The chill water cascaded over her smooth, white shoulders,
continued down her lightly freckled back, and ran along her
birthmark before sliding down her legs and off of her. Her closed
eyes pasted more images of him in her mind, and her hands moved to
make the water even colder, to combat the steamy scenes playing
out in her mind. A gasp escaped her lips, whether from the icy
shock to her already burning skin, or the imagined warmth of his
flesh along hers.
She pushed her way numbly out of the shower, and grasped
desperately for her towel. Rich cotton swept the beads of water
from the pale skin of her body, bringing unbidden fantasies
flashing through her more insistently. The cooler shower had left
no fog of condensed water on the mirror, but she brushed it with
the towel out of habit, regardless, and stared hard into her own
"You are going to stop thinking about Clark Kent that way,
Ms. Sullivan," she ordered her reflection, "or you’re
going to ruin a friendship, and the best thing going in your
miserable, faltering life." She half-frowned at herself in
disappointment, pushed away from the cool marble sink, and
continued to dry herself off. She tried to distract her mind with
thoughts of the Torch’s website, instead.
"No, not really. The layout is perfect the way it is,
Chloe. But all the yellow and red is really harsh on the eyes.
Have you thought about maybe some softer colors like pink or baby
Chloe’s startled response made it difficult to keep control
of her stylish red Volkswagen, and she gave a wide-eyed look of
shock at her roommate, Lana. "I don’t think Dr. Reynolds
The lilting laugh that interrupted her let her know that Lana
had only been teasing her. "I think that Dr. Reynolds has
even less of a sense of humor than you do, this morning."
Lana’s wide, always-moist eyes turned to Chloe with a look of
earnestness. "What’s got you so worked up this morning?
Where’s that famous Chloe Sullivan wit?"
Chloe sighed inwardly, not wishing to expose herself to her
roommate. No matter what they went through together, no matter how
estranged Clark and Lana became from each other, she’d never
feel comfortable discussing him with her. The few times she’d
tried, she’d felt a keen pang of anger at the smug pall she
seemed to sense Lana pulling around herself. Even in the moments
when Lana Lang wanted nothing to do with Clark, she still felt it
necessary to find a way to point out that she’d always be Clark’s
first choice. Being second best was on the list of a thousand
different ways Chloe didn’t need to feel, right now.
There were times when Chloe’s only defense mechanism was to
attack without thinking. It had nearly cost her relationships with
best friends, her father, and, in the back of her mind, may have
cost her the relationship she had with her mother. No matter what
the consequences might be, she’d shoot first and aim later.
Which is why she caught herself too late asking, "So what was
the deal with that Adam guy, huh? I mean, if you hadn’t gone all
Frequency on him, he could have been your last
On one hand, she knew that it wasn’t a nice topic to broach.
On the other hand, Lana wasn’t likely to bring up Clark again.
"How can you say something like that, Chloe?" Lana
petulantly demanded. Her lips squeezed together in some kind of
pout, or maybe she was sucking something out from between her
teeth. "All the men," she began, and stopped shortly
before continuing, "and Tina, who have spent so much time,
just to get to know me before … Before …"
"Before dying?" Chloe interrupted helpfully.
"Chloe!" Lana shouted at the top of her supersonic
lungs. "That was mean! You don’t think I’ve felt each of
those deaths on my conscience? You don’t think I worry myself to
sleep every night thinking about every single one of them?"
Chloe practically hummed to herself with cheer as one of her
hands pulled itself over the other to steer the car into the high
school’s parking lot, and replied with, "Actually, Lana, I’m
pretty sure you do. Remember, I can hear everything you do in bed
Silent rage answered Chloe back, as Lana’s mouth opened wide
in angry shock. Before she had to listen to the razor retort from
Lana, however, Chloe unbuckled her seatbelt, opened the car door,
and left. She turned back just prior to closing the door, however,
and lifted a hand to indicate Lana’s burning cheeks. "Now
that, Miss Lang, is a stunning shade of pink on you."
She hadn’t even gotten to Home Room, yet, and Chloe had
already deliberately sabotaged one relationship, and her
subconscious had done its best to make a mess of another. She
mentally kicked herself for her weakness, and vowed that she’d
find some way to make it up to Lana. She knew, though, that it’d
involve countless hours of groveling, begging, and probably
covering a few bonding trips to … the mall. It’d be worth it,
though, to get her friend and her Talon latte privileges back.
It unnerved her that she had no clue where all this heat was
coming from. There had been plenty of times when her emotions had
gotten the better of her, but how she’d let herself get so far
out of line today, with so little prompting, was completely beyond
her. She wanted to get to the bottom of it and put a stop to it
before she ended up doing some permanent damage. It was already
too late to keep from saying something she’d regret.
As she walked, the heels of her sharp, avocado pumps echoed
through the hallways even above the din of the school populous.
Other students would bump and jostle with each other as they
walked and passed, but she noticed she was given a wide berth.
Several moments were spent analyzing this before she noticed the
hard expression she wore on her face, the one she normally
reserved for uncooperative interviews.
"Hey, Chloe!" she heard shouted from behind her,
She closed her eyes to brace herself, to steel herself from
what might come out of her mouth after what happened earlier, and
slowly turned around. With a painted and plastic smile plastered
onto her face, she opened her eyes, and mustered all the cheer she
didn’t feel to say, "Hi, Clark. I was … hoping to run
into you." She managed to get it out without stumbling over
her own tongue, much.
His wide, bright smile faltered a bit as a brief look of
concern darkened it, and he appeared to be taking in her features.
"Is everything okay, Chloe?" His large, gentle hand,
which she herself had seen lift people right into the air, breezed
along her upper arm and shoulder, to rest carefully beside her
As much as she craved those dazzling smiles of his, this look,
the one that said that your pain was more important than his own
joy, was the one that grasped at her stomach and made her lose
balance and find it hard to think of what he was asking or what he
was looking at her like that for and is he waiting for some kind
of response or … "Hmm?"
"Chloe? Is everything okay?" he asked again, his face
taking on more of a worried look than concerned. A slight pressure
from his hand, pulling her slightly toward him finally jarred her
from her mental vacuum.
"What?" she asked. Her face was quickly schooled into
a slightly offended, slightly mocking look, with her eyes wide,
her eyebrows quirked, and her lips twitching toward a smile.
"Of course everything is okay, Clark. This is high school,
not one of your crime investigation scenes."
He leaned back, and his smile fought to triumph again on his
broad face. "Crime investigation scenes are your venue,
Chloe. I’m more about the farm, working with my hands, taking
care of my dad’s cows." His tone was light again, and she
found her smile becoming earnest because of it.
"Whatever, Clark," she shot back at him. "I’ve
seen what you do best, and there aren’t a lot of lives to save
on you father’s farm. Not including the cattle after a
LuthorCorp toxic land spill conspiracy." She folded her arms
in front of her tightly, and tried to look across to him rather
than looking up at him. In the back of her mind, she was certain
that added at least two inches to her height. "You’d do
better to follow in my footprints than you would to follow in
The loud barking sound that Chloe had come to expect as Clark’s
laughter rang out suddenly. "I have a lot of respect for my
dad. I can only hope I turn out half as well as he has. You might
not do so bad to take some lessons from him yourself, Chloe."
With her eyebrows raising even higher, a look of bewilderment
came across her face. "Me?" she asked, incredulous.
"In a flannel shirt, carrying a pitchfork, and hounding my
poor family with quaint farm sayings that don’t actually mean
anything? This is for the talent show, right? The comedic stylings
of Mr. Clark Kent?" Her head seemed to punctuate what she was
saying by bobbing higher every so often.
Clark’s smile dimmed to his farm-boy grin, and he clapped her
lightly on the back and started to walk away. "I’ve got to
get to class, but Pete wanted me to get this to you. I think he
said something about it being his article on the Spirit Week
"Oh, right," she quipped sarcastically after him as
she caught the blue folder from his hands, "his assignment.
Some people like to get these to me before I put the Torch
to bed so I can actually print them!"
He turned around as he departed down the hallway, and walked
backwards with his shoulders raised in a shrug around the straps
of his backpack. He shouted back and was barely audible before he
continued away again, saying, "That’s what e-mail’s for!
Getting in after the deadline!"
All day long as she sat through classes, Chloe’s mind raced
back to the shower she’d had before school, distracting her from
her studies. His hand would brush along the gentle curves of her
stomach, into her hips, just as a teacher would interrupt her,
asking for her homework assignments. She could almost feel his
lips, as they molded to her neck, fingers grasping desperately in
her hair, before someone would tap her shoulder, asking for an
Her concentration was shot, and she was happy when she could
retire to her own corner of the world in the Torch office,
and get some kind of bearing on the day.
After half-heartedly adjusting the layout of the website, and
typing Pete’s chicken-scratch handwriting into the computer, she’d
come to realize that the most disturbing part of the day hadn’t
been the shower, and hadn’t been behaving like a two-year-old
with her roommate.
In point of fact, she’d decided that she’d treated Lana
exactly as a sister would have, and thought the two of them may
even find some degree of solace in that. She was understandably
shaken over the intensity of the feelings she’d gone through
that morning, and she’d lashed out at Lana when the conversation
threatened to expose a fresh vulnerability. That was all perfectly
understandable to her, even if she wasn’t happy with the way
that she had chosen to react.
What was really bothering her was that despite the insistent
fantasies that had wrestled her in the shower, and then all
throughout the day, she had felt nothing of it when standing face
to face with the object of her attraction. It had been like every
other time she’d been near him. He excited her, he delighted
her, he melted her very heart with that grin of his. But he didn’t
ignite her, make her burn and smolder as even the memory of the
fantasy was doing to her.
She sighed, and noticed one of her hands trying to twist her
hair around a glittery blue pen. She dropped the pen, and brushed
her fingers through the hair at her temples, unconsciously
feathering it in frustration. The man in her fantasy, she forced
herself to realize, was just that: a man in a fantasy. He may have
looked like Clark, but he wasn’t Clark. He was more passionate
than Clark. He took what he wanted, and that made her feel even
more desired in the daydream. He even scared her a little, and she
had to admit to herself that she even found that to be sexy.
No, Clark Kent was not the man in her fantasy. They were two
"Oh, my God!" Chloe shouted as she surged straight up
out of her chair. The wheeled office chair glided noisily back
before stumbling into Pete’s desk and knocking some garish
action figure to the ground. "They’re two different
There was only one time in Chloe’s life that she had ever
felt anything but perfectly safe in the presence of Clark. When
Clark had been living in Metropolis under the pseudonym of Kal,
she knew he was different. She knew that he wasn’t himself, and
she knew it had something to do with that damned ring of his. One
of the main things she prided herself on as a reporter was paying
attention to details. The last time that Clark had been acting
like Kal was when he was running around with Jessie Brooks,
wearing the same ring.
Chloe wasn’t shocked to think that Clark and Kal were two
different men. She’d known that since first laying eyes on Kal.
He was a wild version of Clark, untamed and dangerous. She was
shocked to think that Clark and the man in her fantasy were two
She was fantasizing about Kal.
With a buzzing in her ears that drown out all thought, she
walked emotionlessly to the filing cabinet. Almost as an
automaton, she reached into her pockets to withdraw the key, and
unlocked the top drawer. Her face was slack without emotion as she
withdrew a metal box which filled her arms. With a hollow clunk,
she managed to set it onto a nearby desk, and she sat down to
unlock and open it.
The metal case wasn’t what was left of her Wall of Weird, but
it was related. The Wall had been intended to be kept private,
away from prying eyes. But every week it seemed as though someone
new had become obsessed with her Wall of Weird, and almost always
unhappy with it. The case was different. Where the Wall of Weird
had held rumors of unsolved mysterious phenomena, and sometimes
what her friends had helped her uncover, the case held proof of
the things she’d discovered and wished to keep a secret. She’d
never shown it or even mentioned it to anybody else, but to
herself, she called it her Box of Bizarre.
She didn’t know how Lionel Luthor had never managed to get
his hands on the Box of Bizarre. She imagined that he would assume
that someone like Chloe would trust computer encryption algorithms
over a couple of flimsy padlocks. Or maybe he’d been through the
Box long ago, and was just toying with Chloe now for his own ends.
A feeling like a spider running down the nape of her neck made her
As she pushed the lid open, her eyes raked over the materials
inside. Mostly she sifted through hard copies of photographs she
had taken with her digital camera. There were also autopsy
reports, medical reports, psychological profiles, all of which she’d
managed to copy under the noses of some of her many contacts. Many
other items had been spirited away from the Daily Planet just in
time when her column was cancelled. Stray green rocks positively
littered everything else in the box, and she brushed them all
aside to pull some items from the very bottom.
She had long ago stopped investigating Clark. It was not,
however, because of her altruistic moral outrage at Lionel Luthor.
It was not as the personal favor to Clark that she had led him to
believe. She would have stopped looking into his background,
again, for that reason, but it really no longer mattered.
Chloe Sullivan was no longer investigating Clark Kent, because
Chloe Sullivan already knew.
She knew everything. A photograph of a vial of blood and a lab
report on the vial was shuffled to the side. She knew about his
blood chemistry. A photograph of a vial of clear liquid was behind
it, with another lab analysis. She knew about the platelets. She
lifted out a heavy, metal plate that had used as a mold for
something octagonal, which had cost her more than she was willing
to admit. She knew about the key, she knew about the caves. She
took out a cheap Smallville High School ring with a fake ruby, and
slipped it onto her finger. She knew about Kal.
She didn’t know how the ring worked, but she knew what it did
well enough. It turned mild-mannered Clark Kent into the man she
couldn’t erase from her mind, the man she couldn’t stop
thinking about, despite how much he had once terrified her.
When he was wearing the ring, it was like a drug to him. He
wasn’t in control of his own actions, as if acting on impulse
alone. Somehow, Chloe understood that right then. She yearned to
act on impulses of her own, to take the ring down to the Kent farm
and see if Clark himself would know that he was under its power if
she kept it hidden from him. Maybe he’d think she was the one
causing him to forget who he was, to give into his desires. Maybe
he’d just think that she was his one desire that he couldn’t
With great difficulty, she shuffled the photographs and other
evidence back into her Box of Bizarre, and safely locked it again.
She secured it in its filing cabinet, and locked her computer for
the night. She lifted her hand to flick the light switch on her
way out, only to have the lights glint off the ring she had
forgotten to take off.
"Oh no!" she exclaimed to herself with an exasperated
grunt. "Well, I suppose I can wait another three minutes to
put it back before going to the Talon to make peace with
Lana." She had just slipped the ring back off her finger when
a small gust of wind brushed past her from the door opening.
"Chloe! Good, you’re still here," Clark said
excitedly. "I was thinking I might get a little help on my
Chloe exhibited all the desire to move of Stonehenge. Her mind,
however, would even have outpaced one of Clark’s Smallville to
Metropolis jaunts, as she raced to find a quick way out of the
mess. "Uh, sure, Clark …" she said haltingly.
"Just let me get …"
In the end, though, it was too late to find a quick way out. He
had set his backpack down next to her, his strong fingers brushing
past her as he did. Unseen to either of them, the paths of his
veins on his hand briefly shown red, and his smile changed. This
smile didn’t comfort her, but it still melted her, and she felt
"On second thought, Chloe, why don’t we go work on this
at your place? Lana’s at the Talon, and you said your dad’s
still up in Metropolis looking for work. Nobody’ll interrupt us
there." As he talked, he stepped closer, and Chloe could feel
the warmth of his muscles through his tight, red shirt.
Nervous, almost shaking, but unable to force herself to do
anything else, Chloe grabbed her bag in one arm, his arm in her
other, and followed Kal out of the office.
After all, she was only human.