Needful Things

by Hope


For Slodwick's Stephen King Title Challenge. Happy Birthday, Andy!!


October 24th

The drive looked like a museum's garage sale. A few oversized portraits leaned against a sculpture so abstract in its organic lines that it could have been a woman or a porpoise, a shrouded suit of armor stood at attention, and a family of alabaster ibises milled around a Victorian dollhouse on the doorstep. Late afternoon light stretched their shadows into a peculiar zoo on the flagstones. A new shadow melded with the others, and Lex looked up to see Clark slowing from a jog to goggle at the collection of oddments.

"What's up?" Clark tilted his head to squint at an antique map. "I saw the truck, I thought you were moving."

Lex stole a quick glance at Clark, swallowing a smile when Clark leaned over farther to make out the map. Reaching past him, Lex righted it. "No, this is how dad entertains himself. Long distance to Christie's, and...."

Straightening, Clark still considered the map. Its edges had been burnt, and in places, age had darkened the parchment to obscure some of the inked borders. Swirling script in the corner declared these the borders of the New World. "Auction by phone or something?"

"That's about the size of it," Lex said.

"Most people just buy OxyClean or Girls Gone Wild off tv" Vaguely sheepish, Clark answered Lex's raised brow with a shrug. "Sometimes I can't sleep."

Leaving the movers to unload the rest of Lionel's impulse purchases, Lex led Clark away from his course of intensive cartography with a subtle touch against his elbow. "What brings you out here?"

With no maps to examine, Clark turned his fascination to the bowl of candy bars just inside the front door. "Nothing, just hanging out... what's this?"

"Hallowe'en, Clark. I considered the fun sized, but..." Lex trailed off, sifting through the bowl, then presenting Clark with a bar. "Bigger seemed like more fun to me."

Following Lex down the hall, Clark unwrapped his prize, rubbing his thumb against the flat edge of chocolate to melt it. "Definitely. Hope you like these though, you're going to have a ton left over." Sucking the chocolate from his thumb, Clark dropped onto the library couch, denim casual with tousled hair.

Lex plucked a pool cue from the rack. Chalking it, his eyes followed Clark's hands, watching his fingers rub against the bar again, then slip past his lips. "Surely people don't think I'd stoop low enough to poison Hallowe'en candy."

Maybe a little too quickly, Clark shook his head. "You're too far out. Trick or treaters don't even come to our house. Mom used to make up bags they could give out at Fordman's, but with Whitney gone, and his dad... I don't know if she'll do that this year."

Smile dampening to a flat line, Lex shrugged without moving at all. After a second, he turned to the table and fired the cue ball in a wild, careening shot across crimson felt. "That's a shame."

Clark took another swipe of chocolate, knitting his brows. "You okay, Lex?"

"Never better, Clark."

October 26th

When Chloe opened the door, she looked too frazzled to be surprised. High color in her cheeks, and pale bangs drooping into her eyes, she took one look at Clark and slumped against the door frame. "My hero."

"Yeah, when your dad said you were over here, I knew you were in trouble." Grinning, Clark looked past her. Sparkling, bouncing red-headed twins were lolling on a plaid couch, the girl resting her feet where her head belonged, the boy draped over the arm and kicking the end table with a steady thump-thump-thump. "Since when do you babysit?"

Chloe leaned against the door to let Clark pass, then followed him inside. "Since CD-Rs and software stopped growing on trees." She lowered her voice, giving Clark a gentle push away from the kids and toward the kitchen. "It's also a fact-finding mission. Mrs. Richards was, by all overthe -fence gossiping accounts- and by the way, I can't recommend town meetings more if you really want to get the dirt on your neighbors- infertile until after the meteor shower. And now? Proud mother of the devil twins."

Making a face, Clark took the proffered dishtowel. "They're thirteen?"

"Eight. Sometimes weird science takes time." She hesitated for a moment, staring at the sink full of dishes, then grudgingly attacked the pile. "And it's not just the kids, the whole family is weird. For example..." She waved a sudsy hand at him before passing a plate to rinse and dry. "No dishwasher. That alone merits a full-scale investigation."

"Mutant Family Does Dishes By Hand, story at eleven." Peeking from the corner of his eye, he shot her a grin, and took the soapy bowl from her. "Are you expecting them to spontaneously combust or something?"

Chloe plucked up another dish to scrub. "Well, I had high hopes for telekinetic activity earlier when Fox wanted a bomb pop and I said no, but now I would settle for a freakish display of narcolepsy."

With a cringe, Clark took another peek in the living room. Except for the regular thumping, they looked like statues, turned to stone by the basilisk gaze of the tv. "Fox? Don't tell me her name is..."

"If you don't want me to tell you, please, just don't ask." Flicking bubbles away, Chloe turned to lean back against the counter, smoothing her bangs out of her face. "Anyway, I know you weren't brought here by the siren song of dirty dishes, so what's up?"

Turning off the tap, Clark dried his hands and started to pat his pockets. "You're still doing that article about things to do on Hallowe'en, right?"

"Right. So far, I have..." She rolled her eyes up, as if she could read the story right out of her brain. "Reilly's Haunted Hayride, the Fright House at Clairmont Military Academy, and the state's largest Corn Maze. It's also the state's only Corn Maze, I discovered. Why, do you have something?"

Finally locating a scrap of paper in the back pocket of his jeans, Clark presented it to her with a brilliant smile. He watched her read, his brows jumping when her eyes widened, leaning closer, trying to follow her progress down the page with his gaze. When she finished, he greeted her with an even broader grin. "Well?"

Chloe skimmed the page again, then squinted up at him. "You're kidding, right? Luthor's Haunted Mile? A castle in the middle of nowhere isn't incentive enough for unruly packs of teenagers to mount an egg and toilet paper assault, so Lex is actually going to open the gates and print a freefor -all invitation in the Torch?"

"He wanted trick or treaters," Clark said, shrugging.

"Clark, I hate to be the one to point this out, but the Torch's demographic skews a little too old to be putting on costumes and going door to door."

Taking a step toward the living room, Clark shrugged again. "People could bring their little brothers and sisters. Word of mouth can go a long way." He stopped at the arch between rooms, still a little unnerved by the nearly motionless twins. When a commercial came on, he cleared his throat to catch their attention. "Hey guys, are you going trick or treating?"

The thumping stopped, and Fox craned his head to examine the stranger in his kitchen. "Yeah." He sighed, showing an unnatural lack of interest in a holiday centered around the celebration of gorging on free chocolate. "Mom's making us go as Ron and Ginny Weasely."

Clark heard Chloe mutter something about overaged fangirls, and bit back a grin. "Well, you should have her take you to the castle this year." He dropped his voice, low and confidential. "They're giving away the good candy bars, and I heard that one of them is going to have a fifty dollar bill in the wrapper."

Suddenly, the twins were in motion, scrambling up to beg for details. At least, for the two seconds before they started fighting over which of them would get the fifty dollars, and how much stuff they weren't going to buy for the other one. Over the din, Chloe leaned over to tap Clark on the shoulder, smirking at his ridiculously pleased expression. "Lex has no idea you're doing this, does he?"

Glancing away with feigned innocence, Clark's expression more than answered the question.

October 27th

There had been a time when Martha Kent's kitchen was immaculate. Homey, but immaculate- everything in its place, and a place for everything. Such was not the case when she came in from the fields. Taking off dirty work gloves, she stood at the door and stared as Clark sped back and forth in a blur, hundreds of brown paper bags ruffling in his wake. "Clark?"

At the sound of his mother's voice, he stopped abruptly. "Do you put one or two candy bars in with the apple? I can't remember."

"One," Martha said, knitting ginger brows and stepping over a row of bags near the door. "Honey, I appreciate you putting these together for me, but I don't think Mrs. Fordman's really up to it, this year."

Fishing a mini-Payday out of the bag in front of him, Clark dipped his head in deference. "I know. But Lex is doing this thing, and since you're a one mom crusade for healthy snacks..."

"With two candy bars in each bag?" She scanned the floor, looking for empty spots to step into, slowly working her way toward the sink. A sweet, warm orchard scent filled the kitchen, like a hint of apple wine.

Clark leaned across the counter, holding a hand out for her to catch and hold for balance. "Well, I want people to think you're cool, too."

"Very considerate of you." She laughed, taking giant steps over rustling waves of brown paper, the crackle and pop a close, autumn cousin to crunching through dry leaves. A quick peek confirmed an apple in every bag, shined to perfection- probably on the hem of Clark's shirt. "How many trick or treaters is he expecting?"

"I don't know." Clark cut a swath among the bags so his mother could get to the sink. "The whole town, maybe. Chloe's writing about it in the Torch, and..." Before he could finish, a light rap at the door interrupted. Hopscotching through the state's largest paper bag maze, Clark grabbed a stack of orange cards and bounced his way to the door to open it with a smile. "Lana, hey."

Looking around, Lana's almond eyes widened at the chaos in the kitchen. "Wow, it looks like a lunch lady's worst nightmare in here."

Martha dried her hands on a festive, pumpkin-decorated dish towel, shaking her head ruefully. "I'm sorry, we'd invite you in, but we don't really have an in at the moment."

"I can't stay anyway, my aunt's expecting me, but thank you." Lana turned her attention from Martha to Clark, smoothing dark hair back over her shoulder. "I got your message, is everything all right?"

"No, everything's great, everything's fine." Clark fanned the cards with his thumb, then took one off the top to give one to her. "But I was wondering if you could hand these out at the Talon? Just to the people with kids. It's okay if you can't, I just..."

Reading it over quickly, Lana graced him with another smile. "It's no problem, Clark. I'll take them down there first thing in the morning."

Clark let her take the cards from him. "I really appreciate it."

"What are friends for?" Tucking the stack in her purse, she nodded her gratitude when Clark opened the door for her. "Bye, Mrs. Kent. Good luck in the search for your kitchen."

October 28th

Sticky with grey paint, wood shavings caught in his hair, Clark tilted his head and stared at the pine grave marker propped against the side of the barn. He had a battalion's worth of fake stones, but they still needed something. Rubbing his hands on his jeans, he looked over at Pete. "They need names, but I don't want to accidentally put anybody's real name on them."

Sitting on an overturned bushel basket, Pete took another bite of apple and shrugged. "Cartoon characters, man. Mickey Mouse, rest in peace."

"It's supposed to be scary, not funny." Crouching down in front of the blank stone, Clark bounced the paintbrush in his hand, apparently waiting for divine inspiration. A cool breeze rolled out of the fields, brisk and sharp, fingering through Clark's hair, creeping beneath the collar of his shirt. After a few moments of quiet, Clark shouldered against Pete. "Come on. I know you don't like Lex, but you said you'd help."

Pete snapped off another bite, then stood up to walk around the corpseless graveyard. "Yeah, explain to me again how you managed that?"

"Goodness of your heart, saving future generations from Mrs. McKinney's molasses bars, lending you my history notes for the entire semester..." A faint smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, then broadened when Pete rolled his eyes and shrugged away his stone-faced neutrality.

"You take good notes." Sweeping the brush from Clark's hand, Pete caught the apple between his teeth and considered the wooden canvas. Brows twitching with an idea, he smeared the brush with paint and leaned in. Blocking Clark's view, his shoulders rolled, measuring meticulous strokes. When Clark got too close, Pete looked over his shoulder, popping the apple of out his mouth with his free hand. "Quit staring, you're making me nervous."

With a snort, Clark took a few steps back. "Sorry, Picasso."

"Don't mock the master," Pete said, then returned to put a few finishing touches on the ersatz stone. Eyes twinkling, he finally leaned out of the way to let Clark see. 'Sidney Prescott, 1979-1996' it read, in fine, narrow letters. They were perfectly straight, too, clean up and down lines centered in the middle of the stone without the aid of a ruler.

His eyes lighting up in recognition, Clark grabbed the next stone and the extra brush. Loading it with paint, he started to engrave 'Billy Loomis,' using the same dates. Trying to duplicate Pete's neat lettering, he glanced over and teased, "She didn't die in the movie, though."

Pete wrinkled his nose at him. "You're gonna argue with genius?"

"I'll let you know when a genius shows up." They shared mocking grins, and went back to painting, side by side under a bright October sky.

October 30th

Careful not to crush his mother's treat bags, Clark stacked the last of the gravestones in the back of the truck. Reaching down to wipe a fleck of dirt off 'Laurie Strode, 1961-2001,' he changed his mind and rubbed it in instead. Pleased with the manufactured cemetery, he hopped down from the truck bed, surveyed the contents to make sure they wouldn't shift, then started to close the gate.

"Just a minute, son."

Rolling around to face his father, Clark rubbed lazy patterns in the dirt drive with his sneaker. "I already finished all my deliveries, mom said I could borrow the truck."

Jonathan reached past him, tilting one of the stones to read. His flannel shirt reflected red across the faux stone as he fingered its edges. "Looks like you've been busy."

"I had a lot of help," Clark said. He shoved his hands in his pockets, leaning back against the gate and watching his father's face through his bangs. Neutral maybe, or maybe annoyed, sometimes it was hard to tell.

Jonathan didn't say anything for a long time, lifting another stone, then a third, before stepping back and nodding toward the barn. "Give me a hand with a couple things?"

Matching his father's stride, Clark kept his head low. From sunlight to cool shadow inside the barn, he hesitated at the door, waiting to see what kind of help he needed. Straw dust danced in the slats of light filtering through the barn walls, stirred to a furious swirl when Jonathan walked through them.

"Your mother told me what you were doing," Jonathan said, pushing the thresher out of the way to get to a small stack of crates behind it. "All that lumber, it couldn't have been cheap."

"I got most of it from the junk yard." Defensive, Clark didn't meet his father's gaze when he moved in to help. "With my own birthday money. I'll pay for the apples, too, if you want."

Exhaling an incredulous sigh, Jonathan lifted the first crate into Clark's arms. "You know better than that."

Chastened, Clark looked away, keeping himself still while his father loaded him with the next box. He could barely see over the top, breathing in the scent of cheap wood with something strange and sort of humid beneath it. "Sorry. I just..."

"I know what you just. Why don't you go ahead and set those on the truck?" Jonathan steadied the stack, and steered Clark toward the door. Sunlight spilled on them again, glowing on the gold of Jonathan's sun-bleached hair. He stopped to dig through an upright tool box, finally producing a crowbar from the bottom drawer. Rolling it between his hands, he rubbed away a hint of rust and slid it into the bed of the truck, gesturing at the crates. "You'll probably want to put those closer to the cab."

Clark looked down at the crates, then at Jonathan again, brows knit. "Extra delivery or something?"

Already shifting wooden graves out of the way, Jonathan shook his head. "Dry ice. Cheaper than renting a fog machine, and better for the environment, too." Hitching himself into the truck, he crouched to help slide the boxes of dry ice into place, and met Clark's sheepish smile with a grin.
-

"I was wondering when you'd show up."

Startled, Clark nearly flipped the mallet out of his hand, sitting down heavily on cool grass. The front lawn, so recently littered with objets d'art, now boasted an impressive, makeshift necropolis. The sun had dipped behind the trees, dusky twilight casting deep shadows across Clark's face. "Where did you come from? Joachim said you were in Metropolis."

"I was. I just got back." Lex turned his head, taking in the transformation of his lawn. Most of the headstones were up, a few tiki torches (Chloe swore her dad wouldn't miss them,) dotting the path from the front gate toward the manor. Cotton-batting spiderwebs glimmered between a few of the graves, and all along the impressive arch of the front door, which now boasted a plastic skull knocker. Flanking either side, lashes of dried corn stalks bobbed with the faint breeze. "I like what you've done with the place."

Relieved, Clark pushed himself to his feet. "You're not mad?"

Lex slipped a hand in his pocket, pulling out a worn, orange card. He flipped it between two fingers, waving it at Clark. "It's a little late to be asking that, isn't it?" For a moment, his tone sounded severe, but he lightened it with a half smile as he leaned over to make crooked one of the grave stones. "No one's ever done anything like this for me before."

"They should have." Dusk couldn't hide the faint color in his cheeks, not really a blush, just a flush touch of sincerity and pride. When Lex rose to his full height again, they stood face to face, barely a handsbreadth separating them. Their eyes dipped at once, mirrored glimpses that met again in electric contemplation.

Wriggling his toes in his sandals, Clark's lips parted somewhere between a smile and a sigh and he leaned in. Half a hesitation, then Lex closed his eyes a moment before Clark did, their mouths meeting in a soft kiss. Lips clinging to the caress, only their mouths met, leaning in to linger in the warm touch. Drawn back for just one more taste, their noses brushed when they parted..

Lex watched Clark's mouth, his lashes low as he rolled the taste of him in his mouth, and when he spoke, a low, intimate hum hushed his voice. "We have a lot of work to do before tomorrow."

October 31st

Haunting the long walk from the front gates, Clark smiled too much to be taken seriously as a vampire. He looked the part- his dark hair slicked back and a widow's peak painted in with his mother's eyeliner, skin made paper pale with baby powder to offset a crimson lipsticked mouth, and he flapped his black cape convincingly enough, but most of the people who streamed past him, guided to stay on the smoky path with deep-intoned warnings about monsters in the woods, just grinned at him.

At the other end of the walk, Lex handed out candy with his usual wry smile, and tried not to take offense at the eyebrows raised at his costume. Except for the cross and the white band at his throat, he really didn't look all that different from any other day, but the Haunted Mile more than made up for his ordinary appearance. Blacklights hidden behind stones cast an eerie glow through the fog winding across the lane, and the torch flames flickered and danced against a dark night sky. Speakers secreted away inside leering jack-o-lanterns filled the air with shrieks and howls, layered over a steady soundtrack of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Rubber bats and spiders dangled from trees, and every so often Joachim gathered as much dignity as he could and wandered through the grave stones in wraithly rags. Unintentionally adding to the atmosphere, Lionel haunted one of the upstairs windows. His silhouette crawled on the glass from the room where he'd taken refuge from 'Lex's nonsense,' the only window lit on the broad, stonefaced manor.

A seemingly endless stream of miniature firefighters and ballerinas mounted the walk, little pumpkins carried in parental arms, and at last count, at least eight Hogwarts students, though the Richards twins looked the most authentic. Lana stopped by, in the shape of an angel, and Chloe stuck around for at least an hour, making sure to move as much as possible to ensure her flapper's dress shimmied with each step. Even Pete had shown up in a pinstriped suit and fedora, though he never made it past the gate. He made his fun by firing his water-tommy gun at Clark whenever he got too close.

As it grew later, the flow of trick or treaters thinned out, a few ghouls here, several witches there, until Luthor Manor seemed to be abandoned again to its solitude. After checking the road for stragglers, Clark closed the gates. Grinning from ear to ear, he started up the drive, putting out the torches and scanning the ground to make sure the last of his birthday money he put up as the prize hadn't gotten abandoned in a mad rush to get to the candy.

Waiting for Clark in the foyer, Lex murmured a quiet thanks to Joachim and let him escape to wash off the thick greasepaint slicking his skin. Fog rolled through the corridor inside, the gasping flavor of dry ice thick in the air. A skeleton that might have actually been real bowed its head to the strains of Bach in the background, and Clark smiled at the suit of armor decked out with a bloodied, rubber sword. "Nice touch."

"Living in a museum has its advantages." Lex offered Clark the bowl of candy, one battered candy bar left in the bottom. "Nice costume, by the way. Not what I would have expected."

Glancing down at his gothic self, Clark laughed and took the proffered bar. "Well, I already had the teeth," he said, flashing Lex a wide grin boasting nothing but his own, natural mouth. Peeling open the candy bar (cash free, somebody had definitely taken it home,) he swayed a little closer to Lex, eyeing his costume. "Not what I expected either. We kinda match."

"If this is where I'm supposed to drive you back to the grave, it's not going to happen." Catching Clark by the front of his shirt, he pulled him closer, claiming a chocolate and lipstick kiss. Closer than yesterday, their bodies brushed together, Clark's free hand straying to rest on Lex's hip. They melded into the shadows, trading longer tastes this time, learning each other's mouths between murmured sighs.

Pulling away, the priest shared an obscenely pleased expression with the vampire. "Are you going to stay to help me clean this up?"

"And other stuff," Clark said, dipping his head with a shy glance through his brows as he took another bite of chocolate. Suddenly, the spook soundtrack started over, and a chill ran up Clark's spine. Ghostly, childlike laughter reverberated in the dark, seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. Brushing a hand down Lex's chest, he peered into the dark hall.

Through the manufactured mist, a little girl walked down the stairs, carefully putting both feet on each step before continuing. Beautifully transparent, she clutched a doll the size of a clothespin, perfect for tiny games in a dollhouse. Her lacy, old-fashioned gown swirled almost to the floor, and when she reached the foyer, she looked up at them then faded with an ethereal smile.

Impressed, Clark shook off a shiver. "That's really cool, Lex." Another shiver washed through him, and he craned his neck to see if he could catch the video starting over. "When did you set up the projector?"

Almost as pale as Clark, without benefit of make-up, Lex shook his head. "I didn't."



If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Hope

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?



Back

Level Three Records Room