Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

Town Mouse, Country Mouse

Town Mouse, Country Mouse

by Mara

Summary: To his own surprise, Lex finds himself helping Chloe disguise herself as a society babe. And what good can come of *that*?

NOTES: This fic got out of hand, and as usual, it’s all Medie’s fault 😉
Tremendous thanks go to Alexis for reassurance and betareading duties. And thank
you to Angelsgracie for giving me the opportunity and the incentive to write
this fic.
DEDICATION: This story is a gift for Medie on the occasion of her fandom roast,
in honor of the many plot bunnies she’s sicced on me, as well as the
encouragement and praise I’ve received from her. ::hugs::

Lex barely resisted the smirk he felt trying to creep across his face–partially
because he knew how much smirking annoyed Chloe and partially because this was a
smirk-worthy situation.

He’d been silent and expressionless through her entire presentation, a tactic
that had been known to cause less-prepared businessmen to develop a stammer and
drop pens on the floor. But Chloe completely ignored his lack of response,
laying out her proposal with a succinctness Lex secretly wished he could teach
some of LexCorp’s top executives.

“*My* help?” he asked when she finished, leaning back in his leather chair and
tenting his fingers to hide any smirk vestiges. “You want *my* help on a story?”

Chloe frowned at him. “Well, if I’m going to write about the bad behavior of
rich, spoiled young adults, you’re be a natural person to help.”

Lex didn’t move a muscle. “Some people would be trying flattery at this
juncture. Or at least tact. I would imagine that someday you’ll learn both.”

That baited her into a response, her fair skin flushing. “You *know* what I
mean. You know these people, how they dress, how they talk. I need your help to
fit in.”

“Considering our past…antagonism, I’m surprised you’re here,” he said.

“That’s in the past,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Live in the now, Lex. And
right now I’m asking for your help. Will you do it or not?”

Taking his time, Lex studied Chloe: hair in the blonde flare she’d worn forever,
pink floral shirt making her look younger, expression trying for calm and
patient while he could hear her toes tapping. Four years of college hadn’t
changed her all that much.

Was it even possible? Could he turn nosy spitfire Chloe into a visiting society
girl? And why *would* he?

Although he *knew* nothing was showing on his face, Chloe seemed to have
followed his thoughts. “Look, if you don’t want–”

“Wait.” He knew why he was going to do it: It represented a challenge and he
hadn’t had a good challenge in a while. Besides, he still owed her for…for his
father. “How much time do we have?”

Chloe grinned. “You’ve got a week, Pygmalion.”

“It’s nice to see that some classics are still known. Perhaps this won’t be as
difficult as I thought.” Mind already full of makeup and hair, Lex eyed her
again, trying to estimate her size. This little project might even be fun.

And fun was something else that had been conspicuously lacking recently.

* * * * *

Lex’s secretary was scandalized when he swept out of his office, ushering Chloe
in front of him with a hand on her back. “Rose! Cancel this afternoon’s
meetings,” he called. “Tomorrow too. Reschedule Finver and Gifford for Thursday.
Everyone else gets the next open slot.”

“But Mr. Luthor…” Rose opened and closed her mouth and Lex knew what was
bothering her. Certainly he’d been known to take it in his head to disappear
with a young lady, but they were usually the kind of young lady considered
suitable for the head of LexCorp–rich, gorgeous, and either stupid or devious.

Hand still on Chloe’s back, Lex paused. “Yes, Rose?” His voice held undertones
he knew his secretary could read.

“Nothing, Mr. Luthor. I’ll take care of the rescheduling immediately.” She shot
a curious glance at Chloe, but chose to keep her job.

“Glad to hear it.”

Chloe, eyes narrowed, was obviously trying to figure out what had just happened,
but Lex had no intention of enlightening her. For one thing, he wasn’t in the
mood for the inevitable 20-minute lecture on wealth and power and double-
standards for women. There was enough of that in his immediate future.

“Come along. So much to do, so little time.” As he led her out of the office, a
quick glimpse of her face showed suspicion mixed with caution.

Good.

* * * * *

Suspicion seemed to be winning by the time they stepped off the elevator into
the marble-floored corridor leading to his penthouse. On the way over, she’d
been suitably distracted by the amenities of his latest Ferrari, but now she had
the unsubtle look on her face she’d nearly always had in high school when he was
around.

“Relax, Chloe, I have no interest in ravishing you. I haven’t ravished an
unwilling woman in, oh, weeks.”

She scowled at him. “Don’t be ridiculous. But what *are* we doing here?”

Lex unlocked the door and strode through, covertly watching Chloe’s unease with
the moderately opulent surroundings. They’d have to work on that, he thought as
she picked her way across the deep pile of the rug. “Why are we here?”

“Yes, Lex, why are we here? It’s not a difficult question.”

Down the hall, passing his own bedroom, he stepped into a guestroom. “We’re here
because of a truism.”

Chloe crossed her arms, leaning against an 18th century walnut dresser. “What
truism?” she asked.

With a flourish, he threw open the closet doors and stepped to the side. “Why,
clothes make the man, of course.”

Chloe’s jaw dropped and she was speechless for a moment as her eyes roamed the
racks of clothing of every style and description, men’s and women’s both. Never
speechless for long, she turned to him. “Is there something I should know about
your dress habits?”

“First lesson of the rich,” Lex said. “Be prepared. You have the money, so you
use it.”

“To buy clothing?”

Lex began to flip through the racks, occasionally turning to appraise her again.
“To be able to offer a guest a gown for an unexpected black tie event.” He
pulled out a black Vera Wang dress and handed it to her. “Or something more
casual for a night on the town.” A Casper pantsuit in peacock blue came out, was
held up against her, and then went back. Tilting his head, he considered the
same outfit in red. Nodding to himself, he pulled it out and handed it to her.

“You keep clothing in case a guest needs it?”

When he glanced over his shoulder, Chloe’s jaw looked like it wanted to hit the
floor. “Second lesson: Never look surprised. Never sound astonished. And never
ever seem impressed.”

“How do you do that?”

“Hmm?” He was looking back and forth between a burgundy Halston and another Vera
Wang, this one a gold minidress.

“How are you so…blasé about everything.”

Lex chuckled. “You misunderstand. I didn’t say you had to *be* blasé, just that
you have to *act* that way.” He turned, holding the Halston up against her skin
and hair. “You need to stop showing your feelings on your face.”

She made an effort to stop looking disconcerted and uncomfortable and he raised
an eyebrow at her. “I don’t know how,” she said finally, shifting under his
gaze.

“You’ll learn. If you want this badly enough, you’ll learn.”

He sorted through the rest of the clothing, after shooing her into the bathroom
to start trying on the outfits. She was already starting to get that stubborn
look, but Lex didn’t give her a chance to refuse the clothing. She’d never
succeed for an instant without as much as she could wear, but if he let her
argue, she’d just talk herself out of it.

“Rules are for other people,” Lex said loud enough to be heard through the door
as he flipped the racks to look at the more sedate everyday items. “Whatever you
see someone do, whatever they say they did, don’t look shocked.”

“But–”

“You’re going to have to stifle your natural impulses,” he continued. “Outrage
and curiosity are rarer than a virgin in these circles.” His lips twitched at
the stifled sounds from the bathroom.

Three more outfits in hand, Lex turned when he heard the door opening. “And be
certain that you…”

The words died on his lips as he looked at the figure stepping through the
doorway. Even without the other changes he’d planned for her, Chloe in the Vera
Wang, barefoot, rounded in all the right places, was…astonishing.

Obedient to his previous coaching, she was looking unconcerned and haughty
(well, almost), but when he didn’t respond, her face changed. Glancing down at
herself, she wrinkled.

“I look stupid, don’t I?” She ran a hand over one hip, where the nubby silk fell
perfectly into place, outlining curves he wasn’t sure he’d ever noticed before.
“I don’t think this is going to work. You can put a pig in a suit, but it’s
still a pig.”

“Ah, Chloe,” he found his voice, “don’t compare yourself to a pig. In fact, I’d
prefer you attempted to excise all farm metaphors now, rather than later. But
that’s beside the point.”

She blinked at him. “What’s the point?”

“The point is,” he ran through three responses, “that the dress suits you.”

“It does?”

“It does. If you ask nicely, I might even let you keep it.” He’d never seen her
look so uncertain before, and it was oddly charming, especially when paired with
the bare feet. Tearing his eyes away from the neckline that fell just low enough
to tease properly, he turned back to the closet. “Try on the others.”

“Lex?”

He took an instant to blank his expression before turning. “Yes?”

“Why are you going to this much trouble? You don’t even *like* me. If this is
some weird backhanded favor for Clark, then you shouldn’t bother.” Now she
looked and sounded like herself again–combative and argumentative–and it made
him feel better.

He momentarily considered giving her one of the true answers to her question,
but settled for an evasion. “You asked for my help.”

“Lex–”

“Try on the clothing, Chloe. And remember to look at the labels, so if someone
asks you about them, you’ll know what they’re talking about.”

She met his eyes and held them, once again giving him the disconcerting feeling
that she knew what he was thinking. (Had she been able to do that in high
school? Surely not.) But she couldn’t know. If neither Lionel nor Clark had ever
learned to read him, it was impossible that *she* had. He held her gaze,
consciously staying relaxed, his expression faintly amused.

Finally she gave up and stomped back into the bathroom. Lex let his expression
change to something slightly more nostalgic, remembering countless days and
evenings spent with Clark and his coterie. Frustrating in their nearly
impenetrable innocence and naïveté, they had nonetheless provided a telling
counterbalance to his upbringing. Not that he planned to point that out to
Chloe.

She came out in a sea foam green strapless Chanel that didn’t quite work without
the proper push-up undergarment. He considered it for a moment, giving up when
he decided she would rebel if he tried to pick out a bra for her. Smallville
sensibilities strike again. “The color’s right, but not the size. Next.”

Chloe saluted and marched back. “Okay,” she called through the door, “I can’t
talk about farm stuff or journalism. What *do* I talk about? I’m assuming the
average society girl isn’t much for politics or TV sitcoms. What are my choices
for small talk?”

“No current events unless it’s business or society news. And we all watch
television, we’re just not allowed to admit it. There’s always money–who has it
and who doesn’t. Fashion is safe, but I don’t have the time to teach you more
than the basics.”

“Don’t worry, I can fake almost any topic.” Her voice was momentarily muffled.
“One advantage of journalism is you learn how to sound like an expert without
actually being one. Besides, I have a good memory.”

She stepped out in the pantsuit and he nodded his approval. “That one will do.
So, I’m assuming you have a more clever plan than hoping someone will do
something illegal.”

“Yes, Lex.” Hands on her hips, she glared at him. “I *am* an investigative
journalist. As you might recall.”

“Touché.” He shooed her back to try on the next outfit. “Somehow I doubt your
readers will be surprised that the young, bored, and rich use drugs and have
indiscriminate sex.”

“I want to see what they do and how they manipulate the system to keep out of
official trouble. But I think there’s more to it,” she said through the door.
“These people are influential–if not now, then later when they end up running
businesses or sitting on the boards of philanthropic organizations. Their lack
of ethics now has future consequences.”

He paused, considering the closed door. “Chloe?”

“Yes?”

“Are you investigating me?”

Something thumped and he leaned against the wall, arms crossed and waiting. The
door opened enough for her to stick her head and part of a bare shoulder out.
“No!”

Lex waited.

“No, I’m not investigating you. Jeez, if I was, I’d have said so. Or else you
wouldn’t have known until I published and you tried to squelch the story. You
know that!”

Lex waited.

“Lex, I swear I’m not investigating *you*.”

He nodded once. “Okay.”

“Okay.” They stared at each other, then Chloe realized she was only half-dressed
and ducked back into the bathroom. “So,” she said, “once we’re done raiding your
wardrobe, what next?”

Since she couldn’t see him, he smiled. “Next, we pay a visit to Alberto.”

“Who’s Alberto?”

“The very best hairdresser in Metropolis, of course.”

Her groan was loud enough to be heard in Smallville.

* * * * *

It was fortunate that Lex had no personal need of the man’s services, because it
was entirely likely that Alberto would never, ever forgive him after the
experience of cutting the hair of Chloe Sullivan. Chloe didn’t know it, but Lex
had paid a substantial sum to Alberto to get him in after hours, so nobody else
would see them.

Lex leaned against a nearby counter and watched the battle. Oh yes, this was
definitely amusing enough to be worth the trouble.

“What do you mean tinting?” Chloe’s voice seemed to have gone up an octave.

Alberto was shaking with anguish. “Your hair, it has been butchered. There is
only so much I can do in one day. A little tint, maybe I can distract from the
dryness, the…oh, Mr. Luthor.” He turned to look at Lex, who shrugged. “I can
only do my best.”

“Look, can’t you just cut it or,” she waved her hands around, “something.”

“There is more than just cutting. This is art!” Alberto waved *his* hands, but
his years of experience allowed his handwaving to symbolize his helplessness,
his need to do this right, and just a bit of disgust that she’d let her hair get
in this shape.

Lex nodded. So far, it was Alberto: 2, Chloe: 0. He could see a sweep coming.

Two hours later, as they exited the salon, Chloe watched herself out of the
corner of her eyes, seeming unsure quite what to make of the fashionably elfin
hairstyle with its streaks of silver and gold.

“Next stop is Andrea, if she’s in.”

“I’m afraid to ask, Lex. Just tell me she’s not fitting me for a mink, because I
draw the line at animal fur.”

“Andrea is complicated.” Lex slid behind the wheel of the car. “Let’s just say
she owes me a few favors and I’m cashing in.”

He forestalled her next question by flipping on the car’s mobile phone. Two
rings and Andrea picked up, her warm contralto sounding pleased as it echoed off
the car roof. “Lex! How have you been?”

“The same.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Lex could hear Chloe’s intake of breath, but he ignored her. He certainly wasn’t
going to explain what Andrea meant. “Are you free for a few hours tonight or
tomorrow? I could use some help.”

“Really?” Her interest was piqued. “Not tonight, I’m afraid. I’ve got class. But
if you come by tomorrow evening, I’ll do whatever I can. Do I get an
explanation?”

“Let’s just say I need you to dig out your war paints. I think it might be
easier to explain the rest when we get there.”

“We?” Andrea laughed. “This should be interesting.”

“I know you’ll think so. Tomorrow at 7?”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”

Lex clicked off the phone and glanced at Chloe, daring her to comment. She
narrowed her eyes and compressed her lips, refusing to give in. “Well, if
Andrea’s not available, I think we’ve done enough for this evening. You must
have studying to do, windmills to tilt at.”

He could almost hear her teeth grit. “I *do* know who Don Quixote is.”

“Just checking. I can never be sure with Smallville schools.”

Chloe sighed. “Thank you for your help, Lex.”

Conversation was desultory on the way to her apartment.

* * * * *

As arranged, he picked her up the next evening to drive them to Andrea’s. And
just as he’d suspected, Chloe’s curiosity was piqued.

“So, how do you know Andrea?” she asked.

“Prep school.”

If all her interviews were this subtle, he was going to have to re-evaluate his
opinion of her journalistic ability.

“Hmm. And the favors she owes you?”

He looked through the front windshield. “Are for services rendered.”

That shut her up, although he could feel her studying him. Why had he thought
that consulting Andrea was a good idea?

Because she was one of the very few people he could trust.

When they pulled up in front of the modest brownstone, Chloe stared, but didn’t
ask. Lex strode up the front steps without waiting to see if she followed, but
he heard her shoes click on the concrete behind him.

Before he could ring the bell, the door was flung open and Andrea threw her arms
around him. As always, he was thrown off-balance by the warm, genuine welcome.

“Andrea.”

“Hello, Lex.” She grinned and let him go, stepping back.

“You look wonderful,” he said. And she did, curves where they should be, dressed
casually but with style, and a smile hovering around her lips.

“You definitely look the same.” She eyed him briefly. “Still need to get out in
the sun and eat a few more vegetables, but you’ll do. I suppose.”

Chloe stifled a chuckle and Lex glanced at her. “Andrea Lassic, I’d like you to
meet Chloe Sullivan. Chloe, this is Andrea.”

“Good to meet you,” Chloe said, sticking out her hand.

“Likewise. Won’t you two come in?” Andrea ushered Chloe in first, catching Lex’s
eye. He looked back blandly, but knew she recognized the name. He’d forgotten
how much he’d told her of Smallville.

Within moments, they were seated in her living room, Chloe looking stiff in a
chair while Lex and Andrea reclined on the couch.

“So, Lex, what’s the deal?” Andrea waved at a series of containers on the coffee
table. “I’ve dug out the war paint, but why do you need it?”

It only took a few minutes for Lex and Chloe to explain the plan.

“…so I was hoping you could give her some tips on makeup and demeanor.”

Andrea laughed at the dubious expression on Chloe’s face. “Ah, she doubts my
qualifications.”

“No, I, I mean–”

Chuckling, Andrea leaned forward to pat her knee. “It’s okay. I don’t look like
a spoiled brat anymore, but I can assure you I was.”

Don’t get into it, Lex thought, cutting her off. “Believe me, she was. So,
Andrea, will you help?”

“Of *course*, Lex. I’d be happy to. Now shoo.”

“Excuse me?”

Chloe struggled to keep a straight face as Andrea waved her hand as if he was a
recalcitrant puppy. “Go work on my computer. I’m sure you’ve got some stock
research to do or something.”

“Yes, Lex, shoo.” Chloe was definitely laughing now.

Pulling together the remnants of his dignity, Lex stood. “I’ll be in your
office.”

As he left the room, he could hear Chloe. “So, how do you know Lex exactly?”

He winced, tempted to listen at the door, but those who eavesdrop rarely hear
good of themselves. Continuing down the hall to her office, his memory dredged
up other days and nights with Andrea.

Andrea with a needle in her arm. Andrea found pawning her mother’s pearls for
drug money after her father cut her off. Andrea leaning over his arm to throw up
in the toilet.

Lionel had never approved of Andrea as a friend and Lex had needed to sneak
around to see her. Originally, it was out of rebellion, but her wicked sense of
humor appealed to him.

Andrea on the floor, barely breathing. Andrea begging him to help when her
parents refused to take her calls. Andrea on her first day out of rehab, so thin
he could count every rib, her eyes only half-alive.

Nobody knew what he’d done for her except the two of them. And possibly now
Chloe. This was definitely a bad idea, giving Chloe ideas about him that weren’t
true. He wasn’t some do-gooder like her or Clark.

Andrea offering to sleep with him as a thank-you, weeks later. The surprise and
gratitude in her eyes when he said no. Andrea the day she got into grad school,
her entire face the very picture of joy, allowing him to experience that joy
second-hand.

He flipped on the computer, diving immediately into work he’d been putting off,
writing a few unclassified reports from memory and logging on to his external e-
mail. He’d installed her system, so it was *nearly* as secure as his own.

When Chloe came to get him some time later, it took him a moment to notice her
in the doorway, so absorbed was he in the question of whether to increase the
R&D budget to allow for more nanotech research.

She leaned against the doorway, watching him. In return, he studied her face. As
expected, Andrea had done an excellent job. The makeup was subtle and
sophisticated. Exactly right.

“Lex?”

“Can you duplicate this?”

“Pretty much. With some practice. She gave me what I’ll need.” Chloe held up a
small bag in her hand.

“Great. I’ll thank her and we’ll get going.”

Chloe started to say something, but he brushed by her. She got the message
quickly…for once.

She spent most of the ride home that evening giving him strange looks, which he
ignored, instead continuing his lectures on how to act rich, bored, and stupid.

* * * * *

A week later, Chloe’s expression as she threw open her apartment door was
priceless, something like surprise, annoyance, and a pinched nose all put
together. “Lex, what are you doing here?”

Smiling slightly, he inspected her makeup, hair, and the fit of the Donna Karan
dress that slid over her right shoulder and across her chest, finding no fault
with any of it. “I’m here to escort you to the soiree, of course.”

“I told you I can handle things from here. It *is* my job as a journalist and
I’m good at it.”

“I’m sure you are.” Lex extended his arm. “But your professors must have taught
you the value of a native guide. With my introductions, this will go much
faster. Besides, how do you think you got invited if not as my companion for the
evening?”

Chloe obviously wanted to argue with him, but after opening her mouth, she
closed it again. Her nose twitched slightly as she tucked her arm into his and
allowed herself to be escorted to the car. “Fine,” she said, narrowing her eyes.
“Let’s go.”

He opened the door for her and watched her stifle the impulse to snap at him for
the courtesy. “Good girl,” he said.

Dropping the pose, she glared as he got into the driver’s seat. “Call me girl
again, and story or no story, I’ll kick your ass.”

Lex chuckled as he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. “This
should be an amusing evening.”

* * * * *

For Chloe’s “debut,” Lex had chosen a small party thrown by Ambrosia (sadly, her
real name) Fitzgerald, who he knew for certain, and from personal experience,
was into nearly every illegal, unethical, and immoral practice Chloe was
interested in.

As they pulled up in front of her Metropolis condo, Lex could see Chloe eyeing
the façade with distaste and discomfort. He’d been just about to tease her
again, but changed his mind. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“Of course I am.” Her chin went up and her jaw tightened.

“It’s not too late to give this plan up and have an early dinner at La Miche.
They make a lovely salmon in crab sauce.”

Eyes narrowing, Chloe looked at him. “Why are you suddenly trying to talk me out
of this?”

“I wasn’t,” Lex said, “I was trying to make you angry, because when you’re
angry, you forget to be scared.”

Chloe blinked. “I’m not sure I want to know why you’ve thought that much about
me.”

“Shall we go in?” Without waiting for her answer, he slid out of the car and was
opening the door for her before she had time to forget and open it herself.

“Thank you.” She bestowed a cool smile on him.

“By jove, I think she’s got it,” he said. Taking her arm, he led her up the
steps to the door, pressing the doorbell set into the intricate floral design.

To Lex’s surprise, Ambrosia herself flung open the door, giggling with glee, her
long black hair flying in all directions. “Darling! I can’t believe you actually
agreed to come!”

“Why wouldn’t I?” He gave her a sedate kiss on the cheek. She was already three
sheets to the wind, from the way she swayed, and he remembered *why* he’d
stopped attending her parties.

“Naughty boy,” Ambrosia said with a pout that was the envy of her peers.
“Pretending you haven’t refused practically every invitation for years. We might
even think you didn’t like us.”

The tiny movement from Chloe was probably too small for anyone else to notice,
but Lex didn’t look at her. “Ah, but how could I refuse this particularly
opportune occasion to introduce you to my dear friend Lana Ross?” Stepping back
from Ambrosia, he put his arm around Chloe’s shoulders.

Ambrosia didn’t look entirely pleased at the sight, but she recovered gamely.
“Lana, it’s wonderful to meet you. Any friend of Lex’s is a friend of mine.”

“A pleasure,” Chloe said, shaking the outstretched hand.

“Well, come in then, things are just getting started.” Ambrosia turned and led
them down the hall, past a Ch’ing dynasty vase and a delicate painted screen
that was in rather better taste than he’d expected from her. Her latest
decorator was obviously classier than usual, he thought as her voice drifted
back down the hall, wafted by the sounds of some annoying modern music. “Skye
and Simone are both here and I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see you.”

“I’m sure,” Lex said.

As they followed Ambrosia, Chloe grabbed his arm and yanked. “Lana Ross?” she
hissed.

“Well, you weren’t planning to be introduced as Chloe Sullivan, were you?”

“No, but–”

“So I’ve given you a name.” He dared her with a quirk of his lips. “Think of it
as a gift.”

Her eyes narrowed again. “Another one?”

“I still owe you a debt.” He hadn’t intended to say that, but he didn’t allow
his face to change, hoping she’d let it go. But this *was* Chloe, after all.

“Lex, there’s no debt.” All vestiges of Lana Ross disappeared and she was all
Chloe again. “If you still think I–”

“I have no desire to discuss this.”

Ambrosia had turned at the door to the living room and dining room and was
looking at them strangely. “Something wrong?”

“Of course not.” Lex smiled just enough to make her melt. He slid his arm around
Chloe’s waist and ushered her in just in front of him, watching how she blanked
her face as he’d taught her, glancing around the room with casual interest and
mild disdain.

She’d actually learned to hide her true feelings much better than he’d expected,
which would make things easier. So why did it bother him so much when she did
it?

“Lex,” Helena called, standing up from a leather couch, “I couldn’t believe it
when Ambrosia said you would be joining us.”

He kissed her cheek. “It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’m afraid business has
taken up much of my time. May I introduce you to Lana Ross? She’s new to town
and I promised I would show her around.”

Helena turned an appraising eye on Chloe and found her acceptable. “It’s lovely
to meet you. So, what brings you to Metropolis?”

“You know how it is,” Chloe said with a languid smile, “Daddy was a tad upset
with me over *one* escapade, and he decided to drag me out of Paris.”

Helena threw her head back and laughed. “Oh yes, I know how that is.”

“So,” Chloe said, “can anyone tell me what fun there is to be had in this
place?”

Helena grinned at Lex and tucked Chloe’s arm into her own. “Oh, I think that can
be arranged.”

* * * * *

The next weeks were a flurry of activity, as Lex worked all day while Chloe was
in classes and studying as much as she could, then he escorted her at night from
party to club to sordid back room. Her impression of a bored party girl got
better so fast, Lex wondered why she’d never tried acting as a career. *He*
almost believed it now and then.

He’d intended to escort her to that first party then leave her to her work, once
he knew she could pull off the impersonation well enough. But he found the
thought of leaving Chloe to the vultures that inhabited his world made him
nervous. She might have learned to play the part, but she was still from
Smallville and truisms become truisms for a reason. You could take the girl out
of Smallville…

Besides, if he let anything happen to her, there’d be hell to pay from Clark,
right? So, obviously, he had to make sure she was safe.

He smiled genially at Zora, who was trying her best to get him into bed, but
kept half his attention on Chloe, who was curled up on a couch with Ambrosia.
Their heads bent together, the conversation looked like it was getting serious.
Chloe brought her drink to her mouth and Lex tried to figure out if she’d really
sipped or was just faking. She’d *better* be faking, because he knew exactly how
much alcohol was in that glass.

“Lex?”

“Hmm?”

Zora leaned forward and put her hands on his cheeks. He didn’t pull away as she
kissed him, but he didn’t encourage it either. Soft lips, talented lips, a hint
of floral perfume, he should have at least been *thinking* about sleeping with
her.

She pulled back after a moment, amusement on those talented lips, and wiped her
lipstick off his lips with her cocktail napkin. “I see I’m wasting my time.”

“Are you?”

“Don’t kid a kidder, Lex. I can’t tell which one of them you want, but stop
wasting my time and go get her.” Zora leaned her head in the direction of the
couch, where Ambrosia was giggling as she whispered something into Chloe’s ear.

“Thank you for the advice.” Lex narrowed his eyes. “But I think I can take care
of my own affairs.”

“Suit yourself. You always do.” Shrugging, she rose from the small table, frothy
pink drink in hand, making sure he got a good look at her ample charms. “If you
change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“I do.” He put as much innuendo as he could into the two words.

She curled her lip at him. “It’s nothing you didn’t do in your time, Lex. I
remember when you were fun.”

He didn’t bother to respond as he leaned back in his seat, struggling to not
turn his head and look at the couch. Sipping his drink, he watched Zora sway
across the room to a more likely–if less wealthy–candidate. He probably
shouldn’t have alienated her, but she’d begun to annoy him. Well, Lex Luthor
could get away with things that lesser mortals couldn’t.

A swish behind him and Chloe was draped across his shoulders in a waft of rose
scent. The pose was sexy, but the voice was all business. “Ambrosia’s on her way
to a drug deal. I’ll make my own way home.”

Smiling genially, he pulled her around and into Zora’s vacated chair. “No.”

Her face didn’t change, a tribute to his teaching. “What do you mean, no?”

“I mean, you’re not going without me. I know Ambrosia, remember?”

She laughed as if he’d made a joke. “This is *my* story. There’s no point if I’m
not willing to take a risk. Besides, it’s not as if I’m going to *take* any
drugs or try to make a citizen’s arrest.”

“This is a bad idea.” He had to struggle to keep his cool expression.

“Give it up, Lex. I’m not a child.” Smiling, she patted his shoulder with more
force than anyone watching would have seen, and stood up.

“Be careful.”

Looking over her shoulder, she gave him a genuine grin. “I grew up in
Smallville, Lex.”

He watched her walk away and thought about the various meanings of that sentence
as she met up with Ambrosia, slipping out the back door moments later.

He counted to thirty, then left his drink on the table and followed the ladies
out the door. It wasn’t difficult to track them, as they were giggling loud
enough to be heard for miles around, and he tried not to pay attention to the
content.

Ambrosia stumbled on her high heels, still giggling, and Chloe caught her,
saying something too low for Lex to hear. He strolled along, following the sound
of their voices through several back alleys and out onto the street. Thanks to
several other clubs in the area, there was enough of a crowd at 2 am that
neither of them seemed to notice him.

Soon they were out of the nightlife district, the streets getting dirtier, the
alleys getting darker. Lex had to drop back because the lack of foot traffic
made him too conspicuous. Fortunately, Chloe’s gold dress and Ambrosia’s violet
one both glowed even in the faint streetlights–not to mention how they didn’t
seem to even be looking for someone following them.

Now Lex was starting to get *really* annoyed, stepping over a pile of
unidentifiable liquid and trying to hold his breath. He spent the time as they
picked their way down the street coming up with new and subtle ways to flay
Chloe alive for this.

When they stepped into a slightly less dilapidated apartment building, Lex
cursed under his breath, wondering if he should be calling someone for backup.

He watched them get on an elevator and waited until that elevator stopped on the
10th floor before he pressed the up button. Tapping one foot on the floor, he
considered his options and why he was *so* sure something was wrong.

“Smallville,” he said aloud.

In all his time in Smallville, nothing had ever gone as planned. Every plan had
always gone to hell in a handbasket. And somehow this reunion with a Smallville
resident had him jumping at shadows again.

Perhaps he should leave her to her story.

He turned halfway and stopped as the elevator wheezed and let out an anemic
ding. Well, maybe he could just go up and make certain she was okay. He nodded
and stepped onto the elevator, holding his breath as it groaned and creaked its
way up ten stories.

He’d planned to knock on doors until he found them, but his task was simplified
by the sound of raised voices in 10-C, one of them recognizably Chloe’s.

“I’m not a cop!” Chloe said, with the air of someone repeating herself.

Lex groaned and stuck his hands in his pockets, staring at the ceiling and
wondering what he’d done to deserve this.

He was *never* going to live tonight down.

* * * * *

It took a fair amount of knocking to get the attention of the apartment’s
current occupants, but after a shocked silence, the door finally opened and an
unfamiliar face peered out, stringy hair hanging around a barely-shaven face.

“Is Ambrosia there?” he asked, with an innocent smile.

“Lex?” Ambrosia’s voice was nearly a screech. “What are you doing here?”

“I did promise Lana a ride home.”

“Lex!” Chloe said. There was a small sound that he suspected was the yelp of
having a gun pointed at one’s head. He was familiar with the sound. Ah,
Smallville.

Lex smiled wider at the man holding the door, thankful that Ambrosia couldn’t
see his face–she wouldn’t buy his ‘stupid rich man’ act for an instant.

“Get in,” the man finally said, opening the door.

Lex stepped inside and glanced into the living room area. Chloe, check. No
visible injuries, check. Gun pointed at her, check. “There’s no need for that,”
he said, voice calm and ready to soothe all nearby maniacs.

“Your girlfriend here is a narc. What about you?” The second man was cleaner,
but he looked much smarter, which could be either good or bad. The gun was
definitely bad.

“A narc? Lana? Surely you must be mistaken.” Keep them talking, that was always
best.

“I seen her talking to a cop,” the first man said. “Narc division had me in for
questioning and she was talking to one of the cops. And she wasn’t under arrest,
neither. She was writing stuff down.”

Damn it, of all the unfortunate coincidences…

“Why would you think that was me?” Chloe demanded.

“Hair like that? Don’t see that everyday.”

Lex’s mouth twitched at the irony and he could see Chloe trying to decide
whether to laugh or glare at him.

“What are we going to *do*?” Ambrosia wailed.

Lex had forgotten about her, but from the way she was wringing her hands, she
wasn’t going to be much help. Worth a try, though. “I think Lana and I should go
home and forget that this evening happened.”

Her wild eyes focused on Lex with a start. “You never forget, Lex! Not a slight,
not an insult, nothing.”

“Tie ’em up in the other room while we decide,” the second man said.

Lex hid his sigh of relief but Chloe was getting angry. Damn.

“Look, this is ridiculous,” she said, in what Lex recognized as the basic
Smallville ‘If you’re going to kill me then get it over with’ speech. “You have
no good reason to believe we’re with the police, so why–”

The second man was about to hit her. “Lana.” Lex’s voice was soft, but he made
it compelling. “Don’t argue.”

Her expression said–in no uncertain terms–that his plan had better be damn
good or she was going to haunt him in the afterlife. But she ducked her head and
was quiet.

“Get up,” the second man said, grabbing her arm. “You.” He pointed at Lex. “Get
in here.”

Lex followed Chloe into a small bedroom and docilely allowed himself to be tied
to a chair while Chloe was bound to the unmade bed. As the two men left the
room, Chloe slumped down on the bed with a wince for her awkward position.

“Do you know,” Lex said, staring at the cobwebbed and splotchy ceiling, “since I
left Smallville, I haven’t been attacked *once*? I’ve even been in fewer car
accidents than I’d been accustomed to.”

“Lex?”

“Nobody struck by meteor rocks has tried to gnaw on my leg.”

“Lex.”

“No love spells, no monsters stalking me through cornfields. Just the occasional
hostile corporate takeover. It’s been peaceful, really.”

“Shut *up*, Lex!”

“Why?” He looked at Chloe.

“Oh, I don’t know. I was thinking about *escaping* maybe. On the other hand, if
you’d rather wait until they gathered up their courage and came back to kill us,
you can stay.”

“And what was your plan from escaping from these ropes?”

She glared at him. “I’m not sure, but if you could shut up for a minute, maybe
I’ll think of something.”

“Why bother?”

Her jaw dropped and she stared him. “You’re secretly suicidal? How did I miss
this?”

“No,” he said patiently, “I just thought we might wait for Superman, since he’ll
be here any moment.”

“What?”

“Before I knocked on the door, I called Clark on my cell phone.”

“You called Clark?” It was almost a squeak.

“He did,” a voice said from the now-open window. “I was surprised.”

Lex sighed. “Hello, Clark. Or are we required to call you Superman now?”

Clark floated in, settling down between them with an annoyed expression, cape
fluttering in the nonexistent breeze. “How many times do we have to have this
argument?”

“Uh, guys?” Chloe tugged on her ropes. “Do you think you could save the eight
millionth repetition of ‘Power corrupts, superpowers corrupt absolutely’ for
some time when I’m not *tied to the bed*?”

Lex and Clark stared at each other for a moment of astonished accord, then
turned to look at Chloe. She stared back, red creeping up her face. “If you
could both get your minds out of the gutter for a minute, there’s a little
matter of men with guns in the next room.”

“Right.” Clark straightened and threw back his shoulders in that ‘hero to the
rescue’ pose that always pissed Lex off. With a quick yank, Clark ripped the
ropes off Chloe’s wrists.

Lex tried not to sigh as Clark did the same for him and turned to the door. He
rubbed his wrists and listened to the sounds of Superman disarming and tying up
the three in the other room.

Chloe leaned against the window, her profile looking angry.

“You could say thank you,” Lex said, never one to step back from a fight.

Chloe whirled, hands on her hips. “I’ll thank Clark when he’s done.”

“I meant me, actually.”

Her glare would have gone right through him if she’d had Superman’s heat vision,
but whatever she was going to say was forestalled by Clark re-entering the room.
“Shall I call the police?” he asked, oblivious to the tension between them.

Chloe looked around. “Are there drugs here?”

His eyes unfocused as he turned in a slow circle. “Absolutely.”

“Good. Call the cops and they can book them for the drugs and leave us out of
it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Lex and Chloe said.

“Okay.” He shrugged and held out a hand to Chloe. “C’mon, I’ll give you a lift
back to your apartment.”

“No, thanks.”

Clark blinked. “How were you planning to get home?”

She looked away. “I was hoping Lex would drive me home, since he’s still got to
pick up his car from the club. If that’s okay.”

It was Lex’s turn to blink. “Certainly.”

“You want Lex to drive you home?” The shock in Clark’s voice was galling. Was it
really so unbelievable?

“We have things to talk about,” she said.

Clark looked at her, then looked at Lex, suspicion all over his face. Lex
shrugged, as nonchalant as possible under the circumstances. Who was he to argue
with Chloe’s whims? Clark should know better.

“Well, if you two are ready to go, let me at least take you down to the street.
And I’ll get the story later.”

Chloe nodded and Lex gritted his teeth as Superman lifted them both with ease,
tucking them under his arms like children or bales of hay.

* * * * *

They made it back to Chloe’s apartment building in complete silence, nothing but
the road noise beneath the car’s tires and the weight of the previous weeks
pushing on Lex’s chest.

When he pulled into a parking space, there was a silence that managed to be at
once louder and more painful. Lex stared out the front windshield, wondering
what he was supposed to say.

Chloe reached for the door handle and paused, clutching it like a life
preserver. “I’m sorry.”

“What?” Surprised, he turned.

Her arms were crossed, she looked defiant, brows drawn, but she repeated
herself. “I’m sorry.”

Lex swallowed. Twice. “For?”

Chloe looked down. “This didn’t go the way I’d planned.”

“You have quite the story, though.”

“But I…” She paused, looking him in the eye. “Yes, I’ve got a story, but I
feel like I made a fool of myself.”

“If you did, you didn’t do it alone.”

Her eyes dropped and she absently smoothed the dress over her thighs. “I’m sorry
I got you into this, Lex. It was a stupid idea.”

“What were you really looking for?” How had he never asked that question of her?

“I’m not sure. I…I wanted to get these people, why they’ve got so much power.”

“Money.” The answer was obvious to him.

“Yeah.” She shrugged, still looking down. Her words seemed pulled out of her
unwillingly. “Maybe I wanted to know what it was like to be like that. To not
care about the rules or what’s right.”

Suddenly, it was incredibly important that she understand. “Not everybody is
like that. I introduced you to the worst I knew because I thought you wanted
that. Not everyone’s like them or…like my father.”

“I know. Andrea kind of explained that.” Her eyes looked unnatural with the
makeup, her cheeks artificial and cold like a mannequin. “Lex,” she said, “what
are you doing?”

His hand was on her cheek, he found, rubbing at the foundation, trying to get
back to the Chloe he remembered, the nosy spitfire who’d plagued his Smallville
days and stood up to his father when nobody else would. He ran a hand over her
hair, wishing he could remove the tinting so easily.

“Lex,” she said again, catching his hands with her own.

“I’m sorry for making you what you’re not.”

“I asked you to.”

“When my father exiled me to Smallville, I spent some time trying to be like
everyone else. It didn’t work.” His hand was still against the side of her face
and he stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I wasn’t suited for country life.”

“But if you could make me suited to city life…” She leaned into his hand. “I’m
not. Not like that, at least. I acted like an idiot. I can’t be like those
people and–”

“And I don’t want you to be!”

She stared, eyes wide.

“I prefer you as Chloe.” He heard her breathing catch, felt her hands tighten on
his. “Don’t change. I think I need to know Smallville won’t change. Even if I’ll
never fit in.”

She smiled and even through the makeup, it was Chloe. “But I think we make a
pretty good team.”

“We do.”

Without a conscious thought, he leaned toward her as she tugged on his hand.
They met over the gearshift, lips brushing awkwardly and then with more
assurance.

She still tasted like expensive lipstick and brandy, but he knew that wouldn’t
last. And the way she kissed lacked the broad experience of Zora, but the
knowledge that she wanted him and not his last name or money made all the
difference.

He licked her lips, smiling when she giggled and looked embarrassed. She finally
loosened her hand, but he only drew back a few inches, looking into her eyes.
“Chloe?” His voice sounded hoarse and his breathing was ragged.

“Come inside?”

“If you want me to.” This was no time to rush. Chloe wasn’t Zora or Ambrosia or
Simone or Helena–she needed care and…

She leaned forward and kissed him again, her tongue slipping into his mouth and
he sucked on it.

Care and honesty. He pulled back. “What do you want?” he murmured against her
lips. “I’m not good at…relationships.”

“Neither am I.” She reddened. “But we *do* make a good team, don’t we? My
brains, your money…”

He chuckled, sliding his hand through her hair again. “I don’t want to let you
down.”

“If you do, you won’t do it alone.” Chloe bit her lip. “Lex, please. Give this a
chance.”

“For you.”

This kiss went on for a while, Lex lost in the moment, enjoying the novel
experience of not needing to impress his partner. Pressing Chloe against the
seat, he leaned forward, jamming his side into the gearshift.

Chloe laughed as Lex rubbed his side. She opened the car door and stepped out,
pausing halfway out. “Coming?” she asked over her shoulder.

He was out the door and around to her side in an instant, arm around her waist.
“Allow me.”

Warm and soft, Chloe leaned against him as they walked up the steps and around
the corner to her apartment. She fumbled with the keys and her face felt warm
when he caressed it.

Squeezing her tighter, he got her attention. She smiled up at him and he kissed
her forehead gently.

Chloe opened the door and they stepped inside, Chloe slamming the door behind
them and nearly pouncing on Lex, who stumbled a step backward.

“Sorry, just a little overenthusiastic,” she said, kissing him again.

“Enthusiasm is refreshing.”

* * * * *

A siren whooshed by the window, waking him from his light doze. In the faint
moonlight, he saw Chloe blink once and close her eyes again, snuggling closer.

His arm was half-asleep from the weight of her head, but he wasn’t inclined to
make her move. Every breath she took wafted across his skin, warm and humid and
alive, and he wondered what it felt like for men with hair on their bodies.

They did make a good team, he thought. The past weeks aside, she’d always had a
nose for a story, and determination that matched his own–a need to get her way.
Her moral compass was too strong and his too weak. Her common sense was a little
lacking now and then, but with him behind her, there was nothing she couldn’t
do.

Chloe’s eyes drifted open. “What are you thinking?”

“Why do women always ask that?”

She ignored him, turning her head to kiss his shoulder. “Answer the question.”

“Oh, just plotting to take over the world.”

“What, again?” She yawned, pulling him closer. “Can’t it wait ’til morning?”

“I suppose it can.”

“Good. We’ll talk then.” She closed her eyes and nuzzled his shoulder with a
small sigh.

For a moment, he stared, trying to figure out if she was serious. Then he closed
his eyes.

She was right–it could wait until the morning. After all, now they had all the
time in the world.

–end–

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