The first time a man from the future showed up at Martha Kent's house, Clark Kent was two years old.
According to his birth certificate, anyway. She just kind of accepted that the details were a little fudged. Relativity, and all.
Maybe the stranger would have succeeded in whatever it was he wanted to do, except that he really did just show up. Appeared, like a ghost made flesh, right in the backyard. Clark, thank goodness, was out in the fields with Jonathan. He couldn't bear to be alone, that boy, and they could never bear to leave him.
Which left Martha free to shoot the ghostly intruder in the face.
Martha had not always considered herself a shoot first, ask questions later sort of a person. But that was before she found a baby in a spaceship where her corn was supposed to be.
They'd switch off, Jonathan and her, who got Clark and who got the shotgun. Martha got the shotgun more often than not. Guns made her husband uncomfortable. She was hardly a fan, but she'd always been a terrible pacifist. Too determined to defend herself.
The sight of all that blood and brain and bone was still nauseating. She compartmentalized, told herself it was no different from slaughtering a cow; didn't think about riot gear or tear gas or the friends she'd lost or all the things she'd moved away from when her heart couldn't take it any longer. This was different. This was her son.
She prodded the corpse with her foot. It remained a corpse. A real nasty looking corpse, all big and burly and holding a gun much too large. She didn't like making assumptions based on appearances, but she didn't imagine he'd been coming for anything nice. She bent down to search his pockets, found a metal wallet and flipped it open.
Well, hell. Wasn't that just a kick in the pants?
Probably she ought to have been a bit more unsettled than she was. But she'd been waiting two years for someone to show up on her doorstep, men in black or UFOs or something. Hell, she'd half expected her sweet little boy to hatch into something worse.
Just because she brought home space babies didn't mean she was a damn fool.
Jonathan had rejoined her in long strides, was holding Clark in such a way that he couldn't see the corpse on the ground. "Well, shit," he said.
"Eyup," Martha agreed.
"Don't look government."
"We burying him?"
"I'll bury him," Martha said, standing up. "You get Clark inside and read him a book or something. I don't want him seeing any of this, getting him messed up in the head."
"You sure? Looks heavy."
"That's why we have a wheelbarrow. I'll stick him out behind the barn, might as well keep all our secrets in one place."
Martha had a long time to think as she dug a time traveler's grave. There were a lot of reasons someone might travel back in time trying to kill her kid. The first was her instinct as a mother, which was: he was a fucking asshole. Who killed a kid? Fucking assholes, that was who.
Now, it was also possible that her sweet little boy grew up to be some kind of space Hitler. She didn't think she'd raise that kind of a kid, but she didn't suppose there was any parent who set out to raise a Hitler.
Still didn't sit right with her. She didn't much like the idea of killing baby Hitler, either.
"I suppose I shouldn't keep this," she sighed as she hefted the traveler's gun in her arms. "Ought to bury it with the rest of the evidence." She turned it around in her hands, careful not to touch anything that looked like a mechanism. "Might be real handy if more of you show up, though." She knew her husband wouldn't approve, but she set the gun aside and kept burying.
Later, she'd hide it in the back of the woodshed. For emergencies, was all.
She patted the earth flat with her shovel, stuck it into the ground so she could lean on it. She pulled the dead man's ID from her pocket, and considered the details.
Jeremiah Jones the Third. No wonder he was going around trying to kill kids, a name like that. What kind of family inflicted that name on three kids in a row? ID was from Metropolis. Maybe she could work with that.
She waited until midnight, when Clark was asleep. Jonathan was on the porch smoking, same as most nights, and she kept the kitchen window open so they could talk. She was sitting on the kitchen table, receiver on her shoulder and a beer hanging from her fingers. A Metropolis phone book was open in her lap. Jonathan had a thing about big city phone books. Just in case, he said. In case of what, she never knew. But it sure as hell was handy now.
Jones, Jeremiah. No numbers or juniors after the name. Couldn't be that many, could there? Jonathan listened quietly, staring up at the stars.
"Jeremiah Jones?" she asked when the other end picked up. "How old are you? Jesus, kid, go back home, your ma's probably worried sick." Jonathan put a hand over his mouth to stifle a snort of laughter. "No, I called 'cause I've got a bone to pick with you. What the fuck kind of name is Jeremiah Jones? You're damn right I'm serious. That's a shitty fucking name, is what it is, and if I hear you went and had a kid and stuck him with a name like that I'm going to find you and whoop your ass personally." She slammed the phone back down on the receiver.
Jonathan's laughter had triggered a coughing fit, great big clouds of thick white smoke billowing into the night air. "Geeze, Marty, that was your plan? Was that it?"
She threw up her hands, beer sloshing in the bottle. "I'm sorry, Johnny, I didn't hear you offering any better plans. You got a better plan? You want to let me in on the plan?"
"I'm just saying," he said.
Martha went upstairs while Clark was sleeping, sat on his floor to rest her arms and her head on the edge of his bed. She might have drank a little too much. She probably shouldn't have been smoking with Jonathan. She'd just wanted to take the edge off, but her day had been nothing but edges. She didn't mean to wake Clark up, but maybe she was noisier than she thought she'd been. His eyes were the most beautiful blue in the moonlight. Always had been.
"Hello, baby," she whispered. He raised a tiny hand and set it on top of her head. He did that less than he used to, these days. That made her sad, like he was losing something.
"Hello, Ma," he said sleepily. "Did you have a nightmare?"
He was growing up so fast. Already too smart for a crib, for diapers. Not much of a vocabulary, but he was careful with it. Wasn't reading yet, but she was sure he'd be doing it sooner than later. Mind like a steel trap, quick as lightning. She thought she might homeschool him. He was so clever, it would be so much safer.
"Yeah," she sighed. "Real bad nightmare."
"Do you want to sleep in my bed?" Just repeating the same thing Jonathan told him, but it still made a lump in her throat.
"Yeah. Yeah, baby, I do. Is that okay with you?" Clark nodded, and wiggled over to one side of the bed. Martha felt huge and clumsy as she crawled in sideways beside him, curling her body protectively around his. He pressed his forehead to hers.
"I love you, Ma."
"And I love you, Clark. More than anything in the world."
She listened to him breathe as he fell asleep, clumsy noisy toddler breaths. Always so slow, always took him so much longer than it should have. His lungs were different, she was pretty sure. Someday, he'd need to get an x-ray, and she'd have to say no, because she didn't know what they'd find.
But not today. Today, he was safe. Slowly, she drifted off to sleep.
There was no body behind the barn. There never was. There was never any ID left out on the counter, either, no gun hidden behind the firewood. There was nothing to remember, and so Martha remembered nothing.
The first time a man from the future showed up at Martha Kent's house, Clark Kent was four years old.
The man looked like he'd been through hell already, bloodied and bruised and battered. If Martha hadn't opened the door before he made it onto the porch, he probably would have kicked it down. "Out of the way, lady," he said, and his voice was the most absurd bit of gravel she'd ever heard in her life. No one in the world needed a gun that big.
Her gaze went over his left shoulder, her eyes widened. "Oh my Lord—"
He turned to look. Martha shot him point blank, muzzle of the shotgun right under his chin.
Blood and brain and bone and that hideous splatter, but that body armor made it easier. He looked like a soldier. It was almost cathartic. She compartmentalized. She'd think about it later.
Jonathan came running down the stairs, came up behind her but stopped short of touching her. She was using the clean parts of her shirt to wipe her face. "Well, shit," he said.
"Eyup," Martha agreed.
"Don't look government."
"We burying him?"
"I'll bury him," Martha said. "Get back upstairs and make sure nothing's trying to get to Clark. Tell him Ma's shooting at cans again."
"With a shotgun?"
"Ma's got weird hobbies."
After the body was buried behind the barn, his gun hidden in the woodshed, she read the letter he'd had in his pocket. Mission info. Kill the tyrant Kal-El before he comes to power.
Kal-El. The name gave her a chill. That wasn't her son's name. That wasn't a name for a boy she'd raised, loved with all her heart. Maybe that was the name of the boy who'd been tucked into a spaceship, but it wasn't the name of her son.
Anyway. Whoever's son he'd been before, they'd lost their naming privileges. That's what happened when you shot a baby into space. He was hers now. A little boy named Clark, and he belonged to blue skies and green grass and cornfields.
Martha showered, threw her clothes on the fire and poured bleach over the stains on the porch. Then she went upstairs, and she joined her husband and her son on his bedroom floor. Clark was building a castle out of wooden blocks, and letting Jonathan help. He had to wear special glasses, now; his eyesight was fine, but something about the light hurt him. She had to smother the fear in her heart that this planet was slowly killing him.
"Clark, honey, what do you think about going to school?"
Jonathan looked more surprised than Clark did. But then, Clark had not spent as much time listening to Martha complain about the state of public education.
"On a school bus?"
"Yup. On a school bus."
Clark looked at the green block in his hands. "Would you come with me?" he asked, looking first at Martha, and then at Jonathan.
"We'd take you on the first day, so we know you're safe," she said, "but after that, you'd go alone."
Clark continued to contemplate his block, looking so serious in his little glasses. "Is it scary?"
"At first. But you'd meet lots of other kids you could play with. You'd make a lot of friends."
"What if no one likes me?"
Her heart broke a little. Clark, her little baby Clark. "They'll like you," she promised, knowing no such thing. "But if you decide you don't like it, we won't make you keep going."
He needed friends. Real friends, friends he saw every day. Not just two old hippies and a bunch of goats.
That night, Clark came into their bedroom. Tiny hands nudged at her shoulder, and she wiped at her eyes in the dark. "What's the matter, baby? You have a nightmare?"
"I thought you did," he said, and she shut her eyes against the pang in her chest. "Do you want me to sleep in your bed?"
"... yeah. Yeah, I do. Come here." She picked him up and pulled him into the bed, set him between herself and Jonathan. He settled in like he belonged there, and he didn't complain when she rested a hand on his chest to feel it rise and fall.
On his first day of kindergarten, a little redheaded girl asked Clark if he wanted to play princesses. He forgot his parents were even there. They forgot all the things that had never happened. Nothing behind the barn, nothing in the woodshed. Martha forgot the name Kal-El.
The first time a man from the future showed up at Martha Kent's house, Clark Kent was five years old.
He was exactly the man that Martha had always feared. A man in a nondescript suit, a man with a nondescript face. He had a gun under his jacket. Clark was at school. She didn't know if she was glad. What if someone had taken him? Surely someone would have called, if they had. It was a small town. Even men in suits couldn't take a little boy without someone kicking up a fuss.
He knocked and he smiled, and Martha itched to get her shotgun.
"I'm here on behalf of the U.S. Government," he said, and she hoped it didn't show on her face how much those words were a punch in the gut. "It's about your son."
Martha fluttered wide-eyed lashes, tried to look the appropriate kind of alarmed. "My son? What's wrong with my son?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't mean to scare you. There's nothing wrong with your son. Actually, we think he may be... special."
"Well of course he is," she said, the way any mother would. "I don't see what that has to do with the government."
"May I come in?"
"Oh, of course." She let him inside, lead him to the kitchen so they could sit, hated him all the while. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"No thank you, Mrs. Kent."
"Are you sure? I'm making some for myself, so you really might as well. I'll feel like a terrible hostess, otherwise."
"If you insist." After a moment's puttering about the kitchen, she set two mismatched mugs on the table, both of them horribly tacky. Beside them, she set the sugar bowl. "There. Now what's this all about?"
"Mrs. Kent, can you tell me about the night your son was born?"
"I don't see what that has to do with anything..."
He took a small sip of his coffee, and she wasn't surprised he didn't care for it. Those beans were awful. He spooned sugar into his mug. "Humor me."
"Well, if you say so." She tapped her nails against her mug. "Oh, it really was such a wild night," she lied. "I'd just had the toughest time with my pregnancy, you know, and I wanted to have him at home—but he's always in such a hurry, even when he was born, he came much too early. There was a great big storm, the power at the hospital went out... I always said it was an omen that he was destined for great things."
So many mysterious circumstances. Definitely, absolutely mysterious. Certainly didn't find him sitting in a damn spaceship.
The nondescript man smiled faintly. "A mother's intuition rarely lies."
"Now, that's what I've always said," she said, beaming.
God. She sounded like her mother. She hoped it was working.
"Mrs. Kent, we have reason to believe that your son is... special. I can't go into details, but I can tell you what we're offering."
She furrowed her brow, pursed her lips. "I suppose?" She sipped delicately at her coffee.
"We would like to enroll your son in a special boarding school. You'd be able to come too if you'd like to stay with him, though it's not obligatory. We'd pay all his living expenses, he'd have the best teachers in the United States... we might even be able to fast track his way to college. Tuition-free. If you decide to join him, we would pay your living expenses as well—for at least the next ten years, if not longer."
She fluttered her eyelashes again, setting down her mug. "Oh, but that sounds much too good to be true."
"The catch, of course, is this would all be done under the utmost secrecy. You wouldn't be able to be in contact with your family, your friends... and, of course, the entire program is contingent on your son meeting our expectations."
"What are those expectations, exactly...?"
"Hm." He was trying to decide on a lie. He was trying to appeal to her poverty, and now he wanted to appeal to her vanity. On her son's behalf, if nothing else. "It's a new program intended for only the best students of every age in the country. We believe your son is one of those students—someone with the potential to be a genius. In the right environment, of course."
"Oh—that all sounds wonderful." The nondescript man picked up his coffee, and she turned her attention to her own as he drank.
"Obviously, this won't happen all at once. There will be paperwork to fill out, we'll also need your husband's approval, there will be a testing period as—" Martha stood without warning, turned and started to leave the room. "Mrs. Kent, what—?"
His attempt to follow her ended very quickly, with a crash to the floor that she could hear behind her. Leaving was not strictly necessary, but she was worried that he'd realize what was happening and try to shoot her.
She also, if she was honest, didn't want to watch him die.
He was on the floor when she came back into the kitchen, his face red. She took the sugar bowl and his mug, and threw them straight into the trash. She'd never trust them again, she didn't think. Better not to risk it.
Jonathan hated keeping cyanide in the kitchen, and she didn't blame him at all. An accident waiting to happen, was what it was. But this was the exact kind of emergency they kept it around for.
Her husband caught her in the middle of dragging the body out behind the barn. "Well, shit," he said.
"Eyup," Martha agreed.
"We burying him?"
"You're battin' a thousand. Go get a couple shovels, Johnny, we need to get him in the ground before Clark comes home." Because he would come home, she was sure of it. She had to be. He would get on the bus and come home safe, the way he always did.
She searched the body before they buried it to be sure there were no tracking devices or any other such thing. Lord knew what the government had these days. She found a badge that said 2021. She showed it to Jonathan.
"Well, don't that just beat all."
"Don't it just." She sighed as she considered the seal of the CIA. "I haven't been looking forward to this at all," she muttered as she picked up her shovel.
"What's that, Marty?"
"I'm going to need to teach that boy how to lie worth a damn," she said as her shovel sank into the dirt. It was such a shame, when he was so sweet and so open and so kind. But he would find out, eventually, where he'd come from and what he was. And he needed to know how to keep his mouth shut—so they wouldn't be arrested for keeping him, if nothing else.
When the body was at the bottom of the pit, they burned it just to be safe. Who knew what he might be hiding in his clothes? They smothered the fire with dirt, and by the time Clark came home, there was nothing left to see but a patch of disturbed soil.
Martha hugged him entirely too tight, for entirely too long, when he got home. He tolerated it, but also reminded her that he wasn't a baby anymore. She missed the days when he was small, when he'd press his forehead to hers.
She enrolled him in a local children's theater program. He wasn't very good—but then, none of them were. They were children. It wasn't Shakespeare. He developed, if nothing else, a basic grasp of the intent.
The body disappeared. There were never any nondescript men in nondescript suits, much as she never stopped fearing it.
The first time a man from the future showed up at Martha Kent's house, Clark Kent was seven years old.
This one was young. He was haggard. He was thin. He looked so very, very tired.
That didn't stop Martha from leveling her shotgun at him.
"Please," he pleaded. "You don't understand."
"He declare himself King or something?" she asked, and it was so difficult to keep her heart hard. This was a boy, just like so many boys she'd known, he was begging and she was the one holding the gun. She refused to think of any boy but her son.
"No, he's just—he's perfect. He's perfection incarnate."
"Sounds real unfortunate."
"He sets this standard, this amazing standard, he says if we just tried we could be like him, we could be strong like him, we could be perfect like him. All these problems would go away if we just worked for the greater good, and people—people listen, it's so hard not to listen, he says he's making a better world but there's no room in it for people like us. See, maybe it isn't even his fault, maybe he doesn't even mean it like that, but we can't help it, can we? People, I mean, human beings, we can't handle it, knowing perfect exists. And I'm sure, I'm sure you love your son, but he's not human—"
She shot him. She didn't want to shoot him. But she told herself it was a mercy. A miserable boy from a miserable future that never should have been. She stared down at the body, blood and brain and bone. She didn't know it, but it was getting easier.
"Can't say as I care for this much at all," she said to no one.
Muscle memory she didn't know she had, things that had never happened, burying the boy behind the barn. And when she was done she cried, cried as she burned her clothes and cried in the shower. All she wanted, all she ever wanted, was for her son to be safe.
There were so many sons.
"Don't take your coat off," she told Clark when he came home. She was pulling on her coat, grabbing her boots.
"Where are we going?" he asked, setting down his backpack. "Should I bring a book?"
"If you want," she said. "Don't know if you'll be reading it much. You know that Brady family down the way? Got a kid goes to your school?"
Clark made a face. "Tristan? He takes the short bus."
"Your school's not big enough to have a separate bus," she said, and she was angry, so angry. Not at Clark, but at the world that made little boys into men and lied about what it meant to be great. At herself, for not seeing the trouble her husband must have been having relating to a little boy Clark's age. Jonathan tried so hard to be a role model, but he didn't know what it was like to be a son, didn't trust himself not to steer Clark wrong.
Martha didn't know what it was like to be a son, either, but she found she didn't much care. Sons the world over would be lucky to grow up into a man like her husband, and damn anyone who said otherwise.
"That's what Caleb says," Clark said, defensive. "He takes the short bus and that's why he smells weird."
Lord, but she couldn't remember the last time she'd been so angry. "You go tell Pa to start up the truck," she said as she pulled on her boots, "because I'm going to go have myself a talk with Mrs. Brady, and you're going to have yourself a little playdate."
"What?" Clark was horrified. "I don't want to!"
"And I do not care," she said.
"You can't make me!"
"Oh, you'd better believe I can," she said, and Clark went silent as he recognized the fire in his mother's eyes. "I can, I will, and you will keep your fool mouth shut about what that Caleb says if you know what's good for you. We're going over there, and we're going to keep going over there, until you two are the best of friends."
"You can't make me," he mumbled again, and this time Martha was at his side, knelt down beside him and took his face in her hands so that he'd look at her. His eyes were still such a beautiful blue through his glasses; she didn't think he'd even know what it meant, even she didn't really know what it meant, but she pressed her forehead to his.
"I know I can't make you," she said. "But I know my son. I know you like I know my own heart, baby, and I'm not going to have to make you. It's just what's going to happen. Now go tell Pa to bring the car around while I phone ahead. Okay?"
Clark was sullen, but he went outside to find his father anyway. Martha shut her eyes, and tried not to cry again.
Two months later, Mr. and Mrs. Kent were called to the school to pick up their son. He and Caleb had gotten into a fight at recess. Clark's glasses were broken, he had tissue paper in his nose. Jonathan spent twenty minutes giving the principal a lecture about bullies. Clark stared at his father with a naked adoration she didn't think she'd ever seen, utterly rapt and absorbing every word.
She was so proud she thought her heart would burst.
There were never any boys lying dead in her yard, too young and too helpless. She had never cried for the sons she couldn't save.
The last time people from the future showed up at Martha Kent's house, Clark Kent was ten years old.
Martha didn't remember things that had never happened—how could she? And yet there was an awareness in her, born of meddling she did not know she'd done, fractured futures and split timelines. She didn't know what she knew, she didn't know how she knew it, the ghost of a thought against the edges of her mind.
Without thinking, without even entirely knowing what she was doing, she grabbed her shotgun and filled her pocket up with shells.
The tractor was still running, but Jonathan wasn't on it. She headed for the barn, where the door was ajar, and held her gun at ready.
"I'm sorry, I really don't understand what you're asking here," Jonathan was saying.
"Don't play dumb, Mr. Kent. Please just direct me to Kal-El's vessel, and this will all be over soon." The voice was... wrong, somehow. Not a human voice, not an animal, not anything she'd ever heard.
Kal-El. That name made a pit in the bottom of her stomach.
"Do you mean Clark?" Jonathan asked, and she could tell he was trying to buy time.
"If it makes you feel better to call him that, then fine."
"Now, I hate to disappoint you, fella, but we got rid of that thing a long, long time ago. Now if you want to go check out in the lake—"
"Don't waste my time."
Jonathan screamed. Which was all the encouragement Martha needed to burst in the door and start firing.
Her husband, thank goodness, was already on the ground. No chance of friendly fire. She'd just have to hope whatever the thing did hadn't killed him.
And it was definitely a thing, some slender twisted thing in only the vaguest approximation of a man, and the only advantage Martha really had was the element of surprise. She wasn't sure that it would be enough, when it kept moving, when it advanced toward her. Reloading took too long, firing took too long, everything took too damn long. But finally it crumpled, and her ears were ringing, and her relief was so profound that she almost crumpled herself. Moreso, when she saw Jonathan start to roll on his side so he could get up.
But then he looked behind her, with what was obviously genuine alarm.
So Martha turned as she reloaded, fired once before her gun grew too hot in her hand to hold. She dropped it and tried to shake her hand free of the heat, distantly aware that her gunfire had been completely useless. "Son of a bitch."
"Oh, ma yourself," she said irritably, sizing up this apparently bulletproof threat.
Except that he wasn't standing there like a threat. He was standing there like he was very concerned. And confused.
And, lord, those beautiful blue eyes.
She stood straighter. "Clark?"
What in the hell was he wearing? And who was his friend? And his other, lady friend? What the hell were they wearing, for that matter? Some kind of a... bat... demon? And a flag girl? Maybe? This was a Halloween nightmare, was what it was.
"Ma, what happened?"
She put her fists on her hips, because the fact that her son had just appeared in her barn as a grown man in a ridiculous outfit did not excuse that tone. "You'd know better than I would," she said, looking back towards the twisted metal on the ground. "Johnny, do you know what the hell just happened?"
He was sitting up, wincing as he held his head. "Not a damn clue."
"Ma! Pa!" This older Clark sounded very scandalized. Martha smacked him straight in the middle of his chest with the back of her hand, and it felt like hitting a wall.
"Honestly, Clark, you're a grown man. I'm sure you've heard a bad word or two before." He started turning faintly pink. His lady friend covered her mouth, but the one in black remained expressionless. "You are a grown man, aren't you? Not some kind of aged-up ten year-old, or something?"
"Yes, Ma, I am a grown man—"
"Well would you go help your father, please? I'd do it myself, but as long as you're going to stand there showing off all those muscles you might as well use them."
"Ma." Now there was a familiar whine. Nonetheless, he was at his father's side before Martha could even blink, air whooshing around him.
"Now, was that necessary?" she asked. "Nobody likes a show-off, Clark."
"Yeah, Clark," murmured the man in black. Martha turned her head to look him over. She wondered if she imagined that he stood straighter.
"Is this just how people are going to dress in the future?" she asked, gesturing to both her son's companions. "Because I don't think I'm going to be able to pull that off."
"No, Mrs. Kent," the woman assured her. She couldn't place the accent. Lord, there was a time when she would kill to have a body like that. Especially those arms. Now it just seemed exhausting. "These are uniforms. Do you mind if I inspect the evidence?" she asked, pointing to the mangled metal she'd been shooting at.
"You may as well," Martha said with a wave of her hand. "What in the hell am I going to do with it? I'm assuming you're all from the future for some reason, is that about right?"
"That's correct," the woman said, kneeling beside it and picking at various... parts? Presumably she knew what she was doing.
"You're taking this remarkably well," the man in black observed.
Martha arched an eyebrow, then gestured to her son. "I found a baby in a spaceship. I have spent ten years now hiding a space baby from the government, and you think some kind of time foolishness is going to blow my mind? I was expecting aliens."
"You were half right."
He had a very dry sense of humor for a man with pointy ears. "Clark, are you going to introduce me to your... coworkers?"
Jonathan seemed to be feeling better. Clark was still sitting by his side, and it made her so happy to see them together. Even if it was still very weird. "Ma, Pa, this is Bruce and Diana. Bruce, Diana, these are my parents. Who are, apparently, unbelievably reckless—"
"—because if Brainiac hadn't been in such a weakened state already he'd have killed you, Ma, and then where would we be?"
"Dead, obviously. Why does the robot have a gender?"
"I was wondering that too, actually," Jonathan said.
"That's—Ma, you tried to shoot me! What if it had been someone else?"
"Buried him behind the barn," both Kents said at the same time.
"You shouldn't sneak up on a mother with a shotgun," she added, though she was still mortified that she'd shot at her son. "If you're here for the manbot, why was the manbot here?"
"He was trying to get Kryptonian technology," Diana said, "so that he could rebuild himself. He came to a time when Kal-El's ship was still intact, and therefore of the most use to him."
"Don't call him that."
Diana raised an eyebrow. "Kal-El?"
"Right. My son is named Clark."
"They can both be my name," Clark said gently, standing back up. Lord, he got tall. Would get tall. Someday.
"I named you Clark," she said.
"We have a fight about it," he said. "When I'm seventeen."
"Oh, good, I'll know to look forward to that."
"You won't remember," Bruce said.
"Time foolishness," he said.
"Oh, hell. I should have known. Ain't that just a kick in the pants."
Clark hugged her, suddenly. It felt very strange, being hugged by her son, her little boy, and he was bigger than she was. Still: it was very nice to know she'd raised a man who still hugged his mother. She'd done at least one thing right.
"You're not hugging me because I'm dead in the future, are you?" she asked.
"Ma! No, you're fine. I just saw you last week and I come home for holidays."
"You invited me last Christmas," Bruce added helpfully.
"Is that what you wore?"
"Yes," he said, and she didn't think she believed him. "But with a sweater over it." Martha cackled, and she was pretty sure when Bruce coughed he did it to cover a smile. "You didn't have a shotgun then, though," he said. "You baked cookies."
"Did I really?" Martha was impressed. She looked back to Clark, and cupped his face in his hands like he was still small. "I probably got real nice once I found out you were bulletproof." She beamed. "I wish I could remember this," she said. "I'm just so happy you... lived."
"I'm serious! I've spent ten years, now, scared to death that you were going to get stolen or vivisected or god knows what else. Every time you get the flu I'm scared you're going to die because you're an alien. You still can't be outside without your glasses—"
"That gets better."
"I see that, but I won't know that when you're gone. For all I know, just being on this planet is killing you. And I don't know what you'll be when you grow up." Martha looked at Diana. "I spent three years convinced this kid was in some kind of larval stage, I was going to wake up one morning and he'd be a giant crab." Diana smiled, and Bruce cleared his throat unconvincingly.
"She ain't kidding," Jonathan said. "You wouldn't believe how many nights she had me go over the 'our son is a crab' action plan."
"Pa, you knew I wasn't going to turn into a giant crab, right?"
Jonathan had finally managed to stand, and he grinned at his wife. "Kiddo, I spent the eighties recovering from the seventies, I would have believed it even if you hadn't come from space."
Clark rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Diana put her hand gently on his arm. She'd thrown the broken metal man over her shoulder. "Clark, we need to leave soon—before the portal closes."
"There's a portal?"
"There usually is," Bruce said.
"I'm sorry, Ma, we have to go."
"Oh, fine, give me a hug first, then." And he did, without even complaining, and Martha was indescribably pleased. "Diana, do I get to hug you, too?"
"Of course, Mrs. Kent. I have also enjoyed your Christmas cookies."
"Oh, hell," she said as she hugged the taller woman. Clark was hugging his father in the meantime, and that made her even happier. "I'm going to have to learn how to make those. Bruce?"
"Technically, you won't remember whether or not I hugged you."
"No," she agreed, "but you'll have to live with knowing that you disappointed me, and I don't even remember it for you to make it up to me."
"Ouch." That was apparently enough to guilt him into hugging her, but secretly she thought he wanted to anyway. Mostly because he hugged her much tighter than was strictly necessary. "Stay safe, Mrs. Kent."
"You know that I will," she pointed out.
"Stay safe, anyway."
She tried to remember. She really tried to remember. She tried to remember her son's face, some far off day in the future, when he was safe and happy and she could embarrass him in front of his friends. She tried to remember the way he hugged her, and how much taller her got, and how strong he looked. How he was bulletproof, how he came home at Christmas and he brought his friends and she needed to learn how to actually make cookies instead of buying them from the co-op bakery.
"Why do I feel like I fell off the tractor?" Jonathan asked, rubbing at old scars through his shirt as they stood in the driveway. Martha looked at the tractor, still running.
"Johnny, I don't mean to alarm you, but I think you might have fallen off the tractor."
She kissed his cheek. "How about you go inside and rest? I'm sure Clark can help me finish whatever else needs to get done."
He took her hands, lifted them so that he could kiss each one of her fingertips. "What's got my favorite girl in such a good mood today?"
She sighed, blushing like a schoolgirl. "You know," she said, "I have no goddamn idea."