Four days since the tornadoes. Three days since the inception of LexCorp. Two days since a phone call from the future told him Clark's secret. Two days since Lex killed a man. Two days since his father lost his sight because of a surgery Lex ordered, then claimed he'd rather be dead.
Yesterday, he'd gone to Metropolis and spent hours with the lawyers. Thirteen hours, to be precise. Twice, he'd held hour long conference calls with the still hospitalized Lionel. A board meeting with the Luthorcorp shareholders. There were times went he wished he had hair just so he could pull it out, but Lex ended the day with a fully licensed and incorporated business and the temporary regency of Luthorcorp which would last until Lionel was discharged and ready to reclaim it.
Today, he just wanted to get really, really drunk. Instead, he put in six hours at the plant, another two overseeing the castle restoration, then he drove over the Kent farm. He blamed it on the wholesome country air and the inherent stupidity of choosing a temporary residence over a smalltown coffee shop. A smalltown coffeeshop that opens at the ungodly hour of six am. Which means the caffine started brewing even before that. If he'd stayed at his Metropolis penthouse last night instead of returning to the Talon apartment, he would never have gotten out of bed before noon, nevermind been awake and productive by seven.
It was now late afternoon as he knocked on the wooden frame of the screen door that lead into the Kent kitchen. Martha's head briefly appeared from behind a cabinet long enough to determine who he was, then called out, "Come on in, Lex!" as she vanished again. He felt a little weird that this unqualified welcome was bought at the cost of a man's life. A man he had murdered, despite appearances toward heroism. He wondered if this had contributed toward his fall in the other future. He suspected it had. Having the Kents, his primary models of good behaviour, praise him and accept him after taking a life, that couldn't have helped.
"You look pensive today," Martha commented, returning with a dish towel as she dried her hands.
He finished closing the door carefully so that it didn't bang shut, then gave her a small smile. "I'm just contemplating destiny, morality, and inevitability."
She appeared a bit taken aback by the remark, but she returned a sympathetic smile. "I suppose we all do some of that after natural disasters. I heard about your father, too. I'm sorry, Lex."
He shrugged, trying for casual indifference and feeling like he had succeeded rather well. "I was actually thinking about Nixon."
Her eyes widened. "Oh. Oh!" He was completely taken off guard when she suddenly and without warning threw her arms around him. "Oh, Lex. I didn't think - God," she pulled away from the hug before he really understood that it was happening, and held both his upper arms in her hands while she held him at arm's length and searched his face for something. He had no idea what she was looking for or if she found it but she was abruptly scooping up her dishtowel from where she'd dropped it and ushering him toward the table. "Lemonade," she announced firmly and bee-lined towared the refridgerator. "Sit!" she added the order over her shoulder as she opened the door and located a pitcher of the sought beverage.
Lex sat, wondering if perhaps Martha had been affected by some kind of meteor. It was best not to aggravate the mutants, so he'd be wise not to argue, just in case. She poured two glasses, put the pitcher away, then returned to the table, putting one glass down in front of Lex, then sitting across from him with her own. It was a pale cloudy white-yellow liquid and did not appear to glow in any way, so he deemed it unlaced with - what had the future Clark called the meteor rocks? - Kryptonite? and therefore safe to drink. It tasted good, too. Just sweet enough to not be bitter without becoming too sweet.
He was about to thank and compliment her for the drink, but she was watching him again. Her expression was intently serious, and he felt as if the pleasantries he'd been about to offer would be out of place. Small talk, too, would be wrong almost to the point of rudeness. Somewhat at a loss as to what else to say, he merely queried, "Mrs. Kent?"
All she said, however, was a rather cryptic, "Sometimes I forget how young you are."
He thought about reminding her that he was twenty-one, but he got the sense that would only be proving her point. She'd probably point out the length of time he could legally drink alcohol could be measured in months. One year, if you rounded up. He often forgot that as well; the legal drinking age had never really impacted his life at all. His twenty-first birthday hadn't been significantly different from his twentieth or nineteenth, and those had all been significantly tamer than his sixteenth or seventeenth (not that he could remember any of them as anything more than a fuzzy blur). Had it really only been eight months since he came to Smallville? That life felt like it was eons ago.
"So do I," he told Martha. He rested his elbows on the table briefly to rub at his eyes. "God, I feel old." He then cupped both hands around his glass and studied the way a piece of pulp was sticking to an ice cube. "Most people my age are in their third or fourth year of college, you know," he added, more to remind himself than her. It was weird to think that, if he were at all normal, he wouldn't have to be quite so much an adult already. Most twenty-one year olds couldn't say they'd been leading a factory back into profitablity for most of a year. He was pretty damn proud of that.
Though her gaze had never left him, it seemed to sharpen. "Did you get to go to college, Lex?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yeah. After a false start at Met U, I did get my degree in biochemical engineering at Princeton. As weird as the rest of my life is, I did get the traditional four year college experience, even if they started earlier than normal. I was working on my Master's when Dad pulled me out and made me come here to Smallville."
She pressed her lips together briefly, either biting back a comment or trying to decide how best to phrase her next question. "Do you know why he did that? I've always wondered."
Lex shrugged and studied his lemonade for a moment before taking another sip. "I think he disapproved of the people I was associating with. There was a minor scandal. Nothing bad, really. He was just upset because he thought it was a phase I was supposed to grow out of. So he brought me back to Kansas and put me in the middle of Heartland, America to reduce temptation." Had Clark been a few years older, that would have backfired rather spectacularly, but Lex didn't think Martha needed to know that part. He looked up and met her eyes which were looking somewhat troubled and a little baffled. Lex reassessed the room to make sure neither Jonathan nor Clark were around before taking pity on her. It was, after all, something his father was ashamed of, not him. Besides, Martha struck him as a very tolerant person. "My last semester, I made the mistake of joining the gay, lesbian, and bi club. I was on the first plane back to Metropolis after Dad found out. A week after that, I hit Clark on the bridge."
"Lionel's homophobic?" she asked, surprised enough by that conclusion that she missed her chance to deny that he hit Clark.
Lex shook his head. "No, he's worried about stock prices and the family image. He couldn't care less about most people's orientation unless he's talking about a woman he wants to bed or me, in which case he insists we be straight."
"And you're not," she deduced.
Lex shrugged, briefly wondering why exactly he was discussing his sexual preference with Martha Kent. How had they gotten on this topic again? Oh, right, youth, college, pulled out of college, reason pulled out of college. He made a mental note not to discuss being in college with Jonathan Kent. Ever. "I can go either way." He looked down and half-smiled into his lemonade as he admitted, "On some level, I prefer guys simply because I know it will infuriate my father. I get a lot of satisfaction just from that." Then he blushed because that had sounded a lot less dirty in his head and he'd just said it in front of Clark's mother. He couldn't be any more mortified if he'd actually said that thinking of his father while having sex enhanced the experience rather than just implying it.
She laughed, pleasantly and without malice. His hands tightened around the glass of lemonade and she patted them reassuringly, "It's all right, Lex. Take another sip."
It helped. He took the opportunity to change the subject and get in that compliment he wasn't able to offer earlier. "It's very good lemonade, Mrs. Kent. Thank you."
"Anytime, Lex, anytime. That goes for talking with me as well as the lemonade."
He dropped his gaze as he smiled self-depricatingly and shook his head. "I'm sure you have better things -"
"Lex," she said firmly, catching his hands in hers again. He looked up and found her eyes all but literally boring into him. "Visit. Talk. You've had a very traumatic week. The very least we can do after you saved Jonathan's life is to help you deal with it."
Lex swallowed and wished he was physically capable of looking away because he was sure she could see the guilt in his eyes. "I didn't," he whispered, a confession he didn't want to make but which was drawn out of him anyway. "He would have," he knew he wasn't making sense, but that was fine because he didn't really want Martha to understand. "My fault. Had to." Long seconds of silence. Then Martha got up and moved around the table to sit down next to him, turning the chair to face him. Out of politeness, he turned his toward her. Then she captured his hands again, pulling the glass of lemonade out of them and putting it back on the table. She clasped his now empty hands tightly, as if she expected he was going to disappear and only her grip kept him there.
"Lex, it was not your fault," she stated, firmly and seriously.
He wasn't fast enough on pressing his lips together to keep the words inside. "Yes, it was. I hired him." Her eyes widened slightly and he lowered his gaze to where their hands were resting on her knees. "His house burned down. Freak electrical fire. Whole place reduced to ashes. His office at the Inquisitor was hit by vandals. Thoroughly trashed and the computer stolen. Police thought it was weird that both his home and office were destroyed the same day he was killed. Asked me about it yesterday while I was in Metropolis. I told them Nixon was an ass, that I shot him to save the life of a good man, but I didn't know anything about the property damage." He paused and the silence in the room was complete enough that he doubted Martha was even breathing. "I lied. None of it was an accident. None of it was coincidence. Had to."
He paused again, regarding how white her knuckles were as they gripped his hands. "I don't walk around Smallville armed, Mrs. Kent. I knew he was going to be there so I brought my gun. I knew him and Mr. Kent would come to where his car was. I knew there was going to be an opportunity to kill him so that it didn't look like murder. I knew I could do it. I knew I would. I didn't have a choice. I endangered all of you so I had to eliminate the problem."
Her hands spasmed around his as she realized exactly what he was saying. "Lex, look at me."
Reluctantantly, he lifted his eyes and met hers. She looked very serious, possibly even a little frightened of him. He wasn't sure. He was having trouble reading her. His tightly surpressed panic wasn't helping. Confession was supposed to be good for the soul, right? So why did it feel like he was throwing away his only chance to have one? "You know you just told me enough to put you in prison, right?"
He nodded. He wasn't really worried about that though. He doubted she'd use it, and even if she did, the Luthors had the best lawyers in Metropolis. The greater threat was that she'd forbid him from ever seeing her or Clark again. She hadn't said she was going to do that yet, though, and he didn't want to give her any ideas. "I also told you I sleep with men which is actually the better piece of blackmail in this state."
She held his gaze and his hands silently for a few moments until he started feel really uncomfortable. He felt even more guilty than he'd already been feeling, as well. He imagined that it was a mother thing. "I'm not talking about blackmail, Lex. I'm talking about the moral obligation to turn a murderer in to the police."
He flinched and looked away. It was the first time that word had been used, even in his own mind. He could admit to himself that what he'd done was murder, but he'd shied away from applying that label to himself. He didn't want to be that.
"Lex, look at me!" she commanded again. He did, but this time it was him who was a little bit frightened of her. He had never seen her look so deliberately severe. She was almost painfully focused on him with a solemnity that suggested this encounter held the weight of the future in it. He was fairly certain it did. "Lex," she repeated, gentler this time, but still unsmiling, still firm, "I'm not going to do that."
She probably knew she didn't have to, knew it would be pointless. Pointless because the police couldn't touch him and pointless because it would be redundant. She'd already struck a mortal blow to his confidence. Martha thought he was a murderer. He was a murderer. There was no coming back from that. The future Clark had been wrong to trust him.
"I'm not going to do that because I don't think that's what you are."
"Am," he admitted in a quiet voice he didn't even recognize as his own.
Her hands tightened. "No, Lex, you're not. You're a good man. You've killed, but you're not unredeemable. The very fact that you're this upset about it proves that."
"I'm not sorry I did it," he denied, Luthor pride rising at the accusation that he might feel regret for his actions. Nevermind that he did regret hiring Nixon in the first place. Killing him, though, not so much. There hadn't been another choice.
"You're sorry you had to," Martha countered.
And there was nothing, nothing he could say to refute that. "Yes."
She smiled then, a small one that didn't fully reach her eyes, but it was a smile. "You're not a murderer, Lex."
"It was premeditated. I brought my gun to use it."
"Soldiers bring guns to use on the battlefield, too. They're not murderers."
Lex shook his head, denying the comparison. "I'm not a soldier."
"Are you not?" she questioned. "Was your intent not to protect those you care for? Clark, even moreso than Jonathan, in this case? Nixon was not a good person. He would have hurt and exploited the innocent, we both know that. Soldiers have to make hard decisions sometimes. It doesn't make them bad. Lex, I've heard you talk to Clark. You use battle analogies for everything from dating to locating the missing remote. For all that neither you or your father are in the military, you were raised to be a soldier."
Lex sat very still as he considered that new take on his upbringing. "You're the first person to see it that way. I don't think it's what Dad had in mind. I never really even considered joining ROTC. You'd think with a name like Alexander, I'd want to be a General one day." He shook his head wonderingly, "Not even once did the possibility even cross my mind." He laughed then, suddenly and shortly, "Probably would have got kicked out before I made it past ensign, anyway. I wasn't very subordinate as a teenager."
Still wasn't, Martha was kind enough not to point out, but he could see her thinking it.
"So, I'm a soldier. A blooded soldier. That doesn't sound nearly as damning."
She nodded, but her expression had turned serious again. "What did Nixon tell you, that you felt he needed to die?"
"I don't know what he knew. He was talking about the story of the century. I told him to lay off your family but he wouldn't listen. He said what he found was beyond my threats. He didn't specify what that was, he didn't have any proof - though he claimed he could get some - but his implication was, ah, extraterrestrial," he said with a significant glace upwards. "I didn't believe him. I thought he was reading too much into a simple mutation. There's a crash site not too far from here, which showed some evidence of an alien nature, but I didn't think it had anything to do with Clark or the rest of you."
"You're using the past tense," Martha observed, trying to sound something other than nervous and not succeeding.
Lex nodded. "I am."
"Did you look at Nixon's things before you destroyed them all?" she asked, faking calm a little better now.
"I did, but he the only thing he really had was probably on the video camera that got destroyed the day he died. He had a lot on Clark doing extraordinary things, but nothing that would suggest he wasn't from Earth."
"But something convinced you he wasn't." A waver on the last word proved she was more terrified than she was letting on.
"Trust me, no one else is going to be using that source."
"Lex, I trust you, I do, but this is insane. Clark's not an alien."
Lex shook his head, not believing her and letting her know he wasn't believing her. "It's okay. I wouldn't trust me either. I won't tell anyone, not even Clark. But I thought one of you should know I know. This way, when I inevitably reveal that I know more than I should, it won't appear as sinister as it otherwise might."
"For the sake of argument, Lex, what convinced you of this idea?"
He smiled at her. "So you can try to discredit my source? It won't happen. He's both the most and least realiable informant possible. I believe him without question, but if I ever tried to get anyone else to act on what he told me, they'd probably question my sanity."
"I don't care if he's the monster under your bed, Lex. He made you believe some very dangerous things about my son. I need to know who was able to do that."
He hesitated a moment, judging the likelihood of her sending him to Belle Reeve. "Clark did." Her brows drew together and he could almost see her anger rising. "Not," he said loudly before she could accuse him of lying or not taking the situation seriously enough, "not your Clark. Not the one who's probably out in his loft moping over his break-up with Chloe or stalking Lana again." That drew a startled smirk from her before she reset her features into a mask of maternal impatience. That look was wonderfully effective in convincing him he needed to get to the point or spend the rest of the evening polishing silverware. "I got a phone call the other day from the future," he stated. "I spoke to a Clark who was living in the year 2005."
"And he just told you he was an alien?" she asked skeptically. "Are you sure this wasn't a dream? Perhaps an effect of the blow to the head you took during the tornados? Have you seen a doctor about your frequent head traumas?"
"See?" he asked, pointedly ignoring both her skepticism and the genuine concern for his mental health. "This is why I didn't want to reveal my source. I swear, he was real, but even if you don't believe me, you must admit my hallucination is well informed. He was the one who told me when and where I could find Nixon, and that I'd stop him from killing Mr. Kent. From his point of view, I'd already done it."
She looked unconvinced.
"Incidently, if I ever marry a woman named Desiree, she's a mutant after my money and is using pheremones to control me. Kindly kidnap me and hold me under guard until I regain my senses. I'm also supposed to avoid a woman named Helen who tries to kill me as well, though for reasons Clark was less clear on."
"Assuming this really was a future Clark, why would he give you this story about being an alien?"
Lex looked past her shoulder, feeling bleak darkness creep over him like a cold fog. "Because I was lost. I foundered. In the future, I, I'm gone. In my place is a man that was described as a filthy piece of scum who makes Lionel look like a saint. He, Clark, I mean, Clark wanted to save me. He thought if someone trusted me now, I'd have a reason to keep trying to be good. I apparently gave up when everyone who was supposed to care about me either lied all the time, tried to kill me, or put me away in a sanitorium. If you see me drinking scotch, make me stop. That's how dad's supposed to poison me into delusions and paranoia. Clark said you should adopt me and forbid me to marry."
Martha didn't say anything. She leaned over and wrapped her arms around him again. He stiffened momentarily, then relaxed into the embrace. The bleakness slowly ebbed away as she held him and whispered soft soothing words with no meaning. He didn't cry, but he thought about the possibility. This would be the time to do it if he were ever going to. Cry for the loss of an innocence he'd never really had and a future that had no light at the end of a dark tunnel of betrayals. But that was the future Clark's world, not his. That Clark thought he could do better if he knew the risks. The future isn't prewritten. He could change his destiny. He had no reason to cry.
"Sorry to dump all that on you," he said to her shoulder. "I don't have anyone to really talk to but Clark, and, frankly, he's got enough on his plate without me heaping on more. I really needed to tell someone about what he said and you made me tell you about the call so you already think I'm crazy . . ."
"Shh, Lex, it's going to be all right."
He pulled away a little and she let him, ending the hug and sitting back in her own chair. "You don't believe me about the call, do you, Mrs. Kent?"
She found his left hand and held it in both of hers. Her blue eyes similiarly caught his. "I believe you believe it happened. I believe that whether or not it did, you will respond as if it had. So far, it's been eerily accurate." That was, he supposed, the closest she was going to come to admitting that Clark was, in fact, an alien. "Clark said Cassandra had visions of the future. Perhaps this was your manifestation of a similiar gift. I don't think it would hurt you to heed the warnings and advice this Clark gave you. Don't marry a Desiree or a Helen. Avoid scotch. Know you have that Clark's trust. Know you have mine. Come to me if you have problems, like you would to a second mother. You are a good person. Don't let Lionel, Jonathan, or anyone else convince you otherwise. And, lastly, for God's sake, Lex, call me Martha. We are well beyond that point of familiarity; I know you think of your father while having sex with men."
He'd been close, so very close, to actually shedding tears. His breath had gotten harsh and painful and his throat had felt like someone had shoved a full bag of cotton balls down it. The corners of his eyes stung. Then she had to go and say that and it was all gone in an instant, replaced immediately with a flush a deeper, brighter red than his hair had once been and an outraged and scandalized, "Mrs. KENT!"
She was likewise blushing a red to outshine her hair, "I didn't mean it like that!"
"You said it like that! And I have a very vivid imagination. I think I'm traumatized."
She laughed, not looking nearly repentant enough for the mental image he'd had. "My job as a mother is done, then. Tramatizing sons with talk about sex has its own chapter in the parenting guidebook." She was still blushing, though.
"I think I'm glad my mom never got that far."
Martha smiled and patted his cheek. He thought he should feel patronized by the gesture, but he didn't. "I'm sure she did. You just weren't old enough to fully appreciate it so she was holding off until the agony would be sweeter. I think Clark is due soon. Maybe this summer."
"You are an evil, evil woman, Mrs. Kent - Martha. You portray an angelic domestic country housewife by day, but I see you for what you really are now."
She stood, slapping his upper arm with the back of her hand as she did so. "Get you gone. Interrupt Clark from his moping and/or stalking and tell him dinner will be ready in half an hour. You're welcome to stay."