Improbable Eden



CHAPTER ONE



"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat; "we're all made here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

Alice in Wonderland – C.S. Lewis





Clark Kent watched his cousin, Cady, from a perfect vantage point near the side of the yellow farmhouse, where he had been standing, watching her, for the past half hour. Inside, the warm house was still crowded with relatives and friends, each and every one of which was there to offer their condolences regarding the deaths of Cady's parents. It had been an unfortunate car accident in Metropolis, where Clark's uncle Blake apparently lost control of the car on a wet road and it careened off of an overpass. As if Cady losing both of her parents so suddenly had not been enough, it was quickly discovered that something was wrong with their life insurance, and their savings - of which there had been very little - was quickly depleted, forcing Cady to drop out of college and move back to Smallville to live with Clark and his family.

Truthfully, Clark was overjoyed to have his cousin back permanently. Her father had moved the family to Metropolis when Cady was thirteen, so that he could take a job at the LuthorCorp laboratories leading a team of scientists. While Cady still visited every summer, Clark had still lost the pseudo big sister that he had spent days upon days following around the fields when they were younger. When she had entered college, Cady had rarely visited the Kent family at all, and now Clark had her right under his nose, and he was quite prepared to keep her there. Cady had always been fun to have around, and while he understood she was going through a rough time at the moment, he knew her unique zest for life and penchant for finding trouble wherever it lurked would once again shine through. Plus, after having Ryan around, Clark was beginning to realize just how lonely it was to be an only child. He wanted a sibling, and Cady had always qualified for that when her family had lived in town. With Ryan gone, Clark was willing to take her as a suitable replacement. Besides, he knew his mother loved having another female around the farm as well.

Thinking she had spent enough time alone, Clark wandered over to the fence where she stood watching the herd. He stamped his feet against the frozen ground, watching for a moment as little clouds of steam appeared in front of his mouth as he breathed into the chilly January air. Leaning over the top rail, cast an appraising glance toward his cousin. Then he flashed an award winning Clark smile.

"The aunts are looking for you," he told her.

"That's enough to send me scurrying back to the city," Cady replied, not removing her gaze from the cattle.

Clark chuckled. "Last I heard, mom was subtly trying to explain to everyone how tired we all were and that perhaps it was time to leave. I figure that the house should be cleared in about… oh, two more hours."

A slight smile. "I don't know of anyone among the Kents or the O'Rourke's who understand the 'subtle hint'. It could be a lot longer than two hours."

Reaching out to first brush a stray strand of dark hair from her face, Clark put his arm around Cady's waist and pulled her close for a hug. "Tell you what. To get you away from the very good odds of having your cheeks pinched again or hearing the words 'we can't tell you how sorry we are', why don't we go into town for a few hours? It'll get your mind off of things and we might even run into Chloe or Pete."

Cady smiled up at her cousin, wondering for a moment if he was going to continue to grow taller every year. There was a point in their lives that she had actually been taller than him. She had been like eleven at the time. Then, like a month later, her eight year old cousin had an inch on her. And she wasn't short by any means at five foot nine. Someday she would simply discover that he was actually Paul Bunyon in disguise.

"Sounds like a decent idea. One of your first in many, many years."

"Hey now!" Clark flashed his cousin a mock warning as he led her toward the truck. "I'll have you know, you haven't been around for some of my more brilliant ideas these past few years."

"Oh really? And what would those be?" Cady asked as she climbed into the passenger side.

Clark started the engine and pulled the truck down the drive. "Umm… well, there have been quite a few actually. Give me a moment."

Cady laughed and shook her head, turning her gaze out the window to watch as the countryside passed them by. There had been the lightest dusting of snow the day before, so instead of everything being the typical Kansas winter brown, it was now typical Kansas winter gray. Forecasts were calling for sleet later in the week, which would then turn everything to typical Kansas ice. At least then, Cady knew, the bare, slim twigs of the trees would appear somewhat more pleasing to the eye encased in ice crystals. Still, something about the Kansas countryside called to her more than the city ever had. As much as she had enjoyed the fast-paced life she had experienced in Metropolis, there was something about the people in Smallville that set them above their city-counterparts.

Take the Kents for example. From the moment she had called to inform them of her parent's accident, they had immediately been there for her. They had appeared within hours at her dorm, helped her pack to move in with them and taken care of all of the funeral arrangements, bills and other issues Cady had no idea how to deal with. Sure, it had been very childish and unadult of her to just sit back and let her aunt and uncle take care of everything, but at the time, she had wanted nothing more than to be a child again. Things were safer then. There had always been someone looking out for her, telling her what she should do and how she should do it. Being an adult sometimes sucked. Like now. And Cady knew she was still refusing to face reality. She still held on to the key to her father's safe deposit box at the Bank of Metropolis, knowing it more than likely contained little more than the family passports – which she knew she wouldn't need – and other things like birth certificates and social security cards. Her family didn't exactly have a cache of jewels hidden away. So she figured that little task could wait.

As Clark pulled on to Main Street, Cady found a soft smile somewhere inside for the inability of a place like Smallville to change. Even though the population had risen significantly since the meteor shower in '89, the town itself still refused to grow. One main street was all it seemed to need. Most of the larger businesses surrounded the outside of town, such as the LuthorCorp Plant. On the west side of town, where the Kents lived, there was nothing but farm land as far as the eye could see. On the other side, there were housing developments that stretched almost all the way to Libertyville. A person could spend time on the west side of town and never realize there was a much larger and more populated side to Smallville than was visible. Cady found herself pretending that the east side of town really didn't exist. It seemed more like Topeka to her, when the west side reminded her of Bonner Springs or Hayes.

Clark pulled up to the Talon and put the truck in park. He noticed Cady frowning up at the building, her gaze sweeping over the marquee.

"Since when did the movie house become a coffee house?"

"Since Lana didn't want to see the building torn down," he explained as they climbed out, both immediately wrapping their coats more tightly around them against the bitter wind and racing for the door.

"Lana?" Cady raised her eyebrows at her cousin as he held the door open from her and they hurried inside. "She pulled herself away from cheerleading practice long enough to open a coffee house?" She asked incredulously.

"Lana isn't a cheerleader anymore," Clark replied with a frown. "And this place means a lot to her. Try to be nice, by the way."

"I've always been nice to Lana," Cady commented. Then added in a mutter, "As nice as a wallflower can be to the homecoming queen that is."

Clark led her to a table in the corner, his gaze scanning the place for any sign of Lana. Nothing yet. He cheered up a bit when Chloe came in through the door though, shaking off an apparent chill, her bag clutched closely to her as if she were expecting someone to snatch her laptop away at any moment. Their eyes met and she flashed her perky smile, immediately moving toward them.

"Hi guys!" Chloe leaned over and hugged Cady, who she had seen only hours earlier at her parent's funeral. Blake O'Rourke and Gabe Sullivan had been good friends through their association with LuthorCorp. "Glad to see you out and about. You doing okay?"

"Better now that we escaped the relatives," Cady replied with a small smile. "What brings you out?"

"Dad was getting all maudlin, looking at old photo albums and such. I just needed out of the house." She scooted into the booth next to Clark. "I swear its getting colder out there. Have your cows frozen yet, Clark?"

"I keep telling you the cows won't freeze, Chloe." Clark grinned.

"But then where does ice cream come from?"

Clark and Cady both groaned loudly at the bad joke. Chloe just grinned.

"Hey! How are you?" Lana called out, walking up to the booth and smiling at the small group.

"Lana!" Clark's grin grew as he stared at the beautiful girl before him. Her eyes and smile were sparkling as always. And, as usual, he could swear he could feel a sigh welling up in him at the simple sight of her.

Chloe gave a soft hello to Lana before glancing down at the table, an action Cady didn't miss. She frowned briefly before turning to greet the perky brunette.

"I wish I could have made the funeral, Cady," Lana told her quietly. "I couldn't get away from here unfortunately."

"That's okay, Lana. Don't worry about it," Cady replied with a smile. "Clark told me this establishment is all your doing. Congratulations. It's very nice."

"Thanks." Lana smiled again with a little nod of her head. "It's a lot of work but I'm enjoying it. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment every day." She glanced back over at Clark and Chloe. "What can I get for all of you?"

They placed their orders – and espresso for Chloe, a coffee for Clark and a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream for Cady – and Lana walked away. Cady was dying to ask her cousin if he would ever get over his crush on the ex-cheerleader turned coffee house maid but she didn't think Chloe was in the mood to hear about it. Obviously, Chloe's was another unfulfilled crush still waiting to happen. What was it about this gaggle of friends that refused to see past the tips of their noses? Maybe later, on the way home, she could tease Clark about his unrequited love, at the same time feeling her way about to see if he even knew Chloe was carrying a torch for him. She doubted it. Clark always had been a bit thick-headed about some things, and those things usually involved the faire sex.

The three friends soon fell into a discussion about the recent happenings around Smallville, which included a dissertation from Chloe about the weirdness that went on around them – from a bug boy to a girl who sucked the fat out of people. By the end of it, Cady was more than prepared to head right back to Metropolis, thinking that even rapists and muggers were safer than the freak show that was obviously taking place in her old hometown. Sure, she vaguely remembered weird things happening when she had lived here as a kid – three headed cows and purple chickens – but these stories were a little beyond even her wild imagination. She would have preferred not to believe them if both Clark and Chloe hadn't been so insistent that they were true. Cady teased for a moment that it was just like a "snipe hunt" or the legendary "jackalope", but they both assured her it was nothing like that.

"Hey Clark… "

Breaking off the conversation, which at some point had dissolved into a fit of giggles between the two females anyway, Clark glanced up to see his good friend, Lex Luthor, approaching the table. He immediately broke into a welcoming smile. "Hey Lex! I was hoping I'd see you. I want to introduce you to my cousin, Cady O'Rourke. She's going to be living with my parents and me for awhile."

Lex turned to the young woman across the booth from Clark and Chloe and gave her a small smile. "Miss O'Rourke, it's a pleasure to meet you." He reached out to shake her hand.

"You too," Cady replied as they shook hands, wondering why she couldn't think of something a little more impressive to say to the son of Lionel Luthor.

"O'Rourke… Why is that name familiar?" Lex asked.

Cady worried her lower lip for a brief moment. "My father, Dr. Blake O'Rourke, worked at the LuthorCorp Science Labs in Metropolis."

Lex raised a light eyebrow. "Ah. That explains it."

Knowing that it was best not to bring up her parent's deaths at this precise moment, Clark quickly steered the conversation elsewhere by asking Lex, "Why don't you join us?" He pointed to the empty seat next to Cady.

Glancing quickly at his watch, Lex considered the invitation for a second before he slid into the seat. "I can spare a few moments."

"You have somewhere important to be?" Clark asked.

His friend shook his head and flashed another half smile. "No. Just a call from my father. And I'd rather be home when it happened," Lex answered honestly, watching Clark as the teen first grimaced dramatically then offered a big grin. As always, Clark's smile made Lex feel a slight bit better though he didn't really allow it to show.

Cady shifted nervously in the seat beside Lex Luthor. Her cousin hadn't warned her that he had such prestigious friends and she was more than prepared to kick him for that lack of information. Cady had met Lionel Luthor twice while attending functions with her father but had never met his son – she would have remembered that, she was certain.

To say that Lex Luthor had an enigmatic presence would be an understatement. There was a definite undercurrent in the room that had been significantly lacking before he had arrived. That, and well, he smelled really, really good. She couldn't tell if it were some expensive cologne that only billionaire's sons could afford or some conglomerate of reasons, but the man beside her was currently sending her senses reeling. She found her gaze continually drawn to him, too. Cady knew the story of how Lex had lost his hair during the meteor shower in Smallville those twelve years ago – who didn't? – but knowing about it and seeing its effects were two different things. She had heard disparaging remarks from friends in college who had met him and now she wondered what they were talking about. In her opinion, Lex Luthor was positively breathtaking to look at. His skin appeared flawless, and Cady's hands itched to touch it. He was pale, which only seemed to make his light blue eyes stand out that much more, and he had a mouth that she knew would be described in romance novels as "begging to be kissed". She doubted he would appreciate the same sentiment, but it was there all the same. Even the scar on his upper lip – one that heightened her curiosity as to how he had received it – only seemed to add to the rest of the symbols that seemed to be flashing and carrying on silently that the lips of Lex Luthor were made to be kissed.

Lex felt the eyes of the woman beside him. He tried to ignore it. He was used to people staring at him – be it because they knew he was Lex Luthor or because he was bald. Since her father had worked for his father, he doubted that it had to do with who he was. This left her staring at him because he was a hairless freak. The thought made his jaw clench tightly. Lex wondered if he should inform Clark that his cousin needed to be taught better manners than that.

Lana returned with their orders, took Lex's and shortly returned with his before having to run off again to avert disaster between two of the other servers. Clark watched her for a long moment, an act which was not missed by either of the other three at the table, all of whom seemed somewhat annoyed in their reactions. He turned back to them, raising his eyebrows in silent question but none of them seemed willing to mention his obsession with the raven-haired beauty.

"Have you heard from Ryan?" Lex asked after a moment.

Clark nodded. "He called yesterday as a matter of fact. He seems to be enjoying himself in Edge City and he really likes his aunt."

"Think you'll see him again?" Lex sipped carefully at his cappuccino as he watched the teen over the rim of his glass.

Ryan, and his ability to read minds, had made Lex slightly nervous. He couldn't have imagined what it would have been like had Ryan stayed in town. There were some things that were better left in the privacy of one's thoughts. Besides, he didn't relish the idea of being tossed out of a moving vehicle again. He was still covered in scabs and bruises that were taking longer than usual to heal.

"I hope so," Clark replied. "But I doubt it. I'm certain that once Ryan becomes comfortable in his new home and makes some friends, he'll forget all about me."

"I didn't know it was possible to forget about the Clark Kent," Cady commented with a wiggle of her eyebrows.

"Yeah," Chloe agreed with a smile. "I mean, you had so much to offer Ryan as an older brother type and companion."

"Not to mention sharing the same age level, mentally speaking," Cady remarked as she flashed a smirk.

Clark kicked her under the table while Chloe laughed and even Lex offered a small smile. Conversation dwindled after that, to comments about the weather, upcoming events at school and gossip around town.

Chloe was the first to speak up and say she needed to get back home and finish a couple of articles she was working on. At her departure, Lex glanced at his watch and commented that he too had best get going. Clark looked over at Cady who nodded, knowing she couldn't hide out from the relatives and reality forever. The three walked out of the Talon together after saying goodbye to Lana, and Lex headed over to his Aston Martin which was parked in front of the doors.

Cady's eyes widened in appreciation and she left her cousin, who was currently saying something to Lex about the produce delivery. She moved around the car, her gaze sweeping over every inch of it, not noticing that she was being carefully watched by its owner.

Finally, "Like what you see?" Lex asked in slight amusement.

Cady nodded, leaning over to peer into the window. "I've never seen a DB7 in person."

Lex raised his eyebrows at that. "Know your Aston Martin's, do you?"

A shrug. "It's a Bond thing."

Opening the door to his car, Lex commented, "Well, maybe someday Clark's cousin will merit a ride in it. See you later, Clark."

Cady stood staring with her mouth hanging slightly agape in astonishment as Lex drove off, tires screeching against the asphalt. She turned to Clark, her gaze narrowing. "Was that just a really well-placed insult?"

Clark chuckled. "I doubt it, Cady. Lex was just being Lex."

"Ah." Cady nodded. "Arrogant, spoilt brat. Got it."

"No, Lex isn't like that," Clark corrected, then quickly amended, "Okay, arrogant, sure. But he really is a good guy once you get to know him. He's a little put-offish at first, which you figure was ingrained in him since he was a child, what with people wanting to be his friend just because of what he could do for them."

He started toward the truck, his cousin following.

"How'd you get to be such good friends?"

"I… uh… saved his life."

Cady stared incredulously at her cousin before climbing into the cab as he started the engine. "You what? Clark Kent to the rescue and all that?"

"It wasn't that spectacular." Clark shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. "His car went off a bridge and I dove in and pulled him out."

"Not all that spectacular, huh? More of a made-for-TV movie as opposed to a summer blockbuster?" Cady grinned. "So I guess I should be glad he didn't offer me a ride, then?"

Laughing, Clark replied, "Yeah. Lex isn't exactly the safest driver in Kansas, that's for certain."

By the time the cousins returned to the farm, the relatives had left and Martha and Jonathon Kent were sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of coffee and quietly talking with one another. The question had come up, as it had quite a few times in the previous days, as to whether or not they should let the newest addition to their family in on the truth of Clark's "adoption". Cady's time spent at the farm before had never been for long enough intervals that it had been too difficult for them to continue to keep the secret. But if she were to be living with them for a year or more, how long could they possibly keep the veil of secrecy in place? Clark wanted to tell her, Martha was leaning towards the idea as well, but Jonathon was still hesitant.

Jonathon adored his sister Karen's daughter, always had. She was bright, lively, fun-loving and good-natured. Even though he did not completely agree with the way his brother-in-law had chosen to raise her, he made no judgments based off of her parentage. Certainly, Cady was sometimes willful, spoilt, and a tad too independent but he couldn't hold those faults against her. She had always gotten away with too much when it came to her parents and her father had treated her like a little princess. Unfortunately, those were exactly the reasons why Jonathon worried about telling her about Clark. Cady was naturally curious, had a knack for finding trouble wherever she could – she had broken more bones on the farm than he could count in her childhood – and tended to invite anyone within a radius of one hundred miles into her life. His brother-in-law, Blake, had always made more friends than Jonathon had thought wise. Blake had believed in the natural goodness in everyone. Jonathon was certain his brother-in-law was insane, but he never really said as much to anyone but Martha. Still, Cady was a good person, with a kind heart, which is why his conscience was nagging at him about not telling her the truth regarding Clark.

"I can't help but think we are hurting her by not telling her," Martha commented, staring down into her coffee mug. "Its as if we're saying we don't trust her."

"You know that isn't true, Martha," her husband explained, reaching out to take her hand in his. "We simply don't know what to expect out of Cady yet. Its been a few years since we've spent a lot of time together. We don't know who her friends are or what her current interests are or anything."

"She would never hurt Clark."

"No, she wouldn't," Jonathon agreed with a nod. "Not intentionally. But we both know how Cady can get. We know her temper, which her father never taught her to curb, and we know her frankness. Either of those traits could cause trouble." He sighed when his wife looked away, a troubled expression on her beautiful face. "Look, I'm not saying we never tell her. I just say we give it some time, allow the four of us to adjust to one another, see where it leads us. I'm just asking that we be cautious, Martha. For Clark's sake, as well as Cady's."

Before more could be said, the two topics of their conversation entered through the screen door, laughing over some remembered childhood prank they had played on the Miller's, stomping their feet to ward off the chill and making a general raucous as only young people could.

"And just where have the both of you been?" Martha smiled at the two cousins, who resembled one another more than they should have considering they were in no way related.

Ever since Ryan had entered into their lives so briefly, Martha had not realized how much she wanted even more laughter and raised voices and tramping feet around the farm. She had always adored Cady's visits because for just a time she could pretend she had a daughter, one that she could take shopping with her and do her hair and make cookies together and form daisy chains in the fields on family picnics. Now that Cady was older, she might be against making daisy chains and letting her aunt braid her hair, but they could share even better times together, talking and shopping and providing the ear of another female to listen to.

"Down at the Talon," Clark explained, moving over to the refrigerator to grab a Pepsi. "We just wanted to get away for awhile."

Martha stood and walked over to Cady, hugging her tightly. Pulling back, she asked, "How are you doing, sweetie?"

"Better." Cady nodded and smiled at her aunt and uncle. "I take it the coast is clear?"

"Completely." Jonathon stood and stretched. "I need to take care of a few things in the barn before bed. Cady, tomorrow morning you can pick up your usual chores around here. Also, I am going to have Clark show you the produce delivery route so that you can start helping out with that as well."

"Okay, uncle Jon." Watching her uncle as he disappeared out the door, Cady glanced at her cousin who was grinning at her. "No rest for the weary, eh?"

Martha and Clark laughed.

***

Cady fell into routine around the farm quickly. She got up each morning at five-thirty to feed the chickens and gather eggs. Then she would return into the house to help aunt Martha fix breakfast, the men would come in and they would sit around the table and talk about the day ahead while eating, and then she would do the dishes and clean the kitchen. Throughout the days, Cady would help tend the garden, clean the house, cook meals and whatever else could be done to help lighten her aunt's work load. They grew closer during that time and Cady could tell that her aunt was very happy to have another female around the house.

For the first few days in the afternoon, Cady took the truck into town to begin looking for a job. She was determined to save up and try to get back to college in the next year or so to finish up the last three semesters that she had to get her degree. She dreaded the thought of taking out so many loans that she would be spending the rest of her life paying them off. That would become a last resort only. Uncle Jonathon had tried to offer to help her out, but Cady knew the dire financial straights that the farm was in and in no way was going to add to that. Plus, she wanted to help out with paying things around the farm - she wasn't about to allow them to support her completely.

Unfortunately, the few jobs available in town included waiting on tables, which Cady knew she had no talent at whatsoever, and check-out clerk at Fordman's, another job that she wished to avoid at all costs. Luckily, after speaking with Chloe one afternoon, she got in touch with Chloe's contact at the Ledger and learned they had a staff writer position open. With her almost finished Mass Media degree and talent in writing, Cady was offered a job after the first interview and would be starting work there in another week. She had never had a particular interest in being a reporter but it was better than the alternatives. Of course, now Chloe and Clark teased her about reporting on all of the weird happenings in town.

It was late Friday night, Martha and Jonathon were already in bed, when the two cousins decided to stay up and watch horror movies together. Martha had left them a horde of junk food to munch on, which only served to spur the hyper moods both Cady and Clark were already in. The requisite food fight and wrestling match started half-way through the second movie and Clark had just prepared to smash a Twinkie into Cady's face when she resorted to tickling, knocking him off of her and dashing out the door. Laughing, Clark climbed to his feet, allowing his cousin a head start. When they had been younger, his parents had to warn him time and again about how gentle he had to be when rough-housing with her. Only once had he ever caused her harm – he had been seven at the time and had succeeded in breaking her wrist. Cady had never held it against him and never asked how he had done it. At ten years old, she obviously had more important things to worry about, like the snakes she put into his bed afterwards for revenge. Now though, Clark was well aware of just how careful he had to be and how to occasionally allow her the upper hand in wrestling.

Moving out of the house, Clark stopped at the top of the porch steps, bouncing on the balls of his feet to ward off the chill, and scanned the area. Concentrating, he focused his gaze on the barn and peered through the walls inside, finding her hiding within one of the empty stalls. Okay, so he was cheating. He was more than certain that Cady would have done the same if she could have. Smiling, Clark broke into a slow jog over to the barn, pulling the door open quietly and stepping inside. He tiptoed over to the stall where she crouched, then jumped in to grab her. Cady squealed appropriately, bounding out the entrance and towards the barn door. Breaking into pursuit, Clark chased his cousin down in the yard, grabbing her and dragging her to the ground where he proceeded to sit on, and then tickle her.

Squealing once more, Cady wriggled beneath her cousin, calling him every name she could think of between her laughter and tears, trying to push him off, only to no avail. Clark Kent was not budging, she caught on to that much. And if he didn't let her go soon, she just knew her insides were going to burst open. There was something about the pain of tickling that defied all logic. Why was she laughing when this obviously did not feel good in the least?

Clark was near to letting his cousin's torture end when he glimpsed headlights coming up the drive and the unmistakable sound of a sports car. He stopped tickling Cady but did not get up as Lex pulled the black Ferrari up to a stop a few feet in front of them, the headlights splaying over them. His cousin was pushing against his stomach, telling him to let her up, but he didn't move. He grinned at Lex as his friend got out of the car and walked over to them, hands firmly entrenched in the pockets of his knee- length trench coat.

"Hey Lex." Clark grinned

"Clark." Lex's gaze swept between the two cousins as he attempted not to appear in the least bit surprised to find Clark sitting on top of Cady in the middle of the driveway shortly before midnight on a cold, January night. He nodded at his best friend's female counterpart. "Cady."

"Hello, Lex," Cady gasped, still attempting to wiggle out from under Clark's weight. She wasn't getting very far so she finally gave up and laid there, staring up at their visitor. He was dressed in black slacks, a light grey pullover and black trench coat. Cady couldn't help but think it was a really nice look for him. His pale skin seemed to glow in the moonlight.

"What are you doing here?" Clark asked.

Lex tried to ignore how absurd the picture before him was, especially with how comfortable Clark appeared straddling his cousin's hips as if he had nothing better to do at the moment. The truth was, he had been going over numbers for the Plant in the month of December when a very startling memory of sitting beside his mother on a cold winter's night had swept over him, leaving him in a particularly morose frame of mind which he hated. Determined to ease his mind of the unwelcome thoughts, Lex had decided to drop in on Clark.

In reply, he shrugged with his hands, his coat kind of flapping out to the sides at the action. "Got a little bored. Decided to come by and see if you were up. Surprised you aren't in the loft."

"Cady and I were watching some horror movies. Then she started a fight – "

"I didn't start it, brute!" Cady denied, smacking Clark in the stomach.

He remembered enough to give a fake "Oof!" before continuing, "She started it… and I just finished it."

"Hmph!" Cady folded her arms over her chest and pouted which caused her cousin to laugh.

"Isn't it a little… cold to be wrestling on the ground?" Lex asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Freezing as a matter of fact," Cady commented from her position on the drive, earning her an amused chuckle from her cousin and an almost-smile from Lex.

Rising to his feet, Clark reached down and pulled Cady to hers, a little too quickly and easily, leaving her to stare at him for a long moment.

Growing uncomfortable under her gaze, Clark asked Lex, "Wanna join us for some movies?"

Lex glanced at the house, wondering if Clark's parents were about. He didn't exactly relish the idea of sparring with Jonathon Kent for the evening. "I don't really think so, Clark. Thanks anyway."

Cady raised an eyebrow at that. She hadn't exactly received the best impression of Lex from their initial meeting and had heard quite enough of her uncle's opinion regarding him. Then again, uncle Jonathon liked few people. Still, Cady thought it was rude that Lex would bother not to accept Clark's invitation.

In what was typical behavior for her, when mouth acted before brain, Cady commented, "I take it horror movies are beneath you. You must be more interested in films like "Wall Street" or "The Firm". Or maybe, something a little more akin to the Luthor's would be "Faces of Death" – "

"Cady!" Clark clamped his hand over Cady's mouth and shoved her behind him, flashing an embarrassed look at Lex, who was currently watching his cousin with that stony expression that Clark hated. It was one he had come to associate with Lex using as a defense, when he didn't want anyone to know what he was thinking or feeling. Lex was really good at it too. Currently, everything about his friend was completely blank. Clark wanted to kick Cady into the next county for her behavior. "Ignore her, Lex. Sometimes her mouth moves before her brain does."

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!" Cady snapped, slapping her cousin's shoulder, then immediately whimpering in surprised pain.

Lex straightened a little, moving his gaze from the young woman, who obviously regarded him in the same manner as Jonathon Kent, and instead looking at his friend. "I should get going… "

"Lex, wait," Clark called out, stopping him. "My parents are asleep. You're more than welcome to join us. We have a ton of food and some great movies and you can't deny we haven't seen much of each other lately."

Lex glanced at Clark, then over at Cady for a moment. "I'm not entirely certain my presence is welcomed, Clark."

Clark turned to glare at Cady who immediately looked contrite.

Knowing her comment was inappropriate, and that Clark would likely have her head on a platter the next morning, Cady flashed a sincere smile at the billionaire. "I'm sorry, Lex. That comment was completely uncalled for. Clark is right. I do tend to speak before thinking. Please join us."

It was strange. Lex found himself believing Cady and her apology. At the same time, in the back of his mind, he found himself admiring her barb against him. Besides which, it had been amusing. With a mouth that sharp, he wondered how she would hold up against some of the people he regularly dealt with, then quickly dismissed the thought from his mind as absurd. Cady O'Rourke was no different from Clark Kent – just as innocent and sheltered. In the week since he had met her, Lex had done some investigating into Clark's cousin. He knew she had been born and raised in Smallville, to Jonathon Kent's sister and her husband, until Blake O'Rourke was offered a job by Lionel at the LuthorCorp labs in Metropolis when Cady was thirteen. She attended West Side High and then Metropolis University until her parent's recent deaths that, due to financial problems, forced her to drop out at the beginning of the recent semester. Lex was a little surprised his father had not requested he attend the O'Rourke's funeral as a representative for LuthorCorp. As far as he remembered, Dr. O'Rourke had been an important scientist and well-respected in the organization. Why Lionel had chosen to blatantly ignore his death, Lex didn't know. Just as he didn't understand why there had been insurance complications. LuthorCorp should have taken care of that. He had made a mental note to speak with his father about it the next time he saw him.

Interestingly enough, Lex found himself wanting to spend a little more time in the presence of Clark and his odd cousin. He agreed to stay, and followed the cousins into the yellow farmhouse, where they led him directly into the front room. The TV was droning on quietly, the current movie, which appeared to be "The Shining" left running while they had disappeared into the yard, and food was scattered throughout the room. Clark felt himself go red under Lex's amused gaze and he quickly picked a few things up.

"Sorry about the mess. Umm… take a seat wherever you can find one."

Lex found himself smiling slightly as he took a seat on the couch. Clark carried some empty plates into the kitchen while Cady knelt in front of the TV and switched out the tape on the VCR.

"Ever seen Evil Dead II?" She asked, leaning back on her elbows to glance upside down at the man seated behind her.

Again, Lex found himself feeling slightly amused at the undignified position of the young woman in front of him. He thought for a moment that she had incredibly large eyes before replying, "No. I haven't."

"For shame!" Cady replied, as if she had just heard that he stole some orphan's Christmas gift. Sitting back up, she popped in another tape, hit play and then joined him on the couch, tugging her legs beneath her, as Clark reentered the room, flopping into the easy chair across from them.

Lex's gaze moved between the cousins as he wondered if he had, at any point in his life, ever appeared so relaxed and at ease anywhere. Dressed in dark blue sweat pants and a fire-engine red t-shirt and bare feet, Clark's long limbs were draped casually over the arms of the chair, his hair tussled, cheeks rosy from the foray into the cold. Glancing over at Cady, Lex was struck by how much the cousins resembled one another, even though Clark was adopted. Her long hair was as dark as Clark's, even though it had hints of red throughout as opposed to the bluish tint of her cousins. Her eyes were more green than hazel, but just as wide and expressive, clear, and very pretty to look at, actually. The most amusing aspect of Cady O'Rourke at the moment though was her clothing. She was wearing purple flannel pajamas and furry, pink bunny slippers. It was beyond silly for a girl of twenty to be dressed in and yet, it seemed to suit her perfectly.

Cady giggled at something in the movie and Lex found himself turning back to it, attempting to concentrate. He declined the chips and popcorn and sodas that were offered to him, ignoring the exasperated sigh of the female beside him as he tried to make some sense or plot out of "Evil Dead II". It wasn't exactly what he would qualify as horror, especially if any of Cady's side-splitting laughter was indicative of it. As Lex settled into it, he began to realize it was more of a comedy, though that left him slightly uncomfortable. As much as he enjoyed humor, Luthors were not caught laughing like goons in any situation, unless perhaps it were at the bankruptcy or take-over of a rival corporation. Unfortunately, when Ash said "Swallow this", Lex found a chuckle erupt into a quick burst of full blown laughter. He quickly stifled it, especially when he caught Cady staring at him silently. Clark, on the other hand, hadn't gotten off so easily. He was still rolling in his chair.

When it ended forty-five minutes later, Lex commented, "That has to be one of the strangest films I have ever been subjected to."

Cady raised an eyebrow as she glanced over at him. "Ah, but you enjoyed it, didn't you?"

Lex found himself smiling suddenly. "It's entirely possible."

Returning the smile, she replied, "See. I knew I would be right. I'm always right."

"Is that a fact?" Lex asked with a raised brow.

"Yes, it is."

Cady's smile and reply were so confident, filled with such complete belief in herself, that Lex almost laughed. Almost. Instead, he found himself silently contemplating the oddity that was Clark's cousin. There was a confidence in her that was severely lacking in Clark, a confidence that bordered on arrogance, something he knew quite well. But at the same time, she shared the same flashes of naivety and innocence as her cousin. At moments, there would be a brief spark of cynicism in her eyes, obviously acquired from those few years spent in Metropolis, but always it would be replaced with an expression more akin to acceptance. The most unsettling aspect of her was the familiar smile she would offer, one that was frighteningly close to Clarks. Between the cousins, Lex wondered if they couldn't power the entire city of Metropolis on their like-megawatt smiles.

Thinking of the hero of Smallville, Lex cast a glance in his friend's direction. At some point toward the end of the movie, Clark had fallen asleep. Unconsciously grinning, the billionaire silently pointed that fact out to the young woman sitting beside him. Both Lex and Cady watched him for a long moment without a word before Lex finally stood, pulling his keys from his pocket.

"I'd better get going."

Cady stood and followed him out the door and onto the porch. It was the polite thing to do, even though the temperature had obviously dipped below freezing. She folded her arms across her chest and tried to keep her teeth from chattering. Glancing back at her cousin, Cady looked up at Lex and commented, "I think Clark was really glad you decided to join us. Thank you."

Lex shrugged nonchalantly, though the truth was he was pleased that he had joined them as well. "You should get inside. I would hate to be blamed for your developing frost bite."

The young woman laughed. "I'm made of heartier stuff than that. I was raised on a farm, you know, no matter how much the city might have knocked that out of me." She laughed again at a sudden memory. "When Clark and I were little, we used to dare each other as to how long we could stand out in the dead of winter in our bare feet and shorts! Unfortunately, he always won. His body has some freakish ability to adjust to any temperature. Meanwhile, I was always sent to bed with piles of warm blankets and a horrid scolding."

"Indeed." Lex couldn't imagine what it would have been like to have been a child in the Kent family. To have pulled such pranks not as a bid for attention but because it was fun and child-like and there was someone beside you to spur you on and laugh with you when you realized how stupid it was. "Tell Clark I'll see him later."

"I will." Cady nodded, wondering what it was that she had said to cause Lex to end the conversation so abruptly. Again, she found herself wondering if her uncle might not be right in his assessment of the young billionaire, then quickly dismissed the idea. There was something about Lex Luthor… No, she would think about that later. "Goodnight."

Cady stood staring beside the door as Lex walked back to his Ferrari, climbed in and drove off. From somewhere deep inside, she found a sigh well up and burst forth. Frowning at herself, and her reaction to the confounding Lex Luthor, she reentered the house, closing the door, and wandered her way over to her cousin to wake him and get him up to bed.