Martha’s got the shotgun in her hand faster than Jonathan can blink, faster than anything she’s ever done in her life.
Clark and Kara both jump forward and stall her at the same time.
“What in the holy fucking hell is going on?” Martha asks, nice and calm.
“Um, Ma…” Clark falters, looks back towards Lois—she looks to be a little at a loss for explanations, too.
“Lena and Lex need to stay here for a few days,” Kara cuts in. Martha still hasn’t lowered the shotgun. Lex grins at her, fingers wiggling and Martha squeezes the tigger. Clark jumps and grabs the gun, catching the bullet and hissing, Mom, quick-fast while Kara jumps in front of Lena.
“No way in hell,” Martha grunts.
“Ma, there’s a good reason, I promise.”
Martha takes in the way that Kara (and even, to the slightest extent, Lois) hovers around Lena. She looks at the worried crinkle that’s forming in the dent of Kara’s eyebrows and sighs. To her boy, she says, “he can stay in the barn with the other animals. The girl can sleep in your old room,” then she turns and hollers into the house. “Jonathan, we’re gonna need some lemonade!”
Behind her, she can hear Clark and Kara let out collective sighs in relief.
The last time that Martha saw Lex Luthor in person, he was about twenty years younger than he looks now. The hard edge to his jaw wasn’t quite as prominent, and the bald head made him look like a little boy, trying to appear older. Now, he looks his age.
Martha presses her palms down into her thighs to resist the urge to reach out and slap him. She did that once already, doesn’t seem like she needs to do it again. He’s wary enough of her that she can tell that he remembers.
The girl… she knows that both boys had mentioned a little sister, offhand, a few times over, but Martha never paid the notion much mind. Lionel was a cruel boy who grew into a crueler man who might have loved her, once, and Martha didn’t much like thinking about him or whatever became of his family. It was bad enough that his son imprinted on Clark. Bad enough that Martha liked him.
(Horrifying, that she didn’t see what was lurking underneath it all).
She hasn’t seen much of Kara over the last few years, but when she has, the name Lena has come up once or twice. Martha had tried not to bristle at it. She knows that she didn’t fully succeed.
It’s a strange picture, the state of them in her kitchen. Sunny pale yellow, Clark and Lois half sharing one chair while Kara hovers, standing beside Jonathan and Martha sits at the head of the table, staring Lex Luthor down. His sister sits to his left, clutching so tightly at a glass of untouched lemonade with a dead look in her eyes that’s twitching Martha’s maternal instincts in a way that is decidedly uncomfortable.
“So, what the fuck is going on?” she asks, not beating around the bush.
“Marty,” Jonathan half sighs. Beside him, Kara grins despite herself. Martha’s sharp eyes watch Lena catch it.
“I asked you a question,” Martha directs towards her son. He’s the easiest of them all to get anything out of, and he folds in half a second. Martha listens intently but only hears intercutting bits. She focuses on important words like, world ending, and the greater good, and, no choice, Ma, please. She watches Clark’s face, only ever looking away to check Kara’s. They’ve both gone formal and stiff, jaws clenching whenever Lex purrs and makes comments about the decor of the kitchen or the taste of the lemonade. She knows that neither of them would work with him without a damn good reason, but it nettles, to know this is even considered a possibility.
Martha held her son for hours after he came back from dragging Lex into his chains. She remembers the ragged, awful gasps that ripped their way out of them as he clung to her, allowing himself to be younger than he has in years.
She watches Kara track Lena’s every movement, watches the way her fingers inch towards her, the way she tries to keep her body in between Lena and Lex and sighs deep into her bones. She can’t do this again.
“Like I said, he can stay in the goddamn barn.”
“Delightfully accommodating as always, Mrs Kent.”
“Watch yourself, boy,” Martha warns, deadly calm. “I’m an old woman now, my finger might just slip and pull that trigger on accident.”
There’s immense satisfaction in the very real way she watches his eyes flinch. Even if it only lasts barely a full second.
Lois and Kara disappear an hour or so later. Martha sees Kara in the hall, eyes full of wet tears as she whispers to Lena—who holds herself stiff and will barely maintain eye contact—and then she swipes at her face, nods to Clark, and lifts Lois up into her arms and flies into the night.
Clark and Lex head out into the barn. Martha clenches her teeth. Her dentist is gonna holler at her again.
Jonathan rubs at her back and kisses her temple and heads into their bedroom with a book. Martha turns at looks at the woman, standing confused and looking small in her living room.
“Well,” she says, and Lena jerks at the noise. “Come on, let’s get you set up.”
Lena follows her wordlessly. Martha shoves open Clark’s old room and grabs at the sheets. He hasn’t slept here in… she can’t remember the last time, and she probably did wash the sheets, after, but Lena looks so uncomfortable, Martha feels like she’s got to do something. She makes quick work of changing the bed, and by the time she’s stripped it, Lena steps forward and starts to help her make it back up without a word.
“Extra blankets are in the top of the closet,” Martha points. “You can wear some of Clark’s old pjs,” she digs out a worn soft blue t-shirt and some plaid pants and passes them over. “He won’t mind none. Bathroom is the first one on your left. There are extra toothbrushes in the right hand drawer. Holler if you need anything.”
“I—” Lena stands there, looking all of sixteen years old. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Martha warns. “I still might kill your brother if I feel up to it.”
She swears, she catches Lena smile before she closes the door.
Jonathan sits reading the newspaper and sipping at his coffee at the kitchen table. Lena is staring out the window at the barn, her eggs and coffee mostly untouched when Martha stumbles her way into the room.
“They both still alive?” she asks in lieu of a greeting.
“Seems like it,” Jonathan says.
Martha studies Lena as she butters her toast. She knows—from Kara, from the news—that Lena has been trying to build up a legacy that differs from the rest of her family. She also knows, from the tension in her shoulders, from the way that Kara won’t stop trying to catch her eye, won’t stop fighting back tears, that they’re in some sort of fight.
Kara was tight-lipped about it when she left last night, only saying, it’s mostly my fault, Martha. Please, she’s a good person.
Martha will be the judge of that for herself, thanks.
There’s a boom that comes from the barn; so loud and dense it rattles through Martha’s skull and lodges its way into her chest. She stops breathing until she hears her son shout out at Lex in anger.
He’s alive. He’s alive, he’s alive.
“Well,” Jonathan closes up his section of the newspaper, only showing the slightest of hints that he feels the same apprehension Martha does, and passes the paper to Lena. “Better go see how the boys are gettin’ on.”
“Take the shotgun,” Martha orders. Lena goes stiff and Jonathan gives her a glare. Martha doesn’t see it. She doesn’t look up from her toast, but she’s been married to him for well over thirty years now and she can feel it.
He takes it anyway.
“No offense.” Martha directs towards Lena.
She’s silent for a beat and then she reaches for her coffee. “I already shot him myself, once,” she admits in a whisper that comes off shakier than Martha thinks she intends. “It didn’t take.”
“Unfortunate for us all.”
The days drag on. Clark and Lex holler at each other in the barn and then Clark comes running in and says they need to leave and Lena goes so fucking still that Martha is afraid for a moment that she’s gonna have to call the mortician. But then Clark says something about Kara asking her to promise to take care of Lena till they get back and Lena goes hard and mean again.
Martha catches the sigh of relief, though.
She starts asking questions. Small ones. She’s learned from watching Lois work how to nettle her way into information without letting on that she’s looking. She’s not as deft; she is not a subtle woman, never has been, but it gets the job done just fine. It h elps that Lena is practically starving for affection. Martha sussed that one out days ago. Anger or no, this woman is a gaping black hole, screaming out to be held.
Martha felt a little bit like that, once upon a time. Thank god Jonathan came along, she doesn’t know what she’d be, now, without him.
So, she prods. She picks soft spots and just… sticks her finger in, just a titch. Martha makes pies and orders Lena around the kitchen while Jonathan heads out to tend to the fields. Lena seems equal parts grateful for something to do with her hands and annoyed at being told what to do, but Martha just starts chattering away about nonsense til she’s lulled her into a false sense of security.
“So, what’s going on with you and my niece?” she asks, shoving the first pie into the oven.
“I don’t know what you’re talking—”
“Let’s not do that,” Martha cuts in. “I’ve known your brother since he was about… what was it… twenty or so? Knew your father before that, too. For a minute there, years ago, there’s a universe where I coulda ended up as your ma, maybe.”
Lena goes shocked and stiff at that.
Martha laughs. “Never in a million years would have worked, no matter what Lionel thought. He had this magnetic quality to him, hard to resist. I’m a stubborn woman, though. I tend to get my way, in the end.” Martha pushes the second bit of dough over towards Lena. “Start in on that, I need to put my feet up for a spell.”
Lena stares at her incredulously for a moment as Martha sinks down onto the floor and lifts her feet up into the air, a yoga block underneath the base of her spine.
“Don’t kneed it too rough, now,” she demands. “I’ll be able to tell.”
It takes a very long time until Lena speaks again. The second pie is completely assembled and about to be placed into the oven, Martha has long since stood back up. “She lied to me,” Lena whispers. “After… after knowing how many other people have lied to me, she lied. I killed my brother for her, and she lied.”
Martha goes quiet after that, because she’s a stubborn old woman who gets her way but she’s not stupid, and she’s not cruel.
She cuts Lena the first slice of pie, the one that she always reserves for Jonathan. Over thirty years worth of tradition and she breaks it for one girl with sad doe eyes. Jonathan would shake his head and smile, not minding none. Always were a sucker for strays, Marty, he said to her, once.
Hell, it’s how she got her son, seems like a good thing, if you ask her.
“Clark wanted to tell his friends,” she says, what feels like hours later. Jonathan has come and gone from the kitchen twice already. They’ve all had their dinner. Lena is yawning and the sun has set. “He wanted to tell Lex. I wouldn’t let him.”
“He was my son, you see, so as much as I might have wanted to, I didn’t trust a soul besides Jonathan. You’ve seen what people say, what your own brother said. If the government could really get their hands on Clark and Kara, do you think for one moment they wouldn’t strap them down and cut them up and look for ways to study them?”
“No,” Lena breathes, like it’s been ripped out of her.
“So, you see. He’s a trusting boy. Her too. I don’t know if that’s nature or nurture but it’s in their veins. They both love with everything they have and they want to see the best in people. It makes them naive, sometimes. Sometimes it makes them brilliant,” Martha shrugs.
“When he told me that he was going to tell Lois, I panicked. I’d known Lois for years, at that point, loved her for most of them, but, still…” Martha shrugs. “I’m not as good of a person as him. Plus, I’m his mother.”
“I’m not sure what any of this has to do with me,” Lena bites out.
Martha laughs, bitter and joyful and delights in the way it causes Lena to jump, because she only gets so much excitement, these days. “Now, both of us know that’s not true.”
“With all due respect, Mrs Kent—”
“Call me Martha.”
Lena blanches, but recovers fast. Martha likes that about her.
“ Martha,” she corrects. “Whatever happened between my brother and your son, or your son and Lois Lane, has nothing to do with me or Kara.”
“Sweetheart,” Martha says, putting every once of love she has into the word, “that’s simply not true.”
Before Lena can say another word, Martha rises out of her seat, pushing the last piece of the pie over her way, and dropping a kiss to the top of her head as she passes by. She hears the breath Lena sucks in at the easy affection, and burns with a hatred that’s old and familiar. She hasn’t thought about Lionel in years, has only met Lillian once, but she remembers the way that Lex used to flinch when Jonathan’s voice got a little heated, when she smiled at him a certain way. She doesn’t let herself feel sorry for him now, because he’s grown and he’s made his choices.
“Sleep well,” she whispers into Lena’s hair. “Holler if you need anything.”
When they finally come back, Lex isn’t with them. Lois tugs Lena off into the hall and whispers softly to her while Clark and Kara both hover and stutter through explanations in the kitchen. Martha only listens halfway, clings to the important words. World saved. Minimal casualties. Gonna be just fine.
She reaches up and brushes the hair out of Clark’s eyes, tells him that he needs a haircut.
She tugs Kara down into a chair and pushes pie at her, one hand rubbing at her back while she eats, only allowing herself the minimum of pleasure.
When Lois and Lena walk back into the room, Lena looks quickly towards Kara and Martha and then away. She supposes that Lena looks strange to them, standing there in one of the smaller of Clark’s old flannels and a pair of Martha’s old jeans. Kara doesn’t eat any more of the pie.
When she tentatively holds her arms out towards Lena—Lois, already in Clark’s—both woman look a bit sick and a bit hopeful. Lena shoots a look over at Martha and, despite herself, Martha winks.
“Come back anytime, honey,” she calls out and finds that she means it. “I could always use the help makin’ pies.”
She’s stiff in Kara’s arms and she won’t talk to her or look her in the eye, but Martha can tell from lookin’ that isn’t going to last long. Kara’s not her son and Lena is nothing like Lex, not in her bones. Jonathan walks over and loops his arm around Martha’s shoulders. Nothing like Lionel Luthor at all.
“Marty, any of that pie still left?” he asks.
Martha watches them fly away until they’re out of sight before answering. “If you work for it,” she teases, and hugs him tight.