My First Taste - Ep 3 Friends
MY FIRST TASTE
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. Albert Camus (1913 - 1960)
Knowing she was an alien, while in itself could be considered fairly cool among some circles, also added an intolerable amount of pressure to Hudson's life that she never believed was really fair. Her father told her that life was rarely fair, and even rarer was for it to ever make much sense, and why did she believe she had the right to be granted what others did not? Being an alien didn't make her special; it just made her different.
Being an alien meant several things to Hudson, beyond just being different. It meant being alone, really and truly alone. She could be in a house full of people - her own house, her own party - and still feel as if no one were there but her. It meant keeping secrets, which she was quickly learning was never a good thing. Sure, there were secrets that never really harmed anyone, like knowing that Chloe's favorite bra is actually pink lace and that Pete is a closet Madonna fan. But then there were secrets about your life, ones that you couldn't tell anyone, not even those closest to you, including your best friend. Those were the ones that Hudson knew that, no matter how dangerous the truth might be, telling it might be the lesser of two evils.
Take this moment for instance. Lex needed her help. The entire situation could be over in seconds if she could only allow herself to speed past him to Earl Jenkins, knock the guy out, and Lex would be safe. Only two things were holding her back: one, Lex didn't know she was an alien and could move at super fast speeds, therefore if she did so, she would be letting him in on her secret, and two, she reacted to Earl as if his body were filled with meteor rocks. She'd get sick the moment she got too close to him. Lex didn't know that either. All her friend knew was that right now, she was his only chance.
Not that she was given much opportunity to dwell on it.
Earl broke into another one of his fits, his entire body shaking violently, like a jackhammer. So violently in fact that the catwalk they were both standing on began breaking apart. Lex and Hudson glanced at one another just as they heard the girders snap, and then it was breaking and falling. Lex called out for Hudson as he tumbled over the railing, his hands barely gripping one of the metal rods. She ran down what was left of the catwalk, careful not to burst into superspeed, just as Lex lost his hold on the railing and fell further. She felt momentary panic until he caught Earl's legs and held on, dangling from them precariously. The drop was a good thirty feet to cement floor. It was very likely that if they fell, the wouldn't live through it. Hudson didn't hesitate, she simply grabbed Earl's arm. And through the pain and nausea that swept over her at the contact, she pulled. Pulled until the older man was able to draw himself up the rest of the way, and then she reached for Lex, lifting him to safety.
Just as Lex was safe beside her, the remainder of the catwalk began to shake again. They both looked up to see that Earl had almost made it to the elevator but his violent shakes were taking over once more. Hudson and Lex glanced at one another - and if they'd had the time to roll their eyes they likely would have - before she grabbed him and pushed him ahead as they both raced for the elevator. The bridge collapsed behind them mere seconds after they reached safety, both breathing hard; one from yet another near-death experience, the other trying to quell the nausea that had rolled through her.
"Hudson." Lex was looking at her. "How did you pull us up?"
Oh yeah. That. Hudson swallowed and shook her head. "I don't know. Adrenaline, I guess."
Lie number 1,263. Do you think being an alien makes you special? Hudson looked away from Lex's expression of disbelief because really he had every reason not to believe her. Not every fifteen year old girl can lift, with one arm, two full grown men dangling beneath her. Not every one but this one; and the next time Lex asked about it, the next time he admitted that it was a little difficult to believe, lie number 1,264 would fall right in line, something like `Well, you know. Lots of work around the farm and stuff'. And Lex, being her friend and all, and wanting to believe that she wouldn't really lie because she wasn't special as compared to everyone else in the world, would accept it and let it go.
Just like he was doing now.
The SWAT team met them halfway through the Plant, escorting them the rest of the way while paramedics rushed in to help Earl after Lex waved them away. His legs might still feel like jelly, no matter how much he pretended they didn't, but he was otherwise all right, thanks to Hudson. Again.
He glanced over at her as her parents rushed to her and threw their arms around her and her mother said something about never having been so happy to see her. It hurt to watch, no matter how happy he was that Hudson had people who loved her so much, and he looked away and kept walking. Lex tried not to wince as he approached his father, who was looking at him as if this was all his fault. No happy greetings here.
"You lied to me," Lex accused quietly, hating the fact that his father didn't trust him enough to tell him the truth about the Plant he was in charge of.
"No, no I didn't. I said Level 3 wasn't on any plans. It wasn't. It's plausible deniability." Lionel regarded him without expression, though there was a hint of self-congratulation in his eyes.
Lex let it go. "What were you doing down there?"
"Doesn't matter," Lionel replied. "It was a failure, we closed the door and moved on."
"You almost got me killed." His father didn't negotiate with terrorists. Lex was certain that if Hudson hadn't shown up to change the course of events, his father would have had the SWAT team shoot Earl Jenkins down, no matter who was in the way.
His father glanced at him smugly. "No, you almost got yourself killed. It was your call, remember?"
Lex tried not to let that hurt. He looked away and swallowed back the desire that swelled up in him to scream at his father. He hadn't done so in very many years. He certainly wasn't going to start now.
Reporters were rushing on to the scene and Lionel turned away to answer their questions, as if Lex simply wasn't smart enough to do so on his own, even though the Plant was under his charge. He stood there and listened without interruption for about as long as he could stand before he broke in and informed the press that LuthorCorp would do everything in their power to see that Earl Jenkins received the best medical care. Whether his father wanted to admit it or not, this was their fault, and Lex wasn't going to be like him. He was going to do the right thing and to hell with Lionel Luthor and his plausible deniability.
More questions were fired at him with his pronouncement, and Lex would have been more than happy to answer them; only it was obvious his father didn't plan on letting him do so. After all, he might say the wrong thing, damage the image of LuthorCorp even further. Even though he had just saved that image. And his father was using some stupid excuse, as if he actually cared about what had just happened to Lex, to make the reporters stop and provide them with a perfect photo op - a hug between Lionel Luthor and his son.
His father was stiff against him, his hands almost condescending in their touch as he patted his back, and Lex just stood there, staring ahead at what a real hug must be, as Hudson was practically engulfed by her mother and father and that was a real family, real love. It hurt to watch but Lex couldn't look away, couldn't tear his eyes away from what he wanted, and if it meant living vicariously through his best friend to get it, then so be it, however pathetic that might be.
Once the appropriate amount of flashes took place, Lionel stepped back from Lex and turned once more to the press, informing them that a full statement would be prepared by his office and released to the media later that night. Knowing that he was dismissed, Lex turned away, running a hand over his bare scalp, the realization briefly crossing his mind that his name would likely not be mentioned in the press release. Something like `Lionel Luthor's son was taken hostage' would be the only nod toward his part in the situation, and he found that for once, he just didn't care anymore.
Turning at the sound of Hudson's voice, he found her standing beside him, completely silent on her approach as usual, and Lex tried not to add that to the long list of questions he had about her. Including the ability to lift him and Earl Jenkins to safety. "Are you all right?" He asked, thinking it seemed to be the right question.
Hudson smiled. "I think I should be asking you that."
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Lex shrugged. "Thanks to you. Otherwise, I'd be just another splatter on the floor of the non-existent Level Three of the LuthorCorp chemical plant."
Lex thought he saw a flicker of something like fear in Hudson's eyes but decided it was simply his imagination.
"I didn't do anything," Hudson replied in her usual humble manner. "You were the one who risked your life to save the class. You're the real hero."
Lex Luthor - Hero. He felt hysterical laughter threaten to burst forth and fought it back quickly, even as he heard his father's laughter in his mind. He didn't even know how to respond to her so he remained silent, dropping his gaze between them.
Hudson watched him silently for a moment, knowing that there was a lot going on in his head that he would never share. Lex was like that - an island unto his own or something like that. She'd heard enough about his father, and now had the chance to see the man in action, to begin to understand why Lex behaved that way. She knew what it felt like to believe you were all alone.
"H.C.," her father called out from a few feet away. "Let's head home, honey."
"Be right there," she returned before glancing back up at Lex. "If you need to talk - "
"You're available," Lex broke in, nodding a little, having memorized the familiar refrain. He hoped she understood that it really did mean something to him, to know she was always there. Even if it was hard for him to acknowledge.
Hudson gave him a small smile, then walked a little past him toward her waiting parents before she quickly changed her mind and turned back. Throwing her arms around him, she pulled Lex close and hugged him tightly, burying her face against the crook of his neck. Even after being taken hostage and almost dying, he still smelled like expensive cologne and silk.
"I'm glad you're all right," she whispered against his shoulder.
It was unexpected, and for the longest time, Lex wasn't certain how to react. Like with his father, he just stood there, allowing Hudson to hug him as her parents looked on from nearby, and lurking somewhere behind them, his father. Slowly, the realization penetrated him that this was what he had wanted so badly only moments before, and he lifted what were suddenly very heavy arms, to hold her in return. And it felt...right.
"If anything had happened to you in there... " Lex trailed off and closed his eyes, ignoring the glower cast his way by Jonathan Kent. He laid his head against hers and breathed in the apple-scent of her hair. "Thank you, Hudson."
Hudson wondered if it was selfish of her to be pleased that Lex had been worried about her, that he might have blamed himself if anything had happened to her. Was she really that desperate to be an important part of his life? Her hands smoothed over the back of his purple silk shirt for a moment before she finally pulled away to meet his gaze.
Lex held on to her for a moment longer before finally letting go and slipping his hands back into his pockets. "You'd better go. Your parents are waiting."
They smiled at each other, as if there were some secret between them that no one else would ever be a part of. Then Hudson turned and walked away to join her mother and father while Lex silently looked on. Maybe he should care that Jonathan Kent didn't seem too pleased that he had been holding his daughter, but he didn't. Not when, for a brief moment, Lex knew that someone truly cared.
"Interesting little exchange," his father commented from beside him.
Lex just glanced over at him, having absolutely no inclination to reply. That moment with Hudson was his to savor, and he wasn't about to let his father ruin it. Without a word, Lex turned and walked back towards the Plant.
"There's very little that can be done about it, Jonathan."
"People are going to talk. She doesn't need that kind of exposure."
"People are already talking. They have been since she saved his life, Jonathan.People always talk. What matters is that we know it isn't true."
Hudson lay back on her bed and stared up at the ceiling above. Normally, she tried not to listen in on her parents' conversations, but after what had happened this morning, she thought it only fair to be warned. Apparently, one of the reporters had been paying attention when she had hugged Lex, and now a photo of their embrace was plastered across the front page of the Smallville Ledger, the headline reading: Kent Girl Saves Luthor Heir Again.
Worst of all, she felt guilty about the title, about the contents of the article. The writer had painted her as the one who saved the day, completely ignoring the fact that Lex had risked his life to get everyone in her Agriculture class and her out of there. Lex was the outsider, of course, the one who didn't belong in Smallville; while she was `homegrown', a member of the pack.
Boy, if they only knew.
"I can't help but worry, Martha. Ever since that boy came into our lives, I lay awake at night worrying about what might happen if he ever discovered the truth."
"He would never hurt her," Martha Kent replied quietly. Hudson heard the clink of silverware as it was placed on the table. "I don't think he's capable of that."
Her father snorted. "He's a Luthor. He's capable of anything. You know that as well as I do."
"The sins of the father, Jonathan?" The oven door opened and closed, and the scent of fresh-baked blueberry muffins drifted up the stairs. "Did you ever stop to consider that H.C. notices something in Lex that the rest of us don't? She's always been a good judge of character."
"She's also always been too kind-hearted," her father replied. "She wants to see the good in anyone, no matter what."
"And you think this is a bad trait?"
"No. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying I don't want to see her get hurt." Another long pause. "Lex is an unknown. She's never been exposed to someone like him before."
"I have enough faith in our daughter to believe that she can see past the glitter and glamour of Lex's upbringing to see the person inside." A pause. "H.C.? Honey, breakfast is ready!" Martha called out. Her voice lowered once more to her husband, "Maybe you should try to do the same."
Taking a deep breath, Hudson sat up, glancing once more at the paper beside her and the picture of Lex and her hugging. She smiled a little before picking it up and placing it beside her computer. Later she would cut it out and put it in her scrapbook, which was quickly becoming littered with articles and pictures pertaining to Lex and some, like this, which included her. Speeding down the stairs, she arrived in the kitchen in a blur, flashing a smile at her parents.
"Smells good, mom," Hudson commented, grabbing the tray of muffins to take over to the table, which was already laden with fluffy scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, fresh cantaloupe, orange juice and milk. She'd finished her chores extra early that morning so that she could run into town and get a few more copies of the Ledger, and in that time had worked up an appetite. Sitting down, she glanced at her father. "What are you eating?"
Jonathan returned the smile that she flashed at him as he took his seat at the head of the table. "I don't know where you put it all," he commented as she loaded her plate with eggs, half a dozen strips of bacon, just as many sausage and three muffins. He noticed she ignored the melon.
Hudson shrugged as she took a large swallow of her milk. "I don't know. Maybe I'm from a planet of gluttons. You know, everyone there eats way too much." She blinked and looked up at her parents in sudden realization. "Maybe I'm not the only one of my kind here! That would explain the Food Network!"
Martha rolled her eyes and Jonathan chuckled, each relaxing a little from the tension they had exhibited the moment she had entered the kitchen. Pleased to see it, Hudson returned her attention to her meal, hoping that she could make it through her breakfast without her father bringing up the picture in the Ledger. Unfortunately, her luck seemed to have run out for the day.
"H.C.," her father began, his voice laden with that `we need to have a talk' tone. "I think we need to discuss your... friendship with Lex."
She was silent for a long moment as she buttered one of her muffins and her parents exchanged glances with one another. Finally taking a bite, she replied, "Very well. What would you like to discuss? The fact that we're friends? Or that you don't like Lex's father, and, therefore, feel you have the right the dictate who I can and can't be friends with?"
"H.C.," her mother warned softly.
"I'm trying to look out for this family," he snapped, his fork clanking against the plate as he set it down. "But you seem determined to get yourself hurt."
"By being friends with Lex?" Hudson asked incredulously. "He makes me happy, dad! He understands me, he treats me like an adult - "
"Exactly how are adults treated, H.C.?" Her father demanded. "I'd like to know because I don't see how we treat you any differently from each other."
"I don't see you telling mom who she can and can't be friends with," she muttered.
Jonathan stared hard at his daughter for a moment. "If she came home one day telling me that she had struck up a friendship with Lionel Luthor, then I would have to say something."
Shaking her head, Hudson muttered, " You are so narrow-minded."
"Dammit, Hudson Clark Kent, we are not talking about me!"
"Jonathan!" Martha broke in, surprised at his vehemence.
Ignoring his wife, Jonathan rose to his feet and snatched the copy of the Ledger from the counter, tossing it onto the table in front of Hudson. "You don't need this, H.C.," he told her, stabbing a finger at the picture. "We don't need this. Being a friend with Lex Luthor is one thing. This -- "
"He needed a hug!" Hudson protested, jumping to her feet. "Lex almost died, dad! You have no idea what it's like to stand there knowing that the life of someone you care about is completely in your hands. And you have the abilities to end it all in seconds, but you can't do anything because it's been drilled into your head over and over again that the moment someone else knows, you're going to end up under a microscope! Do you think I don't have nightmares?" She demanded, almost choking on the word. "Well, I do. I'm the alien here. Not you. Not mom. And so maybe one day I make a mistake and I end up on a dissection table and that's the way it ends for me. But at least I have the memories of a little bit of happiness instead of keeping everyone I ever come into contact with at arm's length!"
Grabbing two more muffins, Hudson sped out of the house, the sound of the door slamming behind her the only indication that she had ever been there.
Glancing up at her husband, Martha set her napkin down and began clearing the plates off of the table. Silence descended around them for the next few moments before Jonathan finally dropped back into his chair, lifting up the paper to stare at the picture of his daughter and Lex.
"I just worry about her, Martha," he said softly. "She's... she's our little girl."
Smiling a little, Martha walked over behind him and looped her arms around his shoulders to lean in and look at the photo. "Yes, she is. But she's also a teenager. If you keep pushing, we're going to look like the bad guys, instead of the people who could really hurt her. We have to start trusting her judgment, Jonathan. Let her make her own mistakes."
"And what if those mistakes hurt her, Martha?" He turned to look back at her. "I mean really hurt her."
"Hudson knows the consequences. We have to believe that we have done the best we could raising her. In no time at all, she's going to leave here to take on the world by herself, and if she doesn't have the confidence in her abilities to make it alone, then we will have failed her."
"I don't want to think about her leaving just yet," Jonathan replied, turning his gaze to the photo once more. "I don't think I'm ready for that... "
The Aston Martin sped past the 35 mph speed limit sign, a good 40 mph faster than the suggested posting. It took a sharp corner a little wide, then skidded through the gravel shoulder in an attempt not to hit the turtle that was slowly making its way across the road. A black mare stood beside the fence surrounding it's pasture, nibbling on the taller grass growing on the other side, her head jerking upwards as the car streaked past, tires squealing as it rounded a corner and disappeared.
Lex noticed nothing of the small town around him, the big red barns, harvested cornfields and herds of cattle that dotted the landscape around him. He barely even noticed the roads. It was a familiar trip for him; south on Beresford, west on Sycamore, north on Hickory and he would find himself pulling into the familiar gravel driveway of the Kent farm. Through the past few months of his growing friendship with Hudson, the lemon yellow farmhouse had come to represent a place of refuge for Lex. He knew he wasn't welcomed - at least by the head of the family - but that didn't make it any less special to him. Jonathan Kent's disapproval wasn't enough to drive away the calm that settled over him just by the sight of it rising out of the fields in the distance. He didn't know why the place affected him the way it did, was uncertain why he was drawn to it and treasured it. If hard pressed, he would be unable to explain himself except to say that he felt a certain longing he hadn't experienced in years whenever he was there.
At the moment, he sought the peace that the farm and Hudson's presence brought him. Spending the entire morning with his father, going over the `clean up' process from the hostage situation at the Plant and listening to the sutble innuendos about how he was failing as the Luthor heir, was just enough to chase him out of his own home. Lex had expected his father to spend the night after they left the Plant as late as they had, but he hadn't prepared himself for the morning's paper.
"Interesting story." Lionel had walked into the study where Lex was going over his email, and dropped a copy of the Ledger onto his desk.
"I've seen it," Lex replied, not looking up, hoping his father would take the hint and move on.
His father never took hints. "I especially enjoyed the picture." Lionel's finger tapped over the black and white photograph on the front page. "You know, the one of my son wrapped in the arms of an underage farm girl."
Lex felt his jaw clench. So that was where this was going. "The young woman who just happened to have saved my life."
"Twice," Lionel pointed out, moving around the desk to lean against the credenza behind Lex. It was a pre-calculated move; it placed him where he could watch his son, see his reactions. But in order for Lex to view his father, he would have to turn around and therefore appear interested in the conversation. "Isn't that correct? She was the one who pulled you from the river, when you were foolish enough to drive your car off the bridge."
"All in yet another vain attempt to gain your attention, right, dad?" Lex asked in annoyance.
"I have no idea why you do the things you do, Lex. If I had those answers, I'd rule this planet. Possibly the universe."
Lex didn't bother replying, tried focusing his attention on the email in front of him that he'd already read through twice and still didn't understand.
"I hear you've been seeing a lot of this girl," Lionel continued, folding his arms over his chest as he watched his son closely for any change in his expression. "Is there any particular reason why?"
Leaning back in his chair, Lex took a few breaths to calm himself - a trick taught to him by one of his many couselors as a teenager in order to deal with his father - then half-turned his head. "Because she happens to be my friend. Something which I don't expect you to understand."
Lionel grunted. "We're Luthors, Lex. We can't afford to have friends. You certainly can't - especially with fourteen year old girls."
"She's fifteen," Lex commented quietly, knowing it was really pointless to say anything and wishing he had just remained silent.
"It won't be easy to bury charges of statutory rape in a town like this, Lex," Lionel continued as if he hadn't heard his son, pushing off of the credenza and walking past the desk, his hands gesturing in front of him. "If Jonathan Kent decides to -"
"We're friends, dad," Lex repeated.
"Friends?" Lionel turned back, flashing a look that clearly stated he believed his son to be insane. Snatching the paper back into his hands, he waved it in Lex's face. "This is just a picture of two friends?"
Lex sighed. "That's what I said. Or do you need a Miracle Ear?"
"Don't get cute, Lex," Lionel replied, smiling tightly. "You can't afford this. Your reptuation among the press and the community isn't strong enough to withstand a scandal of this kind. I won't allow it."
"What are you going to do? Send me off to boarding school? Banish me to the ends of the earth? Oh, wait. You've already done that."
Lionel's smile faded away and he stared hard at his son for a long moment. "The decisions I make are based on what I believe to be the best course for your future, Lex. I refuse to stand by and watch you destroy what I have worked so hard to build." He leaned over the desk. "If this goes too far, I will use whatever means necessary to bury it. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Lex replied blankly before pushing the chair out and standing.
He'd had enough. It was one thing to hear the whispered assumptions around town; it was quite another to be threatened by his father. With as few excuses as possible, Lex left the castle and went for a drive to clear his head and wait for his father to return to Metropolis. Before long he found himself turning the car around and heading toward the Kent farm.
Slowing the car as he neared the entrance, Lex turned onto the gravel drive, careful not to kick up too much dust as he moved past the pastures that lined either side of the road, and parked just outside the barn. He glanced around for a moment to see if any of the Kents were outside, then opened the door and stepped out into the cool November air. He could hear the old tractor in the distance but louder than that was the music coming from the open window of the loft above him.
Smiling a little at the familiar and unexpected tune, Lex walked around the car and through the barn doors, stopping at the bottom of the steps as he glanced upwards. Moving up them quietly, his hand on the shaky railing beside him, he hesitated halfway up when he noticed Hudson sitting on the worn couch, her eyes closed, singing along to the music coming from the portable CD player behind her:
Father once spoke
of an angel . . .
I used to dream he'd appear . . .
Now as I sing,
I can sense him . . .
And I know
he's here . . .
Here in this room
he calls me softly . . .
somewhere inside . . .
hiding . . .
Somehow I know
he's always with me . . .
he - the unseen genius . . .
Lex smiled a little as he watched her, silently listening to her attempt to sing along. She wasn't bad; she wasn't good, either. But he found himself enjoying it all the same. Frankly, Hudson could be dressed as a clown doing the waltz down Main Street and Lex would still think she was talented beyond all knowing. That realization was just a bit unnerving.
"Am I interrupting?" Lex called out as he forced himself up the last few steps.
Hudson broke off in mid-song as her eyes flew open, her face coloring brightly. "Er... no. Hi." She scrambled to turn off the CD player.
"Leave it," Lex instructed as he took a seat beside her on the couch. He watched as she turned the volume down then settled back into her place against the arm. "I didn't know you were a fan of `Phantom'."
She shrugged. "Mom used to play the album when I was little, and I fell in love with the music. She said I used to put on her dresses and stand in front of the mirror, singing into it like I was Christine, singing for the Phantom."
Lifting up the case of the original Broadway production, Lex smiled at the image she painted before asking, "Ever seen it?"
"We rented the videotape of it once," Hudson replied, her voice somewhat hesitant. She felt a little embarrassed that she loved something she had never seen before. "The tickets are always so expensive and... well, Dad isn't exactly a patron of the theatre."
Lex smiled. "I'm shocked."
Hudson shook her head, grinning. "Smart ass." Leaning forward, she took the CD case from him, twirling it between her fingers for a moment. "So I take it you're a `Phantom' fan?"
"I'm not the biggest fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, no." Lex shook his head. "But the story has always intrigued me, and the musical production of it is something everyone should see at least once."
"I've always felt so sorry for the `Phantom'," Hudson commented, flipping through the booklet for a moment. "His love for Christine is so tragic."
Raising an eyebrow at her words, Lex leaned back and regarded her thoughtfully before replying, "He was obsessed, willing to kill for what he believed was his. He didn't care what she wanted."
"She was cruel to him," Hudson retorted. "He gave her so much in the way of his music, he was devoted to her, and she took it all, as long as she wasn't expected to give in return. She couldn't even give him her friendship. She judged him, just like everyone else did. I think she was a bitch."
Lex laughed. "Now I know the real reason why your parents won't take you - you might start throwing things at the actress."
Hudson smiled a little, her cheeks growing slightly red once more. "All he wanted was love and acceptance," she explained. "I don't see how one person could so callously turn those needs aside."
"Some people aren't deserving of love, Hudson," Lex replied blankly, his gaze dropping to the floor.
"Everyone is deserving of love, Lex."
His brow furrowed a little but he didn't say anything in reply. Silence fell between them as the music continued, the lyrics of `Stranger Than You Dreamt It' rising from the speakers. Hudson discreetly watched him from beneath her lashes, thinking as she always did how beautiful he was, the low lighting in the loft casting distinctive shadows over his face. She studied the red-gold lashes, the straight line of his nose and high cheekbones. Even the tiny scar on his upper lip seemed to add and not detract to the perfection of his features. She was truly surprised that the women in Smallville weren't throwing themselves all over him. Not that she was complaining. Hudson was more than pleased to keep this little secret all to herself.
"Did you see the Ledger this morning?" Lex asked finally, breaking the silence between them as he cast his gaze back over to her.
Hudson rolled her eyes. "Yes. And I certainly hope you're not here to lecture me on how inappropriately I behaved as well."
Lex stared at her for a moment before commenting, "Your father wasn't pleased."
"That's putting it mildly."
He could only begin to imagine the conversation that took place in the Kent household. He wondered how many similar conversations had taken place since that fateful day at Loeb bridge. Selfishly, Lex was pleased to know that he was at least talked about within the walls of the yellow farmhouse, even if the words regarding him weren't exactly flattering. The knowledge still made him feel as if he was a part of something.
Finding the strange desire to share, he told her, "My father had a few things to say about it as well." He looked up to see Hudson watching with an expression of surprise. He gave her a small smile. "I was once more informed how disappointing I am and that I'll never live up to the Luthor name when I insist on fraternizing with an underage high school girl."
"Ouch." Hudson winced a little, frowning. "Sounds like your dad and my dad should get together and go bowling."
Lex tried to picture Lionel Luthor bowling and couldn't see it. Then he tried to picture Lionel Luthor bowling with Jonathan Kent and found enough humor at the image to chuckle. "Somehow, I don't see either of them sharing your sentiment, Hudson."
She sighed. "I don't mean to sound all melodramatic or anything, but have you ever felt like the entire world is against you?"
"Every day of my life."
They smiled at one another until Hudson turned her gaze to her jeans, picking at some imaginary lint. "So what are we going to do about it?" She raised her eyes back up to meet his.
Lex watched her quietly before looking out across the loft, wondering how he should reply. The smartest/wisest/kindest thing to do would be to end this now. To tell her their fathers were right and get up and walk away and not look back, no matter how tempting, no matter how she called to him. He had survived before Hudson Kent had come into his life; he could do so again. The problem was, he didn't want to. He didn't want to give up the warmth that filled him when she flashed that megawatt smile or the laughter that only she knew how to evoke. She made him feel strong and special and a part of something. It was selfish to keep this going, to not end it now. But Lex had never claimed to be a nice person. The Phantom's haunting voice rang out to `The Music of the Night':
Close your eyes
and surrender to your
Purge your thoughts
of the life
you knew before!
Close your eyes,
let your spirit
start to soar!
And you'll live
as you've never
lived before . . .
"Your friendship is important to me, Hudson," he admitted quietly. "But I would understand if the cost is too high a price for you to pay."
Hudson worried her lower lip for a moment before leaning forward and taking his hand. "I'm not Christine."
Lex brought his gaze around to hers with a half smirk. "Are you comparing me to the Phantom?"
She smiled and shrugged. "Well, you're definitely better looking."
Chuckling, Lex rolled his eyes. "Thanks. I think." He ran his hand over his scalp then squeezed the hand that held his before rising to his feet and letting go to turn and glance down at her. "I am sorry your father is giving you a hard time about being friends with me, Hudson."
Her eyes sparkled. "I'm sorry your dad thinks you're a pedophile."
"And on that note," Lex remarked blandly as he turned to go, rubbing his eyes in exasperation while Hudson giggled behind him. Just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he heard her call out his name and turned to find her standing at the top, smiling. "Yeah?"
"I just wanted to let you know that this little incident won't keep me from hugging you whenever I feel like it."
Lex tried to hold back a smile but was extremely unsuccessful. "You're incorrigable."
She beamed. "You love me."
Sighing as if the entire conversation were beyond his understanding, Lex flashed her one last grin before disappearing out of the barn.
Martha had just finished doing the dishes and wiped down the table from Sunday dinner when the phone rang. Drying her hands on the towel, she picked up the portable while moving back over to the sink to turn off the overhead light.
"Good evening, Mrs. Kent. This is Lex. Is Hudson available?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to say no, to tell him that Hudson was in town with her friends or some other lie. Her daughter and husband had just begun speaking to one another again this afternoon instead of sulking the way they both had since yesterday's argument. Thankfully, Lex had been out of town earlier today when Hudson had made her deliveries, which meant she came home on time, and there was nothing for Jonathan to grouse about. Martha didn't really blame Lex but she could see how their lives were much more peaceful before he entered into the picture. It was unfair of her to hold him responsible for their problems and, in reality, she sided more with Hudson's view of him than her husband's. Still, she had a family to protect.
"Lex," she began. "I... " Martha trailed off, wondering exactly how much more upset her daughter would become if either she or Jonathan interfered any further.
The other end of the line was silent, as if Lex were expecting this, waiting for the set down that was long in coming. It was his silence that ultimately caused Martha to change her mind. Her husband had already given him enough of a hard time since he had come to Smallville; she wasn't going to continue to live up to Lex's expectations of how he believed everyone would treat him.
"Let me get her for you, Lex. Just a moment."
"Thank you, Mrs. Kent."
And she certainly couldn't fault him for his politeness, though sometimes Martha had trouble not comparing him to Eddie Haskell. Covering the speaker, she called out, "H.C.? Lex is on the phone."
Martha put her ear to the phone, waiting for the moment when Hudson picked it up. She glanced up as Jonathan walked into the kitchen, frowning at the phone in her hand. He probably wanted to listen to the conversation as much as she did.
At the sound of her daughter's voice, Martha hung up.
"Hi. I'm not calling at a bad time, am I?"
Hudson shut the door to her bedroom then flopped down on her belly onto the mattress, careful not to bounce too hard. She made a face. "Oh yeah. I was right in the middle of entertaining the Duchess of Wales."
"Smart ass." She could feel his smile over the phone.
"My father calls me that, too, you know," she informed him.
"Must be a sign of the Apocalypse."
"You have no idea." Hudson rolled onto her back to stare up at the ceiling. "So what's up?"
"I was wondering if you and Chloe would be interested in going to Metropolis next Saturday?"
"Chloe's always interested in going to Metropolis," Hudson responded, reaching out for the stuffed horse beside her and bouncing it on her stomach. "She says she needs to do so occasionally in order to remind herself that civilization really does exist."
"What will we be going for?"
"My father has a new exhibit opening at the museum that night which includes a reception - "
"Ech. That sounds incredibly boring, Lex. Not that I wouldn't mind seeing the exhibit but the reception - "
"You didn't let me finish," he broke in, his voice a combination of amusement and exasperation.
"Oh." Hudson waited a beat. "Well?"
The voice on the other end sighed in her ear. She just knew he was currently pinching the bridge of his nose, likely smiling, wondering what he was doing putting up with an obnoxious teenager.
"You obviously don't have any interest," Lex commented. "I guess I'll just return these tickets to the matinee of `Phantom of the Opera'."
"It's not that I don't - what?" She sat up quickly, her stuffed horse tumbling back onto the bed. "Lex... really? You're not teasing me?"
He scoffed. "Seriously, Hudson. You should know me well enough to know I don't tease."
Hudson grinned. "Lex, if you were anymore uptight, you'd eat coal and shit diamonds."
Lex's bark of laughter was unexpected. "Such language. I don't know if I should be insulted or pleased."
"Hmmm. I think you just proved my point."
"Now I know I'm taking these tickets back."
"Lexxxxxx!" Hudson whined, not caring that she was currently acting her age.
Scrambling up from her bed, she sat down at her desk and prepared to log on to the internet when she got off the phone with Lex. She was still begging her father on almost a daily basis to get a second phone line, but so far he wasn't budging. He always replied that it was a waste of money. When it came to no longer tying up the phone when she needed to get on the net, she certainly didn't see how it could be considered a waste. Of course, a few months ago, he had been determined that they didn't need the internet, but then her father had discovered www.flingthecow.com, which had quickly become not only his favorite game, but very near an obsession of his. For now, the internet connection in the Kent household had been saved.
Lex was laughing at her. "I don't know, Hudson. First, you seem completely uninterested about keeping me entertained at the reception, then you insult me... I'm not certain you deserve to go to `Phantom'."
She thought quickly. "Please, Lex? I'll... I'll wash all of your cars!"
"That's quite a task, you know."
"Well, if you didn't have your own personal dealership - "
"These tickets are going in the trash."
"You're such a tease, Lex."
"You have no idea," came the reply.
And her mind went in every direction. Didn't he know that one shouldn't say such things to a teenager? Especially one that nightly dreamt of her best friend in ways one shouldn't be dreaming of their best friend. Not that he knew her little secret - or that she ever planned on letting him know!
"I should probably get going," Lex told her and she could hear him shuffling papers around in the background. "And knowing you, there is still some homework sitting around that you have been pushing off... "
Hudson glanced down at the science book near her elbow in which two chapters needed to be read through before she headed to bed. "Not at all."
"Liar." A pause, then, "Think your parents are going to say yes?"
Hudson had been trying to ignore that little obstacle from the moment he had mentioned the tickets. Having Chloe there would certainly subtract the threat that her parents seemed to believe Lex represented. At least, she hoped it would, and she secretly praised Lex for thinking of that solution before inviting her.
"They should. Mom will say yes simply out of my need to be exposed to the arts and stuff. Dad... well, with mom and I working together, we should be able to get him to say yes. He'll probably impose a fairly early curfew though."
"That should be no problem. My dad will be in Japan on business, which is really the main reason I have to make an appearance at the exhibit or I doubt I'd go. We shouldn't be there more than two hours or so. Enough time for a few drinks, a few hors d'oeuvres, a little mingling... "
"Maybe Chloe and I will just catch a flick while you `mingle'," Hudson commented sarcastically.
"And maybe I'll just have my driver leave you both in Metropolis."
"Oh yeah. That would score points with my dad."
"It would if he has to put up with that mouth of yours the way I do." Another certain smile.
"There you go, sounding like him again."
"Told you it was the Apocalypse."
"Goodnight, Hudson. Talk to you later."
Hitting the `Off' button, Hudson stared at the receiver in her hand for a long moment, smiling softly. She wondered how many people could claim that Lex Luthor called them just before bed, bought them tickets to a show they had never seen before, invited their friend just to make certain that they could go. He had covered all of the bases, and Hudson was quickly learning that when it came to Lex, it was the little things that counted the most.
Most of the time, Hudson was satisfied with her life. Sure, being the only alien in Smallville made things a little difficult, especially when no one was allowed to know about it. And it made life lonely and complicated but she dealt with it the best that she could and knew that her parents were there if she needed them. Then, one fateful day, she had met Lex Luthor and suddenly things weren't quite as rosy as they had been. And it had nothing to do with the money he had and the life he led. Instead, it revolved around the fact that she was too damn young and knew he would never see her as anything more than a `little sister'. It was frustrating to no end, especially since knowing him had in turn made every guy at school seem insignificant. They paled in comparison to Lex, who smelled of expensive cologne and scotch and silk and moved like some predatory animal and smiled just for her, as if he were gifting her with something that very few were ever given.
There was a soft knock at her door and Hudson turned from her musings to smile at her mother as she entered her room, laundry basket in her arms. "Already off the phone with Lex?"
Hudson nodded, setting the receiver on her desk and standing to rifle through the newly washed clothes for the sweater she wanted to wear in the morning. "Yeah. He just called to ask me something."
"Oh?" Martha didn't want to pry, so she busied herself with hanging up Hudson's clothes for a moment, then turned to folding others and setting them in her dresser while her daughter found the sweater she had been searching for and moved to sit on the edge of her bed. She waited a few moments longer, just enough time for her patience to pay off.
"Mom, do you think dad would let me go to Metropolis next Saturday?"
Martha tried very hard not to react. She asked, her tone mildly curious, "What for?"
"Lex got tickets to `Phantom of the Opera'. He's invited me and Chloe." She glanced up at her mother hopefully.
"I see." Martha refrained from further comment until she had all of the clothes put away before she turned to face her daughter. "What do you want me to say, H.C.?"
Hudson opened her mouth to reply, then promptly closed it. She dropped her gaze to the blue sweater for a moment before looking back up. "Chloe would be going, too. I don't see the problem."
"Obviously you do see it, H.C., or you wouldn't be using her attendance as an excuse, and prodding me to see if it would be all right."
"I - " Hudson stopped herself, knowing her mother was right. She worried her lower lip for a moment, then began, "If you could tell dad - "
"No, H.C.," Martha cut her off, shaking her head. "I'm not getting into the middle of this. If you are going to insist on having a friendship with Lex and pretending to be an adult, then you are going to have to behave as one. You and your father are going to have to come to some sort of agreement on your own. I won't continue to run interference."
"But mom -- !"
"No `buts', Hudson Clark," Martha told her sternly. "If going to Metropolis with Lex next weekend means that much to you, then you'll ask your father yourself and find your own way to get him to agree."
Hudson huffed petulantly but didn't argue.
Her mother smiled. "Have a little faith in your father, honey. He can be agreeable if you simply help him to see your side of things."
"I don't believe there is a such a thing as `my side' when it comes to Lex, mom."
She had a point but Martha didn't want to discourage her. Father and daughter needed to work this out in their own way or there would never be peace in the house again. And Lex would gain even more ground with Hudson. Moving toward the door, Martha told her, "Get some sleep and worry about this tomorrow. I'm sure you'll figure out something, sweetie. Good night."
"Good night, mom."
Hudson stared at the door a long while after it had closed, turning the sweater over and over in her hands. Talk to her father. Convince him to let her go to Metropolis with Lex.
With another loud huff, Hudson flopped back on the bed. Her mother might just as well have asked her to be Human.
"It's not that I plan on turning down a trip to Metropolis or a little bit of culture, I'm just wondering why this is being offered, H.C.," Chloe commented as her friend pulled the door to the Beanery open and she stepped through. "You have to admit, it's a little weird."
Hudson shook her head with a sigh. "What's a little weird? Lex discovered I enjoyed the music and got tickets to it. End of story. I mean, you know his family probably has a private box anyway or something."
"This is what I'm saying." Chloe leaned over the counter to order a latte for herself and a caramel cappuccino for Hudson. Grabbing Hudson's sleeve, she guided her over to a small table by the window and sat down. "Look, you know I have nothing against Lex - aside from my natural inclination to view him as a journalistic endeavor. He's a pretty cool guy. Not to mention hot as hell - "
"But that's beside the point." Tossing her oversized purse onto the table, she brushed her bangs off of her forehead and glanced across the table at her friend. "If this were Metropolis, no one would really care, H.C. Sure, it would be all over the papers, but people would just go about their every day lives, knowing they would likely never run into you or Lex anyway... But this is Smallville."
"I don't see what the big deal is."
Chloe made a face. "H.C., you know I love you, right? But if you ever decide to take off those rose-colored tinted glasses with the enormous blinders on the sides, tell me."
"You are a monumental bitch, Chloe," Hudson replied in a manner only used between good friends.
The blonde leaned over the table on her elbows and dropped her voice to a whisper, "Look around you, H.C. Just take one good look and tell me what you see."
Frowning at Chloe, Hudson did as she suggested and glanced around at the crowd in the Beanery, trying to figure out what it was she wanted her to see. It didn't take her long. Gazes were cast in her direction. Ones that quickly turned the other way when she caught them; whispers were shared with companions as eyes wandered over her, assessing, theorizing, accusing. Hudson wondered if she wasn't walking around with a big red L emblazoned on her forehead. An `L' - for Luthor or Lex or Lex Luthor. It didn't really matter. And what would her father say when he came to town and Mrs. Mills at the Feed Store commented `So is that fallen daughter of yours shacking up with the Luthor boy?' Her jaw clenched and she turned back to face Chloe.
"They're wrong. So their opinions don't matter."
"Whatever planet you come from, H.C.," Chloe commented off-handedly. "I wouldn't mind taking a trip there sometime. You know, away from reality."
Chloe had this way of making flippant remarks that were too close to the truth. Hudson grew silent as their drinks were brought to them and she found she couldn't even look up at the waitress; even though Trina would likely think that sleeping with Lex would be cool. Trying very hard to wipe that thought from her mind, Hudson took a sip of the beverage, belatedly realizing she probably should have blown on it first, for appearance sake.
After a few minutes of silence, Hudson finally asked quietly, "So what do you suggest? End my friendship with him?"
"Oh, hell no," Chloe responded abruptly, waving her hand in the air. She grinned. "You'd have to be insane to purposely end a friendship with Lex Luthor. I mean, look at him!"
Hudson allowed a smile.
As if pleased that her friend was finally showing some amusement, Chloe continued, "I'm just telling you, be prepared for the consequences. And remember, Lex is going to suffer the worst of it. But then I suppose he's used to this kind of controversy."
"Controversy." Hudson almost snorted. "I hugged him for crying out loud."
"Yes, but that's the boring part." Chloe sat back and arched a brow. "Let's look at this from my," she laid her hands over her chest, "perspective. A journalist. I get a picture of Lex Luthor hugging a fifteen year old girl who apparently just saved his life. That's kind of boring. Big whoop. People don't want to read about that. They want scandal.
"So what if the reason this fifteen year old girl saved Lex Luthor's life was because they were involved? No woman in Metropolis had been enough for the errant son of billionaire Lionel Luthor. But a farm girl from Smallville - now she had caught his eye. He loved her enough to risk his life to save her from being held hostage and, in turn, she saved him."
Hudson tried very, very hard not to smile. "That's absurd."
"Absurd or not, people want to read about it. While it outrages people in Smallville, who want to `protect' one of their own - you - it thrills people in Metropolis, who find it exciting and another window into the life led by Lex." Pausing to take a drink of her latte, Chloe then added, "You're being fifteen and him twenty-one just makes it naughty. And everybody loves naughty... well, except you, of course."
"Hey!" Hudson's mouth fell open. "That's not true."
"What's not true?" Pete appeared beside the table, dropping into the empty chair. He glanced from one girl to the other.
"Chloe says I don't love `naughty'."
Pete chuckled. "Girl, you just saw your first rated-R movie last year."
"That's because my parents wouldn't let me."
Her friends glanced at one another and grinned.
"She's the perfect child," Chloe commented.
"Kind of like the Beaver," Pete added.
Hudson remained silent, her cheeks flushing at their teasing.
"Of course, all of that is quickly disappearing," Chloe continued, catching Hudson's gaze. "With Lex's influence, you'll be a normal teen in no time."
Pete frowned. "I should have known this was all about Lex." He looked over at Hudson, who was chewing on her lower lip. "I can't believe you let the paper print that picture."
"What? You know I have no say as to whether or not the Ledger prints a picture."
"Then you shouldn't have been hugging Lex Luthor," Pete told her. "I mean, the guy's only after one thing, H.C.."
"I don't believe this." Hudson shook her head and looked away for a moment. Turning back to Pete, she asked, "So does that mean you're only after one thing as well? How else do you explain always hanging out with me?"
Pete shifted uncomfortably for a moment. "That's totally different and you know it. We've been friends since we were kids. We're the same age, in the same classes and we have a lot in common. We're friends. The Luthors are no one's friends." He said this as if it were a fact.
"How do you know that Lex and I don't share anything in common?" Hudson demanded, leaning forward a bit to stare hard at both of her friends. "Have you ever bothered to ask me `Hey, what did you and Lex do together on Sunday'? No. But whenever you know Chloe and I hung out together, Pete, you always ask what we did. Isn't Lex afforded the same courtesy? Or is it simply because of who he is, you're going to assume the worst of me, too?"
"Look, chill, H.C., all right?" Pete made a face for a moment, waiting until she settled back, glaring at him. "I happen to think it's creepy and wrong for some twenty-one year old guy to be hanging out with a fifteen year old girl. I don't trust him. We all know what the Luthors are capable of - "
"You don't know Lex," Hudson muttered.
"And he's up to something. Seriously, why would Lex Luthor want to hang out with you?" Pete asked.
"You know what I mean."
"If it were for sex, I'm sure he could get it in plenty of other places much more easily, Pete," Chloe commented as she pulled out her camera and began scanning through the pictures she had taken that day. Without looking up, she added, "It isn't as if the man is desperate in that department. Look at that one girl he showed up at the party with last week."
Oh yeah. Her. Hudson hadn't liked the looks of her. Whoever she was. She frowned.
"That's my point," Pete replied, holding out his hands in emphasis. "He's obviously up to something."
"Corrupting rural America one teen at a time."
Hudson felt a smile tug at her lips with Chloe's comment. Pete just shook his head in exasperation.
"I've gotta go." Hudson slid to her feet as she looked at her watch, realizing she was supposed to have had the cows fed two minutes ago. Hopefully her father wouldn't hold another few minutes against her; not when she still had to come up with a way to convince him to let her go to Metropolis. "We're cool for Saturday then, right, Chloe?"
She looked up for a moment and nodded. "Yeah. I won't have a problem with my dad. It's your dad that should have the interesting response."
"Don't remind me." Hudson started toward the door. "See you guys tomorrow."
"Bye, H.C.," Pete called out.
"Later!" Chloe set her camera down and caught Pete's curious look. "If I tell you, you'll get even more pissed."
"I'm not pissed. I'm just trying to look out for our friend... instead of encouraging her."
Chloe ignored that. "Lex has invited us to Metropolis for an exhibit opening at the museum and to see `Phantom of the Opera'."
Pete rolled his eyes. "Yeah. The guy isn't after anything."
Flashing him a smile, Chloe climbed to her feet, slipping her bag over her shoulder. "Come on. I need to run over to the Post Office to check on a story lead..."
Groaning as he got up to follow her out, Pete found he couldn't decide what was worse: worrying about Hudson's relationship with Lex Luthor or following Chloe on yet another meteor mutant hunt. At the moment, his friend's relationship with a Luthor was still the frontrunner. If Chloe's lead turned out to be anything other than the mundane, he might have to change his mind before the day was out.
Hudson put off asking her father about the trip to Metropolis for two more days. It was Thursday night and after dinner, Jonathan had gone out to the barn to do some work on the tractor. She had watched her father walk out the door before getting up and helping her mother clear the table. She was stalling, and she knew it. Her mother obviously knew it, too.
"It's not going to get any easier, H.C.," Martha commented as she began washing off the dishes. She nodded toward the window. "Go on. Ask him now, after he's had a full belly and a good day."
Figuring she should follow her mother's advice, Hudson made her way out the door and into the chill night air. The walk from the back porch to the barn seemed like the longest of her life, or maybe she was just walking slower than usual on purpose. One of the male barn cats was hanging out by the door as she approached. His green eyes watched her warily until she called out to him. Then he skittered away into the darkness. Hudson gave a mental shrug at his behavior; Tiger had never liked her much anyway.
Stepping inside the barn, she shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans and wandered over to the stall where their mare, Lady, stuck her head over the stall for a pat. She nickered softly and Hudson stroked her muzzle for a moment, casting a furtive glance at her father who was lying beneath the tractor.
"You know I could have helped you with that," she called out.
"It isn't anything I couldn't get to myself," her father replied, a grunt following as he worked at one of the bolts. "But since you're here, would you mind grabbing me a rag? There's so much oil caked on this thing, I can't see if there's a crack in the pipe or not."
"Sure." Patting Lady once more on her neck, Hudson walked over to the work bench and grabbed one of the rags before kneeling down beside the tractor and holding it out to her father. "You know, dad, if you need me to pick up - "
"You're not always going to be around to hold up the farm equipment, honey," came the reply and she could sense her father's smile. "I need to occasionally depend on myself."
She sat on the ground, folding her legs beneath her as she picked at a piece of leather coming off of her ropers. "When's the Shark's game this week?"
"Sunday night... they're playing Dallas."
"That'll be an easy win."
Jonathan chuckled. "America's team." Tucking the rag into his pocket, he peered upwards with a frown. "Honey, could you hand me the flashlight?"
Leaning over, Hudson dug through the toolbox until she found the small flashlight he used when working on the equipment and passed it back to him. "Did you get any time to play `Fling the Cow' today?"
"Nope. By the time I got done repairing the fence in the south pasture, your mother needed to go into town to run some errands. We ran into the Fordman's and talked for awhile. Then your mother wanted to take some pies to Mrs. Wellerby. We barely made it home before you."
Jonathan scooted out from under the tractor and sat up, regarding her for a moment. He could tell she was making small-talk and that wasn't like Hudson. "Something you want to talk about, H.C.?"
"Because you just bent the handle of my best wrench."
Hudson glanced down at the tool in her hand and her eyes widened. She glanced up at her father sheepishly. "Sorry, dad."
Not replying, he watched as she quickly bent it back into place and slipped it into the toolbox, safe from her nervous hands. It still amazed him to see a fifteen year old girl perform feats of strength that were mind-boggling - and she was his daughter! The same little girl he had rocked to sleep at night those first few years after they had found her; the one who Martha used to sit behind on the couch and brush her hair in front of the television each morning. She looked human, behaved no differently than other teenagers her age - especially when it came to the moodiness - and yet, from the moment she had lifted their bed over her head, he had known there were more differences in their daughter than simply how she had arrived.
And that knowledge still terrified him.
Hooking his arm over his knee, Jonathan glanced over at Hudson and commented, "We used to be able to talk, H.C."
Hudson dropped her gaze back to her boot, which she continued to pick at. She finally shrugged. "Things change."
"You have nothing to talk about with your old man anymore, you mean?" Jonathan smiled a little. "You've grown up that much in two years? That you share nothing in common with me anymore?"
"No, dad." She glanced up at him quickly. "It's not that. It's just... Sometimes things are easier to discuss with mom, I guess."
Jonathan nodded a little, turning his gaze to the interior of the barn, upwards to the loft, his daughter's Fortress of Solitude. "I can understand that. You can't blame me for missing some of our chats though." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the oil-covered rag and tossed it into the toolbox. "Remember how we would spend hours looking at the stars together?"
Hudson frowned. "And all of those years I always thought it was just because you had an interest in astronomy."
"Honey - "
"No. I'm sorry." She smiled a little at her father. "That wasn't fair. I know I was too young to tell the truth to. It's just... sometimes I feel like I wish you had never told me, you know? I wish I could just be... normal."
"Being from another world doesn't have to define who you are, H.C.," Jonathan told her. "Don't expect it to do so. As far as anyone outside this family knows, you are simply Hudson Clark Kent, and nothing is going to change that."
Hudson climbed to her feet and wandered over to the stall again, leaning on the door to watch Lady. She considered her father's words for a moment, then asked, "So does that mean you trust me? That you believe I am aware enough of who I am to not make a mistake?"
"Trusting you isn't an issue, H.C.," Jonathan replied with a frown. "It's the rest of the world."
"The rest of the world." Hudson turned around to face her father, resting her back against the stall door. "You mean like Lex."
Jonathan rubbed a hand over his eyes. Lately, it always came back to Lex. Martha told him that their daughter had a crush and he was just going to have to deal with it. He was certain there had to be something else he could do beside `deal with it'. "Hudson, my opposition to Lex Luthor has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him and his father. Even if you were as human as any of us, I would still not like the idea of your being friends with him."
"But why? We're just friends, dad," Hudson pleaded. "We watch movies and play pool and I talk to him about school and sometimes he helps me with my homework. Is there anything wrong in that?"
"No, but - "
"Then I don't understand where your objection comes from." She moved forward and dropped to her knees in front of him. "Daddy, you and mom should know of all people, that if he ever made an advance that I didn't want, I'd be able to take care of myself."
"At the cost of exposing your abilities?"
Hudson shook her head. "You know I wouldn't." Not that she believed Lex would ever harm her, but the fears of what could happen to her were instilled long ago.
Jonathan sighed. "I don't understand, H.C. Okay? I don't understand what a fifteen year old girl from Smallville and twenty-one year old son of a billionaire could possibly have in common. You have good friends in Chloe and Pete. Lana has been making overtures of friendship with you lately. Why Lex?"
"Because he understands me, dad," Hudson told him quietly, dropping her gaze to her hands in her lap. "He knows what its like to be different, to feel like you're always on the outside looking in. He may not have any idea why I feel that way, but he can empathize in some ways. Sure, he's no... alien... but understands what it's like to not be like everyone else, to not be able to do the same things they do or expect the same life that everyone else gets the chance to lead.
"We don't discuss these things but just being with him, just spending time together, having simple conversations... I know that there is someone who could possibly understand just an inkling of how out of place I can feel at times. And just knowing that... just understanding that in my head... it makes things better."
Jonathan didn't like hearing that his daughter believed the only person in the world who could understand her happened to be Lex Luthor. That was a horror that he couldn't begin to allow himself to contemplate. "You and Lex Luthor are nothing alike - "
"See?" Hudson held out her hands. "You never listen to me! I try to explain something to you and you get all angry and stuff."
"I'm not angry, Hudson!" Jonathan snapped, then realized his voice had been raised, and forced himself to calm.
His daughter was flashing him a disbelieving look and he knew he was very quickly losing any ground that might have been gained with her. Running a hand through his hair, Jonathan climbed to his feet and picked up his toolbox, carrying it over to the work bench. Silence stretched between them as he cleaned up. He glanced over his shoulder when he heard Hudson take the steps two at a time up to the loft. He knew that if he didn't do something about this situation now, she would only continue to move further away from him. And Martha had already warned him regarding those consequences.
Sighing heavily, Jonathan turned out the work light and made his way up to the loft where he found his daughter sitting beside the telescope, staring up at the sky. He stopped behind her, setting his hand on her shoulder and saying nothing.
"Lex invited Chloe and me to Metropolis on Saturday. There's a new exhibit at the Luthor Hall, and he wanted to take us to see `Phantom of the Opera'... " Hudson confessed quietly.
Jonathan clenched his jaw for a moment. The things he had always wanted to give to his daughter but could never afford, Lex Luthor could hand to her with little effort. How did a parent compete with that?
Hudson turned to look up at him. "I want to go, Daddy...."
And how was he supposed to say no? Hudson was a good girl, the best a parent could hope for.
"Chloe will be there... " She put her hand over his.
As long as they kept an eye on her, warned her, reminded her that not everything in life was as it seemed, then maybe everything would be all right.
Jonathan met his daughter's gaze and found himself smiling just a little as he reached out and touched her hair. "Can you blame me for worrying, H.C.? You mean everything to your mother and me."
"I know. And I'll try to never let you down."
"You never could, honey."
Hudson smiled, her eyes expectant, waiting.
What else could he do? "You can go - "
"Yay!" She bounded out of her chair and hugged him tightly. "Thank you!"
"But I want you home by midnight, understood? And no haunted houses this time." He smiled as he hugged her back.
Hudson laughed. "No haunted houses. I promise." She pulled back and smiled hugely at him. "Thank you, dad."
Jonathan continued to return her smile, but inside, the fear for her grew. She was growing up, and someday he was going to have to let go, but he wasn't ready to do so yet.
And sure as hell not into the arms of a Luthor.
"Ummm... the sound of falling rain. Especially when I'm out in the loft and can hear it falling on the roof of the barn and against the ground outside. You?"
"Silence doesn't have a sound."
"Have you ever listened to it?" Lex smiled a little at the furrow that creased Hudson's forehead. "Sometimes silence is preferable to the sounds we can be subjected to in life. It's peaceful. And it belongs to you completely."
"You really have a way of putting a damper on a simple conversation, Lex," Hudson commented not unkindly, shifting in her seat to tuck her leg beneath her. She glanced over at him for a moment with a smirk, watching as he leaned back into the corner of the limousine, waiting for the next question.
It had been an interesting morning. Chores had been done quickly, even though her father had given her extra, as if it had been some kind of test. Though a few of them had required her to do them at regular speed because they involved the animals, Hudson had still finished all with time to shower and change. And her father had even commented that she had done an excellent job with the gate repairs. The fact that he was letting her go was enough for her to decide that she couldn't leave anything undone or half-done.
And then, in an uncharacteristic display of girlishness, Hudson fretted over what to wear to Metropolis. They hadn't had the money for her to purchase anything new, and even though her mother assured her that the tan skirt and black fitted sweater she had chosen to wear would look fine, Hudson was still worried that she wouldn't be dressed properly.
"Honey, I grew up in Metropolis. It's a city in the Midwest," Martha had commented in a completely logical and calm tone. "Yes, there will be women there dressed in their finest. There will also be people in jeans and tennis shoes. You will look very nice."
"But mommmmm," Hudson had whined with typical teenage angst, as if the entire world were coming to an end. "I'm going with Lex Luthor!"
The whining hadn't worked. Martha had threatened to tell Jonathan that his daughter was being difficult and maybe she shouldn't be allowed to go on Saturday. Hudson had replied that the skirt and sweater would be perfect.
She hadn't been done with her hair when Lex had appeared at the door, and she had unfortunately left him with her parents for a full ten minutes. By the tense line of his jaw when she had finally come downstairs, they had obviously given him an earful. After a quick kiss on her father's cheek and a hug to her mother, Hudson had followed him out the door and down the porch steps.
"So what did they say?"
Lex glanced over at her, reached up to rub the back of his neck and flash her a tight smile. "Nothing... usual parent stuff. They just worry about you, Hudson. And they have every reason to."
"They didn't tell you that after today you were never allowed near the farm again, did they?"
"No." Lex stopped at the door to the limo and looked back at the house for a moment before bringing his eyes back to Hudson's. "Will they?"
"I don't think so." She shrugged. "So, it's all good."
Things had not gone anymore smoothly at Chloe's house. Hudson was standing at the door, waiting for an answer to her knock, when it was finally open - only to reveal that she still wasn't dressed.
"Chloe." Hudson gaped at her friend's fluffy red robe, bunny slippers and mussed hair. "You're not ready to go!"
"I - "Chloe broke off to sneeze into a tissue and then rubbed frantically at her redden nose. "I don't think I'm going to be able to make it, H.C."
"But... " Hudson motioned helplessly toward the limousine. "You promised... and it's `Phantom'."
"I'm sorry, H.C. Really - achoo!" She sniffed. "But I feel like crap... Oh, hey, Mr. Luthor."
"Chloe." Lex stopped beside Hudson, glancing at the young blonde in amusement. "I don't usually point out fashion faux pas, but I don't know how well the blue bunny slippers will go over among the theatre crowd."
"Is he always this funny?" Chloe asked Hudson, then sneezed before she could cover her mouth, straight at Lex.
Flashing her a glare, Lex brushed at the front of his white dress shirt before looking over at Hudson, who was staring in dismay at both of them.
"She's sick," Hudson commented blankly.
"I noticed." Lex turned back to Chloe and would have sworn he saw a sparkle in her eyes, along with a happy smile, before she quickly turned her face into one of misery. "Then I take it you will not be accompanying us to Metropolis?"
Chloe shook her head and leaned against the doorframe weakly. "I wish I could. It sounds like a lot of fun but... " She shrugged. "I'm even running a temperature. Wanna see?" She leaned toward Lex.
"No." He stepped back quickly. "I believe you."
"Chloe." Hudson looked as if she were a about to stamp her foot. "My parents - "
"I promise, if they ask, I had a great time!" Chloe told her with a nod. She grabbed the handle of the door and began to close it. "You kids have fun! Bye!"
Hudson stared at the door with a slight frown before looking at Lex who was caught between amusement and annoyance. "Did she really look sick to you?"
Lex shrugged. "I don't know. I don't get sick. Come on. I promise you'll have as much fun without Chloe as you would have with her."
Hudson smiled a little as they moved down the steps, not so much worried about having fun as she was about what her parents would say should they ever learn that Chloe stayed home.
One thing was certain; Hudson found that not having Chloe there afforded her and Lex the chance to spend time getting to know one another even better. With three hours in the car together, they had time to watch a few episodes of The Simpsons, race a few games of `Project Gotham' on the Xbox and talk.
Scratching the tip of her nose, she finally asked, "Favorite song?"
"Mozart's Requiem, specifically the Confutatis," Lex lied.
He tried to hide his smile at her whine and failed miserably. "You asked."
Hudson rolled her eyes. "Certainly there is something peppy and upbeat that you like to listen to?"
"What? Like the Backstreet Boys?" Lex teased, chuckling when she threw her hands up in despair. "What about you - favorite song?"
"You'll laugh... "
She grinned. "Very well. `Someone's Waiting for You'."
Lex shook his head blankly. "I'm not familiar with it."
"It's from a Disney movie." She noticed the raise of his eyebrows. "'The Rescuers'. It always makes me cry."
"Your favorite song makes you cry and you're picking on me for putting a damper on things?"
"Oh... shut up," Hudson replied with a wave of her hand, unable to think of a better retort. At least she received another chuckle for her efforts.
"My turn." Lex leaned forward to the bar and pulled out a Coke to toss to her and a bottle of water for himself. Resting back against the leather seat, he eyed her for a moment and asked with a wicked grin, "Favorite movie."
"Oh, now see, that's unfair," Hudson protested. "You know I can't decide."
"You've watched what, fifteen or so movies at my place so far? I've never heard you refer to any of them as your absolute favorite yet. Or did I just miss that?"
"But I love so many... "
Lex shook his head. "I didn't make the rules, you did. You have to choose one."
She gave a loud huff that Lex thought was completely adorable, and stared off across the cabin for a moment. "I guess I would have to say, based on the amount of times I have watched it since I was a child, and the fact that it still makes me cry at the end, `Gone With the Wind'."
"A romantic at heart."
Hudson shrugged, her gaze dropping to her skirt as she picked off a piece of imaginary lint. "I guess I was always fascinated by their relationship - how Rhett always wanted to just spoil her and make her happy, and she never realized that she had what she truly needed until it was too late."
"Now who is trying to damper the mood?" Lex teased gently leaning his head down to catch her eyes.
Their gazes met, and he smiled a little, prompting her to do the same. "Sorry. How about you?"
Hudson's nose scrunched up a little. "I've never seen it. Mr. Matheson played it in the Social Studies class last year and was suspended for it. It was like a huge deal in the community - parents not wanting their kids to watch it and stuff. Is it really that bad?"
"I don't think so." Lex shrugged, turning to gaze out the window for a moment before glancing back at Hudson's expression of curiosity. "Although I can see why some people might object to it. It doesn't pull any punches on the realities of war, and I'm certain the aspects of good and evil covered in it aren't really accepted among people like the denizens of Smallville."
"You mean like my dad."
Lex didn't reply.
She shifted again and took a sip of her Coke before asking, "Can I come over and watch it sometime?"
"You know you don't have to ask."
Hudson smiled. "I guess it's my turn then... Your favorite book."
"'Idylls of the King' by Lord Tennyson." At the shake of Hudson's head, he added, "It's about Arthur, written in poetry form. I'll lend it to you sometime if you'd like... What about you? Is there a book you tend to read over and over again?"
"'Strait is the Gate' -"
"By Andre Gide," Lex cut her off, the surprise evident in his voice. "I'm curious as to why that particular text won your approval above any other?"
Hudson shook her head. "I don't know. We were forced to read it in the eighth grade and I hated most of it..."
"But?" Lex gave her a small smile of encouragement. "Certainly you know the reason that draws you to it."
"Alissa's journal at the end... I cried through most of it." Her cheeks colored at the admission. "That the entire time she loved Jerome more than he loved her - but loved herself more than him. She made this sacrifice of herself to God in some effort to make herself even better than Jerome envisioned her. And then, when it was too late, when she was dying, she realizes it wasn't what she wanted. Not only did she truly wish to be with Jerome, and the sacrifice she made was now killing her before she was ready, but that her own vanity was beyond that which would be accepted by God. She missed out on both love and the Afterlife."
"It disturbs you," Lex commented quietly. "The thought of making a sacrifice and not knowing, in the end, if it was the right choice."
Hudson glanced up at him, pleased beyond measure that he seemed to understand. "Nothing terrifies me more. Thinking that I always know what is best for me and those around me; basing my own vision of myself off of the biased opinions of others. How do we know what's right? How do I know that the decisions I make aren't what I perceive myself to want, as opposed to what's best?"
"Humans are, by nature, self-serving creatures, Hudson," Lex told her with a smirk. "As long as you can remember that, you'll remember to temper your choices."
"I just don't want to regret it all someday," she replied softly, dropping her gaze to the floor.
"You're too young to be worrying about such things," Lex commented. At the pained expression she shot him, he offered an understanding smile. "You'll never regret your decisions in life, Hudson. I won't let you."
The music swelled up around them as Christine made her big debut, singing `Think of Me' to the audience. Hudson leaned forward, her elbows resting on the edge of the private box as she stared down onto the stage below at the beautiful woman with the beautiful voice. The audience applauded and Raoul sang of remembering her, and Hudson found herself tensing in anticipation of the scenes to come.
Beside her, Lex found himself watching his companion much more than the musical on the stage. He had seen it before and had never considered it particularly interesting. And now, it paled in comparison to Hudson's expressions: the excitement that thrummed through her, the widening of her eyes, how her lips occasionally moved as she silently sang along with the words. His gaze strayed to her hands as she gripped the rim of the box and leaned forward even further, her fingers stroking over the polished wood.
Lex cherished each and every moment. For just a while, he was able to forget about the secrets between them, the mystery that surrounded her. For now, she was just a young woman experiencing her first live musical, and the joy on her face from the moment they had entered the Theatre had been something to behold.
As he had guided her through the lobby, his hand at her back, she had grown quiet, and Lex had worried something was wrong, until he had glimpsed her face. Hudson had seemed determined to take in everything with just one glance, her eyes sweeping over every corner of the rooms they passed through and the people around them. She had poured through the program the moment the usher handed it to her and Lex was forced to make certain she didn't walk into any walls or trip up any steps on the way to the box. Seeing it through her eyes, through her enjoyment, was like being there for the first time, and he silently reminded himself to thank her for that later. Even though he knew he never would.
As the words to `Angel of Music' drifted up from the stage, Lex felt that they had come full circle. He smiled a little as Hudson's mouth moved to the words once more, softly singing along in a voice that wasn't really meant for singing. For some reason, the simple act made him happy. And he couldn't explain it.
Catching him watching her, Hudson felt her cheeks grow warm as she turned to meet his gaze. They smiled a little at each other for a moment, then she leaned toward him, and he brought his head closer to her.
"Thank you," she whispered into his ear.
Lex smiled and straightened up, shrugging as if to say it was nothing. Deep down, he knew that if he couldn't give her a new car or help her family's farm or be a bigger part of her life, at least he had given her this: Simple joy at finally being a part of something she had loved for years.
Returning her attention to the stage, Hudson was thrilled to see the Phantom leading Christine down into his labyrinth as the familiar music echoed through the auditorium.
In all your fantasy
You always knew
That man and mystery
Are both in you
And in this labyrinth
Where night is blind
The Phantom of the Opera
Inside my mind
As if of its own will, her hand reached out and found Lex's hand and she felt his fingers curl around hers in return.
While seeing `Phantom of the Opera' with Hudson had been an experience Lex would never forget - from her megawatt smile as the lights had dimmed, to the tears in her eyes as the cast had taken their bows - there was another experience Lex enjoyed every time he shared it with Hudson.
Watching her eat.
"So what made you decide to bring me here?" Hudson popped another greasy onion ring into her mouth before washing it down with a swallow of her strawberry milkshake.
Lex glanced up, taking in for the moment the realization that she was almost finished with her bacon double cheeseburger, and he had barely started his. He knew he shouldn't have ordered it, maybe gone for something a little lighter but no one walked into `Town Topic' without gorging themselves on the burgers. And when Hudson had ordered hers, he couldn't stop himself from the getting the same. Though the onion rings and shake had been a little much.
"I thought you would enjoy it more," he responded with a slight smile, his gaze dropping to his burger once more in slight dismay before he lifted it back into his hands.
Hudson raised her eyebrows and took another bite of her onion ring. "I didn't think that you would even know of a place like this."
Remaining silent until he finished the bite he had just taken, Lex finally replied, "My mother used to bring me here. When dad was out of town on business, she would come by the school sometimes and pick me up for lunch." He turned his gaze out the window for a moment, unable to meet Hudson's. "She always said that every child needed the occasional hamburger and French fries or when they grew up, they would forget what childhood was all about."
"She sounds like a wonderful mother."
Lex turned back to find Hudson watching him, her meal momentarily forgotten. "She was the best," he replied, his smile returning. He tilted his head to the side a little. "She was no Martha Kent. But she managed with my father and I, and I think that's some kind of feat."
"You were probably a great kid," Hudson commented, taking another bite of her burger and licking a drop of mayonnaise from her thumb.
Still waiting for her to end up dropping any part of that mess onto her top - Lex had yet to see Hudson eat a meal and not end up with a good part of it on her instead of in her - he flashed her a look of mock horror. "Me? You're kidding, right?" Shaking his head, he continued, "You know the movie `The Omen'? They wrote that in anticipation of my birth. Only they changed the name to Damien to protect the innocent."
Hudson half-choked on her sandwich, grabbing for the milkshake to wash it down before erupting into laughter. Sometimes Lex surprised the hell out of her. "Damien." She rolled her eyes. "I seriously doubt that."
Lex smiled a little at her disbelief. "I wasn't in the running for Child of the Year. That much is certain." He paused, playing with one of the onion rings on his plate. "Sometimes I find myself wondering what I would be like today if the meteor shower hadn't occurred."
Wincing a little, Hudson leaned back in her seat, settling her hands in her lap as her appetite quickly disintegrated. The last time they had spoken of the meteor shower was when she had discovered that she had been the one responsible for the loss of Lex's hair. If she hadn't come to Earth, if she hadn't landed in Smallville, Lex wouldn't have had to suffer through the trials of being so different. Hudson knew she was different - more different than anyone else, actually - but her parents were the only other people who knew it with her. Outwardly, she was the same as everyone around her. Lex couldn't hide his differences, unless he wore a wig, but she knew there was too much pride involved to do something like that. More than likely, he had been told by his father when it occurred that he would have to accept what had happened and make it a part of him. While she knew it likely made Lex stronger, it also forced him to be alone. The older Hudson got, the more she realized that people didn't seem to like those who were different. It was that fact which caused her to become more and more fearful of the truth of her origins coming out.
What would Lex do if he knew she was responsible for his pain?
"It's weird how some things seem to happen for a reason, huh?" Hudson commented, glancing up at Lex hesitantly.
He met her gaze. "Like what?"
"Your father purchasing the creamed corn factory, sending you to Smallville. I never would have met you otherwise."
"Some people would call that a good thing." Lex gave her a smile.
"Yeah. I suppose they would." Hudson shrugged, remembering her conversation with Pete and Chloe at the Beanery. She stared at her plate for a moment before bringing her eyes back to his. "You know what though? I don't care what they think. You've taught me that. Being a cheerleader and dating the most popular guy in school and being important in Smallville used to mean something to me... but it doesn't now. You've taught me not to care what others think, as long as I am happy."
"Going against the status quo?" Lex smirked. "One more reason for your father to hate me."
"He doesn't hate you, Lex," Hudson replied with a frown. At least, she hoped he didn't. "If he hated you, I wouldn't be here tonight. Right?"
She had a point. Lex considered it very near a miracle that she had been allowed to attend. And he was more than certain that if Jonathan Kent knew Chloe had suddenly become `ill', Hudson wouldn't be here.
"It's not easy, is it?"
Lex knew what she meant. He smiled a little. "Nothing worth having ever is."
Pausing, he watched silently as she finished off her milkshake, a trace of the pink-colored ice cream hovering on her bottom lip. Her tongue snaked out to swipe it away, and Lex quickly brought his gaze up to her eyes. She was staring out the window at the passing traffic thoughtfully. The expression on her face made him want to ask her `Penny for your thoughts?' no matter how clich it might be. Of course, he would rather offer her a lot more than a penny. Guilt stabbed him once more for allowing this friendship to continue. His presence in her life had already changed so much about her - she had just admitted as much - that to continue to be there would only add further damage.
"What was she like?"
The question started him from his thoughts and Lex blinked at Hudson for a moment before he realized what she was asking. His brow furrowed a little, and he glanced over at the counter and the waitress who was leaning against it, shouting back at the cook about an order he had prepared incorrectly. Only, she didn't say so in such nice terms.
"I'm sorry." Hudson's voice was contrite. "I shouldn't have asked."
Lex turned back to her and shook his head. "No. It's all right. You have every right to ask. We're friends, right?"
She smiled a little.
Lowering his gaze to where his hands rested folded against the table, he considered what he wanted to say. The truth was, he hadn't really spoken to anyone about his mother in so long that a part of him rejoiced at the idea of doing so. Sharing some of the happier times in his life was almost like becoming a part of the happiness that Hudson lived. And it was that which caused him to hesitate. Lex horded those memories of his mother as if they were a lifeline, his one and only way of holding on to her, of not losing her completely. If he shared, they might no longer be his alone. Ridicule from his father for being too soft, too emotional, had kept them from discussing his mother for years. Lex had learned that lesson within a few months of her death. He knew that Hudson would never react to him the way that his father had but that knowledge didn't make it any easier to take the first few steps.
He opened his mouth twice to begin before closing it, still uncertain of what to say. Finally, he began, "She was very beautiful... ethereal almost, like if you touched her, she might disappear. But for all that she seemed fragile, she knew how to handle my father. I think she was the only person he ever respected." Lex glanced up, a ghost of a smile touching his lips. "She never raised her voice to me though. If I was in trouble, I always knew by her inflection. And I always felt guilty when I did something that caused her to use it."
"She sounds very sweet."
Lex chuckled and shook his head. "No. Don't get the wrong impression. My mother was a redhead - she had the temper of one, too. My father felt the brunt of it a lot. Somehow she taught herself not to use it on me, I guess. Not that I didn't deserve it more often than not." His hands pulled apart and he began playing with the saltshaker.
Hudson remained silent, watching his fidgeting which seemed out of character but then, so was this moment of sharing. She didn't want it to end. "What else?" She prodded curiously.
Tapping the edge of the shaker against the table for a moment, he told her, "She loved music, and when dad was out of the house, she would turn up the stereo and sing along. Sometimes, when she was feeling strong and well, she would take my hands and we would dance. She loved Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday... Elton John's `Your Song'... She used to sing that to me a lot. Her favorite though was `Chances Are' by Johnny Mathis." He looked across the table. "I lied earlier, when you asked my favorite song. I heard it so much as a child and now when I hear it, I think of her and her singing and dancing with me in the garden... "
"I think I can forgive you just this once," she replied with a smile.
He glanced up at her but said nothing.
Feeling the need to share with him as well, Hudson told him, "My dad's favorite song is that `Proud to be an American' by Lee Greenwood. He sings along with it -- at the top of his lungs. It is so embarrassing." She rolled her eyes. "He cranks up the stereo when we're in the truck and gets all emotional... " She trailed off when she realized Lex looked as if he were going to explode. "What?"
Unable to contain it any longer, his laughter broke through. "Oh hell, Hudson. Thanks for completely destroying the image I've had of your father since the day I met him."
Her nose wrinkled for a moment then she laughed along with him. "You're not the one who has to live with it."
Lex finally calmed his mirth down to a soft chuckle. "I'll never be able to look him in the eye again."
"Kind of like telling someone to picture the audience in their underwear, huh?" Hudson asked with a smirk.
"You have no idea," Lex laughed again, shaking his head in amusement.
Pleased that Lex was smiling and relaxed again, Hudson returned to her onion rings, finishing them up before she realized her milkshake was empty. Watching her dilemma in amusement, Lex said nothing at first, wondering if she would order another drink or force herself to go without. It only took a few moments for him to realize she had chose the latter decision and he mentally shook his head.
"Hudson, you can order something else to drink, you know."
"Oh. Well, I doubt I would finish it."
Lex eyed her a moment longer then nodded toward his mostly untouched milkshake. "Have some of mine then."
"I don't want to - "
He sighed. "Hudson... "
Smiling, she reached out for his glass, holding the straw up to her lips and sipping at it contentedly. Lex was certain she ate more than any human being he had ever met. Knowing he wouldn't be able to finish his own meal, he wiped his hands one last time on the napkin (had this food been so greasy when his mother brought him here?) and waited until his friend had finished off his shake before he stood.
Nodding, Hudson slid out of the booth and moved ahead of him to the door. Stepping outside, she took in the noise of the city around her, her curious gaze sweeping over the street from one side to the other. She could feel Lex stop just to the side of her, his hand automatically going to the small of her back, as if about to guide her somewhere. He had been doing that a lot during the day and Hudson couldn't find a reason to complain about it.
Turning to look at him, she asked, "When does the reception thingy start?"
Lex glanced at his watch. "An hour from now."
"Didn't you say the museum was somewhere close by?" Hudson looked back down the street.
Pointing in the opposite direction, Lex replied, "About six blocks north."
"Well then, let's walk." Hudson flashed him a smile before waving goodbye to the limousine driver and starting down the sidewalk.
Lex stared after her for a moment, rubbed at the corner of his eyelid then told the driver that he could meet them at the museum. Starting after her, he finally caught up to her long-legged stride about half a block from `Town Topic'. Glancing at her with a slightly furrowed brow, it was on the tip of his tongue to point out that he would be expected to arrive in a limousine in front of the museum. Not on foot. But then, very little he had done today could be considered his normal course of events, especially the company.
And Lex was discovering that he didn't mind it one bit.
Hudson stared at the breastplate through the glass, marveling at the amount of jewels that covered it. It amused her that the snake was curved into an `S', very much like the Smallville Crows symbol. Everything in the Luthor Exhibit was impressive, but there was something about this piece that fascinated her. She continually came back to it, between the hors d'oeuvre's and punch and polite mingling with people she didn't know. They all knew Lex, though. Apparently, most of them came here to Luthor Hall for every new exhibit that opened. And because Lex had an obligation to meet and greet every single one of them, Hudson had spent most of the evening wandering around, bored out of her mind. It was undeniably selfish of her, but she couldn't help wanting him all to herself.
"You know it belonged to Alexander the Great?"
Lex's voice caused her to turn, a smile breaking out across her face as he approached. Hudson hoped she wasn't too obvious.
"They said the design symbolizes strength and courage." He glanced at the young woman beside him, knowing by the expression on her face that she was pleased with his appearance. She would be horrible at poker.
"I can't imagine anyone going into battle with that on their chest," Hudson commented, nodding toward the case.
"Darker times call for darker methods," Lex replied with a small shrug. "His opponents thought he was invincible."
She glanced back over at him. "I didn't know you were such a history buff." Science fanatic, yes. Closest sci-fi fan, check. Collector of expensive cars, definitely. Hudson couldn't imagine adding another hobby to the list.
"I'm not." Lex flashed her a smile. "I'm just interested in people who ruled the world before they were thirty."
"Don't worry, Lex. You still have a few years to go."
Lex and Hudson both turned to see Lana walk up and stand between them, smiling in greeting. Hudson's brow furrowed a little as she looked at her.
"Lana, I didn't know you were going to be here," she commented.
Lana glanced over her shoulder into the crowd as if looking for someone. "Aunt Nell had an invitation from Lionel." She turned back to Hudson and gave her a half-smile. "She thought it would be a nice event for Whitney and I to attend with her. He's over in the corner." She pointed and rolled her eyes with a laugh. "Miserable."
Hudson joined in her laughter. "I can only imagine."
"Why don't you join us?" Lana suggested, her gaze turning up to Hudson, almost completely ignoring Lex's presence. "We were just going to get something to eat. Get off of our feet for awhile."
"Uh... sure." Hudson shifted a little uncomfortably as Lana smiled.
"Great! I'll go pull Aunt Nell away from the jewelry exhibit and we'll meet you by Whitney." She turned and hurried off, disappearing quickly into the crowd.
An evening with Whitney and Lana. Hudson glanced over her shoulder in the opposite direction of the quarterback, as if looking for an escape route. Lex watched her, smirking a little at the expected behavior before he reached out and touched her arm.
"What are you afraid of?"
Hudson turned to look at him, blinked. "Huh? I'm not... afraid of anything."
Lex raised an eyebrow. "You could have fooled me. Every time that Lana attempts to make an overture of friendship, you appear hesitant at accepting it. And I can't seem to figure out why. I thought you wanted to be a part of the `in' crowd?"
"Maybe. I don't know." Hudson shrugged and blew out a soft breath. "I just... I can't help feeling a little responsible for her dismissal from the cheerleading squad." She glanced at Lex when she said this.
He continued to regard her, his expression unchanged. "Why? I thought you said she was dismissed because of her own personal issues with the coach? It had nothing to do with you, Hudson. Besides, she seems to think it was one of the best things that could have happened to her."
"I guess." Hudson shifted under his gaze, realizing that wearing heels for hours on end wasn't in the least bit comfortable. "I can't help feeling guilty, though."
Lex offered a half-smile. "Maybe you should give it a chance, Hudson."
"Why do you suddenly seem so interested in my developing a friendship with Lana?" Hudson's brow furrowed.
"I'm not." Lex shrugged. "It's just a suggestion."
The truth was that after spending a day in her company, confiding in her about memories and personal secrets that Lex never thought of sharing with anyone, he knew for a certainty that this relationship had to end. She needed to spend time with people her age, from her hometown, who understood and shared the same life-experiences. Hudson was far too young and impressionable to be allowed into his world, and however much he enjoyed her company, her kindness, her friendship, it wasn't fair to her to take what she was offering. She simply didn't understand what was at stake. She didn't have any idea that he would want more - already wanted more - and she was too young and it couldn't happen. Even in a perfect world where he was accepted by her parents and the town, Lex wouldn't allow himself to destroy the innocence of the young woman who was the closest friend he'd ever had. He cared about her too much.
In what Lex considered to be a strange turn of events, the perfect excuse to pull away from Hudson walked up at that moment, in all her polished and brittle glory.
"Victoria?" Lex cast her what for him was an expression of surprise.
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" She cast a quick glance at Hudson before flashing another smile at Lex.
"Not at all." Lex returned the smile. "Hudson Kent, this is Victoria Hardwick, a very old friend."
Hudson tried very hard to keep from fidgeting again, especially in front of the obviously wealthy and beautiful woman in front of her. "Hi," she greeted Lex's friend a little lamely.
Victoria eyed her for a moment then returned her attention fully to Lex. "It's been a long time, Lex. I thought we could... catch up."
What Lex wanted to say was that he was here with Hudson and maybe some other time, but he was never one to pass up an opportunity. This was easier than trying to convince his friend that she couldn't fill that role anymore. Maybe it was the coward's way out but he believed it would be easier for both of them in the end.
Not even glancing at Hudson, he told her, "I'll catch up with you later, Hudson."
She opened her mouth to say something but Lex held out his arm to Victoria, and she slid hers through it, and they walked off. Hudson took a step after them, shock and hurt filling her that Lex would dismiss her so quickly. Especially after the day they had spent together. Of course, it was completely understandable that he would rather spend the evening with someone his age. Someone that was beautiful and wore flashy clothes and probably knew which fork to use at the appropriate time. But that didn't make it any easier to accept.
Telling herself that the night had only just begun, and there was still the drive back to Smallville, and she doubted this Victoria woman would ever step foot in her town, Hudson turned and made her way out of the museum. She needed some air and wanted to collect her thoughts, especially the ones concerning the belief that she somehow owned Lex Luthor. Somewhere throughout the theatre and dinner, she had started to believe that this was a date, that Lex was interested in being more than friends. It was stupid and childish to pretend such a thing, but she refused to believe that it was her fault it had felt that way more than once. While she doubted that Lex had ever meant for her to feel that way, the thoughts had crept in all the same.
Sighing, Hudson smoothed her skirt and sat down on the top step, staring out at the street and the park across from it. She gazed around for a moment, noting the homeless man sleeping in the bus stop, and the bus that was slowly turning the corner at the end of the street, heading towards the museum. Wondering how much longer they would have to stay, Hudson rested her chin on her hand and waited for the evening to end.
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