Of Hacking, Friendship, & Romance
"Did I leave the light on?" Chloe wondered as she saw light coming from underneath the door to the Torch office. She had arrived at school early to continue researching the new teacher, a task that had occupied much of her time in the last few days. As she approached the door to the newspaper's office she heard a rapid clicking sound, like someone operating a computer very quickly. "But I have the only key," she thought in panic. "Well, aside from the principal, the janitor, and Mrs. Goodman." She pushed the unlocked door open and saw, to her astonishment, Ms. Rosenberg typing away like she owned the place.
"What are you doing in my office!" Chloe snapped. "There's private stuff on that computer."
Willow gave a firm smile. "Actually, there shouldn't be. The computer belongs to the school, as does this office by the way, and I'm computer security gal as part of my job. We can't have our computers all virusey after all."
"But it's password protected."
Willow waved her hand. "One should never use real words in a password. You really are supposed to combine random letters and numbers." She leaned forward and said softly. "Really, CLARKIELOVE?"
"That's private!" Chloe flushed red.
"A bit hypocritical there, don't you think considering what I found in your history file? You were researching me."
Chloe flushed even redder. "I'm a reporter. I'm supposed to be curious."
Willow smiled. "Curious yes, hacker no. As a computer teacher I'm supposed to report these incidents to the principal." Her smile vanished. "But that would make *me* hypocrisy girl considering what I got up to when I was in school. Of course, it was under very different circumstances and I knew what I was doing and you don't but the principle is the same and..."
Chloe could not help herself. She giggled. The red-headed teacher was babbling at full speed. Chloe did not want to like her. The teacher was a suspect; she was not telling her everything. But Chloe felt that if the two had met under different circumstances, not student to teacher, they could even have been friends.
"But I am supposed to be a role model after all," Willow concluded. "Right?"
What could she do? Chloe nodded.
"Okay, since you were investigating me. I'm the aggrieved party and you didn't get very far. I say no harm, no foul."
Chloe nodded again. "I do want to know how you and Dawn both ended up in the same place. The odds of two people from the same town in California both ending up in the same town in Kansas..."
"Are rather high considering the fact that *every* *single* resident of Sunnydale had to relocate." Willow carefully changed the subject. "Okay, Hacking 101. First rule. Don't get caught. That means don't use a public computer without wiping all traces. Don't hack someone with better security than you know how to deal with. And never hack a hacker. Clear?"
"Crystal." Chloe said. Of course this promise did not restrict her from getting information about the mysterious teacher the old-fashioned way.
"Okay," Willow responded. "Now can you explain these clippings on the wall that I've been looking at while checking the computer?" As Chloe began to explain about the wall of weird, growing more surprised at the way the teacher seemed to believe her, Willow wondered why the Torch's computer had been infected with a spyware program that sent a copy of all files created and all sites accessed to an untraceable Internet address.
"Nice house," Dawn said to Chloe, looking around. Chloe had invited her over to work on their homework together and do some "girl talk."
"Thanks," Chloe said with a touch of sarcasm. "It's my dad's."
"Oh," Dawn said, dropping her books on the table.
"Okay, homework first," Chloe said. "You've said you're a language whiz, so let's start with that and then we'll research that history paper on the Internet."
The two worked on their homework for nearly an hour, with Chloe making comments about the reliability about various history Internet sites and how they never told you anything about the global conspiracies that secretly were manipulating world events. Dawn wondered if the Watcher's Council counted as one such, but was careful not to say anything to Chloe.
Chloe did not start what she considered the investigatory portion of the afternoon until they broke for a snack break. "So, what do you think of Smallville, so far," Chloe started. "How does it compare to... to where did you grow up again?"
"Sunnydale," Dawn replied. Again something about the name struck a chord in Chloe's memory, not just the sinkhole disaster but something else. Chloe made a mental note to investigate the town more as Dawn continued. "And I must say that Smallville is turning out to be more interesting than I thought. Like, when I first found out I was coming here, I assumed it was full of hicks."
Chloe laughed. "Smallville is full of hicks. With a few exceptions."
"Is Lana one? I've been trying to figure out if I'm supposed to like her or not. Sometimes you almost seem friends, sometimes you don't."
Chloe looked thoughtful. "That girl's a Pinocchio."
Dawn spat out a mouthful of soda. "A puppet? You think she has a big nose?"
"No, no. More that she's always been one of the beautiful people, a cheerleader, Freshman Queen, one of those people who glides through life on no effort based on looks and popularity."
"So, you don't like her."
"Wait, wait, you see she turned her back on all that to become a real human being. She's the princess who wants to be a pauper. That's why she quit cheerleading and started running a coffeehouse; it makes her real. She's become a lot more interesting in the last year."
"So then why don't you like her."
"Clark." Chloe sighed.
"Ah, the truth comes out. Chloe, the great reporter, is as boy-crazy as the rest of us. Okay girlfriend, dish."
"Since I moved to Smallville, I've always been friends with Clark and wanted him to notice me in a boy-girl kinda way. But he's always had eyes for Lana. That was okay back when Lana was on Planet Popular and he had to use his telescope to see her, but now she's joined the human race and I'm afraid she'll notice what a great guy he is and take him away from me."
Dawn smiled. "I knew I've seen this movie before. It's like the Willow/Xander/Cordelia thing all over again."
"Huh?" Chloe was confused.
"Growing up, I couldn't help but notice that my sister's best friend Willow had a thing for Xander, the other guy in the... the... library club." Chloe caught the hesitation in Dawn's voice and filed it under something else to look up. "But Xander never noticed her as a girl and he kept dating other people. He wound up dating the most popular girl in the school despite being much lower on the popularity meter while Willow dated a were... a musician." Chloe caught this gap too and mentally went down a list of phrases that started with 'where'. "Then, right when they were dating other people, Xander finally noticed that Willow had grown up and they fluked. All it took were some grown-up clothes."
"This *is* Willow Rosenberg, you're talking about." Chloe did not think there would be two Willows but she had to check.
"Yup," Dawn nodded. "To see her teach you'd never think she was once an insecure teen like the rest of us let alone..." She stopped, taking another drink of soda.
"So is she still dating this musician?"
"No, she and Oz broke up in college when he slept with a gal who was like this real bitch. He tried to come back, but Willow was already seeing Tara so he left again."
"Yeah, Tara was great. She made the nicest pancakes with these funny shapes."
Chloe shot up. "She!"
Dawn grew redder. "Oh my god. Please, just forget I said that."
"She had a girlfriend." Chloe said slowly.
"Don't tell her I told you this. Believe me, you don't want her angry with you, or with me!"
"Ms. Rosenberg, the computer teacher at Smallville High is *gay*." Chloe said flatly.
"Chloe, please. You can't tell anyone this."
"The *Smallville* high school *hired* a lesbian teacher."
"Chloe," Dawn changed tactics. "I though you'd be, like, more cosmopolitan than that."
"Oh, I am," Chloe said as her heart was singing 'blackmail material'. "Ms. Rosenberg is gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But if the school board in Smallville finds out." Chloe drew her finger across her throat.
Dawn looked aghast. "Would they really?"
Chloe nodded. "Listen California Girl. This is the Midwest home of the traditional conservative lifestyle. The 'folks' here are farmers and small town tradesmen, well, aside from the Luthors. I'm frankly shocked they hired someone with a Jewish name. If they found out she's a lesbian..."
"Chloe," Dawn begged. "I know you think of yourself as a hot shot reporter and probably think this is a great story for your paper, but Willow is a friend, I've known her practically my whole existence and I don't want her to be chased out of town. So please don't write this up."
"Are you afraid she'll hurt you? Did she do something to you?"
"Not exactly..." Dawn remembered the incident with the car and certain threats by black-haired Dark Willow. "No, I trust her with my life and have several times."
"Is that what she was doing in the hallway this morning, saving your life? Does your life need saving on a frequent basis? And what was she doing and how was doing it?" Questions tumbled out of Chloe, too quickly to be contained.
Dawn looked as Chloe advanced on her like a predator. "Shouldn't we go back to our homework?"
"Dawn, tell me, what's going on?"
"There's this little bit for science that I don't..."
Chloe played her trump card. "Dawn, you've told me enough that you might as well tell me the whole story. Otherwise, I'll be forced to go with what I already know. That means Ms. Rosenberg will find out you told me she's gay. I'll tell the whole school."
"That's a threat!" Dawn screeched. "I thought you were my friend. Believe me, I've been threatened by experts and you hardly qualify. But you. It's like you don't know how to be a friend, or anything else but a reporter." Dawn grabbed her books and stamped out of the house.
"If she was my friend, she'd tell me the truth," Chloe thought to herself. "A real friend wouldn't keep secrets." She carefully pushed away an image of Clark. She knew Clark had secrets, many secrets. She let him keep them because... because he was Clark. Besides what secrets could a farmboy like Clark have anyway?
"So, I thought you didn't like to drink coffee, makes you nervous?" Lex Luthor slid into the booth occupied by the town's pretty new teacher.
"I don't," Willow's green eyes sparkled. "But there's no where else to go in this town."
Lex nodded. "I see you've found out the secret. And that's the reason why I find myself 'hanging out' with high schoolers."
Willow looked disappointed. "Really, this is it?"
"Sorry, I'm afraid so. All the bright people go off to college and very few of them ever return. So the only adults in town who aren't old enough to be my parents are those working for me."
"And pretty schoolteachers," Clark put in from the booth next to theirs. Willow redded. She had not noticed him come in. Lana handed him a coffee and sat down next to the muscular teen. "I'm on break," she announced as she started talking with Clark.
Willow looked at Lex who looked back. He raised his coffee in salute, "And pretty schoolteachers. Everyone else in town works for me, hates my family, or both."
Willow looked at him, letting her eyes unfocus and seeing his mix of bright light with shades of grey tinged with true darkness. Such an aura would have scared her only a couple of years ago; now she knew she had her own dark stains on her soul. "I don't even know your family."
"That's what makes you so refreshing."
"Is that the smooth talk that made you Bachelor of the Year?" Clark stuck his grinning face into their booth. Lex pushed him aside.
"This is what you get when you 'hang out' with teenagers." Willow laughed.
"The younger generation," Lex mock-scowled. "No respect for their elders' affairs."
"Oh," Lana put in. "They're having an affair."
"They're not doing a good job of it," Dawn had arrived from fleeing Chloe's house and joined the Greek chorus in Clark's booth.
"Romance is dead." Lana sighed.
"Ah a challenge is it," Lex had a glint in his eye. "What say you, Ms. Rosenberg, shall we show these young whippersnappers how to romance."
"Indeed, let's," Willow affected an ennui beyond her age, concealing the thumping of her heart. Lex was attractive, despite his bald head due to his fierce intelligence, and bold determination. And somehow Willow sensed that he too knew what it was like to struggle against one's own personal darkness, to fight against instincts telling one to take the easier path and *force* others to do what one knows to be the best way.
Tilting his head, looking at her like he saw the same things in her, Lex gave Willow a very passionate, but still tentative and exploratory kiss.
That's when Chloe, who had been following Dawn with the intent to, if not apologize than certainly to explain, arrived. She looked at Lex and Willow, lips locked, and said in surprise. "But I thought... Dawn said you're a lesbian."
To be continued.