A BEND IN THE FENCE
Slowly, the smooth roads of Metropolis gave way to the thin paths of the country and even in the cocooned back of her limousine, Lillian Luthor could feel the difference. In the road, even in the air that pressed through the cracked-open tinted windows, as well as in the way that Lex suddenly clutched her arm tightly and pressed his face against her sleeve, his pale face grim -- resigned.
Lex hadn't argued with her when she suggested the trip back to Smallville, just shy of two years after the accident that nearly took his life. In fact, he didn't say a word.
He merely stared at her with those stark eyes, so much more expressive without the distraction of copper hair and petulant insistence. He was older now, older in ways she didn't like and Lillian's desperation to return her boy to something that resembled normal childhood was overwhelming -- a desire that kept her up many nights.
He had to come back to her. To her and the life that was just now forming inside, the life she now knew to be Lex's baby brother.
Lionel didn't know about the pregnancy yet. How could he -- he hadn't returned home from overseas since the day she conceived. Ten weeks along and she thought that this could finally be the turning point for all of them. Lex would have a family to love for his adult years and Lionel would have ... have that elusive something neither she nor Lex seemed to be able to give him.
Not that it was for lack of trying.
"Look, darling." She stroked Lex's small hand, which felt cold to the touch. "We're almost at the top of the road now. See the corn fields? Aren't they so pretty in June?"
He burrowed in more closely. "I want to go home."
"Papa will be there. Possibly today, I think." Dirty pool, she knew, using Lex's problematic relationship with his father as a bargaining chip but she needed this closure. Lex needed this closure. "And he's always so grumpy and tired when he comes home from abroad after that long flight. We should let him rest for a weekend, don't you agree?"
A moment of hesitation, then ... "Yeah."
Wonderful example I am, she thought with an inner sigh. As manipulative as Lionel ever was when it suited. "We'll have a lovely time," she said, feigning a cheeriness she didn't feel. "We'll ride our horses and play hide-and-seek in the castle and I promise, we're going to eat in the kitchen every meal, no matter what Cook thinks. Do you like the sound of that, Alexander?"
"Yeah." A tiny bit more enthused. "Can I go in the fountain?"
Lillian laughed. "Only if you don't tell Papa. And only for one quick splash. We do have a pool in the building, sweetheart."
"I like the fountain," Lex insisted, with the conviction of someone who liked breaking rules more than anything else.
She bent down and touched her lips to the smooth, cool skin of his scalp where the doctors -- so many doctors --said no hair would ever grow again. "Then you'll play in the fountain," she whispered.
Lex looked up at her and smiled. Such an honest look of love and happiness and Lillian was quite sure her heart was breaking in her chest, leaving her pained and short of breath.
It only hurts when you love, she thought sadly, pulling her son close to her.
And my darling baby ... both my babies ... I love you so much.
Of course, Lex leapt into the fountain upon the moment of their arrival, shocking the servants who came out to greet them and leaving Lillian to squeeze her eyes shut against the familiar throb of a migraine headache.
"But you said I could," he exclaimed, as she pulled him inside the mansion, dripping wet, his best blazer and brand-new pants ruined.
Lillian didn't bother grumbling a reply before plopping him into a quickly drawn bath and digging through his bags for a new outfit.
"I don't like those and I'm not going to wear them," Lex said loftily when she came in the bathroom carrying his old pants and an inexpensive pullover. Sitting against the marble, casually playing with the soap bubbles, he looked very much like a tiny Napoleon, ordering Josephine to get him a bigger bowl of bouillabaisse.
Fortunately, Lillian had played the role of empress for the better part of her thirty-eight years. "I beg your pardon, Alexander Joseph?" she asked frostily, accompanied by a meaningful look. "I don't think I heard you correctly."
Two seconds later, Lex was scrambling out of the tub and into his clothes, laughing nervously. "I was only kidding, Mama."
"Of course you were." She leaned down and playfully nuzzled Lex's warm, sweet-smelling cheek. "Now go outside and play and if you go into that fountain again, we're going to work on your Latin conjugations all night long. I promise you, Alexander."
"Yes, Mama," he said, zipping from the humid room with surprising speed.
Lillian shook her head with a chuckle. Called in the maid to help her sort through the luggage and tried to catch up on their news of the day, asking about the scenery and the local events, if there were any.
"Nothing here but the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, " said the maid, brushing tufts of dust from the hangers before handing them over. "It's very quiet."
Farmer's Market. Lex certainly wouldn't have very much fun there. "Aren't there any playgrounds or parks?"
"Heavens no," the maid laughed. "The whole world out here is a park, Mrs. Luthor."
Lillian couldn't argue with that. Civilization was the exception to the rule in the farmland. "Do other children go to the Market?" She draped Lex's favorite black jacket over the hanger with care. It was leather and made him look all too grown up.
The maid nodded. "It's the biggest weekly social event after church, I'd say."
"Then I guess it's off to the Market we go," said Lillian cheerfully. "But in the meantime, we'll have to make our fun here. Do me a favor and ask Cook to bake a big batch of cookies. Something to last the entire weekend and very sweet. Also, my son and I will be eating in the kitchen while we're here, so leave the silver and china alone. The everyday dishes are fine."
The maid looked surprised. "Certainly, Mrs. Luthor, but the cook has already planned an extensive menu with the sommelier -- he has the wines all picked out."
"That's too bad," Lillian replied lightly, patting the girl's arm. "Because there's no wine for me. And make sure you tell him to leave out any alcohol in the food and dessert as well. I don't care if it burns off, I don't want any. Not a drop."
Understanding then, bright in the maid's face and she bit her lip, eyes sparkling. She reached out and touched Lillian's hand, squeezing the fingers. "I'll make a point of telling him, don't you worry."
"Thank you." She clutched the warm hand back, suddenly happy and praying Lionel might be half as excited as this stranger was about the news of her pregnancy. With him, it was never easy to tell. "I'll be in the garden with Alexander, so tell Marguerite to hold my calls, please."
"Yes, mam'." Formal again, servant and employer, and the maid finished putting away the few items left on the bed as Lillian pulled off her restricting jacket and slipped into a light shirt and more comfortable shoes.
She stepped outside into the warm country air, watching for a moment as Lex skipped rocks on their private pond, ignoring the geese that threatened noisily on the shore, snapping and honking at him from a distance.
"Alexander," she called, plucking a bit of bachelor's button from the ground, holding it high. "I know what this is, do you?"
Lex whirled, then squinted at the flower in her hand, his brow furrowed in concentration. "Centaurea cyanus," he replied, smiling. He dropped the gathered rocks and looked around for a challenge of his own.
He found it in a bunch of Queen Anne's lace. He waved at her. "What's this?"
"Ammi majus," Lillian replied easily, already heading toward the daffodils. Still pretty and strong, so she pointed instead of plucking. "Bonus points for correct pronunciation."
Lex sniffed with admirable hauteur. "Narcissus amaryllidaceae. You'll have to do better than that, Mother." He smiled wickedly. "But it's my turn now. Here ..." He jiggled a white tulip at her, sparkling in the late spring sun.
"Tulipa ... " Lillian paused. Oh, darn it. "Tulipa liliaceae?" she tried.
"Wrong!" Lex crowed triumphantly. "You don't need the family name."
"All right, smartie," she groused. She searched around, until spying a patch of wildflowers near the fence, blue and tiny. "Try these on for size," she challenged, pulling a bunch up from the loose soil.
Lex examined them closely. "I don't even know what those are."
Lillian laughed and hugged her son close, with an arm around his shoulders. "They're forget-me-nots. Myosotis arvensis."
"Oh, those are weeds." Lex frowned. "Not fair."
"Weeds? Why, they're not weeds. They're the flowers you give to someone you'll love eternally." Lillian shook off the last bits of clinging dirt and broke the stems off above the roots, before pressing the bunch into her son's hand. "No matter what."
"Is that why they're named forget-me-nots?" Lex asked quietly, holding the flowers carefully between both hands
"Eternal love never forgets, just like I could never forget my Alexander," she said carefully. "Nor stop loving him, for any reason ... ever."
A skittish hand passed over the tender bare skin atop his head. "I love you too, Mama," he said gravely.
She straightened up and brushed the soil from her palms, beads of sweat already forming. The day was hitting its hottest point which could be brutal out there in the burning plains. "I think we need some lunch, don't you? I'm very hungry, so why don't we go inside and get some."
"I want ice cream for lunch," Lex said, a hint of whine already in his voice. "Or candy."
"No candy, and you won't even get dessert if you're not a good boy and eat right." She took up his hand and they started a brisk walk back to the mansion.
He bounced beside her, kicking up rocks as they walked. "Then just ice cream. Please, Mama?" He looked up at her and batted his lashes, still thick with hints of her own strawberry red. "Pleeeease?"
"Maybe some ice cream, but only after ..."
"Yes!" he yelled, tearing into the kitchen, already scrambling to raid the freezer. "There's chocolate and vanilla and I want both of them. With syrup! Now!"
Lillian glanced up at the sky in supplication. Yes, Mother, I got what you always wanted me to have -- a child just like me.
Are you happy now?
"Alexander, put that dish down! Food first!"
Later that evening, mother and son curled up on the big leather couch together and watched "The Wizard of Oz" on Lionel's latest acquisition; a sixty-four inch monstrosity of a television, one of the six that were installed in every one of their residences from Smallville to Paris.
The movie was winding down, with Dorothy gazing despairingly at the balloon disappearing into the skies above Oz, not knowing she wore salvation on the heels of her feet.
"So, who would you be?" Lillian asked, absently stroking Lex's cheek. "The Scarecrow or the Tin Man? I like the Scarecrow myself."
"Neither. I'd be the Wizard," Lex said. He shifted into a more comfortable position, his head resting on Lillian's knee. "And I wouldn't let them pull away the curtain. Ever."
On the screen, Dorothy was just waking up.
"But the Wizard isn't a very nice man until they expose him," said Lillian carefully. "He wasn't very likable while he was the Wizard."
Thin shoulders shrugged. "They didn't hate him. They respected him."
"They feared him," she corrected. "And no one can love someone they fear."
Another shrug, this one sleepy. "I don't care. I still want to be him." Lex turned his face against his mother's warmth and closed his eyes, until steady breathing indicated he was fast asleep, maybe dreaming about his future as the ruler of all he surveyed.
Or maybe dreaming something else entirely.
The movie ended and Lillian Luthor stared at the credits until they disappeared into a blank field of static snow.
Saturday in Smallville was a stunningly clear day, brilliant with sunshine and light summer breezes, weather so rarely seen in the city.
Lillian picked a car for herself, ignoring Lex's insistence they should take Lionel's bright red Porsche and that she let him drive it down "these silly roads that nobody ever uses."
The Mercedes sedan, that would do, and Lex pouted the entire three-mile trip. "I wouldn't drive this old thing in a parking lot," he sulked.
"I wouldn't let you drive this old thing ... even in a parking lot," she rejoined with a laugh. "Now be my good boy, will you, Alexander? Everyone here is trying to have a nice Saturday, so let's be on our very best behavior. I know what a gentleman you are when you want to be one."
"Yes, Mother." Grumpy still, but a huge streamer of red balloons distracted him. He stared curiously as brightly painted wooden signs led them to the Smallville Farmer's Market.
Lillian left the car in the parking lot, next to the muddy trucks and battered two-doors. A hand held out to Lex and they walked together up to the main pathway of stalls, hesitating at the entrance.
Lillian had made it a point not to dress down, knowing that nothing made a worse impression than pretense. Still, she grew wary at the stares she and Lex received ... such resentful, baleful looks.
"Luthors," one stall keeper whispered to another, loudly enough for her to overhear as the other one grimaced in reply.
So this was Lionel's legacy in Smallville, Lillian thought mournfully -- one of anger and mistrust and God only knew what else.
She sighed heavily. No matter. Now was the time to meet the challenge head-on.
Lillian walked directly over to the gossips, smiling. "Good morning. Beautiful day, isn't it?" She looked down and tried to absorb herself with the wares displayed -- bright flowers, long tips of asparagus, early strawberries. "I'll have to have some of this," she said, blindly reaching for something green and leafy. Basil, maybe? She had no idea. "Is it hard to grow?"
"Not really," the farmer replied, his attitude loosening up, just a little. "It's all in the watering."
A bit more small talk and Lillian felt she was making a real headway, going from booth to booth, when she felt a hard tug on her jacket.
Lillian looked down, expecting nothing more than an impatient Lex. But Lex wasn't there, he wasn't anywhere in sight and the hand that insisted on her attention belonged to a little boy, perhaps five or six years old, with tousled brown hair and bright hazel eyes.
He was practically hopping as he tugged and Lillian could have sworn she heard stitches rip. "My goodness, dear, what is it?"
He pointed a little finger at the row of parked trucks, behind a line of empty stalls. "Fight! Hurry!"
Lillian's heart sank. Alexander. She dropped her purchases and ran through the dirt and muddy holes, the little boy leading her by the hand and running surprisingly fast, keeping up with her the entire time.
She heard the fight before she saw it: a scuffling heap of boys, some of them close to twice the size of her slender son and she waded into the flailing pile of fists and bodies, looking for something recognizable, not even feeling the incidental blows that pummeled her.
A bit of leather jacket, near the bottom of the heap and Lillian quickly pulled her son out from the fray, stumbling backwards in her haste to get him safe and away.
Lex was bleeding from his upper lip and the trickle was already dripping from his chin, terrifying her. He stared off into the distance, expressionless, as Lillian ripped through her purse, cursing her lack of tissues.
The little boy was still there beside them, eyes huge with concern. He awkwardly dug into the pocket of his overalls, and blessedly, pulled out a clean handkerchief for her to use on Lex's cut mouth.
Thankfully, the gash wasn't deep, but she could tell there would be a scar. "What happened, sweetheart?" she asked, gingerly patting the cloth against his lip with a trembling touch.
"Nothing," he said coldly.
"It must have been something," she insisted. "Who are those boys and what did they say?"
"They're nobody," he spat venomously, his teeth bloody. "And they said nothing."
"Alexander, please," she begged, wincing at the hatred in his voice. "I know you're upset, but ..."
"I said, they're NOTHING," he snarled, raw rage twisting his handsome face into something unrecognizable, even to his own mother. "They were born nothing and they'll die nothing and I hope it's sooner rather than later."
Shaken, Lillian rose and took tight hold of his hand. "All right, that's enough, Alexander," she said, shivering. "Come, we're leaving now."
Quickly, Lillian pushed through the gathered crowd, her head held high. To hell with them then, these good and fine people of Smallville, she thought bitterly. Let them have their hatred and jealousy, I still have my son.
Her throat caught, but she swallowed past the thick lump.
I still have my son, damn you all.
Lillian rested on the southern veranda, staring off in the direction Lex had run off toward earlier, refusing to speak to her.
The best of motherly intentions and the road to Hell still loomed ahead, its path slippery and beckoning. She shouldn't have brought Lex here, shouldn't have hoped for the best, she shouldn't have ....
Surprised, she turned around at the sound of Lex's voice, more cheerful than it had sounded since the moment of their arrival.
"Look what I found!" Lex said running toward her, pulling a very muddy creature along behind him. It was too small for a hunting hound, too large to be a gopher and Lillian peered in for a closer look.
It was a little boy, the little boy from the Farmer's Market to be precise.
Lillian was astonished. The market was miles away and the child's poor parents, they must be in a complete panic by the time it took him to steal away and get to the castle.
"Lex! How did he get here?"
"I dunno." Lex shrugged. "Look at how dirty he is," he said admiringly. "Can I roll in the mud with him?"
"No!" Lillian replied quickly. She smiled at the little boy with what she hoped was a soothing grin. "Let's see if we can find out who you are." A quick turn down of his plaid shirt collar solved the mystery. "Clark Kent. Is that your name?"
The boy nodded happily, bits of dirt flying from his hair.
"And you wanted to see the big castle, didn't you, Clark?" Lillian asked gently. "Is that why you came here?"
He shook his head. "Nope."
Lillian was surprised. "No? Then what did you want to see?"
"Him!" Clark pointed at Lex, his smile very white against dirty cheeks and chin.
"Oh." A rush of warmth went from Lillian's cheeks straight down to her toes. The dear little thing, he wanted to be with her Lex and came all the way to the mansion to do it. "Well, all right, but we're going to have to call your Mama and Papa. They must be terribly worried about you. Lex, take Clark into the kitchen and give him some cookies and milk. I'm going to call the sheriff's office and he'll find Clark's parents for us."
Lex grabbed Clark by the hand, and ran off toward the house with a whoop. "Come on, Muddy! Follow me."
Clark happily trotted off behind him as Lillian picked up her cordless phone, dialing 911 and waiting for the clatter of a pick-up. "Ethan?" she said. "This is Lillian Luthor."
"How can I help you, Mrs. Luthor? Everything all right?"
"Mostly, except we have a little boy on the premises who doesn't belong to us. He seems to have wandered in from the Farmer's Market."
"Huh. That wouldn't be Clark Kent, would it?"
Lillian blinked. "How did you know?"
"Our Clark's a little lightning bolt, according to his mother. Third time he's run off this year. I was going to suggest a leash, but ... " He sighed. "I'll go find Martha and Jonathan for you. They're good people. He's just a handful, I'm afraid."
Lillian bit her lip against the laughter bubbling up. She knew all about having a 'handful'. "I sympathize completely. Tell them he's fine and welcome to stay as long as need be."
"Will do. Thanks for calling, Mrs. Luthor. They'll be by shortly I'm sure."
Hanging up, Lillian stopped by the open door of the kitchen-side entrance, listening as Lex talked sweetly to their new charge.
"Okay, Muddy. Now open your mouth, close your eyes and you'll get a big ..."
Lillian yanked open the door and ran into the kitchen., only to see Lex preparing to place a chocolate chip cookie piled high with what appeared to be hot mustard, into the trusting mouth of the little boy sitting across from him, hazel eyes squeezed tightly shut.
"ALEXANDER!" she thundered, making him drop the cookie in surprise. Both children stared at her, wide-eyed. "What on earth do you think you're doing?"
"It's a science experiment, Mother," Lex gulped, trying to hide the other "experimental" condiments -- horseradish, catsup and chili sauce -- without success.
I will not beat my child, I will not beat my child, I will not beat my child, she chanted silently. "Alexander, I want you to take Clark outside to the garden and play as nicely with him as you would your own little brother. This means you will not perform experiments on him, you will not annoy or hurt him in any way. Do you understand what I've just said to you?"
"Yes, Mother," Lex said, scrambling down from the high stool, stretching up and hoisting Clark into his arms. "Come on, Muddy. We'll go play outside."
"I like cookie," Clark protested, but was hustled away at top speed while Lillian wearily cleared off the counter, throwing away half a dozen ruined cookies.
She kept one eye on the garden and was pleased to see Lex finally showing his sweet side. Handing Clark flower after flower, even gently pulling them from his mouth when he decided to take a taste of the brighter ones.
The kitchen clean, she snuck outside and watched as Lex tried to teach Clark the scientific names of flowers, receiving little more than a giggle in reply.
"No, it's Myosotis arvensis," Lex said, handing him a bunch of forget-me-nots.
"Mysylixpics," Clark said, pushing the stems into his nose and laughing. With an impulsive giggle, he threw his arms around Lex's waist and squeezed, causing Lex to fling his arms up in despair.
"Mother! He's stuck on me," Lex said, trying to wiggle away from the smaller boy's grasp without success.
"That's because he likes you," replied Lillian, happier than she'd been in a long, long time. Yes, someone liked her boy, someone without all the preconceived notions of "Luthor" and "billionaire's son." Liked Lex for who he was, no matter what had happened to his hair ...
There was someone in this world who cared for her son, just for what he was. Finally.
"Well, maybe he can like me a little less. Ow, you're squeezing too hard," Lex complained, but he was smiling as well. "And you're muddy too."
"Muddy!" Clark yelled, and was about to hug even tighter, when ...
"Clark! Come here!"
A man's voice, rough and sharp behind them, and Lillian whirled around to see who it was. A blond, weather-beaten man, in a plaid shirt like Clark's and Lillian took a deep breath before holding out her hand in greeting.
The man seemed decidedly uneasy, but shook the offered hand nonetheless. "My apologies, Mrs. Luthor. I'm sorry for Clark's trespassing."
"Oh, please. There was no trespassing." She reached out and ruffled Clark's hair, a gesture which made his father shuffle uncomfortably on his feet. "We were just concerned that you and Mrs. Kent would be worried. Clark's quite the adventurer it seems."
She peered down the driveway and in the distance, saw a blue truck with a red-haired woman standing next to it, nervously rapping the door with her knuckles. "Won't you and Mrs. Kent come inside for some lunch? Lex and I would enjoy your company very much."
"Thank you, but no," he said brusquely. "We're in a hurry. Clark! Stop that!" Sharp voice again, as Clark was holding Lex's hand and trying to pull him along toward the truck, probably to meet his mother. "Leave that boy be."
That boy. That Luthor boy.
Lex held back, old enough to know that tone of voice wasn't a welcoming sign. He disentangled himself from Clark's grasp quickly, the cold mask falling over his features once more, the hurt obvious.
Lillian felt her chest tighten brutally and suddenly knew why mother bears chased those who threatened their cubs until one or both of them collapsed. "Very well then, Mr. Kent. Best be on your way," she said crisply. She leaned in close to Clark. "Thank you for visiting, sweetheart. Hopefully, one day, you'll come by and see us again when you're a little older."
"I don't think that'll ever happen, Mrs. Luthor. Have a good day," Clark's father acidly interjected, before scooping the boy in his arms and taking off with him back to the truck.
Clark stared over his father's shoulders and waved to them with sad little shakes of a dirty hand, the bunch of forget-me-nots still clutched in the other, until he was bundled into the rumbling truck and it disappeared, down the winding driveway, onto the road beyond.
Lex leaned against his mother and soon, Lillian could hear the raggedness of his breathing. "I want to go home." No pretense at calm, nothing but tears in his voice. "Please, Mama ..."
"Yes, Alexander. We'll go home," she said numbly. "Papa will be glad to see us, I'm sure."
Lex's face was hot and wet against her arm and she refused to join him in crying.
She was a Luthor after all.
They were packed and ready to leave in less than an hour.
The servants were left behind to gossip as they would and Lillian's demeanor did nothing to quash their talking. Let them tremble from here to Metropolis, she thought furiously, her jaw tight as she strode to the limousine, Lex already warmly ensconced inside.
She turned to give instructions to the driver, when she noticed something amiss about the southern fence, less than a dozen yards away.
Curiosity took precedence over anger, and she walked over to examine it, marveling at what appeared to be solid steel bent apart almost exactly in the shape and height of a child.
"What is this?" she asked the groundskeeper, who'd run quickly to her side and looked as befuddled as she felt.
"I ... I don't know," he replied, scratching his head. "But we'll fix it, Mrs. Luthor."
Dear God. It was almost exactly in the shape of a small child. "Yes, fix it," she murmured.
"Right away, Mrs. Luthor," he said, scurrying off for his tools and leaving her there to stare and ponder.
Soon, anger was replaced by wonder. "Bends in the fence happen; happen more often than we realize" she said, to no one in particular. "And I suppose there's no stopping them."
She smiled, and there was an edge of laughter to her voice as she touched a hand to her womb, then to her heart, still full of life ... full of hope. Hope for her and her Alexander. "No, there's no stopping them -- not at all."
Also, why not join
Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?