"Before you ask, forget about it."
The opening volley drew Lex's contemplative gaze away from the file before him to the cool, composed blonde standing before his table. "Forget what?" He asked mildly, inclining his head to the empty seat before him.
Chloe sat gracefully and set her bag on the table before her, ignoring the waiter who appeared at her side to pour a cup of coffee, withdrawing a pack of cigarettes.
She cut off Lex's protest with a meaningful look, bringing one to her lips. "You don't call me for six months then out of the blue you summon me here? For what? Coffee and a Danish?" Blowing smoke across the table, she smiled at the annoyed look on his face.
"I wanted to see you." He responded quietly.
Her lips formed a wry smile. "Mmm...I don't believe you."
"You don't have to."
"And since I don't, I'm so glad I have your permission." Bringing the cup to her lips, she sipped slowly, tasting it. "Not bad." She admitted grudgingly, putting it down again.
"Best in the city." He agreed with a nod. "How's business?"
"Booming." Chloe crossed her denim-clad legs, pushing a stray hair away from her face. "But you would know that. Mercy's unfailingly discreet but I know she's there." The wry smile returned. "What kind of private investigator would I be if I didn't? I don't need a babysitter, Lex."
"About me, or what I'll uncover?" At his reaction, she softened her expression. "Lex, I don't need to do much looking to know what's going on. This Superman interest of yours is becoming an obsession." Reaching out, she rested a hand on his, gripping tightly when he tried to pull away. "Precisely what we've all been worried about. You've cut yourself off, walled yourself off in that tower of yours, treated us all as though we're beneath you. Now, out of nowhere, you call me and tell me to meet you here. What the hell is going on with you, Lex?"
"I wish I knew." He sighed, looking at her hand. "Ostensibly, my plan was to hire you."
"To investigate Superman?" Chloe's lips twisted. "I thought as much. Hence the vehement refusal when I walked up." She tilted her head, stubbing out her cigarette in an ashtray conveniently supplied by the ever present waiter. "Love the service."
"Perks of power." Lex dismissed.
"Okay, so this started out a job offer which you had to know I would refuse." She smiled wryly. "I sure as hell don't need the money and we both know I sure as hell won't betray our favorite farmboy in blue."
A ghost of a smile flickered over his face. "It helps keep up the illusion."
"You won't get your friend back this way." She pointed out. "Everything that went down...trying to destroy what he's become isn't going to do it."
"That has nothing to do with it and you know it, Chloe." He gritted out. "What he's becoming..."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "If you're talking about that damn Kawatche myth...it's crap, Lex. It always was. If anything? It's become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's real because you and Clark are making it real."
"And if you keep telling yourself that, someday you'll believe it."
"You don't." She countered caustically. "You never did. It's a good story, one that makes a damn good justification for the both of you. You can be what you are because that story gives you the excuse of 'my role is set in stone'. It isn't. You aren't here to protect the world from the evil alien overlord, Lex."
"Then why?" His eyebrows rose mockingly. "Is this where you tell me I've become a bitter empty shell of a man who's pushed all his friends away for a pointless vendetta?"
"Why would I?" Chloe asked calmly. "You just did. You know it as much as I do. Clark isn't responsible for who you've become. He didn't help...but the ultimate choices are yours." Tilting her head, she surveyed him with unnerving eyes, eyes that seemed to look through him. "What happened, Lex? Wake up this morning, go to shave and find Lionel looking back from the bathroom mirror?"
"Something like that." Lex allowed as she sat back in her chair, watching him still. "I used to joke about it. Being his son..."
"Whatever it is, having that man as your father is no joke." The bitter edge in her voice emphasized the impact he'd had on her life as well. "What happened Lex?" She repeated. "What is going on here?"
"That I've replaced one chess game with another." He admitted. "That as much as I've fought him...I've only succeeded in becoming a more streamlined version of him. He won."
"No he hasn't." Chloe argued, leaning forward to meet his gaze. "If he had, I wouldn't be here. You wouldn't have called me." A faint, real smile blossomed to her mouth. "Or tried to bribe me with fantastic coffee."
Lex grinned in spite of himself. "Well, the way to your heart is through coffee. It's one thing of many things I remember from when we were together." He leaned in as well, dropping his voice. "You'd be surprised at what I remember."
"Oh no I wouldn't." She countered dryly. "Very little surprises me about you anymore Lex." Pointing at him, she teased, "Don't even try that look on me. I'm immune to the Luthor charm."
"We'll see." He countered smugly before admitting, all kidding aside, "The best time of my life has been when you were there...I just didn't understand that until you were gone."
"I wasn't the one who left, Lex." Chloe disagreed without anger. "I just moved out. You were already gone."
Acknowledging the statement with a nod, he couldn't disagree. It wasn't the first time he'd done it, froze someone out of his life, but it was the one he regretted the most. Losing her still stung. "And if I wanted to come back?"
She made no attempt to hide her surprise. "As simple as that?"
"No." With a shake of his head, he picked at the files that rested on the table between them, pushing them around until he finally tossed them aside. "Whatever you want to call us...I don't think simple quite fits it."
Chloe laughed shortly. "Whatever I want to call us? Ordinarily, I call us grossly over-complicated and rife with melodrama. Which, I feel the need to point out, is when I'm feeling complimentary."
"Generous." Lex observed.
"Ooh, ouch. That's a tone that could dry out a martini." She grinned. "I hit too close to home?"
"You hit dead on target." He responded. "But you're right."
"I am?!" Her smile came easier, more like the smile he remembered. "I should call Lois. Lex Luthor admitting someone else was right about something...that's Planet headline material right there."
"Why bother? You'd do a better job of covering it and I trust your objectivity more than hers."
"Bitter much?" Chloe put forward, not expecting a response. "Okay, so I'm right. About what?"
"Us being grossly over-complicated." Bitterness underscored his words and he smiled slightly. "An unfortunate trait I honed years ago."
"Defense mechanism." Bringing her coffee to her lips, she scowled upon realizing it was cold only to have it whisked from her hands and replaced by a fresh one. "Can I keep him?" she asked, taking a deep swallow of the steaming liquid.
"If you want." Lex nodded.
"You always did spoil me." She observed. "Over compensating as always." Putting down the cup, she laid her palms flat on the table. "Okay, here goes. You want to pick up where we left off...that's out of the question. We start from scratch. I won't be bought, Lex. Your money means absolutely nothing to me, it never has. The only thing I've ever wanted out of this is you and all you'll ever get out of this is me. I'm not going to help you obsess all over a certain flying farmboy, got it? This is us. Just us."
He stared into her eyes for a long moment then hesitated. "Agreed...on one condition."
"Which is?" She asked warily.
Lex tapped the packet of cigarettes with one finger. "These? History."
Chloe paused, considering it, then nodded once. "Agreed."
There was a long, surprisingly comfortable silence until Lex laughed.
Reaching out, he caught her hand, rubbing his thumb over the backs of her fingers. "If you ever want a job, just ask. You, Chloe Sullivan, drive one hell of a hard bargain."
"I learned from the best," she smiled cheekily, "if there's one thing my Dad knew how to do...it was talk terms. I figure, this could be the deal of a lifetime, I'd better get it right."
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