"I don't want excuses," Lex Luthor snarled into the phone as he paced within the confines behind his desk. "I want her found. You've been tailing her for years and now suddenly, without explanation, she disappears? If you don't want to spend the rest of your life asking your customers if they want fries with their order, I suggest you locate her in the next twenty-four hours!"

Snapping the phone shut, Lex turned just as Mercy, one of his two loyal bodyguards, entered the office. "What?" He barked as he reached out for the glass of brandy on the edge of his desk.

"Hope just signaled. She found her."

Turning toward the window, Lex gazed out across the cityscape, eyes narrowing slightly. "Where?"


"So, she's come home, then."

Though his tone was steady, bland even, the hand that held the brandy shook. He glared at his own fingers, gripped the glass until it was in danger of breaking before the tell-tale movement stilled. He sipped at the liquor, allowing the warmth of it to flow down his throat, seeping into his body like the anger he allowed to steadily permeate every ounce of his being. That she had the audacity to come back here, to show her face as if everything were forgotten...

"Do we move in?"

"Not yet." Lex looked down at the brandy in his glass, swirling it around the rim. He allowed a smile. "Not yet."

Martha Kent gazed out the window over the kitchen sink, her eyes searching the driveway for the second time in the last three minutes. Ever since they'd received a phone call last night from Hudson, saying that she was finally coming home, the anticipation of her arrival had become almost too much to bear. Martha hadn't been able to sleep, had barely made it through breakfast without burning the entire meal, her thoughts and conversation focused solely on the daughter she hadn't seen in seven years.

Her voice! Martha remembered the sound of Hudson's excited voice as she spoke over the phone. "Mom, Dad… I'm coming home. Tomorrow!"

She hadn't been able to contain her own childish squeal at the news as she turned to hug her husband and cry against his shoulder in joy. Their daughter had laughed over the phone and told them there was no need to pick her up and she'd see them in the afternoon, and then the phone had gone silent and the waiting began.

"I wish she would've let us pick her up." Martha had voiced the thought last night, while she had paced the length at the foot of their bed, going over everything that needed to be done before Hudson arrived.

"She'll be fine, Martha," Jonathan replied, looking up from his paper to give his wife a smile. "H.C's been all over the world without anyone to hold her hand."

"I know." She wiped down the counter that she'd already cleaned four times in the last thirty minutes. "It just seems wrong, somehow. We should be at the station to greet her, to welcome our little girl home."

"Maybe she wants to enjoy the countryside a little, take a quick spin around the state," he suggested. "It's been so long since she's been back… things have changed."

Martha nodded, gaze moving to the window and the pastures beyond. She bit her lip, remembering the day that Hudson left – the pain they'd suffered, along with the disbelief that everything had gotten out of hand so quickly. She'd been so young; none of them had known or even suspected that things would have fallen apart the way that they had…

"Jonathan, do you think it's safe?" She whispered, as if afraid they were still being watched.

He cleared his throat, stalling for a moment, eyes dropping back to the paper. "Well, uh, I don't think she'd risk the chance if she didn't feel it was safe, Martha."

"You know, he's never stopped looking for her."

"Yes, I know." He sighed and laid the paper down on the table. "But H.C. isn't the same girl she was when she left here seven years ago, Martha. We have to trust that if she feels the time is right for her to come home, then maybe she's correct."

"So help me, if he so much as harms one hair on her head – "

"For some reason, I don't think Lex would be very scared of your threat, Mom."

Martha spun around, hand hovering over her heart as she stared at her daughter, who was leaning against the doorframe, flashing a smile at her parents that lit up the room. "Hudson!"

"Hi, Mom."

"Oh, honey!" Martha ran over to her, threw her arms around her daughter and held her tight. "We've missed you so much!"

"I missed you, too." Hudson laughed, hugging her back. "Both of you. And the farm."

"Your mom wanted us to pick you up," Jonathan told her as he leaned in to embrace his daughter. "She was worried about you."

Hudson grinned. "I know my way home, Mom," she murmured, her voice heavy with meaning.

"It wasn't that. It's just… " Martha shook her head and smiled, brushing at a tear she felt escape the corner of her left eye. She took her daughter's hands in hers and pulled her toward the living room. "Come in and sit down. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tell us everything you've been up to!"

"Let her relax for a moment, Martha," Jonathan told her with a chuckle as he took a seat beside Hudson on the couch.

"Something to drink would be great, Mom." Hudson brushed her hair back from her face and leaned back into the cushions of the couch. "I've missed your sun-brewed iced tea."

"I happen to have just made a pitcher of it yesterday. Let me get some for all of us, and then we can talk."

Martha moved back into the kitchen and leaned against the counter to catch her breath. She clasped her shaking hands together and let the silent tears fall. Her constant fear, every single day for the last seven years, had been that she might never see her little girl again. Ever since that hot summer afternoon, when the careful world they'd constructed around their little family had been torn apart, Martha had never really believed that it could be put back together again. She'd told herself over and over that as long as Hudson was safe it really didn't matter if they were together; her life and freedom were more important than anything, but that didn't make her long absence any easier. Maybe Martha was selfish; she had wished to watch her daughter become a woman, not just see the results after the fact.

"Martha? You okay in there?"

Quickly, she wiped her tears away and forced a smile to her face as she replied, "Yes, Jonathan. I'll be right out."

Martha forced herself to concentrate on her task, and on the fact that her daughter was home now; and that maybe she'd never have to leave again. Maybe.

Walking back into the living room with a tray that contained a pitcher of tea and three glasses, Martha found her husband telling Hudson about the two farmhands that he'd reluctantly agreed to hire. Truthfully, Martha didn't know how they would have kept the farm running without the extra help; it was unthinkable how much their daughter had accomplished for them while she lived here. But Travis and Joel Brady, local high school boys who had grown up on a nearby ranch, were just the extra boost they needed to keep the farm in the black. Hudson laughed as she recalled the one time she'd agreed to baby sit the two boys, and ended up declaring that an evening spent with them was the best form of birth control ever.

Martha poured their tea before sitting down across from her daughter and taking a moment to watch and note the changes in her. Hudson was all grown up now, fully a women, with hints of character and strength framed in her lovely face. What 'baby fat' which had one time been present in her face was entirely gone, replaced with angles and sharp lines and perfect bone structure. Her hair fell to the middle of her back, was lighter in color and appeared to twinkle with gold threads in the rays of sunlight pouring in from the window. Her tanned skin glowed, and her movements were confident, poised and graceful. If Hudson had been beautiful before, she was positively stunning now, an intensely gorgeous kind of creature who was almost too flawless to be real.

"Where have you been all this time, H.C.?" Jonathan asked finally, setting down his glass of iced tea and fixing their child with a curious gaze.

"Everywhere." She smiled at them softly. "And nowhere. Places in this world that don't really have a name; that no one knows exist. There are so many amazing people out there, and so many amazing things. Wonders you can't believe, both frightening and beautiful." Her eyes flashed, and her face was radiant with excitement as she spoke. "I've learned so much about my place here. I've discovered… " Hudson paused, skin reddening slightly. "But that's not important right now."

"Everything is important if it concerns you," Martha corrected her. "It's been so long, honey, we want to hear everything about what you've been up to."

"Everything… is a lot."

Martha wondered at her hesitation; Hudson had been so open with them in the past. But that was a long time ago, she realized, and she shouldn't expect Hudson to fall into old patterns so quickly and easily. No matter how much Martha might long for it and wish to be able to return to some semblance of normalcy but then, their family had never been known for being normal, had it?

"Well, why don't you just start with recently?" Jonathan suggested. "Where were you before you came home?"

"L.A., actually." She smiled, relaxing. "I was visiting a friend out there."

"Someone you met these last few years?" Martha inquired.

"Mmm. We met not long after I left Smallville," Hudson explained. "I was at a loss for where to go at first, and ended up in California for a time. Something, well, very strange happened, and he ended up helping me out."

"Strange? You should be used to strange." Jonathan chuckled.

Their daughter smiled again. "Yes, well, I thought I'd seen it all in Smallville. Apparently, I was wrong."

"What does your friend do?"

"He… ummm, works in the Occult, you might say. His name is John. He… really helped me get back on my feet and find my strength to keep going in those first few months."

"I like him already." Martha reached out and touched Hudson's hand. "We were so worried about you, afraid that L--… that he might find you."

A shadow of sorrow seemed to descend over Hudson's face, and for a moment she grew silent again, gaze focused on the floor. Finally, she raised her head and nodded. "He did. More than once. I've had to move constantly – it's why I've seen so much of the world. I didn't mean to at first; I just wanted to settle in somewhere and wait it out. But he always found me, and eventually I just became used to running."

Martha silently cursed the man she'd once welcomed into her home. She knew it was uncharitable of her, and that the young man her daughter had first fallen in love with was nothing like the man of today. Through the years, she'd tried not to blame him for his actions; to remind herself of everything Lex had been put through by his father and others that should have loved him. Martha had been the one to keep the cooler head, to listen quietly as Jonathan railed and cursed the Luthor name. Her sorrow and deep-rooted anger were expelled in quiet tears in the kitchen while her husband was out in the fields; or up in the attic, clutching an old photo album against her, remembering days long past. Once, she'd considered Lex the son they never had; now, she sometimes found herself regretting the day that Hudson pulled him from the river.

"I hear he's built himself quite an empire," Hudson commented softly, her curious gaze searching her mother's face before turning to her father.

Jonathan grunted. "You could say that. Lexcorp." He sneered. "From half the stories that come out of Metropolis, Lex makes his father sound humble."

"Very few people knew the real Lionel Luthor," their daughter replied quietly. There was still a catch in her voice when she spoke his name, followed by the tiniest flash of fear in her eyes. "They didn't see the monster behind the man because he hid it so effectively."

"Well, Lex has learned a few tricks of his own, I assure you," Jonathan continued with a frown. "Don't allow yourself to forget, H.C. He's as power-hungry, greedy and unscrupulous as Lionel Luthor ever was."

"He's charming," Martha added, earning expressions of disbelief from husband and daughter as they turned to look at her. She pointed toward the television. "He's charmed the populace; won them over with pretty speeches and promises of a better future through the research and technology Lexcorp provides. He's involved in so many industries now that he employs almost half the workforce in Metropolis."

"The people like him?" Hudson asked, and it was difficult to ignore the thread of hope in her voice.

Jonathan shook his head. "They're afraid of him, if anything. They know he holds their very lives in his hands. If he wanted to, he could destroy the economy of Metropolis in an instant… just like he did to Smallville."

Martha pressed her lips together tightly at her husband's remark and shook her head, but it was too late. The question was already in Hudson's eyes as she glanced from one parent to another in growing dismay.

"What happened?" She demanded. "I haven't had a chance to look around town yet."

When her husband appeared unable to respond, the ever-present rage obvious in the tense set of his jaw, Martha reluctantly explained, "When Lex left, he closed the plant, as well as every other business he'd acquired, including the Talon and the bank. He refused to sell them to any buyers – they just sit there, empty buildings with boarded up windows, temporary homes to the occasional vagrants who pass through town and our own homeless – "

"Homeless? But Smallville doesn't have – "

"He took his anger out on the town, H.C.," Jonathan snapped, face darkening with his resentment. "Defaulting mortgages and loans on half of the families we knew. We were only spared because… " He trailed off, unwilling to admit he owed the safety of his home to the fact that Lex had once purchased it in full, and gave it back to the Kents. "Your mother and I kept waiting for him to find a loophole around that. But apparently he learned his lesson with Desiree, and made certain that even he couldn't renege on his own actions."

"What's left?" Hudson inquired softly.

Martha forced a smile. "The Fordmans kept their place; in fact, Whitney is back in town, running the store. He's married now, you know."

"To who? Do I know her?"

"No. He met her at K-State. Nice girl, though. She's currently pregnant with their third child."

"Third?" Hudson blinked. "Does he plan on starting a football team of his own?"

Laughing, Martha continued, "Some of the antique shops are still around. And the Piggly Wiggly. Most of the family-owned restaurants closed due to lack of customers, but Lucille's and Rooster's are still in business. Only one farm supply store is left and both auto dealerships have closed. We do most of our shopping in Abilene now."

She smiled at Hudson, having saved the good news for last. "Lana is back in town. She took over the management of Nell's Flower Shop because Nell got married and has moved to Metropolis."

"Lana is selling flowers?" Hudson smiled.

"That's not the biggest news," Martha told her daughter. "Pete is back in town as well – he is now the Mayor of Smallville!"

"Seriously?" Hudson shook her head, brow furrowing slightly as she turned to gaze out the window across the room. "So much has changed. It feels like I've been away forever."

Jonathan slid his arm around his daughter's shoulders and pulled her close, kissing the top of her head. "You have."

Smiling to hide her tears, Martha silently thanked whatever Being that watched over them, for bringing their daughter home.

Hudson lay in the center of the pasture, staring up at the night sky. She'd spent hours talking with her parents, reminiscing about her childhood, sharing the adventures she'd experienced over the last seven years and catching up on everything regarding the farm. Things were going well for the Kents; the crops were bringing in cash and they had been able to double the herd, selling both beef and milk to small stores all over Kansas. The concern she'd always harbored for her parents' welfare was alleviated a little by the news. Not once though, did they speak of the period during high school or the events that led up to her departure. In many ways, Hudson longed to talk about Lex, to share her memories of him with the people she loved, whom she knew had loved him at one time as well. She feared it, too; feared allowing her emotions to take over, so that they clouded her judgment and once more put the people she loved in danger. Maybe it was foolish of her to return, but it was difficult for Hudson to believe that Lex still hated her after all these years, especially now that she was home, back where the memories of their happy times together surrounded her. Surely there would be a chance for them to sit down together and talk about the past, and find a way to move forward. Right?

Sighing softly, Hudson rolled over on to her side to observe a lightning bug as it crawled over the top of a blade of grass. It perched precariously on the tip, its wings fluttering wildly to hold its position before it lifted off and fluttered upwards, a minute shooting star in the darkness. Hudson closed her eyes and lay very still, listening to the sounds of life that surrounded her. Mosquitoes hovered nearby as a small jackrabbit darted through the grass five feet to the left, its little heart racing as it sensed her presence. Beneath her cheek, an earthworm worked its way through the cool dirt, blindly seeking refuge from its predators. Prairie dogs were rousing in their burrow, and would soon be moving through their carefully constructed tunnels to peer out at the rising sun. Drawing in a steady breath, Hudson relaxed her senses fully, reaching outward toward the cows sleeping under the oak trees in the east pasture, and her parents curled against one another in their bed, their heartbeats steady and strong. She could hear AJ padding down the wood floor of the hall, hesitating a moment outside the door to her parent's bedroom before entering and jumping up on the bed to settle at their feet.

Everything was as it should be at home, and for that, Hudson was thankful. It was impossible not to wonder if her sudden return would change that for the worse, but it was too late to change her mind now; she knew how happy her parents were to have her back. The truth of it was, Hudson was tired of running. More than once during her travels, she was made to understand that her purpose here wasn't to hide away, ashamed of who and what she was, scared of what people might want to do to her. If she were ever going to forgive herself for the mistakes she'd made when she was younger, then she had to begin by paying the penance that she deserved. It was time to push her fear aside and take the final step toward the destiny that Jor-El and Lara had hoped for her to assume.

Of course, she knew her parents, currently sleeping soundly in their bed, weren't going to like it one bit.

That was part of the reason she was glad that she had her Fortress of Solitude – not the loft so aptly named by the Kents when she was young, but the real thing. A quiet cavern of ice and crystal, hidden deep within the Artic tundra, where she could go and be... who she was meant to be. Away from the anticipated disapproval of her parents and their fear for her; away from the friends who would never understand just what it meant to be who and what she was. It had become her one safe place in the world; and while Hudson hated having a need for it, Kaela-El desired it.

But for now, she was Hudson Kent, and Hudson Kent needed this. Smallville, and home.

Listening closely for the sound of any human heartbeats in the immediate vicinity (besides those of her parents), Hudson rolled over and smiled as she tucked her hands behind her head. The air around her seemed to give a slight shudder, almost as if it uttered a soft sigh, and then Hudson was drifting upwards, relaxed as she floated above the ground. Toward the edge of the woods, a doe paused in mid-step, staring at the creature that didn't resemble a bird at all, before it darted back into the safety of the trees. Laughing at the reaction, Hudson righted herself and then shot upwards into the night sky, closing her eyes as the wind brushed against her face.

This was something she hadn't shared with her parents, yet. Just how did one go about explaining that she could fly? Alien or not, it was pushing the realm of believability, and perhaps that was why it had taken Hudson so long to figure out that she was capable of such a feat. Once the realization struck her that it was an act she was perfectly able to master, she'd spent hours in the hidden safety of the Arctic learning how to fly. The actual flight part of the ability had been easy; it was the landing that took a little more skill, and a lot more patience. Between her fear of heights, and the nasty spills she'd taken into the ground, it turned out to be a good thing that her body was invulnerable. She couldn't actually say she enjoyed flying; for some reason, admitting to such a thing would be like announcing that it somehow made her better than humanity.

High enough in the sky to be invisible to the naked eye, Hudson drifted over Smallville, staring down at the sleeping town as a surge of protectiveness washed over her. For the past seven years, she'd buried her love for this town, and the feelings of homesickness that had engulfed her for the first few months after leaving. Now, they swept back over her, as she sharpened her senses for every little thing that could harm the town and its inhabitants. She'd taken so much for granted when she was younger, wanting nothing more than to move to the big city, travel the world and put everything about the small town and farm life behind her. It took her a long time to realize that her home really was the greatest place in the world. She knew that it would hurt a lot to leave again.

Making a quick descent, Hudson landed lightly on the ground, scanning the area with her telescopic vision to make certain she was alone. Once certain that the surrounding estate was empty, she moved through the thick underbrush that had grown up around the path to the front door, and twisting the knob beneath her hand, she was surprised to find that the lock had already been broken.

It was logical that her subconscious would draw her here. So many of her memories existed here that it was impossible to ignore them and pretend that the stately manor didn't remain standing at the edge of Smallville as a bold reminder of the good times both the town, and she, had once known. Hudson knew that she would end up cursing herself for giving in to the temptation to step inside, but that didn't stop her. The moment her feet stepped onto the marbled entry way, the outside world ceased to exist.

A fine layer of dirt covered the marble flooring. As Hudson adjusted her eyes to the darkness, she noted the cobwebs that hung from the ceiling and the dust motes in the air. It was obvious that no one had set foot into the mansion since Lex left town, at least no one who belonged there. Discarded beer cans and McDonald's bags littered the hall, and the occasional graffiti stretched across the walls including slurs against the Luthor name and various directions for Lex to find his way to Hell. They appeared to be from more recent years, possibly one of the current high school classes, and Hudson wondered what their reactions would be if they knew one of Lex's strongest proponents of the past was admiring their handiwork. Forced to bite back a smile at a few of the more inventive remarks, Hudson used a low level of her heat vision to scorch the more inflammatory scribbling away. She didn't think too hard about her reasons for cleaning the graffiti away, and tried to ignore the fact that she felt better for having done so.

The floorboards creaked beneath her feet as she moved to stand in front of the study doors. Reaching out, she laid her hands against the brass handles, and stood there motionless for a long moment, remembering each and every moment that she had walked through these doors. Sometimes she would be bursting with the excitement of seeing Lex, or with some news she had to tell him. Other times, she entered the study with reservation or anger or fear. No matter what it was that brought her to this place, she always knew as she opened the doors that she was entering Lex's domain, and sometimes that made her feel safe, and sometimes it scared the hell out of her.

Taking a deep breath, she pushed the doors open and stepped inside.

Everything was different, and yet eerily the same. There were gaping holes in the stained glass windows where vandals had hurled bricks and rocks. The once immaculate marble floor was now scuffed and covered in dirt and leaves. There was a discarded blanket from an apparent vagrant's temporary campsite beside the fireplace. More trash littered the floor, from magazines and newspapers to fast food containers and beer cans. A bra lay near the staircase and Hudson couldn't help but smile, amused at the imagined reaction Lex would have if he knew.

"Lex, what if someone sees us?"

"Then they'll get quite a show, won't they, Angel?"

Hudson closed her eyes and imagined the room as it had been before. The pool table with its immaculate purple felt was to her right, and Lex's glass desk sat in front of her, covered in laptops and monitors and manila folders spread across it –

"Lex, no offense, but your desk seems awfully plain. I mean, considering."

"Unlike my father, I prefer to impress people with my accomplishments, rather than my accoutrements… Don't roll your eyes at me. I'll have to poke them out."

"You could try."

Sitting down in the midst of the dirt and trash, where one of the leather couches would have been, Hudson curled her legs beneath her and listened to the silence. For a time, this had been her home, though it had never truly felt like a place where she belonged. She remembered being young enough, and so helplessly in love, as to proclaim that her home was wherever Lex was. Unfortunately, when it came to the mansion, that had never been the case. Lex had tried his hardest to make her comfortable and happy there, but fate conspired to work against them. Too many bad memories and too many outside influences prevented her from ever gaining a moment's peace on the Luthor Estate.

"Think you're the Lady of the Manor now, do you?"

"No, Mr. Luthor. I don't. But whenever you're around, you upset Lex. And I don't like it when that happens."

Hudson turned slightly to glance over her shoulder, gaze searching through the grime on the floor until she found faint traces of the outline left there by the police investigation.

"If you tell me you didn't do it, Lex, then I'll believe you."

"I didn't do it, Hudson."

Bad memories. This place was full of them.

Once more, Hudson closed her eyes, ignoring the angry voices she heard in her head, and concentrating on the first time she'd set foot into the Luthor mansion. It was a fairy tale castle to her back then, and Lex was the prince-in-residence. He'd even had a sword in his hand, prepared to battle the dragons who dared to attack her. He was beautiful and charming and sophisticated and treated her like a princess and, for a time, he'd belonged to her and her alone. She'd been so certain that she could protect them both, and that their love for each other would carry them through anything.

It was Lex who had told her that sometimes more was needed than simply love for a relationship to survive.

The hurt had lessened over the years to a dull ache deep inside of her. She didn't hate Lex; she doubted that she would ever be able to. If anything, she loved him still, though she knew there was no one close to her to whom she could admit such a thing. Their love had caused too much destruction in the lives of those around them, and she wasn't certain that everyone was as willing to forgive as she was. Nor did they harbor quite as much guilt. What she would do when she confronted Lex again, she wasn't certain; it was impossible to formulate a plan when it came to someone as unpredictable as he.

Opening her eyes, Hudson gazed out a hole in the window before her, staring at the gray light that was slowly spreading across the horizon. She knew this house would always hold a special place in her heart. For every bad memory she could recall, there were a dozen good ones to negate it. She clung to those like a lifeline, silently asking them to give her the strength she needed to continue on the course she was about to take.

Breakfast was already on the table by the time Hudson returned to the farm. She kneeled down to give AJ a kiss and scratch behind his ears before calling out a greeting to her parents.

"We wondered where you were," her mom commented, gaze sweeping over Hudson's form as if she were afraid something might have had happened.

"I meant to be back before you awoke," she explained with an apologetic smile. "But then I met Travis and Joel in the field, and decided to help them out a bit. They're much better behaved now," she added with a laugh.

"They're good boys," her father acknowledged with a nod. He waved her over to the table. "Hungry?"


Kicking off her shoes by the door to make certain she didn't track mud across her mom's kitchen, Hudson made her way over to the table to take her old place on her dad's right side. Her stomach rumbled at the stack of blueberry pancakes, a platter full of sausage and crispy bacon and a bowl of fresh fruit. It was terribly clichéd of her, but her mother's cooking was one of those mundane things she'd missed most of all during her absence. Reaching out, she piled her plate high with pancakes and fruit while her dad watched her with a slight furrow of his brow.

"Saving the bacon for last?" He asked in amusement.

Hudson shook her head as she liberally poured the syrup over her pancakes. "No. I don't eat meat."

"Since when?" He scoffed.

She felt her face flush at the disbelieving expressions from her parents. "Since, uh, I started feeling all of the different life around me," she told him. "It's difficult to explain but… well, I can't eat something that I can feel almost as if it were a part of me."

"If you go by that logic, plants are just as alive as animals," her mom commented as she took her seat.

"I know." Hudson sighed, toying with the food on her plate for a moment. She knew by the look on his face that her dad didn't either appreciate or understand this change from the daughter who always ate anything placed in front of her. At least in the past. "Trust me. If I could get away with starving, I would."

Not that she had ever actually tried. While she knew her body could likely withstand starvation without the effects that a human body would succumb to, Hudson didn't really think she could simply deprive herself of food.

"Well, I'm sure All-You-Can-Eat steak buffets everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief," her mom teased.

Hudson forced a smile before shoving a piece of melon into her mouth. If they were upset that she no longer ate meat, what would they do when they discovered she could fly?

Hair tied back with a red handkerchief, Hudson knelt in front of the cardboard box and dug through the piles of yearbooks and scrapbooks packed inside. Next to her, Martha was sweeping the dust from the floor, chatting contentedly about how they could decorate if Hudson preferred to move into the loft as opposed to staying in the house. Knowing it wasn't the right time yet, her daughter refrained from explaining that she wasn't going to be in Smallville for very long, and allowed her mom to continue describing her plans.

"I can't believe you kept all of this," she muttered as she withdrew a copy of her first story for the Torch.

It was a dreadful write-up on a swim meet that she remembered having had no interest in attending. The smile she was wearing at the memory slowly faded away as her gaze swept over a name. Chloe Sullivan. Her fingers brushed over the print.

"Of course I'm going to keep a record of all of my daughter's accomplishments," her mom exclaimed as she walked across the loft to another stack of boxes. "Why shouldn't I? Your father and I have always been proud of everything you've done, H.C.…"

Glancing up as her mom's voice trailed off, Hudson caught her mom watching her. "What is it?"

"I mean that, H.C.," she told her quietly. "Everything. Even the first person you chose to give your heart to."

"You mean Billy McIntosh?" Hudson inquired with a laugh, referring to the boy in Kindergarten she had chosen to be her first kiss, even though she knew her mom meant Lex.

Shaking her head, Martha turned back to the box she was sorting through. "You went there this morning, didn't you? To the mansion."

Worrying her lower lip, Hudson sat back and allowed the paper to slip from her hand into the box. "Yes, I did. I'm sorry, I just – "

"Don't apologize, honey." Her mom turned and gave her a small smile. "It's only natural for you to be drawn back there. Lex was a very important part of your life. We can't expect you simply to forget him."

Hudson bit her lip to keep from pouring out her true objective; that she had every intention of going to Metropolis and seeing Lex and dammit, if she had to, getting down on her knees and begging his forgiveness. Her parents would never understand that, and they'd certainly never accept it. For all that they seemed certain of Lex's inherent amorality, Hudson refused to believe that there wasn't still a chance of making things right, of showing him that not everyone was against him. More than anything, she just wanted Lex to be happy. If she could make him happy, or make certain that he was happy now, it was all she really needed to let go of the past and the mistakes she'd made.

Hoping that her mother would simply drop the topic of Lex, Hudson returned to her perusal of the box. Discovering a newer scrapbook tucked in the corner, she pulled it out and began flipping through the pages, eyes widening at the articles pasted to each page.

"Mom?" She glanced up in disbelief. "Where on earth did you come up with these?"

Flashing her daughter a quizzical expression, Martha walked over to join her, smiling as she seemed to realize what Hudson was referring to. "On the internet, of course." She waved toward the scrapbook that was filled with short news articles. "Your father was just glancing through the world news one day and noticed a small blurb about a miraculous rescue of a child who had fallen onto a subway track in New York. We knew only you could have been the rescuer. After that, we began searching for unexplainable rescues all over the world."

"This is insane," Hudson commented with a quick shake of her head as she scanned through the stories that followed her tracks around the world. She pursed her lips, realizing it wasn't much of a shock that Lex had always located her so easily.

"Oh, here."

Pulling her attention away from the scrapbook, Hudson glanced up to find her mother holding out a stack of unopened envelopes, all neatly tied together with a string. "What are these?" She asked, reaching out for them.

"Letters. We told Lana we had no way of contacting you, but she refused to believe us. Every month, at least at first, she sent or brought us another to give to you. I thought I'd keep them… Just in case." Her mom gave her a brief smile before picking up the book of articles and slipping it back into the box.

"What do they say?"

Her mom smiled. "I don't know. I never read them."

Curious as to the content of the stack of letters, Hudson scooted over to the wall, prompting a remark from her mother about the dust she was kicking up, and leaned against it. Pulling out the top envelope, she carefully opened it and began to read:

August 17, 2005

Dear Hudson

Your mom told me what happened. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am, or imagine how horrible this must be for you. Don't blame yourself for the decision you made – it was the right one. I know it probably doesn't seem that way right now, after everything that's happened. This isn't your fault. It's his.

Of course, the entire world seems to have changed now. You're gone, the Luthor estate is closed up – Lex moved back to Metropolis. But, I'm sure you already knew that. Smallville just isn't the same. The Talon is boarded up and no one seems interested in buying it. I know your mother really enjoyed working there, too. I'm preparing for college – I've been emailing back and forth with Pete and it looks like we're even going to be in some classes together. So, at least I'll have a friendly face nearby.

God, I miss you. A lot. I wish I could just hug you right now.

Anyway, your parents say they don't know where you are but I'm still going to give them this letter. I hope you're all right. I know you are, but I still worry.

Please come home someday. Lex can't stay angry forever.

Your friend always,

Lana Lang

The next eleven letters weren't as sad as the first, usually focusing on her classes, what dorm life was like and how much fun it was to live in Manhattan, Kansas. She never mentioned anything about boyfriends or going out, and Hudson wondered if the scars left by Whitney, Adam and so many others ran too deep for Lana to just let go. The more Hudson thought about it, the more she realized that the best thing for her to have done would have been to end her friendship with Lana. So many people that Lana had cared about had been using her to get to Hudson, and she had suffered greatly from those betrayals. Once more, Hudson was reminded that she brought far more pain than good into the lives of the people she loved.

Mentally shaking the thought from her head, she picked up the next stack of letters, which began a few months after the last.

November 6, 2006

Dear Hudson

Me, again. I'm sorry I haven't written in a while. I keep checking with your parents to see if they've heard from you, but they say no. It's difficult to see the strain all of this is taking on them. I wish there were someway that I could help out, but I've never been very good with farm work and school is so very far away.

Classes are going well and Pete and I have been hanging out together, so I'm not completely alone. I do wish you were here, though. It's silly, I know. We were really only friends for a few short years, but I treasured your friendship more than I think you know. Maybe it's because I really never expected your forgiveness after the way I treated you. Or maybe it's because you were just such a special person. We all thought you were, even Lex.

Speaking of Lex… My aunt tells me that the Luthor name is more hated in Smallville now than ever. Since Lex closed the Plant down and put so many out of work, people are leaving in droves. Businesses are closing, the bank foreclosed on farms and everything. The whole place seems to be falling apart. Aunt Nell says that downtown is beginning to look like a ghost town. It's difficult to imagine because everything seemed so vibrant and alive and promising back in high school. Or maybe that's the way high school is. You can't imagine the future being anything but bright and perfect.

I didn't mean to get so maudlin on you. If you get this letter, I'm sure you don't want to be sad. I hope you're well and you're safe and that one day you'll come home. We all miss you terribly.

Love, Lana Lang

The next letter was dated almost nine months later, and Hudson found herself wondering at the lull. Perhaps Lana had found someone to occupy her time, so that she could stop dwelling on the bad things. Maybe it was simply that she realized she couldn't spend her life wondering about Hudson all the time. Lana had her own life to live.

She stretched out her long legs to get comfortable and began reading once more:

July 25th, 2007

Dear Hudson

I'm home for Summer Break and I thought I'd write another letter to give to your parents.

It's been two years since you left and I can tell they seem to be giving up any hope that you're coming home. I know it's hard for them when they love you so very much. They have some help around the farm now, some guy named John Smith. I met him when I stopped by to visit yesterday. He's nice, really friendly and you can tell he really wants to help. We all had lunch together and your parents and I were telling him all kinds of stories about you. We all laughed a lot. It was a wonderful few hours and I think we needed it. I hope you have someone to laugh with and share your memories.

Lex remarried. I don't know if you're paying attention to the news or not, but you couldn't miss it if you were. She's some heiress from New York, I guess her father owns a shipping business or something. She's tall and willowy and brunette. I don't like the look of her. She's too cold or something. Or maybe she just reminds me of Helen, and I'm sure we all share the same opinion of her. If you ask me, it would serve Lex right if he married another bitch who would just as soon kill him as spend the rest of her life with him. Okay, I know that was wrong of me to say and you're probably right now shaking your head over my words and hoping that whoever she is, that she loves Lex with all of her heart. You're too good of a person, Hudson, and I know that you likely forgave Lex a long time ago, but I'm here to say you shouldn't. And you sure as hell shouldn't feel sorry for him. You did absolutely everything you could to help him, to love him and make his life better. If he couldn't accept or see that… well, that's his problem.

I'm sorry. I thought I was beyond my anger but the longer you're gone and the more I see him building his empire and lording over the citizens of Metropolis like he's some sort of king, the angrier I get. I wish that I could get in to see him. I just want to tell him what an ass he is. I want him to regret what he did. But I suppose that would mean he'd have a heart and a conscience, and I think both of those died long ago. Maybe even before the two of you married. I know you don't want to hear that, but I don't think you ever had a chance of truly saving him. If things had been different from the start, perhaps it would have been different. And no, that isn't your fault. It's his and his awful father's and maybe even a bit of your parents' and every one else in Smallville. Don't ever blame yourself for the man that Lex has become, Hudson. You did more than any soul could ever be expected to do.

I'd better stop before I say something I'll really regret. Besides, I need to go buy a baby shower gift. Whitney is back in town, and he is married. His wife is really nice, and they're expecting their first child in the next few weeks. At the moment, I don't know if I'd want to bring a baby into this world. I mean, if good people like you run away, and the kind of love that you and Lex once shared can't survive... then what is the point of anything?

Stay safe. Come home soon.

Love, Lana Lang

Hudson set the letter aside, frowning thoughtfully. She'd never experienced the bitterness toward Lex that Lana and her parents obviously had. A momentary anger perhaps, deep feelings of betrayal and a lingering pain that still afflicted her whenever the thought of him permeated her mind – and God, that happened more often than she wished to admit – but she had never hated him. The blame for all of it rested squarely on her shoulders, no matter what anyone argued, and that included the vengeance that Lex had taken out on Smallville. If Hudson had never trusted the wrong people, if her faith had never wavered in the man that she loved, if they had just stopped lying to one another for even a short time, then she never would have lost him. Hudson knew that as certainly as she knew her destiny was meant to be a lonely one.

The rest of the letters became intermittent at best. Lana described her classes each year at Kansas State, and explained why she had chosen business over art, which really came down to the fact that she didn't know what she would do with an art degree. She claimed her ability was average, at best, and certainly nothing that would get her noticed over someone with true talent. Hudson thought that Lana didn't give herself enough credit – she never had – and once more wished she had been there for her friend, to help push her in the right direction.

Lana's reason for returning to Smallville was simply that she missed home. Shortly after taking over her aunt's flower shop, she wrote that Pete returned to town, and had asked her out. She said yes and, by the tone of the letter, was pleased that she had done so.

Her last letter in the stack was short, yet Hudson found it extremely touching.

October 15, 2010

Dear Hudson,

I'm not giving up, really. I just don't see the point in writing these letters any longer. It was my way of pretending that you were still here with me to talk to, but the fact is, even if I stop writing, I believe that you are here. No matter where you have taken yourself off to, I get the feeling you're still watching over those you care about. If anything were to happen, you would be here in an instant, just like you always were.

We all love you.

Your friend forever,

Lana Lang

Forever. It had such a final ring to it, as though Lana had made a choice that Hudson was unable to make. She couldn't pick a forever with anyone; what she'd learned about herself through the years had made that finally, unarguably clear. 'Forever' for her friends here in Smallville meant what in her perspective would be a short span of years. 'Forever' for Hudson... was considerably longer.

"You haven't gone to see her, yet."

Hudson looked up at her mother as she placed the letters back into the box in front of her, and sealed it shut. "I… I'm a little afraid to, I guess," she admitted softly. "I'm not certain what to say to her."

"'Hello' would be a good start," her mom replied with a gentle smile. She reached out and touched Hudson's hair. "If she knew you were here, and that you hadn't bothered to see her, she would be crushed."

Biting her lip with a chagrined smile, Hudson nodded. "I know. I'll go tomorrow. I promise. I just… I need a little more time."

"Of course, sweetie."

As Martha set the broom off to the side, Hudson realized with a start that her mom had cleaned the entire loft while she'd been wrapped up in reading the letters. Guilt assailed her at allowing her mom to do something that she could have done in a few seconds.

"You shouldn't have let me go on reading those," she commented, climbing to her feet. "I should have helped with the cleaning."

Martha waved a hand in dismissal and gave her a smile. "I'll tell you what, you can help with dinner. Sound like a fair trade?"

Hudson grimaced. "Not when it comes to my track record in the kitchen. Dad does have a bottle of antacid handy, right?"

Laughing, her mom wrapped her in a tight hug. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you too, Mom."

As she turned to head back to the house, Hudson's gaze swept over the box one last time. Those letters were a tribute to the seven years during which she had walked out of the lives of those she loved. Seven years that she would never be able to give back to them. She couldn't change the past, and maybe it was better left buried. What Hudson knew she could do, though, was make it up to them in the future. In her heart, she knew she could make everything better.

Lana Lang knew she was still the prettiest girl in town. She was twenty-five now, but her age didn't show, and there were men all over Smallville who thought of her as the 'one who got away'. She'd heard them say so. During her school years, she'd been Homecoming Queen twice, the Harvest Festival Princess five years running and Junior Prom Queen, leaving the coveted title of Prom Queen for her best friend, who she felt deserved it more anyway. Even though she'd left Smallville to go to college, somehow the quaint little town had pulled her back in, drawing her away from more promising venues to take over her aunt's flower shop. She was safe here; she knew every customer by name, as well as each member of their families, birth dates, anniversaries, graduations and deaths. She knew addresses and phone numbers and delivery routes by heart, and most times she knew who was calling in an order just by the sound of their voice. The majority of people thought she was content to settle back into the life that her aunt, and her family before her, had carved out for her, and generally, they would have been correct.

Sometimes, though, Lana would catch herself staring out the window, remembering her summer in Paris, and wondering what her life would have been like if she'd taken a different path. If she'd had the courage to strike out on her own and not look back, not return to Smallville, waiting and hoping for something she couldn't quite name.

Today was one of those days. Business was slow and Lana stood behind the counter, gazing out the store window and wondering what the weather was like in Paris. It was horrible in Kansas; the air was thick with heat and humidity, forcing the majority of residents to stay inside, enjoying their central air conditioning. The weather reports claimed that the humidity would reach record levels within the next few days, meaning business would continue to be slow, because who wanted a bunch of wilted flowers? Lana preferred the winter holidays, when the bell over the door never stopped ringing and the shop smelled of pine.

She thought about calling Pete, and then remembered that he was in Topeka for the day, and she wouldn't be able to talk to him until the evening. He'd promised they'd go out for dinner some time this week, but he'd been too busy working late nights for the City Council and the Zoning Commission. Not that Lana really minded; she loved what he was doing for Smallville, and the plans he had for the future. He told her that he wasn't going to let Lex Luthor stand in the way of revitalizing the town, and Lana knew he meant it. Of course, she worried about him going up against Lex, but Pete saw it as a challenge he couldn't pass up.

The bell tinkled above the door. Lana glanced up to smile in greeting as Mr. Durrett, one of her suppliers, entered the store. "Good afternoon, Mr. Durrett! Hot enough for you?"

"Miserable," he replied cheerfully, wheeling the cart he was pushing around the counter. "Wasn't certain if these beauties were going to make it in the heat or not, but they stood up fairly well."

Lana knelt beside the pallets of chrysanthemums, and nodded her approval. "They're perfect. Mrs. Milton's birthday is tomorrow and she adores chrysanthemums. Her husband has already placed the order."

"Well, let's hope they survive the night!" He inclined his head toward the backroom. "Want them in there?"


Lana followed him to the door as behind her the bell tinkled once more, indicating the arrival of a customer. Wanting to get the chrysanthemums into the cooler before they wilted, she quickly signed the invoice from Mr. Durrett, thanked him for the delivery and decided her customer could wait another minute or two. Placing the bundles into buckets of water, Lana discarded the few flowers that didn't look as if they were going to make it overnight before closing the door and heading back out to the front.

"May I help – "

She stopped in mid-sentence, staring at the customer who was standing in front of one of the shelves, admiring a bouquet of dried wild flowers. It had been years since she'd seen her, but Lana knew Hudson Kent as surely as she knew herself. She was taller than Lana remembered, or maybe she just stood a little straighter, with a confident poise. She was achingly beautiful -- she always had been -- but there was something about her now that caused Lana momentarily to feel plain and ordinary, even when she knew she wasn't.

"You know, these are the only kind of flowers I'd ever be able to keep alive," Hudson remarked off-handedly as she waved toward the dried bouquet, breaking the silence that stretched between them.

Lana searched for a voice to greet her friend but couldn't seem to find it. Instead, she hurried forward, opening her arms to be engulfed in a hug from Hudson that was almost too tight.

"Don't tell me you're going to cry, too?" Hudson commented with a gentle laugh. "I've experienced enough of that from my mom."

"It's hay fever," Lana denied as she pulled back, and quickly swiped the tears at her eyes.

Hudson smiled at her knowingly, her own eyes glittering. "I'm suffering from the same affliction."

Lana stared up at Hudson for a silent moment. She shook her head as she reached out to grab her friend's hand. "I thought we'd never see you again."

Cocking her head to the side, Hudson asked, "Did you really believe that?"

"It's how I felt. You've been gone so long, and when I realized your parents truly didn't know where you were..." Lana sighed and looked away. "I guess a part of me just gave up."

When Hudson didn't reply to that, Lana glanced back up at her. "Were you safe?"

"Of course." She smiled, though it seemed as forced and awkward as the rest of the conversation, and pulled away from Lana's hand to wander around the store. "I like the changes you've made - the color that you've added to the walls, and the addition of the crafts. It feels more comfortable in here or something. Do you like working with flowers?"

"It provides me with an outlet for my creative moods," Lana responded, grasping quickly at the uncomplicated topic. She felt she needed time to regain control of her rampant emotions at Hudson's unexpected reappearance. "And it's relaxing. In the evenings I can just close the shop and work in the back, creating arrangements and listening to music. I guess I never realized before that my aunt may have chosen this particular business for a reason."

"Remember when we were young and thought we knew everything"? Hudson teased but her expression was serious.

Lana nodded. "Sometimes I think I prefer believing that I have everything figured out." She watched as Hudson picked up a Kansas snow globe and turned it upside down. She searched for something else to say. "I bet your parents are happy to have you home."

"Mmmmm." Hudson finally looked in her direction, the globe still clutched in her hand. "There doesn't seem to be much for me to do. Not with Joel and Travis there."

"I'm sure your parents are just glad to have you back, Hudson."

Hudson flashed her an uncertain smile as she set the snow globe back on the shelf and tucked her hands into the pockets of her jeans. "When does the shop close?" she asked. "I thought maybe we could go for a walk – "

"I can close it now," Lana replied quickly, moving behind the counter to remove the money from the register and lock it away in the safe. "Just let me take care of a few things and then we can leave."

"You don't have to close on my account. I could come back?"

Lana wondered if her laughter really sounded as hysterical as she thought it did. She couldn't stand the thought of Hudson walking out before they really had a chance to say anything to each other. What if she never came back?

"No. It's no problem. I only had a few customers early this morning. The heat," she offered in explanation before moving to lock the door. "We'll go out the back."

Five minutes later, they were walking along Main Street, silence between them once more. Lana was burning with a hundred questions she wanted to ask Hudson about where she'd been and what she'd been doing, and what it was that caused her to come home. She sensed, though, that her friend wasn't ready to talk yet, and so she allowed her questions to go unspoken for the moment. Instead, she used the time to watch Hudson's reactions to the changes around town as they walked.

Almost a third of the buildings along Main Street were boarded up; some closed due to lack of business or to having defaulted on their loans. A few had been deserted because their owners knew things would be better elsewhere. Seven years ago, a person could walk through downtown and say hello to more than a dozen friends who were out shopping in the boutiques, enjoying lunch at one of the small cafes or stopping into the Talon for coffee. Nowadays, the teenagers chose to hang out in neighboring Grandville, at the mall and its nearby theater. The only people left in Smallville were the elderly who had spent their lives here and couldn't imagine leaving, and the farmers who would die before giving up their land.

Hudson's shock at the state of ruin around them was obvious. While her eyes were drawn to the empty buildings, she would avert her gaze quickly, staring at the pavement beneath their feet as they passed each one. She grew increasingly more withdrawn, and Lana realized with a sharp pang that, knowing Hudson as she did, she probably blamed herself for all of this, for every misfortune that had befallen the town and its people.

Searching for a topic that would pull Hudson away from her concern for Smallville, Lana quickly asked, "Where have you been all this time?"

Beside her, Hudson started, as if she'd forgotten Lana was there. "Um, everywhere. Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia. Wherever my interests took me."

"Sounds wonderful," Lana remarked sincerely, giving her friend a shy smile. "What did you do? How did you survive?"

"I worked odd jobs – it was always easy to find work on farms," Hudson explained. "And slowly I put myself through school as a visiting student at various universities, eventually achieving a bachelor's in journalism. After that, I worked freelance."

Surprised at everything Hudson had accomplished while on the run, away from the love and support of those closest to her, Lana couldn't help but admire her friend's courage and resiliency. With an admiring smile, she told her as much.

Hudson shrugged it away. "I didn't really have much of a choice."

Lana realized that she wasn't reaching her; that there was some inexplicable chasm between them keeping Hudson's conversation aloof and impersonal. She couldn't help but wonder if it was something she had done or said to bring this on, but realized as she skimmed over their conversation since Hudson appeared in the shop that it wasn't possible. They simply hadn't talked enough for her to have said something offensive.

She cast a sideways glance at her friend, pondering any other reason for her uncharacteristic reticence. It was true that Hudson could have changed that much in the years that she'd been away, but somehow Lana didn't believe that mere time apart could account for her continued silence. They had both changed, and while that would certainly make their conversation awkward, it shouldn't have killed it completely. The only other reason that made any sense to Lana was that Hudson might not wish to reestablish their friendship. That thought hurt so much that she quickly pushed it aside, refusing to accept it as an explanation.

"I feel like I'm walking on eggshells," Lana admitted openly. "I'm afraid I'll say the wrong thing. Or that I have already said the wrong thing," she added, figuring that it seemed the majority of the town had been built on lies; but one consistency that had remained a part of their friendship once she'd learned of Hudson's miraculous heritage, had been truth. She needed to be honest with her friend now if they were going to get past this awkwardness.

Hudson stopped, turning to look down at Lana. "My mother gave me your letters yesterday."

She frowned, wondering if something she'd written had created this gulf between them. "I'm sorry if they upset you. I wrote them because I needed someone to talk to, and you weren't here, and I kept hoping your parents knew where you were and that you were safe – " She broke off as Hudson shook her head.

"The letters were fine, Lana. It touched me to know that you were thinking about me."

"What then?" Lana prompted. "Hudson, it feels like we're not friends anymore."

"We're friends." Hudson gave her a soft, apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Lana. I don't mean to appear distant. I keep thinking… "


"Nothing." Hudson shook her head and looked away, and Lana got the strange sensation that she didn't want to be there. That she wanted to leave.

"Hudson, you know you can talk to me, right? That hasn't changed."

"I know. But, there's nothing to talk about."

Lana made a face at her friend. "It certainly doesn't feel like 'nothing'."

Hudson opened her mouth as if to say something, and then promptly closed it again, and that was when the realization hit Lana that Hudson's behavior was making her nervous because she'd seen it before; more than once, in fact. Whenever Hudson got it into her head that she'd done something wrong or was hurting the people she loved, she had a tendency to run away, as if fleeing would somehow help her escape her problems. That was the vibe she was getting from her now, and Lana was two seconds away from smacking her friend with a two-by-four. Not that it would do anything.

"You're not staying," she stated bluntly. "Here in Smallville, I mean."

Hudson met her accusing eyes with a slight shake of her head, and Lana felt her anger flare.

"Do you know what it did to your parents the first time you left?" She demanded. "I realize you had to do it, Hudson; I know you didn't have a choice in the matter. But that doesn't change the fact that they were terrified for you, and hurt, and they missed you. We all did! And if you think for one moment that you can just waltz in here, say hello, and then take off again without so much as any kind of explanation – "

"Lana –"

"I'll have you know that I'm not going to stand for it, and neither will they!" Lana informed her. "That's what you've always done, Hudson – run away. From those who love you most, who want to give you their support and understanding and every time you do it, it hurts us! Well, maybe I'm sick of being hurt by you, and maybe I'm not going to let you do it, again!"

Turning, Lana hurried away from her, down the path, toward the parking lot where her SUV sat waiting for her. She heard Hudson call out from behind her, but she snapped that she didn't want to talk to her, and then broke into a run before her friend could see her tears.

If Metropolis was the seat of Lex's power, then the LexCorp towers were certainly his crown jewels. At first dwarfing LuthorCorp, and then incorporating it and adding to it, the towers soared over one-hundred and fifteen stories into the sky, casting long shadows over the smaller buildings around them. Taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago, it was boasted that one could see all six surrounding states from the top floor. Lex felt a certain sense of poetic justice in that. Out of the ashes of his maturation he had risen a stronger, harder man; the cold formality of Lionel's upbringing tempered by the city that embraced him, even if it didn't like him.

The citizens of Metropolis feared him, they respected him, and they needed him. Metropolis needed him. He, more than any other person in the world, could understand and shepherd his beloved city into the future. Standing there in his office on the 110th floor, Lex watched the toy-like cars as they fought for controlling position on the streets below. The sun was setting in the west, and lit the sky in a brilliant red. He sipped at the brandy in his hand and smiled. There were few sensations in life as heady as that of control.

At that precise moment, Lex was in full control of everything around him. His stocks were rising daily, in every one of the industries he'd entered into including manufacturing, research, media and refineries. His idiotic father-in-law had just had the good sense to die of heart failure, thereby leaving him with controlling interest in one of the largest oil companies in the world, thanks to the little pre-nuptial agreement he'd had his wife sign before the marriage. The economy in Metropolis was soaring due to the work programs, community housing and downtown renovations he'd instituted. And Hudson Kent was back in his sphere.

Deceiver. Betrayer. Liar. There were so many nicknames he could attach to her person, though 'bitch' was generally his preferred choice. Just like his father and so many others, she'd tried to destroy his life but in the end, he hadn't given her that chance. So many lessons later but he'd learned how to fight her, how to protect himself against her lies and deceit. Now, he would be the one to dominate.

"Mr. Luthor."

Turning away from the window, Lex nodded at Hope as she entered the office. She moved toward him with a natural grace that belied the strength behind it. His Hope was a wonder; a young woman he'd discovered tucked away at Belle Reve, where her family had placed her with Dr. Garner, hoping for a cure. Apparently, she enjoyed setting fires. Promising her a better future, Lex and Garner had set out to gift her with abilities no normal human being had. When they were finished, they had created the ultimate weapon, and along with that, Lex's fiercest and most loyal protector.

"You have information?" he asked as she handed him a manila folder.

"Nothing new. She's still in Smallville, apparently reacquainting herself with old friends."

Lex set his glass on the desk and opened the folder, glancing over the black-and-white photos it contained. He ignored the irregular beat of his heart as he skimmed over the pictures of her, just as he did each and every time he was provided with a new report. He would be the first to admit that Hudson was an exquisite woman; she always had been, but through the last few years her looks had become unparalleled. As his father had always taught him, though, beauty and treachery went hand in hand.

"She's been seen with – "

"Lana Lang," Lex murmured, interrupting Hope as he took his seat.

In the first few years after Hudson's disappearance, Lana had made every attempt to contact him, to meet with him or talk to him, and Lex had ignored her efforts. He really hadn't felt like listening to any more of her lectures on what a perfect individual Hudson was, and how he just had to understand her. Eventually, Lana had given up, and now she was apparently back in her realm, following Hudson around like a little lost puppy.

Closing the folder, he glanced up at Hope. "Anything else?"

She pulled a slip of paper out of the attaché case in her hand and held it out to him. "One of our people with the Daily Planet gave me this."

Lex took the document and scanned it quickly, raising one eyebrow in a mixture of surprise and the tiniest thread of anger. That she would dare to set foot in his city was tantamount to a slap in the face, and a challenge that Lex couldn't ignore. Perhaps she wasn't quite the coward he'd come to believe she was.

"When does she start?" He asked, tossing the hiring agreement to the desk.

"Next week," Hope informed him. "Shall I have her terminated?"

Lex allowed a brief smile at the thought. It would show her who was in charge, that much was certain. Nothing happened in his city without his express permission. He could send along a little note, expressing his deepest sympathy that her employment with the Planet wasn't going to work out. He might even request that the Metropolis Journal extend an employment opportunity to her – and then have her terminated before she began. Just a minor lesson in how things worked now that the city belonged to him.

"Lex! Are you still down here?"

Lex and Hope glanced toward the door to see his current wife, Melody, enter without knocking and flash him an exasperated look as she started across the room.

"You're not dressed, either," she remarked, shifting the white mink stole she wore around her shoulders. "Which means we're going to be late."

If he didn't need her in order to acquire the fifty-thousand acres of oil fields in Texas that currently belonged to her uncle, Lex would have found a way to rid himself of her annoying presence after the death of her father. As it was, he was forced to keep her around until she convinced 'Uncle Bobby' to add Lex into his will as heir to the valuable Montgomery lands. The fact that Robert Montgomery had no children of his own was helpful toward the cause, but Lex knew he would likely need an added nudge to push him to sign the paperwork. He made a mental note to have Mercy take care of that for him before focusing his attention on his wife.

"I believe I've instructed you not to disturb me while I'm working," he told her quietly, his voice edged with steel.

Melody had the lack of sense to flash him a petulant expression. "I didn't know you were still working, Lex, especially since we're supposed to be on our way to the opera."

"La Forza del Destino can wait until I am finished."

"But Lex -- !"

"When I am finished!" he snapped.

His wife blanched at the tone, fear crossing her features momentarily before she turned and threw herself into a chair across from him to wait.

Melody Beatrice Montgomery came from 'old money', and had never had to lift a finger to do anything in life other than make certain she looked her best. In this task, she always succeeded, from her shiny dark hair that was always perfectly coifed, to her manicured hands and feet, flawless pale skin and the diamonds she never went anywhere without. There was never a strand of hair out of place, or a smudge of dirt on her cheek, and her clothes never appeared overly-worn and frayed. Of course, she enjoyed his money and the immense wardrobe it provided, along with the ability to make any purchase from any jeweler in the world. As a hostess, she was exemplary, and Lex knew she was an asset to him among the social elite, especially after the story about his family came out during his father's trial. While the truth regarding the murder of his poor parents had destroyed whatever credibility Lionel Luthor had created in the business world, Lex had been regarded by the public as the injured party, the unfortunate, abused child raised by such a horrible monster. His victory in the face of adversity was probably the only reason the majority of citizens looked the other way when some of his dealings seemed less than ethical. That, and he had learned how to marry well.

Returning his attention to the matter at hand, Lex couldn't help but remember his short marriage to Hudson. Five months filled with bitter silences, thunderous arguments, a truckload of lies, and some odd emotion that Lex had mistakenly allowed himself to believe was love. Of his five marriages, the one he'd shared with her had been the most aggravating and disappointing. Three of his other wives had only conspired to murder him; Hudson's transgressions went far deeper than that, and he planned on reminding her of that every day for the rest of her life.

"Should I contact the Planet?" Hope prompted.

Lex shook his head decisively. "No. If she wants to come to the big city and try to make her way, then I'll allow her to do so. Besides, I find I'm curious to know what she's up to." He met Hope's gaze, telling her, "Once she arrives, I want to know where she lives, who she sees, when she sleeps, where she shops and what she eats."

"Yes, sir." Giving him a quick nod, Hope turned and exited the office.

"Who were you talking about?" Melody asked after a moment of silence, from where she sat, powdering her nose and admiring herself in her compact mirror.

"No one," he replied, dropping his gaze to the folder beneath his hands. He tapped his fingers against it a few times before opening his desk drawer and slipping it inside.

"Well, 'no one' certainly has put a sourpuss frown on your face. It's unattractive, Lex. You can't go to the opera looking like that."

"One more remark like that, and there'll be nothing to worry about, my dear wife, because we won't be going to the opera."

She pouted prettily, and when that didn't soften Lex's expression, she stood and walked over to him, reaching out to massage his shoulders. "Now Lex, you know I'm only concerned for you. You worry too much for being one of the richest men in the world." Leaning down, she kissed his neck, her lips stiff, almost cold to the touch. "Come on. Let's go to the opera. The Mayor is going to be there tonight. We haven't spent time with him and his wife in a social setting in weeks."

The heavy odor of her perfume was overpowering, and always made Lex think of the sweet apple-scent of Hudson's hair and how she'd smelled like the outdoors; hay and wildflowers and fresh spring rain . He stood abruptly, pushing his wife's hands away as he locked his desk. Melody didn't appear too ruffled by his rebuff; she readjusted the fur over her shoulders, smoothed her sequined dress and walked over to the chair to gather her handbag.

"I'll have the car brought around while you get changed," she informed him before making her way gracefully out of the office.

Lex glanced down at the forgotten glass of brandy on his desk, his thoughts returning to the news from Hope. In one week, Hudson Kent would be well within his grasp, to destroy as he pleased, when he chose. He had been preparing for this eventuality for seven years, waiting patiently for that time and day when she decided she couldn't stay away from her beloved home any longer. He could have had her at any time, he knew, simply by going after her family and friends, but that wouldn't have been nearly as satisfying. Revenge was sweeter when the recipient was caught unawares. He knew her well enough to know that by now, she had let her guard down, naively hoping that the past would have been forgiven and forgotten, and that maybe they could be friends again. It was how she operated, her modus operandi from the moment they had met. Do the unthinkable, the unforgivable, and then continue on as if nothing in life had changed.

In the past, he had forgiven her over and over, again. Now was the moment for Hudson Kent to learn that forgiveness, like time, always ran out.

Kneeling down in front of the simple tombstone in the quiet of the dawn, Hudson reached out to brush the dirt away from the name carved into the stone. She laid the bouquet of wild flowers on the lush green grass, and then wrapped her arms around her legs, resting her chin on her knees as she stared at the gravesite. The silence stretched on, reminding her of the peace she'd discovered in the Arctic, where the only sound to break the stillness was the howl of the wind as it swept across the frozen tundra. The difference was, the Arctic, even with its frigid clime, was teeming with life. She felt it and saw it all around her. The cemetery only served as a constant reminder that eventually everything died. Hudson loathed its existence, even as it silently taunted her, reminding her of that vision at Cassandra's hand long ago. Everything died, except her.

"I know I've been gone a while, Chloe," she began speaking quietly to her friend. "And it all happened so suddenly, I didn't have a chance to say goodbye. I'm sorry about that. I can see that my mom has been visiting you, though. She's planted flowers for both you and your dad. And don't worry, nothing too girly or anything. I believe she called them 'ageratum' – they're blue, almost matching the color of your eyes…"

She trailed off as she felt an enormous lump in her throat, remembering another pair of blue eyes, and how she had betrayed them both. Taking a deep breath, she forced any memories of Lex to the side, and concentrated on Chloe.

"You'd be proud of me, I think," she continued when she had regained control of her voice. "Apparently, when I took over as editor for the Torch after you – your – " She shook her head and tried again. "The journalism bug must have bitten me. You always warned me that it would, but I never believed you. And yet, here I am, a bona fide journalist."

Hudson bit back a smile as she could almost hear Chloe's quick retort to such a statement: You're no journalist until you have a list of contacts, including people your mother wouldn't want you associating with, and you've made a mark on the world with a story that only you could expose. Okay, maybe not the world, Chloe would have added with a grin. But at least you need to have touched your readership.

"I'm a long way from a readership, Chloe," Hudson confided. "But I have written for more than a dozen papers around the world, and have been places and seen things and met people that you couldn't have imagined. Not to worry, though, because you were with me the entire time. Reminding me not to be afraid to demand the truth, encouraging me to follow my instinct on leads, and to never, ever take no, or the lack of an explanation, as an acceptable answer."

She reached down and fiddled with a wisp of blossom for a moment, remembering a story she had followed in Ghana, where a tribe had been battling to hold on to their culture in the face of being completely overwhelmed and overruled by another stronger, wealthier tribe. While the Ghuri fought to hold on to their identity, the Turaaba had used fear, and the mistaken belief in their own superiority, to control and neutralize their enemies. Hudson had spent some time with the Ghuri, getting to know and respect their leader, Kobe Asuru. Unfortunately, her presence there did nothing to prevent his eventual murder, an act for which she laid the blame entirely on herself and her inability, after years of instilled fears, to show people around her who and what she really was.

A sad smile crossed her face. "No matter what I try to do, Chloe, it always turns out to be the wrong thing. I couldn't save you, I've lost Lex, and I worry that I may have done irreparable damage to my friendship with Lana. Even my parents don't seem the same around me anymore, especially Dad."

Trailing off, Hudson sat in silence as she replayed the conversation with her father last night, when she tried to help him mend the fence. He'd raised his voice at her, told her that normal people were just as capable of accomplishing tasks as she was. The fact that he had implied she was abnormal had hurt like nothing else, and even though he'd apologized for saying it, Hudson couldn't shake the realization from her mind that her father was seeing her differently all of a sudden. Was that because of the stories he'd read on the internet? Or was there something more to it?

"There's a lot I haven't told everyone yet," she confessed, pulling a weed that had sprung up between Chloe's and Gabe's plots. "I guess I'm a little afraid, too. My powers are… stronger than ever, and there is so much more that I can do. So much more that I know." She sighed. "Have you ever known what you wanted, deep inside your heart, but not been certain how to get it? I know what I need to do; I'm just not sure I have the courage to do it."

Hudson shook her head and forced a brighter smile. "Listen to me, pouring out my problems when I really came here to tell you good news! While in London, I met a man named Perry White, who is the current editor-in-chief for the Daily Planet. He liked my writing so much, Chloe, that he hired me on the spot! You're looking at the newest writer on the staff of Metropolis' hottest newspaper!"

"So, that's why you're leaving."

Hudson turned to find Lana standing a few feet behind her, a tentative smile on her face. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude. Your mother said I would find you here."

"No, don't apologize." Hudson stood, and brushed off her jeans. "I'm just surprised to see you, is all."

"After my behavior yesterday." Lana nodded, glancing away sheepishly. "Understandable."

"Look, Lana – " Hudson began, wanting to apologize for the hurt she'd caused.

Lana put her hand up. "No. Stop. Let me go first. I was being very selfish yesterday, yelling at you for hurting me when you were the one who lost everything – your husband, your home, your family and your friends. You were alone for all of these years, and you didn't know if you'd ever be able to come back, and I had no right to behave as if I was the injured party. I'm sorry about that. I guess… " She shook her head and dropped her gaze. "I guess I'm just afraid of losing you, again. Or, that maybe I already have."

Hudson hadn't handled their reunion yesterday well at all, and she knew it. She'd been just as afraid of sharing everything she'd learned about herself with Lana as she was with her parents. Then she allowed herself to really look at what had happened to the town, and she knew she wasn't very good company. Beginning again with all of the people she loved was what Hudson wanted most of all, but she wasn't certain how to go about it. Plus, she'd been away for so long. In the past, she'd simply pretended that the bad stuff had never happened and moved on, and she generally got away with that. This time was different, though; she knew that she couldn't just pick up where she left off and continue as if everything was fine. It wasn't. She knew it, her parents knew it, Lana knew it, and Lex… No, it wasn't time to think about him, yet.

"You had every right to say what you did yesterday, Lana," Hudson told her. "And you were right – I have always run away from my problems. But Metropolis isn't that far away, is it?"

"No, it isn't."

"And I promise, Lana, I'm not going to run away any more. I'm not going to hide."

Lana stared at her silently for a long moment before her eyes began to widen. "Hudson, what are you talking about?"

Giving her a slow smile, Hudson turned away, facing Chloe's grave once more. "I've made a lot of mistakes, Lana. I've stood on the sidelines, when I should have gotten involved and made a difference."

"You always made a difference."

She shook her head as she stared at the headstone. "No, not when it really counted, Lana. I could have saved Chloe but I had a penchant for trusting the wrong people – and not trusting the right ones. When all along, I should have been honest about what I was, and what I could do – "

"Hudson, they would have had you locked away! You know that!"

"Would they?" Hudson glanced over her shoulder. "They would have had to catch me, first."

"If you're going to do what I think you're going to do and make yourself known – " Lana began as she started toward Hudson.

"Lana, I'm going to do what I need to do, what I should have done a long time ago. I'm not going to let what happened to Chloe," she drew in a breath and looked away, "and what happened to Lex ever happen to anyone else."

"You can't protect the world," Lana whispered, reaching out to touch her arm.

"Can't I?" Hudson met her gaze. "Who says, Lana? I'm here because Jor-El and Lara sacrificed everything to protect me, to save me. They did something amazing. And because of what they did, I'm here, on Earth, where I can do amazing things. I owe it to their memory, Lana, and I owe it to everyone who ever had just the tiniest bit of faith in me." She glanced back down at the grave. "And I owe it to those I let down."

"You're really going to do this?"

Hudson nodded and flashed her a smile. "I'm really going to do this."

"What do your parents say?"

She felt her cheeks flush. "I, uh, haven't told them yet."

"Because you know this is a bad idea," Lana accused.

"No, because I want them to just be happy with my return for a little bit longer." She turned fully to her friend, and reached out for her hand. "Lana, I've learned so much about who I am and where I come from and what I'm capable of. I can't just keep that to myself anymore. Not when people are hurting all over this world."

"And what are you going to do? Walk door to door and ask people if they need your help? Stand on the street corner and hope some needy case walks your way?"

Hudson grew silent. She closed her eyes and allowed the voices to penetrate her mind, withdrawing the block she'd learned to erect or simply go mad from the hopelessness of it all.

"I can hear them, Lana," she whispered softly, gently gripping her friend's fingers. "They're everywhere -- crying alone in their rooms, screaming in some dark alley, begging softly for help they believe will never come. At night, I try to reach them, to do what I can for as many as I can but they're so afraid." She opened her eyes, shut down her super-hearing and added, "They see some stranger appear, who tries to hide in the darkness, and they're terrified of me. I don't want them to be afraid anymore."

"My God, Hudson!" Lana exclaimed, shaking her head. "You'll spend every second of every day running all over the world, and you'll never be able to save everyone."

"No." Hudson nodded, understanding that she had her limitations. She hated knowing that, but it was something she had forced herself to accept. "I can do my part, though. I can do what I can, and I can make a difference."

Lana sighed. "Do you have any idea how naïve you sound?"

She flashed a bright smile, pleased that Lana hadn't outright denied Hudson's ability to accomplish anything. "A little." Pausing, she listened for the sound of anyone in the immediate area and asked, "Want to see something?"

Shaking her head, Lana gave a frustrated laugh. "Sure. I'd love to."

Stepping back, Hudson winked at Lana and then, as the air vibrated around her, she shot straight up into the sky, moving fast enough that the human eye would miss her if they weren't looking for her, and yet slow enough not to create a sonic boom. She weaved between the satellite waves, careful so that they couldn't track her, shooting ever further upwards, through the clouds and above the weather where she stopped and waited, tuning her hearing carefully.

Miles below, where she'd left Lana standing in the cemetery, she heard her friend exclaim. "Holy crap!"

Her reaction made Hudson smile.

Hudson finished the dishes from dinner, wiped her hands on the dish towel and hung it over the counter to dry. She gazed out the window above the sink, contemplating the decision she'd made earlier that day. She knew it was time to tell her parents about her job in Metropolis, and her determination to put her abilities to good use. As the time approached to bring it up, though, she found herself hesitating. Even though Hudson knew in her heart that her parents would support her no matter what she chose to do, she still feared disappointing them in the end – setting herself up to do something right and good, and ultimately failing in her task. She felt she'd let them down far too often to allow that to happen again.

Too, a part of her feared that if she told them too much, she'd become too 'alien' in their eyes.

"Honey?" Her mom called to her from the family room. "Why don't you come on out here and join us? We haven't had a chance to sit and chat all day."

Smiling resolutely, Hudson pushed away from the counter and made her way into the other room to join her parents. Her mom was sitting on the couch, working on an afghan, and her dad was in his favorite chair, reading the paper. The television was on, with the volume low, the local weatherman warning of thunderstorms for tomorrow. Hudson kicked her feet up on the coffee table, casting a quick glance at her mom who rolled her eyes at her behavior but didn't berate her for it.

"You never said whether or not Lana found you this morning?" Her mom questioned, ignoring her knitting for a moment as she waited for the answer.

Hudson nodded and gave her a smile. "Yeah. She did. We had a nice talk and… everything is good. In fact, tomorrow I am meeting up with her and Pete for lunch."

"Oh, that's good to hear!"


Turning her gaze back to the television, Hudson stared silently as the anchorman discussed the upcoming election for mayor of Metropolis. She worried her lower lip, knowing that if she didn't say something now, she probably never would, and then her parents would just hear about her on the news or something. It would be incredibly selfish of her to allow that to happen. Searching for an opening, Hudson glanced at the front page of the paper, which had an article about the rising crime rate in the city, and quickly seized on a topic.

"So, uh, have you guys read anything about that Batman in Gotham?"

Her mom set her knitting down once more and frowned slightly. "I find it disturbing – a man running around, dressed as a giant bat, like every day is Halloween or something."

"Damn vigilante justice," her dad commented from behind his paper. "They're no better than the criminals they try to stop. I don't know why people can't just leave crime to the police and go about their business. That's the problem with this country today – no one minds their own damn business! If we weren't so wrapped up in what everyone else was doing, we'd all be a lot happier."

Well, that certainly wasn't a very auspicious beginning, not that Hudson, for one moment, had ever considered becoming a vigilante. Her brow furrowed as she looked over at her dad, or at least the paper he was hidden behind.

"The stories make it seem like he's done a lot of good for the people of Gotham, Dad."

Her father finally lowered his paper to meet her gaze. "No one has the right to declare themselves judge, jury and executioner, H.C."

She shook her head. "He's never harmed the criminals he's caught… Or, well, he's never killed any of them."

"He's taking the law into his own hands," he pointed out. "What if everyone decided to go out and do that? It would lead to anarchy."

"Well, I think he's right to try to do something," Hudson confessed, folding her arms across her chest, and attempting not to pout because her parents didn't agree with her. "Sure, his methods aren't the best, but his heart is obviously in the right place."

"Anyone who beats people up for a living doesn't really have much of a heart, in my opinion."

Hudson made a face at that, shooting her dad a quick frown, but he already had the paper back in place.

"Where is all of this coming from, H.C.?" Her mother asked in a tone of mild curiosity.

Realizing her mom was eyeing her in the way that mothers do when they know you're up to something, Hudson flashed her a sheepish smile. "Well, I… I just think it's nice to know that there are people out there willing to stand up against those who want to hurt people, you know? It gives me hope that not everyone just turns a blind eye to the bad things going on in the world."

Hudson watched in silent fascination as her mother's expression turned all-knowing. She set her knitting to the side, and moved around on the couch to face Hudson. "There's more to it than that, Hudson Kent."

"There… there is?" She glanced helplessly toward her father who was suddenly dropping the paper onto his lap and lending his attention to the conversation.

Her mom nodded. "Yes, there is. You may have been away for seven years, but I still know my own daughter as well as I know myself. And you're stalling. Come on. Out with it."

Knowing that she wasn't going to be able to convince her mother to just let it go, Hudson took a deep breath and told them in a rush, "I was offered a job on the writing staff of the Daily Planet and I'll be moving to Metropolis next week."

Silence. Hudson chanced a glance at her father, who was suddenly staring at her as if she had antennae growing out of her head. Finding no support from that quarter, she swung her gaze toward her mother, who wore an expression that was impossible to read. Hudson waited to hear congratulations from them, or an ego-boosting 'We're proud of you, honey!', but such celebratory words didn't appear to be forthcoming. In fact, the longer the silence continued, the more Hudson began to wonder if she hadn't mixed up her wording and actually informed them about a close friend's funeral.

"Well?" She prompted finally, when the waiting became too much. "Isn't that exciting?"

"That isn't exactly the word I would have used, H.C.," her mom remarked, her voice gentle.

Hudson was about to reply to that when her dad barked, "What the hell about Luthor? Are you just going to walk right into his city, confident as you please that he isn't going to do anything?"

She shook her head. "Dad, what do you think he'll do? In all of these years, all he has ever done is watch me."

"And what about the day you left? What about his threats? The Kryptonite?"

"He was angry," Hudson reasoned. "Furious, even. And he had every right to be – "

"Martha, are you listening to this?" Her father demanded, waving a hand in frustration toward Hudson. "Do you hear what she's saying?" He jumped to his feet and began to pace. "Damn it, H.C. That man tried to destroy this family – hell, he succeeded in doing it for years! And if you think he's just going to behave as if nothing happened – "

"I never said he would do any such thing," Hudson responded quietly, not wishing to aggravate her father any further. "But I can't continue running, Dad. I can't live my life in fear of him."

"That doesn't mean you need to walk into the lion's den!"

"Actually, it means exactly that."

Hoping to receive some support from her mother, Hudson turned to her and explained, "Lex doesn't respect weakness, you know that. The more I avoid him, the more he'll continue to follow me. If I'm right there, where he can see me, then we'll have to face one another. We'll have to confront what happened and move on."

"Do you think Lex is capable of that?" Her mom asked her, head tipping to the side slightly as she watched Hudson closely. "H.C., do you remember a Lex Luthor who could leave the past buried? Who could just move on?"

Hudson didn't reply because she couldn't. She bit her lower lip and looked away.

"And what if your appearance prompts Lex to react?" Jonathan added after a moment as he came to stand in front of the couch. "What if he decides to tell the world about you?"

With a shake of her head, Hudson replied, "Lex won't do that. He hasn't done it, and he won't."

"What makes you so certain?"

"For Lex, power has always been about knowledge – there is no such thing as too much information," she told her parents. "At the moment, he possesses information that only a handful of people out of billions possess. He isn't just going to give that up. He will never give that up because he knows he can always keep me guessing with it. His ego would never allow him to share it with every average Joe on the street, though.

"Besides, I have a plan which would kind of negate his going public with the information anyway."

Her mom arched an eyebrow at her. "And that would be?"

Knowing this was the moment she'd been dreading since she came home, Hudson confessed to them, "I'm going to reveal my powers to the world."

"What?" Martha and Jonathan exclaimed simultaneously.

"Hudson Clark Kent!" Her father shouted. "Have you lost your damn mind!"

"Oh, honey. I don't know if this is such a good idea," her mom added, her voice much more calm.

"I haven't lost my mind," Hudson replied. "And this is the best idea for me. Look, the two of you have always told me that I was meant for something, that I could use my abilities for a purpose. Well, I believe this is my purpose. I'm tired of sitting on the sidelines and hiding in the shadows, never being able to fully offer the assistance that I know I can to the people who need me. With the way the strength of my powers have grown over the years, Mom, Dad – I could save so many people! I could make so many things right!"

Turning to face her mother, her heart beating with excitement at being able to share all of this, Hudson explained, "The crystal that was formed from the three? It guided me north, into the Arctic, and there it built the most incredible structure! I guess it's reminiscent of the dwellings on Krypton. With the help of the A.I., I've learned all about who I am, where I come from, why I can do what I can. It… it's given me purpose. And, it's made me think."

She stood and began pacing in much the same manner her father previously had. "I want to go out onto the streets and make a difference for those who can't help themselves or who are hindered by someone or something every step of the way. I want to be something more than Gotham's Batman – I don't want to instill fear into the criminals and hearts of those who would wish to do wrong. I want to instill hope in everyone." Hudson stopped and looked at them pleadingly. "Don't you see? This is what I was meant for. This is my gift to the world – to make everything better."

Her dad's expression darkened before her very eyes. "And what happens the first time you get handed a chunk of red Kryptonite, H.C.? Or what if Jor-El decides to call you up, turn you into that cold-blooded Kaela-El again for the sake of Krypton, what then? Without us there to watch you, to protect you, there would be no one to stop you. You could hurt people, H.C., whether you mean to or not. Especially if your powers have increased the way you claim."

The effects of his words were much like that of Kryptonite; Hudson felt ill and weak. She stared up at her dad in disbelief, unable to understand where this animosity toward her stemmed from, this fear of her.

Hurt beyond reason, she found herself asking, "Do you really distrust me so much, Daddy?"

He blanched at her question before his jaw tightened stubbornly. "Distrust you? H.C., I don't even know you anymore." Without another word, he pushed past her and disappeared out the back door.

Tears stinging her eyes, Hudson dropped onto the couch beside her mother. "What did I do to make him hate me so much?" She whispered, wincing once more at the emotional pain his words caused her.

"Your father doesn't hate you, Hudson," her mom replied quietly, reaching out to pull her into her arms and hug her tightly. "He… for years he's been blaming himself for what happened. He hates himself for allowing Lex into our lives, and he hates himself for teaching you not to trust people. I'm afraid he can't decide which reason he should hate himself for more." She leaned back and cupped Hudson's chin, meeting her gaze. "He's afraid for you, Hudson. We both are. And I can't help but wonder if maybe his fears have merit."

"You don't trust me, either?"

"It has nothing to do with trusting you." Her mother sighed. "While the possibilities of you picking up a piece of red Kryptonite are remote, what about Jor-El? What if he somehow brings that cold, unfeeling persona forth again?"

Hudson pulled away, shaking her head as she wiped her tears away. "No. I told you – that wasn't Jor-El. It was Eradicator. And it was programmed to protect the Kryptonian way of life, only the meteor shower damaged it. Instructions from Lara helped me to fix the A.I. Everything should be fine now."

"Should be," her mom repeated.

Hudson was beginning to realize that convincing her parents was going to take some doing. She'd considered this long and hard before coming to her decision. After all, it wasn't as if she'd just awakened one morning and decided to confront the world and admit to being an alien; that wasn't the kind of choice one usually made on a whim. She was still afraid, and there was still a part of her that worried she might be doing the wrong thing, but the voice that insisted this was the right thing to do was much, much stronger.

Standing, she wandered over to the window and stared out at the herd where it was gathered near the fence. She wrapped her arms around her waist, hugging herself as she considered the right words to convince her mother that she hadn't come to this decision lightly.

"I've been so many places, Mom; I've seen so many things. I've helped people and done things when I could, but there have been far too many times when I've been hindered by the need to hide what I can do, and it's prevented me from doing what I must." Hudson turned to face her mom. "I can't change the past – I know that. But through the years, I've learned through the history of my people that I can make a better future.

"They were a warlike people, Mom, very much like the people here. For centuries they fought one another, bringing themselves almost to the point of extinction. But then, they began to realize what they were doing was wrong. They were destroying their future, when they should have been building it. And Mom, that is what I can do for this world. That's what I have to do."

"You don't have to do anything, H.C.," her mom pointed out, brow furrowed. "You could just as easily – " She hesitated, as if struggling for something to say.

"What, Mom? Get married? Raise a family?" Hudson forced a short laugh, but it caused her heart to constrict painfully. "You know that's not in the cards for me. But even knowing that, it doesn't mean my future has to be bleak."

Dropping her gaze, her mother shook her head, shoulders slumping slightly as if in defeat. "We always wanted so much more for you, H.C."

"This is more, Mom."

Moving back over to the couch, Hudson sat down and took her mother's hands into hers. "I've made this choice. No one is forcing me into it."

Lifting her gaze, her mom seemed to search her eyes for a long moment, and then asked her, "This isn't about Lex, is it, H.C.?"

Hudson wasn't certain how to answer that at first, and her mother took her silence as affirmation.

"H.C., what happened to Lex isn't your fault. There is nothing you could have done to have stopped him from becoming the man he is today."

"No?" Hudson dropped her hands and balled them into tiny fists against her thighs. "Do you know what I can do, Mom? I can fly. Yes, fly. Just like Kaela-El. And do you know, Mom, if I had been able to do that nine years ago? I could have saved Lex from spending three months alone on that island."

"H.C., the time Lex spent on that island isn't what caused – "

"The point is that these are the kind of differences I can make now." She stood again and moved away, hands waving around her as she spoke. "If I hadn't had to hide myself away back then, I could have done so many things to protect Lex. I could have kept him out of harm's way from his father, and then he never would have had a reason or need to go after Lionel. He never would have felt alone against the world because he wouldn't have been; I could have been there for him. And now I can be there for all of the others in the world like Lex – those who feel they are trapped in their situation, and there is no one around who cares enough, or who can do enough to get them out of it."

"You wear your guilt like a mantle around you, H.C.," her mother commented softly from behind her. "It makes me worry for you."

It wasn't the first time she'd been accused of carrying too much guilt, and Hudson knew it wouldn't be the last. Turning, she gave her mom a small smile. "I just want to make a difference, Mom. I want to protect the people I love, and I want to protect this world and everyone in it from pain. I'm the only one who can do it. Is that so wrong?"

Silence stretched between them as her mother seemed to consider her words. Hudson didn't speak, not wanting to ruin the effect of what she had to say, or to force her mother to accept it. She'd always respected her mother's opinion; she'd always listened to it. If Martha Kent made the final decision that this was a bad idea, then Hudson knew she would be forced to rethink it. In the end, though, she had faith that her mother would agree with her. She just didn't see how anyone could not agree that this was the right thing for her to do.

"Very well, H.C.," her mom finally replied, getting to her feet and walking over to stand in front of her. "If this is what you truly want, if this is what you truly believe you need to do – and you aren't just doing it out of guilt with regards to Lex – then I will support your endeavor."

"Oh, Mom!" Hudson threw her arms around her and hugged her tight, lifting her slightly off the ground. "Thank you, Mom! You have no idea how much this means to me!"

Laughing, her mother hugged her back before Hudson set her on her feet. "This is on one condition, though. I'm not going to be the one to smooth things over with your father. If this is truly what you believe to be the right path for you, then the first person on this planet that you need to convince is Jonathan Kent. There's going to be no one out there who is going to champion your public appearance, so I'm certainly not going to be the one to do it for you here."

As much as Hudson dreaded the idea of confronting her father, she knew her mom was right. If she couldn't persuade one of her own parents to accept her as a protector, then how was she to convince the world? No one was going to make this easy for her, and she needed to learn to accept that now, or let the idea go.

With a small nod of acquiescence, Hudson began considering the best way to assure her father that everything was going to be all right.

The next five days flew by for Hudson, as she and her mother spent most of their time in front of the sewing machine, where they meticulously created the uniform in which she had chosen to appear. Using drawings of the people of Krypton that the A.I. had shown her, along with suggestions from her mom, Hudson was very pleased with the finished product. It was bright enough to bring attention to her, distracting those who wished to do harm from their victims, and yet it was reminiscent of the people who sent her to Earth.

It would have been a happier time, if only she could have shared it with her father. She tried to enlist his help and suggestions, but he always found something more important to do. He would excuse himself saying that the tractor needed work or he had to run in to town to pick up a tool at the hardware store or he had promised to visit a friend. His avoidance hurt her, and though she hadn't been really close with her father since prior to high school, Hudson wasn't quite certain how to mend the gap that existed between them, before she left home once again and headed off for Metropolis.

"Well, what do you think?"

Hudson glanced up from her musings to find her mother standing before her, the bright red cape of her uniform flung over her shoulders. Martha swept it with a flourish across her arm and twirled, showing it off. Hudson couldn't help but laugh at her display. "It's perfect, Mom. Thank you." She stood and moved over to try it on.

Her mom settled it over her shoulders, checking the length and flare of it, and then stood back to admire her in it. "Red is certainly your color, Hudson. It always has been. I like the blue too, but you always seem so vibrant in reds. Yes, everyone will certainly see you coming in this. Now, we just need to get your mask made, and we'll be finished."

"Mask?" Hudson looked over at her mother. "I'm not wearing a mask."

"Honey, don't be ridiculous," Martha Kent argued, setting her hands on her hips. "It's bad enough that Lex knows your secret but you certainly can't mean to go around allowing every bad person you stop from committing crimes know who you are and where to find you."

"But Mom," Hudson removed the cape and laid it across a chair, "how can I expect anyone to trust me if I'm hiding behind a mask? At that point, I may as well continue to hide as I always have, and never allow them to see me, and that brings me back to being completely ineffectual. Besides, I want the authorities to trust me as well; to know that I'm on their side. I don't want to be like the Batman, who has to run from the law as well as the crooks."

Her mother sighed. "H.C., I understand what you're saying but what about reprisals? I'm not worried about your father and myself – we've been through it all before. But what about the other people close to you, like Lana and Pete."

Hudson didn't know how to respond to her mother's fears, especially since she'd faced them all before when she was young and never found the answers she was searching for. The only reason she'd kept silent for so long to Lex about her secret was in order to protect him. Now, she was preparing to put everyone in her life in danger, which she didn't want to do, but she couldn't think of a better solution.

"And what about your job?" Her mother continued. "I can't believe you'd be very effective as a reporter when every person you spoke to would be more interested in the time you spend running around in this costume."

"Uniform," Hudson corrected. "I don't like to think of it as a costume."

"Uniform, then. H.C., you know I'm behind you on this, but I don't think you've really thought this completely through."

"Then what am I supposed to do, Mom?" she asked, her voice laced with frustration. "Would you trust someone who refused to show you their face?"

Martha shook her head. "No. No, I wouldn't." Sighing, she looked away, her expression thoughtful as she seemed to consider the problem.

Suddenly, Hudson noticed her mother's eyes widen, as if she'd come to a solution. "What is it?"

"What if this," Martha waved toward the uniform, "isn't your disguise?"

"I don't understand."

Ignoring her, Martha hurried to the laundry room where she began digging through the dirty laundry, pulling out a pair of Jonathan's slacks that he'd worn out to dinner with them earlier that week. She went through another basket to retrieve one of her own suit jackets, and then returned to the kitchen, tossing them to Hudson.

"Here. Put these on… Don't look at me like that. Just do it."

Refraining from making a comment, Hudson slipped her father's pants over her jeans, taking the belt her mother handed to her and looping it through the hoops before pulling it tight to secure them to her waist. She then slipped her arms into her mother's jacket, sighing with dismay at how loosely it fit around her bust. Neither she nor Lara had been gifted with the magnificent breasts that Martha Kent had, and that was more than obvious when wearing her clothes.

"The sleeves are a little short," she remarked with humor as she held her arms out, watching as the cuffs drew up to her elbows.

"That's not the point." Her mom reached out and pushed the sleeves up so that the material punched together just above her elbow. "The point is to see how different ill-fitting clothes make you look." She buttoned the jacket, straightening the shoulders slightly, and then stepped back to admire her handiwork. "Hmmm. Something more…" She scurried off.

Wondering what her mother was up to, Hudson walked out of the kitchen and into the hall to look at herself in the mirror. The shoulder pads in her mother's jacket certainly made her look much wider. She stepped back so that she could see the pants, noting that they completely negated any shape to her figure whatsoever. Well, if her mother was trying to make her look ugly, it was working.

"Here." Martha appeared once more and moved behind Hudson. "Crouch down for me, honey. You're far too tall."

Hudson did as she asked, and her mother immediately began brushing her hair. She drew it all back behind her head tightly, and then began shoving bobby pins into it. When finished, Hudson's hair was tucked neatly into a secure bun. The style sharpened the angles of her face, making her appear even slimmer than she was.

"God, Mom. Are you trying to make certain I never get a date again in my entire life?" She asked with a laugh. "I thought fathers were supposed to be the overly protective ones."

"What I'm trying to do, Hudson Kent, is make certain you don't look like you normally do everyday when you put that uniform on." She waved toward the mirror. "You were in theatre in your senior year. Surely you can figure out how to look and behave like someone else?"

"But what about the people who knew me in high school, Mom? Surely they'll still recognize me."

Martha shook her head. "You've changed a lot since then, H.C. You've lost your baby fat – "

"I was never fat!" She denied.

"Your facial shape has changed," she continued, ignoring the outburst. "As has your figure and the color of your hair. Even your eyes are more distinctively bright than they used to be," she added, and immediately began frowning.

Hudson glanced back toward the mirror and began to realize that her mother was right. If she could successfully look different from the woman in the red and blue uniform, then it just might work as a proper disguise. She caught her mother's expression and wondered what was wrong.

"What now?"

"Your eyes," she repeated. "They're too bright. There is no where on this earth that color of green exists in nature."

Turning back to the mirror, Hudson leaned forward, trying to discern what her mother was talking about. Her eyes were an overly bright green-blue color, but she didn't see how that cause too much of a problem. They didn't seem all that special to her.

Apparently they did to her mom, though, because Martha was moving away from her once more, disappearing into the living room for a brief moment. She returned with a triumphant smile on her face and held out Jonathan's reading glasses. The frames were large and black, slightly squared, and the bifocal lenses were extremely thick.

Hudson stepped back. "Oh no!"

"H.C., we have to do something about that face of yours. It's too distinctive." She pulled her back and leaned up to slip the glasses onto Hudson's face. Taking a step back, she smiled. "The lenses do well muting the color just enough. And the frames completely change the shape of your face! Have a look!"

Hudson brought her gaze back to her reflection and let out a screech. "Mom! These are horrible! I look like Cyrano de Bergerac!"

Martha laughed. "They don't make you look that bad, H.C., but they do widen your nose enough for an effective disguise."

"But, I don't wear glasses." Hudson squeezed the tip of her nose in an attempt to make it smaller as she glared into the mirror.

"No, but the people who haven't seen you in seven years don't know that," she pointed out. "It's very easy for you to say that the accident that robbed you of your sight for a short time back in your junior year did more damage than the doctors first thought. So now, you're forced to wear glasses for your poor eyesight."

Hudson found herself smiling and turned to give her mother a hug. "You're brilliant. You know that, don't you?"

Her mother shrugged. "But, of course." She turned Hudson back to the mirror and fiddled with her clothes some more. "You'll have to be careful in many other ways, H.C. Like your voice. 91You have a way of saying certain words that is absolutely unique."

"Like what?"

Martha frowned slightly. "Well, like 'Lex'. Ever since you fell in love with him, H.C., you speak his name with a certain lilt or inflection that you never use with anyone else. So, if you ever happen to encounter him while you're dressed in that uniform, you might attempt to say his name differently."

"I can just call him Mr. Luthor or something," Hudson suggested.

"Perfect." Her mom nodded in agreement. "Stay away from wearing bright colors as Hudson Kent. They look far too attractive on you, honey, and they draw attention to you. You'll want to stick to muted colors – browns, grays, dark greens, the occasional black. And be sure to slouch. You're taller than most women, and that draws attention to you as well. Try not to be so graceful, either."

Hudson laughed and shook her head. "Mom, you're turning me into a monster. Besides, I've never been graceful in my life."

"I agree – you never used to be. I think you were having far too much trouble growing into your arms and legs when you were younger. But ever since you've returned home… " Martha smiled and touched her daughter's cheek. "H.C., you're an incredibly graceful woman in every movement that you make."

Face warming with embarrassment over the compliment, Hudson held her arms out and commented, "Yeah, well, I don't think anyone could be graceful in clothes that fit this badly!"

Her mother laughed and gave her a quick hug before pulling away and heading back into the kitchen. "Well, at least your uniform is finished. Before you leave, we'll head out into town and buy you a few business suits to complete your look."

"These glasses are giving me a headache," Hudson complained as she carefully made her way to the kitchen. "I'll try to find some others – "

"You'll do no such thing!" her mother told her, waggling a finger in her direction. "You know very well you can adjust your vision so that they won't bother you. You're just trying to find a way to get more attractive frames."

Hudson grinned good-naturedly at being caught, then spent the next moment changing her vision until everything around her came into focus.

"And one more thing," Martha added as she folded Hudson's uniform neatly. "It would be safer for you not to appear in this get-up the same day that Hudson Kent moves to Metropolis." She held up her hand as Hudson began to protest. "I know you want to start helping people, H.C., but you're going to be working with reporters, people who notice things others might not. So you have to be extra careful to not look too suspicious. People are going to remember you – be it from the accidents you were involved with around Smallville or your relationship and marriage to Lex. You can't give them any reason to point fingers. Give yourself some time before debuting as Kaela-El. Understand?"

"You're right," Hudson nodded with a smile. "I've been so focused on finally being able to do something with my abilities that I hadn't even considered any of this. I promise, Mom, I'll be careful. For you and dad and everyone else I love."

Slipping off the glasses, and pulling the pins from her hair, Hudson found herself suddenly wondering how much of her identity she was giving up to become the person she was born to be.

Jonathan stared at the hammer in his hand, wondering for a moment how it had gotten there. His gaze drifted to the silver-colored plate that lay in front of him, made out of some alloy that couldn't be found anywhere on Earth, and he remembered his purpose. He hated the thing in front of him, hated what it stood for and what it had done to his life and his family. Lifting the hammer high above his head, he brought it down against the small plate, arms throbbing from the impact that didn't leave even the tiniest mark. The proof of its indestructibility only made him angrier and he swung at it again and again, ignoring the pain in his limbs as each hit reverberated through his bones. So intent was he on its destruction, that he didn't notice that the object began to vibrate against the work bench, a strange light slowly seeping out through the seams. He continued to pound away at it, cursing beneath his breath with each blow, tears of frustration gathering on his face. When the blinding light exploded from the tablet, Jonathan didn't see it coming.

Not that he had to worry about harm coming to him. Before the light could touch him, he was swept from the barn, which now lay below him, shaking from the tremors of the explosion.

"What the hell were you trying to do, Dad?" Hudson demanded angrily. She was holding him under his arms, and they were high above the farm, feet dangling in the air.

Jonathan stared down at the barn silently, watching as the light receded. He didn't meet his daughter's gaze; he couldn't. "Put me down before someone sees us," he muttered.

"No!" She shook him once, gently. "Not until you talk to me! Not until you tell me why you hate me so much?"

His head snapped up at that, bringing his eyes to hers, and it hurt him to see that they were brimming with unshed tears. "Hate you?" He repeated, shaking his head. "No. I never… H.C., how could you think that?"

"After the way you've been treating me like a pariah, like I have no place in this family since I came home… after you told me you didn't even know me anymore, what was I supposed to think?"

Sighing, Jonathan looked away, mind drifting for a moment as he considered how small and insignificant his farm seemed from up here. On the ground, it appeared so much larger, and all-encompassing of his time and energy, his very being. His blood and tears had nourished the ground below him, but from this height he wondered why he'd put so much store by a simple piece of land?

The thought brought him back to his current situation. Hudson was set to leave for Metropolis in a few hours, and nothing had been resolved between them. His treatment of her had reminded him too much of his own father's behavior toward him, and he was angry with himself for causing the same pain in his own child. He didn't know what to say to her, didn't know how to behave around her. Now, because of his anger and foolishness, the confrontation between them was being forced, and he liked nothing less than being backed into a corner. He was out of practice with this father stuff. Everything just seemed so much easier when she was thirteen, and her biggest problem was what training bra to buy, and he'd always been able to leave that up to Martha.

"Please talk to me, Daddy," Hudson whispered, and the ragged pain in her voice made him ache with guilt. "Why were you trying to destroy the tablet?"

"I thought… " He paused and shook his head, knowing that he wouldn't be able to explain it in a way that she would understand. "I just… I wanted to make it go away."

"You wanted to make me go away?" She asked softly.

"No. Damn it." He ran a hand through his hair and then panicked slightly as he realized he wasn't standing on solid ground, and he reached out to grab hold of Hudson's arms.

"It's all right," she told him. "I'm not going to drop you."

Jonathan found a small smile at her reassurance. "No. I, uh, I didn't think you would, H.C."

"I brought Mom up here last week. She enjoyed it. But, you… well, you never asked. I didn't think… "

"You didn't think I'd want to see this?" Jonathan asked harshly, turning away from her gaze once more. "You didn't think I'd be the least bit curious to know what it's like?"

His daughter shrugged. "You didn't seem to want anything to do with me, least of all my abilities."

"I… " Jonathan waved a hand helplessly, uncertain how to take away the pain he was only just realizing he had thoughtlessly created for Hudson. "I can't compete with any of this, H.C. It just feels like… well, it feels like I've lost you. That's how it feels. You're not my daughter anymore, and that's why I don't know you. You're… you're his daughter now. You're Kaela-El. And I can't compete with that."

Sighing, Hudson slowly descended to the ground. It was the long silence that prompted Jonathan to bring his gaze back to his daughter's face. Her eyes were closed, and she seemed to be lost in thought, so he took the moment to study her without reservation. Though he and his wife had no part in her creation, Jonathan still couldn't help but take a certain amount of pride in the amazingly beautiful woman Hudson had become. Unfortunately, her appearance as much as anything else worked to convince him fully that she really wasn't his child, no matter how much he had ever desired it or believed otherwise. She didn't look like she was from the Midwest; Hudson looked like she was from… well, another world entirely.

She opened her bright green-blue eyes suddenly, and Jonathan was shocked to see the quiet determination there. "Do you really believe that? Do you really think that you and mom, in any way, have to compete with Lara and Jor-El?"

Jonathan waved a hand down toward the farm house. "You don't even want to be Hudson Kent anymore, H.C.," he told her. "Not only are you putting this ridiculous costume together, but now you're hiding the person you truly are to do it!"

He'd walked in on her and Martha the day before, when they'd been perfecting the personas she would assume for her life in Metropolis. It had angered him beyond reason that she would so willingly throw away the person she'd become in order to be something they'd all fought against when she was younger. For years, the A.I., or whatever the entity in the caves was, had attempted to force her into becoming a monster. Now, it appeared as if it had finally succeeded.

"Did you ever think that person in the ridiculous costume is the real me, Dad?" Hudson asked quietly.

"I refuse to believe that," he replied stubbornly.

She shook her head and let out a tiny sigh. "Why? Because you think I'm doing what they want me to do, and not what I want? Dad, you and mom are the ones who taught me to care about people, to use my abilities to help those who can't help themselves, to do something other than make a lot of money at sports or whatever. Well, this is what I'm doing. It's what I've chosen to do. And you're the cause of that. Not Jor-El. Not Lara. And not the A.I. You. Jonathan Kent."

Jonathan wanted to believe that. He did. The problem was, this was never what he wanted for her. He never meant for her to put herself in danger, and he told her that.

"Dad, you and Mom worry so much about me," she smiled. "And I appreciate that. I do. But something you have to remember is, not only am I one of the fastest beings on this planet, I'm also invulnerable. Yes, the meteor rocks can hurt me, but only a handful of people know that. Otherwise, no one can hurt me. And you know what? That makes me the most qualified to do something like this."

Her smile brightened, and Jonathan could swear he could feel her joy. "Imagine it, Dad. Maybe I could bring an end to war. Maybe I could prevent entire countries from massacres. The good I can do could be limitless."

He wanted to believe that, but maybe it was his role as father to be afraid for her. As much as Hudson had seen and done with her life, he still believed she was terribly naïve, and maybe that was what made her so special. Maybe that was why she would succeed in her endeavors. The only problem with it though, was that her naiveté could get her in to trouble where she wouldn't expect it.

"And can you be certain that the cold, emotionless Kaela-El who emerged years ago won't come back?" he questioned.

Hudson nodded. "I've taken care of that. The A.I. simply wished for me to accept my heritage, and the programming had been all messed up, so it over-reacted. Now that I've accepted what I am, and where I come from, I'm the one in control." She cocked her head slightly to the side and smiled a little. "Besides, you and Mom will always be there to bring me back to earth when I can't seem to come back down on my own. Won't you?"

"I don't know." Jonathan scratched his head and glanced down. "At the moment, I'm not doing much better than you at keeping my feet on the ground."

Laughing, she dropped her hands and folded them together in front of her, suddenly looking like the shy and gentle child he used to push on the tire swing in the backyard.

"So, umm, are we okay?"

Jonathan reached out and pulled his daughter into his arms, holding her close. He sighed as she clung to him, and realized that maybe, deep down inside, she was, and always would be, his little girl. "Promise me that you won't let this take over you, H.C. Promise me that you'll always be true to yourself first. That you won't forget your soul is more human than any of us. That's all I ask of you."

Her arms tightened around him. "I promise, Daddy. I'll make you proud of me."

"H.C." He kissed the top of her head. "I'm already proud of you. I'm sorry that I didn't say it sooner." Pulling back, Jonathan gave his daughter a smile. "You've always made me proud, honey."

"Always?" Her tone was doubtful, but she was smiling. "Even when I started dating a guy six years my senior?"

"Even then."

He slipped his arm around her shoulders as they started toward the house. He thought about her comment regarding Lex, and the fears he had concerning her determination to make what she was public, assailed him once more. Jonathan looked down at his daughter and wondered if much of her decision wasn't based on the guilt she felt from her failed marriage. There hadn't been time after the trial to talk it over with her, to help her work through the pain and disappointment of what happened to their relationship. One moment she and Lex had been very happy together, with a bright future ahead for the both of them. Then suddenly, it all fell apart, and Jonathan's nineteen-year old daughter lost her husband, her marriage, her family and her home.

"Are you sure about this?" He found himself asking her quietly. "About Metropolis… and Lex?"

Hudson glanced up at him as she came to a stop and wrapped her arms around herself. "I am, Dad. I mean, I can't guarantee that everything is going to go the way that I hope it will, but I have to try."

"And what do you hope for?"

She dropped her gaze and kicked at the dirt beneath her feet. "I want to win his trust back, Dad… somehow. It's all I can ask. I know… " She sighed and took a deep breath and continued, "I know it's too late for us. And I'm not looking for reconciliation or to find the love we once shared. All I really want is to one day regain his trust, and earn his forgiveness. It may take me forever, but it's what I want."

"H.C." Jonathan reached out and laid his hand on her shoulder. "You have nothing to be forgiven for. You did the right thing. If anyone should be asking for forgiveness – "

"You know Lex better than that." She cut him off with a sad smile. "We asked so much of him for so long, I simply can't imagine myself demanding an apology from him."

"You weren't in the wrong," Jonathan told her again, squeezing her shoulder. "You never were. You always had his best interests at heart. Lex made the mistakes, Hudson, and maybe so did I. Maybe I was wrong in not trusting him at the beginning, and maybe I helped push him into the path he chose to take – "

"No, Dad – "

"The point is, H.C., that while the rest of us made our fair share of mistakes, you always knew the right thing to do. We just rarely let you do it." He shook his head, and found himself wishing he could go back and do it all again. It wasn't the first time he'd wanted such a thing in the last seven years. "I hate to see you paying for our errors."

She hugged her father again, tightly. "I don't mind it. I want this, Dad. I do. Maybe, in my heart, I need to know that I can make those 'wrongs' right."

Hudson smiled up at him, and Jonathan felt his heart lighten at the sight. "Sometimes," she told him. "Everything seems very clear to me."

Two hours later, Hudson climbed onto the bus that would take her to Metropolis. Jonathan stood beside his wife, waving to his daughter as she clambered to the back of the bus to watch them through the window. Beside him, Martha sniffled and buried her face against him, and on his other side, Lana stood quietly, clutching her hands together in front of her. He knew he should assure them both that everything would be all right, but the lump in his throat prevented him from doing so.

They remained there, silent and thoughtful, until the bus disappeared from sight.


"You've done some fine work in the last few years, Miss Kent. Fine work." Perry White leaned forward in his chair, tossing the file in his hand onto the desk. "But you've been in the middle of nowhere half the time, doing human interest stories, be they on Witch Doctors or Tribal Chieftains. What I want to know is can you handle it in the trenches? I'm talking about street work, Kent. The big city. White collar crime, rich socialites OD-ing on amphetamines and diving out of penthouse windows, serial killers, million dollar diamond heists – "

"Well, umm, I did do that one piece in London on – " Hudson began but was quickly cut off by the editor-in-chief.

"The Planet is a fast-paced environment, Kent," Perry continued, ignoring her as he stood and turned to look out the window at the picturesque view of the city spread before him. "I expect results out of my staff. I want front-page headlines, scoops that have the competition crying in their coffee cups at six a.m. None of this Mother of the Year crap!" He turned back to her, slamming his fist into his hand. "I want stories that hammer home that all-too-scary word known as 'Truth'. I don't care how ugly it is or how many people are willing to pay you off to cover it up. Our readers deserve to know what's happening around them, where their tax money is going, what their elected officials are really up to behind closed doors, why there are criminally insane maniacs out there stalking our fair streets. Truth, Kent. Without it, this paper's just a rag like the Inquisitor."

Across from him, Perry's newest staff member pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose and offered him a tentative smile. She had come prepared to take notes, but he was speaking so rapidly that she would have been forced to write just as quickly to keep up, and that would have caused too many questions. "Truth. Yes, I understand, Mr. White. You might have seen the story on the bottom of that stack from Rome, where I uncovered – "

"There's a lot of money in this city, Kent." The Editor-in-Chief turned away once more, settling his hands on his hips as he stared across the street to the glittering Lexcorp building that loomed above the Planet. "Dirty money. Money that changes a lot of hands. And it all starts right there," he stabbed a finger at the glass, "in the top floors of Lexcorp. That man has more politicians and corrupt cops in his pockets than money in the bank. And he's more slippery than snot on a doorknob… and just as pleasant, too," he muttered before spinning around on his heel to face Hudson.

"I, umm, wouldn't know, Mr. White."

Perry leaned his hands on the desk to fix Hudson with his gaze. "Wouldn't know?" He grunted. "Kent, do you know what makes or breaks a journalist? Connections; contacts. Joe Average on the street doesn't know what's happening in the local police precinct because he doesn't have anyone to tell him. And there's not a journalist in the world who can score an interview with Lex Luthor because the man doesn't have friends."

"Mr. White – "

"But you… you, Kent." He pointed a long, bony finger at her. "You have a key into Lexcorp that other journalists would kill for."

Hudson swallowed hard, and wriggled in her seat. "Mr. White, that was a long time ago. Lex and I haven't spoken in seven – "

"So reacquaint yourself, Kent."

"Mr. White, exactly why did you give me this job?" She asked, fixing him with a tiny frown in annoyance. The glasses shifted slightly, and she wrinkled her nose to put them back into place. "Was it just for my connection to Lex Luthor? If so, then perhaps you should hire someone else."

She should have known that her past relationship with Lex would be brought up in the conversation – after all, the Daily Planet had covered the news of their marriage the moment they made it public. That didn't mean she felt comfortable discussing it, though, or in making any attempt at contacting Lex for an interview. She wanted to see him, yes. Hudson just felt that doing so on terms other than with the intentions of writing a story about him were likely to be more willingly accepted.

Perry straightened, glowering down at her over the tip of his nose before his mouth widened into a grin, and he chuckled. "I like you, Kent. You've got a little spark of spunk hidden behind that uptight demeanor of yours. And maybe that's why I hired you. Maybe it's your talent for finding stories that others would miss. Or it could just be the fact that you're the fastest damn typist I've ever seen."

Hudson forced a smile at the strange compliment. She liked to think that there was more to the job offer than her past relationship with Lex, especially if it hinged on the ability to score an interview with him. While there was this part of her that was desperate to see him, to speak to him, she sincerely doubted that the feeling was reciprocated. The bad blood between them ran too deeply, and Hudson was certain that running from him hadn't helped the situation. It only made her appear guiltier.

But what other choice did she have at the time?

"I'm going to team you up with the best – someone to show you the ropes around the city, the in's and out's of the politics and introduce you to our contacts. Once we're through with you, you'll have nowhere to go but up, Kent."

Biting back a smile at his comment, Hudson nodded and added another doodle to the pad on her lap.

"Doris!" Perry barked into the speaker phone after jabbing a finger onto the correct button. "Get Lane in here!"

"Right away, Mr. White."

Hudson's head snapped up at the name. "Lane?" She repeated with a slight frown. "Louis Lane?"

"So, you've heard of our star reporter?" The editor picked up the cigar that lay in the ashtray on his desk, and clamped it between his teeth. "Not exactly the easiest man to deal with, but he knows what he's doing."

Her new job was suddenly a little less palatable than before. Louis Lane – as her partner?

Louis breezed into Perry's office as if he owned the place, his larger-than-life form forcing itself into place, leaving little breathing room for anyone else. He hadn't changed in all the years since she'd last seen him. Just being near him was as unsettling as it had been when Hudson was in high school. He ignored her for the most part, immediately launching into a tirade at Perry about interrupting him during the 'most important and ground-breaking story of the entire 21st century' and just how did Perry expect him to work when he was constantly being summoned to this, that and the other? As he paced in front of her chair, continuing to ignore her, Hudson contemplated sticking her foot out to trip him, but that wouldn't be the best way to start her new job at the Daily Planet. So instead she sat up a little straighter, scooted forward on the seat of her chair and leaned her chin in her hand, feigning intense interest in every word he said.

"Are you just about finished, Lane?" Perry finally interrupted from where he was perched on the corner of his desk, chewing on the tip of his cigar.

Louis came to an abrupt halt, as if surprised that there was anyone else besides him in the room. "I was about to ask you the same thing," he remarked, waving a hand toward the door. "I have work to do."

"Before you get back to that, I want you to meet your new partner, Miss – "

Hudson stood to shake his hand.

"New partner!" Louis whined, whirling around to confront the interloper, only to collide nose to nose with Hudson.

She made a display of stumbling back from their collision, hurriedly pushing her glasses back up on the bridge of her nose and flashing him a nervous smile as she juggled the pen and pad in her hands.

"Smallville!" Louis announced in a tone caught between surprise and outright horror. "This is some kind of joke, right?"

"You two know each other?" Perry asked.

"Ummm… no joke, Louis." Hudson shuffled her feet, and actually felt her cheeks redden under Louis' intent examination of her as he leaned back against Perry's desk.

"Oh, we go way back, Chief," Louis replied, folding his arms across his chest and flashing a grin at Hudson. "All the way back to Miss Kent's cow-tippin' days."

Hudson refrained from pointing out that she had never, in her entire life on this planet, tipped a cow, and instead commented, "Mr… uh, White, says that you know all the ropes."

Without answering, Louis continued to eye her for the next few moments before finally nodding. "Something like that."

"Well, I, uh, look forward to learning from you."

He raised an eyebrow at that but didn't reply.

"Lane, I want you and Kent to get to work on that city hall scandal," Perry told them, stabbing his cigar back into the ashtray and grabbing the receiver of his phone to signal the meeting was over. "The Mayor has called a press conference for tomorrow morning, and I want you both there!"

"Sure thing, Chief." Louis pushed off from the desk and inclined his head toward the door. "Shall we, Smallville?"

Allowing a slight frown, Hudson moved out of the office, waiting until Louis caught up to her to tell him, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't refer to me as… Smallville, Louis. I haven't lived there in years."

"Think of it as a term of endearment," he responded, leading her down the row of cubicles. He glanced over at her and pointed at his nose. "What's with the glasses?"

"My eyesight has never been the same since an accident on the farm when I was eighteen." She glanced up at him. "My parents think they make me look smart."

Louis raised an eyebrow as he stopped beside his desk. "Well, if you're going for Geek Chic, you've got it down, I'll tell you that." With a grimace, he waved across the aisle. "There's the desk you can take. That way I can keep an eye on you."

Setting her purse, pad and pen down on the desk, Hudson quickly took inventory of her new workspace before slipping into the chair. She wriggled in an attempt to get comfortable, realizing that her legs were too long or the chair was too short, and that she must look like an adult sitting at a child's desk. Glancing up, she found Louis watching her with amusement and she quickly buried the initial frustration with her office furniture to flash him a smile.

"Well, what's first on the agenda?" she asked.

"I think we need to order you a new chair."

Hudson waved her hand in denial. "This one is perfectly fine. The cushion is comfortable. And it wheels around nicely."

Louis arched an eyebrow as she moved back and forth over the plastic mat. "Your shoulders barely reach the desk and your knees are going up your nose."

"I think you're exaggerating."

Standing, Hudson knelt down beside the chair and peered beneath it, playing with a few of the levers and dials until she seemed satisfied. Climbing back to her feet, she sat down once more, realized it was only marginally better and decided she would have to just live with it.

"See? Perfect."

"If you say so, Smallville. By the way, you seem to have snagged your nylons while you were down there."

Hudson followed the point of his finger to find a huge hole and subsequent run from her knee down her calf. Inwardly, she cursed, as it was the third pair of nylons she'd destroyed that morning. It had been years since she'd worn such things, and she had apparently simply forgotten how to be careful. Making a face, she grabbed her purse, digging through it until she found her small container of hairspray and then proceeded to spray it over the snag and her leg. Above her, Louis began coughing dramatically, waving his arms about in order to disperse the cloud of chemicals drifting upward. Ducking her head to hide her smile, Hudson capped the hair spray and slipped it back into her purse.

"There. All better."

Louis flashed her a glare. "Yeah. If you're comfortable smelling like a beauty salon."

Spinning around, he moved over to his desk, gathered up a stack of files and tossed them onto her lap. "There. You can get caught up on the recent scandal coming out of city hall. An anonymous source," Louis explained, "claims that our beloved Mayor is guilty of accepting bribes from local business leaders. We ran the story last Friday, and now city hall is in a panic. Recent polls regarding the upcoming election have taken a definite dive from last week's polls."

Hudson scanned through the pages, quickly taking in the information they contained. "Has Meyer always been a popular mayor?"

"The people seem to like him," Louis replied with a shrug as he crossed his arms over his chest. "He won the last election in a landslide, promising a hard stand against crime, more government support for the schools, and city-wide tax breaks for the middle class. But you know politicians – they'll tell you anything you want to hear to get elected."

She gave a little nod and continued to stare at the files in her lap, knowing that she'd spend the night pouring over them, and doing a little digging of her own. Corrupt politicians were a disease that could eventually infect an entire populace if not kept in check from the start. She'd make it her goal to learn everything she could about this Robert Meyer before tomorrow morning.

Hudson hurried out of the cab after Louis, checking her purse to make certain she had her recorder, and then tugging on her skirt to straighten it over her legs. Her partner's long-legged stride caused her to move at a slow jog to keep up with him, and she knew she probably presented a frantic picture as she ran along beside him.

"Follow my lead with this," Louis instructed as he led her up the steps to City Hall. "I'll ask the questions; you listen and learn. These City Hall types are slippery creatures, and the minute they think you're out to get more than a goodwill story about them kissing babies, they tuck their tails between their legs and run."

"But won't everyone be asking questions about the bribes?" She asked.

"Yes, but that's not the point." Louis gave her a quick frown as if to say she should have known that. "City Hall will do its best to color this entire thing to look as if it's been blown out of proportion – that there are bigger issues at hand. Now, some reporters – the ones who wish to stay in the Mayor's good graces – they'll follow along and give in and play nice."

"But we're not those people, right?"

Louis nodded. "That's right. Now, they expect me to play hardball, so the minute they see me, they'll probably attempt to steer the topic elsewhere and ignore my questions. That's where you'll come in. Hopefully, they'll never see you coming. Once they tune me out, you can start in, firing the same questions at them. When the rest of the press sees that someone other than myself is raising a stink, they'll join us."

"Won't Meyer panic?"

"Yeah, but that's what we want. Then we'll be able to see which side he falls on – does he panic because he's guilty or because he doesn't know how to prove his innocence?" Louis pulled the door open for her, ushering her inside the stately entry hall. "That's the trick to good reporting, Smallville. Watch their eyes. You can always tell if a person is lying by their eyes. And then you know how to continue your attack."

"Eyes. Attack," Hudson repeated as Louis passed her by once more and she hurried to catch up, the heels on her pumps clacking loudly against the marble floor.

The original Metropolis City Hall burned to the ground in 1919, only to be rebuilt in 1922, and its design followed the simplicity and airiness of the era. Rooms were large, painted completely white and filled with glass, allowing for plenty of cool light. There was little ornamentation on the exterior, while the inside consisted of heavy, dark green curtains, crystal chandeliers and enormous paintings depicting the incorporation and growth of Metropolis through the decades. There was a skylight overhead that spanned almost the entire circular foyer, the glass cut in odd octagonal shapes and fitted with reinforced steel. Hudson found herself staring up at it for a moment before realizing she was losing Louis as he started up the grand staircase toward the second floor press room.

Catching up to him, she asked, "So, do you think Mayor Meyer is guilty?"

"Hell no." He gave her a quick frown. "And you shouldn't, either."

"I shouldn't?" She didn't, not after the research she'd done on her own about Robert Meyer, but she wanted to know why Louis was so supportive of him.

Louis shook his head. "Look, I've talked with the guy a lot, and followed him during the weeks of his campaign before he was elected. He's one of the most down-to-earth, kindest guys you'll ever meet. The real, genuine thing, you know? You don't meet those often, but he's definitely it. Robert has a way of listening to those who talk to him, looking you right in the eye and all. His family goes back for generations in this area – hell, the Meyers practically built Metropolis. The man doesn't need to resort to accepting bribes and siphoning city funds to get the job done. He's above all of that."

"You sound like his most ardent supporter," Hudson mused as she glanced over at him. "I certainly didn't think that by your plan of attack."

"Yeah, well, I'm a reporter first and foremost," he replied with a shrug. "As much as I like the guy, I have been known to be wrong once or twice. I want to give the man the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes politicians do stupid things, you know? So, if I go in guns blazing and Robert seems shocked, at least I'll know I'm right, and I can concentrate more on figuring out who is behind the allegations."

Hudson smiled, pleased to discover that her partner was such a fair and yet dedicated reporter. He wasn't just out for a story or to make a name for himself; he truly cared about getting the facts straight and using the media as a way to get the truth out to the people. So much of him reminded her of Chloe that she couldn't help but miss her friend terribly whenever she was around him. Maybe he didn't have the spunk that Chloe did, and he was missing her innate kindness, but he was just as full of life and determination as his cousin ever was.

They were stopped outside the door of the conference room and asked for their passes. Louis flashed his and explained that she was his new partner, and they were still waiting on the final paperwork for her City Hall badge to arrive. The guard nodded and allowed them to pass, commenting to Louis that he owed him one.

"You know everyone. Don't you, Louis?" Hudson asked as she followed him to a couple of seats in the center of the third row.

"Contacts are a reporter's lifeline, Smallville," he confided with a wink. "And I have all of the right ones, in all of the right places."

Robert Meyer was a good-looking man in his late forties with bright blue eyes and salt and pepper hair. He was of medium height with a slight build and a friendly face; the kind of individual one would feel as if they could trust almost immediately. Hudson thought that Louis' assessment of him was dead-on as she watched him where he sat at the back of the dais, waiting for press secretary, Lindel Gordemon, to finish with his opening remarks. He continually watched the audience, as if carefully gauging the reactions of each and every member of the press, and deciding from there how best to approach his speech. He didn't look nervous to Hudson, only wary, as if he knew he was going up against a crowd that had already formed their opinion of him. She couldn't help but think back to her mother's words about how she would have to convince her father she was ready to show the world her powers before she could be expected to convince anyone else. That was what she figured Robert Meyer was thinking of at the moment – that he knew he had to convince the press, before he could convince his constituents.

As he stepped up to the podium, he gave them all a self-deprecating smile and opened up with a comment that he suddenly knew how Dr. Richard Kimble must have felt when standing before his accusers. Everyone in the audience laughed appropriately, and tensions seemed to ease a bit. Hudson understood then that what Louis had warned her about was true – the reporters around them liked Meyer far too much to attack him. While that was honorable, not asking the tough questions certainly wouldn't help get to the root of the problem.

Meyer launched into a discussion about the rise in the economy and briefly covered his platform for his re-election, outlining everything Hudson had pored over in preparation for this press conference. He was definitely the type of politician that would be described as a 'man for the people', with his ideas on healthcare, education and tax breaks all bordering on revolutionary. Hudson took a few notes, and then glanced over to see what Louis was writing. She wasn't surprised to discover that his pad of paper was filled with doodles and the occasional Tic-Tac-Toe, one game of which he'd apparently lost. He sighed with boredom, caught her looking at him and flashed her a quick grin before drawing a happy face that was sticking its tongue out at her. The man was incorrigible, she thought, exasperated.

By the time Mayor Meyer opened the floor to questions, it seemed that everyone had all but forgotten about the allegations. They wanted further details of his education proposals, and exact amounts for the tax breaks proposed for middle and lower class citizens of Metropolis. Louis yawned once, made a show of checking his watch and then raised his hand as he stood. He towered above the others around him, effectively blocking them out.

"Mr. Mayor," he began casually. "Can you explain the recent accusation pertaining to the disappearance of over $112,000 raised for the After-School Activity Clinics your administration created during your current term?"

The mayor glanced in his direction and seemed to force a tight smile. "I'm not certain where you received your information, Mr. Lane, but that money is in the accounts where it's supposed to be… Next question."

"A source at the First Metropolis Bank," Louis continued, undaunted, "claims that a lot of money generated for your administrations programs has been disappearing from various accounts. Care to tell us where this money is going?"

"Those accounts are there for a reason, Mr. Lane," the mayor replied. "The various programs to which you are referring cost money. I would rather donations go toward funding them as opposed to the peoples' hard-earned income."

"But is the money going where it's needed, Mr. Mayor?" Louis questioned, his voice rising above the others around him. "Or is it instead, lining pockets?"

"Your charges are not based on facts, but conjecture, Mr. Lane," Lindel Gordemon commented, stepping up beside the mayor. "This is a press conference, not the Inquisition."

Louis grinned as the questions from his peers returned to details regarding the upcoming election. He glanced over at Hudson and nodded as he took his seat.

Taking a deep breath, Hudson stood and waited for a moment to fire off her own questions, but as the voices around her continued in a steady stream, she began to realize she was going to have to just jump right in. Looking down at her notes, she picked out the first one and found herself calling out: "Mr. Mayor, LiCausi Construction claims that they were given $200,000 by your office to – "

She trailed off as she realized her voice was hardly a whisper among the others. She flashed Louis a guilty look, waited for the mayor to finish his current reply regarding the recent rise in test scores among the city's students, and then asked in a much louder voice:

"Eddie LiCausi, of LiCausi Construction, claims that he was handed a check for $200,000 by your office to slow down construction on the new interchange, thereby forcing the government to step in with federal funds to help get the project finished by the deadline. Would you care to comment on this, Mr. Mayor?"

The room grew silent as Mayor Meyer stared across the room at Hudson. She lifted her chin a little higher, pushed her glasses up on her nose, and politely waited for an answer as she watched him. Louis was right; the man's eyes seemed to give everything away to her. They weren't clouded by guilt or fear like a rabbit caught in a snare. No, he looked sickened by her words. Hudson couldn't help but feel a strong wave of guilt wash over her for it, but like her mom always said, sometimes you need to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.

"I would never rely on funds from the federal government for the growth of our city," he replied quietly. "Such an act would defeat the purpose of my tax breaks. And I most definitely never wrote a check to Eddie LiCausi."

"So, are you calling Mr. LiCausi a liar?" She asked, voice squeaking slightly.

All eyes turned toward Meyer as he continued to stare at her. He replied, "I'm simply saying that he is mistaken."

That was all it seemed to take. The next five questions asked of the mayor all related to the recent allegations against his office. Hudson took her seat beside Louis, whose attention seemed completely focused on Robert Meyer and the manner with which he replied. The press secretary stepped up to the podium once more, taking over the press conference which suddenly seemed to have taken its toll on the mayor. Beside her, Louis rubbed at his chin thoughtfully, his gaze moving to the door. He suddenly reached out and tugged at Hudson's hand.

"Come on."

"What – "

Hudson wasn't able to finish her question as Louis grabbed hold of her arm and dragged her along behind him, out the door and down the hall toward the back stairwell. She tripped and would have fallen, but Louis was practically holding her up with one hand as he silently encouraged her to move a little faster. She easily could have kept up with him, but it worked better to add in a stumble here and there, and it was far too amusing to her to see the occasional frown on his face when she did so. Would there be a time when Louis would just become annoyed with her ineptitude and leave her behind?

They reached the ground floor and Louis dropped her arm, moving on ahead at a steady pace. Hudson peered around him, and realized that they seemed to be pursuing someone as the backdoor closed with a loud bang. The sound caused Louis to move a little faster, and Hudson allowed herself to do the same, adding a small burst of speed to get behind him and follow him out the door.

There was a limousine parked along the street, and Hudson found herself coming to a halt as she watched the back of a familiar bald head climb into the vehicle. Another man followed behind him – tall and lean with an angular face and too large nose. There was something about him that wasn't quite right, as if his clothes didn't fit the way they should have or his hair wasn't cut to match his face. Hudson couldn't put her finger on it before he was in the car and the door was closing behind him. At the bottom of the steps, Louis was letting loose a neat stream of cusswords as he scrambled for the tiny digital camera in his pocket, but he was too late. By the time he had it in hand, the limousine was driving away.

Moving down the stairs to join him at the back of the capitol building, Hudson asked, "Who was that?"

"Your ex."

She shook her head. "No. I know that the first man was Lex, but who got into the car after him?"

"John Petty," Louis replied, spinning around to face her as he slipped his camera back into his pocket.

"The man running against Mayor Meyer."

"The same." Louis cussed again and started back up the steps. "I can't believe I let that opportunity get by me – I could have had a picture of them together, further proof that Lexcorp is aiding Petty's campaign."

"What does Lex have to do with any of this?" Hudson asked, following after him.

Louis stopped and turned to look down at her. "Good question, that. Wanna hear my theory?"

Hudson wasn't certain if she wanted to or not. She remembered four years of her father's theories about Lex's motives in Smallville, and she'd never agreed with any one of them. She couldn't imagine agreeing with Louis' any better, but she nodded just the same.

He leaned against the railing. "Personally, I think he's the one behind the allegations on Robert. He wants Petty in office so he can control him, be the man behind the power, so to speak. Robert doesn't like big business, and he certainly doesn't agree with handing large corporations tax cuts that he feels better serve the middle class and small business owners. Obviously, corporations like Lexcorp, Sprint and Paxcom Industries – just to name a few of those based in this city – don't appreciate his sentiment. If Meyer stays in another term, they're going to have to cough up a lot of money.

"Meanwhile, Petty has formed his platform on the idea of handing over bigger tax breaks to the corporations, in order to encourage more companies to build their headquarters in Metropolis." Louis shrugged. "On the surface, it doesn't sound like a bad idea; since he proposes that it would create tens of thousands of jobs in the city, and spur a growth in the economy. The problem – and this is something he sure as hell isn't sharing with the general populace – is that people like Lex Luthor and Michael Paxton aren't going to allow that to happen. More big business means more competitive wages and benefits, and suddenly it costs more to keep your employees than it's worth. I have no doubt that Petty knows this, and actually has no intention whatsoever of encouraging other businesses to move into Metropolis."

Hudson considered the possibility for a moment. The worst part of everything Louis was telling Hudson was that she was able to easily believe Lex would be behind such a plot. She didn't like it, and she didn't want to believe it, but the manipulations sounded very much like something he'd done back in Smallville during her senior year. Mayor Tate had been in office for a very long time and had a bit of a racket going with local businesses, including Luthorcorp. When Lex took over the company, he didn't like the extortion that Tate was pulling; so he decided the mayor didn't need to be in office any longer. He backed Mayor Hollingsworth instead, convinced the other business owners to follow suit, and for the first time in three elections, Mayor Tate was voted out of office. The odd part of it was, Hudson knew for a fact many of those business owners were very good friends with Tate. How Lex had convinced them to back his candidate was something she had never been able to figure out and maybe had never wanted to.

"So, you believe Lex is trying to sway the public opinion against Mayor Meyer in order to garner more votes for Petty?"

Louis nodded. "That's it exactly. I'd stake my reputation on it." He turned to start back up the steps when the back door opened again, and Mayor Meyer exited with his aide, Judith Baxter.

"Robert!" Louis called out.

The mayor frowned briefly when he saw the reporter. "Louis Lane," he acknowledged as he moved down the steps toward them. "Here to rip a few more holes into me?"

Hudson couldn't help but smile as Louis held up his hands in denial. "You wound me with such implications, Robert. You know I'm on your side."

"You sure as hell didn't sound like it in there," Robert pointed out as he stopped two steps above Louis. His aide continued past them, on toward the Town Car parked just below them. "I thought I was going to have to pull out a white flag."

"I made you look good, and you know it. All of those reporters are on their way back to their desks to write glowing reports about how there is no possible way Metropolis' mayor could be guilty of those allegations against him."

"If you'll recall, Lane," Robert stated blandly. "The Daily Planet was the first to run the story about the allegations."

"We had our sources, Robert, and everything checked out," her partner defended. "It wasn't exactly something we could just sit on, especially considering the competition would have run with it if we hadn't. At least we gave you a chance to defend yourself."

Robert acknowledged this with a quick nod as he gaze settled on Hudson. "Are you one of Louis' new minions?"

"I don't know if I'd refer to myself as a 'minion', sir," she replied with a smile as she reached out to shake his hand. "I'm Hudson Kent. I just started working with the Planet this week."

"Kent." The mayor frowned over the name for a moment, gaze narrowing as he stared at her. Then, his eyes suddenly widened in recognition. "Kent. You were married to Luthor, weren't you?"

"Uh, that was seven years ago." She shifted uncomfortably under his now wary expression. Was this the reaction she was to expect from everyone she met in Metropolis who remembered her connection to Lex?

"She saw the light," Louis supplied, coming to her rescue. He glanced up at Robert, drawing his attention back to him. "Speaking of Luthor, any idea what business he and your opponent might have here at City Hall today?"

The mayor sighed and continued down the stairs toward the waiting car. "Probably stealing more employees out from under my nose. Three of my loyal supporters defected to the other side last week. I'm sure there are more to follow." He stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked back up at Louis. "That's off the record, Lane. I'd rather the people of Metropolis didn't know that my own staff doesn't even have faith in me."

Louis gave him a quick, two fingered salute. "You got it, Robert. Good luck."

The mayor nodded and disappeared into the car.

Hudson was staring at the lead to the follow-up on her report regarding the press conference held with Mayor Meyer the day before. It was difficult to concentrate because her gaze kept moving to the windows across the aisle, and the view of the Lexcorp Towers beyond. One week in Metropolis, and the most she'd seen of Lex was the back of his head. She'd set up an appointment for an interview two days ago, but received a call from his secretary telling her he needed to cancel due to an unexpected problem. So, she went ahead and rescheduled for tomorrow morning. Ever since that phone call, the butterflies in her stomach had been in an uproar. Hudson still didn't know what she would say to him, or how he would respond to seeing her.

She was pulled from her thoughts when a newspaper was dropped onto her desk in front of her. Blinking in surprise, she glanced up at Louis before picking the paper up and reading the headline: Hudson Luthor Stuns Prosecution by Exonerating Husband – as reported by Louis Lane. Brow furrowing, she turned her gaze back to her partner, wondering what he was up to. Louis was leaning back against his desk, arms folded across his chest, watching her curiously. His large blue eyes were flashing with unsuppressed amusement, causing Hudson to want to reach up and use his unevenly knotted tie as a noose.

"I was wondering something," he began, waving his hand toward the paper.

Hudson set the paper to the side and returned her attention to the screen in front of her. "And that is?" She asked casually.

Louis didn't appear to be deceived by her feigned apathy. "Seven years ago, you shocked all of Metropolis when you agreed to sit on the witness stand for the prosecution in the murder trial of your husband. But the real shocker came when you made a fool out of the prosecutor by claiming your husband didn't kill his father. So, I would like to ask you the one question that every reporter has been dying to ask since you disappeared from Smallville."

Her fingers stilled over the keyboard and she brought her gaze back to the tall man beside her. "Yes?"

"Why did the prosecution allow you to sit on the witness stand if you believed your husband was innocent?"

Hudson knew her silence was damning, but she couldn't think of a plausible excuse that Louis would believe. If she told him the truth of what had occurred that day in the courtroom, he wouldn't have believed her. Few would have.

"Weren't you just the least bit concerned when the prosecutor reminded you that you were under oath?" He prodded.

"I didn't lie," she replied quietly. I didn't have a choice.

"So, Lex is truly innocent."

Hudson clenched her jaw and turned back to her story. Beside her, she heard Louis make a small hum of interest in his throat. He leaned forward suddenly, resting his hands on her desk.

"You're piquing my curiosity, Smallville," he warned her. "Your entire relationship with Luthor was simply fodder for front-page headlines."

She pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose and flashed him a quick, prim expression. "I'm a reporter, Louis. Not a story."

"Well, I have to admit, you're not that interesting now." He turned away from her desk and dropped into the chair at his. "But, you were, once upon a time."

"Thanks for the insult."

"It was a compliment," Louis denied with a friendly grin. "Who would have thought a little girl from the middle of Kansas could lead such an interesting life in a few short years? No wonder you got away from it all. I might have cracked under the strain, too."

"I didn't crack, Louis." She gave him a slight glare.

"Of course not. Anyone would choose the life you have now." He rolled his eyes, and then grew silent.

Hudson tried to focus on the story once more, ignoring the paper beside her and her inquisitive partner. She didn't want to think about that horrid day in the courtroom, the expression of betrayal on Lex's face, and the immense satisfaction he displayed at her discomfort when she hadn't been able to answer the prosecutor's questions. They both shared in the betrayal and destruction of their marriage, but Hudson couldn't bring herself to blame him any longer. She'd had years to remember the many hardships she'd put him through; the lies and the hurt and the pain, not only caused by her own selfishness, but by his father's instability. Even if Lex didn't believe her, she did understand his choices. The problem was, he shouldn't have had to make them, and it was her fault for not providing him with other options.

"Why did you leave him?"

"What?" Hudson's gaze snapped back to Louis. He was resting his elbows on his knees, leaning toward her, watching her closely.

"Lex," he clarified, as if she didn't know what he was talking about. "If you believed he was innocent, why did you leave him?"

She didn't appreciate being cornered like this, but she knew Louis wouldn't leave her alone if she didn't give him an answer he could accept. He and Chloe were very much alike in that respect.

"There were a lot more problems in our relationship than just that trial," she replied.

"Is that why Lex secured an annulment shortly after you left?" He pressed. "I thought it odd that he was able to convince a judge that he was coerced into marriage with you. How do you explain that one?"

"I haven't the foggiest idea, Louis," Hudson responded, irritation edging her voice. "Don't you have anything better to do than bother me? Isn't there a story out there related to current events that you should be working on?"

"Your return is a current event," he told her, lounging back in his chair indolently. "And I have a feeling the story about you and Luthor isn't quite over just yet."

"You're insane."

"Inquiring minds want to know, Smallville."

Hudson was about to tell him where to stick his inquiring mind when her phone rang, saving her from continuing the conversation. She snatched the clip-on earring from her ear and picked up the receiver.

"Hudson Kent."

"Miss Kent? This is Suzanne Dawson, Mr. Luthor's assistant. I was calling regarding the appointment you have scheduled with him for tomorrow."

"Yes." The butterflies in Hudson's stomach suddenly turned to acid. "For one o'clock."

"I'm afraid Mr. Luthor is going to have to cancel the appointment. Something, uh, has come up. I'm very sorry."

Hudson worried her lower lip for a moment, catching Louis out of the corner of her eye as he wheeled his chair closer to her desk, to hear the conversation. Clearing her throat for lack of anything better to do, Hudson replied, "I would like to reschedule, then. Please."

There was a significant pause on the other end of the line. Then, "Well, Mr. Luthor is very booked for the next few months, Miss Kent. I don't really see a spot on his schedule where I can fit you in. Perhaps, if you call back some other time – "

"I see," Hudson cut Suzanne off, refusing to give into the sudden urge to crush the phone in her hand. "Thank you, Miss Dawson. I'll… call some other time."

"Having trouble with your interview?" Louis asked as Hudson dropped the receiver back into its cradle.

"He's avoiding me," she bit out, knowing she shouldn't have expected anything less but annoyed all the same. "He's cancelled both appointments and now his calendar is unexpectedly filled for the next few months."

"Ouch." Louis leaned his elbows on her desk as he silently seemed to consider her dilemma. "Do you think he really means to avoid you? Or is he just trying to piss you off?"

Hudson couldn't help but smile at Louis' blunt assessment of the situation. "Knowing Lex, it's a little of both." She sighed. "I swear Perry put me up to this interview as a test."

"Well then, it's a good thing you have me around to look out for you," Louis told her as he bounded to his feet. "Come on. Let's grab lunch."

Before Hudson could question his comment about looking out for her, Louis was already headed toward the elevators. She quickly locked her workstation and turned off her monitor, and then hurried after him, careful to make a show of stumbling in her heels as she reached the tile flooring. Louis cast a quick frown in her direction as he reached out to grab hold of her arm and steady her.

"Ever think of wearing flats?" He remarked as he pressed the call button.

"I'm fine," she answered, lifting her foot to adjust her shoe, while leaning heavily on Louis. "Besides, I don't like it when the men around me tower over me."

That wasn't true. She enjoyed meeting men taller than her, and Louis certainly qualified in that regard, when even in three inch heels her head still barely reached the tip of his nose. If she weren't an alien with indescribable strength, she knew that she would feel extremely safe in Louis' presence. He was built like a football player, and she'd learned yesterday at the press conference that he knew how to use his size to his advantage.

"See, that's a problem I'm noticing about you, Smallville," Louis added as he dropped her arm and stepped into the elevator, waiting for her to follow. "You have a control issue. You see, men like to be the dominant ones in a relationship – any relationship, love, friendship, acquaintance, business, what have you. You've got this whole Tomboy thing going on that might have been cute when you were younger, but it's kind of grating in a twenty-something female."

"And you need to step into the twenty-first century," she told him. A strand of hair had slipped from the bun she wore, and she tucked it behind her ear.

"No need to get defensive." He shrugged, resting a shoulder against the wall. "I'm just saying you should try to be a little more feminine. The shoes alone aren't going to do it. I mean, look at you. You wear your hair up, like you wish it were short. No makeup. Your clothes fit you all wrong. You walk like a man. Hell, those glasses are probably a man's style, as badly as they fit your face! Earrings, a skirt and heels don't make a woman, Smallville. No more than a pair of dirty jeans and some raggedy boots do."

The elevator came to a stop in the lobby with Hudson rolling her eyes. She wanted to wrap her arms around her waist and throw herself on the floor laughing, but then she might have to abandon her disguise to allow such mirth. Instead, she pushed her way past him into the lobby, swinging her purse over her shoulder just in time to slam it into his chest as she moved by him.

"I'm every bit a lady," she replied as they exited the building onto the street. "Just because I don't run around… flashing my… my boobs at people and wearing shorts that show my butt… that doesn't make me not feminine." She tripped on purpose on a crack in the sidewalk, caught herself and glanced over at her partner to find him grinning at her. "What?"

"You're a train wreck, Smallville. Absolutely fascinating."

"Oh… shut up."

Louis kept grinning.

They sat down for lunch at D'Bronx deli, just a few blocks down from the Daily Planet offices. Louis ordered a large plate of lasagna, side salad, order of breadsticks and cheesecake. His order sounded so perfect that Hudson found herself asking for the exact same thing. Her partner stood beside her, eyebrows raised as she paid for her mammoth meal, grabbed her number and then followed him over to a booth in the corner.

"Eyes bigger than your stomach, eh?" He asked.

Hudson just smiled, and changed the subject. "Explain to me what you meant when you said I should be glad that you were around to look out for me?"

"Oh, that." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out two tickets, sliding them across the table to her. "It just so happens that I'm good friends with one of the ladies on the Metropolis General Charity Committee."

She picked up the tickets, surprised to see that they were for tomorrow night's charity ball at Lexcorp. She shook her head. "Just friends, Louis? I heard these things were impossible to get a hold of."

"Well, maybe a little more than friends," he clarified.

"So, why did you want tickets to Lex's ball?"

"Are you kidding?" He leaned toward her, dropping his voice as he told her, "You don't often get the chance to have this many corrupt businessmen and politicians in one room, Smallville. Events like this are every journalist's dream come true. There's even a rumor going around that Meyer's opponent, John Petty, is going to be there."

Hudson met his gaze. "You're still pursuing the belief that Lex is behind the scandal surrounding the Mayor?"

"I'm damn certain that he wants Petty in City Hall as his puppet." Louis tapped his finger on the table. "I just have to find someone to corroborate the story."

"Lex isn't that sloppy, you know."

"A man with that many webs has to get them tangled up somewhere, doll."

He grew silent as their lunch arrived. Once the server moved away from the table, he caught Hudson's gaze once more and grinned.

"So, tell me, Smallville. You got anything to wear to meet your ex-husband?"

The majority of Lexcorp's functions were held at the very top of the main Lexcorp tower. The 115th floor was an ornate ballroom that was the showcase of Lex's wealth. White marble covered the floor, and matching pillars rose up to the thirty-foot ceilings where enormous crystal chandeliers cast a golden glow around the 10,000 square foot room. The north side of the room dipped into a large alcove where the fifty-piece orchestra sat, playing everything from waltzes to Big Band to the occasional contemporary song. Comfortable leather chairs and couches were scattered around the rim of the ballroom, some set away in private alcoves where guests could relax and mingle, away from the dancing. Tuxedoed servers balanced trays filled with the finest liquors and wines from around the world, as well as elegant hors d'oeuvres ranging from sushi and caviar to canapés, pate, oysters and over fifty different cheeses. Tickets to the charity ball, the proceeds of which were going to the Lillian Luthor Wing at Metropolis General, cost over $1,500 per person.

Which was why Hudson was certain she and Louis did not belong there.

There was a time when she'd attended functions like this, holding desperately onto Lex's arm, afraid that he was going to leave her with a group of socialites who would cut her to shreds. He always made certain she was dressed in the finest gowns, though, wearing his mother's jewelry, her hair, makeup and nails arranged by professionals. Even that had never been enough to instill her with confidence in appearing at such gatherings. She knew no matter how much she dressed up, she'd always be the farm girl that Metropolis' own prince had fallen in love with.

Hudson fidgeted uncomfortably beside Louis, knowing that she distinctly did not look like she belonged there that night. She'd gone out of her way to purchase a gown that fit improperly: the neckline sagged away from her bosom, the bodice was about four inches too big causing it to hang closer to her hips than her waist and the color was pea-green, leaning slightly more to the pea than it was the green. It made her complexion look sallow, and extremely unattractive. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and her too-large black glasses perched on the tip of her nose. All in all, Hudson was a little surprised that they'd let her through the door, invitation or not. More than that, she was astounded that Louis had let her out of her apartment. He'd certainly given her a look that insulted her feminine ego when she'd answered the door.

"Remind me to go shopping with you next time," he commented in a low voice beside her as they moved further into the ballroom.

"Why?" She glanced up at him, eyes wide with confusion.

Louis looked down at her and frowned. "The top of that dress is so empty I can see to China. The least you could have done was stuffed it with toilet paper, like normal girls do."

Glaring, Hudson grabbed the neckline of her dress and attempted to hitch it upwards, but it just continued to sag.

He rolled his eyes and suggested, "Try standing up a little straighter. Maybe that will help."

Hudson shifted her shoulders back, and promptly wobbled on her heels.

Louis grabbed her by the elbow to keep her steady, and then dragged her off toward the far wall and behind some tall plants, away from the sight of others. "Jesus," he muttered. "Didn't anyone teach you how to be a female?"

"My mother taught me how to be a female just fine!" She snapped, unable to curb the impatience she was beginning to feel with her ruse, but she doubted her mom would find her discomfort a good enough reason to give it up. "Besides, it wasn't my idea to come to this little shindig. I – "

"Did you just say 'shindig'?" Louis asked in amusement. "How quaint."

Hudson huffed indignantly. She was becoming a little impatient with her partner, as well. "As I was saying, it wasn't my idea – "

"But how else are you going to get your interview?" Louis asked, grabbing a couple of glasses of champagne from a passing tray and handing one over to her. "Since you obviously don't have the balls to march into your ex's office and demand one."

Hudson made a face and sipped at her champagne. She hated how Louis always referred to Lex as her 'ex', making the end of their relationship seem so very final. It was difficult for her to keep any hope alive when he was constantly stomping all over her efforts. She just couldn't allow herself to believe that Lex really had no intention of at least attempting to put the past behind them and moving on as friends. As she had explained to her mother, she wanted nothing more than to regain Lex's trust. If she had that again, then maybe she would be able to put a little of her guilt behind her. She certainly wasn't going to allow Louis to tell her any differently.

"My God," Louis commented with a big grin across his face as he scanned the ballroom. "Can you imagine the amount of money in this room at this very moment? The greed, the gluttony, the dirty, under-handed dealings likely happening under our very noses – it's a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. I wouldn't be too surprised if people aren't having sex in the alcoves. It's a literal Den of Iniquity."

"And you're enjoying every minute of it."

"But, of course."

He finished off his glass and stopped a server to snatch a couple of crab puffs. He offered one to Hudson who shook her head, not feeling the least bit hungry. Louis quickly popped the treats into his mouth, and then grabbed another champagne as the tray passed by him.

"So, Smallville." He leaned back against a marble pillar. "What's your strategy?"

"Er, strategy?" She tugged on her dress, wishing the bodice would stay flattened against her, instead of sagging outwards.

"How do you plan on taking the bull by the horns, so to speak." He waved the glass of champagne out toward the ballroom floor. "Because, if I'm not mistaken, your prey has just entered the arena."


Hudson spun around quickly, gaze searching the crowd that was suddenly gathering near the elevators. There were scores of people in her way, and she stood on tip-toe, attempting to see over their heads. Behind her, she heard Louis grunt his amusement before pushing past to follow a redhead in a slinky black dress onto the dance floor. Frowning at his back, Hudson returned her attention to the crowd, and that was when she saw him.

He was everything she remembered, and more. His presence commanded the attention of every person in the room, and outshone them all. Dressed in a formal black tux with a three-quarter length coat, silver vest and matching tie, Lex was even more beautiful than he had been seven years ago. If possible, he exuded even more confidence and arrogance, as if silently judging every person he came into contact with and finding them inferior. His wife stood beside him, dressed in a silver gown that hugged her curves with every movement she made. She clung to his arm and smiled at each guest they stopped to speak briefly with. Her throat, ears and wrists dripped with so many sapphires and diamonds that Hudson wondered how the woman could possibly be strong enough to stay upright under the weight. Her gaze quickly returned to Lex as the man in front of him said something that caused his rich, vibrant laughter to echo through the room. The laugh was forced, contained no joy, and yet still made Hudson ache at the sound. She found herself remembering those precious moments when Lex would laugh in abandon with her, watching silly movies, playing games or just fooling around in the bedroom with tickling and pillows and the occasional can of whipped cream. Forcing the memories from her mind, she focused on the best way to approach him without causing too much of a scene. Unfortunately at the moment, surrounded by his guests as he was, Lex was unapproachable.

Hudson spent the next hour wandering around the ballroom, quietly staying out of Lex's sight, but watching his every move. Occasionally she would see Louis, flirting with a different female, and he'd raise his eyebrows in question. She'd shake her head and he'd roll his eyes in response. She knew he thought she was a coward; she didn't care.

When Hudson finally despaired of ever having a chance to get Lex alone, an opportunity arose. She was at the buffet table, glancing over the assorted truffles on the dessert end, while watching Lex out of the corner of her eye. A tall, beautiful blonde, wearing a black pantsuit that more resembled a uniform than it did formalwear, appeared at his side. He tilted his head slightly, to hear what she had to say, and Hudson quickly focused her hearing on the conversation:

"Something has come up regarding that little matter in St. Louis," the woman whispered to him. "Our contact is waiting to speak with you on the phone."

Lex nodded, excused himself from the group around him, and quickly made his way across the ballroom floor toward the elevators.

Hudson replaced the truffle she'd just picked up and hurried after him. She hid behind a pillar until his elevator's doors closed, and then watched to see where he went. Noting that the car had stopped on the 110th floor, she made her way across the hall to the stairwell and crept down the stairs to the door that led to the administrative office of Lexcorp. It was frustrating not being able to use her superspeed, but she knew Lex far too well to give in to the temptation – there were likely hidden cameras in every corner of the building. In fact, it was highly doubtful that he wasn't already completely aware of her presence.

Once she gained entrance to the main suite, Hudson carefully made her way down the hall and past the main reception area toward Lex's office. Light filtered through the bottom of the door, and she could hear him speaking softly on the phone. She attuned her hearing to his voice, but only caught the last of the conversation:

"Thank you for the information, Masters. I'll take care of it." The phone went silent.

What was he going to 'take care of'? Hudson worried her lower lip for a moment as she glanced around, wondering where the blonde Amazon had disappeared to. She was surprised no one had stopped her. Knowing that she was stalling, Hudson took a deep breath, steeled her nerves and quietly pushed the door to Lex's office open.

He was standing behind his desk, back turned at a ninety-degree angle toward the windows, a glass of brandy in his hand. He didn't move as she shut the door.

"I was wondering when you were going to work up the nerve to confront me," he commented casually, taking a sip of his drink.

Hudson's throat suddenly felt dry; she couldn't think of anything to say.

Lex turned to her, eyeing her quietly for a long moment as he continued to sip at his brandy. Finally, he told her, "You spent one hour trailing me around the ballroom and you didn't bother practicing your speech? I expected more out of you, Hudson. You disappoint me."

"I knew," she practically squeaked, and then quickly searched for a stronger voice. "I mean, that you knew I was there. I knew."

"I know everything that goes on within my buildings, Hudson Kent. Never doubt that." He gave her a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I will say, I'm surprised at your sudden show of bravado – coming back to Kansas, moving to Metropolis, taking a position in the building outside my window. So unlike the person who ran away; who has spent the last seven years in hiding."

Very suddenly, he set his glass down with a loud clack on the desk and moved over to her, stopped in front of her, his gaze dark and threatening. It was all Hudson could do not to take a step back.

"Very brave, Hudson. And very stupid," he remarked. "I could crush you. You and your quaint little 'down home' folks."

His anger spurred something within her, allowing her to speak. "Lex, if you would just give me a chance to explain – "

"I gave you more chances than you ever deserved." Lex leaned in and dropped his voice to a silky whisper. "Never. Again."

Hudson shivered slightly at his words, though she couldn't be certain if it was due to their meaning or the sound of his voice as it washed over her. His breath was warm against her ear, and the dangerous tone resonated deep within her. Her heart skipped a beat as he remained beside her, the scent of his cologne and the warmth of his nearness engulfing her senses. She tried not to look at him, couldn't think of anything to say in reply. 'I'm sorry' was useless at this point and would have made her sound as if she were groveling. Maybe she was, and maybe a part of her wanted to, but she couldn't give Lex that kind of power over her. She knew now that if he had it, he would run with it, and allow her no quarter. Lex didn't respect weak individuals; he controlled them.

She jumped slightly as he touched her arm, his fingers running idly over her skin, caressing from shoulder to elbow. Her breath caught in her throat as he leaned closer, his arm pressing against her breast as his fingers dropped to her wrist.

"You're more beautiful than ever," he told her, his gaze roaming over her figure with a lazy insolence. "Though the glasses are a hideous accessory. And I used to dress you better." He watched her silently for a long moment. "Think you can hide what you are behind such things?"

Hudson stiffened, and brought her eyes around to meet his. "I'm not ashamed of what I am, Lex. And you can't make me feel that way."

"Of course." He gave her a frightening smile. "Because you're so superior to the rest of us."

"I never said that."

Not bothering to reply, Lex moved away from her to return to the desk and Hudson released the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She didn't relax because that would be a stupid thing to do around him, especially when she knew he would strike out at her the moment she lowered her defenses. He knew her too well, and she had the strangest feeling that she didn't know him at all, not any longer. Fixing her gaze on a point just past his shoulder, trying to ignore the hypnotic intensity of his piercing blue eyes, she set out to accomplish her mission.

"You keep canceling my appointments with you. I'd like an interview."

Lex gazed at her levelly as he replied simply, "No." His attention returned to the file on his desk.

"Why not? You've granted interviews with the Journal and the Times; there's no reason – "

"I don't like the Planet."

Hudson frowned, taking a determined step closer to his desk. "That's ridiculous. The Planet has the largest readership in the state. I can't imagine that you wouldn't like to take advantage of that."

He glanced up at her. "I would. I'd just prefer a different interviewer is all. I'm afraid that your opinion would be slightly… biased."

She blanched at that. "I'll have you know that I'm a professional. Our past history has nothing to do with my work."

"Oh?" Lex smirked without amusement. "And yet somehow you still feel as if you should be entitled to an interview."

"I never said I believed that I was entitled, only that you should give me a chance. Just like anyone else." If she blew this, she knew Louis wouldn't let her live it down. Hell, Perry wouldn't understand, either.

Lex raised an eyebrow sardonically at that. "Ah, but you aren't like everyone else. Are you, Miss Kent?"

She was losing ground quickly. It had been years since she'd been forced to match wits with him, and in all of this time, he'd honed his skill while she'd seemed to lose hers. Hudson could only imagine that it was because this was Lex, and she had always been slightly off-balance around him, never certain which way was up or where she was going. She felt like that now, a foolish schoolgirl confronting a man of the world. She was fifteen all over again.

"This isn't about me," Hudson replied in a lame attempt to regain control of the conversation. "It's about… it's… " She was at a loss for what to say.

Lex continued watching her silently, waiting.

Frustrated with her inability to match wits with him, Hudson blurted out, "Who's Masters? And what is the problem in St. Louis?"

His gaze narrowed instantly, and Lex was back to her side in an instant, glaring down at her. "I see that your talent for eavesdropping certainly hasn't diminished. Shame on you, Hudson. Your points for bravery have just been withdrawn."

"Stop playing games, Lex." She took a step back. "And you haven't answered my questions."

"Ah, but games are all we have left, my love," he responded, following her, his tone indicating that she was anything but 'his love'. He reached out to wrap his hand around the back of her neck, drawing her to him. "There was a time, I would have not only given you answers, I would have given you the world."

Before she could respond to that, Lex's mouth covered hers in a bruising, angry kiss. For less than a second, she considered pulling away, but the warmth of his mouth was something she had dreamed of for so long she was reluctant to give that up. There had always been an attraction between them, and maybe it would be enough, she thought. So instead of fighting him, she leaned into the kiss, clutching the lapels of his coat and pressing her body into his. She opened her mouth beneath his, welcoming his tongue, and the tone of the kiss instantly changed; Lex changed. His arms moved around her and his mouth slanted against hers for a better angle. While still frenzied and filled with hunger, it had gentled as well; it was no longer a kiss meant as punishment. Lex's hands moved down her back, sliding over her ass and cupping it, pulling her against him. She could feel the length of his erection pressing against her, and a tremor ran through her body at the realization she still had that kind of effect on him.

As suddenly as it began, the embrace ended. Lex pushed her away from him. His gaze was angry and dark, eyes flashing with something Hudson hadn't seen since that last day on the farm, the last time she'd seen him. Hatred.

"Lex… " She whispered, trying once more to reach him.

"Get out," he snarled. "Do you really believe I'd be stupid enough to fall for your tricks again?"

Hudson started to deny his accusation but the door behind her opened, and she felt someone slide up beside her, and a hand gripping her by the elbow. She blinked at the strength of the fingers that wrapped around her, actually causing pain, and turned to look at the same blonde woman who had collected Lex from the ballroom earlier.

"Mercy, please show Miss Kent, and her companion, out of the building."

"Yes, Mr. Luthor."

"Lex, wait – " Hudson began as Mercy yanked her back, dragging her to the door.

Again, she was stunned by the strength that the woman exhibited as it almost matched her own. She turned to look at Lex, but he already had his back to her, and was leaning over his desk, knuckles gripping the edge tightly. The door slammed shut behind them, blocking her view.

In the lobby they were joined by Louis, who was being guided toward the door by a tall, cocoa-skinned woman equally as beautiful as Mercy. Hudson studied her just as she had the woman beside her, but while Mercy had ignored her, this one glared at her, her gaze filled with loathing. She didn't understand it since she'd never met the woman before, though something about her was familiar. Did both Lex's assistants possess such uncanny strength? And how was such a thing possible, unless Lex had experimented on them with meteor rocks?

"I take it your interview didn't go very well?" Louis remarked as they were tossed out onto the sidewalk, the glass doors shut and locked behind them. He straightened his jacket and turned to frown at Hudson. "I was this close to sharing the company later this evening of a woman who happened to be a very, very rich widow."

"Sorry," Hudson snapped, turning away from him before he could see the tears of frustration gathering in her eyes.

She started to walk off, making it only a few yards before she heard Louis hurry to catch up and move along beside her. He reached out to touch her arm, bringing her to a halt.

"Hey, look, I'm sorry. I'm not exactly known for my sensitivity, but I can give it a try," he told her with a smile before taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him. "What happened in there?"

Hudson shook her head. "He still hates me. I thought that after all this time… "

"Well, not to be on his side or anything," Louis gave a mock shudder at the mere suggestion, "but you did testify against him, Smallville. That isn't exactly something that a man like Lex Luthor just lets go of."

He was right, of course, and she knew long ago when she chose her course of action against him that Lex would have been hurt by her decision. The problem was, she had truly believed he would have given her a chance to explain, seven years of silence or not. If he could only understand her reasons for standing against him.

If she could only understand them…

"Come on." Louis slipped his arm around her shoulders and led her down the street. "I'll buy you some ice cream. That should cheer you up."

"I didn't get my interview," Hudson replied with a sniffle. She wondered if she would ever get another chance at it, either.

"It's your first time out tackling someone like Luthor." Louis gave her shoulders a squeeze and winked. "Don't worry, kid. I'll take care of you."

Picking at a piece of lint on his jacket, Louis checked his image once more in the restroom mirror. He patted down a hair that wasn't really out of place, gave his reflection a quick wink and then headed out into the hall and back to the newsroom to gather his things. Hudson was working on the follow-up to the City Hall story, and Louis paused beside her desk to admire her typing. Perry was right – Louis was constantly amazed by how quickly her fingers could speed across the keys, and without ever having a typo. The copy editors loved her.

"Almost finished, Smallville?" He asked as he moved over to his desk and began digging through the drawers for his tape recorder.

"Almost." She glanced over at him, and he noticed a slight wrinkling of her nose before he dove into the bottom right drawer. "Where are you off to? Got a hot date?"

He grinned. "Always." The grin faded as the recorder continued to elude him. "Actually, I'm catching a flight to St. Louis. I'm having dinner with Tony Bonhert."

"Bonhert? Wasn't he the guy who came forward claiming evidence of Lexcorp's ties to arms deals with North Korea – and then changed his tune, saying he'd been coerced by the FBI?"

Louis nodded as he gave up, yanking out the drawer and dumping its contents onto his desk. "One and the same," he replied.

"And he's meeting with you because… "

"Because I told him it was far too easy to trace the funds from his payoff, and if he didn't want me to make it front page headlines, he should meet with me."

"Why do I get the feeling none of that is true? And why are you tearing your desk apart?"

"Some of it's true," he responded with a non-committal shrug. "But he doesn't need to know what's true and what isn't to supply me with a little dirt on Luthor… And I can't find my damn recorder!"

"Bottom left drawer, underneath your bag of Cheetos."

Louis glanced over at his partner in disbelief before reaching down to pull open the left drawer, and remove the half-empty bag of Cheetos. There, just as she'd said, was the tape recorder. Grabbing it, he cast another quick look at her. Hudson was always doing weird things like that, and it was taking some getting used to on his part. Of course, his cousin had always warned him that she was a little bit strange, and while he'd seen that in the past, 91spending so much time with her now was really driving the point home. Half the time, Hudson didn't seem to have enough clues to put a ten-piece puzzle together, and then, out of nowhere, she'd amaze him with some insight he hadn't noticed. She was too quiet, and that unnerved him, not to mention she was one of the most ungraceful and inept individuals he'd ever encountered. Sometimes though, just occasionally, he'd see a change in her; a slight straightening of her shoulders, hard determination in her eyes, movements too quick and poised not to be graceful. Although those moments were few and far between, and the majority of the time Louis could only see Hudson Kent as an unmitigated weirdo.

"So, what do you hope to get out of Bonhert?" Hudson had stopped typing to turn in her chair and watch him as he dumped the items scattered across his desk back into the drawer.

"Anything I can," he told her honestly. "Luthor slipped through my fingers with the arms dealing story, but it's still out there and I plan on getting the scoop on it. One way or another."

She seemed to consider this, leaning her chin on her hand as she stared at the floor. "Lex is too smart for that, you know. He isn't going to leave any loose ends hanging around to catch himself on."

"Spoken like a devoted ex-wife," Louis remarked as he checked the tape on the recorder, and then tucked it into his pocket.

"No." She shook her head. "I just know him, and I know how he was raised. Lionel was always good at covering his tracks, or placing the blame on someone else. Lex learned to be better."

"Survival of the fittest."

"That was what he always said." Hudson leaned back in her chair. "Be careful, Louis. Lex isn't – " She hesitated, looking away as if she couldn't face him at the moment. "He isn't the man I remember."

"Everyone changes, Hudson." He held his arms wide. "Even me!"

His partner rolled her eyes. "Or not. You're still the boorish braggart Chloe introduced me to years ago."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

Pulling out a small bottle of mouthwash, Louis took a mouthful of it, swished it around for a moment, and then searched for some place to get rid of it. He spied Hudson's trashcan near the side of her desk, walked over and spit into it. As he straightened, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he found his partner glaring at him, her gaze darting to the trashcan and back again. He flashed her one of his most endearing grins, though it didn't seem to work in the least, and then moved back to his desk to grab his wallet and slip it into his inside jacket pocket.

"See you in the morning, Smallville."

"Be careful, Louis. I can't imagine that Bonhert would agree to meet with you without some external motivation."

He waved away her concerns. "I've got this one in the bag. It's time for me to show you what a true journalist is capable of."

Louis took the stairs to the helipad at the top of the Daily Planet building. He handed the confirmation slip to Darby, the helipad administrator, and then stood back to wait for the Planet's helicopter to arrive. Glancing at his watch, Louis knew that Bob McKenzie, their local traffic reporter, would be returning at any moment.

The sun had almost set in the west, casting shades of deep red and purple across the Kansas sky. His gaze drifted up to admire the slowly spinning, golden orb of planet earth that marked the newspaper's headquarters. Like almost every newspaper in the country, the Daily Planet was once owned by Hearst, before being purchased in the forties by an even more eccentric billionaire who decided the building needed its own identity. The gold leaf orb was commissioned, and floors were added to boost it high in the sky, giving the people around Metropolis, and the world, a view to admire. In a way, the globe had come to symbolize the city as a whole, a silent shout to the world that even the Midwest could be as cosmopolitan as places like New York and San Francisco. Now, the Planet was owned by a media conglomerate that could barely stay afloat. Louis had the poor paychecks to prove it.

The distant whirring of an approaching helicopter brought Louis' gaze back to the Metropolis skyline. As the chopper came into view, technicians gathered beside him to fuel and run a diagnostic before it took off again. Folding his arms across his chest, Louis leaned back against the wall, tamping down his impatience to get to the interview. He probably should have brought his partner along for the trip, just so she could get a firsthand view of his skills when it came to convincing no-account rats like Tony Bonhert to spill the beans. He couldn't take the chance of frightening the guy off, though, so he'd chosen to leave her behind for this one.

"Looks like we're all ready to go, Mr. Lane," Darby called out from beside the helicopter, waving him forward.

Nodding, Louis made his way over to the craft, climbing in beside the pilot as Darby slammed the door shut behind him and hurried off.

"St. Louis, right?" The pilot asked as Louis slipped on the headphones and fastened his seat belt.

"Yeah. And try to get me there on time," he remarked with a teasing grin. "I've got a hot date."

Chuckling, the pilot gave a 'thumb's up' to Darby before flicking the switches in front of him and pulling back on the throttle as the helicopter lifted into the air.

Louis hated flying. It was a little known secret that he never shared with anyone because he just knew he'd be teased mercilessly by those in the newsroom. He hated that feeling of having your stomach drop out from under you on take off, and he really couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that he was up in the air, where he really had no business being. Flying was meant for those with wings, and if humans were meant to fly, then they would have been born with them. Instead, they trusted machines to carry them through the air, and all too often, those machines seemed to enjoy stopping what they were doing, and simply fall to the ground. The simple thought made Louis' stomach churn.

He tried not to think of it as the craft lifted up into the air, the helipad growing ever smaller while the Daily Planet globe grew ever larger. He looked out the window beside him for something else to concentrate on, and then realized that wasn't the smartest idea, either; below him, the people on the streets looked like tiny little ants. As a wave of nausea swept over him, Louis focused his gaze on the flight controls.

And then everything went to hell.

It became quiet – too quiet. Beside him, the pilot panicked, flipping switches and communicating with the tower. The engine had shut off, he told them. The propeller was at a dead stop. Louis grabbed onto the seat as they were suddenly plunging downwards. The chopper listed to the side and his gaze came back to the window, to the street below where he knew he'd be splattered like a broken egg soon enough. A jarring bounce alerted him to the fact that they hadn't cleared the building enough to fall to the street below, and then he was suddenly thrown to the side as the helicopter teetered precariously on the edge of the Daily Planet.

"Captain Tyne!" Louis struggled to keep from slipping against the door as he turned to find the pilot had been slammed forward into the controls, and knocked unconscious.

Forcing himself to take long, deep breaths, Louis tried to reach for the pilot side door, hoping to push it open so that he could climb out. He didn't look back, afraid of what his own window would show him. He stretched his arm as far as he could reach, finally grasping the handle but when he pushed, he didn't have enough momentum or reach to get the door open. Desperately, Louis grappled for footing and then yanked his seat belt open, straining once more to reach the door opposite him. He turned the handle and pushed, watching with relief as the door flew open, and then his foot slipped.

Louis screamed as he fell back, slamming into his own door and feeling it give way beneath. He reached out, grasping at anything within his reach, his fingers closing around the loose seat belt. He dangled there for a moment, fifty-five stories above the ground, reminding himself why he was so terrified of flying.

And then he was falling.

There really wasn't time to scream or pray to a god that might never answer. There wasn't even time to see his life flash before his eyes, because Louis was currently falling to his death, and mostly his mind was just filled with thoughts of regret. Like why he never made up with his father, why he didn't try to be a better big brother to his sister, and why in hell he never asked the hot redhead who worked in Classifieds out for a date. When he looked at it, in those few seconds, his life was entirely too short; he'd done entirely too little with it and allowed entirely too many opportunities to slip through his fingers. It was sad, really, because he had so much potential. He was good-looking, people generally liked him, and he believed he had his head squarely set on his shoulders. To go out like this – flattened like a pancake on the sidewalk in front of the Daily Planet, and the headline of tomorrow morning's edition (likely written by his new partner) – was more than cause for a little dismay on his part. And a terrible ending for such a promising individual.

Of course, none of these thoughts mattered much when, moments later, his descent abruptly ended, though not in the fashion he expected. The landing was softer than anticipated, and he was still a good twenty stories above the ground. The sudden halt in the middle of the air did take the breath out of him, and it took Louis a few seconds before he could get his bearing enough to realize that he had come to a stop, and was currently moving upwards.

All of this information he worked out in under a second in his mind, as he came face to face with the most beautiful woman imaginable. Apparently he really had hit the ground, and death wasn't quite as boring or uncomfortable as he expected it to be.

"Don't worry. You're safe," the Angel said to him with a glowing smile. "I've got you."

Louis digested this information for a moment, before glancing down to see the same street he'd been falling toward a moment ago. There were scores of people gathered below, pointing toward him and the Angel. The sky was almost inky black now, and Louis had never actually pictured Heaven as ever growing dark. The building beside him was still the Daily Planet, and nothing in the surrounding area looked anything like he imagined Heaven should have appeared. Except, of course, the gorgeous creature currently cradling him in her arms as she ascended upwards.

In her arms.

Louis flailed in sudden realization that he wasn't dead; that a woman was holding him. He locked his arms in a desperate grip around her shoulders, determined that she wouldn't drop him if the urge came over her, and just how the hell was she achieving this miraculous feat?

"You've got me!" He repeated incredulously. "Who in the hell's got you!"

The Angel, if she was that – it was entirely possible she was a Demon, and Louis certainly wasn't in the mood to ponder his sudden reversion to his religious upbringing at the moment – smiled at him, as if amused. Apparently this was an everyday occurrence for her, to just swoop through the air and grab some guy who was down on his luck and falling out of helicopters. Louis closed his eyes briefly and told himself to wake up; or that if he was dead to simply move on toward the light or the blinking sign or whatever the hell it was that would lead him into eternity. Nothing seemed to work; the moment he opened his eyes, he realized he was still moving steadily upwards, held gently but firmly in the Angel's arms, and everything he'd ever regarded in this world with bland cynicism suddenly came crashing down around him.

Apparently the establishment was wrong -- there really were wonders still to be seen.

As they neared the edge of the helipad where the helicopter dangled precariously, his savior shifted him into one arm, causing Louis to tighten his own hold on her, and then she reached up and lifted the chopper into the air and away from danger. Louis stared up in astonishment, trying to grasp the fact that she was carrying him in one arm and a helicopter in the other, not to mention she was flying while doing so. With a grace that belied words, she gently landed in the middle of the helipad, carefully setting Louis to his feet as she settled the helicopter to the tarmac.

"The pilot is badly injured," she called out to the technicians who were standing off to the side in understandable shocked silence. She turned incredibly bright, blue-green eyes to Louis and gave him another enigmatic smile. "Are you all right, sir?"

"I… uh… Yeah. Thanks to you."

He could barely form a coherent thought in his head, let alone any one of the million questions he knew he should probably be asking. Currently, his brain would allow him to do little more than stare at the tall, unbelievably well-built and beautiful woman standing before him in the most ridiculous outfit in creation. She wore a red cape and bright red boots and a royal blue bodysuit that hugged every curve and hollow from neck to calves. There was a big yellow and red symbol on the front of the bodysuit that looked like a cross between an 'S' and an '8'. Louis scanned her figure from head to foot three times, admiring the long, shapely legs and tiny waist, but his gaze was drawn to her face again. She had beautiful eyes and a warm smile, and a dark mantle of hair that he thought a man could probably hide in, finding comfort and solace and love in an otherwise jaded world.

She was still smiling at him as paramedics appeared, stopping to stare at her in disbelief before hurrying to help the injured pilot. And then, she took a sudden step back and gave him a quick nod. "Maybe you should consider the train next time."

With a grin and a wink, she was lifting upwards into the night sky.

"Wait!" Louis called out. "I don't even know your name…" He trailed off as he watched her disappear beyond the Metropolis skyline.

Hudson dove into a secluded alleyway beside the docks, landing lightly to her feet and pressing herself back against the wall as she fought to contain the squeal of excitement within her. This was wrong; exposing her abilities like she did shouldn't have been so exciting. Yet there it was, the thrill coursing through her at having the chance to save lives and not hide while doing so, and the pride in her heart as she heard the applause and shouts of excitement from the people who'd been watching on the street. The pride was wicked, and she was going to have to find a way to squelch that emotion in herself. Maybe once she became used to all of this…

Louis hadn't recognized her! Her mom's concept for a disguise had worked beautifully! There was little resemblance between Hudson Kent and the alien in the primary-colored suit for anyone to latch on to. As the reporter, she was timid, withdrawn, unpolished and extremely uncoordinated, but as Kaela-El, the opposite was true. She was allowed to be herself, to be the woman she was always meant to be, and it felt incredible. It was as if some great weight she'd been carrying around with her for years had finally been released. She felt freer and more confident in who she was and her place in the world than ever before. While Hudson understood that she had never been prepared for such an undertaking in the past, would never have been responsible enough to see it through, a part of her still lamented that it couldn't have happened sooner.

Shaking her head with a laugh at how maudlin she could become when she should have been focusing on her happiness, Hudson tossed the edge of her cape over her shoulder and stepped out of the alley. Two homeless men were sitting to her left, leaning against the wall of a warehouse, sharing a bottle of whiskey. Their conversation ground to a halt at her appearance, and they stared up at her with expressions akin to fascination.

She flashed them a bright, warm smile. "Good evening, gentlemen," she greeted.

One of them blinked at her, apparently unable to reply, while the other nodded. "Evenin'… m'am."

With a slight wave, Hudson lifted off into the air as she heard the bottle of alcohol drop with a clink to the ground. She laughed.

Heading back into the city, Hudson attuned her ears to the voices around her, listening carefully for those in need. The screech of tires below her caught her attention, and she sped her way to the street in an instant, landing between the two cars before they hit one another. She caught the edges of the hoods with her hands, bringing both vehicles to a stop in the middle of the intersection. Around them, the other cars were all able to stop in time without interference. The airbag in the car to her left went off with the abrupt halt, and Hudson hurried over to the driver's side door, pulling it open to check on the individual inside.

"Are you all right, ma'am?" she asked, reaching her hand in to help the woman out from beneath the airbag.

The driver gawked up at her in wide-eyed shock, unmoving at first. Finally, she seemed to get over her immobility and slipped her hand into Hudson's, allowing her to pull her free. "Ummm… yes, I think so. Th- thank you."

Hudson smiled and nodded, hoping to ease the woman's discomfort. She turned to start toward the other car, but the driver had already emerged to stand between the cars, staring down at the tiny dents in the hoods. Feeling her cheeks warm a little at the depressions she'd caused, Hudson moved over to join him, the woman following, though not too closely.

"I'm sorry about that," she told him. "I tried to cause minimal damage."

"How did you… " The man paused and waved his hand toward the cars, staring at her with a mixture of disbelief and fear.

She flashed another smile in an attempt to alleviate his tension. "That would take a lot of explaining, and I have more places to be. Be certain to call the police and file a report about the incident. And next time, try to pay a little bit more attention to the traffic lights. Okay?"

The two drivers continued to stare at her, apparently unable to get past their surprise to speak. She gave them another quick smile and then soared upwards into the sky, following the faint sound of an alarm in the center of the city. Focusing her x-ray vision through the buildings surrounding her, she narrowed it telescopically until she located the United Metropolis Bank two miles ahead. Through the walls of the building, she could see that the alarm had been tripped by four men currently in the process of robbing the vault. They were already headed for the back door to the alley, where a fifth man was waiting in an unmarked truck for their escape.

Throwing on a burst of speed, Hudson wove her way through downtown Metropolis toward the bank. She descended down into the alley, waiting at the end of the street where the truck would be exiting. She set her hands on her hips as the sound of the approaching engine neared her, and the headlights suddenly flickered on, sweeping over her form. Hudson didn't flinch; she stood patiently as the truck slowly rolled to a stop a few yards in front of her. Focusing her hearing, she listened to the thieves as they conversed inside the cab:

"What the hell is that?"

"Looks like she thinks she can stop us, or something."

"Crazy bitch! Run her ass over, Marty!"

Marty slammed his foot onto the gas, and the truck raced toward her. Standing her ground, Hudson waited until the truck was about to hit her before reaching out and grabbing hold of the fender, lifting it upwards so that the two front tires were off of the asphalt. They spun fruitlessly in the air, and the occupants looked out at her in stunned surprise.

Finally, as if collecting their wits, two of them grabbed their guns and began firing through the windshield. The bullets pierced through the glass and sped toward Hudson, pelting her chest and shoulders. Once bounced off her cheek and she swatted at it with her free hand, as if it were an annoying insect. The barrage continued for the next sixty seconds, during which she continued to keep the vehicle hefted into the air. When the gunfire stopped, and the smoke cleared away, Hudson flashed her captives a stern expression.

"Gentlemen, please put down your weapons and secure yourselves with your seat belts. I will now be escorting you to the police station. I suggest you do not, under any circumstances, attempt escape as I do not wish for any of you to come to harm." A part of her almost added that they be certain to keep their hands and arms inside the vehicle until it came to a complete stop but she didn't believe they'd appreciate her humor.

Gripping the truck now with both hands, Hudson took a quick glance at the thieves to make certain they weren't going to attempt to escape. Luckily, they all appeared too shell-shocked at the moment; gaping at her from behind the broken glass. Confident that it was safe, Hudson lifted up off of the ground, carrying the truck with her. Carefully, she cleared the buildings around her and then began to fly in the direction of the police station, located in the center of the city, three blocks from the Daily Planet and Lexcorp.

"Shame on you," she admonished the men conversationally. "Stealing the hard-earned money that your average citizen has spent years collecting and saving just so that they could be assure a future for their children, and for themselves after retirement. How would you feel if somebody did that to you? Insurance premiums everywhere are raised because of people like you. Perhaps you should try to give to society, rather than take from it."

Certain that she'd given them a proper scolding, Hudson descended back to the street in front of police headquarters. She kept a careful gaze on the men in front of her as she waited for the curious officers around her to approach. When she began to realize that they were just as shocked as her captives, Hudson turned to regard the one closest to her.

"Officer," she called out, waving him over. "I just caught these men leaving the Metropolis United Bank with a truckload of stolen money. They are armed, though I've warned them of attempting to fire their weapons, again. I'm sure that you can handle it from here."

With a quick nod, Hudson soared back into the sky, keeping her eyes and ears trained on the situation beneath her. When she was certain that the robbers were being taken into custody without a fight, she returned her focus to the city around her.

She found herself smiling over the lack of fear she'd seen in the faces around her so far that night. Mostly, the people she'd encountered had expressed curiosity and surprise over her appearance, but lacked the fear she'd worried that she might meet. Of course, the robbers had shown just the tiniest amount of anxiety when the smoke from their guns had cleared away to prove that they hadn't injured her with their bullets, but that was to be expected. Most people, regardless of their bravado, would exhibit certain inhibitions at the sight of a bulletproof being. Hudson expected it. She couldn't handle outright fear at her appearance, though, at the feats she performed in order to protect people. It was what she had hoped to combat with her uniform and eagerness to show her face without reservation.

Hudson came to a halt in the air, listening closely as she heard a little girl calling for help. Turning to her left, she focused on the direction of the sound near the Metropolis Heights neighborhood. She sped quickly toward the area, only slowing as she began to realize the calls for help weren't exactly what one would term as an emergency.

A little girl of about eight years old stood on the sidewalk outside her home, calling up to her kitten which was apparently stuck in the apple tree. The tiny ball of fluff mewed pitifully down at its owner, as if expecting her to climb up, ruffled dress, patent shoes and all, to rescue it. Smiling at the memory of the times she'd scrambled up trees, destroying the clothes her mom had taken the care to dress her in, Hudson drifted down to the branches to retrieve the kitten.

The ball of fluff had the nerve to hiss at her as she gently pried its claws from the branch it was attached to. Hudson shook her finger at it, softly explaining that it had nothing to fear from her. By the time she settled to her feet on the sidewalk, the kitten was curled into her hand, purring.

"Here you go, young lady." Hudson held the kitten out to the little girl, who was staring up at her with wide eyes. "Kittens have nasty habits of getting into places they can't get out of. You need to keep a good eye on that one."

"I will!" The girl nodded, a big smile breaking out across her face. "I promise! Thank you, lady! You're pretty." She cradled her kitten against her chest and commented, "I've never seen anyone who could fly before. Are you an angel?"

Hudson laughed and shook her head, reaching out to scratch the kitten behind the ears. "No, honey. I'm just… different. And I thought I could use that difference to help free your kitty. Better get inside, now. It's late."

"Okay." The girl gave her another smile before she turned and ran toward the house. "Thanks, again!... Mommy! Mommy! You won't believe what I just saw!"

Hudson made certain her new friend was safely inside before lifting back into the air to continue her patrol.

Before the light began to touch the horizon, Hudson had prevented a rape, two burglaries and five accidents within the limits of Metropolis. She delivered four more criminals to the police station and helped the fire department put out a blaze in a warehouse building down on the docks. She made a quick circle around the globe, checking in on the sleepy town of Smallville, saving a child from being mauled by a tiger in Africa and rescuing a whale caught in the ice in the Arctic.

By the time she returned to her apartment, shortly before dawn, Hudson didn't want to stop. There was something in the ability to show herself to the world that seemed to sing through the blood in her veins. She knew it was wrong and prideful to be so pleased in the feats she accomplished, but for the moment she allowed it. After all, she did it. Kaela-El had done what she was meant to do; what she was here on Earth to do. She truly believed her parents would be proud of her. All four of them.

For five minutes, Hudson hid in the safety of her room, threw herself down on her bed, hugged her waist and squealed like a teenage girl in the throes of her first boy-band crush.

When seven o'clock rolled around, all traces of Kaela-El were gone. Hudson Kent locked her apartment door behind her, slipped on her glasses and headed off to work at the Daily Planet.

Caped Wonder Stuns City!

Lex slammed the paper down on his desk and spun away, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides as he paced. The nerve of her! This time, Hudson Kent had gone too far!

For years, while professing her love for him, she had lied to him about what she was and what she could do. When Lex had finally learned the truth, she proclaimed that she'd kept it from him in order to protect herself, her family and every one she loved, including him. Lex had accepted her explanation, had vowed to safeguard her, even going so far as to put his own father behind bars to keep her out of harm's way. When she'd run away from him, Lex believed it was to protect herself and her loved ones again. He had truly believed that her appearance in Metropolis was simply her attempt at living a normal life, forsaking that alien part of herself and fully becoming a member of the human race.

Apparently, he had been mistaken, and Lex hated being wrong.

Lex threw a glare over his shoulder at the image of the flying woman on the front page of the Daily Planet. There she was, for all of the world to see, in the most garishly ridiculous costume ever created, as if she not only meant to out herself but to do so boldly. Already, pundits were asking the question as to her authenticity. Was it all a trick? A science experiment gone awry? A new military weapon? Only a few had guessed at the truth; that the being who'd made her debut the night before was, in fact, an alien. Unfortunately, they seemed entirely pleased by her appearance, due to the question of their lone existence in the universe being answered and her apparent heroic feats the night before. They would all be fooled, Lex knew. Drawn into the mistaken and naïve belief that Kaela-El, or rather Superwoman as Louis Lane had boldly named her, was out to help anyone other than herself – that she was some kind of hero, brought to this world to selflessly use her amazing abilities in order to help people. They would learn the truth, though, just as he had, and Lex could only hope that it happened before too much damage was done. He'd seen first hand the many dangerous sides of Kaela-El, and if the public's initial reaction to her was any indication as to how quickly and widely accepted she would become, then Lex had his work cut out for him. He was the only person alive who could protect the people from her false promises of hope and security.

At last, the prophecy had come true. Segeeth would save the world from Naman's false heart.

When Mercy had whispered to him that Hudson and her partner from the Daily Planet had wormed their way into his charity function, Lex had felt a momentary thrill at seeing her, face to face. He'd imagined all manner of outcomes, from tossing her out on her ass without a word, to fucking her through the carpet and then shoving a piece of Kryptonite down her throat for good measure. The moment she'd finally been in his presence though, all previous intentions flittered away, and Lex had been left with the odd sensation of not knowing what to do with her. It was a predicament he hadn't faced in years; not since he'd experienced that all-too foreign emotion of loving her, of being willing to do anything short of prostrating himself before her in order to garner her attention. He'd quipped at Hudson, shown her a flash of anger, bantered with her regarding her appearance, but all the while, Lex couldn't quite decide what to do with her. The kiss had been as unexpected to him as he was certain it had been to her. One moment he'd been standing there, picturing his hands wrapped around her throat, and the next he'd had his tongue in her mouth and all thoughts of murder and revenge had fled. Her lips had been warm, her mouth pliant beneath his, and Lex's body had responded to that with a hunger long since forgotten.

That was what had incensed him the most -- that she'd caused his own mind and body to betray him, controlling him in a manner that could only be attributed to yet another one of her alien abilities. The kiss had been sweet, stirring emotions Lex had believed died within him long ago. Ultimately, it had made him weak, forcing him to forget his greater intentions until he'd almost been coerced into handing over the one thing he instinctively knew Hudson wanted more than anything else in the world.

His forgiveness.

Unfortunately for her, clemency -- like any shred of the foolish man who'd first set eyes on her -- no longer existed.

"Mr. Luthor," Suzanne's voice crackled over the intercom, interrupting his thoughts. "A Mr. Ford is here to see you."

Gathering his emotions together, Lex smoothed the front of his jacket and returned to his desk. "Send him in," he told his assistant, as he took his seat and focused on the coming confrontation.

The folder that lay in front of him told Lex everything that he needed to know. His loving wife had been having an affair for the past six months with James Ford, a drifter she had convinced Lex to take on as their pool boy, of all things. Could she have chosen a more clichéd liaison? Lex had allowed it to continue without intervention until he'd acquired everything he needed from Melody's family. As of yesterday, her uncle had signed the papers declaring Lex as sole heir to the Montgomery oil fields, and he had no more use for her. Of course, that didn't mean he had any intention of allowing her to get away with her disloyalty with something as simple as a divorce. It was time for Melody Luthor to discover just how unpleasant life could be.

The door to his office opened, and Lex regarded his wife's lover as he sauntered into the room. Full of bravado, James Ford approached him as a man in love, obviously certain that the emotions coursing through him were unequaled in the history of star-crossed lovers. Lex had the overwhelming desire to beat the man down for being such a blind idiot, but squelched the urge beneath a pleasant smile.

"Mr. Ford, thank you for meeting with me. Please, have a seat," Lex offered, motioning his hand toward the leather chairs in front of his desk.

James came to a halt but didn't sit. Instead, he folded his arms over his chest and fixed Lex with an arrogant glare. "I know what I'm doing here, Mr. Luthor, so you may as well cut to the chase and say whatever you have to say to me. You obviously know about me and Melli."

Suppressing a shudder at the nickname, Lex continued to smile. "You're obviously a bright man, Mr. Ford, not to mention quite brave for facing me like this," he remarked, watching as the man seemed to relax a bit with the intentional flattery. "You're right. I do know about the affair you've been having with my wife."

"You're not going to break us up!" James declared. "We're in love. Melli isn't happy in her marriage. She says you don't love her enough. And well, I think if that's the case, you should just let her go. I love her. And I can care for her."

"Is that so?" Lex raised an eyebrow in mock curiosity as he leaned back in his chair, his fingers steepled in front of him. "Melody was raised in luxury, Mr. Ford. It's all she has ever known. She was born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, and has never lifted a finger in manual labor in her entire life. How are you going to care for her, on a pool boy's salary?"

Apparently, Melody's lover had never really considered the ramifications of supporting the woman he loved, if the look of frustration on his face were any indication. He ran a hand through his thick blonde hair, causing too-long strands to fall across his eyes as he finally dropped into the seat offered to him earlier. Lex couldn't fault Melody for losing her head over the man; he was extremely handsome in a Marlboro man way, with rugged features, the always present five o'clock shadow, permanent dimples and dark blue eyes. The man might as well be walking around with a Lover-For-Hire sign eternally attached to his broad shoulders. He was the kind of man that no woman could deny; the bane of husbands and boyfriends everywhere. If he'd come with intelligence and cunning, Lex would have regarded him as a formidable foe, and probably would have offered him a job. Having a Confidence Man on staff was never a bad idea.

"Melody's family has plenty of money," James finally replied, apparently pleased with the answer he'd come to. "They'll take care of us."

Lex sighed. "I'm afraid that's where you're wrong, Mr. Ford. The Montgomerys are very careful about who is allowed into their family. They don't respond well to beggars. Melody knows this; it's why you will never have a future with her."

The tell-tale flame of anger appeared in the man's eyes, and he leapt back to his feet. "There is nothing you or her family can do to keep us apart!"

James Ford was a textbook example of a man ruled by his emotions. His behavior in the last few minutes went far to explain the various violent assault charges listed in his rather lengthy criminal record. Lex wondered if the man loved Melody so much as to have shared that particular piece of his past with her.

"Neither myself nor her family would have any cause to resort to such actions, Mr. Ford," Lex replied quietly. "Not when Melody has already taken such steps on her own."

James' brow furrowed in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

"My wife likes money, Mr. Ford," Lex explained, resting his elbows on his desk. "She likes being married to me. There may not be any love lost between us, but I can provide for her where others can't. She gives me social status. I give her furs. It's a lucrative arrangement for the both of us."

"She told me -- !"

"She likes to fuck you, Mr. Ford," Lex continued, ignoring his outburst. "She may even harbor an emotional attachment to you on some level. But it will never be enough to give up her diamonds and fancy parties and high-class friends."

"You don't know what you're talking about!" James slammed his fist onto the desk. "You're just saying all of this to get me to leave her, but it won't work, Mr. Luthor. I know all about you and your lies. You can't fool me."

Lex smiled coolly. "I would never attempt such a thing, Mr. Ford. I am merely explaining all of this to you so that you understand when I warn you of Melody's perfidy."

James stared at him blankly. "Her, uh, what?"

"Her deceit, Mr. Ford."

Lex pulled open the top drawer of his desk and removed a small tape recorder that Hope had given him earlier that day. It had all of the evidence on it needed to throw an emotionally distraught man over the edge. Beautiful 'Melli' would soon learn the folly of cuckolding Lex Luthor.

He set the recorder between them and clasped his hands together. "I fear my wife has watched one too many Lifetime movies, for her actions hover on the edge of dramatic. But once you listen to the conversation, you will understand why I was concerned, and felt the need to properly give you warning."

"What is this?"

"Push play, Mr. Ford, and all of your questions will be answered."

Scowling at Lex for long moment, James finally reached out and picked up the tiny recorder, glancing over it before finding the play button and pressing it. Melody's voice immediately echoed out of the speaker:

"I believe my husband has suspicions about me and James. I've heard people talk about you… they say you're good and you've never been caught."

"I've refined my methods to make every kill look like a natural accident," a male voice replied. "And I never leave evidence to the contrary. But… it's going to cost you."

"Look, I have the money. That isn't an issue. I just need you to take care of this, quickly and quietly."

"Of course, Mrs. Luthor. Tell me a little about… James."

"Oh, well… he works as our pool boy. He's here Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Look, promise me that whatever method you use, it will be relatively painless. I mean, James is a good guy and – "

The voice came to a halt as James snapped a finger onto the stop button. "Are you trying to tell me that Melody is going to have me killed?" he demanded, face flushed with rage.

"I'm not telling you anything," Lex replied, waving toward the recorder. "The evidence is right there, in her own voice. In this instance, I must say, my wife has surprised me with her need to clean up her own mess."

James' breathing deepened, and his nostrils flared. Lex ducked as the recorder went sailing past his chair, slamming into the window behind him. Pieces of shattered plastic fell to the ground. "The greedy little bitch! How dare she fuck me behind your back and then have me killed for her own betrayal!"

Lex shrugged. "I can't say I don't agree with you, Mr. Ford. Now that the affair has come to light, I will begin the proceedings for a divorce. In the meantime, for your own sake, I suggest you leave town. The man she was speaking with is very good at what he does, and Melody may still seek to take her anger out on you for losing such a lucrative husband."

James shook his head, gaze trained on something over Lex's shoulder, as if he hadn't heard a word said. "I can't believe she could do this to me. That money could mean so much… "

"Money. Power. They're persuasive bedfellows, I assure you." Lex smiled thinly.

"She can't… " James whispered, voice trailing off as he straightened and finally looked back at Lex. There was an odd twitch in his jaw. "Where is Melli now?"

"At the spa. She always spends Thursdays at Madelyn's Spa," Lex replied, bored with the conversation. "I wouldn't suggest you confront her, Mr. Ford. You know how distraught women can be when their plans go awry."

James wasn't listening. Without so much as a 'thank you' or a 'goodbye', he spun on his heel and stalked from the office, slamming the door behind him.

"You're welcome," Lex called out before allowing a smile as he reclined back in his chair.

Gaze dropping to the recorder, Lex found himself wondering how difficult it had been for Hope to synthesize his wife's voice.

The television in Perry's office was turned up loud enough for everyone on the floor to hear it. His office was crowded – everyone from journalists to mail personnel was gathered to watch the replay of last night's late newscast. Hudson was tucked into the corner, carefully watching the reactions of the crowd around her as their editor-in-chief paced around his desk.

"Good evening," the news anchorwoman, Cat Grant, greeted. Over her right shoulder was a still frame of Hudson, in her brightly colored uniform, soaring over the city. "And what have the past twenty-four hours been like so far? A day that has seen what many believe to be the most extraordinary phenomenon of our times ... "

Hudson bit back a smile of amusement as Perry grunted, turning to face the screen as he folded his arms across his chest.

"Our films confirm eyewitness's reports of a caped figure, resembling a woman, who appeared last night flying in the sky over Metropolis. Yes, I said flying…"

The camera cut to footage of Louis' rescue from the rooftop of the Daily Planet building the night before. Hudson kept her expression carefully neutral as she watched, while beside her Louis leaned forward, eyes trained on the screen in an expression that could only be described as rapturous. He sighed a little, glanced around as if only just realizing he'd done so out loud, and then straightened his shoulders as he tugged at his tie. She couldn't help but wonder at the sudden odd behavior of her partner, who didn't seem to be quite as surprised as the rest of the staff by the appearance of the flying woman onscreen. No, he seemed more fascinated than anything else.

"She appeared in the sky over the Daily Planet building, rescuing both a pilot and Planet reporter, Louis Lane, from an out-of-control helicopter that was preparing to plunge to a fiery death on the street below…"

Hudson snorted at the dramatics, receiving a quelling look from her partner. She glanced up at him and rolled her eyes. He frowned and turned back to the newscast.

"White House comments are guarded at present, although the FBI is said to be investigating the matter. As further accounts pour in, speculation has arisen that this whole thing may be some sort of fantastic hoax..."

"Well, of course it's a hoax!" Hudson whispered, leaning toward Louis. "A woman flies in the sky like a pigeon, and it wasn't a trick? It was probably done with wires. They must have rigged her up like Peter Pan."

Louis' frown turned to an outright glare. "There weren't any wires!" He denied in a heated whisper. "I looked!"

She shrugged. "Mirrors, then."

"She grabbed me! She held me!" Louis argued, voice raising just enough for the others around them to 'shhhsh' him. He dropped back to a whisper as he continued, "How could that be done with mirrors?"

It took everything she had for Hudson not to grin at him. She focused her gaze on the television, which was now showing shots of her catching the robbers at United Metropolis Bank. "I don't know, Louis," she replied after a moment. "But I do know a fraud when I hear one. This thing goes against all natural laws."

"Whatever… Scully," he muttered, lower lip sticking out just slightly. He glanced back over at her and commented, "You're just… jealous!"

"Shhhh!" Another voice whispered in front of them.

"Jealous?" Hudson asked with amusement in a hushed voice. "Of what?"

Louis waved his hand toward the television. "Of this… Superwoman." He flashed a wistful smile.

"Super… woman?" Hudson choked on the words, noticed a few more meaningful glares from her co-workers, and quickly recovered her composure.

"She is super," Louis whispered, gaze wistful once more. "That's why I gave her the name – Superwoman. The big 'S' on her chest says it all."

Hudson blinked at that and turned her gaze back to the newscast.

"The Mayor of Chicago commented that it all seemed to be a publicity stunt designed to draw attention to Metropolis... " Cat Grant continued, adding with a slight frown, "'A city that has been having its share of financial problems of late'. This morning, Mayor Meyer countered that unlike Chicago, Metropolis has never needed fancy attractions and drunken parades to gain the appreciation of the public."

Perry reached over to turn off the VCR and spin around to face his staff. He grabbed the morning edition of the paper from his desk, where bold letters, written by Louis, declared Caped Wonder Stuns City, and waved it beside his head.

"Now, look. We're sitting on top of the story of the century. So we got lucky last night with one of our reporters being the first to be rescued by this… this being. But in the newspaper business, luck is a one-shot. We're on top today, but we've got to work to stay there." Picking up his cigar, he stabbed it in the air toward his staff. "I want the names Superwoman and the Daily Planet to go together like bacon and eggs!"

Hudson quickly covered the smile that broke out across her face at his comment, regained her composure and raised her hand to tell him quietly, "I don't think she'll lend herself to any cheap promotions, Mr. White."

"Who's talking about cheap?" Perry slapped the paper back to his desk and returned to pacing. "I'm talking about an exclusive interview!"

Beside her, Louis seemed to suddenly snap to attention as Perry continued, "If one of you can get that – I mean, I want the real Superwoman. Who is she? Where's she from? What's she doing here? What are her hobbies? Who's her fashion consultant? Does she have a boyfriend? Husband? Kids? Are there little Supers running around out there somewhere?"

Snapping his fingers, Perry whirled around once more and pointed toward his staff. "Whoever comes up with that will make Woodward and Bernstein look like Abbot and Costello! I'll tell you right now, boys and girls - whichever one of you gets it out of her will have the single most important interview since Moses talked to God."

"What a chance!" Louis whispered into her ear excitedly. "If I could just… get to her!"

Hudson shook her head and nodded toward their co-workers. "You're not the only one, Louis."

"No, I'm not." He gave her a cheeky smile. "But I'm the only one who knows her! I… I really like her," he admitted, his face reddening slightly. "And she likes me." He nodded and then frowned. "I think."

Hudson was able to do little more than stare at her partner in shock. Louis had a crush on her? Well, on her alter-ego, but still, it wasn't something she had considered. After all, they weren't really all that different. If Louis liked Kaela-El so much, shouldn't he like her just the same? The question bothered Hudson, though she couldn't understand why. Who really cared what Louis' reasoning was? The point was, she wanted the public to get to know and understand her (or rather Kaela-El), and Louis was the best person for that job. He was neither afraid of nor distrustful of her alter-ego, and he was the best writer in Metropolis. If anyone could convince the public to trust her appearance, it would be him.

"Kent!" Perry barked, pulling Hudson from her thoughts.

She gently pushed her way through the throng of co-workers, nudging her glasses up the bridge of her nose as she reached him. "Er… yes, sir?"

"Anything new on city hall?"

"Uh, no, sir. I've been searching for a source to corroborate the belief that Lexcorp is secretly funding Petty's campaign, but no one will talk. I did find some transactions – "

"Fine, fine, fine," he replied, cutting her off as he started back around his desk. "Lane, you and Kent better have something more on my desk by Friday or you're going to find yourselves reporting for the Weekly World News!"

Hudson glanced back at Louis, who raised his eyebrows at her and shrugged. She turned back to Perry. "But, uh, what about this… Superwoman?" She had difficulty referring to herself by that name with a straight face.

"First person with a story on our new resident gets a bottle of Dom Perignon… On me!"

The staff all muttered in appreciation at his exclamation. Ignoring them, Perry picked up his phone, silently signaling that the meeting was over.

Louis caught up to Hudson just after she exited Perry's office, moving down the aisle toward their desks. She glanced up at him, noticing an expression of grim determination on his face that would have been amusing if the story hadn't involved her. She had to admit, there was a part of her that was a little nervous at letting Louis Lane be the person to interview Kaela-El, simply because she knew how focused he could be. It ran in his family. If she gave him an inch, would he accept that much or request a mile? Would meeting and interviewing Kaela-El be enough for him, or would he have to dig a little deeper in his quest to write the tell-all story on her? Truthfully, there was only one way to find out.

"There must be a way," she heard him mutter as he dropped into the chair at his desk. "Maybe if I hung myself off another building… lay down on some train tracks, or something... "

Hudson frowned. The last thing she needed was for Louis to become so determined that he put himself in harm's way. "Do you really think you need to go to such extremes? Especially when you have no idea if this woman is for real or not."

"Oh, she's for real, Smallville," Louis assured her with a nod. "You can take that one to the bank."

She rolled her eyes. "All the same, Louis, I don't think you should overdo it for some silly story." She sat down at her desk and turned to open the city hall file. "I still say you're just buying into some gimmick. Maybe it's a promotion for a new movie or something."

"A new movie? C'mon, Hudson," he scoffed. "Give me some credit. I think I would know the difference between a movie promotion and the honest-to-God appearance of… "

"Of what?" She prodded.

"Well." He shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not entirely certain, and I really don't care. She's an angel to me, and that's all that really matters."

Louis' comment sparked a piercing pain deep inside of Hudson. She looked away quickly, trying to focus on the screen in front of her, but suddenly all she could see was Lex. He'd called her 'Angel' from the beginning, his special name for her, whispered against her ear, spoken in the darkness, away from the inquisitive ears of others. He'd bought a beautiful Angel for the top of his Christmas tree their second year together, and named her Hudson because he said they resembled one another. Hudson remembered staring up at it when she visited, knowing that the tree was only there because she loved Christmas, and the likeness of her that perched delicately on the very top felt very much like she was watching over him. Lex had said the same; after all, she was his Angel.

"…when I interview her."

Hudson glanced over at her partner, mind blank as she attempted to recall what he'd just said. Unable to find it, she asked, "What did you say?"

He sighed impatiently. "I said, do you have any questions for me to ask when I interview her?"

"Oh." Hudson considered it for a moment before responding, "Who is her backer? Who's paying for this elaborate hoax?"

Louis rolled his eyes. "I think I need something a little less insulting, Smallville. Why don't you try believing in the impossible, for once?"

"Very well." She allowed a small smile, seemed to think over her question another moment, and then asked, "What is her purpose here?"

"Now that's what I want to hear!" Louis grinned and bounded to his feet, rapping his knuckles against the top of his desk. "Exactly. What is her purpose? Is she just here to fly around and save people from death and destruction? Does she realize what a full time job that could turn out to be? And is she just here to serve Metropolis? Or the rest of the world as well?"

"Everyone is included, of course."

Louis turned to look down at her. "What?"

Realizing what she'd just said, Hudson quickly corrected, "I mean, she certainly couldn't claim that only the citizens of Metropolis had the right to be saved. Could she? That would cause quite a controversy. It's bad enough that people are already pointing fingers, claiming this is just a scheme to boast tourism."

Her partner shrugged. "I supposed. But Gotham has the Batman, you know. I don't see him hopping a plane or whatever to come track down our criminals... I'm off to lunch. I'll bring you back an Italian sub."

"But the Batman doesn't fly," Hudson pointed out, getting to her feet to follow Louis as he suddenly started down the aisle toward the hall. "It's probably easier for this woman – "

"Superwoman," Louis corrected.

"Yeah. Whatever. Anyway, it's probably easier for her to get around from city to city. I mean, what about Los Angeles? New York? London? Cairo? Shouldn't all of the world benefit from her abilities, if she is, in fact, the real thing?"

"I'll ask her," Louis promised as he stopped in front of an elevator and pushed the call button. "But frankly, I like the idea of Metropolis having its own superhero. You don't see Peter Parker running around saving the world – "

"Well, if we're going to bring the fictional world into it, what about the X-Men?" Hudson pointed out.

"They're a team, and they're backed by Professor Xavier. They can get more done." Louis stepped into the elevator as the doors opened. He leaned against the wall and nodded a farewell to Hudson. "Superwoman is only one person. You really can't expect her to take on every problem the world has to offer. Can you?"

Hudson allowed a smile as the doors drew to a close. Well, yes, she thought to herself, turning to return to the newsroom. As a matter of fact, I could.

Louis finished off the beer in his hand before dangling the bottle idly from the railing across his balcony. Behind the sliding glass door his apartment was dark, as the sun had set over an hour ago. The glow from the city gave him just enough light to finish off a beer or two as he contemplated an interview with Superwoman. His partner could ridicule him all that she wanted to, scoffing at the truth of Superwoman's appearance and all her amazing abilities, but Louis would show her. He'd gain the interview he wanted, and then he would show the world that the angel who'd rescued him from certain death truly was the real thing. Then maybe, just for the fun of it, he'd force Hudson to eat crow.

Of course, before he could do any of that, he had to actually acquire the interview, and how did one contact someone when they didn't know their name, or where they lived, or worked, or if they had any friends? There was still the option of putting himself in danger, and the more Louis thought about it, the more he believed it was the only and best choice left to him. After all, she was probably out there right now, saving humanity from its own folly, stopping drive-by shootings and drug deals and accidents caused by drunk drivers. Sure, attempting to cause harm to himself might pull her away from something more important, but Louis had to believe Superwoman could take care of whatever challenge she faced. He'd seen her fly, catch him in the air, and carry a helicopter in one hand. Those feats were pretty remarkable alone.

Setting his beer on the balcony beside him, Louis peered over the railing, contemplating the drop to the ground. All he had to do was scream really loud.

"Come on, Louis," he said aloud, attempting to encourage himself with a little pep talk as he pulled himself up onto the railing. "You've confronted drug lords and serial killers. Throwing yourself to your death can't be that difficult –"

"Perhaps. But I wouldn't recommend it."

Louis screeched in shock, almost tumbling over the railing, but caught himself quickly to drop back to his feet on the balcony. He spun around, heart thudding wildly against his chest, to find the object of his thoughts hovering in the air just beyond the west side of his apartment. Her cape billowed around her in the breeze, hair dancing over her beautiful face, and Louis wondered if maybe he'd simply drunk too much beer and was imagining this entire thing.


She smiled at him. "Right on the first guess."

Louis blinked. "Wha'...what are you doing here?"

"I came to talk to you."

"The answer is yes," Louis responded automatically, and his momentary shock was forgotten to give way to a leering grin. "Now what's the question?"

Superwoman floated to the floor of the balcony gracefully. "I realize there must be many questions about me the world would like the answers to. There's been a lot of confusion in the media about who I am and what I'm up to and all that." She shrugged and smiled. "I'd like to set the record straight. With your help."

"This is incredible. I was just standing here trying to figure out how to contact you. I mean, you don't have a cell, right? Email, maybe?"

"You won't find me in Google, if that's what you mean," she responded with a smile, and then inclined her head toward the railing. "I don't think throwing yourself off of a building is the best way to leave a message for me, either."

Louis felt his face warm with her gentle admonishment and wondered how many decades it had been since anyone had made him blush. "Yeah, uh, sorry about that. I was at a loss for what to do."

"How about just shouting my name?"

He laughed, thinking she had to be joking. "You're not serious?"

She shrugged her petite shoulders, and flashed him another smile.

"Okay… Ummm… " Louis scrambled to pick up his empty beer bottles, and carry them into the apartment.

"Would you like to come inside?" He asked, and then glanced over his place in dismay. It was a complete mess, with dirty laundry hanging over his furniture, empty pizza boxes stacked in the corner, a plate with a half-eaten tuna sandwich on the coffee table. He turned quickly, just as Superwoman was about to step through the door. "On second thought, it's a nice evening. Don't you think? I'll just grab my laptop, and we can talk outside."

If Superwoman was confused at the quick change, she didn't indicate it. Instead, she simply nodded and turned around, heading back out onto the balcony to lean against the railing. Louis forgot about the laptop as he watched her, his gaze sweeping over the snug-fitting red boots to the long legs covered in blue spandex. He was a little miffed that the cape was so long, effectively hiding her ass from his perusal; he had the feeling that she had a great ass.

"Is there a problem?"

Louis started at the question to find her looking over her shoulder at him with a raised eyebrow. He blushed again. "Uh… no."

Spinning around, he yanked his laptop from his desk, scattering files and pens and empty cups as he did so, and then hurried back out onto the balcony. He set the laptop down, and returned to his apartment for a small end table and chair so that he could get comfortable to type during the interview. Once it was all set up, he took a seat and looked up to find that Superwoman had turned to lean her back against the railing. Her bright blue-green eyes were watching him curiously, and the tiniest smile hovered on her lips. Louis wondered if she always smiled; if she was just a preternaturally happy person. It seemed to suit her, unlike so many people he knew who just seemed uncomfortable smiling.

"You went to a lot of trouble," she commented, waving a slim hand toward the laptop. "Is that really necessary? I doubt you'll misquote me."

"If I do, you can punish me."

He grinned as a vision of the woman before him dressed in stilettos, corset and silk stockings, holding a whip, flashed through his mind. Deciding that probably wouldn't be the best thing to share with her, he continued, "Fly me to Bermuda and just leave me there for two weeks." With a wink, he added, "This is fantastic! I kind of wish Hudson was here."

"Who's Hudson?"

"Oh. My partner."

Superwoman raised her eyebrows slightly at his reply. "I didn't know you had a boyfriend."

"What? No!" Louis quickly denied. "I'm not gay! I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that. No. Hudson is my partner at the Planet. And he's a she."

"Oh? Your girlfriend, then."

Louis barked in laughter. "No. Oh, god," he added in a horrified voice. "No." He waved a hand in dismissal of the thought, and laughed again. "What a terrible thought. She's a bit… dull. If you know what I mean."

"Dull?" Superwoman's tone seemed slightly on edge, causing Louis to glance up at her. She smiled suddenly. "I'm sure she's nice, though."

"Yeah. Nice could definitely be a word you could attach to Hudson," Louis agreed. "Nice. Quaint. A rather good sort. In other words, dull."

Apparently, Superwoman didn't like talking about people behind their backs because she seemed upset by the conversation. Her shoulders had tensed and she was staring down at Louis with a disapproving look. He should probably apologize, but he was only being honest. It wasn't like he'd said anything bad about Hudson; she was dull. It was as simple as that.

At a loss, Louis found himself quickly changing the subject. "Well, uh, where do we begin?"

Superwoman appeared amused by the question. "Ask. You're the reporter."

That made sense. Louis had no idea where his mind had gone to, but he hoped to get it back before he mucked up the interview of a lifetime! "Okay." He nodded and smiled up at her. "Let's start with these strange powers of yours."

"You think they're strange?" Superwoman asked, her voice indicating that she was slightly hurt by his words.

Louis shook his head and immediately told her, "I didn't mean that in a pejorative way."

"Hmmm." Superwoman seemed to consider this. "I guess they would seem a little odd."

Louis grinned, pleased that she seemed to be at ease once more. "Well, I mean it's not everybody who can deliver an air mail letter without putting a stamp on it."

"I wouldn't do that," Superwoman replied in a solemn tone. "It's against the law."

Louis gaped at her silently for a long moment, attempting to discern if she was serious or not. "Oh."

Superwoman smiled, and Louis thought that he could stare at her for hours. She had the most beautiful smile he'd ever seen.

"The reason I can fly is because my molecular structure is so constituted that I have a lighter density under Earth's gravitational force."

Typing her reply, he told her, "It must feel great."

"It's not bad."

"Do you have a name?"

"Kaela-El," she replied. "K-A-E-L-A, hypen, E-L. El is the house of my father."

"It's a beautiful name. Kaela-El." Louis loved the way it rolled off of his tongue.

"Although, Superwoman is very inventive. If not a little arrogant," she added with a teasing smile.

Louis shrugged. "Well, the things you do are super. And you're a woman. I know, it's not very inventive but… " He gave her a sheepish smile. "How old are you?"

"I'm not certain. In my twenties, I suppose. My parents died when I was very young, so I don't have a birth date."

Louis nodded, and looked up at her. "You're an orphan. I am, too. Well… kind of. I mean, me and my old man don't get along very well, so I may as well be an orphan."

"You still have him in your life, though," she pointed out. "It should be something for you to cherish. Once he's gone, there will be no way to bring him back."

Feeling as if he'd just been scolded, Louis hunkered down into his seat and focused his attention on the screen in front of him. "Uh, yeah. You're right," he agreed before turning back to the interview. "How tall are you?"

"Five foot eleven inches."

He whistled appreciatively. "It's nice to meet a tall woman. I get a crook in my neck from looking down all of the time. And luckily, you're not too tall. I mean, a guy still wants to feel masculine, you know? How much do you weigh?"

Superwoman laughed, and the sound was like bells tinkling on Christmas Eve. Louis was enthralled.

"I already granted you my age. You should never ask a lady her weight."

He grinned at her response. "What about the rumor of this X-Ray vision of yours?"

"What about it?"

"Well, can you really see through anything?"

"Just about," she answered with a quick nod. "I can't see through lead, though. Don't ask me why. It could just be nature's way of telling me to back off."

Louis chuckled as he typed her answer. "Is it true you're impervious to pain?"


"Do bullets really bounce off you?"

"Only when somebody shoots them at me."

Louis' head snapped up at that, but again Superwoman gave him no indication if she was joking or not. Mentally shaking his head at her quirky personality, he looked back down at his notes and casually asked, "What kind of underwear am I wearing?"

"Black boxers."

Without a pause, he continued, "Can you actually fly faster than the speed of sound?"


"Do you like black boxers?" Louis sneaked a quick glance up at her.

She was smiling again, as if completely thrilled with the direction of their conversation. Louis thought she had to be the most laid back person he'd ever met. "They're better than those… oh, what do you call them? Tighty-whiteys? Though boxer briefs are a bit more appealing."

Louis made a mental note to buy boxer-briefs in every color. "Where are you from?"

"Well, I was born on a planet your scientists don't know too much about," she told him, folding her hands together as she walked to the side of the balcony and glanced up at the sky. "It's in the Xeno Galaxy," she continued, pointing upwards toward a large grouping of stars. "Or… it was. It was called Krypton. That's K-R-Y-P-T-O-N."

"Krypton," Louis repeated as he typed it out.

He looked up once more, noticing that Superwoman's expression had become contemplative and somewhat sad. He quickly saved the information he'd written and got to his feet to walk over and stand beside her. "What do you mean, 'was'?"

"It was destroyed," she explained in a soft voice. "The star went supernova."

"So you're the only one left?"

"Mmmhmm. The last of my kind." She half-turned so that she was facing him, her expression earnest and open as she gazed up at him. "It's very lonely, but I'm hoping that the people of Earth can accept me as their own. It's all I really want."

"Well, I can tell you that those in the government will probably be pleased to hear that there aren't any other, er, Kryptons coming to take over the world."

"Kryptonians," she corrected.

"Sorry. Kryptonians." Louis leaned his elbows on the railing, regarding her thoughtfully. "You know, your appearance is simply amazing to us. That's why the majority of people don't know how to respond. Humans have an over-inflated ego; we tend to believe we're alone in the Universe. That we're special, somehow. Having you here now is a difficult thing for a lot of people to swallow."

"From what I've seen, humans are very special," Superwoman commented. "They are diverse and beautiful. And while they deliver both the best and worst of what the Universe has to offer, I've seen them come together in the most challenging of times. I couldn't be more pleased with my adopted home."

"There're probably a lot of people who'll be glad to hear you say that," Louis told her with a smile. "Relieved, actually. You know, we've all been brought up on movies telling us that if aliens ever did come to Earth, they'd attack and enslave us all."

Superwoman shook her head quickly, her gaze solemn. "I would never do such a thing. This world… your people… you're my home now."

There was something so vulnerable about her words that Louis was tempted to reach out and pull her into his arms. Give her a nice 'Welcome to the family' hug, but he wasn't certain if she would be receptive to that. Did Kryptonians' hug? For that matter, how closely did Kryptonians resemble Humans? Were they, say, sexually compatible? Sighing, Louis forced the question to the back of his mind, thinking it would be better left for their next interview. No reason to give away all of her secrets immediately. Superwoman was a mystery the world could enjoy exploring for some time to come.

"Well, is that the end of your inquisition?" She asked.

Louis offered her a smile and a nod. "Yes. For now. But, I'd love to have the chance to talk to you, again."

"Of course, Mr. Lane," she replied with another bright smile. "Any time you require my assistance, just step out here and give me a shout. I promise I'll hear you."

The air around her seemed to shimmer as she slowly began to lift away from the balcony. Suddenly a thought came to Louis and he reached out for her arm.

"Ummm, Superwoman, may I ask a favor?"

"Of course you may, Mr. Lane." Quietly, she settled back to her feet.

For some reason, Louis found himself hesitating with the request. It seemed a little selfish on his part to be requesting help on catching Lex Luthor in a scheme that concerned him. Then again, the man couldn't be allowed to do it again. Louis had been lucky with Superwoman's appearance. Next time, Luthor might somehow circumvent that.

"Uh, remember how we met – I mean, the helicopter and all?"

"Yes." Superwoman turned to face him once more, her full attention in the intent expression of her gaze.

"Well, I believe I know who was behind it… That is, it wasn't just some accidental mishap. The chopper had been fitted with a faulty bleed valve."

Her expression narrowed with concern and she stepped closer to him. "What are you saying, Mr. Lane?"

"That helicopter was meant to crash, Superwoman," Louis told her bluntly. "I've been looking into it ever since it happened. You see, I was on my way to meet with an informant that night – a man who had information regarding arms deals that Lexcorp has been involved with. As you well know, I never made it to the meeting. And the informant, Tony Bonhert, hasn't been seen or heard from since."

Superwoman was silent for the next few moments. Her arms crossed over her chest, and her jaw seemed to tense. "Has your partner been helping you with this investigation?" She asked quietly.

Louis shook his head. "No, I haven't told her."

"May I ask why not?"

He shrugged, reaching up to scratch an itch behind his ear. "Well, you see, she was married to Luthor once upon a time, and frankly, I think she's still carrying a torch for him. It's been hard enough getting her to accept the fact that he's behind all of the political machinations in the city. I'm not ready to completely burst her bubble by telling her he's into putting out hits on people as well."

The woman before him turned away, and Louis worried that she might leave, having no interest in his revenge tactics. "I'm only telling you this because I realize you probably know nothing about Lex Luthor, and I thought I should warn you. You told me that you're here for justice and truth and all of that. Well, if you're serious, he's the snake in the grass that you have to watch out for."

Her head turned slightly, giving him a lovely profile where the moonlight cast shadows across her face. Briefly, Louis thought she looked familiar in some way, but then it quickly faded. "What proof do you have of your claims?"

"Unfortunately, very little that I could ever use in court," he replied, expelling a frustrated breath. "I know that the maintenance company, Lowell Aviation, was a subsidiary of Lexcorp, but when I went to speak with some of the workers, I discovered the plant was closed. The company has since filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated. I can't find a single record on personnel or suppliers or anything. Bonhert's missing. Oh, and the faulty bleed valve? Yeah, that's gone now, too. One of the Planet's own people made off with that." Louis shook his head and flashed Superwoman a chagrined expression, even if she couldn't see it. "I tell you, when Luthor cleans up his messes, he doesn't leave anything to chance."

"And you're certain that Le – that this Luthor was behind it all?" She asked softly.

"As certain as I am that I'm standing here having a tête-à-tête with a being from another planet."

That gained him a whisper of a smile.

Louis flashed her a grin. "Think there's something you can do about it?"

"I don't know, Mr. Lane. I can't guarantee anything." She finally brought her gaze back to him. "But I can certainly look into it."

Lex seemed to be waiting for her.

"Well," he began from where he sat behind his desk as Hudson entered his office. "Look who has descended from on high to mingle with the commoners."

"Lex, we have to talk."

"Is that so?" He drawled as he stood and walked over to the bar tucked away in the corner to grab a bottle of water. "I can't imagine that I would have anything to say to… Superwoman," he sneered the nickname.

"You should have plenty to say," she responded, folding her arms across her chest angrily. "I want the truth from you, Lex. I want to know if you had anything to do with the malfunction of the Daily Planet's helicopter the other night."

Lex glanced at her over his shoulder, smirking. "Do I look like a helicopter repairman?" He held up his hand and wiggled his well-manicured fingers.

"Lexcorp owns the company that services the choppers used by the city's news organizations. Do you deny that?"

He sighed with annoyance and shrugged. "I own a lot of companies, many of which are in charge of the service and maintenance for both air and ground traffic locally. So it's very possible that one of the hundreds of thousands of people I employ was in charge of servicing the equipment you speak of. But, I don't see what that has to do with me?"

Hudson took a few steps toward him as she replied, "Tony Bonhert was going to meet with Louis regarding Lexcorp's ties to arms deals with North Korea."

"Oh, that old rumor is surfacing again?" Lex appeared amused. He returned to his desk. "Don't tell me you're listening to hearsay? And here I thought you were serious about being a reporter."

"Too many coincidences are involved for it to be hearsay, Lex," Hudson pointed out. She shook her head in frustration. "Look, I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here. If you would just tell me – "

"You mean, like you did when it came to my father?" Lex asked in a terrible voice.

Hudson lifted her chin defiantly. "What I did was the right thing to do, Lex. If you had only listened to me –"

"You can take your moral sanctity and shove it up your – "

"It never would have come to this!"

Lex arched an eyebrow at that. "You're blaming me?" He asked softly.

He was taking control of the conversation again, and Hudson couldn't allow that. She'd come here to discuss his involvement in the apparent attempt on Louis' life, not to dredge up the past. It would be far too easy to fall back into a defensive position, pleading her reasoning for the choices she'd made seven years ago. She hadn't done anything wrong. It was Lex's turn to be on the defensive.

Placing her hands on the desk, she leaned forward and told him, "I'm not going to allow you to spend your life destroying people the way your father did."

Lex laughed without humor. "Allow?" He repeated. "You really are filled with delusions of grandeur."

"Don't pretend I'm an idiot, Lex," she replied, ignoring his baiting remark. "I know you were alerted to Bonhert's meeting with Louis, and I know you claimed to be 'taking care of it'. So don't, for one moment, believe you can talk your way out of it."

"Ah, yes, the conversation you listened in on." Lex nodded. "Very devious of you. But tell me, Superwoman," he seemed to enjoy saying the name, "how do you have any idea that I wasn't talking to my dry cleaners?"

Hudson glared at him, causing Lex to chuckle and shake his head. "I'm growing tired of this conversation. Next time, make an appointment, hmmm?" He reached out to press a button his desk.

The door swung open, and Mercy and Hope entered the office.

"I don't believe the three of you have been properly introduced," Lex commented, slipping open the top drawer of his desk and removing a small box. He waved toward his bodyguards. "Mercy, Hope… this is Superwoman. The alien whose good deeds have been plastered all over the papers the past few days. Of course, we fondly know her by another name. Don't we?"

Hudson stiffened at the realization that Mercy and Hope knew of her disguise. She watched Lex as he moved around his desk, approaching her, the box still in his hand. Frowning slightly, she attempted to peer through it, only to discover that it was made of lead and its contents were hidden to her. Immediately wary, she took a step back, only to have her retreat impeded by Hope who reached out to grab her. She shook the hand off, but it took some strength to do it.

"Tsk, tsk." Lex flashed her a disappointed look. "I'd think you'd be more accommodating with my girls. After all, you ladies do share the same DNA."

"What?" Hudson's head snapped around just as Mercy's fist smashed into her face. She fell back against the desk, shocked over the realization that her jaw was throbbing from the hit.

"Now, you really didn't believe that every bit of research I had on you was destroyed, do you?" Lex asked, flipping open the lid of the box and removing the ring nestled within.

"Lionel's ring," Hudson whispered as she watched Lex slip it over his finger.

"My ring," he corrected. "My… insurance policy, you might say." He held it up for her perusal.

Hudson moved to push away from the desk, but Hope took hold of her once more, and Mercy grabbed her arm from the opposite side. Hudson quickly discovered through her struggles that between them, their strength was equal to her own. They held her in place as Lex approached, and she immediately began to feel the effects of the Kryptonite reaching out to ensnare her. She was reminded of the last time she'd felt it. Lex had been the bearer of it then, as well. She'd never believed that this could ever happen to her again, that Lex's hatred of her was so strong that it had completely destroyed the man she once loved.

No. She couldn't allow herself to believe such a thing.

"I know the man I fell in love with is still in there… somewhere."

Lex smiled. "No. He died a long time ago." Reaching out with the hand on which he wore the ring, he ran his fingers gently along the edge of her jaw. "But don't grieve too much. After all, it was a mercy killing."

He took a step back then, played with the ring for a moment as he watched Hudson wince and shudder, and then swung hard with his fist toward her, impacting the Kryptonite against her cheek. Mercy and Hope stepped back, and she crumbled to the ground like a house of cards, the simplicity of her defeat seeming to cause Lex no end of amusement. He followed her down, straddling her hips, touching the gash in her skin where red blood flowed down her cheek. She ached all over, trying to breathe deeply as the familiar nausea swept through her belly.

"That weak, pathetic little creature that you remember so fondly? He would have done anything for love," he said conversationally, wiping her blood on her uniform. "Actually, he did do anything – debased himself to you and your family, trying so damn hard to be what you wanted him to be. Only, it wasn't enough, was it?" He hit her again, watching with curiosity as her head snapped sharply to the side before rolling back again. "Nothing was enough for the sainted Kent family. You picked and chipped away at his exterior, ignoring the pieces you didn't want, half-heartedly accepting the pieces you did. And then blithely tossing them all away when Lex Luthor still refused to live up to your vaunted standards."

Another hit, harder this time, filled with rage. He leaned his hand onto her chest, pressing his full weight against her as he lowered his face to hers. "What's it like? Living in that glass tower of yours?"

Hudson shook her head in an attempt to deny that she'd ever thought herself better than him or anyone else. The movement sapped her strength before she could speak. Lex's weight felt like a thousand bricks piled on to her chest, and the ring seemed to burn right through her uniform where he touched her. She closed her eyes for a moment, silently willing the strength she needed to talk to him to come forth.

"You and my father – you worked your hardest to destroy the destiny I was meant for. He couldn't stand the thought of his son outshining him, and you… your moral sanctity couldn't allow you to watch me achieve greatness."

"The Lex I knew… had always been great," Hudson gasped out softly, in another endeavor to reach him. "He… he had the potential to be much more than even you have become because… because of his willingness to do every… everything for the people he cared about."

Lex gave her an awful smile. "I will still protect those I care about – Humanity." He reached out to stroke her cheek with the backs of his knuckles, the ring searing along her skin. "But you… you aren't human."

She closed her eyes and swallowed against the taunt, causing Lex to sneer when he appeared to realize he wasn't going to get a reply. He hit her once in the chin before getting to his feet to stand over her, looking down, planting a foot against her abdomen to hold her there.

"It's the righteousness that's always amused me," he told her with a half-smile. "The holier-than-thou attitude. Lies, betrayal, murder – none of those acts were beneath you, and yet, I was the one always held on display for my mistakes. While you… you excused each and every misstep you took as having purpose and reason. You were always so much better than those around you," he added with over-exaggerated sarcasm.

Her eyes flashed open, the pain embedded within them palpable, glowing with the intensity of the ring on his finger. "If you hate me so much," she ground out, allowing, for the moment, her anger and frustration to dictate her words. "Then why don't you just kill me?"

Lex chuckled, leaning his weight onto the foot on her belly. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? The ultimate revenge. Lex Luthor held accountable for the murder of Metropolis' beloved Superwoman." His expression took on a thoughtful tinge. "Do you truly think I'm that much of an idiot?"

A slim finger tapped his temple. "Brains over brawn, my love. Of course, I haven't found the right person yet, but someday… Someday I will. Superwoman will be lying broken and bloody in the streets, and the people will mourn her. And I, Lex Luthor, will stand at the head of the line, dedicating a great memorial to her, making pretty speeches… They'll love me for it. I'll be there to dry their tears while their hero is laid to rest. Soon, they'll see the error of their ways. And they'll realize that it was Lex Luthor, and not Superwoman, who always had the interests of humanity, and this city, at heart."

He reached down, snatching her by the neckline of her uniform and dragging her to her feet. "Metropolis belongs to me," he whispered against her ear. "You have no place here."

Lex forced her backwards, pushing her along, half-dragging her as she stumbled. Hudson clutched at his wrist, grasping for a hold, but her fingers refused to cooperate, shaking liberally under the effects of the Kryptonite. She winced as the back of her head slammed against one of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Lex's hand moved from her uniform to her neck, the tips of his fingers digging into her flesh, squeezing until she was gasping for air, lights dancing in her vision.

"Lex… please… " She didn't know what she was asking for – his forgiveness or his mercy.

He pulled her closer to him, his lips only a breath away from hers. "You made an error in judgment long ago, Hudson Kent," he whispered. "I've never needed saving."

Glancing to his side, Lex nodded and Hudson heard the window sliding open behind her.

"Take this as a warning," he told her as the wind whistled in from the outside. "You don't want to engage me in war. Unlike you, I don't have a weakness."

Lex tossed her out of the building, and the effects of the Kryptonite were too strong. She struggled to gather her will, and lift her body, but all she wanted to do was close her eyes against the emotional and physical pain sweeping through her. By the time she hit the ground in the alley below, she was able to slow her descent, landing with a loud slap against the cement that she felt in every bone of her body.

Whimpering, Hudson dragged herself into the shadows, where she curled into herself and waited for the debilitating effects to wear off. She tried not to think; couldn't allow herself to think of the confrontation with Lex, the battle that she had just lost. She focused on her body and her breathing, paying close attention to the moment the nausea faded away and the throbbing in her head ceased. Struggling to stand, she leaned momentarily against the wall of the Daily Planet, testing her strength before lifting off of the ground.

Moving faster than the human eye could see, she sped back to her building, flying through the open window into her apartment. Hudson landed lightly on her feet, staring in silence around her bedroom, her body trembling. The horror of what had happened, the realization that she'd been wrong – terribly wrong – about Lex's love swept over her in an engulfing wave. Collapsing to her hands and knees, Hudson allowed the tears to come, her sorrow crushing her in wracking sobs.

She was too late. She'd made too many mistakes in the past, and now she was too late to correct them, and Lex – the man she loved, the man who owned a part of her soul – was paying for those mistakes. For all of the pain he inflicted on her, she knew that it was nothing compared to what he would face in life if she couldn't find a way to reach him, to bring him back to the man he used to be, and was meant to be. Sure, he was safe in the kingdom he had built around himself, but Hudson knew with a certainty that it couldn't last. Lex's hatred would eventually immolate him from the inside out, and if it took the sacrifice of her own life, she would make certain that never happened.

"Oh, Lex," she whispered in the midst of her tears. "What have I done?"

She hugged her knees to her chest, rocking herself as her parents used to whenever she came to them with a problem that seemed insurmountable. Her gaze rested on the phone for a long moment before she found herself standing over the nightstand, holding the receiver against her ear.

"Kent Farm. This is Martha."

"M--- " Hudson took a breath to eliminate her tears. "Mom."

"Honey, is something wrong?" Her mother asked instantly, obviously attuned to the tremor in her voice. "H.C.?"

"I… are you and Dad going to be around tomorrow? I'd… I'd like to come by after work for a visit. Maybe stay the weekend." She dashed at the tears still falling from her eyes and tried to make her voice a little stronger as she forced a smile. "We have so much to talk about."

There was a significant pause on the other end of the line, as if her mom knew she wasn't being truthful with her, and was deciding if she should question further or not. Finally, she replied, "Yes, we'll be here. And you know you don't have to call, sweetie. This is still your home."

Home. It was where Hudson wanted to hide away from the ugliness of the world, where she could live in the past, absorbed by her memories, pretending that everything was in her life was as it should be. She knew that wouldn't happen, though. She would go home, and she would talk to her parents. She would find her strength, heal her wounded heart, and return to Metropolis.

"I know, Mom," she replied softly, her gaze shifting to the window. She could hear the soft cries of a child in pain somewhere in the city, and she stood, adjusting her cape. "I need to go but I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, sweetie. I love you."

"Love you, too, Mom."

Superwoman Exclusive:
My Face-to-Face Interview

Editorial by Louis Lane

Kaela-El hails from a world long-gone, known as Krypton. She is what we humans would refer to as an alien – an actual extra-terrestrial from another planet. Her appearance has been lauded as a hoax by the cynics, the sign of the apocalypse by the religious right and a miracle by those who have already been touched by her wondrous deeds. I, Louis Lane, fit into the latter category.

Three nights ago, this caped wonder swooped out of the sky to save my life, and she has been doing it for others ever since. You've read stories about it in the paper every day, seen video reports on the news. She saved a little girl and her puppy from a burning building; pulled a man trapped in his car from the river; prevented the crash of an airliner as it was landing at Metropolis International; and circumvented the robbery of over 1.5 million dollars from Metropolis United Bank. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. The other night, I spent an hour with this super woman, getting to know and understand her, as well as discovering what she is doing here on Earth.

Kaela-El is an orphan who has adopted Earth, and its people, as her own. By her own admission, she loves this planet, and she loves and admires the human race. We have nothing to fear from her or her presence. With her miraculous abilities – which include (but are not limited to): flying at speeds faster than that of light, x-ray vision, super-strength, super-hearing and invulnerability – she has taken on the duty of protector over not only our fair city of Metropolis, but the world at large. I can truly think of no other being better suited for the job.

Standing at over five feet eleven inches, this extraordinary woman resembles us in appearance from her head to her toes. She is in her twenties, and harbors an extremely dry sense of humor

As remarkable as she is, though, Superwoman does have her limitations. I have doubted her ability to be everywhere at once, and wondered how anyone could possibly stay sane from attempting to do so when dangers surround us everywhere. Just yesterday, a horrible violent crime (See story front page) was committed in the city that Superwoman was unable to prevent. Later, at the scene of the crime, I asked her why she hadn't been able to be there in time. She told me simply, and sadly, that she had been preventing the oil spill of the tanker, Robert M, just off the coast of Texas, when it occurred.

Her appearance has sparked debates all over the world, especially when it comes to the morality question: Does she have the right to do this? Does someone from another world have the right to come to Earth and save us from ourselves? Or should we be allowed to stumble in our own folly, no matter the consequences?

Well, as the recipient of one of her good deeds, I say we could all use a helping hand now and again. If deaths from tragic accidents or intentional shootings can be prevented, then I say let them! Superwoman's presence is not a hindrance in the growth of the human race, but a testimony to the worthiness of it. This amazing being who can soar in the skies above our heads and rescue us from the wrong-doings we can cause one another believes us precious enough to be saved. If she can save a child from a drive-by shooting, or prevent a woman from being raped while jogging in the park, if she can assist our commendable police force in their daily efforts to make this city a safer place, then I am one hundred percent behind her.

I'm a cynical man. I spend my life writing about the horrible things humankind can invent to do to itself. I don't believe that Kaela-El is the answer to all of the world's problems, and I don't believe that we should allow her to be so. In the end, humanity does need to learn to care for itself. She is the beginning, though. Meeting this astonishing creature, seeing what she can do and knowing that she is here to help, has given me something I never realized I lacked in my life. Hope. That's what Kaela-El, or rather, Superwoman, means to me. She stands for hope. In the face of adversity, when all seems lost, when the cynical overpower the optimistic, she shines like a beacon of brightness in the darkness of night.

In this day and age, I think we can all use a little brightness.

Welcome to Earth, Superwoman.


Story by H.C. Kent

The peaceful halls of Madelyn's Spa became a den of chaos yesterday afternoon when a man entered the building, made his way to the salon, and shot and killed Melody Luthor, wife of billionaire Lex Luthor. Then, to the further horror of the employees and patrons, he put the gun to his head, and shot himself.

The shooter has been identified as James Ford, who worked for the Luthors cleaning the pool located at their penthouse in Lexcorp Tower One. After the shooting, information came from sources that Melody had allegedly been involved in an affair with James Ford for at least the last few months. It is uncertain what precipitated this crime, though a police investigation has begun.

"We're certain that this was a simple case of a crime of passion," Police Chief Edward Nelson told the Daily Planet. "But Mr. Luthor wishes for us to look at every possible angle to determine whether or not it was something that could have been prevented."

Lex Luthor was not available for comments at this time, though a statement was issued by the Press Secretary for Lexcorp, saying, "This is a terrible time of disbelief and grieving for all of us. Melody Luthor was an asset to the community of Metropolis, spending countless hours working with charitable functions to benefit the people of this city. She was well-loved by all who knew her. A foundation has been created in her name, with all collected funds going to the beautification of the Metropolis City Park, which was one of Melody's favorite places. She will be missed by her family, and her loving husband, Lex Luthor."

Information on James Ford has been difficult to obtain. It is not known if he has any surviving family members, though the police have indicated that he held a sizeable record including violent assault charges, armed robbery and statutory rape.

A memorial service for Melody Luthor will be held in the Metropolis City Park on Saturday at 12:00PM. All citizens are invited to attend. Please send all monetary donations to the Melody Luthor Foundation, care of Lexcorp.

"Mr. Millner. Thank you for coming on such short notice."

"I am pleased to be called upon by you, Mr. Luthor. How may I be of service?"

Lex waved the jeweler over to him as he lifted the box onto the desk between them. "I'd like you to create a bracelet for me."

He opened the lid, exposing the rock which encased the red stone. Millner stepped closer, peering at the gems.

"Those aren't rubies," he stated. "But very beautiful."

"It's meteor rock," Lex told him. "I need a bracelet – one that snaps shut, quickly and easily. The wrist it will go on is about four inches around. Can you do it?"

Louis carefully cut the picture out of the front page of the Daily Planet. He stared at it for a time, marveling once more over the exquisite beauty of the face that looked back at him. He knew this was only the beginning; Superwoman was just what Metropolis needed to get out from under the dirty politicians and white collar crime that mired it down. The last thing they needed was to become as corrupt and bleak as Gotham. They could keep their Batman, who prowled in the darkness and scared even those he meant to save. Metropolis had an angel to look after her.

Smiling, Louis tacked the photo onto the bulletin board over his desk, wondering when he would see her again, before turning back to his story on Lexcorp's contributions to John Petty's campaign.

"Is this what you want?" Martha asked, glancing up from the copy of the Daily Planet in her hands. "H.C., is this who you want to be?"

Hudson gave her mother a small smile, her heart aching but her mind made up. "It's who I have to be, Mom. It's who I was meant to be."