Streets of Smallville

by dossier

Notes & Warnings

Clark paused the hammer to watch the plume of dust that heralded the arrival of another stranger in the small town. The image wavered in the hot August mirage, and resolved to reveal a man in black, atop a midnight stallion, the reins of a bay tied to his saddle.

The new schoolteacher wasn't the only one to stop and watch. From his perch on the roof he could see heads turning, curtains parting with surreptitious hands all the way up the main street of Smallville. Lana Lang hung out her second story window, the tops of her creamy breasts peeking out of a merry widow. Clark watched as she lazily called down to the man while he tied off the horses before entering the saloon below.

He could see that Lana was watching the horses. Clark didn't understand—what would Lana Lang, saloon girl, want with a horse?

Clark returned to his repairs, he had little daylight left; the sooner he finished, the sooner he could go and see Lana, maybe inquire after the stranger. As he finished his self-appointed task, he worked on what new pretense a teetotaler schoolteacher might have to visit the bar.

* * *

He stood in the doorway a moment before his eyes adjusted to the tavern's bright lamplight. The player piano in the corner cranked out a merry tune while the patrons drank, and played cards and flirted with Miss Lana. Clark skirted the tables as he watched her, afraid she might approach him, and afraid she wouldn't. As he neared the bar, Clark noticed the man in black, presumably in the same place since his late afternoon arrival.

Miss Lana had spied him in the door, and she sashayed to his side. "Clark Kent, what a surprise. I'm so glad to see you." She reached up and wrapped her hands around the back of his head, and kissed him on the cheek, which flamed with embarrassment.

"Evening, Miss Lana." Clark avoided looking at her, and his hands twitched at his sides like he was uncertain what he should do with them.

"Would you like a drink?" Lana took his hand and led him the rest of the way to the bar.

"Yes ma'am, that'd be real nice. A sarsaparilla if he has one."

Lana groaned slightly. "Gabe, give the man a sarsaparilla."

Gabe grinned, and slid an open bottle of homebrewed root beer to the latecomer. "Good to see you, Mr. Kent. How's the schoolhouse coming?"

"Thank you." He watched through lowered lashes when he tipped his head back to swallow. Lana was staring at him. "It's clean, the roof is patched and the windows have glass in them, thanks to the kindness of Miss Nell."

"You got all that done alone?" Gabe whistled in amazement.

Clark downplayed his accomplishment. "Yessiree, you can do a lot when you've got the proper motivation."

"I guess you can, at that."

"You feel like celebrating, Clark? A little tumble would take the edge off?" He knew Lana offered because she knew he would never take her up on it, even if he'd had the money for it. He was willing to worship her from afar and it gave young Mr. Kent hope that maybe he wasn't a freak after all.

The idea of going upstairs with the luscious saloon girl caused Clark's face to flame even brighter than before. "Uh, no thank you ma'am. ‘Preciate the offer though."

Lana laughed, and Clark drank in the sound, ignoring the malicious undercurrent. He knew she was teasing him, but he didn't know how to tell her that he wanted so much more than a quick turn under the covers.

Gabe didn't let her torture the young man for long. "Lana, why don't you put your attentions to someone likely to take you upstairs? You're late on the room rent again."

"A girl's got to have what she needs. I've got a new dress, coming in from London." Her voice had a hard, querulous edge to it.

Mr. Sullivan didn't put up with much guff from the help. "Then you'd better work a little harder."

The stranger, cowboy for lack of a better appellation, leaned at the bar with one foot on the rail, his hat beside his glass. He ignored the ongoing conversation; his body language screamed ‘leave me alone'. Without his hat, he had a shock of short, red hair, his skin curiously pale for one who had ridden in off the open plains. The man had been steadily working his way through the bottle, but maybe he'd been pouring it into his boot, because he didn't look like a man who'd just drunk a half a bottle of whisky.

Lana turned her attention to him, leaning back over the bar slightly, her gently heaving chest displayed to best effect. "You look like you could use some company. Buy me a drink?" She simpered prettily, and Clark was surprised at the reaction she received.

Luthor spared a glance for the luscious mounds of her breasts; the tiny waist and her dark hair piled high with intricate curls, and then looked over at Clark. The stranger's eyes were blue like the Kansas sky, but there was a look of wild sorrow there. He looked dangerous as a spring tornado.

The stranger in black considered for a moment, then waved at the bartender to bring her a drink.

Gabe poured her a half glass of the watered down whiskey he kept under the bar, for Lana tended to be a messy drunk.

"Thanks, Cowboy. Name's Lana." She leaned in closer to her prey.

He nodded at that, but said nothing in reply. He threw back the rest of his liquor in his glass in a single swallow, then poured another from his bottle.

The fact that he hadn't offered her a name didn't deter Lana in the least. "Where you hail from, mister?"

He kept his head down, and ignored her question, but she persisted on her unadvisable course. "You going to be in town long?"

The object her attention lifted a hand and wiped his eye then dragged it over his red hair, a hint of curl in its short length.

"Look, lady." He emphasized it so that it was obvious he thought she was anything but. "I'm just here to have a drink."

Lana might not have been the sharpest axe in the cabinet, but it was obvious to her and Clark that she'd been rejected. "Then I'll leave you to it. You get lonely, I'm here."

"Sure." Sarcasm dripped from his words as he finished another glass of cheap whiskey.

Lana swirled away from the bar with a frown and soon had another unsuspecting cowboy by the collar and up the stairs. Clark watched her go with a barely concealed longing.

Gabe spoke kindly. "She don't mean nothing by it, Mr. Kent. Pay her no mind." It was no secret that the mysterious Mr. Kent had a crush on the scandalous Miss Lang; it was humorous to everyone but Mr. Kent.

Clark cleared his throat. "I know, but it's a shame a lady as pretty as her's got to do such a thing."

"Reckon if'n she didn't want to do it, she'd be somewhere else."

"Maybe. People get trapped, though, can't get out of the messes they're in." Clark sighed. He knew there was some things that were just the way they were, and he had no power to change them, as much as he might want to. With the Lana-distraction gone, he returned his attention to the stranger at the bar, who was now wearing a smirk.

"Those your horses outside?" He knew of course that they were, he'd watched him ride in and tie them off. Idle conversation wasn't his strong suit.

"Yep."

Clark put his hand out for handshake. "Clark Kent."

The stranger shook his head, and gave in. "Alexander Luthor." He took the large hand, and gave him an equally strong grip.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Luthor."

"Likewise." Luthor returned to his bottle, and the limp beginnings of their conversation petered out. He waved the barkeep over. "If you had an *empty* room, I would be in your debt."

Gabe pulled a key out of the register. "It's the last one on the left. Can only let you have it for a couple of nights though, Judge Ford is coming in, and that's where he stays. We don't have breakfast, but Miz Fordman's cafe is open in the morning. The stable's just next door."

"Likely I'll be gone by dawn, but thanks."

"Bath's a dollar, that includes a clean towel. I can have Whitney bring in the hot water."

"Yes, please do."

Gabe hollered out the back door of the bar for Whitney to heat up some bath water.

Clark politely coughed to get Gabe's attention. "Is Miss Chloe in? She said she might have some schoolbooks I could use."

"She's at the house, Mr. Kent. You can go on over, it'll be all right."

"Thanks, Mr. Sullivan." Clark fished in his pocket for a nickel, but he didn't have one. "Uh, can I bring it to you tomorrow?"

"Don't worry about, son." The schoolteacher was poor as a church mouse, living in the back of the rickety building that had been given over for transformation into a schoolhouse. The saloon owner routinely extended his charity to the young man.

"Thanks, Mr. Sullivan. I'll make sure I bring that nickel by tomorrow."

Gabe smiled at his retreating back. If the boy had a nickel tomorrow, it would be a miracle.

* * *

Clark heard the gunshot, and it jolted him out of his bed. He didn't bother to dress, but rushed out in his long johns to find out who had fired the shot. He ran into Whitney, who was hurrying towards him in the street. "What's going on?"

"Dunno, I heard the gun, then Mr. Gabe hollered to get the sheriff, and the lady doctor, so that's what I'm doing." Whitney gestured over his shoulder. "He was out behind the saloon." Lamps were coming on in the windows of the houses that lined the street.

Clark ran to the saloon and through it to the back. He heard voices out by the summer-dry creek bed; he followed the sound to the scene.

Mr. Luthor was standing next to his bay mare, a gun held loosely in his hand, and Mr. Sullivan was kneeling over...

Lana.

He held back the tears as he picked up her body; she wasn't dead though it was obvious that it would be only a matter of time. He whispered to her as held her close. "Lana, Lana, hold on, Dr. Bryce is coming."

Clark carried her up the stairs, and laid her in her own bed, and stayed by her side. Dr. Bryce showed up moments later, but she didn't shoo him out of the room. Dr. Bryce opened Lana's bloody shirt, and Clark looked away. That perfect chest was ruined by a gaping, ugly, sucking hole as Lana gasped for breath.

He watched in horror as Dr. Bryce pulled the shirt and vest off completely and lifted her up to inspect her back.

Shot in the back, clean through. ‘Why? Why did he do it?' Clark recalled the look in Luthor's eyes, when he'd looked up at Lana at the bar. She could never leave well enough alone, Clark thought bitterly.

He let the tears run down his face, he'd loved her, but had never known how to take her advances, they left him clumsy. Now he'd never again have the chance to fend her off. He'd never get the chance to save her or himself from a lifetime of loneliness. The time for that had run out.

The dark-haired doctor spoke to him. "Mr. Kent. I need your help. Could you go to my surgery and get the sulfa powder and bandages?" She sighed; there wasn't any need for them, but she wanted to protect Mr. Kent as much as she could.

He nodded, torn by his desire to stay by Lana's side and his eager nature to assist.

"Go on with you now. I'll get her cleaned up."

Clark ran down the stairs, pausing briefly at the sight of Mr. Luthor sitting at a table, gun before him, with Sheriff Nixon and Mr. Sullivan. He took a deep breath and walked out of the saloon doors, then took off like a streak of lightning to the doctor's office. He grabbed the glass jar of yellow powder and roll of white bandages and returned as quickly as he had left. The small groups of townspeople on their stoops were none the wiser.

The three men at the table looked up in surprise at Clark's sudden return. He nodded to them and his long legs took him up the stairs three at a time.

He knocked at the door, and Dr. Bryce answered it. "I'm sorry, Clark."

She brushed by, and left Clark with Lana's corpse. He listened to the conversation downstairs; he could hear them as clearly as if they stood next to him. He stroked Lana's cold, dead hand as he picked out the voices.

"She's gone. I'll go get Mr. Small," Dr. Bryce said as she left to go fetch the casket-maker; the money is the saddlebag would buy Lana a nice coffin, she would've liked that.

"Well, Mr. Luthor, I understand she was stealing your horse, but I still got to put you behind bars, least until Judge Ford gets in town." Sheriff Nixon, tired but attending to duty.

"I understand. She was stealing my wife's horse." Luthor, sounding shocked that he'd been capable of performing such a heinous deed.

"It'll be a few days a'fore he gets here. Won't have to wait too long. Let's go." Clark heard chairs scrape the floor.

"Dad, what's going on?" Chloe, of course. She couldn't stay away from trouble; it was like a moth to flame.

"Mr. Luthor there shot Miz Lana in the back; she was stealing his horse."

"Is she dead?"

"'Fraid so, sweet heart. You go on home, I'm going to wait for the undertaker."

"Does Clark know?"

"He's up there with her now."

"Poor Clark. She bedeviled him, and he took it, never said anything mean about her. I'm going up there, see if I can draw him out."

Gabe sighed. "It won't do any good, but you're welcome to try."

He heard Chloe marching up the stairs, and she didn't knock, just opened the door. Clark was sitting in a chair, still holding Lana's lifeless hand, quiet as the proverbial church mouse.

"Clark." She hadn't expected the shy man to be out in his long johns. She looked away in embarrassment, but forged on with her mission.

He looked up; his tear filled eyes dark in the dim lamp light. "Chloe, you shouldn't be here."

She took a breath of courage and knelt beside him, and rested her hand on his shoulder. "Come downstairs, Clark. Leave her be, it's not going to bring her back."

He looked forlornly at Lana's slack face: just that evening it had glittered with mischief.

Chloe put her hand over his. "Downstairs."

"I just wish I'd had a chance to tell her, she wasn't wrong. I just wanted her for more than that, but she didn't ever give me a chance."

"She would've laughed, and told you to go find a creek."

"I know."

"There wasn't any saving her, Clark."

He nodded and allowed Chloe to pull him to his feet. Maybe there wasn't any redemption for him, either.

At the bar, she poured him a glass of amber liquor, and put it in front of him.

"I, I can't pay for this, Miss Chloe."

"I know, just drink it."

He gave her a grateful look as he sipped the whisky. He coughed and his face turned red as fire licked inside him.

"Just drink it all at once. This isn't good enough for sippin'."

She poured one for herself, and showed him how it was done. "Go on, drink it."

Clark poured the whiskey down, and she filled up their glasses again. They were empty when the undertaker arrived. Clark couldn't bear to watch. "Thanks, Miss Chloe."

"Good night, Clark."

He walked slowly back to the schoolhouse, and lay unsleeping, watching the chill moon through the window at his bedside.

* * *

Clark stood in front of Sheriff Nixon's desk, until he looked up from the paper he was reading. "What can I do for you, Mr. Kent?"

"Uh, I was hopin' you'd let me talk to M. Luthor."

Sheriff Nixon leaned back in his chair until it was balanced on the two back legs. "What business do ya have with him?"

Clark shifted uncomfortably, and glanced over at the pale man sitting on his cot, who was listening with some interest as their eyes met. "I just wanted to talk to him."

Nixon gave the young man a long look, deciding if he was trouble or not. "All right, go on. No trouble, though. You carrying?"

"No sir, got nothing to carry."

"I believe you. Go on, I don't want to hear anything but the sound of your voices, though."

"Yessir, thank you."

Clark pulled an empty stool over to the cell, as far away from the sheriff as possible. Luthor stayed where he was, waiting for his visitor to start the conversation.

"I don't know if you remember me, but we met in the saloon last night."

"I remember."

Clark nodded, and cleared his throat. "It's just. I need to know what happened."

Luthor sat for a while, as he thought about it. He dragged the cot over and sat on the edge leaning towards the bars, elbows resting on his knees. "Why do you want to know? Haven't you already got me judged and hanged?"

"Mr. Luthor, I'm just trying to get things right in my head."

Luthor tilted his head, and looked at the young man in front of him. "You loved her."

"Maybe." Clark whispered through the thickness in his throat.

Luthor quietly told his story. "I'd just taken a bath, and I was standing on the back stairs, looking at the moon, enjoying the quiet. I heard a sound, and when I looked down toward the stable, I saw her. She looked up at me, clearly daring me to do anything about the fact that she leaving with my wife's horse." He stopped for a minute, before continuing in a whisper. "She was taking Desiree's horse, and I was furious. I drew my gun, and shot her as she turned."

Clark was looking at the floor, listening as he got the last piece of the puzzle. Chloe had told him that the stable boy had found food and clothing in the saddlebags, and the undertaker had found nearly a hundred dollars in the drawstring purse Lana had been wearing at her waist. "How did you know she was stealing the horse?"

Luthor leaned back against the wall, distancing himself. He'd had all night to patch together the jumble of events. "If she'd wanted to borrow the mare for a nighttime ride, I suppose she'd have asked. It was the look she gave me, purely daring me, smiling like she knew I wouldn't take any action against her."

Clark considered the evidence. Lana had wanted out, enough to cheat Mr. Sullivan on rent, and steal a man's horse. Maybe if he'd worked a little harder, he *could've* saved her, after all. It was a thought that had bile rising in his throat. "Thank you for telling me."

"Thank you for hearing me out."

Clark stood and replaced the stool where he found it, and left in silence.

He found himself beside the creek bed, staring at her blood, dried deep into the hard soil, a mute testimony to her passing. Her scheming, duplicitous nature was finally revealed in the moment of her demise.

Death was no stranger to Clark Kent. His beloved mother was dead from the influenza; his father kicked in the head by a belligerent cow, and the hundreds of men he himself had killed during the terrible war.

Lana's murder plastered in the final tier of masonry around his heart, but his Fortunato wasn't behind that wall; the unredressed deed waited still for retribution.

* * *

The sun was high and hot, and the tiny schoolroom was overflowing with the entire population of the town that packed into it. Most of them were standing, as there was a paucity of chairs.

The trial was a formality, the prisoner admitted to shooting the poor, dead Miss Lang, and the only thing he had to say in his defense was that she was stealing the horse that had belonged to his wife, now dead not even a fortnight from the bullet loosed from Mr. Lionel's derringer.

Judge Ford set Mr. Luthor free, not a hanging as Clark had expected.

"You can't hang a man for protecting his property from a thieving whore," was the final pronouncement.

Alexander Luthor was free. Clark followed as he went straight to the stable, paid his debt and packed his bag. Luthor led the stallion out, and tied the bay to his saddle as he prepared to leave.

Clark Kent, mild-mannered schoolteacher, stood menacingly in the street, a gun strapped to his thigh and a flat wide brimmed hat was tipped down over his brow.

"Luthor. You killed Miss Lana in cold blood, and now I'm going to see you get what's coming to you." He said it loudly, so there was no mistaking his intent. Citizens scurried to the sidewalk to watch the unfolding scene.

"I've got no quarrel with you. I'm leaving, and you'll never see me again."

"Not good enough, blood for blood, Luthor. You'd better stand and face me, I wouldn't want to shoot you in the back." Kent's voice carried a heavy load of poisonous sarcasm.

Miss Chloe called out to him from her doorstep. "Clark! Don't do this, it isn't right."

Clark glanced in her direction with a dark look. "He's a murderer."

"You can't take him. What do you know about guns? If you do manage to shoot him, you'll be a murderer, too."

Clark didn't reply, but spun his gun on his forefinger, and holstered it without a hitch. "I can take him." No amount of playing schoolteacher was going to erase the things he'd done. One more wasn't going to tip the balance, one way or the other.

"Mr. Kent, please." Luthor tried to talk his way out of his predicament, but the words fell on deaf ears.

"Draw, Luthor."

Luthor tossed the reins to the side, and walked to the center of the dusty street. "Very well, Mr. Kent."

"On three." Clark counted out loud; they drew and fired at the same time. Luthor's aim didn't miss, and yet he was the one falling.

Down into the dust. Chloe ran to the fallen man and leaned over him. She turned to the onlookers and yelled. "Go get the doctor!"

Clark stood over them, and heard the agonized whisper. "It's a fitting end, I think."

"Mr. Luthor, hold on, we're getting Dr. Bryce."

"No, wait. I want you to write a letter for me."

"To who?"

"My Mother, Lillian, in Chicago. Green Street. Tell her I'm sorry..." Those words to his mother were his last. His breath stuttered to a halt.

Clark looked up, and saw the stunned faces of the people he'd called neighbor for such a short time. That was over now, and he figured he'd better leave while he could. For sure, they'd try to see him swing at the end of a rope, but he knew it would be a fruitless attempt. Better to run again, and hide his true, hideous nature that even he didn't understand.

"Chloe."

She gave him a look of terrible disappointment, tears filling her eyes and he couldn't bear to look at her. He turned to the black stallion, and untied the bay mare, wrapping the reins around the rail.

He hauled himself into the saddle, and kicked the broad, black flank, leaving behind his hope and the last shred of his humanity lying in the dust of a small Kansas town.

~fini~

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Notes

Fandom: Smallville

Category/Rated: Gen, T (AU)

Year/Length: 2002/ ~4100 words

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun.

Author's Notes: Written for the Smallville Historical Challenge, but all errors are mine, and might be intentional. Based on the cowboy song The Red Headed Stranger, which my Mom used to sing at the top of her lungs accompanied by the guitar. My original cover

Beta: by the fabulous Te. I learned alot from this process.

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