by Jayne Leitch
Spoilers: The Pilot and 'Lineage'
Disclaimer: Still not mine. Not anticipating a change in that situation anytime soon.
Notes: For Hope, a few days after the occasion of her birthday.
Summary: He's a real charmer.
A VILLAGE TO RAZE by Jayne Leitch
Most of Lowell County was in chaos. The emergency broadcasts--and the news--said it was a meteor strike, a bad one; it had flattened entire fields, ruined farm buildings and houses, and covered Smallville's historic main street in rubble and char. And it had killed people.
Ethan knew he had all kinds of work to do. And as tired as he already was of seeing ugly, burnt gashes in the landscape; as sick as he already was of heading up rescue efforts only to find dead friends and neighbours buried in the smoking crater where their house or barn or truck used to be; as much as he knew that, as soon as he reported in that he'd finished one thing, Sheriff Cramer'd just grit his teeth and hand him five more to do within the hour...he really did want to do what he could. He was a home-town boy, and he was needed. Simple as that.
Ethan also knew that Jonathan Kent felt the exact same way, and that's what made it okay that Ethan wasn't out there right now, doing what he could. If Jonathan thought it was important to take time away from the chaos to sit with his oldest friend and have a cup of coffee while his new son watched them quietly from Martha's lap, then by God, that's what was important.
Hell, Ethan thought, watching the little boy curl himself up into a drowsy, comfortable-looking bundle in Martha's arms. Times like this, maybe that's the only thing anybody should think is important.
It was plain to see that Jonathan Kent thought his little boy was an absolute wonder.
Jake Ross leaned back in his chair at the Kents' kitchen table, smiling. "You remind me of me and Eva back when Cam was born," he said. When Jonathan turned and gave him a puzzled look, he nodded towards the living room where Clark was wandering circles around the furniture, his attention concentrated on the old toy spaceship balanced on his palm. "You can't stop looking at him."
Jonathan chuckled and glanced down at his coffee cup. "Martha and I just can't believe he's actually here," he said, then gave Jake a sidelong look. "I guess all new parents feel the same thing."
"The first one can take you that way, that's all." Jake swallowed the last mouthful from his own mug, savouring the special kick of flavour he'd long ago learned to expect from Kent coffee. "Remember how Bill and Abby were with Ben? Like they were shell-shocked, the both of 'em. And they were both so young, Ben came right along with student loans and legal internships--but making a good place for him at home might as well've been the only thing either one of them could think about."
Jonathan was staring off into the other room again. Slouched in his chair and looking for all the world like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, he'd returned to exactly the same pose Jake had found him in when he'd knocked on the screen door earlier that afternoon. "Yeah. I remember."
"Of course, by the time Petey came along it had turned into, 'We've got so much to do this weekend, he can go for a sleepover at Uncle Jake and Aunt Eva's.'" Chuckling now himself, Jake followed Jonathan's gaze to find Clark, still absorbed in his play, now sitting on the couch: the sleeves of his shirt were falling over his hands, and his bare, chubby feet stuck out over the edge of the cushion. "But at some point, they're all enough to make you stop and think," he finished.
Jonathan sipped absently at his coffee, then nodded. Then, as if shaking himself, he straightened in his chair and glanced at Jake's mug. "Can I interest you in a refill," he asked heartily, rising out of his chair and gesturing at the half-full pot on the counter, "or do you need to be getting back to the factory?"
"Oh, I think I've got time for another half-cup." Jake handed over his mug eagerly. "Wish I could stay longer, though. There's so much paperwork to deal with since the meteors, and Bill gets antsy if I'm not around to sign things."
Jonathan set the filled mug back onto the table and sat down again, fixing him with a sympathetic look. "Insurance?"
"Yeah, and this whole LuthorCorp business. Give me one or the other and I'd know what I'm doing, but both at once..." Jake shrugged, smiling wryly. "They do say that it never rains but it pours, don't they?"
"Yeah, they do," Jonathan said, smiling back.
"I can't believe you pursued that deal. I can't believe you went back there at all! Of all the places, Lionel--!"
His hand was firm on the nape of her neck, the tendons in his fingers like cords on her skin. "Stop being foolish, Lillian. What happened in Smallville was terrible, but we have to rise above it. All of us."
She clenched her teeth; he was close enough that she could smell his favourite brandy on his breath. "Are you 'rising above it'," she asked coldly, "or pushing through a meaningless business deal to prove that what happened to Lex didn't scare you away?"
Lionel stared at her. His hand felt like dead weight on her neck. When he spoke, his voice was low and rough. "Lex is going to be fine. We are going to be fine. Conversion of the site to LuthorCorp specs can begin before the end of the month. There is nothing--nothing--to keep us from celebrating our good fortune." Slowly, insistently, he pulled her against him and kissed her, his hand sliding down to rub her back without relaxing at all. Before he let her go, he whispered against her mouth, "Try to be happy, Lilly. This is a good thing."
When he was gone, Lillian took a sheaf of papers off his desk and threw them at the wall, hating their neat little words that formed the pretense of Smallville as nothing more than a place of quantifications and commodities.
Nothing good would ever come out of that place.
From her stool behind the counter of the flower shop, Nell could see life passing her by on the street outside. Cars, trucks, people; shopping bags or coffee cups or brightly-coloured jackets. Everyone going about the business of picking up after adversity and getting on with their lives...
...Except when they couldn't. The spot where Laura and Lewis had died was just across the way, and Nell could see it, too: the pavement was still jagged and burnt, and the St Georges' storefront hadn't yet received a new coat of paint to cover the singes. Logically, Nell knew there were lots of other, more important fix-up jobs to be done before that particular impact crater was smoothed over--she and Lana hadn't been the only ones devastated by the meteors--but that didn't stop her from resenting having to look at it every day until those other jobs were finished.
But until then, she had no choice, and Nell went to work each day and sat behind the counter and stared at the place where her sister had died, and didn't complain.
She couldn't complain. She had Lana to consider now, and complaining...wasn't an option. Even when Lana refused to come to the shop and made Nell scramble to find someone to stay with her at the house, someone who wouldn't mind taking time away from other charity projects to spend the day with a wan, silent little girl following them listlessly everywhere they went.
Nell understood what Lana was going through; Nell was going through the very same thing. The difference was, Nell knew she couldn't rely on the indulgence of others the way her three year old niece could. And the funeral had been more than a week ago.
So it was with her self-composure firmly in effect that she watched the Kent truck--just back from the body shop yesterday, she'd heard--pull up in front of the window, and Martha climb out of the cab with her new son. When they turned towards the window, Nell turned to the arrangement she'd been ignoring for the last hour and pretended to have been assessing the chrysanthemums; when the bell over the door jangled, she fixed her face into an expression of welcome and looked up as if she didn't know who it was. "Martha Kent! This is a surprise. And my goodness, who is this handsome young man?"
Martha smiled down at the boy, who didn't notice; he was too busy gaping at the vivid sprays of flowers all around him. "Nell, I'd like you to meet Clark. He's been helping me run errands today--haven't you, honey?" she added, lightly running her fingers through his fluffy dark hair. That drew his attention for a moment, and he nodded--but then he caught sight of the centrepiece on the counter, and was lost in awe once more. Martha glanced back at Nell, still smiling. "He doesn't speak very much yet."
"Oh, that'll change soon enough, I'm sure." Coming out from behind the counter, Nell knelt down to Clark's level, drawing his gaze. "Hi there, sweetheart. Welcome to Smallville."
He surprised her: instead of pulling away and hiding behind Martha's legs, Clark stood his ground; when she reached out to pet his round, pink cheek, he grinned at her with his whole face.
"Affectionate little guy, isn't he?" But a sudden memory of Lana after the funeral--sitting like a posed doll in her mother's favourite chair, barely acknowledging the presence of anyone else in the room, much less their attempts at comfort--made her pull her hand away. Standing up abruptly, Nell retreated back behind the counter. "What can I get for you, Martha? Tulips?"
Her sudden briskness went unnoticed; Clark had just taken one of Martha's hands in both of his and seemed to be seriously examining their fingers while Martha watched, enchanted. "Yes, please. A dozen yellow ones--or orange, if you have any."
"Half of each?" Nell turned away as soon as Martha nodded, and busied herself with selecting and wrapping twelve slender stems.
Finally, she handed over the completed bouquet and took the bills Martha had already laid out on the counter. She didn't notice the way Martha was looking at her until she was handing back her change, and by then it was too late.
"How are you, Nell?" Her sympathetic tone grated, just as all the sideways glances Lana received every time they walked down the street did. Sure enough, Martha added, "And Lana?"
Nell forced a smile and tried to keep her voice light. "Oh, you know. We both have some adjusting to do, to each other and--well--everything. We're managing." Glancing down, she saw Clark staring up at her, his eyes wide and strangely solemn. She waved at him, and added brightly, "But we're not the only ones making some adjustments these days, are we?"
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Martha frown a little. "Nell..."
"He's beautiful, Martha." Leaning over the counter, Nell reached down and tweaked Clark's nose, making him giggle. "A real charmer. You're gonna be a heartbreaker, aren't you?" And then, feeling like too much of her life had turned out unfairly, she added, "Just like your daddy."
When she straightened up again, she saw a tightness around Martha's mouth and eyes, and met it with a smile. Martha returned it uneasily. "Well. Thanks for the flowers," she said, clutching the bouquet and her purse with one hand while she reached down to take Clark's hand with the other. "We'll see you at the market this weekend?"
"Oh, yes. Life does go on, after all." Nell waved once more at Clark as Martha turned him towards the door, then went back to examining her chrysanthemum arrangement.
When she heard the truck pull away she sighed, sat back on her stool, and looked up. The crater across the street was visible again.
Nell sat behind the counter and watched it until it was time to go home.
Lana would be frantic if she was late.
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