TITLE: The Story of Today
DISCLAIMER: Characters are not mine...blah, blah...property of DC Comics, the WB et al. SPOLIERS: Plays with elements from "Hourglass", "Jitters" and "Drone".
The headline reads "SUPERMAN SAVES THE DAY!", another article by Lois Lane that toes the line between objectivity and idolization. There's a photo too, black and white, of a man in tights zooming off after performing his heroic, good deed of the day. Also on the front page is an article detailing Lex Luthor's latest corporate takeover. Five hundred people retrenched; a nice, round figure. The personal relations' spin on it is that several thousand jobs were saved because the company had been failing, and so isn't it better to be swallowed up by LuthorCorp?
"Either pay for it or move on," snaps the attendant manning the newsstand.
Chloe blushes although she really has nothing to be embarrassed about (because since when has looking been a crime?), but still... And feeling awkward and ridiculous she fumbles with her purse in search of exact change. There's a grumble about the number of pennies she hands over and something in the attendant's eyes -- judgment. She snatches a copy of the Daily Planet and flees, owner of a product that she never wanted in the first place. And didn't Psychology 101 at Metropolis University have a lecture on compliance and sales pressure, which makes Chloe Sullivan another victim in a long line of victims?
It's a nice brooding thought to mull over during the train ride to work.
Break time and everyone is outside enjoying a quick smoke. She bums one off a co-worker because the rent was due last week and the second notice from the electricity company sits on her kitchen bench, and cigarettes are expensive. It's pleasure though, to suck in the tobacco, the chemicals and the carcinogens.
"Those things will kill you."
She turns and blows smoke in the speaker's face; a little disappointed that he doesn't cough, but not really surprised at his non-reaction. "So will cigars."
"Touch, Ms. Sullivan," he acknowledges with an almost smile.
Her co-workers huddle to the side of her, stealing side-way glances and speaking in deliberate, hushed tones. Chloe ignores them as does he. He's probably used to the attention and speculation though -- something his mere presence always draws. After all, he is Lex Luthor.
"Clark sent you." It's more a statement of fact than a question.
"People are concerned about you."
Chloe snorts, her only possible reply.
"This isn't the life you were meant to live," he says. "You belong in Metropolis, not here. My limo is waiting."
She thinks about her life: a customer service operator answering the phones day in and day out with a `Welcome to XXX. My name is Chloe Sullivan. How can I help you?' It is the same spiel, everywhere she goes, every company the temp agency sends her to. And she's heard so many stories, so many complaints, from the other side of the line. But has she really helped any one of them? And is that the meaning or purpose of her life? She pretends to take the time to consider his offer before quipping, "My shift doesn't finish until 5:30 p.m. Sorry."
"Not good enough, Ms. Sullivan." And there's something in his manner which screams more of Clark Kent than Lex Luthor; something of ideals and expectations; something of pity and disappointment; and it is judgment all over again.
"What's that supposed to mean? Not good enough for who? You? Clark? My dad? He's dead, Lex. I don't think he cares one way or the other."
"Not good enough for you. You were meant for great things. Great things."
"Well, I prefer mediocrity." She takes several quick puffs of the cigarette in a veiled attempt to hide her agitation, her trembling hands.
"No one prefers mediocrity, least of all you. You have fifteen minutes, Chloe. I'll be waiting in the limo."
Lex Luthor leaves confident that she will follow, and she hates that he's right. Hates that he knows not her so well but human nature. She hears someone call her a `lucky bitch', another person whispering (too loudly) `whore' and a murmur about `selling your soul'. The cigarette falls from her fingers and with the heel of her shoe she swivels it into the ground before turning and leaving. It joins the pile of discarded butts.
The penthouse is almost everything Chloe imagined it to be. It's neat and ordered; in fact the word `anal' springs to mind. There's a vase of yellow tulips, out of season, resting on a table that would make expensive firewood. She does a quick catalogue of items that Lex has collected in his home: books, paintings, ornaments, the world as a big, blue ball resting on an angle.
"I like your globe," she says, walking over and examining it.
"It was a present." He pauses before revealing a seemingly insignificant tidbit. "Clark gave it to me."
She can barely choke back the connotations of that remark, and yet there are no photos of Clark to be seen.
"Would you like a drink, Chloe?" he asks, all polite.
She says, "No, thank you. Where are the pictures of Clark?"
He says, "There aren't any."
Chloe doesn't know what to say to that; doesn't know if she should read anything into it. But the penthouse is almost everything she imagined it to be. Almost. There are no signs of Clark Kent anywhere, and she feels like she's started a book in the middle or maybe the end.
"What am I doing here?"
"Here, on this earth? Or here, in my apartment?" He's suddenly hovering over her, eyes watching as she plays with the globe.
"In your apartment."
He smirks and then offers, "Are you sure I can't get you a drink?"
"I'm fine. Where's Clark?"
"I assume he would be in the offices of the Daily Planet, working. Where you should be."
"I'm not a journalist, Lex. And why isn't Clark here?"
"You have a degree in journalism," he points out.
"Simon, the programmer at work, was an English major. A piece of paper doesn't determine one's future."
"My birth certificate would beg to differ."
Chloe lets it go because she can't quite think of an argument against that, besides they're getting side-tracked from what she wants to know, which is: "Why isn't Clark here?"
"Because he is at work."
She remembers the last time she had seen Clark and Lex. Lex and Clark. Together. Clark's face had been flushed; a rosy hue coloring the apples of his cheeks. And he had been so eager and earnest and happy and beautiful. Beautiful in that perfect, perfect way which still makes Chloe envious. Makes Chloe think of the injustice of this world that a guy could be that pretty. Makes Chloe squirm because despite being fully dressed Clark had so obviously been suffering the effects of post-coital bliss. He had even been wearing that ridiculous grin that screamed, `I just got laid!' And Lex had appeared looking immaculate as usual, but he was smiling. She remembers Clark reaching out, and their hands intertwined. Clark and Lex. Lex and Clark. Together.
Lex's hands are empty now. He is leaning against the back of a nearby chair, allusive and a little smug and avoiding her real question. He's being infuriating in that particular manner which has always rankled Chloe. And it would be so easy to leap across the floor and throttle him, or maybe bash him over the head with the nice handy globe. Instead she settles for snapping at him because she's still not quite ready to go to jail for murder one. "You told me Clark would be here. And aren't the two of you together?"
"I never said that Clark would be here," he denies.
"You did. I asked if Clark sent you and you said yes."
"You assumed," Lex chides. "Never assume. You said `Clark sent you', and I neither denied nor affirmed that statement."
"What about -- never mind." There are so many questions, too many questions, but Chloe knows that she won't get any answers. And it's a good thing that she has learnt to restrain her natural curiosity. Still, if it wasn't for Clark's persuasion then: "What am I doing here, Lex?"
"There's an inscription," he informs her, gesturing to the bottom of the globe. "To Alexander: defender of mankind." His thumb brushes across the engraved words, and then with a sudden flick of his hand Lex Luthor makes the world spin. "You want to know why you're here? You're here because you deserve better, Chloe."
Over a cup of black coffee and toast it occurs to her that this might be the closest she's seen to an angry, out-of-control Lex. The tell-tale signs are a tightened jaw, narrowed eyes and fists which he continuously clenches and flexes.
"What makes you think that there is anything wrong?" he asks, and seems so unflappable that it's almost as if Chloe has imagined the tension in his demeanor.
Three months of living with Lex Luthor (not really living with, but more like a tenant), and Chloe has made the effort to observe him. Not that she sees him much. Mornings are her best chance. She has never seen him arrive home except...once.
It had been around three a.m. She remembers being restless that night and having heard the click as he opened the door. Hidden in the night shadows she had watched him walk over to his liquor cabinet and pour himself a drink. She thinks it was a glass of scotch although she's not sure. The top two buttons of his blue shirt were undone and he had almost looked unkempt, very un-Lex-like. He had gone out to the balcony and stared at the night sky, as if he was searching for something or...someone. Chloe recollects the glow of a quarter moon and the stars that had shed faint light over his figure. She remembers the hollow of his throat looking very pale, too pale, and he had seemed almost human. Touchable. Back to the present and she reiterates, "What's wrong?"
"That's rather broad and open and begs the question: what is right?"
She places her cup down, gets up from her chair, and still holding her half-eaten toast moves to the other side of the room where Lex is standing. She spots the paper, fallen on the floor, and in big, bold font the words "SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF TOMORROW" leap out at her.
"Nice slogan," she comments lightly. It is a nice slogan, and familiar in a way beyond coincidence. She notices a picture accompanying the article. A black and white photograph. And Superman stands proud and beautiful like an ancient Greek or Roman statute. She thinks it must be something he's picked up from Lex.
"Yes, very nice," Lex concurs. "You know, the way Ms. Lane writes, it would appear that she's endorsing Superman as our next President."
"Truth, justice and all that other stuff," Chloe finds herself paraphrasing. And she's a teenager again with passion, ideals, strength of convictions and an unrequited crush on one of her best friends. Ex-best friend. But she can still smell damp earth in the air, fresh and crisp.
"And all that other stuff," he says, and she thinks she sees regret and nostalgia in his eyes but something else overpowers. It's a kind of anger, a kind of disdain, a kind of love gone wrong. And in this reflective mood he asks the question she's been expecting a lot sooner than this, "Why did you quit, Chloe?"
"Journalism wasn't what I expected. You think it's about reporting fact and investigating truth but it's not. And there's always someone editing your work. God, I was so nave. I should have known better. I did know better but I was living in a state of willful blindness. Only when you open your eyes and see..."
"It's kinda difficult to close them again," Lex finishes. "I admire you for your unwillingness to compromise, but it can also be dangerous. If you're too inflexible, you'll be the bough that breaks. I've learnt that in life, fact and truth are subjective. And beyond that, I think even Superman would agree that some lies are necessary." He says this with a focus on the irony rather than the hypocrisy.
She ponders over everything Lex has said. Lies. Truth. Destiny. Greatness. Rigidity and the breaking point. She thinks about the choices she's made, and how her friends didn't understand and thought her crazy. That split-second decision to quit journalism; to hop into Lex Luthor's limo. Funnily enough, the one thing that dominates her thoughts is her father. More specifically that Saturday, years ago, in Smallville, Kansas inside the plant: "Hello, everybody, I'm Gabe Sullivan, plant manager and proud father. Welcome to LuthorCorp, where we give a crap."
She knows, for sure, why she is here.
Later that day, after Lex is long gone, Chloe begins to construct a story from the pieces she has collected over the years:
a boy saving a man;
an unexpected friendship;
secret, stolen glances;
heated, passionate touches;
a falling out and separation;
two fathers and two destinies...
Any gaps will be hers to fill.
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