"I can't make it for dinner."

Lex blinks. This is unusually abrupt, even for Clark. "Is something the matter?"

Lex has learned to interpret Clark's silences by now: the comfortable ones where the conversation lapses into a pause that neither of them feels the urge to break; the stuttered, nervous ones where Clark is about to lie again; the melting-gold ones just before Clark comes. This silence is new, and it is worrisome.

"Mom fell," Clark says. "I gotta go." He hangs up.

Lex listens to the empty air for a while before hanging up as well. Then he stares at the ceiling.

He can have the finest doctors sent. He can have Martha transferred to the best hospital in the United States--anywhere in the world, really. He can arrange for live-in help. But he won't, because Martha won't want it and neither will Clark, though he'll swallow his father's values for the sake of his mother's health. And, quite honestly, there is nothing that one can really do to combat old age. The silver in Martha's hair grows daily, and so do the lines on her face. Now that Jonathan is no longer alive she grows older still. Clark goes home as often as he can, but his time is shared with Superman.

Lex picks up the phone again. He dials his secretary and tells her, "Reschedule all my meetings for today." A pause. "Cancel the ones that can't be rescheduled, then. You might want to clear my schedule for tomorrow, too." The way he says might suggests that it is a very good idea. Then Lex stands, collects his suit jacket from the chair, and leaves the office.

He takes the sedan. It's not as if getting there faster would change anything.

---

Lex reflects that he's seen more of the Smallville Medical Center during his brief sojourn in Smallville than perhaps any other building there besides the plant and his own home. He asks the receptionist for Martha Kent's room. Though she obviously recognizes him--Lex remains a very recognizable figure--she remains recalcitrant.

"Visiting hours ended an hour ago, sir," she says.

Lex knows that Clark must still be in the building somewhere. He wasn't at the farmhouse, and he wasn't at the mansion. Therefore, he must still be in the hospital, with his mother. "Can I at least put these in water?" he asks, holding up the modest bouquet.

"Lex!"

Lex looks up and smiles. "Clark," he says. "They're telling me that visiting hours ended."

Clark doesn't look at all surprised to see Lex. "Hey," he says, and then points to the flowers. "Are those for my mom?"

"Well, they're certainly not for the castle."

"She'll be glad you came." Clark looks at the receptionist. "Is it okay if I take him in?" The receptionist nods, and Clark takes Lex by the arm.

Martha's hospital room doesn't suit her. It's all white and spartan, not warm and homey at all. Besides lying in a hospital bed with various apparatus monitoring her vital signs, she looks alert and well. She smiles when she sees Lex and greets him warmly by name.

"Hello, Martha," Lex says.

"I'll get some water for these," Clark says, helpfully taking the flowers. The vase by Martha's bed sits empty, and Clark takes it with him.

"Clark said you fell," Lex says, after Clark has left the room.

"Yes," Martha says ruefully. "It happens, you know, when you get old."

Lex nods. "Any particular cause?"

"I just got up a little too suddenly," Martha says, "and apparently I dislocated my hip when I fell. Fortunately, one of the hands found me." She pauses briefly. "You didn't have to come all the way out to see me, Lex."

"It was no bother," Lex assures her. "You're like a mother to me."

Martha smiles. "Well, Lex. That's high praise, coming from you."

Clark comes back into the room. "Are you offering my mother the riches of the world again?"

"And her own personal country this time," Lex says.

"I hope you said no." Clark fusses clumsily with the flowers.

"Of course I did," Martha says serenely. "Now, Clark, it's late and you'd better go, seeing as how Lex came all this way to pick you up."

"I what?" Lex says. Funny, how the Kents can still catch him off-guard.

Clark hesitates. "I was thinking of staying the night. In the house."

"Don't be ridiculous, Clark. You have work tomorrow."

"I can take a day off," Clark says defensively.

"The news doesn't wait," Martha reminds him. "I'll be fine, Clark. They're keeping me here for a few days." She sounds rather discontented by this fact; Lex doesn't blame her. "You can't hover any better than they can."

Clark smiles briefly and swoops in for a brief kiss to the cheek. "I'll stop by tomorrow. After work. And then I'll stay for the weekend."

"You do that, sweetie," Martha says, with the tone of voice that means, "I'll talk you out of it later." "Come here, Lex."

Lex goes, obediently, and is treated to a modified version of the Martha Kent Hug, since she's lying down. He misses her warmth when he draws away. "You'll need help when you get back home, Martha," he says. "I'll arrange it."

"He's right, Mom," Clark says, before Martha can protest. "At least during the day. You'll need help moving around and doing things until your hip heals."

Martha's not lacking in common sense, at least. She sighs and nods. "All right. But only until I can walk again!"

"And I'll make sure the help stays out of the kitchen," Lex promises.

"They'd better," Martha grumbles, and Clark laughs. Lex feels something inside him uncoil. "Now, shoo."

Clark obeys this time, and Lex follows with a last glance and smile.

They go to Lex's car; Lex knows that Clark didn't drive here. Clark slides into the passenger's seat, already adjusted for his height, and buckles his seatbelt. He stares out of the window and doesn't say anything.

"She'll be fine, Clark," Lex says quietly.

"Yeah," Clark says. "This time. But there'll be a next time, and one after that. Like Dad."

Lex doesn't know what to say. He doesn't have a bible of platitudes to consult. "It happens to everyone, Clark," he says, lamely.

"What good're superpowers," Clark mutters, "if stuff like this still has to happen?"

There really isn't anything Lex can say to that. So he just drives, on and on through the night, headlights pointed towards Metropolis.



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