The Path She Takes

by Wookie

Huge thanks to my betas, Slodwick and Miss Windy. All mistakes are, of
course, mine.

Title: The Path She Takes
Author: Wookie
Disclaimer: The characters belong to the DC Comics, the WB, Gough and Millar and the actors. A whole bunch of people, none of whom are me.

The road stretched ahead of her like a promise. Like an escape.

She yearned to stay on it, to keep going until she hit Metropolis. Stay on it till it met a highway, and then take that to another city. Another state. Another life.

Rubbing her free hand against her forehead, Nell watched for the turn she would have to make.

Nell had dropped Lana off with Betty Fordman earlier that day so that she could meet a potential buyer for the old family land. She had briefly considered taking Lana with her, but dealing with the sad, eerily silent girl was the last thing she needed today. Nell had been up late every night for a week, working out her finances, trying to figure out how she was going to raise Lana. Her worried calculations were only interrupted by the four-year-old's nightmare induced screams.

She wasn't sure she could take it anymore. Her nerves were frayed to the breaking point.

In the past six months, she had done everything she could for her niece, but nothing seemed to be getting better. And if she had to be honest with herself, Nell didn't think she was cut out to be a mother. Laura had been so much better at...things. Homemaking. Taking care of people. Taking care of Nell even.

She couldn't count the number of dreams she had where Laura came back and took Lana home. Apologized for being late, said Lewis was waiting in the car, and 'would she mind if Laura just got Lana and went home quickly because they were tired?'

She supposed that made her pretty much the worst aunt of all time.

If she could just get away for a little while, maybe that would change. If she could just have a moment of peace...

But apparently, being a parent meant that she could never have that moment. She never realized how...ceaseless parenthood was. It just hadn't occurred to her. And why should it have? Nell hadn't even thought about having children

This morning she could barely stand to deal with all the problems that came with having a child...Lana. The kitchen was a mess, and she had just put a stain in her nicest blouse while making breakfast for the two of them. Her babysitter, Sandy, called to say that her boyfriend was taking her on a surprise camping trip for her birthday. Sandy couldn't believe that Nell was angry with her, just because she had let her boyfriend drive her almost out to the camp spot before she remembered that she had a job today.

Nell could have slapped the girl. What she would have given to be in high school again, to be that irresponsible without caring about the consequences.

But instead she called around frantically, unsurprised that none of the girls who babysat were awake. It was 8 on a Saturday morning; of course no one was awake. Hell, a year ago, Nell herself wouldn't wake up before noon on Saturdays. She used to meet some of her friends at a bar in Winterhaven, a couple of towns over, every Friday night and they would stay there until last call.

Her friends still invited her to go every once in a while, but Nell couldn't take off like that. As much as she wished she didn't, Lana was her family and she had a responsibility to her. She had a responsibility to be there. To always be there. She had to be quiet when Lana was sleeping, awake when she wanted breakfast, there when she needed a new book off the shelf.

Jesus, she couldn't even take a shower without keeping an ear open, mind swirling with thoughts of Lana.

And didn't that sound cold? Nell was amazed at how detached her thoughts had become over time. In the first few weeks, all she could think about was the funeral and then getting Lana to eat and sleep. But as time went on, the enormity started to hit her. And suddenly Nell could only think of responsibility, when she knew she was supposed to be thinking about how much she loved Lana, and how she would take care of her forever and treat her as if she was her very own daughter.

She just wasn't sure when those motherly feelings kicked in. Or if they could even kick in for her. She cried some nights, sure that the feeling would never stop. That for the next fourteen years, she would live in a house with Lana but the desperate feeling that she need to escape this...trap, wouldn't go away. And sometimes she cried for Lana, terrified that when the little girl lost Laura, she lost her only chance to have a real mother.

Nell knew what real mothers were like. Real mothers were women like Laura. Laura could make fresh biscuits for breakfast as she looked over her papers for the day and braided Lana's hair. Nell could hardly pour Lana cereal without a major mishap. She wasn't a real mother at all. At best she was an imposter with good intentions.

But good intentions could never match up to real moms like Laura or Betty Fordman. Betty had looked at Nell with kindness - but not without a certain amount of pity - when she opened the door this morning. Nell had called her, frantic, practically begging the woman to take in Lana for the day while Nell met with Lionel Luthor about the property.

When Nell dropped Lana off, she could see George and Whitney eating big breakfasts in a tidy kitchen. Betty had already pulled out another plate for Lana.

It was all Nell could do to leave without breaking down.

Jesus, she didn't know why she couldn't just keep driving. Blow off the meeting with Mr. Luthor and go. Anywhere. Somewhere.

Anywhere that she could be a normal twenty-seven-year old. Someone without a child who looked up at her with eyes so sad, it hurt to look at them. Without the future she never wanted. Where she could breathe.

But even as the street seemingly went on forever in front of her, Nell knew she couldn't go. She had a meeting with Mr. Luthor. She had to take care of Lana. She had responsibilities. The path was already mapped out for her.

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