It had been a long night. Martha and Jonathan had gone on a much needed getaway to celebrate their wedding anniversary and had called Clark home to babysit. It was an obligatory task because: a) his parents desperately needed some time alone together, b) how could he turn down a request to babysit his own little sister?
So he had canceled his plans (going out with Pete and Chloe to one of the campus bars to watch a Met U football game) and flown home to watch Katie for the evening. He had apparently underestimated the energy level and penchant for mischief a three-year-old possessed. Had he known he would have been babysitting a weapon of mass destruction he would have run the other direction and told his parents to call someone else.
The evil little voice Clark referred to as "Mr. Jilted Boyfriend" would have suggested they call Lana.
During the first part of the evening Katie decorated the stairs with crayoned hieroglyphs, dumped an entire canister of flour in the middle of the kitchen floor (which turned into glue when Clark attempted to clean it up with a damp mop) and for thirty minutes she vanished completely. This sent Clark into a complete panic as he imagined her lost in a cornfield or eaten by a meteor mutated coyote. He eventually found her in the chicken coop, covered in feathers and chicken ka-ka, gleefully dropping every egg she could find down the front of her pink corduroy overalls. When he stuck his head in the coop to investigate, she pelted him in in the face with an egg and he, startled, ripped the whole front side of the little square shed off, much to Katie's delight.
"Squishy!" she crowed, and patted the sticky mess she'd made down her front.
"Messy," Clark corrected, surveying the damage to the coop as he wiped the egg off his face. "Yuck."
Katie cracked an egg on her own head. Her giggles echoed through the barn. The chickens were all huddled in the corner, staring at the spectacle with avian looks of sheer terror. Clark picked Katie up by the back of the coveralls and carried her, dripping goo, into the house and up the stairs to the bathroom.
"You need a bath," Clark told her.
"No!! Noooooo!" Katie shot for the door, but Clark whipped out a hand and caught her before she could escape. Babysitting, he decided, was much easier if one was really quick.
He hauled her back by the coverall straps, and began peeling off her clothes. He ran the water with bubbles in an effort to convince her that bathing was a fun thing, and provided a generous amount of floating toys. If Chloe had heard him going, "toot toot" as he showed Katie the correct method of playing with a tugboat, she would have died laughing. In theory Katie should have been tickled to have a bath. Clark looked at the bubbles and the toys and he wanted to have a bath.
In reality it was much like trying to bathe a greased weasel. Soap and water went with Katherine Kent like baking soda went with ammonia, a fact which his mother had failed to provide him. Martha had remembered to tell him feeding Katie watermelon gave her the Hershey squirts, thank God. Clark viciously wondered what would happen if he gave Katie a great big slice of watermelon just before his parents came home and then conveniently took a vacation to the wilds of the Brazilian Amazon where no one could find him. Watermelon was in season. There were a few out in the garden....
Katie fought her bath like a wild thing. Clark didn't dare hold onto her too tightly for fear of hurting her, and as a result she escaped from him twice. One of those times she actually got down the stairs before he caught up with her. He found her running through the house naked, screaming, and dripping water everywhere, and in his efforts to catch her he ran into the kitchen counter. A chunk broke off of one corner in the precise size and shape of Clark's hip. His father was going to kill him for that.
Once recaptured, Katie was nearly dropped down the stairs when she began squirming in Clark's grip. She was soapy, and thus slippery, and to prevent mishap, Clark carried her back up by one foot. Katie thought this was hilarious and wanted to do it again. When Clark refused, she head butted him in the crotch.
Life Lesson # 3944: invulnerability seems not to pertain to the more delicate portions of one's anatomy when they are suddenly head butted by a three-year-old. Nor does getting poked in the eye with a soap-smeared finger feel very good.
Clark lurched down the hallway very much like one of the undead, one eye closed and watering, one hand cupped protectively around his crotch as Katie wriggled like a hooked fish from the other. The two of them vanished into the bathroom. Clark slammed the door.
Twenty minutes later the door burst open again and a blond haired whirlwind clad in pink "footie" pajamas burst out across the hall carpet to make her way down the stairs. Had anyone managed to get close to her they would have seen that she was squeaky clean, and smelled like Ivory soap and baby powder. Her big brother, however, was sopping wet and on the verge of tears as he attempted to soak up the two inch puddle of water covering the bathroom floor with a pile of sodden towels and a wad of toilet paper.
He called Chloe.
Laughter, with the cheers of their schoolmates in the background. Pete, Clark could tell, was leading the way in a drunken chorus of "Proud of our Team." Apparently Met. U. had just scored.
Clark stood next to the kitchen table. Katie stood on the table itself. She was banging Clark on the head repeatedly with a plastic banana.
"This kid is the spawn of Satan."
"Clark! What a way to talk about your mother!"
"I'm serious." He reached behind him and took away Katie's banana.
She screamed as if he'd ripped off her arm.
The banana was returned, and the screaming stopped abruptly. The banana assault resumed.
"Wow," Chloe said. "I feel your pain."
"No you don't. You can't possible feel my pain. What am I gonna do?"
"Aside from locking her up or drugging her, I have no clue. You're on your own buddy." She hesitated. "Of course you could always call Lana."
"I'm NOT calling Lana." Clark growled.
"Suit yourself. Hey, I have to go, Pete's taken off his pants."
Clark stared at the phone.
"I am not calling Lana," he told it sternly.
"Lanalanalanalanalalalalala....." Katie crowed. She kept a staccato beat up on Clark's head with the banana. Clark put her in her booster chair, and exchanged the banana for a plastic hamburger. It didn't bang, it squeaked. It looked suspiciously like a dog toy and Clark wondered if his parents weren't losing their sanity. He certainly was, and he had only been there a few hours.
Clark turned his attention back to Katie. "What do you want for dinner?"
"Oh no. You eat spaghetti and we'll be taking a bath again."
Operative word - we.
Katie stopped squeaking. She screwed up her face and thought a minute. "Ice cweam!"
Clark wiped spit from his face. "Try again. Think din-ner."
Blinking, Katie looked beyond Clark to the cupboards. "Me see?" She pointed to the cupboard.
With a sigh, Clark lifted her from her booster chair and carried her over to the pantry cupboard. Together they opened the door and looked inside. Katie made a show of pretending to read all the boxes and cans stacked tidily inside and then pointed at a flat tin on one shelf.
"Katie, those are sardines."
"Little greasy fish. You won't eat them."
"Like deens!" she insisted. "Deens dinner."
"No! You can't have sardines for dinner!"
Katie poised herself on the verge of screaming.
"What if I order a pizza?" Clark said hastily. "You like pizza don't you?"
"No. Don't like pi'zah. No pi'zah. Deens!" One little finger stabbed at the sardine tin.
"Alright, alright." Clark set her down on the counter and grabbed the tin of sardines. Katie sat quietly as he opened the tin and pulled out one of the little fish. He flicked the excess oil off into the sink and handed it to her.
Katie looked skeptically at the fish. She handed it back to him with a smile. "Cark first."
Clark shook his head. "Nuh-uh. You wanted sardines for dinner. You eat it."
"Sheesh, okay fine, I'll go first."
"Fine." Katie giggled as Clark opened his mouth and she put the sardine on his tongue.
He closed his mouth and swallowed it whole.
Clark opened his mouth. Katie looked inside and then nodded. Grinning, Clark handed her another fish, which she immediately bit into.
Later, much later, Clark would find it funny.
Katie's face twisted in a bizarre expression and her eyes started to water. Clark scowled. It couldn't have tasted that bad. A quick glance at the sardine tin revealed that they had been seasoned prior to packing and contained a good deal of Tobasco.
The screams sounded like a tornado siren and Clark, who's hearing had always been as sensitive as a hound's, was temporarily rendered completely deaf. He ducked the squeaky hamburger and the remains of the uneaten sardine before Katie caught him in the face with the spit drenched bits of the bite she'd taken. Howling, tears running down her face, she refused to be soothed by anything he did. He was on the verge of throwing cold water in her face when she suddenly stopped screaming....
"Katie? Oh, man! Katie don't do that!"
Big, glistening tears ran down her face. Her lips slowly started to turn as blue as her eyes. She refused to let go of her breath.
"Katherine Eleanor Kent, you stop that right now!"
She ignored him.
"Katie!" Clark gave her a little shake. "Don't!"
He caught her when her eyes rolled back in her head and she tumbled forward off the counter. Clark held her and ran around in a couple of panicked circles before laying her out on the kitchen table and rushing for the phone.
"Be home, be home, be...Lana!"
"What do you want, Clark?"
"Unlikely. Seriously, what do you want?"
He launched into a semi-hysterical account of the evenings proceedings. "....andnowshe'spasssedoutandmaybedeadandmymomisgonnakillmeohgodpleaseLana..."
"My hair is wet."
Clark shrieked. "Lana!"
"Okay, okay. I'll come over."
Ten minutes later Clark was lying sprawled in the middle of the kitchen floor wanting to die, and Katie was sitting on the porch in the middle of a swarm of barn cats, feeding them the sardines. The cats, unlike Katie, didn't seem to mind that their fish had a little extra zing. Underneath the annoying ringing in his ears left over from Katie's howling, and the pounding of his panic stricken heart, Clark could hear the cats purring. He also heard the sound of tires on gravel.
"Lanalana!" Katie's voice rang out.
Clark closed his eyes.
"Hey sweetie! What have you got here?"
"Deens! Hot deens! Kitties like hot deens. Katie not like hot deens."
"Sardines? Where did - nevermind. Where's your brother?"
"House. He have nap."
The outrage in Lana's voice was crystal clear. "What?"
There was the sound of footsteps on the porch. Lana shooed the cats away and then Clark heard the screen door creak open.
A sharp pointy toe prodded him in the ribs. Clark opened his eyes and stared up at Lana, who stood over him holding Katie by the hand. Katie freed herself from Lana's grasp and proceeded to jump up and down on Clark's stomach. It didn't hurt, but it made talking difficult.
"Hi," he gasped.
"What are you doing?"
"Re. Coop. Er. A. Ting."
"Whee!" Katie gave one last hop and then came down straddling Clark's midsection. She lay down across his chest and started sucking her thumb. "Hungry."
Clark groaned. "See!" He raised himself on his elbows.
Katie slid down into his lap and looked up at Lana with her thumb still in her mouth. She smiled around it.
"She's a demon child!" Clark insisted.
Lana wrinkled her nose and smiled back at Katie. "She's perfectly angelic."
"It's a front! She's trying to kill me!"
"Clark," Lana said quietly. "If I remember my Kent trivia correctly, you can't be killed."
"She's Kryptonite in footie pajamas!" Clark wailed.
"You were feeding her sardines. I'd attempt homicide myself for that."
"She wanted sardines!"
"She's three, Clark."
Lana gave up trying to converse with him and turned instead to Katie. Clark suspected she thought Katie much more mature. He resented it. It's not like he were the one to break up the relationship after he'd confessed his non-humanness. Lana hadn't freaked out, oh no. Freaking out would have included calling the National Guard instead of locking herself in her room and not coming out for a damn week.
"See, and you wonder why I never told you the truth!"
"I expected you to tell me something else! I never expected you to be a Martian!
"I'm not a Martian! There are no such thing as Martians...."
"And how would you know that? Oh, my God! You've been there...."
"Lana! Sheesh, what did you expect me to tell you?"
"I dunno, that you were gay or something...."
Clark supposed accusing her of being so vain that someone had to be gay not to want to sleep with her, instead of simply being a nice guy, had been a mistake.
"Have you had dinner, Katie?" Lana asked.
"How about we have pizza? Do you like pizza?"
"P'zah!" Katie threw herself at Lana and hugged her legs. She stuck her tongue out at Clark.
He could have strangled her. She was spared by the fact Lana led her away into the living room where Katie began to dig her dolls out of the toybox. All of Katie's dolls were bald after an unfortunate incident involving an errant pair of scissors. Luckily Martha had caught her before she'd scalped both herself and her father who had been dozing on the couch. Clark's jokes about Jonathan getting styling tips from Lex hadn't gone over very well. The photograph of Katie serving tea to a half dozen bald doll babies that Clark e-mailed to Lex, had gotten a much better reception. A few days later a beautiful porcelain doll in an ornate Victorian dress had arrived at the Kent house.
"She was custom made," Lex had written on the card.
Upon lifting her feathered bonnet, it was revealed that the doll hadn't a single hair on her head.
Katie had been delighted. Martha put the doll up in a glass case in her room where the little girl could look at her but she would not get broken. A thank you note in Katieglyphs was promptly dispatched.
"She told me she hated pizza." Clark grumbled as he got to his feet.
From the living room he thought he heard the words "incompetent" and "moron." Lana was apparently trying to turn his baby sister against him, not, he reasoned, that Katie wasn't alternately trying to kill him and drive him mad already.
"Order a pizza, Clark." Lana called. She made sugary-sweet complimentary noises as Katie showed off her dolls.
Clark snorted as he went hunting for the telephone. "Yes, oh-bitchy-one. I will do that," he murmured. The phone was located halfway down the garbage disposal where he supposed it had fallen during his panic. He made a face. It was somewhat gooey.
"What do you want on your pizza?"
"Oh, I've already eaten. Besides, I'm on a diet."
"Getting a bit hippy are we?"
If looks could kill, he would have been food for worms.
"You know, I could go home and leave you alone with your sister...."
Clark shut up and ordered the pizza, requesting half pepperoni and half just cheese. It arrived in thirty minutes. Lana helped herself to some iced tea and the three of them sat down at the kitchen table together. Katie had a piece of plain cheese pizza and a piece of pepperoni pizza on a paper plate in front of her. Lana didn't seem to notice, but Clark witnessed his angelic little sister pick the pepperoni off and stick it to the underside of the table.
"You know," Lana said after a little while. "It would have never worked out between us anyway, Clark."
He paused in mid bite. "Why not?"
She smiled over at Katie who had ceased with the pepperoni sticking and was getting down to the business of eating.
"I want children."
"So do I."
Lana laughed. "You can't even handle your little sister!"
"Hey, that's different."
"Yeah, and 'different' is the problem. No matter how much you look like one of us, Clark, you aren't."
He was more than a little miffed. "You're assuming I haven't thought of that, Lana. You know after I told you about me, you made a lot of assumptions. Do you think I'm so inhuman that I don't feel anything? I'm not Spock for God's sake."
"And I'm not Mother Teresa. I told you a long time ago that you'd better stop putting me on a pedestal. You found out I have shortcomings and you couldn't handle it any more than I could deal with you being an alien."
"At least I was willing to talk about it, work things out. That's what couples do when there's a problem...."
Lana scowled. "And just how does one 'work out' the fact her boyfriend isn't human, huh?"
Clark's ravenous appetite was rapidly receding. "If you loved me like you said you did, it wouldn't matter."
"Clark, it isn't like you told me your real parents were dwarves, or you have an extra nipple...." Lana's eyes got wide. "You don't...have...any...extra parts...do you?"
"Just a tail."
"Me see!" Katie demanded.
"It was a joke, Katie," Clark said gently. "I don't have a tail."
Lana looked relieved but Katie appeared majorly disappointed. She did not, however, press the issue, and went back to her pizza.
"The point is," Clark said finally, "that I do want children of my own one day, and I wanted them with you."
"And I have no intention of being an alien incubator."
Insulted, Clark flung his pizza down on his plate. "How can you say that to me? Jesus, Lana. If I didn't know better I'd think you donned a white sheet and burned crosses on peoples' lawns in your spare time."
"Are you accusing me of being racist?" Lana stood up, shoving her chair back so that it scraped against the floor. Clark remained seated.
"Zenophobic for sure. Not much difference," he said cooly.
"Oh, there's a TON of difference! There is no difference between a baby fathered by Pete than there is one fathered by - oh - George Morgan. Even though they're of different races, they're still human. We know the risks involved, and it's hard enough being compatible with another human, let alone E.T. I'd never consent to having a baby with you!"
"Yeah, okay. I get it now. You got ticked off because you weren't gonna get laid any time soon if you stayed with me."
She hauled back her arm to slap him.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Clark warned.
Lana hesitated, then grabbed her half empty glass of tea and threw it at him. Clark ducked, and the glass shattered against the baseboards of the counter behind him, sending ice, a sadly smashed lemon, and the remains of Lana's iced tea all over the floor.
"Oooh! You're a big, stupid, outer-space IDIOT!"
" 'dot, 'dot, 'dot." Katie said quietly, picking at the cheese on her pizza. The raised voices had her sufficiently cowed and she was watching the argument in wide eyed fascination. Clark doubted she'd ever seen their parents fight. It was years before he'd ever seen Martha and Jonathan have a disagreement.
Clark stared up at Lana and leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed. "Like I would let anything happen to you," he said softly. "You know, all those years you kept claiming you had trust issues with me, I always thought it would all be resolved if I told you the truth. I guess not. You're a hypocrite, Lana Lang."
"This is different."
"So you keep saying. I would never even attempt to lay a finger on you if I knew it would hurt you. I would make sure that if it were possible for us to conceive there would be no increased risk to you or the baby. If we couldn't have our own, there are other options. A sperm donor, adoption...." He gave her a narrow-eyed look. "This isn't about us at all. This is about you. It's always about you isn't it? That's what you were trying to tell me when you said you weren't perfect."
"I don't have to listen to this."
"No, you don't. I appreciate your help with Katie, but you know, I think you'd better leave."
There was a long pause, during which they stared at each other in silence. Even Katie, who had been singing quietly under her breath, was very quiet.
"I'm sorry, Clark. I'm just - disappointed - I guess." Lana said finally, softly. "Because I did love you."
"I do love you, Lana, but apparently it's not enough to reconcile you with the facts of my origins, if that's even really the issue. Don't worry. I've been different all my life. Your rejection isn't going to break me. It was my failing that I didn't expect it." He looked away from her, a very clear dismissal.
Lana had to have the last word. "You accuse me of being selfish, Clark. You should take a look in the mirror. How hard has it been for you, huh? How hard do you think it would be on your children? If they're half-breeds, what kind of issues are they going to have with any 'gifts' they may inherit? How would we deal with it? What if we did adopt? How would we tell our children about you? It's a lot of responsibility. Your parents are good people, but you know things haven't been easy for them. I'm not cut from the same cloth, Clark. I'm not strong enough to handle raising your children, and I'm not sure you are either."
With that, she snatched up her purse, whirled, and stomped off across the kitchen. The slamming of the screen door made Katie jump but Clark sat still, seething with anger, and perhaps something else. There was truth in her words. Didn't he have a hard enough time dealing with his own situation? How could he ask Lana to wait long enough for him to get his head screwed on straight?
He sighed, and had to smile when Katie mimicked him. He glanced over at her and found her leaning back in her chair looking at him. Her thumb was in her mouth and her face was smeared with pizza sauce. Her golden curls, still slightly damp from her bath, fell across her forehead in a tangle. She did look angelic. It hurt.
"You're messy," he teased. His own appetite had fled with the argument, and the subsequent depression which followed it, but he put on a game face for Katie. She wouldn't understand why he was feeling sad, and he had no idea how to explain it to her.
How do you explain the loneliness of being an alien exile to a three-year-old human child?
Katie removed her thumb. "Like messy."
"You've established that."
Clark got up from the table and fetched a dishpan and a broom, with which he cleaned up the broken glass from the floor. He mopped up the spilled tea as best he could with a papertowel. Katie had climbed down from her chair and stood behind him, watching intently while she sucked her thumb, her small hand patting his shoulder in an idle gesture as he worked. Another piece of papertowl was employed to clean the pizza sauce from Katie's face.
"There, clean as a whistle."
"Fissel. Not messy?"
"Not messy." Clark picked her up. He carried her upstairs to her room and tucked her into her bed. The abundance of pink was overwhelming and Clark told his mother that he didn't care if the room's design was a gift from one of her friends, the pink color scheme had to go. It looked like the Barbie aisle in a toy store.
"A story? Aw, Katie...."
Clark sat down on the edge of her bed and picked up a stack of books sitting on the bedside table. "Okay...hey!"
Katie had gotten up and was standing over him, pulling the books one by one out of his hands, throwing them down on the floor. "No, no, no. Tell 'tory." She stomped one pink pajamaed foot on the bed. "Cark tell 'tory."
"Okay, okay, but you have to lay down."
Immediately Katie plopped back down on the bed and put herself back under the covers with a few little "oof, oof's" as she struggled with the comforter. With Clark's assistance she managed to squirm down into her bed with her stuffed kitty. She looked up at him expectantly.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Uh-huh." She popped her thumb back into her mouth. "Weady."
"Ahem. Once upon a time there were three bears...."
Katie removed her thumb and glared at him. "No! Not bear 'tory!"
Clark sighed, considered using "fairy princess" then rejected it as it reminded him of Lana and he got mad all over again. "Once upon a time...."
He drew a blank. Fiction wasn't his strong point.
Impatient with the delay, Katie whapped him with her kitty. "Tell!"
After a minute of enduring sibling abuse via kitty-attack, Clark scootched down into the bed until he was lying beside her. He thought a bit, and then began again with more confidence. "Once upon a time," he said. "There was a little boy who lived far, far away...."
"In 'troplis!" Katie said decisively. To her, town in general was far away. Metropolis, therefore, was far, far, away.
"No, even farther away than that. Up in the stars, way past the moon."
"In tars? Pass moon?"
"Higher than the moon."
"Ooh." Wide blue eyes grew wider.
"One day the little boy's mommy and daddy thought it would be safer for him somewhere else, so they sent him to live here, in Smallville....."
Jonathan shooed the cats off the front porch and picked up the empty can of spicy sardines and showed it to his wife who was coming up the stairs behind him. "I'm curious as to what this is all about."
Martha shook her head. "Lord only knows," she laughed. "Maybe it was a mistake leaving the two of them alone together."
"I'm sure Clark can handle a toddler."
They two of them opened the door and stepped into the kitchen.
There was a moment of stunned silence before Martha turned back to Jonathan. "Are you sure about that?"
The remains of a pizza were scattered around on top of the kitchen table, and all around the booster chair were clumps of pepperoni and cheese. One of the cats had managed to slip inside and was licking the cheese off what was left in the pizza box which sat on what was left of their kitchen counter. The floor appeared to be horribly sticky in more than one place, and small, bare footprints made of a white substance (flour it turned out) led out of the kitchen and into the living room. There they made an intricate pattern upon the rug. The rug itself was damp. Bigger footprints, made from wet shoes on varnish, led down the wooden stairs. The rest of the damaged kitchen counter lay on the couch, along with a variety of bald-headed dolls all smeared with what looked to be oil from the sardines.
Jonathan and Martha looked at each other, then slowly climbed the stairs.
A puddle oozed out onto the rug from beneath the bathroom door. Inside was a congealing mass of egg-smeared clothing, a pile of soaked towels, and a lump of white goo that had once been a roll of toilet paper. The tub was empty of water (most of it was still on the floor) and all around the inside was a black ring of dirt. Martha groaned softly.
"Did we mention the prudence of keeping Katie away from the chicken coop?" Jonathan whispered.
"No. I forgot. I did tell him not to give her watermelon."
"Thank God for that."
They continued down the hall to Katie's room and carefully pushed open the door, which stood ajar.
Martha smiled, and gave Jonathan's hand a squeeze.
Clark was sprawled across Katie's bed, his large, lanky body taking up most of it. He looked exhausted, and there was a worry line between his eyes, despite the fact that he was fast asleep. Nestled against his ribs, with her head resting on his chest, was Katie. Her thumb was in her mouth and she clutched her kitty under one arm, but her fingers moved in her sleep, gently petting Clark's shirt in time with her breathing. Martha and Jonathan stood in the door and watched them.
"He's so good with children." Martha whispered. "I hope one day he'll have some of his own."
"Now Martha, don't get your hopes up."
"I'm not but...."
Jonathan squeezed her shoulder. She turned and kissed him.
They turned out the light, closed the door, and continued down the hall their own room.
When they'd left, Clark opened one eye and Katie raised her head. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he glided silently down the stairs. Outside the night was warm, and the sky was bright with an almost full moon and the two of them cast shadows as they stood together in the middle of the barnyard, looking up at the sky. After a moment Clark took the little girl in his arms, and rose from the ground. Katie's giggles were infectious, making him laugh along with her as she turned her face into the breeze and shouted.
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