20 Father

Blanketed by the waning light of sunset, Superman's son lies, sleeping, his tiny form sprawled over the plaid cushions on Ben Hubbard's dog-loved sitting-room couch. The chewed wooden arms and misshapen stuffing play a poignant counterpoint to the boy's apple-fresh innocence.

His father -- Saviour of Metropolis -- sits in the dark kitchen and listens to the sounds of his son sleeping -- soft baby snores, rhythmic as his own heartbeat. He allows gravity to take him; giving himself up to the pull of the earth as he rarely does -- for when he does, he, at length, succumbs to Morpheus's pull as well. His eyelids fluttering with exhaustion from the day, he faces Ben -- a man he knows to be patient as a stone statue –- and doing a pretty good impression of one right now, too.

Clark is pensive as he tries to come to terms with this, yet another, major change in his life.

Ben reaches his hand across the scarred wooden surface of the aged table and grips Kal's arm, giving him a little shake of reassurance. "Clark, you don't have to worry -– about your secret, I mean. Martha was so lonely when you left, and she needed someone to talk to. When she saw how you reacted to the idea that we were dating, she figured we should wait… to tell you… that… I knew. Don't blame her."

Slowly shaking his head, and with a soft smile, the younger man pats the furrowed hand, then frowns the smile away –- and like a loyal workhorse, takes on the duty-burden without a thought. "No, Ben, this is all my doing. NONE if this would have happened if I hadn't gone on that useless journey -- to a place that no longer exists. I messed my life up, I lost five years with Lois -- and Ma –- and… I've decided."

"I'm… going to turn it back."

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Kitty nuzzles the sweet fur-ball squirming in her arms, and tries to forget the last moments of her former dog's life. Tries to forget Lex's eyes… then. His eyes, now, sliding over her features like cold liquid mercury, ooze a kind of adoration and love – akin to the love she's always craved -- craved from a certain red-caped wonder, not a bald maniacal killer.

"Kitty –- why so down? You're going to adore the apartment. All gleaming gold, and thick, red velvet. You wanted a heart-shaped bed -– I remembered -– I got it in queen-size just for you. And, the room –- it's got a door you can close."

At the mention of a lockable door, her eyes snap to attention. "Lex, you got me… my own room?" her voice rises in pitch to near-inaudible frequency, and the dog winces. Lex did his homework, remembering that Kitty, as a child, was crammed into a trailer with five siblings –- three to a room. The dream -- of a personal, inviolate space -- still the carrot on her own particular stick. A fluid smile curves Lex's lush lips and he springs the trap, "The Suit, Katherine – I got you a Suit."

Kitty's eyes well up, and the delicate moisture dampens her flushed cheeks. For a few seconds, her view of Lex is softened and indistinct, and, in that moment, she loves him, and he is handsome –- a Superman, of sorts.

Lex is quick to take advantage of the moment, and leans in for a kiss, his lips bruising hers. Her vision clears, she suppresses the shudder, and closes her eyes to reality, thinking of Him. When she opens them, Lex is so close -- his stone-grey eyes in soft-focus -- she can almost believe… her eyes slide shut, and she allows him to deepen the kiss, while she envisions azure behind her own lowered lids.

After his moment of intimacy with her body, Lex reaches around Katherine's shoulders and clinches her to him. The grip is not without a modicum of pain, and Kitty bears it, burying her nose in the puppy's neck. Luthor sighs with contentment, watching the ocean slide by below the copter. In the near distance, Gertrude II -- with her ample helipad -- glows golden-green and ivory in the ocean sunset.

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Forsaking the promise of rest, Clark reaches up and chafes the weariness from his eyes, willing his energy to return and bring wakefulness with it.

Then, with a blinding flourish of colour, Superman stands in place where Clark sat, moments before, and Ben gasps. Then he speaks, and, his voice like far-off thunder -- subtle, yet inevitable -- surprises the old man. "Old friend, you think you know my secret."

"In your absence, Martha stuffed me with apple pie, and it so reminded her of you, she couldn't help but talk about you –- at length. She missed you, son."

At the mention of his mother's name, Clark's lip trembles, and Ben guesses, by his expression, that he is using his extraordinary hearing to reach out to her -- and that it's her even, slow breathing that releases his tension, assuring him that she will rest until the rooster wakes her -- to tend to hen's and cow's daybreak requirements.

"She's asleep. Are you scared of heights?"

"No, Clar—-uh, Superman." and Clark makes a face.

"-- Call me Clark, please, that other name sounds… odd, coming from you. Old friend, you say your heart is good –- can I take you up?"

Ben tips back his hat and shoves his fists into his pockets, rooting himself to the earth, as if in defiance of Clark's request. "The apple pie sessions satisfied my curiosity about you –- and then some. I don't need proof –- I have faith, you know."

The old farmer's face reflects Clark's determination, even though his secret heart is terrified of the implications of Clark's offer.

To fly with a god – 'No, not a god, Ben Hubbard – just our Clark,' Martha would admonish.

Still, he is impressive in his uniform

The Suit's material was much more substantial and masculine than he'd imagined. His eyes dart from Kal's thick-soled boots up to meet his gaze, undiminished by cheap prescription glasses, and Ben is surprised to see the same boy he watched grow up next door –- the boy he introduced to horseback riding and scrabble. Standing before him, waiting for his answer -- as calm if they had all day -- is the boy who was, once, scared of heights – and whose fear inexplicably vanished one summer.

Ben gasps.

The summer he learned to fly.

"Ben?"

Still waiting – as if my opinion mattered.

"No, Clark, no fears -- many summers spent loafing atop the silos. What about Jason?"

"I'll keep an eye. Ready?"

A mute nod from Ben, and he follows Clark out the back door. Superman lifts him easily at the waist; Ben marvels at the fact that gravity seems to have released him -– he expected to feel clamped in a flying harness, sores blooming at the pressure points of the Kryptonian's steely grip. "Clark, why is it…?"

"So smooth? Superman airlines at your service. No peanuts, I'm afraid -- due to allergies -- but there's a complementary blanket if you get cold," Clark quips, pointing his nose at his cape.

Ben scowls, confused, "I mean – it's like I'm floating. Like in a lake – but without the swimming part. Uh, I mean, without the water." Flustered, the old man's ruddy cheeks darken, and Clark gives him a reassuring smile.

"Let me guess, Mom didn't mention my aura."

"Aura?" Ben gulps. Then a light bulb goes on, and he regains as much composure as a farmer in overalls floating ten stories above his cows can muster, "The invulnerability… whachamacallit? Your mother mentioned it's why your suit has to be so tight."

"Yep. If I wore overalls, like you, they'd be in shreds from the friction of supersonic flight. However, for short periods, I can will my aura to envelop us both while we fly; we must stay in physical contact for it to work."

"I bet you go through capes like I go through gum rubbers."

"Pretty much. One guy put my old cape up for auction on Ebay, and I persuaded him to donate half to charity. I figured, finders, keepers."

Digesting the information, Ben relaxes and looks to the ground for the first time -- the town laid out like the train set in the basement of his youth. The fields, multi-hued squares, like a crazy-quilt chessboard, the vehicles, and animals moving in slow motion across the seemingly smooth surface.

Turn back?

"Clark, at the house… what did you mean… you would turn it back?"

His smile abruptly gone like a firefly's glimmer, Clark sobers, and hesitates to speak.

"I'm assuming you brought me up here to tell me something, and my farmer's intuition is tingling mighty fierce right now. Answer me, son… what did you mean by 'turn it back?'"

"Well… actually, um, I don't turn anything back so much as… uh, GO back… in time…"

"Izzatso. Y'know, my boy… I think I need to be on solid ground for this one."