DISCLAIMER - Not mine, I couldn't afford the motor and household insurance bills. I promise I'll scrub them down and give them back to DC comics, the WB and anyone else who does own a slice of them when I'm done with them. Story, such as it is, copyright Karen Colohan, October 2003.
Author's notes - Spoilers for various episodes right up to Slumber. Grateful thanks to Barbara for betaing at short notice.
Halloween in Smallville and the mansion was quiet, too quiet. The Luthor residence wasn't exactly at the top of most trick or treater's list of places to visit. As he sat in the leather armchair in front of the fireplace, Lex could feel the silence pressing in around him. He took another sip of brandy as he watched the flames dance. The alcohol seemed to warm him more than the fire did so he raised the glass again, finishing it in one long swallow.
Lex turned the empty glass in his hands for a few moments before getting to his feet, intent on pouring himself another drink. As he stood his eyes were drawn by movement in the far corner of the room.
"Who's there?" Lex called out, a frown creasing his forehead. As far as he knew he was alone in the mansion except for a few members of his staff and none of them ought to be skulking in the shadows.
"Remember me?" It was a man's voice and it sounded rough, barely more than a dry whisper.
"Who are you?" Lex asked again, taking a cautious step towards the shadowy shape.
The man moved forward at the same time, the firelight falling on him and revealing his features. Lex gasped as he recognised the familiar, unkempt figure who had dogged his steps for the three months that he'd been stranded after the plane crash. It wasn't one he'd ever expected to see again. Lex froze.
"Louis," he said in a hushed voice.
"Remember me now?" A grimy hand reached up to push matted hair out of an equally dirty face.
It was only then that it occurred to Lex that Louis looked exactly the same as he had on the island. That didn't make sense. How could he be here?
"What's going on?" Lex demanded, striding across the room. Before he could get within touching distance, Louis disappeared.
Lex stopped mid-step and glanced down at the empty glass in his hand. He didn't think he'd drunk that much, but maybe it had been more than he realised. He didn't have the chance to consider further as he heard movement behind him.
The words were the same, but the voice sounded different this time. Lex whirled round to confront the new questioner. At first it still looked like Louis, but as Lex watched the face changed too.
"You killed me," the intruder accused and now he wore the appearance of Jude Royce - or maybe it was the man who'd simply had the misfortune to look like Jude. Whichever he was, he paced slowly around Lex, keeping him rooted to the spot.
Lex watched him warily. Jude or not-Jude, it didn't really matter which of the two men it was, he found himself thinking. A chill ran down his spine. They were both dead now; dead because of him, even if his finger hadn't been the one on the trigger in either case.
Lex began to wonder just how many more people lurked in his mind, waiting for their chance to accuse him. He didn't think he'd ever been haunted before, not that he actually believed in ghosts. It was just the brandy talking. Or, maybe, all that time spent in isolation after the crash had pushed him closer to the brink of madness than he'd thought. Perhaps he really was insane - or eccentric, as his father had put it.
Jude had come to a halt, standing directly in front of Lex. As Lex raised his head, meeting the cold gaze, the features began to blur again. Lex watched as the smooth skin shrivelled, becoming old and wrinkled. At the same time a milky film spread across the eyes staring into his own. Lex gasped as he recognised the new apparition.
"Cassandra," he murmured in horror.
The old woman's head tilted to one side as Lex spoke and then she extended her hand towards him, the long fingers bony and dry.
"Take my hand," she demanded.
"No!" Lex backed away, shaking his head in vehement denial. His touch had caused Cassandra's death once, he wasn't going to watch the same thing happen again.
Suddenly, the cloudiness that had blinded the woman retreated from her eyes and she stared piercingly at Lex.
"Why?" she asked. "Your future has already killed me. How can I die again?"
Lex swallowed hard. "Tell me what you saw. What's waiting for me that's so terrible? I need to know."
Cassandra looked at him with pity in her gaze. "It doesn't work that way. You have to take my hand."
After a moment's hesitation, Lex reached out. His fingers closed around Cassandra's. He hadn't expected her to feel substantial. He'd been so sure she was just another illusion, but her skin was cold and papery to the touch and Lex shivered. He waited, hardly daring to breathe.
A harsh gasp rattled in Cassandra's throat and her eyes fell shut.
"Cassandra!" Lex cried out, pulling his hand away sharply.
The old woman crumpled, as if Lex's grasp had been the only thing holding her upright. A shudder ran through Lex at the dull sound of her body hitting the floor. When he forced himself to look down at her, Lex found Cassandra's empty eyes staring back at him sightlessly.
Lex covered his mouth with his hand as his insides threatened to rebel. He turned away, tasting the bitterness of bile at the back of his throat.
"What's the matter, Lex, no stomach for the consequences of your actions?"
The voice behind him was unquestionably male once again. Lex dragged in several deep breaths, fighting down the urge to retch. He knew who his latest visitor was.
"Roger," he muttered under his breath.
"It's good to know you haven't forgotten me, at least," Roger said, closer now.
"How could I forget?"
Lex straightened and turned to face his current accuser. Roger Nixon, like those before him, looked very much alive, though Lex knew without doubt that he wasn't. Of all his ghosts, this was the one Lex found hardest to deal with. His hand had held the gun that killed Roger and pulling the trigger had been a premeditated act. Lex could try and rationalise it away by reminding himself that Jonathan Kent would be dead if Lex hadn't shot Roger first, but the fact remained that he had murdered the man.
Roger was watching him with thinly veiled amusement, almost as if he could tell what Lex was thinking.
"You didn't seem to remember that it was you who sent me after the Kents and their secrets when you killed me," Roger said coolly.
"You were going to kill Mr. Kent!" Lex felt his anger rise. "You overstepped the mark."
"I know how much you wanted Clark Kent's secrets, Lex. I could have given them to you, but now..." Roger stepped closer and a leer spread across his face. "And I know what you think about the boy, what you really want from him. I only hope he's worth the price of my life. He might have a pretty face and play the innocent for you, but he's not what he appears to be."
"What did you find out?" Lex couldn't stop himself from asking. "Tell me what you know."
An unpleasant smile twisted Roger's mouth. "How can I tell you anything, Lex? I'm dead, remember."
"No!" His temper finally pushed too far, Lex hurled the empty brandy glass that he was still holding at Roger's head.
Roger laughed as the glass passed harmlessly through him before smashing against the far wall.
"You shouldn't have killed me, Lex," he taunted. "Now you'll never know. Clark won't ever tell; he doesn't trust you. Just hope that he never betrays you."
Lex clenched his hands into fists at his sides. He wanted to launch himself at Roger, to force the truth out of him, but he knew it would be futile to try. As he watched, Roger slowly became more and more insubstantial, until Lex could see right through him.
"Clark's my friend!" Lex yelled at the fading figure. "He wouldn't betray me."
Just like the Cheshire cat, Roger's smug smile was the last thing that Lex saw before he disappeared completely. Spinning round, Lex searched the shadowed corners of the room for any further apparitions, but none materialised.
Reaction began to set in and Lex felt shivers course through his body. He strode across the room and poured a generous measure of brandy into a fresh glass. Lex downed it in one, feeling the welcome burn of the alcohol as it hit his stomach.
Behind him, the heavy office door crashed open and Lex spun to face the new intruder. Clark stood in the doorway, looking refreshingly corporeal, but Lex was unwilling to take anything at face value tonight.
"Clark?" he asked cautiously as he set his glass down.
"I heard shouting," Clark said as he walked across the room towards Lex. "Is everything okay?"
When Clark stretched a hand out, as if to touch him, Lex stepped back out of reach.
"Are you real?" Lex hated the tremor in his voice.
"What do you mean?" Clark immediately looked concerned. He glanced at the empty brandy glass, then back at Lex. "Lex?"
"I'm not drunk, Clark." Lex stiffened at the implication in the look, even though he'd already considered that as a possible explanation for the evening's events himself.
"I didn't say you were, Lex," Clark said gently. "But I know I heard you yelling when I got here and now you're acting... well, strange. Tell me what's wrong."
Lex shuddered again, feeling the ghost of his earlier visitors' presence against his skin. He wanted to believe that Clark was real, but given what had happened tonight he couldn't be certain. And Roger's words about Clark still echoed inside his head, an added complication.
On impulse Lex asked, "Did I kill you too?"
Clark's eyes widened and he took a step away from Lex. "I don't understand," he said uneasily. "I'm not dead."
"Are you sure? Are you real?" Lex repeated his earlier question, an edge of desperation in his voice.
"Lex, you're scaring me now," Clark said, clearly torn between backing away even further and reaching out to Lex. "Of course I'm real. Why would you think I wasn't?"
"So, if I touch you... you won't die or disappear, will you?" Lex closed the distance between himself and Clark, but he still held back from touching him.
"Lex..." Clark radiated anxiety.
"I need to know, Clark," Lex insisted.
"You can't hurt me," Clark said simply.
Lex gave a sigh of relief, then he finally reached for Clark, sliding his arms around him. When Clark remained demonstrably visible and tangible, Lex moved even closer. He pressed against the solidity of Clark's body with a small sound of pleasure.
"You are real," he murmured.
Clark allowed the hug, carefully putting his own arms round Lex.
"Yeah," he said softly. "I told you I was."
Lex smiled against Clark's shoulder. He didn't really care if he was imagining this as well or not. Clark was here and in his arms and that was all the reality that Lex needed.
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