Signed, Sincerely Yours

by Suture

The characters aren't mine, but any mistakes are.

Signed, Sincerely Yours

He makes her come for the first time on the leather couch in a sleek, gleaming Metropolis office. Three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, Dad's going to meet her in front of the Daily Planet in fifteen minutes, and she's sprawled across Lionel Luthor's lap with her skirt hiked up around her hips.

She closes her eyes, but she's not thinking about England exactly. His fingers slide in and out of her and she concentrates on learning how to reproduce every last crook and brush so that she can make these harsh, wet, gasping sounds when she's alone.

Above her, he murmurs in another language. French maybe. The sound of his voice scratches tiny, crooked shiver lines down her skin. She opens her eyes to stare up at him, wanting to fix the look on his face in her mind. This is desire. It looks a lot like it's kissing cousins with calculation and anger, but she doesn't care because desire lives in a dirtier, racier area code than Pete's Horny Face or Clark's Bambi-eyed Lana worship.

Shuddering, she turns her head to the wall-length mirror on the other side of the room. She half expects to see the girl she saw the first time she kissed him. That girl sat on the couch, eyes fever-bright, clutching an almost empty glass of bourbon. She pretended not to notice the way he watched her while he rattled off numbers and veiled threats on the phone. She looked messy. She looked naughty. She looked supremely fuckable and maybe that was just a softer version of the names she called herself in her head these days, but it was enough to make her cross the room and press her mouth to his.

A sudden scrape of fingernail against
oversensitive flesh and her nerves catch fire. She shakes like she's seized by seismic tremors. She shakes so hard she bites her tongue and draws blood. This must be what centrifugal force feels like, this whirling and whirling until she's reduced to tiny elemental bits of Chloe. Weakkneed, she staggers to her feet and starts to smooth down her clothes.

He studies her for a moment before wiping his glistening fingers on a handkerchief he produces from a pant pocket. "I'll let you know when our next meeting will be, Miss Sullivan," he says, formal as a character from a Jane Austen novel even as the smell of sex hangs in the air. "I trust you'll have more to tell me than you did this time."

She leaves with the taste of dirty copper in her mouth.

The first time she sinks down to the floor, she expects to feel empty and ashamed, like those racy ads in Vogue that try too hard. Instead, thick carpet and the hard wood underneath it pressing against her knees, she discovers she likes to suck cock. The wet, slurping sounds she makes keep her rooted in the here and now. Her mind doesn't wander to green eyes, and red mouths, and Clark, or more frequently these days, tortoiseshell glasses, ironic drawls, and Jesse, the new boy from New York City. The world narrows down to the specificity of this man, and this cock.

Lionel Luthor's cock is long and heavy and she can't fit all of it into her mouth even though she tries. It stretches her lips wide and rests against her tongue, a thick, tangible weight. When she pulls back to examine its spit-slick length, it looks so red and wet and pained she wants to say "There, there" and kiss everything better. The skin at the head rubs baby-soft against her lips and she traces the delicate vein around the very tip. She swears she tastes a hint of lavender and money and that seems right. Really rich people should come in those flavors.

He doesn't make a sound beyond a few soft grunts. His silence and the way his long hands clutch at the armrests on his expensive ergonomic chair surprise her. Bad online porn taught her to expect rough fingers pulling at her hair, strangled voices hissing, "Yes. Deeper. Slut," or thrusting at least. Surely, thrusting. He stays rock still, legs two long tense lines.

Once, she glances up to find him staring down at her, face tangled in a snarl, but eyes clear and intent. He's probably studying her, filing her under "E" for "Eager" and "I" for "Inexperienced" because he has to be used to jaundiced, openthroated skill. Only the young and the gawky
would treat giving head like a brave new world. She hollows her cheeks just a little more and swirls her tongue and somehow that does the trick. There. A sudden pulsing like those shiatsu massage chairs at Brookstone's and bitter salt floods her mouth while he makes a high, keening sound that reminds her of eagles and wildlife specials.

She licks him clean and lifts her head up from his lap. He's still caught up in the
aftershocks, eyes closed, mouth open. He looks more helpless and blinded than he did when he really was blind. His fingers tangle helplessly in the empty air, searching for something solid to rest on.

She leans her head against his thigh, if only for a moment.

She's afraid this year's teachers don't think she's very sharp because she zones out in class a lot. She wishes she could tell somebody about the weirdness of taking notes on sines, cosines, and tangents while her mind flashes back to random details like the feel of Lionel Luthor's chin under her fingers. Or the blood under his fingernails the first time he tried,
unsuccessfully, to make her come. The closest she got was English class when they read The Scarlet Letter. She had a lot to say about secrets and internal and external signs of guilt, although, as Mr. Peters kept pointing out over and over again, her comments didn't always match up with what was happening in the book.

Things aren't that much rosier on the social front. She, Pete, and Clark are drifting apart. They still see each other in class and at lunch, but, after school, Pete heads off to find Amy Frederickson, who finally decided she did like him that way, and Clark attaches himself to Lana's side. Chloe puts in more hours at The Torch and tries not to think very hard about the thousand and one mysteries that are Clark Kent.

So, she's surprised when Lana's wispy, pinkchiffon voice breaks into Helena's speech on
friendship in A Midsummer Night's Dream one November afternoon. "Hey, Chloe."
Chloe looks up from love-addled Athenian teenagers trapped in a wacky forest to discover Pete, Lana, and Clark standing around her table at the Talon. All three have their Concerned Friend faces on.

"Can we join you?" Lana asks while Pete and Clark force innocent smiles. Somebody should take a picture of them and title it "Three Afterschool Special Characters in Search of an Intervention."

Chloe pastes on a smile of her own that has to look more like a grimace. "Sure. Mi table es su table," she says. She clears away books, notebooks, and a mug of half-cold coffee. Pete settles in next to her. Clark and Lana sit across from her.

Silence for a minute, before Pete looks at the book in her hand. "So, A Midsummer Night's Dream," he says, sounding as chuckleheaded as the jocks in the back of the room who went, "A double cherry. Heh heh," when Mr. Peters talked about the cherry as a metaphor for the perfect childhood friendship.

Lana crinkles her nose in that way she does when she's puzzled or disgusted. "I don't know why we're reading this play. All the characters are so mean to each other."

The essential mean-ness of A Midsummer Night's Dream definitively established, everybody falls quiet again. Chloe fiddles with her coffee mug handle. She can feel Clark watching her, guarded in a way that's new to him since Lana went off to Metropolis all by her lonesome and came back with him in tow.

"So how are you, Chloe?" Lana asks. "I feel like I never see you anymore."

"Fine. Good. Busy." Monosyllabic Girl is in the house, although even she feels bad when Lana's gaze flicks down to the table, soft and hurt.

"The Daily Planet's keeping you busy," Clark says. Chloe can barely meet his eyes. He looks like a stranger these days, sadder and harder, and nothing like the too goofy, too pretty boy she's supposed to catalogue and dissect for some agenda that has to be shady.

Her laugh sounds ragged. "Well, you know me. I'm just busy as a beaver these days." She winces mentally when Pete doesn't jab Clark with an elbow and snicker.

Anger flashes across Clark's face so quickly she almost misses it. "Yeah. You're in Metropolis a lot."

"I'm trying to cut back," she offers even though she knows that's not a promise she can keep. "It's getting a little hard to do this and school and The Torch. Plus, Dad's not happy about all the driving I have to do."

Lana nods in time management solidarity. "That's good. I was starting to get worried." She tilts her head like a curious bird. "You seemed kind of sad recently."

"Yeah, Chloe," Clark echoes. His words sound friendly but his tone is so goading Pete gives him a puzzled look. "You do seem down. Anything wrong?"

"Nope. Nada. Not a thing. I just wish I had a few more hours in the day, you know?" Chloe can't look at any of them right now. She stares across the room and catches Jesse from New York's eye. Since he started working at the Talon, he's stopped stalking around town in that royally pissed-off way anymore. In fact, he's almost cordial right now, nodding to her from behind the counter and even managing a little smile.

"We should do something this weekend," Lana suggests, like it's a brand new idea. Chloe can picture her rounding Pete and Clark up for this little conversation. "I'm worried about Chloe. She seems so lonely. We have to make sure she doesn`t feel left out," Lana must have said with that special Lana earnestness.

Chloe swallows her sudden irritation and tries to look apologetic. "I can't. I have to work on that history paper. You know me and the Civil War. We don't mix all that well."

"What about Saturday afternoon?" Lana asks, vaguely horrified that anyone would do homework on a Saturday.

"I have to go to Metropolis," Chloe says and regrets her words immediately. She should have made up some excuse, but she's not good at off the cuff lying.

Clark pins her with a sharp look only angry principals and fathers should be allowed to use. "I thought you said you were cutting back."

Lana joins Pete in the Puzzled Friends of Clark Club. Good little girlfriend that she is though, she doesn't say anything. She just rubs small comforting circles along Clark's arm and the sight of Lana touching Clark shouldn't hurt but it still does. Chloe stares past them to see Jesse leaning idly against the counter. His bored slouch suggests massive disdain for the unenlightened member of the Talon staff who just put the White Stripes on.

"When are you going to start cutting back, Chloe?" Clark asks. A few months ago, she would have been so happy to have all his attention focused on her.

She can't help the edge that creeps into her voice. "I am. Soon."

Clark leans forward and for a minute he looks so very much like Lex she wonders about
shapeshifting mutants or some weird psychological osmosis. "What's so interesting in Metropolis, Chloe?" He even sounds like Lex, smooth and insinuating.

"Clark, man," Pete smiles uneasily. "Why are you giving her such a hard time?'

"Am I giving you a hard time, Chloe?" A quirk of the lips and Clark's got his guileless, shiteating face on. It's the same expression he puts on whenever he has to explain one of his mysterious vanishing acts. She's had enough of this crap.

"Why no, Clark," she says as sweetly as she can. "You never give anybody a hard time. You're so damned considerate about everyone."

He glares at her with real hatred in his eyes. "This is useless," he mutters. "I have to go." In a movie, he would own a long, black coat and the screenplay would indicate that it billows out behind him as he storms out of the Talon.

Another moment of silence before Lana stands up as well. She's very close to crying. Chloe wants to apologize, or at least fill the sudden quiet, but all she can think of is Helena chiding Hermia, "And will you rent our ancient love asunder, to join with men in scorning your poor friend?" Those lines would not go over well.

"I- He-You-," Lana gives up on choosing a pronoun and runs out after Clark.

Pete studies her with a seriousness she's never seen before. "I don't know what's going on between you and Clark, Chloe," he tells her, voice gentle and firm the way she imagines Judge Ross must sound before she reads a sentence to some fourteen year-old first time offender. "But what you said just now was not cool."

She hunches over her coffee, unsure what to do next. Usually, she administers the verbal smackdowns and Pete and Clark apologize. "I know."

Pete sighs. "I'm worried about you too, Chloe. It's not just Lana and Clark. I know something's bothering you."

Shame sweeps over her and threatens to make her cry. All this time, she assumed Pete was too caught up in Amy Frederickson to notice anything. "It's--." She stares harder at her coffee mug. She can't even think of a way to finish that sentence.

Maybe her mind's playing tricks on her, but she thinks she feels a hand ghost over her hair. "No pressure. Yet. I'm here whenever you want to talk." He's giving her a warning and a reprieve at the same time.

She catches him in a clumsy hug that probably looks more like a tackle gone wrong. "Thank you," she says into his sweater. He smells comforting, like wool and soap.

His laugh rumbles under her cheek. "Double cherry, right?" He smiles down at her surprised expression. "Hey, I listen in class sometimes."

A week later, Lex Luthor walks into The Torch office just as she officially welcomes Jesse onto the staff as the new Music Editor.

"I need to talk to you," he announces, so sleek and imperious she can't believe he pulled a Robinson Crusoe for three months.

Because she has a pretty good idea why he's here, she tries to stall. "Just let me finish talking to Jesse."

Lex shows his teeth in a quick, hard smile. "I know how busy you are, Chloe, but this is a pretty urgent matter. I need a moment of your time right now." He dismisses Jesse with a glance and walks over to examine the Wall of Weird.

Jesse bristles next to her. His general vendetta against the Man has found a very local and specific target and now she has to step in so she can head off some showdown at the O.K. Corral, or, with Lex in the picture, swords at dawn. Behind Lex's back, she rolls her eyes at Jesse, piling on the bravado. "We'll wrap this up tomorrow, OK?"

He raises an eyebrow, but backs down. "See you tomorrow, then, Sullivan," he says, giving her a jaunty salute at the door. She smiles, and for a moment they're like Mulder and Scully facing off against Cancerman together. The analogy falls apart as soon as she turns to face Lex. Reality check. In any best case scenario, she's Krycek without the leather jacket and sexy intrigue.

She opens a random file on the computer in front of her. "What's up, Lex?" she asks as if he's dropped by for a social call. The best defense is a perky, chipper offense after all.

A sheaf of photographs fans out on her desk in answer. Lex settles a hip against the edge of the desk, casual pose a stark contrast to the cool glint in his eyes. "I'm hoping you can clear up a mystery for me."

She stares at the black and white images. In picture after picture, she's either walking into or out of the LuthorCorp building. Whoever took these photographs used a zoom lens powerful enough to catch the many ways she knows how to look guilty. She lets slip the first thing that comes into her mind. "How long have you been following me?"

Lex widens his eyes in mock innocence. "Gosh, Chloe. That's the thing. I haven't been following you at all. I've just been keeping tabs on my father the way he keeps tabs on me. Nothing says 'I love you' better in the Luthor family than 24 hour surveillance."

"So how did I get caught up in this Oedipal 'Spy vs. Spy'?"

He almost looks friendly for a moment. "Imagine my surprise when you started showing up in the dailies." He leans in so they're nose to nose. "I can't wait to hear your explanation."

This close, he smells like a hint of lavender too. Eau de Luthor. At least that's the only excuse she can think of for the bad clich she serves up next. "This isn't what you think."

"Enlighten me then," he says into her ear. She wants to shiver like a cheesy heroine in one of those romance novels she never reads.

She shifts a little, putting some room between the two of them. Under the desk, she laces her fingers together so that her hands will stop shaking. "I found out that your father put in a good word for me at The Daily Planet and helped me get my internship. So, I went to see him to thank him.

Lex watches her the way snakes must right before they attack defenseless baby animals. "I've got photographs of you visiting LuthorCorp five times in the past four months. You must be very, very grateful to my father."

She sounds so timid, even to her own ears. "I don't know what you're talking about."

His smile twists and his eyes go cold. He tosses a folder on the desk. "Maybe these will refresh your memory."

For just a second, she's sick with envy over the quality of the pictures she sees. The editor in her wants to ask Lex who he gets to develop them. They're nothing like the grainy, pixilated images The Torch has to settle for. Then, she's just sick as she flips through photograph after photograph of her and Lionel Luthor. She has her face buried in his lap in most of them and some stupid part of her brain insists on pointing out that the camera makes her butt look much bigger than it really is. She'll have to remember that for the next time she goes down on someone.

When the relentless details get to be too much, she closes the folder and forces herself to look up at Lex. He's standing with his hands in his pockets, looming above her like some weird combination of Nosferatu and an avenging angel. "What do you want?" she asks him, voice steady, even calm.

The fluorescent lights turn his face into a hard, white mask. "What does my father want from you?" he asks in return.

Quid pro quo. She shouldn't be surprised by how much of the father is in the son. Chloe takes the two steps that separate them and drops to her knees. She has a chance to feel the rub of expensive wool against her fingers before Lex grabs her hand and yanks her to her feet.

"That's not what I meant," he says. He lets go of her hand, and steps back. His thin smile mocks them both. "Unlike my father, I don't get much pleasure from sexual favors offered under duress."

Those are tears blurring the photographs on the desk into comforting smears of gray. "I have to go," she says, fumbling for her keys and her bag.

"Chloe, wait." He's not pleading. Luthors don't plead. But, the hint of apology threading its way through his order stops her at the door. She swipes at her tears with an impatient hand.

As she pulls herself together, Lex politely directs his attention to the new computers, scanner, and color printer that may as well have LuthorCorp tattooed on them. When he focuses on her again, he looks at her with unexpected kindness. "I know my father. He's very good at making tempting offers. Whatever he's promised you, though, it's not worth it."

"I know," she says. She's always known, even as she tried to convince herself otherwise.

"Then why are you meeting with him?"

He doesn't care about her motives. He just wants to know what Lionel Luthor's plotting. So, she settles on a partial truth. "Your father made me an offer that really was hard to refuse. I took it. Isn't that what people are supposed to do?"

He hones in on the chinks in her tough cookie armor without any hesitation. "And your sudden pragmatism has nothing to do with the fact that Clark and Lana are together?"

Her smile`s brittle as bone. "Not at all."

"Of course not," he agrees. The flash of sympathy that darts across his face doesn't surprise her. She's seen the way he looks at Clark sometimes, with a fierce want surprisingly indiscreet for a man who likes to play everything so close to the vest.

The fact that he doesn't press further irritates her. "So, are we finished with the
interrogation? Can I go?" she asks.

Theatrical asshole that he is, he pauses before stepping up close to her again. "Just one last question. When are you going to break things off with my father?"

Apparently, her voice has gone into business independent of her brain because she was planning to say either the smart thing, "As soon as I can" or the satisfying thing, "Fuck you." What comes out instead is, "I don't know."

He nods like she just passed some secret test. "It's not going to be easy to disentangle yourself from my father. He can be very persistent." Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulls out a card and slides it into her hand. It`s blank except for a phone number printed in black and warm as if some of Lex`s body heat got trapped in the very weave of the paper. "Let me know if you need any help. I'll do whatever I can."

She shushes the part of her mind that wants to demand when not working for Lionel Luthor became a done deal. "Okay. Thanks," she says, stuffing the card into her bag. "Are we done now?" She wants to get out of here so she can exercise her God-given right to deny everything.

He dismisses her with a lazy wave of the hand and a smile so sharp even its edges have edges. "Don't be a stranger, Chloe."

Later on, when she's huddled under the cold water in the shower, she'll put the pieces together like a good detective. She'll figure out that sometime between her conversation with Lex and her next meeting with Lionel, the two of them must have had a father and son chat, Luthorstyle. She'll speculate that Lex must have
forced his father's hand somehow. She'll try to tell herself she always knew things would end this way.

In the moment, though, she can only stare at her reflection as she stands almost naked in front of the mirror in another LuthorCorp office. It`s a smaller space tucked away in a basically empty corridor. "So we can have a little more privacy," Lionel Luthor said. That alone should have tipped her off.

Then again, by the time he has her all but undressed, she's buzzing on a cocktail of whiskey (a first), nerves, and heat.

"Lift your arms, Chloe," he instructs her, sliding her shirt off her shoulders. He's never called her by her first name before.

"Good girl," he murmurs into her ear. He snakes one arm around her waist and pulls her in close so that the buttons on his shirt press into her bare back. His right hand smoothes up and down her side, raising goose bumps from the curve of her hip to her shoulder.

All of this is so different, so intimate. She closes her eyes and lets her head curve under his chin. They fit against each other more neatly than she would ever have predicted.

"Keep your eyes open, Chloe," he says in that same gravelly whisper. "I want you to see yourself."

She nods and opens her eyes. It's like she's in a fairy tale where some magic spell works its enchantment, but only if she stays quiet and never acknowledges the fact that there's magic at work.

"Look at yourself," he tells her and she does, watching as his reflection mouths the place where her neck and shoulder meet. The bite of teeth against her skin startles her enough so that she twists in his arms.

When his hands close over her breasts, she feels like she's nothing but liquid. "You're so responsive," he says. "So eager." The Chloe in the mirror confirms his observations by gasping and arching her head back.

"So young." His voice hardens at the exact moment he steps away from her. She grabs the edge of the mirror to stop from falling. "Just a child playing at games she has no talent for."

"I don't understand," she says. She's desperate to cover herself up in some belated show of modesty, but forces her hands to stay where they are, clutched against the mirror.

He pours himself a drink from one of those little bars that seem to be everywhere at LuthorCorp. "Consider this your quarterly performance review," he says over the smoky hiss of vermouth tumbling onto ice. "And the news, I'm afraid, is not good." He takes a minute to seat himself at the shiny glass desk and cross his legs.

The trick now is not to show fear. Because he's right. Ever since their first meeting, she's only given him reports full of vague, evasive facts when he demands them from her. She crosses the room to sit down in a chair facing him and tries not to think about how slick leather feels against bare skin. "If you think the quality of my work is so poor, maybe you should have specified page lengths and minimum word requirements."

"Now, now, Chloe," he says silkily. "I like the people who work for me to be self-starters. What I want us to think about is what can we do to give you the internal motivation you so desperately need."

"What are you suggesting?"

He smiles and points at the ceiling corner behind them. "Let's just say, Big Brother is watching."

It takes her a few seconds to make the connection. "You son of a bitch," she spits. She's never called any adult that name to their face before.

He watches her over his drink with amused eyes. "I imagine there are a lot of people who would be very disappointed in you if they found out the truth about how you got your internship. Your father. Your friends. Clark Kent, in particular."

"I bet there would be just as many people who would be disgusted that you record your sexual activities with a teenage girl," she says. She leans forward, propping her elbows on the desk. "Your son. Your stockholders. Your board of directors."

In the second it takes for him to school his face into a patronizing smile, she sees herself as he sees her. A gauche little upstart who can't tell the difference between oral sex and oral contracts. One of the unwashed masses whose elbows leave smudges on his glass desktop. She shrinks back in her chair.

"You may be right about the public's reaction," he says. In the dim afternoon light, he looks like some sneering emperor carved in stone. "But are you willing to sacrifice your journalistic integrity before your career has even begun?"

She refuses to look him in the eye. She doesn`t see how she can win this one.

"I didn't think so." He's all business now, a high-powered executive snapping out orders to his secretary. "I want everything you have on my desk next week at this time. No more slipshod little charts of Clark Kent's school schedule please."

She will not nod her head.

He passes by her in a rustle of expensive fabric, pausing at the door to the office. "Oh come now, my dear," he says. His false tenderness grates more than anything else. "You didn't delude yourself into thinking all of this was some sort of `light of my life, fire of my loins' scenario did you? I'm no Humbert Humbert. And you, charming as you can be, are no Lolita. You only have to look at yourself in the mirror to see that."

She sits in the empty office for a long time after he leaves. She doesn't need to look in the mirror to know that she's ugly when she cries.

If she were in a movie, this is the point where she would slide into bad-girldom in a racy montage. Reality's much more banal. She stays home from school one day. Dad thinks she looks really pale and sick and insists. She avoids The Torch office, but she figures the ambitious freshmen on the staff will pick up the slack. The closest she comes to freefall is spending as much time as she can with Jesse.

Jesse pretty much has free run of his house. The only sign of an adult presence is the rapid-fire typing Chloe sometimes hears from behind a closed door. His mom is a psychology professor working on a book about the way communities heal after major traumas. She has a whole chapter on the meteor showers planned.

In his bedroom upstairs, Jesse teaches her how to smoke pot the right way. "Make sure you can see what you exhale," he tells her, fingers staying on hers longer than they have to when he passes her the pipe. "That's how you know you got a hit." The herby-smoky taste thick in her mouth, Chloe stretches out on the bedroom floor and watches Jesse preside over his record player. He hunches his shoulders the way she figures all boys do when they masturbate.

"Labradford," he says over wordless, molassesslow melodies. "I saw them play once and it was like watching four guys play their instruments in slow motion."

"Postal Service. One guy writes the lyrics and mails them to the other guy. who sets them to music."

Jesse talks and talks, explaining the finer points of emo and trip hop in a torrent of words no amount of weed can stanch, and like a time lapse photograph, she moves from sprawling on the floor to lying side by side with him on his bed. They don't do that much. Jesse brushes against her more than he has to when he changes records. Or, he drags his hand up and down her arm in slow, warm sweeps. She closes her eyes and lets something tight unfurl a little in her. She never realized before how freeing it is just to float.

So, she's surprised when Jesse decides to rock the Platonic boat. They're together in his bed, on top of the covers, face to face. He skims his hands over her sides, sliding against the layers of wintertime clothing she doesn't take off even though his room's too warm. Her fingers keep settling into the hollow of his back.

"What are you thinking right now?" he asks. Without his glasses, his eyes look soft and unfocused.

Part of her wants to say, "My English paper" or "Next week's issue" so that they'll stay like this, always hovering somewhere between naptime and necking. She's certain they would too. For all his hip posturing, Jesse's moves seem more theory than practice. But, he's such a warm pile of boy next to her that she tells him the truth. She puts her hand against his cheek. "I'm thinking about how good this feels."

She gets a glimpse of the way his slow smile makes his face open like a flower before he brushes his lips against hers.

The first kiss is as sweet as those 1950s girl group songs Jesse played her, which is completely fine. Most of her past kisses remind her of the Psycho soundtrack, shrill, jagged and discordant. She doesn't mind messier though and she lets Jesse know with a gasp. He pulls her to him so that they're a tangle of arms and legs and soon they're as messy and jangly as punk rock.

Jesse's tongue strokes hot and dirty in her ear as her teeth scrape against the thin line of tendon along his neck. Now she's on top of him and oops, she just lost her shirt and yes, that's her hand on his cock and my, what big hands he has and right there right there right there. From very far off, she hears herself shout over the singer warning everyone about how women always faint and villains never blink their eyes, and then slow, white-hot waves drag her down.

Later, tucked up against him as the record player sings,

If I could make the world as pure and strange as what I see,

I'd put you in the mirror I hold in front of me

she wishes she could never leave this room that smells like her and him.

Friday night, when she pulls up to the house and finds Clark sitting on the doorstep, she's tempted to take the cowardly route and stay in the car until he leaves. But, Clark's stare cuts across the dusk and drags her out of the car like the Death Star catching the Millennium Falcon in its tractor beam pull.

Once they're face to face, there's one of those awkward silences that seem to spring up so easily these days. Even though Pete bullied them into apologizing to each other after that day at the Talon, their friendship's about as strong as a poorly set broken bone. Still, someone has to make the effort. "Hey," she says tentatively. "I think Lana's at the Talon tonight."

Clark pauses before he answers. He stares at a point somewhere above her right shoulder. "Yeah. She left a few minutes ago. I was just looking at the stars."

She wonders if Clark and Lana had another fight. She tries not to listen too hard, but the walls in the house are thin. Sometimes, she overhears fragments of their conversations, plaintive stuff like "I don't understand," "Why won't you talk to me about this?" "I thought we put what happened in Metropolis behind us." It takes a lot of effort not to put the pieces together.

Whatever the case, friends don't let friends fall into a deep brood, even when they're
uncomfortable with each other. "At least you`re not playing with your telescope all alone," she says.

The Clark of a year ago would have blushed and said, "God, Chloe, knock it off." PostMetropolis Clark takes a second to examine her
for malicious intent before he smiles and shakes his head. "I'm not doing that." His teeth flash sharp and white under the porchlight. "Where are you coming back from? Jesse's?"

She ignores the paranoid little voice in her head whispering about trusting no one. High-tech surveillance has nothing on high school grapevines. "No comment," she says, letting a goofy smile stretch her mouth wide. Clark grins back at her, so Clark-like for the moment that she settles down next to him on the steps.

He looks at her neck for just a second too long before grinning even wider and nudging her with his elbow. "I don't really know Jesse," he says, innocent as hell. "But, I think he likes you a lot."

She nudges him back with her elbow, hard. "Shut up, Clark." She's the one who blushes in the dark, remembering Jesse staring at her while he babbles, "Oh shit, oh Chloe, oh fuck."

Maybe sitting for too long in the night air leads to massive mood swings because, without warning, Clark turns big-eyed and earnest like a walking public service announcement. "Seriously, he seems like a good guy. I`m glad for you," he says. Nothing in his face or his voice suggests that Jesse pulls a City-Mouse/ Country-Mouse thing whenever the two of them are in the same room.

She tries to guide the conversation back to a lighter place. "And you don't even have to do the whole `be careful, Chloe' speech this time."

Somehow, she's managed to dampen the mood even further. Clark's smile disappears. He stares up at the night sky with a grim look on his face. She feels like she did the summer after eighth grade when she made him and Pete teach her how to play football. She insisted they treat her like one of the guys and spent the summer either fumbling the ball or ducking wicked passes.

When he turns back to her, he looks so pained she almost can't recognize him. "No, I won't," he tells her too casually. "You're a good judge of character, Chloe, and I trust you." He's pleading with her in that oblique, out of the corner of his eye way he has, and she can't pretend not to understand the subtext here.

She's not prepared for this. She should confess. She should try to reassure him. She should tell him she knows as many ways not to see what's in front of her as he knows ways not to answer a direct question. "Clark--"

He stops her before she can say more. His words tumble out, as shaky and fractured as the look on his face. "I know things have been weird between us, but you have to believe I want you to be happy. You're one of my best friends. I don't want anything to change that."

Watching his dogged faith in her battle it out with suspicion is like standing at the frontlines of a scorched-earth war. She puts her hand on top of his, a secret handshake sealing an agreement they won`t ever discuss. "I don't want to change that either."

He curls his hand over hers for a second before he stands up. "I should go," he says, trying for normal and almost succeeding. He looks at her one more time in the cold night air and gives her a small, tired smile. "I'm glad we got a chance to talk."

The last time she makes Lionel Luthor come, they meet in a depressing, glorified cubicle in the basement at LuthorCorp. She walks in and it's dj vu all over again. He doesn't look her way. He just leans back in the kind of uncomfortable chair specially designed for mediocre executives sent to corporate Purgatory and talks on the phone about buyouts and the FCC and overseas.

She sits down across from him and concentrates on listing all of the strong women she can think of. She's not very picky about who makes the list, but she still has a hard time coming up with names. Cleopatra. Joan of Arc. Betsy Ross. Lady Macbeth. Maybe she needs to narrow down her criteria.

He breaks into her thoughts while she's debating whether Buffy jumping off the tower to save the world in "The Gift" counts. "I'm glad to see you're punctual, Miss Sullivan. Would you like something to drink?"

She almost laughs out loud. Fitzgerald, and by extension Mr. Peters, were right. The rich really are different than she is. They mix good manners and ruthless business practices with a practiced hand. "No thank you."

He pours himself another cup of that thicksmelling tea she remembers from that first
meeting. Just the scent alone reminds her of how angry she was then. Fury seemed to hum right underneath her skin. She tries to hold on to that feeling.

He nods at the envelope in her hand, impersonal like a distant god. "I believe you have some reports to give me.

She squares her shoulders. Right. She can do this because the world is harsh and cruel and this is the moment, she owns, it she better never let it go, rah rah team. She takes a breath and keeps her face impassive. "Actually, I was hoping we could discuss our partnership first," she says, putting just the slightest extra stress on "partnership." She makes herself stand up, walk around to his side of the desk, and trail a hand across his shoulder. His bones seem too thin to house one of the world's richest men.

"What did you have in mind?" he asks, catching hold of her hand. He strokes the soft, webby flesh between her fingers.

She revs up the seduction factor. "Some kind of verbal agreement." She licks her lips and tries to look worldly, or failing that vacuous and slutty. She doesn't remember everything about her worm-induced walk on the wild side, but she does remember trying to proposition Clark with a lollipop.

Lionel Luthor studies her with a contemplative air, dragging a finger against her mouth. Of course he doesn't fall for such an obvious, cheesy ploy, but the cynical curiosity and amusement in his eyes has to work in her favor somehow. This is the sophistication of the rich, the kind of thing that brought the Roman Empire down. She lets the tip of her tongue dart out to lap at salty skin.

"Perhaps I haven't been as creative in thinking about our partnership as I should have been," he says before he tugs her down to cover her mouth with his. It feels like a slap when he kisses her in a clash of teeth. He tastes as harsh and medicinal as the bad pot she smokes with Jesse and his tongue snakes against her in lazy strokes. She can`t help the little whimper that escapes as he pulls away. "I may have underestimated you," he tells her silkily.

"You'll have to correct that oversight, then," she says, thin and breathless.

He smiles. "Let's see how your negotiation skills have progressed." He pushes on her shoulder and she slides to the floor as some highly inappropriate voice in her head chants, "You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow."

While she opens his pants, he watches her with a heavy-lidded stare that makes her hands shake . Here she is playing an X-rated game of chicken with Lionel Luthor when the only games she's ever won at were Candyland and Concentration way back in the day.

She bends her head and forces herself not to do any comparing and contrasting. The way her lips stretch and the way the fullness in her mouth feels good are all familiar. She still can't take him that deep, but she's learned that wrapping one hand around the base does good things. The art of sucking cock isn't all that hard to master and oh, she spoke too soon because she forgets to cover her teeth and hears a soft hitch of breath above her. She eases back, and files that away in her mind. He gives so little away any twitch is like a tell.

As if he can read her thoughts, he drawls, "I'm not sure how impressed I am so far." His hands fist into her hair, another first, and he starts to push into her mouth. Suddenly, he feels huge and she can't breathe.

She closes her eyes and tells herself this isn't all that different from Tom Strong making fun of her hair in the cafeteria. Lionel Luthor's just a bully in couture clothing.

He pushes until he's nudging the back of her throat, watching her the whole time with sharp, alert eyes. He stops right before he actually hits the back of her throat and smiles down at her and she flashes on Pete laughing while he pinned her in some WWF move. When Lionel Luthor pauses, she almost expects him to tell her, "Say `Uncle' and I'll stop."

She didn't cry "Uncle" then, she's not going to here either. She grabs hold of his hips and pulls, fighting hard not to gag. A slight pop and her nose is pressed up against his shirt. He lets out a sharp gasp and there. Reflexes take over. His hips start to buck. She lets her teeth drag hard and he howls, belting out an aria of pleasure and pain. She clamps down just a little harder when she tastes a spurt of warm, wet salt. She feels an answering jolt and, as she starts to swallow, she can only think, "Two for flinching

It feels like an eternity before he's finally soft. She pulls back, all careless scraping teeth, stands up, and looks down at him. Behold the man. And at the moment that's all he is, a man who reacts to hot, wet, and tight just like any other man because apparently orgasm's the great leveler.

Blindsided, he stares up at her, a shark out of water. The flare of his nose looks like the rasp of gills slowly drying out in the air. His thin fingers bat at his pants as he tries to clean himself off, but, a master of the universe even to the end, his voice stays steady. "Most impressive, Miss Sullivan. I see we will have to renegotiate, indeed."

This it. The coup de grace. Gentleman, ladies. The pages he wants so much drop into his lap. He looks puzzled, squinting at the loopy, child's handwriting on the first page. "Here's your report," she says, smiling sweetly. She's given him the best bedtime reading possible. Forty pages from her journal chronicling her eighth grade love for Clark Kent.

She walks to the door, ignoring his outraged sputter. He'll recover soon enough and return, Leviathan rising from the deep. For the moment, though, she's light and free. She turns around and says, "Consider this my formal resignation, Mr. Luthor."

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