Martha loved this time of the morning; the silence blanketing the old farmhouse, broken only by birdsong, bright sunlight streaming in through the windows as she worked. She still sometimes missed the clomp of Clark's boots on the stairs flying out of the house in a mad dash somewhere, but she'd come to cherish times like this as well.
Hearing the timer ding on the stove she reached over to pull out the tray of muffins, putting them on the rack to cool. Jonathan wouldn't be in for lunch for a while yet so she wanted to get the baking for the Talon out of the way before then. Thanks to her catering business, and all the Metropolis clients they'd acquired, the farm was in the best shape financially that it'd ever been.
Martha laughed softly; it'd been fun seeing the more and more inventive ways Lex had found to help his 'in-laws' over the years, especially knowing that they wouldn't take any direct financial help from him or Clark. It's amazing how many of their friends in the city, how many of the restaurants they ate at, suddenly couldn't live without 'Kent Family Farms' organic produce and baked goods. She and Jonathan just humored them and went along, knowing that all the scheming and maneuvering was done out of their love for them both.
Humming to herself as she continued to work Martha was startled by a knock on the back door. She'd been so wrapped up in her thoughts she hadn't even heard a car pull up. She was surprised to find Lex, hand poised to knock again, when she opened the door, almost as if her thoughts had conjured him there.
"Lex, I was just thinking about you! Is Clark with you?" As she pulled him into a hug she couldn't help remembering a time when he would have stood stiffly in her arms but, not now, he'd slowly learned to relax and enjoy them over the years.
"Hi, Martha. No, I'm on my own today. I snagged the helicopter and flew it to the mansion after he left for work this morning, Clark doesn't know I'm here."
Martha smiled as she walked back to the table, Lex following along behind. Settling in chairs facing each other, she noticed he looked tired. There were dark circles under his eyes she wasn't accustomed to seeing. "Lex, what are you up to? I'm not used to you just showing up on my doorstep so early in the morning."
Lex laughed, the sound seeming brittle, forced, "Nothing nefarious, I promise, scout's honor."
"Lex Luthor, as far as I know you were never a boy scout!"
"No, but I'm married to one, does that count?"
She went along with his attempt at lightness, knowing he'd tell her what was really bothering him when he was ready to, though it might involve some coaxing. "Oh, I see, 'innocence by association' is that it?"
Lex grinned as he said, "One only hopes Martha, one only hopes."
"Okay Lex, fess up, what's going on and how does it involve Jonathan and me?"
A shadow crossed his face before he answered, an unexpected blush painting his cheeks as he looked down, his fingers idly tracing the scars in the old table. "We had a damned argument this morning before he left for work. The worst part about it was that, like an idiot, I stormed out of the penthouse refusing to talk to him."
Martha placed her hand over his, stopping the nervous movements. "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry. What happened?"
"It was stupid. I was scared and I said some stupid, hurtful things. We both did."
Martha kept her hand on his, silently encouraging him to continue.
Lex's voice was soft when he spoke, his head down, focused on their joined hands. "He didn't get in until almost three o'clock this morning, his costume in tatters again, reeking of blood and pain. He's been pushing himself for weeks, last night he was so tired when he got in that he fell in the bathroom just trying to get out of the damned suit!" Lex raised his eyes, not bothering to hide the pain in them, his face open in ways the old Lex never would have allowed. "I hate it, Martha. I hate what it's doing to him. He's killing himself right in front of my eyes and I can't make him stop." His voice cracked on the last, eyes bright with unshed tears.
She leaned forward, wishing there was some way to erase the pain and confusion she saw on his face, her own worry for Clark washing over her. "Oh, baby. I don't understand, what's caused this? Why is he pushing so hard? I thought things were supposed to get better when they formed the League. That with the extra help none of them would have to fight so hard or alone any more."
Lex laughed, the tone sounding bitter, lost. "That was the plan, and it was better, for a little while. Clark was even home and slept through the night with me sometimes. This all started a little over two months ago, after the earthquake and mudslides that devastated Japan so badly." Lex looked up at Martha; she could see the exhaustion he tried to hide, knowing it was a reflection of what Clark must be feeling. "Something happened but he won't tell me what. He came back from that rescue white-lipped and shaking and soon after that the compulsive rescues and not sleeping began. I've tried caring, I've tried threats. Hell, I've even tried being really nice. I've done all the supportive spouse stuff I can think of and he won't let me in." He shook his head, running his hand over his scalp. "I can't do this, Martha. I can't stand by and just watch him destroying himself a little more each day and not do be able to do anything to help. I won't."
Martha twined his fingers with hers, feeling how cold they were. "Do you think it would do any good for me to try and talk to him?"
"God, I hope so, he sure as hell won't let me in."
Martha knew how worried Lex was when he cursed. Both boys still tended to treat her like fine china that needed to be protected, seeming to forget that she'd lived with a farmer for almost thirty years now. Just because they hadn't cursed around Clark didn't mean that more colorful language didn't flow around the farmhouse sometimes if the need arose. She stood up, coming over to Lex, placing her hand on his shoulder. "When was the last time you slept through the night, Lex? You're looking pretty ragged yourself."
Lex looked up at her, smiling a little sheepishly. "Two months ago."
She ran her hand down his face, feeling him turn slightly into the comforting caress. "That's what I thought. Today's Friday. Do you have to go back to the city today or can you and Clark stay here in Smallville for the weekend?"
"I can stay; I've already alerted the staff at the mansion. I hope that we can get Clark to agree to. I brought clothes for both of us just in case you were willing to try and help." Martha could see echoes of the lost boy he'd been when they first met as he looked at her. "I just, I didn't know what else to do. I can't lose him, Martha..." His voice sounded small, broken as he continued. "I'm afraid of what I could become if I did."
She put her fingers under his chin, turning his face up to meet hers, her voice loving but stern. "Alexander Joseph Luthor, I don't want to ever hear those words come out of your mouth again. Whether you want to believe it or not, you are just as good a man as Clark. Things happen. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we lose people that we love. I pray that neither of us ever have to go through the loss of either Clark or Jon. Not for a long, long time. But, even if the worst happened and we did, it wouldn't change the fact that both of us are good people. That, thank God, neither of us is alone. We'd grieve but we'd also find a way to honor the love we'd been blessed with. Never, ever, doubt that. I don't."
Lex closed his eyes, the tension he'd been holding himself so rigidly with lessened. Not gone, but better. Martha could feel the difference in the bunched muscles of his shoulder underneath her fingertips. Opening his eyes again, he tilted his head back to look at her, quietly mouthing the soft words she might have missed if she wasn't listening so carefully.
Martha leaned forward, kissing Lex on his forehead then gently brushing away the single tear trailing down his face. "Oh, sweetie. Never hesitate to come to us. You're our son too and we love you. It'll be a while before Jonathan gets in for lunch, why don't you go up and lie down on Clark's bed and try to rest. I just changed the sheets up there yesterday. I'll call Clark and get him to come home, and then we can deal with whatever is wrong as a family. You're not alone, Lex. Let Jon and me help both of you if we can."
With her words Lex stood up, turning and pulling her into a quick hug before he stepped back, gathering his reserve and dignity around him like a cloak once again, but not shutting her out. That had been one of the most welcome changes over the years he and Clark had been together, his learning how to trust again. Lex smiled at her, still looking tired and worn but already better then he had when he arrived. "Thanks Martha, I think I will. Do you promise to wake me when Clark gets here if you need me?"
"Of course, you go on up. I'll tell Jonathan what's going on when he comes home."
After another quick hug he nodded his head yes, turned and started up the stairs. Martha waited, hearing the soft sounds from above as he moved around the room finally settling on the bed. After a few minutes she went up to check on him, finding Lex already asleep. That alone told her how exhausted he must truly be.
Going back downstairs she placed a call to the Daily Planet. Clark was out on assignment with Lois but Jimmy promised he'd give him the message that she needed him at home as soon as he returned. Hanging up the phone Martha closed her eyes for a moment, praying that she'd find the right words to help them both. Turning back to the stove she went back to the work she'd interrupted when Lex arrived, waiting for either Jon or Clark to arrive.
She didn't have long to wait. Barely an hour after she placed the call she heard the familiar whoosh of displaced air that always heralded Clark's arrival in uniform. By the time the door opened he'd already changed back to his regular clothes. Martha was glad. She may have designed the costume but when Clark wore it he changed, became more than her son, Lex's lover. Sometimes it was a little disconcerting. And, it gave Clark something to hide behind when he didn't want to talk.
Clark was at her side, hands on her shoulders as soon as he was in the room. She saw the gauntness, the worn air of fatigue he carried. It frightened her to think what it must have taken to carve those lines into her invincible son's face.
"Mom, what's wrong? I came as soon as I got your message, is Dad okay? It's not his heart again is it?"
Martha hugged him, feeling the tremors he couldn't hold back. Clark seemed ready to break; no wonder Lex was so desperate. Pulling back, she smoothed his hair off his forehead, kissing his cheek. "No baby, we're fine. It's not us, it's Lex."
Clark frowned as he looked down at her. "Lex? Mom, what does Lex have to do with this?" A look of panic crossed his face, leeching what little color he had away. "Oh God, he's wrecked one of those damned cars, hasn't he? Is he all right?"
Martha shook her head, placing both hands on his face. "Clark, sweetie, breathe. You've got to calm down. He hasn't wrecked his car, he's here. His car is right outside in the driveway; I can't believe you missed it. He's upstairs in your room."
Anger darkened his face at her words. "Damn it, what's he doing here? He knows we're not supposed to drag you two into the middle of our fights." He started to move away from her but her hand on his arm stopped him.
Martha searched his eyes, forcing him to meet her gaze, not look away. "Clark, no, I don't want you rushing up there and causing another fight. We are going up there but we're doing it together. And I want you to really look at Lex when we do. You're both hurting each other and I won't have it. This has to stop before either of you say or do something you can't take back."
She shook her head, hand still on his arm. "No, Clark... Do you trust me?"
"Mom! What a dumb thing to say. Of course I trust you, you're my mom." Clark looked confused, younger then he had in years. Her heart twisted in her chest to see the pain etched into his face.
Her hand moved to frame his face. "Then come with me, sweetie. Just be quiet and really look at what I have to show you." When he silently nodded 'yes' they both started up to his room.
Lex still slept when they both entered the quiet room. That alone underscored what she wanted him to see; normally the slightest sound brought him to instant awareness. The late morning sun bathed his face, soft light showing all of the shadows, the dark circles etched underneath both eyes. He looked young, lost on the small bed. One arm wrapped around a pillow, clutching it to him like it was the most precious thing in the world.
Clark stood looking down at him, his hands clinched at his sides. Martha gasped at the pain on his face when he finally looked up at her, his voice soft and cracking. "Mom? Oh God... I did this... I did this to Lex, didn't I?" With those words, he fell to his knees beside the bed, head bowed, like a puppet with its strings suddenly cut.
Martha moved to him quickly, dropping down beside him and gathering him in her arms. "Oh, sweetie. Have you looked in a mirror lately? You did it to yourself. Lex is like us, when you hurt, he hurts." She eased his head to her shoulder, feeling the quiet sobs wracking his large frame. "Baby... this has to stop, you have to talk to him, to us and tell us what happened." As she continued to hold him she heard the slight movement on the bed.
"Clark...?" Lex's voice was soft, blurred with sleep and exhaustion, one hand reaching out to tangle in Clark's hair.
Martha pulled back as Clark's head came up, tear tracks shining in the light from the window. Clark leaned forward onto the bed, face buried against Lex's chest, his shoulders shaking even harder with suppressed grief. His voice almost muffled as he lay against Lex. "Oh, God... I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Lex. I didn't know... I couldn't... I'd never want to hurt you like this..."
Lex eased up in the bed, his arms wrapping around Clark. Martha kept her arm wrapped around his back, both of them forming a protective shield around him. "Shhh, Clark, it's okay... I'm okay. Just, let us in... You can't keep hurting yourself like you've been doing. Please, tell us what's wrong..."
Clark's voice was broken, as brittle as glass as he began to speak, voice halting and cracking in places. "I screwed up Lex... I screwed up and someone died because of it... A little girl... She was... She was just so little when I held her in my arms..."
From her vantage point Martha saw fresh pain spasm across Lex's face. "Fuck, Clark... What happened?" His fingers combed gently through Clark's hair with his words. Tears running unchecked down his cheeks as he spoke.
Clark's eyes were haunted as he raised his head. He was looking at Lex, but not really seeing him, mind trapped in the memories of that day. "It was in Japan, after the quake. God, Lex, it was so awful... the sounds, the smell. There were mudslides everywhere from the rain; the buildings all jumbled together like little broken toys. We were all there, there was so much area to cover that we each took a different section to look for survivors in. J'onn and I took the hospital district; it was hit really hard... We had to move so fast, the buildings were falling down around us... whole sections disappearing into the mud..." Clark's hands started shaking. Finally his whole body shook as he fought to get the words out, tried to explain to us both.
Martha rubbed his back, trying to communicate her love to him through the soft touches. "Shhh, baby... it's okay... We're right here with you sweetie... Whatever it is, we can face it together..."
Clark gulped in air, his breathing panicked and harsh. "It was in the Children's Hospital, it was dark, there was mud, flames, everywhere. J'onn and I were working blind trying to find everyone; I was using my x-ray vision, J'onn searching with his mind. We found a ward filled with about twenty kids, they were all about three or four years old. J'onn said that he found out later it was a cancer ward. It was crumbling around us so we moved as quickly as we could to get them out. It was when we got the last child out and I was scanning the building that I heard it, a faint heartbeat echoing in the section we'd just been in. I tore back into the building, from what I could tell she was in the area next to the ward. It looked like it must have been an x-ray area..."
Lex looked up, his vision sharpening. "X-ray...? Oh fuck... there would have been lead shielding there."
Clark shook his head, his voice soft, barely there. "Yeah..."
Martha leaned over, kissing his hair. "Oh, baby..."
His voice broke even more as he continued. "She was buried in the mud... God Lex, she was so tiny... I had to be so careful getting her loose... It was all I could hear as I dug through all the debris, her heart, beating slower and slower. It stopped altogether just as I pulled her free. I flew with her as fast as I could to the doctors outside." Fresh tears coursed down his cheeks as he continued. "They tried, they tried everything to save her but nothing worked. They said the shock to her system was too great..." Clark drew a deep, shuddering breath. "I... I watched as they told her parents, saw her mother scream and fall to the ground. Everywhere I go I see her; hear her heartbeat in my head. It was me, Lex. It was my fault. If I'd been faster, if I'd been better, she wouldn't have d...died."
"Clark, no... Clark, look at me..." Lex placed his fingers under Clark's chin, raising his head. His eyes were black with grief and anguish as he looked at Lex. "Were you the only hero there that day? What about J'onn, what did he say? He didn't hear her either."
Clark's voice was a whisper as he answered. "He said that, no matter how hard we try, we can't save everyone."
"He's right. You were both hampered by your weaknesses; you the lead, J'onn the flames. You have to think of all the children you did save. Children who would have died if you hadn't been there fighting to help them." Lex leaned forward, kissing Clark softly on the lips. "You can do amazing things but you're one man. You'll drive yourself crazy thinking of the might have beens." Lex placed his hand on Clark's face, gently running his fingers down his cheek. "I love you, but I can't just sit back and watch you punishing yourself like this any more. It has to stop. You're so tired, Clark. If you keep pushing yourself you will end up making a mistake, possibly a catastrophic one. Could you live with yourself if that happened?"
Clark mutely shook his head 'no'. Martha's heart went out to her child, seeing him in so much pain and knowing this was something only time and their love could fix. "You need to try and let this go. No one has ever expected you to be perfect except you." She continued to rub gentle circles on his back. "We love you, sweetie. Please, don't shut us out like this, let us help."
Clark turned toward his mother; burying his face against her shoulder as harsh sobs shook his large frame. After a few minutes she and Lex moved him, got him to lie down against Lex on the narrow bed. Both of them held him as he finally let himself grieve for the small life lost that horrible day. Gradually Clark fell into a restless sleep, his exhaustion overwhelming him.
They both knew that this was only a first step, that he'd need time to heal. Lex looked at Martha, the shadows in his own eyes lessened. "I'm notifying Gabe tomorrow that I'm taking a few weeks off. We'll call Perry, tell him that Clark needs to use some of that vacation time he keeps accumulating. He'll understand. Clark's been pushing himself just as hard at the Planet lately, too. Both he and Lois have told me they were worried about him."
Martha nodded, looking thoughtful. "We'll have to get in touch with the League, arrange for someone to watch over Metropolis or Clark won't be able to relax."
Lex smiled tiredly. "I know. I'll speak to Bruce about it first thing tomorrow."
She smiled at Lex. "I know between you both you'll figure it out. Are you staying here at the mansion or going back to the penthouse?"
"Here I think, at least at first. Maybe in a couple of weeks we'll try and get away. I don't care where we go. We'll do whatever Clark needs."
Martha leaned over, kissing Lex on the cheek. "Whatever you need as well, Lex, this time needs to be for both of you." She smiled down at Lex as she stood up. "Besides, I'm not complaining, I'm coming out ahead with this deal. I'll have both my boys here to pamper. It'll be nice."
Lex reached out, taking her hand. "Martha, thank you... I don't know what we would have done without your help."
"You'd have figured it out one way or another. I have faith in you, Lex." Martha squeezed his fingers, a soft smile on her face. "Regardless, sweetie, never hesitate to ask for our help if you need us. That's what family's for." Running her hand gently over Clark's sleeping face, she stood up, preparing to leave. "Both of you try and get some sleep. I'll wake you tonight in time for supper."
She placed a single finger over his lips. "Hush, sweetie, enough. You get some sleep, whatever it is can keep for a while. It'll be easier for you to think when you're not so tired."
Lex nodded his head 'yes' and then settled down, his arm across Clark's waist, his eyes closing almost as quickly as Clark's did.
Martha stood quietly, watching them both sleep for a few minutes before she turned, drawing the curtains to make the room darker. She gently closed the door behind her to give them some privacy and then went back downstairs to wait for Jonathan to come home for lunch. The morning felt like it had been a million hours long all ready but in truth it was still early, barely even eleven o'clock. So Martha went back to her work and waited for her husband to get home so she could tell him what had happened this morning. She wasn't worried about his reaction; the days of his refusing to trust Lex were, thankfully, long gone. She just prayed that they both had the strength to be what both Clark and Lex needed right now. But, like she'd told Lex, she had faith. They'd make it together, that's what families did.