Part 1: Wake-Up Call

He leaned over her, shaking her as much as he dared, calling her name over and over. "Come on, Chloe, wake up. Wake up! Damn it, you can *not* just lay around any more, you have to wake up. Come on, open your eyes, remind me what color they are, I'll get you new sunglasses or a new car or whatever you want if you'll just wake up!"

It seemed like longer than the hours it had already been before the girl's eyes finally slitted open. "Wha-- Where? Who?"

"Ah, those reporter instincts really do go bone deep; you've got a bright future, Chloe. Open your eyes."

He didn't know if it was the sarcasm or the command, but Chloe finally managed to look at him. "What--" She blinked, her forehead wrinkling in confusion. "Who...?"

"Come on, all the way back, Chloe. Look at me."

Her eyes were blank for another long, long moment. "...Lex?"

He breathed out, and smirked down at her. "Very good. Welcome back to the land of the living."

Chloe's forehead furrowed as she tried to focus on him. "What are you doing here?"

"You know, I'm pretty sure we've already had this conversation once. And I still don't know." She tried to sit up and Lex gently pushed her back, tucking her coat around her again. "Stay down for a while. You got hit over the head, remember?"

"Oh. I did? I mean, I was?"


"Oh." She thought about that. "Why?"

"Probably because you were with me. Open your eyes, no more sleeping."


"No. Eyes open. Focus on my face."

It was a struggle, but she got her eyes open and kept them open. Very pretty light hazel eyes, at that. "'kay. Open."

"Good. Keep them that way."

"Yes, sir," she mumbled. "No wonder all your employees are scared of you."

"I certainly hope so. Who am I?"

"Thought we got that part."

"I'm making sure. Who am I?"

"Lex Luthor. Clark's friend. Dad's boss."

Interesting order, but he'd take it. "Good. Who are you?"

"Chloe... Sullivan. Chloe Sullivan."




"...Not so you'd notice."

Lex rolled his eyes and sat back on his heels. "You're awake. Good."

She grinned weakly. "Kind of more awake, anyway. And getting some deja vu.... Where are we?"

"The same place we were the last time you woke up. An abandoned building, and I don't think I own it."

"Wow, that narrows it down a lot." He looked down at her sharply and she smiled sweetly; she was definitely coming out of it. And trying to sit up again. "What do you mean, last time I woke up?"

"I said to stay down." He pushed her back again, with one careful hand on her shoulder. "You woke me up, when we first came around, then you went back to sleep. And then I almost couldn't wake you up this time, so there will be no more sleeping. Or trying to sit up -- sudden movement isn't the best idea with a head injury."

"Right. I knew that. Thanks."

"I just don't want you throwing up on my pants. Also, there's the fact that we're in an enclosed room with little or no ventilation. It could get very disgusting in here."

Chloe smiled faintly and muttered, "That's one," closing her eyes.

"Excuse me? And keep your eyes open."

She started to shake her head, winced, and stopped. "Nothing. Fine. How long have we been here?"

"Call it seven or eight hours; it was about 10 at night when someone grabbed us and it's coming up on dawn now. What do you remember?"

Her forehead furrowed again as she tried to think. "Working at the paper, yelling at David for not getting his article in on time. Shutting off the computer, shutting off the lights, then going back for my algebra book. The next thing I know, I'm waking up here with the touring company of Stomp in my head and Lex Luthor yelling at me."

"I'm not going to apologize for the yelling; it did wake you up."

"That's really not very surprising."

"That yelling woke you up, or that I'm not apologizing?"

"Um, either one, actually. Can you maybe fill in the blanks?"

"Some of them." He crossed his arms over his chest again, wishing it had been colder out or that his car's heat didn't work so well, so he'd have another coat to wear. "I was coming home from a late meeting in Metropolis and I saw you on Main Street. It was dark out, and late, so I offered you a ride."

"You did?"

"Yes. And that's exactly the same look you gave me when I stopped. Has anyone ever told you you're paranoid?"

"Principal Kwan, the guidance counselors, the sheriff, Clark, Pete and grades 6 to 9 social studies teachers."

"Good. Then I won't bother." She made a face at him, but did it with her eyes open, so he simply ignored it. "So, as I was attempting to be a gentleman and give an extremely suspicious young lady a completely innocent ride home, I was stopped at a roadblock and ambushed by a couple of large guys with a hypodermic and something heavy. Since I'm a gentlemen--" Chloe snorted, then gave him an apprehensive sideways look; Lex lifted his eyebrows at her, but kept going. "--I would have preferred that they'd reversed who they used what on, but I didn't exactly get a chance to object."

"Very rude of them."

"I thought so." He shifted his shoulders against the wall, searching vainly for a more comfortable position. "I woke up when you started yelling, and my head hosted the Broadway cast of Stomp until I apparently passed out again from whatever they gave me. I came around again a while ago, and spent about ten minutes getting you to wake up. You know the rest."

"Such as it is, and why did you get the Broadway cast? Never mind," she said in disgust when he just smiled. She tried to run her hands through her hair, wincing when she hit the large, bloody lump on the left side of her head. He didn't *think* there was a fracture under it. "You still haven't answered my other question."

"Which one?"

Chloe gave him a 'duh' look. "What we're doing here?"

"Ah. Yes. Well, as far as what you're doing here goes..." He breathed out hard. "I'm pretty sure that's my fault."

"Oh. Well, it could be my fault," she offered, almost hopefully. "You never know who I might have gotten mad with my last editorial."

He grinned in spite of himself. "Trust me, I can't think of anything in this week's Torch that would give anyone a reason to hit us over the head and throw us in here. Wherever the hell here is."

He could, however, think of lots of reasons for someone to kidnap Lex Luthor -- none of which had the potential to end well. He hadn't done anything illegal -- violently illegal -- lately, and there wasn't anyone left from the old days to pull this. He didn't think.

Which left business or ransom. And no one who knew Lionel Luthor would bother with a ransom.....

Chloe wrinkled her nose as she looked around them, squinting up at the dim gray light from the dirty, rusted windows, high on the wall. "I think cold and dank pretty much sums it up. I guess I should be glad the sun's not up yet because I'm pretty sure it would make my headache even worse, but seriously. What's the fun of being locked up with 'Smallville's most eligible bachelor' if I can barely see him?"

"You'd still be fighting off a lot of people for the privilege," Lex informed her, half-seriously. "Look over here, I want to check you out."

"And it's only in circumstances like these that I ever hear that from a guy," Chloe said with an exaggerated sigh. "Could be good for the story, though: 'As I lay as his feet, Lex Luthor leaned over and gazed deeply into my eyes....'"

"Are you writing a news story or a romance novel?" He cupped his hand over her left eye, waited a few seconds, then moved it away. The pupil stayed fixed and dilated, slightly larger than the right. His stomach tightened, and he said lightly, "Congratulations, you're still concussed."

"Yay. Well, at least Clark isn't getting to have all of the exciting fun this time."

"Nearly getting burned alive wasn't exciting? Not to mention getting frozen."

"Yeah, kind of. But it wasn't fun."

"You've got some interesting definitions there."

"Welcome to Smallville."

Lex half-chuckled in appreciation, and she shifted on the hard wooden floor. "What am I using as a pillow? Because it feels like something that costs more than a computer and was imported from someplace overseas."

"A little less than a computer, actually." Chloe made another of those faces at him and he grinned. "Don't worry about it; that jacket's never had it so good."

"You say the sweetest things." From most women, it would have been delivered flirtatiously and Lex would have been bored. Chloe's voice was sour and entertaining; he'd have to make more of a point of talking to her. When she didn't have a serious head injury.

"Stay still, I meant it about not wanting to deal with vomit," he warned her, before getting up to prowl the edges of the room again. A room big enough and bare enough to echo. A row of narrow windows running across the top of the walls, far out of reach. Two large air vents, rusted closed and also too high to reach. One wide steel door, chained on the outside with something heavy enough that he could hear it rattle. Institutional dirty beige walls, scarred, dusty hardwood floors, cobwebs pretty much everywhere. No furniture. No blankets. No phone, no first aid kit, no computer hooked up to a T1 line or even a lousy 28.8 modem.

No cars or people going by outside, either -- they were stashed well out of the way. Lex didn't think they'd been out long enough to have gone far, so they were probably still in Kansas, and probably still close to Smallville. But no one in Smallville would have tried this. Someone from Metropolis? One of Phelan's buddies out for revenge? Maybe -- except that Phelan hadn't had any buddies. And why take Chloe?

He tried the door again for the sake of doing something, however useless. It didn't budge, didn't even move in its frame when he shook it, then threw all of his weight against it. Again. And again.

"Could we have less noise, please?" Chloe's voice was small with pain.

Lex worked on his breathing, unfisted his hands, forced his shoulders to relax. The room was spinning slightly around him again. "Sorry."

"S'okay." She waved one hand limply in his general direction. "If it had worked I'd have no complaints, you know?"

"Yeah. I know."

He walked back to her very carefully, and sat down with his back to the wall. Her eyes were slitted open, watching him. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he said shortly. "There's nothing wrong."

Chloe gave him the exact same suspicious look Clark always used when he knew Lex was up to something. She was better at it than Clark, even through the handicap of a concussion. "Right. Then why were you unconscious for a while, too? You said they gave you something."

"They gave me some kind of tranquilizer, but it's worn off. I've got a huge and fairly painful bruise on my arm, but that's all." Except for the lingering nausea, the weird semi-vertigo and the fuzzy feeling around his thoughts. "So, since I'm not the one with the head injury, could you please lie back down before you throw up?"

He twitched the jacket closer around her again as she settled back, giving him another suspicious look, but not arguing. "You know, my stomach isn't even upset; you're the one obsessed with the idea of me hurling."

"I don't like being around sick people."

"Why not?" He looked down at her and she attempted an innocent expression that wasn't nearly as good as Clark's. "Come on, work with me. We're trapped here, I'm bored, I'm a reporter. Why don't you like being around sick people?"

He opened his mouth to say something glib and dismissive, that would end the interview and reduce Chloe to silence. "My mother was sick for a long time before she died," came out instead.

"Oh." She bit her lip, looking sad and guilty. "I'm sorry, Lex. I shouldn't have asked. I just figured...."

"That I don't like to deal with the inconvenience of sick people, and leave that to people I pay to deal with it?" He shrugged and crossed his arms, leaning his head back against the wall. "Well, you were right."

"Yeah. I can see that," she nodded, and added, so quietly he almost couldn't hear, "That's two."

He did hear, but didn't feel like pursuing it. The hangover from the drug really was fading, but his head was starting to pound again with frustration and impotent worry. He was Lex Luthor, son of Lionel Luthor, owner of most of the midwest and significant portions of the eastern seaboard. They bought politicians, owned sports teams, played God on a daily basis.

And he couldn't get himself and one concussed teenage girl out of a damn abandoned building. Or even figure out what the hell they were doing here!

Sir Harry, maybe, still pissed over the takeover? But this wasn't his style. He'd send his daughter out to seduce and destroy one of her old friends, that was fine. No problem. But he wouldn't resort to violence -- it was too declasse.

"How long do you think it'll take Clark to show up?" Chloe asked. Her voice slurred faintly on the last few words, and he glanced down at her sharply.

"Hey, eyes open! Editors-in-chief don't get to sleep on the job. Write a headline for that story or something." She fought her eyes open and he watched her until he was sure they were going to stay that way. "Good. And given Clark's usual track record, I'm actually surprised he hasn't shown up already."

"Well, even Clark can have his off days, I guess," Chloe allowed graciously. Lex chuckled out loud and sighed mentally, wishing Clark would make one of his miraculous appearances, and equally wishing the kid would stay the hell away from whatever this was.

Part 2: Warming Trend

They sat silently for what felt like a long time; Lex's watch was gone so he couldn't otherwise judge. This was the second time he'd lost his mother's watch -- someone was going to pay. For all of it.

After a while, the inactivity got to him and he stood up, prowling the edges of room with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his trousers. Part of his mind was still looking for a way out; the rest retraced the last week, trying to figure out who he'd pissed off this severely. Or who his father had pissed off, but that list was a lot longer. Narrow it down, work it out.... The Decad takeover. Maybe. Those numbers had been strange enough to get his attention -- had they'd gotten someone else's? He'd already told Dominick to check them out, so it wasn't like kidnapping him would do any good -- but did they, whoever they was, know that?

And why take Chloe?

He kept pacing, occasionally snapping another sharp command to Chloe to keep her eyes open. "If you want me to stay awake," she complained irritably after the fourth or fifth time, "you're going to have to talk to me. You have to have some clue what's going on, why they grabbed you. Us."

He laughed humorlessly. "I've been working on it, but narrowing down the suspect list is taking some time. And I still can't think of a reason for anyone to take you, except that you were there. " Lex shook his head, staring up at the windows again. "I really need to stop trying to do good deeds. Clark is a bad influence."

Chloe grinned, which had to be painful, but didn't stop her. "Tell him that, he'll like it. Clark's never been a bad influence before in his life."

"I'd noticed. You know," he said absently, "if there was any kind of justice, there'd be a whole pile of machinery -- not sold by the former owners for some unknown and financially unsound reason -- that we could use to make a superweapon and break out of here."

"We need to beat up whoever wrote this scenario," she agreed. "Maybe assault the director, too."

He could think of some other people he'd rather assault, like his so-called security people, who were supposed to keep this from happening. He was going to have a few words with them, that was for sure. And most of those words would consist of the phrase "You're fired."

Chloe shivered suddenly, pulling Lex's attention abruptly back to her. "Chloe?" He had no idea what to do for convulsions or seizures.

"Sorry. It's just..." She faked a smile, badly. "It's getting a little chilly. I'm fine."

It was getting colder, even thought the sun was well over the horizon. The weather forecasters had to choose today to be right about the cold front moving in? He thought for a second, then gave in and sat back down beside the girl, working his arm under her shoulders and levering her more or less upright.

"Thought I wasn't supposed to sit up?" she asked, giving him another suspicious sideways look.

"Change of plans." He settled her carefully, leaning the uninjured side of her head against his shoulder, and spreading her coat and his suit jacket as well as he could over both of them. "Warn me if your stomach starts getting upset, or your head starts hurting. More," he added as she opened her mouth.

She closed it again, shifting uncomfortably against him. "So, do you always resort to kidnapping to get dates?" she muttered against his shirt.

"Funny thing, I usually don't have to go to these extremes." He grabbed her wrist and pushed her arm firmly down against his stomach, wrapping his other arm awkwardly around her shoulders. "Relax. It's about staying warm, not a come-on."

"I *know* that," she snapped back, then added, more quietly, "Sorry. It's just... This is weird."

He looked down at her. "Getting hit over the head, getting kidnapped, or cuddling up to a billionaire?"

"All of the above, adding in the part where my dad works for you. And I'm not cuddling. Except by force. Kind of."

"Got it." He honestly tried not to let her see his smirk this time, but wasn't very successful.

"Stop it." She tried to slap his shoulder, but between her position and her injury, wasn't very successful either.

His smirk grew. The one good thing about Chloe being here was that she kept the boredom factor down. Of course, she was also driving the stress factor up a lot. Maybe boring would have been better.... "You know, you could try and show some respect for your father's boss."

"I know, but it's kind of hard." She wrinkled her nose. "You hang out with Clark; I know way too much about you."

He considered that. "Fair enough, although I obviously need to talk to Clark before he ruins my reputation as a cold-hearted bastard."

"Too late. Well, for me and Pete, and Lana and Mrs. Kent. You're probably still okay as far as the rest of the town goes."

"Good to know. Okay, so, you could try and show some respect for the guy who's trying to rescue you. Us."

"Hurry up and rescue us, and I'll give you all the respect you want, I promise."

His jaw clenched. "I'm working on it." Not working fast enough, or well enough, or they'd be out of here by now, but he was working on it. Which mostly consisted of sitting around on his ass while Chloe got cold and her head was probably getting worse and he did *nothing*...

A small hand hesitantly patted his chest, snapping him from the rapidly descending spiral of his thoughts. Chloe met his eyes soberly. "Hey. Joke. Not your fault. We'll get out of here soon."

"Yeah." He tightened his arms around her and she put her head back down on his shoulder. "We'll be home for dinner."

Silence, then... "Uh-oh."


"You said dinner."

"Are you feeling sick?"

"No." Chloe swallowed hard. "Hungry."

He closed his eyes, letting his head fall back against the wall. "Thank you. Now I'm hungry, too."



They sat in silence again, Chloe's breathing steady and warm against his shirt. "How's the suspect list going?" she asked after a while.

He shrugged. "We've got a takeover coming up that's been pretty brutal all around -- Adams and Rumsler aren't exactly happy about their company being absorbed into LuthorCorp. Actually..." His eyes narrowed. "They're fighting it tooth and nail. And all the stupid moves they were making before we announced the buy-out... might not have been that stupid." In fact, they'd complicated the deal like crazy -- as if the directors knew what Lex was going to do before he did it.

Damn it, if there was a leak in LuthorCorp, heads were going to roll. And he had one logical place to start, one person who knew that takeover inside and out. If he could just get out of here....

"What?" Chloe asked, and Lex realized his muscles had all tightened.

He shook his head, trying to force himself to relax. "Nothing. I might... Nothing. Are you warmer?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

He probably could have let her go, then, but the whole platonic cuddling thing was surprisingly pleasant. Not something he'd done a lot of in his life. It was a shame Chloe was only fifteen; it was a bigger shame Clark was blinded by Lana Lang. Not that Lana wasn't a nice girl, but...

"How do you know?" Chloe asked abruptly.

"Hmm?" He blinked at the non sequitor.

She blinked back at him. "You said, before. That I hadn't written anything lately to make someone hit me. How do you know?"

"Oh." Where had that come from? "Because I read the Torch."


"Why not?"

"How about, because it's a high school paper? Not exactly the Daily Planet, or the Wall Street Journal."

He shrugged. "Not exactly, no. But you run the only paper that acknowledges the strangeness Smallville seems to attract, and your meteorite theory is still the best I've heard, so I keep up."

"Oh." She quieted. Then, "Principal Kwan doesn't believe me. He tried to take the Torch away."

"I know. Clark told me." He patted her shoulder awkwardly. "Principal Kwan is interested in keeping the peace; you're interested in finding the truth. You've got a better chance of succeeding than he does, so ignore him."

"Thank you, Lex 'I own everything and can ignore anyone I want' Luthor. It's not so easy for the rest of us."

He considered that. "I don't own everything. Yet."


Chloe seemed to be drifting off again and Lex shook her slightly. "Hey. Stay with me, here."

"Sorry." She forced her eyes open, her voice slurring a little more than before. "It's just... I'm warmer now. And my head hurts."

"I know." He hugged her absently, looking around the room again. His eyes narrowed as they lit on the strips of heavy wooden trim edging the floor and door. For the first time, possibilities glimmered.

Part 3: Escape Routes

Chloe clutched at him unexpectedly when Lex started to get up. "Where you going?"

He patted her hand, prying her fingers off of his shirt. "Not far. Keep talking to me, all right?"

"Okay," she agreed reluctantly, settling against the wall, more or less upright. "Talk about what?"

He shrugged and walked over to the door. "I don't know. It's a small town, there must be some interesting gossip floating around. Has Clark humiliated himself lately in some way he won't admit to me?"

"If he has, I wasn't there for it. Um, I don't suppose you're interested in the ongoing debate about what's really in the cafeteria mystery meat?"

He crouched next to the door, searching the edge of the trim for any sign of looseness. "I went to boarding school. My mystery meat beats your mystery meat." He pried at a crack with his fingernails until one broke. He shook off the pain and, after a moment's thought, took off his belt and tried the buckle. It was just thin enough. "What's the lead story going to be in the Torch this week?"

"I think 'Torch Editor Held Captive with Smallville Billionaire' is pretty much going to take over the front page."

"I don't get top billing?"

"It's my paper."

"Good girl." His belt buckle bent a little under the prying, but the crack in the wood widened. He forced the buckle up along the crack, and it lengthened. "What would the story have been otherwise?"

"New computer lab. Which also would have gotten your name on the front page."

"Well, at least this should boost your circulation."

"Yay." He could barely hear her, and shot a look in her direction. She was slumped to the side, her face against the wall.

"Hey! Eyes open!"

"Open, open." She waved him off with one hand. "God, Clark, chill for a while."

His hands froze. "Lex."

"Huh?" She peered blearily across the room at him.

"I'm Lex, not Clark."

Another blink. "Well, of course you're not Clark," she said in an extremely reasonable voice. "You're not scarily tall. Plus, no hair."

"Right," he said tightly after a second. "Just so we've got that straight." He shoved at the belt buckle with all his strength, and was rewarded with a sudden crack as the trim split away up to the top. A few shoves downward, and it fell into his hands, a flat pole about 7 feet long. "Got it!"

Chloe applauded clumsily. "Cool. We've got a big piece of wood. What are we going to do with it?"

"We're going to try to open a window." He couldn't reach them himself, not being, as Chloe had pointed out, as tall as Clark. But with a little help.... He maneuvered the top of the makeshift pole to the latch on the casement windows well above his head and shoved. The trim slipped and he got a palm full of splinters for his trouble. "Damn it!"

"You okay?"

"I'm fine. Keep talking." He gritted his teeth and tried again. The window didn't give, and he shifted to the next one, listening to Chloe's rambling monologue on Smallville High as he moved along the wall.

"So what are we going to do when the window is open?" Chloe asked after the fifth or sixth try.

"I'm going to see if I can climb out."

"Aren't they pretty high?"

"If you've got any better ideas, feel free to share them," he said sharply.

"No." Her voice was very small again. "I don't. I'm sorry."

He sighed and let his forehead fall against the wall. "It's all right. It's not like this is your fault. I'm trying to get us out of here and this is all I can think of."

"I know. And it's pretty good. But you did tell me to keep talking and, well, I've been known to say dumb things when I keep talking, so...."

He went back to prying at the windows. "Keep talking anyway. I'll make allowances."

"Okay." She was quiet for a second. "So, um, Whitney was in the science lab-- No, I was past that. Wasn't I? Um... god, what *was* I talking about?"

"Be quiet, Chloe."

He could see her annoyed expression from all the way across the room, but was concentrating too fiercely to care. "Okay," she said, "you really need to make up your mind--"

"Quiet! Do you hear that?" There was a car going by, tires bumping down what sounded like a really bad road. Not *that* far away, maybe close enough to hear, if he could just get one of these windows to open.... "Start yelling, Chloe, as loud as you can."

She blinked, then started shouting, wincing with every cry, and he yelled along with her, slamming the makeshift pole into latch after latch. Glass cracked under one blow, but the window held, and when they finally gave up, the sounds of the car were long gone.

"Oh, *please* tell me there won't be any more yelling," Chloe moaned, curling into a ball on the floor, her back against the wall.

"No." His hand was bleeding where it was clenched around the wood; he forced his grip to loosen, and walked back to Chloe. "How's the head?"

"About to explode." He'd expected her to be crying and wouldn't have thought any less of her for it, but her eyes were dry when she looked up at him. "I'd kill for a cappuccino."

Lex tried to smile in return. "I hated coffee when I was your age. Didn't learn to like it until college, when I needed the caffeine."

"Weren't you in college when you were my age?"

"A little older. Not much, though."

"You're still not much older," Chloe pointed out.

"Yes, I am."

"Cynicism does not equal age. If it did, I'd be legal to drink." Her wry observation surprised him into laughing, and her lips curved a little. "Hah. Knew I could get a real laugh out of you."

"Congratulations." The laughter felt good, but didn't last long. His bruised arm was beginning to throb around the injection site, his hands hurt, and hunger was becoming a serious issue. Right behind dehydration. They needed to get out of here.

"Do you think we could break a window?" Chloe asked.

"You think it should be colder in here?" Lex lifted his eyebrows at her. "And, as much as I hate to admit it, you were right -- I'm not going to be able to climb out." He could have balanced Chloe on his shoulders maybe, let her climb out, but he'd be surprised if she could even stand up. When he tracked down whoever had left them here, he was going to make their lives a living, bleeding hell. And he'd been taught by the best....

"No, it's cold enough." She didn't seem to have heard his sarcasm, or his rare admission of defeat. Her face was set in ferocious concentration. "But if there's a road near enough for us to hear a car, especially through thick walls, maybe somebody could see if we hung a signal or something out."

Lex checked his clothes -- they were the same dark shirt, dark suit and dark tie he'd put on the previous morning, considerably worse for wear. Nothing very visible. Chloe's coat was lighter, but they needed that. No point getting help if she was--

He shook his head once, hard. "Not a bad idea for someone with a concussion, but we don't have anything bright enough to make a difference."

Chloe bit her lip. "My turtleneck's pretty bright. We could hang it out."

He studied the bright orange shirt in question. "So you can sit in here with one less layer of clothing and freezing air blowing in, on the off chance that someone else is going to drive by, notice your shirt, and come help. Why am I seeing problems with this plan?"

"Lex...." She looked up at him, taking a deep breath. "We're in a lot of trouble here, aren't we? *I'm* in a lot of trouble."

He thought about lying, could have done it convincingly and without much effort. She met his eyes steadily and he blew his breath out hard, nodding. "Yeah, I think so. You called me Clark a while ago, and you didn't seem to notice. And I'm still worried about how long it took to wake you up."

She swallowed. "Okay. That's bad. My vision's getting a little blurry, and my headache's getting worse. Those are bad, too, right?"

He could feel the muscles in his jaw twitching. "Yes."

"So, if we sit around waiting for someone to come find us, they might only find one of us."

"Do *not* talk like that!" The sharpness of his voice startled even him; Chloe flinched a little, but didn't look away. There were lines of pain around her eyes, as she tried to meet his, and fear in their depths. But there was determination right beside it.

He let his chin drop to his chest, giving in. "All right. Let's try it. I'll work on the window while you get your shirt off. Can you do it alone?"

"...Yes." He helped her upright, then got up as she started unfastening her cardigan sweater. Her hands were stiff on the buttons, and his mouth tightened as he watched; then he turned on one heel and strode back to the window that had cracked. It took a few more hard hits, but the glass finally shattered, leaving empty space curving jaggedly from the upper right corner to the lower left. A blast of cold air immediately raced into the building, and he glared at it as if he could stop it with force of will.

But the weather was something else the Luthors couldn't change. Yet.

He heard Chloe's sobbing breaths before he made it all the way back to her; she'd gotten the cardigan off, but the stretchy shirt underneath was resisting her clumsy fingers. He took her hands and moved them away. "Let me do it," he said gently; she sniffled, but leaned against his shoulder as he carefully worked the material up her torso and eased it over her hair.

"Lots of experience undressing girls, huh?" she joked weakly.

"It's okay, my eyes are closed," he lied in return, slipping the turtleneck past the goose egg on her head. She winced, but her whimper of pain was half-laugh. Her bra was pale green against her pale skin, and he only looked at her arms as he pulled the shirt the rest of the way off, then guided her hands into the sleeves of her cardigan and buttoned it.

"I'll be right back," he told her, and surprised himself by brushing a kiss across her forehead, like his mother had done years before. He wasn't sure Chloe noticed; she just nodded and sank against the wall as he tucked her coat back around her.

Hooking the shirt to the makeshift pole wasn't easy, but getting it hooked on the broken glass wasn't hard -- in a few minutes, the orange shirt flew like a banner out the window, towards where he thought the road was. It wasn't much to bet a fifteen-year-old girl's life on.

Not much at all. He propped the wood at an angle against the wall and brought his foot down hard, snapping it neatly into two pieces that were short enough to handle easily. Anything could be a weapon, and he was looking forward to trying this one out.

"Did you... do it?" Speaking was taking costing Chloe more effort, Lex realized as he settled her back against his shoulder. She came willingly this time; he could see her breath and his own.

"Yeah," he nodded against her hair. "Someone will see it any time now."

"Good." She snuggled closer into his chest, murmuring, "Thanks, Clark."

"Lex," he reminded her tightly, shaking her shoulders as hard as he dared when she didn't respond. Her eyes were closed again. "Lex, not Clark. Come on, you have to stay here, Chloe! Lana and Whitney were fighting at the coffee shop, you and Clark were watching... Finish the story. Come on!"

She fought him off weakly, but he kept yelling until he could see the color of her eyes again. "Who am I?" he demanded fiercely.

"Lex," she almost whimpered, clutching his shirt. "Please stop shaking me, I *am* going to throw up, you're Lex!"

"I don't care if you throw up," he answered, in the voice that had told decades of Luthor employees exactly who was in charge. "I'm not going to stop shaking until you stay awake. You are not allowed die in here, Chloe!"

"No," she moaned into his shirt, eyes drifting closed again. "Not going to die. Just want to sleep. Please, Clark, I just want to sleep."

"It's Lex Luthor, not Clark and I swear to god, I will fire your father if you don't stay awake. I will buy your house, I will blow up the plant, I will flatten this whole damn town! Stay with me, damn it!"

He heard himself, yelling and out of control, with shocked surprise. But Chloe's eyes were wide open, staring at him, and nothing else mattered at the moment.

"S'okay," she said, her voice slurring, and he realized she was trying to comfort him. "S'okay, Lex, I'm 'wake. Promise, I'm awake."

"Good," he managed, through an unexpected lump in his throat. "Do not die on me, Chloe Sullivan. Clark will never forgive me if anything happens to you."

"Not gonna die. And wouldn't be your fault."

"The hell it wouldn't." He pulled her closer, careful not to shake her anymore. He shouldn't have been doing it before, but anything was better than letting her sleep, and not wake up. "You're in here because of me, and I'm going to take you back out."

She smiled a tiny, smug grin, fighting the pull of gravity on her eyelids. "That's three... and four."

He shook his head in frustration. "Okay, you can keep talking by explaining the damn counting."

"I'm counting reasons... for you to be taking care of me."

"I have to have reasons?"

She shrugged, or tried to; her shoulders barely moved under his arms. "S'what Clark says," she said drowsily. "Lex always has... least three reasons for doing anything. Just gotta figure out... what they are. Sometimes Lex... doesn't even know."

He stared ahead at the blank wall, feeling a kind of discomfort he couldn't name, but didn't particularly like. "Clark said that."

"Mmm-hmm." She forced her eyes back open before he could yell again, then narrowed them. "You're mad?"

"No," he denied automatically, although he wasn't sure what he was feeling. "I, ah... I don't think I've been giving Clark enough credit."

Chloe nodded wisely, which would have been more effective if her eyes had been focused. "The innocent... farm boy routine... gets 'em every time."

"If I could bottle it, I'd make a million. Another million."

"Yeah.... Clark?" she whispered. "Don't tell Lex... I'm really scared."

His jaw clenched and he rested his cheek against her hair and added a few new ways to torture their kidnappers to his little fantasy. If this was about what he thought it was.... "It's okay, Chloe. It's going to be okay. Stay awake, don't close your eyes."

"'Kay... Mary Poppins."

He gave a startled laugh, but it caught in his throat, tearing its way out. "That's one I haven't been called before," he managed.

"The song. 'Stay Awake.' When she wants them to sleep. 'Stay awake... don't close your eyes...'" She sang the last part in a bare whisper that trailed off into nothing. "Always liked... movie. Dancing penguins. They shouldn't be... able to dance, though. And Bert's pants changed. Heck of a tailor."

He had no idea what the hell she was talking about, but she didn't seem to need help keeping up her monologue. "Probably works for Lex... gotta get those suits... somewhere. Paris or Italy... never been. Wonder if Paris... really rude."

Chloe's head got heavier on Lex's shoulder as if she was sinking into him. She smelled like bath places in the mall were supposed to, clean and sweet. "Coffee on the Champs... whatever, better coffee than Beanery or Starbucks. Shame if it was worse... after long trip.... Should ask Lex... if s'better...."

"It is," he told her; she kept rambling on, so he wasn't sure if she'd heard. He closed his eyes, letting her voice wrap around both of them as the shadows shortened and the sun got higher outside. As long as she was talking, she was alive. He couldn't do anything, so he'd have to take what he could get, for as long as he could get it....

Voices outside the door brought him suddenly and painfully alert. Adrenaline and hope flared with equal fire, racing through his veins. Chloe's voice was little more than a barely audible whisper, but he still shushed her. "Quiet, Chloe -- someone's here."

"Oh," she said after a moment, unconcerned. "That's good. Maybe they brought dinner."

They should be so lucky. "Maybe. Stay here."

Lex untangled himself from the girl, which was harder than he'd expected, and laid her gently on the floor under the jackets, out of direct sight of the door. "Stay here," he told her again as he stood, trying to stretch stiff muscles into something resembling readiness for a fight. He recognized the voices with very little surprise, and his eyes narrowed as he picked up the improvised club he'd made from the wooden trim. No amount of money or wishing would turn it into a gun or a knife, or even a damn fencing foil, but it was what he had.

The chain rattled against the door and he settled into a guard position to the side of the frame. He braced himself -- and froze as the voices outside turned abruptly into shouts. Someone slammed hard into the other side of the wall, a gun fired, there was more shouting, and the chain rattled and slid down the door. A large body barreled into the room, gun outstretched, and Lex didn't bother going for the wrist -- he stepped in and slammed the club into the gut of one of his own security guards. Michaelson staggered back, and Lex broke the club off against his skull.

Before the man had even hit the ground, Lex grabbed the second club off the floor and lunged out the door, aiming for the next moving body--

--who turned around and flung his arm up. "Lex, it's me!"

Lex managed to deflect his swing just in time to save his friend's arm. "Kent?"

Clark's eyes were wide, shock battling it out with relief on his face. "Yeah. Jeez, Lex, you scared me!"

"Next time, yell or something, tell me you're here." Lex checked the room out and started relaxing when he saw only himself and Clark, plus two more unconscious bodies. Another of his security guards had had the close encounter with the wall; he kicked the third figure over onto his back, and tightened his jaw when he saw Dominick's face. "Son of a bitch. Guess I really shouldn't have slept with his sister."

Clark looked from Lex to Dominick and back. "This is about you sleeping with someone's sister?"

"No, this is about a betrayal by someone my father trusted. It's about a damn business deal." He swung around to look at Clark. "What are you doing here?"

"You and Chloe went missing last night, everyone's been looking for you. I saw these three heading out of town and couldn't figure out where they were going, so I followed them. When I saw the shirt in the window, I knew you were here, so I followed them in, and...."

He gestured vaguely at the bodies, and Lex made a mental note to get the details later. Like Clark ever gave details.... Goddammit, 15 years Dominick had worked for LuthorCorp, and Lex hadn't wanted to handle the damn merger anyway!

"...her bag was in your Porche -- Lex?" Clark grabbed his shoulder and shook, dragging him back to the problem at hand. "Chloe is with you, right? Tell me Chloe's with you."

"Yes, she is." All thoughts of Clark and details and what he was going to do to Dominick were abruptly flushed from Lex's mind. God, he'd almost forgotten about her! "She's hurt, and we've got to get her to a hospital. Now!"

He was barely aware of Clark running with him back into the room; his attention was entirely reserved for the girl lying, boneless and still, where he'd left her. "Chloe?! Chloe, wake up!" He yanked her off the ground, but shaking didn't work this time, and neither did yelling; her eyes stayed stubbornly closed, her body hanging limp in his arms. "Damn it, Chloe, don't do this, not now!"

"Their car is outside," Clark said, pulling on his arm. "Come on, we can take her in that."

"Right." Lex staggered to his feet carrying Chloe's dead weight, and followed Clark outside. One of the LuthorCorp black 4X4's was parked outside the old building; there was no other vehicle in sight, and Lex spared a second to look at Clark. "How the hell did you get here -- run?"

"I, um, stowed away," Clark answered, not meeting Lex's eyes. "Wait, keys!"

Clark started back towards the building, but Lex shifted Chloe's body into the younger man's hold instead. "This is faster."

Lex hotwired the car in less than 20 seconds, well under his personal best; the engine roared to life before Clark had time to finish fitting himself and Chloe into the front seat. Lex waited just long enough for Clark to get the door closed, then spun the 4X4 on the dirt road like it was a Grand Prix track, sending up a shower of gravel as he raced away at 80 miles per hour.

"Go west," Clark told him, clutching Chloe with one arm and the door with other. "We're about 5 miles out of town, one of the old husking plants near Pete's farm. Go to Highland Road and--"

"I know where it is." Clark looked scared as hell, but what little attention Lex could spare from the road was devoted to willing Chloe to hold on. He was a Luthor, Luthors always got what they wanted. "Just a little longer, Chloe. Just hang on a little longer."

"Lex? Is she--"

He shook his head once at Clark, sharply. "Dig around, see if one of them left a cell phone in here. If they did, call ahead to the sheriff and the hospital, tell them we're coming in. Serious head trauma, she was in and out for hours. Christ, make sure she's still breathing." He took a corner too fast, almost skidded out, and corrected as they jumped onto the county road. "Hang in there, Chloe. Hang in there. Hang in there...."

Part 4: Visiting Hours

"You should have seen it, Chlo. Lex carried you into the hospital and started ordering people around before he even cleared the doors. I've never seen doctors move that fast, ever."

Clark leaned forward in the chair next to Chloe's bed, his smile as wide as his face, gesturing broadly with both hands. "All the time you were in surgery, until we knew you were going to be okay, he was stalking around the waiting room talking about getting doctors from Metropolis, or Denver, or wherever. It was... really impressive." He stopped and considered. "Kind of scary, too -- although not as scary as his driving."

"I bet." Chloe gave him her 'impressed' face, shifting uncomfortably against her pillows. After three miserable days, she'd come to the conclusion that hospital beds sucked, and not being allowed to sit up much sucked even more. "I'm sorry I missed it."

"Next time, stay conscious." Clark leaned further forward, sobering as he took her hand. "Seriously. You were... I think my heart stopped when I saw you on the ground in that old plant. I know Lex's did."

She smiled and squeezed his hand, a rush of warmth running through her from the point of contact. Clark had really been worried about her.... "I'm sorry." She held her other hand up in a mock scout salute. "I promise, next time I'm abducted, I'll tell them not to hit me."

"I'm sure whoever it is will be listen." Clark rolled his eyes and sat back in his chair. "How about we just skip having a next time?'

"Good plan."

"So, when are they cutting you loose?"

"Tomorrow, and it cannot possibly come soon enough," Chloe groaned. "Do you have any idea what the food is like in here?"

"I saw what they gave you for dinner. Oh, and my mom wants me to ask what you want for dinner when you get out -- she's cooking so your dad won't have to deal."

"Your mom rocks."

"Yeah, she does." Clark smiled the sweet smile that made any girl with half a brain want to kiss him. Unfortunately, Chloe seemed to be the only one around with half a brain -- even if that brain was currently a little battered and bruised. But at least she could focus enough to see him now.

"Where is Lex, anyway?" Clark asked suddenly. "I figured he'd be here trying to intimidate doctors or something."

"I actually haven't seen him," Chloe said lightly, trying to pretend she didn't care that Lex hadn't come to visit. Which she didn't. At all. "He called my dad once, probably to make sure he didn't need to come intimidate some more doctors, and he sent flowers." She looked wryly at the huge bouquet of exotic flowers on her nightstand. Everyone else had sent roses, carnations, lilies... pretty yet affordable flowers from Nell Potter's shop. Not Lex. Lex had to be different. Lex had to import flowers from god knows where in Metropolis and spend god knew how much on them.

She glanced back at Clark and shrugged. "I know there was a lot going on at the plant the last couple days -- almost the entire security department either got fired or promoted, according to my dad. And some big merger went through, so I guess he's been pretty busy."

"I guess," Clark said uncertainly. "But Lex said he'd seen you -- I thought he meant he'd, well, *seen* you."

"If he did, I wasn't awake for it." Which was pretty weird, thinking of Lex Luthor coming into her room while she was asleep. Not bad, exactly, but definitely weird. "And I don't know how he'd have managed it, since nobody else has seen him, and this place has been full during visiting hours."

"I noticed. You've taken over from the Beanery as Party Central." Clark shook his head. "He probably came after visiting hours -- Lex isn't big on following other people's rules. Which makes him not unlike someone else I know," he added meaningfully.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Chloe wrinkled her nose at him and he chuckled.

"I've always though you and Lex had a lot in common. In fact," he said thoughtfully, "if you hadn't been hurt, I don't think both of you would have survived 16 hours in that building. You'd have argued each other to death before anyone got there."

"You think so?" Chloe tilted her head, sorting through her admittedly really vague memories. "He did spend a lot of time yelling at me, and ordering me around...."

And holding her to keep her warm, and making her talk to keep her awake, and joking with her to make her smile, and generally taking better care of her than she would ever have given Lex Luthor credit for.

But, "Kind of a control freak, isn't he?" was all she said out loud.

"I think it's on his driver's license under distinguishing characteristics," Clark agreed ruefully. "You sort of have to go with the flow around him, which is--"

"--not something I'm known for," she finished for him, and shrugged. "Reasons to be grateful for massive head trauma, I guess."

"How much do you remember?" Clark asked, with his unnerving habit of reading her mind. Well, about everything that didn't have to do with him.

She shrugged again, playing with the edge of her biology textbook. You knew you'd been in the hospital too long when homework sounded better than watching another soap opera or game show. Even CNN was losing its interest. "Not much, really. And what I do remember keeps slipping in and out of focus. I still have no memory of actually being kidnapped, and that neurologist Lex imported from Metropolis says I probably never will. Short-term memory loss is not an uncommon side-effect of an acute subdural hematoma. And don't ask for details about subdural hematomas -- I know so much more about what the inside of my head looks like now than I *ever* wanted."

"I don't think anyone actually wants to know what the inside of your head looks like, Chlo. Pretty scary stuff." Clark laughed and ducked to avoid the pillow she swung at him.

"Hey, watch the violence," Lex said from the door, smirking casually at both of them. "This is a hospital, you know."

Chloe abruptly forgot all about Clark as she blinked at Lex in surprise. He was like a genie, say his name and he appeared. She had a brief vision of Lex as Mr. Clean in one of those commercials -- suit, silk shirt and all -- but attributed it to the head injury. Which was also what she attributed her sudden rush of happiness to.

She widened her eyes and gazed up at him, trying to hide the unexpected emotions from seeing him under the cover of attitude. "Let me think -- lousy food, gross smell, people poking needles in you... Wow, Lex, I think you're right. This *is* a hospital."

Take *that*, Lex 'Takes Three Days to Visit' Luthor.

Lex either missed the subtext or ignored it; his smirk just got wider. "You're definitely feeling better." He settled himself into the second visitor's chair without waiting for an invitation. "I'm sorry I couldn't come by to see you sooner, Chloe, but things have been a little insane. Nice PJs."

"Thank you." She could smell Lex's aftershave, and it kicked off a really vivid memory of leaning against his shoulder while he took her shirt off. Of course, she'd have to remember that. And, of course, he'd show up again when she was wearing her shooting star flannel pajamas. "Hospital gowns were designed by sadists and voyeurs. I'm thinking about doing an investigative report."

"I'll take your word for it." He relaxed back in his chair like he owned the place; actually, given how much money LuthorCorp had donated, he probably did. If he put his feet on her bed, she was going to kick him. "Has everyone been treating you all right? I've been getting status reports, but it's hard to tell through the medicalese."

"Everyone who's *shown up* has treated me great." So much for subtlety. She did fight back a pout, managing a pretty good glare instead.

Lex looked simultaneously surprised, wounded and innocent, none of the expressions even a little bit convincing. "I called your father. And sent flowers. And I'm here now."

She resisted the urge to throw her pillow at him, and shoved it back behind her instead, sighing, "I suppose that counts for something." Clark choked and Lex raised his eyebrows, but didn't otherwise react. Damn it. "So, are you here to tell me why I've got a hole in my head and a very unattractive bald spot?"

"Hey, bald is sexy," Lex informed her easily. "Trust me on this."

"Give, Lex," she demanded. Clark sat up straighter, looking just as interested.

Lex didn't move from his relaxed sprawl. "The official version is that two of my security guards -- I believe you met them, Clark -- decided they could make more money by ransoming me than working for me. They took you," he told Chloe, "because you were with me and they didn't want to leave any witnesses. Dominick, one of my father's flunkies, stumbled onto the plot, if you really want to call it that, and pretended to go along with them long enough to find me. Us. He forgot to tell anyone else, though, so he was lucky Clark showed up when he did."

Clark shifted uncomfortably under Lex's sideways glance, and Chloe leveled a narrow-eyed look of her own at her friend. "Well, you know Clark," she smiled pointedly, "always in the wrong place at the right time."

Clark turned a dull shade of red and hunched down into his shirt. "Yeah. Well, I'm just glad I happened to be in the right place this time, to help you guys. But I should, um, probably get home. I've got chores. And stuff."

He made it clumsily to his feet and leaned over to kiss Chloe's forehead; she closed her eyes and enjoyed it. "I'll see you tomorrow after school," he told her on his way out.

"It's a date." She waited until the door closed behind him before looking at Lex. "Have you ever noticed how really *bad* Clark is at lying?"

"I think everyone's noticed that," Lex said, looking amused. She decided to believe it was at Clark's expense and not at hers.

Of course, now that Clark was gone, she was once again trapped in a room, alone, with Lex Luthor. What did you say to someone who took care of you for 16 hours, then mostly ignored you for three days, then came into your hospital room without even giving you any warning? "Thanks for the flowers."

"You're welcome. It seemed like the least I could do."

She drummed her fingers on her textbook, wishing he looked uncomfortable, or worried, or annoyed, or *anything* other than relaxed and neutral. Very neutral, considering one of her other really vivid memories was snuggling up against his chest. Throwing the textbook at him was starting to look like a real option. "You could have visited. That would have been good."

His eyes suddenly flicked away from hers, and his jaw tightened. Wow, we have expression, she thought. "Yeah. I'm sorry, it was.... Things were really crazy. I dropped by a few times, but you were asleep." He smiled suddenly, a considerably more real smile than the smirks he'd been sporting. "I figured I'd kept you awake long enough."

"In more way than one." She bit her lip, and traced patterns on the textbook with a finger. "Well... I'm glad you came. And the flowers are really nice."

He lifted one shoulder casually. "I told the guy at the shop I needed something really unique. He came through."

"Yes. He did. They're nice."

The absurdity of the stilted little conversation, after everything they'd been through, struck her at the same time that it did Lex; their eyes met, and she started giggling as he started laughing.

"Can we just say that I'm a jerk for not coming sooner, and leave it at that?" he asked through his chuckles, moving his chair close enough that he could offer her his hand.

"Well...." Chloe considered long enough to make him give her a 'come on' look, then grinned and accepted the handshake. "Yes, we can. But," she pointed one finger at him as she let go, "don't think some flowers get you off the hook, mister."

"What else do you want, chocolates? Diamonds? New car?"

She looked at him through narrowed eyes. Lex would do it, too; Clark still occasionally mourned for that truck he'd had to give back. "I'll settle for the truth about what happened, not the 'official version' you just fed Clark. It wasn't about a ransom, was it? It was that deal you were talking about. I remember."

"Yeah. It was the deal." He didn't move, his crooked smile didn't change. But his face was suddenly unreadable again. Distant. "Dominick put the takeover in motion, set it all up, but my father gave it to me. He wanted a Luthor finishing the deal, wanted me to have the experience, wanted to jerk Dominick around.... God knows what he wanted."

He shook his head impatiently and went on, "Anyway, it's not the first time my father's done something like this, but this time, Dominick took it personally. He went to Adams and Rumsler, the CEOs we were about to put out of business. He told them what was coming and how.... He sold us out."

"He gets even, gets to beat your father, and gets what I'm guessing was a pretty hefty kickback from the CEOs," Chloe mused. "Not bad." Lex looked mildly surprised and she shrugged. "It makes sense -- but I'm still not seeing how I wound up unconscious."

Lex abruptly refused to meet her eyes. "I was going over the last of the paperwork in Metropolis, trying to figure out why Decad had been making some strange moves the last few weeks. I wanted to see if Dominick had any ideas, so I called him and told him I wanted to meet with him in Smallville in the morning. That it was serious."

"Oops." Chloe winced. "He thought you knew."

"Yeah. So much for being a genius."

"So, how'd he get your security guys in on it?"

"He paid them a lot of money." Lex was trying to keep his face neutral, but emotions kept slipping out, betrayal and fury leading the way. "But they weren't expecting you, the manager's daughter who hangs out at the plant."

"They thought I'd recognize them?"

"They knew if I didn't, you might. At any rate, they were surprised, which allowed me to give them a little more of a fight than they expected. They panicked and took us both, dumped us the first place they could think of, then came back to get rid of us once they'd time to think. Dominick, to give him what little credit he deserves, hadn't intended to kill me, just buy a little time, so he tried to stop them. They got into a fight, Clark showed up, and here we are."

Lex shoved his hands into his pockets and stared moodily at the tile between his shiny shoes. Chloe leaned back against the pillows and tried to take it all in. Her head was starting to hurt again; almost time for more lovely medication. "So, I almost died, you could have died, and it was over money and some guy's hurt feelings?"

Lex shrugged, his eyes hardening as they passed over the bandage on her head. "Most of the people involved will tell you that it was just business."

"And I'm going to be really, really angry about that when I'm feeling better," she said tightly. "Business sucks."

Lex nodded without meeting her eyes and she studied him curiously. He looked... guilty? Was that really guilt?

She tapped his arm less than gently. "Do we honestly need to have the 'it's not your fault' conversation? Because it really isn't." She stopped, and stared thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "Or you could just and keep feeling bad, and owe me until the end of time. Maybe not such a bad plan. Okay, go ahead. Feel guilty."

Lex's expression finally, reluctantly, lightened. "No, thanks," he said with a rueful half-smile. "I get the feeling being in debt to you for eternity could be more than a little scary."

"It is," she agreed with a bright grin. "It's even worse when I have photographic evidence. Just ask Clark and Pete."

"I'll do that," he smirked, and she was actually happy to see it. What was the world coming to, when seeing Lex Luthor smirk made her feel... safe?

A nurse came in just then, carrying her tray of little paper pill cups and the news that visiting hours were over. Lex got up, but Chloe stopped him before he could get very far.

"Please stay a little while longer?" she asked.

He looked reluctant, but the nurse clucked and fussed with Chloe's medication. "It's after visiting hours, honey," she said firmly. "Your friend will have to come back tomorrow."

Lex's head tilted and his eyes sharpened, and Chloe hid a smirk of her own. Oh, the poor nurse had no idea who she was dealing with. It took less than two minutes of 'I'd just like to stay with my sick young friend' charm and 'my family donated your salary to this hospital' influence for Lex to steamroller the nurse. She finally retreated in search of reinforcements or a place to collapse; Chloe managed not to start giggling until she was out of earshot.

"Is that how you run takeovers?" she asked, fumbling on the nightstand for her water pitcher.

"Pretty much." He reached out and rescued the pitcher as she almost knocked it over. "Careful there."

"Sorry. Thanks." She took the glass of water he poured and swallowed her pills with a grimace. "My coordination is still a little flaky -- I'm supposed to do physical therapy for a while."

"I know. I hired the guy who's coming in from Metropolis to do it."

"Of course you did." She rolled her eyes and shoved the glass into his chest. "You've got to do something about this 'responsible for the world' complex, or you're going to turn into Clark."

Lex gave a startled laugh. "Not likely -- the world can look out for itself. But I am responsible for you, at least until you're recovered."

"No, you're not, but whatever." The pills were kicking in fast, and she already felt too tired to argue. She was also too tired to care that she'd be embarrassed later for asking, "Will you stay until my dad comes?"

He looked surprised. "I don't... Ah..."

"Please? He'll be here soon, and I... I really hate being in here alone." She wouldn't have admitted that to anyone but her dad, but what the heck. It wasn't like Lex hadn't seen her at her wimpy, wounded worst already.

"All right," he said finally. He sat back down, this time in Clark's chair, closer to her bed, and she turned her head to smile drowsily at him.

"Thanks, Lex. For everything. You're a good guy."

"No, I'm not," he assured her.

"You keep telling yourself that. The rest of us know better." She yawned and let her eyes drift shut.

The last things she remembered were the smell of Lex's aftershave as he leaned over to tuck the sheet around her, and a last vague thought:

He's a good guy. That's five.

She smiled smugly to herself as she fell asleep.


Kiki's fault, almost entirely, since she made me watch Smallville and thus exposed me to the utter coolness that is Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor. (Not to mention the high entertainment that is Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan.) Then she had the nerve to point me to Kathe's stories, which actually paired the two characters, with an alarming level of success (not to mention snarking). I'd had no problems fighting off Smallville fic until that point, but suddenly, I wanted to see if I could write these two together myself. Then suddenly they were trapped together in a small room and things degenerated from there. (The head injury, as Clark pointed out, was utterly necessary to keep them from killing each other until bonding had occured. The head injury also taught me way more about subdural hematomas than anyone really needs to know. Complete with illustrations. Yech.)

Making this into a series? Well... Chloe is way too much fun (and way too much like me for anyone's comfort). And I love Lex. I adore Lex. I don't want Lex to grow up and become evil (unless he also grows up and becomes John Shea. That's acceptable. Oh yes). So... we'll see.

Christina Kamnikar encouraged me all the way through writing this, supplied me with my villain and helped untangle the motivations, and is actively rallying for a series based from here. Teleri Beaty came through on the beta, with some enormously helpful observations on Lex (who she says she doesn't grok yet; I beg to differ), not to mention forcing me to break the entire story into pieces and put it back together to fix the &*%#& pacing. And Kathe encouraged me to strike out on the trail she blazed -- you're still on my list, lady.

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