As the shadows of a mid-summer evening began to fill the room, Martha Kent began to speak.
For the last time.
"It's funny. Jonathan and I knew each other all our lives. Played together as kids. Went to church together. Started school together. Learned to read together.
But we never had eyes for each other. He was going to marry Jeannie Miller, and I was going to marry Luke Patterson. It was just the way it was going to be.
I'd barely even seen Jonathan in the two months since we'd graduated. I was three weeks away from marrying Luke. Jonathan and Jeannie were set to get married that September. We were all set to go down the road that had always been there waiting for us. And that was just the way it was going to be.
But the way things are going to be are never the way things are.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I was in Tucker's Boutique trying on my wedding dress. My mother was with me, and we were giggling like schoolgirls and having a good old time. I had on my dress, and was looking at myself in Mrs. Tucker's big mirror, when up in the corner of it, I saw the strangest sight. A face was floating there like ... a ghost or something, and it took me a second to figure out what it was.
When I did, I couldn't believe it.
It was Jonathan, standing outside, his face pressed into the store window. To this day, I can't describe the look he wore. It was like he was ... seeing me for the first time.
Maybe I can't describe it, but I knew exactly what it meant. I turned around to face him, and he didn't blush or move or flinch or anything. He just kept looking at me. And I just kept looking at him.
After a while I just nodded.
He didn't have to ask.
I just went ahead and answered.
About that time I realized that Ma was talking to me, wondering what was the matter. I just looked at her and smiled, then hugged and kissed her, and headed out the door, Ma and Mrs. Tucker both yelling at me because I still had on my wedding dress.
But I knew I was going to be needing it.
And two hours and one trip to the justice of the peace later, Jonathan was carrying me across the threshold into our home."
The glorious sunset coloring the sky contrasted sharply with Smallville's mood. Something bad was happening. The kind of bad that even the town's young hero couldn't prevent. Despite a curious increase in the past five years in the number of attempted felonies and extraterrestrial-related incidents, the presence of Superboy had made Smallville a remarkably safe place in which to live. But bending steel and seeing through walls didn't change some facts of life.
Folks in Smallville still got sick.
Folks in Smallville still died.
And there was nothing that even a Superboy could do about it.
"It was quite the scandal around here. Us up and running off and getting married like that had tongues wagging all over the county for months. Wasn't quite proper, folks said.
And in my case, some said, not quite smart.
See, Mr. Patterson owned the granary and the bank, so for me to pass up his son for a poor farmer just starting out made sense to no one. But to me, it made the only sense. From the moment I knew that Jonathan was the man for me, I couldn't even consider doing anything else. We both felt bad that Luke and Jeannie were embarrassed, but we never regretted what we did.
Sometimes life takes its time getting you ready for something. But when you're ready, there's nothing that can stand in your way."
Martha Kent's eyes fluttered opened. For the first time in hours, she looked around, though it was not the present she was seeing.
"It's like Jonathan and me becoming parents. I don't know exactly why we weren't able to have a child the natural way. It was just one of those things that don't work out. And I don't exactly know why we didn't go out and try to adopt a child. I guess it's because ... well, us not being able to have children was ... well, it wasn't anything that Jonathan and I ever really got out in the open.
Some hurts are just too big to talk about. You put them away. And leave them there. So that you can manage them.
And that's what we did. We had each other, and we had our farm, and both of those things kept us plenty busy. We were happy.
Even though we always knew that something was missing."
Martha twisted in the grip of the deadly fever, then relaxed slightly as a cool breeze caressed her brow. Her eyes closed again, but she continued to speak.
"I like to think that all those years without a child were getting us ready for Clark. We were past 45 when he came, and even though I didn't know it, all that time without a baby had built up in me the love and ... appreciation ... that would make every day of having him a pleasure.
And I think that all those years of Jonathan, out by himself in those long fields, nothing to keep him company but his thoughts ... well, I think it built up in him the wisdom that someone special like Clark would need.
You could never have planned it that way, but it all fit together.
Clark needed someone, and so did we, and when he came, we were waiting for him."
As the first stars came into view, the sounds of the Smallville night, mostly crickets and the occasional car, were even more muted than usual. Most of the townsfolk were sticking close to home this evening.
With what was happening over at the Kent place, it just seemed right to be with your family.
"Lord, it was a sight when that rocket blazed across the sky. I suppose I've seen stranger things since, but not then. It was like heaven opened and dropped a star into our cornfield. Jonathan kept saying that it must have been a meteor, but I could tell that he didn't believe it. We both knew it was something special. I must not have been in my right mind to let him take us out to that field, but I guess there was no keeping him from it.
When you're ready for something, there's no stopping you."
Across town, Reverend Jacobs was returning home from visiting the Kents. His wife looked up from her reading and smiled as he walked through the door. He just looked at her and slowly shook his head, and watched sadly as her smiled faded away.
"When we got there and saw what it was, I about died. Right away you knew it wasn't a meteor. You knew it wasn't an airplane. In fact, you knew it wasn't anything you'd ever seen before. Jonathan and I were jabbering about it maybe being Russian, but that was just nerves talking. We both knew it wasn't from this neck of the woods. Somehow, it was just too ... elegant.
I was so scared. Jonathan wanted to go up to it and look in, but I wouldn't let him. I just wanted to go home and call Chief Otis, or maybe just go home and not call anybody at all. Just pretend that the whole thing hadn't happened.
Then I heard the baby cry.
And all of a sudden, everything was different."
Down the street, Pete Ross was pretending to watch television. "Going anywhere tonight?" his mother asked him.
Pete took a moment to answer. "No. Not tonight."
His parents pretended not to notice the catch in his voice, or the wetness in his eyes. He reciprocated by pretending not to notice when his father subtly walked over and subtly patted his shoulder.
Some hurts, Pete Ross was learning, are just too big to talk about.
"I shot past Jonathan so fast he didn't have time to grab me. The rocket was still smoking, but I didn't care. I didn't care about anything but getting to that baby. Now, I didn't know what kind of baby was in that ship. He could have had nine heads for all I knew.
But I knew that it was a baby, and it needed me. And that was all that mattered.
The first moment I laid eyes on him, it was like ... the moment the world began. I poked my head into that rocket ship, and there he was.
The most beautiful thing I had ever seen."
Under the apple tree on the line that divided the Kent and Lang property, Lana Lang sat quietly. She hadn't done this much since she was a little girl, but she felt like she needed to do it tonight.
She wasn't watching stars, though. She just stared at the single light glowing dimly next door, in the house that was to her like a second home.
And every now and again, she would wipe away a tear.
"Now, part of being a parent is looking at your children through parents' eyes. I mean, Millie Edwards thought her little Patsy was a beauty, and we all know that wasn't ... exactly the case. You never can say for sure if what you're seeing in your child is the way they really are, or the way that only you can see them.
That being said, near as I can tell, that baby truly was the most perfect thing ever to set down on this planet. His eyes were a deeper blue than you could ever imagine. His hair was dark and thick and wavy, with this one adorable curl like a delicate flower tumbling onto his forehead. And his skin. It was so soft and smooth ... it was almost like he shined.
Every inch of him was perfect.
But most of all, it was the look on his face that you noticed. It was not at all a look you'd see on a normal one-year-old. You could tell just by looking at him that he was a lot smarter than a child that age had a right to be. But it was more than that. It was a look of gentleness ... but with sadness, and ... sincerity mixed in. I guess it's silly to put it like that, but that's what I saw. I couldn't help but see it.
Of course, I fell in love with him right away."
Lex Luthor leaned back on his cot as he monitored the local police bands using the miniaturized receiver hidden in his ear. On the verge of his 18th birthday and adulthood, this was to be his final escape from the State Home for Incorrigible Boys, and its success depended on Superboy being distracted for a few minutes. For the past week though, the nights in Small County had been eerily uneventful. No accidents. No crime. Nothing, in fact, that required the services of his hated foe.
Lex was so bored he was on the verge of risking a confrontation with the blasted alien just to break the monotony, when he heard the county dispatcher ask the city dispatcher how the Kents were doing. Their sudden and deadly illness was news to Lex, and as he listened to the report, he noticed within himself a feeling so disused as to seem almost alien. He quickly fought it back. Just two less hicks in the world, he reminded himself.
Still, the Kents were ... all right ... in their way. They'd always been kind to him, Lex supposed. And they hadn't even treated him any differently after the blasted alien had stolen his hair.
And their kid was okay, even if he was dipped in sugar.
Lex Luthor leaned back on his cot, and decided that tomorrow night would probably be better for an escape. For some reason, he suddenly didn't much feel like going out.
"Becoming a mother is like starting everything over. One day, life is pretty much the way it's always been. The next day, everything has changed. Your priorities are all different. I don't think it's so much that the other things are really less important to you. It's just that against the background of what your baby means, they don't stand out so much any more. What you feel for your baby is a flood that drowns everything else.
When I pulled Clark out of that rocket, he wasn't being born, but it was like I was."
In the eastern corner of Smallville, Bernice Taylor was enduring the nightly war required to put her three little ones to bed. So intense was this evening's conflict, she was completely oblivious to the rapidly heating skillet on the inadvertently left-on stove. In moments, the first potentially disastrous sparks would begin to fly.
Then a red and blue streak passed through the Taylor home.
Hearing something, Bernice stuck her head into the kitchen. Seeing nothing, she shrugged, then remembered that she hadn't checked after dinner to see that the stove was off, and was relieved to find that it was. She smiled, reminded herself to be more careful, and rejoined the battle.
"It would be nice to think that once we snatched Clark up out of that rocket, that everything was okay for him.
But it wasn't.
Those first few months were rough. Being under our sun was quickly developing his powers, and adjusting to them was harder than you'd think. Suddenly, everything about him worked so much better that it was all happening too fast for him. We had to work very hard with him to slow him down. To teach him how to live at a human pace.
But even worse, he was so sad so much of the time. Even if he didn't understand exactly what had happened, he knew what he had lost.
Those first few years, Clark didn't remember a whole lot about Krypton or his parents. But sometimes he would dream about them. He would wake up sobbing, and as little rest as he needed, it was hard for him to get back to sleep. I'd go into his room, and lay down with him in his bed.
I'd hold him for hours.
I'd rock him and sing to him.
I'd tell him that everything was okay.
Finally he would drift back to sleep, his nightmares gone for at least a while. And sometimes in the dim light, I could see his face.
And it would have the sweetest, most peaceful look on it.
Then I'd cry."
As he always did when he saw the "Welcome to Smallville" sign, Jeff Mason gave a cheerful salute to the youngster whose image adorned it. It was a ritual that made him smile. When the brakes on his semi had gone out three years earlier, Jeff had found himself forever grateful that his route brought him through the "Home of Superboy." The salute was his way of saying thanks to the boy who had rescued him.
But he never expected to need him again.
Jeff instinctively swerved when the speeding car crossed the yellow line. He avoided the drunken fool, but knew that it would do him little good. Harper Mountain wasn't very high here at the Smallville city limits, but it was high enough, and he could feel the back end of the massive truck reaching for its edge.
Like last time, he had just a moment to breathe a prayer.
Like last time, it was answered.
For an instant, he was airborne. As the semi headed back for the road in a blatant defiance of gravity and inertia, he knew that he again owed his life to a fortunate encounter with Smallville's favorite son.
His savior was long gone by the time Jeff got out the truck to still his shaking knees. It helped that he soon saw the car that had precipitated the incident soaring through the air, being carried into Smallville for a rendezvous with local law enforcement.
When Jeff Mason rolled past Superboy's smiling face on the "You Are Now Leaving Smallville" sign, he made sure to salute twice.
"I could never talk about it to anyone. Not even Jonathan. But sometimes I felt guilty about even having Clark. He was such a precious gift to us, and I was so happy to have him.
But having him meant that another woman had lost him. Lara, we later learned. As much as I adored Clark, I knew that she probably loved him just as much. No matter what kind of world she came from.
I know it's silly, but I was just sure that she would have hated me.
How could she not?
I had her baby.
Then, early one morning, I was holding him, stroking his precious face, and I realized something. If something happened to me, what I would want more than anything would be for some other woman to love Clark like I did. Take care of him. Play with him. Hold him when he cried. Rock him back to sleep.
And ... somehow ... I knew that the woman who had given birth to Clark had felt the same way.
I made my peace with her memory then. I didn't feel guilty anymore.
I just felt ... honored, and very fortunate ... to be given the privilege of taking care of that precious little angel."
In the bed next to Martha's, Jonathan Kent stirred briefly, the same mysterious fever assaulting his body as it did that of his beloved wife. He thrashed about a bit before settling back into a deep sleep.
Martha Kent, who for over 40 years had been aware of her husband's every movement in the night, never even noticed.
"To say that Clark was a handful when he was a toddler would be an understatement. Most kids are, after all, but a child who hardly ever gets tired is something else all together. No naps for that boy. He was always on the go, hanging off the ceiling, or running around so fast that the wind he kicked up would pull things off the walls. Why, I didn't think I would ever teach him to not use his super-speed in the house. It was always something, and sometimes I wonder how we ever made it. I suppose all those years without a child had given us the patience we needed.
Of course, we would be kidding ourselves to believe that we could have ever made Clark do anything he didn't want to do. No, him obeying us, allowing us to discipline him and parent him, always required his cooperation. He figured out that little fact pretty quickly, but he never took advantage of it. I guess his consent, unspoken though it was, was due to the good parenting Lara and Jor-El did in the time that they had him, and the fact that he was so smart, he somehow understood that he needed parents to teach him how to behave.
And the fact that ... well, the fact that he's just Clark, and all the kindness and love that goes with that."
For a moment, Martha's eyes opened again. They roamed around the dimly lit room before settling on a picture from almost 16 years earlier. It showed a very new family. A family with two tired but very happy parents, and one very active, very intelligent, very special, child.
"We'd had Clark about a month when I began to understand just how good a heart he had. Despite his grief, the little fellow was beginning to perk up and have a little fun now and then, and Jonathan and me were sure getting a kick out of playing with him.
But then there would be moments when he'd remember, and everything would come crashing down around him.
One day, I was reading the story of King Arthur to him, and something about it, I never figured out what exactly, set him off. Made him remember Krypton, I reckon. He shot out of my lap and ran outside, and the next thing I knew, he had punched a hole in the little concrete pump house we used to have out back. Then he punched it again, and I could see that the whole thing was about to tumble down. I imagine it wasn't the brightest thing I've ever done, but I ran up behind him, forgetting what someone as strong as him could do to me.
You just don't think about that. Not when it's your child.
I grabbed his arm before he could swing again, and he jerked it away from me so fast that I went down onto the ground. He didn't mean to do it, but he flung me down like I was a rag doll. I looked up, and he was just standing there, this terribly angry look on his face, looking for all the world like he wanted to keep on hitting something. And with me being the closest thing at the time, I wasn't all together sure that something wouldn't be me.
But then he saw me lying there, and saw what he had done. I'm pretty sure that was the first time he realized just what he could do to other people.
And he just melted.
He fell down on the ground beside me and sobbed and sobbed. "Not hurt Mommy," he kept saying. "Not hurt Mommy."
The moment before, I'll admit, I'd been afraid of him. After that, I never was again. He knew what he could do, but he was smart enough, and good enough, to never do it."
One by one, the lights in the neighborhood were extinguished. First Mrs. Cooper's, then the Chens', then the Ross', then the Langs'. Finally, the Potters' lights went out, as the Professor at last completed another day of tinkering. Then it was dark in this corner of Smallville.
Only Martha Kent carried on.
"Even aside from all the good that Clark has done with his powers, he's always been such a treasure. I don't think I can say how proud I am of him. Of the boy he's been, and the man he's become. Jonathan and I never spoke about it much, but in the early years we were terrified of the harm he could do with his powers, even without meaning to. Sometimes I think we may have tried too hard to instill in Clark a sense of the good he could do instead. Maybe it was unfair to expect that of him, or to let him know what we hoped of him.
I think we were ... what do you call it ... overcompensating. Now, I try to think the best of people, but, well, human nature being what it is, it would be hard for most folks to not be ... misled ... by all that power. We knew how easy it would be for Clark to do the wrong things with his gifts. We knew how close to a saint he would have to be to not abuse other people or to just take whatever he wanted.
It was always my biggest fear. That Clark would be corrupted by his power. Not because I ever thought it would happen.
But because it would be such a tragic loss if it somehow did.
You see, there's just ... something about Clark. It's not his powers. It's ... him. He just glows. He radiates goodness. I don't know if it's something about where he's from. I don't know if he's just special. I like to think that Jonathan and I had a little bit to do with it. But whatever it is about him, it is to me the most precious thing in the world. And I could hardly stand to think that it might someday not be there any more.
But I guess I didn't need to worry. Whatever it is that a body needs to have that kind of power and it not ... darken their soul, he's got it. We're all so fortunate. The person who needed it the most, somehow got it."
Chief Parker stopped in at the jail after a late dinner. Everything was quiet, his deputy assured him. Just like the last five days and nights. Just a few reports of Superboy stopping problems before they get started.
Chief Parker was shaking his head as he headed home. The boy seemed to be working extra hard lately, so hard that he wasn't taking time to stop and talk to anyone he saved. Why, he was so on top of things, it was almost like he was trying to make sure that nothing bad ever happened again in Smallville. Maybe he'll put me out of a job, the Chief thought with a grin, and blessed both the boy and the good luck that had brought him this way.
"I think what's most special about Clark is his appreciation for life. His reverence for it. He learned, much too young, just how fragile life is. How tenuous. And how rare. After all, he knows better than anyone how far across the universe you can go and never bump into another living thing. I think that's all combined to make him truly appreciate other people. He knows how special they are, and how important it is to hold on to them.
With that mind of his, and being able to go anywhere, and being able to see anything, the universe is just one big playpen for that boy. He goes to the center of the Earth, and to the center of stars. He's gone back in time to watch the sun turn on, and the moon form, and even though he won't exactly talk about it, I think once he even went back and watched life begin. He watches atoms collide, and listens to them as they do it. He watches things happen on other planets while everyone else in the room is watching TV. He picks up more in an afternoon than most scientists learn in a lifetime.
It says so much about him. He's seen more of this world and this universe than anyone who's ever lived. And yet, he thinks people are the most special things in it.
It makes you feel good about being human. It ... it's the kind of thing that makes you feel that everything works out all right in the end."
High above Smallville, twin sets of alien-born eyes continually scanned the world, especially the part of it beneath them. Nothing escaped their notice. Nothing went unanswered. Nothing developed into an emergency.
Nothing was permitted to call their best friend from his parents' side.
They wouldn't let that happen. They owed him too much.
One owed his name, the other his inspiration. Both owed him life, a dozen times over.
Knowing how dark this day would be for him, they had planned for years this kindness. It was, they believed, the least they could do. Journey back in time the thousand plus years, stand watch over his beloved town, perform the duties he would otherwise faithfully uphold even in this terrible time of grief.
Keep him with his parents until the end.
And never let him know that Mon-El and Ultra Boy had done this for him.
"I guess the thing I worry about the most is that maybe we've caused him to ... hold back too much. I've always understood why he needed to make people think that Clark and Superboy are two different people. He has to be able to be around people and have them not treat him like he's different.
But sometimes I wonder if we didn't go overboard. Maybe Clark didn't have to be ... quite so different from Superboy. Sometimes it seems like he's more isolated from other people when he's Clark than he is when he's Superboy. I'm no psychologist or anything, but I can't help but feel that that's not good for him. No mother wants her child to have to hide his light, even one that shines as brightly as his.
But still, he manages it. Probably better than I think. I guess I just worry about him because I want him to be happy. That's what really matters to me.
I ... I hope we've done right by him. We've certainly tried. It's been ... intimidating sometimes. No one has ever had to do what Jonathan and I have, and we've had to do it in secret. There weren't any books to read, and no one to ask for advice.
I've tried to never dwell on what a responsibility raising Clark has been. After all, any child is a sacred trust. But Clark has been a cosmic one. Us doing the wrong thing could have had such terrible repercussions. But I think that Jonathan and I always knew that if we started thinking about that too hard, we'd probably end up making nothing but mistakes.
So, like any other parents, we've just tried to do our best.
We've tried to teach him to appreciate his gifts, and to never feel that they make him any better than other people.
We've tried to teach him that people deserve to make their own choices, but to be extra careful in sorting out the ways that different people's choices can ... overlap.
We've tried to make sure he knew that we were there whenever he wanted to talk to us, but that we believe in him, and believe that whatever problem he faces, he can overcome it.
We've tried to teach him right from wrong.
But mostly, we've just tried to love him."
From a nameless planet orbiting a nameless star, a crimson-skinned figure blazed a green trail towards Earth. Abin Sur was in a hurry. Surreptitiously saving the planet's primitive inhabitants from destruction at the hands of an other-dimensional hoard of soul takers had required almost a full solar day more than he had anticipated, and he was behind a most critical schedule.
When the Guardians of the Universe had given him this assignment, they'd made clear how important it was that he be on Terra when the Kryptonian's adoptive caretakers expired. Should grief send the youngster into a destructive rage, the presence of a Green Lantern would be the only thing that might save the small planet.
Or, Abin Sur realized when Tomar-Re met up with him slightly beyond the orbit of Saturn, the Guardians knew that even the presence of a Green Lantern might not be enough.
It might require two.
"I guess it has been hard sometimes.
The worst part was the waiting.
And Lord knows, I've done a lot of waiting.
I'd listen to other mothers in town talk about how they worried about their kids, and often one or another of them would comment about how lucky I was to have a son that I didn't have to worry about.
It was hard not to laugh. Or cry.
No, I didn't have to worry about Clark coming in late from a dance, or failing algebra, or sneaking a drink from Jack Mitchell's still.
I had to worry about him coming back from the other side of the galaxy. Or the 30th century. Or from a fight with that poor, horrible Luthor boy.
Never knowing if he was coming back at all.
It was easier for Jonathan. Not that he loves Clark any less, of course, but because he's always had such confidence in him.
In Clark's destiny.
I guess that was what always got me through. I'd be puttering around the kitchen, trying to stay busy, beginning to get worried because Clark wasn't home yet. And then I'd hear Jonathan, turning pages in those science fiction magazines of his, or tinkering in the workshop, or dusting the robots, and he'd be whistling a little tune as he did it.
So calm, so relaxed, so sure that everything was right with the world.
It always made me believe that any minute, Clark would fly in, kiss me on the cheek and ask me what was for supper, and everything really would be all right."
Across the night sky, a red streak moved too fast for any radar or human eye to track. Down into a hidden tunnel, then up into the basement of the Kent home, came the Kryptonian. Without pause, he came up the stairs, and silently moved down the hall to the Kents' bedroom.
"And it always was all right. In the end, at least. Not that we haven't had plenty of scares in the meantime. Clark's always been getting into one thing or another. Alien invaders. Someone escaping from the Phantom Zone. Someone from Smallville getting superpowers and becoming a menace. Public opinion turning against him. And those horrible things with magic, like that terrible time his soul was ripped out of him.
And, I swear, sometimes it seems like that boy comes across a piece of Red Kryptonite every third Sunday.
It's a mess sometimes, but he's always come through just fine.
And over time, I guess I've come to believe that he always will."
The being from Krypton stood silently between the beds that held the Kents. He looked, first at one, then at the other. Then he was silent no more. Very softly, yet very sadly, he began to whimper.
Krypto knew that it was time to say goodbye.
"Of course, I couldn't have made it without Jonathan. Not just in what our life has been with Clark in it, but even before. I don't know why I didn't know it sooner, but ever since that day in Tucker's, I've known that Jonathan was the only one I could share my life with.
And I couldn't have asked for a better man.
I've met plenty of good men in my life, and some that were not so good. None of them had the character and strength and imagination that my Jonathan does. Now, I know that what Clark and I share is special. But I also know how important it was that someone like Clark have someone like Jonathan in his life. And I can't imagine anyone else having been able to do that impossible job like Jonathan has.
Clark was very fortunate to have Jonathan for a father.
Almost as fortunate as I was to have him for a husband."
With a sadness rare to one with such a light and cheerful heart, Krypto turned first to Jonathan, then to Martha. Ever so gently, he nuzzled them.
These two, Krypto knew, loved him. More than anyone except their son.
It would not, he knew, ever be the same here again.
His tongue lapped at Martha's hand a final time. Then he retraced his path outside and took to the sky.
"I suppose that when you get to be my age, you think a lot about ... oh, luck, or fortune, or fate, or whatever you want to call it. You're in the right position to do so. You can look back, and you see how your life could have been so different.
What if I had picked up my wedding dress a week earlier? Or a week later? What if Jonathan hadn't had to come into town for tractor parts that day? What if we'd been able to have a child on our own? What if we hadn't happened to be driving down that back road that night? What if we'd been too afraid and had just gone on home and hid under the covers?
Different answers to any of those questions, or a thousand others, would have made everything different.
But you can't spend long looking down imaginary roads, and at my age, you don't have the energy. You begin to see your life as a chain as thin as a spider's web, filled with links that probably couldn't have gotten you where you wound up, but did.
And if you've been blessed like I've been, then where you wound up just takes your breath away.
I'm a country girl from Smallville, but I've seen and experienced things no other woman on Earth has.
I've been to other worlds.
I've seen magic. The real kind.
There are kids I love like kin who won't be born for nearly a thousand years.
For a while at least, I was made young again.
I've saved the world. Twice.
And I've raised a son who can move worlds and fly. Faster than light, even, no matter what Professor Einstein said.
I've seen the impossible so much in the last 16 years that it's become almost a daily event. But it's never stopped thrilling me.
When you get right down to it, it sure has been a lot of fun."
No one in Smallville could ever explain the unearthly wail that roused most of the town from their beds and made them look up in the sky that night. They only knew that it sent a chill down their spines that most would not soon forget. Aliens, said some. A secret government project, said others. The dead rising, said those more inclined to the supernatural.
No one ever knew that it was simply a dog. One crying as he sadly went out to the stars he loved.
But this time, going not to romp, but to mourn.
"But Clark being Superboy, and all that came with that, is not what means the most to me. I think ... I think I understand what Clark means to the world, and to the future. He's ... an example of what's best in us. That boy could be king of the world if he wanted. He could do whatever he wished, and treat people any way he pleased, and no one would be able to stop him.
But he doesn't.
Nature didn't give him any restraints when it came to dealing with other people, but he puts them on himself.
For no other reason than that it's the right thing to do.
And even though I think I understand what it meant to the world for Jonathan and me to be the ones to find Clark, it's hard to think of it in those terms. I know that when the sky over Smallville opened up and dropped down a star, fate gave the world the hero it needed.
But I can't help but believe that it gave me something more.
It gave me a family."
At that, Martha Kent fell silent.
An unaccustomed chill ran through the son who had sat by her bedside through the night. Was she gone?
No, he quickly determined. Not gone. Not yet.
In the silence, the young man lowered his head into his hands. For the first time this night, he took his eyes from his parents, and pondered the things he had heard.
Clark Kent's head shot up at the sound. Dr. Miles was standing beside him. "Oh," Clark said, surprised. No one had walked up on him in years.
"Just thought I'd check in," Doc Miles said. He was rubbing his head briskly. He always did that when he knew he was losing a patient. "How are they doing?"
Clark could have provided the doctor with an extremely detailed reply. Pretty much any bit of information he or any other medical professional might wish to know. Pulse and respiration rates, temperatures, glucose levels, white counts, or any of a hundred other measures. For both parents. For any interval throughout the night.
Instead, he told the old country doctor the only thing that really mattered.
"They're ... not doing good. Ma's ... she's really getting weaker. I ... I don't think she has much more time."
Dr. Miles looked at Clark and considered his response. In other circumstances, he might have said something about leaving the doctoring to him. But this wasn't other circumstances. This was Jonathan and Martha Kent, two of the best souls Smallville or any other town had ever seen, struck down by some damned mysterious illness. There was not much that could be said.
Especially since he knew that Clark's diagnosis was exactly right.
Doc Miles shuffled over to Martha's side and examined her. It was cursory at best. She was, he knew, beyond his help. Everything that could be tried, had been tried. He glumly went through the motions, shook his head, and then repeated the process with Jonathan. He was finishing up when Martha began to mumble. He listened to the muffled, disjointed noises she made. After a while, he looked at Clark. "She been doing that much?"
Clark hesitated before answering. "All night," he said softly. "On and off."
Doc Miles nodded. "It's the fever," he said in a statement of the obvious. He paused, looking for something else to say to the young man watching his parents die. "She say anything you understand?"
Clark hesitated again. As in so many situations he encountered, he couldn't be completely truthful. He couldn't explain the intermittent coherence within Martha Kent's delirious whispers. He couldn't explain that someone with ears and a brain like his could hear and decipher what she'd been saying.
He couldn't explain that in his final hours with his dear sweet mother, her fever and his heritage had conspired to present him one final, irreplaceable gift.
The story of her life.
"Nothing …" Clark finally said, "… nothing ... you'd be able to make out."
The doctor slowly nodded again. He felt strangely awkward. He didn't know Clark well. He may have delivered pretty much everyone in Smallville under 40 into this world, but not Clark Kent. And the boy had hardly ever even been into the office. Still, everyone knew he was a fine young man. And he sure had good parents. Finally, Ed Miles put his big hand on Clark's shoulder. "I'll be back later this morning. My nurse can find me if you need me before then."
Clark nodded, then numbly showed the doctor out. He closed the front door softly, returned to his parents' room, and walked to the window. He stood there, surprised to discover how exhausted he felt. For the first time since this long night had began, he allowed his mind to wander from what was happening in this room. He was watching strings of amino acids form beneath the ice of Europa when he heard a noise behind him.
"Clark?" his mother whispered in a manner that told him she was conscious.
He was instantly at her side.
Tiredly, she said. "You ... know ... rules. No super ... speed in the house."
For the briefest of instants, he smiled. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"Not ... not good," Martha answered.
"You ... just rest, Ma. You'll be feeling better soon."
Martha tried to shake her head. "No. I won't. I remember now, Clark. I'm dying. Jonathan too. We're ... both dying. The ... fever."
Martha did shake her head this time. "Don't ... pretend."
Clark wanted to protest, but as always, he saw the wisdom in his mother's words. "Okay, Ma."
"How's ... your father?" she croaked.
Clark took a deep breath. "He's ... he's ..." he began, but he couldn't finish the sentence. He began to cry, and discovering that legs that would normally support a world could no longer hold him upright, fell to his knees. Martha Kent, patient as always, held his hand while her young man sobbed his heart out.
When he'd finished, Martha said, "When you were out ... looking for a cure for us the other day ... Jonathan and I talked. We ... said our goodbyes. If he doesn't wake up again … he wanted you to know how proud of you he is, and how much he loves you."
"Ma," Clark gasped, the panic of the past week suddenly griping him again. "I'll go look again. Maybe there's something I missed. There's got to be something I can do!"
"Son," she said softly, "you've done all you can. Some things ... even you can't change."
"But my powers!" he said. "Why can't I do this! I can save everyone else, but you and Pa! I - "
"Clark," she interrupted gently, "baby, I don't know why. And I know that this is going to be hard for you. But you'll get through it. You always do."
He shook his head. "Not this. Not this."
"Even this," she assured him. "Because you're you, it will eat you up inside, but ... it won't destroy you. After a while, you'll be able to be happy again."
"No I won't," he protested.
Despite the effort it cost her, she raised herself just a bit. "My sweet, beautiful boy," she said. "You've been given so much, but you've had so much taken away from you.
It's more than a body should have to endure.
But please, I'm asking you, for me, promise that you will.
Promise me that you won't let this change you for the worse. Don't let it make you bitter or resentful. Promise me that despite the hurt, when this is all over, you'll still be the same sweet, kind, wonderful person we've adored all these years.
It's ... a lot to ask, I know, on top of so much else that we've asked of you. But from the moment I pulled you out of that rocket, I knew that you and me and Pa were doing something special. And for 16 wonderful years, the three of us have worked together to make you the man you are today.
Don't let anything spoil what the three of us have done. Not even this.
Please, for me. And for Pa. And for you.
Find a way to be happy. Find a family to be with.
But most of all, find a way to stay you.
As Clark Kent would have done anything to make his mother happy, his first impulse was to reflexively agree. But he knew that this was too important to her to do that, and so he considered what she was asking. And knowing the effort required by what he was promising, and with a heart so heavy it seemed it would at any moment fall to the center of the earth, he agreed to her dying request.
"Okay, Ma. I promise."
With tired, fading eyes, she stared at him for a long time. Then she said, "Son, I hate this for you. But for me, it's ... okay. I've had a long life, and a wonderful one. And most of all, I've had a husband and son that loved me dearly, and that let me love them. I sure am going to miss you and Jonathan. But when I think about how wonderful being with you two has been ... I can't complain too much."
With much of what little strength remained in her, she smiled at her son, and as always, Clark had no choice but to smile back.
Everyone did, when Martha Kent smiled at them.
Then he held her hand, and they talked for a while. Talked of old memories, and of new ones. Talked of wishes made, and wishes fulfilled. Talked of old friends, and some they'd lost along the way. Talked of how beautiful their farm was when the first rays of sunlight bathed it in the morning, and of how beautiful today's sunrise would be.
And in it all, they talked of their family, and of how much they loved each other, and of how lovely it was that a lost child would travel across a galaxy to find the only two people in creation who could ease his pain, and of how three lives had been made whole.
And as the day's first light crept into the room, and Martha Kent grew too weak to speak any more, and as they both knew that her end was near, Clark Kent made his final request of the woman who had raised and loved him.
"Would it be okay if ... can I lay down with you? For a little while?"
Slowly, tenderly, understandingly, Martha nodded her head. And as a glorious sunrise blossomed over her home on the last morning of Martha Clark Kent's life, the greatest hero the universe would ever know held the country girl from Smallville.
And rocked her, and sang to her.
And told her that everything was okay.
And when she drifted away, in the dim light, he could see her face.
And it had the sweetest, most peaceful look on it.
And then he cried.