Disclaimer: Smallville and all related elements, characters and indicia © Tollin-Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television, 2002. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situationssave those created by the authors for use solely on this websiteare copyright Tollin-Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster.
Author's Note: Contains some strong language, and a lot of very weird events. I mean really weird. Weirder than usual, even for Smallville.
You'd Better Not Go Down To The Woods Today
'If you go down to the woods today,
--(Teddy-Bear's Picnic, artist unknown)
"I'm just saying, it's disturbing," Pete said firmly. "Creepy. Weird. I'm concerned by this."
"You're overreacting," Clark said soothingly, with that goofy all-will-be-well-tra-la-la smile of his. "Really, I think this is a good thing."
Pete gave his tragically clueless best friend a reproachful look. "Clark, Lex Luthor is cosying up to Chloe. OUR Chloe. Our trusting, very small best buddy. I don't like this."
"I've been encouraging it, kinda," Clark said a little sheepishly. "You know. Subtlely."
Subtle. Clark had been subtle. Oh, god, it was all over. "You have?"
"Sure. Lex is a good guy, he just needs to... you know... get out and meet people a bit." Clark gave Pete an earnest, puppyish look. "And Chloe... well..." He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "I dunno if you've noticed this, Pete, but Chloe's a lot smarter than we are. She needs intellectual conversation, you know? And Lex is smart. They can talk about..." he waved his hands vaguely. "Philosophy and stuff."
Pete raised an eyebrow. "This from the man who reads Nietzche for fun."
"I READ it, Pete. That doesn't mean I GET it." Clark smiled hopefully. "It'll be good for them, having a nice intellectual conversation with someone new."
"I can't believe you've never seen 101 Dalmations. It's a classic!" Chloe said enthusiastically. "Although given the underlying 'greed is bad, poor and honest is good' themes, I'm not surprised your Dad didn't let you watch it. It might have given you Bad Ideas."
"I just don't like cutesy fuzzy animals," Lex said mildly. Watching Chloe go from monosyllabic grunts to full-blown Chloeness in the course of one espresso was quite fascinating, and well worth getting up early himself for. "Especially Disney. They anthropomorphize the things to such an extent that they're like human beings in puppy suits."
"Well, yeah. Hey, what about Beauty and the Beast? Did you ever see that?" Chloe downed the last of her espresso and waved for another.
"No. The only animated movie I've ever seen is 'Akira'." Lex sipped his coffee, confidently awaiting the puzzled look.
Once again, Chloe surprised him. "Ah! An anime man!" she grinned. "Hey, what about 'Appleseed'? Now that's a good movie. Political conflict, moral murk, the intrinsic conflict involved in giving human beings freedom of choice while attempting to make them conform to a utopian ideal of society...."
Lex shook his head, giving her a tiny, amused smile. "And ten minutes ago you couldn't get all the way through 'Good morning, Lex' without yawning," he noted.
"Then I hadn't had coffee. Our machine broke. It was bad. I think Dad was on the verge of tears." She grinned impishly and started on the fresh cup that had materialized in front of her. "Coffee makes the Sullivans go."
"Ah." He sipped his own coffee. Coffee made the Lex go, too, when you got right down to it, but he had enough coffee-makers that he NEVER had to leave the house without it. "That would explain Clark's subtle hints that I should give you a ride to here, and then to school."
She giggled. "Clark and his subtle anvils," she grinned. "My car is dead. And the schoolbus doesn't stop for coffee. And he just happened to mention these things to you, in an oh-poor-Chloe-what-shall-we-do kind of way. Am I warm?"
"You're all but on fire." Lex smiled again. "You know, if you'd called and asked for a ride, that wouldn't have been a problem."
"I know. But you're busy." She gave him a big, beaming Chloe-smile, guaranteed to brighten anyone's day. "I don't always listen to the details, because they're often gross, but dad does mention when there are problems at the plant."
"I see." And he did. Chloe was impulsive and heedless at times, but never inconsiderate. He should have realized that she'd know he was busy, and not want to take up time he didn't have to spare. That was one of the many reasons why their brief encounter at the Thompson barn - and didn't that sound much more risque than the actual event had been - was rapidly becoming a tentative sort of friendship. "It's not much out of my way. I usually stop for coffee anyway."
"Well, it's appreciated. Monosyllable-Monster Chloe doesn't learn well." She looked at her watch, and winced. "But we should get going, or we'll both be late. Want to continue this discussion over more coffee later? I always say, if you know what kind of movies a person likes, you know a lot about them."
"If you like." Lex nodded, finishing his coffee and getting to his feet. "Say... six o'clock? Here?"
"Sure." She polished off the rest of her coffee like an alcoholic slugging back a glass of scotch. "Lead the way, oh car-driving Ned-man."
"Gabe, I heard your coffee machine is broken."
"If you need coffee, you can use the machine in my office. Really. Nobody else is allowed to, but I just saw Chloe before her morning caffiene fix. If your brain ever switches off like that, the plant's in big trouble."
"Uh... thank you, Lex."
"Any time. I need your brain to be working."
Pete didn't usually like the woods, but when a man needed some uninterrupted thinking time after school, you couldn't beat a bunch of trees for company. They never said things like 'Pete, where's the article you promised me', 'Pete, I think Lex and Chloe should be friends', 'Pete, is your homework all done?'. Trees just made rusting and creaking noises, which they didn't expect him to respond to in any way.
Lex and Chloe. Hanging out. She was meeting him for coffee later, she'd said. Okay, she'd SAID it was just to talk, but Pete wouldn't put it past Luthor to be making some kind of move. Chloe WAS very cute, and sweet, and she had great legs, and... okay, Pete, get back to the point here. We're not mentally ogling Chloe, we're being suspicious. Okay? Okay.
Chloe was a definite hottie. Check. And charming and honest and spontaneous and unconventional, which were surely qualities unusual in the sort of women Lex Luthor usually spent time with. So it wasn't outside the realms of possibility that he might be interested, even if she was only fifteen and it was extremely gross for him to even think such a thing. He wasn't exactly overburdened with scruples, was he?
Why couldn't he go chase Lana for a while? Everyone else did. What made Lex Luthor so damn special that he couldn't settle for the One True Babe of Smallville like everyone else? Well, everyone else except Pete. Lana's sweetness-and-light attitude kind of annoyed him. It was like she had this impenetrable facade of goodness that kept you from getting to know her properly.
Damn Luthor and his impeccable taste in babes!
Well, Pete was not going to stand for it. He was going to talk with Chloe, try to put her on her guard a little. Maybe point out the basic weirdness of a guy in his twenties whose friends were all highschool kids. And...
Pete took in the information his eyes were giving him. He examined it, refuted it as impossible. Checked with his eyes again. They passed back the same information. Pete's brain slowly unfused and reminded him that he was in Smallville, Capital City Of Weird Shit.
Meanwhile, realizing that his brain was fully occupied, his feet took the initiative.
Chloe poked at next week's edition of the Torch. Mostly done, except for an article she still had to squeeze out of Clark. Gneh. This was such a boring edition, being responsible and not tabloidy sucked. Oh, well. She could always try to brighten it up by... by... well, naked pictures of the football team would up circulation quite a bit. It'd get her fired, again, but she'd have readership... Hours to kill before coffee date, bored bored bored...
And she couldn't even bug Lex for an interview on account of she was trying to make friends. And there were strict and complicated taking-advantage-of rules for people who you wanted to be friends with. You could let them buy you coffee, but not food. You could bum a ride to school, but not an interview. It was all a bit touchy, really. Poot. Maybe something controversial like a poll on how many students - male and female - habitually wore g-string underwear to school? That'd get the readership up a bit. In more ways than one, hee hee, what a naughty editor she was...
"Pete!" She brightened up. Pete was usually kinda quiet, but he was much better company than her own bored and increasingly weird thoughts. "What's up?"
Pete shifted nervously from foot to foot. "Chloe, I saw a dinosaur."
She blinked. "What?"
"In the woods. I'm not kidding, I saw a dinosaur." He was giving her an unfamiliar worried, twitchy, I-do-not-believe-this-what-my-eyes-are-telling-me look. "It was huge and it had teeth and it looked a lot like those raptor things in Jurassic Park. Big wall of weird thing. Get your camera, and we'll go get pictures. And probably get devoured."
"I'm not sure I want to get devoured," Chloe said dubiously, stuffing her camera hastily into her bag. "Where is it?"
"I don't think we'll have trouble finding it." He pointed at her, grinning a little in spite of his obvious worry. "This is your fault. I saw a dinosaur and instead of running away like a sane person, I'm just stopping to get a photographer before going back to find it. I blame you for this. You infected me with your journalistic-fervour germs."
"You'll thank me one day," she grinned. "And admit it, you just want someone else to see it so you'll know you're not crazy."
He rolled his eyes at her. "Chloe, I'm going back to look for the damn thing. We've already established that I'm crazy. The question is, am I hallucinating too?"
"You're doing WHAT?" Lex catapaulted out of his chair.
"Looking for a dinosaur. Pete says he saw one," Chloe's voice, rendered thin and tinny by the magic of cellular phones, explained reasonably. "I just wanted to let you know I might not make it for coffee later. I'll probably be late, anyway."
"A dinosaur. If we didn't live in Smallville..." He rubbed a hand over his head, trying not to let the agitation he was feeling leak into his voice. "Chloe, please tell me it was a gentle herbivore which you plan to lure into captivity with a trail of organic produce."
"Here in Smallville?"
"It looks like Godzilla, doesn't it."
"Pete says it's only about eight feet tall."
"But it looks like Godzilla."
"And it's not very fast."
"But it looks like Godzilla."
"And it didn't seem all that interested in him when he saw it last time."
"More like a big velicoraptor, Pete says."
"Aren't they the ones that were smart enough to open doors?"
"Hey, you saw Jurassic Park too? We'll discuss that later. But anyway, that whole doors thing was in a movie. Movies,despite being very cool and interesting to talk about, aren't real."
"Neither are dinosaurs!"
She sighed impatiently. "Lex, I'm hanging up. I'll see you at the Talon later, okay?"
"Wait! Chloe, just let me talk to Clark for a second."
"He has chores."
"He's not with you!?"
"We didn't want him to get in trouble!"
"As opposed to YOU getting in trouble?"
"I've got Pete. Pete's a perfectly good Useful Guy."
"He's not the Rescue King of Smallville. Where are you?"
"You're not coming."
"I am too. And so is Clark. I'm going to go get him, and we can go dinosaur hunting with numbers on our side."
"We're already there. By the time you get here we'll have found it already. RELAX, Lex. If it didn't chase Pete last time, it won't chase us this time. We're just going to get a few pictures, that's all."
"Chloe, that's the stupidest plan I ever... Chloe? Chloe!"
She'd hung up on him!
"I swear, every single one of you guys thinks I'm insane!" Chloe grumbled, turning the phone off so Lex couldn't call back and criticize her plan some more. "We're in the woods. There are plenty of trees around to climb if there's a problem. And there's no way a raptor could climb a tree with those little puny arms. Why does everyone always assume that I don't think about things before I do them?"
"Because you usually don't?" Pete said helpfully.
"Don't you start, Ross. This was all your idea, anyway. I'm not taking the fall for this one, you are."
"Don't remind me," he grumbled. "You're infectious. I blame you for me being completely insane." And now that he thought about it, running back to get Chloe and heading into the woods - on foot, at that! - to find the 'dinosaur' again was completely insane. It was the act of a lunatic. "Feel my forehead. Maybe I'm feverish."
Chloe obligingly felt his forehead. "Nope. You didn't see any meteor rocks around, did you?"
"Chloe, the dinosaur kinda had my full attention. I didn't check around the area for meteor rocks or ordinary rocks dinosaur crap or anything before I ran away, I just ran away!"
"Good point." Chloe hefted her camera. "So... are we there yet?"
"Nearly." He pointed down the faint track. "Right down there there's this little clearing. It was just standing there, looking around. It looked...." He frowned thoughtfully. "It looked like it was waiting for something. I know it saw me, but it just wasn't interested. Whatever it was waiting for, I wasn't it."
"And... whatever it was, it's not waiting any more," Chloe said, sounding disappointed, as they reached the now-empty clearing. "No dinosaur, darnit."
"It was here. Chloe, I swear to God it was here."
"I know." Chloe gave him a reassuring smile and a pat on the arm. "Pete, I know you. I know you wouldn't have come bolting into the Torch whimpering about a dinosaur if you hadn't really, truly seen one."
"I didn't whimper!" Pete retorted, stung. "I was out of breath! That was all!"
"Uh-huh." Chloe looked around, looked down, beamed, and pointed. "Hey, look, huge footprints. See? You're not crazy after all."
"No, Chloe, we've established conclusively that I'm crazy. All the dinosaur footprints prove is that I'm not the hallucinating kind."
Clark looked up from hauling bags of fertilizer when he heard the screech of abused brakes and suffering tires. Lex was here. Oops. He hastily dropped one of the bags and shoved it to one side with his foot, and tried to make the one bag he was still carrying look terribly heavy and hard to lift as he staggered around the side of the barn. "Lex... hi..." he panted, dropping the bag onto the truck and leaning against it. "What-"
Lex looked... well, flustered. His tie was askew and his eyebrows were twitching and his lips were in a tight, thin line, the way they always were when he was holding something in. And he'd hurled himself out of his car and sprinted over to Clark instead of casually sauntering as he usually did. "Chloe and Pete are out hunting a dinosaur."
Clark blinked. "They're what?"
Lex rolled his eyes. "Chloe said that Pete said he saw something that looked like an extra from 'Jurassic Park' and so, of course, they've gone off alone and probably unarmed to track it down and take pictures of it," he explained, talking faster than Clark had ever heard him talk. "We have to find them before they get themselves killed."
"A... dinosaur?" Clark asked weakly.
"We live in Smallville, Clark," Lex reminded him, glaring impatiently. "Is a dinosaur really that much more implausible than naked, rose-paste-smeared invisible homicidal teenagers?"
"Well, when you put it like that... uh... no?" Clark sighed. "We better go find them. DAD!" he bellowed.
Jonathon stuck his head out of the barn door. "What?"
"Chloe's journalistic fervour's getting her in trouble again. We're going to go rescue her," Clark explained. "I'll finish this when I get back, okay?"
Jonathon barely hesitated. "Okay. But don't take too long!" Chloe being in trouble - again - clearly outweighed Luthor-presence.
"Good." Lex hauled Clark bodily to his car. "I'd say I can't believe they did this, but I'm talking about Chloe, so of course I can believe it," he muttered. "How can someone so intelligent keep doing such totally moronic things?!"
"She's not... they're not moronic, exactly," Clark said lamely, feeling he should defend his best friend. "She's just... uh..."
"Impulsive to the point of suicide?" Lex asked acidly, putting on his seatbelt and pulling away from the farm at something approaching lightspeed. "I noticed. And I have no idea where the hell they are. Pete was out in the woods when he spotted it, though, so is there any place Pete likes to go? We'll start there."
"Pete doesn't like woods much. I guess we should head for his house first, and start from around there..." Clark said weakly, watching the road flash past. He went faster than this when he was running, of course, but that was different. He knew where he stood, with his feet. Lex's driving he wasn't quite so confident about. "Uh... if we don't know where we're going, maybe we could not go there quite so fast?"
Lex gave him an almost sheepish look, and slowed down noticeably. "Sorry," he muttered. "I'm just... a little concerned."
About Chloe, Clark knew. Lex didn't like Pete much, and Pete loathed Lex. Neither would mourn if the other were eaten by a dinosaur. But it was good that Lex was worried about Chloe. Clearly Clark's cunning plan to have them hang out and become friends was working. He grinned. "How did you know they were going, anyway?"
"Chloe called me to say she might not be able to meet me for coffee this afternoon," Lex explained. "We were going to... talk about movies. And now we're apparently in one." He smiled humourlessly. "I tried to call back, but she wouldn't answer the phone." Without looking away from the road, he tossed his cellphone to Clark. "Try her again, okay? See if you can find out where she is."
"Yeah, sure." Clark tried... and, while he was at it, employed the cunning strategy of looking out the window. He might, he reasoned hopefully, see something. Although after a moment he discovered that trying to use x-ray vision while moving very quickly sideways made you very carsick indeed. "She's not answering. She might have it switched off. She switches it off when she doesn't want people to bug her."
"Damn," Lex muttered. "Typical. When we find her, we're going to have to hit her over the head and toss her in the trunk to get her away from whatever it is, you do realize that."
"Yeah," Clark said gloomily. Having a secret identity was hard enough without having a best friend who was so totally prone to getting into trouble. "Or maybe sedate her. You wouldn't have a tranquilliser gun in the trunk, would you?"
Clark blinked. "You do?"
"Clark, we're going out hunting a dinosaur. I grabbed every useful weapon I could find. Tranquilliser gun, hunting rifle, and you."
Clark blinked worriedly. "Lex, I'm not a-"
"You're the luckiest person on the face of the earth. That counts."
"Right. Okay. Whatever you say." Clark winced as the car sped up again. "Please slow down. I'm not going to be able to pull your body from the wreckage of the car if I'm in it with you when it crashes."
"Sorry." Lex slowed down a tiny bit. "I just... is she ALWAYS like this?"
"Pretty much." Clark smiled lopsidedly. "You get used to it."
"Wonderful. I always wanted to be institutionalized before turning twenty-five."
Pete tried to push Chloe's foot off his neck. "Recap," he moaned weakly. "I need recap..."
"We walked into the clearing to look at the dinosaur prints, I took a few pictures, then suddenly there were crazy mushrooms that grabbed us and tied us up," Chloe said flatly, considerately shifting her bound feet off his neck and onto his chest.
"Crazy mushrooms, right." Pete closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. Still in strange, weird-smelling room inside giant mushroom. "Recap that makes sense, I need recap that makes sense...."
"Well, we walked into a ring of those mushrooms right before the world turned into a bad, seriously crazy place," Chloe said hesitantly.
"Chloe Sullivan, if you say we're in this mess because we walked into a fairy ring, I'm going to dislocate both my shoulders in order to untie myself, drag myself over there, and bite your nose right off your face, I swear to God."
"Fine. Won't say it then."
There was a long pause.
"Anyway, nowhere in ANY of the stories does it say you can find dinosaurs in fairy rings."
"I'm not saying a word...."
"Look, there's got to be some perfectly normal freak behind this. It's a mass hallucination or something, induced by some sicko with a fantasy fetish."
"Very likely." Chloe's voice had an odd, tense quality to it, he noticed belatedly. "Pete, can you see anything but the ceiling?"
"I haven't tried looking at anything else yet, why?"
"Look down at yourself."
Pete looked. "I'm wearing pirate clothes," he said after a long, startled moment. "What the hell...." He turned his head, and saw more of Chloe than he'd ever seen before. "...whoa..."
"Short, blonde, and funky hairstyle clearly says to someone 'put me in a Tinkerbell outfit," Chloe said, resentment dripping from every syllable. "And Ross, don't think I can't tell that you're trying to see up it. Quit that."
Pete reluctantly dragged his eyes away from Chloe's thighs and short green skirt and a tantalizing glimpse or two of lemon-yellow underwear. "Okay. Focusing on the problem. Any ideas on how we get out of this?"
"We're in a mushroom. If we can untangle ourselves, it's not going to be all that hard to break out of." Chloe wriggled a bit. Pete heroically resisted the temptation to look up her skirt again. "Shut your eyes while I try and move around so we're back to back. I'm pretty good at untying knots without being able to see them."
Pete shut his eyes tightly. "How do you know? That you're good at it, I mean."
"I've practiced," she admitted after a long moment, sounding a bit sheepish.
"...why?" Pete asked cautiously, grinning a bit. "You got some kind of kinky fetish thing that I need to know about before I let you get your hands on my bound body?"
He could almost hear Chloe rolling her eyes. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Pete. I just felt like knowing how. I mean, I wanna be an investigative reporter, remember? This happens to the pros all the time."
"Including the Tinkerbell outfit?"
"God, I hope not. If this is going to happen to me again, I think I'll be a chef instead. Or maybe an undertaker. Undertakers never get kidnapped."
"They've got to be around here somewhere," Clark insisted, with more hope than conviction, as they headed down the most promising of several narrow paths. "If Pete went into the woods on his own, it'd be here... somewhere..."
Lex was stamping along beside him, looking positively irate. "Why is it always in the woods? Why can't these things ever happen in civilized hotel-rooms or pleasant small parks?" he was muttering. Clark had convinced him to leave the rifle behind, but the tranquillizer gun was tucked in a businesslike way under one arm.
"Because it's harder to hide a dinosaur in a small park than it is in the woods?" Clark pointed out reasonably.
Lex gave him a dirty look. "That's not the point, Clark."
"Sorry," Clark said meekly. Lex's mood had deteriorated dramatically since they'd lost sight of his car. He really wasn't a very woodsy type of guy. "Uh... so... you have a tranquillizer gun. Uhm... why?"
"Because I live in Smallville!" Lex snapped grumpily.
A logical answer, couldn't argue with that... "Hey. Look over here." They'd come up on a little clearing in the trees, and Clark hurried closer. "Look! Big, clawed footprints... you think they really did see a dinosaur?"
"Probably." Lex hefted the tranquillizer gun, looking around worriedly. "Clark, maybe you shouldn't go in there... "
"Relax, Lex, there's nothing here now. I think I see Pete and Chloe's footprints." Clark sidled along, examining the muddy ground. "They go all the way to this little circle of mushroom things and then-"
"This is not my fault," Lex muttered, his eyes still tightly closed. "For once, the trouble I'm in is entirely and completely the doing of others." Fortified by this knowledge, he dared to open one eye. "Oh."
He was strapped to some sort of... something, he couldn't see what. And he had a hat on, he could tell, and when he looked down at himself he was...
...dressed like Indiana Jones?
"Oh, heads will roll for this," he muttered, craning his neck and looking around as much as he could. He couldn't see anyone else, just some of himself, and what looked like the contents of a props-warehouse for a company that made B-grade fantasy movies. He could see a small cluster of toadstool houses, a small sandy arena, what looked like a dragon-skin stretched out to dry on the wall of what looked like a longhouse...
All right. Clearly he was in the hands of a dangerous lunatic of some kind. Again. Well, he knew what to do about that. "Clark?" he called hopefully.
"I told you not to come!" a voice snarled from behind him and then... and then...
Lex blinked in shock as Chloe marched around into his field of vision. She... was wearing a Tinkerbell outfit. Okay, Indiana wasn't so bad after all. "Chloe?" he asked, wondering if he was hallucinating.
She stamped a tiny pom-pom-tipped slipper. "Who were you expecting? The tooth fairy?" She reached up to start unbuckling the straps holding him to whatever it was. "And you don't look any less silly than I do," she added crossly.
Lex wasn't listening. His attention was fixed on the red welts that ran around her small wrists. "What happened?" he asked grimly.
"Pete and I got caught and tied up. And NOT by the dinosaur, so don't even think about saying anything approximating 'I told you so'," she said grumpily, finishing untying him and helping him to step away from whatever it was he'd been tied to.
"I don't think I have to," Lex pointed out, looking her up and down. Absently he reached up and felt around. Yes, that was an Indiana Jones hat. "All right. Any theories?"
"Crazy person?" Chloe shrugged. "This is Smallville. There's almost always some kind of nutcase behind the weirdness."
"A brilliant deduction, Nancy," Lex said a little sarcastically. "Can you narrow it down a little?"
She stuck out her tongue at him. "Well, they don't seem violent, exactly. Nobody's tried to kill us yet, anyway."
Lex pulled off his hat and felt his head anxiously. "And nobody's hit me on the head yet.... I think... do you see any bumps? Bruises? Lobotomy scars?" He leaned over so she could see.
Investigative fingers wandered over his scalp. "Nope. Hey, no concussion. That's a plus."
"I'm in favour of it," Lex agreed. "Is Pete with you?"
"He's around someplace. He was right behind me, but then I saw you strung up and all unconsciousy so I came over to untie you." She looked around. "Pete? Where are you?"
Pete's voice, oddly muffled, rose from behind the longhouse. "I'm over here. Uh... I found Clark... He's unconscious, but he seems okay..." The voice trailed off into a choking noise.
Lex and Chloe exchanged alarmed looks, and rounded the longhouse as fast as they could, given the exigencies of limbs stiff from being tied and impractical pom-pom slippers. "Pete, are you okay?" Chloe was calling anxiously. "Is HE oh... kay... oh my..."
Lex couldn't blame her. He suspected Chloe had something of a crush on Clark and... well... this was probably more of Clark than she'd ever seen before. It certainly explained Pete's desperate attempts to muffle howls of laughter. "Tarzan, I presume," Lex said, with the smug grin of a man who knows he is the only person in the group who still has trousers on. (Pete's knee-length, rather tattered nether garments didn't count)
"Uh-huh...." Chloe said weakly, clearly mesmerized by the large expanses of muscle now on display.
Since Pete had now collapsed onto the ground clutching his stomach, and Chloe was still frozen to the spot, Lex leaned over to shake Clark's shoulder as he lay carefully laid out on what looked like a stone altar of some kind. "Clark? Wake up. We're either on one of the stranger reality tv shows, or... well, the possibility that I've gone stark staring mad is always plausible..."
Clark's eyes drifted open, and he frowned. "I... what? We were in the clearing, and then suddenly everything went black, and..." He sat up, and looked down at himself. The raging blush that swept over his face as he realized what he was wearing sent Pete into fresh paroxysms of laughter, and made even Lex chuckle inwardly. "We think you're supposed to be Tarzan," he said, keeping his face straight with some effort. "I'm Indiana Jones, and I'm sure you recognize Tinkerbell and Long John Silver."
Tarzan looked at Tinkerbell, and his jaw dropped. "I... uh... huh?" he said plaintively.
Chloe scowled. "When I find whoever did this to me..."
"It could be worse," Pete said helpfully, giving her legs an admiring look. "You could be dressed as... I dunno... Sleeping Beauty or something. All long skirts and petticoats and corsetry. At least you've got... uh... freedom of movement."
Chloe expressed her freedom of movement by applying a pom-pom slipper to his rear as he scrambled to his feet. "You're enjoying this WAY too much," she growled. "Okay. We're going to find whoever it is that's doing this, and beat the stuffing out of them. That's the plan." She actually managed to keep her voice level as she looked at Clark, despite his ripplingly muscular semi-nudity. Lex was rather proud of her. "Get up off that thing. We're going hunting NOW."
"Okay," Clark said meekly, scrambling to his feet and promptly trying to hide behind Lex, who had to muffle another snicker. Yes, it was good to be the only man still possessed of trousers.
"Running away will do you no good," a male voice boomed from the other side of the longhouse. "Come out where I can see you, little mortals!"
There was a long pause. "Little mortals?" Chloe mouthed, looking furious.
"Come out!" the voice boomed again.
"...Why?" Pete called suspiciously. It was a much more intelligent question than Lex would have expected from him.
"Because if you don't, Fluffy will bite you," a second voice called. This one was petulant, and female.
"Is Fluffy the dinosaur?" Pete called back, anxiously.
Lex heard a growl, and looked around. "I think Fluffy is the particularly large Bengal tiger behind us," he said as calmly as he could. "Unless Clark would like to see if he's achieved mastery over the beasts of the jungle along with his leopard-skin loincloth...."
"We're coming!" Pete called hastily. "There's no need to get... uh... Fluffy all riled up!"
They sidled around the building, Clark still blushing furiously and trying to hide behind everyone else, and Chloe stamping along in front looking mightily pissed off, and ready to kick the ass of anyone who got in her way. Much like Tinkerbell, in fact, who as Lex recalled had been a Class A bitch. Good casting, that.
The source of the booming voice proved to be a big, muscular guy with gleaming eyes, flowing hair, a strong chin, and the action hero look reminiscent of a tanned condom full of walnuts. Lex scowled. He might have his trousers and therefore his dignity, but he was starting to suspect that that was only because he was the least muscular guy present by a significant margin.
He took comfort in the vicious gleam in Chloe's eyes as she inspected the woman clinging to the man's bulgily muscular arm. The woman was tall, gorgeous, and voluptuously curved. Clearly Lex wasn't the only one who was feeling a bit outclassed, and he wasn't the only one who wasn't happy about it. "What the hell is going on?" Chloe demanded.
The woman pouted, and the man scowled. "You trespassed upon our lands!" he informed them. "You must pay the price."
Pete frowned. "No we didn't."
For some reason, that seemed to confuse the man. "What?"
"No, we didn't trespass," Pete clarified, and pointed at Lex. "That land belongs to him. Or his Dad, anyway. Not you. Believe me, I know. They blackmailed... uh... CONVINCED my family to sell it." He gave Lex a dirty look.
The woman frowned. "You trespassed!" the man roared, suddenly seeming enraged. "You must be PUNISHED!"
Suddenly, they were standing in the small sandy arena. "Oh, this is in no way good," Pete mumbled, all four of them looking around nervously. "Not the dinosaur, NOT the dinosaur..."
"No, I think it's trolls," Lex said with a certain calm interest, as the green, shaggy creatures wandered into the arena, grunting and hefting their clubs.
"Oh, no," Clark said grimly, finally seeming to forget about the fact that he was mostly naked. "Chloe, get behind the rest of us, okay?"
"Hey!" Chloe's eyes, wide with shock as she watched the trolls head towards them, narrowed suddenly in outrage. "I am just as-"
"Chloe, stay the hell back!" Pete growled, shifting nervously from foot to foot.
"No! I can-"
"Chloe, while I appreciate that you are as tough and capable as any guy, and that the fact that you're a girl in no way makes you weak or unable to fight, you can't escape the laws of physics," Lex said, tossing hat and leather jacket aside and setting his feet as well as he could in the shifting sand. "You're very small. The trolls are very large. Please accept that this particular battle is one you're badly equipped to fight, and stay back where you can see to shout timely warnings and so on."
Chloe opened her mouth, then closed it again. "Okay," she said crossly, backing up.
Pete and Clark both looked away from the advancing trolls to stare in surprise at Lex. "How'd you do that?" Clark asked, looking impressed.
"Chloe responds a lot better to logic than testosterone," Lex said mildly, enjoying the smug feel of intellectual superiority. Okay, he wasn't as muscular as the other two, but at least he was winning somewhere. "I'm surprised you hadn't figured that out by now."
"I'm right here, Luthor," the irate voice muttered behind him.
"I know that. Note my total lack of smirking about 'this is how you handle the ladies, boys'. I don't have a concussion yet, I'd like to keep it that way. I was just making the point that you're a rational and logical person."
And then the trolls reached them, and there was no more talking.
For the first time in his life, Lex was grateful for his father's attempts to 'make a man' of him. He wanted his fencing foil, or better, his sabre, but he'd learned hand-to-hand too. He might not have as much muscle as the others, but he was fast and agile and he knew how to hit so it did the maximum amount of damage to his opponent and the minimum amount of damage to him.
And for once, he had an opponent he could see and fight and hit. No invisible people, no one hitting him over the head or tying him up or messing with his mind, just a huge troll with a club. He could deal with that.
He ducked an inept swing at his head, and kicked the troll somewhere in the middle of its lumpy, fur-clad torso. It seemed more surprised than hurt, but it did stumbled back a bit. Okay. So he wasn't going to be able to flatten it this way. If he could get the club away from it, somehow... and if he could LIFT the club...
Pete was getting the crap kicked out of him to Lex's left, although he was getting in a few blows of his own. On the other side of Pete, Clark was doing a lot better. He was fast, and incredibly strong, from what Lex could see out of the corner of his eye. All that healthy farm labour, probably.
He dropped into a crouch, and Pete's troll, who'd taken a swing at Lex apparently for variety, wound up hitting Lex's troll in the face. "Thanks, Chloe," he grunted, trying to kick the troll's feet out from under it. That didn't work, but the blow to its kneecap he tried a second later got an angry bellow out of it.
"Sure. Clark! Look out to your left!"
At least she'd taken him seriously enough to pay attention to what was going on around them and help as much as she could.
Chloe was dividing her attention between watching the guys do their macho fighting thing - Lex was surprisingly good at it, she couldn't help but notice - and watching Arnold Schwartzenutter and his Bimbo Buddy.
Arnie was just standing there, grinning at nothing much. He clearly didn't have a lot upstairs. Typical.
Bimbo Buddy, on the other hand, was watching the fight closely, her perfect face creased into a little, perfect frown. Her fingers were twitching a little, almost in time with....
....exactly in time with the swings of the troll's clubs. Huh.
"Stop it!" she wailed, trying to sound as if she was on the verge of tears, running over to Arnie and hitting him ineffectually on the chest-acreage with her tiny girly fists. "You're gonna HURT them!"
He looked down at her, blinking. Behind her, a troll roared as someone got in a hit. Hello. "You wish the battle to end?" Arnie rumbled, grinning down at her. "You have feelings for one of them, perhaps?"
"I have feelings for ALL of them," Chloe said fiercely. "They're my FRIENDS." Then she acted on what her Reporter's Instincts and Nose for Weird were telling her, and punched Bimbo Buddy as hard as she could, right in the face.
The trolls, Arnie, the scenery, and the costumes all vanished.
So did Bimbo Buddy.
They were standing in the middle of a clearing in the woods, with a rather plain, surly-looking unconscious chick lying at Chloe's feet. Chloe's blessedly slipper free feet. She had clothes on again! Yay!
"Wha?" said Pete.
"Huh?" said Clark.
"Go Tinkerbell," said Lex, giving her an impressed look. "Remind me not to piss you off. Looks like you've got a mean punch."
Chloe preened happily. It was nice to be appreciated. "I do. I really do."
"Way to go, Chlo'," Clark said, giving her a big smile that had her swooning in her socks even if he WAS fully dressed again. Damn that Kent charm. "So... anyone have any idea who she is?"
They all shook their heads. "She looks a little older than us," Clark said thoughtfully, inspecting the girl and not even trying to put the boot in, which Chloe would have been sorely tempted to do if she wasn't occupied with her aching hand just now. "She could have been around when the meteors hit. What'll we do with her? We can't just leave her here."
"She put me in a pirate suit and made me fight trolls. I say leave her here." Pete grumbled.
"She put ME in a Tinkerbell outfit!" Chloe countered. "I say we drop her in the river on the way home."
"Loincloth beats pirate suit AND Tinkerbell outfit," Clark said firmly. "And I say we try to help her."
Lex's lips quirked in that lopsided, amused smirk. "Okay, I know I had pants on the whole time, so I probably don't get a vote, but I suggest we go home, get her properly sedated, and talk about this in comfort somewhere," he said, absently rubbing his knuckles, bruised by contact with troll.
"That's a good plan."
"Yeah, I like his plan."
"Got my vote."
Two days later, Chloe and Lex met up for coffee at the Talon.
"Well?" she demanded. "I know you know what happened. Spill."
Lex sipped his coffee and looked enigmatic. "Say the magic words."
Chloe pouted, then grinned and removed an imaginary something from her head. "Okay, okay. I've taken off my Reporting Hat. Now tell me."
"Her name is Susan Adams," Lex said, leaning in confidentially. "Apparently she's always been a little... not unstable, exactly. Just prone to living life in her private world of fantasy most of the time."
Chloe leaned in. "And let me guess... contact with the meteors?"
Lex nodded. "Has a bunch of them in a 'fairy grotto' she built in the backyard," he said. "I'm starting to think there's really something to your meteor theory, Nancy."
"Gee, Ned, that's real swell of you," she grinned. "So, her fantasy world just got a little more real, huh?"
"It looks that way. She might not even have realized that we were real people, instead of just extensions of the fantasy" he said, rather regretfully. He'd really been quite annoyed about the whole thing. "Her family have started her on a strict regime of medication and therapy."
"Which you suggested."
"And I'm paying for. On the condition that she gets kept away from meteor-rock in future, and this stays quiet."
"And she doesn't make any more dinosaurs." Chloe sighed. "I kinda feel bad for her. A little. I mean, most of them get violent. She was just living out her relatively harmless fantasies. That's not so bad, really."
"She put you in a Tinkerbell outfit, Chloe," Lex reminded her, smiling. A genuine smile, not a smirk, this time. "Mind you, I can't fault her characterization. Tiny, aggressive, bitch when she doesn't get her own way..."
"Flattery will get you nowhere." Chloe grinned impishly at him over the edge of her cup. "You've seen Peter Pan, huh?"
"A couple of dozen times," he admitted. "When I was a kid, of course."
"So did I. I bet she did, too," Chloe said quietly. "There's something... tempting... about the thought of being able to fly off to somewhere where your troubles and fears can't follow you."
"They always follow you," Lex said quietly. "And flying away doesn't solve anything." He paused, looking down at coffee. "It certainly didn't solve any of Susan Adams' problems."
"True." Chloe nodded, resting her chin on her hand. "On the whole, I think I'll take the normal, every-day weirdness of Smallville over pirates and ape-men and intrepid archaelogists." She grinned again. "Mind you, you do look good in boots and dirt and a shirt with half the buttons missing. Very... butch."
"Flattery won't get you anywhere either, Tinkerbell," he said sternly, but he smiled again. "Butch isn't my preferred look. I've always preferred suave and sophisticated."
"And purple. I like purple."
She nodded, holding out her mug. "Toast. Here's to the real world... weird, tough, depressing, but not so bad, all the same."
He clinked his mug solemnly against hers. "To the real world, with all its imperfections."
They sipped, and were reminded that the real world had coffee in it, and possibly chocolate biscotti later, and thus was not all bad.