The dream is always the same. It swoops down on her from out of the darkness and tangles her mind within its foul and twisted coils. No matter how much she struggles it will not allow her to escape, and she replays the scene over and over in her head while her heart aches with the memories.
Breakfast as usual on a busy Monday morning; throw a Poptart to the kid, pour the milk in the cereal for the husband.
"Come on, Clark. You're going to miss the bus again."
"Have you seen my other boot?"
"Jonathan did you save the receipt for the new feed tub?"
Her dreaming self urges them to hurry. All she wants is to get them out the door. Hurry to the barn, hurry to the bus, and please don't be here....
But the dream is true to the memory.
The door bursts open in a flurry of wind and snow to admit three men in black with faces obscured and rifles lowered. A scream - her own - an indignant shout, both cut off by the sound of gunfire, and she dodges sideways as the bullet sinks into her chest with a spray of blood.
She can't draw a breath, can't get the words out of her mouth. He's there, and another shot rings out, bringing with it his cry of pain.
No! No, he can't be shot. He can't....
But he goes down, slumping to the floor unconscious as the black clad men enter the house and start tearing it apart. Papers fly everywhere, dishes shatter and break, but all of her world is reduced to the sight of her husbands blue eyes staring blindly into the void.
Her muscles scream a protest as she rises from her bed clutching her chest. Sweat drenched and tangled in the sheets, she cannot at first separate dream from reality, and must sit very still, gasping for breath. The dream again, and more vivid than ever. Recent events have brought it back, perhaps because of the fear of losing hope once more.
She reaches out for the clock.
And stumbles out of bed towards the bathroom.
They left the door open when they dragged her son away with them. She would have bled to death if they hadn't. The cold stilled the flow of blood through her body, allowing her room to breathe as it her lungs slowly filled, and her wounds bled only sluggishly. Her concept of time became skewed as she lay bleeding into the kitchen rug. She looked into the blue eyes she'd loved so dearly and her mind wandered off into a different reality.
Jonathan, please get up and close the door. I'm so cold.
She thought she heard a voice and knew it was her son. Raising her head she called out to him, but fell back when he did not answer her.
They told her later about the hysterical 911 call. Pete had missed the bus too, and had come hoping for a ride to school.
The apartment is small, hardly more than a hotel room. The bathroom is a closet. She stumbles inside and flips on the light, bracing her hands on the sink as she continues to pull herself together. A trembling hand turns on the water and as she rinses her face she feels the cool water wash away the sweat and the tears. It runs down her chest, soaking her T-shirt.
She starts to cry again, but presses her hand over her mouth to silence the sobs threatening to overwhelm her. This she can not allow. She has come too far and has fought too long to break down now. Raising her head to the mirror, she looks at her reflection and gathers her strength from it.
They weren't happy that she'd lived. She wasn't either. After the third suicide attempt her father had her committed, and thus unwittingly thwarted their ability to find her. Life became a drugged haze of white walls and cardboard food, and she allowed it simply because she was afraid. They were still out there and they still wanted her dead. Inside the hospital walls she was safe.
Her parents had abandoned her. She'd tried to convince them to help her. It was a government plot. She raved about aliens. She cut her own wrists. They were frightened of what she'd become.
Languishing in a prison of her own making, it gradually became clear to her what she had to do and where she needed to go to find help. She fought to live again as she had done once before, pulling herself out of her spiral of decline. Grief became resolute determination.
Declared sane, she was released. Destitute, she lived on the streets for months, before finally gaining the courage to go to the one person she knew could help her.
Money can buy just about anything. A house, a car...
A new face.
Or, more precisely, a renewal of the old one.
"You look half your age."
"Makes you feel better doesn't it?"</i>
"Makes you even sexier." </i>
He'd turned her into something she wasn't.
She runs hands through short blond spikes, combing the bangs down to cover the scars across the top of her forehead. A facelift, a few nips and tucks here and there, and she did look half her age. Fiercely blue eyes - extended wear lenses - and she looks like something out of a military training film. He likes her that way.
They wouldn't recognize her.
"You help me," she demanded.
It had taken her months to get through his security, and when she did, she was carrying a gun. It had cost her the last vestiges of what she had been before.
She'd traded her wedding ring for it.
Cocking the gun, she leveled it between his eyes as he reached for the panic button under his desk. One pull of the trigger and he'd be dead. A second bullet would take her own life, because without him, she had no chance.
"All right, all right. Just -- God, what happened to you?"
Her tears fell on the cold steel in her hand.
"I died," she whispered.
She flips the lights out on her reflection, and turning back to the bedroom, she stumbles in the darkness. No light. Her days are full of bright artificial light. It's not yet day, and she craves the darkness. She finds the phone by feel; dials the number by memory.
His voice sounds tired; should.
"Hey," he says softly. "Bad dream again?"
"Can you come?" She asks, and hates the way her fingers tremble as she reaches for the cigarettes; hates that she smokes again.
She told him only what she could afford to give at the time.
"They told me he died," he said. "They showed me his body."
"They showed you a body. I saw them take him. I don't know how, but they drugged him, and they took him."
"They, who, Martha?"
"I don't know," she said, and paced the room. It was so very similar to his den at the old mansion in Smallville. Memories assaulted her. She wanted to run and couldn't. She forced herself to stay.
"Then how can I help you?"
"Give me money, help me hide. I'll do the work, I'll find him."
He leaned back in his chair, quietly assessed her torn and dirty clothes, the tangled mess of her hair, and then he met her eyes.
"What do I get out of it?"
She still had the gun, and she wanted nothing more at that moment than to blow his brains out the back of his bald skull. Their eyes waged war. He knew what he wanted. It didn't matter what she said. It would all come out in the end.
"What you've always wanted, Lex," she said icily. "The truth."
Jonathan had been right about him.
"That's if you find him. What do I get now?"
He was his father's son.
The knock is barely audible. She answers the door and lets him in and she knows he smells the cigarette smoke despite the air freshener and the breath mint. He doesn't approve of the habit. She doesn't give a shit what he approves except for the monthly transfer of funds into her checking account.
He kisses her; raises a hand to caress a breast made unnaturally perky with his money.
"Okay?" He whispers. "You okay?"
She nods, breathes against his lips to request another kiss. There's comfort here, despite everything. His fingers slip behind her head, holding her as he presses his mouth against hers and teases her lips apart. He knows what she wants. He knows what she needs.
A new identity. Martha Kent died. She died on the streets after her release from the mental hospital. Marie Kenworth was born in another, private, hospital under the knife of a very well paid plastic surgeon.
"It's too similar," she complained. She was recovering from one of her many surgeries in the apartment he'd found for her. "They'll know."
"Have you looked in the mirror lately?" He asked. "It's to prevent you from slipping up, signing the wrong name. Similar enough that you can catch yourself, and change it.
She'd cried. Her face hurt. She wasn't herself anymore and she was afraid. She had looked in the mirror and although it was still her face, it was that of a much younger woman. It was the face of a much harder woman, who had coerced him into helping her at the end of a gun, had made a deal with the devil. She wanted to go back. She wanted to die again, and this time stay dead.
All of that faded when he set up her computer and showed her how it worked. During the months of her convalescence she learned how to use it far better than he, and contacted a few known hackers. They showed her more. Like a woman starved, she devoured the knowledge. She turned it to her advantage and honed it into a fine edged sword. Knowledge was her weapon and the key to her success.
The search began.
He backs her towards the bed where she had lain dying in her dreams only a half hour earlier. He smells of expensive cologne, leather and sweat; straight from his bed to hers with only the car in between. She holds onto his shirt as he unbuttons it, pulling it away when it's loosed and watching as he turns his attention to his pants. He's toed off the shoes.
"Can we do it today?" Her voice is whisper soft against his neck as he pushes down the boxers she had worn to bed. "Please..."
She trembles against him and he holds her as she cries, kissing away the tears with lips warm and alive.
"Don't cry," he murmurs, and pulls her closer. "It's almost over."
His body is hard and strong; safe.
Stepping back, she lifts the T-shirt up over her head.
He came to her on a regular basis to check on her progress. Two years after she began, she had the evidence she needed; thick files of hard copy and more than one slim computer disc full of her meticulous detective work. He took it home with him, and spent a week reviewing it. When he returned to her apartment he was pale and drawn, with dark circles of sleeplessness beneath his eyes. It had changed him.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
She laughed at him. "Tell you? Why, so you could do to him what they have?"
The fury in his expression was almost comical. "I would have never betrayed him."
Out of habit, she started making him dinner. He always stayed for dinner when he stopped to see her, and desperately clinging to some fading remnant of a past nearly gone, she always cooked for him.
"You say that now."
"Why didn't you fucking tell me, Martha?" He crossed the room and grabbed her by the arm, forcing her to look at him. "I could have protected you. Jonathan would still be alive, Clark...."
She jerked away from him. "Do you want steak or chicken?"
"Jesus, you're crazy."
To prove his point she started banging the skillet on the counter top, fury suddenly seething through her every pore....
He was right.
Like the bullets from a rifle.
He ducked when she threw it at him.
It made a dent in the cabinet, and fell to the floor with a clatter.
She lays back on the bed. The radio in the kitchen is on, tuned to some all night station that plays nothing but new age music. Something annoying with a pan pipe is floating across the room. She had turned the light on over the stove and its pale white-blue luminescence is the only light in the room. It's just enough to allow her to see him.
He's kissing her breasts, teasing them almost painfully hard with his tongue against each nipple in turn. No child ever nursed there, but he has; lover child half her age. Her fingers caress the childlike curve of his skull, admiring the smoothness of the skin, and the warmth of the flesh beneath it. Her hands find his shoulders and his back, digging blunt nailed fingers into the strong muscles moving there as his hands move down her sides.
She raises her hands above her head and opens herself to him.
He stood up, his face registering shock, and caught both of her wrists when she lunged at him. He'd always been much stronger than he looked. Like the restraints they had used on her in the hospital his hands locked around her wrists and kept her from hurting him, and herself. She raged and screamed, and made little sense until he pulled her closer and hugged her tightly to his chest.
"I hate them. I hate them."
"He's just a boy..."
He didn't reply, and she understood. Clark wasn't just a boy.
She had lost her home, her husband, and her sanity but more than that she'd lost her heart. They took away the one bright spot in her life that had meant so much to her.
Clark's smile had etched itself into her soul when she'd turned her head and looked into his little face upside down against the sky.
The tears she'd shed before were nothing compared to what she brought forth as they slowly sank to the floor together and she sobbed into the softness of his shirt. Wrenching, tearing, sobs burst from her throat as he rocked her gently. Her memory went back to the day the doctors had told her she would never bear a living child of her own. Jonathan had held her then. Lex held her now; child of the man Jonathan blamed for Martha's infertility. The chemicals poisoning Smallville had done it.
She didn't care. She had a child, perhaps not of her body but hers just the same and this man, who caressed her hair with hands soft and supple instead of roughened by the hard work of farming, could help her find her son again.
Clinging to him, she turned her face up to gaze into his eyes.
They were blue.
They don't bother with protection. He trusts her not to have been with anyone else. She doesn't care where he's been sleeping or with whom. She cares very little about anything anymore, save one solitary goal.
He's an experienced lover. Some skills he came to her with, others he'd learned from her; patience, tenderness, how to make it the best for both of them. Instinctively he'd known how to tease; something in the Luthor genome.
His hands are soft along the tops of her thighs. His lips are warm across her belly. That had been tucked too, and with aid from a daily workout it was firm and hard. There he lingers, tracing the outline of her navel as he parts her thighs. He knows where to touch her and he knows where to taste her. It takes only faintest flicker of his tongue and her mind is blanked by the sensation that shoots up from her groin to her eyes; white, hot, and blinding pleasure.
He teases her with his lips and tongue as he holds her hips steady. She writhes against his hands, trying to force him to give her more until she is frantic with need. She needs him to fill her, make her complete...
Vanquish the nightmares.
Make her live again.
He held her until she stopped shaking, and with his hands gently cupping her face, he looked into her eyes and asked her if she was all right.
She wasn't and would never be again, but she nodded. He had a handkerchief, which made her laugh.
"Always the gentleman."
"I went to school in Europe. Handkerchief folding was in the curriculum."
Her breath still hitched as she dried her eyes and he helped her to her feet. He sat her down at the little cafe table which was all tiny her apartment could support. There was a bottle of wine on the counter. He poured for them both.
"I have to get in."
His lips pursed tightly. His motions were stiff and disjointed as he picked up the pan and began making their dinner himself. "Marie," he said softly. "How?"
"Infiltration. You have the money and the connections. Get me in. I'll go through fucking bootcamp if I have to, but I need to get in there."
The ugly word on her lips made him flinch and she knew he only remembered the woman who made cookies and pies and smiled prettily when she stood up to address a meeting of the Smallville PTA. She tended scraped knees on the playground and fed orphaned lambs from a bottle. She did not wield a gun, and she did not throw cookware and say the word "fuck."
But that woman had died, bleeding her life out onto the floor of a little yellow farmhouse while her dead husband stared at her from behind unseeing blue eyes.
Her voice is a whisper. The pan pipes have been replaced by the softest of electronic melodies manufactured upon the keyboard of a computer. Technology has replaced the skilled hands of the pianist.
The music is only faintly heard beyond the roaring of her heartbeat in her ears as he raises himself to kiss her. He seeks her mouth, and she arches against him as he enters her with both breath and body, filling her with life. Only one other man had ever been part of her this way. She refuses to compare them. There is no comparison. One was her greatest love, her soulmate, and father to her child. The other...
She raises her legs around him, urging him deeper, pulling him hard against her with each thrust. Sex has become an act of desperation. His kisses are as meaningless as the words that he's moaning into her shoulder and the only thing that matters is the place where their bodies are connected. Her hands dig into his back.
"I love you," he murmurs.
She hates him for it.
She went back to school. He sent her away to the coast where there was little chance of anyone recognizing her; set her up in yet another small apartment in another city. Her days became dull drudgery of long classes and hours of homework. Her on-line research continued, and her lists of contacts and spies grew. They reported to her what little information they could get, and she paid them well with Lex's money.
As for Lex himself; she started looking forward to his once-a-month visits.
A familiar face.
Someone to talk to.
God knew she had no friends. Most of her classmates were younger than she and it hurt her to look at them knowing they were Clark's age. Clark should have been the one here going to school, not her. She didn't cry, but she went to her classes with eyes downcast and a scowl upon her face. Marie the antisocial.
Lex continued to provide a shoulder to cry on, joking that she was ruining all his best suits. He'd always been able to joke with her, even years in the past when he prowled like a cat around Smallville, Kansas looking for answers to secrets far exceeding his expectations. Sometimes she laughed; more often she cried even harder.
"He's my best friend, mom."
She'd never been able to see the appeal.
When things mattered.
She used to cry when she came. She doesn't anymore because she could never explain to him why. Telling him would add to the betrayal she feels by taking him to her bed, by letting him inside her, and feeling things her husband had sometimes been unable to make her feel.
"Honey, I'm tired."
His thrusts against her are more urgent as his body shifts from conscious, controlled efforts into the rhythm of instinct where the line between human and animal blurs. Sometimes when he's like this he hurts her. Sometimes the pain is overwhelmed by the pleasure his body calls forth from her. He drives into her again and again until her opening burns and the nerves at her center are inflamed with the urgency to come. She moves with him, forcing her body towards his with every inward stroke. The point of connection is tight, hot, and when their flesh presses together she gasps, throwing her head back to groan aloud.
"The Air Force?" His voice was incredulous. "You can't be serious?"
"It's a military operation. I have the education I need. Now I need the training and the credentials. Your money can't buy everything."
She did not look up at him but instead logged on to her computer, her eyes lighting up when she saw that things were still status quo. Over the course of nearly six years she'd developed a core group of "watchers" who, after being meticulously researched, were set to monitor where Clark was being held. He was still in New Mexico. She still had time.
"This isn't going to work, Marie," he whispered.
Marie the determined.
Her eyes never left the monitor as she read her e-mail; reached for her cigarettes. "We're already halfway there. Just make my background iron clad." She could sense his unease, and she looked up at him as she lit the cigarette. "What?"
His expression, as he walked over to the window and opened it, was impassive, but over the years she had come to be able to read the unreadable. There was something he did not want to tell her. She watched him look out into the street below. It wasn't the best neighborhood, but she was safe enough behind her walls.
The gun was still under her pillow. She knew how to use it properly now.
"Have you stopped to think about what happens if you succeed?" He asked. His face, in profile against the dingy curtains, twisted from the impassive mask. A flicker of pain crossed his features. "It's been six years, Martha."
He hasn't called her Martha for at least four of them. He's doing it now only to get her attention.
Snubbing out her cigarette before she even started it, she turned away from him. "I know what you're going to say."
"It has to be something you think about. I know you don't want to, because I don't either but...."
"He's alive." She stood up, and picked up a paper printout from the table beside her. "All the evidence says he's alive." She thrust the paper towards him. "The people who have seen him say it, the invoices for medical supplies prove it - he's alive. They're keeping him alive."
He looked down at his feet, and swallowed heavily. "Keeping him alive?" He asked softly.
"If they've kept him drugged all this time, Mah - Marie, what's going to be left of him?"
Her hand closed around the paper, crumpling it in a fist as she closed her eyes against the visions that assaulted her. "He's alive."
A mantra: I believe, therefore he lives.
"There are varying degrees of life."
A swirl of snow through a broken doorway.
Blue eyes look down at her and she hates the look in them; love, lust, or some twisted amalgam of both that she cannot decipher. She asks herself if she cares and finds no answer. The years have taken all the answers away from her. They've taken her ability to care away from her. He can do as he pleases. It pleases him to fuck her.
He likes to watch her when she comes, another reminder of what lies at the very heart of him. It gives him a sense of power over her, regardless of the fact that he already owns her life and her soul and whatever shred of heart she has left within her. He has to remind her; a sex borne post-it-note.
I hate you. I love you.
She reaches the pinnacle and takes the final leap into the arms of the angels as her voice rises above the music playing so softly on the radio. Sharp cries and a body gone rigid and twitching are a sharp contrast to the meant-to-soothe music. She leaves him behind, but he catches her face in his hands and kisses her mouth, sucking at her lips as if drinking in her gasping breath and she feels him filling her with life.
Life which the deadness inside her swallows up and destroys.
"It's been six years," he repeated. "And I've never once asked for anything from you."
"You got what you wanted, the truth." She threw the paper back down to the table. "I've fed your goons at Cadmus everything I've learned about their meteorite research. I've made you money on investments by getting inside information on military contracts." Her laugh was bitter. "I've made you dinner..."
His gaze was sharp. "You knew what I wanted when you agreed to let me help you, and I've never asked for it."
"I'm not your mother."
"There's a good chance you're nobody's mother."
The words were calculated to hurt, but she'd been hurt far worse in her lifetime and words were nothing to her.
"You're a sleazy bastard, just like your father. If I'm nobody's mother it's his damn fault. He poisoned our land for years with that sludge he pumped into the water supply...."
"That plant never broke any environmental codes."
Her voice was shrill. "Because he paid off the inspectors. Come on Lex, I'm a prime example of what money can buy. If you were so convinced this was a futile effort, why did you agree to help me?"
He said nothing for some time, turning to glance out the window again, one slim fingered hand reaching up to toy with the blind.
"For Clark," he said softly.
Her teeth ground together.
"And the deeper we've gotten into this, the more I've come to think it would be more merciful just to let him die." He left the window and came to her, looking down into her hardened expression with a renewed gentleness in his eyes. "And because I'm selfish."
She saw the faint flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
"I don't want to lose you."
She sits in the bathroom and smokes while he sleeps in her bed. The overhead fan can barely pull the smoke out of the tiny room but her eyes are already burning so it doesn't matter. It gives her an excuse to cry. Raising the cigarette to her mouth, she takes a long pull. Smoking has always been linked to sex. She likes to compare the two. Smoke invades her much as he does, filling her with a sense of satisfaction only for a short time before fading to an aching guilt. Like smoking, sex with him has become an addiction with which she can soothe an uneasy mind.
The tears fall as she exhales a thin plume of smoke into the air. She's learned to cry silently. Tears upset him. She doesn't want to wake him either, not until it's time for them to begin.
Today. It was going to be today.
"Lose me?" She echoed. Her tone was somewhat derisive.
He reached out a hand to her, and ran his fingertips lightly across her cheek like no one had done to her in a very long time, and instead of pulling away, she leaned into them. Deprived so long of a gentle touch, she had been longing for it far more than she realized until that very moment. He hadn't touched her since the day she'd thrown the frying pan at him years earlier.
"I'm not looking for someone to replace my mother," he said softly.
She pushed his hand away. Turning from him, she pressed her hands together at her mouth and fought against the urge to give into temptation despite the fact she knew he would win in the end. All that he'd done for her and the bargain she had made, bound her to his will. His will, it seemed, was also her own.
Lying on the floor, bleeding into the rug, stretching one hand out towards his cold, pale, face, her voice swallowed by the wind.
He came up behind her and rubbed at her shoulders, leaning in to brush his lips lightly against her neck and shoulder. She stiffened but secretly longed to relax into the strength and warmth of his body.
"I know how lonely you've been, since...." He kissed her again, and slipped his arms around her, pulling her close to him. "I promise I'll see if I can't get you what you need as far as the military training goes, but I'm afraid this is all going to do nothing but hurt you in the end, Marie."
"I want my son back, Lex," she whispered. "Dead, alive, or somewhere in between. Nothing else matters. Nothing at all."
"Not even yourself?"
"Especially not myself." Her voice hardened. "I should have prevented it. I should have protected them better. I should have. I should have."
He did not reply, but his arms tightened around her.
She let them.
He's still asleep when she finishes her shower. She sits down beside him on the edge of the bed and remembers the first time they'd met. He'd seemed so young, and the the hairlessness made him seem so fragile. Her first instinct had been to invite him in for tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. She'd thought him much too pale.
It was not long before she realized he was much more mature than your average twenty-one year old, and not nearly as fragile as he looked. Tough love will do that to a boy.
Or no love at all.
He's curled within the tangled sheet, and she rubs his hip, peering anxiously into his face as he opens his eyes to look at her.
"I have to leave soon."
Sitting up, he yawns, and rubs his face as he glances over at the clock. His lips are warm when he kisses her. "Are you sure you still want to do this?" He asks.
"It's not a question of wanting." Their faces are still close, and he kisses her again, drawing it out until he parts from her with a soft intake of breath. "I have to do this," she whispers.
"And if we fail?"
She leans forward, and from beneath the layers of pillows upon her bed, she withdraws the pistol. It lies there on her palm; cold and deadly. Her eyes meet his.
"I won't let it go on."
She cried the first time, and many times afterwards too.
He thought it was his fault. He'd been too rough and impatient with her, and he came quickly, leaving her no time to find any pleasure at all in the act. Sobbing into his arms as he held her, his voice murmuring soothing apologies into her hair, she could not explain to him the true reason behind her tears. She did not want to hurt him.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
His words echoed her own unvocalized apologies to the first and only man who had ever loved her before. Her broken heart had shattered beneath the onslaught of another man's sex, despite the fact she knew it was a cheap price to pay. She closed her eyes, but still saw Jonathan Kent's face twisting in outrage as he rose from his chair, placed himself in front of his wife and son and took the first bullet.
"I will do anything to protect this family."
He'd given his life, and she was not going to let his death be for nothing, even if it meant spreading her legs for a man he'd despised.
The vision shifted and she saw another face - Clark's. He had struggled against whatever they managed to get into him until he was conscious again, and as they'd dragged him away he'd fought them as best he could. The expression on his face had been seared into her memory as fully as that of her dead husband's staring blue eyes. She would never erase it. It had been pure, unadulterated, and - human...
"You'd kill him." Lex whispers, and runs his fingers over the gun in her palm. He picks it up and looks at it; frowns when he sees it is loaded. Taking it away from her he replaces it under the pillows. His gaze is unwavering.
So is hers.
"He's already dying. If we fail, he'll still escape them."
His jaw tightens as he comprehends her meaning. "You'd do that, despite the fact that I love you?"
"I care nothing for you."
The Air Force found no fault in the background he provided her. She spent the next three years training, and working in a veteran's hospital where she put her nursing degree to good use. The pay was pitiful, but she did not care. It was not her purpose for being there, nor did she need it. She had her monthly allowance.
She had a regular visitor, when he could get away from the ever growing corporation he'd birthed. The merger of the old Luthor Corp. and his own company had created a monster of a monumental scale. It was frightening, the power he wielded, and although it is a different sort of power, it reminded her of the son who could see through walls. It's hard to see through Lex's walls. He came to her tired and grim faced, looking much older than his true age, and she knew he'd been drinking more and more. Perhaps no one but she could see how weary he'd become.
It was hard trying to rule the world.
"I haven't done this in a long time," she said, and placed the cake on the table before him. "Open your eyes."
He looked at it, and then looked at her soberly. "You baked."
Uncomfortably she examined her hands, and nervously licked a bit of chocolate icing off of her thumb. "I couldn't let your thirtieth birthday go by unnoticed."
"I almost wish you had," he murmured, but his eyes brightened. "Thanks."
"I know you liked my pies - before - and I tried to make one, but I made a mess of it." She tried not to cry too. It was his birthday after all. "I've lost a lot of my domestication I guess."
"Cake is fine."
She nodded. He stood up from the table and came over to kiss her.
"I like cake."
"I have champagne too," she said softly.
"All for my birthday?"
She nodded, and her lips found his again. He slid his hands down to cup her flanks, and pulled her closer to him. She could feel the heat of his arousal against her thigh, and her body responded, her belly tightening with desire. He'd gotten better at pleasing her, making her come for the first time. She'd been surprised by the intensity and by her desire for more.
Caressing him with her fingertips, she made him hiss against her mouth, and she had to laugh. "You've got other things on your mind."
"I have a lot on my mind, Marie," he replied, and the worry line she'd become used to seeing lately, tweaked into view. "But it's my birthday, I'm here with you, and I don't want to think about them."
"Come on then, we'll fool around, eat cake, and both get so fucking drunk we won't be able to think about anything."
Lex laughed, but she was not kidding, and he wasn't laughing when he woke up the next day with a hangover.
She has hurt him.
"I lose no matter what don't I?" He says. "Success or failure, there will be no place for me in your life after today."
A glance at the clock gives her the excuse she needs.
"I have to go. Can you be ready by eleven?"
He looks down at his hands. "Yes."
She bites her lip, and her resolve crumbles. Her hand finds one of his, and wraps around it, urging him to look up at her with just that small gesture. Her lips find his cheek.
"I'm sorry," she whispers, and rises to go.
They had been waiting. They had known something else had come down from the sky that beautiful October day in 1989, but no details.
Until Roger Nixon came along and through a series of unfortunate events, they had gotten their hands on his video.
His involvement she meticulously researched, and when she found the golden oyster and cracked it open, the pearl inside had been much more than she'd expected.
He closed the door behind him and came nose to barrel with her gun, and she at the other end with a face twisted in fury, cocked it.
"You son of a bitch. You did this."
"Did what? What are you talking about?" His voice was calm, but she could see the beads of sweat pop out across his upper lip as she backed him against the door.
"Nixon," she hissed. "That's how they knew. That's why they came, and they stole Steven Hamilton away from Cadmus where you had set him to research the meteorites. Nixon tipped them off, and Hamilton found them the drug. It was all - because - of - you!"
He opened his mouth to protest.
"Don't you deny it!" Her voice was shrill shrieking cry, corrupted by pain and anger and the ache of betrayal. "Don't you dare deny it!"
"I'm not going to deny hiring Hamilton, nor having Nixon on my payroll, because it's true, but I swear it had nothing to do with Clark."
He gasped as she pressed the gun into his cheek. "Marie - Martha - please I swear. I never wanted anything to happen to your family, I swear to God. Clark was the only friend I ever had...."
"So you had to doubt him? You had to have Nixon investigate the accident and get the slimy bastard involved in the first place? You knew the type of man he was Lex."
"I made a mistake...."
Her eyes narrowed. "And I paid for it."
She doesn't cry. She can't anymore, and especially not today. Today she had to be sharp, have all her wits together. People would question her if she appeared upset, and look to closely at what she was doing. Security was tight and the rules were strict. Emotions were not a good thing.
Her car carries her out of the city, to the outskirts of town and the research facility in which she has been working for the past three months. She had a high security clearance, gained upon her own military record. This she earned herself. Lex had not bought it for her.
Marie Kenworth pulls into the parking lot and gets out of her car. She's wearing faded green nursing scrubs and her identification card, and hidden in her purse is a carefully forged document. On her arm is a watch set in perfect time to the Rolex last seen sitting on her bedside table.
Today was the day she would reclaim her son.
"What do you want me to say?" He asked. "I made a mistake. I'm sorry."
"My husband is dead, my child taken, and you allowed it to happen. Give me a reason for not pulling this trigger."
His breath shakes as he inhales. "I can give you two."
Her finger closed around the trigger.
"I love you."
She smiles pleasantly as she clocks in at the reception desk. "Good-morning, Carla. How is the baby?"
"Oh, just fine! She's pulling up now! She'll be walking soon."
The small talk is rote. She makes up something about dinner with a fictional boyfriend before continuing her way through the halls to the elevators. One level down is the high security area. Simply to access the elevator requires a special code.
She punches her number into the keypad, and the doors slide open.
"You don't love anyone," she sneered.
"Then why am I spending all this time and money helping you?"
"Because you want him for yourself."
"I fell in love with you!" His voice rose, uncharacteristically harsh. His suave control was shattered by both the gun in his face and her anger with him. "All this time I've helped you not because we made a bargain, and not because I wanted the truth, but because I wanted to give you anything you wanted. I wanted you to be happy because I thought that maybe...."
He stopped, and his face resumed it's cold, impassive mask.
"Maybe what?" She demanded. "What?"
It took a long time for him to answer, to admit weakness, to voice his greatest desire.
"That maybe I'd finally found someone who loved me in return."
Her request for a transfer had been immediately accepted. She found out why it had been so easy on her first day on the job. The turn over was outrageously high, due mostly to the strict rules they placed upon the staff employees assigned to the daily care of the specimen.
She'd thrown up on the side of the road on the way home from that first day, and spent several minutes sobbing against the steering wheel until a cop stopped to see if she were all right.
Any sort of acknowledgement of him being a sentient being, a human, was strictly forbidden. Referring to him as "him" instead of "it" was grounds for dismissal. Any sign of affection, or attempt to make him more comfortable would result in immediately being escorted from the property. They did not want anyone becoming emotionally attached, for that constituted a security risk.
They were afraid because of the rioting, in which a group of conspiracy theorists were demanding access to the labs in New Mexico and Nevada. It was getting too hot there to harbor a living extra terrestrial. They'd moved him back to Metropolis, never knowing that the riots had been carefully orchestrated to produce just this result.
According to the Administrator at the Metropolis facility, Marie was a godsend. Her resume was reflective of a short, but nearly perfect military career wherein she had proven herself a brilliant nurse. She'd worked in the hospice wing of a highly commended veterans' hospital, and at the time of her request for transfer, she was just what they'd been looking for.
Their alien was dying.
She steps off the elevator remembering.
She had shaken his hand and smiled.
"Thank you sir, I'm sure I will enjoy it here."
She said nothing, and he gave her his second reason.
"You'll never get him back without my help."
She took her finger off the trigger, and eased the hammer back down.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"I just want it to be over." Lowering the gun, she turned away into the room, stumbling against the table where she set the weapon down. He followed her and put his arms around her, holding her despite her struggles to make him let her go. "No...."
He held her; kissed her.
"I hate you." Her sobbing shook both of their bodies. "I hate you so much."
"Why did this happen?"
"Because we all made mistakes."
She turned around, and looked up into his face. There was a red mark left by the gun pressing into his skin. Absently she rubbed at it with her thumb, as if trying to erase her moment of insanity from the fabric of history and her own memory along with the physical evidence.
He didn't hate her, she saw it in his eyes.
"Make it right, Lex," she whispered. "That's all I want now. That's all that matters now."
She slips the forged document into his chart when the other nurse isn't looking. She doesn't want to read the chart, but she does because it is her job. It was hard to distance herself but she did it, separating her feelings into two distinct modes just as she had separated herself in to two different identities. Her eyes scan the notes of the third shift nurses, and the list of tests scheduled for the day. A glance at her co-worker reveals she is reading a paperback book, and it is easy to scribble in the additional test ordered by the new document.
"Did you read this?" She asks.
"Not yet," the other replies. "I figured we had time. It's still asleep."
She grinds her teeth.
"It shouldn't dictate how or when we do our job," she says coolly.
Marie the bitch.
She heads for the airlock and the bio-suits they are required to wear before entering his - cell. "It's scheduled for an X-ray at eleven and we haven't done jack. The lab will be ticked if they get their samples after lunch, not to mention Barry will have a cow if we bring it down for new films stinking like piss. Get up and help me."
The other nurse growls, and puts down her book.
Marie will make amends by offering to make the trip down to X-ray by herself.
He was still there an hour later, and still very much alive. He talked to her, told her his reasons for investigating the accident.
"I knew he was lying to me, and I didn't understand why."
He'd never associated Clark with the UFO sighting Nixon had reported. He'd never seen the video.
"I guess I did open Pandora's box," he whispered as he lay beside her. He traced around the scar down the center of her chest where the surgeons had gone in to save her so long ago. He kissed the soft skin of her breast, and moved his hand down to caress her belly. "I had no idea all this would happen."
"You never think of the consequences of your actions, Lex. You still don't. LexCorp.'s doings aren't exactly always within the boundaries of the law."
"I'm only trying to survive. There are those who don't appreciate me as they did my father, and who would love to see me fail. I cannot fail."
His words were an echo of her own.
"I understand. Some might not."
She nodded, and did not expect any further response.
"If he can even think anymore," he said, confirming his beliefs.
She'd gone over his records that first day, tabbing back through years of testing and torture until her face hurt from trying to hold back the emotion threatening to overwhelm her. From various sources she'd had bits and pieces of it leak through to her before, but nothing so complete as the actual transcripts.
Seeing him was even harder, until she called up the memory of the smiling boy she'd raised and compared it to what lay before her. It was easier then to disassociate the two.
She slips into the bio-suit. Its lightweight material clings to her like a plastic bag and is comfortable and easy to work with, unlike the heavy suits she'd been trained to use before. The gloves are like a second skin, and the headgear is light and provides good visibility. The respirator hums as it filters her air.
The room is brightly lit. She keys the entry code, and steps through the door.
"He'll recover," she whispered.
He sighed. They'd been through this discussion before many times.
"Don't deny me my hope, Lex. It's all I have left."
Rolling over onto his side, he faced her, and his mouth sought her lips. The hand on her belly eased down to her center, and when his fingers found the delicate node there they began to work it gently. He knew how to manipulate her in more ways than one.
"But you have me," he said softly.
She couldn't tell him his worth was not nearly enough to replace what she'd once had, nor to make her give up her desire to regain what little of it she could.
His hand worked her as he suckled her breast like the child she'd never been able to birth.
Her eyes closed, and she gave in to a different sort of desire.
The silence is unnerving. Someone has turned the volume down on the heart monitor and until she discovers it, she's afraid something is wrong. Nothing is wrong, however, beyond the very situation itself.
She stares at him.
He stares back, unseeing.
"There are varying degrees of life."
Or if he does see her, he makes no recognition of either her, or her very presence. He's been catatonic for the past four years according to what she read.
Dead, but alive, withdrawn from the horror of being....
She longs to reach out and touch him, run her hand soothingly over the shorn head, or her fingers across his dry cracked lips.
She cannot risk it.
The other nurse stumbles in muttering curses under her breath. She hates her job. Through her plastic visor her face is twisted into a rictus of disgust.
"I don't know why they bother anymore. They've tested it to death."
Literally. The meteorite derived drug they found to keep him subdued has been dripping into his veins for nearly a decade, slowly poisoning him. Six months ago he stopped accepting food. Three days ago he started showing the first signs of renal failure. He was dying.
"It's our job to provide the samples and keep it alive as best we can." Marie says impassively, her tone masks her fear and her grief. "Not to ask questions."
The other nurse makes no move to assist her. She's staring at the motionless figure before her, falling into his eyes.
"They should just put him out of his misery," she whispers.
Marie sighs. The stupid girl just got herself fired.
"Help me change it," she says. "The catheter has come loose again."
"They're moving him," she said, looking up as Lex came out of the bathroom wearing one of her oversized robes. He was still just as thin and fit as he had been nine years earlier.
He leaned over her shoulder and read the e-mail from her contact in New Mexico. "It worked." His voice indicated surprise.
She grinned up at him. "And so did the bid you made. They took the contract. Look where they're bringing him."
Her laugh was joyous as she leapt up to hug him. "It worked! We did it!"
He returned her hug, but his eyes continued to scan the message. Cursing quietly, he drew her attention back to the screen, and the post-script at the end of the e-mail.
"I hate to have to be the one to tell you this Marie, but my sources tell me there isn't much left. There's a chance he'll be dead by the time he reaches Kansas."
Ten-thirty. She takes a smoke break outside by the front doors, where a bench has been provided for just such a purpose. Whenever she's at work she chain smokes, lighting one right after the other and raising them to her lips with a shaking hand. It keeps her sane, the smoking. Without the excuse to leave the sight of her son lying pale, and still, and dying on a cold hard gurney, she would go utterly mad and do something stupid.
The smoke swirls around her head as she watches a group of people approaching. A tour group. She recognizes "politics" all over them. The Administrator is with them, talking to a young man at his side. Marie ignores them until they are right next to her and the Administrator is stopping. She hears the low, melodic voice of the visitor.
"I'm pleased with the advances you've made in the field of cancer research doctor. As you know, I lost my mother to breast cancer a year ago."
"Yes, I heard. You have my condolences. Senator Ross was a hell of a woman."
"Thank you doctor. I hope to follow in her footsteps one day."
Marie looks up.
"City council is a good beginning."
"I thought so." He glances towards her over the Administrator's shoulder.
She sees his eyes widen.
So far, they had come so far, and now it looked as if it were all collapsing around them. She read the words over and over again, and opened the attached documents. They were hastily done scans of pages from his records. They were sketchy and incomplete, but painted a picture of endless testing and torture.
His captors experimented with the drugs, attempting to find the minimum amount needed to keep him subdued and under control. Too little and he'd nearly burned the place down trying to escape. Too much and they'd almost killed him. The torment did not end, but continued, and they simply factored in the effects of the drugs within their results. He withdrew.
"Brain activity is registering at very low level."
She cried for hours, begging for him to stay alive until she could get to him.
So far, and so much still left undone.
She stands up, tosses her cigarette aside, and the Administrator sees her. He turns. "Ah, Marie," He wants to show off a happy employee. "I'd like you to meet one of our nursing staff," he says to his guest.
"We do have patients here, volunteers willing to risk new forms of treatment." He guides her forward. "Marie Kenworth, Mr. Peter Ross, soon to be one of our new city councilmen."
She gives him credit for a quick recovery. Good old Pete.
"Ms," she says, shaking his hand. "I've never been married."
"So you're a lawyer? I read that somewhere once."
"Yes," he smiles shyly. "Graduated early, and with honors. Passed the bar the first try."
Her voice is soft, "Congratulations," she says. "I'd like to think if I'd had a son he'd be like you."
Their hands are still clasped, and she feels his fingers tighten.
"He would be much more than I, Ms. Kenworth, I'm sure of it."
He came again two days later, unscheduled, bearing a single red rose and a bottle of wine. She had been up all night crying. Clark had been moved, was en route to Kansas, and she waited to hear if he arrived dead or alive.
Stuck in limbo.
She felt old, and tired, and hated him for coming to see her when she was at her weakest.. He preyed on people like that and she knew it. He was the consummate predator, seeking out and hunting down the old, and the sick, and the weak. She took the flower, however, and invited him in, and watched as he made himself comfortable in the kitchen. He did not find what he sought. The loss of her domestic instincts meant she had no such thing as a wine glass. He returned with two beer mugs filled in thirds with the wine.
He kissed her as he handed her one of the glasses, and she slumped into a chair at the table.
"Still waiting?" His voice was soft, and so was his expression.
Toying with the rose, wondering if she should get up and get it a vase of some sort, she nodded. She sipped her wine.
"Let him go, Marie."
She shook her head and swallowed back the tears.
"I know," he said slowly. "That you feel obligated to help him, but this has been your life, your obsession, for nine years, and now...."
"No," her voice was a gravelly croak.
"You have to realize that there may be nothing you can do. You have to realize, that letting him die might be more merciful."
"No!" Her fingers clenched into a fist. "I can't." She surged to her feet and walked away from him, pacing in front of the window.
He set his glass down on the table and followed her. "Marie..."
Whirling, she faced him, false blue eyes blazing. "He is my son."
"No, he's not," he replied softly. "He's not your son, damnit. He's not even human."
Her hand rocked him; left a stinging red mark across his face. Her expression was set in a snarl of fury.
His was gentle.
"Let him go," he repeated, and reached into his pocket. "For me," he said. "For us."
She is unnerved by seeing Pete again. It has to be a sign. A good omen? She isn't sure. He brought her luck before, when he stumbled into her kitchen hoping to find a ride to school and instead found death and destruction and a best friend abducted. He saved her life, and had he arrived only a half hour earlier, he would have lost his own.
When they'd parted she had wished him luck in the election. Perhaps her well wishes would make all the difference, and the debt would be repaid.
The elevator ride seems longer than before. She's nervous, and has to wipe her hands on her shirt. Not good. She does not want to raise suspicion. When her co-worker went back to her book, she entered the trip to X-ray into the computer log, but purposely rerouted the message away from the technician there. If she never arrived, no one would notice for hours.
If Lex came through with the video feed.
She passes the nurses station where her co-worker is still reading her book, and goes into the airlock, donning the suit for the second time that day. There is a monitor in the corner revealing the scene that the camera is feeding security. Her eyes lock on it as she stands just out of its range.
It flickers out to static.
And comes back on with the same scene.
She grabs the bio-tent and moves towards the gurney.
At first she won't touch it.
She takes the small box from his hand and opens it.
Her breath leaves her.
She unhooks the monitors, and places the i.v. bottle at his side, even though she longs to rip it out of his arm once and for all. There is no precedent, and she's afraid he may come fully to his senses and make a mess of things if she dares stop the drugs. They have only one chance to make this work. She cannot take any risks.
Procedure calls for him to be covered when he is taken from the room, and as she spreads the tent over him she whispers under the cover of the rustling noise it makes.
"Just a few minutes more, Clark. Hang on. Hang on."
He's thin, very thin, and the gurney is easy for her to maneuver by herself. She shoves it into the airlock and strips off her suit.
The door hisses open, and she pushes him out into the corridor.
"Oh, God." She pressed one hand to her mouth, and stretched her other out towards him, as if desperately wanting him to take the box and its contents away from her. "Oh, God."
The box snapped shut and she rushed forward, grabbed his hand and pressed the box into his grip. "No, oh, no!"
He caught her by the wrist before she could get away from him. "Please..."
"Have you lost your mind?"
"No. I am very much in control of my mind," he smiled slightly, and let it fade. "Think about it. A new life, a more comfortable life than you've ever led before..."
"I'm twice your age!"
"Not quite, and I don't care. It's never mattered before!"
"I can give you the child of your body you've always wanted."
Time stands still.
"Would you like to make a wish?"
"I see a little face..."
She stops, and her heart is thudding hard against her chest. Her supervisor comes around the corner looking for her, and frowns slightly as she sees her and the tent shrouded gurney.
"I'm on my way to X-ray," she says, trying not to sound defensive and hasty, as the older woman saunters towards her. If worst came to worst she could easily take her out, but she prays that won't be necessary. She likes Dora.
"Yeah, I reviewed the schedule last night though and there wasn't anything there regarding new films."
"A sheet was added. The Admin signed it so the order must have come through this morning."
"Hmm, funny, he usually mentions any changes."
Her grip tightens around the gurney rail beneath her hands. "He has guests today, a young man running for city council. It probably slipped his mind."
Thank you, Pete. Oh, God, thank you.
"Ah, yeah. I'd forgotten about that. You're right."
"Did you need me for something, Dora?" She's sweating, and she's afraid Dora will notice the rapid beat of her pulse at her throat.
"I wanted to talk to you about Stacey. I've not been happy with her performance lately, but it can wait, I know how Barry is about punctuality." She waves a hand. "When you come back, pop into my office and we'll talk."
"Sure," Marie says, and continues down the corridor.
In the elevator she cannot stop shaking.
"Almost there," she whispers.
"You're still cycling. Jonathan Kent might not have been able to afford the new infertility treatments, but I can." He opened the box again, and removed the diamond, slipping it onto her finger. "We can have a child together. It will be of our flesh and blood, our lives intertwined, but you won't have to carry it."
"No." She could feel her defenses crumbling. He knew where and how to attack.
"I know who you were, Martha. I know your family. You were never meant to be a farmer's wife. You were meant for society. You are a rich man's daughter. You should be a rich man's wife."
Snake. Weasel. He attacked her heart and corrupted her mind with promises.
"I'm too old...."
"I gave you youth once. I can keep giving it to you. You can marry me as Marie Kenworth, nearly half the age of Martha Clark."
Her son, given her surname...
A child of her body.
A little girl with auburn hair and green eyes.
She looked down at the diamond on her finger.
Sarah, or maybe Melinda*.
All she had to give up was the half life she was living....
She'd have pink frilly party dresses, and riding lessons upon a fat pony.
And the life of a son not really her own.
Radiology is one floor down. She travels one floor down in the passenger elevator, and scurries around the corner to the freight elevator.
No one sees her.
She goes two floors back up again.
"You're our son, nothing can change that..."
"You're as handsome as your father....."
"I love you too, Clark...."
She could not get the ring off fast enough. "I can't." Her hands shook as she held it out to him. "Please, Lex, take it. Take it. Don't ask me again."
She hated him. He made her cry again, and her chest already hurt from hours of tears shed before he arrived.
He took the ring and put it back into the box. Both disappear into his pocket once more. He said nothing, but she could see how badly he's hurt.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I love him too much."
Nodding, he turned back to the table, and downed the wine in his glass in three large swallows like a man who had been lost in the desert for days without water. She could see in the set of his shoulders that he was ready to flee from her, but she did not want him to go just yet. She still needed him.
He turned around. "No," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
She went to him, and slipped into his arms, raising her hands to his face. "I still need you to be with me."
"Why can't you believe me when I tell you I love you?" He asked.
"I do believe you."
"Then marry me."
Leaning into him, she asked for, and received, a kiss.
The freight elevator opens into the rear parking lot reserved for the cars of employees and official vehicles. Her car is long gone. He came and took it away so that it could not be traced back to either of them. All her notes, her computer, and everything relating to her investigation over the years had been meticulously gathered together and put in the trunk of that car. He would make it all disappear. Her apartment was bare.
There is an ambulance backed up to the elevator ramp.
Her breath comes in short, quick pulses in a rhythm intertwined with the racing beat of her heart. Her temples pound with pain of a headache brought on by too little sleep and too much stress.
"I'm too old for this, I'm going to kill myself."
Just a few short yards away is the safe haven of the ambulance. The open doors of the beckon, and as she starts down the ramp towards it she hears the engine roar into life as if it is calling to her. All the years she struggled to keep her sanity, all the heartache and the planning and the nights spent praying; it had all led to this finality.
The deep voice echoes across the parking lot.
"What's going on here?"
They were curled together spoon fashioned. Like a warm and comfortable cloak donned in cold weather, he was wrapped around her body, holding her close within his arms. He kissed her neck, and peered over her shoulder. She was holding the jewelry box and staring at its contents.
"Penny for your thoughts," he whispered.
She chuckled slightly. "All you have left after buying this thing?"
"You always were practical."
"I had to be practical, no one else was, dreamers the both of them."
His arms tightened around her. "And what was in your dreams?"
"I already had everything I'd ever dreamed of having; a loving husband, a handsome son, a home in the country."
She closed the lid over the glittering diamonds and gold.
"Nothing else mattered."
They are standing to the right of the ramp, having exited the door from the kitchens....
The Administrator, Pete, and a handful of others including a security guard. How they had come to see her she does not know, but suspects a chance peek out the windows leading into the cafeteria might have been it. Lunch was not for a full hour, but the tour might have included the kitchens. Had it been anyone else they may have dismissed her. The Admin. missed nothing. He had swooped into Cadmus and made it his own when the government moved its operations from New Mexico back to Kansas. He is a hard man.
The Administrator is also a towering man, military through and through, and his face hardens as he very quickly comes to understand what is going on without a verbal response to his inquiry.
He makes a move towards the ramp, hand outstretched to grab the end of the gurney to prevent any further advance towards the ambulance doors. Instinctively she pulls it back, closer to her body, as if she could somehow protect her child with such a small gesture. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the security officer drawing his weapon.
She has nowhere to go.
She dozed off in the comfort of his embrace, but the urgent beep of her computer woke her up, and she scrambled out of the bed to check her mail.
Bleary eyed, he looked up at her. "What?"
"He's back in Metropolis, and he's alive."
Fighting to keep the gurney from slipping off the ramp but out of the Administrator's grasp, she steps backwards again towards the closed doors of the elevator. It is a dead end, for the doors can only be opened from the inside. She had not expected to have to go back.
Her cry is joined by the voice of the Administrator. His hand closes on thin air, missing the gurney rail by inches as he pitches forward onto the cement. Frantically she rushes past him. She feels the heat of a bullet just missing the back of her neck, and fingers clutching madly at her sneakered foot, as she gives one mighty shove and leaps towards sanctuary once again. An old familiar voice rises above the sound of another gunshot and the clanging of the gurney folding itself up and into the ambulance.
"Clark, man, Chloe likes you..."
"Thanks for the cookies Mrs. Kent..."
"Go, Martha! Go!"
She slams the doors shut, and she herself is thrown back heavily into them as the big engine launches the vehicle forward into the parking lot. Sirens blaring, tires screaming on the pavement, it tears into the road just as one last bullet bounces off its rear fender.
She's both laughing and crying.
Pete had stuck out a foot, at a most opportune moment, proving that his life saving sense of timing was still in working order.
Lex joined her at the computer terminal. She was biting a knuckle, and staring at the words on the screen.
He rubbed her shoulders. "Now what?"
Idly, as she might have done to her son instead of her lover, she patted his hand. "Now it begins."
He's no worse for wear. She pulls off the bio-tent, and presses a folded gauze pad against the ugly wound where the i.v. is still feeding the poison into his body. She removes the i.v. needle, and presses the gauze down, fighting to remain in position as the ambulance bounces and rocks, until she locates some tape. She leans over him, caressing his face.
"Clark, it's over. Sweetie. Mommy's here, Mommy's here."
His face is cold beneath her hand, and she pulls a blanket over him before moving to secure his bed better within the rumbling truck.
"They're going to come after us."
She moves to the windows and looks out behind them. The road is clear. "Not yet," she says, and goes back to peer into the cab. "Where are we going?"
"We're ditching this." He's on the phone, calling his other driver with a change of plans. He's turned out the sirens. "We're a sitting duck for the cops in this piece of crap."
Her mood cannot be higher. "Not a Porsche is it?"
"You still drive like a maniac."
He flashes the faintest of smiles.
She climbs into the passenger seat, and grins back at him. "We did it."
"You did it, how is he?"
"Time will tell."
They drive on in silence for some time, both nervously glancing back in the rearview mirrors for any sign of pursuit. He turns off the main highway onto a series of dirt roads. She goes to check on Clark. The faint greenish cast to his skin has started to fade already. His eyes are closed now and he seems, for the first time in a long time, to be sleeping comfortably. It gives her hope.
"There's a private jet waiting for you at the airport. Everything you need will be there; clothes, passports, medical supplies, everything." He pulls over, neatly avoiding putting them into the ditch at the side of the road, which is hardly more than a dirt path through the woods.
She's resumes her seat at his side.
He stares into her eyes. "My offer still stands," he says softly. "Regardless if Clark recovers or not, I am willing to offer you anything within my power to give."
Her smile is wry. "Including your cold and stony heart?"
"You've been reading my bad press."
"You get more every day."
"That bitch Lois Lane at the Daily Planet hates me."
"I should hate you," she replies quietly.
He looks out the windshield. A limousine is pulling up in front of them. He stares at it for a moment, holding up a hand to tell the driver to wait, before turning back to her.
"Do you hate me?" He asks.
"Do you love me?"
She doesn't answer. "We have to go."
"Did you ever love me?"
His hand on her arm stays her as she moves towards the back. Their eyes lock, and she reaches a hand up to touch his mouth. He speaks against her fingers.
"Or was I as much your whore as you were mine?"
It would be better to leave him hurt and angry with her and let him bury her betrayal in his vault full of countless other hurts and betrayals. It would be easier. It might actually hurt him less. She can't remember who once spoke of the fine line between love and hate.
She leans over and kisses him, letting her mouth linger against his, before drawing back and staring deeply into his eyes.
"Thank you," she says finally, and returns to her sleeping child.
The cottage is lovely, I couldn't have asked for more. We're getting along fine, and the villagers are so kind to me despite my horrible mutilation of the language. The last time I had to speak French was in college, and even then I was not an A student! They are very good people here.
I know you will cringe at the very thought, but I'm a farmer again too. I've purchased a little goat, and some chicks, and with the help of my kind villagers I've begun a garden. They tell me my little vineyard just needs some TLC and it will produce again. Perhaps I'll send you a bottle of my homemade wine on your next birthday.
Clark is much improved. He finally started tracking again, recognizing my presence, and then just last week he spoke to me. I cannot express my joy at hearing the word, "Mom" again. Since then he's made monumental progress and I'm having to fuss at him to get him to stay in bed. He's demanding pizza of all things, and is running me ragged fetching for him. He's throwing himself into catching up on his education and I don't know how many trips to the post office I've made to pick up books he's ordered. I suspect it's a distraction for him. I hear him crying out in his sleep from the nightmares, and I know learning of his father's death was a blow to him. He's hiding in his books. I'm tired, but as long as he's getting by, I am happy.
I can't begin to thank you for helping me get him back.
I'm returning the last transfer you sent me. I am FINE, Lex. I don't need your help any more. Please take the money. Give it away if you must. You don't have to send me any more.
All my love,
"You are a fucking genius."
She flinched as a folded newspaper fell on the table before her. In truth she was more startled by the fact she was caught smoking than by his sudden appearance and the loud slap of the paper on the table top. The cigarette dangled from her lip as she read the headline.
Superman Saves Multi-Million Dollar Space Shuttle.
Story by Clark Kent.
He slid into the booth across from her. "Heard he got interviewed by the President. Let me guess what they discussed?"
She smiled, and snubbed out the cigarette. "They'll never dare lay a hand on him again. He had every record obliterated."
"Martha Kent, you are devious."
"Learned from the master himself, and regarding said master - what are you doing here anyway, not exactly your style." She nodded towards the nearly deserted hotel bar. It was dark, and the floor was suspiciously sticky. The air smelled like stale cigarettes. "Not a four-star by any means."
"I heard you were in town, and went looking." He scowled. "Not easy for me to do these days with the Flying Nun stalking my every move."
Chuckling, she leaned back in her seat. "I'm sure he'd appreciate being compared to Sally Field."
"Call him off of me why don't you?"
"You think he listens to me?"
"You're his mother," he said brusquely.
She toyed with the glass of watered-down wine sitting before her. Three years living in France had spoiled her. American wine was simply not the same. "As you once reminded me - no, I'm not."
His lips tightened. "You told him everything didn't you?"
"And he hates me because of it."
Her silence confirmed it.
Shrugging, she raised the glass and sipped at the foul liquid within. "He stopped speaking to me for a while after I told him, but it's easier to shift blame from one's mother to someone else." She put the glass down. "Just talk to him, Lex."
"And say what? Forgive me, Superman, for fucking your mother?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Is that all it was after all?"
"Maybe for you."
"Maybe you didn't know me as well as you thought you did." She reached out and grabbed his hand, staying him as he started to leave in anger. Her voice was soft, and low. "Clark was, and is, everything to me. Don't mistake prioritizing for uncaring."
He glared at her.
She let go of his hand, and from the pocket of the oversized cardigan she wore, she removed a card. Placing it on the table, she pushed it across the surface towards him.
His eyes flickered down to it, then back up to her face. She looked older again, the effects of the surgery undone by working outside in the sun of the French countryside. Her hair was dark auburn, and long, pulled back in duel combs to reveal the grey at the temples. Her eyes were green. Marie Kenworth had gone away, replaced by Lillian Castor, who was replaced yet again by Martha Kent, or some strangely warped version of her. The original had died long ago.
Yet in the set of her mouth, and the light in her eyes, they were all the same woman.
"What is it?" He asked.
His lip quirked. "To Pandora's box?"
She slipped out of the booth, and smiled down at him.
"Only if Superman finds out you're sleeping with his mother again," she replied. "And as far as he knows, I'm still out of the country until next week."
He smiled, and shook his head slowly. "You are beyond devious."
Her lips were warm as she leaned over to kiss him. He moaned softly into her mouth as his fingers found the curve of one breast and caressed it hungrily as if too long deprived of the sustenance it would provide.
She parted from him slightly breathless.
Love. Hate. Desire.
The lines between them are badly defined.
"I'll see you later," she said, and finished the glass of piss-poor wine with a grimace. "Bring something better than that."
A glance over her shoulder revealed him slipping the key into his pocket.
He appeared at her door a half hour later with a bottle of Beaujolais, which he displayed to her as he gently kissed the back of her hand with a slight bow.
"Est-ce que ceci fera, ma dame?"
She smiled. "Oui, absolument."
He entered, and she closed the door behind him.
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