My own heart let me more pity have on; let

Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,

Charitable; not live this tormented mind

With this tormented mind tormenting yet.

I cast for comfort I can no more get

By groping round my comfortless, than blind

Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find

Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise

You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile

Elsewhere; let comfort root-room; let joy size.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


The worn, peeling sign above the door read "Antiques and Curios". The red-headed woman, full of such poise and warmth, browsed the shelves and wondered idly at how the whole world was made up of people who were antiques and people who were curios. Her eye caught her reflection in the pane of a Mackintosh rosebud mirror and she smiled at her foolishness. Grey hair streaked through her fiery mane, and for a moment Martha Kent saw herself as a part of the shop, an antique to sit in between the redwood dresser and the Leopard Lacewing butterfly prints.

If she was an antique, her son was most definitely a curio. She thought of him, her heart swelling with pride and love at the man she had raised, the man who gave such hope to so many people. Martha would always think of him as the wide-eyed toddler peering at them through the window of their overturned truck. She had only lost her heart like that once before, to Jonathan, and Clark had brought real and lasting happiness to both their lives. He had his own life now but he always found the time to visit her or call her. He was content, and her mother's heart was glad.

The door of the shop opened, making the chimes hooked to the ceiling ring out their windy tune. Someone came in, and Martha found herself looking at the last person she had ever expected to see in an antique shop in Washington.

Lana Lang.

She didn't see Martha, and the senator took a moment to study her. Time and circumstances had not been kind to Lana. She looked much older than her actual age, and weary, so very weary. Martha had never been quite as forgiving as Clark for the things that Lana had done, but she did feel sorry for the young woman who had once been everything to her son.

Lana's circuit of the shop led her to meet Martha's gaze in surprise. She smiled a genuine smile and Martha saw the girl she remembered. Lana spoke first. "Mrs Kent! I wasn't expecting to see you in a place like this." Martha was tempted to point out that she lived in Washington and had been well-known for appreciating antiques, and therefore it wasn't much of a stretch for her to be here, but she refrained. Instead she said, "Lana, how lovely to see you. What are you doing in Washington?"

It was the wrong question to ask. Lana's face crumpled in visible pain, suddenly lost in a sea of emotions, and it was all Martha could do to not reach out and hug her - she didn't want to embarrass her in the middle of the shop and make a scene when Lana was visibly struggling to keep control. "Lana?" Martha asked as gently as she could, trying to reach her through the pain. "Let's get some coffee." Unseeing, Lana nodded and allowed herself to be steered out of the shop and down the street to a café.

Martha ordered a regular coffee for herself and hoped that she had remembered what Lana liked – chai latte with vanilla syrup – as she seemed incapable of doing anything at the moment. They were sitting outside in the sunshine, surrounded by couples and families and all the people generally found milling about on a bright Saturday afternoon in Washington. Martha pictured the cartoon black cloud that she saw around their table, threatening to rain on everyone else. She reached across the table to squeeze Lana's arm. "What happened?" she asked.

Lana took a moment to compose herself, clearing her throat delicately and sitting up straight. Almost as though she was steeling herself to do battle, Martha thought, an almost comical image of Lana in a suit of armour rising unbidden in her mind. Lana began, "I came back to Metropolis, thinking I could…. that I could find what I had been looking for everywhere else. I went to Watchtower, looking for Chloe, but there's someone else there now. Emil something? He said Chloe has a new life in Star City…" Her voice trailed off and Martha nodded encouragingly. That wasn't what had bothered her and Martha knew it.

She continued, her voice a little unsteadier now. "I went to the Planet to see Clark. He didn't notice me….he was throwing paperclips at Lois across the desk and she was laughing at him, teasing him for being a lousy shot. I could've screamed at them and they wouldn't have noticed. Then Clark stood up and said he was out of paperclips and needed to go get some more in the supply room…" Her voice was breaking now, but she kept going. "Lois said she would go with him to help and they went down the corridor together… she was giggling."

Silence fell, the almost deafening implication ringing in Martha's ears that Lana knew that Clark was happy – happy without her.

What could she say to ease this young woman's suffering but at the same time tell her the truth?

Her companion spoke again. "I came back for him but he obviously doesn't need me. I got on the first plane out of Metropolis because I couldn't stay there…and here I am." She looked down at her coffee, studying the white syrup swirling through the brown liquid. Martha didn't want to point out the obvious, but Lana seemed to have missed it. Not unkindly she said, "Lana, you left, for good. What did you think was going to happen?"

"I don't know… I don't know!" Lana was agitated now. "He's always loved me. I thought he would come after me this time instead of leaving things the way they were but he didn't. I want… I want to go back to living on the farm with him. That was a better time for us."

"You mean when you spied on your ex-husband and tried to kill him and then lived with Clark's evil clone for a month without knowing the difference?" The reproof was given as gently as Martha could make it, but Lana flinched all the same. "I guess I deserve that," she said slowly, before trying to defend herself. "But I did that for him! It was all for him. The suit, everything."

"No, Lana, it wasn't," was Martha's firm response. She would not allow Lana to pretend that what she had done was for Clark. He had blamed himself for Lana's actions and that had made Martha angry – angry that he could be manipulated and blamed for what others had done when they would not take responsibility for themselves. Her son had enough to deal with.

"Do you still have the suit?" she asked, concerned about something that was so dangerous to Clark. Lana shook her head in response. "The kryptonite was making me sick. I tried to get rid of it on its own but it was absorbed into the suit, so I lost it. I'm….normal again. I thought having it would make things easier. Better."

For who? For Clark? Or for Lana? Martha didn't point out that Lois needed neither powers nor suit to be with Clark.

"Why her, Mrs Kent? Why not me?" Lana asked, leaning across the table. Martha was saved from answering the question by another one from Lana. "Does Lois know?" She nodded, trying to form her thoughts into words. "Lois…sees Clark. Just Clark. He feels normal with her," she said, trying to sum up as succinctly as she could the difference that Lois made to her son's life.

Lana interrupted. "But he's so much more than that!"

Martha continued as though Lana hadn't spoken. "His abilities don't define him - his father always taught him that. More than anything Clark just wants to fit in and feel like he belongs. Yes, he can do amazing things, but he's still Clark, and Lois gives him that anchor to the world."

"She's not even on his level. She'll hold him back." Lana's tone was bitter, more bitter than the lime juice Martha had drunk this morning. It was unusual to hear something so sharp and unpleasant coming from Lana, but Martha didn't take the bait.

"Lois is his equal, with nothing more than a sharp tongue and finely honed intuition," she said mildly. Lana flinched again, and Martha finished her answer. "She makes him stronger and puts him back together when something breaks him. He gives her steadiness. They're a match for each other."

"I thought we were meant for each other," Lana objected, and Martha wanted to reach across the table and shake her. Why wasn't she listening to anything she was saying? Couldn't she see what was right in front of her? Instead, she replied, "Lana, after you left, Clark went to work and tried to put his life back together, and he did. When Lois disappeared, my son disappeared too. He couldn't live without her."

Lana sat back in her chair, as if the words had been a physical blow. Her face twisted in some indefinable, unreadable emotion. She seemed unable to speak. Eventually she croaked out, "Why is she so much better than me?"

"Oh Lana," Martha sighed, tired of trying to make Lana understand when she so stubbornly would not understand. "It's not about Lois being better than you. Clark struggled with himself for such a long time. He had so much to deal with as a teenager, maybe too much sometimes… always alone, on the outside, worrying about something while we worried about him. He hid himself from everyone and didn't let anyone in until there was Pete and then Chloe, but he always thought that he had to choose between his abilities and you. Then he thought telling you would ease some of the burden because he could share the things he was going through, but it didn't, because he had never accepted himself for what he was."

Lana's hands gripped her mug until her knuckles turned white. Martha read all the thoughts that Lana was inadvertently telegraphing on her face. All that time Clark had been living on the farm with her, he had been hiding from himself, trying to be normal for her. Martha went on, "now he knows who he is and what his purpose is. Lois is the one who really understands that."

Tears rolled down Lana's cheeks as she finally understood. "I'm sorry, Lana," Martha said. Sorry that your heart is broken. Sorry that you haven't found your place in the world. Sorry that you weren't enough for my son. Sorry that I don't know how to help you.

"What do I do now?" asked the broken, sad woman sitting in front of her. Martha's advice was simple and difficult at the same time. "I don't know, Lana. You have to figure that out for yourself. And you have to learn to live with yourself - you have to learn how to accept what you have."

Her phone rang and she knew who it was before she answered it with her usual, businesslike greeting. "Martha Kent." She could hear the voice on the other end smiling. "Hey Mom," said her son. "I'm at your apartment, where are you?" Clark was in Washington and Martha almost cheered in delight, but then she remembered Lana and mouthed It's Clark to her. Lana's eyes widened a little in surprise. "I'm at Café Getz" she said into the phone, and his reply was simple - "I'll be right there" – before she heard the dial tone.

"He's coming here, isn't he?" Martha nodded at Lana's questions and watched her melt out of sight as quickly as she could. Martha hoped Clark didn't notice two mugs on the table and start asking questions. Lana was too fragile, had too little control over her emotions, and any question from Clark might shatter her.

The familiar gust of wind signalled her son's arrival and there he was standing in front of her. He was so handsome in his shirt and tie, and his blue eyes were dancing in amusement at something. Two strong arms reached around her and picked her up, whirling her round in the street. Clark set her down finally and said "Hey Mom" in the perkiest tone of voice she had ever heard from him as she tried to catch her breath. "I didn't expect to see you," she told him, still breathing a little heavily. She was getting too old to be whisked about like that, however pleased her son was to see her.

He rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "I was going to come see you next weekend but Lois is away then and insisted we come today instead." He shrugged his shoulder in the manner of a man who knows when to do as he's told. Martha was delighted at that extra piece of news. "Oh did you bring Lois too?" Clark grinned and said "I left her at your apartment to come get you. Are you ready?" Martha nodded and turned to slide the handle of her purse off the chair she had been sitting in. She took the opportunity to glance towards the shadows where Lana was staying out of sight. Shaking her head slightly, she turned back to her son, ready for a trip on the Clark Express.

They arrived at the apartment and found Lois, and then everything was happy noise and laughter and pleasure in each other's company. Martha busied herself in the kitchen while keeping an ear on the incessant bickering and banter coming from the living room. She watched her grow-up son stick his tongue out at his glaring girlfriend and laughed quietly to herself as she filled up the kettle.

Martha leaned up against the counter waiting on the kettle to boil and felt suddenly tired and old, as though she had absorbed all the pain and sadness in Lana. She looked out the window, wondering what Lana was going to do now, and thought of all the people in the world like her who were adrift, constantly battered by the whirls and eddies of life. Martha knew what it meant to lose her anchor, but she had a reason to go on, and she had Clark. Lana had no-none, and nothing. Martha hoped that some day, somewhere, Lana might find peace.

With that thought, she went into the living room to find out who wanted tea.

Fin