DISCLAIMER - Not mine; I couldn't afford the motor and household insurance bills. I promise I'll scrub them down and give them back to DC comics, the WB and anyone else who does own a slice of them when I'm done with them. Story, such as it is, copyright Karen Colohan, July 2003.

Author's notes - Written for alax's Moment In Time Challenge. The Chloe and Lionel artwork was by Beresford Lane. Thanks as always to Barbara for betaing.

FIRST STEPS

by Karen Colohan

Chloe feels surprisingly at ease as she sits in front of the roaring fire. She sips her drink, watching as the man in the chair opposite her pours one for himself. He's been all smiles and charm since she was shown into the room, but she's not blind to the sharp edges the veneer of civility covers. This is someone who is accustomed to getting what he wants and what he wants right now are the investigative talents of Chloe Sullivan.

There's actually something quite refreshing about allying herself with Lionel Luthor. At least there's no pretence in this relationship. Quite simply, Lionel offered something that she wanted - the kind of opportunity that doesn't come along every day when you're an aspiring journalist working on a high school paper. As for the quid pro quo, well, he's been quite candid about what he expects from Chloe in return.

She suspects that Lionel isn't surprised by her change of heart. He hasn't even mentioned her earlier, less than tactful, refusal of his proposal. In fact, Chloe can't help wondering if he liked the way that she stood up to him. It must get a little boring when people agree to everything he asks for, just because of who he is.

At any rate, he's been agreeable and attentive to her, noticing but not dwelling over-long on the sophisticated black dress she bought for the occasion. Chloe wants Lionel to know that she means business; that she's ready for something more than Smallville and The Torch. She also wants him to understand that she isn't intimidated by his name or his money. After all, the fact remains that Lionel approached her. He wants something that she can give him, so this partnership definitely isn't a one-way street.

Not that Chloe is fooling herself into thinking that Lionel is her friend. She's a resource, she knows that. It's up to her to ensure that he continues to find her valuable. But it's good to know exactly where she stands and, right now, Chloe is of the opinion that friendship is over-rated.

Lana and Clark are supposed to be her friends and look what happened there. Neither one of them had the guts to tell her that they're together. Instead, she had to walk in on them, kissing, in order to find out. Chloe hates the feeling of betrayal that's been gnawing away at her insides ever since, but at least she's not letting foolish notions of love and loyalty cloud her judgement any more.

No, Clark really isn't who she thought he was. She understands that now, and Lionel makes a lot of sense as he talks about the way that love has of blinding people. She didn't want to see the truth about Clark before so she didn't look as hard as she should have done, even though she's always known that he's been hiding things from her. All that's changed now, though. She recognises the flaws beneath the perfect farm boy exterior and she won't be wilfully blind in future.

Chloe still isn't sure exactly what has Lionel so interested in Clark and his family, though she hasn't forgotten what she learned about the circumstances of Clark's adoption. She doesn't see the harm in asking him, not that she's really expecting him to tell her this early in their partnership. At any rate, the question seems to amuse him more than anything and Chloe determines to hold him to his assurance that she'll find out in good time.

One thing she is certain of is that it has to be something big. Lionel Luthor doesn't go to so much trouble over anything inconsequential. And if it is that big, then it could really put the name Chloe Sullivan on the journalistic map. A column in the Daily Planet will just be the beginning with her skills and Lionel's resources at her disposal.

There's a small voice in the back of her head that's screaming at her, telling her she's selling her soul to the devil. Chloe ignores it. She's tried playing nice, being a good friend, loyal... and look where it's got her. It's time for a change.

Lionel is gently but firmly ushering her to the door, as courteous as ever. Apparently their business is concluded, for now. Chloe can feel the heat of his hand resting in the small of her back as they stop in the doorway. She tilts her head, smiling up at him as she takes her leave.

She's going to try a different way now, the Luthor way. And this time, Chloe is going to come out on top... whatever it takes.


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