Disclaimer: Smallville and all related elements, characters and indicia © Tollin-Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television, 2002. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situationssave those created by the authors for use solely on this websiteare copyright Tollin-Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster.
Fascinating New Thing
Chloe met Lucas at the Talon, the night of the food bank party. She'd been standing in a corner, wallowing in her own misery. Clark had been spinning Lana in a circle on the dance floor, beaming so broadly that by all rights, his face should have cracked. And Lana was laughing, her dark hair floating out around her and falling back into place without a single strand in disarray.
She hadn't been able to take her eyes off them and how happy they'd looked. Her glass of Coke had gone totally flat, but getting a new one would have meant entering the line of sight of the happy twosome. So she'd stayed in her corner, mentally counting down the seconds until she could leave respectably. Scrape her pride off the sidewalk, round up what was left of her dignity, and hide out in her bedroom for two days with a gallon of Ben and Jerry's Mint Biscuit and her favorite DVDs.
And while Chloe was camping out in her corner, she'd caught his eye. Because she was beautiful, and because she appeared to be alone, and because he was for some reason intrigued, he approached her.
His opening line was, "This is a crime." As soon as he said it, he'd thought it was too cocksure, too much like something an idiot wearing aviator sunglasses would say in a seventies porno.
But it had caught her attention. She turned to face him, and he was taken aback by the direct, open way she looked at him. "What's the offense?"
"The most beautiful girl at this quaint little shindig is standing alone in a dark corner. Where I come from, that's just not right." It was something he'd considered saying before, at many other parties, at many other clubs. Just something to warm a woman up, because most of the time, the women at those kind of parties and clubs would believe anything, no matter how cheesy.
But those times, he would have meant it as a line. Now something in his voice made it the opposite of what he'd intendedhonest. Something he'd never been in his life. This time, it was as close to sincere as he'd ever been. Maybe even closer.
She cocked an eyebrow, distracted for the moment. Attractive guys with incredible dark brown eyes had a way of being admirable distractions. "The most beautiful girl at this quaint little shindig, huh? Sure you're not confusing me with someone else?"
"I don't get confused."
"You do, however, waver between 'wow, corny' and 'ew, skeevy' with your opening lines."
"You're not wrong." He spread his hands in a somewhat sheepish gesture. "Old habits die hard, I suppose."
"You mean lines like that have actually worked for you in the past?"
"Sadly, yes. On occasion. You earn points for calling me on it. Can I try starting over?" When she smiled, he breathed a little easier, stopped worrying about his speech patterns, and held out a hand to shake. "I'm Lucas."
Her grip was strong. She had a firm, no nonsense handshake, something that earned her even more points than she'd already accumulated. "Chloe. Are you new in town? I don't think I've seen you around. Do you go to Smallville High?"
"I'm new-ish," he told her. "I don't know how long I'm sticking around for. And no, I don't go to SH. Thank Christ."
"I should be so lucky. Just passing through, then?"
"For the time being, at least. Family ties, you know how it goes."
"So I've been told." Her smile was genuine, and it surprised him. For as long as he could remember, everyone in his life had had something to hide. This was a girl without an ulterior motive. "And your explanation for attending this so called shindig?"
His upper lip curled slightly, indicating what he thought of his current surroundings. "My brother suggested it would be a good idea for me to get friendly with the locals. He's partners with one of the girls working on this thing. Besides, there wasn't anything good on cable."
Her eyes narrowed in thought. "You have a brother who's partner is...and your name is Lucas?"
God, he hoped he hadn't been wrong when he'd pegged her as the intelligent type. Silently, he begged her not to be another dumb blonde who couldn't keep simple facts straight, and out loud, he said, "Yes. We covered that."
She looked pleased with herself. "You'd be Lucas Luthor, then."
"Great. Are you another one of those people who hate the name 'Luthor' and all it entails?"
"No, no, no," Chloe rushed to say. "I'm actually kind of friendswell, more like acquaintances, with your brother. And I think you know my friends Clark and Lana." She left out the part how they both seemed to consider him the devil incarnate. Besides, she'd always preferred to form her own opinions.
And at the moment, anyone who wasn't utterly entranced with Lana or Clark had earned a semi permanent spot in her good graces.
"Ah, Kent. The Research Boy."
She flared at that. "Any facts he got on you or gave to you, he came to me for. I'm the Research Boy. Er, girl." Maybe she wasn't exactly happy with her status as Clark's own personal Google, but it was still hers. And even if the facts she'd dug up on Lucas had been less than savory, and even if she did tend to attract mostly borderline or full fledged psychotics...
Well, she'd been playing it safe for too long. Maybe it was time to broaden her horizons to venues beyond the Kent Farm.
Lucas grinned slowly at the hint of a temper she'd let glimmer through. "Not a member of the Clark Kent Fan Club?"
Chloe laughed, the irony not lost on her. "That's kind of a loaded question."
"He's an ex, I take it."
"No...not exactly." She looked at the dance floor one last time before turning her full attention back to Lucas. "But there was potential, for awhile. He's the one that got away."
"Then he's a bigger idiot than I took him for if he didn't let himself be caught."
The words made her flush, and Chloe Sullivan never flushed over boys. As a rule. "Didn't he save your life?" she challenged instead.
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Doesn't mean I have to buy the guy an engagement ring. And from the stories I've heard, it was pretty much all in a day's work for him."
"That's pretty ungrateful." Great, you stick up for your friendyour friend who hasn't been much of a friend lately, true, but still a friendand you potentially alienate the one hot guy who's shown interest since November. You're a damned genius, Sullivan. Truly.
But he hadn't bolted, just gave that half smirk once more. "Despite deviant behaviors of mine that would suggest to the contrary, I'm not ready to kick the bucket quite yet. I'm grateful, all right. That still doesn't mean I have to like the guy. He's annoyingly self righteous."
It had made her laugh, because his words rang true. Luthor or not, potential wacko or not, he was straightforward. And he was good looking, and they were clicking. "Touché."
"She uses the word 'touché' in a sentence? I think this could be love."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Before you book a reception hall and name our three kids, you could try asking me to dance or something first."
"No, actually, I really couldn't."
She was officially declaring herself a lesbian if he hadn't been hitting on her all this time. "You couldn't?"
"I think I've sufficiently made nice with the locals. Rather, one very captivating local. And this music is going to render me sterile in another five minutes. So I'd prefer to skip the dancing and ask you to let me take you to a late dinner, if there's anyplace in Smallville open this late."
She agreed without thinking it over, and when they left, she didn't even spare a backwards glance to the happy couple still twirling away.
They'd driven to a Chinese restaurant just outside Smallville limits. Over hot tea, pot stickers, white rice, and beef with green peppers, they'd swapped stories of things they'd experienced and the lives they'd led before Smallville. Metropolis to Edge City, foster homes to mothers who didn't stick around, getting shot at to getting tossed from a third floor window.
In a roundabout sort of way, they had things in common. Her easy laughter had hit him in some place he'd thought he'd sealed off long ago, and the way he concentrated on her when she spoke had made her stomach quiver in the way she'd thought only Clark's sheepish grin could.
When he finally drove her home, it was well past one. She'd scrawled her phone number on the palm of his hand, and he'd kissed her with enough passion to let her know he would definitely be calling to follow this up.
It wasn't minty or induced by parasites, and it wasn't the fairy tale dream of pink dresses and bashful farm boys. It was a kiss about the moment, about him just plain wanting her, and not because she was the only one there, either. It was a kiss from someone who'd made it clear that he preferred spunky blonde reporters to dark haired girls next door. Who might run off, sure, but if he did, it wouldn't be because of...well, the dark haired girl next door who slept down the hall from her.
It felt good.
It made a difference, and if she hadn't already been an hour and forty six minutes past her curfew, she wouldn't have minded exploring that feeling a little more.
She'd been able to sneak past Lana without waking her up, but when she'd arrived in her own room, her father had been seated at her desk with an expectant look on his face.
"Busted," he told her simply. "I thought you'd come home with Lana, but she said you left earlier than she did. I was worried."
"Yeah, the party wasn't really happening for me, so I took off. I just lost track of the time, I'm sorry."
"No harm done. Just call next time, sweet pea."
Usually, her father's pet names for her made her wrinkle her nose, but tonight, nothing was wiping the grin off her face. "I will. Thanks, Dad."
Gabe regarded his daughter with a look of curiosity that changed to recognition as soon as he categorized the glow on her face. "Okay, what's his name?"
Chloe gave him credit for not at least not immediately assuming Clark was at the root of her good mood. "How do you do that? Will I ever be able to hide anything from you? Ever?"
"Nope. What's his name?"
"Lucas," she 'fessed up. "Lucas Luthor. He's Lex's brother."
Gabe's eyebrows nearly shot off his forehead. "The one who, if I remember correctly, Lana dubbed 'a smug, self centered, obnoxious jerk' when he tried to take a piece of the Talon? The boy who got Lex tossed out on his ear? The one who"
"Well, therein lies the basis of his appeal," she breezed almost playfully.
"You're dating Lucas Luthor? Chloe, honey"
"Dad, I went out with him once, I'm not dating him. For all I know, this could very well be just a one night thing. Anyway, he was nice to me, and he's cute, and he made me laugh. Right now, I'm just kind of enjoying the fact that I had a good time tonight when I was expecting the uber-suck. No need to panic."
"I'm not panicking, really, I just...Chlo, the things I've heard about this boy have been a little less than pleasing. I don't want you to get hurt."
"Clark hurt me," she told him quietly. "He's a genuinely nice guy, but I still ended up getting my heart put through the grinder. If that doesn't prove that you can't ever tell who's going to end up doing the hurting, I don't know what would. I just want to see where this goes."
Gabe exhaled, nodded in defeat, then stood. When her mind was made up, it wasn't any use to argue with her, and he had the distinct feeling that if he forbid her from seeing the Luthor kid, it'd only make him more attractive. Instead, he'd just pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I'm going to bed, sweets. I'll see you in the morning."
"Night, Daddy. Oh, and..."
He turned back from the door. "What's up?"
"Could you maybe not tell Lana?" Her cheeks darkened a little. "I'd sort of like to keep this for myself for awhile."
He understood, and wished he could make it better. Everything his little girl had gone through, all because of a boy. Maybe this Lucas kid could end up being a good thing. He had his doubts, but this was the first time he'd seen Chloe happywell, not happy, really, because she hadn't been moping or wallowing. And he knew his daughter wasn't the kind of girl who needed a boy to be happy. But he hadn't seen her with this special kind of excited, bubbly, teenage girl happiness since last May.
All he could do was agree. "Of course. Night, Chlo."
Lex had been mildly amused when he'd noticed his brother leaving the Talon with Chloe, and he'd raised an eyebrow when Lucas had wandered back to the mansion at two in the morning, but he didn't comment until breakfast the following day.
"It seems that Smallville's favorite reporter held your attention for quite awhile last night."
Lucas glanced up from his omelet. "You mean Chloe?"
"Yes, I do. She's a charming girl, you have good taste."
The boy waggled his eyebrows, and Lex was surprised to see that grin made him look younger. It wasn't the cocky smirk he'd come to associate with his jaded younger brother; it was the smile of an eighteen year old kid who was honestly delighted with something. "She's jailbait for you, Alexander. And I don't want to get into our second pissing contest in less than a month. Hands off."
"Bit touchy on the subject, are we?" Lex couldn't help the hint of a smile at the banter. Maybe his father was right, maybe the kid was a little crazy. But then again, maybe the kid was also just thata kid, who had considerable time to mature. At eighteen, Lex hadn't exactly been the Rock of Gibraltar himself. Besides, he liked having him around.
"Not touchy, just possessive. She's interesting, actually has a brain, which is a nice change of pace from some of the other women I've dated. And she couldn't care less about the fact that I come with the cursed Luthor name. She's...refreshing, and we hit it off seriously well. I'm not looking to compete for her affections this early in the game."
"I'm not the one you have to worry about competition from," Lex said lightly. "It's nice that you two are getting along, but she's been enamored with Clark for as long as I've known her. Fair warning."
Lucas shrugged, seemingly unconcerned as he dug back into his omelet. "Not worried. She didn't exactly seem enamored with him last night. More like annoyed. How does he feel about her?"
Lex took a long drink from his glass of orange juice, mulling it over. "He cares for her more than he realizes, I think," he finally replied. "But typically enough, it only hits him when she starts seeing someone else, when she starts losing interest, or when she's in trouble."
"Yeah? Define 'in trouble'."
"The girl's a journalist through and through. She has a penchant for getting herself into sticky situations, although I will say that she's capable of getting herself out of most of them. Always lands on her feet."
"I'm not surprised." Lucas's smile turned wolfish. "Well, like I said, she seemed interested last night. At least, she did when I kissed her."
Lex's eyebrows shot way up at that. "You kissed her on the first date?"
"Oh, please, Lex. Don't give me that crap. I'm sure you've gone much further than that on first dates. On first hours of first dates."
Damn. The kid had a point. "I am twenty one," he informed his brother. "You are eighteen, and she's barely sixteen. You might not want to force the issue if you want to see her again."
"Hey, who said anything about forcing? It was just a kiss, Lex, and I did keep my hands above her waist."
"Somehow, that's not exactly comforting."
"I didn't mean it like that." Lucas rolled his eyes. "God, can't you just be happy for me? You're starting to sound like somebody's dad."
"I'm happy," Lex reassured him. "I think it's great that you've met someone you enjoy spending time with. Gives you an incentive to stick around for awhile."
"You think I should call her today? Or would that be pushing it?" Lucas looked a little sheepish. "I'm new to the concept of dating someone I actually respect. It's interesting territory."
"You did say that you kissed her last night?" Lucas nodded. "I think if you don't call her, you'd be a damn fool. Odds are that the girl's expectations of you are going to be on the high side. Especially considering her romantic experience thus far consists solely of guy after guy letting her down. You want to be different from every other guy."
"Good point." Lucas stood up, leaving the rest of his breakfast unfinished, and Lex smirked.
"Oh, and Lucas?"
"Don't screw it up."
It was advice he took to heart.
Chloe herself was a little surprised by how quickly she fell for Lucas. She'd gone into this with both of her eyes wide open, never expecting to actually see him more than once or twice. She'd thought it would be a good way to reassure herself that she was still desirable, maybe get her jump started on the path to getting over Clark.
She'd never expected him to turn into boyfriend material.
Lucas had surpassed her every expectation, at every turn. He'd called her the very next day, where they'd stayed on the phone for nearly two hours, then sent her an orchid and an invitation to a movie for Friday.
He didn't mention that the 'movie' would actually be a performance of Phantom of the Opera at the Metropolis Theater. Afterwards, they'd bought hot dogs from a street vendor and strolled around the city hand in hand until his limo picked them up back at the theater.
She couldn't superimpose the image of the guy who had been a brash, arrogant jerk to her friends over the image of the guy who laughed when she accidentally squirted mustard down the front of his shirt and retaliated by flinging pickle relish down the neckline of her dress. The guy who, for all this faults, seemed like he honestly felt something for her.
They talked nearly every night on the phone, and she had to admit that it had never been this way with Clark. She'd never felt like someone was so intrigued by her, like she was this fascinating puzzle that he was dying to figure out. Lucas made her feel like she was the only girl he saw, and in turn, the image of a blue-green gaze was fading from her brain.
Lucas's brown eyes were reality, and that was turning out to be about a thousand times better than fantasy. She loved hearing his stories, she loved discussing his family and past, she loved the way her hand fit into his, and she definitely loved the way he kissed her. She loved the fact that under all the bravado and bluster, he was still scared of being hurt.
They were learning together that relationships didn't always have to be a big source of pain. He was helping her move past that, and she liked to think she was helping him learn that it was okay to trust someone.
And maybe the best part was that for once, she wanted someone who clearly wanted her.
They went out again the following weekend, and this time, Chloe chose the location. She picked him up in her car and took him bowling, something he claimed he'd never done before. She was half inclined to believe him, seeing as he was a terrible player.
They went to the loudest, tackiest bowling alley in Grandville. It reeked of cigar smoke and beer, sweat and cheap perfumeand he was surprised to find it was fun. She stuck him with a bright pink ball and giggled every time he tripped over his too-large shoes. They split a huge container of nachos and a Coke from a cup Chloe probably could have taken a bath in. She changed three dollars into quarters to play all her old favorites on the jukebox, taught him the words to 'Johnny B. Goode' and liked that she could teach the boy who'd seen it all something he didn't know.
On the way home, they stopped at Crater Lake, where they'd made out furiously until Chloe's brain had de-fogged enough to warn her that she was in serious danger of violating her curfew. Again.
He stopped by the Torch office after her classes were over, and she showed him how she laid out the paper. She went to the Luthor mansion, and he taught her how to play poker. He cajoled her into letting him take her for a ride on the motorcycle, and she helped him officially move the rest of his positions into Lex's house. After a few weeks, Chloe looked back at her calendar and was startled to see how much time they really had been spending together.
She still hadn't told her friends that she was dating someone, but she was pretty sure they realized something was going on. Clark was startled when she didn't seem interested in hanging out after Torch sessions, Pete was growing suspicious about how often she was out on weekends, and Lana was very curious about why the phone line at the house was tied up so often.
Chloe passed over their questions by vaguely hinting that it had to do with a story she was working on, but she knew that wouldn't work forever. She wasn't ashamed of her relationship with Lucasa little over a month had gone by, and she figured it was safe to officially call it a relationship at this point.
But it was like she had told her father on the night Lucas had first driven her home. She liked having something that she didn't have to share. She liked that she didn't look at Clark and feel a pang in her stomach, that her friendship with him was uncomplicated for once, that she didn't resent Lana anymore. She liked that she'd stopped even wondering if Clark and Lana were officially together yet.
For once, she liked having her own secret from everyone. She could get used to this 'woman of mystery' vibe.
She and Lucas stayed in one night, parked on the leather couch in Lex's study with her Empire Records DVD playing on the flat screen. Lucas's arm was draped around her, and her head rested comfortably on his chest. Would have been the perfect scenario if he hadn't insisted on keeping up a running commentary.
"Babe, this movie sucks," he complained, for at least the twelfth time. "You're a fairly intelligent person. Why do you like this crap?"
"Shut up," she returned, slapping half heartedly at his thigh with her hand. "I already told you. It's junk food for the brain, I like the soundtrack, and Johnny Whitworth is really cute."
"Which one is he, again?"
"You'd know if you shut up long enough to pay attention. He's A.J. The artist with the cute hair."
"Oh, the gay one."
"He is not gay! He's in love with Liv Tyler!"
"Please, he's throwing serious lusty looks at the guy from Dazed and Confused." Lucas raised an eyebrow at her and grinned the particular grin that never failed to make her stomach spin. "Arwen is so obviously a beard. Anyway, she's into the slutty girl, so it's not like she'll be lonely."
Chloe laughed despite herself. "You're destroying a movie I love, you do realize," she said, punctuating her words with another slap on his leg.
"Ow! Jesus, Chlo, would you stop hitting me? You pack more of a punch than you know. This is one very abusive relationship we've got going."
"Ohhhhh, did I just hear you use the 'R' word?"
He flushed beet red, and she loved that she could make someone as jaded as Lucas Luthor blush. "If you don't know how I feel about you by now," he muttered almost inaudibly, crimson to the tips of his ears.
Chloe tickled his sides lightly, feeling warm and bubbly, like she'd just chugged a bottle of ginger ale. "How do you feel about me, Mr. Luthor? Spell it out."
"I thought you reporter types were supposed to be quick on the uptake," he taunted right back, grabbing her wrists and pulling her into his lap in one quick motion.
"Mmm. Well, sometimes we get muddled," she purred, leaning forward and nipping lightly at his neck in a way that she knew drove him crazy. "So?"
"Can't think when you do that, babe," he responded, tangling his fingers in her hair.
"Well," she drawled, leaning in to flick her tongue along his jaw. "The way I see it, you can think...or I can stop."
"Okay, I can think," he assured her, shifting on the couch until she was straddling his lap more comfortably. "I can think very well."
"Good," Chloe giggled, and the sound sent a thrill up his spine. He loved her laugh, how free it always was. "So think out loud." She blew softly in his ear, and he had to take a moment to gather his thoughts.
"I'm not good at stuff like this," he told her. "Dating stuff. Not with somebody I like. You...you, I like. A lot. I like how you actually expect stuff from me and you keep challenging me. I wouldn't ever even try to take you for granted, because you'd kick my ass. I like that you have a work ethic, and I like that you have a real relationship with your father, and I like how you make me somebody better."
She'd stopped nuzzling him at this point, pulled back and looked into his eyes seriously. "If that's a line, you really know how to pick them."
"It's not a line," he told her, his own stomach flipping over in fear. He'd never been so honest with anyone, and this fiery, gorgeous girl had cut him down to the core so fast...it was unnerving, what she did to him. She demanded honesty from herself, so she expected the same from everyone else, and he couldn't figure out why that struck such a chord with him. Chloe was peeling away the layers, and while every instinct in his body was screaming at him to run, he knew he wouldn't go anywhere. "Not with you. I don't know how to use lines with you."
Chloe was so quiet, he was sure he'd said completely the wrong thing.
Then she leaned forward, laid the kiss of his life on him, and he realized for the first time in a long time...he'd done something absolutely right.
For the first time in a long time, he felt like he had someplace he belonged.
Of course, they were found out eventually. Even Chloe couldn't hide anything forever.
Although, looking back on it, she probably would have liked to have let her friends know just a little bit differently. As in, she would have liked to have told them herself. But hey, such was life.
She was settled in the Talon on Tuesday night with a large latte, a red pen, and a stack of articles, working her way through the proofs so she'd be able to stick the corrections in the staff mailboxes the next morning. Lucas was supposed to pick her up in a little while for a quick dinner break, then it was back to the grindstone.
A small grin played across her lips as she drew yet another line through one of Marie Carlton's perpetual subject-verb agreement errors. And you really will go back to the grindstone, she lectured herself silently. Dinner. No kissing. No movies. No 'let's take quick walk around town, it's such a nice night'. No 'let's browse around the bookstore, I want you to look at a few things'. No giving in to the Luthor charm.
"Hard at work, I see."
Chloe jerked in surprise at the voice and dragged the pen a little further across the paper than she meant to. "Lex. You startled me," she said.
"I'm sorry," the older Luthor replied with a half grin, raising his own cup to her in a slight apology. "I didn't mean to."
"No big deal," she answered, pushing her papers a little to the side. "I think I might have actually caught a mistake I was going to pass up."
"I'll take that as a thank you. Is this seat taken?"
"No, go right ahead. I'll be leaving in a little while, anyway."
Lex's smile turned knowing as he slid into the seat across from her. "A certain brother of mine might have mentioned that, actually. You two are going out again, I assume?"
She felt the blush rise to her cheeks, but didn't bother trying to curb it. Lex at least seemed to be approving. He never bothered them when they were at the manor, at least. "Well, he promised me dinner, and free food is always an incentive."
"I hope he's treating you right."
The grin that spread across her face almost startled him. "He is. He always does. Why so curious?"
He shrugged and sipped his coffee. "Believe it or not, Ms. Sullivan, I'm indebted to you. You seem to be a major force behind Lucas choosing to stay around. I've enjoyed getting to know my brother."
Chloe's face darkened a shade deeper. "I don't think I had quite that much to do with it. He wanted to stay. I mean, God, Lex, you're his family. He wanted to know you, too. And I know how happy he is, living with you. I don't think his girlfriend could be more important than his brother."
"Giving me the old 'blood is thicker than water' speech?"
"Got too clichéd, huh?"
"A touch." His eyes sparkled, and she knew he was only teasing. "But I believe in giving credit where credit is due. So believe me when I tell you, if it hadn't been for you, I doubt Lucas would have put down roots here. And you do seem to make him remarkably happy. I like seeing him this way."
His words touched her. She opened her mouth to thank him when Clark came bounding up, a bright smile on his face and a mug of coffee in his hand. He greeted Lex cheerfully, then turned to her, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he'd interrupted something. "Chlo, I'm glad I caught up with you," he said. "I called your house, and your dad told me you'd be here."
"Needed my coffee fix," she said lightly, beginning to gather up her papers. "It's kind of a sucky time, though, Clark. I'm on my way out the door."
"You can't stick around for another fifteen minutes?" he wheedled. "C'mon, I feel like I haven't spent any time with you in forever. The most I see you lately is in class."
She was irritated with herself for being able to feel a slight pang of satisfaction in her stomach at that. Shoe's not looking so good on the other foot, huh, Clark? "Yeah, I know," she told him. She glanced out the window and recognized the car pulling upmore from the fact that Lucas was about to double park than the actual car. He always did that, and she always had to go running out to the car so they could drive off and prevent him from getting a parking ticket. "But I've really got to run, I'm sorry. We'll hang out later, okay? See you around, Lex."
"Chloe" But she didn't spare Clark a glance before going out the door, an extra spring in her step. He scowled and dropped into her recently vacated seat. "I don't know what's up with her lately," he complained to Lex.
The older man smiled and leaned back into his seat. "She's still in the honeymoon stage, Clark. Give her some time. Everyone grows out of it eventually."
Clark's forehead crinkled. "The honeymoon stage?"
"Stage One of a relationship," Lex explained. "When the couple is entirely wrapped up in each other, to the exclusion of the rest of the world. Don't worry, I promise you that sooner or later, it runs its course, and you get your friend back."
Clark laughed. "What makes you think Chloe's in a relationship?" he chuckled, taking a swig from his mug.
Lex regarded him with amusement. "Well, the fact that I caught her in a somewhat compromising position with Lucas in my study a few days ago was a fairly large clue."
Clark choked on his coffee, clapping a napkin to his mouth before it could dribble down onto his flannel. "What?" he croaked. "Lex, I think I'm hearing things. I could have sworn you just said"
"That my brother has been courting Chloe for a little over a month now," Lex told him calmly, handing him another napkin from the silver dispenser. "Try breathing, Clark."
"She didn't tell you?"
"You're making this up," Clark said angrily. "Why would Chloe have anything to do with Lucas? She's never even met him! And he's such a"
"He's still my brother, Clark." Lex's tone was mild, but a darker undercurrent ran through it.
"Sorry. Sorry, I didn't mean...but since when?"
"As far as I can tell, the night of the food bank party. They left together, and since then, I haven't seen very much of him. He's extremely taken with her." He nodded towards the window. "If I'm not much mistaken, he just picked her up. I believe they had dinner plans."
Clark's face was pale as he leaned back against the booth, shoulders slumped. "A month?" he said weakly. "I mean, they're actually dating? She never said anything."
"Maybe she thought you wouldn't approve. Or care very much," Lex said. He wasn't judging, but sometimes, Clark could tend towards dense. "You should talk to her about it."
He nodded, still looking a little dazed. "Talking. Right."
"By talking, I don't mean attacking her for keeping quiet," Lex added, all too familiar with his young friend's version of discussion. "We all have our secrets."
"I wouldn't attack her! It's just weird," Clark protested. "I mean, Chloe dating someone. Especially a guy like Lucas."
Lex raised an eyebrow, but declined to comment. "Are you upset that she's dating, or that she's dating someone who isn't you?" he asked bluntly.
"That'sthat's crazy!" Clark sputtered. "Chloe and I aren't like that, and there's Lana...I'm not jealous."
"I didn't say you were." He hid his smile behind his coffee mug. "I do, however, think you got a little used to being the belle of the ball."
"I did not," he said hotly. "There was no bell. No ball. I told you, we decided to just be friends."
"Which doesn't necessarily imply that you wanted her to stop carrying a torch for you. No pun intended, of course."
"Of course," Clark sulked.
"She's happy," Lex told him. "Let her have this."
Clark scowled into his coffee, not making an attempt to reply, and Lex wondered if there was a way this could end with anyone at all being happy.
Chloe liked the Torch office in the morning. School started at eight, but the hallways usually grew loud and crowded around seven thirty, so she'd made it a point to start arriving at six forty five once she had her car. Sometimes, she didn't even work on the papershe'd brew coffee and touch up homework she hadn't had time to finish the night before. Or she'd put on a CD and Google around for whatever caught her attention, which could be anything from Alias fanfiction to the eye-less cavern fish in Kentucky. It was just nice to have some time solely to herself, completely without fear of interruption.
Wednesday, she'd compromised by finishing up the final two edits from last night and putting notes for revision in the staff in-boxes, then flipping on her Fiona Apple CD and composing a lengthy e-mail to Maya, one of the other interns she'd grown close to at the Planet last summer. This was her favorite kind of morning, when she had time to do business, but still work in some fun.
"So I'm a shadowboxer, baby," she half-sang along under her breath, not paying full attention to the lyrics and only mumbling the parts that jumped out at her. Steam curled around the rim of her coffee mug, and she grinned at the computer, reliving last night's date as she typed.
Maya had been brought up to speed on the current happenings, but she always demanded complete details of every date with Lucas, and Chloe was more than happy to provide them. She wasn't gossiping with Lana about the single dimple in Lucas's jaw when he smiled, so she got her girlie bonding this way.
She'd gotten as far as describing the restaurant when the door swung open abruptly and Clark walked in.
Chloe raised an eyebrow, but saved the file and stood up to greet him. "Hey, this is a surprise," she said. "Aren't you usually still in bed when the bus swings by your house?"
He shrugged. "I got up early. Besides, I didn't get to hang out with you last night, so I thought we could talk a little bit today." His tone was vaguely accusing, and it stirred her curiosity.
"Anything in particular on your mind?" she asked, heading over to the color printer. "This thing is jammed again, by the way. Can you pop the ink cartridge out for me?"
Clark lifted the printer cover and had the cartridge out before she could blink. "So, what did you do after you left the Talon last night?"
She shrugged and fished a replacement cartridge out of her desk, then handed it back over to him. "Got some dinner, worked on edits, then went home and watched part of Hollow Man on cable with Lana. Did you know she has this weird Josh Brolin fixation? Ugh."
"Which one is Josh Brolin?"
"The one who's not Kevin Bacon."
Clark's forehead wrinkled as he maneuvered the cartridge into place. "He's kind of old, isn't he?"
"I don't think you have anything to worry about," she said with a laugh. "You have that whole thing where you actually know she's alive working for you."
He grinned sheepishly at her, then suddenly shook his head, looking like he was trying to remind himself of something. "That's all you did last night, then?"
"As far as I can remember, anyway."
"No interesting company?" he pressed.
Her eyes flashed in sudden understanding. "You could just come right out and say it, Clark," she said coolly. "Subtly digging for information? Not really your forté."
"So you were with Lucas last night."
"Yep," she told him without a trace of guilt. "Although I'm curious as to how you knew."
"A little birdie told me," he said darkly.
"Was the little birdie bald and wearing Armani?"
"Would you be serious for thirty seconds in a row? We should talk about this."
"Frankly, Clark, I'm not really seeing that we have much to talk about," she told him, her voice brooking no room for nonsense. "It's none of your business who I go out with."
"What, I can't worry about you? Chloe, he's Lucas Luthor," Clark said, speaking like he was talking to an irate five year old. "Lucas. Luthor."
"Yes, he is," she said dangerously. "You're gonna want to watch how you expound on that."
Her warning fell on deaf ears. "Incredibly large jerk? Self absorbed idiot? Conceited spoiled brat? Is any of this sounding familiar?"
"Very familiar. I've used a lot of those adjectives to describe you lately," she shot back. Clark's mouth fell open in shock, but she was picking up steam. "You spent all of a day with him! It doesn't exactly make you an expert in all things Lucas!"
"Oh, and I suppose you are?"
"Some of us don't presume that we know everything there is to know about our friends, Clark," she told him pointedly. "But it's a safe bet that I know him a hell of a lot better than you do. I care about him, and I'd appreciate it if you'd show him a little respect."
"You want me to respect the guy who tried to get the Talon shut down? And God, Chloe, he kicked Lex out of his own home!" Clark said, looking angrier by the second. "How could you just forget about that?"
"Funny how Lex certainly seems to have forgiven and forgotten."
"That's different. He's his brother."
"Yeah, and he's my boyfriend."
It was a direct hit. Clark gaped at her, looking like nothing so much as a fish flopping around on land. "You're kidding," he finally managed. "Jeez, dating him I can handle"
"Yes, you've been very mature about it so far"
"But boyfriend? Since when? How? Why?"
Chloe crossed her arms over her chest and rolled her eyes at him. "It just happened. Deal with it. We went out. We liked each other. We have chemistry. Ergo, boyfriend. Anything else?"
"Chloe, Lucas Luthor!" he yelped again, utterly at a loss for words. "You had better taste when you went out with Justin Gaines!"
"And I had worse taste when I went out with you, so call it a draw," she snapped, and instantly knew that had been below the belt.
Clark drew back from her, looking incredibly hurt. "I'm just trying to look out for you," he mumbled. "I don't want to see you get hurt."
"I'm a big girl, Clark," she said gently, trying to make up for her earlier words without having to actually apologize. "Look, I appreciate the concern. I really do. But Lucas and I...we get each other. He knows me, and he's not as arrogant and jerky as you think he is. He...he makes me happy. Really happy. It's been a long time since a guy's made me happy at all. And I know his past is a little less than squeaky clean, but whose isn't? Can't you try to withhold judgment and just be glad I found somebody special?"
The look in his eyes gave her pause for a moment before she finally placed it. Jealousy. That was a hint of jealousy in Clark Kent's eyes. He would never admit it, she knew, but it was there, plain as day. He might want Lana, but he didn't want any other guy to be special to Chloe Sullivan, either.
And she was a little startled to realize that the fact that he was jealous had absolutely no effect on her. It marked how much she really did care for Lucas, maybe more than she'd even admitted to herself.
He exhaled sharply, still looking annoyed, but he finally nodded. "Yeah. I can do that. Doesn't mean I'm gonna be the guy's best friend, but I can do that." His eyes told her that it would be a cold day in Hell before he was glad she was dating, but she was grateful he withheld further comments. "Does anybody else know?"
"I was trying to keep it under wraps," she admitted.
"Why do that, if he makes you so happy?" he couldn't resist baiting.
Chloe arched an eyebrow at him. "The tantrum you threw just now wasn't enough of an indication?"
"Okay, you have a point," he muttered grudgingly. "But finding out from Lex hurt, Chlo. I wish you'd told me."
"I wish I had, too. If it makes you feel any better, I promise I'll tell Lana and Pete today. It wasn't my intention to hurt anybody. I just liked having something that was...mine."
Clark nodded. "I understand. And I'm sorry I yelled at you. Lex told me not to do that."
"It's okay." She smiled warmly, and he knew that all really was forgiven. "Can we hug and make up now?"
He laughed and drew her into his arms, realizing how long it had been since he and Chloe had actually talked. He missed spending time with her. He missed his best friend. "Yeah, I think we can do that. And Chlo, if he ever hurts you in any way..."
"I'll send him straight to the Kent Farm once I'm done kicking his ass myself," she promised.
"You'd better. I'm gonna go see if I can catch up with Pete before first period. Want to come with?"
"Nah, you go ahead. I've got some things I need to finish up in here."
"Okay. I'll see you in bio." He walked out of the door, and she grinned after him. Being just friends with Clark sounded nice for a change. Once they got past the parts where they screamed at each other, anyway.
Chloe turned back to her computer and noticed that the little red flag indicating that she had e-mail was blinking.
Just wanted to let you know I'm thinking about you. Have fun in SH prison today, and try not to make anyone cry. Unless they're asking for it.
Feel up to going out Saturday? Just don't pick any chick movies. Go for something manly, with lots of explosions.
A wide grin spread across her face as she began typing her response. Fiona Apple, fresh coffee, mending fences with Clark, and a date for Saturday all before noon. She'd had worse mornings.
I make no promises about the crying thingthere's a Torch staff meeting after school today, and if I'm lucky, I'll send three reporters home in tears. Go me!
Saturday sounds good. I'll be generous and let you pick what we do this time, even if it involves bullets and a complete lack of plot. See you soon.