SUMMARY: Chloe/Lex, future-fic, violence. Chloe's Ethics class presents her with a dilemma.
NOTE: This came to me in a dream, after reading entirely too much Chloe/Lex on fanfiction.net. After conscious reflection, I think perhaps my subconscious is a sick place to be. Er, never mind. I knew that already.
ARCHIVE: Please. As often as possible, and wherever you like.
Ethical Dilemma, by Mercutio (firstname.lastname@example.org)
*New rule,* Chloe thought to herself. *If someone has the initials L.L., run for it.*
Leilani Lunalilo was a native Hawaiian girl whose only physical resemblance to Lana Lang was that they were both brunettes. Beautiful brunettes. Leilani's hair was much darker, more black than brown. However, personality-wise, they were nearly identical. A cheerleader for Harvard, she dated a football player, and, as an added bonus, she was as annoying as hell.
"Oh, are you going to see Todd, too?" Leilani asked, a step behind Chloe as she walked down the deserted hall toward the office where Todd, the graduate student who was Professor Berwick's teaching assistant, was supposed to be according to the rather erratic office hours she'd gotten over the phone.
"I really wanted to talk to Todd alone," Chloe said.
Granted, that was a lie. She didn't want to talk to Todd at all. The graduate student was a toad. He was defensive, difficult to deal with, and possessed of the belief that all undergraduate students were a waste of his valuable time. He only made one exception to that rule, being perfectly willing to flirt with attractive female undergraduates. Chloe no longer fell into that category, having refused his advances with enough snark to get him to leave her alone. So if Leilani came with her, Todd would exhibit the other side of his personality, and spend the entire time hitting on her, ignore Chloe altogether, and she would never get the information she needed on this mysterious final project that Professor Berwick had hinted would make up sixty percent of their Ethics grade.
Leilani smiled sweetly at her, and pushed open the door. "It makes more sense to share the time, since there's only fifteen minutes free--"
Todd-the-toad was sitting at the desk with a gun barrel in his mouth.
A squeak came from Leilani as she froze in place. Chloe held her hands up, away from her sides.
"Todd," Chloe said carefully, "put the gun down. You don't want to do this."
He pulled the barrel out of his mouth, which was an improvement. "Yes, I do. My life isn't worth living anymore."
Chloe shook her head. "No, you don't. Nothing's that bad. C'mon, you can talk to us."
"No! And you can't tell anyone else about this either. Please, say you won't tell anyone."
The important thing was to calm him down. Get him focused on something other than that damn gun. "No, of course, I won't tell anyone, Todd. Now--"
"You what?" Leilani screeched.
Chloe winced. "Leilani--"
"Of course, I'm going to tell someone! You need help! How could you possibly think of doing something like this to the people you care about? Did you even think about them? About how upset they'd be if they heard you'd been trying to do something like this?"
That voice came from the inner office. Both Chloe and Leilani turned to find Professor Berwick looking at them from inside the office. "If I might have a word with you."
Leilani went in. Chloe looked between the professor and Todd. Todd, whose hands were now nowhere near the gun that was still on his desk. He still looked upset, yes, but now his piggish eyes almost gleamed with a certain sort of smug triumph?
She heard Professor Berwick say, "Congratulations, Ms. Lunalilo, on an A on your final project," before Leilani came back out and went immediately to chat with Todd. "Ms. Sullivan?"
Chloe entered the office, feeling a little numb. She shut the door behind her, and asked, "That was a set-up?"
"Yes, it was. I find that students often react very differently to real-life situations as opposed to theoretical problems. One which you failed, by the way."
The grey-haired woman marked down a somewhat lopsided but otherwise very visible F next to Chloe's name in her grade-book, then looked up with a smile that was all tooth, much like that of a shark. "Yes, Ms. Sullivan?"
"It wasn't a fair test. You -- I... it doesn't matter whether the right answer is to tell the authorities if someone is going to commit suicide--" because obviously, that was the answer Berwick had wanted, "--what matters is talking to them, getting them to want to stop."
"The issue is closed, Ms. Sullivan. You failed. Deal with it, as they say."
Chloe stood there for a second.
"Well, get out. I don't have all day to waste on you."
She turned to go, feeling rather numb, when she heard a gun shot. Loud and close. Then a high-pitched female scream.
Chloe flung the door open. Todd -- what remained of Todd's head -- was splattered on the bookcases behind him. And, she noted, on Leilani, who looked at her, face white. "Oh my God! I was asking him about the final, and he was showing me how easy it was, and the gun just went off!"
"He was showing off by sticking a loaded gun in his mouth?" Chloe asked in disbelief.
There was a thud from behind her, and Leilani screamed again. Chloe turned and saw that the professor had slid off her chair and onto the floor. She went to her side -- growing up in Smallville was good at least for inuring you against shock -- and took her pulse. There wasn't one.
Leilani fainted. Very gracefully. Lana Lang couldn't have done it better.
Chloe sat down in Berwick's chair, picked up the phone, and dialed 911. Grabbed a pencil to have something to hold onto, and -- after a glance across from the desk left her looking straight at what was left of Todd -- looked down at the desk.
At the grade-book.
She got an operator, and gave the details in a flat voice. The grade-book had her scores for the year listed neatly across the page. Chloe Sullivan. Nearly straight As on every assignment, including midterms, up until this last one. Just a single pencil line to convert the final F into an A, and no one would be the wiser.
Wondered why no one else was in the office yet, and flipped the pages on the grade-book absently. Kept talking to the 911 operator, even though she was pretty sure the operator was deliberately trying to keep her on the line rather than get any useful information. Saw a name she recognized.
Lex Luthor. Surreal to see a name from her past amid all the familiar names and entries in the book. Surreal like dead bodies were surreal -- something more real than everything normal in the office when everything normal was rapidly bleeding out color and becoming grey around her.
Looked at Lex's grades, focusing on that bit of extra reality. Ds and Cs for him up until his midterm grade of C, then a steady stream of blank spaces until the final grade. An F, the same as hers. Easy enough to fill in those blanks with Bs and As, and change that same lopsided F into an A.
People in the outer office now. Chloe dropped the pencil. Stared at them, and wondered if maybe she wasn't going into shock after all.
Didn't remember much after that.
Chloe shouldered her bag and went to sit on the steps to wait for her ride. She'd been a bit surprised when her father had said he'd gotten someone to pick her up for the trip home for summer break, but then, single parents did occasionally go through protective phases, even when their daughters were college juniors and presumably old enough to take care of themselves. Best to humor them and hope it wore off quickly. It'd been two and a half weeks since the tragedy with her ethics professor and her assistant; maybe he'd stop mother-henning her when Chloe was closer to home.
She was expecting a cab, or maybe somebody holding a sign with her name on it.
*Wasn't* expecting a familiar bald head to push off from where he was leaning against a silver Porsche, and come sauntering up to her holding three white roses wrapped in paper.
"Lex?" she asked, surprised, standing up.
He stopped in front of the steps and made a half-bow, then presented her with the flowers. "Your chariot awaits, madam."
"You're the ride my dad was talking about?"
"Actually," he said, gazing saturninely at her, "I called your father and asked him if it would be all right with him if I picked you up."
"And asked him not to tell me it was you, I presume."
"You presume correctly." He held his hand out for her bag, and she gave it to him. This was kinda weird, but she did know him. "Is this everything?"
"Mailed everything else home yesterday."
He nodded. "I wanted to talk to you."
She followed him to his car. He opened the passenger door, folded her bag inside, then held the door while she got in. He closed it behind her, then came around the front, tossing his keys in the air.
When he slid inside, she asked, "So, I guess you must have really wanted to catch up on the Smallville gossip or something, huh?"
He gave her a small smile. "Not exactly. It is amusing, though, isn't it?"
"Which? The part where Lana Fordman is pregnant again, or the part where Clark is falling in love with yet another girl with the initials L.L.?"
"And she's a reporter. The irony is amazing."
"Thoroughly. If I'd known in high school that all I needed to do to get Clark's attention was to change my name, I would have done it in a second."
He gave her a searching look. "Does it bother you that much?"
"No, not really. I got over Clark a while ago. He'll always be my friend -- but, well, it's sort of like why I ended up going into pre-med instead of journalism, while he's the one interning at the Daily Planet."
"Funny how life works out."
"Yep." She fingered the head of one of the roses, feeling the softness. "Why the flowers?"
"Do you know anything about the language of flowers?"
"Just the usual stuff. Red roses for love, that kind of thing. White roses are a new one on me."
"Let me tell you a story then. My father made me a deal two years ago. If I acquired an M.B.A. from a reputable institution, he would sign over control of LuthorCorp's fertilizer plants to me."
"All of them? That's... impressive."
"I thought so. Enough that I ended up here at Harvard to get a degree I don't really need in a subject I already understand more than most of the professors."
"Wow. I bet that attitude really endeared you to them."
He flashed a smile at her. "It depends. Some of them understand that real-world knowledge is as or more important than what Harvard teaches, and some of them think that having me in their classes is an excuse to teach me humility. Or the ethics they think I lack."
Oh, yeah. He definitely knew something about Berwick. "Is that bad for you? For your grades, I mean?"
"Most of the time? No. I can take what they deal out. I've had a lot of practice at shoveling shit, after all." Again that tight, quick smile. "With one notable exception, as I said. My ethics professor seemed to think that my personal value system should be assigned a grade letter rather than my classwork. When it was made clear to me after midterms that my grade was only going to go down, I stopped attending. Imagine my surprise then, when my father congratulated me on receiving an A in the class."
Chloe didn't look at him. "Imagine."
"I did a little investigating. It wasn't hard to find out that Berwick died right before the end of term, or who was there when she died."
"Not exactly how I'd planned to get my name in the headlines, no."
"Are you all right, Chloe?"
That wasn't at all what she was expecting him to ask. "After seeing two people die in front of me like that, you mean? Not really." She considered what to say, then decided, what the hell, this was Lex Luthor. Nothing she could say could possibly shock him. "I didn't like either of them -- I liked Professor Berwick even less after she flunked me -- if two people had to die, I'm glad it was them and not someone else. But what a stupid and senseless way for anyone to die."
"Accidental discharge of a firearm and a heart attack."
Chloe snorted. "I still don't know what that idiot was doing putting a loaded gun in his mouth over and over again all day long."
"All day long?"
"Oh, yeah. That part didn't make it into the paper." She stared forward, out the window. They were approaching the airport, she noted. "It was the end-of-term class project. A final real-life ethical problem. Todd was pretending to kill himself, and asking each of us not to tell anyone. If you said yes, you failed."
She felt him look over at her. "Jesus, Chloe. You walked in on that?"
"Yeah. Like the big fat idiot I am, I tried to talk him out of it. I didn't even like the guy, and I tried to get on his good side -- told him I wouldn't tell anyone, just talk to me right now and we'll get this worked out. I think I felt more for him right then than I ever did before or after."
His hand left the gearshift and reached for hers, fingers running along her wrist, and turning her hand over so he could take it and clasp it. She held onto it. It was a nice hand, strong and callused.
"I'm sorry, Chloe. That was a very cruel thing for her to do to her students."
"I keep wondering whether it really was an accident or if he just decided that enough was enough and did it on purpose. If maybe he was suicidal all along and having students brush him off over and over again pushed him over the edge. Some of the things Leilani said..."
"Leilani?" Lex let go of her hand to use the gearshift, then took it again, thumb rubbing reassuringly over her knuckles.
"Leilani Lunalilo. She was there, too. You had to have read about her in the paper. Clark would have loved her. She got an A."
"What did she say?"
Chloe shrugged. "It wasn't that important, I guess. I mean, I thought she was being heartless when he told us he wanted to kill himself, but she was the one who actually watched Todd blow his brains out, and that's got to be worse than just hearing it happen."
"Christ. No wonder none of the details got into the news. Traumatized co-eds, questionable teaching practices. They would have wanted to bury that one deep."
"Very deep. They offered to give me a 4.0 for the semester if I forgot about the whole thing."
"Did you take it?"
"Yeah. I'm not a reporter anymore; I don't really care about the truth getting out, not when I can't see who it would help. Leilani got the same deal, so that's cool. It's kind of ironic, though."
"That day, in the office, I had her grade-book in front of me. I could've changed my grade to an A, but I left it. And I ended up getting an A anyway."
"So you changed mine instead."
"It didn't seem right for me to benefit from her death. No matter how awful she was, or how upset I was about it."
"But it was okay for me to benefit?" He dropped her hand.
She watched his hand clench into a fist around the gearshift, then looked up at him. "It was an impulse. I saw your name there, and I figured I could get away with it. It wasn't selfish because it wasn't for me, and you... you're a friend. I wanted someone to not be hurt by her."
Lex nodded just a bit stiffly. "That makes sense. But Chloe, you shouldn't have taken a risk like that. I could've gotten the grade overturned at the end of the semester -- I was planning to do it anyway, and it would have been even easier under the circumstances."
"I wanted to," she said, trying to put as much of her real feelings into the words as she could. She wanted to do it; she was glad she had done it, and she didn't take it back.
"Thank you, then," he said with better grace. "I appreciate it."
They pulled into the central parking area at the airport. Lex found them a spot, then turned off the engine.
He took a deep breath, and let his hands hang over the top of the steering wheel. Not looking at Chloe, he said, "You have a choice to make."
She gave him her full attention, and he darted a quick glance at her before looking forward again.
"I can put you on a plane to Metropolis, first class, and have you back to your father tonight, thus discharging my obligation to get you safely home. Or you could come with me, on a LuthorCorp company jet, and join me for the two week vacation in Hawaii that I've been given as my reward for being a good boy and finishing out the semester with all As."
Chloe studied him for a long moment, and was about to tell him what she'd decided when he suddenly turned in his seat and held up his hand.
"No expectations. You can abandon me as soon as we reach the islands if you want, and I promise I'll supply you with whatever you need for your vacation and the means to get home when you're done. Or you can keep me company -- again, with no expectations of any kind."
She looked him over again. Lex was sitting sideways in his seat now, leaning back against the door, his formidable charisma mostly leashed. *He's lonely,* she thought, and wondered when the last time was that someone had taken a risk for him for no reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Chloe raised her eyebrows. "Or?"
His eyes darkened, and his mouth quirked into a real smile. "Or I could tell you what white roses stand for."
"Sounds interesting. C'mon, we'd better call my father before he freaks out."
He was leaning forward now. "Chloe... does that mean I think it means?"
She smiled impishly at him, then leaned forward as well, and reached out to run her fingertips along his cheek. "Depends on what you think I meant. Now, c'mon, time's a wastin', and I want to hear about these roses."
He blinked and smiled back, before releasing his seatbelt. "Chloe Sullivan, you are a dangerous woman."
"And don't you forget it."
Among their other meanings, white roses stand for secrets, and the statement "I am worthy of you." In this context, Lex is trying to say the exact opposite -- "I know about your secret; you are worthy of me." -- i.e., Chloe has done something he himself would have done, if he were her.
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