Chloe Sullivan didn't smoke. She never had, aside from the one quintessential try she'd had in high school. Frankly, it just wasn't her thing. Neither was drinking, for that matter--she had a silver hip flask, but she carried it around because it had been her grandfather's and she liked the feel of it in her hand. If she filled it with anything, it was usually water.
This didn't explain why she was sitting in her home office, looking at a dark monitor and contemplating how far it was to the nearest 7-11 where she could get both some form of cancer sticks and a cheap bottle of whiskey. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. Damnit. It had been too long again, and now she was going to pay the price for it.
The glowing green lights on her clock said it was 10:47pm. Not too late to call, then. She picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory, her free hand absently drumming a nonsense rhythm on her desk. One ring. Two. Thr--and he answered. "Hello?"
"Hi," she said, not bothering to introduce herself. He knew who she was.
"I was wondering when you were going to call. It's been nearly six months." His voice betrayed nothing but casual disinterest.
"Yeah, I know." Chloe sighed again. "Can I?"
"One hour." He hung up without bothering to say goodbye.
At precisely 11:48pm, she knocked on the door, dressed casually in jeans and a loose shirt, her messenger bag slung over her shoulder. He opened it and stepped aside without saying a word, letting her in. "You've lost weight," he said, looking her over. "Five pounds?"
"Five and a half." She didn't bother asking how he knew. He wouldn't tell her anyway, and it was part of the game.
He nodded and gestured for her to follow him. He wore black, as usual--his turtleneck and tailored pants making his skin seem even paler by contrast. He didn't have his gloves on yet; those would come later. "Rough week?" he asked, turning on the lights.
"Rough month." She set her bag down by the door, waiting for him. Lex cupped her chin in his hand, looking at her carefully. "I'd expected you to call a while ago," he said, letting her go.
"So had I." She didn't bother explaining why she hadn't; they both knew the reasons.
"Are you ready?" he asked, turning to get something from a drawer.
"Um-yes." She licked her lips nervously.
"No, you're not." He turned, looking at her. "Take off your clothes."
She hesitated, unable to make her hands move. She was looking down at her feet and didn't see him when he moved, pinning her back against the wall with his hand under her jaw, thumb and forefinger at the pressure points. "You called me, Chloe," he murmured, pressing almost enough to hurt. "Now is this what you want or not?"
"I--" She stopped. "I want you, Lex," she said finally, swallowing. She felt her throat muscles move against his hand, which didn't move.
"Then why don't you stay?"
"I can't. You know I can't."
"No, I know you'll keep running away from me as long as I let you." He pressed her back against the wall, his body warm and lean against hers. "You run and you run and you keep coming back," he said softly. "Because you can't stay away from me."
She swallowed again. "You don't love me," she said in self-defense.
"You don't know that for certain, do you? You've never given me a chance to tell you one way or the other."
He smiled--a small, cold smile with no humor in it. "Does it matter?"
Chloe would have snapped at him, but for the life of her, she couldn't think of anything to say.
"No one else can give you what I do," Lex said softly, taking advantage of her silence. "That's why they never last. You go out and date the nice, clean-cut boys, and you smile and you have adequate sex, and in the end you can't stand it anymore. Because you need me, Chloe. They can't push you over the edge the way I can. No one else can take you down like me." One of his thighs nudged her legs apart, snugging up between them.
"I am not going to spend my life being your sex toy," she shot at him.
"I'm not asking you to."
"Then what do you want?"
"I want you to stop running from me," he said. "I want to stop wondering when you're going to call next or when you're going to show up again. I want more, Chloe." He rubbed a hand over his head, stepping back. "I want you in my life. Permanently."
"What do you mean by permanent?" she asked carefully.
He smiled slightly. "I want you to marry me."
She stared at him in stunned disbelief for a moment. "What?"
Lex shrugged. "Because, my dear Chloe, like it or not, we need each other. You're never going to find someone who can give you what I can. And I'd rather marry a woman I can talk to than one of the insipid, brainless society women my dear father keeps throwing at me. If this was just about sex, we'd have fucked our way out of it by now. It's not."
"This is insane," she said, shaking her head.
"Is it?" Lex tipped her chin up, holding her eyes with his own. "I'm tired of you running, Chloe," he said simply. "What are you so afraid of?"
"Look, if you want me to, I'll just walk out of here and I'll--"
"You're running again," he said softly. "Tell me, Chloe."
"I don't want to need you!" she threw at him. "I don't want any of this! You think I like calling you up and coming here to get fucked into oblivion? You think I like the fact that I can't stay away from you? That I want you more than any man I've ever known, that you can turn me on with just a look? You think I want to compare every man I date to you when I don't even know how you feel about me? Damnit, Lex, you're pulling me in and one of these days I'm going to drown!" Chloe took a deep breath, trying to calm herself.
"Not if you hold onto me." The words were quiet, matter-of fact.
She rubbed at her eyes harshly. "Do you love me?" she asked finally.
"Honestly? I'm not sure I'm capable of being in love with anyone."
She nodded slowly. "Okay."
"I can promise you a few things, Chloe-I can promise you my respect, my support, my fidelity, and my loyalty. I can't promise you my love." Lex shrugged slightly.
God, if this got any more surreal she was going to see pink elephants dancing across the room. She closed her eyes, thinking. Time to lay her cards on the table and be honest with herself.
She couldn't stay away from Lex. No matter what she did, no matter what was going on in her life, she kept going back to him. Which meant that either she was going to have to find a really understanding man someday, she was going to end up alone, or-she was going to end up with him.
It wasn't like she had an idealized version of him, either. She knew what he was capable of, knew he could combine gentleness with casual cruelty in a way to leave the recipient staggering. He was arrogant, ambitious, and ruthless...
And yet she trusted him. She couldn't say why, anymore than she could articulate what kept drawing her back to him. But she trusted him with her life-she had, on more than one occasion.
She opened her eyes, seeing him watching her with a cool, guarded gaze. "You're right about one thing," she admitted. "I can't stay away from you." Chloe smiled wryly. "I've never been able to stay away."
"I know." He skimmed a thumb over her cheek. "Neither have I."
"So. Um. Marriage? Isn't that a bit sudden? Technically, we've never even dated."
"Do you really think that matters?"
Chloe shrugged a little. "Do you trust me, Lex?"
Because that was it, really. That was what it came down to. She knew Lex well enough to know that his trust was a rare, precious thing. If he admitted she had his trust and she rejected him, she doubted they'd ever speak again-or that he'd ever forgive her. And she needed him too much to be able to do that.
Slowly, Lex nodded. "Yes," he said softly. "I do."
"All right." Chloe swallowed, looking up into his oh-so-carefully-guarded eyes, and smiled a little. "We'll discuss whether or not I'm changing my name later."
Something flared in his eyes-bright, hot, and hungry. "All right," he said.
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