that Chloe was missing, hadn't even known that his house was in ruins—he was too busy trapped in that crystalline structure while Jor-El taught him about his heritage. Finally he had found a way out, or, rather, Jor-El told him the way out. He shuddered, not sure of what he thought about this new ability. Longing to see his friends and family again had empowered him to leap up into the air… and fly back to Smallville.
He had returned to find a construction sight where his house used to be; they were rebuilding the farm. His parents had been mildly injured by a meteor that hit the house, thankfully not exploding through the room they were in. Jason, though receiving the same amount of the blast that Clark's parents had, died, which was no surprise considering he had already been shot. Clark had learned all of this when he found his parents, who were living in a small apartment in the middle of town. They had asked many questions about his two-month absence, but he gave them few answers. He was still turning it all over in his head.
And that had been when he discovered that Chloe was missing. Gabe Sullivan had sent a search party out, but they had long since given up. Unable to bear the prospect of losing her, Clark had set out and done some digging—Chloe would have been proud—and had found out that Chloe and Lex had gone into the caves, and later Lex had ended up going to a new building in Metropolis. Which was where he found Chloe.
He knew he was too late right when he got her out. She seemed so frail, so broken. He had taken her home. A few days later, she went to the Kent farm to lie in the grass. Two days after that, she ambushed her father in the kitchen with a knife. Unsure of what to do, Gabe called Belle Reeve to have some tests done to determine Chloe's ailment. Belle Reeve decided that her stay be permanent.
Clark turned his eyes up to the building in front of him. It was not home, but he supposed it would suffice for now. He trudged up the front steps and into the building, arriving in the apartment. His parents were both at the table next to the kitchenette. Jonathan was looking rather dignified in flannel with the newspaper propped up in front of him, and Martha seemed to be imagining that the small alcove was actually a large farmhouse kitchen as she stood over her husband, clad in an apron and pouring a pitcher of lemonade into his empty glass.
"Clark, you're home," she greeted when Jonathan's glass was full. Clark couldn't help but cringe. This was certainly not home, but for right now home was in pieces from the meteor shower.
"Hey, Son," Jonathan smiled as he glanced up momentarily from the newspaper. "How's… how's Chloe doing?"
Clark tried to conceal his sigh. Chloe had been sent to Belle Reeve two weeks ago, and nearly every day Clark went to visit her. And nearly every day, his parents' questions brought his mind back to the devastation that he was trying to forget and that was, ultimately, his own doing.
"Same as ever," Clark replied dully, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. Martha strode over to him, hung up the apron, and put her hand gently on his shoulder.
"Clark, you can't blame yourself."
Oh yes, he could. And he very well did. "How can I not blame myself when I know the reason that Lex kidnapped her in the first place?" Lex. The name sent flames of anger through his body. Right after Chloe's disappearance, Lex had moved to Metropolis, leaving paid personnel to tend to his Smallville mansion and to his comatose father. Clark hadn't seen him since Chloe's rescue, when Lex had stopped him with the piece of Kryptonite. He had never felt more betrayed. Lex—his friend!—had kidnapped and tortured Chloe. Clark knew he could never look at him again without feeling disgust and betrayal. Never before had he felt hatred this pure and this furious for another human being.
"Mom, the only reason Lex took Chloe to his lab was because he must have seen me do something with my abilities, or something that made him suspicious. I—I think I might…" Clark hesitated, searching for the words. "I think I might give up my abilities."
Jonathan's attention was fully on Clark now, the newspaper lying forgotten on the tabletop. "Clark, as happy as I would be to see you finally have a normal life, you can't just give up who you are."
"I'm not giving up who I am. I just think it would be better for everyone if I stopped using them. Then there would be no chance of anyone ever getting suspicious or anyone that I care about ending up like Chloe," Clark explained.
Martha exchanged a look with Jonathan. "Well, your father and I did make that suggestion about wearing a disguise. Clark, you help people—even save their lives—every day. If you wore some kind of disguise whenever you went out to help someone—" She looked over at Jonathan for help, but he didn't seem to have anything useful to add.
Clark shrugged. "I just think it would be safer for everyone if I just didn't use my abilities anymore."
Martha was silent for a moment, gathering her thoughts. "Clark, there are so many people who wouldn't be alive right now if it weren't for you. I know it's a big responsibility, but you have these amazing gifts, and you can help people in ways that nobody else would be able to. I think that it would be wrong to deprive the world of what you can do, to stop helping people. Jor-El may have other plans for you, but I think that your destiny has always been to help people. And you can't do that if you hide yourself away from the world." Clark said nothing, and Martha gave him a tiny smile when she looked up into her son's eyes. "Just think about the disguise. I've put it on your bed."
Clark's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. He hadn't realized that she had already made him this disguise that she always talked about. With a nod, he turned and strode down the hall and into his small bedroom. Lying neatly on his bed was an odd blue suit emblazoned with a five-sided figure, in which resided a slightly distorted 'S'. Next to the bright blue suit was a crimson cape at which Clark could only stare.
Lois would have a field day if she ever saw me wearing this, he thought grimly. Then he reminded himself that he had only seen Lois several times since Chloe's kidnapping. She had visited Chloe at Belle Reeve with Clark once and had left while muttering something about the Daily Planet. Then she had said to Clark that even if Chloe's spirit was dead, maybe her dream could still live on. Then she had moved to Metropolis.
Shaking his head, Clark walked over to the costume and was about to dump it in his closet when his mother's voice rang through his head. 'You have these amazing gifts, and you can help people in ways that nobody else would be able to. I think that it would be wrong to deprive the world of what you can do, to stop helping people. Jor-El may have other plans for you, but I think that your destiny has always been to help people.' Clark sighed and lifted up the blue suit, frowning at it. She made a point. Most of his friends would be dead at least five times over had Clark not intervened. But still… Chloe. He had not been able to save Chloe…
But maybe… maybe that was exactly her point. By wearing the disguise, Clark could help people and not have anyone become suspicious of him, therefore averting any possible pain for his loved ones and avoiding another occurrence like that which had happened to Chloe. For Chloe…
Clark quietly closed the door and found himself pulling the costume over his body, fastening the red cape to it and then turning to the full-length mirror on the closet door. His reflection looked entirely foreign. The cape cascaded down to the floor, rippling gently behind him. The blue suit stretched tightly over his muscles, making him appear stronger than he felt. He looked so ridiculous that for a moment he considered taking it off and chucking it across the room. But he did not. He was slightly entranced by the idea that nobody would know it was him doing all those things. Perhaps he could even practice flying in this getup.
This is for Chloe, he thought again, determined to at least give the disguise a try. It was for her infectious smile, her biting sarcasm, her endearing laugh. It was for all of the wonderful memories he had with her and all of the painful ones. It was for all of the tears she had shed over him and all of the harsh words she had shot at him. It was for her wise advice and her continuous caring. This was for Chloe.
This was for the fiery, exuberant, lively spirit that always seemed to be running through her veins, propelling her towards another idea for an article. This was for the girl that had been dealt so much pain, whose spirit had been snuffed out by the torture she had faced in the lab. This was for the infectious smile, biting sarcasm, endearing laugh, and fiery spirit that Clark would never get to witness again. For the girl who had died within her own living body. For the friend that had been taken away from him.
This is for Chloe.