It was a typical Saturday for Chloe Sullivan: get up around eleven, have some coffee, read every major paper in the country and figure out how she could do it better. Her dad knew better than to bother her when she was in "Girl Friday" mode, but when the phone rang, he knocked on her door.
"Chloe? It's for you."
"Tell Clark I'll call him back in a little while," she said absent-mindedly, eyes intent on the computer screen. There were only so many times she could take hearing about the time he'd had with Lana the night before at Lex's party. Especially since she hadn't been invited.
"Chloe, I think you should take this."
Her dad's voice sounded a little odd--strained--so she picked up the receiver in her room. "Clark, we've talked about this. You know Saturday at noon is Chloe time. Do I interrupt you when you're having a hot-and-heavy so-called stargazing session?"
"Maybe you don't," said a voice that wasn't Clark's, "but now that you mention it, maybe next time I will."
It took her a second to place the voice, and then her cheeks flamed. "Mr. Luthor! I mean, Lex!"
She was so embarrassed that she forgot all about him being a sponsor of the Torch. "Geez! Why didn't you stop me?"
"I thought it would be rude to interrupt."
He said it innocently, but there was such an obnoxious grin in his voice. "Are you...making fun of me?"
"Well, I make fun of just about everybody. You shouldn't take it personally."
"Uh-huh," she said dubiously.
"So, how are you doing? I heard you got suspended from the paper."
She winced. "Yes, well, I got reinstated. I figure you're not doing your job if people aren't trying to close you down."
"Getting in trouble over a principle. That's...quaint. I should have tried that one in high school."
"What, you never got in trouble?" She raised an eyebrow, her horse-manure detector going off. "Come on, no one's that good."
"No, I mean I never got in trouble for a good reason."
"Right." She tried to imagine Lex in the principal's office at some school, getting yelled at and smirking. It wasn't as hard as she might have thought. Of course, with his dad, he could probably have printed whatever he wanted and not gotten into too much trouble. Totally unfair. "So, I hear the party went well?"
There was a slight, disconcerted pause. "Clark told you?"
"Clark and Lana told me." And comparing their versions had been very interesting. "Really convenient, the way that wide receiver for the Sharks showed up and wanted to play catch with Whitney all night."
"Well, I happened to know the guy. My dad does own the team."
"Of course. It was just a coincidence."
"You sound skeptical, Chloe."
"I'm a newspaper editor. I'm supposed to be." Suddenly, she was tired of the topic again. There was only so much talking she could do about it, too. And about a party she hadn't been on the guest list for. "Anyway, don't think I'm not enjoying this chat with the most important man in Smallville, but why are you calling me? If it's for help with the LuthorCorp plan to get the two best-looking people in Smallville together to improve the gene pool around here, sorry. My journalistic ethics forbid it."
"I'm sorry to hear you have those," he said, "because I was calling about the internship at the Inquisitor."
He'd mentioned something about that earlier in the year, but she'd figured he was just being polite. "Oh?"
"Yes. I put in your name for an interview. They'd like to see you on Thursday at 1."
"But...I didn't apply."
"Oh, I sent them the URL of the Torch website. They were impressed. Are you interested?"
Well, that was a silly question, though she didn't say so. "Of course I am! But...I don't know how I'm going to get to Metropolis on such short notice. My dad is working."
"That's actually not a problem. I'm going up on business myself. I can give you a ride."
Which was amazing, but..."Um. Is this the part where you ask for my soul? Because I already sold mine to get the paper back."
Lex laughed. "It's no problem. It takes an hour and a half to drive to the city, and it never hurts to have a little company."
"Well, okay then. When should we meet?"
"I'll pick you up at your house at nine, all right?"
"I'll see you then. And Chloe?"
"Caller ID is your friend." The phone clicked in her ear.
Chloe hung up, half-stunned. She pinched herself. "Nope, wide awake." She laughed breathlessly and grabbed the phone again to call Clark.
So on Thursday at nine, she dashed out the door in her interview suit to where Lex was waiting in his silvery-white convertible that Clark and Pete probably would have known the name of right away but which was totally foreign to her. He leaned across to open the door for her. "Ready to go?"
"Wait," she said, smoothing down her skirt. "Do I look okay?" She'd never had an interview this formal before, and he, unlike her dad who still thought cow ties were the height of workplace fashion, would know. Lex dressed like something out of the European fashion magazines she read sometimes.
He looked at her over his wire-rimmed sunglasses, which were tinted a purple so dark that she could hardly tell them from black, and swept his eyes casually up and down. She almost blushed. "You look fine," he assured her, and she got in.
They started off slowly enough, but once they'd turned the corner onto the highway, out of sight of her house, Lex sped the car up. "Lex!" she protested, putting her hands up as the wind started to whip at them. "My hair!"
He glanced at her again. "What? I thought it was supposed to look like you've been driving around with the top off. I just wanted to help."
Very funny. Well, if he was going to dish out a hard time, he should expect to get it back, sponsor or not. "Look, just because some people don't have to invest much, if any, time in their coiffures doesn't mean they should ruin everybody else's."
He snorted. "I never heard that you were so vain, Chloe."
"Um, I'm not the one wearing purple sunglasses here, Lex."
That made him laugh out loud. "Touche."
"At least slow down a little. There are other ways to meet people in this town besides running into them at sixty miles an hour."
"I don't know. The method's worked pretty well for me so far." He eased off the gas, though. "I take it you didn't meet Clark by car accident?"
"No, we went a more traditional route. He threw up on me."
"It was my third day in eighth grade. We went on a field trip. I guess everyone else knew to recognize the signs of an imminent Clark hurl, but I was young and naive and I got nailed. I was new in school--it was the most embarrassing moment of my life."
He laughed again. "What happened?"
"I had to go home in the middle of the day to get changed. I was so mad. Then, that evening, Clark showed up with a big armful of wildflowers he'd picked himself, to apologize." She paused. That was where she'd fallen in love, of course, if she was being honest, but she didn't think she wanted to be that honest with Lex. "It's pretty hard to stay mad at Clark, you know."
"Yes, I've noticed. So you've been friends ever since?"
"Well, except for a few minutes of temporary insanity last year when he fell under the spell of Britney Spears."
"Yes," he nodded sagely, "I've heard that seventy-five percent of all male-female friendships in middle school fail under her malign influence. LuthorCorp is considering setting up a relief fund for the victims."
"Oh, please." She only just reconsidered swatting him in time. "Like the same thing didn't happen with you and...and...Madonna."
"Madonna? Chloe, I'm only twenty-one!"
She pretended to consider. "Really? OK, that makes it marginally less lame for you to be hanging out with a bunch of sixteen-year-olds than I thought it was."
"And how lame is it that I'm giving one of them a ride to town out of the goodness of my heart?" he asked dryly.
"It's not lame at all. You're making up for not inviting me to that party last night when you invited two of my good friends. The same thing you've been doing for months."
He at least had the decency to look a little taken aback. "I'm sorry about that, Chloe, I just--"
"Just didn't want there to be any beautiful girls there to compete with Lana, right?" she said lightly.
His laugh this time was startled. "If I'd known you were this entertaining, I'd have invited you anyway."
"Don't worry, Lex, I'm not even an entrant in the great Clark sweepstakes," she said, leaning her head back against the headrest. It wasn't really a lie: she might as well not be in the competition against Lana, for all the good it did her.
Lex nodded and hit the radio, producing something that sounded growly and alternative. The trip went by quickly, even with Lex restraining himself slightly. Chloe started to get nervous as they entered Metropolis proper. She checked her look in the rearview mirror half a dozen times, and finally decided that she needed to reapply her lipstick.
Lex, however, clearly felt that he didn't really need to slow down for city traffic, just swerve more, and one of his abrupt stops jolted her arm, making her smear the lipstick at the corner of her mouth. She groaned and wiped at it in dismay. "Okay, Lex, I'm really starting to think you've got some kind of conspiracy to make me look bad for this interview."
"It doesn't really matter how you look, you know," he said off-handedly, running a red light.
"For men, maybe. Studies have shown that the more attractive a woman, the higher her salary, even after they allow for differences in qualifications."
"That's entirely possible, Chloe. But since you're the only candidate for the internship..."
She sat up straight. "What?!?"
"You're the only candidate for the internship. Just try not to hurl on the committee, and you should be fine."
Her stomach lurched. "You're saying...the competition was fixed?"
"I'm saying that I used my connections to the Inquisitor to get them to consider you before they held a general search."
So all the rumors of how sticky Luthor favors could turn out to be were true. "Stop the car, Lex."
"Stop the car. I want to get out."
"But you'll be late."
"Late to my cheating? That's not a problem."
"Chloe," he laughed, "this isn't cheating. It's just patronage."
"Lex, I'm not kidding. Do you want me to jump out of this car at the next red light?"
He gave her a startled look, then jerked the car into a parking space. "You can't be serious about this."
"I'm deadly serious. I don't want to get this internship because I know someone, I want to get it because I'm good."
"Chloe, no one gets things just because they're good. Everyone uses their connections. You've got to exploit them if you want to get anywhere."
God, he sounded so oily. "Yes, well, we'll see about that," she said, fumbling for the door handle.
Lex shook his head. "I might have expected this kind of reaction from Clark," he said, "but I thought you were a little more sophisticated than that. You're not some small-town girl."
"No, just a girl with some principles. I guess that's too hard for you to understand." She started to scramble out of the car.
"Chloe"--he reached out for her arm--"be reasonable. You need to--"
A flash went off, dazzling her. When her vision cleared, she saw a thin man in a green denim jacket holding a camera. "Want to give me a caption?" he asked her, displaying stained teeth in an ugly grin.
She stared at him. "You took our picture?"
"'Lovers' Quarrel' it is, then," he said.
"McKinney," Lex growled, out of the car himself fast, "give me that camera."
"Now, Lex," McKinney said, "you know the deal. Five hundred dollars, you get the film."
"Five hundred dollars?" she said, shocked.
"I've gotta eat, miss. It's what the tabloids would pay."
She tried to decide exactly how much she would want to die if she ended up on the cover of a tabloid as Lex's girlfriend. Or how much her dad would want to kill her. If it came to that, she might as well just let him. "But I'm not his girlfriend!"
"That's for the public to decide. They deserve to be informed."
"McKinney, I'm going to count to five," Lex said, "and then I'm going to see that film. Either you're going to be handing it to me or I'm going to be fishing it out of the wreckage of that expensive camera, but I am going to be seeing it. Your choice."
"I like another option better," McKinney said, turned, and ran.
"Damn!" Lex swore, jumping back into the car. "Chloe, come on!"
"Lex, what are you--"
"Into the car! Come on!"
Of course. They had to catch the jerk. She slid back in, and he took off, racing down the street behind McKinney. At the corner, the light turned red, and Lex was about to gun it, but she yelled, "Lex! Look out!" and he stopped just in time to avoid getting them smashed by a truck.
By the time they were able to go again, McKinney was nowhere in sight.
Ten minutes later, they met up on the sidewalk, having checked up and down both sides of the street.
"Nothing?" Chloe asked.
"Nothing," Lex confirmed.
"Me, neither." She frowned, leaning on a fire hydrant. "You said this guy's name. You know him?"
"Yes. He took the picture the first time I made the front page of the paper."
She could dimly remember hearing that he was in trouble when she was younger. "Doing what, puking your guts out after a kegger?"
"No," he said calmly, "trying to rearrange the dental work of someone who'd said something about my mother."
"Oh." Oops. Clark had told her Lex's mom was dead. "Well," she went on hastily, "do you know anywhere that he might hang out, where we might find him?"
"I know where he used to live. And there are a couple of bars..."
"All right, then. Let's go." She pushed herself up, but he didn't move. "Lex?"
"Maybe you shouldn't come along," he said.
"What? Why not? It's my reputation that's on the line. I'm the one that's going to find the Mr. Clean ads taped to my locker!"
"This...could get a little messy."
Was he treating her like a girl? "And? I'm a reporter, Lex. I'm used to the seamy side of life." Well, the seamy side of Smallville life, anyway. It couldn't be that much worse.
"Besides, I took self-defense at school. What's the worst thing that could happen? I see a Luthor bribing a reporter? That's not exactly new, now, is it?"
The corner of Lex's mouth quirked up. "Fine. But don't blame me if you get your hair messed up again."
"It won't matter what my hair looks like if that picture gets out," she said. "Now, if you don't mind...?"
McKinney lived in what you could officially classify as a dump in Hobs Bay. His name was next to a buzzer in the lobby. Lex reached for it. "No, wait," Chloe said, and started buzzing every other buzzer.
"What are you--?"
She held up a hand. A sleepy voice growled over the intercom, "Whaddaya want?"
"Mike?" she said, making her voice sound as ditzy as possible.
"No Mike here."
She hit the same buzzer again. "Come on, Mike! Let me innnn!"
After about two minutes of this, the door clicked open. "Nice," Lex said.
"Never underestimate the power of being underestimated," she said, slipping inside.
No one answered McKinney's door. Lex fished out his wallet, extracted a credit card, and started working on the lock. "Oh, that's great," she said, looking up and down the hallway. "Where did you learn that?"
"One of the best boarding schools in the world." The lock gave, and he pushed the door open.
"What, was breaking and entering one of your extracurriculars?"
"No, but I just added 'contributing to the delinquency of a minor' to my resume. That'll look great on the LuthorCorp website."
"There's no such thing as bad publicity," she said, stepping over a pizza box by the door. "Though there is such a thing as bad housekeeping, and this guy is definitely practicing it."
The apartment was dingy, with clothes and plates of dried food littered everywhere. "Welcome to the seamy side of life. This could take hours," Lex grimaced, "and we don't even know if the film's here or not."
"Hm," she said, looking around. The thought of rummaging through McKinney's stuff grossed her out, and the thought of him coming back and calling the police freaked her out, so...there had to be a better way. And--yes. There was an answering machine on the table, blinking at them. She pushed the "play" button. "You have three new messages. Thursday, 9:30 am..." She quickly stopped it. "He hasn't been here." She tipped Lex a wink. He was giving her a look. "What?"
"Nothing. Just remind me not to hatch any illegal schemes in your city once you get a real job in journalism."
"Don't you try to charm me, Lex Luthor," she grinned as they left. "I've been exposed to the Kent charm for over two years now, and nothing less will do."
Their next stop was a rundown bar four blocks away. It was dimly-lit and smelled like the inside of one of her old tennis shoes. Furthermore, Chloe realized as she stepped in behind Lex, the floor was crunchy. She was going to have to burn those pumps later on. A few greasy men were hunched over their drinks. As one of them gave her a bleary leer, she firmly repressed the urge to move closer to Lex. The seamy side. She could handle it.
The bartender, a thin man in a wifebeater, shot them an unfriendly look. "Lex Luthor. What are you doing here?"
"I'm looking for McKinney, Jack. Has he been in here today?"
Jack reached for a glass and started wiping it out. "Haven't seen him."
"You wouldn't be saying that just to get rid of me, now, would you, Jack?"
"Nope." Jack looked at Chloe. "Not when you bring in fresh meat like that with you."
Chloe scowled. Whatever retort she might have come up with was cut off, though, by the bellow of a huge man who had been sitting half-asleep at the far end of the bar. "Luthor!"
She saw the quick movement of Lex's Adam's apple as he swallowed. "Fogg."
Fogg got up and lumbered towards them. He had on heavy boots that rattled the floor as he walked. "I can't believe you'd show your face in here, Luthor. Your dirty cop still around to protect you?"
"I never needed anyone to protect me, Fogg," Lex said, but he didn't sound too confident. Chloe found herself backing up, then frowned and made herself stand her ground.
"Right," Fogg sneered. "You're a real tough guy. You're lucky I won't fight in front of a woman."
"I won't take up any more of your time, then, Jack," Lex said and started to turn away, but Fogg hauled off and slugged him. Hard. Startled, Chloe flinched back. Wasn't that..._cheating_? Lex went to his knees, bleeding from his mouth, and Fogg brought his knee up into his chin. Lex fell backwards with an ugly thud.
"Hey!" Chloe yelled, but Fogg ignored her. She looked over at Jack, thinking that he had to break up a fight in his own bar, but he had his head down, wiping out glasses. Fogg reached down to grab Lex's collar so he could punch him in the face again. Chloe glanced around desperately and noticed an empty beer bottle on the bar. Well--it worked in the movies. She grabbed it and smashed it down on the back of Fogg's head. To her astonishment, he actually gasped, grabbed at his head, and toppled slowly over.
"Tim-ber," Lex muttered from the floor as Chloe came over to him. She dragged him to his feet, getting his arm over her shoulder. As they started for the door, though, Jack barred their way, holding a baseball bat.
"You got into a fight," he said. "Everyone here will back me up on that."
Chloe was so mad at him that she didn't even stop to be scared. "And...how are they going to explain how an underage girl got in? You didn't check my ID. When the cops come, they're really going to wonder."
"On the other hand, if we just go, no cops, no problem."
"You're lucky you've got your woman here, Luthor," Jack scowled. "Not even a cop now, but a girl. That's just great."
"Whatever works," Lex said weakly, straightening up a little.
"Now, if you'll excuse us..." Chloe pulled Lex through the door.
Lex was thin, but he was still heavy--he must be pretty fit under his clothes, she thought. He leaned on her like someone used to being half-carried out of bars, which would've been okay if she had been someone as tall and strong as Clark, but she really wasn't, so the going was slow. A few people turned and stared at them as they wobbled down the street. "This is just great," she muttered under her breath, giggling nervously. If she'd seen them, she would probably have made fun of them, too.
They made it about a block before she had to set him down on a flight of steps in front of a bank. The adrenaline she'd felt abruptly wore off, and she almost crashed down next to him to stare off in a half-daze. After a few minutes, she asked wonderingly, "Was I just...in a bar brawl?"
"Yes." Lex put a hand to his lip. It came away bleeding. She frowned, rummaged in her purse, and handed him a tissue. He applied it to his mouth. "This is a part of the day I wouldn't recommend sharing with your father."
Go to get a nice summer job, end up in an Indiana Jones movie. She started to laugh shakily. "Yes, I think we'd better just keep this between us. Since being grounded til I'm thirty would put a real crimp in my social calendar."
"I can tell you from experience, it does." Lex looked at her narrowly. "Your first brawl, and you didn't even mess up your hair. I'm impressed."
She ran a hand over it. "Not that it matters, since I'm not going to--oh, no, the interview!" She looked at her watch. "It was forty-five minutes ago! I didn't call and cancel!"
"Chloe," he said, pressing the tissue against his lip again, "now that we've spent the morning breaking a wide range of state and federal laws together, I feel we're close enough that I can ask you a favor."
"Just go to the interview, all right? You don't have to take the internship if you decide you don't want it. I just don't want this whole ridiculous day to have been for nothing."
He was giving her an appealing look above the tissue, and she could suddenly see why he was such an influence on Clark. "I already missed the interview, Lex."
"If I call them and say my car broke down, you'll probably be all right."
"But what about the film?"
"I, ah, don't exactly know where else to go to look for McKinney," he admitted. "So you might as well go ahead. After all, whether or not you get the job on your own merits has nothing to do with how good you are."
Which was, in fact, true. She sighed. "Oh, all right. Can you drive?"
One nice side effect of the morning's adventure was that Chloe had completely forgotten her nervousness as she marched into the Inquisitor building. In fact, she felt take-no-prisoners, like she was about to stomp Clark and Pete in a video game. The receptionist gave her a bored look and waved her back through the big newsroom. "Since you're late, you'll have to wait. Third office on the back."
Chloe nodded and started to cross the room. The Inquisitor's space was smaller and shabbier than the Planet's, where she'd taken a tour in the seventh grade, but it was still bustling with activity. People yelled into phones or rattled away at keyboards or both. Other people strode through, arguing with each other about which story should get the front page. Between the office doors on the walls were framed copies of earlier front pages--pretty luridly phrased, yes, but with the genuine popular touch. She took a deep breath and thought she could smell the odor of newsprint. It was silly to pretend that she didn't want this.
The door of the third office in the back was locked. She turned around, looking for someone to help her. Her eyes fell on one of the framed front pages. LEX DECKS FRIEND OVER SEX, it said, next to a shot of Lex standing over someone, scowling, fist drawn back. Chloe frowned. Lex looked so young in the picture. It must have been the one he'd mentioned in the car. She bet the headline was technically true--that the guy had made some kind of rude remark about Mrs. Luthor. But still. Making money off a kid's grief like that. Making the story worse. Was that what she wanted?
Her frown deepened as she saw a door open in the near wall and McKinney and another guy come out. McKinney was holding a little wad of bills and grinning. He headed for the door, and the other guy crossed the room, calling to a woman, "Jackie! Think we've got an item for the metro!"
He'd left his door ajar, and Chloe could see into his office. There was definitely a canister of film on his desk. Making money out of lying about her, too, then. She glanced back at the guy; he was bending over Jackie's desk, talking to her emphatically. No time to waste. She walked into his office casually, closed her hand over the canister, and started to walk out.
"Hey! What are you doing in here?" the man demanded from the door of the office, making her heart jump into her throat.
"I had an interview for the internship, but no one seems to be in the office where they told me to go. I was just looking for someone who could help me." Wow, she was really getting good at lying.
He frowned. "Yeah, Nedham's out. You're just going to have to wait."
"Actually," she said, heart pounding, "I've changed my mind. I don't want the position. Could you just tell him I'm leaving?"
He shook his head. "Whatever, kid."
She made herself walk slowly across the room. If he yelled, she decided, she was going to pull the canister open and dump the film out. And hope that she wouldn't get in too much trouble. But no one said anything, and she made it outside with a vast sigh of relief. And then a victory dance.
When, an hour later, Lex turned up at the coffee shop where they were supposed to meet, he looked irritable and frustrated. "Sorry. I was trying to track down McKinney. No luck." He looked at the empty coffee cup and muffin wrapper on the table. "Have you been waiting long?"
"About an hour," she said. "Don't worry, I had a book."
"An hour? But you--" He grimaced in exasperation. "You walked out of the interview, didn't you."
"Why? You still think that unless you prove yourself in open combat, you're not good enough for them? Chloe--"
"Oh, it's not that," she said airily.
"I decided," she said, and opened up her hand, showing him the canister on her palm. Lex's eyes went gratifyingly wide with awe, and she grinned from ear to ear. "_They're_ not good enough for me."
"So," Lex said in between sips on a straw about an hour later. They'd hit a drive-thru and pulled off at a pretty spot on the drive back to eat lunch. "What are you going to tell your dad about today?"
"Just that it didn't feel like the right environment to me," Chloe answered. "He won't push. He's actually pretty good about that."
"Must be nice."
"Your dad's a little more...aggressive?" It wasn't a surprising idea, given what everybody knew about Lionel Luthor.
Lex shrugged. "My dad has his own perspective on what my responsibilities are, and he's not shy about sharing it with me."
"Is that why you helped me today?"
He looked at her. "What?"
She was, she realized, genuinely curious. In just one day, Lex had gone from being her dad's boss to a partner in crime, a wisecracker who could pick locks and had a bad reputation in the worst bars in town. Which was cool, and fun, but even though she'd just gone on a crime spree with him, she didn't really know what was going on in his head. Lex Luthor: overgrown fratboy, or...? "I was the one who really had something to lose if that picture was taken. I was going to get teased up and down. Whereas it's not like you've never been in the papers before. So, was it because your dad would've been mad?"
Lex frowned. "Do you really feel the need to analyze the reasons why people are nice to you?"
"I like to know what's going on, Lex."
"Well. It's true that my dad wouldn't have exactly been pleased if I'd ended up in the paper with an underage girl--"
"--I thought so--"
"--_but_ I don't like McKinney, either, and it's a personal principle of mine that he shouldn't make another dime off me. So I guess you could say I had some ulterior motives."
She nodded. She'd expected that.
"However, you're also a friend of Clark's, and this was my idea in the first place, so it didn't really seem right that you should get screwed because of me." He tilted his head and studied her. "Good enough?"
"Yeah, actually." So, not all that self-centered after all. No more than the usual person, really, whatever impression he might give. She offered him the bag with the fries on the bottom. "Everybody's got mixed motives, except maybe Clark sometimes. I always feel more comfortable when I know the score."
He smiled again, rummaging for the last fries. "That's something else we have in common. I always say that there's no such thing as too much information."
She raised an eyebrow. "Something else?"
"Well, I mean, besides wit, ruthlessness, and coolness under pressure."
She laughed, feeling her cheeks heat a little. "Good answer. Anyway, it guess it all worked out for the best. I even got a souvenir of my grand return to Metropolis: photographic evidence that I'm having an affair with a billionaire."
"Actually, Chloe," Lex said casually, "I was thinking that you should let me have that film. For safekeeping."
"Oh, no," she laughed again. "I earned it. Besides, I was thinking of having commemorative T-shirts printed up with the photo. 'Chloe & Lex 4eva!'"
He smirked. "Oh, but what would Clark say?"
He was only kidding around, of course, but--suddenly her laughter caught in her throat. Clark wouldn't say a thing. Clark didn't care who she was with. Clark hadn't even cared when she'd kissed him last month. She turned away to the window, frowning at her own stupidity. God, when was she going to get over it?
There was a short silence. Then Lex said, surprisingly gently, "Ah."
God, one minute he'd been thinking she was cool and sophisticated, and now she looked like a kid with a schoolgirl crush. Embarrassed, she made herself turn back to him and take the initiative. "What about you?"
"What about me, what?"
"You take quite an interest in Clark, don't you? Giving him presents, fixing his problems, trying to hook him up with Lana...some people might say that's sublimation."
"Sublimation?" He snorted. "Are you saying that you think I'm in love with Clark?"
The faint color that had crept into his cheeks told her she'd at least hit on something that would get the conversation off her feelings. "Sure. Why not?"
"Why not? Because we're both guys. Because he's sixteen, and I'm twenty-one. Because his parents would kill me. Because..."
"Gee," she said innocently, "sounds like you've thought about this an awful lot, Lex."
He stared at her, his mouth caught half-open, looking genuinely flummoxed, and, really, it was too good a chance to pass up.
"It's not like it's a bad thing, you know. It's the new millennium, and Clark is a really good guy."
He made a slight choking noise, then he closed his mouth. "If you say so."
"You know, I think I should tell him," she said. "It's the sort of thing a friend would do."
"Chloe," he said firmly, "I am not attracted to Clark."
Her eyes sparkled suddenly. "Then prove it."
He really was flushed now, which only made her aware of how pale he usually was, how much of his skin was open to view. "Then we'll know you're attracted to girls instead of guys." She was aware that her logic was getting a little shaky here, but the whole thing was making her...giddy.
"I don't think I should be demonstrating that with the daughter of my plant's manager."
"Fine." She shrugged, trying to hide a smile. "The alternative is for you to kiss Lana Lang. Do you want me to call her? I'm sure she'd be willing to meet us at my place when we get back."
"All right," he said, defeated, casting a glance at the glove compartment.
"No liquor," she said. "That's what a gay man would do to nerve himself up." At least, that's how it was in the books.
"Fine." He leaned over and pecked her on the cheek. "Satisfied?"
She could've let it go, but..."No. My grandmother kisses more enthusiastically that that, Lex."
He snorted. "Is that your only basis for comparison?"
She hoped she wasn't blushing. "Never you mind. Just kiss me right this time."
He did, lips beginning with a gentle pressure that grew stronger as he slid his arms around her. Before Chloe quite knew what she was doing, she was French-kissing Lex Luthor as he drew lazy circles on her back with his fingers. The unhurriedness of his touch made an odd contrast with the intensity of the kiss. When he broke away, she was breathless. "Now are you satisfied?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said. "I think we'd better do it again."
He grinned, and she tried not to stare at his mouth. "If you insist, Chloe. I don't want you harboring any doubts."
"It's important to confirm early reports," she said, and tugged him back towards her.
Just as he was about to kiss her, though, a car sped by and someone inside blew their horn and yelled "Whoo-hoo!" out the window. They sprang apart, both blushing furiously. After a minute of awkward silence, Chloe cleared her throat and said, "It's lucky they didn't have a camera."
Lex's laughter was genuine. "True. We'd have to spend the rest of the day hunting them down, and then your father would get worried." He reached for the keys. "Speaking of which, shall we be getting back?"
"Yes," she said, "that's probably a good idea. But, Lex?"
He looked over at her. "Yes?"
"You might as well go ahead and drive fast."
The thrill of the wind whipping through her hair was something she could use just then. She had a lot to think about.
They pulled up in front of Chloe's house a little over an hour later. "Well, here we are," Lex said.
"Right," she said, and started to open the door, then stopped, reminded of something. "You know, Lex, I just realized I never thanked you."
"For the ride?" He waved a hand. "Think nothing of it. It was enlightening."
"No, I meant...for going into the plant. Saving my dad's life." She wondered if he'd had mixed motives for that, and if so, what they were, but she decided she'd found out enough about him for one day.
He looked away. "I didn't actually do much of the saving, Chloe. Clark helped a lot more than got into the papers."
"Well, anyway, it was really brave," she said. "And I'm not going to tell on you."
"Tell on me?"
"About your being in love with Clark, I mean."
His head snapped around. "But I thought--"
Surprising him, she thought, could get to be a fun hobby. "You wouldn't have bothered with that little demonstration if you didn't actually care whether I told Clark or not," she said. "Besides...don't you think I know what it looks like? I see it in the mirror every day."
They shared a long look. "True..." he said softly.
It was funny, she thought, how knowing that she wasn't the only one made her feel a little better about the whole thing. "Don't worry, Lex." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Your secret is safe with me."
She got out of the car and went up the walk towards her house. The last thing she saw when she glanced back before going inside was Lex still sitting in the car, chin propped on his palm, deep in thought.