by Nifra Idril
Chloe wasn't in her bed. There was a sheet over her, and underneath her was something smooth - metal, maybe.
She couldn't open her eyes. She was cold.
"Panic mounted high in a crown around it, Hate and Defense across it, Assault to freeze the blood and right in their midst the Gorgon's monstrous head, that rippling dragon horror, sign of storming Zeus," someone read in a low, velvet voice, and Chloe could hear a page turning. It seemed obscenely loud.
There was dust in her throat, it felt like, and her mouth was a hot dry cave filled by her tongue. Everything was blunted, though - behind layers of...layers of...Chloe didn't know what. The world was fluid, her thoughts were fluid - nothing stable, nothing made sense, nothing to hold on to.
She tried to ask where she was. She tried to ask what had happened, but all that came out was one cough, then another. The dull pain in her ribs had become sharp, and there was fire creeping through her lungs.
"It's okay," someone kept murmuring, soothingly. There was a hand on her forehead - warm and big. "It's going to be okay. Rest."
Chloe couldn't do much else, so she lay back. She breathed deeply. She fell asleep as that kind hand smoothed her hair back, over and over.
There were coats bending over her, white coats. Chloe blinked, and it was bright, so bright with white, white light, and white, white coats, and her eyes traveled up, and up, to faces bent toward her. She couldn't see who they were, pulled away from their dark eyes, unfamiliar noses, rubber hands.
"She's waking up," one of them said. "Someone get him."
Chloe tried to sit up and her hand slipped on the metal beneath her, sending her back down, hard. Her shoulder shrieked, or maybe she did, but her body hurt - it hurt so loud she thought she could hear it over the click, tick tumble of medical instruments, the unknown voices telling her to take it easy, breathe deeply.
"Where - what -," Chloe croaked.
A mutter: "Give her some more morphine - she'll be feeling the burns soon."
"Don't worry about that now," someone told her, as hands held her arms still for a the needle prick. "Don't worry about any of that now. Shh, it's going to be okay. There's going to be time for questions later."
"I've heard that one before," Chloe croaked as the white coats expanded, exploded into the flare of light and the faces above her rounded out into suns.
"...they swarmed forth like wasps from a roadside nest when boys have made it their sport to set them seething, day after day tormenting them round their wayside hive - idiot boys! They make a menace for every man in sight."
Her mouth was dry. Chloe smacked her lips together as her eyes opened. There was a wall across from her, painted pale blue, and beside the bed, a curved back, a bent head - a man with a book. Lex.
Chloe cleared her throat, tried to talk, and Lex's head shot up. His smile was slow, and real.
"Hey there," he said, warmly. "Sleep well?"
"I - " she rasped, frowning, and tried again until she managed, "Water?"
Lex pressed a glass into her hand, and it was so cold, so sweet going down her throat.
"Only a little bit at a time," he cautioned, and Chloe put it down, reluctant. Lex's eyes followed her every motion, waited until she was still. "Should I call the doctor?" he asked, concerned.
She shook her head, and he relaxed back into his chair, reached a hand over to cover hers. "Tell me," she whispered.
"Tell you what, Chloe? What happened? Where you are?" Lex asked, a frown between his eyes.
"Yes," Chloe said, sitting back against the pillows.
Lex began the story with, "I told you I'd protect you," and ended it with a whispered "I'm sorry," as she cried against his shoulder. He felt strong, holding her up, keeping her together as tears leaked down her cheeks and sobs shook her hard. Chloe cried until her eyes swelled shut and she retched. Lex stayed the whole time, held her the whole time.
The doctor came, said, "I'll sedate her," and Chloe's hands tightened in Lex's sweater.
"Please, no," she breathed against his shoulder. "Please."
Lex sent the man away.
"Do any of them know I'm alive?" Chloe asked, staring down at the way her fingers disrupted the stark emptiness of the sheet beneath them.
"No," Lex said after a long moment. "It seemed - it seemed prudent to keep it secret. My father has spies practically everywhere, and it was too important - "
"It's okay, Lex," Chloe told him with a small smile. "I get it."
He nodded, looked nearly grateful and turned the book in his hands over and over.
She knitted her fingers together, made a knot of them, and asked, "When's the trial?"
Lex's gaze shot to hers - wide-eyed, shocked. "Chloe, you don't have to do that, you don't have to go. I'm sure that now, with Clark's testimony, and all the evidence from the explosion, that you don't - "
"I have to," she interrupted again, her voice small and hard. "I have to do this."
A long sigh blew out into the tense room, and Lex scrubbed a hand over his scalp. "Six months," he told her.
"So what do I do until then?" Chloe's voice wobbled a little, and Lex reached out, squeezed her arm.
"You get better," he said, mock stern.
"And what do you do?" she laughed. "While I'm getting better, I mean."
Lex gave her a gentle grin. "I help."
She had to learn how to walk again, how to stand, how to sit. Her skin was raw and red from burns, and she had to have CAT scans once a week. She was weak, and her body was so much smaller than she remembered it being. She'd been unconscious for a long time, and she'd lost weight. When she looked in the mirror, she didn't recognize the hair that brushed her shoulders, the way her cheeks looked sunken, hollow.
"I hate this," she told Lex as he helped her through the small garden behind the house.
He looked up, startled. "What? The roses?"
"No, no," Chloe told him, shaking her head and gesturing at herself with her free hand. "This. Being so - feeble. Helpless."
"You're still recovering," Lex said gently. "You have to give yourself time."
Chloe sighed, sat down heavily on the stone bench. "I know, I know, but even before - I - I always end up being the damsel in distress. I hate it."
"I know the feeling," he told her, wryly. "In fact, Smallville's driven me to take up boxing, kendo - I even take my fencing more seriously."
Chloe laughed a little. "Anything to prevent more head trauma, huh?"
"Exactly," he confirmed. He thought for a moment, then said, "If you'd like, I could teach you some things - only when the doctors say you're up for it, of course."
"I think I'd like that," Chloe told him, staring down at the dirt, thinking of her father and her own empty grave beside him. "I think I'd like that a lot."
Lex's room was right next to Chloe's, and on nights when she couldn't sleep, she would hear him whimpering. Sometimes crying out right, sometimes shaking so hard his bed frame scraped at the floor.
She didn't say anything about it in the mornings. Neither did he, but Chloe noticed his eyes, and the dark spaces in his eyes and how empty his smile could be.
Before - before Lionel, before the trial, before the explosion, before now - Chloe hadn't really thought about Lex that much. She'd never thought it strange that a man like him would spend so much time, so much effort, so much of himself on a bunch of kids like Clark, and Lana.
She didn't think of herself as a kid anymore. She didn't think of herself much at all, really. What she did was push her body through the day. Watch Lex, and try to learn from him. Learn how to hold herself in the ring, how to hold her epee, how to hold her tongue.
They ate dinner together, outside on the porch when the weather was comfortable. Some days were so hot that the air was thick and rose off the grass in waves, and on others, rain dripped down the clouds, onto the house, the field. Chloe liked it best in the in-between times, like dusk after rain, when the heat began to roll back and water beaded on the wooden deck from the afternoon shower.
It was a dry day when Lex asked her, "How do you feel, Chloe?"
"I don't," she told him, with a shrug.
"You will, you know," he said. "It's only been two months."
"Only?" Chloe echoed with a half laugh. "It feels like it's been a lot longer than that."
"I know," Lex said. He brushed the back of her hand with his. "I know."
One step, another, and turn, kick. Chloe's foot hit the heavy bag hard, and chalk flew up in a cloud around it. She bounced on her toes, danced back from the bag, and sucked in a breath between her teeth.
She kept her body moving, lived in the flex of her muscles, the extension of her leg, the dull thud of her fists hitting the leather. She didn't think about her father, or what had happened to him, because of her. She didn't picture Lionel Luthor when she threw her punches.
She just threw them, as hard as she could.
"That's enough," Lex called from the doorway. "Don't over do it."
Chloe ignored him, kept beating at the bag until he came up behind her, wrapped an arm around her waist, dragged her away from it.
"No!" she yelled, elbowing him hard, pulling, trying to get away. "Fuck you, let go of me!"
He held her in place, waited until she'd tired herself out then let her go, and Chloe threw her glove across the room. She was breathing fast, glaring at him.
"You're angry," Lex said, voice even.
"You've got no right to do that, no right at all - "
"If you want to see Dr. Beeman today, then keep it up," Lex interrupted, crossing his arms. "As I recall, you didn't particularly enjoy the last time you dislocated your shoulder."
Chloe glared at him a beat longer, but Lex only raised an eyebrow. "Dammit," she cursed, slumping against the wall and leaning her head against her knees. "Dammit."
She closed her eyes, breathed in deeply, and Lex sat down - a warm presence next to her. "My Dad's really dead," she said, voice muffled against her knees.
Lex sighed. "Yeah," he agreed. "He is."
"He was really annoying sometimes," she told Lex, sniffling a little. "But for a while, he was kind of my best friend. It - it doesn't feel real, still."
"Is that better, do you think, or worse?" Lex asked her.
Chloe sat up and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I don't know," she confessed. "I really don't."
The clock on the wall beside the treadmill clicked, and the mats beneath Lex squeaked when he shifted.
"Do you love your father?" Chloe asked Lex, turning to face him head on.
Lex's mouth pulled in tight, and his eyes widened, and he stared at the nothing next to his feet. He finally told her, "Yes. But I think I hate him more, now."
"Three months," Chloe said, hitting the mats next to her. "I want to nail him. For what he did to my dad, to you, to me."
Lex nodded slowly, before telling her knowingly, "It's been my experience that no matter how many times you hit the punching bag, he never feels it."
Chloe snorted, and Lex laid a companionable arm over her shoulders. "You should cool down," he told her.
"I don't think I can," she replied, hard-jawed and grim.
"I meant stretch," Lex said gently.
Lex was screaming. Really screaming, full-throated, terrified and anguished, and Chloe couldn't ignore this, couldn't stay still listening to him. When she opened the door to his room, he was writhing on his bed - his head thrown back, and his hands scrabbling at the bed sheets frantically.
"Lex," she called, reaching out, smoothing a hand over his forehead. "Hey, Lex, it's okay - shhh - "
"Don't!" he yelled, his voice breaking. "Please don't!"
Chloe grabbed his shoulders and shook him until his eyes opened, and he looked - he looked so afraid that Chloe sat down next to him, and wrapped her arms around him.
"I'm here," she told him, smoothing her hands over his back. "It's okay, Lex. It's all right. It's over."
He trembled in her arms, buried his face in her neck, and sucked in shivery breaths.
"Shh, it's going to be okay, I'm here," she told him over and over, and his cheeks were wet against her skin. "God, what happened to you?" she whispered.
"I don't know," Lex told her, his voice brittle, tiny - a husk of a whisper.
He tried to pull away from her, but Chloe held on tight. "It's okay," she said again, "I'll take care of you."
Chloe sat on the couch in the library while Lex worked. She leafed idly through the copy of The Iliad Lex had given her and listened as Lex wove wheels within wheels in his business deals, grinning over her shoulder at him as he cornered Bruce Wayne.
"If you can find anyone else willing to take a risk on your new product, Bruce, then please, feel free to take this offer off the table and charge them full price," Lex said lazily into the phone. "As it is, I think you'll find that LexCorp is the only agribusiness in the area ready to take that kind of a gamble."
Lex smirked, and nodded. "You do that," he said and then hung up.
"I thought you and Bruce were friends," Chloe said, turning to face him.
Lex laughed. "We knew each other in school."
"Yeah - but, that didn't sound terribly friendly," she pointed out, kicking her legs up onto the coffee table.
"It's closer than most of my business associates get," Lex told her with a shrug.
"So do you have any friends outside of Smallville?" she asked him, and Lex stilled slightly, laughed again, but this time it was forced.
"I don't think I have any friends inside Smallville," he replied, shuffling the papers on his desk.
"Hey! That's not true!" Chloe protested, frowning at him.
Lex raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"You've got me," she pointed out, crossing her arms.
"You're not in Smallville," he retorted, but with a slight grin, and Chloe found herself grinning back.
"Yeah, well, whatever, you have me, wherever I am," she declared.
"I appreciate that," Lex said, softly.
"Just so long as you believe it," Chloe grumbled, but softened it by shooting him a small smile.
Lex smiled back, and told her, "I do."
There were two months left to the trial when Chloe beat Lex in fencing the first time.
"You let me win," she panted, pulling off her helm.
Lex shook his head, breathing hard. "I never let anyone win. It would be very un-Luthor."
Chloe rolled her eyes and leaned against the wall, pushing her hair out of her face. "Whatever. Are you not feeling well?"
"I was feeling fine," Lex said tightly, "until just now."
"You are such a bad loser," she told him, laughing as she offered him a hand up. "C'mon, you owe me breakfast."
"No, let's go again," he insisted, tugging his helm back on.
Chloe shook her head. "You're really not going to be happy until you've evened the score, are you?"
"No," he said, tapping her foil with his, "en garde."
She beat him the next two times, too. Lex was grouchy all day.
Chloe sat on the porch, watching the sun come up as she sipped her coffee. The whole place was still, like the world was holding its breath for sunrise.
There was a running path, that went down through the garden, and around the house, and Chloe couldn't stop staring at it. Her father used to jog in the mornings, when she was little. She remembered how he kept his running shoes on the balcony outside their apartment, and how he used to wear tiny blue running shorts.
When they moved to Smallville, he stopped running.
"You okay?" Chloe turned, saw Lex leaning by the windows in a t-shirt and pajama pants.
She smiled a little, shrugged, and took another deep drink of her coffee. "I miss him," she admitted.
The deck creaked as Lex crossed to sit next to her on the railing. "My mom died when I was eleven," he said, staring out at the gardens. "I still miss her."
"When this trial is over, I guess we'll both kind of be orphans," Chloe mused, watching orange creep up over the horizon and spill into the darkened field.
"Is your mother dead, too?" Lex asked, carefully, and Chloe shook her head.
"No, she walked out on me and Dad when I was thirteen. Right before we moved to Smallville, actually," she told him. "Even if she did want me around, I - she's not my mom anymore."
Lex didn't say anything, just nodded.
"I'm sorry, you know," she said, turning toward him. "About your dad. How he is to you."
"Yeah," Lex agreed, jaw tight. "Me too."
"It must be lonely for you," Chloe murmured, and Lex's gaze swung toward her. "Without your mom, without any friends except for - well, except for me and Clark. He's - " Chloe broke off, shook her head a little. "He's not really good at being a friend."
"No," Lex bit off, "he is not."
"You can't trust him, that's the thing," Chloe continued, staring into her coffee. "I mean, you can trust him to pull you out of a burning building, but not for much else. And - and there's so much else that matters."
"Sometimes," Lex said quietly, "I think that when my mother died, I lost the only person I could really trust."
Chloe looked at him, startled. "You can trust me," she said automatically and Lex smiled at her. "No," she pressed, "really. You're - you're family now," she said, earnestly.
Lex blinked rapidly, and looked away, his hand coming up to clasp Chloe's arm tightly. "Family," he echoed, looking back at her, and his face was soft with astonishment.
"Yeah," Chloe told him, smiling. "Family."
The suit fit perfectly, but looked strange on Chloe. Or, it felt like it looked strange - it felt like the woman in the mirror was someone Chloe had never seen before. She had long hair, and her face was harder than Chloe's had ever been. She was polished, and she was strong.
Chloe felt a little bit like the suit was armor, like her makeup was war paint, like this trial was going to be more like a battle than anything she'd ever seen on Perry Mason. She wasn't nervous - she was elated. She was ready.
"Chloe, we have to leave in ten minutes or we'll be late," Lex called through the bathroom door, sounding exasperated.
She rolled her eyes, and opened the door.
"Finally," Lex grumbled with a smile, and Chloe hit him playfully on the arm.
"Ow!" he yelped, rubbing his bicep.
Chloe ignored him. "I thought you said we were going to be late?"
"We are, but before we go I just wanted to - " Lex broke off, frowning. "You don't have to be afraid."
"I'm not," she assured him, and Lex nodded slowly before pressing a kiss to her forehead.
"I won't let anything happen to you," he promised her.
Chloe nodded and said, "And I won't let anything happen to you." She waited until he met her eyes, smiled at him. "So let's do this, okay?"
"Okay," Lex agreed, smiling back. "Let's do it."
Behind them, the wide white door closed with a thick thud and before them was the road to Metropolis, winding and dark. They took it together.
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