AN: I don't own anyone.


He was silent for a week after she broached the subject.

Probably because he knew she'd stay forever if he made her feel like leaving him meant something. And although she did blame herself for deserting the proverbial sinking ship, the truth was that he drowned long ago, by no fault of her own.

But, nagged the persistent whisper every quiet morning, you knew he would be this way the day he proposed.

No, she protested, I thought it was temporary

You liked it. You thought you'd found a kindred soul, abandoned and embittered. You just didn't like the reality half as much as the fantasy.

Shut up, shut up, shut up. This is the right thing to do now. I never belonged here.

Maybe you didn't. But the truth remains the same. You're just one more name to add to the list of people who have left him behind. Starting with his mother, then Pamela, Victoria, Desiree, Helen, Clark. Then his father. You're all he has left from the old days. You might just be the only tie he has to the person he used to be.

Well, don't we have an inflated sense of self-importance.

You're avoiding the point because you know I'm right.

So what if you are? Don't I have the right to be happy?

Don't you have the responsibility to help him rather than desert him because it's too hard to love him this way?

I never loved him.

Okay, you win. How can I fight that? Just leave him, then. I'll be quiet. But you'll always know...

* * *

The next time he looked at her, he had the papers in his hand. She searched his eyes, looking for some sign of reproach, the slightest hint of a desire for her to stay. All she found was resignation.

This was not the way it was supposed to end.

She had been the sole member of her high-school group of friends to stay in Smallville. What choice did she have? Pete had gone to college just to have something to do. His mother could pay for it; why shouldn't he go? Clark had gone to college to escape the wreckage of his former life. And Chloe had gone to college to "start over."

Chloe had always possessed such ambition, such drive. She knew exactly what she wanted, and if it never got her anywhere in the romance department, at least she could apply that single-minded focus to her steady love, the one that could never disappoint her or find creative new ways to let her down. Lana had secretly hated her for it.

It had to be a secret, of course, because sweet, pure, happy, pretty Lana could never say a cross word about anyone.

Maybe that was why she'd let it happen in the first place. He had always talked to her like he knew it was all an act, like every awkward pause was an invitation to show her true face.

As if she had one.

* * *

He walked her out to the car the morning her wish came true. He helped her into the backseat and closed the door. She stared at him through the glass, waiting for a word, the word that could end this charade. He said nothing, and the car started, pulling down the driveway toward a new life without him.

It started soon after the end of senior year. She had stayed in town to run The Talon, living on her own with money she'd saved, since she couldn't justify staying with Gabe Sullivan anymore, no matter how much of a father-figure he had almost become. As for her real father, their relationship was still awkward and jerky, two steps backward, one step ahead. So the girl with the most cake ended up alone.

It hardly seemed fair.

The first few times she let him inside her, her mind had raced: is he thinking of someone else? Am I just a replacement for someone who isn't here? Who am I replacing?

She thought she knew the answer to that question even if she could never bring herself to say it out loud.

Three years later, as they lowered the supposed bane of his existence into a deep grave, she realized she'd had the wrong man in mind.

And if she had forever frozen in place as the fairy princess on the cover of Time when her parents died, he froze that day in the image of his father.

She knew that the night after the funeral, when he proposed, which was why she felt so guilty about leaving him now. She knew what it would be like the day she signed up for the job. How could she fault him, as if he'd changed somehow? He hadn't changed in five years, and neither had she.

They had married a week later, and maybe she had found the merging of two battered souls attractive. Maybe she had been naïve. Maybe she had thought it was only fitting to join two cold hands together in matrimony, as if anyone else could ever want them.

Her.

* * *

She watched as the grey skyscrapers faded into fields of green and gold, as his driver took her home. She might as well have been relocating to Siberia; Smallville couldn't be home without The Talon, which Lex had sold to a couple who turned it into a bar, or her friends. Her former friends.

None of them had come to the wedding. None of them had been invited.

It was like the Kents' divorce had separated the entire town, as far as Lana was concerned. Chloe had sided with Clark in righteous indignation, as if there were any doubt about where her sympathies would lie, whose hand she would hold while offering wide-eyed concern about his welfare. Pete had sided with Chloe, pathetically willing to follow her to the ends of the earth. Which left Lex alone, and Lana ready to defend anyone so unjustly abandoned as she, of course, felt she had been so many years ago.

Not that the division was so clear-cut when it happened; only later did the pieces truly fall into place. Pete, Clark, and Chloe had headed off to college together, and then Clark and Chloe had become journalists while Pete's interest turned to criminal justice, following in his mother's footsteps. They had stayed friends over the years, or so Lana heard from people who were in a better position to know than she was.

The only familiar face at the wedding was Martha Kent, a recent widow. The lines on her face had deepened in a matter of days. Only later did Lana recognize the signs: she had made a questionable decision years ago, taken a risk no one believed she would take, and now she was completely alone, completely adrift. Another kindred soul; she was in the same position now herself.

She wondered if Martha had minded.

She wondered if she did.

* * *

The driver let her out on the doorstep of her new-old apartment, the same one she'd rented eight years before.

Later that evening she ventured out, lonely, bored, curious about the new Talon. Surveying the small clusters gathering outside, she evaluated their collective age as about 17, and retreated.

"Lana," said a familiar voice she couldn't quite place.

"Pete?"

"Wow. It's been so long." He hugged her, and she pretended to be infected by his contagious cheer.

"Yeah, it really has. Wow. Where have you been?"

"I've been right here, in Smallville."

"Really? I had no idea."

And over coffee in The Beanery, he filled her in: Clark was happy with a new woman, but his job seemed to keep him too busy from returning to town, even though his father, living alone in a studio apartment, drifted further into a constant haze of hard liquor. Pete tried to take care of him as best he could, but it was a difficult responsibility, and one he didn't feel he should have to bear alone. He didn't talk to Clark much anymore. Pete and Chloe had briefly dated in college, but remained friends after the relationship's dissolution. Chloe, always the sexual adventuress, was currently seeing a married couple. And Pete had returned to Smallville six months ago, after a divorce.

"I'm in the same boat myself," she smiled.

"So I hear. What-well, I don't want to pry."

"No, go ahead." She encouraged him out of morbid curiosity. Would he insult her, accuse her of making the worst decision she could possibly have made?

"What happened?"

Oh. "It's hard to say, really. Nothing changed. I just decided I would be better off alone than I was with him."

"Why?" Had he actually asked that, or was it her own voice she heard?

"He has some problems, and I don't think I'm really equipped to deal with them. I'm screwed up enough, you know?" She shrugged, laughed it off. Fucking pathetic. Her fingernails began to wear a familiar path down one arm.

"I have a hard time believing that."

She pretended to be amused, then checked her watch and stood up to leave. "It's late, I should get going," she apologized. "I have job interviews tomorrow."

She could tell he was curious; hadn't her former husband taken care of her financially? But he didn't ask. He just smiled and offered to walk her home.

She accepted his offer, and lingered in the doorway after he was gone, touching the spot where his lips had briefly grazed her cheek.

Maybe Smallville was slightly better than Siberia after all.

Even if it would never measure up to Metropolis.