Smallville - An Alternate Universe
Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed. Michael Pritchard
Hudson stood staring at Cassandra's lifeless body for a moment longer, fighting the tears that threatened. All this time, she had worried which of her friends she was going to lose, never once considering that it would be the kind old woman before her. Did that make her a bad person, that she hadn't immediately considered Cassandra as someone close to her?
The nurse moved past her and out into the hall, calling out for someone named Betty. Hudson forced herself forward over to the chair where she crouched down beside Cassandra, taking her hand with one of her own. Reaching up, she brushed the gray hair away from the pale forehead, her gaze thoughtful.
"I'm going to miss you," she told the woman quietly. "I wish we could have had more time to get to know one another." Rising, Hudson leaned over and kissed the wrinkled cheek before letting go of Cassandra's hand. "Goodbye."
Wiping at the tears that had gathered in her eyes, Hudson exited into the sunny hallway, watching as two more nurses moved past her back into Cassandra's room. She glanced down the corridor, thinking to herself that in a place like this, people were used to death. They simply went on with their lives, day to day, used to saying goodbye to people they cared about. That thought triggered the image of the graveyard in Hudson's mind, and the tombstones that surrounded her, as if she had been the only person left on Earth. Wincing at the fear that the mere thought of such a fate created in her, she snapped herself out of the reverie and turned to leave.
That was when she saw Lex. He was standing in front of a pair of French doors, staring out into the garden, the bright sunlight spilling over him, casting a long shadow across the floor. Though his gaze was frozen on the glass, his hands were moving rhythmically at his sides - sweeping over the material of his coat, clenching and unclenching, starting all over again. Frowning a little, not only at his presence at the retirement home but also at his uncharacteristic behavior, Hudson moved toward him, her eyes widening as she picked up on his heartbeat; erratic, too fast, as if adrenaline was shooting through his system. Fear?
Lex started from his contemplation, turning fast to find Hudson standing just behind him, concern etched in her exotic features. He stared back at her for a moment before glancing over her shoulder towards Cassandra's room. The woman his future had killed. No. That was impossible. She was just some crazy old woman who liked to weave tales and capture the interest of those around her. She just wanted attention and he had fallen into her trap.
His gaze flickered back to the young woman in front of him. "Hudson. What are you doing here?" Turning back towards the window, Lex ran a hand over his bare scalp.
"I was going to ask you the same thing," Hudson commented softly, watching the nervous motions that he was making with his hands that she had come to recognize whenever her friend grew agitated or upset.
Her friend. Lately, Hudson found herself questioning the strange interest or whatever it was that Lex seemed to have for her. Two days ago she had discovered that he still had the Porsche from the accident, that he kept it like some display in a museum, where he could look at it and marvel at how he had survived. He still refused to believe that she had simply dove into the river and pulled him out; he had called her on it, claiming that investigators had assured him the roof wouldn't have ripped open on impact. Truthfully, Hudson couldn't blame him for his curiosity. She would have behaved in the same manner, if she had thought about it long enough, wondering how she had moved out of the way in time, had the strength to dive into the water, pull him out, bring him back to life. Suspicious? Without a doubt. And she hated lying to him. That was the most difficult of all and it ate at her conscience worse than it did with Chloe or Pete, her longtime friends. Lex wanted so much to know why he was still here, how it was that he was still alive when by all purposes, he should be dead. And Hudson couldn't give him the truth.
All of these thoughts flittered through her mind in a brief moment. "I came by to visit... Cassandra," she answered.
"She's dead," Lex told her blankly, shoving his hands into his coat pockets for want of anywhere else to place them.
Hudson's brow furrowed and she stepped nearer to Lex. "I know. I was just in there. But... how did you know?"
Lex swallowed, unable to tell his friend - his only friend - that he had been responsible for the death of someone she cared about. "I... you talked so much about Cassandra, I thought I should meet her, see what it was that made such an impression on you."
"When you got here, was she... I mean, did she - "
"She was alive." Lex nodded a little then turned abruptly. "Excuse me, Hudson, but I have work to get back to." He pushed past her, moving down the hall.
Hudson stared after him for a moment before breaking into a jog and following him out the main doors when she finally caught up to him a few feet from the black Ferrari. "Lex, wait! Umm... could you give me a ride home?"
Lex turned to her, his gray eyes narrowing just a bit as he studied the young woman before him. "How did you get here?"
"Chloe dropped me off," Hudson replied without hesitation. She hated lying but it seemed that every time she opened her mouth around him, the truth was an impossible feat to accomplish.
Nodding a little, Lex continued to the driver's side, waving his hand at her. "Get in."
Opening the door, Hudson slid into the expensive Italian leather seat, closing the door and strapping the seat belt across her shoulder. She glanced over at Lex, who was staring ahead out the windshield at the building before them. Shifting in her seat, knowing that he was still behaving completely out of character, she asked, "Lex, is something wrong?"
He blinked, turning his gaze to her briefly before shaking his head and putting the car into gear. "No, I just... have a lot on my mind."
"Oh." He didn't feel like talking. That much was obvious. Trying to come up with an alternate topic of conversation as they sped west down Sycamore, just north of Main street, Hudson finally asked, "So what are you doing for Halloween?"
Lex flashed her a quick look which held the smallest hint of a smirk, the first he had allowed since leaving Cassandra's room. "Halloween?"
"Yeah. You know, All Hallow's Eve, the night the dead like to come out to play. Witches, goblins, vampires. Halloween."
"Probably the same thing I do every night, Hudson."
She couldn't help herself. "Try to take over the world?"
The flash of recognition in his eyes shocked her. Lex watched `Pinky and the Brain'?? Well, that was something to file away for further investigation.
"Something like that," Lex replied, switching into fifth gear, the speedometer moving far past the posted speed limit of 45mph. "Let me guess, your evening will likely include hay rides, bobbing for apples and begging for candy corn?"
Hudson forced a smile at his sarcasm. Sometimes she thought Lex was laughing at her, and sometimes she believed she would hear just the vaguest hint of envy in his voice. This time, she couldn't decide which it was, maybe a mixture of both?
"It used to," she replied. "But this year my dad is letting me go into Metropolis with Pete and Chloe to visit the Haunted Houses. You know, the Edge of Hell, the Transylvania House, the Beast - "
"I know the places," Lex interrupted with a small nod. "I was a teenager once, Hudson."
"You?" Hudson raised an eyebrow, smiled. "I don't believe it."
"Your sarcasm is duly noted." Lex returned her smile for a moment but it faded just as quickly as it appeared. "I'm surprised your father is letting you go into the city. Especially in the warehouse district. It's not very safe down there."
"Oh, don't you start now." She rolled her eyes, completely sick of people being so protective of her. Sure, Lex had no idea that she was anything other than the teenage girl she appeared to be but still, she wasn't an idiot either. "It's not like Pete plans on pimping Chloe and me on one of the corners."
"I'm sure your father would love to hear you talking like that."
Hudson shook her head. "I'm just saying, we know how to be careful. Chloe grew up in Metropolis. Besides, Mr. Sullivan is taking us."
Lex didn't say anything. While he trusted Gabe completely, something about allowing Hudson - as innocent and beautiful as she was - to roam Metropolis, just seemed wrong. She didn't belong there, she belonged here in Smallville on her farm, riding horses and feeding cows and staring up at the stars at night. In his mind, Hudson was pure, untouched, golden. He didn't want to see that destroyed and he would do whatever it took to make certain she stayed that way.
He would be the first to admit that there was a mystery behind Hudson that Lex believed drew him to her. She'd saved his life, when by all rights they should have both been dead. She had a habit of saving people around town, being in the right place at the wrong time or something like that. And yet she still denied that she was any different than anyone else, that her saving him was the same as anyone else would have done, that she certainly couldn't accept any gift in return for giving him his life. Even when Lex had confronted her with the Porsche and the fact that the roof could not have ripped open on impact, Hudson had stood there and smiled at him and told him she simply jumped in and pulled him out. She didn't remember anything else. Honestly, Lex. He could see in her eyes and body language that she was lying - was spectacularly bad at it, actually. But he let it go because she was his friend in the truest sense of the word: never wanting anything from him other than his time and companionship.
Lex was no fool. He knew he was in deep when it came to Hudson. Somewhere along the way, she had become his ideal, his measure for everyone around him. And the worst part was, no one else seemed to measure up. Even though he knew there was something about her that she wasn't telling him, she'd certainly been more loyal, more trustworthy than any other person in his life since his mother. And that confused him - his mere reaction to her confused him. Hudson certainly wasn't the usual type of female he was drawn to, quite the opposite in fact. So his desire to be around her, to get to know her, to be a part of her life made little sense to him. And as much as he tried to fight it - and he had tried to fight it - still, Lex could not deny the fact that Hudson meant something to him. He just wasn't certain in what manner.
Pulling onto Hickory Lane, the Ferrari tore past the fields towards the gravel road that led to the Kent Farm. "Just be careful," he finally told her.
Hudson looked over at Lex, a little surprised at his words. "We will."
He nodded and left it at that as he brought the sports car to a halt in front of the bright yellow farmhouse. The preparations for the coming winter were obvious as Lex stared out the window at the structure - storm windows added, trees and bushes pruned, some covered with plastic, the lawn furniture removed. He knew that Hudson had been busy lately, spending most of her time on weekends and after school helping her parents around the farm. He'd seen her less and less around town.
"Have fun in Metropolis." Lex turned away from the sight before him to flash her a small smile.
Smiling a little, Hudson unstrapped herself from the seat belt and climbed out of the car. Leaning back in, she commented softly, "Lex, if... if there's something you want to talk about, you know you're always welcome to stop by."
"Thanks, Hudson," Lex replied with a nod. "But I'm all right. Really."
Shutting the door, Hudson remained standing near the fence while she watched Lex speed off down the drive back onto Hickory Lane. Frowning a little at the strange conversation, she turned and moved through the gate, following the path to the back garden. She found her mother there, kneeling over a bed of flowers, preparing them for the coming frost that the weatherman had predicted for the evening.
Martha turned to look over her shoulder as her daughter approached and gave her a welcoming smile. "Hi, honey. You're home early."
Hudson flopped down on the ground beside her, silent for a moment as she picked a blade of grass, splitting it in half. "Cassandra, she's... she died."
Silence. Hudson glanced over to see her mother watching her quietly, an unreadable expression on her face. Swallowing, she turned her gaze back down to the blade of grass that she was playing with, brushing the tip of her finger against the pointed edge, feeling nothing. It hurt to lose her new friend but there had been a few days when she had feared it would be someone closer. Then Harry had attacked her mother, almost succeeding in killing her when they became trapped in the grain silo. If Hudson and her father hadn't arrived when they did, they might have lost her.
"I'm sorry, honey. I know she meant a lot to you," Martha said softly, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind her daughter's ear.
"You and dad didn't like her," Hudson accused quietly.
Martha shook her head. "We were just worried about the ideas she was putting in your head, H.C. She had you terrified with her prediction about someone close to you dying."
"Well, she was right, wasn't she?" Hudson tossed the torn blade of grass away from her and stared out at the fields. There were other things that Cassandra had shown her, but she didn't want to share that with her parents. She could only imagine the explanations they would come up with, how they would say it meant nothing. Hundreds and hundreds of gravestones and there she was, sitting in the center of them, all alone. What did it mean? Mentally shaking the image from her mind, she told her mother, "Lex was there."
"At the retirement home?" Martha frowned as she turned back to her roses. "I didn't know he knew someone there."
"He was there to see Cassandra." Hudson met her mother's gaze, watching as it went from curious to concerned.
Hudson shrugged. "He said I had talked so much about her, he wanted to know why."
"She didn't... " Martha trailed off and turned back to the roses for a moment, stabbing at the branches with her shears. Their daughter's friendship with Cassandra had made her and Jonathan nervous; Hudson claimed she seemed to know things and they worried the woman might be a danger to their daughter. After all, she was old, could forget things, say things to people that she wouldn't remember. Things that could have hurt Hudson in the end. And what if she had said something to Lex? "Did she know about you, H.C.?"
"She knew something." Hudson turned to lay flat on her stomach, laying her chin on her hands to stare at the dirt in front of her where a steady line of worker ants were hurriedly stocking their home. She blew lightly, watching as a few tumbled end over end before they scrambled back to their feet and continued with their work. "Mom, if I told you something, would you promise not to tell dad?"
Martha stopped what she was doing and looked down at her daughter. "H.C., I don't - "
"Mom." She turned her gaze up to her, blinking against the sun that blared behind her mother's red hair. "I have no one to talk to. I can't talk to Chloe or Pete. I can't even write anything down because there is always the possibility that it will be found. All I have is you and dad, and dad is so overly protective the moment I said anything to him he would just blow up." Hudson sighed, running her fingers through her hair. "I just want to talk without the recriminations. Please?"
Nodding, Martha set her shears to the side and turned to fully face her daughter. "Very well, H.C. Talk. I promise it stays between us."
Sighing, Hudson looked back at the ants working a few inches in front of her. "The other day, I went by the castle to visit Lex. He... he has the car, mom. He kept it."
"The Porsche. The one he hit me with that day on the bridge."
"What?" Martha stared at Hudson in confusion. "Why on earth would he keep it?"
"He said he had a team of `experts' look over it. He said that there was no way the roof could have been ripped on impact. There was no way he should have survived the accident." Hudson pushed herself back up to a sitting position, wrapping her arms around her legs, still unable to meet her mother's gaze. "Lex kept looking at me, waiting for an answer, asking me what happened that day, what I remembered. I felt so... guilty. Every lie I tell him, every question I refuse to answer - they all make me feel as if I am some horrible person, like I have no right to call myself his friend."
"H.C.," Martha began. "You are protecting yourself and our family. You shouldn't feel guilty about that. It's Lex who should be feeling guilt - for accusing you of lying."
"He didn't accuse me of anything, mom. He just... asked questions."
"I don't like this." Martha shook her head, her brow furrowing with a hint of anger. "I don't like it at all, Hudson. If Lex is this determined to pry, when and where does it stop? Will it? If his mind is already set on this path - "
"See? This is why I knew I couldn't tell you!" Hudson jumped to her feet and sent an angry glare down at her mother. "You totally ignore what I might be feeling and just worry about what might, by some remote chance, come of this."
"I'm not ignoring what you're feeling, honey," Martha assured her, climbing to her feet and dusting her hands off on her jeans. She reached out and placed her hands on Hudson's arms, meeting her gaze. "I'm just trying to understand why Lex would do such a thing."
"Maybe because none of it makes sense to him. Wouldn't you question it?" Hudson sighed and dropped her gaze to the ground, digging a small indention into the grass with the toe of her boot. "I feel like I'm betraying him, mom."
"You like him, don't you?"
Hudson raised her gaze quickly, too quickly, to meet that of her mother's. The answer was there.
This was something Martha had dreaded from the moment Hudson had started a friendship with the son of Lionel Luthor. What teenage girl wouldn't fall for Lex? He was rich, handsome, powerful, sophisticated - everything that Hudson had been sheltered from. He had lived a life that she had only seen in movies, his very being speaking of things she would likely never have a taste of. Martha had grown up in Metropolis, she knew what boys from the city were like, how a boy like Lex Luthor could capture the imagination of a young farm girl. She and Jonathan had discussed it almost daily since Lex had entered their lives - he could hurt their daughter, destroy the person she was becoming. Neither of them wanted that and Jonathan would have done just about anything to keep it from happening. But Martha had convinced him to step back, saying that they had to trust Hudson or she would never be able to trust them in return. The last thing they needed to do was push her towards Lex, which is what would happen if they forbade her from seeing him.
Realizing the mistake of her silent admission, Hudson sighed in resignation and looked over her mother's shoulder towards the field where she heard the approaching sound of the tractor. "Now you're never going to let me go near him again, huh?"
"No, honey. I didn't say that." Martha moved away from her to pick up the gardening tools, setting them carefully into the tool box. "Lex hasn't... has he shown interest in you?"
Hudson rolled her eyes. "No, mom. Nor is he going to. I'm fifteen. I'm surprised he even wants to be my friend." Catching her mother's look, she quickly qualified, "Although I've been friendly to him, so he has probably latched onto that, since there is no one else in town who seems willing to give him a chance."
Martha rolled the hand shovel between her fingers for a moment, thinking how best to phrase her next question without sending her daughter into one of her renowned pouts. Finding no way around it, she looked up and asked, "Now that you know about the car, do you think its possible Lex is only being friends with you to - "
"Learn my secret?" Hudson scoffed, shaking her head. "Do you think its actually crossed his mind that just because there are some... inconsistencies regarding his rescue, that I'm an - " Hudson automatically stopped herself from saying it. She had trouble saying it, she could admit that much. After all, it wasn't like it was something she could be proud of. She hardly knew what it meant. "That I'm... you know..."
Giving her an understanding smile, Martha held the tool box out to her. "Why don't you take this back to the shed for me and I'll go in and start dinner, okay?"
"Sure, mom." Taking the tool box, Hudson turned to leave the yard when she stopped and glanced back over her shoulder. "Mom? You're not going to tell dad, right?"
Nearing the porch, Martha looked back at her daughter and shook her head. "No, honey. But that doesn't mean I don't think that you should. Think about what would happen if he were to find out on his own?'
Wincing at little at the thought, Hudson sighed and continued on her way to the shed.
Finishing the second braid, Hudson tied it off with the blue gingham strip her mother had cut for her, then stepped back from the oval mirror to critique her reflection. She hadn't dressed as Dorothy since she was nine years old and she had no idea why she had decided to do so this year but she was pleased with the results - her mother had a particular flare for creating costumes. From the gingham checked dress and ruffled white blouse to the bobby socks and ruby sequined shoes, Hudson was the quintessential Dorothy. And she knew she was going to get hell from Chloe and Pete for it.
Hurrying down the stairs, she entered the kitchen to find her mom dumping bags of candy into the big witch's cauldron that she handed out for each and every Halloween since Hudson could remember. Her dad was sitting at the island, reading the paper and drinking some of the fresh apple cider her mom had made that afternoon. Jonathan glanced up from his reading and smiled as his gaze traveled over his daughter's costume.
"Well, look who's back from Oz." He chuckled.
"Oh, honey! You look adorable!" Martha set the current bag of Snickers down to walk over to Hudson and lean over to begin smoothing out the skirt before picking a piece of lint off of it. Her daughter shifted impatiently but Martha ignored her, taking a moment to fluff the sleeves and straighten the bows on her pigtails. "How do the shoes feel? Did any of the sequins come off while you were putting them on?"
"No, mom," Hudson replied, pulling back just when she was certain her mother was going to lick her thumb to wipe a smudge off her cheek or something. "They're perfect."
"Well, you need one more thing if you are going to convince everyone that you are authentic," Martha told her, moving back over to the other side of the kitchen and lifting up a picnic basket. Carrying it over to her daughter, she lifted one of the flaps to show a scruffy looking stuffed Terrier dog peering up through the whole, appearing as if at any moment it was going to wag its tail and bark.
"Oh, it's too cute!" Hudson took the handle of the basket and inspected her fake Toto. When she'd dressed as Dorothy years ago, they'd had an Australian Shepard that she had taken with her on a leash as Toto. This was much better.
"Remember, H.C, just because we're allowing you to go to Metropolis doesn't mean you don't have school tomorrow. We expect you home no later than one o'clock," Jonathan told her, trying valiantly not to let his daughter see how nervous he was about the impending evening.
Hudson moved over to the island, reaching her hand into the cauldron to pull out a KitKat. "I know. Mr. Sullivan said we'd be leaving Metropolis by ten o'clock."
"And I expect you to make up your missed chores this weekend," her father told her sternly.
"Yes, dad." Hudson nibbled at her candy bar while across from her, her mother poured a bag of Hershey's Miniatures into the mixture.
Jonathan stood and leaned over to kiss his daughter's forehead. "Be good. And have fun." Glancing at Martha, he told her, "I'm going to fix the fence in the south pasture. See you in a few hours."
Watching as her father exited the kitchen through the screen door, Hudson bit off a chunk of her KitKat thoughtfully, her gaze straying to the goodie bags beside the cauldron that her mother had created for Pete and Chloe. Leaning over, she peered inside to see they included a caramel apple, various lollipops and chocolate, a small bag of candy corn, a packet of pumpkin seeds and a candied popcorn ball. She didn't know if Lex was a big candy eater - actually, sometimes she wondered if he ever ate at all - but she figured he still needed to enjoy a taste of Halloween. Hudson looked at her watch and figured that if she `speed ran', she could be back to the farm in time for Pete, Chloe and Mr. Sullivan to arrive.
"Hmmm?" Martha glanced up from the oven where she was removing another batch of roasted pumpkin seeds.
"Do you have any more of these bags prepared? I was going to take one to Lex."
Her mother looked over at her for a moment before pointing to the end of the counter where a half dozen of the bags sat. "The cupcakes I'm baking for the Elementary School's carnival are almost ready if you want to take him some of those?"
"No." Hudson shook her head as she gathered one of the bags into hand and headed for the door. "He probably won't eat this as it is. But I guess it's the thought that counts. I'll be right back!"
Martha was about to call out to Hudson that perhaps her delivery could wait until tomorrow but it was too late. A whoosh of wind, the flapping of the curtains and the slamming of the kitchen door signaled her daughter's hasty departure.
It took Hudson a matter of seconds before she found herself standing outside the castle gates. She keyed in the code, which Lex had given her after her first delivery, her foot tapping impatiently while she waited for the gates to open and she stepped through. Not wanting to take the chance of anyone noticing something out of the ordinary, Hudson walked sedately up the drive to the rock-laden path which led to the servant's entrance. Pushing the door open, she found the kitchen sterile and empty, the complete opposite of her family's kitchen, and wondered if Lex's cook ever made pumpkin seeds as she made her way into the hall and towards the second floor study.
The very strange and inexplicable friendship with Lex was the most recent of the complications in Hudson's life that she had trouble coming to grips with. Added to the fact that he was six years her senior, they had very little in common. Okay, that wasn't entirely truthful. They seemed to have enough in common to always find something to talk about when they were together, but they were from two completely different worlds, and Hudson was having difficulty understanding why Lex wanted to be her friend. Beyond saving his life, she hadn't really expected to see him again. Then he had appeared on the side of the road after the `Homecoming date that hadn't happened' and they had danced right there, in front of the headlights of his car, and he had driven her home. It had all been very innocent and very sweet and Hudson still couldn't get it out of her mind. She hadn't told anyone about it, not even Chloe, preferring to keep it as a private moment just between her and Lex.
Two days later, Lex had called their house wishing to place a produce order. Unfortunately, her father had answered the phone and had flat out refused to take it. Her mother's cooler head had prevailed in the end. The order had been taken and once more, Hudson had been instructed to simply place the box on the doorstep and leave.
The next time, Hudson had tried - really tried - to do as her father instructed. When she parked in the back of the castle near the kitchen, she grabbed the box of produce and took it to the back door where she sat it on the step before crouching down and checking through to make certain everything ordered was there. Just then, the door opened and Hudson looked up to find him there -- leaning against the doorframe, one ankle crossed over the other, hands in the pockets of his black slacks. He flashed her this half-smile, like he had caught her doing something she wasn't supposed to, and she just remained as she was, staring up at him, trying to think of something to say.
Finally she came up with, "Hi."
"Hello, Hudson," Lex greeted. "Were you not planning on being friendly?"
She scrunched up her face a little at how easily he had caught her. "Do you always hang out in the kitchen?"
They both kind of grinned at each other and their lack of replies. Pushing off from the doorframe, Lex stepped back and waved in toward the kitchen as Hudson lifted the box into her arms. "Need help with that?" He asked.
Shaking her head, she moved past him and set it down on the counter. "I'm good."
"Of course. Silly question. Any woman who can pull a man from his car and the river it was in, can certainly carry a box of produce."
Hudson shifted uncomfortably at his comment then shrugged. "Well, you know, things are lighter under water."
Lex raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying I'm fat?"
"Oh! No! I just - "
"I'm teasing you, Hudson."
"Oh." Hudson glanced down at the floor, feeling her cheeks grow warm with embarrassment.
Lex watched her for a moment, smiling a little at her discomfort, wondering if she had ever flirted before in her life. Or had anyone flirt with her. "Want a tour?" He found himself asking, knowing very well that he was playing with fire.
Hudson looked up at him and then toward the doorway that led into the hall. "I really should get back to my deliveries."
"Ah." Lex nodded and dropped his gaze to the floor and there was this horrid moment of silence between them.
Despite her parents' constant fear of Hudson's true nature being discovered and their subsequent sheltering, she had never been taught to withhold friendship, especially from those who seemed in desperate need of it. Even if it meant endangering her own life, if it meant being discovered and tossed into some research facility, Hudson had a feeling that Lex was desperately in need of a friend. Sure, he didn't need money or clothes or food or a roof over his head. That much was obvious. But everyone needed a friend and she didn't think he had any; at least not here, not in Smallville where one quickly learned that the Luthor name was synonymous with everything that was bad in the Encyclopedia. Even those employed by LuthorCorp didn't seem to have the nicest things to say.
Silently asking her father for forgiveness because she was blatantly about to go against his instructions, Hudson stepped away from the box of produce and towards Lex. "Actually, I'm a little ahead of schedule today and I only have two more deliveries to make. A tour would be great!"
Her decision had been worth it. Lex looked up at her and the slightest smile crossed his face, like maybe he knew she was breaking a rule or two but wasn't going to say anything about it. Nodding toward the hallway, he held out his arm, placing the other against the small of her back, and leading her on into the castle.
The tour had been a quick one. While Lex explained that there were over 75 rooms in the place, Hudson caught on quickly that they wouldn't be visiting each, just getting a general sense of where everything was and where he preferred to spend the most time. It was almost as if he was silently telling her that should she stop by and be looking for him, these were the places to look. She loved the indoor/outdoor pool and the entertainment room, telling Lex that he could have some great parties here. His response had been a brief laugh. The study wasn't a bad place to be, very pretty and Hudson continually eyed the library above, wondering if there would be anything worth reading. When questioned if she had ever played pool before, she had responded only twice, and she had lost horribly both times.
Leaning a hip against the purple felt-covered pool table, Lex smiled at his guest. "I'll have to give you a lesson sometime."
Another hint to this odd friendship. Hudson shrugged. "That would be cool."
Lex eyed her quietly for another long moment before commenting, "You never told me what happened the other night."
"It's not important," Hudson replied, glancing away, her gaze fixing on the Coat of Arms hanging above the fireplace. She frowned a little as she stared at it.
"I think it is." Pushing off of the pool table, Lex walked over to Hudson, stopping only when he was inches from her, so close that he could smell the fabric detergent Mrs. Kent used on their laundry. So close that he could see the changing shades of blue-black in the strands of her hair and watch the steady thrumming of her pulse in her throat. Shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, as if to protect them (or her), he continued, "Tell me what happened. The quarterback played a cruel joke... "
Hudson had remained quiet and still as Lex had approached. He'd done so stealthily, as if believing she might have bolted, but she'd heard him every step of the way -- his almost silent steps against the floor, his heartbeat as it grew louder in her ears. Hudson wondered if she didn't magnify everything when it came to Lex a little more strongly than she did with others. Precautions after all of the warnings from her father? Or something else?
"No. I think it was Lana," she replied quietly. "He just went along with it."
Turning to meet his gaze, Hudson asked, "You know her?"
"Her aunt has sold quite a bit of land to my father," Lex replied with the smallest nod. "Why would she want to do that to you?"
"I'm not certain." Hudson shook her head, unable to tear her eyes away from his. Not with the way he was watching her, so intently, so unreadable. "She has something against me joining the cheerleading squad or something. I was going to try-out but... " She shrugged slightly. "It's not that important anymore."
"Cheerleading is important to Lana?"
It didn't sound quite like a question but still Hudson replied, "Yes. She's head of the squad."
"I see... "
It had crossed Hudson's mind twice that Lex might have had something to do with Lana's eventual dismissal from the cheerleading squad but she had never been brave enough to ask. Besides, she still couldn't see how he could have pulled it off. Lana was Smallville's Golden Girl. Well, mostly. Her recent stint as a waitress at the Beanery hadn't gone very well, and there were still snickers over that. Who couldn't serve coffee?? Hudson was actually beginning to feel sorry for her one-time tormentor. Chloe and Pete told her she was insane. She could only reason that after saving someone's life so many times, you end up developing some sort of empathy with them.
Each recurring produce delivery to the castle had been much like that day. Lex usually met her at the door, invited her in, convinced her to spend some time there, and they would play pool, talk, sit in front of the TV or play video games. The castle was like an amusement park in many ways - Lex had everything. And if he didn't have it when Hudson would bring it up, he would the next time she visited. In fact, her weekly Sunday afternoon had quickly become devoted to spending time with her new friend, to the point where she specifically saved his delivery for last.
That hadn't gone over well with her father. While Martha Kent had been a little more receptive to the obvious fascination her daughter had with Lex Luthor, Jonathan Kent had a different view of it. Unfortunately, being the only male in the house and wanting to keep some semblance of peace under the roof, he had been forced to give in, though with certain restrictions. One, Hudson always had to be home before dark, so as winter drew near, her time spent at the castle became shorter and shorter. Two, she was never allowed to accept any gifts from Lex of any kind - if they went out to grab something to eat, she was expected to pay her own way. And three, Jonathan always wanted a full accounting of what had happened while she was there. Hudson had bristled at what she had considered to be ridiculous demands from her father but she had quickly realized that either she do as he said or no longer be allowed to make the deliveries.
Fortunately, Lex began to make the occasional visit to the farm, seeking Hudson out in the loft or sitting with her in the family room where they would watch TV and talk. The rules weren't quite as strict then, though Hudson knew they were being watched very carefully. It didn't matter how much she tried to convince her father that they were only friends, that she was too young for Lex and he would never be interested in her in any other way; Jonathan Kent never listened.
Mentally shaking the memories from her mind, Hudson made her way up the oak staircase and down the long corridor to the doorway of the study, peering in to find Lex sitting at his desk, his eyes trained on the monitor before him. For the briefest moment, she tried valiantly to calm the erratic beating of her heart at the sight of him - no matter what anyone in town might say about him, Hudson thought he had to be the most beautiful being that ever walked the earth. Even Chloe admitted that there was something extremely sexy about him, though she still preferred to give her friend hell over her newly acquired crush.
Realizing it was rude to just stare, Hudson called out softly, "Lex, are you busy?"
Lex glanced up from his work to find Hudson, dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, framed in the doorway. He couldn't contain the slow smile that formed as he rose to his feet and moved around to the front of the desk. "If you're looking for the Wizard, I think you're lost," he commented.
"Actually, right now I'd just settle for the Yellow Brick Road," Hudson tossed back, walking further into the study.
Chuckling, Lex waved a hand at her. "Cute costume."
As a child, there had been a short time when Lex had developed a crush on Judy Garland in the `Wizard of Oz'. He used to watch it with his mother when his father was away on business and he didn't have to hide the fact that the Flying Monkeys terrified him. But the Dorothy standing in his study was a far cry from Judy's version and Lex realized it was the first time he had ever seen Hudson in a skirt and heels, showing off slim ankles and shapely calves. Swallowing against thoughts he couldn't allow himself to have for the teenager in front of him, Lex lifted his gaze back to hers.
Hudson was rolling her eyes. "Thanks... I think. Here." She held out the Goodie Bag to him. "For you."
"What is it?" Lex took the bright orange bag, which was covered with drawings of ghosts, cats and witches all in black. Peering inside, he found an array of candy and treats that made his teeth hurt just looking at them.
"Just some candy my mother has been putting together for the past few days."
"I thought you were supposed to come to me for candy?" Lex queried, only barely realizing what he had said as he glanced up to see Hudson's face turn three different shades of red in the matter of milliseconds. Feeling his own ears grow a little warm at the implication, Lex quickly turned to walk over to the wet bar, depositing the bag and reaching for a much-needed glass of scotch. In an attempt to divert her attention from the unintentional innuendo he had just made, Lex asked, "Would you like some water or something?"
Hudson was still attempting to regain her composure at all of the thoughts that had slammed through her mind at his candy comment. She knew it had only been said in the most innocent manner, but replies concerning `Trick or Treating' were threatening to burst forth and she silently told herself she had to remember this moment to tell Chloe. The image of Lex sitting in his chair, asking `Would you like some candy, little girl?' was probably the nightmare her father suffered from every night.
"No thanks, Lex," she finally got out. "I have to meet Chloe and Pete."
He smiled at her a little as he took a sip of his scotch. "Your trip into Metropolis. I had forgotten."
"You're welcome to join us," Hudson offered, wishing very much that he would say yes, even though she knew he wouldn't.
Lex shook his head and glanced down at the glass of amber liquid in his hand. "I don't think so, Hudson. But thank you for inviting me."
"What're friends for?" She smiled and took a step back towards the doorway. "Well, I'd better go. I just wanted to bring you that so you don't miss out entirely. Have a nice evening, Lex. And I hope you don't get visited by any ghosts or anything."
Smiling a little as he watched her leave, Lex turned his gaze to the bag of candy, regarding it for a few moments before picking it up and carrying it with him over to the desk to continue his work.
Hudson sped her way back to the farm, reaching the yard just as Mr. Sullivan's car pulled into the driveway. Brushing her skirt of the dust that it had gathered, she stepped into the kitchen to grab her basket and inform her mother that her ride was here. Moving back out into the afternoon sun, Hudson flashed a smile and waved as Chloe climbed out of the car, stumbling a little as her witch's hat got caught on the roof.
"A witch, Chloe?" Hudson called out, laughing. "Isn't that a little clich for you?"
Chloe shrugged as she approached, looking adorably impish in her black gown with kohl darkened eyes and black streaks through her hair. The hat was tall and pointed with a wide brim, shading her face. "At least I'm not dressed as a storybook character. I thought doing the traditional thing would be fun for once." She stuck out a leg and lifted up the skirt, showing off black and white horizontal striped hose above her Dr. Martens.
"It's nice to see that not even Halloween can change the incomparable Chloe Sullivan," Hudson commented.
Chloe smiled and did a quick curtsy in reply.
Another door opened drawing Hudson's attention, and she glanced up to see Pete emerging from the back seat of the Optima, dressed in leather pants and jacket, white turtleneck with Afro wig and mustache. "Pete?" She blinked. "Who are you supposed to be?"
For a moment he looked offended, then posed into a fighting stance. "Does this help?"
She shook her head, mystified. "Eddie Murphy?"
Pete sighed, causing Chloe to giggle beside Hudson. "Pete, don't blame H.C. Do you think she knows anything about the Blaxploitation genre?"
Hudson's glance of confusion to Chloe answered that question.
"I'm Shaft," Pete told her with just a tinge of frustration as he walked up to them. "And this is a very cool costume. Other people `get' it."
Chloe looked over at the very mystified Dorothy. "He chose this costume so that just for once, he could be a bad mutha - - "
"Chloe! Pete! Hi!" Martha called out as she exited the house, carrying their Goodie Bags in her hands.
"Hello, Mrs. Kent," they chimed in chorus as she reached them, Chloe turning a distinct shade of pink.
"Happy Halloween!" She greeted, handing each their bags of candy. "Chloe, you make an adorable witch!" Turning to Pete, Martha stared at him for a moment before chuckling. "Shaft? Interesting choice, Pete."
Flashing a `Told you so' look at the two girls, Pete smiled up at Hudson's mother. "Thank you, Mrs. Kent. But I think Hudson's film education is severely lacking."
Hudson frowned. "It is not. Just because I've never heard of this Black Exploitation thingy - "
"Blaxploitation, honey," Martha corrected, patting her shoulder consolingly.
"Oh, hi Gabe!" She waved at Chloe's father as he exited the car. Turning back to her daughter, Martha smiled and kissed her cheek. "I'm going to go talk to Chloe's dad. Have a good time, H.C., and be careful."
The three friends watched quietly as Martha walked over to Gabe and the parents began conferring with one another before they returned their attention to each other. Conversation centered around the week at school and how they might be able to call in sick tomorrow, though Hudson had never been able to get away with that excuse, considering she had never been sick a day in her life. Pete mentioned that he had heard Whitney tell some of their teammates that he and Lana were probably going to check out the Haunted Houses tonight as well and inwardly, Hudson groaned at the thought as Gabe called out that it was time they got on the road. They all piled into the car, Chloe climbing into the back with Hudson, claiming they had some `girl talk' to take care of, and Pete riding up front with Gabe. As they waved to her mom while pulling down the driveway, Hudson's thoughts returned to Whitney and Lana.
It wasn't so much that she didn't want to run into them -- she had gotten an apology out of Whitney for the joke they had played on her at Homecoming, which had been something, at least. After that, it seemed as if Fate were playing some strange game with Hudson or something. Just when she thought she had seen it all with Jennifer Creek and her electric touch, a bug-boy with some strange fascination of turning Lana into his mate, appeared. Was there a male of any species who wasn't in love with Lana Lang? Then came the Fire-Starter coach, who not only succeeded in torching the Torch - Hudson still thought she was pretty cool to come up with that line - but almost barbequed both Principal Kwan and Chloe. It was after the incident with Tina Greer -- one of their schoolmates who could morph into anyone she wanted to be from Lex to Hudson herself - when the girl decided she liked Lana's life better than her own and Hudson once more found herself coming to Lana's rescue, that a tentative friendship had developed between the two. Lana actually said hi to her in town now and had even stopped by the farm a few times. It was almost as if these strange mutants were purposely seeking Hudson and her friends out.
Even Chloe had been targeted when Sean Kelvin, a boy with the ability to drain the life of others in order to gather warmth for himself, had attempted to do so to her. Add Cassandra to the list and Hudson began wondering why there were all of these creeps suddenly coming out of the woodwork. According to Chloe, these kinds of occurrences had been taking place ever since the meteor shower, and while Jonathan Kent preferred to blame it on the LuthorCorp Chemical Plant, Hudson had a different theory. She figured that someone somewhere had placed a big announcement in the Daily Planet: 'Alien Girl Going Through Teenage Angst - Please Give Her Something Else to Keep Her Occupied'.
Seriously, if she had to save Lana Lang's life one more time...
"Hey." Chloe poked her with an elbow and leaned over so that they could talk to one another softly. "Seen Lex lately?"
Hudson glanced up front for a moment to see that Gabe and Pete were busy discussing football before turning back to her friend. With a smile, she told her, "This afternoon. I took him a bag of candy."
Chloe snickered. "Was that all you gave him?"
Feeling her cheeks grow warm, Hudson admitted, "He made a comment - it was all very innocent - but my mind went straight to the gutter! I think his did, too."
"What was it? You have to tell me. It's like a moral imperative or something."
Casting a glance towards the front of the car once more, Hudson leaned closer to Chloe and whispered the exact circumstances regarding the whole candy comment. The blonde's mouth fell open in shock and then she burst into laughter, drawing the attention of both Pete and her father.
"What'd I miss?" Pete turned to look over his shoulder at them.
Chloe was too lost in her hysteria to reply. Sinking a little deeper into the back seat, Hudson just shook her head and shot her giggling friend a dirty look.
"I'll be back here at ten o'clock," Gabe told the three teenagers standing beside the car where he was leaning out the open window. "If you need anything, Chloe, call your uncle's place."
"I can't believe you forgot your cell, dad," Chloe complained, though she smiled a little as if used to his forgetfulness.
He shrugged. "Yeah, well, if my head wasn't attached to my shoulders... " Breaking off, he gave them all a smile while putting the car in gear. "Have fun kids."
"Bye, Mr. Sullivan," Pete and Hudson chorused.
As the Optima disappeared down the street, the three friends turned to look at each other as if to ask `What now?'. Almost on cue, they started west down the street, towards the growing lines of thrill-seekers gathered outside the various Haunted Houses. The first line they hit was the longest of all and they stood in it for about five minutes without moving before deciding to hit some of the other places first. Pete suggested the Edge of Hell and they all agreed, glancing down the one-way street for traffic before hurrying across it to the other side where the much shorter line slowly moved toward the entrance.
"So, Dorothy," Pete began, rubbing his hands together as he glanced at her basket. "You didn't happen to pack a picnic in there, did you?"
Grinning, Hudson opened one of the flaps to reveal a couple of popcorn balls, a bag of Hershey's miniatures and three caramel apples. "Did you think my mom was going to let us starve?"
Chloe groaned, placing a hand over her stomach. "Did they invent Halloween specifically to see how many pounds teenage girls could put on in an evening?" She frowned suddenly. "Hey. That might make a good expos..."
"I love Mrs. Kent," Pete commented to Chloe. "If she wasn't already taken, I'd marry her."
"Thanks for that disturbing thought, Pete," Hudson quipped with a grimace.
They looked up to see Whitney waving to them from a few yards away, heading in their direction with Lana by his side. The sight of the jock and ex-cheerleader did not bode well, in Hudson's opinion. Not when she was coming to accept the fact that being around Lana usually meant saving her life. And here she thought tonight was supposed to be fun.
"Here's a disturbing thought," Chloe whispered to Hudson. "Spending the entire evening in the presence of the lovely Lana Lang."
"Out trolling the Houses?" Pete asked as the couple reached them.
"It's better than hanging out in Smallville," Whitney replied, nodding in greeting to Chloe and Hudson.
Pete grunted. "I hear that, man."
Whitney was wearing the same costume he had for the past three years - a Zombie Football player. He'd added to it over the years so that each Halloween it was a little more realistic, complete with ratty, discolored uniform and fake bone sticking out of his neck that made it appear to be horribly broken. This year he had added tufts of grass and dirt around the helmet. Hudson had always found the costume slightly disquieting but very appropriate for Halloween. Beside him, Lana was dressed as Snow White sans the necklace. Hudson supposed that it didn't compliment the costume.
"I remember the last time you went as Dorothy," Lana commented with a little nod to Hudson. "It snowed that Halloween."
"Oh yeah!" Pete chimed in. "I remember that. It started coming down so hard our parents made us all quit `Trick or Treating' and school was cancelled the next day."
Hudson smiled. "That was like the best day ever. Sitting at home, watching cartoons, eating candy. What kid wouldn't beg for that to happen?"
They all grew silent and glanced up towards the sky, as if silently praying for a change in the weather. Unfortunately, the stars winked brightly above them and the air was still warm. Beside Hudson, Chloe sighed then reached into her bag and withdrew her camera. Holding it up, she took a few pictures of the crowds around them, then a quick one of Whitney and Lana, causing the football player to frown a little. Placing the strap over her neck, she reached into her bag once more and withdrew a tiny, handheld recorder. Pete and Hudson watched her quietly for a moment before glancing at one another.
"You know, Chloe, the accessories don't really match the outfit," Pete commented, scratching an eyebrow.
"I'm well aware of that." She took off her hat and shoved it into the bag. "I'm here for a story!"
Dorothy, Snow White, the Zombie and Shaft as one collectively blinked in response.
Chloe frowned at them. "What? Look, there was this small blurb on the back page of the local news section of the Planet earlier this week about one of the Haunted Houses - Millennium. The second day they were open, two kids disappeared and haven't been found. No one really thought anything about it, figuring they probably just ran away or something. But for two weeks after that, other patrons kept complaining about hearing people screaming for help. The owner said those were recordings which were part of the tour. Then, last week, a college guy died while going through the House!"
"I don't get it," Whitney said, shaking his head.
Flashing him a look that said it didn't take much for her to believe that, Chloe turned to Pete and Hudson and continued, "The paramedics said he had a heart attack - he was nineteen! The friends that were with him said they believe something scared him to death when they got separated - one of them is even in an institution right now! And... " She paused for dramatic effect, glancing at each of the four pairs of eyes in front of her. "The owner of the Haunted House is originally from Smallville!"
Hudson shifted from one foot to the other. "Let me guess - you're here to check out that House?"
"Of course!" Chloe pushed past Whitney and Lana and started down the street. "They closed it down after the death due to complaints. The owner is suing the city. I want to see for myself what's going on in there." When she realized no one was following, she turned back around and settled her hands on her hips. "Well, is no one else up to the adventure? You came to see a Haunted House, right?" She smirked. "Or, are you chicken?"
Whitney snorted. "This stuff is for kids. None of it has ever scared me." Grabbing Lana's hand, he started down the street to follow Chloe.
Hudson glanced over at Pete. "When we actually go somewhere just to have fun - and not to act out an episode of Scooby Doo - be certain to tell me, okay? I want to remember it."
"Yeah. Same here." Heaving a heavy sigh, Pete fell in beside Hudson as they hurried to catch up with the others.
They pushed their way past the long lines that were waiting outside of the various Haunted Houses, all but Chloe glancing longingly at each, as if knowing they were going on a wild goose chase and would be lucky to have any fun throughout the evening. The further they moved down the block, the more deserted the area around them became and Hudson found herself understanding why Lex had warned her about the warehouse district - most of it was uninhabited, dark and an absolutely perfect place for random acts of violence. Lana had grown quiet, wrapping her arms around herself as if attempting to ward off danger. Pete and Whitney had been discussing the team but the conversation had dwindled and they now shot nervous glances down the street. Hudson hung back, watching her friends, listening for any sounds that were out of the ordinary. Up ahead, Whitney commented that he doubted Chloe had any idea where she was going and received the flash of her middle finger in reply.
"She's really serious about being a reporter, isn't she?"
Hudson glanced to her right to see that Lana had dropped back to walk with her. Snow White and Dorothy. She was certain they had to make quite the pair. Nodding, she replied, "Yeah. It's all she talks about usually."
"It must be great to be that driven, to know what you want to do and how to get there." Lana sighed. "She certainly won't be stuck in Smallville all of her life."
Not knowing what to say to that, Hudson remained silent. She usually had very little to say around Lana, uncomfortable with the whole change in dynamics between their interactions with one another. It was as if she was waiting for Lana to turn into the mean-spirited bitch she had become used to, instead of this unexpected offering of friendship. Then again, ever since she had been kicked off of the cheerleading squad, Lana seemed to have very few friends outside of Whitney. Hudson figured that was why she was forcing herself to become so involved in some of the clubs and community organizations around the school. Unfortunately, it made it seem as if she were trying too hard.
"H.C., I wanted to thank you."
Frowning, Hudson glanced over at Lana. "For what?"
"For being nice to me." Lana looked up at her, nodding her head slightly. "You have no reason to be. I've been... really nasty, I know. But you've never let that get in the way and I appreciate it. You're a really... good person."
For some reason, Hudson could clearly hear Lex in her mind saying something like `Nice girls finish last'. She didn't get a chance to reply.
"Here it is!" Chloe called out from up ahead, turning off of the sidewalk onto the path that led up to the building on their left.
"It's an old Brownstone," Pete commented, stopping just outside the gate and staring up at it.
The Haunted House was three stories high and appeared to be in fairly good condition, all of its windows in one piece, the yard in the front properly maintained, the paint on the door new. A sign stood just to the side of the steps leading up to the front door, which read : "The Millennium House - The Newest Addition to Metropolis' Avenue of Terror! - $5 entry fee". At the top of the steps, yellow police tape stretched across the steps, blocking the way. Chloe was the first to reach it, crawling under it to get to the door. She tried the knob a few times before turning around to face the others with an angry huff.
Pete rolled his eyes. "Did you think they were going to leave it open because they knew Chloe Sullivan was stopping by?"
Chloe stuck her tongue out at him in reply before turning her gaze to Hudson imploringly. "H.C., you have a way with these things. Can you see about getting us inside - please??"
"That's Breaking and Entering, Chloe," Hudson replied in disbelief. "Do you know what my parents would do to me if they knew I came to Metropolis to commit a crime?"
"There is no such thing as crime in the pursuit of the journalistic enterprise," Chloe commented.
Hudson made a face. "You're making that up."
"Oh, H.C., please?" Chloe pleaded, her shoulders dropping in near dejection. "We've got to get inside, or we can't prove or disprove what those college students said."
Pete glanced at Hudson. "I don't know about you, but I'm not here to prove or disprove anything. I just want to have some fun on Halloween."
"Oh, come on." Whitney pushed past all of them to join Chloe at the top of the steps. "It's just an empty building. Where's the harm?" He jiggled at the door knob for a moment. "Anyone have a credit card?"
Chloe reached into her purse to pull one out. "You know how to do that?"
Whitney glanced down at her. "You don't?" Then he turned back to the door and began slipping the card into the space between the door and the frame.
"Man, I can't believe we're doing this," Pete muttered as he, Hudson and Lana glanced out toward the street, making certain no one was watching them.
"Got it!" Whitney called out triumphantly, pushing the door open barely a moment before Chloe hurried past him inside. He waved toward Lana. "Come on!"
Snow White hurried past Hudson and Pete to move up the stairs. They glanced at one another in resignation before Pete held out his hand, indicating that Hudson go first. With a sigh at her friend's penchant for seeking out trouble wherever it could be found, she moved up the path to the house, wishing that her ruby slippers really worked.
Once they made it through the door, Chloe felt around on the wall until she discovered a light switch and fake sconces lit up around them, casting dark shadows across the ivory-colored tile floor. The low lighting revealed that the narrow walls had actually been constructed for the Haunted House, keeping the patrons on a narrow path straight to the entrance into the actual attraction. Writing over the walls warned the customers to turn back before it was too late, once they went through the door there was no way out, etc. Chloe snapped a few photos as they moved down the hall, commenting as to how cheesy it all appeared so far. Hudson followed behind her, then Pete, with Lana and Whitney giggling in the back. When they reached the last door that led into the attraction, they were greeted by a shrunken head which suddenly switched on, its eyes glowing, and cackling laughter issuing forth from its mouth. Chloe screeched and jumped back into Hudson and Pete before flashing them a chagrined expression.
"Greetings, Travelers!" It spoke to them, its eyes moving slightly from left to right. "You must be lost, or you wouldn't be here!" It laughed. "Once you step through this door, your Fate becomes pre-Destined. For none who enter shall ever leave the Millennium House. Muahahahaha!"
"That's like a really bad impression of Vincent Price," Chloe commented, snapping a picture.
"It scared you." Pete smirked.
"I was just surprised that it was working," she replied over her shoulder.
Hudson reached out and touched it, moving closer for a better look, examining the front and back as her expression turned to a frown. "Weird. I don't see any batteries or motion sensors or anything." She shook it, hearing nothing rattle inside.
Pete stepped up and took it from her. "You're missing something."
The head screeched.
The five teenagers screeched and jumped back.
After a moment of silence, Whitney snapped, "That was uncool."
Hudson found a smile and shrugged. "I don't know. I think it's kind of funny." Glancing at Chloe, she nodded towards the door. "Well, intrepid reporter. This is your mission. Open the door."
Chloe flashed her a brilliant glare for a moment before finally pushing the door open and stepping inside.
They entered an elaborate hallway, decorated in Turn of the Century, early 1900's style. There were fake Tiffany lamps set on delicate cherry wood end tables, matching settees covered in dark brocade and ornate mirrors on the walls. The corridor seemed to continue on in each direction, an obvious trick of the light, the walls lined with doors every few feet.
"Whoever designed this place has seen one too many campy haunted house flicks," Whitney commented.
Lana seemed to disagree. "I think it's pretty."
"Sure seems a lot bigger than the place looked outside," Pete remarked, walking up to one of the mirrors and peering at the reflection of his costume. He flashed himself a grin then ran a hand over his wig in appreciation.
"It's all a trick of the eye," Chloe informed him, holding her camera up to look at the viewscreen on the back before snapping a picture. "The lights are only on in this section so that it appears there's a lot more in either direction."
Hudson wrinkled her nose for a moment at the intense `old house' smell that permeated the air. She wondered if they made an air freshener called `Old, Haunted House' for people to use. Considering the attraction was new for the year, she thought she should be smelling paint and glue instead. Wandering over to one of the lamps, she leaned over it, checking the bulb and the connection. "I guess that one switch you hit turned the entire place on."
At the silence behind her, Hudson turned to see the others looking at her in obvious dismay before they all seemed to nod in reply. It occurred to each one of them that no one in their right mind would place the main power switch by the front door where patrons could turn it off. But no one seemed inclined to bring that up.
Pete was the first to speak. "So what now?"
Chloe glanced down both sides of the hall. "I think we should split up, check the place out."
"Yeah, that's typically when people start dying in the movies, Girl Friday," Pete remarked.
"Ah, come on, Pete!" Whitney taunted. "We're here to have fun. It's Halloween."
"Actually, I'm here for a story," Chloe replied.
"I don't think we should split up simply because none of us know our way around this place, and we might have trouble finding each other," Hudson told them, keeping to herself the fact that she couldn't watch out for all of them if they weren't together.
Chloe shrugged. "Okay. Let's go... this way." She turned to her right and started walking.
Shrugging, the others followed her down the hall. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for confusion to begin to cloud their faces as they continued to move down the hallway that seemed to have no end in sight. Just when they thought it would grow dark, more table lamps appeared. Just when they thought they would certainly reach a dead end, it would continue on. Finally, they all came to a halt, mirrored frowns reflected on each face.
"I thought you said it was a trick of the light," Pete groused, glancing at Chloe.
"What else could it be?" She tapped at the floor with her foot. "Maybe the floor moves; we're on like a treadmill or something."
Hudson walked over to the wall at her right and crouched down near the floor to see if anything was moving. She shook her head and stood. "No."
"This is ridiculous." Whitney walked up to the closest door and opened it - only to find a brick wall on the other side. "What the... "
"Are all of the doors fake, then?" Lana queried, her nose wrinkling in confusion.
Focusing her gaze on the wall, Hudson peered through it, following it down the direction they had just come from. She counted five rooms but the rest of the doors were fake, and some of them led into the same room as others. It was all one complicated maze. Walking over to the door that led to the nearest room, Hudson tried the door hesitantly, as if she was expecting a brick wall on the other side and feigning surprise when it opened into a room. Like the hall, the lights inside were on when the door opened.
"Not all are fake, apparently," she commented as the others walked up behind her.
"This house is not this big," Chloe remarked, stepping through the doorway.
"No way. There is something seriously freaky going on here," Pete added, following her. "That, or the guys that designed this place are fricken geniuses."
"Well, whatever it is, I think... " Hudson trailed off from whatever she was going to say when she realized Whitney and Lana were no longer behind her. Frowning, she stepped back out into the hall and glanced around. There was no trace of them. "Whitney? Lana?"
Inside the room, Chloe and Pete looked at one another when they heard Hudson calling the names and they walked out to join her. "Where are they?" Chloe asked, sounding more annoyed than concerned.
"Whitney!" Pete barked. "Hey, this ain't funny, man. We don't have time to play around."
They waited. Nothing.
He shook his head with a snort. "They probably decided to check out one of the bedrooms."
"Oh, there's a pleasant image," Chloe replied. "Remind me not to go into that one."
Hudson scanned the entire area and rooms around them. There was no sign of the couple, and she couldn't hear them either. Worry stole over her and she turned her gaze to Chloe. "I think we should get out of here, call the police."
"What for? You know they're just off goofing around. We shouldn't have brought them in the first place. Come on. There's a lot more to explore."
"I'm serious, Chloe." Hudson grabbed her friend's arm before she could go back into the room. "I've got a really weird feeling."
Chloe shifted nervously, glancing at Pete who suddenly looked just as uncomfortable. They knew their friend well enough to understand that when she said something wasn't right, she was generally correct. It could be attributed to luck or a keen sense of perception but both had come to rely on Hudson's more than accurate acuity.
Sighing, Chloe closed the door to the room and shrugged. "Okay. So we go back the way we came, and maybe we'll find them along the way."
This time, Hudson remained behind her friends, watching carefully as they made their way back down the hall, scanning the walls that they passed. Occasionally she was unable to see through them, forcing her to pause and wonder if it didn't have to do with the fact that she had yet to gain full control over the ability. She still heard and saw nothing that would lead her to understand where Whitney and Lana had gone. Something about the entire place didn't seem right; it was almost too quiet. Frowning with her thoughts, Hudson almost didn't notice Pete as he stopped to let her catch up to him.
"H.C., I'm starving. Mind if I have a little of whatever your mother packed?"
She continued walking, not wanting Chloe to get out of her sight as she lifted one side of the lid on the basket and reached in to search for something for Pete, her gaze still scanning their surroundings. Pete was muttering about Chloe always getting them into trouble as he moved along beside her, saying it loud enough for their friend to hear him and flash him a look over her shoulder. Hudson was barely listening, her attention suddenly focused to the basket when she felt something wet hit the top of her hand. A low growl issued from the inside, bringing all three friends to a halt, their gazes drawn to the basket where Hudson's hand still remained hidden.
"What was that?" Chloe almost whispered.
Slowly withdrawing her hand to the lid, Hudson flipped it upwards, just as a snarling, drooling Toto flew out at her. She screamed and tossed the basket away, jumping to the side as the rabid dog hit the ground and turned on them, fangs barred. The teenagers stood in muted shock as it continued to snarl viciously before it finally raced towards them.
"Run!" Hudson shouted and they sprinted down the hallway, Toto in pursuit.
"I thought you said that thing was a stuffed animal!" Pete accused.
"It was!" She replied, glancing over her shoulder as the tiny dog raced behind them. Hudson considered quickly what she could do without giving away her abilities but she knew the moment she allowed the dog to bite her, it would be a little hard to explain why it wasn't successful.
Glancing ahead, she scanned the walls until she found another room. "Chloe!" She called out, waving toward the third door on the right. "That door, there! Try it!"
Chloe raced ahead to the one Hudson pointed at and turned the knob, finding it opened into a room instead of a brick wall. Pete and Hudson hurried in after her and they slammed the door shut, falling against it as Toto reached it, barking wildly and scratching at the wood.
"And I thought - " Chloe gasped for breath. "That I had seen - everything!"
"That," Pete pointed at the door. "Is just wrong!" He glared at Chloe. "And don't tell me it was a trick of the light either!"
"No lights," Chloe replied, shaking her head. "Hallucinogens, maybe?" She offered. "Something in the air?"
Hudson knew that was impossible. They wouldn't be affecting her as well. "I don't think so." Toto continued to bark and growl beyond the door, whimpering once. Turning her gaze to the blonde witch, she commented, "Well, you wanted a story."
After investigating the room they had escaped into, Chloe, Pete and Hudson exited through another door, which led into a smaller corridor that was a complete change from the other hallway. This one had no ornamentation whatsoever, not even rugs on the floor. It was dark, lit up only by the occasional sconce on the wall, and the floorboards beneath their feet creaked as they walked. Surprisingly, they quickly discovered a winding staircase and after much debate on which direction to go, they headed up towards the third floor.
"Looks like an attic," Pete commented as they stepped onto the landing and peered into the room before them.
The ceiling was lower here than it had been on the second floor, and the air smelled of dust. Hudson moved forward, scanning for any sight of Whitney and Lana but saw nothing except old furniture and a few trap doors that aroused her curiosity. Chloe and Pete each took a different direction into the room, each examining corners and drawers and anything they could pick up.
"There's nothing here." Chloe sighed and sat down on an old couch, dust rising up around her.
Hudson was about to reply that maybe they hadn't looked hard enough when a chill swept over her. She frowned, turning slowly to look out at her friends. She never got a chill - well, not until that Sean Kelvin had turned her into a popsicle. After that, she would always remember to sympathize with those around her during the winter months.
Chloe was frowning too, her brow furrowing deeper with each passing moment. "Did it just drop like twenty degrees in here? Or is it just me?"
"Did one of you just say something?" Pete asked quickly, jumping away from the mannequin he had been poking at.
Stay with us...
It didn't take much more convincing than that. The three friends raced for the staircase, practically tripping their way down until they reached the narrow hallway once more.
"I think I liked the second floor better," Pete remarked, glancing up the steps toward the attic.
"What was that?" Chloe was pulling her recorder out of her pocket. She hit the rewind button, then play:
"... degrees in here? Or is it just me?.... Did one of you just say something?... <the pounding of feet down the stairs>... I think I liked the - "
Snapping the machine off, she looked up at Hudson and Pete. "Nothing."
"So maybe we are just hallucinating." Pete tried to look relieved at the thought but failed.
"No." Hudson shook her head. "I don't think we'd all be hallucinating the same thing. You heard what I heard, right? `Help us... Please... Stay with us... Go'?"
Pete nodded. "It was the `Go' that caught my attention."
"So there's something here... "
Chloe flipped her recorder back on and started back towards the stairs. "You're right. Or it could be the owner just messing with us. Or Lana and Whitney - I wouldn't put anything past them. Come on. Let's check it out again."
"She's insane," Pete commented to Hudson, shaking his head.
Sighing, Hudson followed her. "I don't know. I don't think whatever this is, that it will hurt us."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because if it does, we're screwed."
"Wonderful," he muttered as they stepped into the attic once more.
"We should have brought a flashlight," Chloe complained as she walked towards the other side of the room.
"Maybe you should have thought of that when you were planning this little sojourn without informing your friends," Hudson replied, kneeling beside a crumbling bookcase where a vent had recently been constructed into the wall. Frowning, she attempted to see if it were loose or ascertain if it had been opened recently but it seemed perfectly normal. Except for the fact that it was brand new, in a room where everything else was crumbling and dusty.
"What're you looking at, H.C.?" Pete asked from across the room.
She looked over her shoulder at him but refrained from commenting.
"What about it?" Chloe joined Hudson, kneeling beside her.
"It's recently been put in."
"So maybe they had to replace the heating system or something," Pete pointed out as he walked back over to where his friends were peering at the vent. "I wouldn't be surprised, in a place this old."
Chloe stood, brushing the dust off her skirt. "We could always check out the basement. See if there might be any reason other than a new ventilation system."
The temperature around them began to drop once more. Pete nodded. "Anything to get the hell out of this attic!"
Chloe and Hudson nodded, and the three friends moved back down the stairs that led them to the second floor. They spent a few moments looking around in hopes of tracking Whitney and Lana, but finding no one, they returned to the staircase and followed it to the first floor.
The rooms they moved through on the first level were more like those of a classic Haunted House. One room had a mannequin dressed as a Medium sitting in front of a crystal ball, complete with floating head inside. Pete stared at it for a long moment, swearing that the eyes were watching him. Chloe commented as she passed by that if he kept walking, he wouldn't see it. The next room they entered had a skeleton popping out of a closet and a hanged man that would drop down out of the ceiling to startle the patrons. It worked on Chloe and Pete, both of whom wanted to know why Hudson didn't scream. She shrugged in reply, responding that after living in Smallville, very few things startled her anymore.
"Here's another vent," Chloe called out, kneeling beside it in the corner of the room, just past the hanged man. "It's new, too."
Hudson crouched beside her, noticing that the screws seemed looser than the ones upstairs. She tugged at the grate for a moment until it popped off and then peered inside. Something smelled funny and she took a deeper breath, a feeling of nausea instantly sweeping over. Swaying a little, she started to fall back as Pete caught her from behind.
"Whoa. What's up?" He put a steadying arm around her, pulling her back to lean against a chair.
"You okay?" Chloe glanced back at her before returning her gaze to the vent.
Hudson nodded, trying to catch her breath. "Yeah. I just got a little sick there for a moment or something. I'm fine." The feeling was very familiar. It was the same sensation she felt whenever she came into contact with the meteors. She looked down at her hands but her skin and veins appeared normal. Maybe she was just imagining things.
Leaning in closer to the vent, Chloe reached out and scooped at some of the dust that lined the metal. She brushed her fingertips together as she stared at it, finding it extremely curious that it was slightly greenish in color. Meteor rocks? In Metropolis? That didn't make sense. Maybe they were paint particles or something that was used in many of the Houses scare tactics. Turning back to Pete and Hudson, she was about to suggest they just head straight down to the basement when she noticed a strange expression appearing over Hudson's face. If she didn't know better, she would say it was a look of total fright.
"H.C.?" She asked, frowning a little.
At first, it was just disbelief. Hudson tried to tell herself that what she was seeing wasn't really there. Then it moved. Lifting her hand, she pointed a finger a Chloe's shoulder. "Ch-Chloe..."
Chloe furrowed her brow at her friend. "Yes?"
"You... Your shoulder... There... "
Pete followed Hudson's finger to see what she was pointing at and his eyes widened a little. "Oh. Ick. Chloe, there's a spider on your shoulder."
Turning her head, Chloe saw what had her friend's attention. It was pretty big, maybe a quarter in size, but nothing more than your common house spider. She flicked it off with her hand and glanced back at Hudson who jumped when she did so. Starting to catch on, it took everything she had not to break into a smile. "H.C.... It's just a spider."
Hudson was about to reply when she felt something tickling her fingers where they lay against the floor. Slowly turning her gaze to her right, she jumped to her feet with a scream at the tarantula moving over the carpet.
"H.C. - "
She screamed again when more began to appear, crawling out from behind the curtains, under the carpet, over the table tops. Pete and Chloe both jumped to their feet as well, the room around them beginning to crawl with the eight-legged creatures. They were a little too shocked to do anything as their friend continued to scream and then dart out the far door into the next room. Backing out, their gazes on the strange phenomena, they finally followed Hudson's screams through two more rooms before they caught up with her in the hall.
Chloe grabbed her arm and Hudson screamed again as she whirled around, knocking the blonde completely off balance. Pete caught her.
"Chill," Pete commented. "They're just spiders."
"Just spiders?!" Hudson repeated in disbelief. "They're - they're horrid, icky, scary, furry - "
"H.C. is terrified of spiders," Chloe told Pete, shaking her head. "If I hadn't seen it for myself, I wouldn't have believed it."
Pete laughed. "You live on a farm, H.C. With black widows and Wolf spiders and -- "
"Shutupshutupshutup!" She interrupted, putting her hands over her ears, as if it would help. "I'm going to have nightmares the rest of my life as it is!"
Covering her hand over her mouth to hide her smile, Chloe nodded a little. "It's all right, H.C. We won't mention this debilitating phobia of yours again."
Rolling her eyes, Hudson turned to continue down the hall, wiping at her arms and shoulders in an attempt to make certain there was nothing crawling on her. Behind her, Chloe and Pete snickered as they followed. At least they couldn't see how bright red her face was. It was beyond embarrassing to be invulnerable to almost anything, to know that unless there were meteor rocks involved, she likely couldn't be hurt - and yet, she was terrified of spiders. They couldn't take a bite out of her, and even if they could, the poisonous ones wouldn't affect her. Chloe and Pete didn't know or understand any of this, so at least she could be safe in the knowledge that they believed she had valid reasons for being scared of spiders. Instead of the truth - which was simply that they were fuzzy and creepy and those facts in themselves was all she needed to know.
"Do you think they were real?" Pete suddenly asked.
Stopping, Hudson turned back to her friends as they caught up to her.
"I mean like Toto," Pete explained. "It's not possible that a stuffed animal really chased us down the hall... Is it?"
"It's not something I want to admit to, no," Chloe responded with a shake of her head. "I should have taken a picture but - "
"We were all trying to get away from a snarling, fanged animal, Chloe," Hudson assured her, patting her shoulder. "Your safety comes first."
Chloe turned to Pete. "So then you're going on the hallucinogen theory? That we're all seeing these things because there is something in the air making us see them?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. I mean, nothing else explains the Toto-nator. And those spiders just appeared out of nowhere."
"So, if that's the case, then we're on the right track in wanting to check out the ventilation system," Chloe suggested, urging them to continue down the hall. "We just need to find a way into the basement to find out if our theories are correct."
It seemed simple enough. They searched through the remaining two rooms but unfortunately found no door that led them into the cellar. Pete suggested that it might be located outside so they made the decision to search the outside perimeter of the house. Unfortunately, as they began making their way back down the hall, they discovered that nothing was where it had been previously. Doors changed, rooms were rearranged. The entire house was quickly turning into a gigantic maze. And here on the lower level, Hudson was having even more difficulty seeing through the walls and doors around her. It was as if there was a layer of something blocking her vision. She'd had yet to encounter anything she couldn't see through since developing the ability but maybe there was something out there. But what?
"More hallucinogens?" Chloe asked when they circled back to the same spot for the third time.
Hudson nodded. "It has to be." Though it still made little sense that it was affecting her. Unless the nausea she had felt really had been related to meteor rocks - then it made a whole hell of a lot of sense. But she still couldn't grasp how meteor rocks had made it to a Haunted House in Metropolis.
"Now what?" Pete glanced back down the hall in the direction they had just come from.
"We keep looking," Hudson responded with a sigh. There had to be an answer somewhere.
The answer was found in the coat closet.
While walking past it for the fourth time, Hudson felt a draft from under the door. Opening it, they had pushed aside the fake werewolf with the glowing green eyes to discover a door hidden behind it. Fortunately, it wasn't secured with any kind of lock and was easily opened.
Beyond the door lay a flight of stairs, which disappeared into darkness. Hudson tried to see beyond the walls encompassing the stairs but again, her vision failed her. Like some of the walls upstairs, for some reason, she simply could not see past them to the basement beyond. Shifting uncomfortably, she glanced over at Chloe who was already pushing past her, carefully making her way down the staircase. Hudson almost called out to her that maybe they shouldn't go down there but she couldn't think of a plausible reason as to why. If there were meteor rocks, and she felt them as she neared, then she simply needed to turn around and hurry back upstairs. She could always say she had seen a spider. Pete moved past her to follow Chloe and Hudson took a deep breath, moving along behind him.
It was on the fourth step down that Hudson heard the snap and found herself falling through the stairs to the basement below, taking the upper half of the stairs with her. She landed with a thud as she heard Chloe and Pete calling out to her, asking if she was all right.
"Fine!" She replied, knowing that the fall she had just taken would have likely broken at least an arm on any non-alien. Almost reflexively, she reached up to touch her face and then swiped her hand over her clothing, knowing that she had brushed a few nails on the way down as well. While she knew they couldn't damage her skin in any way, she still didn't want to discover that she had brought a few of them with her. That would cause way too many questions.
Sighing softly, Hudson moved to sit up when a hard wave of nausea swept over her. Pain hit her stomach and every nerve throughout her body felt as they were shivering or shuddering. Gasping, she rolled over on to her stomach, squinting against the painful sensations when she caught a look at what was causing them: Piles of glowing green rocks, stacked against the walls of the cellar, all around her.
"Meteor rocks! I knew it!" Chloe exclaimed as she neared Hudson, almost tripping over her in the darkness and not noticing the state her friend was in.
She moved closer to the wall, kneeling down to pick at a few of the rocks before following the trail over to the venting system. It was little more than an old fashioned furnace in which a bed of the meteor rocks lay. There was some other chemical mixed with them, but she was having difficulty discerning exactly what it was. Turning her gaze to the temperature gauge, she took out her camera and began taking a few pictures, making her way around the device and snapping a lot of shots of the green rocks.
Meanwhile, Hudson was attempting to struggle to her feet just as Pete reached her. She collapsed with a groan.
"H.C.?" He knelt beside her. "What's wrong?"
"S... sick," she ground out, trying to lift herself up once more. She felt Pete's arms go around her as he helped her up. "I don't know... what it is."
Another lie. It didn't matter. They had to get out of there and with the gaping hole in the stairs and her current debilitation, she couldn't come up with a way to do so. Pete was attempting to get Chloe's attention and pull her away from her investigation long enough to see that Hudson wasn't feeling well.
"You okay to stand on your own?" Pete asked, glancing toward the stairs as if he might have thought of a way out.
Hudson nodded, knowing she wasn't completely certain but if he had an idea, she wasn't going to hold him back. As he walked away she swayed a little but grabbed a hold of a wooden beam that stood in the center of the cellar. Closing her eyes, she rested her forehead against it, trying to quell the burning/twisting/churning pain that was going on inside of her. She was certain that at any moment her veins were going to rip through her skin and spew blood everywhere. Well, that was if she could bleed, which she had yet to discover.
Feeling an arm move around her waist, Hudson opened her eyes to see Chloe beside her, brow furrowed in concern. "Is it the same thing you were feeling upstairs?"
"Yes... only worse."
"Maybe you're allergic to the meteors?"
Thinking fast, Hudson shook her head. "I live among them in Smallville, Chloe. I've never felt like this." That was true. This was the worst that they had ever affected her. Then again, she had never before been locked in a room that was surrounded in them.
"It could be a reaction to the meteors and whatever chemical it is that is spread over them in the furnace."
"Hey guys!" Pete called out from the darkness. "I think we might be able to crawl our way on up out of here. We're going to have to help H.C. out though."
Hudson didn't have the heart to tell them that it likely wouldn't be enough. Her entire body seemed to grow heavier with each passing moment.
"Just come on over and - Ahhhhhh!!!"
"Pete!" Chloe yelled, rushing away from Hudson and disappearing into the darkness. "Pete! What is it?!"
"The stairs - -they're trying to eat me!"
Hudson lifted her head at that. At this point, she was prepared to believe just about anything.
"They're not really trying to eat you, Pete!" Chloe's voice rang out. "It's an hallucination!"
"Like fun they're not!" Pete squeaked. "Ouch! Chloe, hurry! I can't break free!"
"What am I supposed to do? I can't even find - Ow! Found them!"
If it weren't so potentially fraught with danger, it would be a Three Stooge's act. Closing her eyes for a moment to find strength to speak, Hudson reopened them and focused her gaze, attempting to see in the darkness. Finding what she was looking for, she told Chloe, "There's an axe in the corner near you - "
"No way in Hell!" Pete hollered. "She is not swinging that thing in the dark!"
"Can you think of a better idea?" Chloe replied. "Now try not to struggle. I can see your outline a bit..."
"Not well enough --- ahhhh!"
Hudson listened as the sound of metal slamming into wood echoed through the room. Once, twice, three times. There was a loud groan, as if the entire house were prepared to cave in on them. It continued to creak and tremble around them.
Taking a breath, she asked, "Pete?"
Suddenly Pete and Chloe were back beside her. Unfortunately, Pete was missing his wig and his leather jacket was torn to shreds. Chloe was rubbing her arms, frowning back into the darkness at the staircase which had thankfully quieted.
"Okay, I think I've had just about enough of this place," Pete commented, turning his gaze to Chloe. "Time to call the cavalry. Get your dad over here to get us out."
"Let's hope the phone works in here." Chloe reached into her purse and pulled out her cell, hitting the button to unlock the keys, which illuminated the screen, offering them a bit of light. "Well, that's helpful," she said with the slightest hint of sarcasm, while she dialed her uncle's number.
Slowly, Hudson slid back to the floor, unable to stand on her own any longer. Pete crouched down beside her, reaching out a hand which he rested on her shoulder comfortingly. She managed a weak smile at him and wished there was some way to explain to her friends what was causing this. The best she would be able to claim was some sort of twenty-four hour flu or something. She just hoped neither of them planned on mentioning the fact that they had never seen her sick before.
"Damn." Chloe looked down at them. "All I got was the answering machine. They must have gone out."
They grew silent, wondering what to do now. Pete continued to watch Hudson as she lay more heavily against him, as if her strength were completely sapped. Above them, Chloe paced before taking her phone out once more and switching it on for more light. Wandering away from them, she began to search the perimeter of the cellar, Pete watching the movement of the light carefully. She paused for a moment near the corner then turned and went back a few steps.
"Hey! There's a small door here. I think it might go into a crawl space or something."
"Be careful," Pete warned.
He listened as he heard the door yanked open, wood and metal screeching in protest. There was some shuffling against the ground, like Chloe was crawling. Then her voice drifted back out to them:
"It's dark. Damn phone doesn't make a very good flashlight... " A long pause. "Doesn't look much different from the room out there, smaller though. Might have been used as a vault or something in the past - "
"Chloe," Pete broke in impatiently, trying to help Hudson to sit up some more. He worried that if she passed out, it might make her sickness worse. "Is there or isn't there a way out of here?"
"Oh... right. Sorry."
Pete sighed, about to reply when a noise from above caught his attention. Glancing up, he stared into the darkness, knowing that it hadn't come from the floor above. It had come from the ceiling. Like right above them, in the same room. "Did you hear that, H.C.?" He whispered.
She was about to reply no when something like a squeak, followed by the flapping of wings, broke out in the darkness. The sounds were soon joined by others.
"Holy -- !" Pete threw himself back against the ground, losing hold of Hudson, when something that distinctly looked like a bat, swooped over his head.
The room became alive with flapping and squeaking, movement all around them. Pete scrambled to his feet just as a colony of bats swarmed over them, beating at them with their wings. He grabbed hold of Hudson as she attempted to get to her feet, pulling her along with him toward the hole that Chloe had disappeared into. The bats flew after them, slamming into their backs and heads as if working together to bring them down. Pushing Hudson ahead of him, Pete made certain she was through the doorway before he crawled in after her and swung the door shut, as the pounding of tiny bodies thudding against the door followed.
Chloe was staring them with wide eyes, holding up the phone to give off some illumination.
"Please, tell me you found a way out of here?" Pete asked.
She shook her head. "Nothing but brick. It's like an old panic room or vault or something."
Hudson lay against the cool dirt floor for a long moment, listening to her friends and the frenzied attack by the bats outside the door. She knew the bats weren't really there - it was all just a very elaborate hallucination - no matter how real they had felt. The problem was, the hole in the stairs was really there, as were the meteor rocks. Both of which effectively ended any chance that she might have to get them out of there. Though she was feeling a little better now that the rocks were on the other side of the door, she knew it wasn't quite enough to help. Plus, even if she was at full strength, she certainly couldn't punch her fist through the wall and not expect to be on the cover of the Daily Planet the next morning.
Unable to think of any other solution, Hudson held her hand out to Chloe. "Give me the phone... I know someone who can help."
Lex was going over the reports from the current quarter for the second time, determined to make certain that his calculations were correct. The Plant was showing a profit; his proof that the business decisions he had made were paying off. Not that he expected his father to hand him any form of congratulations or even a `Well done, son' but at least, for the sake of his own pride, Lex knew that he had made the right decision. It also provided him with the impetus to continue to do so, no matter what his father might say.
At some point in the evening, he had broken down and tried eating the popcorn ball that had been included in the bag of candy Hudson had brought to him. Now, every few minutes or so, he found himself swiping kernels of corn off of the reports and the surface of his desk. That would be the last time he ate such a ridiculous snack, although it had tasted really, really good. From what Lex could tell, Mrs. Kent had added both butterscotch and caramel to it, causing it to be one of the sweetest treats he'd had in a long time. If only there had been a tidier way to eat it. A smile touched his face at the thought. For some reason, he had no problem with picturing Hudson eating it without a single problem. She would have bits of popcorn all over the front of her shirt and possibly the corners of her mouth and he just knew she would look adorable. And he would lean forward and wipe the bits from her lips with his thumb and then his mouth would follow and he would taste the caramel and butterscotch and popcorn on her tongue and his fingers, sticky from the treat, would tangle in her hair as he held her to him...
The ringing of his cell phone interrupted the fantasy and Lex flashed an unappreciative glare at it, considering not answering for the moment then abruptly changing his mind, just in case it was an emergency at the Plant. Flipping it open, he snapped, "Lex."
"Hudson?" He frowned at the panic in her voice; she sounded out of breath, sick.
"Lex, we need your help!"
He froze, memories of the trouble one can easily find in Metropolis, sweeping over him. "What is it, Hudson? What's wrong?"
"We're at the... Millennium House... we... "
Silence. Then a scream.
"Hudson!" Lex stood, reaching for the keys to his Ferrari as he started for the door. "Hudson!" He demanded again, listening carefully from the sounds coming from the phone. Scuffling, gasps, a curse from someone that sounded like Pete then a bang as if the phone had been dropped. He came to a halt in the hallway, his breath stopping for a moment as he waited. "Hudson?" He asked, his voice dropping softly.
"Lex, are you there?"
Chloe's voice. "Chloe, where's Hudson?"
"She's here - she's sick. I don't know what's wrong." Chloe sounded panicked.
Lex started for the door again. "What's going on?"
"We can't get out of this house - something is wrong. I know this will sound crazy but it's already tried to eat Pete! We've lost Whitney and Lana, Hudson is really sick - "
"I'll call Luthorcorp security and get them over there," Lex assured her. "I'm on my way in the helicopter. Warehouse district - Millennium House, right?"
"Yes - it's on the corner of Delaware and Montpelier. Please, hurry!"
Chloe almost dropped the phone as she attempted to hang up, then glanced with a worried expression at Hudson who was leaning against Pete. Just when she had made the phone call, one of the bats had somehow climbed in under the door. Pete had beaten at it with the shreds of his leather jacket, then shoved the rest of the tattered clothing into the space between the ground and the door. Of course, when they had searched for the dead bat, they hadn't found anything. Hudson was pale and there was sweat breaking out across her brow, lending credence to the chills that were racking her. Chloe had no idea what to do. She leaned over and brushed the strands of dark hair that had escaped the braids away from Hudson's cheek.
"Lex is on his way, H.C. He's sending his security. We'll be out of here soon."
Hudson opened her eyes and tried to smile. "I... told you."
Pete frowned at the idea of Lex Luthor coming to their rescue but didn't say anything, not wishing to upset his friend at the moment. He tightened his arm around her shoulders supportively before looking over at the cellar door, which was currently their only protection from everything beyond it. The scratching noise continued, setting his nerves even further on edge. Turning his attention back to Hudson, he noticed that her eyes were still open and focused, as if she were attempting to gather her strength. Sure enough, within moments she was struggling to sit up.
"You're sick," he protested as she pulled away.
Hudson shook her head. "I'm okay. Really."
She wasn't and she knew it. But it wouldn't be good to appear so ill when Lex's people showed up. She feared that there would be enough questions from Pete and Chloe when all of this was over. Hopefully, with everything happening around them, they would both be much too wrapped up in their own experiences to dwell on her sudden illness. Leaning against the back wall, the furthest away from the cellar where the rocks were, she took a small breath and tried to smile at her friends.
"I hope Whitney and Lana are all right."
Pete snorted. "They probably high-tailed it out of there immediately. For all we know, they're on their way back to Smallville."
"It would be better than thinking that they might still be stuck up there somewhere," Hudson commented. She couldn't handle the guilt of something happening to her friends because she had been foolish enough to walk right into a pile of meteor rocks.
"Feeling better?" Chloe asked, noting that her friend's color was returning just a little, even though she was still shaking.
Hudson nodded. "Yeah. I'll be okay."
They grew silent, sitting in the darkness, listening as the sounds of the bats outside the door slowly died away. Did that mean the hallucination had ended? Or that their attention was drawn elsewhere? The three friends were tense, waiting for whatever the House decided to throw at them next. Chloe carefully placed her camera into her bag, knowing that this was one of the best stories she had stumbled on to yet, especially since she had personally lived through it. Of course, it wouldn't mean much if Hudson got any worse. She certainly couldn't capitalize on her best friend's pain.
Hudson was just drifting off, her body exhausted from the stress it was being put through, when she was certain she had heard footsteps above them. Lifting her head, she watched as the light from Chloe's phone flickered back to life as she too stared up at the wood ceiling above them. Pete shuffled in the space beside her, raising up so that he could get closer to hear better. But Hudson heard it just fine. Footsteps. More footsteps.
"Hello?" Chloe yelled out, obviously thinking like Hudson was - the men from LuthorCorp had arrived. "We're down here!" She crawled to her knees and began pounding her fists against the wood.
Pete joined her as they both called out, "Hey! Down here!"
The footsteps stopped. Then they heard a muffled voice, "Stay back from the ceiling... "
Frowning for just a moment, Chloe and Pete both back away, pressing against the wall next to Hudson. They all jumped as the sound of a chainsaw tore through the flooring above them.
Pete groaned. "If this is another hallucination, we're in deep shit..."
Much to their relief, the chainsaw belonged to LuthorCorp security personnel and not some crazed maniac out to murder them. They were lifted out of the cellar and helped outside where they were soon reunited with Whitney and Lana.
"Where did you guys disappear to?" Pete demanded when they reached the couple near the LuthorCorp van.
Whitney made a face. "We wanted to check out one of the rooms... "
Beside him, Lana turned a little red and Pete rolled his eyes. "Ah man. I knew it."
"Didn't you hear us calling?" Chloe asked as she helped Hudson to sit just inside the open door. One of the men that had helped them out handed her a blanket, which she draped over her friend's shoulders, trying to warm her. "When we realized you were gone, we looked for you."
"It was really weird," Lana replied, wrinkling her nose a bit. "We didn't hear anything in that room. We... sat down on the bed... to talk... and the next thing we knew, it was trying to eat us or something! So we ran into the closet - but it locked behind us and we couldn't get out."
"That was all that happened?" Pete queried blankly.
"Yeah." Whitney shrugged. "Why? And what's with all of this?" He waved at the men that were moving in and out of the house.
"Long story," Hudson assured him with a small smile.
"Well, this is certainly the strangest Halloween I have ever experienced," Lana told them with a nod. She glanced up at Whitney. "We'd better head back. Aunt Nell will kill me if I'm not in by one o'clock."
Whitney slipped his arm around her and nodded at the others. "See you guys. Sorry we didn't get to learn more for your story, Chloe."
As they walked away, Chloe, Pete and Hudson glanced at one another in disbelief.
It took over forty minutes by the time the helicopter picked up Lex outside the castle and delivered him to Metropolis. Fortunately, the pilot did make a spectacular landing in one of the empty parking lots adjacent to the Haunted Houses and Lex wasted little time in getting over to the corner where the Millennium House stood. It wasn't too hard to find considering LuthorCorp security was crawling over the place and a large crowd of onlookers had appeared.
"Mr. Luthor." Todd Raines appeared before him, falling in step as they moved across the street. "The building is secure - "
"Where are Miss Kent and her friends?"
"Over there by the van, sir. She refused to allow us to call an ambulance. There didn't seem to be any serious injuries among them, just some bumps and bruises."
Lex nodded once. "Get that crowd out of here."
Moving toward the van, Lex spied Hudson and her friends almost immediately. She was sitting on the inside of the opened doors, Pete and Chloe leaning against the vehicle beside her. As if she heard him coming, Hudson glanced up and immediately rose to her feet, walking forward to meet him. It felt completely natural to envelope her in his arms and hold her tightly for a brief moment before Lex pulled back and ran his gaze over her, in an attempt to assure himself that she was safe.
"Are you all right?" Lex asked, touching her cheek.
Hudson nodded and flashed him a reassuring smile. "Yes. Thanks to you. Your men seemed to get here just in time."
Lex glanced toward the Brownstone off to his right, frowning slightly. "What happened?"
"Meteor rocks," Chloe commented as she walked up beside them. "The owner is originally from Smallville. I think he brought all of these meteor rocks with him because he discovered a way to create hallucinogens out of them. He could make people believe they were seeing scary things. It's the perfect money making scheme. And I plan on getting all of the answers I need once I get back to the Torch!"
Turning his gaze back to Hudson, Lex asked, "What is she talking about?"
Not wanting to compound the meteor rock theory or Lex's curiosity, she simply shrugged in reply.
"The owner of this house," Chloe insisted. "He's responsible for the death of that college student last week. He scared him to death with these hallucinations." She paused and frowned. "We didn't find those two missing kids though. Either they really did run away or... " She glanced back at the Haunted House.
Frowning, Lex asked, "Did you mention this to my people?"
"I don't think so!" Chloe replied, turning back to him. "This is my byline in the Planet. No one else is going to beat me to it."
Knowing he could get the information he needed elsewhere, Lex flashed her a tight smile. "Of course, Miss Sullivan. I would never think to take such an achievement away from you."
"Hey, Chloe. Your dad's here," Pete called out as he appeared beside them, flashing a glare at Lex and the fact that he still had one arm looped around Hudson. "We should get going."
Chloe waved to her father who was climbing out of his car, an expression of concern crossing his face at the commotion around them. "Thanks, Mr. Luthor," she told him. "We appreciate the help! Come on, Hudson. I can't wait to tell my dad about this!"
"I'll be right there," Hudson told them, motioning for Pete to join Chloe. He frowned at her for a moment, as if in indecision about leaving her with Lex before he finally turned and walked off toward the car. Sighing at her friend's behavior toward the man who had just rescued them, she turned back to Lex and smiled.
"I could give you a ride back in the chopper," he suggested quietly, not wishing to admit that he wanted to keep an eye on her.
Hudson shook her head. "No. That wouldn't be right to do to Chloe and Pete or Mr. Sullivan. But thank you for the offer."
When she turned to leave, Lex took hold of her arm and pulled her back. "Hudson, what happened in there?" He nodded toward the building. "When you called, you were sick. Chloe said you were sick. Now... you seem fine."
Worrying her lower lip for a moment, wondering how best to reply without actually lying to him, she finally replied, "Maybe I'm allergic to the meteors? I don't know. Maybe it was the mold from the old place mixed with them. All it did was make me nauseous and stuff. You know, like with the flu? When I got outside and was able to get some fresh air, I felt much better." She took a deep breath to emphasize her meaning. "Chloe was being all dire on the phone because we were freaked. It's not everyday farm girls get the pleasure of having drug-induced hallucinations."
Lex found a smile. "I'm glad you're okay, Hudson." He reached up and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "You had me worried."
She couldn't hold back the reply, "Now you know how it feels."
Another smile. "Go on. Your friends are waiting for you. I'll stop by tomorrow and see how you're doing."
Smiling at Lex, Hudson turned and hurried off toward the car.
He watched as Gabe's car disappeared down the road before turning and heading towards the Brownstone where Todd Raines stood, talking with two of the other security personnel. Having no wish to get too close to it, Lex paused on the curb, waiting for Raines to join him while his gaze swept over the structure. Was it truly possible that the meteor rocks could cause mass hallucinations? If so, how did it work? How was it possible to get a group of people to believe they were seeing the same thing? Perhaps it was actually the power of suggestion. If one person said they saw something, the others then believed they saw it as well. If that were the case, then creating the hallucination en mass would be more difficult, as there would always be someone who would think differently from everyone else. Whereas, with a small group such as Hudson and her friends, all of whom knew how one another thought and behaved, would be much more easily controlled.
"Mr. Luthor?" Raines joined him, following his gaze to the Haunted House.
"I want you to secure this area. Get whatever information you can on this place. Bring everything to the castle and make certain the owner doesn't talk."
Raines nodded. "Yes, sir."
Turning to head back to the helicopter, Lex stopped suddenly and looked back at the head of his security. "Did... your men see anything while they were in there? Anything that might lend credence to what the kids were claiming?"
"No, sir." The man shook his head. "But we weren't exposed for very long. If it does have to do with hallucinogens as the blonde suggested, we don't plan on taking any chances when we go back in there."
"Good." Lex was pleased to hear that the appropriate gear would be used when clearing the place out. He didn't need any of his men falling victim to whatever had affected Hudson and her friends. "Keep me updated. I want a report by morning."
Casting one last glance at the Millennium House, Lex moved across the street back toward the helicopter.
The walk down the aisle was familiar. Thick, black carpet, chairs on either side decorated in black bows and white lilies, solemn men and women, watching him with sympathetic eyes. Lex stopped just short of the ornate silver casket on the raised dais in front of him. He didn't want to see her, not like this. He hadn't been there when he should have been, to hear her last words, to kiss her goodbye, to tell her he loved her and always would. Pamela told him he needed to do this, he needed to say goodbye, to have closure. But not like this. His mother was not lying in that box; she couldn't possibly be gone forever. Not when there was so much he never got to say to her because he had always expected her to be there; there was always plenty of time.
Lex hovered just beyond the dais, glancing over his shoulder to see his father speaking in low tones with the Mayor. Pamela was watching him from a seat in the front row; she offered a soft smile and inclined her head forward, urging him on. Taking a deep breath, Lex stepped forward, one foot in front of the other, until he could peer into the satin-lined casket...
Only, his mother wasn't there. It was some old woman, who looked hauntingly familiar. Lex was about to turn and announce that this wasn't his mother at all when the old woman's eyes opened - milky-white and sightless. She turned her head toward him and Lex opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out.
"You did this to me, Lex," the old woman spoke, but in his mother's voice. The treasured, beautiful voice that used to sing him to sleep, read to him in the comfort of his parent's big four-poster bed when his father was away on business. That beloved voice which now accused, condemned, forced Lex to see what he already knew...
Back-peddling away from the horror in front of him, Lex turned and stumbled down the aisle, running down the black carpet... running through the field of corn spread before him, feeling the blast of heat surging from behind, following, gaining on him, threatening to consume him into the darkness. He stumbles and falls, scrapping his knees against the ground as the black wave engulfs him, sweeps him away to a wasteland of death and destruction.
Disoriented, Lex stands, brushing the ash and dust from his white suit, his gaze encompassing the devastation that swept towards the horizon. Above him, thunderclouds rumbled and the sky darkened.
"How could you do this, Lex?'
Turning, Lex sees his mother standing amidst the corpses in a gown of white that billows about her in the wind. She was so beautiful it hurt to look at her. He wanted to turn away but couldn't; she didn't belong there. The crow on his shoulder cawed as if in agreement.
"How could you do this? To me. To everyone. You were my son. What happened?"
Lex opens his mouth to speak but the only sound he hears is the crow, cawing once more as it sits on his shoulder. He reaches up to push it away but it flaps its wings, beating them about his head in protest. Angrily, Lex grabs at its legs and throws it to the ground.
"CAW!" It protests, stamping around in the scattered bones for a moment before lifting into the air once more.
Standing before him still, Lillian holds out her hand. "Come to me, Lex."
He takes a step but his feet are heavy. The crow flies to her instead, settling on her arm. She brushes her fingers over its breast and it flaps its wings.
"CAW!" The bird turns its gaze to Lex and asks, in a strange imitation of his father's voice, "You don't want her to see, do you, Lex?"
Lex shakes his head, whether in reply or denial, he does not know. All he understands is that he is still unable to scream as the crow reaches up and begins pecking at his mother's eyes...
Lex jolted awake, the scream dying in his throat. Heart thudding wildly in his chest, he lay unmoving on the couch where he had fallen asleep while looking over expense reports. Staring up at the ceiling above, he quickly found that the image of the crow pecking at his mother's eyes was an impossible one to ignore. And memories came flooding back.
Pamela had been the one to tell him. He had gone to the library in search of more answers for how to heal his mother, to make her better. He hadn't trusted the doctors, had been certain they weren't doing enough for her because they didn't love her like he had. She wasn't their mother. So for the past few years before her death, Lex had been studying for himself to see what would make her strong again, well again. The study had only intensified during the months that her condition had grown worse. By then, she hardly got out of bed anymore.
He had been sitting quietly in the back parlor, which was named after his family for the large donation his mother had made a few years before. It was one of his favorite places to go when he was home from school. His mother had helped with the decorating and it was so very much like her that when Lex couldn't actually be with her, that place was good enough. No one bothered him there and he was certain not to have to listen to his father's repeated lectures about how he was foolish to think he could accomplish what modern science could not. Lex refused to listen. He had believed he would find a way to save his mother, without his father's help and that would prove that he was better than the doctors.
He still remembered looking up between his reading to see Pamela standing in the doorway, watching him, tears in her eyes; he had known instantly that he was too late. He had failed his mother and his father had been right. How could he possibly achieve what the doctors could not? Time had run out.
The vestiges of the nightmare remained. Lex could still hear her voice, as if she were there in the room, standing beside him, speaking into his ear:
"You were my son. What happened?"
He turned his head quickly, looking to the right where the sound had come from but there was nothing. The fireplace crackled behind the couch. Clenching and unclenching his fists, Lex slowly sat up and rubbed at his eyes, as if trying to rid himself of the images that still remained. Taking a deep breath, he swung his sock-covered feet to the floor and leaned on his knees, his gaze focused on the rug as he roused himself to full awareness. It had only been a nightmare. He had suffered similar ones for years, ever since the meteor shower actually. He had been plagued with dreams of running from the blast; sometimes he got away, but usually he didn't. Then, after his mother had died, the nightmares had increased, become more intense, more frightening. His father had told him to grow up; That only children suffered from nightmares. His therapists had told him to examine his nightmares - why was he having them? What did he think they were telling him? Did he resent his mother? That was usually the point where he told them to `fuck off' and stormed out, off to lose himself in a marathon of alcohol and drugs until he could just... forget.
Standing, Lex moved over to the bar and poured himself a glass of scotch. Alcohol, again. Though much more subdued now, and his tolerance had achieved a remarkable level - it took quite a bit to get him mind-numbingly drunk anymore. Besides, he hadn't done that in... He raised an eyebrow curiously. In the time since he had come to Smallville. One would think that after driving yourself off a bridge to your imminent death, that the first thing you would do upon realization that you were still alive was to go home and get drunk. Drink yourself into oblivion and then attempt to understand, in your throes of misery with your head down the toilet, why you were still here, how it was possible.
But Lex hadn't done that. After realizing that he was alive, and that the young woman he had thought he had killed had actually saved his life, Lex had gone to the castle and... boxed. He'd worked himself into a sweat, pure, draining exhaustion and then passed out into a deep sleep. When he awoke the next morning, he had continued with his need to release energy until Hudson had shown up, returning her gift to him. That was the point where everything had changed. Lex no longer felt the need to drive himself to exhaustion or drunkenness in order to keep himself from thinking. Now, he allowed himself to think, to contemplate the realization that someone had been looking out for him, and they hadn't expected or wanted anything in return for it. For the first time since the death of his mother, Lex knew he had a place in this world, knew that he had a future ahead of him. And it was all thanks to a fifteen year old girl who had not only saved his life, both literally and figuratively.
It was wrong and he knew it, but that didn't change his fascination with Hudson Kent. It didn't change the fact that Lex enjoyed spending time with her, that he wanted to do things for her, give her everything she ever wanted, and make certain she had everything that life had to offer. Of course, he would never be allowed to do that. Her father wouldn't allow it and Lex doubted very much that Hudson would either. Still, that didn't mean he couldn't be there along the way when she needed him, to make things just a little easier. It was the least that he could do when she had given him so much. He could never allow himself to take more.
Walking with drink in hand over to his desk, Lex decided to do some more work for the evening. It was too early to head up to bed and, he'd had enough nightmares for the evening. If he needed to stay up the rest of the night, then he would do so. Setting his glass down, he flipped open the laptop, hitting the refresh on his email, his gaze straying to the small bag still perched on the corner of his desk. Another gift from Hudson; funny how she expected him to accept things from her, but she couldn't do the same. He stared at it for a long moment, his dream coming back to him, the image of Cassandra lying in his mother's casket. Hudson had been with him that day but he hadn't told her what had happened, couldn't find the strength to tell her that it was possible his future was so horrible that it caused the death of that woman. Lex didn't even believe she could really see the future and yet... It was entirely possible that he was responsible.
Standing, Lex grabbed his keys out of his pocket and headed for the Kent farm.
Hudson's attention was drawn from her musings, staring out the telescope into the sky above, as the sound of an approaching sports car broke the silence of the autumn evening. She had been wondering if her home could have been near the bright star to the north, or the smaller, dimmer one to the west. Or maybe the one that flickered with a soft red shimmer to it. So many possibilities and she didn't have the slightest inkling as to which one of the billions of stars above her signaled home. And why she was here instead of there.
Running her fingers idly along the eyepiece, she peered into the darkness, watching as headlights appeared on the gravel drive, growing smaller and more distinct until the familiar sight of a silver Aston Martin pulled up beside the barn. Smiling slightly, Hudson leaned her chin on her hands and watched as Lex emerged from the driver's side, glancing momentarily towards the farmhouse before disappearing through the barn door. Turning in her chair towards the stairs, Hudson waited patiently while she listened to Lex's modulated steps move up them until he appeared over the railing, glancing in her direction.
"Hey," he called out, flashing her the barest of smiles.
"Hi, Lex. What brings you to the farm?"
Shrugging, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat as he moved over to her. "I'm not interrupting you, am I?" His gaze took in the area around her as if searching for some hidden visitor or homework.
"No." Hudson shook her head, glancing at the telescope. "I was just sitting here... thinking."
"Seems there's a lot of that going around," Lex replied, following her gaze for the moment, because it was easier than meeting her eyes. There was a part of him that believed he was a complete idiot for coming here, as if he expected Hudson to wave a magic wand or something and make everything better. The truth was, she would likely either believe him totally insane or fall right in line with his thoughts and blame him for Cassandra's death. Either outcome was unacceptable and it was on the tip of his tongue to make an excuse to leave when Hudson spoke.
"Thank you for the other night - I mean, getting us out of that place and everything."
Lex looked up to find her watching him and he immediately dropped his gaze from the piercing green eyes. "It was nothing."
"That's not true," Hudson insisted, leaning over from her chair to take his hand in hers. "You're always there for me, when you have no reason to be. Sometimes I feel like an errant little sister who's always looking to her big brother to get her out of trouble."
Little sister. While it wasn't perfect, it was an easier way to regard her. Lex's fingers curved around hers. "It's the least that I can do," he replied, raising his eyes back to hers. "You saved my life. Remember?"
"You make it sound like an obligation," she accused softly. "Friends shouldn't be like that."
Lex raised an eyebrow in slight humor. "What about siblings then?"
A comfortable silence fell between them for a moment, and they continued to hold hands. Hudson could sense that Lex wanted to talk, but she had learned from experience that it was impossible to push him into it. He would only withdraw even further, and then she would never learn what was on his mind. So she allowed him the time and space he needed to come to grips with whatever it was he wanted to say - and she certainly hoped it didn't have to do with more investigations! - while she reached to the side of the couch for her bag of Doritos.
"Want some?" She asked, pushing her hand into the bag and withdrawing a handful of nacho cheese flavored chips.
Lex made a face of minor dislike. "No. Thank you."
"Don't tell me you don't eat Doritos?" Hudson appeared horrified. "Lex, this is serious. I don't know if we can be friends anymore."
The response she got wasn't what she had been looking for. Letting go of her hand, Lex stood and wandered over to the window, running his hand over his scalp in the familiar nervous gesture.
"I was kidding," she called after him, turning on the couch to look after him, her brow furrowing slightly. "Lex?"
"I think... I think I killed Cassandra."
Okay, she totally was not expecting that. "Lex - "
"I went to her, you know. Asking about you." Lex turned from the window to look at Hudson, his expression only slightly contrite, mostly resigned. He stared at her for a long moment before his gaze dropped to the ground. Hands tucked safely within his pockets, he shrugged. "I thought she might be able to shed some insight on you, tell me something that might help me to understand why I'm still here... "
Hudson sighed and looked away. Would this never end? What was it with Lex anyway that he couldn't simply accept that she saved his life and that was that? Frowning, her gaze on the cushions of the threadbare couch, she asked, "Was this before or after you showed me the Porsche?"
"Before." Lex flashed her a look that said she should have known that. "It was what made me decide to show you, tell you... ask you up front what might have happened."
She couldn't help but cast her frown in his direction. "So I take it Cassandra didn't have the answers you were looking for? She didn't have any great secret to tell you about me? Like I'm really a sacred, lost Princess from the Planet X3112 who has been hidden away here in the tiny hamlet of Smallville with her two trusty companions, Qu'roth and Zotra - you know them better as Jonathan and Martha - waiting for the day when I will - "
"Enough," Lex snapped, interrupting her with an angry and hurt expression. "I didn't say that what I did was right. And I didn't say that I was proud of it."
"Then why did you do it?"
Lex was silent for a long moment, his gaze turning back out to the stars. Hudson shifted uncomfortably on the couch as she waited, wondering for a brief moment if she wasn't really a Princess in exile. Okay, it was a silly thought. But then, so was a fifteen year old girl who could be hit by speeding cars and survive without a scratch. Her attention returned to Lex when a board creaked beneath him as he stepped, moving back over to Hudson, where he sat beside her on the couch. Pressing his hands together in front of him for a moment, fingertip to fingertip, he finally turned to meet her eyes.
"I don't know, Hudson. I can't give you an answer. I thought it was right at the time."
Making a face, Hudson glanced away, searching for the forgiveness she knew he was seeking. Deciding that it was easier to simply let it go, she turned back and asked, "Why did you go back?"
His face paled at her question, and he dropped his gaze to the floor. "It was something you said... when you said that maybe Fate had something else in mind for me -- " He broke off, waited for a beat, spoke again, "I wanted to see what my future will hold."
Hudson smiled a little. If there was anyone that she knew who had a bright future ahead of them, it was Lex Luthor. At least, it had to be better than sitting in the middle of a graveyard, all alone. "What did she see?"
Lex shook his head. "I don't know. It... she died before she could tell me." He turned to face Hudson. "My future killed her."
"What?" Hudson blinked for a moment then finally shook her head. "Lex, that's ridiculous. How could seeing someone's future kill you? Especially when that future is yours. I doubt it could be anything other than glorious - filled with trumpets and brass bands and - and fireworks, even!" She smiled but Lex didn't return it. Realizing that this was seriously upsetting him, she leaned forward, placing her hand on his shoulder. "She was an old woman, Lex. Did you ever think it was simply her time to go?"
"I was holding her hand... She said `You've been warned', and I waited and waited, and I asked her what she saw and... " Lex swallowed, glancing out across the loft. "She was dead."
"Lex - "
"I taunted her. I asked her if she was afraid of what she would see... " He shook his head. "And then... "
Taking an initiative she normally would have never made, Hudson moved closer and wrapped her arms around Lex's shoulders, hugging him tightly. "She died, Lex. Of old age. That's all there was to it. Your future did not kill her." Laying her head against his shoulder, she assured him, "You're going to have a great future. I just know it."
"What if you're wrong?" Lex asked softly. "What if... I turn out like him?"
Hudson didn't want to ask if there were aspects about Lionel Luthor's life that would scare a person so badly they could die from it. Preferring to ignore the thought, she replied, "You won't. You're not your father, Lex."
Lex laughed derisively. "For rarely are sons similar to their fathers: most are worse, and a few are better than their fathers."
Brow furrowing, Hudson lifted her head to look at him quizzically. "That sounds familiar."
"Homer. It's a quote from `The Odyssey'."
"Ah." Hudson sighed. "Why is it people find it necessary to trust in the words of someone just because they wrote them down a few thousand years ago?" She shook her head. "If anything, you will be better."
Turning his gaze to hers, their eyes meeting for a moment, Lex finally asked, "Better at what? Deception? Hurting others? Stepping on the lives of those around me to achieve my goals? Better at what, Hudson?"
Her arms tightened slightly around Lex, but she didn't have an answer for him. For some reason, his words brought to mind her own dark future and what the vision of the graveyard might mean, for her, for her family, for her friends. Taking a deep breath, Hudson laid her head back against his shoulder, and they continued to sit there together in silence, contemplating the future.
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