Martha Kent was bundled up and out of the house before dawn on Saturday. The air was clean and still. Dew covered every surface, and the eastern sky was just lavender. It would be pink when she made it to town, streaked orange when she gassed up the truck, and pale blue by the time she pulled into the lot at Evelyn's. It was her favorite time of day. And today was going to be a busy one.
Martha had a standing appointment on the first Saturday of every month to have her roots done and ends trimmed, and she never failed to feel better for it, even if her logic brain told her it was a frivolous expense. She loved her red hair. Only Jonathan guessed how much she dreaded the day when it would be more gray than not. Martha couldn't do much about her fading looks, but good hair always made an impression.
Evelyn was just pouring coffee when Martha walked in. Having the first appointment of the morning was Martha's little way of outsmarting the town gossips. So early, the stylists were too groggy to be anything less than cordial with her, offering idle chatter while she sat, lost in thought. The hidden reward was that later in the day, they would be too busy with the Saturday rush to mention her. And it helped, naturally, that she was a good tipper. Fair trade was fair trade, after all.
Even after twenty years, Martha would never be typical Smallville folks. Her unforgivable sin was not that she was raised a city girl; it was that she and Jonathan had kept Clark so hidden. No birthday parties, no little league, no boy scouts -- he partook in none of the rituals of childhood that bonded families into a community. And as both mother and outsider, they blamed her for denying them access to her boy. It was no wonder that some of the older women still referred to her as Jonathan's "fancy" wife, and spat out "reclusive" like a sour berry. Because it was for a lot of people. And the choices she and Jonathan had made to protect Clark hadn't helped any.
Dyed and coiffed, Martha went on with her business. First, the Talon for her check and Lana's inevitable free cappuccino. She took her time, relishing the buttery warmth of the place, making small talk, and collecting orders for specialties and her famous homemade pies. Then she headed to the farmer's market for her cut of the week's apple cider sales and to catch up with the end-of-season grapevine. Then, and best of all, she went to the bank. Today she wore a satisfied smile as she deposited her meager profits. It wasn't much, but it was still tangible proof of the difference she'd made.
The differences people made were everything. The littlest thing could have the broadest repercussions. She hoped Clark was beginning to understand that. The time spent with him yesterday had been nice, but rougher than she'd been prepared for. Real conversations with him almost never went where she wanted. She hadn't intended to lay matters of life and death on him, but it was just there, screaming for acknowledgment, like she and Lana had screamed together after the first shock of seeing Edge's hired man impaled on the pitchfork.
It still bothered her tremendously. Even self-defense was technically manslaughter, after all, even though there was no proof left to convict anyone. Still, that was no reason to burden Clark with it more than he already was. He knew what he'd done. He knew what he'd gotten them all into. And he'd known for quite a while that he was a coveted pawn in the games of some exceedingly powerful and unscrupulous men.
Unfortunately, far too many people now knew or suspected of his gifts. Pete would never tell, and, bless his heart, had proved it beyond what any teenaged boy should have to. But Pete couldn't hold Metropolis thugs, crime lords, or billionaires at bay. Neither could she or Jonathan, Chloe or Lana, or, obviously, Clark himself. If Sheriff Adams decided to pursue an investigation, things would get very ugly, very fast. And not even Lex, with all his money and connections, could stop it.
Martha pulled up to the back entrance of Luthor Manor, and fished around in the delivery file for the key to the kitchen door. It wasn't there, naturally. Martha sighed. Clark probably had it on his key ring. She hadn't asked about it because she hadn't wanted him to know she was hijacking his job for the day. She just hoped someone would be there to let her in.
On the third try, the intercom responded. An unidentified voice took her name and told her to wait a moment. After several minutes, a young man wearing black Asian formalwear opened the door. Martha smiled and introduced herself, explaining that she'd forgotten to get the key from her son that morning. Motioning toward the back of the pickup, she said, "I'll just be a minute."
The butler turned out to be a sweet boy named Thomas who was happy to help her carry the crates of food to the kitchen. In turn, she helped him put away the asparagus and broccoli, and arrange a bowl of apples and pears on the counter. When they were done she asked, "I don't suppose Lex is here? There are some things I'd like to go over with him."
Thomas nodded and said, "Let me find out if he's available for you."
She watched him glide out of the room with even more grace than Lex himself. It occurred to her that perhaps she ought to take over Clark's delivery schedule permanently.
Thomas was back in less than a minute, smiling politely. He led her through the corridors, past Lex's office, and up to the den he actually used. Nothing in the hallways had changed since she had worked here for Lionel, and the scent of ancient stone and expensive furniture sent a little shiver of memory through her. Lionel had proved himself to be an insufferable man, but she'd liked being here. And yes, Clark was right, she did miss it more than she liked to admit.
"Mrs. Kent." Lex looked up and smiled. He marked the page in his book, and unfolded himself from his chair. Thomas disappeared as Lex crossed the room. "What brings you to see me today?"
Martha looked him over. Black sweater over a black t-shirt, gray slacks, faint circles under his eyes. "Lex, come here," she said, pulling him into a hug. She could feel that he was humoring her, but that was okay. She was here on a mission. Standing back, she looked up at him. "We've missed you."
"I appreciate that. I've been busy." He was hiding, she saw. His eyes were gray slate, and too tired around the edges. He paced to the window and back as he explained, "My father and his lawyers did a lot to undermine my holdings while I was on the island. It's been quite an effort to turn things back around."
"Lex." Martha searched his face. Perhaps he'd forgotten who he could stonewall and who he couldn't.
"Yes?" His tone softened.
"Don't you know by now that you can't fool a mother?"
"I don't know what you mean," he said, slightly taken aback.
Martha took a deep breath. "Please, Lex. It's me." She put her hand on his arm and held on.
"Mrs. Kent," he breathed, "I don't know what...."
"Have you eaten today?"
"As a matter of fact, no." Lex looked bewildered. That was good. She needed to keep him a little off balance, and if it took steamrolling over his day, then that's what she would do.
"Let's go down to the kitchen, then. I'll make lunch." She gave him a warm smile.
"Thomas can do that."
"No, I'd like to, really. Call it a mother-thing. Besides," she said, looking around them, "I get the feeling that you've been spending entirely too much time in here." The room was clean, but there were telltale signs of too many hours spent between the Playstation and home theater. Someone really should air the place out.
Martha pointed Lex toward the cook's stool and began to survey the options in the refrigerator. She was improvising, but that was okay. She just had to stay in control of the situation.
"Mrs. Kent," Lex began, using his lord of the manor voice.
"When are you going to remember to call me Martha?" she asked over her shoulder.
"Martha..." he said uncertainly, "why are you doing this?"
"Because it's lunchtime. Do you want a club sandwich or pasta salad?" She gave him her best mother-in-charge look.
"I don't get a choice in the matter at all, do I?"
"You're catching on." She managed an imperious smirk. "What should we have?" She raised her eyebrows and waited. Let him think what he would, but she wasn't backing down.
"Sandwiches. And I think there's soup in the pantry." Lex slid through the door and came back with two cans of tomato soup and a box of crackers.
"Here," she reached for the cans.
"I went to college. I can heat soup." A small smile, at last. Martha grinned openly at him, as he went to the stove. The kitchen was a good idea. She could feel him gradually begin to slip into old patterns with her from his time on the farm. It felt good.
Lex dumped the soup into a saucepan and watched her tear into packages of deli-sliced meats and cheeses. He still wore his bemused expression.
"You bake any cookies lately?" she asked with a smile.
"No, can't say I have."
"Maybe you should," she replied, before launching into a discussion of the best tomatoes for slicing versus canning, whether Swiss cheese was better than American, if state of the art toasters were any better than the old fashioned kind she'd grown up with.
Lex played along, stirring and inhaling the rich steam. Martha watched, amused. He'd been the same with the cookies at the farm, delighting in the simple chemistry of cooking. Lex ladled the soup and placed crackers into neat stacks. She loaded sandwiches onto plates, grabbed two bottles of water, and asked, "Where to?" The kitchen was just this side of barren.
"Solarium," Lex replied. "This way." Piling everything onto a tray, he led Martha out the kitchen's third door, through a short hallway, and into a space lush with sunlit greenery.
"What a wonderful room!" she marveled, arranging dishes on the glass table. It was warmer in here, and not solely because of the sun streaming through the long wall of windows. The decor was tan wicker and aged wrought iron. Scores of potted plants diffused the starkness of the castle walls.
"Yes, I like it." Lex smiled slightly as she took in the space.
They ate their lunch in quiet intimacy, occasionally commenting on the view of the grounds before them. A few deer picked their way across the manicured lawn. Leaves were falling, their colors now mostly spotted yellow or muddy brown. Above, the sky was brilliant blue. Clark used to call these Kite Flying Days, and had spent countless hours racing around the back pastures, training his kites higher and higher in the air. There was a good wind for it today, though it was a bit brisk.
At last, with discussion of the weather exhausted, Lex asked, "Martha, what's going on?"
"Let's go back upstairs."
"I appreciate lunch. It was very kind of you to go to so much trouble, but..." he stopped. "Showing up like this is a little unlike you."
Martha smiled warmly at him and stood. "Lex, there are things we need to talk about. Let's go back to your --," she faltered. "What exactly do you call that room?"
"Right, because any room with a pool table must be your office."
"I'm afraid I couldn't get much work done with a PS2 on my desk. Besides, Inner Sanctum sounds pretentious."
Martha smiled. She had missed his banter. The insipid small talk had been making her crazy, but it was crucial for them to get accustomed to each other again.
Back upstairs, she settled on the leather couch and watched him prowl around the room.
"Would it be uncouth to offer you a glass of brandy?"
"It's a little early in the day for me, thanks." She watched him hesitate a split second before pouring his snifter. From the quantity of orange juice in the kitchen fridge, she suspected he'd rather have a screwdriver, but he would never do that in front of her.
"So," he said, returning to his armchair, "what do we have to talk about?"
"I'm worried about you." Honesty was as good place to start as any.
"Do me the favor of hearing me out first, please."
"Of course. I apologize."
"We've missed you." She gave him a heartfelt look, asking quietly, "What's going on?"
He looked into his drink, then back up at her. "I'm sorry that I haven't come by lately. I've been very busy."
"Busy playing video games, reading books, and hiding out in a castle?"
"I'm not hiding," he insisted. "Repairing the damage my absence did to Lexcorp has taken considerable time. Custodial issues and takeover attempts don't just disappear overnight. And that doesn't even begin to address my father's role for me at LuthorCorp or the stockholders' reactions to this little adventure."
"Lex, listen to me." She leaned forward, willing him to see her, to see that he was safe with her. "I understand that things happened to you in the past few months that you can't talk about now, or maybe ever; but it was such a shock and relief when you were found. You have to know we're so glad to have you home."
"Sometimes I think you might be the only ones." His clear annoyance troubled her more than the smoldering resentment. Apparently ambushing him for lunch had worked. She'd never seen the edges of his reserve so frayed, so inconsistent.
"Sweetheart, you and Clark vanished on the same day. We thought we'd lost you both forever." Martha paused, wishing he were close enough to reach out and touch. "Even without the stress of trying to keep the farm running, this summer was the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my life."
He nodded. "I think I relate to that sentiment."
His understatement tore at her heart. "I'm sure you do."
"Clark hasn't said anything about what happened," he told her, examining the rug.
"He ran away, Lex. He felt like his whole world was caving in, and he ran away."
"Lots of reasons. He should be the one to tell you, if he wants to."
Lex nodded. "He's acted differently the few times I've seen him. He doesn't stay when he makes deliveries now."
"He's been through a lot. So have you."
"Yes." Lex's expression clouded, but he pushed it aside. "But what doesn't destroy us makes us stronger. Right?"
"Except when it kills you slowly." His startled look was exactly the reaction Martha had hoped for, as she pushed further through his stoic self-restraint.
Lex looked out the window, then down at his lap. "Martha..." he started, then shook his head and got up. After a moment, he wandered over to a bookshelf, absently fingering paperback spines.
"Lex, look at me."
He didn't move. She watched him attempt to control his breathing.
"You haven't dealt with any of this yet, have you?"
After a moment, he set his jaw and said, "Luthors don't confide."
She stood up and walked across the room. "Your father is an appalling excuse for a parent. He had no right to deny you the support and security that every child needs."
"What are you talking about?" He turned to face her, plainly confused.
"I'm talking about family, Lex, which is something I take very seriously. You have one, and we miss you."
"Martha, it isn't ..." He choked back the words.
"Come here." She pulled him into another hug. "You're allowed to have your feelings, sweetheart. You've been through hell, and you have to deal with it. But you don't have to do it alone."
She held him for a long time, countering tension with softness, waiting him out. He was wound up so tight that he was trembling in her arms. "I can't," he whispered into her hair, at last, voice utterly naked.
"Yes, you can, Lex." Her voice was quietly resolved.
"As much as I wish I could, I can't do it. Sometimes I think my father burned it all out of me after my mother died."
"I don't believe that for a minute. When I look at you, I see a boy full of grief and sorrow and anger. I see a boy who was left to the wolves, and after all these years, he doesn't remember how to trust in love. But that doesn't mean you can't."
"Yes. Love." She pulled him over to the sofa. "Tell me about your mom."
"You sound like Claire."
"Oh," Lex swallowed. "Claire Foster, the therapist my father insisted I see in order to prove my competency." Lex looked up. "No one else knows about her."
Martha nodded. "It won't go beyond this room."
"I'm not sure I can do this." He slowly rubbed his hands over his face.
"You can." She smiled tenderly and waited.
"My mother...." He stopped.
She stroked his shoulder. "What was she like?"
He swallowed hard and when his voice came, it was brittle and spare. "Mom was beautiful. She had hair a little lighter than yours, more red than auburn. She was brilliant, and devout, and she was pretty much sick all the time." He added as an afterthought, "I don't think she liked my father."
"I'm sure she loved you very much."
"She loved me enough to put me in Pamela's care. But then Dad forced Pamela to leave, and now she's dead, too." His voice had roughened to that of a battered teenager. "I suppose it helped that she apologized in the end, for abandoning me."
"Why do you care? You're not..." Lex trailed off, cutting the thought short. The muddle of heartbreak and hope in his eyes ripped straight through her.
She took his hand. "As far as I'm concerned, I am your family as much as I am Clark's. I learned through him that you don't have to carry a child in your body to carry him in your heart; and in some ways, Lex, I have more in common with you than I do my own son. Do you realize that?"
He shook his head. "I don't understand."
"I grew up in Metropolis. We weren't as well off as the Luthors by far, but we still had a very comfortable life. The cotillions, the parties, the nightclubs? I was there. I lived it. I just happen to have traded it all for the man I love."
Lex smiled, contemplating. "I knew the facts, but it's different when you put it in perspective."
"My father and I have barely spoken for twenty years." Her lips were pressed taught. "I have almost nothing good to say about him."
"Frustrated, yes. I'm not blameless, but it hurts to be let down by the ones who are supposed to be there for you. Seeing someone in a similar situation brings it all back to the surface."
"You don't have to feel like that, though. It's just my life."
"It's not as if you brought this on yourself, Lex."
Lex looked away, then after a long moment he quietly said, "I wish..."
"What do you wish?"
"Never mind, it's impossible."
"It's terrible and self-indulgent."
"I can handle it."
He gave her a long, considering look. His eyes seemed so wide and fragile, as when they'd first met so long ago. "I wish that it had been different. I wish Dad had been in that cornfield instead of me," he confessed. "Maybe it would have made him nicer, or killed him. I don't know. I'm not sure I care. I just wish it had all been different."
"So do I, for your sake."
Lex let out a breath.
"You've been put in a horrible situation this past year." Martha patted his hand gently. "Can I ask what really happened to Helen?"
Lex blinked and she watched his guard spring back up, except now it showed defined cracks and fissures. "Why?"
"Lex, listen to me. I am the last person in the world who would go to the police if I found out that something had happened to her. I wouldn't blame you at all for it," she stated firmly. "It's a hard thing to walk the line between self-defense and malice, but I believe she hurt you very deeply."
"You're saying you believe in vengeance?"
"I'm saying that what they call karmic retribution happens, and there's a lot of heartache that goes along with making that kind of decision."
Lex looked at his hands, then back into Martha's eyes. "Honestly, I don't know if she's dead or alive. She's just gone. That's all I care about."
"You loved her."
"I thought I did."
"You still love her."
"No," he said, shaking his head.
"Yes, you do," she insisted. "And not because you want to. Love is just like that."
"I'm not following you."
"Lex, once we start to love someone, part of us loves them forever -- even if our connection drifts apart. Even if we grow to hate them later." She looked into his eyes. "That's why love is eternal. It keeps going, even in light of everything else we feel for a person."
"Like my father," he murmured.
"I wanted to let him die in the tornado."
"But you didn't."
"For better or worse."
"That's what love is. For better or worse, always."
"Coming from you that makes more sense than it ever has."
"I'm not surprised. The Kent family might be reclusive, but we're steadfast."
Lex smiled. "You are definitely that."
She pulled him into another hug, then brushed a thumb across his cheek. "Tell me what happened with you and Clark."
"With me and Clark?" The wariness was back. "Nothing, as far as I know."
Martha kept her tone of voice gentle. "Why are you avoiding him?"
"You used to come by the farm several times a week. Now you haven't been out in months, and he spends all his free time up in the loft doing nothing." She gave him another motherly look. "I know something must have happened."
"Martha," insisted, "there's no great mystery. We were supposed to meet for coffee a few times, but it never panned out. Either he didn't show or I had to cancel for meetings."
Martha nodded, considering. "He's been very down lately."
"Given the summer we've both had, I can understand that."
"I want to know if there's any reason you can think of that he would avoid you."
Lex took a deep breath. "This is only a guess, but I imagine I remind him of Metropolis."
"Maybe so. He got mixed up with some very shady people when he was there. Not that you're shady. I just mean that he has a knack for getting drawn in by powerful people."
"Yes, that's certainly true," he answered slowly.
She braced herself for the hard part. "I realize that you're going through a lot right now, but you two were so close, once."
"We were," Lex answered.
"This probably sounds like I'm trying to set you two up like children on a play date." Martha laughed, blushing. "I hope you're not offended."
Lex gave her a small smile. "What do you want me to do?"
"I'd like to see you two reconnect again. We are your family, and we love you no matter what. We want to be there for you, and Clark is going through so much right now that he probably isn't being the kind of friend he should be. But..." she trailed off, watching the hope growing in Lex's eyes begin to mirror her own.
"It would be good. To get things back to normal again."
"Or maybe," she said, nudging his hand, "to start over from scratch? Neither of you are the boys you were a year ago."
He bit his lip. "I haven't felt like a boy in the ten years since my mom died."
She nodded and said, "I wish so much that I could go back give you a new, happy childhood."
"Martha, that's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me."
"Family, Lex. It's all about family."
He nodded, shields momentarily gone and eyes confessing dreams she barely dared to guess at.
"I want you to start coming to dinner now and then. I know you're traveling a lot, but I think it would help. All of us."
"Is Mr. Kent in agreement with all of this?"
"Jonathan and I have been talking about it for a week now. You're welcome whenever you want, you know that."
"I wasn't sure." He gave her a nervous half-smile. "It was so awkward with the deed and everything that went along with it. I don't want anyone to feel a need to pay it back."
"I bought the farm at the auction because I could, Martha. I only wanted to return it to you, because it's...it's your home."
Martha felt tears slip down her cheeks. "Yes. Yes, it is." She hugged him again, and, finally, he earnestly squeezed her back.
"I wish ..." he began again quietly, then stopped.
"I know," she finished. "Me, too."
He raised his eyebrows at her and grinned. "Good."
She grinned back, warmth flooding her heart. "Promise me you'll call Clark?"
"Promise me you'll come to dinner, starting tomorrow night?"
"Okay. I can do that."
"Promise me you won't spend so much time cooped up in this room?"
Lex chuckled, "Now you're pushing it."
She laughed and reached for his hand. "Try. For me."
"All right," he said, smiling.
She took a breath, flushed with maternal pride when she smiled. "Good."
Martha got home a short while later. Jonathan met her in the driveway and asked, "How did it go?"
She smiled up at him. "It's going to be a long road, but I think he'll make it."
"I had a long talk with Clark," he said, embracing her. "It'll be a long road, definitely. But he'll tell you all about it later."
She nodded, still wrapped in his arms. "Jonathan..."
"I love you."
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