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I dream about Kansas.
I'm standing at the edge of a wheat field that stretches on forever, as far as the eye can see in every direction. In my dreams, the sky above me is so blue, and so close, you feel like you can touch it.
When I wake up and look out my window, I see brick and stone and elm and maple trees. I see the sky in snatches, safe and comforting and far away. I was born and bred in Metropolis—I was never completely comfortable, seeing that much blue expanse of sky hanging above me. For the five years I lived in Smallville, it was a little niggling in the back of my brain that finally disappeared when I was back among the towers and concrete parapets of an actual urban centre.
I like Chicago. It's been good to me. It's not like Metropolis or Gotham—no costumes tear up the Loop on a regular basis. There was a guy who flew around in a giant metal bug for a while, but he relocated to New York when the League was formed. In Chicago, I can almost pretend the world is normal. That everything I see day in and day out on the TV screen is just special effects. The latest wonders from ILM—not real life. In real life, little radioactive chunks of a distant planet don't mutate your classmates into killers and psychos.
In real life, men can't fly.
I like my job at Galaxy. I never in a million years would have pictured myself on television. Clark and Pete must have laughed their asses off the first time they saw me on the air in a silk suit. My thrift-store chic days are long behind me, and I think my Doc Martens are buried somewhere in the back of my closet.
I'd always laughed and sneered at the blow-dried beauties on the nightly news. I hadn't gotten into this game to simply read the news—I wanted to uncover it. I remember feeling like I'd betrayed my roots when I let Morgan Edge Jr. woo me away to GBN. I'd had my sights set on print journalism all through high school and college—did internships three summers in a row at the Planet. But what twenty-something second-string reporter, even one at the most prestigious newspaper in the world, wouldn't jump at the chance to work first-string at a brand spanking new, state-of-the-art cable news network, skipping I don't know how many rungs on the corporate ladder?
Okay—Lois, for one. But like we'd always joked, Metropolis wasn't big enough for the both of us. At age 25, she was star reporter for the Planet, while I was anchoring the 5am morning show, right before the farm report. And she never gloated, but she never forgot it, either.
We've both come up in the world since then.
I'd never really known Lois well, growing up. My Aunt Ella and her husband had moved to Germany when I was just a kid—before my folks split up, even. Sam Lane was career army, and we'd had postcards and Christmas greetings from the Lanes from all over the world until then started trickling in, until we reached the point where years would go by with no word. Mom and Aunt Ella weren't as close as they could have been.
When they finally moved back to the States, I was getting ready for my sophomore year at Metropolis U. I think I'd met Lois maybe three times in my life before she showed up in my journalism class second semester. Having apparently failed with her own sibling, Mom had this whole dream that Lois and I would hit it off—that she'd be like the sister I'd never had. The only things we had in common were our love of a story. And I wasn't about to let blood come between me and a story.
We'd worked on the college paper together, and I suppose it was a bit like sibling rivalry. Anything I did, Lois had to do better. I'd always prided myself on my tunnel vision—I'd been focused on a career at the Planet ever since I was old enough to toss aside the Sunday comics for the front page. But Lois was the one who landed the position at the Planet.
She was never snide or superior about it—the truth was, the best reporter for the job won. She was simply that touch more driven, that touch more ruthless. I'm just as good as she is—I know that. Never had any doubts. But she wanted it just a little bit more, and these days, that's all it takes. You have to be hungry for the byline.
I think it was really all about her dad. He'd always wanted a boy, so Lois had done it all, trying to win her father's love and approval. By the time Lucy came along, it was different. Lucy was allowed to be the girlie-girl. But Lois had to be the son Sam Lane had never had. She had to be 150% better, just to get 60% of the credit. What began in the Lane household extended to the Planet city desk. Maybe she did have a chip on her shoulder. But if she did, it was a chip that pushed her that extra mile. It gave her the edge.
She reminded me of Lex, in that regard. I think that Lex would have given the world to believe for even a second that Lionel Luthor loved him unconditionally.
I wasn't the slightest bit jealous of either of them—not when I had Gabe Sullivan as my loudest cheering section. The one thing I never doubted for a second was that I was loved.
Maybe that's why I walked away from Metropolis—gave it to Lois. I didn't need to prove myself to anyone. I may have been my own worst critic, but mine was the only voice. Lois and Lex have choruses.
And of course, they also have Clark.
Pete always said it was ironic—Clark got bit by the journalism bug because of me, yet he's the one with a column in the Planet. I never really minded. In fact, I got a little thrill the first time I clipped out a feature from the front page with Clark's name beneath the banner headline. And the part where it was an interview with Superman, the story of the century—the story Lois had wanted and lost... Well, that maybe gave me a little thrill too. An evil little thrill that I like to revisit now and again. Because sometimes, I'm petty that way.
God, I can picture her face. It must have killed her, losing to a rookie. Not just any rookie; a rookie from Smallville. She'd only ever been there once—and hated every second of it. She'd come home with me one week-end while we were both still in college, when Dad was still managing the plant. She'd said she wanted to experience the pastoral life first hand. I'd always thought I was a pampered city girl, but next to Lois, I was Laura Ingalls Wilder. She'd spent most of the trip holed up in the house with the air-conditioning cranked up to fight the oppressive summer heat, glued to LNN.
I always wonder what would have happened if she'd met Clark then, instead of later. If she'd gone out with me, Pete and Clark that night—reliving our glory days as the Three Musketeers.
It had been one of the last times all three of us were together, that week-end. The Kents had their annual Fourth of July barbecue, and we ate hamburgers, hotdogs, and ears of corn that had been roasted in the husk on the coals, butter smeared on our chins and fingers. Pete's brothers set off fireworks in the south field while we sipped beers in the bed of Mr. Kent's old red pick-up truck and reminisced about the "good old days" like we were old and grey, and not the twenty-something kids we were.
I had a lot of memories of that truck. Racing out to chase a story, tracking down clues in the latest Kryptonite-induced killing spree. Trips to the hospital to visit whoever had been caught in the crossfire that week—sometimes it was Lana, sometimes it was strangers. Hell, it had been me more times than I'd have liked. There were pleasant memories, too, like Clark and my first official date that hadn't been interrupted by killer moths from space, or giant man-eating gophers. Losing my virginity, summer of Junior year. Lying curled up side by side under a blanket afterwards, our shoulders touching as we stared up at the stars.
You can't see the stars, in a city. Not like you can in the middle of a wheat field in Kansas.
It all seems so far away, now. Sepia-toned, like an ancient photograph. Or maybe it's just that I'm stuck on amber waves of grain these days, thanks to my subconscious.
Pete's in Washington, now. In fifteen years, he went from junior gopher in Mayor Seigel's office, to city councilman, to House Representative. Not too shabby for the runt of the Ross litter. His mother was so proud. Personally, every time I pick up the paper and see his name, I am reminded of his rants in the Torch about the cafeteria food or state-supplied schoolbooks. I wonder how many high school kids send him letters now, protesting mystery meat.
I never did tell Pete the whole truth about that night in Dr. Hamilton's barn. The time for it would have been right after, but what could I have said? By the way, in addition to stealing my car and scaring the shit out of me with a gun, you came on to me? It would have just made things awkward, and uncomfortable...
And I was pretty focused on a certain tall, dark, and dorky at the time.
God, we were such kids. Clark and his thing for Lana, me and my thing for Clark, Pete, and his thing for just about any girl who'd give him the time of day.
Last time I talked to Pete, Lana was in town, and the two of them were going out to dinner. Strictly a friend-friend thing, he told me. I remember how Congressman Ross once grabbed my ass as a "friend-friend" thing. I had to chuckle. If there was ever a couple that could have been voted Least Likely To in any yearbook in the universe, it would have been those two. The only thing they'd ever had in common was Clark's friendship.
Sometimes I think that's all any of us ever had in common. Me, Lana, Pete, even Lex. We were like planets orbiting a star.
A very dim star, I used to think, in my less charitable moments. But there were times when Clark Kent would shine so bright you'd be blinded, and we'd all at one time or another basked in his warmth and light.
I got an invitation to the wedding last week. It arrived at Galaxy, rather than my home address—probably because I'd forgotten to send Clark my new mailing address last spring after I'd moved. Lois had asked me to be maid of honour, but I'd declined—what with me being here, instead of Metropolis, and both our hectic schedules, it never would have worked.
Plus there was something surreal about the idea of me being in the wedding party, considering Clark and my's past.
The dreams started after I got the invite.
In the dream, I'm standing among the waist-high stalks of wheat which rustle in the breeze with a sound like an army on the march. There was this amazing sense of vastness. But instead of making me feel alone, and tiny, I just felt... lighter. Warm. As if I can turn my face to the sun, and feel its heat.
I woke up after the first one expecting to see my bedroom in the old house. I had this insane desire to run down to the storage area in the basement, and fish out this old stuffed dog I used to sleep with every night. I'd packed Mister Shoes up when I moved from Metropolis, and hadn't thought of him in ages. But suddenly, it was like I was sixteen again.
I made a cup of peppermint tea with honey and curled up on the couch in my living room. It was still dark outside, the orange glow of the street-lights outside cast odd shadows on my walls. My place is large for a one bedroom, in a neighbourhood that went almost entirely condo in the last two years. They tell me this used to be a bad part of town, back in the day. I figure every part of town was probably a bad part of town once. And in Metropolis, the rent would be three times as much for half the square footage, so I count my blessings.
My building is the last rental on the block, and it's a typical Chicago vintage apartment in an old brick courtyard building on the North side. It's long and narrow, and had central heat and air added some time around the turn of the millennium. I can see the places on the hardwood floors where the radiators must have been, back in the day. There's a sun room next to the kitchen, an enclosed porch that looks down onto the backyard, and I can see into the bedroom windows of the building across the alley from me.
Sometimes I'll sit with my morning coffee and watch them, like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.
Other times, I lower my sun shades.
I'm never quite sure if it's to keep people from watching my personal day-to-day drama, or to remove the temptation to get lost in theirs.
I sat there, that first morning, until the sun came up and the birdsong grew louder, sipping my tea, still lost in Kansas fields. I'm not much for dream analysis. It's probably just a weird form of homesickness, or maybe anxiety over all the changes that seem so small when they come upon you one at a time, but loom like mountains when you look back on them.
The dreams keep coming. Every night, like clockwork. My head hits the pillow, I close my eyes, and there I am—under that huge blue sky.
I wonder if I'm jealous. I mean, high school sweethearts marry all the time—but that just wasn't us. I loved Clark, and I love him still. But I never believed that we were, you know... Destined to be together forever like star-crossed lovers in a daytime soap opera. We just weren't that type of couple. I'm usually of the opinion that very few couples actually are. That it's a stereotype force-fed to die-hard romantics by the media, to sell movie tickets and romance novels.
But when I see him with Lois, part of me wonders. And not in a bitter, self-indulgent way. Part of me just wonders what might have happened if I'd had that edge. If I'd been that hungry.
I remember how I'd found out about them. Clark had only been at the Planet for a few months, and he'd called me to commiserate. Nothing he did was good enough for Lois, whom Perry had assigned him to as a partner. I could have told him that, but listened gamely as he described how she was driving him crazy. She resented having to "baby-sit" a partner from Hicksville. She resented him for scooping her. She resented him for being granted instant access to forums that she'd worked her tail off for years to break into. She hated how well they worked together. She hated the fact that she actually couldn't bring herself to despise him completely.
Even then, I could tell he had a thing for her. I could see why—I mean, ambition aside, Lois is quite a gal. Smart, determined, and gorgeous. She can even be utterly charming, when she doesn't think you're out to steal her thunder. And anyway, Clark always was a sucker for raven hair and the initials LL.
When I went home for Christmas the following year, I ran into them. Clark had brought Lois home to meet his parents. He was practically glowing. And Lois was... different, after that. Some of her sharpest edges had been carefully worn away, so they no longer could cut quite so deep. I don't know if she and her dad reached some kind of understanding, or if she just learned something about herself. But I even I could see the difference.
If anyone could break through the protective shell Lois built around her, it would have been Clark. She may look like a shark in nylons to the outside world, but inside, she's as starved for affection as a certain follically-challenged billionaire of our mutual acquaintance. No one—even me during my "date-a-mutant" phase—has ever had relationship trouble quite the way Lois has relationship trouble.
I can kinda see why she developed a thing for Superman. I mean, I'd been there myself. What's safer than crushing on someone who's unavailable? Because that way, he's not rejecting you because he doesn't love you; he's rejecting you because he can't. Sure, it hurts like hell. But I understand how it can be comforting.
I felt so bad for Clark, though. I mean, it's one thing to be competing with the Captain of the Football Team. It's a whole 'nother ballgame when it's a demigod in tights.
I was lucky—Clark and I were best friends before we became lovers, and even after we split up, he's still someone I consider one of my closest friends even though we hardly see each other. Senior year of high school, we were inseparable, and we thought we'd always be together. Of course we did—all kids do. And maybe some best friends never move away, grow apart, distance and time eroding the bonds that bound us so tightly.
When Lex's dad died, that was really the beginning of the end—when the last of the threads started unravelling.
People who don't know any better whisper about Lionel's death, cast knowing glances to his son, who inherited his empire and then increased it three-fold. But I can't believe it, for one simple reason: you can't win the love of a dead man.
The Lex I knew back then was this complicated bundle of contradictions, teetering on a precipice. On one side was the bastard who'd sired him, desperate to regain control over the son who'd grown past being a shadow of his father, and on the other, there was Clark. Clark, who loved him like a brother, and whom Lex put up on this pedestal as the paragon of all that was good and true and pure.
When Lionel was killed in a helicopter crash outside Wichita, it made headlines in every paper in the world. It was the lead story on every news broadcast. For weeks following the accident, crawls ran with minute-by-minute updates regarding the investigations. The final call was metal fatigue. But no one really cared, at that point. You'd have thought the President had died, the way people carried on. I've never quite understood the whole Captain of Industry as American Royalty mentality. Then again, I'd met the actual man—knew more about him than the average joe. Knew what a complete monster he'd been to his son, to his employees, to everyone he'd ever met, for that matter...
I'd believe in a second that he'd been murdered. But not by his son.
Lionel Luthor had taken the formation of LexCorp, which had begun with the buyout of the Smallville plant, as a personal attack. Lex and his father's relationship had deteriorated even further when LexCorp began acquiring other LuthorCorp subsidiaries one by one. Their battle had been fought publicly in the press, and privately behind closed doors in board meetings and hostile take-overs.
But through it all, I think all Lex ever really wanted was his father's love. And that fragile hope had been extinguished by Lionel's death.
He was interred next to his late wife in Metropolis. Kings came to his funeral. We came too—me and Clark, my dad. Lana and Nell were a few rows in front of us. Lois and Carrie Castle from the Journal were in a roped off section reserved for the press, but we were allowed to stand with the mourners. I saw Miranda Caldwell, managing editor of the Inquisitor there, too. The Inquisitor is almost respectable, these days. I could tell that Castle was pissed at being stuck behind the velvet ropes, while Caldwell was standing a respectful distance behind Lex. From what I recall from my days at the Planet, there's no love lost between the Journal and the Inquisitor. I idly wondered how many pet journalists Lex needs.
We were... not mourners, exactly. More there for moral support. But Lex was all business that day. He never cried. His fašade never cracked. He spent almost the entire memorial in the sort of receiving line you usually see at weddings, shaking hands and accepting condolences from sheikhs, princes, billionaires, and celebrities. Clark, Lana and I purposely held back, making sure we were last in line.
He looked so tired. He looked so much older than thirty.
I remember, when I was in high school, thinking Lex was so mature. Such the man of the world. Looking back now, I realise he was just a kid fresh out of college, playing in a grown-up world. I remember the day when I realised that Jenny the impossibly-young intern in the newsroom was the exact same age Lex was the day I met him.
He shook our hands, even accepted a hug from Clark. But there was a wall up that I never saw come fully down again. In the years since, Lex has become a stranger. Without his father there, as a tangible reminder of what he never wanted to become, it's like Lex forgot what he was fighting for. Or maybe fighting against.
It made perfect sense that Clark finally fell off that pedestal after that. I don't know what finally went down between them. All I know is that both Lois and Clark had declared it open season on LexCorp in the pages of the Planet, and I never saw Clark and Lex together again except at press conferences, with Clark in the press gallery and Lex up on the dais.
It should make me sad, thinking of how close we all were compared with where we all are now. And it does a little bit, but in a way I can stand. In a way that makes me smile. I suppose that's what nostalgia is, in the end.
We're not the people we were any more.
I'm not sixteen years old, pining for my best friend. I'm not twenty, locked in a dead heat with my long-lost cousin. And I'm not even the same Chloe Sullivan who woke up yesterday morning, the smell of new hay still in the back of my throat.
Last night, I dreamed about Kansas again.
In the dream, the sky doesn't bother me.
Sometimes, I feel like I could stretch my arms wide and fly like Superman.
ljc's smallville fan fiction