Disclaimer: If they were mine, the rift would be thwarted with chocolate chip cookies and kisses.
A/N: Written for the Neil Gaiman Title Challenge (http://ximeriaslair.sinfree.net/ngtc.htm) Thank you to Ximeria and Shelley for looking it over.
It might be strange; Martha, Metropolis-raised, rules with such confidence over her domicile. She's sure the city-set she was born and raised with would be surprised. Her own mother avoided the kitchen whenever possible. Yet, marrying Jonathan and settling into the role of a farmer's wife suits Martha like nothing else ever would. And it's in the kitchen where she's found the root to her power. When Martha cooks, she's got the upper hand over her family. There's rarely been a situation that they haven't been able to talk through over one of her famous dinners, a problem she's not been able to take care of over a piece of apple pie.
With Clark, each new trauma is always solved with persistence and a plate of home-baked cookies.
When Clark was five and in kindergarten, he was sent home for pushing a boy down at school. Somehow the batch of peanut butter cookies Martha had baked helped to ease the sting of the lecture Jonathan delivered. At ten, when he wasn't allowed to try out for the baseball team because Jonathan was afraid he'd hurt someone, Martha had him help her bake for the first time, sugar cookies that they'd decorated together. And at fifteen, when Lana Lang didn't notice her beautiful boy, oatmeal raisin cookies became part of the daily staple.
Now at seventeen, as Clark sat upstairs brooding, hurt in that way that Martha knows from her youth as the heartbreak of young love, Martha calls out the big guns. Chocolate chip cookies.
She wonders idly who it is that left her son so bereft. Lana again? Chloe perhaps? Someone new? But the truth is, when he enters she's not really surprised.
A tiny shuffle of feet at the door, hands instinctively tucking into his coat pocket, his gaze skitters around the entire room before finally settling on her face. "Hello, Mrs. Kent. Is Clark around?"
"Upstairs." She motions for him to come inside.
"Oh...um..." he looks nervously at the stairs leading up to the second level of the house as though he's not sure how to proceed. Lex has never looked so ill at ease.
"You two had a fight," she states simply, shock not really entering her voice. It makes sense, now that she allows herself to really reflect on it. It has always been Lex. Ever since his entry into their lives two years ago, it has always been Lex that gets under Clark's skin. And part of her has always known that it was more than simple friendship, even though she wouldn't let herself examine their relationship too closely.
She wonders if she should be upset. Jonathan certainly will be. He'll see this as one more ever-present danger in Clark's life, one more threat to his secrets. But Martha's more concerned about how this secret will once again separate Clark from the rest of his peers. It's hard enough being a teenage alien, but a teenage gay alien. The fact that he's involved with a man doesn't really bother her. When she'd prayed for a child, she told herself she'd take one however it came. This is just one more part of her son to love, and she loves all of him. Has loved all of him since his pod crashed in front of them.
"Yes, I came to apologize," he replies.
She lifts her eyebrows at that. It's not often that a Luthor apologizes, but then, she thinks, Lex has always been more than his name. She takes in his nervous posture, hands he doesn't seem to know quite what to do with, tense body. He appears more out of sorts than in any crisis, and, this being Smallville, there's one just about every week.
"You're just not sure how to go about it," she guesses. His eyes widen with something like denial but then he nods and gives a resigned sigh. Martha motions with her head to the empty stool by the counter while she measures flour. "Lex, fights happen. If it's any consolation, Clark's not the type to hold a grudge."
"I know." He runs his hand over his head. "This is all my fault."
She smiles. "I don't know Lex. It's been my experience that it generally takes two people to start a fight."
"I just don't want him to stay angry at me," he confesses, and suddenly, Martha is more aware than she's ever been that even if Lex is the twenty-three year old billionaire next door, in essence Lex is a boy not that much older than her own son. A boy worried about a relationship. She remembers Jonathan after their first fight, anxiously appearing at her dorm room door, flowers in hand, trying to find the words to apologize. He had the same look on his face that Lex does now.
"Lex..." she begins before reminding herself that this isn't something that she can fix. This is between the two of them and neither Clark nor Lex have come to her and asked for her help. Part of being a mother to a teenage boy is learning when to stay out of it. But on the other hand, she's well aware that Lex is sitting here, trying to delay the inevitable. And until he gathers his courage, she can put him to use.
"Lex, could you help me out here?"
"What?" he seems surprised but does not hesitate to come around the island, to her side. He does have impeccable manners.
"Yes, of course. What do you need me to do?"
"The bowl." She motions towards the shelf above her and he reaches up for her. "No not that one...yes that one." He brings it down and hands it to her.
"Great, grab a couple of eggs from the fridge." And soon, he's helping as though baking duty was protocol for heads of corporations.
"You should probably wear an apron," she mentions while he's measuring vanilla extract with scientific precision. He shrugs but does not protest when she slips a red and white checked apron over his head. Minutes later, he's armed with a whisk to blend all the ingredients together.
"You follow directions well," she comments.
"Thank you. My mother-um, when she was alive, she liked to bake."
"Lillian? I'm surprised."
"Every year for my birthday, we'd bake a cake together." His eyes soften, remembering fond memories. It's very easy for Martha to picture him as a little boy. "It was a private one. My father insisted on having my birthdays as corporate dinner parties, with fancy cakes. I never liked those. So when he was at the office, my mother and I would bake one together that was just mine. Until she got sick..." His voice goes quiet. In the two years that she has known Lex, he has rarely mentioned his mother. References to his father are made often, snide remarks that attempt to mask the hurt. But she knows his mother's memories have always remained precious and is honored that he chooses to share them with her. She imagines who Clark would be without her, imagines not being able to watch him grow up. She imagines her son being raised by Lionel Luthor. It's a scary thought.
"So what kind of cake do you like, Lex?"
He seems taken aback by her question, as though no one's asked him what he likes in ages. Then again, Martha considers the fact that he's probably been served by hired help most of his life. They probably never bothered to ask him what he likes and Lex doesn't volunteer personal information. "Me? Well, we'd always bake a chocolate cake with vanilla icing. I was in charge of the sprinkles." He cracks a small smile, and she smiles in return. She resists the urge to hug him, knowing he's a boy that never had his decent share of hugs growing up. She looks instead at the dough he's mixed.
"Oh, that looks good, Lex. Now just add the chocolate chips."
"Two and a half. My boys have a bit of a sweet tooth." She winks conspiratorially. He laughs as he does what he's told. The sight amazes her. Lex, laughing genuinely, exudes a charm that would melt anyone's heart. Apparently she is not the only one who thinks so.
"Lex?" Clark stands at the entrance to the kitchen, staring incredulously at his friend and mother sharing a chuckle. "What are you doing?"
Lex looks up, obviously unsure as to how to respond so Martha does it for him.
"What does it look like? He's helping me bake." She turns and continues to give instructions to Lex as though it were the most normal thing in the world to have the local multi-millionaire and town-pariah helping out in the kitchen. "Here, honey, I'll show you a trick. See, I use the ice cream scoop to drop the cookies on the sheet. This way they come out perfectly round." Lex nods as he follows her instructions.
Clark is still staring at them, not quite sure how to handle the situation, but seemingly going along with it for the moment. He drops into a seat at the counter, dips his finger into the dough and is promptly rapped by an ice cream scoop on his knuckles for his trouble.
"You hit me," he accuses, looking stunned.
"You're not supposed to eat raw dough," Lex explains, in the same matter of fact tone that he discusses Greek philosophy and Biochemistry. Martha has to hide her face behind an apron to keep from laughing.
"But..." Clark pouts.
"But nothing, Clark," Martha interjects. "Lex is right."
Clark growls, annoyance at being outnumbered apparent on his face. Lex smiles sweetly back at him.
"Okay," Martha says, aware of the undercurrent between the boys. "I think I can handle the rest of this, Lex. Why don't you boys go talk?" They regard her rather guiltily. "Be back in fifteen minutes and there'll be warm cookies."
They nod and head toward the barn. They are only gone for a few minutes when Martha starts to worry. She likes Lex, but can she trust him? He is older than Clark and comes from a world that operates at a much faster speed than Clark is used to. And Clark has secrets to protect. Lex is not the sort of man who would let someone he is involved with keep secrets from him. What had they been fighting about to begin with?
The oven timer dings.
"Clark, I'm sorry."
"Lex, I'm sorry."
The words are uttered at the same time and no sooner than they are said, both boys are in each other's arms kissing. Lex is pinned against the wall of the barn, Clark caressing his face.
"So, no more trying to set me up with Lana?"
"Clark, I'm sorry. I just didn't want you to regret missing out on a chance. Regret being so young and---" Clark's hand clasps over his mouth, interrupting his speech.
"Lex," he begins patiently, as though this is a conversation that he's gone through before. "I love you. I don't want anyone else. You love me too, so I don't understand why you keep pushing me away. Or at least I thought you did." He suddenly sounds very hurt and very young. "You said it first."
Now it's Lex who is soothing Clark with gentle caresses. "Of course I do, baby. I do love you. Clark, you never have to doubt that. I've never loved anyone else in my entire life."
"Clark, you're seventeen." His fingers tap against Clark's lips to stop the obvious interruption. "You're seventeen. You've got your whole life ahead of you. I don't want you to look back and regret this someday. Regret that you didn't go out with your childhood crush. Regret that you spent your youth stuck in a relationship that you couldn't tell anyone about."
"Lex, whatever happens, this has been my choice. Stop deciding what's best for me. That's my job."
"You're telling me that you don't want this. Want someone you can bring home to your parents? Someone who could come over to dinner, and talk to your father and enjoy your mother's cookies and..."
"Yes, I want all that. I just want it with you."
"I want that too, Clark. I just..."
"It would be that easy for you? To give me up?" The question is asked calmly, but the fear behind it is apparent. Lex closes his eyes, leans forward and buries his face in the crook of Clark's neck as though the answer would cost him far too much.
A sigh of relief from Clark, and Martha realizes that she wasn't the only one holding her breath. It's strange watching them like this. Strange knowing that there is a part of Clark's life that she hasn't really been privy to. That there are thoughts and fears that he hasn't talked over with her. And it worries her that maybe she doesn't know her son as well as she'd like.
"Then don't push me away," Clark whispers, before claiming Lex's lips for another kiss. The moment intensifies and Martha suddenly feels awkward watching her son from the doorway of the barn. She turns to leave when it occurs to her. She would certainly never leave Chloe or Lana or any other girl there alone to make out with Clark while she's back in the house. And damned if she's going to leave Lex there, secret or no secret.
She backs up a few paces, gives them a minute, and then in a slightly too-loud voice calls out, "Oh, boys. Cookies are ready." Both of them appear almost immediately and Martha pretends not to notice that Lex's lips look bruised and his shirt is a little rumpled. Sometimes part of being a mother to a teenage boy is learning when to turn a blind eye.
A half hour later, both boys are seated at the kitchen table with a platter of rapidly disappearing chocolate chip cookies and half-finished glasses of milk. Occasional snippets of conversation flutter up to Martha, odd mixes of Simpsons references with discussions on Greek mythology. But what Martha notices most is the happiness in their voices, as though simple words could be an act of love between them. Looking at them now, Martha is stunned that there was a time she actually thought they were just friends.
Of course, Jonathan doesn't know. But then again, Jonathan has yet to give Lex a chance to be anything but Lionel Luthor's son. She thinks of this and frowns. Clark is obviously in love. Yet Clark is keeping this a secret from them because he doesn't think that they'll approve. And Clark and Lex fought because Lex doesn't want Clark to be forced to keep secrets from his family. Lex wants Clark to have someone he can share with his family over meals and holidays. Martha wants someone that loves Clark for who he is, someone who's there for the long haul, ready to deal with the daily traumas whether it's with chocolate chip cookies, or with the comfort of a friend and lover.
Clark just wants Lex.
The chiming of the clock lets her know that it's almost time for Jonathan to be home. Apparently she's not the only one who realizes this, Martha acknowledges, seeing Lex eye the clock with a faint frown. He pulls himself together and begins to rise out of his chair. Clark follows Lex's glance and his face, too, looks resigned. Martha is definitely not happy with any of this.
But, like any crisis, she's sure they can come through this together as a family. It's all about first steps.
"Lex," she begins.
"Yes, Mrs. Kent?" he asks politely.
"Can you help Clark set the table for dinner? Jonathan will be home soon."
"Mom?" She is a little ashamed by the obvious surprise on both their faces. Clark and Lex have been friends for over two years now and she realizes she's never invited him over for dinner. Clark's other friends practically have assigned seats at the table. It's no wonder Lex doesn't feel like he has a place in Clark's life. But it's obvious his place is by Clark's side, and Martha is not about to dispute that. Not when she's sure that it would pretty much rip Clark out of their lives. From now on, Lex will always have a place at this table.
"You can stay, can't you, Lex?" she says, in a tone that lets him know she's not taking no for an answer.
"Yes, I'd love to." He nods in agreement, smiling as he and Clark start pulling down plates and glasses.
Martha watches the man who loves her son. He might not be the person she would have picked, and it doesn't look like grandchildren are in her future, but they look good together. They fit. And now Martha's got two boys. She can deal with that.
Maybe next week she'll bake a cake. Chocolate with vanilla icing.
She wonders if Lex would want to help with the sprinkles.
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