The late afternoon sunlight slipped a narrow beam into the Kents' living room. It shone into Jonathan's eyes as he approached his wife and son, arranged almost like a family picture taken just for him.
Martha, asleep in her rocking chair, with Clark nestled on her lap. His small, dark head snuggled under her chin, one of his hands on her shoulder, the other with fingers tightly fisted, thumb planted in his mouth. Martha's arms curled around his small frame, as if shielding him from the world.
Jonathan stepped closer to his wife, a smile coming to rest on his lips as he watched her eyes flutter open. She drew their son even closer and whispered up to Jonathan, her voice huskier than usual.
"Clark said his first word today."
That morning, Martha had woken with a start. It amazed her how much more tiring her days had become now that she was a mother. Not that she minded, of course, but she had been hoping this would be one of the rare mornings Clark would sleep in.
No such luck, she thought, as she took in the sight of the little sleep-rumpled boy who watched her so seriously as he stood, motionless, next to her bed.
"Good morning, sweetie. I bet you're hungry, hm?" Nearly three months had passed since they'd found him, and he had yet to say a word.
She and Jonathan discussed it, sometimes, after Clark was in bed. For now, they'd decided not to worry. Just interacting with him made it obvious he was a bright child who almost certainly only needed more exposure to the language. As Jonathan had said, "He just needs some time. When he's ready to talk, he will."
So Martha spent her days talking to Clark, mostly by providing a running commentary of what she was doing as he trailed her around the house and yard. There were times she felt like a play-by-play announcer for her own life, and sometimes wished something a little more exciting would happen, if only for the sake of variety.
Holding Clark's hand, she headed into the kitchen. "What'll it be this morning?" She took a canister of oatmeal from the pantry and a carton of eggs from the fridge. "Oatmeal or eggs?"
Clark looked up at her, his expression one of deep contemplation. She smiled, watching his nose wrinkle as he twisted his mouth to the side. Decisions, decisions - she could almost hear him thinking - and so early in the day.
A few more moments to deliberate, and his stubby finger jutted out to poke the oatmeal container. Instead of coming to rest on it, though, his small hand went effortlessly through it.
Martha's eyebrows shot up, but she instantly forced her features into a more relaxed expression. It hadn't taken long for Clark to realize that some of the things he did were a little...unexpected, and that his parents were upset as a result. Which, in turn, made him upset.
"Oops. That's okay, Clark," she soothed. "We'll just sweep up what spilled, and then I'll make breakfast." She glanced down and noticed the worry beginning to cloud his face. "I think today we should have some extra brown sugar on our oatmeal - what do you think?"
Her reward was immediate; the uncertainty slipped from his features, replaced by a tilted grin. Relieved, she started on the oatmeal.
After they finished eating, Martha began cleaning up the dishes. Maybe we'll go outside to play for a while, she mused. Clark's been too cooped up since winter started. Little boys need to run around.
She ran the water until it was as hot as it could get - oatmeal could be stubborn that way - then glanced at Clark, who sat fidgeting on his chair.
"Here, do you want to watch?"
A carefully neutral expression on his small face, but nothing resembling a response.
Maybe a more direct invitation, she thought wryly, and dragged a chair over to the sink. "Hop up on here and play in the water," she said, and flicked some of the cool rinse water around by way of demonstration. Clark's eyes lit up, and he padded over to join her.
Playing in the sink; one of the thousand normal little things she'd spent years convinced she'd never be able to share with a child of her own. She'd wash the dishes quickly, he'd dabble around in the rinse water - hadn't Jonathan picked up some plastic boats from that toy store in Metropolis? She remembered a pile of some sort of water toys next to the tub; maybe she should go and grab -
"Clark!" she shrieked. He was calmly standing at her side of the sink, elbowdeep in the water -- the scalding hot water, and what was she thinking? Waited so long to have a child, had begun to think they never would, promised to be the best, the very best mommy in the world, and not even three months into parenthood, she let her attention wander as her son stood next to blistering hot water? And, God, blistering, he's probably burned up to his elbows on both arms, oh, what first? Cold water or 911?
Agitated, she set Clark on the counter and turned the tap on full blast, all the way over to cold, and reached for the phone as she braced herself to look at his arms.
Which were fine.
A little more pink than usual, perhaps, but hardly any warmer to the touch than her own hands. She clasped her fingers around his wrists, frantically, turning his forearms up and down to examine the skin more closely.
Nothing. Not a single blister.
"You're all right," she whispered, relieved. Yet another not-quite-believable incident here at the Kent's, and it's not even time for lunch. Martha placed a gentle kiss on Clark's forehead, and then pulled him in for a hug, murmuring apologies into his hair.
After playing a clumsy game of catch for nearly an hour, Martha had managed to put the "sink adventure" out of her mind. This shouldn't have surprised me; didn't last week's run-in with the broken glass prove that he's a tough little guy? Really, it could be quite a relief. I won't have to spend so much time worrying about him since he doesn't really get hurt.
For a moment, she allowed herself to pity other mothers - mothers of normal kids, the women she'd been envious of for years. Thought of them hovering over their kids at the playgrounds, fretting about bruises, scrapes, broken bones. Well, she thought, not many of those worries around here.
The ball rolled to a stop at her feet, interrupting her train of thought. Martha looked over to make sure Clark was paying attention before she tossed it back, but he had decided it was time for a new game. She scanned the yard quickly, and caught a glimpse of a small elbow poking out from behind the rain barrel.
A smile carrying on her voice, she called out, "Are you hiding from me?" He stuck his dark head out from his hiding spot to nod at her vigorously, then ducked back behind the barrel.
"Oh, I see," she said, peeking over to make sure Clark noticed her walking very deliberately away from the barrel. "Gosh, I wonder where Clark went. I can't seem to find him anywhere." A few more steps and she was only yards away from the porch.
"Maybe, since I just don't know where Clark could possibly be, I should just go into the house for some cookies."
As soon as the word "cookies" passed her lips, Clark popped out of hiding, his smile so big his cheeks nearly touched his eyelashes, and started running to catch up with her.
Martha turned, intending to bend down and scoop him up when he reached her, but couldn't see him. He was just here, she thought, where could he...
Knocked off her feet, no breath in her lungs, slammed - hard - on the ground. It felt for all the world like the time in eighth grade, when she'd demanded to play football with the boys, and they hadn't cut her any slack, just tackled her as she ran.
Martha looked up, shook her head to clear it, but wait - she was a good ten feet from where she'd been standing, and how fast had he been running to move her that far?
She heard feet scuffling behind her, in the front doorway. Clark, already inside the house, who hadn't realized until now that he'd practically run over her. He looked at her, and she saw the shadows of sadness and worry settle on his face.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he cautiously crept towards her. His arms twitched as though he wanted to reach out for his mommy, but he held himself back.
He's afraid to touch me, Martha thought. He's afraid he'll hurt me.
And then she started to cry.
Martha gathered Clark in her arms and sank into her rocker. Clark, still clutching the tissue she'd used to wipe away their tears, nuzzled in closer. He pinched a tiny piece of fabric from the shoulder of her shirt and rubbed it between his thumb and index finger. Like a security blanket, she thought.
Security. And a realization hit her nearly as hard as Clark had. We're his security - I am, and Jonathan. We have to keep him safe. No one can ever know about him; how he got here, how we found him, these things he can do.
Another thought, on the heels of the first. Clark can't know why he's different. He'll know that he is different -- how could he not know? -- but we can't tell him that he's an...the word wouldn't come.
Not at first, anyhow. We can't tell him until he's old enough to understand how serious this is, how dangerous his origins could be. Besides, this is a burden far too heavy for a child to bear - even this one, she thought with an empty smile.
Martha's mind raced. Even if we treat him normally, try to raise him like a normal child, the thing of it is - he's not.
I can't just drop him at a friend's house to play for the afternoon, she thought. And all the other things she and Jonathan had just assumed would be part of their child's life. Play groups, Little League, soccer -- even just hanging around at the park with his buddies would have to be off-limits for Clark.
She shuddered just a tiny bit. Children could be so cruel; it was a clich, but it was true, and it had been since she was a child. Normally (and, oh, how she was beginning to hate that word) it would just be a matter of bruises, or hurt feelings, or skinned knees. But it wouldn't be that way with Clark.
When he got knocked down, he wouldn't scratch or bleed nearly as much as a preschooler should. Someone might notice, and how would they answer those questions?
And if Clark was playing, unattended, and lost control...Martha's imagination took over for her.
Clark, drawing with a friend. Frustrated because he's colored outside the lines, he slams down the crayon and the table splits in half.
Clark, playing Red Rover. Tags another kid on the arm and fractures it.
Clark, chasing a little girl. Yanks on her pigtail and breaks her neck.
Because, dear God, with his strength -- something like that could happen.
She shook her head again, this time almost violently. No. Nothing like that was going to happen: she wouldn't let it. Much as she wanted to, she couldn't let him have a normal childhood. Couldn't let him be a normal child.
"Because you're not," she breathed, and stroked his hair as her tears started again. "You're not, and you never will be, Clark. Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." And she rocked them both back and forth, whispering her apology to him over and over.
Clark looked up to meet her gaze. Carefully, as though he were touching delicate crystal, he extended a chubby finger to intercept a tear as it made its way down the side of her nose. Then he placed his hand flat on her face, gently stroking her cheek.
The noise, when he made it, was so soft she nearly missed it. Did he - had he said something? She leaned closer, placing her ear next to his mouth, trying to hear what it was he needed to tell her.
Still patting, trying to console her, Clark kept repeating his first word.
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