Chapter 23


To much clarity darkens.

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)

"No, Hudson! If they take me to the hospital, I'm either going to end up dead or drooling in a padded cell for the rest of my life!"

Hudson shook her head, not understanding his reasoning. Not understanding any of this. She still remembered the look on Lex's face as he was cradling the blanket in the barn, the blanket he'd truly believed was Julian. On the one hand, she wouldn't put anything past Lionel; on the other, she'd never seen Lex like this before.

"Why would they want to do that?" She asked gently.

"It's the perfect plan, Angel. As long as the world thinks I'm crazy, no one will believe what I found out about my father and Morgan Edge! Think about it, Hudson."

"Miss Kent," Dr. Foster interrupted from her position on the floor. "Your boyfriend is very sick. These conspiracy theories are a symptom of his condition --"

"Shut up!" Lex shoved the gun closer to her.

"Maybe I am crazy, Angel," he admitted, glancing at her tearfully. "I honestly don't know anymore. But what if I'm right about all this? Are you really just going to let them put me away?"

She'd never seen Lex cry before.

He was crying now, the hand that held the gun was shaking, and he looked terrified. More so even than Darius and Dr. Foster, who had to believe that Lex could shoot them at any moment, as unstable as he appeared to be.

"It's okay, Lex," Hudson whispered softly, her heart going out to him as she laid her hand against his arm, bringing his eyes back to her. "I'm not going to let them take you. I promised I'd take care of you, and I meant that."

"I'm scared," he whispered, and the arm beneath her hand trembled.

"I am, too, but as long as we're together, nothing can hurt us." Hudson moved her hand down his arm and over his wrist, until his fingers lay between her own and the gun. "Let me take care of you, Lex."

He eyed her for a long moment before she felt the muscles in his hand relax, and she took the gun from him. Her free arm pulled him close, while she kept the weapon trained on Darius and Dr. Foster. They were both eyeing her curiously, as if they expected her, at any moment, to hand the gun and Lex over to them. Apparently, they didn't understand her very well. She didn't need the gun to protect Lex, and she didn't need their help, either.

"We're going to go now. I suggest you remain where you are to the count of 100. If I catch you following us, I will shoot you." There wouldn't be a need, not since she planned on speeding Lex as far away from here as possible once they were out of sight, but it sounded good all the same.

"Miss Kent, you're making a big mistake," Foster told her. "Lex needs help."

"And he's going to get it," Hudson assured her. "But not from you."

She held the gun on them a moment longer while gently prodding Lex ahead of her and following him out the door. Once in the hall, she slipped the gun into her pocket and gathered him close.

"What if they're right, Hudson?" Lex asked raggedly. "What if I have lost my mind?"

Hudson smiled and kissed his lips as she lifted him into her arms. "Then I'll help you find it," she told him before speeding away from the mansion.

Hudson awoke to the smell of bacon and eggs.

She rubbed at her eyes and shuddered slightly at the vague impressions left over from her dreams – dreams that were far too real, filled with memories she would rather forget. The past two months were like some nightmare she had only just awoken from, and she was still caught in the backwash of it, the tides continually pulling at her, forcing her to relive each nightmarish moment. Sometimes, she thought if she just screamed as loud as she possibly could, all of the anger and pain that was holed up inside of her might just go away. The terrible truth of the matter was, though, that nothing could make it better.

Every morning for the last two months, Hudson forced herself to think of a reason to get out of bed. Usually, that reason centered around Lex. The first few weeks it was because Lex needed her protection, he needed her to fight for him, to find the truth. For the last four weeks, it was because she believed Lex needed her to be strong, that he'd want her to be strong. The last few days, she told herself it was because it was the holiday season, and they both deserved a little happiness. Unfortunately, now that it was Christmas Eve, Hudson didn't know if she was even capable of a smile. She was going over to the mansion this evening, and they would exchange gifts, and Lex would look at her and wait for the answers he already knew would never come, and Hudson would remain silent and aching, mentally flagellating herself over and over again. So it had been from the moment he came home, and so it would be until…

Murder had crossed her mind, if only for a few brief moments. She'd never been so filled with hate and rage as she had the last night she left the asylum. She could kill Lionel Luthor, she knew, and no one would ever be able to trace it back to her. She could immolate him with her heat vision, and no one would ever find the body. One day Lex might hate her for it though, and that wasn't counting the possibility that he would be blamed for his father's disappearance. Her hands were tied. She once told herself she would never again do anything that would hurt Lex; now Hudson realized that her very existence would continue to do so throughout their lives.

What was she supposed to do about that?

Hudson dressed and made her way downstairs, wondering why her father hadn't bothered waking her for chores. When she reached the kitchen, her mom was standing over the stove, staring down into the pan, while her dad sat at the table, not reading the paper that was in his hands. That was the way the house had been since that night, all three of them moving through life like zombies, performing tasks automatically because thinking and talking allowed too many terrible thoughts. They were looking at her now, just as they had for the last month, their eyes saying what they couldn't bring themselves to speak aloud: it was all her fault. She'd put their family in danger, even though they'd warned her from the beginning.

"Merry Christmas," she offered quietly, adding a smile to her face for effect. "I mean, Merry Christmas Eve."

"Merry Christmas, Honey," her mom replied with forced joy. "I hope you're hungry for a big breakfast?"

Hudson nodded as she slipped into the seat beside her father. "Why didn't you wake me for chores?" She asked as she reached out for a glass of juice.

He shrugged. "Christmas," he muttered, not looking at her.

"Oh. Well… thank you." She sipped at the beverage, and glanced out the window where wispy gray clouds silently promised snow by afternoon. Snow on Christmas usually put a smile on her face, but this year it just seemed cold and dismal. Everything was like that.

Silence permeated the kitchen as her mother brought their breakfast to them, and sat down across from Hudson to eat. Food even tasted bland, but Hudson choked it down, knowing that if she didn't her stomach would protest loudly all day long, and there were so many other things that she needed to attempt to focus her mind on. Like the fact that Lex was safe now, that he was home, and she would be able to spend the evening with him. She would be able to silently show him how much she loved him, even if it didn't seem to make much of a difference anymore.

"Are you still going to Lex's this evening?" Her mother asked, causing her dad to stiffen beside her.

Hudson nodded, and felt a little warmer inside as she realized she would be seeing him soon. "Tonight we'll be at his place, and then we'll come here tomorrow morning."

"Will Lionel be there?" Her father questioned.

She winced slightly at his name. "I… I don't believe so."

"Be careful, Hudson."

"What would you have me do?" She asked, stilling the terror that threatened. "Hide away here all day, every day? If Lex continues to question… " Hudson broke off and shook her head. "I have to behave as if nothing as has changed. For Lex, and for us."

Her father sighed. "I know, Honey. It's just, with everything Lionel has done, we can't trust him to keep his word on anything else."

Hudson agreed. "We're just going to have to deal with that when the time comes. For now, I think we're safe. I have to focus on Lex. He needs me, you know?"

Her parents seemed to understand what she was saying because no more protests were voiced. Each of them quietly returned to their meal, and the hope that the Christmas spirit would somehow invade their once happy home.

It had been a morning like any other, two months earlier, as Hudson made her way into the loft to grab her homework. That was why she fairly had a heart attack as Lex popped up from his hiding place behind the couch. Normally, such an action would include a bouquet of confetti roses in one hand, and a box of chocolates in the other. Instead of looking pleased with himself for catching her off-guard, Lex looked exhausted. It only took a quick glance to notice that something was terribly wrong.

"Lex, what happened?" She hurried to his side, checking the bruises and cuts that marred his skin.

"Are you alone?"

"Yes. What happened to you?"

Lex glanced around the loft nervously, and then limped across the floor to look out the window. "Someone tried to kill me last night."

Hudson was staring down at his legs, wondering what had happened to him when his words penetrated her thoughts. Her head shot up and she rushed over to him. "We need to get you to the hospital. Call the police!"

"No. No hospitals. No police," Lex argued, turning to face her. "These people are professionals. They killed my security guard, Darius. They tried to finish me off too. I just need time to think..." He moved away, already lost in his thoughts while Hudson stared after him in shock.

Somebody had tried to kill Lex? And she hadn't been there to protect him. He should have called her – she could have been there in an instant. Dammit, what was she supposed to do? Move out of her parents home and into his? Being Lex's girlfriend was the same as being his bodyguard at times.

Focus, Hudson. Focus.

"Who would want to kill you?" She asked, following him once more to check his injuries.

"The less you know, the better."

Her mouth fell open at that, and she grabbed his shoulder, pulling him around angrily to face her. "Lex, I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on!"

Lex sighed, glancing away from her for a moment. "It was probably my father," he told her.

"I know you guys have had your problems, but you really think he'd try to kill you?"

"It was either him or Morgan Edge."

"Morgan Edge."

That was a name she had hoped to never hear again. Once she'd learned that he had died in a mysterious fire in Metropolis, she was certain that she would never have to again recall the job she'd done for him, or the realization that Lionel Luthor had once held her blood in his possession.

"Isn't he the crime boss that died in that fire a few months back? I think I read that somewhere-" She queried, ignoring the curious look from Lex, as if he suspected she knew Edge.

"He survived... Went underground, got some hack plastic surgeon to change his appearance."

Hudson blinked. "Changed his appearance?" When Lex didn't respond to that, she continued, "But, what does he have against you?"

"I have evidence linking him and my father to a crime that can get them both the death penalty. That evidence was supposed to be delivered to the US Attorney this morning..." He ran a hand over his face, obviously exhausted. She wondered if he'd been waiting up for her all night. "But it's in my safe, Angel. And I can't go back there."

She nodded. "All right. I'll go get what's in your safe."

"No. It's too dangerous, Angel. The people in the mansion could be in on this."

Hudson rolled her eyes, knowing that Lex often forgot how easily she could get around undetected. "If anyone asks, I'll just play dumb. Tell them I was there to meet you," she explained. "Now, tell me exactly what happened…."

Hudson stared up at the mansion and the bright white lights that flickered along the edge of the roof, and covered the fir trees in the yard. There were giant candy canes scattered across the lawn, and a life-size Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer – all nine, of course, because last year Hudson had pointed out to Lex that Rudolph always counted. It was as festive as any house in Smallville; more so, probably, because of the amount of money it took to make it look like this. Hudson had been determined to make Lex's return from the asylum a happy one, and so she had spent the days before his release forcing his staff to work with her in putting out the decorations. She'd worked side by side with people she didn't necessarily trust anymore, and they had meekly responded to each and every demand, as if silently asking her forgiveness for something they could have prevented. She wanted to hate them, but she knew that when it came to Lionel Luthor, it was hard to blame his victims.

Walking up to the door, Hudson straightened one of the two huge wreaths, and then fiddled with the big red bow on the knob before opening it and stepping inside. She rarely rang the bell anymore, feeling more comfortable when no one but Lex knew that she was there. She pulled off her gloves, tucking them into the pockets of her coat, and then hung it up on one of the hooks along the wall. The mansion was warm, and the fresh scent of pine from the garlands strewn along the staircase wafted through the air. It was comforting, and Hudson hoped that soon she would be able to put her fears behind her, and simply enjoy the evening.

Her relief was short-lived though, as she rounded the corner into the study to find Lionel Luthor standing beside the fireplace, staring down at Lex, who was seated on the couch. It took every ounce of willpower that Hudson possessed not to speed away from there, to keep running and never return. She shook with the force of her fear, rationalizing that nothing would happen as long as Lex was there. She considered backing away, quietly leaving and waiting until Lex's father left the house, but she didn't know when that would be. She had promised Lex she would come over for the night, and if he had invited his father as well… there was nothing that could be done.


The sound of Lex's voice pushed the fear aside for the moment; she could practically the feel the happiness flowing from him at her presence. He was already smiling as he stood to meet her halfway, taking her hands in his and kissing her lightly on the mouth. He pulled back a little and frowned at her.

"Your hands are freezing," he commented softly, and she understood his concern since her body usually didn't react to the cold.

"I'm fine," she replied with a forced smile, her eyes drifting to Lionel as he moved to join them.

"Perhaps you should wear gloves in such chilly weather, Miss Kent," he suggested smoothly as he laid his hand on her shoulder in a gesture of welcoming.

She almost bolted. Her fingers tightened in Lex's hands slightly, and out of the corner of her eye she noticed him wince, which caused her to relax her hold. She waited for the inevitable bile to rise in her stomach, and the weakness to seep through her bones, but it didn't happen. Apparently, Lionel was playing nice today.

"Wouldn't want you to get sick, now would we?" Lionel continued with a smile.

Lex was watching them both curiously now, and Hudson quickly forced herself to relax and smile again at Lionel as if everything was fine. "Are you spending Christmas Eve with us, Mr. Luthor?" She asked politely.

"Unfortunately, I must decline," he replied. "I simply stopped by to bring my son his gift, and make certain that he was doing well. I trust you to look after him, Miss Kent," he told her pointedly, his eyes narrowing only slightly as he smiled once more.

Hudson moved closer to Lex, slipping her arm around his waist. "Always," she answered.

"Well, I shall leave the two of you to your celebration," Lionel told them as he turned and moved toward the hallway. "Lex, I will be in touch with you after the New Year. Merry Christmas to you both."

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Luthor," Hudson mumbled.

Lex remained silent beside her, pulling away as his father disappeared. "Nice show," he commented softly as he moved over to the fireplace and grabbed the poker.

"What?" Hudson turned to look at him.

He knelt down and poked at the burning wood. "You and my father. The fake smiles, the pointed looks. Just because I lost my memory doesn't mean I've gone stupid, Hudson."

"Lex, I don't – "

"I thought you weren't going to lie to me anymore." He glanced over his shoulder at her, and in his expression she could read his disappointment. "I should have known better than to believe that."

"Lex, we're just – "

"Protecting me?" He asked with sarcasm before turning back to the fire. "From what, Hudson? What horrible atrocity occurred that would cause you to join up with my father against me?"

Hudson sucked in a sharp breath at his accusation and hurried across the study toward him. "No, Lex, it's not like that. I'm not working with your father to protect you. I – "

What could she say without telling him everything? She bawled her hands into fists for a moment before reaching out to touch his shoulder. Lex didn't turn to her; he simply continued to stare into the fire.

"Things happened, Lex," she told him quietly. "You're not the only one who needs protection."

There was a long silence as Lex replaced the poker and got to his feet. He turned to her, slipping his hands into the pockets of his slacks as he watched her, his expression thoughtful. Hudson couldn't read his thoughts, and she worried that he would simply close himself off to her all over again. How would she respond? She had to protect both Lex and her family, and if that meant losing him… No, she couldn't allow herself to think like that.

She started slightly when he reached out to cup her chin, bringing her eyes to his. "What did he do to you?" He asked gently.

More accusations were something she could have handled. Lex's silent admission that he was still with her, that he understood there was danger and that something horrible had happened to force her to lie to him, was something she could not. The tears immediately began to fall, and she bit her tongue hard to keep from telling him everything. He shook his head at her reaction, and pulled her into his arms, holding her close as he stroked her hair.

"Shhhh. It's all right," he whispered. "I know you wouldn't lie to me by choice, Angel. I just… I wish you would trust me enough to let me help. I can protect you."

Hudson laughed bitterly as she choked on a sob. "You couldn't even protect yourself, Lex. I couldn't protect you. There's nothing… Lex, I'm so scared!"

Lex's arms tightened around her, and she felt him kiss her temple. "I'm sorry, Hudson, but I'm scared, too. Do you know how it feels to be missing seven weeks of your life? To know that the one person you love and trust is hiding the truth from you? It's like you hold the key to who I am, and I just want to shake it out of you!"

He sighed and laid his cheek against her head. "Did he threaten my life, Hudson? Is that why you're afraid?"

"I see you're unfazed. Very well. Let me speak a language I know you do understand.

"You love my son. I know you do. That's why I know you'll understand me when I tell you that in order to protect him, to protect my own love for him, I will do anything to make certain this little incident remains a secret. He forced my hand in this instance, and now I am taking care of that. Force it again, Hudson Kent, and I will take the next necessary step. Do you understand me?"

"You're sick and demented!"

"No, Miss Kent. The fact of the matter is, I love my son so much, that I'd rather he be dead than turn against me."

Hudson closed her eyes against the remembered words and pressed herself into the warm body that held her. "It's over, Lex. Please… just let it go. For my sake?"

For too long, Lex was silent to her plea. Just when she was certain that he would continue to press her for answers, she felt his body relax against her, and his arms tighten. "Because it's Christmas, I'll honor your request, Angel." He pulled back to look down at her, and his gaze was filled with sorrow. "It hurts though that you don't trust me to protect you, to protect us."

"It works both ways, Lex," she whispered.

He sighed and let her go.

"What the hell is Lionel doing here?" Chloe muttered under her breath as Hudson brought the pickup truck to a stop. She peered out the window to see her parents talking to Lionel before all three turned to look at the truck.

Refraining from the temptation to glance at the barn in hopes of seeing that Lex was all right, Hudson flashed a quick look of warning at Chloe before they both climbed out and made their way over to the adults.

"Hello, Hudson," Lionel greeted with a slight smile as she approached before turning to Chloe and extending his hand. "Miss Sullivan, isn't it?"

Chloe seemed hesitant before she took his hand. "Yeah."

There was something odd about the exchange, but Hudson couldn't place what it was.

"H.C.," her father began. "Mr. Luthor has something he'd like to talk to you about."

"I'm afraid it's serious, Honey," her mother warned her softly.

Lionel asked, "Have you seen Lex, Hudson?"

Curious as to just where this conversation was going, and what kind of information she could glean from it, Hudson cast a quick look at her parents before returning to Lionel, and lying smoothly, "Not for a few days."

"Lex is missing. It's important that I find him."

She responded with the appropriate surprise at his words, but then found herself shrugging. "Mr. Luthor, I think I know Lex pretty well, and if he wanted you to know where he was," she told him, "you probably would."

Lionel frowned at her words, while beside her Chloe appeared a little shocked. Hudson didn't care. If Lex was right, and Lionel was behind this, then she needed to find out what he was up to and what his next move was going to be.

"Lex is seriously ill," Lionel told her, as if confiding a great secret. "He needs help."

That was an interesting twist, Hudson thought. "What do you mean 'ill'?"

"There's been a psychotic break. Lex has had a psychotic break."

Hudson stared at the man in front of her in silence for a long moment. She felt her mother reach out and touch her arm in a comforting and supportive manner. Funny that all she wanted to do was leap across the space between them and scratch the man's eyes out. Or maybe incinerate him with her heat vision. Break a few bones. Whatever it was, she found herself feeling for a certainty that Lex was correct – Lionel had tried to kill him. And now he was claiming that his son was insane in order to retrieve him and…

What? Hudson didn't rightly know. Did he plan on killing Lex and making it look like an accident? Suicide, perhaps. She couldn't believe that the man she loved came from a father like this.

She shook her head. "No, that… that can't be right," she denied.

"It happened while he was on that island. I thought he'd beaten it, but, um... he's had a relapse. He is suffering from paranoid delusions. He's hearing voices. He sees things that aren't there," he explained, all the while his gaze never leaving hers.

Hudson shifted slightly, ignoring the sympathetic looks from her parents. If they knew that Lex was hiding in their barn, if they heard his claims about Morgan Edge having plastic surgery and some lone gunman trying to kill him in his house, they would try to reason things out. They didn't see Lionel the way she did, through Lex's eyes; they couldn't conceive of a man not loving his son the way all parents should love their children. If Chloe couldn't help out, then Hudson and Lex would be completely alone in this venture.

"I want my son," Lionel told them, and somewhere in his voice there appeared to be real emotion. He was an amazing actor.

"I want him back... the way he used to be. If you hear from him, Hudson, you have to help me," he pleaded. "We have to get him the care he needs…"

Hudson shook one of the dozens of boxes beneath the tree experimentally. It was amazing to her how Lex had only been out of the hospital for three days and already there was a treasure trove of Christmas gifts for her, each one uniquely wrapped in delicate paper and big, fancy bows. The one she was currently holding felt like it might contain a clothing item of some sort, not very heavy, probably lingerie that she would never be able to allow her parents to know she owned.

"You can't convince me that you haven't x-rayed through each and every one of those boxes already," Lex commented with amusement, from his position on the couch across from her.

"I haven't," she replied, sticking her tongue out, and grabbing the next box. "Where would the fun be in that? I like the surprise."

"Then why are you shaking the boxes, attempting to figure out what is in them?"

"Because it's Christmas. Duh." She rolled her eyes at him before she began to shake the box in her hands. This one was heavier than the rest. Books, maybe. Lex had this thing about always trying to get her to read stuff.

"Shaking boxes is tradition, I take it?"

"Lex." She sighed. "You missed out on all of the good stuff."

Placing the gift back underneath the tree, Hudson crawled across the floor to the couch, and climbed up to sit in his lap. She ignored the expression of inconvenience he flashed at her when he had to move his glass of brandy out of the way so she could snuggle against his chest. Sighing contentedly, Hudson gazed at the fire, enjoying the crackling of the flames, and the soft sound of Christmas music flowing from the stereo. She glanced up at the elaborately decorated stockings that hung from the mantle; there were two, one which was slightly nondescript in design, and the other which had her name embroidered across it in gold silk thread. Lex had surprised her with it last year.

"What's in my stocking?" She asked curiously.

"Coal," came the reply.

She nudged his shoulder with her head. "Liar."

She peered through the material to see a couple of tiny boxes. Most likely jewelry that she didn't really want or need.

"You spoil me," she told him with a sigh.

"And you are completely undeserving," he told her with a soft smile.

Returning the teasing smile, Hudson wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her face into the crook of his neck. She breathed deeply, enjoying the clean smell of him, and then grew silent once more, just so she could hear the beating of his heart. There was a time when she thought she would never hear that again, when fear had gripped her that she was going to lose him forever, that Lionel would do anything to keep them apart. He was here with her now, though, and she had to hold on to that.

"I thought Christmas was a time of joy," Lex remarked. "You don't seem very joyful, Angel."

"I am," she whispered in reply. "It's just… There's this burning need in me to just hold you. And never let you go."

Lex sighed, set his drink down and put his arms around her. "I know you don't want to talk about this, Hudson, and I know I'm not going to get the truth from you with regards to what happened. But, I just want you to tell me, was there ever a moment when you were in danger? When I may have placed you in danger?"

"The threat of death doesn't seem to faze you much, Miss Kent. But what about the lives of your parents? Do you wish to protect them? Or, do you need further convincing?..."

"No," she told him.

"Not once?"


While Lex quietly contemplated her reply, Hudson lifted her head to meet his gaze. Little by little, she knew he would continue to question and probe regarding the last few months. He was far too intelligent not to put the pieces back together, and then they would come full circle and it would start all over again. He would once more attempt to pin the murder of his grandparents on his father, and with Morgan Edge dead, he would be even more hard-pressed to come up with any evidence. Hudson wouldn't be able to protect him, and Lionel would kill him this time, all the while blaming her.

Lex touched her face, pulling her from her thoughts.

"Do you love me?" He asked her softly, his fingers moving along the line of her jaw.

"You know that I do," she replied. "I always have, and I always will."

He allowed a small smile, nodding just a bit. "Then nothing else really matters, does it? Whatever happened… if I truly had a psychotic break, you love me still. That's something. That you can forgive me for what I did, for the people I hurt… "

"It wasn't your fault, Lex," she told him, leaning in to kiss the corner of his mouth. "What happened to you on the island -- no one could have come out of that unscathed. Just… you're better now, and we're together. It's Christmas, and I'm right where I should be, and I wouldn't want it any other way."

Hudson didn't believe there was anything wrong with Lex. Sure, his story had sounded a little odd at the beginning, but then her trip to the mansion hadn't shown her anything to dispel it. Every member of staff that she spoke to had appeared slightly nervous, and then there was the broken glass she'd discovered, which perfectly matched the stained glass window in the hall. She'd seen too many of Lionel's machinations in the past not to believe him capable of carrying out the murder of his own son. It was entirely possible that the man had simply been born without a heart or conscience.

So what she found in the barn, after she'd quietly assured both Lionel and her parents that she would alert them the moment Lex contacted her, left her shocked to her core. The sight of Lex gently rocking the blanket he held cradled in his arms was one thing, but it was his insistence that it was his baby brother, Julian, that caused her to believe that maybe she was the one going mad.

"I'm gonna buy you a looking glass," He sang softly to the bundle in his arms. "And if that looking glass gets broke, I'm gonna buy you a little toy boat…"

"Lex – "

"Shhhh." He smiled up at her and whispered, "He's finally asleep."

"H.C., Lionel is finally – " Chloe cut off mid-sentence as she came to stand beside Hudson. She stared at Lex for a moment, and then glanced up at her. "What's going on?"

"Lex just rocked Julian to sleep… " Hudson told her softly, her heart aching as Lex gave her an approving smile.

"Huh? Have you both lost it? That's a blan –"

Hudson grabbed Chloe by the arm and dragged her across the barn, releasing her once they were out of hearing distance.

"Ow!" Chloe rubbed her arm, and glared at Hudson. "What was that all about?"

"Something's wrong with Lex," Hudson whispered. "He thinks that blanket is his dead baby brother."

"Whoa." She glanced over her shoulder at Lex and the blanket, before turning back to Hudson. "You mean, Lionel was right?" She whispered.

"No. I won't believe it," Hudson replied emphatically. "There has to be something more going on here. Look, I'm going to go talk to my parents, tell them everything that's going on. Can you look after Lex? Keep him here… and safe."

Chloe nodded. "Sure. Shouldn't be too hard. We can make goofy faces at the 'baby'."

"Chloe… "


Unfortunately, talking to her parents wasn't as easy as Hudson hoped it would be. She could understand that they were angry about her not telling the truth, and hiding Lex up in the loft away from them, but their insistence that Lionel might be right about Lex's condition confused her. They knew Lex; certainly they also knew that his mind was stronger than that?

"Honey," Martha began gently. "I know how hard it is for you to see Lex in this condition, but he needs psychiatric care."

Hudson shook her head. "No. Lex is stronger than that. I know he is – and so do you."

"And what about everything he hasn't told you about what happened on that island?" Her father demanded. "Even you have expressed concern over it."

"Yes, but he's talked with Dr. Foster about all of that," she insisted.

"Don't you think that if he couldn't talk with you about it, then there must be something he is hiding?" Jonathan pressed. "I'm not saying we need to trust Lionel, but it's obvious that something is wrong mentally with Lex. Calling a blanket a baby isn't normal!"

"I know… " Hudson silently considered what to do when she heard Lex speak behind her:

"You think you know people, and you realize it's all just a facade."

Biting her lip guiltily, Hudson took a breath and started toward him to explain.

"Lex," her mother soothed. "You know we only want what's best for you."

"Save the cloying maternal posturing for your own child, Mrs. Kent!" Lex snapped, pointing at them. "I heard you all talking. Little Kent cabal... Such a selective group, aren't you? And so secretive. Plotting to pack me off to the loony bin!"

Hudson winced at his accusations, wishing she could somehow explain to him that she would never allow such a thing to happen. Whatever it was that was happening to him, she would see him through it; not pack him off to a bunch of strangers to handle it.

The silence was broken when Chloe hurried around the corner, out of breath. "I tried to stop him. I'm sorry."

Lex's anger grew before their eyes. "You're all watching me now!"

Turning an accusing glare in Hudson's direction, Lex spun around and started out of the yard. She hurried after him.

"Lex! Where are you going?"

"To find Morgan Edge and prove I'm not crazy," he told her, wincing as he took a misplaced step on his twisted ankle.

And then what would he do? They needed to develop a plan or strategy or something. "Lex... "

He brought his gaze around to hers. "You're either with me, or against me, Hudson. Choose right now."

Nodding in understanding, Hudson reached out to take his hand, and led him out of the yard, ignoring the calls from her parents.

Dinner was held in the formal dining room, which Hudson found kind of silly since it was just the two of them, and the table sat fifty. Everything was glittering, though, from the shiny sterling silver utensils and serving dishes, to the gold-trimmed china, and crystal glassware. There was an enormous centerpiece in the middle of the table that even had a tiny electric train circling around the greenery. Hudson watched it with delight, smiling every time the conductor blew the tinny whistle.

"I hadn't considered what an annoyance that would be while eating," Lex commented as he buttered a wheat roll and set it on Hudson's bread plate.

"I think it's perfect," she disagreed. "It kind of makes me want to ---"

"Throw yourself off the highest building in town?"

"No, Mr. Grinch." She rolled her eyes. "I was going to say 'take a ride on a real train'." Hudson reached for her glass of wine and took a small sip; it was sweet, with a slight cherry flavor. Another concession by Lex, for her. "Besides, you know that it wouldn't do much to throw myself from a building."

"Other than put another pot hole in the street below, you're right."

"You're so very mean to me."

"You're right." He waved his hand expansively toward the vast array of food laid out before them. "Very mean.

Hudson broke off a piece of her roll and threw it at him. She ate the rest of the half she was holding while Lex brushed at the flecks of butter left on his shirt. "So, you gonna say grace?"

Lex gave her a look that surely meant he thought she'd lost her mind.

It made Hudson smile. "Good. Then that means we can dig in."

Grabbing the fork beside the platter of roast beef, Hudson dropped a couple of slices onto her plate before moving on to the turkey and ham. She added a big scoop of mashed potatoes with gravy, a generous helping of stuffing, a smattering of crisp green beans, a slice of spinach casserole, two more rolls and some cranberry sauce. Licking her lips in anticipation of the feast, she settled back in her chair and decided what she should begin eating first.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like me to go and grab you the kitchen sink as well?" Lex asked casually from her right, where his plate held a quarter of what hers did.

"Don't be mean. It's Christmas."

Lex sighed and took a small bite of his potatoes as Hudson dived into her food with gusto. Even though Lex's cook wasn't as good as Dodd had been, and nowhere near the expertise of her mother, the food was still tasty enough to merit a full plate or two. Besides, the food was always prepared with fancy sauces and herbs that her mother never used, and it made it very different, so it was like a new experience every time she ate at the mansion. Not to mention, it was Christmas, and eating was just as important as opening gifts.

"The man who marries you is going to go bankrupt keeping you fed," Lex commented after a few minutes when Hudson's plate was almost empty.

She smirked. "Good thing you're rich, eh?"

He didn't reply, but Lex smiled at her over the rim of his wineglass, and Hudson felt a little tingle from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. In her mind, it was already a foregone conclusion that they would be together until the end of time, but the little not-quite-affirmation that she just received from Lex was enough to cement the idea. After all, if Lex was thinking the same thing, even though he might never admit it, then that certainly meant it would come true. Lex always got what he wanted, and Hudson was almost one hundred percent certain that he wanted to marry her. When she was older, of course, and when he got past the whole two failed marriages thing. Then, he'd be ready.

And she would be waiting.

Of course, they had to get through the current year first, and the stupid lies that somehow always ended up passing through her lips. Certainly, she had her reasons this time – good reasons – but she didn't believe that Lex would agree if, or when, he ever found out the truth. She was protecting him, and she was scared to death of losing him, and so far, he hadn't pushed too hard for answers. Unfortunately, she knew it was only because he'd recently been released from the hospital, and he was biding his time, watching everyone around him, thinking. Lex was far too intelligent to let all of this continue for very long; one day, he would piece everything he had known back together.

"Tummy ache?"

She glanced up at the question to find Lex watching her in concern. "What?"

He motioned his fork toward her. "You stopped eating, and you got silent. I can only conclude that you're either ill – and after all of that food, I wouldn't blame you – or you're thinking. And I thought we agreed against that tonight?"

"I'm sorry." She smiled and ducked her head. "I didn't mean to let it happen."

Lex reached out and took her hand in his, entwining their fingers together. "You're sad. What can I do to make it better?"

"I'm not!" Hudson denied quickly, gently squeezing the fingers that held hers. "I'm very content. I just wish… no, we're not going to discuss it. I'm not sad. You're here, and that's all I need tonight."

Smiling back at her, though it didn't quite reach his eyes, Lex leaned over and kissed her cheek. "So, does that mean you're content with skipping the pumpkin pie?"

"I wouldn't go that far…"

Hudson sat beside Lex in the small stall, her hand moving in slow circles on his back to help calm him. The confrontation with Dr. Foster and Darius back at the mansion had shaken them both, and they had said little to one another on the race to the stables. It was the only place Hudson could think of to hide out for the moment; no one would look for them there. By now, Dr. Foster had probably gone to the farm in search of them. She may have even called Lionel. Hudson was no longer certain of what to do.

Her faith in Lex's claims was wavering. First, they found a sweat shop in the old warehouse that Lex had claimed to have spoken to Morgan Edge at. From all appearances, the sweatshop and its employees had been there for a long time. Then, when they went back to the mansion to search for more evidence, Darius had walked in, alive and well and not quite as dead as Lex had sworn he should have been. There was little ground left for Lex to stand on; a piece of glass that could have been in the hallway for years was his only proof that he wasn't going crazy. Hudson just didn't know what to believe anymore.

"I'm sorry I dragged you into this," he whispered beside her, staring down at his hands as if they'd suddenly become the most fascinating things he'd ever seen.

"No, you didn't. I insisted on helping you, remember? This is the way it's supposed to be, Lex, helping those you love."

"You don't believe me anymore." He turned his head to look at her, and he looked beaten. "You think I'm crazy, just like they do."

Hudson shook her head as she laid her hand against his cheek. His skin was very cold, almost clammy. "If you love someone, you believe in them. And I do love you, Lex."

"You won't let them take me," he stated, smiling suddenly, an almost eerie, wistful smile.

"No," she promised, leaning over to kiss him. "I won't let them take you."

She wasn't even certain who the mysterious 'them' were anymore.

"H.C.? Lex?"

Lex started at the voice, eyes widening in panic. "Who is that?"

"Easy, baby," Hudson whispered, putting her hand on his shoulder as she stood. "It's just Lana. I called her to stay with you while I go back to the mansion."

She squeezed his shoulder and bent down to kiss the top of his head. "I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?"

Hudson exited the stall just in time to almost bump into Lana as she approached, causing her friend to jump in surprise. "Sorry," Hudson apologized quickly. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Lana shook her head. "No, it's all right." She peered around Hudson's shoulder to glance in the stall. "I came as soon as I could. How is he? I ran into Chloe; she said Lionel was looking for both of you."

"I know." Hudson sighed and turned to move back into the stall as Lana followed her. "There's a very good possibility that he's being drugged. I need to get the medication to Chloe to find out for certain."

Lex looked up at both of them. "Everyone thinks I'm crazy."

Hudson glanced at Lana who made her way over to sit beside Lex. "That's not true. We know that something is going on, and we're trying to help you."

"You don't mind staying with him, do you?" Hudson asked, just stopping herself from pointing out that there was no telling what he might do. His actions with the gun in the mansion had made her nervous.

Her friend smiled up at her. "Not at all. Lex and I will just have something to eat while we wait for you."

"You're leaving?" Lex looked up at her as if the conversation had just penetrated his mind. His eyes seemed to widen in panic.

"I won't be gone long, I promise," she assured him quietly as she walked over to kneel in front of him and took his hands in hers. "I need to find out what they're giving you, Lex, and how to make you well, again. Lana will be here with you until I get back, okay?"

Lex's hands tightened as they clasped hers for a moment, before finally letting go. Giving him a hopeful smile, Hudson kissed him gently before getting to her feet, and speeding away from the barn.

The floor of the study was covered in a bright array of torn wrapping paper, empty boxes and discarded bows. Hudson lay on her stomach, flipping through the pages of the Kama Sutra while Lex stood in the center of the room, playing with his remote control Aston Martin.

"I can't believe you bought this for me," she remarked, studying the position spread out before her.

"You said you preferred books with pictures."

"Oh, ha." She rolled her eyes and flipped the page. "I should take this home; lay it on the coffee table."

"Your parents would love that."

"Mom might. Knowing her, she'd get interested – "

"That's more than I ever needed to know about your mother," Lex cut in, jumping out of the way as he attempted to run over his own feet with the toy.

"Dad would keel over from shock. It wouldn't be pretty." Hudson paused to flip the page again. "And then he'd come over here and shoot you dead."

"Ah. But my princess in shining armor would come to rescue me in time."

"You're such an ass, Lex," she replied, just as the Aston Martin ran into her thigh. "And a bad driver, too. Another hit like that one, and you'll damage the front end alignment. Imagine if I bruised easily?"

Lex responded with a long-suffering sigh as he put the toy in reverse, and then proceeded to ram it into her thigh again.


"You make a better roadblock than tunnel, you know."

"You wanna go a round, little man?"

Lex flashed her a rare grin in response. "Don't forget – I know your weakness!"

What had begun in playful banter ended in memories that Hudson would rather have forgotten. Smile fading with Lex's remark, she closed the book in front of her and stood, wondering if she should begin cleaning the mess they'd made, or leave it for his staff. As little as she trusted any of them anymore, she thought maybe she should just do it on her own.

"Angel, what is it?" Lex set the remote down and moved over to her side, touching her cheek. "What did I say?"

Hudson shook her head and forced a smile. "Nothing – "

"Stop lying to me." He took her hand in his and forced her to turn and face him. He gazed at her for a moment, before saying, "You know I'd never use Kryptonite against you."

"I know." Hudson nodded and pressed herself against him, laying her head on his shoulder.

"Then what?"

She shook her head. "It's Christmas – "

"You're going to evade my questions forever." Lex sighed. "A part of me is beginning to wish you were the one who couldn't remember."

Hudson closed her eyes. "A part of me agrees with you…"

Hudson hadn't been gone long. She'd only left to meet with Chloe and give her a sample of the drug, which Dr. Foster had tried to give Lex, in order to get an analysis on it. Barely more than thirty minutes, and yet it had been just enough time for Lex to disappear – this time injuring Lana in the process. When Hudson had entered the barn to find her friend laying still on the ground, she had immediately feared the worst. Fortunately, while badly injured, her leg broke in several places, Lana was still breathing. Hudson had scooped her into her arms and rushed her to the hospital.

Now, her friend was laying there in critical condition, and Lex was… Lex was out there alone, somewhere, possibly having delusions, and injuring others. It was impossible for Hudson to ignore Chloe's warning that Lex had been through something like this before, as a boy, just after his brother Julian's death. Did Lex have a history of mental illness that Hudson wasn't aware of? Was everything really all in his mind?

"You know, I was never quite sure which of them was more out of touch with reality – Romeo, or his beloved Juliet."

Hudson turned at the voice to glare at Lionel Luthor as he came to a stop beside her. Unwilling to listen to his rant against her and Lex, she turned to walk away, but he followed closely behind.

"Wait a minute," he called out to her. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to find Lex." She spun around and pointed a finger at him threateningly. "If I were you, I'd be careful. Lex is convinced that you're responsible for everything that has been happening to him, and frankly, so am I."

Lionel sneered at her in derision. "Well, I'm touched by your concern, but you and I both know which of us is to blame."

Hudson's anger burned. She wanted so very much to hurt this man, and she couldn't bring herself to do it. "Mr. Luthor, I don't think— "

"No! No!" He interrupted angrily, taking a step toward her. "I don't want to hear it. If you had listened to me, Lex would already be getting the help he needs, and Miss Lang wouldn't be here fighting for her life!"

He might be right. Hudson swallowed back her response, but didn't back down, matching Lionel's glare with one of her own. She couldn't remember the last time she'd ever seen Lex's father so angry; normally he hid his emotions just as Lex did. He probably taught his son everything there was to know about hiding your feelings. Lionel wasn't hiding them now, though. Hudson was quite certain he was moments away from reaching out to throttle her.


Relief swept through her at Chloe's voice.

"Are you okay?"

Lionel seemed to collect himself instantaneously before her very eyes with Chloe's interruption. He straightened, and even offered one of his hallmark wolfish smiles.

"But don't worry about me, Hudson. My security personnel are well-equipped to protect me and to find my son." He glanced at Chloe for a moment, before turning back to her. "Now, I strongly suggest the two of you go home before you do any more damage."

There were a million things on the tip of Hudson's tongue that she wanted to shout to Lionel as he walked away – most of them concerning his questionable character and breeding. Before she could say anything, though, Chloe approached her.

"The drug analysis came back, H.C.," she told her softly. "It was just a common sedative."

"Oh no," Hudson whispered, pain knifing through her as she turned back to the window to stare at Lana's still form laying on the bed.

This was all her fault. Her faith in Lex, her mutual distrust of his father… She loved him. She wanted what was best for him, but maybe she didn't have all of the answers?

"Lionel's right, Chloe," she admitted. "I really screwed up."

"Maybe not," her friend instantly disagreed. "Look, there are a lot of drugs that could make Lex see pink elephants. The question is, how did it get into his system?"

Hope washed over Hudson quickly. Why hadn't she thought of that? It was always possible that someone else had been giving it to him, slipping it to him in some other fashion.

"The mansion," she replied. "Everything is brought to him there – the food, the drinks." Hudson hated to think on his own staff betraying him, but in the end, everyone had a price, especially when confronted by Lionel Luthor.

Chloe nodded. "So, for all we know, they could have been dosing him for weeks."

It made sense, and explained a lot. The last few weeks, Lex had been complaining about sleeplessness, about pain in his neck and shoulders. He'd appeared exhausted, and slightly on edge, losing his temper over the slightest things. Hudson had been blaming it on a delayed reaction to his time spent on the island, and their estrangement regarding her secret after his return, but maybe it had been something else.

She needed to get to the mansion. She needed to speak to Darius.

"Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?" Lex asked later that night as they lay amidst the soft sheets of his bed.

A fire crackled across the room, casting deep shadows over the walls that Hudson fancied could be demons hovering in the darkness, waiting to strike. She enjoyed the warmth it offered, though, as the temperature outside had dropped, the air heavy with the promise of more snow. Silently, she considered Lex's question as his fingers threaded through the strands of her hair; she listened to the steady drum of his heartbeat where she lay with her head against his chest.

"No," she answered honestly. "I asked for time to go backwards, and it didn't. I wanted a chance to make everything better, and I can't."

"While I'm inclined to believe in the existence of aliens, Hudson," Lex commented softly. "Belief in miracles is still out of my grasp." He shifted slightly, his hand resting against her back. "Someday, I'll build you a time machine, and you can change the world to your heart's content."

Hudson smiled at that. "Be sure to make it stylish. I'd hate to travel around in a clunky time machine. Something like a DeLorean would be nice."

"DeLorean's are junk," Lex told her. "What about a Ferrari? A Lamborghini?"

Lifting her head, Hudson smiled and leaned up to kiss him. "I'll leave the design specs to the mastermind. I just want to make things right."

"Mastermind?" Lex smiled, pulling her closer to kiss her again. "I like that. How about Ruler of All the Universe? I've always thought that had a nice ring to it."

Hudson laughed and rolled her eyes. "I think you're having delusions of grandeur again."

Lex touched her hair, playing with one of the strands as it curled around his finger. "Just as long as no one locks me up for them… "

"Lex, I – "

"You protected me, didn't you?" He asked, bringing his gaze to hers. He was silent for a long moment, searching her eyes, before touching a finger to her chin. "You looked after me. You always do, but something happened to interfere with that, and now you're beating yourself up over it. It isn't fair, Hudson. Whatever happened… You're not a superhero, you know."

"It's not… " Hudson shook her head. "Being a superhero has nothing to do with it. What you went through, it shouldn't have happened – and I mean all of it, Lex. Helen and the island and – "

"You had no control over that." Lex cut her off, eyes flashing with quick anger. "That was my fault. I made those mistakes, and I paid for them… We both did."

"If I'd fought for you harder; if I'd told you the truth sooner… " Hudson trailed off, and when Lex didn't disagree, she dropped her gaze, misery taking hold.

Silence surrounded them, broken only by the occasional crack of the fire. Lex's hand opened against her arm, and he caressed it soothingly, before finally speaking:

"We're past that, Angel. Maybe things would have been different if you had told me earlier… but maybe not. Maybe I still would have been angry and turned away from you. Helen had a plan all along. No matter what we changed, she may still have countered that."

"Is your love for me so mercurial, then?" Hudson asked sharply, her eyes meeting his.

"You know it isn't," he replied, holding her eyes. "But you can't deny that either of our actions have ever made the slightest amount of logical sense. You love me, and yet you lied to me for years. Who's to say that in my love for you, I do little more than continue to hurt you?"

Sighing, Hudson laid her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes. "Sometimes it hardly seems worth it," she whispered. "And other times, I'm certain I'd die without it."

"You're so very melodramatic," Lex commented, the smile evident in his voice as he kissed the top of her head.

Hudson refrained from pointing out that her life was a melodrama, from beginning to end, and Lex's part in it certainly didn't make it any more comedic. It was Christmas, and she should try to focus on the good in her life, such as the fact that Lex was safe and home now, and Lionel hadn't said any more to her regarding everything that had happened. Her parents were doing well financially since Lex had gifted them with the farm, even to the point that her father was attempting to pay him back with small increments each month. Of course, neither of her parents seemed to realize that Lex simply handed that money back to them by ordering produce in the same amount. Or maybe they did know, but didn't bother to argue.

Lex had spoiled her for Christmas as well, gifting her with things she'd never wanted, or needed. There was a fur coat, which almost made her cry until Lex told her it was the best imitation money could buy; at least he understood that she didn't want to wear an animal. There were fancy clothes and high-heeled shoes, all of which she could never wear unless Lex were taking her to Metropolis or something, and while they were pretty, Hudson just didn't think they were very practical. Only two of the gifts Lex had given to her made it onto her practical list – the Kama Sutra (seriously practical), and a pair of Ariat Maestro riding boots. There had also been some lingerie, which had made her blush and inform Lex that those were really just gifts for him. He hadn't argued.

In the morning, Lex would be taking her back to the farm where they would spend Christmas day with her parents. More gifts, lots of food, all of the people she loved together for the holiday. That should have been enough for her. It should have made her happy.

Unfortunately, the joy of the season continued to elude her.

Hudson knew she was in trouble. This time, she'd really gone too far.

After learning from Darius that Lionel had paid Lex's staff to put the drugs into his alcohol (and it hadn't been the easiest thing in the world, 'persuading' Darius to tell her the truth), Hudson had gone in search of Lex, hoping to stop him from doing anything too crazy. The search led her first to Metropolis, where Lionel had been accosted by his son, and he'd had a few things to say to her about it. He'd also told her to go home and leave the matter to the police, advice which she chose, instead, to ignore.

By the time she'd tracked Lex down, he'd made it to Morgan Edge's hideout – a palatial mansion hidden in the lush farmland to the south of the city, paid for by Lionel himself. It was a payoff of sorts; to keep Edge silent regarding his part in the murder of Lionel's parents, and persuasion to deter him from attempting to murder Lex. The more Hudson discovered regarding Lionel's machinations against his son the last few weeks, the sicker she felt. This was a man who was capable of murdering his own parents in exchange for the life insurance money but, for some reason, balked at doing the same to his son for his silence, because causing everyone to believe Lex was insane must have been more humane. Hudson refused to believe that Lionel had any semblance of a heart, therefore she would never accept that he actually felt any kind of love for Lex; he chose this method because it made him seem the bigger person, and it was less messy.

Everything would have gone smoothly when she arrived at Edge's mansion had the man not recognized her from their meetings in Metropolis over the summer. The fact that the same man who had committed murder along with Lionel, and was working as well to discredit Lex, knew who she was, didn't sit well with a man drugged into paranoia. Lex had accused her of working with both Edge and Lionel. She might have been able to convince him otherwise, but then Edge had pulled out a string of Kryptonite, incapacitating her. She had no idea how he knew of her weakness – she'd never exposed such a thing to him over the summer. While laying there on the floor -- with Lex hovering over her, threatening to expose her secret if she continued to work against him -- her mind flew through a myriad of possibilities as to how Edge knew. The only conclusion she could draw was one too frightening to accept.


No. That was impossible.

Her reprieve came when Edge tried to sneak off. Lex, realizing he was gone, hurried after him, gun in hand. Hudson hadn't been able to make it out to the drive fast enough to stop Lex from killing the man, but she had been able to push him out of the way before he was hit by Edge's car. She knew Lex wasn't thinking clearly; he never would have pulled that trigger, otherwise.

"Hudson?" Lex had looked up at her as a brief moment of lucidity washed over him.

She started toward him when she heard a vehicle approaching and turned to see a black SUV coming toward the drive. Dr. Foster was in the front passenger seat.

"Hudson… please. Don't let them take me," Lex had pleaded.

She didn't even think. She shook her head, sped toward Lex, picked him up and ran to the only place she knew would be safe. The McNulty cabin.

And here they were. And Hudson had no idea what to do next.

Lex was huddled in the corner of the tiny cot, still watching her warily, as if any moment she was going to open the door and let his father and Dr. Foster in. Some moments he was fine; others he was racing for the door, attempting to escape her. She told him about his staff drugging his alcohol, but it hadn't really sunk in yet, and she had no idea how long it would take for the drugs to exit his system. Hours? Days? Longer? She needed to talk to Chloe, and she needed to get some food or they were going to starve hanging out here.

Pulling out her cell, Hudson dialed Chloe, hoping that neither of their phones were somehow tapped.


"Chloe – "

"H.C.!" Chloe's voice dropped to a hushed whisper. "What's going on? Lionel was just here with the police! He claims you kidnapped Lex!"

"What?" Hudson ran a hand through her hair in frustration, glancing over at Lex who looked up at the sound of her voice, his gaze narrowing. She walked over to the door, sliding to the floor to lean against it as she lowered her voice. "You know that's not true, right?"

"Of course, I do! But the police don't. I'm here at the farm with your parents and they are freaking out."

"Has anything been on the news?" Hudson asked. "Like, maybe about a Morgan Edge?"

"No. Who's that?"

Hudson sighed. One thing going her way. Maybe Lionel didn't want anyone to find the body. Too many questions wrapped up in all of that.

"It's not important. Look, Chloe, you were right. Lionel paid Lex's staff to put the drugs in his alcohol. They've been doing it for weeks, now. I don't know if it's just to make him look crazy so that his claims about the murders are ignored or what. I need you to find out for me how long this stuff is going to be in his system. We also need food. Think you could pack something up and put it in the loft without anyone noticing? Once Lex is asleep, I'll sneak out and get it."

"Sure. I'll get it up there within the next hour." Chloe paused, then asked, "What should I tell your parents?"

"Tell them… " Hudson sighed. "Tell them I have to follow my heart on this one."

"They aren't going to want to hear that."

"I know, but Lex wouldn't hesitate to the same for me if our situations were reversed."

Her friend sighed. "I know, H.C., just… be careful. This isn't like catching Lionel Luthor cheating on his taxes or something. He isn't going to go 'gently into that good night', you know. Look at what he's been willing to do to his own son? If he finds you, I do believe he'll really and truly press charges against you for kidnapping."

Hudson feared worse than that, actually, but she didn't voice her own concerns. "I'll be careful, Chloe. Tell my parents I'll be careful… I'll call you tomorrow."


Turning the phone off, Hudson slipped it back into her coat before glancing back over to the bed where Lex had laid down, but was still watching her. She stood and moved over to it, sitting beside him.

"Are you cold?" She asked when she noticed him shaking. Not waiting for an answer, she slipped off her coat and draped it over him. "Don't worry, Lex. We're going to figure something out. I promise."

He watched her for another long moment before whispering, "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For hitting you at Edge's place. For saying those things… "

"It wasn't you, it was the drugs," she replied, brushing her fingers across his brow.

"I'm sorry for getting you involved."

"You didn't. I did." Hudson smiled and leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Get some rest. We're safe here."

Lex took her hand in his, threading their fingers together. "I fear that I'll never be safe, again." He closed his eyes.

When Hudson awoke Christmas morning, the spot beside her was empty, the sheets cold to the touch. Even though it was a frequent occurrence when she stayed the night, she hated waking up without Lex beside her. Part of it was fear that something happened to him, and the other part was fear that he simply didn't want to be there.

Sighing, she sat up and glanced around the room, noting that the fire had been stoked and built up to keep her warm, and that the covers had been tucked in extra tight around her. There was a glass of orange juice and a blueberry muffin on a delicate plate of china on the nightstand beside her, a tiny piece of note paper laying beside them. Hudson picked it up, smiling as she flipped it open and read the perfect scrawl of Lex's handwriting that flowed across it:

It's Christmas morning, and here you are
sleeping the day away like a lazy slugabed

What would Santa say?

She loved him more than she ever thought possible.

Climbing out of bed, Hudson tucked the note carefully into her overnight bag before grabbing the fluffy robe Lex had bought for her the year before, and slipping it on. She picked up the orange juice and muffin, nibbling at one and sipping at the other as she made her way out of the room and down the stairs to the study.

Lex was on the phone when she entered the room, barking at someone in German, and the tone of it all hurt her ears. The fire hadn't been relit, and the marble floor was cold against her bare feet, causing her to hurry over to the couch which she climbed up into and settled down to finish her light snack. Noticing her entrance, Lex moved over to the couch, continuing his conversation as he walked up beside her and slid his hand behind her neck, rubbing the skin there gently in greeting. She moved into his touch, realizing she was behaving like AJ, starved for the slightest bit of affection. Lex smiled down at her, and she returned it before he frowned and went back to yelling at the other person on the phone in the incomprehensible language.

Once finished with her orange juice, Hudson set the glass down on the floor beside the couch, and went back to breaking off pieces of the muffin and popping it into her mouth. It wasn't half bad, and she considered trying to get the recipe from the chef to take home to her mom. Her dad preferred pumpkin and banana bread to blueberry, so those were the only ones typically baked during the holidays. She thought it could use a dollop of fresh butter, but other than that, it was perfect.

"Sorry about that," Lex told her, closing his phone and slipping it into his pocket.

"Working on Christmas morning." Hudson shook her head. "There should be laws against such things."

"Merry Christmas." Lex smiled as he leaned over and kissed her lips gently. "At least I wasn't asleep."

"I was comfortable and warm," she replied, smiling up at him. "Thank you for the snack. I don't think I could have made it until lunch, though Mom should have some fresh cinnamon rolls waiting for us at home."

"And I'm sure you'll eat those as well," Lex teased before straightening his stance and moving over to the Christmas stockings hung on the mantle. He grabbed both and carried them over to the couch to sit down beside Hudson.

"More gifts," Hudson squealed with delight, taking her stocking from him and slipping her hand inside of it. She paused, and glanced over at him. "Wait. You go first."

Quirking an eyebrow at her, Lex reached inside the stocking and withdrew the first item. It was a bookmark, in the shape of a gold medallion, and the inscription on it read: Some love lasts a lifetime. True love lasts forever. He smiled softly as he stared at it, and Hudson shifted nervously beside him.

"It's kind of corny, I know," she began. "But I thought – "

"No. It's perfect." He turned to look at her, his gaze thoughtful as he searched her eyes. "Do you really believe it?"

Hudson nodded. "Yes."

He smiled and leaned over to kiss her, whispering, "Then so do I."

Turning back to his stocking, Lex pulled out a box of Russell Stover's candy and a bouquet of Lolly Pops. He glanced over at Hudson, and asked, "You trying to get me fat?"

She giggled. "Yes."

Lex shook his head and set the candy to the side, before reaching once more into the stocking. This time he pulled out a small box, delicately wrapped in bright red paper with a green velvet bow. Hudson found herself holding her breath as he carefully peeled the paper away, growing a little antsy as he continued to take his time to not rip the paper. When he finally had the lid exposed, he opened it to find a pair of silver cufflinks nestled in the box. Lifting one out of the box, Lex examined the small carving of Alexander the Great's image critically, while Hudson found herself fidgeting nervously once again.

As his silence continued, she found herself explaining, "I got the idea from a coin pictured in one of my history books. That one is Alexander the Great, and this one," she picked up the other cufflink from the box and held it out, "is Victory. See? She's holding a shield. I don't remember the name of the medallion. It was something that started with an A – "

"The Aboukir niketerion," Lex supplied for her.

"Yes. That's it." She smiled at him, realizing she should have expected him to know it. When he continued to refrain from saying anything, she worried her lower lip, and blurted, "Do you not like them?"

Sighing, Lex turned to meet her gaze. "You spent a lot to have these made."

She felt her cheeks flush guiltily. She had been saving since last Christmas, determined to buy him something expensive, something nice, something that she knew he could be proud of. She'd worked extra through the Fall, helping their neighbors clear their fields and move their cattle. When she'd finally saved up enough to have the cufflinks made, she'd been very proud of her accomplishment.

"You know I don't need that from you, Angel," he told her softly. "I've never needed you to spend money on me. Having you here is all I ask."

"I just wanted to get you something that you could be proud of, that meant something," she whispered, trying valiantly to fight back the tears that threatened.

Lex shook his head, slipping the cufflinks back into the box and turning to take her face between his hands. "Everything you give me means something to me, Angel. And I'm proud just to have you in my life." He leaned in and kissed her lips, lingering there for a long moment, drawing her lower lip into his mouth before letting go. "They're one of the best gifts I've ever received. I promise to wear them all of the time, and when I do, I'll think of you and you're love for me… the greatest gift of all."

When Hudson entered the cabin, Lex was pacing the floor, as had become his habit the last few days. As the drugs wore off and he became more and more lucid, his frustration was taking over. He was constantly thinking, and Hudson could tell that the lack of options available to him were working his last nerve.

"Anything?" He immediately asked, stalking toward her to snatch the Daily Planet from her hand.

"No. Not a thing," she replied, closing the door behind her and setting the small box of food on the table. "Still no mention of you or me or anything anywhere."

"What is my father's game?" Lex muttered, rubbing a hand across his chin as he scanned the paper.

"Maybe it's just pride," Hudson offered, opening a bag of Skittles as she sat down. "Maybe he doesn't want the public knowing all about the problems the Luthor family is having."

"Maybe," Lex half-heartedly agreed. "Though he's typically more than willing to share anything that'll make me look bad." Sighing, he dropped into the chair across from her and pressed his fingers to his temples.

"Still having headaches?"

He nodded. "I'm beginning to believe this crap will never leave my system."

"Chloe packed some Tylenol in the box this time."

"No, thanks. I've had enough drugs for the year."

Silence fell between them. Lex was lost in thought again, and Hudson knew better than to interrupt that. She ate the candy in her hand, and tried very hard not to think about what was going on. Her parents were still angry according to Chloe, but they had been calling her school, claiming she was sick, and Chloe had been including her homework with the food, so hopefully she wasn't falling too far behind. She couldn't begin to imagine what her next session with Dr. Jones was going to be like.

"I feel so fucking helpless!" Lex raged, slamming the paper onto the table with a growl.

Hudson wanted to offer comfort, but she knew Lex wasn't in the mood for it. She watched him quietly as he stared out the window, brow furrowed with anger that he was only barely repressing.

Finally, she offered, "You're doing as much as you can, Lex. With how perfectly your father has everything covered at the moment, there isn't much more you could accomplish. Considering we're both fugitives about the only option open to us is to go on the run. Change our names and move to Australia or something."

"As tempting as the offer is, Hudson, and I know you could get us there," Lex glanced in her direction, "I'm not going to let him destroy my life like that."

Worrying her lower lip, Hudson played with the empty Skittles bag for a moment, knowing that she should probably just keep her ideas to herself. Except, a part of her couldn't help but believe this was the perfect opportunity for them.

"Lex, would it really be so bad if we just… disappeared? Started a new life together elsewhere? I mean, sure, I'd feel awfully bad for doing such a thing to my parents, but you've always wanted to get out from under your father's thumb – "

"There's a difference between taking control of my own destiny and running away, Angel," Lex interrupted, regarding her intently. "Maybe the matter of giving up the Luthor name seems simple enough to you, but I don't see it the same way. I don't want to stop being who I am; I want to make something great of myself, and that includes my name. My father has done all he could to sully it, to destroy it. I'm not going to allow that to happen. When people say the name Lex Luthor, I want them to do so with respect, not antipathy."

"So, your name is more important than your life?"

Lex sighed and glanced back out the window. "I know you don't understand, Hudson, and I don't expect, or even want, you to. By the time that man is done with me, my name will be all I'll have left."

Hudson kicked at the table leg. "You have me."

"I do, don't I?" He was watching her again, and giving her just a hint of a smile. "Who knows what would have happened to me if you hadn't been there, looking after me? But, I need to do this for myself now."

"I know," Hudson agreed, knowing that his immense pride was something she loved him for, even if it was a little ridiculous. "But how, Lex? You have no resources to speak of right now. Your father controls all of your assets, has anyone who would have helped you believing that you're insane and on the run – "

"That's it!"

Hudson blinked at Lex's sudden tone of hope. He snapped his fingers once and was staring at her, contemplating, and she couldn't help but wonder if maybe he were having a relapse from the drugs. "What?"

"My father couldn't have everyone convinced – Bruce would never believe him!"

"Bruce Wayne?"

Lex nodded, standing up to pace the floor once again. "He's never held my father in very high regard, and he has just the right assets and contacts to go up against him. I'm certain he would be willing to help me. We just need to get word to him." He stopped and was looking at her again.

"What? Me?" She shook her head. "You know what a fool I made of myself when we went to his birthday party! I'll take you to Gotham and – "

Lex shook his head. "I'm too noticeable, Hudson. Besides, if I'm wrong, we could be playing right into my father's hands. No, I'm going to need you to go there and speak with Bruce directly. You're good at reading people. Find out if he's willing to help me, and then we'll go from there. After all, just because he's a friend doesn't mean I trust him."

"Nice attitude." Hudson stood up, grabbing two Snickers bars from the box and tucking them into her jacket. "Are you going to be all right alone? Who knows how long this will take…"

"I'll be fine." Lex moved over to her, placing his hands on her arms and leaning in to kiss her. "I'm truly indebted to you, Angel. Everything you've done for me… you're more and more amazing to me every day."

She felt her face warm at his praise, and lightly tapped his chest. "Stop! Or my head will be too big to fit back through the door."

Smiling, Lex gave her another quick kiss before Hudson headed off to Gotham.

She hadn't been exaggerating about her last encounter with Bruce Wayne. She'd single-handedly brought an end to his birthday celebration by almost setting his home on fire. Of course, it hadn't really been her fault, but Lex and Hudson had to keep that to themselves. Even though Lex assured her that Bruce hadn't been angry with her, and Bruce himself had told her the same, she still felt awful about breaking up the party. Oh, and there was the whole trip to the ER for poor Alfred's ankle.

Needless to say, she was hesitant about entering Gotham, and even more so about stepping on to the Wayne property. If it wasn't that Lex needed her help, and that maybe Bruce Wayne was their only solution to bringing Lionel to justice, then she wouldn't have been there at all.

Of course, Alfred promptly answered the door after she rang the bell, and surprisingly he didn't run screaming when he saw her. In fact, he offered her a welcoming, if slightly disconcerted, smile. "Miss Kent. What a pleasant surprise. Please, do come in."

"Hello, Alfred," she greeted him sheepishly, stepping into the grand entry way, though going no further for fear of causing another mishap. "Sorry to drop in on you all unannounced like this but… well, I was wondering if Mr. Wayne was home? I really need to speak with him."

Alfred was already shaking his head, and flashing her a look of regret. "I'm sorry, Miss Kent, but Master Bruce is not at home."

"Do you think I could drop in on him at Wayne Enterprises? It's really important – "

"You misunderstand me, Miss Kent," Alfred told her apologetically. "Master Bruce isn't in Gotham. In fact, no one knows where he is. A few weeks ago, he simply disappeared."

"Dis – disappeared?" Hudson repeated, the glimmer of hope Lex had given her slowly fading. "But, how could he just disappear? Surely someone knows how to get a hold of him! Alfred, I wouldn't be asking you, but this is very, very important. Lex needs his help, and we don't know who else to turn to and – "

"I'm sorry, Miss Kent." Alfred reached out and patted her shoulder consolingly. "I wish that I had better news for you. I'm certain that were he here, Master Bruce wouldn't hesitate to lend his help to Master Lex. Unfortunately, he left no notice for me. Frankly, I fear the worst."

Hudson just stood there, blinking at him in silence, unable to comprehend that their one shot at getting out of the predicament they were in was gone. If it wasn't that Lex needed her so badly, Hudson would have gone in search of Bruce, especially considering how concerned Alfred obviously was for his employer. She had other problems demanding her attention at the moment, though.

"Is there anything I can do, Miss Kent?" Alfred offered.

"No." Hudson sighed and glanced toward the door. "I've taken up enough of your time as it is. Thank you, Alfred. Please, if you hear anything with regards to Bruce, let him know Lex needs his help. All right?"

"I will be certain to do so, Miss Kent."

"Thank you."

Hudson played with the delicate gold charm bracelet that she wore, marveling over each of the carefully chosen charms. There was a tiny Porsche to represent how they met, an Ankh to symbolize the life she restored to him, a rose for his first declaration of love to her, a funny-looking little rocket ship that had made her laugh when she saw it, an angel complete with wings, an H and an L separated by a diamond heart, and finally a simple gold circle. "For eternity" Lex had told her and then, as if he'd said too much, he had stood and walked away, promptly making another business call. Knowing that he never liked to show too much of himself, Hudson allowed him the time alone, only nearing him to offer another kiss of thanks before heading upstairs to get showered and ready for the day.

When Lex joined her later, nothing was said regarding the bracelet or the cufflinks. They were each wearing their precious gifts, and they smiled at one another when they realized it, but both were too exposed, recent wounds still too tender, to allow for comment. In truth, Hudson enjoyed the silence between them, pleased that they were comfortable enough, and read one another well enough, to go without words for a time. The moment she needed help with the clasp of her necklace, Lex was behind her, silently offering his assistance before pressing a tender kiss against her neck. The peacefulness of the morning was almost enough to make her forget; to believe that everything was fine and normal and perfect.


"It's odd," Lex commented as they walked down the stairs together toward the front hall. "For years, Christmas hasn't meant much to me, and then you came along and changed all of that. And this year, I almost missed Christmas." He glanced over at her. "If they hadn't released me by now, would you have visited?"

Hudson forced a smile, and slipped her hand into his, squeezing it lightly. "You know I would have. We could have torn little snow flakes out of paper, and shared an awful Christmas dinner from the cafeteria together."

He gave her a half smile and shook his head. "I wouldn't have allowed it. That's not the right kind of Christmas for you."

"You wouldn't have been allowed to have a say. I would have shown up anyway."

"Is that so?"


Chuckling, Lex dropped her hand as they reached the end of the stairs and moved over the coat rack to grab their coats. Hudson clutched her hands together in front of her and continued to smile, when deep inside all she wanted to do was cry. A week ago, she had feared that Lionel might never let Lex out of Belle Reve, that the electric shock therapy simply wasn't enough for him, and that maybe he was punishing her as well. As Lex moved back over to her, Hudson remained on the last step, reaching out to touch his cheek as he neared her. He looked up to meet her gaze in a silent query.

"I love you, Lex. I don't think I say it enough."

Shaking his head, Lex smiled and indicated for her to turn so he could help her put her coat on. "I'm not going to argue against you saying it," he teased, though there was something in his tone that told her he truly meant it.

"Just don't say it too much. It might make it less true."

Hudson didn't know what to say to that. She remained silent as he slipped the coat over her shoulders, and then his arms wrapped around her and he just held her against him for a long moment, his cheek laying on the back of her shoulder. She knew he was thinking, could almost hear the gears turning in the back of his mind as he continued to worry over the mystery of the lost seven weeks of his life. She owed him answers that she could never give him. That fact alone made the gifts exchanged between them meaningless.

One day, he might never forgive her.

"We'd better be going," Lex finally told her, releasing her to slip his own coat on.

Hudson took the final step into the hall, and Lex took her hand, leading her out the door.

Snow was still falling from the sky, and the entire world around them was covered in a blanket of white. Hudson found herself smiling with delight at the pretty scene as she held out her palm to catch a few of the flakes.

"Isn't it beautiful?" She asked as Lex led her down the walkway toward the drive where someone on his staff had already pulled his Jaguar up to the house. Out of an uncharacteristic distrust, Hudson quickly scanned the entirety of the car, searching for any signs of tampering, and relaxing only when she realized everything seemed fine.

"It's cold and it's wet," he responded, flashing her a quick, teasing grin.

"Maybe I should make you wear a knit cap."

"Never again," he vowed dramatically, and Hudson couldn't prevent that laughter that bubbled forth.

Things would be all right. They had to be all right.

She just wished that she didn't feel so helpless and out of control.

"So, now what?"

"I'm… uncertain."

Hudson lifted her head to find Lex's eyes in the darkness where they glittered softly by the pale light of the moon filtering in through the window. If there was one aspect of their entire predicament that she was appreciative of, it was the quiet moments they were able to share during the night. When Lex was too tired to pace the floor, and it was too dark for him to force Hudson to get caught up on her homework (they couldn't dare to use lights at night for fear of being noticed), they would just lay down on the tiny cot together and cuddle, and sometimes talk. Lex never pursued anything more; it was as if a part of him were afraid that the drug was still present in his system, and he couldn't trust any of his actions. Hudson was okay with it. His health was more important than her rampaging teenage hormones at the moment.

"Whatever you want me to do, just tell me, and I will."

Lex turned to meet her gaze, and then reached out to touch her cheek with his fingertips. "You truly are my guardian Angel. You know that?"

She felt silly at his praise. After all, she'd done very little to help. "I just don't feel it's right for your father to get away with what he's trying to do."

"Life isn't always fair." Lex sighed, his fingers moving to play with a strand of her hair. "Perhaps… perhaps you were right, Hudson. Perhaps it would be simpler to just disappear."

That didn't sound like Lex. Hudson stared at him in silence for a long while until he shook his head.:

"I could never do that… not to either of us," he told her. "I could never take you away from your family, your home. You've sacrificed enough of a normal teenage lifestyle. I would never ask you to give it up completely."

Now that sounded more like the Lex she knew and loved. "What if I offered?" She asked.

He smiled and pulled her down for a gentle kiss. "I would never accept."

Returning his smile, Hudson lay her head back against his shoulder. "Do you think Bruce is okay?"

"If there is one person I've never worried about, it's Bruce Wayne," Lex replied. "He may appear to be little more than an eccentric playboy, but the fact is he's always harbored a little more depth than that. Hell, he's probably busy taking over some small country in Europe."

Hudson laughed. "You sound like you admire him."

She felt Lex shrug beneath her. "As much as one can admire a rival, I suppose. I know who the better man is." His arms tightened around her. "After all, I have you."

She snorted in response.

"Get some sleep," Lex ordered. "Tomorrow we'll think again, and maybe come up with a solution to all of our problems."

"Short of sticking your father on the next space shuttle, I don't see what's left."

"Let's not rule out that option," Lex remarked, keeping his tone light though Hudson knew better.

She chose not to contemplate the options for disposing of his father, that had likely crossed his mind at one time or another.

"I love you," she told him, closing her eyes to sleep.

"I'm counting on that," he responded softly.

She was only asleep for a few minutes.

It was the squeak of the cabin door that woke her, and she immediately sat up to speed over and prevent whoever was entering from doing so, but it was already too late. The moment she got to her feet, she stumbled, the agonizing burn of nearby Kryptonite sweeping over her. Instantly, she fell to her knees.

"Lex!" Hudson cried out, hoping that he could get away in time, but the only exit was blocked by four men. She lifted her gaze, watching in stunned silence as Lionel Luthor approached her, a block of pure, polished Kryptonite in his hand.

How? How did he know?

"Charming hideout, Miss Kent," he commented pleasantly before slamming the block into the side of her face, sending her reeling to the floor.

"Leave her alone!" Lex snarled, rushing his father as Hudson tried to regain her bearings. She could feel the blood beneath her skin threatening to boil.

Before Lex could reach his father, the men accompanying him grabbed him from behind, holding him back. He struggled in their grasp, trying to get to his father, or her, Hudson wasn't certain. She blinked back the opaqueness that was clouding her eyes. Forcing the pain aside, she rolled over, attempting to get back to her feet, her limbs shaking against her weight.

"I've been worried about you, Son."

"You sure as hell have a funny way of showing it, Dad."

"I blame this little mishap on Miss Kent," Lionel continued, ignoring his son's jibe. "If she hadn't gotten in the way, you would have had help by now. You would have been on the slow process to recovery – "

"Save the crap for your next press release, Dad," Lex interrupted. "My mind's clear now. I know what you've been doing. Hudson found out that my staff has been drugging my alcohol according to your orders, so you can just cease with the outpouring of feigned concern for my well-being."

"Is that so?" Lionel glanced down at Hudson, gaze narrowing a bit as he watched her.

He looked back at Lex and remarked, "It really is difficult to find good help these days, I'll admit, but you can't continue to blame everyone else for your psychological and emotional shortcomings, Lex. Next thing we know, you'll put the blame on… oh, what was the name of your imaginary friend on the island? Louis, was it?"

Lex uttered a growl of pure rage that Hudson had never heard from him, before launching himself at his father. The men held him back though, and with a nod from Lionel, quickly produced a syringe that they slid into his jugular vein. Within moments, Lex fell unconscious between them.

"Stop it!" Hudson shouted, stumbling to her feet just in time for Lionel to knock her back once more with the block of Kryptonite that he held. She slammed into the table behind her, splintering it as she fell to the ground, and Lionel followed her down, pressing the Kryptonite against her stomach. Nausea and pained consumed her, blocking out all else.

"I'm not certain what you are, Miss Kent, or what it is exactly that this stuff does to you, but I look forward to continuing my research in the future."

He reached out to cup her chin, pulling her gaze back to him. "At the moment, I have more pressing matters that concern me. I'm certain that you understand, seeing as how we both have the same goal in mind – that of Lex's welfare. Interfere again, Miss Kent, and I won't be responsible for my actions. Understand that my son comes first. Compared to him, you are a mere annoyance that can be easily, and quickly, dealt with..."

AJ ran out to greet them as Lex pulled the Jaguar into up the drive. Pushing the door open, Hudson bounded out into the snow before he brought the car to a complete stop, dropping to her knees to cuddle and wish her dog a Merry Christmas. She laughed as he lapped at her face with his soft, wet tongue, and mumbled to him about 'doggy germs'. Either her mother or father had tied a big Christmas bell around his neck, so that every time he shook, he jingled. It was a festive sound, and suddenly Hudson decided she needed her own bell as well.

"You're getting soaked, kneeling in the snow like that," Lex commented from behind her.

And one for Lex. He had the most annoying way of sneaking up on her.


Hudson stood, and turned to face him, hands on her hips as she watched him precariously balance the gifts he had brought for her parents, along with the treats his chef had made for their celebration, and her overnight bag. Grinning, she reached out to grab a few of the items before they all made their way into the snow and Lex somehow decided to blame her for it.

"You know the cold doesn't bother me."

"Doesn't mean you have to flaunt it," Lex replied, flashing her a smile as he walked past, and giving her cheek a quick kiss.

Laughing, Hudson hurried after him along the walkway and up the steps to the porch where her mother was already pulling the front door open.

"Merry Christmas, Mom," Hudson called out as she hurried through the door and kissed her mom's cheek.

"Merry Christmas, Honey," Martha replied, reaching out for the packages in Lex's arms as she leaned up to kiss his cheek. "Merry Christmas, Lex."

Hudson smiled at the stunned expression on Lex's face as her mother moved into the family room to deposit the presents under the tree. He was still standing there in the hall, just inside the open door, staring after her in bewilderment. Shaking her head, Hudson walked around him, pushing him forward as she shut the door, and slipping her arm through his to lead him in to the house.

"Well, there they are!" Jonathan greeted as he entered from the opposite direction to deposit an armload of wood into the fireplace. "I told your mother you'd be home in time for the cinnamon rolls."

Hudson flashed her mom a look of surprise. "You doubted?"

Martha laughed and shrugged. "It's cold outside, and a lot of snow fell last night. I figured you would at least take your time getting moving this morning."

"She did seem to prefer remaining snuggled under the blankets as opposed to opening her stocking this morning," Lex commented as he helped Hudson remove her coat, and then his own. "I think it was the promise of cinnamon rolls only that woke her up."

"You're all being very mean on Christmas morning," Hudson pouted, walking over to her father to kiss his cheek. "Just see if I don't eat more than my share of the food today!"

"And that would be different from any other day how?" Lex asked, narrowly ducking in time to avoid being hit by her gloves as they flew through the air.

A tug at her arm caught Hudson's attention, and she allowed her father to pull her to the side as she heard her mother babbling to Lex about the cookies and fudge sent over from his cook. Hudson watched as Lex followed her mother into the kitchen, laughing at a quiet comment she made. It was more than she had hoped for – to see Lex this happy and comfortable in her parent's home. Everyone was behaving as if nothing were amiss, and for the moment, Hudson found herself believing it to be true. She'd do anything it took to give Lex the happiness he so very much deserved right now.

Turning her gaze to her father, she saw that he too was watching as Lex and her mother disappeared into the kitchen, only a frown had replaced the smile he'd been wearing moments before. "Is something wrong?" She asked.

Her father glanced down at her and shook his head. "No. I just wanted to ask if everything had gone smoothly last night, or if Lionel – "

"He was there only for a moment," Hudson told him softly. "And then he left."

"Did he say anything to you?"

"Only that he expected me to look after Lex." She sighed.

"Sounds like a threat to me." Jonathan reached up to rub at the back of his neck. He was wearing a rugged tan sweater that Martha had bought for him on Christmas two years ago, and Hudson knew he'd complained of it itching in the past. "H.C., maybe you shouldn't go over to the mansion as much anymore – "

"And that won't look the least bit suspicious to Lex?" She whispered fiercely. "He already suspects enough as it is! If he keeps questioning – " She stopped and shook her head. "Dad, you know what Lionel said. I have to protect Lex. For him, for me, for all of us. And that means to pretend as if nothing has changed. Period."

"You should have never gotten involved," her father muttered.

Hudson offered him a wan smile. "But then, it was my parents who taught me about helping those who can't help themselves, wasn't it?"

"H.C.!" Her mom called from the kitchen. "You'd better get in here before Lex eats all of the cinnamon rolls!"

Laughing at the mere thought, Hudson leaned up and kissed her father's cheek. "Please, Daddy. Don't ruin today. Tomorrow we can worry about what Lionel may or may not do. For now, let's just enjoy the holiday and the fact that we are together. All of us."

Her father hadn't wanted her to make the trip, but her mother said she understood. It was no secret that Hudson blamed herself for not protecting Lex properly, for allowing his father to get close enough to take him away. Now that Lionel apparently knew how Kryptonite affected her, what were they to do? Run away? Change their names and move to some foreign country, forever fearing the long arm of Lionel's power reaching out to them? For the moment, Lionel was leaving well enough alone. He had even extended an olive branch, offering to allow Hudson in to visit Lex a month after his incarceration into Belle Reve. Lionel, it appeared, had won this round.

And Hudson kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It wasn't quite enough to keep her from going to see Lex, though. She needed to see for herself that he was all right, to apologize to him in person for not being able to do something more. She wanted to tell him that she loved him, and that no matter what the future held, she would be there for him. And maybe, deep inside, more than anything else she wanted to know that he didn't hate her.

So there she sat in the waiting room at Belle Reve, until an orderly would come to fetch her and take her to Lex. She fidgeted in the hard, plastic chair, and tried very hard not to breathe in too deeply the antiseptic smells around her. The building looked like a prison, and she hated knowing that Lex was incarcerated inside its walls. There was nothing she could do to help him short of staging a rescue, and her last attempt at hiding him away hadn't exactly turned out well. The woman at the reception desk had recognized her name when Hudson gave it; she'd mentioned something about 'Mr. Luthor' authorizing the visit. Hudson had wanted to shout at her that he was a murderer and was the one that should have been in there, not his son, but she doubted that anyone would listen. She was beginning to believe her parents were right; no one could fight Lionel Luthor. He was simply too powerful.

"Miss Kent?"

She glanced up at the voice to see a dark-skinned man approaching her, dressed all in white, his clothes appearing a little too small on his muscular frame. She stood as he reached her, and he held out a little badge that had the word 'Visitor' displayed in bright red beneath the lamination. Taking it quietly, she attached it to the pocket of her jacket, and the man nodded to her as he turned and started out of the waiting room.

"Just follow me," he instructed as he flashed his card at the door before them, releasing the lock. "Try not to make eye contact with the other patients. Stick close by me, and you'll be fine. Ever visited before?"

Hudson shook her head, holding her breath for a moment as the scent of antiseptic became stronger the further they walked into the facility. There was another lingering scent just beneath, highly unpleasant, like unwashed diapers and vomit. She tried not to think on that too hard, focusing on the bright white tile of the floor beneath her feet.

"You'll be meeting with Mr. Luthor in the common room. Don't worry, it's perfectly safe. If anything goes wrong, I'll be nearby to get you out of here."

Hudson wasn't worried about Lex, or any of the other patients, for that matter. It was Lionel who frightened her, and maybe just a little bit of herself as well. She didn't know what she ultimately planned to do to make things right again.

"Well, look who it is!" A voice taunted to her left, and Hudson glanced over to see Van McNulty glaring at her. "Hi, freak!"

He started toward her but the orderly with her stepped into his path, pushing him back.

"You're the one who should be in here!" He shouted as two other orderlies appeared from behind them to grab him and pull him away. "They should lock you up, you freak!"

Swallowing, Hudson quickly turned away from the scene, continuing down the hall as the orderly stared at her for a long moment before finally returning his attention to the direction in which they were headed..

"Hey, Kent," another familiar voice called out to her in passing as he stopped beside the wall. "Been struck by lightning lately?"

Hudson blinked at Eric Summers, stumbling over her own feet as an orderly appeared to push him along, a nasty smile flashing across Eric's expression as he walked off. Heart pounding, Hudson caught her balance and moved a little more quickly down the hall, ignoring the frown of confusion from the orderly beside her. Unfortunately, it appeared that the old saying was true – bad things happen in threes.

"Good to see you, Hudson. Tell my two girlfriends I said hello."

She stopped this time, watching as Ian pushed a cart filled with newspapers, magazines and books past her. His smile was more bitter than angry, eyes narrowed as he continued to watch her over his shoulder for a moment before disappearing around the corner. Hudson was beginning to believe that coming here had been a mistake. Lex needed her, though, and while it hurt to face the consequences of her actions against others, she still believed in her heart that she'd always done the right thing. These kids had hurt people. They needed help.

"You sure seem to know a lot of people in here," the orderly commented wryly, staring at her as if maybe she really was the one who belonged there.

Hudson didn't know what to say to that. Instead, she prodded, "Where's Lex?"

Shrugging at her lack of a response, the orderly waved a hand around the corner in front of them and led her into an open area, filled with many more patients, luckily none of whom were familiar to her.

Except one.

Lex was sitting in front of an easel, painting an odd picture of a man with flames behind him. She'd never known that he harbored artistic talent as well, and then realized she wasn't a bit surprised. When it came to Lex, she was very certain that he could do absolutely anything. He was significantly paler than usual, and very thin, the patient scrubs that he wore hanging on his lean frame. It crossed her mind again that he didn't belong here, not with these people, not in this environment. He should have been back at the mansion, sitting in front of a fire, a glass of brandy in his hand while he prepared for the holidays.

As if he felt her watching him, Lex slowly turned to meet her gaze, and a heartbreaking smile spread across his face. He was up in an instant, and they met halfway, Hudson immediately moving into his embrace and holding him tightly.

"I've been worried about you," he whispered, stroking her hair. Pulling back, Lex cupped her face, regarding her intently. "Are you all right? Has he hurt you?"

Hudson shook her head. "No. He hasn't… done anything since that night. I was surprised when he left a message saying that I could come visit you."

Lex glanced around at that, looking up at the camera in the corner of the room, and then back to her. "It could be a trap."

"I know."

"But you came anyway." He smiled and leaned in to kiss her quickly before taking her hands and pulling her further toward the back wall, away from the best view of the camera. When he spoke again, his voice was a whisper. "I think I have a plan," he told her. "I know where we can get money and help, you just have to get me out of here."

Hudson blinked at Lex apprehensively. "Lex, I – "

"I know it's asking a lot of you, Angel, after what happened, but the only way I can protect you from my father is to get out of here. They – " He stopped, eyes narrowing a little as he glanced over her shoulder. "I don't know what my father is attempting to do, but they've been feeding me these pills every day. I took them the first few days because I had no choice, but they were making my mind cloudy and muddled. I've been disposing of them ever since, though, so I've had time to think." He brought his gaze back to her. "I'm not certain how long it will be before they catch on, though."

"What about Dr. Foster?" She asked. "Surely she can see that you're not – "

"She works for him!" Lex told her, reaching up to grab her shoulders and shake her slightly, his voice raised. As if getting a hold of his emotions once more, his touch gentled and he moved a hand to cup her cheek, thumb caressing her skin. "I need you now more than ever, Angel. You're the only one who can help me. Please, get me out of here."

Hudson was trying. Along with Chloe, they got together at the Torch every day, trying to come up with a plan of how to convince the authorities to get Lex released. Their options were limited, though. Dr. Foster seemed to be the only solution, and she never returned any of Hudson's calls.

"Lex," Hudson began, hoping she could make him understand that she was doing everything she could. "This isn't… I'm trying to figure out a way to get you out of here, but I can't do what you're asking. My parents, they… Your father… This isn't just about you anymore."

"No, it's about putting a man away for murder," he responded angrily. "Do you feel safer this way, Hudson? Having me locked up in here, while he's walking around free out there?"

"No, I didn't – "

"Save it!" He snapped, pushing her back. "Apparently Hudson Kent only bothers helping people when it's convenient for her."

"Lex, please – "

"Get away from me!" He shouted loud enough to raise the alarm among the orderlies who quickly came to grab him. The one who'd led her in earlier appeared at her side, taking her arm.

"We'd better get you out of here."

"Go back to your cozy farm!" Lex continued to shout. "Go play martyr somewhere else, you selfish little bitch!"

Shocked at his outburst, Hudson was unable to respond as the orderly pulled her away from the commons area.

Hudson's belly was full, the people she loved the most were with her, there was a warm fire blazing in the fireplace, and a stack of gifts yet to open beneath the tree. Life was good at that very moment, and that fact was something she found herself focusing on. With a gingerbread cookie in one hand, and a glass of hot cider in the other, she curled her legs beneath her to sit on the rug in front of the fireplace and watch her dad and Lex play a couple hands of Poker. She hadn't even realized that Lex knew how to play such a rudimentary game, but his eyes had kind of lit up when her father suggested it. Of course, they'd dimmed a bit when her dad added that they would play for peppermints. In the first few games between them, Lex's heart hadn't really been in the bid for the peppermints, so her father had kept winning the hands. At some point along the way, though, Lex's competitive spirit had awakened, and now there was a huge pile of green and white, and red and white candies piled in front of him.

Her mom was still at work in the kitchen, cleaning away the enormous meal they'd wolfed down in far too quick a time. Even Lex ate two plates of food, which was extremely unheard of. The fact that his portions were only half of what Hudson ate didn't really matter – she'd never seen him have seconds before. Hudson, her dad and Lex had all offered to help clean up, but Martha had quickly shooed them out of the kitchen, insisting that she could get it picked up faster on her own than if she had to stumble around the three of them.

Lex appeared to be relaxed, and that was something that warmed Hudson's heart to see. It allowed her to enjoy the day, knowing that he wasn't worrying over what it was that had happened to him. She thought that if he could forget about it all for Christmas, then certainly he could do so until the questions no longer plagued him. They could all continue on with their lives, and he would be safe. She could keep him safe. If only the charade continued.

"H.C., do you want to put a movie on?" Her mother asked from the kitchen. "I was going to warm up the gingerbread cake after I get the whipped cream made."

"Sure, Mom." Hudson stood and glanced over their small shelf of DVD's before looking over her shoulder at her dad and Lex as they put the cards away. "Any suggestions?"

"You know It's a Wonderful Life is always my favorite," her father answered with a smile. "Got any suggestions, Lex?"

Lex had stilled for a moment in his chair before he shook his head and stood. "No. Whatever you choose is fine." He walked over to the window, his back to them, staring out at the falling snow.

"Ummm, we'll just go with that then," Hudson commented, pulling out the DVD case as her dad wandered into the kitchen.

She slid the disc into the player, her gaze continuing to glance toward Lex as she hit play. Paying no attention to the movie as it began playing, she moved over to the window to stand beside Lex, reaching out to touch his back, caressing it through the silk fabric of his shirt.

"Having a good time?" She asked softly.

"Mmmm." A whisper of a smile appeared on his face. "It's like a dream."

Hudson smiled at that. Everything did seem to have a dream-like quality to it that day. The softly falling snow, the warmth of the fire, the lingering smell of her mother's cooking, and all of the people she loved around her. It was definitely like a dream.

"It's like a dream," Lex suddenly continued, his head turning slightly as he brought his gaze to hers. "Except, it's one that I can't wake up from, Hudson."

She frowned at him slightly, not understanding. "Lex, I don't – "

"Your father has put his hand on my shoulder twice today, Hudson," he told her matter-of-factly. "He referred to me as 'son', once. He hasn't insulted the Luthor name, hasn't hinted at any of the dastardly deeds my father or I have supposedly done. He asked me about the weather, tried to engage me in a discussion about sports, thanked me three times for the pocket knife I gave him – "

"He's just – "

"Your mother has hugged me three times, for no apparent reason," he continued, ignoring her. "She kissed my cheek. She keeps asking me if I need anything, and smiles at me every time I look at her."

"It's Christmas, and they're – "

"But you're the worst, Hudson." He turned to face her, gaze softening as he looked at her. "You sit there across from me with this beautiful smile, and this outward appearance of happiness – one of the reasons I first fell in love with you. But you see, Hudson, I know you. I know you very well, and I know your eyes. There's a smile on your face, but your eyes show only fear – a deep, lingering terror that I can only begin to guess at." He shook his head. "This isn't a dream, Hudson. It's a nightmare, and I'm living it because no one will tell me what the hell is going on."

Hudson bit down hard on her lip and looked away from his silently pleading gaze. This was his specialty it seemed, ruining everything. Just when she thought the day couldn't get more perfect, it all came crashing down on top of her. Didn't either of them deserve just a little happiness without reality sinking in?

"What do you want from me, Lex?" She whispered.

"I want the truth, dammit!" His voice raised unexpectedly and he caught himself, glancing sheepishly toward the kitchen before turning back to her and lowering it once more. "I want to know what it is that everyone seems to be walking on eggshells around me. It isn't because you think I'm going to suddenly have another psychotic break, is it? No, it isn't that. It's something more. It's the unspoken something that occurred between you and my father the other night. It's the unspoken something that caused you to break down the day I came home. It's the unspoken something that has been hanging over everyone in this house all day today."

She shook her head, unable to respond.

"Hudson." He took her by the shoulders, forcing her to bring her gaze back to his. "I can't make it better – I can't let it go until you tell me what 'it' is."

"Do you think it's any easier for me?" She whispered, her control fracturing as she felt herself begin to shake. He wasn't going to let this go. Something awful was going to happen. She could feel it. "Lex, you're all that matters to me – "

"Then tell me!"

"I can't!" She yelled it at him, not caring anymore if her parents heard because they understood, they knew what was going on, and none of them could do anything to stop it. "Don't you understand that I can't!"

She pulled away from his grasp, and sped out of the house.

"Claire Fosters' dead."

Hudson stared at Chloe incomprehensively.

"They found her car wrapped around a tree off I-35. H.C., you know that Lionel had a hand in this."

Chloe was right. It was the only explanation.

The morning after Hudson's disastrous visit to Belle Reve to see Lex, she'd learned that he'd attempted an escape on his own, only to be caught before making it over the wall. Guilt had consumed her that he'd resorted to such measures because she'd turned down his plea for help. Shortly thereafter, she learned that he'd been scheduled by Dr. Foster for radical electric shock therapy. Desperate to free him, Hudson and Chloe had gone directly to Dr. Foster, eventually convincing her to go against Lionel and do the right thing. Lex wasn't crazy, and they all knew it. What his father had convinced her to do went against everything that was right. Dr. Foster had agreed to stand up to Lionel Luthor, and this was the price she was forced to pay.

Once again, Hudson knew much of the blame rested on her shoulders.

Her mind made up, Hudson stood and grabbed her jacket. "I shouldn't have gotten anyone else involved," she whispered as she started for the door.

Chloe reached out for her. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm getting him out of there, Chloe." She met her friend's worried gaze. "Somehow… I've been in there, I know the layout. I think… There should be a way to get him out."

"So now you're Houdini?" Chloe shook her head. "You won't be able to do it, H.C. They'll catch you both, and then you'll be brought up on charges. I can't let you do this – "

"I'm sorry, Chloe, but I'm not going to let Lionel hurt Lex any more. I promise, whatever happens, I won't drag you into it this time…"

Getting into Belle Reve was simple. There was minimal security at night, and the locked doors crumbled beneath her grip as she moved through the facility. Finding Lex's room was a little more difficult, but she finally made it to the secluded wing where he was being held. The moment she forced the door open, the sight of his recent incarceration sickened her – he was strapped down to a flat slab, a form-fitting cage fitted over his body like he was some kind of psychotic and dangerous individual. She wanted to find the person who had done this to him, and rip them apart.

Lex turned his head toward her as he entered, and his eyes instantly darkened. "Hudson! What are you doing here?" He whispered fiercely.

"Getting you out." She reached down and ripped the cage away, before kneeling beside him and tearing at the straps that bound his wrists and ankles.

"Dammit, you foolish little brat!" He berated. "It's too dangerous for you to be here!"

She sat back on her haunches and stared at Lex as he sat up, rubbing at his wrists. "But, you said – "

"I said it to get you away," Lex told her, sighing in resignation as he gave her a small smile. "I should have never gotten you involved in the first place. Angel, if I'd known that my father had any information regarding you and the meteor rock, I never would have – "

"I know." Hudson leaned in to kiss him, relief sweeping through her that he really hadn't been angry. "But I made the choice to get involved, remember? I'd never let you go through something like this alone. Come on." She stood and held out her hand to help him up. "We need to get out of here."

Just as Lex reached up to take her hand, a familiar debilitating sensation swept over her. Panic swept over her as she let go and spun around, only to have Lionel's fist slam hard into the side of her face. She felt the impact of a small chunk of Kryptonite breaking open her skin as she fell to the floor.


Lex leapt toward his father but two orderlies appeared to grab him, pushing him down to the floor where he continued to struggle. One of them punched him once across the jaw, only to have Lionel snap, "Careful! That's my son, you're hitting! Get him on the gurney."

Hudson reached out to Lex, attempting to grab on and hold him as they slipped a needle into his arm. She felt Lex's fingers close around her own, his gaze meeting hers, eyes filling with tears.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

She shook her head, wanting to tell him it wasn't his fault, but suddenly she was grabbed by the hair and hauled to her feet. The effect of the Kryptonite was sweeping through her, and she swayed unsteadily as Lionel held her in his grip.

"I warned you, Miss Kent, about getting involved," he snarled. "I'm trying to do what is best for my son, and yet you seem to be under the delusion that you are the authority as to how his life should proceed. I'm tired of the constant games, Miss Kent – the failed attempts at rebellion. The war ends here, and it's time for you to learn I always come out the victor."

Turning, Lionel dragged her out of the cell, pulling her along with him behind the gurney where Lex was laying, drugged just enough to keep him from putting up a fight. Hudson reached behind her, attempting to dislodge Lionel's hold on her hair, but the moment she touched him, burning pain flowed through her fingertips. She realized then that he'd had Kryptonite fashioned into a ring, which explained the throbbing in her head as if her brain were threatening to explode from the pressure of the effects. She wanted to cry at the unfairness of it all. She'd tried so hard to do the right thing, but Lionel had been one step ahead of her; knowing that she would come, waiting for her.

What else could she have done? Ignore the pleadings of her own heart?

"Please, Mr. Luthor," she tried to plead, tripping once. He held her fast in his grip, pulling her back to her feet. "Please, don't do this!"

"Silence!" He turned to flash her a dark glare. "If you hadn't gotten involved, none of this would have been necessary!"

Hudson felt a sob rise within her at his words but choked it back, not wishing to give Lionel any more proof of her terror. She focused on the gurney in front of them, and could see Lex watching her sorrowfully with a drug-laden gaze. She could feel her fear seeping through her limbs, almost over-powering the effect of the Kryptonite. A part of her kept hoping this was all some horrible nightmare – that she would wake up at any moment, safe in Lex's arms, tucked away in the warmth of his bed, and none of this would have happened. She closed her eyes and willed it.

Lionel's grip on her hair tightened, and she opened her eyes to find him pulling her through the doorway into a small room. The gurney was locked into place by the orderlies before they turned and exited the room, leaving Hudson, Lionel, Lex and one doctor in the room alone. She stared fearfully at the control panel on the far side of the room, knowing she could never reach it to destroy it as long as Lionel had the ring. Her heat vision was inactive. There was nothing she could do but watch as the doctor moved behind Lex and began attaching various electrodes to his head and temples.

She decided to try to talk to Lionel one more time.

"Mr. Luthor, please, I'm begging you… don't do this," she gasped, swallowing back a wave of nausea that swept through her. "I'll do anything. Lex and I… we won't go to the authorities. We won't… "

"Of course you won't go to the authorities," Lionel responded with a laugh. "There's nothing to go to them about. I'm sorry, Miss Kent, that my son's insane ramblings ever sounded truthful to you, but you should have known not to get involved in matters that have nothing to do with you. Lex is my son, and I have always looked after him. Long before you ever came into our lives."

Eerily enough, Hudson found herself wondering if Lionel truly believed everything he was saying. Was it possible that he had convinced himself he was not responsible for the death of his parents? That he hadn't drugged his own son? No, Lionel was a dangerous man, but she didn't believe he was insane. He would have been easier to circumvent if he hadn't been working against them with a perfectly sane and logical mind.

The drug in Lex's system was apparently wearing off. Hudson's attention was drawn to him as he began pleading with the doctor, "Please. I'll pay you whatever you want. You'll never have to work another day in your life."

Hudson glanced hopefully at the doctor who simply turned away and began working with the controls on the panel. Her heart sank.

"He doesn't want your money, Son," Lionel commented softly, pulling Hudson with him as he moved over to Lex's side and reached out with his free hand to soothingly caress his son's chest. "He wants to make you better. Just like I do."

"You're a liar," Lex responded, his gaze darting to Hudson. "Let Hudson go. If nothing else, just let her go. She's not a part of this."

Lionel shook his head. "No. She needs to understand that I'm the only one who can help you. You both need to realize how foolish you've been all along. If only you'd let me help you sooner… "

He sighed and shook his head, and Hudson felt his fingers moving against the back of her head, almost as if he were attempting to soothe her as well. "Be strong, Lex."

Lex's gaze narrowed angrily as he shouted, "Liar!"

"I'm sorry, Son."

The doctor moved back over to the gurney, grabbing hold of Lex's chin in order to attempt to slip a mouthpiece into his mouth. Lex began to struggle, panic appearing in his eyes. Battling the sickness that consumed her, Hudson likewise fought against Lionel, but her exertions only seemed to make things worse.

"No, don't do this, Dad!" Lex pleaded frantically.

"Be strong," Lionel intoned once more as he took a few steps back, pulling Hudson along with him.

"Don't do this, Dad!" Lex cried again before his gaze swept toward Hudson. "Hudson, please – help!"

"Lex!" She whimpered, tried to hit Lionel but it was a meager swat at best. She felt his grip tighten once more against her, and he shoved her to her knees.

"You must both be strong," he told her.

Lex was screaming, fighting against the doctor, and there was nothing Hudson could do but watch. She'd never felt so helpless -- so useless and alone -- in her entire life. Lex was begging for her help, and there was nothing she could do. She barely registered the tears that were running unchecked down her cheeks as Lex continued to struggle, crying out to her, to his father, until the doctor finally slipped the mouthpiece in, preventing further speech.

Beside her, Lionel sighed. "I'm sorry, Son. I didn't think it would have to come to this." His voice cracked slightly, and Hudson realized that Lex's father was near tears, that he really and truly believed that this was something that had to be done; that he had to do it.

And that scared her more than anything.

"If it were a gangrenous limb, we could amputate," he continued. "But the brain, unfortunately, is infinitely more complex."

Lex tried to speak, asking him once more not to do it, and then Hudson heard him say her name. She looked over at him, tears clouding her vision as she reached out a hand toward him, unable to touch him but hoping that he understood she was there. Whatever happened, she was there. He spoke again, and she thought she heard him say "It's not your fault."

"Do it," Lionel instructed to the doctor, and Hudson screamed with Lex as the rising hum of electricity swept through the room.

Running away was all she seemed to do anymore.

Hudson realized this as she reached Colorado. She stopped just across the border, milling around the town of Limon, its streets devoid of people as they were all inside celebrating Christmas Day. She was feeling sorry for herself and she hated that, especially when she knew that it was Lex who was going through the real pain here, not her. She couldn't begin to understand what it was like not to remember seven weeks of her life, let alone know that everyone around her was purposely keeping the truth from her. There was danger for both of them, true, but Lex was so much more fragile than her, and Hudson knew she could withstand whatever it was that Lionel tried to do to her. It might always seem that he was one step ahead, but she was stronger and faster than him, and certainly if it came down to it she could find a way to protect them both.


After everything that had gone wrong, Hudson's own faith in her ability to keep her loved ones safe was faltering. Sometimes it seemed that Lionel was the invincible one, and not her. Lex didn't get that. Lex held such a strong belief in his own independence, in his own strength, that he could never allow himself to believe there might be someone out there who was superior. It was one of the things she loved about him, and it was one of the most dangerous aspects of his personality. How did one explain that to him? Hudson wasn't certain, but she knew that something had to be done to convince Lex to let the last few months go, or things would get much, much worse.

A few minutes after she reached Colorado, Hudson turned and headed back home to face him. She didn't know what she would say, but she would think of something. Maybe if she cried a little he would give in. Lex always seemed to give in to her tears. Then again, he loved it when she was strong as well, so perhaps that would be the way to approach it. She just wasn't certain anymore. It seemed as if the man she loved were walking a tightrope lately, ready to plunge himself toward one side or the other, and Hudson was afraid that she wouldn't be there to catch him when he fell.

When she reached the house, Hudson stopped beside the porch, wiping away her tears and taking a few deep, calming breaths. She hovered there a moment, deciding her course of action, when the front door swung open and Lex walked out.

"I'm sorry for ruining your Christmas, Mrs. Kent. It seems to be a particular talent of mine."

Hudson couldn't help but smile at his echoing of her earlier thoughts. Sometimes, they thought so much alike.

"You haven't ruined our Christmas, Lex," her mom assured him as she followed him outside, closing the door behind her. "You're not the Grinch. And there's no reason for you to leave."

"I'm not certain your husband shares your sentiment after he watched me chase your daughter away."

"I doubt that H.C. has gone far. She enjoys gingerbread far too much." She reached out suddenly and took Lex's hand. "Lex, if Jonathan's angry, it's only because he fears for her."

Hudson ducked back behind the wall as Lex looked out across the porch in her direction. She heard him respond, "And I'm only angry because everyone is lying to me."

"We're not lying about this." There was a pause, and then, "Do you love Hudson?"

"You know I do," Lex answered instantly. "I always have."

"Then her safety should mean something to you, too."

"I don't see how – "

"He hurt her, Lex." Her mom's voice lowered, and Hudson leaned back around the corner to see that she had now taken both of his hands, clutching them tightly in hers as she spoke. "Hudson did everything she could for you, believe me when I say that. And in the end, your father hurt her. It's something she will never admit to you because she doesn't want to worry you; she wants you to see her as strong. But it terrified me, Lex, and it terrified Jonathan. You should have seen the state that Hudson was in when she made it home."

Hudson's gaze moved to Lex, who was staring at her mother silently, his face much paler suddenly.

"Kryptonite?" He whispered the questioned word.

Her mom nodded. "We don't know how, but he had it Lex, and he used it. He's threatened to hurt her further if you ever regain your memories. You don't want that, do you, Lex? You claim to love her. Does that love extend to keeping her safe?"

It wasn't the complete truth. Lionel had threatened to kill Lex if he ever discovered the truth, and Hudson tried not to think of how it would feel to lose him from her life again, so to that end, she knew his father could hurt her, damage her in ways she couldn't possibly imagine. From that perspective, her mother wasn't lying.

"I know that asking this isn't fair to you," she continued, reaching up to cup his cheek. "None of us can begin to imagine what you're going through. But Lex, Jonathan and I have spent years protecting our daughter, and we will continue to do so, no matter what it takes. You know what she means to us. You know what she means to every life she touches."

Lex made a sound. Hudson wasn't certain if it was in agreement or denial, but she could see the battle that was currently waging inside of him in the tense set of his shoulders, and the clenching of his fist at his side. Her mother had already told him too much, and now she was asking him to let it go, and Hudson knew what a sacrifice such an action would be for him. She knew it was eating away at him already, the simple thought of ignoring the questions in his mind, trying to forget that the few people he had left in his life to trust were all lying to him. She was just about to make her presence known, to tell her mom to stop, when Lex spoke:

"I understand, Mrs. Kent. I… Hudson is everything to me. I would never do anything to hurt her. All I want… I want to protect her."

"I know that, Lex. We all know that." Her mother smiled up at him. "And we all want to protect you, as well. Both of you will be better off if you just let this go. Someday, I assure you, you will learn the truth."

Lex seemed to deflate before her eyes as he slowly nodded in agreement.

"Now, I'm going to go make some hot chocolate to warm us all up while we watch the movie," her mom told him, stepping back toward the door. "I'm sure Hudson is up in the loft, waiting for you to come and get her. Tell her she is missing out on dessert, and bring her back into the house."

Lex hesitated for only a moment before turning towards the steps obediently at her mother's command. Hudson stared at the slump of his shoulders and the furrow in his brow, the guilt gnawing away at her deep inside. As he neared the edge of the path, stepping on to the gravel of the drive to head toward the barn, she turned and sped up to the loft to wait for him.

She was sitting on the arm of the couch when he arrived, her gaze set on the floor for fear of him reading too much behind her eyes. Uncertain of what he was thinking, she remained silent, waiting for him to say the first word, surprised when she felt him near her and finally sit behind her on the couch.

"Your mother is making hot chocolate to be served with the gingerbread," he began. "I guess she's worried you'll get too cold out here."

"The cold doesn't bother me," Hudson sniffled, only then realizing that she was crying again. She wiped at her eyes.

"I know, but she's your mother." She felt him lay his hand against her back. "Hudson?"

He was waiting for her to turn to him. She finally did, though she continued to keep her eyes focused on her hands, which he immediately reached for. He tugged at them until she slipped down beside him on the couch.

"I'm sorry I ruined your Christmas."

Hudson shook her head. "You haven't." She finally looked at him then, needing him to know the truth. "You couldn't. Your being here is all that matters."

"You know, sometimes I believe you when you say that." He reached up to wipe her tears away, and even gave her a small smile. "I know I don't say it very much, Hudson, but I'm happiest when I'm with you. No matter what may be going on in my life, even if I seem distant and cold, I know when you're there, and it means everything to me. Maybe that's why I fight it, because having you around makes me realize how empty the rest of my life is, and I don't like knowing that."

Her eyes widened at his words; she'd never heard Lex say such things to her… well, not in a long while anyway. He used to be open with her their first summer together; telling her his deepest feelings, thoughts and dreams. It's why she fell so hopelessly in love with him, seeing the Lex that no one else had ever bothered to glimpse. She'd allowed his withdrawal over the years simply because she knew that, deep inside, the Lex she got to know that one summer was still there -- he was just hiding from the cruel reality of the world. They'd both been hurt so many times as they continued to cling to one another, and they both reacted differently – her by clinging more tightly, and him by pushing away. It was a wonder that they hadn't torn one another apart by now.

"Lex -- ," she began, but he silenced her with a shake of his head.

"I'm not going to push anymore, Hudson," he promised her softly. "I have you back in my life, and I don't want that to change. Remember when I told you that I didn't like who I was when I was with you?"

Hudson swallowed, nodding slowly.

"That wasn't true. I've come to realize, I'm at my best with you, that I'm stronger because of your presence. I know my path. Without you, I'm lost. I'm only half myself. I'm not going to jeopardize that, again."

The guilt was clouding her mind. She hadn't protected him the way he deserved. Here Lex was, baring his soul to her, and she'd let him down. He didn't know.

"I love you, Hudson," he whispered.

Words she'd longed to hear again ever since he'd returned from the island, and now she wasn't worthy. Moving into his arms, Hudson clung tightly to Lex, and silently promised herself that she would never let him down again.

Hudson didn't know how long she'd stood there, watching Lex from the doorway of his study as he sat staring into the fire. She couldn't think of the right words to say, so she refrained from saying anything, preferring to simply drink in the sight of him. She was being a coward, she knew, but courage, it seemed, had abandoned her the night she watched Lionel Luthor rape his own son's mind. The night he had beaten her down with a ring made of Kryptonite, and taunted her with the threat of Lex's death should she ever tell him the truth before sending her home.

She'd made her choice. Her own safety hadn't concerned her. Even that of her parents… She could protect them, somehow, someway. Lex's life was far too precious to gamble with. She had no control over it, and Lionel knew that. While he felt some deranged paternal attachment to his son, they had both pushed him a little too far. Lex was safe for now because Lionel didn't want to lose his progeny. It was up to Hudson to keep it that way, to refrain from giving Lionel cause to believe that his own safety would be further secured by the absence of his son. Once again, she'd been forced to choose the lies, and she could only hope that Lex would never discover the truth.

That a murderer was roaming the streets freely was something she would never to allow herself to consider.

That Lex's life was worth it was something she would never allow herself to question.

Taking a deep breath, Hudson pushed her fears to the side and entered the study.


He turned at the sound of her voice and rose to his feet.

"Angel," he whispered, moving quickly to her and enveloping her in a tight embrace.

She trembled slightly before wrapping her arms around him. "How are you?"

Lex kissed her once before pulling back and gazing into her eyes. "Great, actually," he told her with a smile. "Strangely enough, never better."

His words made her ache. For a moment, she wished their roles were reversed.

"I heard you came to visit me, and… I wasn't very welcoming." He touched her chin, his fingers caressing her jaw. "If that's true, I'm very sorry. The fact that you came to see me means a lot, Angel."

She swallowed back the scream that threatened and asked, "Did your dad tell you why he had you committed?"

"He said I had a psychotic break," Lex replied. "They think my island trauma precipitated it. I'm just grateful my father recognized it in time."

"Me too," she whispered softly, hating herself. Hating Lionel Luthor.

As always, Lex was attuned to her emotions. He was watching her as he continued to keep her close, and finally asked, "Is there something you wanted to tell me, Hudson?"

Yes! Your father hurt you beyond measure! There was no psychotic break, just the evil machinations of a murderer who wants his secret kept!

"No," she answered, shaking her head. "I just… I'm glad you're back, and that you're okay. I missed you. I… I love you."

Lex smiled. "Even if I'm mentally unstable?"

Hudson bit her lip, vision clouding with the rise of tears.

Frowning slightly, Lex pulled her close and kissed her cheek. "It's all right. I was teasing, Angel. Everything is all right. Thank you for being there for me. Your love and devotion mean the world to me."

Holding tightly to him, Hudson gave in to her tears, and cried.