By Caroline K. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted April 2007
Summary: After the events of Season 4's "Lois and Clarks," alt-Clark begins to find his way home.
He wasn't sure what made him take flight, what made him turn his face towards the setting sun… towards a place that hadn't been home in years.
Maybe it was just that he didn't feel ready to step back into his life in Metropolis. Not after experiencing that other life, in that other Metropolis.
Until he'd seen it for himself — until he'd spent time there and walked a mile in another Clark Kent's boots — he hadn't quite believed it was real. Even after Lois Lane had stormed into his life and bullied him into turning everything upside down, he hadn't *really* thought she'd come from another dimension, a parallel world. Oh, maybe he had at first, but as the days had turned into weeks and then months, she'd gone a bit hazy, like a half-remembered dream. He'd been a newly minted superhero, busy adjusting to juggling two careers and international fame. He had thought of her — of course he had. And he had felt something every time he thought of her, felt the aching space she seemed to have hollowed out in his heart, but he hadn't had time to wonder much about the place she'd gone — a place where she lived and worked and loved another man named Clark Kent.
But now he'd met that other man. He'd shaken his hand. And it should have been like looking into a mirror, but it wasn't… not quite. Not when that other man was the one with a living, breathing Lois Lane by his side. Not when that other man had loving parents right behind him, welcoming him home with open arms. Not when that other man had a *life*.
Clark Kent's life.
That life — that anonymity — was like a suit of armor, protecting his counterpart from the world. And Clark hadn't known it, hadn't realized how utterly exposed he felt, until he'd lived with that protection for a few days. After those strange, bewildering days, showing his face in *his* Metropolis — a place where 'Superman' was synonymous with 'Clark Kent' and always had been — felt like walking stark naked down Main Street.
Where had he ever found the courage? How had he done it day after day? How had he endured the stares, the whispers? How had he stomached the awe that always seemed to be tinged with fear?
He had the strangest feeling that in returning to his Metropolis, he was somehow burying a part of himself. His time away had made him realize that Clark Kent was gradually disappearing, being subsumed by blue spandex and a red cape, and he wasn't sure how to reclaim him, how to catch hold of a person whom he'd let become as insubstantial as a ghost.
<<If my Lois had lived, my world would be a better place.>>
He'd said those words and meant them, but if his Lois showed up tomorrow, what would he have to offer her? Would she even want a life with Superman? Because more and more, it seemed that Superman's was the only life he had to offer. Somehow, he'd let Clark Kent become the disguise, and not even a very good one. Clark Kent was nothing more than a pair of glasses that had never fooled anyone anyway. He wore the glasses to remind himself of who he was, but the world winked at them and treated them as a joke — a convenient punch line for late-night talk show hosts.
He needed to be Superman; he believed that with everything he had. But he also needed just one person on earth who remembered that he was also a farm kid from Kansas who loved football and writing stories. One person who knew his favorite color and his favorite foods and his favorite song. One person who knew that he could be sarcastic and angry and a complete grouch in the mornings. One person who knew he *wasn't* really super — not every minute of every day — and loved him anyway. The other Clark Kent had his Lois for that, and his parents. Did that other Clark know what he had? Could he really appreciate it enough, having never lived with the alternative?
Mr. Wells had suggested that nothing was impossible. And there was a part of him that desperately wanted to believe that his Lois was out there, that he was going to find her someday. But if he found her tomorrow, would she be able to see him, or would she, too, be so blinded by Superman that Clark Kent wouldn't even register?
He didn't know the answer to that and didn't think he'd find it in Metropolis, so he had turned towards Kansas. It didn't make any sense, not really, because there hadn't been anything for him in Kansas in years. His loss had turned even the best memories bittersweet, and seeing the other Clark's parents, a Martha and Jonathan Kent for whom time hadn't stopped twenty years ago, had only sharpened the pain. What impulse, then, would take him to the place where those memories were strongest? Was he wallowing? Was this some pointless exercise in self-pity? He hoped not, but he couldn't quite say.
Too soon, he was drifting over the small parcel of farmland that had belonged to his father and his father's father, and that now belonged to him. He landed in what had been the front yard, but now it was a tangle of weeds, indistinguishable from the overgrown fields. The house, which had once been cheerful and welcoming, seemed to fix him with a blank, dead stare — its gaze so cold that he had to look away. It was more than just the peeling paint and slipping shingles, more than the shutters that had been knocked into crazy angles by the fierce Kansas wind. It was the darkness behind windows where once a light had always shined. It was the shrouded furniture he knew the house still entombed.
Most of all, it was the *quiet* — the chilling quiet of a place that had once hummed with activity. So many sounds had filled his childhood, and as he turned away from that silent, accusing house, they seemed to echo down the hallways of his memory: The squawk and slam of the screen door. The ringing of the phone. The barking of the family dog. The sound of his mother's radio, playing low in the background while she hummed along and worked around the house. And always, the drone of his father's tractor, a sound so common that they seldom had noticed it at the time; now the absence of that sound seemed to ring in his ears.
There was something terrible about a silent farm.
He turned away from the house, but everywhere he looked he felt the weight of the same quiet accusation. The farm was his, free and clear. It was the only thing, really, that his parents had been able to leave him, and he never could bring himself to sell it — not even when he'd desperately needed money for college. No one had been able to understand that. Lana certainly hadn't; she'd wanted them to get as far from Smallville as possible and never to look back. It had always irritated her that he'd insisted on holding on to his parents' farm, but in that one thing he had stood firm.
But why? Why keep a miserly grip on something only to look away as it fell into ruin? *This* was not his parents' farm. Broken fences, crooked shutters, gardens and fields choked with weeds… what would they say to him, if they could see this?
<<Clark Jerome Kent!>>
His mother's voice seemed to ring out in the emptiness. She'd had a thousand ways of saying his name, and he'd known every one of them by heart. He could tell just from her inflection whether the one word, "Clark," meant that he was in trouble, had a chore to do, or was going to get a freshly-baked cookie, still warm from the oven. All three names, though — that was *never* good news. And this — this turning-away from their land, their home — was definitely a three-name offense.
But here, at least, he *was* Clark Jerome Kent. No one had ever called him "Superman" on this soil. And that was something to cling to, even though the memories were painful. They were *Clark's* memories. They were memories of a more-or-less normal childhood, of a boy who had wanted to be first a fireman, and then a farmer like his dad. His aspirations back then had been uncomplicated, sweet in their simplicity. That boy hadn't any idea he was from another planet, any idea he'd grow up to be the world's idea of a hero. How could he part with the only place that held those memories? How could he part with the only place left on earth where he truly felt like *Clark*?
He sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets, kicking at a clump of weeds. He looked at the sinking sun; it would be dark in about an hour, he figured, and he would have to go back to Metropolis to do his evening patrol. He was back now, from that other Metropolis, and he had responsibilities to his world, however little he cared for them at the moment. He would decide what to do about the farm later, he promised himself. *Really* decide, and not just let it drift out of sight and out of mind.
He was looking out over the choked fields, remembering perfect rows of freshly turned soil, remembering his father with a fresh stab of grief, when his reverie was interrupted.
"Who're you?" a small voice demanded from just behind him.
He whirled, astonished that he'd been so deep in the past that someone had been able to sneak up on him. His interrogator was a boy, maybe six or seven years old, with ragged brown hair and a freckled nose. The boy was giving him a belligerent stare, clearly waiting for Clark to explain himself.
"I'm, uh, Clark." Clark offered the boy a weak smile, trying to be polite. "I own this farm."
"Oh." A little of the belligerence seemed to fade, replaced by a hint of embarrassment.
"Who are you?" Clark asked in return.
"Luke," the boy said. "I live over there." He pointed toward the west.
"The Irig place?" Clark asked.
"Yeah. I live with my Gran and Grandpa. My mom's going to college, and she couldn't keep me there."
"Ah. Your mom must be Jenny then."
"Yeah. She goes by Jennifer now, though. Nobody but Grandpa ever calls her Jenny."
Clark smiled. "Well, when I knew her, everybody called her Jenny. She was a few years younger than me, but she used to come over here to play sometimes. I remember when she was about five, she broke one of my model airplanes."
The boy blinked at him. "You need to get over it," he advised seriously, and Clark burst out laughing, when only a few minutes before, he'd felt like he'd never smile again.
"I'm not holding a grudge, I promise," Clark assured him. "So how old are you?"
"Seven. How old are you?"
Clark wanted to laugh again but didn't this time. "I'm thirty," he told the boy.
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "So what are you doing here, Luke?"
The boy shrugged. "I come here to play sometimes. I have a fort in there." He jerked his head towards the barn. "You don't mind, do you?"
"Well…" Clark tried to remember what had happened to the neat rows of tools in his father's tool room. Had they been locked up? Sold off? Stolen years before? He realized he had no idea. And this little boy had been playing in there, had maybe been in danger because of Clark's irresponsibility.
"I haven't hurt nothin'," the boy insisted, sensing Clark's reservations.
"I don't mind you being in the barn. I just wouldn't want you getting hurt on anything in there. That's where my dad kept his tools."
The boy gave him a doubtful look. "I haven't seen any tools, 'cept an old tractor. I sit on it sometimes."
"I don't see any harm in that," Clark said. "I used to do that myself. I always wanted my dad to let me drive it, but he said I couldn't until I was older."
"You're older now," Luke pointed out. "You could drive it whenever you want to."
Clark felt his throat tighten. Yes, he could drive the tractor now. But that special day — that day when his dad finally would have decided he was old enough to drive it on his own — had long since come and gone, disguised as just another day.
"Yeah," he said softly. "It probably doesn't run anymore, though."
"I don't see why anyone would want to drive a tractor anyway," the boy said. "Too slow. I want to drive a race car."
"Well, maybe you'll get to one day."
"Maybe," Luke said, but he sounded dubious. "Do you have a car?"
"No, I live in the city. I don't need one much there." He didn't need one anywhere, of course, but he had no intention of offering up that information.
Luke nodded and shifted a little uneasily. Clark had the feeling he was tired of grown-up conversation and was looking for an excuse to leave, and he realized he didn't want that, didn't want to be left alone again with his memories.
"Hey, if you like forts, I have one I could show you," Clark offered. "My dad and I built it when I was a kid."
"Really?" Luke perked up and looked interested.
"Yep. It's back there, behind the house."
"Cool." And with the one word, Luke took off in the direction Clark had pointed, leaving Clark to catch up.
They trotted into the stand of trees, bigger now than he remembered them, and the path was overgrown, with no small boy around to trample it down. But Clark remembered every step and went straight to the tree house he and his dad had built when he was about Luke's age. It was still there, a little weathered with time and the elements, but basically as it had been the last time he'd seen it. Somehow, it didn't seem as accusing as the house and the rest of the farm. It seemed almost welcoming, as if it had been waiting for his return.
"Awesome," Luke said, gazing up at it, a light of genuine admiration in his eyes. "Let's go up there!"
"I used to have a rope," Clark said, looking around. "Guess it's rotted, though. There might be a ladder back at the house."
Luke cocked his head and gave Clark a quizzical glance. "Can't you just fly us up there?"
For a moment Clark gaped at him. <<The kid knew?>> And then he felt stupid: Of *course* Luke knew. It would be common knowledge in Smallville that Clark Kent, who was now Superman, still owned the old Kent place.
"So you know that I'm… uh…"
"Well, duh." Luke was peering up at the tree house again. "I wouldn't have come with you if you'd been a *stranger*."
"It's just that you didn't seem…" *impressed*, he almost said, but he stopped himself just in time. What did it mean that he'd come to expect adulation from every little kid he met? He didn't much want to think about that.
Luke shrugged. "No offense, but I'm not really into Superman. I like the Power Rangers better. But you seem like a nice guy," Luke added hastily, not wanting to offend.
Clark smiled to show that no offense had been taken. "Well, if I ever meet any of the Power Rangers, I'll get you an autograph."
Luke gave him a pitying look. "They're not really real, Mr. Kent."
Clark laughed, suddenly liking this kid immensely. No, the Power Rangers weren't real, but he *was*, and Luke seemed to get that.
"Call me Clark," he said. "And yes, I can fly us up there. Hold on to your hat."
"I'm not wearing a hat," Luke protested.
"You're way too literal, kiddo," Clark told him, just before he grabbed him and slung him upside down over his shoulder in a sloppy version of the fireman's carry.
"Hey!" Luke protested, pummeling Clark's back with his fists. "This isn't how you're s'posed to do it."
Clark laughed and started to drift upwards. "How would you know? You're not into Superman."
"Anybody knows that!" But Luke was giggling at his upside-down Superman ride.
It was over quickly, and Clark flipped the little boy back over his shoulder and set him down in the doorway of the tree house in one smooth motion. He hovered just outside the door and watched as Luke inspected the interior carefully, looking for all the world like a prospective buyer as he peered out of the windows and rapped his knuckles on the old table. When he'd seen everything, he came back to the open doorway and leaned forward, hanging on with one hand as he examined the exterior of the little fort.
"Careful," Clark said, holding his hands out protectively.
"I'm all right," Luke insisted. He pointed to a weathered board and then dropped to a sitting position. "What's that word mean?"
"Solitude," Clark told him as he sat down beside Luke in the doorway, his long legs swinging beside the boy's short ones. "It means… being alone. When I was a kid, this tree house was my place to be alone."
Luke cocked his head at him. "Do you like being alone?"
Clark felt the question pierce something vulnerable, something vital. "Uh, no," he admitted quietly. "I don't like it much at all."
"Me neither," Luke said. "I never have anybody to play with. 'Cept during school, but livin' so far out, I don't get to see the kids from school much."
"No," Clark said. "I didn't either, when I lived here. But I spent a lot of time with my folks back then."
"Grandpa said they died."
"They did," Clark said. "I was a few years older than you… and… yeah. They died."
"My dad died, too," Luke said matter-of-factly. "I didn't ever know him, but I heard Gran and Grandpa talking about it once with the preacher. They said he was driving drunk. That's bad."
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "It is. But I'm sorry your dad died."
Luke shrugged. "Were your parents drunk?"
"No. They were just really… unlucky." And it was still hard to accept that — to accept that it was just some blind stroke of fate that had robbed him of the rest of his childhood. There was no one to blame, not even himself. He'd been fast then, but there was no way he could have saved them, any more than he could have kept his world's Lois Lane from whatever fate had befallen her. Somehow, he had to find a way to live with that.
Somehow, he had to find a way to *live*.
"I like your tree house," Luke said, blithely unaware of the direction Clark's thoughts had taken. "Can I play here sometimes?"
"Yeah, if it's OK with your grandparents. We'll need to fix you some kind of ladder."
"You'll help me?" Luke sounded surprised.
"Sure," Clark promised him. "It'll have to be tomorrow, though. I need to get back to Metropolis tonight. I've been away for a few days, and I need to check on things there."
"Where'd you go? On a vacation?"
"Not exactly a vacation, no. I went to a parallel universe to help save another Clark Kent from a time-traveling villain."
Luke rolled his eyes. "Fine. Don't tell me."
"You have no imagination." Clark chuckled and ruffled the little boy's shaggy hair.
Luke grinned up at him. "I think you have enough for the both of us."
"Maybe so," Clark admitted. "You know what I'm imagining now?"
"I'm imagining fixing up this farm. Maybe getting it in good enough shape to rent."
"Will you rent it to people with kids?" Luke asked hopefully.
"Maybe," Clark said.
"Make sure they're boys."
"Boys," Clark repeated. "Well, I'll try, but I can't make any promises on that. First I have to get the place ready, anyway. Think you might like to help me?"
"Will I get paid?"
Clark grinned. Mercenary little beast. The country was full of little boys who would give a year's worth of allowances for the privilege of hanging out with Superman, and he'd managed to find the one kid who expected to be paid. He was frankly delighted. Aloud he said, "We can probably work something out."
"But… you're Superman. Can't you fix it up in like two seconds?"
"No. Not in two seconds. I *could* do it really fast — a lot of it, anyway — but I don't think I want to. I was already faster than most kids by the time I was your age, but my dad always made me do my chores the regular way."
"Didja ever cheat?" Luke asked.
Clark smiled. "Sometimes, when there was something else I really wanted to do. But mostly I did it Dad's way." And suddenly *those* memories came drifting back — memories of working side-by-side with his father under the hot Kansas sun, memories of a gentle voice and a guiding hand. He was glad now that he hadn't sped through those chores, those moments. Those times, and a thousand others like them, had taken a foundling from Krypton and shaped him into a man named Clark Kent.
Recognizing that made the memories a little less painful, and he knew that in fixing up the farm, he wouldn't be tempted to rush. This was his parents' gift to him — a greater gift than they ever could have imagined. They had given him the one place on earth where he could be himself, and it had been just sitting there, waiting for him to come and claim it.
"It'll be dark soon," Clark said, pointing towards the horizon, aflame with the spectacular reds and golds of the setting sun. "Want me to give you a ride home?"
"Do I hafta ride upside down?" Luke asked, giving him a cheeky grin.
"How about you go piggy-back?" Clark suggested, turning so the boy could climb aboard. Small arms snaked around his neck, and grubby hands clasped under his chin.
"Go fast," Luke instructed him, once he was secure.
"Faster than a speeding bullet?" Clark teased.
"Whatever." Luke sounded unimpressed. "Just don't, you know, vaporize me or anything."
"I could let you walk home," Clark suggested dryly.
"I could let you fix your farm by yourself," Luke returned.
Clark laughed. "You drive a hard bargain, sport."
And with his new farmhand clinging to his back, Clark flew over his parents' land, the place that held his past and maybe his future, and from the air, he was able to imagine it as it had been back then — back when screen doors had slammed and dogs had barked and cheerful voices had called to one another. He imagined it as it could be again. And for a split second, he imagined that he saw himself sitting on the porch, watching the sun set with his Lois Lane by his side.
He would find her one day, he thought, feeling an unfamiliar swell of hope. Because if the last week had taught him anything, it was that nothing was truly impossible. So he would find her, and he would fly her here, to Kansas, so that she could see the real Clark Kent in the place he called home.
Author's Note: This story was written for my friend Sara Kraft and owes a heavy debt of inspiration to Sara's wonderful "Away From the Sun". After reading AFtS, I couldn't get alt-Clark out of my head, and this little story is the result.
I'd also like to thank another friend, MrsMosley, for beta-reading this for me and for suggesting the perfect title.