By Jeff Brogden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted November 2000
Summary: In this Elseworlds story, Lois gets stranded in a blizzard near Smallville, Kansas, and is rescued by a handsome young stranger who, little does she know, is about to change her life forever.
Comments/criticism welcome. Please. Good and/or bad, I'd really like to hear what you have to say.
This is my first major attempt at writing fanfic in quite some time. I've always had ideas, I just never felt I had the time to write. However, I missed the creative process. One day I decided I was going to try and make time to write.
About a year ago, I started working on this story. Nothing flowed well, and I made several starts and stops on it. Then, I discovered Zoomway's message boards. The instant feedback provided by the people on the boards went a long way in making this story what it is today.
Thank you to everyone who posted a comment on the message boards. There are too many to list, but I'm grateful to all of you. Also, thank you to my wife, Sandy McDermin and morganb for their help in editing the first part of the story. The second part is all mine, and in the end, any problems are mine alone. Thanks to Pam Jernigan and Chris Mulder for giving me the initial push to continue and to merry and Karen S. for the constant email needling. Finally, a tip of the hat to Erin Klingler, my GE from the archive. I'm sorry you had to type [ADD COMMA] and [QUESTION MARK GOES BEFORE THE EX. POINT] so many times.
So, here's the brief setup. Call this an Elseworlds story or whatever. I'm playing with things. Briefly, this takes place a year or two after Clark should have come to Metropolis. Only this time…
(Friday, December 22, 1995, 5:00 p.m. CST)
"< < …We repeat, the Kansas Highway Patrol has closed all interstates as a result of the heavy snow fall from this early Christmas blizzard. Looks like we'll be getting more of a white Christmas than we bargained for— > >" Click!
Lois shut off the radio with a little more enthusiasm than was necessary. Closed all interstates? She was already on I-35 between Topeka and Wichita, for heaven's sake! At least she thought she was still on the interstate. It was getting harder and harder to see where the road ended and the ditch began. Maybe she should find a place to stay and weather this storm out. It wouldn't do to get stranded on the road in this blizzard. She could remember reading many a report of people who had been buried alive in their vehicles during a storm like this one.
Lois fished around in her glove compartment, looking for a map. She had purchased maps of all the states she would be traveling through before she started on this trip. She needed to figure out where she was. Lois hoped she wasn't too far into the "Land of Ahhh's" to find a decent place to stay. One thing she remembered from previewing her route earlier, was that there were not many decent sized cities through this part of the trip. Not too many towns of any size along here, in fact.
Lois managed to get the map out and open onto the seat next to her. It was late, and what little ambient light there was didn't provide any help in viewing the small symbols on the map. She fumbled around for the map light in her Jeep, and clicked it on.
"Ah! Better," she mumbled to herself. What was the name of the last city she went through? Actually, come to think of it, she hadn't seen a city, town or anything for quite some time. She needed a reference point so she could figure out where she was. A mile marker would do the trick. Lois looked up just in time to see the headlights of her Jeep reflect off the white letters and green background of just such a marker as it disappeared beneath the front grill with a loud *THUNK!*
"Oh my God!" Lois fought the wheel that had suddenly taken on a life of its own in her hands. She'd run off the road while looking at the map. Snow flew in every direction as she brought the vehicle to a stand still. Luckily, she had only been going about 35 miles an hour. That was the fastest she had felt safe going with the reduced visibility of the snowstorm. Other than the wind whistling outside, the slapping of the windshield wipers and the low idle of the engine were the only noises she could hear.
"Damn," she cursed softly. "What am I doing out here, anyway?" She knew the answer to that. Lucy. Well… maybe she should share some of the responsibility, herself, Lois thought. But, it was mostly Lucy. Lucy was throwing a big Christmas family get together this year. One more useless attempt at trying to capture the elusive traditional family Christmas. Bitter flashbacks of Christmases past lunged forward into her mind. She forced them back with practiced ease. Lois almost hadn't come this year. Too many wasted attempts in the past, combined with Lucy's move to Austin from LA, had almost made Lois decide she wasn't going to even try meeting with the family this year.
Lucy had been so persistent and had sounded so disappointed when Lois had said she wasn't coming that Lois had reluctantly agreed to the trip and then spent the next few days regretting that decision. It was then that inspiration had struck. Listening to another suspected "Guardian Angel" report, she had hatched the idea behind the real reason she was stuck in a ditch during a Kansas blizzard. She had convinced Perry and the Planet higher- ups to pay for this little cross-country jaunt as she gathered information into the whole Guardian Angel mystery. With Jimmy's help, Lois had mapped out a route that would take her through as many cities as she could between Metropolis and Austin that a Guardian Angel sighting was to have supposedly taken place.
At each stop, she had dug into the local library, read the local coverage of the event, interviewed witnesses and gathered as much information as she could. It almost made the time she would have to spend with her parents bearable.
She wouldn't be spending any time with anyone if she didn't get moving. Lois eased into the throttle and felt the wheels slipping and sliding as the Jeep inched forward just a bit. Either the Jeep wasn't getting any traction, or there was too much snow piled up in front of it. Putting the vehicle in reverse, Lois again eased into the throttle, trying to see if she could backtrack through her own tracks.
At first, it seemed to work, but she quickly came to a stop, the tires spinning uselessly against the snow. Lois checked to see if the gearbox was in four wheel drive, and found that it wasn't. Engaging the drive, she again eased on the throttle and the Jeep responded by inching back. After a few minutes of fluttering the throttle, Lois managed to get back on the road. Only now, she was confused as to which direction she was pointing. Was she headed toward Wichita or Topeka?
As Lois drove, she noticed a vibration in the steering wheel. Then, a strange noise became more apparent the further she went. It was a metal-against-metal sound that could only mean a bad thing.
"Oh, great! Miles from nowhere, and I develop car trouble," she grumbled, using sarcasm to cover the uneasiness she felt. Visibility was reduced to a few feet in front of the hood. It was all she could do to see the edge of the road, and she almost missed an exit, nearly blown shut with snow. The barely noticeable sign along side the road said "Smallville—6 Miles."
"Smallville? Doesn't sound very promising…" she let her voice trail off as she heard a new noise coming from the engine compartment. A hissing noise. Lois did a quick check of the gauges and didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Oil pressure was good; water temperature steady; alternator was putting out the right amount of current. There was plenty of gas. Lois only hoped there was enough time to make it the six miles to Smallville. At twenty miles an hour it wasn't going to take long, but it would still be longer than she wanted.
"Just find a place with a phone and a warm bed," she muttered. Hearing her own voice helped distract her from the ominous noises coming from her beloved Jeep. "Call the Auto Club—"
Lois never got to finish the sentence. A loud crack from the Jeep interrupted, forcing her to wrestle with the steering wheel in order to stay on the road. The last thing she remembered was seeing the horizon disappear as the nose of the Jeep suddenly dropped out from under her.
Lois woke up to the constant slapping of the windshield wipers. This time there was no engine idle accompanying them, only the sound of the wind outside. Lois blinked as she tried to clear her vision, but it stubbornly refused to cooperate. She wiped her hand over her eyes and noticed it came away wet. Looking into the rearview mirror, she could see the small cut on her forehead where she must have hit the steering wheel. How long had she been unconscious? She checked her watch, relieve to find that it hadn't been long.
"Now what?" Lois made sure the Jeep was in park, and turned the key. Thankfully, the engine responded immediately with a healthy rumble. The transmission, too, responded with the normal solid clunk she was used to. Crossing her fingers, Lois eased her foot down on the throttle and went nowhere. The engine revved, but nothing happened. She went from reverse to low gear, feeling the transmission clunk as it went through the gears. Again, the Jeep went nowhere. Lois could feel the back wheels spinning, but she couldn't feel anything from the front wheels.
"Something is definitely broken up there." Lois sighed as she put the Jeep into park. Should she stay here? The Jeep had plenty of gas. She knew all about how to survive in a vehicle should she ever be stranded in a blizzard, such as she was now. "Stay in the vehicle. Run the motor and heater for fifteen minutes at a time." Lois rattled off the survival techniques, trying to convince herself everything would be okay. How far had she gotten toward that town? A quick glance at the odometer showed her she had gone about four miles, if she remembered correctly.
She rolled down the window to see just how cold it was outside. It didn't feel too bad. It was only two miles. Did she really want to spend the next 24 hours or more here in her Jeep, two miles from town? No. Did she want to risk her life, wandering around aimlessly in a blizzard? No. Would that stop her from trying to get to town anyway? No. She nervously laughed out loud at herself. "Always diving in before checking the level first, Lane…"
She just couldn't bring herself to sit there. She just couldn't. Reaching over the seat, she gathered up her overnight bag and her briefcase. If she was lucky, she could spend the next day or two reviewing her research while her car was being fixed. She decided to grab an extra change of clothes, and more importantly, underwear. Climbing into the back seat, she opened up her suitcase and fished out the items she was looking for and stuffed them into the overnight bag. Satisfied that she had everything, she climbed back into the front seat.
Without thinking twice about it, she turned off the Jeep, and shut down the lights. Once she made up her mind, she rarely changed it again. Making sure she had everything she needed, Lois opened the driver side door, and stepped out into the snow. The wind bit into her like a knife before she could pull on her coat, hat and gloves. Lois reached back in and grabbed her bags and locked the door, giving it a heave with her hip to shut it. Looking back towards the road, she could see the dim glow of a light in the direction she thought Smallville waited.
Getting out of the ditch was a little more exhausting than Lois would have imagined. The snow was deep, and her bags, which earlier had seemed so light, now seemed to weigh a ton. Three times Lois had had to pick herself up when she had fallen, and now her legs were wet from the hips down. She checked on her guiding light, and started off down the road, trying to stay in the groove earlier vehicles had cut in the snow.
The going was tough. She wasn't heading into the wind, thank goodness, but it was still bitterly cold against her wet legs. Her bags grew heavier with each step. The crunch of snow beneath her feet and her labored breathing were the only sound she could hear. She realized she couldn't feel her fingers and toes.
"Maybe… this… wasn't such… a good… idea… after all," Lois panted heavily. She thought about going back, and turned to see how far she had come. Turning into the wind, Lois was knocked over by its sudden chilling force on her bare face. Lois struggled to get up, to get away from the cold wetness she could feel seeping into her clothing. She took a couple more steps toward the light. It loomed larger and larger in front of her, beckoning her to go on. Again she fell, her legs all but rubber beneath her. She was so cold, and her head was throbbing. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," Lois heard herself say into the growing darkness around her. If only her head would quit hurting. And that ringing noise would stop. Lois opened her eyes and saw only red and black in front of her. "So… tired." No! She couldn't fall asleep. She had to get moving. Somehow Lois made it to her feet again, her bags forgotten on the ground behind her.
Lois could see the light in front of her, getting bigger as she shuffled along. If she could only make it to the light. The wind blew stronger and threatened to knock her off balance. Lois struggled to maintain her balance and tripped over a block of compacted ice and snow that had fallen off of a car earlier.
"OUCH! AHH—" her shocked response was cut short by the snow in her face. She struggled to roll over. She could see the light, larger than ever, right in front of her. If she could just reach it. Stretching her arm toward the light, the last thing Lois remembered was a flash of green as a silhouetted figure emerged from the cab of a—what?! A tractor?
The throbbing in her head just wouldn't stop. No matter how much she wanted to stay asleep, the constant pounding just wouldn't let her. As Lois became more aware of what was going on around her, she could tell three things. One, she was still cold. Two, something heavy was pressing down on her. Three, something smelled wonderful. That last one wasn't at all what she was expecting. Shouldn't she be feeling the freezing wind in her face? Or was she dead? If she was dead, why was her head still pounding? Slowly, she willed her eyes to open.
Lois blinked a few times to clear them, and could see she was in a living room of some sort. There was a fire burning in a fireplace and she was lying on a couch under several quilts, in front of the fireplace. The fireplace seemed to be providing the only source of light, which gave everything a soft, muted look. From the looks of the decor, it was an older home. Every item and piece of furniture had a look of old-world character about it. "Homey" was the term that came to mind. Owned by someone who cared very much about it, judging from how neat and well kept it looked. This was a place someone called home and wanted others to call home as well.
A slight movement to one side caught her attention. There, in an old wing-backed chair sat a man reading a book. There was a small reading lamp on the table next to him, illuminating his features. He looked to be about her age with thick, dark hair. His face looked tanned, and he had a slightly exotic look. A little curl of hair hung down over his forehead, and Lois felt the urge to reach out and tuck it back up with the rest of his hair.
Her body shivered uncontrollably from the cold she still felt, and her movements caught the man's eye. He looked up to check on her, the worry clear in the soft, brown eyes behind the simple black frames he wore. When he saw that she was awake, the worry was immediately replaced with joy. A beautiful smile graced his face as he set the book down on the table next to him.
"Hello," he said, his voice low, rich and warm. "I'm glad to see you are awake, finally. Can I get you something warm to drink?"
"Where am I?"
"Sorry, I should have realized you would want to know that first. Let me introduce myself. I'm Clark Kent. You're in my house, which is just outside of Smallville."
"Smallville," Lois whispered. Yes, she was trying to get to Smallville, she remembered. "Guess I didn't make it to Smallville, huh?"
The man, (Clark was it?), looked at her strangely. "Were you heading for Smallville?"
"Yes. When the Highway Patrol announced they were shutting down the interstate, I decided I had better find a place to pull off and wait it out. I saw a sign that said it was about six miles to Smallville, so I decided to head there." She shifted slightly under the quilts to ease some of the stiffness from her back. "I had run off the road and damaged my Jeep earlier. About two miles from Smallville, something broke and put me in the ditch. I figured it was only two miles, and I could see a light, so I started off. Boy, was that dumb."
Clark leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Don't say that. You are lucky I found you, however. The biggest problem was you weren't walking toward Smallville. I found you about three miles east of Smallville—"
"East?!" Lois said in shock. "But I was going south into Smallville, how could I have managed to end up going east?"
"My guess is when you ended up in the ditch, it was at the crossroads about two miles north of town. It was dark. You saw my mercury-vapor light, or the lights from my tractor and mistook it for town. I was on my way back from checking the cattle, when I thought I saw some movement on the road. If you had gone south, like you planned, you would have made it into town." He leaned back into the chair again. "Although, I wouldn't recommend leaving your vehicle like you did, ever again. As you've found out, it's all too easy to get into trouble."
Lois felt her checks redden from the guilt at the scolding he was administrating. She watched his face darken.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I shouldn't harp on you like that. I'm just glad you are all right." He gave her a small smile.
"No. You're right. I shouldn't have left the Jeep. I even knew that, but I left anyway. It's something I'm famous for; ignoring danger."
"Oh? You'll have to fill me in on this death-defying attitude of yours. But, before you do that, I think you need to change your clothes."
Lois pulled the quilts back and looked down at herself. She was still dressed in the same clothes. And they were slightly damp. That must explain why she was still cold.
Clark stood up and walked around behind the couch. He picked up her overnight bag and briefcase. "I found these not far from where I found you. I hope you have another change of clothes in them. If not, I can probably find you something to wear." He set them down next to the couch for her. "I thought about getting you out of those wet clothes sooner, but…" his voice trailed off and he blushed. It was evident even in the dim lighting of the room. His body language was that of someone who was suddenly very uncomfortable and wanted to either leave or change the subject. His eyes looked everywhere but at her.
"I didn't want you waking up in a strange house, with…" his arms waved around in the air in front of him, "…with some different clothes on…"
"Or, no clothes on," Lois added, feeling a slight giggle rising in her, threatening to come to the surface.
His shocked look nearly caused her to loose control. "Oh! I'd never do—I mean I wouldn't leave you—" his hands were animated again, the look of horror on his face genuine.
For no known reason that Lois could pinpoint at that moment, she felt completely safe with this man. His obvious embarrassment and discomfort was as telling as anything about the kind of man he was. Something about him told her she could trust him.
"Don't worry about it. If it had been really necessary, I'm sure you would have done whatever needed doing." She started to sit up and felt a wave of nausea sweep over her.
"Careful, go slowly. You've got a nasty bump on your forehead. You might have a slight concussion." He reached out and grasped Lois' small hand lightly but firmly with his large hand. They were incredibly warm and soft, Lois noted. Slowly, he pulled her into a sitting position.
"How do you feel?"
"I'm a little woozy."
"Take your time. Let me know when you want to try and stand up."
"All right." Lois let the world stop moving, then nodded her head. She let Clark do most of the work of pulling her into a standing position. The world didn't move around as much as it had before. She could feel his other hand on her back, resting there reassuringly.
"You all right?"
"Yes, thank you. Where can I change?"
Clark motioned with his head back toward the darkness. "There is a bathroom back here. Let me go turn on some lights and put your bags in there."
He let go of her slowly, and then moved off into the darkness with her bags. She took a moment to look around the room again, noting the many pictures and other strange items scattered about. Someone had either done a lot of world traveling, or there were some strange junk sales out here in Kansas.
Clark came up behind her and lightly grasped her elbow. "This way," he said as he turned her around, and took a hold of her hand once again. She felt herself automatically lean into him and he wrapped one arm around her back along her waist as he guided her toward the bathroom.
"Thanks," she said, smiling up at him once they reached the door.
"No problem." He smiled, and Lois felt her heart warm just a little bit more.
Clark watched the door click shut and walked into the kitchen to check on supper. He hoped his guest was all right. He had used his special vision to check on her condition when he found her lying in the snow on the road. She had a nasty looking cut on her forehead, but other than being cold, she had appeared to be unharmed. He had used his heat vision to warm her and dry her clothes as much as he dared. He didn't want her waking up wondering why she was completely dry. It would have been an awkward situation and one difficult to explain.
Clark heard the shower come on as he checked on the stew cooking in the crockpot. His guest would be hungry once she was done cleaning up. The stew was simmering nicely, and Clark went about setting the table. He stood back and looked longingly at the picture it presented—not for one, as the table was usually set, but for two.
He closed his eyes as memories of his parents drifted forward with ease. He took the time to relive them, feeling a deep sadness as well as happiness in the action. He missed them terribly—their advice, and the constant anchor they had provided to his often topsy-turvy life. Clark felt a single tear break free out of the corner of his eye and he tracked its path down his cheek. He reached up and brushed it away before it could drop from his jaw onto his shirt. Clark didn't have time for this now. He could hear that his guest had turned the shower off.
Clark cut up some homemade bread, put it on the table, and started a pot of hot water on the stove. The timer went off on the oven. Clark cracked the door and peeked at the apple pie baking within. It had that perfect golden color his mother had liked so well. He took out an oven mitt and pulled the pie out, placing it on the cooling rack. He really didn't need the mitt, but normal, everyday habits had to be maintained if he wanted to fit in. Even in the apparent safety of his own home, he had to maintain the illusion, lest it all come crashing down around him.
He surveyed the area one last time to make sure he hadn't missed anything. Since he wasn't sure how long his guest might take, he turned on the radio and picked up the newest copy of the High Plains Journal. Sitting down in his usual spot, he started to read the Journal, waiting for his guest to emerge from the bathroom. For a brief instant, a vision of her face danced in front of his eyes, causing his heart to beat harder. He gave his head a slight shake, then tried to concentrate on the words on the page. Being around her made him feel—confused.
Clark wanted to get to know her better, but at the same time, he realized he couldn't let anyone get too close to the real Clark Kent. That always led to pain. Now, however, this confused feeling was pleasant in a strange sort of way. He couldn't allow himself to get too used to it though. All too soon, his guest and the emotions she brought out would be going away.
Lois had no problem following the sounds and smells into the kitchen once she was done cleaning up. The hot shower and change of clothes had done wonders for her. She almost felt normal again. The rumblings from her stomach reminded her of the one thing that would make her feel even better: food. She walked into the kitchen to see Clark sitting at the table reading a newspaper of some kind. The table had been set for two. He looked up as he heard her approach and favored her with his smile. She could get used to that smile.
"Hello," he said softly. "Are you hungry?" He stood up and pulled out a chair for her.
"Starved," Lois admitted. "It all smells so wonderful."
Clark placed a full bowl of stew in front of her. "I hope you like vegetable beef stew." He looked at her with a slightly worried expression. "You're not a vegetarian, are you? I can get you something else."
Lois laughed. Somehow it fit that this man in front of her, who she had only known for a few moments, would be concerned about whether he was offering her something she couldn't eat.
"No. It's all right. This smells and looks wonderful." She picked up the spoon and started eating. "Oh, this is sooo good," she mumbled between mouthfuls.
Satisfied that she was, indeed, going to eat, Clark set his bowl down on the table and joined her.
"Oh my gosh, I almost forgot! I know your name, but I haven't given you mine yet." Lois felt terribly guilty about that. She had thought of it while she was in the shower, but the smell of food had temporarily overridden her actions. "I'm sorry—"
"Don't be," he said simply. "You've had quite an experience, and I perfectly understand."
Lois put her spoon down and extended her hand. "I'm Lois Lane. Thanks for…everything."
He grasped her hand, applying a light but firm amount of pressure. Lois recognized the technique. One of the things she hated the most was the sloppy, loose handshake that most men offered to women. She, herself, preferred to give a solid, firm handshake, grasping firmly enough to gauge the other's response and not appear as if she were trying to bring a guy to his knees. Lois was glad Clark had a nice firm handshake and didn't assume she wouldn't have one as well.
"Lois Lane? *The* Lois Lane?" he asked with a small note of wonder in his voice.
"What?" She wasn't sure what he meant.
"Are you the Lois Lane of the Daily Planet?" He still had not let go of her hand.
Lois was embarrassed and astounded at the same time. "Well, yes. Yes, I work for the Daily Planet. In Metropolis," she added needlessly. There weren't a lot of Daily Planets around.
"Sure! Of course. Oh, Ms. Lane, this is an honor. I read your work all the time." He looked down at his hand, still holding hers and let go. "Sorry. I'm just so amazed."
As she watched, she noticed his look of awe was replaced with something else. Was it fear? Worry? He recovered quickly and gave her a quick smile.
"Would you like some more stew, or a piece of apple pie?" He quickly stood up and took her empty bowl.
"Ah…oh." His sudden change of topic was a bit disconcerting. "I think I'd like some pie, thank you."
Clark returned with her pie and a carton of vanilla ice cream. "Would you like some ice cream on that?"
"Sure!" Nothing better than a big glob of ice cream on warm apple pie. Evidently, from the size of the scoop Clark put on her piece, he agreed.
"Thanks," Lois laughed.
Clark looked down at her plate worriedly, then his face broke into an easy smile. The earlier tension seemed to have faded away.
"Sorry. Is that too much? I guess I just put on what I usually do." He demonstrated by adorning his pie with an equally large blob of ice cream.
As he turned to put the ice cream back into the freezer, Lois took a good look at him. His red flannel shirt was tucked neatly into a pair of Wranglers. From the broad shoulders, down the V-shape of his back to his trim hips and firm backside, he didn't look like the type who ate like an eight-year-old. She quickly diverted her eyes when he turned back around and sat down.
The ice cream was starting to melt from the heat of the pie, and Lois scooped up a large bite. "Oh, my. This is fantastic."
"Thanks, I enjoy cooking," Clark said, not a hint of ego in his voice. "Especially when someone enjoys eating it so much."
They shared a laugh and continued eating in relative silence. After Lois finished off her dessert, she felt like she was approaching something close to normal. "Clark, that was wonderful. And thank you, again, for all you've done for me."
"No problem, Ms. Lane. I'm glad I could help." He stood up and started clearing the dishes.
"Please, call me Lois. Here, let me help," Lois insisted, jumping up to help.
"No, no. That's okay. You're my guest. Sit down, please."
Reluctantly, Lois sat down. "Thanks. Now that I've cleaned up, eaten and the preliminary introductions are out of the way, I feel this need to get caught up on recent events so I can fully regain my equilibrium." Unconsciously, she slipped into professional mode.
"I'll start. I was driving down to Austin for a 'good-ole-family-Christmas,'" she said a bit sarcastically, quoting the phrase in the air with her hands. "I don't know why my sister keeps insisting on trying these things, but she does. The blizzard hit and the Highway Patrol closed down the interstate, but I was already on the interstate! What was I supposed to do? I decided I had better get off, so I tried to get the map out. I went into the ditch while I was trying to read the map, but I got out. I'd forgotten to engage the four-wheel drive, and once I'd done that, it was easy. Something must have broken on my Jeep, though, 'cause I started to have some car problems. Must have been when I ran over that mile marker. Anyway, I saw the Smallville exit and turned off there. My car problems caused me to end up in the ditch again!" Lois slapped the table. "Of course, like an idiot, I decided to walk the last two miles. I couldn't just bring myself to sit there for who knows how long if I was only two miles away from a warm bed. I got lost and confused. I'm sure the knock to the head didn't help with that. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in your living room."
She looked up to find Clark, who had sat down during her recap, staring at her in astonishment. "I've been told I have a tendency to babble from time to time. I should've warned you." She reached out and took a hold of his hand and gave it a small squeeze. It seemed to be the most natural thing in the world to do.
"Wow! That's amazing. I don't think you even took a breath in there anywhere."
Lois laughed and lightly whacked his hand. "I did so. I'm not that bad." She reluctantly released his hand and folded her arms in front of her on the table.
"Well, let me finish," Clark said. "Although, you'll have to excuse me if I don't tell my part quite as fast as you did. And, I'll have to breathe more than once."
Lois glared at him. However, it was hard to look upset when presented with his wonderful smile.
"Like I said, I found you on the road going east, away from Smallville. I'm guessing your Jeep must be in the ditch by the crossroads two miles north of town. When you decided to walk, you must have headed east by mistake."
Lois let out a sigh. "Right. A mistake that nearly cost me my life. I could have sworn the lights I was walking toward looked like the same ones I was driving toward earlier."
"The snow and wind can make things look confusing. I was just coming back from checking on the cattle, when I saw you fall in the road. I checked you over quickly to make sure you could be moved, then I loaded you up and brought you here."
"Don't take this wrong, but I'm surprised you didn't take me on into town."
Clark nodded. "I thought about it. Then I remembered the hospital closed early—"
"Closed?! A hospital?"
Clark smiled at her. "Ms. Lane—"
"Please, call me Lois. Ms. Lane sounds so formal. Can I call you Clark?"
"Sure! I don't mind. Anyway, about the hospital. Smallville is just that; small. When things blow shut around here, people don't go out. If anyone really needed anything, they know they can call Dr. Travis at home."
Lois nodded as if she understood. The differences in small town verses big city life were obviously going to be surprising from time to time.
"The tractor is all-wheel drive," Clark continued, "and it's high enough off the ground that I could drive just about anywhere I wanted. It seemed best to just get you someplace warm, though. From what I could tell, other than the bump on the head, there wasn't much wrong that a little warmth wouldn't help."
"Makes sense. Have you heard what the weather is supposed to do tomorrow?"
"Last I heard, it was to continue snowing through the night with a 30% chance of more snow tomorrow."
"Wonderful," Lois said, her tone indicating it was anything but. "Do you think there'll be anybody in town tomorrow who would be able to work on my Jeep?"
"There's a couple of people I know who might be able to help. It'll depend on the weather. I can certainly take the tractor out and find your Jeep and tow it into town." Clark looked down at his hands. "You can probably find a motel room to stay in while the repairs are made, if you want."
"Oh. Yeah, um, sure. I hadn't thought of that." For some reason, the thought of leaving the company of Clark Kent didn't sit too well with her. She found that she would miss talking to him. Miss his easy going manner and his devastating smile. She had only known him for a short while, and already she could tell he would be a wonderful friend.
"You're free to stay here as long as you need," Clark said softly. "I have plenty of room. There's an extra bedroom and attached bath upstairs. It was my parents room," he added with a note of sadness. "You can sleep in there tonight." He stood up and looked at his wristwatch. "In fact, I suggest that you might want to seriously think about going to bed soon. It's getting late and you're an hour off with the time zone difference. I'll go upstairs and make sure everything is set for you."
He started to back away from the table. Lois reached up and grabbed his arm quickly to keep him from leaving. He looked into her eyes for the longest time. Lois tried to read what she saw in them, but couldn't. His mood had changed again, and she found that she was worried about him.
"Thank you, Clark. Thank you for everything you've done for me."
He smiled at her, but his face didn't light up as it had before. Lois wanted to ask him about it, but he turned and strode out of the kitchen before she could do anything. She listened as his feet pounded up the stairs out of earshot. What was going on here? Why was she so suddenly at ease with a man she had only known for one evening? What was it about Clark Kent that had completely taken her by surprise? Shaking her head, she listened to the radio softly playing in the background, wondering what she was going to do when morning finally rolled around. Would she get a motel room in town? Or would she stay? She knew what her head was telling her to do, but her heart was speaking louder at the moment.
Clark lay in his bed, trying desperately not to tune in his special hearing. Without even trying, he could hear every little noise she was making from his parents' room. He could hear her footsteps, her breathing, and her heartbeat. He was going insane.
She was Lois Lane, for goodness' sake! He should be petrified. Was it coincidence that she had ended up in his neck of the woods? It worried him that one of the best investigative reporters in the business was in his house. One little slip, and his private world, as small as it was, would come crashing down on him. In a way, he wished it would just so he could leave behind the fear and loneliness. But mostly it petrified him with fear. For too long he had hidden himself away like his father wanted him to. His mother had been more tolerant, but he knew she had feared for him as well.
He must be getting sloppy in his nightly adventures. He knew someone might take notice, and that someone might be right here in the house with him—someone with a smile that made him melt inside, with eyes that seemed to look into the depths of his soul. Someone who, when she touched him, seemed to set the world on fire.
The little moans and sounds she had made while eating the pie tonight had nearly been his undoing. He doubted she even knew she was doing it, but with nearly every bite she had taken, a soft, sensual noise had been emitted for his sensitive ears to pick up. It was almost erotic, and Clark felt himself blush as he realized where his mind was wandering.
The visions of her in his mind became too great, and he threw off the covers. He stood up and opened the closet door, taking down a box from the top shelf. He listened carefully to see if she had fallen asleep yet. He could hear her slow, rhythmic, deep breaths indicating that she was, indeed, asleep.
He needed to get out and into the air. Maybe the cold, arctic wind would help clear his mind and cool him down. For the first time in his life, Clark was afraid of what he might do if he stayed in the house. He was starting to feel out of control around her, and he couldn't afford any slips.
Clark donned the dark clothing that was in the box and then listened closely again before floating down the stairs. He decided to use the back door, since it was furthest from prying ears, and made his escape into the cold, dark night.
(Saturday, December 23, 1995, 7:32 a.m. CST)
Clark was pulling the last of the buttermilk pancakes off of the griddle when he heard Lois coming down the stairs. Bracing himself, he turned to greet her. "Good morning!" She looked just as wonderful as he had remembered.
"Good morning. Wow, pancakes. They smell delicious."
Clark motioned her to the table, which was already set. He put the freshly made pancakes on her plate. "Here you go, two fresh ones, hot off the griddle. Would you like some orange juice? Buttermilk?" He laughed at the look Lois made at his last suggestion.
"Do you have any coffee? I thought I smelled some brewing."
"Sure! I thought you might be a coffee drinker. I don't like buttermilk either. It's good for making the pancakes, but as a beverage…" Clark shivered at the thought. He poured her a cup of coffee and then sat down himself.
"Mmmmmmmmmm," she moaned.
He dropped his fork when Lois took the first bit.
"Oh! Are you all right?" she anxiously asked.
Blushing furiously, Clark picked up his fork and quickly dug into his food. "I'm f-f-fine. It just slipped." He kept his eyes on his food for the longest time, willing his cheeks to return to their normal color.
Seeming not to notice, Lois continued to eat. "I guess the weather decided not to cooperate this morning," she said with a sigh. She glanced out the window at the unrelenting storm.
"I guess not. The last radio report I heard was that we've already gotten ten inches, and they expect it to keep snowing for the rest of the day."
Lois shook her head beside him. "Ten inches! How much more could we possibly get?"
"Oh, we've had fourteen to eighteen inches at a time before. The worst part is the drifting. I'm sure you've noticed, the wind is a bit strong around here."
"Oh, I noticed, thanks. Do you think we could turn on the radio?"
"A reporter has to know what's going on, right?"
Lois threw him a questioning look. "That reminds me, you seem to know who I am and what I do."
It wasn't a question. At least Clark didn't think it was. Still, if he didn't answer, she might start asking more questions. "Well, I must admit, I'm sort of into journalism myself. I write, um, a few articles for the Smallville Post." He sat back down, noting that she was watching him carefully. "I, like you, like to stay current with things."
Lois helped herself to some more pancakes. "How did you come to start writing for the local paper?"
"Oh, I've written articles for them all the way back to high school. I was interested in journalism, and Smallville is a pretty tight community, it wasn't too much trouble to get hired on to do some junior reporting. When I got out of high school, I decided to do some traveling. I would write up stories for the Post as I went along. I found I really liked reporting on things, so I came home after that first summer and went to college and got a degree in journalism."
"Is that where a lot of the stuff in the living room came from?"
"Yeah, I tried to pick up something from every place I'd been."
"Wow. You must have been all over the world."
Clark smiled. "I've been to a lot of places."
"And yet you came back here. Why?"
Clark put his silverware down and sighed. It was painful to talk about, but then he usually felt better afterwards. Besides, for some reason, he felt this need to confide.
"My father got sick. Running a farm is a lot of work, even for someone who's healthy. My parents knew how much I cherished what I was doing, so at first, they tried to keep it from me. After a while, things just got too hard for them. I was nearly finished with my degree, so we decided I should finish that first. A semester later, degree in hand, I came home to help with the farm."
"That must have been tough."
"Not nearly as tough as it was going to get. A year later, my father died." Clark looked off at nothing as he relived those moments. Oddly, they weren't as sad this time. "My mother died not too long after that. She was so full of life, but once Dad was gone, she just—" The pain of losing his father was great, but the pain of losing his mother was even greater. She, of the two, seemed to have a better understanding of Clark's uniqueness.
Jonathan had always been a kind, giving, loving father. Clark couldn't have asked for a better man to raise him. But Jonathan had always lived in fear that someone would find out about Clark and take him away from them. Clark knew now that it was Jonathan's intense love for him that sometimes caused him to behave the way he did and to make the demands of Clark that he had made. Martha, however, was more carefree in spirit. She was scared, too, but she didn't let it control her.
"I'm sorry." Lois laid a hand on his arm.
He was surprised that there were no tears to blink back this time. "It's all right. Anyway, I just sort of hung around after that. I do some writing from time to time, but I've kind of made it my life to carry on what they had here. Sort of a way to preserve their memory." And as a way of hiding, he continued silently. He wouldn't have to worry about not fitting in, where there was no one else to be measured up to. He could live life as he wanted—mostly. Right?
"They meant a lot to you, didn't they."
"More than you can imagine." Clark stood up and walked toward the back door. "Anyway, I've kept you from your world events. I have to go out and break up the ice on the water so the animals will have something to drink. I also need to check on the chicken coop to make sure the heaters are working." Clark began putting on his coat, gloves and a hat. Sitting down on a small stool, he slipped his rubber boot protectors over his cowboy boots. "Just leave everything on the table. I'll get to it when I get back." Clark turned toward the door, and grasped the doorknob. "Make yourself at home. There's a TV and satellite receiver in the den. The phone still works. Feel free to call anyone you want. Friends, family," he paused ever so slightly, not daring to hope, "husband, boyfriend—" He broke off when he caught her laughing. "What?"
"Just go! Do your farm things, I'll be fine here. Maybe I'll call my sister in a while."
Clark tried to think of something to say. She hadn't actually answered his unasked question. Still, she was right. He needed to get to his chores. He felt himself smile as he took in her happy features once again. Then he opened the door and exited quickly before too much cold air came into the house.
Lois watched as Clark trudged through the blowing wind and snow toward the barn. So many thoughts and emotions were running through her mind, she didn't know what to do. She watched until he disappeared inside the barn, then stared at the swirling patterns the blowing snow made on the landscape outside.
Sighing heavily, she realized she should call her sister and let her know where she was and what was going on. She was supposed to be in Wichita and then Dallas today and in Austin on Sunday. If the weather didn't let up, she wasn't going to make any of it. Besides, if they had been watching the news at all, they knew about the blizzard and would want to know she was safe.
She turned around and spotted the dishes cluttering the small dining table. Clark had said to just leave everything, but she didn't feel right about that. He had, after all, opened his home to her, cooked her two outstanding meals, and had probably saved her life last night. He had definitely done more than his fair share.
She quickly cleared the table, put the leftovers in the refrigerator and washed the dishes by hand. A movement outside caught her eye. Looking out the window, she saw Clark carrying an ax as he trudged through the nearly knee deep snow. He stopped in front of a large, round metal tank and began chopping at the ice in it. Soon, horses emerged from behind the barn and began lining up by the tank.
He continued chopping, moving around the tank so several of the animals could drink at one time. When he was done, he spent several minutes interacting with them. He would talk to them, pat them on the back, and rub their heads. He seemed to treat them with gentleness, and they responded in kind. She watched as he leaned against the wind and made his way through the deep snow towards a smaller out building where she assumed the chickens were.
She wondered, for the hundredth time, who Clark Kent *really* was. She knew so little about him, and yet she felt like she had known him for quite some time. He was friendly, honest, easy to talk to… And very easy to look at, her innermost voice piped in. Yes, very easy to look at. What's a handsome, all around good guy like him, doing on a little farm in the middle of Kansas? Probably the only place in the world you'll find a man like Clark, she answered herself. As far as she was concerned, he belonged to a dying breed. The all-around-good-guy. She had certainly had plenty of experience with the breed of man Metropolis had to offer. Had her fill of them, as a matter of fact. Lois thought of her experiences with Luthor and nearly lost her breakfast… But that was over now, she reassured herself.
Putting the dishtowel neatly on the counter to dry, Lois turned from the window and began searching for a phone. There was one right in the kitchen. She picked it up and listened for a dial tone. Sure enough, there was still one present. She had her doubts as to how much longer that would last given the current state of the weather. Using her calling card, she dialed Lucy's number.
"< < Hello? > >"
"Lucy! Lois here."
"< < Lois! Gosh, it's great to hear from you. Mom, Dad and I were beginning to get a little worried. > >"
"Mom and Dad are there already?" Poor Lucy.
"< < Yes, would you believe they came together? They caught an early flight. > >"
Surprises never cease. "Wow. Well, I called to tell you I'm going to be late. I've managed to get stuck smack in the middle of a Kansas blizzard."
"< < Oh, no. Are you all right? > >"
"I'm fine. I've had some trouble with my Jeep. I ran off the road and broke something."
"< < Oh, geez. Where are you? > >"
"I'm at a farm owned by a man named Clark Kent, outside of a town called Smallville—"
"< < Clark Kent? Just like that writer, huh? Are you sure you're going to be okay there? I mean, suppose the guy's an ax murderer or something. > >"
A writer *and* an ax murderer? "Lucy, there's nothing mysterious about Clark. He's a nice guy who happens to be helping out someone in need."
"< < Oh, I'm sure he is. Is he good looking? If he's a farmboy, he's probably pretty buff and looks good in a set of Wrangler jeans. > >"
God, the girl would never grow up. Images of Clark's obviously well cared for body, and her earlier perusal of his Wrangler-clad backside flashed in her mind. "'Good' isn't a word that does justice to describe the way he looks in his jeans," she conceded.
"< < All right! > >"
"Regardless," Lois put in before Lucy could go any further, "what's this about a writer?"
"< < His name, Clark Kent. Just like that writer who's written all those travel books. You know, the 'Adventures In…' series? I bought several when I thought about taking a trip overseas about a year ago. > >"
Lois remembered the books well. She had snuck a peek or two at some of them from time to time, daydreaming of taking a vacation to some far off land. Could it be? He had mentioned that he had done some world traveling. And he had a living room full of mementos. He also said something about doing some writing from time to time.
"< < You don't think he's—? > >"
"I'm not sure. Some of the things he's said—I'll have to ask him when he gets back in." You better believe I'm going to ask.
"< < So, sis, when should we expect you…assuming you survive the wilds of Kansas and that ax murderer you've managed to get stuck with. > >"
"Always the optimist, I see."
"< < Compared to you, I'm— > >"
"All right, all right. Enough. So I'm a bit cynical at times. Anyway, we can't get the Jeep out until it clears up some more. The wind here is blowing so hard, you can only see about a 100 feet or so. Then, I have to hope I can find someplace to fix it in Smallville."
"< < Is that really the name of the place? Smallville? > >"
Lois smiled. "I couldn't believe it either, but yes. Even if I do find someone who can fix it there, I don't know if it would do any good. The interstates are closed down. I thought about driving on to Wichita and trying to catch a plane from there."
"< < This close to Christmas? Good luck. Even if you could get to Wichita and they haven't closed the airport, I doubt they would have room on any flights. < sigh > I guess you're going to get your Christmas wish after all. > >"
"Wish? What wish?"
"< < Not to have to spend Christmas with us. > >"
Just over twenty-four hours ago, Lois had indeed wished that she didn't have to spend Christmas with her family. Now, when faced with that very fact, she felt tears welling up in her eyes.
"Hey, Lucy." Her voice broke with emotion. "Trust me when I say I'm all talk." She took a moment to blink back some tears. "I'm going to miss you guys. A lot."
"< < Oh, Lois. Now you've got me crying. > >" There was a pause on the other end of the line. "< < We'll miss you too. Hold on while I get Mom and Dad on the line. > >"
"No, Lucy, you don't—"
"< < Hello, Princess. I hear you might not make it for Christmas this year. > >"
"Hi, Daddy. I'm sorry. I'll do everything I can to get there."
"< < Don't worry about it, honey. That blizzard has everything north of here shut down. I wouldn't be surprised if your mother and I are stuck here for a few days. > >"
Lois could hear Lucy's shout of horror in the background and smiled.
"< < Hi, honey, > >" Lois heard Ellen say. She must have picked up a second line.
"< < You just stay put. I don't want you getting yourself lost or killed trying to get here. > >"
Lois rolled her eyes. Mothers. "Yes, mother." It didn't help that Ellen's words had a ring of truth to it as Lois' still slightly painful forehead reminded her.
"< < Where are you again? Smalltown? > >"
"Smallville. Actually, I'm at a farm outside of Smallville. I never managed to get to the town." There was a moment of silence on the other end.
"< < Lois, dear, are you sure you're going to be all right there? > >" Lois could hear the concern in her father's voice.
Lois looked out the kitchen window to see Clark dragging a makeshift sled, loaded down with several bales of hay, toward one of the many outbuildings on the farm. Did she trust this man? She wasn't known for her trust in men, or anyone for that matter. But something about him just felt…right.
"Yes. I'm going to be perfectly fine." She couldn't imagine it being any other way.
"< < All the same, > >" her Mother said, "< < do you have a number where we can reach you? > >"
That was probably a good idea, Lois considered. She searched the front of the phone and found a number and read it off to them. After a few more moments of chatting, they bid each other farewell. That had been harder than she would have imagined.
Lois wandered out of the kitchen looking for the den that Clark had mentioned containing the TV and satellite receiver. As she walked around, she noticed a lot of pictures of Clark with two older people, presumably his parents, or just of the two older people. There were very few exceptions. Also notably absent were Christmas decorations of any kind. They were all thoughts to ponder later as she found a room that had to be the den.
There was, indeed, a television and satellite box, along with a VCR and full stereo system. The walls were covered with shelving, holding everything from books and magazines to CD's, videotapes and an occasional picture or knickknack. In one corner was a desk with an impressive computer system on it. It would seem that although Clark lived in the country, he liked having a high-tech connection to the rest of the world.
Lois browsed the shelves' contents casually, trying to pick up a sense of the person who had collected these things. She was surprised to find a wide range of topics, covering nearly everything imaginable—and some things that weren't. That was when she spotted a complete set of the "Adventures In…" books. In hardback, no less. Quickly, she pulled the first volume off the shelf and opened it up. Inside the front cover was a handwritten note from someone congratulating Clark on his first published book. There was also a piece of loose-leaf paper with another hand-written note about his first best seller.
"Oh my gosh! He *is* that Clark Kent!" What in the heck was an accomplished author like him doing out in the middle of nowhere feeding cows and chickens and plowing up the ground? She quickly counted the volumes in the series. "He's got, five best sellers here, and he's out dragging bales of dead grass around in the snow!" It was almost more than she could imagine.
She, herself, had always wanted to be that accomplished a writer. Her work for the Planet was satisfying, and she had numerous awards to show for her efforts. But to have a best seller, let alone five of them… She was going to have to ask him about this later. No way was she going to let him off the hook. She slipped the book back on the shelf and turned toward the television.
It only took her a minute or two to figure out the controls and get the satellite tuned to LNN. As she expected, the picture wasn't all that great, the snow no doubt hindering reception. The sound was coming in fine, however. She wondered if clearing some snow off the dish outside would make a difference. Her thoughts were interrupted by the news anchor.
"< < …existence of a 'Guardian Angel' has been a curiosity at best. Many believe there are logical reasons for every supposed sighting. Still, many people claim to have seen or to have been helped by a mysterious force during extreme crisis situations. This unknown benefactor was quickly named the Guardian Angel by the public at large. Experts have been at odds for months as to the validity of a true guardian angel. > >"
"< < Today, however, the mystery of the existence of a guardian angel has been solved. Or, at least proven to many people's satisfaction. As the rest of the mid-west huddled together indoors, away from the chilling blizzard that has gripped America's heartland, the sleepy little town of Burlington, Kansas was about to be thrust into the limelight. > >"
The screen switched to show a computer-generated map of Kansas with a little star labeled Burlington.
"< < Burlington, Kansas is the home of the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant that supplies enough energy to power a million homes across the mid-west. Late last night, ice build-up on the power grid and transformer stations threatened to shut the whole system down. Kevin Morris, of the local LNN affiliate in Wichita, reports. > >"
The scene changed to show stock footage of an aerial shot of the Wolf Creek power plant. The reporter's voice was obviously coming from over a phone.
"< < Last night, Wolf Creek officials were alerted to a potentially life-threatening situation as ice from the tremendous storms ravaging the Kansas landscape began building up on the power grid that supplies electricity to a large part of the mid-west. > >"
Again, the scene shifted, changing to a computer generated animation of the power plant.
"< < Ice began forming on the wires and structures that transport the electricity from the generation plant, out to the thousands of users across the countryside. The weight of this ice reached a critical point around midnight last night. Officials, meeting to determine what could be done, were notified the worst was beginning to happen. > >"
The animation on screen showed ice building up until the large steel structures started to buckle under the weight.
"< < The weight of the ice became too great for the surrounding structures to support any longer and began to slowly crumble. As officials watched security cameras in horror, their worst fears were being realized. And then, like an angel dropping from the sky, a miraculous savior came. Here, now, is footage taped by the power plant's security cameras. > >"
Lois couldn't believe it! Her story had been blown wide open on national television. Anger rose within her, only to be replaced with simple awe as she watched the video unfold. The pictures were small and grainy, but they clearly showed an individual seemingly dropping from the night sky, into the clearly lit area around the power grid.
This individual then grabbed the leaning transformer platform and lifted it back into place, pausing, then releasing the structure. She heard the reporter say that plant officials had confirmed that the structure had somehow been welded back into place, and that the platform weighed several hundred tons. Tons! And this person, or thing, had just lifted it like it weighed nothing! Then, as she watched, the ice appeared to be disappearing.
"< < Plant officials again confirmed that the ice was completely removed from the structures and wires, and that the power grid suffered no other damage. Just as quickly as the Angel appeared, it left again when the job was finished. Officials are now working on a contingency plan… > >"
The rest of the commentary was lost to Lois as her attention was immediately gripped by the individual in the video. As she watched, he had simply lifted off the ground and—floated away. Lois sat back and realized her mouth was open. Shocked, amazed, angry—scared. All these emotions ran though her. She knew there was a story there. Perry and the others had been reluctant to give in to her demands, but she had had a feeling about this 'Guardian Angel' thing, and it looked like she was right. Again.
Lois remembered seeing an atlas on the bookshelf. She retrieved it and opened it up to the Kansas map. She found Burlington quickly and was shocked at how close it was to Smallville. "It's practically in the backyard! Of all the rotten luck…" Her Jeep was buried under who knows how much snow, it was broken, and her chances of actually getting to Burlington in this weather were slim. "Just my luck. I'm practically on top of the story of the century and I'm landlocked."
Knowing journalism like she did, it wouldn't take long for someone to start digging into this story. If she were lucky, she'd be ahead of the pack with the research she had already done. Lois got up and retrieved her briefcase from the other room. The den had a large coffee table perfectly suited to hold her notes while she looked over the data.
After about an hour and a half, she had mapped out all the known occurrences of possible Guardian Angel activity. She sat back and immediately noticed the slightly heavier grouping of sightings in the mid-western section of the United States. Both coasts had activity, but not nearly as much as the innermost states. Also, most activity was related to rescues during natural phenomena—storms, earthquakes, that sort of thing. Next were man-made disasters. Until now, no one had any proof that an individual had been responsible for the miracles being reported. Eyewitness accounts had varied so much, they were largely blown off by the media. There had to be something she was missing.
She looked at her watch and realized how much time had gone by. Her stomach was politely reminding her that it was time for lunch back in Metropolis. The thought of more of Clark's home cooking caused her stomach to rumble with anticipation. Where was Clark anyway? Surely, he wasn't still outside in this weather? She got up and headed for the kitchen to see if she could see him out by the barn.
Clark opened the back door of the house just as Lois came into the kitchen. He looked up into her face and saw a beaming smile greeting him. His knees trembled and threatened to give out from under him. It was a sensation he was unused to. He could literally carry the weight of a mountain on his shoulders, and yet this small, beautiful creature before him made him weak. He returned her smile. "Hello! Were you beginning to think I'd gotten lost?"
"I admit I was beginning to get a little worried. I don't know that much about the weather around here or what happens on a farm, but you have been out in that cold for quite some time."
Clark had been taking his coat and gloves off, and had just turned around after kicking off his boot protectors. He came face to face with her. She had walked right up to him while his back was turned. He stood helpless as she took one of his hands in hers.
"Wow. Your hands are so warm. I was sure you would have frost bite or something." She looked at his hands as if to visually confirm they were all right.
Her touch ignited something deep within him, and his heart ached so much he thought his chest would burst. She looked up into his eyes. < Don't even think it, Clark > his inner voice warned. < She's going to be leaving soon. Besides, what if she starts to question you about your hands? She's an *investigative* reporter! >
"I—I had gloves on. And I was in the barn a lot of the time. It's warmer in there." He pulled his hand from hers slowly, still looking her in the eyes. He felt his face grow hot as he blushed. He quickly turned his eyes away from that face. In that instant, he knew it was too late to keep the inevitable pain away. She would leave, and he would be alone—again. It was better that way, wasn't it?
"I thought you might be getting hungry. It's about lunch time in Metropolis." Clark moved toward the pantry and opened the door. He heard Lois laugh behind him, the sound ingraining itself into his brain. He would never be able to forget that laugh now.
"Clark, you don't have to work so hard to please me. I'm fine."
"It's no problem, really. You are my guest. I want to make sure everything is all right." He turned back toward the table, a loaf of bread and some jars of homegrown canned vegetables in his hands. He noticed the table had been cleared. "Oh! Thanks, Lois. You didn't have to, I could have cleaned things up."
"No problem. You have done so much to help me, I felt like repaying you a little. What's for lunch? Need any help?"
He started to protest, but caught the look of disapproval on her face. "Well, you could set the table. I thought we would heat up some of the leftover stew, and have a sandwich with it. I've got some homemade pickles and some pickled vegetables if you would like."
"Sounds good to me." She turned and started opening cabinets, searching for bowls, plates, and silverware.
Clark began heating the stew on the stove. He could hear her movements behind him, but he didn't dare turn to look. He was afraid he would end up just gawking at her, and that would make him look foolish. The longer he was around her, the less in control he felt. He had to concentrate. Stay focused. All it would take would be one little slip, and she would pounce on it. Clark was sure of it. He had read some of her articles. He had seen first hand how she reacted on impulse. If he wasn't careful, he was doomed. Clark couldn't afford to let her get him off balance. Still, she was wonderful to be with.
After everything was ready, and they had eaten for a few moments in relative silence, he heard her clear her throat. He looked up at her questioningly.
"I was wondering," she said, "what the weather was like out there and if you thought it would be possible to go take a look at my Jeep."
Clark looked back down into his bowl, trying to hide the disappointment he was sure was on his face. "Well, it's not nearly as bad as it looks. I don't think it's snowing any longer. All that stuff in the air is just blowing around from somewhere else. I can get the tractor ready pretty quickly. I need to go and check on the cattle anyway."
"Great!" Lois looked at him intensely. "I just found out the most amazing news. Have you heard of the 'Guardian Angel'?"
< Oh no! Not that, anything but that! > his mind screamed. He continued to look at the food in his bowl. "I think I might have read a report or two about it."
"Not it, *him*!"
"Him?" Clark could feel his pulse rising. Could she really know anything?
"Him. He was captured on videotape at some nuclear power plant, Wolf something or other, **right here in Kansas**," she accented the last four words by jabbing her finger on the table with each word.
Clark felt the color drain from his face. "You're kidding." It was barely a whisper.
Lois didn't seem to notice, she was too excited. "Nope. It was all over LNN this morning. He floated down out of the sky, lifted that, that platform like it was made of cardboard," she stood up to pace around the kitchen. "He somehow welded the supports in place, *and* melted the ice. Then, he just—floated away again." Lois turned back to look at him.
Clark blinked. "Floated." She nodded her head at him. He had better try to see what he could do about this. He had just reacted last night, and he didn't think about any cameras. He stood up and gathered the dishes from the table and went to put them in the sink.
"How do you know it was this 'Guardian Angel'? How do you know it was a *him*?" Clark opened the refrigerator door and put the butter away.
"I just know! Who else would it have been? I've been researching these 'Guardian Angel' sightings for months! There was a big story there, I just felt it." She had become quite animated, and he could hear the passion and intensity in her voice. Just like he feared! Lois Lane was hot on his trail.
Lois continued pacing. "As for how I knew it was a him, well, the video was obvious. He had wide shoulders, a slim waist…" She turned to take in Clark's well-toned form. As she recited the physical traits of the person on the screen, she couldn't help but look at the accompanying part on the man in front of her. "Thick thighs, and a…" her voice was getting softer as she felt herself being drawn closer toward him.
Clark was busy putting items away in the cupboard and had his back to her. He noticed her voice getting softer, so he turned around. "Pardon?" He was nearly face to face with her again. She seemed to have a knack for sneaking up on him. A trait that made him nervous. She wasn't looking in his eyes this time, she was looking at his—
"…broad, muscular chest." She couldn't pull her eyes away from it. Before she knew it, her hands were laying on the very broad, muscular chest she had just been looking at. With a gasp, she looked up into Clark's face. He locked eyes with her, fear evident in his gaze. Lois felt her face redden instantly. "I'm— I'm sorry!" She jerked her hands away quickly and took a step back, then another one for good measure. "I'm sorry, I don't know what got into—"
Clark cleared his throat. At first, he had feared she had somehow found out. Now, he could see she was only embarrassed by her actions. He quickly tried to make her feel at ease. "No, don't worry, it's okay." He gave her a quick smile to back it up.
She seemed to relax a little. "Look, I, um. I sort of took over the coffee table in your den. I hope you don't mind. Research and all."
"I don't mind."
"Anyway, I was sort of using this trip to my sister's house to do some research on the 'Guardian Angel.' When the news came out this morning, I wanted to go back over my stuff. The media will be all over this, and I want to make sure no one steals *my* story."
"*My* story. I was the one who thought this was worth looking into when no one else thought so. I was the one who…" She stopped to look at Clark's grinning face. "Sorry. I'm a bit— intense at times."
"No problem. So, you want to get your Jeep working so you can continue working on your story." If he could get her Jeep working, then she might leave before she uncovered anything. This was great! So, why didn't he feel like it?
He watched her closely to see what her reaction would be to his next suggestion. "You could come with me in the tractor. We could check on the cattle, then go look for your Jeep." Why he was suggesting this, he didn't know. < Just get rid of her! > his mind was yelling. His heart was somehow in control now, however.
"Great idea! I'd love to be able to say I've ridden in a tractor. Well, I can already say that, but I want to be able to remember it this time."
They both laughed.
"The problem is your clothing," Clark said.
"What's wrong with them?" she was busy looking herself over.
"I don't think they are going to be warm enough. The coat I found you in isn't. And neither are the clothes I've seen you in so far. Did you bring anything else?"
"I have lots of clothes in the Jeep. Probably nothing as heavy as you think I'll need."
"Don't worry. You can wear some of my stuff. It will be a little big, but it will keep you warm. We'll go as soon as you can get ready."
"Great!" She flashed that wonderful smile at him again, and he couldn't help but smile back.
Lois sat on the bed as she tried to pull her jeans over the baggy thermal underwear Clark had loaned her. She didn't know if she had gained some weight, or if her jeans had shrunk, but it was not going well at all. Trying to cram her baggy-thermal-underwear clad legs into her too tight jeans was proving to be more difficult than she had imagined.
Clark had insisted that she wear them, explaining how layers of clothing were warmer. She knew that as well. But her jeans just were not made to hold both her leg and the copious amounts of the thermal underwear. Just when she thought she was going to make it, the underwear would bunch up and the feeling of the lump would drive her crazy. After about the tenth try, she finally got the jeans on to her satisfaction.
She picked up the flannel shirt Clark had given her to wear over her own clothes. Instinctively, she put it up to her nose and inhaled. She could smell the aromas that made up what she immediately identified as Clark Kent. She was shocked to find that she had closed her eyes and had spent several seconds just breathing in the manness of the clothing.
"Get a grip, Lane," she muttered as she put the shirt on and buttoned it up. She left it hanging loose; there was no way she was going to get all that extra cloth tucked into her already too tight jeans. She sat down and pulled on the spare galoshes that Clark had dug up from somewhere to keep her feet and shoes from getting wet. Outside, she heard the distinctive rumble of a diesel motor getting closer as Clark pulled the huge tractor up close to the house. Picking up the large, heavy coat, stocking cap and gloves Clark had also provided, she headed down the stairs and towards the kitchen door.
Clark waited by the back door for Lois. He had already resigned himself to the fact that she would be leaving soon. A part of him was relieved. The other wasn't so happy. Well, no sense in wasting time on it, wallowing in his emotions and self doubt. He would just act normally (whatever that meant) and enjoy her company while it lasted. He heard her coming down the steps.
"You look like you'll be warm enough," he said with just a hint of humor in his voice.
"I should be, with all these clothes on. I feel like that kid in the movie 'A Christmas Story.' You know the one who can't put his arms down because his Mom has so many clothes on him?"
Clark laughed. "It's not that bad. Besides, once that wind hits you, you'll be glad I insisted." He opened the door for her and motioned her outside. He closed the door behind him, and grabbed her just under the arm, guiding and steadying her as they made their way through the snow to the tractor.
He climbed up the ladder and opened the door, then reached down behind him to offer her his hand as she climbed up the ladder after him. He made his way into the cabin, and sat down on the seat, and waited for her to get in as well. Once she was inside, he told her where to sit, and then he shut the door.
"Oh, God, it's cold out there. I take back every bad thing I said while I was getting dressed," Lois said as she rubbed her hands together.
Clark put the tractor into gear and drove out the driveway and down the road, heading east. "I need to check on the cattle first, I hope you don't mind."
"No, not at all. It's your farm, after all. If I happen to lose my story to someone else because we were too busy breaking up ice while the world was scrambling to find out more about the 'Guardian Angel,' then I'll just have to come back and kill you."
She had said it in such a casual manner that for an instant, Clark wasn't sure if she was kidding or not.
Lois' little laugh gave her away, however.
"Don't worry, I won't kill you. Maim you maybe. Cause you to forever regret the day you stood in Lois Lane's path toward her ultimate achievement in journalistic history most likely."
Clark interrupted. "If you're really that anxious to be on your way, I can get my neighbor to check on the cattle." He was a bit snappier in his comment than he meant to be. He reached up and grabbed the mic of the CB radio mounted from the ceiling of the cab.
Lois looked shocked. "Oh, no! I'm sorry, I was just kidding. Mostly. I admit, I'm—paranoid that someone will beat me to my story. It's from a lesson I learned a long time ago in the business. Sometimes I go a little over the top when I'm chasing down a story."
Clark sighed, and put the mic back in its holder. "I'm sorry I snapped at you like that. I'm not used to dealing with—" he took a quick glance in her direction, "—people."
"High-strung, emotional, impulsive, big-city people, you mean?" Lois made sure to put the right amount of humor in her voice.
"Right," Clark smiled.
"By the way, I've got a bone to pick with you," Lois suddenly shot at him.
"Yes, Mr. Best Seller."
"Oh, that." His tone of voice mirrored the fact that he didn't think it was that important.
"Yes, that! How could you keep something like that from me?"
"Keep it from you? I didn't keep it from you, I told you I did some traveling and some writing."
"But we're talking about you being a best selling writer. Not just once, but *five* times!" She held up her gloved hand as if to show him just how many five of something was.
"It's not that big a deal—"
"Not that big a deal!?!? Are you kidding? I'd kill to be that accomplished a writer! Just one best seller, let alone five."
Clark looked up at the wonder in her voice. "Lois, the truth is, those books were my form of therapy. I needed something to do to keep my mind off the loss of my parents. I don't care what the rest of the world thinks about them. They served their purpose for me, and that's all I care about."
They rode along in silence for a while. Clark started to feel guilty, thinking he was a bit too heavy handed in his dismissal of her excitement over his books. He sighed heavily to himself. "Anyway, you're no stranger to things like this. You have millions of people reading what you write every single day. I know you have a few Kerth awards, too."
"You know about those? Oh, right, you have a journalism degree. Well, on some level, I know my articles are read my millions everyday. But, everyday, those same millions throw it away, or use it in a bird cage or something." She could just hear Perry's voice reciting all the things people use a newspaper for, whenever he felt a reporter was getting a little too big headed. His speech never failed to bring people back down to earth.
"The Kerths are worth a few hours in the lime-light, and then they sit on a shelf gathering dust, everyone forgetting who won them a month afterwards."
Clark laughed. "What do you think happens to best sellers? They end up on people bookshelves, collecting dust, forgotten after a month or so."
"That's not true," Lois immediately answered.
"Sure it is. What was the best seller last month, and who wrote it?" Clark challenged.
Lois thought for a moment, but couldn't remember. She was unwilling to admit she was wrong, however. "People would remember your books more if you included an author photo of yourself in your books. I noticed none of yours have that."
Clark looked back out the windshield of the tractor. That had been his decision. His editor and publisher had fought him over that for quite some time, but he was insistent—no photos. He wanted to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
Not noticing his reluctance to talk about it, Lois plunged on. "After all, I bet you'd sell even more books with that gorgeous face on the cover." She was immediately shocked the words had actually escaped her mouth. She quickly looked down to see if he'd heard. His wide grin, and rose-colored cheeks told her he had.
Desperate to change the subject and smooth over her verbal slip, Lois looked out the window of the door, down at the ladder. "Clark?"
"How in the world did you manage to get me into this cab the other night?" She turned to look at him expectantly.
Clark kept his eyes focused out the window in front of him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, I'm not that heavy, but I'm not that light either. I know how hard it was for me to climb up that little ladder, hold the door open, and scoot inside. You would have had to carry me up that ladder."
"Well, yes, I—I suppose I did carry you."
"What do you mean? I carried you—with my arms."
Lois rolled her eyes. "No need to get all defensive about it, I was just wondering. I mean, did you sling me over your shoulder, or what? It couldn't have been easy," she looked down at the ladder again. "You look like a strong guy, but still."
This was getting into uncomfortable territory again. "To be honest, Lois, I'm not sure how I did it. One minute, I was picking you up off the frozen road, the next, I had you lying on my couch at home under a bunch of quilts." That was more or less how it had happened. He had just reacted when he had seen her.
"Getting back down must have been a real struggle."
Clark needed to change the subject. "Actually, lugging your bags around was worse. What is it with women that they can't pack light?"
He could tell by the fire and laughter in her eyes he had succeeded.
"Oh my gosh! Somebody buried my Jeep!"
After they had checked on the cattle, they had stopped back by the farmhouse so Clark could attach a snowblade to the large tractor. From there, it had taken little time to go the three miles down the road to where Lois' Jeep was stranded. Sure enough, her Jeep was just barely visible under a large mound of snow.
"Well, I think Mother Nature had something to do with it, but I also think the County's been through here at least once with the snowplows."
"What am I going to do now?"
Clark could see the hurt and desperation in Lois' eyes as she looked to him for help. At that moment, he would have moved mountains to make her happy. Luckily for him, all she wanted was her Jeep removed. That he could handle, and even keep his secret safely protected at the same time.
"Don't worry. I'll use the blade on the tractor to move away most of the snow. Then we'll hook a strap on and pull it out. It shouldn't be a problem." He was rewarded with a look of hope that said she had total confidence in his abilities to get her out of the situation she was in.
"What can I do?" Lois knew she needed help, but wasn't about to let Clark do everything himself.
"Well, after I get most of the snow moved out of the way with the tractor, you can grab one of the spare shovels and start shoveling."
For the next ten minutes, Clark skillfully maneuvered the large tractor with a finesse that Lois wasn't sure she would have been capable of believing if she hadn't seen it herself. In no time, Clark had managed to nearly free her Jeep from its frozen grave. He pulled the tractor fully up on the roadway and parked it.
"Now, all we have to do is use a little man-power to get rid of the rest."
"And woman-power," Lois added as she opened the door of the tractor and climbed down the ladder. Her feet crunched loudly on the packed snow of the roadway. Clark landed beside her and then pulled out two shovels he had stashed when they had stopped at the farm earlier.
Together they made their way down to the Jeep and began clearing the snow away from the driver's side and the front. Clark, being taller, also removed as much snow from the roof of the vehicle as he could.
After about ten minutes of shoveling in silence, Lois held up her hand. "Time…out." She was out of breath. Before, she was cold, now she was sweating. She leaned on the fender of her Jeep and unbuttoned the heavy coat she was wearing.
"Whoa! Am I out of shape or what?" Lois looked at Clark and noticed he looked perfectly normal. He didn't appear to be sweating and his cheeks weren't even rosy, like she knew hers were.
"How do you do it, Clark?"
"Do what?" He continued shoveling snow from in front of the Jeep. They nearly had it free now.
"I'm over here sweating up a storm now, out of breath," she put her hands on her cheeks, "and my cheeks are probably a nice color of red. You, on the other hand, don't even look out of breath."
Clark tossed the last shovel full of snow away from the Jeep and then turned to her and shrugged. "I'm used to it, I guess. I've lived here all my life." The deflecting was becoming easier and easier. Still, he knew it would only be a matter of time before Lois found out, about him. If she stayed. Which she wasn't.
"Oh. Lucky you."
Clark could feel her eyes on him. "I'm going to go get the tow straps. We should have you out of here in no time." He turned around quickly and made his way out of the ditch toward the tractor.
Lois couldn't put her finger on it, but something strange had just happened. One minute, Clark would be all friendly and carefree. The next, he would be quiet, and withdrawn. Maybe that was just the way people acted out here in the wilds of Mid-America.
Clark returned and disappeared under the front of her Jeep, a large strap in one hand. He began digging the snow out from under the bumper, so Lois bent down to join him. After they had cleared out enough snow for Clark to secure the strap to the frame of the Jeep, he got up.
"Well, that should do it. I think it would be safest if you got back in the tractor with me. That way, if the strap breaks, no one will get hurt."
"Sounds good to me."
They climbed back out of the ditch and Clark let Lois go up the ladder first. He settled himself in the drivers seat, then backed the tractor into the ditch, just in front of the Jeep.
"Excuse me, Lois." He moved past her, his body making multiple points of contact with hers. It was impossible not to, considering the limited size of the cab.
Lois watched Clark go around behind the tractor towards the other end of the strap that was tied to her Jeep. Being this close to him was intoxicating at times. She felt her eyes lock onto him as she admired the way the denim stretched over his backside. Lois thought of her earlier conversation with Lucy. "Oh, Clark. You do look good in Wranglers."
Lois was shocked and embarrassed to see that Clark's head had turned around and he was looking straight at her. She quickly turned around and looked out the front windshield. He couldn't have heard her. He *couldn't* have. He must have had that strange feeling people get when they think someone is watching them. Like she had right now. She took a quick glance over her shoulder to see that Clark was indeed looking at her. He quickly lowered his head and then he hooked the strap to the tractor.
Seconds later, he was brushing past her, causing her to tingle everywhere they touched yet again. He settled into the driver's seat and put the tractor in gear.
"Here we go. Watch your Jeep, and make sure everything is all right. I'll pull slowly. Once we get it on the road, you're going to have to ride in it while we pull it into town."
"So you can steer it and keep it from falling in the ditch again." His features took on a worried look. "Unless there's something wrong with the steering. Then we'll have to go into town and see if we can find a wrecker. We'll deal with that once we have it out."
They both turned to watch as Clark slowly inched the large machine forward, gently taking up the slack in the strap, and then steadily pulling on the Jeep. At first, it didn't appear that anything was happening. The silver Jeep appeared permanently attached to the surrounding snow, as it stubbornly refused to move. Then, with a lurch, it broke free, and the tractor easily pulled it up onto the road.
Lois shouted with joy and gave Clark a big hug. "Thank you."
"What do you mean, not till after Christmas!? I haven't got time to wait on you to get the stupid parts! I've got a story to get! I've…I've got family to meet!" Lois threw her hands in the air and stomped off.
Clark, who was standing next an equally shell-shocked auto repairman, watched her storm out of the garage that he had pulled her Jeep to. After a moment to gather his wits, he turned to the mechanic. "Sorry about that, Steve. I think she's just a little high-strung."
The middle-aged man turned to him and smiled. "You've picked up a feisty one there, you did. I'd bet money she's from back east somewhere. She's got an eastern accent. Big city girl."
"Don't get much bigger than that. Don't worry too much about it. Like I said, I'd fix it if I could. It'll take a while for the parts to make it here from Wichita, or Emporia. Especially with the snow and all."
"I understand. I'll see if I can talk to her."
The older gentleman grunted. "Good luck!"
Clark walked outside to find Lois babbling and pacing in front of the garage. He just stood back and watched her for a moment. He never would have thought that she would have had such a temper! And strangely enough, it didn't change the way he saw her. Here was an independent, intelligent, passionate woman who lived in a different world from him. He felt this irresistible pull to get to know her better.
Lois had noticed Clark watching her, and she stopped sort. This whole mess wasn't their fault, only hers. She realized what she must look like to them, and regretted losing her temper. At the time, it had felt good to release some of the pent up frustrations. Now, however, she could only imagine what these simple people thought of her. That's how she viewed them, anyhow. Simple people. She sighed and walked up to Clark.
"Sorry. Blew a gasket, I guess. I should go apologize to the mechanic."
"Don't worry about it. I just told him you were a high-strung, emotional, impulsive, big-city person. He understood immediately."
"You're terrible," Lois whacked him on the arm. "Owwww. And solid too." Lois rubbed her hand as she smiled at him.
"So, do you want me to take you to the motel so you can get a room?"
Lois' smile faded. "Ahhhh…" She wasn't sure she wanted to do that. Sure, a minute ago she was ranting about getting her story. Now, when faced with the fact that she would be going away, leaving Clark's company, she could feel herself waffling. < This is crazy, Lois. He's a farmer, you're an investigative reporter after the story of the century. *Investigate*! > "Sure. Lead on."
Even though he knew what the answer had to be, it still hurt just a tiny little bit. Clark tried to tell himself he knew this was going to happen, but it didn't matter. He tried to be rational about it, explaining to himself that the longer she stayed, the more danger his secret would be in. It didn't matter. Deep down, it hurt.
Wanda looked up when she heard the doorbell jingle. She was surprised to see anyone out in this weather. Although it wasn't snowing any longer, there was still a large amount of the stuff clogging up the roads. She immediately recognized Clark when he walked in, but who was with him?
"Hey, Clark! How's things around your place?"
"Hello, Wanda. Things are fine." He stopped in front of the counter, the woman at his side. Wanda took a quick assessing glance at her. "What can I do for you?"
"I need a room. My Jeep is in the shop, and I'm stranded until it can be repaired. Clark picked me up and brought me to town."
"Oh, that sounds just like Clark," Wanda said to Lois, not failing to notice how Clark's cheeks reddened slightly. "Mr. Boy Scout is what we call him around here."
Everyone laughed as Wanda pulled out the guest book. "I just happen to have one room left. It's normally $49.95 a night, but since you're a friend of Clark's here, you can have it for $30 a night."
"Thanks!" Lois pulled out her credit card, and began to fill out the form Wanda had handed her.
"Lois, I'm going to go over to Steve's and get your luggage."
"All right, thanks. Oh! I've left all my other stuff at your house. My research is still there."
He had thought that he would be saying good-bye to her here, in public. It would have been easier that way. He had prepared himself for a quick break. The thought of her coming back to his house made him nearly sick. The idea of postponing the inevitable was unbearable. "I can always bring your stuff back to you." He started backing toward the door. "It's no problem. You can just stay here and get comfortable." He exited before she could say anything else.
"But—" And he was gone. Lois looked down at herself. < What about your clothes? > She looked up at Wanda, who looked like she hadn't witnessed anything out of the ordinary. "Is he always like that?"
"Who, Clark? Oh, sure. He's a wonderful man, and great looking, but a bit on the strange side." Wanda watched the retreating figure out the front window. "If I was about fifteen years younger…" she said wistfully. "Ah, well. Everyone knows Clark's a loner. It's not from lack of trying by the female population of Smallville, either." She handed Lois a key to her room.
"What do you mean? Doesn't he have a girlfriend?"
"No," Wanda shook her head, a note of sadness in her voice. "Clark's a bachelor in every sense of the word. He's one of the nicest, friendliest people you'll ever meet. Always there for his fellow man, helping in any way he can. And yet, he's one of the most private persons I've ever met. Doesn't get too close to anyone and doesn't let anyone get too close to him." Wanda shuffled the paperwork in her hands as she talked. "I'm surprised he's still around, actually. I've always thought he was looking for something he couldn't find here in Smallville. He left for a while, but came back when his parents—" She let the sentence trail off.
"Yes, he told me about them." Lois looked out the window for a moment. Just who was Clark Kent? She had this burning desire to find out, but it seemed like he wanted her to get a motel room. He *wanted* her to get a motel room. Why? He seemed to be looking for something he couldn't find in Smallville, and yet he had stayed here after his parents had died. Why? A man as obviously as good looking and friendly as Clark was a loner. Why? Lois' thoughts were interrupted by the jingling of the door opening.
Wanda waved at the new visitor. "Hello, Mrs. Cooper! How are things? What brings you out on a day like today?"
A slightly plump, older woman and three round-faced children literally scurried over to the counter. "Oh, Wanda, please tell me you have a room. Our water main broke and Harry's trying to get it fixed, but the house is a mess. I told him to get Mr. Krumly to come look at it, but he insists on doing it himself. Water's gotten everywhere."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Cooper, I just rented my last room."
"Oh, no. Really?" The woman sighed heavily.
"On second thought, Wanda, I won't be needing a room." Lois handed her the key back.
"What?" Wanda looked a little startled.
"They can have my room. I'm going to be staying with Clark."
Lois laughed at the look of surprise on the women's faces. "I'm sure he won't mind. Besides, there are some things about Clark Kent that I'm just dying to find out about."
"But—but—Ms.—" Wanda looked down at the paperwork to get her name, "—Lane. Clark's such a…private person. Are you sure you will be, um…"
The woman nodded her head.
"Why not? I spent last night there. He made me feel *more* than welcome then," Lois said huskily. She couldn't help it, the little devil in her just wanted to milk this for all it was worth. The two women's mouths were hanging open, and the look on their faces was priceless.
"Mrs. Cooper, you are more than welcome to my room. Merry Christmas."
Clark walked in at that moment, carrying several of her bags. He looked up to see Lois smiling at him widely. He looked over her shoulder to see Mrs. Cooper and Wanda looking at him with open mouths and wide eyes. Even the normally rowdy bunch of Cooper children was staring at him.
"Um, hello Mrs. Cooper; kids." He looked questionably at Lois.
"Clark, Mrs. Cooper's house has a ruptured water main. I gave them my room, since there weren't any others left and I figured I could stay with you." Lois walked over and slipped her arm through his.
At first, she was afraid he was going to protest. She saw something almost like fear flash across his features. He looked back and forth between Mrs. Cooper and her for several seconds.
"Besides, I need access to a computer. I want to log onto the the Internet and gather some more information for my story. I noticed you had a computer in your den. Do you have Internet access out here?"
"Ahhh… Sure. I…um, I—you can log into the net from my house. Okay, Lois. No problem, you can stay as long as you need."
"Guess you won't have to go get my stuff after all. Plus, I can give you back your underwear."
A small squeak escaped from one of the women, and Clark looked back over at them with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Let me help you get my stuff out to your tractor." Lois took a couple of bags from him. "Will this stuff all fit in the cab?"
"I'm sure we can work out something." Clark turned to the other women again. "Thanks for everything, Wanda. Mrs. Cooper, hope you get everything fixed before Christmas. Kids, be good, I hear Santa's been seen around here lately."
The looks they were giving him hadn't changed. It was a little disconcerting, but Lois tugged on his arm and he quickly forgot about them.
Outside, Clark noticed Lois was laughing. "What's so funny?"
"I'm sorry, Clark. I think I may have damaged your reputation back there. Can you ever forgive me?"
Clark had no idea what she was talking about, but her laughter was infectious and he was sure he could forgive nearly anything she might have done. Besides, he had bigger problems on his hands. He was going to be spending quite a bit of time with someone who could bring his life to an end if he wasn't careful. Not to mention the fact that she was incredibly wonderful to be with. He was in trouble, he was sure of it.
(Saturday, December 23, 1995, 4:18 p.m. CST)
Lois came downstairs after changing out of the clothes that Clark had loaned her, and made her way into the den. Clark was out putting the tractor away, and checking on things around the farm. She had asked him if she could use the computer and he had, naturally, agreed. He had given her a quick summary of how to log on to his ISP, and jotted down his password for her. She was a bit surprised by his level of trust, but it seemed to fit him.
She turned on Headline-LNN to see if there were any more reports of the 'Guardian Angel.' The computer bleeped at her, letting her know it was done booting and ready. She quickly figured out how to get onto Clark's ISP, and was soon checking her email at the Daily Planet. She sent Jimmy a silent thank you for pressuring Perry and the rest of the IT staff into upgrading the systems. She noticed with satisfaction a note from Perry titled "Good Job. Again."
Headline-LNN didn't have any new information, and from the poking around she had done online, it seemed no one else had any information either. So far, she was still ahead of the pack. She shut the computer down and turned to look at the bookshelves again. Her eye was drawn to Clark's "Adventure's In…" series and she slipped the first volume off the shelf and sat down to thumb through it.
It covered Europe, and before she knew it, she had become engrossed in Clark's writing style. His easy mannered, casual writing style felt comfortable and made the reading easy. Glimpses of his humor shined through from time to time, and Lois could almost hear his voice reading the words on the page to her.
The books were billed as narrative travel guides, but now Lois could see they were almost a manuscript of Clark's travels. His easy going style made them a fun read, and he included just enough hard facts and important information to make them truly useful as well as entertaining. It was these attributes that caused them to be such good sellers.
Lois closed the book and tried to imagine what it would have been like to travel the world and see the things Clark had seen. It certainly didn't fit with his mild-mannered, farmer facade he was wearing now. Again she wondered why he was still here in Kansas, especially after experiencing the rest of the world and what it had to offer.
Before she could contemplate it too much longer, she heard Clark calling her name. She got up, put the book on the shelf and went out to find him. She located him in the kitchen, poking around in the pantry.
"Getting hungry?" he asked as he glanced over his shoulder at her. "It's gotten really late. I'm sorry I didn't get us something to eat sooner."
"Actually, I hadn't noticed what time it was. I was reading one of your books."
Clark turned to look at her. "Oh? Which one?"
"Europe. It's fascinating to read about your adventures."
Clark grimaced. "I wouldn't call them adventures, myself. That was the publisher's decision. Marketing call."
"I think it fits. I can almost see you there, living those events. Your writing style is very nice."
"Thanks." He seemed a bit uncomfortable.
"Ah! You don't think you are as good a writer as everyone keeps telling you."
Lois waved her hand at him. "I do that all the time. I'm constantly finding faults with what I write. Part of it's just the perfectionist in me. I want everything to be just right. The other is the insecure side of me. The side that says, just this once, I wish I could have got it right."
Clark grinned at her and she knew she had figured him out.
"That's pretty much it. I was never really sure people liked what I wrote. I mean, I know my books are classified as 'best sellers,' but I didn't know if people *really* liked them."
"So, what's for supper?" Lois moved over to lean against the counter next to Clark.
"Well, I was just looking to see what I had. I can whip up some hash—"
One look at Lois' face was enough for Clark. "Can the hash, huh?"
"Sorry," Lois shook her head. "It's just sounds—I dunno."
Clark laughed. "Don't worry about it. I have some chili in the freezer. It shouldn't take too long to heat up."
"After a day like today, chili sounds good."
Clark got the container out of the freezer and put its contents into a large pan on the stove. "Do you mind getting into that cabinet behind you and getting a couple of bowls?"
Lois turned around and opened the cabinet door. Behind her, she heard Clark putting some silverware on the table.
"So, Lois. What exactly happened at the motel, and why should I be concerned about my reputation?"
Lois and Clark entered the den together after cleaning up the kitchen. "Why don't you tell me about your travels, Clark?" Lois sat down on the couch and looked up at him expectantly.
Clark sat down next to her. "Why don't you just buy my books and read about them yourself?" he said with a teasing look in his eye.
"Oh, I plan on reading more of them. I just wanted to hear it from you. I could almost hear you speaking earlier when I was reading. I just want to hear your voice," she said honestly.
Her sincerity caused him to pause. Hear his voice? Why? Was she looking for something in it? He cast a quick glance at her research, which was still spread out from her earlier work. What did she have on him?
"I'll tell you what. You tell me about this 'Guardian Angel' you're chasing, and I'll tell you about some of my travels."
Lois was taken back with surprise. She hadn't expected him to want tit-for-tat. It didn't fit with the image she had built up of him as this unselfish, caring, wonderful, giving man. Could she be wrong: again? "What do you want with my research?" she said a little hotly.
"Whoa! Calm down. I only wanted to get to know *you* better. I read your columns from time to time. I—I'm curious. About you, about how you work. What goes into investigating a big story for one of the biggest newspapers—"
"*The* biggest newspaper" Lois shot at him.
"—the biggest newspaper in the world. I was a journalism major, after all. I never got to practice my craft much, but I—" he had to clear his throat, "I want to know."
Lois could hear just the slightest hint of sadness in his voice. He had dropped out of the journalism field to come home to work on the farm. She did everyday what he thought he would be doing. Looking back on it, she realized it was silly and wrong of her to automatically assume Clark had ulterior motives. What did she expect him to do? Sleep with her, then take her story and run? Not everyone was like Claude. She looked in Clark's eyes. Clark wasn't like that.
"Sorry. Automatic defense mechanisms. I've had a story or two taken from me before. I tend to be a bit territorial. Didn't mean to bite your head off."
"No problem. That's the nice thing about the books I write. No one is going to steal my story. No one is going to beat me to it, or take it away from me. It's my story. It's— It's *me*."
Lois turned to him, grabbing his hands in hers. "That's why I wanted to hear it from you. To try to experience it *with* you."
They sat that way for a few precious moments. Hands and eyes locked with each other.
With great effort, Clark tore his eyes away from her. "So, what do you say? If you show me yours, I'll show you mine?" He looked back at her, and Lois noticed the gleam was back in his eyes.
Lois laughed out loud, then captured his eyes with her own again. "Careful what you ask for, farmboy. You just might get it," she said softly.
She watched in fascination as the redness spread quickly from his cheeks, up to the tips of his ears and down his throat, disappearing below the collar of his shirt.
Clark cleared his throat and gently pulled his hands free. Control. He needed to control this—this situation; himself. If he didn't have control, he would be floating six inches off the ground and then where would he be? For a split second, he was tempted to do it anyway. Then the voice of his father sounded in his head, and he pushed the temptation away.
Lois was about to burst with curiosity over his reaction. One minute, Clark would be open, free and good-natured. His relaxed, humorous mood coming very close to what Lois thought was the real Clark Kent. Then, suddenly, he would become quiet, introverted, and moody. It was as if he was at war with himself over something. She wanted so desperately to find out what it was, but realized that pushing too hard would only do more harm than good.
Lois patted his knee, then turned to her research. She filled him in on all the sightings she had record of. Then she showed him her maps and how the concentration of sightings was grouped to the interior of the country. Finally, she showed him the breakdown on the type of emergency.
"I ought to add the latest sighting," Lois said as she put a marker on the map in Kansas. "It's so close to here, and yet so far. I'd give anything to be there, looking for clues."
She'd noticed Clark had grown quiet, and she turned to look at him. His features were completely neutral, and yet she could almost see the wheels spinning in his head.
"What are you thinking, Clark?"
"What? Oh, nothing." He tried to act casual. Actually, he was thinking quite a bit. Lois had pretty much mapped out the majority of his more significant rescue activities. And he could definitely see the pattern she had seen. He also saw another pattern. Possessing the inside knowledge he had helped, but it was surprising to find that he was beginning to become involved and interested in her investigation. Logically, he should be scared silly, trying everything he could to keep her away from her research and get her off his farm as soon as possible. Somehow, logical thinking and Lois Lane didn't seem to go together where he was concerned.
"What is it? You see something, don't you? Something I've missed." Lois looked back at the map again, staring at the markers, willing them to make sense to her. Then she saw it. It slowly took shape, and then it was there.
"The times! It's the times, isn't it?!"
Clark was impressed. "You're good." Maybe too good?
"You saw it first, didn't you?"
"Most of these happen in the early evenings, and at night. Almost all the rescues occur where it's dark." Lois stood up and started pacing. "They move from the East Coast to the West Coast, just as the night does."
Clark just sat there and watched her, mesmerized.
"But why? That video of the power plant. The 'Guardian Angel' was wearing dark clothing. Maybe even black. It almost looked like he was wearing a hood." She stopped and turned to Clark. "It's obvious he wants to hide himself. My only question is why?"
"Why?" Clark repeated. "I think it's obvious! He, or she," he ignored the fact that Lois was shaking her head, "wants to remain anonymous. They don't want anyone to know who they are."
Lois sat back down on the couch. "But why? What has *he* got to hide? If he can do these incredible things, and he's obviously here to help, why hide?"
"How do you know he's here to help?"
Lois pointed to the map. "Just look at what he's been doing for the past year or more. Helping people in need."
"Maybe he's afraid of what people would do to him, once they found out about him."
"Oh, that's ridiculous. What are they going to do? Lock him up?"
"How about digging into every nook and cranny of his life. Trying to find out what makes him tick. Cart him off to a lab somewhere and dissect him like a—"
"You're kidding, right?"
Clark looked at her seriously. "No. Look at how determined *you* are to get some answers. There are a lot of other people who aren't as ethical as you are in going about getting what they want."
Reluctantly, Lois agreed. "True. But dissecting him—"
"Don't you think the public would wonder how this person could do the things he can do? Think about it. What would the government do if someone who could bench press mountains showed up?"
Lois squirmed under Clark's gaze. "I don't know, exactly."
They sat there looking at the map for a few, quiet moments.
Lois turned to look at Clark. "You're good at this."
"Investigating. Asking questions. Thinking logically about things before you just jump in. I, on the other hand, just jump in."
"Ah. Back to those dangerous tendencies of yours again." Clark smiled at her. "It's a wonder you're still alive."
"Oh, believe me, I've had my share of close shaves. Some a little too close. Perry keeps telling me to take it easy, but every time I pull in another exclusive, I know he's excited."
"Still, couldn't hurt to take it easy now and then." He put his hand over hers. "I'd hate to read the Daily Planet one morning, expecting to see a story of yours, only to read your obituary." He gave her hand a little squeeze. "It would be unbearable to know I'd lost a good friend like that."
Lois nearly melted at his touch. If he had asked her to start reporting only on dog shows and club activities at that point she might have agreed. To think that he thought of her as a friend! She knew that he didn't have many friends, even though he was one of the friendliest people she had ever met. For some reason, Clark Kent had distanced himself from people. She, too, felt like calling him a friend, which was a lot since she herself didn't exactly have a lot of friends either.
"Thanks, Clark. I think of you as a good friend, too."
"Now, I guess it's my turn." Clark leaned back in the couch to get comfortable. "What would you like to know?"
Lois let herself relax against the opposite arm of the couch. "I don't know, why don't you tell me about the first trip you took?"
"To Borneo? Okay. It was actually there that I wrote my first story, for the Borneo Gazette…"
(Sunday, December 24, 1995, 8:43 a.m. CST)
Lois yawned and stretched her whole body, from head to toe. Oh, that felt good! She hadn't felt so good in a long time. She opened her eyes and blinked a few times. Clark had told stories of his travels well into the night and the next morning. They hadn't gone to bed until around 2:30 a.m. and even then, Lois couldn't stop her mind from thinking about all the things he had told her.
She had been right. Hearing his voice had made all the difference in the world. He had really seemed to relax as he got into telling her about his time abroad. It was almost magical how he seemed to make things come alive for her. She was going to have to mention to him something about making some book tapes. With a face like that and those soft, sensual tones, he could make a fortune! Lois made her way into the attached bathroom and got ready for the day.
She went downstairs after getting ready. Once again, she found Clark in the kitchen, his head in the pantry. She laughed out loud.
Hearing her laugh, Clark turned to smile at her. "Good morning! Sleep well? Sorry I kept you up so late."
"Good morning, Clark." Lois couldn't help it, she felt like she was bubbling inside with good feelings.
"My, you're in a good mood. What's so funny?"
"It seems that every time I'm looking for you, I find you in the kitchen, looking in the pantry or the refrigerator, about to cook me a meal."
Clark laughed. "No cooking this morning, sorry."
"Awwww." Lois pouted just a little.
"Don't give me that look. I've got some bagels and cream cheese. Want one?"
Lois sighed heavily. "If I can't have any of your wonderful cooking, I guess the bagels will have to do." She filled her glass with orange juice. "Aren't you going to eat?"
"Sorry, I've already eaten. I had to get out earlier to, um, check the animals." He went to the kitchen sink and rinsed off some dishes and put them on a drying rack.
"Oh. Guess I slept too late." She was a bit disappointed he hadn't waited for her. Then again, she couldn't expect him to hang around her like a puppy.
"Sorry about that. I get carried away sometimes when I talk about things."
"It's all right. I loved hearing about it. You should do some book tapes. You have the voice for it."
Clark seemed to think about it for a moment. "I dunno—"
Here we go again, thought Lois. Anything that might imply a more public image, and he gets all wishy-washy. Time to push just a little bit more.
"I noticed you don't have a book on America yet. Did you do much traveling here in the States?"
"Yes. After my Dad got sick, I tried to stick closer to home." Clark sat down at the table to join her. "I'm working on a book about America right now, as a matter of fact."
"Great! You know, you could do a book tour with it. Stop in several of the places you talk about in the book. It would be good PR."
Clark had started shaking his head at the words "book tour." "You sound like my publisher and editor. No, no book tours. I don't care if the book sells."
"Oh. Yeah, right," Lois said sarcastically. "Just last night you told me you wondered if people really liked your books. Here's your chance to find out."
He was silent as he looked at her. "You're amazing."
Lois looked questioningly at him. "What?"
"I said you're amazing. And you're so right. I do wonder if people like my stories. It's just—I'm not comfortable around a lot of people." He shifted in his chair. "I can't believe you've got me considering this."
"Don't push it. I'm thinking about it."
"You could stop in Metropolis." < And stop by to see me while you're there. > Lois thought.
Lois dropped her fork. "Why not!"
"You said to stop at sites I'd have in the book," Clark shrugged. "I've never been to Metropolis."
"Why didn't I? I don't know. It just seemed so—big. So busy. Just never made it there."
Lois put her hand to her forehead. "This is unbelievable. You've been to every major city on every major continent. You've even been to some of the most backwater parts of the smallest countries. And yet, as well traveled as you are, you've *never* been to the biggest city in America, no, in the world?!"
Clark held out his hands in front of himself. "So sue me, I'm sorry," he laughed. "I never had a reason to go before."
Clark looked at her, his eyes scanning her up and down. "Now— now I have a reason to."
"Good." Lois popped the last bite of bagel into her mouth. Round one — Lois. "So, what's the plan for today?"
"Well, I need to go out and restock some feeders, check on the fence, and make sure the snow didn't drift up enough for the cattle to walk over…"
Lois laughed. "In other words, farm stuff."
"Farm stuff. It's going to be cold, hard, monotonous work. Just the kind of thing I live for."
"And the kind I don't, sorry."
Clark laughed this time. "I thought you might be enthusiastic about it. I figured you'd want to spend some time online, do some research, talk to relatives, whatever. I plan on being back around one o'clock or so." He got up to take care of the dirty dishes.
"All right. I'd offer to fix you lunch, but I'm not sure if oatmeal would cut it or not."
Lois looked down sheepishly. "It's about the only thing I know how to cook. I'm pretty much a disaster in the kitchen."
Clark grabbed his coat and put it on. "Maybe I can teach you how to make something quick and easy at lunch time."
"Oh, no, you don't want to do that."
"Sure! I'd be a terrible friend if I let you go back to the concrete jungle without any survival skills."
There that word was again: friend. As Lois watched Clark's retreating form from the kitchen window, she decided she liked the sound of that word. Friend.
True to his word, as if Lois expected anything else, Clark showed up a little before one o'clock. She heard him come in the back door, and went to meet him in the kitchen. The urge to tuck that little lock of hair that hung down over his forehead surfaced again. "So! Get everything done?"
"Yep. Now I can devote the rest of Christmas Eve to you."
Lois felt a tiny shiver run up and down her spine as he looked at her with that warm smile on his face.
"That's right, I almost forgot. It is Christmas Eve, isn't it."
Clark noted a tint of sadness in her voice. "Missing your family and friends?"
"Not really. My family can be a bit—demanding. Everyone tries to get along at first, but in the end we all just end up yelling at each other."
Clark was a bit shocked. "You're kidding?" Christmas used to be such a wonderful time for him. Before his parents died, that is. Now, he kept things pretty simple.
Lois waved a hand around the room and pointed toward the front room. "I've noticed you haven't decorated much for the season. Were you going somewhere?" Lois got a worried look on her face. "Oh my gosh! You were probably going to see family of your own, and now I've managed to screw up your plans as well."
"No, I wasn't going anyplace. I don't really have anyone to go to. Sometimes I spend Christmas with one of the neighbors; the Irig's usually. They're old family friends."
"Oh, all right. Then why didn't you decorate?"
Clark looked around sort of bleakly. "I just never felt like it anymore. Not since…" his voice trailed off.
"Not since your parents…"
"Right. Anyway, we should be getting on with lunch." Clark opened up the pantry and pulled out a jar of something. "Ready for that cooking lesson?"
"Sure!" Lois went to stand next to him so she could see what was in the jar.
"This is your basic marinara sauce. This one happens to be homemade, but some of the store bought brands can taste pretty good. You can try several brands to see which ones you like best."
"Pre-packaged is good. I can handle that."
Clark smiled at her. "I thought so. No matter what you decide to make, you have to heat it up." He pulled out a saucepan and poured the contents into it. Then he sat it on the stove and lit the burner under it. "Just like boiling water," he turned to look at her, and his eyes danced with ill-hidden humor, "or heating oatmeal."
Lois laughed. "Thanks for building on my skill set!"
"You're welcome. Now, you have several choices. You can heat up some noodles and have the sauce over those. You could heat up some meatballs and put them with some sauce on some french bread for a sandwich. You could put some over a chicken breast, and heat that in the oven until the chicken was done. You could—"
"Wait, wait, wait. I can't cook meatballs, or french bread, or any of that stuff."
"You don't have to. You can buy most of it at larger supermarkets, already made. You just have to heat it up."
"Just heat it up."
"Sure. Then, after you become a little more confidant, you could try *making* the meatballs."
"Right," Lois said sarcastically. "I'll stick to heating things up for now. So, which are you fixing today?"
Clark pulled out a package of noodles. "Just something simple. I don't know about you, but I don't want to wait too long for anything."
"Sounds great to me. How do you cook the noodles?"
"Just heat—" Clark started.
"—them up," finished Lois. "I think I see a trend here."
"Just following the KISS principle."
Clark had pulled out another pan and was filling it with water. He dumped the noodles into the water and put it on the stove to heat as well. "The KISS principle. 'Keep It Simple Silly.' Haven't you ever heard of that?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "I rarely seem able to keep anything simple."
Clark shook his head as he chuckled lightly. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me." He handed Lois some plates and silverware and then turned to stir the contents in the pots.
Lois took the dinnerware and set the table, then she sat down with a sigh.
"What's wrong?" Clark asked, concerned.
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about it nearly being Christmas. It doesn't seem like Christmas."
Clark looked around the house. It was true. His house didn't look any different than it normally did. Suddenly, he missed the decorations and lights as well. Maybe he could do something about that.
"I read some more of your books. And I also found that scrapbook of your newspaper articles. Not bad reporting."
Clark sat down at the table with her. "For a greenhorn."
"Oh, don't say that." Lois sat up a bit straighter as an idea dawned on her. "Say, you could do some freelance work for papers like the Planet. You could write a travel column, and have it picked up by papers all over the U.S."
Lois let her hand smack the table out of frustration. "Oh, boy. Here we go again. 'I'm not comfortable with that much exposure.'" She nailed Clark with a hard look. "Get over it, Clark. Do the words 'Move on in life' mean anything to you?" She reached out and grabbed his shoulder and shook him. "Be adventurous!" Lois laughed to take out some of the sting she heard in her own voice. "You've got great writing talent. If you want to get more into journalism, this would be the perfect way. You can work on your farm, and write on the side. Just like with your books."
"It makes sense," Clark agreed. "I'm just not used to…to all this. I guess I've holed up here after my parents died and I've lost some of my confidence about getting back out into the world. Away from here. I guess I'm afraid of what I'll lose if I…let go."
Lois watched him for a moment. He had so much feeling and passion in him. "I don't think you would lose anything. I think you have everything to gain."
The pot of noodles boiled over and started spewing and sputtering loudly. Clark jumped up and quickly pulled it off the burner. "Ooops!"
Lois jumped up. "Now *that's* how I cook!"
After lunch, Lois asked Clark to come into the den with her. She walked over to her 'Angel' research and picked up a piece of paper. "I have a question for you, Clark. What do you make of this?" She handed the piece of paper to him.
Clark scanned it, and his eyes grew just a bit wider. "It's—" His voice cracked and he had to clear his throat. "It's a report of a near airline crash; in Denver."
"Right." Lois smiled at him smugly.
Clark tried to act casual. "So?"
"So? Don't you see?" She snatched the piece of paper from him. "It's another 'Angel' sighting!" She looked at him like he should slap his forehead and say 'Doh!'.
"It is, I know it." She read from the piece of paper. "At 0647 hours, the RockyAir flight 047 took off from Denver International Airport. Approximately three minutes into its flight, the pilot reported engine failure and requested permission to turn around and make an emergency landing. Radar shows that flight 047 was losing altitude at a great rate and would not be able to make it back to the runway in time. Suddenly, the crew reported that partial power had been restored and radar confirmed the flight path of the aircraft had been altered. After safely landing the aircraft and all passengers were accounted for, post-flight inspection revealed that both of the 737-400's two engines were inoperative. It is unclear at this time how the aircraft managed to land safely. Yadda yadda yadda."
Clark didn't say anything. What *could* he say? < Yeah, well, I heard about the plane, so I thought I might keep those people's families from having the worst Christmas of their lives. I just took a quick hop over there and brought it down safely. > It was best not to say anything, then he wouldn't have to worry about lying.
Lois was still looking at him. "Both engines were dead, and yet it managed to land safely. It was the 'Angel.' He was operating in this area again this morning."
Clark turned away from her, before she could see the panic in his eyes. He walked over to the map she had made and pretended to study it. He noticed Lois had already marked his latest exploit on the map. <Sigh.> Would he ever learn? "Did anyone see anything?" <Please. I hope not.>
"Nothing officially," Lois walked up next to him. "Unofficially, I've heard from some of my sources that the tech crews found some strange markings on the underneath side of the hull that look a lot like hand impressions."
Clark dropped the map he was holding as his hands began to shake. He remembered now, how it had felt like his hands had sunk into the plane a bit before he was able to slow its rapid decent. Another mistake. "Really?" his traitorous voice cracked again. "Could they get anything from them?"
"Like what?" Lois was looking at him strangely.
"Like fingerprints. Were the impressions distinct or general? How do they know they were hand imprints at all?"
Lois' eyes narrowed, and she shook a finger at him. "See? You're good at this. You should try doing this more often. I didn't think to ask about the fingerprints." She whirled around and grabbed her notebook and began scribbling things in it. "Can I borrow your phone again? I want to get on this right away."
"Sure. I'm going to go look for some stuff I thought of earlier."
"Okay," Lois said absently, already putting the phone to her ear, her right hand rapidly dialing the number while the left fished out her calling card.
Clark was thankful she was too preoccupied to notice the relief on his face as he made his escape.
What was it about her that made him so conflicted? She was smart, good looking, adventurous, caring—and terrifying. His mind kept screaming at him to stay away from her, but his heart was begging for more. Everywhere he looked, he saw her, smelled her, and heard her. Her ideas for him about his writing scared him and compelled him at the same time. Everything was a mixture of contrasts. He never felt more alive in his life, or more afraid.
He had escaped the house as quickly as he could. Grabbing a coat, Clark had fled to the barn so he could pace without having to worry about Lois seeing him walking on the walls and ceiling. Besides, he didn't want to have to paint the ceiling again to hide his dirty boot marks like last time.
He had needed time to think and to calm down. After a while, Clark decided he needed to get busy looking for what he had thought of earlier. Clark used his special vision to look through the attic of the house for his quarry, but couldn't find it there. He knew he had seen it somewhere, but just exactly where was escaping him at the moment.
He turned his vision on the cellar, and looked through there. Ah! There was part of what he was looking for. He remembered putting them there several years ago. They wouldn't be much good without the rest of it, though.
He let go, and floated a few feet above the floor. It always made him feel better for some reason. He casually floated up to the hayloft and settled back down. The afternoon sun was bright, and it came filtering in from various places in the old barn's roof. It was warm and dry up here now, however. And quiet. Clark noticed a large hump in the hay at the back of the barn. He gave it a quick look with his vision. Bingo! He'd found what he was looking for.
"Thanks, Jimmy. I owe you one for calling you out on a Sunday. I'll get back to you later to see what you've come up with. Bye." Lois hung up the phone and then realized she was alone. Briefly, she wondered if she would again find Clark in the kitchen, cooking something. As she turned to walk out of the den, she could hear Clark banging around in the living room.
"What in the world is that?" Lois walked up to Clark, who had just put a large box on the floor in the middle of the room.
"It's a Christmas tree." He smiled sheepishly. "I thought maybe we might try to make it seem a little more like the season in here."
Grinning beyond control, Lois simply nodded. She bent over and opened the box. "An artificial tree? I'm kind of surprised. You seem more the traditionalist: real tree and all."
Clark moved a couple of the chairs in the living room out of the way so they would have a spot to put the tree. "Well, I am. But when I was a kid, my Mom convinced my Dad and me that we didn't need to kill a tree just for one season of the year. We planted that big Blue Spruce in the front yard that year and decorated it. We bought an artificial tree for inside."
Lois looked out the window at the large, full tree filling the front windows. It stood majestically in the Kansas wind. "That's really wonderful, Clark. I bet it was a real job to get the lights on that big tree after awhile."
Clark straightened up and smiled. Little did Lois know how easy it could be for someone who wasn't tied by the earth's gravitational pull. "Oh, it wasn't too bad. We had a system worked out that made it go pretty smoothly." He grinned to himself.
Lois reached into the box and pulled out a silver base for the tree and handed it to Clark. Then she reached back into the box and pulled out a long pole. "What in the world—?" Lois turned the pole over and over looking at it. It was about five feet long, and the thickness of a broom handle. It was covered with holes. The most interesting thing about it was it was painted completely silver. "I never saw a tree trunk like this before." She turned to give it to Clark.
He looked puzzled. "This isn't like I remembered it." He, too, turned the pole over and over, examining it closely. One end was slightly larger than the other, and he tentatively stuck that end into the base. It slipped in easily. "Well, I guess it belongs there."
Lois looked back in the box, and pulled out a tube that was about an inch in diameter and three feet long. The tube was made of heavy brown paper, similar to a grocery sack. "Clark? What in the world is this for?" She handed him the tube and then reached in and pulled out another one, a twin of the first. "The whole box is full of them."
"I haven't a clue," Clark turned the tube around, inspecting it.
Lois looked in one open end. "Wait a minute," she turned the tube over and peered into the other open end. "There's something in here." She stuck her finger in the opening and pushed.
Out the other end popped a large, aluminum pom-pom, it's bright reflective tassels catching the afternoon sun. "Oh!" Lois jumped slightly in surprise. She look up questioningly at Clark.
He looked in one end of his tube and stuck his finger in and pushed as well. They were rewarded with another aluminum pom-pom. Clark's suddenly broke into a smile. "You know what this is?"
Lois had grabbed the pom-pom and had pulled it free from the tube. It was attached to a length of stiff wire that had many more strips of aluminum attached to it along its length. These were curled and twisted and stuck out in all directions up and down the wire. "An aluminum bottle washer?" She looked back up at Clark. "Miniature chimney sweep brushes?"
"My parents first Christmas tree," he said, ignoring her comments.
Lois looked back at the aluminum bottle washer in her hand. "Are you sure?" she said skeptically.
Clark was extremely animated now. "I'm positive! These are the branches," he whipped the "branch" free from its paper tube. Turning to the stick with the holes, he inserted it into a hole close to the bottom. He quickly grabbed the one Lois was holding and put it in a hole as well. "See?!"
Lois raised an eyebrow. She didn't see a Christmas tree at all. All she saw was two aluminum bottle washers stuck into a silver broom handle. She glanced at Clark and could see the joy on his face. "Oh, yeah. I…I see." She nodded her head to prove her point.
He rushed over to the box and began digging in it. "I wonder if it's still in here…" his voice trailed off as he proceeded to dump paper tube after paper tube on the floor. "Ah-ha!" he exclaimed loudly, and stood up holding another box. "I hope it still works." He opened the box and pulled out a motor on a stand, and then a four-colored plastic wheel. He quickly moved to the wall and plugged the motor in, then attached the colored wheel to it. After a few groans and squeaks, and a few gentle nudges from Clark, the wheel began to rotate.
Both of Lois' eyebrows were raised now. "What the heck is *that*?!"
Clark didn't seem to hear her. "We need a bulb…a bulb…" he mumbled to himself as he scurried out of the living room.
Lois looked back over at the broomstick and two bottle washers and then picked up another paper tube. She pushed her finger in one end and out popped another pom-pom. She pulled it free and put it into one of the holes in the broomstick. Clark rushed back in at that point and picked up the motor. He tried to remove the colored wheel, but the motor was still turning, so he nearly dropped the whole thing. He hastily shut it off and tried to remove the wheel again.
"You're not excited about this, are you?" Lois picked up another tube and poked the pom-pom free. She whipped the tube off and stuck another bottle washer in the broom handle.
Clark fumbled with the bulb, his body not keeping up with his mind's enthusiasm. Finally, he had the bulb installed, and the colored wheel replaced. He sat it down on the floor, aimed it at the bottle washer riddled broomstick and turned it on. The motor snapped and groaned to life again, and the wheel slowly started spinning. It cast a colored glow the aluminum strips on the bottle washers picked up.
Clark turned back to the pile of paper tubes and started removing the "branches" quickly, installing them in the holes. Lois laughed and then joined in.
"What?" Clark didn't even pause as he asked the question.
"You. You're wrapped up in this. I don't think I've ever seen you this excited."
The "tree" was starting to take shape now, and Lois could see that it changed colors as the wheel that was shining on it changed colors.
"I'd forgotten all about this old thing. I remember putting it up as a kid. My parents used to tell the story of their first Christmas together, as a married couple. After all the bills had been paid, and groceries bought, they only had about $5.00 left. They talked about it and bought this tree." He stood back and looked at the finished product. "It was their first gift to each other."
Lois saw the tree in a completely different light now. She looked at it and saw not at bunch of aluminum bottle washers stuck in a silver painted broomstick being lit by a multi-colored light. Instead, she saw the commitment and love two people shared when they make a life-long promise to each other. She saw this tree as a representation of the hopes and dreams they shared, and the good and the bad that they would experience with each other. She turned to look at Clark and saw the love they would share reflected in his look of wonder. She knew that he was reliving those times with his parents right now.
"I think it's the most beautiful tree I have ever seen in my life, Clark."
He glanced over at her briefly and then did a double take when he realized what she had said. He turned to look at her and he knew she understood what it meant to him. He knew she could sense what it embodied for him. Her dark hair was picking up some of the light from the wheel, and her eyes sparkled from the reflections of the aluminum tree. Right now, he could think of nothing he wanted more than to kiss her. His gaze traveled from her eyes to her full lips. He watched in fascination as she parted her lips and quickly wet them with her tongue. He couldn't take his eyes off her mouth, and felt the world narrow down to just the two of them.
Lois watched him closely, knowing that suddenly things had changed for them. Her heart was screaming < Kiss me!! > and for a change, her head was yelling the same thing. She reached up with one hand and laid it on his chest, as she moved closer to him.
Her touch sent a spark through him and he pulled up, breaking the spell. Suddenly, he felt too close to her. She was radiating too many things for his senses to process. He was in overload.
"I've," he cleared his throat to speak more clearly, "I think there might be some more decorations in the cellar. I'll have to dig them out, but we can put them on the tree." He tore his eyes away from her and looked at the object of his discussion. "It won't look so sparse after we get some ornaments on it."
Lois felt disappointment flow through her, as well as relief. She removed her hand from his chest and stuck both of her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. "Okay. That sounds good. Mind if I help? I've been stuck inside all day."
Clark moved away from her slightly. "No, I don't mind. That'd be a good idea."
"I don't have to wear the long underwear again, do I?" Lois loathed the idea of trying to cram herself into her jeans again with those on. It was almost enough to make her back out.
Clark laughed, easing the tension that had started to build. "No, I won't make you wear them. This time."
"Thank you! I'll pretend I didn't hear that last comment."
Lois took in a lung full of cool, fresh air that made her whole body tingle. "Wow! It's bright out here! Oh, that air smells good." She put her sunglasses on to dim the bright sun that was reflecting off the snow everywhere.
Clark walked ahead of her, and he grinned to himself. "I'm surprised you're not having some sort of allergic reaction to all this fresh air and open space."
"Ha-Ha. Very funny." Her tone of voice was threatening, but playful. She reached down and grabbed a handful of snow. Compacting it between her hands, she tested its readiness to be made into a snowball. It compacted nicely and she cocked her arm back and let it rip. She watched in satisfaction as it sailed neatly through the air, impacting its target just at the neckline. Everyone knew that was the best place to hit, since it would allow the snow to trickle down the opponent's back, thus inflicting the maximum amount of damage.
Clark's startled scream, and subsequent thrashing of arms caused Lois to pump the air in triumph. < Score another one, Lois! > She laughed out loud, only to have it turn it into a squeal when she realized that Clark had turned around and was in the process of picking up his own handful of snow.
She bent quickly to gather material for her defense. Just as she stood to deliver the next round, she was hit in the chest by his retaliation. She spun to give herself some time to recover and turned to level the next blow. But she was hit again, and again and again. In rapid succession, she was being pummeled with snowballs. How many of him was there? No matter where she ran, or how she twisted, she always met another snowball.
Clark watched Lois, laughing and squealing, try to dodge his barrage. She had no hope, he knew. And for a brief instant, he felt a bit guilty about applying a slight amount of his powers like this to control the fight. His momentary pause had allowed her to sneak a snowball in under his defenses and it stuck him in the thigh. He decided he liked hearing her laugh, so he resumed his attack, careful to not to strike her in the face.
Lois rarely admitted defeat, but other than the two shots she had landed, she was mostly taking and not giving. With a last desperate lob, she tossed the snowball she had in her hand in his general direction and then let her body collapse into a snowbank. She was breathing heavily, and strangely enough, she wasn't angry.
As she lay there, she could hear Clark approach, the crunching of the snow under his feet growing louder as he came closer. His shadow fell across her and she felt him poke her with his booted toe.
He chuckled softly. "Hope I didn't hurt you."
She giggled when she heard the concern in his voice. "You've damaged my pride, but it's nothing that won't heal." She took a glance at him and noticed he had approached her with a snowball in his hand, ready if need be. Evidently, he knew her better than she thought.
"Oh, yes. I needed to get out. No offense, but I was starting to get a little cabin fever."
"Maybe you can come with me later, when I go to check on some things."
Lois stretched out her arms and legs and made a quick snow angel. "Maybe." She propped herself up on her elbows.
Clark let his eyes briefly travel up and down her form. "Have any energy left to do some shoveling?"
Lois laughed. "Sure! Just help me up." She extended one hand up towards him.
Clark dropped his snowball and bent over to help her up.
She grabbed his hand and gave it a hard pull across her body. As Clark's weight shifted, she kicked out with her leg and cut him down like a tree. He managed to roll, and land on his back in the snowbank. Lois scrambled to her feet, and quickly scooped up some snow. Not even bothering to make it into a ball, she launched it at him. It scattered into several pieces as it flew threw the air, showering him in the process.
Without waiting to see what he would do, she took off running, her laughter and squealing echoing around the farmyard.
(Sunday, December 24, 1995, 4:17 p.m. CST)
Lois rubbed her numb hands and then wrapped them around the warm mug of hot chocolate in front of her. "Oh, that feels good." She rubbed her hands again, noticing they were starting to turn a bright red.
Clark put a box on the table and opened it.
Lois noticed his hands looked like they always did. Large, soft and not at all red. "Aren't your hands cold, like mine? You threw a *lot* more snowballs than I did."
Clark just shrugged, and then pulled out a smaller box. He opened it and removed a glass Christmas ornament. It was shaped like an angel. Trying to hide the irony he found in the situation, he handed the ornament to Lois. "Here, take a look at this. It was one of my great-grandparent's. They brought it over with them when they moved to America."
Lois took the glass ornament from him, absently noting that his hands were, indeed, warm. "Wow. Did you know your great-grandparents?"
"No. They had all passed on by the time I came along." He reached in and pulled out another glass ornament. They sat there together, listening to Christmas music on the radio as they took stock of what they had found in the cellar.
For Lois, it was fascinating to realize that for some people, Christmas held very special memories. Each decoration that Clark pulled from the box seemed to have a story.
"Well, I think my hands are warm enough so I won't drop anything. You ready to put some of this on the tree?"
"Sure!" Clark started gathering the ornaments and putting them back in the box. The music on the radio stopped playing and a newscast came on.
" < < A Special Bulletin. Here in Keystone, Colorado, holiday tourists have had their jolly Christmas season cut short by a series of avalanches in the area of national forest land known as Fourth Steep Gully. Already, a group of snowboarding youths have been lost and are feared dead west of Arapahoe Basin. Other reports of avalanches on the backside of Aspen Mountain have caused officials with the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office and the Summit County Sheriff's Office to close down all roads into the surrounding areas. The recent heavy amounts of new snow over the existing packed snow is believed to be the cause of this most recent bout of avalanches in a region that has already seen seven people killed in avalanches so far this winter. > > "
Lois shook her head. "Oh, dear, and at Christmas, too. I hope they find them." She noticed Clark had become quiet. "You all right?"
He looked at her and opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out for the longest time. < How can I get away? I've got to help those people! But what about Lois? What would I say to her? > He nodded his head.
"You sure? Okay, then. Let's get busy." She picked up a box of ornaments and headed for the living room.
The music was playing on the radio again. Clark didn't know what else to do but join her. As much as it hurt, he had to say put.
They decorated in silence for a while. Lois could tell something had changed right after the news report, but she didn't understand why. Clark wasn't as cheerful as he had been earlier. He seemed preoccupied at times, taking several seconds to answer her questions. She repeated her latest question for the third time. "Do you think I've put too many red ones on the tree, Clark? Clark?"
"What? Oh, no…no. It looks fine. Really." He never even really bothered to look at the tree.
Lois shook her head. Men! "Okay. Out with it. What's going on?" She noticed she had his full attention now.
"Nothing. Why?" He tried to look innocent. He couldn't help thinking of those teens trapped on the mountain in Colorado. There hadn't been any more news reports, so he was hoping no news was good news.
"Nothing? You've barely heard a word I've said! You act like you have something else on your mind. If you don't want to do this, Clark, then just say so. Don't think you're doing me any favors here. I'm not the one who gushed their memories all over the place as we were pulling the decoration out in the first place. I'm not—"
Clark looked down at his feet. "I'm sorry, Lois." He had said it so softly, he hadn't expected her to hear it. Nevertheless, she had, and it had stopped her in mid-rant.
Lois felt guilty for being so heavy handed. "No, no. *I'm* sorry. I shouldn't have been so—demanding." Lois grew more concerned. "Is something wrong?"
"It all started right after that news report." She looked back toward the kitchen, then locked him in her gaze again.
He shifted nervously, trying to keep from making eye contact. "It's nothing, really."
"Do you know someone vacationing out there? Is that it? Are you worried about someone?"
She had given him a small opening, and he took it. "Well, yes. I'm worried." There; not a lie, but not the whole truth either. He had only chosen to answer one of her questions, not all of them.
"I'm sorry, Clark. Do you want to stop?"
"No. Maybe it will help me to take my mind off things."
The longer they worked, the more agitated Lois became. She tried not to be, but Clark was clearly in another world, and yet he refused to talk about it. She was nearing the breaking point when she heard another news report come on the radio. She looked up to see that Clark had stopped working and was listening to the report as well.
" < < …update on the situation in Colorado. As the day goes by, the danger of avalanches continues to grow. Already there have been eight confirmed reports of slides up and down the Rocky Mountains, mostly in and around the ski resort areas. Heedless of official's warning, hundreds of tourists took to the slopes, only to fall victim to Mother Nature. The death toll for these latest slides has reached four, with between 50 to 70 still missing. Officials are doing their best to look for the missing people, but worsening conditions and the approach of nightfall have put a serious damper on rescue efforts. Perhaps the most tragic of stories is the one of Little River Church of Christ. A busload of church members, mostly teenagers, is reported to have gone into the avalanche area this morning. They have not yet reported in to their destination, and are feared to be lost. We will update you as the situation unfolds… > > "
Clark knew what he had to do. He turned to look at Lois, and a lump rose in his throat. "I have to go. I…I forgot I needed to check on some things for Mr. Irig." He put his hands up in a 'please forgive me' gesture. "I told him I would do it and I forgot." Clark started backing toward the kitchen, then turned and walked off.
"What!?!? Now?" Lois chased after him. What was going on here? "Well, let me come with you."
Lois stopped dead in her tracks at the force of his voice. "Are you yelling at me?" She couldn't help it, the hurt was starting to rise and she was getting angry again. Her inner voice spoke to her, even as she tried to squelch it. < He's leaving — just like all the rest of them. He'll hurt you too. >
His eyes grew wide. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, it's just— It would be faster for me to go by myself." He looked down at her legs. "And you're still wet from earlier, you'll get cold."
Lois was shaking her head. "I'll be fine. If we take the tractor like last time, I'll be more than warm enough." She looked up at him, pleading with her eyes and her heart; < Don't hurt me. > "Please, I want to come. Don't leave—"
Clark was beginning to panic now. Those people needed him, but he needed to protect his secret. He was torn as to what to do.
"Clark, I want to come with you. You already invited me."
Confused, Clark tried to remember inviting her. "When?"
"When we were having our snowball fight outside." She put her hands on her hips, daring him to refute her. Her anger was returning again, and she couldn't help but show it through her body language.
He remembered, and his face fell, despite his efforts to conceal it. "Oh. Yeah. But don't you think—"
Lois walked past him and picked up her coat. Suddenly, she didn't care what was going on, she wasn't going to let him leave her alone. In her normal bulldog way, she took charge of the situation. "You coming or not?" She put on the coat and walked outside.
Clark desperately wrung his hands together trying to figure a way out of this situation.
He jumped and grabbed his coat and joined her outside.
(Sunday, December 24, 1995, 6:08 p.m. CST)
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, Clark constantly made attempts to get Lois to go home by herself. As the afternoon wore on, he became more agitated, sulky, withdrawn and combative. Lois had tried to understand what was going on, but he refused to talk about it with her. He was being downright exasperating.
Despite her overly cautious inner voice, she had let herself believe Clark was different. She had never before given someone, let alone a man, this many chances to come clean with her. She had felt that he was someone who was worth the extra effort, the extra leeway. Now, she knew she was wrong. He was no different than the others.
Lois and Clark practically fell through the door that evening, both moving sluggishly around the kitchen as they took off their coats. By then, neither was talking to the other. Lois felt like she had gone a few rounds with a heavyweight boxer. She was physically and emotionally drained. She didn't even have enough strength to be angry anymore. This had been the worst afternoon in her life.
She hadn't understood it, and she still didn't. What was going on with him? He still refused to talk about it, and her attempts to break into his shell were unsuccessful. Clark had used up all his chances. Lois was tired of trying.
Clark moved past her and turned on the radio. Lois glared at him, but he seemed impervious to it. Was this really the same man whom she had nearly kissed this afternoon? It didn't seem possible. It was like aliens had kidnapped him while she was watching.
" < < …still missing. There has been no word from the church group whose bus went missing this morning, and with the arrival of nightfall, all hopes are nearly gone. Officials are calling off further searches until morning, due to the unsafe conditions… > > "
Clark straightened himself. He'd already waited too long, he couldn't wait any longer. He turned around and caught Lois' eyes. "I have to go." He quickly strode to the door, and grabbed his coat off the hook.
Lois grabbed his arm and stopped him. "You aren't going anywhere! Not until you tell me what in the hell's going on around here!" Tears came unbidden to her eyes, and she cursed herself for caring so much.
Clark seemed to wince in pain when he saw them. "I can't, Lois. I just have to go." He firmly pulled himself free of her grasp, opened the door and took off, pulling his coat on as he went.
"Clark Kent, you come back here!" She didn't have the strength to chase after him. She was too tired and too cold. "You hear me?! Come back!" Her voice faltered and she could barely whisper. "Please!" She watched his retreating form, trotting off towards the barn. "If you don't come back right now, I may not be here when you do get back," she said in a soft voice, her body too exhausted to yell into the wind. She wasn't sure if she meant it or not.
She brought her hand up to her mouth in surprise as she watched Clark turn to run backwards, and then fall in the snow. "You heard me, didn't you," she said in a whisper. "You heard me!"
She watched as he scrambled to his feet, casting glances over his shoulder at her, as if he expected her to follow him. He stumbled to the barn and then disappeared inside. She closed the door to protect herself from the biting night air. Had he heard her? What was she going to do now? So many questions, and she was so tired, and hurt. The room seemed deafeningly quiet now. There was a faint whooshing sound in the distance, followed by a dull sonic boom. Lois closed her eyes and let the tears fall freely.
Blindly, she stuffed things into her bags. Her babbling and mumbling was nearly incoherent even to herself. Images of all the wonderful moments from the past few days kept dancing in her mind. Then they would shatter as the image of Clark stumbling through the snow towards the barn would overwhelm them. Suddenly, she realized that she was truly stranded here. She had no means to get away from the farm. She couldn't drive a tractor, and she hadn't seen any other vehicles. There was no one she could call in town.
Anger flowed again, pumping up her adrenaline. "By golly, I'm going out to that barn. I don't know what's going on, but I *am* going to find out. She ran downstairs, put on her coat and threw the door open and made her way toward the barn. The wind whipped at her, and she nearly fell, as Clark had. When she reached the barn, she was surprised to find the door was unlocked.
Inside the barn, it was eerily quiet. There were no lights on, and the light from the mercury vapor light outside cast long, dark shadows through the open door. "Clark?" Her voice echoed off into the darkness. "Clark? Are you here?" She realized she was alone in the barn. She was alone in a barn in the middle of nowhere, looking for a man who didn't exist any longer. Tears started forming in her eyes, but she shut them tightly to hold them back. "I'm not going to cry," she managed to get out, her body shuddering in the cold and from the fragile hold she was maintaining on her emotions.
She turned and went back outside, shutting the barn door behind her. The trip back to the house was a blur, and she moved through the house up to her room as if she was an automaton. He had left her alone. Something she was missing had caused him to change from the kind, caring individual she had fallen in love with into just one of the guys. In love? Was she in love with the man or the image of the man? Did it really matter? Her heart still ached all the same. He was just like the others.
< NO! > her heart screamed. < He *was* different. Something must have happened. Something changed. There has to be a reason. > She was being foolish now, hoping against hope that she was wrong. And yet, the Clark she had spent the afternoon with wasn't the same man she had spent the past few days with. Something had changed. But what? It had something to do with the news reports on the radio. The avalanches had upset him more than they should.
Lois sat straight on the bed, and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked a wreck. Not wanting to see herself like that, she let her eyes wander to the painting on the wall next to the mirror. It was a painting in watercolor of a Kansas wheat field. The large, blue sky with big lumpy white clouds floating over a vast expanse of yellow wheat blowing in the wind. Looking at the picture, Lois could almost feel herself in it. The painter had done a masterful job of capturing a moment in time. She got up to look at the signature. M. Kent. Martha Kent, Lois realized. She moved toward the room Clark slept in, and peeked in the open door. There were other pieces of art on the walls in there. All with the same M. Kent on them.
She made her way back to the room where she was staying: his parents' room. The picture of the wheat field drew her to it like a moth to a flame. She wasn't going to leave, as she had threatened. There was something here that needed an explanation, and she wasn't going to leave until she had it, or she wasn't Lois Lane.
(Monday, December 25, 1995, 9:03 a.m. CST)
Lois jerked awake suddenly, becoming fully alert. She was sitting up in bed, still wearing the clothes she wore the night before. She looked around the room quickly. She was still alone. Disappointment and anger threatened to reawaken as well, when she heard something coming from down the hall.
Jumping out of bed, Lois ran down the hall and stopped in front of the closed door to Clark's room. She could hear him breathing heavily, an almost light snore, on the other side of the door. Lois started to reach for the doorknob, then stopped when the full force of what happened last night hit her. She pulled her hand back and moved away from the door slowly. Leaning against the wall opposite the door, she closed her eyes briefly as she let the previous evening's events wash over her, carefully going over the steps that had led her to this point.
It had all started after Clark had left. She had made up her mind that she was going to get to the bottom of this whole mess. Since it had all started after Clark had heard the news report on the radio, she had gone to the den and turned on the satellite dish to see what she could find out about the situation in Colorado. While she was listening, she had started searching through the books on the shelves in the den. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but she knew she would know it when she saw it.
At the end of the shelf that held Clark's best sellers, she found some diaries. Pulling them out and opening them up, she started to read. They were the hand written diaries of his travels. She briefly paged through them for a moment, then put them back on the shelf. Next to them was a scrapbook, with the edges of some newspaper clippings sticking out of it. She pulled it off the shelf and thumbed through it. It was a combination of some earlier articles Clark had written, and some pieces from newspapers from around the world. Lois read a few of them, but couldn't understand why anyone would save them, as they had nothing to do with Clark. She noted a woman's handwriting under each clipping noting the date and location of each one. Perhaps Clark's mother had asked him to pick up an article for each country he had visited. The reasoning behind this act was puzzling, however.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the television. She watched in fascination as the news anchor announced that the church bus of missing teens had miraculously turned up. The anchor was talking to an on-site reporter and details were sketchy, but no one seemed to know what happened or how the bus had arrived at the rescue checkpoint. For all intents and purposes, it had literally dropped from the sky into their laps.
The 'Guardian Angel.' Lois knew that was the answer. Somehow, he had found them and saved them. Even now, the anchor was questioning the field reporter about the possibilities. Wait a minute. Could it be? Is that why he left? It wasn't possible, was it?
Lois grabbed her map. She noticed that Smallville was just about in the middle of all her location markers. The Wolf Creek nuclear power plant was but a hop, skip and jump from here. Clark had been gone that morning the plane in Denver had been saved. She could have sworn that Clark had heard her several times when any normal person couldn't have. He seemed impervious to the cold. Was Clark Kent the 'Angel'?
She needed proof. Jumping up and snatching the diaries and the scrapbook off the shelf, she found that several of the later newspaper clippings were from various places around the U.S. More than half matched to a marker on her map. A quick cross reference to the diaries showed that Clark had made diary entries in several of the places that had markers as well. Not everything matched up, but then they wouldn't if he could get from one place to another quickly, as it appeared the 'Angel' could. This alone didn't provide enough proof, however.
Lois had spent the rest of the night researching Clark's diaries for clues. She had even gone through the rest of the books on the shelves in hopes she would find something. She had rummaged around on his computer, feeling a bit guilty about using the password he had supplied to gain access to it. Even his room hadn't been off limits. Lois wasn't one to let things get in her way once she decided the truth needed to be found. Throughout the evening, she watched as more and more reports of the 'Angel's' activities came in. After a while, eyewitness reports were being broadcast. No one had seen anything definitive; just a shape of a man who had rescued them from certain death. The word 'miracle' was mentioned more than once.
And now, here she stood this morning, literally on the doorstep of discovery. Was Clark the 'Guardian Angel'? She had to know. Reaching out cautiously, she put her hand on the doorknob, but again drew it back. For some reason, she felt she should knock first. She knocked quickly, the loud sound echoing off the hallway walls. "Clark?" She could still hear his breathing.
"Clark? Wake up. We need to talk." She knocked on the door again, longer and harder than last time. Still no change in his breathing. "CLARK! Wake up!" She reached down and turned the knob and shoved the door open.
"Clark Kent, I want to—to—" Lois stood motionless. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. There, a good three feet above the bed, floated a sleeping Clark Kent. He was bare from the waist up, and he was wearing dark colored pants of some kind. He had mud smudges on his face and a thin layer of grime over his chest and arms. He was sound asleep, rising and falling with each breath.
"Oh my God." Lois walked quietly around him, peering under him as if searching for something that might be holding him in the air. She started to reach out and touch him to see if he was real, but pulled her hand back. What if it woke him up?
"Proof. I need proof," she mumbled to herself as she backed from the room and then ran to her bedroom. She couldn't find her purse there, so she raced back down the hallway, casting a quick glance in Clark's room as she went by. He was still asleep and floating. She had needed proof that Clark was the 'Angel,' and boy did she have it now!
She ran into the den, and spotted her purse on the couch. Snatching it up, she started digging for the portable camera she always carried. Once she had snapped a few pictures, there was no way he could deny he was the 'Angel.' That little disappearing act of his last night and now this. She found the camera and checked to see if there was film in it.
"Damn! Out of film." She threw the camera down on the couch and renewed her exploration of her purse looking for more film. "Of all the rotten luck—" This was big. This was *huge*. Lois Lane had found the 'Guardian Angel' living in the middle of nowhere. She could see the headline now: "Quiet Community Host To World's Greatest Secret." By Lois Lane. Those three little words always gave her a secret thrill.
Turning the purse upside down and shaking it produced the extra roll of film Lois was looking for. Giving a tiny shout of glee, Lois threw the purse down and grabbed the film. The television came on as her purse hit the remote, but Lois was long gone, loading the camera as she rushed back upstairs.
"This is going to be the best Christmas present I've ever had," she mumbled to herself as she rounded the door, only to stop dead in her tracks at the sight of Clark floating in the air. She hadn't imagined it, he was really there. She tiptoed into the room, and moved over to one side. She put the camera up to her eye and tried to get as much of him in the shot as she could, and then took the picture. The automatic flash went off and she felt as if her heart stopped. When he continued to sleep, she let her breath out slowly. She took a couple more pictures, then walked over closer to him.
His broad chest, bare as it was, drew her attention. She looked up towards his face and noticed that little lock of hair was hanging down over his forehead again. That familiar urge to brush it back resurfaced. Lois frowned. His face was weary, and there was mud on it. He looked like he'd been to hell and back. Shaking her head, she went back downstairs.
As she walked into the den, she heard the news anchor say that the death toll from yesterday's avalanches had reached twelve. Twelve people wouldn't be celebrating Christmas this year. The anchor also said that the number of people safely recovered was eighty-four.
" < < …nothing short of a Christmas miracle. Eyewitness accounts seem to back this up. > > "
The screen changed to show a group of teens, greatly animated with enthusiasm.
" < < We thought we were going to die. We thought we were going to freeze to death in that bus. Pastor Kirkland and the other adults had us praying and kept telling us we would be okay, but we didn't believe it. It's hard to believe something like that buried under tons of snow, you know. So anyway, people were crying and praying and stuff and then the bus started moving and shaking. I thought that was it. I thought we were going to die, right there. And then the snow, like, disappears, and we're free, floating through the air. At first I thought we went over a cliff, but we were going up! Next thing I know, we're landing at the checkpoint. I don't know what happened, but the Lord was watching out for us, that's for sure. > > "
Eighty-four people were alive because of Clark. Those families would have the best Christmas of their lives. Lois sat down heavily as the rest became clear as well. Twelve people had died. For those families, this was going to be the worst Christmas. She looked down in her hands at the camera she was holding. Suddenly it hit her. She was responsible for those peoples' deaths!
At least partially responsible. She could clearly remember when the first report of the avalanches had come on the radio and how Clark had reacted. And again later when he had tried to leave and she had insisted on going along. His behavior that afternoon wasn't without warrant. Then his painful departure that evening which had spurred her investigation. It all made sense—terrible, terrible sense. She had prevented Clark from getting there quicker. She was as much the killer of those people as if she had pulled the trigger herself.
Breathing became difficult as she fought to maintain control, and she felt dizzy. "If—if—if only I had—known." She was nearly hyperventilating. The intense grief and guilt washing over her made it difficult to think. "Those—those people—" Sobs wracked her small frame. After a while, her brain began to clear. She hadn't known about Clark. If she had known, she wouldn't have kept him here. It wasn't really her fault; she hadn't known. It didn't help those people any, however.
Briefly, she was angry with Clark for hiding this from her. If he had just told her, everything would have been okay. Then she felt the camera in her hands again. He hadn't told her, but she had found out anyway. And what had she done? Thought only of the story. What would happen if she went public with her knowledge? Would Clark let her? She had no doubt that he could keep her quiet if he wanted to, but she realized that that wasn't the way Clark worked. He wasn't like that.
Her heart perked up. < He's not like the rest of them, either. > He hadn't left her. He wasn't like all the other men. The fact that he could float three feet above his bed made that physically obvious, but deep down, she knew that he was different before she had found out about him.
With a sick feeling in her stomach, she realized what she was about to do, and what kind of life Clark could expect to live if she *did* go public. Then, something he had said earlier filtered up to her.
"It's obvious he wants to hide himself. My only question is why?"
"Why? I think it's obvious! He, or she, wants to remain anonymous. They don't want anyone to know who they are."
"But why? What has *he* got to hide? If he can do these incredible things, and he's obviously here to help, why hide?"
"How do you know he's here to help?"
"Just look at what he's been doing for the past year or more. Helping people in need."
"Maybe he's afraid of what people would do to him, once they found out about him."
"Oh, that's ridiculous. What are they going to do? Lock him up?"
"How about digging into every nook and cranny of his life. Trying to find out what makes him tick. Cart him off to a lab somewhere and dissect him like a—"
"You're kidding, right?"
"No. Look at how determined *you* are to get some answers. There are a lot of other people who aren't as ethical as you are in going about getting what they want."
Aren't as ethical as I am. Lois snorted at herself. Look what she had done already for this story. With the aid of 20/20 hindsight, it was obvious that Clark lived in fear of discovery. The fact that he put off going to Colorado for so long, even though he knew lives were at stake, also proved that he highly valued his secrecy. His fears of people digging into his life were fully founded as she looked over the open diaries and cast a guilty glance at his computer. And she was supposed to be the ethical one.
His words repeated themselves to her again.
"Cart him off to a lab somewhere and dissect him like a—"
"A frog," Lois finished out loud. This sounded like something that had been drilled into him from an early age. This was something he lived with constantly. The image of the women at the motel appeared to her. Clark was a loner. Someone who spent his whole life hiding, and yet wanting so desperately to help. No wonder those women were shocked that she had managed to break inside his personal force field.
Tears she hadn't realized she was crying fell onto her hands that were crossed in her lap, cradling the camera that held the proof she had sought earlier. Without waiting a second to change her mind, she opened the back of the camera and removed the film. She pulled it free from the canister, turning it over and over to make sure it was truly and fully destroyed.
Standing up, Lois turned to straightening the den, putting the diaries and scrapbook away, turning off the computer, and putting her research away. She turned off the television and picked up the contents of her purse off the couch.
Going back upstairs, she paused in front of Clark's open door. It looked like he was floating closer to the bed now. If she had felt that guilty when she had heard about all the deaths, how must he feel? Would he hate her for it? Would he blame her? Probably not. Guessing from what she knew of him, he would only blame himself. She needed a way to let him know that he didn't need to do that.
Confronting him about this would probably make things worse. He'd run. She didn't have any doubts of that. She'd seen enough of him and been with him long enough to know that he would run when presented with the fact that she knew. Like all the times in the past she had read about in the scrapbook and the diaries. Those stories took on a whole new light in the face of this new knowledge. She could see him helping in an area until it became too uncomfortable to stay, and then moving on.
This house, and the people in it, were probably the only place he had a sense of security. Why else would a man like him be here? Lois entered the room again and took a blanket from the bed, and threw it over him. He probably didn't get cold, based on what she had unknowingly witnessed, but it had felt like the thing to do. She quietly made her way out of the room. As she shut the door quietly behind her, she realized that a person with his apparent gifts would be unbeatable in a snowball fight.
Her eyes narrowed, and her lips pressed together firmly. "Ooohhhh, Clark Kent, when you wake up—" Then the anger drained away, and a smile softened her face. "Sleep well, Clark."
Lois didn't know what she was going to do about breakfast, but she was starved. Supper last night had been some re-heated pasta. Luckily, Clark seemed to have a well-stocked pantry and she found some oatmeal, the one thing she knew how to cook.
Except now she knew more than one thing. Thanks to Clark, she had doubled her cooking skills. Smiling contentedly, she stood at the stove, preparing her meal. A knock at the back door caused her to jump. She hadn't expected anyone to be here. She debated about whether to answer the door or not.
Suddenly, she heard the door being opened. She looked around desperately for a weapon, and grabbed a broom that was in the corner. Standing so she had an escape route out of the kitchen, she pulled the handle back over her shoulder, ready to pound whoever was coming in from the back porch.
"Clark? You up yeOOWWW!" The startled exclamation of the old man when he saw her made it clear that he hadn't expected anyone to be in the kitchen either. Warily, they stared at each other.
"Who are you?" the older man asked.
"I'm a friend of Clark's. Who are you?"
"I'm Wayne Irig, his neighbor."
Lois lowered her broom. "Oh! I've heard Clark mention your name." She extended her right hand. "I'm Lois Lane. Clark has been helping me out since my Jeep broke down." Much to Lois' pleasure, he firmly gripped her hand as he shook it.
"Pleasure to meet you, miss. Is Clark around? I, um, I need to, uh, ask him something." Wayne looked nervously around the room and over her shoulder.
"Well, Clark's upstairs. He's a, um, he's asleep—I think." She hated to say that, but it was true. Wasn't it strange for these country folks to sleep late? She didn't want this neighbor to get suspicious. "We, um, we had a late night last night." Lois smiled at him, willing him to leave.
Wayne looked up toward where the bedrooms would be. "In bed?" He looked slightly worried. "How long you been here, Ms. Lane?"
"Oh, since about Friday."
Again, Wayne looked startled. "Really? Hmmm. Well, I'd better go check on Clark. I came by to invite him over for Christmas supper. It's not like him to sleep in like this. You better check your stove, I think something's boiling over."
He started to move toward the door, but Lois cut him off. "No! I mean, I've already checked on him. He's fine. I'll give him your message."
Alarm was clearly evident in Wayne's eyes. "You've—you mean you've looked in on Clark already?" His voice had gotten higher and higher. He was looking at her and wringing his hands nervously.
Suddenly, it dawned on her what was going on. Wayne Irig knew. Clark had said they were old family friends. Of course he would know, wouldn't he? Or did Clark know that Wayne knew? She reached out and put her hand on his arm.
"Mr. Irig, I said I was a *friend* of Clark's. Believe me, he's just fine." She looked him squarely in the eyes. "He's fine. There's nothing to be afraid of."
The relief was physically evident, as if someone lifted a great weight off of him. He nodded his head and cast another glance up at the ceiling. "He's a special man. We care a great deal about him."
"So do I."
Wayne smiled at Lois, then patted her hand. "Well. Consider yourselves both invited to supper. We'll eat around five o'clock, but come over early." He made his way back to the door. "By the way. I think there might be some Comet cleanser under the sink. I'd try soaking that oatmeal to loosen it up first," he pointed back toward the stove then shut the door behind him.
Lois turned to see globs of oatmeal sliding down the outside of the pot, and burnt oatmeal starting to smoke lightly in the bottom of the pot.
"Oh, this is just *great*!"
(Monday, December 25, 1995, 10:56 a.m. CST)
Clark woke up slowly. He rolled over and looked at the clock, then sat up when he realized it was nearly eleven o'clock. He let his hearing stretch, and he picked up a heartbeat downstairs.
< Sigh. > She hadn't left after all. He knew she was still here last night, make that this morning, when he'd checked before he collapsed into bed. What he wasn't sure about was if she would still be here when he woke up.
The fact that she was still here was a bit troublesome, actually. It could only mean one thing, couldn't it? She knew and she was waiting to confront him. He flopped back down in bed, then realized he had a blanket covering him. He couldn't remember getting that. He tuned in again with his hearing to see if he could tell what she was doing.
She was talking to someone on the phone.
" < Merry Christmas to you too, Mom. Sorry I couldn't get there, but the mechanic in Smallville said they would have to order the parts for my Jeep. I'm sure the roads are better by now, so I don't know how long I'll be. > "
He let the conversation fade away, not wanting to intrude on a private phone conversation. He both wanted to see her and didn't want to see her. What would she do? What would he say? What *could* he say? He didn't think things through last night, he had just reacted. If he was lucky, he would still be able to create a new life somewhere else. He didn't want to kid himself. Lois Lane was an investigative reporter. Last night, he was sure she would have done some investigating.
Lying here, covered with grime wasn't getting him anywhere. He needed a shower. He would deal with Lois after he felt a little cleaner. Tossing off the blanket, he got out of bed.
Lois heard the shower come on in the bathroom, and knew that Clark was awake. The inevitable confrontation would occur soon, and she wasn't sure what she was going to say.
"Well, it was good talking with you. I've got to go, um, Clark and I are going to one of the neighbor's for Christmas dinner. Love you too, bye." Lois hung up the phone and then sat there, listening to the sound of running water coming from the bathroom.
They didn't have anywhere to go for dinner, so someone would have to make something. It didn't feel right for her to burden Clark with fixing lunch. Deciding she would have to figure something out, she made her way into the kitchen.
The big question was, what was she going to say to Clark? He had left last night without saying a word about where he was going. Things had been strained between them before that. How could she explain why she was still here? How could she confront him knowing what she knew? He would run, and Lois knew it. He had probably done it before. She now knew why he stayed in Kansas. He was hiding. He wanted to help, but he didn't want people to know about him. It was obvious from last night that Clark was probably petrified with fear about what she might, or might not know.
All these mental gymnastics weren't helping her to decide whether to say anything to Clark or not about the 'Angel.' How couldn't she!? She was a reporter, after all. She was also his friend, and she feared she was falling in love with him. In that light, how *could* she say anything? It was all so mind boggling.
After poking around, Lois thought she had the makings of something edible. She had nearly everything ready, and was trying to put all the ingredients together for the final step when she burnt her finger on the edge of the hot casserole dish.
"Ow! Of all the rotten—"
"Are you okay?"
Lois froze. She hadn't heard him come out of the bathroom. She was hoping to be done with this before he came into the kitchen. She slowly looked up and nearly dropped the pan she was holding.
There, standing in the doorway, looking absolutely adorable, was a half-naked Clark Kent. The towel was barely big enough to make it all the way around his slim waist, and the droplets of moisture across his chest and shoulders glistened. He had his glasses on, and that lock of hair hung down over his forehead again.
Clearing her throat as she put the pan down, Lois decided on her course of action. "I'm fine. Just touched a hot surface. How are you?"
Clark watched her warily. "I'm all right."
"Good. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. As much as I'm enjoying the free show, why don't you get something on and join me for lunch."
He had looked down at himself shyly at her comment, a touch of color in his cheeks. A small smile managed to break out on his face. "All right. I'll be right down." He looked back at her. "Lois, I want to explain about—"
"Better hurry," Lois cut him off. "I lied earlier about the oatmeal, but I haven't made macaroni and cheese since I was in Junior High. If early indications are anything, we will only have about ten minutes to eat this stuff before it becomes hard as a rock." She finished adding the melted cheese mixture to the noodles and started folding it in.
Clark was grinning more now. He paused as if to say something, then he went upstairs to change.
Lois finished setting the table and then sat down to wait.
A few moments later, Clark came in and sat down. "Hmmm. Smells good. I'm glad you decided to broaden your cooking experiences. I would have made something, but…" He trailed off and looked at her, the internal conflict evident in his eyes.
Lois waved him off and then picked up the serving spoon. "Don't worry, I understand." She put a large portion of macaroni on Clark's plate, then some on her own.
"You…you do?" Clark looked frightened and alarmed.
"Sure! Wayne Irig came by earlier. He told me you helped him with some cattle last night and that you were up late."
Clark looked down at his plate, confusion clearly on his face. "He…he did?"
"I must admit, I was pretty mad when you left last night. I almost left, but I realized I had no way to do that."
Clark was staring at his food, toying with it. "I'm sorry, Lois, I—"
Lois just kept on talking, hoping he would take the hint and move on. She really didn't want to have to talk about things right now. She needed more time to sort out her feelings, and Clark needed more time to figure out whom he really was and what he wanted to do. "But then I realized that you had made plans with Wayne earlier and I was keeping you from those plans. I can understand you not wanting me along. It was cold, hard work, and I wouldn't understand. How could I? I haven't been living with this," she motioned around her head with her hand, "for all my life. Talking to Wayne helped me understand that." < I had better get a hold of Wayne before Clark does and explain this to him. >
She dared a brief glance in his direction and noted that he was staring at some spot in the middle of the table, his mouth partly open. She could see he was struggling to assimilate what she was saying.
Clark re-ran her explanation over and over in his head. There were subtle undercurrents of knowledge in them, if he looked at them in a certain light. On the other hand, they were entirely innocent as well. It made logical sense to some degree. Wayne knew of his secret, but they never talked about it. Like his father, Wayne was a very conservative man. Most of the time, Clark hardly remembered Wayne knew. It sounded just like something the older man would do, to protect him and his secret. He needed to talk to Wayne to find out more details before Lois decided to ask more questions. It would be best to change the subject. Scooping up a large helping of the macaroni, he stuck it in his mouth.
"Hmmm! Not bad!"
"Really? Thanks." She smiled at him warmly. "Wayne also mentioned something about Christmas supper. He invited us both over. Oh! I haven't wished you a Merry Christmas yet this morning. Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas to you too, Lois." Clark put some pepper on his food. "Supper at the Irig's sounds good! You game?"
Lois grimaced. "Well, to tell you the truth, no. I don't know these people, and I don't have anything to take with me. But the thought of keeping you from going is even more unpleasant, so I'll manage."
"Lois, you know I'd be more than happy to stay here with you if you want. I can call and tell them we won't be there."
"No. I don't want to change your life too much, Clark, honestly. You've been so kind. I want you to be comfortable; I want you to be…yourself."
Clark put a hand on Lois shoulder. She could feel the warmth in it radiating through her clothes, tingling the skin underneath.
"You're an amazing, kind and wonderful person, Lois."
Lois ducked her head. "Not normally." She looked back up at him. "You seem to bring out the best in me though."
Clark smiled at Lois. He picked up his fork and tried to stick it in the uneaten food on his plate. Instead of sinking in, it bounced off.
They looked at each other, and for a second neither said anything. Then they busted out laughing. "Told you!"
After eating what they could salvage of lunch, Lois and Clark had sat at the dinner table just chatting, trying to regain that easy, comfortable feeling they had from yesterday. At first, it was awkward, but soon, the comfortable familiarity started to return. As the tension and worry drained from the couple, they once again grew close.
"I read some of your newspaper clippings last night, Clark."
"Oh?" < Why? > He couldn't help it, his suspicious nature started to return.
"I was looking for something…something to do. I noticed the scrapbook and was curious. Hope you don't mind."
Part of him did. "No, no. That's all right. I shouldn't have just left like I did. I'm sorr—"
Lois, who was tired of hearing him apologize, waved him off casually and continued as if nothing happened. "You did some pretty good writing. I really think you ought to think about my idea of free-lancing."
"Oh. That again," Clark smiled. "You just don't give up, do you?"
Lois leveled her eyes at him. "You have no idea," she said seriously.
Clark suddenly found the table in front of them very interesting.
"When I'm right about something, I rarely give up. And I'm right about your writing." She patted him on the arm to lighten up his mood. "And you need to think about those book tapes, and the book tour too."
Laughing, Clark shook his head. "I don't know." He saw her negative look and shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe. I'll think about it."
"Clark! You've already been all over the world. It's no big deal! Quit moping around this place and spread your wings a little. I think you will be surprised at what people's reactions will be."
Clark looked at Lois carefully. Her statements this afternoon were so loaded with double meanings he didn't know what to make of it. Before him sat, by all accounts, one of the best investigative reporters in the country. To think that his secret was still safe was almost ludicrous. And yet, here they were, talking as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Granted, they had grown close. But would that be enough to stop Lois Lane's reporter instincts? Comments like that last one, which was full of double meanings, made him doubt it. What was she trying to tell him? That she knew and it was okay because it didn't make any difference? If only that were true. Or was she truly only talking about his literary skills? He could never be sure, and he wasn't about to ask. The very thought nearly caused him to shiver.
"Maybe you're right, Lois."
Lois beamed. "Of course I am." She patted his arm again. "I noticed several paintings around the house. There's one in my room that I really like. They are all signed M. Kent. Is the M. for Martha, your Mother?"
Clark nodded. "Yes. She always had a creative side to her. You should see some of her metal sculptures." He tilted his head and looked off into the distance. "I can remember the first time she cut up one of my Dad's old plows for scrap metal. He'd been holding on to it for years. It was broken, and I doubt it could have been repaired. Even if it could have, it wouldn't have made much financial sense. Still, for some reason, Dad was attached to it."
Clark looked back at her. "Oh, well, he was extremely upset. Mom had this huge statue that was," he moved his hands around in front of him, "something like I'd never seen before. It was just plain weird. Mom tried to make it up to Dad by giving him the thing, but Dad—" he laughed, "—Dad wasn't into that sort of thing." He let out a soft sigh. "He spent a lot of time plowing for the next few days."
"Plowing? Why? What does that have to do with it?"
"Plowing was his way of working things out. His way of stepping back and looking at things. Whatever it was for, it seemed to work. They kissed and made up and that was the end of it."
"You're lucky. My parents *still* fight over stuff that happened when I was in elementary school. But I don't want to talk about them."
"Fair enough. Do you paint?"
"Heavens no. I don't have the time. You?"
Clark shook his head. "Never learned. I sometimes wonder where Mom found the time to do it."
"That picture in her room, the one by the mirror? I can almost feel the wind on my face when I look at it. She was very good."
They sat in companionable silence.
"Well," Clark stood up. "I need to check on a few things around the farm before we go to the Irig's. Want to come?"
"Does it mean cold, hard work?"
Clark tilted his head toward her, and spread his hands wide in front of him. "Of course! But you'll be with me."
Lois laughed. "All right, then. Give me a moment to get the boots you loaned me."
Clark watched as she hurried out of the kitchen, and then listened to her pound up the stairs. He hung his head and closed his eyes. He was either the luckiest man in the world or the dumbest, he didn't know which. Having Lois around fulfilled an empty part of him he didn't know existed. He was suddenly aware that soon, she would be leaving. Before he could think more about it, he heard her coming back down the stairs. Raising his head and putting a smile on his face, he prepared himself to spend some more time with her.
(Monday, December 25, 1995, 4:01 p.m. CST)
As Clark and Lois made their way up the stairs of the old farmhouse, the door suddenly flew open and a large, older woman emerged. She quickly closed the gap, and took Clark up in a long bear hug, patting him on the back solidly. "Oh, Clark, Merry Christmas! It's so good to see you. You need to come by more often. I rarely get to see you when you spend all your time with Wayne out in the fields."
Clark embraced her back just as enthusiastically. "Merry Christmas, Jan, Wayne."
Wayne was standing right behind his wife and Lois took the opportunity to give him a quick hug. "Merry Christmas, Wayne." Then she quietly whispered in his ear. "I need to talk to you about this morning; urgent."
He pulled back with a perplexed look on his face.
"So who's your pretty, little friend?" She gave her husband a hard look. "You seem to be pretty friendly with her, dear."
"Now hon, this is Clark's friend, Lois Lane. I just met her this morning when I went over to his place."
"Well, any friend of Clark's is a friend of mine. Merry Christmas, dear." She gave Lois a large bear hug that nearly crushed the air out of her. "Just call me Jan."
Wayne went to shake Clark's hand and was surprised when the younger man pulled him into a hug.
"Wayne, we need to talk," Clark whispered.
Not sure what to do, Wayne turned to his wife. "Ah, hon? Why don't you take Clark in and have him see if he can get that blasted water heater re-lit. My eyes aren't as good as they used to be."
Jan let go of Lois and turned back to Clark. "Oh, of all the rotten luck. The pilot light on the water heater has gone out a couple of times today. Wayne keeps lighting it, but he can hardly see to do it." She was ushering him into the house as she talked.
Wayne and Lois hung back slightly. "What did you need to talk about, Lois?"
Lois watched Clark's retreating form as long as she could. Would he be able to hear her?
Wayne noticed her hesitation. "Don't worry. He won't listen."
"You're right. He wouldn't. He doesn't know I *know*, you know? I haven't—I couldn't tell him."
Lois sighed. "He seems so jumpy and afraid. I'm afraid that if I told him he'd run, and I would never see him again. You see, I'm an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet."
Lois watched as the blood drained from Wayne Irig's face.
"Don't worry. I said Clark was my friend, and I meant it. I want to make sure we stay friends." < Maybe even more… >
Shaking his head slightly, Wayne recovered quickly. "Ah-um," he cleared his throat. "I think you're right. Clark would run."
"Right. So I told him that you came over this morning and told me he had been helping you with some cattle overnight."
"Ooohhh. All right, I see. Thanks for letting me know about the cover story. I'm sure he'll ask me about it later." He walked over to the door and held it open for her. "We better get inside before we catch a cold!"
Wayne and Lois found the other two in the kitchen, pouring some hot cider. Clark looked up as they came in and Lois couldn't help but smile widely at him.
Clark stood up. "Hey, Wayne. Come take a look at what I found. I think I know why the pilot light keeps going out." They walked out to the back porch. As soon as they were alone, Clark turned toward Wayne.
"Wayne, I can't thank you enough for this morning."
Wayne shook his head. "Don't think anything of it. I was worried about you, so I decided to check in on you. I saw what happened out in Colorado." The look on Clark's face told him plenty. "Rough, huh?"
"It's just that I couldn't figure out how to get away sooner. If only I had—"
"You can't be everywhere at once. You're damn lucky no one saw you. This 'Guardian Angel' thing is getting out of hand."
Clark just looked at his feet.
"Oh, shoot, Clark. I'm sorry. I don't mean to jump all over you, I'm just glad you're all right." A small smile touched his face. "I must admit, I was a might surprised this morning when I came into your house only to find a *very* pretty young woman standing in the kitchen wielding a broom as a weapon."
Clark's head snapped up. "A broom?"
"She must have thought I was a burglar or something."
Clark could just see Lois standing in the kitchen, a broom raised like a baseball bat, ready to strike. He laughed. "You're lucky she didn't take you out."
"I'll say. She told me you were helping her out?"
"Looong story. Maybe we can talk about it over supper."
Lois couldn't remember a Christmas she'd enjoyed more. Jan Irig had cooked enough to feed twenty people, and wouldn't take no for an answer when passing out refills. Clark and Lois had told their tale of how she had come to this part of the country. The Irig's, in turn, had passed on some of Clark's childhood memories. After supper, they had gone into the living room to sit around the fire. Jan had played some old Christmas tunes on the piano, and had badgered them into singing a few songs. Now, it was getting late, and despite the fact Lois was enjoying herself, she felt a yawn building.
"Oh, it looks like someone is ready for bed," Jan teased. She stood up and started making her way toward the kitchen. "Just let me get you some leftovers, and you can be on your way."
"It's all right, Jan. You don't need to get us anything," Clark called after her.
"Hush now!" came her reply from the kitchen.
Lois stood up and stretched. "I'm going to go help." She walked into the kitchen. "What can I do to help?" she asked the older woman.
"Just let me know if you need anything that I'm not packing." The older woman moved about with enthusiasm, and Lois wondered where she got her energy.
"Are you about ready?" Clark called from the doorway.
Jan had her head in a cupboard. "Just about…" She turned around and stared at Clark.
"What?" Clark looked down at himself. "Did I get some food on me?"
"Oh, no. It's not that. I just noticed you're standing under the mistletoe, dear." She grinned widely, and raised an eyebrow at Lois.
Lois looked between Clark and Jan several times. "Oh! I don't— I mean, we can't—"
"Well, I'm not going to kiss him, he's like a son to me. And if Wayne were to kiss him, I'd have to wonder about all that time they spend together out in the fields."
Clark nearly choked. "Jan!"
Lois laughed loudly. She looked at Clark and noticed he looked scared, but hopeful. The thought of kissing him had crossed her mind more than once, to be sure. Before she could think twice about it, she was standing in front of Clark, looking up into his eyes.
He hesitated for a brief second, then slowly leaned down and lightly touched his lips to hers. The contact was fleeting, and for Lois, at least, not enough. She reached up and grasped him by the neck to prevent him from retreating anymore than he had. She only caught a glimpse of his confused look before she pulled him into a deeper kiss. She could feel him resist at first, then he relaxed and put his arms around her.
The kiss only lasted for a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime to Lois. She never would have imagined so much could be said with such a simple act. She felt his fear, his anxiety, his hidden passion and his loneliness in that small kiss. He broke away, and kept his eyes lowered so she couldn't see what was in them.
"Thank you…" he hoarsely whispered. His mind was still in shock, and he didn't trust himself to say anything else.
"Merry Christmas, Clark."
(Monday, December 25, 1995, 9:48 p.m. CST)
Clark held the door open for Lois and then followed her into his home. He was still a bit dizzy from the kiss earlier, and being this close to her wasn't helping. He wasn't sure if it was her heartbeat that was hammering in his skull or his.
Lois turned to him after they had shed their coats. "Here, let me have some of that stuff. I'll help you put it away."
Clark handed her some things, and then put the rest in the refrigerator. He turned back around to catch Lois yawning again. "I think you had better head on up to bed. Tomorrow's going to be here sooner than you think."
Lois thought about arguing, but realized he was right. "Okay. I'm off to bed. Goodnight." As she started to walk past him she stopped and looked up at him. She was torn. Should she kiss him good night? She wanted to, but if she did, she might not get any sleep!
Clark watched her hesitate in front of him, and couldn't help himself. He took a light hold on her chin with his forefinger and thumb. Turning her head up to his, he leaned in and gave her a soft kiss. "Goodnight, Lois. Sleep well."
"Thank you, Clark." She left before she could do anything else. She was half way up the stairs when she heard his voice call out to her.
She stopped, not daring to turn around. "Yes?"
"I have, um. I have a Christmas present for you."
Lois spun around to face him. "You do? Oh, Clark! But I don't have anything for you!"
"That's all right. Would you come down and sit on the couch here in the front room?"
"Is my present under that psychedelic tree of yours?"
Clark laughed. "Part of it is. Come on down, and I'll show you."
Lois went back downstairs and sat on the couch. Clark reached over and turned on the revolving color wheel and laughed when he saw her roll her eyes. Sure enough, there was a present under the tree.
Clark knelt down on his knee in front of her, and reached into his front pocket, fishing for something. For a brief, horrifying instant, Lois thought he was going to propose. He pulled out a small bottle with red and green bows tied around the neck. "Here's something to remember your stay here with."
She took the bottle and noticed it was filled with tiny grains of wheat. She laughed. "Thanks, Clark. I'll put this on my desk at work." She looked at the bottle and felt a tinge of sadness come over her. Here was physical proof that she would have to leave. Her attention was drawn to Clark again as he moved over to the tree.
Clark picked up the present and handed it to her. It was wrapped in brown paper, like from a grocery bag. "Sorry. I didn't have any wrapping paper."
Lois tore the paper off and gasped as she saw the painting inside. "Your mother's painting! Oh, Clark, I can't…"
"Yes, you can. I want you to have it. I know you like it, and I want you to enjoy it. I know Mom would have wanted you to have it."
An idea struck Lois. "Wait right here, Clark." She jumped up and ran upstairs to her room. She returned a minute or so later, carrying a brightly wrapped present. Lois handed it to Clark. "Merry Christmas."
"I thought you said you didn't have a present for me?"
"Well, I didn't. It was for my father, but," she laughed, "I'm not going to see him and you could use this on your book tour."
Clark glared at her, but didn't correct her. "A second hand present. How thoughtful," he said playfully.
Lois lightly whacked him on the shoulder. "Just hush, and open it already."
Clark carefully removed the wrapping and opened the box. Inside he found three of the wildest ties he had ever seen in his life. "Lois! These are the most outrageous ties I have ever seen!"
"I know!" Lois couldn't help but giggle. "I thought they would be a perfect contrast to that mild-mannered farmboy routine you usually show people."
They sat and looked at each other for a moment.
"Well. I'm off to bed." Lois stood and picked up her presents. "See you in the morning, Clark."
"Goodnight, Lois. Merry Christmas."
(Tuesday, December 26, 1995, 9:37 a.m. CST)
Lois and Clark were washing the morning's dishes together in the kitchen. Clark didn't have a dishwasher, and Lois had volunteered to help. They had been discussing what to do for the rest of the day when the phone rang. Since Clark was elbow deep in suds, Lois answered the phone.
"Hello, Kent residence."
" < Oh! Hello! Is this Lois Lane? > "
Lois was a bit surprised. Who knew she was here? Her sister and her parents. She hoped nothing was wrong. Jimmy knew, but this wasn't him, or anyone else she recognized from the Planet. "This is she, can I help you?"
" < This is Steve from Cooper Auto Repair. I'm calling you about your Jeep. > "
Lois felt a brief moment of relief. "Oh, hello. Sorry about earlier, I know I shouldn't have been so hot-headed."
" < It's no problem. I was calling to tell you that your Jeep will be ready late this afternoon. > "
"What? So early? I thought it was going to take a while?"
" < Well, the roads are pretty much cleared off by now. The parts store in Emporia had everything we needed and it will all be here by 10:30. It's a straightforward job, and we don't have any other jobs that need working on at the moment. I figured I could bring the Jeep by Clark's place on my way to my parents' farm this evening after work. I thought you were in a hurry? > "
If he could bring the Jeep by tonight, and the roads were clear, then there was no reason to stay any longer. That was what she wanted, wasn't it? To get back to Metropolis? She turned to look at Clark, and noticed he was staring at the soap bubbles intently, the muscles in his jaw twitching. "Well, yes, I was in a hurry, but Christmas is over now."
" < I'm sorry, ma'am. I tried my best. But with the snow and all— > "
"No, no. I understand, and you're perfectly right. I just appreciate everything you've done."
" < Well, I'll see you folks about 5:30 tonight then. Goodbye. > "
"Goodbye." She hung up the phone and found her good mood from earlier had dissipated somewhat. Lois always knew that she was going to have to leave at some point, but she didn't think it would be so soon. Had she really been here since Friday night? It seemed so much had happened, so much had changed.
"Good news?" His voice was quiet and controlled.
Lois tried to put a smile on her face and turned around. "Yes. That was Steve from the repair shop. He said he'd be able to bring my Jeep by tonight on the way to his parents'."
"Ahhh. Good, good." Clark looked out the kitchen window for a second. "They, um…they live just down the road. About another five miles or so." He looked back down into the soap bubbles. "Nice people," he said quietly.
Lois leaned against the counter and crossed her arms across her chest. She didn't know what to say or do. She wasn't even sure how she was feeling right now.
After a few moments of silence, Clark handed her another plate to dry. "Guess that means you will be heading back to the rat-race tomorrow, huh? I suspect the roads are pretty well clear by now."
Lois dried the plate and put it in the cupboard. "Yes, I should probably be getting back into work. I still have a few more places to go for my 'Guardian Angel' research."
Clark took a quick look of surprise at her, but then diverted his eyes back to the sink full of bubbles. "Oh, yes. I almost forgot about that."
< Right! Oh, Clark. What do I do now? > "After the great job he did in Colorado recently, I'm sure I'll have my hands full when I get back to Metropolis."
< Great job? Hardly. All those people who didn't make it. > Clark couldn't help it. The painful memories of the cold, stiff bodies in his arms sent a shiver up his spine.
Lois noticed it, however. She wanted to take him in her arms and let him know that it was all right. That she was sorry she had kept him that night. She reached out to put her hand on his shoulder, opening her mouth to say something.
"Well! That takes care of the dishes." He turned away from her and dried his hands on a towel. He put the towel down and walked over to the table and pushed the chairs fully under it. He turned to look at her.
"You know, I've told you all about my travels, but you haven't told me much at all about the work you do."
"Nope. I mean, I know you're investigating a story now, but what about some of the other stories you've done?"
"What about them?"
Clark leaned back against the table, crossing his arms in front of him. "Well, I'm curious. I've done some reporting, and I got a degree in journalism, so naturally I want to hear what it's like from someone who's so good at it."
A small smile broke out on Lois' face. "You do, huh? It's pretty boring stuff, actually."
Clark was grinning. "Yeah! Right! Like that series you did on Lex Luthor was just your normal, everyday thing."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Let's not talk about Lex. I'll tell you *anything* you want to know, but can we leave him out of it?"
Clark looked a little confused. "All right, if you want to. I, personally, thought it was some of your best work. Didn't you get a Kerth for that? To think he was into so many shady dealings…"
Lois started pacing the kitchen. "Grrrr… Yes. I won a Kerth. Yes. It *was* good. I tend to do my best work when I have a personal stake in things. No! I don't want to talk about it any more."
Clark stood up and put his hands on her shoulders, stopping her pacing. "Hey! It's all right. I won't ask again. I'm sorry."
Lois felt her anger drain away. "Oh, I'm sorry, Clark. You don't know what went on between us. For a while, the two of us were a bit serious. Things got complicated and personal. Suffice it to say, I was lucky I got out the way I did." She gave him a quick smile. "I promise to tell you the whole story sometime, after I've had a chance to work some things out."
Clark smiled at her. "Okay, you can wait and tell me…sometime." He didn't want to think about when that might be since they both knew that she was going to be leaving soon. "Why don't we go into the den and you can tell me about some of your other adventures?"
"Adventures?! What do you think this line of work is like? All cloak and dagger, with excitement and near death experiences thrown in to keep it interesting?"
They turned to walk out of the kitchen, Clark letting Lois go first.
"I'll have you know that usually it's a lot of hard work, hours spent researching through dusty, old file rooms. Endless amounts of time being on hold on the phone. Days and days of relentless boredom while you wait for a story to come your way."
Clark smiled at her retreating form. "And you love it."
"You better believe it."
"So this toy maker only wanted revenge for being fired?"
Lois nodded her head. "Right. He felt like making everyone suffer from greed, like he had. Only the orphanage children caused him to have a change of heart."
Clark sat back against the couch. "So, you didn't get to spend Christmas with your family last year either."
"No." Lois didn't feel like telling him that she had planned a big dinner at her place but no one showed up. It made her sound so pitiful, and she wanted to forget about all that.
"I wish sometimes that I had gone to work for a big paper like the Planet. Who knows, maybe I could be of some help in some way."
Lois looked at him carefully. "I'm sure you find ways of helping whenever you can."
He looked at her in alarm. "What do you mean?"
Casually, Lois tapped her own chest. "Look at what you've done for me. The lady at the motel the other day said you're always helping people."
"Oh. Well, I try. I don't do anything special…"
"Just being you is special. I don't know anyone as nice as you, Clark."
Clark shook his head. "I'm not special. I'm just doing what my parents taught me." He looked off into the distance. "I'm just being what they wanted me to be."
< Is that why you hide, Clark? > "I'd say they did a good job."
"Yes, they did. The best they knew how, anyway."
Lois shifted a bit closer to him. "What do *you* want to be, Clark?"
"What?" Her question confused him. What did he want to be? What was that supposed to mean? "I'm a farmer, I don't want to be anything else."
"Uh-huh." Lois tone of voice made it clear she didn't believe him. "You're a farmer because your parents were farmers and needed your help." She took his hand in hers. "Now they are gone, and don't need your help any longer. *You* need your help."
"I don't follow…"
"Clark, you are so much more than just a farmer. I can feel it. I know you do too. I read it in every word you wrote in those books. I read it in every word of your articles. I see it in every knick-knack and bizarre piece of tourist bounty you have throughout the house."
They had turned toward each other, and Lois was holding both of his hands in hers. She searched his face. "Don't you see it yourself, Clark? Is farming enough now?"
Now? Before Lois had come into his life, it had been. But now? Could it ever be enough again? What did he want? He looked back into her eyes and saw something there that frightened him. He didn't see the hard, driven investigative reporter he had picked up off the icy road four days ago. He saw the face of a woman who he was desperately trying not to fall in love with.
"I'm not sure I understand."
Lois stood up, suddenly enthused about something. "Come on, Clark. I'll show you." She pulled him off the couch and towed him with her to her 'Guardian Angel' research. She picked up the map and opened it up.
"What are you doing, Lois?" He couldn't keep the nervousness from his voice. Getting too close to this stuff just made him want to run. So many facts. So much exposure. He shifted back and forth on his feet.
"I've been looking at this data for months. It's all becoming a blur to me. The other night, you took one look at it and saw things I didn't." She turned to look up at him. "Don't you see?"
He saw things all right, none of which he was thrilled about. Headlines three inches tall containing his name and 'freak' chief among them.
Lois continued as if she didn't see the fear in his eyes. "Let's try an experiment. I'll ask you some questions and you answer with your first gut reaction."
"No. I don't think this is such a good idea."
Lois grabbed his arm to keep him from moving away. "Why do you suppose the 'Angel' does what he does?"
Clark hesitated. What was he supposed to do? Was she setting him up? Was she hoping he would slip and expose himself? He didn't want to have anything to do with this. He looked at her to tell her as much, but stopped when he saw the hopeful look that she was giving him, so full of love. Her look seemed to say 'Trust me. You can do this.'
"Well…" he licked his lips, "I'd say that he, assuming it *is* a he, wants to help people."
Lois rolled her eyes. "The 'Angel' is a *he*, trust me on this one."
"How do you know?" He was afraid of the answer, but he had to know.
Lois patted him on the chest. "Reporter's instinct." She looked down at the hand on his firm chest. "Or maybe it was woman's intuition. Something about this guy speaks to the inner woman in me." She looked up to see what his reaction would be, and wasn't disappointed. He looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. Wanting to run, but too scared to do so.
"So, he wants to help. What does he have to gain by doing that?" Lois watched him carefully. He looked confused.
"Gain? Why would you assume he wanted to gain anything from this?" He certainly didn't want anything. Except his privacy.
"Why not? Everyone wants something. If something is too good to be true, it usually is. What reason would he have for doing this if there wasn't anything in it for him?"
"It's not like that!" Frustrated, Clark moved away from her. He'd never wanted anything for helping. "It's— He might be helping solely because he can."
"Right. Because he can."
Clark turned back around to face Lois. "Exactly. Because he can. Because he's got these incredible gifts and it doesn't seem right to not use them in some way to help people."
Lois started pacing again. She always thought better while she paced. "All right. Let's assume he's just a good guy with exceptional abilities. And he wants to help people. If that's the case, then why sneak around? Why the dark clothes? Why limit his activities to when people won't see him?"
"Maybe he's afraid. Look, we've talked about this before. People would mob the poor guy. He'd never have a moment's peace."
Lois stopped in front of Clark. "But don't you see how much more this person could do if he would quit hiding?"
Clark was shocked. "What?" he whispered. "How?"
"People need someone like the 'Angel.' They need what he can do for the world."
"What if he doesn't want to belong to the world? What if he's afraid of making mistakes? What if he can't always get there in time? What if he can't protect everyone? What if he…he—"
"What he can't do doesn't matter. It's the idea that matters. Someone to believe in. Someone to build a few hopes around. Whatever he *can* do, that's enough."
"Lois…" his voice trailed off as he felt something change between them. Somehow they had ended up close together. Her hands were on his chest and he had rested his hands on her shoulders. He looked deeply into her eyes. What he found was understanding. He felt this irresistible urge to kiss her. Their lips drew closer, and he could feel her breath as it brushed against his lips.
Suddenly, there was a loud banging coming from the other room. Clark jumped back, and looked down so Lois wouldn't see the disappointment and conflict in his eyes.
"Ah. Well. Wonder who that is?" Damn! She was so close. She could tell that Clark was relenting under her attack. Not only that, but he had nearly kissed her again, and she wouldn't have minded repeating that any time soon. Lois looked down at her watch. "Oh! It's almost a quarter till six."
Clark turned and ran his hands through his hair. He was sweating! He *never* sweat anymore. "That'll be Steve, then. Bringing your Jeep by."
Lois nodded and then walked toward the sound. "Right. My Jeep. I'll go answer the door." She disappeared from sight as she left Clark alone in the den.
Clark let out a long, slow breath of air. "Get a grip, Clark." He walked over to Lois' 'Angel' research and put it away nicely. Did she do this because she knew about him, or was she honestly trying to get him to just broaden his life beyond farming? He was so confused, he was shaking. Everything she said made some sense, and yet he couldn't forget a lifetime of his parents' preaching.
Regardless, it didn't matter. She would be leaving in the morning and then his life would return to normal. He wasn't immediately sure if that was a good thing or not.
Lois came back into the room. "Clark, I'm going to take the Jeep for a test drive while Steve is here."
Clark turned to her. "Sounds like a good idea. I'll get supper going." He watched as she left to go get her coat and purse. Would the jitters he had be gone once she left, or would the emptiness inside him grow to consume him? Shaking his head, he went to the kitchen to see what he could prepare for their meal.
After Lois had come back from her test drive, she had helped Clark fix supper, all hints of their earlier conversation forgotten. Well, not forgotten, but not talked about any longer, much to Clark's relief. He didn't know if he could handle any more. They had shared a few more stories about themselves over the course of the meal, and had regained the companionable chemistry they shared on earlier occasions.
Clean up had become a familiar routine between the two and before long, they found themselves sitting on the couch in the living room, in front of the fire. They had been sitting there for a few minutes in silence, having talked for most of the night about all sorts of things. Thankfully, the 'Angel' never came up again. Beside him, Lois sighed heavily.
"I keep putting it off, but it's not going to go away. I need to go pack and make sure I have everything for in the morning. I think I'll take a shower tonight as well. That way I won't have to worry about that sort of thing in the morning either."
Clark tried to keep the sadness out of his voice, but wasn't sure if he had managed. "Okay. Do you need anything?"
"No. Thank you for being so kind. I—" Lois looked down at her hands in her lap. She didn't know what else to say. "I better get going." She stood up and headed for the stairs.
Clark watched her go, briefly admiring the slim, but well-rounded figure. When she was out of sight, he stood up and turned on the radio, tuning in to an easy listening/soft rock station. He wanted so badly to go out flying. It seemed to calm him and help him clear his mind. Right now, his head was anything but clear.
He looked at the aluminum Christmas tree and smiled at the memories of Lois' reaction when he pulled it from the box. He heard the shower upstairs come on, and the urge to peek in started to grow. He felt ashamed of his body's reaction to Lois. Once again, he found he wasn't able to control himself around her. He really needed that flight. Maybe just a short one.
Walking quickly toward the back door, he barely remembered to grab his coat as he exited the house and shot into the night's sky.
The hot shower had done wonders to relax her. The thought of leaving was having more of an impact than she thought possible. Maybe she could convince him to come with her! No, she shook her head. He wasn't ready for that. Would they be able to stay in contact with each other after she had left? Was this relationship doomed to die, flickering out from the vast amount of physical distance between them? When was it exactly that she had lost her heart to this man?
She finished packing her things away, careful to include the small bottle of wheat kernels. The painting required special care, so she just put it on top of the suitcase. Would she ever get to see a real Kansas wheat field, fully ripe, waving in the wind? With a heavy sigh, she set off to find Clark.
Clark held the picture of his parents close so he could make out every detail of their faces. He stood in front of the fireplace, looking at his favorite picture of them. Whenever he was feeling lost, or confused, talking with them like this seemed to help.
< Mom? Dad? What should I do? Have you seen her? She's amazing, isn't she? I'm afraid. I'm afraid of what I feel for her. I'm afraid of what she might or might not feel for me. I'm afraid of what she knows. In just a few short days, she's managed to turn my life nearly upside down. I miss your counsel and advice in times like these. > A tear fell from his face and landed on the glass. He brushed it away with his thumb. "What do I do now?"
Lois came down the stairs and saw him standing there, the fire causing his skin to glow with an otherworldly shine. He was looking at a picture of his parents. She heard him say something. "Clark? Are you all right?"
He looked up and blushed a little. He put the picture down on the mantle. "Just talking to my parents."
"Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt."
"You didn't." He gave her a reassuring smile.
An awkward moment passed between them where neither of them knew exactly where to look.
"Yes. All ready to…go."
"Ah. Good…good. Um, what…time do you think you will…leave?"
"Oh, I was thinking of trying to get away early."
"It's a long drive."
"Yes, I imagine it is."
A soft song came on the radio.
She looked up at him. "Yes?"
"Would you like to—dance? With me?"
Lois ducked her head as she giggled. She looked back up at him and smiled. "Sure. That sounds wonderful."
Clark moved closer to her and put his arm around her waist and took her hand with the other. They moved slowly to the music for a moment, then Lois simply let go of his hand and wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head down against Clark's chest.
"Will we stay in touch with each other, Clark?"
Clark closed his eyes against the pain. "Sure we will. We're both writers, after all."
Lois giggled against his chest, and Clark nearly died. What would he do without her in his life?
"Think you might ever get to Metropolis sometime to see me?" She looked up into his eyes.
"Ohhhh. I dunno. Maybe. Like I said, Metropolis is a little big for me."
"I survived Smallville. It was a little small for me."
Clark laughed. "I bet! Would you be willing to show me around and hold my hand?"
Clark suddenly found it hard to talk. "You could…stay here for a while." He diverted his eyes from hers.
Lois almost said yes, but knew it would be impossible.
"Nah. You'd never be able to leave your job." Clark kissed her forehead.
The song on the radio ended, but neither wanted to let go of the other. Another song started playing, and Lois felt her heart stop when she recognized it.
I know it's late, I know you're weary
I know your plans don't include me
They grew quiet, each stopping to look at each other.
Still here we are, both of us lonely
Longing for shelter from all that we see
Lois' mind was a mixture of emotions. < I never thought I would meet anyone like you, Clark! Is this really the end? Will I really leave knowing how much I love you? >
Why should we worry, no one will care, girl
Look at the stars so far away
Clark wanted so much to just pick her up and show her the stars as only he could. < All you have to do is let her in, Clark. Just open up and let her in. >
We've got tonight, who needs tomorrow?
We've got tonight babe
Why don't you stay?
Lois looked away suddenly. She could see the hope the words of the song had put in his eyes. It was like he was asking her to stay.
Deep in my soul I've been so lonely
All of my hopes fading away
She looked back at him, unable to keep her eyes turned away. < This is what you're feeling, isn't it Clark? > Then, she realized that to some extent, she was feeling that way too.
I've longed for love like everyone else does
I know I'll keep searching even after today
She watched, her heart wrenching as a single tear came trailing down his cheek. The hope and desperation in his eyes were almost too much. Hot, wet tears slipped loose from her own eyes, causing her to see sparkles around him.
So there it is girl, I've said it all now
And here we are babe, what do you say?
They had stopped dancing. Clark was pulling her closer and she wasn't resisting. The world condensed down to just the two of them and the song, speaking to both of their hearts.
We've got tonight, who needs tomorrow?
We've got tonight babe
Why don't you stay?
Lois grabbed him and hugged him close to her with all her strength. His hand came up to grasp her behind her head and he guided her lips to his. The passion between them could no longer be held back, and they sought each other's kiss with abandon.
I know it's late, I know you're weary
I know your plans don't include me
Still here we are, both of us lonely
Both of us lonely
Lois broke free from the kiss, her heart pounding in her ears, and her body shaking. "No…I can't. I—I have to go back."
We've got tonight, who needs tomorrow?
"Lois, I lo—"
She put her hand over his lips, stopping him.
Let's make it last, lets find a way
"Shhhh… Don't say anything, *please*," she pleaded.
Turn out the light, come take my hand now
"Let me remember things just like this. It's nearly perfect, let me remember it just like this."
We've got tonight babe
Lois bolted from the room, taking the stairs two at a time before she changed her mind. The look in his eyes was unbearable.
Why don't you stay?
Lois rushed into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. The song's lyrics kept echoing in her head, even though the radio was out of hearing range.
Why don't you stay?
(Wednesday, December 27, 1995, 7:55 a.m. CST)
Lois put the painting into the back seat, making sure it was protected well for the long trip home. Clark came out of the farmhouse and walked over to the Jeep. He was carrying a bag and a thermos.
"I've made you something for lunch and some coffee." He gave them to her, keeping his eyes on the ground between them.
"Thanks, but I can't take this thermos from you."
"It's all right," he looked up at her, "maybe you can return it someday." He smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes.
"Or you can come and get it."
Lois put the things in the Jeep and then turned back to him. "Well. Goodbye, Clark. Thank you for all that you've done for me."
Clark was shaking from trying to control himself and to keep from crying. Finally, he gave up. "Oh, Lois!" He grabbed her tightly and held on to her, wanting never to let go, but knowing he had to.
Lois gripped him as hard as she could, desperately wanting to feel every inch of him pressed against her. Neither of them felt like they could talk, so they just held each other.
Finally, Clark let go and stepped back. "Stay in touch."
"I will, I promise." Lois got in her Jeep, started it up and put it in gear.
Clark stepped back as she pulled off, heading down the drive. He lowered his glasses and watched her reflection in her rear-view mirror. He knew that if she looked back, he wouldn't be able to bear it. Without even bothering to check to see if anyone else was within viewing distance, he shot straight up into the sky, then turned south, accelerating to get away from the pain.
Lois paused at the end of the drive. She turned her blinker on and looked both ways. She looked both ways again. Her mind was telling her foot to remove itself from the brake and press the gas peddle, but her foot wasn't listening.
"Don't look back, Lois. Don't look back." She knew she wouldn't be able to take the sight of his lonely outline highlighted against the snow. If she looked back, she might not be able to leave. In horror, she felt her eyes move to the rear-view mirror.
There was nothing there. She blinked and looked again. Nothing. She turned around and looked over her shoulder, but he was truly gone. Run away, like she knew he would. Feeling her heart break, her foot relinquished its hold on the brake pedal and smashed enthusiastically on the gas pedal. With a cloud of exhaust and snow, her stay in a Kansas farmhouse fairytale ended. Lois Lane was returning home, to Metropolis.
(Wednesday, February 14, 1996, 10:13 a.m. CST)
Lois sat back in her chair with a heavy sigh, her tenth one in as many minutes. She hated Valentines Day. Especially this one. Her eyes once again found the little bottle of wheat kernels that had been sitting on her desk for a month and a half now. Had it really been that long? It seemed like only last week she arrived back in Metropolis to find the whole journalistic world turned upside-down over the 'Guardian Angel' sightings. With speculation running wild, she had all the answers anyone could ever want. Only she couldn't tell anyone. Not ever.
At times, that hurt. Like when Perry blew a gasket once he found out that she had been in Kansas and yet had come back empty handed. He had quickly forgotten it as soon as another crisis arose, but she hadn't. She *had* found out the story behind the Guardian Angel's appearance. She *was* the best reporter he or any other editor was likely to see for some time. There was just no way for her to tell anyone about it.
The worst had to be when Diana Stride had appeared on television and proceeded to outline in great detail the events that had occurred at the power plant and in the mountains. Where she had obtained her information, Lois could only wonder. Being scooped was bad enough, but being scooped by *that* woman was the worst. It was only made worse by what Lois knew, but couldn't tell.
Her conversations with Clark played out in her mind again, and she closed her eyes, trying to recapture each and every nuance of his voice in her head. She knew how scared he was of being "discovered." There had to be some way to get through to him, to let him know the world needed him. He needed convincing that the world would accept him, and the world needed convincing that it needed him.
Over the past few weeks, she had tried to put a positive spin on her 'Angel' stories in an effort to educate the general public. Perry had taken notice of her handywork and had only questioned her on it once. She wasn't about to back down, and he seemed to sense that. The only truly depressing thing that came of the whole thing was that the number of potential Guardian Angel sightings had dropped dramatically after the New Year.
<Where are you Clark? What are you doing?> She let herself slip deeper into her thoughts. There were times she would re-read one of his books to help her unlock the memories of when they had sat together, Clark retelling stories of his adventures. She loved remembering the sound of his voice. Sitting here now, she could picture the two of them together in his den, smell the various scents about the room, feel the touch of his hand on her shoulder.
"Lois! Wake up!" Perry nudged her again.
Lois shot up straight in her chair, momentarily disoriented. "Ahh! I'm…I'm…sorry, Perry. I don't know—"
Perry knelt down next to her and put a hand on her forearm. "Lois, darlin', are you all right?" He had dropped the gruff editor act. Right now, he felt more like a concerned father. In many ways, Perry had been more of a father to Lois than either admitted.
"I'm fine, Perry. Really. I was just…remembering."
Perry looked into her eyes, trying to read the real message lurking there. "Lois, if there is anything wrong—"
"No, there's nothing wrong." Lois smiled to reassure him.
Perry stood up, putting the editor mask back on. "Well, then. Quit dozing off on my time and get me some copy." He gave her a little private grin and turned back toward his office, bellowing at Jimmy to get him the latest photos before the afternoon deadline.
Lois' gaze fell on the telephone. 'I should call him. Find out if everything is all right. What if something has happened?' She quickly reached for the phone then stopped short. "Oh my gosh! I don't know his phone number!" Hadn't they exchanged information? She thought back to her last day at the farm. No, they hadn't. They had meant to, but emotions had ruled the day and little details like phone numbers had been forgotten.
Fifteen minutes later, she still couldn't find a phone number for one Clark Kent of Smallville, Kansas. Either he had an unlisted number, or she had dreamed the whole thing while she slept in her Jeep in a ditch somewhere waiting for the snow to melt. It would be just her luck that it really was all just a dream. Inspiration hit and she picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory. Lois impatiently pounded her nails on the desk as she waited for the other end to answer.
"< < Hello? > >"
"Lucy! You're home! Great! I have a favor. Did you keep Clark's phone number?"
"< < Clark? Who? What are you talking about? Who's Clark?> >"
"Clark Kent! The guy who helped me out at Christmas. I gave you guys his phone number, remember?"
"< < Oh! Yeah, I remember now. I threw that out a long time ago. > >"
"Oh, no! What am I going to do now?"
"< < What do you need it for?> >"
Her mind racing in a million directions, Lois barely heard her sister. "I could get Jimmy to hack into the phone company. Or maybe I could convince Henderson to do me a favor. I'm sure he owes me one."
"< < What? Lois, are you listening to me? What do you want his number for? > >"
"Oh, Lucy, sorry. I…I just wanted to get in touch with him again. We became pretty good friends, but I forgot to get his number." Lois' hopes started to fall. What would she do now?
"< < I bet mother would have it. She keeps everything. > >"
Instantly, her hopes where high again. "I bet you're right! Thanks, Lucy. Talk to you later." In her enthusiasm, she hung up before waiting to hear another word. Again she lifted the phone and quickly dialed a number from memory.
"< < Hel—> >"
Lois cut in before her mother could finish her greeting. "Mom! It's Lois, do you have Clark Kent's phone number?"
"< < Oh, hello, Lois. So nice of you to call once in a while to see how I'm doing, > >" her mother replied sarcastically.
Lois rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry, Mother, but it's important. I need to get in contact with Clark and I don't have his home phone number. I gave it to you guys at Christmas, but Lucy didn't keep it. She thought you might have it."
"< < Well, of course she didn't keep it. She doesn't realize the importance of things like this yet. I try to tell her— > >"
"Mother! Do you have the number?"
"< < Of course, dear! You don't get handed the home phone number of one of the more successful writers in America and throw it away. > >"
Lois sighed in relief. Her mother could be trying at times, but right now, she was glad she was the way she was. "Great! What is it?"
"< < Let me go get my purse. > >"
Moments later, Lois was staring triumphantly at the numbers on her notepad. She chatted with her mother for a moment and then grew tired of dodging all of her mother's questions about why she wanted the phone number.
"< < There must be some reason for this sudden need of his phone number? > >" her mother reiterated.
"I just wanted to talk with him," Lois sighed. "We grew close, and I was wondering how he was doing. We sort of promised to stay in touch."
"< < Has he called you? > >"
"< < Has he written? > >"
"< < Ha! Typical. > >"
"He's not typical, mother," Lois quickly defended. However, it had its intended affect. Suddenly, Lois wasn't so sure anymore. "I…I need to go mother, or Perry will blow a gasket." They exchanged good-byes and Lois hung up the phone. She sat for some time, staring at the phone number she had been so eager to get earlier. Why hadn't Clark tried to contact her? <He doesn't have your phone number either, silly.> True, but he knew where she worked. It would have been easy to send a letter to her in care of the Daily Planet. He could have just as easily picked up the phone and gotten through to her through the Daily Planet's phone system.
Should she call him? Every time she thought of hearing his voice, her heart would flip. But her mother's comment had awoken that little voice in her head that didn't allow her to completely trust anyone or anything. As she sat and pondered her next move, Jimmy hurried up and placed a note on her desk in front of her.
"Here you go, Lois, this is hot! We just got a tip about that nut Trask that you've been looking into. It seems that Bureau 39 has some warehouses right here in Metropolis!"
Lois eagerly turned her attention to the note Jimmy had given her. "Thanks, Jimmy. Maybe now we can find out what's going on with that kook." She cleared off her desk and turned towards her computer, the phone number forgotten.
(Monday, March 25, 1996, 1:23 a.m. EST)
Lois silently cursed the makers of Double Fudge Crunch Bars as she struggled to gain access to the interior of the warehouse through the small window. Why did they have to make them so good? She couldn't help herself when it came to them, and she was sure she had put on some weight in the past few months. Not to mention all that ice cream straight from the carton. Her lapse in concentration nearly caused her to loose her grip as she wiggled through the opening. Gritting her teeth, she pushed the tangent thoughts from her mind and narrowed her focus to the job at hand. Seconds later, she lightly touched down on the dusty floor of the warehouse, her dark clothing causing her to meld into the murky shadows.
This was the storage area for Bureau 39? It seemed to have been abandoned for quite some time. It had taken her a month of digging to pinpoint this building as the most likely spot of the supposed Bureau 39 storage facility. Was it all a mistake? No, that familiar "itch" was there. There was more to this place than a dusty, dirty, abandoned building. Treading softly and slowly, Lois started her exploration of the interior of the building.
Something wasn't right. Lois couldn't pinpoint what was wrong, but something was tugging from the outer fringes of her senses. She stopped, and stood absolutely still. Unable to grasp what was nudging at her subconscious, she closed her eyes and concentrated on extending her other senses. Suddenly, she dropped to the floor, laying the palms of her hands flat on the cool surface. There was a thin layer of dirt that she quickly brushed away and then laid her ear to the floor. There it was, she had found it.
What was once a barely noticeable background noise, or vibration, was now a chorus. Reverberating through the solid concrete, Lois could hear the distinctive hum of activity. There was either another level below this one, or the building was bigger than it looked from the outside.
Lois stood up and glided toward the back of the warehouse, stopping every so often to recheck the amount of noise being transmitted through the concrete floor. As she moved, she began zeroing in on her objective, using the increasing level of noise to direct her toward the far back wall. Once there, she found that there was a greater level of vibrations toward the southern end of the building.
Using her hands to feel along the wall, Lois explored in several directions. In one particular section, there seemed to be some cracks. Leaning close, Lois could feel the distinctive breeze of mechanically conditioned air gently filtering through the crack. There was more to this place on the other side of this wall. Now, how to get through to there.
A quick search of the cracks and other features on the wall revealed no hidden doorway. Lois fished out a small pen flashlight from her mini-pack and cupped a hand carefully over the lens. Switching it on, she held it close to the wall and let her fingers part ever so slightly. Narrow beams of light burst forth, and she quickly adjusted her grip to direct the light toward the wall. The sound of her heartbeat started to increase in her own ears as she became aware of the risk she was taking. A random ray of light would be easy to spot in such dark surroundings.
Finding nothing, she switched the flashlight off and put it back in the mini-pack. She would have to gain access from the outside. Turning back toward the front of the warehouse, Lois carefully paced off the distance from the back to the front. A flicker of light outside caused her to drop into a crouch. A guard walked past the window outside.
Now why would a supposedly abandoned warehouse need a guard? It wouldn't! A secret storehouse for an elusive government department might require one, however. Realizing that she hadn't thought to check for a guard earlier, Lois sat down and glanced at her watch. Minutes passed, and Lois nearly became too impatient to wait. Finally, the guard came by again. Lois glanced at her watch, and noted the time difference.
Quickly, she headed for the window she used to gain access to the building and made her way outside again. The going didn't seem to be as hard this time, and Lois wasn't sure if it was the practice she had getting in, or the adrenaline she could feel coursing through her body that had made the difference.
Treading lightly up to the southern corner of the warehouse, Lois slowly peeked around it. In the distance, she saw the lone guard round the other corner at the back of the building. Silently, she slowly paced off the distance along the outside of the building that would bring her to the back wall of the building on the inside. She stopped even with where she estimated the wall to be and found she was only about two-thirds of the way to the back of the building.
A quick glance at her watch assured her she had some time left, and she scanned the surrounding area for a hiding place. Spotting some rusting fifty-five gallon drums to her right, she gently drew a short mark in the dirt with the toe of her right foot. A few taps with the flat of her foot provided enough roughness to the line to cause it to look natural, but would provide her with an easily identifiable starting point.
Lois made her way to the rusted drums and found a suitable hiding spot and waited for the guard to pass again. Minutes later, the guard rounded the front corner of the building and walked right past Lois' hiding position. Suddenly he stopped, and turned towards her. Lois willed herself to remain perfectly still, concentrating on breathing slow, even breaths.
As she waited for the man to make a move, a light suddenly came on, revealing a doorway about twenty-five feet from the mark Lois had made earlier. The door opened and another man came outside. The two men conversed in whispers, and then the first man went inside as the second man took over the guard duty.
Lois again consulted her watch, and waited for the new guard to make a complete round. She was pleased to see the interval was about the same. As soon as the guard disappeared around the back of the warehouse, Lois sprang up and quickly found her mark. Again, she paced off the distance from the mark to the back of the building. The last twenty feet of the building actually extended out over the river. Leaning over the rail, she could see that the warehouse actually extended down at least another level. To her left she noted a rusted, metal ladder leading to the roof.
< What to do now? Do I go up, down or around? > Lois wondered to herself. Slowly, she became aware that a boat on the river was heading in her direction. She crouched down behind the railing and watched as the boat came closer to the warehouse. It was a flatbed boat often used to move cargo. Slowly, it maneuvered itself directly under her, disappearing from view.
She glanced at her watch and realized the guard would soon be coming around the front of the warehouse. There wasn't time to make it back to her hiding place. Biting her lip, she reached for the rusty ladder, and quickly climbed up until she was above the ground level lights. The sound of approaching footsteps made their way to her ears, and the guard mounted the wooden walkway.
The guard paused briefly, then went on around the other side of the building, continuing his route. Lois let out a breath of air she wasn't conscious of holding and quickly made her way back down the ladder. < Of all the crazy ideas… > she muttered to herself internally.
Lois got down on all fours and extended her head over the edge of the walkway. Below, men were talking but the motor of the boat was making it impossible to hear what was being said. A quick glance at the walkway structure convinced Lois she could scale down under it to see what was going on. Without hesitating, she swung out over the edge of the walkway, and began groping for hand and foot holds.
Slowly but surely, she made her way under the walkway and downwards toward the source of the noises. Sticking to the shadows, she soon found herself looking out upon a loading dock. < Mercy, am I out of shape! > Pausing to catch her breath and let her aching muscles relax, she watched the activity below. The men were trying to off-load something and move it inside the warehouse. Whatever it was, it was big and heavy. There must have been ten to fifteen men lugging the large box across the flatbed of the boat and over to the dock.
As they struggled to get the box up onto the dock, several men began cursing so loud that even the boat's motor couldn't drown it out. Lois suppressed a giggle at the comic scene before her.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Set 'er down gently. Gently!"
"We're going nowhere with this. It's too blasted heavy."
"Damn! I wish that crane had been fixed before tonight."
"Can't this wait until tomorrow? The parts will be in by nine, and we can have it off-loaded by noon."
"No! Trask was adamant that this particular piece of cargo come in under the cover of darkness. He wants it packed and stashed in the lab by sun up."
"Well, without the crane, that ain't gonna happen."
The man who Lois deduced must be the leader of this little group paced back and forth for a moment. Suddenly, he stopped and turned toward the boat. "Tuggy! Hey, Tuggy, get out here!"
A squat man appeared from the boat's cabin. "Yeah, Jake?"
"How many men you have on that floating rat trap?"
"Get 'em out here to lend a hand, will ya'? If we don't get this stashed inside soon, there'll be hell to pay!"
"Don't you have a crane or forklift or something?"
"No forklift, and the crane's broken."
"Tuggy" turned back and disappeared into his cabin. Soon, six more men joined the others.
With considerable grunting and cussing, they managed to get the large box onto the dock and on a cart of some kind. As everyone was pushing the box inside the warehouse, Lois became aware that they had left the dock unguarded. Moving as quickly as she could, she made her way down to the dock and then slipped inside the wide open door.
Lois found that the interior of the warehouse on this level was full of all sorts of boxes, crates, and storage containers. From the little she could see, it would appear that this was, indeed, the Bureau 39 storage facility. Keeping to the shadows, and using the stacks of unknown items as cover, Lois followed the men as they pushed their cargo into the middle of a large room. Their work done, most of the men moved back outside.
The leader closed the overhead door to the room. There were only two of them left now. They began to remove the box's top and sides. As they did so, a strange craft became visible. Lois' eyes widened as the realization of what it was sunk in. < A spaceship! > There was no other way to describe it. Quickly, Lois pulled out her camera from her mini-pack. She was about to snap a picture when she realized that the camera would make a noise, and other than the men working on the spaceship, there wasn't much noise inside the room. They would hear it for sure. < I'm going to have to wait. > She settled back and watched the two men as they finished their work.
After the ship was fully exposed, the men loaded the pieces of the box onto another cart, and wheeled it out of the room through a smaller set of doors next to the large overhead door they had come in through. Lois raised her camera and clicked off several shots of the small craft. There was something on the nose of the craft. < What is it? > she wondered.
Curiosity overcame cautiousness, and Lois left her hiding spot and walked over to the ship. She gently reached out and touched the emblem on the nose of the ship as if to confirm it was real. Such a strange marking. She took a couple of photos of it and then moved back toward the cockpit area. There were some objects inside, and Lois took a quick picture of them as well.
Suddenly, the door to the lab opened again. Lois crouched down and used the spaceship to hide her from who ever entered. She looked under the ship and watched as the feet moved slowly toward the front of the craft. Making sure to keep the ship between her and the men on the other side, Lois slowly backed around the rear of the ship. The men continued on around the ship and approached a bank of instruments on the far wall.
Lois ran silently backwards toward the door, keeping an eye on the two men as they worked at their instrumentation. Miscalculating the distance from the ship to the door, Lois' foot struck the hard metal surface with a loud clang. The two men jerked around and everyone froze for an instant.
Lois recovered first and pushed her way out the door and began running toward the back of the building where she had entered. With luck, the outside door would still be open. Behind her she heard the metal door crash open and men shouting for her to stop. On instinct, she dodged to the left behind a large box, just as the floor and then the box itself exploded sending up a spray of tiny wood and concrete fragments.
< They are shooting at you! > her inner voice was screaming at her. She ducked behind another row of boxes and stopped to catch her bearings.
"You fool! Don't shoot that thing in here! If you ruin something in one of these boxes, Trask will have our heads for sure."
< Well, at least they won't be shooting at you for a while, > Lois thought sarcastically. She looked around and peeked between a couple of boxes. Directly in front of her position was a walk-through door next to another large overhead door. That had to lead outside and it was only about twenty feet away. Running for it would expose her position to her pursuers, however. At that moment, the door burst open and men poured in from the outside.
Shouting, gunfire and general confusion ensued. Seeing her opportunity, Lois made a break for it. Bursting into the darkness, it took her eyes a second or two to adjust. When she recovered, she was face to face with the man called Tuggy. Incapable of checking her forward momentum, she collided heavily with the large man and was sent sprawling back onto the concrete floor of the dock. The camera that was still in her hand tumbled out of her grasp and skidded across the dock.
Both people shook their heads, and Lois was annoyed to find that Tuggy was still standing. Their collision hadn't knocked him off his feet, as it had her. He was dazed however, and shocked to have been run into by a woman in dark clothing.
Lois took advantage of his disorientation to scramble up and find the camera.
"Hey! Stop! She's out here! She's out here!"
Lois scooped up the camera and tucked it into her mini-pack. Scanning the dock quickly, she noticed a set of stairs to one side and immediately started scaling them. Tuggy made a run at her, but a well placed kick to his ample mid-section slowed him down. He turned and ran back inside the warehouse, yelling the whole way.
With all the shouting and gunfire, the guard up on ground level was sure to be waiting for her. A quick glance behind her showed no one was following her yet. Stopping about midway up the stairs, she crawled over the railing and made her way back underneath the walkway, using the intricate criss-crossing of wooden support beams to shield herself from searching eyes. < If I can just stay in the shadows long enough for everyone to start looking elsewhere, I can make my way out of here. >
Seconds later, the men in the warehouse came pouring out, and Tuggy directed them toward the stairs. They all charged up in full pursuit, rumbling right past her. Once the first man had topped the stairs, he was met with gunfire. Not knowing it was their own guard, they returned fire, and for a few seconds, it was as if Lois was in the middle of a battlefield.
Looking down, Lois noticed there was only about a ten-foot drop to the top of the cabin of the boat. With the men engaged in warfare with themselves, she dropped down to the boat, and rolled to absorb the impact. Her mini-pack caught on the foghorn, preventing her from dropping down over the side and in that instant the shooting stopped.
As silently as she could, Lois felt along the belt of the mini-pack and tried to free it with her fingers. Praying that the men wouldn't turn around, she fumbled with the snagged pack to no avail. Reaching around to the other side, she found the clasp and released it. Sliding away from the fog horn, she took her eyes off the group of men to quickly scan the belt and to free it from its prison.
"THERE! On the boat!"
< Oh God! > "Come on!" Lois let the frustration of the situation surface in spoken words for the first time that night. The pack refused to move, and the men began shooting again. Their shots where wild with excitement and did more damage to the boat's cabin than to her.
"Not my ship! Quit firing you morons, you're shooting up my ship!"
There was no way she was going to free the pack and live. Unzipping the pack, she fished the camera out and dropped down to the deck as the next round of bullets pelted the foghorn above. The mini-pack dropped to the deck beside her, riddled with holes.
"Wonderful. *Now* you decide to come free," Lois scooped up the pack and ran toward the bow of the ship, away from the men with guns. She didn't know what she was going to do when she got there, but she sure hoped she would think of something.
The next thing she knew she was sprawled out on the deck, the mini-pack going over the side of the boat and into the water. Her whole body ached, and her left leg refused to move. The deck next to her exploded, sending deadly splinters of wood flying in the air. Lois raised her arm to cover her face and felt some of the wooden missiles embed themselves into her skin.
There was a large gust of wind, and then the shooting stopped. She had to move *now*! With incredible pain, she forced herself to get up and start running again. The bow of the boat waved in front of her and she felt herself slip and fall, the cool water closing quickly around her, shutting out all light and sound.
Gasping and clawing for air, Lois sat straight up in bed, startling a dozing Perry White.
"For the love of Elvis, Lois, you nearly scared me to death!" He quickly jumped up and wrapped his arm around her.
She was gasping for air and wasn't sure where she was. "Water!"
"You thirsty darlin'?" He moved to pick up a cup.
"No! No, I was…I was in the water."
"Shhhh. It's all right. You're not in the water any longer. You're in the hospital."
Perry gently pushed her shoulders down, so that she was lying back in the bed again. "That's right, you're in the hospital. And you;re damn lucky to be here too, after that stunt you pulled last night."
"At the warehouse," Lois remembered. Her breathing and heartbeat was starting to even out. Images were coming back to her and she began putting the pieces together as she remembered what had happened. She shot up straight again, just as Perry had sat back down. "The camera!"
Perry jumped up again and gently pushed her back down in bed. "We got the camera, we got it. Jimmy's developing the film right now." He adjusted her covers, and then made his way back to the chair. He paused as he got about half way seated, giving Lois an expectant look.
"You're done shooting up out of that bed like a chicken on a hot tin roof, aren't you? I mean, you're not going to let an old man sit down, just to scare the living daylights out of him again, are you?"
Lois couldn't help but smile. Perry responded with a wide smile of his own, then completed the act of sitting down.
"What's on that film anyway? The doctors had a heck of a time getting you to let go of it in the emergency room."
"I found Trask's storage facility. I took some pictures of something that looked like a spaceship… What?" Lois shot Perry an annoyed look when she saw him shaking his head.
"Nothing. I, uh, take it they found you?"
"That's when the shooting started."
"That's why you got shot in the derriere, so you could take some pictures of a spaceship."
"I got shot where?!"
Perry waved his hands in her direction. "You know, in your back side. On the left."
Lois rolled over slightly and felt beneath the covers. There was a large bandage taped to her rear-end.
"Doctors say most swimsuits will cover the scar, as long as you don't wear one of those thong things."
"I've been shot! Oh my God! I've been shot!"
"Could have been worse. You could have drowned."
Lois sat still for a moment in silence. "How did I get here? The last thing I remember was going under the water."
"I don't exactly know, but from what I've been able to piece together from the doctors and nurses on duty that night, a young man carried you into the ER announcing that you had been shot."
"Who was it?"
"No one knows; he didn't leave his name, and he didn't hang around. Both of you were sopping wet, and wearing all dark clothing. The ER team didn't know what to think. He told them who you were, and that they should call me. They loaded you up and took you into an examination room, and when they went back to question the man, he was gone."
"Didn't anyone see him leave, or, or ask him any questions?"
Perry shook his head. "They claim it all happened so fast that he had disappeared before they could talk to him."
Lois laid her head back and stared at the ceiling. "So many questions. How did I get out of the river? How did this person find me? How did he know to have them call you?"
"I don't know, Lois. I guess your guardian angel was working overtime last night."
Lois shot straight up in bed. "What?!?!"
Perry jumped again, then clutched his hand to his chest. "Lois, darlin', do you mind? I can only take so many starts like that." He stood up and put a hand on her shoulder. "You need to rest so you can get out of here. Now lay back and quit jostling around."
Lois slowly sank back onto the pillows. "A guardian angel…" she whispered.
(Wednesday, March 27, 1996, 9:33 a.m. CST)
"Hey, Bob! Got the book today." Clark held up a hardback volume of his latest "Adventures In…" series. "Is this the finished product? Yeah? Great. So, when is it going to be released?" Clark thumbed through his day planner to the specified date. "Okay, I'll make a note of it. First stop's in Wichita, right?"
He dug around in the box the book had come in and pulled out a tour schedule. "Found it. It was under all the packing material." He scanned the list as he listened to his publisher talk about the book tour he was scheduled to do, what would be required of him, and how he should pack to make his tour as enjoyable as possible. "Bob, you know, I *have* traveled before…uh-oh."
About two-thirds of the way down the list, one of the names jumped out at him: Metropolis.
"Um, Bob? Only cities that are in the book are supposed to be on the schedule. I know Metropolis has the largest market in America, but it's not in the book. That was the whole point of the tour in the first place, to showcase the cities in the book." Clark sighed as he listened to the same old arguments from his publisher as before.
Metropolis. Images from the other night flashed before his eyes, and his hands started to tremble. "Listen, and listen carefully. No Metropolis stop. No stop anywhere not in the book, period. It's in the contract. If we can't agree on that at this point, then I'm calling the tour off all together due to breach of contract." Another heavy sigh escaped as Clark realized how emotional he had allowed himself to get. Just thinking about what could have happened was driving him crazy. He never got this snippy, but it seemed to have worked. The publisher was backpeddling on the tour schedule.
"I'm glad we agree. I notice the first stop is scheduled for next week. Fax me the details for the first month of stops, and I'll contact you when I get to Wichita." Clark put the schedule down and looked at the book. "Say, Bob. What can I do with this book you sent me? Anything? Thanks. Bye."
Clark hung up the phone and ran his fingers through his hair. It was just dumb luck that he had been flying over Metropolis the other night. He had been restless and fidgety and a midnight flight had seemed to be the thing to do at the time. How he had ended up over Metropolis, he wasn't sure. Ever since last Christmas, he tried to avoid Metropolis. He closed his eyes and the words he had heard over and over again floated through his mind.
"Stay in touch."
"I will, I promise."
Clark opened his eyes and stared at the phone. There had been no call. No contact. For the thousandth time, he wondered why. For the thousandth time, he told himself to pick up the phone and make the first move. Maybe she was waiting for him to do just that. Was she sitting at work right now, staring at the phone wondering why he hadn't called?
< No, she's probably still in the hospital, > he thought. Why couldn't she be more careful? The realization that he could have lost her that night was more than he could take and he quickly shoved those feelings underground and refused to deal with them.
The feel of her in his arms had awoke memories of her stay that had taken weeks for him to suppress. Everywhere he looked now, he saw her, or smelled her. He could even hear her laugh. It was driving him insane. He should call her, but for some reason he couldn't do it. For some reason, he felt she should be the one to call first. Maybe it was because he didn't want to be hurt again. He had let her into his life once. Then she had left. He had always known it was going to happen, but that hadn't helped ease the pain. This time, she should contact him.
It seemed illogical, he knew, but a part of him, the part that was paranoid about everything, was sure she knew his secret. And if she knew, and she called back, that meant she cared, didn't it? What if he called and she didn't want to talk to him? He shook his head and laughed humorlessly. Such convoluted thinking!
The thought of rushing off to see her was overwhelming, and yet the fear of putting himself into her hands was just as strong. He stared at the phone again and realized that, more than likely, she wouldn't be able to call right now. She was undoubtedly still in the hospital and on pain medication. There would be people coming and going, asking her questions about what had happened. He was probably the farthest thing from her mind.
< What do you want, Clark? > His brief exposure to the force known as Lois Lane had certainly changed his life. For the first time in a long time, he was opening himself to the outside world. He was scared and thrilled all at once. She had challenged him, and to his surprise, he had risen up to meet the challenge. Just knowing that there was a Lois Lane out there had made it possible for him to face the world. Without her…
At once he knew he had to be the one to contact her. He couldn't just call, however. Would she *really* still be in the hospital, or would she have left by now? He laughed to himself as he realized that this was Lois. She had probably left the next day. Clark could just hear her arguing with the doctors. He didn't have her home phone number. The Daily Planet's number would be easy enough to get, but talking to her at work didn't sound pleasing. Even if he did manage to get her on the phone, what would he say? Words came easy to him when he was writing, but talking was another matter. When he was writing…
He stared at the book in front of him and then opened it up. He took out a pen and wrote a short note in it, and signed it. Then he put it back in the box he had previously opened and sealed it again with packing tape. After making sure to black out all the addresses on the box, he re-addressed it. Checking his watch, he figured he could make it into town in time for UPS to pick it up. Tucking the box under his arm, he headed for the back door. He'd taken the first step and extended the invitation. < Will she respond? > In a few days, he'd have his answer. Hopefully, Lois would contact him before he started on his promotional tour next week.
(Monday, April 1, 1996, 7:58 a.m. EST)
Lois stood in front of the elevator doors in the lobby of the Daily Planet. For her, she was late getting into work. Especially after being gone for about a week. And yet, Lois couldn't make herself board the elevator that would take her to the newsroom. She had already watched the elevator make two complete cycles. The thought of returning to work on April Fools Day made her cringe.
By now, everyone was sure to know Lois had been shot, and where she had been shot. Lois had spent the better part of the weekend making sure she could walk and sit without showing too much outward discomfort. The last thing she was up for was a newsroom full of jokesters. Jimmy had called and said that he had managed to salvage the photos, and she was anxious to see them. There was also the matter of a certain piece of paper that held a very important phone number that she had to find.
The long time off had provided her with some time to think, and it had been extremely hard not to rush right back into work and search for the phone number sooner. Only the limp and the wacky fuzziness the painkillers had caused had kept her away. The painkillers had been a double edged remedy. Sure, they kept the pain at a tolerable level, but only by making her so sleepy and thickheaded she hadn't noticed the pain, or much else for that matter. At times, it felt like she had lost more than a week of her life in that floating, drug-induced haze.
Shaking herself to clear her mind, Lois boldly stepped onto the elevator when the doors opened again. If anyone was dumb enough to try and play a trick on her today, they deserved a full dose of Mad Dog Lane's wrath. A slight smile parted her lips as her confidence grew.
It was a bit of a shock then to see a box sitting on her desk as she exited the elevator into the newsroom. She paused, and looked around to see if anyone was watching. Jimmy spotted her and waved.
"Hey, Lois! Good to see you back!"
His rather loud announcement caught the attention of others, and soon co-workers were welcoming Lois back and asking how she was.
Still leery, she made her way to her desk, thanking people as she went. Once she reached the desk, she turned and whispered to Jimmy.
"Where did this come from?" She pointed to the box.
"I dunno. It came in Friday, I think."
Lois leaned over the box carefully, as if it contained a bomb. For all she knew, it might.
"What's wrong, Lois?"
"It's April Fools Day, that's what's wrong."
Jimmy broke into a smile. "Hey! That's right. Cool!" His expression became more serious in the next instant. "You don't think this is some kind of joke, do you?"
Lois looked back at him and raised an eyebrow.
"Nah! Who would be stupid enough to do that to you after you've been shot in the…" He let the sentence fall off as the look Lois was giving him sunk in. "Um. Well. I don't think it's anything to worry about."
Lois looked back at the box again. "I was just shot at for taking pictures of something someone didn't want me to see. I come back to find a box sitting on my desk. It's April Fools Day. Forgive me if I'm a little gun-shy."
Jimmy snorted. "Gun-shy. Heh! That's a good one."
Lois rolled her eyes.
"I'll tell you what, Lois. I'll open for you." Jimmy reached over and picked up the box.
"You're not going to open my box!" Lois tried to snatch it back from him, but he turned away from her quickly.
"Let's see who it's from." Jimmy turned the box around until he could read the return address label. "Someone from Smallville, Kansas."
Jimmy looked back at Lois. "You think there really is a place called 'Smallville'?"
Lois grabbed the box back. "Of course there is, I've been there myself." She put the box back on her desk and began rummaging around in her desk drawer for a letter opener. Her hands were shaking and she was finding it hard to control the butterflies in her stomach. There was only one person Lois knew in Smallville. Okay, there was a few more, like Wayne and his wife, but only one she cared about at this point.
Jimmy reached into his pocket and pull out a pocketknife. "Here, let me help you." He made short work of the packing tape, and Lois nearly knocked him over in her haste to rip the flaps of the box open.
All she could see was packing material. Quickly, she sunk both hands into the box, searching for its contents. Little bits of foam spilled out of the box onto the desk and floor. Her fingers came across something solid and she wrenched the book free, sending more pieces sailing through the air.
And there he was. Staring back at her from the cover of the book. The dark eyes, that little curl of hair she suddenly so desired to brush back from his forehead, the sensational smile that shot straight to the heart. It was him, and it felt like he was looking right into the depths of her soul.
"Holy cow! A new 'Adventures In' book! 'Adventures In America,'" Jimmy read aloud.
Darline, the book critic for the paper, happened to be coming by at that time. "You have a copy of the new 'Adventures In America'?" She quickly made her way over to Lois' desk. "Oh my gosh! I don't believe it. I've been trying to get a hold of this for weeks now. The publishers kept telling me it hadn't gone to print yet. How in the world did you get this?"
Jimmy pointed to the box on the table. "It came in that box last Friday." He folded the flap with the return address back over so he could read it. "It's from a C. Kent."
"C. Kent? Clark Kent himself sent you," Darline pointed to Lois, "a copy of his new book?"
Lois, who had been spellbound by seeing Clark's face again, regained her composure at the sound of Darline's voice. "I…I guess so. We met last year."
"You've met Clark Kent?" Darline's voice kept getting higher and higher, not to mention louder.
"Cool!" Jimmy gave Lois a look of admiration.
Darline's voice had carried enough that a small knot of people had begun to build up around Lois' desk.
"Hey, open it up. Maybe he signed it," Jimmy suggested.
Lois quickly opened the book. After flipping past the first few pages she came to the dedication page.
Whenever I thought I couldn't do this anymore, memories of our time together allowed me to go on. Without you, this work would have remained locked inside, hidden from the world. Your determination and your faith in me gives it a life for all to see and enjoy.
Directly below that in hand-written black ink was a note.
Our memories are a precious thing, but our friendship is priceless.
"To L.L.," Darline read over Lois' shoulder, "Lois Lane!" She looked at Lois with awe.
"He dedicated the book to you?" Jimmy's eyebrows raised. "Wow…"
Lois snapped the book shut, and sat down before her legs could give away on her. < Missing you… > Memories of their goodbye swirled in her head. Around her, people were jabbering back and forth to each other, some firing question after question at her. It was almost too much.
"How did you meet him?"
"His picture's on the cover! I don't think I've ever seen him before."
"Wow. He's nice looking. Is he this good looking in real life, Lois?"
"I haven't seen this in the stores yet. Has it even been released yet?"
"Did you hear? He dedicated it to her! He even wrote her a note in it. What did he say, Lois?"
Perry, by this time, was storming up to the noisy bunch of people determined to find out what was going on. "What in the blazes is going on? Oh, Lois! Good to see you, darlin'. How are you feeling?"
"Chief! Lois just got a copy of Clark Kent's new book!" Jimmy informed him enthusiastically.
"Kent!" exclaimed Darline. "I can't believe he sent you a book. I can't believe you *know* him. Can I read the book? It would give the Planet the biggest, greatest scoop eve—"
"No!" Lois explained loudly, snapping out of her spell.
Everyone stopped talking and just looked at her in surprise. After a moment, Perry spoke up. "Lois, why don't we go into my office and talk. All right everyone, break it up. We have a paper to put out here."
Lois picked up her book and put it back in the box, then picked up the box as well. No sense in letting Darline, or anyone else for that matter, have easy access to Clark's home address. She knew how much his privacy meant to him, and she'd be darned if she was going to jeopardize it in any way. She followed Perry into his office and shut the door.
Perry sat down behind his desk and looked up, surprised to see that Lois was just standing there. "You, um…can sit down," he motioned to one of the empty chairs.
Lois sat down and put the box in her lap, folding her arms over the top of it.
A moment of silence passed between them. "You know, it would be a good scoop for the Planet to have a review of that book before it hits the shelves. From what I've heard, it's been a pretty hush-hush deal so far."
Lois couldn't believe what she was hearing. She couldn't believe Perry wanted her to give it up so easily. "Perry! It's *my* book that he sent to *me*, as a friend. Not to me as a reporter for the Planet. I'm sorry. The Planet will have to wait like everyone else." She lowered her head and stared at his address on the box. "I couldn't betray his trust like that," she said quietly.
Perry regarded her for a moment, then put his hands flat on the desk. "All right. I'll respect your wishes. Some things are more important than getting the scoop."
Lois' head shot up and her mouth involuntarily came open.
Perry pointed his finger at her. "If you repeat one word of what I said, I'll deny it till the day I die." He glared at her in what he hoped was the meanest editor-in-chief stare he could muster.
Lois smiled warmly at him. "Right." She stood up and went back to her desk. Everyone nervously watched her, but no one had the courage to approach her. Lois stuffed the box under her desk, then turned her attention to the task of finding the phone number she had acquired over a month ago. After several minutes of digging, she found it.
Quickly, she dialed the number, not daring to wait for fear of losing her resolve. As she waited for the connection to go through, some words floated up to her from her past.
"Stay in touch."
"I will, I promise."
The phone on the other end stopped ringing as it was answered. Lois' heart was in her throat and she wasn't sure what she was going to say.
" < < Hello, you've reached the Kent residence. I can't come to the phone right now, but if you leave your name, number, and message after the beep, I'll get back to you as soon as possible. BEEP! > > "
Lois slammed the phone down again. She couldn't talk to a machine! It just didn't feel right. Hearing his voice again had been blissful torture. No, she couldn't leave a message, she had to talk to him directly. There was too much to say, too much emotion. She'd just have to try again later.
(Monday, April 1, 1996, 9:27 a.m. CST)
Clark had been frantic all weekend, jumping every time the phone had rung. Still, there had been no word from Lois. At one point he realized in horror, that if he didn't have her home phone number, she didn't have his. He calmed himself as he reminded himself that she *was* an investigative reporter. Also, he seemed to remember her mentioning that she had given his number to her parents in case they needed to contact her. Surely she would have been able to get the number someway.
And yet, as the weekend wore on, there had been no call. The package had arrived on Friday according to UPS. He'd called and used the tracking number to double check that the book had arrived safely. When the call never came, he wondered if she had mailed him a reply. Depending on how she mailed it, it might take five days to get to him.
Assuming she wrote him back the day she got the package, and immediately mailed it that same day, it would be Wednesday before the letter arrived. That would put it two days late.
So it was with reluctance this Monday morning that Clark left the farm to head to Wichita. He had a lunch appointment with his first book tour contact, and giving that it was about two hours to Wichita, he was only leaving himself thirty minutes to navigate through the city and arrive on time. It was going to be cutting it close.
"I'll call Wayne later today to see if there are any messages or mail," he muttered to himself as he drove down the small dirt road. Clark approached the corner where Lois' Jeep had gotten stranded. This is where his life had been changed. Forever. He paused for a moment. Suddenly, his hearing tuned into a ringing phone. Was it her?! He was tempted to fly back this very instant. Before he could decide what to do, the machine picked up and played his message. He put the pickup into park, and reached to open his door. The caller hung up, not leaving a message. Even with an unlisted number, he got more than his fair share of hang-ups on the machine.
He used his special vision to give the farmstead one last look to make sure everything was in order. He'd thought of everything he could, and it was time for him to get going if he was going to be in Wichita in time to meet his first book tour contact. Clark put the pickup in gear and turned north toward the interstate.
First, Wichita, then north and east from there, sweeping south and back west for the final leg of the tour. Making a mental note to check in with Wayne at the first opportunity, he tried not to let the disappointment color what he was about to undertake. It had been several years since he'd traveled, and he was looking forward to getting away from the farm. The memories there were bittersweet, and he was ready for a change.
(Thursday, April 18, 1996, 4:12 p.m. CST)
Lois pulled the binoculars away from her eyes and shut them briefly to relieve the eyestrain. She had been peering through them for nearly four hours now. Not for the first time, Lois wished she was a fly on the wall in the building she was watching several blocks down the street. < A good camera with a telephoto lens would be nice about now, as well, > she mused.
It was still hard to believe what she had witnessed. Her need to confirm what had happened was the only thing keeping her here right now. Luckily, her plane wasn't scheduled to leave until tomorrow morning. Not that she would consider leaving just to catch a plane.
A week ago, she had gotten a tip that Trask was leaving Metropolis on a "business trip." Lois had shadowed him from town to town, hoping to map out more of his hangouts. For the most part, it had been an uneventful trip. Until Milwaukee. Here, she had watched as normal as Trask made his way to a nondescript building in the shadier side of town. If he followed the pattern, he would stay for about three hours, and then leave. Lois had been keeping track of the addresses of these buildings for later research.
Only this time, Trask wasn't alone. Shortly after he had arrived at the latest warehouse, a guest joined him. None other than Diana Stride. What she had been doing there, Lois could only wonder. At first, Lois was angry. Somehow, Stride was trying to steal her story. Thoughts of bodily harm fueled those emotions until Lois was stunned to see Diana enter the building as if she owned it. Stride was either incredibly brave and confident, or stupid.
Lois waited to hear gunshots and yelling, but nothing happened. Did that mean Diana was expected? Why would she have been here? Curiosity started to overcome the anger. Something very interesting was going on in that building, and Lois was going to find out what it was. Just as she made to leave her car, another vehicle pulled up in front of the warehouse.
This one was a large black Mercedes. While not a limo, it stood out as much, all the same. Several thugs piled out of the car and set up formation around the automobile. Lois nearly squealed out loud when she saw Bill Church, Sr. and Junior exit the car and go inside.
So here she sat, waiting for all the parties to exit again. There had seemed little point in trying to find out what was going on inside. The Churches' hired men were all over the outside, and Trask was sure to have the inside covered. It was daylight, and that was detrimental to stealth in and of itself. Lois checked her watch again, her patience starting to wear a little thin.
Lois had long suspected the Churches of being involved with Intergang. It was another one of those crazy notions that just wouldn't go away. At times it seemed so obvious, but there was always that shred of missing evidence. Another long-term project that Lois meant to finish, one way or another.
Trask, on the other hand, was simply a lunatic with a rouge government agency at his command. He was a bit too off the wall to be involved with organized crime. At least, Lois had always thought so, until now. The thing that threw the whole thing awry was Diana Stride's appearance. What she was doing here, Lois could only wonder.
Stride had been a thorn in Lois' side for quite some time. If she was involved with the Churches or even with Trask, Lois was going to enjoy bringing her down a peg or two.
A motion down the street caught her attention again. Raising the binoculars to her eyes, Lois watched as the two Church men exited the building, the thugs piling back into the car. Slowly, the Mercedes pulled away and rounded the corner, disappearing from site. Shortly after they had left, a women exited the building. Lois strained to see her face. As she entered her automobile, Lois caught a clear view of the woman. It was indeed, Diana Stride.
Lois ducked down onto the seat as Diana drove past where Lois had been watching. Popping back up to check the building again, Lois just caught a glimpse of Trask as he got into a cab. Whatever had happened here today was over, and as much as Lois wanted to follow Trask some more, she had to get back to Metropolis tomorrow. Perry had only authorized one week's worth of expenses, and besides, she had a ton of information to start digging through.
As Lois made her way back to her hotel, she kept going over the information in her mind. The addition of Diana Stride and the Churches had definitely turned this investigation on its ear. Out of the corner of her eye, Lois caught sight of it. Quickly, reacting on instinct, she slammed on the brakes, cut across three lanes of traffic and pulled into the strip mall's parking lot. Whipping her rental car around into a free parking spot, she stared wide-eyed at the site before her.
"Two days only. Clark Kent in person. Book signing 1 — 5," she read aloud, barely able to breath. A tall, six-foot high reproduction of the book cover stared back at her. Quickly, she looked at her watch. It was nearly five o'clock now.
Clark was both tired and hungry, which mildly surprised him. Although the book tour had been a lot of fun, even a man of his abilities needed a break now and then. Luckily, his time here today was nearly finished. A few more autographs and then he could relax back in his hotel room. Clark could actually see the end of the line, and that put an extra gleam in his eye as he greeted the next woman in line. He had noticed that mostly women came out for his book signings. It looked like Lois was right on another point. He'd relented to putting his picture on his book, and from what he could tell, they were selling well.
"Here you go," he handed the book back to its owner, the routine drilled into him from a couple of weeks of practice. "Thanks for buying my book. I hope you find it useful!"
The store manager, an older woman in her late forties, by Clark's estimate, was fluttering around behind him. She was rambling on and on about how nice a job he had been doing all day and what a thrill it had been to have him here. Clark nodded and thanked her at the appropriate times. Her nervous jittering about was starting to wear on him. He looked up and noticed there were only three more women in line. The home stretch!
"Mr. Kent, since you've worked so hard today, I'm sure you're a bit tired. Why don't you let me take you out to dinner tonight, my treat?"
< Oh, no! That's the last thing I want to do, > he thought miserably. He smiled up at the young women in front of him. "Hello, how are you?" She giggled. Gritting his teeth as he signed his name, he willed himself to at least look pleasant. As he handed the book back to her, the woman clutched at his hand and started blabbering about how wonderful his books were and what a joy it was to meet him. He gently shook her hand and then lightly but firmly extracted it from her vise-grip. All the while, the smile never left his face.
After she had gone, the store manager approached him again. "I know a nice, quiet place were you can recover from your day. I can be ready to go in about ten minutes. Can I talk you into dinner?"
Clark sighed inwardly. He *was* supposed to be nice to these people. They were, after all, selling his book. "All right, Ms. Schultz. After were done picking up here, we'll go find something to eat." Sometimes, being a nice guy wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Lois could barely breath as she watched him. Seeing his picture had had an affect on her. Yet, actually seeing him and hearing his voice was so incredible. Lois couldn't believe the way she responded to him. The way she felt right now was…was… wrong. This was a mistake. She needed to leave, right now, before he saw her. What would she say? Right now, if he asked her to go to the moon with her, she would probably jump into his arms. No one had ever affected her this way, and it scared her to death.
She paused dangerously, to take one more look at him. Just look at the way those women in line acted around him! Gushing all over him, hanging all over him. They didn't know the real Clark Kent. Not like she did. What right did they have to look at him like that? Lois froze as she heard the manager ask Clark out for dinner. She waited, hoping he would decline. She could see it in his body language that he didn't want to go. < Say no, Clark! > she willed toward him. It didn't surprise her to hear him accept, however. Ever the Boy Scout. The little pangs of disappointment annoyed her. What did she expect? Clark looked out for others first.
As the last woman in line walked away, Lois watched, mesmerized, as Clark stood up and stretched. The shirt stretched tight over his broad chest and Lois noticed for the first time that he was wearing one of the ties she had given him. He glanced around at the books at his feet and then bent over to straighten things out, putting books back into boxes. The store manager appeared again, heading straight for Clark, and suddenly Lois was moving, leaving her hiding place and walking straight toward the table.
"Oh, Mr. Kent!"
Clark heard Ms. Schultz's voice call out to him and he looked up to great her. "Busy day!"
"It certainly was, Mr. Kent. I bet you're ready for something good to eat in a quiet place."
Clark dutifully nodded his head. "Yes," was all he could say. A nice, quiet meal *did* sound good, but he wasn't sure he wanted to share it with this woman. Behind him, someone cleared their throat.
Both Clark and Ms. Schultz turned to see who it was.
"I'm sorry, young lady, Mr. Kent's through signing books for today."
Clark barely heard what she was saying, he was so stunned. "Lois?!" Was he dreaming?
"You…you *know* her?" Ms. Schultz asked.
"Hello, Clark," Lois smiled at him brightly. "Love your tie."
Oh, how he had missed that smile. "Th-th-thanks. Someone special gave it to me." He noticed her cheeks turn a slight shade of red.
"Just getting done?" Lois asked.
"Oh! Yes, just finished." He looked around him at the stack of book boxes. "What, um…what are you doing here?"
"Oh, I'm working on a story," Lois waved her hand around in the air.
"Oh," Clark said with a hint of sadness in his voice. For whatever reason, he had foolishly hoped she was here to see him. Ridiculous, he knew, but around Lois, he never seemed to think clearly anyway.
Lois heard the note of sadness in his voice. "Want to go get something to eat, for old times sake?" She paused. "There's a lot I want to talk to you about." She looked him straight in the eye, trying to convey how important this was for her. And for some reason, she felt it was very, very important.
"But we already have plans for dinner tonight, miss," Ms. Schultz said from Clark's left. He had forgotten she was even standing there.
"Oh, well, some other time," Lois quickly turned her head before the disappointment on her face could register.
"Wait!" Clark called out desperately. He took Ms. Schultz by the arm and led her a little way off. "Lois is a very…special friend of mine. I haven't seen her in a long, long time. I would like to have some time to talk to her. I know we had made plans, but," he gave her his best puppy dog eyes, "it would mean a great deal to me if I could go out with her tonight." He hated using himself like this to get what he wanted, but he hated to hurt someone's feelings even more.
It worked, and Ms. Schultz buckled. "Oh, all right. That's fine. Go have a good talk with your friend. I'll see you for lunch tomorrow?"
Clark gave her a wide smile. "Sure, I'll meet you here at 11:30." Clark turned, hoping Lois was still waiting for him. She was, and he felt his heart leap into his throat at the sight of her.
"Ready?" Lois asked.
"Yes." Clark and Lois walked outside. "Your car or mine?" he asked.
Lois paused for a moment. "Let's take yours. Do you know someplace nice and—"
"Quiet? I know just the place." Clark led her to his rental car, and opened the door for her. Just as she was about to get into the car, Clark laid a hand on her shoulder. "It's…nice to see you again, Lois."
They stood in the parking lot for a moment, just staring at each other. Slowly, Lois moved closer toward Clark, and then the next thing she knew, they were hugging each other so tight it hurt.
"It's nice to see you too, Clark."
Clark pulled out the chair for Lois to sit down. "Thanks for saving me back there at the book store." He moved around the table for two and sat down across from her.
"No problem. You looked like you needed some help."
"The thought of spending the evening with her was almost more than I could take," Clark admitted frankly.
"But you would have been a perfect gentleman, I'm sure."
They both laughed.
There was a moment of silence as they tried not to look at each other. Finally, Lois spoke first.
"Clark, I want to apologize for not contacting you sooner."
"It's not that I didn't *want* to," she cut him off. "I did. I guess I just needed some time. I tried to call you back in February, but I didn't have your number. It wasn't listed and I didn't know what to do. We didn't exchange numbers that last morning. Then I remembered I gave your number to my sister. I called her, but she said she had thrown it away. I almost cried! Lucy, bless her, said to ask my mother if she had kept it. Mother's like that. She thinks who you know and how far up the ladder you are is important. She gave me a lecture about not keeping it myself, as if that's all I care about, that you're a famous writer, not that you're a wonderful man. She had it, of course. But before I could call, Jimmy handed me this note about a story I'm working on, and I lost track of things. Before long, you had already started on your book tour and… What?"
Clark was grinning ear to ear, and was barely able to keep from jumping up from the table and giving Lois another bearhug. Oh, how he had missed hearing her babble!
"What! Don't look at me like that."
"Oh, Lois. It's just so…*nice* to hear you babble once again."
Lois blushed deeply. "Sorry."
"Don't be! I'm loving it. It's one of those things that makes you, *you*." Clark leaned across the table and gently clasped her hand in his. "I wouldn't change it for the world."
Lois simply smiled at him. For once, here was someone who was willing to accept her as she was. If only she could prove to him that she, and the world, could accept him for who he was. Without scaring him to death, that is.
"Thanks, Clark. What I want you to know is, that I missed you too. When I got your book and read that note…" She looked down at their hands. "Well, I tried to call. I got your machine, and I couldn't bring myself to leave a message. I heard about the book tour and put two and two together."
"How did you find me?"
Lois laughed. "Dumb luck! I was in town on a story, when I saw your face in the window." Lois leaned closer toward Clark. "I bet you've sold more books with that cover, right?"
Clark smiled. "As usual, you know best."
The waiter came and they realized they hadn't even looked at the menu yet. The waiter said he would return in a few moments, leaving Lois and Clark to peruse their menus in silence.
After deciding on what he would order, Clark put his menu down and just watched Lois for a moment. "What's the story you were in town for?"
Lois put her menu down. "Oh, let's just say I'm tracking down some information on someone in the government."
Clark raised an eyebrow but didn't question any further.
"So, tell me. How's the book tour going?" Lois asked.
"Hmmm. At times, it's a lot of fun. I like when I get to meet some of the younger kids," he smiled. "Sometimes the groupies are a bit intense."
"Groupies? *You* have groupies?"
"Don't laugh! I'm a famous writer, you know. And that six foot high publicity monstrosity has made it nearly impossible to walk into a bookstore without getting mobbed."
"I can hear the teenyboppers now! I think I'm getting jealous."
Clark looked down at his hands. "Oh, I don't know. I'd say you're pretty famous yourself."
"I'm not talking about that. The thought of all those women ogling you, touching you, throwing themselves at you…"
Clark looked up with a slight expression of shock on his face.
Lois laughed. "You love it, I can tell." She smiled at him, and he smiled back.
"Actually, I was wishing I had some more time for myself. The schedule is grueling at times, and flying…" He shuddered.
Clark was afraid of flying? But doesn't he…you know…fly himself? Lois was pretty sure he did. She had seen him do it on the power plant video. Another interesting tidbit to file away for later.
"Anyway, I've got about another four or five weeks of this before I'm done," Clark concluded.
"You've got to be kidding!"
"Nope," Clark laughed. "It's my own fault. I made out the tour schedule myself. I guess I didn't realize how difficult it was going to be."
The waiter arrived again, and after both Lois and Clark had ordered their food, Clark cleared his throat.
"So, how goes your other story?"
"The 'Guardian Angel.' That was what you were working on when I saw you last, wasn't it?"
"Well, for a while now, there hasn't been much activity. After Christmas, it was like the guy dropped off the face of the planet. There has been the occasional suspected appearance, but nothing concrete."
Clark nodded his head.
Lois watched him carefully, looking for any clues. "It's unfortunate. The world really needs someone like him."
Clark was quiet for a moment. "Oh? What makes you say that?"
Lois brushed back her hair, and then leaned on her elbows. "Well, he gives people hope, something to believe in. People need to know there is a greater good out there."
Clark was looking at a point somewhere in-between Lois and himself, gently nodding as he listened to her arguments.
"There's so much he could do for the world," she continued. "He's already helped so much. If he would become a bit more public, he might really be able to change things."
Clark unconsciously drew back from the table, sitting up straighter, crossing his arms in front of himself. Lois recognized the classic body language immediately.
"By becoming more public, this person would certainly be opening themselves up for anything the public decided to do to them." Clark uncrossed his arms as he tried to relax. "If there is one thing I've found out while on this book tour, it's that the public doesn't seem to see me as a real person." Clark folded his hands in front of him on the table. "I'm just a writer who happens to have a best selling book at the moment. I can't imagine what this person's life would be like if they let themselves be exposed."
Lois listened intently to all the underlying messages. Clark was attempting to convey a message to her, she was sure. He doubtlessly suspected that she knew his secret. And yet, he was unwilling to talk to her about it. For one thing, he still used words like "person" and "they" instead of "he" and "him." From his comments, she could guess that he still harbored fears about his privacy. "I see. Do you think that's why he's quit doing things? He's…worried about how the public will treat him?" She didn't want to use the word 'afraid.' No one liked to be reminded that fear controlled them.
Clark leaned in closer, relaxing a bit more. "Well, not so much the general public as much as the media…probably. The media can influence people's thinking. People become…" Clark waved his hands in front of him as he searched for the right words, "accustomed to a certain pre-conceived idea about a person. An idea usually constructed and presented by the media."
"People like me," Lois stated flatly.
"Well, yes, to a degree. I'd like to think I know the reasons you do the things you do. I…*trust*…that you have this person's best interests at heart. But not everyone is like you."
Lois chewed on the inside of her lip for a moment. Clark was saying so much without saying anything at all. It was an argument she had heard from him before, back in December.
"It's just so overwhelming at times," Clark continued as he sat back in his chair. "People you don't even know, demanding things from you. Everyone wants a piece of you, and yet, no one knows what you're really like, why you really do the things you do." Clark ran his hand through his hair, and let out a long sigh as he stared at the ceiling.
Their food arrived, giving Lois a few moments to digest what she had heard. It was plain to see that Clark was struggling with his uniqueness and how it might affected the way people reacted to him and interacted with him.
They ate in silence for a few moments. Lois wasn't sure what she could say, and Clark seemed to be thinking heavily about something.
"Lois? Do you think it's morally wrong for the 'Guardian Angel' to remain hidden from society, given that this person obviously could do so much good?"
< Wow! What a question! Be careful, dear. > Lois looked across the table at Clark's expectant face. "I don't know, I'm not sure. That's a tough question, made even tougher by the fact I can't imagine what it's like to have that kind of gift."
"Do you think it's a gift…or a curse?"
"A gift, definitely," Lois responded immediately.
Clark continued to eat quietly.
"I don't know if I can pass judgment on the 'Angel's' actions. Who am I to say what he should or shouldn't do? I do feel, however, that if a person can do something good for someone else, they should. That's one of the reasons I'm a reporter. In some small way, I'm helping others. I have the gift for it, so I feel I should use it to help." Lois put her fork down and sat back. "It would be wrong of me to say that the 'Angel' is morally wrong by not helping, however. There may be very good reasons why he chooses to do what he does."
Clark had stopped eating as well, and was just looking at her. It was hard to read anything from the expression on his face. "One of the toughest things I've ever done was to go on this book tour."
Lois was slightly thrown off by the sudden change in topic. Still, she couldn't help but voice the first thing that came to mind. "Why?"
"It meant opening myself up in a way I wasn't comfortable with. For all of my worldly travels, I've never allowed myself to get close to anyone. I…just couldn't seem to do it. It's still something that's very hard for me to do. I struggle with it every time I sit in front of that long line, looking up and out at all those expectant faces."
"You've let yourself get close to me," Lois reminded him. "Do you regret that?"
Clark appeared shocked. "Heavens no! You're the only true friend I have." He reached over and clasped her hand in his. "I'm not being to forward in claiming you as a friend, am I?"
Lois smiled. "Not at all, Clark." Then, finding courage she didn't know she possessed, she asked another question. "Is that all I am to you, Clark?"
She felt him tense slightly as if he would take his hand from hers, but in the end, he grasped it more firmly instead.
"I…would like…for there to be more than just friendship. I'm just not sure how that sort of thing would all work out." He blushed deeply and kept his head down, not daring to look at her.
"Oh? What worries you?"
"Location, for one. I haven't been able to form any kind of relationship with the people I live close to. We live hundreds of miles apart!" They both laughed. "I'm not sure how that would all work out." He rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. "Inexperience is the other," he said quietly. "I've never been this close to anyone outside of my parents. It's all new to me. I'm going to need…time. Time to adjust to sharing myself with someone. I need to learn how to trust."
Lois squeezed his hand hard. "Well, we both have e-mail, so we can stay in touch. I have quite a bit of vacation time built up, maybe we can meet somewhere. Being self-employed means you can meet me anytime I want, right?"
Clark laughed nervously. "Well…mostly." He avoided her gaze, instead concentrating on their locked hands.
"Clark, I understand about your concerns. I really do. And I want to see where this friendship might lead."
Clark rewarded her with one of his patented mega-watt smiles.
"Now, the best thing you can do for our relationship right now is to order me something with chocolate in it for dessert."
Clark laughed and called the waiter over. Soon, they were sharing a large, exotic concoction together.
"Mmmm. This is pretty good, Clark, but it's nothing compared to your cooking. Oh, how I've missed that apple pie," Lois said wistfully.
Clark had to swallow quickly before he choked. He remembered the apple pie very well. Especially Lois' reaction to it. "I'm glad you liked it. Was there anything else you missed?"
Lois put her fork down. "Everything," she said softly. He had clearly meant dessert, but she didn't. Her soft-spoken admission brought Clark's head up so they were face to face. She could tell he knew what she meant.
(Friday, April 19, 1996, 12:14 a.m. CST)
Clark walked Lois to her hotel door. "I'm sorry I kept you out so late."
Lois turned toward him. "Don't worry. I had a wonderful time."
"But you have an early flight tomorrow. I should have thought of that sooner."
Sometimes, he was too good for his own good. "Don't worry, Clark. I *wanted* to spend some time with you."
They both looked around in the awkward silence that followed.
Clark didn't want to say goodnight. Tomorrow, the plane would come and take her away from him. He knew he was going to be leaving town soon himself, but the reality of them parting was starting to get him down. He'd finally run out of things to say to her, and couldn't think of anything to prolong the visit. "Well. I should be going. I've got another stint behind the autograph table tomorrow, and you've got an early flight to catch. Goodnight, Lois."
They stood looking at each other, neither moving away.
Slowly, Clark leaned closer to Lois. Responding quickly to his subtle invitation, Lois threw her arms around him and pulled him close, engaging him in a passionate kiss. Minutes went by as they lost themselves. Clark pulled away first, and hugged Lois to him tightly.
"Oh, Lois." He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to control his body with willpower alone. It was a losing battle, and his traitorous body followed its own agenda.
"Clark," Lois said huskily. "Come inside with me. Stay the night, please." Suddenly, the thought of letting him out of her life, even for a moment, was more than she could bear.
Clark longed for her so much that he knew it wouldn't take much for him to be lost to her. He wouldn't be able to control himself if he stayed the night. Is that what he wanted? To be so close so soon? And in the morning, she would be leaving. Again. He'd never exposed himself like this to anyone. Could he give that much of himself to her just yet? It had only been a few hours ago that they had agreed to see where this friendship might lead. In his heart, Clark knew it was too soon.
"I…I can't," he managed to choke out.
Lois heard the words, and squeezed him harder. She had known what the answer would be before he had even said it. In a way, it was unfair of her to ask. They needed to take their time. Clark had nearly begged for it earlier. He needed time and she was willing to grant it to him. Lois closed her eyes tighter and bit back the sob that was building.
"I know, Clark. I know."
Quickly, she pulled herself away from him and turned around to face the door. She managed to control her trembling hands enough to unlock it, then turned back around. The last thing Lois wanted to do was to look him in the eyes, but she knew she had to.
"I…I loved seeing you again," Clark managed to whisper. "You know how to contact me for the next few weeks?"
Lois didn't trust herself to speak, so she simply nodded her head.
Clark smiled. "Goodnight."
"'Night." Lois went inside her hotel room and shut the door. Leaning against it, she wrapped her arms around herself and slid to the floor.
Outside, Clark turned and walked toward the elevator. He'd gotten no more than ten feet when his special hearing kicked in.
" < I love you. > "
He paused, and looked back at the door. "I love you, too." Then he turned and took the stairs, heading for the roof.
(Thursday, May 23, 1996, 3:05 p.m. EDT)
Lois checked her email again, and then sighed heavily when she saw there were no new messages. < Write, Clark, write! > The man wrote for a living, but he couldn't take ten minutes out of his day and drop her a note? She jabbed the mouse button forcefully over the "Get Mail" icon a couple more times, just for good measure. Still nothing. Tossing the mouse aside, she put her elbows on the desk and rested her head in her hands.
Lois knew Clark was back in Kansas by now. He had sent her a message a couple of days ago letting her know he was back home. Since then, she hadn't heard from him. At first, Lois had hoped Clark would resume his 'Guardian Angel' activities once he was home. She even took his lack of communication as proof that he was out checking on the world. That hope deflated slowly as no reports came in of suspected 'Angel' activity.
< Just what the heck are you doing, Clark?! > Lois grabbed the mouse and pounded the "Get Mail" icon a few more times. "Dumb machine," Lois said as she put the mouse down again. What could she do to get Clark to realize he needed to expand his 'Angel' activities? And what was it that made him cut back in the first place?
Was it her? Clark's activities had dropped shortly after she had come back from Kansas. Had she scared him that much? He had obviously been thinking about it. That much was clear from their conversation back in April. He also doubtlessly knew that she knew about him. He never came right out and said anything, but he had to know she knew. Lois put a hand to her forehead as she felt a headache building.
"Hey, Lois!" Jimmy came bouncing up to her desk with a folder.
"You okay, Lois?"
Lois looked up at him and waved him off. "It's nothing, really. What do you need?"
"It's not what I need, but what I've got. Check this out!" Jimmy opened the folder up and laid it down in front of Lois. "Some information just came in on that freaky government group you've been tracking. It seems they were seen poking around that nuclear power plant that had the problems back in December. You know, the one out in Kansas."
"Oh my gosh…" Lois read the report. Sure enough, Bureau 39 was reported to have been in the Wolf Creek area in early January. According to the report, members of Bureau 39 questioned several local people in the weeks to follow. Including some residents in Smallville!
No wonder Clark's been a no-show! He was probably scared out of his mind when Trask and company showed up in his neck-of-the-woods and started asking questions. From what she had been able to piece together, Trask headed up some sort of UFO investigation team.
"Thanks, Jimmy," Lois said, as she flipped through more of the folders contents.
"No problem." Jimmy took off as he heard his name called out by another reporter.
< This has to be why Clark quit helping. He was probably afraid he had exposed himself. > For a brief, fearful second, she wondered if Clark thought she had anything to do with Bureau 39 being there. If he did think that, he surely wouldn't want to continue their friendship. He would just want go deeper into hiding. Instead, they had been exchanging email on a fairly regular basis, sometimes daily.
"Except for now," mumbled Lois, as she again clicked on the "Get Mail" icon. Sigh. Still nothing. These past few weeks had been a whole new experience for Lois. Never before had she so looked forward to getting email. The way her pulse quickened, and that feeling she got in her stomach when she saw Clark's name come up on the screen…it had been incredible.
They had mostly written about a whole bunch of nothing so far. Little things here and there that somehow added up to a whole lot of something. She found herself looking forward to Clark's email messages each day. And now it seemed like it had been forever since they had communicated last. Lois knew she needed to get a grip, but right now, she'd settle for the computer informing her that mail had arrived.
Perry stood in the doorway of his office and surveyed his domain. His eyes fell on an increasingly familiar sight. Lois Lane sitting in her chair, staring empty-eyed at the screen, not moving a muscle. Well, it's about time he found out what in the Sam Hill was going on with that girl.
"Lois! In my office, now!" He was pleased to see that his newsroom bark still carried its bite. Lois had jumped considerably at his verbal command, and was now hurriedly trying to make her way to his office.
He turned and walked around his desk, then stood there waiting for her to enter. "Shut the door, please."
Lois took a small double take, then shut the door behind her. < Oh, no. What now? > she thought when she caught sight of her editor. He didn't look happy at all. "What's up, Perry?"
Perry motioned to a chair. "Why don't you have a seat."
Lois noticed he hadn't sat down himself, yet. She took a seat and waited for him to say something.
Perry stared at the top of his desk for a moment, weighing what he was about to say. "Lois, I'm concerned about you. While your work lately has been good, it's not been great. You seem—"
"Not great?!" Lois was astounded! She was getting chewed out! "Perry, my work is just—"
Perry held up a hand to cut her off. "I'm talking here, Lois."
Lois briefly considered continuing anyway, but thought better of it. Perry seemed to be in one of his moods.
"Now, as I was saying, you seem to be in a different world sometimes." He sat down and interlaced his fingers in front of him. "What's going on? What's wrong, Lois?"
Lois detected the genuine concern in his voice. "It's nothing, Perry, really. I've just had my mind on someo—something. There's a…situation I need to solve, and I can't seem to figure out how to solve it."
"Well, all right. How about some help?"
"Yes, some help. I can pair you up with someone."
Lois was furiously shaking her head. Pair her up with someone? Was the man loosing his senses?
"Now, Lois, I know you have several outstanding stories. There's that Trask character, Intergang, the Mayor's office, and now," Perry picked up a piece of paper from his desk and glanced at it, "you've set your sights on Diana Stride." He put the paper back now. "On top of all that, you have the 'Guardian Angel' as well."
"I don't need any help, Perry." Lois could feel her anger starting to build.
"I'm not saying you can't handle the load, but this is quite a load! And it's dead weight right now, because all of these stories are going nowhere, fast. I've got a paper to put out every day. A paper that is in dire need of printed text to make the good folks of the world feel like they've gotten their money's worth when they pick the paper up and hold it in their hands."
Lois' eyes flashed. "I understand, Perry, I do. But I can't rush these things. It's take time. There is a lot of information to go through, and—"
"Which is why I'm wondering if you need a partner," Perry cut in. "Someone to help you dig through all that information, and give you some support."
"A…a partner?!" Lois' voice rose in tone and volume. "Perry, I don't need a partner! Instead of raking my butt over the coals, why don't you get some of those other slackers out there in your hot seat."
Perry continued on, not acknowledging Lois' ranting. "Lois, I think you need some help of some kind, because at this rate, you'll soon be covering dog shows, and the local Ladies Auxiliary Clubs. I hate to be so dog-gone bull headed about this, but you leave me no choice. A newspaper needs stories, and right now, none of the stories you're working on are producing." Perry cleared his throat. "Now, I'd never send you packing, because I know you're the best reporter I've got. But the boys upstairs are getting all riled up. They want results or they want someone's head on a platter."
This was unbelievable. After all she'd done for this paper, Perry was on her case due to some slow stories? Anger quickly took control of her thoughts and actions. "All right, Perry," Lois stood up, "I'll save you and the 'boys upstairs' some trouble. I quit." Lois turned to walk toward the door.
"What?! Quit?! What the hell are you talking about, Lois?" Perry came around the desk quickly, and touched her on the shoulder, causing Lois to stop and face him. "You can't just quit!"
"Just watch me!"
"Lois, if I somehow gave you the wrong impression that I was going to throw you out like yesterday's newspaper, then I'm sorry. I have no intention of getting rid of you, and neither do the boys upstairs." He gently grabbed her arms. "I feel like a father to you. I got worried about you, darlin'. I thought I'd try to spark your competitive spirit to get you jump-started again. I…I can see now that I made a big mistake." Perry commanded her attention with his eyes. "I'm sorry, Lois. I just want to help you. I'm…worried about you."
Lois looked down at the floor. Was she really that much of a mess? Her anger dissipated quickly, and she could see what she must look like to Perry and everyone else in the newsroom.
"You're scaring the dickens out of me, now," Perry continued. "Lois Lane talking about quitting? I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't heard it myself." Perry paused for a moment before continuing in a soft, but firm voice. "What's wrong, Lois? How can I help?"
Lois looked up at him. "Perry, I really do think I need some time off. I have a lot of leave built up, and I want to take it."
Perry looked confused, but nodded his head. "All right, all right, you can take some time off. But what's wrong?"
"I don't know how to tell you, Perry. It's a problem only I can solve. I'm not even sure what I want, or where this is all going to lead. I'm confused, and I can't concentrate. You've made me realize that I'm not being very useful to the paper sitting around here second-guessing everything. My mind is on a different problem, and it's one that I'm going to have to find the answer to on my own, or I'm never going to get any closure."
Perry stood there and simply stared at her, searching her face. "I don't know what to say. I wish I could help."
"I know," Lois patted his arm and smiled at him.
"You're not going to quit on me, are you?"
"No," Lois noticed Perry relax, "not today at least." She laughed at the startled expression. "I'm going to take some time off and do some thinking…and searching."
"Where are you going to go?"
"I can't tell you."
"Are you out of your mind? I'm sorry, Lois, but this is all a bit much coming from you."
Lois laughed. "I'm not sure if I'm sane or not, Perry." Lois walked to the door of the office and opened it up. "Then again, being in love does make people a little crazy." She exited the office and closed the door behind her before Perry could respond.
Perry rushed to the door and peered through the blinds. He watched in fascination as Lois cleared her desk and then headed for the elevator. "Great shades of Elvis, did she say she was in love?"
(Thursday, May 23, 1996, 8:55 p.m. CDT)
Clark came in the back door of his house, took a glass from the cupboard, got some water from the faucet and sat down at the kitchen table. It felt good to be back home again. No more hotel rooms and no more flying in airplanes. Now that the tour was finally over, he could get back to feeling normal. He had arrived home just in time to help Wayne prepare for the summer's wheat harvest. In about a month, they would know how this year's crop was going to turn out. So far, this crop didn't look like it would be as bountiful as in years past. There was about a month to go, however, so anything could happen.
The overwhelming need to lose himself in mindless physical labor was being met these past few days. Not that preparing for harvest was much of a physical challenge for him, but it felt good to be close to the land and to do normal, farm-related things. Harvest was one of the things he loved most, the whole fruits of labor thing. He hadn't had much time to put much labor into his fields this year with the book and all. He owed Wayne a great deal.
He looked at the dirt and grease on his hands, turning them over and over under his gaze, soaking up the feeling of being grungy. As strange as it sounded, he enjoyed getting his hands dirty now and then. It was a solid connection to the memory of his parents. The phone rang, cutting short his preparations for a sad trip down memory lane.
There was a brief pause on the other end of the line. "< Hello, Clark. >"
"Lois! Gosh, is it ever nice to hear your voice. What's up?"
"< I should ask you the same thing. >"
"< Well, I was getting a little worried when you didn't write or call me back after our last email exchange. I thought, you know, maybe you didn't want… >"
Clark could hear the disappointment in Lois' voice. "I'm sorry, Lois. I've been so busy with getting back into the groove of things around here, I lost all track of time. You wouldn't believe how much there is to do around here. In fact, I just walked in the door a few minutes ago. Wayne took care of everything on my farm while I was gone and I've been helping him get his equipment ready for harvest next month. By the time I get home, I'm too tuckered out to do much else but wash up and go to bed."
"< Really? I wasn't sure you got… Never mind. I'm just glad I caught you before bed. >"
Clark smiled. "Me too. How are things at work?"
"< Well, that's what I called about. I'm going to be taking some time off from work and thought we might get together. If you want, that is. >"
"I'd love to, Lois. When are you going to be off?"
"< Right now, in fact. >"
"< Oh? Is now not a good time? >"
"Well, we're getting ready for harvest and I've already been gone so much."
"< Oh, I—I…see. >"
Clark could hear the disappointment in her voice. "Hey! Why don't you come out to Kansas?"
"< Well, I don't know. Will you have time to, you know, spend with me? With harvest coming up and all, I'm sure you're going to be busy. Not that I have any idea of what's all involved. >"
"You can help me, and I'll make time for you."
"< Usually, on the rare occasion that I take a vacation, I like to relax and take it easy. Somehow, preparing for a Kansas wheat harvest doesn't sound like a walk in the park. Especially for a city girl like myself. >"
Clark laughed. "You seem to adapt well. It's work, I won't lie to you. However, I think you would enjoy it. Besides, it might do you some good."
"< And just what is *that* supposed to mean, farmboy? You think I can't hack it? You think I'm getting lazy? >"
Clark felt his smile touch his eyes. He wished Lois was here. Teasing her in person was much more fun. "I'm sure you're very capable of handling city life, but here in the country—"
"< I'll be on a plane tomorrow, if I can; Saturday at the latest. I'll email you the details of when you can come to Wichita and pick me up. >"
"I'll be there."
"< You had better be, if you know what's good for you. >"
"I lo…I look forward to seeing you, Lois."
"< Me too, Clark. Goodbye. >"
Clark hung up the phone and then just stood there for a moment. Getting ready for harvest was going to be much more enjoyable this year.
(Friday, May 24, 1996, 6:25 p.m. CDT)
Clark paced back and forth in front of the terminal. He couldn't seem to calm himself down. Waiting for Lois to exit the plane was literally killing him. Her plane had pulled up to the terminal nearly ten minutes ago, but for some reason, people were not exiting. How much longer would it take? How much longer could he stand it?
Finally, when Clark thought he couldn't take it any more, he saw her. Lois and Clark ran to each other and hugged tightly, Clark picking Lois up and spinning her around.
"Oh my gosh, Lois. I thought I'd never see you in Kansas again."
Lois hugged him tighter. "You're lucky I'm here. You haven't been to Metropolis yet. You owe me a trip now."
Clark disengaged himself just enough to look at her face. "You're right. I owe you a trip to Metropolis." He hugged her to him once again.
Lois was a bit taken back. He'd actually agreed to come to Metropolis, and she hadn't even had to fight him over it. Here she was, all prepared to convince him of why he should make the trip, and he'd somehow managed to beat her to the punch. This was a good sign, wasn't it?
Clark set Lois back down and picked up her carry-ons. "Ready to pick up your luggage?"
"Sure! Lead the way." She fell into step beside Clark as he moved off down the terminal toward the luggage pick-up area. To their surprise, Lois' luggage was waiting for them. Clark handed the smaller items to Lois and picked up the larger ones for himself. Lois briefly thought of accusing him of treating her like a member of the weaker sex, but then realized she enjoyed having Clark do things like this for her.
Lois followed Clark out to the parking lot and helped him load the suitcases into the back of his pickup. Soon, they were on their way to Smallville.
"Are you hungry, Lois? We can stop and get something to eat if you want."
"That's all right, Clark. If it's okay with you, I think I'll wait until we get to your place. You can fix me something light to eat. I've been dying to taste your cooking again."
Clark laughed. "I'm glad you're here, Lois. I think you'll enjoy yourself. What made you decide to take a vacation?"
Lois sighed heavily as she watched the traffic go by. "Well, I needed a break from work. None of my stories were moving very fast, and I was having trouble focusing." < Or rather, focusing on work, instead of you, that is… >
Clark nodded. "I can understand that. I felt like my brain was mush after my book tour. I couldn't have come home at a better time. I like the hard work; it clears my head."
Lois looked at Clark's profile in the setting sun. The bright yellow rays were coming in the window behind them, and his face was cast in shadows. "Every day when I see that little bottle of wheat kernels, or that painting of your mother's, I think about you," Lois felt herself blush, and hastily added, "and what it must be like during harvest." She looked down to avoid his eyes when he turned to look at her. It surprised her how much she had missed him.
"Well, you're about to get a taste. I think Wayne wants to do some testing tomorrow to see that the combine is working properly. We'll be starting early, so I won't keep you up too late tonight."
"Am I going to be in the way, Clark? I mean, I haven't a clue as to what's going on. What am I going to do all day? Watch you work?"
"Actually, I thought you could be our gofer."
Lois laughed. "I've been demoted! Me, a world-class investigative journalist, reduced to a lowly gofer." She lightly punched Clark in the shoulder area. "I hope the pay is good."
Clark's eyes twinkled even in the dwindling sunlight. "Out here, Lois, you're just a greenhorn. Your pay depends on your…performance."
Lois took up the challenge. "Oh, don't you worry, I'm good at whatever I do."
They both laughed.
"So, what does a gofer do?"
"Well, lots of things, actually. If something breaks down, they go get the replacement parts. Pick up lunch. Make sure all the vehicles have full fuel tanks. Make sure there is plenty of water. Fetch tools. Move equipment from one field to another. Anything that needs doing, really."
"Uh-huh. The grunt work, you mean." Lois looked out the window of the pickup and stared out across the wide-open field of light green and golden wheat blowing gently in the wind. They were leaving the lights and sounds of the city behind. "I could have gone to Bermuda, but no, I decide to become a personal slave to a bunch of Midwestern farmers."
"Agricultural Engineers," Clark corrected with a smile, "and I wouldn't have been in Bermuda."
Lois turned back to look at Clark, then held out her hand to him. He grasped it softly and gave it a little squeeze. "You're right. More than anything, I came to see you," Lois admitted happily.
(Saturday, May 25, 1996, 6:32 a.m. CDT)
Lois was vaguely aware of the delicate smell of cinnamon in the air. Slowly but surely, the scent permeated her sleep-induced haze, forcing her awake with each intake of breath. As her awareness grew, she could make out other aromas as well. Most importantly, she could smell fresh coffee.
Lois' eyes refused to open, but she could tell that it was early daylight outside. < Up, Lois! Time to get up! > Clark had said they would be getting started early, but just how early was it? She managed to get one eye open and struggled to look at her travel clock without moving any more than absolutely necessary.
"Oh my… It's only 6:30!" Lois flopped back in bed. "Does the sun actually come up this early?" Lois coaxed one eye open again. The sun was casting large shafts of light in through the window of her room. Lois watched as little flecks of dust danced in and out of the sunlight.
Her hearing began to pick up movement downstairs, and Lois thought she heard voices. Clark had the radio on, she realized. < I wonder if he's been out handling some disaster? > She doubted it. He had stopped all his Guardian Angel activity earlier in the year.
Squelching her rising disappointment, < There will be more time for that later, > she attempted to sit up in bed. It was a struggle, but she triumphed in the end. Lois could smell the coffee even more now, along with cinnamon and sugar. Lois' stomach growled loudly. "Well, obviously you're awake. Give the rest of us some time." Her stomach rumbled again and her bladder answered back. "Okay, okay," Lois threw back the covers and climbed out of bed, "I'm up! I'm up…"
After taking care of things in the bathroom, washing her face, and changing into some clothes, Lois made her way downstairs.
Even before Lois entered the kitchen, she knew where she would find Clark. Sure enough, he had his head in the pantry, digging around for who knew what. The table had been set for two, with a jug of milk and orange juice in the center. On top of the stove, Lois spotted the largest cinnamon rolls she could ever remember seeing.
"Wow! These rolls are huge, Clark. Did you make them this morning?"
Clark turned at her excitement. "Good morning, Lois! Yep. Made them this morning. Hope you like them. They're called 'big-as-your-face' cinnamon rolls. Mom won the county fair with them nearly every year." He picked up a bowl that was sitting on the counter and poured something in it. "I was just getting ready to put the frosting on. Coffee's ready, help yourself."
"Thought you'd never offer." Lois fixed herself a cup of coffee and watched as Clark poured the frosting over the still-warm rolls. "If those taste half as good as they look, I'm going to die."
Clark laughed. "Sleep well?"
"Like a baby. I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I'm making by getting up this early on a Saturday."
Clark brought the rolls to the table, and served one up for Lois. "I'll try to remember to ask Wayne if you can come home early today," Clark laughed. He sat down and waited for Lois to take a bite of the roll. This time, he was prepared for her moan of delight. Prepared, but not immune. Her sensuous tones sent chills down Clark's spine, but he managed to hold onto his fork.
"Oh, Clark! This is wonderful!" Lois put another bite in her mouth. "Forget writing. You need to open a bakery."
Clark laughed. "I don't know whether I've just been complimented or insulted!"
Lois took a half-hearted swing at his arm. "It was a compliment, silly, and you know it." She let another bite dissolve in her mouth. "Is there anything you're not good at?"
Clark shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his plate. "Lots of things," he mumbled.
"Uh-huh. I'll believe it when I see it."
They ate in silence for a while, each enjoying the food and company.
< This just feels right, > thought Clark. Having Lois here, in his house, felt good. Clark wasn't sure how long Lois was planning to stay. They had both avoided talking about that last night. However long Lois would be here, it would be enough. It had to be.
"So, what are the plans for today, Clark?" Lois poured herself a glass of orange juice.
"Well, we need to go into town and pick up some parts for the combine. Then we'll head over to Wayne and Jan's place and repair the combine. Wayne will probably test it a bit to make sure it works, then we can check the grain trucks and get them in working order. Plus, we need to go survey the fields to try and estimate which field will ripen first and how long it will be before they do ripen. There are some cattle that need to be moved, and some bailing to do."
"You expect us to get all of this done today?" Lois slumped slightly in her chair. "When are *we* going to have any time?"
Clark took her hand in his. "Don't worry, Lois. We'll have plenty of time together. I promise. It's only the first day."
Lois smiled weakly. "I know, but I haven't been able to spend any real, quality time with you since…well, since last December."
Clark stood up and gathered the dishes. "Well, you're going to be with me all day today, and the sooner we start, the sooner we can quit." He carried the dishes to the sink and rinsed them off. "Did you bring some suntan lotion?"
"As a matter of fact, I did," Lois smiled triumphantly.
"Good! I see you have some hiking boots on, so you're all right there. How about a hat?"
"I've got my Metro Tigers hat in my suitcase."
"Is that a baseball style cap?"
Clark turned off the water and turned toward her, drying his hands. "I think you might be better off with a wide-brim hat. We're going to be outside a lot today, and even though it isn't summer yet, it's been hot lately. I'll see if I can find one of Mom's for you."
"All right, that sounds good. Ready?"
Clark folded the towel over the towel rod. "I am, but you aren't."
Lois looked at him quizzically.
"Suntan lotion. You need to put some on."
"Oh, right." Lois went up stairs and got her lotion from the suitcase. Lois pulled her hair back into a ponytail and put some sunblock on her arms and neck. After she was finished, she decided to bring the bottle with her in case she needed to reapply more later.
"All right, I'm ready," Lois announced as she reentered the kitchen.
Clark turned around and looked at her. "Did you put sunblock on your ears, nose and forehead?"
"Shoot, I didn't think of that. Do you have a mirror around here?"
Clark held out his hand. "Here, let me do it for you."
Lois hesitated for an instant, then handed him the bottle. She watched as he squirted a small amount of sunblock into his hands, and then motioned with his finger.
"Come a little closer…there." Lois watched as Clark dipped his index finger into the pool of sunblock. She felt her stomach flip as she watched his finger approach her left ear. At his gentle touch, her eyes went closed and a ragged breath escaped her lips. His finger caressed her ear, tracing every line and curve, stoking the skin with a blissful tenderness.
Lois' heart was hammering in her ears and throat. She felt his finger retreat and she opened her eyes. Clark was looking at her with an intensity so great, Lois nearly let out a small gasp of surprise. There was no doubting the desire that flared in those dark orbs.
Slowly, Clark applied the sunblock to her other ear, lightly stroking and covering it with equal care. Lois closed her eyes again, allowing herself to concentrate on the feelings he was stirring. When his hand left her ear a second time, Lois couldn't bring herself to open her eyes immediately.
As she waited, Lois could hear Clark's breaths come in more rapid succession. His light touch on her forehead nearly caused her to jump into his arms. Slowly, softly, he applied a thin layer of sunblock to her forehead, down her nose and across her cheeks and eyelids. He traced the outline of her lips several times and then stroked her chin and jaw. Clark broke contact with her several times as he ran low on lotion, but Lois kept her eyes closed.
Her whole body felt like a hypersensitive instrument. Lois could feel every stroke of his finger as if it was amplified a hundred fold. She could hear him dipping his finger into the sunblock again, and nearly yelped out loud as his finger briefly touched her jaw, then trailed slowly down to her neck. He worked the lotion back and forth over her smooth, sensitive skin going from one earlobe to the other. Each pass brought his hand lower and lower.
With the hand that contained the reserve pool of sunblock, Clark grasped her lightly around the back of her neck. Using both of his hands, Clark spread the remaining lotion evenly across her neck and shoulders. His hands began to pull away, then started moving forward, tracing the edge of her shirt collar down towards her collarbones. Clark's fingertips rested lightly for a second at the well of her neck, then he pulled away.
Lois stood there for a few seconds, her skin tingling everywhere Clark had touched her. Her breathing was short and ragged, and her lips were dry. She had just had one of the most erotic experiences of her life, and Lois felt she needed a moment to regain her balance.
When Lois did finally open her eyes, she saw the same desire in his eyes she had witnessed earlier. There was also a hint of fear and guilt as well.
"Thank you, Clark." Lois was surprised she could even talk.
He looked away quickly, his cheeks growing red, and he had to clear his throat. "You're…welcome. I…" He seemed to be at a loss for words, and he cast his gaze around the kitchen as if looking for something. "I found one of my Mother's hats."
Clark turned away from Lois just as she started to let her eyes wander. He scooped up a straw hat off the counter and turned back to her. "Here you go. This ought to keep you from getting too hot." Clark held out the hat for her.
"I think it's too late for that." Lois took the hat and had to suppress a giggle as she watched Clark turn a deeper shade of red.
"We should…we should be…going." Clark backed into the counter and turned to open the door. He reached up and pulled down a beat up straw cowboy hat from a rack next to the door. Looking back, he gave a slight bow and swooped the hand with the hat in a gesture that invited Lois to precede him outside.
"Don't you want me to put some sunblock on you, Clark?"
Clark quickly averted his eyes, looking out the back door. "I don't think I could take it," he mumbled.
"What?" Lois couldn't exactly hear what he had said.
He looked back at her and swallowed. "I said, I don't think I'll need any. I've been out in the sun a lot already. I've already tanned."
It was true; he was slightly tanned looking, but from what she remembered of him, he always had that vaguely exotic skin tone.
"You may be tan, but you could still use the protection from skin cancer." Lois picked up the bottle of lotion and popped the top open. "Come here, Clark. I won't bite."
Clark pulled a pocket watch from his jeans. "I think we're running a little late." He exited the kitchen before Lois could say another word.
(Saturday, May 25, 1996, 12:02 a.m. CDT)
Clark pulled up in front of the Smallville Co-Op and put the pickup in park. Other than his gigantic blunder with the sunblock earlier, it had been a fantastic morning. Just the thought of what happened this morning caused his cheeks to burn. What he had been thinking, heaven only knew. That wasn't entirely true. He had known what he was thinking, but he hadn't been thinking clearly or logically.
Still, so far the morning had gone well. Lois had seemed to enjoy herself. As he and Wayne had fixed the combine, Lois had gathered eggs for Jan, and had even fed some of the animals. When it came time to test the new repairs they had made on the huge implement, Lois had been excited to go for a ride.
The repairs had taken longer than planned, as usual. Since it was close to lunch, Clark had told Wayne that he and Lois were going to stop into town to pick up something to eat, and then head out to survey the fields. They made plans to meet around three o'clock to move some of the cattle from one pasture to another.
That brought him to the present, sitting next to the most incredible woman he had ever met. He turned off the ignition and smiled at Lois. "Hungry?"
"Starved! It's been almost six hours since we ate."
"Don't worry about it. What are we going to have?"
"Well, I need to go into the Co-Op here and set up an account for harvest. We can save some time if you would go across the street there," Clark pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, "to the Dairy Queen and get us something to eat."
Lois followed his gesture and spotted the tiny drive-in across the street. "All right. What do you want?"
"Oh, just a hamburger and a chocolate malt. I'll share some fries or onion rings with you, if you want. Meet you back here?"
"Um… Sure!" Lois didn't think to bring any money with her. Normally, Lois carried her purse with her, but she had left it at Clark's house. She didn't want to have to keep up with it today. It never crossed her mind to bring along some extra money.
Clark paused as he realized Lois wasn't moving. "Something wrong?"
"Well, I don't want to sound like a leach or anything, but I need some money. I left everything in my purse back at the farm," Lois said sheepishly.
"Oh, sorry. Don't worry about it. Just tell them to put it on my tab."
Lois' mouth fell open. "You have a tab at a drive-in?" What alien world had she fallen onto?
Clark laughed. "Sure! Money's tight for everyone right now. In a small community like this, people pull together. Most everyone keeps a tab running just about everywhere. Once the harvest is in, everyone pays up and life moves on."
Lois blinked a few times. "Okay. All right, sorry. I just need to get this small town hat on a little tighter." She reached up and pulled the straw hat Clark had loaned her down on her head a bit more.
"You're too much, Lois," Clark laughed. He entered the store and Lois went to fill their lunch order.
Lois was waiting for Clark in the truck when he finally came back out. Clark got in the pickup and noticed Lois was eating an onion ring.
"Couldn't wait for me, huh?" Clark joked.
Lois shook her head as she continued to munch. "Smelled too good."
"They sure do," Clark reached into the sack and retrieved one for himself. "Mn-mnnnmmm, greasy and salty, just the way I like them." He licked his fingers clean then started the truck. "Ready?"
They drove out of town, each dipping into the sack to snatch onion rings as they went.
"You want this?" Lois held up the spare chocolate malt.
"Sure." Clark grabbed it from her, took a long sip on the straw and then put it in between his legs in his lap.
Lois' eyebrows went up. "Won't that get cold?"
Clark looked down at the cold malt cup, then smiled as he looked back out the windshield. "I needed cooling off anyway after this morning." He paused for a beat. "Sorry."
Lois felt the heat rise in her face at the memories. "Don't be." She put her own malt between her legs. "I think I need cooling off now, as well."
They rode in silence for a bit. Lois couldn't get over how wide open the countryside seemed. Everywhere Lois looked she saw nothing but wheat. The tall stalks of greenish-gold grass swayed in the wind.
Clark turned left, and followed a fence line across a pasture. Soon, he parked the truck under the only tree Lois could see for miles.
"Here we go. Time for lunch." Clark got out of the pickup and walked around to the tailgate. He opened it up, and hopped into the bed of the truck. Lois came around the back of the truck and watched as Clark pulled a blanket from a lock box in the bed. He spread it out for them under the tree and patted the ground. "How's this?"
"Perfect!" Lois joined him on the blanket. She opened the sack from the Dairy Queen, and handed him his hamburger. "Here you go. Hope you like everything on it."
"That's fine, thanks."
They ate for a while in silence. It was incredibly quiet out in the field. Lois had the impression that she and Clark were the only two people for miles and miles. The wide open wheat fields, with their gentle swaying, produced patterns that reminded her of the ocean. Beside her, Clark leaned back and stretched out, gazing up at the large, puffy clouds in the sky.
A hot, dry wind was blowing from the south, tickling as it blew through Lois' hair. She closed her eyes and let herself soak up the atmosphere. Around her, she could hear the rustle of the wheat as the wind blew through it. A grasshopper buzzed close by. Overhead, the chirps and twittering of birds floated across the breeze.
"At first, I thought it was quiet out here. But now, I can hear all kinds of things."
"Yeah, it's nice. You want the last onion ring?"
"No, go ahead." Lois slowly opened her eyes again, and had to blink several times as they adjusted to the brightness of her surroundings. After finishing off her hamburger, Lois laid back on the blanket next to Clark and looked up at the sky.
"I never noticed how deep blue the sky looked when you stare straight up."
Clark looked up at the sky. "Oh?"
"It looks more blue out here than it does in Metropolis."
Beside her, Clark just continued to stare straight up.
"I wonder why?"
"Probably. Metropolis has plenty of that."
"Most places do, now days," Clark responded sadly.
"I bet the stars look wonderful from out here."
"They do. I'll show you sometime before you leave."
"Will we have to worry about wolves or panthers?"
Clark laughed lightly. "No, no. Coyotes, or a bobcat maybe. Or prairie dogs."
"Little rodent looking things. They dig tunnels all over the place. Mostly harmless, but their digging makes them pretty unpopular with farmers."
"Ah. They'll leave us alone?"
Clark put an arm around Lois' shoulder, pulling her close to him. "I'll protect you."
Lois scooted close to him, resting her head in the nook of his arm. "I feel safer already."
(Saturday, May 25, 1996, 7:57 p.m. CDT)
Lois sat on the front porch of Clark's farmhouse and sighed. What a day it had been! Tomorrow was going to be painful, however. Lois was sure she had used muscles she didn't even know she had. The long soak in the tub earlier had helped, and Lois planned on taking another one tomorrow morning. She had a feeling she was going to need it.
"Are you all right, Lois?"
Lois looked over at Clark. "Fine, why?"
"You keep sighing."
"Oh, just content. I think I'm going to be sore tomorrow, however."
Clark grinned. "Probably. We'll take it easy tomorrow since it's Sunday."
"Good. That will give us a chance to talk."
"Didn't we talk to each other today?"
"Oh, sure, but that was all idle conversation. I want to spend time with you and talk about…things."
Clark sat up straight, and turned toward Lois slightly. "What kind of things?"
Lois didn't really feel like going into this right now. It had been a busy day, and she was content to just relax for now. "Oh, you know. Things. We'll have plenty of time tomorrow."
"We have time now. I've been meaning to ask you about work."
"You said you came out here to take a break from work. Is everything going all right?"
"Pretty much. I've got a lot on my plate right now, but nothing I can't handle. I just needed a break to clear my head."
Clark became more excited. "Tell me about what you're working on."
Lois had been wondering how she was going to bring up the subject of the Guardian Angel, but couldn't come up with a way she liked. Clark was giving her that opportunity now. She could use her investigation of the Guardian Angel to open the door into the deeper conversation Lois knew she and Clark needed to have.
"I have about five really big investigations going on right now."
"Five! No wonder you needed a break."
"Perry wanted to hook me up with a partner," Lois nearly spat out the words.
"What's wrong with that? Sounds like a lot of work."
Lois leveled her gaze at him. "I work alone."
Clark looked away. "I see."
"I've had problems with partners in the past."
"So if the right partner was to come along, you might team up?"
Lois considered him for a moment. "If the right one came along."
Clark looked back at Lois. "Good. So who's caught the attention of Lois Lane, investigative reporter?"
"Well, I'm looking into the Mayor's office. Nothing specific, but the guy's a real smooth operator. A little too smooth. It's more of a gut feeling, but over the years I've learned to trust what my gut is telling me."
Clark nodded. This look into the professional side of Lois' life was fascinating.
"Then there is my ongoing investigation into Intergang that's—"
"Excuse me. Intergang?"
"Intergang is a large, international crime organization. I suspect that it's headed up by some prominent people in Metropolis."
"The Churches. They use the whole Cost-Mart corporation as a front."
"You're kidding! How did you find this out?"
"I've got stacks and stacks of research back at the Planet. Nothing to go to print with yet, but I'm getting close. My gut tells me it's only a matter of time now before they slip up."
Clark laughed. "Your gut's pretty talkative."
Lois shot him a dirty look and continued. "I wouldn't be surprised if the Mayor and the Churches have 'helped' each other in the past. How Diana Stride plays into this, I'm not sure."
Clark looked like he had eaten something bitter. "That reporter on television?"
"Yes. I saw her when I was in Milwaukee. She was at a meeting between the Churches and Jason Trask. I can't figure out what she was doing there."
"I've never liked her. She's so…pushy. Tabloid's written all over her."
Lois remembered some of the Guardian Angel coverage from around the beginning of the year. She was glad Clark didn't think that way about her. "I've never cared too much for her myself. How she fits in with the Churches or Trask, I'm not sure."
"He's a wacko government nut-case that believes in flying saucers."
Clark laughed. "What?!"
"I'm serious! He's even got one in a warehouse in Metropolis. Or at least he used to. He's probably moved it since then."
"I've even got some pictures of it," Lois stood up. "I brought them with me to show you. It was the most amazing thing, and I wanted your opinion on it. Be right back."
Lois disappeared inside the house for a few minutes then came back out with a manila envelope. "Take a look at these and tell me what you think it is."
Clark opened the envelope and pulled the photographs out. As soon as he saw them, he gasped in surprise.
"I know, it shocked me too. I don't think it was a fake, it just looked too…real. Plus, my gut tells me this is the genuine article."
Clark could barely concentrate on what Lois was saying. His mind was riveted to the picture of the small ship in front of him. Specifically, to the emblem on the nose of the ship. It wasn't possible, was it? His parents had said they had found him in a ship of some kind. Was this it? Quickly, he flipped to the next picture. There was a close up of the symbol on the nose. Clark felt the world spin around him.
"There, look at that. I made sure I got a good shot of that emblem. It's a stylized 'S' or something. And look along the edges here at these strange glyphs. They almost look like writing."
Clark forced himself to breathe. He lifted his glasses and used his special vision to examine every detail of the picture. He was oblivious to Lois' presence. Right now, he wanted as much information about this ship as he could get. The sun was beginning to set, and Clark had to tilt the pictures to get rid of the glare the sun was causing off the glossy finish.
Lois noticed Clark raise his glasses and stare intently at the pictures. "Amazing, isn't it? To think that this Trask might actually have proof that extra-terrestrial life does exist." Lois leaned back in her chair. "Man, I wish I could get more proof! This could be one of the stories of the century."
Clark flipped to the next picture and the next, searching each rapidly, looking for any extra details he could find.
Beside him, Lois continued, not realizing how much the pictures meant to the man who held them. "I'm guessing that Trask was buying or trading information with the Churches. Trask strikes me as too much of an oddball to be caught up in organized crime. He's got his own agenda, I just haven't figured out what he thinks it is. Diana is still the big mystery. What do you make of her involvement in this?"
Clark looked up as if seeing her for the first time. "Huh? Oh. It's…it's…it's simply amazing. These pictures…" Clark was at a loss for words.
"I know. I wish I could print them."
"What else did you see?" Clark asked intently.
"Not much. Shortly afterwards, they started shooting."
"That's where you were when—I mean… That's why you said they must have moved it?"
Lois caught his slip. "I'm sure they have."
Lois watched as Clark looked at the picture of the ship again with great intensity. It almost bordered on longing. "You okay?"
Clark put the pictures down. "Sure. It's just so…amazing. Listen, will you excuse me for a minute? I need to…um…go to the bathroom." He stood up and went quickly inside.
Lois watched the screen door close behind Clark's retreating form. < He's sure acting strangely. I wonder what it was in those pictures that's got him acting this way? > She leaned over and picked up the pictures and looked at them again. Whatever it was, she couldn't see it.
Moving at faster than normal speed, Clark searched his parents' room for the box he vaguely remembered. He hadn't looked inside that box in over a decade. < Where is it… Where is it?! > He stopped, his hands shaking as he realized it wasn't in the room. He quickly scanned the attic, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was up there. Seconds later, he pulled it from its hiding spot.
Gently, he held it in his arms. Slowly, he opened the lid, afraid of what he might or might not see. The setting sun cast a shaft of light through the air vent on the gable end of the house, illuminating the contents. With a shudder of excitement and relief, Clark gazed at the blue blanket and the stylized red and yellow emblem that seemed to shine up at him. The distinctive 'S' was the same as in the photographs. This *emblem* was the same as the one on the ship in Lois' pictures.
Tentatively, Clark reached out a finger and traced the 'S.' Mother had said they had found him wrapped in this blanket. It was the only thing he had with him when they found him. How Trask had managed to get the ship, Clark couldn't say. Somehow, he would have to get the ship back. For now, he would have to be content to know that there were answers out there.
With great care, Clark straightened the blanket and carefully put the lid back on the box. He stashed it back in its hiding place. If Trask had the ship, and he somehow managed to find this blanket… Clark shuddered at the prospects. He could remember back to January when those government agents from the EPA had been poking around. At the time, he had chalked it up to them investigating the power plant accident.
However, when the questions turned from the power plant to questions about the strange man, or other strange happenings in the area, Clark had gotten scared. Now, he realized there was physical evidence linking him to the ship. No one must ever find this blanket. He would have to find a better hiding place for it, and the ship, once he acquired it.
Right now, he needed to get back to Lois, before she came looking for him.
Clark came back out onto the porch and sat down.
"There you are. I was beginning to think you had fallen in!" Lois joked. "You almost missed the sunset."
< Something's happened. There's something in those pictures that has changed him. > "You know, something occurred to me while you were in the house. I wonder if this ship is linked in anyway to the Guardian Angel."
"What?!" Clark bolted up out of his chair. "How did you—" Clark stopped short when he looked into Lois' confused face. He sat down and rubbed his hands over the tops of his knees nervously. "How did you come up with that idea?" he asked in a normal tone.
"I don't know, it was just a gut feeling. A hunch. The guy has powers like no one else on *this* planet."
"Your gut seems to have a lot to say about things. Is it ever wrong?"
"Sometimes. You think it is in this case?"
Clark stood up and walked over to the railing that surrounded the porch. "I…I don't know. I…I hope so." It was happening already. If Lois linked the ship to the Guardian Angel, how long would it take for Trask to do the same? Trask certainly knew the ship came from this area of the country. There was a man flying around doing superhuman feats. This man was seen in the same area the ship was found. No wonder they took so long in investigating the power plant. They were looking for him! He had thought that back then, and he was even more sure of it now.
"What do you mean?" Lois stood up and walked up beside him. "Why would you hope not?"
"If this Trask is half the nut-case you said he is, then this Guardian Angel could be in for some real trouble."
"Somehow, I think the Guardian Angel can take care of himself. Although, that would explain his recent disappearance. Maybe he thinks this group is out to get him."
Clark turned his face away from Lois'. In the darkening twilight, his expression was almost completely hidden from her view. "Maybe." < Probably. Where can I go now? >
Lois laid a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe it's time for the Guardian Angel to go public. Beat Trask to the punch and let the world know there is nothing to be afraid of."
Clark looked at her in horror. "You can't be serious!"
"Why not? Clark, the world needs the Guardian Angel. We can't let some lunatic control the Angel through fear."
"Imagine the risks," he said in a whisper.
"Life is full of risks. Sometimes people need to have faith in themselves and others. Life without risks is no life at all. People take risks every day. Every time I investigate a story, I take on multiple risks."
Clark turned away from her. "Yes, you would know all about taking risks. You take *way* too many risks. Like when you took those photographs." Clark spun back around to face her. "Or when you left your car during the blizzard last December. You're going to end up really hurt. Someday there won't be anyone there to save you!" Clark knew he was lashing out a bit, but couldn't help it. "It's a wonder you're not dead already."
"Listen! I don't need you trying to live my life for me. Don't try to tell me what I should and shouldn't do. I've been living my life very well without you in it up until now." Lois had heard this line of criticism before, from nearly everyone in her life. She lived her life *her* way. She had to, there was no other option. Imagine the nerve of Clark to imply that without him, she wouldn't be alive today! < Well, he did save your life a couple of times… > Lois' anger squashed the thought.
Clark stood there trembling, his mouth moving, but not making a sound. "Not tell *you* what to do?" Clark exploded. "What the hell do you think you have been doing to me since nearly the moment we met?! You've been pushing and mucking around in my life the whole time, and I hate it! I *hate* it!" Clark's boots pounded heavily on the wooden floor of the porch as he paced back and forth. "I'm me, Clark Kent. Simple farmer from Kansas. I'm not somebody else or something else. Being different just raises questions and then people start poking around and questioning. Just look what happens when people get too close!"
"Too close to what? What happens?! What are you talking about?" Lois yelled back.
Clark stopped and stared at her for a moment, his eyes blazing bright in the dusk. Lois had never seen him so angry. Suddenly, he turned and stormed off the porch, heading for the barn.
"Clark! Don't you run away from me again, Clark Kent!" Lois ran to the edge of the porch and leaned over the rail. "If you know what's good for you, you'll…" She just caught a glimpse of him as he disappeared from sight inside the barn.
Lois smacked the railing with her hand. "Stupid, stupid, stupid…" She was stupid for letting her old barriers and preconceptions come forward, and for lashing out at Clark. Lois felt stupid *and* guilty upon realizing the truth that ran through Clark's accusations. She had been mucking around in his life, telling him what to do. It was even one of the reasons she had made this trip to Kansas. Lois had come to convince Clark to become the Guardian Angel publicly.
Now, because she had acted before thinking, she was never going to get Clark to leave the farm and be the Guardian Angel. And why should he? What reasons did she have for wanting him to do that? Did she want the Guardian Angel, or did she want Clark Kent? A few months ago, her head would have told her the Guardian Angel, but since then, since she had grown to know Clark Kent, her heart was talking louder than her head.
Did it make a difference that Clark was the Guardian Angel? If he was just an ordinary man, would she still feel this same way? Lois remembered how she had felt about Clark before she had discovered that Clark harbored a secret. At the time, Lois had felt like she had found the last decent man in the world. Clark was everything she had been looking for, and more. Yes, she would still feel the same way about him.
So now the question was, which was more important. Clark or the Guardian Angel? Thoughts of what her life was like before she had met Clark flashed through her mind and she shuddered. Never again did she want to feel that dead inside. Did she want there to be a Guardian Angel if there was no Clark Kent? There was always that possibility. Clark could be right, and if he went public, he could be exposed. It would be like having no Clark Kent at all; again, not something she wished to think about.
Then there was Clark Kent without the Guardian Angel. It had been that way for the past several months. While it had been nice, it always felt like there was something missing. Now that she knew what Clark could do, the fact that he didn't do it made things seem incomplete. It sounded selfish, but Lois wanted her cake and to be able to eat it too.
First, however, she needed to find Clark and tell him how she felt about *him*. It was time to step up and say the scary words, and to make sure he knew it was *him* as a whole she wanted. Lois didn't want to contemplate life without Clark in it.
Lois stepped off the porch and made her way toward the barn. It was getting dark outside, and she hoped she wouldn't have difficulty finding him. Would he still be there, or will he have used the barn as a staging area to leave again as he had in December? "Please be in there, Clark." She needed him.
There was a hollowness inside of him he hadn't felt in a long time. He had fallen in love with someone who was only interested in making him into some personal image of a hero. How had this happened? He had truly thought that Lois had loved him. The real him.
Clark had gotten angrier than he could ever remember. The whole business with Trask and his ship, the emblem and his blanket…it had opened up a tightly controlled lid on a smoldering pile of anger and fear he didn't want to admit he had. Too late he tried to squelch the feelings, but he couldn't contain them. After lashing out at Lois, he had done the only thing he could think of doing. He'd run, as he always did.
His emotions burned out quickly, leaving him feeling weak and wiped out. Looking back, Clark realized how badly he had handled things. He was jumping to conclusions. How did he know Lois was only interested in the Guardian Angel side of things? Had he given her time to explain herself? No. He had simply reacted and then left. All those months of trying to build up a relationship, down the drain. Lois would probably never speak to him again. He had heard the anger in her voice as she had yelled at him not to leave.
Clark headed toward the back of the barn, and opened the doublewide doors there. He looked out at the stars starting to shine in the darkening eastern sky.
"Hello? Clark? You still here?"
Clark's heart wrenched at the sound of her voice. He turned to look at her. It was dark in the barn, but his enhanced vision allowed him to make out all of her wonderful features. He didn't know how to apologize to her, and the thought that he might have hurt her made him shrivel up inside even more. He'd been stupid.
Clark sighed heavily. "Back here, Lois."
Lois made her way towards where she had heard his voice. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, she could make out his large form in the doorway at the back of the barn. She walked up to him, and he turned to face her, the pale moonlight barely highlighting half of his face.
"Lois, I'm sorry for the way I acted out there just now. I—"
"Clark, I want to tell you the real reason I came to see you." The intensity of her voice cut him off. She reached down and grasped his hands in hers. "I'm here because of you. I couldn't stop thinking about you, especially after we saw each other in Milwaukee. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw your face. Every time I read one of your letters, I heard your voice. I realized, at some subconscious level, that I couldn't live without you in my life. At a conscious level, I knew I was missing something in my life, but I didn't know what. I was confused, and I didn't know what to do.
"But now I know what it was I was missing, and I've found you. I've found you, and I don't want to let go. Not ever. I want to be with you no matter where you are, and no matter what you are doing. Even if it means leaving the Planet and Metropolis to come live here in Kansas."
Lois could see a teardrop glisten in the moonlight as it traveled down Clark's face.
"You don't have to quit—"
"Shhh," Lois laid her fingers lightly on his lips to silence him. "I'm willing to leave everything because, for once in my life, I've realized what I've been missing, and now that I've found it, I don't want to let go. My life has been empty up till now. You fulfill a part of me that's been aching for a very long time. I want you, the *whole* you, in my life. I want you just the way you are. Forever. Clark, I love you."
Clark grabbed her and pulled her to him tightly. He buried his head in her hair and let out a great, shuddering gasp of air as he tried to control himself. "Oh, Lois. I thought I'd lost you. I didn't think you would ever want me."
Lois' lips quickly sought out Clark's and they kissed hungrily, clutching at each other, each fearing that if they let go, the other wouldn't really be there.
Lois pulled back, trying to make out Clark's face in the dim light. "I wish I could see you. There isn't enough light."
"You'd just see a crybaby anyway," Clark laughed. He hugged her tightly again. "I love you, Lois. I want you in my life. I want to share *everything* with you. When I'm with you, I feel like I can do anything."
They held each other for a moment, then Clark released Lois and took her hand in his. "We have a lot to talk about. Let's go inside and I'll tell you everything. I'll explain everything I know…about…me. Then you can decide what you want."
They turned and started walking back toward the house, hand in hand. Lois leaned over against Clark, marveling in the solid feel of his body against hers. This was real. It was really happening to her. She honestly felt like she would do anything, give up anything, for this man beside her. And she felt like Clark would do the same for her. They still needed to talk about his Guardian Angel activities, and just what it was about him that made him different, but Lois was confident that he wouldn't hide anything from her now.
Lois looked up into the clear, Kansas night sky and marveled at how many stars she could see. "It's so beautiful here. Look at all the stars!"
"There are no city lights for them to compete with."
"I feel like I'm staring out into infinity. It's like the universe is telling us we can go anywhere from here, together."
Clark squeezed her hand. "Lois, this isn't really the best way to see the stars, you know."
"No. There's a much better way to see the heavens."
Clark wrapped one arm around Lois' waist and held her hand with the other, pulling her close to him. "Like this."
Slowly, Clark lifted the two of them off the ground. A small bark of excitement escaped Lois' lips as she felt herself slip away from the constant gravitational pull of the Earth. She was being propelled upward and beyond into the night by the love of her life. An invisible force wrapped around the two of them, binding them together as they made their way towards the multitude of twinkling lights in the sky.
"This is the best way to see the stars," Clark murmured in Lois' ear, "Together."
Song used during dance scene is:
WE'VE GOT TONIGHT
by Bob Seger
One quick note of thanks to Debby Stark. I shamelessly borrowed her floating Clark revelation scene. I hope she doesn't mind. Debby, you know re one of my favorite authors, and I think that the floating scene in Dawning is just perfect.