Author's Note: This is set mid-third season, after Lex's stay in the asylum and before the death of Chloe's father. I'm a fan of both Chlark and Chlex, which will most likely become evident throughout this story. All comments are loved.

Disclaimer: This applies to the story in its entirety – I do not own nor have I created any of the characters or settings that appear in Smallville. That honor belongs to those much more fortunate than myself.

xXx

It was the day her bedroom window exploded that Chloe Sullivan realized the severity of the situation she was in.

The soft puffing sound followed by the cacophonic tinkle of breaking glass had driven her to the floor almost unthinking. A mere second later, sprawled face first on her deep blue carpeted floor, she stared uncomprehendingly at the glinting shards of glass strewn throughout the strands of her hair that had fallen wildly about her face. It took another second for her to realize that she was in pain, and between one breath and the next she was awash in utter agony.

Stunned, mind reeling, Chloe struggled to raise herself to her knees but found that her right arm had been inexplicably rendered useless. Gasping, choking against the constricting torment she found herself besieged with, she fought to raise herself with her good arm, trying to ignore the tiny pieces of glass that, ground beneath the heel of her palm, sliced into her skin. Sitting up, staring all around, she wondered in a panicked daze what exactly had just happened. The sensation of moisture sliding along her flesh drew her attention downwards, and suddenly comprehension dawned on her as to why she hurt so much. Blood soaked most of her right shoulder, staining the pristine whiteness of the peasant blouse she wore; the crimson fluid seeped forth from a hole only several inches above her breast.

A gunshot wound.

She'd been shot.

As realization thundered through her, she heard the sound again –the distant, muffled thunder that had heralded the breaking of her window. The grey edge of her window frame exploded suddenly, perforated by what could only be another bullet. With a small noise of terror Chloe half-crawled, half-dragged herself to the small night table at the side of her bed, praying that the next shot wouldn't be the one to kill her. She reached up for the phone with one badly trembling hand only to hesitate … who could she call? Not her father, currently away in Metropolis searching for another job; she couldn't worry him, couldn't let him know that she was marked for death because she'd crossed a very powerful man. To tell him would be to endanger him, and she simply couldn't do that. Who then? 911? No, that was too risky, for as far as she knew Lionel Luthor could own some of the police and hospital staff much in the way he had owned her. She had to call somebody … Clark?

Another puff of air from outside, and this time a hole in the wall next to her door appeared with an eruption of wood chips and dust. Swallowing a scream, Chloe fumbled frantically for the phone, and when it was in her hand it took her several tries to dial the number she wanted. By the time someone answered the phone on the other end two more bullet holes riddled her wall, and the powdery debris from their penetration floated about her room.

"Hi, you've reached the Talon! How can I help you?"

"Lana," Chloe whispered desperately, fighting not to cough, to give into her suffering and scream. "Please, I have to talk to Lana. It's an emergency …"

"One second, please," the chirpy, unfamiliar voice on the other end said, and Chloe was left listening to the soft background murmur of the Talon's clientele. Huddled against the side of her bed, feeling the blood from her injury slowly flow down her arm and torso, Chloe closed her eyes and prayed fervently that she would survive this. What if the shooter tried to enter the house? The front door was locked and it was broad daylight, but anyone who did Lionel Luthor's dirty work undoubtedly knew that finishing the job and finishing it correctly was imperative. Another hole was punched in the wall, closer to her position this time, and as Chloe whimpered Lana's voice suddenly came over the receiver.

"Hello? This is Lana,"

"Lana," Chloe gasped, and having a sudden lifeline in this new and terrifying reality made the hot tears she'd been holding valiantly back spill over.

"Chloe? What's wrong?"

"I-I need you to come home. Now. Please, Lana," Chloe's voice was thick as she tried to control her sobs; it was fortunate, she recognized and appreciated in that moment, that Lana knew her so well as to understand something was wrong just by the sound of her voice.

"I'll be right there," her friend said, and suddenly Chloe was met with a dial tone. Letting the phone fall from nerveless fingers, she huddled against the bed frame, clutching her shoulder with her good hand. Feeling the blood well up between her fingers, she stared at the holes in her wall and wondered if her assassin would enter the house to ensure the job was done, and if she'd actually live to see Lana come to her aid.

xXx

It took Chloe a long minute to realize she was no longer alone in her room, and that the person crouched before her saying her name over and over again in rapid succession was somebody familiar – was in fact her friend. She was no longer upright; she had at some point slumped over until she was lying in the fetal position, left hand still clutching her right shoulder. She blinked once, focusing on the concerned face before her, and when she spoke her voice was thin and weak. "Lana?"

"Chloe! What happened to you?" Lana's eyes swept the room, taking in the shining bits of glass spread out over most the floor, the holes splayed out across the walls, the garish trail of blood darkening the carpet that marked the path Chloe had taken in order to reach the phone.

Chloe tried to sit up, cried out as the movement made her entire body spasm in pain, and collapsed limply onto her back. Lana, seeing that the front of Chloe's shirt was a vivid, telling red, made a horrified noise. Chloe lifted her hand, fingers slippery with blood, looking down to see the extent of the wound.

"My God," Lana breathed, reaching out with her own trembling fingers to gently probe the bullet hole. "What happened?"

It was an absurd question, and irritated, infuriated, terrified, Chloe attempted a snort of laughter that turned swiftly into a gasping sob. When she could speak again she said falteringly and with a vain attempt at sarcasm, "I think it's obvious, Lana … I've been shot …"

"By who?" Her friend demanded, looking again at the evidence of the attack throughout the room. "And why?"

Because I'm an idiot, Chloe wanted to shout. Because I struck a deal with the devil and broke it, and now he's after my soul. Instead she whispered, "I don't know."

"God, Chloe … I'll call 911 …" And Lana reached for the phone lying discarded near Chloe's head.

"No! Lana, please! I can't go to the hospital …"

"Chloe," Lana said slowly and carefully in the kind of tone people use for those they think are in shock, or slow to comprehend, "You've been shot. You've lost a lot of blood. You have to get to a doctor."

"I … can't," Chloe said, and suddenly her body stiffened uncontrollably in the wake of the torture her injury was causing. When her muscles relaxed, when she was able to breathe again, tears were streaming down her face to dampen the carpet beneath her. Lana had retrieved the phone and was speaking into it rapidly, the undercurrent of panic in her voice evident even to Chloe in her current state.

"Lana …" She said, tried to reach out to stop her friend, and found she couldn't.

Lana, still on the phone with the emergency operator, gave Chloe a watery smile and continued talking, giving directions in order for the ambulance to arrive as soon as possible.

It was to the sound of her friend's hushed, frantic voice that Chloe succumbed to oblivion.

xXx

Nightmares plagued her, and they didn't all belong to the realm of unconsciousness.

In the periods of time she was awake, drifting through an oppressive haze, she recognized some people. Lana. Pete. Clark. Other times she would struggle to awareness to find a stranger in her room, and she would choke out a question in strangled voice. Always the reply came to her in the form of "doctor" and "nurse" and always that reply would be accompanied by a smile meant to be reassuring. It didn't reassure Chloe. Anybody, anybody at all, could be working for her enemy. Anyone in this hospital, be it nurse, janitor or receptionist, could be her next assassin, and it was a thought that haunted her constantly, incessantly, both in the waking world and in the depths of slumber. Paranoia, yes, but the truth of the matter was that Lionel Luthor had that kind of power.

Chloe had never been more aware of that fact.

And so she drifted between one state of existence and the next, fighting always to come fully awake, to gain clarity. Always the fog clouded her mind, making her feel sluggish and incomplete – was she being drugged? She roused herself enough to ask that question of a nurse, who told her softly that yes, she was being sedated; the first time she'd awoken she'd been screaming and violent. This way, the nurse told her, she couldn't hurt herself. Chloe tried to tell her she didn't need the sedation, that she needed to leave this hospital, but the nurse merely smiled gently, and then Chloe couldn't fight her weariness anymore.

More nightmares came, ghosts of conversations past; over and over again she relived the words that had damned her to this living purgatory. Would that she had never agreed to Lionel's offer! His threats, subtle and insidious, resounded throughout her mind, taunting her, promising her that soon, too soon, his quiet promises would come to pass. She ran from him, ran from his voice, and found herself firmly mired within the conundrums of her tortured, apprehensive mind. He found her there, he always did, and it was with a breathless cry she snapped free of him and the nightmare.

She was sitting, head bowed, breathing in quick, panicked gasps. Staring at the unappealing blue of the hospital sheets covering her lap, watching as the fabric darkened here and there from her falling tears, she wondered if ever again know life without a constant threat hovering on every edge of her existence.

"Are you alright?"

Her head snapped up at the sound, and she found to her dismay that she wasn't in fact alone in this darkened hospital room. Seated in a chair in the corner, hands steepled over his chest, was none other than the very son of her enemy and the cause of her distress. Swallowing hard, Chloe averted her face in order to wipe the telltale moisture from her cheeks, and without looking at him she asked, "How long have I been here?"

"Three days." There was a rustle of cloth from his direction; she looked to find he'd lowered his hands to curve about the ends of the chair's arms. "How do you feel?"

A smile, mirthless, flickered about the edges of her mouth; there was a heavy, dull ache in her shoulder, and the rest of her body throbbed. "Like hell."

"I can only imagine." His head, half in shadow, tilted to the side as he regarded her in silence. She was confused as to his presence here; they were barely more than acquaintances –friendly to each other, yes, but it was the polite, professional, distant kind of friendship. Once, a long time ago, he'd told her he would protect her from his father, and she'd known he meant it. And then his father had had him committed, and after a bout of highly controversial and risky electroshock therapy, he'd lost all his memory spanning a period of several weeks. In those memories had been the protection he'd promised her, and quite suddenly she'd found herself alone against one of the most powerful men in the world. She hadn't told Lex again all she'd told him before his treatment, partially because of Lionel's threats and partially because she didn't want to get him involved in a dangerous game once more.

"Clark and Lana have been here almost every hour of every day," Lex said suddenly, intruding on her grim thoughts. "I sent them home and told them I'd wait."

Chloe stared hard at him. Something wasn't adding up. "Why?" She asked bluntly.

His head tilted slightly to the other side, and for a moment she caught the gleam from his eyes. After a moment, he spoke in a measured tone, "Your would-be assassin was apprehended, Chloe, with some help in no small part by our friend Clark. I had the opportunity to see him before he was taken into custody. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I knew the man."

He stopped here, a poignant pause, as though he expected Chloe to say something. She continued to stare at him, bemused and feeling the beginnings of apprehension stir within her.

"He was hired muscle, Chloe, a former bodyguard of my father's. At first, he wasn't willing to say anything, but after some … careful persuasion, he told me some very interesting things." Lex leaned forward in the chair, his features in harsh relief in the wash of dim light. "It seems that my father has accumulated a certain distaste for you. It was he that called for the attempt on your life."

A very tense, very heavy silence settled over the room. Chloe, unable to withstand the intense, piercing gaze of the young billionaire, cast her eyes down to where her hands toyed with the blanket in her lap. So now he knew what he'd known before, but how would he react this time?

"Chloe," Lex said quietly, and reluctantly she raised her head again to look at him. "What exactly happened to make my father do something like this?"

She opened her mouth and closed it again, and a moment later shook her head. She was in deep, too deep now. She'd almost lost her life. It would take a miracle to get her out of this mess, and while Lex Luthor was many things, a miracle he was not. He must have seen her thoughts pass over her face, for he sighed and leaned back again in his chair.

"That's alright, Chloe." He said, and it was disconcerting to be able to hear his voice but not see his face. "You can tell me when you're ready. I won't be leaving until then."

"Lex …" she whispered in dismay. What did he want?

"Sleep," he said. "You need it."

xXx

TBC