Title: Charm City
Notes: Written for kormanfan's Smallville Flash Fiction Challenge. I was assigned andariell, who assigned me the pairing of Chloe/Lex, and the guideline that the fic should involve dancing, one way or another -- "horizontal mambo counts" -- she cutely added. I ended up here, with no horizontal mambo (at least not in this version, which is a last minute hack-up of what was originally a much longer, structurally hellish piece),but instead this...dancing in another way.
Lex leaned back in the booth and turned his face to the window. The skin of his scalp clung irritatingly to the leather and he grimaced. All of Baltimore was sweaty from the humidity and it was currently hotter than any ten pm had a right to be. Lex swallowed the last of his beer and signaled to the waitress for another. Rain spattered the sidewalk outside and plinked into the night-blackened puddles on Chester Street. He'd been waiting for the better part of an hour, though the label "better" was debatable.
The heavy oak door swung open and a woman walked in. She closed her umbrella and shook her hair from her eyes. Her black boots were shiny with rain and clicked against the linoleum as she strode purposefully towards Lex.
"You look good," he said as she slid in across from him.
"Yes, I do." She flagged down the waitress, "Hi Rita, I'll have my usual. Thanks."
Chloe's hair was darker than it was the last time Lex saw her. She was still blonde, but now sported a warm caramel shade Lex would bet was her natural color. She was still all blue green eyes and pale skin like milk, radiant and sharp though her face had taken on its share of lines over the past decade.
"Did you know that the first umbrella manufactured in America was made right here in Balto in 1828?"
"No, I didn't know that, Miss Sullivan. Did you send word for me to fly out to this coast as soon as possible to regale me with Charm City trivia?"
She chuckled. Just a little. It was an open mouthed sound accompanied by the dart of her tongue running across her teeth. Chloe had an air about her that Lex wasn't used to. It screamed confident as hell and thrummed steadily along on a current of sexsexsex. Lex was interested, and a little concerned.
"I called you here," Chloe took a sip of dark beer, "because I have information I believe you'd find interesting."
"Ah, so you're taking time off your busy beat as Baltimore's foremost third page crime reporter to pass along some info to me regarding what?" Lex grinned.
Chloe swallowed hard and leaned across the table. Her voice was low and throaty, and it shot straight through Lex's shit eating smile and into his pants.
"Look Lex," She purred, "I didn't particularly know why I wanted to pass this along to you either, but then I remembered when you used to care about things that weren't green, and when I used to use the facts that came across my desk to help the people I care about, and I opted for the high road."
Lex drained his beer again and stood up, tossing a twenty down on the condensation-spattered tabletop.
"The whole dance looks good on you, Chloe...I'm just not sure you've got all the steps down. Call me back when you've gotten good at the noir drama thing."
"Wait a goddamn minute, Lex." She stood and grabbed a handful of Lex's shirt. She pulled him back into her chest and spoke close to his ear. "I've been sitting on this for longer than your concussion-addled brain can scroll back. Now, sit down and hear what I've got for you or walk away and wake up tomorrow with all the headlines talking about the suave society bigwig's secret comic book stash and action figure addiction."
She let go and eased herself back behind her drink.
Lex ducked back into the booth with a sssshht of his pants sliding over the dark leather.
"You were saying something about information, Chloe?"
Chloe stifled a smile, took a deep breath and sat up straighter, "Your father--"
"Jesus," he banged a fist lightly on the table and looked up with an exaggerated sneer, "why do all my clandestine meetings with beautiful women start out that way?"
"I'm sorry. My father...what? Is personally killing off every remaining California condor in the world? Oh no, wait...he's, uh, he's started a top-secret plot to decimate the American beet industry because of a personal grudge he has against Borscht. Chloe. Nothing he's doing can surprise me. Nothing he's doing I don't already know about. Furthermore, my actual level of care regarding any of his actions? It's somewhere below nonexistent."
Someone broke a new game of 8 ball to Lex's right and he looked over, just to avoid contact with the sudden chill of Chloe's stare.
"Lex." She hadn't blinked. Her jaw was set and sharp, but her voice was soft.
He looked down, traced the soggy edge of his cocktail napkin with his thumb, then looked up at her. She pulled a manila envelope from her bag and set it in front of her.
"Do you think of me as a journalist, Lex?"
A slow smirk pulled at the corner of Lex's mouth, and he crumbled the napkin. "I do, Chloe...I have since a time when we were both markedly younger and less haggard than we are now."
"Good. But what I have to talk to you about has nothing to do with what I do. It has nothing to do with you."
"It has to do with my father--"
"It has to do with Clark."
Lex sucked the inside of his cheek and leaned back.
"What information could you possibly have for me?"
Chloe leaned forward on her elbows, lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper that Lex knew was sexy but couldn't appreciate, as he was currently busy being pissed off at the conversation's turn towards the Kentish.
"Two dozen scientists, specialists in genetics, chemistry, experimental biotechnology, and more, have gone missing in the past six months. Your father has at least that many 'consultants' on his payroll whose names are anagrammed versions of the aforementioned scientists'. None of the specialists' families have vehemently insisted on criminal investigations in their homelands, and fourteen of them have relocated to the immediate Metropolis area within a month of their respective scientist's disappearance."
Lex blinked. Several times.
"Do you know how insane you sound right now?"
"Believe me, it's not the craziest theory floating around this bar." Chloe nodded her head towards a group of suited men seated around one of the front tables.
Lex furrowed his brows. "Hey, is it safe for you to be telling me this here?"
"I know the guys who own the place." Chloe nodded, "Most nights I'm the most criminal the element gets in here. Although tonight I guess you've ratcheted that up a bit."
Lex winked at her and folded his hands in front of him. "So, my father's dastardly plan of scientist stealing...fascinating, but to what end?"
The grin fell from Chloe's face, "It's Clark. Years ago your father tapped me, ostensibly for my journalistic potential, but obviously because of my connections to the wacky world of life saving and unexplained incidents that is Clark Kent."
"Since the time ten years ago where your father used me as his own personal fact finder in the great Kent question of aught three, I've remained in contact with several people within his...'organization'. Now, perhaps it was an effort to seem normal, perhaps it was just massive stupidity on their part, but the LuthorCorp newsletter last month contained the names of twenty-four new staffers. What they couldn't have counted on was a former hotshot journalist being bored enough to realize what they'd done with the names. A couple of phone calls and...minor internet privacy law infractions later I had gathered the information about the families and emailed a few old contacts within the company to try and find out what they were working on --"
"Again I can't stress the amount of crazy involved here."
"Lex, it's bad. And Clark's at the center of it, but he doesn't know."
"Not in the slightest. Somehow, Lionel knows that Clark...wait." Chloe dropped her voice again, "You know, right?"
"About Mr. Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" Lex rolled his eyes, "Yes, Chloe. The only people who don't know are the people who're with him on a daily basis, and don't get me started on how baffling that whole situation is."
"Seriously!" Chloe slapped the table "Honestly, Lex, if I put my hair up in a ponytail would you still recognize me?"
"Of course! So what's the deal with the glasses?"
Lex was laughing now, and Chloe noticed for the first time the wrinkles that shadowed his mouth and reached out from the corners of his eyes. Age, and especially laughter, looked good on him. But the smile faded from his face slowly as he looked back up at Chloe.
"So dear old dad's working on his own final solution in regards to everyone's favorite alien?"
"Well, sort of. It's bad...he's got these scientists doing things with stem cells and fetuses and Kryptonite. Word is he's got some of Clark's blood, Lex. The fact that he's cloning people is freaksome enough, but the fact that he's working on duplicating the strongest man in the world minus the aversion to the one thing that can weaken him?"
"...is truly diabolical." Lex was staring at something out in the street, "He wants an army of Supermen who can't be stopped. Who can stop the original do-gooder in tights."
"A cabal of super strong alien/human hybrids who didn't benefit from a Martha Kent upbringing."
"Who instead get indoctrinated from conception by the world according to Lionel Luthor, with all its historical posturing and soulless rhetoric."
Chloe tapped the end of her nose and pointed at Lex.
Lex exhaled loudly, then barked a single laugh.
"We are all completely fucked if this goes down."
Chloe smiled, "So what are you gonna do about it?"
Lex looked up into her eyes and quirked a smile.
"I'm going to have to stop him."
Chloe nodded tersely and stood up.
"Come to my house for a drink, Lex."
"Chloe, we're at a bar."
"They're closing soon, and I don't want you to go yet."
Lex stood and took Chloe's umbrella from her.
"I should probably wait until the rain dies down before I drive back to the hotel. Besides, I don't even have an umbrella."
"Also, you should see that the lady gets home all right."
"Also that, but I knew if I said so you'd kick me in the shins or hit me with said umbrella."
Chloe smiled, all teeth and eyes.
Lex held the umbrella for her as they walked to his car.
"So the whole 'Chloe noir' thing didn't work for ya?"
"Oh no, it definitely did. You cracked too easily, though. Otherwise you've got the whole – femme fatale, manipulative, dangerous thing down. Plus you're sexy as hell."
Lex held the door as she slid down into the passenger seat.
Chloe stole glances at Lex the whole ride; Lex stared straight ahead. They were quiet as the car slipped silently through the rain sparkled streets.
"So...you know all the moves, Lex. What comes next?"
Beyond Baltimore's borders, far past where the sun set hours before, Metropolis sat in wait for a battle it didn't yet know to expect. But they were headed west towards Chloe's apartment in Butcher Hill, and Lex didn't know what to do.
"Don't worry. I've got a plan."
© scrunchy 2003