Entwined in yet another investigation. A typical state of existence for her, but this time Chloe felt the full weight of her discovery too late. She only came upon this guy a few months ago, but it was hot and heavy from the beginning. A chance meeting during an interview with one of her contacts and like magnetic attraction run amuck, they couldn't keep hands off each other.
The relationship, if you could call it that, was light on conversation, but it was obvious they both preferred it that way. Brooding dark types always piqued her interest, but with this one, little clues kept popping up. Secret calls, secret messages. Willfully, at first, she ignored them, but she was a natural eavesdropper and found herself unable to resist making little inquiries here and there. Soon the reality of who this guy was became too glaring to turn a blind eye, even for the benefit of her sex life, so she found out everything she didn't want to know. It seemed harder and harder for her to open up when each budding possibility always turned to disappointment. How could her judgment be so terrible? It never failed.
She came to his place to break it off, but as soon as he confronted her as to why, she let it all come tumbling out.
"I know everything," her tone accused, "I'm not going to let you contribute to the loss of innocent lives."
"You open your mouth, you're dead."
He'd never been violent, but she couldn't pretend she never saw the potential. She tried to leave right then. She was never the type to take threats, but he wanted to drive the point home. Lunging at her retreating figure, he slammed her head against frame, breaking her nose on the door she was trying to leave by.
"You're in way over your head. Maybe you need a lesson in the repercussions of betrayal."
He threw her down on the floor and crouched close, watching her for a moment, before snagging a handful of blond locks and dragging her by the hair to the shower. Freezing cold water followed by scalding hot assaulted her skin. She screamed and struggled so hard, but he was so angry.
"I should have known about you, I should have known."
His voice held hints of sadness, hurt. She almost felt guilty; he was a great lay. Then again, he seemed to have turned out to be a sociopath as well. Eventually his steam ran out and he took a step back, breathing heavily at the effort of kicking the shit out of her, watching her for a moment.
"I know how to find you, so keep your mouth shut."
Then he left her. Just left, and what the hell was she supposed to do? With a bloody nose, sopping wet? She wasn't going to hang around for this shit, it was long past time to leave. So she shimmied out the bathroom window, quite a feat in this gore-fest, drowned rat kind of state, and ran until even the late summer weather chilled her wet body. The back road gravel ripping her now bare feet to shreds, she made it to the main road and began to walk along the shoulder, bleeding, torn clothes, a wet mess. She had to stop walking, so she sat; shivering, shaking, staring. So there she was, on the side of the road, too shaken to do anything. Fighting for her mind to click back into action when she heard a car pass. The sound of tires resisting an abrupt application of breaks and the car reversed, pulling up next to her. The window rolled down.
"Chloe?" Spoke a familiar voice, so easily recognizable in this town, or anywhere she supposed. She stood, or tried, but she was still shaking. He got out of the car, helped her up, "What's going on?"
Her body shivered too much to answer and he deposited her into the passenger seat. Handing her his handkerchief for her bloody nose, he glanced at her periodically... often actually, waiting for her to talk as he headed toward her home, turned down the familiar road. But she wasn't ready to go back home yet.
"No, the mansion."
He didn't even question her, just turned around, too curious or too worried to refuse. Instead he was now pulling up to his own house, and she gingerly followed him in, wasting no time in wanting to clean-up her appearance. She felt it like an embarrassment.
"Do you have any first aid supplies?"
"Maybe I should take you to the hospital."
"No just...Where's your bathroom?"
And immediately she went for the warm shower, but found she just couldn't seem to get her body temperature up. He stuttered his next words, imagine, a Luthor stuttering.
"I'll just get you some supplies, ah... and clothes"
His exit was hasty, no real discomfort, he just needed to collect his thoughts, let the wheels turn. She emerged from the bathroom as he was laying some things out for her. Pulled on the sweat pants and shirt right in front of him, hardly noticing him it seemed. He saw the bruises emerging on her face. The dark rims of what would soon be two black eyes. Uselessly lingering as she began tending to her torn feet, he sat and stared waiting for her to speak. She looked up at last.
"My nose is broken. I need you to put it back into place."
"Shouldn't this be something a doctor would do? Perhaps at the hospital."
She lowered her head again, finishing her feet without replying for a moment, "I would do it but I would pass out."
"And you expect me not to?"
She looked at him, a little pissed, a little scared, so he walked over. She took his hands, gently laying them against the stem of her nose.
"Feel the break?" a whisper. "Just crack it back in, and don't tell me before you do it."
He swallowed, breathed; looked her in the eyes. Cracked it back fast. Her eyes rolled around in her head as the bleeding started up again with a vengeance. He watched her shove his expensive towel at her nose, the red seeping through the fabric. He had to look away for the moment feeling his head spin a bit, but got himself back together, stared into her closed lids.
"You shouldn't have showered."
She opened her eyes at the odd statement. A small quip in his tone, but serious underneath. The double meaning had no subtlety. She gave silence as her reply, instead stood, moving back toward the bathroom. Leaving the door cracked, the sink running as she dabbed at the remaining blood.
"What will your father say?"
She turned to see him watching from the doorway, "He's in Metropolis."
"You should sleep here tonight."
"Is that right?" Her reply betrayed more exhaustion than he's sure she would have liked. Both of their poker faces were starting to slip.
"Yes, that's right."
She paused, a small slow nod acknowledging her reluctant acceptance and eventually he turned and she followed, only a whisper of movement behind him. He opened a door adjoining his room to another and her eyes widened with curiosity, revealing she hadn't noticed. Another suite.
"I'll leave the door open."
Her face momentarily lost the grim tension it had been holding. He could see gratitude, relief, exhaustion. He had the urge to touch her, but instead watched her pass by into the adjoining suite and turned back to his own.
In the morning she was awake and sipping coffee by the time he got downstairs.
"My cab is on its way." Her face looked swollen, more battered in the daylight
"I could've driven you..."
"No, I... no, but I appreciate the offer." He saw a miscarried smile flutter at the corners of her mouth.
"Do you need fare money?"
"I have some at home."
She appreciated that he didn't push the issue. He watched her bruised face, imagining fists flying toward her...what her expression must have been like.
She met his gaze at the sound of her name, hearing the pity and question in his tone. A horn sounded outside, and she rose, ignoring his sigh and made to walk out of the room, pausing at the door to turn.
"Lex..." his name felt like a mistake, inappropriate somehow on her tongue, "I just wanted to thank you, you've been very... understanding, very kind."
Her statement felt strained, awkward; she turned abruptly and left, leaving a strange void in the air. He felt it too.
Her legs were twisted in the dark gray sheets of her bed. She felt fevered, her skin slick with humidity from the summer thunderstorm raging outside. She toyed with the idea that she may never sleep again, but rejected it, remembering no such insomnia last night, probably because the mansion had central air. Sighing softly she came to the conclusion that air conditioning was completely underrated.
-Bang, bang, bang
The front door, and her heart squeezed to a stop and jumped out of her chest to start itself again. Her body remained frozen in place, as silent as the house around her as her ears strained to listen.
-Bang, bang, bang, again and this was ridiculous, this was her house and she was going to defend it and herself with.... her father's 9 iron, a comforting weight in her hand as she attempted to convince herself everything would be fine. She tried to conjure up feelings of rage to feed her adrenaline, not too far from the surface tonight, and maybe conjuring rage was a misguided idea because she was shaking now, on the verge tears, and her hands were burning into the handle of the club. Her feet made sticky whispers as they peeled off the floor.
Pounding heartbeats started overtaking the sounds of the storm and she wondered if 18 year olds could die of heart attacks. She flipped on the porch light and watched the figure outside recoil and jump slightly. Her club dropped to the floor as she swung the door open.
"Jesus Christ!" She raged at this soaking figure looming in her doorway.
She turned and walked away from him almost immediately upon opening the door, a towel in hand before he barely stepped through the threshold.
"What are you doing here? Besides scaring the fuck out of me." He could see that she was pretty badly shaken even though she tried to hide it.
"You left me with a lot of unanswered questions."
"Lex, it's 1 in the morning."
"I've been having trouble sleeping."
"I thought we had an understanding."
"Well you were wrong, I want to know what happened."
"This has nothing to do with you."
"The minute I used my own hands to break your nose back into place that changed. How is your nose?"
Seriousness tempered for the moment by his abrupt inquiry. Her hand absently caressed the bridge,
She saw softness in his eyes and a twinge of remorse hit her, he was worried, "I could use some help Lex."
He looked hopeful for a moment, but she knew he had a different kind of help in mind.
"I want to set someone up."
"I don't understand."
"I want to send someone to jail for a long time."
"Chloe whoever did this to you..."
She held up her hand, her face contorting in displeasure, cutting off his statement, "This won't have anything to do with me." She looked away as she spoke, refusing to meet his eye, "I have a lead... on someone with illegal firearms, lots of them. I want to set him up for a sale, a sting I guess."
She waited a beat before meeting his face. He could see the guilt of avoidance written there. Again the urge to touch her, she looked broken, hopeful that this revenge could heal her. He wished that he could make her understand that retribution never guarantees the eradication of those lingering demons.
"I'll help however I can, what's your plan?"
"I was hoping you would have some ideas."
His head shook slowly in disbelief, in chagrin, sadness. He couldn't make out the emotion, too jumbled.
"Come on, you can wait the storm out while I fill you in."
She shut the door behind him. Just like that and he was entrenched in Chloe Sullivan's secret life.
A birthday party, of all things, and she was obligated to go. She committed to 'sisterhood' long ago and somehow she knew it would bite her in the ass one day. She hadn't spoken to Lex in a week, was too angry up until about two days ago. Furious really. He'd been avoiding her calls. But he was quickly forgotten when her body had neglected to start bleeding that month. She could think of a million reasons to miss a period: Stress. Or no...change in eating patterns. Sweety have you eaten anything at all today? No... maybe the emergency contraception, taken after that condom broke more than a month ago, before she realized her fuck buddy was a criminal and a psycho. The clinic told her it might mess with her cycle.
It took awhile before she allowed the possibilities to sink in, well, the possibility really. And now, on her bare feet on that cold linoleum, she was entrenched in her own horror and how ashen her face looked in the mirror. It has only been two hours ago, but that blue strip pronouncing itself loud and clear seemed decades removed. Her life in freeze frame. Each moment experiencing such disconnect from the next, but never changing from that feeling of cold linoleum beneath her, with an ashen face staring back.
Even so, she'd shown up at the Talon. Cold bathroom left behind for this stunningly cheery dress. Perfect to match the stunningly cheery blush painting her cheeks. Appropriate for the mess of stunningly cheery balloons crowding the coffee house. Smiling faces were everywhere and she felt her own face follow suit. Her brain, however, seemed to lag behind, unable to concentrate on anything. Over stimulated perhaps. A myriad of faces were flashing by with meaningless words of greeting. For Chloe, the evening took sharp focus and faded into haze alternately. She sought out a sparsely populated corner of the caf, watching the festivities without wanting to participate, but somehow the party found a way to seek her out.
"Hey Chloe. Thanks so much for coming. Can you believe the turn out?"
"It's a wonderful party."
She could see the girl's eyes squint, finding her reply oddly toned. Lana looked ready to ask something Chloe knew she would have no desire to answer, but the question is blissfully interrupted before it began.
"Lana they're ready for you to start opening your gifts."
Ah, the boy scout appears. His eyes revealed that he was almost manic with pride for the planning he'd done for this 'momentous event'. He considered this gesture a proof of his love, no doubt. Chloe watched their exchange as they both oozed gratitude and shyness. And nausea hit her. She would've laughed at the unintentional comic timing if her eyes weren't about to roll back into her skull. She spotted the offending hotdog in his hand, sweet relish and spicy mustard. The smell had her trapped, attacked her unprepared. She leaned into the wall behind her as Clark offered a casual greeting before quickly stealing his perfect princess away to open her royal offerings. She nodded her hello to his already retreating back as her breathing deepened. Her eyes closed to ward off the nausea, but it was winning and she was suddenly rushing toward the bathroom. On route, a hand suddenly gripped her arm, trying to get her attention, detain her.
"I was hoping you'd be here."
Her head shook a non-committal, distracted 'no' as she was already moving passed him to the bathroom.
There could be no waiting. She was already losing the battle as she burst through the back door, blessing the glowing exit sign at the end of the corridor. Bent over the trash can, retching her guts out in a party dress. If this wasn't glamour, what is?
Her stomach had nothing left to give, but her body hadn't caught onto the idea and she was just spitting bile now as she felt a hand run gently along her back. She knew who it was.
"You certainly know how to have fun."
"More fun than I was having in there anyway." He chuckled but there was worry in his tone. She knew he could feel her body shaking under his hand.
"Stay here, I'm going to get you some water."
She nodded, the retching subsiding, exhaustion setting in. When he returned she was leaning against the cool brick of the wall, eyes closed. They opened slowly and struggled to focus on him as she accepted the waiting glass.
"Are you okay?"
"In this particular instance or generally?"
Silence, she was avoiding a real answer. No, she was definitely not okay. She looked at him and he returned the gaze.
His eyes widened for a moment, the only betrayal of shock. Well, that and he was speechless. She looked away from him, mortified by her confession, but noticed he could not do the same.
"I can't believe I just told you that." She moved to leave, but he brought his hand slowly to hers, preventing her departure.
"How long have you known?"
"I'm not having it Lex, I can't," her words came out in a tearful rush.
It took a moment for his eyes to register her meaning, "Then I want to come with you."
"Lex," she made his name into a sigh, "why would you ever want to do that?"
"Maybe I'm settling my karmic debts," her head snapped toward him; her expression revealing a hint of surprise, a barely contained curiosity, "Maybe I just don't want you to go through this alone."
"Maybe those two reasons are one and the same."
She smiled wanly at him. His own face remained grave.
"Time to look cheerful, there's a party to attend."
Her was voice dark; her hand shaking only slightly as she swung open the back door, returning to the fray.
He'd been so preoccupied with work lately he hadn't spoken with her for over a week. Had he been avoiding her?...Yes...No. Mostly no. The irrational thought that his neglect these last few days somehow made this happen could not be shaken, but truthfully they'd only established this strange camaraderie a little over two weeks ago. Breaking someone's nose back into place can hasten the bonding process. For some reason she let him into her confidence, asked him for help, but he was reluctant to provide the help she wanted, didn't want her to sink into the bitterness of revenge. He watched her move through the party. Hug Lana. Congratulate Clark on coordinating the festivities. She might as well be completely alone in the room. He could see that she was.
"When? I'm tired of all this waiting, this circular planning."
"It takes time to cover tracks."
"Fuck tracks! I'm sorry...I'm just tired of... just tired I guess."
Maintaining her normally calm and collected self was becoming a challenge. Her moods were altered and she was unable to determine if it was her hormones or her circumstance. She supposed it didn't really matter. Lana was the only one to comment, insisted on lightening her mood by taking her on a metropolitan shopping extravaganza.
"How are you?" His voice can betray so much, she thinks.
"Everything's fine, I have an appointment in two weeks in Metropolis."
"I'll mark it on my calendar."
*Lunch with investment firm: 1 pm. Attend friend's abortion: 2:30pm* Charming.
"You're such a visible personality in Metropoils, what if..."
She could hear the smile in his voice, taking her aback somewhat.
"Everything is going to be okay."
She didn't believe him; he was avoiding her questions. The incident at the party made him more attentive, a strange trait on a Luthor. The behavior had gained her notice. He spoke with her almost daily and every time they talked she pressed him about her plan.
Had he contacted his guy yet?
How much longer until they would have a fake buyer? But he was a master at the art of subject changes. She was becoming frustrated and was beginning to consider the possibility that she wouldn't be able to rely on his assistance in this.
"What are you doing today?" More avoidance of the subject on his part.
"Lana has insisted on taking me to the mall. She thinks I've been too moody lately."
"I'm sure reckless spending and an overdose of consumerism will cheer you right up."
"Right? I can't believe the girl lives with me and yet remains so clueless. Okay, maybe I can."
Insights and private jokes were beginning to infiltrate their conversations. They were almost comfortable with each other.
"I'll be sure to call tomorrow to hear all the exciting details."
"I'll make certain to take notes on all the fine points so I don't leave anything out." They spoke the shared language of sarcasm. He knew how much she was dreading the trip.
"I'll talk to you later, then."
An overly cheerful drive to the city later, Lana had taken her on an all too perky round about the mall and Chloe finally had to tell her she needed a bathroom break and that she would meet her by the large fountain that was the center piece of the mall in a half hour. She needed an escape from the brightness. Thirty minutes disappeared too quickly and she was already on her way back down the monstrosity of a staircase (an homage to the excess of the Metropolis shopping scene, no doubt) when she saw him. At a fucking shopping mall. A month in the same town and nothing, but she runs into him three hours away, in a mall of all places. Fate had a sick sense of humor.
The harsh accusatory tone escaped her lips before she even realized she'd said anything. He had just reached the top as she was taking her first steps down the stairs. Passing by close enough to touch shoulders, to exchange whispers and the moments seemed to stretch as he grabbed her arm.
"Don't come anywhere near me again."
She almost wondered if she heard anything at all, the whispered words were barely a breath. And already she was falling from his perfectly placed trip. Hitting hard, concrete corners. Tumbling endlessly down the steep stone steps, until her head hit like an explosion. And everything went black.
"Mr. Luthor, a Ms. Lang on the phone."
"Take a message." Seeing the hesitation in his assistant, his head snapped up impatiently.
"She says it's urgent."
"Alright I'll pick up," he could smell his assistant's relief.
"Lana, how can I help you?"
"Lex," her voice was anxious, strained, "I'm going to have to close the Talon for a few days. I didn't want to do it before informing you."
He stopped his work, taken aback by her panicked tone, "What's going on, Lana?"
"There's been an accident," he could hear the tears start, "Chloe... this trip was supposed to cheer her up..."
He couldn't respond, felt as though his head was rushing up to a small point in the top of his brain. He recognized the feeling. Panic.
"We were going to meet and I was waiting. There was this crowd, a big crowd had gathered. And it was Chloe..." She was sobbing now on the phone.
"Lana, you're not making sense."
"I'm sorry," she took a deep breath, "So I'm stuck here at Metropolis General for a few days and with no manager there, I decided to close the Talon. I just wanted to let you know. I'll talk to you in a few days Lex."
He was still gathering his thoughts when he heard the click on the line. The dial tone snapped him back. He cancelled his appointments. And headed for Metropolis.
The first familiar face he saw was Gabe Sullivan. He felt as though he might vomit. Despite being in Chloe's confidence, despite the tentative partnership they had forged, he couldn't shake the feeling that he had no right to be there. Clark, Lana, The Kents, Pete, Mr. Sullivan. A tight little family and he was on the outside. So instead he wandered the hospital, sneaking information on Chloe's condition, eavesdropping on relevant medical conversations, playing the game of avoiding familiar faces. A waiting game. Night finally came and Chloe's little assemblage headed off. Lex listened in on their goodbyes, waiting for them to leave before he saw her. He could hear her voice was smaller than usual, but was fighting to sound normal for her visitors. It hurt to hear her struggling. He stood out of sight as they retreated from her room, a nurse came and went as he let the minutes tick before finally moving into her room.
"The man of the hour," she spoke softly as he approached.
"Sorry I'm late."
"I wouldn't say late, exactly. You've been here for hours, haven't you?"
"My suit look that rumpled?"
"No...I knew you were here," a small smile to herself.
This hurt too much.
The thought occurred that he should never say her name. It was the only word that sounded saturated with emotion. The way he said it visibly affected her.
"I assume you're fully updated on the situation."
"I don't know anything."
"That's not like you Lex. Feeling a little slow on your feet today?" Her voice was trying to convey flippancy but was tinged with bitterness.
"Stop what? There's nothing left to stop," She broke a little bit then, tears escaping. Through all this, he'd never seen her cry before now, "Jesus, I haven't lost it once all day. Look what you're doing."
He sat on her bed then, softly touching her cheek to brush away stray tears. She brought her hand over his abruptly to still it, seeming embarrassed by such a display, but even so, moved to make room for his body next to hers on the hospital bed. He took the offering, stretching out next to her, gathering her body to his and was surprised when she clung to him, her crying beginning more in-earnest.
"I lost the pregnancy, Lex. It was my decision, my pathetic little piece of reclaimed power over my life and he took that too. He took that away from me too."
He held her more tightly as her body shook. His face resting in her hair, fighting off his own tears. He could feel her grief running through him in waves
What is this?
Is that what this feels like?
He could just barely remember ever feeling like this... When her breathing slowed and deepened, he rose, feeling the warmth of her skin peel away, wanting to resist the disconnect, but it felt wrong, lying beside her now serene figure while he nursed such rage. He'd never seen her cry before
So he left the room, left the hospital and drove away without thinking, or perhaps with perfect intent, right to the door of this unsuspecting asshole. One o'clock in the morning. And this crowbar he hadn't remembered having in his truck appeared. The force of swinging that solid metal through plate glass felt like purpose, felt like action. Something he had denied assisting Chloe with for so long in an effort to protect her from the cold comfort of revenge, of course, but he'd given up on saving himself long ago. The disoriented figure barreling to confront him seemed laughable in his initial threats of verbal machismo. What a contrast to his subsequent pitiful cries for mercy, his sobs of confusion.
"I'm sure her appeals were met with equal compassion."
That was all Lex could manage to say. Rage was blocking words and producing only blows. When all the fight left his opponent, his own rage drained away, leaving scratches of shame at the corners of his mind. He had lost his control and he knew this hadn't been for her, not really. His own desire for revenge had been the only thing sated.
She woke first to the busy hospital sounds filtering through sleep, and then awoke more forcefully to memories of crying into the accepting arms of Lex Luthor. Discomfort began to permeate her consciousness, that intimacy had been too extreme for her. She felt the need to get away from this hospital, this bed. She pressed the call button. Repeatedly. Already arranging herself for departure.
"I need to check out."
"Well, I..." She cut off the nurse.
"Is there any reason I need to stay?"
But her question wasn't meant to be answered. So she checked herself out, refusing to notify anyone who might come pick her up. She left by taxi only after swearing on her life she would seek follow-up care, but her mind was already gone, forgetting the hospital, that room. She absentmindedly picked up a discarded newspaper in the cab, which provided a new bit of information to consume her mind as she read.
Local Smallville man attacked in his home by unknown assailant.
She usually had no patience for the evening edition. This article, however, turned her lingering thoughts of Lex from embarrassment into disappointment, with anger pushing its way in. This was it, she was on her own. This plan would happen her way. Lex never understood her reasons for wanting this guy caught for his own illegal activities instead of just pressing charges for the personal attack against her. She could tell he though she was in denial, wanting to refuse the assault had ever happened. But she learned long ago the repercussions of living with a lie you've convinced yourself is real. He didn't seem to grasp that a charge of assault would never adequately punish this boy. The law can be cruel unless you teach it to work for you. But then again, his actions last night seemed to show her he understood perfectly. Wasn't this article evidence enough that he had little regard for punishments the law doled out? Wasn't this evidence that he had even less regard for the way she wanted her revenge to play out?
She would have to do this alone. The cab dropped her off at a motel outside of town. Her newfound haven for awhile. After checking in, she went straight for the telephone
"I have a job for you."
"Who is this?"
"Someone who can pay you well."
And everything was set before she could blink. This peripheral contact of hers, known to dabble in third person black market sales, came through. She gave a fake name and back-story, promised a substantial finders fee and he bit. She felt nervous at the speed and seeming ease of it all, but three days from now a meeting was set to take place between her contact patsy and her ex-lover victim. Illegal arms sales weren't taken lightly these days. The potential for terrorism lurked everywhere, after all. And the local FBI field office had already been notified of the potential threat. An anonymous phone call, of course. And the night of the raid, out of sight stood her small figure dressed in black. Months of waiting and she watched revenge unfold only days after being set into motion. And maybe it wasn't the cleanest plan. Maybe the guarantee of having this man 'locked-up with the key thrown away' wasn't there, but it was done. She returned to her motel and sobbed herself to sleep.
He'd been looking for four straight days, ever since Clark's anxious visit asking Lex to keep his eyes open. Telling him that she was not locatable, missing. She left the hospital alone. This information was enough to spark a healthy amount of worry, but when followed by the sight of a story so quickly picked-up in the local paper concerning his misguided visit to a certain abusive criminal ex-boyfriend of hers, he knew that he made a contribution to her decision to disappear. Those tense few days of encroaching panic and fear as her absence dragged on turned into relief when he saw a second article detailing the arrest of a local man by the FBI for illegal arms sales.
He felt a bit of shame creep in after reading the report. He left her alone in this by trying to enforce his judgment of the situation instead of just simply helping her. He felt even more compelled to find her, find out how she managed to orchestrate the whole set-up, see how her face looked when she saw him, what her eyes had to say. And his search led him here to the Scholar's Inn, though he doubted any scholar would come within fifty feet of the place. But when he found it, he knew this was where she'd come. He spent an eternity on her stoop waiting for a response to his knock. He could almost feel her on the other side of the thin door deliberating whether or not to let him in, but then, there she was, hair dripping from the shower. She looked tired. She looked small and bruised. She looked put out by his presence. But her eyes almost signaled relief and that was enough to convince him to step though the threshold.
She turned and headed back into the room, grabbing a towel for her hair, not looking at him.
"I read the paper today," He followed her into the room as he spoke.
"You were quite prominently featured on the third page."
"And no mention of you? But you're such a prominent personality in the paper. Only days ago I saw you featured in a little article in the evening edition."
At least she wasn't trying to hide her bitterness. He moved close to her, close enough for her to feel small tickles of his breath on the back of her neck.
"Chloe, I'm sorry." His words were more of a breeze than an apology. She nodded, still turned away.
"How did you know I was here?"
He breathed out slowly. Relief. Her voice was full of trepidatious acceptance of his apology.
That made her turn and look him right in the eyes. She wanted to see the footnotes in his expression following that statement. They were standing so close, and he was hit by a rush of emotion. He felt a surge of atmosphere within him and his hands were cradling her head abruptly, almost of their own volition. And he devoured her lips before he could think. Her hungry mouth playing right back to his.
Warmth of lips, the brush of skin skimming skin. Her senses were overloading. This was all too much, these past few days. She pulled back slightly, her breath ragged, her body weak and humming. The spell began to fade between them. His voice emerged dark and awkward.
"I should go. I just came let you know that if you need anything..."
"Okay," she whispered as he backed away. He paused at the door to look back at her. His eyes throwing daggers of meaning
Each one hit its mark. She could only stare as the door closed.
He found himself staring off into nothing, losing minutes several times that day. He found it frustrating and fascinating. Above all else he'd always had his focus. He was lost in one such spell when Clark entered the office. His eyes snapped up from oblivion.
"Clark, I wasn't expecting you. Everything okay?"
A look passed over the young man's eyes, something resembling a mix of surprise and suspicion. Lex couldn't quite pinpoint it exactly; it was gone in a second. He supposed it was a reaction to sounding as though he'd been caught off guard, rare for him, to say the least.
"I wanted to talk to you about something."
"This is weird though... I don't know if I'm breaking a confidence or not, but I need to talk to someone."
"Whatever it is, Clark, it doesn't leave this room. You can trust me on that." A skeptical look followed, finally melting into that farm boy trust that seemed inevitable.
"Chloe's back home."
"Really?" Genuine interest was in his tone, a hint of surprise.
"Yeah, she showed up this morning. She's not saying much though."
A pause, and Lex could feel his hesitation; his intent to reveal something...and finally:
"Mr. Sullivan called a few days ago, he wanted to talk to me."
"Is that right?"
"I met him yesterday at his house. He seemed so tired, so much older. I'm sure it was because he was worried about Chloe."
The pauses, the hesitation, Lex was growing impatient, "What's all this about Clark?"
"He told me that Chloe... I mean, when she had her accident she was... she had been pregnant." Clark was averting his eyes now, seeming embarrassed to be having this conversation at all. "I guess she lost the pregnancy when she fell," a pause, "Jesus, can you imagine?"
More hesitation. This was maddeningly slow. "Anyway, he wanted to know if, you know... if Chloe and I...if it was...if I was the father."
Lex let out a small choking cough.
"And?" Was all he could manage, marveling at how little everyone seemed to know about her life.
Lex felt the urge to see her, tell her about this bizarre conversation despite the promise he made to keep this conversation confidential. Clark made a shocked face.
"No. No, Chloe and I are friends, we're best friends, but we haven't... I mean, there's no way I could be..." more pauses, "but I can't stop wondering, who could it have been? She's been acting so strange lately. I didn't even know she was seeing anyone. I feel like I hardly know her anymore. It's just so strange."
"I don't know what to tell you, Clark. Everyone has their secrets. You should talk to her about this, not me."
"I know, I just...it threw me for such a loop. You know? Mr. Sullivan was so sincere, so sad. Like if it were me, it would be some sort of consolation to him or something. I couldn't even give him that. I didn't even know about it."
"Would you really feel any better if you were the father?"
The question came out a little more accusatory and challenging than he'd intended. He meant to be conciliatory. The farm boy's cheeks blushed bright red.
"No, I suppose not."
"You can't be everything for everyone, Clark."
"Maybe, but all of this is just showing me how lately I haven't been much of anything for Chloe. Much less the best friend I claim to be."
Lex couldn't help but find his sentiment trite, especially considering Clark was a confessing all this to him and not Chloe.
"Are you saying this to appease your own conscience or because you really want to be there for her. It's easy to make declarations like this when things go wrong, but what about the rest of the time?"
A sucker punch. Clark's face fell into shock and anger, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Chloe is obviously going through a very difficult time right now and from what I can tell, it's coming as a complete surprise to those she's supposedly closest to. She was walking around with a bruised face for a week and no one made too much of an effort to find out what the hell was going on. If you ask me that's pretty telling."
"She hasn't exactly been forthcoming about a lot lately."
"Well, maybe if you gave a shit you would've taken the time to find out what was wrong a long time ago."
The anger in Clark's eyes kicked up a notch. Rage.
"Thanks for the talk Lex. You've been a great friend, real supportive." The younger man's tones were clipped, trying to suppress his emotion.
He felt repentant now, he'd gone too far, let his own anger fuel him, make him strangely defensive.
"Fuck off, Lex." Clark spat as he slammed out the door.
It had been a week since she reappeared but still spent a lot of time alone lately. The discomfort she inspired in others was palpable. Her own father was tiptoeing, often absent. She hadn't spoken to Lex at all since the Scholar's Inn. He called once, but she hadn't answered. She didn't mind the solitude. Her outward life had finally managed to catch up to her inner life as an outsider. The bus stop seemed a particularly cruel display case at the moment. A broken vehicle and the hospital's insistence that she go for follow-up care conspired against her, placing her here, waiting for a bus as the local sideshow of the moment. The gossip mill was in overdrive, and she knew the sight of her standing, waiting in public only fueled the flame. Sadly, or maybe luckily, she barely cared. Her thoughts were a million miles away when the Porsche pulled up.
"Going somewhere important?"
"You mean besides crazy? I'm waiting for the bus."
So she got in, maybe more grateful than she anticipated to be out of public view, but sitting in this seat reminded her of broken noses and personal weakness. It made her fidget.
"Women's Health Clinic in Pinehill"
"Everything okay?" He was trying for casual, but the question came out with too much bite.
"Just a check-up. It's not too late for me to hop the bus."
"Yes it is."
"I'm giving you an out."
"I want to come with you."
She didn't push it. She didn't really want to have to go alone anymore. His appearance was serendipitous. She hadn't known that she needed company, but once in the clinic she could think of nothing but him out there in the waiting room reading trashy magazines and wondering about her. She could barely pay attention to the clinician.
"Everything looks fine... Depo Provera is covered by your insurance plan..."
She only gave distracted nods of agreement, trying to move the appointment along, completely unfocused, fuzzy on the specifics. Not like her at all. She'd always been the queen of questions, a stickler for knowing every detail. Lex's expression as she walked into the waiting room was all anticipation. He had such focus, looking for clues on her face, as if there was some sort of big revelation, some crucial piece of news he'd been waiting for, but it had all been routine. She gave him a soft empty smile.
"All taken care of."
She answered prematurely, cutting him off. He stared at her for a moment before finally rising to follow her out the door.
They rode home in silence. He could feel the stiffness surrounding her. She rubbed her arm absently, her gaze far away.
"You feeling alright?"
"You sure everything's okay?"
"I'm just worried about you, Chloe. I had this disturbing conversation with Clark..."
"You two are talking about me now?" He ignored the defensive question.
"It became painfully obvious during the conversation that no one knows a thing about what's going on with you but me and that's only because I found you broken and bloody on the side of the road."
"Don't be an asshole, Lex. Spouting value judgments about the inappropriate way I'm conducting my life? I don't pretend that I have the right to lecture you about personal matters."
He replied through an artificial calm, his jaw tense, teeth gritting, "I'm just trying to be honest. I think it unwise to isolate yourself like this."
"Well, I'm managing just fine on my own, but I appreciate the sage advice."
"Seems you're doing a pretty shitty job handling things on your own these days."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You haven't been dealing with what happened. Look at how you're overreacting to this conversation. It's obvious you're not okay."
"Wow. Clearly, if you know me so well, then you should know that you're pissing me off and that you should pull the car over right now because I'm not riding with you for another fucking minute."
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
"Pull over the goddamned car."
"We're almost at your house."
"I'm getting out."
She began to open the door, the car still in motion. He slammed on the breaks, cars behind him honking at the abrupt stop. She jumped out of the car, practically running down the street into the Talon's doors. Lex parked the car hastily, following her into the building, but she was nowhere.
"Lana, where's Chloe?"
A suspicious, curious look from the patroness, "She flew through here, went out the back. She looked like she was in a hurry. Everything okay?"
The look of small town gossip was in her eyes. He didn't answer, just headed to the rear door, but when he emerged out the back, she was gone.
Three days went by and she couldn't recall exchanging words with a single human being since getting out of that car.
I'm doing fine on my own
She hadn't thought it a lie when she said it. And now... Remorse started eating its way in. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos dominating her life he became the closest person to her. It wasn't as if she'd never been alone before, but suddenly she felt it. Seventy-two hours of stewing had put her here, on the porch outside his office at 8 o'clock in the morning. Unannounced and unexpected and waiting for an appearance that might never happen. What the hell was she doing? He could be at the plant, in Metropolis, half way around the world and she would be staring out at this beautiful cluster of trees surrounding the property indefinitely. Feeling like a fool. When the French doors behind her opened, relief and discomfort battled for dominance.
He didn't reply for a moment, taking her still figure in.
Or maybe this wasn't an apology, just an acknowledgement of her overreaction. An offer of no hard feelings. He had been worried, though tried to pretend he wasn't. Unbidden thoughts had nagged constantly. He found that he wanted to have her followed, see that she was okay, gage her disposition, her mood. The act would have been a violation, but the peace of mind it would have brought, the ease of doing such a thing... Her absence, accompanied by Clark's resistance to speak with him, was an unsettling loss.
"What are you doing here?" He cringed at his own words, but made no attempt to retract them.
"I thought I might spend the day at the lake," she turned to look at him after a beat, "I could use some company."
There was hope there, naked hope on her face and she was letting him see it. He watched her eyes for a moment before nodding slightly before turning back into the house to change. He felt as though he were about to step into a black hole.
Restless, that was this feeling. Restlessness. Too much coffee? Too much nervous anticipation? They were silent as she drove, her noble chariot was a step down for him, she supposed. Shot gun in a barley hanging-on Ford Falcon newly recovered from the mechanic. Out of the corner of her eye she could see him take occasional glances at her, but he remained silent. Just as well. Everything had become such a mess, words only seemed messier in the long run.
The crackle of her car coming to a stop on gravel signaled their arrival. A few yards of walking silently through trees and suddenly the landscape opened to reveal the clear waters of Crater Lake surrounded on all sides by forest. They stood side by side surveying the beauty of the day, trying to figure out how to proceed
"Look," she whispered unexpectedly, her focus off to his left.
Chloe's hand came to rest lightly on his arm, extending her stillness to his body. Three deer emerged to drink from the lake. The two stood, not moving, quiet as the trees. He noticed the marvel on her face, the way she was unable to restrain smiling as she watched. It occurred to him that this must be how others know her, this brightness, this curiosity and wonder burning in her eyes. It was a bittersweet thought. The deer spooked and ran off in the blink of an eye and she turned to look at him, her face lit-up, alive.
"Despite trying to cling desperately to my reputation as a hard-core city girl, sometimes this whole 'wonder of nature thing' catches me off guard."
"Maybe you should give up this whole investigative journalism career track and go work for Wild Kingdom."
She let out a full laugh at the comment and he smiled spontaneously, hearing it. She was infectious like this.
"I might take your advice. Although, it could be difficult considering that show went off the air before either of us was born."
She began to walk slowly toward the edge of the water, her manner playful, but he remained where he was, wondering what exactly this little trip was about. Chloe's behavior indicated she was trying to prove something to herself, though Lex had a hard time pin pointing exactly what that might be.
"I'm going to cool off."
She declared abruptly, stripping off her clothing and jumping into the lake. Even in the dark water, the red of her two-piece swimsuit remained visible as she crawled far out into the lake before turning onto her back and floating to watch the clouds. He remained on shore, the same feeling of the black hole upon him. There was something crucial about this moment, the beginnings of a gravitational pull, but he could still get away.
And he was in before he let himself think about it. The cool water wrapped around his body, rushing by with every stroke. When he reached her, she looked over at him, smiling.
"Amazing isn't it? That places like this exist."
She was talking to herself, really, but it was true. The colors were almost obscenely rich;
Water cradling your body
They watched the sky for awhile, watched the day, but there was something odd in the air between them. He couldn't shake the feeling that there was some other shoe about to drop.
"Race you back," a sudden declaration on her part before she sped off toward shore and he followed.
He couldn't remember the last time he played such a juvenile game; couldn't recall the last time he'd done anything with that magnitude of levity. But it had caught him, this moment with her. He was grabbing at her ankles, always just out of reach, until they reached the shallowest water, and she had to run her way out. He caught her then in a peal of laughter, all cold and slippery skin sliding out of his grip and running through the trees toward the parked car, but for some reason he didn't concede. He followed her, always barely out of reach until they reached the vehicle. Her back *slap* against the glass. And impulsively his lips were suddenly urgent on hers. Their breathing, still heavy from the run, filled the space around their heads. Her hands on his back seemed desperate to pull him nearer, though already their bodies seemed closer than he thought possible, like he was melting right in. Her mouth moved down along the edge of his jaw, his neck, his collarbone. Tasting, nibbling. She paused a moment to lift her suit top over her head, bringing his hands up to capture her breasts. Her own thumbs guiding his over her dark nipples as she continued to taste the skin on his neck and shoulders.
She could feel his erection pressing against the low of her stomach and let her hands wander down, hooking her thumbs around the waist of his trunks and running them lightly around the edge. Suddenly his hands snapped down, firmly gripping her wrists, and she looked him straight in the face as he brought her hands up in front of them, creating so much frustrating space between their bodies. A barrier. His face was stoic, trying to convey such seriousness, but she could see desire lurking in his eyes.
"Chloe." She didn't reply, only watched him. She knew what was coming, conflict was written all over his face, "I don't think this is a great idea. With everything..."
He dropped her hands. Worry, anger, frustration and guilt flickering by in his eyes as he struggled with exactly what to say. Her hands found his upper arms, gripping them tightly, forcing his attention.
"This is okay, you know. I'm okay."
He shook his head in doubt, but she could see his desire right below the surface. She smiled a little, bringing her mouth against his skin, reestablishing the contact between their bodies.
He remained silent, desperately looking for evidence of truth in her statement, that this wouldn't just turn into another scar, but her lips were scalding his skin again and all he could think of was the way her small body moved against his, so insistent and warm. His body found it the most impossible thing in the world to refuse. The loss of control surprised him a little. Startled by how quickly their remaining clothes were discarded, how urgently they pressed together on the hood of her car, he felt ridiculous, like some goofy adolescent with nowhere to take a girl. But desperate kisses were replacing doubt in his mind and he felt her legs fall open around him, cradling his body and then more aggressively wrapping around his waist. Still he was hesitating, trying to concentrate on kissing her, tasting her skin.
"Stop thinking so much." She whispered, gently reaching down to guide him inside of her.
"Jesus," he breathed, stilling himself, a bit overwhelmed.
Lex Luthor, overwhelmed. She was smiling a small closed mouth smile to match her blissfully closed eyes and slowly he began to move. Smoothing back her hair with his hands, feeling her vocal chords vibrate through his chest when the small "mmmm"s escaped her throat.
"When did all this happen, Chloe?" he gasped softly.
"I don't know," she replied, her words broken.
Where had all this come from?
She was grasping at his shoulders, enjoying the feel of his weight behind his strokes, enjoying the way the wetness on their bodies was converting from lake water to perspiration, and trying to ignore any thoughts concerning what the hell this was all about. She felt his movements become more erratic. He was close. She could feel his body tense, wrapping her legs around him as he came. His body finally stilled above hers.
"Stay," she whispered as he buried his face into the crook of her neck and shoulder, mouthing inaudible words into her skin.
And suddenly she felt tears well up in her eyes. Hit with some bittersweet sadness surrounding the moment and she hugged him tightly to her body, cradling him more closely as he turned his cheek to rest against her chest. She put soft lingering kisses on the top of his head as the few errant tears she failed to suppress slid down. After a long time he spoke, a smile in his voice.
"Let's get in the car, my ass is getting cold."
She let out a chuckle. Removing herself from beneath him, she moved around the car, putting down the back seats and rescuing a blanket from the trunk.
"Old cars, roomy seats. You had this planned all along didn't you? I feel so used."
"Well, a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do."
He moved into the car after her, wrapping the blanket around them. Warm and comfortable, sleep invaded.
He awoke to a dusk sky. The sun was making its retreat and he was alone. In his first groggy moments, he wasn't quite sure why something felt off. He'd been sleeping alone a lot these days and, to a certain extent, that was the way he liked it. Well, maybe liked it was too strong a phrase; maybe, more appropriately, it was what he'd become accustomed to. But suddenly he was catching a sweet lingering smell.
All around him, on him and he remembered that she should be there wrapped in this old blanket, wrapped in his body. Little alarms were going off in his head as he brought the blanket around his shoulders and headed out toward the water. He seemed to remember thinking this was a bad idea way back before they ended up on the hood of the car; before he'd been buried inside of her. Now he was horrified by the possibility that he had been right; that none of this had been okay for her. That even though he knew it shouldn't have happened, he didn't put up much of a fight because he wanted her. He could hardly remember the last time he wanted someone so unexpectedly, and in the grad tradition of Luthorism he took what he wanted at the expense of others. He saw her sitting on the shore of the lake, dressed in her shorts and tank top, zipping up the sack she brought with her. He noticed she had cleaned up the scattered mess of clothing they left on the shore earlier in the day, but now she seemed to just be staring out at the water. He walked up silently beside her and sat down. Waiting.
"Have you slept with many women?" she spoke finally.
Jesus, not this question.
"A few, I guess," he answered trepidatiously. He could think of nothing good coming from this kind of discussion.
"I've only ever slept with one woman, but I have to admit it was radically different from my experiences with men."
He was surprised. Of all things, this was not the conversation he anticipated. He thought there would be accusing and disappointed glances his way, but instead she seemed quite distant, as though she were talking to herself but allowing him to listen in. He felt like an eavesdropper and was experiencing twinges of guilt about his threatening erection at the thought of her with another woman when she was so solemnly trying to let him in and tell him something about herself.
"Being with a woman felt easy, comfortable. It was fun and satisfying but that hunger, that desire to be fucked just isn't there," she paused before she spoke again, "I was just wondering if it's me or just women in general."
"I haven't really slept with that many women."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Believe what you like."
"Again, not many."
"You must have a powerful sense of self-control."
"Sometimes. And you? Not quite so powerful?"
"It depends how you categorize self-control. Regardless of the number of people I've slept with, I've always been in control of my actions. There was only once...I let my hunger take over my better judgment," she whispered the last words, lost in thought.
He bowed his head, pained by her statement, knowing she was speaking about this last guy, and him too, maybe.
"I don't want to make another mistake. Even before I knew exactly what he was involved with, I could see he was a dangerous choice," she turned to look at him then, tears gathered in her eyes. "You've been so kind, Lex. It's easy to see what a good heart you have, but you're far from a safe choice."
He let out a sigh, defeated and frustrated. She wasn't totally wrong. He wanted to convince her otherwise, felt that with her it might be different somehow, but knew that saying so out-loud would sound false, even to him.
"I feel like I'm making so many mistakes these days. I wanted to bring you here to show you that it's not all tragedy and chaos in my life. I wanted you to know that I'm capable of handling things. But I fucked up, didn't I?"
"You've done more than I can ever repay. I don't want to use you like everyone else, but I think I just did."
"No..." his voice was resolute on the word. He was having trouble clearly following the paths of her logic. He reached out for her, but she shied away, standing instead to head back to the car.
"Didn't I? Was that sex about us or about my trying to forget? I honestly don't know." She wouldn't look at him and he wasn't sure if she was trying to hide tears or simply didn't want to see his reaction to all this. She didn't let him speak again before changing the subject. "We should go. They're going to think I kidnapped you or something."
She drove home in silence while he fiddled with the hem of her shorts from the passenger seat. A mindless act resulting in snatches of skin contact, but he felt the need to maintain some sort of physical contact no matter how insignificant. It was a comfort and she wasn't objecting, wasn't really doing much of anything but driving. He had no idea how to proceed. She seemed upset, but wasn't angry with him. She had cut herself off, but wasn't rejecting his touch. So many waffling emotional highs and lows since they were thrown together and suddenly it all seemed sucked away. They were drifting. Ironically, the silence and descending darkness of the evening were eerily calming. He could hear her hum softly to the music and tried to memorize the way shadows from the streetlights swept across her face. He felt awake and melancholy and glad to be sitting beside her even through the uncertainty of the moment. He almost considered not getting out as they pulled up to the mansion. He didn't want to let her go like this.
"I want to...This is all wrong." She didn't reply, maintained her silence. "I don't know how to fix this."
"I know," her voice was so soft and emotional.
"That's not good enough."
"Please, Lex. It has to be for now."
He ran his hands over his head in frustration, wondering what cruel act of fate brought him to this point. He lingered in the car, hoping some solution would present itself, but the minutes dragged on with neither of them speaking. He finally opened the door and exited, moving around to duck his head into the driver-side window.
"I'll talk to you tomorrow," he tried to make his tone definitive, wanting to let her know that this wasn't over. She didn't reply, but finally looked at him and ran her fingers lightly over his hands resting on the edge of the door before putting the car into gear and driving away.
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