Disclaimer: Characters not mine, universe not mine, coffee not mine, et al, ad nauseum, shave the bunny, yee-ha. Part three in the 'I Drive The Car' series.

Note: This is set directly post-Vortex, which I've finally seen. (Here in Australia season two has just started) I know Lex breaking down and confessing to having actual feelings is a little out of character, but I'm taking the line that if he's desperate enough to talk that he'll start blurting it out to Clark in the middle of the barn, Chloe and coffee will not have trouble getting it out of him.

Coffee, Right In Your Home By Dyce

Chloe honestly did not think she'd ever been this depressed before in her whole life. She'd been able to hold it off, that first full day after the tornadoes. She'd been busy, focusing on helping to search for Clark's dad, on helping out in general, on telling Clark she'd rather just be friends...

...she'd always thought that whole thing about feeling like your heart had been ripped out was poetic exaggeration. Apparently not.

Now she'd had another whole long, empty day to think about it, and, now that the empty, gloomy evening had come, she was miserable. She didn't regret what she'd said to Clark, though. Watching Clark run after Lana like a lovesick puppy was bad enough when they were all just friends. When he literally had to tear himself from Chloe's arms to do it... She'd have to be some kind of serious masochist to set herself up for that one again. Once was plenty.

The first time the doorbell rang, she ignored it. Maybe, despite the fact that all the lights were on, whoever it was would decide that no-one was home, and go away.

No such luck. The bell rang again, twice. Leaving someone standing on the doorstep for one ring was only a little rude. Leaving them there while they rang and rang again was meaner than Chloe felt like being just now. She didn't want to make anyone else feel as rejected and un-valued as SHE felt right now.

"All right, all right," she grumbled, dragging herself off the couch. "No respect for my depressed brooding, that's what..." She pulled the door open, and blinked. "Uh... Lex. Hi."

This was... unusual. Very unusual. She and Lex were friends, sure. She occasionally stopped by his house. But she'd never seen more than his study, and the other places that everyone and their dog traipsed in and out of on a regular basis. She'd never seen his kitchen, or his bedroom, or any of the parts of the castle that made it a home, not a workplace. And as far as she knew, he'd never been to her house, except to drive past a couple of times and pick her up, and only then by prearrangement. Just dropping by was a level of personal their friendship hadn't reached before.

"Hi." For once, Lex looked less than fully self-possessed and confident. In fact, he looked almost... upset. "I... realize this sounds like a very bad line, but I was driving around and I realized that I was in your neighbourhood and... uh... you want to go get some coffee?"

Chloe blinked again. "I... wish I could," she said regretfully, meaning it. She could use some coffee and company. "I really do. But Dad's out, and I promised him I wouldn't leave the house before he got back." She managed a lopsided sort of smile. "He's kinda into knowing where I am at all times right now, in case someone tries to kidnap me again or another natural disaster strikes or something."

Lex's mouth tightened a little, and he nodded. "I understand," he said quietly. "He worries about you."

"Pretty constantly, yeah." Lex nodded and turned to go, then Chloe reached out impulsively to stop him. "Hey... uh.... you wanna come in? There's this newfangled machine you can get now that makes coffee right in your home. We have one, and it's even working."

He looked at her outstretched hand, then at her, blinking in surprise. Then he smiled slowly - a real smile, not a smirk. "I... yeah. Sure."

Having him in her house felt weirdly not at all awkward. He followed her into the kitchen, and leaned against the counter as she fired up the coffee- machine. "So... did you want to talk about anything in particular, or just fire up the conversation and let it steer itself?" she asked, keeping it as casual as she could. For them, 'getting coffee' pretty much meant 'caffienating our bodies and talking for hours or until one of us has to go away'.

"Nothing in particular," Lex said casually, in a way that would have convinced anyone who wasn't Chloe. Because sure, she believed that he'd driven halfway across town after dark to get coffee without having anything he particularly wanted to talk about. Or maybe he had. Maybe even Lex Luthor sometimes just wanted company, and conversation to drown out his thoughts.

"Okay. Nothing in particular it is," she agreed, rummaging around for mugs. She was in the mood for the bright red one with the picture of an Oscar on the side and the text 'Best Actress in a Continuing Melodrama'. For Lex, on a whim, she picked out a pale green one that almost never got used.

He looked at it and grinned lopsidedly. "You have a mug featuring big-eyed adorable kittens? What on earth for?"

She chuckled a little. "I forget where we got it. I liked it a lot when I was four."

"Ah." Lex nodded, and fell silent again. He looked tired and a little ill at ease, as if he was as thrown off-balance by the sudden increase of intimacy in their friendship as she was.

"Here." She knew how he liked his coffee, of course, hadn't even had to ask anything before holding it out to him.

"Thank you," he said with automatic politeness, taking the mug and relaxing a little as he sipped. "I'm sorry for just showing up like this. I should have called or something, I suppose." Apologizing didn't come easily to him, and it showed.

Chloe shook her head. She didn't like seeing Lex all tentative and unsure of himself. It wasn't... like him. "Quit worrying about it," she said firmly. "Friends are allowed to stop by without an appointment."

He smiled that rare real smile again. "I'll have to remember that," he said, sipping his coffee again. This is good, by the way."

"I do know my way around a coffee-pot," Chloe agreed with an air of very insincere modesty. "Just a little skill I picked up in my misspent youth."

He chuckled, reaching out to give her a condescending little pat on the head. "And now, of course, you're so very old and dissipated," he said seriously. "I think I see some grey hairs."

"Oh, shut up," she grinned, batting his hand away. "Just because I'm not as ancient as you are..."

He smiled, but it was the lopsided, bitter smile of a Lex who was unhappy, and trying to hide it. "Decrepit," he agreed, sipping his coffee. "Especially after this week."

Chloe nodded, moving back to the living room and the couch and getting comfy. Lex followed, settling into a chair, and they both relaxed a bit. The sitting and drinking coffee together was a familiar thing, and the light was dimmer than in the kitchen. Less... exposing. "I know I feel about a century older than I was two days ago..." she said, feeling suddenly depressed and mopey again. "And petty. I feel small and petty and selfish."

He raised an eyebrow, then winced, because he'd forgotten and raised the one with the deep cut over it. "Why?" he asked curiously, wrapping his hands around the mug. A kitten peeked incongruously over his fingers, and if Chloe hadn't felt so awful she would have laughed at the image.

"Because I'm so depressed over the dance," she admitted, looking down into her coffee. "People have gotten hurt, homes have been damaged or destroyed, and here I am getting all teary because my date with Clark was ruined. I'm just a basically lousy person, I guess."

"You're not a lousy person," Lex said quietly. When she looked up, he gave her that sad, lopsided smile again. "You lost something important to you, too. It might not be your house or a family member, but it's still a loss."

"I suppose so." Chloe tried to smile, but it felt as sad and lopsided as his. "I just... It was so close to being perfect. And then the tornadoes hit, and he ran off after Lana just like he always does. And I made him promise he wouldn't run off, before we went, because he always does, and he did promise and he ran off anyway and I can't even resent Lana for it 'cause she might have died if he hadn't found her and gotten her to shelter and... and..." She had to stop talking. The words had flooded out of her, and it had been such a relief to say them, but if she kept going any longer she was going to cry, and cry hard. As it was, her eyes filled and she bit her lip and sniffed and blinked hard and tried to hold them in so Lex wouldn't think she was a complete baby... A pristine white handkerchief was extended into her field of vision, and she managed a weak laugh. "My grandma always said you could tell a gentleman by the fact that he always had a clean handkerchief," she sniffled, wiping her eyes with it. "My dad carries one to this day."

"My mother always said the same thing," Lex said quietly, turning the kitten-mug slowly between his hands. "I went to the hospital today. My father will recover most or all of his mobility, but... the damage to his optic nerve is permanent. He's blind."

Chloe blinked. "Oh my god," she said softly, reaching out to touch his arm sympathetically. "I'm sorry. Really." And she really, really was. She could think of no more fearsome and dreadful a fate than having Lionel Luthor helpless and dependent on you.

"I..." Lex tried to put his inscrutable face on again, but it wouldn't hold. He kept fiddling restlessly with the cup, looking down into it as if he couldn't talk and meet her eyes at the same time. "My father and I were... arguing... when the storm hit. About the plant, and what he'd done... it was to get at me. To make me do what he wanted, and join him in Metropolis. He didn't care about anything else, not the workers, not Smallville... just getting his own way. And he didn't understand why I was so angry at him for it. It's just a game to him, an unending play for power."

Chloe could only nod silently. If she spoke, she knew she would say something extremely rude about Lionel Luthor. Lex was a surprisingly nice person, under his defensive shell, but Lionel Luthor was a poor excuse for a human being, and an even poorer one for a parent.

"He was injured, when a beam fell on him. More were threatening to come down. He needed me to help him, and I..." Lex trailed off, still seeking the answers in his coffee.

"And you were tempted not to?" Chloe asked quietly. Lionel Luthor had made a solid attempt at emotionally crippling his son, or at the very least warping him badly. To not even consider letting fate rid you of someone who seemed to live to hurt you would take more nobility of character than either she or Lex possessed. It wasn't a difficult deduction.

He gave her a sudden, startled look, though, as if she'd made a Sherlock Holmes-like pronouncement of impossible insight. "How did..." He bit back his astonishment, a bitter smile twisting his lips. "And here I thought you were one of the few residents of Smallville who doesn't think I'm basically evil."

"I am." Chloe shrugged, a little embarrassed but... if he needed to talk about it this desperately, then she would do her best to help. "I just... I dunno." She reached out tentatively to give his hand a little squeeze. "You wouldn't be human if you weren't at least tempted."

His hand closed over hers with bruising force. He didn't seem to notice it. "What do you mean?" he asked in a tight, harsh voice. "I wanted my own father to die. That's not an 'only human' reaction, it borders on the monstrous."

She carefully didn't wince as he clutched at her hand. "Lex, we're talking about someone callous, selfish, cruel, egotistic and emotionally abusive," she said, keeping her voice as calm and matter-of-fact as she could. Hand- clutching aside, Lex wasn't one to appreciate mushy, sentimental reassurances. "There's nothing wrong with you wanting him to just... go away. Anyone would."

"I..." Lex looked at a cheap watercolour on the wall, his eyes blank and unseeing. "He's my *father*, Chloe, I... I shouldn't have..."

"Wanted him to die? The man's been making you miserable your whole life. Of course there's a part of you that wants him to die." She looked down at their linked hands. "I used to wish my mom would die," she confessed quietly. "After she just went off and left us... I was so angry with her, I wanted something awful to happen to her, so she'd be punished for abandoning us."

Lex blinked, once, slowly, seeming to come back from his private little world of guilt. "You did?"

"Sure. Everyone has a dark, petty, vengeful side.... well, except maybe Clark, but he's not normal." She managed a lopsided smile. "And your dad... he's not exactly God's gift to humanity. He's made you pretty miserable, and kinda screwed up. I don't blame you for considering letting fate just... remove him from your life."

"But..." Lex said slowly, clearly not ready to let go of the angst.

Chloe curled her fingers a little tighter around his. "Lex, you didn't do it," she said softly. "That's the important thing. You hesitated. Anyone in your shoes would've done the same. But you did the right thing, and I, for one, am proud of you."

He blinked again, and gave her what might have been a hesitant hint of a smile. "You... really?"

"Sure." She smiled, and it was much easier this time. She WAS proud of him. "You put aside everything your dad ever taught you, and did something selfless and honourable. It's not what you're tempted to do, it's what you DO do, you know?"

"I... there's something in that..." he admitted, looking a little less tense and unhappy. The crushing grip on her hand eased noticeably, until he was just holding it firmly. He still didn't seem to have noticed, but hopefully it was doing him good to have some normal human contact for a change. "You... don't think it was... well..."

"Monstrous? Evil? No. Just human." She chuckled a little. "I hate to break this to you, Lex, but you are a mere mortal, just like the rest of us. Prone to mistakes and bad moods and impure thoughts and the occasional temptation to do bad. No bad hair days, though, so you're ahead there."

That startled a tiny 'heh' of amusement out of him, and he reached up to brush his hand over his scalp, the way he did when he was embarrassed. "I guess so. I'm only human, huh?"

She smiled, meeting his eyes. "Only human. It's not so bad, when you get used to it."

"I shot Nixon," he said quietly, his eyes going distant again. "I killed him. That wasn't being only human."

"Not quite such a moral high-point," she agreed gently. "But given a choice between the scumbag reporter who gives the rest of us a bad name, and Clark's dad, I think Clark's dad was a good choice for not letting be dead."

"I know, I just... I killed someone. Myself. Personally. I'm... pretty sure I've never done that before."

Pretty sure? Interesting. No, bad reporter's instincts! Being a friend now! "He would've done the same," she shrugged, aware that it was easy for her to be casual about it, since *she* hadn't pulled the trigger. "He would've killed Clark's dad. He might've killed other people. You did the best thing you could think of in the second you had, right?"

"Yeah," he agreed, lips quirking unhappily. "But I wish I'd had another option."

"Me too," she said softly, giving his hand another little squeeze. She couldn't talk him through this one. Rationalizing a thought was one thing. Rationalizing an action, which had ended in death... well. This was something he'd have to come to terms with on his own. But she sympathized, and she hoped he knew that.

"Well." He looked down, and she thought he blushed a tiny bit as he finally looked at their intertwined hands. "Uh... sorry." He took his hand away, finishing the last mouthful of his coffee. "I... should probably go. It's late." He met her eyes again, and gave her a small but genuine smile. "Thank you."

"Any time," she agreed, knowing he probably needed some time alone after such a self-revelation, especially to someone he didn't know all that well. She was pretty sure she'd want it, if she'd been the one making the big confession. "Listen... you take care of yourself, okay? I know there's a lot to get done, but other people can do some of it. You're only human, and you need to eat and sleep at regular intervals or you'll go crazy, rip off all your clothes, paint yourself orange, and try to start life over as a goldfish."

That got another small chuckle out of him as he got to his feet. "I'll try to avoid life as a goldfish," he agreed. "You... look after your dad, okay? He works too hard sometimes."

"I will. Five point breakfast, every morning." They'd gotten to the door, and Chloe opened it and then... the way he'd clutched at her hand was nagging at her, as if he'd needed the touch almost more than he'd needed to talk. "Uh... Lex, don't freak or anything, but I think we could both use this."

Tentatively, she slid her arms around his ribs and gave him a gentle hug.

Lex tensed a little bit, and then his arms went around her shoulders and for a moment he hugged back with the same fierceness that had bruised her hand. Then he relaxed slowly, making a self-conscious noise. When she looked up at him, though, he was smiling.

Then it was his turn to surprise her. Cupping her chin in one hand, he lowered his head to kiss her temple lightly. "Not at all a lousy person," he said very firmly. "A shining example to fellow mere mortals, in fact." Then he gave her an embarrassed smile, and headed out the door before she could say anything.

Well. That had been... strange. But in a good way. She felt kinda better, and she was pretty sure he did, too.

Chloe smiled, and went to wash out the cups. Lex was an interesting, companionable sort of friend. It'd be nice having a higher personal-trust- and-intimacy-of-friendship level.

(The end, for now)

NB: And, in the spirit of this fic, I recommend the 'Hug Lex Now!' site here -- For it is cute and funny.

I would also like to thank the following, for giving me such nice reviews on ff.net for the first two parts of this series: Niggle (twice), Carina (twice), everYours, Celli, Meret, sgt pepper, LastScorpion (twice), HumbugGirl, Ksorcere, and Acey. Thank you all, the reviews were great. ^-^