By Elaine M. Gustainis <ElGust@aol.com>
Rated G Submitted August 1999
Summary: What seems like a simple camping trip leads to a discovery for Clark and causes Lois to jump to the wrong conclusion. An engaging multiple crossover. (Part 1 of 3)
By The Light of the Moon, To the Stars and Mystery at Neewatoree Falls were all written for a paper fanzine called "Relativity." We're up to number 8 now. Basic premise is that Lee Stetson (Bruce Boxleitner) of Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Murphy Michaels (James Read who later played Jimmy Olsen's father in L&C) of first season Remington Steele, Skip Carmichael (Joel Higgins), Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) of WKRP in Cincinnati and Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) of Quantum Leap are all related … it started as one story and exploded with many fandoms being added. We always welcome guests and in one of the earlier stories, one of our authors mentioned that the Michaels ranch was next to the Clark's ranch … this was long before L&C began its run on ABC, I just took it a little farther and ran with it :-)
Scott Hayden (Christopher Daniel Barnes) and George Fox (Michael Cavanaugh) are from the series Starman.
Lois Lane sat staring at her blank terminal, tapping her pencils in an even rhythmic tempo. Slow news days were an annoyance, slow news weeks a bore, but slow news months … they were intolerable. Lois was convinced the entire world had decided on a vacation and forgotten to let her in on the plan. Even Clark was nowhere to be found.
"Probably off getting the only happening story in the universe," she mumbled to herself as she glanced over at her partner's empty desk.
The sudden appearance of flying envelopes broke her reverie as Jack ran by dumping mail. "Hey, Lois, how 'bout somethin' with a better beat. Sounds like a funeral march?"
"Jack, got a minute?" Lois called after the swiftly retreating blur, her mood brightening at the prospect of any excuse to ignore her assigned piece on the new albino boa constrictor exhibit at the Metropolis Zoo.
"Can't stop, I'm outta here soon as these are delivered … first major assignment." Jack breezed out the door.
Lois tried to be annoyed at him for not stopping but gave it up. She'd been hoping for escape all day and the youngest Planet staff member had just been a little luckier. Lois sighed deeply and turned her attention to the new pile on her desk, praying the news gods would drop something worthwhile in her lap with the daily correspondence.
Thirty minutes and a recycle bin full brought only a half-hearted resolve to investigate the dimwits in charge of addressing mail to Luis Lane, Lois Lanee and Editor Louis Lane. They were obviously illiterates who'd never had the pleasure of reading her work.
The last envelope lay in front of her. The last chance. *Her* last chance. Lois rolled her eyes heavenward, slit it open and pulled it out.
"Chief! Chief!" Lois' excited voice drew Perry White out of his office in a hurry and snagged Jimmy Olsen's attention away from the short-skirted new printer assistant walking by.
"Great Shades of Elvis, Lois, what's all this racket?"
Lois looked up at the Daily Planet's editor and laid the sheet she'd been clutching down on the desk, reverently smoothing out the folds.
"Chief, it's a tip … or a clue … or … or … I don't know what it is." Lois babbled on, recognizing her salvation when she saw it. "But it's important! It's a story!"
"Well, it looks like those hokey television ransoms to me," Perry noted as he examined the erratically cut out letters of varying size and origin glued together to form the message.
"Hey, cool," Jimmy observed. "Story of the Century! Espionage! Terrorism! Government Cover Up! Glorieta! April 6, 1995! Bring Flak Jacket! Bring Your Semiautomatic! Be Prepared For Anything!" Jimmy finished reading and looked up at his boss. "Real smooth. That's in three days. Can I go, Chief?"
"Right. We'll need supplies. I'll need to pack…" Lois distractedly grabbed up things on her desk, examining each for the necessity of it on this mission and stuffing the accepted items in her briefcase.
Perry held up his hands to slow his reporters. "Whoa, boys and girls. Just hold on a minute. First of all, we need to find out who sent this, see if it's a genuine article or just some crackpot. Let's start off with a postmark, fingerprints, etc."
Lois started to pick up the envelope but thought better of it. She now employed the pencils which had earlier served as drumsticks, lifting and turning it. Her overly extreme caution brought a slightly hidden smirk from Perry.
"Postmark 'Glorieta, something, something.' It's too faded." Lois squinted harder, then glanced up incredulously at her companions. "It's got a return address on it? An address in Glorieta, New Mexico…?"
"Lois…" Perry attempted unsuccessfully to get a word in.
"…You send out an anonymous letter and include an address label? What kind of informant is this?"
Perry tried again. "I think someone's pullin' your leg, Lois."
Lois's face took on a dismissive, then determined look. "Of course it's genuine, Perry. No one goes to this much trouble for a joke. So he's new at this … Or he wants us to contact him … or … or … I don't know, but we've got to find out where exactly Glorieta is and…"
"It's about 20 to 30 minutes outside of Santa Fe. Why?" Clark Kent interjected as he entered the newsroom. "What's going on? Is there trouble in Glorieta?"
Lois looked accusingly at her partner. "You knew about this didn't you? That's where you've been? Isn't it? You found a story and you didn't want to share."
Clark glanced at her quizzically, tilting his head and grinning crookedly. "Knew about what?"
"This!" Lois dropped the envelope on her desk and chopsticked the letter into Clark's face. "Don't deny it!"
Clark looked the note over, an odd expression playing across his features. His voice took on a conspiratorial sound. "You're right, Lois, I did know about this. And you're also right that I wasn't going to share."
Perry looked from one reporter to the other, debating the wisdom of remaining.
"In fact, if you must know, I wasn't even going to go," Clark added as Lois started to sputter something. "And besides…" Clark lifted up the envelope, Lois protesting the whole time about contaminating evidence. "What are you doing opening *my* personal mail?" Clark's teasing smile was lost on Lois as he pointed to his clearly marked name and the "personal and confidential" emblazoned across the bottom.
"*Your* mail?" Lois looked startled and then recovered. "Start explaining … And, if there's a story here, Kent, and it had better be worthwhile, remember this was dropped off at *my* desk so we're sharing!"
"Logical as ever, Lois," Clark concluded while unsuccessfully trying to keep his features set on serious.
Lois crossed her arms and tried to glare at Clark but almost lost her balance lunging to grab Perry and Jimmy as they tried to retreat towards the editor's office.
"My mom's brother, Joseph Clark, owns a ranch outside of Glorieta and I spent some of my summers there when I was a kid. The spread next door is owned by a family by the name of 'Michaels.' They have this reunion every year and every year *something* happens. And this really isn't the *real* reunion I'm being invited to … just a kind of in-between get together my cousin's been bugging me for weeks to come to. This note's just his way of trying to persuade me. Really, it's no big deal."
Lois relaxed a little. "Don't you want to see your cousin, Clark, and what do you mean by 'something happens?'"
Clark continued, trying to downplay what he suddenly realized would pique Lois's curiosity and which, he knew, would lead to nothing. "Of course I'd like to visit with my family, Lois, but I have responsibilities. I can't just drop everything and go gallivanting around, I'm an adult. And there's no story. So maybe terrorists held the whole Michaels family hostage one year and the government pretty much took over the ranch once to cover up a plane wreck with secret papers aboard…" Clark swiftly saw his "no big deal" credibility fly out the window as Lois recrossed her arms and smiled knowingly at him. "Okay, so they all went to Disneyland for a change and some wacko who was after one of the family actually managed to close the Park down early…" Clark's voice trailed off as he noted he even had Perry's interest.
"Well, Son, there just might be something worth lookin' into," Perry drawled.
"I don't think so, Chief. I mean, how many other possible things can happen to one family? It's almost become a joke about getting out the flak jackets and Uzis every year for the reunion. Skip Carmichael's just trying to organize one of his smaller get-togethers with some of his cousins and brothers. Todd and I were invited because we palled around with Allie and Scott…"
"Skip Carmichael? The 'flying to the moon in a homemade spaceship astronaut' Skip Carmichael?" Perry looked pleased. "You're tellin' me that things like this are happenin' to a celebrity and no one knows about it?"
"It's not like it's Skip's fault, well actually the secret paper thing was Skip's fault … and the terrorists were Lee's fault, but he's no longer a spy…"
"Spy?" Perry asked, raising his eyebrows.
Lois just leaned back, beaming her "I knew a story when I saw it" grin.
"I don't know for a fact he was a spy, we just all kind of…" Clark paused and crinkled his nose up in an almost cringe, "…speculated he was." Clark knew he was quickly losing the battle, amending his statement. "He was *our* spy … I mean an American agent, not foreign. And Murphy's connection to Remington Steele is so old now…"
"Remington Steele?" Jimmy stammered reverently. "I've read every book ever written by and about Remington Steele! Next to Lois and CK, he's my ultimate role model! Wow! Can I go?"
"Chief, this is *only* a hiking and camping trip in the mountains of New Mexico. What could possibly happen and what kind of story could we possibly get out of it? Skip hasn't done anything recently in the news, that 'spy' thing is unsubstantiated and I won't compromise Lee's life or my friendship with Allie for sensationalism."
"Now, Son," Perry soothed, patting Clark on the shoulder. "We're a little slow around here right now, as you might have noticed. And you're probably right, but if nothing else, we'd have a nice travel log to the Land of Enchantment." Perry paused for effect. "Or I could give you the abandoned pet alligators growing up in the city sewers story assignment we trot out in times like these…"
Clark tried once more but realized the war was pretty much over. "Perry, these are my friends. I can't spy on them."
"Clark, this is just a nice little vacation for you and your partner and if we get shoot 'em ups or alien landings in the bargain, fine. Now, get packing! You've got until tomorrow to get your gear together. I want you absorbing some background 'color' for your article before everyone else arrives. I'll have Travel book your flight for first thing. What about hotel arrangements? What's the nearest town?"
"We can stay at my Uncle Joseph and Aunt Martha's. They love company. But I'll have to call to see if it's alright if Lois joins the actual expedition." Clark forestalled any protest Lois was opening her mouth to make. "Lois, I think this is usually a guys only thing and before you start in about equal rights and sexist men, this is someone else's vacation and it's not my place to just go and invite people they don't know."
Lois relented about the tirade she was about to launch into and smiled sweetly, nodding her head in a bobbing sort of way. "Of course I'll abide by anything decided."
Clark raised his eyes heavenward and sighed, knowing Lois would do whatever Lois wanted to do.
"It's settled," the Planet editor exclaimed, pushing Lois and Clark towards the elevator, then turned back, laughing to himself as he heard Clark admonishing Lois about blow dryers and Lois explaining very carefully that she had been camping before.
"Chief, I could be an asset to this team." Jimmy confronted his editor. "Think of the great pictures we could add to the story."
"Jimmy, think of those two, alone finally for the next few days … out of Metropolis." Perry winked at the young man. "Do you ever think they'll get together while they're still in the city where they can be safe and know places to hide? Those two belong together as more than partners and everyone seems to know it but them." Perry steered Jimmy towards his office. "Son, Elvis and Priscilla would never have found each other without some help…" The chief's voice trailed off.
Jimmy was amazed at the matchmaker he'd never seen before and gave one last look over his shoulder, wishing CK and Lois some good luck for a change.
"Hey, Lee, I've been practicing this. Two wheels on the exit ramp!"
"Great." Lee Stetson nodded absently at his stepson, gazing out the rear passenger's window at nothing in particular.
"Phillip!" Amanda was trying to hide the fact she'd involuntarily braced herself against his actually trying the stunt.
"Told you he wasn't listening, Mom," Phillip answered as he took the curve at the properly safe speed.
"What…" Lee suddenly roused out of his daze. "Oh, we're here."
Phillip just grinned at his mother, mouthing very clearly the word 'see,' and pulled expertly into the very small opening in front of the white zone.
Amanda kept an eye on her husband as they got out of the car to unload the luggage. "Lee, I don't really think you *are* here. You've been distracted all morning." She looked with concern at him.
Lee glanced at Amanda, then Phillip. "That bad, huh? Sorry. Just thinking about Skip and some of his plans of yesteryear and how they turned out. I guess as much as I look forward to seeing everyone, I also worry about what could possibly happen next." Lee looked embarrassed he was actually about to express his foolish concerns aloud. "Sometimes I think the Michaels clan is cursed."
"Not cursed, Lee, blessed. Blessed with all sorts of wonderful people who help other people and…" Amanda searched for the proper words, "…sort of attract those who … don't."
Phillip dropped the last suitcase on their luggage carrier and stopped in front of Lee and Amanda. "Lee, you do have 'protection' don't you?" Phillip asked, a stern, serious expression crossing his features. "I mean, you're not taking my mother into the wilderness without a 'piece' or a 'gat' or a grenade *launcher*, are you?" Phillip broke into a smile. "Chill out, Lee. You're just going on a simple camping trip and you're no longer in the 'documentary film business' anymore so what could possibly go wrong?"
Amanda gave her son a hug and kiss. "Watch after your brother and sister, you've got Grandma's number and the number at the ranch. And don't worry … we'll call you with all the details after we encounter the last of Jesse James' gang hiding out in them there hills."
Phillip laughed as he said his good-byes and got into the driver's seat, putting his foot to the pedal and gunning the engine as a farewell to his mother and stepfather.
Amanda grabbed her overnight bag. "Lee, you have just got to learn to relax."
Lee threw his carry-on over his shoulder and started after Amanda, dragging the precariously loaded carrier toward the check in gate. "Nothing to worry about… just a simple ski trip to Aspen … Just a simple weekend in New Orleans for Mardi Gras … Just a simple little visit to New England in the fall … And how come no one seems to remember the simple jaunt to go scuba diving…?" Lee mumbled under his breath as he jerked the wheels over a particularly challenging door jamb.
"There it is, Flight from Metropolis to Dulles to Albuquerque." Amanda steered Lee toward the ticket agent, choosing to ignore his rumblings. All those times Lee mentioned had been trying, but they had always brought her and his wonderful cousins closer together. "Karen promised us those good seats with lots of leg room. I'm glad we have a straight-through flight. I know how much you hate layovers."
"I really hate layovers, Clark. I wish Travel had booked us straight through." Lois leaned against the divider between the front and back cabins of the nearly empty DC-10, a bundle of nervous energy. "I really don't like flying either, well that's not exactly true, I love flying, it's the airports and stops and the waiting I hate!" She shifted again, her side to Clark.
Clark stood up and stretched. "Lois, just relax. We've got a few more hours ahead of us and you're going to be worn out before we even get there. Maybe we should've gotten off the plane for a couple of minutes." He walked behind her and started to massage the knots out of her shoulders.
Lois initially relaxed, but suddenly tensed again as she almost jumped away, realizing just how close Clark was and how her body was involuntarily responding to his touch. "Clark, uh … maybe…"
Clark looked almost as embarrassed as she felt. She turned away, trying to avoid the punished puppy dog look in his eyes. They both knew it had been a gesture of friendship but now, with the status of almost dating that hung between them, they had to be cautious.
Caution had been all Lois could think about since she'd *had* a moment to think about her and Clark on this assignment, away from the familiar and safe. Caution had kept them from being more than just partners and friends, not wanting to lose what they did have for what they could have. Of course now she was finally ready to explore the ever increasing attraction to her best friend, but every time she had tried to talk to Clark lately about how she felt, about her fears, he was gone with some lame excuse, apologizing the whole time he was running in the other direction. He'd always been prone to these sudden disappearances, and maybe it was her imagination that they were escalating in frequency, but he'd also always been there for her when she needed him. And with her feelings all in a jumble, she needed him more now than she ever had in the past.
"Lois," Clark almost whispered her name, carefully placing a hand on her arm to draw her back from her reverie. "Maybe this is not the best place or the best time, but I know it seems like I've been ignoring you lately. I think we need to talk." Clark guided her to the seats.
Lois sat down and she finally looked at him. "I've been trying that for weeks now. I have so much I want to tell you. I'm not the one who's keeping us apart." Instantly Lois saw his expressive eyes register sadness and regret. "Clark, I know in the past I've been the one who refused to acknowledge how I felt, to you and to myself, but there's something else between us now and until you can trust me, I don't see us going anywhere."
Clark closed his eyes. As he opened them again, he looked up in an almost prayer-like gesture, drawing a deep breath. A sudden, determined look had replaced the previous emotions and Lois shuddered as the intensity reminded her of some time else … of someone else, but she couldn't quite place it.
"I can't deny what you've just said, but it's not that simple," Clark explained. "I won't lie to you now and tell you I only care for you or that I only have feelings for you. Those words are safe, and they can't even begin to convey the emotions I feel for you. I love you, Lois, with every fiber of my being. I have since you … well *almost* since I first met you."
Lois opened her mouth to say something, but stopped when she realized he wasn't finished.
"I lied to you that day outside the Planet when I recanted my true feelings. All I've ever wanted is to be with you and we kept fighting about my confession. There's more I have to tell you. It might change how you look at me; it might not and don't think that doesn't terrify me. I have a favor to ask, and you're not going to like it." Clark took Lois's hands between his and squeezed them gently. "Trust me just a little longer. I have my reasons, whether they're valid or not, but give us this time together, to get to know each other away from work, without questions, which I know seems like a contradiction, but I promise no more secrets from then on." Clark nodded his head sideways, half smiling, half pleading.
Lois started to speak, then stopped, repeating the ritual several times, a gamut of different emotions crossing her features. She wanted it to work, and if anyone else had asked for that trust she would have probably laughed in his face. But this was Clark … her Clark. At least that's how she wanted it to be, she knew it in her heart since the day she had stopped her own wedding to Lex Luthor. Finally she found her voice. "You're right, I don't like it, but I do trust you, and don't think that doesn't terrify me…" She mirrored his confusion. "But okay, it's a deal," Lois agreed, thought a second, and then grinned at her partner. "But, if I explode from the suspense, it's on your head!"
Clark laughed with relief and at the possibility she might actually do that, knowing her reporter's instincts were always present.
"Oh, and Kent, this had better be good," Lois stated, using his tie as a handle to pull him closer, smiling triumphantly. "Because it works two ways. I have a few things to tell you and I don't spill them until you do. Agreed?"
"Fair enough, partner," Clark acknowledged. Taking his cue from Lois, he leaned in for a kiss to seal the agreement, but halted abruptly as the Dulles passengers finally started to board. Clark looked around, disappointed. "And you think *my* timing is lousy?"
Lois shrugged, annoyed at the interruption, but happy something was settled, well at least almost settled. It would have to do … for now. "Okay … well then … uh … what about this spy of yours?" If they couldn't continue where they were going, at least she was going to get some business taken care of.
He held up his hand, making shushing sounds. "I hardly think a crowded plane is the place to discuss that kind of thing, Lois … and besides I told you he's not a spy anymore … maybe."
Lois was the determined one now. "How are we to do an expose' on this if you won't give me the background? I mean…"
Clark rolled his eyes heavenward again, but this time at the fact that Lois was back to her normal Lois self. He froze as he saw the passengers coming down the aisle. "Lois, ix-nay on the ay-spay…" Clark whispered, but she seemed not to have heard him and he started gesturing to her with cease-and-desist hand signals, then gave up for the direct approach. "*Lois*, spy at 9 o'clock." Clark immediately stood up with a greeting to cover his partner's babbling. "Lee?"
Lee looked up from his boarding pass as he heard his name. The man who'd called him seemed familiar, but it took a moment to place him. "Clark? Clark Kent? What on Earth are you doing here?" Lee moved forward to take Clark's outstretched hand, stumbling a bit to avoid slamming his carry-on into a fellow passenger's head. Lee mumbled an apology and finally stood before Clark. "It's been so long … years, or is it decades?"
Clark laughed. "It's been years. I heard you were married … with kids! Congratulations! You were the last person I expected to settle down."
"Well I heard you were in Metropolis working for a newspaper … by way of Borneo?" Lee laughed. "What would we do without your Aunt Martha and my Aunt Katie's family gossip?" Lee was having a hard time believing this grown man was the same person who'd been such a pest, wanting to tag along, but then Allie was an adult too — perspective was always something to marvel at.
Lois got up as Clark and Lee shook hands; she wanted a better look. *This* was Clark's spy? He looked like the guy next door, *very* handsome, but very suburban. And the woman standing behind them, quite happily watching this reunion … Mrs. Spy? She was pretty, but not in the Mata Hari kind of way and hardly the type to be married to James Bond. The woman noticed Lois and squeezed past Lee.
"Amanda Stetson," she introduced herself, putting the small bag down to take Lois's hand. "I'm the married part, who takes care of those kids. If we wait for them to get to us, we'll be in Albuquerque," Amanda added in a conspiratorial whisper.
"Lois Lane. I'm the senior *part*-ner who works at the Daily Planet," Lois supplied, noticing the strange silent almost amused, looks that passed between Amanda and Lee at the word "partner." She filed that away mentally for later reference.
"Oh, sorry, Amanda … Lois…" Lee finished the formal greetings his wife had started then turned his attention back to Clark. "This is such a coincidence — what *are* you doing here?"
"Allie invited us, well me, camping and it's been a long time since either Lois or I had a vacation so … here we are," Clark explained, helping Lee find storage for their bags. "We came out a little early so I could visit and show Lois around."
"At least now I won't be the only woman." Amanda smiled at Lois, as they settled.
Lois frowned slightly. "Clark, you told me it *wasn't* guys only."
"When I talked to Skip he said it was 'no problemo,'" Clark assured Lois, seeing her uncomfortable expression.
Amanda hastened to reassure them. "It started out that way a few years ago, but the hardy pioneers found they didn't like leaving the women folk behind, so everyone's invited. I'm the only 'girl' who could make it this time. Don't worry, Lois. The guys are the best, but be forewarned, when they all get together they regress to the age of 10 and they think they're the Four Musketeers again. Oh, watch out for their ringleader. Skip'll get you into trouble if there's any trouble to be gotten into."
"Hey, we're not that bad," Lee defended himself, laughing at Amanda's unbelieving look. "Well, it'll really seem like old times with Clark along. Amanda, did I ever tell you about the time he and Allie and Scott decided to tail us up the mountain…"
"Uh, really Lee … that's not worth going into…" Clark tried to interrupt, decidedly embarrassed at the prospect of Lois hearing the story.
"No, no, Clark … It's great," Lee continued, sending a wink in Lois's direction and buckling into his seat.
Spy or not, Lois decided she was going to like this man and his very pleasant wife.
The flight had been fun. After Lee's story, Amanda and Lois had taken control of the conversation, and Lois had been amazed to find someone who could hold their own with her in the talk area and go off on … what was it Clark called them … tangents?
They sat, guarding the luggage and talking while the men gallantly fought paperwork for the rental cars.
"I'd never been able to work with a partner before Clark," Lois reminisced. "He's the only one who's ever tolerated my work style and my moods."
Amanda looked bemused, then nodded her head in understanding. "You sound like Lee when I first met him. He didn't need anyone or anything … and especially not a partner. I think Clark's a lot like me. We just stick with those we care about until they stop fighting us and realize they don't have to be alone in the world."
Lois remembered the earlier exchanged glances between Lee and his wife. "Amanda, when I mentioned that Clark and I were partners on the plane, you and Lee gave each other the strangest looks. What was that all about?"
Amanda laughed. "Lois, you don't usually take your 'partner' on vacation with you unless there's something else going on."
"No, we're…" Lois started but Amanda quelled the protestations with an upraised hand.
"You can deny it all you want, but Lee and I have been there. It took us almost three years to admit to each other that we were more than just partners, or friends for that matter. We both know the signs, and it was even more apparent after talking with you two the whole flight. Be careful of Lee, since we got married, he's turned into the worst matchmaker."
Lois sadly shrugged. "Maybe one day there might be more, but something's stopping us. It was my fault before. I was so enamored with someone else I didn't really know, or ever likely will know, to give Clark even a second look. Then Clark told me he loved me, but I told him he was my best friend and I agreed to marry another man. On my wedding day, I suddenly realized it was Clark I loved and I stopped my wedding, but then he told me he didn't love me, that he would have said anything to prevent my marriage to Lex. Just before you boarded the plane he told me that was a lie and now … well, now I haven't got a clue what's going on," Lois confessed all in one breath, then paused, the realization catching her totally off guard. "Partners? You and Lee? Both of you are spies?" Lois exclaimed before she knew she was speaking out loud, stopping just as suddenly as she saw the look on Amanda's face.
Lois knew she was being sized up, new found friendship versus reporter's instincts. Amanda's previous smiles were replaced by deadly seriousness.
"Amanda, I'm sorry. When Clark first mentioned spies, it was by accident." Lois turned her face away from Amanda's intense stare. "It's been a slow news time and *anything* is a possible story right now, but I would never put you or your family in danger," Lois promised. "Maybe before I'd met Clark, I would have, but knowing him has changed me … for the better. And if you think Clark would even let me do that, well, you don't know Clark…"
Lois looked back at Amanda, hoping her words were believed.
Amanda relaxed as she obviously decided Lois would be able to keep this confidence. "Aunt Martha and Aunt Katie," was all Amanda said.
They sat in silence, each deep in thought until Lois couldn't stand it anymore. Resigned to the fact she had to ask, Lois finally just blurted it out. "Amanda, you were a spy? Lee, maybe I can see that, but you?" She shook her head incredulously.
"Looks like the guys are going to be a while." With a "why not" gesture, Amanda launched into her narrative. "Let me tell you about this package a waiter pushed into my hands. He told me to get on a train and give it to the man in the red hat…" Amanda smiled as the memory came back to her, "…but don't let on to Lee that you know. He thinks that only a few of his family are actually aware of what he did exactly … But when I got onto the train, everyone was wearing red hats … oh, and the proper term is 'intelligence operative,' not spy … well, I just stood there…"
"Lois, dear, you just call me Aunt Martha," the older woman directed her as she led Lois out the door. "Nobody'll be knowing if you're talking to me or Clark or Joseph if you insist on this Mr. and Mrs. Clark business … And of course just Martha is Clark's mother, or do you call her mom? I'm sure you can imagine all the trouble we get into when we have all the Marthas and all the Clarks around. Oh, well, that's not important. Let's get moving so I can show you the place before it gets to be too late."
"I'll just put the luggage into the rooms, Lois," Clark called after the two, closing the screen door and turning to the task at hand.
Once his own suitcase was unpacked and their camping gear stored, he wandered around the familiar house, ending up in the family room, plopping into the old recliner he remembered and sinking in almost to the frame. Just like it'd always been … he put the foot rest up and relaxed. He knew that *he* had to make an appearance in Metropolis several times during the next week, but he would worry about exactly when that would be later. This was the first chance he'd had since Lee and Amanda had shown up on the plane to really do some thinking. It finally hit him that he'd actually told Lois he would tell her *everything*. Rationally he knew it would be the right thing … especially since that kiss they had recently shared … and what a relief it would be for her to finally know, but … how was he going to tell her…? how would she react…? This was not going to be easy. Clark knew what he had to do. He extracted himself from the sunken chair and reached for the phone.
Clark gripped the receiver like it was his lifeline. "Mom, hi," Clark said at the sound of the voice at the other end, adding a similar greeting to his father as he heard the extension picked up.
"Well, hello yourself," Martha returned cheerfully. "We called you at the Planet and someone said you were on an assignment … out of town … with *Lois*."
"So, Son, what's the scoop?" Jonathan winked at his wife who'd walked up beside him, the cordless phone in her hand.
Clark just laughed. He knew how his parents felt about Lois, but how would they feel about what he'd just promised the woman of his dreams? "Well, Aunt Martha says hello…"
Lois was beginning to believe everyone associated with the great state of New Mexico, either living there or traveling to it, were the nicest people on the planet. Martha … *Aunt* Martha was wonderful, and Lee and Amanda … It was so beautiful … the mountains … the trees … As soon as she changed her inappropriate traveling clothes, and shoes especially, she was meeting back up with her hostess to continue the tour. Maybe she could get Clark to join them for the remainder or possibly a stroll later on, just the two of them.
Stepping up to the porch, Lois heard Clark and stopped, not wanting to interrupt whoever he was talking to. She heard him chuckle at something.
"Yeah, Todd sent me some screwy note about terrorists and spies and stuff, Perry thought it might be worth our time to come out here. I think he wanted to get us out of the Planet and out of his hair … it's been real slow … Of *course* I'm glad to be here with Lois." Clark sighed.
He was on the phone, and to his parents. She smiled to herself as she realized she could tell, but something in his tone made her abruptly halt again and the smile slowly faded. She was eavesdropping, which the reporter in her normally wouldn't have balked at, but after her conversation with Amanda, she'd made a pledge that she was on vacation, and on vacation she would stay.
But he sounded so sad and so confused. She quietly sat down on the porch step, hoping she could gather some kind of idea as to what the problem was, praying she was doing the right thing, even as her conscience gnawed at her.
"Uh huh, yes…" Clark continued. "Yeah, Dad, there is a problem."
Lois left the step and crept up to the window, risking a quick glance inside. Clark's back was to her, and his glasses were on the telephone stand. He looked tense and he was rubbing his eyes. He turned to pick up his glasses and Lois ducked below the window ledge.
"I told Lois I loved her … Uh huh … No, that's not the problem. She actually didn't comment on *that* part of the conversation." Lois could hear the cringe in his voice at the realization. "I also promised her that if she would trust me through this week I'd tell her everything."
Lois heard Clark flop onto a piece of furniture.
"Yes, I meant it. We can't keep going on like this … I know, Mom, but it's time she knew the truth. I just wish I knew how she was going to react … All the conversations we've had in my mind have not gone well."
It sounded to Lois like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders … because of her.
"I think she's going to be angry … and hurt … but what could I have done? I couldn't tell her until I knew she loved me, Clark, and not *him*."
*Him?* Lois's heart sank. Clark was jealous of *him*. And that was her fault. Fawning over *him* and swooning over *him*, while ignoring Clark. How could Clark not realize *he* hadn't even been in the picture for months? She still had feelings for *him*, but they'd turned to friendship, okay, and maybe a teensy little bit of hero worship remained, but she had finally come to the realization that it was infatuation and nothing else.
"I'm not even sure she does or can love me, Mom … Yes I know you think so. The only thing I do know is that unless this is behind us, we don't stand a chance … Uh huh … Yes … Okay. I'd better be going. They'll be back any minute. I wanted you to know what was going on … I know, it'll work out for the best. Yes, I love you both. Thanks for letting me just talk."
Lois wiped at the corner of her eye and crept out of her hiding place. She had a lot to think about as she slid off the porch to turn right around and come humming loudly up the steps, warning Clark of her imminent arrival.
Lois leaned on the fence railing, enjoying the view of Clark bent over the piece of equipment he was trying to fix, his denim work shirt draped over the steering wheel. He straightened up, saw her watching and only returned to the engine after he'd made sure she saw him waving. The day and a half they'd spent in New Mexico had been wonderful. Just being together felt so right; he was so attentive and happy and so … there … something that never occurred in Metropolis. Only when he believed she wasn't paying attention did the shadow of his promise seem to cloud his face.
Whenever they weren't together, mostly late at night when she couldn't sleep, she thought long and hard about the conversation she'd dared to listen in on. The anger she'd felt towards him recently was because she was positive it all stemmed from a sudden fear of commitment, but she knew now that wasn't it. He *was* terrified; he hadn't exaggerated.
At first she was confused. What could it possibly be that she wouldn't understand? Then anger seemed the proper emotion. He didn't trust *her* enough to believe she could understand. Regret was next in line, regret that she'd hurt him so badly with that whole mess involving Lex and spoiled any trust between them. But resignation had been the final key. She resigned herself to the fact Clark would tell her once this was all over, whether he thought she was ready or not … whether *he* was ready or not. That was Clark … one of the world's few remaining idealistic boy scouts who'd given his pledge and would stick by it. She was just going to relax and enjoy this time with him.
And that's when she figured it out: the secret. She wasn't quite sure how she could have been so blind, so oblivious, but her conversations with Amanda triggered something. Lee had traveled all over the world. Lee was fluent in all sorts of languages. Lee came and went inexplicably. It was a pattern Lois knew all too well. Clark disappeared at the drop of a hat. Clark could order dinner in 347 languages. Clark had traveled extensively … England, France, China and who goes to work for the Borneo Gazette as training to be a serious journalist? These were all clues she, Lois Lane, had missed. It was all an elaborate cover. She didn't know who exactly he worked for, whether the CIA or the FBI or the … the … the RTD, DMV, MTV … whatever those silly government alphabet initials were these days, Clark was a spy!
It scared and excited her, all at the same time. She also knew he was going against all the rules by just considering revealing himself to her. She'd seen "True Lies" four times. She knew what to expect.
Now what was she to do? What did it mean for their future together? Would he stay a spy? Would he give it up? She was finally drawn to the conclusion that whatever he decided, it would be what was best for *both* of them because he was so sweet, so considerate, so … Clark and that's what Clark would do. She wondered for the hundredth time how she could have been so blind.
That settled, she struggled with the idea of forcing his hand. Maybe with his secret out in the open he would relax and things would progress a little quicker. He hadn't even tried to kiss her again since the plane. She could just see the thought process behind that … he didn't have a right to that privilege as long as she didn't know the whole score. But in the end she decided to not let on. She'd made a commitment to him and she would keep it, but maybe she could break down a few of his barriers without breaking that promise.
The sound of splaying gravel on the driveway interrupted her thoughts as the black pickup truck skidded to a halt. The driver cut the engine and leaped out. Lois knew him instantly. His picture had been on enough magazines and newspapers after the famous moon trek, but nothing prepared her for the man coming towards her. Lois immediately noted the family resemblance to Lee in the facial structure and hair, but he was shorter. This man presented a large and open smile, which was not a surprise, but there was a gleam in his eyes that Lois could instantly tell warranted the playful warning Amanda had given her. She found herself grinning back at this ex-astronaut.
"You've gotta be the beautiful Lois that Lee and 'Manda've been telling us all about," Skip Carmichael exclaimed as he pushed past Lois's outstretched hand and drew her into a bear hug. "We've all been dyin' to meet ya so I figured why not come on down and give you guys the rules for the trip tomorrow." Skip gave her a quick wink as he drew back. "Lee was right, it's about time ol' Clarkie settled down. I'd better be on the guest list."
Lois meant to object to his premature inferences, but found herself uncharacteristically, completely overwhelmed for a moment before putting on her best greeting face and voice. "Uh, oh, it's a pleasure to meet you. I've been such a great admirer of yours…"
"Come on now," Skip interrupted. "Forget the formalities. We're gonna be great friends by the time this adventure is all over, so let's just pass on by that part. 'Sides, if we're gonna go that route, I'll have to spend a couple of hours on how amazing your writing is and how much you deserved those Kerth Awards you've gotten." Skip put his arm around Lois and steered her out toward Clark, convincing her with just a glance he really was familiar with her work. "Betcha he gave you all that business about women and hair dryers and such didn't he?"
"Well, yes," Lois answered, then quickly added a defense. "But I've been camping before and I know what's appropriate to…"
"Ah, of course he did and of course you do." Skip lowered his voice. "We're just gonna have to talk about the battery-powered blow dryer I just might have in my truck that just might end up in Clark's gear tonight to maybe be found tomorrow at the campsite … Hey, Clark! Get your face outta that thing and come say hello to an old friend," Skip yelled as they got closer.
There was that infectious wink again. Lois marveled at this man's energy and enthusiasm. What had she gotten herself invited to?
Clark hung up the phone and walked out to the porch. His aunt and uncle habitually retired early and he and Lois had the desert night all to themselves. Clark stopped as he saw Lois sitting on the glider, slowly rocking while gazing at the star-filled sky, looking happier and more beautiful in the moonlight than he could ever remember seeing her before. A creaky board announced his presence and her face lit up with a smile he used to think was reserved for someone else, but now seemed only for him.
She scooted over, just barely leaving Clark enough room. He squeezed in beside her and then, to his utter dismay and delight, she leaned her head against his chest and sighed contentedly. He wasn't quite sure what to make of this. For the first time in days, Clark started to believe everything would work out the way he had always dreamed it would. He put his arm around Lois and just held her.
"Who was on the phone?" Lois finally broke the silence.
"Todd." Clark shook his head and laughed. "He won't be coming. He woke up two days ago with a cough and now he's got a full blown bronchial infection. Maybe we shouldn't go…"
"Clark, do you really think Skip'll let us *not go*?" She asked in all seriousness. "He'll probably come over and hog tie us and throw us in the truck."
"You like him, don't you?"
"Is it possible not to like him?" Lois declared, remembering the afternoon and Skip's never-ending stories about everything and anything.
"Probably not. I guess we're going."
They sat like that for a few more minutes when Clark started. Lois was slowly rubbing his stomach. She couldn't possibly know what that was doing to him, his insides were dancing almost as much as when she'd done that seven veils thing in her harem costume. He'd barely been able to control his emotions then, but knowing she was drugged and not responsible kept him at a distance for most of the night. But now … cuddling was one thing, but she never would have started this if she really understood.
"Uh, Lois … I really don't think…," he stammered at her.
Lois pulled away just enough to look into his eyes, her own wide and innocent. "Oh, Clark … is this *disturbing* you?" Her hand crept up his chest.
She knew *exactly* what she was doing. Clark stared, his mouth dropped open.
She sat up a bit straighter and smiled a little shyly. "Clark, we agreed to get to know each other better and we agreed to trust. I never promised to keep my hands off you and I didn't ask that of you in return." Clark could see the indecision in her face, then the resolve. "I'm not expecting you to tell me everything right now, in fact I don't want you to. One of us needs to be able to keep our word and we know who's usually better at that in this partnership." She laughed at his serious acknowledging nod. "But there's something I want to tell you, no … *need* to tell you."
This time Lois took Clark's hands between her own and squeezed them, she seemed to be drawing strength from him to speak. "Did you know I stopped my wedding before the police burst in?"
"I always thought it was…" he began.
"Yeah, and I was so confused at that point I didn't realize no one had heard me tell Lex I couldn't marry him. I didn't figure that out until much later. Do you want to know why?"
"Is 'yes' the right response?" He was afraid the answer would involve *him* and he didn't want to spoil the evening.
She gave him a little playful shove. "Of course it is. It better be." Her eyes were sparkling. "I was sitting in front of the mirror, crying, practicing my new names to be … Mrs. Lex Luthor, Mrs. Lois Luthor, Lois Lane Luthor…"
Clark cringed at this recitation.
Lois stopped, noting the adverse effect she was having on him. "…Well, you get the idea. But the only name that worked with mine was," she took a deep breath, "Kent."
"Now before you say anything. I'm not proposing, and you'd better not either. We've got a lot to work out between us, but you set the pace when you told me you loved me and I should have told you then, it's information you needed to have. We may find out we can't tolerate each other … okay, maybe you'll find out you can't tolerate me … or maybe this terrible secret of yours will be what ends what we both seem to want, but I am *not* planning on that happening," she assured him. She was hanging on to him so tightly anyone else would probably have been wincing from the pain. "Now kiss me like you mean it or I'm taking all of it back."
Clark didn't need a second invitation. Or was it a command? Whatever … he obeyed without hesitation. This time when he leaned in there were no interruptions and the passion he felt flowing through them was more than he could ever have anticipated. They parted a brief second only for Lois to catch her breath, and then he drew her back to him again. Clark was positive Lois had never kissed *him* like that before and he knew he never wanted to end this embrace.
Hesitantly, after quite some time had passed, Clark withdrew slowly and stood up, extending a hand to Lois. "We'd better get some rest. We're expected at the crack of dawn." He was having trouble concentrating on direction and stumbled a bit. Lois just grinned at him. He was suddenly feeling very possessive and didn't want Lois out of his sight, but he knew where the limits were. And he also knew he finally would be able to sleep, she'd made sure of that with her confession. Her reaction to his secret was still doubtful, but it was the proper decision because she loved Clark … and not *him*. All was right with the world.
Amanda and Lois stood on the sidelines watching the bedlam amusedly. Well, maybe bedlam was too mild a word. Chaos worked much better. Skip was standing in the middle of the yard on an empty crate, whistle in hand, directing the packing and repacking that had been going on for the last 30 minutes. He reminded Lois of a counselor she had one summer at camp, so it seemed only appropriate he'd taken the liberty of imprinting "Staff" on the front of his T-shirt.
"That's Murphy," Amanda explained, pointing to a small group near Skip. "The tall one with the limp."
There had been introductions all around when Clark and Lois had first arrived at the ranch, but there were so many of them. When Skip produced the yellow T-shirts with "Camp Michaels" emblazoned on the front and everyone's last names on the back (including her own and Clark's, she was amazed to find), Lois thought she would be ahead of the game, but she soon discovered almost half had either "Michaels" or "Carmichael" on them. Lois was ready to demand a seating chart.
"You know Lee and Skip. See the guy surrounded by all the kids … Andy. They're the Four Musketeers. They were inseparable during summers here."
"Uh huh." Lois was trying several different mental association games to get this right. "Kyle's Andy's younger brother. The good looking older man is *Uncle* Jonathan, he really doesn't look much older than everyone else, and his son, Joshua. Jeffers and Allie are Skip's younger brothers … where have I seen Allie before?"
"Try the name Alan Hunter," Amanda supplied. "He was one of the original MTV VJ's. He's a producer now."
Amanda and Lois relocated a few feet to the rear to make way for several of the work detail to pass with the bulkier items.
"Got it … and Nicky Michaels and Scott McCall … they own the ranch, but Andy runs it." She declared triumphantly. "And that's Cait, Andy's wife, but she's not going." Lois was a little disappointed, another woman would have been nice. Cait's attempt to be the perfect hostess that morning, serving everyone she considered her guests food and juice, was quickly stalled before she'd had the chance to begin when Nicky and Jeffers told her she wasn't a maid, taking over the breakfast preparations and enlisting Clark and Allie in the distribution end.
She could see Andy would be missed as he and Cait embraced, kissing good-bye … again. Lois felt her face flush slightly, the heat of last night with Clark very clear in her memory. She glanced away briefly, hoping Amanda wouldn't notice. She was wondering how they managed that with what seemed like dozens of children clinging to them, "byes" and "have a good times" amazingly heard over all the other racket.
At Skip's orders, the food coolers she'd thought fit so nicely in the back of the black truck went rushing by to be transferred to the pickup with the camper shell on it. Lois was grateful all the vehicles were four wheel drive and they wouldn't be hiking too far into the camp site with the mountain of supplies and gear they'd found upon their arrival that morning.
"It's actually quite a turnout for a non-reunion." Amanda lunged forward to grab a mess kit and fiddle case that were toppling off of Scott's load.
"Thanks, Amanda," Scott breathed out as he headed for the Cherokee.
"Shouldn't we be doing something to help?" Lois asked, feeling a little guilty they were just observing.
"Lois, let them do their manly duty. After a day or so at camp, we'll be just two of the guys and no more special treatment. Enjoy it now." Amanda grinned at her companion.
"Okay, load 'em up, guys," Skip jumped off his perch and directed as he saw the last of the equipment stored. "Lois, you and Clark are with Allie and Scott in the Jeep. Amanda, you're up front with me. Let's get going! We got us a convoy."
"See you in a bit," Amanda called as she trotted off.
This whole thing was a bit overwhelming. Without Amanda at her side, she felt a little lost, but suddenly Clark was there, coming from it seemed nowhere. He put his arm around her waist as they headed toward their assigned transportation. After last night's talk he exuded such a confidence when it came to his feelings for her. She was glad she'd finally been able to put him at ease. Maybe it would help when the time came for him to share his spy status with her.
"Come on, guys." Allie stood by the open door, waving impatiently.
Lois almost hesitated as she looked at the former VJ. It was probably her imagination, he appeared to be up to something, but then so did Scott. She dismissed it almost immediately, deciding it was a genetic family trait thing, remembering her first impression of Skip. She got into the backseat, Clark following immediately behind her, elbowing Scott out of the way when he'd made motions to take the place beside Lois.
"Hey, can't blame a guy for trying, Clark. Just thought I'd get to know our new friend here a little better." Scott's exaggerated pout was almost more than Lois could handle as she tried to unsuccessfully stifle a giggle.
Clark grinned at his buddy. "Can't blame a guy for not letting you." Clark picked up the cooler separating himself and Lois and moved it to his right, settling down as close to Lois as was possible.
"Well, if you're gonna be that way … you're in charge of the food and drinks, Clark. Pass up an apple and a Pepsi," Allie stated as he leaped into the driver's seat, starting the engine and falling into place in line almost before Scott had a chance to close his door. "We've got quite a drive to Arizona and I'm already hungry."
"Arizona? We're not staying in New Mexico?" Lois asked, confused.
"We're camping a little bit outside of Segoro, Skip says it looks ideal … streams, mountains, hiking trails … everything this group could possibly want. It's barely over the border, guess no one really thought there was much difference."
"Two of the best reporters the Daily Planet has and we don't know where we're heading." Clark laughed and shook his head. "I guess we're doing a travel log on Arizona as well … two states for the price of one." He opened the cooler, pulling out the requested items, then took Lois's hand in his own.
"So, Lois, how'd you meet this buddy of ours?" Scott half turned in his seat, struggling with the shoulder harness to get to a position where he could see Lois without breaking his neck.
"Well, he came into our editor's office peddling stories he'd done for the Borneo Gazette…" Lois gripped Clark's hand tighter.
"Clark, have you seen that kinda outhouse-green-colored vinyl thingy? I know I unloaded it at the ranch." Lois strolled over to where Clark was driving the final tent stake into the ground.
"No, it's likely just buried under some of the other supplies. Give me a second and I'll come look."
"Thanks." Lois sounded a little distracted as she glanced around to see if the missing object was in plain sight. "You're probably right, but *I* can't seem to find it."
Clark stopped dead, he suddenly thought he heard the stifled sound of laughter. His attention was drawn to the other side of camp just in time to see Allie and Scott turn their backs and find something of great interest to occupy their time.
A complete search came up empty. When Lois wasn't looking, Clark shifted his glasses down his nose slightly and took one last confirming scan of the area. It was nowhere around. He was pretty sure he knew *how* it wasn't, and he could also pretty much guess why.
"What's the problem?" Murphy asked as the two reporters wandered back to the group.
"My tent's missing," Lois explained. "I know I had it at the ranch," she repeated for at least the twentieth time, embarrassed she could have forgotten such an essential piece of equipment.
"Lois, I saw it too. It must have been left," Clark assured her, placing his hand on her shoulder.
"You've got a two-man tent, don't you, Clark? No problem," Murphy resolved.
Clark searched his face to see if he may have been in on the conspiracy, but concluded Murphy believed he'd come up with an equitable solution, all the other tents being full to capacity, or in Lee and Amanda's case, to privacy.
"I don't think so," Clark began, emphatically shaking his head. "I'll just sleep by the fire."
"Clark, if anyone's going to…"
Clark stopped her, shifting his stance, preparing to stand his ground without surrender. Murphy looked from one to the other and faded into the background. "You don't think I'm going to let you sleep outside, do you? There's nothing to discuss here. You're not." The argument he was expecting never materialized.
"Okay, then we share the tent," Lois stated solidly, indicating strongly she wasn't about to lose either.
Clark's face softened. "Lois, that's not fair to you. I think some matchmaking idiots may have set this up." Clark glared over to where his two buddies were again finding rocks on the ground fascinating. "I won't put you into this situation."
"It's a two-man tent, partner." Lois sighed. "That means there's space for two men and since I'm smaller than your average guy, that gives you more room. Clark, we're adults. We can handle it."
"I would never take advantage of you, Lois." Clark needed to make things very clear.
"Of course you wouldn't," Lois assured him. She turned to get her gear, stopped and glanced over her shoulder, a slight smirk playing across her lips. "But who says *I'm* that noble?"
The rest of that day was filled with settling in, the night with relaxing and laughter. There was no stopping the one-upmanship once Joshua started with his tales of ghosts and vampires and werewolves and the like.
Clark hadn't even needed to demand an apology from Scott and Allie. It was apparent they'd crossed the bounds of good practical joking, and Lois suddenly had two willing servants who made sure her every need was taken care of. Lois let them dote until the dinner was ready, then she released them from their unspoken servitude and was a fixture by Clark's side. They'd meant no harm; they just had no idea what a fragile stage he and Lois were at right now.
The original plan for the next day was for the three old friends to go fishing, something Lois was willing to relinquish Clark for, but after the incident, they'd been reluctant to claim him. She had insisted though, letting them know they really were forgiven … "mostly." He'd managed not to laugh in their faces when she used that word. Lois knew how to milk a situation, but then they deserved a little guilt. Once they were away from the main group, Clark expected they'd want details. It was going to be great to be able to talk to someone about what he was going through, even if it were in generalities.
After dinner they sat cuddled next to each other by the fire. Clark could tell Lois was having a wonderful time. But as the fire started to die down, and the group slowly scattered to the tents. Clark sighed. He knew they were going to have to face the situation his childhood friends had caused.
"Can you give me a minute to change?" Lois slowly stood, reluctantly letting go of his hand.
"Of course. Are you…"
"Don't even think about asking me again, Kent!" The look in her eyes conveyed her seriousness. "See you in a minute."
She disappeared through the opening and he saw the slight glow of the lantern through the vinyl. Clark almost turned away, but realized the light wasn't intense enough to cast shadows as they had the time of their "almost date."
As promised, a few minutes later, Lois's head peaked out. "Come on in, Clark. I'm done."
After Lois's earlier remark, Clark was almost fearful he'd find her in some lacy nighty thing. Relief … or was it disappointment … flooded him when he saw she'd only changed into neck to toe covering sweats.
"Clark?" Lois grinned at him, noting his expression immediately. "What were you expecting?"
Clark was embarrassed he'd been caught. "Uh, well, I…"
Lois laughed. "Let's get some sleep." She turned away as he donned what he'd brought for the cold evenings.
"Night, Clark," Lois whispered to Clark as she settled in.
Clark carefully leaned over towards her, gently cupping her cheek with his hand, he lightly kissed her forehead, lingering but a second. "I love you, Lois."
Their eyes locked and held for a moment.
"I love you too, Clark." She beamed at him, shifting down into her sleeping bag.
Clark turned off the lantern, and took off his glasses, zipping himself in, his back to Lois. He could hear her tossing and turning, then silence. Suddenly, the sound of fabric inching closer caused him concern.
"Is everything alright, Lois?" As he rolled over, the dim light allowed Clark to see clearly that everything *looked* fine, grateful she couldn't see as well.
"Uh huh," she exhaled as she narrowed the distance, struggling a bit as she dragged the sleeping bag with her, still wrapped up like a cocoon. "Sit up a second, Clark."
"Wha…?" Clark asked even as he obeyed her. Lois scooted her pillow under his head.
"I'm not going to get any sleep over there with you over here," she explained as she pushed him back. "Now, be quiet so we can get some rest." She shifted one last time, using his chest in lieu of her pillow, breathing rhythmically within a few minutes.
Clark cradled her gently. He would be there when she woke the next morning, and hopefully soon, maybe he would be there forever.
Lois woke all warm and fuzzy, the light just barely filtering through the fabric of the tent. It took her almost no time to remember she was in Clark's arms. She sighed happily — she was doing a lot of that lately — and looked into his face. He was wearing his glasses? Did he sleep in those things too?
He stirred, then opened his eyes. "Hi."
She felt him squeeze her slightly.
"Good morning." She returned the embrace. "I think you have to get up soon, don't you? Wasn't it the crack of dawn, or something?" She wrinkled her nose in distaste.
"No, I'm sure it was noon. Positive, in fact."
A slight moan escaped Clark's lips as they both turned, the sound of scratching coming from the doorway.
"Clark?" The voice was barely a whisper. "You up?"
"Allie, come on, leave 'em alone … they're not awake and *I'm* not going to be the one to disturb 'em."
Lois smiled, rolling over towards the front flap. "He'll be with you in a minute, guys," she quietly responded.
The silence was almost deafening. Allie finally spoke up. "Oh, morning, Lois. Thanks, we'll be by the fire."
"You know you can come, Lois." Clark was kneeling now, running a hand through his hair.
"You know I can go back to sleep when you're gone, Clark." She pulled the edge of her bag around her to emphasize the point.
"But you'll miss me." He lobbed both pillows at her.
She caught and fluffed them with exaggerated delight, lying slowly down and stretching.
He smirked at her. "Turn over so I can change."
She pouted but complied. She was going to have to stop teasing him or he'd never be on his way.
She started to drift into some netherland when Clark was suddenly leaning over her. He brushed aside her unruly lock of hair and bent over for a kiss, her lips his target this time. "See you this afternoon."
This tent just felt so much like Clark … and that was enough. Lois fell back to sleep, recapturing the warm and fuzzy feeling she'd had waking up next to him.
It was a struggle, but Lois had managed to extricate herself from her toasty sleeping bag to go down to the water to wash up. She'd even gotten the courage to plunge her hair into the freezing liquid, lathering it up. She grabbed up the bucket she'd brought with her and poured it over her head to rinse the soap out. She re-entered camp toweling her hair dry, wishing Skip had brought the blow dryer he'd been teasing her about as the cool morning air caused a shiver down her spine. She was just in time; the main crew was getting out and breakfasted. She pitched in with the food preparation and then the cleanup.
Everyone had plans for the day, but she was just going to relax and work. Something about the skies being sky blue, the mountains being mountainy and the streams babbling along seemed appropriate. She wanted this out of the way so she and Clark could enjoy their time here. Laptop securely under her arm, Lois walked over to the bench and tables set up the day before.
"Does Clark know you have that here?" Skip asked, falling in step with her.
She shook her head. "He has no idea, if you must know. This is a working vacation for us and I plan to get a head start on the assignment."
Lois set the computer on the table and opened it, a small piece of paper fluttering to the ground.
Skip picked it up and read, "L, put the PC away and relax. Love, C."
Lois grabbed it out of his hand and looked it over. "Ooh, he's so infuriating sometimes…"
"So, what award winning journalistic extravaganza are you two working on?"
"It's only a travel log of what was supposed to be a New Mexico camping trip, but I guess Arizona is not all that different."
"Two Kerth recipients are just on a vacation together, doing a travel log, without a photographer. Yep, Lois, good story. I'd stick with it if I were you." He nodded his head and winked.
"Skip, that's all it is. News has been slow in Metropolis and…"
He wasn't buying it at all. She decided on the Reader's Digest version, but he was still skeptical.
"Hey, if something happens, we're here. If not, it's beautiful and we got time off because of it and maybe something … more."
Skip grinned at her. "You two look great together. Now, you up to a possible exciting day, maybe with story attached? Ol' Clarkie's too straight-laced to get into the spirit of this thing, but you … you're the adventurous type."
She looked at him and smiled, poking her finger at his chest. "I've been warned about you, Mr. Carmichael. What kind of trouble are you trying to get me into?"
"No trouble, just a little hike." The innocent expression on his face canceled by that gleam she had seen earlier.
"Full details or no go." She stood her ground.
"Okay, but while we're hiking … It's probably not much of a story, but ya never know."
She was hooked and he knew it. They stopped only long enough to pack a lunch and fill the canteens with water.
Skip consulted the map again. "The trailhead should be a few hundred yards that way." His full attention was geared toward not missing the turnoff.
"There's an old abandoned Air Force base near here," Skip began his story once they were on the proper route. "At least it should be abandoned, and there was supposed to be an open bidding for salvage rights, but it was suddenly kayoed and we can't get the straight scoop on why, like there's a cover-up or something. I thought we'd see what was going on. Simple."
"So that's the whole reason for this camping trip?" Lois accused good-naturedly.
"No, no, of course, not. But the location *may* have been chosen to be advantageously near this place."
The temperature was perfect for their walk, and it had been an easy hike to this point. The path inclined ever so slightly, but soon narrowed, forcing them to go single file, cutting off conversation for a while. When it widened, the trail disappeared, overgrown from lack of use.
"Terrific," Skip stated with disgust. He halted, grabbing his backpack to dig out the guidebook again.
"Couldn't we just pick the direction we know it's in and go?" Lois didn't see a problem as long as they knew the basic area, how hard could it be to find an Air Force base?
"It's dangerous to go wandering off the trails, Lois. And slow…"
"You looking for Peagrim?" a voice came from slightly off to the right.
A tall, gangly looking young man was sitting on a rock formation in the shade of a tree. A sketch pad and pencil in his hands, an expensive looking camera was hung over the branch of a nearby bush. Lois guessed he was in his early to mid twenties. He hopped down off his perch, smiling an open, crooked grin, and walked up to Skip, glancing over his shoulder.
"You're never going to find it with this thing," he stated firmly. "Hi, I'm Scott." He extended his hand in greeting. "I swear the government printed these maps up wrong just to keep the tourists away from the base."
"Thanks." Skip seemed relieved they were going to have help. "I'm…"
"Skip Carmichael! Wow!" Scott was clearly impressed. "I read your book and then you went to the moon and … Wow! Dad's never gonna believe I met you."
"Always happy to meet with a fan. This is Lois Lane."
"From Metropolis? Lane-and-Kent Lois Lane? You're work is the best. Hey, this is great. We didn't think anything was going to be done."
Lois needed more information; the story was suddenly escalating from possible to probable.
"Scott, Peagrim's supposed to be abandoned."
Scott's eyes narrowed and then shrugged. "My family just moved here a few years ago, but the town's full of lots of rumors and half-truths."
"That's all I need for a start," Lois informed Scott emphatically. "Then I'll get to the bottom of it."
"And we'd appreciate if you can give us proper directions," Skip added, shoving the useless map into a pocket.
"Sure, why not." Scott grabbed up his backpack, stuffing his camera and art supplies into it. "First off, the trail picks up just a few yards that way. Come on, I'll take you there, for a price … my copy of your book autographed? It's at home, but I can get it if you're camping nearby."
"Hey, anything, Buddy," Skip agreed readily, giving him the appropriate directions.
They had a willing guide and a lead to something probably big. Lois's spine was tingling with the excitement she always felt when she knew she was on to something.
"At its height of activity, everyone knew Peagrim was the Center for UFO Research in this country." Scott settled into a storytelling mode. "The famous 'Hangar 11' is located there. You'll be able to see it from the bluff."
Lois and Skip took up on either side of the young man as they walked and listened.
"The legends say that about ten or eleven years ago, there was a group of fanatics who were convinced aliens were taking over the world. This place was run by a guy named George Fox. There was another facility back east, but I forget who was in charge there."
"Bureau 39?" Lois asked incredulously. "You're talking Jason Trask, aren't you?"
Scott looked at her with a grin. "Yeah, that's right, he was harassing you guys, wasn't he?"
This was bigger than Lois had originally thought. She hadn't been sure if she was going to mention anything about this expedition right away to Clark, he'd just say it was nothing. Trask was dead, but if his successor was involved here and now, Clark would want to be there. Trask had almost killed the Kents in Smallville last year and anyone associated with him was sure to be dangerous.
"Well, like I said, these are all just rumors, but they say that Fox actually caught two aliens, at least he claimed they were from another world. A lot of people who saw them said they were just two guys who'd been camping, a father and his teenage son. Fox insisted that when they finally escaped, they damaged Hangar 11 pretty bad with lighting bolts and energy blasts." Scott smiled, almost like he was remembering it from personal experience.
"Could anyone corroborate his account?" Skip was getting into the spirit.
"No, there was a lot of weirdness going on right about then, claims of high levels of radiation and stuff, but no one but Fox actually saw what happened."
"Do you think he'd captured aliens? Do you believe aliens are visiting our planet?" Lois knew he was holding back on something, but wasn't sure what.
"Don't you, Miss Lane?" Scott drew an "S" in the air with his finger, then pointed at her.
"Well, yes … but, I mean *other aliens*?" She frowned. "*Bad* aliens?"
Skip just laughed.
"I could give you the 'we'd be pretty conceited to believe we're the only ones here' speech if you'd like?" Scott raised his eyebrows, questioning.
"No, that's alright. Sorry I interrupted."
"Fox continued his search for his aliens for a little while longer, but soon his backing in the government dried up. He was getting more and more wacked out by the day, seeing little green men everywhere."
The steepness of the path increased sharply and the small group found themselves quiet while they had to concentrate on their footing. Once it leveled out a little, Scott started again.
"They closed down Peagrim a few months later and Fox was assigned to a desk job somewhere safe. And his aliens were never heard of again in these parts. Of course, after all the trouble they'd been through, who would've believed they'd ever come back to this area? Who'd look here anyway?" Scott just grinned at them. "We're almost there." Scott indicated the rise ahead.
They reached it and were suddenly looking down at their destination.
Peagrim Air Force Base. It was huge, sprawling across a vast segment of the valley below. Even from this distance, Lois could tell parts had not been used in years. She looked over at Skip and could have sworn he was measuring it out in his mind, figuring out what kind of salvage might still be available there.
"But you said there's something going on now?" Lois reminded Scott.
"Yeah, I think Fox is back. A few weeks after that incident in Smallville last year — it made all the local news here — someone swore they saw huge crates being unloaded into the old UFO hangar. That one there." Scott pointed to a building close to the outer ring of the complex. "We've been speculating that with Trask's death, they probably consolidated the two operations and all the material came here."
Lois thought he seemed a bit concerned about this development, but having met Trask, she knew Fox probably would be a source of worry.
"Somebody high up's gotta be backing him though," Skip interjected. "They stopped the salvage rights on this place, and that would have brought some big bucks into the government now, when they're so worried about budgets and all."
Scott had taken a small metal ball out of his pocket and was moving it unconsciously through his fingers. Lois noticed but couldn't figure out what it was.
Lois pulled her small binoculars out of her backpack. "I can see several people around, but it doesn't look like a fortified government installation."
"They've probably only got limited funds," Skip speculated. "Can I take a look?"
Lois handed him the glasses, shading her eyes to see better.
"These are great, Lois, where'd you get them? I can see where the old surveillance system *used* to be. They've torn it out and nothing's in its place."
Their guide moved forward a bit. "That's the trail down. It's an easy hike. And there," Scott aided Skip's search by pulling his arm in the right direction, "the fence is slit and only held together with old rusted pieces of wire." Scott appeared lost in memory again. "That's where they say the aliens cut their way out."
Lois and Skip stared at him and his odd expression.
He shook himself out of his reverie, quickly stuffing the sphere in his pocket when he saw them looking at it. "Uh, great story, huh? Most likely just campers caught up with Fox and his obsession. Hope it wasn't a waste of your time?"
Lois chalked the strange tone up to a young man and his imagination. "No, not at all. If this fanatic is anywhere near as bad as Trask was, he's got to be stopped … and soon."
They stood in silence for a minute.
Lois sighed, then started down the trail. "It shouldn't be hard to get into the complex."
"Are you crazy?" Scott grabbed her arm, trying to stop her. "That man's crazy, and if *I* know your history with Trask, so does he. If he catches you…"
"I'm a reporter, Scott. I have to do this." She pulled gently away.
"Not alone you don't." Skip moved after her. "Thanks for the tour and information, Scott. Come on by the camp and I'll sign that book later."
"Hey guys, good luck," Scott called after them. "Uh, just don't mention my name to Fox, okay?"
Lois thought he seemed suddenly nervous, but again, she'd dealt with Trask and knew what he was capable of. Scott had probably heard all the stories.
She paused just long enough to turn around and wave at the young man. "Sure thing, Scott. You're an anonymous source."
They left their backpacks at the end of the trail. The view they'd had above showed no activity on this side of the base, but they were cautious anyway, finding the tear in the fence exactly where Scott had said it would be. It took only a few minutes to pull the old wire free and then they slipped inside.
The whole place was in horrible disrepair. Garbage blew in the wind and the weeds had taken over several large areas, actually giving them refuge whenever they thought their position might be compromised.
"I think I saw the command area over there," Skip whispered to Lois. "Let's peek in the window and see what we can see."
Lois just grinned at him — she'd be arguing with Clark about her safety right now instead of doing something. She'd much rather have Clark as a companion on the whole, but this was fun, having a co-conspirator. "Right behind you, partner."
As they got closer, a voice could be heard. It wasn't until they were right under the dirty, broken window, however, that they could actually make out what was being said.
"…we showed those commies what for, it's been a long hard struggle, but we'll show *them*, too, that they can't mess with the United States of America … you would have loved this. It'll take care of everything…"
The man was ranting and Lois could tell he was pacing back and forth as he got louder and then quieter.
"…those who are harboring and supporting them, they'll feel our wrath, too. No mercy will be shown. We'll wipe this blight off the face of the Earth. Soon … it's going to be very soon…" He paused, a sad almost reverent quality creeping into his voice. "You were the only one who understood … and they killed you. They will pay…"
Skip had taken the opportunity to peer inside. "Hey, check it out. I think we've found our loon. He's got like a … a … I don't know, almost a shrine in there."
Lois stood up partially to get a look. At first all she noticed was a lone man, standing quietly in front of something, then he shifted enough for her to see what was before him. "Oh my…" She covered her mouth and ducked down. She couldn't believe it. Skip had been right. A huge portrait of Jason Trask hung up on the wall, with blurry flying saucer pictures and what Lois could guess were UFO artifacts, surrounding it. The only things missing were candles and flowers. This guy wasn't only an associate of Trask, he seemed a disciple … a worshiper. He was dangerous.
" … and in two days … Metropolis … and then he'll be dead…"
"No," Lois cried, glancing about frantically, instantly realizing who this madman was after. "We've got to get help, stop him."
"Calm down, Lois. First off, we have to find out more about this place and what he intends to do." Skip put his hands on her shoulders, shaking her gently out of her panic.
Lois took a deep breath. "You're right. I've got to keep a clear head if I'm going to be able to help. Let's start with Hangar 11, see what's in there."
Skip smiled and led her off in the proper direction.
They arrived at the building Scott had indicated, but had to duck out of sight as the first sentry they'd encountered since entering the compound strolled by. When he finally passed, they soon discovered the lock on Hangar 11 was actually functional, although a bit on the cheap side. It took Lois a few minutes to pick it. She missed her usual partner, he always seemed to have such good luck with locks and combinations.
Skip took the lead with Lois practically on his heels. They wandered a bit, not sure what they were looking for, and ended up on the second floor. A steel door led into an observatory post overlooking a warehouse-like room. Large pieces of equipment were obviously missing and those left were half disassembled, some showing signs of an electrical fire. Skip bent down to check out the condition of the metal.
Lois walked over to the large, cracked glass and looked down. Her first impression was of an odd coloring to the lighting, but after a second, her eyes adjusted and she decided the harshness of the overhead fluorescents was creating weird effects. Crates and boxes, along with sheet-draped, odd-shaped objects seemed thrown anywhere and everywhere. Several file cabinets, folders hanging haphazardly out, were shoved against walls.
Suddenly Lois's attention was drawn to the item in the center of the room. It was the only thing not encased or covered. It measured only a few feet long and was pod-shaped, a very specific stylized "S" on the front.
She was about to drag Skip over to see it, when the huge loading door opened. George Fox swaggered in and she ducked below the window ledge. "Get down, Skip. He's here," she hissed at her companion.
"Great! Just what we need." Skip dropped to a squatting position and scooted over beside Lois.
"…this will be my final triumph, Trask… *our* final triumph … then you can rest in peace … I swear your name will be the one everyone will praise…" He was at it again, Lois just wanted to clamp his mouth shut.
"Boy that guy can rant, can't he?" Skip rolled his eyes in disgust, mirroring her feelings exactly.
Lois dared to raise her head and look into the room.
" … with this…" Fox grabbed a sheet and pulled. "…we'll gain victory once and for all…"
Lois gasped again, almost losing her balance as she backed away from the glass. "He's got a laser of some kind," she informed Skip. "I don't know if it can hurt *him*, but we can't take that chance." She motioned to Skip, crawling quickly toward the door. "We've got to get out of here and talk to Clark."
Skip followed immediately.
They slipped out of the building without incident, backtracking to the hiking trail and their gear. Lois didn't know if she should mention the spaceship to Skip, and she was very sure it was a spaceship. No she corrected herself, *his* spaceship, there was no doubt in her mind, but the size … that brought about implications she wasn't sure she was ready to accept.
All she knew was that she wished for Clark beside her. He would know what to do.
The return seemed to take an eternity. They'd discussed and thrown out dozens of possible scenarios to follow, finally agreeing only that Clark should be brought up to speed, although Skip insisted the Four Musketeers (and Amanda, of course) would be able to help, but he conceded to Lois to hold off. Together, they were to corner Clark privately or, failing that, Skip told Lois to get him alone. She'd just stared at him. One day she was going to take care of that wink with her elbow…
It was late afternoon before they finally came into view of their camp. They heard their friends long before they saw them. Allie, Scott, and Clark, just getting into position for a picture, were soaked to the skin and beaming proudly at the two fish they had hung from a string. Their catch couldn't have measured more than five inches each, and all their dear friends and family were making the appropriately rude comments necessary for the occasion. They weren't going to be goaded though, they just grinned and laughed as they stood up straighter, sticking their chests out proudly as Nicky saved the moment for posterity.
Lois smiled warmly at the back slapping and shoving going on. Despite the fact that people always seemed to like Clark, a lot better than they ever liked her, he never seemed to have a lot of good, close friends. She supposed it was his choice, being a spy and all probably had a lot to do with it, but it was so nice to see him with these guys. He deserved this kind of camaraderie.
Clark caught sight of her and excused himself. He walked up to her and just stopped, then leaned over to kiss her, their first real kiss in front of anyone else she noted, careful not to brush her with his wet clothing. "I missed you," he informed her. "How 'bout you?"
He was wet, but he was clean. Something she couldn't say for herself. She was caked from head to foot in dust. "Of course." Captured by his sincerity, she almost forgot they needed to talk. Skip's accidentally bumping into her brought her back to reality.
"Clark, you go get dry. I'm going to wash up and then meet me back in the tent," she instructed him. "We need to talk."
"Lois…?" Clark questioned, narrowing his eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Just be there in a few minutes." She ran off to change and scrape some of the trail from her hair and skin.
When she got back, however, Clark was surrounded and not able to get away. Then he finally got free and she was in the middle of something. She sought out Skip in the group and, once she got his attention, shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. It would have to wait until after dinner at this rate. At least it gave her time to figure out what she was going to say to Clark.
Lois needed to talk to him, but they couldn't connect. He had managed to learn she'd spent the whole day with Skip, something which concerned him a little. Amanda's warning came back to him as he saw Lois and Skip exchanging weird nods and hand signals. He drew solace only from the fact they seemed to want to include him very desperately. After they'd finished eating, no matter the implications or innuendoes, he and Lois were retiring for the night early, then he would get the story.
He waited what seemed an inappropriate few minutes, yawned and explained he was beat and would be calling it an evening. Lois did a double take, then took her cue and yawned too — hiking was pretty strenuous work if you weren't used to it. They wandered off to the tent, waving goodnight to those who were obvious about watching them. Clark noted Skip finally looked relieved.
"Okay, Lois, what's this all about?" Clark knelt down next to her as Lois sat cross-legged on the ground.
Lois took a deep breath. Clark could see she was searching for the proper beginning.
"We ended up at a not-so-abandoned Air Force base," she began, giving him most of the details. "This guy worships Trask like he was a martyr. Clark, I'm worried. He's got this laser and he's gunning for dangerous aliens, whether they exist or not."
"We're going to have to contact the authorities, Lois, there's really nothing we can…" He stopped immediately. There was something else she hadn't included, he could tell she was warring with how to tell him. He waited for her to continue.
"Skip doesn't know this; he didn't see it … Fox has a spaceship … there's an "S" engraved on it."
Clark closed his eyes, sinking all the way to the tent floor. After all this time, it was so close, finally.
A hand on his shoulder brought him back. "It's *his*, isn't it?"
He nodded his head, not quite sure speech was possible.
"Clark," her voice was barely audible. "It's so small, that can only mean one thing…"
Clark nodded again slowly; he had a hard time looking her in the eye.
"Of course you knew," she stated simply. "Well, I guess we have to get it out of there somehow. Security's pretty pathetic. It shouldn't be too hard."
"Lois, I'm going alone. I can't risk you getting hurt." Clark turned her to face him, his intensity shining through even in the dim light of the tent.
"You think so little of me, that I can't help, that I'd be in the way?" Her voice sounded … despondent? He wasn't sure.
"No … I could never forgive myself if something happened to you, something I could have prevented." Clark needed to explain his fears.
"You're right, Clark," she agreed. "I certainly *could* forgive myself if something happened to you!" She glared, her meaning perfectly clear. Point made and taken.
"We're going to have to wait for the camp to close down," he conceded.
"I know. We'd better try and get some rest, too." She shifted over beside him, taking his arm and using it to encircle her. "Don't look so down, Kent. You better just face it. You can't win. I know you love me and I know you want me to be happy." She grinned.
She was right, the power she wielded was more than even he could fight.
Lois was positive those people were going to stay up forever. They hadn't partied that late the night before, not when she and Clark were struggling with their uncomfortable situation. She'd smiled to herself when Skip could be heard, was the word … casually?, trying to convince everyone to turn in early. All he was rewarded with, however, had been boos and speculation on the exact date and time he'd turned into such an old fuddy-duddy. But finally, she peeked out for the 20th time that hour and saw Lee and Amanda heading for their tent, waving goodnight to Murphy and Andy as they tromped off to their own.
Clark hadn't wasted any time at her announcement of all clear, he grabbed up the pack he'd been busy preparing and they carefully sneaked out of camp. She only hoped Skip would decide to wait until morning to come see what Clark's opinion was. She didn't want to even think about the fact she felt like she was betraying Skip, but she owed *him* so much, this was the least she could do to repay.
She'd made sure to keep track of exactly all the twists and turns on the trail coming back, knowing the darkness could hide the obvious. Every time she was not quite positive of where they needed to be, Clark would figure it out. She was always amazed at how good a prescription he had in those glasses of his.
They'd stood on the bluff above the compound, and she could have sworn she heard Clark say something about "led." She was glad she'd been able to lead him here, but it was such an odd comment. No matter, except for one large spotlight illuminating Hangar 11, she would have sworn the place was deserted. Fox was over the edge. You don't try to keep something secret and put, for all practical purposes, a neon sign saying something of value was stored here. Lois pointed this out to Clark and he only shrugged.
"Clark, you haven't said much since I told you about the ship. What's going on?"
Clark gazed out onto the complex, then looked at her, indecision clear in his features. "The globe I found last year, it's part of the navigational system. It also contained a message for the last son of Krypton."
"Last son? I don't understand." She moved closer to him.
"Krypton was destroyed in an explosion, after *he* was sent to Earth, a refugee from a dying world."
"He grew up here. He didn't just arrive two years ago," she finished.
"Uh-huh," Clark stated noncommittally, taking her hand in his as he started down the trail.
She kept up with him, wondering what else she was not privy too, but surprisingly not mad … she was glad *he'd* found someone to confide in.
The fence of Peagrim Air Force Base sprawled before them. Clark was about to hold the slit open for her, when he paused and took in a breath.
"Don't even think it, Kent. Let's get this done," she whispered, pushing past him through the chain.
"Yes, that would be wrong of me to think about protecting the woman I love," he complained to the air in general, following as closely to her as he could without stepping on her heels.
"The warehouse is over there," she pointed. Again, a sentry could be seen sleepily strolling by. "I think he's the only guard on duty."
Lois was about to make a dash for the door when Clark held her back. "Let me go first so I can at least pretend to be the gallant gentleman."
The exasperation clear in his voice made her giggle a little, but she allowed it, watching him dart forward. He motioned an all-clear signal and she joined him at the door.
Clark grasped the lock in his hand. "Lois, keep a lookout for anyone."
She turned her head and a second later, heard a click. "You have to teach me that some day."
He just grinned and held the door open, waving her through exaggeratedly.
Once inside, Lois stopped and looked around. She and Skip had never actually been in the warehouse room, only above it and she needed to get her bearings.
"That way," she exclaimed, striding determinedly towards the left.
Moments later, they were facing the sliding door. Clark held up his hand for a halt, placing his ear against the huge leaded obstacle. "I don't hear anything, but we go slow. First sign of trouble, we're out of here."
Clark peered in, the laser and ship obvious from where they stood. The room was still bright as daytime so there would be no hiding if they were discovered.
Lois glanced over at Clark. He was just standing there, staring. A strange smile played across his features. She tugged at his sleeve, and motioning for him to follow, she headed straight for the spacecraft.
She reached the small pod, rubbing her hand across the engraving slowly, turning to smile at Clark, but stopped suddenly. He was doubling over, sinking to his knees, his whole body seemed wracked with pain. She caught him before he hit the ground, lowering him the rest of the way.
"Clark, what is it?" Her emotions were verging on panic.
"Get … me out … of here." The anguish in his eyes so horrible. "Please … hurry."
Lois didn't waste any time. She grabbed his arm, swinging it over her shoulder and half lifted him. He was doing his best to assist her, she only hoped it was enough. Dragging him as best she could through the building and out the door, she stopped only long enough to make sure the guard was elsewhere. She got him to the fence, somehow through it, and managed to find some brush nearby that afforded a bit of concealment. The moon was bright enough for her to see the pain was subsiding, though his skin was still a terrible pallor color. A hand to his forehead proved he was burning up with fever.
"Clark, I don't understand, what's wrong?" She didn't know what to do. She began rummaging through her backpack searching for water. Finally, hands shaking, she held the canteen up to his lips for him to drink. His breathing was returning to normal, but it still worried her.
"Thanks," he gasped out. "I'm feeling better, just weak." He took the canteen and poured a little out into his palm, rubbing his neck, letting the liquid flow down his back.
Lois dumped out the contents of her pack onto the ground, searching for anything else that might help. "You were fine before we went in there, I just don't understand. What is it you need?"
Clark sighed loudly. "Lois, I'll be fine in a few minutes. I just can't go back in, not with the Kryptonite in there." He'd taken off his glasses to rub the water over his forehead and over his eyes.
"That doesn't make any sense, Clark. There's only one person that stuff affects and…" Lois stopped dead as she turned towards him, staring at his naked face, hair slicked back from the moisture. Her mouth dropped open and her knees seemed to buckle right out from under her. Clark lunged, too weak to do more than slow her descent, and she landed cross-legged next to him.
They sat there for a few minutes, Lois trying desperately to absorb all this meant. There were so many questions, but the only one she needed answered now kept gnawing at her.
"Are you sure you're going to be fine?" she asked, quietly and too calmly.
"Okay…" she paused, reaching to touch his face, then drew away. "Okay then. Why have we been going through all this anguish with each other? I told you I loved you in my apartment that day. Wasn't that enough?"
He closed the distance between them, searching the ground for the words he needed to tell her. "No, you didn't. You told *him* you loved him."
"But that was you," she cried, confusion and hurt in her voice.
"Lois, when we first met, you treated me like a bug," he softly explained, halting her before she could protest. "It was nothing personal, you saw me as a possible nuisance or, less likely, competition. When you met *him* you treated him like a god. I'm him, but he's not me. I'm Clark. Just plain old raised-in-Smallville, working-at-the-Daily-Planet Clark. He's a mask, not a real person. He exists so I can help people. Nothing more." He placed his hand tenderly on her cheek. "I had to know you felt for me what you thought you felt for him before I could tell you, otherwise how could either of us have been sure? …This wouldn't have been my first choice in how to tell you…" He tried a half laugh, seeing how she would respond.
Lois looked directly into his eyes. She understood now. Not just about who he was but why. It all made sense. She smiled … then she started to giggle, pulling away from him and covering her mouth to stifle the sound, tears forming as the laughter increased.
"Lois, this wasn't the reaction I'd hoped for," Clark stated with concern. "Anger, hurt, annoyance … lots of other things, but not … this." The frown deepened as she continued.
She calmed enough to speak. "I thought you were a spy." The last word ended up a squeak as she started up again.
She took in a deep breath. "I thought you were a spy," she restated, finally in a level voice. "After talking to Amanda, I decided what you had to tell me was that you were a spy. But this…" She reached for him again, this time making contact. "I don't think I could ever have expected this." A horrified expression crossed her face. "Clark, how can you even stand being near me?" She withdrew and turned away.
"I knew something was wrong when you came to my apartment that day, but … Oh … I told you I didn't love you, then I told you I'd love you if you were an ordinary man … How can you look at me?"
"Lois." Clark took her by the shoulders, lifting her chin up, he wiped gently at her tears. "You were right, it's just neither of us knew it at the time." He drew her into an embrace. "Besides, I love you and want you to be happy, I can't help it…" He gave her a wry smile. "We figured that out earlier, remember?"
She just shook her head, amazed at how much she didn't really know about this man, and how much she did.
"Now, kiss me like you mean it, or I'm taking it all back," he echoed her earlier words, reaching his arm around her neck to bring her closer.
Skip was positive *those people* were going to stay up forever. Course, they didn't have to be so rude at his suggestion of an early retirement. He groused as he headed for his tent. What seemed like centuries later, the group finally dispersed. But then, those cohabiting his tent wouldn't shut up.
Finally, they were quiet. He crept out into the night, hesitating only a second at his destination before scratching on the front flap. "Lois … Clark … sorry to bother you…" They must have fallen asleep waiting for him. "Uh … excuse me," he breathed a little louder. "Ah, crud."
He drew the zipper up as quietly as he could, steeling himself to enter. Half closing his eyes, Skip stuck his head into the tent, then opened them wide. "Oh … Lois…" It was empty. They must have decided to go after the story without him. Or maybe it was something else, he remembered thinking several times along the trail back that Lois was about to tell him something, then … didn't. Whatever it might be, they shouldn't be wandering the Arizona mountain ranges alone at night. He'd have to assemble the team.
Humming the "Mission: Impossible" theme, Skip headed back to his tent to rouse his strike force.
"What do you mean Clark and Lois are missing?" Amanda asked as she and Lee joined the other three "Musketeers."
Murphy folded his arms, leaning back against the tree they'd met under, his tone accusing as he began to explain. "It seems the Skipper and Lois invaded the Peagrim Air Force base this afternoon on that little hike of theirs."
"Invaded's a little harsh," Skip defended himself. "We sorta strolled around it for a while."
"Yeah, they crawled in through a hole in the fence," Andy added.
"Skip, what were you thinking? That's probably a federal offense." Lee's voice was growing louder in the quiet night.
"Hey, it's supposed to be closed down." Skip was surprised at how well this wasn't going, his own volume increasing to match Lee's.
"Shhh." Amanda quieted them. She glared at her husband for a second. "Just let Skip tell this, okay?"
Skip looked gratefully at Amanda. He really wasn't sure why they were making such a fuss. Finding their reporter friends should be top of the priority list and they were arguing legal technicalities.
"I wanted a look around to see why they stopped the salvage bids, and I invited Lois along to see if there was a possible story." He shook his head. "And when we got there, we found an escapee from the nut farm waving lasers and talking conspiracies. We came back to decide what to do." Looking around the group, although support was not growing, he realized their annoyance seemed to be waning a little. "How was I supposed to know she'd take Clark and go after the story without me … us," he amended.
Murphy chuckled as he unfolded his arms, standing straighter. "I was wondering what all that semaphore activity between you and Lois was tonight."
"Oh, man," Andy exclaimed. "What do you expect us to be able to do?" He ran his hand through his thick head of hair, a sure sign he didn't have a clue.
"Well, I don't know how long they've been gone, but I expect it's going to take 'em a while to hike the distance. We can probably beat them to Peagrim in the truck and try to stop 'em from getting themselves into trouble."
The small group looked at each other. Skip could tell Andy was warming up to the excitement of it all, but the others were taking it all far too seriously.
"It's agreed," Lee reluctantly spoke up, then he and Murphy gave each other looks, shaking their heads almost simultaneously. Amanda was too quiet, worry showing on her drawn features.
"Yeah, let's go rescue us some reporters." Skip knew they'd get into the spirit of this. An elbow to the stomach by some unseen source stopped the "doo, doo, doo, doo, doo's" that had started emanating from him once more as they moved toward the vehicles.
"Well, well, well. Here we are worried sick, and I find you necking in the grass."
Skip's voice startled Clark and Lois, Clark suddenly searching for his forgotten, discarded glasses.
Skip just did a double take as he got closer, but made no comment.
"What are you doing here?" Lois straightened her shirt, aware of how it must appear to Skip.
"Excuse *me*?" Skip asked accusingly.
"Oh, well, uh…" Her eyes begged Clark for one of his patented excuses, he just shrugged, uncertainty clear. "Well, uh…" Realization of how hard it must have been for Clark to come up with those wild rationales dawned upon Lois.
Skip folded his arms and waited.
"Okay, truth. There's something in there that belongs to a friend and we have to get it out."
Skip's eyes narrowed, looking deliberately at Clark as he squatted down beside the two. "Something? Uh huh. So what's the problem here? Why haven't you just gone and gotten it?"
"Uh, Clark, well, Clark had an accident. I don't think his … ankle's strong enough to support him yet." She could feel his hand reach out to hers and squeeze it. She liked being in on the secret, as lame as *her* excuses might be right now, she was sure she could get the hang of this and he wouldn't be sorry she knew.
"Okay. Let's say we get in there and we find it, is there anything we should know … specifically?"
"Well, I can probably figure out how Clark had his accident and take care of it," she supplied, not really sure this generalization was necessary as Skip asked more and more of the right questions.
"Got it. Let's say we get this 'something' outta there, what then?"
Clark made the motion of testing his ankle. "If you bring it here, I think I can handle it, but you two can't do it alone. I'm feeling better already and if you wait a little longer and I can probably join you."
"Not necessary," Skip informed them. "I've got help."
"Help?" Lois smiled at him.
"Andy's with the getaway truck, and not very happy about that I might add, Lee and Amanda are watching the main entrance and Murph's about halfway between, waiting for me to get back to tell them if I found you." He beamed his excitement.
Clark started to shake his head. "I can't let you guys risk this."
"Don't even start that," Skip and Lois snapped at him simultaneously.
"I hate it when he's noble," Lois added, then gave Skip one of his winks back.
Skip halted the crew outside of the door. "Lois and I'll go in and get it, just keep an eye out for Fox."
Amanda took a position up at the far end of the hallway, while Lee nodded and headed toward the nearest corner. Lois could tell Lee was not a completely willing participant, but suspected Amanda had something to do with his being there.
"Thanks, Skip. I wasn't sure how I was going to explain this," Lois whispered to her companion.
"Just get rid of whatever the problem was and I'll cover that thing up and get it ready." Skip motioned her inside.
Lois now knew what she was looking for; that odd glow before had been a reality. She finally found a small green crystal hooked into what seemed to be a heat lamp, beaming its rays directly at the object of their raid. In case this place was discovered, it was a trap, with the ship as the bait.
She pocketed it quickly, knowing she'd have to get rid of it somehow before getting close to Clark again.
Skip was almost done. "So nice of them to provide packing equipment," he commented. An almost form-fitting cover now securely hid the pod, holes cut out for where they'd attached suction cup handles. He
then handed her a lead lined box, two small indentations cut in the padded interior. "Think you can find a use for this?" His eyes were full of mischief. "Give me a hand."
She loaded the crystal into one of the slots and shoved it back in her pocket. They each took an end, ready to struggle out the door. Instead, Skip nearly tossed the thing over his head with little effort. "This is great, it hardly weighs anything. It's just bulky."
They scooted toward the door, but Lois paused. "We've got to put that laser out of commission, Skip. We can't just leave it."
"Hey, let me at it." Skip and Lois put down their burden. "Let's just see what kind of scrap we can make." His grin widened as he quickly inspected the weapon. "That oughta do it." He produced a tiny little circuit-like object.
"That's all?" Lois didn't see how that would have the desired effect.
"Relax, Lois. It'll take 'em forever to check for this problem." He crushed it under his foot.
Something was still bothering Lois. She glanced around, climbing up on the weapon's deck to have a better look. There, part of the power supply, was the twin of what she'd safely secreted in her pocket. Lois struggled with it, finally managing to pop it out.
"Let's get out of here." Skip nodded appreciatively at Lois's find. He grabbed up his half and maneuvered them towards their escape.
In no time, they had rejoined Clark and Murphy. Lois kept her distance as best she could, knowing the lead should protect Clark, but just in case … hoping the fact it didn't have a power source beaming its energy would make a difference. At the first opportunity, she gave it to Amanda with instructions to hide it once they were back at camp for later retrieval. Even with the puzzled expression on her face, Amanda accepted the responsibility without question.
Lois quickly walked up to Clark, putting a hand to his forehead. His temperature seemed normal.
"I'm fine," he assured her in a whispered tone. "Really. I'm nearly back to normal." He kissed her to emphasize the point.
"We'd better move fast, then," Lois breathed out softly, squeezing his arm in a silent gesture of support.
Unfortunately, they hadn't planned on the fence being only broken far enough to accommodate people, not little alien spacecrafts. Options being discussed were interrupted by a loud blaring siren permeating the air.
"Oh great, Psycho-case must have found the thing missing." Skip was not pleased at this change of events. He liked his adventures fun, but not seriously dangerous.
The rescuers pushed and shoved, but it wouldn't go through. Activity was swarming around Hangar 11 and luckily, the spotlight which served to allow such an excellent view, caused their little band to be invisible in the dark by the very glare of it. A small, motley group of guards rushed from all directions, gathering around the tiny, jumping up and down, screaming figure. Anything he might have been shouting was drowned out by the alarm.
Lois could see the large outside doors opening. The laser was being pulled out.
"Come on, guys. He's bringing out the guns." Lois wanted to impress the need for urgency.
Clark motioned for Skip to grab a length of chain as he took the other side and together they pulled, making enough space for the tiny craft to make it through. And they were free.
Gunfire rang though the air. Lois was relieved to find it not specifically aimed at them, and also very much aware that Clark was now between her and the lunatic. Fox must have commandeered a gun, and he was firing wildly, his followers hitting the ground as he pointed in their direction.
It didn't take long to cover the distance to where Andy had hidden with the truck. They'd found an old access road off the main highway, slightly raised with a view of the compound.
"Hey guys, what's going on?" Worry was evident in Andy's crinkled features as he leaped out of the bed of the truck.
"We almost got caught." Lee glared at Skip as he explained. "We've got to alert the locals before Fox can do any damage."
Suddenly, the flashing lights of half a dozen police cars could be seen converging upon the base. The laser was instantly brought about to be used on this new attack. The device lit up brilliantly and then, even from that distance, a huge ker-flug could be heard.
Lois and Skip just laughed conspiratorially.
The authorities made short work of Fox and his men. Even without being able to hear, from her vantage point, Lois knew Fox was ranting away. She pitied the poor law enforcement officers.
"How did they know something was happening?" Lee encircled a protective arm around his wife.
"Now wouldn't it be nice if one of us had a brother-in-law on a neighboring police force who might be able to call and convince someone near here of a possible problem?" Andy grinned as he swung the contraband cell phone between two fingers. "I got bored and started exploring the truck. I dun good, huh?"
Lee forgot he was supposed to be the calm, rational one and slapped Andy on the back. "Great work, Cuz." Lois could see he wasn't really as upset as he would've liked them to believe.
"Now what do we do? We'd better get out of here before people start looking around." Skip motioned toward the scene below.
"Clark and I are going to find a likely temporary location for this off the trails for now and then we'll join you back at camp." Lois was pleased they'd managed to accomplish their goal.
"You sure that's what you want to do?" Murphy put an almost protective arm around the woman he'd just met a few days before. "I know there's some mystery here, but we'll do anything we can to help."
"You've done more than enough, and I…" she detached herself from Murphy, reattaching herself to Clark, "…*we* want to thank you for all you've already done." She liked the thought of being a couple.
Skip's impossible mission task force loaded into the truck, their leader staying behind for a moment. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure," Clark stated. "I could conceal it in the mountains for a day or two, but after that … We've got to find some place safe and I don't think Metropolis or Smallville fits that description right now."
"Well…" Skip drawled. "I have an idea…"
Lois grinned, nodding her head as she thought about this do-it-yourself astronaut and his schemes.
"What's one more piece of scrap metal — sorry about that, friend of Lois and Clark's," he apologized to the unspoken entity, "amongst tons more scrap metal?" He bobbed his eyebrows up and down in a suggestive manner.
"Hide it in a salvage yard?" Clark was warming to the idea, but not completely convinced. "But what if someone tries to tear it apart?"
"Not to worry. Just tell Harry or Mel I sent you and they'll know how to take care of the situation. And it's not forever, just 'til the heat's off." Skip leaped into the back with Lee and Amanda. "See you guys in a bit," he called.
Lois waved, frowning a bit as she heard Lee muttering about simple skiing trips and simple Mardi Gras and other things finally lost as they drove off. Once out of sight, Clark slowly turned her toward him, their eyes locking. Their lips met for a long, passionate kiss.
Lois drew them slightly apart. "Mmm, uh, we've got to get out of here, Clark. We don't have time for this." Then thinking better of it, her eyes sparkled as she drew him back into the embrace, kissing him once more before letting go. Distracted by her, he tripped a little over what seemed to be nothing in the road. Lois laughed as they walked arm in arm to the small object, enthralled by the fact she had such an effect on this man she had sometimes believed so unflappable. The feeling was entirely mutual and that made it all the more wonderful.
Clark touched it almost reverently. "I know you have questions, but so do I. There's so much I haven't ever known about myself." He caressed the metal with his free hand, squeezing Lois with the arm that held her.
Lois could hear a sad wistful quality to his voice.
"Maybe when everything's settled down, I can reunite the globe and the ship and I'll have all the answers." He smiled slowly. "Well at least most of them."
Lois wasn't sure what to say to him so she just increased her own embrace.
He looked at her, his face full of joy. "This means so much to me, especially now that I can share it with you."
"You can always share anything with me." She frowned. "With the occasional exception of a byline."
Clark picked up the craft, Lois' arm still entangled through his own.
"Oh, and, Kent," she began, a serious edge in the tone. "Just so you won't be disappointed … I've been thinking about that 'angry' reaction you wanted so bad. A few incidents here and there have been coming to mind…" She was actually more embarrassed by some of what she'd said or done and the blinders she'd been wearing; it wasn't really anger, but there was no need for him to get too complacent about their new found relationship. She'd swooned and gushed already, over something that wasn't real, now she was ready for commitment. "Let's talk about cheeses of the month for a start…"
"Hey, guys." A loud thud sounded outside as the tent shook slightly from the impact. "Oops, sorry. Hey, you gonna sleep all day?" Allie called again.
Clark peered at Lois through half-closed lids. "You want me to send him into orbit? You give me the word and it's done." He dropped his head back on the pillow.
"Just make him be quiet." Lois didn't even bother opening her eyes.
"Heeeeyyy, Claaarrkk! Loooiiiis! You went to bed at sunset, it's practically noon," Allie sing-songed.
Gently moving Lois over a bit, Clark stuck his head out. "We're on vacation, go away, and it's only," Clark consulted his watch, "7:30 a.m. Allie, what kind of a sadist are you?"
"Oh good, you're up. You know, it's the third day of this outing, and the Michaels curse hasn't hit. You and Lois are the best good luck charms we've ever taken along."
Clark heard a derisive snort come from behind him. "Go away!" He pulled his head back, but not before he was sure he heard some uncomplimentary comparison to the *old* men in the other tent acting similarly to Clark.
He sighed. Lois had rolled over to his bedding. "Lois, look, I'd better get into town and get the scoop on what went on at the base last night so I can modem the copy to Perry. He'll kill us if we don't get this story." Clark yawned loudly.
"I'm coming." A half attempt to sit up resulted in a flopping back down.
"No, you get some sleep. I can do this," he sounded more confident than he felt. They'd just barely returned to the safety of their sleeping bags less than an hour before.
"You're not stealing my byline." Successfully sitting up, she peeked out at Clark from behind her tousled hair.
"Let's get this over then." He grabbed up his clothes and went in search of a place he could change privately, leaving Lois the tent. He only hoped she would be conscious when he returned.
Three cups of coffee — and quite a coincidence that two star reporters from the Daily Planet had stopped by his office later — Sheriff Tom Burroughs, kicking back in his desk chair, was giving them all the details they already knew. And filling in a few they didn't.
"Seems this Fox guy's right hand man, Wiley, knows everything. He believes in the aliens, but he thinks they're nice. He only stayed because it was a job." The law officer offered them donuts.
"Could we talk to either of them?" Lois bit into her chocolate covered bar.
"Wiley's busy with the Feds now, and I don't think you wanna talk to Fox." He dropped his chair back into place, stood up and walked toward the secured door behind him, opening it. "We've got a psyche eval scheduled for today."
"…they stole my spaceship … it's not fair. How am I going to kill him without it … It was my bait … They'll steal our bodies … then our children … then our planet … You'll see … they're everywhere…"
He slammed out the noise, shaking his head the whole time. "A real basket case, that one." Sheriff Burroughs resumed his former position. "That laser thing he had, lucky a piece was missing or my men and I might be Kentucky fried right now. Dangerous man."
Clark turned to Lois, nodding knowingly.
"Hey, you interested in some shots of the base and laser and stuff?" The Sheriff was all smiles. "I invited a local kid to take evidence pictures, and he's pretty good. Might be a start for him."
"Sounds … wonderful," Lois agreed, thinking she might know this particular photographer.
Perry was beside himself, he'd just gotten the story of the century, with accompanying photos, from the two people he'd sent away for a romantic weekend.
"Well, well … now, Son, you should listen to Lois and me more often. We've been in this business a lot longer than you and if we feel there's a story brewing, we're usually right. Where do you think Elvis would be now — well besides dead — if he hadn't had the Colonel's wisdom and experience to guide him … in business and everything else?"
The speaker phone crackled as Clark interrupted his boss. "Uh, Chief, we sort of have to go."
"Oh, well, sure thing, Clark. When're you and Lois coming back to Metropolis to do the follow up?"
"Well, that's something we wanted to discuss. I think you'd better give that to Jimmy." Clark cleared his voice.
"Chief, this has been a rough assignment so far," Lois broke in. "We're taking a vacation once we get back to Glorieta. I guess we'll be back…" Perry heard a mumbling sound. " … in about a week and a half."
"I don't know if I can spare you kids that long, you've already been gone almost a week."
"Yes, but that was on assignment. And we're kind of stranded out in the middle of nowhere until we all get back to Clark's relatives, Chief, no rental cars available that we can find. And we need the rest after all this."
He was stuck. He'd sent them out alright, but *this* was supposed to be the vacation. And he was sure Lois knew it. Clark would never have tried something like this without her influence. Maybe he should rethink his matchmaking ways … Naw, they deserved it.
"Oh." Clark's voice was back on the line. "It's not confirmed, but you might want to check out the possibility that the two Senators from California were backing Fox. Indications are pretty strong in that direction."
"Got that," the editor noted it on the pad in front of him. "Well, you two enjoy yourselves from now on. No more work," he ordered and clicked off the speaker, then bellowed, "Olsen … get your tail in here now!"
The next few days were a blur. The Michaels clan were the best people. None of the Musketeers had said a word about the late night adventures, but they'd found a few minutes here and there to talk about it privately.
Skip was full of the winks and grins and hugs that seemed so much a part of him. And Lois and Amanda had some great long talks, coincidentally at the same time Clark disappeared for a little while … uh, just enjoying the sights (she was just going to have to get better at this excuse thing).
She'd been sorry to say good-bye to them all, and then to Aunt Martha and Uncle Joseph, but there were still some people she had to be introduced to, and she was actually nervous.
The flight to Smallville was the most wonderful she ever remembered, if not the most conventional. About to step foot on the front porch of the Kent farmhouse, Lois stopped Clark.
"I'm almost sorry about … you know … you being you."
"Lois, if you have second thoughts," he began.
"Not really." She crinkled up her nose. "I just wish you weren't adopted. I was just getting used to the idea of growing old with you, and you looking more and more like your father every day, and now … I won't know what to expect."
"Isn't that half the fun, Lois?" A twinkle gleamed in his non-bespectacled eyes. "The unexpected?" He pulled her in for a long kiss.
"Mmm, hmm." She felt a little dazed, annoyed that she was not annoyed he was still having that same effect on her after she'd promised herself no swooning.
They walked up the stairs and into the house.
"Mom … Dad!" Clark called.
"Well, Clark … hey good to have you home…" Jonathan came out of the bedroom, stopping dead at the sight of Clark without his glasses, and Lois hanging on to him.
They heard his mother's voice from the kitchen. "Clark, oh, you're back. You're going to have to give us all the scoop on you and Loisss…" Martha turned the corner, caught off guard by her son and his partner, arm in arm. She broke into a brilliant smile, rushing forward and hugging them both, tears starting to form.
"It's about time," was all she could manage.
Epilogue - one week later.
Harry Broderick hung up the phone.
"Good news, Harry?" Skip was leaning on the couch, trying to tune his old guitar, unsuccessfully.
Harry beamed at him. "Peagrim's ours!" he announced triumphantly. "Those senators were really quick gettin' through the authorization suddenly. The only thing they're not includin' is any actual weapons collected."
"He was an A-Grade nut case. Good thing you and Mel didn't come along." Skip pinged a particular off key note.
Harry glanced out the window at his beloved salvage yard. "Isn't your friend coming by today with that pretty little lady of his?"
Skip had managed to find somewhere else for their entire crew to be to allow privacy for their expected visitors.
"Uh huh," Skip mumbled.
"Let him know we'll be gettin' all of those files Fox and Trask had. Someone's decided all that collection's fake and not worth keepin'. He's welcome to go over them before I call Spooky in."
"You have a buyer for UFO stuff?"
Harry laughed. "Are you kidding. I know an FBI agent who'd kill to get his hands on it."
"Sometimes I wonder about your friends, Harry." Skip declared, amazed.
"*My* friends?" Harry gave him a knowing glance, slugging him on the shoulder as he headed back to his desk to begin the paperwork.