A Man's Got to Know His Limitations
Chapter 4.5?: Happy the Man
By LastScorpion

"Happy the man who far from schemes of business, like the early generations of mankind, works his ancestral acres with oxen of his own breeding, from all usury free."
Horace, c. 29 B.C.

"Clark? Why are there chickens all over your porch?"

Clark threw open the door between the enclosed back porch and the kitchen. "You didn't let them out, did you?"

I couldn't help it; I threw a glance over my shoulder to make sure I'd actually closed the outer door securely, even as I said, "Of course I didn't, Clark. What do you take me for?"

Clark grinned at me and took my coat as he ushered me into his warm fragrant kitchen. "It's only temporary, Lex. Merritt said I could have them yesterday, but the coop needs work for Kansas in February. The porch is in better repair, and it's certainly warm enough for poultry. As long as nobody lets them escape or anything."

"I'll just have to use the front door until you fix your chicken coop, Farmer Kent." Clark smiled at me and busied himself about the kitchen. He looked good. It was hard to believe I'd found him unconscious and almost buried in the gravel of my front drive a month ago, when the People's Reactionary Front destroyed the Sears Tower, and Superman was too broken to help. It was even harder to believe that three weeks before that, he'd been dead.

Superman was Clark Kent. Clark Kent was Superman. Come on, Lex. Get a grip.

I settled myself at the kitchen table. "Would they really try to escape when it's not even light outside yet? Shouldn't a chicken have a better sense of self-preservation than that?"

"Chickens are pretty dumb, Lex. Why do you think they call them birdbrains?" Clark helped me to a warm apple muffin and a couple of scrambled eggs. The apples must have been from the last batch Martha Kent had ever canned. Clark had probably been up before dawn this morning pruning the trees. The eggs were obviously from my new porch-dwelling acquaintances. The milk in my coffee wasn't Kent Organic Milk, but by the end of the summer it probably would be. Clark had given up on Metropolis.

Breakfast with Clark had been a comfortable daily ritual ever since he'd recovered enough to move back into his parents' old farmhouse. "Happy the man whose wish and care/ A few paternal acres bound,/ Content to breathe his native air/ In his own ground. Alexander Pope. 1700."

Clark sat down across from me with his own plate and mug. He smiled. "It's not exactly my native air, Lex."

I shrugged and smirked at him. "Technicalities."

Over the course of just two months, my luck had changed more than I had ever remotely been able to imagine. My last enemy was gone - unexpectedly revealed as my dearest friend. I couldn't believe how successfully LexCorp was being transformed. Giving up on the Criminal Mastermind business had freed up my attention for other things. I'd literally forgotten how much of LexCorp was actually legit. There were whole divisions that had been languishing neglected for years while my mind was on more sinister pursuits. Once I took an active interest in the legal enterprises I owned, they began to flourish. I had become an Honest Respectable Businessman, and my stock prices were up! The most unbelievable thing of all, though, was that here, in this jerkwater little town in the middle of nowhere, I had something I'd never really had before -- a home.

A Luthor doesn't acknowledge any Higher Power that influences his life. I hadn't prayed in more than thirty years. Nevertheless, I felt a profound sense of gratitude and relief. I was grateful for my tall, tousled friend, shoveling eggs into his mouth across the kitchen table, babbling about organic compost. I was grateful for the old-fashioned kitchen, still furnished with all of Martha Kent's things. It could have been a million miles from anywhere, nothing intruding from the outside world except for the quiet contentiousness of the poultry on the back porch and the muted muttering of the all-news station on the counter radio. The rising sun shone in through the homemade wooden window blinds. I sipped my coffee. I was at peace.

Suddenly Clark loomed up from the table, breakfast forgotten, all his attention focused on the radio.

I hadn't been really paying attention before, just letting the sound wash over me unheeded, but now I listened and heard. The VentureStar space plane was in trouble. They had collided with some of the inevitable detritus of Man's Quest for Space, and the seven astronauts and a few billion dollars worth of hardware were doomed. Statistically speaking it was bound to happen, of course, and astronauts certainly knew the job was dangerous when they signed on for it.

It was obvious that Clark felt differently about it.

Apparently the clothes don't always make the man. When he lay before me broken and unconscious, even dressed in the tattered remains of his ridiculous primary-colored spandex, I'd recognized him as Clark Kent. When he stood before me, heroically determined to fly off and Save the Space Shuttle, even dressed in his ridiculous blue-plaid flannel and denim, I recognized him as Superman.

I was on my feet and beside him in less than a second. "No, Clark," I let my hand press lightly against his chest, even though there was no way on Earth I'd ever be able to physically restrain him. "You can't."

He looked down at me with calm blue eyes. "I have to."

"Clark, no. You're not a hundred percent yet. You can't. You don't have a re-breather, or anything -- you'll suffocate!"

Superman's smile was different from any of Clark's. His voice was deeper, too, and more sure. "I can hold my breath in vacuum for more than two hours. They won't last any longer than that without help."

I took my hand off him and stepped back. He strode masterfully out the back door, through the chickens, out into the yard. I followed along behind. Before he took off, he turned back to look at me. It was Clark's smile again, Clark's voice. "A man has to do what he can, Lex. If I'm not back in a day or so, you better tell Merritt to take the chickens back."

I opened my mouth and closed it again. Then I said, "Be careful. Come back home safe."

"I will," he said, and flew away.

"Dear God," I prayed. "Don't let that be the last lie he ever tells me."