Fading in Silence

by Aelita


Written for Alax's Moment in Time Challenge. Special thanks to Kormanfan and Andariell for wonderful beta.


The house had been so quiet lately.

Martha wasn't really sure why.

Things had been hectic for a while but they calmed down once Clark came back. He was a little more... reserved nowadays. But he still slammed the doors and thumped heavily down the stairs. He hummed off-key when he helped her clean, and chattered about school while she cooked.

So, honestly, nothing had changed that much.

And yet...

All she could think was how quiet it was.

How empty.

It made her feel slightly wistful for something she couldn't identify. Something that hovered right there, at the edge of her subconscious. But every time she tried to reach for it, it faded away. And she couldn't make her self care enough to search for it harder.

She knew that both Clark and Jonathan were more worried about her than they should be. It was obvious in the way they looked at her when they thought she didn't see it. She wasn't positive why, although she had her suspicions, and she hated it. She wasn't some fragile flower, and she hadn't even cried once since that day in the hospital.

She should probably do something about it. She should probably talk to them. And she would. When she was in the mood to talk. But right now, she had dishes to wash and dinner to cook.

There was comfort in routine.

She stopped in front of the hallway mirror and watched her reflection. The woman who looked back wasn't any different from... before. A little thinner, maybe, and more tired.

Older.

There was some gray on her temples, but that was alright. She wasn't fifteen anymore; gray was allowed.

Who was she fooling with all that henna anyway?

Determinedly, she turned away and wandered into the kitchen. Turning on the water, she slid her hands under the warm stream. It was calming, and she closed her eyes.

Sometimes she felt like she lived on a glass set, where each character moved with careful precision and apprehension. Each step felt strategized, calculated for the minimal damage. Everyone paused to take in the situation before they said anything, as if a wrong sentence would shatter everything around them.

Jonathan would touch her shoulder in a silent request for permission before he hugged her. She could almost see him swallow down his first reactions to any news, choosing his words cautiously in his replies to Clark's requests and admissions.

Clark had changed, too, since he'd come back. He spent even more time in his loft, hiding either from them or from his personal demons. Probably both. She didn't think he'd forgiven himself, even though she and Jonathan had tried their best to convince him that no one had blamed him. Deep down she suspected that the somber sadness in her son's eyes had more to do with the growing absence of his best friend in his life.

And Lex... Whatever had happened to Lex during his solitary entrapment, it had left scars that dragged him further away from human contact, and he had become a rare guest at the farm.

She wanted to snap at him, to tell him to stop being so selfish and to notice that he was hurting Clark by his withdrawal. But, more often than not, even when Lex was here, he wasn't actually here, and all it took was one look at him for the sharp words to die on her lips.

There was nothing selfish about nightmares. Martha knew that firsthand. There were enough nightmares in his stormy gray eyes that they bled through even the carefully-constructed wall of detached coolness.

She might only be a mother to one of the boys, but she was worried about both of them.

A yelp, followed by loud barking, startled her out of her reverie. Blinking, she tried to figure out what had happened. A familiar voice cursing up a storm in her backyard almost brought a surprised smile to her face, despite the sharp bite of worry.

She typically didn't condone cursing, but she had never heard Lex curse before. For some twisted, incomprehensible reason, it made him more human that anything else she'd seen him do lately. Martha decided she liked it better than the plastic smiles and distracted gazes they'd been getting for the last month.

The sight that met her when she made it to the porch killed her fear instantly. Her hand flew to her face, trying to hide her smile, but she didn't really need to bother. Neither one of the participants in the unfolding scene seemed to notice her.

Fashion critic or not, anyone could attest that Lex was a sharp dresser. He was always perfectly coordinated-scent of money embedded into the ridiculously expensive couture-and he managed to look capable and commanding, never out of place, which was not an easy task in a town like Smallville. It was hard to say whether using clothes as a layer of armor was something that had been taught to him, or if his flawless taste was just another innate quirk in the rich arsenal of Lex's mind. Martha had always suspected it was the latter. And she was pretty sure that until about a minute ago, he had looked as immaculate as ever in his light-gray silk turtleneck and black pants.

Two huge, brown paw-prints, planted right in the middle of his chest, ruined that image somewhat.

The cursing had stopped, but the glare, directed at the party responsible for that outrage, made Martha thank god that Lex didn't have heat vision.

Casanova, showing a lick of sense given to a dog, hid behind probably the only person Lex would never hurt intentionally. Clark, showing less sense than Casanova, was doubled over, almost tearing up with laughter.

Jesus, how long had it been since she'd heard him laugh like that?

Lex threw an irritated glare at Clark and took a few steps toward the dog. "You are Gae bulgogi, my friend. With noodles."

Clark stepped back, pushing Casanova behind him, barely keeping his laughter in check. "Lex, calm down."

They were now close enough that Martha could see that despite the infuriated expression, Lex's lips were slightly curved up in an attempt to hide a smile, and there was a touch of pleasant surprise in his eyes, like the difference between waking up from a tumultuous dream and realizing that the sun was bright and shining, trickling into his room.

"Don't tell me to calm down, Clark. This is Armani. I purchased it less than a week ago." Lex stopped and pointed at the dog, who barked joyfully at the attention he'd apparently been craving. "Just wait till I get my hands on you, sa cheol tang."

Clark kneeled on the dirty ground, and grabbed Casanova's collar to keep him from jumping at Lex again. "He's a dog. He doesn't know what Armani is. And stop calling him dishes. You'll make him upset. He's a guard dog, not food."

Lex took a small step to the right, and Martha felt another bout of laughter coming on when she realized what he was planning. She thought briefly of warning her oblivious son, but... watching was more fun.

"If he doesn't know what Armani is-what the hell do they teach those dogs in obedience schools anyway?-I doubt he'd know I'm calling him food."

Clark petted Casanova while he looked at Lex with a bright smile that made something painful clench in Martha's chest. He looked... happy and insouciant. It had been so long since she'd seen him like this, and she'd almost forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful his smile could be. She felt a sudden urge to hurt everyone responsible for taking that smile away from her son, but deep down she knew that she was just as accountable as Lex and Jonathan were, and being responsible didn't actually made it anyone's fault.

Clark was smiling now and she could feel joy rising inside of her, from someplace she'd believed had died a few months ago. She glanced at Lex and saw the expression that must mirror hers; a tinge of regret, a taste of shock and something akin to being revived into the world that wasn't entirely a shade of dark gray.

"He can feel your tone and he's very sorry. Just look at him." Clark grabbed Casanova's head, turning it toward Lex. Casanova responded by wiggling out and licking Clark's face with abandon.

Martha noticed that Lex bit his lip and didn't seem nearly as upset as he was attempting to look. "Yes, Clark, I can see how repentant he looks. Excuse me while I try my hardest not to shed a tear."

Clark tried for petulant but he couldn't stop smiling, thank god he couldn't stop smiling. "Now, you're just being sarcastic."

Lex took another tiny step. "Me? Sarcastic? I'm sure you're mistaken. Hey, can you make leather gloves from dogs?"

"No!"

"I'm pretty sure I can find someone who can."

Clark attempted a glare at Lex, without much success, and then he looked at Casanova, ruffling up his fur. "Don't listen to him, boy. He won't turn you into gloves. He only likes those soft Italian ones..."

"True. But I didn't say I was going to make them for myself."

With Clark distracted, Lex managed to grab the hose off the ground unnoticed.

One elegant flick of a wrist, and the backyard transformed into crazy circus, filled with earsplitting noise, jumping figures and water. Clark was doing a wild caricature of a dance, trying to escape the cold stream, and screaming louder than Lex had a few moments ago. Casanova, apparently having loads of fun, was barking and running from Clark to Lex and back. And Lex was shaking with laughter and watching Clark with hawk's eyes. Every time Clark attempted to advance on him, he jogged aside, pointing the water at Clark to keep him away.

It took Clark a few tries, but finally he managed to get close enough to Lex to grab Lex's hands. Wrestling the hose out of Lex's grip, however, wasn't easy, and somehow, water splashed all over. Including soaking the new burgundy Maserati Spyder parked on the driveway, and its owner.

There was nothing precise about their movements.

Martha finally gave up on trying to keep quiet. Sliding down until she was sitting on the stairs, she wailed with laughter so hard that it left her breathless, gulping at the air almost ineffectively. Her chest seized painfully but she didn't want to stop.

She didn't realize she'd been caught until she heard Clark's tentative, "Mom?" She waved one hand, trying to tell him that she was okay, that they shouldn't mind her. But they dropped their new toy and jogged toward her.

Clark fell on his knees in front of her and grabbed her shoulder. "Mom? Are you ok?" She nodded, not understanding why he sounded so scared until he touched her cheek.

Only then did it hit her that she was crying, unsure of when the laughter had turned into tears.

Clark pulled her closer, letting her lean on him and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "Mom. Please stop..."

Martha felt panic rising a bit when she realized that she couldn't. She grabbed Clark's shirt with one hand and looked up, Lex's face nothing but a blur through the tears. He crouched before her, his voice so full of concern that she could hear it even through her anxiety. "Don't, Clark. She needs to let this out." Cool fingers laced with hers, grounding her, and she tried to take a deep breath. Someone was murmuring softly; a comforting hand was caressing her shoulder and at this moment it didn't matter whose it was. Just that it was there, warm and calming and enough to keep her from going too far.

Martha knew good advice when she heard it. And when Lex gently whispered for her to stop fighting it and let go, she buried her head in Clark's shoulder and did. Letting go of the pretense, the worry, the guilt; forgetting that she had to be strong, and remembering that she had lost a life more important to her than her own. The grief she'd been hiding since last spring slowly changed from a desperate, tormenting outcry into a quiet, relieving acceptance.

She wasn't sure how long it took, but eventually, she relaxed in her son's arms, her sobs subsiding into hiccups. Her skin felt too hot, and her head felt slightly foggy and heavy and, yet-while she was pretty sure that she'd be incredibly embarrassed this later-right now it felt... good.

She wasn't whole yet, but it was a beginning.

"Would you like some water, Mrs. Kent? There's plenty." Serious voice, with just a hint of dryness that made her chuckle into Clark's soaked shirt. A box of tissues was pressed into her hand, and she straightened up, whispering a hiccuped thanks.

She noticed that she was squeezing Lex's hand and released it. As she wiped her face, she heard Clark chortle and looked up, curiously. Clark was staring at Lex and, as she followed his gaze, she started laughing again. Lex was holding a small piece of dripping-wet white fabric in his hand, with an expression ranging somewhere between horror and amusement. He looked up at her, smirking. "I'd offer you my handkerchief, but I'm afraid it won't do you much good."

She attempted a gentle swat at him with a slightly shaking hand, which he accepted with graceful and warm indignation. "What is it with this family and violence?"

"It's your destructive influence." Lex glared at Clark, who, shocking Martha into another chuckle, stuck his tongue out.

Lex rose from his crouch, rolled his eyes, and offered his hand to Martha. "Your maturity knows no bounds, Clark. At least show some restraint around your mother."

Now it was Martha's turn to scoff. "Oh, please." She allowed Lex to pull her up. "Despite my best efforts, that boy took on all the manners from his father. You should see him eat when he thinks no one is looking."

Clark shook his head like a puppy out of the water, spraying them both with cold, renegade drops. He jumped up and smiled. "Great. Now you two are ganging up on me?" He looked around. "Where is my only supporter?" Not finding the dog, who was probably half-way around the farm, he sighed, dramatically. "Even Casanova's left me. Everyone leaves me."

"Clark, have you been spending time with Lana again?" Martha and Clark turned to stare at Lex, who had an innocent expression on his face. "What? It's just a question." At their disbelieving looks, he tilted his head. "She is a great girl, but she has a meager inclination for dramatics."

Martha exchanged a brief look with Clark and, after shaking her head, grinned. "Maybe just a meager one."

"Mom!" He shook his head. "I can't believe I know you two."

"Oh, relax, Clark. We were just kidding. I'm sure Ms. Lang is as perfect as you think."

"I know that. I'm more disturbed that you both actually used the word 'meager'."

She laughed at Lex's offended expression and noticed that she was shivering. She knew that Clark wasn't as affected by cold as most people, but a quick glance at Lex showed that he felt the chilly October air as well, his drenched clothing proving to be more inconvenience than protection. "Come on, boys, it's getting a little cold out. We need to get you into something dry."

She was reaching for the handle when she suddenly found herself wrapped in a hug. Clark's clothes were wet and sticky, but warm, and familiar, and she returned it as good as she'd gotten. When Clark released her, he leaned down and kissed her cheek. "What was that for?"

He smiled, sheepishly, and ducked his head, before looking back up. His eyes were shinning with delight, and she felt a happy smile curving her lips as well. "It's just nice to hear your laughter. The house felt quiet without it."



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