Author's Note: Thanks to Kairan1979, dispatcher652, Madlenita, roshane, badboys8520, The Fallen Sky, whatweareafreaidof, Jeremy Shane, Mrs. Kauhn, dizzy78, Titanium Gold, badkidoh, Kessi38, jock wizard for your feedback and support. Apologies for the delay, I was inspired from the comments for last chapter to tweak this chapter in ways that I hope will make future chapters much more interesting than I had even planned. Trying to plant seeds in each chapter for different plots/characters. Enjoy the chapter! - ES (1/24/11)
Chapter Seven – Virtue
Her head was pounding, her heart was hurting, her ears were ringing and her eyes were wet from the tears streaming down her cheeks but Chloe Sullivan continued to bravely walk away from the boy of her dreams. Technically it was less of a walk and more of a blind stumble through her home towards the safety of her bedroom and it was not so much bravery pushing her but an attempt to preserve her dignity so that she could make it there before completely falling apart much like her life had just moments before.
She never thought Clark Kent could ever cause such pain. The risk in having a relationship was always there - a reason why some friends never make that leap to being more than friends - but Chloe had thought she would be safe to trust her best friend, Clark, with her heart. Leave it to the farm boy to prove her wrong again, this time however in the worst possible way.
Crossing the threshold of her room, Chloe pushed the door open and collapsed onto her bed, sobbing quietly into her pillow. She knew Clark was probably still in the house but she hoped Clark would get the hint eventually and leave soon. At the moment, Chloe didn't think she would ever want to see Clark Kent's blue eyes looking on her again.
The idea did pop into her head that maybe her dad would be open to making a permanent move back to Metropolis. The last place Chloe wanted to be right now was anywhere near the boy who had stolen her heart years ago and now finally managed to break it.
Clutching her pillow, Chloe wished the world would just fade away and leave her alone, but when the knocking on her bedroom door started she had a feeling that would not be happening any time soon.
"Go away, Clark," said Chloe, her teary voice slightly muffled by her pillow. "I want to be alone."
After that, the knocking stopped without complaint causing Chloe's head to rise from the pillow. It was so unlike Clark to give in so easily but she still listened intently for the hope of hearing Clark's footsteps leaving her doorway, but they never came. Several minutes passed without any sound of movement but Chloe knew it was not an empty hallway on the other side of her door, he was still there waiting for her.
"Please leave. I'm not going to change my mind," she whispered.
Clark's voice sounded pained. "I can't, Chloe. Not today."
Anger began to stir in Chloe's stomach. Clark's inconsiderate insistence was creating horrible feelings inside of her that she did not like. Desperate to make her point, Chloe reached across her nightstand and grabbed her alarm clock, hurling it across the room where it collided against her bedroom door.
"Leave me alone!"
Her actions seemed to finally stir movement on the other side of the door; Clark moved away from the door and Chloe sniffled satisfyingly but to her dismay her guess that he was leaving was proven wrong. Clark had moved, but only so that he could sit down with his back against her door. He clearly was not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. His next words surprised her.
"I need your help, Chloe."
Chloe blinked. She did not believe her ears. Either Clark had already moved on from their breakup in a superhuman fashion or he did not think her feelings were important enough to consider before asking something of her. Chloe did not know which was worse: that she was not even worth a few hours of moodiness on Clark's part or that he had a strange sense of priorities that could explain a lot about his inconsistent decisions.
Sighing, Chloe sat up on her elbows. "Dating 101, Clark. Asking for help right after you break up is a not the smartest move. I wish you would go already, I really have nothing else to say to you. Maybe Pete will help you, I doubt you could break his heart."
"Chloe, you've been my best friend for years and I hope that doesn't change today, tomorrow, or ever. No matter the differences we have right now, we are similar in many ways. One of those ways is our selfless nature when it comes to our friends. The help isn't for me, it's for Pete. I'm worried he might be in trouble."
Chloe shook her head. "I don't want to think about us right now, Clark, so much has happened but - wait - what happened to Pete and why didn't you say something sooner?"
"He's why I originally came over to see you in the first place, but then our talk happened," said Clark, the sound of his movements outside the door indicating that he was now standing.
Chloe's heart clenched at the realization that Clark had not come over to fix things between them but she pushed aside her hurt feelings to think of the other - and now maybe only - best friend in her life. "Is Pete in danger?" she asked.
"I don't know for sure. That's why I came over to ask if you had seen or heard from him. His mom called my parents this morning, apparently he's been missing since sometime last night."
Chloe leapt from her bed and moved to her vintage vanity that her father had bought her when she was a child, shortly after her mother had left them. It was overrun with photos, stacks of paperwork, files and notebooks.
"You should have lead with that information, Clark. Do you think it's connected to the spaceship? What am I saying? Of course you do, or else you wouldn't have come to me." She let out a shaky breath and looked back at her bedroom door. "Am I right?"
Clark's hesitated and that was enough for Chloe. Her gaze never wavered as she wondered just how naive and clueless was the boy on the other side. Shrugging, Chloe returned to her search of the files in front of her. When Clark finally spoke up, his voice was not as strong as before and Chloe figured he was slowly realizing how she was feeling at the moment.
"I'm really sorry, Chloe. Someday I hope you can forgive me, but we need to find Pete right now. If his disappearance is because of the spaceship then we should be able to find a lead. You two discovered it, and brought me into the fold. As far as we know we are the only ones that know about it, outside of possibly that driver you mentioned being run off the road that night that led to your discovery ... if he saw it too he might have mentioned something and someone might have have gone looking for the spaceship."
Chloe nodded thoughtfully, following Clark's line of logic. "And they would have found Pete since he was the one who admitted the driver to Smallville Medical Center while I waited in the car." She flipped through the files in her hand and pulled out a form. "Oh god, how did I miss this?"
"What is it?" said Clark through the door, moving to open the bedroom door.
Eager to avoid seeing Clark, Chloe moved and put herself against the door to keep him from entering. Only his boot in the doorway kept the door from closing.
"I know, I know," she said hastily. "Can you just understand that I don't need to look at you to help?"
"That's fair I guess," answered Clark. "But can I see the hospital's visitor log now?"
"Oh! Yeah, of course," said Chloe, handing the form over between the gap. "I was looking into Ray Wallace - the driver from that night - after hearing from a source that he had suddenly died Sunday night. I was in the middle of looking at this file when Lois calling and your visit to my carport sidetracked me. Turns out he had a visitor drop by right before he flatlined that kicks the weird-o-meter up another notch. A certain Dr. Steven Hamilton."
"The meteor freak?" said Clark. "I thought he left Smallville."
"So did I," said Chloe, grimly. "It could be a coincidence but he might be involved. Pete saves the day. Hamilton visits the patient-"
"Patient dies and Pete disappears," finished Clark.
"It's not exactly a smoking gun but ..."
"It's good enough," said Clark determinedly. "I'm going to go check out Hamilton."
"Okay," said Chloe, looking down at the file in her hands. "Well, you know he used to have a place down Allentown Road. Maybe he's back there."
She blinked and the folder she was looking at suddenly had the form she had just handed to Clark moments before. Before Chloe could react the door behind her shook and slammed shut causing her to lose her balance and fall back against it. Wincing, Chloe yanked opened the door to yell at Clark, her sudden need to vent overriding her previous wishes not to see him.
"What the hell, Clark? And how did you do that with the visitor log? Or know that it was a visitor log I was looking at in the first place?" yelled Chloe.
When no response came, she opened her eyes that she had shut in anger and found herself faced with an empty hallway and no trace of the tall, dark, farm boy.
She had no way of knowing Clark was already on his way to confront Hamilton, but like most things when it came to Clark, Chloe was quickly learning she did not know as much as she thought.
The school day was a blur for Chloe, and she practically sleepwalked through the day. No one commented on her appearance - which after the morning breakup with Clark was not up to her usual style - but she did notice more than a few inquiring glances that she dutifully ignored.
One person she was grateful to have the attention of was Lana. Lana seemed to know that Chloe was not alright and instead of pestering her, she was a friendly shoulder to lean on. During their classes together, Chloe clung to her like she was her only lifeline.
Lana's constant presence also was helpful when it came to explaining Clark and Pete's absence from classes. Despite the emotional turmoil Chloe was currently experiencing because of Clark, it did not change the fact that he was most likely risking his life at that moment to save their friend. Making excuses for Clark was nothing new for Chloe but she was not her usual sharp self and thankfully Lana caught on soon enough to pick up the slack.
Every teacher that needed an explanation accepted their answers without any question. After all, who would not believe two of the most wholesome girls in Smallville? Chloe as the editor of the Smallville Torch, and Lana helping run the revitalized Talon coffeehouse gave them a legitimate background in responsibility. It also did not hurt that they were talking about Clark Kent, who's well-mannered and giving nature was just as widely known by everyone in Smallville.
After the final bell rang at Smallville High Lana had tried to persuade Chloe into joining her at the Talon for a cup of coffee and a friendly ear to listen to her problems but Chloe politely declined, feigning tiredness and claiming she was just going to head home and get some sleep.
She dropped Lana off in front Nell's flower shop right next to the Talon, squeezing her friend's hand in thanks before she got out and giving a final wave before driving away down Main Street. Chloe's intent was to make her way home and indulge in a tub of Rocky Road ice cream but before she knew it she found herself approaching the Kent Farm.
From a glance she saw Mr. Kent's truck parked near the house but with no activity in sight Chloe assumed that Clark and Pete had not arrived yet or were in the barn and that the Kents were inside. Not feeling like talking to the Kents, she parked her red Ford Falcon just outside the farm entrance and walked the rest of the way up to the barn.
With her hands in the pockets of her zipped up purple jacket, Chloe determinedly trudged inside the barn ready to face Clark but instead found it and the loft empty. Realizing the boys were not back sent a shiver of worry down her spine but she kept busy and left the barn as quickly as she had entered it. Resisting the urge to search for the spaceship - she was not going to act like Clark had - Chloe decided to take a walk along the Kent Farm property, hoping to keep her mind off worrying whether Clark was going to be successful in finding Pete or if he was about to disappear as well.
She had made her way out to the grain silo and was having no luck clearing her mind. It was still buzzing with ideas and theories on why Clark had acted the way he had the last few days, but she was adamant in not letting herself explain away for Clark and let him off the hook. Doubling back, Chloe went off the walking path and made her way through the fields instead, walking amongst the cattle and crops to save time but she slowed when she came upon raised voices.
Partially hidden from view, Chloe crept closer towards the voices until their owners came into sight. She found that the voices belonged to Clark's father, Jonathan Kent and Lana's aunt, Nell Potter. They were in a heated discussion and were unaware that the volume of their voices had risen enough to carry a distance nor that they now had a spectator within that distance. Chloe leaned closer and tried to listen in.
"This isn't high school anymore," said a frustrated Mr. Kent. "I'm happy that you have someone in your life, Nell, but I am not about to get jealous because of it."
Nell visibly bristled. "It was just a question, Jonathan," she replied defensively. "Being proposed to is a big deal and I couldn't help but think about the mistakes I've made in the past and what might have been. Don't you ever wonder how it would have been if we had stayed together?"
"That was a long time ago, and I am happily married. Have been since I walked down that aisle."
"How can you be happy with someone that can't give you the family you deserve?" asked Nell. "I remember your parents, Johnny, they hoped that you would have a bigger family than they had been able to afford. Clark is a good boy but being an only child is a lonely existence. I see it in him and Lana as they've grown up into teenagers. I've done my best with Lana but you can't deny that they would have had better childhoods growing up as brother and sister with maybe a few others running around for them to watch over."
Mr. Kent hesitated. "Nell ..."
"I'm not asking you to cheat, Jonathan," said Nell softly. "I just want to know if there is still something somewhere inside of you that thinks of me fondly or if I should stop waiting for you. Before that damn meteor shower I thought we had a chance but then Clark came into your life and Lana's parents ..."
"You will always be my high school sweetheart, but sometimes fate has a way of telling you if it was meant to be or not," answered Mr. Kent, reaching over to touch Nell's face. "Dean sounds like a good man, but don't agree to marry him if you aren't in the relationship for the right reasons."
"Is tired of being alone the right reason?" asked Nell, stepping closer to Mr. Kent, the space between their heads slowly shrinking. "He's not the good man I want."
Chloe's jaw dropped. The scene in front of her was so impossible to believe yet incredibly real. Frozen in her tracks, she racked her brain for clues on this odd pairing and she couldn't believe she had not connected the dots earlier.
In what was a case of overlooking the obvious, she knew that Mrs. Kent had been a city girl and not from Smallville but Chloe had never thought to wonder who had captured Mr. Kent's attention while he grew up in Smallville. She never would have guessed that Lana's aunt had filled that role. Smallville was certainly proving to be a very small town.
Back to the present, Chloe felt it was time to bail now that it looked like Nell and Mr. Kent were about to kiss. She did not want to witness something that she would have to keep away from Clark to protect his family nor did she want to lose respect for both male Kents in one twenty-four hour span. But when she stepped backwards from her hiding spot, Chloe did not notice where she was placing her foot and immediately broke a stiff cornstalk that happened to have fallen earlier that day.
The loud noise jerked Nell and Mr. Kent away from each other but Chloe had not waited to see if they had noticed her and hurried out of the area, keeping low to stay hidden among the tall crops while she rushed back in the direction of the Kent barn.
As she approached the barn's big red doors, Chloe first heard and then saw Pete's car driving away from the Kent Farm. A sense of relief filled her knowing that it meant Pete was safe and sound, but a new voice brought her to a halt.
"Hey, Chloe. Pete wanted to let you know he was okay and headed over to the Talon to see if you were there since we figured you wouldn't come here," said Clark, standing in the shaded part of the barn entrance. "But here you are."
Chloe let out a sound of frustration, closely resembling a growl and leaped into Clark's arms, hugging the life out of him. Clark seemed surprised but just as quickly she was out of his arms and slugging his shoulder, which stung her fist more than she let on.
"You have been, currently are, and probably will always be a dumb idiot, Clark Kent," said Chloe, subtly flexing her hurt hand behind her back. "But thanks for finding Pete."
Clark looked stung. "He's my friend too, Chloe. You know I do anything I can for my friends."
Chloe frowned but stayed silent, instead looking off at the sun that was starting to set over the Kent Farm.
"I'm glad you came," said Clark.
"I was worried about Pete," said Chloe.
Clark sighed but when he started to move he was racked with a bout of horrible coughing. Chloe turned to him, quickly taking note of his ashen face and slightly fatigued features that she did not see when he had been in the shadows.
For others that was something you would see from time to time when they were overworking themselves but when it came to Clark, Chloe could not recall him ever looking so weak. Despite everything that had happened between them, she didn't think twice before walking over to check on him.
"Are you okay? You don't look so good, Clark," said Chloe concerned.
"I'm fine," claimed Clark, trying to return upright but visibly struggling and nearly falling before Chloe moved to help support him. "Okay, maybe I'm feeling a little weak."
Chloe helped him over to the bales of hay so he could sit down. She chose to stand in front of him once he was settled. "That doesn't sound like you at all. What did happen over at Hamilton's place?"
Clark's face turned grim. "I arrived just in time. He had Pete alright, all tied up and it looked like he was about to inject Pete with liquified meteor rock."
"You stopped him right?" asked a pale Chloe.
"Barely," said Clark quietly. "Hamilton was so fixated on getting answers from Pete that he didn't notice my entrance and I was able to knock him away from Pete ..."
He trailed off but Chloe was not satisfied with his answer. "But why are you feeling weak? That sounds like a one hit knockout," she said confusedly.
Clark looked up and met her gaze, displaying an aura of seriousness similar to what she had seen that morning but there was something different this time around. He seemed to be deciding something and his stare was beginning to unnerve her. She felt strangely vulnerable despite being the one asking the question.
"I was in such a hurry to get Pete out of there away from danger that I hadn't noticed just how much liquid meteor rock Hamilton had on hand," said Clark, still looking at Chloe but continuing his story as if he had not stopped talking. "There was enough of it in the room that I was exposed to its effects without even having it touch my skin and it sapped away my strength."
"Wait," said Chloe, thinking hard. "How come Hamilton and Pete weren't affected like you were?"
Clark sighed. "Because the meteor rocks affect me differently than anyone else I know. Ever since I can remember I've been extremely sensitive to their presence. You might even say I have an allergy to it."
"How bad is the allergy to have you feeling like this?" said Chloe, knowing he was holding something back.
Clark looked away. "Depends on the exposure," he mumbled. "From experience I can say that the pain can get debilitating and dangerous if there is too much of it or if I am in contact with it for too long. Even a little bit can affect me, like Lana's necklace, I was always clumsy around her while she wore it because the rock would sap my strength the closer I got."
"How did you two get out of there then?" asked Chloe, her hands subconsciously clenching into white-knuckled fists.
"I was able to free Pete from the ropes before I lost my strength and he had to half-carry, half-drag me out of there," said Clark.
Chloe paced. "And Hamilton? I notice you haven't mentioned him in your story after knocking him down."
"He didn't make it," said Clark, his eyes growing dark. "Remember that janitor last year that took our class hostage during that field trip to the fertilizer plant? Hamilton had the same condition as that guy and after I went down, Pete defended me and knocked him into his work station. A vial of liquid meteor rock splashed onto him and he was in one long continuous seizure until he died."
"That's terrible," said Chloe. "The meteor rock poisoning must have drove him mad, if he was willing to attack Pete like he did. I can't deny feeling safer knowing that he isn't around anymore to go after the rest of us in looking for that spaceship."
Clark bowed his head. "Now you understand why I did what I did, Chloe."
"What do you mean?"
"The danger Hamilton posed, Pete getting attacked, the meteor rocks weakening me. They all came to be because of that spaceship," said Clark firmly.
Chloe shook her head. "You couldn't have foreseen all of this."
"No I couldn't, but I didn't want anything happen to you or Pete, so I went to hide the ship and hope nothing would come of it," said Clark, standing up now that his strength seemed to have returned. "Clearly I was right to. We almost lost Pete today and I wasn't far behind."
"That doesn't excuse what you did, Clark. Sneaking around in the middle of the night behind my back doesn't feel like protection to me," said Chloe, turning away from Clark.
"Maybe I was wrong in how I did it" admitted Clark. "I should have talked to you first but I know how you don't want to be treated like a delicate object that needs to be kept wrapped up ... I was just trying to protect you."
Chloe's heart started to flutter despite her wishes but she willed herself to stay silent, instead continuing to stare out at the expanse of Kent Farm. This did not discourage Clark and he started to approach her.
"And there's more. Pete told me that Hamilton had photographs of the spaceship. Someone out there knows about its existence and knows the social circles psychos like Hamilton run in."
Immediately Chloe thought of the photographs she had uploaded to the web on Sunday night when she was searching for information on the spaceship. Biting her lip, she knew it was no coincidence, some of her sources came from not the most reputable places.
She made note to go back later that night and erase her contributions before others got any ideas, after all from her experience any viable information she would get from those photos would have come in the first forty-eight hours anyway.
"But with Hamilton gone, the trail dies with him," reasoned Chloe, looking to calm Clark. "And also there is the fact that you have presumably hidden the ship in a place safer than my carport. That reminds me, I wanted to ask-"
"Chloe ..." interrupted Clark.
"I'm not going to force you to tell where it is," said Chloe reassuringly. "I just wondered if the ship was connected to the meteor rocks and if maybe you were being affected because of your allergy. It could explain some of your weirder than usual behavior lately since you came into contact with the spaceship."
Clark hesitated, seeming to be choosing his words carefully. "I won't deny that the ship affects me, but not in the same way of the meteor rocks. My actions have been erratic lately, and I hurt you because of them but I won't use the ship as an excuse. I've made a lot of mistakes this week."
"Sounding like your old self already," said Chloe with a sad smile. "You might be a bull in a china shop when it comes to communication and emotions, Clark, but I am learning that you are just trying to keep all of us safe in a surprisingly dangerous world. Always risking yourself in situations where others would just run away. You are a genuine hero."
Her eyes began to shine with unshed tears but it was her steadfast praise even after everything that had happened that day that seemed to be the breaking point for Clark. Surprising Chloe, he grabbed her hand and started pulling her away from the barn.
"Wha-" yelped Chloe. She tried to get him to let go but stopped protesting upon seeing the serious look on Clark's face. "Where are we going?" she said curiously.
Clark did not answer and before they reached the house he turned left taking them towards the back, behind the barn where he led Chloe to the doors of the storm cellar.
"I should have done this from the beginning," said Clark, opening the doors and walking down the steps of the storm cellar without waiting for Chloe.
"Uh, okay," said Chloe, leaning over to try to see through the darkness of the storm cellar. Steeling her nerves, she decided to follow Clark down. "Cute girl walking down into a dark room, this reeks of a slasher film," she whispered under her breath.
But to her surprise when she reached the bottom of the steps there waiting in the middle of the storm cellar was Clark standing next to the spaceship she thought she would never see again.
"I don't understand," said Chloe.
Clark patted the spaceship. "Here it is, Chloe. Today I came to realize just how much I was risking when I wrongly took it from you that night. You don't have to agree but I want you to have access to the ship here. I'd like to work together to find out more about it but if you'd prefer me to stay away I will."
"Clark, I don't know if this is a good idea. This ship has brought me nothing but trouble," said Chloe. "And what about your parents? It looks like they use this place enough that they would notice a spaceship sitting in the middle of it."
"They already know about it," said Clark, nervously rubbing the back of his neck. "That I'm hiding it and that no one outside the family knows about it being here."
Chloe's eyebrows rose. "How do I fit in that equation?"
"Like you always have, Chloe," answered Clark earnestly. "Even if you can't find it in you to forgive my actions, you will always be more than just my best friend. You're as good as family and my parents have been treating you as such for years."
"Alright," said Chloe, her cheeks reddening. "I'll keep the secret of the ship and maybe if I feel like revisiting it, I'm glad I can. Until something more substantial can be found on its origin, maybe it should be forgotten for awhile though."
Clark smiled and awkwardly walked over to Chloe. "And are we okay?" he asked, looking intently into her eyes.
Taken off guard, Chloe nervously took a step back. "I-I'm not sure, Clark," stammered Chloe. "A lot of bad things happened this week, and most were by your actions ... I need time Clark. Time alone."
"I understand," said Clark, his shoulders slumping. "Maybe I should go."
"Yeah," said Chloe, without much thought, noticeably wounding Clark. "Oh! I didn't mean it like that. I meant I need to go too. It's late. But this is a small step back in the right direction. I need to be able to trust you again with my friendship before I even think about opening my heart again. Let's go slow and see what happens. Maybe this will be for the best." She finished with a friendly jab to his shoulder and a smile.
Clark followed her out and stood watching from the porch as she got into her car, waved and drove away. Chloe didn't stop the car until she had driven all the way home, her white knuckled grip on the steering wheel revealing her true emotions. Once the Ford Falcon was parked in the carport she collapsed against the steering wheel exhausted, a tear trailing down her cheek.
"Yeah, for the best."