It seemed to Martha that events always seemed to come in pairs, with the good and bad linked together -- bad paying for the good, maybe, but Martha preferred to think of the good as making the bad easier to bear. It was two weeks after Martha and Jonathan's wedding that Hiram Kent died. The year after that, the farm was having more business and more success than it ever had before when Martha lost the baby.
Clark came with the meteor showers.
The meteor shower was a tragedy, and the town still wasn't the same, really, as it had been before. But Martha couldn't be really sorry about anything that brought Clark to the world, brought him to crouch beside their truck and enter their lives.
Babies don't just fall out of the sky, but theirs did: a sweet, smart, kind, beautiful boy.
Martha had distinct qualms with the notion that so many others would suffer just so that Clark could come to them, but it was hard not to look at him as a gift, nonetheless. A gift complete with the great responsibilities of loving him, caring for and protecting him.
She felt it from the moment she picked him up in her arms. She suspected that it was not long afterwards that Jonathan felt it too, but it took Clark a few hours to wear Jonathan down, even as he went back to the field to hide the ship, and it wasn't till the next morning that Jonathan admitted what they both already knew.
There was never really any doubt that he was theirs. Not from them, and not from Clark, either.
Clark had been in the middle of explosions, been hit by cars, been struck by lightning, and he walked away from all of them fine. He was sixteen, tall and strong and very nearly a man; Martha still saw the dark, wide-eyed silent baby who followed her around like a puppy.
That first year, Martha was always with him, and she taught him the names of every animal, plant, and object on the farm; how to help her pat out and punch dough, feed the animals, sweep the floor, and pod peas; how to color and play with stuffed animals and racecars.
At the end of the year, he was four, and she took him to day care for the first time. She had watched as Pete Ross had run up to Clark, glowing with perpetual energy and good will. "Hi! I'm Pete! You wanna play?"
Clark's face had spread into a sunshiny grin. "Hi," he said, and he and Pete had run off together while Martha clasped her hand over her mouth with astonishment.
Every day since that one, really, was taking Clark a little further away from her and Jonathan, from being their sheltered little boy.
But then, that's what children did.
Dinner was Martha's favorite time of day.
Dinner was when she finally got to relax, sit down around the table with her boys, share the food she'd made with her own hands, listen to her family's day, tell about her own. At dinner, the day was mostly over, all the hard work completed; you could sit around and appreciate the home that the hard work had brought you.
"This is really good, Mom," Clark said, scooping out another serving of mashed potatoes.
"I gathered that somewhere around your thirds. But thank you."
He flashed her a grin and took a forkful of chicken.
Martha wasn't quite sure whether Clark's seemingly boundless appetite was a consequence of his alien metabolism, or just from being a teenage boy.
"Clark, I need you to do the deliveries right after school tomorrow." Jonathan pushed his plate forward and leaned back in his chair. "Your mother and I are going to need the truck afterwards."
"Where are you going?" Clark asked.
"My friend Natalie is getting married this Saturday."
Clark scrunched up his face. "Is she the one who's really skinny, and calls me 'little one'?"
"Well, to be fair, Clark, you were only three feet high when she met you," Martha said.
"Your mother's in the wedding, so we have to be there tomorrow, for the rehearsal dinner." Jonathan grimaced slightly.
Clark glanced from Jonathan to Martha and back again. "So Dad has to wear his good suit?"
"You laugh now, Clark. Just you wait," he said darkly.
Martha rolled her eyes. "There's no reason to be so dramatic; it's only a few hours. Clark, will you clear the table, please?"
"Sure." He stood up and began gathering the dishes into a pile. "So. Um. You guys are going to be gone tomorrow and Sunday, then?"
"I want you to stop that train of thought right now," Jonathan rumbled.
"What?" Clark looked up, his face innocent and open.
"You're still earning back trust points from the last time we left you alone," Martha said. "You are not going to be doing anything while we are gone."
"I can't even have Pete over?" Clark frowned and picked up the dishes, where they towered shakily in his grip.
Martha and Jonathan exchanged a glance. Martha sighed. "If Pete's parents agree that it's all right, Pete can come over."
"What about Chloe? Or Lana? Or Lex?"
"No to all three," Jonathan said.
"Clark, if you break those--"
"It's fine, Mom." There was the sudden flash towards the kitchen sink, and then Clark stood at the table again, empty-handed. "Why can't my friends come over? It wouldn't be a party. Just like one at a time."
"Clark, while I realize your father and I are exceptionally cool people, we are not so cool that we are going allow our teenage son have girls over unchaperoned."
Clark ducked his head, and his face pinked a little. "We're just friends, Mom. And what about Lex, then? He's not a girl."
"Do you need me to give you the speech about how we're your parents, and we always know exactly we're doing, and we always have your best interest in mind?"
"No," Clark muttered, stretching it out into a few more syllables. Martha hid her smile; Clark sounded for all the world like he had as a discontented twelve-year-old.
"All right, then?" Martha said, raising her eyebrow.
"Fine. No parties, no girls, no Lex."
"And remember. We have spies watching out, all through the town, just in case," Jonathan added.
Clark chuckled, then stopped abruptly. "You're kidding, right?"
Martha and Jonathan smirked at each other.
Clark's smile faded.
When Clark was six, Martha got called into the elementary school principal's office to pick him up. He'd hurt another student, the principal said: pushed him through a door.
Martha said things like "Really?" and "I don't know how that could have happened" and shook her head wonderingly along with Mrs. Denton. Afterward, in the car, she reminded Clark about how he had to be careful, because he was special, and other people weren't. He couldn't hurt them, or let them see what he could do.
Clark had nodded solemnly, and then said, "He was going to hurt Pete."
She had stopped the car and hugged him so hard she thought he might run out of breath. But he didn't, of course.
When Clark was eight, Pete and Greg ran, anxious and part of the way to hysterical, into the house where Martha was making dinner to tell her Clark was sick and hurt, out in the field.
He was in a small hole in the ground -- he'd fallen in when they were playing tag, and couldn't get back out. He was curled up small, crying, with a green tint to his skin, and he whimpered when Martha picked him up.
She started to carry him to the house, to figure out what to do, but it was only a few feet before he lifted his head up.
"Mom? What are you doing?" He wiggled out of her arms. "I'm fine now. See?"
She let him go off and play with the other boys again, but she watched from the window.
When he was ten, Clark yelled for her to come and watched as he jumped off the roof of the barn. He landed in the dust, wiped himself off, and she had to grab him to stop him from running up to do it again.
When he was thirteen, he started puberty, shooting up like a weed, eating everything in sight, getting faster and stronger every day, and becoming a teenager with all the accompanying drama.
When he was fifteen, she washed his bruises where bullets had struck his skin.
Clark was sixteen now, and Martha caught him kissing Lex Luthor in her kitchen.
In retrospect, Martha could manage to be grateful for a few aspects of the situation: that it was her and not Jonathan who found them, for example, or that the two of them were only simply kissing there, against her refrigerator, and not anything further along.
She coughed loudly from the doorway.
Clark jumped at the noise; he was several feet away from Lex much too quickly, but she doubted that Lex could possibly have noticed. He seemed completely flustered himself, as he tried to smooth out his clothes and gain his composure.
He took a step forward. "Mrs. Kent -- I hadn't realized that you--"
"I think you'd better leave, Lex," she said.
Lex's eyes darted to her son, who stood in the middle of the room, not meeting anyone's gaze, and then back to her. He nodded.
She kept her eyes on Clark as Lex slipped past her, and the screen door latched behind him.
"I thought you and Dad weren't getting back till Sunday morning," Clark said, going for light-hearted and failing.
She just looked at him. "Sit down, Clark."
They sat across from each other at the dining room table. Clark stared fixedly at his hands; she stared at what part of his face she could see, with his head bowed and his hair hanging straight down into his eyes.
Martha forced her voice. First things first. "You and Lex are--" She paused, unable to quite think of an appropriate word.
"Yeah," said Clark. His voice was almost inaudible.
"How long has this been going on?" She clasped her hands together and placed them in front of her on the table. Clark wasn't old enough for this.
She wasn't old enough for this.
Clark whispered something.
His eyes were wide when he looked up. "A month."
Martha's chest was tight, like someone was squeezing her much too hard. "A month."
"We're ... I mean. I'm -- he's --"
For all the fumbling and awkwardness, Martha knew this sort of confession when she heard it. She'd been preparing herself for this for a while now, for Clark to come to her and tell a little of his hopes and secrets. He was growing up. He was a teenager; it was the age for first love.
This was not the way she had envisioned it at all. "I see," she said again, and she noticed how even and mild her tone sounded. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a moment before she was able to go on. "Are you two having sex?"
"Mom!" Clark sounded shocked, but even more mortified.
"Are you being safe?"
She didn't get an answer to that one. Clark was bright red, hunched over in his seat and squirming.
He could damn well deal with the embarrassment. "I suppose under the circumstances, we can skip the birth control lecture. I know you don't get sick, Clark, but it never hurts to be careful. Especially--" She swallowed a few times. "Especially with someone so much older and more experienced than you. At least. I assume -- has there been anyone else?"
Clark's head shot up. "God, Mom, no!" His tone was that of 'How could you even think such a thing?' And ten minutes ago she would have felt the same way; it was amazing how quickly your worldview could shift.
She rubbed her temple gently. "Your father is out in the barn right now. He will be in here in a few minutes."
"Are you -- are you going to tell him?" He looked hopeful, almost, thinking over the possibility that she might just keep it between the two of them.
"You are going to tell him, Clark. You're the one who has been lying to us and sneaking around for a month. This is your responsibility."
Clark looked like he was about to throw up, but he nodded shakily and held his head back up straight. "All right."
Behind everything else, she felt an obscure pride in him for that.
Martha had only seen Jonathan cry twice; the first was when she had the miscarriage, and the second was at the death of the herd of cows.
Clark was like his father, short-tempered, more likely to respond with anger when he was upset. It had been years since Martha had seen him cry. If he did -- and she thought he must -- he kept it private.
Clark looked close to tears now, the sick, burning kind, the kind you didn't dare let fall. He spoke haltingly, almost choking on the words. "I don't know what you want me to say."
"We don't want you to say anything, Clark!" Jonathan was burning, too, anger and disbelief and a disappointment so thick Martha could breathe it in. "You snuck around, you disobeyed us, you kept secrets from us and lied to our faces, and all with a man who--"
"He's not like that, Dad," Clark interrupted. "You don't even know him."
"I know enough! I know you've gotten yourself involved with a man I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw him. How could you do this, Clark? I thought we raised you better than that."
"That's not how it is!" Clark shouted, jumping up. "I'm sorry I lied to you and Mom, but I'm not sorry about Lex." He glared at Jonathan. "He's not the devil, and I'm sixteen years old. I'm not a little kid anymore. I can take care of myself."
Jonathan hit his first on the table. "No, you can't, Clark. You're still a child, and you're still our son."
They both looked as if they were very close to something everyone would regret, and some things couldn't be undone. "Clark," Martha said, "I think you'd better go upstairs. Your father and I need to talk."
The worst part about being class note taker was the responsibility. You had to pay attention. You couldn't just, say, stare at a classmate the entire hour and daydream and wonder what he was thinking about and what you were going to say to him the next time you talked and what his eyes would look like up close.
To use, of course, a purely hypothetical example.
"That's him, over there. The guy who lent me his notes," Martha whispered, leaning over Natalie's desk. "Isn't he gorgeous?"
Natalie bit her lip thoughtfully as she watched Jonathan Kent settle into his seat on the other side of the room. "He's okay, I suppose. He's certainly got that whole rugged thing going on, if that's what you like."
Martha opened her mouth to protest, but the professor arrived, and she just gave Natalie a look and sat back to listen to concentrate and pay attention.
At the end of class, she lingered a little, putting her books away. "I'll meet you at home later," she told Natalie, who smiled knowingly.
"All right. Have fun with your mountain man."
Jonathan caught her eye from across the room and smiled. It was the sort of smile that picked the recipient out from everybody else in the room, and made them feel marked as someone special. It flooded her with warmth, left her no choice but to smile back.
It was the sort of smile that Martha could get used to. The sort she wanted to see every day for the rest of her life.
They walked to the shabby dinner down the street, and sat in the back booth and drank coffee and ate apple pie.
The coffee was good; the pie was not. Martha gave up on hers after a few bites and watched Jonathan eat his. "This is awful," she said.
"It's not too bad."
"You just haven't had the good stuff. You'll have to come over sometime and try mine. You won't be able to imagine going back to this."
Jonathan rested his elbows on the table and leaned forward. "I'll have to take you up on that offer some time," he said in a low tone, and Martha felt herself blush.
Jonathan told her about his family's farm. It wasn't doing very well now, but that was going to change soon. Jonathan had lots of plans and ideas for it -- this class was just one of them. All he had to do was convince his father about them. That Jonathan knew what he was doing.
"So you're going to take it over, then?"
"Eventually. What about you? What do you want to do?"
"I'm not sure yet. I know I want a family someday. Children."
They walked the few blocks to Martha's apartment, across the dark wet streets.
They stopped outside her building.
"I guess I better be getting home," Jonathan said, standing by the steps. "It's a three hour drive."
She paused at the front door, turned back and walked the few steps back to him, and kissed him.
He wrapped his arms around her. He was so strong.
Martha was breathless, dizzy. She said, "Would you like to go out next Saturday night?"
Jonathan laughed. "I would love to go out Saturday night."
When she got up into the apartment, she stood inside the door and told Natalie, "That was the man I'm going to marry."
Natalie laughed, then, and teased, but two years later, she was maid of honor at the wedding, in the tiny, pretty church out in Smallville, in the middle of nowhere.
"He can't help who he's fallen in love with," Martha told Jonathan.
Jonathan blew a breath of air out past his lips, and glared stubbornly. "I don't like it."
"You don't have to," she said.
Lex was ... not impolite, no, but he had obviously gained his bearings at some point during the last day, and his smoothness and distance were slightly off-putting. Martha would rather have talked to the disconcerted young man in her kitchen than the overly knowing and together one sitting across his desk from her.
Almost together, at least. She had noticed that he wasn't quite making eye contact with her as he spoke.
"Clark is the best friend I've ever had, Mrs. Kent," Lex said quietly. "I care for him very much."
"I know that, but that's not enough. I do like you, Lex, and I know you mean well, but Clark is very young..."
"I'm aware of that." Lex's gaze, focused and almost uncanny, was aimed somewhere around her shoulder. "But he's not a child either. He's matured an amazing amount just in the time I've known him. He's growing up--"
"But he's not grown yet," Martha finished.
Lex's hands twitched slightly where they rested on the desk. "Mrs. Kent, I respect you and your husband a great deal. The last thing I want to do is damage your relationship with your son. If you ask me to step away from a relationship with Clark, I will respect your wishes." Lex's eyes, when he met her gaze, were very blue and very young. "But I want you to know that I would never harm Clark in any way. I would never let anyone hurt him, or limit him, or stand in his way. Including myself."
Martha could remember when Lillian Luthor died; it had been on the news, and in all the papers. It must have been almost a decade ago, now -- Lex couldn't have been older than thirteen or fourteen. And Martha had met Lionel Luthor, once, during the hostage situation at the plant.
It was a wonder that Lex let as much show as he did.
Martha had always hoped that Clark would grow up to be happy, and a good man, like Jonathan. But she had to admit to herself that she had other wishes for him, too, secret ones like every mother carried with her: images of Clark graduating from college at the top of his class; meeting a nice girl, intelligent and pretty and willful; visiting home in the years to come with a pack of grandchildren for Martha to spoil.
But Clark was going to be a good man, and if Lex could make Clark happy...
He would try, at least. Because it was very obvious that Lex Luthor was in love with her son and probably had been for some time, whether he knew it or not.
"The fact remains," Martha said in a gentle tone, "that you have been going behind our backs with our son for several weeks now."
Lex looked down at the table, and said carefully, "I thought it was Clark's secret, to tell or not. I try to honor his decisions in that respect." He raised his head and looked at her square on.
Martha watched him for a moment; he didn't waver.
"Clark is grounded. We haven't decided yet for how long. His curfew is now eleven o'clock. He is not allowed to visit the castle without notifying us, and we expect you to tell us whenever you visit the farm, or the loft. And, Lex -- if you ever hurt a hair on his head--"
"Let me guess," said Lex, smiling slightly. "Mr. Kent will come after me with the shotgun?"
"*I'll* come after you with a jackknife."
"We use it to castrate the bull calves."
He blinked rapidly several times. "I see."
When she left, she kissed him lightly on his cheek. His expression was more taken aback than anything else, but he looked pleased, as if she had given him something he hadn't expected to receive.
"Now, you mix the spices and the sugar and the salt together," Clark said. "See? And then I'll add it to the apple slices."
Lex stirred the small bowl, and looked up to smile at Martha. "I get the feeling I'm being put where I can do the least harm."
Martha smiled back at him, continuing to peel apples. Clark, next down on the counter, was coring and slicing. He glanced up and gestured with his knife.
"Hey," he protested, "it was two years of pie-making before I was deemed ready to move on to another job."
"Yes, but you were five. I, on the other hand, am a grown man running a successful business."
"It doesn't matter within these walls," Clark said grandiosely.
Martha was willing to pretend she didn't see any glares or stuck out tongues, but she drew the line at the subsequent passing along of apple slices.
"Those are for the pie."
Lex looked down at her wooden spoon in surprise. "You just swatted my hand."
"She'll do it again, too," Clark said, laughing.
"That's your task right now, Lex," Martha said. "If you do it properly, then I'll know I can trust you with more for the next time."
Lex watched her for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully. "I can do that."
"I hope so," said Martha.
Clark looked at them both suspiciously. "You guys are having one of those conversations where you're both saying other stuff, aren't you? That's not fair. I'm here too, you know."
Martha thought of reminding him that if he wanted to be treated like an adult, he should stop pouting like a child; but she thought better of it.
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