Smallville, Oliver/Chloe. Spoilers through “Siren”, sequel to All Bets Are Off and In This Late Hour. Characters do not belong to me. I'm just taking them out for a spin.
A hero’s trial is only as worthy as the price of winning and cost of losing.
She stared out the window and into the cloud cover, teeth sawing into her lower lip, and he watched her over the rim of his club soda.
"We’re not too far out yet," he said, setting the glass down. "Still time to bail out over Utah."
Turning away, she mustered a smile and nodded across the cabin, where Bart taunted AC with a mouthful of half-chewed tuna.
"And miss the in-flight entertainment? Not likely." She pulled in a deep breath and smoothed her palms over her knees. "Assuming anyone could withstand the flattery – and by that, I mean the shameless bribery – what was the contingency plan?"
"You think I’ve survived this long by planning for failure?" He slapped a hand to his chest in a show of overblown indignation. She wasn’t convinced.
"Consider my pride wounded," he grumbled. "Had you actually resisted temptation… Tony may have had strict instructions to toss you in the trunk."
Her outrage was every bit as feigned as his. "Bound and gagged, naturally."
With a shrug, he took another swig of his drink. "The only thing bigger than that brain of yours is the mouth it’s connected to. And by that, I mean that you’ve got a really big mouth."
"I got that, thanks." It was dry, but lacked offense – he’d learned quickly that she tended to swallow truth whole. "Well you seem to have all the answers. Any bright ideas on what I’m gonna tell a certain plaid-clad companion?"
"Before or after he beats me senseless?"
She tilted her head and cocked an eyebrow, as if she was weighing her options, and he cut in before she could get carried away. "The truth should work. What happened to all that slumber party, secret-sharing trust?"
"That was before I sold my soul to the do-good devil and his well-meaning minions," she said on a sigh, sinking back into the seat as if it could make her disappear. "Clark trusts me to be uncompromising, and the truth boils down to hopping a plane after an editorial ego boost and a shiny new supercomputer. That’s something he just isn’t capable of understanding."
He snorted. There were a lot of things Clark wasn’t capable of – pulling his head out of his ass, for one – but he kept the rundown to himself. His indifference issues with the boy scout weren’t her problem.
"If you think that’s why you got on this plane, you’re lying to somebody more important than Clark. There’s a reason you’re here, Chloe. And it’s got nothing to do with the spoils, and everything to do with you. When you figure out what that is, that’s what you tell him."
Leaning forward, he hung his wrists over his knees and managed to catch her eyes. "Last time I checked, this was your life. Maybe it’s time you got around to living it."
She looked back to the sky, and he reached for the file at his side. However figuratively, he had the lingering feeling that he’d just been hung up on again.
And she was the one with the big mouth.
He heard her turn, but didn’t look up. "This practical and perceptive side of you? A little annoying."
"All part of my charm," he drawled, scanning through his notes. "But if it bothers you that much, Watchtower, I won’t make it a habit. From here on out, I solemnly swear to be thoroughly illogical and completely insensitive."
His eyes cut upward in time to catch her smile, and across the aisle, Vic backhanded AC across the chest.
"I told you it was the hardware."
Anyone else might have stopped to admire the apartment, all comfortable warmth and wide-open space, but she made a beeline for the view.
He hung back, tossed her bag on the sofa and shoved his hands in his pockets while she pressed a palm to the glass and took it all in. The city stretched out at her feet, miles of horizon and a galaxy of light streaming through a long wall of windows.
It had been impressive to him, too, once upon a time.
"Used to be a cattle town," he said softly, coming up behind her. "Did pretty well for the first century or so. Then the whole thing burned to the ground, and they rebuilt it as a marvel of modern industry."
The turn of her head was a slow sweep of the skyline, and he studied her reflection in the answering silence, watching the shadows of her eyes dart and settle on sights he knew too well – the flashing marquee above Tinder-Smith Garden, the rambling roof of The Grell.
She trailed a fingertip over the glass, tracing the outline of the nearest massive star-topped tower on the bridge, and one corner of his mouth hitched.
"If I’d known this was all it took to render you speechless, I would’ve smuggled you out here months ago."
The laugh it earned was little more than a breath. "I was just about to point out that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, but that would make you Toto."
It was classic Chloe, but her heart wasn’t in it – she was still raking her gaze over the midnight sprawl of Orchid Bay, her voice less wry than wondrous.
"It’s incredible up here."
"Not too shabby inside, either," he pointed out. "But if it’s not your thing, we can find you something else. Vic’s in the building, and I can’t let Bart too far out of my sight, but AC’s got a place down on the water."
"And the prince is in the penthouse, no doubt." She took a step back, fingers still steepled on the window, and gave the place a once-over. "From glorified search engine to bonafide sidekick. Guess I’m moving up in the world. As for the new digs… It’ll be tough, but I think I can manage."
"You sure about that? ‘Cause there’s a tenement out in The Triangle with a great adopt-a-rat program."
"Tempting." She looked thoughtful for a second, her brows drawn down, and then it was back to business as usual, rapid-fire and razor-sharp. "Problem is, I’ve already got one, and he’s a handful all on his own."
He chuckled and coughed a bad cover. "I’ll be sure to tell Boy Scout you said so."
Something flickered in her face so fast he almost didn’t catch it, there and gone in the blink of an eye.
Damn. And the distraction had been going so well.
He rubbed at the back of his neck, searching for words that wouldn’t make it worse. Assuming things could actually get any lower. Maybe tomorrow he could shoot her puppy.
Which, ironically, would still be Clark.
"To be fair, I did take a vow of insensitivity," he finally managed, flashing her an uneasy grin.
"And they say chivalry is dead." With a tight shake of her head, she waved him off. "Don’t sweat it. I’d be surprised at how easily someone of your stature can stick his foot in his mouth, but a decade of fumbling farmboy has been demonstration enough."
"And that’s my cue to exit stage left." He nodded to her bag. "Fridge isn’t stocked yet, but there’s coffee. Settle in. We’ll touch base in the morning."
"I’ll refrain from asking who packed on my behalf," she said pointedly. "It’s been a long day, and my brain can’t handle the thought of Bart rifling through my underwear drawer."
He cringed, backing up a few steps and barely suppressing a groan. "Remind me to thank you for that mental picture." No wonder the kid had volunteered. He’d readily agreed, half-mindful of the timeframe and partly because he hadn’t wanted to tackle that particular job himself. Team ties or no, some lines just shouldn’t be crossed.
Moving to the door, he reached out for the knob.
Halting at the quiet sound of his name, he glanced over his shoulder, but she’d already turned back to the city, arms crossed tightly over her chest.
"Final addendum to that contract?" Her voice was suddenly worn, weary, and for a second he thought she’d call the whole thing off.
"If she’s here, I don’t want to know."
It only took a split second to process, but the urge to kick himself lingered far longer. In the craziness of the past twenty four hours, the full extent of what he was asking had never crossed his mind.
He’d officially bypassed insensitive and zeroed in on obtuse. Hell of a bull’s-eye.
Somehow, knowing that her mother was safe in a secure facility in Coast City didn’t make things any better. Not if she’d always be looking out, wondering just how close she was.
"Your call," he said, hoping it came out as even as he’d aimed for. "Get some sleep, Chloe."
He couldn’t get out the door fast enough. Lucky for him, her eyes were elsewhere.
The smell of fresh brew and the sound of muffled speech, mile-a-minute and mildly defensive, let him know that she was wide awake. His fist, poised to knock, hovered above the apartment number, and he thought back to his last Chloe-fueled confrontation with Clark.
Sure, she was now part of the crew – which technically negated the whole argument – but he wasn’t exactly in a hurry to point out that little loophole.
His hand was still hanging there when she swung the door open, her cell tucked under her chin. He might’ve thought she was making a break for it, if it hadn’t been for the lingering look of impatience.
He’d known she was intuitive, but psychic powers were a bit of a stretch.
He raised his eyebrows in question, and she motioned to the nearby elevator and tapped a finger on the peephole, then stepped aside to let him in.
So not quite psychic, but damn handy with the intuition.
She closed the door behind him and padded into the kitchen, and he followed on her heels, sliding into a stool at the breakfast bar and setting down the bag of biscotti that was his peace offering. "No, that’s not –," she sputtered, one bare foot tapping restlessly. "It’s an amazing opportunity. And given recent developments, you can hardly blame me for exploring my options."
It was surprisingly civil. Which just meant Clark was saving all his indestructible ire for someone else. Wonderful. At some point today, he’d have to give some thought to his last meal.
But there was the ‘amazing’ to consider. If he couldn’t go down fighting, at least he’d go down flattered.
"That dream never included permanent residency below ground, Lo."
Stretching up on her toes, she snagged a mug from a cabinet over the oven. "Or, as it turns out, working for the antichrist. It was only a matter of time before he got rid of me altogether. And maybe got me blackballed for his trouble. Believe me, if Lex wants me out of his nonexistent hair, I’m more than happy to oblige."
She filled the mug and slid it his way, black, and he plucked a pastry from the bag and shot her a sympathetic look. The impending Clark crisis may have been temporarily averted, but dealing with Lois couldn’t be much better.
As if on cue, her face took on a decidedly pained expression. "I highly doubt we’ll be crossing paths. It’s a big city. And Luthor legacy aside, I don’t really run in billionaire circles."
Her eyes rolled to the ceiling, her head bobbed a rote beat, and he swallowed his guilt with a big gulp of coffee, resisting the urge to excuse himself and slip out the back. He’d put her here. The least he could do was stick around for the fallout.
"Is that a hypothetical in the name of avoidance, or wishful thinking on your part?" She listened for a minute, brows drawn down, then threw one hand in the air. "Then I guess I’ll just lie in the alley and bleed."
He choked on his coffee, which netted him a withering glare – apparently, choking should be silent. Guess he’d been doing it wrong all these years.
She pinched the bridge of her nose between two fingers, dropping her chin to her chest.
"This is actually not the best time to talk about this," she half-groaned. "I’ll call you later, okay?" Her head came up with a jerk, panic etched in her features. He couldn’t say he liked the look. "And don’t… I mean, if you happen to see Clark… I just need to talk to him myself. Lois?"
Yanking her hand away from her ear, she frowned down at her phone, then tossed it to the counter with a sigh. "That could’ve gone better."
Indeed. He’d bet most of his majority shareholdings that Lois would be beating down the farmhouse door before their coffee was even cold. Guess that last meal would be blueberry biscotti. "And with bleeding, no less," he scoffed. "What was that about?"
Her mouth twisted, lips settling somewhere between sardonic and long-suffering. "Lois had a little chat with me regarding your suddenly not-so-secret identity. I did point out that I wasn’t the only one to catch a glimpse of your arrow-rich arsenal, but apparently she doesn’t put much stock in Clark’s capability to connect the dots."
"Lois, defending my honor. I can only imagine how that went." He chewed thoughtfully, swallowed around a mouthful that seemed drier than the last. "She’s put a lot of trust in you."
"Or she’s put a lot of faith in you. Seems to be going around these days." Her eyes found his, locked on, and there was a lot to translate in the long moment between blinks – the shrewd comprehension he’d always seen, the sly amusement he’d only recently learned to look for. And a warning, gentle but firm. Unmistakable.
He nodded, almost imperceptibly, but those eyes never missed a thing.
"Either way, both points will be moot if she ever finds out that my being here is less geographic coincidence than running off to play superhero with the guy who left her crying into a vat of Ben & Jerry’s." Moving forward, she propped her elbows on the countertop and leaned down on crossed arms. "Then I’d just have to tell Clark that I abandoned him to climb the sidekick ladder, and all my ties would be broken."
"Let's try to avoid that first part," he said, wincing a little. "As for the Boy Scout, who knows? Maybe seeing you join the ranks will light a fire under all that flannel. Get him to see what an integral part of the team he would be. With all he can do… I’m not even sure I know everything he can do."
"I have a sneaking suspicion that Clark doesn’t even know the full extent of it. Every few months he pops up with some shiny new ability to master," she muttered. "It’s like super-powered puberty."
"Or PMS." It earned him a glare, however half-hearted, and he shrugged. Still, he had to admit that he was curious. And had been for awhile.
Pulling his brows together, he let his mouth fall open, and she cut him off with a succinct shake of her head.
"Sorry, Robin Hood. Clark’s secrets aren’t mine to share."
Her tone left no room for argument, and he raised his palms in quick surrender. Maybe she was a little psychic.
"Fair enough. Can’t say I hate the attitude. Bodes well, considering they’re far from the only ones you know." He polished off his coffee, and she poured herself a fresh cup. "And assuming that Clark hopping on the bandwagon is wishful thinking on my part, I guess we should brace ourselves for the fallout." He figured the kid could make the trip in about four minutes flat. Not enough time to batten down the hatches – or fortify the building – but if his erstwhile ex ranted long enough, he might at least be able to change out of his sweats.
For the first time, Chloe looked confused. "What, the Lois Lane hang-up of doom?" She waved a hand in clear dismissal, stirring cream into her coffee. "I asked her not to, and she won’t. That trust goes both ways, Oliver. Clark’s still my problem to deal with."
She smiled over the rim of her mug, but there was no humor in it. "Besides, this is Lois we’re talking about. If she couldn’t talk any sense into me, I highly doubt she expects tattling to Clark to make any difference. She wouldn’t risk adding insult to injury even if it would. There are fish bigger then farmboys to fry here. And I guarantee you that Lois has other immediate plans for subversion."
Behind her, the cell she’d cast aside chirped and skidded its way across the granite, and she took a long sip, eyes squeezing shut in the seconds before she reached for it.
"Sometimes I hate being right," she said flatly, retrieving the call and raising the phone to her ear, voice morphing into something so falsely-bright it was brittle.
"Hi, Uncle Sam."