The Long Way Home

by Christie
http://number14.org/precious


It's one of those days where snowfall seems only minutes away, but it never falls. It gets colder and makes you look up at the cloud covered sky for errant flakes. But there aren't any.

Born and raised in Kansas, and Chloe never has gotten used to days like this. She always waits for the snow. Pulls her coat tight and watches and waits. It never comes.

It's one of those days. The weather and classes and the Torch, none of them morphing into anything close to what she expected when her alarm went off that morning.

She takes the long way home from school. Lakeside Drive winds around town, keeps to the outskirts and is generally devoid of traffic. Only the occasional truck rumbles by, heading toward or from the Luthor Corp plant on the edge of town.

Chloe keeps toward the tree line, even though the low cloud cover makes the afternoon shadowy and the forest eerily creepy. Reminds herself she's not afraid of the dark, even in Smallville, and looks up at the sky again, waiting for the snow. It's gotten colder, she's sure of it.

Just beyond the bend, Chloe can see the hulking mass of the Luthor Castle. She chooses the word castle whenever she thinks of the place, because that's what it is and calling it less is pretentious. Lex, she's sure, likes to welcome people inside as though it is a home, as though it wasn't brought over from Scotland stone by stone, even though he'll readily tell you that if you ask. When he says it, or anything really, that has to do with his father, he sounds equal parts disgusted and intrigued, which funnily enough is the way most people feel when they meet the Luthors for the first time.

Or the second. Or ever.

Chloe's boots hardly make a sound in the squishy mess of leaves and mud and whatever else that marks the edge of the road. They clump a little when she crosses left over right and steps onto the asphalt. She doesn't look both ways like her mom taught her to; she'd hear a truck coming a mile away and it's too cold for Lex Luthor to be out joyriding in his convertible death trap.

The edge of the property is lined with an iron fence, but the service drive is never gated, and Chloe turns up onto the property. She never once questions what the hell she thinks she's doing, not out loud anyway, because curiosity seems reason enough and it is, after all, in her nature.

Plus, coffee.

Warmth and caffeine, two of the most important things on a day when it should be snowing but isn't.

The buzzer on the outside of the door is silent when she presses it, and Chloe counts under her breath, deciding only to knock loudly if no one answers by the time she reaches twenty-five.

At twenty-three the door creaks from the inside and opens with a woosh of warm air. Chloe has never been so happy to see a complete stranger in her life.

Her hands fist in her pockets and she smiles gratefully, hoping to be let through into the warmth of the kitchen before she has to explain what she's doing there.

She should have figured that wasn't going to happen, it being the Luthor Castle and all, and the woman just blinks at her, tilts her head and politely asks how she can help her.

"I'm here to visit Lex," she tells the woman, a smile as big as the lie, and Chloe now decides it's as good a time as any to question her own motives. If she is really inclined to talk to Lex Luthor, which she isn't, it would be much more comfortable in a public place where he just happened to show up, like the Beanery, or the Kent Farm, or school for that matter.

Now she's being shown through the warm kitchen, up a small flight of stairs, though a dark hallway and into the main foyer. Where she would have entered had she knocked on the front door like a normal person. She's told to wait, and the woman goes on ahead, disappears behind another set of doors and Chloe is alone. It crosses her mind to make a break for it, but the woman has her name and Lex isn't likely to appreciate being summoned away from whatever he's doing to stand around in his foyer wondering if she's gone to the bathroom or been sucked into the dungeon through a trap door.

It's an interesting thought, and not entirely unlikely in a castle like this one, and Chloe toes the edge of an Oriental rug, peeling it back to reveal more of the same dark wood that permeates the entire space. No trap doors, at least not on the edges, and Chloe realizes that trap doors are usually in the middle where guests stand, and Lex would have to be off to the side to flip the switch or pull the lever or whatever he had to do to make it open.

The image is so vivid that Chloe laughs, her hands finally uncurling from fists in her pockets and she gently extracts them from her coat.

"Something funny?"

The end of the chuckle catches in her throat and Chloe coughs, turns to find Lex leaning against a doorframe, a different one than the woman had gone through, hands in the pockets of his insanely expensive tailored pants. Chloe's not really one to pride herself on knowing expensive things when she sees them, but it's pretty hard to miss the softness of his shirts, the crisp lines of his pants, and the way they never fit anything but perfectly. She's willing to bet Lex has never fastened a safety pin to close an unfortunately placed tear, or cuffed his pants and ignored how dorky it looked because it was raining and he didn't want them to get muddy from the splashback of his shoes.

She feels her face burn a little, wonders if telling him her trap door theory would be a good way to break the ice or get her kicked on her ass back into the cold. It's hard to admit, even to herself, but Lex unnerves her, as he does everyone, she supposes.

She wants to see through his carefully constructed faade, wants him to know that though he may have the rest of the town snowed, he doesn't fool her. But truth of the matter, Lex does have her snowed because she can't figure him out just like the masses, and he's got another hand up because he's her father's boss.

Her father, who would kill her twice if he found out she ever called Lex anything but Mr. Luthor, much less that she'd crossed Lakeside Drive and showed up on his service entrance doorstep unannounced and for no apparent reason. Chloe foregoes her trap door theory for the moment, turns entirely in Lex's direction and mentally ensures she's not in the center of the room, in case her theory proves true. She shrugs, an awkward movement in her bulky coat and manages a smile that's not too fake.

"No, I was just admiring the rug."

Lex pushes off from the doorframe, eyes traveling slowly over the rug as though it's the first time he's seen it. He nods a little, finally looks back up and quirks his lips into that little line that leaves people wondering if it's a grin or a smirk. Chloe suspects it's both.

"What can I do for you, Miss Sullivan?"

The second question in and it's the hard one, the one for which she has no clever lie or witty remark.

"To be honest with you, I don't know. I was walking home from school and it's really cold and I saw the service gate was open. I turned up the drive and here I am."

Honesty is the best policy, at least, that's what they say. That answer is as honest as it got, but still Chloe feels small under Lex's intense gaze. An eternity goes by, she's sure of it, and after a while she starts counting the ticks on the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. It's Lex's turn, and she'll outwait him if it takes all day.

His face is the usual inscrutable mask, but he seems to be studying her as intensely as she is studying him. She swears if she looks hard enough, she can see the wheels turning in his head; his gray-blue eyes windows to not his soul but that gigantic brain of his.

Finally, his lips twist into something of a leer, and Chloe wonders what he thinks he's concluded about her being there, in his foyer in the middle of the afternoon, probably standing on a trap door.

"Want something to drink? Hot chocolate or coffee?"

It's not exactly what she expected, but it's welcome enough, since hot liquid caffeine was part of the reason that made her turn up the service drive in the first place. Curiosity, the other reason, wasn't exactly being satisfied, unless she counted what Lex's huge foyer looked like on her list of things she has to know about Lex Luthor before she dies.

And it really hadn't been on that list.

Well, maybe toward the very, very bottom.

"Coffee," she tells him, and watches him leave while rubbing her hands together. Warming up nicely, and she's almost ready to take her coat off, although not quite sure she should presume to be welcome to get comfortable. Chloe decides if he brings her coffee in a styrofoam cup, she'll politely excuse herself and head home.

He appears in less than a minute with not only a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug, but an entire tray of coffee accessories. She wonders if that just sits on the kitchen counter waiting to be picked up and used to entertain drop-in guests. Lex tilts his head and walks through another door, and she takes that as an indication to follow him, glad to leave the formal foyer and its hidden trap doors behind.

The room they enter is his study; no more informal or inviting than the foyer, but at least there's places to sit and a roaring fire. Lex's desk is against the far wall, in front of the huge floor to ceiling windows, and Chloe is jealous because the Torch offices are smaller than his entire desk and its tiny basement window is about the size of his day planner. He's got not one computer but two, both flat screened, both with ergonomic keyboards and matching mouses, both set up so that only the person behind the desk can see what's on the monitor. Another flat, gray box on top of his desk is probably a laptop of some kind, and Chloe wonders if this is what his home office is like, what his office at the Luthor Corp plant looks like.

"I hope to get your school some of these computers," Lex tells her, setting the coffee tray on a small table next to two chairs that face the fireplace. "I don't know how you do what you do working on those relics they've got there now."

Chloe turns away from his desk and toward him, daring to slip her backpack off her shoulders and letting her coat fall with it. She thinks that yes, computers like his with their flat screens and hideaway hard drives and non-carpel tunnel causing keyboards and mouses would be very nice, but in effort not to be spoiled, her iMac is just fine and she hasn't done without anything she needed since she took over the Torch last year.

She tells Lex this, and he chuckles, holding a mug of coffee out to her.

"Just trying to broaden your horizons," he explains, taking a sip from his own.

Chloe decides not to comment, and takes one of the seats near the fireplace. It's very warm here, and the coffee is fresh, not like the coffee at the Beanery that sits in the storeroom for weeks, the oldest stuff rotated to the front so that it's used before the next shipment comes in from wherever generic warehouse they get it from.

Lex sits too, and they look at the fire for some moments, Chloe wondering if he's going to wait until she says something because it's technically her turn. She figures he probably doesn't think like that; Lex is too smooth, or pretends to be at least, to worry about such social convention.

His head is so smooth, she realizes, and tinted orange from the dimness of the room coupled with firelight. His profile is handsome, she decides, much better looking than she's ever noticed before. She wants to tell him her observation, but understands how uncool that would be, and keeps her mouth shut, sipping at her coffee and glancing at him in uneven intervals so that he can't possibly catch her staring.

"This is weird," she finally says aloud, figuring that coolness is one thing, but rudeness is another, and he did, after all, invite her into his private study for coffee.

He looks at her then, his face angled sharply by shadows and light, and Chloe is taken aback at how much older he looks just now, in this glow, in his huge office, drinking coffee. He looks formidable until he smiles with curiosity, tilts his head and gives her what can only be construed as a 'what the hell does that mean?' look.

She smiles at him, hoping to get a larger smile back, but doesn't, and plows ahead anyway.

"Sitting here, drinking coffee with Lex Luthor."

Lex shrugs, as though he understands why she might think it strange even though he doesn't think it all that odd. Chloe likes him even more in that instant.

"I'm not all that different from you, Chloe," he tells her, although as he says it he almost chuckles, as if realizing the absurdity of the statement before it's completely out of his mouth. He shrugs and the firelight dances on his face, and she is mesmerized.

"Okay, maybe I am a little different from you, but I'm still a normal person."

She takes this, rolls it around in her mind, thinks of ways she can contradict. There are a dozen, and that's without even careful analysis, but she bites them all back and tries to be cordial, since it's possible that there are trap doors in this room too and she's had plenty of time to imagine what might be in the basement or dungeon, or wherever trap doors in castles lead to.

"I'm sure you are, Lex," she says, regretting it as soon as it's out of her mouth because it sounds sassy and rude and just a little antagonizing.

He doesn't seem antagonized though, he laughs and sets his mug down on the tray. His eyes are glowing bright blue, a little yellow and a little orange thrown in for good measure. Entranced is the word that floats through Chloe's mind, and she's just a little embarrassed that she's getting caught up in the hype. She doesn't hang out with other girls, with the occasional exception of Lana Lang, but she's a reporter, so she listens and watches and hears. She doesn't know of one girl at Smallville High that hasn't fantasized about Lex Luthor in one capacity or another, and she'd always scoffed at the easily led; the girls interested in the mysterious rich bad boy with the fast, dangerous car that just moved to town.

Now she's in his study, drinking his very fresh, delicious coffee, insulting him by being patronizing, and words like 'mesmerized' and 'entranced' are floating through her head whenever she looks at his face.

"I'm sorry," she says, putting her own mug down next to his. "I didn't mean that to sound the way it did. I just don't know you at all, but Clark says you're pretty cool."

Lex laughs loudly, a sound Chloe has never heard and is pretty sure she might never again. He seems genuinely amused that Clark thinks he's 'pretty cool' and Chloe is happy that she hasn't pissed him off beyond repair, but readily aware that she's walked into this castle and somehow made herself look even more pathetic with every time she opened her mouth.

And she'd thought looking for trap doors in his foyer was really the bottom of the totem pole. Nowhere to go but up, right?

Wrong.

"Clark says you're pretty cool too," Lex tells her, watching her face carefully and she's aware that he's looking for reaction to what Clark thinks of her. Chloe sets her expression and makes a deal with herself that if she doesn't give anything away, she'll buy that new pair of boots she saw at the mall.

Lex could possibly be a mind reader -- Chloe makes a mental note to add that to her notebook of Lex-type observations -- because he looks as satisfied with her set, blank expression as he probably would have been if she'd jumped up and down squealing girlish type things like 'Clark thinks I'm cool!'

"You like him, don't you?"

She scoffs, because it's the only thing she can think to do. Reward a stupid question with a sound of annoyance at the sheer gall to ask such a stupid question.

"Of course I like Clark. He's been my best friend since -- "

"No, I mean you like him."

Chloe doesn't like being interrupted, but Lex is the kind of guy that interrupts and apparently she is the kind of girl that lets him because she stops talking and processes what he said. Feels her lips tug downward and shifts uncomfortably in the big, comfortabe chair.

"We're just friends Lex."

He shrugs, eyes flicking over her face in quiet acceptance. "Okay." And it's the end of that. Score another point for the billionaire's kid, he knows when to drop a subject. Chloe is beginning to think this little detour on the way home from school wasn't such a bad idea after all. In fact, she decides, if she gets through the rest of her coffee without falling through a trap door of any kind, she just might take the long way home tomorrow.


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