Spoilers: I consider anything through "Ryan" to be fair game.
Feedback: Please! It helps me so much. Lemur710@aol.com
Author's Webpage: www.geocities.com/jerboa_lemur
Disclaimers: I don't own them. I just like to put words in their mouths and minds.
*"By Chloe Sullivan"*
Chloe rested sprawled out on her bed, writing her latest article in her notebook. Usually, she was strictly an on-computer composer, but her laptop battery was charging downstairs, readying for her next trip out.
"Chloe, are you awake?" her father called from downstairs.
"Dad, it's almost noon." That should be answer enough. She was a teenager, yes, but she was a proactive teenager with stories to find and articles to write. The news waited for no one.
A soft knock sounded at her door before her father pushed it open. "I was going to do some yard work today, put the massive leaf piles into the composter. You want to help?"
"It's hard for me to say this, but no," she answered, standing up from bed. "But constructive criticism: you really need to work on your sales pitch.
"I lost you when I mentioned the composter, didn't I?"
"Sort of, but I was planning to leave soon anyway." She grabbed her shoulder bag, loading, or rather over-loading it with all the things she knew she would need and all the items she just might need and wouldn't want to be without if that singular and nearly impossible circumstance should happen to occur. Be prepared - it wasn't just a motto for Boy Scouts.
"Where are you going?" Her father asked, looking unusual even to her in his work jeans and t-shirt. He was usually a casual business attire sort of man.
"I was thinking about going to the Talon, throwing back a few lattes and getting this last article done for tomorrow's Torch."
He smiled at her, that little fond, humoring and yet somehow entirely condescending smile. That smile that said, "My daughter, the reporter. Isn't that just adorable?" To which Chloe always wanted to reply, "Emphatically not!"
"Okay, just be back by dinner. And maybe I'll save the compost for tomorrow when I have your help." He winked at her and shut the door. He was a great dad. A little on the geeky side, but then again, so was she, so it balanced itself out on some cosmic scale. But sometimes she felt like he didn't entirely understand her journalism bent, like he thought it was a cute hobby. That infuriated Chloe to no end. If there was one thing her career choice was not it was "cute."
"Nice, Chloe," she muttered to herself. The day had just begun and already she was slicing a few more millimeters into that chip in her shoulder.
To the Talon, she declared internally. It was Lana's day off so the Talon would be uncharacteristically quiet and perfect for writing. Usually the place was the home of the daily ruckus: Clark rushing in looking for Lana, Lana frantic behind the counter, Pete dashing in looking for Clark.
As she swung her bag on her shoulder and walked out, she tried not to dwell on the fact that no one ever seemed to come bursting in looking for her.
Sipping her coffee slowly, Chloe stared fixedly at the pulsing cursor on the open page displayed on her laptop computer. She put on her most serious and pensive expression: Just because her mind was a total blank didn't mean the rest of the Talon's patrons had to know it.
It was just a stupid headline, but her mind wasn't being forth-coming. Not today anyway. Chloe had the distinct feeling that today she was in a funk. Not entirely unusual, granted, but still irritating. Funks kept work from getting done. And worse, funks made Chloe look too closely at situations she didn't want to examine. She could already tell that this was going to be a depressing day.
She chose to drown her accumulative sorrows in the Talon's fresh-brewed, likely foreign beans. Now that she thought about it, there were probably fields of poor migrant workers sowing the fields so that she could enjoy this trifling cup of java. She put it on her "to investigate" list: Possibly nefarious origins of Talon beans.
Even without bean scandals, it was entirely possible that this place was an endangered refuge for her. With Lana coming to live with them soon Chloe realized that the two of them were probably occasionally going to need some time alone, away from one another. As manager of the Talon, Lana got dibs. Maybe the Smallville Library was nice this time of year...
Lana Lang living at her house. What an impossibly bizarre notion and one she never would have imagined. And to think it was all her idea. Just plain weird. Not "Wall of Weird," but plenty weird enough and supernatural in its own way. Maybe the meteor rocks were affecting her judgment.
When Lana had first joined the periphery of their little group, Chloe wanted nothing more than a return to the days when "Lana Lang" was an unattainable ideal, a classic beauty who had no place in the real world and instead floated in the firmament, reminding everyone of what perfection was truly meant to be. In the firmament, at least, Clark couldn't reach her.
The cursor on the screen continued to bounce impatiently for her to continue. It was definitely beginning to taunt her, bobbing about like it knew the best way to start an article about a two-headed calf born on the outskirts of Smallville. Outskirts of Smallville, she mused. That saying might have derived from the days when women had many layers of skirts, making one of them, necessarily, the outer skirt, or outskirt. And as Smallville wasn't big enough to have outskirts, maybe the calf was really born more on the petticoats of Smallville.
Chloe pursed her lips, sarcastically congratulating herself on an excellent internal defensive mechanism. Think of Clark - distract with pointless word derivations. Nice.
Even now, she could recall the look in his eyes when he used to think of Lana ages ago when she was still unreachable in the ether. Chloe used to think of her as Clark's personal Barbie doll. As he'd never actually spoken to her, he didn't know her personality and so he had been left with the summary: beautiful, cheerleader, smart, boyfriend. With the exception of the smarts, that sounded a lot like Cheerleader Barbie complete with Ken.
Then, their whole high school scheme of existence had been thrown for a loop when Clark had worked up the courage to speak to her.
Chloe resisted the sudden intense desire to analyze the possible origins of the phrase "thrown for a loop."
Turns out, Barbie came with accessories, like a tragic past and a latent dissatisfaction with the pseudo-profession of leading cheers - and worse yet, a personality. Barbie was a person. Lana was a person. Chloe had hated that about her.
She was already beautiful and popular, why did she also have to be nice and caring? Why did she have to be human? Chloe had been comfortable with the pedestal. She liked that angle of Lana because she was never up high enough herself to look her in the eyes.
And then, when she had looked in those oft-admired eyes, she saw hurt and confusion, a need to be accepted. Not entirely dissimilar to Chloe herself. It had been easier to mock Clark's longing than to acknowledge Lana's pain.
Sometimes, Chloe still wanted to hate her, wanted to shove her back up on that pedestal and continue being unrequited by a boy who didn't know any better. Unrequited was better than unwanted. She'd had enough of being unwanted. She'd had enough of that the day she'd choked down the worst waffles ever made. Her father was a bad cook and being abandoned by his wife hadn't improved his culinary skills.
She leaned forward, poising her fingers over the keyboard more as a distraction than because she'd thought of anything to write. She had the whole story written out on a notepad. All it needed were a few minor, spur-of-the-moment improvements that always occurred to her as she typed. That, and it needed a headline. Stalled by a headline. Some journalist she was today. Stupid funk.
It was just as well Clark wouldn't be coming in. She was in no mood to watch him and Lana make serious little faces at one another and then declare that they're just friends. Chloe didn't even try to suppress the roll of her eyes. What the hell was with that phrase anyway? Just friends. Made it sound like being friends was something second best, something someone settled for, not aspired to.
What was so bad about being just friends? It sure was a lot more comfortable than being "just friends." She and Pete had never been anything more than friends and Chloe felt a tangible ease in that. They could walk right beside one another without even considering the thought of holding hands and when they came to the Talon's double doors, they each grabbed one and swung it wide, striding through together. She didn't hold doors for Pete, he didn't hold doors for her. They were comfortable, defined. Printed with byline.
They never gave a second thought to it. Then again, there had been that time when Pete had told her she was beautiful, said she never saw him because she was too focused on Clark - but he had been high on an extinct plant, so she couldn't really...
Another perfectly good friendship ruined by the evil, foul declaration of "just friends." The Nicodemus flower had released everyone's inner-self, allowed them to act without inhibitions and Pete had chosen to tell her she was beautiful - and kill Lex Luthor, but that really didn't play into her brooding at the moment. She and Pete had had to somehow crawl their way back toward comfortable. The only way to do that was to rely on the solemn "just friends."
It wouldn't bother her so much, that innocent saying, if it didn't seem to be all she had. As little hope as it had been, Chloe had held out hope that Clark would find the real Lana short of his expectations, that he would find out she had snorted when she laughed or that she was a closet devil worshipper or something, but no. Even with what could actually be called Lana's downsides - deceased parental unit issues, misguided occupational choices, boyfriend - Clark had still adored her. Chloe even suspected that he adored her more.
That's what hurt. Chloe knew she had faults, but no one loved her for them. Therefore, being "just friends" with Lana Lang was a letdown. With Chloe Sullivan, it was as much as they'd wanted.
She swallowed a mouthful of coffee over the lump in her throat, willing her tear ducts to become inactive. She wouldn't cry in public, not over something this trivial. Not over Clark Kent.
She set down her cup, her fingers over the keyboard. She would write something now. She would channel this obnoxious and unproductive angst into a fantastic and thought-provoking story about a three-headed cow. Three heads? Or was it just two? She looked down over her notes. "Two-headed cow." Three heads would have made a lot better headline.
Worst of all of it had been that Clark was right. Lana was wonderful, even if she was still a tad too demure for Chloe's personal taste. If she were a guy, Chloe didn't doubt that she, too, would have fallen prey to the subtle charms of Lana Lang. And they were friends now. Chloe didn't really know where that put her with either Clark or Lana.
Friends with both. Secretly - or not so secretly - crushing on one, while being covertly and seethingly jealous of the other. Was that a friendship or the set-up for some ridiculous Meg Ryan movie-esque love triangle?
She was equal parts ecstatic and wary of Lana coming to live with them. Ecstatic because a friend living with her was a childhood dream; it was like getting to choose her own sister, which, for an only child, is a seriously big deal. Wary because there was the understanding that every morning, she would wake up within feet of Lana Lang, her beauty, her sweetness...Chloe knew she could only pale in comparison and she wasn't sure how she felt about starting each day feeling pale.
Chloe knew she wasn't a beauty. She was a brain and evidently, at Smallville High, never the twain shall meet. She liked being admired for her mind, but it was occasionally insulting to be admired only for her mind like she was a sasquatch with a keen sense of wit, rather than a young, possibly pert and desirable young woman.
She'd heard the older boys in Smallville call Lana "jail bait," and more surprising were the soccer moms who called Clark the same thing. It was a loathsome, disrespectful and disgusting phrase, but just once, Chloe wouldn't have minded being considered "jail bait." She wouldn't have minded being desired purely for her body for just five minutes.
Despite the possible forthcoming damage to her ego, she found herself looking forward to sharing a domicile with the lovely and often annoyingly likable Lana Lang. Chloe busied her mind imagining the fun pseudo-slumber parties, staying up way too late to work on home work, the real Keanu DVD-athons, the utter coolness of having a caring friend there in the house, at breakfast in the morning, at dinner at night, sharing in her life. In a way, it made Lana hers in a way Clark could never hope to parallel.
Granted, yes, it wasn't about showing up Clark...well, it wasn't entirely about showing up Clark, but he deserved what he got. He'd told her that she didn't have a poker face - as if he and Lana, the reigning king and queen of open-book faces had any room to talk - but he was only partly right. She had half a poker face, just enough to mask half of how hurt she was.
If she hadn't had that, then Clark would have understood how devastated she had been when he'd left her at the Spring Formal. Even before she knew it had to do with Lana, she knew it had to do with Lana. It had been a painful understanding to reach, especially standing alone in a dark gymnasium dressed in a pink gown she had spent hours looking for, her hair done up professionally which she almost never did, while all around her girls huddled against their dates, but she understood: Clark would always chose Lana over her.
She had cried. Cried for hours at the dance when she could blame it on fear over the tornado. Cried for hours at night when she could tell her dad she was just scared for the people still missing. Cried silently when she woke up in the morning, blaming it on her newly-awoken and still too sensitive emotions.
But it had only ever been the painful understanding that Clark might settle for her, but he would never want her.
Outwardly, she had presented the best half of her poker face. She'd shown enough hurt to be believable, but hidden most of it behind a careful "just friends" faade. Those vile words again. And how quickly Clark had accepted the suggestion.
Chloe flexed her fingers, willing them to write, but no, of course they wouldn't. Not when her mind was choosing to recall such pleasant memories. The whole thing was just stupid; stupid in an obnoxiously immature and teenagerish way. So what if Clark was kind and sweet and brave and beautiful and had a body that really had no place being on a sixteen year-old boy? He could also be a real blockhead. And there were events happening in the world, real stories that needed to be told. In short, the world held greater wonders than Clark Kent.
Like two-headed cattle.
Her fingers clicked over the keys. "Two-Headed Calf Born, Farmer Pleasantly Surprised." Oh, yeah. She could smell the Pulitzer with this one. She quickly deleted the title. Headline wasn't important at the moment anyway; it was just stalling her. Best to start with the most vital part in any article. Carefully tapping her fingertips across the letters she typed:
"By Chloe Sullivan."
She smiled lightly. That still looked so good on screen, and even better printed out on paper. Setting her mind to the story, glancing briefly over her hand-written version, she began to write. The words flowed out of her in a journalistic style that she had not so much learned as sensed. Already, she could feel the tension easing out of her with every sentence.
It was weird. People called her a journalist, but Chloe knew that she was one. She hadn't decided to become a journalist, the thought had never solidified in her mind in that manner. It had just been how she thought. No one had needed to tell her the five Ws; she had instinctively marched into any mystery asking Who, When, Where, Why and What. No one had had to teach her how to write the words and make them flow at the precise eighth-grade reading level that was standard to newspapers, the words had just come into her mind that way, even though she could have written much loftier.
That's why it was aggravating when people would smile and nod at her, finding the cute little reporter just so darling, if misguided, and give vague assurances about the future. "I bet I'll see your name in the Planet one day." "I'm sure you'll make Smallville proud." She liked hearing all of that, but she didn't want them to say it, she wanted them to believe it. She wanted them to see it too, to see that she was gifted, that she was good.
Seeking out the stories, digging for the root of it all, that was what got her blood flowing and made her eager and thrilled to be alive. That was what made her feel valuable. It made her forget that she wasn't as beautiful as Lana Lang or as heroic as Clark or as funny as Pete. School, friends, family - they were vital and she needed them, but writing fed her whole being. It made her Chloe. And more importantly, it made being Chloe okay.
But no one saw that. They saw a spunky little blonde with a slightly unhealthy, but still adorably vehement attachment to the insignificant school paper. She was an anecdote, a clich, narrowed down to a one-line description. Chloe didn't like to view herself that way, to do so felt almost...obscene.
Her gravitational pull toward journalism wasn't adorable or endearing or cute. It was her life and it was bigger than she was. It transcended the Wall of Weird and the two-headed calf on the petticoats of Smallville.
But it could be narrowed down to one line:
"By Chloe Sullivan."
That was what it was all about really. Those three words. She was as confused and angsty as any teenager at Smallville High, but she did something with it. The Torch may not be The Daily Planet, or even The Inquisitor, but it was something productive, something useful. Something hers.
As the words continued to fill the screen, Chloe tried not to think about the depressing aspect of it. The aspect where she understood that, at times, she felt closer to her laptop computer than her friends.
It made sense on some psychological, Rorschach test kind of level. Her computer had her thoughts imprinted on it. It knew more of the inner-workings of her mind than anyone she knew. It was her confidant of 1s and 0s. But passionate though she was, she knew that that existence had a lot of elbow room, if wasn't entirely empty.
The computer didn't really know her. It didn't understand her devotion to writing or prefer her to Lana Lang. It was just a machine, no matter how real and visceral all the articles and bylines felt.
It couldn't love her and that's what Chloe wanted. Her father loved her and Pete and even Clark in his way, she reminded herself, but that wasn't the kind of love she was after, the kind she craved. In her pre-adult years, she'd never had a real boyfriend. She had had a brief and dysfunctional fling with a tortured and homicidal artist, but that hadn't ended well on the grounds of an actual homicide having been committed.
There was something sort of magical about the idea of dating someone. At its most pure, dating and most certainly marriage was a declaration. A declaration that two people had decided that they liked each other more than any other person they'd ever met. Chloe wanted some wonderful guy to decide that he liked her more than Lana Lang, more than any girl in Smallville High, that he liked her more than anyone else.
She wanted someone to love her so much that he truly wanted to have his name known in tandem with hers. Chloe and Blank. Like they were partners and confidants, one entity, but still individuals. And she wanted him to fall in love with her writing first. One day, he'd be reading an article in the Daily Planet and just sense that he had to meet this obviously talented and clever "By Chloe Sullivan."
She could picture it: Years from now, she and this nameless, faceless man of substance sitting at the table in their cozy breakfast nook, him working on his reports from the office while she typed at her computer. Their coffee cups resting on the table, the two of them resting in comfortable silence. Calm, relaxing, peaceful. No torrent of pre-teen emotions, no darting off to rescue the girl he really wants. Just the two of them, doing what they love, sitting in good company and content with that.
That entirely vague piece of imagining was Chloe's favorite. She could imagine how loved she would feel - not like a burning pyre of passion hot enough to consume them, but instead a simple ember. Hot enough to keep her warm for the rest of her life without ever burning out.
Sighing, Chloe acknowledged all of that as a silly teenage fantasy - and overly poetic at that - but it didn't mean the lack of it hurt any less. Times like this, sitting alone working on a story, she felt impossibly solitary, like no one did understand her except her faintly glowing computer screen. And the warmth it generated was hardly worth noting.
She sat back, looking at the quickly accumulating columns of words in her latest article. Not her best work on account of the pathetically mundane (by Smallville standards) subject matter, but not too shabby at all. She rarely had to proofread her stories for anything but typos, they always flowed out just as she wanted them to be.
Maybe that was another reason she was so fixated on the Torch. It was something in her life that was simple and effortless and something over which she had complete and total control. Nothing else fit that description, that was for sure.
She subtly growled at herself as she leaned back toward her computer. She should just be over this already, she insisted. She should be over him and yet, he was still there, lodged in her heart - or possibly somewhere near her stomach since thinking of him sometimes made her queasy.
Clark Kent, farm boy extraordinaire.
She hadn't been in love with him since day one, but day two had given her a moment's pause. By day three she was hooked. Even in middle school, he had been a looker. And so delightfully oblivious to it. Nothing more attractive than a gorgeous boy who has no idea he's gorgeous. He could talk her into giving him her dessert at lunch just by flashing that amazing smile - and she let him because she knew he didn't know his smile had that power.
If he had, of course, she would have kept her dessert firmly on her lunch tray, even if she didn't want it. Nothing got her ire up more than a man who used his appeal to get what he wanted.
A car's tires squealed to a stop on the street outside. Speak of the devil. Without even looking up, Chloe knew who had just arrived. Everyone on Smallville's main thoroughfare knew who had just arrived.
Lex Luthor, town pariah - and master of using his appeal to get what he wants.
Chloe pulled her laptop up onto her lap - novel idea - and scrunched back into the corner of the couch, hoping to obscure his view of her. She didn't feel like talking to anyone, let alone Lex Luthor. She was in more of a leave-me-to-my-sulking mood.
He unnerved her, which only served to get her nerve up. Actually, that was in his favor. Chloe was always at her wittiest and most clever when challenged and that was all Lex Luthor ever did. He didn't trust her or treat her very kindly and Chloe had long ago decided to take that as a compliment. It meant he viewed her as another newspaper reporter. He made her feel smart and sharp only because she suspected he didn't think she could be.
But in her current mood, she wasn't likely to be glib and she didn't want to ruin her standing with him. She was a formidable intellectual opponent - and he should never think otherwise.
He waltzed toward the building, dressed in black and royal purple, his hands tucked in his pants pockets as if he were so preternaturally balanced that he didn't need to swing his arms like everyone else. Chloe knew that most the folks in Smallville attributed his demeanor and his...aura to his Metropolitan origins, but having lived there as a girl, she was pretty sure that wasn't the case. No one else in Metropolis walked or moved like Lex Luthor - it was possible no one else in the world did.
She felt a shiver go down her back and gritted her teeth against it. She was not attracted to Lex Luthor, only...she was. But not for lack of trying to be otherwise. At first, she had staunchly chosen to hate him on Pete's behalf. After all, the Luthors had cheated his family out of their creamed corn factory, but then, it went against her nature to condemn him for that. He could only have been ten or eleven when the Ross brothers had sold their property to LuthorCorp and therefore logic clearly stated he could not have been the driving force in that deal. She couldn't blame him for something that he hadn't been able to control, no matter how much Pete did.
As for Pete's loathing of him on the grounds of Clark, Chloe found the issue less clear-cut. It was true that Clark sometimes - often - ignored them in favor of hanging out with Lex, but Chloe had never felt angry about that, just irritated. She chalked the whole thing up to the dynamic of savior and savee, a dynamic she would likely never understand. Clark had saved her, too, but she'd known him already. She hadn't met him in the guise of hero. That would have changed things entirely, she theorized.
Anyway, she disliked Lex Luthor for her own reasons. He had blown her off - in an insultingly clich manner with a fake phone call - when she tried to interview him and then there was the little factor of him trying so diligently to pair up Clark and Lana. Lana didn't need a playboy millionaire to encourage boys to ask her out.
Okay, so Clark apparently did need the encouragement to confess and give up on the "just friends" mantra, but it was just...not fair. Childish reasoning, yes, but why not? Chloe might have liked financial backing in her pursuit, if she could call it that, of Clark and where was Lex Luthor then?
At this exact moment, Lex Luthor was strolling through the door of the Talon. Chloe bent her head toward her computer screen, trying to appear as another random blonde in the coffeehouse. He walked right past her toward the counter and Chloe breathed a preliminary sigh of relief, feeling she had reached a better understanding of the 1950s.
Looking at him within today's standards, Chloe had always found it hard to believe that Elvis Presley was considered so wanton and depraved. His overt gyrations had seemed more comical than carnal in her opinion, but it had been a different era then. However, if she thought of Lex Luthor in the context of Smallville's own Elvis Presley, she could understand it.
He was not nearly so public or blatant and he certainly had a better fashion sense, but he had a similar affect. Both men served to awaken young girls to the concept of lust and sex and....Another chill slid down her spine. Yes, Lex Luthor definitely had that element to him. No wonder all the parents in Smallville had been worried. It worried her at times. He made her think things she usually didn't think.
She stole a peek at him as he stood waiting patiently in line at the counter. Maybe pheromones were released through the scalp and hair only served to dampen its potency, so Lex Luthor, with his signature baldness, had an undiluted olfactory presence. That could explain it. That could explain why he seemed so attractive just standing there, waiting to order coffee.
Fantasy was a time-honored tradition in her mind, but Chloe had always intercepted a roadblock. With Clark, her little daydreams could get pretty heated, but they always halted at hand-holding or enthusiastic, yet chaste, kissing, nothing particularly scandalous. But not so with Lex Luthor.
With him, she could imagine everything. She could imagine herself clinging to his bare shoulders, sweaty, gasping and calling out his name. She could imagine watching the descent of his smooth scalp as he kissed down her body, pausing between her legs to do something that made her back arch involuntarily, helping her find the nerves on her body she was only beginning to discover for herself. She could imagine pressing her lips and hands to the planes of his chest as she moved lower to return the favor and make even more discoveries.
That was entirely unlike her. Naturally, she blushed when she imagined these scenarios, but that didn't keep them from returning with reinforcements every time she saw him. The difference was, she felt, that unlike the corn boys of Smallville, Lex Luthor wasn't a boy - he was a man. That was such a silly, overly-subtextual way of thinking of it, but after weeks of deliberation, that had been the verdict. The appeal of Lex Luthor lay largely in his age and his experience.
Of course, the great clothes, car and house didn't hurt. Chloe wasn't materialistic in the least, but even she could appreciate the fine cut of a designer suit.
Hearing him ordering, knowing his attention must be focused on the cashier, she chanced another glance, admiring the perfect angle of his shoulders, his broad back tapering to his slim waist. Her dad was a healthy fellow, but he bore a common - and entirely fatherly - spare tire at his middle. As a result, Chloe had always found herself somewhat entranced by flat, muscled stomachs. Clark's was fantastic, not to put too fine a point on it, and she had had the pleasure of seeing it more than a few times. She felt mesmerized by Lex Luthor's build. He was smaller than Clark, more slender. Lithe and powerful where Clark was large and strong. His build was subtle, just like he was.
Chloe quickly averted her eyes when he idly looked around the assembled patrons, silently and urgently hoping he would fail to see her again. Speech, let alone witty repartee, would be difficult considering the topic of thought and the flush in her cheeks. He made her nervous and tingly, like she wanted to hike up her skirt and put on a cardigan to cover her cleavage at the same time.
She looked up, smiling, willing the red in her face to make her look like an apple-cheeked schoolgirl rather than a naughty schoolgirl thinking impure thoughts about her father's employer. "Oh, hi," she greeted, convincingly sounding caught unawares.
But what to call him? "Mr. Luthor" was too formal. "Lex," not formal enough. The only name that fit was "Lex Luthor," first and last name, like he was an entity and not a person, but that didn't lend itself to casual conversation. How are you today, Lex Luthor? Things going well at the plant, Lex Luthor?
"How are you?" she asked coolly.
He sidled over to her, smiling lightly. Poker face, Chloe, she reminded herself. He will not intimidate you. This is a base, physical appeal, the undiluted pheromones of a bald man, and that you can handle. It's not an intellectual attraction.
"I'm fine. Thanks," he answered. "What brings you to the Talon on a Saturday?"
She gestured toward her computer screen, narrowly saving it from switching to her screensaver and revealing she hadn't typed a word for five minutes. "Two-headed calf on the petticoats of Smallville."
"Petticoats..." he puzzled aloud, "because Smallville isn't large enough to have outskirts?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure of the etymology of that word."
"Believable enough. It's more important to convince others than to convince yourself."
"Is that an original Lex Luthor adage?"
"If you can't place it, then it must be," he replied smoothly, smirking.
Chloe just held his stare, trying not to shiver. Okay, so maybe there was a slight intellectual attraction.
"Do you usually write your articles here?" he continued.
"Sometimes," she said, amazing herself with her ability to sound like cool, collected Chloe. "Good for days when the house is too quiet. Here there's the murmur of voices, the hum of innocuous, easily-ignored pop music and a steady supply of warm and reasonably priced caffeinated beverages."
He listened, regarding her with a pensive gaze, one part of which made her feel naked while the other part made her wish she was - though, not, of course, in the middle of the Talon. But she thought she saw something else in it as well. She would have identified it as loneliness, if she hadn't been sure that Lex Luthor would never betray so vulnerable an emotion.
"You've convinced me," he said resolutely.
"To do what?"
"To avoid my quiet office at the plant," he replied. "May I join you?"
Chloe felt her jaw opening and closing with no real purpose as she tried to figure out how to respond. Oh, good poker face. "Sure," she said finally. "I guess."
"You and innocuous pop music are more pleasant company than the hum of machinery and the faint smell of methane," he commented, and she knew he was purposely goading her. It was their verbal judo, as he had dubbed it.
Chloe tried not to smile, though it was hard. Meeting an intellectual equal who treated her as such was just plain thrilling. "Wow," she deadpanned. "I'll try not to let that feed my ego."
Amused, he smiled at her and moved toward the door. "I'll get my files from the car." He turned his attention to the girl behind the counter who was just laying the finishing touches on his cappuccino. "Miss? I'll be taking that with this young lady here."
Chloe watched in vague astonishment as he swept out of the coffeehouse, heading back toward his Porsche. He hadn't yelled it, but he'd said it loudly enough so that most of the Talon had heard him: he was going to be enjoying his caffeinated beverage in her company. She focused her gaze steadily on her computer, picturing a few of the patrons peering to get a look at her as the server brought his drink and set it on the table beside her open notebook.
Even as she acknowledged it as a girly reaction unfitting a cut throat reporter, she couldn't help but feel sort of cool. Lex Luthor had chosen to sit with her. Even if it was only because she was Clark's friend and that whole "the friend of my friend is a friend" maxim, the rest of the Talon didn't know that.
Chloe made an especially good show of pretending to work, setting her computer on the table beside her notebook and glancing attentively between the two. She honestly did need to get this article done and she was determined not to let Lex Luthor pull her into another of their verbal judo matches.
The less-acknowledged aspect of Lex Luthor was that he made her feel like a little girl. Others called her mature and cynical, but, for reasons she didn't want to examine, he made her feel young and unprepared. She thought that perhaps a physical attraction combined with an intellectual attraction pulled her too closely toward a four-letter word that fit in with the Luthor obsession with the letter "L." That word, and all its implications, were far too complex, far too troublesome, so Chloe ignored it.
Besides, she knew that wasn't it. They respected one another, admired one another against their will, against their better judgment, but they weren't lost and found soul mates. That was just idealism, a left-over pre-adolescent fantasy of Prince Charming on a silver stallion, or in this case, a silver Porsche. When she saw him her heart fluttered girlishly in her chest, but she knew it was lying.
Her vehement resolve was a defense mechanism of a different sort. She lied to everyone else and she most certainly lied to herself about it, but somewhere, on some deep, unacknowledged level, Chloe did harbor a small crush: Being admired only for her mind wasn't so bad when her mind was admired for being equal, for being clever beyond her years, for being unique. For being better than being beautiful.
She heard the doors open once more as he returned with his files. Never taking her eyes off the screen, she slid over on the short couch to make room for him, but instead, Lex Luthor and his files, sat down in the chair opposite her. Chloe barely glanced up at him, but she could tell by the look in his eye that she had let her half a poker face fall. He could see she was hurt.
Usually, that would have been more difficult to discern, but clearly today wasn't her best day: stewing for hours about her unattainable desire to be adored like Lana Lang, her ridiculous attachment to Clark, feeling understood solely by a piece of digital hardware with a missing shift key.
And now, here was Lex Luthor, the man who half the town hated, and even he wouldn't sit right next to her. Logically, that shouldn't have mattered, shouldn't have hurt, but this was an internal pity party and logic hadn't been invited.
"I wouldn't be a very sensible businessman if I sat next to a reporter of your caliber with confidential files," he explained sincerely, even kindly.
"Well, uh," Chloe began, trying to rebuild her defenses so her wit could flow freely through the proper channels. "I've got this two-headed calf thing going, so your files wouldn't be of interest right now. It's not a slow news day."
He gave her a smile and that look. That admiring look that made her feel like the cleverest and most charming version of herself. "No good," he replied. "You're a journalist, Chloe. It's instinct and not even you can turn that off."
Chloe felt unexpectedly grateful. He had meant - or at least he had sounded like he'd meant every word he'd said. First name basis and acknowledgement that she hadn't gotten from anyone else. *You're a journalist, Chloe.* Not reporter, not editor of the cute little school newspaper, Chloe. A journalist, Chloe. A journalist.
She smiled, maybe a little too affectionately, but it didn't matter. Lex just smiled back and turned his attention to the files in his lap. Feeling warmed from the inside out, she looked back to the article on the screen and continued typing out the rough version from her notepad, even as her mind filled with images of domesticity:
Lex waking her up in the morning with a kiss and a copy of the Daily Planet, her article on page one. The two of them curling up with a good book beside the fireplace in one of the castle's drafty dens. An exclusive article in the Metropolis Journal entitled "My Life with Lex," deconstructing all the negative press ever printed about him. Her ever-present sensibility reminded her that nothing had changed. This was still Lex Luthor. She was still clever, but unwanted Chloe Sullivan.
But sensibility can only whisper when a teenage girl is feeling good.
She reached to flip over her notebook to the next page, accidentally brushing her hand against Lex's as he reached for his drink. Glancing curiously at her, he picked up the coil-bound mess of pages, his eyes scanning across her hasty scrawl.
"By Chloe Sullivan," he read. Setting the notebook back on the table, he claimed his cappuccino. "That just has a good sound to it."
Chloe grinned and Lex raised his eyes knowingly to hers. "It does, doesn't it?" she agreed.
For that one instant, she sensed more than understood that she wasn't the only one who felt alone. She wasn't the only one who felt misread, or ignored, or neglected. She wasn't even the only one whose true self had yet to be seen. They weren't in love or even friends, if she analyzed the relationship. She didn't feel loved, but she felt close to someone - and at this moment, that was enough. It was more than enough.
They didn't speak another word for several hours. Chloe typed away at her article, while Lex went over his files. Their coffee cups resting on the table, they worked in comfortable silence. In good company.
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