After Jonathan died, Martha had seriously considered selling the farm and moving back to Metropolis. She had never wanted to live in Smallville, had only done so because she'd fallen in love with a man whose soul was tied to the land.
There was also her daughter to consider. Martha wanted Hannah to grow up with the same love of the land her father had, the same values. She wanted to be able to protect her fifteen year old in a way she knew would be impossible in the big city. Clark had suggested that it would give him some peace of mind if he knew that she and Hannah were out of harm's way or, at the very least, not convenient hostage targets for every criminal who didn't like his stories, or villains smart enough to put two and two together to know that they were somehow important to him.
So she stayed.
She let Martin Jeffers and his wife plant corn on her acreage for a modest portion of the profits. She kept herself busy with her organic vegetables, her bakery business, her charity events and raising Hannah.
She tried not to think about the constant danger Clark put himself in, always trying to save others. He had turned out to be exactly like Jonathan in many ways; except instead of Smallville, Clark was tied to the planet and her people.
Martha rarely saw Clark anymore, although he was wonderful about calling her every Sunday afternoon. She could practically set her clock by his calls. Only when Hannah was at school or fast asleep in bed would she admit to herself that she had lost her son. What was worse, in her mind's eye, was that ever since Clark activated the AI and was able to interact with the memories of his Kryptonian parents, he seemed more and more distant. What need did he have for a surrogate when he could interact with the real thing?
The first time Lex showed up at her screen door, her heart was in her throat. It was a lazy Thursday afternoon in August, around one in the afternoon. Hannah was in school and Martha was at home baking.
Martha knew about his rift with Clark, knew about all the terrible things Clark accused him of doing. It was on her lips to send him away, but there was something about his eyes which stayed her tongue.
"I would like to place an order for some of your cream puffs," he said shyly, as if unsure what her response would be. "Like the ones you made for Nell's wedding."
Martha blinked in shock. "You remember my cream puffs from fifteen years ago?"
"They were..." He blushed, his eyes meeting hers then dropping. "Orgasmic."
Martha smiled, but resisted the urge to tease him. "How many would you like?"
Lex hesitated. "Do they freeze well?"
"You can freeze them if you haven't stuffed them with filling; however, they aren't quite as good as they are fresh."
When he paused in giving her a number, she walked to the screen and pushed on it slightly, letting him know that he was welcomed to come into the kitchen. She was surprised to see him blink rapidly. If he had been Hannah she would have thought he was trying to prevent tears from forming in his eyes.
While he did step into her kitchen, he stood with his back against the door as if prepared to flee at a moment's notice.
"What sort of cream would you like?" she asked, when he didn't seem inclined to initiate conversation.
"I enjoyed the raspberry cream ones you made."
"How many would you like?"
"A dozen," he said softly.
"When do you need them by?"
"I can...I can pick them up next Thursday, say about this time."
"If you need them before then, I can always deliver them to the mansion."
He shook his head, but didn't say anything.
"The kitchen's pretty hot. I was just fixing to pour myself a glass of lemonade. Would you care for a glass?"
Lex looked over his shoulder toward his car, then back at her. "Yes, please."
"Why don't you have a seat," she said as she turned toward the refrigerator.
When she turned back around, she noticed his gaze taking in the kitchen and a gentle smile playing at the edge of his mouth - as if reminiscing.
"It's been a long time since you've visited." She placed the glass in front of him.
"Thank you, Mrs. Kent," he said softly. There was something about his voice that made Martha realize that he was thanking her for letting him inside and not for the lemonade.
His gaze rose to meet hers, then dropped to his glass as he took a sip. His watch beeped and he sighed quietly to himself. "I'm sorry to have imposed on you so long this afternoon."
"It was no imposition," she reassured him.
He smiled crookedly at her as he stood. "Thank you."
"So I'll see you next Thursday."
"Yes, ma'am." And with that he was gone.
Over the weekend, she wondered what his game was, wondered if he was on some sort of fact-finding mission or if he was simply scoping out the house for some ulterior motive. On Monday, she realized he hadn't asked about Clark or made any personal inquires. By Wednesday, she was intrigued with the mystery.
On Thursday, he arrived at the appointed time, but instead of paying for his purchases and leaving, he seemed to linger. They chatted about inconsequential things for a half hour, before he placed another order for a dozen cream puffs for the following Thursday and left.
The pattern continued through August and September and she found herself looking forward to his visits. They had carefully expanded their topics of conversation, although he was always careful not to ask any personal questions unless she brought a subject up, and under no circumstances would he talk about Clark. Subtle hints were ignored and if she tried to subtly bring her son into the conversation again, Lex always found a reason to leave.
In October, she realized he was coming to see her. Once she came to that understanding, their conversations became more and more relaxed, although she did question her own motives in not telling her son about her visitor.
"You're late," she told Lex as she met him at the screen door.
His smile was an easy one and he looked slightly abashed. "I was trying to convince Officer Wilson not to give me a speeding ticket."
She laughed as she opened the door and went outside. "Come on."
He blinked in surprise, even as he followed her toward the garden. "Where are we going?"
"I need your help with the pumpkins."
"Do you need to change?"
He looked down at his pants and shrugged. "No, I'm fine."
"Georgette from the market called about an hour ago. She wants a hundred pumpkins first thing tomorrow, but Hannah is spending the night over at Jessica's. I need to figure out which ones I'm going to pick and get them loaded into the back of the truck."
"I'll help you any way I can."
She patted his forearm and smiled happily at him. "You're a good boy."
His smile was a sweet one that lasted while they worked side by side. When their task was complete, she firmly requested that he stay for dinner, which he did, although he insisted on helping her prepare the meal.
She was reluctant to see him go that evening, and pressed a small kiss to his cheek as he said his farewells. He ducked his head and blushed, and clutched his treats tightly against his chest as he left.
She noticed that he started dressing a lot more casually after that particular visit.
"Clark's coming home for Thanksgiving," she said quietly as she beat the muffin batter in the bowl.
Lex looked up from her laptop, where he was installing the latest billing software for her. "I'm sure you'll enjoy having your family around during the holidays."
"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" she asked as nonchalantly as she could.
"I'll be in Japan on business."
"So no turkey?"
He grinned at her. "No, although I might order some Peking Duck for the occasion."
It would be their first missed Thursday and Martha found herself unhappy by the prospect, despite the fact that Clark would be home.
"Mom," Hannah called out in a loud, petulant voice as she stomped into the kitchen. "I've got to...oops. Hello," she greeted when she spotted the intruder by the kitchen island. "You must be AJ."
Lex blinked at her.
"You’re Mom's gentleman caller."
"I beg your pardon."
"Hannah." Martha gasped as she returned to the kitchen, her hands full of cardboard boxes in need of assembling. Lex silently took the stack from her. "I thought you were going to Jessica's after school."
Hannah slung her backpack onto one of the kitchen chairs, her eyes never leaving Lex. "I was going to, but she totally hurled during gym today and the nurse made her go home."
"The poor thing. I'll make her some chicken soup and we'll take it by this evening." Martha moved toward the refrigerator and began pulling out the needed vegetables.
"So did I interrupt your afternoon tryst?" Hannah waggled her eyebrows at her mother.
"No," Martha said with amused disgust as she picked an apple from the counter and plopped it into her daughter's hand. "AJ was just helping me box up the pies I need to deliver tomorrow."
"Rats. I never get any fun dirt." She smiled at Lex, then took a big bite of her apple.
"Maybe I should..." Lex started to say as he set the cardboard on the table.
"You're not going anywhere, mister, until you put together my boxes like you promised." Martha crossed the kitchen, ignoring Hannah as she hummed the theme to Jaws. "It's okay," she mouthed, her back turned toward her daughter, then said in a louder voice, "Remember who's holding your cream puffs hostage."
"What was I thinking?" Lex nodded, letting her know that he understood her invitation.
Martha turned toward Hannah. "And just what were you whining about when you came home, young lady?"
"I have to sell one hundred raffle tickets by next Friday. Everyone is selling them and everyone else lives in town." The whine crept back into her tone.
"How much are they?" Lex asked, while he worked on assembling the boxes in front of him.
Hannah brightened at the prospect of a sale. "They're two-fifty a piece or five dollars for three."
"Well, I could--"
"Don't," Martha cut him off.
Lex's gaze dropped to the box bottom in his hands.
"Hannah, run upstairs and get my pinking shears, would you, please?"
The teenager was aware of the undercurrent in the room and looked like she was about to burst with curiosity, but did as she was asked.
As soon as she left the room, Lex set his box down. "I guess I'd better--"
Martha shushed him by gently placing two fingers over his lips and by standing so close to his chair that he couldn't stand up without knocking her over. "All I meant was don't buy them all. The average person buys six if they're feeling incredibly generous. If you want, I'll let you buy twelve, so she can brag to her friends about her big sale without leaving the house. But the whole point of having the students sell raffle tickets is to get them out into the community. Okay?" she asked gently.
He smiled up at her, his blue eyes shining with some emotion she couldn't quite put her finger on. "Okay," he whispered back.
She moved her hand to his cheek and wasn't surprised when he leaned slightly into her touch. "You've got a big heart, AJ."
"AJ?" he asked, his eyes dancing with amusement as she stepped back.
She crossed her eyes at him and pointed imperiously at the boxes. He huffed in amusement, a content smile radiating from him.
"AJ, tell me you know something about calculus," Hannah demanded as she bounced into the kitchen, her cheeks flushed with the January arctic air.
"Boots, Missy," Martha scolded from the kitchen sink.
"I know enough," Lex said quietly. "Why?"
"Is mom working you to the bone tonight?" She danced back and forth as she toed off her boots.
Lex flashed a genuine smile at Martha. "No, I seem to have earned a reprieve."
Sliding toward the table on socked feet, Hannah threw her backpack into a chair. "How long can you stay?"
Before he could open his mouth, Martha said, "You can stay for dinner if you'd like."
Lex tried to look put upon, but failed miserably. "Looks like I'm all yours."
"If you're here to champion her, you can just forget it," Hannah said coolly, not bothering to turn around when she heard the footsteps on the wooden stairs behind her.
"I haven't been up here..." AJ started, but stopped.
Hannah turned and smiled. "Pretty cool, isn't it? Daddy made this for Clark ages and ages ago. Clark called it his ‘Fortress of Solitude.’ I love it up here." She moved toward the hammock and flopped down sideways into the webbing.
Hannah watched AJ swallow hard when he noticed the telescope. He set his box of cream puffs on her desk then walked over to the instrument and gently ran his hands over the length of the tube. "You like astronomy?"
"It's okay." She hated the fact that she sounded petulant, but she knew she was going to get a lecture in a big way.
"Sixteen totally sucks." AJ said quietly, not smirking like she was expecting.
"Yeah, it does."
She pushed against the floor, making the hammock swing back and forth.
AJ bent and looked into the telescope and adjusted the knob, but didn't say anything.
"Who are you, AJ?"
He straightened and put his hands in his jacket pockets. "A friend."
"A friend who only visits on Thursday afternoons. Why is that?"
"It's the only time I can get away from the office."
"Which isn't in Smallville," she stated rather than asked.
He smiled at her. "Which isn't in Smallville."
She crossed her arms over her chest and continued rocking. "So where's the lecture?"
"There's no lecture. I was just going to suggest you call your brother." He moved back to her desk and retrieved his box.
"And why's that?"
AJ moved to the top of the stairs before he stopped and turned back toward her. "Because he probably has some good strategy tips for getting around your mom."
Hannah felt her eyes widen in surprise and barked out in laughter as her friend disappeared down into the darkness.
"So where's mom again?" Clark reached into the refrigerator, pulled out the milk, and drank straight from the bottle.
Hannah snorted with disgust. "Hey, she busts my chops when I do that."
Clark flashed her a grin. "She busts mine too, but she's not here now, is she, squirt?"
Hannah rolled her eyes. "She's at Abernathy's. Since the pickup's starting to go, she's been eyeing a Jeep. I think she's hoping AJ will talk her out of buying it."
"What?" Clark laughed.
Hannah shrugged. "Don't ask. She's just weird that way."
Gravel crunched outside as a car pulled next to the house.
"That'll be them. You better clean the rim, otherwise she's going to see your lip prints." Hannah stuck her tongue out at him as outside two car doors slammed shut.
Clark hastily wiped the bottle's lip with his shirt sleeve and turned to put the milk back in the refrigerator. Martha's laughing voice floated into the kitchen a few seconds before she did. "Did you see her face? I thought she was going to...Clark!" Martha exclaimed loudly as she entered the kitchen, stopping suddenly, then flashing a look of concern over her shoulder.
Clark started a greeting, but stopped when he saw his mother's hesitancy.
"I'm sorry," she whispered apologetically to the person still standing outside. "I had no...Please, don't go. No, it'll be okay. Please."
Clark heard a soft sigh and wondered what all the mystery was about.
"What are you doing here?" he shouted as soon as he recognized the face of the intruder. Striding across the kitchen in three steps, he grabbed the man by his jacket and slammed him into the wall.
"Clark!" Martha shouted in angry astonishment. "Put him down!"
"What's he doing here?" Clark ignored her as he banged his victim against the wooden door.
"Clark Jerome Kent, you put him down this instant!" Martha demanded angrily.
With disgust, Clark shoved the intruder backward, then spun and walked across the kitchen, crossing his arms as he turned to face the crowd on the other side of the kitchen.
"Hello, Clark." Lex huffed in amusement, licking the blood from his bottom lip where his teeth had caught during the assault.
"What the fuck was that all about?" Hannah demanded.
"Hannah!" Martha shouted.
"Han," Lex whispered in admonishment.
"Don't talk to her," Clark warned, taking a step forward.
Lex raised his hands in submission.
"How dare you assault a guest in my home," Martha said angrily. "Clark, what were you thinking?"
"It's okay, Martha," Lex said softly, his hand gently touching her forearm.
"Take your hand off her, Luthor. I don't know what your game is, but--"
"Enough!" Martha shouted.
"Luthor?" Hannah asked, her voice trembling in confusion and fear. "Oh, my God. You can't be..."
Lex closed his eyes.
"Always with the lying," Clark growled, stepping forward again.
"That's enough, Clark!" Martha moved quickly between the two men. "'AJ was my idea."
"Martha, don't," Lex whispered.
"It was. I refuse to let you take the blame for something I did, Lex." Martha looked up at her son. "I wanted to give Hannah a chance to get to know him without prejudice."
"Has everyone lost their minds?" Clark raised his hands upward in exasperation then let them drop to his side. "What have you done to them, Luthor?"
"He hasn't done anything." Martha put her hands on her son's chest. Hannah knew her mom couldn't do anything to stop Clark if he was intent on his course of action, but she also knew she was hoping to break through his anger. "Except be a friend."
"I'll be going now." Lex started to reach out to touch Martha, but stopped.
Before he could drop his hand, Martha grabbed it and held it between both of hers. "I'm so sorry, Lex."
"Don't be," he whispered. His gaze briefly flickered to meet Hannah's but dropped when the teen refused to make eye contact with him. "Good-bye, Hannah." His voice held a finality to it that made her look up, but she said nothing, her eyes filling with tears.
"Don't even think about hiding from me, Luthor," Clark said in a menacing tone.
Lex steadily met his gaze. "I'll be at the castle." Lex smiled reassuringly at Martha, brought his other hand up and gently touched her hands, then pulled back and disappeared into the night.
Martha couldn't remember ever having been so angry with her son. "What do you have to say for yourself, young man?"
"Myself? Myself?" he asked in shock. "After everything he's done to... You know he's just using you to get to me. Just what have you told him, mom?"
Martha trembled in anger and had to forcibly calm herself down before she spoke. "Believe it or not, Clark, you don't ever come up in our conversations."
"I don't believe it."
"I don't care what you believe. In the eighteen months since--"
Martha closed her eyes and blew out a loud sigh. "Sit down, Clark, we have some things to discuss."
Clark stood in the hallway of the castle and looked into the study which was lit only by the fireplace and Lex's computer monitor. He was surprised by how little the room had changed. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine being fifteen and stopping by to say hello to his best friend.
Shaking his head to clear the memories, Clark took a moment to study the man behind the desk.
Even though he was thirty-eight, Lex didn't look any older than Clark remembered. Sadder, yes, but not older.
His mom's words echoed in his ears.
"He may be the richest man alive, Clark, but he's missing something in his life."
"Something he finds here?"
"And just what would that be?"
"Acceptance. For who he is, not what he is or what he can give us. Here he can be 'just Lex'. We don't want anything from him, other than his company."
"I know this is hard for you, considering your history with him, but this isn't about you two, Clark, it's about Lex and me."
"I don't understand."
"I think he misses his mom and, truth be told, I miss you."
He had been stunned by his mother's revelation. Even now, nearly an hour later, her words still stung. He had truly thought he’d been protecting her and Hannah by keeping them safe on the farm. He had no idea that he was hurting them by his absence.
But to have Lex step into the role of the good son...
Clark felt the anger begin to burn within him again, but as he looked at the man awaiting his arrival, he found it draining before it could truly ignite. Lex didn't look like a criminal mastermind, just a very tired man.
He moved quietly into the room and stood before the desk, only to be surprised by the number of pictures of his mom and Hannah facing his nemesis. Family shots. Happy laughing pictures. There was even one of Clark in a silver frame. Without thought, he picked it off the desk and inspected it closer.
"It's from the Fourth of July picnic," Lex supplied quietly when he noticed Clark standing in front of him.
"I remember." Clark smiled despite himself. "We were in charge of the water balloon fight for the grade school."
"A nice memory," Lex agreed.
Clark remembered the July sun beating down on them, their clothes soaking wet, standing so close to each other they were practically glued together. He remembered laughing until his sides actually ached and the flutter his stomach had made when Lex turned to face him.
Hastily, he handed the picture back to Lex.
"I would never harm your family." Lex accepted the frame and carefully put it back on his desk.
"You already have."
Lex's gaze snapped up, but instead of being filled with anger like Clark expected, he saw profound sadness. "I won't go back."
"I'm afraid you don't have that option."
Lex looked confused. "I beg your pardon."
"Whether or not you meant to do it remains to be seen, but mom has come to depend on you and if you hurt her now by ignoring her I will tear you limb from limb."
For the first time, anger flared in Lex's eyes. "I would never hurt Martha or Hannah."
"Then you have no choice but to continue what you've been doing behind my back all this time."
"With your blessing?"
"If you don't trust--"
"I intend to be there from now on."
Lex leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "And take time away from your busy schedule of saving the world and meeting journalistic deadlines to make muffins and pick vegetables?"
"I think I'm capable of doing anything you are."
Lex smiled wolfishly at him. "Then bring it on."
The first few weeks after Clark and Lex's uneasy truce made Martha want to pull out her hair. Lex was his normal charming self while Clark turned into a brooding hulk, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at everyone in sight. Martha thought the gesture a telling one.
After the third week, when she walked him to the car, Lex had gracefully tried to bow out of his visits.
"I really think it would be for the best, Martha." He spoke softly, ever cognizant of Clark watching them from the screen door.
"But Hannah's calculus midterm is next Friday and you promised to help her study." Martha knew she was playing dirty pool by using Lex's feelings for her daughter, but this was war and she was determined to win.
"Hannah's barely speaking to me these days."
"True, but she rarely leaves the room while you're here either."
"I think she's just making sure I don't try to steal the silver."
Martha laughed. "She really doesn't have any idea what it means to be a villain." Her laugh stopped when Lex paled and dropped his gaze to the ground. "Oh, honey, you know what I mean. Besides, she gave you the bigger slice of pie today."
The corner of Lex's mouth quirked upward and he looked up at her with merriment in his eyes. "I did notice that."
"So did Clark."
Lex sighed again and Martha knew she had stepped on another landmine. "I accepted the Finnegan's wedding two weeks from now because you said you were free."
Lex shot a look at Clark in the distance and started to speak, but Martha cut him off with a well-timed sigh. "Listen to me prattle on, like you don't have more important matters to deal with. I'm sorry, Lex. Just ignore this old woman's whining."
Lex took her hand in his. "I'd rather you didn't speak about my dear friend in such harsh terms." He kissed the back of her hand, then grinned at her mischievously. "Just for the record, the last bit was a wee bit over the top."
Martha laughed at being caught. "What can I say? I blame it on all my years with Jonathan. Sometimes that man could be incredibly dense and it would take a metaphorical two by four to break through to him."
"Well, consider me whacked."
Martha moved closer to him. "I know this has been hard, Lex."
He cut her off by shaking his head. "Being with you and Hannah has never been hard."
"Trust has to be earned, Martha, and I have no place I'd rather be than here. If you can deal with the tension, I can be patient."
She reached out and gently patted his cheek. "You're such a good boy."
Hannah looked up in time to see Clark, who was floating near the top of the tree they were picking, drop an apple practically on Lex's head. The billionaire barely had time to catch it before Clark slyly dropped him another and then another. She felt her mouth open in astonishment as Lex began juggling the apples, catching each new one Clark dropped his way until he had eight Jonathan apples spinning in the air.
Clark touched down and smirked. "Pretty impressive, but how do you propose to get them into the truck?"
Without a single word, Lex tossed Clark an apple, clearly startling her brother. If not for his super reflexes, he probably would have dropped the fruit. Lex tossed him three more apples in rapid succession.
Hannah giggled as she realized they were both juggling. Just when she thought it couldn't get any weirder, they started tossing the fruit back and forth to each other; at first rather slowly, but with each round the tossing got faster and faster until she wasn't entirely positive that both of them didn't possess some sort of superspeed abilities.
"Clark! Lex! Hannah! Supper's ready!" her mom called from the house.
As if they had spoken aloud, the fruit tossing slowed and each caught their apples without dropping a single one.
Hannah sighed happily as she watched the two men grin at each other. After six months of stony silences, smiling was always good, wasn't it?
"We'll get caught."
"You're such a fuddy-duddy."
"Do people even say that anymore?"
"I just said it."
"You know who's gonna get the blame for this, don't you?"
"Don't be a weenie. It won't hurt him."
"Chicken. Alright, I'll do it."
~ splat ~
"What the--? Mom?"
"I had absolutely nothing to do with this," Lex said, raising his hands in surrender.
Martha turned and tossed the second water balloon at the billionaire, cackling gleefully as it splattered over his flannel shirt.
Lex looked deliberately down at his shirt, then over at Clark. "Clark."
"Your mom's going down."
"I hear you, buddy."
Hannah ran out of the house as she heard shrieks of laughter in the front yard. Skidding to a stop, she just shook her head in amusement as the three people she loved most in the world tossed water balloons at each other and fought over the garden hose.
Adults were so weird.
"Lex, oh God, Lex!" Hannah screamed into the phone.
"Hannah? What's wrong, honey? What's wrong?"
"Mama's lying on the floor. She's lying on the floor." The teenager sobbed, kneeling beside her mother and rocking back and forth, one hand trembling over her mother's chest.
"Hannah, have you called Clark?"
"I can't remember the number. I can't...I can't."
"Stay on the line," he said firmly.
She nodded even though she knew he couldn't see her. "Mama, please wake up. Please wake up. Mama. Mama."
"Metropolis Hospital, Clark, I'll have a team waiting for her." She heard Lex shout in the distance before he came back to her again. "Clark will be there in a second, baby. Hold on."
She heard him yelling several more orders although she couldn't understand what he was saying. It sounded like he was running.
Seconds later, Clark came bursting through the door.
Clark dropped to his knees beside them.
"Is she breathing?"
"Yes, barely, but she is. Give me the phone." Without hesitation, she shoved the phone into his hands. "Lex," he whispered in a broken voice. "Okay. Okay. I could...no. Okay." Clark shoved the phone back at her. "Lex is on his way. Stay on the phone with him. As soon as he gets here, he'll bring you to the hospital. I have to..."
"Go. Go. Go!" She fell backwards to get out of his way as he lifted their mom in his arms. "Save her, please."
Clark nodded, then was gone.
"Hannah? Han?" She lifted the phone to her ear when she heard Lex calling to her.
"I'm here," she moaned softly.
"I want you to make sure that the oven and stove are off. Can you do that for me? Make sure nothing's inside the oven?"
Crying, she forced herself to her feet. "Yes."
She moved woodenly around the kitchen, listening to Lex shout into another phone. "I don't care what the expense is or who you have to bring in. You simply tell Superman who to get. Do you understand me?"
Once her tasks were accomplished, she sniffed, unsure what to do with herself.
"Hannah, I want you to pack a small suitcase for you and your mom. Okay? Get her a robe, her slippers and a nice nightgown. Throw in a couple pair of your jeans and shirts. All right? And don't forget underwear. Get both of your purses, okay?"
She ran upstairs and gathered the items.
"Is she going to be okay, Lex?" she asked the next time she heard a break in his orders.
"Yes, sweetheart. I swear to you the best medical men on the planet will be attending her."
Hannah closed the suitcase and started downstairs. "Lex, mama's got orders to fill and..."
"Don't worry about it, Han. The castle staff is on their way over right now. They'll make sure the farm is taken care of and her orders filled. Wait by the back door. We're almost there."
Hannah did as instructed and watched in wonder as the sleek, black, Nighthawk helicopter landed in their pasture.
Who knew both of her brothers could fly?
Clark looked up and barely had time to catch his sister as she all but flew into his arms. "Is she still alive?"
Clark patted Hannah's hair and hugged her tightly to his chest. "Yes, the specialists are with her now."
"Mr. Luthor." A man in a business suit joined their small group. "Would you and your family be so kind as to follow me? I'll show you to a waiting room."
Clark barely lifted his head when he felt the couch dip beside him. "All my powers," he said, his voice choked with fear, "and I can't do anything to save her. It's like losing dad all over again."
"You're not going to lose her, Clark," Lex said quietly but firmly.
Clark met Lex's gaze. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because I won't lose her."
Lex's confident arrogance wrapped around Clark like a warm blanket. "Why's that?" he asked, his curiosity getting the best of him.
Lex hesitated, then dropped his gaze to his hands in his lap. "Because she's family."
"Hannah?" Clark blinked and looked around for his sister.
"Asleep." Lex pointed to the figure lying on the neighboring couch.
"Thank you," Clark whispered, meaning it. He closed his eyes and laid his head on the back of the couch. "I thought I was protecting them by keeping them in Smallville. I thought--"
Warm arms wrapped around him and he heard Lex shush him softly. "It's not your fault, Clark. It's not."
And suddenly, he was sixteen and Ryan had just passed away and everything in his body hurt more than exposure to kryptonite and he needed Lex's calm presence and warm arms more than breathing.
He clutched at Lex's shirt as the first wave of grief washed over him, threatening to drown him.
"It's okay to let go, Clark. I have you."
"Mr. Kent?" A woman in a white coat called out softly as she entered the small waiting room.
Hannah pushed herself into a seated position, her eyes seeking her brother's and Lex's. Lex reached out toward her, even as he used his other arm, which was wrapped around Clark, to gently squeeze her brother awake. "Clark," he whispered urgently.
Without hesitation, Hannah scrambled off her couch and plastered herself to Lex's side.
"The doctor's here." Lex used his chin to point toward the door as Clark groggily lifted his head.
Once he saw the doctor, Clark awoke instantly. "How is she, Doctor?"
The raven haired woman smiled for the first time. "Your mom's a real fighter. I was worried for a while, but Dr. Lieberwitz helped us turn the tide. You'll need to thank Mr. Luthor here for tracking him down and Superman for bringing him to the hospital so quickly."
"So, she'll be okay?" Hannah asked, barely breathing.
The doctor frowned a little. "There are no absolutes in medicine. Let's just say we're cautiously optimistic. She still has a long, hard recovery ahead of her. While the stroke didn't leave her paralyzed as we initially feared, she will be extremely weak for quite awhile. I'm afraid it'll be impossible for her to live on her own for the next couple of months."
"No worries, Doctor," Lex said. "Mrs. Kent will have the best rehabilitative care on the planet."
"Excellent." The doctor's smile was genuine. "That being said, she's awake and wants to see her children. At this point, I'm going to limit your visit to fifteen minutes. We don't want to overtax her system."
Hannah practically jumped off the couch and Clark was instantly beside her as they followed the doctor toward the door.
The doctor turned to speak to them, then frowned as she looked back at the couch where Lex sat. "Excuse me. Mrs. Kent was quite specific. She wanted all three of her children by her side."
Hannah's eyes filled with tears as the meaning of the doctor's words dawned on Lex. The billionaire swallowed convulsively and looked nervously toward Clark.
"Come on, Lex," her brother said softly, holding his hand out to their friend. "You know how mom hates to be kept waiting."
"Ah, Lex." An oily voice slithered from the shadows of the hospital's parking lot as Hannah got out of Lex's Aston Martin. "So the rumors are true. You have reneged on our pact."
Lex stepped in front of Hannah, his arm wrapping around her and holding her tightly against his back. "I've reneged on nothing, Father."
"Come now, son. While the night may be cloudy, even I can recognize young Miss Kent trembling behind you."
Hannah clenched the back of Lex's jacket, terrified out of her mind and feeling as if Lex were the only thing standing between her and the devil himself.
"Our deal pertained to Clark Kent, not to the rest of his family."
"You're mincing words, Lex."
Lex shifted them in order to keep his father from getting any closer. "You're the one who taught me about contracts, Dad. The Kent family was not included in our bargain."
A chuckle so evil it chilled her bones reverberated through the night. "Rumor has it you've been working in conjunction with Superman with regards to Mrs. Kent's medical care."
"You know better than to listen to idle speculation, Father." Lex's voice was taunting.
Lionel went from amused to menacing in the span of a heartbeat. "Don't get cocky, Lex. I still have the power to destroy him, to destroy you."
"Look again, Father. Your power over me no longer exists and if you even dare breathe a word about the Kents to anyone, I will crush you."
"Crush me?" The taunt was back in Lionel's voice.
Lex raised his cell phone and pushed four buttons. "As a demonstration of my resolve."
The air vibrated with anticipation and Hannah fervently wished she could see what was happening.
"Call me if you want it to end, Father."
"What have you done, Lex?"
"What I couldn't do fifteen years ago. Our deal is now null and void."
Hannah could hear the hesitation creep into Lionel's voice. "You can't--"
"I can and I have. I suggest you attempt to save what you can. Remember, it can all end with a phone call."
"Bluffing doesn't become you, son."
"Luthors never bluff."
"If you're going to take on the big dogs--"
"Cry havoc and release the dogs of war."
"All this over a family of farmers?"
"All this over my family, Father."
"We'll see. We shall see." Lionel's voice was soft, although his voice no longer held the same menace.
Hannah felt Lex's arm tremble as the silence continued. Finally, he turned, his hands gently cupping her face. "Are you okay?"
She nodded. "What was that all about?"
He shook his head and guided her toward the sliding glass doors of the visitor's entrance.
"Lex." Hannah crossed her arms as they entered the elevator.
"It's not important."
"It is important."
Lex sighed. "It may be, but now is not the time to discuss it." He strode off the elevator as soon as the doors opened.
Hannah ran after him and grabbed his arm, spinning him so that he had to face her. "Now is exactly the time."
"No, Lex. I have a right to know if my mother is in danger, if Clark is in danger."
Lex's gaze nervously darted around the corridor and Hannah knew they were drawing attention.
Sighing loudly, Lex took her by the elbow and propelled her into an empty waiting room. "I swear to you," he said in a low voice as he released her, "on everything I own that your family is safe from my father."
"What pact did you make with the devil?"
Lex rubbed both hands over his face, then up and over his bare scalp. "Hannah--"
"What pact?" she shouted again.
Lex closed his eyes and waved his hands, instructing her to keep her voice down. "All right," he said finally. "But I need your word that what I tell you will stays between us."
"I mean it, Han. You're an adult now and if I'm going to talk to you about this, I need to know I can trust you."
Hannah nodded. "Okay."
Lex slumped back against the wooden door and closed his eyes, but remained silent.
The billionaire opened his eyes and straightened slightly against the door. "Your brother saved my life when he was just a little younger than you are now."
Hannah nodded knowingly, but remained silent.
"It was a...revelation of sorts." Lex looked over her shoulder toward the window on the far wall. "I spent a lot of time afterwards reevaluating my life. So much of my life up to that point had been about anger. Anger over my mutation." He snorted in disgust as he unconsciously rubbed one hand over his bald scalp. "Anger over the death of my mother. Anger over the fact that I could never live up to my father's expectations." His voice dropped and he made eye contact with her for the first time. "But when Clark pulled me out of the river, it was as if he left that anger behind."
He dropped his gaze to the carpet. "I didn't know what it meant, but I found myself wanting to be worthy of that second chance."
Hannah felt the pain in Lex's voice and had to press her fingernails into her palm to keep herself from closing the distance between them and hugging him, knowing her act of kindness would only stop the flow of his story.
"I wanted to know who this boy was who wanted nothing from me except my friendship," he continued. "Who not only saved me once, but over and over again. And most of all, I wanted to know why he was always lying to me."
Lex flashed her a smile. "Clark isn't a very good liar."
Hannah snickered. "Tell me about it."
"Even though his secrets were starting to become an obsession with me, I strove to protect him just as he protected me."
Lex swallowed hard. "Because I loved him."
Hannah nodded in understanding, but Lex shook his head.
"No, Hannah. Not love as like a best friend, not love as like a brother, but..."
"You were attracted to him."
Lex nodded, interlacing his fingers together and raising them in front of his mouth. "Then Doctor Walden woke up from his coma. He told my father and I that Clark was an alien and that we had to destroy him before he became too powerful."
Lex raised his hand for silence and she bit her lip to prevent a hundred questions from jumping out of her mouth.
"I'd spent nearly two years keeping my father's eyes away from Clark. I had even," he swallowed hard before he continued, "killed a man to protect his secrets. But by then my father was becoming as obsessed as I was and I knew I was going to have to do something drastic in order to protect him. My father and I had a power struggle..."
"And you won?"
Lex shook his head. "No, I lost."
"I don't understand."
"The whys and wherefores really aren't that important. What matters is that we came to an understanding. He wouldn't exploit Clark, but I had to give him up as well."
One side of Lex's mouth quirked upward. "It seems my secret feelings for Clark weren't quite as secret as I thought they were."
"But what about--"
"My father orchestrated the rift. Apparently, he didn't trust me not to renege on my end of the deal, so he arranged it so I couldn't."
"But all these years..." Hannah started but stopped when he shook his head.
"Clark's been playing global chess with my father in my name."
"Lex, you have to tell him that."
"What do you mean, 'no'?"
"Don't put me on a pedestal, Hannah. I'm not a saint. I've done my share of evil."
"But why don't you--"
"No. It's better this way."
"How can it be better?" When he refused to answer, she paced to the center of the room, then spun back to face him, understanding blossoming over her face. "You can take his rejecting you because of your evil deeds, but not because of your heart."
"It's water under the bridge, Hannah."
She walked back toward him. "You still love him."
"It doesn't matter if I do or not, that door has been closed for an eternity."
"Lex," she whispered, her voice quavering in pain for him.
He stepped forward and gently wrapped her in his arms and nuzzled her ear with his cheek. "It's okay."
"You promised, Hannah."
"I know, but--"
"There are no buts. I've only shared this with you so that you wouldn't upset your mom with your questions. I expect you to be an adult and live up to your end of the deal."
Hannah clutched his shirt, fighting back the tears over the injustice of nearly sixteen years of misunderstandings. "It's not fair."
"It's life." Lex shrugged. "Now, come on, we need to get you freshened up. Your mom is going to wonder where we are and she'll have my hide if you look like something the cat dragged in."
Hannah nodded unhappily. "I love you," she said quietly.
His smile was so warm and genuine she felt herself return his grin. "I love you, too. Now, come on, let's blow this joint." He opened the door and walked into the solid mass in front of him. Blinking in surprise, he stammered, "Clark, are--"
But before he could finish his thought, her brother stepped into the room, causing Lex to step backwards. Clark didn't stop until Lex was completely backed into the far wall. Before Lex could say another word, Clark cupped the shorter man's face and brushed his lips possessively over Lex's.
"Clark, what--" Clark cut him off as he pressed the entire length of his body against Lex.
Hannah tried very hard not to smirk when she heard Lex's surrendering groan. Yeah, the great thing about being a superhero was super hearing.
She very deliberately moved the sign on the door to say occupied, then shut the door behind her. Mom was going to be so stoked.
"Lex, where's my paper?" Hannah raced around the kitchen and stuffed binders and textbooks into her backpack.
Lex didn't even look up from his newspaper. "It's in the blue folder."
"Oh, there it is. Thank God."
"Hey, mom, when's your appointment today?" Clark dodged his sister and moved to the refrigerator, pulling out the milk and drinking straight from the bottle.
"Clark Kent," Martha scolded.
"What? I'm in a hurry."
"Did I raise you in a barn?"
Clark stopped with the bottle halfway to his lips. "Well, yeah, technically, I think I was partially raised in a barn."
Lex folded the newspaper in half and took in the chaos before him. "Don't sass your mother, Clark."
"Suck up." Clark put the lid on the milk and slid the bottle back into the refrigerator. "Mom, time?"
"Okay, Lex and I will pick you up at two-thirty."
"You boys don't need to--"
Lex sighed loudly. "Mom."
She had the decency to look a little abashed.
"Come on, squirt, I'll drop you off on my way to the paper."
"Do well on your test." Martha pressed a kiss to her daughter's cheek.
Clark kissed Martha's forehead. "See you at two-thirty."
Hannah practically skipped to Lex's side and gave him a kiss, then jogged toward the elevator. "Come on, Clark. I promised Janine we'd compare study notes before school."
Clark leaned over Lex, but his kiss went to the billionaire's lips instead of his cheek and lasted until Hannah whined loudly about being late. "Cllllllaaaark, molest Lex later."
Clark winked down at his lover and smirked. "Okay."
When the elevator doors closed, Lex turned in his seat to look at Martha. "Is it me or did the decibel level in here just drop about twenty points?"
Martha laughed. "Individually, they are a force to be reckoned with, together ...."
Lex chuckled, then asked with a gentle smile, "So, what are your plans for today?"
"Cecily, in Pubic Relations, and I are going to be finishing up the last minute details for Saturday's casino charity event, then we'll start sketching out what we want to do for the World Wildlife fundraiser."
"You aren't overdoing it, are you?" He frowned slightly.
"Lex, sweetheart, the doctor gave me a clean bill of health nearly a year ago. Today's appointment is just a check-up. You and Clark don't need--"
"Ah, ah." He raised one finger to forestall anymore protests. "Any chance you can pencil me in for lunch and fill me in on the schedule for the charity event?"
"I'd love to. Just buzz me if I get caught up, okay?"
He nodded as he stood, then leaned over and kissed her tenderly on the cheek. She sighed happily and patted his cheek. "You're such a good boy."
"I'm glad you think so," he whispered.
Martha watched him until he got on the elevator to go down to his office.
She leaned back into her chair and took a sip of her tea. When Jonathan died, she had thought her life was over, but thanks to her children, she was living a life she had never even dared dream.
Even though they had lived in the penthouse for nearly two years, Lex refused to let her sell the farm. In fact, it had become their getaway when the pressures of city life got to be too much.
Hannah was excelling in school and had already won a full scholarship to Metropolis University in pre-med. Martha didn't worry about her safety anymore, knowing that the two most powerful men on the planet were watching after her.
While she knew Jonathan would never have approved of Clark's relationship with Lex, she couldn't be happier. They were good for each other. Clark provided a moral center for Lex, gave him a humanistic counter-balance to the harsh realities of business, while Lex accepted Clark for who and what he was. He became the sheltering arms Clark went to when the world's horrors became too much for him to bear alone. Both of them were powerful in their own right, but together they were a force to be reckoned with, and the love they shared was becoming legendary.
For herself, Lex had given her the job of determining what charities LexCorp would support and how. It was a fulfilling career and one she loved.
All three of them treated her like porcelain and while she railed over it sometimes, she also found it endearing.
She smiled to herself as she thought back to the shy young man who knocked on her screen door almost five years ago looking for acceptance. Born to Satan, who would have ever dreamed he would have given her back her family and turned into such a good son?