by victoria p.
Chloe hated New Year's Eve.
She knew that was not only ridiculous, but horribly clichd as well. Knowing didn't change her feelings, though.
She looked around the newsroom, relatively quiet now that most of the staff had left to celebrate the holiday. She wasn't looking forward to the hangovers and tales of drunken revelry in the morning.
She was, for all intents and purposes, alone and she preferred it that way.
It wasn't that she didn't have parties to go to. She could have gone to Metropolis and watched Clark and Lois be the perfect couple in their perfect apartment, and hear all about their perfect life.
She could have celebrated with Lana and Pete, Smallville's up-and-coming power couple, and various members of the town council, but she couldn't stand the way they looked at her. As if they knew how she had gotten her job.
She had declined a startling number of invitations, knowing that it was better to be bitter while she was alone, and the sight of two, four, a dozen, a hundred couples sharing a kiss at midnight would only be pouring alcohol on her bleeding heart.
She frowned at the melodramatic turn her thoughts had taken. She knew her friends loved her; she just hated being the token single person at every gathering, now that everyone had paired off. And she really didn't want to go through another round of set-ups. Her faced burned as she recalled the hopeful look on Lana's face every time another friend of Pete's 'just happened' to join them for dinner.
At least Clark was up-front about the matchmaking. He still felt inexplicably guilty for not loving her in high school, and ten years later, was dedicated to finding her the perfect husband. Because despite all the odd things that surrounded Clark, his life was perfect.
Hers was not.
He didn't know that she'd outgrown her crush on him a long time ago.
No, he didn't know that. He also didn't know -- no one knew -- she'd somehow managed to give her heart to someone who'd wanted it even less than Clark had.
A drink to ring in the new year seemed fitting. As midnight neared, she slipped into her office.
Managing Editor of the Smallville Ledger at twenty-seven.
The words on the glass door might as well have been etched with acid on her heart.
She opened the small cabinet beneath her desk, took out two glasses. Their weight in her hand was a comfort and an anchor, dragging her down, back, into the past.
She closed her eyes, but that only encouraged the memories-- his eyes laughing, his mouth curved in a secret smile before he pressed his lips to hers, tasting of fine, old brandy, a hint of lip balm, and him. No one else tasted like him, and she knew. She'd spent the last couple of months trying to find someone who did.
She forced her eyes open. Reliving the past was pointless.
The cheery clink of ice against the glass made her lips twist in a bitter smile. Philistine, he'd called her, for diluting fifty-year-old single malt scotch with ice. She didn't have anything near as fine in her little liquor cabinet; Managing Editors at small-town newspapers didn't make quite that much money. Not even one who'd gotten her job at the whim of Lex Luthor.
And she eagerly awaited the day that thinking his name didn't bring with it a sharp stab in the region near her heart.
She did have a smooth twelve-year-old Glenlivet, though, and she inhaled the smoky scent as she poured the amber liquid into her glass.
"Nothing surprises you, huh, Miss Sullivan."
The bottle nearly slipped through her suddenly nerveless fingers. She set it on the desk with a thunk.
"Not where you're concerned, Lex." She deliberately let his name roll off her tongue. He might pay her salary, and the whole town might think she was in his pocket now, but no one owned Chloe Sullivan, least of all Lex Luthor.
He shrugged out of his elegant, black, wool coat, draped it across the visitor's chair. Then he picked up the bottle and spilled two fingers of scotch into the empty glass.
"You shouldn't drink alone, Chloe."
His voice was richer, deeper and more intoxicating than any liquor could ever be. Dammit, she was over this.
"What do you care?" That slipped out before she could stop it. She bit her lip to prevent herself from saying more, from telling him how she felt, from asking why he'd done it. Her fingers tightened around her glass, smooth and cool against her palm, like his skin in the morning--
His voice was silky, smug. "I care about the health of all my employees."
She couldn't let go of the glass. It was glued to her fingers. She was afraid she was going to break it.
"Of course. As if I could ever forget who signs my paycheck."
He shrugged, all cool calculation, and made a sweeping gesture indicating her office, the newsroom, the paper. "This was your choice, Chloe. It didn't have to be like this." She raised an eyebrow, skeptical. "I came to tell you I have no hard feelings. In fact," he leaned forward and she felt his eyes sweep over her body, "I think this arrangement could be mutually beneficial."
Before stopping to think, she dashed the drink in his face.
"Get out. Get out now." She was quivering with rage, and if he stayed to see her break down into tears, she would hate him forever.
He wiped his face with a tissue from her desk, licked his lips and said, in a more natural tone of voice, "That was a waste of perfectly decent scotch."
Chloe blinked. Lex collapsed into the chair and laughed, really and truly laughed, and it made her want to cry, but not from rage this time. She remembered that laugh washing over her as they made love, watched television, drove fast in one of his cars.
Three short months together after almost ten years of casual acquaintance, linked only by their mutual friendship with Clark.
It had started on another holiday, at the annual town Fourth of July picnic. Clark and Lois had been unable to make it, so Chloe had stuck close to Pete and Lana at first, and then naturally gravitated toward Lex, to avoid the matchmakers. A softball game, a twisted ankle from sliding into home, and Lex's deft, gentle hands assuring her it wasn't broken, but he'd take her home and put some ice on it anyway.
The thrill of his touch on her skin, his lips on her forehead, had beguiled her into asking him to stay.
To her delight, they liked the same nineteen-forties screwball comedies, and spent the rest of that afternoon watching Tracy and Hepburn fall in love over and over again.
It had ended in silence, the title and bump in salary her payment for keeping quiet about the affair when his interests turned elsewhere.
She would never be taken seriously now, regardless of how many exposs on LexCorp the Ledger ran.
"What do you want, Lex?" she asked, suddenly weary of the game, if it was a game.
He reached out to stroke her cheek with his finger; she jerked away, and he slumped a little in the chair.
"I wanted to say I'm sorry. I didn't think it would turn out like this," he said, his voice low, like raw silk against her ears.
She swallowed hard, tears threatening again. She had to get rid of him, so she could cry in peace. She held up a hand. "Don't. Please."
"I just want to -- resolve this." He toyed with his glass, turning it round and round in his hands. "We were friends, once. I'd like to think we could at least be civil again." He held her gaze and she looked away first.
"You made me feel like a whore, Lex. I don't think I can get over that with a fake apology and a 'let's be friends'."
He stood so quickly he almost overturned the chair. "I what?"
"You fucked me and you paid me off when you were done." She couldn't stop her voice from breaking.
He slammed the glass onto the desk. "No. You used me to get the Managing Editor job. You made me lo-- You used me. I'm the injured party here."
She was back on solid ground again, not at all ready to give into him on the strength of his lame apology. "Oh, sure. That's why as soon as Amlie Rothschild entered the picture, you didn't have time for me anymore, and to shut me up, you gave me this job."
"Amlie is a business partner. That's all." He moved toward her with feline grace, a panther in black Armani. He took hold of her wrist, and she let him. "I can think of much better ways to shut you up, Miss Sullivan." His breath whispered across her lips, and she shivered.
"You got me this job," she said.
"No. I put your name up for consideration, and since I own the paper, the board felt obligated to interview you. My involvement ended there. You got the job on your own merits."
"And you think I only wanted you for the job?" she asked, aghast. "What is that called?"
He had the grace to look sheepish. "I was angry. You-- I thought you were different, and then you weren't."
"I was. I am," she said softly. "You can think what you like about me, but you should believe that."
He sipped his scotch, swallowed, and said, "I wanted -- I want to."
"Good." She ran a hand through her hair and took a deep breath. She processed his words. "So... it wasn't payment to keep me quiet?"
"If it was, it didn't work." His mouth twisted in a bitter grin. "You've had the IRS, the FDA and the FCC breathing down my neck since you got this job. I couldn't understand why you hated me." He ran a thumb over her bottom lip. "And I certainly never intended you to feel like a whore."
She resisted the urge to lick his thumb. "You stopped calling." Even to her own ears, it sounded weak.
"You stopped answering."
"Don't turn this back on me."
"I thought you thought I was beneath you."
His grin widened, became genuine, wicked. "Now, there's an interesting idea."
He walked backward, gently pulling her with him.
"I'm sorry," he said again. She could feel his hand trembling as he slid it through her hair. Her heart was pounding in her ears, so she almost missed his whispered, "I think I love you."
"I don't know what to say."
"'I love you, too,' is the customary response." He continued to walk her toward the window. They looked out as the clock struck midnight, and fireworks shot off in the town square. "Happy New Year, Chloe Sullivan."
"Happy New Year, Lex Luthor." She kissed him on the lips, soft and chaste. "I think I love you, too."
He pressed his mouth to hers, and she tasted him again -- Glenlivet, a hint of lip balm, and Lex.
Maybe New Year's wasn't so bad after all.
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