question and answer

by Beantree


Warning: Contains graphic violence and rape.


Disclaimer: Not mine, don't own them. Warning: Part One contains some graphic violence and a rape scene. Author's note: I started writing this story sometime in season two before Chloe and Lex had any interaction or connection what-so-ever. So even though it's a future fic, now that Chlex has a storyline on the show, my fic has turned into a kind of AU where Chloe was never involved with Lionel and by extension, Lex. Also, feedback is more welcome than a cool breeze on a sweltering day. ;)


Chapter 1

Racing down the street at a brake-neck pace, she kept her eyes fixed on the woman several yards ahead. She was in pursuit. The adrenaline pumping through her body was unbelievable. She had always been a journalist, even before she knew what the word meant, had always been chasing a story, but never this literally. Especially since entering the mundane adult world of newspaper work, a far cry from the adventure filled days of her Wall-of-Weird youth. But here it was again, the thrill of the chase and just like old times, Clark was right there running along side her, glancing at her every two seconds. Maybe making sure she was keeping up? She couldn't tell. He looked like he wanted to just take off and catch this woman, but Chloe thought that even he couldn't have caught up. This lady was lean like a marathon runner. Chloe could barely keep her in sight. People standing and walking along the street began to stop and stare in confusion as the two pushed by, excusing themselves without really meaning it. As they rounded the next corner, Chloe saw the woman had stopped running; had turned to face them. Chloe couldn't suppress the excitement and satisfaction surging through her as she rounded the corner of the building ahead of Clark.

She had her.

Chloe heard a pop, very muted. She ignored the sound and focused instead on the woman, barley registered the feeling of something hitting her left shoulder. She thought a big bug or something had flown right into her, but found instead that her legs lost themselves. She was on the ground before she knew what was happening. Frustration flared as she watched the woman take off running. Instantly Clark was leaning over her.

"Oh my God." he whispered.

"What? I'm okay, you can't let her get away!"

He just stared; fright on his face. For once the man had no idea what to do. And even though pain was starting to seep into the edges of her awareness, she could help but feel smugly satisfied. Clark Kent with no clue how to proceed.

"Clark, GO!" she half choked, half yelled, "An ambulance is already on its way"

Despite the fact that she had no way of knowing that for sure, people had begun to gather. Logic dictated someone would have pulled out their phone to make a call. She could see he was leaning toward the idea of chasing after the woman. Thank god. All this would have been for nothing. He had to get going. Clark reached down to stroke her hair tenderly, but the pain had started getting worse and she grimaced unintentionally at his touch.

"You'll be okay, Chloe. I just-- what if she goes after Lana?"

She closed her eyes at that, a surge of pain coming-up from areas undetermined.

"I'm sure an ambulance is coming," her voice coming out flat this time.

He hesitated a second longer, as if there were something else he wanted to say. But at this point she didn't want to hear it. He was pissing her off, wasting all this time. She felt like she was about to blackout at that point anyway. She opened her drooping lids to tell him as much, but he was gone, she hadn't even realized. So there she was-- left to bleed alone in the street.

Perfect.

Consciousness faded in and out. She wasn't sure exactly how long she'd been lying there, but when she woke fully smelling salts were assaulting her nose and her eyes saw only blurry confusion. Men, EMTs she assumed, were asking her questions she couldn't quite understand and the uncomfortably bright day she was revived to made her head throb. They had her on a stretcher and started wheeling her away before she could figure out exactly what was happening. Voices were everywhere, shattering her concentration. Color was flashing in her vision; she could barely see. The entire left side of her body felt like it was made of lead. Confusion and exhaustion were making her complacent, but something was tugging at the edge of her brain. Something was wrong. They'd already placed her in a vehicle and were speeding away when questions began to form in her mind. Do EMTs use smelling salts? Do they load you right up without tending to your wounds? She really wasn't sure.

The jolting ambulance ride was doing nothing for her pain level and she tried to tell the EMTs as much. The looming figure in front of her came in and out of focus as she tried to voice her complaint. But eventually clarity hit, revealing the face in front of her as one she knew well. She'd seen him a million times in photographs, but seeing him in person made ice water run through her veins. She hadn't expected that. Russ Gosch didn't seem quite so menacing in photos. She felt herself panicking, felt certain of her own death, but somehow managed to frown quizzically at him and speak.

"For some reason I find it hard to believe you're working ambulance shifts, considering you usually stick to killing people, not curing them."

"I think its best you keep your mouth shut until I tell you to open it." He smirked as he sank a needle into her arm and she was out again.

Chapter 2

Consciousness arrived in some kind of storage facility in the basement of a building. Her sneakers, jeans and sweatshirt had been removed. The gunshot wound had been cleaned but was still bleeding freely. The pain was nearly unbearable. Her entire body felt weak and she began to worry about how much blood she was losing. Was it a lot? Did it just seem like a lot because it was her blood? She could feel a trickle move down her left arm and turned to look at the half dried, half glistening mix of gore covering her left side. She felt like something out of a horror flick.

The damp basement inspired chills to jostle through her. The sparse cover of a worn tee shirt and briefs were not keeping her especially warm. At least they'd left her socks on. She took a quick inventory of her situation: dark cold basement, fairly sizable, bullet in the shoulder, hands cuffed behind her back. That was about it. She attempted to struggle for a bit, trying to test her bonds, but too much movement sent pain shooting to her left shoulder and the cuffs bit into the skin of her wrists. When the pain became too bad she had to stop struggling. Shivering in silence was a much less painful option.

She had no concept of how long it took for Gosch to finally show up. He walked in the room casually, watching her. A younger, sluggish man followed behind.

She recognized him.

Some kid she'd seen before. She couldn't place him, but both his face and the way he carried himself were familiar. Strange. He was a big kid. Over six feet, but he wasn't fat. He was hulking and soft and stupid as far as she could tell. He kept glancing at her then turning his head shyly away. Acting as if she had some kind of power of disapproval. He was obviously missing the fact that she was bound, bleeding and powerless. Still, her mind couldn't help but pick-up the signal. She already knew he was her chance for survival.

Gosch snapped her out of her thoughts with the sudden invasion of her personal space. His eyes fixed so intently; she couldn't help but squirm where she sat. He looked like some kind of predatory creature, so sly, so cold. He began to explain his interest in her. How his "intel" informed him that a young reporter, newly hired to do little more than proof reading, was trying to make a name for herself by snooping into his activities. Curiosity at the audacity of this pup made him take a moment from his busy schedule as a criminal to look her up. So she had been wrong. The realization hit her hard. She assumed from the moment she identified him in the ambulance that this little abduction was about scaring her into curbing the investigation she started, but in reality it was about his investigations into her.

"Things became very interesting when I discovered the identity of your mother."

Her mother?

She didn't even know who her mother was, not really, and told him as much. He moved closer, fast as lightning, hand on her throat. The thumb of his other hand pressed into her bullet wound as she began screaming like a banshee. He quickly choked it off.

"A resourceful girl like you? I have a feeling you know plenty." His tone remained even, unchanged.

She hardly heard him, the pain was screaming in her ears, closing in on her thoughts. When he released his grip she let out a sob, leaning back against the wall. Tired and reeling.

"I recommend you cooperate," he said flippantly before leaving.

Interestingly enough, Gosch's little lackey stayed behind. He brought over water and antiseptic, cleaned her wound, but still didn't bandage it. Blood was seeping out again.

"I need a doctor." She muttered to him, eyes rolling in her head. He placed his hand over her mouth.

"Shhhh," was all he said before he too, left.

She watched him walk out of the room, knowing he was the key to getting out of there. Instead of the comfort she expected from the thought, she felt only bitterness. From the moment she laid eyes on him, watching her with that stupid, hungry look on his face, she'd seen the potential to manipulate him. But then, he too had the power to manipulate her situation, didn't he.

Chapter 3

She dosed on and off that night in fitful dreams.

She dreamed about a giant killer whale eating a man in the ocean while she watched on from the beach, helpless.

She dreamed about her mother, whose face she could barely conjure up in life, but in dreams was so clear, so real. They were walking through a wheat field and came upon an abandoned factory. In the dream, her mother told her to wait outside while she quickly ran in. But the young, dream-world Chloe didn't want to be left alone and ran in after her mother, searching frantically, but could only catch glimpses of her mother's constantly retreating figure.

She dreamed about Clark and Lana watching her drown in a crystal clear pool, calmly discussing the best way to save her as she sank beneath the water.

It was almost a relief to be jolted awake by blinding overhead lights. The backs of her eyes seared with pain trying to adjust after so many hours of darkness. She was blind, unaware of who was in the room and where they were in relation to her.

"Ms. Sullivan! How are we this morning?"

Morning. A sudden panic flashed through her. She wasn't going to be able to track hours or days. She would always be in the dark. Time would exist in a vacuum.

"Feeling very cooperative today, I hope."

Her eyes were only starting to adjust and his outline was hazy, a walking specter.

"Why are you doing this? What could you possibly hope to get from me?"

Maybe she sounded a little too sassy, a little too indignant. Perhaps it was the overconfident tone, but as Gosch's features finally fell into focus, his expression betrayed a simmering anger she wasn't prepared for. He moved forward, slowly wrapping his hand around her neck, his fingers resting against her jugular almost reverently. No doubt he was getting great satisfaction from feeling her pulse kick into high speed. She could practically see the adrenaline rush surge through his body. He could sense her fear. He lived for this shit.

"I have several very important questions to ask you and I suggest you answer them quickly and precisely. Shall we start then?"

She didn't move, didn't breathe as he produced a thick rope, wrapping it around her neck and tying one end around a pipe above her head. He watched her closely as he tightened the slack, creating a kind of mock noose, forcing her face to turn upward. The only way she could avoid looking at him now was to close her eyes or gag trying to avoid his gaze.

"When was the last time you were in contact with your mother?"

"I never figured you for the bondage type, Russ. I appreciate the gesture and all, but I'm really more of an old fashioned, no-props type girl."

The barb didn't come out as well as she hoped. Her voice was choked and shaking. She watched as her blatant fear fueled him further. He grabbed her face, forcing the rope to bite into her neck, choking her.

"Answer the question."

"I don't-- I-- she called me on my tenth birthday. That's the last time I ever heard from her."

Her voice was squeaking.

"Don't lie to me."

He growled as he delivered a blow to her face, making an explosion go off in her head. Blood trickled from her nose.

Broken? Hard to say.
Pain? Most definitely.
Realization that she was currently in the middle of her worst nightmare? Kicking in at full force.

She felt like screaming. The man was completely out of his mind. What could he possibly be trying to get out of her? Her mother? As far as Chloe knew she'd willingly withdrawn from the company of the living years ago.

And where was Clark? He was the one who all the sudden caught the 'I-want-to-be-this-great-investigative-reporter' fever. So investigate where the fuck she'd been taken, Clark! She choked out a half sob, half laugh of incredulity.

"My mother is ancient history in my life. How could I possibly tell you anything you want to know?"

"I have a feeling, Ms. Sullivan, that you are going to be one of those people who makes things very difficult for herself. Your mother is a person who holds quite a bit of valuable information. Much like you do, I suspect. I know that you expect me to believe that you can't keep your nose out of any piddling mystery you come across, but somehow you can easily dismiss the mystery of your own mother. Admittedly, I find that scenario unlikely to say the least."

Great. She tried to dig into the depths of her mind, to call up all the information she ever read or wrote about Russ Gosch. Anything that might give him a reason to take what she said at face value, something that might distract him from his mission. She felt desperate to prevent the inevitable torture session stretching out into her future. She was catching glimpses of what her life was about to become.

Russ Gosch, full name: Russell Peterson Gosch. Highest paid "information gatherer" in the market today. Usually works for an outside hire, but maintains several lucrative projects on the side that are his own. Most recently, he provided stolen military information to a client who hijacked an international weapons cargo. How does he manage to get past government officials? How did his client manage to elude authorities packing three tons of military weaponry? Apparently he has his ways.

Her mind started crackling at the thought that she might be able to outwit him into disclosing who his current client was or perhaps the location of the cargo. But at the moment, she was in serious doubt of her stellar verbal judo. The significant loss of blood and the incrementally increasing pain throughout her body were effecting her ability to concentrate. Looking into this man's life was what got her into this mess in the first place. No time for sly maneuvering, she had to concentrate on self-preservation. Where was Gosch's little lackey? She needed to keep her focus on that silent, slack-jawed wonder. That vaguely familiar face was lurking, always lurking behind his boss, waiting for instructions. His long stares her way were getting bolder. Considering the fact that she prided herself on her sharp mind, she found it extremely frustrating that she was unable to place his face.

The cold click of Gosch's switchblade opening snapped her back to attention.

"Let's try something else, shall we? I'll show you some photographs and you tell me what you know about them."

She could only blink at him as he produced a photo of a skeletal man in a lumberjack hat. The picture wasn't very clear, a badly made print.

"I have no idea who that is."

He nodded seriously for a moment before bringing up his knife and slicing into the fleshy part of her upper arm with the blade. She let out a yelp in surprise.

"Wrong answer."He immediately brought up another picture, this one of an older woman; tall, very regal.

Even as she felt panic invade, she tried to keep her reporter's head on, tried to memorize as many details about the photographs as possible. But it was getting more difficult as fear began taking over. She had no control over anything that was happening. If she had any information he wanted that would at least be something she could use to control the situation. She had nothing, was powerless to help herself. All she could do was shake her head. She had no idea who the woman was. He sliced into her arm again, deeper this time, a perfect inch below the first cut. As much as she wanted to deny him the satisfaction, she couldn't suppress her outcry. The man was cruel, knew to cut the arm without the gunshot wound to make sure she got as much pain out of the experience as possible.

"We'll try one more time." He was so calm, so detached from all of this. She felt rage building up, frustration expanding through her body.

"Do you want me to lie? I'm telling you, you're asking the wrong person. I don't know anything about any of this." Her voice had gone shrill from anger and desperation.

He watched her for a moment. "Perhaps you're right. Maybe we should finish for the day and continue tomorrow. You look a little tired." He smiled, finding himself funny, no doubt. "But maybe I should leave you with a warning that tomorrow I won't be so lenient."

With that he revealed a lemon, quickly cutting it in half with his now bloody knife. He brought half of the cool fruit against the shredded flesh of her right arm. Crushing the lemon in his hand sent juice spraying, trickling, gushing down her shoulder into her freshly cut wounds. She screamed; couldn't stop herself. She writhed in her bonds, trying to escape the burning, eating acid of the juice. But metal bit into the flesh of her wrists. The rope choked and rubbed at the skin around her already raw neck. She couldn't move without injuring herself further.

Hell, this might be hell.

Before she could even bring her mind back into focus he squeezed the second half over her left shoulder, sending more of the acidic juice shooting down to the barely healing wound from the bullet. It was too much. Lights began to flash behind her eyes. She was going to pass out. She only partly noticed Gosch throw the lemon halves on the floor and walk out of the room. She squirmed uncomfortably in her restraints, barely acknowledging the younger man as he stepped out of the shadows where he waited. He began to pour cool water over her burning skin and applied antiseptic. He wiped the dried blood from her nose. Always nursing the wounds but never bandaging them, never thinking to release her neck from the fucking rope.

"That was quite a show your boss put on," her voice was ragged, barely audible. He gave no response, "Even I was impressed by the grand finale."

Again, nothing.

Wouldn't even look her in the face as he went about his duties. Shit. She wasn't getting through to him as easily as she expected. Was it the two giant black eyes she felt forming from the blow she'd taken to the face? Perhaps it was the gapping, bleeding wounds now present on both of her arms.

"I need to use the bathroom."

She tried a more genuine tone. Without saying a word, he pulled a bucket up next to her. Oh god. She came to an unsettling realization that no one had any intention of taking her out of this room for any reason. Her hope began to sink.

As he rose to leave he hesitated a moment and, as if on an impulse of some kind of disobedient act, produced one of those stupid little juice boxes. He put the straw into the top, holding it to her lips while she hungrily sucked the liquid out. She hadn't eaten in so long. Every calorie from that wretched box of juice seemed precious. It was the best juice she'd ever had in her life and it was gone so quickly. He switched off the light and left.

So there she was again. Alone. Shivering from the cold. Pain radiating through her body in waves. She was never going to get out.
She was going to die there.
Sobbing into the dark, she let devastation creep in. She would never escape this. No hope. She cried until her mind retreated into sleep.

Chapter 4

She awoke into the empty dark. Slowly fading in until she remembered where she was and what was happening. The slow burn of discomfort shot up and down her back. At this point, her first-born child didn't seem like such a high price to pay to be able to crack her neck, but that damn rope made it impossible. There was no light filtering in, the room stretched out pitch black around her. The concrete underneath her ass was freezing and a maddening drip, drip, drip accompanied by the occasional rushing of water through pipes threatened to drive her insane. But more importantly, her bladder was threatening to explode. She kicked one of her legs out in front of her, dragging it around in a half circle, trying to find that damn bucket. Finally her leg hit, sending it clanging to the floor and rolling toward her. The whole attempt was so frustrating. All she wanted to do was piss, but every time she tried to reach anywhere with her goddamned tied hands, pain flashed up and down her arms and she began gagging from the pressure at her neck. After many tries and much discomfort she finally got the bucket upright and situated directly behind her. Her sense of accomplishment was off the charts. How she managed to both hoist herself up and pull down her briefs she still wasn't quite sure, but the reward was so wonderful. She could think of nothing better to give a lift to the spirit than a little emptying of the bladder.

After that challenge was over all she had left was time. Time to test her bonds, to think about what had and what might still be done to her; to wonder what time it was, how long she'd been there; to wonder what people at home were thinking, but mostly to try and put some clues together about why she was really there. What kind of information was Gosch seeking so desperately?

Thinking back on the events of the past few weeks, it all made an ironic kind of sense that everyone thought someone had been after Lana. Someone had broken into their house and ransacked Lana's room, but it had been Chloe's room before Lana moved in. She supposed that because they had been roommates in high school it seemed a logical step to share quarters again when Lana broke up with her most current boyfriend and needed to move out of their shared apartment. Chloe had simply given her the bedroom and moved into the much larger common room near the back of the house. She enjoyed the fact that she was forced to become creative with the space, and there was a front room that left plenty of living area for the two women.

It never really crossed any of their minds that whomever broke into the house had been operating under the assumption that the room was still Chloe's. Lana had even fueled the fire by talking about strange calls on her cell phone, cars coming out of nowhere and almost hitting her, but now it seemed that had all been paranoia on her part. Just her over-active imagination. The only time Chloe had witnessed anything suspicious was when Lana, Clark and she were out together and that woman began snapping photos. Clark and Chloe had given chase, but that piece of shit had shot her. She only hoped that Clark eventually caught up, but she had a feeling that he rushed right to Lana's side instead. When they left for college, Chloe thought the pattern of Clark Kent as personal savior to Lana Lang was over. But after graduating they all ended up back in Smallville somehow. Clark returning to help his parents with the farm. Chloe was paying her dues at a local paper, still dreaming of moving to Metropolis and getting that coveted job at the Planet. Pete was becoming more and more involved in local politics and Lana, of course, was forever the patroness of the Talon. So even after four years apart they had all fallen into the old patterns. Chloe couldn't decide if she found it sentimentally amusing or infuriating that even after all this time Lana still took top priority.

And he left Chloe alone in the street, hadn't he?

That wasn't really fair, she knew. She urged him to go, but he could've stayed despite her protests. Jesus, if only he would have stayed. If only Lana's every fucking crisis didn't require the constant attention of Clark Kent. She found the blame game so easy, sitting there freezing and hurting everywhere, frightened. It wasn't very productive, but it was easy. She felt like she'd been sitting in the dark for an eternity; felt like she might go insane from pain and time upon endless time with nothing to do but think and wait.

Chapter 5

So this new existence went on and on: never knowing when Gosch would show up; spending a lifetime in the dark; fearing when the light would be switched on again. And it always was eventually. He always appeared sooner or later with a snide greeting and more questions followed by more punishments when she couldn't provide the answers.

He burned the bottom of her feet with a blazing hot iron when she couldn't tell him her mother's location. He brought out a thin metal rod to whip her with for each new snapshot she couldn't identify. He ran icy water over her body from above while shocking her with electrical charges when she was unable to give him answers about what happened in Moddell. She didn't even know what the hell Moddell was, but she was getting curious. After every 'session', as he liked to refer to them, his mute little assistant would clean her up and produce one of those fucking juice boxes. Sometimes she tried to talk to him. Sometimes it hurt too much to speak, but he would never say anything. Silent as the grave.

She didn't really care that much. She was becoming numb, used to the routine. Although her body felt weak from little nourishment and an overabundance of stress, she was amazed to find that her threshold for pain was getting higher. Gosch began to notice the decrease in response and told her that he was going to come less frequently to give his 'sessions' a greater punch. But she could tell he was becoming frustrated. He was used to having answers by now. She could see him begin to doubt that she knew anything at all. The realization that his 'intel' may have been incorrect regarding how much she knew, didn't seem to sit well with him.

She began to create little research projects for herself. Making it her personal mission to watch these men's behavior closely, calculating everything in an attempt to distract her mind. Their expressions, body language, tone of voice, all became clues to piece together as she tried to search for patterns. Her entire existence became about observation. The torture became almost routine for both her and Gosch. She came to the conclusion that he hadn't stopped simply because he refused to believe that he was wrong about her. He couldn't admit to himself that she could provide next to nothing about her mother's life or whereabouts. Even more shocking to him, perhaps, was that her mother could give a damn about what was happening to her own daughter. She would make no attempt to get her own daughter out of this. Chloe had no draw on her. She almost laughed in his face when she saw him come to that realization. Still, he didn't stop the beatings, they just came less frequently and were less enthusiastically executed. Eventually, he even gave up the pretense of interrogation, just lashed out in frustration. She moved from intelligence source to whipping boy and decided to make more aggressive plans for escape.

Despite the fact that Gosch no longer came on a regular basis, his little assistant showed up like clockwork. Cleaning and treating whatever damage had recently been done, bringing her juice and occasionally little bits of food. After a time he began to release her neck and wrists at every visit, putting salve on them, giving her some time to move her neck and back, stretch her legs. She started to notice how his hands would linger near her thighs or casually brush against her breasts while applying ointment to her arms. He was timid, nervous, but repeated access made him bolder. More recently, he had been setting his hand on her leg, tentatively, lightly. Small progress, but she could taste freedom in his subtle advances. Not long after their first few encounters, she had decided to change her strategy with him. She stopped trying to make small talk. She never spoke, only watched him silently and eventually he began talking to her. Their roles had reversed, he attempted chitchat and she said nothing. She observed everything he said and did, analyzing it beyond meaning. She tried to predict his behavior in response to little things she would do, wanting test her theories. He was all she had, her only way out. On one of his visits he confessed that he knew her.

Her eyes snapped up. She had recognized him.

"I worked on a landscaping crew your father once hired. I always thought you were very beautiful," he looked down, embarrassed, "Sometimes I would drive by your house at night and watch you. I thought about you a lot."

After his last statement she placed her hand over his and moved it up her leg, to the top of her thigh. She slowly inched their hands around toward the inside of her leg, beginning to slide his fingers beneath the elastic of her briefs when he jerked his hand away.

Shit.

"Wh...What are you doing?" He was stuttering.

Trying to seduce you right into my handcuffs, asshole.

"Sorry." She tried to make her tone simple, shy. Always looking right at him, trying to hide the fact that her true focus was past him, on that slightly ajar door just waiting to lead her out of this hellhole. He quickly replaced the cuffs and the rope and shot out of the room like he'd caught fire.

Fuck.

How was this going to work? The freedom within reach she felt in his two seconds of compliance was enough to convince her to try again. It just wasn't going to be as easy as she assumed. She spent her time thinking up scenarios, plans, and possible reactions on his part. She imagined successes and failures enough for all those hours in the dark. When he showed again, she made no move on him. She let him take off her bindings and go about his usual tasks, and when his hand traveled up her thigh of its own volition, she slowly, almost imperceptibly, went for the discarded handcuffs lying on the floor and almost felt like breaking into a smile. He moved forward to kiss her, heaven only knows why. Her breath, no doubt, smelled like sewage at this point, but his action opened the perfect opportunity. As his second hand came up to touch her breast, she snapped a manacle around his wrist and tried to attach the other cuff to the nearby pipe. But her arms were too weak and her fingers too clumsy, and when her plan of one quick, smooth motion dissolved into fumbling awkward movements, she knew it was over.

"You little bitch."

He sobbed out his words, sounding more heartbroken than angry. Shoving her away, he caused her body to smack into the wall behind. Her eyes rolled back into her head as she collided with the brick.

"I try to help you, do nice things... I brought you food, took care of you. You ungrateful bitch."

All she could do was stare at him stupidly. This was not going as planned. His hands closed tightly onto her shoulders. His touch was rough. He was hurting her, but the expression on his face was full of sadness and pain of betrayal. He was crying openly, muttering things she could barely make out.

"I thought you were good...thought you understood...thought you were so sweet, so beautiful... just a whore... dirty liar...I felt sorry for you..." he just kept rambling that way, sometimes unintelligible through his crying.

He was running his fingers on her neck, her skin, and all she could concentrate on was that handcuff swinging loose. She was completely focused on exploring every possible thing in the vicinity the handcuff could be attached to. He would have to stop moving his hands so much, but she saw several options that could work. She could snap that puppy around something solid on the wall.

This could happen.

Her eyes remained glued to that cuff, even when his touch became more insistent, his muttering more intense, angrier. She knew what was coming. She just had to keep her mind focused, watch for her opportunity. Even as she felt him roughly remove her briefs, undo his own pants, force himself inside of her, she watched and waited. Pain, humiliation, violation, she was used to it.

The small cries escaping her throat each time he pushed into her? The creeping tears inching down her cheeks, escaping from eyes she thought ran dry ages ago? Physical reactions, nothing more.
This was a mean to an end.

What had she expected, after all? What had she thought was going to happen with this man? That he would simply become infatuated and let her go, easy as that? She endured worse during this whole nightmare and when this was over it might mean her freedom. She felt his movements become more urgent. Pounding into her, his rhythm became erratic, until finally he climaxed. His body collapsed onto hers, filling her nostrils with his sweat; his skin's sour odor. She slowly reached her hand around, groping for the cold metal. It seemed an eternity before she felt it, cool in her hand. In the swift movement that she intended the first time around, she snapped the cuff around a thin metal pipe on the wall.

Good enough.

She slipped out quickly from underneath him and was already snatching her briefs off the floor when he began muttering again, confused by what had just happened. He began to pull at his now restrained arm, yelling after her, calling her a bitch, a whore. He reached out in an attempt to grab her, but she was already gone. Through that door he always left ajar, her adrenaline pumping through her body, she almost cried when the first door she saw after emerging from that basement had a giant exit sign glowing above it. She pushed through, emerging into more darkness. No moon tonight. The air on her skin and in her lungs was like magic. Was it possible that she'd been such a short distance from escape all this time? It seemed even more cruel somehow.

She began to run, badly. Terribly out of breath, her body raged against the effort, shooting pain from abuse and disuse everywhere. But adrenaline proved to be a beautiful thing and pushed her along through the asphalt lot outside the building and down a side road until she came upon a seemingly empty dock. Where the hell was she? She had to stop running, it was more than her body could handle, but she walked as quickly as her screaming lungs allowed. She would have dragged herself with her teeth if necessary. Just to keep moving. She broke into a hopeful sob at the sight of a neon glowing sign. The most beautiful piece of shit seafood shack she'd ever seen emerged in front of her. Stumbling in the door, an emaciated, filthy, beat-up, nearly naked mess, the entire place stared. Fright and awe passing over the stunned faces. The patroness finally came forward.

"Excuse me, young lady..."

The woman could only begin her sentence before Chloe let out a sob, nearly falling over from the exertion she put on her already taxed body. The woman grabbed her to stop her from hitting the floor.

"I need your help."

The woman led her into a back room used as the restaurant's office and handed her a giant "Peg's Crab Shack" tee shirt to put on while she called the police to come take Chloe off her hands.

Chloe didn't care. She was free. Unbelievable.

She was out.

"Can I ask you the date?" The woman stared at her quizzically. She looked wary of the younger girl, a little frightened by this battered, rat of a person before her, "What's today's date?" She asked again, trying not to sound short.

"June 13th."

A month. Jesus Christ, she'd only been gone a month. It felt like years.

Only a month.

Chapter 6

Next thing she knew the police were everywhere, an ambulance right behind. They took her name, as much of her statement as they could get right then and shipped her off to the hospital where the staff tried not to act shocked, horrified, or struck into pitying silence. They did a rape kit, x-ray, all kinds of blood tests, took her temperature a million times. She was told about her broken ribs, the hairline fracture in her left arm, and her cracked cheekbone before being pumped full of drugs and melting away into oblivion. She couldn't help but notice how, except for the initial assessment when she was being admitted, they carefully avoided talking too much about the flesh rubbed raw around her neck and wrists, or the giant welts on her back, the burns on her feet, or the perfectly aligned slices running down her right arm. Even her ragged sunken face seemed to be glossed over by those treating her, as long as she didn't pay too close attention to the look in their eyes. She didn't really care. She was in a bed, in a room, with a window and didn't yet have to worry about dealing with anyone. No questions, no sad looks from familiar faces, no struggle of trying to deal with their inability to understand.

For now, just sleep


Chapter 7

The telephone screeched to life, jolting Clark awake. He reached for the clock first. 3am. Not a good sign. He'd been dreading middle of the night calls since early May.

Since he left Chloe in that street.

When they couldn't find what hospital she'd been taken to, Gabe, his parents, everyone started asking around town. Had anyone seen an ambulance show up? What did the EMTs look like? And then, slowly, it dawned on them all; this phantom that they were trying to protect Lana from had been after Chloe all along. Now 'they' had her and Clark had been the one to let them take her. He had to admit, he took it pretty hard. He shut himself up in him room for two days doing nothing but inflicting self-blame for leaving her alone. Pete had been the only one who could snap him out of it.

"Clark, you fucked-up, but you can't fix it holed up in your room."

And it worked. All the platitudes in the world hadn't helped him, from his parents, from Lana. He needed the truth.

Lana...

Jesus, he could barely look at her these days. She represented the source of all his guilt. He grabbed the receiver off its cradle after the third ring. He didn't want to know.

"Clark," Lana's voice, "They found her. The police called her father more than an hour ago."

"Where is she?"

"She's at St. Luke's Hospital; an hour outside of Metropolis, but Clark I don't know if now's the best time..."

He didn't even wait for the end of her sentence. He was already pulling on his jeans and heading out the door. His mother emerged from her room into the hallway as he was starting down the stairs.

"Honey, who was that?"

"They've found her, Mom. She's in a hospital near Metropolis."

"Clark..."

"I have to go, I'll call you in the morning."

And he sped out he door, down the street, down the freeway, stopping only once to ask directions to the hospital. He had to see her with his own eyes. When Clark arrived it was already four am. It had taken him longer than he expected. He walked directly up to the triage nurse.

"I have a friend in this hospital, I need to see her."

"Is she an emergency patient?"

"I don't know. I think she was brought here earlier tonight. God, I don't really know." He was getting agitated, panicked.

"Well, visiting hours don't begin until 8am, you won't be able to see anyone until then."

The look on his face must have been desperate, must have reflected the anxiety he felt building.

"I suppose I could at least try to figure out where she is. What's your friend's name?"

"Chloe. Chloe Sullivan."

He was practically in tears. He hadn't cried once the entire time she was missing, but he seriously thought he might finally lose it.

"Just wait here and I'll try to find something out for you, okay?"

He nodded, feeling weak all of the sudden. He told himself that, once inside the hospital, he would fight tooth and nail to see her, but now that he'd arrived he was scared. He feared her condition. He feared her blame. Dizziness hit. God, he needed to sit down. It was almost a blessing when the nurse didn't return for 20 minutes.

"Your friend is in a room on the third floor. You're welcome to go upstairs and wait if you'd like."

Her offer was curt but not unkind. He was grateful for that, actually. If she had coddled him he might lose what little control he was operating on.

"Okay."

His reply was weak, but she only nodded toward the elevators and turned back to her work.

Chapter 8

Clark walked into the waiting area on 3 and gave a start to see a familiar face.

"Mr. Sullivan."

Of course he would be there, Clark didn't know why he was so shocked to see him. Maybe it was the way he looked, haggard, like a man defeated.

"Have you been in to see her yet?" he asked hesitantly.

The man barely seemed to register the question.

"No...no. I only just got here myself. I've hardly spoken more than two words with the doctor."

"Well is she okay? Is she awake?"

He looked up at Clark with slow, watery eyes.

"I don't know."

Clark could feel his nerves jerking like live wires. Where was the damn doctor? Time seemed to slow itself down for the sole purpose of driving him insane. The minutes were ticking by unbearably. Clark had no idea how Mr. Sullivan could take it, but the older man just sat stoically. Clark had to make desperate attempts to distract himself. Pacing, buying sodas from the vending machine, making at least five trips to the bathroom, all in an effort to occupy his mind and trick time into moving a little faster. But despite everything, it still took the longest hour in history before a doctor showed up to tell them anything.

"You're Miss Sullivan's family?"

"This is her father, I'm just a friend." Clark piped up. He was wired, felt like her could fly out in a million different directions at once. The doctor turned his attention to Mr. Sullivan.

"You may want to hear what I have to say privately, you are her immediate family."

"It's fine for Clark to stay. He's practically family."

The man spoke like someone already defeated. Sounding as though he already convinced himself of the worst. Clark found it hard to watch; Chloe's own father giving up hope.

"Okay then. You should know that your daughter is in stable condition and shows no signs that she's likely to destabilize; she's going to be fine. Her healing process, however, is going to take awhile. We want to keep her in the hospital for a couple weeks."

"Why? What's wrong with her?" Clark couldn't contain his question.

The doctor looked at Chloe's father hesitantly before continuing.

"Well, first of all, she's severely dehydrated and undernourished and we want to get some fluid in her, also she has some broken bones: her shoulder, some ribs, her right cheekbone. She also has some wounds that we want to watch on her arms and some second degree burns on her feet..."

Clark had the sensation of being lowered into an ever-darkening cave; each word the doctor said made it worse. He needed to sit. Tears were welling up in his eyes.

"Do you want me to continue later? I know this is a lot..."

"No," Mr. Sullivan didn't hesitate, "I want to hear it all."

The doctor continued, pity dominating his voice.

"She has some bruising on her chest and abdomen that seem to indicate the administration of some kind of electrical charge and we don't yet know if that has affected her system in a more serious way than we've been able to determine. We want to do more tests. She also has abrasions on her back and we want to make sure they don't get infected. Mr. Sullivan..."

He hesitated then, glancing over at Clark, who, by this time, had found his way to a chair. Sitting with his head in his hands, he just listened to the unending list.

"We also found evidence of sexual assault. We were able to collect a DNA sample and hopefully the police will be able to find the perpetrator quickly."

"So you're telling me that my daughter was tortured and raped."

Clark looked up at the comment. Mr. Sullivan's voice was devoid of passion. Where was the anger? He sounded dark, distant. How could he just sit there and listen to this so calmly?

"Sir, your daughter is an extremely brave woman. She's endured what looks like weeks of abuse and escaped of her own volition."

"Like mother, like daughter."

Clark's head snapped around to look at the older man. The comment had barely been spoken, muttered almost silently under his breath. Someone with a less acute sense of hearing never would have heard, but Clark caught it.

"Because you're a family member I can take you into see her if you'd like. Her friend, I'm afraid, will have to wait until visiting hours. I just don't want you to be alarmed at her appearance. She's very thin and her face is swollen and bruised. She also has abrasions around her neck and wrists. I just want you to be prepared."

Mr. Sullivan simply nodded, standing slowly to follow the doctor down the hall. Clark could only sit unmoving, unthinking for several moments before he bolted to the men's room and emptied the entire contents of his stomach into the toilet bowl. He didn't think he'd ever thrown up before. Strange.

When the heaving and retching finally subsided, the tears began. He sobbed loud and hard, fighting the nearly uncontrollable urge to rip the bathroom to shreds. It was amazing, the odd mix of anger, frustration, and pain that fueled this torrent of tears. He could remember only one other time when he felt this helpless. Except it had been his mother lying in a hospital bed from that overturned truck, when she lost the baby. His fault too, but he wasn't a kid anymore and if he learned anything from that experience it was that he didn't want to run away from this. After the rage and tears began to subside, a quiet calm came sweeping through. He felt good almost, capable of dealing with this situation. He would be there for Chloe and he would make whoever did this to her pay.

It was a simple enough equation and he could see how despite everything, it could work out. She'd always been the strongest of the group and when she saw whoever did this to her safely locked away for good, she would feel safe again. Surrounded by the people that loved her, she could recover, and he would be right there to help her through it. She would feel safe.

He could protect her.

It was his fault she had to go through this, he owed her that much at least, and Chloe had never been one to lay blame. He could already imagine that she would understand how much he blamed himself, how horrible he already felt. He even managed a small smile at the thought that she might try to comfort him a bit; give him that mournful smile she sometimes gave and tell him not to beat himself up so much. They would get through this. He knew they would. He emerged from the bathroom feeling calmer, more clearheaded. The horrors Chloe went through were still ringing in his ears, but he felt hope buoy him up. He found Mr. Sullivan back in the waiting room when he returned.

"Mr. Sullivan... How is she? Is she awake?"

When Chloe's father looked up Clark found himself unnerved by what he saw in the older man's eyes.

"You'll stay with her? You'll watch out for her?"

The man's tone was flat, his voice all gravel and exhaustion. He rose from his seat, slowly putting his jacket back on.

"Of course I'll stay, but Mr. Sullivan don't you think you should-- I mean-- Chloe needs you now."

"You're a good friend Clark. I'm sorry." he enigmatically called back as he disappeared down the hallway.

Jesus.

Chapter 9

Clark dosed on and off in the waiting room chairs. One moment itching to get in to see Chloe, the next minute terrified for eight o'clock to roll around. As the morning hours approached people started to arrive. Surprisingly, Lex was the first to show at around seven, saying he heard news when he'd woken that morning of Chloe being found and came straight to the hospital, figuring Clark would already be there.

"So what do they know so far? Where was she found, in what condition?"

Clark shook his head. "I honestly don't know. I know she's alive, but she was found in pretty bad shape. They want to keep her in the hospital for a few weeks."

"I'm so sorry, Clark. Who found her? Any leads on her abductors?"

"No, I guess not, but nobody found her Lex, she found herself. She escaped."

At that, Lex was suddenly speechless. Clark would have cracked a smile if it had been in him. He knew Chloe would feel pretty satisfied knowing she had struck Lex Luthor dumb. His face betrayed how highly impressed he was, but there was sadness creeping through. A strange combination to see. Lex sat with Clark for nearly an hour until Lana and his parents arrived at the start of visiting hours. Lex quietly excused himself as he noticed the Kent's approach, wanting to give them some time. He told Clark he'd be by in the afternoon to pay Chloe a visit.

"Hi sweetie." His mom cooed, wrapping a big hug around him, smoothing back his hair as she released her embrace. She looked concerned but said nothing else.

"Hi Clark."Lana's greeting was muttered shyly. She seemed a little uncomfortable being around him. He would have to apologize for being so distant this past month. They would need each other's support if they were going to help Chloe.

"Have you been in to see her yet, son?" his father was asking now.

"No, I've been waiting, but visiting hours start in a couple of minutes."

"Where's Gabe?"Again his father, always getting right to the point.

"He left a few hours ago, Dad, but he got to see Chloe before he left. I'm sure he'll be back soon."

Even as he said it, Clark knew he wouldn't be seeing Chloe's father come around here again. That look in his eyes when he left-- he wouldn't be coming back.

The hospital seemed to be waking with the day. The morning shift was coming on, relieving the fallen faces of those who'd been there all night. Clark was regaining his earlier bout of hope now that he had company. He felt ready to face Chloe. He turned to them, grateful for their presence.

"I'm going to try to get in to see her."

The nurse at the desk was kind, saw his impatience and led him down the hall to her room. He stood outside for a moment, feeling a resurgence of that anxiety, worried about what he would find there. He pushed the door open and stepped through tentatively. Peeking in to watch her for a moment, lying in that hospital bed, he saw she was curled up on her side. Her back was to him and he noticed right away how long her hair had gotten, how her shoulder blades protruded prominently through the thin hospital gown.

"Chloe?" he ventured.

No response. She was probably asleep or sedated. He entered the room, trying to be quiet. He was comfortable with the idea of sitting in the chair next to her bed while she slept. He eased into the seat, calmly settling in. Watching her breathe, he felt a surge of affection for his friend, a protectiveness, a strong sense of love.

"What are you doing here Clark?"

He nearly jumped out of his seat, his heartbeat sent skyrocketing.

"Jesus, Chloe, I thought you were asleep. Um, whew..." He cleared his throat, collecting himself, "How are you feeling?"

She didn't turn around, didn't stir at all. He suddenly felt very strange. He felt a wrongness in the room.

"Why did you come?"

"We were all so worried about you." There was hesitation in his voice. He felt unsure about her question, her voice wasn't quite right. "So many days without hearing anything, it was hard to keep up hope that you would be..." He faltered then, "I was so terrified. The police asked me so many questions because I was the last to see you, but there wasn't much I could tell them. I blamed myself for not knowing something, anything to help them with their investigation. I blamed myself for-- well, a lot of things. I still do, I guess."

God, what was he saying? He was babbling. He hadn't intended to say any of this, hadn't intended to start talking about himself of all things, hadn't thought she would be awake. Christ.

"I don't want you here Clark. I want you to leave."

He felt like he'd been slapped. This was a nightmare. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Couldn't believe that she would say something like that to him. He knew it was hardly fair, but he expected some kind of forgiveness, not this flatness, this hollow tone in her voice.

"Maybe I should come back later when you're feeling better."

He was standing now, heading toward the door.

"I don't want you coming back here."

He felt his body go cold. Something was wrong, really wrong. He wanted to believe that she was acting like this because she blamed him for letting her be taken by rapists, torturers. Or maybe because she was on too much medication to know what she was saying, but there was no hurt in her voice, no anger. He could hear no grogginess. Her voice was calm and smooth as ice. He felt something akin to panic. Helpless, he walked out without another word. Out of the room, past his family's inquisitive looks and questions from Lana. Off the floor, out of the hospital. Escaping.

Chapter 10

Clark kept to himself for the next few days, concentrating on his chores. Something mindless and distracting. His parents pretty much left him alone, probably his father's idea. He could practically hear the conversation now.

Jonathan, he's hurting. Something happened in that room that upset him. I'm worried that he's acting this sullen. He's not even confiding in any of his friends, I don't want this to be another shut-out like a month ago.

He's a strong boy, Martha. He came out okay from that rough spell at the beginning of all this; he just needs some time to work through this too. If he needs us, he'll let us know.

Clark gave a little smirk at the though of that exchange. His parents were so simple, so trusting in the idea that, for good people, things turned out well in the end. He supposed he was that way too. He couldn't deny that his own thought process was similar. Hell, he practically convinced himself at the hospital that love and good-will from family and friends could fix Chloe up in no time. But when she spoke, it had been so strange. There was a darkness in her voice he didn't recognize. That hadn't been his Chloe in that hospital room and the thought terrified him. He wanted her back. He needed her back.

Lana didn't come to see him until about three days after watching him rush out of the hospital. He was impressed she waited so long, probably his parents doing. When she finally did come he was sitting outside, watching the sky. Not even noticing her approach, the sound of shoes on the porch steps snapped him out of his thoughts. He felt easily distracted lately.

"Hey." She said gently. "Nice night isn't it?"

"Lana. How are you?" This was awkward.

"I'm fine, but worried about you, Clark. You've disappeared on us again."

"No, not really. Not like last time. I'm just keeping a low profile."

"Especially at the hospital I've noticed."

She didn't say it in an accusing way, more like pity, but he felt the accusation just the same.

"You've been visiting?"

"Everyday."

He was slightly surprised to hear it. For some reason he thought Chloe would tell them all to get lost. Maybe this was about her blaming him for what happened. The thought gave him a strange sense of comfort. He could deal with personal blame. The change he thought he felt in Chloe the other day was a much more terrifying prospect.

"How is she?"

"She had surgery yesterday to repair her cheekbone. Her face is going to be swollen and bruised for awhile, but she's finally getting some color back in her skin. She doesn't look quite so... gray."

She finished uncomfortably. Clark nodded his head slightly, encouraging her to keep going.

"Why haven't you been to see her Clark? I know it's not easy to see her like this, but I think it might help her if you were there. I mean, with her father pulling a disappearing act and then you following suit-- I guess I'm just afraid she'll start to think her support system is abandoning her."

"Lana, she asked me not to come back. She doesn't want to see me."

He was surprised at the venom in his response. He hadn't meant it to come out quite like that, to put so much anger and blame in his voice. Lana looked slightly taken aback.

"I'm sure she didn't mean it like that. It was the first day she'd seen anyone, she wasn't herself."

"Is she any more herself now, Lana?"

"She's getting better." Her reply was sheepish, unsure in the face of his exasperation.

Clark sighed, leaning back onto the porch swing. This conversation was exhausting; he wanted it to be over.

"Clark," she said sweetly, coming to sit next to him, placing a hand on him knee, "You've always been Chloe's favorite, I've always felt that you two had the most in common, were the most alike, you know? It always made me a little jealous. Our whole lives you two have had your little co-conspirator club. Always bouncing ideas off of each other, having crazy debates about things, cracking each other up with little comments and inside jokes that went over everybody else's heads. I know that this past month has been the hardest for you out of all of us. You've been blaming yourself and feeling responsible for what's happened to her, and the one person who could have given you the kind of comfort you needed was the one person you couldn't get to. Despite everyone's best efforts I know it's been lonely for you and I'm sure it was ten times worse for Chloe. She needs you Clark, just like you need her. No matter what she might tell you I know that it's true."

Clark sat still as a stone, trying to suppress the tears burning in his eyes. Lana was right, she was so right. Chloe needed him, whether she realized it or not.

"Maybe I'll try again." He managed to choke out.

Lana smiled, placing a kiss on his cheek before walking away without saying another word. She accomplished her mission of diplomacy and tomorrow he'd go visit Chloe again and try his own hand at diplomatic efforts.

Chapter 11

Clark felt good the next morning after his talk with Lana. She revived some of his optimism. He even scolded himself a little for giving up so easily. He left the house early, heading straight for the truck and was surprised to see Pete standing there waiting for him. No word from anyone in three days and then two visitors in less than twenty-four hours.

Interesting.

"Lana told me you might go see Chloe today." Pete started, not wasting any time with small talk this morning.

"I was just heading out..."

"I don't think that would be such a good idea."

Clark let out a short confused laugh, but Pete remained serious, "What's going on here Pete?"

"I think Lana is being a little overly optimistic about the situation."

"But last night she said Chloe was doing better."

It was Pete's turn to let out a sad little chuckle, "I think it would be closer to the truth to say that Lana's getting better at being around Chloe."

"Pete-- you're freaking me out. What are you talking about?"

"Should I describe to you what our visits are like?" Pete's voice was harsh on the words, "Lana twitters on and on to Chloe about business at the Talon, local events, town gossip. Nervously jabbering for an hour straight without even taking too long to pause between sentences. Worried about what Chloe might talk about if given the chance, I'm sure. Not that she really has much to worry about; Chloe spends the time staring out the window, or watching Lana like she's got two heads. Not that I can blame her, Lana acts so obviously strange and uncomfortable around her."

"I don't understand..."

"Chloe is not herself, Clark. She's different. During those visits I watched her. It's like she's living inside her head or something. Like none of this matters to her anymore," he finished, gesturing around them vaguely.

"She's been through a lot, it's going to take some time..."

"Maybe you're right, Clark. I hope you're right." They paused for a moment, letting the conversation linger around them. "I tried to talk with her yesterday, alone," Pete began, more subdued now, "I started getting all choked up, you know? I was trying to tell her how it felt, how hard it was not knowing where she was all those weeks. How it seems even harder now that she's back, but out of our reach somehow. Like the Chloe we know is still missing."

"You told her that?"

Pete nodded. Clark was impressed and horrified that Pete had laid out all that honesty on someone who probably wasn't ready. Chloe needed to be comforted, not confronted.

"She looked right at me and said, `I'm sorry Pete, but I think that girl you knew was beaten right out of me.' And then she smiled in this casual, strange way like she had cracked a joke. It was awful; like she didn't even care we were worried. Like she didn't even care about what had been done to her. As if it was all old news and something more important had already started to occupy her mind."

"Why are you telling me all this?" Clark asked, frustrated. He found this confrontation with Pete strange, and more than a little disturbing.

"Because it's hard to be around her, Clark, and not just because she looks beat up or because it's hard to know what to say, but because she doesn't want us there. Maybe you're the only one she told outright, but maybe that's a testament to how much she respects you, or once did anyway."

"I can't believe you're giving up on her so easily."

Clark couldn't hide the disbelief on his face. He had the strange sensation of not being able to catch his breath. Pete began nodding his head slightly. A little `huh' escaped his lips as if to say, I thought you'd understand what I'm getting at but I guess you don't. His look was one of disappointment and he turned to walk away, leaving Clark standing alone, unsettled and confused.

"Pete..." he called after him, his tone apologetic.

"I'm not going to visit her anymore, Clark, and I think you would do well to stay away too. She already told you once. Don't make her do it again." Pete called over his shoulder as he got in his truck.

Clark stood there staring after him. Lana the voice of hope vs. Pete the voice of doom.

Clark didn't make it to visit Chloe that day.



Disclaimer: Not mine, don't own them. Warning: Part Two contains some hot sex! Author's note: I started writing this story sometime in season two before Chloe and Lex had any interaction or connection what-so-ever. So even though it's a future fic, now that Chlex has a storyline on the show, my fic has turned into a kind of AU where Chloe was never involved with Lionel and by extension, Lex. Also, feedback is more welcome than a cool breeze on a sweltering day. ;)


Chapter 12

Lex felt slightly out of his element walking through the hospital halls, heading for the third floor waiting area. It had been days since he told Clark he would return that same evening. Some business kept him away at first, but his avoidance continued because he felt it almost wasn't his place. None of Clark's friends ever had a particular affinity for his presence and although he always had a respect for Chloe's fearlessness and wit; in reality he hardly knew her. He wasn't sure how much she would appreciate his visit. In the end he decided to come out of loyalty to Clark more than anything else.

He was more than a little surprised to find no familiar faces in the waiting room, although perhaps they were all in the hospital room with her. His quick knock as he pushed the door open felt false. He shouldn't be there. A quick sweep around the room revealed that it was empty. Well, almost empty. He soon met the dark, tired eyes of a very thin, battered looking Chloe Sullivan. He felt strange, embarrassed seeing her like this. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd been expecting, but it wasn't this. She smiled wanly, cynically, to find him in her room.

"Lex Luthor, to what do I owe the company of such a prestigious visitor?" her tone dry.

"I just wanted to stop by and see how you're feeling; see if there's anything I can do for you," he said diplomatically.

He was a master at being at ease in awkward situations, and this was no exception. He betrayed none of the trepidation he felt as he walked smoothly to the chair near her bed and took a seat. He took note of the way she observed his every move with something resembling amusement. She watched him sit there for a moment before shifting her gaze out the window.

"Clark's not here if that's who you're looking for," she said finally, startling him slightly with the cold truth of the statement, though he revealed none of the twinge of guilt it gave him.

"I came to see you, Chloe."

His reply was calm, despite her name feeling awkward in his mouth. He couldn't recall if he had ever addressed her by name before.

"I didn't realize we were such good friends, Lex."

She emphasized his name, obviously mocking his use of hers. He was slightly awed by how every concise statement she made hit on his every insecurity about the situation. It made him grin slightly, more at ease somehow. Despite the confrontational nature of her tone, he ignored her statement in an attempt to diffuse it.

"I'm slightly surprised Clark isn't here. Knowing him, I assumed he'd be holding vigil at your bedside."

This earned a painful chuckle from Chloe as she turned to meet his eyes again. He noted her attempt to mask the difficulty of the subject.

"He hasn't been to visit since that first day, unfortunately for you. I asked him not to come here."

An interesting revelation, he had to admit. He felt a hint of guilt for not knowing this already. He hadn't spoken to Clark in several days. Lex decided to change the subject.

"I brought you the latest Ledger. Being such a committed journalist, I thought you might like to critique your own article," he said, revealing the small newspaper he brought with him, "You are front page news, after all."

He reached out to hand over the paper and was met by the torn, raw flesh on her wrist, revealed as she moved her arm out toward him to take the publication. He found himself unable to avoid staring obviously, mesmerized at the sight. Imagining the amount of pain that must accompany such a wound made him cringe. Her face looked battered, sure, but was partly obscured by a bandage from recent surgery. The rest of her face showed only small cuts and bruises. This wrist was the first glimpse of what, he began to realize, must be extensive injuries. Becoming aware that his staring had gone on for what might be considered an inappropriate amount of time, Lex snapped out of his reverie. He noticed abruptly he had yet to let go of the paper and was further taken aback in realizing Chloe still held her arm outstretched, letting him look. She was studying his expression as he studied her wound. They were frozen together in this bizarre moment of mutual curiosity. Raising his eyes to meet hers, they held each others gaze for a beat, stunned by the strangeness that had just transpired. He released the paper as she slowly took possession.

"Well," she said breaking the spell, her voice almost imperceptibly shaky, "I always thought I'd be writing the news. I never expected I'd be the news. At least I made the front page, a good omen for the future of my journalistic career. So, let's see what they've been saying about me."

She turned her attention to studying the local rag. Lex cleared his throat before speaking, trying to summon the ease he lost for the moment.

"Nothing slanderous, they sang your praises really. Model Smallville citizen is abducted and escapes, unable to identify her captors," he summarized as she read.

"Not very good investigative reporters are they?" she muttered, but he caught it; his interest piqued.

"You know these small town papers," he said slowly, testing her comment, "they never get the story quite right."

"They do their best," she replied, distracted by her reading.

Lex had to admit to following the developments in her case pretty closely from the time Chloe was taken. He carefully read the police reports that just happened to get into his hands, trying to extract clues from the accounts of those who'd seen the men dressed as EMTs wheel Chloe away. But, as with most cases where the police had to rely on the memory of the pubic, the accounts were varying and conflicting and the stories written for the local paper were less than insightful. What had been interesting to him was the statement Chloe gave to the police after she was found. Although he knew little about Chloe personally, one thing he did know was that she possessed a sharp mind. He had been surprised more than once by her power of observation and attention to detail. Most often, her talents in this area were revealed by an unsuspecting Clark in casual conversation. The younger man would often mention something regarding LexCorp, or occasionally something more personal about Lex himself. When prodded as to where he acquired this knowledge, Clark's answer, more often than not, was that Chloe brought it up to him.

When he got his hands on Chloe's statements to the police, Lex noticed how incredibly brief and vague they were. Granted, she'd been through a traumatic experience, but he had a hard time believing she could remember virtually nothing about her captors or her place of incarceration after being held for over four weeks. Especially considering she had still been sharp enough after an extended period of near starvation and bodily injury to devise and execute her own escape. Which incidentally, she also described very ambiguously. He was fairly sure she was deliberately withholding information in an attempt to protect herself from whoever had taken her. Lex recognized that, in addition to wanting to support Clark, a part of him had come here to offer Chloe some sort of protection, but he was unsure of how to broach the subject with someone he hardly knew. He decided to eschew formalities and just throw it out there.

"Why didn't you tell the police who your captors were?"

That made her look up from her read, alright, but her expression was undisturbed. She even smiled slightly as if his presence in her room was finally starting to make sense.

"Why Lex Luthor, have you been snooping into my police records? Well, at least you do your research unlike the peanut gallery that works at this paper."

Not the response he was expecting.

"Listen," he continued, "if you're worried about these people coming after you, there are ways to protect yourself. I could help you in that area. I have access to resources..."

He was interrupted by her laughter. Her laugh sounded rusty, good-natured, like she hadn't done it in a long time. He was a little confused by her reaction. Definitely not what he expected. She looked at him then, a more focused tone entering her voice.

"Why do you care Lex?"

"Chloe, I want to help you," he said calmly.

"No, why do you care what I told the police? There's not much they can do at this point. Besides, I seem to remember you giving the police some creative misdirection in your time. Are you shocked that other people play the same game or just shocked that so-called upright Smallville citizens do?"

She said all this so nonchalantly, like she was talking about the weather or soil conditions, something that could barely keep her interest, but Lex could sense the beginning of some insight forming in his mind. As far as he knew, Chloe hadn't been saying much of anything to anyone. He had a feeling that if he stepped carefully she might open up a bit. He could sense a difference in her, even from what little contact he previously had. He'd experienced dark times before in his life and didn't have to be a genius to recognize that, for all her banter and flippantness, Chloe was in a pretty dark place right now.

"Well if there's something you know that might help catch these people, why not explore avenues other than the police. There are other ways to locate and punish criminals that don't involve-- traditional law enforcement," Lex quipped lightly, "I just want you to feel like you can sleep at night."

Chloe regarded him seriously, looking from his face down to her hands.

"I don't expect anyone will be coming after me and I have no intention of wasting my time and energy."

"But how can you be so sure that you're safe? Why live with that fear if you don't have to."

"It doesn't matter Lex. What else could they possibly do to hurt me? Besides, I don't have what they want, that much was clear weeks ago, for everyone involved. I have no doubt he's relieved I'm off his hands."

He watched her so closely, honing all his attention as she spoke. His ears strained to hear the last phrase as her voice lowered. Fascinated by what everything she wasn't saying told him.

"You know exactly who it is, don't you?" he said softly. He was slightly in awe, leaning forward toward her in the chair almost against his own will, "You might even know precisely how to find him."

She looked him right in the eye, producing a small, pained smile, "What made you think such a ridiculous thing?"

Her statement sounded almost sad, but he knew he was right. He didn't understand what her motivation was, but there was nothing more obvious to him in this moment than the fact that she had been through something that was much more complex than anyone suspected.

"Don't you want whoever did that to you to pay?" he said vehemently, holding her gaze, surprising even himself by how much he desired punishment for her unnamed abusers.

"Revenge isn't always meant for the hand delivering the blows." She muttered under her breath.

The statement wasn't meant for him, but he heard. He rose to leave suddenly, needing to get out of there. He was losing his cool, getting too wrapped up in this.

"I should let you get some rest."

"Lex, wait," she called after him. "When you first came in, you asked if there was anything you could do for me. I want to know if you were being serious or polite."

"I'm never polite."

He looked her in the eyes, trying to read where this was going. He could tell she was struggling with the request, a small battle between pride and necessity, afraid to show herself as vulnerable. It was the first time he sensed a chink in her armor since he walked in the room.

"I want you to refuse if you're adverse to the idea. I don't want you to say you'll do it out of pity. Do you promise to say no if you don't want to agree to this?"

"I promise."

She nodded, relieved somehow. She paused for a moment before continuing.

"They're releasing me in a week and I need some place to go," she could barely get the words out, "I can't go back to that apartment with Lana, the way she acts around me now. I'd go home but my father, he um--he can't even..." her voice choked for a moment, a beat passed before she was able to continue, "Anyway, I don't want to be a burden on him. So I want to know if you would mind letting me stay at the mansion for a while. I guess I figured staying at your house offered the least likelihood of imposing on my host. I can just disappear in that place. You won't even know I'm there. I know we don't really know each other, but that's really the appeal, isn't it?"

She finished awkwardly, looking up at him from the first time through her whole speech.

"Of course you can Chloe, and you don't have to hide yourself away. I'll send a car out to come get you next week."

With that, he walked out, pleased in spite of himself for Chloe to come stay at the mansion. He couldn't help but be fascinated by the whole situation currently surrounding her. He wanted to know more, certainly, but in addition to simply being intrigued, seeing that wound on her wrist hit him harder than he could have anticipated. For all the questionable things he'd done in his life, inflicting pain, bodily harm on an innocent while watching them suffer was almost beyond his comprehension. It enraged him, nauseated him. Chloe seemed too accepting of it all. If it were him-- revenge. Now there was something he did understand, but he lived by the credo that there were more ways to make someone suffer than physical pain. Everyone had a weakness that could make them beg for mercy.

He truly didn't know why he felt this compulsion to help her. Perhaps he just wanted to know her secret; it was an intriguing mystery. Maybe he saw something familiar in the strange disconnect that had taken root in Chloe. He suspected that it was not completely unlike the feeling of distance and coldness toward the world that he occasionally had to fight away in himself. The idea was starting to form, however, that what he considered an unfortunate inheritance of the Luthor family legacy that needed to be willed into submission was, for her, something that had taken over and allowed her to survive and endure the pain. But it had altered her. The darkness that occasionally crept up on him was perhaps not the same as whatever had taken root in Chloe, but maybe he could give her something; understanding or a haven, at least, from this small town where, he could tell, she no longer felt she belonged.

Chapter 13

Lex heard the towncar roll to a stop in the drive. He'd been listening for the sound of those tires crunching gravel since sending the car more than two hours ago. Unable to concentrate fully on his work, he felt frustrated at the difficulty he had controlling his distraction. Lex had already arranged to have all Chloe needed from her apartment brought to the mansion before her arrival, with instructions to put everything into one of the guest suites. He had not seen Chloe since that day at the hospital and had spoken with her only briefly since then to arrange a time to send someone to pick her up. Relieved at the sound of the vehicle's approach, Lex headed toward the entrance, reaching the threshold just in time to see Chloe ease herself out of the car into a standing position. Watching her get out of the car, he noticed her grimace with discomfort. Curious about her movements now, he tried to read any lingering pain in her body language, but was surprised to find her moving very comfortably, even boldly, up the stairs toward him. She betrayed no limp or stiffness in her gait as she approached. She had quite a strong will, even over her own battered body it seemed.

"I hope the drive here was comfortable," he said by way of greeting.

"A delight," she quipped. She must have noticed his expression darken at her comment, "I'm sorry. I sound ungrateful. I'm just-- tired, I guess." Her voice and face confirmed her statement.

"I'll show you right up then, to your room."

She nodded, looking exhausted and thankful as she followed him up the very large, very beautiful main set of stairs. They took a right turn at the top and then turned again, heading deeper into the mansion. He lead her quite a way down a hall before stopping in front of a large oak door, letting her walk through first. He had specifically picked this room for her. It was unlike most of the guest rooms in the mansion. The fore-room had a work area feel to it. A desk, now containing Chloe's laptop (newly acquired from her apartment), bookshelves, and oversized chairs occupied the naturally bright room, which gained its sunlight from two large windows covering the east wall. Through an archway at the back of the front room, a second space emerged with a large bed covered in a simple down comforter, a dresser and an armoire. Very little pomp or prestige was involved in the decoration, just warm, vivid colors and furnishings with clean lines. The room was spacious and had its own private bath, but the real draw was the balcony. To the right of the archway were French doors leading off onto a beautiful deck looking out onto the woods surrounding the property. Onto nothingness.

He had always loved the view from this balcony, even more than that from his own. The silence, the absolute blackness that pervaded at night had a way of calming him. Similarly, the cool, wet mornings always had the same effect. Peace. He could forget where he was and let his mind wander out. He watched her walk through, wanting her reaction. When she finally approached him again her expression was incredulous, almost embarrassed.

"I don't know what to say. I--this is not what I expected. I don't know--I always imagined the illustrious Luthor mansion to be some kind of cavernous Victorian relic with tapestries and imposing, dark-wood antique furniture, but these rooms are so-- comfortable. I mean, most of my books are even on those bookshelves in there. Thank you-- for all of this," she concluded softly, her eyes glistening a bit.

"I'm glad you like it," he managed, slightly overwhelmed by her response, "Make yourself at home. I'll let you rest. Anytime you get hungry, need anything, just ask. I'll be down in my office."

He left her alone then, escaping back to his work. He had already begun to notice that being around her was strangely affecting, first at the hospital and just now at this brief encounter. She made him feel like he was being rubbed raw. He felt emotional energy rip through him, things he usually controlled so easily or ignored. He had the unsettling feeling that perhaps he shouldn't have agreed to let her stay here, but the prospect of finding out what she was hiding was too great a temptation. Plus, she had nowhere else to go, and he wasn't coldhearted enough to turn her away. Several hours of work later, Lex heard a timid knocking on the doors of his office. A small groggy head, with hair sticking in all directions, leaned in.

"Sorry to bother you," she said sleepily.

"Not at all, come in," he replied, rising from behind his desk, "You hungry?" he asked suddenly as she stepped fully into the room.

She was wearing sweats and a strange kind of half-turtle necked tee shirt with long sleeves. She was swimming in the clothes and at first it didn't occur to him that they could possibly be hers. He wondered if anything she owned fit her now emaciated frame. She seemed startled by his question, as though food on demand were a foreign thought.

"Sure, I could eat."

"Follow me."

He passed in front of her and out the door as she followed him into a sizable, fully equipped and stocked kitchen. Every chef's dream.

"What are you in the mood for?" he questioned, "I make a mean waffle." A smirk slipped onto his face.

"Waffles sound fine. Throw in a pot of coffee and I might never leave," she deadpanned.

"Coffee's in the freezer, French press and grinder are above the sink. I'll put you in charge of the caffeine while I take care of the meal." He set to work, only half ignoring her previous statement.

"Lex Luthor, the generous and accommodating host. Who knew?"

"I trust you'll keep it to yourself. I wouldn't want to tarnish my reputation."

His tone always serious despite his joke, wry was his only form of humor. Chloe let out a dry little chuckle he found he was pleased to have caused.

"I like you like this, Luthor."

"Like what, exactly?"

"Domestic. Waiting on me."

"Stick around and you just might get to experience more of my domestic side. I'm quite the chef you see."

"Somehow, I don't doubt it," she replied distractedly, focused on her task.

He had to admit; he liked himself in moments like this too. Unhurried, mind focused on nothing more complex than how many eggs to crack, the monotonous sound of the whisk whipping through the mixture he just made, the familiar hiss of the waffle skillet as the batter made contact with the heat. There was something meditative about the whole thing. Leaving the waffles to cook, Lex turned to find Chloe sitting at the island in the middle of the kitchen, sipping her coffee and watching him move about the room. She had placed a second steaming mug for him in front of the seat caddy-corner from her own. Her gaze followed him as he moved to grab it, rejecting the stool for now in favor of returning to his post near the waffle iron.

"Do you approve of the coffee? I know it's no Talon breakfast blend, but still satisfying, I hope."

His comment was painfully obvious in its sarcasm. He had nothing against the coffee Lana served, but the beans he bought for himself were of much higher quality.

"I haven't had a cup of coffee in a long time," she replied distractedly, not exactly answering his question.

He glanced at her between slices of the strawberries he prepared. A tightness in his chest forming as he watched her smell the steam with a tiny smile barley on her face. A wave of rage passed through him, which he quickly pushed away as he walked toward the island with two giant Belgian waffles on plates, placing one in front of Chloe, one for him. Strawberries and syrup followed. She surveyed the spread, approval on her face.

"Looks beautiful. I almost don't want to eat it."

"I will be supremely insulted if you don't. Plus, my confidence will be ruined for future culinary endeavors."

"Well then, I suppose I have an obligation for the sake of my future meals."

He found that he enjoyed her company. Even though they ate in virtual silence, he felt much less awkward than he probably should have considering the infancy of their tentatively forged friendship. After finishing the impromptu meal, they sat quietly with their coffee.

"Funny," Chloe finally broke into the silence, "I used to have such a knack for small talk. I guess I've been out of practice for too long."

"I've never been very good at it," was his response, "but I suppose I never really liked the idea of meaningless chit-chat."

Their statements were mindless, wandering thoughts. It was nice, just sitting like this. Lex couldn't hold back a small smile. Chloe, watching him, smiled a little too.

"Show me where the library is," she said abruptly, her eyes sparkling a bit.

He looked at her for a moment, studying her expectant expression. "Follow me," he finally said, rising from his seat.

The library was one of the largest rooms in the house, containing thousands of books. Lex wondered if the public library in this town even came close to having the collection his father had acquired for this room. He sat in a chair while Chloe moved around the catalogue, asking questions now and then about the method of organization, how the contents of the collection had been chosen. He watched her wander around the room, pale and distant, like an apparition. Satisfied with her brief perusal, she returned to where he sat, looking tired already even after such a short evening. The soft lighting in the room erased the slight discoloration from the healing bruises still lingering on her face. He was unprepared to find himself struck by her beauty. The peaceful look on her tired face was quite breathtaking.

"Satisfied with the collection?" he asked lightly at her approach.

"I think I'll be spending a lot of time in here," she yawned, "with your consent of course."Her tone was wry, subtly teasing.

He smiled in response, "Could I keep you away?"

"Not likely, I'm afraid. Although, for tonight, I think sleep holds a greater sway," she yawned again, her eyelids beginning to droop.

"I'll walk you up."

They wandered slowly through the hallways toward her room. Lex noticed her fingers trailing lightly along the wall, her other hand absently curling and uncurling, and the way her socked feet rustled quietly against the carpet. When they reached her door he said a hasty good night and turned to leave, but was quickly stopped by a hand lightly grabbing his elbow.

"Where will you be? Your room, I mean."

"I have a room at the end of the hall parallel to this one," his voice empty. Then, turning to look her in the eye, "I won't be far," more softly.

She nodded once, averting her eyes, embarrassed by the neediness she believed her question revealed.

"Goodnight, then," she turned into her room, disappearing behind the heavy oak door.

Lex walked down the darkened hallway toward his own room, suddenly and strangely aware of the poignancy of being alone.

Chapter 14

Hanging up on one of the more frustrating phone calls of the morning, Lex let out a deep sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose soothingly. He began to reach for his intercom but hesitated, staring at it a moment before reaching again, pressing it resolutely this time.

"Ms. Wilkins, has Ms. Sullivan been down this morning?"

His voice was curt. The same tone he used in all business-like matters, as if he were slightly bothered having to ask.

"She's been up for several hours as far as I know, sir. Mr. Warren said he offered her some breakfast, but she just made some coffee and headed for the library. She's been in there all morning as far as I know. I can get her if you'd like."

"No-- no need. Thank you, Ms. Wilkins."

Interesting.

Though he didn't doubt Chloe's healthy thirst for knowledge, Lex found it hard to believe that her interest in his book collection rested primarily in the pursuit of academia. Her interest lingered a little more closely last night when she encountered his most recently acquired texts on foreign policy and domestic espionage. She was a journalist, after all, and he smelled research on her mind. She was looking for something, itching to uncover some specific pieces of information. He could see purpose lying just beneath the surface. He wasn't a fool; obviously something had been revealed to her. She discovered a taste of what her kidnappers real motivations were and now she was hunting the story. Whatever she uncovered, he felt that it could only be to his advantage to know what it was.

Caught up in thought, he was startled out of his reverie by the rather violent entrance of, what appeared to be, an enraged Clark Kent. Lex jumped up, his heart jerking in his chest at the surprise.

"Where is she?" Clark seethed.

"Clark?" his voice all calmness and cool, "What are you doing here?"

"Cut the bullshit, Lex. I don't care what she said to convince you to hide her away here. I want to see her, now."

Lex watched the younger man struggling between the equally inflammatory emotions of anger and hurt. Even-tempered Clark Kent, ready to tear the place apart. He recalled some of the vague and cryptic conversations they'd had in the past, during which, Lex had gotten the picture pretty clearly that Clark was conflicted about his relationship with Chloe. There had always been tension between what he desired in Lana and what he felt for Chloe. Her disappearance had been hard on Clark and, from what Lex could tell, her return and subsequent rejection of his company had hurt him even more. He could plainly see that his friend felt betrayed and couldn't understand why she turned to a near stranger for help. Clark's feelings of betrayal extended to Lex, that much was clear from his hostility. He felt a surge of sympathy for his friend.

"Clark, I'm not hiding anyone away. There's no conspiracy here. She simply needed a place to stay. She's barely been here a day, I just don't think she's ready to see anyone yet." His tones were placating, trying to reason him down.

Clark nodded bitterly, rageful tears glistening in his eyes, "Did she tell you that? You two have been bonding?"

"Clark..."

"Fuck you, where is she?"

Lex watched him sweep his gaze over the inner wall of the room. Without missing a beat the younger man took off, storming out of the office, down the hall, straight toward the library. Lex caught up to him right before he reached the library doors, grabbing him by the arm. Clark quickly ripped away from his grasp, but stopped to face him.

"Wait..."

"What do you care? You think you need to protect her from me?" Clark's expression softened a bit; regret at his harshness breaking through his anger, "She wouldn't even look at me, you know, when I went to see her. All that time, not knowing if she was even alive... but when she came back, it was like I lost her anyway."

"Clark you have to realize, things are different for Chloe than they were a month ago..."

"Different enough that the only person she's said more than two words to is practically a stranger to her? I'm not an idiot, Lex. I know she's changed. Both Pete and Lana warned me how cold she was to them when they went to see her, cruel even. She obviously needs help."

Lex felt slightly taken aback by that statement. He almost felt the urge to laugh at the comment. Chloe might be withdrawn and guarded, but unfeeling? He suddenly thought Pete and Lana to be quite the exaggerators.

"So what exactly are you planning to do, Clark? Are you going to drag her back into her old life kicking and screaming. Force her into being the bright and bubbly person she was before being violently abused? Maybe take her to see some shrink who'll give her a bunch drugs and forget about her? How much is that really going to help her, Clark?"

He could feel the heat of Clark's glare and flinched inwardly to hear his friend's next words spoken in clipped tones as he tried to control his rage.

"Letting her hide from everyone who cares about her in this monstrosity of a house is only going to make it worse."

"Why? Because it will give her a respite from everyone telling her what's best? Because she might actually figure that out on her own?"

Lex didn't understand why he was getting so emotional. He was losing focus on the point of his argument. Taking a deep breath, he attempted to calm himself into clarity.

"Look, Clark, I just think you have to remember that the past can't be erased. Events change people, it happens to everyone. You need to be open to the idea that Chloe doesn't have to return to being the exact same person she was before all this to be okay."

"Why am I even listening to this? Lex, you don't even know her..."

"Enough." A weary voice emerged, silencing them. Both men turned to see Chloe step out from around the doorway of the library, "I remember a time less than a week ago when you two were the best of friends. This might be the fastest turn around in history."

It was a chilly comment, meant to diffuse the situation quickly, but Clark had already turned his attention to her, instantly forgetting Lex.

"Chloe, what the hell are you doing? Lana said she came home after work a few days ago and your stuff was cleared out. She was going to call the police, but when she went to the hospital she found out you'd been discharged. Why didn't you tell anyone? We were worried that-- we didn't know what to think."

His tone hinted at accusation, but his concern was evident. Above all, it was obvious that the entire situation with Chloe was scaring the hell out of him.

"Lana," she whispered knowingly. When she finally looked up to speak to Clark, her voice was smooth and cold, "I'm sorry Lana was frightened Clark. I should have warned her. But, as far as I know, none of you own me and I'm free to make decisions without checking in. Please assure her that I will continue to pay my portion of the rent if that's what she's concerned about."

"Chloe," he said more tenderly, hurt in his voice at the insincerity of her statement, "I know you blame me for leaving you alone that day. Believe me when I say that it's not something I expect you to forgive me for, but it's no reason to shut everyone out. Lana and Pete worry about you too. If you won't let me help you, at least talk to them."

She let out a sad, cynical sigh, making his statement sound nave.

"Clark, I don't blame you for anything. What happened wasn't your fault. You don't think I know that? I know you have this idea that you owe me something because you ran off. That it's your responsibility to 'fix' me, but I'm telling you right now, none of this has anything to do with you. So if you came here for forgiveness, then fine, you're forgiven. That's all I can give you right now."

She turned to go back into the library then, attempting to put an end to the conversation, but Clark reached out, grabbing her upper arm to stop her. She let out a small cry of surprise from the pain his grip caused on her still unhealed arm. Her opposite hand shot up to grab Clark's, removing the contact quickly. The movement was nothing more than a reflex, but Clark wouldn't let go of her hand once he had it.

"Oh Jesus, Chloe. I'm sorry-- I didn't mean to-- oh, god, are you okay?"

Guilt and concern were written all over his face. She exhaled tiredly.

"Get out of here, Clark,"

She was watching their hands, the way he was desperately clasping onto hers, with something resembling curiosity, remorse.

"No. I don't want to lose you. I'm not going to lose my friend, I love her too much not to fight for her."

He struggled through the statement, almost succumbing to tears several times. Lex watched Chloe lift her eyes to stare right into Clark's, holding his gaze for a beat before replying. Her voice was so soft, so calm.

"I'm sorry Clark. For all the times I pried into your life when you didn't want me to or asked you for things you weren't ready to give, I want the courtesy from you I wasn't strong enough to grant. Just walk away. That girl you knew, your friend-- is gone."

His face registered a kind of shocked anguish to hear her say it. A few silent tears fell freely down his face as Chloe gently removed her hand from his slackened grasp. She turned to leave, passing by the library doors to head down the hall, away from the two men.

"I don't care what you say, I refuse to give up on you," he shouted after her, watching her disappear around a corner before finally turning to leave.

As he passed by, Lex tried to put a hand on his arm, wanting to give comfort to the devastation he saw on his friend's face.

"Clark..."

He spoke his name softly, pity saturating his voice, but was brushed off. Lex followed, trailing him to the entrance of the mansion.

"Clark, I'm just trying to help her out," he called after him, cringing internally at the naked apology in his voice. Clark turned around as he stepped out of the door, looking far calmer than he had at any point since his arrival.

"I know you are Lex. She's choosing you to lean on through this. I suppose it makes perfect sense. You two are practically strangers; you won't have any expectations, no standards to hold her to. I just thought she would come to me. I wanted it to be me."

Lex could only stare after him as he walked to his car. Clark looked resigned, his voice ragged with emotion. Lex could think of nothing to say that would adequately respond to the statement. New anger began to bubble up in Lex as he watched Clark's defeated retreat.

Why the hell had he put himself in this situation? What a fucking mess.

He was already heading for Chloe's room before he even knew what he was going to say to her. How could she have watched Clark break like that without batting an eye? How could she be so resistant when he was obviously in pain? Besides, his loyalty was to Clark, wasn't it? She was causing animosity between Clark and him, while managing to avoid any blame for it's creation by walking away. Hell, he practically came to blows arguing her point. If she planned on staying in his home, it would not be at the expense of his friendship with Clark.

He approached her room, ready to walk right in, when he heard small chokes and sobs coming from inside. Cracking the door, he saw her sitting on the end of her bed, head in hands, body wracked with sobs. He softly closed the door, slumping back against the wall, blowing out a hot and tired breath. The impossibility of the situation began to hit him in full force.

Lex had been thrown in the middle. Clark was hurting and Chloe was in a lot of pain. Certainly a lot more than he had anticipated and probably more than even Clark suspected. He felt a powerful urge to comfort her. She was alone in the devastation of that encounter, more so than Clark would be. Clark could rehash the event to his friends, get their support. But even if Lex went in there, he doubted she would ever accept his attempt to soothe her. He stood there a moment more, feeling helpless and conflicted, truly his rarest emotions, before heading for his office.

Chapter 15

Lex didn't see Chloe again that day and spent most of the next morning and afternoon in town, trying to convince himself he wasn't avoiding his own home. By evening he had run out of reasons not to return and, back in his office as the sun started to go down, she stepped lightly into the room.

"So what's on the menu for tonight?"

He could hear her apology in there somewhere, but there was strength too. Her stance revealed no meekness or groveling, as though she weren't sorry for what had happened, only that she had brought it all to his doorstep, perhaps. As they prepared the meal together, neither mentioned what had happened with Clark and except for his abrupt appearance, the rest of the week went on without incident. Lex couldn't help feeling the need to keep his distance. His discomfort with, what suddenly seemed, an explosive living situation kept him on edge. But, after several dinners, several easy and casual conversations, he couldn't deny that he was becoming more and more pleased by her company.

They began to settle into a pattern. During the day Lex continued conducting his own business as usual, mornings in the mansion, afternoons in town. Chloe continued with her mysterious research and tried to adjust her life so she could work from home. She told Lex about agreeing to do some freelance copy-editing for her old job at the paper, and began submitting a few of her own articles for publication. Some days she would take long walks in his woods, returning only in time for the dinners they seemed to have already established as a nightly tradition.

Soon he found himself making excuses to read his morning paper in the library where he knew she would be working. His reasoning solid in his own mind. If he spent some time in the library with her, he would be able to get a better picture of what reading material she was picking and perhaps a clearer idea of what she was looking into. The first day he ventured in she looked up in confusion, obviously surprised to see him there.

"Morning."

"Do you mind if I join you? I've been missing the library in the mornings."

"It's your house, Lex. I'm just a squatter."

She watched carefully as he moved into the room. He felt uncomfortable under her gaze. In the room at all, really. Somehow, even after a relatively short time, this had become her space and he was invading. He hastily found a seat on the couch, trying to choose a position close to the table where she worked. He settled in as best he could, unfurling his paper.

"Listen to this," he interrupted after a long period of silence, "New England man finds a 1969 Superbowl ring in his box of cornflakes. That's incredible."

He looked up at her with an amused smile, finding the randomness of the discovery fascinating and more than a little humorous. Her focus turned to him as she let out a loud, abrupt laugh, eyes sparkling with amusement.

"I'm glad you're getting such valuable insights into current events from the Times this morning." She continued to stare over at him, even after he returned his attention to his reading, "Being around you like this, I can hardly believe you're the same Lex Luthor," she said finally, the smile still in her voice.

"Is this so different for the way I usually am?"

Even he knew the answer was obvious, but she took his question seriously, pausing a moment before answering.

"I guess I'm not one to know, really. Whenever I used to see you around or even the very few times we interacted, you seemed-- I don't know-- on guard. Like you always had somewhere more important to be, or a reason to be looking over your shoulder. There was always an angle you seemed to be working. I like you much better when you're comfortable. Not that you should give up the mysterious bit. It works much too well on you. Plus women love that shit, men too for that matter."

That got a smile out of him.

"But you don't buy it." he quipped, playing along.

"On the contrary," she said, a serious tone creeping onto her voice, her eyes glazing slightly, "I think you're hiding much more than anyone suspects, your secrets just aren't what most people think they are."

He looked right at her then, stunned."You seem to read a lot for someone who's known me for such a short time."

His voice was sharp and full of warning, trying to protect against an insight that left him feeling vulnerable and transparent. She quickly snapped out of contemplation, seeming embarrassed she said any of that out loud.

"Of course, maybe that's just the way I imagine you to be... Like you said, we hardly know each other."

She smiled at him weakly, turning back to her work. They sat silently for some time, Lex completely unable to focus after the unsettling exchange. Eventually he rose from his seat, excusing himself distractedly as he headed to his office, grateful for the hours of work ahead.

He refused to be driven away by his discomfort, however, and continued spending his mornings in the library. That first awkward encounter made for a silent room for awhile, but their evenings remained comfortable and eventually the awkward air in the library dissolved into a companionable atmosphere. They spoke little of their work, but nothing else was off limits and Lex was beginning to see a little of what he assumed was the old Chloe emerge now and then. She certainly began to look healthier and more beautiful by the day. She still carried a distance around with her. Although he supposed he did too, in his own way, but her presence was becoming familiar and welcome.

He came into the library one morning to find her looking particularly tired. She was nodding off over her laptop when he walked in.

"Well, good morning, sunshine," his endearment dripping with sarcasm, "How long have you been in here?"

She snapped her eyes open, startled awake by his entrance.

"Lex..." she said flashing a sleepy smile, "I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd get some work done."

"You should try again, you look exhausted."

"I'm fine," she answered distractedly, already back to her reading.

Lex shook his head, amused at her stubbornness. Thirty minutes later, however, he chuckled to find her passed out, head on the table, sound asleep. He put down his paper and moved toward her sleeping figure. Removing the pen from her hand and the papers from under her head, he gently wrapped her arm around his shoulders and hefted her sleeping figure with some effort, but soon she was comfortably in his arms. Her head lolling against his shoulder, he carried her through the hallways to her room and nudged the door open with his foot, carefully carrying her in and placing her in bed.

He stood watching for a moment before feeling a little too much like a voyeur. He moved instead toward the balcony, taking this opportunity to visit the favorite outside view he no longer had the chance to see. He noticed Chloe had put a little table and chair outside and fingered the pack of cigarettes and lighter he found there. A habit he hadn't known about. A book of Bukowski's poetry and a notepad filled with doodles and snatches of writing sat along side the pack. He flipped through the pages, ignoring the guilt from this little invasion of privacy. Most of the writing was about the night, the trees, the silence or lack of silence. She wrote about the house quite a bit too, describing it as a living thing, changing and breathing. He stopped to read one page more carefully, seeing his own name.

Lex, what a mystery his is. Very cold, very beautiful. He watches me move around this house, watches me when he thinks I don't notice him staring. With suspicion, or perhaps lust. Are they all that different, after all?

He felt odd reading those words, but began flipping through pages, wanting to know what else she thought of him, what else she had noticed. His endeavor was interrupted by a noise in the room behind him, a small cry. He turned to see Chloe struggling slightly with the sheets, grabbing at her own throat. She was making choking sounds; short gasps were escaping her lips. He strode back into the room, saying her name abruptly. She continued clawing at her throat, her subdued struggle with the sheets turning into a panicked thrashing. He said her name again more loudly, grabbing hold of one of her wrists, not wanting her to tear at her own skin. When he touched her she cried out, not shrill like a scream, but low and desperate. It sounded like death.

"Chloe, open your eyes."

He was practically yelling in her face now, his adrenaline pumping, scared for her; scared by her. She snapped into consciousness then, gasping for air and disoriented, trying to push him away from her.

"Hey," he said roughly, grabbing her shoulders, making her look him in the face, "It's me, it's Lex."

She stopped struggling so fiercely, beginning to recognize him and her surroundings.

"Lex," she breathed, pulling him roughly against her. He was caught off guard by her embrace after the confusion of what had happened, but soon came back to himself. Shock wore away into relief as he wrapped his arms tightly around her. He could feel her heart beating a million miles an hour against his chest, matching his own heart currently doing the same. He turned his face into her hair. Feeling a swell of emotion as he pulled her closer, he soothed his hand over her back. Eventually her breathing slowed with her heartbeat and she moved back to look at him. He was slightly shocked to see her eyes were dry, not a tear shed.

"You okay?" she asked, searching his face.

"Me? Shouldn't I be the one asking that question?"

She glanced away, looking embarrassed. "I'm fine."

"Fine-- I feel like I might throw-up and you say you're fine."

The entire situation was so bizarre. Less than five minutes ago she'd been having the worst nightmare he ever witnessed and now she was making sure he was okay. Well, he wasn't okay. That had scared the fuck out of him. She slipped away, moving to sit up against the bed's headboard, motioning for him to do the same. They sat side by side, staring straight ahead, their shoulders touching for support. After several moments of silence, Lex broke in.

"What just happened, Chloe?"

"How did we get up here, Lex?" her voice was neutral. Her reply wasn't an accusation; it was avoidance. Lex sighed, frustrated.

"You fell asleep working so I brought you up here. Don't avoid the question. That was a disturbing display you just put on."

"Sorry if it frightened you. It's not always possible to get control over these things."

He looked over at her then, "These things-- this is a regular occurrence?"

"It's getting better, not as frequent. I hadn't had one for awhile until last night."

"Which is why you couldn't sleep. You've been having them while you've been living here?"

"Yes."

"How many? How often?"

"I don't remember, Lex. Why does it matter?"

"How many?"

"Every night at first, then less. It had been over a week until last night."

"And they're always that bad?" She didn't answer, didn't look at him. "Worse? Chloe... why haven't you come to me about this?"

"Oh come on, Lex. What could you possibly have done?"

"There are sleep specialists, hypnotists, any number of options available. There has to be something you can do for this."

"What, with pills? Or maybe hooking a bunch of sensors up to my brain? No thanks. I was finished with all that over a month ago. They couldn't do anything for me at the hospital except dope me up and that's an option you can forget about. Besides these-- dreams, or whatever, are already getting better."

She looked over at him then, just a hint of pleading in her eyes. He could see she wanted him to drop it. She wanted him to understand.

"Okay," he finally said. He could feel her relax beside him.

"Thank you for waking me up, for helping me," she said after a period of silence, her head lowering to rest on his shoulder, "It was surprisingly comforting to have someone there when I came out of it, embarrassment not withstanding."

Her lightened tone had no effect on his mood. He couldn't shake feeling distressed at the revelation of these 'dreams'.

"Promise me that if this happens again, you won't just wait around for the fright to pass. Day or night I want you to come get me."

He felt her head nod against his shoulder. On impulse, he briefly pressed his lips to her hair then stood to leave. He needed to get away for a moment; to remove himself from the intensity that lingered in the room.

"Lex," she called out as he reached the door, "If only people knew what a softy you are."

"It's your own fault, Chloe. You bring out the worst in me," he said as he closed the door, feeling her smile sadly even though he couldn't see it.

Chapter 16

After that morning, Lex noticed that whatever trust he and Chloe built up over the past five weeks began to erode. Or maybe he was imagining it all. They still traded barbs, still managed intellectual exchanges in the manner they always had, but suddenly Chloe's schedule failed to coincide with Lex's. The day following her nightmare, Lex found a note in the library saying she'd gone to Metropolis to do some ambiguously defined 'work', but never made it home for their traditional dinner together that night and slept through their library time together the next morning. A week passed when they only saw each other once for dinner. He felt as though he should ask her if everything was okay, but knew it wasn't his business to monitor her comings and goings.

What claim did he have over her schedule? She was his guest, not his responsibility. He should be happy, left alone to his life for once. Though, at this point, he had become used to her company, began to desire it. It was a comforting feeling, having someone to come home to, and at Chloe's sudden disappearing act, he felt the loss. On the occasions when she would show-up for dinner, however, their interaction remained so easy and pleasant he convinced himself that he was overreacting about her absence. Naturally, her life would be getting busier as her work began to pick-up, and most likely, she no longer felt quite as fragile as when she first came to stay with him. The need to hide away in the mansion was probably abating.

But, as her appearances became fewer and farther between, Lex began to have the horrible feeling that something had gone wrong with Chloe; that she was beginning to pull away from what little connection she still had to her old life. He was surprised to find that he had a real fear of her disappearing on him the way she had on her other friends. Somehow, she had become an important part of his life.

After an extended period of only brief encounters between them, mostly as she was walking out the door, Chloe showed up for dinner. They lingered in their seats for a long time after finishing their food, reminding Lex of meals when she first came to the mansion. No rush, just wandering conversation. Eventually they parted to their individual rooms, but Lex couldn't help but feel unsettled by what was happening. She was shutting him out. He sat at the foot of his bed, debating whether or not to go speak with her. Questioning whether he had the right to confront her at all. He found that he was working himself up into something resembling anger. He recognized the slight hypocrisy of being upset at the fierce privacy she maintained, he had his own secrets after all, but he had never been good at ignoring secrecy in others. Finally frustration overrode reason and he found himself standing in front of her door ready to ask for some answers.

Memories of Clark storming into his office flashed in his mind as he knocked on her door, entering without waiting for a response. He called her name, walking boldly into the room, ready to hash the whole thing out, but he couldn't find her right away. He passed through the anti-room into her bedroom, checked the balcony, assuming she hadn't heard him. But no, not outside either. He turned back, about to start calling her name again, when he caught a glimpse through the cracked door of the bathroom. The sound of running water suddenly registered as he watched her naked back. The bright pink slashes of recently healed wounds, a crosshatched, haphazard pattern, ran from her shoulders to her ankles. Lex heard his breath catch.

How different to think you know than to actually see with your own eyes.

He watched her take a robe off a hook out of his view and wrap the thin material around her body, hiding her scars. He suddenly realized just how good she was at hiding. He'd never seen a single scar since that day in the hospital months ago. A parade of long-sleeved turtlenecks and carefully placed scarves marched through his memory. She walked out of the bathroom then to find him standing motionless in her room, unable to do anything but look at her with shock and pity. She didn't startle to see him there. Her expression was curious and a little worried.

"Lex, what are you doing? Is everything okay?"

He felt paralyzed, unable to do anything but stare. His mouth fought for words.

"Your back..." finally came out, the only thing he could manage.

Her look of concern melted into coldness. She shook her head imperceptibly in a resigned annoyance.

"The scars..." a flat whisper, then in her normal tone, "I'm sure they're quite frightening to look at, but I assure you, the pain went away weeks ago. All I have left are their decorative qualities."

Her voice was trying its best to be light, but he could hear the bitterness underneath.

"Chloe, don't..." his voice was soft.

"Don't do what, exactly?" she interrupted, "Speak honestly? Don't expect me to get all wide-eyed and weepy, Lex. You know that's not who I am."

"You hide so much, don't you? Always fishing around for me to admit some truth about myself, but never willing to reveal anything."

"You're so eager to know?" she challenged, moving closer to him.

She grabbed his hand, placing it on her once-shattered cheekbone. Starting there.

"This is where my face was slammed into the corner of a concrete slab."

Wrapping her hand around his, she moved it down her cheek and along her jaw line. Trailing their fingers down her neck, she continued pushing her robe out of the way to reveal the scabs of healing skin. How had he not seen this? She led their hands down, running them along the ravaged flesh. He could feel her pulse jumping lightly under his fingertips.

"From the rope that was always kept knotted around my neck."

Then moving to her left collarbone, letting the robe fall off her shoulder, softly running his fingers over the puckered skin of the healing bullet wound.

"The gunshot that started this entire mess."

He was rapt, staring intently at these marks on her body, really imagining for the first time everything that she must have been through. Her eyes were fixed on his face, watching his expression as he gently trailed his fingertips along the scar, as if he could erase it. She let go of his hand then, letting the other shoulder of her robe drop to reveal the slashes cut in a perfect pattern down her other arm. Even without her guidance now, he moved his touch to the scars, tracing along them reverently.

"Switchblade," she rasped, caught up in this act of revelation.

His touch was so gentle, whispering along her skin, as if his fingers could absorb from these marks the memories she had. He looked up at her finally, resting his hands on the belt of her robe. His eyes asked permission to continue, to know all of her scars. Her expression betrayed a certain amount of trepidation, afraid to reveal something she had kept secret for so long, but he could see in her eyes a desire to trust him with this knowledge. Her demeanor challenged him to keep going in his exploration, wanting to see if he could handle everything she had concealed. He steadily held her gaze as he undid the belt, letting the robe drop to the floor. Neither spoke as Lex laid his hand on every scar and bruise, trying to absorb them, to memorize the map they created on her body. He moved around to her back, tracing the brutal patterns he found there, watching goose bumps rise on her skin. She spoke only when he looked up at her, always the same question in his face,

And this one?

Her answers were sparse and barley audible. When he finished, he took hold of her palms, bringing his lips gently to her wrists, placing light kisses on the scars that had affected him so greatly on that day in the hospital. Her face registered a slight panic. She tried to capture his hands, obviously uncomfortable with the emotional intimacy his action evoked, for both of them.

"I'm so sorry." He spoke at last.

"It's not your fault."

"No one deserves this."

His tone was resolute and he could see something flicker through her eyes, a glimpse of how much devastation she still carried around with her. She masked it quickly, letting out a small, sad laugh and moved her hands to play with the hem of his shirt. Watching her own fingers, she seemed almost surprised as she let them wander underneath to run along his stomach softly.

"I don't want pity," she said looking up into his eyes.

Alarm bells rang weakly in the back of his mind, warning him about the sudden change in atmosphere she had created. She was changing the focus of their interaction in a dangerous direction. As she moved in closer to him, the sweet, clean smell of her skin invaded his senses and the way she was running her hands over the bare skin of his back almost drown out his unsettled feeling completely.

"I'm tired of all this empty self-pity. I just want to feel normal again."

Lex felt slightly taken aback by her words, like a descending fog was clearing. He grabbed her wrists gently, bringing the captured hands between them.

"Chloe, what are you doing?"

She looked at him, surprised, but not hurt by his rebuff.

"I don't know. Do you want me to stop?"

The strange interaction going on struck Lex as uncharacteristic of them both. He felt unable to get a handle on what was happening, couldn't believe he didn't know the answer to her question.

"I don't want anything that both of us are going to end up regretting. After everything that's happened to you Chloe, I don't want to cause more..."

She interrupted him with a kiss. He could feel the heat from her lips hit his and pull away again. And a second time, lingering longer, a bit deeper and he felt a tightening in the pit of his stomach.

"You don't have to coddle me, or be scared for me. I won't break," she whispered into his mouth, melancholy creeping at the edges of her statement.

This shouldn't be happening, he shouldn't want this. He was drawn in by her smell, the feel of her lips, and by all that he learned about her so far, but his worry wasn't so easily pushed away. He knew better, knew that for all her show, she wasn't invulnerable. Despite her protestations to the contrary, he could foresee the fall out being devastating. Yet, she intrigued him with everything she wasn't telling, and a vague yet increasingly insistent part within him wanted her, had no desire to resist. His better judgment was being clouded by the lips slowly running along his jaw and the arms encircling his waist, pulling him closer. She was trying to gently persuade him into kissing her back, but he was resisting, wanting to avoid the direction they had suddenly taken.

"Lex," she whispered into his skin, her voice mournful, slightly pleading for this closeness.

And hearing the way she spoke his name broke his will. Just one word and the desire that had been growing for some time was unleashed. He responded to her kiss hungrily now, devouring her mouth. His teeth captured her lower lip possessively, tasting and teasing his tongue along hers, feeling as though he could never get enough of her mouth. She pulled off his shirt impatiently, backing him toward the bed by pressing her whole body against his as if she could melt right in. He felt a jolt from this first time, skin on skin. Soon his legs hit the end of the bed, and he fell back into a seated position, Chloe standing over him. She was beautiful, lips swollen from kisses, her face flushed, hair still damp from her shower. The weight of need rolled over him without warning. He surprised himself with how much he wanted her, wanted to know what her face would look like with him inside of her.

He tried to keep his head clear as she followed him onto the bed and straddled his lap, grinding down lightly against the thin material of his pajama bottoms, the only thing separating her from his already prominent erection. He let out a small sigh, half pleasure, half frustration before he even registered that he had done it. Chloe grinned at the noise, running her hands over the skin of his head, down the back of his neck and over his shoulders to caress his arms before capturing his hands, guiding one to cup the soft flesh her breast. He brushed his thumb over her nipple and she closed her eyes, making a barely audible noise in the back of her throat in appreciation of the friction. Such a small noise, and he wanted to make her moan, scream out his name. That little noise was not enough.

He switched their positions in one quick motion, his body over hers, pinning her beneath him. He could sense her frustration at the disadvantage. She raised her body to brush against his and he could feel the sharp crackling of sexual need and desire. Using his mouth to explore her neck and collarbone lazily, he moved down her body, tasting her skin along the way and loving how her body was reacting to his touch. He gave a small smile in response to the sounds she made as he captured a puckered nipple in his mouth, rolling it over with his tongue, flicking back and forth over it lightly. She was writhing underneath him as he moved to her other breast, gently nipping at the pink skin and she let out a sharp breath at the feel of teeth, bringing her hands up to grasp his shoulders. Running his fingers over the smooth skin of her abdomen, he dipped his tongue into her navel, loving the way it made her body shudder in anticipation of where that tongue would soon be.

He could smell the damp musk of her arousal, increasing his own impatience to feel her slick wetness, to taste her. He ran his hands over her thighs, parting them as he traced a trail with his mouth from her knee to her inner thigh. Her legs inched open. An encouragement, he assumed, to pursue further. He brought his hands up to part her outer lips, his nose venturing forward, inhaling her scent, dizzied by her arousal and his own. His expert mouth soon found its destination, painting patterns through her folds, teasingly flicking her clit as her body jolted from the contact. He captured the small nub in his mouth, sucking gently, rolling his tongue over, again and again, and he could feel her grind against him until she was pleading for release.

"Jesus, Lex... please...just...oh... don't stop."

Her comments were almost unintelligible. He continued with more intensity, his tongue finding its rhythm, whispering encouragements, his hot breath hitting her pink flesh. When she came it was like a jolt of electricity running through her body. She bucked her hips, crying out. Grasping desperately at the tops of his shoulders, she rode her orgasm out. Lex slowly smoothed his hands back up her body, wanting to watch her face more closely. Aware of how sensitive her skin suddenly was by the way she reacted to his slightest touch. He began running the tips of his fingers lightly over her collarbone, just looking at her, placing kisses on the small moles littering the landscape of her body. Eventually she brought up an arm to wrap around his neck, drawing his mouth to hers. Her kisses were heated. They betrayed her satisfaction.

She was smiling through the kiss as she brought her legs up, using her feet to push off the pajama bottoms he still wore, not wanting to break the kiss. She was moving her body in closer to his, wanting to have as much skin contact as possible. Skimming her small hands over his back until she reached his ass, she grabbed onto it, pulling him against her. Lex ran his hand under her thigh, bringing her leg up over his own hip, giving him better access to dip his finger into her. She drew in a breath, grasping at him further. A second finger joined the first and he moved them slowly in and out as his thumb teased her clit.

"Enough, enough of this," she gasped, reaching for his hand.

As she spoke she ran her lips along his ear. Her free hand reached down to wrap around his erection, guiding him in.

He couldn't breathe.

So tight and wet and their eyes were locked in some kind of awe, seeing who would look away first. It was jarring and so intense. Lex could hardly believe that this woman, so young, this friend of a friend, came out of nowhere and turned him on his head. He felt himself losing the control he usually maintained so effortlessly. He was getting caught up in this strange fervor she seemed to be teetering on the edge of unleashing. He moved in and out, slowly at first, trying to watch her eyes, still anxious about how all this was affecting her. But soon she broke the stare, snaking her arms back around his neck. Bringing her mouth up to meet that sensitive place where his neck met his shoulder, she bit down, hard. Lex cried out, grabbing her hands roughly and pinning them to the bed, angry at the unexpected attack. Her expression betrayed frustration at his trepidation.

"Why are you hesitating?"

Her eyes dark, as she brought her legs up, allowing him to penetrate her deeper, and he groaned in spite of himself as she dug her ankles into his lower back, raising herself to meet him stroke for stroke, forcing a more intense rhythm upon him. And he could barely stand it, the roaring in his ears, the sweat slicking the skin of their bodies, her smell and this strange mood that had overtaken them. He felt the odd sensation of his body desperately trying to make hers understand something words lacked the ability to express.

He was no stranger to women's beds, had many different kinds of sex, but never like this. This bizarre event of trying to express his grief at the pain she endured, while attempting to get a handle on the unexpected intensity of his desire for her. The entire experience was overwhelming, and when he met her eyes again he saw his own surprise reflected in her face. The magnitude of emotion was something neither of them expected. She only wanted human contact and he only intended to comfort her. He felt himself on the verge of climax, finally losing control as the contractions of her own orgasm emerged around him. The world was spinning and he could feel her nails dig into his shoulders, her cries almost sobs as she let her orgasm pass through. When he looked down at her he saw shock, mirroring his own.

"Jesus, Chloe, what...?"

In a panicked motion, she placed her hand over his lips, stopping him from saying anything further, but it was just as well. He doubted his ability come up with anything to adequately finish the statement. Instead he nodded imperceptibly, gathering her in his arms and squeezing her against him as if she might fade away. He fell into sleep with his face buried in the smell of her hair, his body wrapped around hers. Unsure of what exactly just transpired between them, but suddenly wanting to cling to whatever it was for dear life, frightened out of his mind.


Chapter 16

Chloe woke up the next morning feeling like a ghost.

Nothing had changed.

Not that she had expected much to change; she was a realist after all. She was amazed sometimes at her ability to react with emotions she thought were lost. Even his drying semen on her thighs evoked nothing but small stirrings of guilt and a startled thought of her own power. Cocooned in the heat of Lex's body, she smiled sadly at the way their skin seemed fused with the remains of last night's sweat. She wanted nothing more than for her only concern to be listening to the heavy breath of his sleep. But she had seen it all on his face when she found him in her room yesterday. Even Lex Luthor, who she always considered impossible to read, one who kept his emotions vigilantly hidden, had betrayed his pity and eventually his desire.

Maybe she had broken his code, or maybe she had just gotten better at reading subtle expressions. The imperceptible inflection of voice, the careful movements of his slender, muscled body. With Lex you just had to know what to look for, she supposed. But as much as she tuned in, there was a lot she hadn't expected, couldn't put her finger on even now. She knew he had been prying into her situation in his own discreet way, wanting to know what she was hiding, but after last night she sensed a change in his intension.

Shame was creeping in.

Shame at reacting in just the way he needed, almost without effort. Not that she hadn't needed him just as much, but his body had spoken to her so honestly and, these days, everything she did felt like a lie. Still, at the end there had been something in his face that had made her chest constrict...

And suddenly she felt claustrophobic enfolded in the blaze of his body. What the hell was she doing? Hurting people everywhere she went. Her father, Clark, and now the only person she had expected to be unable to touch. Lex had been her safest bet, the one she hadn't given a fuck about and she knew would never give a fuck about her. She practically manipulated him into her bed with all that show and tell of personal horrors, baiting him on that first day in the hospital if she thought about it honestly. Now the selfish motives of discovery that led him to open his home to her were evolving into a desire to protect her from her own secrets. She saw the same thing happen when they were younger, in his relationship with Clark. During her stay, she had watched him go from suspicious, to curious, to something else. Something she wanted to ignore for her own reasons.

She needed to get away, get out of this place. When she came here, she expected the depths of this mansion to just swallow her, but she underestimated her own need for connection. She sought out this human contact in complete contradiction to her intentions. Now she realized too late that she should have disappeared more completely. Despite the occasional resurgences of that old snarky intellect from hometown Kansas, she knew that she had changed. A wave of sadness hit as she abruptly became aware that staying with Lex had been an indirect attempt to hold onto that fading girl, but all she had accomplished was hurting those who loved that Chloe, herself included.

She slipped out of Lex's arms, her feet slapping quietly against the warm hardwood floor leading to the bathroom. The sound of water spraying and the rising steam gave comfort as she stepped into the scalding shower, wanting to wash away the vulnerability of last night and the small panic she felt that more than just sex had transpired between them. She wanted to eradicate from her memory that look in Lex's eyes, telling her things she didn't want to know. That he had begun to *need* her. It scared the shit out of her that she might be considered that necessary to his life; scared her even more that she had witnessed the moment it had dawned on even him. She refused to tackle her own thoughts on the subject. What did it even matter? She had already destroyed everything.

It was over. She couldn't be Chloe anymore. It was too painful.

She would have to come up with a new name and a new home for this new person she had become. She had allowed this place, this man, to distract her. It was time to stop fucking around and finish everything she had been putting off.

Chapter 17

Being in her car felt like freedom, and relief. The road gave her comfort, allowing everything to slowly blow off of her as the distance between the old and the new increased. She had only one suitcase in the back, not much of a life when you can shove it all in a small bag. She felt like some kind of cinematic fugitive with all the money to her name shoved in her purse. Tens and twenties.

She still felt shaken up by the unexpected events that morning. Sneaking out of the mansion early, she headed straight to the bank, but their doors weren't yet open. She masked her panic with annoyance, one entire hour to burn in a town she wanted to be a million miles away from. Standing in front of the building for a while, she finally decided to do something before going crazy from waiting. So, she simply started walking, eventually ending up in the middle of one of the Kent's fields before realizing how far she'd gone. Rote memory suddenly seemed a powerful thing. A lingering instinct from all those trips made down that dirt path as a kid. Standing stock-still, she silently took in the incredible blue sky above and the calming breeze blowing through the wheat field.

She could smell Smallville.

This stupid town-- it invoked so many memories of her life, her youthful innocence. And in an instant she was hit, like a punch to the gut, with sorrow that she thought might rip her in two. Dropping her to the ground, sobs tore through her body. It was horrible, but it was emotion, something other than washed-out and for that she was grateful. Lying on the ground, curled into herself, she dosed on and off through tears, coming fully awake again only to be met with the brilliant sky above her. Paralyzed by its expanse, unable to do anything but watch the clouds pass. She remembered doing this very thing for hours with Clark when they were kids, lazing away entire summer days.

Mourning for the loss of her life here, for her childhood dreams and the easiness she had once, made her wonder if her mother had a moment like this before leaving. Hit with heartbreak that slowly evolved into a feeling of calm and inevitability. Because suddenly, that was exactly what she felt: deathly calm. Like she could stop breathing without much effort.

And that's how Martha Kent stumbled upon her, lying in the field, under the wide sky, still as death. She was out looking for a stray calf, she later explained. Poor woman. She nearly had a heart attack, almost tripping over Chloe.

"Oh my god! Chloe, honey, what are you doing out here?"

"I didn't mean to startle you."

A distracted statement at best. Chloe was too wrapped up in watching Martha's reactions to finding her there, observing the way she calmed herself down from the fright. The older woman took deep breaths, sinking down to sit on the ground next to her. Chloe wondered if she did it to get closer, or just didn't trust the sturdiness of her own legs.

"What's going on? Are you okay?"

The nervous questions sounded like an attempt to normalize the situation, establish rapport, but Martha betrayed her insight that Chloe was a million miles from normal. And suddenly Chloe wanted this woman to know her mindset. She wanted to push her into this strange mood too. Maybe she was just tired of feeling alone.

"Just remembering the past, I guess."

Martha's expression turned uneasy at Chloe's tone. Then again, the woman hadn't seen her since she was taken. Chloe supposed she was startled by the difference. The older woman's hand reached out to brush some stray hairs on Chloe's forehead. She would have called it a classic motherly gesture, but didn't really know from first hand experience.

"A lot of people are worried about you Chloe."

Her voice was soft, but her eyes were fixed sharply on Chloe's, trying to bore right in.

From the moment Chloe had met Mrs. Kent, she knew there was much more to her than met the eye. Sharpness of mind had a way of identifying its kindred. She never really talked to Martha Kent at length, no heart to hearts between them, just knowing looks and some kind of mutual understanding. Martha had her ways of letting Chloe know that beneath all of the bubbly snark, she saw a rich inner world. Maybe she knew simply because the two of them were similar creatures. Chloe had always felt a little swell of pride from the thought that she gave Martha a sense of comfort. Letting her know in small ways that, although Jonathan and Clark failed to notice most of the time, someone saw, brewing beneath that perfect farm wife and mother, an intense intellect. A hidden self. Once, Martha's sharp intuition had been a comfort, but at the moment, Chloe didn't want her to look too deeply. They stared at each other for a spell before Chloe broke the silence.

"How's Clark?" She couldn't resist, not that knowing would change much.

"He's fine some days, other days are harder for him."

Chloe could hear caution in her answer. Subtly questioning the motive for asking, protective of her son.

"Has he been in much contact with Lex lately?"

Again, she knew she shouldn't ask. Martha was even more hesitant about that question. Chloe could see her choosing her words carefully.

"Not that I know of. Not since you moved into the mansion, but I suppose you would know more about that than I would, Chloe."

"Well, hopefully they will be able to patch things up after I'm gone. You know what they say, 'Never let the screwed up girl next-door come between a friendship'."

She laughed at her own joke, while Martha continued to watch her.

"They fought over you?" The tone of her voice betrayed that she knew the answer.

"Not over me exactly, more like, over what was best for me."

"Really?"

"Yes indeed, I tried to get across to them that the only person to make the decision was me, but I'm not sure if they really listened."

"But all that happened awhile ago. Why leave now?"

The look in her eye was so knowing. Martha knew what was coming, or maybe she just knew how to ask a question to get the response she wanted. Chloe put a query in her own look; did Martha really want her to say this? It looked as though she did.

"I crushed Clark's faith in me into a thousand pieces and then I fucked Lex Luthor in the bed he so generously allowed me to stay in. I did it all completely intentionally. I've created this whole situation of my own volition, and now I'm running away from the mess I made."

Despite sitting so close, Chloe could feel Martha holding her at a distance. She could tell the woman sensed something foreign in her. It was a keen judgment, but it still stung. Chloe recognized the part of her that still wanted to be the girl Martha had met years ago and adored. Instead, she tried to replace the desire for adoration with the desire to confide.

"Have you ever had the feeling that everything surrounding your life is decaying? Like that impulse to live, to explore, to experience, has been completely snuffed out? My whole life I've always seen the growth in everything around me, life thriving everywhere, beauty in chaos, but everything seems to have turned gray. The surface is the same, but underneath everything has turned still and lifeless. Maybe I see it now because I've joined the ranks. A universe of warm-blooded corpses wandering the earth."

As soon as the words left her mouth she regretted them. Too melodramatic and not quite what she meant, but at the same time she could feel the vulnerability of personal truth being revealed in some small, indirect way.

"I'm not going to pretend that I know what you're feeling, but I will tell you that you're not alone in feeling separated from everything and everyone around you. It happens to most people at one time or another."

Chloe felt the twinge of guilt catch her off guard. True enough. She wasn't the first to suffer, she certainly wouldn't be the last, and her circumstance could have been infinitely worse. She hated herself for not being able to pull out of this and come back into her life, but bitterness had grown too strongly in her, it had taken hold. Martha hesitated uncomfortably before continuing.

"When I was 22 years old I got pregnant, did you know that?" Her question was rhetorical; it was obvious no one knew.

"Clark told me you aren't able to have children, but I don't think even he knows exactly why."

"Jonathan and I had only been married a few months, we hadn't planned on having children for several years. It was a surprise, but I really wasn't upset. I'd know since I was young that I wanted a big family. I know it sounds a little small-town for someone born and raised in Metropolis, but I always knew that raising a house full of children didn't sound like a prison sentence to me the way it did for a lot of my friends from home. For me it was more of a challenge, like my own little sociology experiment in creating a healthy, well-adjusted, egalitarian household. Nave maybe, but I married a farmer, not of some career-obsessed suit, so I thought I would be able to do it."

Chloe could see her begin to detach herself from the memories of her former dreams, as if this were only a recitation and not part of her history.

"It was a difficult pregnancy from the start. I'd been having a lot of... problems, but I wanted that child so badly I thought I could just will it all to work out. I was about five months pregnant when things really started to go wrong. I ended up in the hospital in critical condition. The doctors told Jonathan that the course of treatment I needed would terminate the pregnancy and save my life, or, they could allow me to slip into a coma, bring the baby to full term and risk that I would never wake up. It still sounds like bullshit to me. I fought them so hard. When they first brought me into the hospital, I emphatically told them, several times, to do whatever it took to save that child. Even to Jonathan, I made sure I was clear-- Poor Jonathan, we were so young and he was so scared."

She was getting emotional, trying to fight her way back to telling it like a story instead of a heartbreak.

"Anyway, I'm sure they considered me a completely hysterical and unreasonable woman. So they allowed Jonathan to make the decision after I was too critical to summon the energy to make them understand what my decision was. Jonathan chose my life over that child's. He didn't even look into getting a second opinion-- I can understand, we were still kids and he'd just taken over his parents' farm. Then to have a newborn to raise on his own? It would have been nearly impossible for him. I shouldn't have blamed him, but I did.

"I couldn't even look at him for almost two weeks, and when I was finally allowed to come home from the hospital, I was a living ghost in that house. I remember hearing Jonathan crying up in that stupid barn sometimes, but I couldn't shed a tear. I just alternated between feeling angry and feeling nothing. I was like that for months, completely alone, trapped in my own head. Jonathan tried to help, but he really didn't know what to do. Mostly he just tiptoed around me, left me alone. So the morning of my due date I woke up, drew myself a bath, and used my husband's straight razor to slit my wrists."

Chloe couldn't stop herself from sitting up in surprise. The beautiful, perfect, ever joyful, Martha Kent had tried to kill herself; had felt hatred toward this man she seemed so perfectly in love with.

"Jesus," she whispered. Martha looked her right in the eye.

"Well, I had nothing left. I hated my husband for something that really wasn't his fault. I had already been told that if I ever tried to carry a pregnancy to term again I wouldn't survive. I felt like the entire world had turned dark. And I was so tired, always so tired, I just wanted to rest-- Jonathan found me bleeding and unconscious in the bathtub and when my parents heard about the suicide attempt they immediately had me transferred from Smallville Hospital to some psychiatric facility in Metropolis, spared no expense. It took a week in that hospital before Jonathan came to see me, but instead of inane comfort he came with anger. He yelled at me and I was yelling back. We were having a screaming fight, sobbing, saying horrible things to each other. But strangely enough it was exactly what I needed. After a month in Metropolis I came home and things were rocky, but they got better, and ten years later Clark came along and I felt lucky to be alive."

"I had no idea." Chloe said softly after several minutes of silence. She felt in awe of this woman who had lived a different life for years before her son came along and he knew nothing of it. She felt amazement at the incredible strength that women hide behind the veneer of normalcy. To a certain extent she was doing it herself, wasn't she?

"It hasn't gone away, though, has it? That feeling that you're somehow set apart from them, that you're alone."

"I think a powerful event in anyone's life can awaken that part inside that no one else can touch. No one can possibly understand what you've experienced. So, in that, you will always be alone."

Chloe felt tears welling, a sudden and devastating desire to trust this woman sitting beside her.

"I'm leaving here to go after my mother," she said brokenly, "My motive for doing so may be wholly out of anger and a desire for revenge." She could feel tears breaking over her cheeks.

"Everyone has demons to slay. If you ever need me, you know where you can find me," was Martha's only response, as she wiped a tear from Chloe's cheek, before rising to continue on her way as though she had never stopped.

Eventually Chloe stood too, heading back down that dirt path, getting her money from the bank and leaving everything else. She still felt completely jarred as she drove down the highway toward Metropolis, but Martha had given her something by trusting her with that story. A desire to resolve all this, to resolve what she spent months searching for. Maybe it would give her what she needed.

Chapter 18

The busy streets of Metropolis made her blood run faster and her hunger more poignant. She had to admit; the city made her come alive in a way she thought she lost. Amazing, how a simple wardrobe change and a box of Brown Cocoa #5 in her hair had the ability to make all those months of struggle and poor choices feel like they happened to someone else. So here she was, a brand new life as the somber, guarded Lane LaCroix. She felt slightly indulgent using her mother's maiden name as the root of her new identity, but somehow she couldn't resist the idea of having the constant reminder every time she was addressed. The initials LL-- well, she didn't want to explore the motivation behind that too closely, a girlish whim.

She crossed the busy street buried in a crowd of people, rubbing absently at the bridge of her nose; annoyed by the chaffing of the new glasses resting there. She started wearing contacts in the sixth grade and the foreign weight on her face was a nuisance she forgot about more than a decade ago. They would take some getting used to.

The ease of making casual inquiries about employment with contacts from her long-ago, high school internship days at the Planet was surprising. An insignificant entry-level job as a fact checker for the paper materialized almost instantly. Even more impressive considering her falsified resume. She supposed background checks were out of vogue these days. But she was willing to clean toilets if it meant access to information that would lead to her mother. As it turned out, more people were willing to roll over for an aggressive tone of voice behind the title of "fact checker" much more often than they had been for "reporter from local paper". A much less threatening position she supposed; mental note for the future.

Throughout her life she had always felt a certain amount of familiarity in solitude, but her ability to settle quickly and easily into an un-tethered existence worried her at first. The sound of her key sliding into the door of her tiny one-bedroom apartment, however, was beginning to have the cadence of comfort. Home Sweet Home seeped from her lips ironically, happily today, as she let her heavy bag hit the floor with a thud. The stink of fresh paint still lingered on the walls, but she was beginning to forget that she ever lived anywhere else, had ever been anyone else.

Almost.

Some nights she still woke with the ghost of familiar fingers lingering on her body. Some nights it was that blinding smile of innocence and trust that broke through the glowing embers of her dreaming memory. A pressure, an ache in the chest would consume those early moments, but as she came fully awake she could hardly remember why.

She learned to spend her time as someone invisible these days. All those years spent trying to demonstrate how different she felt on the inside by making her outside so visibly unusual, seemed to mock her now considering whom she'd become. She used to dress in a way to make others take notice, remember her. She wanted everyone to know at one glance that she didn't fit in with her countrified peers. All those years of work undone in a little over three months. She still didn't recognize herself in the mirror, almost hoped she never would.

Invisibility, she was learning, had some amazing perks. No one ever stared at her suspiciously or really saw her as anything but unimportant and benign. She found herself with a startling new ability to gain access to information, simply because she now looked like everybody else. One of the tens of thousands of worker bees in this overpopulated city, she became a number instead of a name. Everybody and nobody, it was amazing.

The research she did while staying with Lex turned out to be very useful. She considered herself lucky to have had that time to familiarize herself with some history about foreign policy. In his attempt to extract information, Gosch inadvertently led her to look in the right places for clues about who her mother had really been. With the Freedom of Information Act, she found quite a few records containing her mother's name. Nothing too cloak and dagger, but enough to prove that her mother had been an operative for the government when she met Chloe's father. The international climate during the time her mother was an active intelligence officer proved to be compelling reading and her own pieced-together knowledge of family history could fill in a lot:

Chloe's mother loved her job. She started a relationship with Gabe, she got pregnant, and decided to keep the baby and marry the father. Soon enough Chloe's father became angry with the frequency that her job took precedence over her family and told her to get her priorities straight. He meant, of course, focusing her attention on himself and their young daughter, but she decided to take her husband's advice, unfortunately not in the way he hoped.

Chloe knew that her father had blamed his wife for her choice, hated her for it, but Chloe had never been able to share his anger. As a child, she held onto that little girl feeling of love for her mother, held onto the desire for her mother to come back, but as she grew older, she started to let go of both love and the desire for her return. Her father could never let go. Strange that she had found hatred for her mother now, when for her whole life she had none. During those long hours in the basement, her mother began to represent for her all the terror and pain that had suddenly taken her life hostage. But she still had difficulty identifying what exactly she wanted from her mother, an apology? Revenge? Sympathy? Answers? All she knew was that the compulsion to find the woman was consuming her.

Chapter 19

The breeze was sweeping lightly around the room and Chloe sipped her beer, enjoying the way the overstuffed chair hugged her body. She decided to take a night off from searching, giving her mind time to wander for the first time in weeks. The old record player she bought at a garage sale was spitting out scratchy Miles Davis and she could feel the swell of a sad smile coming on. It was a nice feeling. She could hardly remember the last time she let herself relax. Her eyes were closed; she was breathing-- breathing.

A knock at the door made her body jump, nearly dropping the bottle in her hand. The overly cheery voice that called through the door made her cringe slightly as she pulled herself out of calm and toward the intruding knocking.

Suzie from next door. Very sweet, so enthusiastic, even Chloe's often sullen disposition hadn't deterred this woman from trying to befriend her. A bit like Chloe's former self, she supposed, and maybe the root of why Suzie annoyed her so much. Yet she couldn't help but feel a small affinity toward this person infringing upon her life. She couldn't quite force herself to drive Suzie away for good. Chloe smiled wanly at her after opening the door.

"Laynie! Oh good, you're home. They're having a huge barbeque on the roof. You have to come."

"Suzie..."

"You always say no. I refuse to take no for an answer. You need to socialize more; meet people; get laid. Plus there's free food and alcohol involved. How can you say no?"

Chloe conjured up images of left over lasagna for the fifth night in a row. What the hell...

"Alright, let me put on some jeans and I'll meet you up there."

"And lipstick," Suzie called out as Chloe began shutting the door, "Guys love those girls with that short, pixie hair, rimmed glasses and bright red lips. We're going to get you some sorely needed action tonight."

The closing door muffled the girl's easy giggle as Chloe rested her forehead against the hard surface for a beat and let out a small sigh. Jesus.

She emerged into the warm, breezy night ten minutes later and dammit if she hadn't put on the fucking lipstick. She toyed with the idea that she might be losing her mind. The roof was lit with Chinese lanterns and citronella candles; dim, but enough to keep the black night at bay. She grabbed a bottle of beer and a seat on the brick rim that outlined the roof's patio, watching the crowd. All the flirtatious talking, heated debates and awkward introductions looked like such strange rituals of the human race from her little corner. She felt so far removed from this world now and hyperaware of those who seemed so good at the meaningless interactions in comparison to those who struggled in them.

She quickly downed her beer, letting the alcohol begin to put its spell on her, enjoying the feeling of being lost in her own mind when Suzie abruptly plopped herself down beside her, producing another bottle. She couldn't ever remember being so grateful for another alcoholic beverage in her whole life.

"Well, you look like you're have a great time."

"Actually, I'm having fun watching people trip all over themselves in drunken conversation. This might be the most exciting thing I've done in weeks, months even."

"Have you picked out any prospects for seduction yet? I've seen some cute ones roaming this roof."

"I haven't been paying that much attention."

"Well, what about that one with the curly hair and sideburns? He's got that slacker, intellectual look going on. Pretty cute."

"Too skinny. What about the one wearing those perfectly fitting khakis? He has quite a lovely ass."

"Quite a lovely ass? Okay, queen mother. Besides, I heard that guy's a total porn junkie. Too creepy. What about that guy in the overalls? He's totally your boyfriend."

Suzie laughed, pointing to a particularly unwashed grease-monger, drinking beer right from the tap. Chloe gave her a smile as she giggled at her own joke. This was nice, a little bit of drunk, meaningless chatting and people watching. It was comfortable.

"Whoa, I found one for you," Suzie said after a moment, "He's at ten o'clock. Black slacks, deep purple shirt. If we were in a room and not on a roof, he would own it."

She let her gaze turn casually to seek out her friend's newest recommendation, but when her eyes hit on him, her whole body jumped.

Shit.

She felt a rising panic, a desperate need to get off the roof, but the beer seemed to be preventing her from coming up with a quick and inconspicuous way to do it.

Shit.

Why had she come here? She should be smarter than this. She'd been so careful for so long, had just wanted one night off and something like this happens.

Fuck.

Staring stupidly into the distance, she felt her heart racing, but her brain was frozen. She didn't even notice the person approaching on her right. Suzie turned her gaze up at his approach, but Chloe noticed nothing until she heard his voice.

"Sorry to bother you, but I'm supposed to meet my friend at this party and I can't seem to find her."

She didn't even have to look up. She knew that this was it; she'd been found.

"What's your friend's name, maybe I know her," Suzie answered, more than a little bit of flirt in her voice.

"Her name's Chloe."

"I don't know any Chloes, what does she look like?"

"Short, blond hair...actually I have a picture in my wallet."

The transparency of his act was laughable. Just happened to keep a picture in his wallet. She felt slightly embarrassed for him on principle. Suzie took the picture, only half glancing at it before passing it on to Chloe. Taken the summer after they graduated from high school, almost seven years ago, the snapshot showed Clark with his arm around her in front of Niagara Falls. Pete had taken the picture on a stop during their post-grad road trip. The vacation had been a strange sort of homage to the close little trio they'd once been. Chloe could hardly believe the full pink cheeks she had sported, how young they both looked. Her face had become so angular and shadowed, changing without her even noticing.

She lingered on the picture, finally turning to look up at Clark for the first time since he spoke. He looked tired, older somehow.

"Sorry."

Her voice wasn't much more than a whisper. She handed the picture back to him, waiting for the moment of recognition to dawn on his face. But there was nothing, he only smiled sadly and walked away with a quick thanks.

"Hey if you don't find her I'm willing to fill in." Suzie called after him, leering at his retreating figure.

"Damn," she continued to Chloe after he left, "Was he the most perfect specimen you've ever seen?"

"I'm going to the ladies room."

Chloe could only choke out the words, already walking away. She slipped quickly back inside the building, tripping hurriedly down the stairs. Practically running for her apartment, she barely made it to the toilet before emptying the contents of her stomach into the porcelain basin. Retching and hacking before unfolding onto the floor and rolling to her back. She asked the ceiling what the hell to do next.

Okay, just relax.

All she had to do was calm down. Clark obviously hadn't recognized her and Lex hadn't even come within ten feet. She was much more concerned about Lex. Clark's emotionality had obviously blinded him to more subtle clues. She knew that with Lex, she wouldn't be so lucky. He would pick up on the nuances. He would be paying attention. Chloe felt, first hand, the sharpness of that mind.

She lay on the floor, waiting for her pulse to slow, for the nausea to pass, for her strategic mind to kick in. She needed to have a clearer picture of what was going on with the two men in order to protect herself. How much did they know?
What exactly did they have planned?
How had they gotten to this place?

She needed someone to get information out of them and Suzie was going to have to be her ears. She didn't want to risk trying to eavesdrop on the two.

Fuck.

After several moments of blind panic, she began to formulate a plan of action, or at least some semblance of an idea regarding how to handle the situation. She finally stood with effort, gazing at the foreign reflection staring at her from the mirror above the sink. The cold, focused disposition she let slip when the night began stirred again throughout her body.

This occurrence was nothing if not a wake up call. She'd been deluding herself with the idea that she could relax into this life she created. A simple change of name and address and she allowed a false sense of security to lull her into a compromising position.

Hadn't she known that Lex would try to find her?

She knew the way he operated, after all. In the back of her mind, from the moment she stepped out of his door, the idea lingered that he wouldn't be able to just ignore the allure of discovering everything she was hiding. Or forget what had happened between them. Even she could barely escape the memory of his voice reverberating on her skin and she had become an expert at forgetting.

In a way, she saw this coming. Lex was a powerful man with endless influence, funds, and information at his fingertips, accompanied by a tendency toward obsession. If he wanted to find her, not much would stop him. After nearly three months without incident, however, she assumed he decided not to pursue her whereabouts, so she relaxed. But now-- She just needed a little more time to finish this; she was too close. Resolute in her need to grab the upper hand in this situation, she turned quickly from her reflection and headed back to the roof.

The crowd had grown thick, making the search for Suzie present a greater challenge, but luck was with her. Her friend walked right by and Chloe pulled her aside from the party.

"Laynie! There you are. You took off like a shot before I could fully appreciate with you the hotness of that guy."

When she received no reply, Suzie took a moment to study Chloe's face, concern passing over her light expression.

"Hey, are you okay?"

"No. I need you to do something for me. This is important. Look at me."

Chloe said all of this quietly, not meaning to put so much venom in her voice. Suzie revealed a notch of fear when her eyes widened. Good. Let her be scared, she'll take her assignment that much more seriously.

"Those two men talking in the far corner. One of them spoke with us earlier, remember?"

"Of course I remember, what the hell..."

Suzie let out a small yip as Chloe squeezed the grip she had on her arm a little tighter, a subtle threat.

"I want to know why they're here and how they found this place. I don't care if you eavesdrop, or strike up a conversation, or sleep your way to an answer, just do this for me."

"I don't get it, what's the big..."

"Listen, I need you to not ask questions right now, okay. Just don't mention me and don't be too obvious. Get what you can, stick with the dark haired guy, and if the bald one looks like he's getting suspicious just drop it."

"This is insane. You've completely lost it."

Chloe grabbed her roughly, this time by the upper arms and looked her directly in the face.

"I don't have time to talk you into this. I just need you to do it. Do you understand me?"

Throughout the exchange, the doubt and confusion in Suzie's face shifted to fearful shock before she acquiesced.

"Alright. I'll do it, okay" Her voice shook slightly. The urgent demands had put her on the defensive.

Chloe let out the breath she'd been holding and nodded in relief. Suzie gave one last look before turning around and walking away.

She remained in her shadowed corner as Suzie moved toward the pair. They noticed nothing at first. Clark was talking softly at Lex, while the older man kept his concentration on the crowd, his eyes constantly moving, watching. But soon enough, Suzie casually approached and engaged them in conversation. Her grandiose manner left little room for speculation about any ulterior motives. Over the top flirtation turned out to be the perfect cover. As she looked on, Chloe's heart nearly jumped out of her chest when Lex's eyes left Suzie for a moment and focused right on her own location. She was sure he had seen, but continued to remain absolutely still, frozen. Eventually his gaze moved on and Chloe let out a nervous laugh, but couldn't shake the idea that he already knew she was there; he just couldn't quite find her. It was enough to spook her off the roof to wait in Suzie's apartment. As she lay waiting on the other woman's couch, she tried to ignore the twinges of jealousy and loss emerging from her inability to allow herself near these men. They were from someone else's life, after all.

Lane LaCroix had never loved anyone. There was nothing to mourn.

Chloe awoke to harsh light flooding the room and sat up instantly, disoriented. She hadn't meant to fall asleep.

"Don't worry Lane, it's just little old me. Or maybe I should call you Chloe?" She couldn't hide her flinch at Suzie's bitter tone and the way she failed to call her by the nickname she adopted almost immediately after their first meeting. At least the woman had done a competent snoop job, "Did you know the man you had me talking to up there was Lex Luthor? THE Lex Luthor?"

"I'm surprised you didn't recognize him from all the publicity he gets in the papers."

Chloe's voice was sleepy and dark. She couldn't hide her ironic cadence.

"Well, I guess I just didn't expect to see him at a roof party in the shit part of town. Call me crazy, but recognition took awhile to click."

"Did you..."

"You know what? Before you start in with the questions and the ambiguously threatening tones, I want to know some things." Suzie's face twisted up in anger and hurt as she spoke, bitterness permeated her voice. Oh god, what had she been told? "Why are Lex Luthor and... whoever the hell that other guy is following him around like a mopey puppy dog, so interested in finding you?"

"I'm surprised you're asking. It sounds like you found out plenty on your own. How much did they tell you?"

"Jesus Christ, Laynie! They hardly told me anything. I have no idea if I should help hide you or call the cops. You went completely psycho and threatened me into spending the most bizarre hour of my life trying to pump information from Lex *fucking* Luthor without looking suspicious. Every time he looked at me I felt like he could see right through me. What the hell was he doing here?"

Chloe stood up abruptly, eyes widening.

"Did you tell him anything?"

Suzie took a step backward, her gaze narrowing in distrust.

"Who are you?"

"Lex and Clark are old friends." Chloe said evasively, not answering the question.

"Well they sure as hell are busting their asses to find you, friends or not. That guy, Clark, was so miserable. He seemed completely depressed. I just got a vibe from that dude that all was not well. And, Lex! So goddamned intense I thought I was going to piss myself."

"Why are they here?"

"On a tip that some skittish young blond using fake references moved into the building last week. I guess Luthor has people red flagging this whole city, if you can believe it. Little does he know they're flagging all the wrong types. Must be why hits are few and far between for those wonder boys."

"He should know better." Chloe mumbled to herself, hastily pulling on her boots, "What else?" Her adrenaline was pumping now. They knew so much less than she thought.

"Nothing, it took me an hour to get that much out of them. Well, out of Clark, really...what are you doing?"

"I have to go."

"You don't even fucking care, do you? You're not even going to apologize for using me like this."

"I'm sorry Suzie. I never meant for you to get involved."

"Fuck off."

But she was already out the door heading back to her own apartment.



Disclaimer: Not mine, don't own them. Warning: Part Three contains some violence and no hot sex. ;( Author's note: I started writing this story sometime in season two before Chloe and Lex had any interaction or connection what-so-ever. So even though it's a future fic, now that Chlex has a storyline on the show, my fic has turned into a kind of AU where Chloe was never involved with Lionel and by extension, Lex. Also, feedback is more welcome than a cool breeze on a sweltering day. ;)


Chapter 19

Clark waited in the dark silence of Chloe's apartment; still not exactly sure of what he would say when she walked through the door. He felt strange, raw anger growing in his chest. A gnawing unknown to him before this moment. Betrayal, despair and a desire for answers were mixing into a dangerous alchemic poison, but it felt good in the dark like this, stewing and alone. He almost wished she would never come in, but then again, anticipation always had a way of driving him mad. Especially since he could no longer hear the two women speaking through the wall separating their apartments. He knew Chloe was coming. He picked up on her familiar voice earlier in the silence of the hallway, but walked past the door anyway. Even knowing Lex was incapable of hearing her, Clark kept the discovery to himself. Couldn't really explain his motivation for doing so.

No, that was a lie.

He knew exactly why he didn't want Lex there when he saw Chloe. Though he knew no specifics about what had gone on between the two, watching his friend over the past few months, he picked up on several things. Lex was upset, that much was clear, but there was a vein of confusion running underneath his anxiety. Most telling was the strenuous attempt on his friend's part to maintain an air of detached interest in finding Chloe, yet failing to make it convincing. As far as Clark could remember, Lex always projected the sentiment he chose to convey effortlessly, genuine or not. This uncharacteristic behavior made Clark uneasy. Only able to guess at what could have possibly rattled the man's ever-smooth demeanor, Clark hoped his imagination was running away with him.

He heard the door click open at last, but Chloe passed right by him in the dark, walking directly to her bedroom without turning on the lights. He heard the bathroom light click on and continued to sit, listening. She was crying. Hearing her made him wonder how regular this ritual was, sobbing alone with the water running to obfuscate her own tears. Thoughts of a harsh confrontation were draining away, replaced by compassion for her situation. She didn't have to be alone; he just needed to make her see that.

He stood from his seat and moved toward the bathroom, lurking outside the doorway directly behind where she stood. He expected to scare the shit out of her, but when she caught his reflection in the mirror she didn't jump, hardly blinked an eye. She sighed instead, wiping tears absently, as if already forgetting why they'd been shed.

"What are you doing here Clark?"

He was the one to jump, hearing her question. Frustration flared within him. Staring at her incredulously, he could only watch as she shut off the tap and pushed past him out of the bathroom, padding on bare feet into the kitchen. He heard her pouring a glass of water, as if nothing out of the ordinary were going on. He followed after her, dumbfounded. The familiar voice emanating from her strikingly different appearance unnerved him. If he saw her on the street, he would never make the connection. Hell, he interacted with her, however briefly, at that party and hadn't taken a second glance. More than her appearance was altered; her manner was unfamiliar to him.

"I can't believe you're asking me that question. Chloe, you disappeared. We've been looking for you for months," she only stared at him. She looked tired, "I mean...Christ, are you okay? I want to know that nothing is seriously wrong."

"Well, you found me. I'm fine. Mission accomplished."

"GOD DAMNIT, CHLOE!" he shouted explosively, his hand coming down on the counter with a bang. He saw her jump, the water in her hand sloshing out the sides of the glass. He took a breath, trying to calm down. This was infuriatingly frustrating. "Why do you hate me so much? I don't understand when this happened."

She set the glass down, her hand shaking slightly. Her eyes closed as she brought fingers up to rub the bridge of her nose where newly acquired frames sat.

"I don't hate you Clark. I never have."

"Well then what the hell is going on with you? You can't even look at me. And I'm not the only one you're running away from, am I? You know, he won't come out and say it, but I think even Lex is worried that you're in serious denial about the recent events in your life."

"Well, isn't that just the very definition of the pot calling the kettle black," she mumbled.

"What's that supposed to mean?" He hadn't meant that to sound so wounded.

"I don't want to talk about Lex. If you have something you want to say to me, say it. If not, get out."

"Who are you? I don't even know who I'm talking to. This is not you Chloe."

"Really? Well then please enlighten me as to who it is you think I am."

He sighed, trying to clear his head. He felt too jittery to deal with this. He needed to cut through the resistance she was constantly throwing up at him. Desperate to invoke a memory highlighting the kind of friends they had been, he struggled before speaking.

"You're that girl I spent the entire summer after seventh grade with. Every waking moment, side by side, until people began to say we were joined at the hip. That girl who went on a hike with me in a torrential downpour and insisted we keep going, even after I told her we had to go back. Do you even remember any of this?"

She nodded imperceptibly, gaze fixed on the counter. "We spent too much time together that summer. We got into a screaming fight over that hike."

Clark felt encouraged by her response and moved closer to where she stood."You decided to just go on without me. Turned to leave, in fact, when the storm knocked a limb off a tree right into you," He was standing directly in front of her now, but she kept her eyes lowered, "I watched you slide down the mud of that embankment, right into a huge pit of thick, dirty water. I was looking for your head to pop up, scooting down that slope, trying to get to you."

"Always saving people, Clark." Her tone was supposed to be sarcastic, but nostalgia invaded.

"Except you never came up. My heart stopped, Clo. It took me forever to find you in that muck, all tangled in that stupid branch. Even when I finally dragged you out, you were like a rag doll, lifeless. I though you were dead. I was sure you were dead and the last thing I said to you was so hateful."

He was rambling now, sounding scattered and strange, he knew, but she was suddenly quiet and everything kept pouring out.

"I was so clueless, just blowing breaths into your mouth without any idea of whether I was doing anything right or not. It was a complete miracle when you coughed up that gunk and started breathing. I started crying like a baby, wailing. I couldn't stop; couldn't help you, I was sobbing so hard. But after a few minutes you were comforting me, hugging me, telling me everything was going to be okay. I tried to save you Clo, but in the end you saved me. We sat there covered in mud, clinging to each other for an eternity. I still think of that as one of the most significant moments of my life. That's who you are. That's the Chloe I know."

As he finished, he gently took one of her hands, lightly running his thumb over her knuckles. He was anxious for her response.

"All those things you're saying Clark-- those two people-- that was a lifetime ago. A different existence," she removed her hand slowly from his, looking up at him finally, "I think you should go."

The intensity of emotion he allowed himself to let lose in telling this story was something almost palpable. This was his big speech. He was frightened at the vulnerability he felt.

"We need each other Chloe. I need you."

He knew it was a plea of desperation, but something was telling him that this was it. If he couldn't get through to her now, it would never happen.

"No-- no, Clark. I'm sorry," she said firmly before a sad little note of reflection emerged in her manner. "It's funny, you know? All those years, I was right there and you wanted nothing to do with me."

He started to protest, but she interrupted him.

"Sure, we were friends, but your dedication to lusting after Lana always trumped that friendship. But that was the trick, wasn't it? She was a tragic character of her own invention. You couldn't have her then and she was all you wanted. Now I'm the tragic character, the one you can't have. And I'm what you want, aren't I? Can't you see that it's not real?"

She was looking him right in the eyes, seeming so sure that she found her answer there. He didn't understand what was happening. He poured his heart out and it was like she misunderstood completely. She was totally blind to what he tried to do. After a moment she stepped around him, heading toward her room.

"I'll let you show yourself out," she spoke in passing.

Instead he followed her, catching her in the hallway and grabbing her elbow firmly.

"You're wrong, this has always been real. You and me, the Woodward to my Bernstein, remember?"

"Not anymore."

"Why not? Because of Lex?" His question carried too much accusation; he had wanted to be calm.

"Clark-- you know that's not what this is about," her tone was almost questioning, sounding as though now, she wasn't so sure that he did understand.

"Do I? I don't care what happened between the two of you. You don't know him like I do, Chloe. You can't always trust his motives."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this-- I'm not some wide-eyed, innocent victim of circumstance and Christ... he's one of your oldest fucking friends," her face betrayed awe that he could misinterpret everything so badly. But he was convinced that something occurred significant enough to spook Lex and push Chloe further away.

"I just-- make me understand. Why him? You don't even know Lex; you can't trust him. Not the way you can trust me."

"This is not about trust, this is not about Lex, and this is certainly not about you and me," her voice took on a pleading tone then, exhaustion and tears suddenly threatening to break through, "Why can't you just let me disappear?"

He felt a surge of devastation hearing her words. She seemed so far out of his reach, slipping further away with every new aspect of her behavior he didn't understand.

He refused to let that happen.

On impulse he moved forward, bringing his lips to hers. He leaned into her body, feeling her back hit the wall. His brain barely registered her hands pushing against his chest or her voice trying to break through the insistent barrier of his lips, asking what he was doing. Her body was so soft and warm beneath his and she smelled like herself, like his best friend Chloe. She was comfortable and familiar. His dearest friend and he wanted her back. She'd torn his insides to shreds with all these absent months, all these unfeeling words. He wanted her to see how much emotion she stirred in him, how much he was hurting now and had been hurting for what felt like an eternity.

"You're a part of who I am, Chloe. How can you not know?"

His voice choked with emotion as he pressed his lips to her throat. The neck of her blouse seemed to tear unintentionally in his hands, like tissue paper. His mouth moved down the gentle slope of her shoulder, and he lowered onto his knees in front of her. And god, she smelled so good, felt so familiar. He pressed his cheek against the exposed skin of her stomach, encircling his arms around her waist. He couldn't believe he found her, after all this time searching. He raised his head to look at her, wanting to make her understand how, despite everything, he was so relieved to see her. He wanted to express just how heartbreaking her absence had been, but instead was struck by the distance in her eyes. A blank, far off stare, and things began to click in his brain. A strange haze was lifting. He noticed her arms slack at her sides, how she stopped speaking or moving.

Realization dawned.

He had just pinned Chloe Sullivan up against a wall, torn her shirt, and put his mouth on her without invitation. He moved away abruptly, pressing his back against the opposite wall. His eyes widened, startled. Only able to watch as she slid down the wall and wrapped her arms around her knees. She stared straight forward at nothing.

"Oh, god--," he gasped, "Chloe..."

He felt like he was going to vomit.

"You should go home, Clark."

Her voice was quiet. No anger or blame there, only exhaustion.

"I'm sorry." He whispered as he stumbled away from her, out of her apartment. He made it out of the building before doubling over, on his knees and heaving. Finally he stood dizzily and made his way down the deserted street, never before so aware of the impossibility of self-punishment.

Chapter 20

The clear amber liquid rippled lightly as Lex handed Clark his drink. The familiar clink of ice on glass should have calmed him, but his tremors had yet to subside. He couldn't think, found articulation of anything comprehendible impossible. Sitting on the soft leather couch in Lex's Metropolis penthouse, Clark found his mind skipping to another couch, another apartment. He felt odd sitting in this sprawling wealth when only a few short hours ago he'd been silently sitting in a run-down, salvation army-furnished, one-bedroom.

Same spot, different universes.

The thought made him shudder involuntarily. He glanced up to see Lex watching him closely, waiting for him to speak. Lex had yet to ask a single question since Clark stepped through the door, but in truth, he didn't have to. Clark knew what the question would be. Where is she? There was no need to verbalize it. He had wandered around the city for a few hours after leaving Chloe's, doubling back several times, but there was nowhere to go but here. There was really never any doubt of his destination. Clark swirled his drink once before downing the contents. He placed the empty tumbler on the coffee table and leaned back onto the couch, his eyes closed.

"I found her."

"I know." Lex kept his voice soft, obviously wanting Clark to continue.

Clark nodded his head, eyes still closed. He was afraid to open them. Dread drove an instinctual avoidance to seeing any of the emotions potentially stirring in Lex's expression. "Her hair is short and dark now. She wears glasses."

Lex remained quiet. Clark wondered how long his friend would be able to endure his evasive ramblings, but uttering the evening's events out loud would make them undeniably real. The thought terrified him.

"I heard her voice in the hallway." He couldn't do this. What was he going to say? Every decision he made tonight suddenly seemed frightening. "I didn't want you to know." He could hear a rustle of movement and opened his eyes to see Lex had moved across the room. His back faced Clark as he poured himself a drink, but even after the glass was filled he didn't turn around. "I was wrong, I should have told you. I'm vividly aware of that now, believe me."

"Well, that's a comfort." Lex's voice emerged dangerously cold. His body remained perfectly still.

Clark was reminded of the ominous calm before those Kansas summer storms. In a way, the two men had avoided discussing the chain of events leading to this joint search for Chloe. The urgency of their common goal allowed them to ignore any exploration of individual motivations. They shared the drive, why ask questions when they might not like the answers? Even so, Clark had long suspected the reasons Lex had for finding her and had no doubt Lex could easily read his own. But their relationship had always existed in a quagmire of unspoken assumptions and suspicions. This new endeavor was no different and occasionally Clark found himself resenting the mutual silence surrounding the topic.

"Did you sleep with her?" and the question brewing for months escaped unexpectedly. He was surprised by his sudden inability to suppress this irrational need to know. Even if the desire for confirmation plagued him, what did the answer matter at this point? "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-- It's none of my business. It's just-- lately I feel like I'm losing my mind or something."

Clark shifted uncomfortably, placing his head in his hands, trying to hide from his own question. He felt the cushion dip next to him and Lex's voice materialized low and near.

"You talked to her tonight." Despite his comforting manner, Lex's voice was carefully guarded.

"I messed up, I messed everything up."

"Nothing is irreparable when you can see the problem clearly."

Clark was amazed at how civil Lex remained. After all, he just admitted to purposefully withholding his discovery of Chloe's whereabouts, the ultimate betrayal of this search. But Lex's voice carried traces of desperation. The necessity of calming Clark and extracting information from him was trumping Lex's anger. Clark had barely been coherent walking through the door tonight and Lex was ignoring personal aggravation in order to coddle his source. The thought made Clark peripherally annoyed. Always maneuvering to get the desired result as efficiently as possible, the LexCorp way. He should write their jiggles.

"She took off. It's too late."

Clark allowed his response to be dismissive, suddenly wishing he hadn't come here. But he had been wrong about Lex's anger; it appeared to be making a showing after all.

"I don't have time for your morose non-information right now, Clark. I need to know where she is."

Lex rose from the couch, pacing away from where Clark sat, trying to distance himself from the object of his frustration. Clark felt his own anger flare-up. The validity of his fury was highly questionable, but he didn't care. He just wanted to fight; wanted to unleash his self-loathing and project it outward. He pushed up from his seat, following Lex across the room.

"Need to know? All these dire proclamations the past few months and not a whole lot of detail. Why so secretive Lex? Maybe there's a reason she took off from the mansion. Maybe I shouldn't tell you where she is."

"What are you implying?"

Clark could see he was pushing Lex dangerously close to the boiling point. Good. He prayed Lex would hit him; kick the shit out of him. He longed to feel the pain of the blows. Just this once, please. A foolish thought, but the frustration of that impossibility only escalated his behavior.

"Hasn't the Luthor motto always been to just take what you want? Maybe you took something Chloe wasn't ready to give."

Fierce, shaking hands flew up to the collar of Clark's shirt, gripping the fabric tightly and pushing him up against the adjacent wall. Clark let himself be pushed, reveled in the quick heated breaths of rage hitting his face. He wanted hatred; wanted to be despised. Ready for a fist to connect with his jaw, desperate for it, he let out a frustrated sigh when it didn't come. Lex's vicious eyes were regaining their rational sight. Clark could practically see his mind clearing.

--Blind anger *click*, --questioning the turn in conversation *click*, --arrival at abrupt insight *click*.

Lex let go of the handfuls of shirt and stepped back. He seemed almost startled now, his face calm in the certainty of realization.

"What happened tonight Clark?"

"I don't..."

"Think carefully before you let a lie escape your mouth."

"What do you want me to say, Lex?"

"You show up here three hours after disappearing without explanation, devastated and apologetic one minute, throwing accusations at me the next. I can see it all over your face. Something happened that scared you, fine, but I don't have time to let you take it out on me. I have to get back to that building before she disappears again."

The coldness in his voice had returned full force. This night was only getting worse. Humiliating himself completely for the second time this evening and Clark had no idea how to recover. He stood silently as Lex moved around the room, grabbing his coat, his car keys. Preparing to go back for her.

"She's not there."

"So you said, but I'd just as soon see for myself."

"Believe me, I went back about an hour after I left her place. Her few personal possessions were missing. Her car wasn't out back. She was gone." Clark felt his body jump slightly as Lex slammed the keys in his hand against the wall across the room before slumping lifeless into a nearby chair.

"So close," His voice was a whisper.

Defeat. Such a rare thing to glimpse in the demeanor of Lex Luthor. Remorse hit Clark hard. He was suddenly desperate to soften the blow. "I'm sure she's not far, we can go after her."

"I'm running out of time," then more softly to himself, "I don't believe this is happening." Lex's expression turned distant, flicking through possible solutions to this new scenario.

"She's not going to turn into a pumpkin, Lex, we'll find her." Feeling so apologetic now, Clark marveled at the newest turn in this schizophrenic encounter. His emotions were bouncing all over the place and he had no control.

"I don't think you understand what's going on here Clark."

"Well then why do you tell me?"

Lex glanced up at him finally. He looked exhausted. "I can tell you think this is some slighted lover's quest, Clark, but Chloe is in serious danger," he sighed, dropping the chilly faade for the first time, "We found evidence of surveillance in the mansion after she left. I thought it was some kind of corporate espionage at first, but it concentrated too heavily on the places she frequented. I only became seriously concerned when I ran into such difficulty finding her in Metropolis. Locating her never should have been that hard. Someone was interfering; claming-up sources, purposeful misdirection. Chloe is a resourceful woman, but she doesn't have the kind of influence that was used to block my investigation. I had some suspicions regarding who it might be, so I switched strategies, decided to ask different questions. That's how I knew to go to that building, Clark. I only found infomation on where to find her because she was being watched by someone else."

"But you said it was a hunch on someone's false credentials."

"I lied. I knew she was there."

Awareness of Lex's intention struck Clark suddenly, "And you were going to go back without me?"

"I was already planning on it."

"I can't believe you kept all this from me." He had been lied to about the purpose of thier visit to the apartment building that night. Lex hadn't really been interested in finding her then, it had all been artifice.

"Looks like we had similar motivations. I wanted to see her alone."

Minutes of silence stretched, both men lost in the echo of each other's confessions. Clark reeling from his own betrayals and from Lex's. He was shocked by how, despite their alliance, both could fall so easily into the old patterns of distrust and self-interest. Clark thought they left that behind them years ago in those tense days of paternal influence and misunderstanding. But here it was again, so easily resurrected when their goals were once more intertwined. The mood between the two had turned somber and still. The unavoidable approach of confession, of naked truth, was closing in. A rare moment in their history together, but suddenly inevitable now that their lies were revealed.

"Tell me what is going on with her." All the shattering new information gained made Clark realize how completely in the dark he had been. His grasp on the situation was much weaker than he imagined.

"She's going after her mother, she wants revenge."

"Why her mother?"

"The man who kidnapped Chloe wanted her mother's location. It's the reason she was taken."

"I don't understand."

"Chloe's mother is a government operative, Clark. She's a dangerous woman."

"So, knowing all this, why not just locate her mother? Find her, find Chloe, right?"

"The same reason Chloe was taken in the first place, I suppose. This woman is nowhere to be found. All documentation of Chloe's mother ends about five years ago. She dropped off the face of the earth. Chloe knows how to find what everyone else is looking for-- I can imagine what she's planning, I just don't know where she's going."

The conversation died for a moment, allowing their thoughts to settle. But soon enough Lex spoke, wanting his chance to do the asking.

"What happened when you saw her tonight?"

Clark sighed at the question, his distress at the topic evident. His voice was thick when he finally answered. Frightened to re-live his actions. "I was already waiting for her in the apartment when she came home. All I could do was plead for her to come back with me. I thought I was getting through for a moment there, but in the end she told me I was delusional. That I was hanging onto something that wasn't real." He watched Lex turn his face away, hearing that last statement. He looked stung by Clark's words, even though they hadn't been for him. "I just lost it. I wanted to prove how wrong she was, so I-- I just..."

"You forced yourself on her." In completing the sentence for Clark, Lex's voice dropped uncomfortably despite his obvious attempt to maintain a detachment throughout the younger man's disclosure.

"No-- I mean, I don't know," there was a strange awe in his voice, hearing his own words, "But I almost did and I'm not sure what that makes me." Lex let out a tense breath, rubbing his hands over his head. Clark quickly moved to ask another question. He needed to break the horror he felt at his own answer. "What's the real reason you're looking for Chloe?"

"She's in danger. She needs to be warned."

"But that's not the only reason."

"No, I guess not."

"Something happened between you two."

"Yes." Lex's responses were growing more impatient with each question. The discomfort at this line of inquiry obviously getting to him.

"You slept with her."

"Yes." With this admission Lex's tone was that of a weight being lifted. The freedom of disclosure.

"So she became too attached, you fought and she took off."

"No. She just left-- just gone."

Clark watched his friend's face fall with the last answer, surprised at the inaccuracy of his own assumption. An uncomfortable re-living of emotions was on display before him. He saw confusion in Lex's face, outlined with devastation. A new question he never thought to ask emerged in his mind.

"Are you in love with her?"

Lex raised his eyes to look in Clark's, a resounding confirmation written there. Clark hadn't expected this revelation.

"I don't know." He answered shortly, but his demeanor revealed otherwise. Hell, all his behavior leading up to this moment, pointed to the affirmative, but this quiet disclosure shook Clark harder than he expected.

"Then you should go after her."

"The crucial problem with that being, my clues are few and unreliable. I barely know where to start."

"I do."

Lex looked at him with exasperation, but hope painted the corners of his expression. "This whole time?"

Clark produced a small piece of paper from his back pocket, placing it on the counter next to him. "It's an address in Metropolis."

"Where did you get that?"

"I had some time to kill in that apartment before she showed up, I found it somewhere I shouldn't have been looking. I just didn't know what I had, until now."

"You planned to go after her."

"No, I've made too much of a mess already." Clark smiled hollowly at his friend. A strange sense of finality settling around him. "I hope you can help her, Lex."

His words were soft and sad as he pushed away from the wall and walked quietly out of the apartment, not waiting for Lex's response. The sound of the elevator doors hitting shut behind him rang cold. Leaning back against the cool metallic wall, he let his eyes slip closed. He felt so tired. This had never been his fight after all; the realized just arrived lifetimes too late. He didn't belong here. The inevitability of a life fated to be lived on the outside, always looking in, greeted him as he stepped into the slick Metropolis night and walked quietly away.


Chapter 21

Lifetimes seemed to pass seated in her car, convincing herself that tomorrow, tomorrow would be the day. But three days had passed and still she sat, just watching. Her surveillance had provided precious little information. Her mother only left the apartment twice a day. Newspaper in the morning, bottle of wine in the evening. Then again, it had only been three days. The glamorous spy lifestyle of intrigue and danger could still present itself.

The longer she observed, the more depressed she felt about this woman's life. Working up the motivation to confront her seemed impossible. Why make her life more miserable than it already was? In reality, she was stalling, but that was nothing new. Every decision she'd made in the past several months had been in the interest of procrastination. She was getting really good at it. The closer she got to her mother, the less she understood why the hell she was doing this. The result of her confused musings was maddening inaction that prevailed for three days. She alternated between feeling like a coward and feeling like an overreacting fool. This changed, though, as soon as the moon provided a brightly lit night. Watching her leave for an evening booze run, Chloe caught finally caught full sight of her mothers face. All the obscured glimpses and quick snatches of her shadowed figure over the last few days left Chloe unprepared to be struck so hard by a clear picture of her face. Older and worn, but familiar. A warm fading memory from the past and a strikingly similar image to the one she caught in the mirror everyday.

The weight of the moment secured her resolve and Chloe decided it was then or never, but found she couldn't get out of the car. She opened and closed the door four times before actually getting out to move toward the entrance of the building. The overgrown foliage near the door obscured her presence as she waited for her mother's return. She distractedly thought this poor safety practice considering the woman's risky vocation; allowing shrubbery to grow out of control near an entranceway. So easy for someone to hide. If Chloe were in the same position, she would be sure to keep the way clear. She would prepare for every possible eventuality. Smug in her observation, Chloe was taken completely by surprise as she was whipped around, her body slamming into the brick wall behind her. One hand on her throat, the other holding a gun right in her face.

"You have less than one minute to tell me who you are and what you're doing before I decorate the wall with your brain matter."

The words were clipped, not even a hint of surprise or fright in the tone. Chloe choked on her words for a moment. She could barely see her mother's face in the dusk.

"I've seen you sitting outside my place for three days, so identify yourself, or I'll consider myself justified in pulling the trigger."

"What, you don't recognize your own daughter?" she snarked a little more breathlessly than intended.

Her mother kept the gun steadily trained, her face darkening. For a moment they were in a stand off, both still. Finally dropping her arm and stepping back (a little too reluctantly in Chloe's opinion) her mother spoke.

"What are you doing here?"

She sounded weary, but not exactly put out by her estranged daughter's presence. Chloe's temper flared at the comment.

"Aren't you glad to see me, mom?" Her statement reeked of sarcasm and pain. The overexaggeration placed on the maternal pronoun twisted the word into perversion.

Her mother only sighed, "Let's not do this, please. Tell me why you're here or leave."

Chloe felt like a chastised child. What the hell was she doing there?

"I want some answers."

She spoke brokenly, willing the tears rapidly gathering in her eyes not to fall. Her mother looked at her closely, studying her for an uncomfortably long time before allowing her expression to soften slightly. Her manner conveyed an annoyance at her own easy acquiescence.

"Not here. Let's meet tomorrow at dusk. Northeast corner of the park up the street. It's nicely secluded, quiet. We can talk there. And please try no to bring along whoever that is following you."

Chloe's eyes widened in surprise. Her head immediately turned to look around, as if she might see someone lurking. She was about to ask whom her mother had seen and where, but she was already alone again. The building's screen door swung shut against the night.

Chapter 22

So now there was with time to wait, time to waste.

Twenty-four hours with nothing to do but think. About whom her mother had seen following her, about how she could have missed such a thing, about what she would ask tomorrow, about everything she had done to ruin her life.

The warning about being trailed made her every action dictated by an ever-increasing paranoia. She couldn't relax, was constantly jittery. Still, she could see no evidence that she was being followed. Which made her wonder if the warning had been a ploy on her mother's part to force her into being more cautious. She couldn't really say for certain. She didn't know her mother well enough to judge. Regardless, she didn't want to take chances.

Leaving her car in front of the apartment complex, she walked the back streets until she found the odd little motel she drove past on her way into town several days before. The place was an old apartment complex the proprietors attempted to turn into a commercial motel. Definitely the type of place that charged by the hour. She stepped into the lobby, noticing the musty smell of age. Renovations were long overdue. She felt dirty immediately after walking in. The desk clerk looked desperately bored and completely uninterested in her presence. She could be grateful for that, at least. Paying cash, she showed herself up to her room and settled in for the night. Relieved to simply have a shower and bed for the first time in days, trying not to wonder when the last time the sheets she slept on were washed.

She missed her little apartment. It had been a piece of shit, but it had been her piece of shit. Although now, thoughts of her abandoned residence were leading to thoughts of the last night she spent there. Of Clark.

Poor Clark.

She suspected long ago that throwing all her darkness at him could only result in a moment where he would reflect it back. He was forgiven his transgression that night before he ever stepped out of her door. The thought of him in her hallway, so desperate, upset her sensibilities more for his sake than for her own. She had always been the stronger one and from what she could tell during their brief encounter, lately he'd been unraveling.

He had always been her weakness. No matter how hard she tried, she could never rid herself of affection for that goofy farm boy. He worked his way into her heart ages ago, demanding forever-evolving degrees of love. From the moment they met she knew she would always try to protect him, couldn't help but look past all his faults.

The unexpected meeting up on the roof, followed by his face appearing in her bathroom mirror gave her the strange sensation of destiny playing itself out. Funnily enough, she always harbored the fear that she would be the one to destroy that last lingering bit of innocence keeping him uniquely unspoiled in her eyes. It had been her motivation that day in the hospital when she told him to stay away, trying to prevent tarnishing all that hope with her despair. He was her first love and she wanted to preserve in him that wide-eyed boy she remembered so fondly.

But the moment she saw him standing there, she felt resigned to the trickery of fate. Fate had allowed her to think she escaped the inevitable by running, but instead led her right to the end it had planned all along. Seeing his face, she hadn't known whether to laugh or cry. How could she possibly fault him for any hurt he caused? She could always see her own actions reflected in his cruelties. It had always been that way with him. Funny, she would see blaming herself for another's actions as nave and overly dramatic with anyone but him.

Her father had asked in a long-ago moment of teenage broken-hearted despair, what it was about this boy. She still had no answer. But it wasn't just her, was it? He enchanted everyone. But time and circumstance had changed things too drastically and never before had her friendship with Clark seemed so removed from her present reality. She didn't know how to bring it back. She didn't know if she even wanted to. Everything was different. She hardly knew who she was or where her loyalties should lie. With Pete and Lana? With Clark? With Lex...

God, Lex.

She couldn't even allow herself to think about him. Not right now. There were too many thoughts fighting for precedence in her mind, most of which she was trying to ignore. Chloe didn't fall asleep until the early morning hours, her brain jumping from idea to idea, preventing any rest. But when sleep finally did come, it took a firm hold. She didn't wake until well into the daytime hours.

Chapter 23

Nervous energy crackled around her, drowning out the usually comforting sounds of the crickets' symphony. She was lurking outside the park's entrance, waiting and watching; wondering if someone was following close behind without her knowledge and pretending she wasn't terrified to face the woman waiting within. Procrastination had always been her most unbreakable habit. Fear, on the other hand, was something she learned to conquer more successfully.

She was late for their meeting. Too many moments spent taking breaths, calming herself, or closing her eyes in an attempt to focus, delayed her. How long had it taken for her to get here? This very moment was her reason for relentlessly continuing on the destructive path she had chosen for months, but she was ready for it to be over. She wanted to believe this was the end. Hanging onto this act of resolution had sustained her through all of this. Her mother was to be the catalyst toward an end to feeling lost. But she secretly feared that nothing could bring her back; that she would be adrift forever.

Stray thoughts distracted her as the minutes ticked by. The sun was long set by now and, realizing her delay, she moved into the park and headed back toward the more secluded areas, angry with herself for wasting so much time. What if her mother had gotten tired of waiting? What if she was already long gone?

She approached the furthest fringe of the park, noticing someone seated on an outlying bench. Her heartbeat spiked, unsure of the slouched figure. The night was too dark by now and she slowed her walk, eyes straining hard to capture any glint of light that might identify the individual. The figure stood as she came closer, sending her heart pounding mercilessly against her chest. Her brain frantically attempted to make an identification, but fear was delaying her mind's efficiency. Even after getting a clear view, recognition took a moment to click into place.

"Lex, what are you doing here?" She was genuinely curious. The hysterical tinge in her tone made the question sound like blame, but in truth, her fright at his shadowed approach distorted her tone. She really wanted to know. He didn't speak. He looked different to her, oddly melancholy. "Have you been following me?"

Her mother's warning sprang into her mind, but she knew Lex hadn't been the one following her. She would've felt him near. Again he replied with silence and some ill portent began to form in the pit of her stomach.

"How did you find me?" Her third question and finally he chose to answer.

"Clark filled in some gaps a few days ago leading me here, but I've known pieces for a while, lately they've been falling into place."

His voice was so dark and his presence filled her senses as he came closer. This was no time to lose focus.

"What kind of pieces?"

"Chloe, now's not the time..."

"Of course," she cut him off bitterly, "I'm already late, as I assume you're aware."

She began to walk away from him dismissively, but he moved with her, blocking her departure. Angry at his interference and at how easily he seemed to have found her, her expression turned incensed. She was ready to tell him exactly how little she appreciated his presence, but looking into his eyes, her mood darkened mimicing his own. She took a step back from him, her voice turning soft.

"What are you doing here?"

The repeated question carried a hint of panic this time. He reached out gently to touch her, but pulled back when her body jumped at his intended contact.

"Chloe..."

The way he said her name sounded like a warning. She stared at him, wide-eyed now. Something was wrong. She tried to move past him again; suddenly desperate to know why he was detaining her, but he grasped her by the upper arms when she made an attempt to push by. She struggled in his hold, frustrated by his intervention. Panic was gripping her more aggressively with each passing second.

"What happened?" she hissed. "Let me go! Where is she?"

"Just calm down for a minute. Please."

"Why the fuck are you here?" she screamed, already fairly certain of exactly what he was doing there.

The moment she registered his face in the dark, everything about him communicated to her that her mother was dead. That she was too late. She just hadn't wanted to see it. Her body became still before stumbling back from his grip. Chloe could feel shock and denial moving over her in waves. No words would come out, only small gasps. She was having trouble breathing and broke out abruptly into tears, then, just as abruptly, returned to calm shock. A wave of nausea hit next.

This was all her fault.

"I led him right here. She told me someone was following me. I brought Gosch right to her. Oh, god."

How could she have been so stupid? She never even attempted to conceal her location after escaping from that basement, was sure Gosch wouldn't even bother with her anymore. But now it seemed he watched her every move from the moment she broke out, maybe even counted on her to find her mother for him. She was such a fool. Beatings without questions, her easy escape, the reason he hadn't bothered to come after her. She was wrong about his motivations for everything.

Oh god.

Unsteady on her feet, she felt Lex grab her elbow as her knees sank slightly.

"This is not your fault."

"How can you say that? You know that it is," she whispered.

"Don't do this."

"I just killed my mother."

"Do you really think of her that way, as your mother?"

"Fuck you," she spat, wishing he would stop speaking.

"Hatred, grief, desire for revenge. Those emotions can only be inspired by people you loved. Who was this woman to you, really? Don't let her own your guilt too."

He was gripping her arm so lightly, moving close in an attempt to make his words heard. Tears began escaping slowing, slipping down her face.

"My hand in anyone's death would diminish me, but love or not she was my mother. You, of all people, should understand that, Lex."

Her voice was soft and caught in places. He let go of her then, his grip slackening, arms falling to his sides. His expression was resigned, as though he knew exactly how this encounter would go before she even arrived. And maybe he had, but for some reason that hadn't stopped him from trying to soften the blow in his own way.

So she stepped past him and this time he didn't try to stop her. So eager only moments before, but now that she was free to advance she walked slowly, not really wanting the confirmation that this was real. Shadows were playing tricks on her as she walked, revealing legs, arms, feet in every branch and shrub. Every three feet she was sure that a body appeared. When she really did come upon the slack figure of the woman who had become such a focus in her life as of late, she almost didn't register that she had found her. Dark clothes contrasted with a shock of blond hair that, no doubt, was covered-up at the start of the evening. Chloe sank to her knees next to the still figure, quietly surveying the result of all her unfortunate intentions. She could see Lex standing several feet to her right, giving her space, but not leaving her alone. A long, deep welt ran along her mother's throat.

Strangled.

Crouching closer, she reached out a hand, but stopped short of touching the lifeless, porcelain skin of the face in front of her. Instead she took her hand back to cover her own mouth.

"Oh, god." She could see Lex shift uncomfortably where he stood. She addressed him, never taking her eyes off her mother's face. "Why kill her? He was only ever after information."

"Maybe he got it." The pity was strong in his voice; it grated on her nerves.

"And what about me? An unacceptable loose end. We should both be dead."

A statement to test her suspicion that Lex had done something to protect her. After all, with her mother murdered, Gosch should have been the one to meet her here tonight. But Lex had been waiting instead. If she wasn't dead then Gosch certainly was. She could only imagine the spy vs. spy operation that had gone on before she arrived.

"Neither of you should be dead. Maybe you weren't the only one to get here late tonight."

It was a confession, an apology. But in her eyes he held no blame and she didn't have any sympathy for his guilt.

"But early enough to do some cleaning up, right?" He didn't respond, "How big of a mess was there? Forget it I don't want to know."

And she really didn't. There was a first time for everything she supposed. She moved her hand across her mother's cheek, smoothing stray hairs off her forehead. She was struck by the thought that this was the only quiet moment ever shared between them. There was nothing left here for her. It was over. She stood quickly, and began walking toward the exit. So many answers she would never have, but she guessed she never really knew what the questions were. For the first time in a long time she just wanted to go home, tired of thinking and worrying.

Tired of hiding.

Her brain was barely cognizant of where she was walking, just away. She hardly noticed, or maybe more accurately, hardly cared as Lex caught up with her and subtly took charge in leading her to his waiting car. She remained passive as he guided her into the passenger seat before driving her silently away. She knew she should be annoyed at his interference; knew she should demand he tell her how he found out so much. Curiosity about how meticulously he kept tabs on her should have been driving her mad. She should've protested loudly at the fact that she was currently leaving behind her car, still sitting in front of her mother's apartment building, with her entire life inside it. But she couldn't force herself to fight just now. Could only watch the passing pattern of city lights rush by, like distant ghostly beauties, while her mind became quiet for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.

After a long time she turned to look at Lex, so far away in that adjacent seat. Highway lights dragged patterns of illumination across his still figure.

"You weren't supposed to get involved in any of this." Her voice rang sad and regretful, unsure if she was talking about her revenge or just her.

"I know." He responded quietly, almost a whisper.

Tears strangled her voice when she spoke again. "I'm sorry-- I never meant to give you the responsibility of saving me."

"You saved yourself, I just did what I could to protect something unexpectedly important to me." His words sat in long moments of silence, "I'm sorry about your mother."

She continued to stare out the window, showing no sign of acknowledgement, save her small hand slipping over his in the shadows between them. A swell of relief hit her to feel his hand grasp hers in return.

_Epilogue:_

"Clark, do you think we could talk?"

Every ounce of will power obviously hard at work to keep her voice solid and her hands from shaking as she pulled him aside from his work. He knew she'd been back in town for over a week but they had yet to speak.

"I don't know, I'm pretty behind. I've been neglecting the farm lately." He hadn't meant it to be a swipe at her, but could see her flinch at the comment.

"I won't take much of your time. Please."

He didn't reply, only removed his gloves and walked with her to the barn. He wasn't sure if he could handle this. He managed to avoid her pretty successfully until now, despite the small town. So much shame lingered from what he had done. He couldn't even look at her without remembering his loss of control. Unable to forgive himself for his actions or even admit to being capable of such frightening behavior, he chose to avoid dealing with it. Which meant avoiding Chloe. But hadn't she told him numerous times that she didn't want anything to do with him anymore? So really he was just taking her request to be left alone to heart at last.

This argument worked very well, making him feel justified in staying away for over a week. But here she was, wanting to speak with him after all. And all he wanted was for her to go away and take his memory of that haunted, betrayed look on her face with her. Quite a roll reversal from those months ago. She followed him up the stairs, taking a seat on that old couch that had been in the loft since their high school days. Chloe left enough room for him to sit too, but instead he walked away from her, moving to stand near the window several feet away. He couldn't look at her, didn't want to get too close. He felt an overwhelming need to stay far enough away to obscure her physical presence. Gaze fixed on the fields stretching out in front of the barn, he waited for her to speak. After a moment she sighed sadly and broke the silence.

"I can see that you're not going to make this easy for me. I suppose I deserve that."

He was glad that the sun was burning low in the sky, casting a shadow over the area where she sat. He gained comfort from his inability to see her small, still figure. He had no desire to watch her face as she told him how much he had hurt her; how bitterly she felt the betrayal of her trust.

"I don't want you to think that I expect forgiveness for everything I've done, but before one of the great friendships of my life finally withers completely, I needed you to know that you didn't deserve my animosity. There were things I had to take care of on my own and I can't apologize for that necessity, but I know that you only pushed so hard because you love me, I know that. It's what I would have done for you. I wanted to protect you, but I know that I hurt you and I'm sorry."

She waited for a beat, expecting a reply, but as silence hung between them longer and longer, she finally stood and left, her speech lingering behind.

He didn't go after her; didn't really understand what just occurred.

The sensation of his chest being crushed in a vice prevented any immediate reaction. God, everything was so fucked up. All his emotions were so tangled he barely knew how he felt anymore. Here she was apologizing, but so much damage was already done to their friendship. The impossibility of ever forgiving the hurt inflicted on each other, amid the mess of circumstance, loomed gargantuan in his mind.

How could she ever forgive him?

The really twisted thing was, he never really blamed her for pushing him away. It hurt, but he understood why it was happening. The real struggle was how to forgive her for being the cause of his loss of control. Even now, he couldn't say for sure that he would have stopped if he hadn't chosen that exact moment to look up and really see Chloe clearly. The instant he recognized the expression on her face as one of disconnect, of resignation to endure whatever he was about to do to her, his perception of himself was shattered. What if that moment of clarity had never come? Would he have raped her?

And in some sick way he blamed her for opening up the possibility that he would be capable of such a thing. Of physically forcing something upon her, or anyone. But she was the only one truly entitled to blame. He knew about some of what she'd gone through. Could only guess at how many devastating physical punishments had been forced upon her during her month-long captivity. He imagined her face permanently occupied by that same look of detached acceptance then. He should've known better that night. It made him sick to think he was no better than those who had hurt her for gain.

The most devastating thing was, in the end, all he ever wanted was to show her how much her loved her. Through all of this chaos of emotion he lived in for the past several months, --the guilt for leaving her alone after she was shot, --the pity for her pain after she escaped, --the anger at being pushed away, --the jealousy at the closeness formed between her and Lex; running underneath it all was this thread of insanity originating from the loss of her as a stabilizing force in his life. He really did need her; he always had.

And suddenly he desperately wished he hadn't let her leave in silence after her apology. He sped out of the barn, frantic to reach her house before she got there, so relieved to find her just pulling up as he arrived. Red rims of dried tears lingered around her eyes as she stepped out of her car. Her face showed only mild surprise to see him. The muted curiosity currently inhabiting her expression seemed to indicated she had almost expected him to show up.

"Hey."

"Hey."

"What are you doing here?"

He couldn't think of exactly what to say, just stood there. An eternity passed before his tongue found any words, but she waited patiently for him to speak.

"Chloe, you said so much-- I don't think anyone has ever said things to cut me to the bone the way you have."

"I know..." she responded emotionally, but he interrupted her before she could continue.

"Even for me, there's only so long I can fight before there's nothing left." She looked away from him, nodded her head sadly as she fought off tears. "Your apology was heartbreaking, Chloe, because this whole thing, this mess we're caught up in, isn't your fault; I never blamed you. And what I'm really scared of..." he was choking up now, afraid his tears would let loose, "is that you'll never be able to trust me again after what I did that night in Metropolis. The way I just pushed you up against that wall..."

He couldn't say anything else, had to convert all his efforts to preventing himself from crying. Breathing deeply, rapid eye blinking...

He would not cry.

Chloe stepped closer, wrapping an embrace around him and soon he was clinging back tightly, marveling at how long it had been since the last time he truly hugged her like this. He felt overwhelmed to be able to put his arms around her and feel her return the gesture.

"How can you forgive me?" he whispered into her hair, afraid this spell of reconciliation would shatter at any moment.

"I forgave you before you walked out of that apartment, Clark. I know you too well to condemn you for that. It's always been that way with us, I guess. Maybe the real question for us both, now, is if forgiveness is enough."

He nodded tearfully, placing a kiss on her head, still not quite ready to let go. "How do we find out?"

"I'm not sure if that's a question we know how to answer." Clark felt his face contort in grief at the bitter truth ringing through her statement. He felt her bury her face in his shoulder and intensify her hug for a moment before finally breaking away from his embrace. "Well, you better go. Get caught up on all that delinquent farm work." Her words were playful, but not without a tinge of sorrow.

"Yeah, I guess I better."

"Okay then."

"Okay."

They smiled at each other sadly before he turned, heading back the way he came. He was only a few feet away before she called after him.

"Hey, Clark." He turned immediately to hear her voice, "See you later."

"Yeah, I'll see you."

He hoped that he would.

FIN



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