At the soft voice, Martha Kent turned away from the large displays of trajectory images and computer graphics, away from the preserved creature in a jar and a wrecked automobile, away from the photographs of those she’d lost, to the man who’d collected them.
Lex Luthor stood on the last step into the vast room, clutching a book to his chest like a worn doll. One of his sleeves had rolled down again, the plaid flannel engulfing his hand. He shifted from foot to foot, his sneakers squeaking on the marble tiled floor.
“I thought I told you to stay in the library,” she said, but with little scolding. She’d seen this room many times before and it still hadn’t brought Clark back to her.
“You were gone too long,” Lex said, his vivid gaze wandering around the room. He descended the last step and shuffled with an awkward gait to her side. “What are you doing here? I don’t like it here. Clark hates me here.”
“Clark doesn’t hate you, sweetheart.” Martha brushed her hand gently along the curve of Lex’s head, down his back, and settled between his shoulder blades. She prompted him towards the exit. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
“Can we stop for ice cream?” Lex asked hopefully.
“Not before dinner,” Martha said. She picked up the bag outside the door and checked to make sure the room was locked.
“I want ice cream.”
Martha suppressed her sigh, and they walked at Lex’s pace, leaving the past behind. “Perhaps we can eat dessert first, tonight.”
Martha stood at the sink, washing her burn-reddened hands. She had turned the hose on the fire in the field until the fire department had arrived and doused it completely. She couldn’t explain to them how it had started or why it had not spread, though she had a feeling she knew the answer.
The screen door opened and Martha turned quickly. “Jonathan,” she said, worry in her voice and fear in her eyes as she searched behind him. “Where’s Clark?”
Jonathan closed his eyes, and Martha’s world fell out from under her. “Jor-El took him.”
What she didn’t know was, five months later, Jor-El would take Jonathan, as well.
“’m not tired.” Lex rubbed his eyes with his fists, belying his words. “I want to stay up and watch the news.”
“The news will be on again in the morning.” Martha pushed him towards the bathroom. “It’s past your bedtime already. Go potty and brush your teeth.”
“I don’t want to go to bed.” With a pout, Lex shuffled into the bathroom anyway.
Martha left him alone and went into his bedroom. Clark’s old room had been redecorated with finger-painted and crayon-drawn pictures, whose subjects were unidentifiable to anyone but Lex. Most of them, according to the occupational therapist, were said to be about living at the farm with her. She supposed one looked like a duck and another resembled a cow if she squinted. The oblong squiggle with red lines coming from the top might have been her.
Listening for Lex, Martha picked up the discarded clothing on the floor and dropped it in the closet hamper. Lex’s sneakers were lined up with the other shoes he never wore, beneath a rack full of expensive shirts and trousers he also never wore. Since the day she’d brought him home from the rehabilitation clinic, he’d refused to wear anything but plaid, flannel in the winter and shirtsleeves in the summer.
His psychologist said the plaid was a comforting pattern for him. It didn’t do him any harm to wear it continuously, and the Kent household had certainly never been short on plaid. With both Clark and Jonathan gone, Martha was glad the clothing got some use.
The toilet flushed, and Lex came into the bedroom shortly thereafter. “Did you wash your hands?” Martha asked, laying his pajamas within reach.
“Yes.” Lex’s leg dragged more than usual, indicating he was tired. He stopped beside the bed, in front of Martha, and she began unbuttoning his flannel shirt. “I brushed my teeth, too. See?”
“Good boy,” Martha praised by rote, as he smiled overly wide. His shirt removed, she pulled down his elastic-waist trousers and did a quick check of his incontinence pants. Clean. He held onto her shoulders as he stepped out of his trousers and into his pajama bottoms. She stood again. “Into bed with you.”
The pout returned. “But I want to watch the news.”
“No, Lex,” Martha said firmly. His face started to screw up, but she was quick to quash his tantrum. “Mrs. Filibuster’s eggs hatched this evening. Don’t you want to see the baby chicks?”
“Yes,” Lex said with a slightly teary warble. He rubbed his eyes again with his fists. “Can we go see them now?”
“The chicks are all asleep, just like you should be,” Martha said, urging him into bed with her hands on his bare shoulders. “When you wake up, they’ll be awake, too, and then you can see them.”
“Okay.” Lex settled in the bed, but not for long. “Why did you go into the Hate Room?”
“It’s not a Hate Room, honey,” Martha began. She was interrupted.
“Yes, it is,” Lex said. “I hate that room. Clark hates me in that room. Why did I make that room? I’m stupid.”
“Lex, you’re not stupid.” Martha’s words fell on deaf ears.
“Yes, I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid—” Lex hit himself in the head with closed fists. “–stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid—”
“Enough!” Martha said sharply. She grabbed his wrists and struggled with him until he stopped. Then, she sat on the bed, gathered his shaking form in her arms, and let him cry fitfully against her breast. She would not return to that room again, even though she kept hoping it would give her answers as to where Clark had gone.
Lex cried himself to sleep, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, and Martha tucked him in beneath the blankets. She switched the table lamp to the nightlight. In the pale blue glow, Lex’s pudgy face looked younger than his twenty-eight years, the drying tear streaks shining along the soft curves of his cheeks and jaw.
With a gentle brush of her fingers over his head, she left him to sleep.
“Martha Kent?” Dr. Watanabe glanced at the chart in his hand and then at the woman who rose from her seat.
“I’m Mrs. Kent,” Martha said, concern marring her features. She had left Jonathan at home, resting after what had happened with Jor-El.
“Mrs. Kent, Lex Luthor was brought to the hospital in critical condition approximately three hours ago,” Dr. Watanabe said.
“Is he all right?” Martha said with a small gasp.
“He’s in the ICU, unconscious but alive,” Dr. Watanabe said. “Hospital records indicate you were to be contacted in case of an emergency. You’re not family, though.”
“I have his Power of Attorney,” Martha said. “I have the paperwork at home, if you need to see it.”
“The new HIPPA law says we do.”
“I’ll run home and get it,” Martha said. “But may I see him first?”
Dr. Watanabe nodded. “Briefly, yes. Follow me.”
He led her down too familiar corridors to a dimly lit private room in the Intensive Care Unit, where he left her alone. She entered the room and stifled another gasp. Buried under a tangle of wires and tubes lay Lex, as pale as the sheets and still as death.
Martha crossed to him and curled her fingers over the bedrail. Her heart broke at the life support machine breathing for him. She should be mad at him for what he’d done to Clark, investigating him, keeping a room about him, but at the moment that didn’t matter. At the moment, she was a mother and a promised caregiver, and the boy who’d tried to act so strong when he’d asked her to be his Power of Attorney was lying in a hospital bed.
She’d lost one child today; she wouldn’t lose another.
The cheeping of the newly hatched chicks filled the coop. Lex knelt on the ground, his left leg extended awkwardly to the side, face pressed against the octagonal wire fencing. Mrs. Filibuster watched him with a wary red eye from her perch nearby. Six fuzzy yellow chicks peeped in the nest, clambering over one another and the cracked egg shell remains.
“Can I name them?” he asked, poking his finger through the wire to try and pet the chicks.
“If you’d like,” Martha replied. She spread feed around the bottom of the coop and then began collecting food eggs as the hens and chickens left their nests to eat. A few of the birds remained on their nests, those with live eggs incubating under warm feathered bodies.
“Death, Pestilence, Famine, Fear, Apocalypse, and Peepers.” Lex began whistling between his teeth, sounding like the chicks.
Martha shook her head, amused.
The sound of tires on gravel drew her attention. Lex heard it also, pulled himself to his feet, and shuffled in the direction of the driveway, around the side of the barn. “Wait for me,” she called after him, setting aside her coffee can of eggs. She wiped her hands on the dishtowel looped into the fencing and followed.
Martha recognized the car in the driveway and smiled at the man who emerged from the vehicle. “David, it’s nice to see you.”
“Martha. Hello, Lex.” David Caruthers was an old college friend of Martha’s who worked for her father’s law firm. He was also Lex’s and her attorney for the past four years.
“Come inside,” Martha invited. “Would you like some coffee? Or iced tea?”
“Coffee would be fine,” David agreed. The spring sunshine brought out the silver in his otherwise dark hair. He cut a handsome figure in his blue shirtsleeves.
“I want coffee, too,” Lex said.
Martha led the way into the house. She noted the briefcase David carried with him, but didn’t comment on it. It would be nice to have company for a short while that didn’t revolve around Lex.
David sat at the kitchen table with Lex, as Martha washed her hands and put on the coffee. “How was the drive from Metropolis?” she asked.
“Pleasant and uneventful,” David said. “If it were a little warmer, I would’ve put the top down.”
“It’s nice after all that rain we had last week,” Martha said. “I’ve been able to work in the garden. The weeds were starting to take over.”
“I’m sure you’ll have beautiful blooms, as always,” David said with a smile.
Martha busied herself with getting out mugs and pouring chocolate milk in one for Lex. She knew David was flirting with her, but she was so out of practice it was difficult to respond.
Lex didn’t have any problems with speaking, though. “I helped make the flowers grow pretty. But then I got dirty and had to take a bath.” His wrinkled nose illustrated his opinion about baths.
“Martha probably appreciated the help,” David said. He didn’t talk down to Lex like most people did, which Martha found nice.
“Here we are.” Martha set the coffee mugs on the table. “David, would you like cream or sugar?”
“Black is fine,” David said.
“How about some cookies? I have peanut butter ones.”
David smiled at her again. “Sit down, Martha.”
Martha sat across from David and tried to make more small talk. Lex slurped noisily beside her, but she was able to block him out from practice. “How are things at the firm? Is my father running you ragged?”
“He keeps us on our toes,” David said. “He’s been making noises about retiring again, but we all know that won’t happen.”
“Not since Mom died,” Martha said. “I know how it is to be alone in the house and I don’t blame him for wanting to keep working.”
David was sympathetic. “How long has Jonathan been gone now?”
“Four years,” Martha said. “He died six months before Lex was discharged into my care.”
“I’m sorry.” David touched her hand across the table.
“It’s all right.” Martha’s smile wobbled at the edges, but it was genuine. “It’s been a long time, and I’ve had Lex keeping me from being lonely.”
Lex banged his empty mug down on the table. He had a chocolate milk mustache that curved over his lips and up from the corners of his mouth. “Done.”
Martha removed her hand from under David’s and grabbed a napkin from the holder. She leaned across the corner of the table, held Lex’s chin, and wiped his face.
“Would you like to go to dinner with me?” David asked suddenly.
Martha’s hand halted briefly before she continued cleaning the milk off Lex. Lex squirmed, trying to turn his face away from her. “Sit still,” she said firmly. Lex exhaled heavily through his nose, but stopped moving.
“Martha?” David said.
Martha breathed in slowly. “I’d love to, but I can’t.”
“Are you done yet?” Lex whined.
“Yes. Why don’t you go watch television in the living room?” Martha said, releasing his chin. Lex nearly knocked the chair over in his haste to leave. He hated being cleaned off.
“Martha,” David said, questions evident in his voice.
“David, it’s not that I don’t want to, but where I go, so Lex goes,” Martha said, crushing the napkin in her hand. “I doubt that’s what you envisioned by asking me to dinner.”
“You can’t get a sitter?” David said.
“He doesn’t do well with others,” Martha said. “If I leave him alone too long, he’ll throw a fit and he’d have to be sedated. I don’t want to do that.”
“Martha, it’s admirable that you’ve taken on the burden of caring for him, but you need to live your own life, too,” David said. He took her hands again across the table. “Please, come to dinner with me.”
“I- I can’t,” Martha said, pulling her hands away slowly, resting them in her lap. She looked at the crumpled napkin sadly.
David sighed audibly. “Very well. I suppose we should get down to business.”
“Yes.” Martha cleared her throat and took a sip of coffee. “I figured this wasn’t just a social call.”
“The last of Lex’s shares in LuthorCorp have been sold.” David set his briefcase on the table and opened it. “I need your signature finalizing Lex’s departure from the company. The Board of Directors drew up a contract nullifying all claims Lex may have in the future regarding LuthorCorp.”
“If he ever gets well, will he be able to purchase into the company again?” Martha asked, taking the contract passed to her.
“Yes, but he will be considered only a stockholder with no voting power on the Board,” David said. “This contract does not bar him from applying for employment within the company, either.”
Martha skimmed the legal document. “Does this contract specify that Lex’s estate cannot be held responsible if LuthorCorp goes bankrupt?”
“Yes.” David gave her a pen. “I’ve also paid off all of Lex’s taxes on the shares and transferred his 401(K) to an independent bank.”
“Good.” Martha signed her name as Power of Attorney where indicated by the tabs on the contract. “How are things going with the executor of Lionel’s estate?”
“I haven’t shot him yet.”
“That well, hmm?” Martha half-smiled.
“I think he’s being hard-headed on purpose,” David said. “He doesn’t want Lex to have any portion of his inheritance, yet Mr. Senatori had no problems allocating Lucas’s share to him.”
“Dominic and Lex have never gotten along,” Martha said. “Although, I thought Dominic would’ve been happy with just LuthorCorp being left in his hands, not Lex’s, when Lionel died.”
“Some people cannot be happy with what they have,” David said, taking the signed contract back from her. He snapped his briefcase shut. “I suppose I should be going.”
“So soon?” Martha glanced at the clock. “Lex doesn’t have therapy until three. There’s plenty of time before we need to leave.”
“Maybe next time,” David said, rising. “If I leave now, I can be back in Metropolis early enough to file the contract today.”
Martha nodded, disappointed. She rose and escorted him to the door. “It was nice seeing you, David.”
David smiled and dared to press a kiss to her cheek. “It was good seeing you, too, Martha.”
Martha’s heart fluttered as she watched him cross the driveway to his car. He held up his hand in a wave before climbing in the vehicle and pulling away. She stood at the doorway, staring unseeingly at the now empty yard, fantasizing about what might have happened if she’d accepted the invitation for dinner.
A crash from the living room made her jump. “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!” Lex yelled, and then she heard his awkward footsteps pounding up the stairs.
She sighed again, as she returned to reality with a resounding slam of Lex’s bedroom door.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Nurse Jennifer Brown asked seriously. They stood at a one-way window, watching the physical therapy going on in the other room. “It’s not going to be easy.”
“I know.” Martha saw Lex struggle to walk unaided by the bars. His left foot dragged on the floor with every step.
“There is space available at Waverly Home for him,” Jennifer said. “He’s not your full responsibility, Martha.”
“He asked me to be when I signed as Power of Attorney after Belle Reve,” Martha said. Her heart caught when she saw him stumble and nearly fall. The physical therapist caught him before he could hit the ground. “I won’t turn my back on him like everyone else.”
“He won’t ever be how he was,” Jennifer warned, like she had many times before, when they’d first started down this road. “The oxygen deprivation to his brain left him severely handicapped. The left side of his body is partially paralyzed, and he is unable to fully control his bladder or bowels and other bodily functions. He has all his memories, but is mentally incapacitated, with limited comprehension of complex thought processes, powerful mood swings, and inappropriate behavior restraint. But most importantly, he’s not a child. He’s a fully-grown, twenty-five year old man, with the strength and physical desires of anyone his age.”
“You think he might sexually assault me,” Martha interpreted. She watched as Lex fought against the physical therapist, yelling about his useless leg.
“It’s a possibility you need to be aware of,” Jennifer said. “The psychological assessment indicates he thinks of you as a mother figure, but that may not deter his behavior.”
“I’m not changing my mind,” Martha said. “I’ve been here four times a week for the past year, looking after him. He is as much my son as if by blood. He will be coming home with me today.”
Jennifer smiled gently. “That’s what I needed to hear. Let’s go finalize the paperwork and set Lex’s therapy appointments. I hope you brought your calendar, because there are a lot of them.”
Martha sat in the waiting room at the rehabilitation clinic, making a shopping list. Occasionally, she’d check on Lex through the one-way mirror, watching his progress. His left arm and hand showed minimal effects of the paralysis, his ability to lift and grasp relatively unhampered after years of physical therapy. His leg continued to be a problem, his movement control limited.
“Hello, Martha.” Katie Merek entered the room, dropped her large purse on the table, and went directly to the coffee vendor.
“Hi, Katie,” Martha greeted. “How’s Amber doing?”
“They’re taking her off the braces today,” Katie announced proudly.
“That’s wonderful. I’m sure she’s very happy.”
“She’s ecstatic.” Katie took the chair next to Martha with a sigh. “She wants me to take her shopping for jeans right after therapy.”
Martha shook her head with a smile. “Teenagers.”
“Tell me about it.” Katie sipped her coffee as she looked through the one-way mirror. “How about Lex?”
“He’s doing okay,” Martha said. She tucked her shopping list away. “He’ll be a bear after therapy, as usual, but there’s nothing that can be done.”
“He looks like he’s gained weight.” Katie commented.
Martha frowned as she studied Lex. He was looking a little plump around the middle. “Now that the weather’s finally warming, we’ll have to start taking walks again.”
“You should get a dog,” Katie suggested. “Something with a lot of energy and patience that he can chase around, like a Labrador or a Collie.”
“I don’t know if I’d have the energy to chase around the both of them,” Martha said jokingly.
“Just a thought,” Katie said. “Plus, it’d be a good to have a guard dog, with you two being alone out there.”
“Oh, I didn’t tell you. The Potter house sold,” Martha said. “Janine said I should expect my new neighbors to move in at the end of the month.”
“Anyone we know?” Katie asked, sipping her coffee.
“No. Janine says they’re from Gotham. A family of four,” Martha replied. She worried her inner cheek. “I hope they’re nice.”
“I’m sure they will be,” Katie said. “If not, you can bake poison into your welcome muffins.”
“The poison sent him into cardiac arrest,” Dr. Watanabe explained. “He wasn’t breathing and had no heartbeat when the EMTs arrived on the scene. They were able to start his heart again after three tries, but he needed to be intubated in order for him to breathe. It is unknown how long he lay unattended before the staff found him.”
“What does this all mean?” Martha said, reaching out for Jonathan’s hand. He sat beside her in Dr. Watanabe’s office, as the doctor filled her in on Lex’s condition.
“Lex is on life support,” Dr. Watanabe said. “He is in a coma and unresponsive to stimuli. It is possible that he is already brain dead. You have the Power of Attorney to decide whether we should keep him on the machines.”
Martha’s eyes filled with tears. She lowered her head. Jonathan slid his arm around her in comfort.
“I know this is a hard decision to make,” Dr. Watanabe said, rising. “You don’t need to decide today. Take your time and do what you think would be in Lex’s best interest. I’ll leave you two alone for a few minutes.”
He left, and Martha allowed herself to cry. She turned her face into Jonathan’s shoulder. “I can’t do this, Jonathan. I can’t. I can’t.”
“Shh, it’ll be okay,” Jonathan soothed. “You don’t have to sign the release right now.”
“I’m not going to sign it at all,” Martha said. “I just lost Clark. I’m not going to lose Lex, too.”
Jonathan’s arm stiffened around her. “You know what Lex did to Clark,” he said slowly, choosing his words. “That’s not a man worthy of your pity, Martha.”
Martha pulled away sharply and glared at her husband with blurry eyes. “Don’t you dare say a man’s life is worth paying for our secret.”
“Clark’s life is worth it,” Jonathan stated.
“Clark is gone. Jor-El took him,” Martha said. “There are no more secrets that need to be kept.”
“We don’t know how long Clark will be gone,” Jonathan rationalized. “He might be back tomorrow, if we’re lucky.”
“Clark would never want someone to die because of his secrets.” Martha wiped her tears angrily. “And Lex doesn’t deserve to be punished for his mistakes.”
Jonathan sighed unhappily. “Well, it’s not my decision. You do whatever it is you think best.”
“Lex Luthor! You come out this instant!”
“I don’t want to!”
Martha gripped the bedroom doorknob. “I mean it, Lex! Out, now!”
She heard something being thrown, and winced when it hit the wall with a loud thud. She hated the evenings after physical therapy. Some nights were worse than others, depending on his frustration level at therapy. She steeled herself to drag him kicking and screaming into the bath. If it weren’t necessary to relax his muscles, she’d let him sulk.
“I’m coming in, Lex,” she warned, and opened the door. A shoe came flying at her head and she ducked. It clipped her anyway. “Lex!”
“I hate baths!” Lex yelled at her, searching for more ammunition on the night table. “I don’t want to take a bath!”
Martha was across the bedroom, pinioning his wrists as she’d been taught, so he couldn’t hurt her or himself. “No throwing,” she snapped.
Lex fought, using his heavier weight to unbalance her. They fell onto his bed. He kneed her in the stomach as he struggled and she gritted her teeth in pain. “Enough!”
“No! I hate baths! I hate PT! I hate you!”
Still holding onto his wrists, Martha got her knees under her on the bed and promptly sat on his stomach. He oomphed and squirmed and screamed bloody murder, his face and head red like a tomato. When he got like this, it was either hold on or sedate him. Nine times out of ten, Martha held on.
Lex ran out of steam eventually, panting and crying. She waited until he sniffled for a good five minutes before climbing off him. She grabbed a tissue from the box on the nightstand, helped him sit up, and put the tissue to his nose. “Blow.”
“I can do it myself,” he said moodily, snatching the tissue from her. He blew his nose, getting more snot on his hands than in the Kleenex.
Martha breathed in a sigh, counted to ten, and brushed her hand lovingly over his splotchy head. “You have to take a bath, sweetheart,” she said gently. “You don’t want your body to hurt, do you?”
“No,” Lex sulked. He dropped the tissue on the floor and wiped his hands on his flannel shirt. “I don’t like baths.”
“I know you don’t,” Martha ran her hand over his head again, soothingly. “We’ll make it a short one, all right? Then, you can decide what we’ll have for dinner.”
Lex looked up at her from under wet lashes. “Cookies?”
“We have to have more than just cookies,” Martha said, pulling him to his feet. She kept a hold of him as they walked to the bathroom. Several times in the past, he’d run away from her, and they’d have had to start the whole fight over again. “What else should we eat?”
“Coffee,” Lex stated.
She shut the bathroom door behind them. The tub was already filled with water, the towels out, and clean clothes folded neatly on the sink. “Anything else?”
“Chicken fingers.” Lex screwed up his face as she unbuttoned his shirt. “Why are they called chicken fingers? Chickens don’t have fingers.”
“It’s just a silly name the food company made up,” Martha said.
“Oh, yeah. I remember.” Lex leaned heavily against the sink. Martha could tell he’d worn himself out with his tantrum. “We’re not eating our chickens’ fingers, though, right?”
“No, we’re not,” Martha replied. Not tonight, anyway. She finished removing his clothes and looked him over with a critical eye. Katie was right: he had gained weight.
“Into the bath.” She gently swatted his chubby bottom, and he yelped and then laughed. She smiled, watching carefully as he used the support bar on the wall to climb into the tub.
Taking a seat on the closed toilet, she let him wash himself – something she’d gotten yelled at about many times – and checked her mental calendar for tomorrow. They needed to go food shopping, and she had to stop at the bank to ensure that the deposit for the sale of Lex’s LuthorCorp shares had gone through. Maybe they’d stop by the humane society while they were in town.
“Hmm,” Lex hummed deep in his throat, and Martha turned on the seat so her back was partially to him for privacy. She couldn’t leave him alone in the tub, because the one time she’d done that, he’d almost drowned. She was a mother, however, and she’d learned to block out his self-pleasuring. She didn’t even turn red anymore, not even when he murmured Clark’s name, though he was equally likely to say Nurse Cindy or Patrick, the community college boy who mowed their lawn.
When he was done, she faced forward again and half-watched him drift, relaxed in the water. For someone who hated baths, he certainly enjoyed gratifying activities in them. He’d never once said her name, or looked at her in any way other than as a mother. For that, she was grateful. She’d had second thoughts many times over the past three years, worrying that she had taken on more than she could handle. It had worked out, though, and Lex filled a hole in her life that would’ve been unbearable to face alone.
“Ready to get out?” Martha asked, after she knew the tub had cooled.
Lex nodded, chin splashing in the water. He used the side support bar to sit up, as Martha opened the drain.
With practiced ease, Lex was out of the tub, dried, and dressed in a short amount of time. Martha let Lex out of the bathroom and cleaned up the area quickly. The doorbell rang as she descended the stairs.
“I got it,” Lex called, shuffling from the kitchen to the back door, peanut butter cookie crumbs already decorating his clean face. He opened the door. “David! Hi. Want a cookie?”
“David?” Martha tugged on her damp shirt as Lex let David into the house. “Did you forget something earlier?”
“Only to listen to myself. Something about people being happy with what they have.” David gave her a heart-stopping smile and held up a carryout bag from Mai Ling’s Chinese. “Since you couldn’t go out for dinner, I brought the dinner to you.”
Martha blushed and was flustered. “Come in, please. I’d be delighted to have dinner with you.”
“We’re having cookies and coffee and chicken fingers,” Lex announced. He latched onto David’s elbow and pulled him over to the kitchen table. “Sit down. Martha won’t give you food unless you’re sitting down.”
“But you’re eating a cookie,” David said. “Shouldn’t you be sitting down?”
Lex’s eyes widened. He looked at Martha, shoved the rest of his cookie in his mouth, and held up his empty hands. “M’nah eeding,” he said around his cookie. “Wi’ ‘Afid?”
“That’s right. Lex isn’t eating,” David said, sending Martha a wink. “But since we’re going to eat, you’d best sit down.”
Lex sat down at the table, David began emptying the carryout bag, and Martha was happier than she’d been in a long time.
“The Jury finds the Defendant guilty of two counts of Aiding, Inducing, or Causing Murder.”
“Oh, thank God.” Martha closed her eyes a moment, as the Courtroom burst into chaos. Voices spoke over one another, people stood and embraced, and the Judge called for order.
Chloe’s burned features were imprinted on the backs of Martha’s eyelids. Justice had been done.
“What’s going on?” Lex asked, squirming on the bench seat beside her, undoubtedly craning his neck to see. They were in the back of the Courtroom near the door, in case Lex got out of hand. His walker was folded and stuffed beneath the bench.
“Lionel was found guilty. He’s going to prison.”
“Oh.” Martha opened her eyes at the small voice and turned to him. Lex had a pensive expression, biting at his lower lip.
She put her arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. He laid his head in the crook of her neck. “Dad’s the one that hurt me. I hate him.”
“I know you do, baby,” Martha said softly, rubbing his arm with her other hand. She hated Lionel Luthor, too, for everything he’d ever done to Lex. “I promise he won’t ever hurt you again.”
It had taken nine months for Lionel's case to come to trial, and then it might not have happened if Chloe hadn’t survived the attempt on her life. She had, however, and had apparently kept in contact with the Prosecutor’s Office. The brief words she’d had for Martha after testifying were only an apology for Lex’s injuries at Lionel’s hands.
Lex hadn’t needed to testify, thankfully. Martha had checked him out of the rehabilitation clinic to attend the final day of the trial. He couldn’t really see his father from the back of the Courtroom, and Lionel hadn’t once turned to look for his son. The trial had been stressful enough, with worry about jurists being bought or blackmailed. But it was over now. Lionel had been found guilty, and by his deteriorated appearance, it didn’t look like he’d live long in prison.
It was wrong of Martha to feel extremely happy about that, but she didn’t care.
“Can we go home?” Lex said quietly, as the Judge announced the date for sentencing. “I’m tired.”
“Yes, let’s go home,” Martha said. “We don’t need to be here anymore.”
The black Labrador puppy was named Gordon; the very nice neighbors were Frank, Fran, Timmy and Tina Warden; and David had rented a room in town.
Martha was having a wonderful summer.
She sat on the porch, rocking gently in the white wicker chair in the shade. Twin glasses of iced tea sat on the small table between her and David. His long legs were stretched before him, tanned by the sun and sprinkled with salt-and-pepper hair. She was pretending not to notice how good he looked in shorts.
The screech of laughter drew her attention back to the two small kids and one big one on the front lawn. The sprinkler had been set out, cold water raining back and forth from the fanned spray. Slathered in sunblock, Timmy, Tina, and Lex were taking turns standing with their back to the sprinkler, daring each other not to move, and then squealing when the icy water sprayed them. The dog jumped and snapped at the sprinkler, occasionally shaking his wet fur near the others and sending them into a fit of screams.
Frank and Fran were on Martha’s other side, and the adults were doing nothing more than enjoying the warm weather and watching over their children. Timmy and Tina were eleven and nine respectively, with blonde hair, an abundance of freckles, and open smiles. Neither of them acted like Lex was mentally challenged. Frank and Fran had inquired about him in unafraid but concerned tones when they’d first met, but since have had no qualms about his playing with their kids.
Lex had bloomed like one of Martha’s flowers with the interaction and attention. He was more active, losing some of the weight he’d gained over the winter months – though he still had a chubby bottom, which amused Martha – and developing muscles. He was happier, too, with Gordon and his new friends.
It would be difficult when school started in a few weeks and Martha feared that other, not-so-sweet children would be coming around the Wardens’ house. But now wasn’t the time to dwell on the future. She was going to enjoy the summertime while it lasted.
A truck turned into the driveway, and Martha leaned forward slightly to see who was visiting. Patrick Flannahan emerged from the vehicle, all dark hair, bright eyes, and smiles.
Patrick was twenty-two, tall and lean, and Lex had a huge crush on him. Martha watched with a twitch of her lips when Lex spotted Patrick and turned visibly pink. He didn’t seem to notice the sprinkler raining down on his bare head.
“Hey, Gordon.” Patrick petted the wet, enthusiastic puppy that bounded up to him. He pushed firmly on the dog when he put his paws on Patrick’s chest. “No jumping.”
Gordon whined and started to jump again, but Patrick was stern. “No. No jumping.” He waited a moment, and then petted Gordon again when he behaved. “Good dog.”
Patrick walked up to the porch, but didn’t ascend the steps. “Hi, Martha, David. Mr. and Mrs. Warden.”
“Hello, Patrick,” Martha said. “Are you here for your check?”
“Yes, ma’am, if you don’t mind,” Patrick said, tucking his hands in the pockets of his shorts.
“Not at all.” Martha stood. She saw Lex approach nervously and hid her grin. “Would you like some iced tea? It’s fresh.”
Patrick nodded. “Sure, I’ll take a glass.”
“Hi, Patrick,” Lex said. He stood with his left side angled away from Patrick.
Patrick turned and the wide smile that graced his face was genuine. “Hey there, Lex. You’re all wet.”
“It’s from the sprinkler,” Lex said. He looked down at his bare feet, coated in grass cuttings. “It’s cold.”
“Bet it feels good on a hot day like today.”
Martha went into the house. She returned with his check and the iced tea, to find Patrick had been dragged into the sprinkler with the others. He had shed his shirt and was standing with his back to the sprinkler. He made a noise that was almost a squeal when the water hit him. “Damn, that’s cold!”
Timmy and Tina were laughing loudly. Lex stood off to the side, staring at Patrick and holding his crotch. Martha knew it was futile to scold him.
“I, uh, hope it’s okay that Lex happens to like Patrick,” Martha said tentatively, to Frank and Fran. Smallville wasn’t San Francisco, and homophobia was still prevalent.
“It’s fine.” Fran waved her off. Frank shrugged his shoulders and went back to talking with David.
Patrick saw Martha, jogged out of the sprinkler, and crossed over to her. She passed him the glass. “I think I’d better hold on to the check for the moment.”
He grinned, water dripping from the dark curls on his head. “Yeah. Good idea.”
Martha watched as he turned back to the sprinkler, drinking down the iced tea in quick gulps. His focus landed on Lex and he didn’t turn away, in spite of the obvious desire on Lex’s face.
Martha took the chair vacated by Frank, and bit the inside of her cheek. She wished she had grilled Patrick before now. She didn’t want either boy getting hurt.
“Hey, Lex,” Patrick beckoned with a tilt of his head. “Take a walk with me?”
Lex nodded quickly. “Okay.”
Patrick whistled for Gordon to follow, and the two disappeared around the side of the house, the puppy dodging at their heels.
Fran’s hand on Martha’s arm prevented her from going in the house to spy through the window. “He’ll be okay. Patrick seems like a nice boy.”
“He is. He’s always been nice to Lex.” Martha was still worried, though. It was cute when Lex’s crush was not commented on, but if Patrick said something…
“I have an older daughter, Carrie. She’s nineteen now and off in college,” Fran said, squeezing Martha’s arm lightly. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is let her make her own choices and mistakes. It’s the hardest thing any parent can do.”
“I know,” Martha said with a sigh. “It’s just… Lex is different than a normal man, so how can he ever have a normal relationship?”
“Listen, this isn’t the first time Lex has been alone with Patrick, is it?” Fran said.
“No. Patrick’s been cutting the grass and doing other yard work for years,” Martha said. “Lex always visits with him when he’s around.”
“Then, he knows who Lex is and how he behaves,” Fran said. “Stop worrying.”
“I’ll try,” Martha said with a self-deprecating smile. “But if they’re not back in twenty minutes, we’ll send the kids after them.”
Lex sat snuggled against her, watching television with sleepy eyes. It was nearing his bedtime, and Martha was tired herself. Lex had only been living with her a few days and it was a lot harder than she’d thought it would be. It had also been a long day of farm chores that she didn’t think she could do by herself anymore.
“Martha,” Lex said quietly. “Where’s Clark?”
Martha’s heart thumped painfully in her chest. She’d told Lex about Jonathan’s death prior to his leaving the rehabilitation clinic. She hadn’t mentioned anything about Clark. “He’s gone.”
“I don’t know, Lex,” Martha replied, trying to keep the pain out of her voice.
“When will he be back?” Lex said, sitting up to look at her. “I need to talk to him, even though he hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you,” Martha said. She smiled sadly. “But I don’t know when he’ll be back.” If Clark was ever coming back.
“Oh.” Lex’s shoulders curved and he plucked at the hem of his plaid flannel shirt. “I miss him.”
Martha fought back the tears. “I miss him, too, Lex.”
“But I like it here with you,” Lex stated, and snuggled against her again.
“I like having you here.” Martha wiped her cheeks and boxed her pain away. Lex was her family now. It hurt, but it was time to live on.
“Martha, we’re home!”
Holding glasses of wine in her hand, Martha shook her head at Lex’s shout. “I’m right here, Lex. Hello, Patrick.”
Gordon barked, launching himself from under the kitchen table at Lex and Patrick. Timmy and Tina yelled from the living room. “HIIII LEEEX!”
“Hi, Martha,” Patrick said. He petted Gordon, took Lex’s coat, and hung it with his on the pegs with the other jackets. “Hello, everyone else.”
Greetings went all around. Fran, Frank, and David sat at the kitchen table, plates of sandwiches and other finger foods in sight.
“Patrick, if you’ll get two folding chairs, you and Lex may join us. We’re just about to eat. You know where the chairs are,” Martha said.
Patrick nodded and went to get the chairs.
Martha had had a long talk with Patrick one day, to alleviate her fears. He genuinely liked Lex and didn’t mind the crush, though Patrick didn’t reciprocate. “I see him like my younger brother,” Patrick had told her. He wasn’t bothered by Lex’s disabilities and was willing to make the extra effort and follow strict rules to take him places, if she’d wanted. Martha still thought that it would end badly for Lex, but she was willing to let Lex have some bit of normality in his differently-abled life.
“Did you have fun at the Center?” Martha said, passing the refilled wine to Fran and Frank.
“Lots of fun,” Lex said, giving Gordon a petting. He grabbed the back of his trousers when he straightened.
Lex frowned at her. “I don’t want to go upstairs.”
“Upstairs, Lex,” Martha repeated firmly. “Bathroom.”
Lex huffed, but did as told without a fight, thankfully.
“I’ll be right back,” Martha said to the others. “David, if you’d pour our wine and find out if Patrick wants some. I have beer, as well.”
“Will do,” David said, rising from his seat.
Martha followed Lex upstairs and into the bathroom. She shut the door behind her. “What did you do at the Center?” she asked, opening the cabinet under the sink. She set the wipes and a clean incontinence pants on the counter. “Did you play games?”
“Yes,” Lex said with an enthusiastic nod. “Jason and Mikey were there, and we played ball.”
The Smallville Center for Mental Health was the only place Lex was allowed to go with Patrick without Martha present. The staff of the Center had the knowledge and ability to handle Lex, should he become out of control. Martha wouldn’t place the burden on Patrick of having to be Lex’s caretaker, and while she kept her distance if they went out to the movies or to eat, she was there just in case. Plus, it gave her and David an excuse to go out themselves, in semi-privacy.
“Were you a good boy?” Martha inquired, as she knelt and helped him off with his shoes, trousers and soiled pants.
“Yes,” Lex said, and launched into a story about his evening. She cleaned him as he spoke. “I put the ball in the basket lots of time. Mr. John made me take turns. I went, then Jason went, then Mikey went, then Patrick went, then I went more. Mr. John made me sit in the corner one time. I didn’t like it. But then, I got to make more baskets. I didn’t want to go, but Patrick said we had to—”
A knock on the bathroom door interrupted Lex. Only David would have come upstairs, and Martha called, “We’ll be out soon. Go ahead and use my bathroom if you need to, David.”
“It’s not David.”
At first, Martha didn’t recognize the voice. “Patrick? Frank?”
There was a pause, then a response. “It’s Clark.”
“Clark!” Lex grabbed the knob and yanked open the door, despite being only half-dressed. “Clark!”
Martha sank back on her heels, dirty wipe in her hand, and stared at the man being hugged by Lex. His jaw was more chiseled, older, and his dark hair was in need of a cut, but she couldn’t mistake his face.
“Clark?” she breathed in a shaky voice. It rose in pitch as it hit her, and she leapt to her feet. The wipe fell to the floor as she joined in Lex’s embrace. “Clark! Oh my baby. Clark!”
“Clark, you’re home! I missed you,” Lex said excitedly, stepping back. “Martha said she didn’t know when you were coming back, and now you’re here. I missed you. I live here now. Martha is my mom, too. I love her lots. I have my own room and everything. Did you see Gordon? That’s my dog. He’s a Labrador. He’s only a puppy, and Martha read to me that he’ll grow even bigger.”
“Mom?” Clark said.
“Oh, Clark, you’re home.” Martha looked up at him with blurry eyes. “You’re home.”
Clark smiled shakily. “Yeah. I almost thought that you weren’t here anymore. There’s a whole bunch of people downstairs that I don’t know, and… Lex.” His face darkened somewhat as he said the name.
Martha didn’t want to let go, but she had to. Lex was standing in the hall wearing only a flannel shirt that was just long enough and she didn’t think he’d want to be embarrassed by having an accident in front of Clark. “Lex, go into the bathroom.”
Martha interrupted immediately. “Now, Lex.”
He screwed up his face, but shuffle-stomped back into the bathroom.
Martha looked up at Clark again. “Don’t go anywhere, please. I need to take care of Lex. We’ll be right out.”
“I’ll stand right here,” Clark promised.
Martha’s smile wobbled, and she hugged him again before going into the bathroom. She couldn’t bear to shut the door completely, and could see Clark standing in the hall in the reflection in the mirror.
“Is Clark going to stay?” Lex asked.
Martha checked his backside, and then helped him into clean incontinence pants and his trousers. “I hope so, honey. I really hope so.”
“He can sleep with me and Gordon.”
Martha laughed with a slightly hysterical edge. She disposed of the trash and washed her hands. “That’s nice of you, but we’ll figure out something else for Clark. Go downstairs. Clark and I will be down shortly.”
Lex nodded, opened the door, and smiled widely at Clark. “You can sleep with me and Gordon.”
“Behave, you.” Martha swatted his bottom, earning a laugh before he shuffled off downstairs. His excited yelling floated upstairs.
“Patrick! Clark’s home. Did you see him? He’s my friend. Martha says he doesn’t hate me. I missed him. Gordon, move!”
Martha was left alone with Clark. She reached out to touch him. “You’re really here.”
“I’m sorry I was gone so long,” Clark said.
“I don’t care. You came home, that’s all that matters.” Martha hugged him again. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too,” Clark said, returning the embrace. “Where’s Dad? Is he out? I didn’t see our truck in the driveway, unless you guys got a new one.”
Martha closed her eyes a moment and then she pulled away slowly. Her expression told him the truth before the words left her mouth. “He’s gone, Clark. He died four years ago.”
“No.” Clark shook his head and stumbled backwards into the wall. “No, he can’t be dead.”
“I’m sorry, honey,” Martha said quietly, old pain in her voice. “His heart finally gave out.”
“Oh, god.” Clark squeezed his eyelids shut, hands clenched into fists. He knocked them against the wall, denting it.
Martha remained silent, giving him time to adjust. She knew it was a shock. It still was to her sometimes, even after four years.
Eyes closed still, Clark eventually spoke, “What were you doing in the bathroom with Lex? Why is he even here?”
“A lot of things have changed since you’ve been gone,” Martha said gently. “I’m Lex’s caregiver. He lives here with me. I’m also… dating. His name is David, he’s downstairs.”
“This is too much,” Clark whispered, pained. He opened his eyes. “Dad’s dead, you’re dating, and Lex lives here in my house after what he did to me.”
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Martha said, sympathetic but with warning. “But I won’t tolerate animosity towards Lex. It took me until this spring to convince him that you didn’t hate him. I won’t allow you to cause him to backslide.”
“That doesn’t explain why he’s here,” Clark said, irritation now coloring his tone.
Martha pursed her lips, but reminded herself that Clark’s world had changed drastically in a matter of minutes. “Lionel poisoned Lex and left him for dead. Thankfully, Lex didn’t die, but he was severely disabled as a result.”
Clark looked stunned, and then swiftly angered. “I’ll kill him.”
“Lionel is already dead,” Martha said. She glanced towards the stairs, as she heard Lex’s raised voice. “I need to get back downstairs. Do you want a minute to yourself, or would you like to come down and I’ll introduce you?”
“I’ll come down.”
“I want wine!” Lex was yelling, as Martha descended the steps. She quickly assessed the scene. Patrick had Lex backed against the sink, containing Lex with his body. He had hold of Lex’s wrists and Lex was struggling ineffectually against him. “I want wine!”
David stood at the refrigerator, peering inside the open door. “The wine is gone, Lex,” he said calmly. “You can have milk or iced tea or orange juice.”
“I want wine!”
Timmy and Tina weren’t paying any attention to the commotion in the kitchen, though Timmy did have a grasp on Gordon’s collar to prevent him from joining the chaos. Frank and Fran dished plates of food for their children and themselves. Lex’s acting out was not an unusual occurrence when they were over.
“There’s grape juice,” David said, never raising his voice. “It’s made with the same stuff wine is.”
Lex’s struggles slowed and he looked past Patrick’s shoulder at David. “They’re both made of grapes.”
“Would you like grape juice?” David asked, showing Lex the plastic bottle.
Lex nodded. “Yes.”
Martha’s shoulders relaxed. David was becoming very good at re-directing Lex’s moods. She went to help him, keeping her voice soft as she whispered, “What happened?”
“I forgot to pour Lex the cranberry juice in a wine glass for him before he asked and then, like an idiot, told him he couldn’t have wine.” David blew out a breath. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Martha assured him. She glanced over her shoulder. Patrick was murmuring quietly to Lex, who was rapt with whatever he was saying. He tweaked Lex’s nose and received a laughing grin.
Martha took the wine glass of grape juice from David and brought it to the table. She spotted Clark at the bottom of the stairs and was almost startled again by his appearance. Her heart caught and she had to blink back her tears once more. Clark was home, and now she had to present her new family to her ‘old’ one. Nervousness tightened her chest. What if Clark didn’t like David? What if he had no tolerance for Lex? What if he was resentful of her continuing on with her life? What if he left again?
David came up beside her and took her hand. He squeezed lightly. Lex shuffled over, dragging Patrick with him, and beamed a carefree smile at her for no reason.
Martha knew then that everything would work out just fine.
“I think you all met briefly before, but this is my son, Clark.”