This story was written before Memoria, and has no truck with it whatsoever.Thanks to Owzers and Catherine for the beta.
The first thing she became conscious of was pain. She couldn't say where the pain was located; she wasn't awake enough for that. She wanted to be even less awake, but something was happening to Dad. She had to wake up. For a moment she was almost awake, even opened her eyes a crack, but the white light stabbed like daggers and she sank back into darkness.
Here was Dad, with her, in the car. He was driving. Lois was next to her, holding her arm in a tense, frightened grip. A shadowy car came out of the darkness, its headlights off, then it suddenly darted sideways against them in a screech of metal. The car jerked, and began to rise on two wheels. Lois' grip crushed her arm, and Dad screamed. Dad screamed...
"Dad. Dad..." She opened her eyes, focused. There was the painful white light, illuminating an unmistakable hospital bed in which were two plaster-covered limbs that she had some difficulty recognizing as her own legs, attached to cables and pulleys. Her left arm appeared to be in much the same condition. And there was someone sitting at her bedside, leaning forward anxiously... "Chloe." he said.
Her face lit up. "Lex!" She tried to sit up, but cried out when she inadvertently moved her tractioned limbs. "Oh my god it hurts..." she whispered hoarsely. "It hurts so much..."
"You." Lex snapped at someone out of her line of vision. "Give her something for her pain. Now."
The person came closer (someone in a white coat, she saw blurrily out of the corner of her eye), made an adjustment to an IV drip beside her bed, and withdrew. The pain faded quickly, replaced by an almost sexual euphoria.
"Wow..." She began to drift away in a pleasant haze...but Dad. She dragged herself back to consciousness. "Where's Dad?"
"He's all right - he and your cousin. Of course, they had a few fractures, but nothing like yours. You had the worst of it..." He looked at her with surprising intensity, almost devouring her with his eyes. "You were very lucky. Scared me..."
"I remember, there was this car forcing Dad off the road, and the brakes stopped working." she rasped. "It was Lionel, wasn't it?"
"You even have to ask?" He got her a glass of water, and gently slid an arm around her shoulders to help her drink. "He was arrested two days ago; I've got enough evidence to put him away for life. And you are registered here under an assumed name in a hospital 200 miles from Smallville. My bodyguards line the corridor outside this room. Nothing is going to happen to you."
The conviction in his voice was reassuring, but there was still so much to worry about, even though she couldn't properly recall any of it. "I sent you a diskette...I was afraid Lionel would do something like this, so I put everything I've got on him...did you..."
"Yes, I've got it. Don't worry about it - it's safe."
"Don't be mad at Clark. He was trying to protect you...was afraid that Lionel would try to mindwipe you again if you found out...or maybe worse." She smiled painfully. "Hope you're not too angry at me for not telling you either..."
"Shh...it's all right. I knew already; my memory's been coming back.."
"Oh, really?" she murmured in dreamy surprise. "Good." She closed her eyes, forced them open. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before...really..."
He pushed an errant lock of hair from her face. "You're blithering, Chloe. Go to sleep." He leaned over and kissed her forehead. His hand stroked her cheek, fingertips lightly tracing her jawline, brushing the tender skin of her neck just so, as he softly kissed her cheek, her lips...it was confusing but sweet...as his fingers trailed down the tender hollow of her throat...she returned his kiss with dazed pleasure, felt his caress teasingly slide lower as a lazy wave of heat washed over her, soothing away the last remnants of pain.
"Lex...someone could come in..." she murmured, undermining the cautious nature of her remark by gently nibbling his lower lip.
"Sorry." He sat back, to Chloe's slight disappointment. "I should go. You need to rest." But he made no move to leave; just sat there gazing at her silently.
I'm blissed out on morphine - what's his excuse? she thought muzzily. It hardly seemed to matter. She was falling asleep. Wait a minute... "Clark? How is he? The last time I saw him..."
Lex's face went expressionless for a moment. "Clark? He's fine. He always is, you know."
"Yeah. I know." She relaxed again, felt herself drift. "Ask Dad to come here as soon as he can, 'kay?"
"Sure." He smiled, stroked her hair again.
There was something disturbing in his expression...why? It was a beautiful look from beautiful eyes - wait, that was the morphine talking. What was disturbing? Lex looked at her with startling intensity - that was unusual, yes, with - tenderness? looked that way, yes - protectiveness, yes, all that was very surprising but why disturbing?...fear. There was fear in his look. Lex was *frightened *.
"Lex...what's the matter? Are things worse than you're telling me?"
He shook his head with emphasis. "Rest." He took her hand. "I will keep you safe, Chloe. I swear it."
Reassured by the obvious sincerity in his voice, she allowed herself to relax, her eyes to drift shut. Lex pressed the summons button by the bed. The figure in white came quietly back into the room. Lex looked up to meet the doctor's eyes, nodded at him. The doctor injected a syringe into the IV. Chloe opened her eyes briefly with the faint noise, looked sleepily puzzled for a moment before her eyes rolled back. She hadn't had time to be frightened, Lex thought; one thing to be thankful for. He left the room.
Well, and just how many lies did you tell there, Lex? Let's review, shall we:
Number 1: Gabe and Lois are all right...well, no; I'm afraid not, Chloe. Not that I would've objected to saving them, but the bodyguard I had shadowing you is a very literal-minded man. He was told to protect you, so when Lionel engineered that car accident, he pulled you out - and no one else. The car's explosion made it certain there would be no survivors. My father is thorough. I don't consider what happened my fault, but I don't see the point of causing you useless anguish by telling you the truth. You won't need to know.
Number 2: Lionel is captured. As a matter of fact, dear Chloe, he was released on bail two days ago, and disappeared into hiding immediately. I'm on his trail, and getting close, but it will take awhile to run him to ground, and I don't plan to defeat him by the legal means you'd approve of. He will go down...eventually. In the meantime, hiding in a hospital under an assumed name is at best a temporary measure for you.It's not enough to keep you safe from him for long.
Number 3: I'm not angry at Clark, or you, for not telling me what Lionel did to me. Well...
Number 4: I will keep you safe, Chloe. That one's the worst, isn't it. Because Chloe is going to die. Lionel isn't going to kill her. I will.
Dr. Garner came out of Chloe's room. "She'll be ready in a few hours."
"Is it like the procedure my father put me through?" Lex stood in Dr. Garner's office. Visible alcohol is generally frowned upon in doctor's offices, but Garner had a well-stocked cabinet, and Lex partook of some Scotch.
"No, not at all. Our procedure is far more precise and less harmful. There is no potential for physical brain damage, as there was in your case." Dr. Garner answered. Lex winced a little. Garner obliviously went on with his lecture. "Selected areas of the brain will be simultaneously exposed to micro-electrical pulses and minute amounts of chemical neurotransmitters. The memories stored in those neurons will be erased without actually damaging the brain cells. The effect will mimic certain types of global amnesia caused by trauma and strokes. She will awaken with all memories of personal experience wiped, but with her stores of general knowledge intact - language, academics - all the information necessary to keep her a functional human being." He took a tiny sip of brandy, as if to fortify himself. "In theory."
Lex gave him his coldest look. "In theory?"
Garner put down his glass. "This is an experimental procedure - we have as yet done very little work with human subjects. While I believe we can approximate the results you desire, there is a risk that we might erase more than we intend. She could lose, for example, her memory of language - and that's extremely difficult for an adult to relearn. She may even lose such motor skills as walking..."
Lex glared. "You are to guarantee that it won't happen."
"I'm afraid I can't," Garner replied tranquilly, "no matter how you care to threaten me. No, Mr. Luthor, if you order me to do this, you must accept the responsibility along with me - the risk exists."
Lex turned away. I'm acting like my father, he thought to himself. When he did something unspeakable, to me or to anyone else he supposedly loved, he would convince himself he was doing what was best for that person. He would take all the precautions necessary to inflict no damage except the damage he himself decided was necessary; he would weep maudlin tears over the damaged thing afterwards, bewailing the obstinacy and blindness of the loved one who had forced him to do the horrible deed. He would convince himself that he was not responsible, that he was not in fact killing the thing he loved.
This is my act. I must own it.
"What will she be like?" he asked, surprised at the steadiness of his voice.
Dr. Garner had been watching him with interest, but when Lex turned his gaze on him and spoke in that coldly serene voice, he blanched slightly.
"Difficult to say. The basic genetic personality will remain - the traits she inherited at birth. But the personality she has now, shaped by her life experience - that will be gone. Her new character will develop from the moment she awakens. Unfortunately, it will be shaped by great distress. The history of individuals who have suffered memory loss by natural means shows that patients like her don't...do well...as a rule."
"Why not?" Lex asked calmly, as if discussing the fate of someone he was quite unacquainted with.
But Garner had seen his face when he bent over the girl - there had been real emotion there. Had he been faking it then? Or now? His apparent unconcern made Garner uneasy.
"The patients who recover best are those who have supportive relatives or friends, who guide them through the process of relearning their old lives. But she has no one who can do that for her; she will never recall anything of her old life. People who go through this are usually low-functioning and often mentally unstable, subject to breakdowns. It's hardly surprising, considering that she must construct herself out of virtually nothing; with a personality born out of great trauma."
"A trauma she won't remember."
"But trauma nonetheless. I'm not speaking merely of the death of her family - I mean the loss of what is every human being's birthright - a past. In losing her past, she would be losing her family, her childhood, her very context in the world." Garner looked steadily at him. "She will need to be very resilient to survive at all, let alone thrive."
"She is that." Lex whispered.
Garner wondered if Lex would decide against the procedure after all. He waited with interest...he waited...he waited longer.
Lex looked up from his drink, as if surprised to see he was still there. "Well, Doctor? Your patient is waiting for you." Dr. Garner pressed his lips together, and withdrew.
Once alone, Lex drained his glass. Damn it, this is her own fault, he thought.If only she had told me earlier what Lionel had done to me - what he had erased from my memory, this might never have become necessary. She shouldn't have hidden it from me. Her fault - hers and Clark's - especially Clark's. At least she had the decency to finally tell me. Damn it...Chloe, I have to. I know that if I let you , you'll try to avenge your father's death by bringing Lionel down. Nothing will silence you, or convince you to go into hiding. You're courageous, and completely naive. You're no match for Lionel.
Don't blame her. Don't tell yourself lies. You're not just doing this so that she can start a new life, safe from Lionel. You know that Chloe will, if you let her, dedicate her life to exposing every one of Lionel's crimes and Luthorcorp's illegal research - and all the damage it's caused. She has a very good notion of the extent of it - she can dig up the evidence and publicize it. The personal injury lawsuits alone can run into millions - and that's nothing compared to what the Attorney General will do. Luthorcorp would be destroyed. And that would be a pity, wouldn't it - some of that research was amazing - Lex had plenty of uses for it.
In a sense he could blame this on Clark's betrayal of him. His best friend had concealed what his father had done to him, concealed the violation of his mind from him, and by doing so had allied himself with his father in the worst act Lionel had ever committed against Lex. The memories he'd recovered of that time were still maddeningly sketchy, but one thing was fairly clear; he had begged Clark more than once to help him, to save him from Lionel. Clark could have done it (he was sure of this, though he could not remember why). Clark had refused - Clark had abandoned him - his best friend, his brother, someone he had once ridiculously considered the best thing in his life. When Clark did that to me, he thought, it broke something in me; trust, morality, whatever would've kept me from doing this to her. Now - I'm different. I put compunction aside, and I feel the better for it. That part of me I put aside has only caused me pain. And yet I mourn for it - mourn for the man I could've been.
That man made a vow. Chloe, that last promise I made you? It wasn't entirely a lie. I WILL keep you safe...not just from Lionel...from me.
Jody had left her her photo album and other belongings; she'd even stayed to talk for a few minutes, although she had the late shift at the diner awaiting her. It was kind of her, but Lois felt slightly uncomfortable. She suspected the feeling was mutual. Jody had real concern in her eyes when they talked, but there was also an unease there; Lois could understand why. Jody had been suddenly thrust into the role of Only Known Friend and Chief Moral Support of a roommate she'd only known as a casual acquaintance for one month prior to the accident. It had to be difficult for her, Lois thought - it sure is for me.
"You're healing really well." Jody had tried to reassure her. "The swelling's gone down. You look good, except - you don't really look exactly the same as I remember you before."
"I know. The doctors warned me. They told me my facial bones were crushed, that I'd had to have a complete reconstruction. They told me I was lucky that it turned out as well as it did."
"Well, you look good." Jody said loyally. "Just not exactly like you were before."
"I don't remember how I looked." Lois said dryly.
"Well, I brought everything you left." Jody put down the box. "There are some pictures - maybe it'll help. Would you like me to stay while you go through them?"
It was a kind offer; Lois felt absurd tears sting her eyes. "No. I'm not ready yet. Go on, I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks."
The photo album, the clothes and the papers lay in a heap on the bed, but for awhile Lois pretended they weren't there; she read the Daily Planet instead. There was something very comforting about reading about current events that she could actually remember, about people whose faces she could recall, even if they were the faces of prime ministers of Indonesia and rock stars in Gotham, and other people she would never meet. Every person she had met in the flesh so far had been an utter stranger.
It was surreal. The doctors had tested her on her recall of names of presidents, of recent news stories, of historical events, and the definition of metaphors and similes. She had passed with flying colors. They had asked her name. She was dumbstruck -still was. If she was alone, without a distraction like the newspaper, her mind would scrabble around, endlessly trying to recall one single detail of what had been her life. She had a perpetual gnawing sense of loss, emptiness. She even obsessively analyzed her dreams for clues; but they were all of the hospital, of wandering through empty corridors.
The doctors had told her she was extremely lucky. She had recuperated far better than anyone who had suffered such extensive brain trauma had any right to expect. She might recuperate some or all of her memory in the future. She might not. She forced herself to grab blindly at the disorderly pile. Her birth certificate, her social security card, her college transcripts; her grades had been indifferent (to put it kindly). No wonder she'd dropped out. Some clothes - she smiled slightly at an Amsterdam t-shirt with a pot leaf on it; a photo album - it was small, the photos had no captions. Apparently I'm not the kind of person who does fussy scrapbooks, she thought.
One photo showed a dark-haired little girl with her parents - I guess it must be her parents, they're holding her hands. My parents, dammit. Barbara and Kevin Lane, as per my birth certificate. Nice-looking people. They died, according to public records, twelve and three years ago respectively. They apparently took me to the beach several times, to Disney World once, and riding on a pony a few times. She didn't feel the slightest shiver of recognition while looking at them - or at herself, for that matter. She knew herself by the color of her hair and eyes, and a vague facial resemblance - not a very strong one. There didn't seem to be pictures of any other family members, like the cousin and uncle who'd died in the accident.
If only I could mourn these people. At least I would know I had someone I loved once. But I feel nothing when I look at them.
The last few photos were of herself in various European tourist spots - posing cheerfully in front of the Louvre, holding up the Tower of Pisa. Sometimes she would be with someone else, but never the same person twice; there was no one she could identify as a friend, no one she recognized. She looked at herself in the mirror - thin face, a light stubble of hair just beginning to hide the livid scars on her scalp, fading bruises on unrecognizable features - another stranger. She felt the tears sting her eyes again, and this time she didn't restrain them.
Lex watched her cry. He wasn't afraid that she would discover the camera, it was well-hidden. He had requested it only yesterday, rather surprising himself.
She went through the pile of books and papers again. Lex had personally gone over every item in that stack after Damien, his best operative, had gotten through with it. At first he hadn't thought it was a good idea to give Chloe her cousin's identity. "My father will investigate her. He'll think Chloe might've told her something about my grandparents' murders."
Damien smiled. "He already has. Lois Lane's apartment was burglarized the night of the accident. Her belongings were searched. They found nothing. I believe Lionel's obtained a copy of her medical records. It has our cover story - that Lois Lane suffers from global amnesia due to head trauma suffered in the same accident that killed Chloe and Gabriel Sullivan. She can't remember anything Chloe might've told her. Lionel is on the run, laying low. He isn't going to stick his neck out to try to silence someone who poses no threat to him anyway. Your operative had a brilliant idea the night of the accident - to misidentify Chloe as her cousin Lois, so that Chloe could be pronounced officially dead. Lois Lane is a perfect identity for her - much easier than inventing a new identity from scratch. She has no living family. She was an army brat; her family moved all over the States in her childhood, and she recently came back from Europe where she spent the past two years touring and working odd jobs. She has formed no strong relationships we are aware of...no friends, I mean, who know her so well that they could tell by some tiny clue that she had been replaced by someone else. She lives with a roommate she's only known for a few weeks. It's perfect."
The plastic surgeons had done well, he thought. Lois Lane and Chloe Sullivan had had a strong family resemblance - same height, same hair and eye coloring. He had asked them not to make an exact copy of Lois Lane's features, but to design a composite of the two women's faces. The woman he was looking at now bore a dreamy resemblance to Chloe and to Lois, but a closer look would reveal enough differences to convince anyone that knew either of them that he was looking at a stranger. I don't want anyone to recognize you, Lex thought. I don't want an old buddy of Lois' to recognize you and notice a birthmark or a scar missing that we've overlooked, or wonder why your voice seems to sound different. I don't want an old Smallville pal - Clark, for example - to notice how much you look like a dearly departed friend. I've taken away all photos of old acquaintances you might try to look up. I am not going to allow you any reason to doubt the identity I'm building for you. There was a perverse thrill in that thought - the power he had to make her life into what he wanted. He felt a faint horror at himself. He'd promised himself to cut off all contact with her. All the work establishing the identity was done. Chloe - Lois - was almost well enough to be discharged from the hospital. She would go with a fairly large sum of money (ostensibly from Gabe's life insurance policy, in fact from Lex's pocket) and with Lex's best wishes for whatever life she managed to build for herself. And he would never see her again, in penance for having destroyed her old life, and to keep from marring the new one.
That had been the original plan, anyway.
The woman on the screen wiped her eyes, put the belongings away in the box. She took up a pair of weights and began to exercise - physical therapy to regain strength lost during her long convalescence, he knew. Her face was calm and stoic. Lex watched her, watched the play of muscles in her back and arms, heard the soft whisper and pant of her breath, a strangely intimate sound. He felt a rush of honey through his veins, a voyeuristic pleasure in watching her, unseen. She had finished with the weights. She reached down, began to pull off her tank top. Lex felt his breath come faster - then suddenly realized what he was doing. He turned off the feed, feeling heartily disgusted with himself; and for good measure erased the camera link from his computer. This was the last time, he promised himself. Definitely.
He kept the promise for a month, at least. He skulked in the lobby of the hospital. She's going, he thought. I'm just seeing her off. That's all.
They came out of the elevator. Her hair had grown out long enough to obey gravity; it was a glossy medium brown. He looked at his watch as if waiting for someone, then glanced up again at her. Their eyes met. There was no flicker of recognition in her gaze. Chloe wasn't naive; she'd been cynical enough to be a realist, yet there'd always been something open and eager in her expression, a joyful impatience to get on with life. Chloe'd never had that tense, guarded look he now saw in this girl - this woman's eyes.
At some level she knows she's been betrayed, he thought. Of course, she only knows that it was life in general that betrayed her; she's unaware of the specifics. But she's wary of another blow. There was no fear in her eyes, though; she regarded him with curiosity - and healthy caution. Congratulations, Lois - you'll need it.
They reached the door, both carrying suitcases; Lex leapt forward to open the door for them. He was still looking at Lois. She was obviously intrigued by his interest.
"Do I know you?" she asked.
"Ah...no. I think not."
Lois smiled briefly. "I kinda hoped."
He held her gaze with his, and smiled down into her eyes (I promised myself I would not be doing this, why am I doing this). He was drawing in breath to make a suitably flirtatious remark when a chill crept into her expression, and she turned dismissively away, walking with her companion to the waiting cab, leaving him with his mouth open.
"...that was Lex Luthor! The millionaire. The single millionaire." Jody's mouth was agape.
"Really." Lois felt tempted to look back, but still felt uneasy about him.
"He was smiling at you! He was about to make a move. And you blew him off." In Jody's voice there was a kind of awe at Lois' cosmic effrontery, or stupidity. "Why?"
Lois drew in breath to answer flippantly, but hesitated. "I...I don't know. Just got a bad vibe, I guess." she finally answered.
Jody looked skeptical. "From those eyes? That face? A bad vibe? He was smiling. He's so hot. He was in Metropolitan magazine the other day..." Jody looked dreamily at nothing.
"Oh, I acknowledge the hotness. It's just - I don't know. It seemed like there was way more going on behind his eyes than there ought to be with a simple come-on. His eyes looked - calculating."
Jody sighed, shook her head. "Whatever. Here, you wanted the Sunday Planet?"
"Thanks." Lois took the newspaper, looked at its headlines. It was beginning to seem like an old friend.
"Did you want the classifieds?" Jody asked hesitantly. "You know I could get you a spot on the night shift if you want it..."
"No thanks. My uncle's insurance left me with enough to be comfortable for awhile. I've been thinking of going back to college."
"Really? I didn't think you were interested in going back when you came to Metropolis."
"Yeah, judging from my transcript, I guess I didn't think college was that interesting - but I don't remember it. And I can't go on living my life trying to guess what I might've wanted six months ago. I want it now. Maybe I'll be no good at it, but I have to try."
Jody looked at her thoughtfully. "Oh, I think you can manage it."
Lex stood with his mouth open as the cab pulled away, then laughed softly. He watched the cab, with Lois' brunette head visible in the rear windshield, till it faded from sight. Would she re-dye her hair blonde, he wondered? He didn't think so; if this woman dyed her hair any color it would probably be black.
His heart was beating hard - he felt shocked by this wave of emotion. He took a deep breath, tried to analyze it. He felt attracted...no, stronger than that. He felt possessive of her. In a sense, he'd made her.
He wanted her. He knew that he wanted her partly because she was forbidden, because it was horribly wrong to want her; and he wanted her because she was beautiful, and strong, and intensely vulnerable behind that strength. She challenged him to get past her defenses, to rouse her tenderness, make her want him, need him...and savor the wrongness of it - savor her.
No, I won't. I shouldn't. I owe it to her, Lex told himself.
But that voice had faded a great deal over the intervening months, and he missed it less and less.
What is love like, without conscience, without remorse? He wanted to know.
Not now, Lex thought. But someday, I might.
Also, why not join
Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?