From a distance, he watches the Kent farm. It is a bright spring afternoon, and the place looks almost as vibrant as the day he saw it for the first time. Almost.
Like looking through a film of transparent cellophane, everything looks murky, unclear. He’s not sure if it’s the light or just his impaired vision. He is no longer the young idealist he once was, after all.
There is a line of washing across the yard, and – he squints – someone hanging it up. He raises the binoculars to his eyes.
Long, flowing hair, catching the light, but not red. Brunette. The woman turns... Lois Lane, looking almost like Martha did, all those years ago. She hangs up one of Clark’s cotton shirts with a look of puzzled concentration. He shouldn’t be surprised that they’re playing house. But he is, all the same.
And hurt. He lowers the binoculars.
Once, he thought it would be him and Clark, fast friends (and more) for life, taking the world by storm. Even then, he’d known there was something special about Clark. If Clark had revealed his secret back then, what an amazing journey they could have h–
He stops himself. He’d thought himself over such maudlin trips through the past. But the sight of the shirts blowing on the line brings it all back anyway...
He drives up to the farmhouse, hoping to catch Clark at home. Martha is hanging the laundry; she's quick with a greeting. “Lex.” She smiles. “What brings you out here?”
Martha has always been so gracious, so kind to him. He bends to lift the basket to a more convenient height. “Allow me.”
She blushes – he isn’t sure why – but she quickly covers it by hanging up another item. It’s a black thong.
His black thong.
Lex closes his eyes. He sees Clark’s trusting eyes, how his smile could make Lex believe he was capable of anything. He can still remember how touching Clark, just for a brief instant, set his nerves aflame. And then later, stolen moments in the barn, under the moonlight, skin on skin, things Clark would never admit to in the light of the sun...
So Lex never mentioned the thong, never told Clark that Martha was onto them. He feared their clandestine relationship would come to a grinding halt. Clark was always so worried about his parents’ opinions. Why couldn’t he see that they would love him no matter what?
Unlike his own father, who would despise him, no matter what.
What Lex wouldn’t give for a mother like Martha. In many ways, she was his surrogate mother. If only he could go back to those days, secrets be damned.
Seeing the thong, his expression falters only a moment. He hadn’t meant to leave that here, and especially not mixed into the Kents’ laundry. He’s silently grateful that Martha does the washing instead of Jonathan.
He can see a twinkle in her eye, but Martha doesn’t speak of it at all. Instead, she says, “I’m afraid Clark isn’t at home. He’s gone to Bob Johnson’s place with Jonathan. Bob’s hurt his back and they’re helping out today.”
Good old Clark. It was that spirit that brought the two of them together the first time. “That’s a generous gift. Time is a farmer’s most precious resource.”
“Bob would do the same for us.” She smiles – he wonders what she’s thinking. That he would find it beneath his dignity?
“I would do the same for you,” he tells her sincerely. Then sadness creeps in as he adds, “But I know a Luthor’s gift isn’t welcome here.”
“Lex,” she says, stepping closer. “A gift has to mean something to the recipient as well as the giver.”
He begins to smile, but she goes on, “You can’t give someone more than they can take.”
And this is the rub. Jonathan does not trust him, all because of the Luthor name. But Lex is determined to make him – to make them all – see him differently.
Where did it all change? When Lex started to grow suspicious, when Clark’s excuses became too glib, when Lex could see that Clark had stopped believing he was capable of good?
When Lex stopped believing it himself?
There are too many days, too many events, too many years separating them now. He feels a slight urge to walk to the farmhouse, to greet Clark like an old friend, to put all of this behind them. Perhaps he can make Lois see reason, see that they can start afresh. Surely they can both see that if he has never outed Clark to the press as the Blur, he isn’t about to start now. He would be a most loyal secret-keeper if only Clark would let him into his circle of trust.
He pictures himself walking across the field, seeing Lois use her hand to block the bright sun, straining to make out his figure in the distance, knowing Clark has already seen him long before. They stand together, there in front of the farmhouse, Lois curious, Clark steeling himself for a battle that will never come if they can just find common ground again.
The fantasy dissolves. He can’t lie to himself. Clark has surely already detected his presence. The fact that he hasn’t appeared here to confront Lex is surprising. And troubling. Does he simply ignore Lex like a troublesome itch? Does he simply not see Lex as a threat? Does he wait until Lois is safely out of harm’s way?
Clark holds all the power here. At one time, Lex could have predicted Clark’s every move, but Lex has no idea what he will choose to do.
Lex hates uncertainty.
“Perhaps Clark can take more than his father realizes?”
Martha doesn’t answer Lex right away. She continues to hang the damp clothing on the line, the bright sun shining down on them both. He helps her quietly, not wanting to rush her thoughts.
Finally, she says, “That’s not Clark’s decision to make yet.”
Clark is older, and wiser, than they think. His mind is young but his thoughts are far beyond his first date, his first car, the big game. “But one day soon it will be.” He wants to place emphasis on the word ‘soon’ but he leaves it be.
His body betrays him; he’s holding the basket in a white-knuckled grip.
If she notices, she doesn’t point it out. “Yes, Lex. One day it will be. But right now he’s just a boy. A good boy and he’ll mind his father.”
She continues working in silence, and he lets her words sink in, mind his father. Lex has always been torn between minding his father, and wanting to flee far from him. Perhaps if he had had a father like Jonathan Kent... perhaps if Clark had been found by Lionel Luthor. But those thoughts are useless, impossible. And Lex is a practical man.
Lex knows of the man who had been masquerading as his father. The one his sources say is Lionel Luthor from another dimension. So far, the man is unaware that Lex is alive. At least he thinks so. Lionel Luthor has ever been a master manipulator, whatever the universe.
Based on his surveillance, there are hints that this alt-Lionel raised alt-Clark to become a Luthor weapon, an attack dog, trained to eliminate threats to the Luthor empire. He feels sympathy for that Clark; he knows firsthand what it is like to grow up under Lionel’s direction.
He also feels a small stab of envy that alt-Clark does not have to deal with him any longer. That alt-Clark’s hands are free of the blood of patricide.
Lex now knows that the right upbringing might have made him a different man as well. And it angers him. Lex wants to believe that he is master of his own destiny, that he is not formed by blood, only by ambition.
He raises the binoculars again. That belief is half the reason Lex stands here in the shade of a lone oak, watching the farmhouse of his enemy, his one time friend. To hell with nature, with nurture. He and Clark alone can change this destiny. Lex, despite the years of betrayal, also remembers the years of friendship.
Martha speaks again, breaking him out of his thoughts. “Perhaps you shouldn’t let Clark take up so much of your own time, though. You must be very busy.”
“Clark saved my life,” he says. “I’ll never be too busy for him. He’s a remarkable young man, Mrs. Kent, the most remarkable I’ve ever met.” He’s become this way without Lex’s wealth, without the same opportunities. But opportunities mean nothing without the right heart.
Martha finishes up, but he no longer has his mind on her. His gaze settles on the silk thong, hanging alone alongside Clark's plain cotton boxers. Does he belong here, with these simple people? These wholesome and plain-spoken people? He wants to, oh god, he wants to.
Martha seems to recognize this. She touches his arm and says quietly. “Thank you for your help, Lex.”
He turns toward her. There is something so motherly, so accepting, in her eyes. She knows how Lex feels about Clark, and she’s still looking at Lex that way.
“You’re welcome,” he answers graciously. He’s learned through long practice to cover high emotion with careful manners. “We Luthors are capable of being useful.”
She smiles, and her eyes pierce right through the facade. “Stay for lunch, Lex.”
He nods. He can quietly retrieve the underwear before he leaves.
Lex can’t remember the last time he shared a meal with someone he loved. But he sees Lois turn toward the house, sees her laugh as Clark calls her in for a snack. Lex’s skin prickles with anticipation, but Clark does not turn toward where Lex stands, watching them.
It’s now or never. Lex can get back inside his car, drive back to his safe house, and wait until the moment of confrontation between two enemies in whose hands the fate of the world rests. A moment of fire and of blood, of war and a destiny neither of them wants, but neither can avoid.
Or he can end it here. Quietly, without fanfare. A resolution between two friends who had once meant the world to each other.
He peels off one glove and slips his hand into his pants pocket. Fingering a small swatch of cotton flannel, threadbare after all these years of touching it, he takes his first step toward the farmhouse.