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Thread: Cypanache BACK-UP: Who We Are & Who We've Always Been (R)

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    Cypanache BACK-UP: Who We Are & Who We've Always Been (R)

    Moderator's note: This thread is a back-up of the fic which Cypanache posted and is no longer retrievable.

    Author: Cy Panache
    Rating: R (for non explicit sexuality)
    Category: Angst/Romance
    Spoilers/Timeline: Set in Season 5 pre-'Lexmas', but it will move around with flashbacks.
    Disclaimer: Someone else's sandbox. I just play here because other people have all the best toys.
    Summary: She's never been unbiased when it comes to him. That's her problem. As Chloe lets Lex take her out one last time, we get glimpses of what brought them here.

    Author’s note: Yes I know this is isn't Collaborator, but this is less of a fic and more of an exorcism. It took hold on Friday and wouldn't let go. It will be short (about three parts max) and I expect to just write it all this weekend. As with many of my shorter pieces in other fandoms, this is low on dialogue and high on atmosphere. In other words very different style from Collaborator.

    Final Note: This fic jumps time a lot. I will try to make it all as clear as possible.

    - + - + - + - + -

    “A person isn't who they are during the last conversation you had with them - they're who they've been throughout your whole relationship.”
    -- Rainer Marie Rilke

    -----

    Chapter 1

    Present

    He finds her in the rundown coffee shop that has, up until now, functioned as her safe-haven. Three miles from the MetU campus and four from the basement of the Daily Planet it is her escape, her refuge from the shiny, plastic world of Metropolis, from corporate coffee and Lana Lang and sometimes because she turns off her cell even from Clark Kent. Here she's just Chloe, no last name, no history, no loyalties or duties or insurmountable secrets, just the girl who likes the owner's lethally strong turkish coffee and his wife's pastries.

    Leave it to Lex Luthor to take that away.

    Damn and she'd liked this coffee. Savoring what might be her last cup, she makes a mental note to avoid paying with a card when she finds a new place.

    He doesn't wait for an invitation (he knows it isn't coming), just tosses down a file folder like a gauntlet, its contents spilling across the linoleum of the table in silent accusation.

    It only takes her a glance to know what she's looking at . . . Every single piece of email correspondence she's had with his father over the last four months.

    “Did you really think I wouldn't find out?”

    Slowly, carefully, she sets down the little demitasse cup, and touches his name on one of the emails scattered before her. “Honestly, I didn't think it would take you this long.”

    It's the truth and he knows it. She'd wanted him to know, wanted him to see it, watch it happen, to have this visible, tangible evidence of her hatred. Of the poisonous seed inside her that she's trying to cultivate with everything she has, to make it flourish and grow until its strangled everything else, all the other emotions that it seems won't die on their own.

    If he can touch her hate, it must be real.

    But its not that simple, it has never been that simple between them, and she can feel him watching her, coming to his own decisions, and when he opens his mouth she knows what he'll say. Its the same question he always asks. The one that started everything between them a year and a half ago as he took in the marks on her skin, the full import of his father's wrath and his own powerlessness.

    “Do you hate me yet?”

    There's only one answer to the question. The one she always gives. The one she'd first whispered in a teasing effort to lighten the mood as his hands skimmed the flesh of her abdomen, seeking something like solace or absolution. She's deadly serious now.

    “I'm working on it.”

    She is. She is working on it. And she gets a little closer every day. As she works with Clark, as she collects scraps of vitriol from his father, weaves lies and truth together into a cloak for her heart, it always bring her one step closer.

    But she's not there yet.

    Which is why, when he takes a seat across from her, the silk and wool of his pants brushing against her calf as their legs tangle under the too-small table, she doesn't pull away. His hands come up to slide the paper emails out from under hers, deliberately trailing his fingers over her skin as he does.

    Something goes alight inside her, and she has to clench her hands into fists to keep from reaching back.

    He hasn't touched her in months, not since he dragged her to the caves, left bruises on her arms and fresh scars on her heart. And even in the Yukon with all her new injuries, new pain, she'd known which parts belonged to Lex, almost mourned their loss when they finally faded. She wonders what he'll give her to remember him by this time.

    Because he seemingly knows where her thoughts have strayed, he turns her hand over, swipes his thumb along the interior of her wrist. Once, twice, three times. The touch sends something shooting through her, something that makes her want to forget the past year, forget all the reasons why she ended this.

    Her fist uncurls. Lex smiles.

    It was a test. And she failed.

    But when she looks up there's something hot and desperate in his gaze, and she realizes her failure is a matter of perspective.

    “You should give me the opportunity to respond. Any unbiased journalist would.”

    She's never been unbiased when it comes to him. That's her problem.

    “What did you have in mind?”

    -------

    June 3rd, 2004

    The first time he touches her, its in the too-small upstairs bathroom of the safe-house, her father asleep on the couch in the living room. It has all the makings of something dirty, tawdry. But it doesn't feel that way.

    If anything it feels like something frighteningly close to grace.

    She slips in without permission, startling the hell out of him, and when she throws the lock behind her, he nearly swallows his tongue.

    “Chl- Wha?”

    “I thought I'd give you a chance to look. You've been trying not to all night, but . . .” she shrugs, “I just thought I'd give you a chance.”

    He could protest, tell her he wasn't. Lie. But he owes her more than that. So he looks, long and hard, takes in everything from the tiny cuts on her forehead, the bruise on her cheek, the scrapes on her neck. Things that happened to her that he couldn't prevent. So much pain and death, on someone so alive. He doesn't think he could hate his father more right now if he tried.

    Something awful tries to claw its way up in his throat, comes out in a strangled sound that he can't even give a name. And then Chloe is taking his hand, pressing it to the flesh of her collarbone. “He didn't break me. I'm not broken.”

    He doesn't know whether she's saying it for his benefit or her own.

    It doesn't matter. He needs to believe it. But he can't, not quite yet, needs more proof, more reassurance. Unconsciously his hand sweeps along her throat, down the skin of her chest, until it encounters the first button holding her shirt together. Suddenly realizing what he's doing, he starts to jerk away, but then her hand is covering his, holding it to her breastbone, and her eyes are telling him its okay, she understands.

    She doesn't, can't possibly, except her other hand is coming up to his chest, resting just beside the bump of the permanent IV line, and he realizes maybe she does.

    The buttons come undone with agonizing slowness. He can't remember the last time he's been nervous about undressing a woman, but then he's always known what he was doing before. He doesn't know anything right now, doesn't know what he'll find, doesn't know if he's taking or giving, if he's conducting his penance or compounding his sin.

    And then it's all a moot question because the shirt has slipped from her shoulders and he can see everything—the abrasions on her stomach from where someone must have pressed her down to shield her from the brunt of the blast, the burn marks trailing like fingers around the sides of her waist—all the places his father marked her, all the wounds she wouldn't carry if he hadn't brought them upon her.

    “Do you hate me, yet?” He's deadly serious about the question, because truly how could she not? He'd made her a promise to protect her, to wrap her in cotton and keep her safe, and instead he's given her this.

    But Chloe just laughs, like its an absurd thought, like she can't think of any reason why she would. “I'm working on it.”

    The words are enough to undo him, the thought that anyone might believe that in the emotional spectrum its hating him that takes work, and he's kissing her before he even knows what he's doing.

    She's citrus and black licorice, sunshine sweetness and biting spice. He's never tasted anything like it and he doesn't want to stop.

    Lex is vaguely aware that he's supposed to the responsible adult in this, but she's whimpering against his mouth, tiny mewls of desire, and its all he can do to tear himself away, to rasp her name against the skin of her neck in a way that's as much plea as protest.

    When her fingers start fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, the responsible adult leaves the room, chased by want and need, and he spins them around, pressing her against the sink, remembering her wounds, too late, when she sucks in a hiss of pain.

    But her hands are fisting in his shirt even as she does, yanking him closer before he can pull away. “It's okay. You can't hurt me. It's okay.”

    God, he wishes that were true.

    Still, the reassurance is enough to keep him going, to want to be closer, feel more of her. Test the limits of her belief in his safety. He hoists her up on the edge of the sink, groaning at the feel her lace covered breasts on his chest. She instinctively wraps hers legs around his waist, and he tightens his arms around her, and suddenly they're counterweights, both so off-kilter they can't stay up on their own, but together they might just keep each other balanced.

    He doesn't usually talk to women during sex, there's rarely anything he wants to say, and none of it would be real. Now suddenly, he wants to say everything but he's choking on the truth of it. So in the end he's just as silent as he always is.

    And yet everything is different, transformed, in this tiny bathroom with this too-young woman (girl), with too much wisdom, and too much life, and not the slightest ounce of sense (just look at the choice she's making right now). He becomes a different person as he runs his fingers along her sex, reveling in how wet she is, in the physical proof that he can bring her something other than pain. She leans back in his grasp, closes her eyes and gives herself over, trusting he won't let her fall, trusting he'll take care of her.

    And he will. This time he vows he will.

    ---------

    Present

    She lets him lead her out of the coffee shop to where his Porsche is parked half a block down. It's the silver one, shiny and ultra-conspicuous and before she can protest, point out her little red VW bug is just around the corner, he turns and jerks her hand, pulling her into his arms.

    His mouth is hot and hungry, devouring her, and begging for more. God, she'd forgotten how good he tastes, how he makes her feel—beautiful and desirable and powerful—feelings she'll spend the rest of her life trying to replace with shallow facsimiles. If she's not careful she could get lost in him, in this all over again, could forget all the things she knows he's done to Clark, the sins and transgressions she's collected from Lionel. No sane person would do this.

    But the permanence of her sanity has always been a question mark.

    Which is why she's pressed up against the door of Lex's Porsche in a highly public street, in the middle a well-publicized state senate campaign, half-hoping he intends to fuck her before this day is out. “Lex . . .” she pulls away, and he shifts his focus to the spot behind her ear, so she just barely manages to complete the thought in a breathy moan, “not here.”

    His fingers flex convulsively against her hips, pulling her closer in retaliation. “Afraid someone will see?”

    The words are a mocking derisive sneer, a taunt. Because yes that's exactly what she's afraid of, that she'll be seen, photographed and turned into a headline. That Clark will read it, that her father will know, and it will all come crumbling down and then what will have been the point of everything? But she'll never say that.

    “You're the one running for office. This would make a nice scandal.”

    “Don't care.”

    The sad thing is . . . he doesn't. For all his duplicity, for all his guarded emotions and self-control, Lex has always been unflinchingly direct about her, about them, about his desire to shout her name from rooftops and engage in public worship. It's life and her that's always interfered.

    And suddenly she knows. This is his response. His revenge. He wants to take her out, court discovery, claim her just once.

    Turning her head, she captures his lips again, lets her hands scrabble on his shoulders and tries not to think about the fact she's deliberately flirting with disaster.

    Maybe after everything, this is the least she can do.

    - + - + - + - + -

    - + - + - + - + -

    Chapter 2

    December 14, 2004

    Once when she's in an odd mood—a strange amalgam of exasperation and playfulness and chastisement that's uniquely Chloe—she takes a red sharpie to his skin. Writes words over his torso and down his thighs. And despite how indulgent he feels just from having her back, he still tries to stop her, because could he possibly look more ludicrous right now? But she swats his hands away and starts to say them out loud as she writes . . . adjectives no one ever associated with him before—Kind. Beautiful. Good.

    He's always respected the power of words. Their ability to persuade and obfuscate and deceive, to bend people to your will, but never before has he believed in their power to create. Yet lying there listening to Chloe describe him as something he has never been, tracing the letters on his skin in semi-permanent marker, he feels remade, carved anew. Because Chloe sees truth with her sharp reporter's eyes, speaks it with her tongue, and reveals it with her pen, this man she's creating has to be who he is now.

    Because she writes the word 'mine' over his heart, and he knows that's real.

    “There,” she pronounces when she's finished, “now you won't be tempted to get naked at any of those upcoming Christmas parties, next week.”

    He wouldn't have been anyway, and she knows it, but the words still sting, serve as a tiny biting reminder of the lost dark months when he had anyone because he didn't know how to come back to her.

    Before he can lapse into that darkness again, she traces the 'mine' with her finger and kisses the scars on his chest left by the IV lines, the ones he tells other women are surgical and she knows his father gave him. She keeps going teasing and arousing him with the same mouth that remade him, until he can't think, can't breathe, can't do anything but pull her to him and sink inside her.

    It's cold outside, but she insisted on ridiculously 'couply' (her word) things like hot chocolate and marshmallows and most importantly a fire, the kind that makes naked sex in a too big library in 10 degree weather possible, the kind that means even in the chill, they're still sweating from exertion and heat. Sweat that makes her skin glow and the semi-permanent marker a little less permanent. So afterwards when he goes to dispose of the condom and get them another drink, he comes back to find her still laid out in front of the fire like some incredible Pagan offering, her skin painted with faint traces of red that transferred from him during their coupling. And though most of the words have been distorted beyond recognition, he's convinced he can still make out two:

    'Beautiful' and 'Mine'.

    --------

    Present

    After the second time they ended (at her insistence but no one's desire), he started sending her her articles. Every new piece she wrote for the Torch viciously marked up until they almost bleed with his thoughts, observations, commentary, criticisms, and compliments. And when she landed her internship with the Planet it wasn't more than a week before she started receiving the obituary page, with the same biting red-ink script. She doesn't even have a byline but somehow he can always tell which are hers.

    She knows its obsessive, morbid, bordering on the fanaticism of a stalker, but then what do you say to the woman who keeps every one like its a love letter? Reads each tightly scripted word over for a dozen meanings, and thinks about what he'll say when she crafts her next piece? Lex has always been her staunchest supporter and sharpest critic, and the message implicit in his refusal to relinquish the role is the same as the one in the red pen he always uses to tattoo these little pieces of her . . .

    'Mine'

    The fact she changed a word the other day because she remembered the last time he had mocked it as overuse of her thesaurus doesn't do anything to disprove that claim.

    The fact she's standing here in this exclusive boutique letting him buy her a dress in the muted evergreen she never wears anymore because it makes her think of how much he loves it on her, does even less.

    Somewhere inside her the independent feminist is screaming about how allowing him to dress her like this is demeaning and patronizing, but if she protests he'll simply offer to take her back to her dorm so she can change into something appropriate . . . while he waits out in the hall, there for anyone to see.

    This dress seems less like giving in.

    Yet even as she gives herself that perfectly rational explanation, the part of her that instinctively seeks his eyes in the mirror still thrills at the desire reflected there. She skims her hands down the sides of her thighs, watching as Lex's hands open and close, knowing he wants to be the one doing that. Intends to be the one doing it before the night is out.

    It's not a question anymore, its a foregone conclusion, an inevitable end. Maybe it was from the moment he showed up in her coffee-shop.

    The realization should scare her more than it does.

    As though he feels her acquiescence, Lex steps up behind her and kisses her shoulder, smiles at her in the mirror and whispers, “Do you know how long I've waited to take you out like this?”

    She does actually. She can remember the words she'd once thrown at him in so much fear, 'What did you think would happen, Lex? You'd be my boyfriend? Take me to the prom?' Remember the look in his eyes, that sinking feeling in her stomach as she realized, while the details might have been different, he had imagined a future where she had not. He wanted something she did not.

    Because this can't be what its rapidly becoming, she covers the hand at her stomach with hers, and whispers, “This isn't a date, Lex. This is goodbye.”

    “Is it?” he murmurs, undeterred, “We've had so many. I'm starting to get fuzzy on the meaning.”

    They haven't, not really, not compared to soap operas or Clark and Lana's continuing saga of longing glances and missed opportunities, but each one they've had has been painfully intense, seemingly permanent and insurmountable.

    And yet they seem to keep surmounting them any way.

    Still this has to be it, has to be all, because she just doesn't know how many of these she has left in her.

    -------

    July 31, 2004

    The moment he walks into the safe-house that evening he knows something is drastically wrong. Chloe greets him at the door like a barricade, a preemptive strike, and as she leads him into the living room he catches a glimpse of Gabe Sullivan watching from the kitchen. It feels like he's going to his execution.

    For a brief minute he has the mad thought she's changed her mind, doesn't want to testify, and he gets ready to reassure her, tell her she doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want, even though he's desperately scrambling to figure out how he'll ever protect her if his father is out of jail.

    He should have known better. Known she wouldn't back down. The reality is simultaneously more beautiful and more horrific.

    She's pregnant.

    Almost two months along. She'd chalked being late up to excitement and stress and drastic life changes (what an inadequate description), but then came the nausea . . . and yes, she's taken a several tests, she's sure.

    For one brief instant he experiences a rush of pure, unmarred joy. And then it sinks in, what she's saying, how she's saying it. There's no happiness in her voice, no anticipation. She doesn't want this.

    She's telling him that for the past two months he's had the family he always wanted, and in the same breath she's asking for his help to take it away.

    In some rational, detached portion of his mind, he understands her reasons, even agrees with them—she's too young, still hasn't completed high school, she has too much potential, too much promise to not complete her senior year and go on to college or even to delay it. There are other reasons, colder, more calculating ones—she's going to face enough insinuation and claims of bias on the stand, no jury will ever believe her if she testifies against his father while pregnant with his child. And if she doesn't . . . well, the thought of what his father might do to her in an attempt to control his grandchild is enough to make even Lex's blood run cold.

    And for all that, it doesn't make her choice feel any less like rejection.

    He reacts poorly, knows he's doing it, and can't stop. She's leaning toward him, seeking comfort and solidarity, but he has none to offer. Instead he's rigid, unyielding, argues every point she makes with cold, logical precision: He doesn't care about the trial. As far as he's concerned his father can die on an island in the Caribbean surrounded by nubile slave girls. She won't have to give up her dreams. He can afford to hire the best of nannies. When she's ready to go to college, he'll pay for MetU and an apartment for all of them downtown. He outlines a life for them, a future he can accept because he can't accept this, and the more he does it the more he falls in love with the dream.

    His voice has gone low and pleading, trying to seduce her into this, get her to bend to what he wants, ignoring her ever-growing agitation, until finally he pushes too far and she's up off the couch, pacing in anger and fear she can't contain.

    “I just can't, Lex. I can't do it for all the perfectly good reasons I gave you, and I can't do it for really terrible selfish ones. Because I don't know if I ever want to be a mother. I don't even have someone to show me how. And I can't-” She breaks off turns away.

    He knows he's going to hate what he's about to hear, but he prompts her anyway. “Can't what?”

    “I can't be that girl. I can't walk down the hall and have everyone know I was that stupid.”

    “To sleep with someone?”

    “To sleep with you! Because everyone's going to know you're the father, and there goes stupid Chloe Sullivan who slept with Lex Luthor over the summer and probably thought he meant forever. Isn't she a fool?”

    “She isn't,” he insists trying to make her see he's never meant it more.

    She scoffs, “Now who's being stupid?”

    “Is that what you think?”

    “Oh come on, can you really honestly say you'd thought this was going to last when we got back to Smallville?” She rubs fiercely at her eyes, dirty with mascara and tears, “What did you think would happen, Lex? You'd be my boyfriend? Take me to the prom?”

    The words, the mocking tone, her absolute certainty he'd intended no such thing . . . it hurts. Physically hurts. And though, no, he has no intention of ever setting foot in a balloon-filled gymnasium, he's had fantasies of other things, simpler things, and grander things and more permanent things. Waking up with her in the morning, taking her to New York and D.C. for her graduation, moving his residence to Metropolis when she enrolls in MetU. He could tell her all that now, but she's looking at him with horror-filled eyes and he realizes she's already figured it out.

    And it doesn't change a thing.

    In that moment, he understands his father viscerally and completely. Understands the torture he put his mother through in insisting she have Julian, the reason he's never been able to love him. Because he's suddenly the same man. He wants to lock Chloe away, force her to have their baby, to love it. And he wants to kill her. For one terrible instant he wants to wrap his hands around her throat as punishment for wanting to take this away from him.

    The rage passes as quickly as it comes, but he's adrift and lost in its wake. He wants to comfort her, hold her, finally do all the things he should have done from the beginning, but he can't do any of that because he'll never let anyone near her who's ever even thought about hurting her, even if that man is him.

    Because he won't be his father, won't force her, he stands and gives her the only answer he can. “I'll have someone make the arrangements and contact you.”

    And then because he can't hold her and he can't kill her, can't force her, but can't support her, he does the only thing he has left.

    He walks out of the room.

    She doesn't try to call him back.

    Gabe is now standing in the doorway to the kitchen, watching him with the eyes of God, and he knows that job he offered him won't be accepted. So now he's lost his family and his plant manager all in one fell swoop.

    He wonders what kind of man he is that the thought even crosses his mind.

    The next day he contacts a doctor in Metropolis, follows it up with calls to have his buyer in Russia aggressively pursue the Danskoy manuscript, and schedules visits to every excavation his father has funded over the past two years. He needs a new obsession.

    He never goes back to the safe house. The doctor sends him the medical report. He burns it without reading.

    - + - + - + - + -
    - + - + - + - + - + -

    Present

    His first restaurant choice is completely unacceptable—the trendiest new eatery, just written up on the front page of the Planet's lifestyle section as 'daring' and 'fresh'. If this were LA it would have a goddamned rope line. Since its Metropolis it just has Linda Lake, but that's enough to ensure that by tomorrow morning she'll be front page gossip.

    When she locks the door against the valet's attempts to open it and shoots him a glare than would have any man (namely Clark) running for the hills, Lex just smirks as if to say 'Can you blame me for trying?'

    Yes she can, and she intends to.

    But he shifts the car into drive without another word, and peels away from the curb at a speed that's designed to draw attention.

    It's such a silly little boy move, she can't help but laugh, a tiny snort of suppressed amusement as she keeps her face to the window. And then another and another, until she's practically doubled over, and Lex is actually smiling, and God she's missed him.

    It's enough to evaporate the last remnants of tension, at least for the moment, and she just gives herself over to it, drops her head back against the seat, closes her eyes, and reaches a hand out to touch his thigh.

    He almost fails to shift gears.

    When they stop again, she's momentarily disoriented, and it takes her a second to place the location as the garage entrance of the LuthorCorp building.

    Lex gets out without a word and comes around to open the door for her.

    “I thought the whole point of this was to show me off,” she quips with a raised eyebrow, and maybe the tiniest amount of hurt that he wasn't really ready to risk it all. It's beyond hypocritical, but she doesn't care.

    “We can go back out. I have five other reservations you haven't rejected yet.” He shrugs and starts to close the door, so she has to strong arm it back open.

    She hates that he knows her well enough to call her bluff, and she knows him well enough to know he's not bluffing at all. But he takes her hand, leaning down to brush a kiss on the inside of her palm, and a little part of her melts.

    “So what changed your mind?”

    “I didn't want to share you.”

    Strangely she knows what he means. For that moment in the car, she'd been with him completely, let go of all her reservations, forgotten other obligations, and just been 'his' again. If he took her out, put her on display, her guard would go up and he'd lose her all over again.

    It means something, that having all of her is more important to him than keeping a piece, that he's let his plans, his petty revenges, get derailed because of it. The feeling makes her smile at him while he orders a series of dishes from the kitchen of the four star restaurant in the next building, scowling at the wait time, and when snaps his phone closed, leans back against the wall of the elevator to look at her, she wants to touch him, wants to wrap her arms around him, and kiss him senseless.

    But its sixty five floors up to his office and there are just some associations they're never going to get past. So instead she tilts her head and begins a countdown.

    -------

    November 19, 2004

    She barely lets Jefferies get the door open before she's burst into the library, a tornado of indignation and barely contained violence that makes him desperately glad he's playing pool and therefore has a possible mechanism of defense in his hands.

    But even that momentary inclination towards self-preservation is fleeting because its the first time he's seen her since the trial and she's grown out her hair and looks more beautiful than ever (he didn't even know that was possible). The fact she's obviously considering how to kill him and hide the body only seems to make him want her more.

    The newspaper lands in the middle of the pool table with a thud, the headline 'Luthor Sex Scandal' staring up at him big as life. “You're a bastard.”

    “And hello to you, too.”

    “Thirteen women? Really?”

    “And those are just the ones who've come forward.” Deliberately avoiding her gaze so he won't have to see whether his barb has hit the mark, he lines up a shot. Sinks it.

    Still he can see Chloe's grip white-knuckle on the edge of the pool table. He lines up another shot. Wishes his aim wasn't always so good.

    Wishes he knew how to stop fighting. Stop hurting. Stop wanting things he can't have.

    Just stop.

    Before he can get the shot off, Chloe's hand shoots out and captures the cue ball. “What are you doing?”

    The concern in her voice is more than he can take because it can't be anything but false, and before he can stop himself he's tossed the cue on the table snarling, “Why do you care? Don't you hate me yet?”

    He's practically begging her to say yes, to just admit what he knows must be true, because if she does, if she'll just say it, maybe he'll be able to stop hating himself on her behalf.

    “I'm working on it,” she rolls her eyes, “Keep this up and I'm sure I'll get there eventually.”

    If she'd said no, if she'd protested or tried to placate him, he wouldn't have believed her, would have walked out, but she's so obviously disgusted with him it can't be anything but real. And suddenly he can barely stand, has to brace himself against the edge of the pool table for support.

    Quietly, sadly, she repeats her original question. “Lex, what are you doing?”

    He doesn't know anymore. He's getting up, and pulling on clothes he doesn't see, eating food he doesn't taste, fucking women he doesn't feel. Going through life on mute because its less painful than the actual experience. “I'm living my life.”

    She lets out a snort of derision. “By being a slut?”

    Her phrasing catches him off guard, and he flinches because only Chloe would put it that way, the way that simultaneously calls him on his ugliness and makes him want to really laugh for the first time in months.

    And then he is. He's laughing and he's shaking and then he's laughing harder, mad hysterical silent laughter that's closer to crying than he's come in twelve years.

    For a long time she just watches him, observes him across the expanse of green felt that might as well be a canyon for all he can figure out how to cross it. And when she speaks, its with a tiredness that makes him wonder if she's been sleeping, makes him think of all the things he doesn't know about how she's doing because he left her on her own.

    “I'm not stupid, Lex. I can read. Ten of these women were in the last three months. Seven months and three women, and then suddenly you can't keep it in your pants.” She shakes her head, sighs, “What I can't figure out is whether you're trying to punish yourself or me.”

    Both. Neither. Sometimes its him, and sometimes its Chloe, and sometimes he's just running so hard it doesn't matter as long as he doesn't have to stop. But he'll be damned if he tells her any of that, because he's made himself that vulnerable to her once, let her trick him into foolish dreams she didn't share, he won't do it again.

    “Trust me its no punishment.” The words sound good, lascivious and sneering, and the moment they cross his tongue he desperately needs a scotch to chase the taste.

    “So its me then.” There's no anger there, just terrible resignation, like a patient who's gotten confirmation of a fatal diagnosis “I guess I knew. I mean all these women . . .You couldn't get more opposite if you tried.”

    He has tried, and you can't. There's nothing of Chloe in those women, none of her spark, or her wit, or her heart, nothing he'll ever be in danger of actually responding to. Absently he knocks back two fingers of scotch, starts to pour another three.

    And then there's a sound he can't even give a name, an explosive sob that's torn from her like a harsh animal cry, “You can't even touch someone who looks anything like me, can you? God, you must hate me so much!”

    He whirls in horror, all thought of alcohol and his own selfish pain forgotten. Hate her? She thinks he hates her? The thought is almost laughable, except they're so obviously not laughing.

    He doesn't know how to hate her. Though lord knows it would easier, simpler, a place to direct some of the acid bitterness that's eating everything in him. But the ability to do so seems to have been left out of his emotional lexicon. Thinking about Chloe only leads to missing her, to wanting her, and knowing he's made that impossible. He doesn't touch blondes because he wants them all to be Chloe, could too easily get lost in the momentary fantasy, and while he cares very little about what those women think there's something too needy about calling out her name against another woman's skin for him to handle.

    And she knows none of that, has chosen the most obvious interpretation and the wrong one. So he's managed to hurt her again, four months without so much as a word and still he's managed to hurt her.

    It's okay. You can't hurt me. It's okay. He'd known that was false even as she said it, and yet he chose to believe it, clung to it for protection, the idea that for all her ability to eviscerate him with every word, flay him with silence, he held no such power in return.

    Yet there she stands, half doubled over the pool table for support, ruining the newsprint with her tears, visual proof he has power he never wanted and doesn't know how to wield.

    “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry.” The words are coming in fast little gasps, choked out in between hiccuping sobs. He's never seen anyone cry like this, with everything in them. It stymies him, leaves him paralyzed and furious at his own inadequacy.

    And then Chloe's knees are buckling and he's moving, wrapping his arms around her from behind, and pulling her against him.

    “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.”

    Spinning her around, he grabs her wrists, too tightly, and shakes her, proving just what kind of man he is. “Stop it. Chloe! Stop it!”

    But she's beyond hearing, keeps repeating it over and over again, a horrible mantra of regret and self-loathing. Until he can't take it anymore, and he kisses her just to shut her up.

    It's wrong from the get go, a desperate attack, that quickly turns fierce and needy. She's clawing at his neck, and he's pinning her to the pool table, like some horrible mocking replica of their first time, and he wants to do this differently but he's too afraid to stop.

    “No,” she whispers the word against his lips, and the tiny hand that has been tearing at his buttons is on his chest, pushing him away, “Lex, no.”

    He's died before. This hurts more.

    “I'm sorry.” And then because it's the only way he might be able to stop touching her, he starts to step away. “You're right. I'm sorry.”

    She stops him with a hand on his. “Not like this.” And then she's touching his face, and he's leaning into her palm. He could drown here and be happy. “We deserve to do this better. Tell me we still deserve better.”

    He realizes they do, and it feels like forgiveness.

    ------

    Present

    He's always loved to watch her eat. During those months when they spent almost every free moment together, he actually hired an additional chef just because the man did pastries and classic Italian cuisine. Lex likes Asian-fusion, but he likes watching her try to new things more. It's almost a fetish with him, that first bite. And there had been more than once when the chef had to remake the whole damn meal because he couldn't wait for her to actually eat her fill before he took his.

    She'd asked him about it once, why it fascinated him so much, and the chasteness of his response had surprised her (particularly since they were naked at the time). “You experience everything so completely, whether you love it or hate it, its right there on your face. Its beautiful, and when you love it . . . I feel like I've given you something spectacular.”

    Which is why when Lex starts to unload the containers from the restaurant she's not surprised to find more food than two people could hope to eat. What does surprise her is the familiarity of it, he's ordered old favorites, things he's introduced her to—osso bucco and caprese salads and mushroom risotto. She's never said anything about what she prefers, but there it all is, spread out on the coffee table and spilling across his desk, a love letter written in food.

    She doesn't bother to wait for him (he never eats until she's started), just dives in like a kid at Christmas, and when she looks up half-way through a bite of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar that shouldn't even be possible in the middle of winter in Kansas, the look in his eyes makes her heart stop.

    “Wha?” That would have been a hell of a lot more articulate if she'd remembered to swallow first.

    “You know.” Lex murmurs shedding his jacket and sitting down on the floor beside her, begins to trail his fingers up the line her calf, the back of her knee, the inside of her thigh. His touch is possessive, assuming too much. Then he's nipping at the spot behind her ear, and maybe he's not assuming enough. “Keep going, Chloe.”

    Who is she to ignore a command like that, when there's risotto calling?

    It goes on like that for over an hour, she eats, and Lex encourages her and distracts her and encourages her some more. And she's sure she occasionally feeds him something, but honestly its really not her highest priority for his mouth.

    The whole situation is ludicrous and sensual. His expensive suit, her beautiful dress, this gourmet food, and they're sprawled on the carpet of his office, eating out of takeout containers and making out like teenagers.

    For a moment she's ridiculously happy.

    And then her cell-phone rings.

    “Ignore it.” Lex commands, in between kisses as his hand starts on the zipper of her dress, easing it down in a slow tease.

    But she knows that chime. “Can't.”

    “You can.” He insists, nuzzling her neck, as his thumb grazes her nipple through the fabric of her dress.

    “It's Clark,” her friend's name comes out in a gasp, as Lex bites down hard at the point where her neck becomes her shoulder.

    “Ignore it.”

    “He'll just call back.”

    “Turn off your phone.” He's rucking up her skirt now and that doesn't sound like a bad idea.

    “He'll come looking for me.” She figures its a fifty fifty shot as to whether he actually will, but God forbid he does.

    “Let him.”

    “He might find me.” Probably will. Sometimes she thinks he has a tracker on her that only works at the most inconvenient times.

    “Let him.” Lex sounds like that's his idea of Christmas.

    “He might interrupt the sex.”

    With a growl Lex pushes her away and gets up. Tossing her the cell, which by now has stopped ringing, he snaps, “Get rid of him. He doesn't get you. Not tonight.”

    Right now, she wishes Clark didn't get her at all.

    But because that's not how things work, she thumbs her speed dial, readjusts her dress, and tries to figure out what kind of excuse gets you out of an apocalypse, because even if the world's ending she's not leaving Lex.

    Actually if the world's ending she can't think of anywhere better for her to be.

    In the end all she's getting out of is pot roast and Christmas cookies. She tells him she's on a stakeout for a story and is going to have to turn off her phone. Glares at Lex when he chooses that moment to turn up the stereo. Passive aggressive bastard.

    Clark tells her to enjoy her stakeout with a smirk in his voice that translates to 'date'. Now she's going to have to invent someone. Snapping her phone closed, she sighs, “Happy?”

    “No.” Lex comes over and takes the phone back, turns it off and removes the battery. At her grunt of displeasure, he simply responds, “I told you I'm not sharing tonight.” Pocketing both pieces, he holds out his hand. “Now dance with me.”

    He's turned on old jazz. Billie Holiday singing 'One For My Baby'. A song that feels like sadness and regret and goodbye.

    She hates Clark for ruining everything.

    She hates herself for letting him.

    - + - + - + - + -

    March 13, 2005

    She goes with Clark to visit Alicia's grave on the one month anniversary of her death, stands beside him while he mourns in a quiet self-contained way. He doesn't burst into tears or recite poems of eternal devotion, just stands there looking at her headstone, so far away Chloe might as well not be there at all.

    “I know none of you could ever understand, but . . .” he inhales sharply, “she was special.”

    He doesn't say anything else.

    She wants to tell him she does understand, more than he'll ever know. Wants to tell him she knows exactly how special Alicia was, how special he is. Tell him she understands what its like to love someone, to know they're more than the worst thing they've ever done. But she can't find the words.

    It's been a month now, and she still hasn't found the words. A month of knowing and lying and losing little pieces of herself to this secret.

    She looks down at Alicia's grave and silently curses the dead girl.

    What gave you the right?! What gave you the right to force this on me?

    It feels like some cosmic joke. She spent almost a year of her life chasing this in one form or another, trying to solve the mystery of Clark Kent as though it would somehow bring her closer to him. And when she'd finally left it behind, could honestly say she didn't care to know at all, it's dropped in her lap, a neatly gift-wrapped grenade just waiting to blow her world to shambles.

    She wishes so many things were different, wishes Alicia hadn't died, had forced Clark's secret out in the open for all to share; wishes she'd died earlier before Chloe could learn things she didn't want to know. She wishes Clark hadn't stopped trusting Lex, wishes he'd never learned to trust her again.

    But more than anything she wishes Lex couldn't read her so well.

    She doesn't know why she thought she'd be able to keep this from him. The strange things that happen in Smallville have always been a shared obsession with them, and they can spend hours deconstructing the latest occurrence, taking it apart and examining it from every angle. Only now she has a few more pieces.

    It only took him two weeks to notice the change. She'd been lying next to him in bed, tracing his most recent injury (she wants to cover him in bubble-wrap and keep him locked away), while he recounted yet another series of events where he should be dead but isn't, where Clark shouldn't really be involved but is. They've got this down to a routine, he posits one theory, she responds with another, but this time she's so busy being grateful to Clark for giving Lex back to her she misses her cue.

    He goes still beneath her, swipes back a lock of hair with questing fingers and searches her face with too knowing eyes.

    “What do you know, Chloe?” He tries to keep his tone light, his manner teasing, but it isn't and he's not. Unraveling Clark Kent is a compulsion with him, a quest for understanding and self-knowledge he doesn't know how to quit, and until now she's always been on his side.

    But Clark has saved her life, and more importantly he's saved Lex, more times than she can count, and though she'd give Lex all of her this isn't her secret to tell.

    So she lies.

    And he knows it.

    And it feels like something died.

    They never talk about it. They can't because she'll deny there's even something to talk about. Still the knowledge is there and its killing them by inches.

    She's trying to ignore it and he's trying to let it go, but they're not always successful, and every time she acts like she doesn't know anything, and he pretends he believes her, she can feel another brick in the wall going up between them.

    If only she could blame it on him. On his stupid obsessive need for complete control, but she knows better. This is about loyalties and sides and deep-rooted insecurities neither one of them knows how to shed. About the fact that for all his money and power, Lex has lived his life as a consolation prize, successor to his father's empire by default, married to a woman who loved his money more than him, making his way in a town which accepts him only as the lesser evil.

    He's makes her feel like she's everything—the lottery and Charlie's golden ticket and King Solomon's Mines all in one. She's supposed to return the favor, to want him more than anything. She's supposed to choose him first.

    And he thinks she's choosing someone else.

    I'm not.

    She whispers the words in her mind that night as she fucks him. Even as she says other things with her mouth, “God” and “Yes” and “Harder” and “Lex”, they all translate one way—You. I'm choosing you. And at the end when words have almost lost meaning and sense, she holds his gaze as she rides him to completion, willing him to understand what she can't explain. I'm choosing you. I'm being who you need me to be the only way I know how.

    Still when he looks up at her in the afterglow, with something close to awe on his face, and whispers “I love you” with something like a plea in his voice, she knows it isn't enough.

    For one beautiful, terrifying second Clark's secret is there on her tongue, and she's going to tell him. She's wanted to from the moment it happened, wanted to share this discovery and see his excitement, and now she can't think why she hasn't. It's so simple, so perfect. She'll tell him and prove how much she loves him. She'll tell him and he'll know he comes first.

    She has to kiss him to stop herself.

    I love you, too. I'm sorry.

    Four days later she stops returning his calls (she tried to say goodbye a dozen times but it never came out). A week later he corners her in the alleyway behind the Talon, traps her against the wall with his body, and lays siege with his mouth until she breaks, starts returning his kisses with a passion that negates every lie she's about to tell.

    When Lex pulls away its only to whisper one harsh raw word against her ear.

    “Why?”

    Because even now she still wants to tell him. Because if she stays with him she will.

    Because she can't do that and be the Chloe he needs, the Chloe he loves. Because with all the sins she's committed, all the wrongs she's done, she can't add betrayal to the list. Because she's already used up her lifetime's allotment of forgiveness and now she has to be worthy of the grant.

    Because. Because. Because.

    There are a hundred good reasons she's doing this, and she knows none of them will be good enough for him. Right now they barely feel good enough to her. So she just closes her eyes against the tears, buries her face in the crook of his neck, and shakes her head.

    “I'm not going to let you go.”

    “You can't keep me.”

    He's not threatening and she's not protesting. They're just stating facts, basic immutable truths that echo against the pavement and brick.

    So here they are clinging to each other in this alleyway. And she thinks some part of them might be here forever, trapped in this purgatory between heaven and hell, together and not, desperately holding on to something already lost.

    In the end, no one moves first, they just part, slip through each others fingers like smoke, transient and intangible and suffocating. He watches her go, stands in the shadows as she makes her way back to the well-lit entrance of the Talon. And though laughter and music spills into the alleyway, the noise of happiness rings hollow, so she can still hear the soft threat he whispers like a promise.

    “I won't forgive him for this.”

    It's the closest they ever come to talking about Clark.

    ----

    Present

    He takes her from behind, braced against the windows of his office, lips at her shoulder, green silk rucked up to her waist, palms tangled on the glass that makes it feel as if they're on display for anyone to see.

    No one can (he values his privacy too much). The windows are mirrored and the office is ten floors higher than any other building, but all the same he likes the illusion, likes the fantasy of everyone knowing, bearing witness to the reality of this moment.

    Sometimes it feels as if they never happened. They've gotten so good at the pretense, at facing each other across the fault line of Clark Kent as uneasy adversaries, that he if didn't wake up nights hard and aching and reaching for her, if he didn't sometimes find himself standing in front of a window display staring blankly at a child's stuffed animal, if he didn't have his morning paper opened to the obituaries first, he could actually believe his time with Chloe was little more than a passing dream, a momentary delusion of his fractured mind.

    But she's here with him now, pliant and breathless and real to the touch as he brings her to climax, holds her shuddering body against his own, and tries not to get drunk off the power.

    “Lex . . .” He loves his name on her tongue, the combination of sated need and expectant desire and blind trust all in one rough syllable.

    He wants the world to her see like this, wants to put her up on a pedestal and bring civilization to its knees before her. But she'd never stand for it, so he'll settle for second best.

    “Open your eyes, Chloe,” he whispers the command against the nape of her neck, as he eases the zipper of her dress down those last few excruciating centimeters he couldn't be bothered with the first time. And when she obeys, lifts heavy lids to gaze out at the lights of the city scattered before her like jewels, he releases the silk he's been holding captive against her breasts, follows it down to the floor to kneel before her like a supplicant.

    All of Metropolis at her feet . . .

    I could give you this. If you'd let me, I could give you everything.

    She closes her eyes against the offer, and the message is implicit, No you can't.

    He presses his forehead against her hipbone in defeat. No, he can't. He's known that since the moment she closed the door of the Talon, all those months ago. There's something she keeps by choosing Clark (he refuses to believe Kent actually gives her anything), some essential piece he'd never be able to replace for her. It doesn't make her happy, doesn't even make her content, but it makes her Chloe. And for that reason alone, he can't bring himself to blame her.

    So he blames Clark instead, justifies terrible acts and ruthless pursuit, as no less than his erstwhile friend deserves. Well earned punishments for believing his secrets are precious enough to ruin lives and destroy hearts.

    Almost as though she knows where his thoughts have strayed, she drops down beside him and presses a kiss his temple, recalling him to the here and now, where Clark Kent is nothing more than a disembodied voice on a disabled cell-phone, and Chloe is naked before him, body awash in the city lights—beautiful and perfect and his.

    With the first rush of need now calmed into a steady current of desire, he splays her out on the carpet, determined to go slowly this time, reacquaint himself with every patch of skin and curve of muscle. Starts at her feet like any true supplicant, pays homage to delicate points of her ankles, says a devotional along the line of her calf, and takes his communion at the juncture of her thighs.

    She writhes beneath his ministrations, murmuring obscenities and endearments in the same gasping breaths, growing more erratic, more insistent with each passing minute. “Lex . . . God. Fuck! Lex.”

    He knows what she wants, the same thing he does . . . more. More of his mouth on her, his fingers inside. More sensation and more feeling. Wants to be pushed over the edge into oblivion.

    But what he wants is more time.

    She's letting him have tonight and he's trying to make it eternity by sheer force of will.

    So he ignores her pleas, takes his time bringing her to the precipice, letting her see the edge over and over, until they're both incoherent and desperate. Until he needs her now more than he wants her later.

    Chloe surges up the moment he releases her to fumble for another condom. Attacks and lays waste to his shirt, shoving it down his shoulders, until its cuffing his wrists and she's got him imprisoned and at her mercy. (She could have saved herself the effort). “My turn to touch.”

    The promise alone is enough to make him lose his mind. The reality nearly ends him, and when she drags her fingernail along his pectoral, scratching her 'Mine' back over his heart as she sinks down on him, it snaps the final threads of his already frayed control.

    He bites down hard on the curve of her neck.

    Chloe's gasp could be pleasure or pain or some combination of both, but the hand that flies up to his head to hold him there is as unambiguous as the, “Yes,” that follows.

    She'll have a bruise there tomorrow, will have to wear turtlenecks and scarves for a least few days, maybe more. He loves the idea, lathes the spot with his tongue, and worries it with his teeth and thinks about sending her a cashmere scarf in spring green.

    He wants to mark her everywhere, give her five new bruises. As if the fact they're made in love could erase each of the ones that weren't.

    But there are some things you can't take back.

    ---

    June 16, 2005

    The doctors oppose moving her, detail her injuries to Lex, as though her medical fragility would somehow sway him. She could have told them to save their breath. Lex above all people knows what she can withstand—hypothermia, bruised ribs, contusion to her lower back—they're all minor, inconsequential.

    He has a very competent medical staff prepared to care for her needs on his jet.

    And no painkiller will take care of her broken heart.

    So she lets him check her out. Take her home.

    Like she knows where that is anymore.

    Three months ago, home would have been here on this jet, in that hospital room . . . anywhere Lex was. But he reaches out to steady her when they hit turbulence, and she flinches away. And this jet feels like a prison.

    “I suppose I deserve that.” It could be an apology, but there's a bite of accusation in his voice. He still views himself as the injured party in this.

    And maybe on some level he still is. But he's let his wounds fester, let the infection spread and poison him, until he's become something she barely recognizes.

    An animal might lash out because its hurt, but that only makes it more dangerous. Not less.

    Suddenly tired, overwhelmed at how irrevocably damaged everything is, how badly she's fucked everything up, Chloe sinks down in the chair across from him and draws her knees up to her chest like they might protect her.

    She should have known Lex would react like this, should have known all she'd do was cause him to pursue his obsession with Clark's secrets and his own destiny, with more tenacity than before.

    And maybe on some level she had, but she always thought she'd have more time. She'd thought she could make everything turn out so differently. Thought if she could just get Clark to trust her, see her as impartial, eventually she'd be able to get him to trust Lex, too. Thought she could be their bridge. Instead she's become the wedge, the thing driving them further apart.

    “What do you want, Lex?”

    “You.”

    It's such a simple request and so impossibly complicated, that she can't stop the little hiccup of bitter laughter in the back of her throat. Unconsciously she rubs the spot on her left arm that just two days ago had been decorated with bruises in shape of his fingers, only realizing what she's doing when his eyes follow her gesture. “You have a funny way of showing it.”

    Lex looks away at that. “I suppose I've made it impossible.”

    He has, but not for the reason he thinks, and there's plenty of blame to go around. “You're not the only one.”

    It doesn't soothe him the way she thought it would. Instead he's off his feet and across the cabin, obviously wishing for his library, for the space that allows him grand gestures of anger without physical violence. As it is, he's coiled so tightly, she's afraid he might shake apart, finds herself pressing back against the seat, just trying to get out of the way of the shrapnel.

    “Is this really what you want, Chloe?”

    No, its not what she wants at all. But its what she can live with. What allows her to look at herself in the mirror every morning. And there's no way to explain any of that to him, without betraying Clark in the first place. So instead she answers the other question, the one that hangs unspoken between them.

    Why won't you choose me?

    “It's not about not loving you enough. If anything its because I love you too much.” It's the truth. Loving Lex is like breathing. An unconscious involuntary act she'll repeat for as long as she lives.

    He drops his head and sighs, “What am I supposed to do with that?”

    She honestly doesn't know. Doesn't have the first damn clue what they do now. “Move on. You have to move on, Lex.”

    The moment she says the words, she knows its wrong. Lex goes still, so rigid he might shatter at the slightest touch, and then abruptly he shakes his head once, rejecting the premise. “No. I don't.”

    More than anything those three words scare her. There's a steely resolve in them, like he's making solemn oaths and sacred vows, pledging away his life to bitterness and destruction and she doesn't know what to say to stop it.

    Lex has declared war, and Clark doesn't even know why.

    And she's trapped on the wrong side.

    And in that moment she realizes something. Loving Lex might be like breathing, but a person can learn to hold their breath.

    Over the next few months with Lex's actions and Lionel's help she learns to hold it longer and longer, sometimes manages to stop for minutes on end.

    -----

    Present

    She dresses with the dawn, stands by the windows and watches the sun turn the city gold. He phones for coffee and she lets him, but they both know he's just postponing the inevitable.

    Sure enough, when he comes over she doesn't smile at him. Doesn't look at him at all. They stand there watching the sunrise, daybreak and new beginnings, and it feels like an ending instead.

    “This wasn't a mistake,” he argues against her silence.

    She sighs and slumps against the glass. “That doesn't mean it can happen again.” Then almost to herself, “I can't do this again.”

    “Is being with me that terrible?” He tries to make it a joke, but part of him is deadly serious, because honestly he doesn't know. Maybe its better for her with someone gentler, someone who doesn't have this insane need to claim her, to keep her, to fuck her in front of the city and mark her as his own.

    As though her thoughts have followed his, Chloe trails her fingertips over the bite-mark on her neck in a way that's almost affectionate and undeniably erotic. Shaking her head, she replies, “No. That's always been the easy part. It's the leaving that's hard.”

    “So don't.”

    “Lex . . .”

    Its a futile argument, a last ditch attempt, but he's a fighter and there's never been anything in his life more worth fighting for. “Just stay with me for the weekend.”

    “And then you'll want a week, and then a month, and then what a year? Two years?”

    “Forever. I want forever.”

    She jerks her head away like he's slapped her. “I can't.”

    “No.” Grabbing her arm, he spins her back around to face him, “You just won't.” Too late he realizes what he's doing, how tightly he's holding on, giving her a fresh new set of bruises to match the old. Abruptly he releases her and spins away, grabbing onto the edge of his desk instead.

    “You have to let me go.”

    They've had this argument before. It's tired and chewed over and the result is never going to change. She's the one good thing in his life, and he'll be damned if he gives up on it. “No. I don't.”

    “You do.” Her voice has gone desperate and pleading, speaking to a part of him that should be long buried if he didn't keep digging it up every time he's within ten feet of Chloe. “It's killing you, Lex, eating you alive. You're holding on so tight you're strangling everything inside you that I love.”

    He can feel her behind him, her breath on his neck, her body close to his, can feel the truth of her concern. But it doesn't matter, because it changes nothing. Because she'll still be gone. And she might leave him empty, but he refuses to let her leave him weak. So he thinks back to those emails and what they mean, thinks about Clark getting her smiles and her hugs, about some anonymous college freshman getting her body, and his father getting her words, and all he's left with is love she's trying to transmute into something else.

    “Well that should be convenient for you.”


    The bitterness in his voice makes her wince and the hand she'd been reaching out to him stalls, as though the walls he's throwing up have become physical. Impenetrable barriers separating them once again. She hates those walls, hates that's she responsible for at least some of them, wants to smash them, break through, tear them down, leave him open to someone again, even if its not her, even if she has to batter herself against them to do it.

    “What are you doing with Lana?” The question is quiet. Tentative and tired. She scared of the answer. Whether its the one she expects or the one she doesn't, either way its going to hurt.

    The question makes him turn, and the look he gives her is challenging. “We're just friends,” With a quirk of his lips he adds, “Like you and Clark.”

    She flinches at that, at the implications and accusations in those words. So its what she thought. Lex is striking out, with poetic symmetry and his own twisted sense of justice. “Taking her from Clark isn't going to change anything.”

    Walking back over to her, he reaches out to brush the bruise on her neck. “Tell him I'm willing to negotiate a trade.”

    Despite the implacability of his words, his touch isn't quite impersonal, and she sucks in a startled breath as all the electricity comes back with frightening rapidity. Closes her eyes in shame as she realizes a little part of her is glad, is happy this is about them. Lex is working to destroy Lana and Clark's relationship out of no real emotion but spite, and she can't help but be a little bit pleased he's still entirely hers. Fighting the feeling, she forces herself to ask, “Do you at least like her?”

    “She's not you.” He says it like its an answer. And maybe it is. But she doesn't know whether its a point for or against, whether he needs the space or hates the distance.

    She wants to tell him not to do this, not for Clark or Lana, but for him, because he deserves better, deserves to love someone who will love him back.

    But he already does and look what that got him.

    So here they are, just where they've always been and there's nothing she can say or do to fix it, to make it better or make it right. Maybe this is fate or maybe that's just a cheap way not to take responsibility for her own stupidity and selfishness. She doesn't know.

    It doesn't change anything anyways.

    So for once she just lets herself do what she wants. Holds his face in her hands, pulls his mouth to hers. Kisses him in a way she hasn't in a long time, soft and sweet and lingering. One good memory he can keep in his pocket and she can tuck under her pillow. A talisman against the coming storm.

    And then because she doesn't want to screw it up, wants this to be the way he remembers her, she walks away.


    He stays perched against his desk long after she's gone, staring at her fingerprints on the window and trying to figure out how long he can keep the janitorial staff from cleaning them.



    Four months later he kisses Lana in his library and thinks of Chloe standing there earlier in the day, of her parting words. If you hurt my friend there will be consequences and you're looking at her. She meant it as a threat and he took it as a promise.

    You have to let me go.

    No, he doesn't.

    He'll keep her anyway he can.

    He deepens the kiss.

    Do you hate me, yet?

    I'm working on it.

    End

    Thxs to Esther25jm for creating the banner for me and to beeej for the avi

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  2. #2

    Re: Cypanache BACK-UP: Who We Are & Who We've Always Been (R)

    This is such an extraordinary story. Thank you to the author for writing it and to the moderator for reposting so latecomers to the fandom have the opportunity to read it.

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