In a Season of Calm Weather

by Hope


A prequel to Wendi's Bradbury Titles
universe, if you wondered how they got from now 'til then, well, wonder no more.


-May-

Chloe scowled at the answering machine. Right there in the hallway, blinking taunts at her as she let her bags slip from her shoulders. Rain dripped from her coat, careless splatters on the scuffed wooden floor, and she didn't bother to stop to clean them up. It had been a long flight from New York; an even longer ride home in a cab she really couldn't afford, to come home to this: the answering machine, hers and Clark's, flashing proof he'd had better things to do than take her calls.

The better thing was pretty obvious- Lex leaned against the glass patio door, watching the storm through the curtains. Muttering a curse under her breath, Chloe punched the button on the machine as she walked by. The messages were all from her, and she hated the way her voice sounded. Thin, hopeful, so pathetic, 'We're getting ready to board, so I guess I'll see you in a couple hours.' As the tape rolled, Lex looked over his shoulder at her. "Welcome home."

"I should have known," Chloe said, shrugging out of her coat and wandering into the kitchen, herself an hour ago getting a little more pathetic. 'Well, I'm here. And you're not. But you're not there either, so maybe you're on your way?' She took a glass down from the cabinet, rubbing its cool shape with her thumb. It had been a bad idea, agreeing to move in with Clark, to voluntarily pay half the rent to have a bedroom right next to his.

Maybe she'd believed, just a little, that if he saw her everyday, things would change. That Clark would wake up one day and realize he really did love her. The second bedroom would become a home office, and they'd live happily ever after. Stupid. So stupid. Chloe was generous when it came to kicking herself, never moreso than the time she'd come home early from an internship fair. She'd just started to call up to Clark about what kind of idiots ran the Gotham Globe when she heard him. Them. Together.

God. She should have known, but she'd tried to mean it when she said it didn't matter. Friendship came first, and, well, what girl doesn't have at least one story that starts out, -I was totally in love with him, but oops, he turned out to be gay-? It was practically cosmopolitan to make a fool out of yourself with the one boy you really, really couldn't have. And lucky her, she got to be Lex and Clark's -friend-, the one they relaxed around, the one they didn't have to hide from, oh, that day had practically been a lottery, yes sirree bob.

Chloe poured herself a glass of... hmm, well, it was amber, and in their fridge. The label was long gone, but the shape of the bottle guaranteed it was alcoholic. Taking a sip, she winced, discovering for the fiftieth time that she didn't like the way whiskey burned on her tongue. Still, that's what she started with, so that's what she drank while listening to herself an hour ago, resigned. 'I guess you're not coming. Forget it, I'll just take a cab.' After the long, trailing beep noting the end of the messages, she looked up. "So where is he?"

Shrugging, Lex let the blinds fall back into place. "No idea."

"Oh, well it's nice to know I'm not the only one he blows off." Herself, now, an hour after fighting for a cab when she was supposed to have a ride home, that voice came in clear, and strong and bitter. "Have a drink with me, Lex. We can toast to Superman."

He shook his head, hands disappearing into his pockets. Drawn monochromatic, white skin, grey sweater, black pants, Lex was a midnight rainbow, and smooth, so smooth. He'd had time to lock everything up behind an expression of glass, like nothing mattered, even when it did. "Maybe another time. I have..."

"Nothing to do," Chloe finished for him, already grabbing another glass. There was no point in sitting around feeling sorry for herself, really no point in letting Lex do it, either. They both spent plenty of time missing Clark, why not make a game out of it? "Let's see... I last saw Clark, not just evidence of him, but, you know, Clark himself... three weeks ago. On his way to work, in and out, just like that." Thunking the glass down heavily on the glass-topped coffee table, she lifted her head to catch Lex's gaze. "Beat that."

The faint smile crooking on Lex's lips didn't quite reach his eyes. "It's been a month."

"Ouch." Chloe sank into the couch, pouring an inch of whiskey into the empty glass. She didn't actually expect Lex to drink it; it was cold, it came from a package store, and had probably been aged in plastic buckets, but it didn't surprise her when he took the glass. She'd been watching him long enough, she knew Lex liked to have something in his hands when he talked.

"He thinks he can save the world," Lex said, dipping his head. He seemed tired, a dark trace of circles under his eyes, his neutral-nothing expression heavier somehow.

Sliding over to let him sit, Chloe managed a smile. "Oh, he can. He just has a little time management problem." Considering her drink, she shook her head again and sank back. Their shoulders brushed, stirring a brief hint of his scent, spiced and sensual. She used to torture herself, wondering if Clark ever thought about that, late at night; if Lex's scent made his heart beat fast, the way hers did when she walked past Clark's room. Something of him there, even if he wasn't. "That's Clark. Love him or leave him."

Lex turned his attention back to the storm outside, unaware that every minute flicker of his expression reflected in the glass-topped table. "I've thought about it."

Whiskey settling hot and flat in the pit of her stomach, Chloe watched him in the glass. He looked a little softer there, his perpetually squinted eyes wide open with bleak possibility. Selfish, she didn't want to be the one who told him everything would be okay, it was just a rough patch, things would get better. Hands settling leaden in her lap, she still felt the ache. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be." He erased everything with a smile, wry and resigned, lifting his glass. "We were toasting, weren't we? To Superman?"

"Screw Superman," Chloe said, then leaned back in surprise. "Oh shit, I actually said that, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did." He laughed, a low, soft sound that put Chloe at ease, and for a moment, she felt like they were exactly the same, part of a very exclusive club. Lex had been lucky, it had taken him longer than most to get there. Probably didn't make it feel any better, though.

Chloe shrugged. "I say we drink to that."

Lex agreed, tipping his glass against hers. "Screw Superman."

-July-

A new merger, people in and out of his office as if it were an anthill, and meetings, yes, a thousand meetings. Lex enjoyed the buzz, arranging and rearranging little empires under his name, the flush and adrenaline rush tasted like candy on his tongue. Surrounded by glass, all of Metropolis sprawled out hundreds of feet below his office, he was sweethearting deals that would change that very landscape.

This was his city- downtown already marked off hours by the sundial of LuthorCorp Tower. One day soon, very soon with Takahashi surrendering his tech division, and Wayne Enterprises shaking hands on a partnership, it would be LexCorp Tower, and wouldn't dad be surprised to find himself deposed, tagged as a board member emeritus, left to twiddle his thumbs and make appearances out of obligation? Two years, three at the most.

Lex smiled as his secretary showed the last of the London investors out of the office. They'd go back to their proper British offices and very properly sign extremely large, proper checks, spreading the horizon on his empire just a bit further. Almost giddy with it, Lex sat down to send Clark one of a dozen cryptic e-mails, quotes from Shakespeare or Sun Tzu that marked the progress of his days.

This time, Sun Tzu. 'The art of war teaches us to rely on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.' Lex was just about to add an wry note that he enjoyed Chinese philosophy a lot more than he used to, when his secretary opened the door. Fingers stilling on the keys, Lex leaned back and smiled faintly. "Yes, Marie?"

"Sir, there's a Chloe Sullivan here to see you. She doesn't have an appointment."

Closing his laptop, Lex rolled back and rose to his feet. "Of course not, she's a friend of mine. If you would, please?"

The secretary disappeared, and Lex smoothed a hand over his head. A friend of mine... close enough to the truth, Lex spent more time talking to her than Clark lately, but he still found himself sorting possibilities for her appearance in the middle of the day. Something wrong with Clark, not likely, something wrong with the apartment, also unlikely. Not a social call, not during work hours... He finally decided it must have something to do with her job, and he moved on to indexing contacts to call on her behalf.

He stopped when he saw the look on her face. She wouldn't quite meet his eyes, hiding her own under a fringe of pale bangs, mouth set to a tight, breaking line. Declining the offer of a drink, she fingered the hem of her jacket so obsessively he almost expected it to unravel. Confronted by a hesitant Chloe, without light, without a smile, his adrenaline high flattened to an uncomfortable restlessness. "Chloe?"

"This was a mistake," she said, starting to turn for the door, then turning back , vehement. Battling to stand still, she continued, sounding more like talking to herself than Lex. "No, you know, forget that. I can't do this by myself, and that's a really hard thing for me to admit, but I've done the math. I can't even afford an apartment without a roommate."

Apartments and moving out and money, Lex tried to connect the lines, but a mere habitation problem didn't match the way she swayed with sick, nervous tension. "What's going on?"

That's when she finally looked up, her green gaze piercing, and she didn't even have to say it. From high to restless to numb, Lex wanted to sit, but she stood firm; he wanted to turn away to react unseen, but her eyes never wavered. Blood pounded in his ears, washing away Chloe's voice, her insistence, 'not like I planned it' rattling around in his head.

He shook his head. Planning never came into it. Swirling cheap, cold whiskey around, playing at cheerfully maudlin with toasts to Kryptonite, it had just seemed... if not right, then not entirely wrong, to touch her. No planning at all, no intoxication to blame it on, either, just a series of decisions: deciding to kiss her, deciding not to pull away when she kissed back, deciding to forget the world for just one night, deciding in the morning that they wouldn't feel guilty. Hazy, like a waking dream, he woke up to a sharp note in Chloe's voice.

"Am I going to have to get a lawyer or what?" She crossed her arms over her chest and waited, chin high, her mouth wavering but pressed flat to silence.

Decisions falling like dominoes, one into the other, Lex mapped out futures in an instant, complications, problems, possible solutions, then he shook his head. "Marry me."

Suddenly in motion again, Chloe knotted her fingers in her hair and exhaled a laugh. "Excuse me?"

"It could work for us," Lex said. This wasn't business, and for once, he realized that. "I want a family, Chloe. I'm fond of you."

Slicing a hand through the air, she took a step back. "Whoa. One, I've done a lot of stupid things in my time, and, you know, getting knocked up is right there in the top ten, but I'm not marrying anybody who's just -fond- of me."

Lex smiled, some of the tension broken just at being told no. "Fair enough. Forget marriage. Go to the movies with me."

"Uh, no." Crossing her arms over her chest again, Chloe leaned in. "Because two? You have a boyfriend, and I've finally figured out that I don't like coming in second."

"You won't." A knot tightened in his throat, and just for a second, a split-second, his lashes fluttered and he saw all the futures that never would be, and admitted that he'd actually believed, for a while, that Clark would be forever. It was easy to look at her again, because none of his imagined futures had ever included Superman; a life with Clark and without him was a fantasy he'd held on to for a little too long. "Give me until midnight."

Chloe glanced toward the clock, hesitating. Hovering. Wary. Finally, she reached for the doorknob fixing Lex in place with her eyes as she let herself out. "Twelve oh one won't cut it."

"Agreed." Lex watched her go, then turned back to his desk, and flexed his fingers. Deleting the unfinished message, he typed a new one and hit send before he could reconsider. Shakespeare this time, bastardized to suit the moment.

-I think it's time we let our true love admit its impediment. I'll be at the office until 11.-

-

Wind snatched at Lex's tie, making it dance back over his shoulder. The sun had just ceded to night, a faint glimmer trail of red and gold still tracing the horizon. Metropolis glittered, and Lex had a good view of his city's light show from the helipad. A good view of the sky, too, and if Clark were coming, this is where Lex would see him first.

Lex had never gotten used to the flying. The image of Clark aloft, his feet just above the earth, prickled at the back of Lex's neck, and turned his stomach over with the unpleasant sensation of falling. Maybe that's how he held on to the last vestiges of his fear of heights, or more likely, the flying reminded him that Clark wasn't always Clark anymore.

To be fair, Clark hadn't created Superman. When the name first showed up in the papers, Clark had laughed it off. After a while, though, he embraced it. He joked that the S was the only thing standing between him and a Fox specialAlien Autopsy II, The Last Son of Krypton. Lex hadn't been amused, mostly because he suspected it was true.

So Lex stood on top of Metropolis, to see Superman, to say goodbye to Clark. He swallowed the ache, and steeled himself when he heard the distinctive sound of feet setting down behind him. Just like Clark to remember he didn't care much for the flying routine. Lex didn't turn around.

"I got your e-mail," Clark said.

Closing his eyes, Lex leaned against the wind. He didn't know how to do this, so he tried for quick and bloodless. "There's someone else. I'm sorry." When Clark circled around him, Lex gave up hope for bloodless.

Clark looked broken, his brows tilted at odd angles, lips searching for the shape to settle on to speak. No uniform, just faded blue jeans and a t-shirt, Superman hadn't come at all to this meeting. Finally, he insisted, with an empty smile. "You're lying."

"I'm not. You wanted the whole world, Clark. I'm not that magnanimous." Taking a step back, Lex steadied himself, trying to rationalize the grating fire running through him as something cathartic. "Feel free to blame me, it's my fault."

Throwing his hands out, Clark stalked toward him, blazing, beautiful with his temper. High color in his cheeks, pale eyes bleeding from green to blue to grey, the disbelief had burned away. "And it's over because you say it's over?"

Lex nodded, and turned to leave. "Yes."

Another thump of feet and Clark dropped to the ground in front of Lex, keeping him from walking away. Grabbing him by the shoulder, he slouched to demand, eye to eye. "Who? If you're not lying, then who?"

Glancing down at Clark's hand, Lex considered brushing it away. Touching him had always been so easy, spreading out on his skin, finding his mouth even in the dark- it was safer now to keep his hands to himself. Looking up, Lex heard himself say, "Chloe. I doubt she'll have me, but I'm going to try."

At first, Clark said nothing. The silence hung between them, like a second given to undo the previous one, a momentary chance for reprieve that never came. Then his frozen expression melted, black at the edges of tense lips, shadows cast across his eyes. Betrayal aged him in a way time never had. "You son of a bitch."

"So I've been told." Lex could taste salt in the back of his throat, every breath just a little harder to take than the last. Just one foot in front of the other, all he had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other, the stairwell door was only a few more feet away. Don't stop walking, and don't look back.

"Damn it, Lex, wait!"

He didn't look back.

-September-

Clark could do the math. Streaking through the sky to catch a prop plane that had guttered out, he could do the math. Diving into a burning building to pluck out a lone, lost firefighter, he could do the math. No matter what he was doing, no matter who he was saving, he could do the math. Chloe had started to show, and Lex had only been gone two months. Two months gone, four months pregnant. His first love, his best friend, making negative numbers together, and he hated them for it.

Morbidly fascinated with poking the wound, Clark liked to listen. He stole spare moments to hover outside Lex's office, to hear him tell his secretary that Chloe's calls should always be put through. And then, outside the penthouse, to hear Chloe argue Lex down about doing things the way normal people did- no limos, no private doctors, no nannies. They sounded like strangers to Clark, bizarre, ordinary people he used to know.

Sometimes, he watched. An hour here, following the whipthin woman Lex had hired to discreetly protect Chloe; an hour there, standing just a few feet away while Chloe filched a few green grapes while weighing a pound of red ones. They may have pushed Clark away, but Clark was still there, damn it. Daytime, nighttime, and all the seconds that marked time; if Clark had a spare moment, he spent it following them.

Dark, pervasive fingers clutched and spread in his chest, worming their way through his skin: jealousy and anger and loneliness and longing, hatred and love, and he was sick with it. He'd punched his way through the atmosphere, crashed back into the earth, been seriously tempted to tip over the Eiffel Tower, but it wasn't enough. It would never be enough, he would never understand how he'd lost them both, trying to do the right thing.

Clark liked Superman. He liked falling off a building forever before taking flight, he liked pulling little kids out of flooded storm sewers, he liked bending guns into pretzels- he liked the freedom. He didn't have to hide anymore, not really, and with Superman, his gifts finally felt like gifts instead of impediments. He could be strong, he could be fast, he could look through walls and everyone -loved- him for it. Well. Almost everyone.

Digging his heels in, Clark leveraged himself against the subway train.. His fingerprints would stay etched in the metal, but no one would mind. Number Four Train made an unscheduled stop just before the 65th Street station- better than brakelessly careening into a tunnel that ended in stone brickwork a few miles away. This save felt particularly spectacular- sparks flying from the wheels, the scream of protesting steel echoing for miles. Only a few people saw him this time, round, grateful faces peering from the back windows. Still, Clark smiled and waved before he disappeared back down the tunnel.

As he surfaced, Clark stepped off the earth. Maybe he didn't need to understand anything, maybe the problem belonged to Lex and Chloe. If they couldn't grasp that what he did had importance, then... well, fuck them. He smiled again, to himself this time- Superman believed in truth, justice, and the American way. Superman didn't hate anybody, and he definitely didn't curse the two people he used to love best. But Clark did, rising up a hundred stories to seek out the penthouse for a few minutes of spying before moving on. Fuck them.

The penthouse resembled a dollhouse, long walls of uncovered, glittering glass tinted slightly blue offered an unparalleled view of the city below, and unintentionally, an unparalleled view inside. Privacy had been of little concern, the architects had never intended for anyone to see the flat from the outside, so Clark could just stand in mid-air and watch unimpeded. A little diorama, Chloe-doll perked up at the sound of the front door opening, and Lex-doll let himself in, tossing his keys in a bowl. They met in the living room, and Chloe waved a manila envelope between them. Consideration crossed Lex's brow, and they seemed to circle one another, almost tentative.

That part, Clark hadn't figured out. Sometimes, they seemed like an ordinary couple, sitting close and watching tv together late into the night, but they slept in separate bedrooms. She was pregnant, but for everything Clark could tell, they were only dating. Sometimes, he wanted to believe that Lex had taken her in out of pity, standing for chivalry when someone else hadn't, but Clark knew that was a stupid, empty hope. Chloe didn't do pity.

But she did do excited, like now, in spite of her tension. Watching them like television with the sound off, Clark's eyes leapt from one face to the other. Chloe's brows danced, she smiled tentatively. Leaning forward, closer to Lexmaybe teasing. Tipping his head, just slightly, Lex finally took his hands out of his pockets. Interest, that was interest, Clark recognized that, and then Chloe tossed her head, flicking hair from her face as she opened the envelope.

She handed Lex something dark and shiny, and the tension came back to crease the corners of her mouth. Studying him while he studied the sheet, Chloe bit her lower lip, waiting for Lex's gaze to come back up. When it did, Clark stopped fooling around and listened. He'd never seen Lex look quite like that, soft eyes, soft mouth, baffled and amazed all at once, and Clark had to know why.

Chloe exhaled and nodded, her voice distant, as if through water. "Yeah. I'm glad you said you wanted to know, because there's no way I could have kept it a secret. I'm usually good with secrets, but even I have my limits... Lex?"

"Yes?" Distracted, he looked at the sheet again. His fingers skimmed the edges, almost possessively.

"Will you love her?"

Clark forgot to hold himself up, plummeting down before catching himself. Looking at nothing, just the blank side of a building now, he tasted something sour and bitter in the back of his throat. It was real. All of this was real, Lex and Chloe and he listened over the sound of blood pounding in his ears.

"I already do."

"Will you tell her that? Every day?"

"I will."

Pushing off the building, Clark spread out over the city in an instant, ten blocks, twenty blocks away, but he'd still swear he could hear the soft breath of a kiss, the sound of an ending for him, a beginning for them.

He wouldn't watch anymore.

Learning to negotiate with her body, Chloe tore open a package of Twinkies as she headed for the elevator. She'd made a deal with her stomach: it would get all the snack cakes it wanted, if it agreed not to recoil at the introduction of her horse-pill vitamins. So far, so good, and really, it wasn't that bad. She looked at her reflection in the elevator walls, just a little roundness at her belly, and wow, who'd notice the belly with the way she filled out her sweater these days? The new weight was a little disconcerting, but she thought she looked kind of sexy like this.

She definitely felt sexy, sensitive all over, running just a little warm all the time. Rubbing her thighs together became a whole new thrill, heck, even getting dressed became foreplay. She saw sex everywhere- the mail boy would scream and run if he had any idea what she thought about when he bent over his cart, unsuspecting businessmen would keel over if they realized she had them mentally half-undressed and begging to be spanked, oh yes, Chloe, oh yeah... She didn't even have the decency to blush anymore.

The first trimester sucked, morning sickness that perversely showed up at six in the evening also sucked. But the hormones? So good. So very, very good, and so was eating Twinkies for breakfast and lunch, and now that she thought about it, they were kind of phallic. Taunting her with their long, golden length and creamy filling, and one day very soon, Lex was going to get the shock of his life, yes indeed. It had taken her a while to believe he'd put her first, but he had. And it had taken a little longer for the sense that Clark lingered between them to fade, but it did.

These days, Lex looked at her like no one ever had. He kissed her good night, and sometimes brought flowers, and remembered that the scent of kung pao chicken did horrible, bad, no good things to her. He listened when she talked, following the shape of her mouth with his gaze, looking into her instead of at her. Everything he did, the way he held her hand at doctor's appointments, the way he smoothed his fingers against the small of her back when they went out, radiated with an intensity that made her skin tingle.

Really, except for the not-so-little matter of being pregnant, they had a perfectly normal courtship going on. He asked her on dates, for god's sake, and being the liberated woman she was, she asked him, too. Movies and dinners, museums and zoos, and Shakespeare in the park before it got cold, she'd enjoyed watching his glacier cool melt to reveal someone she hadn't known existed. Lately, those kisses good night lasted a little longer before parting, and sometimes she found herself wandering through the parts of the penthouse he inhabited, just to catch a hint of his spicy, warm scent.

Polishing off her second Twinkie, Chloe grinned and wondered what would happen if she just nailed him. Bam, hi honey, welcome home, take me now or regret it. Maybe she'd find out. Maybe she'd find out tonight, maybe she'd just peel him right out of that solemn suit, push him down on the couch and have her way with him. With that, she laughed quietly to herself, delighted with her own shameless decadence.

"Good morning, Miss Sullivan. You seem to be in high spirits."

Jerked out of her hormone-addled reverie, Chloe looked up. Her smile died. "Mr. Luthor."

Lionel stepped into the elevator, then leaned past her, selecting a floor with a decisive punch. He was immaculate, every sharp line in place, architecturally constructed to look bigger than he was. Even his smile held geometric angles, as if he'd spent time calculating the precise measurements necessary to create it. "It's so nice to meet you, I've heard... absolutely nothing about you."

Recognizing a lie, Chloe ignored the cold knot tightening in her chest, and lifted her chin. She wouldn't look away, she could swallow the uneasy fear that threatened to break the deal she'd made with her stomach. Nobody, not even Lionel Luthor, would be allowed to back her down. She'd interviewed politicians and murderers, she could manage this just fine. "Really? I've heard all about you."

"You flatter me..."

She cut him off. "I don't, really."

His smile didn't falter, but it did fade a little. Darker and sharper, he glanced toward the lights marking off the floors. "Got yourself in a little trouble, did you? Does Lex think it's his?"

An insinuation designed to make her feel small, to make her doubt, but she just smiled. He didn't know enough about the situation to craft a barb that would actually stick, and Chloe had thick, thick skin when she wanted to. "Yeah, I know it's hard to admit you're old enough to be a grandfather. I hear a nice Ferrari does wonders for a midlife crisis, though. You should look into it."

"You fascinate me, Miss Sullivan." Lionel slipped his hands into his pockets, rocking back on his heels. "Most people wouldn't dream of speaking to me that way."

"Most people give a shit about what you think." Cheerful, Chloe tugged her bag onto her shoulder. Mouthing off had always been her speciality, especially to people who thought they were better than the rest of the world. She did it every day at the paper, leveling giants, elevating the everyman, and Lionel Luthor could go to hell if he thought he could scare her.

Turning to look at her, he frowned, every hint of amusement scoured from his features. "You wouldn't want me for an enemy."

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "Neither would you." She adjusted her bag again when the elevator dinged, her new, amazing body poised to escape the moment the doors opened. When they did, she stepped out, and whirled around to make sure the last thing he saw was her smile. In a moment of completely inspired lunacy, she wiggled her fingers at him in a wave. "Have a nice day, Mr. Luthor. I plan to."

Funnily enough, he didn't wave back.

-

After lunch (more Twinkies! Okay, and a salad with a caffeine-free soda, which was just wrong, as far as Chloe was concerned, but sacrifices had to be made,) she returned to her desk to find a spray of tiger lilies bobbing lazy heads from a vase on her desk. Orange, freckled flowers on thick emerald stems, she loved them in all their outrageous, overstated glory.

Her co-workers tried not to look too interested, shifting at their desks and peeking over their monitors. Flowers meant occasions, and occasions meant wasting a good thirty, forty minutes of company time to talk about it. Plucking the card out, Chloe sat down to read it. Everybody would get their chance to get paid for goofing off, but not until she was darned good and ready to share.

Tracing her fingers over bold, angular handwriting, she sank down with a glow. 'Heard you talked to dad. Well done. Dinner tonight at Mancini's?' Well, that answered the question as to whether or not he'd be mad, she decided, leaning over to pick up the phone and dial him. Fanning her face with the little card, she smiled when Marie answered, politely answering Chloe's inquiries about her day before putting her through to Lex.

"Chloe!" Lex's voice came through, rich and amused and a little bit tinny.

"Take me off speaker, you know that drives me crazy," she said, sliding her chair under her desk to bob one of the flowers with the tip of her finger. As soon as the white noise hiss of the speaker switched off, she grinned. "Somebody sent me flowers. Any idea who that might be?"

He laughed. "Not a clue. Must be someone who holds you in high regard. What kind of flowers?"

Flicking one of the blossoms again, she watched it quiver on its stem. "Tiger lilies."

"Your favorite."

"I know." Propping her chin in her hand, Chloe curled around the phone. "He invited me to dinner. Ritzy place, too. Think I should go?"

She could hear the smile in his voice, and if she closed her eyes, she could imagine they way he looked. Probably fiddling with something on his desk, leaning back in his chair, watching clouds go by in the reflection on his monitor. "Couldn't hurt to give the poor guy a chance."

"Maybe I will," she said. A lot of chances, so she could sit close and let his voice wrap around her, and when he stopped talking, she'd press her mouth to his, to silence, except for soft, pleasured murmurs. Flopping back in her chair, her abandoned blush returned, warming her cheeks with a pleasant sting. "Sometime around eight?"

"He'll be there. And Chloe? Make sure you tell him how lucky he is to be enjoying your company."

Chloe found herself listening to the dial tone after that, but she didn't mind. Sprawling back in her chair, she turned the card over in her fingers, Lex's voice still playing in her head. Oh yeah. He was getting nailed tonight.

-January-

Kansas winters had a nasty tendency of hiding bitter cold beneath crystalline beauty. Wescott's operated only a few blocks away from the office, and Lex had been fooled into walking instead of calling his driver by a blue sky that went on forever. He wouldn't make that mistake on the way back. Brushing snow off his shoulders, he relished the sudden blast of heat as he walked into the shop.

Rubbing his hands together, he acknowledged the clerk with a nod, and started a slow pace at the first glass case, closest to the door. Gazing past his reflection, he considered strands of pearls as thick as this thumb, spread out on blue velvet to make them glow. Clunky topaz pendants, intricate sapphire earrings, if he listened, he could hear an echo of Chloe's voice mocking them in all their extravagance.

She made things pleasantly difficult. She liked to budget, and save up for things; she'd drive until her lamentably domestic car wheezed on fumes, just to make sure she didn't pay a penny too much for gas. At Christmas, she'd dropped her head in his lap and played endlessly with the palm pilot he'd stuffed in her stocking as an afterthoughtshe' d probably never wear the diamond earrings. At the same time, without even trying, she proved her theory that it's the thought that counts by presenting him with a scrapbook.

Watching over his shoulder, she'd studied his reaction as years of his mother's life unfolded on thick, black paper. It must have taken her weeks, digging up old society pages, hounding society matrons for cotillion programs and photographs. Somehow, she'd managed to find yearbook pictures for every year of his mother's education, except fourth grade. Lillian had had scarlet fever and wasn't allowed to go to school, Chloe explained.. He'd never known that.

So Chloe presented a challenge. He couldn't impress her by pulling strings, or bringing home the biggest and best, and Lex found himself in the odd position of having nothing to offer, but himself. It wasn't until he'd found her sprawled in their bed, reading papers he'd written in college, that he believed -he- would be enough.

Talking became their currency. Any story, every story fascinated her, and she happily shared in kind. No one could tell a story quite like Chloe. Her face would light up, she'd draw diagrams in the air, her hands flew through wild gesticulations, she rolled her eyes and frowned, smiled and laughed, and when she finished, she'd fall back with a slump, exhausted from living it all again.

Lex fell in love with the five year old girl who threatened an expose in the family newsletter if her parents didn't take her to get ice cream, the ten year old who broke her arm falling out of a tree trying to take pictures of UFOs, the thirteen year old who had to dress in the bathroom so her posters wouldn't see her naked, the fifteen year old who took The Torch by sheer force of will, the twenty year old who crawled through ventilation shafts to get pictures of the college football team trading steroids like candy. They had ambition in common, but he fell in love with the woman who had really -lived- every moment of her life.

When Baylor Wescott finally shuffled out of the back room, Lex put aside the past to concentrate on the future. The jeweler dipped behind the glass, mumbling cheery assurances that young Mr. Luthor would like this, yes he would. Standing again, Wescott cradled a black velvet box in hands that seemed too blunt to do delicate work. He leaned forward and caught Lex's eye, pride shimmering on his ruddy face. "Hold your breath, sir."

Perfection. Strands of red gold twined with white, fingers of the metal clutching a small, perfect diamond, one Lex had confidence she'd wear, if she said yes. The stone had a story, one Gabe Sullivan had told him over coffee and a long, serious conversation about Lex's intentions toward his daughter. Chloe's mother had worn it, and her grandmother, and her grandmother before her, and as long as the man was willing to do right by her, one day Lex's little girl should wear it, too.

Initiated into a real family tradition, Lex had taken the stone to the man his mother had trusted to make a watch that would last a lifetime. The ring would, too, if Chloe said yes.

-

Lex stood behind a shelf of run-sheets, listening to the buzz in Chloe's newsroom reach a hushed drone when she stepped off the elevator. No fool, Chloe noticed the eyes on her, the sudden change of tone as she wound her way toward her desk. Round and heavy, she clutched the arms of her chair to lower herself down, still casting sharp eyes at her newly quiet co-workers. "What, haven't you ever seen a house come back from lunch before? Jeez."

Propping her feet on a stack of discarded telephone books, Chloe leaned over her belly to get to the bud vase decorating the middle of her desk. Lex had hung the card and ring from the stem of one wildly out-of-season tiger lily, and he swallowed a smile when she nearly dropped the ring in surprise. She seemed almost suspicious when she opened the card, on which he had simply written, 'Look down. Then look up.'

Always contrary, Chloe looked up first, scanning the faces of fellow reporters who'd suddenly found a thousand things to busy themselves with. Furrowing her brows in a suspicious knot, Chloe clutched the ring in her hand and cast her gaze to her desk, pushing aside post-it notes and memos, uncovering a copy of The Metropolis Bugle. She leaned her head back, then unearthed the broadsheet. Reading the headline, then reading it again, her lips moved faintly with the words, 'Questions Surround Heirloom Diamond.'

With a shallow breath, Lex stepped from behind the shelf, and waited. He ached with restless motion, forcing himself to stand still, drawing in half-breaths, and it seemed like forever before she looked up again. His throat gone dry, Lex was glad for the ten feet separating them, it made mouthing his question seem subtle and romantic, when the truthfully, a clutch of fear had stolen his voice. "Will you marry me?"

The question hung between them, a terrible, frightening silence. Lex had planned everything to excruciating detail. A proposal in the paper she loved, at the job she loved, her favorite flower and her mother's engagement stone, and asking this time, because he wanted -her- and not just a family they'd started unintentionally. For all his planning, only the answer mattered; the one thing he wanted most was the one thing he couldn't control.

Second to no one, Chloe pressed the heel of her hand under one eye, her generous lips twitching with disbelief, then slipped the ring on, down to her knuckle. It would fit after the baby was born.

-February-

Clark could do the math. Without a conscious thought, he'd started scanning the newspapers at the beginning of February, and didn't stop until the 13th. He found what he was looking for in tiny print, in the Home & Family section. Metropolis General Births: Luthor, Alexander and Sullivan, Chloe, Girl.

Half a year had passed since Clark had seen them last; he'd kept the promise to himself not to watch anymore. The separation had done him good. He still ached sometimes when he went to bed alone, but he didn't wake up reaching for Lex anymore. He saved his strange Superman stories for Wally and Diana now, and shared everyday oddities with Lois; funny that it took three people to fill up the space that one Chloe used to.

Spending his nights patrolling the city, spending his days writing stories about it, Clark was happy enough. At the moment, his most committed relationship was with the cactus his mom had potted for him. It didn't seem to mind what time he came in, and it didn't get lonely when he disappeared for days at a time.

He stepped off the crosstown bus- sometimes, he just liked to do things the way everyone else did, and looked up at the hospital. Maybe he shouldn't have come. Inside, taking the elevator to the fifth floor, he thought he definitely shouldn't have come. Still, he made his way down the hall, an understuffed teddy bear flopping in his arm. They weren't friends anymore, but they had been once, and that had to count for something.

The right room was easy enough to find. Clark only had to look for the room with an armed guard standing outside it, the same chiseled woman he'd seen following Chloe months before. Clark doubted he was on the visitor's list, so he sped up to her, and gave her a little tap. It wouldn't be a long nap, and hopefully she wouldn't have a headache when she woke up. He sat her neatly in a chair, then slipped through the door.

"Did you get extra onions? Because I really need..." Chloe trailed off when she saw Clark. Shifting in the rocking chair, she tugged her robe a little better closed. "Clark."

"I brought a bear," he said, holding the toy up by its arm, trying to find a smile for her. He didn't know what to say; he'd hoped this would be easy. Instead, he ached all over again, missing Smallville, missing the past, missing his best friends. Setting the toy at the foot of her bed, he tried for the smile again. "I won't stay. I just wanted to... I just wanted to congratulate you."

Stretching out, Chloe pulled the bassinet over to scoop her arms under a small, snuffly bundle. Turning back to him, she invited him closer with a nod of her head. "This is Helena. Helena, Clark. Clark, Helena."

Clark extended a tentative finger, brushing it against a tiny hand. Lena wriggled once, but didn't open her eyes. She was small, and red, with a pinched little face under red-gold curls. Ten fingers, ten toes, and canny enough to make her appearance early so she'd never have to share her birthday with a holiday, there was no mistaking this was Lex and Chloe's daughter. "It's nice to meet you, Helena."

"She's going to be a firecracker, Clark." Cradling the baby against her chest, Chloe lost herself in quiet for a moment, adjusting and readjusting her arms to make a perfect bed. "Isn't she amazing?"

Nodding, Clark smiled when the baby curled possessive fingers around one of his. "Good grip, too."

"You just missed Pete," she said. She pushed her feet against the floor, rocking gently. "He brought the giant giraffe, said his name was Pooky." Laughing, she rolled her eyes. "Babies make people go insane or something."

"Must be all the cute." Any minute now, the bodyguard would wake up, and Clark thought he heard Lex's voice in the distance. Time to go. Seeing Chloe, he could handle. In spite of the dark circles under her eyes, she was beautiful, but more importantly, happy, and that's honestly all he'd ever wanted for her. "Has your dad seen her yet?"

"Oh yeah, he's totally in love." She reached for his hand, turning her face up to look at him. "You don't have to go yet, Clark."

"I'll be around," he promised, brushing a kiss on her cheek.

He was gone before she could reply.



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