By Allison K. Forbes <firstname.lastname@example.org.>
Submitted: March 2002
Summary: After Lois and Clark get engaged, they go camping at a lodge, upstate. While on a walk, she and Clark become separated, then she is injured and helped by a mysterious woman. (This story would take the place of the episode "Just Say Noah.")
This is a mid-third season, post-engagement story. Thanks to Carol for her patience while editing this thing!
The knock came just as Lois was finishing gathering up her bags. For some reason, she stopped at the hall mirror to check her makeup once last time. She felt rather silly doing it, since he was her best friend, and they were going camping, but she couldn't help it. Now that she and Clark were engaged, she found she wanted to look her best for him, even for the mountains. She knew what he'd say: that she was always beautiful to him, and didn't need any help in that department. But she couldn't help herself. Smoothing down her short, cropped hair, she opened the door.
"Hi," she said shyly, smiling.
"Hi," he said softly. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah, I'm all set. Come on in." She stood aside to let him enter, then closed the door behind him. "You look nice." In fact, she thought, he looked better than nice. He was dressed simply, in dark jeans and a blue, long- sleeved shirt. He smelled clean, like he'd just come from the shower, and she detected just a hint of aftershave. Now that they had no more secrets and were engaged, she had a strong urge just to drag him into her bedroom. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves.
"Thanks!" he said, looking quickly down at himself. "So do you. You look…really nice," he said huskily. It was quickly becoming very difficult for him to concentrate with her standing there. She wasn't wearing any perfume, yet her scent filled the room. Her gray khakis and white T- shirt were simple and understated, but on her, anything looked elegant. Her short hair shone like it had just been brushed and he could see a blush on her cheeks, and her lips were glossy. She was absolutely lovely.
"Give me a minute, ok? I just have to make sure I've got everything." She started to go back into the bedroom, when she felt his hand firmly grip her arm, stopping her. She turned, and suddenly she was wrapped in his arms, her face just inches from his. He simply gazed into her eyes for a moment, then lifted one hand to the back of her head, pulling her to him.
Their lips met in a soft, warm kiss that was itself gentle, but she could feel the raw desire behind it, the way his lips moved over hers, silently telling her that this kiss was merely a preamble. She slid her hands up his chest and around his neck, sighing softly as the kiss deepened.
After a few more delightful seconds, he pulled away, just far enough to look at her face, keeping her securely wrapped in his arms.
"I've been wanting to do that all day," he said softly.
"What took you so long?" she asked breathlessly, her arms still around his neck.
He grimaced slightly. "I didn't think Perry would've liked his two best reporters groping each other all day. Tends to look unprofessional."
She looked down for a moment, pretending to pout, then nodded.
"On the other hand, having to keep my hands off you for a few hours during the day just makes it that much better when I do get to hold you," he said, his hands making small circles across her lower back.
"And it's not as if you completely restrain yourself during the day, farmboy," she smiled.
"Yeah, well, Perry oughta be used to that by now!" he replied, with a chuckle. "After all, I've loved you for three years, but I've only be able to express it for about half that," he murmured, bending to kiss her lightly on the nose.
"Well, now we're engaged, so the whole world will just have to get used to seeing a lot more public displays of affection from us, won't they?"
"Although, I think it would be wise to refrain from the 'clearing off the desk and doing it right there in the middle of the newsroom' thing, don't you?"
He looked at her wide-eyed, then laughed out loud.
"C'mon," she giggled, extricating herself from his arms. "We should get going."
He watched her retreat into the bedroom, and then sat down and made himself comfy. Then he looked at the three bags already on the living room floor.
"Hey, honey? What else do you need to get? You've already got three bags here. What else are you taking?"
"For starters," she called from the bedroom, "those bags are not very big; they don't hold very much, and second," suddenly her head popped out from the bedroom door, "those have only got a few clothes and some of my toiletries." The door opened and she emerged, carrying another, slightly larger bag. She came into the living room and dropped the bag next to the others. "Now, I'm ready."
Clark looked painfully at the four bags of luggage. "Lois, honey," he said plaintively as he stood up, "we're going camping. Cam-ping," he said slowly, annunciating. "You know, out-of-town, the wilderness, the woods, away from the city, and we're only gonna be gone for about three days…we, you don't need all this," he gestured at her stuff.
"Clark, sweetheart," she replied, matching his sarcasm. "I know what camping is. I have been before. With you as a matter of fact. Remember Spencer Spenser's island?"
"Yeah, I remember. I remember you had a suitcase, those ridiculous high-heeled things, and you wanted a sauna, massage, and room service. You brought practically everything you owned!"
"Yes, and I remember how you forgot one vitally important detail!"
"Yes, and it's staying home this time, too. Honey, this trip is for us. I want us to get away from the city for a while, to spend some time together without deadlines or bad guys or Bengal tigers, or you-know-who getting in the way. I would be perfectly happy if it was just you, me and a sleeping bag, er, built for two," he finished quickly.
"I understand, Clark. I really do. But believe it or not, I do need this stuff."
"I don't mean to pry, but what exactly is in there?"
She smiled and calmly told him. "I'm taking two nightgowns, one light in case it's warm, one heavy if it's not, my bathrobe, my slippers, four outdoor outfits…"
"Four??" he exclaimed.
"In case something gets dirty; we are gonna be gone for three days, and you did say we'd be in the woods, right?" He nodded, and she continued. "My sneakers, my toothbrush, other things like that." She paused and smiled sweetly. "Would you like to know what kind of underwear I'm taking?" His eyes darkened, and she realized she was treading on dangerous ground. "I think I'll just keep that one to myself," she said, feeling a blush creep across her cheeks. "Let's get this stuff into the jeep. The sooner we get there…" she trailed off and just stood there, mouth open, a slight breeze blowing her hair as each bag disappeared in seconds. "The sooner we can spend that quality time together you were talking about," she finished as Clark stood there, a grin on his face, holding a hand out to her.
"The Jeep's all packed and ready to go!" he said proudly. She shook her head, and reached for her brown satchel, hooking it over her shoulder.
"It still shocks me to see you do that!" she said amazedly as she locked the door behind them. She froze, and looked at Clark.
"What? What is it?" he asked.
"That. You being able to pack in less than five seconds. Do you think I'll ever get used to it?" she asked, her voice tinged with worry. He sensed her fear, and took her hand in his.
"I think so. Just think; you have the rest of your life to find out."
Her fear dissolved instantly at his calm reassurance, and she smiled. "I love you."
"I love you," he replied, kissing her softly. "Now let's go!"
Gratefully sliding out of the Jeep after two and a half hours, Lois stretched her legs and arched her back to relieve her cramped muscles. The drive to the lodge had been nice, with beautiful weather, and the fall foliage made the landscape seem ablaze with color. They had spent a good time of the trip making some small plans, and sometimes in easy silence, but she was grateful to be able to move around again.
Now looking at the lodge in front of them, Lois felt a tingle of excitement.
"Clark, it's so beautiful!" she exclaimed. The Pine Ridge B&B was a modest, two-story, red brick building in rural, upstate New Troy, with a small, tended garden, and rose bushes all along the front. It was large enough to accommodate at least two dozen, but small enough to retain a woodsy feel. The parking lot was surrounded by several trees and park benches, giving the camper the feeling that they were part of the wilderness.
"I knew you'd like it, honey," Clark replied. He himself was glad to be out of the car, and also began to stretch, working out the kinks in his neck, and working out his shoulders. Feeling Lois' gaze on him, he looked up to see his fiancˇe eyeing him appreciatively. A mischievous grin spread across his face, and she blushed, turning her head slightly. He straightened, and walked over to her. "Y'know, I hear this place has a full-time masseuse," he said, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"Uh-huh," she replied absently, still trying to hide her embarrassment at ogling him.
"But, you know something? A professional would go too fast, do what needed to be done, not say anything; then it'd be over. I'd rather have a massage from someone who'd go slowly, y'know, take, um…her time, finding out what works the best, and maybe linger a little."
"Oh, really," she asked coyly, setting her hands lightly on his chest.
"Um-hmm," he murmured. "And then maybe," his voice dropped an octave, "I could return the favor."
"I'd like that," she replied breathily, leaning forward, touching her forehead to his. They stood there a moment, in the parking lot, just lost in each other. Finally he pulled away to look at her. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her eyes were very prettily glazed over. Just looking at her, he knew the next few days would be unforgettable.
"Let's go inside and check in, ok?" She nodded and together they went inside.
After registering, they took their bags upstairs. Since Clark had agreed to stay at the lodge, she had agreed to the single room, albeit with two beds. Stepping inside, Clark smiled to see Lois as pleased with the inside as she was the outside. The room was done in soft, muted, earth colors, adding to the wilderness feel. The walls and carpet were soft mauve, and the thick comforters and pillow shams were pine green. Beside each bed was a small lamp made to look like it had been carved from the trunk of a tree. The draperies were a soft gray, with green vines threaded from the bottom to the top. There was also a carved wood ceiling fan and polished wood fireplace.
"I don't suppose Superman came up here to check out the room in advance, did he?" Lois asked while unpacking her things. "Because this room is so perfect, I can't help but think that maybe he came up here to find the room with the best view, with its own fireplace…" she trailed off.
Clark sat down on the bed and removed his shoes while she unpacked. "As a matter of fact, no. Superman did not pick out this room in advance. If we got the best view in the lodge, I guess it was just luck. And it's on the side of the building; the room on the opposite side also has a fireplace. And if the room is so perfect," he said, then stood and crossed the room to stand behind her at the dresser, putting his hands on her shoulders, squeezing, "it's only because you're in it." He bent his head to place a soft kiss on her neck.
"Hm-mmm," she giggled. "I bet you say that to all the girls you bring up here."
"Nope. Just the one."
She sighed happily. "Well, this is nice, but we're gonna be late for dinner. Go away so I can get dressed," she said, playfully shoving him away.
"Honey, what you're wearing is fine. You don't have to get all dressed up."
"I know I don't have to, but I want to. I packed something special; I bought it just for you for this trip. Now scoot!"
With a sigh, he finally let her go. She disappeared into the large bathroom carrying one of her bags, and wearing a very seductive 'come hither' smile.
"I'll just be a minute," she said as the door closed.
Clark went back to sit down in one of the plush chairs. Crossing his leg over his knee, he leaned back and let himself slouch for a moment. His mind began to wander, thinking back to all the times he and Lois had shared. And now they were engaged! A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth when he thought about the woman changing clothes not ten feet away. He was tempted to pull down his glasses and look through the door, but he resisted, his gentlemanly upbringing forbidding him to violate her privacy. Besides, he thought with a grin, peeking would only spoil the surprise!
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening. He looked up, and his mouth fell open as Lois stepped into the room. A dozen thoughts went through his mind at once, and he tried to say something, but could only manage a squeak.
"So, what do you think?" she asked, looking a little shy. She was casually dressed in a short-sleeved, burgundy top with matching slacks, which glistened slightly from the sprinkle of gold ironed into the material. Her hair was combed into a neat bob, tucked behind her ears, and shone in the light from the lamp. Her earrings were simple pearl drops. She was absolutely beautiful.
"Lois," he breathed. "Lois…honey, you look, you…" he trailed off, shaking his head. He got up from the chair and stood in front of her. He took her hands in his, holding them out so he could look at her better.
He sighed, and lifted her hand to his lips. "You," he kissed her hand, "look," then lifted her other hand and brought it to his lips, "beautiful."
She blushed. "Thank you. I was hoping you'd like this. I know how much you like me in burgundy."
"Honey, you could be wearing a sackcloth and you'd still be beautiful, but this," he looked her up and down, "is definitely, very nice."
"Well, I'm pleased you think so. Now," she reached up and kissed him quickly, "let's go eat. I'm starved!"
"Yes ma'am!" he replied obediently as she pulled him out the door.
"Clark, that was fabulous! I haven't had food that good in ages!" Lois gushed as she and Clark walked back to their room.
"Oh, really?" he said, trying to sound hurt.
"Except for your cooking, of course!" she said soothingly. "And the food you get from Paris and Shanghai."
"Ah," he said, then chuckled. "Well, I'm glad. It was pretty good, wasn't it? Although that one waiter really bugged me."
"The one who kept coming to our table, asking if we needed anything. He kept looking at you and grinning like a love- sick puppy," he answered in mock-disgust.
"If I remember correctly, so did you for two years!" she said, punching him lightly in the arm.
"I know. It took me that long to get you to notice me," he remarked petulantly. "I didn't want some gawking waiter to steal you away from me in ten minutes!"
"It did not take me two years to notice you," she said defensively as they got back to the room. She set her purse down and took off her earrings. "It just took me that long to admit my feelings. And believe me, once I did, there was no danger of anyone stealing me away. Once I made up my mind how I felt, you were mine!"
"Hmm, possessive, aren't we?" he grinned, wrapping his arms around her waist and lacing his fingers at the small of her back.
"Absolutely!" she smiled, resting her hands on his chest.
"Good," he said simply, his voice slightly husky, his eyes never leaving hers. She returned his gaze, and caught her breath at the intensity of love she saw. Finally, after a moment, he spoke. "So, what would you like to do tomorrow? Stay in and order room service? Go for a walk on the trail? Hiking?"
"Well, they're predicting nice weather. Why don't we go for a nice, long nature hike? I hear the foliage is beautiful up here this time of year. We'll get a great workout, and who knows, we might spot some animals along the way."
At that, he tilted his head back slightly and laughed. "Only you, Lois Lane!"
"'Only me', what?" she demanded haughtily.
"Only you would come up into the mountains for a romantic getaway, and go for a leisure hike in the woods, and consider it a workout!" he chuckled.
"Well, some of us do have to worry about keeping in shape, you know," she retorted, slapping him lightly on the chest. "Not everyone can eat like an eight year old, and," she slowly smoothed her hands up and down his chest, "keep a great body. We mere humans have to work at it."
At the feel of her hands on his chest, he closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath, reining in his desire for her. Having her so close, with her delicate hands on him, was doing things to his equilibrium, and his control, so he cleared his throat, and gently held her away from him.
"I, ah, I think we should get ready for bed now," he stammered, moving away from her to his suitcase.
She turned to watch him get out his sleep clothes, a grin twitching at the corners of her mouth. "You're cute when you're flustered, you know that?" she asked playfully. "I mean, if I can get you all hot and bothered by doing something simple like that, which I've done before, just think…" she trailed off, pondering the possibilities.
"Lo-is," he said, almost pleadingly. "Yeah, you've done that before, but it was always out of friendship or comfort. But we're engaged now. Everything takes on a whole new meaning. Every touch, every look, means something else. And just now, it was all I could do not to…" he trailed off, gesturing helplessly.
"Not to what?" she asked softly, walking towards him. "What did you not want to do?"
"Lois, honey," he replied, again taking her hands in his. "It was what I did want to do. What I've wanted to do since the moment I first saw you. What we agreed not to do until we were married," he sighed, gazing into the brown depths of her eyes. "That's what you do to me."
"Clark…" she choked, humbled by his words. He pulled her into his arms, holding her head beneath his chin with one hand, and running a hand in soothing circles on her back with the other. "Wow," she breathed. "It still amazes me that I can make you feel that way."
"I'm just tellin' the truth, Lois. I have loved you, wanted you, since the moment we met."
She lifted her head from beneath his chin. "Well, you've got me, farmboy. Always. And pretty soon we can do all those things you've wanted to," she said seductively, lifting her head for a kiss.
"I can hardly wait," he replied, leaning down to kiss her. Just then she unexpectedly yawned, so he released her. "But right now, it's pretty late; we should get some sleep. Tomorrow we'll go for a long hike up in the mountains. We've both been working so hard lately; that's why we came up here, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, to relax. So I want you to rest. You can have the bathroom first."
She nodded through another yawn, and went to gather her things to take into the bathroom. As the door closed behind her, Clark let out another tortured breath, and ran an agitated hand through his hair. 'What I wouldn't give for this to be our honeymoon!' he thought to himself. He wasn't exaggerating when he told Lois that he'd loved her, wanted her, for so long. It had started that fateful day three years before, and had only increased with each passing day.
When she emerged a few minutes later, Clark was still sitting on the bed. When he saw her, he had to stifle a gasp. Even in pajamas, with her makeup removed, she was breathtaking.
"All yours," she said, and moved passed him to her bed.
"Thanks," he muttered quickly, and hastily gathered his things and went into the bathroom.
Climbing into bed, Lois watched the bathroom door close. Opening the romance novel she brought with her, she began to read. But her mind was not on her book. She looked up at the closed door, and leaned her head against the headboard.
'Three years,' the torturous thought sprang unbidden back into her mind. 'He's loved me for three years!' It humbled her that even after the way she used to treat him, he still loved her. He never gave up, and once she admitted her feelings for him, and got over the shock of his secret, she began to want him with a vengeance that scared her. But now, they were engaged, and knowing what was going through his mind made her desires less frightening. In fact, they were heightened.
She was pulled out of her musings by the sound of the door opening. Clark emerged wearing a terrycloth bathrobe, and walked around to his side of the bed, his back to her. She looked back at her book, but peripherally saw him take off his robe. Her breath caught in her throat as the robe fell, exposing his muscular back and shoulders. He laid the robe across the foot of the bed, and she got a nice view of his muscular legs.
"Enjoying the view?" he asked, amusedly, turning around. She looked up at him, no trace of embarrassment on her face.
"Hmmm, definitely," she purred, turning to lie on her side, facing him.
He climbed into bed, pulling the covers up over his lap. "I wish you could join me over here."
"I know. And I respect that. But you're just too much temptation," he said, sighing.
She smiled sympathetically. "And you think you're not?" she asked quietly. He turned his head to look at her, and saw his own smoldering need reflected in her dark eyes.
Seeing the recognition in his eyes almost destroyed her will. It would be so easy to go over to his bed, and just…let it happen. No, she wanted their first time together to be special; she had to be strong.
"I love you, Clark. Good night," she said, then reached up and turned off the bedside lamp. The room was plunged into darkness, except for the dim light of the moon, which filtered through the curtains, and fell upon her face.
"I love you, Lois," he replied. "Good night. Sleep well."
Snuggling deep under the covers, she found a comfortable position, and was soon fast asleep. Clark lay awake for some time, just watching her, her pale skin luminescent in the soft light. He didn't need it to be able to see her, but he found the effect hypnotic, the way it fell across her delicate features, making her look like some primordial goddess. He stared at her for the longest time, and she was the last thing he saw before he fell asleep.
The sun was streaming into the room when Lois awoke the next morning. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she saw Clark, already dressed, moving about the room.
"Morning, sleepyhead," he said seeing that she was awake. "It's almost nine. I thought you were gonna sleep the whole day away."
"I guess," she began, yawning herself awake, "I guess I was more tired than I thought."
"And now? How do you feel?" he asked, and sat on the edge of the bed, holding out a cup of coffee.
She gratefully took a sip, and smiled. "I feel great. I haven't slept that well in a while." She took another sip, then continued thoughtfully. "I always thought I slept well in Metropolis, but last night, last night was probably the best sleep I've ever had."
He smiled. "Good, then I was right. Coming up here was a good idea."
She nodded enthusiastically, then finished the coffee.
"Here," he said, taking the empty cup from her. "You, get dressed, then we'll get some breakfast, and go for that walk."
She sighed happily, leaning on one elbow, and just watched him move around the room. Sensing that she wasn't moving, he turned around.
"What?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know," she said, self-consciously. "Just, this…you, taking charge, taking care of me," she fiddled with the bedspread. "I kinda like it."
He smiled crookedly. "Well, you had better get used to it. Because I intend to 'take care of you' for the rest of your life!" he said, and she smiled. "But if you wanna go for that walk, you do need to get dressed!"
"Ok, ok!" she laughed.
After breakfast, they put on their heavy jackets, and headed up into the mountains behind the B&B. It was the beginning of autumn, so the air was chilly and crisp, and the fall foliage was exploding with fiery color. The leaves were just beginning to fall, and some already covered the ground, creating an ocean of red, gold, and orange along the path. Lois and Clark walked along the path, just enjoying the beautiful day and each other. She leaned into him, enjoying the feel of his solid body next to hers, her arms wrapped around him. He held her close, with one arm draped around her shoulders.
"Oh, Clark, it's so beautiful up here! I'm so glad we came," she said happily as they strolled leisurely along.
"Hmmm," he smiled. "Not as beautiful as you, but it is nice," he agreed. "When I was a kid, fall was always my favorite season. You haven't seen fall foliage at its best until you've seen autumn in Smallville. I know you think all Kansans are good for is celebrating the growing of corn, and watching wheat grow," he chuckled as she slapped him lightly in the chest. "But we have been known to put on some incredible fall colors."
She smiled, tightening her arms around him as he continued his trip down memory lane.
"I remember once when I was about seven or eight, my dad was out raking leaves in the front yard," he chuckled as he remembered, "and I came running into the yard and just jumped right into this huge pile of leaves he'd raked up!"
She laughed out loud. "Was he mad?"
"I don't think so. I mean, he looked kinda annoyed that I'd messed up his hard work, but after a minute, he just raked up the leaves again, then stood back and waited."
"Waited?" she repeated.
"Yeah, he just looked at me, and said 'Well, go on. Jump!'" he concluded happily, laughing with her.
"So he made another pile of leaves for you, just so you could jump into it?"
"Yep. Actually he made about four or five of 'em. But then Mom came out and told me to leave him alone so he could finish. Turns out she had been taking pictures of us the whole time!"
"You're kidding!" she squealed.
"Na-ah," he shook his head. "When she called me down for supper that night, I saw a camera on the kitchen counter, and when I went to bed, I overheard her telling my dad how cute she thought it all was."
Clark finished his story, and they walked along in easy silence for a moment, breathing in the crisp air, enjoying the sunshine. After a moment, Lois sighed.
"What is it, honey?" he asked, ever attentive to every sound she made.
"Oh, I was just thinking about how you grew up. You have such wonderful memories, great parents. Face it, Clark you grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting."
He smiled, understanding where she was coming from. From her point of view, his childhood had been perfect. He'd been raised by the most supportive parents anyone could hope for, and his memory was filled with happy, joyous times. Coming from her own experience, his childhood probably did look idyllic. But it was not always so.
"I guess I can understand how you would think so, Lois. I know your own memories growing up weren't always the best, and that sometimes it was pretty rough…"
"Hmph, you can say that again," she snorted.
"…but, sweetheart," he said, turning her around to look at him, "my childhood wasn't perfect. I mean, let's not forget, I'm an alien. I had to deal with all my powers coming in, and not knowing how to deal with them. I had to hide who I was, what I could do, from everyone, and keep my guard up all the time. Yes, I have great parents, but they lived in almost constant fear that someone would come and take me from them."
"That must have been so scary, Clark. Not knowing who or…what," she said haltingly, not wanting to refer to him as an object, "you were, not knowing where you came from."
He gazed at her for a long moment, marveling at her compassion, her capacity to understand. His mouth turned up at the corner, and he slid a finger lovingly down her cheek. "It was pretty scary. I went so long, my whole life really, living in fear of being discovered. My folcs were great, and I love them, but they couldn't alleviate my anxiety."
She smiled sympathetically.
"But all that changed one day when I decided to move to Metropolis. I had never felt at home anywhere, but there was something different about this city. Then I went for a job interview, and met this," he threaded his fingers through her hair, and cupped her cheek in his palm, "incredible, vibrant, beautiful woman who changed everything."
A tear began to fall from her eye and slid down her face, and he wiped it away with his thumb. "She challenged me, insulted me a little," he grinned as she looked away, blushing, then continued as her eyes met his, "but then she accepted me, became my partner, my best friend. She supported me in ways she wasn't even aware of. And finally, after years of waiting, she fell in love with me, almost as much as I loved her."
"She sounds like a pretty special woman," Lois said softly over the small lump in her throat.
"She is," he answered huskily. "I don't know what I'd do without her."
Lois gazed into his dark eyes for a moment, letting his words sink into her heart, wanting to say something equally as heartfelt. But nothing she could think of could match the passionate speech he'd just made. So she decided not to speak. Instead, she reached up, threading her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and tilted her head up to his. His head immediately came down to hers, and their lips met in a sweet, tender kiss. After a moment, however, it ceased to be tender. His arms wrapped around her slender body, holding her tightly against his, and one hand came up to cup the back of her head. She pressed against him, seeking the warmth of his hard body. Despite the chill from the cold mountain air, both were panting and quite heated up when they broke apart.
For a moment, all they could do was stare at one another, their heavy frosted breaths mingling in the space between them.
"Wow," she said softly. "I know I should be cold out here, but…" she trailed off.
"I am feeling a bit warm," he finished, without releasing her.
"Me too," she said somewhat dazedly.
"Whadaya say we continue on our walk, and when we get back to the lodge, I'll build us a nice warm fire and make some hot chocolate?" he suggested.
At the mention of chocolate, her eyes cleared, and she grabbed him by the hand. "Well, what're we waiting for? Let's go!" she said enthusiastically.
"Hey, hey, wait a minute!" Clark laughed as she pulled him along. "Lois, honey, remember we're out here to relax," he spread his hands in emphasis, "not to run a marathon. Let's just enjoy the scenery, ok?"
"Clark, you promise me chocolate and then you expect me to wait?" she demanded mock angrily, not letting go of his hand. He grinned, chuckling slightly.
"You're right; that was a bad move," he conceded mock seriously.
"Ok, ok," she said grudgingly, rolling her eyes. "I can wait for the chocolate. I'd rather enjoy this beautiful weather," she said, looking at him from beneath her lashes. "And spend more time with you," she finished flirtatiously.
"Well, then, by all means," he said, offering her his arm, "shall we go?"
Smiling happily, she took his arm, and together, they continued to stroll along the path through the woods. The afternoon sun shone brilliantly overhead, providing some warmth despite the autumn chill. Crisp autumn leaves fell silently from the bare tree limbs above, and crunched softly beneath their feet. The only other sounds that they could hear were the light whistle of the wind around them, and the occasional bark or lone howl of a distant animal. They continued along for several feet, and then Clark stopped. Turning slightly to look at Lois, he smiled.
"What?" she asked, a small smile twitching the corners of her mouth.
He didn't say anything. Instead he released her hand, then turned and knelt, picking at something she couldn't see. She heard the distinct hum of his heat vision, and wondered what he was doing. When he finally stood and turned back to her, he was holding a single yellow flower out to her.
"Oh, Clark," she breathed. "It's beautiful!" She took the flower from him, and held it up to her nose, inhaling its fragrant scent. Its soft petals felt like silk on her skin, and it smelled of warm sunshine, with just a hint of citrus. She sighed as she inhaled, and looked up into his eyes, so warm with love. "Thank you."
"We were walkin' along, and I just happened to look down, and there was that little bush, almost hidden in the rest of the brush. And there was that one little flower, all by itself, so bright it was almost shining. It made me think of you."
"Yeah," he explained softly. "Lois, even when the world seems so bleak, and even I have a hard time seeing the bright side of things, there you are, bringing light back into my world."
For a moment, Lois was completely speechless. His words were spoken so simply, and so honestly, yet they managed to move her so deeply, she felt tears prick at her eyes. She reached up to wipe at a stray tear that managed to move down her face.
He saw that she was beginning to cry, and immediately felt guilty. "Hey," he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Hey, I didn't mean to make you cry! Oh, honey, I'm sorry," he kissed the top of her head.
"No, don't apologize. I'm sorry. I shouldn't fall apart every time you open your mouth!" She lifted her head to look him in the face. "But you always move me with your words." She paused to think about something. "Are you always gonna do that?"
Realizing the meaning behind her question, he smiled. "I certainly hope to spend my life trying." With that, he bent his head and kissed her gently, and they continued walking.
The good weather not only put them both in good spirits, it also put Lois in a rather playful mood. Very carefully, she extricated herself from Clark's arm, so they were merely walking side by side. Luckily, he didn't seem to notice. After a few minutes, she quietly fell back behind him until he was walking alone. She then began to put her plan into motion.
With a start, Clark realized he was walking alone. He stopped dead in his tracks, and whipped his head in each direction, looking for her.
"Lois?" he called out worriedly, walking in a circle to search the area. "Lois!" he called again louder, but there was no response. Running a nervous hand through his hair, he considered changing into the Suit and taking to the air to look, but then he heard footsteps, followed by a distinctly familiar feminine giggle behind him. He turned around, and suddenly found himself being covered head to toe in leaves.
"What the…" he exclaimed, just as another pile of leaves was thrown over his head, accompanied by another giggle.
After a moment, he was able to extricate himself from the onslaught, and saw the very beautiful owner of that giggle now laughing hysterically, bending down to gather another pile of leaves. But before she could hit him again, he moved, almost at superspeed, gathering his own flora for ammunition and pelting her. She squealed, reached down again, and he yelled in protest as Lois tried to stuff a handful of leaves down his pants! He retaliated, dumping a huge pile right over her head, and before long they were in the middle of a full battle, each moving as fast as possible to cover the other in leaves. Suddenly she stopped.
"Ok, ok!" she panted through laughter. "I give up, I surrender!" She leaned over, catching her breath. After a few seconds, she stood and faced him, trying to speak through her laughter. "I should never have tried to surprise Superman with a leaf throwing fight!"
"Try and remember that from now on, Ms. Lane," he said imperiously, or at least tried to sound imperious, since he, too was also nearly doubled over with laughter. He stood up slowly, and adopted his 'Superman' pose, with his feet apart, and arms crossed over his chest. "Maybe next time you try that you'll remember that you can't sneak up on me!"
"Excuse me?" she demanded, still slightly out of breath. "If I remember correctly, you were caught off guard!"
"No I wasn't," he said confidently, shaking his head. "I just let you think I was." He looked serious, but she could see the sparkle in his eye.
"Sure you did. Face it, Clark. You had no idea what I was about to do."
He chuckled, and nodded slightly. "You're right, Lois," he nodded. "I really didn't know you were gonna do that. You took me completely by surprise. That's one of the things I love so much about you. No matter how well I know you, there's always something new to discover."
"And don't you forget it, farmboy," she reiterated, poking him playfully in the chest. He chuckled happily, and they resumed their walk.
They had gone another fifty feet or so, when Lois remembered a creek that they had passed earlier.
"Clark," she said, turning in his arms. "Wait here a sec. Remember that creek we passed a while back? I wanna go back and look at it again." Turning she headed off in the opposite direction.
"Wait, I'll come with you!" he called after her.
"No, Clark, I'll just be a minute. You go look for some more flowers," she giggled, and headed off again.
"But…" he began, and then shook his head ruefully as she disappeared into the distance. That was his Lois. No matter what mission she was on, there was no stopping her. He remembered the creek too. It was a really nice, sparkling blue stream that ran through the woods at the bottom of an embankment. He thought about going after her, to make sure she was ok, but since she said she'd only be a few minutes, decided to simply wait for her.
Lois slowed back to a walk when she came across the small creek. Craning her head, she could see that it was actually at the bottom of an embankment about twenty feet deep, though from her vantage point above it didn't seem so, since the slope was more gentle than steep. She moved forward a bit, watching her footing so she didn't catch her feet on any hidden tree branches. The creek sparkled in the mid-afternoon sun, its winding path flowing into the woods, until it was only a pinprick in the distance.
She moved a little closer, the soft earth cushy beneath her feet. Realizing she wasn't on totally solid ground anymore, she stepped back. Taking a deep breath, she took in the view below. The creek sparkled and shone in the afternoon light, winding its way through the trees, becoming a blue vein in the forest. She remained there for a few more minutes, then remembered Clark waiting for her back on the trail. She turned around to head back up to the trail, but lost her footing, and caught her shoe on an exposed vine pushing its way out of the ground. She wobbled, her arms flailing as she lost her balance, and began to fall. She opened her mouth to cry out, but her head struck a rock that was partially hidden in the slant of the embankment, and the world went dark around her as she continued to fall, tumbling helplessly to the bottom.
Clark was becoming worried. Lois said she'd only be gone for a few minutes; that she'd simply wanted another look at the creek winding its quiet way through the woods. But she'd been gone awhile. He looked up, and sure enough, the angle of the sun had changed. He shook his head, his lips pressing together until they were a merely a thin line. She'd definitely been gone too long. He thought it over, and decided, even if she chewed him out for 'checking up' on her, he was gonna go find her. With that in mind, he headed off in her direction. He contemplated using superspeed, but decided against it, thinking he might miss her if he went too fast. So instead he walked quickly but determinedly along the path, extending the range of his hearing, and lowering his glasses occasionally to get a better look.
Finally, after several minutes, he arrived at the creek, frustrated that he hadn't found her. He stood at the edge of the embankment and looked around.
"Lois?" he called, cupping his hands around his mouth. The thought occurred to him that she might be playing another practical joke on him. But there was no sound of footsteps behind him, no feminine giggles. "Lois!!" he called again, looking into the creek bed.
He turned around and called out again. But the only sound he heard was the rustling of wind in the trees and the rush of water from the creek below. The small niggling of anxiety he'd been feeling over his fiancˇe's absence was quickly growing into a full-fledged panic. He knew his tough and feisty partner could take care of herself; of that he had no doubt. But that didn't stop him from worrying about her. Unbidden, scenarios began to form in his mind, frightening images of Lois being hurt, or getting hopelessly lost, or…he blinked to stop the images from invading his mind any further. Instead, he concentrated his energy on finding her. Even with his enhanced vision, he didn't see her. So he continued along the trail, going back the way they had come. He kept calling out her name, and using his special vision to try to find her, heedless of the time or of how far he was walking. Before he knew it, he saw the B&B in the distance.
Lois blinked herself awake. Squinting against the bright light of the afternoon sun, she tried to sit up, but found her body didn't want to obey. She ached everywhere, especially her head, so she simply lay back on the ground. Taking a few difficult breaths, she tried to assess her injuries. Nothing felt broken, but when she tried to look around, she became very disoriented, so she just lay still. After a moment, she managed to regain her senses enough to sit up, but found that when she tried to stand, she became dizzy again, so she conceded defeat and lay on the soft ground for a moment, and just rested. Staring blankly at the sky for a few moments, she puzzled over how she'd gotten there. One minute she'd been admiring the crystal clear water, and then everything had gone dark, and now she was lying nearly at the bottom of a creek bed, her hair, face and clothes dirtied and covered with leaves. She wasn't sure, but she thought she remembered falling. She pondered it for a few more minutes, and then a slight movement caught her eye, and she heard the sound of tree branches cracking.
Lois looked up, and watched as a figure slowly approached her. Still dazed from what she guessed was a fall, Lois stared at the figure in amazement. Blinking to clear her vision, she realized it was a woman, and she seemed to have come out of nowhere, yet she didn't look like she'd been hiking. She appeared to be in her mid-to-late forties, medium height, with long, dark brown hair that had been braided and wound around her head. She was wearing a faded, long-sleeve plaid shirt, with a long, red wool over- jacket, and an ankle-length denim skirt. Her eyes were a sharp green, with just a hint of hazel, almost as if they'd been colored right from the trees, and had a mysterious sparkle to them. She approached Lois slowly, and for some reason, Lois felt no fear. The woman stopped in front of Lois, and bent at the waist to get a better look at her.
"Don't be afraid, dear. I'm here to help you," she said warmly.
"Who are you?" Lois asked, her voice sounding odd to her own ears.
The woman crouched before Lois so as to be level with her, and smiled. "My name is Abigail." She leaned forward to examine Lois' head. "You've got a pretty nasty cut there," she said, lightly fingering the wound, causing Lois to wince. She drew her hand back. "I have a small campsite not too far from here. You can rest, get cleaned up, and have something to eat if you're hungry. Can you walk?"
"I…I think so. When I tried to stand earlier, I got dizzy," Lois replied, slowly getting to her feet. Abigail helped her stand, and when Lois began to wobble, placed a supportive arm around the young woman's waist.
"Easy. Don't overdo it."
"Oooh," Lois moaned, lifting a trembling hand to her head. "I must've hit my head harder than I thought."
Abigail looked over her shoulder to see the embankment Lois had fallen from. "Looks like you took quite a tumble. What were you doing up there?" she asked, turning to look at Lois.
"Lo…looking at the creek," Lois replied, her voice still slightly shaky. After taking a few wobbly steps she realized she wouldn't have been able to walk at all had Abigail not been supporting her. "I turned and caught my foot on an exposed vine, and lost my footing."
"Hmm," Abigail replied contemplatively, easing herself over a fallen tree. When she was safely on the other side, she reached out and helped Lois over. The two then continued walking.
Lois found herself pleasantly surprised, and grateful for her rescuer's agility. She was still achy from her fall and not able to move as quickly as usual, a condition she was neither used to nor comfortable with. Lois Lane was not someone who bowed to pain easily, and her brown belt in Tae Kwan Do was a shining example of her ability to rise above it. But right now, she was, nonetheless, glad for the help.
"So, Abigail," Lois asked as she staggered along. "Where exactly is this camp of yours?"
"Oh, not far, about a quarter of a mile off the trail," she answered. "But not to worry, we're already more than halfway there."
Just then a loud rumble of thunder rolled across the sky. Abigail looked up and saw the sky darken to almost black as storm clouds blotted out the remainder of the afternoon. It was followed by a brisk gust of wind that caused the treetops above to sway.
"Good thing too," she remarked. "Looks like a storm's coming." As if in answer, a bolt of lightening sliced across the sky, momentarily turning the approaching night back into day. "We'd better hurry, dear, if we want to make it to my camp before the storm really hits. After that, these woods won't be any place for a person to be." With that, she tightened her arm around Lois, and gently moved them along faster.
Clark burst into the lobby of the lodge, breathing heavily despite who he was, and hurriedly approached the front desk, startling the clerk who was behind the desk, her back turned to him, organizing keys. She recognized him from the day before, so when she saw the anxious look on Clark's face, she immediately focused her attention on the young man.
"Mr. Kent! Is something wrong?" the young woman asked.
"Yes," he gasped, trying to calm his breathing. It took him a moment to catch his breath, which was a new, unpleasant experience for him. Because he was Superman, he couldn't remember the last time he was out of breath, even when he played sports, excepting of course, whenever he saw Lois, which always took his breath away. But Lois was missing; even he couldn't find her, and that was more than enough to cause him a near panic attack.
"I need your help. My fiancˇe is missing."
"That lovely girl who was with you yesterday?" she asked, remembering quite clearly the beautiful brunette whom he'd had his arm around.
"Yes," Clark nodded, relieved that she remembered. "We were hiking in the woods, and she wanted to go back to a creek we'd passed earlier. But when I went to go find her, she wasn't there. I looked all over the area, but I couldn't find her anywhere," he explained, leaving out a few details. He didn't mention how useless he felt as Superman that, even with his powers of sight and hearing, he hadn't been able to locate her, and that he felt guilty for not having stayed in the woods longer, scouring the area for her. He had, in fact, decided that, since he was already at the B&B, he would ask for help, even if he thought Superman shouldn't need it.
"You said she went to look at the creek?" she asked, listening attentively as he explained his dilemma. Clark nodded, and the clerk smiled knowingly. "It's possible she might have fallen into the creek bed." At Clark's surprised look, she explained. "That creek lies at the bottom of an embankment. She might have fallen down there."
Clark shook his head. "I looked down the embankment. I didn't see her."
"It has a strange slope. From the top, it looks gentle, but if someone were to fall down into it, you wouldn't necessarily be able to see them from the top." She thought about something for a moment. "What was your fiancˇe wearing?"
"Wearing?" He looked down, and brought his fingers up to his forehead, trying to remember specifics. "Uh, Lois was wearing a pair of faded jeans, a red and white striped shirt and a heavy tan jacket."
The woman nodded. "Then if she did fall into the creek bed, and if she got dirt and leaves all over her clothes, she'd be practically camouflaged. That would make it even harder to see her," she finished, and then turned as something behind her caught her attention. She focused on it for a minute, and then quickly faced Clark again. "Excuse me," she said politely, then turned and walked to the back.
He nodded absently at her abrupt departure, then for a moment, simply stared into space. He drew in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, his lips thinning until they were merely a line on his face, as he considered the woman's words.
'…if she got dirt and leaves all over her clothes, she'd be practically camouflaged…that would make it even harder to see her.'
'Not for Superman, it shouldn't have been,' he thought guiltily. 'I can spot her instantly in a crowd; I can hear her heartbeat in a room full of people, or even when I'm flying over Metropolis! Why couldn't I find her out there?' he demanded silently. He clenched his fists at his sides, silently berating himself for not looking hard enough, or being more thorough. 'She could be out there somewhere, lost or hurt, and it'll be my fault for not looking hard enough.' With that in mind, he made his decision. Distantly he heard a phone ringing.
"I have to go back out and look for her," he murmured to himself. Just then the clerk came back to the desk. He looked at her anxiously.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kent, but it's not possible to look for her tonight."
His eyes widened. "What?" he demanded.
"I'm sorry, sir, but there's a huge freak storm blowing in. I just saw it on the TV. They're predicting heavy rain with the threat of flooding, and severe lightening. They've declared a state of emergency and I just got word that they're shutting down the lodge for the night. I'm afraid you won't be able to search for her until tomorrow," she explained, holding her hands out, palms up in apology. In the distance, the sound of thunder could be heard rumbling menacingly across the sky.
"No!" Clark exclaimed, causing her to jump. He closed his eyes, taking a breath to calm himself, then looked intently at the young woman. "Jenny," he said, remembering her nametag. "You don't understand; I have to go back out there. I have to find her. She could be hurt, and if this storm's as bad as you've said, then she could be in real danger!" He looked at her pleadingly.
She regarded him sympathetically, but shook her head. "I'm sorry, sir. But no one is allowed to go back out there right now. The management is already barring up the windows and securing the doors. I'm afraid you're going to have to wait until the storm breaks to begin a search, which, according to the weatherman, probably won't be until morning."
Clark shook his head, disbelief written all over his face. "But she's out there all alone!" he gasped.
"I'm sorry. We just have to hope that she finds shelter to last through the night. I'm sure she'll be fine," she said helpfully, trying to sound optimistic. "There's nothing you can do tonight. The best thing you can do right now is go back to your room, and try to get a good night's sleep. You can start looking tomorrow." With that, she turned around and began to lock up, leaving Clark standing there, feeling utterly helpless. Just then, Clark's head shot up as another bolt of lightening sluiced across the sky, briefly turning the stormy night back into day.
"Tomorrow may be too late," he murmured, his brain whirling with terrifying images of Lois, alone in the woods, helpless against the onslaught of a storm. He knew that his Lois could take care of herself; he'd seen her go up against some pretty ruthless adversaries, some twice, even three times her size, but those were flesh and blood opponents. He'd grown up on a farm in the Midwest, the 'tornado belt', so he knew how to deal with severe, even deadly weather. But Lois had grown up in the city. He didn't know if she'd be able to handle a potentially deadly thunderstorm.
Lois and Abigail made it to her camp just as the storm began to pick up strength. It was in a thick section of woods, and was slightly protected from the storm by the dense surrounding of trees. It was a small encampment, with a sturdy-looking, good-sized tent that was staked to the ground, and a small, cozy-looking fire over which a steaming pot hung. Abigail helped Lois into the tent, and Lois gratefully sat down on a thick black blanket that was laid out. When she was sure the younger woman was settled, Abigail once again examined the wound on her head.
"You never did tell me your name," Abigail remarked as she gently cleaned Lois' wound.
"Oh," Lois replied absently. "It's Lois."
"Nice to meet you, Lois," Abigail smiled.
Lois smiled in return, then wrinkled her nose as a strange smell wafted up to her.
"I know it's not the nicest smell in the world, but it'll keep this cut from becoming infected. After I put the bandage on it, you shouldn't be able to smell it as much," she said, smoothing a piece of white gauze over the now clean cut on Lois' forehead. When it was taped in place, Abigail put a finger beneath Lois' chin to check her work, and to look for any other injuries she might have missed. "There, all done."
Lois put a hand to her head, feeling the bandage. "Thanks, Abigail. It does feel better."
"You're welcome, Lois," she smiled warmly, sitting on the other blanket across from Lois. She turned and reached behind her, producing two cups and a metal coffee pot. She handed one of the cups to Lois, and poured hot, steaming coffee into it, then poured herself some, then turned around and set the pot down.
For a moment, both women were silent; the only sounds being the rumbling of the thunder from the storm brewing outside. Taking a sip of coffee, Abigail finally broke the silence.
"This is becoming quite a storm. I haven't heard thunder like that in quite some time."
"Yeah, it's a good thing we made it here in time," Lois replied, sipping her coffee. Then a thought occurred to her. "Clark's probably worried about me."
"My fiancˇe. We were out here together. If he thinks I got caught in this storm, he's probably worked himself into a panic by now," she explained, giggling softly. "He's very protective of me, sometimes overly so." She looked down, and stared into her coffee. "He's always after me about not doing anything dangerous, or doing anything that might get me hurt," she murmured, and then looked up at Abigail. "Even when he knows I can take care of myself. He just worries too much," she finished matter-of-factly.
"It sounds to me like he cares about you a great deal. And protectiveness is just his way of showing it," Abigail remarked.
"I know he cares about me. I know he loves me," Lois said softly. "And I love him, more than I ever thought I could love anyone," she smiled. "But Clark probably thinks I'm all alone out here, unable to fend for myself. He's probably organized a search party by now," she laughed, shaking her head.
"Well, I doubt that," Abigail said, pouring herself some more coffee. She held the pot out to Lois, who politely declined. She replaced the coffee pot and turned around. "If this storm is as bad as it sounds, they're probably not allowing anyone out into it. My guess is that they've shut down all the lodges for the night, and advised people to just stay indoors until the storm breaks."
"You don't know Clark," Lois said knowingly. "If he thought I was in danger, he wouldn't let a storm advisory, even a severe one, stop him from trying to find me."
Abigail smiled as she listened to Lois describe Clark's protective nature. "Your Clark sounds like a very intelligent, very kind, very much in love," she said, emphasizing the last part, "young man. I think you're very lucky to have him."
Lois' mouth curled up at the edges as she listened to her companion's words. Abigail seemed to know so much about her and Clark, even though she and Abigail had just met, and Abigail had never met Clark at all. How was it that she knew about Clark so well, how caring and thoughtful and, yes, protective of her he was?
Lois blinked as Abigail's voice brought her out of her thoughts.
"I'm sorry, what?"
Abigail smiled. "I asked you if you'd like some soup?"
"Oh!" Lois said, caught slightly off guard. "Um, yes, thank you!" she replied.
Abigail nodded, and stepped outside the tent for a moment. When she reentered the tent, she held two small bowls of soup and two spoons. She held one out to Lois, who gratefully accepted.
"Mmm," Lois murmured appreciatively after taking two or three spoonfuls. "This is really good."
"Thank you," Abigail replied, settling once again on her blanket. "It's an old family recipe. It's very good for keeping warm when it's cold out."
"I noticed," Lois remarked, continuing to down the soup, welcoming the warmth that spread through her from the hot broth. Abigail smiled again, and the two ate in easy silence. After a few more spoonfuls, Lois began to wonder about her host, and, in true reporter fashion, began to question her.
"So, Abigail…" she began, somewhat hesitantly.
Abigail looked up from her bowl. "Yes?"
She smiled nervously; she didn't want to offend her host. "How did you find me? I mean, do you live out here?" she began, and as the unusual nature of her circumstances finally occurred to her, found her voice. "How is it that no one else is out here? We thought that this area of wood was uninhabited. Are you alone? Where did you get all these supplies? Do the park rangers know you live out here?"
Abigail simply listened to her visitor's questions, amazed at the incredible speed at which they were voiced, and waited for Lois to run out of steam before she spoke. Finally Lois stopped abruptly and looked expectantly at Abigail.
"Well, Lois," she began, trying to keep her answers in order of each question. "I don't exactly live out here in the woods. I do like it though. I find it very peaceful. And no, there aren't any others out here, at least, none that I know of," she said quietly, more to herself than to Lois. "Where did I get all this?" she looked around the tent. "Well, let's just say I'm very resourceful. I grew up learning how to make something from very little."
She stopped, and continued eating. But her vague responses, and total evasion of the last one, didn't satisfy Lois. If anything, it made her more curious.
"You didn't answer my last question. Do the park rangers know you're out here?"
Abigail lifted another spoonful of stew to her mouth, then paused, looked up, and sighed as she stared at a point behind Lois. "Yes, I imagine they do know I'm here," she replied, then resumed eating.
"Well, someone has to know you're here, Abigail. This is a pretty isolated section of wilderness. People can't just set up house here and expect no one to notice."
"I've managed to keep to myself fairly well over the years. And sometimes I just happen to come upon the occasional lost or injured hiker, and I bring them here," she said casually. She paused for a long moment, as if in deep thought. When she finally spoke, her words were quiet and almost resigned. "It's getting late. We should get some sleep. I'm sure that after a good night's rest you'll be eager to get back to your fiancˇe, and you'll forget all about me."
"I doubt that, Abigail," Lois said. "After falling down an embankment, hitting my head, and then being rescued and sheltered during a thunderstorm, I'm not likely to forget my benefactor. Besides, I think Clark will want to meet the woman who saved my life, however mysterious she may be!" she laughed good-naturedly, then began to yawn.
"Well, maybe he will," Abigail replied, then began gathering the bowls and cups and setting them in the back of the tent. "But right now, it's time to sleep." That said, she got up, and went outside. As Lois climbed beneath her blanket, she could hear her outside, dousing the fire. When she came back inside, she secured the tent flaps so they wouldn't come open during the night, then crawled under her own heavy blanket.
With the fire out, the tent fell into darkness. The two women inside the tent lay in silence for a moment, until Lois finally spoke.
"Abigail," she said softly, "if I haven't already said it, I want to thank you for helping me."
"You're welcome, dear," Abigail replied warmly. "And don't worry; by daybreak the storm will have passed, and your Clark will be able to find you."
Knowing she was right, Lois sighed tiredly, and closed her eyes. Abigail rolled over, and soon the two were sound asleep.
Back at the lodge, a very worried Clark lay in bed, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, the back of one hand lying on his forehead. It was a good thing that he didn't need much sleep to function, he thought dryly, because right now he couldn't have slept if his life depended on it. All he could think about was the woman he loved, whom he'd worked so hard to win over, and had nearly lost, alone in the woods in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm.
The thought of her, cold and soaked, huddled beneath some rotting tree, wondering where he was, why he wasn't looking for her, ate at him. As if taunting him, a crack of thunder shook the lodge, and a bright bolt of lightening lit the room, emphasizing the empty bed next to him. He sighed deeply, and closed his eyes, as the empty bed seemed to condemn him. He slowly opened his eyes again, staring unseeing at the ceiling. He was Superman for goodness' sake, capable of so many things; bending steel bars in his hands, flying a rocket into orbit, swallowing bombs. He'd pulled people out of burning or collapsing buildings, helped prevent entire towns from being destroyed by disaster. He'd even once saved the entire world from total destruction.
He couldn't even count anymore the number of times he'd saved Lois' life. From the moment he'd met her, both as Clark and as Superman, he'd always watched out for her, trying to keep her from getting hurt, much to her continued irritation. She was constantly reminding him that she could take care of herself, and he knew she was right. But that never, would never, stop him from worrying about her, wondering if she needed him.
And now here he was, Superman, the Man of Steel, the most powerful man on the planet, and he could do nothing to help Lois, the only woman he'd ever loved, the one person who actually needed him right now.
Clenching his fist on his head, he sat up abruptly, and turned to sit on the edge of the bed. Of course, he knew he could be out there searching for her. He'd flown through some pretty bad storms before. His first week in Metropolis, he'd flown through a monster of an electrical storm on his way home to Smallville. It wasn't like he couldn't fly through the rain, or see through the darkness of the forest. No, what made him feel so utterly helpless was the fact that they'd shut down the lodge for the night, and were not allowing anyone outside. He could, of course, just say he'd called for Superman to help him search for her, but they would expect Clark Kent to stay at the lodge and wait for him. And they would probably know if he tried to sneak out. The desk clerk had seemed very concerned when he told her that Lois was missing, so she might check on him to see how he was.
He didn't want to arouse suspicion, or give the staff a hard time about it. No, he'd decided that the best thing would be simply to comply with the management and stay in his room until daybreak. Even though it was twisting his insides into a tight knot to stay put. Even though every instinct in him was telling him to go find her, and even though he was Superman, he was here, sitting on his bed in his room at the lodge, waiting for the storm to pass. While the woman he loved was alone, lost out in it.
He stood and went over to the other bed and climbed in, pulling the covers up. He lay down, grasping Lois' pillow and holding it to his face, breathing in her scent. He let the thought of her in the bed with him, in his arms, soothe him as he finally fell into a fitful sleep.
As the first sounds of morning hit his ears, Clark was instantly awake. He looked up, and saw the bright light of dawn seeping into the room. He was out of bed immediately, spinning into his clothes and closing the door behind him. Hurrying downstairs, he saw the boards had been removed from the windows, and he could hear the sound of people outside, removing fallen tree branches. He went to the front desk, and found the young woman, already busily working.
"Jenny!" he exclaimed, coming to stand right in front of her. She looked up and smiled, recognizing the anxious look on his face.
"Mr. Kent, good morning," she greeted him pleasantly. It was then that he remembered his manners.
"Good morning," he echoed, smiling.
"You can begin your search now. The storm passed without causing a whole lot of damage: a few downed power lines and some fallen tree limbs, but nothing serious. They're reopening the lodge and they've cleared the roads, so you're free to go," she finished, extending an arm in a 'be-my-guest' gesture.
He smiled gratefully. "Thank you," he said, then disappeared, stirring up some of the papers on the desk in his haste.
"You're…welcome," she replied, talking to empty air. She frowned slightly, wondering how he moved so fast, and what could have caused that sonic boom?
Without putting on his own jacket, Clark raced through the woods, tracing his and Lois' steps from their hike the previous day. Again he felt the urge to move at super speed, wanting to cover as much area as possible, but again he took his time, using his special vision to search under leaves, dead and fallen trees, every nook and cranny. He stretched his hearing to almost its limits, filtering out the sounds of the forest for the slightest hint of her heartbeat. He came across the creek and, checking to make sure no one would spot him, gently floated down to the bottom of the embankment.
He didn't find her there, but he lowered his glasses, and, peering closely at the ground, he noticed that the leaves and dirt appeared to have been disturbed.
'This must've been where she fell,' he thought, then looked up, and his mouth fell slightly open. He realized with a start that he couldn't clearly see the top of the embankment. 'Jenny was right; if I can't see the trail from down here, I wouldn't have seen Lois from up there,' he realized, the thought partly alleviating his guilt. He chuckled slightly to himself as he continued to examine the creek bed. Suddenly, something caught his eye. Footprints! And they led off into the woods!
Immediately Clark began following the prints. He moved along hurriedly, calling out her name, looking in every direction, listening for her heartbeat and breathing.
Finally, after what seemed like an exhaustive search, he spotted her, about a quarter of a mile from the creek. In a burst of speed, he was kneeling over her, his heart in his mouth, checking her for injuries. But she didn't look like she was hurt. In fact, upon closer inspection, he could tell she was simply asleep. She was lying on her side, one leg draped over the other. One arm was tucked against her chest, while the other lay like a cushion beneath her head. He frowned slightly when he noticed that her ring was missing, but pushed the thought to the side.
He gently rolled her over into his arm to get a better look. She had a few minor cuts on her hands and face, but nothing too serious. He noticed the bandage, and wondered for second how it had gotten there, then reached up and gently peeled it away, wincing when he saw the cut. He extended his hearing and found a strong heartbeat. Lowering his glasses, he quickly scanned her, but found no internal injuries or broken bones. He sighed in great relief at having found her, and that she was safe, but she was lying out here, alone, with no visible shelter, in the middle of the woods. So he wasted no time. He leaned down, and gently gathered her into his arms. She murmured slightly, but didn't awaken, merely cuddling into him. He stood, and quickly headed back to the lodge, Lois held snugly in his arms.
The clerk looked up, and saw Clark hurry through the doors, carrying a somewhat bedraggled woman in his arms. She stood up as he passed, coming around the desk.
"Oh, thank goodness you found her! Is she alright?"
He nodded. "I think so. But, Jenny, could you call a doctor, please? I wanna have her checked out as soon as possible."
"Of course," she agreed, going back around the desk and picking up the phone as Clark headed towards the stairs.
He turned at the bottom, made sure that Jenny wasn't looking, and then floated quickly up the stairs and down the hall. He opened the door, then closed it with his foot, and walked over to her bed. He laid her down, and pulled the covers up, tucking her in, making sure she was warm enough. Then sitting next to her on the bed, he leaned forward, and studied her face intently, stroking her cheek with the back of his fingers, brushing a stray strand off her forehead. Within a few minutes, there was knock at the door. He called over his shoulder for them to come in. The door opened, and Jenny entered, followed by the doctor.
"Mr. Kent, this is Dr. Perkins. I told him what happened to your fiancˇe."
Clark stood up to greet him. "Nice to meet you," Clark replied, shaking the doctor's hand.
"Mr. Kent," Dr. Perkins said pleasantly. He was a friendly looking man in his early fifties, with a strong build, and slightly receding, graying hair. He was tall, standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder next to Clark, and regarded the younger man through clear blue eyes behind rimless glasses.
"Please, call me Clark," Clark said, waving his other hand. "Both of you," he remarked, looking over at Jenny.
"The lady here tells me your fiancˇe got herself into a bit of a pickle," he chuckled softly, then began removing items from his black medical bag.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Clark replied, a bit embarrassed, then crossed his arms over his chest, and took a step behind the doctor to let him work. Jenny stood beside him.
"Well, let's just take a look, see what we've got," Dr. Perkins said, and sat on the bed where Clark had just been, and put on a pair of rubber gloves. After a quick check of her pulse, he listened to her heart to make sure she wasn't dehydrated or suffering from exposure. He examined her cuts, then reached into his bag and produced a cotton ball, soaked it in antiseptic, and gently rubbed them to stave off infection. He then turned his attention to the bandage on her forehead. Carefully peeling it off, he examined the wound.
"You did a very nice job dressing this cut, Mr…er, Clark. It's clean and healing very nicely."
"I…I didn't do that," Clark replied. Dr. Perkins looked over his shoulder, lifting an eyebrow at Clark. "No, really, I found her like that."
Shaking his head in bewilderment, the doctor turned back to Lois. He replaced the bandage, then removed his gloves, and pronounced her to be just fine. Jenny, who'd been silent the whole time, excused herself to go back downstairs.
"I'm glad she's alright, Mr…Clark," she said, smiling at Lois and Clark.
"Thanks for your help, Jenny," Clark smiled warmly. The young woman smiled, then quietly left.
"Just make sure she gets some rest for a few days, ok?" the doctor advised, standing. "Spending all night in the woods couldn't have been good for her, but she doesn't seem any the worse for wear."
"Thanks, Doctor," Clark replied, gratefully. He sat back down to watch Lois as she slept while the doctor put his instruments back in his bag. Just then Lois began to stir.
She moaned softly, moving her head slowly from side to side as she awoke. Her eyes blinked open, and saw a pair of concerned dark eyes behind a pair of glasses looking warmly down at her.
"Lois, honey, can you hear me?" he asked softly, still caressing her cheek. His gentle voice, and the feel of his hand on her face, brought her completely out of sleep, and she looked right at him.
"Clark?" she murmured sleepily, a small smile tugging at her mouth.
"Yeah, honey, it's me. You're gonna be just fine."
Her gaze shifted from his to take in her surroundings. "Where am I?"
Seeing her confusion, he placed a hand on the bed on her other side, leaning over her. "You're back at the lodge. I found you out in the woods, about a quarter mile from where you fell into the creek bed. The doctor says you're fine, and you don't seem to be hurt."
She nodded, not really listening to him. She closed her eyes, lifting a hand to her head, and fingered the bandage covering her cut. She opened her eyes again, and looked at Clark, who was watching her patiently.
"Where's Abigail?" she asked.
"Abigail, the woman who found me. It was her campsite I was sleeping at," she explained, rubbing her head.
"Lois," Clark said, shaking his head slightly. "Honey, I found you out in the middle of the woods. There was no campsite."
"There was a campsite," she retorted over him.
Clark sighed, knowing that 'his' Lois was, indeed, back. "Sweetheart, you must have been dreaming, or something," he said carefully, seeing the look on her face. "I found you this morning, out in the woods, alone. There was no evidence of a campsite or of anyone else being there."
Lois looked at Clark in genuine confusion, while he watched her in growing concern.
"Clark," she said, a note of urgency in her voice. "I wasn't dreaming, or…or imagining things. Abigail was real. She found me after I fell. She took me to her campsite, put this," she pointed to the bandage on her head, "on me. She even gave me some of her supper." She sat up slowly, with Clark's help, and leaned against the headboard. "I didn't imagine the whole thing. We talked. She told me she's done it before."
Clark could see she was getting agitated; both from her confusion and thinking he didn't believe her.
"Lois, honey," he said soothingly. "I believe you. I do. I mean, it's obvious someone helped you and dressed that cut. All I'm saying is, when I found you, you were alone; there was no one else there. And no evidence there ever was. You were just lying out there all by yourself. I'm still not sure exactly how you got there."
Lois looked evenly at him and shook her head. "I'm telling you, Clark. Abigail rescued me and took me to her campsite. That's where you found me this morning."
All Clark could do was shake his head helplessly. At that moment, the doctor, who'd been gathering his instruments and putting them in his bag, spoke up.
"Excuse me," he looked at Lois. "I'm sorry, but did you say that a woman found you after you fell?"
"That's right," she answered, looking pointedly at Clark.
"And she took you back to her camp, and sheltered you for the night?"
"Do you happen to remember what she was wearing?"
Lois looked at him strangely for a second, then she said, "Uh, I think she had on a long-sleeved, plaid shirt, a long denim skirt and a red wool over-jacket." She paused to think. "Oh, and she had really long brown hair, and it was braided down her back and wound around her head."
"You said her name was Abigail?"
"Yes," she finished, slightly impatiently, wondering where he was going with this. "Doctor, what is this about? Why are you so curious?"
"Did this Abigail happen to tell you her last name?"
"No, she didn't. Do you know her last name?"
However, the doctor wasn't listening to her anymore. He was staring into space, talking softly to himself.
"My goodness. Can it be possible? Could she be coming back?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other dubiously. Lois' eyebrows rose in a silent question. Clark shrugged in silent response. Meanwhile, the doctor was still muttering to himself.
"After all these years, could she have decided to reappear? Why now? I mean…"
"Doctor!" Clark spoke up, interrupting his musings. "What are you bab-talking about?"
Clark's question finally snapped the doctor out of his reverie and he once again looked at the couple on the bed. His eyes were wide open and almost dancing with anticipation.
"Ms. Lane, I believe you. I believe you were rescued and sheltered by a mysterious woman."
"You do?" she asked, the relief evident in her voice. "Who was she?"
"Judging by your description of her, and the way she helped you, I think you may have seen Abigail Rutledge."
"Abigail Rutledge? Who's that?" Clark asked.
The doctor looked at him like he knew a secret. "Someone who's rather famous up here," he answered evasively. "She used to live here, but she hasn't been seen in this area for quite a while. We all thought she'd disappeared for good. But now I'm beginning to think she's come back. And we all may hear more about her from now on."
Something the doctor said pricked at Lois' mind. "Dr. Perkins, you said she used to live here, but that she hadn't been seen for a while. Does she no longer live in the area? Will I ever see her again? I'd like to thank her."
The doctor smiled sadly. "No, Ms. Lane. Abigail doesn't live here anymore, and I doubt you'll ever be able to thank her."
Lois and Clark watched the doctor expectantly, waiting for him to finish.
"You see, Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent. Abigail Rutledge…died over a hundred years ago."
Lois visibly paled, and Clark's eyebrows shot up into his hairline.
"What?" she exclaimed. "Are you saying I was found and rescued by a…a…" she trailed off, not able to even verbalize it.
"Yes, Ms. Lane," the doctor nodded. "Abigail Rutledge, or at least the one you saw, is a ghost."
"Holy," Clark whispered in awe.
But Lois shook her head in disbelief. "That's not possible! Abigail was no ghost. She was as real as you are! I mean, she helped me to her camp. I was still so dizzy from the fall I could barely walk. She bandaged my head; I could feel her hands on my face! We had coffee, and supper together. Do ghosts eat?" she demanded sarcastically.
"Lois," Clark admonished her gently.
"I'm sorry, Clark, but this whole thing is ridiculous. Abigail was as real to me as you are."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Lane, maybe I should explain better who Abigail is," Dr. Perkins suggested.
"Please do," she invited, her tone mildly haughty. "Because I know I was not rescued by a ghost."
"I tell you what," he said excitedly. "You and Clark wait here. I'm gonna go find Jenny; she'll want to hear your story, and then we'll both tell you the legend of Abigail Rutledge."
Dr. Perkins had returned, along with a very baffled, but intrigued Jenny, whom the doctor had told something of Lois' story, and now she and the doctor sat across from Lois and Clark in their room.
"Ok, what's this all about?" Jenny asked the doctor.
"Tell her, Lois," Dr. Perkins urged with a smile, and Jenny looked at Lois expectantly.
"Well," Lois blushed, "yesterday, Clark," she nodded at Clark, "and I were out taking a walk through the woods, and I remembered a creek we'd passed earlier that I wanted to see. So I turned back and went to find it. I was standing there, admiring the way it meanders so gracefully through the woods, and I guess I wasn't paying much attention, because when I turned around to get back on the trail, I lost my footing and fell down into the creek bed."
"Anyway, as a fell, I hit my head on a rock. The next thing I knew I was lying at the bottom of the creek. I couldn't move I ached so much, and my head really hurt. But suddenly, I saw someone walking towards me out of the woods. A woman."
Jenny's eyes lit up, and she looked at the doctor. He smiled at her reaction, nodding solemnly at the unspoken question in her eyes. They both looked again at Lois, who continued as Clark, who was sitting next to her, held her hand in his.
"She took me back to her camp, put a bandage on my head, and gave me some of her supper, and sheltered me during the storm," Lois explained.
"Oh, my god!" Jenny whispered, raising a hand to her mouth. "Are you saying that you actually saw…" she trailed off.
The doctor nodded. "Ms. Lane saw Abigail Rutledge," he finished matter-of-factly.
Jenny stared enviously at Lois. "You saw Abby Rutledge," she whispered.
"So Abigail isn't a ghost?" Lois asked smugly.
"Well, yes and no. Y'see, Abby Rutledge died in these woods over a century ago, so in a sense, I guess you could say she is a ghost. But she's not the type that haunts the woods screaming in agony, or rattling chains. She's more of a benevolent spirit who watches over the area.
"Abby lived in this area more than a hundred and fifty years ago. Those who have heard the story, or who had great-grandparents who remembered her, knew that she was a folksy, nature type. She was also a bit eccentric; sort of a local 'Mystic Woman'," he said, making finger quotes. "She kept mostly to herself, but when she did interact with other people, she seemed to know things about them, y'know, like a sixth sense. There were some who thought maybe she was a witch," he laughed lightly, shaking his head ruefully. "But she was harmless."
"No, she just liked to hike up into the mountains, you know, get away from everything, like a retreat, much the same way you and Clark are now. At any time of the year, she could be seen heading up here into the wilderness. Sometimes she would be carrying a backpack, or a sleeping bag, or sometimes she would go it alone, just carrying a walking stick. You have to remember, this lodge wasn't here back then, so when people came up here to go camping, they roughed it all the way."
"Well," Lois commented, "when she found me, she wasn't carrying a stick, and her campsite was small, but pretty well stocked. She had a tent, and sleeping bags, and kitchen stuff…" she trailed off.
"Well," the doctor said reasonably, "sometimes she did have more supplies with her, if she thought she'd be up here for a while. She would be up here for weeks at a time, probably communing with nature. She seemed to like it up here, and no one minded her eccentricities, because she would bring stuff back with her."
"I remember hearing a story about a child who got sick," Jenny chimed in. "I think it was a little girl; she had a really high fever, and no one knew what to do to help her. Then Abby showed up, with some plant she'd found, and used it to help her."
"That's right," he agreed, remembering. "Abby always seemed to know when she could be useful. She showed up, did what she could, and then, just went on her way. Never asked for anything in return," he said, his voice reverent.
"Sounds like someone else I know," Lois murmured softly, gazing lovingly at Clark, and squeezed his hand.
He returned her warm gaze with one of his own, and brought her hand to his lips.
"Well, one day," the doctor continued, regaining Lois and Clark's attention. "She went up into the hills on one of her sojourns, and never came back. No one knows exactly what happened to her. She simply disappeared. Some believe she hiked too far up, and got lost. But that's not very likely; she knew these woods better than anyone. Over the years, there have been a lot of theories as to what became of her. Some thought maybe she'd decided to stay up here permanently, some thought she'd been eaten by wild animals. There was even one rumor that she liked the woods and nature so much," he paused for effect, "that she'd simply merged with the wilderness! That she'd actually become a tree!" he said dryly, emphasizing how ridiculous it sounded. Everyone laughed.
"People actually thought Abby became a tree?" Lois exclaimed through laughter. She looked at Clark, who was looking intently at the bedspread, trying to control his own laughter.
"I know, I know," Dr. Perkins said. "It's utter nonsense. But you have to remember that this was a very long time ago. People were a lot more superstitious back then. They didn't have the luxury of more scientific explanations. When something happened that they couldn't explain, they had to come up with something on their own. And, as you've heard, they came up with some interesting theories."
"You can say that again," Clark chuckled, looking totally thrown.
"Well, the people decided that if she wanted to stay up there, it was her business. They did miss her a little. She was," he acknowledged, "a fascinating character to have around. So they simply accepted that she was gone. As the decades passed, and the population grew, people started to hike up here more, so they built this lodge. At first it was just a small cabin, and could only hold a few people. But slowly, eventually, it became the relaxation getaway that it is today. But then something strange started to happen. People started reporting seeing a mysterious figure in the woods while they were camping.
"Sometimes they would just catch a glimpse of her, partially hidden, walking through the trees. But then there were accounts of people who had become lost. After they were found, they talked about a woman, with long, brown hair, braided and wound around her head, wearing a red, wool over-jacket. She would take them to her campsite, or wherever she was staying, shelter them, feed them, help them if they were hurt, and then in the morning, she would be gone. And all evidence of her ever having been there would be gone too.
"There were several stories like this at first, and people thought it might be Abigail. But they could never find any physical proof of anyone being in the woods, except the person who had gotten lost." He paused for a moment, allowing his story to sink in.
"You said when you found me, I was alone out in the woods," Lois said to Clark, who nodded.
"That's right. There was no tent, no blankets, nothing. Just you, lying alone on the ground," he finished softly, remembering his fear at finding her like that. "And," he added, "your ring was gone," he said, lifting her hand for her to see.
She stared at her hand as if seeing it for the first time. "Oh my god!" she gasped, "Clark! I had no idea it was missing! I don't even know when I lost it!"
"Shh," he said soothingly, "it's ok. It's alright. It doesn't matter," he reassured her, not really believing it himself.
Lois dropped her hand back onto her lap. "Of course it matters, Clark," she retorted, knowing full well how much the ring meant to him, to both of them. "Remember how long it was before I finally put it on? And now I've lost it!" she cried, her lower lip trembling.
"It'll be alright, honey," he said, kissing her lightly on the forehead.
"Clark," she looked into his eyes. "She was real. Abigail was real. I know you said you found me alone, but Abby was a real person. She helped me."
"I believe you, Lois," Clark replied, his gaze even with hers.
"What happened to you was real, Ms. Lane," the doctor chimed in. "Now, there might not be any evidence of it, but your experience was real. How else could you explain how your clothes were dry when Clark found you? There was terrible storm last night, and you were out in it. And yet, you were totally dry when he brought you here. And, you weren't suffering from exposure. If you didn't find shelter on your own, someone helped you. She dressed that cut."
"It was Abby," Lois reaffirmed, smiling. "It was." Then something occurred to her, and she leaned into Clark to whisper in his ear. "Clark, I want to go back."
"Back to the creek. I want to retrace my steps, and see if I can find her campsite. Maybe we'll find my ring."
"Lois, honey, it's a big forest; I'm not sure we could find it. And as for your ring," he sighed. "It would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack, even for…you know who."
She looked at him, her soft brown eyes shining. "Please, Clark. For me. Even if we don't find my ring, I'd at least like to see the camps…where you found me. I know it sounds strange, but I guess I wanna thank Abby. Please?"
"Well, ok," he relented, knowing he couldn't have said no anyway. "As long as the doctor says it's ok."
She smiled, and they turned to the doctor. "Dr. Perkins, we'd like to go back to the woods so Lois can see where I found her. Is she ok to go up there?"
"Sure," he nodded. "Just don't go tumbling down any embankments, ok?" he looked at Lois, who rolled her eyes.
Lois and Clark walked through the woods, retracing the walk they had taken before.
"Was it just yesterday we were out here, casually strolling along?" Lois asked.
"Yep," Clark replied. "We were having such a nice afternoon, just enjoying the scenery, and then you had to go get adventurous!" he said, pretending to sound annoyed.
"Oh, please, it wasn't that bad," she retorted, shrugging it off.
"Oh, really?" he asked. "I don't know about you, but I was worried sick. I knew you were out here, by yourself, or so I thought, and I wasn't sure if you'd be alright." When she fixed him with a 'don't-start-because-you-know-I-can- take-care-of-myself', look, he amended himself. "I know you can take care of yourself, Lois. I'm not saying you can't. But that's in the city, chasing leads, putting away bad guys. Not dealing with the forces of nature. That was a pretty bad storm last night, and I'm sorry if it sounds condescending, but I just wasn't sure if you'd be alright. And that really worried me. I didn't sleep at all last night. I just lay awake, thinking you were all alone out here, and that I, that Superman should've been able to find you."
She looked at him, and her heart melted at the genuine concern she saw on his handsome face.
"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry. I'm sorry you had to go through that." She laid a hand on his chest. "But you don't have to worry now. You know now that I was alright. I know, you didn't know that last night, but I'm ok now. So let's retrace my steps and see if we can find my ring."
He smiled at her all-business attitude. "Ok," he chuckled.
After a few moments, they came upon the section of trail that overlooked the creek.
"Clark, here it is," she said, looking down into the creek bed. "How're we gonna get dow…Aaaghhhh!" she cried out in surprise as Clark suddenly swept her up into his arms. Instinctively she wrapped her arms around his neck, and then he was slowly floating them both down, lowering them along the embankment into the creek bed. When they reached the bottom, he set her gently on her feet.
"You were asking?" he grinned.
"You gotta let me know when you're gonna do that!" she snapped. He merely smiled that annoying, adorable grin of his.
"Which way?" he asked, taking her hand. She lifted an arm and pointed straight ahead.
They walked slowly along, Clark looking over his glasses to see if he could spot anything shiny that might be a ring. She looked too, shuffling the leaves, turning them over to see if it would turn up. But neither found anything. Finally, after about a quarter of a mile, she stopped.
"This is it," she announced, and they stopped and looked around. They found they were in a thick section of woods, with some trees smaller than the others, with thicker, wider trunks. The other, taller trees were slightly hunched over by their own weight, and provided a natural canopy. The bright light from the afternoon sun filtered through the branches, casting a beautiful, ethereal light over them.
"This does look like where I found you," Clark agreed, surveying the area. "But I don't see any evidence of a camp."
"Neither do I," she conceded.
They looked around for a bit, exploring Lois' shelter from the storm. After several minutes of fruitless searching, Lois sighed. She remembered how kind Abigail was to her, how she seemed to know things about her and Clark without Lois telling her. From just a short conversation, she seemed to understand so well how Clark felt about her, and how much she meant to him.
"If only I could see her again; thank her for what she did," Lois murmured softly to herself. Just then she heard Clark calling to her.
Clark was still using his enhanced vision, when something caught his eye. Just barely visible from beneath the leaves and brush, it sparkled as a ray of sunlight fell upon it. He walked over to it, and dug it out of the dirt. He knelt down, and lifting it carefully, held it up to see it better.
"Hey, honey?" he called over his shoulder to Lois. "Come see what I found!"
Lois walked over to him just as he stood up. "What is it?" she asked, then gasped as she saw what he held between his thumb and forefinger.
Slightly smudged from being buried in the dirt, her gold engagement ring shone, its diamond sparkling brilliantly in the single ray of sunlight that fell upon it.
"Oh my god!" she breathed. "How did you find it?"
"Actually, it sort of found me," he replied. "I was looking everywhere for it, using, y'know…" he trailed off, crooking his finger to imitate pulling down his glasses. "But I couldn't see it. Then all of a sudden there it was, half buried in the dirt, but sparkling like it really wanted to be found."
She admired it for a minute, then noticed something.
"What's this?" she wondered, fingering the ring. For tangled around the band, were several strands of mangled thread.
"I'm not sure," Clark said, examining it more closely. "But it looks like a bunch of strands of red wool," he guessed. Lois' head snapped up, and she looked wide-eyed at Clark.
"Red wool?" she repeated incredulously. She took the ring from him, and fingered the threads more carefully.
"Yeah, I'd say it's definitely wool," he reiterated, a bit baffled. He watched as she gently untangled the mass of threads from the ring, then slid the ring back onto her third finger. She held them in the palm of her hand, staring at them like they held some deep secret.
"She was wearing a red wool jacket, Clark," she said softly. For a moment, he looked at her, then looked at the threads in her palm, but said nothing. "She knew we'd be back to look for this. She left my ring here for me."
"Honey, I'm not…" he began, skepticism coloring his words. But she knew what he was going to say.
"Clark, what other explanation can there be?"
"I don't know," he said simply. "But do you really think a ghost left your engagement ring here for you to find?"
"She may have been a ghost, or spirit, or whatever, to everyone else," she defended. "But she was real to me." She held her hand aloft, smiling as the diamond caught the light. She looked at him, and saw that he was trying to accept it, but not really succeeding. "Hey, I'm supposed to be the skeptic in this relationship, remember? I'm the one who didn't believe in magic. So if I think something like this really happened, if I think Abby was real, then maybe she was, don't you think?" she demanded, but her eyes were smiling.
He smiled, his teeth white against the backdrop of dark forest. "I think," he answered, wrapping an arm around her, holding her against his body, "that what happened, is happening, is very special. I believe you had a very incredible, unique experience. And I'm also glad you've got that back," he commented, holding her hand up in his.
She smiled gratefully, sighing as he kissed her temple.
"I think we should get back, don't you?" he asked after a moment.
"Yeah, you're probably right." They started back towards the trail, but then Lois stopped, and turned in Clark's arms to take one last look at the area. "Thank you, Abby," she said softly. The sounds of the forest were her only answer. She turned back around, and she and Clark headed back to the lodge.
A short while later, they arrived, hand in hand, back at the B&B. Jenny, the desk clerk, was once again at the front desk, and saw them as they came in. She stood to greet them.
"Lois! Clark! Hi!" she smiled at the couple. "So, did you find what you were looking for?"
In answer, Lois held up her left hand, smilingly showing off her diamond.
"That's great," Jenny gushed. Just then, Dr. Perkins came downstairs.
"Clark, Ms. Lane," he said brightly. "How did it go?"
"We didn't find a campsite," Lois said with a touch of disappointment.
"Well, you weren't likely too, you know."
"I know, but part of me hoped, maybe. But I did find this," she held up her hand so he, too, could see her ring. "And something else." Lois reached into her coat pocket, and produced the red wool threads, holding them in her palm for him to see. She then told him briefly the story of how they found the area, her ring, and the threads. "They were all tangled up around it, so I untangled them and put them in my pocket."
Dr. Perkins nodded in amazement at their story. "That's incredible, Ms. Lane, and wonderful. I'm so glad you and Clark were able to experience it."
"So were we," she said.
"Now what?" Jenny asked.
"Well, as intriguing as this whole trip has been," Lois answered, "we need to get back. We were just on our way upstairs to pack."
"Well, I'm glad you two enjoyed yourselves," Jenny smiled.
"Have a safe trip back, Ms. Lane. Clark," the doctor said, nodding at each.
"Thanks for all your help, doctor," Clark said, then he and Lois went upstairs.
When all their stuff was packed, Lois checked the room one last time while Clark went to turn in their room keys. He returned a minute later, and they gathered their things and headed downstairs. Saying goodbye one more time, they headed out to the Jeep. After making sure everything was packed, they climbed inside, Clark once again at the wheel. He insisted on driving back to the city, much to Lois' annoyance, because the cut on her head was not yet healed, and he didn't want her driving until it was. They debated it, but eventually, she relented. Not because she thought he was right, but because he simply wore her down. Not to mention the fact that he hid her keys.
As they pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road, he turned to Lois.
"So, is the fast-paced life of Metropolis going to seem dull now that you've been rescued by a ghost during a storm?"
"Of course not," she replied matter-of-factly. But then she paused, considering something. "I did like it up there, though. We should come up here more often," she said turning to look at him. "Who knows? Maybe we'll see Abigail again!" she giggled.
"Oh, man, I hope not!" he exclaimed, then, seeing Lois' surprised expression, corrected himself. "I just mean, not under those same circumstances. I don't want to go through another night of wondering where you are and if you're ok. That's all."
"Oh, you," she sighed, leaning across the seat to kiss him. "You're so protective of me, aren't you?"
"Yep," he answered simply, turning his head to meet her kiss. He turned around again to watch the road, and she leaned back in her seat, watching the landscape pass by as they continued on in easy silence on the mostly empty interstate back to Metropolis.
Far behind, up in the mountains, a solitary figure watched the Jeep as it made its way on towards the city, moving further and further away, until it was almost invisible against the gray horizon. She took a small step forward, her ankle-length denim skirt brushing against the leaves that crushed beneath her feet. As she watched the car disappear into the distance, the cold autumn wind blew against her face, playing with the tendrils of brown hair that fell from the braid around her head.
She was glad the young woman had found her ring. She'd left it where she knew it could be found. The young man who was with her when they found it had had such love in his eyes as he'd shown it to her. She had a good feeling about those two. The young man obviously adored the young woman, and she knew that the young woman would come to appreciate his love, and concern for her.
The woman then turned, and tucking her red wool jacket tighter around her body, headed back into the woods, and disappeared into thin air.