By Kathy Brown <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2003
Summary: When Lois needs help after being laid up with the flu, it's Clark Kent to the rescue!
Clark Kent sat as his desk, frowning as he stared at his computer screen. The story should have been a routine one to write up, and for the most part, he knew it was good enough to send to Perry. But there was no denying that it wasn't his best work.
Despite himself, he glanced at his partner's desk, giving a little sigh as he saw the blank computer screen and untouched flat surface. What he really needed was for Lois to review his copy, to point out to him where his wording wasn't quite working. But he hadn't had that luxury for the last three days.
"Hey, Clark," a friendly voice said as its owner passed in the aisle. "Lois still out sick?"
He looked up to see Brenda, a reporter on the political beat, walking by on her way out of Perry's office. "Oh, hi, Brenda," he said, giving her a little smile. "Yeah, she got hit really hard with this flu bug."
"How's she doing?"
"Oh … OK, I guess. She's been sleeping a lot, trying to recover. I know she's anxious to get back to work, but she's been pretty miserable."
"Well, when you talk to her later, tell her I hope she feels better."
Clark smiled. "Thanks, I will." Then he frowned, puzzled. "Uh, Brenda? How did you know I'd be talking to her? You're like the sixth person today who's asked me for a status report, assuming I'd know all the details."
"Well, you're calling her every day to check up on her, aren't you?"
Clark blushed slightly. "Well … yeah. I'm just trying to figure out how everyone knows that."
With an amused chuckle, Brenda shook her head as she made her way back to her desk. "Gee, Clark, I can't imagine how everyone guessed that. Have a good night."
Clark furrowed his brow as he watched the woman walk away. Was he really that predictable? Were his feelings for Lois, his emotional attachment to her, really that transparent?
He sighed. Yes, he probably was that transparent. To everyone but Lois, at least.
Not that it was all Lois's fault that she wasn't sure where their relationship stood. Things had been going so well last month, after he'd finally gotten up the courage to ask her out, but more recently, things had been strained. After one false start — their first date had become an "almost first date" when Perry assigned them to a stake- out instead — they'd finally made it to dinner a few weeks ago. The date had been perfect … so perfect, in fact, that Lois had panicked when it was all over and slammed the door in his face. It had taken them a few days to sort things out but he'd finally thought they were back on track when they'd walked together to the courthouse and shared their first real kiss.
And then Mayson Drake's car had been blown up right in front of them.
Clark knew that he hadn't dealt well with his feelings over Mayson's death. He'd been feeling so guilty over not saving her that he'd closed himself off and pushed Lois away, even when he should have seen how vulnerable she was feeling. But by the time he had pulled himself together, it was too late — Dan Scardino had arrived on the scene to investigate Mayson's murder, and he had swept Lois off her feet. Now she was dating Dan, and everything Clark did was suspect. Even when he did manage to convince her to go out with him — fortunately, she and Dan weren't exclusive, which was the only thing that gave him hope that he might be able to win her back — calls for Superman were making him seem flakey, and making Dan look like the reliable one. Where before, Lois used to turn to Clark when she needed a friend, now she was turning to Dan.
Sighing glumly, Clark sat back in his chair and pushed the button to send his story to Perry. Without Lois here, he had done all he could do with it. There was no denying it — he needed her.
The only problem was, he had no idea if she'd ever need him again.
Back home in his apartment that evening, Clark picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. After his conversation with Brenda this afternoon, he'd been tempted not to call Lois tonight, just to prove that he wasn't as predictable as everyone thought. But he knew that was only a momentary flash of ego — he knew as well as anyone how much he needed to hear her voice, even if it was just to hear her say she didn't need him to call every day.
After the phone reached its third ring, Clark started to worry that she was sleeping and he was disturbing her, but when Lois finally answered, it was clear from her voice that he hadn't woken her up.
"Hello?" she said with a sniffle.
"Lois?" he asked, furrowing his brow with concern. "It's me … are you OK?"
"Yeah … I'm fine," she answered, sniffling again. "How are you doing?"
She was clearly trying to downplay whatever was wrong, but Clark knew her well enough to know that this was more than the virus at work. "Lois," he said softly. "Have you been crying?"
She didn't answer immediately and, for a moment, Clark worried that he'd misunderstood, but then she burst into tears on the other end of the line. "I'm sorry," she choked out. "It's nothing, really. I'm just having a bad day."
"What's wrong? Talk to me. Do you need a doctor?"
"No … no," she said, trying to pull herself together. "It's not that … It's just that I've been sick for so long and I'm out of everything. I'm finally hungry but I don't have any food and I ran out of cold medicine today and I'm almost out of tissues. My apartment is a wreck but I don't have any energy to clean it. I'm sick of lying around doing nothing all day but I can't get out of the apartment. I just don't know what to do!"
Clark checked his watch. "Give me a half an hour."
"I'm coming over."
"Clark … no … I didn't mean that you had to—"
"*Lois*," he said firmly. Then his voice softened. "I'll be right there."
Clark pushed his cart through the market, trying to think of what else he should buy. Chicken soup had been a given, and he'd picked up a few cans of that, but the real question was what else she might want to eat. A loaf of bread and a dozen eggs seemed like a safe bet, then after a moment of indecision, he decided to add a small container of butter, just in case. He knew from experience how bare Lois's refrigerator could be, and he didn't want to risk leaving out any of the essentials. However, there was, he realized, one disadvantage of never being sick — he wasn't quite sure what someone suffering from the flu might view as comfort food.
Trying to think back on any clues Lois might have given him in the nearly two years that they'd known each other, Clark had a brainstorm and he immediately set off to pick up a box of macaroni and a brick of cheese, then added a half-gallon of milk and two different kinds of juice. Two boxes of tissues were next — the lotion kind seemed to be his best bet, based on the commercials he'd seen on TV — but he stalled a bit in the cold medicine aisle. Who would have thought there'd be so many different kinds? Finally deciding on an all-in-one flu formula that seemed to cover all the symptoms Lois had described to him over the last few days, Clark quickly backtracked to add a box of tea bags and a small bottle of honey.
Feeling pretty proud of himself, Clark headed towards the check-out area, but slowed again as he passed by the magazine rack. Lois had complained of being bored … perhaps she'd like something to read? Unfortunately, the large number of choices was a little overwhelming. Somehow he doubted she'd be interested in the ones he recognized — his favorite, Sports Illustrated, wasn't her thing, and even National Geographic seemed a bit heavy for the situation. But he had absolutely no idea what else to choose.
Noticing a woman about his age pushing a toddler in her shopping cart nearby, he flashed her a smile to get her attention. "I'm sorry, but could I ask you a question?" When the woman nodded in agreement, he continued, "My girlfriend has this flu bug that's been going around and I wanted to get her a few magazines to read. But I have absolutely no idea what to get. Do you have any suggestions?"
The woman glanced at the contents of his cart, then smiled in approval. "Sure … do you know what she's interested in?"
"Well, that's just the problem. I don't think she'd want anything too serious, since she's still feeling pretty bad. But I know she's bored lying around all day."
"I know just the thing," the woman said knowingly. After studying the selection, she took down three different magazines and handed them to him. "These are pretty fluffy but it's what most of my friends and I like to read when we're sick. Pure escapism."
Clark glanced at the headlines on the magazine covers as he put them in his cart. One seemed to be about celebrities, one about fashion, and the last— He blushed. The last one seemed to be more about sex than anything else, if the outfit of the cover model and the racy headlines were any indication. But if this woman seemed to think Lois would like it, he was willing to try. "Thank you," he said with a sincere smile. "I really appreciate the help."
"No problem," she said, smiling back as she turned her cart around. "I think your girlfriend is lucky to have such a sweet boyfriend."
Left alone in the aisle once more, Clark couldn't help but sigh as he headed towards the check-out aisle. He was probably stretching the truth a bit by calling Lois his girlfriend, but he could only hope that someday, she would agree with the woman's assessment of him.
Clark shifted a bit nervously as he stood outside Lois's apartment door, waiting for her to respond to his knock. He'd told her to give him thirty minutes, and he'd made it, just barely. Unfortunately, he couldn't help but think back on the last time he'd been here, several days ago, when he'd come around the corner of the hall just in time to see Dan Scardino leaving. He hadn't responded very well at the time, and although Lois had invited him inside, they'd spent much of their time together arguing. The point she'd kept emphasizing had been that Dan was there for her when Clark was not, and his denials hadn't carried much weight when yet another call for Superman reached his ears.
He could only hope that she'd be able to forgive him and let him be here for her now.
As the door swung open, Lois stood there self- consciously, dressed in a pair of baggy sweatpants and oversized sweatshirt. "Hi," she said, sniffling.
Clark's heart melted when he saw her. "Oh, you poor thing," he said, stepping through the doorway with his bags. "You look miserable."
Lois took a swipe at her red nose with the wadded up tissue she was holding and ran a hand through her tangled hair. "Gee, thanks a lot."
"Sorry," he said with a grin. Then he held up the bags to show her as he made his way into the kitchen. "I brought you lots of good stuff."
"Oh, Clark," she sighed, her nose sounding all stuffed up. "This was really nice of you … I was getting desperate. I was down to my last two tissues."
He pulled a box out of the bag and handed it to her, along with the cold medicine and the magazines. "Well, hopefully you'll be well stocked now." He turned to put the groceries away in her refrigerator. "And I'm going to make you something to eat, too, so don't worry about that."
"You brought me food, too?" she asked, clearly touched.
"Of course," he replied, smiling. "But you have to tell me what sounds better … I got some cans of chicken noodle soup that we can heat up right away, or I can make you some macaroni and cheese."
Lois looked through the bag nearest to her. "I don't see the mac and cheese … did you get kind in the blue box?"
"No, I got something else …" He rummaged through her lower cupboards and pulled out two pots and a set of measuring cups. Then he stood and went through the upper cabinets. "Now I know I saw one of these here before," he mumbled to himself. "Ah, here we go!" With a flourish, he pulled out a cheese grater and placed it next to the brick of cheese on the counter. "I'm going to make you the real stuff."
Lois's jaw hung open. "Real baked mac and cheese, like they have in the restaurants?"
Clark hesitated. "Well, if you'd rather have the blue box, I can go back and get it. I just thought … I mean, I've seen you order it when we go out and you always seem to enjoy it …"
"No, I love it!" she replied. "I just never expected— I mean, it's so much work."
He shook his head and gave her a reassuring smile. "Not that much work. But it will take about ten minutes to assemble and another thirty to bake … can you wait that long? If not, I can just heat up some soup now and make the casserole for you to reheat later."
"Your homemade stuff sounds great," she said appreciatively. "If you're sure you don't mind …"
Smiling softly, he ran his hand gently over her arm. "I don't mind at all. Now why don't you go sit down on the couch and read while I finish this up?"
"OK, the meal is in the oven," Clark announced a short time later as he exited Lois's sparkling clean kitchen. He had already used a trip to the bathroom to covertly tidy up in there and now he was on a roll. "What else do you need to have done?"
Lois rose from the couch, awkwardly gathering up crumpled tissues from around her and pushing them into a nearby trash can. "I'm sorry my place is such a mess," she said, clearly embarrassed as she tried to straighten up. "I just haven't had the energy to clean."
Clark shook his head, cutting her off. "Don't apologize. God, Lois, you've been really sick. How high did your fever get? A hundred and two?"
"Point five," she added miserably, sinking back into the couch. "It finally broke last night, so I'm doing a lot better now. But I still feel pretty bad. I'm just ready to feel human again." She sneezed again, clutching a tissue to her face, then groaned. "I'm so sick of being sick!"
Clark moved the box of tissues closer to her. "I'm sorry," he said sympathetically. "I wish I could make you feel better. But I can go shopping for you and help you clean up, so you just need to tell me what to do. Any errands you need run?"
Lois glanced at the stack of movies on the coffee table. "Oh … I'm not going to make you go out …"
He followed her gaze and picked up the top box, checking the receipt that was tucked in the pocket. "Whoops, these were due yesterday. You can only keep the new releases overnight. You must have been desperately bored to go rent them, though — isn't Wednesday when you started feeling really sick?"
Lois averted her gaze, guilty. "Oh … well … I actually didn't get them. Dan rented them for me."
Clark felt a muscle in his jaw twitch at the mention of his least favorite DEA agent, but mindful of the disastrous conversation he and Lois had last had on the subject, he forced himself to at least try to sound pleasant. "Oh, Dan was here Wednesday? That's—" He choked a bit on the next word. "Nice. Did he come to keep you company?"
She glanced up at him, as if making sure it was safe to continue, then gave a little sigh. "Actually, he didn't stay. He just brought the movies and we talked in the doorway for a minute. Apparently there's some meeting in Washington next week and he didn't want to risk missing it by getting sick." Then she looked up at Clark, concerned. "In fact, I don't know if you should stay either … I don't want you to catch it, Clark."
He just smiled and rested a hand on her shoulder reassuringly. "Why don't you let me worry about that, OK? I have a pretty good immune system." Then he picked up the stack of tapes and glanced at his watch. "These are from the place around the corner, right? I should be able to return them and get back before the timer goes off on the oven. Do you want me to rent some new movies while I'm there? I'd love to stay and watch one with you, if you're up for it."
Her expression was so grateful when she met his gaze that he felt his heart melt all over again. "I'd really like that," she said softly.
"I'm glad," he answered. "So what do you feel like tonight? Action, adventure …"
"How about some romantic comedies?" Lois suggested, her face lighting up as she looked at him. "And you know what? I think I'm going to take the opportunity to jump in the shower while you're gone. For some reason, I've been feeling a whole lot better since you've been here."
Clark just smiled as he located her keys on the table by the front door. "Take your time … I'll let myself back in and we'll eat dinner whenever you feel like it."
Lois stood up and started to walk towards her bedroom, but before she'd gotten halfway there, she stopped and turned around. "Hey, Clark?"
"Hmm?" he asked, his hand on the doorknob.
"I'm really glad you came over."
"So am I, Lois … so am I."
As he exited Lois's building and began making his way down the block towards the video store, Clark found he couldn't keep the smile off his face. And when he heard Lois's gasp of appreciation as she entered her bathroom — and found it had been rendered completely spotless — his grin grew even wider.
"OK, here we go," Clark announced as he carried two steaming bowls of macaroni and cheese into the living room. "Did you look through the titles I got and figure out which movie we should watch first?"
"I looked but I haven't decided yet, sorry," Lois said as she put her magazine down in preparation for dinner. "I was just finishing an article. I can't believe you actually got me a Cosmo!" she exclaimed, laughing.
Clark sat down next to her, handing her her bowl and chuckling as he glanced at the scantily-clad model on the cover. "Oh, that one," he said, trying not to blush. "I can't take full responsibility for it. I asked this lady in the store what women like to read when they're sick and that was one of her suggestions. She called it escapism."
Lois laughed. "I call it trash. But she's right … trash is perfect when you're sick. It's right up there with chicken soup." She took a bite of her meal and sighed happily. "And other comfort foods."
Clark took a bite of his own dinner and, as he felt Lois curl up next to him, he sighed as well, just as contently. "So what do you think?" he asked, nodding his head at the movie cassettes. "'The Princess Bride'? Or 'While You Were Sleeping'? Or—"
"How about … 'When Harry Met Sally'," Lois answered softly, looking almost shy as she glanced at him. "I think that would be perfect for tonight."
He put his hand on her leg and gave it a gentle caress before standing to put in the movie. "Sounds good to me."
Sitting close on the couch, they continued to eat their dinner as the movie began, snickering together as Sally impatiently honked the horn while Harry said goodbye to his college girlfriend. The characters' trip from Chicago to New York had barely begun, however, before Lois's phone started to ring.
Clark glanced over at her, surprised, when she made no move to answer it, but as the machine picked up and he heard Dan Scardino's voice coming over the line, he closed his eyes in disappointment.
"Hey, Lois," Dan began cheerfully. "I was just calling to see how you were feeling. I'm catching my flight to Washington in the morning and I'm going to be gone all next week, so I was hoping to talk to you tonight. Are you there?"
Sighing sadly, Clark looked down at Lois. "I guess you should probably get that, huh?" he offered quietly.
Gazing into his eyes, Lois just listened to the message, then leaned over until her cheek was resting against Clark's shoulder. Snuggling closer to him, she just shook her head. "I think I'll call him back … maybe in a few days … after he's gone."
As her words filtered and the machine turned off, Clark returned his empty bowl to the coffee table then lifted his arm so that he could wrap it around Lois's shoulders. He felt her snuggle against him and as he released a contented sigh, he knew that they were each right where they needed to be … together.
THE END :)
Kathy Brown email@example.com
Comments welcome and appreciated. :)