By Debby Stark [firstname.lastname@example.org]
October 27, 1996
Summary: Clark helps Lois solve the mystery of her missing furniture.
(All recognizable characters below belong to Warner Brothers and/or DC Comics and the situations they are placed in are meant only to compliment the work of the original owners. Everything they can't claim prior ownership to, I claim for my own.) This continues the Dawning "saga," which should definitely be read in order because you'll be lost otherwise. Previous "episodes" can be found at ftp.swcp.com pub/users/dstark in PKZipped txt; the L&C fanfic list in regular txt; at ftp.cs.uofs.edu /pub/sidbury in WordPerfect 5.1 (DOS) format; or from the author as multi-part email. However you get them, I like feedback to help me to continue to develop the story.
Rescuing Lois Lane's furniture was a breeze.
Clark Kent rushed through her abandoned kitchen, pausing only to grab a hand towel, toss it in the sink and wet it for three seconds as he changed clothes (the water could flow only so fast). He wiped the cloth over his face and hands quickly, though he knew they would probably get even dirtier in dealing with the fire. However, one had to keep up appearances. He then darted out the back door and up into the sky, escaping all notice. Everyone who might have been dumbfounded by these actions was either back where he had left them in the basement trying to comfort Lois or congregating high on the south end of the roof, speculating about the fate of Lois's belongings. He overheard some whisper that sure she had given her helpers grief, as bossy as she was, but she certainly didn't deserve this.
Lois's predictions were almost right but the reality that Clark discovered was nowhere near as dreadful. The storage company was not in the process of being consumed by a roaring blaze of suspicious origin. It was experiencing a smoky trash fire on the far side of the building, and employees were rushing around trying to put it out.
Two fire trucks and one ambulance just beat Superman to the scene. He held back when he saw that the problem wasn't serious and could be handled by regular means. The nontoxic smoke did threaten briefly to obscure visibly on the elevated cross-town expressway and where it wasn't doing that, motorists were slowing down to try to see what was happening below.
Superman considered blowing the smoke away, but a light breeze came up and began to dissipate it naturally. Also, most of the rubberneckers on the freeway seemed to realize that there wasn't much actually happening, so the traffic didn't become any worse than it normally was.
Without much to do then, Superman hovered over the area, putting in a visible presence, and kept a back-up eye on things as the fire fighters did a fine job.
While he hovered, he was able to help a friend. He scoped out the building, large loading dock and parking lot of the storage company. There was no sign of even a stick of Lois's furniture inside, on the dock, or in any of the trucks. Bad news? Could be…
As the fire fighters got the blaze under control quickly, Superman dropped down out of the sky to offer additional assistance. The fire chief had already run an assessment of the situation and her preliminary estimates were that someone had been smoking near a pile of cardboard boxes and that there were no chemicals involved. No one had been injured beyond heavy-duty stress for the employees and their eventual insurance premiums. She was pleased to have observed that Superman's mere presence had caused the civilians to calm down as soon as they saw him and her people had found them easier to protect.
Clark was pleased to hear this. Superman *should* be a good influence if nothing else. He smiled, nodded and flew away.
He headed out over the city, looking for moving vans easily identified as belonging to the one-time L. Luthor Moving and Storage Company. The new owners of the company had transformed the visage of the handsome, confident Lex Luthor painted on the sides and even on the tops of the trucks. He now wore a black, pirate-style eye patch, a too-large orange scarf on his head (covering the luxurious hair the man had sported in those good times), and there was something that, if one had a lot of imagination, might be construed to be a weather- beaten green parrot sitting on his left shoulder. The new company's slogan was "We guard your treasures like they are our own."
This was not the advertising scheme Clark would have advised, but he had noted a number of the employees of the company speaking Portuguese, so perhaps they didn't understand all the implications in the same way a long-time resident of Metropolis would.
There were no signs of any such vans heading at rapid, incriminating speeds toward Canada, Alaska or, most likely via the Bering Straits, into the vast expanses Siberia, the inhabitants of which craved high-quality consumer goods. Clark only checked the first 200 miles in that direction though. Then he headed back to rule out the obvious.
After satisfying himself, he gave the city a cursory once over, found nothing that required his special skills, and returned home.
The roof was empty of people, so he landed there, changed clothes, and descended the steps to the kitchen to find Lois surrounded by her friends.
They were doing their best to console her, but Lois wasn't even trying to take this all in stride. The tension building up from the two weeks' worth of heavy-duty life changes and yesterday and today being nice to everyone, Clark diagnosed, was coming out in the form of raging at her ex-landlords, the storage company, and the Metropolis Police Department that would let such criminals roam the streets.
But Clark noticed too that she prefaced most of her accusations with "I should *never* have trusted" or "I was a *fool*" or "What *was* I thinking?" She blamed herself for falling for all the promises. Typical Lois.
Karmically, Clark thought, she was right… except she was wrong, and he wasn't placing any bets on her reaction to the news he had.
When she caught sight of him empty handed, she just about let him have it right then and there, too. He could almost hear her demand of herself why she hadn't been out there helping him and indeed directing the search, but the words stayed tightly bottled up inside, he could see that. Poor Lois.
Laurie wondered where Clark had been. He pointed upward and said, "I wanted to get a look at what was happening."
While this drew everyone's attention for a moment, Lois escaped into the living room.
Clark followed her, leading the group, wishing he weren't, not knowing how to get rid of them, and wondering if they thought he could fix things. He had a solution, true, but presentation was everything when it came to Lois and he didn't want an audience.
He half-listened to Perry explain how he and Jimmy had tried to calm Lois. They had gone to the roof to look for Superman and seen him, too, so Clark had been successful. Lois had not seemed very assured however.
Of course, Superman couldn't know her belongings were stored there, Lucy reminded them, and that everything might already have been turned to expensive ashes before he even arrived!--But that probably hadn't happened, she added quickly when several of her friends looked aghast at her, everything would no doubt be *just fine…!*
When there had been no more to see after the smoke had cleared and Superman had gotten the fire under control, they had all returned downstairs where it was cooler. Clark noted with relief that his boss didn't add anything remotely like "interesting how you slipped right by us, Clark…"
Jimmy interrupted, almost seeming to have heard that thought because he wanted to know where Clark had found Superman. Clark shrugged, "Oh, just around…"
"He's always just around, isn't he?"
The friends started commenting on how nice that was.
"He didn't really come around here while you were gone," Jimmy whispered aside to him.
"I mean, after all, he probably knows that you and Lois are like this now," he held up his hand.
Clark could see it coming. Jimmy had made a vaguely lewd gesture weeks earlier to Raul. Clark didn't want it to be repeated here, mainly because the young man probably had no idea it would be inappropriate in this setting. He grabbed his friend's hand in a reverse shake and slapped him on the back with his other hand, smiling. "Thanks, Jim. I know you watch out for my interests."
"Well, sure! Except," and he whispered again, "I'll leave kicking his butt to you…"
"Good, that's fine. How about if you see if… people need a cool drink of water after being up in the sun, hmm?"
"Practice being a host."
"Angela will help you."
Angela smiled and nodded.
Clark winked at her, slapped Jimmy on the back again and propelled him toward the kitchen. Two down, countless more to go, but, as they entered the living room, only one truly important person at the moment: "Lois?"
She had skidded to a halt and begun digging into a pile of paint- splattered newspapers and dusty sheets of plastic wadded together with masking tape and bits of yellow nylon rope.
Stepping carefully over piles of cleaning materials, he made his way to her. "Lois…"
"I'm going out to look for my things. They can't have gotten far…" She tackled another pile and in a moment was throwing things here and there, heedless of where they landed, which was mostly on other piles. "Where's my purse?!"
Someone said, "I saw it over there, I think…" People scattered around the apartment to help her search for it.
Clark noticed that no one asked what it looked like, which meant they probably mistook other purses for it. That would keep them busy for a few minutes.
"Lois, I have an idea."
"That's all right, Clark, you just rest, I know I left it around here *somewhere*…" She checked next in one of the trash-bag lined cardboard boxes, said "Ah-ha!" and straightened. She waved almost under his nose something white and made of canvas and rubber. "My shoe!"
He took her arm gently and indicated she had no choice but to pay attention to him.
She was almost quivering with pent-up aggravation. She frowned at him. "Not *now,*" she said through gritted teeth.
"Yes, *now*," he informed her, not through gritted teeth.
He looked around at those still in the living room. Most of them looked tired and worn; for many of them this had to be the first truly interesting thing to have happened all day. However, they turned away and made themselves busy at something, anything else, somewhere else, "Be careful!" warnings in their eyes.
Even with their backs turned it was still too crowded in here, particularly if Lois decided to let him have it after all.
Her stiff struggle was simple to control, but Clark hoped it didn't look that way, that it didn't look like he was using brute force on this woman as he eased her up the steps, through her front door and onto her porch. Then again, no one, not even Perry came to her rescue, which didn't make him feel better about having to do this.
Once outside with the door closed firmly behind them, he didn't let her go until he was sure she was going to stand still and listen. When he loosened his grip, she yanked herself out of his hands but that was okay. She crossed her arms under her breasts as though to keep from lashing out at him. That was fine for the moment, too. She stood there and practically glared at him. This was also good.
He checked his own stance, unlocked his knees, loosened his shoulders, tried to look like her best friend, and told her quietly, "Okay now, yell at me, it's all right."
Lois was sure she had never heard anything so *stupid* in her life and she had heard plenty of stupid things, a lot of them, it seemed, in the last nine weeks or so. Just because he was *Super*man, how could Clark *possibly* think he could withstand her anger if she let him really have it full blast?
She frowned at him instead and whispered, "I'm *not* going to yell at *you.*"
He proceeded to reply in such a reasonable manner that she could have slugged him with a sledgehammer.
He made it worse by explaining. "You've been scolding nebulous 'thems' and yourself and none of that's helped, so it's all right if you yell--"
"No, it *isn't*! Do I have to explain *every*thing to *every*one? Yelling at 'nebulous thems' *does* help--it keeps me from *killing* somebody!--and *don't* say I wouldn't kill anybody because I would if I could get my *hands* on them!"
"Listen: you put out the fire and probably saved hundreds of lives." She heard him try to deny it, but she couldn't stand him being humble, either, so she trampled right over that. "Now it's *my* turn because it's *my* problem. It's been mine all along, and now, if you'll get out of my way, I'm all cooled down and ready to find my things and expose the conspiracy and write it all up and that's *that*!"
He *smiled?* Not much, just a hint, but it was definitely a pleased look. "That's better, yell some more."
How dare he? "No!"
She could almost see the little wheels turning in his head even if they were going at superspeed. His expression turned somewhat skeptical, and he looked sideways at her and narrowed his eyes a bit, as though he couldn't believe what he was seeing. "Heh--Sissy!"
He lost the cynical expression immediately and really smiled. "Good! Now another one!"
He shouldn't have smiled, she thought, let alone become a cheerleader. It just proved he was totally incapable of effective goading--like that one not particularly creative look and a flimsy tease of a word could come anywhere near to tipping her over the edge! She shook her head at him. His being an only child was probably to blame. He had a *lot* to learn!
But there was no time to teach him. "No, thanks, Mister Junior Psychiatrist! *I* have to find my purse!" and she turned toward the door.
"Hold it, please, relax…"
What was this with a "please"? She paused to tell him precisely where he could stick his "hold it" but instead saw him look at the door and lower his glasses.
In an instant she understood that she was witnessing something almost monumental between them and it surprised and distracted her out of her anger. Yes, he'd done things openly a week ago on the farm, but he had probably felt safe to do so there, being in familiar surroundings even though she had taken by storm with only token resistance on his part.
But to do this here and now, on a public street, and to trust that she alone would see it…
Wow, she thought, and she found herself whispering just any old thing that came to mind: "And here I used to think you needed bifocals…"
"Nope…" he mumbled as he looked over the apartment.
How did that feel? What was it like? How could she ever ask? Some time, some day, yes, she knew she could ask that kind of question and he wouldn't gloomily assume that she was more interested in his flying side than in the real man. That fear would no doubt lurk in the back of his mind for a while to come despite all her assurances. She knew she would have wondered had she been in his shoes. Look at the trouble *I'm* having, she told herself, even though I was sure I was totally prepared. Why, he's probably secretly a nervous wreck…
True, he was hiding it well, but then he did have a lot of practice hiding things.
Totally unaware of her observations, he continued, "They are a light prescription though."
"I've noticed they magnify a little." Things are so… magnified now, aren't they…
"Just a little." He slipped them back into place and looked at her, a reassuring expression on his face. "Roey's found your purse in your bedroom but she's lost you."
Oh, yeah, get purse--jump in Jeep--track down furniture--maim movers--write story from jail. "Well, she'll find me now." Lois grabbed at the screen door handle.
Clark stopped her, placing his fingers lightly on the door with somewhat less pressure, she was sure, than necessary to stop a charging elephant--which she could become if he really wanted to argue the issue and he better not if he knew what was good for him. As she yanked at the handle anyhow, rattling the whole door and threatening the frame, he said, "You don't have to rush away--"
"What should I do then, call the *police*?" She let go of the door and threw her arms up in lieu of collapsing in either mad laughter or frustrated tears. "How about the FBI--or Better Homes and Gardens! Ha!"
"No, you don't need to bother any of them. Just ask people to move their cars. I saw the van that has your rocking chair and all your other things--"
"What?!" She grabbed at his T-shirt and pulled him close, hitching herself up, standing on tip toes--on *his* tip toes--to look him in the eye, demanding a complete confession. "Where?!"
He seemed to hardly notice her attack, not even blinking in a startled manner. Oh, yes, he was hiding so much, this Clark Kent, thinking he was so sneaky and calm and mild mannered when she knew the unabridged truth about everything but her furniture.
"On Sinibaldi, up just past Kuenzli Road," he said. "The driver was calling on his radio for instructions, but I don't think he was making any headway because of the fire--which, by the way, wasn't serious."
She ordered herself to relax and ease her grip. It wouldn't do to give away the fact that she knew what was behind his peaceful facade: a mass of quivering still-new-at-it boy friend who was trying desperately to please her and only doing a marginal job of it because he was being inadvertently tangential. She had to ease him back on track. "Not serious, good." After all, the Superman side of him--well, all of him would worry about the safety of strangers, and that *was* more important than finding her belongings--except since the strangers were all safe now, they *weren't* more important now.
However, it occurred to her that he had mentioned the nonserious nature of the fire to try to calm *her.* But wait: his effort to do that was probably distracting him from his own fears. Why, if he could be convinced it was a good idea to keep pretending to be calm on her behalf, it might sink down inside *him*, where it could take hold and he'd feel better about his own predicament and he'd stop worrying and things could be jolly between them.
Or something like that.
When she had time, she told herself, she'd give some real thought to it and come up with an excellent plan.
For now though, the real world beckoned, as did the need to appear panicky again. "What was the driver asking? How to get to the docks--maybe they're going to put my things on a boat and head for Africa!" She pointed toward what she hoped was east.
"Africa's that way," he indicated with a nod and a look over her left shoulder.
"Okay, they're more headed toward, oh, Greenland."
She gave him an evil look, the next level of threat. He wasn't going to *survive* this little tete-a-tete, let alone learn from her how wonderful it was to be truly calm, if he didn't…
He interpreted the look correctly, probably suspecting that the final straw would see her stomping on him and no amount of invulnerability would save him.
He continued quickly. "I think the driver and his partner are new at this and they're confused. They weren't speaking English and they sounded upset. The driver radioed the office and before he was cut off--again, apparently--he told them that there are so many cars parked on Clinton that he can't get in."
Lois stared at him.
He looked so helpful, adding to that a nod to confirm it. He really deserved that slug with a sledgehammer.
Instead she dragged her eyes from him to look at the street, and she actually saw it this time. Before she had only seen the absence of the moving van and with it the critical, tangible evidence of her life. Now… "My god," she said, "you're right…"
"*Well*--I'll thank you later."
"I can wait," he told her back as she grabbed at the screen door again. "I'm an incredibly patient kind of guy."
"Tonight," she shot back at him. "We have a date. No more patience for either of us."
The smile he'd been entertaining faltered just a touch, but not completely, which was promising. He leaned back against the porch railing (as far as he could go), folded his arms (protectively?) across that sinfully broad chest of his, and looked like he was prepared to simply watch. "We'll see."
"Yes, we will!" she informed him.
So despite all his primitive goading, or maybe because of it, and despite knowing that he was in deep need of her assistance, which she would attend to--tonight--after straightening everything else out, she began to feel a little better at last.
She burst into the apartment and ordered everyone to go out and move their vehicles--now! The reason for her demand, which she surprised herself by managing to phrase with equal parts of urgency and diplomacy, became clear in seconds when those who had driven here (which was everyone but Clark) saw how crowded the street had become. As they rushed to do her bidding, some took paused long enough to take advantage of the opening. They explained that they had planned other things to do for that evening and once they were in their cars they couldn't return.
Lois said she understood, thanked them, gave several quick hugs, and restrained herself from booting them out all the more quickly because Clark would only have caught them, set them back on their feet, brushed them off and apologized on her behalf. Several of the departing helpers did stop long enough to give him hugs, too, which he participated in happily, a born hugger. It was a wonder, Lois thought, he didn't do more hugging as Superman; he might have been "Hugman" then and villains would have been afraid, very afraid.
The other, unhugged helpers (everyone from the office who knew they would have to face her later if they didn't stay) moved their cars around the corner.
After seeing that this was working, Lois grabbed her purse (Roey had left it hanging off the top post of the railing of the steps), grabbed Clark for directions and back up, threw her purse, her boyfriend and her self into her Jeep, and went after the moving van.
He instructed her to make some bizarre turns this way and that, many away from where he said the truck was, but she kept herself from questioning him until he mentioned something about the driver speaking Portuguese.
"I'll talk to him if you want."
They finally turned onto Sinibaldi and there was the truck! She recognized Lex's handsome--no, *slimy* visage painted and then painted over on the back end. The decrepit parrot suits you, she thought at him.
The hulking thing (the truck, not Lex's face nor the parrot) was taking up several parking spaces in front of a stretch of closed business offices. She pulled up beside it, not worrying about other traffic beyond checking that there was none behind her at the moment. When the traffic built again after the light behind her changed, everyone could easily use the wide passing lane to her left. She turned on her emergency parking lights just in case, so nobody better shake their fists at her, then nodded at Clark. "Talk fast!"
He didn't hesitate. He poked out the window and began exchanging with the driver a few precise words that sounded almost like Spanish. She could see by his body movements that he was throwing in hand gestures, too; he liked to talk with his hands.
She leaned forward and tried to see what the driver looked like but the angle was too steep. She sat back instead and watched Clark.
He was holding on to the top edge of the window frame with his left, more expressive hand. She recalled early on in their partnership warning him about overusing gestures in interviews; they could be a distraction or even a dead give away if he weren't careful. He had tried to take her advice, she'd noticed as time went on, but his hands often got the better of him, helping him talk when he became emotional. Well, the women they interviewed did seem to cut him a lot of slack, for that and other reasons, which he never seemed to notice. A good thing.
She observed that he wasn't gripping the window frame, just using it for balance and probably not really needing it even then. It almost looked like he was floating, which was okay to do since no one else could see him and he knew she knew everything.
I know everything, she thought.
He knows I know everything.
But really I know so little, so very little…
He was close enough to touch but there suddenly seemed to be a great gulf between them…
Yet he trusts me--and he's *stuck* with me--
*Stop* that! Stop that right now!
Ah, she asked herself, where was I…
So, hmm, was he floating? He was so strong and agile, he didn't need to float, he could easily angle himself out the big window without strain, one knee on the seat, all with hardly a thought about what it looked like if it got the job done.
She noted the muscles in his evenly tanned arms, more tanned now due to his two weeks on the farm. How could invulnerable skin tan anyhow? But Martha had mentioned that they thought him solar powered, that regular food, from junk to gourmet, was a secondary source of nutrition, so maybe it made sense somehow. Whatever the reason, the outline of his broad, golden brown shoulders straining his dusty T-shirt was a definite turn on under almost any circumstances.
His was obviously and easily the most perfect body she'd ever seen, and she had seen plenty of them, considering her years hanging around with her father's boxing friends as well as interviewing the occasional sports star. Yet Clark wasn't muscle-bound either. He didn't look at all like the tense professional body builders who always made her wonder if they were in pain and what they would pay some day for all that work they put into their bodies now. Arthritis? Nervous breakdowns as they aged and fans looked elsewhere and the money stopped coming in? Bad reactions to steroids, like impotency, madness or cancer? Her father always cautioned his clients about that?
As far as she knew, Clark didn't have an exercise regimen and maybe didn't even have to try hard when facing heavy-weight challenges. After all, she'd seen him push or lift tugboats and railroad cars, and even propel whole rocket ships and asteroids with little sign of strain if he didn't just ram into them like some macho, hormone-driven gorilla. His grimace at, say, stopping a runaway bus could be explained by worrying about the passengers being tossed about by the rough ride. She smiled again at his quiet, unexpected little admission that accepting the self-assigned challenge to launch the Prometheus had been prompted as much by the desire to impress her as to help the space program.
Sometimes raging hormones had their uses.
But, given her knowledge of the world of boxing and body building, she bet he'd look much the same if he were an ordinary fellow who had decided to do some guided weight training.
He'd look just marvelous.
Her gaze traveled down to his small but not too-small waist. It occurred to her that nothing about him was out of proportion or eye-popping. Well, except when he was in the supersuit. That Spandex left little to the imagination but was still family rated… and maybe that was a good idea. If people weren't wondering what he was hiding, they would be more likely to listen to him. If a healthy body meant anything, villains would have little doubt about how easily he could stop them, and those in need would trust his ability to help them.
Had Martha planned that when she'd made the suit? Would she have told Clark that showing him in fine form would inspire trust?
Probably not, he might not have understood. Martha had mentioned on that Sunday morning some two months ago that she thought the cape looked magnificent draped off Clark's shoulder and lifting in the breeze and then sailing out behind him when he flew… she was right, too. Superman had been caught unawares several times standing on some tall building surveying the city, majestic but inadvertently so as he looked for situations he could help out in, suffering he could ease, and wrongs only he could right. Lois couldn't see him voluntarily posing for anything more than an official handshake and a quick smile, unless children were involved, he'd do anything for them, he loved just about anything under four feet high.
While I, she thought…
--No, I *refuse* to think about that. Clark *knows* I'm not motherhood material and he's still sticking around. I'm not going to change, either, he just doesn't know that part.
So there's use thinking about it.
Think about those strong legs instead, she told herself.
She had a sudden desire to run a toe down the nearer one.
I'm tired, she thought.
Not that it's a bad idea… for this evening.
He had ordinary-looking knees (a bit knobby, just like everybody's), calves (a streak of what was probably furnace grease was on the outside of the left one) and regulation, nicely arched feet in well-worn huaraches (Mexican sandals). Even his toenails were neatly trimmed (how does he do that? With heat vision, too? or do they just grow that way?).
About a minute after beginning her inspection, as she started back up his body again, trying, she realized suddenly, to see something *wrong* about him, he dropped back into his seat.
There is *nothing* wrong with you, Clark, she decided.
But why had she been looking--expecting?--*hoping* to find anything wrong?
Because… I'm not at all like you?
*That's* an understatement!
And a stupid statement, too, this is *not* a competition, this is a mutual self-help society. Martha was right--what had she said…
"They'll follow us."
"Follow?--Oh!--Good, they'd *better*."
"I'm sure they will," he said, all innocence about her thoughts. Good thing he didn't have that power, too, telepathy, because she could *never* tell him…
Then why was his reassuring expression turning into an inquiring one? Had she muttered something? Let on to her secret musings?
He asked, "Would you like me to drive?"
Huh? "Drive?" Why ask? Ohmigod, she thought, what if I had an idiot grin on my face?
But no, that couldn't be it. Besides, she couldn't even imagine such a thing, she didn't *do* idiot grins.
Then she had it. "No, I was just daydreaming." She put the Jeep back in gear, turned away to check the traffic and try to regain her composure. The traffic didn't notice. She turned back, tooted a warning to the moving van, and hit the gas. "Can't a girl daydream-- about how she's going to arrange her furniture?"
"Of course. You just look--"
"Tired, right? I looked tired. But not too tired to not realize it, you see? I *should* look tired--I'm *exhausted*." She glanced at him; he looked surprised. She congratulated herself for snatching the words right out of his mouth. "But I'm feeling a lot better now, thanks to you." She almost, just almost reached over and squeezed his knee, but given her earlier thoughts kept her hand firmly on the stick shift.
Being a wise fellow, he didn't question any of this out loud if he questioned it at all. He had the poor habit of accepting reasonable explanations, at least when it came to their relationship.
But was that so bad? No…
But it wasn't that good either, because it indicated that he was still shy around her despite his earlier tries to goad her. There was a big difference, too, between goading and pouring his heart out. There were also more than reasonable explanations he had to accept, too, like about her true feelings for him.
Then again, did she want him to see through this particular reasonable explanation and, say, force her to let him drive because he was more rested and the man and all that? No…
"Turn right up here…"
Oh, yeah. "I know, I know…"
Life had seemed so easy before he knew she knew…
But *too* easy; telling him had been the right thing to do.
Even if it wasn't there it was, done. It was what they had to work with now.
The street in front of their apartments was clear and the truck pulled up there, heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps moving vans had some divine right-of-way. It certainly would be easier to unload it if no one had to check each time before crossing the street. Lois parked on the right side of the street, jumped out of her jeep and rushed to meet the driver as he climbed down from his cab, before he could look around quickly, decide he wasn't needed or this was the wrong place or it was time for dinner, climb back in and leave. She introduced herself as the person whose belongings he had and proceeded to try to direct him and his partner in their duties because they had been so late and they didn't know her apartment at all.
They mumbled something about her please standing aside due to insurance regulations, of all things, and proceeded to politely ignore her for the most part. She decided to accept this; it was, after all, their job and they had, she hoped, been well trained. Or at least shown or told what to do, the basics, preferably in a language they understood. They didn't break anything, anyhow, not that was evident. She didn't ask Clark to x-ray any of the boxes that rattled when they shouldn't have, but it was a close thing.
She was able to do some directing after all, of the friends. While the official movers transferred everything from the truck to the landing or down into the front room, she sorted out the well marked boxes and instructed her helpers on where they should go. Clark wasn't much help in this. Instead he wasted time bringing passing neighbors up to speed, which bothered her until it occurred to her that he must have known she was in no mood to make small talk, something he excelled in. When there were no more nosy neighbors to placate, he came in to help and receive an Official Lois Lane Smile of Approval, which she hoped would make up for the harsh thoughts he had no idea she'd briefly entertained.
The production, which took until past sunset, went smoothly and there was no trouble, not even a hangnail. Eventually the driver declared that they had unloaded all that the customer was due, please sign on the dotted line which didn't commit her to anything, she could have all these written assurances… Lois tried to read them, at least to scan them, but her eyes kept crossing. She considered asking Clark--then decided no, she'd been depending too much on him lately and shouldn't even think of asking him for his help on a silly little thing like this. She surrendered to the inevitable and signed, praying that the Ralph Naders of the world had frightened these kind of businesses enough to assure her some security.
After the two movers tromped out of her home for the last time, Lois turned and looked down into the pit of her living room. Boxes of books, fish tank supplies, and bric-a-brac were stacked everywhere. There was furniture under the boxes, the more delicate wooden pieces and the fish tank wrapped up and padded securely by Lucy and herself some ten days earlier. They had worked like demons to pack everything, Lucy talking 90 percent of the time, it seemed. Now the young woman was quiet, a sure sign of fatigue. A good sign to heed, Lois thought.
She surveyed her other helpers. Perry, Jimmy, Angela, Molly and Laurie were sitting or standing about there in the main room, awaiting more instructions. They all looked tired in the poor light provided by numerous lamps they'd plugged in as the movers had provided them. but she bet they would be willing to put in one last push if she asked, suckers for punishment… Only Clark didn't look worn out, though he was the biggest sucker she knew and he didn't count anyway.
Well, no, that wasn't true, he counted for so much that he was overwhelming sometimes. The sucker part was true, and one had to be careful not to let him know that she…
I'm babbling, she thought, I'm *think* babbling, not a good sign and I'd better heed it, too…
She ordered herself to regain control, relax and give these people some direction. "Okay, troops…"
They tried to perk up.
"I have all my things now, I think, and my new home is almost ready, like the kitchen and the bathroom…?"
Clark nodded and Jimmy said, "We fixed them everything, it all works perfectly."
"Great! And I'll probably have heat, too…?"
"I think so, Lois," Perry said. "You just want to take the cover off the floor furnaces, the one over there," to the right of the entry way into the den/spare bedroom, "and in your bedroom and stick the vacuum hose down there and vacuum out all the dust you can so it doesn't burn and smell worse than an old stogie."
"Okay, I'll be sure to do that." It was, she thought, a good thing he's give her specific directions; it sounded easy enough, except… "The vacuum cleaner's in the… den?"
"Yep," Laurie said. "I think it needs a new bag but I couldn't find any. Did you know you can buy reusable ones?"
"No, but I'll find one and… reuse it as soon as I can," she smiled, hoping Laurie believed that. "Lucy, all your friends did a great job, but they don't need to come again tomorrow because I can certainly straighten all this up and then clean up these cleaning things, too, no problem." There were still cans of paint, stacks of papers and tarps, and piles of trash everywhere in this room alone. "Then I can unpack my boxes and set everything up and…" she moved her hands about flatly, as though arranging puzzle pieces, "see if everything fits in here."
"Sounds like fun," Molly said valiantly.
Laurie strained to smile, "A creative challenge…"
"Oh, I think it sounds like something you all don't have to help with. I mean, I may stay up until midnight or even later working on it, you know how I am…"
Jimmy and Angela looked at each other, some urgent message in the latter's eyes that the former seemed to understand clearly.
Lois, knowing they thought her oblivious to this, continued, "And here you probably had a lot more interesting things planned…"
"Well, there's Harold…" Lucy peeped.
"I thought so! And I like Harold," a tall, gangly, junior pharmacist at some suburban Costmart who she'd met in passing a week or two earlier, "he's so… so…"
"Exactly! Yes, *normal*."
"True, he's not a papermache cyborg or a paranoid penny stock broker or a skate boarding courier for Intergang… and I'm sorry he couldn't come help, but he's studying when he's not working, except tonight he has free…"
Ah-ha! "Well, I think you should rush home and get ready to have a great night with him. And you two," she waved at Jimmy and Angela, "it looks like you have something planned, too?"
"Yeah, just something…" Jimmy said.
"Something," Angela agreed.
"Well, I'll miss you, but…"
They ran up the steps past her, racing with Lucy for first out the door.
That left four. "And Laurie--"
"I'm helping Molly." She elbowed the woman next to her. "Remember? You were…"
"Hosting a seance at my store tonight. Every other Saturday we have a vegetarian seance."
"Do you think you could contact Elvis?" Perry asked, half chuckling, and, Lois thought, half hopeful. "He wasn't a vegetarian, but…"
"The people who attend bring vegetarian food. Who we try to contact, well, they can be anybody… We might try him, but I hear he's a busy guy."
"How about James Dean? Alice always did like him."
"I'm going to ask to talk to Rachel Carson," Laurie smiled, excited.
"If none of them are busy on this plane of existence," Molly said equitably, as though she totally believed in this which she probably did, "we can certainly give them a call."
"How about Ed Abbey?" Clark suggested.
Laurie nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! He died only a few years ago! He probably still has a lot to say!"
"Earth First!" Clark smiled and made a fist, though, Lois noted, it was a mild one.
Laurie returned the unexpected gesture with strength gained from spare-time tree hugging. "Right on!"
"Then you don't want me to order pizza?" Lois asked, trying to insert some worry into her voice. "I'd like to, to repay you for all your help…"
The three would-be seancers hushed her about that, it had all been "great fun" and they would like to come again when she was ready for guests, maybe in a week or so, hmm?
Lois sighed. "Okay…"
The three left together but Lois had her doubts about them staying together: Alice was too level-headed for new-age claims and Perry had his own ways of communing with the King. And Laurie? Who knew, maybe she'd settle for some other disincarnate environmentalist if Carson or Abbey were out of town or wherever dead people went on weekends.
Lois turned from seeing them to the door, locked it, leaned back against it, closed her eyes and let out a real sigh.
"Alone at last," Clark said.
She opened her eyes and looked at him. She realized she had tried to not quite see or hear him for the past 5 minutes because… she knew he'd still be here and she'd have to deal with him. The prospect was scary somehow. She wanted to be alone with him, but not when she was feeling this way, just barely in control of everything and very tired with a body full of complaining, half-strained muscles to boot. Her threats to test his patience this night now seemed very long ago and far away.
He was sitting on the tarped end of her longer couch. He looked relaxed but ready to continue, to do whatever she demanded within reason, short, no doubt, of loosing his patience.
How could she demand that he scram?
She couldn't, not easily.
Also, she wasn't sure that she really wanted him to scram. He looked perfectly content, his whole body attitude speaking volumes of happy-faced thoughts.
Oh, he was suffering all right…
And definitely hard to take at the moment, she realized. Even being sure that inside he was a worse emotional wreck about his whole entire life-changing thing than she was didn't make it easier to face him. That, she realized, was why she wanted him to scram, to give her some peace and quiet to stroll around and just… just look at this physical part of her new life.
I don't want to share that, she thought suddenly, that's the problem.
She looked back over her life and saw that there must have been a million things she had longed to share with someone, life's little joys and giggles and warm feelings she had discovered in out-of-the- way places or in ordinary day-to-day occurrences. But it seemed like no one else had wanted to indulge her or give her the least chance to show them why she found such things to be interesting. At most they'd humor her until, if it was for a story, she grabbed them by the neck and forced them to look. Otherwise, she was used to keeping such things to herself to be her secret pleasures, figuring that she wasn't the looser, they were. They had no idea what they were missing by dismissing her…
But, of course, Clark didn't dismiss her except for the rare times she was traumatized by being thrown off a building and he was dressed differently and sure he could deal with the perpetrators better than she could at that moment. That was a forgivable omission on his part.
So, okay, he could stay… if he wanted to.
She walked the few steps forward, came to the railing guarding the landing and leaned against it. She liked how sturdy and safe it felt. "Yeah, alone…" How to trick him into saying what she wanted to hear..
"Ah…" He raised his eyebrows, cute, inquiring. "Do you want me to go, too? I *could*, I'd understand." He looked down, forward and not at her, spread his hands, freeing her from responsibility, "You're--"
"No, I don't want you to go."
Who said that? It wasn't *me,* I was going to give him the chance to back out then cleverly persuade him otherwise.
She almost looked around, but reminded herself that they were indeed alone and that she didn't want him to go. No, she longed for him to stay, to prove that he wanted to share things…
Now, wait a minute. Do I really want him around, seeing me like this, all my flow stopped up and hair out to here and my sterling qualities tarnished and he's bound to notice if he hasn't already--do I want to share *that*?
Then again, he had better get used to me looking like this now and then. A real test drive…
"Well…" He clasped his hands together again lightly. Did he realize how much he was saying with them, how much babbling they did for him? She thought not; he wasn't sterling all the time, either. She reminded herself that she already knew this and it should have made things so much easier. He said, "To tell you the truth, I don't feel like eating pizza."
"Me neither. I just…" she waved her own hand, "said that so everyone would flee at the thought."
"And if they hadn't?"
"Oh, I'd probably feed them."
"There, we'll make a good hostess out of you yet."
"In the meantime, I could make us a salad."
Light, green, healthy… "You could, but I don't… I'm not hungry."
"Though you haven't eaten since lunch?"
Why did he have to keep track of *every*thing? "Well…" Don't make me regret insisting that you stay… "I had snacks."
"Snacks. How about if we find some sheets and pillows and make your bed up and put you in it--"
She smiled, then knew exactly what he'd say in response to that and exactly how he'd say it.
As predicted, he raised his eyebrows. "*Alone.*"
"How else? My love nest is in no shape for entertaining guests."
He opened his mouth, closed it, focused and tried again.
But she interrupted in an off-hand manner. "I'd suggest *your* love nest but frankly it wasn't all that romantic…"
"And *I* suggest--"
"Or comfortable in some aspects"
The best way to get over her, she saw him realize, was to barge ahead: "--that after you're in bed the cup of tea or soup I make you will help you catch up on your sleep."
"Like *I* need sleep."
"Tons of it. Days, weeks, years even."
She almost protested that it was too early and she wasn't a child and he wasn't her father *or* mother, and… but going to bed with a warmed up stomach sounded like a good idea. "One night will be enough, but what will you be doing, considering I'll be all alone?"
"Well, Saturday nights can get busy, I'll probably be out…" flitting hand motion.
Guarding the world. "So you're not tired. Am I the only one who gets tired in this partnership?"
"No, I was tired last night."
"And I was cold," and I snuck up on you.
"Well, if you're cold now, tea will help that, too. It may even help you over being a little crabby, too, and I know crabby when I hear it."
Like *he'd* never been crabby because he had been now and then, she'd seen it. He'd been plenty crabby on the farm before she'd give him the big news.
But the sterling Lois Lane? "*I'm* not crabby…" except, she told herself, it was one of those rare times in her life when she *was* feeling just a little crabby. It was surprising that he wasn't feeling the same way, forced to work in the unsavory areas of the apartment all day long. He'd been a champ, hiding all his fears and woes and working so hard without a whimper…
So he deserved some truth. "It's just that I feel like I'm surrendering before it's done." She tried to find a splinter on the railing, but its dark wood was polished smooth and sealed nicely. There were nice little treats like this to be found all over the apartment, like the big closets and that island work space in the kitchen. It really was a very nice place, despite all she'd gone through getting here. Did he see things like this when he was first shown what would become his tiny apartment? She recalled barging in on him and Hank, looking for Superman but finding the two in a decrepit, dusty hole that looked a lot like hers had last Monday. "I'm so close to making it perfect and there's not *that* much to do…"
"Lois, it looks like a bomb went off in here--a *neat* bomb, I mean, there's nothing torn up--
"No blood and guts."
"No Molotov cocktails."
"No, not at all. It's just the cluttered and I think it can wait until tomorrow. I suppose we could work until midnight, like you told them you were thinking of doing…"
That lead in his voice made her certain he expected to hear her say, "And me looking like the living dead by then? I was up at 5 o'clock this morning! No, I just *said* I'd work on all this until midnight, it was just a threat, like the pizza threat, to get rid of them. I'd have done it if they had decided to stay, but I was sure they wouldn't. If they had, I'd really be crabby."
"Now you're just dog tired and I know what tired dogs look like, too."
She raised eyebrows at him now. For a journalist with extraordinary powers, he could easily manage to say the wrong things without thinking. Just like any guy…
Unlike just any guy, however, he sometimes realized he'd said something untoward and he could move quicker than most to try to correct it. "Except you don't look like a dog."
"Not even a *little.*"
"Stop, you're forgiven. After all, you could have said I already looked like the living dead because you've seen the living dead…" She paused, remembering just who she was talking to--no, not *Superman,* but world-traveler who never needed to worry about missing a plane. "You haven't seen them, have you?"
"The living dead? Not to my knowledge… except maybe in Haiti, but that's pretty much drugs and heavy suggestion mixed with a touch of religious beliefs. And except for Luthor, of course, he's the only living dead person I know of."
"Oh, yes, always except for him." She gripped the railing for a moment. "I'm still going to put him back in jail. He'll *need* drugs."
"I know, but not tonight. We'll make your bed up, give you a little something to eat, you'll catch up on your sleep, and I'll make breakfast tomorrow. You can rap on the wall when you're ready." He looked at the brick wall in that direction. "Or use a baseball bat. I'm sure I saw one being unloaded."
"You did, it was my grandfather's. Will you make breakfast here? I've really wanted to do that, make a real breakfast here in my own real new home as soon as I was moved in, and I'm sort of moved in. When you think about it, I'm nearly *all* moved in, just some cleaning needs to be done, and rugs put down and…" She looked around, seeing the results of the clutter bomb. "…furniture arranged and the boxes unpacked and books put on my shelves--I still had things in boxes in my last place from when I moved in there, so I don't have to unpack *every*thing if I don't want to, not until I'm ready. Maxine and the kids can go over in that corner, I think, I'll have to unpack all her stuff. So if you--*we*--you know, *I* really could make breakfast here just fine."
He waited a beat to see that she was finished and not just catching her breath before he said, "Okay, we can do that, too. I'll loan you any kitchen things you need that aren't unpacked."
"Okay, and I'll wash them. I have food already… except I might need some eggs, I think I just have a few and I might decide to make… oh, scrambled eggs."
"Okay, I bought some eggs today."
"Or I could make omelettes."
He just nodded, that was okay, too.
"But I'll try to use what I have. After that, you can help me finish tidying up." She waved at the general mess that was honestly chock full of potential. "And if anyone threatens to bother us, I'll tell them I don't have time to talk because I'm heading for… someplace that doesn't have telephones."
"Any number of islands in Micronesia could fit the bill."
"Good, Micronesia, right. I'll kidnap you and take you with me and we won't turn on the radio so you won't have any reason to leave."
He hesitated a moment. "I… I can't guarantee anything there, sometimes I just find myself turning on the closest one without thinking…"
Because he knew that someone in the world needed him at that very moment and he needed directions. Maybe this indicated that he did have some form of telepathy. The day after the Slime Monster attack and that long climb up to her old apartment, he had jumped at her suggestion that he turn on her portable radio there. She had meant merely to entertain him but listening to it had been what he needed to do--or had it been telepathy on *her* part? Maybe it had been a combination: her idea to turn it on but his finding the right station to hear the best information about the astronaut in trouble rather than more about the aftermath of the Slime Monster mess.
"I understand…" And I do, Clark, she sighed, feeling herself sober up a bit, "these things are going to happen between us. What if… you're cooking up another wonderful quiche and the broccoli is boiling or whatever, and I have to run away to cover a… a bank robbery, leaving you all alone to watch dinner so it won't burn, an apron around your waist and…" nothing else, she almost added.
Maybe he added it for himself. "In that case, *I'll* hide the radio."
"I bet you will…" She smiled and let the thought linger.
Linger was all it did though. Wow, I *am* tired, she thought… She looked down at the three steps before her and took two of them, pausing on the last one, where leaned against the railing and sighed. "You know, at this moment I could easily feign dizziness and say dramatically 'Oh, my!' and even sway a bit…"
"And you could rush to my rescue, but you'd have to be careful not to…"
He was immediately right there in front of her.
She tried to ignore him, "..not to trip over anything or go so fast that you'd fall into hyperspace or worse…"
He nodded, taking these warnings into consideration, looking serious, not a hair out of place, looking the same as he had a second before when he'd been almost twenty feet away. "I rarely trip any more, and I'm very careful about hyperspace."
"Oh, good, I'm glad to hear that…" She raised her arms up and draped them around his neck, closed her eyes and brushed his right ear with a kiss. "Because I don't want you messing around with hyperspace when *we* haven't done any messing around like this today…"
He sighed in agreement and it turned into a relieved little laugh as he returned the hug. "I'd definitely rather mess around with you… and next time I can be one who feigns the swoon, okay?"
"Okay, and I'll come tripping to your rescue… but I had to be first since I'm being such a poor date…"
"Hey, we didn't agree to try a date tonight, so you're not being a poor one."
"Thanks…" She snuggled as they held each other and for some reason he rocked a little, quietly, comfortably. Maybe Martha had rocked him as a little baby--definitely Jonathan had. Lois recalled seeing a picture in one of the albums of the big, sturdy, dark-haired farmer looking fondly at the child in his arms. The child, with thick, unruly black hair and a slightly Asian look, had been totally relaxed, his head back and his mouth open, probably making worn-out little-boy snoring sounds. There had been several pictures like that, including one of the child, still sleeping, tossed over his father's wide left shoulder as Jonathan, drinking a bottle of Coke, stood in the farmhouse kitchen, a dark window in the background and a reflection in it of the camera' flash indicating it had been late at night. Martha's artistic talents had led her to capture the perfect angles each time. What's more, she said she had boxes full of such wonderful pictures. Oh, Clark, Lois thought, I'm gonna get you one of these days.
To add to his relaxing, vaguely rocking-chair-like movement, he felt solid and secure but at the same time pliable, flexible, and very real. In among the dust and the grime and who knows what he had worked in downstairs and flown through outside, he also smelled good.
Maybe he was smelling her, too. His breath was warm behind her right ear and down her neck in a way that made her shiver pleasantly.
He whispered, "Cold?" He seemed to try to increase the coverage of his hold to spread the warmth.
"Umm… not now…"
But they couldn't go on like this…
Because… she began to wonder if she smelled awful and sweaty and dingy.
Don't worry, girl, what must have been her guardian angel sang sweetly, he doesn't notice that kind of thing…
But *I* notice, the little devil that was her primary internal resident informed her, that's why we can't go on like this.
"I tell you what," she decided to say as she began to pull away. "I want to book Wednesday night for a date with you."
"My appointment secretary strikes again… Wednesday's so far away. What about tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow we work on this place, get it all perfect, and then Monday and Tuesday we're *at* work…"
"Oh," he said, a touch disappointed but not giving up the snuggle. "Okay. Wednesday. Is there something special about Wednesday?"
"Well, first it's your day off."
"After *two weeks of vacation*?"
St. Clark the Conscientious, good grief. "Use it or lose it, kiddo."
"Some choice--I'll use it."
"Good thinking," she nodded. "Rest up and that evening we'll laugh, or pretend to. Those crazy women really think they have an act and they're going to try it at amateur night for women-only at Laffs, that club over on the west side."
"Oh, I've seen that place. But women only…?"
"I know you're not a woman." Believe me, I *know*… she took the opportunity to ease her bare left knee up the outside of his right thigh and run her toes along the inside of his shin… but nothing more. Suggestion was plenty. She couldn't feel an immediate, physical, private response from him, and she was certainly, she told herself, close enough to know, but she didn't press, not that way anyhow.
"I'm, ah," he smiled a bit, "I'm glad you've noticed…"
"I'm not blind about *every*thing…"
He smiled a bit more. "Heh…"
His eyes told her a lot but there was still nothing in equal response from lower down. Very odd. Maybe I do smell funny, she worried and withdrew an inch or so, doing her best to cover with small talk. "I think it's women-only entertainers and maybe they encourage a women-only audience, but I'm sure I can get you in if you want to go."
"Sure, I thought a lot of what they dreamed up was funny, I like their spontaneity, and I like having a…" he stroked her back in a friendly manner--but nothing more than friendly, "a good time."
Ha! the devil snickered. He's just playing hard to catch--push on!
Do *not* press, the angel warned, he's *not* playing, it's something else entirely…
It's me, Lois thought, and I'm too tired for this. I shouldn't press when I'm not up to playing any games I start. So she chose to continue to retreat, though as she was facing forward and she could easily toss out some funny innuendo, it wouldn't look like she was withdrawing at all. "I may have to put you in a disguise, but I think you'll look great in a miniskirt."
"No, I wouldn't."
"With your tight little--"
"Don't even *think* that way."
But she was still quite close enough to feel him warm up to the idea, or it was something like that. It wasn't about wearing a miniskirt but about "thinking that way." He wanted her to think *that way* about him, to think about how he looked. Did he worry about that, too? How could he have doubts?
But it was a sure sign of the nervous boyfriend inside, wasn't it?
She would definitely, she told herself, have to reconsider telling him what she saw when she gazed upon him--and make sure he had no doubt that it was him and not the suited fellow. Or, if he was in the suit at the time, that she knew and preferred what was inside it. If, at this rate, she ever got to look.
"And if they start singing any of those songs," he continued, unaware of her knowledge, "I can easily hear a cry for help from any number of islands in Micronesia."
Now she was glad she had pulled away already because she could look him straight in the eye. "No, you won't fly away, Bandit, I'll superglue you to the chair."
"Oh, you will, will you? You… you…"
"Come on," softly, "try it on me. I *might* think it's great."
He shook his head, looking away. "Nah, I don't think so…"
She kissed his cheek to draw him back. It worked marvelously. She considered doing something, rejected it, and then reconsidered. She rested her elbows a bit more securely on his shoulders, took his glasses and eased them off his face. He looked surprised but said not a word of protest. He definitely was beginning to get used to the idea of her knowing right here in the big city. Also, it was promising sign: eventually she'd have no trouble removing other things that he might be wearing. For now, though, she carefully poked his glasses back on so they rested on top of his head.
He smiled. His eyes crinkled a bit, a touch Asian. She found that attractive, too. She said, "That's better. Can you see?"
"Can't you see," she asked in her best non-teasing voice, "I want to know what you've come up with this time?"
He turned shy once more. "Well…"
She moved in and kissed his right eyelid and then the left. "Does that help you see better?"
"Absolutely…" He opened them again and tried to look soft. "Angel?"
She managed not to blink. He saw her as an angel when she was far more the little devil? Did he have no idea…? Or did he just see something entirely different? He was just so different all around, anything was possible. "Aww, that's sweet…" It was, wasn't it? "But it's not right."
"I didn't think so."
"But it *will* be right for some other time."
"Oh? Then I'll save it for later. I guess it's at timing thing, isn't it?"
"Yes, of course it is. Timing is *everything,* Bandit. Mr. Steal My Heart."
He looked genuinely surprise. "So that's why…?"
"Oh!" His surprised turned to pleased. "Well, I like that then."
"Where did I *ever* find you?" His innocence was sometime so incredible… yet entirely him. "I'm glad you like it! I'll think up more of them."
"Okay. Timing." He looked thoughtful then looked at her, sharing his discovery. "I see now. So, for today, then, considering all you've done, the appearance of mass destruction in this room alone, the lives barely spared, and the column inches that could have been written about it…"
"Yes? Does this have a point?"
"Sure it does. You're a tornado, hmm? A little tornado?"
"Little, defunct, worn-out tornado," and she slid close again and rested her head on his shoulder. It just felt too good not to. She half smiled; he wouldn't see it. "Mass destruction…"
"Maybe that overstated it…" She could feel him turn a bit to look at the room again and shake his head. Then she felt him stroke her back, as he had before, friendly, but the almost nonsexual nature of it was okay now. "Maybe you're a dust devil instead."
"I meant… a zephyr."
"A gentle, mild breeze, huh? That sounds so…"
"Crossword puzzle clue book?"
"No," she frowned, now trying to catch his eye. He could soothe her in one moment and annoy her the next. "I don't have time for crossword puzzles."
"You used to not have time for a lot of things."
"So aren't you glad I've made time for you?"
"You should be," and she felt herself begin to calm again. She reclaimed his shoulder for her pillow.
"I am glad… So if I understand this nickname thing right, 'zephyr' is an understatement."
She felt him smile. She wasn't sure how she felt this but she was sure he was doing it. Smiles came so easily to him… A nice snugly, sleepy, almost rocking pause ensued.
Until he said, "Okay, we've established that you're a blown-out tornado. Personally, I refuse to believe that you're not a hungry one, too."
"So I'm a little… ravenous."
He let her go, easing her away. She protested with an "Ummm…" and a sad frown, until he swept her off her feet, which immediately caused her to protest in the other direction, "Hey!"
"Relax, my zephyr."
She whacked him on the chest, which was hardly fair, she reflected, because he couldn't defend himself and he hadn't whacked her when she'd decided he was the Bandit. Too bad for him. "I'm *not* your zephyr."
He didn't seem to notice her whack, but then he did start readjusting her in his arms, making it an arduous task. In moments she began to feel like a dinghy on a rough sea. "Are you putting on *weight* or something, Lois?"
She grabbed for his neck as he almost lost his grip a third time. "*No*, butterfingers!"
"All right, all right, if *you* say so." He apparently found the right hold and stopped shuffling her around. "That's better."
"I hope so--I was getting *nauseous*--you better be *glad* I have an empty stomach…"
He grinned. "You forget, I'm invulnerable to a *lot* of things."
"You have a good supply of laundry soap? You want to *test* that claim, buddy?"
"No. Do you remember which box your sheets are in?"
"What?" I babble, she thought, and you… try to keep on the same track. "Oh. The one marked linens. It should be…" She pointed at a box as he carried her down the hall toward her bedroom. "That's it by the linen closet. Before I unpack the linens, I have to line the shelves with paper. Lucy insisted. She brought me some with little daisies or smiley faces or something else insipid. It's around here somewhere. My mother would be proud of me if she were any more domestic than I am…"
"Well, *I'm* proud of you."
"Just don't get your hopes up."
He looked her in the eye, totally nonthreatening. "I have lots of hope and lots of faith in you."
He carried her into the bedroom and dropped her gently on her unmade bed. He left her there, and in a moment she heard something go "zip!" and bet he was opening that box with a fingernail. He returned, carrying two white cotton sheets and two pillow cases. "The box only had this kind of thing, no blankets or pillows."
"No, they're in one of those boxes, I think…" From where she laid stretched out on the bed, she pointed languidly at a pile of large boxes along the far wall.
"Well, that's nice." He tossed the folded-up sheets on her stomach. "You find the rest of what you need to make the bed and I'll make you a big sandwich."
He wasn't going to play along? Not lie down and… rest, too? Maybe he was too tired to think of that. She sat up now. "But you said tea before."
"Okay, tea, too."
"And soup? You said that, too, 'Soup'erman."
He looked abashed. "You'll pay for that crack, young woman!"
She considered him standing way up there almost father like. He'd make a good father--for any kid who wanted to twist him around their little finger. They wouldn't be kids she had, but knowing him he'd find some somewhere. "Clark, I'm *older* than you, and considering how sometimes you act like such a *child*…"
"You're not that much older--what, a year? And what with traveling through hyperspace to get here--not here to this apartment. Though…" He looked around at the room, which was almost as cluttered as the living room. "Though maybe Jor-el meant helping you clean this place up to be one of my big challenges in life…"
"Clark, that's exactly what I meant about childishness."
"When I could be a thousand years older than you, maybe a *million*?"
"No, no, hyperspace doesn't count unless you know that's what it does."
"Well, there's a lot I don't know, actually, about that or other things…"
She felt that with his subdued voice there was an unconscious clue in that statement, some fear maybe he himself didn't understand… she told herself to work on it later. For now she said, "Well, there's a lot I *do* know and, believe me, there are times I have to suspend *all* my critical faculties to *begin* accept the idea that you're even as old as you claimed to be on your job application."
"Oh? And you saw my personnel file?"
"I see everything. I even know Franklin Stern's private Swiss bank account number."
"Well, I can certainly find it. I can find anything," which, she realized after she'd said it, could be a clue for him if he caught it.
He didn't seem to, though, as he continued the tease. "If you say so, *old woman.*"
"You may not realize this, but I was perfectly content to remain an anonymous helper, a benefactor to human kind, a friend to all--
"Anonymous? With that suit, right…"
"--so you've only got yourself to blame if you don't like the name."
"Who said I didn't like it? I was… hungry at the time, that's all. 'Soup'erman, hungry, you can see the connection."
He leaned forward as though maybe he couldn't see or, more likely, he thought she was deaf because he clearly enunciated, "I have heard that hungry older women *like* suped up younger men."
"A-ha!" She grabbed him by the nearest part of his clothing, the edge of his t-shirt, and pulled with all her might.
He fell on her, over her, but so gently that he had to have half-way expected this attack. Maybe he was floating, too. Good for him, maybe it meant he was feeling sexy after all. She strengthened her grip with one hand, held on and tickled his ribs like mad with the other hand.
He laughed--but at the situation, she thought, not at her being successful at finding the right spots--and he tried to say, "See, I *told* you--" before she gave his mouth something better to do. He settled down, figuratively and literally, surrendered momentarily, pinning her deliciously, and participated freely in a horizontal show of mutual affection for a few nice moments.
Then, smiling self consciously, he tried to disengage himself gently. He should have been more determined, she thought; it was all she could do to keep from wrapping herself around him and coaxing-- no, *forcing* more out of him. She bet she could have done it, that he would have succumbed despite his earlier lack of certain vital signs.
Better sense prevailed: she couldn't do everything in this relationship, make every sexy move. If he wanted to do this at all-- and there was some question about it now, wasn't there? sure, he had said he wanted to wait, he'd set limits on his own actions, but his body seemed to agree with that now, too… Even if she was reading him wrong, and there was always that infinitesimally small chance, he had better start initiating some real moves, real soon…
This did not mean, however, that she would let him get away without a struggle, much like he had in the garden a week earlier. He'd been wearing that slick suit then; now he wasn't so fortunate.
It turned into a laughing wrestling match. She tangled and he slipped out; she tripped him and he let his unlocked knees fold; she turned him over and he allowed himself to land on his back. When she darted skittery fingers over his ribs, he declared "Hogtied!" which she interpreted as surrender.
"Really?" Tickle-tickle around his belly-button--he did have one--exposed "somehow" in the melee.
"Yes!" He reached for her hand, missing because he didn't reach quickly. "Stop that…"
"You're ticklish--*here*?" a daring inch below that central point.
"I could be--" he reached and missed again--*trying* to miss, was he? His grin was giving him away. "Just don't! Stop!"
"Oh? Don't stop?"
He caught her right hand this time, but so gently that she retrieved it easily. She laid it flat over his exposed middle as she leaned over him, propping herself up with her left hand on the bed on his other side. She smiled down at him, a compromise reached for the moment. She felt wonderfully relaxed and like everything she had put up with today had been very well worth it just to come to this playful point.
While he had struggled a little, perhaps fearing--or hoping?--she would find more ticklish spots, he had done it all without straining her in the least. If he had really wanted to, he could have escaped, also without straining her. When things became more serious and passionate between them, she thought, and they had to eventually, he'd no doubt shy away with an apprehensive "I might hurt you…" She could remind him not only of this wrestling match they'd both won, but of how she'd seen him hold Vanessa and do things like crack eggs for omelettes without second thoughts about his strength.
Clark, I trust you, she thought at him, and I know you can trust yourself…
For now he looked somehow a little out of breath; maybe it was just the excitement and a feeling of being pleasantly overwhelmed by these close circumstances. Lois realized though that he might not see his position as one from which he could make any initiating moves; making them might not even occur to him. Then again, if he thought about it, his spoilsport guardian angel would surely bumble along and warn him about traipsing merrily close to the limits he'd set only a week ago.
It looked like a good idea, then, for her little devil to strike first.
She grabbed a handful of grimy t-shirt and with it his complete attention. "You didn't ask me what kind of sandwich I want."
He smiled, a touch nervous, which was good. He knew darn well he was sandwiched between her and the bed. "Heh…"
"However, I'm not picky…" She let go of his shirt and smoothed it out as she patted his chest. This did not cause a reverberation like a steel drum as some of the romantic women's magazines proclaimed about his secret self. His pecs didn't feel like smooth marble, either. She was glad she knew the truth; she didn't think she could have kept a straight face for a moment if he felt different from human. "You can make anything you want, even tofu salad. I bought some bread last Sunday, I think there's still some left, and I like crusts, even though my mother used to say they'd make my hair curly."
He frowned, checking this out, and said, "I guess it sort of worked, maybe you didn't eat enough of them."
"I tried not to eat them at all, I hated the idea of having curly hair when I was young, especially if that was that mother wanted."
Of course Martha probably did nothing that make him unhappy. All he managed was an "Oh."
"But now I like crusts. Maybe it's because they're brown, almost like they have extra bran."
He gave up. "Okay. I bought fresh bread this morning and it has real bran in it."
"Even better. Make two for me then."
"Two?" he frowned again. "Double decker? You *are* hungry."
"That's right, Bandit, but make them two separate ones. I can eat one now and one in the middle of the night."
"Ah!" He replaced his frown with an approving look. Mother Hen. "Okay."
"And while you're over there getting the bread, take a shower."
His face fell a bit. "Oh."
He did worry about his appearance, didn't he? He looked cute with his hair sort of tossed and with assorted grimy, work-related smudges decorating his arms, but that was not quite easy to say. "You smell a little smoky from the fire."
That eased his concern a bit. "Oh, yeah."
"I'm sure I'm the only one who's noticed--I'm the only one who's been this close. While you're gone, I'll take one, too--"
"But *you* smell fine."
"I do? I think that's a lover's fib."
"All right, you smell fine except for the… slight eau de lemon-scented all-purpose household cleanser."
"That's right, and I planned it that way. I'll shower and then put on something more comfortable."
"Like *comfortable* and probably baby-powder scented. Don't get any ideas, wise guy…"
"You, ideas. I'm sure you have the same torrid thoughts that everyone else has," even if he didn't seem to be having them now and even if, when he did have them, they were in a mild-mannered format.
He failed to deny her verbalized assessment, good for him. "And what about you? Are you above--Wait a minute, I don't think I really need to ask."
"No, you don't, and besides, I'm above *you*."
"You know, you're cute when you're superior."
"You're darn right. Now what are you waiting for?"
"Ah…" He didn't move but his eyes did, scanning the area and then reassessing her hand on his chest. No easy escape. He looked at her again, a query in his innocent (how *did* he do that?) brown eyes. "Permission?"
"This is your permission…"
A kiss that helped her tingle a little and returned that out-of- breath smile to his face. Innocence had its uses, she reminded herself; she just had to remember to use his more often and to encourage him to lose a little of it, soon.
She released him then, but before he left had him run that fingernail of steel over several more boxes, slitting open the strapping tape that held them securely shut.
"I feel so useful…" he said as he stood up after the last one.
"Good. Scram now."
He rolled his eyes, shook his head, smiled and scrammed.
He returned more than an hour later, an incredibly long time. By then Lois had done a little unpacking for the kitchen. She had closed and locked her front and back doors, and then checked all the windows, leaving a few strategic ones open for ventilation but with iron bars in them to keep them from opening any further. She also finally turned out most of the lights. It was time to go to bed, hungry, but that was life. She could eat in the morning. She had also tried to dream up a creative way to show him how steamed she was and thought of some interesting ones, but none of them seemed quite right.
He knocked on the back door, and not timidly or in any fashion contrite. He had probably approached this way because the light was still on in the kitchen.
He asked, "Anyone home?"
She leaned against the door, frowning, thinking, deciding to say, "Should I let you in?" He could stand out there in the dark all night long if he felt like it…
"If you're hungry, yes.
"What if I'm not hungry any more?"
A pause. "Because I'm late? I'm sorry. My kitchen radio grabbed me by the neck, like you seem to do a lot lately, and forced me to turn it on. There was this thunderstorm in Amarillo that damaged a school gym where a dance was being held, so…"
Lois slapped herself on the forehead, "Oh, god…" She ordered all anger at him to vanish and pulled open the door quickly. "Oh, *I'm* sorry, Clark! Come in right now!" She pushed open the screen door. He stood there in a different t-shirt and shorts but he same sandals. He must have "knocked" on it with his foot for he was carrying two plates, each topped with a heavy-duty whole-wheat sandwich stuffed with obscenely healthy looking ingredients. She groaned, "You shouldn't have worried about doing all this!"
"But this and the shower were the quick parts, and I needed the shower."
"Well, I do appreciate it, really, and I *am* hungry but… I just don't *think* sometimes…"
He entered. She noted him searching her face, and he looked surprised and a little worried. "Think? But you think a lot, you're a very thoughtful person."
"Me? Ha! If I'm so thoughtful, why didn't it occur to me you might be late because of, well…" hand motion.
"Maybe because you shouldn't have to think about that? I realize it's not going to be easy for you to get used to me having to… rush off."
"But I know you do all that, I *know*, it's part of you, you have to do it--it would hurt you *not* to be able to help people--and I should have remembered."
"And I should have warned you I had to go, I'm sorry I didn't. When I'm home I'm used to being alone and just leaving as fast as I can."
Now he looked contrite! How *could* he? Good grief… "Stop, Clark, stop apologizing! I'm the one who moved in here, not you. I'm the one disrupting your life."
"You're not disrupting anything. Remember, I wanted this, too…"
That stopped her. "Oh, Clark…"
"Well, I did want it. It's surprising that it turned out this particular way, yes, with you here and… wearing that… comfortable thing…"
A big T-shirt that went down to her knees and displayed Tweety- Bird proclaiming "You are no match to my supewio intawect!"
"Well, it *is* comfortable and I can't wear it to the office, though I've been tempted to several times."
"It does tend to state the obvious…"
"Yeah… And your shower? It was all right? I heard the water running…" some ten minutes earlier. The plumbing had boomed once, scaring her briefly--was her dream home under attack?--and then it had subsided and she had realized what it was. She had wondered if she'd know every time he took a shower or flushed the toilet… or if he'd know the same about her. It hardly mattered, it meant he was alive over there.
"It was fine. A typical shower.
"Did you save people--in Amarillo? Not in the shower."
He smiled a little. "Yeah, a few needed that kind of help, but most of the people who were hurt were already being cared for, that happens when I only hear reports and that's okay. When I got there I mostly lifted I-beams and cleared debris looking for trapped people, that kind of thing. I didn't find any."
"That was good. I bet they were glad to see you. I know what. Next time, if it works out, you can come in *here* and change back, hmm?"
That increased his play-along-with-this smile. "Maybe…"
"Super room service…"
She felt the conversation subsiding and couldn't let it, there had to be something she say… and the obvious subject was right there in his hands. "The sandwiches! They look so good."
He lifted them an inch. "They do, don't then? Which one do you want? The other one can go in the refrigerator until you're ready."
"Can you just hold on to them for a minute more? In fact, did you have anything planned? Other than our date that didn't work out?"
"Well, no. When I don't work late Saturday nights, or have dates with you that don't work out even when you're not moving into a new apartment…"
She smiled. "Good thing this is the last move I plan to make."
"Good. To put it selfishly, I like hearing that. But otherwise, Saturday nights can be hairy sometimes, so usually wind up doing a little patrolling."
He called it patrolling, how cute and so easy to imagine him flying over the city and the countryside. "Looking for trouble?"
"You know, I could go with you and be *very* helpful."
While he sincerely tried to look like he wanted to give this careful thought, they both wound up shaking their heads and saying in unison, "No…"
"I just had to try sneaking that in there."
"But you can tag along with *me*."
"And you'll sneak away easily."
"True. Were you looking forward to patrolling tonight? To saving countless masses, to fighting evil villains and stopping their despicable plans? To giving *me* the scoop?"
"I don't 'look forward to' any of that, it's just one of those things…"
"I see, so it's not something you *have* to do."
"No… What's *your* plan?"
"To ask you to keep holding on to both of those for a minute more." She grabbed the vertical handle of the refrigerator door. "I just brewed some tea to make into iced tea--your mother showed me how to do that. She didn't have any instant tea at the farm--I couldn't believe it."
"Of course she wouldn't have that. Did she show you how to add honey while the water's still warm?"
"She showed me everything I need to know, except I don't have any honey so you can add sugar to yours. I don't really need it." Lois opened the refrigerator and pulled out the big pitcher which had been among the first kitchen things she'd unpacked almost an hour earlier. Heat the water in a pan (her tea kettle was still hiding in a box somewhere), put the hot water in the pitcher, and then add the tea bags. When the water a nice, dark brown, add a tablespoon or two of honey to taste if she had it. It really was that incredibly simple, and sitting on the porch at the farm, simply sipping it and watching life glide by, had been wonderful. Lois hit the lever for ice from the ice maker in the refrigerator door and filled up two tall glasses. Finally she added the still slightly warm tea; the ice clinked and cracked merrily.
"Lois? You're double thirsty, too?"
"Almost. Bring those and follow me." She turned her back to him and headed for the bedroom, turning off various lights as she passed them, assuming that the light from her open bedroom door would be enough for him as it was for her. The path was clear, too. She had earlier made sure that there were no boxes or cleaning debris in the way in case she had to travel through the darkness to the bathroom.
She was sure he'd think the bedroom looked a little better than the last time he'd seen it. She'd made the bed and then found the bedspread her mother had give her last Christmas and that she'd packed away as quickly as possible. It was all flowers and chintz and foolishly girlish, but now it somehow managed to match the color scheme Lois had in mind for the room. It was odd how such things worked out.
"Nice quilt," Clark said. "Home made?"
"I don't know, but I doubt it unless Mrs. Penney or Mrs. Sears knows how to sew."
She walked around the bed and put one glass down on the night stand there. She turned and went back around to him, meeting him half way between the bed and the door. "Give me…" she looked at both sandwiches. They were of equal height and almost equal-looking amounts of ingredients. Green-leaf lettuce, sliced fresh mushrooms, red onions, sunflower seeds, avocado… "this one," the one with fewer alfalfa sprouts peeking out from under the lettuce. "And take this," the remaining glass of iced tea. "Now please put them on the nightstand over on that side," the open side of the bed.
She did the same thing with the sandwich she had picked, taking it to the night stand on the side closer to the wall, then she turned quickly to monitor his progress. He did as she had asked, gingerly, suspecting her every move. He was right to, she did have plans--just not the plans he suspected.
She hadn't made the pillows into the bed, under the quilt, but laid them out in a normal fashion. Now she picked them up and propped them against the headboard and sat down on the bed and back against one of the pillows, all comfy. "Kick off your sandals, sit down and eat that spare sandwich."
"And drink that iced tea, too. I happen to remember that *you* haven't eaten anything but snacks since lunch, either, and flying to Amarillo has to take a lot out of a person. It would take a lot out of *me* even if I went in an airplane, not that I'd ever want to go to Amarillo unless there were another accident at the Pantex plant, which is what you will remember the Circus from the Stars broke into to get an energy fix for their Slime Monster."
"That's just a theory."
"Oh? And you've changed your mind now? You agree with me before."
"Sure I did because you could be right, we'd just need proof, so it's still a theory."
"Well, I'll get my proof some day. Now sit down here and eat."
She picked up the plate and settled it on her lap. Then retrieved from the nightstand the remote for the portable TV she had set up on boxes across the room. "I tried this earlier, the reception isn't very good, but I can get two channels without much snow…" She checked them both; both had commercials, so she settled on the one that came in more clearly. "Maybe it will be that show with that martial arts cowboy cop. He's pretty good because he's genuine." She picked up the tea and sipped it. It lacked something, it didn't quite spark memories of the farm and the porch. It must really need the honey.
Clark hadn't sat down yet.
Then again, he hadn't left, either.
In any case, she refused to look at him.
He had cut the sandwiches in half, corner to corner. She liked that, it took skill. She picked up one half carefully so as little as possible would fall out of it, and bit into one end. The combination of ingredients, plus some kind of exotic sauce, was flavorful and juicy. "Ummm… You know…" she decided to say around this mouthful, "this is good. If you don't want to stay, I get to eat yours."
"Lois, you really don't have to go to these elaborate lengths to fool me, you know."
Now she couldn't help but look at him and ask, mouth full, "Ah doen?"
He frowned, obviously thought back over what he'd said, and amended, "I mean, you don't have to try to fool me… I mean, don't even *think* of getting what you want by trying to fool me."
"Bud id *wuks*, Clack. Oh-kay, 'snot nice, bud.."
"No, it *isn't* nice when you could simply tell me what you want to do--I might very well agree to it."
"Bud dis is da way ah…" She chewed some more and swallowed. "…This is the way I work, it's hard to change. What's this sauce? It's very good."
"Newman's Own Oil and Vinegar Dressing."
"Newman's as in *Paul* Newman? I've heard about that. He makes this, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, in his kitchen, and Joanne Woodward personally pours it in each bottle."
"Well, I'm not surprised. He's so politically active. I thought these sunflower seeds were a silly idea, but they work in here, too… So you're not going to sit down."
"No, I'm not, not until you promise to stop trying to trick me into doing things that you want me to do."
"It's not nice."
"It isn't?" when it was sort of a natural kind of thing that everyone did and she just happened to be among the best at it?
"No, it isn't nice. It's like…" He sighed. "It's like you don't trust me to make the right decision so you make it for me then try to trick me into doing what you think is right."
She blinked. He really thought she didn't trust him? How could he… " When you put that way it make me sound really thoughtless…"
"Well, I know you don't intend it like that and I don't want to hurt your feelings or anything, but…"
"But I'm already hurting yours by doing that, huh?"
He just nodded. He clearly wasn't badly wounded, but that didn't lessen the importance of this to his feelings. She wondered why she'd never thought of her actions being perceived like that. "Okay, you're right, I promise I'll try to stop. It won't be easy, it's second nature to me."
"I know, but maybe having a conversation instead will become first nature. I think it will be easier…"
"Yeah. You could have simply asked me if I wanted to share a snack with you."
"I could have? Would you have said yes or would you have thought I was just trying to get you into my bed again?"
"Seeing that I've been in yours already…"
He looked away a moment, sorting that out, then back at her. "I probably would have thought you were just trying to get me into your bed again."
"Well, there, you see? When I was *trying* to get you to relax with me and watch TV and eat something. I can't be nice *and* thoughtful both, Clark, it never works."
"You didn't let me finish."
"Yes, finish, as in finish my answer?"
"Oh? I thought you had. It sounded like you had finished the sentence. What else were you going to say?"
He looked at her.
She smiled sweetly, because he might have been right: she had been, she thought, playing too hard and not flowing. The teasy manipulation hadn't been the best way to do this and she could admit to the mistake. "Other than, 'Shut up, Lois.'"
"I wouldn't say that."
"I know. Maybe for my final hurrah as a trickster I can trick you into saying it a few times."
He just shook his head. He didn't say anything, waiting for her to give him his chance. Mouth closed, she tried to look encouraging.
"Okay. I was going to say that while I'm sure I would have suspected an ulterior motive, I would probably have said 'yes' because I *am* hungry--for food."
"For food?" she repeated, leaving out but strongly implying the addition of "only?"
"Yes, for food." He paused, almost sniffed the air in a possible second thought about the restriction, testing the wind maybe, strange--something made her wonder if he was aware that he was doing that--then he reconfirmed. "Only. Besides, there's nowhere else comfortable around here to sit."
There was the distant sound of gunfire. It was from the TV. She had turned down the sound with the remote and would have muted it had that been possible.
He glanced at the screen. The commercials were over and the program was several minutes into the story already. A man with a familiar face rushed on to the scene of the crime. Clark said, "Oh, it's that show about the Texas Ranger, you were right." He looked downward; in a moment Lois realized he was kicking off his sandals. She smiled as he sat down, swung around and leaned back against the pillow she had propped up for him. "I don't usually watch violent TV if I can avoid it."
As he picked up his sandwich, she flashed over to the other channel that came in well and they saw a popular young male sitcom star solving some mystery in a made-for-TV movie. "Eh," she said. "There, that guy, the butler did it. He looks evil. It's usually a dead give away in this kind of movie, an evil stereotype. And the boy will fall for that girl… there, the one with blond hair and artificial freckles. They'll solve the mystery and either jail or reform the bad guy, who had a sad childhood, and they'll all live happily ever after. End of story." She switched back in time for them to witness and for her to critique the Ranger's first fight scene of the evening. She gave it a B minus, a generous one at that because bad guys don't often just stand there and take it, do they?
She noticed Clark only glancing at the screen, concentrating on his sandwich instead, eating slowly, savoring it. This guy who watched every football game in the entire world and who liked those nature films showing mountain lions tearing Bambi limb from limb--this guy didn't want to watch a gentle, *choreographed* fight scene? Geesh, it's not like he didn't see violent, real-world things every day as a reporter and as that other fellow.
Or maybe it was. Did she, she asked herself, like bringing her work home with her? Sometimes, yes, and sometimes it just happened, but that didn't mean he relished the idea…
"Well, now more people will get into trouble but most of them are innocent dupes and the Ranger will sort it out and fight the bad guy and his friends again at the end of the show and he'll win after some of his famous flying roundhouse kicks and he'll say something pithy as he's throwing them in jail, end of story. What's on PBS?"
"Lois, if you want to watch that…"
She switched over. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson screaming at each other in Shakespearean English through snowy interference due to the poor reception of the channel.
"Much Ado About Nothing," Clark guessed between mouth fulls.
"Looks pretty serious to me. They got divorced, didn't they?"
"No, I mean the movie, that's the name of it. Darn, I do make a good sandwich, don't I?"
Lois smiled and elbowed him. "So much for Mr. Humble…"
He didn't drop an ingredient. "Hey, I'm just agreeing with you. I'm glad the avocado was a solid one. Sometimes they get a little too ripe and you don't realize it until after you've cut it open and making good guacamole out of it then is an iffy proposition."
"Clark, you're babbling. You're learning too much from me."
"It must mean I'm hungrier than I thought I was. You don't have to watch this movie if you don't want to."
"How can I say if I want to watch it or not when--Wait, why did that woman do that?"
"Because she doesn't like that man."
"His tongue is as sharp as hers though."
"Right, he doesn't like her either."
"So they tease each other--Oh, but her father is trying to marry her off to him to get rid of her, right? She's bad news because she's a feminist and no one wants her, so they don't care who she marries even if he's a sailor or something as long as she gets married and out of the house, but everyone likes her younger sister, who's all meek and mild. I remember this one."
"No, that's Taming of the Shrew. These two have met in the past, but they didn't get along and everyone knows it… Those two there, one's probably her… cousin, I think. She's in love with a soldier, probably one of those handsome fellows there… There all friends of Branagh. And that's Denzel Washington."
"He's in this? It *is* him. You've seen this before."
"No, I just heard about the production, and I read the play in high school."
"I bet you've read all his plays."
"And the sonnets."
"*We* read Hamlet and… Romeo and Juliet--and we *produced* A Midsummer's Night Dream."
"You were Puck, right?"
"No, I was a nameless villager, a lady in waiting and a forest animal, all with no lines. It was my first play and I didn't want any speaking roles because I was a little frightened. The drama class was small, they had to kidnap kids out of the cafeteria to participate."
"Did you direct the production after you plotted the kidnapping of all those extras?"
"Me? No, I didn't plot anything. I hated being on stage."
"Was the class a prerequisite then? We didn't have that at Smallville High. We probably didn't have as much funding as Metropolis schools."
"Probably not, it's a tax base thing, but the class was an elective one. I just got into it because I'd heard there was hushed-up scandal involving the drama teacher and one of the baseball coaches. The drama society needed extras so I volunteered--you know, so I could track down the story from the inside? I tracked like crazy but there was nothing to it. Still, the experience wasn't a total waste, I learned some acting tricks, and when we did West Side Story I was the understudy for Maria. I got to sing a little in rehearsals."
"I wish I'd been there to hear that."
"You could have accompanied me on your drum."
"Absolutely. It would have added tension to the knife fight scene."
"Yeah, considering the knives were made of aluminum foil and everyone in the audience knew it…"
The scene faded as the players exited the villa courtyard right. Two cheerful people standing before a phone bank appeared next to explain how, if viewers pledged money, they could continue to see such fine films on this, their local public television station. The more money pledged, the sooner a stronger transmitting facility up on Mt. Metropolis could be built. "And lets give a big hand to the Daughters of the American Revolution for staffing the phones tonight…"
"Oh, it's that time of year again. They announced it in their program guide."
"I gave already," Lois told the cheerful fund raisers as she turned down the sound. "I send them large amounts of money and what do I get? Shakespeare."
"Well, Michael Keaton's in the movie, too. I hope we haven't missed very much of it."
"Keaton? Nah, he's Beadie… something."
"Beatlejuice? I liked him in that. He would have made a good Batman, too, I think."
"Sure. Cat told me… a year and a half ago that there were plans to make a movie about Batman and the producers really wanted Keaton to play him."
"Huh? How come I haven't heard about this movie?"
"Because it was never made. Cat told me they couldn't come up with a script that Keaton liked mainly because nobody knows very much about Batman, so…"
"Other than he's a nut, obviously, and maybe a criminal, too, skulking around at night, dressed like bat on drugs. I can see why a good actor wouldn't want to risk playing him. What a joke…" she waved off the whole idea until she recalled, omigosh, here she was sitting next to…
"I don't know, Keaton's daring," the guy who more than played at being Superman, of all people, said in an off-hand manner. "He might be able to pull it off if he had a good script."
She tried not to stare at him. "Batman's a freak who runs around in the dark beating the living daylights out of petty criminals. *And* it's said he drags along some costumed kid who should be in school--*reform* school probably."
"I know he's mysterious and prefers to work at night, but Gotham City's always struck me as being darker than just about anywhere else anyhow. Given that, he's almost forced at night."
"Well, you just never know."
"Clark, you can't just say that, not *you*--not unless you're hiding something from me."
"Me, hide anything from you? How? Besides, sure I can say that." He said it again, quite clearly, "'You never know.' There are vigilantes everywhere, everyone knows that who reads the comics."
"Well, I bet you could… kick his butt."
"If I were the violent type and if I wanted to, which I don't, I probably could, but I won't. If it turned out that he's like Keaton, or Keaton's like him, that the movie people guessed right for a change, he's older than me and who knows what experiences he can fall back on that I have no clue about. I wouldn't want to kick his butt then but, *ahem,* *talk* to him."
"I bet *I* could trick him."
"I'd definitely bet on that. You'd be a sure thing."
"Against some nut who dresses like a bat on steroids, I could do it in my sleep."
"It just shows there *are* advantages to wearing Spandex and having a thick skin."
"Umm, he must get hot, maybe that's another reason he looks so dangerous, that and insanity."
"It's definitely another reason to hesitate to kick his butt. If he's been in that hot suit all day, I'd have to take that into consideration."
"Don't feel sorry for him, he works at night mostly, keeping to the shadows."
"In a hot, steamy city, and when it's not steamy, it's freezing cold because Gotham City gets worse weather than we do. I've seen two pictures of him in action and he looks very intense."
"I've seen at least a half dozen pictures and two amateur videos."
"Okay, then, look at that cape. They're fashionable--when they're not a pain in the neck. That big black and blue one is impressive but it must weigh a lot."
"He does have big, strong shoulders…"
"It's surprising what can be done with molded rubber," he informed her in a totally mild, not jealous at all manner. He wasn't looking at her, either, but at his sandwich or the TV, just chatting with her in a sitting by your buddy fashion. "And that car? I've seen more pictures of it. It's amazing. It had to have cost a mint. Whoever he is under that costume, he must have a lot of money, a lot more than me, anyway. I mean, skilled sidekicks aren't a dime a dozen either. It looks like he has just about *every*thing, and all I have is…" he gestured futilely, "an *S*…"
Totally certain that he was wallowing in self pity for the fun of it, she strained not to giggle. Instead she hid under a wise look and a sage tone of voice. "He has everything but a *life.* And talk about crabby! He must be the King of Crabby! But you--*you* have everything--you even have a skilled sidekick--*me*."
"No, you just kick me in the side."
"You'd like me to, it might tickle."
"I might like you to, yes, but it wouldn't. You know, his mask is what worries me most, I think." He gestured at the TV, where the hosts were live interviewing a camerawoman who worked at the station. Instead he must have been indicating by extension Keaton as Batman standing at the end of the bed, posing for their inspection and speculation. The real Batman would probably have been glowering through the mask, which Lois couldn't imagine Keaton doing. Clark said, "It's probably made of plastic or rubber, too, and uncomfortable, even distracting."
How could he keep on this topic and keep a straight face, his voice as full of concern for anyone who would try to emulate the "Caped Crusader" as it was for the real nut himself. "A mask like that would chaff, too…"
"Probably." He looked at her, concerned, sincere. "That would have to be painful, I guess."
"Yes, it would be very irritating."
"So he must use… baby powder. If he's in a hurry and he spills some on his suit, imagine how embarrassing that would be. You know, it could explain him working at night, so any baby powder would be less likely to show."
"Well, what would you use? *I* don't chaff, so…"
"Common sense." She tossed the remote between them. It bounced. "We're sticking with this movie, you need it more than I do."
"No commercial TV shows for you tonight. You don't need the violence of the one or the mindless plot of the other. I prescribe Shakespeare to straighten your head out."
"My head's on straight, thank you," and he fed himself the last of his sandwich. "Just to prove it, next break I'll go get some dessert."
"You bought dessert this morning, too?"
"No, Mr. Cheung has a little bakery section and he stocks some surprisingly good pastries. I'll jog over there and see what he has."
"I'll pay for it."
Their timing, she saw by the screen, was good because the fund raising pitch wound down, the movie resumed, and she could turn up the sound again.
"What is wrong with that woman? Why doesn't she see that that man is totally in love with her?"
"And vice versa."
"Wait a minute, this does seem familiar…"
"I don't think it's a coincidental metaphor for us, Lois."
"No, I mean I think I've seen this movie."
"Listen to me, I'm not trying to fool you. I could lie and pretend I hadn't and let you point everything out to me, but I'm not. I'm sure I've seen it, I just can't remember."
"This doesn't mean you can't point everything out, it just means I was probably in the midst of some story and needed a break and chose a movie theater to sleep in because it would be safe and no one ever goes to see Shakespeare or some big network would be playing this, not PBS… This whole thing seems so familiar…"
"Well, I haven't seen it."
"But you've read it, so explain this to me…"
She forced him to interpret things and then argued with him when she didn't agree. They put their empty plates aside, slumped closer to each other, shoulder to shoulder, gestured at and talked to the screen. It was just like old times, Lois thought when she had a quiet moment during some tender moment on the screen.
The tender scene faded, the smiling faces of the fundraisers reappeared, and she cut the sound down to nearly nothing again.
Clark sighed. "One more act, I think…" He looked down, probably at his hands, which had become intertwined with hers during that tender scene. She looked up and saw that he was now looking at her. "Ah…" He squeezed just the tiniest bit.
She squeezed back, harder.
"This is really nice," he whispered.
"I think I want to get used to doing this."
They looked at each other for a long few moments until he said, "Ah, dessert?"
"No, I mean, really, dessert."
She sighed, "You're so romantic…"
"Well, I don't feel particularly romantic, but even if I did, this is as romantic as I'm getting in your bed until you-know-what."
"All right, all right, I guess I can settle for calories, because I know you can hold your breath for a very long time…"
She rolled out of the bed, padded out of the bedroom and headed into the living room. He followed her like a puppy. She turned on a light, found her purse and gave him five dollars.
He said, "This is too much."
"Then I'll expect change," she told him. Hey, I'm already getting a lot of change… "And no superheroing on the way back unless you can't help yourself, Bandit."
"I'll bandit you," and he stole a kiss, "cream puff."
"Nope, that won't work, I won't respond to that."
"Did I say *you're* a cream puff? No, I was just asking if--"
He got, via the front door, muttering about crabby girl friends and what was a poor guy like him to do, but when he glanced back she saw he was smiling.
She shot him with a mock finger gun, shut the door, went back to bed, pulled down the quilt, and sat with it over her legs to ward off a light, cool breeze from the windows. She switched TV channels just in time to see the Ranger, surrounded by unconscious bodies of bad guys, issue a legal warning to the lead villain, who was apparently something of a martial artist himself and naturally did not take the warning seriously. The Ranger shrugged, feinted, jumped up and around and disarmed the villain in a move surprising to those not expecting it, namely the villain. Making a pithy remark to a sidekick, the Ranger then pulled out his handcuffs.
Lois immediately switched over to the other commercial channel to see the young sitcom star walking hand in hand on a black sand (or oil-soaked?) beach with the cute, freckle-faced girl. The call of a hump-back whale could be heard in the distance--and, predictably, the screeching cry of hawk. Lois had noticed that the identical hawk sound could be heard in just about every television program with even a momentary out-in-nature setting. It was probably a subsonic brainwashing technique planted by a syndicate of multinational conglomerate advertisers to get viewers like her to buy more of whatever the next commercial showed.
Whatever. She was, she mused, two for two in predicting the dreary plot lines, and extra points ahead for not watching much TV to begin with.
However, that left Shakespeare. Both couples would wind up together, alive, in the end, the humor seemed to insure it wouldn't be another Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story. But how they'd accomplish this she wasn't completely sure. All memories of her previous viewing of the film had fled. What would Branagh do to prove himself worthy of Thompson, who was one tough cookie? What role would Washington's character really play? Was Keaton's character smarter than he looked? How many friends behind the scenes did the villain, Reeves, have?
Clark returned within 10 minutes, just in time; he must have jogged. She had left the front door unlocked, so he had no difficulty entering (he didn't knock). She heard him throw the latch to lock the door and bounce down the steps. Even if he wasn't feeling sexy, he was feeling fine otherwise, so she told herself there was no more need to strain the relationship with touchy subjects. He waltzed down the hall, paused in the doorway to the bedroom and saw her.
She said immediately, "I am *not* under the covers for any reason other than I'm a little cool."
He entered somewhat gingerly. "I'll close the window--"
"No, you won't, I like it cool, it makes cuddling even nicer. We've cuddled when it's cool before--we did that one time last winter, remember?"
"I remember you chasing that get-away car out in the wilds south of Midvale and us sliding into a snowbank. I remember you screaming at the bad guys to come back and rescue us so you could thrash them."
"And you saying you were glad they didn't because they had big guns. *Then* we cuddled until I fell asleep and then you 'slipped away' to… you know," find Superman.
"Right, and you didn't know then."
"That's right, I didn't."
He nodded, as though ticking off a list in his head. She wondered if that was how he'd figure it out, by narrowing it down to the point between the time she couldn't have known and time when she must have known. Since all that wasn't really important in the grand scheme of things, and she didn't feel sorry for him and wasn't about to tell him, his method could take forever because it was predicated not on superfast logical thinking or even bugging her unmercifully, but on gathering clues, mostly from her, and she was parceling them out like a miser. All this was okay, unless he dwelled on it, which wouldn't do. She'd have to take certain measures if he didn't get over it eventually and see that it wasn't the finding out part that was important. When (and probably not "if") he saw that on his own and realized that it was what they did with the knowledge was significant, she'd tell him everything with pleasure.
For now though he apparently decided she really was just keeping warm and approached the bed. "I won't have to slip away to find help next time."
"We can be snowed in *here* next time." She indicated their mutual homes with the sweep of a hand and a smile, then she gathered her hands together and held them demurely in her lap. "What did you get?"
He pulled the change, several dollars and some coins, out of a pocket, put it on the bedside table, kicked off his sandals once more and sat down, on top of the quilt again because she'd left that side made up. He opened the bag and presented her with a chocolate-topped eclair, which she held her plate up for. He had another one in the bag for himself.
"Excellent! Oh…" she said after the first bite. "Umm, you're in charge of desserts from now on," please take that as a hint, Clark…
"Okay, dessert. *This* kind of dessert."
"That's not the hint I meant to convey…"
"I know what you meant to convey." He motioned at the TV. "Look, my timing's great, it's started again, where's the remote?"
"Here…" She got the sound going and tossed the device down near the end of the bed where it was visible but out of the way and indicative of her commitment to seeing this film through. As he got comfortable, she recuddled and this time he put his arm over her shoulders and ate his eclair left handed. This was closer than they'd been before he had reminded her of his ironclad restrictions.
She failed to point this out. It felt nice. She did, however, point out that the eclair he had given her was clearly smaller than his and that wasn't fair at all since she'd paid for them.
He held his securely before her mouth, eased it toward her, and she took one long, slow, delicious, flakey-crummy bite.
"We're even now," he informed her as he withdrew it.
"Sloppy eater," he said, shaking his head, replacing the eclair on his plate, leaning over and cleaning the cream from her lips with a brush of his own. "But you are tasty…"
"You forget yourself, sirrah…"
"At times, yes." He straightened, picked up and finished his eclair, and licked his fingers before she realized she should have grabbed his hand to do it for him. It probably would have startled him, considering he really did seem to be only in the mood and hungry for food.
Well, she thought, maybe she wasn't that much in the mood for anything else, either, being sleepy and achy with lightly strained muscles. Hmm, and only mildly sticky fingers. A Kleenex took care of that.
He, on the other hand, absently wiped his fingers on his T-shirt.
Men… and it looked like *super*men were the worst of the lot… She shook her head, smiled at herself and her fortune, and decided he could also do all the laundry when they broke down the walls and set up house together.
He took her plate, stacked it on his, and leaned to his left to put them on that bedside table. As he did this, she sat forward to free his arm and pulled her legs under herself so she could sit a little higher. This way, when he sat back, she could put her arm over his broad but comfortable shoulders instead, pre-empting his move to reclaim her. She squeezed, "Well, I won't forget you, sirrah."
"I'll see to that. You're *stuck* with me now, Ms. Lane."
Oh, she thought, we're stuck with each other. Funny how it sounded nicer when he said it. "Good, that's just the way I planned it, Mr. Kent."
"You fell into my trap."
"Said the flyman to the…"
"Good one, you're not so tired after all… So tell me just what Michael Keaton is doing? Is he a French spy or something? Weren't the French spies back then?"
"I think it's more a universal tale of intrigue and love."
"Okay, then he can't be that… oh, dull-witted, can he?"
"*I'm* not telling…"
And he didn't either.
After the film was over and they shared a goodnight kiss at Lois's back door, Clark headed home, a matter of some eight steps, at about 11. Despite himself he noted that she turned off her TV shortly after watching a brief news broadcast. Then he heard the flush of her toilet (this needed no special hearing ability) and the click-off of her bed-side lights.
This was nice, her first night at home in her real, comfortable bed. She had looked happy and sleepy. Relaxing watching TV and eating a satisfying meal had been a good idea, and she did look like she regretted trying to fool him, so there was hope there, too.
He stripped, stretched out on his own bed in his dark bedroom and found himself examining the ceiling, thinking.
First, he was happy with the state of his life. He had no doubt that once she felt settled in she would make a fine neighbor, and, eventually, more than that. How wonderful all this was.
She was probably thinking it was wonderful, too. After all, her decision to move in where she was now was not only the best decision she could have made (as far as he was concerned, true), but it was no coincidence.
Desperation was involved, definitely, because housing in Metropolis was still in short supply due to the leisurely pace of the recovery from the Slime Monster attack.
But she had made some luck for herself as well: everything had come together just right when she had most needed it, and she had seen her chance and taken it. If she hadn't wanted something like this, it wouldn't have happened. If she hadn't known the truth about him, maybe she wouldn't have wanted something like this. This was another reason that it was good that she knew. It would just be nice to know when and how she'd figured it out. Then he could review the time period and determine how she had reacted, what clues she had inadvertently given him that he hadn't picked up, and what it meant now to the overall picture of their relationship… other than it no doubt played a part in her winding up next door.
Okay, so she had wanted to get closer and, bingo, here she was. She also wanted more dessert and had put him in charge of delivering it. Right. The innuendo was clear: she wanted his dessert and she wanted it because… because it was available, it was pretty much totally pledged to her though she didn't know that, and, of course, she was a woman who knew what she wanted.
Yet he had noticed not long after meeting her that she did not find it easy to use simple language to ask for what she truly wanted. Instead she'd use every trick in the book. Usually she'd do that in the pursuit of a big story that would wind up helping thousands of people whether or not her byline was on it. If she wanted something for herself, though, well, it could wait. Or, if she was desperate, personal favors had to be gotten by stealth because…
Clark frowned in thought. Okay, when trying to get what she wanted, he was sure that she didn't lie and try to manipulate people in order to hurt them. The look on her face when he'd explained how being manipulated felt to the victim was full of genuine surprise. It must never have occurred to her--she may have even thought she was doing it for the victim's own good as well as her own eventual gain if the outcome was the one she wanted. He wondered how often she really did get what she wanted that way.
But why resort to the trickery at all? Unless… trying straight- forward requests hadn't worked when it was important. What if some time in the past she had lived an honest life (as in "no thought of manipulating anyone," he amended), but no one had responded--or, worse, no one thought enough of her to give her what she wanted for the simple asking. She wouldn't be asking for the unreasonable, just for things that people naturally wanted. Not dessert, not test drives, no, none of that. Just, oh… respect, courtesy, admiration, things she should earn as a matter of course for being the kind, hard-working person she was. Yet, when first getting to know her, she explained to him when things got tough, more than once and with fierce determination, that she'd had to fight for every inch of ground she'd gained in field of the journalism. Because she was a woman, she was small, and she was perceived as weak. He'd witnessed her skeptical approach toward life too many times not to see it as a cover for… expecting disappointment. Yes, that was it. Expect the worst, she must have thought, and anything good that happened would be terrific.
Odd how that is, he thought. He tended to expect the best of people and often did get to see their best sides, and Lois was among those people.
Despite what Lois might expect, he knew she had lots of friends who wouldn't stand in her way, who would help her in her pursuit of happiness. He was sure, too, it was one of the things she'd realize eventually. She'd realize it about him, too, if she didn't already suspect it. She'd see there had been no need to put him in charge of delivering dessert. There was no need to tell him, he reflected, he knew what he wanted to do. After all, *she* wasn't making all the moves in their friendship, though in some respects it might seem that way to the uninitiated. Her moves were just more brazen than his sometimes, and the other times they were sneakier. Why she thought she had to do it that way was… was what made her Lois Lane, top flight reporter, world saver, renter of the apartment next door.
He absolutely did wish to take over and unambiguously--that was the word, no tricking, no manipulation, just without a doubt present his dessert for her approval… so why the heck was he holding back?
Because… just because.
No, no, "because" wasn't enough reason any more. He couldn't say "Dad waited," either, even though it was a good enough excuse and it had worked for his folks. Well, for Dad it had, anyway; Mom probably hadn't waited but she was from a big city and it hadn't bothered Dad at all.
Odd how he and I are alike that way, Clark smiled.
But times were different now. It even looked sometimes like Dad expected him to have already lost it, to not have waited for the right person, Lois. Not that Dad would know he was doing that, waiting. Most men didn't seem to want to wait. Human men, anyway.
And that was it, there were for him all the nonhuman male aspects of this. He really had excellent reasons for holding back. There were things she had to realize first, things about physiology, for example, and his lack of any of the knowledge with which every Kryptonian male had probably been brought up for a million years or however long his people had lasted until…
Until there weren't any more but him. Anyhow, he'd missed out on that. His Kryptonian parents had probably foreseen this and packed the ship with all kinds of helpful guidebooks and video equivalents and everything else, but… but he didn't have the ship and had no idea where it was, his searches for it fruitless after it had disappeared from Bureau 39's warehouse. It was a lost cause.
He could face that, though, he told himself. He'd faced it all along, ever since he'd become curious about it and then caught that one, long, breathless glimpse of it… He was perfectly prepared to work around it, too, using intuition if nothing else, talking with Lois, making sure she understood that he simply didn't understand a whole lot…
Which was easy to *say*.
Like, how could he tell Lois that he was beginning to think that whatever it was about Kryptonian males, maybe his being one could explain the intensity of his desire to commit his entire being, or so it seemed sometimes--body, mind, soul, everything--to one woman and that woman was her. He'd felt this way about no other person at all, and human males didn't do that.
It was true that he had noticed other women, which might have been odd for a Kyptonian *not* brought up here, but who knew that, either? He had noticed women since he'd hit puberty and he had found quite a number were desirable for a vast number of reasons. To be honest, he still noticed and appreciated such things…
But he had also noticed that he only actually thought of giving himself to this one woman, of wanting her to take him as her own, of making a life together with her for ever and ever…
How could he explain that to her? What could she possibly think of it? It was sort of weird, wasn't it?
Whatever the explanation of all this was--physiological or mental or who knew what--the easiest course at this time seemed to be one of remaining calm. When the right time came, he'd know it, he was sure of it. It would be the right time to explain everything to her and she would accept it because it would be right for her, too. She would understand what she was getting with him and she'd want to work with him on it. It was such a simple idea…
And things just weren't right yet, particularly tonight, another odd thing. He'd felt like best friends with her, and sitting eating and watching TV had been wonderful, but at felt nothing else, nothing sexual, nothing. Really strange. The kissing had been warm and the playing and the teasing a lot of fun, but he hadn't felt the need to hold anything physical back, to restrain himself, because nothing physical had wanted to pop up to be restrained.
No wonder I need a guide book, he sighed. This is all so weird…
But I'm not the only weird one here--why is *she* holding back? Why not just say "Yes, I'll marry you"? Is that so hard?
Unless the answer was yes, it was hard, that it was one of those not-right-yet things for her.
Did she… oh… *not* want to say "yes"? Was it as simple as that? "I can't say yes, Mr. Kent, because I don't want to?"
In his haste to keep up with her, had his proposal been too quick? Just because married life was one of the things he wanted in his future, that didn't mean it was one of her life's goals. She'd already tried that big step with Luthor, in innocence and a kind of love--and look at the resulting fiasco. It still had to have hurt her pride, even though she hadn't been in love with the man but with…
No, she probably hadn't been in love with him, Clark, either at that time. But there had been something, an unexpected fondness for him maybe. She had wanted to investigate it and that had been enough to override her apparently only lukewarm desire to accept the shelter and comfort offered by Luthor.
That was something, wasn't it? To forsake everything that Lex Luthor could offer--and that was just about everything in the world a person could want (and some things not, like a jail cell)--on the off chance there was something going on between her and the uncertain, ineffectual, caged-in-more-ways-than-one Clark Kent.
So, okay, she says she's in love now--No, she *is* in love now, that's probably a given, Kent. She's in love with you…
(or the guy in the suit?)
Nah, probably just you, despite the mess you made of things by leading her on while in the suit, long before she knew, and you've only yourself to blame for that.
She knows now who's wearing it, she really knows, and just look at everything that happened on the farm with hardly a suit in sight…
Okay, she's in love with Clark Kent, whoever *that* is, whoever she sees me as now…
He paused and rubbed his eyes and yawned.
I'll figure that part out later.
He remembered being so light hearted on Thursday evening.
I'm still light hearted… I'm just.. introspective. A better word than "tired."
Maybe it's the eclair. I should have bought more of them, he smiled at himself.
But eclair or no, given that he wasn't Lex Luthor and that guy had surely never… oh, responded in the same way to teasing and probably didn't have a ticklish spot on his whole marble-cold body…
Clark had to blink, refocus, and drag his mind off a dangerously- close-to-falling-asleep, dream-like scene of a grinning Lois with an ostrich feather sneaking up on the regal Lex Luthor. The man was dressed in a suave evening jacket and standing in front of a wide, open window. He turned suddenly and blew cigar smoke in her face to discourage her. She staggered away toward the window, a thousand stories up, while Clark Kent, half asleep, floated…
But that was it! People had been blowing smoke in her face and then pushing her out of proverbial windows for so long, especially over matters of the heart, that she resorted to tricks and manipulation now to stay one up on everyone. One-up, then, must have felt like a very safe position. Her manipulations, even the ones with the best of intentions behind them, indicated a certain lack of trust. She did not trust people to do the right thing--Clark had learned that right away.
So might she be unconsciously thinking that since she couldn't trust anyone, or at least very few people, the last thing she could safely do these days was accept anyone's from-the-heart proposals of really big thing like marriage?
Wow, yeah, and that "anyone" would certainly included Clark Kent, who had been masquerading as two people for so long, one a hick from Smallville, the other a mysterious alien…
But she knows now and she's dealing with that somehow…
And, so knowing, being one up, let's say she's flattered by the idea and wants to accept.
Except her past experiences with trusting make her wary.
What to do? A test! Of course! Lots of tests! *Secret* tests!
Clark sat up in the air. Okay, okay: she's unwittingly put up an outrageous and formidable roadblock of a test--one that had the extra benefit not only of stopping him dead in his tracks but giving her a lot of breathing space.
Which didn't quite explain her confronting him at the farm…
No, wait, it did! She had to let him know that she knew the truth. The aim was to find out his reaction. He hadn't fainted dead away or run and hidden or anything like that--well, he'd been a little crabby, but he couldn't imagine any other guy had ever reacted like *that* to her--they had probably accepted her interest and played on her emotions, fooling and tricking her when she was vulnerable. Luthor sure had.
But Clark Kent hadn't, so that was probably one test passed.
He'd innocently passed earlier tests, too, because she had said she knew he had been trying to tell her the truth. She had trouble trusting people, but she wanted to be trusted herself, and he did trust her, completely.
So, in a sense, after all this, he had stepped all on his own into the right position to be handed this really big test. He just hadn't realized it until now, but that wasn't unusual when it came to Lois.
He lay back, touching down on the bed again. Okay, so this made incredible sense and could explain everything. He laughed at all the torturous thought he had put into it over the last week when it all really came down to this:
Lois, you're just nervous!
Well, not "just," it *is* important, very important--this is your life. No wonder you're being careful! You probably know you're nervous, too, and that you don't have to be with me, but it's a conditioned reflex or something like that and hard to break out of. You've been disappointed so often before. Even I've disappointed you sometimes.
And what if, faced with this biggest test of all, I were to say sure, let's forget the spiritual meaning behind my proposal--which you're probably more than well aware of, too--and let's get physical, what grade does that get on your test? What does that mean to you subconsciously?
*You* called it a test drive, that should have been my first clue. What if I were to become the aggressor, forcing you off the road like other guys have, forcing "dessert" on you? I'd wind up with creme pie in my face and, far worse, I'd flunk your test.
He frowned, wait a minute… okay, true, he could flunk it in more ways than one, but the real failure would an emotional one. Lois Lane wanted to be wined and dined and romanced first, not… given the equivalent of a hot dog with sour mustard. That would only prove she'd picked another loser, a guy who would thoughtlessly or maybe on purpose be willing to use, abuse and disappoint her. She wouldn't "relish" that…
He groaned at himself.
This is really far out there, Kent… Yeah, more eclairs would have kept this from happening, overthinking the problem.
Except… you're right, this is really the only explanation for things.
Look, my little frump/sugar/angel/tornado/zephyr/whoever *you* are (what did Lex call you? "my little tax deduction"?)…
He drop kicked all thought of that fellow out of his mind and concentrated on the person who he much preferred to think about. He smiled tenderly, imagining her in all her moods, all her looks, all her hairstyles.
We *will* work this out and I won't let you down, I promise--*and* I'll know when everything is right--and you will, too. I will not push you to do *any*thing you don't really want to. You do *not* have to be afraid to accept my proposal when you're ready, either. I'm *worth* excepting, Lois, I'll prove you can trust me.
An image of his mom whistled for his attention.
Clark, honey, how do you know what she does and does not want to be pushed to do?
Or probably that's what mom would ask.
It's obvious, mom, she has no desire to be pushed at all.
Even if you offer dessert?
(Clark was glad he was imagining his mom asking these questions because his dad would have been flustered.)
*Particularly* if I offer dessert. And it's not the offer itself, it's the way it's offered, it's the symbolism. At the moment any offer might not be acceptable. Maybe after we've gotten used to each other, I can, you know, make a few more moves if it's the right thing.
Despite what she says?
That's part of the test, probably the essay question worth 75 percent (the rest was covered by proving his carpentry and plumbing skills). I think Lois wants someone she can trust not to try to mold her into who *he* thinks she should be. Look, she's only marginally good at taking mere suggestions into consideration. All the other guys have done pushed her and pulled her and she hated that. So I'm sure she doesn't wants the typical male she's gotten involved with before.
And trust me on this, Lois, I'm *not* your typical male…
He smiled at himself. Back home only, what, 36 hours? And he'd already figured it out.
Well, there was still the question of what she *did* want from him (other than a nice neighbor who provided dessert).
The image of his mom raised her eyebrows.
I can work that out, too, he informed her. Look, Lois and I don't have anything to be afraid of. *I'm* certainly not afraid.
He imagined holding his hand out steady as a rock… and seeing it tremble a bit.
All right, so I don't really have any idea what I'm getting into here.
He knew the marriage contract did not automatically come with the deed to a picket fence-surrounded house on several acres of verdant land, 2.1 lovely, bright children or whatever the average was now, a dog and cat, and general security for life.
But he also admitted that having something like that would be very nice indeed.
Was Lois any more certain of things than he was? She did have sort of a way of throwing herself into situations, and knowing all about him and taking on this new apartment were certainly "situations."
What did Lois want? What did marriage--if she wanted that, too-- mean to her? Parents who fought all the time? Did marriage mean life in a merciless big city and growing up to be tougher than anyone else or lose oneself in the morass? That would certainly preclude having kids if she thought their children would have to face that… if they could even have children, if… but this was a safer neighborhood now, everyone was really trying…
Could she think marriage was something that the participants lost interest in after a while if they didn't fight all the way through? It sure didn't have to be, he'd seen many more successful unions than failed ones, and she had to have as well, it was just that the failing ones seemed to go down making a lot of noise, obscuring the quiet joy of the unions that were meant to be…
We have to talk about this, Lois, things will work out okay…
Midnight approached. He could hardly keep his eyes open any more and he wanted to stop thinking. He turned on the sleep function of his radio, switched over to shortwave, and tuned in to a Romanian- language panel discussion on 1950s Communist-party farming pamphlets about goat raising. It worked like a charm: he dropped off to sleep a few moments later and the radio turned itself off shortly after that.
At about two the distant sound of an ambulance on the Crosstown woke him. There was often nothing he could do to assist in such emergencies, the people in charge of handling the heart attack victims or pregnant women or whoever was having health problems usually did a fine job. But something, maybe the sound of the siren, advised him to check this one out--now.
He rolled out of bed, grabbed a bundled suit out of hyperspace, and changed en route. He tracked down the ambulance and arrived in time to keep a drunk driver heading the wrong way on the freeway from ramming into the emergency vehicle. He disabled the car--whoops! You didn't need that steering wheel now, did you?--and gave it over to the police, who had witnessed everything since they had been assisting the ambulance.
Feeling rested and pleased with this save, he decided to spend the rest of the night patrolling.
He returned home at just after seven, feeling fairly confident that the morning would be a quiet one since many people slept in or just naturally slowed down on Sundays. He hovered briefly at 10,000 feet over the apartment, checking down through thin clouds first to see if Mrs. Wallace was up touring the garden. She occasionally rose early and took a cup of tea out to talk to the flowers and more than once he'd had to slip in while her back was turned. Hey, maybe *Lois* would be out… nope, the coast was clear and besides the morning wasn't very light yet. He dropped down, a blur of red and blue probably (he wondered about that sometimes), angled into his bedroom and made a perfect two-point landing, stirring up a breeze but not knocking anything over in his wake.
Knocking. Someone--not *some* one, Lois, was rapping on the brick wall that separated his living room from hers. It sounded like she was using the baseball bat, good. He glided over as he pulled off his cape. He returned the knock, using his knuckles, and tuned in to listen, at the same time taking the opportunity to pull off his boots.
She said in a quiet voice, "Do you need help becoming you?"
Huh? Oh, she wanted to see him change back.
Wow… He wanted to say yes immediately, but his conversation with himself of late the night before rushed up and hollered "Time out!" and then whispered to him, wasn't this, like, rushing things a bit?
But he was feeling good, even a little sexy. This *might* be almost a right time…
Yeah, and the next thing she'd say was that she wanted to help him changing from him to him in the altogether. Even if she didn't succumb to second nature and try to trick him, he might fall for even a straight-forward suggestion and she'd be disappointed that he was so eager and not staying with the spiritual proposal thing…
Or maybe, he admitted, I'm making mole hills out of mountains.
I wish I knew why this just isn't right yet, that there was something that made sense in all this, there had to be.
He played ventriloquist through the wall, a rarely used trick. "No, I'm a mess." That wasn't quite a lie, it could have applied to his thought processes at the moment. "Maybe some other time."
"Okay," she replied. He wasn't sure if he heard relief or disappointment or anything else in her voice, but there was a wall between them. Odd how it frequently seemed to work out that way. She said, "I just thought I should ask. Come over soon, I'm ready to get started."
Up this early? She *was* serious. Maybe she hadn't been thinking sexy thoughts at all but just take advantage of the opportunity for a minute. Now he wished he'd accepted.
He decided, however, looking down at himself now, that he actually was something of a mess. He had performed a quick rescue up in the mountains west of the city, some unarmed campers, threatened by a browsing black bear, had cell phoned out for help. They had been very happy to see him, which they should have been since they were in a nature reserve and the bear had the right of way. He had eased the animal toward friendlier territory and gotten damp and sort of bear smelling in the process. Then he had helped the campers quickly pack up and leave. They didn't seem to mind, saying they had work to do down at the lake front for the cloistered ladies at the Nunnery of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, which couldn't be reached by road and neither of them could swim. Ha-ha-ha. The sooner we get there the better, eh?
Superman had simply smiled, then hung around to make sure they didn't linger in leaving the protected area.
All right, this was a reach, but it did suggest that a quick shower would be a good idea and the suit needed washing, too.
He stripped, put it to soak (but not the cape, the cape was okay), inspected his boots and cleaned them off quickly, and then he showered. After that he wrung most of the water out of the clean suit, hung it up, heat visioned it lightly to speed the drying process, then let it simply hang there to rest as he changed into fresh relaxing-in clothing.
Hmm, he was running low on such clothing… until he remembered he hadn't unpacked his bag from his vacation yet. That would keep him in clean clothes until next weekend. Then He'd ask Mrs. Wallace if he could use her washer and dryer; she usually said that was fine and they'd often sit and chat, catching Clark up on neighborhood gossip. He had gotten indirect leads to several stories originating outside the neighborhood that way. He wondered if Lois could sit still long enough to try this or if she'd buy her own washer and dryer now that she had hook ups for them in that spare room off her kitchen. It would be interesting to watch Lois work this out. He bundled the suit up, stuck it into hyperspace, and headed out.
Lois's back door was open. He decided to knock anyway, despite what she had said the evening before. Lots of men in her life, after knowing her only briefly, had not knocked but barged right in and that couldn't have been pleasant.
She was sitting at her island table. She was dressed as relaxed as she had been the day before, in grubby clothing, ready to get to work. While he was glad to see her, it occurred to immediately that she did not strike him as being particularly sexually appealing. Usually her clothing didn't make one bit of difference… and he didn't think it was that now. Maybe it was something in the air. There were no smells of cooking though.
She looked up, motioned, said, "Come in, you don't have to knock…" and looked down again.
He entered, "I like to knock, I don't want to surprise you."
"You constantly surprise me, Clark," she mumbled, concentrating on the big book in front of her.
"*I* surprise *you*?"
"Well," she looked up from what she was reading. "Okay, not 'constantly,' but often enough to keep things interesting."
And what did 'interesting' mean here? As interesting as she kept things? He doubted it. Nonetheless, "I'd still rather not alarm you, you have a right to feel comfortable." What if she turned around and asked what *that* meant? How could he explain it? He probably couldn't without explaining all the things he had figured out the night before and wrecking her test and she wouldn't appreciate that. Better change the subject. "How was your night? Were you snug as a bug?"
"I don't know, I slept right through it," she said almost dismissively, then apparently decided to add with a smile, "It's almost *too* quiet around here. I thought it was just because… your apartment has thick walls and I didn't notice before, but no, there were no gun shots, no muggings, no people screaming bloody murder. It's just quiet. This neighborhood is not living down to its reputation." Her smile became a little livelier. "Am I going to get bored here?"
"Well, yeah, you might. Maybe you can stir up the next block meeting by demanding more crime"
"I'm sure they'd love that. I know, I'll grill Jonesy--or, better, Mrs. Wallace for details about the seamy side of life around here. I've seen her peeking out her windows, watching me. I think I better invite her over soon and give her the lowdown on her new neighbor."
"That's a good idea. She's the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, so watch out, she'll give *you* the lowdown. What are you reading?" He pretended he couldn't quite see what it was, turning his head this way and that to find a better angle. "It can't be a…"
"Cookbook? Yes, believe it or not, it is. Sit down." She waved at a decorator stool like the one she was sitting on and he took it. It placed him at the end of the island and in a good position to watch her root through the books she had spread out. "I'm trying to find something more exotic to make than pancakes but that takes into account the ingredients I happen to have, which are three eggs--not enough for crepes--and a small bag of whole wheat flour and my trusty baking soda and baking powder, which I haven't gotten to use yet to make cookies but I will. Those kind of things, they last, don't they?--I know the eggs don't, but the other things?"
"They do, and pancakes are okay with me."
"I *know* that, you'll eat anything, but I don't have anything to put on them, so I can't make them."
"But I have applesauce and molasses and maple syrup and--"
"I know, I know you have everything, I've seen your pantry--but this morning you're sitting back and watching and not lifting a finger."
"Okay. My door's unlocked if you change your mind…"
She gave him a narrow, sideways look.
He shut up and smiled. This confirmed it though, didn't it? She only wanted so much from him at this point and even this little offering came close to being pushy. Eventually she'd feel okay about taking whatever he could give--and he'd feel free to offer it without worrying about how she'd take it… but for now it was clear that she wanted as much independence as she could get and didn't want to need anyone unless it was a last-resort kind of thing.
Yet she had wanted him here. Well, wanting and needing were two different things.
Besides, he was hungry.
He leaned on his elbows, interlaced his fingers, rested his chin on his thumbs, and watched her. She didn't look up, turning pages and scanning them intensely. While it was true he didn't feel anything sexual toward her at the moment, just being this close to his best friend was wonderful in itself.
Then again, he wondered if she appreciated being watched. Maybe not. He leaned back, turned and looked out toward the big living room. It was in about the same condition as the evening before. The windows were all open and a cool morning breeze was lifting the filmy, temporary curtains. The row of off-white-painted buildings across the street was beginning to reflect the morning sun into the room. The dark wood of the floor could be seen here and there where the papers and tarps didn't cover it. The walls were spotless. The wooden siding had been resealed and the bricks scrubbed clean. The only thing missing were her bookcases and pictures. The high ceiling had been patched or painted were necessary, and he had heard someone say that Lois was proposing to install a ceiling fan. He looked over his glasses and checked the interior of the ceiling and thought the beams up there could support one.
In time, maybe three minutes, she glanced up and looked around her kitchen until apparently she remembered where she had hung her clock in unpacking some of the furnishings for this area.
"Oh." She sighed. "I'm wasting time when we could be using it more effectively--you could be out… *saving* someone while I'm trying to make up my mind here."
"Don't worry, I spent about five hours doing that today already. It's time for breakfast, whatever you decide on."
"You were out that long? I didn't hear you go. Did you do anything spectacular?"
He thought back over the morning. "Nah."
"No leads? No big stories?--Wait," she held up a flat hand and shook her head, as much at herself as at him. "Don't say anything, you're still on vacation, it can wait until tomorrow, and besides, we can find our own stories, we don't need…" flying hand motion.
"But it's okay if we use…" hand motion, "him--me, now and then."
"We often wind up doing so anyhow, it's that just now…" it would be more fun, wouldn't it?
"You can't just say no, we're together in this, so we decide together."
"We were together before not needing him to do our work, like… like your contractor one. Did you do anything Supermanish to get that one?"
"Ah, not directly, no…"
"And I didn't need that kind of help for interviewing the people working for Suki's or the neighborhood adjusting to the Slime Monster damage story. And other than being thrown off the roof, you and I and Will saved the Bank of Green Meadows all on our own."
"Okay, I'll concede that. If not having… his help means you get in less trouble, I can live with that."
"Exactly. So no" flying hand motion "means no" flying hand motion. We get our own stories. We don't make the news," and she sounded like Perry, "we just report it."
"So does this mean you're *not* my sidekick?" or was this a pushy-type question?
She came this short of rolling her eyes. Maybe it was more pitiful than pushy. "No, it means you're *my* sidekick--and it means we don't talk about this today because You Are On Vacation."
"Okay." He leaned forward and whispered, "But I didn't find leads on anything."
She leaned forward and in the same secret tone said, "None?"
"Zip. Run of the mill, just lots of little things, and, believe me, I do look for things worth following up on."
"Oh. But there was nothing."
"Sorry. Is it slow at work or--"
"Hush! And don't apologize. I didn't hear anything you said and you didn't hear me asking any questions." She sat up and looked all business like again.
He noticed that she didn't appear to be wearing any make up and that her face looked a little drawn. Maybe she hadn't had as smooth a night as she claimed. He wondered if he should try to think up a different way to ask if he could help.
She said, "So, breakfast. I can get lavish next weekend, right?"
"I'll use your mother's pancake recipe today, I know I can do that one just fine." She closed the cookbook she had been leafing through, stood up, stacked the books, pushed them to the side, and looked at him. "I'll be right back." She zipped around the table, headed out the back door quickly and turned to the right, toward his place.
He smiled at himself. This was a good sign, her taking advantage of him in this particular way. She had tried all the other options but found them wanting and only now was ready take him up on his offer without resorting to tricks.
She slid back into view. "Did you ever call your parents to tell them you got home okay?"
"Oh, no, but I've been busy. I'm sure they understand." After all, for a long time they'd been doing the pushing, pushing him to be this busy and for it to be busy with someone he loved. Also, he hadn't done anything in the suit to worry them. "They know what I'm up to."
She rolled her eyes for real this time. "Yeah, sure," and she headed away again.
This nervous energy of hers was something else. It reminded him of the way she'd been yesterday. She must not have gotten enough sleep. Maybe as she settled down into cooking she'd relax a bit… No, probably not then either. While eating she'd probably slow down, yeah. Maybe then they could ease into a little talk about each other's expectations for life and that could be pleasant.
He took this opportunity to glance around the kitchen. It had about the same amount of space as her last one, including large cabinets, larger than his. Lots of storage space for her vast collection of appliances. It looked, too, like she had begun unpacking and putting things away in here first, a logical thing to do. He wondered when she'd gotten up.
She returned with a jar of home-made (mom-made) apple butter, his half jar of organic molasses, and his cell phone. "Call them. If you were my kid, I'd be wondering if you were still *alive*." But she paused, not offering the phone yet, holding it close. "Wait, will they be up?"
"Probably. Dad hates to waste a good morning at harvest time and mom likes the morning light to her paintings."
"Oh, but that's right. Jonathan exercised the horses early that first Sunday I was there, and then last time, he was already up before I was and I was still on Metropolis time. *You* were the one sleeping in." She handed him the phone. "Wake up and call them."
Odd how he was cautious of pushing but it was okay for her to be bossy of him… and odd how he liked it so much when it came naturally from her. He smiled. "Okay, okay…" He touched the automatic dial button and the button that stored the right number. "Did you give your parents a hard time when you were growing up?"
"Me?" she asked as she began to struggle with the lid of the apple butter. He refrained from suggesting it might be more efficient to start making the batter, heating the griddle and let him open the jar. She shook her head. "Never. I rarely dated in high school, I didn't get into it much in college either, I was just too busy."
"No wild flings?"
"Well, yes, a few, but nothing serious, and I was always home on time--aren't they answering yet? Is the battery low?"
"The battery's fine--Hi, mom, guess who? It's your wayward son."
Lois paused in her struggle and gave him a dirty look.
"Hi, wayward, how's it going?"
"Fine. I'm watching Lois fix breakfast."
"Oh? *You've* been busy."
"No, not that kind of busy. We and a bunch of friends spent Friday afternoon and all Saturday working on her apartment. It looks like we could finish it today, just her and me."
"So she's going to feed you first, huh?"
"That's her plan."
His dad got on the line now. "Hi, son, nice job fixing that dam. Sometimes I wonder who the Corps of Engineers gets to do their work for them--bored school kids with little red wagons?"
"I don't know, dad. I just called to tell you two that I got in okay and I'm doing fine. Anything new with you?"
"Well, honey, we we're wondering about coming for a visit…"
"Oh? Just a minute. Lois? They'd like to know when they can come visit."
Lois had started digging through a box in the corner and come up with a screwdriver. She straightened immediately and looked horrified. "Visit? They can't visit *today!* This place is a *mess*! I wouldn't invite my own *mother* let alone *yours*!"
He held up his hand to Lois, wait a minute. "Huh, Mom?"
"You spoke too soon. Tell her she has at least a month to get ready because we can't leave in the middle of harvest unless there's an emergency."
"Oh, okay. Lois? Don't panic, they can't come until after harvest."
She put her hands on her hips and gave him such a look. "Which *is*…?"
She relaxed. "Well, that will be okay. They can stay in my guest room," and she waved off toward the north side of the apartment and the den.
Well, that did beat sleeping on his fold-out couch. "Did you hear that, mom and dad?"
"It sounds fine, son. Is she making breakfast?"
Lois tackled the lid of the apple butter jar with the screwdriver, pried up several places along the edge, heard a satisfying little pop, and was able to open the jar easily then.
"Yeah, Dad. She's a champ."
"That's a good sign."
"I think so."
"Well, tell her to relax--no, that won't work, will it?"
"I don't think so, mom."
"Then *you* relax, it will rub off."
"You should see me, I'm so relaxed I'm almost falling off my chair."
Huh? Lois thought. Falling off his chair relaxed? Good grief…
Well, that's what you look like. Nice and cheerful, open and trusting, when you could be gruff and scowling like clown, Batman. It's a damn good thing you're not…
She opened the cabinet above the counter to the left of the sink and pulled out her big bowl. It felt heavier than usual, so she eased it down using both hands. Now, where had she put the whisk? It wasn't as fancy as the one Martha used, but it would do for now.
She wished she felt better. That time of month had crept up on her again though one good look at the empty pill dispenser on Friday morning should have told her it was coming, particularly since she was very conscientious about taking them lately. Not that she expected to get Clark into bed any time soon, he had his plans she had to figure out how to steer without his realizing he was being steered, but eventually they'd have fun that way. It was good to be prepared and not unpleasantly surprised by any unwanted results. But even without the cycle of pills running out for this month she should have seen it coming, she told herself. She'd had all the characteristic pains, she'd been irritated at the world (even though it deserved her wrath mostly), her moods had swung from one extreme to the other..
But, noooooo, Lois Lane, *brilliant investigative reporter,* had missed the *obvious…*
I don't need you to be falling off your chair, Clark! I need to you be… oh, I don't know…
I sure don't need to yell at you or anyone else.
She found herself muttering, "I just need to make *breakfast*…"
"She's really into this, Mom…"
She glanced at him. He smiled at her, all sweetness and light.
She turned away again to keep him from seeing any trace of the growl she felt. If he was going to be lighthearted all day long, this was going to be a very long day indeed…
"She's making your pancakes… I'm not sure, but I know they'll be good."
Don't count your killer chickens yet…
"Yeah, Dad, that's important…"
Important… Everything was important--*life* was important! There was so much to do! She found the whisk, the measuring cup and measuring spoons, and then pulled all the ingredients she would need out of the refrigerator. She paused, frowned at herself, she was forgetting something that had nagged her since she'd awakened, she just knew it… oh, yeah. She grabbed a glass, filled it with water from the tap, took a bottle of vitamins and one of ibuprofen from the cabinet to the right of the sink, shook out some of the contents of both bottles into her hand, and downed them in several gulps.
"Okay… Yeah, I love you, too, see you…" He switched the phone off and laid it on the table, then folded his burly arms and leaned forward on them, ready to be of endless assistance to make life easier.
She cut him off at the pass. "Don't ask me if you can help."
"Me? I wasn't going to."
Yeah, right… There was no way he could see that he naturally exuded helpfulness and probably had from the day he was born, even when he was asleep hanging off his father's shoulder. He'd probably even changed his own diapers…
She opened the stove and pulled out the frying pan. It would substitute nicely for a fancy griddle. She put it on the burner and turned on the gas, bending over to check the height of the flames, medium.
"Did you just take some vitamins?"
She glanced at him. "Why?"
"Oh, just… I hear that sometimes things like that taken on an empty stomach…" he paused, perhaps realizing that this was "helping" when he wasn't supposed to, "…shouldn't be taken on an empty stomach."
She'd heard that, too. It would be just one more thing on top of the twisty pain she was already experiencing in that area, great, just perfect. "Well, it will be full soon." I'll just cook faster…
She measured and poured and whisked and frequently checked the little instruction card she had propped up against the stack of books on the island table and worried that maybe she'd turned on the heat under the frying pan too soon but it would probably be okay. The very most strongest man in the world, who could probably fly faster than the speed of light, who always confronted the worst villains with hope in his heart, and who was on every woman's list of the top ten most gorgeous hunks on earth if the tabloids were to be believed and often times they were right… that fellow simply sat there, not mentioning anything like sometimes people waited to turn heat under the frying pan. Instead he watched her like a fascinated, well behaved little boy.
She almost couldn't stand it. She wished the ibuprofen would kick in--*now!* Until then, she could at least take better control of things, she told herself, and stop whining. She looked at him. "Clark, I take it back, you can't just sit there."
He sat up. "Okay, what do you want?"
That was a loaded question, wasn't it? "I want you to set the table."
He looked down. "This table?"
"It's the only table I *have* at the moment…" Her good dining room table was still in pieces and the TV trays and coffee tables were buried under cleaning supplies.
Okay, stop, girl, she sighed, no need for sarcasm, it was a good question as she had taken over this table totally in her rush to get something made to eat even if she didn't feel hungry any more. She grabbed things and moved them over quickly, leaving at least half the table free if coated with flour dust. "This table."
"Okay. Where is everything?"
"I don't know. There are some plates over in that cabinet, I think, and some silverware in that drawer. For anything else, you have my permission to look in every likely box."
"Okay." He stood up. "But, ah…" as though he had something momentous to say but wasn't sure how to put it, "first I'd like to see if I'm… understanding something correctly."
"Huh?" She paused. "What?" What was there hard about understanding "set the table"?
"I don't want to pry…"
"No, go ahead," stop walking on eggs… eggs? How many did I put in? All of them, didn't I? Yes. She recounted the shells of the three cracked eggs sitting on a folded paper napkin; he could use all that for compost if he wanted, happy birthday, don't walk on them. "If you, my boy friend, can't do a little prying, who can?"
He reviewed this quickly. "Well, girl friend, correct me right away if I'm wrong and if it's more than a little prying, stop me, but… you don't feel very good, do you?"
She gave the batter a final whisk, not quite certain what "don't overbeat" meant, hefted the bowl, grabbed her spoon, and turned toward the stove. "No, I don't. Notice how I didn't say, 'oh, I feel just fine!'?'"
"Yeah, I noticed." He followed. "Did you really get any sleep last night?"
"Yes, I said I slept right through, I was exhausted." She dipped into the batter, but poured it back because it occurred to her that the spoon wasn't large enough and the resulting pancake would be insipid at best. She had a ladle, she was sure of it… She glanced around the area for a clue, and spotted a reasonable substitute. "Ah-ha! Hand me that, the measuring cup… thanks."
"So you slept like a rock."
"No… I slept like a log." She dipped in, took about a third of a cup for the first try, and poured it onto the hot surface of the pan. The batter formed a nice circular pattern and began to hiss. She decided to turn the fire up a tad. "You've seen pictures of logs going to sawmills on big lakes? Picture a storm tossed lake."
"I see. Maybe we could turn your mattress over."
"No, it wasn't that, it was…" She dared to look away from her labors and check his face. He was concerned. Well, he had better start getting used to some things, hadn't he? "Let's say it's 'a woman thing'."
"'A woman…'?" His eyes widened briefly, then he understood and, just like a man, he seemed to back off microscopically. "Oh…"
"You've got it. I'm in pain but it's going away. Women get used to this kind of thing, it's our lot in life, so don't worry about it."
"Mom used to take herbs and vitamins." He reversed the back-off, now appearing mildly interested. "Looks like you do the vitamins part."
"And heavy-duty drugs that are taking their sweet time to get to work. I should have started earlier, taken them when I first realized it this morning about 4 but hope springs *eternal*…"
"I see…" Like he really did. "Your body changes over a matter of days to accommodate it, you have hormonal changes, too, you give off a variety of signals--"
"Clark, you sound like a text book--stop it! A woman does *not* like to hear such things, especially from a man--unless he's a gynecologist and she's *paying* him."
He stepped back. "Sorry."
Don't run away… "No, no, it's all right this time. All my signals are probably stop signs anyhow."
"Stop signs? You know, that could explain something I've been feeling."
"How could *you* feel anything?" Don't tell me, she thought, next he'll get morning sickness, too… "It explains *my* crabbiness--for which I apologize in advance."
"That's okay. If you don't feel good--"
"I'm feeling better every moment." She didn't want to dwell on this. Couldn't he just cooperate for once and fall into the easy category of "men are such babies," something better left to discussions with other women, which she rarely did but usually enjoyed despite herself. No, he had to be Mr. Perfect…
Which is really just about the greatest thing in the world, girl…
She found herself smiling. She turned the pancake and was pleased to see she'd picked the right time to do so. "Is that perfect or is that perfect?"
"You're right. Now you were going to set the table…"
"Right!" He smiled supportively and turned away to be helpful. He started by wiping off the table with a sponge from the sink and drying it with a paper towel. Then he looked he began looking at and into cabinets and boxes, lifting his glasses to make this easier. How odd and endearing and so Clark that looked… He found what he wanted, setting the table with napkins, butter in a butterdish, and juice glasses with cartoon figures on them. "I don't have any juice," she warned him.
"I can make some," he said.
Cherry juice as it turned out, and he made it using a pitcher he also brought over from his place since her not-fancy-crystal pitcher still had tea in it.
She didn't burn the second, third or fourth pancakes, a good record, but she was watching them closely. Indeed, using the measuring cup had been a brilliant idea: each pancake looked uniform in shape and she could make them bigger for him, smaller for herself.
As she stood there vigilant, her stomach growled and she felt a little queasy. Clark materialized next to her and offered a spoonful of juicy brown apple butter. "I was just trying this, I'm not sure if it came out okay."
"Are you kidding? Your mother made it, her name's on the label, and the apples are Kent Farm apples, that's on the label, too, so it has to be perfect."
"Humor me, I'm not so sure about this batch. I mean, what am I going to tell her?"
"That you threatened your girl friend with ptomaine poisoning again?"
The man was so transparent… "Look I'll prove it's okay." She took the spoon carefully so as not to spill any and tasted what it held, just an exquisite little bit… her stomach felt interested. She took the rest of the spoon full with a slurp. "You know, it did taste a little… you could be right, I'd better…" He held up the jar; she dipped in for another taste, a probably terribly unsanitary act. The second taste was "Perfect, I told you." Also, it appeased her stomach, as he had probably planned. He was not only transparent, he was just so… perfect. "Clark…"
She put down the spoon, looked up into his eyes, and, she hoped, made quite clear that she wanted to top that perfection with a comforting little apple-butter-flavored kiss. He caught on quickly, embraced her carefully, and gave the kiss to her sweetly. He was always giving… she hardly ever had to ask… It tingled and made her forget all those irritating little pains as she returned the hug. Better than drugs, she mused… "Thanks… You're my friend… " she mumbled as they parted reluctantly. His hands began to smooth up her back. She realized what was happening and said, "Stop!"
He stopped. "Stop?"
"Move your hands back down… there, rub there…"
"Okay…" He began slowly and judicially eased his immensely powerful fingers into massage position, carefully seeking and finding knots of tension and pressuring them to relax.
"Oh, that's good…" She closed her eyes and leaned against him, smelling his soapy clean neck. She felt his cheek brush against her right temple and pause there. He must have been enjoying this, too, but only in this friendly way because she didn't feel she was evoking any other response from him. She was glad for this now, because he would have been uncomfortable. Some day, under better circumstance, he wouldn't have had a chance, she would have taken him on the spot, pushed him back over the island table, clearing it as they went, devouring him for breakfast, and he would have loved it… But while there was a sexual component to massage, yes, it was far more of a rescue mission. "You have *great* hands…"
"Thanks," he whispered, a smile in his voice.
"It was beginning to feel like an elephant wearing cleats was doing pirouettes back, right… there…"
"Whoa, that's descriptive… There are a lot of tight points down here--I mean, like here…" he massaged matching ones on either side of her lower spine.
"I know what you mean," places that hurt as soon as he touched them but then hurt good when he worked on them, like a real massage therapist.
"If you want to lie down…"
"No, gotta work…" but she found it hard to even think of moving away. "This is so nice…" You truly are magic, Clark… I have to tell you that sometime…
"Ah, can you take two steps backwards?"
"Umm?" Oh, that she could do. "Like this?" She took the steps, right foot, left foot. As close as they were, he no doubt felt her hips moving and moved correspondingly. He was good at that, promising for later on.
"That's fine." He leaned a bit to her left and she turned her head to see what he was doing.
At the same time she smelled it, the fifth pancake! It was on the verge of becoming charcoal, she just knew it. "Argh!" She grabbed for the spatula at the same time he was doing so, except for her it was left handed and awkward. Neither of them quite got it, meeting in the middle and fumbling with the heavy plastic utensil until it broke free and skittered off just beyond reach toward the back of the stove top. "Damn!"
"Don't panic." Though he probably could have reached it, he resorted to Plan B: scooping his hand deftly under the pancake and flipping it over, revealing it to be past golden but only dark brown with no signs of black at all.
"Whew…!" She hugged him and then let go, pulling away from him, pushing her hair back behind her ears in an old comforting move that didn't work so well now that her hair was feathery short. She grabbed up the spatula and faced the real world again. She pointed at the pancake. "Do you want that one?"
"What's so funny? You saved it from a fate worse than death! It's practically got your named burned on it!"
The smile became a laugh. "Sure, it looks fine to me." Then he began looking for something.
Something to wipe his hands on? *Not* his clean T-shirt! "There's a towel over there, use that."
He picked up the flower-patterned terrycloth rectangle from the other side of the counter and did as asked, looking back at her. "I guess the drugs you took are working now, huh?"
"Them and your magic fingers. I sure am going to be glad to have *you* around every month."
"Well, you get me more than that."
She poked at the miraculous pancake but it wasn't done yet. She smiled at what he might have meant by that but most likely didn't. "Uh-huh…"
"When we're both totally ready," he said firmly, his face sincere, the statement to be taken with all its meaning clear and doubtfree, "you'll get me any time, all the time, but not before that."
It occurred to her that he had been thinking about this and she wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad one. She was sure that "totally ready" had nothing to do with her monthly visitor since he hadn't known about that. She also doubted that he had been thinking about what she wanted him to be thinking about, how he had no reason to be a secret nervous wreck about all this.
Unfortunately this was not the time to launch an all-out probe and force a confession from him, because he wasn't "totally ready" for that yet, either. For example, he still seemed to have at most only a vague suspicion about her true motives for turning up in his bed the morning before. His soft kiss and heart felt declaration of love had nearly dissolved her resolve to appear deeply asleep and let him feel at ease with her presence. He still had to get used to her, had to be desensitized, so to speak, in many different ways.
And there were so many things about him she also had to get used to as well…
But she wasn't the one with the problems here. He had to be finding this whole thing to be one of his most difficult challenges in life. Sure he trusted her, but did he trust her entirely, like he did his parents? Quite possibly--even probably--but did he know that? Possibly not. Even if he told himself he did, he probably wasn't sure and secure deep down inside, not like she felt herself to be when she slowed down and thought calmly about it.
The key seemed to be in his learning to play and tease with all that he was and not feel he had to hide anything when they were together. He had to naturally feel comfortable about her knowing, that it was okay, he could be himself with her if he wanted to.
And so what if it was taking him a little time to adjust? He was already beginning down the road, casually letting her see little things, little "tricks" that weren't tricks but just things that he could do, things he'd kept hidden before. That was important, a good first step. She was glad she could already see that part of the whole. So, when they were both ready--when *he* was ready, she'd get him any time, hmm?
She smiled warmly. "You'll get me, too."
He smiled modestly, "You know what? I'm the luckiest guy in the world."
"In the big picture, yes, you are, but *not*," she warned him, "today, definitely not, not for a few days."
"Oh, definitely not," he shook his head as though to assure her he understood completely.
"But someday. Soon."
"Yeah…" with that same pleased smile.
Oh, yes, he wanted it, and her, the world of two people as a couple in love, just like she did…
Wait a minute, a couple? Well, not *that* kind of couple, not old and married and tired and having all kinds of problems, not yet anyway.
However, he wasn't "ready" and insisted they "both" had to be, he was probably thinking she had fears similar to his own (and how he could help, that would be just like him). That was probably why he endeavored to ease the subject back toward where it had been. "You know, you should feel free to relax and sit back and direct me--I mean, me alone, without all those helpers. I wouldn't mind that. I'm really talented when it comes to moving things."
"I know you wouldn't mind and I know you are talented." She checked the pancake. Side B looked nice, restoring her confidence. She placed it on the single one awaiting it. Perfect again, nine perfect sides out of ten. God I'm good… She was feeling hungry now, too, excellent. One more to go, and just enough batter for it, the recipe had been right. "But I think you *and I* can do it together. I can work through this thing," she indicated her middle in case he was in any doubt. "I'm used to it. You just haven't seen it but now you have, and it's something you can get used to, too."
"Hey, maybe Kryptonian women do--did the same thing."
"I don't know, maybe."
"Maybe it was *worse* for them, or better…"
"I can't say…"
Touchy subject, clues there again… but time to ease off. "Well, your mother looked like she was in great shape, and with more massages when I need them, I can be in great shape, too, hmm?"
"Or maybe you can prevent it from happening all together. Feeling so much pain that you have to take drugs can't be a natural thing." He looked truly concerned but then strangely changed the subject. "You know, I've got to figure out a way to travel long distances with you, really long distances, so you're not uncomfortable and we don't spend a lot of time in the air."
"No slow boats to China?"
"No slow boats, but trips to China, yes. I know herbalists there and maybe they could help you get back into balance."
Oh, he hadn't changed the subject at all, just been thinking out loud. "That's assuming I was ever *in* balance--but I know what you mean, I'm not getting crabby again, believe me."
She glanced at him.
"You meant what you said. You were right. We have to start saying what we mean with each other, *especially* me," not that she'd start real soon, but if the intent was there, the heart would follow eventually.
She turned this pancake over, then flipped it back again quickly because it wasn't brown enough on side A. Premature flipping couldn't count against her record unless the decision to turn took more than five seconds, at which time the batter probably would already be browning on the side B. She noticed, though, that the quick flip back had left a little batter sticking to the spatula and wondered what that meant in terms of points. Well, if she pretended it hadn't happened, probably he wouldn't notice.
"But you know," she said, "we don't have to go all the way to China to see an herbalist because there are plenty of them here who could help if I'd just take time to ask them."
"Like, this week?"
"Okay, this week, I'll try. But I would like to go to China just to go and see things. The newspaper clippings in your scrap books, the ones that reported what you saw? They were fascinating to read. Those are what you should have shown Perry first time around."
"Well, they were there in my portfolio but he didn't have time to look."
"That's putting it charitably." She flipped the last pancake again. This time she approved of its appearance. "But it worked out okay."
"Yeah, I got the better part of the deal, too."
"I don't know about that, it just took me longer to realize how good my part of it really was. Did you finish the table? Did you say you have some maple syrup? If you don't, I *don't* want you to fly off somewhere for it."
He didn't have to fly, but he was gone long enough for the last pancake to finish. She put it on the stack of two and put both plates with their stacks on the table, the one without the miracle pancake in it at the place where he had been sitting earlier.
He returned and sat down just as she was doing so. He looked at his breakfast, smiled and said, "Umm, looks great!" He proceeded to open the maple syrup and hold it over the stack… but tilted the bottle back and didn't let a drop out. "Wait a minute, where's that pancake I saved?"
"Well, you shouldn't have to eat that, it's too brown, I was just kidding."
"Lois, I want to eat it, I was looking forward to it. It will taste special."
"It will taste almost burned is what it will taste."
"No, it won't. Close your eyes…"
She pretended to and watched him trade his plate for hers, even before she could begin dabbing at the stack with the butter softened a bit in the microwave. His new stack he immediately smothered in maple syrup. She gave up and wiped the butter over the top of hers and began lifting layers to spoon in apple butter. She added a little maple syrup as well, resisting his suggestion that she pour it right on and not be shy, he could get more easily. "This is quite enough, I have to keep my girlish figure."
"You're girlish figure is going to get plenty of work out today, remember that."
"Then we'll snack."
Satisfied with the way her pancakes looked, she cut into them and tasted a fork full. Perfect again, melt in her mouth. "Ummm…"
"I told you they'd be great."
She tasted the cherry juice. Surprisingly good, too, and her stomach even approved. "Okay, Mr. Great, you were right on that one, I *am* great. I like that about you. You're a good judge of character… most times."
"Well, I'm getting better about villains."
"True, they don't run roughshod over you any more."
"Most of them. The Slime Monster doesn't count, it didn't have feet and I don't think it had much of a brain, either."
"I think you're right about that, too, but I don't want to talk about it. Let's talk about…" he looked thoughtful, but she suspected it may have been an act, that he was seeing his chance and grabbing it, "the future. We're agreed on visiting China by Kent Airlines eventually."
"Yes. China should be on our agenda."
"Okay, that's an us thing that was my idea. What about an us thing that's something you want to do, that's your idea?"
Oh? She considered him. He had stopped eating and was prepared to drink up and savor ever word she said.
Yes, he had planned this as much as he could. It was sweet, too, for she was sure she had a good idea of what he wanted to see in his future: world peace, solar powered cities, no need for endangered animals lists, tons of kids he could call his own, and maybe even life on the farm.
The first three she could agree with and state easily, but he no doubt wanted to hear her thoughts on the last two, or he probably thought he did, probably hoping they would be positive.
But they couldn't be. She wasn't ready for this. Interesting he had put it that way when he'd no doubt meant something entirely different. And here the ibuprofen was just taking hold and she was beginning to feel a little light headed and in need of reserving her strength for more important things, like the clean up.
Fortunately, an incredibly easy answer occurred to her. "England. I'd like to there to see all the mysterious places and take in some plays in London, and shop, too. And I want go to Rio de Janeiro at carnival time, I've heard a lot about that, how dangerous and wonderful it can be. You've probably done all that though…"
"Yeah, a little, but alone, I'd love to share it."
"Okay, China, Great Britain and Rio. I'd even like to look at the Amazon. Maybe from the air or a boat. Okay, now it's your turn again," and to ensure that he took one, she cut into another part of her pancakes and concentrated on not spilling any apple butter. If he said anything she couldn't think of an easy reply to, she could just nod along pleasantly, keep eating, and not get in any trouble.
"Well, I was thinking of things we'd do on a little more personal level."
"Like… when we come back from Carnival or Stonehenge or the Great Wall, assuming we're… ready or even well past ready, we might consider…" He looked around the area for ideas. "…knocking out that wall over there." He pointed at the southern wall of her living room where she was thinking of putting her big oak bookcase.
"That's a good idea, I can see that in the future."
"But I think we would probably be married already, or at least planning it. We'd be getting our two places here ready to become one, if we decide to stay here--"
"If we decide to get married…"
"Well, yes. If we decide that… I'm sorry, I'm probably thinking way too far ahead…"
Why was he so skittish? Did he think she was delicate about this? Hey, she could think ahead, too. "You mean you don't want to live on the farm?"
"Well, no, I think this neighborhood is a great place to live. I can see maybe retiring to the farm, if you want to retire, that is. It's up to you."
"No, it's up to *us*. Don't you want to retire?"
"I don't know, yeah, I guess so. Maybe there will be world peace and not much for me to do as a reporter or as" hand motion, "so… maybe I will retire…" But he smiled. "I do have 35 years yet to think about it…"
"And me 34, and by then I'll learn enough about chickens not to be afraid of them any more, so maybe the farm will be a good idea."
He smiled. "You'll do fine, chickens are okay."
"If you say so… So you want to knock out a wall and I want to get used to chickens. It's your turn again."
He blinked and then smiled as though this weren't going quite the way he had hoped but he was adventurous… and skittish? "Go for it," she said.
"Go for it?"
"Say what you really want to say. What do you really want?"
He looked surprised that she would insist, then pleased. "Well, okay… While we wouldn't live on the farm until retirement or world peace, whichever comes first, it might be sort of nice to think about getting married there. We could invite all our Metropolis friends and help pay their way, and some of them could sleep in the barn and keep the chicken's company…" He looked at her.
She was eating. Furiously. She realized it suddenly, too.
"Well, we could put them up at the Motel 6, too…"
She tried to smile. She drank some juice as she considered how to reply. "A little ceremony in Smallville would be nice…"
"It's not something I'd want to advertise, there are people who would love to try to wreck it. It's something we'd decide on mutually anyhow, of course. I've just been kicking around the basic idea… Haven't you sort of been…?"
She could swear she saw a pleading look in his eyes, that he wanted her to be as blissful about the idea as he was.
She tried to smile but, honestly, she had not been thinking about this, she first just wanted to feel he was at last comfortable with her and with himself, and *then* maybe… Marriage. Okay, sure, it had to happen some time down the line, *far* down the line.
At least it didn't look like he wanted anything like Mother and Daddy's whirlwind fling and jaunt to Niagara Falls.
My gosh, what if next he asked how many kids she wanted?
He was the super one, couldn't he do that, too?
No, no, no… He wants to knock out walls so she has more house to take care of, then get married and even if it's a small one there's all kinds of planning and preparation, and now kids? Where would she ever find time to have one, let alone the dozens he was probably envisioning?
He was watching her. It was her turn again, wasn't it?
Hey, she told herself, this could be a wonderful opportunity to show him she was willing to be honest, forthright and open. It would be difficult, indeed nearly impossible… but it had to be done, or he'd just keep dreaming and facing the reality of Lois Lane would be more difficult for him.
"Clark, I think our future is in *dating,* even before we do any world travel. And then if we decide we really like each other, can stand each other--I mean, if you can stand *me* because I can stand you just fine--then we get engaged. After that, we think about marriage, and talk about it, too, lots, we talk it out completely. We'll be all ready when we're ready."
He sat back a little. She wondered what that meant.
"Well, you're right, of course, I was jumping to conclusions…"
Uh-oh, she'd hurt him. "Oh, no, you weren't, you're just…" What *was* he?
"I'm a little excited. I've never done anything like this before, Lois, I've…" He paused then proceeded carefully: "I've never been able to talk to anyone about really important things, except my folks, since I was maybe… 12 or 13, and even then I can't talk to them about *everything*… so I just…" He sighed. He considered his pancakes but didn't touch them, wouldn't use them to hide behind as she did hers. "So I just haven't talked. I'm not very good at it, and I'm a little scared, too, I guess--but I want to *get* good at it, I *want* to talk."
"Your dam's about to burst, huh?"
"Yeah," he grinned, appreciatively. "That pretty much describes it. I'll try to keep it from, well…"
Oh, this man of all men in the world, scared, and, what was worse, he was *admitting* it, while she was… It seemed easy for a moment. "No, don't try to keep it inside, we can talk, because I'm scared, too…"
Somehow their hands met midtable.
He looked just a little stronger and more supportive. "I realize you've gone through all this before, what with… well…"
He frowned, but at himself and he rushed to make up for that faux pas, which wasn't one but his eyes indicated he feared it was. "But that wasn't the same thing as this *at all*, I know that."
"No, he and I dated, he courted me, we got engaged, he blew up the Planet, he tried to turn me into a *television* reporter, he alienated me from all my friends, he nearly killed you, he tried to commit suicide…"
"Ah…" He looked at their hands, obviously not sure how to reply to that.
"So I don't think what you and I are trying to do is anything like what I've gone through before with anyone. We're going to take it more carefully for one thing."
"Well, I don't plan on taking you to expensive restaurants every night if that helps."
"When we do go to them, I'm paying at least half the time. Lex didn't let me pay for a thing. He was buying me."
"You know I won't do that."
"No, you couldn't afford me."
"That's the truth…"
Poor poverty-stricken Clark… who she could easily imagine giving away to charity a substantial portion of his paycheck… "And that's a wonderful thing. I couldn't break Lex, I didn't even try, I wasn't aware… but he broke himself, so that's all for him. You? I could break you, financially," and other ways without a doubt, "I know that, you'd try to buy me fancy dinners every night if I asked, wouldn't you?"
"But I don't want that, it's the last thing I'd ever want, I like these little intimate meals and just taking our time…" she patted his hands and then retrieved hers. She didn't want to be touching him when she launched the idea that had just come to her. "But you know what I think my big problem is, Clark?" She picked up her fork so that she could push pieces pancake around her plate. "Not that it's really a problem, it's more like a… personality trait, a quirk. I'm just more of a… a thinker-of-the-immediate-future-kind of person, that's all."
His eyebrows said "huh?"
She smiled, realizing she had been half way hoping he would understand so he explain to he what she'd just said. It was probably something like… "Dating, engagement, marriage, honeymoon, ki… ch… children, all that typical, normal family stuff, yes, I can think about that, in that order, some time, in the future, when we're older, but right now I think it's difficult for me to envision anything past, oh, our tenth date, that's all."
He nodded. "I understand. It may be because we have different backgrounds to look at, to draw from, too, and that makes a big difference in our outlook on life now."
"It does, your right!" She was sure he meant their childhoods, but she refused to go there. "Take the last five years of my life. They're the most intense I've *ever* experienced. I've worked day and night to become the very best reporter I can be, the reporter I've dreamed of being. It hasn't left much time for anything else. I think Perry's warning about being only as good as my last story has always driven me."
Clark looked totally hooked by this, beautiful, and it was flowing right out, too. She threw herself into it. "I think that's why my vision is… so limited, I'm always looking for the next big story, to get my name on something in the next edition. To tell the people what's happening so they can act with on the best information I can give them. Considering all that, I'm lucky if I can think more than a few days ahead, let alone a few weeks or, God forbid, *years*… And to think of anything outside the paper, like getting involved with someone even when I want to? That's almost impossible for me. That's one reason why I haven't finished any of my novels, they're too long term and I'm just not a very good long-term thinker."
"Oh, I see." He seemed to realize then that he had left his hands outstretched. He pulled them in, picked up his fork and also began playing with his breakfast, a thoughtful frown on his face. "None of that had occurred to me at all.."
He was so completely taken in by this "explanation" that she could have hugged him and admitted that none of it was true… except she had no idea what the truth really was, so it seemed like a good idea to stick with this story for now.
It didn't really matter, however, because the big thing was getting *him* over *his* obstacles. Look, she reminded herself, she was used to talking a mile a minute and communicating personal information all the time, but only now was he feeling free to do the same, after years and years of keeping it bottled up inside. He had tremendous things to talk about--and it would be wonderful to help him with that. The test drive thing? Oh, forget that. It was good only for a distraction, it kept his head busy while his heart, opening wider by the moment, felt her tender mercies.
However, she didn't like to see that slightly worried look on his face. "Well, why should it have occurred to you? It shouldn't have, there's no reason. You have plenty to think about already, and I'm getting my act together."
"But…" He wanted to help.
"But that doesn't mean that it's impossible for me to start thinking long term. It will just take some practice…" She smiled. That didn't sound like a bad idea actually. "Maybe I am already unconsciously thinking long term. Look at this apartment." She indicated the clutter that awaited them patiently. "I think this has to be an indication that I can think long term when I put my mind to it, even in a panic situation. There's hope for me yet."
"Lois," he said carefully, preliminary to something he wanted her to hear, understand and take to heart, "I have never doubted that…"
He looked so sincere… because he was so sincere. There was no one in the world more sincere than Clark Kent when he put his heart into it, and he put his heart into everything, didn't he? Lois Lane could run raging ragged all over the known universe and beyond and even if he was scared of the unknown and her visits there and trying to drag him along, he'd still be sincere for her, a beacon, a comfortable, long-term home base… "Oh, Clark… I'm glad you… rub me the right way…"
"Yeah, well…" He smiled slowly, no more fear for the moment, just a warmer, deeper look on his face than she'd ever seen before. What had she done so good that she had earned the right to see that? "You know," he said softly, "this has been a good talk. We have to do more of this."
"Yes, I want to." Even if I have to figure out what the truth is, you deserve that…
He seemed to press just a little, as though offering an unexpected form of emotional dessert. "Every day we have to put in some practice on it."
"Yes," To see another smile like that on his face, yes, any time. "It's a long-term thing that I will dedicate time to, I promise."
His smile turned playful. "Well, I think we have a long-term project on our hands already, trying to figure out everything you just explained about being a workaholic."
"Ha! Good thing you have a excellent memory. You'll have to write it out for me so I can review it." She sat back, satisfied, feeling they'd come to an interesting agreement, something she could and wanted to live with. "Will you hurry up and eat? *I'm* almost done." She took, chewed, and swallowed the last golden sweet three-part piece of pancakes. Then she picked up and sipped at the cherry juice, enjoying it. "Do you want seconds or do we wash dishes and get started… weaving this straw into gold?"
"I think that's 'spinning,' rather like my head at the moment, so, being a little dizzy…" He ate the last of his breakfast as well, "but not being hungry any more, I'll follow your lead, Sherlock."
"'Sherlock' again? You know, I like that one. Put it on your list of pet names, too, but not on the top."
"I haven't reached the top yet?"
"No, *I'm* still on top."
(to be continued)
Author's note: I plan to have an actual A plot in the next installment, the lack of which was one of the things that slowed me down writing the above.
The author wishes to thank Margaret B., Lynda L., and Laurie F. for their invaluable assistance, as well as Zoomway for something she said in connection with something else entirely. Otherwise, I take credit for all typos made after my proofers pointed out the many that they saw, and I grant permission to readers any that still lurk in the above text.
October 27, 1996