Disclaimer: The characters - excepting Dylan - and the universe do not belong to me, and I will not try to steal them because then the Apocalypse Lawyer-Hounds of the WB will hunt me down and gnaw off my hands. WARNING: Contains attempted rape and some violence.

Timing Is Everything

By Dyce

"Why are we here?" Chloe asked, frowning. They were... in the parking lot of the plant? Well, sure, nobody was likely to be here at eleven-thirty at night, but... she felt an uneasy twinge. Nobody was likely to be here.

"Well, you don't want to go home yet, do you?" Dylan smiled at her. She usually thought that smile was cute. Now it was occurring to her that she really hadn't known this guy long, and they were in an empty parking lot together, in his car.

"Well, yeah, actually I do. Really tired. Things planned for tomorrow." She managed an uncertain smile. "It's getting pretty late."

"Sure. I understand." He nodded, and she relaxed a bit. Okay, the sheer stress of prom night was obviously getting to her. "But since your father will have a heart attack if we wind up parked outside your house for twenty minutes, any chance of a goodnight kiss now?"

"Sure. Why not." He WAS really cute... almost as sexy as Clark, although they looked nothing alike. And they'd had a lot of fun tonight... she really shouldn't be so suspicious...

The kissing was nice. He was good at it, and there was this thing he sometimes did with her neck that just made her toes curl...

The wandering hands, on the other hand, weren't so nice. After politely pushing them away once, then rather less politely the second time, she pulled away. "Okay, quit that," she said flatly. "You've had your goodnight kiss... and your goodnight grope, which I did NOT say was okay... and that's it. I wanna go home now."

He sighed, rubbing a hand through his blond hair. "C'mon, Chloe," he said, giving her a hurt look. "Will you stop being so uptight? I thought we were having a good time." He smiled, and rested a meaningful hand on her knee. "And it can be even better, believe me."

Chloe just stared at him in shock. He... what in the WORLD could make him think that she'd... she hardly knew him! They'd only been dating for three weeks! "No, it can't," she said flatly. "I wanna go home NOW."

"Oh, for crying out loud." He gave her the mournful look that she usually found so appealing. "Things've been going pretty well, haven't they? I mean, we've had a great night..."

"We were. Up until now." She waited for a second. He didn't restart the car. "Fine!" She yanked her door open and climbed out.

"Chloe... hey, Chloe!" Dylan got out, too, following her across the parking lot. "C'mon, what are you going to do? Walk home? Be reasonable, baby..."

"Yes, I'm going to walk home!" she snapped. "I would rather walk miles in high heels than put up with your wandering hands all the way home!"

He caught her arm, pulling her around to face him. "Chloe, come on!" he said, giving her a hurt look. "I thought you and I were getting close. And... you know, this is a special night. No better time for us to..." He trailed off, giving her a hopeful smile.

Chloe glared at him, trying to tug her arm away. "This WAS a special night," she said, fighting down angry tears. God, why were men such pigs? "Before I found out you turn into a complete *sleaze* when the clock strikes midnight. Now let me GO!"

"I turn into a... now wait a minute!" He frowned, holding onto her a little tighter. "Look, Chloe, we're not exactly kids anymore. Anyway, you've been hanging around with Ross and Kent for years, it's not like you haven't done this before. Now c'mon, let's go back to the car."

Chloe spluttered in sheer outrage. "I... you... What the HELL..." She yanked harder, trying to free her arm from his big hand. "You are an ASSHOLE, Dylan! I don't EVER want to see you again, now let GO!"

"Hey!" He caught her other arm, giving her a little shake. "This is NOT cute, Chloe. Playing hard to get isn't cute. You know as well as I do this is where our relationship's been heading."

"Maybe YOU think this is where we've been heading, but it's not." He wasn't letting go. Chloe realized, with a sudden chill down her spine, just how much bigger he was than she. "Let me go, Dylan."

He scowled. "No, not until we talk about this. You're not just going to walk out on me, Chloe."

"Watch me," she said, and, since her hands weren't free, kicked him hard in the shin.

Dylan yelped, and let go of one of her arms to slap her hard. "Hey! Do NOT make me get rough with you," he growled, giving her a harder shake as she clutched her stinging cheek. "We're gonna talk about this!"

Lex was working late. He'd been having trouble sleeping, lately, and well... this was actually one of his favourite places to be. His office at the plant was much smaller and less luxurious than the one at the Family Castle, but it was a lot quieter and more private too, when everyone had gone home for the day. There were a couple of security guards around somewhere... not that anyone was likely to break in and steal processed or unprocessed cowshit... but they stayed on the ground floor. It was nice to be alone, sometimes.

He could even leave the window open.

He was frowning at an expense account when he heard a faint, shrill scream.

Living in Smallville tended to sharpen your reflexes when it came to things like screams. He shot to his feet and dashed for the window, looking out, trying to find the source.

By leaning out, he could just see one corner of the well-lit parking lot... he usually parked his own car in the loading dock, when he was here late and it wouldn't be in the way. It was safer there. But he always kept the car-park lit, for the safety and comfort of employees and... he couldn't see anything, but a second, louder scream definitely came from that direction.

In hindsight, he would realize that of course, he should have located the security guards. Taken them with him. But maybe Clark had rubbed off on him more than he'd thought, because that second scream sent him sprinting out of his office and towards the elevator. That scream had had a note of panic in it, and he couldn't just stand there and let someone... a woman, by the sound of it... get hurt.

He raced out of the nearest exit, and as soon as he rounded the corner he saw the struggling figures. His stomach clenched. No. Someone had come here, to HIS place, and was trying to... No.

He ran faster.

Chloe was losing. She knew she was, had known from the beginning that she would, and panic kept trying to rise up and choke her. But she wouldn't let it. She had been attacked before, hurt before... although never like this... and she *always* fought, as hard as she could. She was fighting now, with all her strength. She'd kicked, punched, clawed, and even bitten. Dylan's face was almost unrecognizeable under a mask of blood from the scratches criss-crossing his face... but he had both her hands held in one of his, now, pinned against the hood of the car. He'd ripped the front of her dress open, and she thought rather hysterically that she was never, ever going to buy a dress she couldn't wear a bra under ever again, even if she didn't really need one.

He was muttering something she couldn't understand... his mouth was swollen from when she'd headbutted him... and she was almost glad she couldn't. He'd been pretty clear on the fact that this was all her fault, and that she'd 'made him get rough'. She didn't want to hear any more of what he'd been saying, not ever again.

He was so *strong*, and so much bigger than she was... She'd fought as hard as she could, but she was pinned now...

Clark had gone to the prom with Lana. She was pretty sure there wouldn't be any miraculous rescue from him tonight.

She screamed a curse at him, the sound cutting off sharply as he backhanded her across the mouth. He kept *hitting* her, and it hurt, and she didn't know what to do she was so scared...

And then she heard a noise that was almost a growl. She thought it was Dylan until he stopped dragging at the skirt of her dress, and turned his head, obviously wondering where it had come from.

Then someone grabbed him by the arm and the back of the collar, hauling him backwards. Chloe was dragged forward with him, then his grip gave way and she slid to her knees, clutching the torn satin to her chest and shaking. Who... how.... Clark couldn't possibly...

No. Not Clark. Lex Luthor, his face contorted with fury as he shoved Dylan away. "What the HELL do you think you're doing?!" he roared.

Chloe had never been so happy to see anyone in her whole life. Not even Clark.

Dylan wasn't nearly as happy. He growled, shaking off Lex's hand, and swung a wild punch at him. Chloe cowered back. It really HURT when Dylan hit, and Lex wasn't nearly as big as he was, and she hurt too much to run away...

He'd tried to hit him. The miserable piece of shit had tried to hit him... and oh, god, it was Chloe he'd been attacking. Someone Lex knew and liked was on her knees beside the car, her face bruised, her dress torn, fear distorting her face...

For the first time in a long time, Lex Luthor completely lost control. He threw himself at the bigger man with a howl of sheer fury. And Lex... unlike his opponent... had had a lot of training.

He used all of it.

He focused on hurting his opponent, rather than disabling him, wanting him to suffer as much as possible before he passed out. He snapped fingers, gouged tendons, dislocated a shoulder. Chloe had already done a good job on the guy's face, so Lex mainly worked on his kidneys, ribs, and stomach for a while, then kicked as hard as he could and broke the asshole's right knee.

Through the red haze of sheer rage, Lex held onto one thought. He deserved it. He could go all out, hurt him as much as he could, because he *deserved* it for the filthy, obscene thing he'd done, deserved to hurt for it, bleed for it, DIE for it!

The broken knee put him down on the ground, and Lex kicked him hard in the kidneys and then went down to join him, grabbing his hair and slamming his head down hard on the tarmac, once, twice, three times...

He would have kept going until he'd killed the guy, he thought later, if he hadn't been distracted. It was the light gleaming on pale satin that caught his eye, pulling it away from his opponent's bloody face.

Chloe was still kneeling there, shaking, and tears were trickling down her face as she watched the fight... beating. Whoever he was, he hadn't been permitted to put up much of a fight. She was clutching the ruins of her dress around her.

Lex looked down, the haze of fury clearing. The guy was unconscious, but his skull felt intact. Lex decided to leave it at that. He shrugged out of his suit-jacket, moving over to Chloe, and wrapped it carefully around her with sore, bloody hands. His knuckles had split. He was pretty sure not all the blood was his, though. "Are you all right?" he asked, his voice rough with the remains of his fury. Stupid question, he knew that, but he didn't know what else to say.

"No," she whispered, shaking as she pulled his jacket tighter around her. "I... he..." She looked at her would-be rapist, unconscious and bleeding on the ground, then up at Lex, with eyes brimming with tears. "Thank you," she whispered. "I... I tried to hurt him back, but he was too big..."

"You were doing pretty good. He should have a few scars to remember you by." Lex got to his feet and drew her gently to hers, keeping distance between them, his hands cupping her elbows without gripping. She didn't need to be scared any more right now. "I'll take you home."

Chloe shook her head slowly. "No," she whispered, and he could feel her trembling as he touched her arms lightly. She was so pale... shock, he guessed...

He frowned. "No?" He HAD come to her rescue... surely she couldn't think he'd take advantage of her now? Although maybe she was so scared that she just didn't want to be in a car with *anyone* else... although she wasn't really in any state to drive herself, either.

She swallowed hard. "Could you... uhm... t-take me to the sheriff's office?" she asked, moving away a little so his hands fell away from her elbows, and slowly working her arms into the arms of his jacket. It looked like it hurt her to move. It took all Lex's self control not to kick her unconscious attacker a few more times. "He t-tried to rape me. He hit me. I..." She sniffled. "I'm gonna press charges. Asshole."

Lex nodded. "Good for you," he said softly, meaning it. He would happily have taken care of the matter for her, if she'd asked him to... in any way from the strictly legal to the definitely not... but this was better. He guided her to his car, helping her into the passenger seat, touching her as little as possible. He didn't want to scare her... didn't want her to be afraid of *him*.

She was so brave. It awed him, the incredible courage she'd displayed tonight... first fighting her attacker with all her strength, even though she'd known he would just hurt her worse because of it.. and now, not flinching from an ordeal he knew many women found almost worse. She was... astounding.

He managed to drag his attention away from her long enough to summon a security guard to watch over the unconscious teenager, and to call for an ambulance for him. Although beating the asshole up had been deeply satisfying - and unarguably well deserved - leaving him in the parking lot to die of exposure would be leaving himself a little too open to potential lawsuits.

Then he dismissed him from his thoughts entirely, focusing on Chloe, giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he slipped into the car beside her. He was careful to keep both hands on the wheel, and his eyes ahead. Reaching over, even seeking to comfort, would probably be a very bad idea just now.

They didn't talk much, on the way. Once, she sniffled angrily and wiped her eyes with her hand. "There's some tissues in the glove compartment," he said quietly, not looking at her. He didn't think she'd really want him to see her crying.

"Thanks," she whispered, taking them, and then they were silent again.

* * *

Lex wasn't sure how he should behave, once they arrived. Would she want him to wait somewhere else? He couldn't leave... could he? Would the deputy or whoever was there take her home? Would she want them to?

She got out of the car, holding his coat tightly around herself, and he found himself sort of hovering protectively. Aside from the few tears of shock she'd shed at first, she hadn't cried at all. In the light coming through the glass doors, she looked more angry than distressed. Wow......

He followed her in, noting with relief that the single deputy on duty was female. That was, he knew, supposed to help.

And the swelling black eye, split lip and the coat clutched tightly around her spoke volumes. The deputy took one look at her and jumped to her feet... giving Lex a rather suspicious look as she did so.

Chloe caught that, and managed a weak smile. "He did the rescue, not the hitting," she said, biting her lip. "I.. uhm... that was my date."

"Oh. OH." The woman nodded. "Okay. I'm Deputy Myers. And you're Chloe Sullivan. You're the editor on the Torch..." She shrugged and smiled. "I've seen you around.

Chloe nodded. "I'm guessing you know who he is," she said, indicating Lex. "Anyway... uhm..."

"Come on in." Myers opened the little gate that led in back of the front desk. "I'll get you a seat, and... you want some coffee or something?"

"Coffee would be great." Chloe nodded. "And.... uhm..." She gave Lex an appealing look. "Would you mind staying? I mean, this could take a while, but..."

"It's all right." Lex smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way. "I don't mind. I'll be right here."

She nodded, looking comforted, and let Myers lead her to a seat.

Lex tried not to listen too hard. He didn't want to intrude any more than he had. If it had been him, he knew he wouldn't have wanted to tell anyone ever... and even if Chloe was courageous enough to do so, she didn't necessarily want him listening in.

She sounded so calm, he thought admiringly. She sounded the way she had the few times she'd succeeded in getting an interview from him. Clear, factual... not a tear now, just an angry note in her voice. Anger was good. Anger made you strong.

He heard Myers asking questions... quiet and tentative at first, then more briskly, in response to Chloe's businesslike attitude. Where had they been, had anyone seen them there...

"We were at the Prom," Chloe explained. "So, yes, probably half the school could swear to seeing us there."

Myers nodded. "Okay... had you been drinking? Taken anything? I have to ask this."

Chloe nodded. "Of course. And no, I hadn't... I don't drink. It makes me miss things... potential stories, for example. No drugs, either. And as far as I know, Dylan hadn't done either... but we weren't together every minute, so I couldn't say for sure."

"Okay, fair enough... to the best of your knowledge he hadn't, but you aren't completely sure." Myers wrote it down. "Right. After you left the prom, what did you do?"

"We were talking about where to go next. Clark... Clark Kent... and some of our other friends were going to a kind of after-party. Dylan and Clark don't really get along that well, though, so he wasn't sure he wanted to go. I wasn't paying attention to where we were going, because we were talking. When we stopped, we were in the parking lot at the plant." Chloe looked composed... if you didn't look at her hands, which were twisting together nervously.

Myers nodded again. "Now, you didn't know he was going there? You didn't agree to that?"

Chloe shook her head. "No. Dylan and I had only been involved for a few weeks. We were *really* not up to the parked car stage yet. And even if we were, I'm not stupid enough to do it miles out of town, with nobody else around."

"I'll bet." Myers gave her a sympathetic look. "Especially after that time you got kidnapped... when you were a freshman, right? That was a parking lot, wasn't it?"

Chloe nodded. "At the hospital. And that one was *crowded*... there's no way in hell I'd volunteer to hang around in an empty one."

"Sensible," Myers approved. "Okay, when you realized where you were.. what did you do?"

"I said I wanted to go home. It was getting late, and I didn't really want to go to the after-party either." Chloe looked down at her hands. "And I was a little worried. We were all alone out there."

Myers nodded understandingly. "And what did he say when you said you wanted to go home?"

"He said okay, that that was fine. But he said he didn't want to give my dad a heart attack by sitting around parked outside my house, and asked if he could have a goodnight kiss now. I agreed... my dad IS kinda overprotective."

Chloe made a face. "Then he started groping me, while we were kissing. I fended him off a couple of times, then I pulled away and said that I wanted to go home right now. Kissing was one thing, but I did NOT authorize any touching, and I made that clear."

"Good. That's very good." Myers made some more notes. She was recording the statement too, Lex noticed. He leaned against an empty desk, trying to be unobtrusive. "And then what did he do?"

"The usual." Chloe managed a lopsided smile. "You know... 'c'mon, I thought we were having a good time, don't ruin it, don't you like me'. The traditional whine of a guy who wants some."

Lex winced. Had he ever used that? He thought he had. But not, he comforted himself since his early teens. Nobody expected a fifteen-year-old guy to be much good at seduction.

Myers made a disparaging noise and nodded. "Oh, that speech I know," she agreed, making a face. "Did you make any concessions at that point?"

"No. I got out of the car and told him I'd rather walk home than put up with his wandering hands." Chloe wrapped her arms around herself, probably without even noticing, rubbing her hands up and down her upper arms. "He got out too, and came after me. He grabbed my arm and asked me what was wrong, and why I was being so unreasonable. I told him to let me go." She bit her lip, looking down at the floor. "He... implied... that he knew I'd done that before, so he didn't know why I was being so difficult now," she said slowly. "I haven't, for the record. But some of my closest friends are guys, so I can see where someone with a suitably filthy mind would get the idea. Not that that's any kind of excuse."

"Definitely not." Myers looked like she was smelling something bad. Lex approved. Clearly she didn't like the sound of this Dylan guy.. neither, as it happened, did Lex. He really should have broken both knees.

"Then he grabbed my other arm, and told me to come back to the car." Chloe's fingers twisted together tighter. "I said no, and kicked him in the shin. He slapped me." She touched a faint, rising bruise across her left cheekbone. "Then... we started fighting."

Myers nodded. "When you say fighting..." she said interrogatively..

"I mean actually fighting. He was trying to get me back to the car, and I didn't want to go." Chloe smiled crookedly. "He's a hell of a lot bigger than I am, so I knew I was going to lose, but he's probably going to need stitches on his face." She held out her hands. Two of the otherwise perfect nails had been ripped off, and her fingertips were bloody. "I kicked, scratched, punched, screamed... even bit him a couple of times. And headbutted his face. But he got me back to the car anyway."

Myers blinked. "I gotta say, I'm impressed. I don't think I need to ask the one about 'did you do anything he could have taken as an invitation'. I'd say you were pretty clear on the 'no' there."

Chloe huffed out a short, mirthless laugh. "Well, I dunno... if he's a closet masochist, maybe. But I was pretty clear about the 'not in a million years', yeah."

"Good for you. Then what happened?"

Chloe glanced over at Lex, who blushed at the open gratitude in her eyes. "I guess Lex must have heard me... he was in the plant. Working late, I guess. Anyway, he just appeared behind Dylan.. who had me pinned against the hood of the car... and dragged him off me. He was *furious*," she added admiringly, making Lex blush all over again.

"Well, I'd think so, yeah." Myers gave him an unusually friendly smile. He wasn't used to law enforcement persons approving of him. "How far... I'm sorry... how far did Dylan get, before Mr Luthor appeared?"

"He ripped my dress open at the front," Chloe said steadily. "And he was trying to drag my skirt up. But he hadn't... gotten further than that."

"Okay. Good." Myers smiled encouragingly. "Then what happened?"

"Dylan was pretty angry," Chloe said softly. "He went for Lex, too... and he's a lot bigger than Lex is. Dylan McLane... he's on the football team."

"Ohhh... yeah, I know him. Well, of him. Big guy." Myers gave Chloe an appraising look. "And you managed to hold him off even for a while? Colour me impressed. So, he attacked Mr Luthor as well..."

"He tried to hit him," Chloe agreed, taking a careful sip of her coffee, wincing as the hot cup pressed against her bloodied lip. "I guess he figured it would be easy, at his size. It wasn't." She gave Lex another grateful look. "Lex was so mad... I've never seen him like that. He just *went* for Dylan, and hit him like he'd been hitting me..."

Lex rubbed the back of his neck. "Well... I was pretty angry," he agreed, as both women looked at him. "That he'd use MY property to do something like that on, and... well. After I got a good look at what he'd done to her face, I just..."

"I understand," Myers said quietly. "You lost it. Most people would." Most decent people, her tone said. He didn't think he'd ever been lumped in with 'decent people' before. "So... what happened then? Did he leave, or try to prolong the fight?"

Lex and Chloe both paused. "Neither, exactly," Chloe said slowly, sounding a tiny bit pleased. "He was unconscious."

Myers blinked. Then she blinked again. "You're telling me that you," she pointed at Lex, "punched out a guy who can lift a quarterback over his head?"

"Uh... not exactly. I kicked him in the knee, and he went down pretty hard. Hit the back of his head on the tarmac." Several times, with as much force as Lex's sore hands could muster. "He was out cold after that."

"Wow. And look at you. You're alive and everything." Myers shook her head. "God must really like you, Mr Luthor." Then she paused and frowned. "Okay, so if he was out cold... what did you do with him?"

"Left him there," Chloe shrugged. "With his car. Lex called an ambulance for him, and called one of the security guys out to keep an eye on him until it got there. Then we left, and came straight here."

"An *ambulance*? Well, with a head injury, I guess, but..." Myers shook her head, grinning a little. "No offense, Mr Luthor, but you must be a hell of a lot tougher than you look."

"None taken." Lex smiled a little. "I am."

Myers grinned. "Okay... listen, I'm going to have to photograph Miss Sullivan's injuries, probably take the dress for fiber analysis, and so on... will you be willing to wait a while longer?"

He nodded. "Of course. I'll wait as long as she needs me to." Chloe's eyes met his, and the relief in her gaze made him feel oddly warm. She wanted him to be there for her. That was... nice.

Chloe tried to keep herself detached, as they went through the routine in a back room. Photographs of her injuries... all of them. Myers told her she'd need to come in again in a couple of days, which made sense. The bruises would be nice and colourful by then, more visible than they were now.

Treat it like a story, she told herself. Stay detached, stick to the facts... she answered more questions, while Myers took samples of the blood and skin under her nails, trying to be concise.

Somewhere deep down, there was a part of her that wanted to shake and cry and hide under the covers and never come out again. But she almost never paid attention to that part of herself, so it wasn't too hard to stifle it now. She didn't do the crying, trembling damsel in distress thing. Brave face. Stiff upper lip. Never let them see you cry. That was her way.

It did feel good to get out of the dress. Myers loaned her a spare t-shirt, and some sweatpants that would stay up if Chloe pulled the drawstring as tight as it would go... Myers was much bigger than she was. She'd liked the dress a lot when she bought it, but now... she never wanted to see it again. She doubted she'd wear anything like it again.

When all the samples had been taken, Myers let her go to the bathroom and wash her hands. She had to squash a hysterical laugh, at that. Having a full bladder seemed so... prosaic... at a time like this.

If he'd... succeeded... she would have damn well peed on him, at least.

She looked at herself in the small, slightly cracked mirror above the basin. One eye swelling shut, her lip split, bruises on both cheeks, her forehead, and one side of her jaw... the one on her forehead she'd inflicted on herself, she had to admit, while hitting him in the teeth with it. She should mention that to Myers.

"You look awful," she told herself. Then she managed a small, unhappy smile. "Hey, buddy, you think *I* look awful... you should see the other guy."

That did actually help. At least Dylan hadn't gotten away with it. Lex had hurt him pretty bad, and Chloe was *glad*. He deserved it.

She shrugged back into Lex's coat, pulling it tightly around herself. He wouldn't mind her wearing it a little longer, she hoped. It kind of... helped.

She slipped out of the bathroom, and gave Myers a weary smile. "Thanks. Uhm... do you need me to do anything else?"

"Not tonight. Come back on Sunday, and we'll get more pictures of the bruises. And we may need to contact you tomorrow, once we have McLane in custody." Myers patted her awkwardly on an unbruised shoulder. "Go home. Try to sleep. You've done great so far.... a lot of women are too scared or embarrassed to report something like this. Especially when they're attacked by a date, not a stranger."

Chloe nodded. "Yeah, well..." She shrugged a little, then winced. "I'm a reporter. Telling the story is what I do." It helped to think of it like that. It was a story. Try to think of it as something ... impersonal.

"It's not as easy when it's your own story," Myers said, sounding sympathetic. They went back out to where Lex was waiting, lounging in someone's chair and reading an old edition of the Ledger.

He looked up as soon as they entered, rising to his feet. He looked so... so cool and collected, even in shirtsleeves and with bloodies knuckles. If she hadn't actually seen him with his face contorted with rage and loathing, it would be impossible to imagine now. "All done?" he asked, raising an inquiring eyebrow.

"For now." Myers nodded. "Will you be able to take her home, Mr Luthor?"

"Of course." Lex folded the newspaper tidily, and laid it on a desk. "If she wants me to." He gave Chloe a look that held sympathy, but no pity. That helped. She could accept sympathy, but she couldn't stand having people feel sorry for her. It was an important distinction.

"That'd be great," she said quietly. "Thanks." He didn't ask for the coat back, and she was glad. She was starting to feel cold and a little shaky. Shock? Probably. She'd been in shock a few times, this felt the same...

"Any time," he said softly, seeming to mean it. He didn't ask any questions, which was typical of him... Clark would have been asking 'are you all right' every two seconds. Lex knew how to *not* talk, when someone didn't want to talk, and she appreciated it a lot right now. Going through it once had been enough. She didn't want to talk about it any more.

* * *

Back in the car, Chloe leaned back in the seat, wrapping Lex's coat a little tighter around her. It felt reassuring... it was too big, covering her from neck to mid-thigh, and that felt comforting. She wasn't... exposed.

Lex's presence was reassuring, too. He was still quiet, not trying to make her talk. Just... being there. It was weird... remembering how violently he'd exploded before was comforting. He'd done that for HER, because she'd been hurt... he'd really hated Dylan in that moment, wanted to hurt him. And Dylan had deserved it, for what he'd done, and tried to do...

Thinking about it made her shiver again, turning her head to look out of the window. She hurt... her eye was throbbing, and her lip stung, and her skin started to crawl with the memory of Dylan's groping hands, she could still almost feel him touching her, grabbing at her...

"Stop the car," she whispered, fumbling at her doorhandle. "Stop, Lex. I need to...."

He pulled over at once, saying something in a concerned voice that she didn't hear. She dragged the door open, stumbling out. They were on a suburban street, somewhere near home, but that didn't really register. She was shaking, suddenly feeling horribly cold, and she stumbled a few more steps and threw up at the base of an ornamental tree. She could still feel him *touching* her...

When everything in her stomach was gone, she sank to her knees in the damp grass. It felt like a nightmare she couldn't wake up from... the early evening, the prom, all seemed like something that had happened months or years ago. It had been so much fun, she'd been happy... she couldn't even imagine feeling that way now. Her stomach clenched again, but there was nothing left to come up, so she just coughed weakly, trying to fight down the crying, shaking part of her that was getting harder and harder to resist.

She felt a gentle touch on her shoulder and looked up. Lex was crouching beside her, holding out a bottle of water. His expressions were usually so controlled, she thought as she took the bottle, her mind grabbing at random things to keep from thinking about THAT. But he looked so concerned now... maybe because it was dark, so he felt like he could let go a little. There were only a couple of streetlights here, and they were between the two in a shadowy corner of the winding street.

"Thank you," she whispered, rinsing her mouth out then taking an unsteady gulp of water. He was being so nice, so gentle and understanding... She could have handled anything else, but this... she tried hard to fight it back down, keep her Brave Chloe Face on, but a sob rose in her throat. And then another, and another...

He made a soft, distressed noise, reaching out tentatively, obviously not knowing if being touched would comfort her or upset her more. He settled on resting his hands lightly on her shoulders, looking visibly distressed himself. "It's all right," he said awkwardly. "Chloe, it's..."

She couldn't help it. He was being so nice, and she felt so awful, and she let out a little wail and buried her face in his shirt, holding onto him tightly as she cried harder and harder. It felt awful and cathartic at the same time, and when his arms tentatively curled around her she felt safe...

Lex had no idea what to do.

He'd never been in this position before... at least, not in a situation where he wasn't the one who'd made the girl cry in the first place. Since she was holding onto him tightly enough to make breathing a little difficult, though, he figured touching might be okay. Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her very gently. "It's all right," he whispered again, even though it wasn't, because what else could he say? "Shhh... Don't cry, Chloe, it'll be all right..."

She felt so small in his arms, and there was a lost, frightened note to her sobs that almost broke his heart. How anyone could want to hurt her, he couldn't imagine, as he held her tentatively.

He'd never tried to comfort anyone before. He wasn't sure he knew how. Tears usually made him uncomfortable, and he avoided them wherever possible. But he couldn't avoid these, so he tried to remember some time when he'd been comforted himself... his mother had rocked him, he remembered vaguely. It had been soothing. So he rocked Chloe a little, awkwardly, stroking her hair and mumbling incoherent words of comfort.

She snuggled against him, still crying, but more quietly now. And in all his life, Lex had never felt anything like it.

She was so brave. She hadn't given in to tears or fear when she was being attacked, or when she'd had to relive it, talking to the deputy... she was strong enough not to make herself vulnerable that way. And yet she had... she'd turned to *him* for comfort, trusted him enough to break down and let her fear and pain show...

He held her a little tighter, rocking a little, stroking her soft hair as she sobbed into his shirt. He'd never comforted anyone before, never had the chance to... it felt nice. More than nice. Was this how Clark felt when he helped people? No wonder he put so much effort into it.

He held her until the tears stopped, trying to brand every moment into his memory. The feel of her nestled trustingly against him, the burning combination of anger and confusion and concern and joy that filled his chest... anger at Dylan McLane for hurting her, confusion at how to deal with this, concern for her and joy that she'd trusted him so completely. He would protect her, he promised himself fiercely. Nothing was EVER going to hurt her again. She could handle it, would fight it, but she shouldn't have to. He would keep her safe.

And then he almost laughed at himself, for being so melodramatic. He couldn't keep the world from hurting her... it wasn't possible. Nobody could ever really protect another person - especially one as courageous and foolhardy as Chloe. But he would try. He would be there for her, if she ever needed him again. And perhaps just *wanting* to keep her safe counted for something...

Eventually she stopped crying and pulled away, rubbing at her face with one overlong sleeve. "Sorry," she mumbled, clearly as embarrassed as he would have been, if he'd cried in front of someone.

"It's all right," he said softly, smiling a little and brushing a strand of hair back from her face. "You needed it. I'm... glad I was here for you." And he was. He didn't think he'd ever forget how good it felt, to be trusted like that.

She gave him a wobbly little smile. "I... thanks," she whispered. "For everything. Giving me a ride, and your coat, and beating Dylan up 'cause I couldn't, and just... everything."

"You're welcome," he said softly, helping her to her feet and back into the car. "I should get you home. Your dad's going to be worried about you."

"Yeah," Chloe agreed, swollen lips twisting into a wry smile. "And as much as I hate to admit it, he's got an 'I told you so' coming. He never liked Dylan."

"If he'd suspected anything like this, he never would have let you out of the house," Lex said, brushing a stray tear away with a fingertip before starting the car. "He loves you." Okay, maybe there was a little envy there. It must be nice, having a parent who didn't enjoy watching you get into trouble.

"Yeah." She bit her lip. "He's going to want to know what happened," she said softly. "I don't... I can't go through it all again... not tonight..."

"It's all right." How often had he said that tonight? "I'll talk to him, if you want me to."

She nodded reluctantly. "Thanks," she whispered. "If you hadn't been there..."

"You would have been fine." He pulled up outside her house... they'd only been a minute or two away... and smiled at her. "You were putting up one hell of a fight when I got there. You would have been okay."

"Maybe," she whispered. "But thank you anyway."

The lights were on... Gabe was clearly waiting up. Chloe shrank back a little as they approached the door, and Lex rested a hand on her back. "I'll explain," he murmured reassuringly. "You probably want a shower, right now, and your own clothes." He paused, and smiled sympathetically. "Although I imagine you were glad to get out of the dress."

She laughed a little, giving him a wobbly smile. "I really was," she said softly. "I don't think I'll ever wear blue satin again."

"I don't blame you." He smiled, as she unlocked the door. "Green would suit you better, anyway." It would, too. Blue did nothing for those greenish- hazel eyes.

Gabe had heard the opening door, obviously, and was there almost as soon as it opened. "You were supposed to be home by midnight," he said reproachfully. "It's past one, and..." Chloe turned towards him, and he saw the bruises, the ill-fitting clothes. "Oh my god, Chloe, what happened!?"

Chloe flinched, and gave Lex an appealing look. He nodded. "I'll explain," he said, closing the door behind him. "Chloe's been through a lot tonight, I'm sure she doesn't want to have to go through it again."

Gabe nodded, looking touchingly worried and bewildered. "I... Lana isn't back yet either. I... is there anything I can do?"

Chloe shook her head, giving him a quick hug, her lip trembling again. "It's okay," she said softly. "I'm just going to go have a quick shower, and get changed. Lex will... tell you what happened."

Lex did.

He was a little surprised... but not very... to find that Gabe Sullivan, the mildest of men, could swear and utter vows to personally kill the perpetrator with the best of them when his daughter was hurt. He was deeply grateful to Lex for being there, and considerably mollified by Lex's rather graphic listing of bones broken and other suitable damage done. As far as he was concerned, beating the kid to a pulp was an action any decent, right- thinking man would have taken without a moment's hesitation.

Lex had never gotten such whole-hearted approval for anything, certainly not for fighting. It was surprisingly pleasant.

They were still talking in the living-room when Chloe reappeared. Her hair was wet, and she was wearing baggy green pyjamas. She had his jacket in her hand, and held it out, giving him a lopsided smile. "Thanks for the loan," she said softly.

"Anytime," he said quietly, taking it and smiling down at her. "You going to be able to sleep?"

"I dunno. I think so." She shrugged, and winced. "Maybe I will go see a doctor tomorrow, though." The deputy had suggested it, and Lex had been perfectly willing to order a midnight housecall, but Chloe had insisted that tomorrow was plenty of time. She was exhausted, and wanted to go home, and anyway, the bruises would look better tomorrow.

"You will," he said firmly. "Or I can have someone come here, if you prefer." She looked better already. She had a resilience that was impressing him right down to his toes. "I... if you don't mind, I could come back tomorrow. Perhaps take you to the doctor."

She smiled, wrinkling her nose a little. "You wouldn't mind?" she said softly. "It'd... I mean, if you're not busy, that... would kinda make me feel better."

"I'll be at your disposal. I think I can go one Saturday without working." He smiled down at her. "Really. I'm glad I was there to help, and anything else I can do..."

She nodded, reaching out to touch his shoulder shyly. "Thanks," she whispered. "For everything. Really."

He brushed a strand of damp hair back from her face. "Any time," he said softly. Her eyes were holding his. He felt almost as if he was drowning in them. "Take care of yourself, Chloe."

She nodded, and gave him a quick, embarrassed hug. "I will. You too."

Lex had no idea how he got out of the house. Chloe was... astounding. Her courage, her resilience... he'd never met a woman like her.

And oh, god... Back in his car, he sighed, and rested his forehead gently against the wheel. What was wrong with him? She'd just been attacked, almost raped... if there was any worse time for him to suddenly want her, he couldn't think of it.

But it wasn't that. It wasn't. He didn't... see her as a victim. It was the way she'd resisted being one that made his heart pound. Chloe was nobody's victim, she was a brave, vital woman who would fight to her last breath to protect herself...

He drifted off to sleep that night still feeling her soft warmth in his arms. That last quick, shy hug... the way she'd said she wanted him to be with her tomorrow... maybe someday, he could hope..

Chloe remembered it too, trying to sleep. She hurt, and she still felt scared and awful.. but the way Lex had held her when she broke down had helped a lot. He'd treated her as though she was special and... and a *person*, not just a convenient collection of girl parts. He'd been worried about her, wanted to take care of her without pitying her or thinking she was weak, and that had helped a lot.

Who knew Lex Luthor could be so nice?


Note: The Smallville Fan Fiction Resources page (www.loony- archivist.com/svffr/) is wonderful, and can't be recommended too highly. The inspiration for this fic came from their 'Big List Of SV Cliches'. Er... in case it's not immediately obvious, this is supposed to be an (attempted)rape-based hurt/comfort fic, but at least a semi-realistic one. One that I hope won't make survivors want to bite off my face.