Chapter 1: Part 1
Title: Girls Just Wanna Be Boys Again, Thanks (Part 1)
Pairing: Clark, Lex
Spoilers: major for Season 1, though it references some things up to Season 5 and beyond (Oliver, mainly); starts after Jitters (1x08) but goes AU before Rogue (1x09)
Word count: 23,709 (apparently)
Summary: Clark and Lex get genderswapped. Real life ensues.
Warnings: Only unofficially beta'd. Genderswap fic (a.k.a. female!Clark and female!Lex). Some weirdness and confusion involving sex and sexuality, as a matter of course. ...It belatedly occurs to me that I should also warn for PTSD and chemical torture.
Disclaimer: Not mine, not-for-profit.
Comments: Yes, please! :)
Author's Note: So, yeah, this is the 'early-season Clark-and-Lex-both-genderswapped' fic. (I finally figured out what was going on!) Written for the Clexmas Spring Fling 2012 -- Changes, Prompt: Changes of gender.
Many thanks to fruitbat00 for her unofficial beta work. She found a thing or two that was *sideways-glance*-worthy that I have tried to fix (hopefully for the better! *crosses fingers*) -- any remaining 'wtf?' bits are wholly my own.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lex, half-crouched, waited for the door to open. He heard movement and some soft banging about on the other side of it, and he was going to be ready.
He was still feeling a little woozy from whatever his kidnapper had used on him in the parking lot to knock him out, but whoever it was was going to regret not tying him up before throwing him in here, wherever 'here' was. The smooth, curved metallic, all-white walls taunted him. So did the nearly-seamless door.
The door opened, and Lex launched himself forward.
Then he tried to backpedal quickly, or at least arrest his forward motion, as he recognized Clark -- trust Clark to have found him, come to save the day once again!
And while Lex wasn't able to stop in time, Clark... didn't put out his hands to catch him and help him stop. He just pitched forward.
Lex got tangled up in Clark and they both went down, backwards, back into the room.
Lex realized something was really wrong, because Clark wasn't much more than dead weight on top of him. He shoved at Clark and managed to get out from under him with some effort, then partially rolled him over.
"Clark?" he asked, pawing at him, his fingers fumbling as he tried to turn Clark's face towards him. He cursed himself, because his vision swam again and he realized that the tranquilizer wasn't completely out of his system yet.
But all Clark did was let out a low groan, and while his eyes fluttered, they weren't focusing properly.
"L-lex?" Clark said. Lex saw him try to move, but he didn't manage to do much more than twitch randomly. He wasn't breathing properly, either. "D-don't feel so... good..."
Lex's hands skimmed down over the back of Clark's neck, and then he felt the puncture wound. He leaned over Clark a little more and felt dizzy for a moment, before his eyes refocused and he saw the ugly spiderwebbing green-and-grey-black mark where Clark had been injected with something.
"AAAH!" Lex yelled as something slammed into the back of his own neck -- and slid in. He choked at the sickening sensation pooling outward from the impact and tried to reach around with both hands to remove whatever it was, but felt a foot in his back and was sharply shoved forward off of it before he could grasp it. He collapsed on top of Clark, shaking, as the strength went out of his limbs again.
"N-nnngkkk..." Lex groaned, trying to command his arms to move under him, and push himself upwards. He tried, and failed, collapsing over Clark and sliding sideways as his muscles started to go limp -- again -- oh god, I've been drugged again -- but then a strong hand roughly grabbed him between his shoulder and his neck and hauled him off of Clark, tossed him idly backwards, down onto the cold, flat floor next to his friend.
Lex's head bounced off the floor, hard, and his vision swam again, and it took an effort to stay conscious and refocus on the madman above him. Sh-should've known better, he thought. Got distracted by Clark. Forgot... what I was trying to do... escape... Lex was afraid it might be his very last mistake, and not because he'd be leading a perfect life from now on...
"Ah, good, awake are you? That's good. You're very strong, very healthy. A good test subject," the man in the white coat grinned down at him, at them both. "And so fortuitous -- two good specimens. Much better than just one!"
"Wh-what. What do you want?" Lex croaked out, then gave a full-body shudder as whatever he'd been injected with hit his major bloodstream. "Nnn--ahhh-gkk!" All his muscles tensed and he went into a full body spasm. Everything went grey and black and red, then grey again as reality -- slowly, too slowly --seeped back in.
He lay there panting, consciousness slipping in and out, and missed most of the man's ranting. Something about Lex having an excellent immune system, extremely... adaptive? Being able to survive... something?... when others wouldn't?... Lex wasn't sure.
"P-please. You. Don't have to do this. I... I could... find other... other -- nnn!" Lex spasmed again, painfully. "--o-other sub-jects!" Lex tried, not caring what Clark heard, not caring what anyone might think, just so long as he could get this man to stop. Even if he might be able to survive whatever the hell this was, he didn't think Clark could. Clark looked sick, almost yellow-green pale, and was laboring to breathe. Lex had to get him the hell out of here. Even if it was just Clark, Clark could go for help, he could...
"No no, you can't, you see? You really can't. They won't survive. None of them survived. The ones from here did much better, though. The younger ones. The, hmmm, what did that girl call them -- freaks? -- yes, they did much better. But you, why, you're perfectly suited for this! You have the right mutation. The perfect mutation. I checked, you see," the madman crooned, crouching down in front of Lex, staring at him like a collector watching a moth on a pin writhing about without the benefit of soothing chloroform.
"That one, well, he can be the control," the man said, waving at Clark, disinterested, before standing and brushing his pants legs smooth. "It really ought to work much better this time, though. You've both had the focus injection, which is really the trick, I think. The treatment on its own just wasn't enough. Need to get it from the inside as well as out, yes, yes," he mumbled absently, turning to leave. He continued muttering to himself as he walked out, and the door slammed shut behind him.
"No. No, oh god." He was locked in, again. They were locked in, and Clark was sick. Horribly sick. He needed help. They needed rescuing. Would anyone be coming for them? Clark had come for him. Surely, surely someone would come for Clark. Because he'd been tracking that man, looking for Lex, and that man was insane. They needed to get out, before things got worse.
Lex didn't want to know how things could get worse.
Lex tried to push himself up again. And again. He finally managed to roll over. It took three tries. He almost made it to his feet when a full-body shudder hit him again, and he came to drooling on the floor, face right in front of Clark's. If possible, Clark looked even worse than before, his expression drawn in pain. Damnit, I need to do something!
Lex started to struggle upright again, collapsed again, and lay there panting for awhile, staring at the ceiling. He groaned slightly and lay there panting for the moment, on the verge of just collapsing and giving up, at least for a little while. He knew how futile it was to get the door open from this side from earlier attempts when he'd first woken after the original sophoric had worn off. "Clark?" he asked, tired as hell. He got no response. "...Clark?" he asked again, turning his head to the side. No response, not even a flicker of motion. Getting concerned now, Lex turned over with some effort and reached out a hand towards Clark's cheek. And that was when he finally realized exactly what dire straits his friend was in, and his eyes widened in horror, because...
Clark was barely breathing now; his eyes were only half-open, completely unfocused and dull. Clark gave a spasming cough and seemed to collapse a little into himself. For a moment he stopped breathing. Then took another shallow gasping breath. Then stopped.
And Lex had a instant of clarity, as a few of that madman's words began to make sense.
None of them survived.
He can be the control.
Panic drove Lex to his feet. He staggered upright, fell against the door and pounded at it, clawed at the edges, everything he'd done before to no effect, but he had to try, had to do something.
He heard a low humming start, and it didn't quite register at first. Then it grew louder, and he glanced up.
Then he finally realized what he was standing in.
Radiation chamber. They were inside a radiation chamber. One not rated for humans.
An older one, without any of the proper safeties to shut it off if a person was stuck inside.
Freaks. Radiation. Oh god. It hit Lex in a flash.
"No, no, you can't do this!" Lex yelled, pounding on the sides with a desperation born of sheer terror. "You have to let us out! We're not meteor freaks! You c-can't irradiate us with meteor rock! You don't know what you're doing! We'll mutate into psychotic m-monsters or die! LET US OUT!!!" he screamed.
The hum turned into a whine and a pink-red light diffused the entire chamber.
Clark started screaming bloody murder, jack-knifing and spasming on the floor.
Lex felt like something had hit him from all sides, pressure constricting his lungs. It washed over him, tingling, and his first shock-driven thought was, why is Clark screaming? This isn't so bad...
Then whatever was in his veins started to burn, set him on fire, like he was melting from the inside out.
He would have screamed, if he could have taken in a breath to do so.
Lex was aware of an absence of pain.
It came in waves. The molten fire dying down.
He groaned softly.
He could feel dead weight. Those were limbs. He rememered what those were.
He shuddered, and coughed, and didn't move, because things still hurt, even if they didn't HURT like that anymore.
He became aware that he was crying, tears dripping down the sides of his face.
He had no idea how long he'd been exposed to the radiation. How long he'd been in here, with...
"Cl-cl--kkk," he groaned.
He couldn't move.
He couldn't see Clark. He was facing the wrong way.
He heard the door open. There was a door.
He still couldn't move.
He heard voices, more than one, but couldn't make them out properly. Rescue, at last? Please, please...
"Cl-cl-ark..." he said again.
He felt someone touch his forehead. Cold, cold touch.
"H-help. Him. Cl-ark... he..."
Blessed darkness finally took him.
He awoke again on a bed.
The ceiling looked like one he'd seen before.
He could turn his head. He saw an IV line.
He was in a hospital.
...Clark didn't like hospitals.
"C-Clark?" he croaked out.
He turned his head left, right. All he could see was equipment, the IV stand, the bed he was on. White curtains, surrounding the bed.
He tried to move.
Pushed himself upwards, through the screaming pain.
It wasn't a bad pain though. It was a pain he knew. Muscle pain. Normal pain. Achey, not bad. Not like...
He shuddered and doubled over. Nausea crippled him for a moment.
He managed to lean over the left side of his bed before throwing up.
Some of it was green. A lot of it was red. That probably wasn't good.
He spat, and groaned a little, then levered himself upright to a seated position again. A red curtain seemed to fall across his vision for a moment as he did it, but his vision cleared again as he dipped backwards before he struggled fully upright.
He started methodically removing leads and IV lines.
He wavered, then used his hands, arms to push himself over to the right side of the bed. Legs dangled. He pushed further.
His feet hit the floor and everything felt odd and off-balance. He caught himself on the bedrail, managed to half-drag, half-pull himself upright again.
He was shivering, swaying from side-to-side, and on the verge of collapsing. But he was upright, no matter how unsteadily, when the white curtain got shoved aside.
He turned his head and saw Chloe and Pete staring at him.
He promptly said, "Where's Clark?"
"...Clark?" said Chloe.
"Yes, Clark!" As she continued to stare at him blankly, Lex lost his temper. "You know, Clark? Six-foot-two brunette, sometimes works on a farm, usually-saves-me-instead-of-whatever the-hell-happened-this-time Clark? Who works with you at the Torch? Ring any bells?" he gritted out, irate. He coughed, hacked, spat more blood at the floor, and his throat complained a little less; he absently rubbed at it. "He got himself captured and thrown in the radiation chamber with me. Where is he? Is he... is he ok?" As much as someone irradiated with meteor rock could be? The madman hadn't sounded like he'd really thought Clark would be. He'd picked Lex especially, but Clark...
God, he had better be ok. ...Fuck, don't cry in front of them! I will not cry, he told himself, but thoughts were easier than keeping the burning in his eyes under control, because the sound of Clark's screaming was still echoing loudly in his memory...
"Clark was in the chamber with you?" Pete repeated slowly.
"...Lex?" Chloe asked tentatively.
"What?" Lex asked irately.
They both stared at him some more, looking shocked. Then they glanced at each other.
Fucking useless! Lex mentally wrote them off.
"Fine, I'll find him myself," Lex snarled, taking a step away from the hospital bed. ...And he stumbled and almost went down, except that Chloe moved forward quickly under one arm.
And that felt really weird. ...Maybe because he'd never been caught like that before. People usually just watched him fall and laughed at him afterwards.
Lex leaned on Chloe heavily and got his feet under him again. Red swam partially in front of his vision and he cursed softly, lifting a hand to his left eye to rub at it uselessly.
And his hand met a soft thick curtain.
"What the hell?" he said roughly, startled, twitching and tilting his head back.
The red moved.
He fingered at it. Felt something soft. Grabbed ahold of it, and moved it to the side. Back and forth.
"Wh--" Lex shivered. "What the hell is going on?" he said uncertainly, following the strands farther up. He had hair? Attached to his head? Long hair?
"Uh, well, you're kind of... a girl," Pete said, looking at him askance.
Lex stared at him, uncomprehending.
"You didn't notice?" Chloe said, looking somewhat intrigued.
"I--" Lex glanced down at her, then let go of his hair -- his hair!?! He looked down at himself and slid a hand down his chest and felt -- yes, breasts. Definitely breasts. Small, but there.
And then he realized why it had felt so weird when he'd stumbled and his legs had tangled. What he'd felt while Chloe had held still and acted as his support.
...Or what he hadn't felt down there, rather.
Lex went dead-pale.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," he said, strained.
"Welcome to the world of estrogen?" Chloe said with a satirical smile and a glint in her eye.
And lead bands closed around Lex's chest and cinched down a few notches.
I'm having a panic attack, Lex thought abstractly as he started to gasp for breath. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to tell himself it was ok, even though it really wasn't, tried to calm himself down, slow his heart rate, tried to focus on regulating his lungs, his air intake.
Then Lex's throat spasmed and constricted and he discovered that he really couldn't breathe -- wasn't actually getting any oxygen in -- and that was when Lex realized that it wasn't a panic attack at all.
His eyes snapped wide-open, bugging out a little, and he started grasping at his throat.
Chloe helped lower him to the floor, looking concerned, but Lex couldn't get the words out. He didn't have enough air to--
About the time he started greying out, he saw something like comprehension flash across Chloe's face, and the next thing he was aware of was being curled up on the floor and his thigh hurting like fuck-all.
"Sorry," Chloe said. "Epi-pen," she said, showing the spent device to him. He saw the drawers above her half-open, looking rummaged through. "I didn't realize what was happening at first. I should've guessed you'd probably get your asthma back, along with the hair."
"Wh-- Asth-ma?" he wheezed. He vaguely remembered someone telling him that once, but he couldn't actually remember anything from before the meteor shower. He vaguely remembered dropping something during the shower, though. After running from the man tied up on the cross. ...Had it been an inhaler?
"Uh, yeah. It's in your medical file," she said. Then she reached up and grabbed the inhaler that Pete offered to her. She handed it over to Lex. "You should probably keep this with you, just in case.
"Oh-kay," Lex said, curling it in his fingers and pulling it in to his chest. Lex didn't remember seeing Pete leave the room or come back. He wonderd how long he'd been out, before deciding that maybe he didn't really care. because, fuck, asthma. In a town full of pollenated plants and smelly, furred-and-feathered livestock.
He lay there on the cold, hard linoleum floor for awhile, shivering, until the epinephrine finished its work, then slowly pushed himself up.
"Fuck. My leg still hurts," Lex complained, rubbing at the offending throbbing thigh.
Pete laughed slightly, then stopped, grimaced, and looked away, crossing his arms.
Lex took a deep breath, then another, then tried asking again. "Chloe, where is Clark? Or whomever was found in the radiation chamber with me?"
"I, uh, I really don't think--"
"Chloe, I'm not asking again," Lex said, his voice hard. He got to his feet again, with far less difficulty than he'd had the first time. He didn't feel nearly as unsteady on his feet now, knowing that his center of gravity had changed -- possibly being better able to compensate for it now that he knew the reason why. Or perhaps it was some helpful remnant effect from the adrenaline shot. He shoved the inhaler in a pants pocket, and frowned as he realized that his clothes didn't fit quite the same anymore. It was probably only a subtle difference visually, but Lex was slowly becoming more and more aware of every bit of himself that felt -- that was -- just a little bit... off.
"It's not that, Lex, it's just-- he -- she -- doesn't really look much like Clark. I mean," Chloe tried to explain, dogging his steps as he staggered out of the hospital room and into the hallway, "You still look kind of like yourself, but he--"
"Where, Chloe?" he grated out, looking down on her. If the little reporter-in-training had known where his bed was, she'd know where the other victim -- Clark -- was as well.
Chloe actually gulped. "Ok, ok, just..." She started off down the hallway, slow enough for Lex to follow. Pete took up the rear, frowning.
"You shouldn't have dragged him into this," Pete accused from behind.
"I didn't!" Lex spat back over his shoulder, inobtrusively trailing one hand along the wall for balance as he walked. "I got grabbed off the Fertilizer Plant parking lot coming back from lunch. I was abducted, drugged, and tossed in that room by some maniacal mad-scientist lunatic, and I still have no fucking clue what the hell is going on, except that the bastard irradiated us with something that was likely related to the meteor rock phenomenon! I don't even know how Clark knew I was missing," he ended, massaging his left temple with the base of his palm. He had a headache going, and he wasn't sure if it had just started recently, or if he'd only just noticed now.
"Lex, if you got grabbed around one, then you were missing for two hours before Clark went looking," Chloe supplied. "Clark said you were supposed to meet him that afternoon at the mansion, and he couldn't raise you on your cellphone. He ran off after I tracked down the GPS on your car, but that was a dead-end at the Luthorcorp parking lot. I tried the GPS on your phone next, but it took awhile for me to get my hands on that information. Clark was frantic by then, and ran off after the signal right away. --I couldn't get him to wait," she said, sounding pained. "I turned my back for one second and-- you know how he is." She scrubbed at her face, sounding like she was trying not to cry.
Lex grimaced, because he did know what Clark was like. It wasn't Chloe's fault that Clark ran headlong into things with only the least bit of provocation. If Chloe found the information, Clark would have gotten it out of her, and the fact that the high school reporter had been the one to trace him, rather than his father, spoke ill of what Lionel's response must have been at the time -- or lack of one. Shit. Had his dad actually thought Lex had been playing hooky from work? Lex might not have liked his exile here, but that didn't mean he wasn't taking the job seriously. He'd been doing his utmost best, and then some.
"...How long were we missing?" Lex said slowly, trying for something neutral.
"A little less than six hours after that," Chloe said. "Not that we knew that," Chloe complained. "Clark called me before he went into that old abandoned warehouse, and I called the police, but when they got there and found you two... well," she glanced back at Pete, "Pete and I thought Clark had ran off again, still looking for you."
"We were hoping you would wake up and shed some light on whatever was going on, though, because one of the cops mentioned that you'd said Clark's name when you were found," Chloe added. "So I guess you did that..." she ended with a weak smile.
Lex snorted softly. "His parents must be frantic," he said.
"Yeah, well, he's been missing overnight and it's been twelve hours with no word, so, yeah, they're through the roof, all right," Pete said, glaring at Lex. "They're pretty much watching the clock to put in the missing person's notice and start a town-wide manhunt."
"...And you haven't called to tell them to get over here yet, because...?" Lex shot back, eyes narrowing.
Pete glared at him, opened his mouth for a comeback, then his eyes went wide as what Lex had said actually made it through the boy's thick skull. Lex watched dourly as Pete went for his cellphone, cursing under his breath as he dialed.
Chloe stopped in front of a door and Lex came to a halt as well. Pete bumped into his back, not paying attention, and nearly bowled Lex over. Lex grabbed at the wall and righted himself, then glared back over his shoulder. Pete was too engrossed in his phone call with the Kents to respond, or even care, apparently, so Lex just grimaced and opened the door, stepping inside.
Chloe stayed by the doorway and wrapped her arms around herself. Lex looked back at her inquisitively, and she just looked away and quietly said, "I already saw her... him... so..."
Lex had a sinking feeling.
He forced himself to walk further in, treading soft and careful in the lowlit room. He pushed back the curtain and stepped close to the bed.
Lex couldn't help his harsh intake of breath.
Clark was emaciated.
He looked like a chemo patient gone wrong. Too much radiation. His hair looked like it was about to start coming out in clumps.
And Lex would know that sort of thing, having seen his mother go through exactly that during one of her failed cancer treatments.
Or, more accurately, Clark looked like the chemo patient of a deranged mind who had ignored all safety protocols, just to see what would happen -- Clark could have been a torture victim of the Holocaust, if the Nazi 'doctors' had ever tried testing radiation on people.
Clark was skeletal, pale, his usually golden skin looking sallow, a yellow hue that had more to do with illness than health, and it was taut over what little muscle he had left on him. His eyes were sunken in his face, with dark bruised-looking circles under them. His lips were cracked in a way that smacked of dehydration, and patches of his skin looked almost burned in places.
Chloe was right -- Clark didn't look anything like himself.
Lex stepped a little closer, uneasily, and then he saw what he hadn't seen before.
Clark was... short.
Lex looked him up and down, and visually measured him against the hospital bedframe. He's lost at least a foot in height, Lex realized faintly. And, with a second once-over, Lex realized that it wasn't just his height -- his whole skeletal structure looked like it had shifted. His shoulders were no longer so broad, his hips a little wider; his bones themselves looked thinner...
Emaciated, horribly ill, and sweating heavily... but underneath the mask of pain and chemical torture, despite it all, Clark was a beautiful woman. It took Lex's breath away.
If Lex hadn't known walking in that this was Clark... would he have recognized him? As it was, he was tempted to turn around and ask if Chloe was sure that this really was the person they'd found in the chamber lying next to him.
But she was wearing Clark's clothes, as loose and ill-fitting as they were on her now, just as Lex was still wearing his.
Lex carefully sat down on the edge of the bed, avoiding the IV lines stuck in her arm, and carefully raised a hand. He gently smoothed a lock of sweat-soaked hair off of her brow.
"Mmmnn," she groaned softly, stirring.
"...Clark?" Lex asked gently.
She muttered something unintelligible.
"Clark?" Lex asked again. He heard Chloe stir by the doorway.
"...Lex?" Green eyes, dull and unfocused, opened just a little, then slid shut again, and it was enough. It was Clark. Lex knew those eyes -- always would, ever since he'd stared up into them at the riverbank. Lex slid his fingers lightly across Clark's brow, and Clark sighed softly and shifted on the bed again, relaxing a little under his touch.
"...Where?" Clark asked quietly.
"We're safe," Lex said. "We're out."
"S'good," Clark said, almost murmuring to himself. Then he blinked his eyes open a little more and turned his head towards Lex's voice.
"You ok?" Clark asked, not really seeing him well in the dim lighting.
Lex smiled. Oh yes, definitely Clark. "I'm fine, Clark," Lex said soothingly. After all, he was alive; Clark was alive. He would have killed for that certainty a few hours ago. It was enough, for now.
"Mmmm," Clark said, his eyes drifting shut. He sighed deeply out, then drew a longer, more relaxed breath, and fell back to sleep.
Lex sighed himself, then slowly slid off the edge of the bed and stood up again. He walked to the door and out, ignoring Chloe's long stare as he shut the door behind him.
"Don't bother him with questions. He needs to rest," Lex told her. And then he walked away. It was more than a little hard for him to do, but he knew it was necessary. His first priority was to track down that madman and make sure that the bastard couldn't hurt him, or Clark, ever again.
Lex was in the middle of bullying the hospital staff into letting him go without practically OD'ing him on iodine pills for the radiation, and bullying the police into returning his things which had been collected at the warehouse scene -- because the madman had apparently tossed his pockets and stripped him of his mother's watch while he was unconscious before throwing him in the chamber, not wanting any electronics or anything metal to possibly interfere with his so-called "test" -- when Lionel waltzed right up to his side.
Oh, fuck, not now! Lex thought. "I'm busy, dad, can't it wait?!" he spat out, thoroughly annoyed.
"Really, son, has acting insolently ever improved any situation you've been in?"
Lex was about to make another comeback when he realized that everyone in the waiting area had stopped what they were doing and was staring at him.
"What?" Lex said to the room at large. Unfortunately, no-one seemed willing to clue him in.
So instead, he settled for glaring suspiciously up at Lionel. "Oh, god, fine -- what did you do this time?" Lex said, because fuck it if Lionel was going to threaten to fire half the plant again just because Lex hadn't shown up for work when he'd been half-comatose in a hospital bed -- he had better things to worry about right now.
"What did I do?" Lionel said in mild amusement, his lips lifting upwards in a smile.
"Ugh, would you please just--"
"...Did he just call you son?" the sheriff asked, looking confused.
"Of course he did! I'm--" and then Lex blanked out for a moment as he realized that he'd been involved in an argument -- two arguments -- for the last twenty minutes with several people, and not once had his name actually come up.
"Oh, for gods sake," Lex groaned, pinching his nose, and remembering that he looked like a girl right then. Sort of. And had hair now.
"Please excuse my son," Lionel said smoothly, addressing the masses at large. "He's been... involved... in an odd situation, and he's in a bit of an ill-temper over it right now," he said with a slight grin.
"...If you even think about making a PMS joke, dad, so help me god--"
"Lex, son," Lionel said, planting a hand on Lex's shoulder, "Walk with me."
Lex let himself be steered away from the group.
"Why are you here, dad, and what do you want?" Lex sighed, wishing he could just go home, hide under the covers of his bed, and collapse for an age.
"Now, Lex, really, that's hardly a polite way to greet--"
"How did you even know it was me?" Lex cut in. "Or perhaps that's a stupid question -- was that madman working for you?" Lex asked darkly.
"No, Lex, he wasn't," Lionel said with a sour tone. "Pity, that. It seemed he was a bit of a genius, though more than a little unstable."
" 'Genius', my--" Lex started out griping, then his thought process came to a screeching halt. "...what do you mean, 'was'?" he said slowly, feeling like he'd been broadsided. Oh, no.
"Dad, you didn't...!" Lex pleaded desperately.
"He was dead when we caught up with him," Lionel scoffed, waving a hand. "When the police got the tip from the Sullivan girl, I sent my own people on his trail, of course. Apparently he'd thought his 'treatment' so successful he couldn't wait to try it on himself." Lionel pulled a face. "The fool."
Lex blindly found a chair and sat down hard.
Lionel tugged at his sleeve cuffs and continued. "He kept rather meticulous notes on his theories and tests... and various experimental subjects..." Lionel eyed Lex from above.
"What was it really supposed to do?" Lex asked quietly, sholders slumped, staring at nothing. He felt drained.
"It was supposed to be a transgender operation, using a viral vector. A full change, every cell converted from XY to XX."
"Bind the healthy cells with the right DNA change using the virus to modify the base pairs, and kill the old ones that didn't convert with radiation." Lex knew the basics of viral therapy from his biochem coursework in college, but so far as he knew, none had been known to be largely successful, let alone FDA approved. He'd never heard of one coupled with any sort of radiation 'treatment' that couldn't be properly directed to only impact the 'right' sort of cells, which he assumed was what the bastard had been attempting. Really, I can't imagine why...
"Yes. The additional radiation was supposed to help destroy any cells and organs that should no longer be there, it seems," Lionel continued. "His notes were less than clear on how he'd thought the new organs and such were supposed to 'spontaneously' grow, and how the surrounding tissues would heal properly."
"Please tell me that there's a reverse treatment plan he'd been working on," Lex said quietly.
"Well, son, the man had no interest in being a man anymore, so it shouldn't surprise you what the answer to that would be."
Lex hung his head, holding it heavily in his hands as he closed his eyes in mental pain so acute it began to cause him a headache. No cure? No chance to... A feeling of hopelessless began to set in.
"I spoke with your doctors on the phone on the way here. It seems that your immune system is in flux right now, trying to handle the shock to your system."
"...My system?" Lex said weakly, looking up at Lionel. "This isn't my body. Not really."
"Your system," Lionel repeated, adamantly. "It's similar to what we saw happen to you after you had been exposed to the radiation in the meteor shower. They think that you'll stabilize in a few days, maybe a week or two at the outside."
"...Stabilize?!?" Lex yelped, shooting to his feet. "I don't want to stabilize!" he hissed, fists clenched at his sides. "I want my body back!"
"This isn't the first time you've changed, Lex. I doubt it'll be the last," Lionel said wearily.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" Lex said, stepping into Lionel's personal space.
Lionel looked down on him blandly. "It means, son, that you didn't use to be like you were before, either."
Lex stood there and stared up at his father, appalled.
Lionel sighed wearily and explained in too-patient tones, "You were a short, slightly chubby boy, Lex. You had asthma. And hair." Lex twitched at the mention of asthma; Lionel noticed his reaction and paused briefly before continuing. "And then you became a thin, rather pale, bald stork of a child, and quite obstinate, to boot. ...And now you are female," he snorted, giving Lex a cursory glance up and down. "And I don't doubt that, sooner or later, you will want to go through with whatever reversal LuthorCorp can come up with from his notes. And then you will have changed, yet again."
Lex rocked back on his heels slightly like he'd been punched in the gut.
"I..." he breathed out in shock.
"So, son, there is only one question that remains." Lionel smiled sharply, and then suddenly grabbed Lex's shoulders hard, and pulled Lex towards him.
"Ow! --What?!? Let go!" Lex yelped, as Lionel's fingers dug in hard. He tried to grapple with his father, and found himself weaker than usual, though whether it was from the gender change itself or the lingering aftereffects of the procedure that had made him that way, Lex couldn't tell. Lionel sneered at him, and Lex punched out. But all that caused Lionel to do was let go of his shoulders and grab his arms, instead.
"Fuck. You!" Lex spat out, trying to twist away, pull out of his hold, and failing miserably. Then he stopped fighting, stood there panting, glared up at his father defiantly, and deliberately stilled for a moment.
Then he fisted his hands in Lionel's shirt, drew back a leg, and kneed his father in the groin as hard as he possibly could.
Lionel let go and doubled over, wheezing.
"Serves you right, you bastard," Lex spat back, massaging the worst of his aches in his forearm and shoulder. I'm going to have bruises, damn it. "When I say let go of me, you fucking--" The he stopped as he realized that those wheezing sounds Lionel was making were actually a pained chuckling sound.
Lionel slowly straightened, grinning, and began to give out a wheezing laugh.
What the hell--?
"Good to know you've still got some fight left in you, son," Lionel said, sounding almost proud. He chuckled again, then slowly and a little stiffly turned to go. "I expect you to be at work in an hour, after you've had a chance to clean yourself up," he tossed back over his shoulder at Lex, walking away with only the slightest hitch in his step.
Lex stared after him, stunned. "You can't be serious." And Lionel kept walking away. "You can't be serious!" he yelled after him, then half-walked, half-jogged after his father to catch up.
"I am perfectly serious," Lionel said. "You're fine. You're up and walking and arguing and fighting." And Lionel didn't seem to see any problem with this at all.
"I can't go to work like this!" Lex said.
"Of course not, you need to clean up first," Linel patiently repeated, stopping at the elevator door and hitting the button to call the car.
"Not that!" Lex yelped. "I'm a girl!"
Lex ground his teeth, feeling like he was on the verge of a Lionel-induced apoplectic fit.
"How the hell am I supposed to explain this?!" Lex demanded, gesturing at himself.
"Why would you need to explain anything?" Lionel replied cooly, with zero concern. "After the meteor shower, I never did."
Lex dumbly watched him waltz into the elevator and hit the button for the ground floor. "And it's not like you look much different now than you usually do," Lionel added. "You could quite possibly hide the differences with a good well-tailored suit and a shave, if you felt so inclined," Lionel offered with a shark's grin, running a hand through his hair, as the doors slammed shut.
Lex stared at the doors for a few long moments, then turned and walked away, rubbing his face with his hands.
"He's out of his fucking mind," Lex muttered to himself.
Then he looked up at all the people who had been listening in on their not-so-private exchange.
"What the hell are you all staring at?!?" Lex spat out, glaring and throwing his arms wide.
And a lot of people quickly found someplace else they needed to be.
Except for those few poor hospital nurses and policemen who still had business with one Jane Doe, a.k.a. Lex Luthor.
"Now," Lex growled as he stalked forward, fists clenched, back towards the little group of people who had been making his life difficult lately, "Where were we?"
Chloe looked up from her seat in the hallway at the unsure voice. "Mrs. Kent!" she exclaimed, startled. She elbowed Pete, who glanced up, and they both stood up as they caught sight of Mrs. Kent, with Mr. Kent trailing behind. Chloe realized that they didn't look nearly as worried, or distraught, as she'd expected, and that could only mean...
"Um..." Chloe felt pretty unsure, and glanced at Pete next to her. "I don't know exactly what Pete told you on the phone, but..."
"Clark's in the hospital, and very sick; yes, we know," Martha said hurriedly. "Is this his room?" she asked, opening the door.
"Well, yes, but--" she glanced at Pete, frowning, "It's not just--!"
"Pete told us that Clark... that he's... a girl now?" Mr. Kent said, laying a hand on Chloe's shoulder gently.
"Yes, but it's not that simple," Chloe tried to explain, biting her lip. "Clark hasn't really been awake yet, exactly, and he might not know that he's a girl, yet. Lex was confused when he woke up and--"
"Lex?" Jonathan straightened. "What do the Luthors have to do with this?" he asked in a dangerous tone.
But before they could get any further, they heard a stifled shriek from Clark's room.
Jonathan rushed in, with Pete close behind. Chloe lagged a bit, more than a little afraid of what she would see.
Martha was standing over Clark's bed with a hand over her mouth, chest heaving, and at first Chloe thought she was crying.
But then Mrs. Kent turned around, and when Chloe saw the high color in her cheeks, she realized that she wasn't sad or scared -- she was mad.
"Is this some kind of joke?" she said angrily, striding over to Chloe and Pete. "Where is my son?!"
"Wh-what? That... that is Clark, Mrs. Kent..." Chloe said shakily, backing up a step.
"That is not my son," she said with a shake of her head. "Boy or girl, you think I don't know my own son?"
"I... I..." Chloe stuttered, backing up further. She'd never seen Mrs. Kent upset, and she felt a little panicked because she didn't know what to do--
"Lex said it was him," Pete cut in, taking the heat off Chloe. "Maybe he was lying," he said, putting up his hands and backing off as Mrs. Kent turned on him.
But Jonathan edged closer to the bed, slowly, frowning down at the girl resting there.
"...Clark?" he asked carefully, a little unsure.
"Jonathan, come away from there," Mrs. Kent said quietly from the doorway.
Mr. Kent glanced back at the doorway and almost moved away. But he glanced down again, and something made him pause. "Clark. Can you hear me?" he said, in a normal tone.
"Clark," Jonathan repeated sternly. "Wake up."
The girl twitched a little, restlessly, and her eyes fluttered as she sighed a breath out... unhappily?
" 'M awake. Jus' five more min...z..." she muttered, turning her head to the side.
Chloe looked up at Mrs. Kent and saw her pale.
"No, not five more minutes, Clark," Mr. Kent said calmly but firmly, sitting down on the side of the bed. "Now."
Clark sighed and turned his/her head towards her father, and blinked open her eyes. "Da-ad, what...?" Then s/he blinked again and glanced around, and seemed to realize where s/he was.
"Oh. Um." S/he looked a bit sheepish. "...Grounded?"
"What do you think, son?"
Clark sighed. "Sorry..."
"Sorry isn't good enough. Do you have any idea how worried your mother and I have been?"
Clark looked a little more pained and her arms twitched. She grimaced and managed to raise an arm and flopped it over her eyes. "Didn't mean to. Mess up." She choked down a sob. "I really messed up."
"Clark?" Jonathan asked quietly. "What do you mean?"
"I... I got caught." She shivered. "That guy, he... he did something, and I couldn't move. I... I think he injected me with-- with meteor rock, dad," Clark said, her breath hitching.
Mrs. Kent's hands flew up to her mouth, her eyes wide. She started forward.
Chloe felt sick.
"And Lex was there, but I couldn't help him. I... he was scared, and started yelling, but I couldn't even move. I... it hurt, a lot, and... and then it didn't and Lex said it was ok? That... that we were both safe? I... I don't know what he did," Clark said slowly, unsure, as she pulled his arm away, uncovering her eyes and looking up at her father. "I... I'm not sure he's really ok, dad," she said, voice shaking. "He... he sounded kind of weird..."
Mr. Kent seemed to take a deep breath and hold on to something internally. Finally, he said, "If Lex said he's all right, then he's all right. You just worry about yourself, son. Ok?"
"But--!" Clark protested weakly.
"...Clark?" Mrs. Kent said, shakily.
"Mom?" s/he said, glancing over at the doorway and seeing Mrs. Kent for the first time. And then Clark picked up on her worry and uncertainty and got worried, too. "What... what's wrong?" She started to struggle upright.
"Just take it easy, Clark, all right?" Mr. Kent said, laying a hand on her shoulder and gently pushing him back down.
Clark fell back with a thump, and looked up at her dad shockily, really surprised for some reason.
"You've been gone all night, Clark, that's why we got so worried," Mr. Kent said, and Chloe wondered when they were going to clue Clark in to the fact that s/he wasn't so very much a 'he' anymore, and how sick s/he really was -- the hospital staff had sounded surprised that Clark hadn't died yet. She'd overheard some of the less couth ones taking bets earlier...
"All... night?" S/he looked confused, then panicked. "All night!? It's morning!? But I-- I've got that history exam first period!!" Her eyes snapped wide open and s/he somehow pushed himself to a seated position, then looked really dizzy and even more ill, clenching her teeth and hissing out a painful breath.
"Oh! Oh, Clark--!" Mrs. Kent said, moving forward, starting to cry.
Chloe grimaced a little and inched her way out the door. She didn't want to be there for the revelatory part. She didn't think she could handle seeing Clark cry just then. Pete followed along her escape route shortly thereafter.
"Man, that's gotta hurt. His own mother not recognizing him?" Pete said, shaking his head. Chloe was suddenly very glad that he hadn't heard what she had. And she decided then and there to keep her mouth shut. Either Clark would be ok, or... she, he wouldn't. Mourning him before he was gone, rather than enjoying the time they had left with him, would be too horrible.
"Very harsh. And I think he was too out of it to tell, so let's not be the ones to enlighten him, ok?" Chloe said, giving Pete a look.
Pete glanced up at her, then the lightbulb went on. "Oh, yeah. Definitely. No idea what I was just talking about. --What were we talking about, again?" he said innocently.
"Hey, what are friends for, right?"
Chloe gave him a thin, wavery smile.
When the doctors didn't want to let Clark go, Jonathan let Martha handle it.
She needed someone to take her anger and pain out on, after all. Might as well be useful.
Clark kept slipping in and out of consciousness on him, and he realized that Chloe was right -- Clark had no idea what had happened to him, yet.
Jonathan hoped that he could keep it that way just a little longer, until Clark was feeling better, looking a little more well. Because Jonathan had to keep thinking that Clark would get better, despite what the doctors were implying...
"Is there anything that you can do for him here that we can't do at home?" Martha insisted. "Because if I'm understanding you correctly, you seem to think he's already dead."
"Ma'am, nobody survives that kind of radiation exposure." Then the young doctor seemed to pause and mentally edit himself. "All right, maybe that Luthor kid is up and walking around, but, Christ, we're talking Hiroshima-levels of exposure. They're going to be walking, and maybe talking the next few days, but after that..."
"Well, somebody thinks that they'll be fine, or you wouldn't have my boy on iodide for the radiation," Martha insisted.
"It's just standard procedure," the doctor sighed. "We didn't know how badly exposed they'd been when they first came in."
"Well then, just give me the damn iodine pills and let me take my son home to die in peace where he can be comfortable," Martha said coldly. And Jonathan had to wince at that, because he knew she was just making things difficult for the man on purpose, when she thought she knew better.
Jonathan glanced down and was very glad that Clark was not conscious to be hearing all this right now.
Chloe and Pete had left for school, so Clark's friends were also spared hearing this and worrying, at least. Chloe had apparently come to the hospital bright and early, just in case they'd woken up, in the hopes that she could get an interview and an early start on trying to track Clark down.
The doctor looked grim, but he finally approached the bed and undid Clark from all the tubes and wires. Seeing those things in and on Clark's skin, and that IV needle sliding out just so easy-as-you-please... it made Jonathan's skin itch at the wrongness of it.
Jonathan was again grateful that Clark seemed so out of it. If Clark had woken up with his full faculties and looked down, if he'd seen himself all wired up and stuck into tubes and truly understood where he was and what state he was in... Jonathan knew that Clark had nightmares about doctors and hospitals from time to time. What was worse was that Jon knew that his and Martha's warnings were part of the reason why Clark had them, and it killed him that he couldn't soothe those fears away because, well, Clark had a right to be afraid. It wasn't an idle worry.
"Did you take any blood samples?" Jon asked.
"No," the doctor frowned, "but--"
"Good," he said.
"That's not... look, I probably should--"
"No. We're his parents, and we're telling you no. We're taking him home," Martha said, bodily standing in front of the doctor and crossing her arms.
The doctor muttered something less than kind under his breath, but when Jonathan started to rouse Clark and try to help him up onto his feet, the man stopped him.
"Look, let me get you a wheelchair for her--"
"Him," Martha corrected ascerbically.
"...him." The doctor grimaced. "It's the least I can do, along with the prescription for the iodine, and maybe some painkillers to make it easier on the kid," the doctor said, with a glare back at Martha.
His wife returned the glare with a stony gaze of her own.
Jon sighed and thanked him.
Jon realized with some concern that Clark hadn't really been fully conscious as they'd gotten him into the wheelchair. He prayed that his son would be all right, once they got him home. He'd been exposed to meteor rock before, but never so much, and it had never taken so long for him to recover before.
He pushed Clark's chair over to the nursing station, trailing Martha, who was engrossed in conversation with the nursing staff and trying to take care of Clark's paperwork. Part of the thing that was apparently taking so long was establishing Clark's identity, and arguing over his gender status on the forms.
He glanced over his shoulder as another flash of red hair drew his eye, and caught sight of a younger redhead arguing animatedly with a couple of police officers. Jon watched as a third younger officer approached, holding two bags. The woman turned her head to glance at him, then caught sight of the bag, and gestured at it. The bag was tentatively proferred and the woman snatched it from him, looking unbelievably annoyed with the man, who in turn looked more than a little uncomfortable. Even the sheriff looked a little off-put by the woman.
Who...? Jon thought, frowning, because Ethan generally didn't take shit from anyone, as a rule.
He watched the woman rifle through the bag as she continued talking, and pocket a cellphone, money clip, keychain, and a few other assorted odds-and-ends. She drew a watch from the bag and absently handed the empty bag back to the sheriff's deputy, expecting him to being waiting there to take it... and he was and did.
That one's a bit privileged, Jon thought sourly. She's used to having people wait on her hand and foot, I bet. She might seem a fair enough form, under the misfitted clothing, but her attitude certainly left a lot to be desired. ...Though Jon supposed that it could be blamed on whatever was wrong with her, he realized as he watched her with a critical eye as she carefully put on the watch. Something was obviously making her ill; she didn't look well at all... Actually, she seemed a bit of an odd duck in general. Jonathan hadn't met a woman alive who didn't carry a purse, and the woman didn't seem to have had one in her belongings...
Then the woman pointed at the second bag and turned, gesturing down the hallway from which he and his family had just come. But when the woman's eyes flicked over and caught sight of him, she froze like a deer in headlights.
Jonathan met her stare with a puzzled frown, raising his eyebrows slightly. She looked nervous, glanced between Clark and Jonathan, then turned and said something hurried to the deputy, and gestured at Jon himself, before crossing her arms and turning away from them again. Jon watched her continue whatever discussion she'd been having earlier, with a little less animation in her gestures and significantly muted tones.
Jon cocked his head and got a sneaking suspicion.
When the deputy approached him and asked, "Er, you Clark Kent's father?" glancing down at his son-turned-daughter, Jon couldn't help but give the deputy a bit of a long look and sigh as he nodded. He took the bag from the young man and retrieved Clark's house keys and wallet for him.
"Wasn't another cellphone at the scene, sorry," the deputy said, but Jonathan just shook his head.
"Clark doesn't have one."
"Oh, right. Right!" the man said, looking relieved. He fumbled with the empty bag a bit, then turned and walked back to his superior officers... and Lex... as slowly as possible.
Jonathan sighed. He could hardly blame the man. ...And he should've known. That bright red, curly hair, all falling down in long flowing, probably horribly-tangled waves, plus that personality... Jon shook his head and wondered absently if the boy would go home and shave it all off directly; he seemed distracted and irritated by it, the way he kept swiping and batting at it intermittently.
And Lex kept stealing glances back at Clark. Guilt-ridden ones. And then twitching his gaze away whenever he realized Jonathan was noticing him doing it.
Jonathan didn't quite know how to feel about the whole thing, honestly. At first, it had sounded like Clark had just gotten caught up in whatever mess Luthor had tangled himself up in again, but looking at the woman-boy now, Jonathan realized that that wasn't quite the case. Clark had 'failed' to 'save' Lex, and it was clear that whatever had happened to them, had happened to the both of them.
Damn, Jonathan thought. I don't want to feel sorry for the boy.
Lex finally finished his conversation with the police and they moved away. Jonathan noted that they did not approach either himself or Clark. Lex lingered for a moment, and Jonathan walked over quickly, leaving Clark with Martha, his son in safe enough hands for the moment.
Lex turned back to them right as Jonathan came to a halt behind him, and the boy looked startled, his head tipping upwards and eyes widening. He recovered quickly, though.
"Mr. Kent!" he said in a slightly rough tone that was higher-pitched than normal. "I, ah..." Jon watched him swallow, then say, "I've spoken with the police. I answered all of their questions; they have as full a description of the events that occurred as they're likely to get from anyone. They shouldn't need to bother-- to speak with Clark about it."
Jonathan stared down at him. Up close, he looked like an absolute wreck, and -- yes -- he was definitely female now, if less different himself than Clark had become. And that sent a very ill thought through Jonathan's head.
"I, ah, I'm very sorry for what occurred. I had no idea--" Lex said, paling. It didn't escape Jon that the young woman looked like he expected Jonathan to strike him.
So, it seemed the Luthor boy wasn't nearly as in control over his reactions in this changed version of himself as he was as a young man. ...Unless the entire situation had shaken him a bit more than Jon could have guessed at. He supposed waking up a woman could unsettle any sort of man.
"Are you all right?" Jonathan finally asked, gruffly, crossing his arms.
Lex stared up at him blankly with wide eyes. He didn't seem to understand what Jonathan was asking, or trying to ask.
Jonathan sighed, and repeated patiently, "Lex, are you--"
"I'm fine," Lex said, slipping his hands into his pockets, then wincing slightly as one hand contacted something. "Apparently have asthma now, but I'm fine," he muttered.
"Like before?" Jonathan asked.
Lex's head shot up in shock and he rocked back a little on his heels. "Wh-- How did you--?!" Then his eyes narrowed and he searched Jonathan's face sharply. "Did Chloe say something?" he asked, almost suspiciously.
Jonathan frowned down at him. He couldn't think of why Luthor would get so defensive about something so trivial. "Chloe? About what?"
Lex stared at him for awhile, then shook his head slightly. He glanced down at the floor, looking a little confused and off-put. "Nothing. It seems the hair comes with asthma," he said, frowning at a strand of it that had slipped down in front of his vision, tugging at it lightly.
"Hmm. You reckon the reverse is true?" When Lex glanced up at him with a frown, Jonathan added, "You going to shave it all off? Doesn't look like you like it, much."
"It's annoying," Lex blurted out, then looked startled with himself at having admitted it out loud.
"Noticed that you thought that from across the hallway," Jonathan said with no little amusement. "You keep swiping at it," he explained at the young woman's glare.
"I do n--" Lex bit the inside of his cheek as he realized he was doing just that right then. He dropped his hands and shoved them in his pockets again, looking belligerent, and determined not to do it again. Then he looked about as happy as a wet cat as he shook his head, turning away a little too fast, and a huge cascade of his hair fell across his shoulder back into his vision again.
Jonathan had to stifle a laugh. He doubted he would find it well-received.
Lex must've picked up on it though, because Jonathan got himself yet another glare from the boy.
"Clark's going to be fine," Jonathan offered. "We're going to take him home to get some proper rest. I assume someone's coming from the mansion to pick you up so you can do the same?" he tried again.
"No, I'm going in to work," he said, sounding a little angry, not meeting Jonathan's gaze.
Jonathan stared down at the boy. "Lex, I doubt even Lionel would demand that you go in when you're this sick--" Jonathan started reasonably.
"I'm not sick, I'm a girl," he muttered. "Apparently that's not a disease, I hear tell," he added sarcastically.
"You may be 'a girl', but you are sick."
"I'm. Fine." Lex gritted out.
"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" he asked, because Lex really did look like hell. Jon was surprised that the boy was even up and walking around. He might not be as badly off as Clark, for whatever reason, but he still looked like death half-warmed-over.
"Why the hell do you care, anyway?" Lex spat out, glaring up at Jonathan, meeting his eyes in a clear, direct challenge. He looked like he was ready to throw a punch or two to punctuate it.
Jonathan uncrossed his arms and looked down on Lex balefully. "Well, Lex," he drawled, "It seems my son found fit to try and help you out of something pretty damn dangerous." He watched Lex flinch, but not back down. "The way I see it, I figure that if he's that worried about you, then maybe I ought to take an interest in you while he's not well enough to do it himself. It's the least I can do for him, considering he nearly got himself killed over it. Be a damn shame to see that effort wasted."
Lex looked like he'd been punched in the gut by the end of it. He dropped his gaze first, and after awhile, quietly said, "He is going to be ok, isn't he?"
"How do you know?" Lex said, glancing up, his eyes looking a little wet. And he realized that the boy really was worried about his son, the way Lex's gaze was searching his, in a desperate hope that Jonathan wasn't just saying things that he didn't mean, or didn't know for sure.
He held Lex's eyes for long enough to let the boy know that he knew Clark would recover, then said slowly, "Well, Lex. If there's one thing I know about my son, it's that Clark's too damn stubborn to die leaving a history exam undone that he's actually studied for."
Lex blinked up at him, relief floodig his features, and then as Jon's words impacted he looked a little shocked... and then he glanced down and got a tiny smile. "Yeah. That world history exam today, right?"
"...You know about that?"
"I helped him study for it. He had a lot of questions about the War of Roses."
"I thought you were more interested in all that old Greek and Roman stuff?" Jon asked, raising an eyebrow or two.
Lex glanced up, and Jonathan added sourly, "Clark may have mentioned it sometime." More than once.
At that, Lex grinned a little. "You've got something against European history?" he asked sweetly.
And that innocent tone with that expression on that body was more than a little discomfiting. And Jon knew a trick question when he heard one.
"Might be I just take exception about hearing about Trojan Horses every time Martha tries to trick Clark into eating peas."
And when the boy laughed, Jonathan thought he might have an inkling of what Clark might see in him, after all.
But Lex calmed pretty quickly, and looked uncomfortable again -- shoving his hands into his pockets again, and Jonathan was getting a sense of the gesture -- it was an indication of when Lex had something he badly wanted to know, but was trying to divert close attention from being taken too seriously on about. "Why are you being so..." he grimaced, "...nice?"
"You think I'm being nice?"
"Well, you're not... acting the way you usually do," Lex said, trying to be politic about it.
"Neither are you, Lex."
Lex gave him a look. "I've been acting horribly today," he put out there.
"I'd rather be dealing with a man himself, then some pretty false front he puts on as a show for others," Jonathan stated bluntly.
"...So you'd like it better if I acted horribly more often? Because I can do that," Lex said with a long, almost calculating look.
"Quit acting like some meek little kiss-ass that we both know you aren't and be honest, and we'll see," Jonathan said, feeling amused. "You can't hardly do worse than you have been," he pointed out.
"...And if I decided to curse up a storm at you sometime?" Lex prodded, obviously testing.
Jonathan crossed his arms again. "Then you'll be the one to have to deal with Martha if she overheard you." He nearly laughed at the look that crossed Lex's face then. Clearly his wife had a fan. "I used to have a few 'hands helping me out on the farm. I know what usually goes through young men's minds when the womenfolk aren't around."
Lex had the grace to wince, and in such a way that Jonathan knew that Lex knew exactly what he was talking about, and that had something in him sitting up and taking notice. Huh. And damn, but now Jonathan wanted to know how he knew how life on a farm usually went, because that wasn't the sort of thing a boy could learn second-hand. Interested in a Luthor. Hell, Clark is never gonna let me hear the end of this one, if he finds out. I'll be forever listening to "Lex did this" and "Lex did that" stories, god help me. ...So he'd better not let Clark find out then.
Lex glanced away, his eyes lighted on a clock, and he sucked in a hissed intake of breath. "I've got to go."
"And why are you in such an all-blasted hurry?" Jonathan frowned, following him a little ways.
"Work," came the one-word answer.
Jonathan caught up to him in a hurry, then clapped a hand down on his shoulder to keep him from running off.
Lex, startled, nearly threw him off, glancing back at him. He visibly calmed himself and tugged at Jonathan's hand. Jon let go.
"Look, my father is not nearly so... reasonable as you seem to be about... all this," he gestured down at himself. "So--"
"He told you to go in today?"
"Yes," Lex said impatiently, starting to move away, but keeping his eyes on Jonathan, probably to try and keep from getting captured by a restraining hand again.
"Did he get a good look at you?"
"Yes," Lex repeated, even less patiently.
Uncaring bastard, Jonathan thought. He couldn't believe it. Not even Lionel was that heartless. "Go home."
"Was planning on it. Need to get cleaned up first before going in," Lex muttered absently, and Jonathan just couldn't take it.
He reached forward and grabbed Lex's arm, and Lex jerked, startled. But before the boy could lash out, which he seemed to be gearing up to do, Jonathan had pulled the small pill bottle from his coat pocket and shoved it into Lex's hands.
"What--" Lex stopped looking like he was bracing for a fight, and instead looked confused all over again.
"Iodine pills. Doctors gave them to us for the radiation for Clark. Since you're in such an all-fire hurry, I figure we have more time to get another prescription than you do," Jonathan huffed. Because nobody seemed to be looking after the young man-now-woman, let alone himself. Clark would've done it, probably, if he'd been conscious just then.
Lex looked down at them sourly, and then held them out, trying to hand them back, almost offended at Jonathan's offer. "I can buy my own--"
"You think I can't afford it?" Jonathan said with a dangerous glare, and Lex backed down, looking startled again. Instead, he glanced down at the pill container uneasily, seemed o come to a decision, then slid it in a pocket before glancing back up at Jonathan and nodding sharply once. ...And then he glared at his hair again as it dropped over one eye completely. He spun on his heel and walked away as quickly as he could, swiping the hair back over his shoulder in an imperious gesture.
And by the time Jonathan was done being shocked with himself for his actions, Lex was too far away for Jonathan to chase down again.
Jonathan, in a bit of a foul mood now -- not that that was a new thing for him, when it came to Luthors; why couldn't he leave well enough alone? -- turned and walked back over to his own family. It looked as though Martha had nearly finished her heated 'discussion' with the nurses. Jonathan flagged down another nurse, and had another filled bottle of pills in his hands before Martha was ready to go.
Jonathan wheeled Clark out into the bright sunlight and over to the truck.
He didn't notice at first, but when Clark started groaning and twitching, he stopped pushing him and looked down.
"Clark?" he asked concerned, coming around the side.
Martha knelt down and pressed a hand against Clark's forehead. He was sweating buckets now, far worse than he'd been in his room.
Clark's eyes fluttered open, and a look of horrible pain crossed his face. He doubled over, spasming, and pitched forward out of the wheelchair.
"Jonathan!" Martha gasped, as they both tried to slow his fall.
And then Clark began making horrible noises.
Jonathan shoved Martha away and pulled Clark up from the ground a bit, just enough before he--
...and he held Clark as he vomited up dark green and red and black. Far too much red and black -- too much blood mixed in with the green meteor rock.
"Oh, my baby, my poor baby," Martha stuttered lowly, stroking the side of Clark's head.
Finally, after an age, Clark was giving dry heaves, and he collapsed. Jonathan drew his son up against his side and just held him.
"I... I..." Clark croaked, a little more awake now -- because, hell, who could stay asleep through something like that? -- " 'M sorry, dad," he cried, sounding tense and miserable. " 'M sorry. Made a mess, I..."
"Don't you worry, son. You need to get that... that junk out of your system, you do it however you can. Your body knows best. You just don't worry," he repeated, stroking Clark's hair gently.
" 'M sorry..." his son said more quietly, subdued and sagging against him now that he knew he wasn't in trouble.
"Shh, Clark," Jonathan repeated, hugging him close, like he had when he'd been younger, littler.
Clark gave out a shuddering sigh and slowly relaxed in his arms. And at that Jonathan was more than a little startled. It was then he finally realized how much pain his son had been in, now that Jonathan was seeing the pinched look in him fading.
Martha quietly helped clean him up. Jonathan gave up using the wheelchair and just lifted Clark in his arms. He was much smaller now. Small again. Frgile, almost, thought lord knew that Jon and Martha knew the truth and lies of that, by now. He carried his son to the truck, and Martha opened it and helped get him inside.
Jonathan couldn't help but notice how much better Clark looked now, having gotten that mass of meteor rock out of his system. He was looking better and better with each passing minute, and his breathing was evening out, getting deeper and stronger.
Jonathan heaved a deep relieved sigh, sharing a look with his wife.
Then he got in the truck and drove them home.
No-one noticed the overworked, underpaid janitor ('custodial services understudy') who saw the skeletal-looking girl make a mess on the asphalt by the ambulance loading bay and, grumbling, mixed up and then tossed a few buckets of bleach-water solution on it to sanitize it and wash it away into the sewer drains.
A certain blonde-haired high-school reporter, however, tracked him down later and interviewed him on what he'd seen.
Lex decided that whoever had invented the bra needed to be shot.
Clearly it had been a woman, because a man would make it easy to get into one, as well as out of it!
(And while Lex had a lot of experience in getting women out of bras by this point, it had taken a lot of practice. So, case-in-point, there.)
He'd put in the order to his tailor for new clothing that was tailored for a woman approximately his size, and not worried about trying to hide it. If his own staff threw him out of the plant, not recognizing him... well, so be it. His father could battle it out with them if he so desired, but in the meantime Lex would be perfectly happy getting himself some well-deserved rest in his own, fluffy, really comfortable, bed, that was practically calling him like a siren...
The man had delivered (he should, being paid what he was), but the contents themselves were a bit byzantine. He'd almost tossed out the panties, before deciding that burning them might be better, because, well, lace. Except then he'd tried his normal underwear -- both boxers and briefs -- and neither fit him fit properly under the pants he'd been sent, and when in a fit of pique -- adamant that the tailor must have been screwing with him and that nothing would work with the pants he'd been given -- he'd actually tried the damn things on, and he'd found to his everlasting horror that they'd actually been comfortable and that had just been fucking mortifying because now he had to back down on it and he was going to be wearing fucking lace underthings to work...
But... The. Damn. Bra. Good god. He could not for the life of him... Was this perhaps why it took women three hours to get ready to go anyplace? If so -- and Lex was seriously not discounting that as a possibility at the moment -- Lex resolved to quit the fertilizer business immediately and go into women's underwear-making. Females everywhere would laud his genius and probably elect him for some sort of award. He could completely remove any stain from the Luthor name by this one act, and probably proactively clear a few future besmirgings of the Luthor name as well.
After twenty minutes, he threw the offending item down onto the bathroom floor in disgust, wrapped a towel around his shoulders (because at least his socks and pants hadn't been much of a problem, even if the lower half of underwear had been a bit of a psychological one), and Lex decided to try one last, horribly desperate measure.
He walked (stomped) out of his suite, hailed down the good Mrs. Palmer, his matronly housekeeper, and asked (begged) her to please help him with just this one thing.
And, five minutes later, after following the instructions she orated to him through his closed bathroom door, he had The Damn Bra on, and felt like a complete idiot, because four of those minutes had involved walking back to his room.
He kindly but weakly thanked her, and finished adding the shirt -- blouse, though why it had a different name, he couldn't fathom -- over top of the Damn thing.
He still resolved to open an underwear-making business at first opportunity, though.
At least he wasn't expected to wear high heels. He got low-flats instead. Apparently women of his stature didn't have to put up with that crap if they didn't want to.
The shower had cleaned him up a bit, but Mr. Kent had been right in his earlier (what Lex had assumed was a smart-ass comment but, in actuality, completely fair) assessment. Looking in his mirror, in his well-lit bathroom, Lex saw a very ill-looking individual. He really should probably be staying home today, if he knew what was good for him.
His hair was totally unmanageable, though, and even worse, he didn't have the time or the proper tools to deal with it.
He turned to exit, even had laid a hand on the doorknob, when something in the reflected image caught his eye. He did a double-take, then slid a hand up to finger his collar -- oh god, not more frills! -- and bared his teeth at this final offense.
He raged in silence, pacing the floor like a caged animal, because he couldn't very well exit without the proper attire, as his housekeeper was waiting on the other side of the door. For all he knew, if he exited wearing only the towel about his shoulders, she might want to check the fit of the Damn Thing! And, god help him, he would never survive that sort of indignity. (Not to mention that he'd have the rest of the staff snickering behind his back about lace until the end of time -- servants, after all, gossiped. Always.)
He pressed his hands against his forehead and tried to think.
Then he glanced over at his shirt -- the shirt he'd been wearing before. It was a bit... stained with sweat and blood and... well, it wasn't all that bad, really... just a bit disheveled-looking...
And it had fit, still. Earlier. Sort of.
He undid the buttons at the sleeves and all down the front, slid out of the offensive blouse, and tossed it over a towel rack. He scooped up the previously-discarded shirt and shoved his arms into the sleeves.
He shuddered slightly at the feel of it against his clean skin, but he endured it. After all, he'd been wearing it only an hour or so earlier.
It was only after getting it on and looking himself over in the mirror that he realized that he looked completely unpresentable in it. It was too dirty, and sent completely the wrong message about his state and status after the kidnapping and subsequent hospitalization.
Also, it being a fitted shirt, it also seemed to emphasize his breasts, being that they did not fit and were straining against the material in the region of his chest.
Looking down, he realized with no small horror that, in fact, the material was so tight that one could actually tell that the bra he was wearing was-- well, it didn't have lace like the other unmentionables he refused to name, but it was far too feminine-shaped and cut in its own right, and one could discern this, as it outlined every damn curve--
He pulled at the buttons with shaking fingers, and nearly ripped the shirt off and away from him. He glared down at it as he smushed it together into a ball, before turning and hurling it against the wall of the shower. It impacted, and then fell to the smooth porcelain base of the tub with a damp thump.
Lex braced both hands against the counter of the sink and stared down into the basin. He was shivering. He closed his eyes, slowly curled his fingers into fists, and leaned forward heavily, trying to ignore the feeling of being trapped.
He was still shivering.
He stepped back abruptly, turned, and grabbed a slightly damp towel he'd used earlier. He rubbed himself down, removing the slightly sticky feel of the residue from his shirt.
He wrapped the towel around his arms, shawl-like, as before.
He slowly curled his fingers into the soft cotton.
He jumped at a gentle knocking at the bathroom door. "Are you all right, sir?" he heard.
"I'm fine," Lex replied after clearing his throat quietly, swallowing hard.
Silence. One of the patiently-waiting variety. Damn.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and then looked over again at the thrice-damned blouse, oh-so-subtly feminine. His eyes narrowed and he straightened.
If only he'd been able to find some scissors earlier. He could have dealt with this easily. Certainly, cutting the collar straight would have left him with a highly unprofessional look -- all the loose threads and missing stitching -- but he could have -- would have -- done it... if not for the unbelievable absence of every damn pair of scissors on the premises. He'd thought there ought to have been some in the library, or even his study. At least one pair in the entire damn mansion.
He would have cut a great deal more than that collar, if he had.
He glared at the collar some more, and wished for laser eyebeams like Warrior Angel for the umpteenth time. (Not wanting them for the express purpose of cutting down Luthorcorp board members or the usual group of feeble-minded, giggly, simpering, pandering, or all-around idiotic hangers-on that tended to bore him was, admittedly, a new and somewhat novel use of eye-laser empowerment that he had not imagined previously.)
...Playing devil's advocate on a lark, he reminded himself that hadn't noticed that there was something wrong with the collar before when he'd first been putting it on. Perhaps it wasn't as blatantly obvious as all that.
And he had managed the bra, hadn't he?
And the... underthings...
It was just a little bit frilly. (At least it wasn't lacey.)
Women wore this sort of thing all the time. (No -- worse, actually.)
He had shirts in his closet that were worse than this, when it came to frilly-ruffles and such. (Even if they were technically of a masculine cut.)
Hell. Who am I trying to fool?
He gritted his teeth and put the god-damned blouse back on.
He stared at himself in the mirror.
This blouse that had been given to him was, at least, both of a heavy enough material and cut loosely enough that one couldn't see every outline of The Damn Bra, of which the less was said the better. In fact, the front of the blouse seemed to fall outright smooth down his slightly-sloped chest -- and, well, the less that was protruding there, the better. He could also button it right up to the top of his neck. He hadn't been able to do so quite properly with his shirt, and it had left him feeling slightly... naked... in the throat region.
If not for the damn collar...
...which his hair almost hid it as it was...
When he exited the bathroom, and Mrs. Palmer didn't say a word about the collar -- instead offering to help him with his hair, with a teary-eyed look, Lex just knew then and there that 1) he was an idiot for fixating on the collar, when everyone would clearly be far too busy staring at his hair, instead, and 2) there wasn't anything salveageable about the mess at all. He was even more convinced when he declined her offer and informed her of his decision to hack it down to a manageable length at earliest opportunity, and she sounded so horribly sad and consoling about the whole thing.
He managed to mostly towel the Wavey Curls Of Doom dry, popped a few iodine pills (in retrospect, they were a good idea all around), grabbed a bag lunch, and got out of the mansion before noon. And, quite frankly, as far as Lex was concerned, that was the best his father was going to get out of him today.
To his amazement, no-one at the plant challenged him or his presence. Apparently word had gotten around somehow, and everyone at the plant seemed to recognize him on sight. (Probably from the Blazing Red Hair. Which kept getting in his way. He swore it could not possibly have been this bad when he'd been younger, even if he couldn't remember it to properly compare.)
Then again, it was Smallville. Maybe men turning into women was seen as more of a been-there-done-that, when up against fat-sucking vampires, heat-sucking football jocks, and shapeshifting teenage girls.
Lex nearly tripped over his own feet going up a flight of stairs at that last one.
He had to stop and sit down for a moment and remember how to breathe. Oh god, it is a been-there-done-that! Because Tina Greer could go through a complete body change, not just female to male, but female-herself to male-looking-like-Lex, and not just once! In a way, what she could do at will whenever she wanted was like a super-set of what had been forced upon him and Clark, that their bodies had been locked into.
And she was alive and in Belle Reeve, locked away and perfectly healthy. (Well, except for the psychosis, but that was largely incidental.)
Lex was going to need to find a way to get her to cooperate with the research Lionel had said he was going to be instigating. Somehow, maybe there was a link...
Thoughts and new possibilities whirling through his mind, Lex managed to make it to his office without further mishap, but he knew he wasn't going to be able to focus very well on his work that day. So, he decided on a tour of the plant to start, to review the current status of the improvements he'd been implementing to try and streamline the work flow, and hoped that Gabe could find him something a little less brain-intensive for the latter-half of the day after that.
Gabe Sullivan hadn't thought that the film badge dosimeters, which the younger Mr. Luthor had insisted every employee start wearing, were anything but a waste of funds better spent elsewhere. He'd thought it patently ridiculous that Mr. Luthor had believed what that lunatic, who'd held his daughter and her school class hostage in the plant, had said: that Level 3 existed, and that they'd been playing with dangerous levels of radioactive meteor rock there. It was patently ridiculous -- as if the meteor rock was really radioactive! If it had been, the EPA would've declared the entire town a hazard and evacuated them to clean the community up, as well as the surrounding countryside. Even his daughter's newspaper articles never made that claim about the rocks.
But when Gabe's radiation badge reading started to change colors over the course of the day, working at Mr. Luthor's side, he began to worry.
When Mr. Luthor himself started sweating horribly and stagered into a restroom, and Gabe found himself taking care of him-- her in a nearby toilet stall, he mused that he'd never imagined that his job would ever entail holding a boss' hair during work hours. He'd never thought of the younger Mr. Luthor as frail, or a bit of a coal canary before, but if they'd been exposed to something, he didn't doubt that the younger Mr. Luthor would be affected more badly, and sooner, than he himself ever would be.
He first became worried when Mr. Luthor started throwing up something bright green, along with what looked like blood. He became more than a little alarmed when Mr. Luthor then tried to calm him down by saying that 'it wasn't as bad as it had been this morning', and that 'he felt much better now.'
Gabe left the young plant manager to tidy up a bit on his own and flagged down a co-worker. He exchanged radiation badges, and told the man to grab a few other folks and some active electronic dosimeters and retrace their path, just in case. If there was some radiation 'leak' coming from somewhere, then somebody had a lot of explaning to do, because they didn't deal in that sort of thing, here. He also resolved to keep a very close eye on Mr. Luthor for the rest of the day.
But his badge didn't seem to change for the rest of the day as he stuck by Mr. Luthor's side, who might profess that he was feeling much better, but really looked like he ought to be flat on his back at home. (Of course, no-one was going to stand up to the elder Mr. Luthor's orders, least of all his son, and sadly everyone knew better than to suggest such a thing.) When his workers reported back that they'd found nothing along their route, Gabe had to simply shrug it off.
When he got home that night and found out from his daughter that whatever had occurred that had turned Mr. Luthor female hadn't been the normal town weirdness, but something else entirely involving a radiation treatment, the hairs on the nape of his neck nearly stood on end.
Dear god, he thought, horrified.
Well, Gabe knew what to do about this, at least. He was increasing the security presence both at the gates and on the parking lot the very next day. He wasn't about to put himself back in a position that would have him worrying whether his boss would be abducted at an inopportune time, let alone turn up again radioactive the very next day.
Jonathan found himself more and more relieved every time Clark needed to get up from bed and throw up in the bathroom again.
After the third time, which looked to be the last, Clark ended up wandering downstairs and collapsing on the couch, curled up in a patch of sunlight, breathing easily, no longer sweating, and almost smiling in what Jonathan reckoned was blessed relief.
At dinner, Clark was actually able to get up himself and feed himself. He didn't seem much more capable than shoveling food into his mouth, though, and not really much aware of where he was -- except home -- and how much or what he was eating -- three times what he usually did, and pretty much the entire house -- but he was up and walking around and eating, and his color had improved immensely.
Neither Jonathan or Martha begrudged him the food, though. At one point Jon even tried to pitch in, making pancakes while Martha was putting together peanut-butter sandwiches in-between chopping up another large bowl of salad, and when he finally stopped and sleepily curled up in his own bed, he looked a good sight less drawn and less skeletal than he had before.
"I think I'll go to the store first-thing in the morning and restock the kitchen, Martha."
His wife nodded to him. "I'll pull up the rest of the winter garden -- it's nearly done producing, anyway."
If they could keep Clark eating like this, he ought to be back to himself -- well, healthy, at least -- in no time.
Assuming we can keep him from feeling even more guilty about eating that much more than he usually does, and keep up his appetite.
Neither of them had really thought through much about what to do about gently breaking the news to him that he was a girl. They were too focused on getting him back to looking and feeling well, and still too used to thinking of him as a boy, despite evidence to the contrary.
At least, Jonathan was. Martha was keenly aware of it, but in a bit of denial, though Jonathan didn't quite realize it at the time...
Martha was frantic the next morning when Jonathan returned from his grocery trip.
She'd just checked in on their son a few minutes ago, seen him still asleep. She'd quietly left some clothing for him that might fit, and had gone outside to pull up some of the turnips.
When she'd gotten back inside, she'd puttered around in the kitchen for a bit, then gone upstairs to peek in on Clark again, but she found herself greeted by an empty bed.
Clark was gone.
Lex was in a foul mood the next morning, not having slept well. His hair was causing him issues, not least of which was that it was a wreck, he couldn't handle it properly, and he'd been too tired the previous night to find some scissors and hack away at it.
He hadn't liked his hair before, but this was damn ridiculous.
So he glowered as he went through his shower -- using the vaguely floral-scented shampoo and conditioner that Mrs. Palmer had all-but-thrust upon him the previous evening before bed. He glowered at himself in the mirror as he got the comb -- a similarly forced 'gift' -- stuck in his hair twelve times before giving up -- his hair was effectively one huge mess of tangled snarls that he was certain he would never get out. He glowered perhaps a little less when he slid into his favorite high-speed convertible... but then was sent glowering again as he realized that the wind most decidedly did not feel the same now, nor gave him the exhilirating rush he was used to -- because rather than merely gliding across his face and over his head like a tactile adrenaline rush, it instead sent his damnable hair whipping around his face, and that fucking hurt.
He'd actually had to make a decision between putting the top up or driving slow.
He skidded to a halt once he hit Main Street, parked in a huff, and stomped into the Beanery, at least wanting an honest-to-god good cup of coffee this morning. He knew he wasn't going to get one, but he was damn well going to try and hold out high hopes anyway, until they were dashed after their latest attempt at brown sludge hit his lips -- lord help him, but if someone ever offered to build him a decent coffee shop in this backwater town, he'd fund the entire damn thing for one good cup a day, that's all he'd ever ask! -- but as he stomped by one set of partially occupied tables, just at the side of center of the shop, he spun and did a double-take.
"Clark?" he asked, barely recognizing his friend. The difference of just one day -- he didn't look sick anymore, thank god!
"Mmm?" Clark said around a mouthful of what looked to be a peanut butter sandwich. --At least, Lex surmised as much, given the loaf of bread and open jar of peanut butter (with knife-stuck-in) sitting on the table next to a half-drained jug of milk. He watched Clark blink up at him, swallow his mouthful, and then lift the milk and take a good swallow straight from the jug one-handed, all without letting go of the half-a-sandwich he was clutching.
"Hey, Lex," Clark said thickly, then took another swallow of milk. "So, um... hair?" he said, tilting his head.
Lex sighed heavily and glanced away. He started when his usual nervous gesture -- running a hand over his head -- encountered said hair. He glowered a bit upwards at it, blew out a breath, and all but fell onto one of the spindly and highly uncomfortable high-backed wood-and-metal chairs next to Clark.
"Yes, hair. Apparently I can have an excellent immune system and no asthma or hair, or asthma and hair. Apparently both walk where none fear to tread," he ended with a sigh, propping his head up with a fist, and a bad-mannered elbow on the table.
Clark snickered. "It's not that bad."
"It is that bad! Look at this!" Lex complained, grasping a chunk of still slightly-soggy hair in one hand and moving it upwards. The rest of his mass of hair followed. "It's a complete mess!"
Clark eyed his hair critically. "You want some help with that?"
"Do you have a pair of scissors? Or a razor?" Lex said, huffing, letting go of the mass of hair and feeling it swing down like a weighty pendulum behind him.
"Lex! You shouldn't just cut it all off!" Clark protested.
Lex blinked, then gave him Clark a disbelieving look. "Why not?"
"Because if you just shave it all off, you'll have to do it a bunch of times, and it'll probably itch coming back in."
Lex blinked at him, and felt a little horrified at the notion. His scalp shouldn't itch!
"Cutting it too short would probably be bad, too, because then it might fall into your eyes and face and you wouldn't be able to pull it out of the way," Clark added, scrunching up his face and giving Lex's hair a critical look.
Lex knew he must've pulled a look just then, because a few female school-aged teens giggled at him as they walked by towards the ordering counter.
Lex folded his arms, crossed his legs, somewhat demurely, and said, "Well, then, what would you recommend, Clark?"
...And now it was Clark's turn to look a little taken aback. "Well, um..." He stopped and gave the idea the weight of his full attention for a few moments, then he brightened a bit.
"Just wait here for a sec, ok?" he said, getting up from the table and heading for the drinks counter.
Lex eyed Clark as he walked off. He didn't exactly move like a guy, but he didn't move like a girl, either. He did, however, move like Clark, which was both odd... and not.
He took a deep breath and surveyed the rest of the Beanery. No-one seemed to be paying him the least amount attention, really. He wasn't sure whether to be offended by this or not. Really, was this town so completely insane that men turning into women didn't even hit on anyone's radar?
...Actually, Lex didn't want to know the answer to that, now that he thought about it.
Clark stopped at the counter and flagged down a waitress who he seemed to know, or at least was comfortable being friendly with. He leaned against the coffee bar and chatted her up. She lowered her tray to her hip, frowning slightly, but when Clark motioned a hand towards Lex and then back at himself, she glanced over, her eyebrows rose as she looked at Lex, and then she turned and smiled at Clark brightly, nodding as she gave her response.
And then he watched as she handed off her tray to another server with what looked like a faster rundown of an explanation, and another exchange of smiles.
The girl disappeared into the back for a moment as Clark waited patiently. Then she returned and handed over a few small items, which Clark took up in his hands, with a grin and what was obviously a 'thank you'.
Lex waited until Clark had returned to their table, then said without preamble, "You're wearing a skirt."
Clark glanced down at the one-tone long green skirt and said, "Yeah, mom laid it out for me this morning, and I don't think any of my pants will fit," with a shrug.
"Is it..." Lex gave him an uncertain look.
"Weird? Kinda, I guess. It's all... open and flow-y, really different than jeans," Clark said, wrinkling his nose. "But it's got a stretchy waist, and it fits, and I've gotta wear something to school, so..." he trailed off, shrugging as he pulled his chair around the side behind Lex and sat down. "At least it's long?"
Lex turned around and slung an arm over the back on his chair, facing Clark. "You know, I could--" he started, about to suggest a shopping trip for pants that would fit him and other less-obviously-female-looking-ish items -- after all, it was Lex's fault that Clark had gotten into this mess, and he doubted the Kents had much in their clothes budget for this sort of thing -- when he realized Clark was frowning at him furiously.
"Ah, problem?" Lex asked tentatively.
"You've gotta turn around," Clark said.
Lex blinked at him. "Why?"
"Because I can't fix it like that," Clark said firmly.
Lex blinked again, nonplussed, then looked down at what Clark had in his hands: a hairbrush, a comb, and some... hair-fastening tools? A few were circular, like a rubber band, and some just looked like long thin pieces of rope -- or thick thread.
"You-- what?" Lex said intelligently. Sort of.
Clark sighed, set everything but the hairbrush down on the table, and said, "Turn around."
Lex found his elbow lifted and dropped over the chairback without fanfare, and his shoulders abruptly turned so that he was sitting straight-ahead.
He frowned and turned his head to ask--
"No, no moving," Clark said, putting both hands on either side of his head and gently twisting it straight-forward again.
Lex blinked, and said nervously -- while not turning around again -- "Clark, I don't think--"
Lex cringed internally and braced himself for the truly horrific and incredibly futile hair-pulling experience he was about to endure, squeezing his eyes shut.
He heard brushy-snarly sounds from behind him, but no painful yanking.
Lex slowly cracked his eyes open, and tentatively forced himself to relax. And then sat with his hands folded in his lap, and wondered what the hell Clark was doing back there, because he must be doing something, but...
...well, he actually didn't feel any tugging at all.
Lex started to turn his head again, but remembered Clark's earlier warning. He tried to glance about, moving only his eyes, to see what was going on in any reflective surface--
--He managed to partially see what Clark was doing out of the corner of his eye in the reflection in the storefront's window glass, but not much. He did seem to be brushing, at least, and very intent on it, too -- biting his lower lip as he focused entirely on Lex's hair.
"Not that I'm complaining, Clark--" because god knew he wasn't! "--but why does it not hurt?" Lex asked finally.
"I'm holding your hair above where I'm brushing," Clark said. "Tugging is bad."
Yes. Yes, it is, Lex thought. "But aren't you supposed to brush it from the top?"
The brushing noises paused a moment, as Clark paused in his efforts. "You tried to brush it from the top without getting all the bottom stuff unsnarled first?" he said incredulously.
Lex opened his mouth to snap at Clark and tell him off for using that tone of voice on him, except his brain caught up with him first. He remembered some things he'd learned at the ranch in Montanta about knots in rope and where and how to go about the start of untangling things, and...
Lex snapped his mouth shut and felt his cheeks heat.
"Wow. No wonder you had problems," Clark continued, unaware. The brushing sounds resumed.
Five minutes later and Clark had made it up to Lex's skull, and was apologizing every few seconds for the tugs because he couldn't keep from pulling those snarls.
Lex didn't really mind though, because half the time he didn't hit a snarl, and...
And then it was all-clear. Just long stokes, starting at the top of his head, and Lex just sat back and let Clark do it, closing his eyes and revelling in the feeling, because, god, this felt so decadent, so sensual, so...
Clark pulled the hairbrush bristles through his hair with another long stroke, and Lex sighed softly, a gentle smile surfacing to grace his lips as he tilted his head back just a little.
Mmmm, this could go on forever...
Except it didn't.
Lex slowly opened his eyes, trying not to whine, because there really was no good way to ask Clark to just keep going--- ohmygod, Clark's hands were in his hair why?
He started, his eyes widening and shoulders tensing, then slammed his eyes shut and forced himself not to flinch as Clark's fingers ran through his hair again. His fingers curled up in his lap and he tried not to shiver; he really wasn't used to this.
And then Clark's broad palm swept across a huge portion of his head and that was too much! "Clark, what--!?"
"Sorry, gotta get it up. You're hair's too long to just let it hang down loose all day, if you can't brush it yourself; it'll tangle up all over again. I think I can do this right... --Let me know if it feels too tight?"
Lex suddenly realized that Clark's other hand was at the base of his neck, curled up around...
Lex bit his lip and tried not to giggle as Clark pulled his hair back and secured it in a ponytail.
"That feel ok?"
Lex almost nodded before he rememberred he wasn't supposed to move. "Yes."
"Ok, good. I used the strap, ok? You should just be able to untie the bow and unwind it from around the hair."
"Ok," Lex said, and he started to lean forward when he felt a hand on his shoulder again. "Problem?"
"...Still not done?" Lex asked, wondering what could possibly be left to--
"I'm gonna try to braid it. It's still mostly free, sort of -- it'll just snarl from the ponytail down."
Lex glanced back over his shoulder, feeling his hair swing behind him -- and it was a much smoother, sweeping, free-r cascading feeling, now that it wasn't all snarled. Still odd, though. "Do you know how to do that?"
Clark looked a little uncertain, but nodded tentatively. "I've seen dad do it for mom once. I think I remember it right."
"All right, Clark," Lex said after a moment's pause, turning back around.
He blew out a quiet breath as Clark brushed at his hair again, and this time he felt every tug as he did it -- apparently Clark couldn't do everything he needed to do while holding his hair still -- and then an odd constant pressure.
"No, you need to pull your head forward," he heard Clark say as he let his head fall back. Lex felt more than heard a mad scramble, then more brushing and a grumble, and soon enough he had a long braid tossed over his left shoulder with one of the cloth-like rubber bands securely wrapped multiple times around the end. He stroked his fingers over, and through, the very soft-feeling fluffy-looking tuft of hair at the end that was free, and wondered at it -- this is my hair? It was actually kind of... soft. And a little wave-y when not tangled. Huh.
"Everything work out ok?" Lex heard, and he turned his head and glanced up at the waitress from earlier.
"Yup!" Clark said brightly behind him, passing over the brush, comb, and remaining assorted hair-things. "Thanks!"
"No problem," she smiled back. "Happy to help in a hair emergency," she winked at Lex, as she sat down two cups of coffee and three muffins in front of him -- blueberry.
"Oh, uh, yeah, I kind of ordered for you -- hope that's ok," Clark said sheepishly.
Lex shook his head slightly. After fixing his hair, he had no complaints, especially since he always ordered the same thing, and Clark apparently knew his order. Though the order itself was a bit larger than usual...
Well, first things first. "What do I owe you for...?" Lex asked the waitress, gesturing at his hair.
But he only got a laugh in return. "Oh, don't worry about it," she said. "I've got a zillion of those things at home. Besides," she winked, "it's for a good cause."
Lex smiled back tentatively, and instead handed over the payment for his breakfast, along with a generous tip, which he hoped would cover her trouble and replacements, though he had no idea how much they might cost.
He got back a grin and a pat on the shoulder, so he figured it must've been enough.
"So, Clark..." he began, after Clark had moved his chair back around and settled back in with his own breakfast feast of sorts, "Why so much food?"
"Oh. Um," Clark blushed a little. "I've been ravenous since, well, you know," he grimaced. "Haven't you?"
Lex had to stop and think about it, but Clark was right -- he had eaten a great deal more in the past twenty-four hours than usual, and hadn't skipped any meals, besides.
"You think it's a side effect of the process?" Lex asked, taking a sip of his coffee before pulling a bite-sized chunk from his first muffin with his fingers and popping it in his mouth.
"Mmm, maybe. But, I guess I was super-thin, too. Like unhealthy-whatever. I, uh, I kinda... got sick... a lot. And I think I burned a lot off getting better, or something."
Lex turned over the thought in his mind as he quietly ate. Clark had been an ungodly stick-figure mess. It would make sense that his immune system would need food for energy to fix... whatever had been damaged, and heal what needed healing. Not to mention filling him back out again, Lex realized, eyeing Clark with his previous state-of-body in mind, as Clark had looked at the hopsital. That did actually make quite a lot of sense, and, looking at what Clark was eating -- high-energy breads and nuts, and milk with calcium for his bones along with other nutrients -- yes, it was no wonder why Clark was eating what he was, and looking far healthier for it.
"I hope you're not skimping on the meat," Lex added, because he would probably need the iron and animal protein, if he'd had nearly as much blood loss as Lex had had through... 'getting sick'.
"Mmm, not sure I have that much money on me," Clark said. "Probably had a lot last night," he offered.
"You're not sure?" Lex asked, frowning.
Clark shook his head. "I don't remember yesterday really well," he said, making himself up another two sandwiches.
"Then why would you think so?" Lex asked, curious.
"Because I bought this stuff with my allowance money this morning," Clark said around a mouthful of sandwich. "There was, like, no food in the house."
Lex eyebrows raised. "None?" He found that hard to believe.
But Clark just smirked and gave a significant glance down at Lex's placesetting.
Lex looked down and wondered where the hell all three muffins and his coffee had gone off to.
Then he winced slightly and felt his cheeks heat again.
Clark just grinned and offered up a peanut butter sandwich.
Lex, bemused, gingerly took it, and watched Clark grab another gallon of milk from a grocery bag on the floor, unscrew the lid, and refill one of his coffee cups with it.
"How did you get them to let you eat outside food in here?" Lex asked, realizing that nothing on the table was actually something that could be bought from the menu here.
"Oh, I got a cup of hot chocolate and two bagels with cream cheese. The grocery store was out of bagels -- can you believe that?"
Lex smiled at his over his cup of milk... and it soured as he glanced over at the door as he heard a familiar voice and laughter.
Lex finished off the sandwich quickly, and chugged down the milk, because lord knew he wouldn't be able to get anything else down after this.
He tried to look nonchalant and not glare up at the three men who were walking up the aisle, hoping beyond hope that they weren't actually here because... no, damn, they were walking up to their table -- fuck -- but certainly they wouldn't actually recognize...
"Well, look who it is," the blonde decked out in green drawled down at him, looking amused, with malice glittering in his eyes.
"Oliver," Lex said flatly, because it was obvious now that there was no point in denying it -- they already knew he was him. Word must have gotten around somehow, outside town. He turned away slightly to keep from giving Oliver a dark glare -- he knew better than to instigate a fight with the now (mostly) grown-up bully, because, fuck, he had to live here. He didnt want the town to think that he--
"Hey, shit, he really does look just like a girl, now!" Alden piped up, with a snickering laugh from Geoffrey. Lex visibly winced at bad memories.
"Lex doesn't look like a girl..." Clark said uncertainly, frowning up at the trio.
"No, he just is one," Oliver grinned. "Always has been."
Lex gritted his teeth and told hmself it wasn't worth it.
"Uh, noooo," Clark said slowly, like he was talking to a brain-damaged fool. "Lex is a guy. Always has been."
All four of the Excelsior Prep graduates turned to stare at Clark.
"What?" Clark said. He tilted his head at Lex. "Just because you sort of have hair now and, uh, your chest is kinda... less flat..." Clark frowned, like he'd lost track of what he was trying to make a point about. "Anyway, I mean, you still look like you, and you're still a guy," he ended, talking to Lex.
"Lex is a girl," Oliver repeated.
"Hey," Clark protested. "Just because his body's a little more girly now, doesn't mean Lex isn't a guy. He's totally a guy! And so am I!" he ended heatedly, taking a bite out of yet another peanut butter sandwich. He chewed at them while the three older bullies exchanged looks.
Alden started in on him first. "Wait, wait, you're the other guy who got surgery with him!" He started laughing hysterically, nastily.
Clark frowned up at Alden. Then his frown deepened and he slowly set down his sandwich as he looked the other two of them over.
"Damnit, Oliver, just leave him alone, you don't know--" Lex started lowly, almost under his breath to his long-standing tormentor as he slowly stood up, because fuck it if he got Clark caught up in this, too--
"No, no," Oliver said, with a pasted-on smile, brushing Lex aside and taking a step towards Clark. He leaned down over Clark, one hand on the table, and said, "I'm kind of curious. You know, why you did it. What's your type?" he grinned with a totally facetious smile.
Lex's blood ran cold.
"Excuse me?" Clark said calmly.
Lex nearly sucked in a breath at Clark's response, because that didn't sound right. Clark didn't--
"I was just wondering if you'd like to go out sometime," Oliver said smoothly, with his two cohorts looking all innocent behind him, and Lex clenched and unclenched his fists. Fuck but Lex wanted to hurt him, because he knew what Oliver was thinking, because if Clark had gotten a sex-change operation because he was interested in guys -- thank god that wasn't the case -- Oliver was going to-- thinking of-- trying to basically hurt him by--
"No, thank you," Clark said with zero interest, turning back to his milk and downing the rest of the gallon before setting it back down, effectively giving Oliver the cold shoulder.
Oh, hey, Clark knows how to dole out rejection like a pro! Lex laughed weakly to himself because, really, who knew?
Oliver's eyes narrowed, and he straightened. "Oh, sorry, I didn't realize," he drawled, reaching in a pocket. He tossed a few dollar bills down onto the tabletop, with a sneer.
Lex stepped forward and grabbed Oliver by the shoulder, wrenching him back, about to flatten Oliver for the implication--
Clark scooped up the money neatly, folded it between his fingers, and said, "Oh, don't worry," as he stood up, took one step forward, and slid it neatly between Oliver's pants and his belt. "I can pay for my own meals."
Lex's jaw dropped.
Oliver's eyes widened in shock, and then he shrugged off Lex's grip like it was a minor annoyance, took a step forward, and loomed over Clark. Alden and Geoffrey stood at his shoulders, a step away from cornering Lex's young friend.
Clark didn't back down. He just tilted his head back a little and put his hands on his hips.
Lex's brain was jibbering at him incoherently at this point, because Clark didn't get aggressive, he never got aggressive. Also, he was a five-foot-maybe-two-inch-nothing girl right now, and these were three six-foot guys with at least a hundred pounds on him, each, and-- what the fuck, his brain was telling him that the brunette in front of him was really, really hot and it was doing strange uncomfortable warm things to his innards--
"Clark..." Lex said, starting to step forward.
"It's fine Lex, I'm handling this," Clark said calmly without looking away from Oliver.
Oliver tensed his shoulder and neck muscles, as though to move forward, obviously readying for a fight.
Oh god, he was going to be scraping his friend off of the floor--
And then Lex blinked and had to resist the urge to hide, because the person who had said -- commanded -- that? Had been him.
Lex was also a good step forward from where he'd been standing before, at Clark's shoulder, and when had that happened, exactly?
Four sets of eyes turned to look at him. Three were worse-than-unfriendly. One was understanding.
"Really, Lex, it's fine. I've got this."
Lex took a deep breath, about to protest as he stared into Clark's eyes... and instead found himself nodding slightly and backing down, literally taking a step back, because he... couldn't really do anything anyway. Taking on all three of them at once... Clark would still end up in the thick of it, trying to rescue him out of the beatdown of his life. I might as well let Clark try... Lex supposed, thought he still felt more than a little frantic and highly uncomfortable about it...
...especially since Clark seemed to have forgotten that he wasn't six-foot-three and two-hundred-some-odd pounds of strong Kansas farmboy muscle anymore.
Oliver was looking between the two of them, amused for some reason. "Really, Luthor? You're gonna hide behind this little girl?" he grinned. Lex winced, because conversations nearby were starting to die down... where the hell were the police, and why was no-one doing anything about this? They were out in public, for god's sake!
"You really think I'm a girl?" Clark asked casually.
Oliver just laughed at him. Alden said, "Yeah, so?"
"And you're actually thinking about hitting a girl?" Clark didn't quite straighten, exactly. He just dropped his hands to his sides and stood there. And didn't move. He didn't seem the least bit like he was making any sort of physical challenge at all. And he looked totally unconcerned and unthreatened by the three of them, singularly or en masse.
Alden laughed again, but it sounded almost... nervous. Geoffrey looked... a little off-put, maybe confused. Oliver frowned down at him.
"What, you gonna tell me some patriarchical shit about how hitting girls is wrong?" Oliver said, pseudo-reasonably. "I am equal opportunity all the way, kiddo," he smirked, shaking out his hands and making loose fists.
Clark tilted his head slightly and gave him a look like he was the oddest duck in the book. "What, seriously? That's why you think guys don't hit girls?"
Alden's grin was slowly fading and... he started to look... worried. Geoffrey looked like he wanted to back off for some reason.. or run. Which was... interesting. Lex couldn't remember having seen them react that way to anyone before.
Oliver, on the other hand... "Ok, shrimp, I'll bite -- why don't guys hit girls?" he asked, like it was some big joke and he was waiting for the ending.
And Clark stood there, cool as a cucumber, and said, matter-of-factly, like he was explaining how the sun rises in the east: "Guys don't hit girls, because girls always win."
And then he drove a fist into Oliver's solar plexus in a quick rabbit-punch -- no warning at all.
Oliver stood there for a moment, swaying... then he made a squeaking noise, his eyes crossed, and he went down like a sack of potatoes.
Clark stood there, in exactly the same pose as before, and calmly stared the two remaining bullies down, while Oliver lay curled up on the floor, groaning softly.
There was dead silence for awhile, and then Geoffrey cleared his throat carefully, then flinched at the attention.
"Um. Would you mind if we, uh..." His eyes flicked down at Oliver.
"Sure, go ahead," Clark said easily.
And with that... permission?... Alden and Geoffrey each got a good grip under one of Oliver's arms and started to pull him up.
"Oh. And one more thing," Clark said.
They both looked up at him and froze.
"Stay out of my town, ok?"
Alden and Geoffrey paled slightly. They both nodded repeatedly, then dragged Oliver outside with them as fast as they could, without another word.
The door slammed shut.
Conversation resumed in the Beanery, as if it had never stopped.
Clark turned around, grabbed his chair, pulled it close to the table, and sat back down.
Lex glanced between Clark sitting at the table peanut-buttering his bread, and outside through the windows at the threesome who were sorting themselves into a sports car, one still very out of it, and the other two looking frantic as hell. He did this several times, while his brain unsuccessfully tried to process what the hell had just happened.
Clark got down to the serious business of munching down another sandwich.
After awhile, Lex sat down slowly.
It was... a little surreal. Clark had just... for him... and he was just acting... normal like... and...
And Lex had forgotten something rather important.
"Ah, Clark?" Lex said tentatively.
"Mmm?" Clark said with a closed mouth full of peanut butter.
Clark shrugged. He took a swig of milk. "Don't mention it."
Lex felt almost offended at the notion. "But you--"
"No, really. Don't mention it. My parents would kill me if they knew I got in a fight," Clark said, looking up at him, more than a little worried.
Oh. Right. ...Huh. "Okay," said Lex.
Clark relaxed and gave him a smile, then dropped his head and got back to eating.
After awhile, Lex couldn't help but ask.
"So... girls always win?"
"I did not know that."
"Really?" Clark looked up at him, wide-eyed.
Lex nodded once, propping his head up in a fist again.
"Wow," said Clark. He stopped and thought about that for all of two seconds. "You're really lucky," he said, before resuming his chewing.
And that little comment just sent Lex's head spinning all over again.
By the time Lex got himself another two bagels from the coffee bar, he had come to several conclusions:
1) He never wanted to find out what Mrs. Kent, Chloe, and Lana had done (or still did) to earn the continual "girls always win" respect of one Clark Kent. Ever.
2) Excelsior Prep's all-boys program had obviously left him deficient in some areas of knowledge to the point that he truly had little-to-no-idea about the breadth or depth of said deficiencies whatsoever.
3) He was going to take Clark's hard-earned knowledge to heart and, if ever he found himself confronted with an opponent of the female variety in the future, he was going to a) make a full-out no-holds-barred pre-emptive strike first and then b) run like hell in the opposite direction (and possibly, for safety, ask Clark if he could hide behind him or otherwise seek his assistance in such matters, because Clark was clearly far more well-informed in girl-boy issues when it came to open warfare than Lex himself was, apparently).
4) The Beanery's coffee still made sludge look good. (sigh)
He was also resolved to find a way to convince (con) Clark's parents into letting him take Clark jeans shopping in the near-future. No stalwart defender-of-Luthors should ever have to find themselves resigned to walking around town in a weird flappy-feeling skirt.
Lex and Clark chatted about other small, yet significant topics for a bit. It was almost time for high school to begin, and Clark was finishing off the last of his meal and getting ready to go. He'd better ask now, or... "Clark?"
"Are you a meteor freak?"
Clark nearly did a spit-take with a mouthful of milk.
Lex realized that perhaps he could have timed that better, as he watched his young friend manage to swallow and cough a little, before glancing back up and giving him an approximation of The Look.
Well, so far no explosion. That's good, right? Lex steeled himself and asked, just as quietly as before, "Are you sure?"
Clark frowned at him. "Yes."
"How do you know?"
"I just do." Clark balled up the empty bread bag and added, "Why?"
Now it was Lex's turn to feel a little off-balance. "Your behavior earlier seemed... atypical. You weren't aggressive, exactly, but..."
Clark blinked, looked a little blank, then got a rueful half-smile and said, "Oh, that wasn't..." He shook his head slightly. "I just figured that if I look like a girl, and I was gonna get treated like a girl, that maybe I should get at least a few perks of being a girl, you know?"
Lex let out a startled laugh, Clark grinned, and Lex soon found himself grinning right back.
Clark managed to make it through the first half of the day without issue. Nobody really gave him any trouble for being a girl. Either the whole town already knew, or the teachers just weren't aware enough to realize (or simply didn't care) that they had an extra girl in their classes when they should've had a boy.
Given how much he got away with with his abilities over the years, Clark wouldn't be surprised if it was both.
Clark managed to catch Ms. Willis, his history teacher, before homeroom began, and tried to beg her to let him take the test then and there, but she wouldn't have anything for it. He struggled through his first three classes for the day, and tracked her down at lunchtime -- not too hard, as she was on hallway duty that period, thank god. He wasn't exactly sure how he managed it, but he got her to agree to giving him an oral exam as a makeup during his study hall period after lunch, when she was also free. Sure, he wouldn't have a chance to review right before it, and it was probably going to be super hard, but it was better than a zero grade and failing the class.
Clark sighed in relief as he dashed off to the grocery store again, this time to buy a decently-sized lunch -- well, makings for one, anyway -- and then back to the Torch to hide out from the hordes with a little time to spare for eating.
It was only once he walked in the doors and stopped short at seeing Chloe and Pete that he remembered why he'd been almost-but-not-quite avoiding the people he knew all day.
He warily sat down at a desk, hoping he could just eat in silence while they bantered, instead of being subject to a barrage of questions...
"So, are you really Clark?"
...but really, who was he kidding?
"Yes, Chloe," Clark sighed as he unwrapped the lunchmeat he'd bought, and uncapped the mustard.
"Oh yeah? How can we know?" Pete said, pulling over a chair and ganging up on him.
Oh god, they weren't actually serious, were they?
"Yeah, maybe he's a changeling or something, trying to usurp Kent's rightful place?"
"Or his GPA," Pete offered. "Hey, if you are Clark, what's it like being a girl and having boobs? Do they turn you on?"
...What was scary was that Clark still couldn't tell if they were being serious or not.
He untwisty-tied the loaf of bread while watching them both.
"Well?" Chloe demanded.
"Well, what?" Clark asked. Then he got it. Rolling his eyes, and ignoring Pete's question, because it was fricking dumb: "God, seriously? ...I don't know. Wall of Weird? Eighth grade in the barn? It took you three hours to track down Lex's cellphone? Sean Kelvin sucked hardcore and didn't want to chill out?"
Pete groaned at the last one, and Chloe looked taken aback at the mention of the barn, so he hoped that would be the end of it.
"Hey, anybody could know about that stuff -- I mean something only the real Clark Kent would know!" Chloe regrouped.
Clark finished making his stack of sandwiches and said, "Ok, fine. You told the crazy guy who kidnapped Lex all about meteor freaks and their mutations, and that Lex had some super self-healing ability or something, and that's why Lex got kidnapped."
Then he glared at her as he took a bite of his first sandwich.
Chloe looked like he'd slapped her, but, really, she'd had it coming.
"I-- I did not--!"
"Dark hair, late thirties, five-foot-seven, glasses, wore a white lab coat with a grey suit underneath and a yellow tie with blue ducks on it, and was totally super-talkative like a mad scientist out of some dumb B-movie." When Chloe opened her mouth, he added, "And he probably wasn't wearing the white lab coat when he talked to you, 'cause it was all stained and frayed at the edges and even you would've thought he was a nutjob."
Chloe set her jaw. "I didn't know he was going to do that. He just told me who he was and that he was a doctor interested in strange mutations, and wanted to talk to me about my research."
"You told this stuff to a complete stranger!" Clark protested, because, god, how could she not get how wrong and dangerous that was?
Chloe glared right back at him. "He didn't ask anything I haven't told anybody before, and the people have a right to know--"
"God, you aren't even sorry, are you?" Clark realized, aghast. Then he got angry. "Lex could've died, don't you get that?! You told somebody something stupid that you don't even know is true and--!"
"It is true!" Chloe protested.
"What, that Lex can heal from practically everything?"
"Well, he survived, didn't he? He survives everything!"
Clark sat there and just stared. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You... you..." Clark just didn't have the words. He turned to his best, oldest friend since forever. "Pete, can you-- just tell her--"
"What? She's right. And it's not like Luthor doesn't deserve it," Pete snorted. "Kinda funny, actually."
He was not hearing this. He was not-- "Yeah? Is it funny what happened to me, too?" Clark said, sounding strangled even to himself. "Did-- did I deserve it?" I thought I was dying. It hurt so badly--
"For running off after him? Hell yeah. That was stupid to do." Pete said, crossing his arms, leaning back in his chair, and looking belligerent.
Clark went wide-eyed and sucked in a breath, feeling as though his insides had gone cold, because that had hurt. Almost worse than--
"You should've waited and let the police handle it," Chloe said. "We told you to wait!" she said, sounding accusatory, her voice shaking.
Clark felt starbursts of pain behind his eyes, and had to remember to breathe. He was nearly vibrating with rage.
"Some friends you are," he choked out, grabbing up his sandwiches and stomping out, close to tears.
"I'm not Clark, I'm just some imposter who wants his GPA, remember?!" he screamed back over his shoulder, slamming the doors shut behind him. He stomped down the hallway, heading for the cafeteria because, well, god, he was doing better with the rest of the student population than his own so-called 'friends' so far today, so why the hell not?
It was near the end of lunch at that point, so he was able to find a mostly empty table and sit apart from the stragglers, far enough away that nobody tried to strike up a conversation. Nobody bothered him. He sat down with his sandwiches and got through them pretty quickly, what with no interruptions and all.
He laid his head down for awhile, and then he opened his eyes, panting a little and sweating lightly. He felt thirsty. Really thirsty.
He stood up, swaying slightly before he got his footing. He wiped a little sweat from his forehead, suddenly feeling really tired.
He headed for the boys bathroom and didn't think twice about going in.
He ducked his head sideways under the faucet and opened it up, full-cold.
He drank and drank, and finally he felt full.
He sighed and straightened, and then felt a weird pressure all above his eyes.
And then he sneezed, hard, into the sink, so hard he bent over.
He sneezed again. Multiple times.
Ugh. His head felt weird. He coughed once or twice, then spat.
Red and green goo. Mostly green goo. Ew.
--Oh god, EW!
He flailed for the paper towel dispenser at the wall and blew his nose.
He was through about half the roll before he was done.
He cleaned up the sink really carefully, and threw out all the paper towels, shoving them far down in the bin and covering them with more.
He washed his hands and face, and then his hands again, and sighed when he was through because... weirdly, his head felt lighter. A lot lighter. Like it had been full of... heavy fog, or lead, or something like that, maybe? And his thoughts were.... sharper. Clearer, almost.
Oh wow, it wasn't missing a day of classes, Clark realized as he mentally reviewed the stuff from his earlier classes that day. It was me.
Well, he felt a lot better now. ...Maybe the history exam wouldn't go so completely horribly, if he was lucky?
Clark sighed, ran his hands over his face, and turned to go.
He nearly ran into one of the senior linebackers coming in.
The guy looked startled as hell, backing up a step before glancing at him and then around at the room, then glared down at him and growled, "What the hell, man? Boys bathroom!"
"Uh, yeah," said Clark.
The guy stopped short in his tirade, blinked down at him and said, "Wait, you Kent?"
Clark nodded tentatively with the beginnings of a frown, wondering if Whitney had put out a hit on him or something.
"Oh. Dude, use the girl's bathroom." And he moved around Clark towards one of the urinals.
"What? --I can't go in there!"
"Sure you can," the guy said rolling his eyes as he unzipped.
"But -- they might be-- I don't know, naked in there or something!"
"That's the locker room, dummy," the linebacker said none-too-patiently. "Stay out of there if you don't want to get trashed by the girls. Or their boyfriends," he added meaningfully as he glanced over at Clark, who was still freaking out at the idea of either, or both, or any of it at all. "Dude, seriously. OUT!"
Clark got out.
Clark sighed and impatiently waited out his time in the cafeteria, counting down the seconds until his make-up history exam. ...At least he had a window seat. The sun felt nice.
He propped his chin on a hand and his eyes slowly drifted shut. Then they flicked back open as he realized exactly what he'd done that morning in front of Lex.
Oh shit. He nearly broke out into a cold sweat. I picked a fight with somebody. An actual fight. Three somebodies. And won. And Lex watched me do it. He wasn't supposed to do stuff like that for a reason. That stuff got him noticed, and a fight could too easily go wrong. If one of them had managed to land a hit...
He hadn't really cared or thought much about that at the time, though. ...Maybe I can blame it on the stuff in my head? After all, it had looked like he'd still had a lot of that gunk left in his system.
In retrospect, though, Lex hadn't gotten angry that Clark had basically taken on his fight for him. In fact, Lex hadn't seemed to mind -- he'd seemed almost relieved, afterwards. --And he'd promised not to tell, so it would probably be ok, because who else would tell on him to his parents? And the sun did feel really nice...
He was almost drifting off to sleep with his head cushioned in his arms, when he felt a hand roughly grab his shoulder and yank him back.
"Wh--!" Clark protested,
"CLARK JEROME KENT!"
Clark craned his neck around and looked up before freezing in sheer overwhelming horror.
"Mom?!?" he choked. "Wh- whaaaat are you doing here?" his voice ended in a squeak.
Oh god, his mom looked ready to kill somebody, and his dad was there too, standing a couple steps behind her.
oh god, oh god, the Beanery, oh god was all Clark could think.
"You are supposed to be at home in bed, young man! You are sick!" his mom nearly screamed at him, shaking him by the shoulder and dragging him upright. "Do you have any idea how worried we were?"
Clark blanked out for a couple seconds, then realized they don't know about that and then wait a minute "--I'm fine, mom, really, I-- you put out the clothes for me, remem--"
"Don't backtalk me, young man! MARCH!!" she yelled, dragging him along like a wayward little kid.
Clark realized that everybody was staring, and and only had about two seconds of panic and self-loathing about how he was gonna be the school pariah, literally the bottom of the social food chain -- no, below that, even, did they have subzero popularity? because he was going to have that -- for what his mother was doing to him right now. Yeah, about two seconds of wanting to die and get swallowed up by the earth right then and there, before he remembered something considered even more important in his household.
"Mom, oh god, no! I barely got Ms. Willis to let me retake the history exam! I can't leave yet!" he begged. If he didn't take the test, he might fail history, and failing history with an 'F' didn't just fuck up his GPA -- getting an 'F' in any class meant he might have to retake the entire year!
Clark dug in his heels and squirmed, trying to get out of his mother's iron grip, which she just ended up transferring to his wrist.
As his mother bodily dragged him from the cafeteria, Clark, frantic, grabbed the doorframe and resolved not to let go -- superstrength abilities coming to light be damned.
"Let go, Clark!" she yelled at him, pulling him hard.
"No, oh god, mom, I'm fine, will you please listen--!"
"Martha," his dad said, catching up on the approach and holding his hands up, "Maybe we should just--"
"--Don't you tell me to calm down, Jonathan Kent!" she said with an angry glare, yanking at Clark again.
"...Is there a problem here?" a familiar voice said.
Oh thank god, Clark thought, because nobody messed with old Ms. Willis.
...Then again, nobody messed with his mom, either.
Somehow, Ms. Willis talked his mom into letting him take the oral history exam before they took him home.
Clark was nervous as hell at trying to answer questions with both his parents in the room, one glowering and looking really not pleased with him at all, but somehow he managed to survive it.
He only really started panicking about what the entire school had witnessed in the cafeteria once they were in the truck driving home, with his mom ranting at him for leaving without saying anything -- which was crazy, because she'd been the one to leave the clothes on his bed, hadn't she? -- and still being too ill to go anywhere or do anything -- which was totally untrue and she would know that if she'd just look at him for two seconds -- and how he was grounded for a month for sneaking or wandering off like that -- she couldn't seem to make up her mind as to which he'd done.
Clark almost -- almost -- asked her why she'd left him alone in the first place, rather than staying glued at his side all the time, if she was really all that worried about him. But that would have been mean and hurtful, so he didn't, even though he himself was seriously hurting because of what she was saying and had already done. It really wasn't right, though; she was being totally unfair about everything. What was so bad about wanting to go to school when he was well?
His mom didn't even stick around to help his "poor invalid self" get out of the truck -- she just went straight indoors.
"I'm fine," Clark grumbled to his dad.
"But you weren't yesterday," his dad said with a sigh. "You don't want people thinking--"
"Lex was fine today, too," Clark said, quiet but heatedly. "It would've been weird if I hadn't been ok," he said adamantly.
His dad frowned at him, but didn't say anything for awhile as he turned off the engine and stepped down from the truck onto the grass-and-gravel driveway. "Son, I don't think I like you comparing yourself to Lex Luthor," he said as he silid the seat forward so Clark could get out of the back.
"Would you rather I was like that crazy scientist guy and died instead?" Clark said, knowing that was unfair. "Or any of his other 'subjects' who died, too? Because those are the only other guys to compare to." When his dad looked up at him with a mixture of surprise and consternation, Clark added lowly, "I ran into Lex at the Beanery. He filled me in a little bit on some of the missing pieces during breakfast this morning."
"You get enough to eat?" his dad asked as Clark slid out of the backseat and he slammed the truck door shut.
Clark started slightly and his shoulders dropped a little -- he'd been expecting a putdown or disparaging comment or, well, something from his dad on his meeting up with Lex. Huh.
Instead of pushing it by bringing it up, Clark just nodded. "I hit the grocery store for stuff for breakfast, and again for lunch." He paused. "I've been eating a lot more than usual --but so has Lex, so..." Clark shrugged but still felt a little guilty -- he knew he wasn't supposed to let people know how much he ate usually, because it was another thing that might get noticed. Yet another anomaly.
His dad patted him on the shoulder consolingly, same as always. "You don't worry about that son, you just get better first, all right?"
"I am dad, really," Clark said, looking up at him and trying to let him know without words that he was, now.
His dad took a good look at him, then gave him a more relaxed smile and said, "You sure, son?"
Clark smile back, and was about to nod and reiterate, except then he remembered. "Um." He sighed and winced a little instead. "Well, I would have said I thought so this morning, too, but..." and then Clark proceeded to tell his dad what had happened in the bathroom that afternoon.
"Hm," his dad said. "Well, you do seem pretty healthy now, mostly back to your old self again, but I think you should still take those iodine pills. Just in case."
"And school?" Clark asked anxiously, because mom had been talking about pulling him from his classes for two whole weeks in the truck.
His dad scratched the back of his neck. "Well, your mother wants you on strict bed rest. I say we give it to her and you stay in your room all day."
"But Dad! I--!"
"And I'll keep an eye on you so she knows you aren't getting out," his dad overrode him.
Clark stopped, then started to smile at the look his dad was giving him. "You know she's never gonna believe that I snuck out without you knowing about it."
"I don't know any such thing, and I will disavow all knowledge," his dad said piously, but they both knew otherwise -- if Clark got caught, they'd both be in hot water, and then some.
"Thanks, dad," Clark said around a lump in his throat, hugging him.
His dad hugged him back, then clapped him on the back and drew away. "C'mon now, let's get inside before your mother has another conniption," he sighed.
Clark made a face, and his dad quietly laughed and tussled his hair a bit for it, but they both hurried for the porch.
AN2: ...Yeahhhh, I think I may need to redefine what I think of as a WIP. *sighs* (God, I haven't even quite gotten through the preliminary setup yet! *headdesk* ...Well, maybe soon. Ish. Maybe. *sighs*)
Chapter 2: Part 2
Title: Girls Just Wanna Be Boys Again, Thanks (Part 2)
Pairing: Clark, Lex
Spoilers: major for Season 1, though it references some things up to Season 5 and beyond (Oliver, mainly); starts after Jitters (1x08) but goes AU before Rogue (1x09)
Word count: 24,700+
Summary: Clark and Lex get genderswapped. Real life ensues.
Warnings: Un-beta'd. Genderswap fic (a.k.a. female!Clark and female!Lex). Some weirdness and confusion involving sex and sexuality, as a matter of course. ...It belatedly occurs to me that I should also warn for PTSD and chemical torture.
Disclaimer: Not mine, not-for-profit.
Comments: Yes, please! :)
Author's Note: So, yeah, this happened. Still. ...Ah, well!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lex sighed as he worked alongside Gabe at the plant. Or, rather: Lex sat at a desk alongside Gabe and watched him work, trying to figure out what he was doing, and then contemplated the genesis of his actions and their possible effects, and, only then, tried to ask intelligent questions to confirm or elucidate himself on the business matters he was 'overseeing'.
It actually had worked out rather well thus far -- Gabe was interrupted only minimally during his workday, and Lex was getting his 'first-hand business training'.
"Did you know that your daughter spoke with my abductor earlier this week?" Between the two of them comparing notes, Lex had realized that that had been the case; Clark had planned on getting first-hand confirmation from the girl herself before completely flipping-out about it.
Gabe's head shot up at the casually-stated remark. He looked taken aback, then horrified and fearful, then worried, then panicked, then almost sad as understanding hit him in waves. "I think Chloe may have been absent that day in kindergarden when they taught everyone not to talk to strangers," he said, almost as an apology.
"She needs to learn some restraint," Lex offered, actually feeling a little worried about the girl himself -- it had sounded as though Clark might feel differently, but he himself wasn't about to become angry over her giving information that the bastard had apparently found some confirmation in from his own medical files. There was plenty of blame to go around. --No, what worried him was that the lunatic could have just as easily grabbed her as well, had he not already been in the later stages of his experimentation and stopped using girls for comparison by that point. This time, she had been lucky. This time.
Lex had no doubt that there would be a next time.
"I got her a taser last night," Gabe offered grimly.
"She doesn't need a taser; she needs a keeper. One who can moonlight as a bodyguard," he added after a second's thought, because given the level of incidence of lunatics and psychotic meteor-freaks running around this town that he'd seen so far...
"Pete hangs out with her often enough."
"Clark as well, but neither of them seem capable of reining her in."
"Clark hared off on his own after you," Gabe said, giving Lex a look. "I don't think he's one for showing how to practice restraint."
"You'd be surprised," Lex murmured, looking over one of the summary spreadsheets of quarterly earnings. He grimaced slightly, then started when he heard Gabe chuckle. Lex looked up at him with a querying gaze.
"Oh, no? I heard about what happened in the Beanery this morning," Gabe smiled knowingly.
Oh, fuck. He tried for his blandest, most innocent face. "Honestly, Gabe, I don't know what-- Damnit," he ended quietly and gave up any thought of pretense when Gabe gave him a very parental Look. "How likely is it that someone will tell his parents?" Lex asked as he looked away, running a hand over his head and feeling defeated, trying to think of a good way to blackmail an entire town -- and, fuck, Oliver-fucking-Queen and his goddamn cronies -- and coming up empty.
...Well, Oliver and his pals would probably stay silent on their own. They were too stupid to think of tattling on Clark to his parents having a more dire effect on his friend than trying to beat him up again -- hah! good luck! -- and they wouldn't risk the drop in standing that rumors of their utter rout at the hands a five-foot-nothing girl would have on their own image among their own kind. But that still left the entire goddamn rest of the town...
"Tell them directly? Slim to none. But them overhearing something on the street? " Gabe shrugged. "Less likely over time. After today, probably pretty unlikely."
"What, Clark's sudden backbone won't be the talk of the small-town gossip for years to come?" Lex said derisively. "How horribly disappointing," he ended on a note of sarcasm. Because if there was one thing he couldn't understand, it was how the majority of Clark's peers seemed to think he was a wimp and a pushover. Sure, he didn't get into fights all that often -- avoided them like the plague, in fact -- but he jumped in to help others without thought for his own safety all the time. Surely, he should garner some small credit for his efforts...
"Oh, things like that happen all the time. The town isn't exactly, uh, insular, I guess -- Chloe and I have never felt unwelcome, surely -- but they close ranks. Outsiders who come here causing nothing but trouble get routed pretty quickly." Gabe cocked his head slightly. "Granted, not usually by Clark, from what I hear, but..."
Lex blinked at him, then turned that thought over a few times in his mind, musing.
"And for all that it's called 'Smallville', the town really isn't all that small," Gabe ended with some amusement, and then laughed outright at the look Lex gave him.
"Really, Mr. Luthor, I may be from Metropolis, but I've lived and worked elsewhere. I know suburbia when I see it, and the town has a population of thirty-thousand. Many small cities don't have that many people living in them," he chided. "It may have a small-town feel to it, and most people here have the mindset, but a small town is generally something like three- or four-hundred people. Three-thousand people would be pushing it." With a smile, he added gently, "You don't really believe that I'd have moved my daughter out here, instead of just commuting from the city, if I thought she'd be bored to tears? She's an extrovert -- she needs people, to be around and to talk to. Besides, my budding little reporter would go crazy if nothing happened where she lived besides 4-H fairs and farmer's markets."
"...Three-hundred people?" Really?
Gabe chuckled again. "You'd best stay out of the really rural areas of Kansas then, or the backwoods of Pennsylvania and West Virginia." He paused. "Or any of the less-populated coastal regions, east or west, for that matter. Once you get away from the cities..." Gabe shrugged. "You're used to cities like Metropolis, or Gotham, or New York, and visiting places only an hour or two car's ride away from them. But those are highly-developed areas. Most places aren't like that."
Lex tried to hold on to his shifting world-view, but what Gabe was saying... well, something just felt wrong somehow.
"Look, if you don't believe me, the next time you get some vacation time, just go on a road trip for a week or two. Don't try and visit major cities, or anything tourist-y, just drive around to the smaller places on the map. --A state map, not just one of those fold-out ones," Gabe smiled again.
This really flew in the face of what Lex knew and believed, and what he knew Clark thought about his hometown, but Gabe seemed so sure...
"I'll think about it," Lex said.
Gabe grinned. "It might give you some perspective," he said agreeably. "Most small towns don't need a parking structure to accommodate the congestion on Main Street, after all."
Lex sent him a sideways look. Apparently his preliminary talks with Nell Potter regarding the old theater property in the middle of town had not gone unnoticed... or un-gossipped about.
...Well, he supposed there was no harm done, so long as no-one tried to outbid him for it, or beat him to the punch. He sighed and got back to his reading.
Chloe and Pete walked into the Beanery after school to see Lex Luthor lounging at a very prominent table in the middle of the coffee shop. It looked like he -- heh, she -- was waiting for someone.
"Hot date?" Chloe queried, sidling up to her. Pete followed, looking all sour grapes.
Lex raised her gaze to Chloe's own and gave her an odd look. "No. Though I was wondering if Clark managed to successfully submit his plea for a make-up exam." She brought her coffee cup to her lips and took another sip.
Well, that was a lousy reaction to what was supposed to be a sure-fire conversation starter. How was Chloe supposed to get information out of him if he was all over the place like -- oh, she'd been waiting for Clark. Right. 'Clark' and 'date' and 'Lex' just didn't sit well together in her brain.
Chloe made a face and grabbed a chair, sitting down heavily. "Well, I don't know about that. Clark's mom grabbed her at lunch."
Lex blinked at her, obviously not comprehending. "Clark's mother..." he echoed. "What do you mean?"
Give some to get some, put him at ease. "There was some big Kent family brouhaha in the cafeteria," Chloe started. "Pete and I were in the Torch offices, so we only got to hear second-hand," she made a face, "but Clark's mom pulled her from school in front of everybody."
Lex stared at her for a few moments. Then it seemed that her words finally sunk in, because her eyes widened, she went a little pale, and she looked absolutely horrified.
"Dear god, was his mother home-schooled?!? --That's social death!!" Lex spat out. "Was she trying to force him to commit some elaborate form of social suicide?!" She slammed his coffee cup down on the table, looking irate.
Chloe was stunned at the display. "You--"
"I'm twenty-one, not dead -- I remember high school perfectly well, thank you!" Lex grated out. She pinched the bridge of his nose like she was getting a horrendous headache. "His mother actually-- don't them have intercom systems? And teachers? Runners from the principal's office?" Lex dropped his hand and glared up at her. "What was he doing alone in the cafeteria to begin with? Why weren't you with him? --or he in the Torch offices with you?" he accused.
"Hey, watch it--" Pete said, clenching his fists.
"Shut your mouth, Ross!" Lex hissed, shoving herself upright and looking absolutely irate, yet... Chloe suddenly realized that she was swaying a little and sweating heavily, and had been for some time -- ever since she'd started getting upset, actually. "I wasn't talking to you, you little--" Lex coughed once. "You little backstabbing--!"
Chloe watched as Lex got caught up in a coughing jag, bending over and half-covering her mouth with the back of a hand. When she started coughing up green spittle with flecks of red, Chloe grabbed Lex's arm and managed to haul her up over a shoulder.
"Chloe, what the hell--?" Pete started, looking completely taken aback.
"Don't just stand there -- help me!" she said. Pete looked about to protest, until she gave him a piercing look and he grumbled and took her other arm. With that, she got Lex into the ladies' room; she was barely staying upright at that point.
"We-- I-- he-- we shouldn't be in here," Pete said nervously, finally settling on a pronoun.
"God, Pete -- trust me, nobody cares!" Fuck, if the big jerk dies on me before I can get anything out of her--
They managed to get Lex up against the far wall by the sinks before she doubled over and really started coughing up shit. From the sound of the way she was wheezing between coughs, it might've been coming up out of her lungs, and maybe out of her sinuses, too, when she started sneezing.
Somehow, Lex managed to get it all on the tile floor, and none on herself. Probably got a lot of practice at that from her hard-partying days in Metropolis, back when she was a he. Chloe grimaced at the mess and tossed a few paper towels over the worst, then dug through her purse and handed her a small packet of tissues.
Lex blew her nose repeatedly; hacked, coughed, and spat more gunk at the paper-towel covered mess; and finally tossed the used tissues on the pile. She pushed herself to an upright seated position, loosely bracing herself against the wall. She groaned incoherently as she closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and pushed her knees up a bit.
"Ok, now I know why my dad wanted hazardous duty pay yesterday. Seriously -- what is it about Sullivans ending up as your nursemaids?" Chloe protested, not so very good-naturedly, poking her in the arm.
"No idea. Perhaps Clark is rubbing off on you?" Lex said wearily, almost but not quite slurring the words.
"Doesn't explain my dad."
"I pay him. For hazardous duties." Lex frowned slightly, then placed the base of her palm between her eyebrows. "Or, rather, my father does." She took a shallow breath. "Don't think I like that, much."
Chloe couldn't help but realize she sounded a little odd. It was like something was off in her head. She wasn't exactly slurring his words, but... she was enunciating them weirdly, like she was needing to concentrate a little to sound them out correctly.
"What, you don't like Gabe working for you?" Pete said snidely, standing over the both of them.
Chloe frowned up at Pete, about to tell him to shut it, because antagonizing and distracting Lex like that wasn't helping -- in fact, would put her in the defensive and make Chloe's job that much harder -- when Lex said, "Don't be ridiculous, Ross. Gabe doesn't work for me."
Chloe turned back to see Lex staring up at Pete, eyes wide and looking through him slightly, her hands loosely fallen into her lap. "Gabe works for my father. Everybody does." She closed her eyes again. "I do." She swallowed heavily. "Paid by him. To do things for him. Makes me feel... cheap."
Chloe stared at Lex for a moment, unable to think of anything to say, and then looked up to Pete. Pete looked about as shaken at Lex's unexpected admission as Chloe felt.
Lex turned his head away slightly and muttered something unintelligible. Chloe stared at her for a moment, then realized that Lex was still sweating heavily.
God, is this normal? ...What are the symptoms of radiation poisoning, again? She'd wiki'd them earlier. God, ok. Fatal doses. Fatal doses were... nausea and vomiting (check), diarrhea (ew), headache (the way he was acting in the hospital and out in the Talon? check), disorientation that got worse over time (check, and that only really happened at fatal doses), and...
Chloe frowned a little and brought a hand to Lex's forehead and heard her let out a faint inadvertent gasp at the touch. Her eyelids fluttered open then slid closed again as his eyes rolled back, and something like a small bit of unexpected relief -- and a surprised half-smile -- flickered across her face for a moment. Chloe wasn't surprised, though.
"Pete, grab a couple paper towels and wet them down with cold water," she said grimly.
"Because Lex is burning up," Chloe gritted out, turning her hand and moving it across Lex's forehead so her whole palm was making contact, giving Lex some temporary relief while waiting on Pete. Fever, check. She needed to get Lex better, or better enough to talk to her before she started in on the tremors, which would lead to seizures, which would lead to...
Pete grumbled but did as she asked. When Chloe started laying them down across Lex's forehead and a few dripping wet ones over her hair, she heard Lex gasp a quiet "oh!" and then Chloe watched with fascination as she groaned softly and her whole body seemed to unwind, collapse a little, tension seeping out of every pore.
...That was possibly a literal thing, given how much she was still sweating.
"Pete, keep an eye on her for me, ok?" Chloe said, pushing herself upright from her squatting position.
"Why?" he asked, eyeing Luthor, but not moving from his spot.
Chloe touched his shoulder as she passed him, and said quietly under her breath, "Because she's really sick, she knows things about what happened to her and Clark, and she's really out of it right now, so she might actually answer our questions if we're careful," and lucky, because Clark hadn't been talking. How Clark had reacted that afternoon had been worrying as hell -- Clark hadn't been listening at all, or willing to explain anything at all. (It didn't help that she was horrible at apologizing -- and that Clark would have been ok if he'd just waited; he wouldn't have been used like Lex.) Not to mention that Lionel had stripped the warehouse Lex and Clark had been found in, and then he'd snapped up every last lead on the not-so-good late Doctor Smithe. Lionel was not liable to share what he knew. But the way things had been progressing, Chloe needed to do something and soon, and in order to do that...
I need to know what Lex knows before she dies from the radiation poisoning, because otherwise Clark is next.
Chloe steeled herself and refused to glance back as she pushed her way out of the bathroom. It might be too late for Luthor, but she refused to believe that she couldn't help Clark.
Chloe was back in short order with a Beanery employee in tow, who looked none-too-happy about needing to mop up the mess on the floor. She only said "shit" before shutting up and stayed shut up as she worked, though, when she saw the state of Lex Luthor lying there. She didn't even give Pete the hairy eyeball for being a guy in the girl's bathroom, and she got the hell out of there as fast as she could, apparently not wanting to get involved.
Chloe and Pete managed to half-drag, half-wrestle Lex out into the center of the floor between them, but it took some doing. She kicked out once or twice at the rough treatment, but after Chloe laid down a clean dish towel for her head and pressed the other towel full of crushed ice up against her forehead, she tamely let them arrange her limbs however they wanted.
"Cold," Lex muttered, curling up slightly on the floor. It sounded more like a statement of fact, and not so much a complaint.
"Feel ok?" Chloe asked.
"Mmmm," she got as a reply, with Lex being very careful not to move too much and risk dislodging the icepack as she tentatively reached up a hand to grasp it and hold it in place.
Chloe grinned. Smooth movements -- no motor problems yet.
She got up and filled the cup that had had the ice in it with cold water from the tap, and managed to poke Lex into sitting up and drinking a cupful one-handed, the other hand still holding the icepack against her head.
After draining the first mugful in one long draught, Lex didn't protest anymore. With Chloe's help, she drank down four more cups, then lay down again, letting hand and ice pack slowly slip down her temple and forehead onto the floor. Her breathing evened out.
Chloe realized with some surprise that Lex had actually fallen asleep on her.
And then she remembered the symptom she'd forgotten from the list.
Shit. Chloe swallowed heavily around the lump in her throat.
Mindful of Pete, she kept a smile on her face while she forced down the urge to scream. Lex obviously needed rest to be able to reach some level of coherency, but they were both racing the clock. If Lex didn't wake up before the deterioration caught up with her...
Chloe curled her fingers into fists on her knees as she knelt there and waited. Her nails bit into her palms and she didn't even feel it, really. She was too busy panicking about Clark, worried about Clark, as she stared down at Lex.
There has to be something I can do! I just need to know--! I just need to force Lex to tell me--
Lex came awake slowly. His fingers were cold, and twisted up in some wet cloth.
He was unbearably thirsty.
Lex blinked up at a sideways-Chloe who was holding a cup, and with no small effort got an elbow under his chest and pushed himself upright. Chloe got a hand under his arm and helped him in doing so, then handed him the cup.
Cool, lightly chilled water never tasted so good.
He finished it off in one great draught, then held it out. Chloe took it back, then got up, refilled it from the sink, and handed it back down to him before crouching down in front of him.
Lex looked about as he drank this one down more slowly. A bathroom, from the looks of things from the floor. Pete was standing against the wall, looking uncomfortable.
He finished off the water, then cleared his throat lightly and said, "We are not in the women's restroom."
Considering the smirk Chloe was giving him, he lost all faith in his ability to keep his thoughts out of his tone, god have mercy on his soul, because the budding reporter-to-be sure as hell wouldn't.
"If you say so," Chloe said brightly -- reveling in his discomfort, perhaps?
Lex sat the cup down on the floor and resisted the urge to strangle people, because Clark would undoubtedly be disappointed in him if he did. "I don't remember coming in here," he put forth, rubbing the tips of his fingers together absently, trying to warm them up from where he'd been clutching the icepack that he'd apparently been gripping for some reason.
"You were kind of out of it at the time," Chloe agreed amicably.
Lex mentally reviewed what he remembered happening since leaving work that afternoon, and then groaned softly as he began to remember snatches of what had happened earlier. He rubbed at his closed eyes with the fingers of one hand. "You people are all crazy. Why does everyone treat me nicely only when I'm being rude as hell and yelling at the lot of you?"
"Because they're crazy?" Pete put out there, sounding annoyed.
"Hey, you helped, too," Chloe put out there.
"I helped you, not him!" Pete yelped.
Lex really didn't feel like dealing with this at the moment. He was still feeling dizzy, maybe even swaying a little bit -- his vision certainly seemed to be indicating that -- and he rubbed a few fingers against his forehead as he tried to brace his other hand against the floor for better balance.
No, he really didn't feel like dealing with this.
He really didn't feel like dealing with anything...
"I don't understand; I was feeling fine this morning," Lex murmured to himself.
"So was Clark."
"Yes," Lex supplied, but then he looked up at Chloe when he realized that she hadn't been talking about their meeting at the Beanery, and...
"He was? What do you mean he was?" Lex asked, because that implied... "What happened?" he growled out as he struggled to stay upright. "I thought... You made it sound as though Clark's mother did not retrieve him at his request."
"She didn't," Chloe said. "But I heard later that Clark ended up coughing up a bunch of gunk into one of the sinks after going to the cafeteria, but before the Kents showed." She paused for a moment, then added, "Clark had just gotten finished with getting all upset with us, too, kind of like you just now." She eyed him, then continued, "You threw up at the hospital before Pete and I came in."
Not exactly a question. She'd more than likely interviewed the hospital staff... or smelled the puddle of vomit from the other side of the hospital bed. Lex nodded, and then realized that that had been a bad idea. He felt a bit of vertigo and had to close his eyes a moment, because it reminded him of the helicopter, and he really wasn't in the right frame of mind for dealing with...
"Did you argue with my dad before you threw up at work yesterday?"
"No," said Lex, having learned his lesson from shaking his head. He cracked open his eyes to look at a thoughtful-looking Chloe.
Oh god, that couldn't be good.
"Huh," Chloe said. "I guess that maybe you're both having the same... uh, symptoms, maybe? I know Clark threw up later after being discharged, but I don't think Clark was arguing then, either. I haven't talked to the Kents yet, so I don't know if--"
"--he did again later at home? Yes, he did -- quite a few times, actually, from what little he remembers from yesterday," Lex supplied, not really paying attention to what he was offering up, because he was slightly more engrossed in wondering whether it was the room swaying from side to side, or if it was him. Logic dictated that the restroom probably wasn't set up on a shaker table, but it was the women's restroom, after all. One never knew.
"Once or twice. I find my memories of yesterday quite easy to recall, however," Lex shared easily, letting his eyes slowly slide shut.
He snapped them back open when he felt a soft touch on his arm. He frowned quizzically at Chloe, who just said, "You should lie back down."
"Where?" Lex asked.
"Well, here is fine," Chloe said.
Lex looked down at the makeshift towel-pillow on the tile floor before looking back to her. "I can't fall asleep in the women's restroom, on the floor," he said.
"Sure you can. You did before," Chloe pointed out.
Lex frowned and rubbed his forehead again. "I shouldn't fall asleep in here," he amended.
"It's ok. Really."
Lex stared at her as he abstractly tried to count up how many ways "Luthor scion sleeps in bathroom with local high school girl" could be misconstrued.
Also, he had it on good authority (Clark) that he was not a girl, thanks ever so much.
"Look, at least lie your head down. That's definitely ok to do. You're barely able to stay upright right now; you'll feel a lot better," she cajoled. "I'll wake you up if you look like you're going to fall asleep, if you're really that worried about it." Lex frowned because something about her tone sounded a little too falsely-tentative, and the pause a little too... considered?
Lex didn't really have the energy to fight any further just then, so he did as he was bid.
Lex pillowed his head on the towel and slid his arms partly under that. Wonder of wonders, the room slowly stopped spinning on him. He took a breath in and sighed it out again as he closed his eyes in blessed relief.
"Mm, yes," he admitted without shame or embarrassment.
Lex just lay there and breathed for awhile.
"So, when did you visit Clark?" Chloe asked casually.
There was a pause.
"Then how do you know how he was yesterday?"
"Asked him this morning."
"You saw Clark this morning?"
"Mmhm. Before school." Lex sighed. "He fixed my hair and..." Lex blinked his eyes open to slits, belatedly remembering that Clark didn't want his parents hearing about the fight with Oliver and his crew.
He slid his gaze up to Chloe. "Are you interviewing me?" It wasn't a question. Damnit, he should've known better. Even sick, not feeling well, and laid out like an invalid, he should have had the presence of mind to know better. He narrowed his eyes at her, bringing to bear the full focus of his attention upon her, such as it was at the moment.
"I'm worried about Clark."
That sounded true enough.
"He isn't a story. That's rude of you."
"I swear I'm not --"
Lie. She wanted something -- was digging for it.
"I don't believe you," Lex interrupted, closing his eyes again. He wasn't in the mood for games today.
Like he was going to answer that truthfully. He tossed her a throwaway truth, instead. "You're a reporter."
"Reporters lie." Also true, but not what she'd want to hear from him, either, he was dead-certain.
"No they don't!" Chloe sounded affronted. Lex had to clench his jaw at hearing that, but the effort was wasted, as she just barreled right along. "My news articles are true! All good reporters--"
"--lie to me... or anyone they interview, really." Frankly, he was fed up with everything at this point. "You all just want the story, whatever you decide you think it is, and if you don't like the truth then you simply spin it until it fits. You steamroll anyone who you think gets in your way and you don't care who gets hurt... if that's not actually what you're trying to do in the first place." Really, he wasn't stupid. He shouldn't have to flatly lecture her own what she already knew and strived towards. God, he felt so tired... he sounded weary even to himself.
There was a long silence.
"Not all reporters are like that."
"Yes. They are."
"...I'm a reporter-in-training," she tried.
Lex snorted. That must've taken a good bit of effort, he mused. He paused barely a moment before returning in like kind: "Every time you think you've found a story, you latch on and go after it like nothing and no-one else matters, regardless of who might or might not end up in the line of fire in the process, deserved or not. I doubt it ever occurs to you that you should consider the actual consequences of your actions at any point in time."
"You don't know that -- you don't know me." Her tone was a little odd, but Lex doubted that she thought that type of bulldog tenacity wasn't a bad thing, though -- more a badge of honor. Reporters.
"Clark said that about me?"
"Not in so few words." Clark hadn't been meant it in a complementary way, either, though Lex wasn't about to tell her that. Let her think the negative bias was wholly Lex's own: sabotaging Clark's friendships was not on his to-do list... except perhaps his inexplicable connection with one Pete Ross. ...Though, given what had happened, Clark could probably use all the friends -- and support -- that he could get ...even if it included one lousy reporter-in-training. He'd just have to suck it up and deal with it.
He cracked an eye open and looked up at her.
Oddly, she didn't look smug. She looked more... shocked.
Why would she be shocked that Clark knew about and commented on her unconscionable tenacity -- weren't they both friends with the farmers' teenaged son? ...And, speaking of questions...
"Why are you asking so many questions about the procedure and the aftermath?" Lex asked.
"I want to know the symptoms."
"Why?" he repeated, becoming a little irritated.
"Because we want to find out if there were any other people who had this done to them. If other people got kidnapped and dropped off at hospitals--"
Well, that last one was easy enough to circumvent. "No-one else survived."
Lex sighed, deeply and openly. "My attacker-- the kidnapper died later from self-exposure to the same process. He kept meticulous records. None of the other subjects, willing or not, survived his so-called 'medical procedure'." He let the scorn drip from his voice, not bothering to try and disguise it. The man was a disgrace to researchers everywhere. Bastard.
Chloe went a little pale. "So, you can't have him finish treating you and then give you the cure."
Treating us? Does she think he just stopped in the middle? Lex thought, strangling a hysterical bubble of laughter that was caught in his chest. Out loud, he said: "A cure implies a disease, and, last I heard..." Lex stopped at the weird noise that Pete made above him. Odd, that. He'd never known the Ross boy to be so stoic. "There is no known process for reversal at present." Lex closed his one open eye again. "My father is working to put together a competent group of scientists to research one, though. Perhaps, in a few years, they might be ready to put such a procedure to good use. I suppose it depends on the quality of the man's 'research' notes." He smiled slightly to himself. "Now, that ought to be enough for your article, don't you think, Miss Sullivan? Proper payment for your help today." Rather unexpected help at that, and he quite probably could have managed well-enough on his own -- it would have been a rather public mess, but that hardly would have mattered in the grand scheme of things -- but Lex was a big believer in payment of services rendered. He didn't like owing people favors, or having a unbalanced ledger. People should owe him, not the other way 'round. It was far safer that way.
He suddenly felt a fist connect with his arm, and he jerked away, his eyes snapping open.
Chloe looked angry, almost as though she might cry.
"How can you be so calm?!" she shouted at him.
Lex looked up at her, warily, slowly bringing a hand up to curl around his bicep. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You don't have a few years! You don't even have a few days! You don't--! Clark--" she choked, shaking.
Lex turned a little so that he was lying on his back instead of his side, and stared up at her too-bright eyes, wet with unshed tears. Oh. ...Oh.
"Clark's fine." Ah, that was perhaps a bit ingracious. "--We're fine," he added, then he grimaced. "Or, rather, we will be."
"But you said--"
Lex closed his eyes and slid a hand up to his forehead, massaging it. God, why me? Some days he really hated being a responsible adult. Couldn't Clark have just--? He didn't understand why she wouldn't have believed Clark -- hadn't she talked to him at school? Hadn't he explained that he was fine? --Hell, she had eyes. How had she been unable to see it for herself?
Reporter. Right. Never let the truth get in the way of the story you're telling. Even if it meant lying to one's self, apparently.
He opened his eyes to slits and glanced over again. God, and looking at her now, she obviously needed to know about the goddamn procedure before she would be capable of calming down. ...Christ, how could he explain this to her, when he barely understood what had happened, himself, let alone how? Don't try to explain it, then. He focused on the aftermath, instead. "The others died almost immediately upon exposure. We've survived this long, I don't see why we wouldn't--"
"The doctors said you were both going to die!" Chloe blurted out, and it looked like she was trying to surreptitiously wipe tears away.
"Chlo?" Lex heard Pete gasp. "When--?" Pete stopped talking after ending on a strangled sound.
Secrets. Lex knew them when he heard them. Suddenly, accidentally aired. That wasn't good.
Lex had a feeling that Clark had been taking things a little too well, and that he was probably still in shock. ...Which meant that, soon enough, Clark was going to be far too embroiled in his own problems to be in any way capable of handling theirs. But, for Clark's sake -- his sanity and well-being, if not peace of mind -- someone had to.
...Some days Lex really hated being a responsible adult.
Lex slowly sat up.
"Clark is going to be fine," Lex said evenly, as soothing as he could be, though that probably wasn't much, given his Luthorian upbringing.
"I heard the doctors say--!"
"They don't know what they're talking about. Not a one of them knew what we'd been exposed to at the time." They probably still don't, he realized. He sighed and briefly closed his eyes against the vertigo -- it hadn't lessened noticeably from before. It seemed that for the moment the dizzy spells were only going to leave him while he remained supine.
"Mr. Kent said that Clark would be all right. I think he would know better than anyone the state and capabilities of his own son." ...And damn, that didn't sound good. Lex nearly bit the end of his tongue off, he snapped his mouth shut so fast.
"You're not worried about Clark on Mr. Kent's say-so...?" Pete said slowly from behind him, like Lex had just stated the earth rotated around the sun and he was thinking about disbelieving it on Lex's having spoken it, on principle alone.
Lex clenched his jaw and fought down the urge to stand up and smack the youth. ...He told himself he probably wouldn't make it to his feet before collapsing, so it would be a wasted effort, anyway. Instead, he restricted himself to merely saying: "Yes."
There was silence for awhile.
"Clark is up and about. As am I. We are both taking suitable quantities of potassium iodide to bind with any of the remaining radioactive matter that the... that was injected, which will allow our bodies to flush it out of our systems more readily with no further... damage." Lex brought his knees up slowly to his chest and rested his arms out across them, hands dangling downwards. "My degree was in biochemistry. I do know a thing or two about radiation and radioactive substances. People exposed to fatal levels of radiation don't ever improve, Chloe -- they only ever get worse."
"Yes!" Chloe agreed.
Lex stared at her, waiting. It took him awhile to realize that that was all she meant to say on the matter, and another few seconds to realize that she looked fairly unhappily about it.
Lex pinched the bridge of his nose. "What, pray tell, leads you to the conclusion that I am going to die of radiation poisoning?"
"You've got all the worst symptoms," she said, looking away.
Her head whipped back around and she snarked back, "What, don't you know?"
"Yes, of course I do," Lex said patiently. "But I don't believe you do."
When Chloe glanced away again at the floor and clenched her jaw, Lex knew she didn't have any real presence of mind when he realized that, yes, she had in fact completely missed the light allusion to the Princess Bride quote. Thank you Clark, for inflicting that one upon me, he thought with no small sarcasm and a mental eye roll.
At the quiet snort from behind him, he realized Pete hadn't, though. That almost had him laughing outright, because Clark apparently hadn't been lying about his band's little tradition of somewhat-friendly cult-movie-hazing.
Then he realized that Chloe was glaring at him. He wiped the smirk from his face and replaced it with a 'patient, listening' expression, folding his arms on his knees loosely and leaning forward slightly to indicate interest, which also served the dual purpose of giving him a better, more comfortable position to sit in that would have him less likely to tilt over sideways onto the floor.
"You've got nausea; you've been vomiting. You look like you're having headaches, and you're definitely feverish and lethargic. You've been dizzy and disoriented and otherwise mentally--"
"Pick a Shakespearian play," Lex interrupted.
"--W-what?" Chloe looked startled.
"Pick a Shakespearian play, and pick an act and scene number," Lex repeated. "Or, better yet, grab one of your textbooks and pick a paragraph or two and give me a minute. I'll memorize it and recite it back from memory. Hell, you can time me." At Chloe's confused look, he added, "Ignoring for the moment the several other usual symptoms of radiation exposure I simply am not exhibiting, or to which I have otherwise been displaying quite the opposite effects, my mental faculties are not impaired, Miss Sullivan. I don't doubt your father would have indicated otherwise yesterday, if they were--"
"He said last night that you were kind of out of it yesterday afternoon," Chloe interrupted.
Lex stared at her. Then he grimaced. "I'd only just managed to get myself released from the hopsital," he grated out, pinching the bridge of his nose, having trouble keeping his patience. "Yet I was still able to do my job, despite the fact that I was in no fit state to be..." Lex stopped, realizing what he'd just said, and he felt the blood start to drain from his face.
nonoNO! You idiot -- you idiot!
He dropped his knees to the side and leaned forward, one hand braced on the floor, the other grabbing her at the neck of her blouse, baring his teeth as the adrenaline rush hit and getting in her face. He hissed out at her, in a quiet yell, "--You will not repeat what I just said to anyone -- never, do you hear me!?! -- or so help me god, I will--!"
"Hey!!" he heard Pete yell, dropping down next to Chloe and pushing hard against Lex shoulder, shoving him back away from her with one hand while curling the other around Chloe's waist protectively.
Lex was shaking, his fists clenched at his sides, despair and rage and self-loathing threatening to swamp him completely. He hadn't grabbed the teenager by both shoulders and shaken her until she rattled, but it had been a damn near thing. I shouldn't have kept talking, he thought distractedly. I know better. Damn reporters. Fuck -- I let her get to me-- He hadn't screwed up this badly in years.
"It's off-the-record," Chloe blurted out, and it felt like Lex's world came to a complete halt.
"...What?" he croaked, swaying as he sat back and everything started up again.
"It's-- we're talking. Off-the-record. We're just talking," Chloe said, looking a little shaken.
Lex stared at her in utter disbelief.
"I don't believe you," he said, but the words were automatic, and they even sounded wrong as they came off of his tongue.
No. No! I don't believe her. --I can't believe her. She has to be lying, she... Lex closed his eyes and everything behind his eyes just hurt for a moment. His chest ached. I know better, he reminded himself. I do! He listed off names to himself. At the top of the list was one Perry-goddamn-White.
But then, White hadn't told Lex that he was a reporter. He'd sidled up to him, acted like a nice, friendly, concerned stranger. A sympathetic ear. A sympathetic adult ear, which Lex had found few and far between, back then. Sympathetic and kind... up until he hadn't been.
In fact, most of the worst offenders had misrepresented themselves egregiously, if not all of them, in one way or another. Sometimes they kept the mask on right up until they'd moved in for the kill, and he could find a way to flee his interviewer, though still too late; sometimes they showed themselves to be of the reporting ilk, pretending to be professional and he got through the whole interview, thinking that perhaps, this time, this time would be different... Either way, Lex realized to his utter shame exactly how much these reporters had merely been playing at being rational, reasonable adults only afterwards when their articles had been published with a tone and bias that would make lesser men weep, twisting his words and deeds into Gordian knots.
Chloe, on the other hand, had been very upfront with him, rather from the beginning, and... now that she had something bloody and raw, she seemed to be backing off rather than...
Lex's headache got worse.
Even if she's not lying now, she could change her mind later, he told himself. And even if she's not lying, she's still taking advantage. He mentally shook himself. I'm still sick from everything, still recovering. She knows that. ...Hell, she thinks I'm dying. And what a story that would be! and his mental laugh was dark and echoed long. The last words of Lex Luthor, scion of Metropolis, as he dies ignominously on the floor of a bathroom in the ass-back-end of nowhere, whimpering like a little bitch!
Chloe was kind of glad for Pete's support at the moment. He was sort of warm and physically solid in a nice way, actually.
It let her stop worrying about the little shivers she was getting as chills ran through her. It let her forget about even being the least bit afraid.
Instead, she focused on Lex, and let the pieces start falling into place in her head. And they did.
The picture it was painting was a little fucking terrifying, actually.
She wondered if Lex knew exactly how much she was giving away at the moment: the little flickers of emotion across her face, the fine tremors and growing stress as her muscles tensed and relaxed, the uneasiness and restlessness and uncertainty as she shifted minutely. They all painted very clearly for Chloe a growing picture of her state of mind, and...
"I'm sorry," Chloe blurted out, and she meant it. She meant it for every damn reporter out there.
"You-- what?" Pete said incredulously. "Chloe, god, you aren't the one who needs to apologize, Luthor--"
"Pete," she said quietly, bringing a hand up to his shoulder and glancing up at him. He stopped talking, looking angry and confused, and all for her. She shook her head slightly, just the once. Don't.
It wasn't for herself, it was for Lex. Because Chloe knew -- she'd seen it. Lex is fighting herself. She wants to lash out -- but she also doesn't want to. She couldn't let herself trust anyone... except that she did maybe, at least with some people. She and Clark were friends, as weird as that was -- Chloe was never going to run out of farmboy-billionaire jokes for those two! -- and she hadn't gotten all that antagonistic with Pete -- not since she'd calmed down from her weird fit out in the middle of the Beanery earlier, and Chloe was pretty sure that that had been a symptom from the turning-into-a-girl thing, since Clark had had an almost identical type of blow-up at them just that same afternoon. For all that Pete worked at the Torch with her, he really wasn't a reporter; it was pretty obvious.
So maybe, just maybe, Lex just had a problem with reporters, and Chloe was a reporter, and... now Chloe thought she had a good idea of the reasons why Lex had that problem.
Chloe looked at her head-on as she opened her eyes again. She met her stare-turned-glare.
"I'm sorry," Chloe repeated. "This really is all off-the-record. I'm not after a story. I won't tell anyone what you said."
"Chlo, the bastard practically attacked you--"
Chloe could hardly believe that she was finding herself defending Lex Luthor of all people. --Or at least explaining him. "She was freaked out!" And she had a right to be. Because there were a lot of journalists who would've killed to hear something like that.
"About what?! Getting quoted in some gossip column? Like anybody would care what she says about anything?!"
Chloe stifled a wince. Sometimes she forgot that Pete wasn't from Metropolis. Clearly she still needed to educate him on some things. "She's worried about everybody at the the Luthorcorp plant," Chloe said, because Pete wouldn't care about the entire company, and she had to put this in terms he'd understand and not just brush off. And by this point, Lex was looking confused and almost unsure as her eyes ping-ponged between them at their exchange.
"Yeah, right! What the hell does that have to do with anything?" Pete said, exasperated and upset, but he was looking at Lex when he said it, and he caught Lex's little flinch, too. His eyes went a little wide as he glanced between Chloe and Lex, and his forehead started to furrow.
"...What--?" Pete asked, finally realizing that he really was missing something. Maybe he'd even be ready to hear it.
"It's the stock price, for the company," Chloe explained. "If a CEO or somebody important" -- or somebody's family member -- "gets sick, or ill, or... kidnapped, or something, then the stock price goes nuts. Drops like a rock. It... messes things up." Chloe watched as Lex knelt there right in front of her with her hands clenched in fists on his knees. "And if whoever it is doesn't seem like they're completely ok right after whatever, it happens again. Usually worse. If it gets really bad, the company tanks a little and they have to start laying people off. The Smallville plant is the one with the worst track record right now, so they'd start handing out pink slips here first." She saw Lex turn her head slightly away; she saw her close her eyes briefly and saw the look pass across her face, and she'd seen that look before ...in the mirror. That was the look that said 'why didn't I stop before it got this bad?' and 'my dad is going to kill me when he finds out.' That was the look that said, 'I know I screwed up, I am in so much trouble' and 'I screwed up, I screwed up so bad, and it's all my fault.' That was the look that was always followed by a desperate feeling of, 'what do I have to do to fix this?'
Chloe had to be really careful how she put this, so she said to Lex, "Look, I'm not gonna do something that'll get my dad fired, ok?"
Lex's head came up at that and she began to frown. Ok, good, I have her attention. She took a deep breath. "I seriously doubt anyone would believe me if I said that you said anything like that to me directly. They'd think my dad said something he'd overheard, and he'd probably get fired for it."
"I wouldn't--" Lex snapped her mouth shut on what she'd been about to say.
Chloe felt a little lightheaded, because if she'd really been about to say that she wouldn't fire her dad for something Chloe did, well... "My dad doesn't work for you though, right? Technically."
Chloe heard the slight intake of breath. Lex looked a little grim, and her gaze slid away.
Then she seemed to... pause, almost. She got the slightest smile. It didn't look nice.
Lex looked her straight in the eye and said, "So, there are limits to how far you will go for the truth, then?"
Oh. Oh, that was just a punch to the gut. Not to mention the nasty, lilting, derisive, almost mocking tone it had been delivered in. She's testing me, and Chloe damn near bit the end of her tongue off snapping her teeth shut on the natural, automatic retort. And when Chloe felt Pete tense, she just tightened her grip on Pete's shoulder. He twitched but remained silent, and she glared back at Lex.
Yes, Chloe knew exactly what Lex was doing, but that didn't mean she had to like it.
She waited, and the silence stretched out.
Lex watched her, and then slowly her eyes narrowed.
"Nothing to say?"
I know better, I can handle this, she told herself as she seethed, reining in her temper.
"Oh, I've got plenty to say," Chloe said, pursuing her lips. "But I doubt you'd listen long enough to hear it."
I'm not going to give her what she expects. I am not going to validate her screwed up beliefs. No, what she was going to do was kick ass.
Lex began to look irritated, and almost nervous, and her eyes started to dart between Chloe and Pete, and then over to the door and back again, before she settled on lowering her eyes and slowly relaxing, staring down at the floor.
Of course, it was the 'casual'-looking sort of 'relaxed' that wasn't actually comfortable. It really couldn't be, given how dizzy Lex must still be feeling, and how she was still clenching her fists so hard the knuckles were white. Chloe didn't know who she was trying to fool.
...Well, maybe Pete, if the way he was tensing up again was any indication. Chloe sighed.
It was almost sad. It was pretty obvious that Lex didn't know what to do when she wasn't fighting, like she couldn't be in the same room as a reporter and not be actively fighting them.
When Lex finally seemed to collapse a little bit, swaying as she massaged her temples and half-whispered, "What the hell is wrong with you?" Chloe smiled. Got you. Because now? She'd already won.
Even if Lex didn't know it yet.
She'd be happy to explain it to her.
"Reporters are people, too," she said. That got her another glare.
"Hardly," Lex drawled.
Chloe clenched her jaw; she wanted to smack her. "You know what your problem is? You can't tell the reporters from the hacks."
"All reporters are hacks," she replied.
"Hey--!" Pete yelped, and Chloe felt Pete bristle under her hand and she had to stop him now before it got out too of control.
"--Pete, if you can't handle Lex trying to yank my chain, go wait outside."
Pete made a noise of protest and Lex looked taken aback for a moment. What, you really thought I wouldn't catch on? Chloe wondered how many people he'd tried this bullshit on and had it actually work. Or maybe that's the wrong question...
"You really want to know how far I'll go for the truth, Lex?" Chloe turned back and asked her before she could regain her balance. "Sure, sometimes I go after things pretty damn hard. And, yeah, I'd write you up in a minute, if I had a reason and I thought people needed to know. But I wouldn't make shit up, and if I thought there would be consequences for my dad then I'd talk to him about it first." And then Chloe took a deep breath and added, "And I think you're forgetting that I saw you yesterday in the hospital. If I was gonna do something like that, don't you think I would've done it last night, and had it plastered all over the papers by this morning?"
Lex twitched several times as Chloe talked, but by the end she had been reduced to staring, somewhere between being aghast and pure disbelieving shock at the idea of the bullet she'd already dodged, through no act of her own.
"And yeah, I get it now," Chloe continued, getting back to the elephant in the room. "Clark was eating like a horse this afternoon, and maybe you guys were earlier this morning, too?" It wasn't quite a question, but Lex gave her a slight jerky half-nod. "So no loss of appetite there, and kind of the opposite," Chloe breathed a little in relief as the idea really hit her -- Clark wasn't dying -- "and you've been around a lot of people but you're not sick with some kind of infection, so you don't have a reduced... immune..." Chloe paused as something occurred to her. "Oh. Enhanced immune system," she murmured. "The asthma's back because you're too busy fighting off..." Chloe trailed off, then looked back up at Lex in horror as she panicked all over again.
"Clark is fine," Lex said firmly.
"I saw him this morning -- were you not paying attention to him at school?" Lex spat out. "Did he look sick to you? Pale, coughing, shaking, sweating, feverish? Did his skin still look as though it was burned in places? No? --He's been healing. People exposed to fatal levels of radiation do not get better," he repeated. Then she looked even angrier as she struggled to her feet and said, "If Clark was in mortal danger of dying from what was inflicted upon us, do you really think I would just stand by and watch? That I wouldn't be breaking down my father's door and demanding the originals of all of that madman's research?" she asked darkly as she loomed over her and Pete, looking for all the world like she'd be willing to do far more than that if she felt the need. "Clark is my friend. Maybe you don't understand what that means, but I do."
Chloe shot to her feet, wanting to do nothing more than punch Lex in the face, because -- how dare he! Clark was her friend first! And-- "Of course I do! I--"
"--seem to want Clark to be on his deathbed, the way you've been going on!" he shouted back at her, throwing his arms out. "Reporters," she spat out like a venomous curse. "Do you really think you can rewrite reality to be whatever you want if you just put out enough copies of an article? Do you really think that I'm stupid enough to suddenly believe what you say if you repeat it enough times?? --Or are you so self-deluded that you actually believe what you're--?!"
"--Don't give me that -- you're the only one here who's delu--"sional, and didn't even know it, but Pete stood up abruptly and Chloe flinched before she got out what she needed to say.
"--Ok, seriously! That's it -- you're both done!" Pete said, holding his arms out between them. "I really don't care if this is some stupid Metropolis pissing contest thing, or whatever, but this? Is over. --No, Chloe!" he said when she was about to protest, irate. "You said he was out of it before, and he's loopy again now." Chloe glanced back to Lex, and realized that he was looking a lot paler than even a few seconds ago. "We know what you wanted to know," and Chloe winced at his tone because she knew Pete was going to explode at her later for keeping the 'Clark may be dying' thing from him. "I'm not gonna stand around and watch the two of you act like a couple of jerks yelling insults and crap at each other all day."
Chloe glanced back at Lex again, who was swaying from the effort of staying upright and looking like she was about to fall over. Oh, hell. "Pete--" Chloe said as she took another step in towards Lex.
Pete gritted his teeth, placed one hand on Luthor's shoulder and another on Chloe's, and physically pushed them apart again.
--At least, that was what he tried to do, before Luthor went batshit on him.
His wrist stung from where Luthor swatted him away with a fist, and he turned to yell at the big jerk but the words caught in Pete's throat as he saw Lex stagger backwards and ram himself into one of the stall dividers so hard he was surprised the guy didn't concuss himself unconscious. He had his hands in fists up at his head and was curled inward on himself slightly, dead white, pale as a sheet.
He was shaking like a leaf, taking in shallow panting breaths, and his eyes were going everywhere.
"What the fuck," Pete said under his breath as he rubbed at his wrist, feeling a little freaked out himself.
"Lex...?" Chloe said quietly, taking a step towards him.
Luthor reflexively backed up again, slamming himself flat up against the metal behind him. His eyes widened for a second, staring at nothing, and Pete realized that that was fear in them.
And then, Luthor seemed to focus on Chloe and Pete and the bathroom again, all of a sudden.
Within another three seconds, he had shied away from the both of them, following the wall, and stumbled his way out of the room.
Pete turned and watched the door swing shut. He stood there, kind of shell-shocked.
"What the hell just happened?" Pete asked ...the walls, because Chloe was right out the door after the guy.
Pete cursed under his breath and followed.
Pete caught up to the both of them in the alleyway behind the Beanery, next to Luthor's cherry red -- god, just kill him with green envy and temptation already! -- 2002 Ferrari 348 Spider. Pete had to remind himself not to drool, because he hated the guy. Who was also apparently insane. If he wanted to be charitable, some of that might be blamable on the being-a-girl-and-getting-Clark-turned-into-one-too thing, but Pete wasn't really feeling it, so there. I mean, the asshole had just spent the last ten minutes putting down reporters like they were going out of style, and Chloe was one, not to mention that Chloe had practically begged his to stay out of whatever and let her do the talking. And then there was that weird thing right before he ran away. So, yeah -- if there was something Pete was feeling right now, it sure as hell wasn't charitable.
...And Pete hot-tailed it over really quick, because maybe he couldn't hear exactly what they were saying from that far away as he rounded the corner, but he had eyes. As much as Chloe was trying to look calming, moving towards him with her palms out and talking in a lower tone of voice, she really looked more like she was trying to sneak up on an unruly cat and jump it. And Luthor looked like he was wanting to bolt, holding himself tensely, he was biting things out all staccatto and wary. Seriously, he'd never seen the guy look anything but cool as shit and sleek like he'd had custom detailing done for all the right streamlines, but if anything, right now his body language was screaming like he was two seconds away from losing his shit and lashing out again like--
...like some of the kids at school he'd seen bullied by some of the other jocks.
Like... literally beaten-into-the-ground bullied.
And that just made Pete twitch.
"Chlo, leave off him," Pete said, coming to a halt a few feet away from Luthor, before reaching forward, hooking a hand under her arm and tugging her back -- gently, because her wasn't about to manhandle her. (She'd kick him in the balls, if his mother didn't get to him for disrespecting a girl, first.)
"Pete!" Chloe complained, reaching back and slapping him in the arm, so he let go.
"Since when are you part of Lex's fanclub?" Chloe turned on him.
Fuck, that stung. "Since I don't want him going postal on you like a psycho lunatic!" Pete shot back in a sarcastic mimicry, getting between then again.
"Oh, please," Chloe scoffed at him. "If he was that kind of meteor freak, he'd've done something by now."
Pete's jaw dropped, and he heard a strangled sound from Luthor's direction.
"Babysitter," he thought he heard Luthor mumble with irritation.
"Babysitters get paid," Pete muttered back, out loud.
Luthor looked up at him and stared. Chloe said, "What?" all confused. Pete guessed she hadn't heard Luthor's comment.
"Please tell me that she does not run around aggravating meteor freaks on purpose just to see what will happen," he heard Lex say.
"Uh, no." Pete frowned at the guy.
Something like a 'thank god' got muttered in response as Luthor leaned heavily against his sweet, sweet driving machine.
Chloe frowned between the two of them and then focused on Luthor again. "You ok?" Chloe asked, tilting her head and looking at Luthor almost warily, or maybe that was really directed curiousity. Pete honest-to-god couldn't tell. It was like Chloe was upping her game several levels, messing around with Luthor. Pete didn't like it, not one bit.
Luthor nearly sat down on the door frame of the convertible. "I... just needed some air," he said a little shakily, not looking at either of them. He had his braced his hands against the door and he was sweating and swaying slightly from side to side again.
Liar, thought Pete. For some reason, the idea of Luthor having gotten a comeuppance that involved a physical beatdown wasn't leaving him feeling all that smug and glowy-warm inside, though.
"Who else grabbed you like that?" Chloe asked, and Lex's head whipped up before he winced at the movement, and then grimaced and rubbed at his forehead at the tell. Pete frowned, because from the way Chloe sounded, all concerned... Pete really couldn't wrap his brain around the idea of Luthor as a victim. Instigator, maybe; deserving it, definitely. But the way Lex was reacting... shouldn't Pete be enjoying it more? Why wasn't he?
"Fuck, why can't you people just leave me alone? Did it ever occur to you that I might only want some space to breathe?" Luthor complained.
"You could have just said something instead of running out like that," Chloe said reasonably.
"We aren't friends," Luthor grated out. "I owe you no explanation for my actions, and yet you still followed me out here. You're the one who said you're not after a story," Luthor replied darkly.
"Maybe we were worried," Chloe said argumentatively.
Lex made a scoffing sound. At least, that was what Pete guessed it was -- he'd never actually heard a person do that out loud before.
"Don't be ridiculous," Luthor added, like it was the least believable thing in the world that anyone would worry over him. Like Clark wasn't totally freaking out two days ago when you disappeared, or any of the other times that... Pete shook his head, because he didn't want to get angry at Clark right now -- he was angry enough at himself. It already felt a little like betrayal, that he wasn't feeling the way he thought he should about Luthor; he didn't want to think what Clark might say about it if he knew.
"What?" Chloe said, frowning a little. " Come on -- we're all friends with Clark."
Luthor looked like he was getting another headache. "The friend of my friend is not necessarily my friend."
"Why not?" Chloe pestered him. Pete rolled his eyes because, really, stupid question much? He sure didn't like Luthor, and he sure didn't have to just because Clark did. Kind of a no-brainer.
"Besides the obvious negating evidence, in that every soul on the entire planet would 'be friends' with each other if that was the case?" Luthor said sarcastically as he waved his hands around. "Clark has an entirely different set of compatibility and trust requirements for his relationships than I do, not to mention his actual expectations for people and their interactions with him, and such."
Pete glanced at Chloe, and she gave him a quick smug glance. Oh, god. What is she digging for now? Pete mentally complained. Hadn't she done enough already?
"So? What's so different about you two?" Chloe pestered him. Luthor just groaned.
"Clark's parents have neither the inclination nor the wherewithal to buy off the people close to him to either stick around and spy on him, or to vanish from his life, or ruin their fiscal and personal reputation if they don't comply, for a start."
It took Pete a moment to get it.
"Christ, man, you're totally paranoid as hell," Pete said uneasily, because, god, nobody did that shit outside of the movies, let alone a parent to their son! What the hell was wrong with Luthor's head?
Lex just snarled back, "Fuck you, Ross -- it's happened before! Don't you dare presume to tell me what I do or don't know." He bent over slightly and started rubbing at his temples with his fingertips again. "Don't know when he's going to go after Clark; I've been trying to keep it low-key and him off dad's radar," he muttered. "Fucking idiot kidnapper blew that right out the window."
"Actually, I'd heard some rumors about that--" Chloe put out there as a start.
" 'Rumors'," Luthor muttered.
"--But if you're so worried about that happening, then why do you still hang out with him?" Chloe asked nonjudgementally, sounding nothing but curious. Pete frowned at her, and Luthor braced his hands against the car again and looked away, almost pained.
"Because I'm sick and tired of my dad pulling this shit on people I care about, and I don't think Clark'll go for it. I'm fairly sure that I can protect him now if he comes to me, and I can't see him as doing anything but getting seriously insulted and spending no time stomping over to the mansion and complaining to me about it if my dad's actually stupid enough to try that sort of idiocy on him." Luthor bit his lip, and Pete realized he was holding back a smile. "And if my dad ever tries threatening Mr. Kent... he'd probably end up punched in the face for his troubles." Or a laugh. It might be a laugh. Damn. Who gets happy about the thought of their dad getting beaten up by their friend's dad?
...Then again, we're talking about Lionel Luthor here, and that kind of messed with Pete's brain a little. Shouldn't his own son give a damn about him, or like him, or whatever? Sure, Lionel's a bastard, but isn't family family? ...Then again, Pete had had lots of times when he'd wished somebody would punch his own brothers out, and --ok, yeah, not going there, thinking of Luthor as an actual human being was kind of off the map for him, living somewhere in the realm of squick between gay porn and somebody telling him his mom was hot. Just... ugh.
"You know, it's kind of funny that you're worried about people thinking you're sick, but not worried that they'll think you're a paranoid freak," Pete put out there, crossing his arms.
"Pete!" Chloe hissed, but Luthor just looked amused.
"Oh no?" he replied. "If someone puts out a report saying that I was kidnapped and in poor health, the damage is already done, and no-one will believe otherwise -- they'll simply wonder what we're trying to hide if we deny it. But if someone puts out an odd report about my father paying off people to leave me alone -- well, that's just normal for the Metropolis elite. Someone you don't like suddenly knows a little too much? Silence them with monetary payoffs and threats." Luthor waved a hand. "If my father did something egregious, such as threatening someone who could actually prove it, and it garnered that much attention in the media, which I find doubtful, he could just spin it. After all, something like that could have been 'misconstrued' when it was merely a reasonable action to warn people off of me, to 'protect' me as family does," Luthor said the last in a mock-saintly voice, "and he comes out smelling like roses while the offending party is lambasted in turn, because blackmail is against the law, after all. By that time, my father surely would have taken care of whatever supposed 'evidence' the offender had compiled, and either the amateur would end up in jail and ruined, or would retract their accusations and try to save face. Hardly a ripple in the lake for either of us." Luthor had a wry smile on his face as he turned his head away.
Pete's jaw dropped. "You can't be serious. That's completely fucked up!" He'd heard about inner-city corruption being bad before, but that was just...
"That's life. Everybody does it -- or has it done to them," Luthor shrugged casually, like it didn't really matter. "The professionals know better, of course. The best ones are actually farily honest and upfront about it -- they show copies of whatever damaging material they've found, state their requests at a reasonable price, hand over or destroy the originals once payment is received, and disappear."
He sighed, and added, pinching the bridge of his nose again, "It's our business competitors who cause the worst problems, really, getting desperate and stupid. They'll usually make things up and attempt to frame the company for bad business practices by planting false evidence, or subvert a Luthorcorp employee or two into performing sabotage or corporate espionage for them, or otherwise try and make things difficult. It's common practice when someone wants to stall a takeover or merger, or try to upset the award of a government contract, or catch up in R&D work."
Oh my god, that can't actually be real, Pete thought in horror. That doesn't ever actually happen. He's just shitting me!
Then he looked up and frowned a little at Pete. "It's how the game is played," he added, as though he couldn't understand how Pete didn't already know this. He turned to Chloe with a question in his eyes. "Don't you have similar here on a smaller scale? Perhaps someone is friends with the sheriff, and their son does something a little less than legal, but they're a friend of the family, so they just give the kid a slap on the wrist and let them go, saying 'boys will be boys' with no charges filed?"
"That's not supposed to happen!" Pete said, feeling a little freaked out, because Chloe wasn't correcting him.
"But it does, doesn't it?" Luthor said, turning back to Pete searching his face. "With the senior members of the football team especially, yes? Surely, they have parties with alcohol, and no-one goes looking to find and arrest them, or the people who allowed them to acquire the liquor. They 'pull pranks', and someone has a 'talk' with the victims, and no charges are ever filed."
Pete felt a little sick. "It's not the same thing," he said stubbornly.
"If you say so," Luthor replied lightly.
"Pete, don't worry about it too much, ok?" Chloe said, touching his arm.
Pete grumbled, because that wasn't Chloe agreeing with him. Man, she was so getting the third-degree after this. What else didn't he know? Was this 'game' something he'd have to warn Clark about? He didn't want Clark getting caught up in this crap!
"Not everybody can be bought off," Pete retorted, because he didn't like the idea of what Luthor had been talking about. It had started out sounding like friends who weren't friends selling out, but the way Luthor had talked about it after that had sounded like he'd been talking about bribing reporters. "Some people have ethics, and standards and principles and... stuff." He thought of his mother the judge.
"Hardly." Luthor drawled, with a smirk. "Everyone has a price."
My mom doesn't! Pete thought proudly, but that wasn't an argument he wanted to get into with the jerk. So instead he said, "Clark doesn't!" and thought Ha! Take that! because even Luthor couldn't contest that one.
But Luthor's smirk just twitched a little higher at that, and he leaned back, settling against the car more comfortably. "Oh, but he does," he said, and the smirk edged towards an outright grin. "It may not be in the usual coin of the realm, but he most certainly does."
"Like hell!" Pete shot back.
"Such as?" Chloe prodded.
Luthor settled on a crazy sort of closed-mouth smile. "For Clark? Stop me if this sounds familiar: a gladness to spend time with him, a willingness to listen to him and consider his words, an arrangement where one does not ask after or otherwise immediately drops what he considers to be personal subjects, a propensity to always share with him the truth, the doling out of favors for others more than himself at his request, an agreement to always try to do what he considers to be the right thing... and I believe that is more than enough to get across my point?"
"Yeah, that sounds about right," Chloe said, sounding a little sour. At this point, Pete honestly didn't know what to think. How the hell can you buy somebody off by listening to what they have to say, when you're just shooting the shit drinking coffee at the Beanery? Let alone the rest of it. It didn't make any sense to him.
"His expectations are both a glory and a curse," Luthor murmured, sounding like he was agreeing with Chloe. "He wants me to be a better person, for me." Luthor shook his head. "While the prospect that I can accomplish such a mad feat is more than a little daunting on its own, I find the sheer fact of even the existence of such an expectation from him in the first place... well, stunning."
"You don't think you can be a better person?" Chloe asked, and Pete didn't recognize her tone of voice.
But Luthor didn't seem to have that problem -- he just laughed, though he didn't exactly sound happy doing it. "Oh, I have no illusions about that, Miss Sullivan," he half-grinned, half grimaced. "I am not a 'nice' person, or a 'good' one. I've warned Clark to that effect repeatedly." He twisted his lips up in a weird expression. "For some reason he doesn't believe me, god only knows why."
"Maybe he sees something in you that you don't?" Chloe offered, even though it was obvious that she didn't agree with the idea. (If anybody asked, neither did Pete. Nobody asked.)
"Maybe he sees something in me that he wants to see that isn't actually there," Luthor retorted, before sighing. "I can't believe that you of all people haven't entirely disabused him of the notion, yet," he added, rubbing at the bridge of his nose again.
"Clark has always kind of refused to read any articles about you, or listen to me give him the rundown on them," Chloe offered.
"That would do it," Luthor agreed softly, leaning back and staring up at the sky.
"You don't think you're good enough for him?" Pete blurted out, right as the thought occurred to him.
Luthor tilted his head back down and gave Pete a curious look. "I suppose that depends on your definition of 'good'," he replied easily.
Ok, and that really hurt his brain, because Luthor was a stuck up little bastard, not... this, whatever this was.
"If it's any consolation, I believe the feeling is mutual?" Luthor added with a smirk.
"Clark is way better than you," Pete declared.
"Are you expecting me to argue with you?" Luthor said, and his smile didn't change at all. He just slid his hands into his pockets.
"I'm pretty sure a lot of people feel that way around Clark when he's being all... him," Chloe said with a quirky smile of her own, glancing at Pete.
Luthor pulled his hands out of his pockets, carefully pushed off the side of the car, and stood up, swaying slightly. He had a keyring in one hand.
"What, leaving so soon?" Chloe said, tilting her head at him. Oh god, seriously, is she teasing him? Pete thought angrily.
"I can't think of what else I might like to do on a Friday night, other than getting snarked at by teenagers, besides driving myself home before I collapse again," Luthor smoothly snarked right back.
Pete reached forward and grabbed the keys right out of his hand.
Luthor's fingers twitched twice, and then he turned to look at Pete.
He frowned and reached out to grab them back, then aborted the motion when Pete held them out at arm's length.
Luthor's eyes narrowed and he didn't move as Chloe said, "Pete, what the hell?" and then Pete had to pull them in to his chest so she didn't grab them away from him.
"C'mon, are you both crazy? You can't drive like this!" he told Luthor. When the guy looked about to protest, he said, "Are you seriously gonna risk wrapping your sweet ride around a tree just because you were an idiot and got dizzy and passed out while trying to drive?"
Luthor blew out his breath in a sort of derisive way, and said, "Well, I'm not about to leave her out on the street overnight, so how, pray tell, would you suggest that I find my way home?"
"I could drive you," Pete said, before his brain started kicking his ass, because he was totally better than this, and not Luthor's choeffeur or any of that shit, because he wasn't doing Luthor any favors, damnit, because he didn't like the guy and he didn't care that he was Clark's friend and Clark would probably freak if he got hurt when Pete could've helped him, and it definitely shouldn't matter that this was a chance to drive a sweet ride, and oh god he was actually talking himself into this wasn't he? Shit, shit, and shit.
Luthor made that scoffing sound again. "You most certainly could not. This is a fine piece of machinery. If I want my 'sweet ride' wrapped around a tree, I'll do it myself," he ended, leaning against the car door again and holding out a hand for the keys.
Ok, and now he'd had his driving skill impugned. (Impugned: SAT word of the week.) This meant war. "I damn well do know how do handle a beautiful woman like this one, and I am not giving you your keys back."
"Oh my god, Pete," Chloe groaned, rolling her eyes. "Just because you're trying to put together that stupid old junker in your garage--"
"It's not a junker! It's a classic racing-- ugh, why am I even telling you this? You totally don't get it!"
"Far be it from me to disrespect your manly attraction for fast cars and women," Chloe snarked, and then she glanced to her right and said, "...Lex?"
"--should be fine. Thank you," Luthor ended as he hung up his cellphone, and then turned to look up at the two of them from his vantage point in the shotgun seat. "Problem?" he asked.
"Uh... who were you talking to?" Pete asked. And when the hell did he get over there?
"The guard at the mansion gate. I was informing him not to panic if and when I arrived unconscious in the passenger's side of my car later this evening." He slid the phone back into an inside pocket of his suit jacket. "Are you still amenable to an attempt to properly navigate my conveyance homeward bound without instigating any major and sadly wholly forseen incidents, up to and including an idiotic blunder that utterly destroys my transmission system not five seconds into said soon-to-be-ignominous attempt?"
Pete blinked at him.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Perhaps I should rephrase," Luthor said, and then he cleared his throat and enunciated very clearly, "So, are we doing this thing, or are you chickening out, bitch?"
Pete gritted his teeth. He got it that time. "Fuck you very much -- it's on, asshole." He tossed the keys in the empty seat, slapped his hands down on the car door, and levered himself up and over, sliding down into the seat, while fluidly snatching the keys out of the way and thrusting them into the ignition.
He thought he saw Luthor smirk out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned to glare at him, his expression gave away nothing and he raised his eyebrows at Pete in a Yeah, so? look.
Pete grumbled at him and was about to turn the key when he heard scrabbling at the side, and he yelped, "Fuck, Chloe, no room!"
"Oh, c'mon, there's plenty in the center!" she griped, pushing her way across the back.
"Ohmygodwhatareyoudoing--NOSHOESINTHECAR!" Pete yelled, grabbing her by the ankles.
Chloe rolled her eyes and laughed, and it looked like Luthor was thinking about doing the same, but by the time Pete got the engine started, Chloe was sitting at the back of the center console, and her shoes were in the passenger side seat footwell. Close enough.
"Last chance, Miss Sullivan," Luthor said, leaning back in his seat.
Luthor nodded seriously. "You see, I have a red-blooded American male installed in the driver's seat of my fine motor vehicle. It's going to be hours before we stop again, as we will undoubtedly be taking the 'long way' home."
Pete's mouth dropped. Chloe looked between the two of them, and she giggled slightly. Pete rolled his eyes, because if that was Luthor's try at a pious look, somebody someplace needed to be shot.
"Well, it's not like I had anything better to do tonight," Chloe said, sighing dramatically.
"Neither did I," Luthor said, sounding horribly sad. They both kept it up for all of five seconds until they glanced at each other and broke out in almost matching grins.
"Oh, fuck you guys, Metropolis isn't that great on a Friday night," Pete griped, putting it into gear.
"Yes it is," they both chimed back, and Chloe laughed her ass off, while Luthor glanced over at her in amusement.
"Oh, and how would you know?" Luthor asked, the damn tease, and that left Chloe blushing bright red.
Pete hit the gas, and Luthor stuck out an arm to grasp the side of Pete's seat, admonishing, "Your friend does not have a seatbelt, so I highly recommend that you keep that in mind on the quick decelerations and sharp turns, lest you send her through the windshield, which I doubt she would find a pleasant experience."
Pete gritted his teeth and glanced over at Chloe in shame, who was hanging on to Luthor's forearm like a lifevest where it bridged the gap. She just looked a little embarrassed as she let go, and then Lex did in turn.
"Why are you talking like that, anyway?" Pete asked, as he slowed to a stop and backed up in the three-point turn a lot more slowly than the first time. Was Luthor messing with him?
"Hm?" Luthor said, glancing over at him, then pausing for a moment. "Ah." He resettled himself in his seat and said with a smirk, "I'm tired, irritated, college-educated, and have an extensive vocabulary. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps I'm simply not inclined to dumb myself down for a pair of high school freshmen at the moment?"
"Uh huh," Pete said, focusing on maneuvering the car properly.
"...It's gratifying to see that you haven't crashed my car yet, Ross," Luthor sniped at him as they turned off of Main Street. "Or left my transmission several yards back."
"Oh shut it, just admit that I know what I'm doing," Pete complained.
"Never," Luthor grinned. "But in the interest of fairness, I should warn you," he added, patting the dashboard fondly, "She likes me best."
Chloe giggled again, and Pete rolled his eyes. "Whatever. So, what tunes does this thing have?" he asked, trying not to let himself get too carried away with the idea of driving this lovely lovely thing for hours.
But by the time they'd settled on a radio station they could all live with, and Pete had really started to open her up on Route 8, he realized that Luthor had -- holy crap -- actually fallen asleep.
Pete damn near let out a gleeful yell and pumped his fists in the air, except that that might have woken up the bald owner of the car sleeping next to him, so he didn't because he was gonna get as much mileage out of this puppy as he could. No Luthor awake to tell him to head to the mansion meant no set time limit on driving this lovely lady around the county and showing her the sights, and Pete meant to make her feel at home.
When they were about an hour into the drive, Chloe finally realized that Lex hadn't been kidding about Pete, and Pete wasn't going to stop driving unless someone made him or they ran out of fuel, so she pestered him into finally turning around and driving them back to the mansion. It took another thirty minutes, all told.
Lex was still asleep when they turned off the radio and pulled up to a slow stop in front of the mansion's high black iron-wrought gates.
The gate guard in the small 'tower' on the outside of the gate peered out the window at them, then opened it and leaned forward, looking between Chloe, and Pete, and Lex.
He looked a little worried.
Chloe pushed herself into a kneeling position and said, not horribly loud, "Uh, hi. We're, uh," she glanced back at Pete, who was looking nervous, drumming his fingertips on the steering wheel, "We're here to give you back your... not-so-bald-anymore billionaire?" Chloe winced, because she hadn't meant to make that sound like a question.
The guy glanced between them, then stared down at Lex.
"Uh, we could wake him up, if you--" Chloe proceeded to stick out a finger to poke her in the arm...
"NO!" the guard whispered at the top of his lungs, waving his arms back and forth in a 'no go' gesture. "Don't wake him! --I mean, he's a light sleeper, Mrs. Palmer says so, and she would know; he should sleep," he stammered out lowly, somehow being more quiet than a loud whisper.
Chloe froze, her finger an inch away from his shoulder. She slowly drew it back.
The guard let out a sigh of relief.
"Uh, are you gonna let us in, or what?" Pete asked him.
The guy wrung his hands -- literally wrung his hands together in front of them -- and glanced nervously up the drive, and then back down the roadway. "Do you think that, maybe... you could go away and come back later?" he asked hopefully.
Chloe and Pete exchanged a glance.
"Why?" Chloe asked carefully.
The guy looked nervous -- no, spooked almost, and glanced around again, almost like he was expecting someone to jump out at him or something. Then he swallowed, seemed to steel himself, then leaned forward half out of the window and said, "Mr. Luthor's here."
Chloe knew she got a confused look, but she couldn't help it. "Okay..." she said.
"Uh, yeah, we kinda drove him up here," Pete said, pointing at Lex.
The man stared at them for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I mean -- the elder Mr. Luthor is here."
"Lionel?" Chloe asked.
Then man nodded.
"And we shouldn't bring... Lex... inside, why?" Pete asked, looking a little irritated as he eyed the closed gates.
"He... won't get any rest," the guard said. Then in a rush, he added, desperately, "Please, we'd really all be very grateful. --You wouldn't have to feed him; I can send someone with food from Cook if you'd like?" He reached back into the gate 'tower' and scribbled on a piece of paper, then handed it over to Chloe. "If you call in an hour or two, we'll send it to wherever you are. --With enough for all three of you, I mean," he added quickly.
"Ok..." Chloe said, glancing at Pete, who didn't look too happy about things, but gave her an 'I don't care' shrug. "What do we tell Lex when--" she stopped when the guy looked really nervous all of a sudden.
"Ah, do you have to?"
Chloe paused, considering.
"Is there a reason not to?" At the guy's pause, she added. "What would Lex do if we woke him up right now?"
The man's shoulders sagged a bit in defeat. "He'd want to go inside and confront the elder Mr. Luthor."
"And he wouldn't get any rest," Chloe finished. The man nodded miserably.
"Why are you asking us?" Pete asked in a half-grumble.
The man looked downcast. "I thought you might be friends of his."
Chloe and Pete shared another look.
"Aren't you worried about what'll happen if Lionel finds out?" Chloe asked slowly.
But the man straightened abruptly, eyes flashing. "I work for Lex Luthor, not his father," he said, with an almost fierce pride that left Chloe wide-eyed and blinking in shock. Because sure, her dad talked about Lex a little sometimes with some weird happiness at how well Lex seemed to be getting on at work and how quickly he was picking things up, but her dad was usually no more than mildly sympathetic for the guy, for whatever reason he had to feel that way in the first place. But however her dad felt about the redhead sleeping in the bucket seat next to her, it was a soft echo of what this guy was obviously feeling, and she was pretty sure that that was a highly possessive "He's our Luthor, damnit, and the best one, too! Get your own!"
Chloe started to puzzle through that one as she resettled back down behind the center console again.
She watched the guy go from backbone to worried all over again when he glanced at the monitors in the booth. "If you're going to go, you need to go now!" he hissed back out the window. "He'll be coming down the drive soon!"
"So, we should come back in a couple minutes once he's gone?" Pete asked, frowning as he shifted into reverse.
"No!" the man whispered frantically. "He won't be going anywhere just yet, not really. He'll be looking. Just-- find someplace out of the way!"
Chloe and Pete exchanged one more look, and Pete looked away first, sighing.
Choe stifled a grin.
"We won't say anything about what you or anybody said," Chloe promised the man as Pete backed the car down the driveway, and she noted the relieved look she got from the guard at hearing that.
They drove in silence for awhile, Pete heading for the backroads again.
"So what the hell was that?" Pete asked her.
"Not sure, but it smells kind of like a staff revolt," Chloe mused. "I always thought there was a reason why they made the house staff sign such hard core non-disclosure agreements, but..."
"What?" Pete said, glancing over at her. "You think... something's going on at the mansion? Why didn't you interview the guy?" and interrogate him like you usually do? was implied.
"Pete, what little that guy at the gate said was already pushing it, and what he did and didn't say was more than enough."
"You want to break that down for the rest of us dumb hicks, Metropolis girl?" Pete asked, rolling his eyes.
Chloe sighed. "Pete--"
"I know, I know."
Chloe looked away, then down at Lex for a moment. "House staff... usually don't take sides in upper class families. They just stay out of the way. That guy... was definitely taking sides, and it sounds like most of them were --that they were siding with Lex."
"So, everybody knows what Lionel Luthor can do to you if you cross him; you know he's not a nice guy. Getting blackballed is the least of it," Chloe said, worrying her bottom lip. God, Lex had better be asleep right now, I don't think he'd be ready to hear this, if... Chloe really didn't want to think about that right now. "But they're doing it anyway. They work for Lex, and they think Lex will... stick up for them if they back him up and not Lionel -- that Lex won't fire them, even though they're doing something he might not agree with." Because if Lex would have forced the confrontation, and the staff didn't want him to... but they went around his back and tried to prevent it anyway... "That's... a really big deal."
"Ok, whatever, but why would they pick Lex? 'Cause they think he's the lesser of two evils?"
"Maybe." Chloe frowned. "I don't know; I don't think so. The guy sounded worried about him. That's more than just a paycheck talking there." Chloe was silent for awhile.
"What are you thinking?" Pete asked finally.
"I'm thinking that maybe his family's a lot more dysfunctional than anybody ever thought to hint at in any of the tabloids," Chloe said grimly. "Way worse. Light-years."
"And we care why?"
Chloe glanced over at Pete. "Because if Clark ever finds out -- and he probably will eventually -- he's gonna be really upset over whatever it is, and want to fix things, and maybe try to do something about it?"
"...And do something stupid," Pete sighed.
"...And do something stupid," Chloe agreed.
They drove in silence, down roads with overarching trees. Chloe didn't enjoy the ride nearly as much as she had earlier, her mind focused on other, more weighty things.
Lex woke from his slumber and glanced around. The car was stopped at the side of the road, in the middle of one of the more forested areas. The keys were in the ignition. It was dark out.
He rubbed his forehead and shifted himself a little further upright, slowly turning his head and glancing about. There was light coming from his right.
He looked over his car door and down, and finally spotted Chloe and Pete sitting in the dirt-gravel with their backs against his side of the car.
Chloe glanced up. "Hey," she said. "Want a sandwich?"
Lex blinked at her.
He undid his seatbelt, levered himself up over the door and dropped down next to her in a crouch, before gingerly settling into a cross-legged seated position.
As Chloe turned away, reached forward, and started rifling through a rather large picnic basket sitting on the grassy slope, Lex surreptitiously checked his watch. Eight-thirty-two. Hm.
"Turkey, ham, or mystery sandwich?" Chloe asked, looking over her shoulder at him.
"Which do you recommend?" Lex asked.
Chloe handed over a pastrami on rye. With mustard. Hm. Lex lowered the bread slice and eyed the two teenagers.
"How exactly did you get my Cook to make us a picnic dinner to go?" he asked casually, taking a bite. He sighed softly, closed his eyes, and let his head thunk back against the car door as he savored the bite, because, god this tasted good. Cook needed a raise.
He absently noted that the impact was decidedly softer than usual, before remembering about The Red Hair, now firmly tamed in a convenient, if rather long, braid. Oh, the much difference a few hours make! he laughed quietly to himself.
"What do you mean?" Chloe returned.
" 'Mystery meat', Chloe?" It was obvious that neither she nor Ross had had any part in the making of the meal. That begged the question, however, of why he was eating with them, rather than their being at home, and he in his...
"They thought we were friends of yours and asked us if we wanted to eat dinner out with you. Pete just can't get enough of the driving, you know. You might never get rid of him now."
Pete, on the other side of Chloe, made a noise of protest around a mouthful of sandwich.
"That doesn't explain why we aren't indoors at the mansion," Lex pointed out. "Isn't it a little cold out for a picnic in wintertime?" And a little dark? but the soft white light from the flashlight-lantern was illuminating everything just fine, really. There wasn't any snow on the ground, but still...
"We have thermoses of soup and hot chocolate," Chloe put out there. "Why, are you cold?"
Lex pulled his long winter jacket closer about him but... "No, I'm fine." He could do with a little less heat, right now, anyway. He shivered slightly, having a quick flashback to the radiation chamber. He shook it off quickly, then glanced over at Chloe, a question in his eyes.
"Oh, we're fine," Chloe laughed. "I think I might talk Pete into putting up the top and turning on the heat when we get back in, though.
"Don't either of you have a curfew?" Lex asked mildly, wondering if their parents knew where they were, and who with.
"On a Friday night?" Pete sounded offended.
"We're not Clark," Chloe snickered, shaking her head.
"My mistake," Lex murmured, sitting back and getting to finishing off his sandwich, before reaching forward and retrieving another for himself.
Lex ate mostly in silence as Pete and Chloe chatted amicably. It wasn't until he caught the both of them staring at him that he swallowed his current mouthful and asked, "What?"
"Did you finish off the rest of the basket all by yourself?" Chloe asked.
Lex glanced at the open picnic basket and felt no small trepidation at its mostly-empty interior.
"Man, I thought they'd packed too much," Pete said, eyes wide.
Lex felt his cheeks heat. "I don't normally..." he started.
"Oh. Oh, hey, c'mon--" Chloe cut in. "You said you guys were eating a lot, right? It's fine. It's helping and stuff, right?" then she paused and grinned, saying with no small amusement, "--You're totally still hungry and gonna finish off the soup now, aren't you?"
Lex's whole face felt like it was aflame. Damnit.
Lex finished off his sandwich, but he took the large thermos and spoon from Chloe when she offered it. He wasn't proud. Much. "I really don't usually have this much of an appetite..." he tried again.
"It's fine, really," Chloe said. "We ate plenty before you woke up." And Lex heard Pete make a sort of acquiescent grumble from the opposite side.
"Just leave me some hot chocolate for the drive, 'kay?" Lex heard.
"Of course," he responded.
After awhile, they packed everything up -- except one thermos of hot chocolate for Pete -- and stuffed it all in the trunk... and Lex was subject to grumbling from the youngest Ross boy about the set of golf clubs in his trunk.
"Well, where else would I put them? I'm not about to dirty my house with the damn things," Lex grumbled, which got a laugh from Chloe and an offended look from Ross.
"So you dirty your car with them instead?"
"They're in the trunk!"
"Whatever." Lex heard more than saw the eyeroll.
"It's not too late for me to ask Chloe if she'd like to drive, you know. --Miss Sullivan, would you care to drive?" That garnered him a laugh from Chloe and a gurgling dying sound from Ross.
"Sorry, I think Pete's better at the whole not-leaving-the-transmission-in-the-middle-of-the-road thing," Chloe said. "Plus, I don't know how to drive a stick shift."
"And you're not learning on this car," Pete said decisively, at which Lex couldn't help but laugh.
Once they were situated in the car again -- with the top up and the heat going -- and Pete had started them moving down the road again, Lex caught Chloe's hand mid-motion as it darted forward to turn on the radio. "You never did explain why we're still out here, all three."
Chloe sighed and glanced away. Then she looked back at him. "How long did you think we were going to be out driving you?" she asked.
"I don't see how that's relevant," Lex responded.
"Isn't it?" Chloe reflected.
Lex frowned. "What aren't you telling me?" What is going on that I don't know about?
But Chloe redirected again. "If you had a choice between being back at the mansion, in bed, asleep, and falling asleep in the car while somebody else is driving, which would you pick?"
"I suppose that would depend on who's driving," Lex said before he thought the wiser of it.
"Pete? Or Clark?"
Lex winced. He couldn't help it.
"That isn't a fair question," Lex said quietly, because he'd take spending time with Clark over time alone, any day. At the mansion -- at home, he reminded himself, because Smallville was his home now, not Metropolis -- at home, he would be subject to all sorts of interruptions, unable to sleep in as long as he would like, and all manner of minor problems might arise that would require his attention, despite the fact that they wuold otherwise keep. But, just driving along with Clark... pretending like it could go on forever. He felt safe with Clark. (Despite what had happened in the radiation chamber.) He felt safer with Clark than anyone else. (But he'd fallen asleep right in front of these two, hadn't he? Twice.)
"I'm not asking what's fair, Lex. I'm asking what you want."
That just threw him for a loop. He turned in his seat and stared at her. "Why would you care what I want?" Why would anyone? ...Besides Clark, maybe?
"Just answer the question," Chloe asked stubbornly, crossing her arms.
Lex gritted his teeth, then turned forward in his seat again, rubbing his forehead. "Fine. You want to know the truth? I don't care how long it takes to get back to the mansion, or how many stops we take along the way. Happy?"
At the grin Chloe had across her face when he glanced over at her, Lex thought that he might've just gotten himself into some odd sort of trouble, though he couldn't imagine what.
"Good to know," was all Chloe had to say further on the matter, and the feeling deepened.
Lex realized that he was giving himself a tension headache, and forced himself to relax his shoulders, as a start.
They drove in silence for awhile and, also oddly, it didn't exactly feel like an uncomfortable one.
Lex had just started to dose off again when Chloe asked, "So, what actually happened with you and Clark and the late Dr. Smithe?"
Lex blinked his eyes open and stared out the front windshield. "Clark didn't tell you?"
That was... abnormal, Lex was fairly sure. "Your reporting skills have failed you, so now you're going direct-to-second-source?"
"Clark was still in the whole aggressive-bad-mood dealy when we were talking to him, and his mom yanked him from school before we could have a second shot at him."
"Lovely," Lex murmured, having ill thoughts about what "a second shot" might have meant.
"And Li-- your dad ganked literally everything from the warehouse you'd been held in, down to the bare walls. He probably did the same thing to the place where they caught up to the doctor."
"You don't know where they picked him up?"
Lex glanced over at her. "Why wouldn't I?" he said neutrally.
"You said something earlier about getting the originals from Lionel if you had to. That kind of makes it sound like you don't have all the information you need or want right now."
Goddamnit, but I am off my game today, Lex muttered to himself mentally as he massaged his temples. "I just haven't asked for it yet."
"You made it sound like he might not give it to you."
"That's ludicrous. Of course he would."
"Are you sure?"
Lex stared at her aghast. "Why on earth wouldn't he?"
Chloe shrugged. "You tell me. You're the one who said it."
"I did not--"
"Fine, implied it. Whatever. If you're sure, you're sure... right?"
"What, exactly, are you implying, Sullivan?" Lex gritted out, looking at her sideways and loosely crossing his arms across his waist.
"How much do you trust him?" Chloe said. As Lex stared at her and tried to formulate a coherent thought, she added, "Look, you don't have to tell me, I'm just saying that you might want to be careful."
Lex sat there in his car, being driven about by a pair of teenagers, friends of his first and only best friend, and remembered something his father had once told him, about how outsiders might try to divide his loyalties, and cause a rift in their family. But Lex could not for the life of him think of a reason why Chloe Sullivan of all people might find it to her advantage to attempt such a thing.
"What are you..." Lex had to stop and rethink how to put this. "Is there something in particular that you are trying to warn me about?"
Chloe bit her lip. "Will you listen?"
Lex felt more than a little disquieted at her tone. Will you hear me? Will you promise to take me seriously, or just dismiss me out of hand? It struck more deeply than she'd probably ever know. (He certainly wasn't about to tell her.)
He'd never liked being ignored, either.
Chloe took a deep breath, then started. "You came to me about the meteor rocks before what happened with Earl Jenkins at the plant. And after what happened at the plant with him, I talked with Clark. He said that Level 3 was real..."
There was silence for awhile after she trailed off. Finally, Lex said, "There is no evidence that Level 3 ever existed."
"But you and Clark were there!"
Lex closed his eyes and didn't say anything.
He knew when she got it when he heard the slight gasping intake of breath.
"What happened?" she asked quietly.
"By the next day, that portion of the factory was filled in with concrete."
"The entire thing?"
"I believe so, yes." He opened his eyes and looked out the side window. "I'm not even sure when or how they did it. Neither is your father."
"The work permits didn't go by my father's desk?"
"Not unless he's lying and hid the documentation," Lex said, concentrating on the trees, not wanting to turn around and see the expression on her face.
"You've looked," she said flatly.
There was a pause.
"Dad said you were going to be going over the books for the entire plant with him starting next week."
"That was the plan, yes."
"Are you still going to?"
"No. I changed my mind." Before she could protest, he added, "I was planning on starting early and beginning to familiarize myself with the paperwork this weekend." He shifted in his seat and glanced down at his feet, at her shoes on the floor next to the wheelwell. "From what I understand so far about day-to-day operations at the plant, it looks as though some parts of the plant were never truly under his supervisory control, or that of the previous official management."
"Did they have separate books?"
"Some of the records were kept separate, yes." And I'm going to be finding out exactly how far my company clearance level stretches very soon, I imagine. "The general expenses fell squarely under the main plant operations budget, and the more isolated sectors did not always contribute to the upkeep."
"Is there still an unaccounted for drain on the budget for it?"
Lex glanced back at her. "Whatever alternate project or projects there may have been, were shut down years ago."
"You think there might be?" He stopped and thought for a moment. "You think that someone is embezzling funds, and that is why the factory is always running in the red."
"I think something weird is up. My dad's not stupid; he does a good job."
"Ah." Lex smiled. "And if there are budgetary concerns which he is not allowed to touch or meddle in..."
Chloe nodded. "If you go looking..."
"Aren't you worried about what I might find?"
Chloe looked startled. "My dad isn't--"
Lex shrugged. "Perhaps, perhaps not. He seems to be a good man, though most men do," he put a hand up, forestalling the expected outburst. "Personally, I think that Occam's Razor is a better explanation." He glanced over at Chloe again. "He may do a good job, but there are things that I can get away with as Lionel's son that he can't as a 'mere' general manager. Reorganizing the entire plant and restructuring the day-to-day operations over the course of several weeks or months is one of them." He looked ahead out the window again, watching the white dashes fly by mesmerisingly along the roadway. "He would have to try and justify untried procedures to several levels of management. I am all but expected to shake things up a bit." He smiled.
"So how many people are you planning on firing in your 'restructuring'?" Pete asked acidly, joining in on the conversation.
"None, if I can help it... assuming that everyone is willing to put in an appropriate level of work effort as should be expected of them, and not just coast by on little to no effort," Lex added, glancing over at Pete.
"Yeah, because you know what it's like to work for a living," Pete snorted.
Lex's eyes narrowed. "Have you ever held down a real job?" he asked coldly, knowing the answer was 'no'. "Because I have -- and not just my employment at the plant, which I will be the first to admit was given to me when I didn't deserve it." More like thrust upon me when I didn't want it. I would have been happy to get my advanced degrees, and then, maybe... "Everyone knows full well that I don't have the experience to have earned my current position, most of all myself. But I did work while receiving my undergraduate degree in college, and I earned my way into grad school. I may not have earned my place here yet, but I damn well will before I'm done."
Pete eyeballed him sideways. "Yeah, well, do us all a favor and don't get the plant closed down and everybody fired trying, ok?" He gritted his teeth and added, 'We've had enough of that shit already."
"You think I don't know that?" Lex shot back. "You think I'm trying to turn this place into some ghost town, to ruin it?"
"Lionel did," Pete said angrily.
"I am not my father!"
Lex only realized that he'd yelled that -- and how badly he was shaking -- until after he'd demanded that Ross stop the car, and he'd gotten out and started walking down the bank towards the treeline.
He wrapped his arms around himself in a self-given half-hug, and tried to stop fucking shaking so badly. He hadn't even gotten three steps past the first tree when Chloe caught up with him.
"Where are you going?" she asked, hovering at his elbow.
Someplace I can scream for awhile without anyone asking what is wrong or looking at me like I'm out of my mind,can't you tell? "Go away," he said instead, not stopping, even though he could barely see the forest floor in front of him.
"It's your car; shouldn't you be kicking us out of it?"
Damnit, she wasn't going away, and her logic was not helping his mood at the moment. Especially the part where he knew he ought to be saying something reasonable like how leaving teenaged children at the side of a highway was decidedly not the sort of behavior that would find approval with one Emily Post. "What part of 'go away' is somehow unclea--"
"What happened to you at that warehouse?"
Lex stopped where he was. He stood there, squeezing his eyes shut, in the middle of a dark wood, and dug his fingers into his arms so tightly that he knew there would be bruises later, if not bloody welts. He was finding it that hard to keep himself from grabbing her, tossing her against the nearest tree trunk, and beating her to death with his bare fists. He clenched his teeth and tried his damndest to keep the flashes of memory -- if one could call one long stretch of total and completely overwhelming pain characterized by an utter lack of rational thought a 'memory' -- at bay. He dearly needed to lash out, and he still had enough of a grip on sanity at the moment to care that hitting someone was antisocial behavior best avoided.
It only became slightly less difficult to resist the urge when he saw his surroundings lighten from behind his eyelids, and heard crunching footsteps approach from behind them. Ross must have grabbed the electric flashlight from the trunk before pursuing them; an audience to a murder would make things more difficult, he told himself.
Chloe was conspiring not to make things any easier on him though, when she said, "Every time I've asked you about the warehouse, you redirect. Clark didn't want to talk about it, either."
"There's a reason for that," Lex said without inflection.
"Chlo, he doesn't want to talk about it," he heard Pete say uneasily.
"Which just means that he probably really needs to!" she shot back at him, before turning back to Lex. "--Lex, for god's sake, if you won't talk about you, at least tell us what happened to Clark so we can help him!"
"It was the same damn thing," Lex said, his voice shaking like his body. I can't do this, I can't -- I should have gone home. I shouldn't have let them-- I'm weak, I was useless, I am useless, I hadn't been able to-- Clark got hurt because of me. He's still hurting, because of me. He's going to wake up one day soon and hate me for it, and I-- I won't be able to-- It might be dark now, but it was bright white then, and he could almost smell the antiseptic on concrete floor, like a sour bitter tang in the back of his throat.
Lex eyes snapped open and he flinched back a step from Chloe, who was in front of him now, pulling away from her,who had put her hands on his arms.
He glanced away from her quickly, not wanting to see the expression on her face. Stupid boy. So weak. Too emotional. Not even worth anyone's pity. Not that he wanted it. He'd have to hurt her if she did.
You'll never get anywhere with your eyes closed.
He shouldn't have closed his eyes. Not even in the dark.
No, especially not in the dark.
"You're shaking," she said quietly.
"I'm fine," he insisted.
"No. No, you're not," she said just as quietly, not moving away. "Lex," she pulled in her lips, moistened them slightly. Tentatively, she began with, "Clark said... Clark said that it hurt..."
Chloe paled at the sound Lex was making.
It was something like laughter. Terrible laughter, and desperate sobs.
Lex just stood there, with her arms clenched around her middle, and kept making that horrible sound.
She wasn't calming down, either; the shaking just got worse -- it was visible in the light from the flashlight now, no longer only discernable by touch.
Chloe stood there and couldn't believe that Lex had let Choe touch her in the first place, at any point, even once. Not when she...
Lex's eyes were wide and dark, and Chloe was freezing cold staring into their dead depths.
She'd seen eyes like that before once, even though she never should have -- wide, dark, terrified, and full of fear and all manner of distrust.
She and her cousin had spent a few summer weeks together, years ago. Lois had heard about a tape making its way through the barracks -- one that had made some of the grown recruits cry, or run from the room and throw up. She'd said that girls were braver than boys, and wanted to watch it with her. As far as Choe was concerned, the only saving grace had been that Lois hadn't wanted her little sister around pestering them, so they'd chased Lucy out of the room, saying she wasn't big enough to watch with them.
They'd gotten caught watching it when they started screaming fifty minutes in. Chloe had had nightmares for months afterwards, and she firmly maintained that the only reason she'd not screamed any sooner was because she'd been in too much shock to get any noise out of her throat.
It had been a top-secret military documentary on the effects of torture on US soldiers, and had real footage of P.O.W.'s as they went through the process of retrieving them, trying to calm them down, trying to get them back to somewhere relatively sane, helping them through the eventual recurrant episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder.
She was never going to forget what she'd seen on that tape, and when she looked Lex in the eye now...
She had been wrong before. The only real saving grace in having watched any of that film was that she knew what she was seeing, and that the tape had shown how people should try to care for them, as well.
Chloe slowly reached forward with both hands and touched Lex's hands gently.
It wasn't long before she'd managed to get Lex down onto the ground, with her back against a solid tree. She had been about to collapse from the strain as it was. Chloe sat down with her, next to her, did not make any move to touch her face, neck, or back, and just loosely held Lex's hands as Lex brought her knees up to her chest and began sobbing in earnest. Tears ran down Lex's cheeks, and Chloe's mind went blank.
It stayed that way until Lex started laughing again, dark wheezing hoarse laughter, and croaked out. "Hurt? Hurt? Oh, yes. Yes, Chloe. It hurt."
And then Lex started laughing again, though more hollowly than the first time.
Chloe felt herself pale, and for the first time since Lex had started laughing, she looked up at Pete.
Pete, standing still and holding the flashlight-lantern up like some out-of-place statue, was so pale he looked almost grey.
Their eyes met, and then Chloe remembered that this had happened to Clark, too, and--
"Oh god, I told him he deserved it," Pete whispered.
Luthor's laughter cut off.
"...Wh-what," he said flatly.
"I-- I told Clark---" Pete was panicking. This was wrong, all wrong.
"What-- what did you--?!" Luthor said, looking up at him eyes going wide.
The next thing Pete knew, the back of his head hurt, and he had bark digging into his back.
The flashlight hit the ground.
"Lex, stop!" Chloe was shrieking, scrambling to her feet.
Pete was clutching reflexively at Luthor's hands, which felt like they were embedded in his shoulders. "You. Did. WHAT?!?" Luthor shrieked inches from his face.
Pete was shaking, and he couldn't even think he didn't deserve it when Luthor threw him down onto the forest floor and his arm scraped across something when he hit. Because if Luthor was freaking like this about what had happened, just thinking about it, breaking down into a sobbing wreck, and he was a fucking cold bastard to being with, then god, Clark, he must be-- Pete couldn't even--
Luthor stomped towards him, his face twisted up in fury, and Chloe bodily got between them, holding her arms out wide.
"We didn't know!" she said in a rush. "We didn't know, we didn't mean to hurt him, no-one would tell us anything! We didn't know!"
Pete was scared out of his mind for her as he stared up at them, and when Luthor clenched his fists and screamed like a lunatic Pete nearly had a heart attack.
And then Luthor turned and started punching a tree, over and over and over again, still screaming like a madman, and Pete's heart started up again.
Pete slowly got up, wincing, not taking his eyes off Luthor, and holding his hurt arm, as he stood beside Chloe.
"What--" he said shakily, but Chloe just wrapped her arms around him, teary-eyed, so he hugged her back.
"Torture. He was tortured," Chloe whispered quietly into his jacket, and he shivered. "They were both--"
Luthor wasn't stopping. His hands -- his knuckles -- were getting bloody, red in the harsh white electric light thrown off of the forest floor where the lantern had rolled to a stop.
Pete wasn't sure how long he stood there with Chloe wrapped up in his arms, watching Luthor beat the bloody shit out of himself until he dropped to his knees in the dirt and dead leaves, but the only reason he didn't run was because Chloe needed him.
He was angry, and confused, and guilty and scared, and freaked the fuck out, and it was not fair because shit like this was not supposed to happen, ever, and he should not have to deal with this.
Luthor moaned like a wounded animal and curled in on himself, crying.
He started rocking, and because it was nighttime and they were out in the middle of fucking nowhere and it was dead silent because all the screaming had probably scared everything away for miles, they could hear his broken whispers with crystal clarity.
"Should have-- should have run. For the door. I should have-- left Clark and--"
Pete choked on anger.
"--gone for the door. I could have stopped him. I could have-- if I'd just gotten out-- out of the damn chamber-- hadn't gotten distracted and-- I could have stopped him-- if I'd gotten out-- I should have-- if I hadn't-- Clark--"
Pete felt like he'd been doused in ice water.
"--my fault, all my fault--"
"Oh my god," Chloe said in growing horror, and yeah, that about fucking summed it up.
He felt Chloe pushing against his chest and he slowly let go. He trailed behind her as she made her way over to Luthor and kneeled down next to him. Her hands fluttered above his back before she pulled away and laid them down flat in front of her.
"Lex? Lex. You're out, ok? Clark's out, you're out. You're ok. It's over. That... bastard is dead, and he can't hurt either of you anymore. Ok? You're out," she said, sounding almost calm, her voice shaking only a little, and she repeated it like a mantra, over and over.
Luthor slowly stopped rocking, and his breathing got less ragged. Finally, he just lay there, curled up, breathing, and Pete could almost see the sanity trickling back in.
"What..." he said, slowly shoving himself upright, his knees dug down into the dirt. He swayed badly from side to side, before managing to get his balance, and focusing on Chloe kneeling next to him. "...Chloe? What..."
Luthor stared at her, and Pete suddenly realized she'd been crying.
"What--" Luthor lifted a hand towards her face, then stopped and brought it back, looked down at both his bloody hands like he'd never seen then before, and his eyes widened and he jerked backwards away from Chloe and Pete, who had come up to stand beside her.
Chloe caught both his wrists, one in each hand, tightly, and brought him up short. "No, Lex--"
"Let- let go--" Luthor said, voice shaking, and he looked freaked out all over again, but different than before, almost like--
"You were punching a tree, you didn't-- really hurt anyone, we're fine, ok? Me and Pete, we're just a little freaked out, that's all," Chloe said with a wavering smile.
Under any other circumstances, Pete would've told them off, because fuck it, he wasn't ok -- he'd gotten slammed into a tree and his head hurt, and his back hurt, and his arm hurt from the ground -- but with the way Luthor looked all panicky... it reminded him of the way Clark sometimes looked when he was afraid he'd hurt someone when he'd not meant to. Not that Clark ever meant to.
The way he'd been babbling earlier had sounded a little like Clark did sometimes when he screwed up, too, only with a lot more self-loathing.
...Pete wondered if he'd hit his head harder than he'd thought.
"I--" Luthor was visibly shaking, eyes wide. "I didn't--?" His hands must've hurt like fuck-all, but he seemed to be completely ignoring it, or just oblivious to the pain, the way he was staring Chloe in the face, looking like he was almost afraid to believe that he hadn't beat the shit out of one of them instead of a tree. But when he glanced up at Pete, and then back at Chloe, and then slowly began to believe them, he got such a horrible look of teary-eyed relief that Pete was glad that he'd kept his mouth shut.
"You don't remember?" Chloe asked gently, but Luthor paled.
"It's ok--" she said quickly, tugging at his wrists lightly as he started to pull away again. "Just tell us what you remember."
"I--" Luthor swallowed. "You asked me... if it..." his mouth twisted up badly, "hurt..."
"And?" Chloe said quietly.
"I--" Luthor said softly, then looked down at his hands, still held at the wrists by Chloe. "I think--" He stopped abruptly and trailed off.
"You don't remember much after that."
"No," Luthor said in the most quiet, small voice, not looking up.
"Ok," said Chloe. She took a breath. "You, uh, laughed, sort of. You were freaking out. I got you to sit down, but you weren't really calming down. Then Pete freaked because... well, we hadn't understood what had happened before, and Pete had said something earlier today at lunch that Clark must have definitely taken the wrong way, and we'd only just figured it out."
Pete watched Luthor tense and clench his jaw. They both watched and waited as he got himself back under control. "And then?" Luthor asked tonelessly.
"And then you got up and grabbed Pete." Oh my god what the fuck Chloe, you're actually telling him--? "You shoved him against a tree, then pushed him down onto the ground." Pete watched Luthor go dead pale and his breathing go unsteady. "I got in-between you," and he watched Luthor shudder and close his eyes. "And then you started trying to kill a tree."
There was a long pause.
"And then you collapsed and were freaking out again, until you started coming out of it just now," Chloe ended.
Another long pause.
"That's... it?" Luthor said, sounding strained.
"That's it? That's it?" Pete took a deep breath "...Yeah, 'that's it'," Pete said, barely able to keep a lid on it.
But when Luthor looked up at him, he didn't look the least bit guilty about any of it. He only looked horribly confused, and Pete was suddenly angry as hell.
"You-- you tossed me around like a rag doll! You nearly went psycho killer on Chloe!" Pete yelled.
"Nearly?" Luthor echoed, rocking backwards slightly. "I-- You mean I really didn't--?" he said, turning to back Chloe.
"No, we're ok."
"I am not ok!" Pete yelled. "Do I look ok to you?!" How could Chloe be ok with this? --I got hurt!
Luthor stared up at him while he clenched his fists and stared right back down at him.
And then Luthor said, "Just tell Clark that you didn't know, but you do now and you're sorry. He'll forgive you; you're his friend, and he's not mean or a jerk."
Pete sat down hard on the forest floor, and for some reason felt like he wanted to cry.
Stupid, stupid jerk.
"I-- ah--" Luthor cleared his throat. "I think I might be... starting to regain feeling... in my hands...?" he ended on a slightly strangled note.
"First aid kit?" Chloe asked, standing abruptly.
"Trunk of the car, right side," Luthor managed to get out, staggering upright and pulling his freed hands towards his chest, starting to twitch.
Pete grumbled as he got back up and scooped up the flashlight-lamp-thing before Luthor could.
The two of them trekked back towards the highway, trailing after Chloe. Pete tried to hold the light up enough that she wouldn't fall and break her neck up ahead of them.
"I--" Luthor started.
"Yeah?" Pete said dourly.
Luthor grimaced, then manned up and said, "Sorry about shoving you around."
Pete stared at him, then got back to watching the ground when he nearly tripped over a root. "Yeah, whatever. Probably had it coming."
Luthor looked up at him, startled, then looked away again. "You should let Clark be the judge of that."
"Oh, I will."
Luthor winced. But he came to an abrupt halt when they made it back to the roadway.
"God, what now, dude?" Pete groused as Luthor stared at his car.
"You left the keys in the ignition," he said tonelessly.
"So?" Pete said, turning back to the car, which had the keys in the ignition and the engine still running, transmission out of gear, parking brake on, heat still going, and headlights on max, with both doors hanging open. "I didn't exactly have time to--"
"My car is still here," Luthor breathed out in a tone of wonder, like it was some great Christmas miracle, and not just that they'd stopped out the middle of nowhere in freaking Smallville with nobody around to steal it. Chloe just laughed at the two of them as Pete made a face.
Chloe got them both patched up -- and she almost ran out of cloth bandages and gauze for Lex's hands -- but none of them could really do much of anything about the dirt ground into their clothes just then. They were going to have to change outfits before somebody saw them, or there were going to be questions.
Pete protested that he was ok to drive, and Lex, still looking a little shaken, let Chloe coax her back into the car with them.
"This wasn't the first time you've blacked out, was it?" Chloe strategically asked as Pete got his seatbelt on, before he got them started them moving again. She had a feeling that leaving Lex an obvious easy escape route would help take some of the pressure off. When Lex tensed, Pete went for the hot chocolate instead of the gear shift, watching them both out of the corner of his eyes, ready to jump in and intervene if Lex lost it again, if the way he was tensed up was any clue.
"No," Lex finally admitted, as if Chloe was tearing the word out of her.
"No," Lex said again, sounding like she nearly choked on it.
"How many times before?" Chloe asked neutrally.
"Twice," she barely got out.
"You get violent?"
"Somebody got hurt badly?"
Lex made a pained sound.
Chloe blew out a breath. "You really need to talk to somebody."
Lex just let out a barking laugh.
"I don't think so," she said, sounding strangled.
"Well, I do."
"Seconded," Pete muttered out.
"Oh, really?" Lex gave a pained laugh.
"Yes," Chloe said, crossing her arms.
"And if I don't?"
"I'll tell Clark about it and you can pick up discussing it with him."
For a second there, Chloe thought Lex might have dropped dead on the spot.
"You can't--" Lex was shaking again, looking like she was going a little out of her mind. "He can't... help. I--" She gave out another choked laugh. "How could talking possibly help? It-- it won't just make everything magically go away."
"So you won't even try?" Chloe asked, and got silence in return. Fine, hardball then. "What are you so afraid of?" she asked in her most jarring, gut-hit, demanding tone.
"Lionel," Lex said before she realized what had happened, but then Chloe hadn't exactly been playing fair, coming at her from out of nowhere like that.
"Oh god you--" Lex's eyes went wide.
"What the fuck--" Pete said, looking at the two of them in horror.
"--That's actually kind of a good reason," Chloe said, cutting them both off. "I wouldn't want him in my head, either."
That got her twin stares.
Well, whatever. At least I tried. And going berserker mode three times in twenty one years probably wasn't that bad, right? She didn't really hurt anybody this time; that has to mean something. And that was maybe more like twice anyway, since this time Lex had had a pretty understandable reason for it, and who knew? Maybe there was a reason she'd blanked out the other two times, too?
She thought she'd hurt someone this time until I told her otherwise. It might not have been as bad the other two times, either, she thought, playing devil's advocate for a moment, but then Chloe was getting ahead of herself. She'd have to go back and look at her research, and figure out those two most likely events, and work from there. I probably ought to save judgment until then, and wasn't it weird that she was actually thinking about giving Lex the benefit of the doubt?
...Maybe it was just the shock talking, and something like Stockholm Syndrome. Could people get that in only a few hours?
Then she had a really sick feeling when it occurred to her in a flash of insight that... holy shit, what if that thing with Lex's baby brother had been one of those two times?
She nearly bit her lip until it bled to keep from asking, because even she knew that now would be a really bad time to bring that one up.
Lex fell asleep on them again, which Chloe seemed to take as a good sign, considering the way she was grinning up a storm in the rear view mirror.
"So, Pete," she started.
Pete groaned, because he recognized that tone of voice.
"I was thinking..."
Oh, here we go. "Yeah?"
"You know how Lex said that she didn't care how many stops we took along the way...?"
It took Pete a minute.
"We are not taking him to my house," Pete said flatly.
"Oh god, I didn't mean-- Pete, I wouldn't do that to you," she said seriously.
Pete glared at her in the mirror. "Clark doesn't need Luthor's sorry ass dumped on him, either."
"I wasn't talking about Clark, Pete," she huffed back.
"Then what--?" Pete stopped.
"Your dad is going to kill--"
"It'll be fine," Chloe sad, cutting him off. "You can drop her off at my house, and hide her car in your garage--"
"What?" Pete yelped.
"--and in the morning--"
"Are you trying to get my ass thrown in jail?" Pete thought, his mind spinning, because, duh, black man in Kansas with a 'borrowed' car in his garage? Shit.
"No, I'm trying to keep us both out of trouble."
"And we can't park his car at your house, why?" Pete asked belligerently.
"Because Lionel might still be looking for her, and anybody could recognize her car from the street by the license plate alone?"
Ok, point, but-- "What am I gonna tell my parents?" Like my mom, the judge -- you remember her, right?
"What you can't toss the dust cover over it for the night?"
And then Chloe gave him the big perky puppy eyes.
Sometimes Pete really hated his life.
God, the things he did for love...
"Ten o'clock at night, and all is well," Chloe giggled, poking Lex in the arm.
"I still don't know how you're planning on convincing him to-- is he not waking up?" Pete asked after Chloe poked him in the head once, the bicep for the second and then third time in a row, and graduated to shaking him by the arm a few times.
"Huh," Chloe said.
And then her eyes lit up and she got a wide shit-eating grin.
"So, what are we doing again?" Whitney asked, arms folded and frowning in some confusion down at Lana, Pete, and Chloe as they tried to figure out how to maneuver Luthor out of the car and into Chloe's house.
"We? Are superheroes," Chloe declared. "We are saving Lex from Lionel."
"Oh. Ok," Whitney shrugged, like that was that.
Pete stared up at the star quarterback. "Are you kidding me? Really? You're really ok with this?" he sad, waving his arms around.
"What? Lionel's a jerk, right? It's for a good cause," he said perfectly seriously, sounding a little harrassed.
Lana frowned up at him good-naturedly, while Chloe grinned and giggled, and Pete stifled a groan, because even being a benchwarmer on the football team still did not save him from some things. He didn't want to push it.
"Besides, I'm all for missing the worst part of a chick-flick," Whitney said smugly.
"Uh, what part's that?" Pete asked, because he kind of had to.
Whitney looked down on him like he was the girlfriendless doofus that he was. "Every part."
Lana took a break from their evil girly planning to walk over and smack Whitney in the arm for his trouble, but she didn't look too mad with the way she was smiling, and neither did he.
"Anyway," Chloe continued, "Thanks for coming over to help, Lana."
"Oh, no problem," Lana commented. "Though it would be a lot easier if someone would pitch in and help out, too."
"Who, me?" Whitney said, with a smile. "Really, babe, you only had to ask," he said, leaning down and giving her a peck on the cheek. "Get the door for me, willya?"
And with that, Whtiney stepped forward and scooped Lex Luthor right out of the front seat and into his arms in a bridal carry.
Lana gasped and said, "Whitney!" sounding like she was torn between laughing and being scandalized at her boyfriend's behavior. Chloe had no such trouble, and was just giggling away.
Whitney grunted and complained, "Geez, are you sure he's a girl now? He weighs a ton!"
Pete ended up getting the door for him.
Chloe gave Whitney instructions to lay Lex down on the bed in the first floor guest room, and they got her settled and closed the door. She didn't even stir during the entire thing.
"Would you mind following Pete over to his place and helping him get the car put up in the garage, then driving him back?" she asked him once they were back out in the hallway.
Whitney looked to Lana, who nodded her assent. "Sure, ok."
"Pete, remember to change your clothes!" she called out as they left.
"Ok, so what am I missing here?" Lana asked as she followed Chloe upstairs to change. "And why do you three look like you fought a forest and lost? Was there some meteor freak thing?"
"Uh, kind of." Considering Lex was on her list and her Wall these days, that probably didn't even qualify as a little white lie. "Lex is in pretty bad shape," she started to explain. "What happened to him and Clark... well, apparently it involved off-the-scale pain," she grimaced. "Like, medieval torture levels of pain, and then some."
"Oh my god," Lana's eyes went wide. "Are they ok?"
"No, I don't think so," Chloe said grimly. "Clark's probably in super-denial about everything, and Lex is... well, probably doing better than Clark, sort of, because he's actually acting out on it a little. He kind of broke down earlier this evening for a little bit."
"Are you and Pete ok?" Lana asked, and Chloe was reminded that Lana was not just some dumb pretty-faced cheerleader.
"Yeah. Lex kind of went all Rob Roy on a tree, minus the sword."
"His hands," Lana said quietly.
"Yeah," Chloe admitted.
"He didn't do anything to you, did he...?" Lana asked, looking at her searchingly.
Chloe sighed. "No, but he freaked Pete out pretty bad."
"And you aren't?"
"I've... kind of seen it before, sort of," Chloe gave her a half-quirky smile. "Have you ever heard of PTSD?"
"Of course I have-- oh."
"Chloe, this is serious. You could get hurt--"
"I know what I'm doing."
Lana gave her a look.
Then she frowned at Chloe's attire. "Uh, Chloe, what--?"
Chloe held up a pair of pajamas for Lana. "Phase Two of my super-awesome plan," she grinned.
Gabe finally got back in at eleven. He sighed, because he'd let Chloe know how late he thought he'd probably be, but he'd still hoped to see her before...
"Hey dad!" his daughter called from the living room floor, surrounded by Pete, Lana, and Lana's boyfriend. "Welcome home!" He smiled and opened his arms wide, and got a hug for his trouble.
"What's all this?"
"Last-minute slumber party," Chloe explained, plopping back down on the floor.
"With boys?" he asked, frowning down at said teenaged boys.
"Uh..." said Pete.
"Daaad, we're in high school. Of course with boys," Chloe said. Lana bit down on a smile.
Hm. "That's what I'm afraid of," Gabe said.
Chloe just laughed.
"We're staying the night?" Lana's boyfriend -- Whitney, right! -- asked.
"I, uh, I didn't bring anything," Pete said, sounding nervous.
Well, if the boys were nervous about staying over, there probably weren't going to be any problems.
"Separate rooms for the boys, sweetie," Gabe said.
"Sure, dad. Promise!"
As Gabe set down his briefcase in the den, and made his way up the stairs, he chuckled to himself at the dialogue he heard emanating from the living room.
"But what are we supposed to wear?" Pete complained to the two girls already in pajamas.
"Oh come on Pete," teased Chloe. "You guys are already wearing your pajamas." Gabe could almost hear the grin in her voice.
"Well, unless they're wearing briefs," Lana added.
"Or commando," the girls chimed together, laughing.
"Chloe!" he heard Pete complain. The poor boy was probably blushing up a storm by now.
Nope, his daughter obviously hadn't picked up on the youngest Ross boy's crush on her yet. Gabe had nothing to worry about there.
"Come on, Ross, you don't fall in with the tighty-whitey crowd, do you?" he heard the other guy say as he got in on the good-natured heckling.
Lex woke up flat on his back staring up at a ceiling, feeling a tad disoriented.
He slowly levered himself up, and grimaced as a throbbing pain shot through his hands.
He glanced over at the curtain-covered window, and saw sunlight lightening the edges.
He stared down at the bandages and remembered the previous night.
He remembered falling asleep in the car again after his episode in the woods.
He decidedly did not remember leaving the car after that.
And this was not his room in the mansion, but...
This is not a room in the mansion... is it?
He slowly got to his feet -- where are my shoes? -- and padded his way to the door.
He turned the knob, took a tentative step out into the hallway, and...
This is not the mansion.
He heard a sound behind him and turned, hands coming up.
He was greeted by the sight of a wide-eyed Gabe, who was frozen with a coffee cup halfway to his lips and a newspaper in his other hand.
They stared at each other for a moment blankly, face-to-face.
Then Gabe shut his mouth, grimaced, and yelled, "CHLOE!"
Lex winced. Gabe did not look pleased.
Gabe's gaze drifted down to Lex's bandaged hands, and Lex suddenly had the urge to hide them behind his back, too late.
He heard movement from a nearby room, and Lex saw her pad around the other corner by Gabe. "Yeah, dad?"
Then she caught sight of Lex.
"Chloe--" Gabe started, frowning at her.
"I, uh, don't suppose you'd believe he was chaperoning us last night, while you were away and not home and all, yet?" Chloe tried. "And also sleeping over, too?"
Wow. Lex had thought he'd gotten The Look from Gabe before at work once or twice, but this one was a whole new level of--
"Can you teach me how to do that?" Lex all-but-blurted out as Chloe wilted under its weight, because honestly, he could think of several immediate uses for--
Gabe let it up on Chloe momentarily to cock an eyebrow at Lex. "Get a teenager, then we'll talk."
...Maybe not, because Lex had a strong suspicion that Gabe meant 'the old fashioned way', and not the begging, borrowing, or lending of one for mere practice.
"Young lady--" Gabe began in an authoritative tone.
"--You don't know that he wasn't chaperoning us!" Chloe tried.
Lex winced again, because hell, even he could recognize that that had been a bad idea.
He should probably step in, though. "Gabe, I really don't think she meant any harm--" ohshitnowhe'slookingatmelikethatabort!abort!ABORT! and Lex shut the hell up so hard his teeth clacked together in his jaw.
Gabe cleared his throat in such a way as might possibly imply, would you like to try that again?
"...I don't suppose you might have any coffee about on the premises?" Lex asked as meekly as he could, hoping that that could serve as an excuse -- brain malfunctioning, need caffeine -- and escape route -- run, Lex Luthor, run! -- all in a pinch.
"Kitchen's thataway," Gabe said with some amusement, waving his coffee cup past him.
Lex took what he could get, and in deference to Gabe's parenting skills, he tried very hard not to overhear the Sullivan family dynamics going on in the hallway as he got himself a cup of coffee and Gabe read his daughter the riot act.
AN2: Just a friendly warning: I am almost definitely -not- going to be able to keep up the current update schedule, okay? Okay. (I'm not dropping it, though. And I get back to all my fics, eventually. So please don't panic, if you would otherwise feel so inclined! :)
Oh, and the next chappy's gonna be a lot more Clark-centric, FYI. (We'll finally start getting to some of the really excellent crack ;)