Breathing Amber
Thanks to LaT and Livia for betaing.

Lana steps outside, into the bright early fall afternoon. Behind her, the door closes on the muted voices of the people at her father-in-law's wake. She knows she should stay, but it's all just too overwhelming, and so she gets into her car, grateful for the excuse of a few errands to run.

Lex said he would take care of it, she reminds herself as she pulls out of the driveway and onto the road to town. Lex takes care of everything; he's good about that. Still, her hands are tight on the steering wheel.

The fields of tall corn she drives through are beautiful, gentle waves of green, wind-tossed tassels of gold. She hasn't really seen them for a long, long time. She hasn't needed to see them--she trusts them. She knows that they'll always be there. That they'll never change. The sky will always stretch big and blue from horizon to horizon. The forces of development were driven off from Smallville a long time ago. It's safe.

Today, though, she feels just the tiniest doubt, and it makes everything around her all the more beautiful. She feels like a fairy princess in a world full of flowers again.

She makes the turnoff into town, and Fordman's is right there, solid and square, with the old-fashioned lettering announcing its presence since 1943. All the lettering in town counts as old-fashioned now, she guesses--the zoning ordinances are very strict--but Fordman's was that way even when all the signs now so lovingly preserved were shiny and new. Lana likes that. She likes the store; her father bought her mother's engagement ring there. She doesn't understand why Whitney's eyes darken when she talks about their future there, what it will be like when her father-in-law finally passes on. Now it's happened, and he doesn't even seem happy. She bites her lip as she passes the Ledger building.

Chloe is sitting out front on the steps, drinking a cup of coffee, and she slows to wave at her. Chloe waves back. She looks a little bored, sitting there. Lana can't understand that, either. Sure, there isn't a lot of hot breaking news in Smallville--not since Lex supervised the cleanup of the meteor rocks. But there are all the little events of small-town life, the bake sales, the football games, the weddings. Lana never tires of hearing about them herself while she works at the Talon. Chloe should never run short of interesting material.

Besides, Lex must be paying her a lot to stay in Smallville. Lana's never asked her, but Lex owns the Ledger the same way he owns almost everything else. She knows how much Lex asks her to pay their employees; they haven't turned a profit in years. "It's the way I want things to be here, Lana," he'd told her once. "You can't have stability if people are always leaving."

"So you pay enough that no one ever leaves, Lex?" she'd smiled at him.

"Call it a whim, Lana," he'd said, and changed the subject.

Lana leaves the car unlocked when she gets out. The florist is closed--Aunt Nell still refuses to have help in, and she's at the wake--but the Talon is open. She smiles up at its marquee as she passes under it. Lex has to have the lightbulbs for it reproduced in one of his factories; no one else makes them anymore. It's a little fussy, keeping the place just right, and she's worried a little about whether she'll have enough time to devote to it now that Fordman's is theirs, too, but she knows that Lex would never stand for her passing off more responsibility to Kyle, the assistant manager. And he's right. The Talon is hers, and always will be.

Seeing Pete through the window disturbs her reverie, and she goes in, smiling even more brightly.

"Pete! I haven't seen you in a while!" He starts, and looks a little uncomfortable; he must be feeling guilty. So she teases him, "Shouldn't you be at work?"

"Well," he says, "Angela lost her copy of Bridge to Terabithia. It's her favorite book, and it's not like I've got so many cases on my hands I can't take a little time off. So I came to pick up a new copy for her."

"That's the great thing about living here, isn't it?" she says warmly. "That you have the time to be with your family."

Pete smiles, and it seems awkward to her. Like it's not the old, broad grin she remembers. "Sure, Lana."

She cocks her head. "Is something wrong, Pete?"

"Of course not," he says, and looks more normal. "Here? In Smallville? Nothing ever goes wrong here."

"Of course not," she says, and goes to talk to Kyle about their muffin selection. She's still doing that when the doorbell jingles and she looks up and sees Martha Kent.

"Oh," Martha says, "I didn't expect to see you here today, Lana."

"Just...checking some things, Mrs. Kent."

"I'm sorry we couldn't make it to the wake, but, you know, Lex Luthor was there, and--"

"I understand," Lana waves it off. "Or, maybe I don't understand, but I can respect Mr. Kent's feelings. Even if they do seem a little strange to me."

Martha nods apologetically. "Sometimes I think we would have sold out and left Smallville long ago, except that he can't stand the idea of leaving the town completely in Lex's hands."

Lana laughs gently. "But, Mrs. Kent, Lex wants you to stay. The Kents have been here for generations. He doesn't want that to change."

"Oh, Jonathan knows that, too. Therefore, he gets a little cranky around him. But we are sorry for your loss, Lana. Let me know if there's anything we can do."

Lana nods as Martha heads into the cooking section, though it's not her loss, really. She lost everything she could lose when she was three. Everything except the town itself and all the memories of her parents it carries, and that can't be lost now. Though Mr. Fordman was an institution in Smallville, Whitney is ready to take his place, and nothing will change.

Lex will take care of it. He always does. He's taken care of a lot of things, to keep the town this way. With the same storefronts year after year, the same people walking along the sidewalk in front of them, going home to the same houses.

All the same as it had been in the year Clark and Lex had been in love.

Lana guessed Lex's secret a long time ago, but it doesn't bother her. It's only natural. It's what she would have done a long time ago, if she'd had the power. If the fairy princess could have granted herself a wish. It's actually better this way, because she knows enough from her efforts to save the Talon when she was a teenager to know that the person who fights the forces of change can't help but change himself. Lex is willing to carry that burden for all of Smallville. She's not sure she would have been.

She takes a deep breath as she steps back outside. The air is sweet and crisp with the smell of the early fallen leaves. The fall is her favorite season. She wonders if someday Lex will figure out how to make the seasons stop changing, lock Smallville forever into its most beautiful time. She wouldn't bet against it. He's kept most of the new technology, even the agricultural technology he invented himself, out of Smallville, but he might make an exception for that. She remembers catching a glimpse of Clark squeezing Lex's hand in the stands at the homecoming game. Fall had been good to them that year.

Spring...had not.

She waves at Zoe as she walks past the Beanery, at Dustin as she stops into the Savings and Loan to get some cash. Money has never been a problem for them, thanks to Lex. She wonders if that's part of what bothers Whitney. He's always been so...competitive. Like the way he used to worry about her and Clark. How silly that had turned out to be. Even if Clark hadn't turned out to be practically the only member of their graduating class to actually leave town for Metropolis, well, he had been secretly holding hands with another guy in the football stands. Her dad had been right all along.

Her last stop is the castle. She'd promised Lex she'd stop by and make sure everything was in order. Not there is any reason to doubt Amy Palmer; she takes care of the place with an impressive thoroughness. It's always spotlessly clean, perfectly ready for the master of the house, who never stays there. Honestly, Lana thinks Lex asked her to go there just to make sure Amy doesn't feel that her work goes unappreciated.

That...and to get her out of the house for a little while so he could deal with...things.

The grounds are perfectly manicured, as usual. Amy is welcoming, too eagerly so. She offers Lana cookies. Lana thinks that they were obviously baked in the hope that Lex would come by today, and takes one. The castle will always be open, but Lex will never come by.

She looks at one of the old grandfather clocks and realizes that enough time has passed, probably. The wake will have ended, and Lex will have done what he needs to do. She says goodbye gently to Amy and gets back in the car.

Outside her house, all the visitors' cars but one are gone. She shakes her head, pulling in. Lex still likes silver convertibles. She wonders how much new technology is hidden under the hood; to her, it looks just the same as the one he used to drive around town.

Lex is sitting with perfect serenity in her living room, writing on a pad of paper. Whitney...is slumped on the couch. Asleep. There is a shot glass on the table next to him, and a half-empty bottle of whiskey. She turns to Lex. "Is he...?"

"He's fine, Lana," Lex assures her quietly, rising. "We just had a little talk."

"And will he...?"

He touches her shoulder reassuringly. "He's not going anywhere, Lana. He was thinking about it, but he understands now how much it means to you that he take his father's place."

She swallows, relief flooding through her. "Thank you, Lex." As he shrugs, she says, "No, I mean it. Thank you for...everything."

"There's no need to thank me. If it weren't for you, I never would have thought of it all. Everything." He smiles at her, one of those melancholy smiles that makes her wonder why he doesn't just give up the business and move here. "I'll see you later."

She sits next to Whitney, gathers him to her shoulder. Her husband. Her family businesses. Her town. Preserved forever beautiful, like Sleeping Beauty in the story.

A fairy princess couldn't have wished it any better.

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