By Betsy R.
Submitted: May 2003
Summary: A heart-broken ten-year-old Clark is comforted by his father.
Author's Note: I'm submitting this Father's Day fic way early, as I'm planning on being rather busy around then (baby number two is due in 3 weeks…). But as I sit here — with my expanding waistline making it harder to reach the keyboard — I am often struck at how important John is in my son's life. He always downplays his role — what Daddy doesn't — but his presence and support help to make Sean such a happy boy. So this one is dedicated to him, and to all the other Daddys out there.
Thanks tons to Carol, bravest beta of them all. And thanks to Labby for letting me go with this. Though it resembles a scene from Masques… I swear to Perry that I didn't read that lovely fic until after I wrote this…
Disclaimer: I don't own anything except some swollen ankles — and I'm willing to trade them in for un-swollen ones. Any takers? No copyright infringement intended, no profit made, et cetera et cetera et cetera (as Yul Brenner would say)
Continuity: No spoilers here. Just a thought I had…
"Clark?" Martha tentatively called through Clark's bedroom door. He had gone straight to his room when he got to the house, and she hadn't heard a peep from him since then. When she got no answer, she went quietly back downstairs to work on supper.
Clark was a very conscientious boy — attending to his chores right when he got home from school. Then, normally, he would come in, wash his hands, and pester Martha for whatever snacks he could get in before supper. It had become a game with them: he would sneak for the cookie jar, and she would put out an apple. When he would finish the apple, he would look longingly at the cookie jar, and Martha would give in just about every time. As she handed him a large cookie, she would smile, teasing him that no girl would ever be able to resist those eyes when he got older.
But tonight had been different. There had been no off-key whistle as the calves were fed, no barking as he played with the dog while moving hay and feed for the cows and chickens. When he came in, he washed his hands and avoided Martha's eye. But a mother's eye can see whatever a child doesn't want her to see, and Martha saw traces of tears.
Something had upset Clark very much — he was more upset than she had ever seen before. Clark was maturing quickly, and he wasn't one to cry. He was like his father in that respect. Martha could see the layers of 'Stoic Kent' forming on the boy. Most of the time, she found it understandable. But there were times, like this, when she wished she had her little boy back: the one who always ran to Mommy to fix the hurts.
How could she fix a hurt when he wouldn't tell her what it was?
As she hovered in indecision — should she go talk to him, or shouldn't she? — she heard the door to his room open. His footsteps solemnly came down the steps. Busying herself with some dishes in the sink, she tried to act as normal as possible.
"Can you tell me about my real mom? I mean, you know, the one who didn't want me?"
The hurt in the words broke Martha's heart. She closed her eyes to hold back the tears, and dried her hands on her dishtowel. Pouring a glass of milk and placing some cookies on a plate, Martha tried to formulate a response.
"Come over to the table, Clark. We can talk about what's bothering you…"
"I just want to know. I hear people talking about her — the woman who had me — once in a while. She was your cousin, right? What was she like?"
"I know we haven't talked about your adoption much to you. We wanted to wait until you were ready." Martha paused, trying to gather her thoughts. Looking at her with pleading, hurt eyes, Clark silently waited for his mother to explain.
Martha wasn't ready to broach this subject. Clark knew he was adopted, but not much else. In a tight-knit community like Smallville, there was no way he wouldn't have heard the speculations of his origins.
How to stall for time without lying… Martha started again, "Tallulah was a single woman who couldn't raise a child on her own. She knew we wanted a child of our own… " So far, Martha had told the truth. Tallulah had been a single woman. She did know that Martha and Jonathan had wanted a child desperately. Martha didn't want to lie to Clark, but she didn't want to tell him the unbelievable truth. Not until she had discussed it with Jonathan. "Why all the sudden interest?"
Clark pushed the cookies around the plate. He didn't want to hurt his Mom's feelings, but it hurt so bad inside him. He had to try to find out…
"Some of the kids at school — they were giving me a hard time. I beat Brian Teetsle in a wrestling match and he got kinda miffed. His whole gang just started — you know — saying stuff. Like how I'm adopted. How my own m-m-mom didn't want me… How I was the son of a who-who-whore.." He started to cry again, to his embarrassment. He wasn't even positive he knew what a whore was, but he knew it was a dirty, awful insult. Pushing away from the table, he ran out the back door.
Martha sat, aghast, staring at the untouched cookies and milk without seeing them. She knew that children could be mean, but how could any of them say anything like that to Clark? Her boy never harmed a fly — never even picked on anyone. Not that he was a pushover. He was just a nice boy. He didn't deserve that kind of treatment.
Jonathan found her working through the rage that had followed Clark's revelation. He had passed through the barn quietly and had heard some sign of Clark — a very upset Clark. He thought he'd talk to Martha to see which way the wind blew before talking to Clark. If Clark had upset his mother this much, Jonathan didn't want to be the one to get in the middle of an argument.
Martha looked up quickly as he walked in the kitchen, then bent back over the sink. The one look was enough to show Jonathan that she was furious.
"You want to talk about it?" he asked, quietly.
Martha straightened from the sink she had been unnecessarily scrubbing. She looked out the window to the barn where her child sat hurting. Shaking her head, she said the first thing that came to mind.
"I am so mad I could spit."
Sighing, Jonathan decided to broach the subject. "What did he do?"
Eyes filled with tears, Martha looked to Jonathan. "Oh, Jonathan. He didn't do anything. It's those terrible creatures at his school. I refuse to call them children. They said the most awful things to him, and I don't even know what I can say to him to try to make it better. Someone *did* abandon him. He *is* adopted. And the truth of where he came from… I think it would hurt him more than even what he's thinking…"
Jonathan sat at the table. It couldn't be time to think about this already. Surely, they had a few more years before this discussion?
Martha sighed loudly and sat in the chair across from Jonathan. "Some kids were picking on him this afternoon. They picked on him because he's adopted. They called him names — names a boy his age shouldn't hear. I just don't know what to say to make it better, Jonathan. I just don't know what to say." Shaking her head, she stood back up and went back to the sink. Her pots were sparkling now, but it felt good to have something to do.
Jonathan stood up slowly and walked out to the barn. He wasn't sure what he could say to Clark. But his boy shouldn't be alone right now. He knew that.
Jonathan found Clark sitting in the hay barn, quietly petting his dog, Howard. Pulling a bale up next to his son, Jonathan sat down and started scratching Howard's neck. The dog's tongue lolled out in a goofy dog smile — Howard loved attention.
"He's a great dog, isn't he, son?"
Clark shrugged. He didn't trust his voice not shake if he tried to talk, and he didn't want to cry in front of his dad.
"You know," Jonathan spoke slowly, trying to figure out exactly how to say what he wanted to say, "I think Howard must be one of the luckiest dogs in Kansas. You know where he came from? Little Seth Miller — his dad used to rent out the Stumacher's farm down a piece — Seth had him as a pup. Loved him to death, Seth did. But Seth's dad got a job in Wichita. They had to move to the city.
"Seth didn't want to lose Howard, but he knew that city life just isn't for dogs. Think about it — no big yard to play in, roads with dangerous traffic, sounds and smells that Howard just didn't know. So, Seth came to me and asked me if we would give Howard a home.
"See, Clark, it wasn't that Seth didn't love Howard. He did. You should have seen him they day they dropped Howard off here. He cried like I've never seen a boy cry. And he still writes Howard letters every few months, sending dog treats when he can."
Jonathan paused for a minute, letting what he had said sink in. Then he tried another point.
"I don't think you could call Seth a bad owner either. Do you? If he were a bad dog owner, he would have taken Howard right to that city, not giving the poor dog any chance at the wonderful country life he has now.
"No, I'd say that Seth was the most loving and best owner Howard could have, because he put Howard's needs before his own. And Howard — well — he's got two sets of people who love him. One that he sees every day, and one that thinks about him a lot but can't see him. Not a bad deal, do you think?"
Clark still didn't look up from Howard, petting the dog's thick, warm fur slowly, thinking about what his dad said. He felt Jonathan's finger under his chin, lifting his eyes to meet his father's gaze.
"One more thing, son. Do you love Howard any less, knowing that he had an owner before you? Would he be any more your dog if he were born on this farm? Could you possibly love him any more than you do now? I don't think you could. I know I couldn't."
Eyes watering, Clark jumped up and hugged his dad. Jonathan's big arms wrapped his son in a warm, loving hug. And Clark clung to his father — his real father in every sense that a father could be.
(*)> <(*) begun 15 January 2003 finished 26 February 2003