By Ann McBride <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November, 2002
Summary: In this sequel to "More than Partners, part 1: A Really Strange Visitor," Lois and Clark find more than an EPA cleanup at a farm in Smallville. Their relationship seems poised to move forward, but an old enemy may have other plans for their futures.
This rewrite of GGGOH is a sequel to "A Really Strange Visitor." So there may be a few twists. <g> If you haven't read ARSV, you might want to read it first. Otherwise, there are things in here that will make you go, "What?!" Many thanks to Marilyn, Anita, Kristin, and Wanda who tirelessly beta-read this.
Since it's an episode rewrite, there is some dialogue from the show. No copyright infringement intended.
"Whoa! Watch it there, Jimmy!" Cat Grant called to the young researcher as he bounded down the ramp into the newsroom. "Start coming to work on time and people will expect it," she teased, a broad smile lighting up her face.
"Is this cool or what?" Jimmy practically shoved his wrist into her face.
"Hmm, I prefer leather," was the sultry reply.
"I wasn't talking about fashion."
"Neither was I," she purred.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. "The watch, Cat. It's a S.T.A.R. Labs prototype. The Air Force needs help finding their lost pilots, but I think we could use it to signal Superman."
"May I see that?" The auburn-haired gossip columnist held out her hand.
Jimmy handed the watch to her and watched as she turned it over, pushing buttons.
The young man looked across the newsroom to Clark's desk. It looked like Clark and Lois were pitching a story to Perry.
"So here's this decent guy, a farmer, and he gets thrown off his property by the feds who then start tearing up his land with bulldozers," Clark explained.
Perry nodded his head in agreement. "Sounds like a story to me."
"Let Clark go, then," Lois said. "I'll stay here and look for some real news." She thought about going to Clark's hometown on a story. Not a good idea right now.
Perry tried to placate her. "Now, let's keep an open mind here, Lois. 'The Poisoning of America.' I'm seeing a Planet special investigation."
"I'm seeing guys in overalls discussing hog futures," she retorted snidely.
As Lois and Perry argued the merits of the story he had been proposing, Clark was suddenly assaulted by a high- pitched squeal. His ears protesting, Clark looked around the newsroom in search of the source.
The editor kept talking about the proposed article. "The way I see it, it's private property rights versus the public good."
His partner continued to protest. "We've got that right here in Metropolis, Perry. There's no reason to go to Kansas."
"Urban and rural. Same story. Same problem. Sometimes it's easier to see the situation in a microcosm, Lois." Noticing the pained expression on Clark's face, Perry asked, "You all right, Son?"
"Sure. Excuse me a minute."
Clark had finally located the source of the shrill noise piercing his eardrums. He loped over to Cat and Jimmy. "Can I see that?" he asked.
Cat handed him the signal watch as Jimmy eagerly explained, "It's a prototype. It emits a high frequency signal. I thought we could use it to signal Superman."
"Yeah." Clark found the right button and shut it off. "Why don't you save that for a real emergency?" He threw the comment over his shoulder as he returned to his desk in time to hear Perry speak to Lois.
"I'm done arguing. One of you call Travel to make your reservations. I want you on a plane this afternoon."
Lois rolled her eyes again. "Perry, it's *Smallville.*"
"You know, that's probably how the first reporter at the Love Canal felt. Didn't that reporter pull in a Pulitzer Prize?" With that caustic remark, the editor turned on his heel and went back to his office.
"Come into the conference room a minute," Clark suggested to his quietly seething partner. "We need to talk about this in private."
"Fine," she grudgingly responded. She entered the room as he held the door for her. "Thanks, Clark."
"You're welcome," he replied with a grin. "Lois, what is it that's really bothering you about this assignment? Somehow, I don't think it's the story."
"Clark, I'm a city girl, in case you haven't noticed. Why would I want to go to the country? There are bugs and snakes and things." She stared at the wall beyond his shoulder, unwilling to meet his gaze.
"So your only objection to going to Kansas is that you might run into a stray spider or two? Somehow, I don't believe you." He paused a second, almost afraid to voice his opinion. "Lois, you said to Perry, 'It's *Smallville.*' I think you don't want to go to my hometown. And I guess I'm not sure why," he said gently.
She shook her head. "Clark, I'm sorry. It's not that I don't want to go to your hometown. I just don't know that I'm ready to meet your parents. And even if we're there on business, I see no way that we can avoid that. It would be different if we weren't dating. But we've only been dating for a month or so, and so it seems like it's too soon to get introduced as your girlfriend."
"Lois, first of all, they'll love you, no matter what context you're introduced in. Second, the only way they'll know you're my girlfriend is if you decide you want to tell them."
She shot a puzzled glance at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I haven't told them that you're my girlfriend. They know of you as my partner at work and my friend."
"Why haven't you told them I'm your girlfriend?" she asked, bothered by his comment. "Are you ashamed of it?" she asked, a worried look in her eyes.
He shook his head in denial and shrugged. "I guess I'm like you. We haven't been dating all that long. I think I wanted to make sure you didn't dump me after a few dates."
"Oh. So they won't expect anything?"
"No, Lois. They'll just expect to meet my colleague from work. I swear."
She looked at him through narrowed eyes. "And I won't be subjected to the third degree from every other person in town?"
His laugh rang out. "No, Lois. Just what do you think people are like in small towns? And no, don't answer that. It was a rhetorical question."
She sniffed loudly. "All right. I'll go, and I'll try to stop complaining."
He relaxed visibly. "Good. Then let me tell you what I didn't tell Perry."
"You held out on Perry?" she asked, surprised.
"Yeah. I was afraid he wouldn't let us go if I told him what I really think is going on in Smallville." He shoved his hands in his pockets and began to pace around the room.
"Clark Kent, spill it."
"Lois, you know how my parents' neighbor has EPA people digging up his farm because of a pesticide clean-up?"
"Yes…" she began to reply.
"I don't know about what he did before I was born, but as long as I've known him, Wayne Irig has been an organic farmer. He doesn't use pesticides. Never has, as far as I know."
"So why is the EPA out there looking for them?" she asked.
"Good question. The simple answer is that I'm not sure it's the EPA."
"What?!" She was incredulous. "If it's not the EPA, then who is it?"
"My dad called me because he was worried. He said that Wayne had a tree that got uprooted last week in a storm. In the hole, Wayne found some weird rock crystals. He sent one of 'em to a lab in Wichita to find out what it was. That's when the government showed up on his doorstep with an order to conduct an EPA cleanup of pesticides. The Irig farm is just a couple of miles from Shuster's field."
Lois's eyes began to sparkle. "And you think that just maybe this weird rock has something to do with your ship? And the government order…"
"Could be fake. Just like the warrant to search the Planet was. You know, I never did find Trask again."
"And you think that we're going to find him in Smallville this weekend?"
"I think it's a possibility. Judging from what we read in that file, Trask thinks there's a connection between Smallville and Superman," Clark reminded her. "So he may have decided that having struck out here, he'll try to find something in Kansas."
"And your dad's friend gave him the opening he needed when he sent that crystal to the lab?"
"Right. So," he said, "are you okay with this trip now?"
She gave him a grudging smile. "I suppose. Should I check to see if I can find my cowboy boots?"
"If you have some, yeah." His eyes twinkled behind his horn-rimmed frames. "I'm glad you're okay with this. I guess one of us better call travel."
"Yeah. Think the budget will cover first class?" she suggested.
"In your dreams, Lois. Anyway, it's all the same to me. I just flat out hate flying."
She screwed up her face. "Wait a second. Did I just hear you say you *hate* flying?"
"Yeah. With a passion," he admitted.
"But Clark, you're <Superman>" she mouthed. "You fly on a fairly regular basis."
"Not in an airplane," he responded. "I hate it. I feel like I'm in a flying coffin. It's horrible." He grimaced. "And there's no way out of it this time."
Lois grinned at him. "Tell you what. I'll hold your hand on take-off," she offered.
"That would be nice. Maybe then I won't be scared." He smiled at the thought.
Shaking her head, she repeated, "You're a strange one, Clark Kent." She swatted him playfully. "And now I better call the travel department and get them to make our reservations."
"That'd be fine. Do you want a motel room, or do you want to stay at my folks'?" he inquired.
"Your folks' house? Won't it be an imposition?"
"No, I'm gonna stay there no matter what. It'd be easier if we're together. You can have my room, and I'll sleep on the couch."
She acquiesced. "All right. But don't you dare embarrass me."
He smiled fondly at her. "No problem, Lois. I'll be on my best behavior."
Lois leaned across Clark to look out the window at the patchwork quilt of farmland thirty thousand feet below.
"America's breadbasket, Lois."
"Don' t tell me. 4-H changed your life." Her grin told him she was teasing.
He chuckled at her comment. "What can I say, Lois? I'm a farm kid."
"If I ever need a cow milked, I'll remember that." She sank back into her seat and took his large hand in hers. "You okay?"
"Sure. You've done a great job distracting me from the fact that I'm stuck in here."
"Well, if I could have figured out a way to only make one plane reservation, I would have," she whispered. "But I couldn't."
He stroked his thumb over the back of her hand, marveling at the silky texture of her skin. "I know. And it really is all right. I'm enjoying the time with you." He raised their hands to his lips and gently kissed her hand. "We don't normally get this much time with absolutely nothing to do but sit and talk."
"Oh, Clark, sometimes you say the sweetest things." She felt like she might just melt.
"I try, Lois, I try."
The diesel engine labored to pull the heavy freight train down the track. Clark relaxed behind the wheel of the rental car, enjoying the upgrade to a convertible that the agent had apologetically given them in Wichita. His partner, on the other hand was practically twitching in the passenger seat. Sitting behind a railroad crossing gate, which Clark had refused to try to get past, was grating on her nerves.
After Lois's third or fourth comment about the country, Clark replied, "Joke all you want, Lois, but take away Middle America and what have you got?"
"Art, music, theater…"
"Crime, drugs, poverty."
Lois settled back against the car seat. "How long is this going to take?" she asked, inclining her head toward the train that was slowly inching along the track.
Suppressing a laugh, Clark answered, "It takes as long as it takes."
"I didn't realize Zen was so popular in the country," she muttered.
Clark smiled indulgently at her. "It always takes people from the city a while to decompress. Fortunately for you, the annual Corn Festival is this weekend."
Lois looked unconvinced. "This is a good thing?"
"Sure. We'll get to see the Corn Queen pageant, the Husk- Off. The Corn-O- Rama. Popcorn, creamed corn, corn-on-the- cob. We're in luck." The expression on his face was blissful—tinged with mischief.
"Be still my heart," she finally said with a smile. She eyed him suspiciously. "You didn't concoct this story just to have an excuse to come home for the Corn Festival, did you?"
"Lo…is! How can you even suggest that? I'm hurt, Lois, really hurt, that you would think I would lie to Perry like that." He bit his tongue to keep from laughing.
His partner rolled her beautiful eyes. "Clark, you're hopeless," she laughed.
He joined in her laughter just as the last railroad car passed the gate. It slowly rose as the red lights stopped blinking. Clark put the car back in drive and pressed the accelerator. "If we don't get on out to the Irig place, you may be spared the festival."
"No, not that," she emoted dramatically, one hand placed over her heart.
Clark eased the convertible to a stop in Wayne Irig's driveway. An attractive middle- aged woman was standing, clipboard in hand, at the barricade blocking access to the property. The two reporters got out of the car and approached her.
The woman's identification badge identified her as Carol Sherman, EPA field agent. "Sorry. This site is closed to the public," she informed them briskly.
"We're not the public. We're the press," Lois snapped.
"We've already issued a statement to the local paper," Ms. Sherman rejoined.
Clark decided it was time to step in. "I'm Clark Kent. This is Lois Lane. We're from the Daily Planet." He smiled warmly at her.
Responding to his friendliness, the agent replied, "I'm Carol Sherman, EPA Field Liaison. What's a newspaper like yours doing here?"
"That's why we're called the Daily *Planet.* We cover the world," Clark added.
Thawing even more, Ms. Sherman explained, "What you're seeing here is an ecological risk assessment. During the sixties, the owner used a lot of pesticides; and we're concerned about seepage into the local ground water."
"Polluting wells or something?" Lois asked.
"That's right. No big story here, I'm afraid." Ms. Sherman sounded apologetic.
"We'll need to talk to the property owner," Lois demanded.
"Mr. Irig's been given relocation money during the testing. He didn't say where he went."
"Well, I'm sure you've got that information somewhere. We'll check back later." Lois gave her an insincere smile and turned to her partner who was fiddling with his glasses. "You ready?" she asked him in an undertone.
"Yeah." He nodded. "Let's go to town and see if he's there."
"Sounds like a plan." Lois followed him to the car.
As they drove away, Lois turned to Clark. "All right, spill it. What did you see in that big tent?"
He chuckled. "Well, if Wayne is on the farm, I didn't see him. Didn't see Trask either. But…" he trailed off as a rabbit darted across the country road.
"Cla…ark." Lois sounded impatient.
"But inside that big tent—there were a bunch of guys in military garb that looked a heck of a lot like the guys on that plane." He looked grave.
"So you were right. This is *not* a routine EPA ecological assessment." Lois could have hugged him if he hadn't been driving.
"Doesn't look like it. I would like to know where Trask is," he continued.
"Me too," she said with a wry smile. "He's a loose cannon if there ever was one." She wriggled into a more comfortable position. "So, tell me more about Wayne Irig. Other than that he's an organic farmer who supposedly used pesticides all over the place."
"Well, he's a friend of my Dad's. Raises wheat and corn. Before she died, his wife made the best caramel apples for Halloween." He smiled wistfully at the memory.
"Caramel apples? I love caramel apples."
His eyes twinkled as he said, "Maybe we'll find one for you at the festival."
"Oh, yeah. The Corn thing. I can hardly wait." Lois reflected that what she had said was true. It would be interesting to see Clark on his home turf. Perhaps she'd figure out just what it was that made him tick.
Colonel Jason Trask leaned on a table, glaring at the sweating face of Wayne Irig. "Let's try this again. What did you do with the rest of it?"
The stolid-looking farmer just stared back at his interrogator.
"We have two possibilities. Either you buried it somewhere on your farm or you gave it someone. Now, which is it?" Trask's voice rose in frustration.
"I told you. There wasn't any more. Just the piece I sent to Wichita."
Trask backhanded Irig across the face. "Wrong answer!" he spat at his prisoner.
At that moment, Carol Sherman entered the tent and stopped in her tracks, horrified at what she saw. "I thought you said that Mr. Irig had been relocated," she managed to say to Trask.
"He has been. This is his new location," the agent sneered.
Appalled, Ms. Sherman asked, "Since when does the Environmental Protection Agency do interrogations?"
"It doesn't," came the terse reply. "But Bureau 39 does."
"Bureau 39? What's that?" the EPA worker persisted.
"That's on a need-to-know basis. *You* don't." Trask glared at her through narrowed eyes.
"I needed a job, but not this bad." Ms. Sherman attempted to extricate herself from the situation.
Trask moved toward her, ignoring his prisoner for the moment. "Let me explain something to you. No one *alive* has ever quit Bureau 39." He gave her an evil smile. "Now, if you're still determined to quit, I'll accept your resignation…with regret." He looked around the tent at his operatives.
Ms. Sherman cast a frightened look at the agents, tensed, then said, "No. I'm fine."
"Good. Then I assume there is a reason you interrupted me?" Trask's voice was cutting.
"I just talked to two reporters from the Daily Planet. A Lois Lane and a Clark Kent," she informed him.
A genuine smile briefly lit up his face. "Perfect. If Lane and Kent are here, then Superman can't be far behind." He paused an instant, considering his options. "If they return, be sure to let me know immediately."
"Yes, sir." Sherman turned and left the tent, her spirits oppressed. Just what had she gotten herself into?
Returning his attention to Wayne Irig, Trask changed tacks. "All right. I'll believe you that you only found the one crystal. But I don't for one minute believe you know nothing."
The farmer continued to stare at the government agent with bovine eyes.
"So, Mr. Irig, what do you know of any strange happenings here in Smallville, back in 1966?"
Wayne Irig looked puzzled. "Strange happenings? Don't know what you mean."
Trask leaned over the table, his face mere inches from the other man's. "Strange things. Like shooting stars. Or meteor showers. Or UFOs."
"Well, there weren't much goin' on that spring. Mebbe that was the year we had lots of rain. Barely got to plant. Or was that '67?" He shook his head. "Can't really think of anything strange." His eyes brightened. "'Cept Bill Shuster's cat. That was pretty odd, come to think of it."
"What about his cat?" Trask's paranoia was piqued. Given the size of the spaceship they had discovered, whatever creature was in it had to have been small.
"His cat had a three-legged kitten."
"A three-legged kitten?" Trask didn't know how to react.
"Yep. A three-legged, one-eyed kitten. Weirdest critter I ever saw." Irig mopped his brow with a wadded-up bandanna.
Trask got in his face once more. "And what, exactly, happened to this kitten?" he demanded.
Irig hunched his shoulders. "I dunno. Bill probably drowned it. That's what people usually do with useless kittens."
The colonel's eyes gleamed with excitement. Maybe, just maybe, this kitten wasn't really a cat. Maybe it was the alien that had landed in Shuster's field. Of course, that left the question of what had really happened to the creature wide open. And where had Superman come from?
"You see, Lois? I told you you'd like the Corn Festival," Clark eagerly commented to his partner as he looked with pride around the Smallville town square. A band was playing country rock under the gazebo in the middle, young ladies were vying for the attention of the young men preening in front of them, small children were taking part in the carnival games, and in one corner, a portly farmer was cheerfully grilling hot dogs, bratwursts, and pork chops.
"Uh huh," she said doubtfully. "Clark, why do I get the feeling that any minute Dorothy is going to come skipping through, Toto at her heels?"
His eyes sparkled with mischief. "No clue, Lois. Maybe because Dorothy *wanted* to be in Kansas?"
Lois elbowed him. "Maybe this town isn't so backward. They seem to have a female sheriff." She turned him toward a buck-toothed strawberry blonde dressed in the tan and brown uniform of a county sheriff.
"Rachel!" he called as he moved toward her, Lois on his heels.
Hearing her name, the woman turned, a broad smile lighting up her face. "Clark Kent! I didn't know you were coming back this year!" She hugged him happily. "It's so good to see you! How is life in the big city? And are you planning to come to the dance tomorrow night?"
Clark gave her a last squeeze before releasing her. "Rachel — or should I call you 'Sheriff Harris' now? You look great. Life in Metropolis is terrific, and yes, we're planning on coming to the dance tomorrow." He drew Lois forward. "Lois, I'd like you to meet Rachel Harris, one of my oldest friends. Rachel, this is Lois Lane, my partner at the Planet."
Lois held out her hand, eyeing the other woman warily. "How do you do?" she said coolly.
Rachel shook Lois's hand heartily. "Nice to meet you, Lois." Turning to Clark, she added, "Can you still two-step and tush-push?"
"You bet, Rachel."
"Good, you can show me tomorrow night for old time's sake."
"Old time's sake?" Lois asked suspiciously.
"Yeah, Clark took me to his senior prom." Rachel grinned. "So when did you two…?" She waved her hands in a vague gesture, indicating the two reporters might be more than just work partners.
"Oh, we're partners at work. We're here on a story." Lois tried to sound indifferent.
"Ah." Rachel wasn't fooled. There was definitely something more than just professional interest on Lois's part when it came to Clark. She might have to do a little detective work and make sure this city woman was good enough for her old playmate. "I guess you mean that EPA clean-up at Wayne Irig's."
Clark responded. "Yeah. We went by there, but the EPA spokeswoman said he'd been relocated. I was wondering if you knew where he is."
The sheriff shook her head. "Nope. You know Wayne. Ever since Mrs. Irig died, he's kept pretty much to himself. I'll ask around though." Her walkie-talkie crackled into life. "Duty calls. You two have fun." She smiled at the pair. "See you tomorrow night at the dance."
"Thanks, Rach," Clark replied. He watched her stride off toward her cruiser parked at the edge of the square. He wondered if she'd find out any more than he and Lois had about Wayne Irig's whereabouts.
A muffled snort from his partner regained his attention. Lois's eyes were lit with unholy glee as she said, "Tush- push? Was she trying to tell me that you line dance?"
Unsure where she would go with an affirmative answer, Clark tried to divert her attention. "How about if we sample some of the local hospitality? I could go for something to eat." He ushered her in the direction of the barbecue pit.
Lois took his arm and nodded in the direction of the solid figure at the grill. "What do you bet that Mr. Regular Guy there is really a cross-dresser?" she teased.
Before he could answer, a joyous voice called out, "Clark!"
He turned to embrace the woman. "Mom!"
As he let her go, she turned to Lois. "You must be Lois. Welcome to Smallville." She smiled broadly.
Lois swallowed, hoping she didn't look as nervous as she felt. "That's me. It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Kent."
"Martha, please." Clark's mother smiled delightedly at her. "You sure are pretty." At Lois's blush, Martha turned to her son. "It's all right if I tell her that, isn't it?"
He bit his lower lip to keep from laughing. "You'll have to ask Lois, Mom."
"Thanks, Martha." Lois was embarrassed at the attention. Lord only knew what the reception would be like if Martha had known that she and Clark were dating.
Martha began to push them toward the barbecue. "Let's get you two something to eat. You look like you haven't had lunch."
His eyes twinkling, Clark said, "I don't know, Mom. Lois thinks the cook might be a cross-dresser."
"Oh, honey. That's Clark's father." Martha was laughing heartily. "I can't even get him to buy me a dress, much less one for himself. Now, if it was a tractor…" she spread her hands expressively.
Lois shot Clark a look promising later retribution. She didn't know what had gotten into him. His normally teasing manner was magnified. She muttered under her breath, so low only he could hear, "Remember what they say about paybacks, Kent," then turned a dazzling smile on him. Two could play at this game — right after she figured out just what game it was.
Darkness had fallen by the time the Kents and Lois arrived at the farmhouse. As Martha led the way into the house, her arms full of corn, she said, "Just an old farmhouse, but it's home." Indicating an easel with a bright oil painting on it, she added, "That's my latest."
Caught a bit off guard, Lois commented, "I like it. What is it?"
Lois was chagrined when Martha replied, "It's a bowl of fruit." Looking carefully at the expressionistic artwork, Lois decided that it could be fruit. Just not any she had ever seen. She wondered idly what would be her next opportunity to stick her foot in her mouth up to the knee.
Her partner promptly took his unspoken cue. "Mom, Lois and I are going to need to receive a fax, probably tomorrow."
Seemingly distracted, Martha murmured, "A fax," as she moved toward a desk in the living room.
"Facsimile. It's a machine. People in one place put a paper in and people in another place can get a copy if they have a fax machine too. It's sort of… technical," Lois tried to explain to Clark's mother.
"Oh, I know what a fax is. I was just thinking I better check to make sure there's paper in it," Martha replied, pulling the cover off the fax machine on the desk.
Once again tasting her toes, Lois stammered, "I…I didn't mean…I don't even have a fax machine," as Clark practically choked on the laughter trying to explode from his chest.
Martha tried to soothe her with a kindly, "It's all right, Lois. Out here these days, everyone has to have one." She looked assessingly at her son and his partner. "Now, you'll be in Clark's old room and he can sleep here on the couch, unless you two are…" she trailed off, not quite sure just *what* their relationship was.
"No, we're not." Lois shook her head in denial as she sank down on the couch beside her irrepressible partner.
"Right. Jonathan, I could use your help," Martha told her husband as he headed for the couch. "You can help me with the blankets." She gently shepherded him up the stairs, leaving the younger couple alone.
Grinning devilishly, Clark put an arm around Lois's shoulders and said, "Not quite what you expected, is it?"
Her mouth tight, she replied, "Let's see, so far I've had a glimpse of ritual crop worship, run into your high school girlfriend, and insulted both your parents. No, not what I expected at all. I couldn't have done better if I'd planned it."
Pulling her close, he told her, "It's all right, Lois. My parents love you."
"Ri…ight," she said skeptically.
"They do. *You* didn't hear what my mom told my dad."
"I'm not too sure I *want* to hear."
He dropped a light kiss on the top of her head. "She said, and I quote, 'I love her.' So there."
Not completely convinced, Lois said, "I'd settle for 'I don't hate her.' Maybe I should have let you tell them about us. No, that would make more pressure." She turned her face to Clark. "I just don't want to make a bad impression."
Clark smiled tenderly at her. "Lois, they like you. A lot. And they know that I like you. Everything is fine." He gently slanted his lips across hers in a kiss that promised much more for a later time. "More than fine." His hands ran gently up and down her arms as he deepened the kiss, stopping only when his hearing picked up the sound of his parents coming back down the stairs. "Better now?" he asked.
"Oh yeah." She sighed blissfully. "Did you really have to stop?"
At that moment the sound of footsteps answered her question. She was definitely not ready to get caught by Clark's parents in a lip-lock on their couch.
Martha's cheerful voice said, "Lois, let me show you to your room. Jonathan, you can help Clark make up the couch." She followed Lois up the stairs.
"I want to show you something out in the shed, Son," Jonathan said as he handed Clark a jacket.
"You do?" Clark followed his father across the yard.
"You know that rock I told you about, Clark?" His father sounded worried.
"The one Wayne sent to the lab in Wichita to be analyzed?"
"Right. Well, Wayne got concerned when the Feds showed up at his place, so he brought the rest of what he found over here for me to keep. He doesn't trust the government people. The people at the lab say it's some kind of meteorite, but no chemical composition they've ever seen before. Since he found it just a couple of miles from where we found you, I thought it might have some connection." Jonathan led Clark into the storage shed and opened a heavy metal box. "Wayne thought the crystals might be valuable. Kinda looks like emeralds, doesn't it?" Jonathan stared intently at the glowing green crystals.
As pain knifed through Clark's body, he gasped.
"Son, what is it?" Jonathan asked him, moving away from the workbench. "Are you all right?"
Rapidly turning pale, Clark clutched his abdomen. "I don't know, Dad. I feel really strange." As the pain and nausea intensified, Clark slowly slid down the shed wall and lost consciousness.
Leaving the deadly crystal on the workbench, Jonathan bent down to check Clark's pulse, realizing as he did so that he had no way of knowing if it was normal or not. Panic- stricken, he did what any sensible man would do. He opened his mouth and yelled, "Martha!"
Lois stopped and stared at the mirror, toothbrush in hand. She suddenly felt odd, as if something were wrong. Clark. Something was wrong with Clark. Pausing only to slip her shoes back on, she clattered down the stairs. "Martha! Where's Clark?" Her voice was shrill as she realized that Martha was alone in the kitchen and her boyfriend was nowhere to be seen.
"Lois, slow down." Martha's voice was calm. "He and his father went out to check on something in the shed. They'll be back in a minute. Want some tea or coffee?"
They younger woman shook her head. "Something's wrong with Clark, Martha."
"Now, Lois, I'm sure Clark is fine," his mother replied placidly. "What could possibly have happened to him? He's just in the tool shed with his father."
Lois brushed past her, impatient to find him. "I don't know, Martha. I can't explain it right now, but I *know* that something is terribly wrong with Clark." She opened the door and sped across the farmyard, coming to an abrupt halt at the door of the shed. The sight that met her eyes made her take in a sharp breath. Clark lay huddled on the floor, his father cradling his head and shoulders.
"I was afraid to leave him," he said numbly. "Is Martha coming?"
Lois shook her head. "I have no idea. What happened?" She told herself to stay calm. Jonathan was obviously in shock and more or less useless at the moment.
"I don't know, Lois. I just showed him Wayne Irig's rock, and all of a sudden he was gasping in pain, and then he just sort of fell down."
"Wayne Irig's rock? Where is it?" Lois swept the shed with her eyes, finally seeing the ominous crystal glowing on the workbench. She slammed the top of the box shut and sighed with relief as it cut out the sickly green light. Her pointed look at Jonathan Kent dared him to say something.
Jonathan looked stunned. "I didn't know what to do."
"Jonathan? Clark? Lois?" Martha's voice rang out as she followed Lois into the shed. "What on earth?"
She pulled up short in front of the sight of her husband still cradling her son on the shed floor. Lois was standing by the workbench, an appalled look on her face, busily fastening all the latches on the gray metal box that Wayne Irig had left with them.
With the deadly radiation no longer able to reach him, Clark began to stir. "What happened?" he asked, looking from his father to Lois's worried face.
"I'm not sure," his father replied. "I was showing you Wayne's rock when you gasped and said you felt strange. Next thing I knew, you were on the floor, unconscious. How do you feel now?"
Clark struggled to sit up with his father's help. "I think I feel a little better now."
Martha hurriedly tried to deflect attention from the crystal. "You must have eaten too much barbecue at the festival, Clark," she suggested as she shifted her eyes to Lois. "Maybe it was too spicy."
Clark was beyond caring if his parents knew that he had told Lois about himself. "Mom, it's all right. Lois knows," he managed to say. "You don't have to try to cover for me."
Deliberately obtuse, Martha responded, "Knows what? That you can't eat too much spicy food?" She glared at her only son.
"He means I know he's Superman," Lois broke in. "He must have forgotten to tell you before." The emergency apparently past, Lois went into action. "When did you first feel weird?"
"When Dad opened that box. The closer I got to it, and the longer I was near it, the worse I felt." He paused to consider the possibilities. "You think that rock made me sick? And if it did, why do I feel better now?"
His father said, "Lois closed the box up. That rock must be like poison to you."
"Right. It must give off some sort of radiation that affects only you. This case must be made out of lead or have lead paint on it or something. Doesn't lead block radiation?" Lois was busily looking around the shed.
"Yes, it does," Martha interjected. "Lois, what are you looking for?"
"Somewhere to hide this thing. Where no one can find it, even if they are really good at looking."
"Why?" Martha's tone was puzzled.
Lois's fatigue made her impatient. "Because there is a psycho in town that wants to kill Clark. And if he finds this, he'll be able to."
"Lois, we don't know that he's here. I didn't see him in that tent," Clark added calmly.
"Yeah? What if there was a second tent that you didn't see? And he was in there? That farm looked plenty big to me. There could have been another tent." Lois's expression dared him to disagree.
"All right. Maybe Trask is here. Probably is here," Clark agreed when he saw her glare.
"So we need to find a place to hide this. Tonight." Lois's voice was adamant.
"The root cellar." Martha's eyes lit up.
"The what?" Lois asked.
"The root cellar. It's really just a big hole in the ground. People used to store potatoes and onions and carrots in them. We haven't used ours in at least thirty years." Martha moved toward a large storage cabinet in the corner. "It's under this cabinet. We pushed this over it when Clark was a baby so he couldn't get into it and get trapped."
Jonathan moved to help his wife shift the cabinet.
"I don't see anything," Lois said, looking at the shed floor.
"That's the point," Martha chided. "If you can't see it, then this Trask guy won't either. There's a trap door to it. You lift up here." She stuck a finger in a knothole in the floor and pulled. "Lois, give me the box. It should be safe here."
The young woman handed over the metal box with its deadly contents. "Here you go."
As Martha and Jonathan replaced the cabinet over the trap door and rearranged some farm implements to further obscure the hiding place, Lois moved over and sat next to Clark. Touching his cheek with her hand, she murmured, "You look terrible. Are you sure you feel better?"
"Yeah. I don't feel like something is trying to cut me in half, and I'm not unconscious. So, yes, I feel better. Not good, but better," he tried to joke.
She looked at him, worry furrowing her brow. "We need to get you into the house and into bed."
"You mean that?" A devilish glint lit up his eyes. "How are you going to explain the change of heart to my parents?"
"Kent, I was speaking figuratively, and you know it," she hissed, her fear for his health temporarily forgotten. "But if you'd be more comfortable in your bed, I'd be happy to take the couch."
He reached for her hand. "I was just kidding, Lois," he said, unsure whether or not she was truly upset.
"Gotcha, Clark." She smiled warmly at him. "Don't *ever* do that to me again."
"Look like you're dead. My nerves can't take it." She stood and reached her hand down to pull him up. "Come on. Your folks are finished with the root cellar. Let's go back to the house."
He struggled to his feet, a wave of nausea and weakness coming over him as he stood. "Yeah. Let's do that."
The four of them made their way across the farmyard, each one silently considering their next action.
Martha and Lois helped Clark to a seat at the kitchen table as Jonathan filled a pitcher with water. He placed it and a glass on the table in front of his son. "Maybe this will help."
His mouth full of the thermometer his mother had stuck there, Clark mumbled, "Thanks, Dad."
A cool hand on his forehead, Martha remarked, "You're burning up," just as the thermometer exploded. "Oh, my!" she yelped in surprise.
"Don't get scared, Mom. You know my body doesn't work like other people's," Clark tried to reassure her. He reached for the pitcher to pour a glass of water, but his hand trembled at the effort of lifting it. Setting it down with a plunk, he muttered, "I've lifted a rocket into orbit before. Now I can't even lift this." He sounded dejected.
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure you'll bounce back." His mother's tone was reassuring. "How do you feel now?"
Clark thought a second and said, "Better. I think I feel better."
"Good. Because while I'm sure you need some rest, we need to all sit down and discuss the situation a little before we go to bed." Martha's tone was now all business. She stared pointedly at Lois and Jonathan until they took seats at the kitchen table. "First of all, back in the shed, Lois said she knows you're Superman. Either of you want to tell me about that?"
Lois sighed. She supposed that she better do the explaining since Clark still looked pale and strained. "It happened about a month ago. Did Clark tell you about Bureau 39?" At their nods, she continued. "While we were in 'seclusion' in the conference room, I got to thinking. There had to be a reason that this Trask guy had singled us out to investigate and interrogate. When I tried to piece together all the bits and pieces I knew about Superman, it seemed pretty obvious that he must have a secret identity. There were enough weird coincidences with Clark and Superman that it suddenly hit me. Clark had to be Superman."
Martha and Jonathan stared at her, not sure whether to be impressed by her powers of deduction or appalled at how easily she had identified Clark as the Man of Steel. "So…" Martha started to say something, but was interrupted by Lois.
"So I told him that I knew while we were hiding from Trask. And since Superman never lies, he couldn't deny it." She smiled at the memory. "But don't worry. I'm sure I'm the only one who has figured it out. I only did because we spend so much time together."
"Maybe not," Martha said quietly. "I'm thinking this Trask person may have figured it out too."
"I really don't think so, Mom. He just has this obsession with Superman being the 'advance party' of an army of invading aliens. He thinks Lois and I can get to Superman because we're the only reporters who have actually talked to Superman." Clark sipped at his water, the color slowly returning to his face.
Lois bit her lower lip. "I'm not so sure, Clark. Remember how he told you he knew you were lying? I think you are in danger from him as Clark too." She took a deep breath, knowing he was going to argue with her next suggestion. "I think you should get on the first plane back to Metropolis. That way, he can't hurt you, either as Clark or as Superman."
"Lo…is," he began to protest.
"I'll take care of things here. If you're not around, maybe he'll let down his guard."
"And maybe he'll put two and two together and send someone after me in Metropolis. No way, Lois." He stared at her obstinately. "Besides, if I go running back to Metropolis, Trask will know that he's on to something. We definitely don't want that."
His partner wasn't completely convinced. "True. But I really don't want him getting his hands on you while you're too weak to even lift a pitcher of water."
"I think Lois is right, Son. You need to get as far from this Trask person as fast as you can." Jonathan voiced his opinion.
Reminded of her husband's fear that someone might "dissect Clark like a frog," Martha hastened to reassure him. "First of all, we don't really know what this man thinks, right?" She looked to Lois for support.
Lois nodded. "Other than that he wants to kill Superman."
Martha went on, "It seems to me that Clark is safer here. At least here, we can help him if he needs us. If Clark goes back to Metropolis while Lois stays here, he'll be completely alone. I think he should stay right where he is." With that pronouncement made, she turned to her son and said, "Isn't it time for you to get some sleep? And Lois, if you need anything, just ask. Come on, Jonathan. Let's go to bed." She rose from the table.
"Is that the fax machine?" Lois thought she heard it and rose to go check.
"Sounds like it. Why don't you go see if your message is coming through?" Martha suggested as she took her husband's arm. "Jonathan and I will see the two of you in the morning. Goodnight, dears." She pulled her husband down the hall to their room, leaving Lois and Clark alone in the kitchen.
Returning to the kitchen from the living room desk, Lois perused the papers in her hand. "This is it!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Jimmy comes through again. A working list of clean-up sites from the Environmental Protection Agency. Guess what? Smallville's not on it." She handed the papers to Clark.
He scanned them and whistled. "Man. This Trask is a real piece of work, isn't he?"
"Yes. A dangerous piece of work. Clark, you cannot let him near you. There's no telling what he'd do." Lois willed him to agree with her.
"Yes, ma'am. Whatever you say, boss." His eyes twinkled behind his glasses.
She gave him a wry look. "Why don't I believe you mean that?"
"I have no idea. I thought we had already established that I don't lie to you."
Lois swatted him gently on the arm. "Time for bed, Farmboy, or you won't be any good to anyone tomorrow. And I think we're going to have a lot to do."
Clark pushed his chair back from the table and stood. "You're right. Let's get some sleep." He pulled her into his arms and rested his head on hers. "What sent you flying into the shed back there?"
Snuggling up closer, she said, "I don't know, exactly. I was upstairs; and suddenly, I just knew you were in trouble."
"The connection again?"
He felt her head nod on his chest. "I guess so." She pulled back a bit and tilted her head to look at his face. "Clark, it's so strange. I have *never* felt this way about anyone before in my life. I'm aware of you on a subconscious level all the time. I guess that sense of you felt disrupted."
Clark bent his head to press his lips to hers. "I'm sorry you had to go through that, but I'm glad you came out. Otherwise, I might still be unconscious on the shed floor. I'm not sure that Dad would have thought to close the box."
She giggled. "I'm sure your mother would have gone to look for you. She'd have closed it."
"If you say so. We really need to get some sleep." His voice was tinged with weariness.
"I know. There is a part of me that really doesn't want to let go of you though." She pulled his face back to hers for one last kiss.
"Umm," he growled. "I'm feeling much better." As he began to move his lips against hers, he heard her sigh in contentment. Yes, he was feeling a lot better. He caressed her back as he gently swirled his tongue over her lips.
"So, Martha. Did you hear me call?" Jonathan was sitting on the edge of their bed removing his shoes.
She shook her head. "No. Lois came flying down the stairs, practically screaming about Clark being in trouble and needing help. I knew you had taken him out to see that rock Wayne had brought over, so I tried to keep her in the house. She shook me off and rushed out of here." Martha smiled at the memory. "That young woman sure is a ball of fire."
Jonathan looked bemused. "She said Clark was in trouble? Why would she think that?"
His wife rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Jonathan. Sometimes I think you must be blind."
"What have I missed?" he asked, still confused.
"Clark and Lois. You haven't noticed that our boy's in love?"
"Well, I thought that the first time he told us about Lois," Jonathan replied defensively.
"Yes. But she's in love with him, too. Can't you tell?" Martha chuckled. "And they're both trying so hard not to show it. This weekend could turn out to be great fun."
Jonathan still didn't get it. "Well, of course this weekend will be fun. It's the Corn Festival. There's the dance tomorrow and everything."
Martha snorted. "I mean Clark and Lois. It's going to be lots of fun watching them pretend to be just friends. Come on, honey. Let's get to bed." She pulled back the covers and crawled in.
"Martha, I'm not too sure about that. I think you're wrong about Lois." He got into his side of the big bed and turned out the light.
"Oh yeah? Haven't you noticed the warmth in her eyes when she looks at him? Or the way she took his hand while we were hiding that box?" Martha's muffled laugh was drowned out by her husband's kiss.
"No, and I don't care," he said, as he proceeded to show her just how uninterested he was in their son's love life.
"So," Lois began, as she stirred sweetener into her coffee the next morning. "What do you want to do first today?" she asked her partner. She noticed that he looked much healthier than he had when she had told him to sleep well the night before.
"I think we should call Perry and ask him to send out a photographer. Maybe this time we can get some pictures of whatever Trask is doing," he replied as he calmly spread jam on his toast.
"You think he will?" she asked, skeptical.
"I don't see why not. He can send Jimmy if he doesn't think he can spare anyone else. The kid is good enough for what we need." Clark managed to "accidentally" brush Lois's hand with his as he put down his mug, much to Martha's secret delight.
"All right. I'll call Perry after breakfast. Then what? Go out to the Irig farm or to City Hall to check out if there are any permits or anything for pesticide use in the past?" Clark made a gesture of indifference. "Whichever you prefer. I don't think we'll learn anything at Wayne's right now, but we might startle Ms. Sherman into giving something away if we confront her about the EPA list we have. She doesn't really seem the typical type to be part of Trask's operation."
Lois nodded in agreement. "Let's go there first. It shouldn't take long, and maybe we'll make 'em nervous enough to mess up and let us catch 'em." She smiled at the thought of having Trask squirming on a hot seat in front of her. "But don't forget that you aren't invulnerable right now. I don't want you taking any chances. You hear?"
"Okay. Why don't you go call Perry? And I'll help Mom with the dishes. We should be ready to go in about ten minutes," he suggested.
"Sounds good." Lois left the kitchen and went in search of her cell phone to make the call to their editor.
"You don't have to help me," Martha informed Clark as he carried the breakfast dishes to the sink.
"I want to, Mom." He gave her a quick hug. "Thanks for taking things so well last night."
She raised an eyebrow. "Oh? You mean your telling Lois that you're Superman?" She giggled. "I've always thought you should tell Lois. It's your father who worries."
"You have?" He was astounded.
"Of course. If you're going to be in a relationship with Lois, she deserves to know the whole you, don't you think?"
"Mom," he began.
Martha chuckled. "You two really are adorable, you know."
"Wha..at?" He had a feeling he should have made the phone call and let Lois do the dishes. His mother's face was sparkling with mischief. He knew that expression. She'd be on his case until either he relented and told her everything, or she figured out the mystery herself. "Lois is my partner at work. And my good friend."
His mother smiled sagely at his comment. She hung up the dishrag. "Shouldn't you go find Lois? You said ten minutes."
The sound of her laughter rang in his ears as he went in search of his partner. He wasn't sure, but he thought he heard her say, "Oh, honey. You just keep on thinkin' that."
Clark pulled the car to a stop at the barricade in front of Wayne Irig's farm. He unlatched his seatbelt, then sat staring over the tops of his glasses at something presumably only he could see.
When he didn't immediately get out of the car, Lois turned to him, concern in her voice. "Are you okay?"
She reached out a hand to touch his forehead. "You feel normal." The terrible fever he'd had the night before seemed to have disappeared.
"I am normal," he replied as he tried to smile.
"And that's the problem?" she asked gently.
"Yeah. I've never been normal before," he explained wryly. "It's kind of strange."
She smiled sympathetically. "I can imagine." She looked across the farmyard to see Ms. Sherman coming toward them. Lois patted Clark's arm. "Well, I'm sure your powers will come back soon. That was a pretty big chunk of that stuff, whatever it is, you know."
He tried to grin at her. "I guess."
"So everything's okay?"
"Yeah. Everything is fine."
"Well then, let's go." She opened the door and slid from the seat. "And, Clark, don't do anything dumb, like trying to pick up the car one-handed or something, all right?"
He jerked his head around at her comment. How had she known he was thinking of trying just that? He got out of the car and closed the door.
Ms. Sherman met them at the barricade. "Now what do you two need?"
"And good morning to you, too," Lois said. "I just thought I'd show you this copy of the current EPA cleanup list. You will notice that Smallville isn't on it." She flourished the fax triumphantly.
The field agent shrugged, resignation written all over her face. "Look, we can match paperwork if you want." She flipped open a folder and began to show various forms to the two reporters. "This is our certificate granting access to EPA Superfund status. This is the property rights waiver. Here's the authorization from Smallville City Hall. And this is the updated list of the one you've got. See? There's Smallville right there." She pointed to the line on the list.
"She's right, Lois," Clark commented dryly. There was definitely an entry for Smallville, and it didn't look as if it had been added on after the fact.
"May I see those?" Lois held out her hand imperiously for the papers.
As the reporter looked at the contents of the folder, Ms. Sherman explained, "It always takes Washington about six weeks to figure out what the people in the field are up to. I can make a call if you like." Her tone and demeanor were helpful. She really hoped that the two reporters would go back to Metropolis. Until they had arrived, things had been going smoothly on her new job. Now she was faced with the fact that she apparently wasn't working for the EPA but for some bizarre, hidden federal bureau headed up by a nutcase. If it weren't for her daughter, she'd try to become the first to successfully resign from the agency.
Not believing a word that the other woman had said, Lois came back with, "Do that. And while you're at it, we definitely want to talk to Mr. Irig."
"I told you. He's been relocated during the disruption."
"But you didn't tell us where he went," Lois persisted.
"Because I don't know. Probably one of the motels." Ms. Sherman willed the other woman to give up.
Lois was undeterred. "I doubt it. In case you didn't know, this weekend is the Corn Festival. The motels for miles around have probably been booked for weeks."
Ms. Sherman had had enough. "The government's got pull," she said, narrowed eyes showing that her patience was wearing thin.
Clark placed his hand at the small of Lois's back. "C'mon, Lois. We're wasting our time here. There are some other things we can check out."
She allowed him to steer her toward the car as she took a deep breath in an attempt to keep her temper. "I don't trust that woman, Clark. She knows something she's not telling us. Did you notice how she doesn't look us in the eye? She's hiding something Clark, and I'd put money on it being either Trask or Irig."
"Or both. I agree with you, Lois. But there's not much we can do here right this minute. We need to go check out the farm's history in town." As usual, Clark's was the voice of reason.
Gravel crunched beneath their feet. Lois slipped on something and clutched Clark's arm.
As he looked down to see what had caused her to lose her footing, he noticed the cowboy boots peaking out from the legs of her jeans. "All ri…ight," he said with a grin.
A smile and a wink were Lois's reply.
As they drove away, Ms. Sherman entered a smaller tent behind the one that Clark had X- rayed the day before. Jason Trask was watching some of his men open a crate marked Ultra-30. He turned when he heard her footsteps.
"They're back," she began.
"And?" Trask barked, irritated by the interruption.
"I think they believe me, but they want to see Mr. Irig," she explained.
"Tell them he'll be in touch." Trask turned his attention back to the crate.
Ms. Sherman wasn't finished. "Look, If I'm involved in this, I have to know what's at stake. In order to do my job." If she were honest with herself or with Trask, she'd have admitted that she wanted to know whether or not she should blow the whistle on the colonel. So far, all he seemed to have done was dig up this farm and push the owner around a bit.
Trask made a decision. "Fair enough. I have reason to believe there's a very important meteorite here in Smallville."
The woman was more baffled than ever. "Meteorite? Why do you need to keep it such a secret?" she asked.
Replying as if to a child, Trask said, "Because if I don't, I will lose the element of surprise over Superman."
She was still confused. "What's Superman got to do with this?"
"This, Ms. Sherman, was retrieved in Smallville, Kansas in 1966, not far from here." Trask's eyes gleamed with excitement as he showed her the contents of the crate: a tiny steel-blue space ship, marked with the same stylized *S* that Superman wore on his suit. "The meteorite probably landed here at the same time but wasn't discovered until the latest storm. It seems reasonable to assume it comes from the same source as Superman. The planet Krypton. It's all here." The man's eyes gleamed with the feral glow of a fanatic, as he read from the lab report: "Not of Earthly origin. Periodic element 126. Emits an extremely high band radiation that doesn't seem to affect humans. However, my theory is that if a *Kryptonian* were exposed to a significant piece for any length of time, the result could be lethal." Trask looked smugly satisfied.
Still baffled, Sherman asked, "But why kill Superman? He hasn't done anything hostile."
"His existence is hostile. He's the advance man… the public relations guy. He's here to soften us up…for the hoards to come. You understand this?" Trask's eyes were lit with the light of a zealot, and his voice almost shook with excitement.
Carole Sherman nodded tensely, aware that she had somehow become mixed up with a homicidal lunatic who probably *would* kill anyone who tried to resign from his organization. Unsure how to extricate herself from the situation safely, she decided to wait and see what else happened. Perhaps those two reporters could help her.
Lois slid onto a seat at a picnic table in front of the "Smallville Coffee Shop" as Clark took the seat opposite her. "Did you *really* have to say, 'Don't mind my friend Lois. She's from Metropolis'?" She gave him a mock glare.
He grinned sheepishly. "Well, you were coming off…a little intense," he explained a little nervously.
"Clark, intensity might be a crime in Smallville, but in Metropolis, it's a survival skill." Her expression dared him to disagree. Tossing her notebook onto the table, she commented, "All right. Four hours at City Hall. What do we know?"
"We know that in twenty years, there were no permits and no citations on the Irig property." Clark idly bit into a potato chip from a basket on the table.
"Nothing to attract the attention of the federal government," she stated.
"Nope, not until Wayne sent that rock to Wichita," Clark agreed. "It makes no sense whatsoever for the EPA to be here at all. Or for Smallville to be on the list."
Lois smiled in triumph. "Which means that the EPA list *we* have is the real one, and Sherman's is a fake. Just like that phony warrant was at the Planet."
Their discussion was interrupted by the arrival of an attractive middle-aged waitress. As she plunked glasses of ice water in front of them, she said, "Clark Kent! Your mom said you were here for the Daily Planet. So this must be Lois."
"How'd you guess?" Lois asked, resignation in her voice.
"I'm Maisie. How's the writing coming? I just love a good novel. What kind is it?" The woman positively oozed Midwestern friendliness.
Lois turned an incredulous eye on Clark.
Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, he stammered, "I may have just accidentally mentioned it to my mother…" A dull red slowly crept up his neck and toward his eyebrows.
"Who just accidentally told everyone in town." Lois completed his sentence, glad that he had the good grace to blush.
Maisie tried to explain, "Oh, that's just Smallville for you. Everybody knows everything about everybody else."
Lois couldn't resist the opportunity. "So why haven't I heard any dirt on Clark here?" She took a large gulp of water.
"Oh, with Clark, what you see is what you get," Maisie cheerily replied.
Startled, Lois choked on the water and sprayed the table. "I'll just bet it is," she managed to gasp as Maisie mopped up the water.
"Here you go. I'll be back in a jif." She handed them menus and headed back to the kitchen area.
"What you see is what you get," Lois mimicked. "I take it she doesn't know," she whispered across the booth.
"Of course not, Lois." His eyes twinkled. "Except for that one thing, she's right. My life is an open book."
"Uh huh. I guess I should be grateful that you didn't tell your mother my novel is a romance," she said.
"Well, I don't see anything to be embarrassed about, even if I had told her," he commented. "I think it's great that you're writing a novel."
"You wouldn't if you ever saw it," she mumbled under her breath, hoping he couldn't hear.
"Why? What's wrong with it?" he inquired.
She shook her head. "You think I'll ever get used to that facet of you? *Please* tell me you're not telepathic," she teased.
"Nah, you're the telepathic one, remember? And no, my powers aren't back. You just said that too loud." He decided to drop the subject of her novel. "Shouldn't we decide if we're going to eat any lunch?" He reached for the paper menu.
As she opened her menu, Lois heard her partner say, "Ow!"
She looked up to see him staring at his finger as if it were that of a stranger. "I'm bleeding!"
"Haven't you ever had a paper cut?" she asked before she realized that the answer would probably be…
"Not that I remember." He continued to stare at it. "It hurts."
Lois laughed at his wounded expression. "Put it in your mouth and suck on it. Trust me, no one ever died from a paper cut."
"There you are. Enjoy!" Maisie cheerfully deposited the sandwiches Lois and Clark had ordered on the checked tablecloth. "Do you all need anything else? Ketchup? Mustard?"
Clark smiled and replied easily, "No thanks. We're fine." As she walked away from their table, he turned to Lois. "So, Lois, what do you want to do after lunch?"
She had just begun to reply when the shrill tones of her cell phone interrupted her. "Lois Lane." She gave a startled look at Clark and said, "Mr. Irig? Where are you?" Mouthing the words, "He sounds strange," she listened to what the missing farmer was saying. "I'm going to put you on with Clark Kent." She handed the phone to her partner and whispered, "He says he's near Salt Lake City."
Clark's stunned expression mirrored hers as he spoke into the cell phone. "Wayne, this is Clark. Is everything all right?" A minute passed and he said, "Is there a number where I can call you back?" Apparently the reply was in the negative, because the reporter twisted his mouth. Something was wrong. "What did the government guys tell you about your farm?" Another minute passed, then Clark said, "Wait, Wayne!" He pushed the *end* button and handed the phone back to Lois.
"Clark, you know Wayne Irig. Did he sound as weird to you as he did to me?" Lois asked. "He said he didn't know where he was. He had gotten in his Winnebago and started driving west. Said he was going to visit his sister."
Her partner's eyes widened in surprise. "Lois, something *very* fishy is going on here. And yes, he sounded very weird." Clark thought of where he should begin.
"Fishy? Like what?"
"I don't know for sure, Lois, but something is definitely wrong. Wayne Irig doesn't have a Winnebago, and he doesn't have a sister. And that man has the best sense of direction of anyone I've ever known. He and my Dad and his son Tom and I used to go hiking together all the time. Wayne never *didn't* know exactly how far we were from the trailhead or what direction we needed to go. No way is he out west somewhere and not know where he is." Clark shook his head. "This is very strange."
"You think he was trying to tell us something?" Lois demanded.
"I don't know. His inflection was so stilted, he could have been reading a script…"
"That Trask gave him to read," Lois interjected.
"Yes." Clark's eyes lit up. "That's exactly what it sounded like. And Trask might not know that I know Wayne and would know that the whole conversation was wrong."
"Right. And how in the world did Wayne Irig know to call *my* cell phone?" Lois asked suspiciously. "Who knows this number other than you, me, Perry, and Jimmy?"
"Anyone who has looked at my rolodex in the last few months," Clark replied, appalled at the possible implications.
The two reporters stared at each other for an instant and then said in unison, "Trask!"
"He certainly had the opportunity to go through my list of contacts, including your cell phone number," Clark pointed out.
"Why would he make a note of my cell phone number?"
"Why not? Lois, the guy's a psycho. There doesn't have to be a rational reason for his actions. Looking for one is a waste of time."
She rolled her eyes. "I guess. Ooh, he makes me mad every time I think of him."
Clark brought the conversation back to the original subject. "Fine. Let's find the man, and you can show him just how mad you are." He looked at her plate. "You finished?"
"Then let's pay the bill and find my folks," he suggested. "Maybe they know where Trask might be holding Wayne." He knew it was a futile hope even as he spoke the words. Anyone as deviously demented as Trask wouldn't be easy to find, not even in Smallville.
She nodded her agreement and was sliding from the bench when Martha and Jonathan arrived. She greeted them, then said, "Clark, why don't you stay here and talk to your parents. I've got something I want to check out on the other side of the square. It won't take too long."
"Okay. See you in a few minutes." Clark smiled at his parents as they joined him.
"That gal never quits, does she?" his father asked as Lois strode off into the Corn Festival crowd.
"Not often, no," was the amused reply.
Worried about her only son, Martha asked, "How are you feeling, honey?"
"I'm fine, Mom."
"Are your powers back? If they aren't, we should take you to a doctor." Concern tinged her words.
"And tell the doctor what? 'Hi, I'm Superman in my spare time and I ran across this green rock. I think it made me sick and I've lost my powers'?" Clark asked in a good imitation of his partner's babble. "I'm fine, Mom. I'm just normal."
"But normal for you is super," his father whispered. "It doesn't make sense. I don't see how your powers can be completely gone just from being around that crystal."
"It might not make sense, but it's happened, Dad. Let me show you." Clark rose from the table and made his way toward the *Strong Man* attraction. Paying the carnival barker, Clark picked up the sledge hammer.
"Ring the bell and win a prize," the man told him.
Clark tested the hammer's weight, then gave a hearty swing. The ball inched past the mark for "Wimp" and edged up to "Better luck next time." Refusing to take another chance at it, he turned to his father. "See what I mean?" he asked as they walked away. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lois handing a bag to his mother who had wandered away while the two men played with the strength machine.
"Would you mind taking this back to the house when you go? And could you please hang it up for me?" Lois asked Martha. "I don't really want Clark to see it until tonight."
Sneaking a peek, Martha spied something made of burgundy calico. "Is this that dress I saw you looking at yesterday?"
"Yes, but please don't tell Clark," the younger woman begged.
Martha chuckled. "I'd be happy to take care of it for you, Lois. I think that color will look real good on you." Taking the bag, she smiled. Lois was as transparent as Clark when it came to hiding her feelings for her partner. If only Jonathan could see what was right under their noses. The one question was, were Clark and Lois aware of their feelings, or did they actually believe their story of being "just friends"? Martha chuckled all the way to the car.
Upon her return, she had to laugh. Clark and Lois were standing at the booth that was proclaiming "Desserts: Cotton Candy, Caramel Apples, Sno-Cones, Funnel Cakes." She could have sworn that Lois was the type to eschew dessert under any guise, but to see her debating between those particular choices was a real surprise. Lois finally decided on a caramel apple. Martha was amused by the blissful expression on the other woman's face as she bit into the gooey treat. Lois was obviously more than just a big-city reporter. Clark's attraction to her was becoming more understandable by the minute.
"So what's the plan?" Clark asked Lois as they drew near the Irig farm.
"Plan?" Lois asked innocently.
Clark quirked an eyebrow. "Yes, plan. Once we get to Wayne's place, what are you planning on doing?
"Do a little snooping on the other side of it. If Trask is in the area, then Wayne has got to be with him." Lois wrinkled her nose. "And we see if we see anything suspicious."
"Great plan," he said with a wry grin. "I'm surprised I didn't think of it."
"Well," she began somewhat indignantly. "Do you have a better idea?"
"No, not really." He pulled the car over to the side of the road. "Let's see if we can find anything."
The two reporters began to make their way toward the central area of the farm through a stand of oak trees. About one hundred yards from the house, they ran out of cover. Putting a hand on Lois's shoulder, Clark whispered, "You were right. There *is* a second tent. Look over there." He pointed toward what appeared to a storage tent behind the barn.
"I bet that's where Trask has got Wayne Irig," Lois hissed. "Let's go get him," she suggested.
Before Clark could counter with a proposal to call in backup in the form of Sheriff Rachel Harris, the duo was startled by the sight of several men in camouflage fatigues dropping out of the trees. They were the same men that had been on the airplane when Trask had thrown them out of it. They looked even nastier and more determined than they had that time.
"Just who do you think you are?" she snarled at them. "Keep your hands off me," she threw over her shoulder at a man who had grabbed her arms and was pulling them backwards. She kicked viciously backwards with her booted foot, connecting with the man's shin. His grip on her arms loosened as he fought the pain from her move.
She had almost succeeded in shaking him when she heard Clark's strangled cry, "No! Lois!" She turned to see another of the Bureau 39 agents pointing a rifle straight at her head. She could hear the "click" as he let off the safety. Not willing to get killed just yet, Lois ceased struggling with a pang. She had been so close to winning free. Her captor, having recovered his equilibrium, yanked her around so that she saw another agent's fist connect with Clark's abdomen just as he tried to pull free from the man restraining him.
"You guys think you're so tough! Well, you aren't. You can only win if you outnumber people and hit them while someone else holds them. You're a bunch of wimps. You disgust me," she snarled at them. Her words were stopped by the sight of the agent slamming his fist into Clark's midriff yet again.
"I suggest you refrain from making any additional comments," the agent told her. "Since you don't seem to care about your own safety, every time you open that big mouth of yours, I'm going to hit your partner here. Maybe you'll care more about his well-being than you do about your own," the man commented snidely. The Bureau 39 operatives hustled Lois and Clark across the clearing to the tent behind the barn.
Lois spoke to Clark in a low voice, asking, "Are you all right? Believe me, *this* was not in the plan."
Her partner replied, "Yeah, I'll live. They just knocked the wind out of me for a minute. What about you?"
"I'm fine." She grinned crookedly. "What do you bet we meet up with Trask now?"
"No bet, Lois. I'm pretty sure we will," he answered dryly.
As they neared the tent, Colonel Trask came out, Ms. Sherman following in his wake. "Well, well, if it isn't the intrepid reporters," he boomed. "What brings you two here?"
"Our newspaper sent us to investigate an environmental cleanup," Clark answered.
"And what are you doing here, Trask?" Lois almost snarled. "I find it hard to believe that you've gone to work for the EPA."
"You're right, Ms. Lane. I'm not here for my environmental virtue any more than you are." His tone was almost genial. "So why don't we cut the small talk?"
"Okay," Clark responded. "What have you done with Wayne Irig?" He strained his eyes to see into the tent, but his powers were still gone. Nevertheless, his concern for the farmer remained.
Trask smiled. "I let him go," he stated in a matter-of-fact tone. "Small town ties mean a lot. Anyone else would have given up their contact in a minute. This man took sodium pentothal and a couple of broken fingers and he still didn't talk. Then it came to me. Let him go." He smiled expansively. "So I did."
"And put a tracking device on him, no doubt," Lois spat out.
Trask addressed the agent holding her. "Get her out of my sight. She's annoying me."
Nodding his agreement, the man yanked her arms and pulled her toward the main tent. As he dragged her away, she called out to Ms. Sherman, "Did you really think that you were working for the EPA? Or did you volunteer to become a thug? Do you think your parents would be proud of you if they knew what you are doing? Huh? Well, do you?"
"Lois!" Clark shouted as he struggled vainly to free himself.
"Relax, Mr. Kent," Trask advised. "No one is going to hurt her. My business is with you." He jerked his head in the direction of the smaller tent. "Take him in there," he ordered the agents holding Clark.
The man shoved Lois inside the main tent and tied her to a chair, using plastic tie wraps to restrain her. "Keep your mouth shut, and you'll be all right," he advised. After assuring himself that she was unable to move from the chair, he returned to the farmyard.
Alone with only her thoughts for company, Lois pondered her next move. The tie wraps weren't too tight, but they were tight enough that she couldn't get her hands free. And the ones shackling her ankles together were even snugger. Unless someone came to free her, it didn't look like she'd be going anywhere any time soon. Worry for her partner formed a hard lump in her stomach. There was no telling what Trask would do to Clark, especially since the loss of his powers had left him vulnerable to physical damage. Lois willed herself to remain calm and think logically about the situation. The expression on Ms. Sherman's face had been odd as Lois had hurled her accusations at the woman. She had looked almost stunned, as if Lois were giving her new information. Perhaps she would prove to be a weak link in Trask's operation. Lois settled back in the chair to plan what she would say to Sherman the first chance she got.
Trask directed a malevolent glare at Clark as he said to the reporter, "I'll make a deal with you. Give up the alien, and I'll let you live." He eyed the agents training their rifles on the younger man. "What do you say, Kent?"
Clark considered his options. Although they hadn't tied him up, the guns pointed at his head were a pretty strong deterrent to action at the moment. He could jump up and tip the table that was between him and Trask into his captor, probably disabling him for a few seconds. The likelihood of getting to the tent flap before one of the other agents shot him, however, was slight. In his current vulnerable state, Clark couldn't really see taking the risk. Patience might lead to another solution. He looked up at Trask and spoke. "What makes you think I could do that, assuming that I even wanted to? You seem to think that Lois and I have some special way of contacting Superman, but truthfully, we don't. He only comes when Lois screams…and then only if he's around." His mouth twisted, as if he were disappointed. For all he knew, Superman might never be around again.
"Superman came to Smallville around the time you were born," Trask explained angrily. "There has to be a connection between you. You probably played together as children." He gave an evil smile. "Tell me how to get to Superman, and I'll let you live."
Clark shook his head in denial. "You're wrong, Trask. I'm learning all this for the first time right now. I never saw Superman before he arrived in May."
Trask whirled and pointed at the tiny spaceship. "Do you see that ship? It was retrieved from Shuster's field in May, 1966. Given that the front of it carries Superman's shield, I'd say it's the ship he came to earth in. You have to have known him all of your life."
"I can't help you here, Trask."
The colonel slammed his hand down on the table so hard it rocked. "Damnit, Kent! I'm trying to save humanity from an alien invasion! Are you too stupid to see that?"
"You're wrong, Trask," Clark protested. "Superman isn't 'an alien invasion.' He's a man with special powers who is trying to help humanity."
Trask leaned into the young man's face. He was so close, Clark could feel the agent's breath on his face. "Kent, I know your partner is impetuous and foolhardy, but I thought you had more sense. It's obvious that Superman is just softening us up to give us a false sense of security. Once he's lulled us into complacency, he'll take over the world. And no one will be able to stop him!"
"You've got no proof of that," Clark insisted. "Superman has said he's here to help. I believe him."
The older man's eyes squinted as he looked at Clark. "May…be the alien has taken over your mind. Perhaps it has infused you with its power. Maybe Irig did tell me what I wanted to know. That three-legged kitten…"
"No one has taken over my mind or infused me with his power, Trask," Clark stated. "Maybe you've gone over the edge and lost your grip on reality. Three-legged kitten? You think Superman started out as the Shusters' three- legged cat?" Clark wasn't sure whether he should be amused or terrified at the leap of illogic Trask's mind had made.
As Trask raised his arm to plant a fist in Clark's face, Ms. Sherman entered the tent. "We've got a location on Irig," she said, sounding apologetic. "He's heading down the access road to the home of a Jonathan Kent." She looked away from Clark, unwilling to see his expression.
An evil smile spread slowly across Trask's face. "You should have told me that it was a family affair, Clark. I would have gone easier on you." The Bureau 39 agent began snapping orders at the others in the tent.
As two of the other men shackled Clark's legs and wrists, Ms. Sherman asked tentatively, "What about me?"
Annoyed, Trask barked out, "Help with the packing. We've got to get clear of the area as soon as possible." He turned to the men with Clark and snapped, "Put him in the van. He's coming with me. The rest of you, get this place cleaned up. I'll meet you at sector 10 as soon as I'm finished at the Kent farm."
The agent gripping Clark's arm shoved him through the tent flap and toward the waiting van while Trask stopped in the farmyard to give some last minute orders. He failed to notice the light hit the telephoto lens of the camera held by Jimmy Olsen. Concealed in the stand of trees behind the farmhouse and the tents, the young photographer had been happily shooting pictures of the earth-moving equipment when he saw Clark being hustled out of the tent and shoved into a van. His hands cuffed in front of him and his ankles tethered to each other only six inches apart, Clark still struggled with his captors as they manhandled him into the unmarked vehicle.
Jimmy snapped several photographs as he wondered what to do. Getting police assistance seemed like a good idea, so he quietly sneaked back through the woods to find his rental car. Deciding to return to the town and call the police, Jimmy felt his heart hammer every time he stepped on a dry twig. He hoped to heaven that the sheriff's office in this rural town ran to someone who was halfway intelligent.
"I still don't understand how that rock made Clark lose his powers," Jonathan said to Martha as they put away some tools in the barn after finishing the afternoon chores. "All because I opened that box."
His wife laid a hand on his arm. "I don't understand either, Jonathan. But he'll get through this. He's always said he wanted to be normal. Maybe he'll be happier this way."
Her husband shook his head sadly. "It just doesn't feel right. Normal for Clark is super. So he's *not* normal." He hung a rake on a hook on the wall. "And it's all my fault."
"Jonathan! Don't even think that. You had no way of knowing what that rock would do to Clark. Don't blame yourself for that." Martha's eyes flashed. "Besides, for all we know, this is temporary. His powers could be back by now."
"I suppose." He still sounded dejected and guilty.
As Martha put her arms around him in silent comfort they heard a truck pull up in the driveway.
"Jonathan! Martha! It's me, Wayne!" Their neighbor stumbled into the barn, a bandanna wrapped around his broken hand.
Jonathan turned to him and said, "Wayne, what happened to you? You look terrible."
"We got a problem. There's men up at my place with guns. We need to call the police."
His friend tried to calm him. "It's all right, Wayne. We need to get you to a doctor."
The farmer was insistent. "Jonathan, those government people aren't looking for pesticides. They're looking for more of those green rocks like the one I gave you. We got to hide it."
Martha spoke up, "It's been taken care of, Wayne. Jonathan's right. We need to take you to the hospital."
Irig held his ground. "Martha, those men, they're crazy! They think Superman is going to lead an invasion of earth by other superpowered people. They want to kill him! We gotta go find Rachel Harris and get her to arrest them." He looked wildly at his two neighbors who were staring at him, dumbfounded. "Did you hear what I said? We gotta go find Rachel!" The distraught farmer stumbled toward the barn door, only to be forced back inside by an imposing man in gray fatigues and combat boots.
The soldier was brandishing a wicked-looking semi-automatic pistol as he said, "No one is going anywhere until you give me Superman!"
The door behind him was blocked by more men in combat gear who were carrying semi- automatic rifles. They took positions near the doorway, guns ready for action. At a signal from the leader, several other men herded the Kents and Wayne Irig to a space on the floor and forced them to sit down, back to back. They efficiently bound their hands and feet and then wrapped a rope around the trio. Their task finished, the men began to look around the barn.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Martha demanded.
"I'm looking for a large green crystal that I believe Mr. Irig, here, must have given you for safekeeping," the leader explained. "That crystal is important to national security, and it's imperative that it be found." He eyed the three people on the floor suspiciously. "If any of you know where it is but don't tell me, then you are guilty of conspiracy and lying to the FBI." Trask glared menacingly at Martha.
"Don't look at me," she told him. "I don't know what you are talking about, and what's more, I'm not sure that I want to." Martha looked him over appraisingly. "Don't you think that if you want to fool people into thinking that you are in the army, olive green or khaki might be a better choice? Gray is so…" She searched her memory for the right word. "So *not* military." She shook her head sadly. "It really is too bad, but you aren't going to find a rock that doesn't exist or a man who lives in Metropolis in this barn. You're just going to find a few tools and a couple of bales of hay."
Goaded beyond the tenuous limits of his self-control, Trask spat, "You better hope that I can find Superman here, because otherwise, the three of you are toast." He turned on his heel and strode angrily from the barn, motioning to his men to follow him. "I'm not through with you people yet," he spat at them over his shoulder.
The crazed field-director of Bureau 39 returned to the van where Clark sat slumped, his shackled hands attached to the ceiling. Throwing open the doors at the back of the vehicle, Trask snarled, "Your situation becomes ever more perilous, Mr. Kent. I have your parents now. If you want them to live, you'll give me what I want."
Clark shook his head. "Trask, I *can't* give you Superman. I have no idea how to get a hold of him."
The agent regarded him through narrowed eyes. "I don't believe you. I told you before, I can tell when I'm being lied to. And I'm being lied to right now. So, I'll put it to you as plainly as I can. You give me Superman—I don't kill your parents. You don't give me Superman—you're an orphan." He bared his teeth in a twisted facsimile of a smile. "It's really very simple, Clark." Shoving his hands into his pockets, Trask whistled tunelessly for a second. "See you in a minute. I have a fire to set."
He strolled away from the van, calling to an operative to bring the gasoline. The two men poured a line of the volatile chemical to the open doorway of the Kents' barn. Sneering at the three people tied to each other, he said, "I'll give you one last chance. Give up Superman, and I'll let you live." He looked expectantly at the trio. "Well? I'm waiting."
"And you're gonna wait a lot longer," Jonathan replied. "We can't give up Superman. In case you haven't noticed, he's not here."
"Is that your final answer?" Trask demanded angrily. "You do no one any favors by refusing to tell me how to get to him. Regardless of what you do, I *will* find Superman; and when I do, I *will* remove him."
The venomous look in the man's eyes strengthened Martha's resolve to save her son. "You're insane, you know. At the very least, you suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. Have you considered therapy? They can work wonders these days with some of the new psychotropic drugs. Of course, when you're delusional, I believe it takes some really intensive in-patient work to make much difference."
Trask stared at her in disbelief as Jonathan muttered, "Adult education is a marvelous thing, isn't it, Wayne?"
"Mrs. Kent, I believe that you are the one who is suffering from delusions. You believe that Superman is here to do good. I *know* that he is here to take over the world. Only a fool would believe that he should not be stopped." He turned on his heel and stalked to the door.
Returning to the van, he asked Clark once more, "Have you made up your mind? Time is getting short." He pulled his gun from its holster once again. "Your parents and that farmer are about to be char-broiled."
Desperate to save his parents, Clark temporized. "You have to promise to let them go."
Trask smiled indulgently. "Oh, I will. You can be sure of that. I just want Superman."
Knowing that he was a fool to trust the word of a madman, Clark swallowed and said, "I'm Superman."
"Really?" the agent asked, scowling. He aimed his gun at Clark and cocked it.
"No! Trask!" Clark cried out in an anguished voice.
The man released the hammer and replaced the gun in its holster. "That was real fear, Clark. Superman doesn't fear guns. He's invulnerable to bullets. I think it's time for a country barbecue." He smiled tightly. "Would you like to watch? It should be interesting." He turned from the van and headed back to the trail of gasoline in the barnyard.
Seeing several people wearing the brown uniform of a county sheriff's department, Jimmy pulled his car to a stop in the Smallville town square. Leaving it double-parked, he raced up to a large, burly man in uniform. "Sheriff, I need your help!" he said breathlessly.
"Over hear," a feminine voice with a decidedly country twang called to him from behind.
Jimmy turned to see a petite woman with strawberry blonde hair holding out her hand for his keys. "Hank, put this car somewhere legal, OK?" she said to her deputy as she tossed him the keys. Turning back to Jimmy, she went on, "Okay, if you've got an emergency, start talking."
Taking a deep breath, Jimmy related his tale. "I'm Jimmy Olsen, from Metropolis. My friends have been captured by this crazy guy named Trask. He wants to kill Superman, and he thinks Lois and Clark know how to get Superman for him. Anyway, he just put Clark in a van up at a farm owned by someone named Irig. We gotta help my friends or he'll kill them too."
As the young man paused for breath, Rachel interjected, "Lois Lane and Clark Kent? This 'crazy guy' has them at Wayne Irig's?"
Nodding, Jimmy went on. "Well, he did have them there. But I saw some of his guys shove Clark into a van, so he may be leaving the farm. But we gotta help them. Can you call the National Guard? or the State Police?" He was getting frantic.
Rachel called to another deputy. "Bill, round up Tom and Joe, and meet me at Wayne Irig's. And tell John to get out to the Kents'. This guy may be heading there." Jerking her head toward her cruiser, she said to Jimmy, "C'mon. Let's go." They entered the car and within seconds, Rachel was pulling away from the curb.
Carole Sherman walked into the second tent where Lois, strapped to a chair, was quietly seething. The erstwhile EPA field agent had thought that her best bet might be to just go along quietly with this Bureau 39 agent until she got recalled by Washington. After all, she did have a daughter to raise, and it was unlikely that the man could actually kill Superman. She had thought that his idea about the existence of a crystal from Superman's home planet that might be lethal to the superhero was merely a fantasy on the part of the delusional man…until she had seen some of the other military types putting glowing green crystals into a metal box. They had then loaded the box into the van Trask was using to take Clark Kent to his parents' farm. Ms. Sherman had no idea whether or not the rocks would actually harm Superman, but she now had proof that they existed. Perhaps it was time to rethink her decision to say nothing.
Seeing the person she considered the weak link in the Bureau 39 operation, Lois opened her mouth to speak. "What's going on?" she asked, her worry and lack of knowledge getting the best of her.
The other woman began rummaging in a drawer. "Ms. Lane, I want you to understand something. *I* really do work for the EPA. Apparently, Trask managed to get me assigned to his little gig here to provide cover for them. You seem to know him. Is he merely crazy or would he actually try to kill Superman?"
Lois raised her eyebrows. What on earth was going on here? Was Sherman the enemy or not? "Oh, he'd try to kill Superman if he thought he had a weapon that could. He's already tried to kill Superman back in Metropolis. He tried to kill Clark and me, too. He's crazy all right, but he's crazy like a fox."
"That's what I'm afraid of. If I help you, will you help me? Trask has threatened me and my daughter."
"Of course," the reporter replied, glad to have an ally.
Ms. Sherman turned toward Lois, a large pair of scissors in her hand. "Anyway," she went on as she calmly snipped the ties securing Lois to the chair, "Trask has your friend's parents. He's going to burn down their place."
Lois gasped in horror. "What about Clark?"
Ms. Sherman shrugged. "He has other plans for him. Trask thinks that your friend can somehow make Superman appear. Maybe he thinks that if he sets the fire, Mr. Kent will summon Superman."
Wondering if Clark was even capable of "summoning Superman," Lois asked, "And then what?"
"If Superman shows up, Trask is going to try to use this green rock they found here to kill him," Ms. Sherman explained.
Really worried now, Lois asked, "Do you mean the rock Wayne Irig sent to the lab?"
"No. The Bureau 39 guys found some more rocks here when they were digging. Trask has them with him and your friend."
A sick feeling settled in Lois's stomach. Even if Clark's powers had returned by now, if he got free from Trask and returned as Superman to save his parents, the madman would be able to use the rock to disable the hero. She reached for her cell phone and dialed 911. Perhaps Rachel Harris could save the Kents and Clark. One thing was clear to her: time was getting short. Lois waited impatiently for the police dispatcher to answer her call.
"Base to Unit one," the voice squawked over the police radio in Rachel Harris's cruiser.
"Unit one. Go ahead, Base," Rachel replied into the microphone.
She listened intently for a second. "Put her on." Turning to Jimmy, she mouthed, "It's Lois Lane."
The young photographer slumped in his seat in relief. If Lois was able to call the police, things must be looking up for her and Clark. Now, if only Lois was with Clark."
"I know. A kid from the Planet is here with me. He told me there was trouble up at Wayne Irig's. We're headed there now."
On the other end of the connection Lois hastily got out, "No! Don't come here. Trask and some of his men have taken Clark to the Kents' farm. I think they are going to kill them. You need to get to the Kents'." She gritted her teeth at the slowness of bucolic law enforcement.
"All right, Lois. But relax. I've got a deputy on his way there now. So you don't need to get your knickers in a twist." Rachel couldn't decide if she liked Lois or not, and she sure didn't know if Lois was good enough for Clark; but at least the Lane woman seemed to care about him and his family. "Do you have transportation, or should I send someone to get you?"
"I have a car. Thanks." Lois was worried sick about her partner. Was there any way to get his attention? "Rachel, can I talk to Jimmy?"
"Sure." The sheriff handed the radio handset to the photographer.
"Jimmy, it's Lois. Do you have that signal watch on you?" she asked.
"You have to press the button and talk, Jimmy," Rachel reminded him.
"Oops," he said. "Yeah, Lois. Why?"
"I want you to press the button to signal Superman. Maybe he can hear it from this far and come help us," Lois said hopefully. If Clark heard the signal, he would know that his powers had returned. And he would also be able to figure out that help was on the way, even if he thought it was only Jimmy. "All right?" she prodded.
"Right, Lois. Pressing the button now." Jimmy leaned out the window of the police car and pressed the signal. "Sorry about this, Big Guy, but I think this qualifies as an emergency."
Rachel retrieved the radio handset and replaced it as she swung the cruiser around to head toward the Kents'. She hoped they would be in time. The Kents were fantastic people; she certainly didn't want them terrorized by a maniacal killer. She pressed harder on the accelerator and tore off down the country road, her siren blazing and her lights flashing.
The erstwhile director of Bureau 39 spoke quietly to the other agents who had come to the Kent farm with him. "I don't need any more help. You two go on to the rendezvous in sector 10. I'll join you shortly." As an afterthought, he added, "And you might call Sherman and make sure they got everything packed up and moved from the dig site."
The two men agreed to follow the orders and drove off, leaving Trask with the van that was Clark's prison.
Knowing that Clark could see his every move from the van, Trask very slowly and methodically pulled a book of matches from his pocket. Gloating at his success at ridding the world of at least the traitors to their race, the people who had knowingly sheltered the alien, the Bureau 39 agent removed a single match from the booklet. Gasoline, he thought, should make a lovely fire-starter for the dried straw and hay in the barn. Too bad that he still hadn't smoked out Superman. Trask grinned coldly at his pun. Perhaps the terrified screams of the trio in the barn would summon the alien. When the Man of Steel arrived to save them, he too would succumb to the justice meted out by Trask.
It seemed to Clark that everything was happening in slow motion as the madman drew the match head across the emery strip and the tiny flame leaped into view. Just as Trask threw the match onto the trail of gasoline, an ear- shattering tone claimed Clark's attention. What the…? Jimmy's signal watch? "I'm back!" he thought exultantly. Clark smiled grimly and tugged his shackled wrists. The metal bonds snapped at the assault. Ripping the leg-irons from his ankles, Clark thought that having his ear-drums tortured had never felt so good. He leaped from the van and inhaled the flames racing across the barnyard toward his parents and their friend. As he exhaled the smoke from his lungs, he looked for Trask and his henchmen. Not seeing them, he ran to the barn to free his parents. His fingers worked at the knots in the rope, his back to the barn door.
"Clark, behind you," his mother warned. Clark whirled to see an infuriated Trask striding back toward the barn. "Just a minute, Mom," he said as he turned to meet his adversary. Addressing the agent, Clark said, "Not another step, Trask." Clark moved out of the barn, eager to immobilize the man until the police could be summoned to take him away.
Trask smiled genially. "Fine, Clark. I'll stay right here." He stood at ease, his hands clasped behind his back, his legs spread. "I suppose you think you've won."
Clark's mouth twisted in a grimace. "This wasn't about winning and losing, Trask. This was about your obsession with believing things that aren't true. Superman doesn't want to dominate the world. And I think you know that. You just can't give up the idea. I suppose you see it as a failure." He reached out his hand. "Now, give me your gun, Trask. You aren't going to be needing it."
The older man gave a chilly smile. "You're right. I'm *not* going to need my gun. After all, *I* have this." He brought his hands from behind his back and displayed several good- sized chunks of crystal, all glowing with the sickly green light that had characterized the chunk that Jonathan had shown Clark the night before. Trask tossed one at Clark's feet and was gratified to see the immediate affect on the man.
As the pain knifed through him and he fell to the ground, Clark thought despairingly of Lois and his parents. Once he was out of the way, there would be nothing to stop Trask from killing them too. But no, help must be on the way, he thought. He had heard Jimmy's watch signal, which meant that Jimmy had arrived from Metropolis. Somehow, Jimmy must have found out there was trouble. All Clark had to do was keep Trask occupied until help arrived. Barely able to breathe, Clark scrabbled around on the ground, searching for the crystal. Trying to ignore the searing pain he felt as he touched it, Clark raised up on one arm and threw the rock as far as he could into the fenced pasture beside the barn. Hopefully his father's bull would prevent Trask from trying to retrieve it. As the nausea and pain receded, Clark gathered himself together. Without his powers, he could still be killed by the other man. And there was no telling what Trask would do, balked of the opportunity to see Superman die because of the poisonous rock.
"Very clever, Clark. Or should I say 'Superman'?" Trask sneered. He laughed derisively at the man lying on the dusty barnyard. "You think you're so superior to us mortals as you fly around, pretending to do good. The world thinks you're a hero—a 'god in a cape.' But I know better. I know you are just the advance man for the invasion to come. I am curious about one thing. If you don't contact them, will the rest of the Kryptonians invade? Or do they have to get your signal?"
"You're wrong, Trask," Clark gasped. "There aren't any other Kryptonians. There aren't any invasion plans."
Suddenly Trask's expression changed. His eyes blazed as he shouted, "You lie! And you're going to die. You and the traitors in that barn. The only question is: who should go first?" The man pulled his pistol from its holster and advanced toward Clark. Pausing only to drop another chunk of crystal by Clark's body, he sneered, "This little piece of home is going to be the death of you." He wheeled around and took a step toward the barn.
Summoning every last bit of strength he had, Clark pushed off the ground and dove at Trask, knocking him to the ground. Fighting to gain control of the gun, the two men wrestled across the barnyard. Clark wrenched Trask's wrist backwards, causing him to drop the gun. Clark released his hold on the man and went for the pistol. As Clark grabbed the gun from the yard and turned to face Trask, the larger man dove for him, causing him to lose his grip on the gun.
It flew out of his hand, and they both watched in dismay as the .45 sailed through the air and landed on the other side of the fence. As it hit the ground, the handgun went off, its sharp report enraging the bull. Nostrils flaring and eyes blazing, it charged the fence. The animal glared at the two men who had disturbed his afternoon siesta. Clark had never been happier to see evidence of Ferdinand's occasional bad temper in his life. Apparently frightened by the massive animal pawing angrily on the turf, Trask quickly moved away.
"This is over, Trask," Clark stated. "You're going to jail for attempted murder, murder, fraud, and who knows what else."
"Wrong again, Superman." The look Trask gave him was venomous. "You were right about one thing, though. I don't need a gun." With that, he launched a furious assault at Clark, a volley of karate blows raining down on the reporter. A vicious kick to the abdomen had Clark bent double, gasping for breath. "On second thought, I think I'll kill your parents first. You'll really hate watching them die, knowing that you were too weak to save them. Without your superpowers, you're not even as strong as a human being." The agent turned to return to the barn.
"No!," Clark cried as he grabbed at Trask's ankle. His long fingers caught hold of the man's boot, and he wrenched as hard as he could. A combination of anger and fear lent him strength. He pulled the other man down, and once again they were rolling around on the ground, landing blows whenever possible. Each roll seemed to take them closer to the nearby farm pond.
Trask, taken by surprise at Clark's determination, fought furiously. His hands chopped at Clark's neck and his booted feet kicked at his legs. Finding his footing, Trask hauled both of them to their feet. A sharp left hook narrowly missed Clark's nose, while a sharp kick to his shins by a steel-toed combat boot caused the reporter's eyes to water from the pain.
Knowing that his strength was fading fast, Clark took a swing at Trask's jaw, connecting so hard that the man fell into the pond at the edge of the yard. The larger man pulled him into the water as went, and they continued to thrash around in the pond, their water- logged clothing and boots hampering their movements. Finally, Clark got the upper hand and had Trask pinned against a large rock in the middle of the pond.
His hair streaming, his glasses gone, his light blue denim shirt plastered to his torso, Clark looked more like Superman than Clark. As he clutched Trask's shirt in his fists, he muttered through clenched teeth, "This ends now. Do you understand? You will keep your wild ideas to yourself, and if you ever get out of prison, you will stay away from my family and friends. Is there any part of that you don't understand?" He fairly spat the words at his enemy.
"You better just kill me, Superman. I'll tell everyone I meet that you're really Clark Kent." The fire in Trask's eyes went out, and he looked thoughtful. "Or is it the other way around? Is Clark Kent really Superman?" His mouth twisted in a parody of a smile. "Like I said, go ahead. Kill me."
Sirens wailed in the distance, growing closer every minute. Clark sent up a silent prayer of thanks to whoever had called the police and gotten them to the farm on time. He turned his attention back to the man he was pinning to the rock. "That's not how I work. You really don't know me at all, Trask, or you would understand that." He took in a gulping breath of air. "Now, if Lois had you here, I'd make no guarantees about your safety. Lucky for you, it's me and not her. I'll see you in court," he stated and released the agent. Turning away in disgust, Clark stumbled to the bank of the pond. The fight over, his energy spent, he could feel the aftermath of the poisoning and the exertion. Adrenaline no longer coursing through his veins, Clark barely made it to shore. Finding his glasses, he replaced them on his face and practically crawled onto dry land just as several Sheriff's Department cruisers and his and Lois's rental car pulled into the farmyard and stopped.
Exhausted, Clark stood by the pond, trying to summon the energy to complete the climb back to the level ground of the barnyard. He saw Lois jump out of the rental, but he was too tired to even move just yet. He stared numbly at her beautiful face, the face he'd thought he might never see again, and was awed once more that she seemed to care for him.
Just as he thought he might set himself in motion again, she screamed, "Clark!"
He whirled to see the flash of light come from the mouth of a small gun in Trask's hand. "Now where did that come from?" he thought, as he felt the sting of a bullet crease his upper arm. The sound of the shot was drowned out by the much louder report of a police-issue Glock 40. He watched in stunned surprise as Trask's eyes widened in shock at the feel of the bullet slamming into his chest. The rogue government agent opened his mouth to say something but was dead before he ever formed the words.
Clark turned back to see Rachel staring at her own smoking pistol, her eyes wide at what she had just done. Concerned for his old friend who had just killed a man in order to save his life, he felt relief when he saw one of the deputies approach her and wrap a friendly arm around her.
Wearily, he took another step up the embankment but was almost knocked off-balance by his partner barreling into him. "Oh, Clark! I thought he was going to kill you," Lois whispered in his ear as she wound her arms around his neck and clung to him, sobbing. "I was so scared for you."
Returning her embrace, he spared a second to look past her shoulder and check on Rachel and his parents. One of the deputies, Hank he thought, was still hugging her and telling her everything was fine. Another deputy was in the barn, undoubtedly untying his parents and Wayne Irig. Deciding he didn't care what had happened to Trask's body or Carole Sherman or even Jimmy, Clark shut out the rest of the occupants of the farmyard and concentrated on the incredible sensation of being choked to death by his girlfriend.
"Um, Lois, could you not squeeze quite so tight?" he croaked. "I can barely breathe." He pulled her closer as he spoke, making her wonder if he really meant what he had said. Burying his face in her hair, he marveled at the feeling of being alive after all that had just happened.
She didn't answer but unclasped her hands from around his neck and threaded them into his hair. Tugging gently, she pulled his head into position so that she could kiss him. "Clark, I was so scared," she repeated right before she pressed her lips to his, making any reply impossible. She pressed her body into his sopping wet shirt, wishing she could melt right into him and never be separated from him again.
Long moments later, he pulled his head back so that he could drink in the sight of her face. "Me too, Lois. Me too," he whispered before kissing her again. Perhaps when he had time to think about it, he'd remember that without his powers, he was feeling a definite chill standing here in the shade in his soaked clothing, to say nothing of the burning sensation in his upper right arm where Trask's bullet had grazed a furrow. But for the moment, he decided he'd savor the moment of holding Lois in his arms and feeling the incredible sensation of oneness that he always felt when they embraced.
It had taken Martha's startled cry of, "Clark! You're bleeding!" to return him and Lois to awareness of their surroundings and of the activity that was flowing around the spot on the pond bank where they stood locked in a tight embrace. Looking down at his arm, Clark realized that not only was his mother correct, but that his arm hurt like the devil. It hadn't taken too much persuasion on her part for him to return to the house to get cleaned up, leaving Rachel and her deputies to deal with the corpse that had been Jason Trask and the other legal issues.
An hour later, Lois, Clark, Jimmy and the Kents were sitting around the kitchen table in the comfortable old farmhouse, nursing cups of coffee. Jimmy had been excitedly regaling the others with the events he had photographed at Wayne Irig's farm and less happily expressing his disappointment that the signal watch hadn't managed to alert Superman. Lois and Clark had exchanged wry glances at the comment. Jimmy's signal had, in fact, reached Superman, but there was no way they could ever let him know. Martha was still anxiously trying to convince Clark that he should go to bed to recover from what she persisted in calling his "ordeal," but he was obdurately refusing to listen.
"Mom, I'm fine. Really," he added at the dubious look on her face. "Besides, it's not that late. I promised Lois she'd have fun at the Corn Festival before we ever left Metropolis. I can't let her down, now can I?" He winked as he grinned broadly at his mother.
"And you promised to 'tush-push' and 'two-step' with Rachel at the dance," Lois reminded him with a self-satisfied smirk. She had originally felt a pang of jealousy when Rachel had asked for a dance the day before, but given that the sheriff had saved Clark's life earlier in the day, Lois decided to be magnanimous. He might give Rachel a dance, but he'd be taking Lois behind the Dairy Freeze.
"Also true. Now, Mom, you cannot possibly expect me to break promises to both of them, can you?" Clark's eyes danced merrily behind his horn-rimmed glasses.
Martha grudgingly subsided. "All right. But don't complain if you develop an infection in that arm," she reminded him.
Lois snorted in amusement as Clark confidently replied, "I won't. Besides, it feels better already. It was just a graze." A small frown tugged at the corners of his mouth. "I really liked that shirt, though. And the tear is too high up to cut off the sleeves and still wear it."
His partner patted his hand. "It's all right. I'm sure we can find you another one just like it. Denim shirts aren't really all that uncommon."
"I doubt it, Lois. I've had that shirt since college. It'll take ten years to get a new one as soft." He looked dismayed at the thought.
"We…ell," Lois began, "you could just not wear a shirt. I wouldn't complain." She smiled impishly as Jimmy gave a shout of laughter.
"I think she's got you on that one, CK," he teased. "So what's this about a Corn Festival? And a dance?"
As Jonathan and Martha began to explain to the young photographer about the treat in store for him, Lois and Clark left the table and stepped out on the porch.
"Are you sure you feel well enough to go the Festival?" Lois asked. "I'll understand if you want a quiet evening." She searched his face for some sign that he was feeling bad.
Clark shook his head. "I'm fine, really. My arm hurts a little, but it's not that bad. And that is all that hurts. My powers aren't back yet, but I do seem to be healing pretty fast." He pulled her into his arms and held her gently. "And I meant what I said in there. I really do want to take you to the Festival and show you a good time."
She snuggled closer to him, mindful not to jar his left arm. "Well, if you're sure. I just don't want you to have a relapse or something." She gave a little giggle. "I know it's not really funny, but you looked like a drowned rat coming out of the pond. Did you know there was seaweed hanging from your head?"
"Nope. But I'm not surprised."
"I'm so glad that you were able to fight him, even with your powers gone."
He dropped a light kiss on her head. "I don't think I've ever been so frightened in my life. Trask was completely insane. Thank God, my powers were back long enough for me to put out that fire. Can you imagine what it would have been like if the barn had caught on fire?" He felt her shudder at the thought. "And you would have been his next target, if he hadn't been stopped."
"But he *was* stopped. So it's all right." She squeezed him again.
"I guess." He sounded a little doubtful.
"What?" she asked gently.
"What's the matter? You don't sound very happy all of a sudden for a man who just survived an attempt on his life."
He pulled away a bit to be able to look at her. "My powers aren't back."
"So? They were gone for a good eighteen hours after last night. I imagine that it will take that long again," she reminded him. "And this time, you had to exert a lot of energy in that fight. It's too soon to worry."
"I hope you're right. But what if Superman is needed before they come back?"
Lois had to smile at his worried expression. "Think about it. If your powers aren't back, you won't know that Superman is needed. And I really don't think there are likely to be any 'jobs for Superman' at the Corn Festival. Do you?"
He hugged her tighter. "I guess not."
"Look at the bright side," she suggested. "Now you know two things for sure. One, it's not your powers that make you a hero. You proved that pretty convincingly today when you beat Trask, a man who was bigger than you and trained in combat."
Clark considered what she had just said. "I hadn't thought of it that way. What's the other thing I know?"
"That I love you for yourself."
He gave her a sheepish look. "Did you really think I wondered about that?"
"How could you not? But now you know for sure." She dimpled up at him. "There are other things about you that are much better than the superpowers."
"Like what?" he prodded.
"Like you're a fantastic kisser, and…" She paused to watch the slow flush of embarrassment creep up his neck to his face.
"And what?" Clark wasn't really sure he wanted to know, but he couldn't stop himself from asking.
"And you look so cute when you're embarrassed."
Clark's laughter rang out. Gathering her close to him, he said, "I love you, Lois Lane."
"And I love you, Clark Kent." She pulled away from his embrace. "And now, if you will excuse me, I need to go get ready to go to the Festival."
He stared at her, incredulous. "Lois, you look fine. Most people there, including me, will be in jeans."
"I know. But I've been wearing these all day. I'll just be a minute. Then we can go." She opened the door and headed up the stairs to change.
Clark, his parents, and Jimmy were waiting at the foot of the stairs as Lois made her appearance fifteen minutes later. Jimmy couldn't repress an admiring whistle as she descended the stairs.
Her boyfriend was more direct. "What is *this*?" he asked as his eyes widened at the sight of Lois in a clinging maroon calico-print dress with a plunging v-neck. Her cowboy boots clicked on the wooden stairs as she walked, and a mostly unbuttoned long skirt showed tantalizing glimpses of her legs above them. He could feel his pulse beat faster at the sight. It was a good thing they were going to be in a large crowd at the town square, or he might not be able to keep his hands off her. "Lois, you look fantastic. Is this what you were whispering to Mom about earlier?"
She smiled almost shyly as she nodded and said, "Thanks. I'm glad you like it."
Clark offered her his arm in escort to the car. "Ride with my parents, all right?" he threw over his shoulder at Jimmy. Maybe he and Lois would be a little late getting back into town. There were some fairly long detours with scenic parking spots along the way as he recalled. He turned on the engine and slid the car into gear. They were soon rolling down the gravel road to the main route to town behind his parents' pickup truck.
"Don't even think it, Farmboy," she interrupted his line of thought. "I know exactly what you're thinking, and it's not gonna happen."
He choked back a laugh. "Oh really? Why don't you tell me, then, if you're so smart?"
"You are thinking of taking the long way to town, probably the one that goes by way of Wichita," she replied.
"Actually, I was thinking of Kansas City," he said with a grin.
"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow.
"It's farther away," he solemnly informed her.
Lois giggled as she said, "And no stopping at the local stream to watch the submarine races either."
"Lois, I'm hurt. We don't have those here in Smallville. The stream isn't deep enough for submarines." His aggrieved tone was at odds with the laughter in his gaze.
"Uh huh. Whatever. But no detours. Understand?" She gave him a devilish look. "We can neck anytime. We can only eat corndogs and cotton candy tonight."
"Ah, I see. You only love me for what I can give you."
"Yep. And I also expect you to win me a prize at a game," she told him. "One of those gigantic stuffed animals would be good."
"Lo…is, that is not fair. Do you have any idea how hard it is to win one of those?" He looked at her, a very serious expression on his face. "You have to win about a dozen smaller prizes and keep exchanging them for a bigger one." His eyes widened, as if in awe. "It probably costs twenty dollars to win one."
She swatted his right arm, glad that it wasn't his injured arm that was within range. "Oh, you, you…"
"Wonderful guy?" he suggested.
Lois smiled at his sally. "Just drive, Kent. I want to dance. And I certainly hope they play some slow ones too." She looked dreamily at the horizon. "You know, I don't think we've ever had a proper dance before."
"I can take care of that," he assured her. "And if they don't play any slow dances, we can go into Maisie's diner and play one on the jukebox."
"It's a deal." She settled back into the car seat and was silent for the rest of the trip into town.
The country band was playing loudly as the couple pulled into a parking space right behind Martha, Jonathan, and Jimmy. The decorations on the town square looked even more festive with the lights on in the gathering dusk.
"Clark!" Rachel Harris hailed Clark from the area near the dance floor. She had shed her sheriff's uniform and was wearing jeans and a flowered blouse. She hurried over to the group and gave Clark a hug. "I'm so glad you don't look any worse," she told him. Then remembering the bond she had noticed between Clark and Lois earlier in the day, she released him and turned to the elder Kents. "And you two look like you're feeling good too."
Martha gave Rachel a warm smile. "We're fine. What about you?" She searched the younger woman's face.
"I'm all right, Martha. It was a bit of a shock at first, to realize that I actually shot that man, but I know I had no choice. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I'm just glad that Clark is okay."
"Thanks for saving my son, Rachel." Martha smiled fondly at her. "Is everything squared away?"
Rachel nodded. "Pretty much. Any time a law-enforcement officer uses a weapon, he or she gets put on administrative leave while someone, usually Internal Affairs, looks into it to make sure the use of deadly force was justified. So I get a few days vacation while the State Police conducts an investigation. I should be back on the job before the end of the week." She looked relieved as she related the news to Martha.
Martha barely had time to reply, "That's good," when Clark came up and asked Rachel to dance. The pair walked off to the dance floor. Martha compared the sight of her son and his high school friend to that of Clark and Lois and knew he had made the right choice. Rachel was a lovely young woman, but Lois was the one Clark really needed in his life. Martha turned and went in search of her husband. Perhaps he'd like to show the younger generation a thing or two on the concept of line-dancing.
Waiting for the music to start, Clark looked down at his old friend. "Rachel, I don't know how to thank you. You saved my life. Probably my parents and Wayne's too. I think Trask would have killed them all."
Rachel grinned at him. "Well, I did owe you one."
"You did? For what?" Clark was confused.
"For taking me to the prom. I know I wasn't the prettiest girl in the class. You could have taken anybody. But you took me."
"And we had a great time," he reminded her. "As to not being the prettiest girl in the class—says who?" He flashed a heart-stopping smile at her. "You looked pretty to me. Still do, for that matter."
Rachel narrowed her eyes as she looked up at him. "Maybe. But I think that Lois is more than just a work colleague. Am I right?"
He couldn't lie to her. "Yeah. You're right. You always were perceptive." He looked across the dance floor where Lois and Jimmy were partnered. "Yeah, Lois is a lot more than a work partner," he said softly.
"I'm glad, Clark. Be happy," she said a bit wistfully before brightening once more. "Now let's show the city slickers how to dance."
"You got it, Rach." He swung her into the movements of the dance, a huge smile on his face.
His dance with Rachel over, Clark took his place in the line beside Lois. The band struck up the first chords of the music, and the residents of Smallville began to do the Electric Slide. To his amazement, Lois was dancing with the best of them. A broad smile lit up her face as she threw herself into the music.
"You actually know how to do this!" Clark exclaimed, his facing showing his surprise.
Lois laughed happily. "Last year a girlfriend convinced me it was a great way to meet guys," she explained.
"And was it?" he teased.
"Define guys," she laughed as they swung around in the next direction of the dance. "I'm not sure if you realize this, but a full set of teeth in a country-western dance club is a rarity."
"So it's a good thing I've got all mine?" he asked, having trouble holding back a laugh.
"Yes, it is. I only date guys with teeth, I'll have you know." She looked up at him, her eyes brimming with laughter. "And full heads of hair, too."
"I'll remember that if anyone ever approaches me about becoming Mr. Clean," he swore.
The music ended, and they walked hand in hand from the dance floor. "Time for some cotton candy?" he asked.
"You bet. And then you can win me that giant stuffed animal." She smiled happily up at him. He finally seemed so carefree. "You know, I don't know when I've ever seen you quite so relaxed, so, oh, I don't know. So Clark," she blurted out.
He grinned down at her upturned face as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "That's who I am. Clark," he told her.
He found her a giant cone of pink cotton candy, and then allowed her to drag him back to the "Test Your Strength" attraction.
"Win a prize for the little lady! Only one dollar!" the barker called out.
"Okay, Clark," she said, her mouth full of cotton candy. "Let's make this a day to remember." Lois fished in her wallet for a dollar bill.
"You're kidding, right?" he asked. "You really think we will forget today unless I win you a toy?"
"Yep, that's exactly what I think. Otherwise, it's just another routine investigation for Lois and Clark." She giggled at the shocked look on his face. A sudden thought stopped her. "Is your arm in good enough shape for this?" she asked.
At his exasperated nod, she said, "C'mon. Grab that hammer," she commanded as she handed the dollar to the barker.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. He wiped his hands on his jeans and placed them on the hammer. A mighty swing made the ball shoot up just a little short of the mark. Clark smiled despite himself. He pulled a dollar from his hip pocket and handed it to the carny. Another try and the ball shot up even higher.
"Very close," Lois said as she handed a third dollar to the barker. "One more try." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek for good luck.
Clark grabbed the sledgehammer with renewed determination. He wound up, raised the hammer high, and gave it a powerful hit. The ball shot straight up and rang the bell.
"Yes!" Lois cried excitedly. "I knew you could do it," she said proudly.
Her boyfriend looked up at the top level that proclaimed, "SUPERMAN!" He gave a short laugh.
The irony wasn't lost on Lois either, as the barker held out two prizes for her to choose from. She looked from a stuffed Superman figure to a cuddly black teddy bear. Clark waited in suspense to see which she would choose. She seemed to hesitate, as if having trouble deciding. Finally, to Clark's great relief, she reached out and took the bear. Snuggling it close, she beamed up at Clark. "Thank you, so much."
As they moved away from the attraction, he mentioned, "You looked like you had trouble deciding which prize to take."
"As a matter of fact, I did. I was thinking that the figure could keep me company when you're not around."
"So you were going to pick the Superman doll?" he asked.
She nodded. "I thought about it. Then I realized that when you're off being Superman, the person I miss is Clark. And he's much more cuddly than Superman." She looked at him with shining eyes. "So I took the teddy bear." She wrapped her free arm around his waist and pulled him closer. "Shall I call him 'Clarkie'?"
Clark squeezed her back as he said, "Don't you dare. Do you have any idea how much I've always hated that name?"
"No, but I'll try to remember." She laughed again.
"Lo…is," he began.
She pulled him even closer. "C'mon, Clark. You still owe me a slow dance."
"And I think I hear them playing one now," he said as he moved back toward the dance floor where the strains of "My Girl" could be heard.
As she swayed with him in time to the music, she could have sworn she heard him say, "Now this is dancing."
Several hours later, Clark took Lois by the hand and whispered, "There's something I want to show you."
She arched an eyebrow. "Oh? There is something we've missed at the Corn Festival? I mean, we've seen the Husk Off, the Corn Princess, the corndogs and the cotton candy. You won me my bear, and we danced till my feet hurt in these cowboy boots." She shook her head. "I can't think of a thing that we've missed."
"Trust me, Lois. There is one thing that you have missed, and I'd hate for you not to experience it before we go back to Metropolis." He pulled her toward the car saying, "Trust me, Lois. You'll enjoy it."
Laughing at the silly mood he was in, she went along with his whim. Sliding into the passenger side of the car, she kept on sliding until she was firmly seated in the middle of the bench seat. "So where are we going?" she asked as he put the car into reverse and backed out of the parking place.
"You'll see," he said, a smug grin on his face.
A few short minutes later, Clark pulled the car into a space behind the darkened shape of a small building.
Lois strained her eyes to see where they were. When she finally figured out what the unlit sign said, she burst into laughter. "Are you planning on giving me a hickey?" she asked when she finally got control of herself, tears of hilarity streaming down her face as she realized they were behind the Dairy Freeze.
Clark's teeth gleamed in the darkness. "Would you like one?" he asked, his voice seductive in the night. "I don't think I've ever actually done that, but I'd be happy to oblige you."
Lois seemed to ponder the question for a while before replying, "Not really. I'd hate to listen to Jimmy all the way back to Metropolis, wondering why I'd suddenly taken to wearing turtleneck shirts." She turned to better see his face. "I would like to spend some time alone with you, though."
Her eyes shone with love. Threading her fingers into his hair, she pulled his face down to meet hers. As he bent forward, she could feel his soft breath on her lips and smell his aftershave. It was something spicy. Knowing Clark, it was Old Spice Aftershave. Whatever it was, he smelled delicious she thought, as his lips moved gently over hers. His right arm was around her shoulders, his hand gently caressing her. He moved his left hand up to stroke her silky hair. For long minutes they sat in the car behind the Dairy Freeze, unable to tell where one of them left off and the other began.
When they finally surfaced for air, Lois gently pushed a stray lock of hair back from Clark's forehead. "You are so beautiful," she marveled. "Like a painting or a statue."
"But I'm not, Lois. I'm just a pretty ordinary guy," he reminded her.
"No, Clark. You're anything but ordinary. There cannot be another man on this planet who kisses the way you do. You could give lessons," she teased.
"Be happy to," he growled as he pulled her closer. "I'll start right now." He placed his lips on hers and began to teach.