Summary: In every epic struggle there's a bunch of cave drawings. And someone's mother.
Warnings: Rated PG-13. m/m, a little Martha/Lex, spoilers for Skinwalkers.
Notes: I really only wanted to borrow a few things from this episode. All the rest I'm just pretending doesn't exist. If you could pretend along with me, I'd appreciate it.
Special, special thanks to my beta readers Antonia and Jen for all their ideas. They made this story much better.
She doesn't particularly remind him of his mother, red hair or not. It is as difficult to compare them as it would be, say, an orchid and an oak tree. They are two very different varieties of good, beautiful thing.
But she does make him think of Clark. She has a willingness, an eagerness even, to believe, without ever being gullible. She gives Lex the same feeling he always has when he's with Clark, like fresh air after you've been shut up inside too long. She seems to understand everything without needing words, something Lex finds very valuable. The mere fact that Clark is so much like her without the genes to bind them gives Lex a glimpse of something he's never quite considered before. Maybe blood is not as final as he's always thought.
So it is little wonder, really, that the scene in the library has troubled him--his father leaning in, Martha looking up at him earnestly, almost kneeling at his feet, not anywhere Lex has ever wanted to see her.
"You know, there are times when I'm with you that I could swear I'm talking to my wife. She was a lot like you, Martha. The same unflinching honesty. I miss that."
Lex is sure it has only bothered him because anyone can see that there is absolutely no resemblance between Lillian Luthor and Martha Kent. But this is his father, who will still be flirting when he is dead. It is nothing Lex hasn't seen before. And this is Clark's mother, so there really is nothing to worry about.
Still, his father's mention of unflinching honesty has him at a loss. About Mrs. Kent-- Fine. He can grant it. But his mother? Please. There was no one who had a greater horror of ugliness than she did. Even if she never lied to him--and Lex believes this, utterly--her silences were strategic, denying all the most unsightly truths.
He has tried, repeatedly, to put the whole thing out of mind. He has squelched the impulse to go warn someone--Martha or Clark or even Jonathan, he isn't quite sure whom. He does not particularly understand this cautionary habit he's fallen into. Watch out for Phelan and Stay away from Bob Rickman and You can't trust Roger Nixon. God. He is turning into Smallville's own Chicken Little. Except, of course, the sky has already fallen, but still--
It isn't like him, at least it never was before this stint in the heartland. In the city, everyone was a player, everything a game, simpler and more twisted. Back then, he liked to watch from an ironic distance as things unfolded and enjoy with a certain triumph as people inevitably destructed. The last one standing was the winner, after all.
With the Kents, for once, he has no interest in games. It's funny that they never quite believe this, the first people toward whom he has had honestly good intentions. He doesn't hold it against them, though. Just considers it a kind of payback--karma, if he believed in such a thing--for all the times other people trusted him when his motives weren't nearly as aboveboard.
The need to warn is a persistent itch, and he has to keep reminding himself why he isn't going to give in to it. Clark's parents never listen to him, anyway. And just what is he going to say that wouldn't be reading too much into the situation? My father appears to be behaving like a human being around your mother, and it's got to stop.
No, he will just have to rely on Mrs. Kent's good sense, her uprightness. If that fails somehow, he can always start leaving things haphazardly in Lionel's path. Household accidents do account for a surprisingly high percentage of fatalities every year.
It is set, a game plan, and Lex fully expects to stop thinking about it. His mind usually works this way. This time, though, something gets stuck, and he's treated to an endless looping reel in his head--his mother and father, his father and Mrs. Kent. Lex thinks that if only Clark would come to visit at least he would have a distraction.
When he does turn up, he bursts in while Lex is on the phone. He looks wild, and Lex imagines Jonathan Kent advancing on the castle with a shotgun. He hangs up immediately.
"Clark. Is anything wrong?"
But it is just the usual Clark Kent routine, part do-gooding, part teen angst. He wants bail money for a suspected murderer and advice about yet another girl. Lex doesn't know what he's done to deserve this. Okay, so he does. But he wishes it would stop anyway.
"Have you ever wondered if you're destined to be with someone?" Clark asks urgently, as if everything depends on the answer.
Sadly, the first person to come to mind is his father, the two of them locked in a two-step of destruction for the rest of their lives.
"You're talking to someone who's been fighting destiny his entire life."
And probably losing, but he doesn't mention that. This is supposed to be about Clark.
"I'm a little surprised by this sudden change of heart," he says, as patiently as he can. "What happened to Lana?"
Clark's fickleness annoys him. Not that he is particularly rooting for the supremely obtuse Miss Lang. But he doesn't like to think of Clark as this ridiculously young, for selfish reasons.
"It's a completely different feeling when the person likes you back," Clark tells him, rather soulfully.
Lex can only imagine.
Still, he does allow himself to get carried along by Clark's enthusiasm for justice and historical preservation. There's never been any real chance he's going to say no, not to the opportunity to do something for Clark and against his father. The two-birds-one-stone economy appeals to his business nature. And by not saying yes right away, he gets to spend more time with Clark. Win-win-win.
They take the Ferrari, not because it has any place at a construction site, but because it is Clark's favorite. Lex hopes they won't actually have to call a tow truck later on. Clark relaxes into the seat and borrows the extra sunglasses from the glove box and smiles that easy smile of his. And Lex can see that Clark has no idea the significance of what he was trying to tell him earlier. But why would he? Clark's relationship to destiny is entirely different, and he has both his parents standing at the same finish line, cheering him on.
Lex, on the other hand, cannot remember a time when he did not feel a grinding hatred for his father. It is not for any of the obvious reasons, either--not the tests that were designed to defeat him or the flat glares of disapproval or even the open hand of Lionel's temper against his face. No, it is because Lex has always understood, always recognized his father's brutal efficiency as something very familiar, admired it even, in some part of him that is far removed from his child-self's confusion and hurt, a part that is more Luthor than Lex. This is his true legacy, and he will never forgive his father for it.
It is why he always went running to his mother after one of his father's harsher lessons, not for comfort, but for the simple reassurance that there was something else inside him. She would hold and soothe him, trying to be the balance, the soft touch after his father's fist, her hair against his cheek like a cloud. And he would desperately want to burrow into her, meld together in some profoundly elemental way, blood of her blood, so even his father couldn't reach him, couldn't stir those places inside him that he didn't want to claim.
But there was always a fragility in his mother's grip, her bones like a starling's beneath delicate skin, and he already knew that he was only soft on the outside. He already recognized his own sharp edges. He could never lose himself in his mother. He would only cut her.
When she died, it was as if someone threw up their hands in a game of tug-of-war. The sudden slack swept him completely into his father's sphere--the lessons and tests and nihilistic life philosophy counterweighted by nothing. He can see all his adolescent rebellion now for what it really was, the only way he could think to opt out. Just say no to destiny.
A bridge and the speeding Porsche should have taken care of all that. But no. But Clark. And now Lex is saddled with the conundrum of fighting his own nature. Because it was Clark's breath that brought him back, and he knows this must mean something. Being his father's son has never seemed less acceptable.
He likes to think that if he were truly irredeemable the notion wouldn't bother him as much as it does.
"Hey, you still with me?" Clark smiles at him.
He smiles back. "Just thinking." And pauses. "About my parents."
Although he's watching the road, he can feel Clark's surprise. Lex rarely gives anything away without great prompting. Lex himself is rather taken aback.
"Oh, really?" Clark says, playing it cool, trying not to spook him out of further confidences. "What about?"
He doesn't even know why he says it. He wasn't thinking about that all. But once it's out there, pictures come rushing back to him. Little touches. Private smiles. One Christmas night, after he was supposed to have gone to bed, watching secretly through the half-open drawing room door. His father hammering, putting up the painting he gave Lillian earlier that day. Lex's father, with an actual workman's tool in his hand, all to indulge his wife, who did not want to wait to see her present on the wall.
He can still remember exactly how his father looked as he struggled to put that picture up-- like someone Lex might actually want to know. And he felt so-- betrayed. Because he needed his mother to be his balance, but in that moment, it was clear that she was Lionel's.
"It was a happy marriage," Lex says, a truth that startles him.
And he realizes that this is the problem with all these clean oppositions--love and hate, ally and nemesis, mother and father. They just don't hold up under scrutiny. In reality, everything is blurred and so much more complicated.
Clark watches him, in that intent way of his, and it feels just like a reassuring pat on the arm. He asks no more questions. Clark is his mother's son. He recognizes when words won't do.
At the site, they carefully pick their way down the ladder to the cave. The dust and dankness make Lex glad all over again that his asthma is gone. Clark leads the way, talking excitedly. In the main chamber, Lex stops short, transfixed by the cycle of drawings, and it surprises him. He had not expected to care.
"See? I told you it was amazing," Clark says, triumphantly.
Lex can only nod. He can't stop staring at the last image.
"Numan and Seget," Clark explains. "Light and darkness."
Lex moves to stand in front of it and studies the two figures, locked in eternal conflict. It appears that he is not the only one with a tendency to oversimplify. He has noticed this about myths, the way they take one great complexity and break it into two competing simplicities. God and the devil. Good versus evil. The stuff of religion and comic books.
But life is so much more muddied. Because no one is all good. Not even Clark. And no one is pure evil. Not even his father. Not even him. The epic struggle between the best of human nature and the worst raged on inside everyone, every day--in the boardroom and on the factory floor and waiting at stoplights. It was not something you could just win and be done with, like a foot race or a corporate buyout. In fact, the best you might ever be able to hope for, if you were someone like Lex, was a simple stalemate, the rope pulled so tautly inside you that it was impossible to forget Numan was part of you, too.
"Saving these paintings could be the most important thing you do," Clark says.
Lex stares up at his own life on the wall of the cave. He is painfully aware that he is still searching, for something or someone to do what his mother never quite had the strength to do. Someone to save him.
"They may be more important than we can even imagine," he tells Clark.
Later at home, Lex pours himself a drink and replays the many victories of the day. He bested his father in business. Had an epiphany about human potential and discovered in the process that there might still be hope for him after all, however distant a long shot. He watched Martha side with her family and chuck her job. Got to enjoy Clark's showering smiles of gratitude when Lex told him he'd be personally supervising the preservation of the cave drawings.
"Celebrating, Lex?" His father taps his way into the room. "I thought I taught you better than that. A battle isn't the war."
Lex fills his glass a little higher. "Drink, Dad?"
He pours it and hands the snifter to his father, who takes a seat on the sofa.
"It wasn't even particularly well played, you know," Lionel muses. "You tipped your hand. And I will find out what makes that land so valuable to you."
Lex tries not to sigh, however quietly. He knows perfectly well that his father's hearing has become more acute, whether he admits it or not.
He changes the subject, in the mood to gloat a little. "I suppose you'll need help finding a new assistant."
"Not at all. Martha and I have come to an understanding."
He freezes for just a moment. "Really, Dad. That's interesting. I've never known you to suffer insubordination so lightly."
"How you do exaggerate, Lex. A misunderstanding, at worst. The truth is Martha is a remarkable woman. I quite comprehend the interest you've taken in the family."
"It hardly seems to be the family you're interested in these days."
His father smiles, and for a moment, Lex reconsiders the possibility of pure evil.
"Jealous? But why should you be? From what I've seen, it's the boy you're-- close to."
Lex finds himself unreasonably glad that his father doesn't actually use Clark's name. "They're all friends of mine," he says.
"Even Jonathan Kent? He strikes me as less than enthused about your relationship with his son."
"He doesn't particularly care for my father."
Lionel laughs heartily. He gets up and makes his way over to Lex.
"What are you really afraid of? That Martha will take your mother's place?" Lionel caresses his cheek, and Lex flinches away. "Or your own?"
The way his voice falls on the last part of the sentence is troublingly suggestive. Sometimes, his father seems to be having a kind of-- relationship with him that he himself knows nothing about--that he would never want to know about. The content of Lionel's fantasy life has always been too frightening to consider.
"You're my only son. No one could ever replace you. But my Martha-- Well, she does-- meet my needs."
Lex tightens his grip on the Scotch glass. "She isn't yours. She never will be."
His father smiles, rather gleefully. "We'll see."
Lex realizes, with a sick lurch, that he has just turned it into a challenge. God, he's slipping. His father laughs. He knows that Lex realizes his mistake, and he enjoys it. He starts across the room. Leaving the battlefield while still winning is wisdom his father lives by. At the door, though, he turns back.
"You know, Lex, I do understand why you've chosen to remain here in Smallville. What you're trying to accomplish with your man-of-the-people buyout of the plant and that ridiculous coffee house venture with the Lang girl and this protectiveness you've developed toward the Kents. You're not after independence at all. What you want is redemption. But you're fighting your own nature, son. Honesty, friendship, loyalty-- these things are not in your blood. This battle of yours is doomed to failure. And, frankly, I find it amazing that you would waste so much time and effort on something so positively futile."
Lex stares, even after he's gone, listening as the tapping recedes down the hall. Only his father could wipe out an entire epiphany in under five minutes. He downs the rest of his drink and takes the Scotch bottle off to bed with him.
In the morning, he drives to the Kent farm, as soon as it is at all a reasonable hour to turn up on someone's doorstep. His head pounds. He really has to stop drinking so much. It doesn't help matters that there is a growing sense of urgency thrumming through him, threatening to mutate at any moment into full-fledged panic, making his head hurt even worse.
His thoughts are disjointed and somewhat compulsive. Save the cave drawings. Save Mrs. Kent. Save-- himself. Weirdly, it all seems to connect somehow, although it's hardly the most cohesive plan he's ever had. Never do anything without a clear goal in mind. That's another one of Lionel's many lessons for ruling the world. So maybe this messiness is actually appropriate under the circumstances, chaos as a fuck-off gesture.
He pulls into the yard and checks his watch. Clark is already at school. The truck is gone. He knows that Mr. Kent is driving to Grandville today for tractor parts because Clark has told him so. He gets out and walks up to the house.
He knocks at the door. "I hope I'm not interrupting."
She smiles at him through the screen, the way she always does. "Hi, Lex. Come on in."
It's humbling how grateful he always feels for this, that she invites him in honestly, not wishing that he would just go away. She's one of the few--well, two--people in town who have never made him feel like a pariah.
"I'm sorry you missed Clark. He's already left for school."
"Actually, I came to see you."
He smiles in what he hopes is a pleasant fashion. He can't really feel his face.
"Oh." She is clearly surprised. "Well, then, have a seat. We can talk while I finish up this batch of muffins. Coffee?"
"Thanks. That would be great."
He sits. She pours him a mug of steaming black coffee. He takes a sip and thinks maybe he will live after all.
"So I hear you've agreed to continue as my father's assistant."
He tries to sound casual, just making conversation, like people do, people who aren't Luthors.
She smiles. "That's right."
"I'm glad. Of course. I just can't help wondering-- Do you really think it's wise? For you, that is."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Kent. This probably isn't my place to say. It's just that-- Clark-- It seems like maybe you're stretching yourself a little thin."
"Did he say that?" She looks motherly and worried.
"Not in so many words. It's just something I've sensed."
He sees guilt flower in her expression, along with something else, something more-- watchful. And then she frowns.
"What do you really want, Lex?"
"I'm just concerned about you and your family."
She shakes her head. "No. Well-- Maybe. But not because Clark feels neglected. I would know if he did. So what is this really about?"
His jaw tightens. "You and my father, the other day."
At first, she does not understand, and then she blushes.
"That was-- nothing."
"Nothing?" He gives her a hard stare. "Funny. That's not how it looked."
Her cheeks are red with embarrassment, but her eyes sparkle with anger. "I do not have to defend myself to you. You know perfectly well that your father and I have a purely professional relationship. I would never do anything to hurt Jonathan. And your father wouldn't--"
"My father wouldn't? Do you think that's something he just goes around saying to his assistants, Mrs. Kent? That they remind him of my mother?"
She opens her mouth in surprise, and then her face softens, as if she understands something. It lights an inexplicable rage in Lex. He can feel the blood pounding in the vein at his temple.
"Lex--" Her voice is gentle, meant to be soothing. "No one could ever take your mother's place--"
She means well, but she doesn't know what she's saying. Doesn't know that she sounds just like his father.
"Listen to me. Please. I know you and your father have a difficult relationship. But he does love you. And maybe if you can just--"
He shakes his head in violent denial, trying to make the words go away. Your father didn't mean to and Try to understand and I can't come between you. Everything hurts. There are too many pictures crowding his splitting imagination. His mother looking pointedly away as his father berates him. Quietly leaving the room, leaving him alone to face everything he most fears. Her mouth, at times, pressed into a tight line, as if there is something she wants to say. Don't do this to my son. But always the silence, because the words would be too ugly and the fight hard. And she might be good, but she wasn't nearly powerful enough to help lighten those dark places inside his father, inside him.
"If you want a Luthor, you should at least pick one who won't destroy your husband and your son and your whole life just because he can," he hears himself saying.
In some distantly rational part of his mind, he realizes that this is always the problem with failing to plan. You end up with surprises, and that's never a good thing. He thinks this even as he is grabbing her by the shoulders, pulling her against him, forcing his mouth onto hers.
He has no idea what he's doing. He just has this vague notion that if he can touch her, not her skin, but some essential part of her, that inner compass that always seems to guide her to higher ground, he can still turn himself around. Because she does and does not remind him of his mother. Goodness, but in the form of an oak tree. Maybe he can lose all the pain and memories and the inevitability that runs through his veins in her. Maybe she is enough to withstand his jaggedness. Maybe he will not cut her.
She resists, but he doesn't stop until he feels the sharp sting of teeth against his lip. He jerks away. There is a warning spark in her eye, and he realizes so many things at once. She is strong, but she isn't his. She is not his father's either, and never will be. But she is Clark's. And suddenly these last moments of lunacy make much more sense.
The realization should send him racing for the door--Clark, Clark's mom--but instead, it fills him with remorse and tenderness so powerful he can't turn away, not just yet. He traces her eyebrow with his thumb, lightly brushes her lips with his, no demand, just apology, and rests his cheek against hers, for a brief, comforting moment.
"It's okay, Lex. I know." Her hand shakes a little as she touches his temple. "I know you miss her."
This is not quite all there is to it, of course. But she wants to understand, and it is by far the most valuable gift he's ever received.
He lets her go and takes a step back. "I'm sorry."
Lex avoids the farm for a while. It seems only prudent. Whenever he sees her at the castle, he simply nods, more formal than he's ever been. But then, that seems prudent, too.
Clark comes around as much as always, so Lex guesses that what happened is their secret, his and Martha's. Thankfully, Clark seems between girl problems, so at least Lex is spared that indignity. But he does keep inviting Lex over, for various meal functions and to see the new tractor and because he needs help with his chemistry homework. Lex claims phantom business meetings and charity events and other mysterious engagements he can't get out of.
Finally, Clark arrives one day, plops down in the chair opposite his desk and says in no uncertain terms: "You're coming to dinner tonight. Mom says to tell you she's not taking no for an answer. She's making chicken and dumplings."
Lex blinks at Clark, who only smiles.
"Well, I guess that's a yes, then," Lex finally says.
And Clark smiles brighter.
This turn of events is, to put it mildly, not what Lex was expecting, and he hardly knows how to react. He spends three hours picking out a bottle of wine--trying to find the perfect one, not so extravagant that it makes them uncomfortable, not too cheap that it insults them, or is wine even the right thing to bring? He's nervous. God. When was the last time he was nervous?
It grows worse as dinnertime approaches, as he's taking the car from the garage and putting a CD into the player and driving far too fast over to the farm, trying to burn off some of his edginess. At the house, he knocks and waits, with real dread. If he loses her warm-kitchen welcome, it will truly be irreplaceable.
But she smiles, as kindly as ever. "Hi, Lex. Come in."
He does, and she takes the wine from him.
"Thank you. That's so nice," she says, without anything even resembling awkwardness. "Dinner's almost ready. The boy's are hanging out in the living room, if you want to go join them."
"I--" Surely, he's not going to break into a sweat? "Is there anything I can do to help?"
She shakes her head. "No, it's under control. I'll call you all when it's time to eat."
"Oh. Okay. Well, then I guess I'll go find--"
He can't bring himself to call them "the boys," not even for her. She smiles again. It's as if he's a toddler learning to walk and she's trying to encourage him. He's not sure if this is easier than he expected or just a whole lot more bizarre.
In the living room, Clark slouches on the sofa, and Mr. Kent is sitting in the easy chair with his feet up. They are, unaccountably, watching "Hogan's Heroes."
"Hey," Clark says, as Lex takes a seat next to him.
"Hi, Clark. Mr. Kent."
Jonathan nods. "Lex."
The absence of a shotgun is heartening. On screen, Colonel Klink squints through his monocle. Sergeant Schultz knows nothing. Clark laughs out loud at even the feeblest one-liners. It's weirdly soothing. Lex relaxes into the sofa cushions. Maybe he can do this.
Clark watches him out of the corner of his eye, grinning as if Lex is doing something very funny by sitting in his living room watching ancient sit-coms. Considering that Lex was only days earlier pawing his mother in their wholesome family kitchen, perhaps he has a point.
When they do sit down to dinner, Lex feels mostly in possession of himself. They pass bowls and make conversation about farm happenings and local Smallville gossip.
Clark doesn't say much. He just nods a lot and smiles and puts away a truly staggering volume of food. Lex turns to kid him about it, but finds that Clark is already watching him. He doesn't look away when Lex catches his eye. But holds his gaze, steadily, with something that is almost courage. And it's as if Lex is seeing him for the first time. There is something in Clark's big green eyes-- something warm, something that is only for him.
Something, Lex realizes with a start, that he's seen before, maybe always, even from the first moment on the riverbank. It gives him that sudden clear feeling you get when pieces fall into place. The girl troubles and the offered tour of the new farm equipment and smart Clark's inexplicable obtuseness about covalent bonding--it wasn't ever about any of that.
The moment seems to stretch on forever. Lex doesn't want to look away, but finally, has to. Because it is just so much, sitting at the family dinner table trying to talk to Clark's parents about crop rotation and the upcoming Harvest Days festival, while his heart is doing something in his chest like it wants to defy gravity. It seems Clark was right. It is different when the person likes you back.
After dinner, there is work to be done, feeding the animals and cleaning up the kitchen.
"You want to tag along?" Clark asks him.
Lex would easily prefer going out to the barn with Clark or simply heading home. But he has amends to make.
"I think I'll do less damage if I help your mother instead."
"You don't have to--" she starts to say.
Then stops, flustered for the first time all night. But it's okay. He understands that it's just what she says to company. It's not because she's afraid to be alone in the house with him.
"I want to help," he assures her.
Jonathan stands up from the table. "Okay, then. Clark, let's get a move on."
"Coming, Dad." He shoots Lex a quizzical look as he follows his father outside.
Lex carries things back to the kitchen. Martha runs water in the sink.
"I can do the washing," he offers.
She gives him a skeptical look.
He grins at her. "Really. I know how. I promise you'll still have all your dishes intact when I'm done."
She turns over the sponge, somewhat reluctantly. They work together quietly. She dries while he washes and puts everything away.
"You know you're not half bad at that," she tells him.
He smiles. "Don't let it get out. It'll ruin my reputation as a spoiled brat."
"You know, if you let people know you better, I doubt anyone would think that."
"All I care is what my friends think."
He finishes the dishes and lets the water out. She passes him a tea towel, and for a moment, rests her hand on his.
"Your friends understand more than you realize."
He swallows hard. "Mrs. Kent, I just want to say--"
She pats him in a motherly fashion. "It's okay. I know."
And he thinks maybe she really does understand everything.
"I'm sure Clark's almost done by now. Why don't you go on out and check on him?"
"Thank you," he says, quietly.
She smiles at him again, in that same encouraging way, and he thinks maybe she's right. Maybe this is like learning to walk
In the barn, Clark is pitching hay, and the simple exertion makes the chords of his arms stand out, beautifully. Lex stops and stares. When Clark notices him there, his face brightens.
The warm thing is still there in his eyes. Lex takes a step toward him, amazed that it took him so long to figure it out.
"Hey, you want to go up to the loft and do some star-gazing?"
Because it all makes so much sense.
Clark has already saved him, so many times, and he withstands things like no one else ever could. Nothing can cut or break or bend him. Not the Porsche, not bullets, not the parts of Lex that scare even himself.
Clark smiles. "Great."
He puts his hand on Lex's shoulder and squeezes and leaves it there like he's not planning to let go any time soon. And there is no doubt in Lex's mind. Clark can show him, help him, make him, if it comes to that, turn the battle in Numan's favor. Because there is no tug-of-war Clark can't win.
After all, he has the strength of ten men.