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The smell of the sun in cotton inspires in her a raw tenderness. She slips her hands into the cuffs of a plaid shirt. It's soft with years of use and becoming threadbare; one of Jonathan's. She has a thousand memories of brushed cotton and sex, hay and the damp earth under her hands, her stern husband melted to sunshine and honey. She smiles and carries the basket of dry clothes inside.



The next load of washing is delicates. She likes to see her frippery of lace and delicacy next to Jonathan's and Clark's more prosaic underwear on the line. She likes the evidence that this is her life, her family, her men. Her fingers curl into the basket and she's shakes out each garment before hanging it.



Between a bra and cotton boxers she finds something she has never bought: a plain black thong. A man's thong. The damp material feels obscene and alive to her touch. Briefly and sharply Clark is once again three years old, too young, a baby. Her baby. Then she remembers that for two years now she's looked up at him, her strong, beautiful son. She smiles to herself, an expression of rue and rosemary, and wonders when she stopped knowing everything, everything he did, every dream and every desire he had. When was the last time he had stopped in the kitchen after school to talk to her instead of going out to the barn via the fridge and a lanky, careful hug?



The crunch of wheels in the drive breaks into her thoughts. Lex Luthor is getting out of his car as she turns towards the drive. He's slipping sunglasses into a jacket pocket.



"Lex," she smiles, "what brings you out here?" She means to move away from the washing line but Lex is beside her, lifting the basket to a more convenient height.



"Allow me."



A billionaire's son is helping her hang out her washing. She's both charmed and embarrassed, covers it with action, reaches up to the line with the black thong and a peg.



Lex's polite expression falters when he sees what she's hanging. It's a soft crumpling in a smooth facade, a momentary lapse of focus. He recovers his composure fast but she thinks of a hand in the cookie jar just the same.



"I'm afraid Clark isn't at home. He's gone to Bob Johnson's place with Jonathan. Bob's hurt his back and they're helping out today."



"That's a generous gift. Time is a farmer's most precious resource."



She tries to judge his sincerity. She's not above believing that her son can be more of a good influence on Lex than Lex a bad influence on Clark. Unlike Jonathan. He can't see that a bad father holds less sway than a good one.



"Bob would do the same for us." She smiles at him at last.



"I would do the same for you. But I know a Luthor's gift isn't welcome here."



"Lex." She pauses to make sure her words are just right. "A gift has to mean something the recipient as well as the giver." He moves his lips in a smile so she knows she hasn't been clear enough. "You can't give someone more than they can take."



"Perhaps Clark can take more than his father realises?"



The broad blue sky is heavy. She reaches and pegs, reaches and pegs. Lex gives ground beside her, moving along the line. Finally, a pair of white boxers in her hands, she says, "That's not Clark's decision to make yet."



"But one day soon it will be."



She sees his hands clenched hard on the basket, fingertips white with pressure. "Yes, Lex. One day it will be. But right now he's just a boy. A good boy and he'll mind his father."



She pegs up the boxers while he glances back along the washing line.



"Perhaps you shouldn't let Clark take up so much of your own time, though. You must be very busy."



"Clark saved my life. I'll never be too busy for him. He's a remarkable young man, Mrs Kent, the most remarkable I've ever met."



With all his money and all his opportunity, she thinks. And, he's so young. And, poor Lex.



She hangs out the last pair of briefs. Lex is looking past her so she follows his gaze. He's looking down the washing line, again. When she turns back to him she recalls a momentary shiver of expression and something crystalises in the bright air.



Lex, then.



"Thank you for your help, Lex."



My baby boy.



"You're welcome. We Luthors are capable of being useful."






She reaches out, touches his arm.



My boy.



"Stay to lunch, Lex."



Maybe your underwear will be dry by the time you go.