NOTE: I wrote this story in January, and it's already practically Jossed beyond repair, but it's only going to get worse, so I'm putting it up anyhow.
What Child is This
In the "Smallville" episode "Ryan" they implied that something's up with Martha. Some people, including me, immediately jumped to the conclusion that she must be pregnant. Then I got this notion, and I have to write it down quickly before the new episodes start, and they tell us what's really happening. Thanks to BeresfordLane, who answered all my questions about first season episodes I hadn't seen. "Smallville" is owned by DC Comics, the WB, Millar & Gough, Tollin & Robbins, and possibly some other people. I don't own any of these characters. I'm just fooling around. Please don't sue.
It was the worst winter Smallville had seen in a hundred years.
"Maybe not the best time to be pregnant," Martha reflected. Especially if you were pushing menopause, hard. Especially if you'd lost three babies before. Especially if your nearest neighbor (now that Nell had moved to Metropolis, and no one had yet rented her house) was a mile and a half away.
They hadn't seen the sun for weeks, but she knew her family was well prepared for the season. They had all the firewood anyone could ever need, thanks to Clark. Jonathan had the generator humming like a top. She herself had preserved enough food to last two normal winters last fall, despite working for Lionel. Thank goodness for the nesting instinct.
Martha was doing her best to stay hopeful, no, confident that this time everything would be fine. After all, she was strong and healthy. This pregnancy had been so easy so far, and she was farther along now than she'd ever been before. She couldn't be absolutely certain, but she thought she'd even felt her little one kick a couple of times.
Jonathan wouldn't come right out and say it, but she could tell that he was resigned to losing this baby. Clark was working hard at school and at home, being as good as gold all the time now, and obviously doing his darndest to not think about it at all. Lionel was very quietly freaking out, which was rather unnerving. He was careful and soft-spoken and worried about her, in what Martha privately considered to be a rather unprofessional manner. She really didn't want to know what chords she was striking in him. Most of her friends in town were the same, to a lesser degree -- walking on eggshells. It seemed as if Lex might be the only person she knew who was acting exactly the same as he always had. She'd never thought she'd be grateful for that boy's protective masks.
Jonathan let a blast of cold air and a light dusting of snow into the warm kitchen when he stamped his way inside. "Good afternoon, beautiful," he said, and kissed her. "Stock's all squared away. Looks like it'll be one heck of a storm."
"I wonder why Clark's not home yet. The radio said everything was closing down. They must have let the school kids out by now," Martha fretted.
"At least we don't need to worry about Clark."
"That's true. Thank heaven we don't need to worry about Clark."
There had been two blizzards already this winter, and Clark had learned that his new x-ray vision made a huge difference. He could run in a blizzard. He was the only person in town who could move about freely during an absolute whiteout. Naturally, that made him feel responsible for the safety of everybody in Smallville. He saved a couple of people and a lot of livestock during the first big storm of the season, which had come on more quickly than expected. The second had found them better prepared all over, but Clark still patrolled and salvaged a few cattle over on the Merrit's place. As soon as school let out in anticipation of this, the third blizzard of the year, Clark started making his plans for the protection of his town. He checked on all the businesses in Smallville's little commercial district, helping Mrs. Fordman with her windows and seeing her home before speeding back to check on his mom.
Winter was shaping up to be his favorite season, now that he couldn't get stuck inside for days on end. He could do anything. No one could see. It was a brand new kind of freedom, and he loved it. If only he weren't so worried about Mom and the baby, everything would be perfect.
The weather closed in like a shroud, Lionel thought. He couldn't see it, the first winter of his blindness, but he was learning the sounds and the feelings. What the hell had ever possessed him to stay in Smallville for this? Metropolis would be bad enough, but at least it was civilization. Living with Lex had been a bad idea. The boy's emotionalism was contaminating him, but he was all Lionel had left. And that was a flawed thought in itself. Hiring Martha had been a bad idea, weakened as he was by blindness and lameness and proximity to his son. She was too much like Lillian.
Lionel couldn't even remember what Martha Kent looked like. He'd probably never said two words to her before he'd lost his sight, and those would have been in 1989, just after the meteor storm. He hadn't exactly been at his best. All he really remembered was red hair, and so it was not perhaps surprising that, now in the darkness, he kept picturing Martha Kent with Lillian's face.
Knowing she was pregnant, that she'd had trouble in pregnancy before -- the winter closing in like hell and death -- Lionel had sent Martha home at ten a.m. that morning, hours before the storm was supposed to strike. He'd insisted that she call to let him know she'd gotten home safely. He'd waited for that call, and felt unspeakably relieved when he'd heard the telephone ring.
At five p.m. the phones and power went out. The generator kicked in, just as it was supposed to do. Say what you like about Lex, he hired competent people. The cell and land lines were both dead. The blizzard howled outside.
Lionel couldn't stop himself thinking that the next thing he heard of Martha would be an announcement of her death.
They'd been shut in for two days before trouble hit. The failure of the phones and the electricity didn't count as trouble; the Kents were perfectly able to do without those little luxuries. Even before Clark and his secrets had come into Jonathan and Martha's life, they'd been known as "the reclusive Kents." Self-sufficient was more a description than a goal. In the mornings Jonathan and Clark tended to the stock and the generator, brought firewood into the kitchen, talked and joked and pretended they weren't worried. Martha stirred up the fires, tended the lamps, cooked breakfast, and wished she were at least a little morning sick -- she'd read that women who were morning sick had far fewer miscarriages. It was strange to be wishing she were nauseous. When the winter-reduced chores of the farm were done, Martha would curl up on the sofa with the baby books she'd had for twenty years, studying up on the skills she'd never quite needed. Jonathan would nervously wander all over the house and barn, checking on everything, turning on and off the battery-powered radio, picking up and then putting down book after book. Clark would put on a token jacket and go out, bidding his parents a cheerful good-bye and then blithely speeding off into the ferocious wind and snow to check on his friends and the other people in the town and outlying farms.
X-ray vision and super speed made Smallville into one big soap opera for Clark's amusement. Pete and his brothers were squabbling over a board game, while Judge Ross and her husband were in the back room -- yikes! Clark quickly averted his eyes. No wonder they had so many children. Gabe Sullivan was building a model airplane at his kitchen table, and Chloe and Lana were applying fingernail polish and giggling about something. Clark hoped it wasn't him. Mrs. Fordman was writing a letter. She looked tired. Clark zipped all over town, then zoomed around the farm roads giving each place a cursory look-see and saving the Luthors for last. Everybody seemed fine today. He hoped Lex and Lionel hadn't murdered each other.
They had electricity; Lex's generator must be doing all right. Mrs. Digman was in the kitchen, chopping up vegetables. Clark was glad Lex had found somebody reliable to take care of him after the Palmers had gone. It was a weird thought, though. Shouldn't a grown man be able to take care of himself? But Clark knew they needed a housekeeper, at least, to run things at the castle, and cook for them. Where was Lex? In his office, of course, working on the laptop. Nothing unusual there. And where was Lionel? Clark looked for a long time before finding him, still in bed? It was the middle of the afternoon! Maybe the cold weather was bothering his bad leg.
Clark wished he could just go in, like he would if it were a normal day, and distract Lex from his work. It would be fun to shoot some pool or just chat awhile. That wasn't possible, though. This new liberty he had didn't stretch that far. Oh, well. He could go see everybody for real after the storm was over.
Clark made his way home through the roaring rushing storm. He was careful with the door and let hardly any of the blizzard inside. There was no one in the kitchen.
"Mom! Dad! I'm home," Clark called.
"We're up here, son!" Jonathan answered. His voice sounded strained.
Clark bounded up the stairs to his parents' room. "What's up?" he asked, then stopped dead in the doorway. Mom was lying in the bed on her side. Dad had her tucked in and was holding her hands. She was shivering. Clark could smell blood. His heart froze. "What's wrong?"
Mom's eyes were screwed shut. She didn't answer him. It seemed like a long time before Dad slowly said, "We're losing the baby."
"I'm afraid so, son." The look Jonathan gave him was bleak. He turned back to his wife and stroked her hair back from her face.
Clark swallowed hard. He stayed standing in the doorway, and tried to make his voice calm before he spoke. "There must be something we can do. What can we do?"
"Nothing. Just have to let Nature take its course."
"We should get her to the hospital!"
"Not in this. Nothing they could do anyhow."
"I could run her there!"
"She'd freeze to death before you got halfway."
"There has to be something!"
"There's not," Dad whispered.
Mom started to cry, very softly.
Clark got an idea. It was probably a terrible idea, but no one else was going to do anything! He disappeared from the doorway and was back in a flash with the little lead box full of meteorite rocks. Dad and Pete had hidden it from him in the attic after that time his class ring had driven him insane, but it had only taken two days to find the box once he'd started looking. He snatched Mom carefully up from the bed, being sure to keep her warmly wrapped up, and whisked her out of the room before Dad could even speak.
Down to the basement as fast as thought, and Clark carefully set his mother down on the concrete floor next to the generator. She gasped, "Clark, what on earth?"
"Shh, Mom. It'll be all right." Clark opened the lead box and, trying not to touch the rocks, carefully put them on his mother's abdomen. Then he took a deep breath and grabbed for the electrical contact with one hand and the meteor rocks on his mother's body with the other. The current jolted through them, and Clark was thrown across the room to slam into the basement wall.
Jonathan Kent came thundering down the stairs to find his wife, hale and hearty, bending over his unconscious son. "Martha?" he breathed.
"Help me with Clark," Martha said. She effortlessly turned her big son over onto his back and started to straighten his limbs, then hissed when she touched the green rocks convulsively clutched in his burned hand.
Jonathan took in the scene before him for a second. Then he hurried to help. "He duplicated that thing that happened with Eric," Jonathan marveled. "Here, let me." As gently as he could, he picked the meteorite fragments out of Clark's burnt palm, and carefully put them in the lead box on the floor.
Martha gingerly ran her fingers over the burn, jerking them back as if scorched. "You missed a piece," she said, and Jonathan dug it out and put it with the rest. "Let's get him to bed."
Jonathan started to hoist Clark up, but Martha stopped him. "Let me," she smiled. "You get the first aid kit." She picked Clark up easily and carried him to his room, as she hadn't done in a decade. She laid him down in his bed and tucked him in, then just looked at him for a minute, her brave, good son. It still amazed her; this tall, handsome young man was her son, and sometimes she couldn't believe how much she loved him.
His eyes fluttered open then, and "Mom?" he asked.
"Right here, sweetheart. Are you okay?"
"Are you okay?" Clark whispered back at her.
"I'm fine, Clark. I'm great." She soothed the unruly curl off his forehead, then gasped as the baby kicked like a mule.
Clark noticed and pressed, "Are you sure you're all right?"
"The baby kicked, honey, that's all. Here, feel." Martha set the back of Clark's poor burned hand on her tummy and laughed at the surprised expression he got when the baby whacked him through her abdomen. "You saved her for me," she smiled.
"Wow," Clark breathed.
"Yeah, wow," Martha smiled.
Jonathan came in with a box. He was blinking hard as he looked at his family. "Let's look at those hands, son," he said gruffly.
Martha beamed at him. "Good idea," she said. "I'll go clean up." She hugged her husband quickly as she left the room, backing off hurriedly when he grunted in pain.
"Gently, gently," came Clark's voice from the bed -- litany of his childhood.
Martha ducked away embarrassed, but Jonathan snagged her and didn't let her go. He squeezed her hard. "Hug me as hard as you want. God, when I think...." His voice broke and he stopped.
"I know. But it's fine. Thanks to Clark." She kissed him softly. "I have to go clean up. Take care of our son."
Martha washed quickly. Now that the generator was off-line, no knowing for how long, water would have to be hand-pumped, and she didn't waste it. She was glad they always had candles, and they'd been mostly using oil lamps for light anyway. She went into the bedroom and changed her clothes. Then she went to deal with the bed. It hadn't really been a pessimistic outlook that had made her put plastic sheeting over the mattress as soon as her condition had been confirmed. After all, having her waters break would be just as messy as a miscarriage. She bundled the bedclothes together and marveled at the blood. She didn't think there had been nearly that much the last time, or the time before.
Maybe Clark had saved two lives today.
Clark ached all over, except for his hands. They blazed with pain. Dad bandaged them up and gave him aspirin and a glass of water, then kissed him on the forehead and told him to sleep.
"Does aspirin even work on aliens?" he wondered, but Dad was gone before he could gather his wits to ask.
It was dark, and Clark was tired. Eventually he slept.
The blizzard lasted for another two days.
Jonathan spent most of his time in the basement, working on the generator. He couldn't quit grinning. Martha was fine. The baby was alive. Clark seemed okay, too. He slept a lot, which was probably the best thing for him. His hands weren't getting infected, which had been a secret fear of Jonathan's ever since the first time Clark had lost his powers.
Martha experimented. She was strong enough to break big logs of firewood with her hands, or to hurt Jonathan by accident. She was fast enough whip through her housecleaning in no time, or to blow out the kitchen fire by moving too fast near the stove. She couldn't be hurt by a kitchen knife or a candle flame, and she couldn't really feel the cold outside the kitchen door. The meteor rocks in Jonathan's lead box hurt and nauseated her when she opened it.
The baby kicked and thrashed around, then apparently slept, on a two-hour schedule. She (Martha always thought of the baby as a she, although she'd be perfectly happy with another son) seemed vastly stronger than she had been before.
Clark missed the school bus on the first day the roads were plowed. The power and phones came back on around lunchtime, and Martha called him in sick to school for the first time ever. He was tired and cold, and he ached all over, but he insisted on doing his fair share of the chores. Jonathan chuckled encouragingly at him, and clapped him on the back, and praised him for not whining. Clark went to bed early that day.
The next day he was up and ready in time. He caught the bus with minutes to spare. Chloe and Lana were sitting together right behind the driver. They smiled and greeted him, and he smiled back, doing his best to seem fine. Pete made room for him a few rows back, and Clark sank into the seat with a sigh.
"What's up, man? You don't look too good." Pete frowned.
"C'mon, Clark. You can tell me." Pete's voice was low and confidential. "And what happened to your hands?"
Clark was cold, and the motion of the bus was making him nauseous. He didn't want to talk. Closing his eyes helped a little.
"Clark!" Pete insisted. "What's wrong with you?"
Clark thought hard and remembered the lie he'd decided on. "Accident with the generator."
"But that wouldn't...."
Clark opened his eyes and looked at his concerned friend. "You remember Eric Summers?" Pete's smile made him feel a little better.
"Chloe's Superboy? Wait, was that...."
Clark closed his eyes again and hunched his shoulders inside his coat. He was cold. "Lightning strike by some meteor rocks on the geology field trip. That was my stuff he was doing."
"Which is how you ended up getting your ribs busted."
"So your generator...."
"It wasn't really an accident," Clark murmured. "But I don't want to talk about it." Dang it, he should be glad he'd been able to save the baby. He should be glad he'd been able to help his mom, and really, he was. Deep down, under all the cold and tiredness, he was sure he was glad. It wasn't like he'd ever wanted those freaky superpowers in the first place. He was just so tired, and he wished the sun would come out. Pete might still be talking, but after a while he stopped. Presently Clark felt someone shaking his shoulder.
"Clark. Clark, man, we're here." Pete's warm brown eyes looked very worried. Almost everybody had already left the bus.
Clark took a deep breath and shouldered his backpack. "I'm fine." He found a smile somewhere for Pete. "Don't worry. Everything's okay."
They went to school.
The winter continued, with week after week of dark, cold, and snow. Clark was up every morning well before dawn. It took him so much longer now to do his chores that he tended to over-compensate, rising even earlier than he needed to and working for hours in the dark. The worst thing wasn't how much heavier everything was, or how much more slowly he moved. It was the way he'd suddenly find himself looking at a partly-completed chore with no idea of how it had gotten to this state or how long it had been since he'd made any actual progress on it. When he'd finally finish his work, he'd go back into the house to try to finish last night's homework before leaving for school. Running home in the afternoon was no longer an option, so he had to be sure not to miss the school bus. The weather was so bad that it was usually dark already by the time he walked into the Kent family kitchen. Then he'd do the evening chores and have supper, and generally fall asleep over his homework. On the weekends he'd try to catch up what he hadn't finished during the week. Everything took so long! He was falling behind on his chores, and on his schoolwork. He had no time for his friends. Chloe and Pete left messages sometimes, but he didn't even return them.
This was harder than it looked.
The school secretary called Martha at 10:30 to come get her son. Lionel wanted to know why Jonathan couldn't do it. Martha glared silently at him, and he shut up.
At 11:00 Jonathan was out in the fields shoveling snow off the roofs of the outbuildings to prevent them collapsing when he saw the truck drive up to the house. He saw Martha help Clark out of the truck, and he made his way in to meet them as fast as he could. When he got to the kitchen, the kettle was already on, and Martha had Clark on the living room couch with a couple of quilts. She was building up the fire. "What's wrong?" Jonathan demanded.
"I'm sorry, Dad. I just. I wasn't paying attention, and they sent me home." Clark was hunched over, with the quilts pulled tightly around him. His eyes kept drifting closed, then snapping open again.
Jonathan sat down on the couch beside Clark and felt his forehead. "You're sick?" His heart sank. Couldn't this family catch a break?
"He doesn't have a fever," Martha said.
"Not an infection, then," Jonathan ventured.
"I'm just cold. It's nothing bad. I'm just cold. And tired."
"Let's get you warmed up, then," Jonathan told him with false cheer. He untied Clark's wet boots and pulled them off, then his socks. The kettle sang from the kitchen, and Martha was back in a flash with a cup of sweet milky tea. Clark held onto it with both hands.
"You don't have to worry about me."
"Sweetheart, you're our son. We get to worry about you when you're sick," Martha told him.
"I'm fine. I'll be fine."
"Of course you will," Jonathan said heartily. He gave Clark's shoulder a squeeze. "It's probably just a cold or something." He looked worriedly at his wife. She smiled at him reassuringly.
"It'll be okay. Jonathan, why don't you go on outside and finish your work. I'll call Lionel and let him know I won't be back today. It'll give him and his new assistant a chance to get to know each other, anyway. Clark, honey, drink that and lie down and get some sleep. I'll bring you some soup in a little while."
Two days later Jonathan had to go into Topeka to pick up a part for the generator. Martha still hadn't returned to the Luthors' place. She baked and fussed around Clark, kept him tucked in and gave him soup and tea. Clark continued to spend most of his time sleeping and shivering. He was mostly awake when he heard the phone ring.
His mom answered it. "Hello? I'm sorry, Lionel. No, I can't. Why can't that boy from Princeton? Lionel! You never WILL get another decent assistant if you keep firing them before they can learn anything! I'll be gone for good in another couple of months, you know. No. No. I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm not leaving Clark alone. He's sick. I know he's sixteen. I hardly think that you are in any position to tell me.... This conversation is over." She hung up.
An hour later Clark was awakened by a knock at the kitchen door. His mom answered it.
"Lex! What are you doing here?" She sounded surprised.
"Hello, Mrs. Kent. May I come in?"
"Of course, of course. I didn't mean to leave you standing out in the cold...."
Lex brushed the light dusting of snow from his immaculate topcoat and stepped into the warm kitchen. "Actually, my father asked me to come. He needs some assistance with the Parnell merger. Dwight quit in a huff last night, and apparently I'm worse than useless. I'm supposed to offer to baby-sit Clark, if that's what it will take to make you 'face up to your obligations' and come get him set up for this meeting he has tomorrow morning." Lex smiled self-deprecatingly. "He really does need you, and it seems as if I haven't seen Clark in weeks. Couldn't you please just give him a few hours, to get him through the research material Dwight dug up before he left?"
"Lex, I don't think...."
"Frankly, Mrs. Kent, I just can't stand his whining anymore. I hope you'll let me stay and visit with Clark awhile even if you won't go help Dad."
Martha laughed. Clark was glad to hear it. She'd been resolutely cheerful since he'd been sick, but she hadn't had anything to laugh about.
"Go on into the living room, Lex. I don't know whether Clark's awake or not."
Lex came into the living room. Clark looked up at him and smiled, but he could see that Lex was upset about something. About him?
"Jeeze, Clark. Are you okay? No, of course not, you're sick. I'm sorry. How are you feeling?"
"It's just a cold or something, Lex. It's nothing bad. I'm glad you came over. It's been a long time."
"Yeah, it has."
Martha came in with two cups of tea and plates of cookies. "Here you are, boys."
"Thank you, Mrs. Kent. These look delicious."
"Thanks, Mom." Clark settled the plate on his lap and cuddled the warm teacup up to his face. The steam was nice.
"How are you feeling, baby?" Martha asked.
"I'm okay, Mom. Really. There's no reason you shouldn't go in to work, especially since Lex will be here."
"Are you sure, sweetheart?"
"I'm sure, Mom. Besides, Lex's dad really needs your help. We'd all hate it if Lionel exploded or something."
Lex muttered something that sounded like, "Speak for yourself." He put a cookie in his mouth before Clark or Martha could call him on it, and they let it go.
"Maybe I should. I'll just be gone for a couple of hours."
"I promise I'll take good care of him," Lex smirked.
"Lex, you're so weird."
"Call me if anything happens?"
Martha got her coat and outdoor gear and left.
"So, Clark. What can I do for you today?"
"Nothing. I mean, it's just nice to see you again." Clark huddled down into his quilts and drank tea.
"How do you feel? Really?"
"Cold. And tired. They sent me home from school because I stopped making sense in English, and I was shivering. I guess a lot of people have been coming down with the flu -- I know Chloe and Lana had it."
Lex unexpectedly was just there, right next to him, with his hand on Clark's forehead. "Hmmm. You don't feel hot."
"No, I told you. I've been feeling cold, not hot."
"When people have a fever, they usually feel chilled. Something about the heat leaving the body. But your forehead is unusually cold. You haven't been outside in the snow today, have you? No, of course not." Lex sat down on the edge of the couch, hip pressed close to Clark's leg, and studied him. "Still, it sounds more like hypothermia than the flu. Finish your tea, and I'll get you another cup."
Clark obediently finished his drink. He was glad Lex wasn't bossing him about the cookies; he really wasn't hungry. Lex took his cup and went into the kitchen. Clark could hear him rummaging around looking for the tea; it was a little funny. He closed his eyes just for a minute.
Martha drove carefully through the afternoon gloom. The sun hadn't been out for weeks, and there was plenty of black ice on the road between Kent Organic Farm and the Luthor Mansion. As she approached the old Scottish monstrosity, she could make out a figure on the front porch. It was Lionel, peevishly tapping his way back and forth before his front door, probably waiting for either her or Lex. He wasn't dressed warmly enough, she tutted to herself. Suddenly Lionel's cane and his foot slipped on the icy stone, and he started to fall.
Time slowed for Martha. She turned off the truck ignition, unbuckled her seat belt, opened the door, ran to Lionel, and caught him, all before his head could hit the hard icy steps. She gasped, surprised at herself. Even though she knew that Clark had done this sort of thing all the time, she'd never really thought about what it must be like.
Lionel's blind eyes were wide; Martha could hear his heart pounding. "Who's there?" he asked.
Martha calmed herself with a deep breath. "It's me, Martha. You need to be more careful on these steps, Lionel."
"I didn't hear you approach." Lionel looked disturbed, but he clutched at Martha's supporting arms and let her help him to his feet.
"It's the snow, Lionel. It muffles sound. Are you okay?" She could feel his hands shaking with cold and reaction, but he nodded curtly. "Stand right here a minute; I'll get your stick."
It took far less than a minute for Martha to zoom to the truck, pick up her keys, close and lock the door, and retrieve Lionel's cane from the bottom of the steps where it had fallen. By the time she handed it to him, he had almost pulled himself together.
"Here. You should have a better coat on, you know." They went inside.
"Don't fuss, mother," Lionel snarked at her. "I hope you can make sense out of the mess that idiot left."
"He was a perfectly acceptable assistant, Lionel. What did you say to him?"
"He was a fool."
"You'll have to settle on someone soon -- Oof!" Martha stopped suddenly at the door of the office.
Lionel only continued another step before he noticed. "What's wrong?"
Martha smiled. "Nothing at all. The baby's awake." At the look on his face, she ventured, "Here, do you want to feel?" She guided her employer's chilled hand to her hard rounded belly, and laughed at his shock when the baby kicked him.
"That's... remarkable. He seems to be... very strong."
"Yes, she does," Martha replied cheerfully. "Let's go straighten out the Parnell documents, shall we?"
By the time Lex got back to the living room with two fresh mugs of tea, Clark was asleep. Lex set down the mugs and opened up his laptop. Since his father had come to live with him in the castle, he'd found that he could work just about anywhere -- the farther away from Lionel, the better. He had the fertilizer plant just about where he wanted it; Gabe could manage the day-to-day perfectly well, and profits were increasingly healthy. The Talon was a little more problematic, although not bad for such a new business, with a direct competitor in The Beanery. Lana Lang was no Gabe Sullivan, but she seemed to have a better nose for retail service than Nell had. Good thing, too -- the Potter land that Nell had sold to make ends meet was long gone. Cadmus Labs was his current project. He needed to think seriously about how to manage it, now that Hamilton had gone nuts and disappeared. That was LexCorp so far: three unrelated businesses, two of which he'd turned into profitable ventures. Not so bad for a twenty-two year-old.
The house was very quiet. The only light was supplied by the fireplace and Lex's computer screen. Presently Lex looked up and stretched his neck and noticed that Clark was looking at him. He could barely see the boy's green-blue eyes glinting at him in the dimness.
"How do you feel?" Lex asked.
Clark said nothing for a minute, just blinked a few times. Eventually he asked, "What would you have given, if you could have saved Julian?"
Lex let out a harsh breath through his nose. Oddly enough, he had given that very question a lot of painful thought when he was a broody fourteen-year-old. "I would have given my right arm."
Clark was still staring at him.
"If saving him would have given my mother even a few more years, I would have given my right arm and both legs. And an eye."
Clark blinked at him a few more times. Then he whispered, "Good."
"Why, Clark? Is this about your mom's new baby? Did you...." Clark closed his eyes, and his mouth twitched a little. Lex went on, more gently. "Did you give something up?"
"I'll tell you later. Someday when it doesn't hurt anymore." Clark sounded a little ragged.
That was new. Lex was used to bald-faced lies when Clark didn't want to address something. He stared at his friend for a while.
"That day on the bridge.... Did I hit you with my car?" Lex breathed.
He could barely see Clark's small nod.
The door banged open, and the kitchen light was turned on. Clark snuffled once, then opened his eyes and sat up. Jonathan Kent's voice came from the kitchen.
"Clark?" The boys could hear him stamping snow off his boots in the entryway.
"I'm in here, Dad. Lex is here, too," Clark called.
Jonathan came into the living room. Lex started shutting down his laptop. "I know; I saw the car. Hello, Lex."
"Good evening, Mr. Kent."
Jonathan came over and put a hand on Clark's forehead. "How you doing, son?"
"I'm okay. Lex cheered me up a lot. I think I'll go to school tomorrow."
"That's good. Where's your mom?"
"She went over to the mansion to help my father with some papers. His new assistant left last night."
Jonathan frowned. "She left you alone?"
"No, Dad. She wouldn't. That's why Lex came over."
"And I guess I should be leaving now."
Clark looked pleadingly at Jonathan; Jonathan looked back and sighed. "You don't have to do that, Lex. There's chicken pie in the refrigerator. I guess I'll just heat some up for supper if Martha's gone. You're welcome to stay."
Clark turned the pleading eyes on Lex, and he couldn't refuse. "Thank you, Mr. Kent. I'd be glad to."
Clark went back to school. The weather continued to be miserable. Being absent for almost a week had put Clark even further behind. His grades were starting to slip. It wasn't long before Principal Reynolds called him in to the office.
"Clark Kent. Come in and sit down."
"Yes, sir." Clark sat down on the hard wooden chair and put his hands in his lap. He hunched his shoulders and tried to look inconspicuous.
Principal Reynolds opened a file folder on his desk and took out some papers. "You're failing Chemistry. You are falling down on the job in all your classes, Kent. You seem to have quit the school paper. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Clark looked down at the floor. "Mrs. Richards said I could have a make-up test for the one I missed when I was sick. If I do well on it, I won't be failing Chem. anymore. Sir."
"You do realize that with no extracurricular activities and poor grades, you won't be able to get into college. What happened to your plans for a journalism career?"
Clark met Reynolds' eyes for a moment, then quickly looked down again. "That was just a dream, sir. I don't really have enough time... taking care of a farm is more work than I thought, and my dad needs me at home."
The bell rang. "Sir, may I please go now? I can't miss the bus."
"Very well, Kent, but this isn't over. I have my eye on you."
"Yes, sir." Clark grabbed his stuff and ran for the bus.
The next day was Saturday, and Clark spent the whole morning out in the vegetable plots, amending the soil. The weather had warmed up. There was no more snow, but there had been rain, or at least drizzle, every day for a couple of weeks. It was hard work, loading and unloading quantities of well-composted organic material, turning over the heavy wet soil to incorporate the additions, then doing it all over again at a different section. Ideally the work could have waited until the weather cleared, but it had to be done before spring. It was mindless and straightforward; Clark could just keep working without thinking, and that was a comfort. He didn't go in for lunch; he wasn't hungry. At about three o'clock Clark's dad came out to check on him.
Jonathan clapped Clark on the shoulder. "How's it going, son?"
Clark wiped his sweaty face with a huge filthy paw. "Pretty good. I'm about two-thirds done, I think."
"You forgot to come in and get some lunch."
"I kind of want to just get this finished."
Jonathan laughed. "Siddown, Clark. I brought you some food." He unslung a canvas bag from his shoulder and set it on the hood of the truck.
"Dad, I'm too dirty to eat. I'll come in later," Clark protested.
Jonathan held up his hand for silence. Then he pulled a wide-mouth thermos jar out of the bag. He opened it up and fished out a wet cloth. It steamed in the cold, and it smelled like lemons. He handed it to Clark. "Go ahead. Wash up."
Clark had to smile. "That's darn clever, Dad. You come up with that yourself?"
"Nope," Jonathan cheerfully admitted. He sat on the truck's bumper. When the first washrag was filthy, he handed Clark a second. "Your mother says that people used to use that trick on picnics when she was a girl. She taught it to me when she used to bring me my lunch out in the fields when we were first married." Jonathan took back the second rag and handed Clark a sandwich. "Your principal called today."
Clark almost choked. "Reynolds? What did he want?"
"He says you're flunking chemistry."
"I missed some stuff. Mrs. Richards said I could take a make-up test. I promise I won't fail it."
Jonathan squinted up at the overcast sky. "Chemistry isn't all. He says you're not putting the necessary time into your classes and you've quit the Torch, because your dad needs you at home."
"Dad, I didn't mean...."
"I know, son. Don't worry. I'm not mad at you or anything."
"It's just, I can't. I can't do half what I did before, no matter how hard I try. I'm so behind, in everything. School, and the farm.... There's so much work here, and if we lose the farm it'll be my fault...."
"Lose the farm? Clark, we're not gonna lose the farm. And even if we were, which we're not, it wouldn't be your responsibility. I'm the grown-up here; you're the kid. You've always been extremely handy around the place, and it's been nice, but we'll manage just fine with you only doing your share. You're twice the use around here that I was at your age, even now. My dad never lost this land, and his dad didn't, and I won't."
"But what about... I thought we were, you know, on the edge of financial ruin last year."
"Things were touch-and-go for a little while there, but they turned around. Your mom got that money from your granddad, and she took that job with Lionel, and started selling her baked goods all over town -- basically your mother is a genius and an angel, and we're out of debt for the first time in I don't know how long. Worst come to worst, we can feed ourselves, which is all my grampa ever tried to do out here, and with no more loans there's nothing else to worry about. Well, except the taxes. Which I think we can handle. You worry too much."
"I guess." Clark chewed on his sandwich thoughtfully.
"And I never thought I'd have to say this to a son of mine, but you work too hard. Grampa Kent was a religious man, and he had a rule that no member of the family and no hired hand was allowed to do a lick of work on Sundays. My dad wasn't quite as strict about it, and I've never held much with religion myself, but maybe Grampa had a point. You're taking tomorrow off, Clark. I don't care what you do or where you go, but you're not working the farm on Sundays anymore. And I don't want to see you home until suppertime at least two afternoons a week."
"But, dad, the bus...."
"I don't care. Help Chloe with the school paper and get her to give you a ride; she's got a car. Or go home with Pete and catch a ride home with one of the Rosses. Or come home on the bus and then run off and play at the crick or something. I can't believe I'm saying this, but son, you're just too dang responsible."
Clark finished the last of his sandwich. Jonathan handed him a bottle of milk and he drank it down in two long swallows. Then he looked at his dad and smiled. "Principal Reynolds probably didn't expect you to give me a 'You're too responsible' lecture."
"He wasn't in this town when I was a tenth-grader." Jonathan chuckled reminiscently. "I used to raise hell."
"Dad!" Clark was shocked.
"Clark!" Jonathan mocked him. "Finish up what you can before sundown, and I'll see you at suppertime."
On Sunday morning Clark slept in until six o'clock. He took a quick shower, dressed a little better than usual (no holes in the jeans, and a flannel with arms that actually reached all the way to his hands), and went downstairs to breakfast. His mother gave him a little hug -- her belly got in the way of big hugs these days -- and an apple muffin.
"Morning, sweetheart. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. Did Dad tell you about Principal Reynolds?"
"Uh huh. What are you going to do with your big day off?"
"I don't know yet. Maybe walk into town. Are you going up to the mansion today?"
"Nope. I finally got the Luthors to agree that Lionel doesn't need a hotshot young MBA for an assistant, just an intelligent middle-aged lady to read for him and nag him into doing his work. Mrs. Fordman's up there today. Pete's brother Bill made her an offer on the store, and if she and Lionel suit one another, she's going to take it. It's too much for her now that she's all by herself. Say, if you wait until I'm done with these last few batches, you can take these baked goods into town for me."
"Wouldn't that count as work?"
"It would mean you could have the truck," Martha wheedled.
Clark jumped at the chance. His driver's license was still new, and driving on roads (as opposed to on the farm) was still exciting. "We just won't tell Dad."
Martha laughed at him.
Lex was annoyed. As far as he could tell, Mrs. Fordman was just the sort of woman who'd raise her son to string guys up in fields. Of course, she and Lionel were getting along. Lex had mentioned, just mentioned, that morning that Helen was concerned because Martha kept canceling her prenatal appointments, and they'd both been on him. Lionel pointed out that Lex and Dr Bryce had "hooked up" at court-ordered anger management classes, and suggested Martha probably just didn't like her. Mrs. Fordman had chirped in that she wasn't surprised. Martha Kent had always been unconventional, with the organic farming and the home schooling and the adopting Clark from Lithuania or wherever and all, and what could you expect from a hippie? Why, she'd even made Jonathan "Mr. Meat-and-Potatoes" Kent into a vegetarian for a little while back in 1984. Lionel had chuckled, and Lex had stared. Then he just left.
Driving made him feel better, although the weather was crappy, and he had to be careful on the slippery roads. He passed through town. The Talon looked like it was doing a nice Sunday morning business. Lex noticed the Kents' truck was parked in the small lot by the back door. Clark was unloading a big box. Lex parked carefully and went over.
"Clark! Haven't seen you for a while."
Clark beamed at him. "Lex! I'm just dropping off some of Mom's muffins and stuff for your business partner."
"Ah, the lovely Miss Lang." Lex held the door open, and Clark carried the baked goods into the back of the coffee shop.
Lana was just inside the door, making coffee. "Present," she quipped. "Hi, Lex. Hi, Clark."
Lex raised an eyebrow. He felt a little peeved at being Lana's straight man like that, but Clark's genuine laugh made it all better.
"Where do you want this?" Clark asked, gesturing with the heavy box.
"Oh, just set it on the counter there. I'll put them away in a minute. You guys staying awhile?"
"Sure," Clark answered. He walked through to the main part of the cafe.
Lex shrugged and followed him.
Chloe and Pete were seated together at a four-person table in the crowded shop.
"Clark!" Chloe cried when she saw him enter. "We haven't seen you in ages!"
"I'm at school every day, Chloe."
"I know, but it still seems like you're never around. Sit here with Pete and me."
Clark looked at Lex.
"Oh, hi, Lex," Chloe said. She ignored Pete's frown and said, "Please, you can both sit with us. There aren't a lot of other tables."
"Thank you," said Lex, hiding his annoyance. Very gracious of her, considering that he owned the building. He and Clark sat down. Lana came over and took their orders. The three high-school kids started talking about school. Actually, Chloe did most of the talking. Lex watched and listened and came to a few conclusions. First, there was something wrong with Clark. He was understandably more cheerful than he'd been when he was home sick a couple of weeks before, but he was still a little off. Second, Pete knew what it was. He kept giving Clark these little worried glances, and Clark kept trying to look reassuring at him. Third, Chloe and Lana had no idea. Lana didn't seem to notice anything wrong with Clark at all. Chloe seemed like she might be trying to cheer him up.
Something was wrong with Clark. Lex's stomach twisted up at the thought. A year and a half ago, Lex had hit him with his car, and he'd been none the worse. Ten days ago, Lex had watched him shiver and sleep, cold and sick. Now there was something wrong, and Lex didn't want to contemplate what it might be.
A scream rang out from the cashier's station. A dark-haired greasy-looking boy stood by the cash register, threatening Lana with a knife. Lana's eyes were wide. She had obviously been the screamer. Two things happened almost immediately. Clark loomed up from the table and jumped at the knifeman. Chloe grabbed her cell phone and dialed 911.
Then Lana screamed again, and Pete yelled, "Clark! Don't do it, man!"
The greasy looking boy was suddenly on the floor, looking stunned, but the knife.... The knife was sticking out of Clark's shoulder. Blood was running down his arm. Clark let out a short ugly-sounding laugh. "Leastwise I can still take care of a pipsqueak with a knife." He sounded like Jonathan at his most bitter.
Pete grabbed the would-be robber and held him down. Chloe was saying, "Attempted robbery and a stabbing at the Talon. The Talon! It's right across the street from you!"
Lex went to Clark and tried to get him to sit down. Clark ignored him and pulled the knife out of his shoulder, absently wiping the blade off on his sleeve as he did so. Lex shouted at him not to do that, but it was already done. Clark's jaw was set, and his eyes looked blue and distant. He shrugged off his flannel jacket and wadded it up against the wound. Finally he let Lex push him into a chair.
Ethan came in. He saw the boy Pete still had pinned, and said, "Hey, Chuckie. You don't waste any time."
Chloe sputtered, "You know this guy?"
"Yup. He got out of County Jail yesterday. Possession of Stolen Goods. Movin' on up to Armed Robbery, Chuck?"
"And Assault with a Deadly Weapon," Lex pointed out. "Let's get you to the hospital, Clark."
"No. No hospital."
Ethan was cuffing Chuckie and reading him his rights.
"C'mon, Clark, you're bleeding here."
"No." Clark shook his head and pressed the cloth harder to his arm. "Pete, will you drive me home?"
Ethan interrupted. "Unless you're going to the hospital, you can't leave the scene of the crime until I have your statement."
"You have more than a dozen witnesses right here. You don't need me to stay."
Clark shook off Lex's restraining hand and stood up. His voice was low and dangerous. "Am I under arrest, Ethan?"
"What? No, of course not."
"Then I'm going."
"Clark, be reasonable," Lex insisted.
Clark turned on him. "You on his side, now, Lex? Like when your WIFE framed me for arson? You want me in jail?"
Lex stepped back, hurt.
"Pete!" Clark barked. "Let's go!"
Pete looked at Ethan, then at Clark. He silently went to his friend's side and got the keys to the truck. They left.
No one noticed until later that Clark had taken the weapon with him.
Jonathan patched Clark's shoulder up without comment. Martha cleaned the alien blood out of Clark's shirt, and by the time Ethan came round that evening for Clark's statement all the Kents were able to be polite and apologetic and helpful. There were plenty of witnesses, and the assailant had been in trouble with the law since the day he was born. Ethan was happy to have the knife back, even though it wasn't bloody anymore. The Clark-induced procedural irregularities shouldn't really cause any trouble. Clark looked suitably ashamed of himself, and Martha gave Ethan two pieces of pie, and all was forgiven.
Jonathan and Clark stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the porch as they watched the police car's taillights vanish down the road.
"Heck of a day off," Clark ventured.
Jonathan snorted. "Son, you just need more practice."
Clark's coffee shop heroics had been something of a nine-day wonder at school, but that was long over and the bandages were off. It would be weird to finally have a scar. He got an A- on his Chemistry make-up test, and Chloe seemed to appreciate having him back at the Torch.
The rain continued every day. Dad wasn't as worried as the big corn farmers were. The orchards would be fine, and the vegetables weren't as time-dependent a crop as most major grains.
He called Lex and apologized for snapping at him in the Talon. Lex said not to worry about it, most people got pretty testy when they were stabbed. So that was okay.
Mr. Luthor and Mrs. Fordman seemed to hit it off just fine. Good thing, too, since Mom was as big as a house and not venturing far from home much anymore. Dad wouldn't leave her alone, either, so Clark got the truck for most of the family's off-the-farm errands. He was always a careful driver, especially since visibility was always so bad.
Clark was a little concerned that his mom's abilities seemed to be fading. She sometimes tried to pick up something big and couldn't. Dad would scold her for it, and she'd laugh as if it were a joke, but Clark thought that he was seeing something real. Maybe his alien gifts weren't meant for humans. Maybe they'd just wear off.
He hoped they'd last long enough to see her safe until the baby was born.
Clark woke up early on the Sunday before Finals Week. The sun wasn't up yet. He washed and dressed and went downstairs. There was nobody there. "Mom?" he called. There was no answer.
Clark was getting nervous. He went back upstairs and stood at the door of his parents' room. There was some sort of a noise; it sounded like groaning. He knocked on the door. "Mama?" he asked.
His dad's voice came. "It's okay, Clark. Come in."
Clark opened the door. Mom was lying in the bed on her side. Dad had her tucked in and was holding her hands. Clark's heart was hammering as he asked, "What's wrong?"
Mom's eyes were closed. She was taking deep slow breaths. It seemed like a long wait before she let out one long breath and opened her eyes. She looked at Clark. "Nothing's wrong, sweetie. The baby's coming."
"Shouldn't we get you to the hospital? Or Lex knows some doctors."
Mom closed her eyes and started breathing deeply again. Dad watched her carefully and answered Clark without looking at him. "Your mother and I talked this over, son. We're not risking the hospital. Just let Nature take its course."
Martha opened her eyes and gazed at her husband. "It's not like the hospital was any use whenever I was pregnant before. And you've delivered dozens of calves." Her eyes drifted over to her son in the doorway. "Don't worry, Clark. It will be okay. Why don't you go outside and...." Suddenly she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"I know it's Sunday, son, but how about if you take care of the farm today. Your mom and I are busy."
"Right. Don't worry. Um. Good Luck." Clark fled. He ran down the stairs and out the kitchen door. He splashed through the puddles in the yard over to the barn, and took care of the stock. By the time he was finished with the cattle, the sun was up. It was the first pretty sunrise they'd had in months, all pink and orange light on the broken clouds. For a wonder, it wasn't raining either. Clark stood in the mud with his head thrown back and let the pale watery sunlight pour down on him.
It felt like everything really was going to be okay.
Summer vacation was a very good thing, Clark decided. Being out of school was like having a weight lifted off his shoulders. He'd aced most of his finals, so his grades had ended up pretty good. The weather had finally cleared up and gotten back to normal, so he and his dad were able to get the farm back in shape. It was amazing how much easier everything was on a bright sunny day, even without freaky alien gifts.
Best of all, Mom was fine, and he had a new baby sister. Caroline Jennifer Kent weighed seven pounds and was nineteen inches long when she was born. There had been a certain amount of monkeying around to the County Courthouse and back to get her a birth certificate without there having been a doctor present for the birth, but they got it all worked out. Mom and Dad were claiming a philosophical objection to avoid getting her vaccinated, just as they had with him when he was little. It wouldn't do to break a needle on that soft baby skin. Cara was definitely a little unusual, even for Smallville. Nobody was willing to try to cut or burn her, but she had that freaky strength in spades. Dad had to tell people he'd slammed his finger in a car door after Cara had squeezed it in her little baby fist. They were lucky she was so little, and not self-propelled. Yet.
Clark stopped pondering his little sister (sister!) sleeping on the quilt on the living room floor and yelled up the stairs. "Mom! Dad! Get a move on! You'll miss the movie!"
Jonathan and Martha hadn't been out together for weeks. Finally Clark (with some help from every one of Martha's acquaintances in town) had persuaded his parents that they should go out to a movie, and he could be trusted to watch the baby. That had been a fun conversation:
"Mom! I'm seventeen! I can baby-sit!"
"But Cara's special abilities...."
"Were mine until just recently! I know how to deal with her. Besides, she can't even roll over by herself!"
"I don't know...."
And they'd had that conversation SEVEN times before Martha and Jonathan finally agreed to leave Clark in charge and go to the movies. Which they were going to miss.
"Mom! Dad!" Clark yelled.
"We're right here, son," Jonathan said, coming down the stairs and straightening his shirt. He and Martha looked kind of rumpled for people who were planning on going out.
Mom picked Cara up from the quilt and cuddled her. "I'll just put her in her crib before we go. Who's a little sleepy bear?" The baby wiggled but didn't really wake up. Martha took her upstairs.
"Now, son, you know if...."
"Dad! There are FOUR pages of instructions attached to the refrigerator! If something happens that I can't handle, which it won't, I will call the movie theater. The real number, not the recorded show times one. You will be back in three hours! It's the matinee, for crying out loud! Jeeze! Just Go!"
Martha came down the stairs again. "Ready?" she asked her husband.
"I guess. Yup. Be good, Clark."
"Don't worry about us. We'll be fine. Have a good time."
Half an hour later, Clark heard a huge crash from upstairs. He rushed upstairs as fast as he could go, only to find a happy Cara smiling and kicking her feet in the wreckage of her crib. "Bad baby!" he said indulgently, picking her up. "Don't wreck your nice...."
Then he realized. He'd gotten up the stairs at super-speed. His gifts were coming back. He tried to stab his finger with a splinter of wood. It wouldn't go in. It didn't hurt. Clark smiled at his little sister.
"Hey, Cara. Want to go for a run?"
She smiled and waved her tiny fists at him.
They were off across the cornfields faster than the eye could see.
Disclaimer: Yes, I know that's not the origin story for Supergirl. Yes, I know you're supposed to spell her name with a K. Yes, I know that since "Crisis on Infinite Earths" it's someone else entirely. Sorry.
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