MY FIRST TASTE
Yes, you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft
There is nothing for me but to love you ~
Lex sat in the corner of the Talon, watching silently as the merriment from the presidential victory celebration died down. Only a few students from the high school were left, including Lana, who was busy cleaning up for the night, and Hudson, who had offered to help. In a manner typical of her, Hudson had been extremely gracious in her loss for the bid for class president. Lex doubted that he would have taken it quite so well. He certainly wouldn't have shown up for the celebration or signed the card that the class was forwarding on to Paul while he recuperated from the bee attack in the hospital.
Attacking bees. Yet another story for Chloe's Wall of Weird and probably one more ecological mishap that would be blamed on LuthorCorp.
Taking a sip of his cappuccino, Lex smiled and shook his head as Lana passed by, asking if he wanted one more refill. He'd already had enough caffeine to keep him up through the night - useful since he had a stack of reports to prepare for a meeting with his father in the morning. Inwardly, he winced at the familiar verbal sparring he would be forced to partake in while he was in Metropolis. Ever since turning down his father's offer to return there and work for him, Lex had been the butt of a constant barrage of disparaging remarks and set-downs. Everything he did lately wasn't good enough, should have been done differently, more quickly, less hastily. He could only imagine what his father's next plan of attack would be.
"I thought you left for home a while ago."
Lex glanced up to see Hudson smiling down at him. "I was waiting to see if you wanted a ride."
"I'm sorry," she apologized as she slid into the seat beside him. "I didn't even know you were here - hiding in the corner and all."
"I chose not to partake in the festivities," he replied with a smile. "I prefer to be the silent observer."
"And what did you observe?"
"That you tend to hide in the shadows quite a bit as well."
Hudson shrugged, brushing her fingers through her thick, dark hair. "It's a habit, I guess. Even after getting acquainted with so many students during the past few weeks of the campaign, I still don't feel completely comfortable around them. Especially in large groups. It makes me feel... conspicuous."
Lex raised an eyebrow as he reached over to set a strand of hair back against her head that had been mussed by her fingers. "I don't think hiding works very well for you, angel," he commented. "You're much too striking for that. People notice you, no matter how much you try to hide."
She frowned and kicked at the leg of the table before glancing up at him. "So why does it work for you? I mean, you're like the most vibrant person I have ever met. When you walk into a room, people know you're there. But tonight... It was like you disappeared."
"Years of practice." Lex finished off his cappuccino in a quick swallow and nodded toward the edge of the booth, indicating that they should leave.
As they stood, he placed a hand at the small of her back and guided her toward the door. "I spent most of my childhood learning how to hide, to not be noticed when I didn't want to be. It wasn't easy. Between staff and nannies and my father's business associates in and out of the house, my mother's charity committees... " He shook his head. "I learned what worked and what didn't."
"Does that include hiding out during New Year's parties?"
Lex smiled. "Christmas parties, too."
Lana waved to the as they neared the door. "Bye! See you tomorrow, Hudson. One o'clock, right?"
Hudson nodded and waved with a smile. "One o'clock."
As they stepped outside, Lex helped Hudson shrug into her coat, frowning slightly. "What's tomorrow at one?"
The shocked and somewhat pained expression on her face should have alerted him instantly. But Lex's thoughts had been so consumed with the meeting tomorrow that he couldn't figure clearly why she appeared so displeased.
"Lex... " She seemed uncertain of what to say for a moment before finally replying, "It's my birthday."
"Shit." Lex ran a hand over his scalp, turning to glance out into the street and away from the hurt in her gaze. Damn his father all to Hell! With everything that had been going on the past few weeks, he had completely forgotten about her birthday celebration. Turning back to Hudson, he held out a hand in supplication. "Angel... I don't know what to say. My father is demanding I be in Metropolis tomorrow for a meeting with some of our distributors."
Hudson didn't reply, just stared after him, her expression neither accusing nor accepting. Lex wondered if she was learning that from him.
He shook his head, mentally kicking himself and cursing his father. "Ever since I refused to return to Metropolis, he has been completely on my ass. First Dominic shows up for a surprise accounting visit and now he calls out of the blue with these ridiculous meetings... "
"Its okay, Lex," she told him quietly, tucking her hands into the pockets of her coat and dropping her eyes to the pavement. "You're a busy man. I mean, it's just a birthday party. You have more important things to attend to."
Now he really did feel like shit. Stepping closer to her, Lex cupped her chin in his hand and lifted her gaze up to his. "I want you to understand something. Nothing - I repeat, nothing is more important to me than you. Do you hear me?"
She nodded a little but told him, "It's not like it's my actual birthday anyway. It's just some date my parents chose after they received the final adoption papers."
"That doesn't make it any less important," he insisted, caressing her jaw line lightly with the pad of his thumb.
He kept from pointing out that it was also her `sweet sixteenth', which would open the door to questions and hopes that he wasn't prepared to deal with. On Valentine's Day he had taken a step that he probably shouldn't have made, a silent declaration that -- while Hudson hadn't held him to it -- it was still something he should have kept to himself. Sixteen or not, legal or not, Hudson Kent deserved better than him.
"Look, I can't get out of the meeting but I can see what I can do about cutting it short. I'll try to make it back to Smallville in time for at least some of your party."
"You don't have to - "
"Stop it, Hudson," Lex warned, his grip tightening against her chin slightly in frustration. "I said I'm going to try to make it. Stop playing the martyr, all right?"
Hudson shifted uncomfortably beneath his stern gaze, obviously perturbed at being reprimanded. Lex didn't like treating her like a child - even if she was one - but sometimes she behaved that way, especially with him. She had a tendency to be a spoiled brat, like any teenager does, though Lex knew he had set the bar for such behavior during his own teen years. His father would probably say that he was still attempting to do so.
"I'm terribly sorry, angel," he told her, letting go of her chin to trail his fingers back across her cheek. She had the softest skin of anyone he had ever met, and it was always so warm. It was made to be touched and caressed. He often wondered what the skin over her abdomen felt like or the forbidden, untouched area of her inner thighs. How warm would she be? Hudson was living, breathing temptation and Lex thoroughly believed that she had been placed on this earth just to test him.
If he didn't know any better, he would swear his father had created her for just such a purpose.
"We should get you home." Dropping his hand, Lex walked toward the driver's side of his Porsche, hating that she was being so silent, that he seemed to have knocked the enthusiasm she had been showing from the party out of her. He had a strange talent at destroying other people's happiness. Obviously a trait he had picked up from his father.
Once they were inside the car, he started the engine and pulled out, heading down Main Street toward the west side of town where the Kent farm was located. Beside him, Hudson continued to remain silent and Lex fought back the anger at the guilt her obvious upset was creating within him. That he felt guilt over not attending the birthday of a sixteen year old girl was what angered him most. Since when had a teenage girl become so important to him? What did it matter if he didn't have cake and ice cream with the children of Smallville? After all, a birthday at the Kents most likely consisted of rousing rounds of `Pin the Tail on the Donkey', absurd paper hats and a very bad rendition of a very bad birthday song.
"Do you want me to save you a piece of cake?" Hudson asked softly as Lex turned the car onto Hickory Lane.
"Yes." So much for his hardcore resolution that it didn't matter. "I'd like that." He glanced over at her and smiled. "Vanilla with strawberry filling?"
"And cream cheese frosting," she replied, returning his smile. "At least this will save you from the embarrassment of participating in the birthday festivities."
"It wouldn't be embarrassing, Angel." Liar.
Lex turned his gaze back out the windshield and grinned as he pulled up alongside the farmhouse. Putting the Porsche in park, he slid his arm over the back of the passenger seat and focused his gaze on Hudson. "I'll be by sometime tomorrow, I promise."
"I know." She shifted in her seat a little before meeting his gaze. "Thanks for the ride home, Lex. And good luck tomorrow."
He didn't believe in luck. But he didn't want to negate her offer of hope. Leaning in, he kissed her cheek. "See you tomorrow, Angel."
Lex couldn't remember the last time he had been so angry. After over ten hours of meetings, he realized his presence in Metropolis had not actually been needed. Either his father had him there just to annoy the hell out of him or to show him how little power he held within LuthorCorp. Whichever it was, Lex felt more than slightly humiliated as they exited out of the last meeting of the board, where his father had taken every chance to humiliate and degrade him in front of the board members.
"Lex, I don't understand what the hurry is," Lionel drawled as they exited the boardroom toward the main bank of elevators from the executive floor. "Why don't we grab a late dinner together? You can update me on the progress of the plant in Smallville."
"From everything I heard this afternoon, Dad, you don't need a progress report," Lex replied, hitting the call button beside the elevators. "You make it up as you go. Right now, the Plant is doing well because you decided it needed to look good for the board."
"Your grand delusion that everything in this world revolves around you is quite amusing, Son." Lionel smiled, reaching in to stop the elevator as it arrived. "Dinner, Lex. You can spare a few minutes for your father."
"Sorry, Dad." Lex pushed past Lionel into the elevator and released the stop button before lighting up the ground floor. "I promised to meet up with someone in Smallville and I'm already late."
"I see." Lionel entered the elevator, choosing the seventieth floor where his main office was located. He leaned back against the wall and regarded his son. "This someone wouldn't happen to be an underage high school girl with the last name of Kent, would it?" His eyes widened a moment. "Oh, that's right. Today is her sixteenth birthday, isn't it?"
Lex pretended that he wasn't surprised by his father's knowledge of this information. He was also pleased that he continued to affect a perfectly bored expression with the conversation. He even managed to roll his eyes. "You have a point, Dad?" He pushed the ground floor button impatiently while his father looked on in amusement.
"Only that I am surprised you insist on continuing with this foolishness after our conversation a few months ago. I expected better out of you, Lex."
"Sorry to disappoint," he replied sarcastically.
The elevator stopped at the seventieth floor and Lionel moved toward the doors, halting as he stood between them and leaning against the opening, so that they couldn't close. He flashed a smile at Lex. "You had me worried with Victoria, until you proved agreeable to my plans for the takeover. Unfortunately, I can't see anything that you could possibly gain from this ridiculous pursuit of a child, aside from the attempt to get my attention or force the LuthorCorp stock to take a hit."
"Your shareholders aren't going to give a rat's ass whom I happen to be friends with," Lex snapped, flashing a pointed look from his father to the control panel. Hadn't the man tortured him enough for the day? "If you don't have anything more constructive to lecture me with today, would you mind stepping away from the doors? I have a long drive ahead of me."
Lionel regarded Lex for a long moment before leaning in to invade his personal space. "Know this, Son: I will not allow you to jeopardize your future. I will take whatever steps necessary to ensure that. Even if that includes ruining Miss Kent's future. I'm sure her parents would like to see her get into college, and even graduate high school." He allowed the threat to hang between them for a moment before continuing, "Do we understand each other?"
Lex glared at his father angrily. Even though he didn't believe he would actually go to such lengths just to prove a point, it angered him that his father would make such a threat against Hudson at all. Making a mental note to keep close tabs on Hudson's grades and her choices for college just so that he could remain one step ahead of his father, Lex gave a slight push to Lionel, removing him from the opening of the elevator.
"If you don't mind, Dad, I have an appointment to keep."
By the time he reached the garage, Lex was developing a headache. He reached into his coat pocket for some pain killers, tossing two back into his throat before climbing into the Ferrari and heading out of Metropolis. He was within a few miles of the interstate when he realized he hadn't even purchased a gift for Hudson yet. What could he get her? Her parents would reject just about any item he purchased, telling her to return it to him the next day. He doubted they would even allow him to buy her a pack of gum let along something meaningful. It had hurt to realize she wouldn't even wear the phantom's mask pendant he had purchased her for Christmas because she was afraid of her father seeing it. Hudson told him she kept it in her locker at school, her tone indicating that it meant something to her there, that it held some distinction being hidden away in there. Lex would have preferred to see it around her neck, not so much as a vindication that he had purchased and given it to her, but because she wanted to wear it, because something he had chosen would be around her neck, in a place of possession.
Sighing slightly in frustration, Lex reached up to work a knot out of the back of his neck as he silently came to the conclusion that he would never be good enough for the Kents, just as he would never be good enough for his father. Even if Hudson believed him worthy, he knew deep inside that he wasn't. Not worthy of her. He never would be.
As he neared the onramp to I-70, a sign attached to a lamppost caught his eye and Lex pondered the idea for a moment. He doubted even the Kents could have the heart to turn down that kind of gift. Making a quick U-turn, Lex headed in the direction indicated on the sign, hoping that this once he was making the right decision.
Hudson glanced down at her watch. Eleven twenty-six. Half an hour ago, when her mother brought her another bowl of strawberry ice cream, she asked her if she planned on waiting all night. Hudson hadn't bothered to tell her that waiting all night would have been pointless - Lex was supposed to be there before her birthday was over. And he only had thirty-four minutes left. Not that she would be angry with him or upset if he didn't show up; she understood that it was silly and childish of her to want her birthday (which wasn't really her birthday in the first place) to matter to Lex. But deep in her heart, the wish was still there. On Valentine's Day, he admitted that he had feelings for her. Then, for the next two months, very little between them had changed. So little in fact, that Hudson began to wonder if she simply made it all up in her mind.
Lex had presented her with a single yellow rose with red tips, pointing out that roses had specific meanings for each color. The first thing she did that night before going to bed was look up the information on the internet. Her parents were home from their dinner date by then and she was forced to stifle the scream of pure joy when she read that one of the meanings of the specific rose from Lex was `falling in love'. Of course, the first meaning of the rose was listed as `friendship'. She'd chosen to ignore that one.
Now she wondered if maybe she hadn't jumped the gun. True, Lex had been very busy the past few months at the plant. Production was up and he seemed more determined than ever to prove to his father how capable he was. They still shared their Sunday afternoons together, and seemed closer than ever before, and sometimes Lex kissed her, and sometimes he wouldn't even touch her. It left Hudson confused and hurt and occasionally angry but she never took it out on him. The truth was, she didn't know what she wanted. As much as she was certain she loved Lex, believed in her heart that they belonged together, Hudson was also fully aware of the problems that could occur. It would especially be difficult for Lex, who was already still crawling his way up in the estimation of Smallville's citizens. If he began dating one of their own - let alone one that happened to still be in high school - it was more than likely that the small amount of progress he'd made would be immediately stripped away.
And then there were her parents. Hudson was completely uncertain as to how she would approach the situation with them. Certainly, her mother would take it better than her father would, and maybe she could try to smooth the path for them, but Hudson doubted it. In reality, she didn't think there was very much that would convince her father that Lex would be anything other than harmful to Hudson.
Eleven thirty-seven. Hudson sighed and stood to gather the dishes she had sitting around the loft, including three empty ice cream bowls, two half finished glasses of punch and a piece of stale birthday cake. She was about to turn off the light when the familiar roar of a European sports car. Almost dropping the plates in her excitement, Hudson finally found a spot to place everything in her hands onto the desk, then turned and moved toward the stairs as she heard Lex enter the barn.
He came to a halt a few steps beneath her and met her smile with a small one of his own. "I'm sorry I'm late."
Hudson quickly shook her head and assured him, "It doesn't matter. You made it with twenty minutes to spare."
Lex continued with his half smile before climbing the last few steps to stand beside her. "I wanted to be here sooner... " He trailed off, as if uncertain as to how to continue. Glancing around the barn for a moment, he met her gaze once more and told her, "I have a gift for you."
"You didn't have to - "
"He made a mess in my car," Lex commented as he pulled his hand out from under his coat where Hudson hadn't noticed that it had been hiding. "Happy Birthday."
Tucked in his arm was a fat and fluffy puppy with paws almost as big as Hudson's hands. He squirmed impatiently in Lex's grip, whimpering as he struggled to get down. He was mostly black with a few tan patches over his paws, forehead and nose. He barked once, his tail wagging wildly as Hudson's eyes lit up with joy.
"Oh, Lex! He's the cutest thing ever!" Reaching out, she scooped him from Lex's arm and held the puppy close as he began lapping at her face with his tongue, causing her to laugh. "Thank you so much!"
Lex watched them both silently for a moment before he allowed a smile. "I don't know about that... He's a mutt. No idea what breeds either of his parents were except that they were big... and he's already well on his way to being bigger. He needs to learn not to use Ferraris for a restroom as well."
"He's just a baby," Hudson defended, holding the puppy up in front of her and making kissy faces at him as he licked the tip of her nose. "He doesn't know any better, do you sweetie?" She turned her gaze back to Lex and then launched herself at him, hugging him tightly, the puppy squished between them. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I've always wanted a puppy!"
Lex struggled out of her grasp as the puppy switched from licking her chin to his. "Yes... Well, just don't take him on any road trips," he cautioned as he moved past her over to the couch to sit down. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at his face with a disgusted expression while Hudson watched in amusement. "What else did you get for your birthday?"
Carrying the puppy with her over to the front of the couch, Hudson sat down on the floor in front of Lex, setting her new pet into her lap. "Ummm, let's see. I got a carousel horse music box from Lana, a hardback book on the supernatural from Chloe and a Shark's football jersey from Pete."
"That's quite an array of gifts." Lex smiled, glancing down as the puppy began tugging on Hudson's shoelace. "What did your parents give you?"
She glanced up as she tugged the shoelace away from the puppy and he went sprawling onto his furry butt. "Money so I can go shopping for summer clothes."
Raising an eyebrow as he stuffed the handkerchief back into his coat, Lex commented, "That seems atypical of you, Hudson."
Shrugging, she grabbed the puppy's tail and tugged on it until he became interested in it enough to being chasing it, running around in circles, barking at it until he toppled over once more. "I guess I have finally found a reason to want to catch up on the latest fashions and look my best." Hudson glanced up at him.
"You know I think you're perfect the way you are, angel," Lex told, holding her gaze as he leaned back against the couch.
"Who said I was talking about you?" She grinned before returning her attention to the puppy.
Lex nudged her thigh with the toe of his shoe. "I think you know better than to stir my jealousy. It's been known to be quite volatile."
Hudson picked up the puppy under his front legs and held him up before her. "Listen to big, bad Lex Luthor, trying to act all tough!" She commented to her new pet in a mocking voice. "We'd better be careful - or he might buy us out!" Looking up at Lex with an expression of sudden inspiration, she added, "You know in elementary school how kids always go around telling each other things like `If you kick me again, my dad will sue you!' or `If you take my Barbie again, my dad will sue you!'. I bet when you said it, your dad really did!"
"You're a real comedian." Lex rolled his eyes. "Maybe you should stick to farming."
It wasn't like her to just burst out with the first comment that crossed her mind but the next thing Hudson said was, "Why? So you can visit the `Farmer's Market'?" The implications of her comment hit her as the words were out and she felt her face instantly flame red.
A slow grin spread across Lex's face. "Hudson Clark Kent. I can't believe you just said that."
"I can't believe I did either," she mumbled, dropping her gaze back to the puppy.
An uncomfortable silence stretched between them during which Hudson just knew Lex was still grinning at her, challenging her to meet his eyes but she just couldn't do it. Her face still felt hot - hell, her ears felt hot, too. She knew she had to be an embarrassing shade of color. Making sexual jokes with Chloe was one thing. Making them in front of Lex... well, she hadn't quite reached that level of comfort with him just yet.
"So... ummm... I saved you a piece of cake," she told him as the puppy scrambled into her lap to begin licking her again.
"No thanks, Angel." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him climb to his feet. "I need to get home and send out some emails tonight."
At the thought of him leaving already, all embarrassment fled and Hudson jumped up, gathering the puppy into her arms. "You have to leave?"
Lex gave her an apologetic smile. "Yeah. But why don't I take you to lunch tomorrow? Kind of a make-up for missing your birthday. You like Rangers, right?"
Hudson's excitement at spending the afternoon with Lex quickly faded. "I can't. I promised Dad I'd go to Hays with him tomorrow to look over a new tractor."
Raising an eyebrow in curiosity, Lex asked, "Planning for the future of the farm?"
"No. He won't buy it," Hudson replied with a shake of her head. "He just likes to look and dream."
"Well, some other time then." Lex leaned past the puppy and kissed her cheek. "Happy birthday, Angel."
The puppy barked as Lex walked past them toward the stairs.
"Guess what I'm going to name him?" Hudson called out as Lex moved down the steps.
"If you say `Lex', I'm taking him back to where he came from," he replied with a smirk, continuing towards the door.
"Nah. Lex is too stuffy." She laughed as she leaned over the edge of the railing and looked down at him. "I think `AJ' fits perfectly."
Lex stopped at the door to look up at her. "You're killing me, Hudson."
She smiled. "Maybe. But aren't you having fun?"
Heaving a great sigh, Lex flashed her a quick look of exasperation before disappearing out the barn door. Cuddling AJ tightly, Hudson glanced down at the puppy as he looked up at her, wagging his tail in happiness.
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