The Autumn People

by jenn

Author Notes: Victoria's birthday fic. Livia's challenge. My penance. To Kathe, Meret, and Melinda, who did all the cutting and dicing and fixing. hugs

Disclaimer: I don't own, yadda, yadda, yadda, don't sue, blah blah blah.

Archiving: Level_Three only. Ask otherwise.

She sees him from less than ten feet away, only a broken sidewalk between them--half-leaning against crumbling ancient brick, a little too designer-chic for the neighborhood. Even slumming out of suits and into jeans, no one, she thinks, couldn't pick him out of a crowd. Bald head, pale skin, low voice, and cool arrogance--Lex Luthor is a full sensory experience.

But somehow, he never catches the attention of the pedestrians who pass hurriedly between them, all shabby coats and suspicious glances at the sky. The sharp pain in her hip from her sudden stop reminds her of the gun she's taken to carrying, standard extra equipment since her job took her to the wrong side of the tracks one too many times for one too many close calls.

It's not the best part of town for anyone, much less for a last name worth a billion a letter, but he doesn't look uncomfortable. Waiting, maybe, though God only knows for what, and she's surprised when he flicks ash onto the ground, because she doesn't remember him smoking.

And she remembers a lot of things.

"Going to say hi, Miss Sullivan?"

She'd swear he hadn't once looked up.

The streetlights are bright enough to navigate the cracked sidewalk to the edge of the alley, and she lets her feet carry her, glad for the hundredth time that heels were never her shoe of choice. She stumbles anyway, hand scraping the brick by his shoulder, cold and a little slick under her fingers from the weeks of rain. He doesn't move to help her, head tilting just a little like he's amused, but the smirk she expects isn't anywhere on his face.

"I didn't think I'd see you out here." Which is an understatement, but the best she can do, and a palpable awkwardness settles between them that he makes no attempt to ease. Blue eyes flicker over her, fast and impersonal, and Chloe searches for the last conversation she had with her father about his work. About--Lex Luthor. Anything. Everything.

Nothing's coming up, and she runs damp palms down the front of her jeans.

"Another expose on a LexCorp-owned apartment complex and bad management practices? Right here." Lex kicks his heel into the building, startlingly loud even over the sounds of traffic and urban nightlife around them. "Feel free."

"Not everything's about you." At least, not tonight. Chloe fumbles for her notepad, patting down coat and jean pockets, wishing she'd never taken this interview in this kind of weather. Metropolis in the worst part of fall, all drizzling rain and grey skies even outside the red light district of the city.

"Wouldn't know it by your headlines." He smokes like he does everything else, with movie-star grace like it's just another performance. She's been tempted for years to ask if everything he did was polished in front of a mirror before making a public appearance, and it tickles her now just to imagine it.

He's right, though, and she supposes it's some kind of miracle he's talking to her at all--she knows his security has had her listed as no admittance even to the most open of the LexCorp functions. Her reputation was made at the expense of his. "What are you doing here?"

"Crack dealer," he answers with the ghost of a smirk, and then drops the cigarette, giving it a thoughtful look before his heel presses down, grinding the butt into sticky concrete. "Bad neighborhood." He says it like he's commenting on the weather, but she bristles anyway.

"I can take care of myself." She's tired of being told female reporters with a taste for the seamier side of journalism often have short life spans. The gun reminds her every day.

"You think that's enough?" Faster than she's ever been able to move, liquid in motion, and she's against the wall, wet cold seeping through her cheap coat, warm, too-solid body against hers. Lex's hand slides into the waist of her jeans, hand on the butt of the gun. Years of self-defense bring her knee up, fists ready, but he evades her a little too casually and steps back, palming her gun. He studies it with more interest than he's ever directed at her. "Pretty toy."

"Blow a hole in your ass if you ever touch me again." She's breathing too fast, heart trip-hammer in her throat, and she means it. Every word.

The smile is sharp and meant to cut. "At this point, I'm not worried." Casual flicker of his finger over the safety before he resets it and offers it butt-first. "I'm impressed. Most people refuse to carry one."

She's a lot of things, liberal among them, but she's not entirely stupid. Warily, she replaces it, letting her shirt fall naturally over it before fixing her coat. "Thanks."

"Anytime." Stepping back, he surveys the area like he's just figured out where he is. "So what are you doing here?"

"Contact," she answers briefly, and right, her notepad's in her left jacket pocket. Dammit. Pulling it out, she glances up to find Lex watching her again, and it's--not entirely impersonal now. "Nothing to do with LexCorp. Drug dealer." Shouldn't have said anything at all, but Lex nods like he expected as much. "An hour ago."

"Then you're about an hour and a half too late." Shoving elegant hands into the wide pockets of his jeans, he surveys the quiet street with another smile.

"What?" This night can't get worse. It just can't.

"Little round-up of this area--apparently, Superman is expanding to proactively frightening the criminals away." There's a twist to his mouth that Chloe doesn't recognize, something between amused and bitter. "Not a surprise, really."

Oh fuck. Jamming the pad back in her jacket, she looks down the alleyways. No surprise, right. There's a second of pure resentment flicking through her mind fast and furious, but she turns it off and pushes it away. Safety is good, of course. Better if she'd talked to her guy beforehand, but hey, can't have everything.

Looking up, Lex is watching the street again, and her tongue forms a question that doesn't check in at her mind first. Isn't that always the way though? "What are you doing here?" Crack dealer her ass. If Lex has a drug of choice, it's delivered in suitcases to his door, possibly by Colombian drug lords themselves. And wouldn't that be the headline to end all headlines. Probably end her life, too, but the journalist in her is itching from curiosity, palms of her hands twitching for a pen to make a note on a situation she's not sure even exists.

There's just no good reason for a Luthor to be here.

"Nostalgia," Lex answers laconically, and Chloe blinks, looking around again, trying to figure out what kind of auld lang syne he can find in a place like this. Garbage-strewn alleyways and broken streetlights cast a sickly grey-yellow glow; the city's put off repairs here for years. Poverty like a taste in the air, and a smell that she's never gotten used to. Uncomfortably, she pushes off the brick of the building, looking up at the dusk-reddened sky automatically. It's not raining now, but there's no guarantee it won't be in a few minutes. Cab. She should get a cab.

"Sucky place for it. Where are your bodyguards?"

"Convulsing somewhere around Tenth and Martin, where I left them," Lex answers, and the corner of his mouth curls up in a smile. "They'll track me down eventually, but it'll take a little longer since I doubt they'll look here first."

Rich people, eccentric and suicidal. Lex more than most. "Fair enough." Lisa, who covers the society pages, sometimes talks about it after the galas, events, charity balls, fundraisers. Lex Luthor and his reputation, ruler of the city, all high-class gloss and effortless charm, and she thinks of the pictures she's seen over the years.

She remembers when he wasn't alone in them, and a little spark of something flickers on and connects easily enough. There's a reason she's tracking down unreliable contacts at eight at night, after all.

"You heard."

"I heard," he agrees without demur. "What was the quote--'walks the city with the criminal element; if he doesn't own it, he finances it'." Lex reaches into his coat pocket, pulling out a half-crumpled pack of Marlboros. The smile lingers as he shakes one out. "There was a legend about a king that once a year would walk at midnight in his kingdom. Sans bodyguards. Tradition has it that if he was a good king, he would survive the night." A thin flame appears almost magically from between his fingers in complete defiance of the dense humidity as he lights.

"Stupid." Though it makes her think that if the king was anything like Lex, there might not be much of a reason to worry after all.

"I thought so too, but--it's never too late to revive an old tradition." Giving her a smile that never reaches farther than very blue eyes, he extends the pack. "Care for one?"

She's quitting. Tomorrow. "Thanks." Somehow, she would have thought he'd be imports all the way, Galoises or something. Learn something new every day. She fumbles briefly for her lighter, but there's a flare of heat in her line of sight, and the zippo disappears with the first harsh burn of tobacco. Taking it in, she stares off into the streets--no one's out tonight. The stupid criminals got scared by Superman. The smart ones are in east-side penthouses enjoying caviar.

There's really nothing to say, and she should hail a cab, get back home. Write up that article for Louie tonight and maybe get an actual full night's sleep instead of buzzing into work with caffeine-saturated blood and the promise that tomorrow, the nicotine patch will actually come out of its box. A gift from Clark she doesn't appreciate, even less than the cream and gold invitation stuffed in the back of her dresser.

"Want to take a walk?"

Startled, she looks up--Lex is watching the street with narrowed eyes, and it occurs to Chloe that Lex seems--not wired, but tensed. Like he's waiting for something, and his gaze is so carefully fixed on the world around them it's clear he's avoiding the sky.

Not a surprise. She takes a drag of the cigarette, pushing off the building. Not like she has anything better to do tonight.

"You hate me. Cigarettes and walking--you're getting soft, Luthor." The edge in her voice isn't feigned, but he only nods, a hint of a smile that never touches his eyes.

"I've never hated you," he answers as he steps onto the sidewalk, and she follows, picking her way a little more carefully this time. Abandoned storefronts teeming with less reputable life behind taped glass and boarded doors, and she vaguely remembers covering a rave here six months ago. Ended in five ODs and a murder in the alley out back, and she turns her gaze away from the wall she watched a man die against. The stains are gone from the stone but they'll never leave her memory.

"Not bitter about that thing with the Mafia, hmm?"

Lex flashes a grin that's completely real. "I'm only bitter when it's not true. Nice job. A pity the grand jury disagreed."

Bastard. She takes another drag and flicks ash off to the left. "Only needed what, a firm of lawyers to get your ass clear?"

"Ten. And a payoff to your editor." Not a surprise; Chloe's known Louie's been in Lex's pay for years. Successor of Jamieson, successor of Bartlett, successor of Nixon, it's a litany she can read like words on the wall. Competence exchanged for bribability. She's never thought Lex is stupid.

"I'm surprised you're here. I thought you'd be at the party," Lex says, dropping the words out of the blue with an impeccable timing of the stretching silence--but Lex has always liked awkward silences and known how to fill them with just the right amount of uncomfortable conversation. She thinks sometimes he practices that, too.

"Have a deadline." Though Louie knows she doesn't, and Lex probably does too. Her job's been probationary since the Mafia expose and they both know it. The only real surprise is that she hasn't been kicked off the staff yet.

"Ah." Nothing else, and she watches him from the corner of her eye. He walks here like he does the Metropolitan society parties--nothing but easy confidence, watching everything without seeming to watch at all, and probably the same number of enemies there as here. It makes her wonder, sometimes, when she cares to think, what it's like to be hated behind every smile, know that everyone shaking your hand clips the bad press about you and believes every word, true or not.

Her job security may be pretty good after all. She's popular in Metropolis, and her articles sell very, very well.

"Have you talked to Clark?" she asks, maybe because he pisses her off with everything he's not saying, maybe because she needs the reminder of why she's out here, too.

"I didn't receive an invitation, if that's what you mean," Lex answers idly, and the cigarette butt hits the ground without ceremony. "You did, of course."

Of course. "Lois is my cousin."

"Yes, I remember that." He would. Chloe'd been invited to Lex's engagement party three years ago, right before she'd broken the story about his connection with the buyout of Sematec and under the table dealings that got Lex six weeks in jail before his lawyers got him out. Lois had broken the engagement before he'd even gotten a bail hearing.

Even then, Chloe'd felt a little twinge, but Lois' righteous rage had been sufficient motivation to ignore it. Clark's disappointment had been--more painful somehow. The way he'd stared at the headline and the look in his eyes, knowing she'd done her research, and the final chip in the block of denial that Clark practiced like a lifestyle choice.

She can connect Clark's last, late night phone call to LexCorp towers with the day she lost her press creds to any LexCorp function. Fair trade, maybe. Career for a friendship.

"I never asked you why you let her have him," Lex says conversationally, and something in her tightens--but then, she supposes she deserves the shot.

"I didn't."

Lois Lane, job at The Daily Planet, world-renowned reporter extraordinaire with Superman to save her when she breaks a heel. Admired for her public rejection of Lex Luthor and current fiancee of lauded cub reporter Clark Kent.

She can remember when she introduced Lois to Clark. Chloe's new boyfriend, first crush, first everything. She supposes there's a special part of hell reserved for those who get to be the transition girlfriend between unending, spring-forever-and-ever-world-without-end soulmates. Lana to Lois in two easy steps.

She--doesn't need this tonight.

"I'm going to call a cab." She gets a step away before cool fingers close over her wrist. Reflex is to attack, but Lex isn't quite that kind of threat, and she won't give him the satisfaction.

"My apologies. I didn't think it was still a sore spot with you." Lex shrugs, hand gone, back in his coat pocket. It's only her imagination that the warmth lingers on her skin.

"It's not." Not quite a lie, but mostly is. She's gotten used to second best. "You miss Lois?"

"Only when I catch myself lowering the seat on the toilet. It's the only habit I ever picked up from her." The grin's real enough, and so's the shadow in his eyes. "Hard to break."

Most habits are. When he offers her another cigarette, she takes it, and there's nothing like standing in the middle of Metropolitan slums for no good reason to make you smile and wonder a little.

"Okay, so this has nothing to do with the engagement party?" She waves the cigarette for emphasis, noting they're coming up on Fifth and Munroe, where the last gang shoot-out took the lives of three civilians and put her partner Daniel in the hospital for six months. He's lost the taste for the chase since then.

"Oh it does." Lex shrugs as he lights her cigarette, taking out another one himself, and maybe it's goodbye to the patch, because nothing is quite like smoking just to get the ambiance of being really fucking miserable. Like walking in what's going to be very soon a downpour and mourning old lovers. Clich city. It could be worse. "And--" he stops, obviously a little surprised he'd said anything, and the blue eyes look away again, fixing on some space she can't see in the distance. "Let's say it's been a very bad week and leave it at that?"


"The entire pantheon of heroes seem to be in need of something new to focus on. You'd think they'd find another desperate criminal to bring to justice. God knows, the murder rate in Metropolis is high enough." And true. Supervillains get more attention than the common cutthroat in general. Lex looks around as if the fact the sky's been threatening rain for hours is a completely new phenomenon. "It's going to rain. Need a lift?"

"Sure." Watching him take out his cell phone, she's struck again by the very not-Lexness of this moment, and after all these years, she thinks she knows him well enough to speculate. A part of her--the mean part, she thinks, not like Lois, Lois doesn't have a cruel bone in her body--wants to ask. Just ask if it hurts, just a little, seeing the former best friend marry the former fiancee, and how fucked up is it that it's on the tip of her tongue to ask?

Maybe those years of jealousy of Clark's perfect blindness to Lex isn't something you outgrow entirely. But then, she's never outgrown the crush or the bad hair days or the fact that she's second best in everything still. She could go into the unfairness of it all, but even the thoughts are boring, and she's not interesting in boring herself tonight.

The limo that pulls up is something of a shock--not-fitting in the chilly, wet streets, timed just so the rain's starting to fall hard, and there's a good chance that even if she hadn't been invited, she'd be asking for a ride just to get out of this. Nothing's worse than being morose and in the rain, and she's not, not, not going to walk the streets like something out of a television melodrama. Just--not her style. Or maybe too much her style, and she's had years to get over Clark Kent.

The driver steps out--Mercy? Hope? Not even a double take to see her standing there, shivering in her coat, suddenly aware of the wet cool of the fall night closing around them. The door's opened with a minimum of fuss, and Lex's fingers touch her elbow, not that she needs the encouragement.

And she's going to admit that limos aren't a bad way to travel--warm, leather seats, and a strangely comfortable feeling of privacy when the door closes, locking out the world.

"The penthouse," Lex says calmly, and Chloe turns interested eyes on him. He shrugs. "There's always the option of going home and wallowing."

"I'm not. I don't." That's a lie. He probably knows that, too. "What did you have in mind?"


Strangely, it may say more about her than anything else that it's not the worst idea she's heard tonight.

She's been up here only twice--once for a fitting for her bridesmaid's dress, and Lex hadn't been anywhere within a mile of the apartment; once to help Lois move out. The same feeling of choreographed wealth and careful attention to detail. Nothing of Lois or Clark here now.

Nothing of them here then, either, though, and that's a thought that lingers like the musky scent of smoke still clinging to her fingers. She has to wonder, though, how much of this is Lex.

She's sitting in the bright, polished living room, only the vaguest memories of the fitting fluttering in the recesses of her mind. Long day with far too much pink involved, and when Lex hands her the cut-crystal glass, she has a visceral memory of Lois doing the same thing in this very room that makes her shiver. Brandy, though, not orange juice, and the taste breaks the moment.

"Can I get you anything else?" Lex sits on the edge of the chair across from her like this is an interview, oddly--different again. Maybe being surrounded with money brings out the familiar in him, and she takes another drink to save herself answering, merely shaking her head. Coat and weapon were taken at the door, no surprise there--the only real surprise, in hindsight, is the fact Mercy (Hope?) let her into the limo without a strip search.

Lex in the apartment doesn't feel nearly as dressed down as he did in the alley. Has to be the surroundings.

"I'm good." Damp and tired and there's mud on her shoes that she can see tracked in from the foyer across gleaming tile and Berber carpet. Great. Mess of hair that she should have had cut months ago clinging wetly to the back of her neck, drying fluffy and disarranged everywhere, and there's an almost instinctive feminine need to fix it, run her fingers through it. She doesn't, feels a certain amount of pride in her strength of will, and takes a drink to reward herself.

It's all in the little things.

"You can take off your shoes," Lex says, sitting farther back in his chair, the ghost of a smile curling up his mouth. Trying to put her off balance, maybe, remind her of the studio apartment she owns just on the edge of the third worst part of the city and the fact that Luthors live and fuck in more money than she'll ever see in her life.

Deliberately, she sets toe to heel, letting the first sneaker flicker off, scraping briefly on dark cream carpet and leaving a brown-green streak that she's not interested in identifying too closely. Second shoe, then she curls her feet up under her, as much for warmth as to hide the holes in her gym socks.

"I haven't been here since Lois left you," Chloe says, tossing it out casually between them. Something in her is frustrated enough to lash out, and Lex is an excellent target. "Nothing's changed."

"Why bother? I don't spend much time here." Not even a flicker, but he takes a small drink of the brandy. And true, he isn't here much--Lex is always moving, and he has places all over the city, the world for that matter. The sense of the words takes a while to sink in, and there's the uncomfortable and really odd thought of fucking Lex in the bed he fucked Lois in. Just a little too much to process, maybe, but it makes her grin into her glass, wondering what her cousin would say to this.

She'd be disappointed, of course. Chloe, second reporter in the family though the first to want it--how the hell was she supposed to have known Lois would do four years of college in three? The Planet offered her a job straight out of school, but Chloe... There are vivid memories the countless interviews before the Inquisitor finally hired her--knows for near-fact that Lex had arranged it for Clark's girlfriend.

Another reason to hate him, as irrational as any other, but she's gotten used to that, too. And. She has to ask.

"Did you get Lois her job at the Planet?"

Lex grins, completely comfortable. "Didn't need to. They took one look at her transcripts and work and hired her before she'd finished finals." Celebratory dinner that week--Lex and Lois, Clark and Chloe at Ferria, downtown, glittering and bright. Lois and Lex had been like a magazine cover, and Lex's personal paparazzi had snapped so many pictures Chloe'd seen glares of light in her dreams that night. "Brilliant mind."

"Yeah." Brilliant, beautiful, perfect. There's something to be said for just being normal, but Chloe's not sure how that works out in the long run. "Tell me why you were wandering around the slums tonight."

"We're not at the drunk confessionals part of the evening yet," Lex answers, tilting his glass significantly.

"Can you get drunk?" She's wondered before.

"Not easily, but I'm sure it's possible." Lex regards the brandy for a few long moments, then drinks the rest in a single, lazy swallow that makes something in Chloe tighten just a little. "Haven't been in years."

Not when Lois left him, then. Chloe tries to remember what he did do when he was released from Metropolis City Jail--his people were around him when he stepped outside, but no friends, not Clark, not Lois. She'd been there, though. Watching from across the street, leaning on the rusted bumper of her car, sunglasses that wouldn't hide her identity from anyone who knew her. The last time he went near a jail cell; he's been far more careful since. Better at covering his tracks, maybe.

Looking down at the alcohol, she's just beginning to think that maybe this wasn't the best idea on earth.

Lex reads her too well. "I can send you home now." Casual shrug, like it doesn't matter, but why the fuck is any of this happening if it doesn't matter?

A night with Ramen and the television and listening to the phone ring and even if she leaves it off the hook, her voicemail will pick it up. Worried calls from Clark, from Lois, asking where she is, why she isn't with them, hell, maybe from Louie, wondering if she's survived the night, and if she's too long in answering, Pete or Lana will call too, and she's not really up to that. Any of it. Any of them.

There's a real possibility this is what burn-out is like. The steady, unbearable strain snapping like a rubber band, easing into something like passivity, and she doesn't even care enough to say yes. Yes, take me home. Yes, this is a bad idea. Yes, I'm better than this.

She doesn't even care.

"Don't you ever want to be someone else?" It slips out, and she's going to blame it on the liquor, on the night, on the fact she's wet and tired and angry, but she's always angry, reduced to something that's burning constantly under everything else. She's done twenty exposes in five years, she outnumbers Lois article for article, word for word, truth for truth, but she's not Superman's personal project and she's not the Planet's star reporter. Cute little mudracker slumming up the dark side of Metropolis' social order, and she gets the indulgence and the sneers and the habit of dismissal.

"Sometimes." Her gaze jerks up and find him watching her--and there's nothing impersonal now. Shifted to the edge of the chair, empty glass hanging idly between his knees, and there's something painful in his face now. Something she can remember on her own face once upon a time, but that was back when making her reputation was supposed to be a prelude to something better that didn't happen. "Not always. There are certain compensations to being one of the richest men in the world."

No fucking joke.

"Like paying someone to turn off the electricity to the Hilton tonight." Lex's smile isn't anything she's seen before, some bizarre and welcome combination of bitter and mischievous. Chloe takes a moment to imagine Lois and beloved guests mulling around in shock at the sudden lack of lights, but then, Clark would probably develop some mutation with electricity and make it all right, just to keep the day perfect.

Shit, she's been awake too long. It's an entire minute before she giggles it out, shaking her head a little, and not entirely in negation.

"That's a great use for the criminal brilliance, Lex." It's the first time she's said his name tonight, and it slides out far too easily. The taste lingers in her mouth, and she imagines saying it when he's fucking her, how it will feel then, taste then. It changes the playing field just a little, or maybe she's just accepting now that it has changed and she's got to deal with it. Taking the last drink of the brandy, she sets the empty glass aside. "So do you usually feed a girl before fucking her, or is that a little too declasse these days?"

"Dinner, too?" Both eyebrows arch, amused. Setting the glass aside, Lex finds his feet in another of those fascinating liquid motions that she'd pay money to emulate. She's a little too prone to stumbling to ever look that natural in her own skin. "What's your taste?"

Whatever. Anything. Just not Ramen.

She extends a hand in invitation, and his fingers are warm, callused in places that make her want to touch. Maybe taste. "Surprise me."

"There's no fucking way I can go in there looking like this."

Lex just gives her a look--a little indulgent, a lot amused, and nothing like compromising, but she's staring at Eterniata's dark wood and shoddy-chic gloss with too much shock to really care.

"Let me get this straight. You crashed the last LexCorp Christmas party in the equivalent of a junkie's less savory wardrobe choices, but you're having reservations about going in here wearing perfectly--mostly acceptable blue jeans. Tell me you're drunk, Chloe."

It's the first time he says her name, and it sends a little shiver up her spine, like the hand that's not-touching her back. She shouldn't be able to feel the heat of his fingers through her thin jacket and t-shirt.

"They won't let us in." People will stare. It's--not a good idea. Once a long time ago, she knew to always dress up whenever she knew Clark was taking her near Lex--make-up, hair fixed, dress perfect, everything flawless, knowing the pictures might appear in any paper anywhere around the world. She'd never pass for a socialite, not like Lois, but she'd never look like she belonged serving the food rather than eating it. Her ego just isn't sure it's up to the sneers tonight.

"You give a shit what people think? Since when?" The touch is brief, but she can feel it like it's imprinted into her skin for life. Through two fucking layers of clothing, and what does it say that she's as turned on by that as she's been in Clark's bed, with the first thrust inside her?

Probably nothing she really cares to think about.

"Come on." Gentle push, and she shakes her head but goes anyway. The staff knows her face--she guesses few people who work anywhere near Lex Luthor don't know it, just on principle--and the maitre d' only blinks before taking her coat. The dark, quiet restaurant isn't the usual place for Lex to frequent, if her memory serves. Chloe can feel the gazes--recognizing Lex, maybe clicking vaguely on who she is, but it's only casual interest soon diminished to attention back to their own business. New, that. Lex doesn't touch her again, but that's probably the best thing possible. The table's just by the big window overlooking the Metropolitan skyline, gorgeous view that she's never appreciated from this particular seat before.

It could be--this entire thing--a reminder of who's been her most interesting and most powerful adversary, and she'd go with that interpretation on any other night. Except Lex walked in here wearing jeans and a shirt that's been spending quality time in dark alleys, and he probably doesn't even notice power anymore except when it fails to get him something he wants. Like anyone could face down Lex in his natural environment. Even her, maybe, she'll admit it under protest, but he's not doing his noblesse oblige routine at all. The question on drink from the unobtrusive waiter brings Lex's head up, almost startled.

"Water." He looks at her, waiting. "Aperitif?"

"Don't care for them." She leans back in her chair and sees the small but very real smile that flickers before she looks at the waiter. "Water, too."

"There aren't many people up here." A few occupied tables, and no one is looking at them. It's better than she expected.

"Not very many can afford it." Lex gives the room a cool once-over, identifying and dismissing the other clientele with a glance. "I come here for the privacy."

The cool cream linen of the tablecloth isn't quite as spotless as Verity or any of the other places Lex had taken her and Clark over the years. Not the same feeling of too much money, too much show, but warmer. More welcoming.

Or the brandy from earlier really has gone to her head. Grinning, she nudges the fork with one blunt fingernail.

"They didn't bring menus," she observes idly, settling herself in the chair. Very comfortable.

"They will with the water." Lex is looking out at the skyline with a strangely preoccupied look, and she wants to say his gaze is on the Hilton, brownstone and bright windows, but it's not. She wants to say he's thinking of Lois, of lost chances, but he isn't.

She has no clue what's going on in his head, and it's kind of funny to think she cares.

"I'm surprised you're in town," she says slowly, fingering the fork. Genuine silver, dense and heavy to the touch. Slick cool metal, napkins genuine linen, and she remembers countless dinners with Lex and Clark and whoever Lex was seeing, Lex and Clark and then Lois, places like this but not, places that she looks at sometimes from the bus to work or through the windshield of her car. The sparkly, different girl who still got just a little awed when she went places on impulse that other people would envy, still a little amazed she had her first crush holding her hand, still a little hopeful that life would always be like this.

Fuck. Teenage moment, maybe, but it'd been--fun. Different. Simple. Full of possibility. The prelude to the life she didn't happen to get, and how again did it end up this way? Right, she went to New York and Clark stayed here. Lois left Lex and went to Clark, and it's kind of twisted, but she does see the sense of it.

"Why would I leave?" he asks, and she has his attention again--focused, intense, and whatever he's thinking is backburnered to check out what's going on across the table from him. "I've only been asked about a dozen times how I feel about the engagement, from reporters to colleagues. What could possibly drag me away from that?"

Well, that sucks. Brings the simple pitying looks she gets from Daniel and the carefully diplomatic calls from Pete and Lana into focus. "Couldn't imagine," she answers with a smirk, and water appears magically in front of them. That waiter is quiet. "Is it that bad?"

"Only with people that don't have the sense to keep their mouths shut." Lex picks up the crystal, like he's examining it for flaws, but his attention is still on her. She can get Clark's utter fascination now, she thinks. There's something addictive in being the focus of all that attention. The waiter extends the menus, gilt edges and thick, soft leather, and Chloe flicks it open, lazily studying the entrees. No price list. Nice. "Chicken Primavera," she says, putting it aside without another glance.

"Beef tips," Lex says calmly and the waiter disappears with the menus. "That was fast."

"I make quick decisions." And that's an understatement and has gotten her in a world of trouble before. Grinning, she picks up the water and he's watching her mouth. Her lipstick's hours gone, if it's not smeared every direction from Sunday, but she's not going to think about that part or she might want a bathroom break, and God only knows what she looks like in any decent mirror.

Watching--her mouth, though. Aware of it like she never is normally, and she fights the urge to lick her lips, taking a drink of water and fixing her gaze on the tablecloth, trying to make something that's as normal as breathing suddenly very new, very--not normal. Not reflex, not instinct, and even swallowing is something new and different.

Could be her absolute imagination that he's thinking what she'd look like on her knees in front of him, mouth wrapped around his cock, but hey, it's probably not. She's beginning to wonder what he'll look like without that shirt, those jeans, if his skin could possibly be as smooth as it looks.

If he's as bare everywhere as his head is, and she takes another drink of water for no better reason than to see if it distracts her.


"Chloe?" She shivers at the sound of her name and fixes her gaze briefly outside before looking at him, hoping she looks as relaxed as she wants to be. "You're watching the Hilton."

Fuck, that's certainly the right direction. Setting the glass aside, she flattens a palm to the tablecloth and does her best amused smile. It's not quite as good as his, but it works to shut down a hell of a lot of stupid gossip and those pitying looks.

"It doesn't bother me." The dresses this time will be blue print and tea length, soft taffeta instead of silk. Wedding in Smallville at the local church, the reception at the Kent farm. Outdoor barbecue with homemade salads and Lois will be just as stunning there. Fresh picked flowers from the old Potter florist shop, though it's called something else now, and all of Smallville will be there. Pete and Lana are flying down and Whitney and his wife, too, so it'll be kind of like high school except everyone can legally drink. She can sip champagne and look at the loft and remember losing her virginity up there on that old couch that smelled horrible, and how it hadn't been exactly great but not bad, and Clark had been so--so scared to hurt her.

She can catch Lois' bouquet and have everyone laugh and ask when her turn is coming. And she'd sort of like to know that herself.

"Of course it doesn't." There's--not a snide edge, but she pretends there is, because she wants to strike at something.

"Is it okay for you to know Clark's in your ex's bed?"

"Considering the fact I don't hold with fidelity," Lex answers coolly, but she hears the steel underneath, "I don't really care." There's a pause, not too long, not too short, just right, before he glances outside, and something flickers on his face so fast she almost misses it. "I miss him, not her."

Shit. She fumbles the fork and the clatter's loud, like everyone in the room is looking over here, noticing the dumpy working girl playing high society. That's--oddly, enough to get her composure back, and she takes a long breath, sitting back.

"Sorry. Cheap shot."

"You've very good at them." Neutral voice, but he doesn't just call an end to this whole--thing, whatever it is, but sits back, fixing her with a steady look. She lets him look, ignoring the fork on the floor, ignoring the room, ignoring everything.

"If it's any consolation, he misses you, too." Flies around LexCorp building a little too often to be dismissed as patrol, shows up at a few more LexCorp functions than strictly necessary, avoids a few too many anti-LexCorp stories to be really unnoticeable. Watches a little too steadily and fights a little too hard, even for the moral-stick-up-his-ass of Clark's alter-ego.

"It's really not." No, she wouldn't be comforted much if she found out Clark was having sex fantasies about her. Oh well. Picking up the water, she wishes she'd ordered something stronger. Something in ninety proof, perhaps.

"How's the merger with Antac going?" she asks, and Lex looks at her again, and there's no mistaking his surprise, or his amusement. Tipping her glass at him, she finds a smile and forces it across her mouth. "This really is my idea of small talk."

"It's going very well. I'm sure if I just keep threatening the life of the CEO, he'll be nice and stop fucking around with the stock market to keep his company afloat." What she wouldn't give for a good tape recorder right now. He grins like he knows what she's thinking, and then there's food in front of her.

"Another fork for the lady," Lex says, surveying his plate briefly. Not critically--he takes for granted he'll get perfect service. Almost immediately, another fork is sitting by her plate (maybe he was watching from a corner when she dropped it?), and she can't help the little laugh. "That will be all, thank you."

She laughs again before she applies herself to dinner.

She's never been a dessert person--not that calorie nonsense though. Probably the reason she's always been a couple of pounds over the ideal, but she's never paid strict attention to her figure. But cheesecake, she thinks, deserves an empty stomach to truly appreciate, and dinner ends with something that vaguely approaches amicability, until they're back outside and she catches the flash of a camera from the street.

"Inquisitor," Lex tells her as she glances back. "Don't worry about it."

"You can keep pictures out?"

"I don't ask often, so Louie usually obliges," Lex answers, and by 'ask', she's going to guess a dollar figure in the grands. Not that it would matter much if the pictures did get out, she thinks as she steps inside. Though embarrassing as hell, possibly for both of them.

Lex doesn't give instructions to the driver, though, once the door is closed--a glance at her, and she leans back a little, stretching beneath her coat. She's lousy at those come-hither things, and God knows, she'd never pass for a sex kitten in this world or the next, but--well, she has her ways. It's a short slide over the few inches that separate them, straddling his lap in an easy motion she practiced on Clark and perfected with Daniel, settling down to look into surprised and extremely pleased blue eyes. Warm hands slide up her back beneath her coat, pushing her shirt up with them, the slightest pressure of fingernails against her spine that makes her arch. Settling down, she can feel him, hard beneath the two layers of denim that separate them.

"Now?" Harder pressure on her back, and she sighs, leaning into it, feeling the lazy flare of heat start just beneath her skin, spreading everywhere. It's been a while.

For an answer, she grinds down, feeling him tense, a little sound she likes and wants him to make again, then tilts her head down. Brief kiss, chastely soft, dry, gentle, then he pulls a hand from beneath her shirt and has his hand in her hair. Tight twist and--yes, that kind of kiss. Tongue sliding between her lips, expert, like he's practiced this a thousand times and hell, he probably has. Slow, lazy exploration, like there's all the time in the world. Which works for her. If only her damn jeans weren't in the way. His either.

"My place or yours?"

She has work tomorrow. "Mine." She doesn't like mornings as a rule anyway, and getting up extra early just to get back home and changed before work doesn't appeal. She doubts Lex will stay the night anyway, which suits her. "You know where--"

The low laugh should kind of worry her, but she figures Lex probably has tracked all her various moves over the years. Grinning against his mouth, she tilts her head back, arching into the brush of teeth over her jaw. The bite's unexpected, brings her upright, sharp and sudden, a flare of pure heat from breasts to groin, and the hand on her back slides to her ass, pushing her down--fuck. Yes. Good. Very good.

"Don't--bruise me. Can't explain that." Right. Going into work with hickeys. At her age. Cute. Humiliating as all hell, too.

"Don't want to, you mean," is the answer as silky lips skim her throat. Gentle and soft, finding the pulse points and lingering there, talented tongue drawing designs on her skin that make her dizzy. Wonderful. Sex in a limo. She hasn't ever done that before. Her fingers find the soft material covering his shoulders, slide until they find silky skin--yes, just as smooth, as soft as it looks. She presses her thumbs to his collarbone, breathing out when he nips her jaw before tilting her head back down and kissing her. Still all lazy, slow heat that's building in her deliciously, and there's a startled second where the hand in her hair frees her, pulling back, and then their positions are reversed.

On her back on warm leather, Lex kneeling on the seat between her legs, and lazy is gone. Sharp bite to her lip, hard, slick tongue taking her mouth. Rough, aggressive, no polished performance played out to impress her, but hungry. Studying her body with hands that are curious and searching. Someone who likes sex for its own sake, yeah, that's Lex, but someone who likes sex for what it is as well, whether you believe it or not. Connection. A place that's never as purely physical as you want it to be.

When the limo stops, Lex is sitting up, not even bothering to straighten his clothes, still staring at her with an intensity that tempts her to pull him back down. He doesn't ask if she's sure.

She doesn't care if she's not.

Lust's easy. It's Daniel, sweet and gentle and uncomplicated. When they shared a bed, it was always fun. Like sunlight spilling down in spring, simple and carefree and they drank their coffee together the morning after and went their separate ways. A purity to it she's always appreciated, always depended on.

Love's easier. It's Clark, green and fresh in memory, fumbling first touches and first kisses. Sweet, summer heat on her skin when he slid inside her, eyes huge and afraid and wanting. She can still smell the old couch in the loft and remember the feel of it against her bare back, taste coffee and her own lipstick and sweat and Clark.

She wants--something different. Harder. Darker. Like the lust and need and anger cycling through them both to be targeted, making it uncontrolled and furious and all about the body, rippling orgasm like a tide to tear through and never forget why. Take that, Lois. Clark. Life.

Feel this.

An abnormality. A moment of weakness taken out of time. Something to walk away from and never look back.

This--is. It's all of that. It's less than that. It's more.

It's Lex, laying her out on her bed, tracing her body like he's reading braille. Marking time with fingers skimming her skin until her hands close over the headboard and she's arching into his hands, his mouth, his fucking voice. The low, almost unintelligible murmurs, snatches of poetry and encouragement, slick as warm honey coating every nerve. Spread out on her own bed, Lex whispers things against her stomach, fingertips hard on her thighs, pressing them apart.

The first touch of that skilled mouth sends her arching, and the hands on her hips are like steel. He's writing his name into her body, inch by inch, word by word, touch by touch. The tip of his tongue on her clit draws designs like art, and he could tell her to do anything, anything at all, and she would do it.

So close, balancing on the edge of something huge and terrifyingly needed, she breaks a nail on the wood and doesn't care, heels skidding on cheap cotton sheets. Orgasm is electric and shakes every muscle liquid, and the aftershocks are shaking her thighs when he slides between her legs. Through the thunder of her pulse, the sharp pant of her breath, she hears the condom being unwrapped and--

"Fuck." It's been a long time. Lex stops, tensing just a little above her. She pries her hands free of the bedframe, blindly seeking purchase, palms on smooth, sweat-slicked skin, digging her nails in, holding on.

"Do it." Post-orgasm lassitude can go to hell--she wraps both legs around his waist, pulling him in--tight, full stretch, oh God, she'll feel this for years, her fantasies could live on just the memory, and when he settles inside her, she wants everything he can give her. Harsh breath against her temple, holding on by the barest thread and she can't take that. "Fuck me, Lex. Don't--"

He kisses her--tongue pushing her mouth as open as her body, hollowed out, no sound, no need for it, he's telling her things with every smooth thrust that have never needed words. Hard muscle under her hands, and his eyes are wide and fixed on her, no denial, no escape, and this is sex. This is fucking. This is the reality of what's been practice and fun and play, like first crushes and first times and first love. Her thighs ache and her body's pushing for more and more and now, please, now, don't stop, don't you dare stop, not ever....

Lust's so easy. So simple. She'd wake up tomorrow and laugh about it, talk it over with Daniel or Lisa, but Lex has never been simple. The steady, impossibly hard rhythm, the hold of blue eyes that don't ever look away.

"Jesus Christ," he whispers, almost reverently, and something in her shivers. Her nails are drawing frantic patterns of need on his skin, so easily, and she can smell blood if she tries. Her heels push into his back when she arches, and he swallows her moan with a kiss that goes on forever. "Beautiful--"

She's not entirely sure when she comes, when it stops, all pure sensory overload and languid heat. When she slides down the bed, his hands threading through her hair, thumb brushing her cheek, chanting her name breathlessly, like a benediction or a promise, when she fucks her mouth and tastes them, familiar and strange and real. When she slides on top of him, pulling him deep inside her, the flare of surprise even beyond the pleasure. The shock that shakes them harder than orgasm or lust ever could. He cups her hips like he wants to leave fingerprints that won't ever disappear.


Like whatever he expected, this wasn't it. Like he knew she knew that, too.

Sweat cools sticky on her skin when she stretches out after, ignoring the soft burn between he legs, holding his taste on the back of her tongue. She falls asleep with his body curled around her, mouth in her hair, hands on her skin like they'll never leave.

Morning after is very far away.

the end

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