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Intimate Strangers

by FayJay

     Subject: [glass_onion] Fic: Intimate Strangers. (Smallville. Chl/L. PG13)
     Date: Thursday, September 05, 2002 1:26 PM
     
     TITLE:  Intimate Strangers
     FANDOM: Smallville
     AUTHOR: FayJay
     FEEDBACK: It's my anti-drug.
     CONTACT: pandorapandarus@hotmail.com
     SUMMARY: Better late than never.
     CONTENT/WARNINGS: F/F Futurefic.
     RATING: PG 13
     DISCLAIMER: I do not own these characters. But you
     know that already.
     COMMENTS: Thanks to A.S. for Beta. 

It was late afternoon in Metropolis, honeyed sunlight streaming down onto dusty streets that hadn't seen rain now for six weeks and counting. Lana's short-sleeved blue dress was thin but sober, the soft hem demurely brushing her ankles and the flat neckline just skimming her collarbone and exposing the warm, narrow curves of her shoulders. She was grateful for the old-fashioned ceiling fan overhead that stirred the heavy air into something like a breeze. The bar wasn't heaving with customers, but it wasn't exactly deserted either, and in the fifteen minutes she'd been there so far three men had tried to hit on her already. After each courteous rebuff, Lana sank back into "Middlemarch" and tried to concentrate on the troubles of Dorothea and Will Ladislaw. She felt like she was being laid siege to, and it was making her irritable; but this was something she would have to get used to again. She supposed that it ought to be flattering.

She was still a little numb with surprise at the phone call. Nearly two years since she'd seen Chloe in person, and so many things had happened in between that it might as well have been two decades. Lana had no idea what to expect. She could think of too many reasons why Chloe wouldn't want to see her, and very few reasons why she would. And yet, and yet. And yet it was Chloe who had called Lana out of the blue, not the other way around. She'd recognised the voice at once, and been startled to realise that its owner was back in Metropolis.

"Lana? Chloe. I heard. I thought you could use a drink."

And yes, Lana had realised, staring at the wallpaper, she really could use a drink. So here she was, tremulous and sticky in the afternoon heat, sitting all alone in a bar and feeling the familiar lick of strangers' eyes against her skin. People had been staring at her for as long as she could remember, for one reason or another. Mostly for one reason, though, and although she was used to it Lana had never grown wholly comfortable with the way that people felt like their attraction to her gave them rights to her. Like she was asking for their attentions just by wearing that face, that body. Idiots.

Another flash of movement in her peripheral vision and Lana braced herself for a confident/hopeful/arrogant/imploring smile and the offer of an unwanted drink, or the insistence that they must have met before, or the assertion that she was the most beautiful woman in the bar/city/world. Lana had already heard every line in the book in her short life, and although she sometimes found it charming she was in no mood to play the game right now.

"So do you come here often?" Lana's eyes widened and her startled laughter was a touch too loud. She hadn't realised how nervous she was.

"No. God, Chloe," she said, rising to her feet and grinning like an idiot as Chloe Sullivan wrapped her in a warm and angular embrace. "It's so good to see you!" And she really meant it, even though their correspondence had been patchy. Even though they had always been friends at one remove; had been occasional rivals and sometimes almost enemies. But it was surprisingly good to see Chloe here and now: different but still the same.

Chloe's hug was firm and comforting, and Lana was surprised by how tightly she clung to it. The fair hair brushing against the tip of her nose was still damp from the shower, and Chloe's neck smelled of soap and clean sweat and a bitter hint of cigarette smoke. For a moment she thought she might cry, which would be embarrassing; but she had the feeling Chloe wouldn't mind. "I've missed you," she said simply, surprised to realise it was true.

"Me too." After a moment Chloe disentangled herself from Lana and stepped back, her fingers wrapped lightly around Lana's wrists as she held her at arm's length and made a show of looking her up and down and grinning that inimitable Chloe grin. "You look great, kiddo." Lana rolled her eyes incredulously, acutely conscious of the pounds that she had gained and the softening of her curves. Not that Lana was fat, by any means, but she was different. Pete said she looked sexier now, but she wasn't sure. Pete. Ah. The dampening of her good mood must have shown on her face, because Chloe let go of her hands and gave a friendly little grimace. "So what are you drinking?" she asked, hailing a waiter like he was a cab.

"White wine. Are you sure? I mean, I don't mind getting them?"

"I'm sure. You get the next round." Lana nodded, and took the opportunity to look at Chloe properly. She looked good. Really, very good; a little leaner than Lana remembered, and her bare arms were well muscled, like she was working out a lot. Chloe looked like she'd just thrown on the first thing she found: a tight white wifebeater worn over faded jeans and a dark green muslin shirt tied haphazardly around her waist. It was hard to believe she was the same girl who arrived in eighth grade dressed in the height of Metropolis teenaged chic; the only bohemian touch today was the jewellery, elaborate tangles of interlaced silver and raw turquoise wrapped around wrists and throat. Very expensive, if Lana was any judge, but Chloe wore it quite casually and got away with the clash of styles. Chloe was wearing her hair boyishly short again, the way she had at college, and it looked very much like she'd just rolled out of bed and left her hair exactly as it was; whether this was the result of careful use of styling products or of having just rolled out of bed was anybody's guess, but Lana found herself suspecting the former. She could see where Chloe would have crow's feet in a few years' time: there were pale lines fanning out from the corner of her eyes. Chloe's upturned nose and cheeks were slightly sunburnt and as far as Lana could determine she wore no makeup, not even the signature slash of crimson at her mouth that was so familiar from news reports. Chloe in person looked nothing like the small, suited figure framed by the TV screen, reporting from places Lana had never been or wished to be.

"When did you get back?" she asked, when the waiter had finished taking Chloe's order. An easy, inconsequential question, because she wanted to make conversation but she didn't want to talk about real things yet. Chloe smiled.

"Two days ago."

"Oh." There was an awkward little pause as they waited for their drinks and Lana kicked herself for having steered them into small talk, when Chloe had evidently been expecting more - honest. Or something. Chloe still wore an odd little half-smile, like she was laughing at herself, but Lana threw herself gamely into making conversation. She really should be good at it after the number of dinner parties she'd hosted, but the look on Chloe's face pulled her up short. She felt like she'd failed a test that she hadn't even realised she was taking. The waiter arrived with their glasses.

"Do you usually drink in the afternoons?" Lana asked without thinking, demonstrating that small talk was not, in fact, one of her strengths. She sounded like somebody's mom.

Chloe shrugged and passed her the wine with a wry grin. "Depends," she said obliquely. "Besides, it isn't afternoon in Riga. I'm still on Latvian time."

A lifetime ago Lana Lang had spent many an afternoon and evening in cheap boulevard cafes in the Latin Quarter of Paris, drinking wine and water and espressos black as pitch and thick with sugar, and arguing animatedly with other students about Flaubert and Hugo and Moliere as the violet sky darkened into night. She still clearly remembered the blue smoke curling from the smouldering tip of the inevitable Galoise cigarette that traced patterns through the thickening sidewalk air as Jenny's hands swooped back and forth in expansive gestures meant to illustrate some literary point; it had all seemed desperately important at the time, but for the life of her Lana couldn't remember the details of their earnest conversations. Lana felt her stomach clench with unexpected envy. Chloe was still living this life. Chloe Sullivan was an independent career woman, just as everyone had always known she would be, busy carving out a name for herself in her chosen field. Chloe Sullivan: investigative reporter. Somehow it had all gone according to plan. Her world was exciting and unpredictable, and nothing whatsoever like Lana's. Her passport was undoubtedly thick with stamps and visas; probably a little dog-eared and coffee-stained; perhaps scented with spices and tobacco and maybe even a whiff of gunsmoke. At some point Lana had stopped being that girl in the sidewalk caf with a world of risks and possibilities spread before her. At some point she had settled for settling down. Or thought she had. Lana stared across the few feet of air that separated her from Chloe and felt thoroughly adrift.

"I've seen Pete," said Chloe, her voice carefully neutral.

"Oh." Lana's fingers closed around the slender stem of the wine glass automatically and she lifted it to her lips. Semillon Chardonnay, clean and crisp and cold, tasting like summer in another land. "How is he?"

"He'll live."

Lana knew that she should feel guilty, but in fact she felt curiously numb. Pete would be okay, she was sure of that. He was resilient, and fundamentally optimistic; always bristling with energy and ambition and ideas. She couldn't imagine anything making him slow down for long, and she couldn't imagine that she had broken his heart. Because if she had, there was no way Chloe Sullivan would be talking to her right now. "I'm sorry," said Lana, and then felt stupid. "I mean - I know Pete's your friend."

"Pete's my friend," agreed Chloe. She fingered the edge of her glass absently, and Lana's eyes were drawn to the clean, pink fingertips moving in lazy circles. Chloe's nails were short and unpolished, but very clean.

"Is he...?" Lana's voice trailed away and she realised that she had no idea what to ask. She slightly resented being cast as the villain of the piece when she knew that she'd done the right thing; but she doubted that Chloe would see it that way. Understandably. But on the other hand, Chloe had phoned her. Lana lifted the glass to her mouth again and swallowed. "I'm sorry. I wasn't in love with him." She hesitated, and then added awkwardly: "I do love him, but I can't be the person he wants me to be. I'm tired of trying."

"I can see that it must be a drag, going to premieres and openings and shmoozing with the glitterati," Chloe said, her tone decidedly ascerbic. Lana felt her expression freeze, and they glowered at each other. After a long moment Chloe's face softened and she raised her hands apologetically. "I'm sorry. It's just that I thought you guys had it all - living the American Dream and all that. And lately I've been living in places where there was no hot water for weeks at a time. But I'm sorry. That was out of line."

"I missed my life," said Lana, after a frosty pause. "He swept me off my feet when he came back to Smallville, and it was like some kind of fairy tale -but we just don't fit. Deep down, I'm just not interested in politics, and you know that's what Pete eats, sleeps and breathes. I always knew he was ambitious, but lately...I don't want to be Pete Ross's pretty little trophy girlfriend. I don't like hosting dinner parties for people I don't know, or having to bite my tongue when one of them tells a joke that's just downright offensive. I don't like the idea that Pete wants to be with me because I look right. I don't like my parents' death being a cute footnote in an article about Pete Ross and Lex Luthor, like Pete's some kind of saint for dating the poor orphan from the cover of Time magazine - always that same damn picture. And I know that isn't fair, and I know things are more complicated than that, but right now that's how it feels." Lana wasn't shouting; not quite. "If this is why you asked me here, then I think I'd better be going home." She couldn't believe how disappointed she was.

"No, please," Chloe said, looking chastened. "I'm sorry. Really. I know he's hurting right now, and I thought - but you only ever see the tip of the iceberg with other people's relationships. I'm sorry. It's hard to think of Pete as a politician, you know? He's just - Pete. But I didn't come here to act like a jerk - I wanted to see how you were doing, that's all. Can we start over?"

Lana looked at her narrowly, and thought about the long drive back to Smallville. "Okay," she said at last, and was heartened to see how huge and relieved Chloe's answering smile was. "I really wanted to love him," Lana added slowly. "To fit, you know, the way that couples do. In books. On TV. It all happened so fast. He said he loved me, and it was unexpected and flattering and glamorous; I mean, it was great at first, but six months is long enough to know when something just isn't working."

Two more glasses had appeared magically in front of them at some point. Lana swallowed the dregs in her first glass and pushed it away a little too quickly, then stared at the fresh one with a quizzical expression. In hindsight it would probably have been a good idea to eat something for lunch. And breakfast.

"He loved you, though. Or he thought he did."

"But it isn't love if - I mean, it can't be love if you don't ever know the other person, can it? Really know them. And I guess he never did, because I hate getting dolled up and shmoozing with bureaucrats and princes of industry, and he never even noticed how miserable it made me. It all seems so - false. Pointless. I don't understand his dreams and he didn't even notice mine." She glanced up at Chloe. "That's pretty sad, isn't it? All these years we've known one another and we never understood each other at all. What a waste."

And it was sad too that there was nobody she could talk to about this except a girl she hadn't seen for nearly two years, and had never known very well in the first place. But at least the last time she'd seen Chloe it had been before she became one half of Lana-and-Pete; somehow all Lana's friends were couples now, and most of them were Pete's friends more than hers. There was Clark, of course, who was still somehow single - but that would have been awkward. In spite of which she'd still tried phoning him several times, but he was always out and she was too proud to leave him a message. Besides, she was half afraid that he might not get around to calling her back. He was always busy these days; at one point Clark Kent would have dropped anything and everything to be at her side, and Lana wasn't quite ready for the sting of knowing that this too had changed.

Chloe swallowed the last of the scotch and licked her bare mouth thoughtfully. Minute beads of sweat pearled the indent of her lip and gathered on her clear brow; four months divided between St Petersburg and the Baltic states had evidently been poor preparation for the baking heat of a Metropolis summer. The ice-cubes rattled against the glass as Chloe lifted the tumbler to her forehead and pressed it against her flushed skin without acknowledging Lana's words. She seemed engrossed in the polished wood grain on the tabletop. Lana bit her lip.

"Do you hate me?" she asked, thinking about Chloe and Clark, Chloe and Pete. Chloe looked up at her with an odd expression, both angry and amused, and Lana flinched at the strength of it. "I'm sorry," she exclaimed, too fast and far too late. Chloe smiled tightly.

"If I hated you, Lana, I wouldn't be here. But I'm pretty damn glad I don't have any cute older brothers, or you'd have probably broken their hearts by now. You should come with some kind of health warning from the Surgeon General." Chloe's tone belied her words. "But then, so should Pete. I'm sorry it didn't work out. You know, for a quiet girl you're pretty damned loquacious after a few drinks, aren't you?" Lana took one look at Chloe's grin and the tension unexpectedly dissolved.

"Loquacious? That's a very big word for someone who's on her second glass of Scotch in fifteen minutes."

"Baby, you ain't seen nothing yet," Chloe assured her, waggling her eyebrows and delivering a rakish grin. "Once I've had a few drinks I break out the polysyllables with a vengeance. Don't get to use big words in my reports, you see - clarity and simplicity, that's the name of the game."

"Antidisestablishmentarianism," said Lana, helpfully. She was relieved that they were taking a step back into small talk territory.

"That's a big word," Chloe conceded.

"It's not the size that counts. It's what you do with it."

"Lana Lang! I can't believe you just said that." She reached out and poked Lana gently in the stomach. "Lana LANG just said something smutty. My God. Hell must have frozen over." Chloe's fingertip stayed pressed into her belly for just a fraction too long, and when she pulled away Lana missed her touch.

"You know, I always thought it would be Clark," Lana said hurriedly. "That I ended up with, I mean."

Chloe stared at her for a long moment, incredulity written all over her face. "Jeez, Lana. You just don't have any clue of what a bitch you can be at times, do you? Or do you? I'm never completely sure."

Lana peered over the brim of her glass and considered the question. It was not, she realised, entirely unfair. "Sorry. I don't mean to be," she said at last. Chloe snorted.

"That's the thing - I really don't think that you do. That's why you're so good at it - it just comes naturally," said Chloe. "Not that this would be much comfort to Pete, I imagine. Or Clark. Or Paul. Or Whitney. Or any of the other nice all-American boys you've left in your wake." Their eyes met, and to Lana's astonishment Chloe began to laugh. It was infectious, and a moment later Lana started to giggle too. "God help the men of Metropolis if you ever actively embrace your Inner Bitch, Lana. The poor bastards won't know what's hit them."

It probably shouldn't have been so funny, and Lana knew it wasn't kind or fair to Pete, but now that she'd started laughing she simply couldn't stop. She laughed until her face hurt and her lungs ached and salt tears streamed from her scrunched-up eyes. Heads turned, and she didn't care. Each time Lana thought she had herself under control, she caught Chloe's eye or heard Chloe's ragged little gusts of trying-not-to-laugh-out-loud breath, and it set her off again.

"Why did you call me?" asked Lana, when she could speak again. Chloe picked up her empty glass and swirled the ice cubes around absentmindedly as she met Lana's puzzled smile. "I mean, I didn't think you liked me, Chloe. Because of Clark. I always thought you and Clark - well, you really liked him, didn't you?"

"Does the pope shit in the woods?"

"Chloe!"

"Clark Kent was the unattainable man of my dreams," Chloe announced with a grimace of exaggerated despair. "The master-mistress of my passion, the apotheosis of my teenaged desire." She sounded both rueful and amused. Lana was grateful for the change of subject; the break up with Pete was still too fresh in her memory.

"Check out the vocabulary! You should never have taken that literature course."

"Nonsense. I'm a mistress of tongues. And you're interrupting. Clark Kent was my grand passion, my schoolgirl crush to end all schoolgirl crushes. He was the alpha and omega, the god of my idolatry, the one that got away." Chloe paused, and gave Lana a lascivious grin. "I was Captain Ahab and he was my Moby Dick."

Lana, elegantly sipping her wine, took one look at Chloe's expression and promptly spat Chardonnay all over the table.

"You have a filthy mind," Lana said when she was capable of speech. Chloe grinned.

"I know. It's part of my charm."

"But you didn't answer my question. Why are you being so nice to me, Chloe? I mean, don't stop - it's great, I'm not complaining. But I really wasn't expecting your phone call."

"I can be nice," said Chloe, fiddling with her glass. She looked almost embarrassed. Lana had a sobering thought and suddenly felt nauseous.

"It isn't - you aren't writing an article about Pete?" she asked, watching Chloe very closely. "Or Lex?"

"God, no!" Chloe was either a very good actress or else that hadn't even crossed her mind. She looked startled, but more amused than angry. Lana let herself relax a little.

"Okay. Sorry. I've had some bad experiences with journalists these past few months, and I just wondered - but I'm sorry. But the thing with Clark -?"

"I had the world's worst crush on him, and he was never ever going to be mine. Not really. And it hurt like hell - but I got a sense of perspective the first time I had mind-blowingly great sex. Which, incidentally, was not in Smallville." Chloe shrugged. "I wasn't the first teenaged girl to fall in love with a hot gay boy, and I'm sure I won't be the last. And he was so damned pretty. Still is."

"Clark's gay?"

Chloe stared at her. "You're kidding me? C'mon, Lana. Of course he's gay."

"Clark's gay?"

"Hello? Earth to Lana? Think about it for a minute."

"Clark's gay? He's told you he's gay?"

"Well, no. Not technically. But Pete never actually told me he was black, either." Chloe grinned. "I mean, I didn't realise about Clark for years - God, I was such a sap. But then, I wasn't nearly as worldly as I thought I was, back in the day. You're serious, aren't you? Yes, Clark's gay. And I'm over him." She studied Lana. "Is this a problem for you?"

"No! I mean - are you sure? Really? Yes, you are. Wow. How dumb am I?"

"Pretty dumb," said Chloe, who looked highly amused. "And to think I'm the blonde. Lana, Lana, Lana. You've led a sheltered life, haven't you?"

"My God. Clark's gay. What else did I totally not guess?"

Chloe looked at her with that same unreadable smile and Lana's stomach gave an unexpected lurch. She had the impression that she was missing out on a punchline somewhere.

"Truth or dare?"

"Chloe, we're not seventeen any more," Lana protested, but she was having a hard time resisting Chloe's mischievous grin. Besides, it was intoxicating having Chloe actually focus on her for once; not as an extension of Pete, or of Clark, or of Paul, but just as Lana. "This is silly," she added, glancing around and then peering up at Chloe through lowered lashes. She smiled. For no good reason Lana could feel herself starting to blush.

"Silly is as silly does. Truth or dare."

"You're drunk."

"Just a little bit. And you're pretty. But in the morning I'll be sober and - you'll still be pretty."

"What?" She was definitely blushing now.

"'Swhat Churchill said. I think. Or something. It sounded funnier in my head. Truth or dare."

"Jeez, Chloe. Fine." Her voice sounded breathless in her ears. "Truth," Lana said more firmly, and her heart started to hammer in her chest.

Chloe leaned across the table and rested her hand lightly on Lana's forearm for emphasis as she spoke, and the heat through her thin cotton sleeve was scalding. "Did you ever love Clark?"

Lana should probably have been expecting that, but she wasn't. She couldn't put her finger on why she felt disappointed, but Chloe's tone was surprisingly calm and curious, so she tried to answer as truthfully as she could. "Yes," she said. "But I think I was more in love with the idea of being in love than I ever was with Clark. It was - this will sound dumb, but he made me feel like it wasn't just because I was pretty. I mean, I know he thought I was beautiful, and that he loved that, but he made me feel like it wasn't really the point - and boy, I really should have guessed about the gay thing, shouldn't I?"

"Yep."

"Clark's a great guy. But - he wasn't always there when you wanted him."

Chloe laughed out loud. "You can damn well say that again."

"I mean, he really cares about things, and he listens, and if you were in real trouble he'd be there before you even knew you needed help - and that's great. But for every day stuff? Not so good. If he wasn't with you and Pete he was with Lex. Isn't it weird to think that Lex was only twenty one? I mean, we're older now than he was when he arrived in Smallville; he always seemed so grown up, but really he was just a kid himself. Clark was always hanging out with Lex." Lana blinked. "Oh. OH! You don't think...?"

"That our sweet Clark was playing hide the sausage with the follically challenged young bazillionaire down the road who kept plying him with gifts and staring at him like he was made of chocolate? That the reason he was always such a perfect gentleman in high school - even when you kind of wished he wouldn't be - was that he was already getting gallons of red hot monkey sex every night from Lex Luthor?"

"Chloe!"

"That's what you were thinking, though, isn't it? Clark and Lex, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G." Chloe adopted a melodramatic 'reporter' voice and brandished an imaginary microphone. "Was Clark Kent in love with his bald prince charming? Did Lex Luthor seduce the underaged farm kid who saved his life? We shall probably never know." Her smile was a little strained. "I'm guessing yes, though," she added in her normal tone.

"Oh." Lana took a moment to digest this. She felt kind of dumb, and a little pissed. "So it was all a lie, then? The whole time he was with me - the whole time he was with you - he was really with Lex? That's -that's not nice. I can't believe Clark would do that."

"So maybe he didn't." Chloe shrugged. "My turn. Dare."

"Oh. Hey, wait a minute - what are we playing for?"

"Kicks?"

"No, wait - there have to be rules. There's no point otherwise. Winner gets..." Lana furrowed her brow. "Loser has to get the tab?"

"Whatever. Dare."

Lana's eyes narrowed. "Okay. I dare you to kiss the waiter."

"Easy. And we need new drinks." Chloe waved, and a couple of moments later Lana was startled to see a waitress arrived at the table. Lana started to laugh, and then stopped laughing when Chloe rose smoothly to her feet and stepped towards the unsuspecting girl with her best disarming grin.

"Do you mind? We're playing Truth or Dare, and if I don't kiss you my smug little friend here will win," Chloe explained. The waitress looked quite as astonished as Lana felt, but she didn't seem to be offended.

"Chloe! I thought it would be the guy again!" she said, torn between laughter and embarrassment. "And I didn't think that you really would kiss him."

"Too late. Sandra?" continued Chloe, glancing at the name tag on the girl's breast. The waitress grinned, and then before Lana's eyes Chloe had one hand in the small of the girl's back and the other at the nape of her neck and she'd swept the waitress backwards. Lana stared at the tumbled red curtain of the girl's hair swinging through the air as Chloe dipped the giggling waitress half-way to the floor and then bent over and kissed her full on the lips, like something out of "Gone With The Wind". Like something out of a modern day lesbian version of "Gone with The Wind." Lana was absolutely speechless. She was peripherally conscious of a smattering of cheers and wolf whistles, but she couldn't take her eyes off Chloe.

"Thanks," said Chloe with an incorrigible grin as she set the girl back on her feet. "Sandra, you're an angel. Could we get another - actually, just bring us a bottle of the Semillon Chardonnay and a couple of glasses, will you? And get something for yourself." She bounced back to the seat and smirked at Lana. "Your turn."

"I cannot believe you just did that," said Lana, who was still staring. "My God, Chloe!"

"I don't like to lose," replied Chloe with a shrug. "Besides, she was cute," she added casually. But not casually at all. There was the smallest of pauses while Lana took that in and Chloe let her. "And it's your turn."

"Fine." Lana drew a deep breath and smiled uncertainly. "Truth."

"Have you ever slept with another woman?"

"Chloe!"

"C'mon, it's an easy question - just say no. But if you'd rather take a dare..."

"A dare? Not on your life," said Lana, with feeling. She was definitely blushing.

"So?"

" - yes."

Chloe went very still, and Lana squared her shoulders and met Chloe's startled gaze full on. The word hung between them for a long moment and Lana thought about things she'd been pointedly not thinking about for far too long; to her surprise, the world did not immediately end. It was Chloe who looked away first and broke the silence, and when she spoke her voice was a little too harsh.

"So you experimented when you were at college? Had one too many white wine spritzers one night and thought you'd take a little walk on the wild side?"

"No," said Lana, firmly, and she felt her mouth curling into a smile. Chloe was really looking at her now, harder than before, and Lana was surprised by how powerful it made her feel. She let herself remember the taste of Jenny's orange lipgloss for a moment, and the heavy scent of blossom-heavy trees in the Jardin des Tuillerie that bright remembered spring; before Nell's accident had sent Lana hurrying back to Smallville and her horizons had shrunk before her eyes.

"So when...?" began Chloe, and Lana reached across and laid a finger gently across her parted lips, sealing them with the lightest of touches. She watched Chloe's wet eyes widen and Lana wondered what Lex's late father would have given to see Chloe Sullivan, Investigative Journalist extraordinaire, silenced so simply.

"Your turn," said Lana, her fingertip still lingering on Chloe's soft mouth. She watched several emotions chase each other across Chloe's features and smiled.

"Truth," Chloe said, with her eyes fixed on Lana's. As she spoke her mouth flexed against Lana's skin in a movement like a kiss, and Lana's pulse quickened. Sandra's arrival with their drinks was a welcome distraction, and Lana withdrew her outstretched hand and smiled as the redhead set the slender glasses and the wine on the table. The green bottle was cold from the fridge, its surface dappled with condensation, and Sandra's fingers smudged the water droplets as she popped the cork with brisk professionalism and grinned wickedly at Chloe. A thimbleful of wine splashed into one glass and they both reached for it at once, and both paused and laughed. Lana took it, her eyes still fixed on Chloe's, and inhaled before rolling the wine across her tongue.

"Still delicious. Thank you," she said, casting one luminous smile at the redhead. Sandra filled their glasses and left the bottle in the middle of the table when she went. Lana swallowed another mouthful of wine and licked her lips.

"Why did you phone me, Chloe?"

"I just wanted to see how you were doing," said Chloe, but there was less conviction in her voice this time and Lana studied her thoughtfully.

"So on your first day back in the States you call me up out of the blue, after years of nothing but Christmas cards and the occasional email, and ask to meet up the next day. Just to see how I'm getting on. Two weeks after I break up with Pete. That's very kind of you."

"I'm a regular Mother Theresa. It's your turn, Lana."

"Truth."

Chloe swallowed another mouthful of wine and leaned forwards. She had the oddest expression on her face. "Do you remember kissing me?" she asked, and her voice was low and rough and a little desperate.

Lana stared. "No!"

"You really don't?"

"Chloe, what are you talking about? I'd hardly forget something like that," said Lana, snappishly. "We've never kissed." She didn't mention the dreams that had plagued her sleep in high school, or the times she went to the drugstore and sprayed Chloe's perfume onto her own wrist. Or the countless conversations she had held in the privacy of her own head. Or the fantasies she'd entertained only that morning as she thought about seeing Chloe again and her hand stole down into her pyjama pants.

"We were fifteen," said Chloe. Her eyes looked more vulnerable than Lana could remember seeing them. "You were under the influence of a meteorite-infected flower at the time, and you'd just dumped Whitney in front of half the school. You really don't remember? I was never sure whether that was just what you all said to cover your asses after embarrassing yourselves so badly in public - you, and Pete, and Clark's dad. Like pretending to have forgotten what you did while you were drunk." There was an awkward little pause before she added: "Some girls do that." From the timbre of Chloe's voice Lana had a sudden impulse to find any woman who had ever done such a thing to Chloe and scratch the bitch's eyes out.

"I kissed you?" she said, stupidly.

"Boy howdy." Chloe watched the embarrassment spreading over Lana's face and slowly grinned. "You really don't remember. Lana, you pinned me to the wall in the girls' bathroom and shoved your tongue down my throat. I have never been so surprised in all my life, before or since."

"I didn't!"

"You really, really did. You kissed me like it was some kind of competitive sport, and you were in training for the Olympics. But I freaked out when you put your hand up my shirt."

"I didn't!"

"Oh yes, you did. You were quite the butch little top. The things you said to me, Lana!" Chloe smiled reminiscently. "I still remember them. Vividly. And when I freaked, you got all pissy and said you'd show me, and then you marched straight off and found Clark. You were really embracing your Inner Bitch that day, Lana."

"Oh my God." Lana hid her face in her hands, all her cockiness gone. Chloe was clearly taking great delight in her discomfort.

"Hmm. I could never quite figure it out; you always acted so damned straight at school, before and after. I decided that the flower must just have made you act like the opposite of your real self - I mean, God knows there were enough weird things happening in Smallville when we were kids."

"You waited more than ten years to tell me this? Good God. What else is going to come back and haunt me?" She stared at Chloe with almost comical incredulity. "I'd totally forgotten about that flower thing. I mean, Clark told me what I did to him. And Whitney told me about the whole dumping thing. And Lex - oh, now that was embarrassing. But you never said a word about - Chloe, are you making this up?"

Chloe shook her head and grinned. "As God is my witness, Lana Lang. You were quite the slutbomb."

"I am so sorry."

"Don't be," said Chloe, looking at her very pointedly. "Really. I'm sorry I freaked out."

"Don't mention it." Lana's voice was shaky. She didn't know whether to laugh or - or something else altogether. "Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances." Her cheeks were still scalding around her smile. "We were so young, weren't we?"

"You can say that again."

"I can't believe I kissed you. And I don't even remember it. That's pretty ironic."

"Really?"

Lana looked back steadily, and her glance lingered on Chloe's bare mouth. "Really. And it's your turn again."

"Truth."

"Are you attracted to me?" The question was out before Lana knew she was going to ask it.

"Yes," said Chloe, without hesitation. "And yes, I do realise that this makes me pretty damned sleazy, since you've just broken up with Pete, but you have no idea how jealous I was. Of Pete." Chloe knocked back another glass of wine ruthlessly. "I've been thinking about things a lot, lately - things that I never got around to, and wished I had." She bit her lip and smiled at the table. "I nearly died last year. Stupidly, over nothing."

"Chloe! My God, I had no idea!" said Lana inadequately.

"No, well, no reason why you should. I didn't publicise it - I wasn't exactly the hero of the piece. I took some very dumb risks and got nothing to show for it in the end, and I came within a whisker of getting my head blown off. Seriously." She laughed. "I mean, the mortality rate at high school was pretty scary, but when you're a kid you don't believe you're ever going to die, do you? I know I didn't. But we're not kids now. It's just - it was so pointless, and it made me think about stuff. About -you know, loose ends. Things I wished I'd done differently." She glanced up and grinned, but Lana didn't mistake the smile for anything like relaxation. "Guess I'm getting old or something, but I just realised that it's not a rehearsal, you know? So - I'm here. Now. Not to write a story about Pete Ross, or Lex Luthor; just to flirt with Lana Lang, and see what happens next." Chloe's sandaled toe found the bare curve of Lana's ankle and brushed against it questioningly, and Lana gave a full body shudder at the touch.

"Oh." She was, she realised, absolutely drenched. And had been for some time. Chloe's mouth would taste of wine, and scotch whiskey, and perhaps cigarettes.

"Yes. Your turn."

"Dare," said Lana breathlessly. Chloe's face wore that expression of guarded hopefulness and uncertainty that Lana had seen so many times when they were kids; always cast at Clark Kent then, or so Lana had thought. And that had been a large part of Clark's charm.

"Are you sure about that?"

"Yes, damn it," she said, startled by how entirely right this was. "Dare."

Chloe's eyes lit up, and Lana thought she could never grow tired of Chloe's incandescent smile. "You. Me. The ladies' room. Right now?"

"Yes," replied Lana, half-way to her feet already and cramming a world of longing into one sibilant syllable.


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