by Pam Jernigan <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Chris Mulder <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2004
Summary: Lois and Clark have reached a crossroads in their relationship. When they're forced into a detour, will they move past the roadblock, or stay stuck?
Pam and Chris recently took a most memorable road trip, from their native North Carolina to a mini-fest in Pennsylvania. However, an inordinate amount of the trip was spent in the Commonwealth of Virginia (going and coming back). While we are certain that there is much about Virginia that is interesting, historical and perhaps even way above average, what we most wanted to find was the exit. To that end we tried a number of roads, highways, interstates, and goat paths. Along the way, we had some interesting experiences, and the inevitable happened (or at least it's inevitable if there are two fanfic writers in the same car) — "You know, this would make a great fanfic!" So of course we had to try it. See what you think. :)
Clark glanced over again at the profile of his partner, Lois Lane. By now he knew every expression she was likely to use, and the one on display at the moment was probably his least favorite.
"Well, look at it this way, Lois — at least now we know who wasn't involved."
Her hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. "Clark, don't even try to make me feel better about this, OK? We drove an hour and a half out into the country on a trip that turned out not to be worth the price of the hamburger I paid for it—not to mention the drink, fries, apple pie, and double thick shake!"
"It might not have been Bobby's fault, Lois. You know he's always been pretty reliable before."
"Well, he might be good in the city but he's lousy in the sticks!"
Clark had to grin. He knew that Lois was a confirmed city girl.
"And besides," Lois continued, "Perry won't be too pleased when he hears that his two best reporters have been out of the newsroom all day with nothing to show for it."
"Why, Lois!" Clark grinned, "I'm touched."
That made her pause. "Clark, I know I'm probably going to be sorry I asked, but what are you talking about?"
"I had no idea that you thought I was one of the two best reporters at the Daily Planet."
"No, no, no, NO!"
"Come on, Lois, it was just a joke."
She hadn't even heard him. "Look at this! Brake lights everywhere! What's going on? Don't these people know how to drive?"
By now Clark, too, had noticed that the interstate traffic ahead of them had come to a crawl. "I wonder what's wrong?"
"Isn't it obvious? There must be a cow crossing up ahead!"
"Don't be silly, Lois. They only stop traffic when chickens want to cross…the…road." Clark faltered under the glare in Lois' eyes. "Why don't I look for a map and find us a way out of this?"
"Yes, Clark," Lois agreed with false sweetness, "why don't you do that?"
Clark spent a few minutes rummaging through Lois' glove compartment, ("You keep a black jack in your glove compartment, Lois?") and then checking for alternate routes. "Let's see, we're coming up on Gum Spring I think, since I remember that we passed Squirrel Level a little while back…" Clark ignored Lois' derisive snort. "So, if we exit onto state road 142, we can detour around this traffic jam."
"Are you sure about this, Clark? Because I don't want to be wandering around out here."
"I'm sure, Lois. It's right here on the map. Do you want to see for yourself?"
"No, I don't. What I want to see is downtown Metropolis!"
Twenty minutes later Clark was congratulating himself as he and Lois were once again speeding through the countryside.
"Well, Clark, I have to hand it to you. This is much more like it!"
"Thank you, Lois."
"I mean, I wasn't so sure that getting off the interstate was a good idea, but this is working out fine." She rolled down her side window a bit and took a deep breath. "We might actually get back to Metropolis before next week."
Clark was delighted to have Lois happy again. He watched as she reached up to brush a strand of hair from her eyes. Maybe, while they were still alone in the car, it would be a good time to ask her for that "real date." Before he could get up enough nerve, though, they went over a hill and around a bend and came up behind yet another traffic jam.
"What happened to 'Clark?'"
"You've been demoted." She was certainly annoyed again. "I knew this wasn't a good idea. I knew we should have stayed on the interstate."
"Lois, you know you agreed to this."
"Just find us a way out of here!"
Clark had been pulling the maps back out of the glove compartment, but his attention was caught by something in the field to his right. "Hey, Lois, look! Ostriches!"
She barely gave them a glance. "I don't care about ostriches! Ostriches do not rate high on my list of priorities. I could be doing so many more productive things right now…"
"Reporting on dog shows, cleaning my grout, feeding my fish — the list, Kent, goes on and on!"
Clark took a breath and plunged into the deepest end of the pool. "Couldn't one of those things be going on a date with me?"
It was fortunate that traffic had come to a complete stop once again, because Lois wasn't looking at the cars in front of her any longer. She was staring at Clark. "I —" Her eyes moved from Clark's waiting face to scanning the countryside around them; her expression was equal parts embarrassed and scared. She turned back to Clark once more. "Clark, I think — That is …Perhaps we should, well…"
Clark tried to take his defeat gracefully. "Yes, perhaps we should try to find a way out of this." And he wasn't exactly sure if he meant the traffic jam or the awkward atmosphere in the Jeep.
For a while there was silence, as Clark stared intently at the map across his knees and Lois stared even more intently at the winking tail lights in front of her.
Thank goodness for Clark's super hearing or he might have missed Lois' first tentative words.
"I did enjoy our 'almost first date'." She was smiling slightly now.
"So did I, Lois."
If she was surprised that he'd heard her, she didn't show it.
"But, I just don't know if I'm willing to take it to the next level."
Clark worked to keep his voice soft. "There doesn't have to be any 'levels', Lois. Couldn't we just go out together and enjoy each other's company for a few hours? I just would like to get to know you better away from work, that's all."
"That sounds nice, Clark, but how do I know—?"
A loud honking from behind them recalled her to an awareness of the task at hand. She inched the Jeep forward, all the while muttering about the driver behind her. "I don't know what he's so impatient about. It's not like we're actually going anywhere any time soon."
Despite his disappointment, Clark had to smile as he refocused his attention on the map.
"There's a crossroad up ahead, Lois. County road, but it should take us to Oilville, and from there to Goochland and then we—"
"You are making those up, Clark."
"No, I'm not. Look!" He leaned towards her, holding the map with one hand and pointing to the appropriate spot on it with the other. Her closeness was sheer delight.
"Well, I'll be." She looked up at him, a bemused look on her face. For a moment longer, she was close to him, then she straightened and put her hands back on the steering wheel. "So, how far away is this crossroad of yours?"
Their conversation for the next mile or two was limited to the traffic and other neutral topics. But once they were on the new route, Clark's thoughts returned to the possibility of a date and their earlier conversation.
"So, um…about the date thing."
"Right." She glanced at him briefly, with a wisp of a smile. "The date thing."
"What are you scared of, Lois?" Clark asked softly, non- confrontationally.
The smile evaporated, and she stiffened slightly, staring at the road. Eventually, she stirred. "I don't really know, except…What if it all goes wrong?"
Clark hadn't expected that. For a moment, he didn't know what to say.
"I mean, what if we go on a date and it's a disaster?" she continued, picking up steam. "What if you get sick of me—or we get into fights all the time? How could we work together, then?"
"Lois, we do that all the time…"
She didn't seem to have heard him. "I've never been good at this whole relationship thing, Clark. Every time I've tried, it's gone horribly wrong. And if *we* go horribly wrong, I don't know how I'd deal with it."
"If it goes horribly wrong," Clark replied, "which I don't think it will—then, we just pull back from it and go back to being friends again." The thought pained him, but he knew it would be better than the alternative. Would there ever be a point when being her friend would be worse than not seeing her at all? "We've done it before," he muttered, trying to convince himself.
"We what?" Lois shot him a puzzled look. "Clark, we never—" Abruptly, she stopped, wondering if she'd interpreted that correctly. The only time they'd ever reverted to friendship would have been after her disastrous near-wedding. In the weeks prior, they'd barely been speaking—could that be what he meant? The only thing—well, not the only thing, but the first thing—that had gone horribly wrong had been when Clark had said he loved her, and she'd turned him down.
"I'm just saying, I think we need to give it a chance. To give *us* a chance."
She considered that for a moment, glancing over at him. "Well, maybe, but…" She broke off as they rounded a bend and she had to stomp on the brakes. "Oh, don't tell me…!"
Clark peered ahead at the line of stationary cars and sighed. "I think it's only a mile or so long. I can just about see the highway interchange from here."
"We're getting back to the interstate?" She sighed in relief. "Real roads at last, and it's about time. For Pete's sake, it's getting dark out."
They sat quietly for a few moments, watching the traffic light allow only a few cars through per light cycle. Lois couldn't help but think more about what he'd said. Later, after she'd gotten free of Lex and the Planet was back up and running, he'd said he didn't love her after all. But now, he clearly wanted them to try dating…with the assurance that if it didn't work any better this time than last time, she could still have her best friend. So maybe, just maybe, it would be safe to stop stalling. After all, if she were right, he'd already proven to be very difficult to get rid of. And she really didn't want to be rid of him…
"I'm sorry, Lois," Clark ventured after a while.
"Sorry for what?"
"For getting us stuck on these little roads. I know it's frustrating, and I doubt we're making any better time."
She let that comment hang in the air for a few moments as another few cars made it through the slow light. "I just hate being stuck in the car like this. No matter what road I'm on."
Clark hid a smile at the grudging tone of her voice. For her to admit even that much was a good sign.
She snorted. "Where's Superman when you need him?" she joked, as they made it up to the intersection.
Clark glanced at her, wondering what to say to that. "You want Superman to take you away from all this?"
"No, I want him to take *us* away from all this," she replied. "We have better things to do." They made it through the light at the last possible second. "Finally!" Lois accelerated toward the highway on-ramp only to pause and groan as she realized that this highway was just as crowded as the last one had been.
"Okay…you know, I'm starting to think that upstate New Troy needs its very own motto — 'Good luck getting out!'"
Clark winced. This trip had taken longer than he'd ever expected. At least they had talked, a little, and maybe even made some progress. "Well…this is one way to spend the evening together."
The attempt to amuse her failed. "And if you're not careful, Kent, this'll be the only way for you to spend an evening with me."
"Ah. I'll be careful, then."
"You do that," she replied shortly, leaning forward to flip on her headlights and flopping back against the seat with a scowl on her face.
He checked the map once more. They were closer to Metropolis but still a long way away if they couldn't move any faster than this. He tried to extend his senses ahead of them to discover the reason for the jam, but he didn't hear any sirens. What he did hear were voices from the van in front of them. Although he tried to avoid spying, he couldn't help hearing that an argument was brewing.
Suddenly, the guy in the van exited the passenger side and slammed the door behind him. He began to walk ahead, and since vehicular progress at the moment was minimal at best, he was soon several car lengths further on than his former travel companion.
Lois had been watching this little drama as well. "Wonder what's going on with him? Do you suppose he's trying to find out what's up ahead?"
"Possibly," Clark agreed, "but I think he's trying to cool off. He slammed that car door pretty hard."
They were both quiet for a while, each thinking about all that had been said. And all that was left unsaid.
"Relationships," Lois commented, but without any rancor or exasperation in her tone, which Clark counted as a small victory.
Just then the line of cars ahead began moving again. Not only that, but they were actually moving at a faster pace than before. It wasn't long before they were catching up to the man from the van. Lois and Clark both watched as the van came up beside him — then passed him.
"Uh-oh," Lois murmured.
He was running beside the van now and calling the name of the woman who was driving.
Clark leaned forward a bit and moved his hand to the Jeep's door handle. He wasn't quite sure what he could or should do, but…
The van finally slowed and stopped. The man panted up to the side door once again and reached for the handle. The door was locked, but he didn't shout—perhaps he couldn't—preferring to grin at his companion. It must have worked because she unlocked the door and he opened it and hopped back in. They were all moving once again.
"Arguments," Lois mused. "What a waste of time."
"Yes," Clark agreed fervently.
They turned to look at each other, their eyes conveying in that brief exchange more than either of them knew. Then Lois faced forward once again to focus on her driving.
The light was fading faster now, and it was obvious they wouldn't get back to Metropolis before dark.
Traffic was slowing again, but not to the crawl that it had been before. Still, though, Clark could see Lois' shoulders sag with tiredness and disappointment. Up ahead he could see a Park 'N Ride lot for the commuter train passengers, and he came to a sudden decision.
"Lois, take this exit. I've got an idea."
It was perhaps a measure of the impact that the day's events had had upon Lois that she did as he asked without question or comment.
At the end of the ramp, he directed her to the parking lot, and at that point she did begin to question this idea of his. "Clark, I don't want to take the train to town. What about my car?"
"I wasn't planning to take the train, Lois," he confessed as he released his seatbelt and prepared to exit the car. "I've got something else in mind."
She gave him a puzzled look, but didn't protest further as she too began to gather her belongings.
By now it was really dark. Lois locked up the Jeep and joined Clark as he began to walk to the other side of the parking lot. Once there, he stepped into the trees and away from the street lights.
Lois stopped at the edge of the lot. "Clark, if you're looking for the facilities, I'm pretty sure they keep them inside the station."
"Come on, Lois!" was all the answer she received.
Sighing and muttering under her breath, she followed him into the woods. "If you ruin my shoes, Kent, you're in big trouble."
"Your shoes will be fine, Lois." He had stopped and was looking around him. "This is as far as you'll have to walk." Taking a deep breath, he moved towards her and picked her up in his arms.
"Clark! Put me down! What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm going to do what you've been asking me to do all afternoon, Lois. I'm getting us out of here." And he began to rise off the ground, his eyes steadfastly on the first, faint stars appearing overhead. "I know you'll probably be upset with me that I haven't told you about this before. I don't blame you, either, but I'm hoping that after all we've talked about today, you'll also be willing to listen to my explanation."
He lowered his eyes to look at her face and wasn't surprised to see a mixture of emotions on display there. To his dismay, annoyance seemed to be the most prominent one.
"Lois," he began tentatively.
"You bet I'm upset with you, Kent. Why in heck didn't you do this three traffic jams ago!"