A/N: This story begins at the end of episode 8 of season 1, Jitters, after Earl Jenkins took Luthorcorp hostage in search of Level 3, Lex exchanged himself for the hostages and Clark saved his life. The final scene of the episode is Lionel stiffly putting his arms around Lex as a show for the cameras, while the Kents embrace lovingly and Lex stares at them in pain and envy.
Chapter 1 - Looking over
Martha had never been so worried in her life.
She didn't need to be. Jonathan was always the one who worried about Clark's secret being discovered, but as a mother, her concern would always be for his safety—and somehow, even if she could never hint at it to her husband, she believed he would hold up just fine even if his powers were well known. Secondarily, she sometimes worried about whether he would use his powers for good, but her son never gave her reason to worry.
He was a teenager, of course, in every sense of the word. She hadn't forgotten about the party he'd thrown the night before, and she'd make sure he heard about it when things settled down. But tonight, she just wanted to focus on her joy.
He'd given her a real scare today. She wouldn't have worried about Clark facing down a gunman in a building full of gas. That was their luxury, that she almost never had to really worry about his safety.
But Earl had been infected by meteor rocks. If Clark had been nearby him, and the building had gone up in flames . . .
She didn't want to think about it. Her family was safe.
Remaining military members and plant employees and camera crews still milled around them, but it was as if they were alone. Clark wrapped one arm around her and one around his father, and Martha rested her head on his shoulder.
A long moment passed, and Martha let her breath out, letting go of her son. She glanced around herself, and a pair of gray eyes met hers for a half second before looking away.
She'd almost forgotten about Lex. That wasn't like her. She sympathized with the kid, despite what Jonathan said about him; she could read between the lines in the news stories and knew his life wasn't as easy as the media suggested.
That half second glance told her everything she needed to know. She couldn't remember ever having seen a single glance betray so much pain.
Lionel's arms surrounded Lex lightly, stiffly patting his back at awkward intervals. It was clearly a gesture intended for the cameras, though she couldn't imagine why he bothered. Lionel looked so apathetic, and Lex so miserable, that the truth shone through.
She had misinterpreted. Viewed their family with the lens of her own. Despite all their fighting, Martha had held onto the belief that Lionel still loved Lex. What father could not love his own child? She had been so, so wrong. There was no love in their home. The way Lex's body flinched even as he submitted to the contact—that was the body language of an abused child.
And Lex had been brave today. Even Jonathan would have had to admit that. It was one thing for Clark to stare down a gunman, knowing the bullets could never pierce his skin. It was quite another for a vulnerable human to do the same, and stand up to his father in the same move. A father of whom he was clearly terrified.
She wasn't going to let him go home to an abusive household. Not tonight. He deserved better than that.
"Hey," Clark said, pulling his arms away, "can I go check on my friends?"
Pulled from her reflections, Martha was slow to speak, and Jonathan spoke instead: "I think that's a terrific idea."
Clark flashed one of his brilliant smiles that always made Martha's heart feel full to bursting, and he jogged away.
Jonathan's eyes met hers, and both laughed with relief again, melting into each others' arms. Even then, Martha was deep in thought about what she would say next. Jonathan wasn't going to like it.
"He was a hero today," she began.
"Yes he was."
"Running into a building that could have exploded any minute, standing up to an angry gunman, saving a building full of hostages, nearly falling to his death—"
"I don't think I've ever been so proud—"
"And standing up to his abusive father."
His brow furrowed. "Martha?" He searched her eyes.
She nodded toward Lex.
He glanced over, and his smile fell. "No, no. Not him."
"Honey, he didn't do anything. He just ran in there like an idiot, he would have died in there if Clark hadn't—"
"Exactly. He would have died. He tried to sacrifice his life for Clark's."
"Well, maybe he knew about level 3. He knew he could get out of it."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I don't know what to believe! All I know is that the Luthors—"
"Lionel. You only know about Lionel. Lex has been a good friend to Clark, that's all we've seen. And today he was a hero."
Jonathan was silent for a moment before grunting and looking away.
Martha's temper flared for just a moment, and she took a deep breath to get it under control. He could be so stubborn. "Well, either way, he looks miserable after that talk with his father, and I feel bad. I'm going over to check on him."
"Martha, he's fine. He's got an army of servants who will be flocking to his every need when he gets home."
She paused for a moment. He was right about that—there wasn't going to be much she could do. Maybe she should just stay out of this one.
But something in her, that maternal instinct that had arisen so strongly when she first saw Clark, wouldn't keep silent. She just had to make sure.
"I'm just going to ask if he's okay," she said.
He groaned. "Fine, but come right back."
Lex paced a little as his father stormed away. He was still seething from the argument that had begun as soon as the camera crews packed up. His father was angry that Lex had made a public promise to pay for Earl's medical care. Lex tried to argue that it was just for the PR, but his father always saw right through him. Saw his weakness—his compassion. Today, there was more, though—Lex's desire to rub the day's disaster in his father's face.
He knew this conversation wasn't over, that there would be more berating when he got home. It might come to blows. Lex didn't think he could take that. His head still pounded from the pistol whipping, and his hands and knees throbbed with a dull heat from hitting the floor of the plant.
A soft pressure on his arm made him whirl around. "Mrs. Kent," he said. "How—"
He didn't get to finish his question. She put both arms around him, pulling him in close.
Lex stiffened. He hadn't been a hugger since his mother had passed away—he hated being touched at all, especially affectionately. He would rather his father strike him than try to embrace him. His father's blows might have hurt, but those light touches taunted him, tormented him, holding the one thing Lex wanted and needed right at the surface of his skin but never allowing him to keep it.
But Mrs. Kent's embrace was different. She wasn't holding anything back from him. She held him the exact same way he'd just seen her holding Clark. The same way Lex's mom used to hold him.
He'd forgotten how it felt. He felt all of his muscles begin to relax, and he rested his arms around her in return.
When she let go, his cheeks burned hot, and he couldn't think of what to say. He settled for the question he was going to ask in the first place: "How is Clark?"
"He's fine. I just came over to say thank you."
She was thanking him? Clark had saved his life. "For what?"
"You did a good thing today, running into that building. You were brave. Earl wasn't in his right mind, you could have been shot, but you went in there anyway."
"This is my plant. It was my responsibility."
"You did a good thing." Her eyes pierced his.
He swallowed hard. He didn't know how to respond to that. It had been so long since anyone had said it.
"Clark told me about what happened on the catwalk. Are you okay?"
Images of the fifty foot drop filled his mind. He pushed them aside, absently rubbing the back of his head. "I've been worse."
"And I'm sure you've been better. I'm sorry all this happened."
He looked away from her. He'd meant to apologize to her for everything that had happened, for Clark having been in danger under his watch.
She put a hand on his back. "Get some rest tonight. You deserve it."
"I will. You too, Mrs. Kent." He glanced toward his father, and grimaced.
Then he felt her eyes on him.
There was a long pause. His heart pounded—he hadn't meant to show his fear while she was watching.
"When's the last time you've eaten, Lex?"
He hadn't, not today. "Shortly before I came to the site."
"It's been hours, then. Why don't you let the authorities finish their work here, and join us for dinner in the meantime?"
"I couldn't possibly impose—"
He didn't want to. Mrs. Kent had been kind to him, and he always enjoyed the time he spent with Clark, but Mr. Kent clearly hated him. But maybe he agreed with Mrs. Kent that Lex had done a good thing today. Maybe he'd give him a fair chance, for once. Either way, spending the evening with the Kents meant time for his father to cool off, which might save Lex's skin, or at least give it time to recover from today's injuries before being in danger again. Maybe dinner with the Kents was the reprieve he needed.
Something in Mrs. Kent's eyes told him he didn't have much of a choice, anyway.