The sweetest gift I know would be if the new snow Could fall on your footsteps on this Christmas eve The most joyous Christmas if luck could be with us Would be if Saint Nicholas brought you home to me ~ Christmas Without You
"Your nose is going to freeze to the window, honey," Martha commented in an amused tone as she glanced at her daughter over the rim of her mug. She blew lightly against the hot cider.
"It's just so pretty outside." Hudson sighed with the drama only a teenage girl could invoke. "It has to be the prettiest Christmas day ever."
"It is nice to see snow, for once," Martha agreed, flashing a smile at the grunt her husband made from behind the paper he was reading. "And it gives your father an excuse not to work on Christmas."
With another sigh, Hudson pulled away from the view of the falling snow outside the window and slid back into the chair, her fingers playing idly with the new red sweater she had received. Wrapping paper covered in snowmen and Santas and reindeer, bows of varying colors and boxes half-ripped in the excitement from opening them, lay strewn about the family room, stretching from beneath the tree to the doorway into the kitchen. Hudson opened her Christmas gifts like she lived her life - filled with curiosity and impatience, delving in without thought of the consequences and leaving gorgeous disarray in her path. She opened them in that manner when she was five and she still did so now at fifteen and Martha just didn't have the heart to clean up the mess yet. Her daughter was changing daily, growing up, coming into her own but this was one little piece of her that Martha hoped would never change, never fade away. There were some messes in life that were a joy to clean up.
Christmas Eve had been spent in the long-time family tradition of delivering homemade goodies to their neighbors and friends in town, short conversations in the cold December evening, before piling back into the truck and driving to the next farm or house. Martha and Hudson had spent the past week baking every manner of Christmas cookie, gingerbread cakes and muffins, fudge, candy, pumpkin bread, banana bread and decorating lids on the jars of canning they had done that Fall. All of these items had been placed into various baskets lined with cloth or brightly wrapped boxes and delivered as little `Gifts From Kent Farms'. It was Martha's favorite reason for baking, and though her daughter griped and grumbled her way through it, she knew Hudson loved the time they spent together in the kitchen - as well as the chance to dip her fingers into bowls of batter and freshly whipped icing. All of the work was worth it in the end, when they delivered the inexpensive but thoughtful gifts to those people who had stuck by them throughout the years. Faces lit up in delight, children danced around their parents begging for a piece of maple fudge from `their favorite, Mrs. Kent' and requests for recipes abounded. Every Christmas Eve, Martha understood her daughter's love for this time of the year.
Only this morning, Hudson hadn't seemed quite herself. Restless, occasionally frowning, staring up at the brightly decorated tree with a pensive expression, their daughter hadn't been filled with her usual Christmas boisterousness. She'd flown through her chores that morning, then prepared her annual Christmas morning breakfast -- which she had been making for them since she was nine -- before they had all crowded around the television, wrapped in slippers and sweats and robes and big, fluffy blankets, to watch `It's a Wonderful Life' and `Miracle on 34th Street'. They ate an enormous early Christmas dinner of roast beef, scalloped potatoes, cornbread dressing, green bean casserole, cheesy spinach bake, fresh wheat rolls and white chocolate cheesecake before sitting down around the tree to open their gifts. With the loss of the herd and the need to replace it, money had been tight this year, but Jonathan had insisted that his daughter not notice it at Christmas. So Hudson had received almost everything on her wish list, except for those few things she asked for every year with the knowledge that she would never get them because only people like the Luthors could afford such outlandish gifts.
As she thought of the Luthors, Martha's gaze drifted to the lone present that remained beneath the tree, lovingly wrapped in glossy red paper with tiny cartoon Christmas mice in various scenes of sledding, sitting companionably by a warm fire, opening gifts and building snowmen. It was wrapped with a big red velvet bow and attached was a plain little white card that read `To Lex, Love Hudson'. She hadn't delivered it yet, and Martha hadn't asked why, even though her daughter had spent the past month lamenting over just the right thing to buy for not only her friend, but the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world. While Martha had been certain that Lex would enjoy anything her daughter gave him, Hudson hadn't been so sure. And now, after all of the excitement of finding the perfect gift, there it sat, alone beneath the bows of the pine tree.
Lifting her gaze, Martha found that Hudson was staring at the gift as well, that now-familiar pensive expression affixed on her face, chin in her hand. Ever since the chemical spill on their property and Hudson's subsequent rescue of Lex in Metropolis, things hadn't quite been the same between the two friends and Martha had never asked why. Lately, discussing Lex in the house had dropped to a minimum, since it invariably meant setting Jonathan off into a nasty mood. Martha had been so busy the last few weeks, she hadn't found the time to pull her daughter aside and find out what was wrong. But half of her Christmas vacation had passed, and not once had Hudson uttered the phrase `I'm going to visit Lex for awhile'.
Contemplating how to find out if this were what was bothering her daughter at the moment, without actually mentioning Lex's name in front of Jonathan, Martha sipped at her cider quietly, staring into the fire. Finally, she raised her head and asked, "Do you plan on seeing Chloe or Pete today?"
Hudson blinked out of the daze she had been in and looked away from the tree to her mother. "No. Pete's family are all gathered at his house for Christmas and Chloe and her dad left for Colorado yesterday morning. They rented a cabin for the holiday and skiing."
Martha nodded. "What about Lana?"
Another long-suffering sigh. "In Metropolis visiting relatives with her aunt."
Smiling over the rim of her cider, Martha stood and waved a hand toward the kitchen. "Honey, why don't you come into the kitchen with me and help clean up?"
Not waiting for an answer, Martha left the room, walking straight over to the sink where she rinsed out her mug and set it in the drainer before turning to the rest of the dessert plates that had yet to be cleaned. She said nothing as Hudson joined her, lifting the mug into her hands to begin drying. She watched her daughter surreptitiously from the corner of her eye, Hudson's gaze drifting out the window where the snow was still falling, `Six to eight inches', the weatherman had predicted and Jonathan had commented that he would bet the farm they got closer to a foot. Hudson was already fidgeting, shifting from one foot to the other, tapping her teeth together occasionally, which Martha had berated her for time and again as a horrible habit. She didn't say anything this time though because it was clear her daughter had pent up tension and energy that needed to be released.
Martha softly hummed the tune of `Silent Night' as she worked, and slowly her daughter seemed to calm beside her, her constant movements becoming more graceful and sweeping, her expression relaxing. Finishing with the last dish, she moved over to wrap the leftover cheesecake in aluminum foil while Hudson finished drying quietly.
"What's Lex doing today?" Martha asked as casually as possible, knowing that the Christmas music from the other room was enough to drown out her voice. Nat King Cole's voice drifted into the kitchen to the tune of `The Christmas Song'. She looked over at Hudson.
"I don't know." Hudson shook her head, worrying her lower lip for a moment. "Knowing Lex, probably working."
"Certainly he's spending time with his father?" Martha asked, a bit surprised at her daughter's answer. She stopped what she was doing to turn and watch her.
"No. Lionel is... I think Lex said he was in Italy this week." She looked over at her mother. "Lex always says that his family doesn't celebrate the holidays in the traditional manner. Not since his mother died."
"The poor boy." Martha frowned and looked down at the dessert she was preparing to slip into the refrigerator. "Thanksgiving is one thing. But Christmas?"
It was the most abhorrent thing she had ever heard. Generally, Martha tried not to judge Lionel Luthor too harshly. Unlike her husband, she understood the Luthor world a little bit better, knew that they simply lived their lives differently, dictated by the rules of city life and the business world. But leaving your only child alone for Christmas - it was unthinkable!
Lifting the cheesecake into her hands, she walked back over to where Hudson stood and set it on the counter. "You haven't seen much of him lately," Martha commented, folding her arms across her stomach as she leaned a hip into the counter. "I'm not foolish enough to believe it has anything to do with the discussion we had regarding the dangers of being a part of his world. Would you like to talk about what happened?"
Hudson glanced over at her mother, still chewing on that lip. "It's... kind of complicated," she began.
Martha smiled a little. "And not something you want to talk about with your mother." She nodded in understanding and reached up to brush a strand of hair from Hudson's brow. "You do know that I'm here though, right, sweetie? And that you can talk to me about anything?"
"Yeah." Hudson gave her a smile. "I know, mom."
Looking back down at the cheesecake, Martha commented, "You know, we have a lot of leftovers. And we still have an extra basket of baked goods from last night. You have a gift to deliver, and I'm sure you'll be hungry enough for another dinner in a few hours. The roads to the estate shouldn't be too bad yet."
An enormous smile grew across Hudson's face before quickly fading. "Dad wouldn't like it."
"I think I can handle your father, Hudson. It's Christmas. He's got a new pair of slippers, that antler-carved pipe he's been commenting on for ages and a DVD player to figure out how to work. I'm certain he's not going to have any problems with you visiting a friend on Christmas." She squeezed her daughter's arm. "Go on. Bundle up and find a sack to put the present in and I'll pack up some food for you to take."
Hudson reached over and hugged her mother as tightly as she could without causing discomfort. "Thank you, mom. You're the best!" She exclaimed as she kissed her cheek.
Martha watched as her daughter sped out of the kitchen and up the stairs, torn Christmas paper flying about as she zipped past. Jonathan lowered his newspaper and glanced up curiously but when his wife just flashed him a smile, he went back to his reading. Putting the leftovers together, Martha began humming along with Bing as he sang about a Drummer Boy, her gaze drifting back to the window and the newly fallen snow that gathered on the sill.
Lex glared out at the snow through the window before taking a sip of the scotch he held in his hand. He'd shared a love/hate relationship with snow all of his life. Before the meteor shower had effectively wiped out his asthma, he'd been forced to stay inside and watch as children of their staff got to sled and build snowmen and have snowball fights on the rolling hills of their estate in the north side of Metropolis. He could vividly remember pressing his nose against the glass of the window, his fingers reaching for the snowflakes as they fell, never able to touch them. The cold, wet weather made breathing even more difficult, and on those days he was forced to stay inside and only imagine what the snow felt like. Sometimes his mother would go outside and cup her hands and bring a bit of it inside for him to feel. But it always melted so quickly and he tried to be brave and nonchalant about it because he knew it upset her as much as it did him, and he knew his father thought it was all foolishness anyway.
After the meteor shower, there was really no point in going out into the snow. The other children didn't want to be friends with a bald-headed freak and his mother was becoming too ill to spend much time playing with him. Pamela tried but his father put a quick end to it, saying he should be spending his time more productively than building forts and throwing snowballs. When his mother died, Lex hated the sight of snow. It reminded him too clearly of the little things she did to make him happy, how she would go out of her way to try and give him a normal childhood. More than once, he'd entertained the idea of moving to the west coast, just so he never had to see snow again.
Snow on Christmas, though. That was the worst. It was as if the Fates had gathered together to conspire just to piss him off. They were likely on his father's payroll. In fact, they were probably responsible for sending out the Christmas card he'd received a few days ago - the standard LuthorCorp Christmas card that every employee received. It even came with a gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse. Lex had to restrain himself from running out and spending that gift immediately.
Frowning down at the now empty glass in his hand, Lex turned away from the idyllic scene outside his window and made his way over to the bar, pouring himself another glass. Unbeknownst to his father, this was his Christmas gift. He figured the man owed him something, so he bought the best bottle of scotch he could find - a 50 year old bottle of Glenfiddich through Christie's auction house. He purchased it with the help of the LuthorCorp expense account and he wasn't the least bit guilty about it, either.
"That's not the way to spend Christmas, drinking."
Lex started at the familiar voice, turning to find Hudson standing just inside the doorway, looking so adorable he couldn't begin to stop the smile that automatically appeared at seeing her. Bundled in a big red jacket and matching snow boots, she was even wearing the most ridiculous red and yellow striped wool hat pulled down around her ears, a fuzzy little ball on top. Her cheeks and nose were red, her eyes bright and she was returning his smile with one of her own.
Snapping himself out of the unexpected cheer, Lex felt his scowl return. "What are you doing here?"
"Merry Christmas to you, too," Hudson replied with a raised eyebrow. "Didn't realize I'd somehow found my way to Mount Crumpit to meet the Grinch."
"Does that make you Cindy Lou Who?" Lex returned without missing a beat.
"Ohhh! He's up on his Christmas tales." Hudson moved into the study, setting the bag she carried down on the couch while she shrugged out of her jacket.
"I'm a Luthor. I didn't grow up on Mars, you know," Lex pointed out, taking another sip of scotch while he watched her. She was wearing a thick white sweater with an embroidered Christmas tree on the front, little bells and plastic colored jewels sewn on as ornaments. He kept waiting for it to light up or something. "Shouldn't you be at home celebrating the holiday with your family."
"We already opened gifts and ate dinner," she replied, stomping her feet a few times, causing snow to fall across the Persian rug beneath her. "I brought leftovers with me; dropped them off with Dodd. Mom sent cookies and fudge, too."
"You gave Dodd leftovers?" Lex asked with a smirk. "You're very brave."
"He seemed very mystified when I handed them to him. I'm already getting hungry again, though. Mom makes the best scalloped potatoes."
"I can imagine."
He kept staring at the ball on the tip of her hat. It bounced when she walked and Lex couldn't remember knowing a single person in his past who had worn such a thing. Not even when he went skiing at Vail. Then again, Hudson was probably the only person on Earth that could pull off wearing it and not look like a moron. At least in his opinion. She looked cute. He just wanted to kiss her and... No, he wasn't going to go there again.
Taking another swallow of the drink in his hand, he commented, "I'm surprised your parents let you come over. I mean, with the weather and all."
"I learned how to drive in snow a long time ago. Besides, a lot of the farmers are already out plowing. The roads weren't too bad." She moved over to the fireplace and held her hands out for a minute, warming them. Glancing over her shoulder at him, she asked, "Have you been outside?"
"Do I look insane?"
Hudson grinned. "You don't want me to answer that, do you?"
She turned, warming her backside against the fire and Lex tried not to stare, forced himself to take another drink as he focused his gaze on the floor beneath him instead. If it had been anyone else, Lex would believe she did these things on purpose, patting the back of her jeans with her hands while she hummed a Christmas tune. It sounded like Jingle Bell Rock. Knowing Hudson, she probably knew the words to the song as well. And Lex tried to convince himself that he didn't find such a thought cute, nor did he want to hear her sing it. Frustrated, he downed the last of the glass of scotch, then silently told himself to slow down, knowing that if he had much more, he'd find an entirely different way to warm Hudson - and it required fewer clothes.
Damn. It had been almost two weeks since the night she had spent in his bed, and they had both been cautiously avoiding one another. Well, he had been avoiding her mainly because he believed she was avoiding him -- be it because of everything that had happened with Amanda's brother or the kisses they had shared or his subsequent discussion with her the next morning about how that could never happen again. Hudson had more than enough reasons not to want to be friends with him anymore, not to want to be forced to share his company, and yet here she was, standing in his study, warming her ass against his fire, looking for all like she belonged there, smiling at him in that stupid hat. And then the image of her in nothing but the hat flashed into his mind and Lex quickly started for the bar again, seriously needing another drink.
Lex came to an abrupt halt at Hudson's exclamation, wondering if her jeans had caught fire, only to find her moving over to the windows, staring out at the garden with wide eyes.
"How can you not have gone outside?" She asked, glancing back at him. She gestured toward the glass. "Look at that enormous expanse of lawn, covered in snow, and it hasn't been touched! It's begging to be littered with snow angels!"
"Have at it." Lex waved his empty glass toward the yard. "I'm not stopping you."
"You have to come out with me."
Lex just chuckled and turned to pour another drink. It was half-filled when the decanter was pulled from his hands and placed back on the bar. He looked up with a frown to find Hudson mirroring his expression, right down to the little wrinkle just above her nose.
Don't laugh, he thought. You'll only encourage her.
"Come outside with me, Lex. It'll be fun."
He raised an eyebrow. "Fun? It's cold and wet and I'm not dressed for it. How could that possibly be fun?" He was dressed for the cold that was occasionally felt inside the castle - black sweater and slacks, thick socks - but nothing for being outside in the snow.
"It's not like we're going hiking in the arctic tundra, Lex," Hudson told him, grabbing his hand and pulling him along with her toward the back door. "We won't be out long and the house is only a few yards away. Humor me."
Lex sighed. "That's all I've been doing since we met."
Hudson flashed him a grin that clearly said there was nothing wrong with that.
When she opened the door, Lex instinctively pulled back a little, wincing as the cool air swept inside. A drift of snow had already built up along the threshold of the door and Hudson planted a booted foot into it, just like a kid aiming for a rain puddle. Lex made a face, securing his feet at the edge of the step, refusing to move an inch further.
"I don't have any gloves on," Lex told her.
She shrugged. "Neither do I. Live a little."
"That's difficult to do when one freezes to death."
Hudson turned to face him, still grinning. She looked him over for a moment then did the most unexpected action ever. She reached up and pulled her cap off before firmly setting it on his head, pulling it right down over his ears. And then he was wearing it. The red and yellow striped wool cap with a big fuzzy ball on top. Lex wondered if it were possible to die of humiliation.
To top it all off, Hudson laughed a little and told him, "You look adorable."
Lex whipped the fashion faux pas off of his head and threw it at her. "I am not wearing that."
She pouted as she took it from him. "Why not? No one but me will see you."
"How do you know? Paparazzi could be hiding in the bushes."
Hudson rolled her eyes. "Oh, Lex. Your life isn't that exciting."
Lex didn't bother with a reply and he hated it when she pouted. For all he knew, Hudson stood in front of her mirror every morning practicing the perfect pout, just so she could use it on him effectively. And she was pouting very well at the moment, wringing the hat in her hands, glancing off toward the snow-covered lawn longingly and back at him. Lex wasn't going to give in. He didn't want to play in the snow and he didn't want to wear that stupid hat.
"Give me that." Yanking the cap from her hands, Lex slammed it over the top of his head and pushed past her into the snow, wincing at the realization that he was ruining a pair of six hundred dollar shoes. All because some teenage girl wanted to go make snow angels. And had a really cute pout.
Hudson bounded beside him like an overly enthusiastic puppy, chattering about the sled races her and Pete used to have as kids and the proper way to build an effective snowball as taught to her by her father and the many times school had been cancelled from snowfall in January and February. Lex found himself grinning against his will, finding that the simple sound of her voice was enough to make his Christmas that much better and maybe wearing a wool cap was worth it in the long run. After all, it was just the two of them and there really wasn't much he wouldn't do for her if she asked him.
And then, Lex was suddenly reminded why one didn't wear Italian leather shoes into the snow, when his feet flew out from under him and he flew backwards, landing on his ass in the cold, cold snow. He looked up to find Hudson staring down at him, her mouth twitching.
It was too much. "Go ahead. Laugh. Laugh at the billionaire's son in the ridiculous stocking cap with the little bouncy ball on top, whose ass will now freeze to death in the snow only yards away from his comfortable study where a nice warm fire is currently blazing."
She did laugh. A little too hard in Lex's opinion. He raised up on his elbows and glared at her as she plopped down into the snow beside him and giggled uproariously, as if she had never experienced anything quite so funny in her life. He knew that if he made a comment, she would likely reply with something about how she was laughing with him instead of at him, of course, ignoring the fact that he wasn't laughing. Nothing regarding his current situation was particularly funny.
At least, that's what Lex told himself, even when he realized his own grin of amusement was beginning to appear.
An hour later, they finally made their way back inside, wet and cold, the hat lost somewhere amidst the snow angels and snowmen that littered the once stately lawn behind the castle. They raced for the fireplace, Hudson hanging back a little to allow Lex to beat her there, then giving him grief for hogging the space and letting her freeze to death.
He glanced over at her, his ears red, teeth slightly chattering. He was smiling though, which was an enormous change from when she had first arrived. "It was your crazy idea to go out there," he told her. "And you're much better dressed for it."
Hudson crouched next to the fire, holding her hands out to warm them while beside her, Lex pulled up a chair and sat down, staring at his thoroughly soaked shoes. "Your feet must be freezing," she commented.
"That's an understatement."
Making a face as she realized they probably should have come inside much sooner, Hudson turned toward him, taking one foot into her hands and removing his shoe and wet sock.
"What are you doing?" Lex asked, attempting to pull his foot away.
"Keeping you from getting frostbite and losing your toes," she replied, removing both shoe and sock from the other foot as well.
Once that was done, she placed his feet into her lap and gently began massaging them, working the warmth back into them while above her, Lex first hissed at the slight pain then slowly relaxed into it. Hudson smiled a little as she worked, surreptitiously memorizing each little detail about the feet in her lap. They were nicely shaped, as pale as the rest of him, a little bony, smooth and flawless. She wondered what he would do if she started playing `This Little Piggy' with his toes. Glancing up, she found that Lex had leaned his head back on the chair, his eyes slightly hooded, watching her from beneath his lashes. Hudson couldn't remember the last time she had seen him so relaxed. The sight made her unreasonably happy.
"Better?" She asked after a few minutes.
Lex nodded. "Much." He grew silent for a moment, still watching her. Finally he commented, "You never did tell me what you were doing here."
"Spending Christmas with a friend?" Hudson smiled and stood. "You wouldn't come to me, so I came to you."
Lex remained slouched in the chair, flexing his feet in front of the fire, as if he were as cozy and content as could be. She watched him a moment, thinking to herself how she had stayed away entirely too long. No matter his decision regarding whatever was slowly happening between them, no matter his apparent denial of it's existence, Hudson knew that Lex needed her. Sure, it was something he would never admit to, a weakness that he could never let her see. But it was there just the same. And Hudson felt it because, truthfully, she needed him as well.
Knowing she was staring, she forced herself to continue on her way over to the bag she had deposited onto the couch earlier. Digging through it, she pulled out the gift she had brought, hefting it in her hands, wondering if Lex would like it or laugh at it or simply not care. Sighing, she moved back toward him.
"I wish you had a tree," Hudson commented as she came around beside him, kneeling next to the chair. She held the present out to him. "We'll get you one next year."
He stared at her, his brow knitting together before he finally took the box from her hands. "I thought we had agreed you wouldn't get me anything."
"You agreed. I didn't."
Lex frowned, obviously not agreeing at the moment. He just held the gift in his hands, almost glaring at it.
"Aren't you going to open it?"
"I should hit you over the head with it."
Hudson refrained from remarking that it wouldn't do much. She waited patiently, while Lex fingered the red bow, finally setting the box against his lap. He flashed another half glare at her, like he really wanted to yell at her for going against his wishes but couldn't form the right words to do so. After an interminable moment, he turned back to the gift and carefully began to untie the bow and work gently at pulling the paper apart.
She had to keep from tapping her fingers against the arm of the chair in impatience as Lex painstakingly worked the paper away from the box. He was obviously doing it just to annoy her, to show her that he didn't really want it and she had completely gone against his wishes by giving him something. That or the whole gift giving thing really did irritate him and he truly wanted nothing to do with it. He was rich, after all, if there was something out there he wanted, he could just buy it for himself.
But Hudson she had to stop herself and think for a moment. Maybe he wasn't taking his time with the unwrapping because he was meticulous and anal and couldn't show an ounce of enthusiasm for anything; maybe it was because he was savoring it. Savoring the feel of the wrapped gift in his hands, in the sound of the tape as it pulled away from the paper, the rasp of the lid against the box as he lifted it, the crinkle of the tissue inside. Hudson had to wonder if Lex wasn't simply enjoying the act of opening a gift given to him, something that possibly wasn't a frequent occurrence and perhaps he worried that it might never happen again.
And those thoughts were simply too painful for her to consider and Hudson mentally kicked them aside, preferring to live in the fantasy where Lex was simply Lex, and his method of opening gifts was infuriating, and he really didn't care about getting one. Nothing more.
Still, she held her breath as he pulled the tissue paper away and lifted the shiny walnut music box into his hands. She had seen it at her mother's favorite antique shop in Abilene, and the minute she had heard the tune it played, she knew Lex had to have it. The lid was covered in hand-painted lilies and when opened, the mechanisms inside could be seen through a tiny glass cover beside which was a blue-velvet lined compartment. Lex hadn't opened it yet though, his fingers were moving lightly over the lid, almost tracing the flowers.
"Open it," she encouraged softly.
Carefully, he lifted the lid. The wheels slowly began to grind and the tune to `Chances Are' filled the silent room. His hands clenched around the edges of the box but still he said nothing.
Hudson worried her lower lip, staring through the glass as the wheels and toggles turned inside. "I remember you telling me that was your mother's favorite song. I thought it could be something that you could have near to remind you of her. It's not as fancy as your watch or anything but - "
She lifted her gaze at the whisper, finding that Lex's eyes were a little shinier than usual. He still wasn't looking at her, intent on the music box in his hands. The light from the fire flickered over his face, casting dark shadows here, beautiful highlights there, the orange-red flames reflecting in the blue of his eyes. Sometimes he just looked so sad, so in pain, and there was nothing she could do about it. She couldn't reach out to him, because he wouldn't ask for help. And she didn't know what to say to get him to open up, to let her in, to trust her to make things better. Lex would never make himself that vulnerable, never allow himself to appear to actually need someone. And Hudson was so afraid that one day, somewhere in the years ahead, all of that pain and fear sheltered deep inside would eat away until it had no where else to go. Then there would be nothing left but a lifeless shell, a man too much like the man he always seemed to be fighting not to become. Bitter, hard, angry, alone. And she didn't know how to stop that from happening. Not when Lex refused to give her the chance.
Hudson found herself hoping that little moments like this might help to bridge the gap that existed between Lex and the world around him. She had worried for weeks about the gift and how well he would receive it when so often it was impossible to get any real emotion from him. Now, she finally had her answer. He liked it. No. He loved it. Hudson could see that in the way he was holding it, staring at it, the tone of his words. She'd been able to give him something little to remember his mother by, and the expression in his gaze was well worth all of the anxiety she had felt.
"Merry Christmas, Lex."
Lex finally turned to look at her then, his eyes sweeping over her face for a moment. She thought he was about to say something but instead, he stood up, carrying the box over to his desk and setting it down, gently shutting the lid. Silence once more filled the room as he leaned over the credenza behind his desk and opened a drawer, pulling a tiny box from it.
When he moved back over to Hudson, he sat down in the chair beside her and held the box out. "I'm sorry it isn't wrapped. I didn't think I would have the chance to give it to you."
Eyes widening just a little, Hudson took the box from his hand, and slowly lifted the lid. A little sound escaped her at the shiny gold charm, shaped like the Phantom's mask, that lay nestled against black velvet. Grasping the delicate chain with her fingers, she pulled it out, holding up in front of her where the firelight winked against it.
"Oh, Lex, it's beautiful."
"There's an inscription... "
Turning the charm over, Hudson held it closer to the fire, reading aloud, "HC ~ I will never hide from you ~ LL." She looked up at him, her eyes filling with tears. "Lex... "
He shifted uncomfortably, his eyes dropping from hers to the necklace. "It's... Your parents can't get too upset. Although I went completely against my nature, I tried not to think expensive. It's just a little gold charm."
"It's perfect," she told him with a smile. "Thank you, Lex."
Quickly climbing to his feet, Lex ran a hand over his scalp and glanced toward the doorway. "Why don't we go see if Dodd has those leftovers warmed up yet?"
Without waiting for her answer, Lex turned and walked toward the hallway. Watching him go, Hudson took her time to open the clasp on the chain and reach behind her neck, clicking it shut. She lifted the charm into her hand, smiling down at it for a moment before rising to her feet to follow Lex to the dining room.
Hudson hadn't lied; her mother really did make the best scalloped potatoes.
Actually, all of the food that Hudson had brought with her had been wonderful, and Lex had eaten far too much of it, as if there were some part of him that had been trying to compete with Hudson's appetite. Not that it was possible. Even though she had eaten the same meal earlier in the day, it hadn't stopped her from having seconds, and even thirds of some of the dishes again in his dining room.
After the initial discomfort from the gift exchange had faded, Lex had relaxed once more, his feet snuggled warmly into the slippers his housekeeper had brought to him, Hudson chatting softly beside him about the presents she'd found under the tree that morning from `Santa'. He sipped at his cup of hot tea, smiling at the absurdity of still getting gifts from Santa Claus, while at the same time fighting back the resentment that threatened from having the illusion of the jolly old man in the red suit ruined for him by his father at the age of five. He wanted to hate Hudson for living a life he could only dream of; he adored her too much to want anything less for her than everything he had been cheated out of. Their lives were so different, and he often felt shame at the knowledge that he was secretly living vicariously through hers. Lex loved to hear the stories that she told, the little memories of growing up, attending public school, playing in tree houses and going fishing at Hobb's pond. Occasionally, he would share a memory or two with her, little moments that he remembered with his mother or Pamela, books they had read together, places they had vacationed. Usually, the memories were so few that he jealously guarded them, not wanting to share for the fear that they wouldn't be his anymore.
When dinner was finished, they took their plates of white chocolate cheesecake, and another little platter filled with fudge, gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies and macaroons, and moved to the theatre to watch `White Christmas'. Lex had been a little surprised at the choice, but Hudson explained that her family always watched it as the last movie of the holiday season, and they were probably doing so right then, and she couldn't break the tradition. Halfway through the movie, Hudson stretched out across the leather couch and drifted off to sleep. Not wishing to disturb her, Lex continued to watch the movie, his hand occasionally straying to the head that lay in his lap, his fingers brushing through the dark strands. Her hand was curled against his knee, he could feel her warm breath through the material of his pants and he wished that he could keep her there always.
When his cell phone rang suddenly, Lex snatched it up, glancing down at his friend to see that she was still sleeping serenely. Glaring a little at the phone, he lifted it to his ear, his voice soft as he spoke:
"This is Lex."
"Lex, it's Martha."
He looked at his watch, having not realized that it was all ready half past ten. Everything had just been so peaceful, he hadn't wanted it to end. "Mrs. Kent. I apologize. I hadn't looked at the time."
"H.C. is still there?"
"Yes." He felt his face grow warm, knowing that he had no right to monopolize her time this way. "We were watching `White Christmas' and she fell asleep. I'm sorry. I just didn't have the heart to wake her."
"Oh, don't apologize, Lex. It's usually impossible to wake her anyway."
Lex had slowly been discovering that. He thought Hudson could probably sleep through anything. "Thank you for sending the food. The entire meal was delicious."
"You're very welcome. If I had known you were alone - "
"I wouldn't have accepted," Lex interrupted quickly. "This is a time for family. It wouldn't have been right of me to ruin Mr. Kent's Christmas like that."
There was silence on the other end, and Lex figured he had probably said the wrong thing, shouldn't have referred to Hudson's father and their problems at all.
Inwardly sighing, he told her, "I'll wake Hudson and send her - "
"No," Martha broke in. "She's had a busy day. And the roads aren't bad. The snow stopped falling two hours ago and everyone's been busy plowing. Let her sleep another hour or so."
It was then that Lex realized that maybe this had been Martha's plan all along. Over dinner, Hudson had explained that her mother had cleared the way for her to come over on a day normally reserved for family. Did the woman know that she had given Lex what he considered to be the best gift ever? He doubted it.
"Thank you, Mrs. Kent."
"Merry Christmas, Lex."
Lex glanced down at the angelic face still sleeping against him and smiled. "Merry Christmas."
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