Disclaimer: DC and the WB. Not me.
Originally part of the Slash Advent Calendar of 2003 at http://www.kardasi.com/Advent/2003
Jonathan Kent looked up in stunned amazement from the floor, blood trickling from his nose, lip already beginning to swell. For a second he didn't know where he was, sitting up slowly, looking at the devastation all around him. Table knocked askew, chairs overturned, bottles and glasses spilling their contents to pool on the polished floor. And Martha, Martha standing over him, face white and pinched, angrier than he'd ever seen her. From the porch he could hear raised voices.
"Give me the keys."
"Give them to me Lex, please."
"It's my car, and I'm driving. Now get in, or go back inside."
"Lex, please. I'm coming with you, you know that. But I'm not the one that'll get hurt."
Quiet sigh. "Okay."
Doors slamming, screech of expensive tyres, then silence.
He looked up, to see Martha still standing there.
"You get up, and you fix this."
"You fix this, Jonathan, or so help me..."
The disgust on her face was palpable. Disgust. There was no other word for it. Disappointment he'd seen before, not often, but sometimes over the years, but this, this was new and dreadful. His heart shrivelled and his throat closed up.
"I chose you over my father, Jonathan, but I won't choose you over my son. I can't. You fix this."
"You're always accusing Lex of being just like his father. But you're even worse. You're not your own father, you've become mine. Well I won't be my mother. I always blamed her, Jonathan. I blamed her because she didn't say a word to help me. And I stood there at her funeral, by myself because Dad wouldn't let you come, and all I could think was, "You weren't there when I really needed you." You told me later I was so brave for not crying, but I wasn't. That's what I kept thinking. My own mother wasn't there. I won't make the same mistake with my son, Jonathan. You fix this."
Jonathan hesitated on the doorstep, shivering in the cold of a Metropolis winter. The door in front of him was grander than any he'd ever seen, solid oak with leadlight panels, and it had a real brass bell with a leather strap hanging from it, instead of a button push. He avoided the bell, and knocked instead. The door opened after a moment, to reveal a handsome man in his early fifties.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
Jonathan took a breath. Suddenly, spending Christmas day alone in the empty dorms didn't seem so unattractive a prospect.
"Mr Clark? I'm a friend of Martha's. We um... She..." Invited me for dinner when she heard I'm still not speaking to my Dad and can't go home...
"Yes? She what, young man?"
William Clark looked at him suspiciously, and Jonathan shivered. The man's reputation as a ruthless cross-examiner seemed well deserved. Suddenly, like an angel of mercy, Martha appeared, bounding down the imposing staircase. "Jonathan!" she exclaimed, and his heart skipped a beat at the pure delight in her tone. Even after six months he couldn't believe she wanted him, plain old Jonathan Hiram Kent from Smallville. "You came." She turned to her father. "Daddy, this is Jonathan, remember I told you, he's in my class at school."
"Ah yes, of course." He turned to look at his daughter with affection, then back to Jonathan. "Well I suppose you'd better come in. You're letting all the heat out."
Jonathan stamped his feet on the rug, feeling a pang of homesickness for his mother's hand-knotted doormats, and followed Mr Clark down a long corridor, heavily wood panelled, and darkly forbidding. Martha reached for him behind her father's back, and took his hand in hers. "He just got back from London. He'll be better once he gets a chance to relax," she whispered. "Just stay close to Mom for a while."
Jonathan felt slightly better too, once he'd been introduced to Martha's mother, a petite redhead like her daughter, who poured him a glass of wine and asked how finals had gone, and reminisced about her own time at Metropolis University. The wine was awful, dry and dusty in his mouth, though it looked beautiful, glowing red and thick, and the label certainly looked expensive. Martha seemed to like it, finishing her own, and deftly swapping her empty glass for his full one when Mrs Clark's attention was distracted. He gave her a grateful smile, and as she beamed back, he figured this wasn't so bad.
Moving into the dining room a moment later, he realised he might have relaxed too soon. The table was a huge rectangular slab, bare of any adornment save a bewildering array of cutlery and glassware, its sole purpose seemingly to keep the guests as far away from each other as possible. When a maid in uniform brought in the first course, a strange, pale green soup, his worst fears were confirmed. He swallowed and nodded politely as William filled one of his multitude of glasses, this time with a white.
"So, Jonathan was it? I understand you're pre-law with Martha at Metropolis."
"Ah, no, we have finance together." Jonathan looked across the table at her, nervously. "204 and 207."
"Oh." Mr Clark looked surprised, and not pleasantly. He turned to Martha. "I thought he was interning with you at Connor Madison."
Martha squirmed in her seat. "No Dad, that was John Kleinsman."
"Oh," he said again. Turned back to fix Jonathan with a baleful glare. "So what are you studying then, apart from finance?" His opinion of finance courses was painfully obvious.
"I'm doing the business management diploma."
"I see. Not a degree then."
"No, I um... No. I'm only here for a year."
"And what do you plan on doing when you graduate?"
"I'm not sure," he began tentatively. If you'd asked me a couple of months ago I'd have said football, but that didn't really work out too great, and...
"Jonathan's parents own a farm, Daddy. In Smallville."
And it didn't really matter how often he'd explained to Martha that a) he didn't want to get stuck on the farm, living his father's life, and b) the chances of his father letting him back on the property after the way he'd stormed off it were slim and none. She was adamant that the look in his eyes when Smallville was mentioned, and the sound of his voice when he talked about the farm, gave away all his secrets. Looking round this strange room, and feeling the heavy weight of Mr Clark's gaze still upon him, he was beginning to think she might be right.
"A dairy farm?"
"Yes, but I..." His voice trailed off. It doesn't matter what I was thinking. It'll never happen.
"Jonathan says they're going to turn it into a totally organic producer. Grow vegetables and fruit. I think there's a big market for that sort of thing now, and it's only going to grow. Everyone's so health conscious today."
"And what do you know about organic vegetables, Martha Anne Clark? Or do they teach you that in finance?" The sneer in his voice was palpable.
"No Daddy, they don't." Martha slammed her water glass down on the table, hard enough to rattle the stemware. "But Jonathan and I talk about things. Important things. What's going on in our lives."
Mrs Clark looked up, a pinched look on her face.
"Too bad you've never felt the need to share any of these important things with us, Martha. Just who is this young man you've brought into our home?"
"He's my boyfriend and I love him and we're getting married." The words flowed like a torrent, and Jonathan sighed. So much for his carefully practised speech. He was fairly sure the getting married part was meant to wait till after dinner, when Mr and Mrs Clark were further on their way to liking him. Though liking him didn't seem too great a possibility right now.
"What?" William looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or shout. "That's ridiculous. I won't allow it."
"Allow it? You're never here to allow or disallow anything!" Martha's redhead's temper was well and truly aroused. "If you bothered to call for more than five minutes when you're overseas I'd have had a chance to tell you."
"Don't speak to your father like that, Martha."
"Mom, please." Martha's voice was pleading. "I told you all about him, can't you..."
"You knew about this?" Shouting won the day. "You knew?"
"Don't yell, Mr Clark. We can discuss this reasonably."
William whirled around to face him. "Oh! You can talk. I thought for sure you'd said every word in your rube head. Sitting there, letting women speak for you."
"That's enough. My parents raised me better than to talk back to a man in his own house, especially when I'm sitting at his table, but I won't sit here and be insulted. I think I'd better go before something happens we'll both regret."
"Yes, go back to your ridiculous little farm and your organic vegetables. Where was it again? Smallville? Appropriately named place no doubt. And you think you're fit to marry my daughter? How could you ever support her?"
"Martha's going to law school next year, and she's going to have a brilliant career. You may have her head turned now with your country manners and your charm, but she's not going to give all that up for you. Can you really see her on a farm somewhere, out in the sticks? What kind of life can you possibly give her?"
And the terrible thing, the worst thing, the thing that kept Jonathan awake at night, long after Martha had fallen asleep beside him in his cramped little twin bed in the dorm, was that he couldn't see it. Not really. Martha was so beautiful, and so smart, and so loving. She deserved someone much better than him. Before he could stop himself, his fist was flying, knuckles connecting with William Clark's jaw. The older man sprawled into the table, knocking over glasses, sending wine and soup splashing over the mahogany surface and onto the floor.
Oh my god. Jonathan's temper died instantly, natural manners kicking back in. "I'm so sorry. Let me help you..." Moving forward to help the older man up, but Mr Clark was already struggling to his feet, still yelling.
"Get out of my house. If I ever see you near my daughter again I'll call the police. Martha, go to your room."
"I'm so sorry Martha, I didn't mean to. I just..." Lost my temper. The way I always do. There was nothing to say to make it better. "I'll go."
He ran down the long corridor, barely pausing to snag his coat off the rack by the door, shouts from the dining room still echoing as the massive door slammed shut behind him.
Well that's just perfect. Perfect. You're not speaking to your own parents, you've ruined any chance you ever had of getting on with your fiancee's parents... If she's even going to talk to you again, let alone marry you, after that performance.
Jonathan stopped walking and sat down on the wide curb, cradling his head in his hands. He hadn't cried since he'd broken his arm in three places falling out of an apple tree years ago, but he wanted to now. More than that, he wanted his mother to cradle him in her arms and tell him everything would be all right. Heck, he'd settle for his father patting him awkwardly and saying that boys really shouldn't cry, but since the bone was showing it was okay to make this an exception. It certainly felt like the bone was showing now, agony written on his face for all the world to see.
And just as suddenly, it was gone. A small hand touched his shoulder, and he looked up to see Martha standing over him, still in the light dress she'd been wearing inside. She hadn't even stopped to put on a jacket.
"Let's go sweetheart."
"Let's go. It's really cold out here."
Spell broken, he jumped to his feet, shrugging out of his own coat to put it on her. Arms wrapped tightly round each other, they walked quickly down the street to where he had parked the truck. Huddled together in relative warmth, he counted out the $7.83 he had in his pockets. God, you really are a prince.
"It doesn't matter," Martha said, as he'd known she would. "We can get coffee and pie, and it'll still be the best Christmas."
"How can you say that, after everything that's happened?"
She laughed, that musical sound that made him feel like everything really was going to be okay, and he really could do anything. "I didn't say it was perfect, Jonny. I just said it was the best. Because it's our first, and I know it's not going to be our last."
"You know that?"
"I know that for a fact."
"Then I think I can maybe do you better than coffee and pie." All I have to do is swallow my pride.
They walked back, arm in arm, to the phone box he'd noticed on the street corner. Dropping in enough change for the call, he took a deep breath, and prayed for a Christmas miracle.
"Mom?" Oh God it was good to hear her voice. "Mom it's me."
"Jonny? Is that you?"
"Yeah it's me Mom. Merry Christmas."
"Oh, baby, Merry Christmas. Hold on, I'll get your father."
"No wait, Mom..."
"Hi Dad. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, son. Where are you?" Gruffly. Sternly.
Jonathan pulled Martha tighter against him. "In Metropolis Dad. I um... I was wondering..."
"Dad can I... I wanted... Is it too late to come home for Christmas? I'd get there by supper time."
"Of course it's not too late. We held dinner as long as we could son, but in the end your Mom started to fret about it spoiling."
"You waited?" Oh my God.
"Sure did. And it's not polite to keep a working man waiting for his food Jonathan; I thought I raised you better than that. Your mother near broke my fingers when she caught me sneaking yams out of the casserole." Oh God.
"Dad, I've been so stupid, I'm sorry. The thing with the Sharks didn't work out, you were right about that."
"Never mind that now, son. I was a darn sight harsher than I should have been. Sometimes a young man has to go his own way, and I should have recognised that. Now hurry up and get on the road. I don't want you driving like a maniac, but there's no way I'm getting any pie till you get here."
"Dad..." The tears that had threatened before were falling freely now.
"Jonny, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I'm fine Dad. Just... I'm bringing someone with me, okay?"
"Sure thing, son. I'll have your mother set another place."
And that was that. They piled back into the truck, Martha driving because the conditions were bad enough already, and he could barely see the road through his still full eyes.
They'd been a family, the Kents, from that moment on, as badly as he and his father had always fought, as badly as they'd continued to fight, till Hiram collapsed in the back field one scalding hot August day. But through it all, the yelling and the arguing, there'd been love. He'd never doubted his father loved him, and would be there for him. Never had cause to doubt it. And Martha had found a home in Smallville, and parents who couldn't take the place of her own, but who she could count on too. Lex and Clark wouldn't even have Lionel. They'd have noone. They'd have to find their own way, and while it would never be a struggle to make ends meet, they'd always be alone. He remembered how much it had meant, those early years, to have his parents' love and support. How grateful Martha had been to have her mother in law with her in the hospital when she miscarried the first time; how his dad had stomped around kicking things and occasionally patting him on the head while he'd sat in the field crying, bones exposed again, heart bleeding. Lex and Clark wouldn't even have that. Lex had never had that, from what he'd heard. And abruptly he knew what he had to do.
Jonathan barely hesitated on the doorstep of the mansion. The air was cold, but life would be a lot colder if he didn't get this right. The door in front of him was grander than he'd seen in a long time, but it was just a door. He'd never be Lionel, never could be; but he didn't want to be William Clark either, missing out on a lifetime of family and love because of his own stubbornness. Missing out on seeing his only child become the magnificent person she was, missing out on getting to know his grandchild at all. Clark had so much to offer the world. And grandchildren weren't out of the question. Adoption had blessed the Kent family once, and could again. If it did he wanted to be there, be part of it.
He knocked on the door, hard, and kept knocking till it opened. Clark stood there, already wearing an overcoat and scarf, gloves in one hand. His eyes were red-rimmed and puffy.
"Can I come in, son? We need to talk."
"We're going back to Metropolis. I want to get on the road before it gets dark. Lex drives like a maniac as it is, remember?" Jonathan had never heard that level of bitterness in Clark's voice before.
"I need to talk to Lex. I want to apologise. To both of you."
"You want to apologise? Are you sure you don't want to remind me how dishonest I've been, how I've let you down? Or maybe tell Lex some more how unworthy he is, and how he doesn't deserve me? No, I know. How Luthors are no good and never will be any good, and how you should have known better than to trust one. Because Kents are perfect. I guess I never really was one."
"Kents aren't perfect, son. But you are one." Dear God, how could I have made you doubt it? "You're the best of us. You're exactly what your mother and I raised you to be. Loving and decent and good. I'm the one who's not. Or at least, I'm the one who hasn't been acting like it. My father'd be ashamed if he could see me now. Please let me in."
"Let him in."
Jonathan looked over Clark's shoulder to where Lex was standing. He too was dressed and ready to leave. He was calm and collected, no expression on his face at all, just the bland, slightly bored look he gave the world at large, any time Clark wasn't in the room. If Jonathan hadn't known him better, he'd have sworn the boy had no feelings at all. If Jonathan hadn't known him better. But he did know him better. He did. Bones sticking out all over the place.
"I want to apologise, Mr Kent, for my behaviour before, I..."
"I was out of line, and I lost my..."
The boy flinched, involuntarily, almost imperceptibly, but it was there, even as Clark stepped closer to him, shielding him, or just sharing with him. Sharing the moment, sharing the burden. All over the damn place.
"Don't ever apologise to me again for something that's not your fault. You've done that enough for one lifetime. This time it's my turn. I want to apologise. I do apologise. I'm sorry for all the times I judged you based on your last name, and all the chances I didn't give you because of it. I'm sorry for all the times I let you think you were getting somewhere, then yanked the rug out from under you the first time you did something I didn't like."
"Dad..." Clark was looking at him in wonder, but Lex, Lex looked like all his Christmases had come at once. It was the most expressive Jonathan had ever seen his face, though he suspected Clark had seen a lot more.
"This isn't easy to say, but it has to be said, so I'll just come out and say it. I have a bad temper, and I'm quick to judge, and I say things when I'm mad that I don't mean. I'm everything I used to criticise my father for being. But he loved his family, and I do too. All of it. I can't promise I won't say things that upset you, Lex, in fact I can pretty much promise you that I will. Often. And you'll annoy me plenty, we all know it. Life won't be a picnic. But if you're the one that Clark has chosen, then you're our son, part of this family, and nothing can change that."
"Oh, my God." Lex looked like he was going to fall down, but quicker than thought Clark had an arm around him and was holding him tight.
"Please come back with me. We'll finish dinner, and we'll open the presents, and we'll talk some more. You can tell me all about your plans for next year."
Clark looked at Lex, saw whatever secret sign he needed to, then nodded. "Okay. But Dad..."
"I know, son. I know."
It wouldn't be easy, but the best things never were.
"Remind me to tell you about your grandfathers some time."
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