Let Your Shadow Out

by kathe

*Author's Notes: This story started because I started talking one day about how Chloe was the "heir" to Marion Ravenwood, the heroine from "Raiders of the Lost Ark". I liked the idea of playing around with the given situation that Chloe is always in with futurefic -- and Lex seemed like a good match for playing around with the whole Indy/Marion dynamic. This story for me was about breaking the conventional rules and stretching my limits as a writer. I wanted to have a Chloe in the future that retained a large part of what makes people love her on the show -- that spunky, snarky attitude -- and achieve something with chemistry, truth and above all something that was entertaining.*

*"all that shit is lost on me / do what you have to / love when you can / let your shadow out"

It really did look like something out of Scooby Doo but she doubted that Old Man Caruthers was inside shouting about "those darned kids". She gave one last look to the place before getting into her car. The old iron gates of Arkham Asylum were closed to the outside world -- just as much to keep the world out as the inmates in. Scraggly trees, unkempt lawn -- they really did try to make this place as inhospitable as possible.

Chloe Sullivan sighed and threw her satchel into the passenger seat of her car but didn't start the engine right away. It was a long drive back into Gotham, especially at rush hour, and she wanted to center herself for the new set of lunatics that she would have to deal with on the turnpike. Too bad Batman didn't do gridlock. The brisk air, sweet stench of decay, and well, gothic atmosphere were completely foreign to her still. Chloe's psyche lived in the golden sun-dappled fields of Smallville, not in a dingy walkup above a bar in Gotham.

Three in the morning and her only company was a bottle of Jack and the old-fashioned glass in front of her. She never drank out of anything else explaining that this particular glass fit her hand just right. It was comfortable. Chloe needed all the comfort she could get. She picked up the glass, thumb and index finger across from each other holding the rim, and swirled the amber liquid round and round. It coated the sides of the glass ever so slightly and Chloe watched in a state of fascination that only exhaustion could cause.

She heard the door to the office open and Paul flicking off the light. Strange that a light switch could be so loud. It really was time for her to get some sleep.

"You really don't have to wait around here every night. I close up anyway."

She didn't turn around, just continued to gaze into her glass.

"It's decompression. Do you have any idea how wound I am, Paul?"

Paul managed the bar for her. Her bar. She still couldn't get over that -- what had Uncle Lee been thinking when he left it to her? Having roots, he had told her once, was the most important thing in life. She suspected that leaving the family bar to her was his way of enforcing the edict from beyond the grave. Chloe was more thankful than she would ever admit.

"Chloe..." Paul sighed. She still didn't turn around to face him. "Do you think it's such a good idea to spend so much time at Arkham? Especially after dark -- the place is creepy enough in daylight." That got a reaction. Finally.

Chloe turned her head slightly to look at him, eyebrows raised, "Daylight reaches Gotham?"

"Amazing but true." Paul shrugged on his jacket and made for the door. "Don't stay up so late. It isn't good for you."

"You are such a mother hen," Chloe laughed. He really was. Not that much older than Chloe herself, Paul was the best friend she had and the only one left that was a constant presence in her life. Plus, he was a great manager and bartender.

"Night Chlo." Most of the lights in the bar switched off and Chloe heard Paul step out. Two minutes and she'd lock up and go to bed. Two minutes to stay up and stare at the whiskey she poured every night but never drank. Two minutes more to try and banish all thoughts of work and study from her mind.

She heard the door open again. Sullivan's didn't have the customary bell over the door; the squeak on the old hinge could be heard even on the busiest nights. Personally Chloe liked it; she said it gave the place a rustic charm. She didn't elaborate that rustic usually reminded her of Smallville. "I'll lock up in a minute Paul..."

But it wasn't Paul. She saw the shadow on the wall in front of her before she noticed anything else. It just occurred to her that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to sit around in the dark in the middle of the night. Especially with an unlocked door, a safe full of cash and more liquor bottles than a frat party. She still half expected to see vodka bottles under black light every time she came into the bar.

The shoulders slouched a bit more than she had remembered, but the head was just as smooth as ever.

"Hello Chloe."

"Lex," she answered in a tone dripping sarcasm. She hadn't faced Paul so why should she turn around to talk to him? Besides, talking to a shadow would give her mandatory therapist at Arkham plenty to write about. The tortured behavioral psych student and her therapist, it was a Jodie Foster movie waiting to happen. There was a marked pause before she continued.

"I've got some thirty year old Scotch behind the counter. Help yourself."

"I didn't come for a drink."

"Of course not." Okay, maybe carrying on a conversation, and this was certainly starting to feel like one, with a shadow wasn't the best idea. Plus, he couldn't appreciate her sarcastic facial expressions with her back to him.

Chloe hopped off her stool and turned to lean back against the brass rail of the bar. She still held the old-fashioned glass. Comfort. Always comfort. Especially when her past came up and bit her royally on the ass.

"Then what's your pleasure?"

Eight years hadn't changed him much, she observed as she swept her eyes up and down his figure. A little more tired perhaps, but that wasn't surprising. He closed the gap between them in a few short strides. She could tell that some of that old grace and fluidity of movement that had been so much of a part of the Lex of old had given way to a tightly coiled sense of power and determination. Maybe she wasn't the only one wound a little too tight.

"I need one of your father's files."

Her grip instantly tightened around the brass rail and it felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. But that was only her initial reaction.

The blow landed square on his jaw and his head reeled to the left with the force of impact. Immediately his hand went up to touch his aching jaw. "I would think that by now you'd have learned not to act out on your violent impulses, especially considering your field of study."

"Oh, fuck off, Lex." She stalked behind the bar to get some ice for his jaw. She was annoyed and astonished that he would even bring up her father, but she wasn't completely heartless. Yet.

"How can you even ask me for something of his?" She handed over a towel filled with ice; Lex accepted it gratefully.

More whiskey was poured into the glass. This time she meant to drink it.

He sighed and stepped up to the bar, slipping easily onto one of the stools. She watched as his shoulders slumped and he suddenly looked ten years older. "I wouldn't ask if I didn't absolutely have to. Besides, I think it's the least you could do."

He had to be joking. Fucking joking.

"The least I could do?" she scoffed. "I had just about forgotten the Luthor arrogance."

"You had a full ride at any school you wanted, Chloe, all on LuthorCorp money. I would call it a fair trade." He knew enough to lean back in case that right hook came out again. Instead she merely smiled at him.

Lex remembered how Chloe Sullivan's smile used to light up any room she occupied. It had even made the Talon seem bright and cheery instead of an awkward monument to Lana Lang's parents. Lex had always loved that smile, warm and sunny; like Smallville itself. The smile she gave him now was more familiar, like the one he saw in the mirror on occasion. It was more than slightly disturbing.

"It was blood money, Lex. You know it as well as I. The least you could do was pay for my education."

"It was an accident Chloe. You know --"

"What I know is that the plant had the highest safety rating in all of LuthorCorp -- subsidiary or no. And yet my father was still killed by some supposedly freak accident..."

The emphasis hit on "supposedly" and Chloe challenged him with a look.

Lex leaned back and studied her for a second. He was coming to her as a last resort. If he had his choice he would never have crossed paths with Chloe Sullivan ever again. LuthorCorp would write out checks for her tuition every year -- part of the death benefits that she was entitled to. In some way Lex thought of himself as her benefactor, watching out for the daughter of his employee, his friend. Then he would think about it for more than a split second and realize that whatever conscience he still retained obligated him to watch out for and take care of this woman. Again, it was the least he could do.

No, the least he could do was tell her the truth. By the look on her face she probably knew half the story anyway. Behavioral psych might have been her chosen career, but he doubted that her old reporter's instincts would have disappeared. She was still searching for truth after all, in her own way. Lex took a deep breath and leaned his weight on the old, worn bar.

"It wasn't an accident."

All her worst suspicions were about to be confirmed and for the second time that night Chloe felt her stomach drop into her sturdy black boots. In one instant Lex Luthor had totally upset her life as she knew it. Again. He certainly had a nasty habit of doing that. Some measure of rationality overcame her sudden urge to sink to the floor and try to dig her way out of this nightmare. Instead she shifted her weight ever so slightly so she could stand steady without having to lean on the bar for support. Always show strength -- never let them see you flinch. Good training, that.

"What do you mean it wasn't an accident?"

She thought she saw Lex flinch ever so slightly but his hands remained flat on the top of the bar; no running his hand over his head for this explanation. It made her slightly uneasy. "Then I take it that you didn't know that Gabe was spying on my father for the government?"

God, she knew...she knew. All those miscellaneous pieces were starting to fall into place. The worry and the tension that her father had shown -- late night calls, strange trips -- it all started to make perfect sense. Fuck disrupted. Her life as she knew it had just been shot to hell.

His hand snaked out for a random glass that was on the bar. He poured some whiskey in and took a sip. Apparently he needed to steady himself for this as well.

"Do you remember when we bought out the plant?"

She nodded in response. How could she forget? Her whole life had been hanging in the balance while the Luthors tried to sort out their pissing contest; new school, new town, no Clark -- nothing the least bit familiar -- it had all been up in the air. Yeah, how was she ever going to forget what that was like?

"After that I began making conscious moves against my father."

The battle had been waged in the pages of the Planet, the Inquisitor and in more media outlets than she could have counted. It was Rupert Murdock's wet dream -- just as long as Lex and Lionel didn't set their eyes on his assets as part of their power struggle.

"Gabe knew things, Chloe. He was a good man, more of a father than mine had ever been."

Her heart softened against her better judgment.

"He was proud of you, y'know. I could see it on his face every time he said something about you." She laid her right hand on his. Maybe it was a little friendlier than she would have liked at this particular moment, but it was something she needed to do. Her father would have wanted it that way.

She got a genuine smile in return. Not a Luthor in sight.

"After the tornado hit the house," Lex paused. Chloe removed her hand from his. "My father got increasingly paranoid...eventually he started to suspect what your father was doing. He didn't know for sure, but it didn't matter."

"Oh God --"

"It wasn't actually him though," he spoke quickly. "Associates of his. His hands were clean."

She felt violently ill. Bad sushi ill and all she had for comfort were a bald playboy that had just confirmed that her father had been murdered and a half empty glass of whiskey. Life was certainly not looking good.

"That's why I need that file."

Her eyes steeled and her body went rigid. "Get out."

"Chloe --" his voice pleaded with her.

"Get. Out." She pointed at the door. "Now."

She stepped out from behind the bar as if she was going to forcibly remove him herself. The idea was laughable at best, but Lex had learned that the most innocent of packages sometimes were the most dangerous.

"Fine. But you know I'll be back." He got up off his stool and walked towards the door. "I could probably get this from other means, but I wanted to get it from you."

She was close enough to swing at him again, but he caught her right wrist as it flew toward him. She wasn't discouraged though and the left hand came at his face as well. But he grabbed that.

"You fucking bastard! For the past eight years I tried to blame your thoughtless negligence for his death -- and now," she couldn't help it -- she started to cry violently. "And now you tell me that he was murdered as part of a damn power struggle?"

"I'm sorry, Chloe," he rasped.

Lex tried to rub her wrists, trying to comfort her in that small way. It wasn't working. "God! Is that all you can say?" She tried to wrench her wrists free but Lex held fast. She struggled for a few seconds, trying to kick his shins, but she quickly gave up and settled against his chest; her tears soaked into the soft fabric of his white shirt.

"I always knew you'd walk back into my life one day, Luthor. Something made it inevitable," she sobbed. She took a deep breath. When she spoke again her voice was low and resigned, almost pleading. "Just go. Please."

She felt his grip slowly release from her wrists and then there was nothing for her forehead to rest against. She looked up through blurred vision to see that he was gone. Dammit. Just like a Luthor to throw the world into turmoil and then fucking leave.

The copy of the DSM VI that sat on her bookcase at home didn't help at all. She wasn't clinically obsessive-compulsive, though the past fifteen hours sure didn't help that claim at all. The seeds of doubt had been planted, like Lex Luthor was the snake in the Garden of Eden, tempting her with knowledge and the bitch of it was that she already had the key.

Anywhere else and the sun would've been streaming in the windows of her apartment hours ago. This was Gotham though. Layers and layers of grime replaced sunlight and there were huge statues that looked like rejects from the former Soviet Bloc instead of the glittering sculptures that lined the Metropolis streets. What more could you expect from a city whose embodiment of vigilante justice came in the form of a guy with a flying rodent complex?

She had spent hours at the kitchen table, sitting on squeaky and sticky vinyl, replaying the memories. Chloe had remembered every conversation she had ever had with her father, every time he had seemed distracted or anxious, every time he had gone on a business trip. It was maddening. It wasn't that she had to convince herself that Lex was telling her the truth; she knew he was.

Her father had worked for Lex, been his right hand man, his mentor in the ways of doing business the human way rather than the Luthor way. Right before his death Gabe had given her a set of files and told her to hide them somewhere safe. Chloe had looked quizzically at her father, but had agreed without a word. Sometimes you just know not to ask. After his death Chloe began to suspect things, but the accident -- much like the one that threatened the plant the day that Earl Jenkins had taken them all hostage -- seemed to explain everything, and something told her not to look at the files she had so carefully hidden away. So Chloe filed away all her notions into the back of her mind. She never let them go, but they weren't going to rule her life either.

The Wall of Weird and the circumstances that built it had consumed her life while she had lived in Smallville, and just as she had been about to leave Chloe wasn't about to let her flights of fancy consume the rest of her life as well. Instead a new passion had taken the place of publishing the truth. Chloe had found a new love in just searching for the truth, trying to find explanations for why people did things. She couldn't erase her experiences in Smallville though and soon became engrossed in criminal and behavioral psychology. What made all those people do the things they did? Did the radioactive elements from the meteors just enhance or unlock tendencies that lay dormant in the population?

The study of these questions had been her life for the past eight years and now, all of a sudden, her old life had marched right back in without so much as a "How you doin'?" And of all people, Lex needed her help.

She poked the remains of her breakfast, now cold and forgotten on her plate. Maybe a change of venue was in order. She moved to her desk and stared out the window at the morning rush hour. The noise of traffic was a blessed relief to the eerie quiet of her apartment. No one had questioned her when she called in sick, it must have been par for the course. Mental health days at a mental hospital were nothing new. What she needed was time to mull, to ferment like a good wine, or like the Scotch that Lex had always liked.

It had been eight years since her father had died. Almost as long since she had said goodbye to Smallville once and for all, and all that had remained of the Luthor influence was the tuition check. Chloe had left it that way for a reason. She had learned early on to take the good and leave the bad, and that was the one reason she had never really resented her mother's choice to leave. "You have to do what you have to do," her mother had told her once, adding on, "otherwise you won't be of any use to anyone." Harsh advice, but it had kept Chloe sane and functional.

She turned in her old chair toward the tiny window facing onto the street, rested her feet on the top of the open file drawer of her desk and closed her eyes to think.

Sullivan's was your basic neighborhood bar. If your neighborhood was a set of ancient and depressing apartment buildings with only a Korean-Haitian market on the corner to brighten things up a bit. The large Sullivan clan might have been scattered all over the country, including that one cousin that had recently moved south of the Mason-Dixon -- Chloe's aunt still hadn't recovered from the shock of hearing her only child with a newly discovered drawl -- but the bar back in Gotham was like the family homestead. It had always been a home for those without one, a place to just be left alone with your misery. The deed for the bar itself had always been passed to the crankiest Sullivan in each generation. Chloe had earned the title early on.

While the new, glittering high rises of Metropolis had been her first home, Smallville had been the home for her heart. There was something infectious about the place. Chloe had thought darkly on more than one occasion that maybe it really was something in the water. While her heart, and possibly her psyche, liked to think of Smallville as home, the town had always set Chloe on edge. Her heavily humored cynicism didn't sit well with most of the townsfolk. She was a little too quick, a little too brash, and more than just a little unwilling to let things go -- the Homecoming Queen she was not.

After her father's death -- yet another funeral in the rain -- there had only been a month or so till graduation. In true Chloe fashion she had pushed through the remaining days of her senior year while her father's family took care of all the details. Aunt Gail had moved into their house to settle things hands on and had pretty much left Chloe alone to deal with her grief as she saw fit.

Chloe called it dealing. Most people didn't. Chloe knew perfectly well that she would never see her father again. Years in Smallville had made her all too accustomed to the realities of death. Yet, she harbored the fantasy, illusion, hope...that her father had just gone off on one of his business trips, albeit an extended one. Her mother was off studying primitive cultures; Chloe hadn't seen her in years -- why should it feel any different with Gabe gone?

Maybe it wasn't the healthiest way of living, but Gabe Sullivan had always been such a presence in his daughter's life that he almost seemed to stay there long after his death. Chloe liked to think that he was always just around the corner in the old kitchen, ready and waiting for his little girl to get home. He'd have a cup of coffee for her and a ready smile to hear her rant on the topic de jour.

She didn't wonder who her father was or why he had kept all this from her. The disastrous results spoke of his wisdom, and his integrity would certainly explain everything else. Chloe Sullivan might have left Smallville and the Luthors behind -- almost lock, stock and barrel -- because she didn't want to know all the answers.

But times had changed and now it was time to finish old business.

The walls of Sullivan's, extending up the back staircase to Chloe's apartment, were a dull yellow. They always reminded her of that story, "The Yellow Wallpaper". Chloe only hoped that she wouldn't end up like the insane woman locked behind the walls. Haunting a bar and its patrons was not her idea of an ideal afterlife.

Coming down for the night -- she knew Lex would be back -- Chloe ran a steadying hand down the offending walls of the staircase, itself wonderfully off balance. Part of the charm, Uncle Lee had told her before he had launched into some longwinded story about hiding booze there during Prohibition. Chloe used to roll her eyes at Lee's stories, but after living above the bar for a year she was starting to believe in at least some of the less outrageous tales.

Paul looked up as she rounded the corner. He studied her for a quick second and then went back to wiping down the bar. Chloe was thankful that he didn't push further. Sometimes all he had to do was look at her and she would just spill the metaphorical beans -- they were not among her finest moments. Paul was like a very nasty truth serum, but right now the truth could very well get him killed and Chloe was not about to endanger an innocent.

Innocent was a foreign concept to Chloe. For as long as she could remember her moral compass had been skewed northwest, second star to the right and straight on till morning. It was the very thing that had finally broken up her friendships, and the very thing that made her look upon Lex Luthor as something of a kindred spirit. They weren't dirty, but they weren't clean, either. That was too simple for them.

She leaned against the far wall of the room, next to the old jukebox -- juke joint jezebel -- and closed her eyes. Chloe knew that she had decided to help Lex as soon as he had left the bar the night before, but now she could finally admit it to herself. What her father had started, she would finish. Not out of a sense of duty or honor, it was pure and simple payback.

And boy, payback sure was a bitch. She smiled.

Paul caught sight of her expression and shuddered.

"I never thought of you as a cheating woman," a soft voice purred into her ear. "Have you finally forsaken Juan Valdez?"

Forget those kitschy gold watches, whiskey seemed to work just fine for hypnosis. Chloe broke her thousand-yard stare and turned awkwardly in the back booth and to stare into Lex's face, inches from her own. God, he smelled nice.

"Juan understands. I'm too much woman for one man. Besides, he's usually out with the donkey, Paco, so --"

God, it felt good to do this. Snark was familiar territory, and the banter as of late had been sorely lacking. Asylum inmates and staff weren't much for the pseudo-intellectual witticisms.

"So it's an affair of convenience? Look at you, Thoroughly Modern Chloe."

"And look at you, Beating Around the Bush Lex."

The ever so carefully crafted Luthor mask dropped and Lex smiled.

Chloe had forgotten how much she liked to see him like this. On a normal basis, Lex had been amusing to watch, bordering on annoying when she had actually been trying to pry information out of him -- but this Lex she could never get tired of. This was the one that would take the time to chat in the coffee house, to make fun of Clark who was completely oblivious -- the one that was generally normal.

The Lex that knew she didn't fly on Bullshit Airlines.

"I'll do it."

"You sure?" His voice was low and Chloe had to strain to hear him.

She nodded quickly. "What else was I going to do this weekend? Organize my bookshelf for the umpteenth million time? Nah, helping to stage a corporate coup and get a little payback sounds just a tad bit more interesting."

Lex looked a little startled, but the expression was so quick and faint that only the people that knew him quite well could have picked up on it.

"I may not know what's in those files exactly, but you only want them for one thing --"

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing."

"Thomas Jefferson. Spoken like a true autocrat." She took a sip of her whiskey. "All revolutions devour their own children."

"Ernst Rhm. interesting that you're quoting Nazis, Miss Sullivan."

"Interesting that you know that quote in the first place."

"He was allegedly part of the plot to kill Hitler. Hostile takeovers have been a hobby of mine for years."

"I'm sure Lionel would be comforted to know that you've branched out from all those Alexander the Great bios."

Lex grinned full on. "He started to get a little wary with all the Hephaestion connections."

Chloe snorted.

"I'll bet."

She heard the glass shatter and saw something arc across the bar and hit the wall.

How appropriate that a Molotov cocktail would find it's way to a bar. Well, at least she wouldn't have to worry about those awful yellow walls anymore. She glared at Lex across the booth. "Friends of yours?"

Lex grabbed her wrist and pulled her out of the booth after him. "You could say that."

The bar was in utter chaos. Two more highly volatile bottles had been thrown in just after the first and the back wall of the bar was already doing a nice imitation of a grill on the 4th of July. People were running straight for the door and even though Sullivan's was never what could be called crowded, a logistical crisis was fast taking shape as everyone tried to squeeze through before the entire room was engulfed in flames and smoke. Chloe cast a quick look around her bar and noted that Paul seemed to have the situation in hand.

Chloe Sullivan was never one for long goodbyes.

"Up!" She grabbed Lex's arm and ran for the back staircase. The fire hadn't spread to that end of the room yet and their way was relatively unobstructed. Chloe swore that it was the only time in a whole year she hadn't tripped while going up the stairs. Lex had stumbled though, and Chloe had secretly laughed that she wasn't the only one that the staircase seemed to hate.

Once in her apartment she pointed Lex assertively towards the window and then she made her way to her cluttered desk.

"Wait! Chloe, what are you doing? You do realize there's a fire raging just below us, right?"

"Seriously? I just thought the radiator was turned up a bit too high," Chloe yelled back, not bothering to turn around. "Fire escape, Lex. Good idea."

Lex didn't bother with a retort.

"Got 'em!" Chloe triumphantly held up a large set of keys, grabbed her satchel off the table and raced to the window that Lex was holding open for her.

They were safely down the fire escape and halfway down the back alley before either spoke. Lex finally broke the silence with a broken, "What are those for?"

Chloe stopped short and Lex, slightly ahead of her, and turned back.

"These, Mr. Luthor, are the keys to your future." She smiled brightly and jangled the keys in the air.

The hunk of metal glittered in the low light thrown from the street lamps. Lex idly wondered why that set of keys suddenly seemed like his personal Holy Grail.

"Hey, rich boy!"

And that would be a hand waving in front of his face. On instinct he grabbed Chloe's wrist to stop the offending motion. "What?"

"You got some way to get out of town? And quick?"

Lex had a couple of options. "Where are we going?"


Lex didn't know why they still bothered with payphones, especially since it was necessary to sell your first born just to make a call. He looked to the front of the store where Chloe was watching the fire trucks go past. She had led them down a series of back alleys after they had crawled out of her building. Lex was thoroughly lost but Chloe seemed to know exactly where they were.

"Herbert and Terrace. Think you can keep up?"

The red-orange flames of her home and business were reflecting off the windows of the small market while Chloe watched from behind a stack of plantains. For someone that had just lost her livelihood and was now on the Short Hit List, Chloe was handling things surprisingly well. Years dealing with the ever-interesting denizens of Smallville, Kansas had probably made them both immune to carnage and property damage, Lex mused. Just another side effect.

The familiar sound of the call connecting brought Lex's attention back to the matter at hand. They were going home. Home. It was a strange concept. For Lex 'home' wasn't even a state of mind, much less a physical place. He had figured that Chloe would be of the same mindset. Lex really didn't have any reason for thinking so, but it seemed logical. He hadn't laid eyes on this woman in eight years but he had followed her progress from school to school, city to city, never staying in one place for too long. She was a no-name vagabond.

And now she was taking him home. Chloe hadn't told him explicitly where 'home' was, but there was only one place she could've meant.

"Bruce, I need you to get me to Smallville."

The not-so-offending hand on her back had been there for a good ten minutes. Normally Chloe would have shrugged it off. Tonight wasn't exactly normal though. Here she was, standing in a back alley in the middle of Gotham in the dead of night while rejects from a rave were terrorizing the streets around her.

The crime in this city was really insane. Not the level per se, but the personalities. Chloe almost wished for the good old days when kids killed their parents and morphed into genetically altered perversions of humanity. Day-Glo paint and crime lords with a split personality had taken some getting used to.

It was all a far cry from the life that she could've had. Growing up in Metropolis, and later Smallville, all Chloe had ever wanted was to be a reporter, to spread truth to the masses and have her name synonymous with hard-hitting journalism.

The dream didn't change overnight. No matter what people said, things rarely do. The change was gradual. Too many nights huddled over her computer at the Torch tracking down the strange and bizarre trying to deal with the latest Meteor-Freak, as she had taken to calling them. Too many nights spent waiting for Clark to come save her and the rest of the population of the town. Somewhere along the way it had become less about the Wall of Weird and more about the underlying motivations of these people that seemed bent on doing harm to others.

More than a decade after she had first escaped a fire intended to harm her, Chloe Sullivan hadn't been the one being rescued. She had rescued herself, and if she really wanted to gloat -- and c'mon, what better chance was she ever going to get? -- she had rescued Lex freaking Luthor too. Hot damn. And now she was standing with him in a back alley waiting for his "friend" to pick him up.

Trusting the transportation to Lex may not have been one of her brightest ideas.

"So, you come here often?" Her comment was meant to break the tension and as Lex looked down at her with at slow, silky smile, Chloe knew she had succeeded.

"Only when I'm exceedingly bored." He nodded in the direction of the hooligans. Thankfully they seemed to be ignoring the strange couple huddled under yet another fire escape. "Is this what passes for recreation around here? I admit I'm a little out of the loop when it comes to the youth culture, but --"

"Youth culture? Jesus, Lex. You're not seventy."

"You're not exactly reaching for the Poly-Grip either, Chloe, so what's with the cardigan?"

"What? It's comfortable."

"Argyle is only flattering on eighty year old golfers."

"So your social set must be swimming in it --"

Chloe grinned at him and Lex smiled down at her. If anyone had seen them at that moment they would've thought that they were the best of friends. Then again, appearances can be deceiving.

The old fashioned limo appeared soon after. Chloe thought it looked like something out of Sleepy Hollow the way it came through the steam rising from the manhole covers, and told Lex as much. He just cocked his head to one side, smiled and introduced her to Alfred, the kindly older gentleman that was to be their driver. Lex had several words with him outside the vehicle after Chloe had been ushered inside.

She was able to catch snippets of the brief conversation, Alfred telling Lex how nice it was to see him again and Lex's voice was light and friendly. Comfortable.

The interest must have shown on her face.

"What?" Lex asked as he climbed in across from her.

A tight smile formed and Chloe's eyes shown. "You. Acting all friendly with nice old men. I'm going to have to revise my whole belief system now."

"There is a lot you don't know, Miss Sullivan. Worlds in fact. Don't presume that you know me just because we lived in the same county for three years."

Chloe reeled back like she had been punched. "Sorry --" but Lex was already ignoring her, his attention drawn out the heavily tinted windows as they made their way carefully through the Gotham streets, still filled with throngs of people even late at night.

She drew back into herself and then she looked to Lex. His expression, one of impassivity, annoyed her to no end. Chloe Sullivan never backed down from anyone. Much less Lex Fucking Luthor. She had just lost her home and bar -- to hell with being charitable.

"Wait. Fuck sorry!"

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Why in hell should I be sorry? I'm the one doing you the favor, Luthor, and you better remember that." Chloe was on a roll now, just like in the days when she rattled off random facts about Kaspar Hauser and the weird habits of some Amazonian tribesmen obsessed with insects. "You could've found this oh-so-important information somewhere else; you didn't have to seek me out. You came to me, Lex, not the other way 'round. Fucking deal with the aftermath." She finished with a huff and leaned back into the forgiving leather of her seat, daring Lex with a look to fire a volley back.

Instead he leaned across the small space and kissed her quickly.

Before she even had time to really register what had happened Lex was sitting back in his seat, a smug expression firmly in place.

"What the hell was that for?"

"I just felt like it."

"Oh, I'm sure," Chloe, laughed. She paused to collect herself. "The sooner this all ends, the better," she rested her chin in her hand and looked out the window, although she did keep one eye firmly on her traveling companion.

Almost half an hour later Alfred turned the car off the road, through a very impressive set of iron gates -- almost as creepy as Arkham's Chloe had thought -- down a tree lined lane.

"Humph, I should've guessed," Chloe regarded the mansion with a critical eye. "Your friend?" she lifted an arm to gesture to the gothic structure.

"My friend," Lex answered simply as he placed a hand on Chloe's lower back and started walking towards the front door, taking her along.

She fiddled absently with the strap of her bag, "Bruce Wayne, huh?" Chloe laughed nervously this time, "I get to spend the night with two of the country's most eligible bachelors. Something tells me that I should be happy about this and thinking ahead whether to sell my story to the Inquisitor or to the Star."

"But then again, who would believe you?"

God it took a long time to get to that door, Chloe thought. "Hey, look at Area 51 --" she nudged him in the side with her elbow. "For that matter, look at Smallville. Strange shit happens and there will always be someone around to believe it."

"Invisible boys, shape shifters, Chloe Sullivan --" Lex paused. "I wouldn't have believed it either if I hadn't lived through it all."

Laughing in spite of herself, Chloe suddenly got the urge to jump up and kiss Lex on the cheek. She restrained the impulse, however, and wondered darkly why the strange, bizarre and just plain fucked up things always seemed to find her. Wanting to kiss Lex definitely had to fit into one of those three categories otherwise the entire universe was even more screwed than she had thought.

Maybe she would have to rethink that whole thing about selling this story to the tabloids. Chloe would seriously wonder about the sanity of anyone that would pay good money to read about her Night of Adventure with Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne, Junior Captains of Industry.

The two young men in question were currently huddled next to the gargantuan fireplace in Bruce's study. Not really ready to reacquaint herself with that element so soon after her home had been consumed by it, Chloe had found an equally gargantuan wing chair on the opposite side of the room. She settled into its depths and tried to ignore the low voices that drifted across the room. It was a full moon that night and Halloween was the next day. Chloe doubted that she would be hanging around here to hand out candy to any kids brave enough to trudge up the haunted path to Wayne Manor.

In twenty-four little hours Chloe Sullivan had slipped back into her role of wisecracking moll, leaving behind her quiet life of study and academia for a blue-eyed devil in Armani. She was quickly learning that a life on the run was exhausting. As she yawned and stretched, Chloe spared a thought to her father and her bar, to all the things she had left behind. She fell asleep then, trying as always to pacify her mind from the dark questions that haunted her.

Roller coaster? Pogo stick? Why the hell was she bouncing around? Taking quick stock of her position, Chloe realized that someone was carrying her; her arms were wrapped around a strong set of shoulders, her legs were draped over a strong arm and her head was nuzzled into the soft fabric of a coat.

Half conscious observations were never her strong suit -- sure, like they were anyone's. The last time she had been carried like this it was, well, someone that she'd rather not think about right now.

"Lex," she said, her voice heavy with sleep. "What are you doing?"

He put her down on something soft: a nice soft, comfy bed.

"Putting you to bed."

"Yeah, kinda guessed that," she answered. Chloe still didn't want to open her eyes, sleep was a good thing and she wanted to get back to it as soon as possible. But Lex wasn't moving, wasn't leaving. In fact, he was sort of cradling her against him and he was removing the offending cardigan.

"Um, Lex. Again, what are you doing?" Not that she really minded her current position. Lex was warm, and he smelled nice and right now he was like her traditional untouched glass of Jack Daniels. Lex Luthor as her comfort zone -- never in a million years would she have ever thought she would make that distinction.

"Getting you undressed," he said simply like it was the most natural thing in the world.

The urge to laugh was just too great, "Again with the obvious." This was all too strange. Now he was taking off her boots, loosening the laces and easing them off her feet.

"You're pretty good at this. Lots of practice?"

He looked at her then, the moonlight that was streaming in the large windows lighting up his face. Suddenly he was way too close and every alarm in her head was going off at full blast -- depth charges, countermeasures, emergency blow -- oh hell, and his hands were clasped at the small of her back.

"This is not some crude attempt at seduction, Chloe," he said softly.

She instantly hated herself because she loved the way he said her name. "Yeah," she breathed. God, it had been a long time since she had been in anyone's arms. That had to be why she was even letting her heart beat a little faster, letting her eye lids drop a little -- why her hands found their way up Lex's chest and around his neck.

Exhaustion, delirium, bad water, this was why she was caressing the guy that was partly responsible for her "ruined" life. It just felt so nice...

And then his hands were on her legs, under her skirt and Chloe shut her eyes tight. If she didn't see this happen maybe she could believe this was all a very good dream, that she would wake up safe and sound in her apartment and find the morning paper on her doorstep...Fingers light on her right thigh, and they hooked under the elastic of her thigh-high, and Lex's hand was traveling down her leg at an agonizing pace. She couldn't help it; Chloe tucked her face into the crook of his neck and just let herself be.

Her other leg was soon bare, and then her long skirt was straightened and the next thing she knew Lex was pushing her back onto the bed.

"Try and get some sleep, okay?"

Chloe's eyes snapped open and found their target. "What?!" Oh yeah, she was fully awake now, there was no chance of her getting to sleep now unless an ACME safe dropped out of the sky onto her head -- and really, after everything that had happened, it wasn't totally out of the question. "I never would've figured you for a tease."

"I never figured you for being easy." Lex had moved away from the bed and was pulling over a chair. "Besides, I prefer that my partners aren't under great emotional stress and are generally conscious."

"So what? That was just some sadistic joke, just adding it on top of everything else? I always knew you were a master of the mind fuck, Lex, but that was low -- even for you."

He just sighed and sat down in the straight-backed chair. "You made it what you wanted, Chloe. I was just trying to make you more comfortable. That's all."

Well, this looked like conversation territory if she ever saw it. Chloe sat up fully in her bed, pulling the down comforter snug around her waist since the long sleeve shirt she was still wearing was quite warm enough for now.

"Okay, so for the sake of argument let's say I did think that whole," she gestured wildly with her arms, "thing was more than it actually was. It still doesn't help that you planted one on me tonight. According to the popular culture that you say you're out of touch with, that's considered a Definite First Move. Now I may be out of practice --" Chloe never blushed and she was not about to start now. "But for fuck's sake, Lex, you just can't do that to a girl and not expect her to think that she's not going to get a little action!"

This was most definitely insane. Arkham was looking more and more like a place for residence rather than employment. Or maybe Sunnyland -- they had such nice pancakes. Was she arguing that she really did want to -- hell, maybe this was still all a dream.

And then Lex smiled.

Oh yeah, it was definitely a dream.

"Contrary to popular opinion, I don't take advantage of all weaknesses." Lex leaned forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped between them. "You're already helping me, Chloe, for reasons that you obviously haven't come to terms with. Sleeping with you wouldn't further my case any, so why should I expend the energy?"

The words might have been cruel, and if Chloe ever repeated this exchange to anyone they would instantly raise flags of emotional abuse and wonder why she didn't march out of that room that instant.

But Chloe had the advantage of seeing Lex's face as he spoke, and knew that despite what everyone said and thought about the heir to the throne, he really wasn't being hurtful and nasty. If he really wanted something he could manipulate the situation, and in the end people would end up doing just what Lex wanted and think that it was what they wanted. This was Lex being completely straight with her, just like he had been that first day in the Torch office. No bullshit, things were what they were and if she wanted him in her bed, really wanted him, Chloe suddenly didn't think that he would object.

The realization hit her and her throat went dry. He wasn't using her; he was giving her a chance. Sure, he would benefit from her actions, but this was all about her. Lex could've gotten the information, or dirt just as damaging from someone else, there had to be enough of it floating around, but he had come to her. Chloe had almost jumped at the chance to get back into the swing of things, such as they were. It had been too long since she had played one of the Three Musketeers, too long since she had felt as alive as she had since Lex had walked back into her life.

Alexander Luthor was her damned savior. The irony was only too apparent.

"Absolutely. Why should you?" Chloe smiled genuinely and locked eyes with the man sitting by her bed. For the first time in her life Lex actually looked a little uncomfortable.

"Not that I wouldn't --"

Chloe felt she could be forgiven for laughing. "Really," she waved a dismissive hand in his direction. "It's not a problem. We're both attractive, in our prime, and we're more than a little on edge -- if this had been an action movie I would've climbed into your lap back in the limo and this wouldn't even be an issue. Life Affirming Groping, that's all it was."

Now Lex just looked slightly confused. Chloe pitied him but also wished for a camera so she could record the moment.

When he spoke, Lex's voice was low and gravelly and it sent shivers up her spine. "Gotcha. Now get some sleep young lady," the last part in full Stern Parent Mode. "We're flying out tomorrow afternoon. We'll get 'home' by dark, and then you can lead me on this treasure hunt." He made no motion to leave.

"You're going to stay there for the night?"

Lex nodded an affirmative, "Just in case."

"Aren't you going to be uncomfortable?" she asked, eyeing the ramrod straight back of the chair he was sitting in. Chloe mentally flashed back to Lex's efforts to make her a bit more comfortable.

"-- Find something that's better suited once you're asleep."

"Uh, yeah," her statement was interrupted by a very unladylike yawn. But then again, Chloe had never counted herself in the 'lady' column. "You do that."

Ten bucks would have to be added into Paul's next paycheck. Hell, a lot more than ten bucks because of severance, but that ten would be special because he was right - sunlight did exist in Gotham -- well, at least outside of the city center, but it existed there all the same. Chloe cracked one eye and swore. She buried her face in the middle of the pillow and pushed up the sides with her hands attempting to block out the offending act of nature.

But just as she was getting good at denying the fact that sunlight did in fact exist, and if it did, then maybe leprechauns and sexy, eligible bald men might exist too, Chloe smelled bacon. And not just any bacon, perfectly crisp bacon (there was a difference in smells and she had gone on at length to Clark and Pete one morning about this very subject) and coffee; maybe Wayne Manor was heaven and she had died during the night and Lex was really St. Peter and he would show her where the bachelors sat.

And maybe her stream of consciousness really was in overdrive before she had her morning coffee. Chloe smiled at her own folly and rolled over with great exaggeration, arms flying to either side and toes wiggling wildly under the covers. Beds were really wonderful inventions.

There was a tray sitting next her bed, with another large wing chair instead of the harsh chair Lex had been sitting in when she fell asleep, and Lex was no where to be found.

"Breakfast in bed. For one." As usual, she thought darkly.

Lex stepped through the doorway. "Not exactly."

Chloe was instantly jealous that Lex never had to deal with bed head. She was dreading a trip to the mirror to find out what her shoulder length blond hair looked like this morning. If anyone was ever in need of a day at the spa, Chloe figured she was it. In spite of herself, Chloe reached up to do a cursory check anyway.

"I see that you found something slightly more comfortable," she nodded towards the chair.

"It's not going to win any awards," Lex smirked as he poured something steamy into one of the mugs sitting next to the carafe. "But it served its purpose."

"Mmmmm." Chloe inhaled the rich, dark aroma of the coffee. One of the perks of hanging out with the rich and powerful was good coffee. Starbucks didn't have a chance against the private stores of the Fortune 500. It was then she noticed that an awful lot of sunlight was coming through the windows in her room.

"What time is it?"

"Past noon. You'll have to get ready to leave soon." Lex paused as Chloe surveyed her clothes.

"I'm almost afraid to ask, but does Bruce happen to have anything around that isn't you know, reeking of smoke?"

Lex smiled, "You should be afraid to ask." He sat down in the wing chair and opened up the covered dish to reveal the plate of bacon along with a stack of pancakes and some strawberries.

"Bruce kept all of his mother's clothes after she died. There should be something that you could wear --"

"That's sufficiently creepy. You've got interesting friends, Lex."

Lex picked up a strawberry and smirked. "Count yourself among the lot, Chloe." He popped the fruit into his mouth and smiled.

"What a great bump to my ego. I'll have to make a self-affirmation card for it when I get the chance." If we manage to survive this she added in her head.

The door was in need of painting. The lock however, was just as good as new. Or old. Whatever. She was just lucky it was the same one.

"You kept it all these years? Forethought for a criminal act, I'm impressed."

Resisting the urge to lift her hand and perform the Boy Scout salute, Chloe continue to fiddle with the lock. The key to the main doors of Smallville High might have been the same, but it stuck the same way it always did. She turned it once again and pushed her shoulder against the door with all her weight. The door gave and she made an ungraceful entrance into the main hallway of her alma mater.

"There we go," she said after she had regained her balance. Even though the annual Halloween dance was going on in the gym, the halls of the school were dark and empty. For once they had had good timing.

The flight to Kansas had been uncharacteristically silent. Chloe thought it was appropriate. They were going to dig up the past in a place that for better or worse, held too much pain and too many memories for them both.

They had had to land in the next town over and drive into Smallville once it got dark. Chloe had been more than slightly amused when Lex had lain on the backseat of the car so he wouldn't be recognized if anyone happened to see them. She only wished that Bruce had arranged for a beat-up truck instead of the non-descript sedan.

"C'mon," she gestured Lex into the building. Chloe led Lex down the hallways that she had traversed for four long years; she could lead him to the Torch office half dead and blind.

The key to the Torch office was still the same and Chloe wanted to laugh because they really should have changed the locks a long time ago. It was sort of a tradition that each editor kept a key to the office. There must be several dozen floating around by now.

"I wonder if there's a girl at the dance waiting for her date to come back --" Chloe mumbled. She figured it was low enough that Lex wouldn't hear, but she was mistaken.

"Are you still bitter about that?"

She pulled one of the school chairs, puke green plastic, over to the air vent that was next to the old and unused darkroom. Digital cameras had made that room obsolete for anything besides making out. Chloe wasn't really all that into smelling the chemicals that still lingered there while having someone's tongue stuck town her throat. Non-chemical groping was just fine with her. She stepped up on the chair and surveyed the air vent.

"Not really. It just kind of set the stage for everything else though. I spent too many years after that falling for those nice, sweet guys that just aren't there," she rattled off her answer dispassionately. "They really didn't break the mold with him, y'know."

"Sorry to hear that."

Chloe ignored his comment.

The air vent opened easily, just a flip of the little clasps on the bottom and it was open.

"Can you give me a boost here?"


Again with selling stories to The Inquisitor, Lex Luthor's hands on her ass was sure to make a better story than the one about her night with Lex and Bruce. Snore. Although, this physical contact was a bit more on the practical side, Chloe seriously wondered how she got up here eight years ago. She couldn't have shrunk all that much.

"Oomph. Thanks." Wow, this must be an interesting picture. Her ass and legs were still outside the vent, while the upper part of her body was inside. She must have looked ridiculous and if she didn't know better, she could swear that she heard Lex laughing. He had better not be looking up the skirt. It was just a little on the short side for her tastes. Leave it to Lex to pick out the mini-skirt from a closet full of old clothes.

Okay, so the box was in that little long forgotten anteroom just down -- here. Chloe pushed out the grill over that vent and dropped carefully into the dusty room. The room had been closed off when the school had been remodeled in the sixties. It would show up on the original architectural plans, but Chloe had been betting that no one would ever look at them and find her little hiding space. Now why Chloe knew about it in the first place was a different story, one involving her distaste for the darkroom and its rank odor.

The box in question was in one corner hidden behind others long forgotten by those that that had left them there. It was a normal box, completely insignificant considering what it contained. Chloe lifted it with a bit of effort and shoved it through the vent opening, thankful that it was quite a bit lower than the one in the Torch office. Bless structural inconsistencies. She was able to lift herself up into the vent this time by standing on one of the other boxes and Chloe began shuffling the box down the vent.

Her father's work was almost complete. Chloe couldn't help but smile. She didn't know exactly what Lex was going to do with this information and she hadn't asked. Maybe she should, but since her moment of insight the night before she didn't really care all that much any more. This was about closing a door to the past and opening one to her future. If LuthorCorp became LexCorp in the process, then so be it. If Lionel, and by extension those 'associates' of his that had killed her father, were taken down in the process then that was just an added little bonus.

The burning of her bar had turned out to be the high point of their little adventure. Either the interested party hadn't followed them to Smallville or else it was just a one shot deal. Chloe didn't spend much time trying to figure out which. Hell, for all she knew it could've been Lex's people that had thrown the cocktails through the window. He had offered her a generous compensation package, but she had refused instead just insisting that he pay for her exile.

It didn't really matter in the long run. The insurance money had come through and she had decided to rebuild the bar far away from the grime of Gotham City. Colorado Springs seemed like a good place to reopen. College students and Air Force Academy cadets would make for good customers; Sullivan's would trade the weary, morose atmosphere for the raucous and upbeat atmosphere of a college bar.

She spent her days sitting on the porch drinking coffee, making plans for the bar and reading everything she could get her hands on. Lex had insisted that she go into "hiding" while LuthorCorp disintegrated.

She had asked him what he planned to do with the newly acquired information. Lex had simply answered that Lionel's misdeeds would be used against him, and that he would be taken down the American Way. Chloe had laughed at the comment and let the subject rest.

She soon had most of her questions answered though by keeping up with the news concerning the downfall. Lex had moved closer to his father in a show of support as the EPA, FBI and a host of other government agencies investigated the corporation. There were congressional hearings, press conferences, and public statements and everyone soon noticed that all the damning information concerned LuthorCorp itself, Lex's holdings were beyond reproach. In a bold and desperate move Lionel had installed Lex as CEO of LuthorCorp after Wayne Industries started to buy up more and more stock in the company.

Today had been the clincher though. Chloe waited on the steps of the building in the chilled winter air of Washington DC for Lex to emerge. She knew he wouldn't sneak out through the parking garage in a tinted limo -- the conquering hero would want to make a public appearance and greet the reporters on the day of his ultimate victory. However, the general public would see a young man that was burdened by his father's recent conviction on a host of charges and the prison sentence that he wasn't likely to see the end of in his lifetime.

Chloe knew better so she could wait while Lex finished with the reporters and smiled, but not too much, for the cameras. Finally he was finished, and even though she had caught his eye just as he had first come outside, he only now acknowledged her presence.

"It's nice to see you, though I'm not really sure it's a good idea for you to be out and around yet."

"There's only so much to be done in the wilds of Alberta, Lex. 'Sides, I had to be here for this. It's not everyday I get to see the coronation of a new caesar."

The smile that spread over his face was payment enough for all those months spent in the snowbound wilderness.

"I still haven't thanked you properly --" Lex started.

"You can start by buying me a drink."

The grin that Chloe Sullivan bore was just like the one she used to dole out to everyone when she was a teenager. And if Lex didn't know better, he could've sworn there was a mischievous little sparkle in her eye.

Chloe slid her arm through the one he offered to her and they walked down the steps into the late afternoon pedestrian traffic.

"I think I can do that."

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