Disclaimer: Not mine, don't own them. Warning: Part Two contains some hot sex! Author's note: I started writing this story sometime in season two before Chloe and Lex had any interaction or connection what-so-ever. So even though it's a future fic, now that Chlex has a storyline on the show, my fic has turned into a kind of AU where Chloe was never involved with Lionel and by extension, Lex. Also, feedback is more welcome than a cool breeze on a sweltering day. ;)
Lex felt slightly out of his element walking through the hospital halls, heading for the third floor waiting area. It had been days since he told Clark he would return that same evening. Some business kept him away at first, but his avoidance continued because he felt it almost wasn't his place. None of Clark's friends ever had a particular affinity for his presence and although he always had a respect for Chloe's fearlessness and wit; in reality he hardly knew her. He wasn't sure how much she would appreciate his visit. In the end he decided to come out of loyalty to Clark more than anything else.
He was more than a little surprised to find no familiar faces in the waiting room, although perhaps they were all in the hospital room with her. His quick knock as he pushed the door open felt false. He shouldn't be there. A quick sweep around the room revealed that it was empty. Well, almost empty. He soon met the dark, tired eyes of a very thin, battered looking Chloe Sullivan. He felt strange, embarrassed seeing her like this. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd been expecting, but it wasn't this. She smiled wanly, cynically, to find him in her room.
"Lex Luthor, to what do I owe the company of such a prestigious visitor?" her tone dry.
"I just wanted to stop by and see how you're feeling; see if there's anything I can do for you," he said diplomatically.
He was a master at being at ease in awkward situations, and this was no exception. He betrayed none of the trepidation he felt as he walked smoothly to the chair near her bed and took a seat. He took note of the way she observed his every move with something resembling amusement. She watched him sit there for a moment before shifting her gaze out the window.
"Clark's not here if that's who you're looking for," she said finally, startling him slightly with the cold truth of the statement, though he revealed none of the twinge of guilt it gave him.
"I came to see you, Chloe."
His reply was calm, despite her name feeling awkward in his mouth. He couldn't recall if he had ever addressed her by name before.
"I didn't realize we were such good friends, Lex."
She emphasized his name, obviously mocking his use of hers. He was slightly awed by how every concise statement she made hit on his every insecurity about the situation. It made him grin slightly, more at ease somehow. Despite the confrontational nature of her tone, he ignored her statement in an attempt to diffuse it.
"I'm slightly surprised Clark isn't here. Knowing him, I assumed he'd be holding vigil at your bedside."
This earned a painful chuckle from Chloe as she turned to meet his eyes again. He noted her attempt to mask the difficulty of the subject.
"He hasn't been to visit since that first day, unfortunately for you. I asked him not to come here."
An interesting revelation, he had to admit. He felt a hint of guilt for not knowing this already. He hadn't spoken to Clark in several days. Lex decided to change the subject.
"I brought you the latest Ledger. Being such a committed journalist, I thought you might like to critique your own article," he said, revealing the small newspaper he brought with him, "You are front page news, after all."
He reached out to hand over the paper and was met by the torn, raw flesh on her wrist, revealed as she moved her arm out toward him to take the publication. He found himself unable to avoid staring obviously, mesmerized at the sight. Imagining the amount of pain that must accompany such a wound made him cringe. Her face looked battered, sure, but was partly obscured by a bandage from recent surgery. The rest of her face showed only small cuts and bruises. This wrist was the first glimpse of what, he began to realize, must be extensive injuries. Becoming aware that his staring had gone on for what might be considered an inappropriate amount of time, Lex snapped out of his reverie. He noticed abruptly he had yet to let go of the paper and was further taken aback in realizing Chloe still held her arm outstretched, letting him look. She was studying his expression as he studied her wound. They were frozen together in this bizarre moment of mutual curiosity. Raising his eyes to meet hers, they held each others gaze for a beat, stunned by the strangeness that had just transpired. He released the paper as she slowly took possession.
"Well," she said breaking the spell, her voice almost imperceptibly shaky, "I always thought I'd be writing the news. I never expected I'd be the news. At least I made the front page, a good omen for the future of my journalistic career. So, let's see what they've been saying about me."
She turned her attention to studying the local rag. Lex cleared his throat before speaking, trying to summon the ease he lost for the moment.
"Nothing slanderous, they sang your praises really. Model Smallville citizen is abducted and escapes, unable to identify her captors," he summarized as she read.
"Not very good investigative reporters are they?" she muttered, but he caught it; his interest piqued.
"You know these small town papers," he said slowly, testing her comment, "they never get the story quite right."
"They do their best," she replied, distracted by her reading.
Lex had to admit to following the developments in her case pretty closely from the time Chloe was taken. He carefully read the police reports that just happened to get into his hands, trying to extract clues from the accounts of those who'd seen the men dressed as EMTs wheel Chloe away. But, as with most cases where the police had to rely on the memory of the pubic, the accounts were varying and conflicting and the stories written for the local paper were less than insightful. What had been interesting to him was the statement Chloe gave to the police after she was found. Although he knew little about Chloe personally, one thing he did know was that she possessed a sharp mind. He had been surprised more than once by her power of observation and attention to detail. Most often, her talents in this area were revealed by an unsuspecting Clark in casual conversation. The younger man would often mention something regarding LexCorp, or occasionally something more personal about Lex himself. When prodded as to where he acquired this knowledge, Clark's answer, more often than not, was that Chloe brought it up to him.
When he got his hands on Chloe's statements to the police, Lex noticed how incredibly brief and vague they were. Granted, she'd been through a traumatic experience, but he had a hard time believing she could remember virtually nothing about her captors or her place of incarceration after being held for over four weeks. Especially considering she had still been sharp enough after an extended period of near starvation and bodily injury to devise and execute her own escape. Which incidentally, she also described very ambiguously. He was fairly sure she was deliberately withholding information in an attempt to protect herself from whoever had taken her. Lex recognized that, in addition to wanting to support Clark, a part of him had come here to offer Chloe some sort of protection, but he was unsure of how to broach the subject with someone he hardly knew. He decided to eschew formalities and just throw it out there.
"Why didn't you tell the police who your captors were?"
That made her look up from her read, alright, but her expression was undisturbed. She even smiled slightly as if his presence in her room was finally starting to make sense.
"Why Lex Luthor, have you been snooping into my police records? Well, at least you do your research unlike the peanut gallery that works at this paper."
Not the response he was expecting.
"Listen," he continued, "if you're worried about these people coming after you, there are ways to protect yourself. I could help you in that area. I have access to resources..."
He was interrupted by her laughter. Her laugh sounded rusty, good-natured, like she hadn't done it in a long time. He was a little confused by her reaction. Definitely not what he expected. She looked at him then, a more focused tone entering her voice.
"Why do you care Lex?"
"Chloe, I want to help you," he said calmly.
"No, why do you care what I told the police? There's not much they can do at this point. Besides, I seem to remember you giving the police some creative misdirection in your time. Are you shocked that other people play the same game or just shocked that so-called upright Smallville citizens do?"
She said all this so nonchalantly, like she was talking about the weather or soil conditions, something that could barely keep her interest, but Lex could sense the beginning of some insight forming in his mind. As far as he knew, Chloe hadn't been saying much of anything to anyone. He had a feeling that if he stepped carefully she might open up a bit. He could sense a difference in her, even from what little contact he previously had. He'd experienced dark times before in his life and didn't have to be a genius to recognize that, for all her banter and flippantness, Chloe was in a pretty dark place right now.
"Well if there's something you know that might help catch these people, why not explore avenues other than the police. There are other ways to locate and punish criminals that don't involve-- traditional law enforcement," Lex quipped lightly, "I just want you to feel like you can sleep at night."
Chloe regarded him seriously, looking from his face down to her hands.
"I don't expect anyone will be coming after me and I have no intention of wasting my time and energy."
"But how can you be so sure that you're safe? Why live with that fear if you don't have to."
"It doesn't matter Lex. What else could they possibly do to hurt me? Besides, I don't have what they want, that much was clear weeks ago, for everyone involved. I have no doubt he's relieved I'm off his hands."
He watched her so closely, honing all his attention as she spoke. His ears strained to hear the last phrase as her voice lowered. Fascinated by what everything she wasn't saying told him.
"You know exactly who it is, don't you?" he said softly. He was slightly in awe, leaning forward toward her in the chair almost against his own will, "You might even know precisely how to find him."
She looked him right in the eye, producing a small, pained smile, "What made you think such a ridiculous thing?"
Her statement sounded almost sad, but he knew he was right. He didn't understand what her motivation was, but there was nothing more obvious to him in this moment than the fact that she had been through something that was much more complex than anyone suspected.
"Don't you want whoever did that to you to pay?" he said vehemently, holding her gaze, surprising even himself by how much he desired punishment for her unnamed abusers.
"Revenge isn't always meant for the hand delivering the blows." She muttered under her breath.
The statement wasn't meant for him, but he heard. He rose to leave suddenly, needing to get out of there. He was losing his cool, getting too wrapped up in this.
"I should let you get some rest."
"Lex, wait," she called after him. "When you first came in, you asked if there was anything you could do for me. I want to know if you were being serious or polite."
"I'm never polite."
He looked her in the eyes, trying to read where this was going. He could tell she was struggling with the request, a small battle between pride and necessity, afraid to show herself as vulnerable. It was the first time he sensed a chink in her armor since he walked in the room.
"I want you to refuse if you're adverse to the idea. I don't want you to say you'll do it out of pity. Do you promise to say no if you don't want to agree to this?"
She nodded, relieved somehow. She paused for a moment before continuing.
"They're releasing me in a week and I need some place to go," she could barely get the words out, "I can't go back to that apartment with Lana, the way she acts around me now. I'd go home but my father, he um--he can't even..." her voice choked for a moment, a beat passed before she was able to continue, "Anyway, I don't want to be a burden on him. So I want to know if you would mind letting me stay at the mansion for a while. I guess I figured staying at your house offered the least likelihood of imposing on my host. I can just disappear in that place. You won't even know I'm there. I know we don't really know each other, but that's really the appeal, isn't it?"
She finished awkwardly, looking up at him from the first time through her whole speech.
"Of course you can Chloe, and you don't have to hide yourself away. I'll send a car out to come get you next week."
With that, he walked out, pleased in spite of himself for Chloe to come stay at the mansion. He couldn't help but be fascinated by the whole situation currently surrounding her. He wanted to know more, certainly, but in addition to simply being intrigued, seeing that wound on her wrist hit him harder than he could have anticipated. For all the questionable things he'd done in his life, inflicting pain, bodily harm on an innocent while watching them suffer was almost beyond his comprehension. It enraged him, nauseated him. Chloe seemed too accepting of it all. If it were him-- revenge. Now there was something he did understand, but he lived by the credo that there were more ways to make someone suffer than physical pain. Everyone had a weakness that could make them beg for mercy.
He truly didn't know why he felt this compulsion to help her. Perhaps he just wanted to know her secret; it was an intriguing mystery. Maybe he saw something familiar in the strange disconnect that had taken root in Chloe. He suspected that it was not completely unlike the feeling of distance and coldness toward the world that he occasionally had to fight away in himself. The idea was starting to form, however, that what he considered an unfortunate inheritance of the Luthor family legacy that needed to be willed into submission was, for her, something that had taken over and allowed her to survive and endure the pain. But it had altered her. The darkness that occasionally crept up on him was perhaps not the same as whatever had taken root in Chloe, but maybe he could give her something; understanding or a haven, at least, from this small town where, he could tell, she no longer felt she belonged.
Lex heard the towncar roll to a stop in the drive. He'd been listening for the sound of those tires crunching gravel since sending the car more than two hours ago. Unable to concentrate fully on his work, he felt frustrated at the difficulty he had controlling his distraction. Lex had already arranged to have all Chloe needed from her apartment brought to the mansion before her arrival, with instructions to put everything into one of the guest suites. He had not seen Chloe since that day at the hospital and had spoken with her only briefly since then to arrange a time to send someone to pick her up. Relieved at the sound of the vehicle's approach, Lex headed toward the entrance, reaching the threshold just in time to see Chloe ease herself out of the car into a standing position. Watching her get out of the car, he noticed her grimace with discomfort. Curious about her movements now, he tried to read any lingering pain in her body language, but was surprised to find her moving very comfortably, even boldly, up the stairs toward him. She betrayed no limp or stiffness in her gait as she approached. She had quite a strong will, even over her own battered body it seemed.
"I hope the drive here was comfortable," he said by way of greeting.
"A delight," she quipped. She must have noticed his expression darken at her comment, "I'm sorry. I sound ungrateful. I'm just-- tired, I guess." Her voice and face confirmed her statement.
"I'll show you right up then, to your room."
She nodded, looking exhausted and thankful as she followed him up the very large, very beautiful main set of stairs. They took a right turn at the top and then turned again, heading deeper into the mansion. He lead her quite a way down a hall before stopping in front of a large oak door, letting her walk through first. He had specifically picked this room for her. It was unlike most of the guest rooms in the mansion. The fore-room had a work area feel to it. A desk, now containing Chloe's laptop (newly acquired from her apartment), bookshelves, and oversized chairs occupied the naturally bright room, which gained its sunlight from two large windows covering the east wall. Through an archway at the back of the front room, a second space emerged with a large bed covered in a simple down comforter, a dresser and an armoire. Very little pomp or prestige was involved in the decoration, just warm, vivid colors and furnishings with clean lines. The room was spacious and had its own private bath, but the real draw was the balcony. To the right of the archway were French doors leading off onto a beautiful deck looking out onto the woods surrounding the property. Onto nothingness.
He had always loved the view from this balcony, even more than that from his own. The silence, the absolute blackness that pervaded at night had a way of calming him. Similarly, the cool, wet mornings always had the same effect. Peace. He could forget where he was and let his mind wander out. He watched her walk through, wanting her reaction. When she finally approached him again her expression was incredulous, almost embarrassed.
"I don't know what to say. I--this is not what I expected. I don't know--I always imagined the illustrious Luthor mansion to be some kind of cavernous Victorian relic with tapestries and imposing, dark-wood antique furniture, but these rooms are so-- comfortable. I mean, most of my books are even on those bookshelves in there. Thank you-- for all of this," she concluded softly, her eyes glistening a bit.
"I'm glad you like it," he managed, slightly overwhelmed by her response, "Make yourself at home. I'll let you rest. Anytime you get hungry, need anything, just ask. I'll be down in my office."
He left her alone then, escaping back to his work. He had already begun to notice that being around her was strangely affecting, first at the hospital and just now at this brief encounter. She made him feel like he was being rubbed raw. He felt emotional energy rip through him, things he usually controlled so easily or ignored. He had the unsettling feeling that perhaps he shouldn't have agreed to let her stay here, but the prospect of finding out what she was hiding was too great a temptation. Plus, she had nowhere else to go, and he wasn't coldhearted enough to turn her away. Several hours of work later, Lex heard a timid knocking on the doors of his office. A small groggy head, with hair sticking in all directions, leaned in.
"Sorry to bother you," she said sleepily.
"Not at all, come in," he replied, rising from behind his desk, "You hungry?" he asked suddenly as she stepped fully into the room.
She was wearing sweats and a strange kind of half-turtle necked tee shirt with long sleeves. She was swimming in the clothes and at first it didn't occur to him that they could possibly be hers. He wondered if anything she owned fit her now emaciated frame. She seemed startled by his question, as though food on demand were a foreign thought.
"Sure, I could eat."
He passed in front of her and out the door as she followed him into a sizable, fully equipped and stocked kitchen. Every chef's dream.
"What are you in the mood for?" he questioned, "I make a mean waffle." A smirk slipped onto his face.
"Waffles sound fine. Throw in a pot of coffee and I might never leave," she deadpanned.
"Coffee's in the freezer, French press and grinder are above the sink. I'll put you in charge of the caffeine while I take care of the meal." He set to work, only half ignoring her previous statement.
"Lex Luthor, the generous and accommodating host. Who knew?"
"I trust you'll keep it to yourself. I wouldn't want to tarnish my reputation."
His tone always serious despite his joke, wry was his only form of humor. Chloe let out a dry little chuckle he found he was pleased to have caused.
"I like you like this, Luthor."
"Like what, exactly?"
"Domestic. Waiting on me."
"Stick around and you just might get to experience more of my domestic side. I'm quite the chef you see."
"Somehow, I don't doubt it," she replied distractedly, focused on her task.
He had to admit; he liked himself in moments like this too. Unhurried, mind focused on nothing more complex than how many eggs to crack, the monotonous sound of the whisk whipping through the mixture he just made, the familiar hiss of the waffle skillet as the batter made contact with the heat. There was something meditative about the whole thing. Leaving the waffles to cook, Lex turned to find Chloe sitting at the island in the middle of the kitchen, sipping her coffee and watching him move about the room. She had placed a second steaming mug for him in front of the seat caddy-corner from her own. Her gaze followed him as he moved to grab it, rejecting the stool for now in favor of returning to his post near the waffle iron.
"Do you approve of the coffee? I know it's no Talon breakfast blend, but still satisfying, I hope."
His comment was painfully obvious in its sarcasm. He had nothing against the coffee Lana served, but the beans he bought for himself were of much higher quality.
"I haven't had a cup of coffee in a long time," she replied distractedly, not exactly answering his question.
He glanced at her between slices of the strawberries he prepared. A tightness in his chest forming as he watched her smell the steam with a tiny smile barley on her face. A wave of rage passed through him, which he quickly pushed away as he walked toward the island with two giant Belgian waffles on plates, placing one in front of Chloe, one for him. Strawberries and syrup followed. She surveyed the spread, approval on her face.
"Looks beautiful. I almost don't want to eat it."
"I will be supremely insulted if you don't. Plus, my confidence will be ruined for future culinary endeavors."
"Well then, I suppose I have an obligation for the sake of my future meals."
He found that he enjoyed her company. Even though they ate in virtual silence, he felt much less awkward than he probably should have considering the infancy of their tentatively forged friendship. After finishing the impromptu meal, they sat quietly with their coffee.
"Funny," Chloe finally broke into the silence, "I used to have such a knack for small talk. I guess I've been out of practice for too long."
"I've never been very good at it," was his response, "but I suppose I never really liked the idea of meaningless chit-chat."
Their statements were mindless, wandering thoughts. It was nice, just sitting like this. Lex couldn't hold back a small smile. Chloe, watching him, smiled a little too.
"Show me where the library is," she said abruptly, her eyes sparkling a bit.
He looked at her for a moment, studying her expectant expression. "Follow me," he finally said, rising from his seat.
The library was one of the largest rooms in the house, containing thousands of books. Lex wondered if the public library in this town even came close to having the collection his father had acquired for this room. He sat in a chair while Chloe moved around the catalogue, asking questions now and then about the method of organization, how the contents of the collection had been chosen. He watched her wander around the room, pale and distant, like an apparition. Satisfied with her brief perusal, she returned to where he sat, looking tired already even after such a short evening. The soft lighting in the room erased the slight discoloration from the healing bruises still lingering on her face. He was unprepared to find himself struck by her beauty. The peaceful look on her tired face was quite breathtaking.
"Satisfied with the collection?" he asked lightly at her approach.
"I think I'll be spending a lot of time in here," she yawned, "with your consent of course."Her tone was wry, subtly teasing.
He smiled in response, "Could I keep you away?"
"Not likely, I'm afraid. Although, for tonight, I think sleep holds a greater sway," she yawned again, her eyelids beginning to droop.
"I'll walk you up."
They wandered slowly through the hallways toward her room. Lex noticed her fingers trailing lightly along the wall, her other hand absently curling and uncurling, and the way her socked feet rustled quietly against the carpet. When they reached her door he said a hasty good night and turned to leave, but was quickly stopped by a hand lightly grabbing his elbow.
"Where will you be? Your room, I mean."
"I have a room at the end of the hall parallel to this one," his voice empty. Then, turning to look her in the eye, "I won't be far," more softly.
She nodded once, averting her eyes, embarrassed by the neediness she believed her question revealed.
"Goodnight, then," she turned into her room, disappearing behind the heavy oak door.
Lex walked down the darkened hallway toward his own room, suddenly and strangely aware of the poignancy of being alone.
Hanging up on one of the more frustrating phone calls of the morning, Lex let out a deep sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose soothingly. He began to reach for his intercom but hesitated, staring at it a moment before reaching again, pressing it resolutely this time.
"Ms. Wilkins, has Ms. Sullivan been down this morning?"
His voice was curt. The same tone he used in all business-like matters, as if he were slightly bothered having to ask.
"She's been up for several hours as far as I know, sir. Mr. Warren said he offered her some breakfast, but she just made some coffee and headed for the library. She's been in there all morning as far as I know. I can get her if you'd like."
"No-- no need. Thank you, Ms. Wilkins."
Though he didn't doubt Chloe's healthy thirst for knowledge, Lex found it hard to believe that her interest in his book collection rested primarily in the pursuit of academia. Her interest lingered a little more closely last night when she encountered his most recently acquired texts on foreign policy and domestic espionage. She was a journalist, after all, and he smelled research on her mind. She was looking for something, itching to uncover some specific pieces of information. He could see purpose lying just beneath the surface. He wasn't a fool; obviously something had been revealed to her. She discovered a taste of what her kidnappers real motivations were and now she was hunting the story. Whatever she uncovered, he felt that it could only be to his advantage to know what it was.
Caught up in thought, he was startled out of his reverie by the rather violent entrance of, what appeared to be, an enraged Clark Kent. Lex jumped up, his heart jerking in his chest at the surprise.
"Where is she?" Clark seethed.
"Clark?" his voice all calmness and cool, "What are you doing here?"
"Cut the bullshit, Lex. I don't care what she said to convince you to hide her away here. I want to see her, now."
Lex watched the younger man struggling between the equally inflammatory emotions of anger and hurt. Even-tempered Clark Kent, ready to tear the place apart. He recalled some of the vague and cryptic conversations they'd had in the past, during which, Lex had gotten the picture pretty clearly that Clark was conflicted about his relationship with Chloe. There had always been tension between what he desired in Lana and what he felt for Chloe. Her disappearance had been hard on Clark and, from what Lex could tell, her return and subsequent rejection of his company had hurt him even more. He could plainly see that his friend felt betrayed and couldn't understand why she turned to a near stranger for help. Clark's feelings of betrayal extended to Lex, that much was clear from his hostility. He felt a surge of sympathy for his friend.
"Clark, I'm not hiding anyone away. There's no conspiracy here. She simply needed a place to stay. She's barely been here a day, I just don't think she's ready to see anyone yet." His tones were placating, trying to reason him down.
Clark nodded bitterly, rageful tears glistening in his eyes, "Did she tell you that? You two have been bonding?"
"Fuck you, where is she?"
Lex watched him sweep his gaze over the inner wall of the room. Without missing a beat the younger man took off, storming out of the office, down the hall, straight toward the library. Lex caught up to him right before he reached the library doors, grabbing him by the arm. Clark quickly ripped away from his grasp, but stopped to face him.
"What do you care? You think you need to protect her from me?" Clark's expression softened a bit; regret at his harshness breaking through his anger, "She wouldn't even look at me, you know, when I went to see her. All that time, not knowing if she was even alive... but when she came back, it was like I lost her anyway."
"Clark you have to realize, things are different for Chloe than they were a month ago..."
"Different enough that the only person she's said more than two words to is practically a stranger to her? I'm not an idiot, Lex. I know she's changed. Both Pete and Lana warned me how cold she was to them when they went to see her, cruel even. She obviously needs help."
Lex felt slightly taken aback by that statement. He almost felt the urge to laugh at the comment. Chloe might be withdrawn and guarded, but unfeeling? He suddenly thought Pete and Lana to be quite the exaggerators.
"So what exactly are you planning to do, Clark? Are you going to drag her back into her old life kicking and screaming. Force her into being the bright and bubbly person she was before being violently abused? Maybe take her to see some shrink who'll give her a bunch drugs and forget about her? How much is that really going to help her, Clark?"
He could feel the heat of Clark's glare and flinched inwardly to hear his friend's next words spoken in clipped tones as he tried to control his rage.
"Letting her hide from everyone who cares about her in this monstrosity of a house is only going to make it worse."
"Why? Because it will give her a respite from everyone telling her what's best? Because she might actually figure that out on her own?"
Lex didn't understand why he was getting so emotional. He was losing focus on the point of his argument. Taking a deep breath, he attempted to calm himself into clarity.
"Look, Clark, I just think you have to remember that the past can't be erased. Events change people, it happens to everyone. You need to be open to the idea that Chloe doesn't have to return to being the exact same person she was before all this to be okay."
"Why am I even listening to this? Lex, you don't even know her..."
"Enough." A weary voice emerged, silencing them. Both men turned to see Chloe step out from around the doorway of the library, "I remember a time less than a week ago when you two were the best of friends. This might be the fastest turn around in history."
It was a chilly comment, meant to diffuse the situation quickly, but Clark had already turned his attention to her, instantly forgetting Lex.
"Chloe, what the hell are you doing? Lana said she came home after work a few days ago and your stuff was cleared out. She was going to call the police, but when she went to the hospital she found out you'd been discharged. Why didn't you tell anyone? We were worried that-- we didn't know what to think."
His tone hinted at accusation, but his concern was evident. Above all, it was obvious that the entire situation with Chloe was scaring the hell out of him.
"Lana," she whispered knowingly. When she finally looked up to speak to Clark, her voice was smooth and cold, "I'm sorry Lana was frightened Clark. I should have warned her. But, as far as I know, none of you own me and I'm free to make decisions without checking in. Please assure her that I will continue to pay my portion of the rent if that's what she's concerned about."
"Chloe," he said more tenderly, hurt in his voice at the insincerity of her statement, "I know you blame me for leaving you alone that day. Believe me when I say that it's not something I expect you to forgive me for, but it's no reason to shut everyone out. Lana and Pete worry about you too. If you won't let me help you, at least talk to them."
She let out a sad, cynical sigh, making his statement sound nave.
"Clark, I don't blame you for anything. What happened wasn't your fault. You don't think I know that? I know you have this idea that you owe me something because you ran off. That it's your responsibility to 'fix' me, but I'm telling you right now, none of this has anything to do with you. So if you came here for forgiveness, then fine, you're forgiven. That's all I can give you right now."
She turned to go back into the library then, attempting to put an end to the conversation, but Clark reached out, grabbing her upper arm to stop her. She let out a small cry of surprise from the pain his grip caused on her still unhealed arm. Her opposite hand shot up to grab Clark's, removing the contact quickly. The movement was nothing more than a reflex, but Clark wouldn't let go of her hand once he had it.
"Oh Jesus, Chloe. I'm sorry-- I didn't mean to-- oh, god, are you okay?"
Guilt and concern were written all over his face. She exhaled tiredly.
"Get out of here, Clark,"
She was watching their hands, the way he was desperately clasping onto hers, with something resembling curiosity, remorse.
"No. I don't want to lose you. I'm not going to lose my friend, I love her too much not to fight for her."
He struggled through the statement, almost succumbing to tears several times. Lex watched Chloe lift her eyes to stare right into Clark's, holding his gaze for a beat before replying. Her voice was so soft, so calm.
"I'm sorry Clark. For all the times I pried into your life when you didn't want me to or asked you for things you weren't ready to give, I want the courtesy from you I wasn't strong enough to grant. Just walk away. That girl you knew, your friend-- is gone."
His face registered a kind of shocked anguish to hear her say it. A few silent tears fell freely down his face as Chloe gently removed her hand from his slackened grasp. She turned to leave, passing by the library doors to head down the hall, away from the two men.
"I don't care what you say, I refuse to give up on you," he shouted after her, watching her disappear around a corner before finally turning to leave.
As he passed by, Lex tried to put a hand on his arm, wanting to give comfort to the devastation he saw on his friend's face.
He spoke his name softly, pity saturating his voice, but was brushed off. Lex followed, trailing him to the entrance of the mansion.
"Clark, I'm just trying to help her out," he called after him, cringing internally at the naked apology in his voice. Clark turned around as he stepped out of the door, looking far calmer than he had at any point since his arrival.
"I know you are Lex. She's choosing you to lean on through this. I suppose it makes perfect sense. You two are practically strangers; you won't have any expectations, no standards to hold her to. I just thought she would come to me. I wanted it to be me."
Lex could only stare after him as he walked to his car. Clark looked resigned, his voice ragged with emotion. Lex could think of nothing to say that would adequately respond to the statement. New anger began to bubble up in Lex as he watched Clark's defeated retreat.
Why the hell had he put himself in this situation? What a fucking mess.
He was already heading for Chloe's room before he even knew what he was going to say to her. How could she have watched Clark break like that without batting an eye? How could she be so resistant when he was obviously in pain? Besides, his loyalty was to Clark, wasn't it? She was causing animosity between Clark and him, while managing to avoid any blame for it's creation by walking away. Hell, he practically came to blows arguing her point. If she planned on staying in his home, it would not be at the expense of his friendship with Clark.
He approached her room, ready to walk right in, when he heard small chokes and sobs coming from inside. Cracking the door, he saw her sitting on the end of her bed, head in hands, body wracked with sobs. He softly closed the door, slumping back against the wall, blowing out a hot and tired breath. The impossibility of the situation began to hit him in full force.
Lex had been thrown in the middle. Clark was hurting and Chloe was in a lot of pain. Certainly a lot more than he had anticipated and probably more than even Clark suspected. He felt a powerful urge to comfort her. She was alone in the devastation of that encounter, more so than Clark would be. Clark could rehash the event to his friends, get their support. But even if Lex went in there, he doubted she would ever accept his attempt to soothe her. He stood there a moment more, feeling helpless and conflicted, truly his rarest emotions, before heading for his office.
Lex didn't see Chloe again that day and spent most of the next morning and afternoon in town, trying to convince himself he wasn't avoiding his own home. By evening he had run out of reasons not to return and, back in his office as the sun started to go down, she stepped lightly into the room.
"So what's on the menu for tonight?"
He could hear her apology in there somewhere, but there was strength too. Her stance revealed no meekness or groveling, as though she weren't sorry for what had happened, only that she had brought it all to his doorstep, perhaps. As they prepared the meal together, neither mentioned what had happened with Clark and except for his abrupt appearance, the rest of the week went on without incident. Lex couldn't help feeling the need to keep his distance. His discomfort with, what suddenly seemed, an explosive living situation kept him on edge. But, after several dinners, several easy and casual conversations, he couldn't deny that he was becoming more and more pleased by her company.
They began to settle into a pattern. During the day Lex continued conducting his own business as usual, mornings in the mansion, afternoons in town. Chloe continued with her mysterious research and tried to adjust her life so she could work from home. She told Lex about agreeing to do some freelance copy-editing for her old job at the paper, and began submitting a few of her own articles for publication. Some days she would take long walks in his woods, returning only in time for the dinners they seemed to have already established as a nightly tradition.
Soon he found himself making excuses to read his morning paper in the library where he knew she would be working. His reasoning solid in his own mind. If he spent some time in the library with her, he would be able to get a better picture of what reading material she was picking and perhaps a clearer idea of what she was looking into. The first day he ventured in she looked up in confusion, obviously surprised to see him there.
"Do you mind if I join you? I've been missing the library in the mornings."
"It's your house, Lex. I'm just a squatter."
She watched carefully as he moved into the room. He felt uncomfortable under her gaze. In the room at all, really. Somehow, even after a relatively short time, this had become her space and he was invading. He hastily found a seat on the couch, trying to choose a position close to the table where she worked. He settled in as best he could, unfurling his paper.
"Listen to this," he interrupted after a long period of silence, "New England man finds a 1969 Superbowl ring in his box of cornflakes. That's incredible."
He looked up at her with an amused smile, finding the randomness of the discovery fascinating and more than a little humorous. Her focus turned to him as she let out a loud, abrupt laugh, eyes sparkling with amusement.
"I'm glad you're getting such valuable insights into current events from the Times this morning." She continued to stare over at him, even after he returned his attention to his reading, "Being around you like this, I can hardly believe you're the same Lex Luthor," she said finally, the smile still in her voice.
"Is this so different for the way I usually am?"
Even he knew the answer was obvious, but she took his question seriously, pausing a moment before answering.
"I guess I'm not one to know, really. Whenever I used to see you around or even the very few times we interacted, you seemed-- I don't know-- on guard. Like you always had somewhere more important to be, or a reason to be looking over your shoulder. There was always an angle you seemed to be working. I like you much better when you're comfortable. Not that you should give up the mysterious bit. It works much too well on you. Plus women love that shit, men too for that matter."
That got a smile out of him.
"But you don't buy it." he quipped, playing along.
"On the contrary," she said, a serious tone creeping onto her voice, her eyes glazing slightly, "I think you're hiding much more than anyone suspects, your secrets just aren't what most people think they are."
He looked right at her then, stunned."You seem to read a lot for someone who's known me for such a short time."
His voice was sharp and full of warning, trying to protect against an insight that left him feeling vulnerable and transparent. She quickly snapped out of contemplation, seeming embarrassed she said any of that out loud.
"Of course, maybe that's just the way I imagine you to be... Like you said, we hardly know each other."
She smiled at him weakly, turning back to her work. They sat silently for some time, Lex completely unable to focus after the unsettling exchange. Eventually he rose from his seat, excusing himself distractedly as he headed to his office, grateful for the hours of work ahead.
He refused to be driven away by his discomfort, however, and continued spending his mornings in the library. That first awkward encounter made for a silent room for awhile, but their evenings remained comfortable and eventually the awkward air in the library dissolved into a companionable atmosphere. They spoke little of their work, but nothing else was off limits and Lex was beginning to see a little of what he assumed was the old Chloe emerge now and then. She certainly began to look healthier and more beautiful by the day. She still carried a distance around with her. Although he supposed he did too, in his own way, but her presence was becoming familiar and welcome.
He came into the library one morning to find her looking particularly tired. She was nodding off over her laptop when he walked in.
"Well, good morning, sunshine," his endearment dripping with sarcasm, "How long have you been in here?"
She snapped her eyes open, startled awake by his entrance.
"Lex..." she said flashing a sleepy smile, "I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd get some work done."
"You should try again, you look exhausted."
"I'm fine," she answered distractedly, already back to her reading.
Lex shook his head, amused at her stubbornness. Thirty minutes later, however, he chuckled to find her passed out, head on the table, sound asleep. He put down his paper and moved toward her sleeping figure. Removing the pen from her hand and the papers from under her head, he gently wrapped her arm around his shoulders and hefted her sleeping figure with some effort, but soon she was comfortably in his arms. Her head lolling against his shoulder, he carried her through the hallways to her room and nudged the door open with his foot, carefully carrying her in and placing her in bed.
He stood watching for a moment before feeling a little too much like a voyeur. He moved instead toward the balcony, taking this opportunity to visit the favorite outside view he no longer had the chance to see. He noticed Chloe had put a little table and chair outside and fingered the pack of cigarettes and lighter he found there. A habit he hadn't known about. A book of Bukowski's poetry and a notepad filled with doodles and snatches of writing sat along side the pack. He flipped through the pages, ignoring the guilt from this little invasion of privacy. Most of the writing was about the night, the trees, the silence or lack of silence. She wrote about the house quite a bit too, describing it as a living thing, changing and breathing. He stopped to read one page more carefully, seeing his own name.
Lex, what a mystery his is. Very cold, very beautiful. He watches me move around this house, watches me when he thinks I don't notice him staring. With suspicion, or perhaps lust. Are they all that different, after all?
He felt odd reading those words, but began flipping through pages, wanting to know what else she thought of him, what else she had noticed. His endeavor was interrupted by a noise in the room behind him, a small cry. He turned to see Chloe struggling slightly with the sheets, grabbing at her own throat. She was making choking sounds; short gasps were escaping her lips. He strode back into the room, saying her name abruptly. She continued clawing at her throat, her subdued struggle with the sheets turning into a panicked thrashing. He said her name again more loudly, grabbing hold of one of her wrists, not wanting her to tear at her own skin. When he touched her she cried out, not shrill like a scream, but low and desperate. It sounded like death.
"Chloe, open your eyes."
He was practically yelling in her face now, his adrenaline pumping, scared for her; scared by her. She snapped into consciousness then, gasping for air and disoriented, trying to push him away from her.
"Hey," he said roughly, grabbing her shoulders, making her look him in the face, "It's me, it's Lex."
She stopped struggling so fiercely, beginning to recognize him and her surroundings.
"Lex," she breathed, pulling him roughly against her. He was caught off guard by her embrace after the confusion of what had happened, but soon came back to himself. Shock wore away into relief as he wrapped his arms tightly around her. He could feel her heart beating a million miles an hour against his chest, matching his own heart currently doing the same. He turned his face into her hair. Feeling a swell of emotion as he pulled her closer, he soothed his hand over her back. Eventually her breathing slowed with her heartbeat and she moved back to look at him. He was slightly shocked to see her eyes were dry, not a tear shed.
"You okay?" she asked, searching his face.
"Me? Shouldn't I be the one asking that question?"
She glanced away, looking embarrassed. "I'm fine."
"Fine-- I feel like I might throw-up and you say you're fine."
The entire situation was so bizarre. Less than five minutes ago she'd been having the worst nightmare he ever witnessed and now she was making sure he was okay. Well, he wasn't okay. That had scared the fuck out of him. She slipped away, moving to sit up against the bed's headboard, motioning for him to do the same. They sat side by side, staring straight ahead, their shoulders touching for support. After several moments of silence, Lex broke in.
"What just happened, Chloe?"
"How did we get up here, Lex?" her voice was neutral. Her reply wasn't an accusation; it was avoidance. Lex sighed, frustrated.
"You fell asleep working so I brought you up here. Don't avoid the question. That was a disturbing display you just put on."
"Sorry if it frightened you. It's not always possible to get control over these things."
He looked over at her then, "These things-- this is a regular occurrence?"
"It's getting better, not as frequent. I hadn't had one for awhile until last night."
"Which is why you couldn't sleep. You've been having them while you've been living here?"
"How many? How often?"
"I don't remember, Lex. Why does it matter?"
"Every night at first, then less. It had been over a week until last night."
"And they're always that bad?" She didn't answer, didn't look at him. "Worse? Chloe... why haven't you come to me about this?"
"Oh come on, Lex. What could you possibly have done?"
"There are sleep specialists, hypnotists, any number of options available. There has to be something you can do for this."
"What, with pills? Or maybe hooking a bunch of sensors up to my brain? No thanks. I was finished with all that over a month ago. They couldn't do anything for me at the hospital except dope me up and that's an option you can forget about. Besides these-- dreams, or whatever, are already getting better."
She looked over at him then, just a hint of pleading in her eyes. He could see she wanted him to drop it. She wanted him to understand.
"Okay," he finally said. He could feel her relax beside him.
"Thank you for waking me up, for helping me," she said after a period of silence, her head lowering to rest on his shoulder, "It was surprisingly comforting to have someone there when I came out of it, embarrassment not withstanding."
Her lightened tone had no effect on his mood. He couldn't shake feeling distressed at the revelation of these 'dreams'.
"Promise me that if this happens again, you won't just wait around for the fright to pass. Day or night I want you to come get me."
He felt her head nod against his shoulder. On impulse, he briefly pressed his lips to her hair then stood to leave. He needed to get away for a moment; to remove himself from the intensity that lingered in the room.
"Lex," she called out as he reached the door, "If only people knew what a softy you are."
"It's your own fault, Chloe. You bring out the worst in me," he said as he closed the door, feeling her smile sadly even though he couldn't see it.
After that morning, Lex noticed that whatever trust he and Chloe built up over the past five weeks began to erode. Or maybe he was imagining it all. They still traded barbs, still managed intellectual exchanges in the manner they always had, but suddenly Chloe's schedule failed to coincide with Lex's. The day following her nightmare, Lex found a note in the library saying she'd gone to Metropolis to do some ambiguously defined 'work', but never made it home for their traditional dinner together that night and slept through their library time together the next morning. A week passed when they only saw each other once for dinner. He felt as though he should ask her if everything was okay, but knew it wasn't his business to monitor her comings and goings.
What claim did he have over her schedule? She was his guest, not his responsibility. He should be happy, left alone to his life for once. Though, at this point, he had become used to her company, began to desire it. It was a comforting feeling, having someone to come home to, and at Chloe's sudden disappearing act, he felt the loss. On the occasions when she would show-up for dinner, however, their interaction remained so easy and pleasant he convinced himself that he was overreacting about her absence. Naturally, her life would be getting busier as her work began to pick-up, and most likely, she no longer felt quite as fragile as when she first came to stay with him. The need to hide away in the mansion was probably abating.
But, as her appearances became fewer and farther between, Lex began to have the horrible feeling that something had gone wrong with Chloe; that she was beginning to pull away from what little connection she still had to her old life. He was surprised to find that he had a real fear of her disappearing on him the way she had on her other friends. Somehow, she had become an important part of his life.
After an extended period of only brief encounters between them, mostly as she was walking out the door, Chloe showed up for dinner. They lingered in their seats for a long time after finishing their food, reminding Lex of meals when she first came to the mansion. No rush, just wandering conversation. Eventually they parted to their individual rooms, but Lex couldn't help but feel unsettled by what was happening. She was shutting him out. He sat at the foot of his bed, debating whether or not to go speak with her. Questioning whether he had the right to confront her at all. He found that he was working himself up into something resembling anger. He recognized the slight hypocrisy of being upset at the fierce privacy she maintained, he had his own secrets after all, but he had never been good at ignoring secrecy in others. Finally frustration overrode reason and he found himself standing in front of her door ready to ask for some answers.
Memories of Clark storming into his office flashed in his mind as he knocked on her door, entering without waiting for a response. He called her name, walking boldly into the room, ready to hash the whole thing out, but he couldn't find her right away. He passed through the anti-room into her bedroom, checked the balcony, assuming she hadn't heard him. But no, not outside either. He turned back, about to start calling her name again, when he caught a glimpse through the cracked door of the bathroom. The sound of running water suddenly registered as he watched her naked back. The bright pink slashes of recently healed wounds, a crosshatched, haphazard pattern, ran from her shoulders to her ankles. Lex heard his breath catch.
How different to think you know than to actually see with your own eyes.
He watched her take a robe off a hook out of his view and wrap the thin material around her body, hiding her scars. He suddenly realized just how good she was at hiding. He'd never seen a single scar since that day in the hospital months ago. A parade of long-sleeved turtlenecks and carefully placed scarves marched through his memory. She walked out of the bathroom then to find him standing motionless in her room, unable to do anything but look at her with shock and pity. She didn't startle to see him there. Her expression was curious and a little worried.
"Lex, what are you doing? Is everything okay?"
He felt paralyzed, unable to do anything but stare. His mouth fought for words.
"Your back..." finally came out, the only thing he could manage.
Her look of concern melted into coldness. She shook her head imperceptibly in a resigned annoyance.
"The scars..." a flat whisper, then in her normal tone, "I'm sure they're quite frightening to look at, but I assure you, the pain went away weeks ago. All I have left are their decorative qualities."
Her voice was trying its best to be light, but he could hear the bitterness underneath.
"Chloe, don't..." his voice was soft.
"Don't do what, exactly?" she interrupted, "Speak honestly? Don't expect me to get all wide-eyed and weepy, Lex. You know that's not who I am."
"You hide so much, don't you? Always fishing around for me to admit some truth about myself, but never willing to reveal anything."
"You're so eager to know?" she challenged, moving closer to him.
She grabbed his hand, placing it on her once-shattered cheekbone. Starting there.
"This is where my face was slammed into the corner of a concrete slab."
Wrapping her hand around his, she moved it down her cheek and along her jaw line. Trailing their fingers down her neck, she continued pushing her robe out of the way to reveal the scabs of healing skin. How had he not seen this? She led their hands down, running them along the ravaged flesh. He could feel her pulse jumping lightly under his fingertips.
"From the rope that was always kept knotted around my neck."
Then moving to her left collarbone, letting the robe fall off her shoulder, softly running his fingers over the puckered skin of the healing bullet wound.
"The gunshot that started this entire mess."
He was rapt, staring intently at these marks on her body, really imagining for the first time everything that she must have been through. Her eyes were fixed on his face, watching his expression as he gently trailed his fingertips along the scar, as if he could erase it. She let go of his hand then, letting the other shoulder of her robe drop to reveal the slashes cut in a perfect pattern down her other arm. Even without her guidance now, he moved his touch to the scars, tracing along them reverently.
"Switchblade," she rasped, caught up in this act of revelation.
His touch was so gentle, whispering along her skin, as if his fingers could absorb from these marks the memories she had. He looked up at her finally, resting his hands on the belt of her robe. His eyes asked permission to continue, to know all of her scars. Her expression betrayed a certain amount of trepidation, afraid to reveal something she had kept secret for so long, but he could see in her eyes a desire to trust him with this knowledge. Her demeanor challenged him to keep going in his exploration, wanting to see if he could handle everything she had concealed. He steadily held her gaze as he undid the belt, letting the robe drop to the floor. Neither spoke as Lex laid his hand on every scar and bruise, trying to absorb them, to memorize the map they created on her body. He moved around to her back, tracing the brutal patterns he found there, watching goose bumps rise on her skin. She spoke only when he looked up at her, always the same question in his face,
And this one?
Her answers were sparse and barley audible. When he finished, he took hold of her palms, bringing his lips gently to her wrists, placing light kisses on the scars that had affected him so greatly on that day in the hospital. Her face registered a slight panic. She tried to capture his hands, obviously uncomfortable with the emotional intimacy his action evoked, for both of them.
"I'm so sorry." He spoke at last.
"It's not your fault."
"No one deserves this."
His tone was resolute and he could see something flicker through her eyes, a glimpse of how much devastation she still carried around with her. She masked it quickly, letting out a small, sad laugh and moved her hands to play with the hem of his shirt. Watching her own fingers, she seemed almost surprised as she let them wander underneath to run along his stomach softly.
"I don't want pity," she said looking up into his eyes.
Alarm bells rang weakly in the back of his mind, warning him about the sudden change in atmosphere she had created. She was changing the focus of their interaction in a dangerous direction. As she moved in closer to him, the sweet, clean smell of her skin invaded his senses and the way she was running her hands over the bare skin of his back almost drown out his unsettled feeling completely.
"I'm tired of all this empty self-pity. I just want to feel normal again."
Lex felt slightly taken aback by her words, like a descending fog was clearing. He grabbed her wrists gently, bringing the captured hands between them.
"Chloe, what are you doing?"
She looked at him, surprised, but not hurt by his rebuff.
"I don't know. Do you want me to stop?"
The strange interaction going on struck Lex as uncharacteristic of them both. He felt unable to get a handle on what was happening, couldn't believe he didn't know the answer to her question.
"I don't want anything that both of us are going to end up regretting. After everything that's happened to you Chloe, I don't want to cause more..."
She interrupted him with a kiss. He could feel the heat from her lips hit his and pull away again. And a second time, lingering longer, a bit deeper and he felt a tightening in the pit of his stomach.
"You don't have to coddle me, or be scared for me. I won't break," she whispered into his mouth, melancholy creeping at the edges of her statement.
This shouldn't be happening, he shouldn't want this. He was drawn in by her smell, the feel of her lips, and by all that he learned about her so far, but his worry wasn't so easily pushed away. He knew better, knew that for all her show, she wasn't invulnerable. Despite her protestations to the contrary, he could foresee the fall out being devastating. Yet, she intrigued him with everything she wasn't telling, and a vague yet increasingly insistent part within him wanted her, had no desire to resist. His better judgment was being clouded by the lips slowly running along his jaw and the arms encircling his waist, pulling him closer. She was trying to gently persuade him into kissing her back, but he was resisting, wanting to avoid the direction they had suddenly taken.
"Lex," she whispered into his skin, her voice mournful, slightly pleading for this closeness.
And hearing the way she spoke his name broke his will. Just one word and the desire that had been growing for some time was unleashed. He responded to her kiss hungrily now, devouring her mouth. His teeth captured her lower lip possessively, tasting and teasing his tongue along hers, feeling as though he could never get enough of her mouth. She pulled off his shirt impatiently, backing him toward the bed by pressing her whole body against his as if she could melt right in. He felt a jolt from this first time, skin on skin. Soon his legs hit the end of the bed, and he fell back into a seated position, Chloe standing over him. She was beautiful, lips swollen from kisses, her face flushed, hair still damp from her shower. The weight of need rolled over him without warning. He surprised himself with how much he wanted her, wanted to know what her face would look like with him inside of her.
He tried to keep his head clear as she followed him onto the bed and straddled his lap, grinding down lightly against the thin material of his pajama bottoms, the only thing separating her from his already prominent erection. He let out a small sigh, half pleasure, half frustration before he even registered that he had done it. Chloe grinned at the noise, running her hands over the skin of his head, down the back of his neck and over his shoulders to caress his arms before capturing his hands, guiding one to cup the soft flesh her breast. He brushed his thumb over her nipple and she closed her eyes, making a barely audible noise in the back of her throat in appreciation of the friction. Such a small noise, and he wanted to make her moan, scream out his name. That little noise was not enough.
He switched their positions in one quick motion, his body over hers, pinning her beneath him. He could sense her frustration at the disadvantage. She raised her body to brush against his and he could feel the sharp crackling of sexual need and desire. Using his mouth to explore her neck and collarbone lazily, he moved down her body, tasting her skin along the way and loving how her body was reacting to his touch. He gave a small smile in response to the sounds she made as he captured a puckered nipple in his mouth, rolling it over with his tongue, flicking back and forth over it lightly. She was writhing underneath him as he moved to her other breast, gently nipping at the pink skin and she let out a sharp breath at the feel of teeth, bringing her hands up to grasp his shoulders. Running his fingers over the smooth skin of her abdomen, he dipped his tongue into her navel, loving the way it made her body shudder in anticipation of where that tongue would soon be.
He could smell the damp musk of her arousal, increasing his own impatience to feel her slick wetness, to taste her. He ran his hands over her thighs, parting them as he traced a trail with his mouth from her knee to her inner thigh. Her legs inched open. An encouragement, he assumed, to pursue further. He brought his hands up to part her outer lips, his nose venturing forward, inhaling her scent, dizzied by her arousal and his own. His expert mouth soon found its destination, painting patterns through her folds, teasingly flicking her clit as her body jolted from the contact. He captured the small nub in his mouth, sucking gently, rolling his tongue over, again and again, and he could feel her grind against him until she was pleading for release.
"Jesus, Lex... please...just...oh... don't stop."
Her comments were almost unintelligible. He continued with more intensity, his tongue finding its rhythm, whispering encouragements, his hot breath hitting her pink flesh. When she came it was like a jolt of electricity running through her body. She bucked her hips, crying out. Grasping desperately at the tops of his shoulders, she rode her orgasm out. Lex slowly smoothed his hands back up her body, wanting to watch her face more closely. Aware of how sensitive her skin suddenly was by the way she reacted to his slightest touch. He began running the tips of his fingers lightly over her collarbone, just looking at her, placing kisses on the small moles littering the landscape of her body. Eventually she brought up an arm to wrap around his neck, drawing his mouth to hers. Her kisses were heated. They betrayed her satisfaction.
She was smiling through the kiss as she brought her legs up, using her feet to push off the pajama bottoms he still wore, not wanting to break the kiss. She was moving her body in closer to his, wanting to have as much skin contact as possible. Skimming her small hands over his back until she reached his ass, she grabbed onto it, pulling him against her. Lex ran his hand under her thigh, bringing her leg up over his own hip, giving him better access to dip his finger into her. She drew in a breath, grasping at him further. A second finger joined the first and he moved them slowly in and out as his thumb teased her clit.
"Enough, enough of this," she gasped, reaching for his hand.
As she spoke she ran her lips along his ear. Her free hand reached down to wrap around his erection, guiding him in.
He couldn't breathe.
So tight and wet and their eyes were locked in some kind of awe, seeing who would look away first. It was jarring and so intense. Lex could hardly believe that this woman, so young, this friend of a friend, came out of nowhere and turned him on his head. He felt himself losing the control he usually maintained so effortlessly. He was getting caught up in this strange fervor she seemed to be teetering on the edge of unleashing. He moved in and out, slowly at first, trying to watch her eyes, still anxious about how all this was affecting her. But soon she broke the stare, snaking her arms back around his neck. Bringing her mouth up to meet that sensitive place where his neck met his shoulder, she bit down, hard. Lex cried out, grabbing her hands roughly and pinning them to the bed, angry at the unexpected attack. Her expression betrayed frustration at his trepidation.
"Why are you hesitating?"
Her eyes dark, as she brought her legs up, allowing him to penetrate her deeper, and he groaned in spite of himself as she dug her ankles into his lower back, raising herself to meet him stroke for stroke, forcing a more intense rhythm upon him. And he could barely stand it, the roaring in his ears, the sweat slicking the skin of their bodies, her smell and this strange mood that had overtaken them. He felt the odd sensation of his body desperately trying to make hers understand something words lacked the ability to express.
He was no stranger to women's beds, had many different kinds of sex, but never like this. This bizarre event of trying to express his grief at the pain she endured, while attempting to get a handle on the unexpected intensity of his desire for her. The entire experience was overwhelming, and when he met her eyes again he saw his own surprise reflected in her face. The magnitude of emotion was something neither of them expected. She only wanted human contact and he only intended to comfort her. He felt himself on the verge of climax, finally losing control as the contractions of her own orgasm emerged around him. The world was spinning and he could feel her nails dig into his shoulders, her cries almost sobs as she let her orgasm pass through. When he looked down at her he saw shock, mirroring his own.
"Jesus, Chloe, what...?"
In a panicked motion, she placed her hand over his lips, stopping him from saying anything further, but it was just as well. He doubted his ability come up with anything to adequately finish the statement. Instead he nodded imperceptibly, gathering her in his arms and squeezing her against him as if she might fade away. He fell into sleep with his face buried in the smell of her hair, his body wrapped around hers. Unsure of what exactly just transpired between them, but suddenly wanting to cling to whatever it was for dear life, frightened out of his mind.
Chloe woke up the next morning feeling like a ghost.
Nothing had changed.
Not that she had expected much to change; she was a realist after all. She was amazed sometimes at her ability to react with emotions she thought were lost. Even his drying semen on her thighs evoked nothing but small stirrings of guilt and a startled thought of her own power. Cocooned in the heat of Lex's body, she smiled sadly at the way their skin seemed fused with the remains of last night's sweat. She wanted nothing more than for her only concern to be listening to the heavy breath of his sleep. But she had seen it all on his face when she found him in her room yesterday. Even Lex Luthor, who she always considered impossible to read, one who kept his emotions vigilantly hidden, had betrayed his pity and eventually his desire.
Maybe she had broken his code, or maybe she had just gotten better at reading subtle expressions. The imperceptible inflection of voice, the careful movements of his slender, muscled body. With Lex you just had to know what to look for, she supposed. But as much as she tuned in, there was a lot she hadn't expected, couldn't put her finger on even now. She knew he had been prying into her situation in his own discreet way, wanting to know what she was hiding, but after last night she sensed a change in his intension.
Shame was creeping in.
Shame at reacting in just the way he needed, almost without effort. Not that she hadn't needed him just as much, but his body had spoken to her so honestly and, these days, everything she did felt like a lie. Still, at the end there had been something in his face that had made her chest constrict...
And suddenly she felt claustrophobic enfolded in the blaze of his body. What the hell was she doing? Hurting people everywhere she went. Her father, Clark, and now the only person she had expected to be unable to touch. Lex had been her safest bet, the one she hadn't given a fuck about and she knew would never give a fuck about her. She practically manipulated him into her bed with all that show and tell of personal horrors, baiting him on that first day in the hospital if she thought about it honestly. Now the selfish motives of discovery that led him to open his home to her were evolving into a desire to protect her from her own secrets. She saw the same thing happen when they were younger, in his relationship with Clark. During her stay, she had watched him go from suspicious, to curious, to something else. Something she wanted to ignore for her own reasons.
She needed to get away, get out of this place. When she came here, she expected the depths of this mansion to just swallow her, but she underestimated her own need for connection. She sought out this human contact in complete contradiction to her intentions. Now she realized too late that she should have disappeared more completely. Despite the occasional resurgences of that old snarky intellect from hometown Kansas, she knew that she had changed. A wave of sadness hit as she abruptly became aware that staying with Lex had been an indirect attempt to hold onto that fading girl, but all she had accomplished was hurting those who loved that Chloe, herself included.
She slipped out of Lex's arms, her feet slapping quietly against the warm hardwood floor leading to the bathroom. The sound of water spraying and the rising steam gave comfort as she stepped into the scalding shower, wanting to wash away the vulnerability of last night and the small panic she felt that more than just sex had transpired between them. She wanted to eradicate from her memory that look in Lex's eyes, telling her things she didn't want to know. That he had begun to *need* her. It scared the shit out of her that she might be considered that necessary to his life; scared her even more that she had witnessed the moment it had dawned on even him. She refused to tackle her own thoughts on the subject. What did it even matter? She had already destroyed everything.
It was over. She couldn't be Chloe anymore. It was too painful.
She would have to come up with a new name and a new home for this new person she had become. She had allowed this place, this man, to distract her. It was time to stop fucking around and finish everything she had been putting off.
Being in her car felt like freedom, and relief. The road gave her comfort, allowing everything to slowly blow off of her as the distance between the old and the new increased. She had only one suitcase in the back, not much of a life when you can shove it all in a small bag. She felt like some kind of cinematic fugitive with all the money to her name shoved in her purse. Tens and twenties.
She still felt shaken up by the unexpected events that morning. Sneaking out of the mansion early, she headed straight to the bank, but their doors weren't yet open. She masked her panic with annoyance, one entire hour to burn in a town she wanted to be a million miles away from. Standing in front of the building for a while, she finally decided to do something before going crazy from waiting. So, she simply started walking, eventually ending up in the middle of one of the Kent's fields before realizing how far she'd gone. Rote memory suddenly seemed a powerful thing. A lingering instinct from all those trips made down that dirt path as a kid. Standing stock-still, she silently took in the incredible blue sky above and the calming breeze blowing through the wheat field.
She could smell Smallville.
This stupid town-- it invoked so many memories of her life, her youthful innocence. And in an instant she was hit, like a punch to the gut, with sorrow that she thought might rip her in two. Dropping her to the ground, sobs tore through her body. It was horrible, but it was emotion, something other than washed-out and for that she was grateful. Lying on the ground, curled into herself, she dosed on and off through tears, coming fully awake again only to be met with the brilliant sky above her. Paralyzed by its expanse, unable to do anything but watch the clouds pass. She remembered doing this very thing for hours with Clark when they were kids, lazing away entire summer days.
Mourning for the loss of her life here, for her childhood dreams and the easiness she had once, made her wonder if her mother had a moment like this before leaving. Hit with heartbreak that slowly evolved into a feeling of calm and inevitability. Because suddenly, that was exactly what she felt: deathly calm. Like she could stop breathing without much effort.
And that's how Martha Kent stumbled upon her, lying in the field, under the wide sky, still as death. She was out looking for a stray calf, she later explained. Poor woman. She nearly had a heart attack, almost tripping over Chloe.
"Oh my god! Chloe, honey, what are you doing out here?"
"I didn't mean to startle you."
A distracted statement at best. Chloe was too wrapped up in watching Martha's reactions to finding her there, observing the way she calmed herself down from the fright. The older woman took deep breaths, sinking down to sit on the ground next to her. Chloe wondered if she did it to get closer, or just didn't trust the sturdiness of her own legs.
"What's going on? Are you okay?"
The nervous questions sounded like an attempt to normalize the situation, establish rapport, but Martha betrayed her insight that Chloe was a million miles from normal. And suddenly Chloe wanted this woman to know her mindset. She wanted to push her into this strange mood too. Maybe she was just tired of feeling alone.
"Just remembering the past, I guess."
Martha's expression turned uneasy at Chloe's tone. Then again, the woman hadn't seen her since she was taken. Chloe supposed she was startled by the difference. The older woman's hand reached out to brush some stray hairs on Chloe's forehead. She would have called it a classic motherly gesture, but didn't really know from first hand experience.
"A lot of people are worried about you Chloe."
Her voice was soft, but her eyes were fixed sharply on Chloe's, trying to bore right in.
From the moment Chloe had met Mrs. Kent, she knew there was much more to her than met the eye. Sharpness of mind had a way of identifying its kindred. She never really talked to Martha Kent at length, no heart to hearts between them, just knowing looks and some kind of mutual understanding. Martha had her ways of letting Chloe know that beneath all of the bubbly snark, she saw a rich inner world. Maybe she knew simply because the two of them were similar creatures. Chloe had always felt a little swell of pride from the thought that she gave Martha a sense of comfort. Letting her know in small ways that, although Jonathan and Clark failed to notice most of the time, someone saw, brewing beneath that perfect farm wife and mother, an intense intellect. A hidden self. Once, Martha's sharp intuition had been a comfort, but at the moment, Chloe didn't want her to look too deeply. They stared at each other for a spell before Chloe broke the silence.
"How's Clark?" She couldn't resist, not that knowing would change much.
"He's fine some days, other days are harder for him."
Chloe could hear caution in her answer. Subtly questioning the motive for asking, protective of her son.
"Has he been in much contact with Lex lately?"
Again, she knew she shouldn't ask. Martha was even more hesitant about that question. Chloe could see her choosing her words carefully.
"Not that I know of. Not since you moved into the mansion, but I suppose you would know more about that than I would, Chloe."
"Well, hopefully they will be able to patch things up after I'm gone. You know what they say, 'Never let the screwed up girl next-door come between a friendship'."
She laughed at her own joke, while Martha continued to watch her.
"They fought over you?" The tone of her voice betrayed that she knew the answer.
"Not over me exactly, more like, over what was best for me."
"Yes indeed, I tried to get across to them that the only person to make the decision was me, but I'm not sure if they really listened."
"But all that happened awhile ago. Why leave now?"
The look in her eye was so knowing. Martha knew what was coming, or maybe she just knew how to ask a question to get the response she wanted. Chloe put a query in her own look; did Martha really want her to say this? It looked as though she did.
"I crushed Clark's faith in me into a thousand pieces and then I fucked Lex Luthor in the bed he so generously allowed me to stay in. I did it all completely intentionally. I've created this whole situation of my own volition, and now I'm running away from the mess I made."
Despite sitting so close, Chloe could feel Martha holding her at a distance. She could tell the woman sensed something foreign in her. It was a keen judgment, but it still stung. Chloe recognized the part of her that still wanted to be the girl Martha had met years ago and adored. Instead, she tried to replace the desire for adoration with the desire to confide.
"Have you ever had the feeling that everything surrounding your life is decaying? Like that impulse to live, to explore, to experience, has been completely snuffed out? My whole life I've always seen the growth in everything around me, life thriving everywhere, beauty in chaos, but everything seems to have turned gray. The surface is the same, but underneath everything has turned still and lifeless. Maybe I see it now because I've joined the ranks. A universe of warm-blooded corpses wandering the earth."
As soon as the words left her mouth she regretted them. Too melodramatic and not quite what she meant, but at the same time she could feel the vulnerability of personal truth being revealed in some small, indirect way.
"I'm not going to pretend that I know what you're feeling, but I will tell you that you're not alone in feeling separated from everything and everyone around you. It happens to most people at one time or another."
Chloe felt the twinge of guilt catch her off guard. True enough. She wasn't the first to suffer, she certainly wouldn't be the last, and her circumstance could have been infinitely worse. She hated herself for not being able to pull out of this and come back into her life, but bitterness had grown too strongly in her, it had taken hold. Martha hesitated uncomfortably before continuing.
"When I was 22 years old I got pregnant, did you know that?" Her question was rhetorical; it was obvious no one knew.
"Clark told me you aren't able to have children, but I don't think even he knows exactly why."
"Jonathan and I had only been married a few months, we hadn't planned on having children for several years. It was a surprise, but I really wasn't upset. I'd know since I was young that I wanted a big family. I know it sounds a little small-town for someone born and raised in Metropolis, but I always knew that raising a house full of children didn't sound like a prison sentence to me the way it did for a lot of my friends from home. For me it was more of a challenge, like my own little sociology experiment in creating a healthy, well-adjusted, egalitarian household. Nave maybe, but I married a farmer, not of some career-obsessed suit, so I thought I would be able to do it."
Chloe could see her begin to detach herself from the memories of her former dreams, as if this were only a recitation and not part of her history.
"It was a difficult pregnancy from the start. I'd been having a lot of... problems, but I wanted that child so badly I thought I could just will it all to work out. I was about five months pregnant when things really started to go wrong. I ended up in the hospital in critical condition. The doctors told Jonathan that the course of treatment I needed would terminate the pregnancy and save my life, or, they could allow me to slip into a coma, bring the baby to full term and risk that I would never wake up. It still sounds like bullshit to me. I fought them so hard. When they first brought me into the hospital, I emphatically told them, several times, to do whatever it took to save that child. Even to Jonathan, I made sure I was clear-- Poor Jonathan, we were so young and he was so scared."
She was getting emotional, trying to fight her way back to telling it like a story instead of a heartbreak.
"Anyway, I'm sure they considered me a completely hysterical and unreasonable woman. So they allowed Jonathan to make the decision after I was too critical to summon the energy to make them understand what my decision was. Jonathan chose my life over that child's. He didn't even look into getting a second opinion-- I can understand, we were still kids and he'd just taken over his parents' farm. Then to have a newborn to raise on his own? It would have been nearly impossible for him. I shouldn't have blamed him, but I did.
"I couldn't even look at him for almost two weeks, and when I was finally allowed to come home from the hospital, I was a living ghost in that house. I remember hearing Jonathan crying up in that stupid barn sometimes, but I couldn't shed a tear. I just alternated between feeling angry and feeling nothing. I was like that for months, completely alone, trapped in my own head. Jonathan tried to help, but he really didn't know what to do. Mostly he just tiptoed around me, left me alone. So the morning of my due date I woke up, drew myself a bath, and used my husband's straight razor to slit my wrists."
Chloe couldn't stop herself from sitting up in surprise. The beautiful, perfect, ever joyful, Martha Kent had tried to kill herself; had felt hatred toward this man she seemed so perfectly in love with.
"Jesus," she whispered. Martha looked her right in the eye.
"Well, I had nothing left. I hated my husband for something that really wasn't his fault. I had already been told that if I ever tried to carry a pregnancy to term again I wouldn't survive. I felt like the entire world had turned dark. And I was so tired, always so tired, I just wanted to rest-- Jonathan found me bleeding and unconscious in the bathtub and when my parents heard about the suicide attempt they immediately had me transferred from Smallville Hospital to some psychiatric facility in Metropolis, spared no expense. It took a week in that hospital before Jonathan came to see me, but instead of inane comfort he came with anger. He yelled at me and I was yelling back. We were having a screaming fight, sobbing, saying horrible things to each other. But strangely enough it was exactly what I needed. After a month in Metropolis I came home and things were rocky, but they got better, and ten years later Clark came along and I felt lucky to be alive."
"I had no idea." Chloe said softly after several minutes of silence. She felt in awe of this woman who had lived a different life for years before her son came along and he knew nothing of it. She felt amazement at the incredible strength that women hide behind the veneer of normalcy. To a certain extent she was doing it herself, wasn't she?
"It hasn't gone away, though, has it? That feeling that you're somehow set apart from them, that you're alone."
"I think a powerful event in anyone's life can awaken that part inside that no one else can touch. No one can possibly understand what you've experienced. So, in that, you will always be alone."
Chloe felt tears welling, a sudden and devastating desire to trust this woman sitting beside her.
"I'm leaving here to go after my mother," she said brokenly, "My motive for doing so may be wholly out of anger and a desire for revenge." She could feel tears breaking over her cheeks.
"Everyone has demons to slay. If you ever need me, you know where you can find me," was Martha's only response, as she wiped a tear from Chloe's cheek, before rising to continue on her way as though she had never stopped.
Eventually Chloe stood too, heading back down that dirt path, getting her money from the bank and leaving everything else. She still felt completely jarred as she drove down the highway toward Metropolis, but Martha had given her something by trusting her with that story. A desire to resolve all this, to resolve what she spent months searching for. Maybe it would give her what she needed.
The busy streets of Metropolis made her blood run faster and her hunger more poignant. She had to admit; the city made her come alive in a way she thought she lost. Amazing, how a simple wardrobe change and a box of Brown Cocoa #5 in her hair had the ability to make all those months of struggle and poor choices feel like they happened to someone else. So here she was, a brand new life as the somber, guarded Lane LaCroix. She felt slightly indulgent using her mother's maiden name as the root of her new identity, but somehow she couldn't resist the idea of having the constant reminder every time she was addressed. The initials LL-- well, she didn't want to explore the motivation behind that too closely, a girlish whim.
She crossed the busy street buried in a crowd of people, rubbing absently at the bridge of her nose; annoyed by the chaffing of the new glasses resting there. She started wearing contacts in the sixth grade and the foreign weight on her face was a nuisance she forgot about more than a decade ago. They would take some getting used to.
The ease of making casual inquiries about employment with contacts from her long-ago, high school internship days at the Planet was surprising. An insignificant entry-level job as a fact checker for the paper materialized almost instantly. Even more impressive considering her falsified resume. She supposed background checks were out of vogue these days. But she was willing to clean toilets if it meant access to information that would lead to her mother. As it turned out, more people were willing to roll over for an aggressive tone of voice behind the title of "fact checker" much more often than they had been for "reporter from local paper". A much less threatening position she supposed; mental note for the future.
Throughout her life she had always felt a certain amount of familiarity in solitude, but her ability to settle quickly and easily into an un-tethered existence worried her at first. The sound of her key sliding into the door of her tiny one-bedroom apartment, however, was beginning to have the cadence of comfort. Home Sweet Home seeped from her lips ironically, happily today, as she let her heavy bag hit the floor with a thud. The stink of fresh paint still lingered on the walls, but she was beginning to forget that she ever lived anywhere else, had ever been anyone else.
Some nights she still woke with the ghost of familiar fingers lingering on her body. Some nights it was that blinding smile of innocence and trust that broke through the glowing embers of her dreaming memory. A pressure, an ache in the chest would consume those early moments, but as she came fully awake she could hardly remember why.
She learned to spend her time as someone invisible these days. All those years spent trying to demonstrate how different she felt on the inside by making her outside so visibly unusual, seemed to mock her now considering whom she'd become. She used to dress in a way to make others take notice, remember her. She wanted everyone to know at one glance that she didn't fit in with her countrified peers. All those years of work undone in a little over three months. She still didn't recognize herself in the mirror, almost hoped she never would.
Invisibility, she was learning, had some amazing perks. No one ever stared at her suspiciously or really saw her as anything but unimportant and benign. She found herself with a startling new ability to gain access to information, simply because she now looked like everybody else. One of the tens of thousands of worker bees in this overpopulated city, she became a number instead of a name. Everybody and nobody, it was amazing.
The research she did while staying with Lex turned out to be very useful. She considered herself lucky to have had that time to familiarize herself with some history about foreign policy. In his attempt to extract information, Gosch inadvertently led her to look in the right places for clues about who her mother had really been. With the Freedom of Information Act, she found quite a few records containing her mother's name. Nothing too cloak and dagger, but enough to prove that her mother had been an operative for the government when she met Chloe's father. The international climate during the time her mother was an active intelligence officer proved to be compelling reading and her own pieced-together knowledge of family history could fill in a lot:
Chloe's mother loved her job. She started a relationship with Gabe, she got pregnant, and decided to keep the baby and marry the father. Soon enough Chloe's father became angry with the frequency that her job took precedence over her family and told her to get her priorities straight. He meant, of course, focusing her attention on himself and their young daughter, but she decided to take her husband's advice, unfortunately not in the way he hoped.
Chloe knew that her father had blamed his wife for her choice, hated her for it, but Chloe had never been able to share his anger. As a child, she held onto that little girl feeling of love for her mother, held onto the desire for her mother to come back, but as she grew older, she started to let go of both love and the desire for her return. Her father could never let go. Strange that she had found hatred for her mother now, when for her whole life she had none. During those long hours in the basement, her mother began to represent for her all the terror and pain that had suddenly taken her life hostage. But she still had difficulty identifying what exactly she wanted from her mother, an apology? Revenge? Sympathy? Answers? All she knew was that the compulsion to find the woman was consuming her.
The breeze was sweeping lightly around the room and Chloe sipped her beer, enjoying the way the overstuffed chair hugged her body. She decided to take a night off from searching, giving her mind time to wander for the first time in weeks. The old record player she bought at a garage sale was spitting out scratchy Miles Davis and she could feel the swell of a sad smile coming on. It was a nice feeling. She could hardly remember the last time she let herself relax. Her eyes were closed; she was breathing-- breathing.
A knock at the door made her body jump, nearly dropping the bottle in her hand. The overly cheery voice that called through the door made her cringe slightly as she pulled herself out of calm and toward the intruding knocking.
Suzie from next door. Very sweet, so enthusiastic, even Chloe's often sullen disposition hadn't deterred this woman from trying to befriend her. A bit like Chloe's former self, she supposed, and maybe the root of why Suzie annoyed her so much. Yet she couldn't help but feel a small affinity toward this person infringing upon her life. She couldn't quite force herself to drive Suzie away for good. Chloe smiled wanly at her after opening the door.
"Laynie! Oh good, you're home. They're having a huge barbeque on the roof. You have to come."
"You always say no. I refuse to take no for an answer. You need to socialize more; meet people; get laid. Plus there's free food and alcohol involved. How can you say no?"
Chloe conjured up images of left over lasagna for the fifth night in a row. What the hell...
"Alright, let me put on some jeans and I'll meet you up there."
"And lipstick," Suzie called out as Chloe began shutting the door, "Guys love those girls with that short, pixie hair, rimmed glasses and bright red lips. We're going to get you some sorely needed action tonight."
The closing door muffled the girl's easy giggle as Chloe rested her forehead against the hard surface for a beat and let out a small sigh. Jesus.
She emerged into the warm, breezy night ten minutes later and dammit if she hadn't put on the fucking lipstick. She toyed with the idea that she might be losing her mind. The roof was lit with Chinese lanterns and citronella candles; dim, but enough to keep the black night at bay. She grabbed a bottle of beer and a seat on the brick rim that outlined the roof's patio, watching the crowd. All the flirtatious talking, heated debates and awkward introductions looked like such strange rituals of the human race from her little corner. She felt so far removed from this world now and hyperaware of those who seemed so good at the meaningless interactions in comparison to those who struggled in them.
She quickly downed her beer, letting the alcohol begin to put its spell on her, enjoying the feeling of being lost in her own mind when Suzie abruptly plopped herself down beside her, producing another bottle. She couldn't ever remember being so grateful for another alcoholic beverage in her whole life.
"Well, you look like you're have a great time."
"Actually, I'm having fun watching people trip all over themselves in drunken conversation. This might be the most exciting thing I've done in weeks, months even."
"Have you picked out any prospects for seduction yet? I've seen some cute ones roaming this roof."
"I haven't been paying that much attention."
"Well, what about that one with the curly hair and sideburns? He's got that slacker, intellectual look going on. Pretty cute."
"Too skinny. What about the one wearing those perfectly fitting khakis? He has quite a lovely ass."
"Quite a lovely ass? Okay, queen mother. Besides, I heard that guy's a total porn junkie. Too creepy. What about that guy in the overalls? He's totally your boyfriend."
Suzie laughed, pointing to a particularly unwashed grease-monger, drinking beer right from the tap. Chloe gave her a smile as she giggled at her own joke. This was nice, a little bit of drunk, meaningless chatting and people watching. It was comfortable.
"Whoa, I found one for you," Suzie said after a moment, "He's at ten o'clock. Black slacks, deep purple shirt. If we were in a room and not on a roof, he would own it."
She let her gaze turn casually to seek out her friend's newest recommendation, but when her eyes hit on him, her whole body jumped.
She felt a rising panic, a desperate need to get off the roof, but the beer seemed to be preventing her from coming up with a quick and inconspicuous way to do it.
Why had she come here? She should be smarter than this. She'd been so careful for so long, had just wanted one night off and something like this happens.
Staring stupidly into the distance, she felt her heart racing, but her brain was frozen. She didn't even notice the person approaching on her right. Suzie turned her gaze up at his approach, but Chloe noticed nothing until she heard his voice.
"Sorry to bother you, but I'm supposed to meet my friend at this party and I can't seem to find her."
She didn't even have to look up. She knew that this was it; she'd been found.
"What's your friend's name, maybe I know her," Suzie answered, more than a little bit of flirt in her voice.
"Her name's Chloe."
"I don't know any Chloes, what does she look like?"
"Short, blond hair...actually I have a picture in my wallet."
The transparency of his act was laughable. Just happened to keep a picture in his wallet. She felt slightly embarrassed for him on principle. Suzie took the picture, only half glancing at it before passing it on to Chloe. Taken the summer after they graduated from high school, almost seven years ago, the snapshot showed Clark with his arm around her in front of Niagara Falls. Pete had taken the picture on a stop during their post-grad road trip. The vacation had been a strange sort of homage to the close little trio they'd once been. Chloe could hardly believe the full pink cheeks she had sported, how young they both looked. Her face had become so angular and shadowed, changing without her even noticing.
She lingered on the picture, finally turning to look up at Clark for the first time since he spoke. He looked tired, older somehow.
Her voice wasn't much more than a whisper. She handed the picture back to him, waiting for the moment of recognition to dawn on his face. But there was nothing, he only smiled sadly and walked away with a quick thanks.
"Hey if you don't find her I'm willing to fill in." Suzie called after him, leering at his retreating figure.
"Damn," she continued to Chloe after he left, "Was he the most perfect specimen you've ever seen?"
"I'm going to the ladies room."
Chloe could only choke out the words, already walking away. She slipped quickly back inside the building, tripping hurriedly down the stairs. Practically running for her apartment, she barely made it to the toilet before emptying the contents of her stomach into the porcelain basin. Retching and hacking before unfolding onto the floor and rolling to her back. She asked the ceiling what the hell to do next.
Okay, just relax.
All she had to do was calm down. Clark obviously hadn't recognized her and Lex hadn't even come within ten feet. She was much more concerned about Lex. Clark's emotionality had obviously blinded him to more subtle clues. She knew that with Lex, she wouldn't be so lucky. He would pick up on the nuances. He would be paying attention. Chloe felt, first hand, the sharpness of that mind.
She lay on the floor, waiting for her pulse to slow, for the nausea to pass, for her strategic mind to kick in. She needed to have a clearer picture of what was going on with the two men in order to protect herself.
How much did they know?
What exactly did they have planned?
How had they gotten to this place?
She needed someone to get information out of them and Suzie was going to have to be her ears. She didn't want to risk trying to eavesdrop on the two.
After several moments of blind panic, she began to formulate a plan of action, or at least some semblance of an idea regarding how to handle the situation. She finally stood with effort, gazing at the foreign reflection staring at her from the mirror above the sink. The cold, focused disposition she let slip when the night began stirred again throughout her body.
This occurrence was nothing if not a wake up call. She'd been deluding herself with the idea that she could relax into this life she created. A simple change of name and address and she allowed a false sense of security to lull her into a compromising position.
Hadn't she known that Lex would try to find her?
She knew the way he operated, after all. In the back of her mind, from the moment she stepped out of his door, the idea lingered that he wouldn't be able to just ignore the allure of discovering everything she was hiding. Or forget what had happened between them. Even she could barely escape the memory of his voice reverberating on her skin and she had become an expert at forgetting.
In a way, she saw this coming. Lex was a powerful man with endless influence, funds, and information at his fingertips, accompanied by a tendency toward obsession. If he wanted to find her, not much would stop him. After nearly three months without incident, however, she assumed he decided not to pursue her whereabouts, so she relaxed. But now-- She just needed a little more time to finish this; she was too close. Resolute in her need to grab the upper hand in this situation, she turned quickly from her reflection and headed back to the roof.
The crowd had grown thick, making the search for Suzie present a greater challenge, but luck was with her. Her friend walked right by and Chloe pulled her aside from the party.
"Laynie! There you are. You took off like a shot before I could fully appreciate with you the hotness of that guy."
When she received no reply, Suzie took a moment to study Chloe's face, concern passing over her light expression.
"Hey, are you okay?"
"No. I need you to do something for me. This is important. Look at me."
Chloe said all of this quietly, not meaning to put so much venom in her voice. Suzie revealed a notch of fear when her eyes widened. Good. Let her be scared, she'll take her assignment that much more seriously.
"Those two men talking in the far corner. One of them spoke with us earlier, remember?"
"Of course I remember, what the hell..."
Suzie let out a small yip as Chloe squeezed the grip she had on her arm a little tighter, a subtle threat.
"I want to know why they're here and how they found this place. I don't care if you eavesdrop, or strike up a conversation, or sleep your way to an answer, just do this for me."
"I don't get it, what's the big..."
"Listen, I need you to not ask questions right now, okay. Just don't mention me and don't be too obvious. Get what you can, stick with the dark haired guy, and if the bald one looks like he's getting suspicious just drop it."
"This is insane. You've completely lost it."
Chloe grabbed her roughly, this time by the upper arms and looked her directly in the face.
"I don't have time to talk you into this. I just need you to do it. Do you understand me?"
Throughout the exchange, the doubt and confusion in Suzie's face shifted to fearful shock before she acquiesced.
"Alright. I'll do it, okay" Her voice shook slightly. The urgent demands had put her on the defensive.
Chloe let out the breath she'd been holding and nodded in relief. Suzie gave one last look before turning around and walking away.
She remained in her shadowed corner as Suzie moved toward the pair. They noticed nothing at first. Clark was talking softly at Lex, while the older man kept his concentration on the crowd, his eyes constantly moving, watching. But soon enough, Suzie casually approached and engaged them in conversation. Her grandiose manner left little room for speculation about any ulterior motives. Over the top flirtation turned out to be the perfect cover. As she looked on, Chloe's heart nearly jumped out of her chest when Lex's eyes left Suzie for a moment and focused right on her own location. She was sure he had seen, but continued to remain absolutely still, frozen. Eventually his gaze moved on and Chloe let out a nervous laugh, but couldn't shake the idea that he already knew she was there; he just couldn't quite find her. It was enough to spook her off the roof to wait in Suzie's apartment. As she lay waiting on the other woman's couch, she tried to ignore the twinges of jealousy and loss emerging from her inability to allow herself near these men. They were from someone else's life, after all.
Lane LaCroix had never loved anyone. There was nothing to mourn.
Chloe awoke to harsh light flooding the room and sat up instantly, disoriented. She hadn't meant to fall asleep.
"Don't worry Lane, it's just little old me. Or maybe I should call you Chloe?" She couldn't hide her flinch at Suzie's bitter tone and the way she failed to call her by the nickname she adopted almost immediately after their first meeting. At least the woman had done a competent snoop job, "Did you know the man you had me talking to up there was Lex Luthor? THE Lex Luthor?"
"I'm surprised you didn't recognize him from all the publicity he gets in the papers."
Chloe's voice was sleepy and dark. She couldn't hide her ironic cadence.
"Well, I guess I just didn't expect to see him at a roof party in the shit part of town. Call me crazy, but recognition took awhile to click."
"You know what? Before you start in with the questions and the ambiguously threatening tones, I want to know some things." Suzie's face twisted up in anger and hurt as she spoke, bitterness permeated her voice. Oh god, what had she been told? "Why are Lex Luthor and... whoever the hell that other guy is following him around like a mopey puppy dog, so interested in finding you?"
"I'm surprised you're asking. It sounds like you found out plenty on your own. How much did they tell you?"
"Jesus Christ, Laynie! They hardly told me anything. I have no idea if I should help hide you or call the cops. You went completely psycho and threatened me into spending the most bizarre hour of my life trying to pump information from Lex *fucking* Luthor without looking suspicious. Every time he looked at me I felt like he could see right through me. What the hell was he doing here?"
Chloe stood up abruptly, eyes widening.
"Did you tell him anything?"
Suzie took a step backward, her gaze narrowing in distrust.
"Who are you?"
"Lex and Clark are old friends." Chloe said evasively, not answering the question.
"Well they sure as hell are busting their asses to find you, friends or not. That guy, Clark, was so miserable. He seemed completely depressed. I just got a vibe from that dude that all was not well. And, Lex! So goddamned intense I thought I was going to piss myself."
"Why are they here?"
"On a tip that some skittish young blond using fake references moved into the building last week. I guess Luthor has people red flagging this whole city, if you can believe it. Little does he know they're flagging all the wrong types. Must be why hits are few and far between for those wonder boys."
"He should know better." Chloe mumbled to herself, hastily pulling on her boots, "What else?" Her adrenaline was pumping now. They knew so much less than she thought.
"Nothing, it took me an hour to get that much out of them. Well, out of Clark, really...what are you doing?"
"I have to go."
"You don't even fucking care, do you? You're not even going to apologize for using me like this."
"I'm sorry Suzie. I never meant for you to get involved."
But she was already out the door heading back to her own apartment.
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