"What do you know about empires?" Lois asks, right beside her ear.
Chloe jumps in her chair, ellipses and dashes and AP style going to a pile of junk in her head. "What?" she says, and blinks.
Lois has this way of firing off questions like a sharpshooter, words fast and crowded and bullet-shaped, and she likes to do it in the middle of completely unrelated conversations, or else out of the blue like she's doing right now. She says it keeps people on their toes. She's certainly never allowed Chloe's attention to wander very far, all summer long, but that has less to do with reporter-style interrogation tactics, and more to do with Lois just being Lois.
Chloe shifts her eyes from Lois's face back to her computer screen, sections of tomorrow's copy open in haphazardly layered windows. She's surprised at the clock numbers in the lower right-hand corner. 3:43 PM. The remains of her lunch, Subway wrapper half-hanging off the edge of her desk, make her blink again.
"Empires," Chloe says.
"Empires," Lois repeats. Her voice is deep for a girl, the edges of it scratched from too much smoke and nicotine. "Except, not the British or Holy Roman type. I'm talking about modern empires. Corporate. Financial. More importantly, what do you know about emperors?"
Chloe's brain finally clicks into place. She doesn't just play an investigative reporter on TV, after all. "You're asking me this because..."
"Two words," Lois interrupts, which is another habit of hers -- Lois is a girl made of habits. "Lex. Luthor."
Chloe's mouth twists. "Fortunately I can say we're not picking out china patterns or anything."
Lois perches on Chloe's desk, dangerously close to getting oil, vinegar and breadcrumbs stuck to the ass of her tight black suit. She doesn't, of course. That kind of thing doesn't happen to Lois Lane. "Word is that Mortimer over in Business has an interview this Thursday. But you're from Smallville," she says, and Chloe bites back a snark about Lois's suddenly improved memory. "You've got the inside scoop on the guy."
"Everybody in a small town knows everybody else, is that it?" she says sourly. Her neck hurts. Her eyes hurt. She's ready for her clock to say 5:00 PM, so she can stand up, grab the book bag she uses because she never thought to buy a purse, take the elevator down and hit the street. It'll be hot, asphalt baking the air all the way up to waist level, but she'll be out of the damn building and best of all, she won't have to come back for another sixteen hours.
"I've read a few of your articles," Lois shrugs. "Solid work, though considering the subject you really could have worked some sharper angles, really gotten to the heart of his story. Lex Luthor is an opportunity that should not be wasted."
"Absolutely," Chloe tells her, pointedly putting her hand back on the mouse and turning toward her monitor. "I'll be sure to thank you graciously in my acceptance speech for the Pulitzer."
Truth is, in the entire three weeks they've been interning at the Daily Planet, this is the most attention Lois has deigned to grant her. At least, more attention than Lois at the top of her voice going, "You don't happen to have a light, do you?" or "Hey, tumbleweed, maybe they don't do it this way out in Snoreville, but some of us have deadlines here!"
Lois isn't even in college yet, at least not until Metropolis University opens for the fall semester. But you'd never know it to look at her. You'd think she was the paper's star reporter, striding around in deadly black heels, mentholated "cigs" tucked carefully between long fingers. The way she attaches herself to Perry White like a whip-thin third arm. She likes to order Chloe around, and the photo intern Jimmy as well, as if she hadn't been hired just like them to clean up the real journalists' spelling gaffes, to bring them coffee and files and help them keep track of exposs with big-time figures like Lex Luthor.
"Come on," Lois presses, "quit hogging the cards. I mean, I know it was just a high school paper, but you must have something juicy on the guy."
"Of course I do, Lois," Chloe replies, her tone bored. "And of course I just can't wait to share it with you."
Lois rolls her eyes and hops off the desk. "When are you going to learn, tumbleweed? Not everybody's trying to scoop you."
She's gone in a whiff of ashy scent and expensive grown-up perfume, before Chloe can snap, "And when are you going to learn some basic geography?" Just as well, though, she supposes. Such a lukewarm rejoinder would really only damage her reputation for a witty comeback.
Chloe turns back to her copy editing with a sigh.
On Friday afternoon it turns out that Mortimer's up close and personal with Lex Luthor has been promoted from the Business section to the Sunday front page, just below the fold. Someone smuggles a bottle of champagne into their department, and paper cups full of bubbly get passed around. The interns each snag one, Jimmy grinning from ear to freckled ear.
Chloe overhears someone snarking, "And he never even mentioned the embezzlement? We must be really hard up for news," as she dials the number for the Kent farm.
"That whole thing was just alleged," Clark protests when she tells him about it.
"I know," Chloe says. "But come on, you know Lex better than anyone. Don't you have even the tiniest suspicion of him cooking the books?" Across the room she sees Lois Lane watching her openly, and she swirls her chair around to face the window.
"Chloe," he warns, "I'm not a source for information on Lex." Then he changes the subject. "Anyway, I thought you weren't actually there to report."
Chloe snorts. "Thanks for reminding me."
"I didn't mean it like that." His voice softens. "So you liking it any better there in the big city?"
"You never lose the city, no matter how much time you spend cow-tipping in farm country," she scoffs. "I can't believe I have to give it all up again in two weeks."
Clark laughs. "I guess you'll just have to make the most of what you've got left. But don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Okay, so that cuts down my options to drinking milk and flossing my teeth." She tilts the paper cup back and slurps the last few drops of champagne.
"Best way to a pretty smile," he jokes, and really, considering the source, she has to agree.
When they hang up, Chloe is still giggling, and Lois Lane is hovering beside her desk again. "What's so funny, tumbleweed?" she says.
Chloe gives her a sunny smile. "Nothing newsworthy, cancerstick."
Lois's mouth twitches. Chloe's gaze snags and hangs on the other girl's full lips, the deep red color not muted at all by either the day's long hours or the drinking. "Want to blow this joint and grab some dinner?" Lois asks abruptly, breaking Chloe's stare.
The clock on her computer reports that it's only 4:35 PM. Chloe opens her mouth to say something, but of course, Lois interrupts.
"Yeah, you do," she says. "Let's go. I know a place. Meet me by the elevator in five."
Chloe stares after her, feeling the alcohol warm under the skin of her cheeks. Then she looks at her screen full of windows, spidery black text, red and green marks. Her neck hurts again. The normally bustling office is already half-empty anyway. She clicks her mouse over SAVE, then SHUT DOWN, and rolls her shoulders before slinging her book bag onto her back.
Lois likes her restaurants expensive, apparently, and she likes to smoke through dinner, and she likes to wave her cigarettes around while draining glass after glass of better champagne than they were guzzling at the Daily Planet. The waiter hadn't even asked them for ID.
Chloe is much more of a Balducci's girl, especially when it comes to prices. She sticks to a glass of ice water and the cheapest salad on the menu, and tries not to cough as Lois exhales streams of smoke in all directions. The cool, medicine-y clouds go straight to Chloe's head, joining forces with the paper cup from over an hour ago, and her not nearly full enough stomach.
"I'll definitely be majoring in journalism," Lois is saying. "They've got one of the best programs in the country at the U, Perry was telling me all about it. He said he wished I'd worked at the Planet last summer, he'd have written my recommendation."
Chloe doesn't really have much to say to that, but Lois doesn't actually notice, and continues on talking. Chloe finds she's fascinated by Lois's eyebrows, thin and perfectly arched, like a calligraphist just swept an ink brush in two directions.
She's used to that, to dark-haired girls with limpid mirrors for eyes, L names that roll like ice cubes off her tongue. But Lois is the complete opposite of Lana's smooth country prettiness. Lois is sharp, hard, and slippery, silk wrapped around steel.
She takes another gulp of champagne, and Chloe can't stop staring at the white sin of her throat.
Well, look at this now, Chloe thinks, not quite dazedly. Been a while, hasn't it. Slim pickings in Smallville, where you've known most of the girls since before we all got our periods.
Lois doesn't ask her about Lex once during dinner. Lois doesn't really ask her much of anything, consumed as she is with talking about Lois. "So Dad said I could have the apartment," she's saying now, "since it was so close to the U, and Centennial Park really isn't all that far away either, so I can jog in the mornings. Dad's really great, retired career soldier, but he likes the suburbs more than the city. Total opposite of me -- I need thrills and craziness -- well, other people's craziness -- or I go crazy myself. Lucy was jealous, of course, she could have clawed my eyes out."
Lois. Lucy. Claw. Chloe remembers chanting to herself sometimes, when she was a twelve or thirteen, "Chloe and Clark, Clark and Chloe, Clark, Clark, and Clark, and Chloe..."
Chloe remembers this, and Lois keeps talking, all the way through five more cigarettes.
By the time they trip out of the restaurant, it's dark outside, and the Friday night crowd has filled up the sidewalks. Someone bumps into Chloe, and she stumbles and almost breaks her chin on Lois's bony shoulder.
"Christ, watch it," Lois says, another cig already in her mouth, speech slightly slurred.
"Sorry." Did she really tell Clark she was dreading going back to Smallville? She'd forgotten how much damn space there was out there. Right outside your front door, all you had to do was step out and the emptiness, the nothingness of open fields and sky, would hit you right smack in the face. Not this constant heated press of bodies, people's stern sullen expressions pushed up close and then pushing her away.
Lois gives her a sideways glance. "So where are you staying at?"
"With my mom," Chloe replies, the words floating somewhere a foot behind her. "Over on 128th Street."
"Do you have a curfew or anything?"
Chloe shrugs. "My mom's divorced," she says, as if that explains everything.
It seems to for Lois. "Well, stop by my place for a second," she says, "I've got something for you." And she grabs Chloe's hand, just like that, no pretense or coyness or romance to be found for a ten-block radius. It's such a bald, open gesture that for a second Chloe thinks she's misread everything, that she has to go back and read the directions on the package all over again.
But actually, as it turns out, the dyke-dar is working just fine. Just fine, Chloe thinks, as Lois hauls her inside the apartment and pushes her up against the door. Just fine, she thinks, as Lois slides her tongue between Chloe's lips and moans into her mouth.
They haven't even turned the lights on. Chloe's hands find their way to Lois's waist, slip under her blouse and suit jacket to the cool, tight skin beneath. Ribs, insolent hipbones, slim strong muscles.
Chloe remembers being this skinny, pre-puberty. She remembers running through tall stalks of corn, flopping down on top of cool dark soil. The sky arching blue overhead, her sweat and Lana's sweat smelling fresh and spicy, soaked into hair and earth, scratchy dresses and ribbons. She remembers Lana's mouth tasting like birthday cake, soft sugary icing she licked away from the corner of it.
"Lana! Chloe!" the other kids called. "Ally-ally-ox-and-free!"
Later, getting into her father's car, Chloe muttered, "Thanks for inviting me, sorry my present was so lame."
Lana just smiled and shut the door, her mouth looking moist and pliant.
Lois's mouth tastes bitter, dusty. Bee-stung lips, sucking smoke all day. Chloe's tongue curls and tingles at the lingering bite of alcohol. Her head swims with the secondhand drunk.
Sloping stomach, girlish breasts, nipples tightening and poking rudely against her palm. Chloe slides one hand out from under Lois's shirt and behind her neck to draw her closer. Short dark hair twisting around her fingers, rough and tangled instead of smooth and shiny. She needs to meet more blondes, she thinks. Either that or make Lex Luthor her new best friend.
Lois unbuttons Chloe's blouse, cool air meeting the skin of her torso before Lois breaks the kiss and fastens her hot mouth on Chloe's left breast. Wet through the thin cotton of her bra, pressure of urgent insistent tongue, laving her nipple. She hisses out a shaky breath.
Lois's fingernails scrape at her back, hook into the waistband of her skirt and pull down, taking panties along the way. Oh, Chloe thinks dizzily. Oh, this is brand new. Pay attention, girlfriend, because this is brand --
Chloe jumps, her shoulder blades slamming into the door. "Ahh," she groans. White fire all through her groin, her legs lock and spread, her own fingers scrabble for purchase behind her and find the doorknob. She grabs it, twists hard, pressing back against the door, hears the locking mechanism tumble uselessly --
Chloe actually screams, though it's a gasping girly sound. Her entire body tightens like a coil of magnetic wire. "Ahh," she says again, and this time it sounds like she's crying.
Lois's tongue flicks, lapping like a cat with milk, and a hot fist pushes its way up from Chloe's clit, up through the coiled wire. It slams into her lungs like a supernova and spills her mercilessly over the edge, shaking and crying out.
She thinks she might have cracked her skull against the door from coming so hard, but that could also be the drunk.
Still shuddering slightly, warmth settling into relaxing muscles, Chloe drifts to the floor on top of Lois. The other girl's body is as hard as the polished wood beneath them both, but her mouth is softer, and tastes of something thick and heady, something familiar.
"God," Chloe breathes. "I never..."
"Yeah, I know," Lois whispers. "How was it?"
"Uhhh, I'll let you know when I find the top of my head."
"Don't take too long finding it. It's your turn now." Lois pushes at Chloe's shoulders gently with her skinny hands.
Chloe comes back awake then, and lets Lois guide her into place, and tell her what to do.
On Monday morning, Chloe walks through the bright, marble-and-glass lobby of the Daily Planet and takes the elevator up to the main office. She holds the paper bag in her hand carefully as she makes her way through the maze of desks and cubicles before stopping at Lois's workspace.
She takes out one coffee and one muffin, sets them in plain view next to the keyboard. She debates whether she should leave a note or not, but Lois is pretty much intelligent enough to figure out who'd be bringing her food. And besides, this isn't really a romantic-breakfast-in-bed kind of breakfast. Chloe suppresses a giggle at the thought.
"What a sap," she murmurs, heading to her desk.
Half an hour into editing the latest copy, licking muffin crumbs from her fingers, Chloe looks up to see Lois finally breezing into the office on towering high heels, all-black designer suit clinging to her thin body, stubbing her cigarette out in an ashtray on some random reporter's desk.
Chloe doesn't bother with coyly looking away. She just sits and watches while the other girl discovers her offerings.
Lois pauses at her desk, picking up the coffee to inspect it as if it were a timebomb. She takes the lid off and inhales a moment, then takes a slow, careful sip. Over the rim, her gaze lands unerringly on Chloe.
Chloe looks back calmly, waiting. Lois picks up the coffee and muffin and strides over. There isn't any hip swinging in her walk, Chloe notices, just a tall girl with her shoulders thrust back and her dark hair looking like it needs a good brushing.
"So what do you think my chances are of getting another interview with Lex Luthor?" Lois says, perching on Chloe's desk. "A real one, I mean, not like that amateur shit they ran on Sunday."
She's dangerously close to knocking over Chloe's coffee, but Chloe doesn't move to move it. Instead she crosses her arms and sits back in her chair. Her skin tingles, the same way it did that Friday afternoon with cheap alcohol buzzing in her blood. The same way it does when Clark looks deep into her with his too-pretty eyes, when Lana tosses her head so her hair ripples and shines.
She pretends to think about the question.
"I guess you could always try to catch the man in his natural surroundings," Chloe says. "I hear he's calling this place Smallville home, nowadays."
"You want me to just trek out to some tumbleweed town without any guarantee I can get a real scoop?" Lois makes a whatever face and sips at her coffee.
Chloe shrugs. "An opportunity with a guy like Lex Luthor shouldn't be wasted. And, you know, there's all these strings I've been setting up but have yet to pull...."
"Now you're talking," Lois says. "Maybe I'll even give you co-write status. We could get Jimmy to shoot it."
"Maybe, huh? You know, I've got a perfectly good staff out there," Chloe tells her. "Big city folk are pretty much...what's the word I'm looking for...overrated?"
A small smile lurking around the corner of her mouth, Lois breaks her muffin in half, takes out one part and sets the rest in front of Chloe. "Oh, I'm sure we could teach them a thing or two," she says.
She's finished unpacking by sunset, and when she heads over to the Kent farm she makes a bet with herself.
Clark is at his window, hunched over the telescope. "Congrats, Chloe," she mutters under her breath. "Five bucks to the winner."
He turns around at that, with the too-sudden kind of motion that always makes her throat tighten. "Chloe!" he says. "You're back!" His face lights up with one of those pretty, pretty smiles, and her throat tightens in an entirely different way, now.
She moves forward and lets him fold her up in a big hug. Scent of flannel and hay, cornfields and blue sky. "I'm back," she agrees.
"How was it? Do you know everything there is to know about cutthroat journalism now? Should my knees be knocking?"
"You mean they never were before?"
He grins and pulls her down to sit, dropping her hands as if he really didn't notice the way her fingers curled and clutched at him. "So tell me all about it," he says. "People you met, things you saw, trouble you found."
Chloe gives him a one-shoulder shrug. "Come on, Clark, a girl can't spill all her secrets, you know."
"How about just one or two of the really sexy ones? I promise I won't tell Pete."
She sputters at him for a moment, then gives up and laughs at the impish glint in his eye. "Oh, you just wish, Clark Kent," Chloe says, shaking her head, smiling. "You wish."