For Kormanfan's SV Flash Fiction Challenge. Much love to Andy and Celli for holding my hand while I wrote it. Andy and Melo for their fantastic beta work. And Bethy, for telling me that I needed to go to bed. Written for Alee; I'm not sure this is what you had in mind, but I hope you like it anyway.
She parks her car three blocks away. The lot is dark, and there are shadows creeping in the alleys she walks by. Her hand tightens around her purse briefly, but she keeps walking.
Chloe refuses to be afraid. She's here for a story.
She's here for the Bat.
Gotham is different from Metropolis. Even during the day, there's this tension that creeps around, seeped into the pavement. She noticed it her first week here.
Her father worries about her staying so far from home. As far as she's concerned, Gotham is too close. Still, it's a new beginning and what she needs.
He calls everyday and leaves a message on her machine. Sometimes she doesn't return his calls.
Pete emails from Boston. He tells her about law school babes and evil professors. Lana writes letters on pink stationery that she never opens.
She hasn't heard from Clark since she moved.
It's better that way.
Everyone at work calls her bat-girl. Her cubicle is chock full of articles, a life gleaned in newsprint. Her Wall of Weird now only holds one name.
She saw a therapist once during college. It was before the break-up with Clark, and after the rejection from the Daily Planet. He told her that she obsessed over mysteries as a way of feeling in control of an uncertain world. She said "duh" and walked out.
She doesn't think it's a problem yet. It's not like it's affecting her life, not really. Work is her life, and Chloe's determined to be the one that gets to talk to the masked hero.
Her father forwards her articles on Superman. She highlights Lois Lane's name and tucks them in to a file. One day, her name will be on the front page.
She won't have to share her byline with Clark. She tries to convince herself that this is a good thing.
She wakes up in Gotham to the sound of the Armenian guys downstairs cursing. They own the store where she buys her bagel and coffee.
Sometimes she gets homesick for her dad's burnt eggs but she blinks back the thought.
Her first glimpse of him is a shock. This surreal sense that she stepped through a door and ended up in the wrong city, before it consciously hits her that Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne would travel in the same circles. With any luck, she thinks she might be able to avoid him. It's not impossible. The masses of the Gotham glitterati and press convened at the museum for Bruce Wayne's benefit should make it easy for her to hide, but apparently Lex likes a challenge.
"Enjoying the art, Miss Sullivan?" he says, appearing by her side, holding a glass of champagne.
"Lex. I didn't expect to see you here." She takes the glass reluctantly, and sips.
"Your father mentioned that you were working in Gotham now. But I didn't expect to see you at this party. A personal interest in Roman Greco art or covering the story for the paper?
"Neither," she replies blithely. She glances about the ballroom. Something might happen tonight. It's that kind of night. Bruce Wayne's party, lots of money, and there might as well be a sign on the door saying "rob here." Unseemly things go on in Gotham, but they've also got a hero that lurks around at night.
Chloe's not stalking Batman. Really.
Mostly because she doesn't know where to begin.
There are files at home, correlations she's worked out between people of power in the city, and Batman. He's rich. Or has a rich patron. That much is clear just from his equipment.
Everyone wants to unmask him. Chloe just wants to talk to him. Find out what makes a man don a costume and help people he doesn't know.
She's not kidding herself though. She wants the story. She just wants more.
"...everyone's doing well?"
It takes her a second to realize that Lex is still talking to her.
"Wh-what?" she stammers.
He gives her an odd look. "I was just inquiring about your friends. I take it they're all well?"
"I guess so," she hedges. "I'm not really sure."
"Haven't heard from them recently?"
"We're not really in touch all that often."
"Smallville must seem a far distance from here," Lex says, fingering the champagne flute lazily. His tone is casual, but Chloe gets the sense that he's looking for more than he says. But then, that's par for course with the Luthors.
The last time she saw Lex was graduation. He made a speech, handed her a check from Lexcorp to the valedictorian, and then left town before the ceremony finished. She pretended not to see the crushed look in Clark's eyes, or wonder when he kissed her at the party that night.
"Right now, Smallville seems entirely too close," she says coolly.
Lex's eyes narrow, and he steps back. "Sometimes, you never escape home," he says cuttingly, before turning on his heel and disappearing.
She stares at his back, and regrets her momentary rudeness. She has no animosity towards Lex, except for his very connection to everything she's trying to put behind her. Even after he left, he was always there. And she's never going to be able to look at him and not think of Clark.
She sips her champagne and wonders when she'll stop feeling alienated from her own life.
The party drones on for several more hours, and nothing happens. People ooh and ahh over Bruce Wayne's speech. Chloe remains uninterested. Bruce Wayne is good-looking, but she's one of the few people in the city who isn't impressed by him.
Her attention wanders to Lex from time to time. He charms the partygoers as much as Bruce Wayne does, but that doesn't surprise her. They're cut from the same cloth, and maybe it's the exposure to Lex that makes her immune to Bruce Wayne's charm. Know one handsome billionaire, know them all.
Finally, around midnight, she gives up on a story happening here, and heads out the door. Her car is parked three blocks away, and it's dark out. One of the streetlights near the lot is out, and it makes the street look even eerier. She hears footsteps behind her.
She slips her hand into her purse, and around the can of pepper spray she carries. Her heart races, but she forces herself to remain calm. She can handle this.
It happens quickly. A hand clamps over her mouth, a knife is held to her throat. "Scream and I'll cut you bitch."
She pulls the pepper spray out and aims it at the man behind her. He screams, and lets her go, and she starts running. Only then does she realize that he's not alone. Someone else grabs her, hauling her up to his chest.
"Feisty little thing, isn't she?" he drawls, his foul breath making her gag. She screams, and his hand tightens around her throat. She scratches him, but it's ineffective. For the first time that night, Chloe regrets coming to the party alone and parking so far away. She was only considering getting the story, and darkened alleyways seemed to be better places for running into vigilantes than the bright parking lot at the museum.
She'd forgotten about the villains.
This would be a really good time for Batman to show up. She wouldn't even ask him for an interview. Not a long one anyway.
The other guy grabs her arms behind her, twisting his hand as he does. She yelps in pain, and tries to kick him.
"Fight all you want, little girl," he whispers against her cheek. "That's only gonna make it more fun."
She feels one of them rip the strap on her dress, and she begins to whimper. Her father always told her that her impulsive decisions would one day get her in trouble. Right now, she wants her daddy. Lecture and all.
Oh God, if they kill her, her father's going to have to identify the body. She doesn't want him to see her like that.
Her eyes are blinded by tears, so she doesn't notice for a second that they've let her go. She collapses onto the ground as someone punches out the man holding her. She hears muffled groans and both her would-be assailants go down.
Had Batman finally arrived?
She blinks back her tears, and tries to see what's going on in the dark, but someone grabs her by the arms and pulls her up.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Chloe looks up at him, feeling confused by the turn of events. "You're not Batman," she blurts out.
Lex stares at her, blinks, and then slowly lets go.
"No, I'm not. I don't have as many issues with black leather, and certainly don't tend to be likened to a rodent."
Her purse lies open on the ground. She reaches down for it.
"What are you doing here?" she asks him, trying to maintain a semblance of calm, though all she wants to do is cling to him. The muggers both lie knocked out on the pavement.
"Not waiting for some loon with a hero-complex, unlike some people I could name. What the hell were you thinking coming out here alone?"
"I was..." She wants to say that she would be okay, but the strap of her dress is hanging down and there are bruises around her throat.
Lex must take pity on her. "Let me take you home," he says. She doesn't have it in her to protest.
There are purple finger-shaped bruises on her throat. She inspects them in the bathroom mirror, running her finger lightly over the marks, before shuddering and pulling her robe closed tight.
In the living room, she hears Lex puttering around. He's studying her corkboard when she walks in.
"You've made quite a little research project out of him," he says, motioning to the stacks of clippings upon clippings she's posted up.
"He's an interest."
"So I gather." He watches her intently, and her skin prickles. She feels like he looks at her and can tell her weaknesses. She wishes she could do the same, but Lex has always kept his vulnerabilities closely hidden.
"I saw him last week."
She blinks. "Who?"
She purses her lips tight. Funny how the one chink in Lex's armor is the same one as hers.
"His partner had cornered me regarding the upcoming elections. He helped me escape," Lex continues as though he doesn't see the expression on her face.
"How is he?" she finally asks.
"He looked well." His eyes rove over her face, an intimate lazy perusal that makes her blush. She wonders if this is what Clark used to feel like, being the focus of all that intensity and attention. "You know, I was surprised when the two of you broke up."
Chloe shakes her head, breaking eye contact with Lex, and moves into the kitchen. She reaches for the tin of chamomile tea she keeps on the top shelf. Lana had sent it in a care package the first week after Chloe moved into the apartment. Chloe doesn't like tea, but right now, it feels like something soothing to do.
She sets the water to boil on the stove.
"I'm surprised you even knew when we broke up. I didn't think you'd been in touch with him."
"I wasn't," Lex states.
Chloe smiles. Of course. Just because Lex wasn't speaking to Clark, that didn't mean he didn't know everything that was going on in Clark's life.
He probably knew more about Clark that she did, even when they were dating.
"You know," she begins wistfully. "For the longest time, I was never sure who I was competing with. You or Lana."
Lex's eyes shine silver in her dim kitchen light. "I was never competition."
"You were. There was always this list of things that seemed to take priority." The teapot whistles. She picks it up and pours hot water into two cups. "Tea?"
She slides the cup across the counter to him. "I left him, you know."
"I woke up one morning, four years later, and realized that I barely knew him. I used to think that it was just a matter of time, but then I realized that there were parts of himself that Clark would never share with me. There was this double life he was leading that I didn't belong in." She pauses to take a sip of her tea, and grimaces. Chamomile is not her speed. "I told him I was leaving. He didn't stop me."
Lex nods. The look on his face tells Chloe that he understands probably better than anyone else. His quick disappearance from Smallville senior year makes a lot more sense now.
"Did you love him?" she asks.
"Everyone loved Clark Kent," he says glibly.
He's not saying everything. But for the first time, she doesn't want to push. Some truths are better left unsaid, and she knows better than anyone what it's like not to belong.
"Why are you in Gotham, Chloe?"
"I thought I'd start over."
"Or run away?"
"Which did you do?" she counters.
He smirks at her. "You're not me."
No, she's not. But she lives like she's him. Lex left, and started chasing his ambitions. Chloe left and is now chasing a masked hero. They both live alone and surround themselves with their work.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the blinking light on the answering machine. No doubt her father's nightly message. Tonight, if she hadn't come home, he wouldn't have even known. He doesn't always expect her to call back.
It's the first night in a long time that Chloe's had anyone over at her apartment, and she's never noticed how empty it was before. She wonders if Lex feels this way in his penthouse. She wonders who leaves messages for Lex.
She feels guilty for chasing away the people who keep trying to reach out to her, when others don't have anyone reaching out to them.
Maybe Batman prowls the night not because he's a hero, but because he doesn't have a home to go back to.
"Lois Lane once asked Superman why he did it, the super-hero gig," she says into her cup.
"He said it was because he could." Lex smiles at her, sharp and bright, with edges that hurt.
"Do you think you would, if you were him?"
"I'm not a hero," he replies.
"You saved me tonight," she points out.
"That was just me being at the right place at the right time."
"Still, it counts, I think," she says thoughtfully.
"What about you? Would you be the hero?" he asks, bemusedly.
She shakes her head. "It seems lonely. I'm tired of being alone."
He nods quietly, then shifts, placing the cup on the counter.
"I should go," he says, putting his hands in his pockets. He moves towards the door, and Chloe feels something like regret.
He's not what she was looking for, but maybe he's what she needed.
"Hey, Lex," she says, watching him grab for his coat.
He pauses, and turns around to face her once more. "Yes, Chloe?"
She walks over to him, and takes the coat out of his hands.
"If I asked, would you stay?"
He smiles at her, and it's the first one that's been real all night. She's not sure what she's doing, and it might be a spectacular mistake. Still, it's reaching out, and it's something she thinks it's time she started doing again.
The answering machine beeps on the other end. Chloe twirls the phone cord in her hand, and starts nervously.
"Hi daddy, it's Chloe. Just returning your call. Call me back when you can. I'll be here."
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