By Elisabeth <email@example.com>
Submitted: June, 2007
Summary: A war-hardened Lois returns to Metropolis as a college student and researcher, only to find herself pursued by the well-established, human-interest reporter, Clark.
A tip of the hat to all the readers on the message boards who left feedback. Without your encouragement and correction, this story would not have been so well written. A kiss on the cheek to James, who regularly provided me the time and the materials to write and post this story. Special thanks to DJ for beta-reading, without whom this story would be nothing but commas. (I only include all those commas, because IRL I talk like William Shatner, and I include a comma, where I would naturally, pause, for the sake, of drama.) I know she has a lot of plates to spin, yet she still manages to spin my work to sound half-way decent.
I have a few rules when I write fanfic.
1. Place canon in a large bowl.
2. Mix well.
Also, I tend to set all my elseworlds in current time. I figure, since I'm messing with everything else, why not? I can never remember when cell-phones and digital cameras and the internet and all of that came along, so I just throw them all in.
Imagine a world where Clark was content with who he was…never searching the world for a place to fit in, but instead working for The Daily Planet from his college internship on.
Imagine a world where Lois was too impatient to wait for what the world had to offer her, but instead traveled the globe to see what she could grasp by the horns.
Such a topsy-turvy world may look a little bit like this…
Her hands were sweaty. It wasn't a good sign. She had done this so many times in her life, and over a dozen of her attempts were successful. Still, this was bigger and better than any previous attempt on her behalf. Hence, the sweaty hands.
He was spending an awfully long time reviewing the fine points of her résumé. An editor was trained to read carefully, so she had spent hours honing the document over the years. Still, he appeared to be doing more than just a careful examination.
Finally, he spoke, "I don't get many résumés for an internship." His voice held the soft drawl of a man raised much farther in the South. "Most men just bring a transcript."
He finally glanced at her, the question clear in his upraised eyebrows.
"I'm not most men," Lois declared, meeting his gaze firmly as she always did in interviews. "And this isn't most papers," she blustered on. "The Daily Planet deserves a little bit more from its people, like the experience I offer."
"So what kind of grades do you get, Miss Lane?"
Oh, there it was. He thought she hadn't brought a transcript because her grades were too bad to mention. Hardly!
"I start freshman orientation at Southeast New Troy State a week from Wednesday, sir," she stated candidly, noting the surprise that came across his features. "I'll be honest with you, Mr. White. I started out too ambitious for college. I found that in most third world countries they care more about results than education, so I've learned how to produce results."
No one was better at playing up their good points than Lois Lane. Ambition, results: it was all sounding good.
He grunted his acceptance and went back to studying her résumé.
She steeled herself against the silence. An editor in Colombia had once told her he turned her down for a job once because she babbled. Hah! The Colombians talked faster and moved slower than anyone else in the world. But then again, she had gotten her revenge, making his competitor the top paper in the city in the few months she had worked there. Still, she had learned from the mistake. Some men were just looking for an excuse not to hire a capable woman. She never gave them an inch.
"It does look like you specialize in hot spots…" Mr. White mumbled without taking his eyes off the paper. "Georgia, the Sudan, hmm…" he continued to glance over the highlights, "…worked for the French in Iraq."
"The French didn't want to go, but I did." She tried to lighten it up, hoping it would cure the flop-sweat before she had to shake hands. "Heck, I would have been in Berlin when the wall fell, but my elementary school wouldn't give me the time off."
He nodded without so much as a grin and set her résumé down on his desk.
"I'd love to give you an internship, Miss Lane, but all those positions were filled months ago." He shrugged, "I'm surprised Personnel made an appointment for you."
She smirked. "I can be persuasive."
She could see the moment he came to a decision. It was written all over his face. He was going to give her the heave-ho, with a slick promise to keep her resume on-file should some impossible chance ever arrive.
"I could offer you a starting position in research. It wouldn't be Iraq, but I might be able to slip you the occasional obituary."
Yes! It wasn't much, but all she needed was a foot in the door. The truth was that there weren't any scholarships available to those pushing thirty. And with The Daily Planet on her résumé, she would have a real shot at the brass ring when she graduated.
"You make it sound so appealing," she returned, trying not to sound too eager.
There was an annoying knock at the door. Mr. White held up a finger to stave off the rude intruder. All she needed was just one more minute to get him to sign off on the deal.
"Well, research at the best newspaper in the world is better than work study with the campus custodians," she allowed. She stuck out her hopefully dry hand for a firm handshake for a good close. "Mr. White, you've got yourself a deal."
"All right then. Drop your class schedule off before you go with Glen-…he supervises research. He'll contact you with a work schedule."
She turned on her heel, determined to maintain her self-assurance all the way past the glass front of his office. She would celebrate in private once the elevator doors closed.
She spared half a glance for the usurper who tried to push her out of her full interview. While he was admittedly mildly attractive, he certainly looked stupid with his mouth hanging open like that. Men!
"Hello?" The whir of the dishwasher told Clark that his mom was in the kitchen.
"Kents." Dad had probably picked up the extension in the barn.
"Mom? Dad? You'll never guess what just happened. I met the girl I'm going to marry."
"What's she like?"
"How'd you meet her?"
"What's her name?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I didn't think to ask her when I saw her. But I'll find out… Look, I better go. I just kind of snuck off with my cell phone, because I wanted you guys to be the first to know. But I better get back. Love you. See you in a few days."
He hit end before they asked anymore embarrassing questions to which he had no answer. It had probably been a mistake to call them prematurely. Still, it felt good to say it out loud.
Lois sighed. Her room was a dive. The whole building was a dive, although someone had obviously made a feeble attempt to make it look presentable over the summer. Still, it wasn't her first dive, and hopefully it would be her last.
At least, her eclectic furniture collection made it look like her own dive. Even if some average Jane left the unclaimed portions of the room looking pedestrian, hum-drum or hick.
Still, she wished there was something she could do about the smell, the one with the sweatshop, gym locker, stale food kind of an aura. There wasn't enough baking soda in the world to win that kind of a fight. And those silly sprays would just make it seem like roses in an outhouse. Still, she would hardly indulge on an air-purifier, and she would definitely not take it lying down, so she made a mental note to buy the biggest dang box of baking soda she could find.
With no work and no school, this would probably be her last chance to relax for the next few months. A dive like this could offer no bubble bath; still she could enjoy her last splurge without it. She pulled on a schlumpy robe and a ratty pair of slippers and sprawled across her bed to enjoy the latest romance novel to top the French charts.
The bus was late. Lois raged against the forces that be which conspired to make her late on her first day of work. In a time of computers and automated stoplights and traffic reports and atomic clocks, there was no excuse for being late. None! And still her watch showed that the bus was a full three minutes late and counting.
Unless—she shuddered against the thought—what if it had instead come early? What if she had missed the bus on this, her first day of work? It was totally not fair! She had allowed plenty of time to walk to the bus stop, had researched the lines meticulously so she would know which transfer to take, had added several minutes for walking and traffic—and the incompetent, overpaid, government screw-up who drove the bus negated it all by showing up late, or early, to make her a generous three-and-a-half minutes late to her first day of work. Probably more if she missed her connecting bus and had to wait the twenty freaking minutes it would take for the next bus to meander along.
She heard before she saw the bus approaching. She glanced at her watch. It wheezed up four minutes late. Perfect! Presuming the connecting bus was on time, give or take four minutes, she would still be prompt on this, her first day at work as a grunt on the greatest newspaper in the galaxy.
Clark had been antsy all day. He had no idea who the beautiful brunette had been, or what she had been doing in Perry's office. There was no guarantee she would walk back into his life ever. Yet, he couldn't help himself; he had kept his eyes open all morning long, waiting for her lovely return.
There was something about the way she shook hands that had convinced him that she would return to finish her business with Perry.
It was probably all wishful thinking on his part. Still, he found himself quietly alert all morning.
He could always ask Perry who she was… But Perry didn't get to be editor by treeing coons, and Clark didn't relish explaining his interest in the young lady. Not that he would need to explain. Perry had a way of reading people; he would know before Clark opened his mouth.
The clock edged its way toward eight o'clock when the first wave of people hit the newsrooms. He had watched elevator after elevator, waiting for her arrival; supposing the girl of his dreams would indeed arrive today.
And then, it happened.
It was a music video kind of a moment. The elevator opened and she emerged. Soft focus. Slow motion. Spotlight on her. The music swelled. His heart raced. Her hair bounced as she scanned the room to the right and to the left.
He found himself standing to his feet, gaping mutely as she whisked by his desk.
The 'Ken doll' had his mouth open again. Men! He probably wasn't good with words. What did he ever do at a newspaper?
It was a struggle to get any work done with every fiber of his being tuned to the beauty on the other side of the building. He had gone through the motions, setting up a few interviews for later in the day and even outlining a basic structure of what was to go in his article, but his heart wasn't truly in it.
>From her movements and activities, he gathered that she was probably joining the research department. But he couldn't quite be sure, since the people hired in that department were usually just on the cusp of adulthood. Perhaps she looked several years older than her true age, or perhaps she was changing careers.
He would have to arrange a meeting if he wanted to find out all the answers.
But such things would have to wait until after "The Morning Brainstorm" meeting. He trudged over to the conference room, making particular note that the focus of his attraction wasn't heading his way. That meant that she either wasn't part of the reporting staff or she was uninformed.
She was intent, focused on her task not because it interested her but because success here would quickly lead her towards her real goals. It was the audible grumbling of her stomach that caused her to glance at the clock—quarter to one—a tad late for the traditional lunch break.
After a few wrong turns she hit upon the location vaguely pointed out earlier as the cafeteria. The room was mostly empty so she grabbed the first available seat and emptied the contents of her brown bag lunch.
She barely had time to chew her first bite when 'The Face' approached. Ignoring all the empty chairs in the room, he chose the one directly across from her. She hoped he would keep his mouth closed this time, as she had no desire to see his food.
She grunted in a hello-type manner and returned to her giant pickle.
"I don't think I've noticed you around before. Are you new here?"
It was a line, and a bad one. A man didn't stand slack-jawed and just forget about it. She would bet and win that he had filed her away in the mental file folder which men keep of interesting women they want to fantasize about later, but never truly intend to get to know. The fact that he was greeting her now meant that he wanted to do more than fantasize, and she would be darned if she was going to participate.
"Maybe you're just not very observant," she taunted him. It wasn't very kind, but it would be crueler to lead him on. Besides, she didn't really care if she was kind to him or not. It was the handsome ones that tended to get in her way.
He looked a bit taken aback. Good.
He paused for a moment before opening the takeout box from the bakery/sandwich shop she had noticed across the street. It was rather curious that he hadn't eaten in *their* dining room, or even in their quaint outdoor café, if he hadn't intended to eat at his desk.
After a minute he thrust his hand across the table, reaching for a handshake. "I'm sorry, I forgot my manners. I'm Clark Kent. I work as a reporter here. It's nice to meet you."
She thought about sticking her half-eaten pickle into his outstretched hand, just to get his goat, but she was really hungry and wasn't sure if she wanted to forfeit the pickle. Besides, she hadn't seen him wash his hands before he sat down, and there was no telling where he'd been.
She shrugged. "Kent. Reporter. Got it. Was there anything else you wanted?"
He grinned. "No, just enjoying my meal."
She let the conversation die after that, focusing her attention on her bologna sandwich. She chewed in a hurry and left without a goodbye.
Clark thoughtfully set down his telescope in its usual place on the pantry shelf just outside the warm Kansas' kitchen, and then turned to welcome his parents. His mother's hug was especially warm.
"Clark, come on in. Perfect timing! Dessert'll be ready in about five minutes. Why don't you head down to the den and call your dad?"
A few minutes later, they dished up the cake.
"So, doing anything interesting lately?" his father inquired with a faux politeness that was belied by his huge grin.
"Well," Clark began as his mother interrupted.
"We've been dying to hear back from you. What's she like?"
"Lois is beautiful… focused… striking… determined… and fascinating, and we've had lunch together for the last two days, but I'm still just beginning to get to know her," Clark gushed. He didn't mention the fact that he had only learned her name around the water cooler or that she hadn't, as of yet, even given him the time of day.
He tried to ignore his mother's wide grin as he changed the subject.
"Besides, I came here to visit you. How are things?"
The world was a wonderful place. At "The Morning Brainstorm", Perry had assigned Clark a human interest piece designed to match up with the start of the school-year at the three local colleges: a story about the changing face of non-traditional students. And he had been told to interview the new love of his life. Life was good!
Oh, good heavens! It wasn't bad enough that 'The Charmer' had invaded her lunch every day last week, now he was heading over to lay siege to her workspace. It was practically intolerable.
"Did you get lost?" she greeted him, icily. "Your desk is normally over there."
"Good morning," he tossed back, in an annoyingly pleasant tone. "Actually, I needed your help."
"Oh, so you did need me to tell you where to go."
"In fact, Perry sent me to you. He wants to do this piece on non-traditional students. It's the cover story for the 'On the Town' section. School starts on Thursday at South East and Jefferson U and on Friday at Met, so I'd expect it to run around those days. Anyway, he promised that you'd make an interesting addition to the story, so when would be a good time for an interview?"
Lois was uncharacteristically caught off-guard. If Perry was behind this, she was in…all the way. But if 'Mr. People Person' was schmoozing his way into a little one-on-one time, she was not in the least bit interested.
"Why don't you have Perry's people call my people," she finally decided.
"Excuse me?" he seemed confused.
"I realize you're probably used to writing with a fourth-grade vocabulary, so I'll limit myself to the smaller words."
Her tone was patronizing, "My work is assigned by Glen. Your work is assigned by Perry. I can't just drop everything on your say-so, so if you want me to free up some time you'll need to have Perry make arrangements with Glen. Capisce?"
It was kind of amusing to see him stand and blink that way. His slow male brain was obviously still processing what she'd said. Blink. Blink. Input. Input.
"All right, I didn't think that office politics would get in the way of a little interview. But if you prefer, I'll go through channels."
She hoped he wouldn't be back before it was time to ruin her lunch. Chew on that!
It was all arranged. Perry was a little put out that she wasn't a team player, but Clark had been quick to point out that it was probably necessary to go through channels at her last workplace and she was probably just trying to keep her backside covered. Anyway, Perry had told Glen to clear up some of Lois's time, and then left it to Clark and Glen to make arrangements, since Lois clearly didn't want to be involved in the process.
When Glen pointed out that Lois really was overbooked, since she was obviously one of the best researchers they had, even if she had only been here a few days, Clark suggested that he could do a lunch interview if it would suit The Planet's interests better.
And so it fell to Glen to invite the charming Miss Lane to lunch.
It was a wonderful life.
"Where would you like to go for lunch?" he asked amiably as they walked into the elevator.
"I would love to head to a deserted island to eat my bologna sandwich in peace."
He ignored her sniping, as he had earlier that day. "There's 'The Sandwichery' across the street, Mexican one block that way, an Italian place down thataway (although I don't recommend it, if you're in a hurry). Oh, and they serve Thai food a couple blocks over there."
She stopped and looked at him strangely. "Is it any good?"
"I can't say that I've ever been there. Why? You want to go?"
"Thai, it is," she decided with an odd challenge in her tone of voice.
The scents coming from the kitchen were both unusual and appealing; the décor was exotic and the wait staff polite. Most of all, in his opinion, the company was exquisite.
"So, tell me about yourself," he invited, pulling out a recorder as soon as their order had been taken.
"Five three and a half. This is my real hair color. One hundred and none-of-your-business pounds."
Clark chuckled as if she had told a delightful joke. "That wasn't what I meant."
"Okay, no police record. No traffic tickets. Acquitted of every charge ever brought against me."
"How about, 'Where are you going to school, Miss Lane?'"
She paused, maybe to decide whether or not to tell him the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "I'm a freshman at South East. Journalism major, as if that wasn't obvious."
"What made you decide to go back after all these years?"
"You mean, what made me decide to go?"
He blinked again, that slow male brain needing a little more RAM to keep up with her.
"Isn't that what I said?"
"No," she corrected, "you said, 'go back.' I said, 'go.' There is no 'going back' if I never went in the first place."
"Oh, so that's why you're in research," he concluded. "You're interested in becoming a reporter, but you don't have the credentials, yet, for a full reporting position."
"I'm not interested in *becoming* a reporter," she corrected 'Monsieur Pedantic', once again, not even trying to keep the flames out of her voice. "I *am* a reporter. I've reported on some of the hottest stories of the last decade. I was imbedded in Iraq while you were sipping tea with the Ladies Auxiliary and jotting down notes about their Colonial quilt sale. I've seen every African takeover in the last decade while you were keeping your desk dusted. I *am* the *best* reporter that you will ever lay eyes on, thank you very much. Any more questions?"
"I don't get it. Why would the best reporter I've ever laid eyes on be working an opening position in research?" He didn't seem to be challenging her, only struggling to understand.
Her eyes fell for a moment. The silence joined them at the table for a minute or two, and when she caught his gaze again, her features had mellowed.
Her softer voice matched her quieted mood. "Because I'm tired of running around the world proving myself over and over again. I wanted to come back to America. And reporters in America need Bachelor's degrees. So I'm doing what I need to do to get where I want to go."
Clark looked downright twitterpated. "Perry is right. You are a fascinating woman."
The arrival of their food interrupted her acerbic reply.
She paused, waiting for his response to the fiery food. Since he hadn't been used to Thai cuisine she had made a few suggestions. She had made sure that 'Mr. Ham-and-Cheese-on-Rye' had ordered one of the spiciest dishes on the menu. He took a bite. She counted three for the full flavor to permeate his senses. She had expected him to change colors, at the very least, but she was hoping for a good show of spitting and puffing.
Instead, he merely raised an eyebrow.
"Interesting," was his mild-mannered reply. "It has more flavor than I expected, not just spice." His smile reached to his eyes. "I like it. Thanks for bringing me here, Lois."
She groaned inside. He made it sound like it was her idea.
The rest of the interview was a rather straightforward question and answer. He was charmed, she was coolly compliant. She tried not to reveal too much, but she had to admit that he had a warm interviewing style that did seem to allow him to know more of her life's story than she had planned to reveal.
It was a little later than she had planned as they headed back to work, although she was unconcerned since she was obviously out on Planet business. She walked slower than usual, weighed down with an overly satiated feeling and thoughts which wandered accordingly.
His voice interrupted her thoughts, "So what are your plans while you're here?"
"I'm sorry; did I miss this part of the interview?"
His smile matched an irritating twinkling in his eye, as he suggested, "Classes start in a few days. Tonight would be a good night if you would like me to show you some of the sights around town."
"Does that line usually work for you?" she inquired, in the same tone of voice she used when she nailed a corrupt government worker to the wall.
"Excuse me?" He stopped walking.
She pivoted to face him, one hand on her hip. "Do the girls usually fawn at your feet when you say that? Do they throw you their bras and room keys?"
His tone was a little too patronizing for her preference, "I didn't invite the girls. I invited you: the fascinating and delightful Lois Lane. And I didn't ask for your bra or your room key, I asked for your company. I can show you the best libraries in Metropolis, if that's what you'd like. But if you will honor me with your presence, I would love to spend a little time with you and show you around—make you feel at home."
She barely paused before blowing him off, in a big-sister kind of way. "Look, I've heard lines from men all around the world. Yours isn't bad, but it's nothing to write home about, you understand. I've turned down men from every habited continent on Earth in at least a dozen languages, so save yourself a little time, huh? I'm just not interested."
He resumed walking, rather briskly. She joined him in his walk.
"Got it. Seen all the scumbags in all the third-world countries, and sworn off men, both foreign and domestic. I can understand that. You've met more than your fair share of jerks and decided you really don't want to have your heart broken at every port. Makes sense, really… Well, it used to make sense when you were traveling all the time. What did you say, it was? Seventeen countries in twelve years? You traveled much too frequently to make any real friends, let alone establish a meaningful relationship. So the no-dating policy was probably pretty good protection. I knew you were a smart one, Lois."
He stopped walking abruptly, and she stumbled a little as she transitioned.
"But it really doesn't work as well here, does it? You plan on spending four years at this college. You'll probably stay in Metropolis longer if you go as far at The Planet as I expect. That's plenty of time to establish some friendships, don't you think? And while I'm not suggesting that the two of us put down roots together and live happily ever after, I don't think a little tour or a little dinner will do either of us any harm."
He opened the door for her and then followed her into The Planet's lobby.
"You think that I…" she sputtered before letting out an angry gush of air. "I'm not taking the regular try-it-out, see-if-you-like-it coarse-load. I'm taking eighteen hours this semester. With one hour of study for every hour in class, that's thirty-six hours a week. The recommended hour and a half of study for every hour in class makes forty-five hours a week. I'm working thirty-six hours a week at The Daily Planet, the minimum required for benefits. That's seventy-two to eighty-one hours a week. Add in my commute time, time for meals and bathing and maybe even four to six hours a night of sleep, and I totally don't have time for friendships and tours and dinner and all that 'When Harry Met Sally' stuff you have planned for us. And whether or not you approve, it works for me. Understand?"
"Got it. You need a little time to work your way into friendship. Understood."
She frowned at him in a way that made most men shrink away. He matched her gaze with a pleasant smile, reaching past her to summon the elevator.
"And as for tonight," she continued. "As they say in Spanish, 'No.' It's almost the same in French, although they clip it a bit more and speak through their nose, 'Non.' You understand that?"
"Perfectly clear, mademoiselle."
The night air was clean and crisp as Clark meandered down sidewalk after sidewalk, thinking deep thoughts and planning meaningful plans.
He hadn't really expected her to drop everything and go out for a night on the town. Still, it felt good to lay all his cards on the table. He was too old to play games. Whether she liked him or not, he didn't plan on pretenses.
But it didn't give him many easy options on where to go from here.
A woman up ahead muttered under her breath as she dug around in the dirt, her body casting shadows in the already dim light.
"Stupid! Stupid," she mumbled. "You don't have time for any of this, and now look what you've done."
"Is there a problem?" Clark asked as he drew near enough to be heard.
She eyed him, carefully assessing whatever character was revealed in his body language and mode of dress. She must have decided to trust him, because she finally confessed, "Just dropped my keys. There's no way I'm going to find them before the morning, is there?"
"Probably not," Clark admitted, "but it doesn't hurt to try."
His eyes easily located the offending key ring.
"Is this what you're looking for?" he asked.
"Lord, have mercy!" she clapped her hands together. "How did you find them?"
"Just luck, I guess."
It was his usual answer.
He smiled as he resumed walking. He tried to do that kind of thing at least a few times every day. On a good day he could work in a dozen or more. While sometimes it was something little, like saving a person time, money or dignity, if he was lucky he might even get to save a life.
It was those little acts of kindness that gave him hope in the world—and maybe even a purpose for living. His mom was always talking about the little gifts that God gave everyone, gifts that were expected to be shared to build up the community. Well, Clark had more than his fair share of gifts from God, and his little acts of kindness were his way of giving that back.
Perhaps that's just what Lois needed, as well. She would never accept a gift of kindness from Clark directly, but maybe a few indirect gifts would give her a different perspective on mankind in general.
He resolved to look for more opportunities to give a little bit of kindness to Lois, whether directly or indirectly. To do that, he would have to become a student of what it was that Lois enjoyed.
Lunch came and went with no sign of Lois. Clark's frustration was compounded by the fact that his work hadn't allowed him even a few minutes of water-cooler time the previous day. Clark had turned out to be an irritatingly bad student of his favorite student.
Once again his fingers sought out the smooth satin of the cream-colored envelope that had graced the edge of his desktop all day. It was nothing much, really—just a small token of thoughtfulness. Still, it was a beginning. He wondered which would be best—should he leave it on Lois's desk when he went home for the evening, or would it be better to hang onto it so he could give it to her personally tomorrow?
He forced his mind back onto his writing assignment. He had a deadline to meet and fretting over the decision wasn't helping. He took the myriad of papers he had assembled and arranged them in a better order, eventually turning the mess into an outline. He made note of which quotes would fit best in the article and finally fleshed it out into a concise feature story.
He was giving it a last read-through when she arrived. He wasn't sure how he knew, but sight only confirmed what his heart already attested to—somehow he could sense a moment before the elevator opened that Lois Lane had appeared.
It was disconcerting that every time she disembarked from the elevator he was watching. As far as she could tell, he didn't look up every time the bell dinged, and yet she had never come through those doors even one time that she didn't feel 'Romeo's' eyes upon hers. He seemed awfully sweet to be a stalker, and yet it was odd that even when her work schedule changed he knew just when to start looking for her.
He smiled and waved. The temptation to stick her tongue out in response was enticing, yet she squelched the childish response in favor of simply raising an eyebrow.
Turning on her heel, she pushed 'Mr. Charm' to the back of her mind. She needed to make a good impression in order to achieve her goals at The Daily Planet and flirting with the hired help would surely hinder them. She stowed her purse and lunchbox and set off in search of Glen and her daily assignments.
She was deep in thought when an ivory envelope graced her desk a half an hour later.
"What's this?" she asked automatically before she glanced up to see his crinkling brown eyes tilted up in a smile.
"Nothing, really." His words were shy and modest, but his mere presence was forward enough.
"Oh." She set the envelope aside, hoping he wouldn't guess at the extreme curiosity she was squelching inside. "Well, then… I really do have a lot to get done."
"All right," he agreed quickly before adding, "I'll be heading out in a few minutes. Can I get you anything before I go?" At the shake of her head, he pressed, "Soda or anything?"
"Nah, I prefer my caffeine hot," Lois indicated the mug of lukewarm drudge to the side of her computer.
"Okay, then," Clark hesitated.
Lois wondered what he was waiting for. She hoped he was at least a little disappointed that she hadn't dropped everything to rip open the envelope he had brought her. It was probably all another come-on, one she would be more than happy to deny. The attractive ones always seemed to expect women to throw themselves at them.
"I'll see you later," he finally decided. He gathered a few belongings together and headed down the stairs.
Lois counted to fifty after the door closed and then added ten more for good measure. The envelope had the soft feel of linen to it, like the finer papers usually did. "Lois Lane" was written across the front in a clear, masculine script. It smelled faintly of his cologne, almost as if he had kept it stuck in a shirt pocket long enough to pick up traces of his essence. The card inside showed an old-fashioned globe with a ship sailing across the ocean. The words "Thinking of You" were emblazed across the bottom in a sepia font. The simple message inside read:
I'll be thinking of you and rooting for you as you begin your first classes tomorrow. Your friend, Clark
Lois turned it over, as if by looking at it differently she would better be able to see Clark's angle. The heart-throbs always had an angle. Heck, even the ugly ones had an angle. She had probably foiled it when she hadn't opened his package immediately. She supposed she would just have to wait for the other shoe to drop.
A mild headache knocked for attention at the back of Lois's skull, the kind that made her suspect that someone had substituted decaf for her regular poison of choice. It was compounded by the idiocy of her day's work. She was compiling Metropolis weather data, probably for some moron with a theory to prove; although the theory du jour, El Niño or La Niña or global warming or some earth-hugging fluff, hadn't been revealed to her. That was the most annoying part of her new position. She was out of the loop on every dadblasted thing she worked on.
She reached in her purse for a chocolate bar and was chagrined to find there wasn't one. Even more maddening was the knowledge that she had looked and come up empty at least three times today alone. It killed her that she was in The States again and geographically she was finally able to indulge in the real deal Double Fudge Crunch bars that could only be found in civilized countries but, with every penny going toward her education, she couldn't allow herself a vice.
It made her madder still to feel that slight bit of worry over today's first class. She was an ace at what she did. The best of the best. The cream of the crop. The top banana. Lois Lane didn't get nervous about anything, least of all a little biology class. And yet there was this insane undercurrent of concern.
For just a moment, she thought about that card that Kent had sent. A thought breezed over her that she could tell Kent about her worries and, in that moment of weakness, it seemed like her friend might understand. But in the light of day, the mist cleared and she realized how insane that was. It was like a stupid Hallmark card commercial! Men don't send touchy-feely cards to start relationships; men do what it takes to bed a woman and move on to the next. It wasn't like Kent was even a friend. He was an annoying tagalong colleague. Besides, Lois Lane didn't have issues, she had headaches.
She didn't need a heart-to-heart. She didn't need a best friend. She needed a *HEADLINE* with her byline attached.
And for four long years (three—if she was able to work out the necessary schedule of summer school), she was unlikely to have even a nibble of a story. She refused to work for the school paper any sooner than her major required. She could imagine the assignment she was most likely to receive, "Miss Clavel nominated for Top Honors for Appendicitis research."
Maybe none of that mattered. Maybe she just needed to get her orientation.
It was silly. She had been in the city for well over a week, and she hadn't even begun to work out a network of snitches and informants. Maybe she should stop sulking and use her time for better purposes, seizing the upper hand.
With hardly more than a backwards glance, Lois shoved aside her weather data and flipped open the phone book to the blue pages. It took a bit of rifling through the disorganized resources that the researchers shared, but she finally unearthed a Metropolis city map, only two years out-of-date. She started marking addresses on the map: city hall, the county seat, state representatives' offices, the local offices for the United States congressmen. In a moment of brilliance, she marked out the closest offices of the FBI, the CIA, Homeland Security, and the NIA.
She assessed her results. The closest offices were only five blocks away, an easy walk even for her short lunch break.
But she still needed business cards. She found a good basic card template on her computer's word processor and added a GIF for The Daily Planet's logo from the company website to the top corner. It would have looked snazzier for her to include a nice title, but she couldn't afford honesty, as of yet. She debated whether to use the Planet's switchboard for a phone number or her room's line at the dorm and decided upon both…-her roommate seemed flaky enough that she might let Lois manage the outgoing message on the answering machine. She printed out a test copy and approved the results. She had to dig through a few years' worth of clutter before she found an appropriate paper but eventually found a heavy-enough stock for her tastes. She ran three pages worth (twenty-four cards in total) through the copier and cut them precisely.
The clock only read 12:30, a time too perfect for her to go out. It wouldn't do to catch others at their lunch breaks. She dug out the brown bag she had picked up for lunch. It was the same meal she had every day, but she couldn't afford to complain. She was able to charge twenty-one meals a week to her student loan, and she would be darned if she were going to pay for a meal and not pick it up. So she went through the steps the interns and student teachers normally went through to get their meals, filling out her work schedule one week in advance and picking up the generic brown bag lunch at the preceding meal. She already had the contents memorized: one cardboard bologna sandwich on white bread, one red apple (heavy on the wax), seven carrot sticks and a pint of two percent milk in one of those cardboard containers the elementary schools use.
No dessert. No taste. It was going to be a long four—hopefully three—years.
Clark was a little bit concerned. As usual, he was keeping an eye out for when Lois ate. He could tell, even from this distance, that she was in a huff over something or other. Then, she started to eat lunch at her desk.
He hoped she wasn't upset with him. Criminy! It was only a little card! It wasn't a diamond ring or anything. Still, it was obvious that she didn't want to share her lunch today.
She hadn't seemed all that upset when he had watched her open the envelope yesterday from his vantage point behind the staircase door. Confused maybe, but upset?—no.
Clark worried his fingers through his hair. He kept an eye on her from a distance and wondered what his next move should be.
These things never went totally according to plan but, all in all, it went as smooth as could be expected.
Lois did as she always did; she waltzed into City Hall and made her rounds among the support staff. She introduced herself, passing out cards as she went.
"Good afternoon. I'm Lois Lane with The Daily Planet. I'm kind of new in town, so I thought I'd better meet some of the movers and shakers."
As always, she reassured everybody that she didn't need an appointment. She wasn't here to meet the mayor but the people who did the real work.
She was greeted politely, but warily. It was actually kind of pleasant to be greeted with icy smiles instead of an open display of weaponry.
As soon as she left, Lois jotted down the names of everyone she had met. Back at The Planet, she would look up public records to make note of job titles; although, it would take awhile to determine what each person actually did. She noted the date, as well. She would visit again every six weeks or so until the smiles were genuine and the trust was established.
For the first time all day, Lois smiled. It felt good to be thinking like a reporter, again.
It seemed almost natural as Clark sidled up to her desk a half an hour after she had arrived, Friday afternoon. It also seemed natural for her to ignore his presence. It was nice to have a routine like theirs.
"How were classes?"
She didn't bother to look up as she mumbled, "Last night was the most amazing three hours of my life. I only wish it could have lasted forever. When we hit the two hour mark and my brain shut down, it was like nirvana."
Clark chuckled. She was opening up to him, kinda' sorta'. It was great progress. "And this morning?" He pressed his luck.
It paid off when Lois looked up. "A similar experience from a different faith background. Not nirvana, but paperwork heaven. You understand the difference, don't you?"
"I remember. 'This is your syllabus for the course'. Followed by a full discourse on every jot and tittle contained in the syllabus, along with a stern 'talking to' about actually doing the work and a warning. 'You won't get away with plagiarism, so don't even try.'"
"That in a nutshell." Lois's smile lit up her face.
"I'm heading out of here pretty soon. You need anything before I go? Cup of coffee? Maybe a little something with chocolate in it to help you make it through the night?"
"Are you trying to tempt me? First I'll say yes to chocolate and then roses, and the next thing you know, you have me wrapped around your little finger?"
"I'm just being nice," he reprimanded her.
She snorted. "Nice with an angle isn't the same thing as just being nice."
"So what do you say, Lois? Can I get you anything before I go?"
"As they say in Dutch, 'nr.' That means 'no', by the way. No to the chocolate and no to you."
"We'll see," he predicted, noting the teasing undercurrent in her tone. "I can be *very* patient and chocolate can be *very* tempting."
"Hah!" She snorted again, a full grin making her a sight to behold. "The day I can't handle a man like you is the day I hang up my hat and retire. And I assure you, I'm not the retiring kind. So bring it on, Kent."
"Have a nice weekend," he tossed over his shoulder as he left the bull pen with a spring in his step that hadn't been there an hour before.
Clark stowed his telescope and his backpack in the rear of his black Jeep Cherokee. He had bought it used three years ago and had added only around 6,000 miles in the time he had owned the vehicle. A man of Clark's talents didn't really need a car, except as a cover story. So every Friday night he drove about ten miles out. Purportedly, he went hiking and stargazing in the wetlands; but, in reality, he parked in a commuter lot that backed up to a densely wooded state park and, under cover of darkness, flew back to Kansas.
He had an experimental aircraft stowed in an outbuilding at the farm that he hauled out to complete the show. He bought it for a little bit of nothing the first year he went fulltime at The Planet. The engine was beyond repair, but it suited Clark's needs.
This time of year the sun set way too late for him to catch dinner, but Mom always saved him a piece of pie.
Dad and he took turns being quiet tonight while Mom chattered on about the stuff of life in Smallville. She had volunteered to judge an art competition for the scholarship Elmyna Simmons sponsored in her late husband's memory, but Elmyna's son, Pete, wanted to find someone with better credentials.
"I have enough credentials to tell you what I like and what I don't like. If talent takes an expert to recognize, it's probably not much to write home about," Mom concluded before switching gears to tell Clark about the new hair stylist Dad visited after Cassie Sherman retired.
"Your dad didn't much care for her styling techniques, did you, Jonathan? But I think it looks cute, in a George Clooney kind of way. What do you think, Clark?"
Clark mumbled some kind of an answer, but his mind was half a continent away wondering how his favorite brunette was spending her downtime.
Lois yawned, yet again. Today was supposed to be her first big day to buckle down and study, yet she was finding it difficult to keep her mind on the books.
She had started off on the wrong foot. She had overslept. The alarm was set for five thirty but her eyes hadn't blinked open until quarter to nine. She didn't ever remember turning the alarm off. By the time she had showered, dressed, thrown a little make-up on and hiked halfway across campus to the cafeteria, it had been closer to her normal lunchtime than breakfast.
She had planned on hitting the books for seven or eight hours today, about two hours on each of her subjects, with a little time set aside for straightening her room and laundering her clothes.
But two hours into the studying process she still hadn't accomplished anything and her stomach was growling too much to ignore the midday meal. Even worse, she was tired. While it was true that Friday was her late night at work—it was around one this morning that she had finally plopped into bed and then was frustrated that sleep hadn't immediately welcomed her—that was no excuse to fall into bad habits she could ill afford. She was no slacker; she was 28, for heaven's sake.
She just needed a change of pace. It was time for some lunch. After carefully gathering her books and papers, she crept through the stacks and down the library stairs.
Five minutes later, she dumped all extraneous supplies on her desk at the dorm. The ear-splitting snores informed her that the errant roommate had finally returned—smelling of booze, wearing last night's clothing and sprawled across the wrong bed. Lois wrinkled her nose in disgust, hoping that a little extra soap and fabric softener would get the odor out of her bedding.
She opened a window and then reviewed her supplies: the new sketchbook she had purchased along with two sharp art pencils and the largest art gum eraser available, her student I.D. and the cafeteria credit account. She had no idea how to study for Drawing I. Yesterday, Prof. Buscht had only reviewed the syllabus and lectured on the creative process. Aside from a sentence on plagiarism, Lois didn't even jot down any notes. Still, Lois was shooting for a 4.0, so she was determined to study as best as she could.
She had never tried drawing before but the class had fit both her fine art requirement and the Monday, Wednesday, Friday twelve PM — one PM time slot she wanted to fill. Besides, how hard could drawing be? They taught it in kindergarten.
Lois raised an eyebrow as she reviewed her moth. She wanted to pick a subject that would sit still long enough to be drawn. The moth had obliged, but an hour and a half later, her drawing still didn't look very moth-like. She couldn't identify what was wrong with it; it just didn't look right.
Perhaps she just needed to play. Artsy-fartsy types never took life this seriously, right? She flipped to a new page and began a quick sketch. Just a fun, five minute exercise to say she had tried.
An oval turned into an eye with a little crease above and a little shading below. She added a little extra shading to the iris; she was in the mood for a little darkness and depth in her drawing. A few scribbled lines added an eyebrow which she teased into shape with quick, clear strokes. She moved up to the hairline, drawing dark hair that waved up and back. She added an ear and then filled the hair in around. Thinking glasses might be a fun challenge, she sketched in some frames.
Lois was just slipping the ear piece onto her drawing when it occurred to her how much her artwork resembled Clark. True, it was an amateur's hasty attempt and it was only the left side of the face, but the jaw line looked as strong as Clark's. The eyes were dark and mysterious like Clark's. The glasses were somewhat like Clark's, albeit popular frames. The hair was also styled like Clark's, the way it was windblown on their walk back from the Thai restaurant last week. And…
…And it was time to close the sketchbook for awhile and go study biology before her own biology reminded her of things her heart didn't want to hear.
"So I thought maybe it might be nice if I gave her a few little gifts every now and then, you know like…" Clark drifted off, at a loss for words. He was slumped over an empty coffee mug at the table, the remnants of lunch still not cleaned up as he lingered with Mom.
"Like a care pack?" his mother inquired.
"Exactly!" Clark snapped his fingers. "Like a care pack. She is a college student, so it's entirely appropriate to send her a care pack. I can send it to her at school, so it looks very 'care-packy'. I wonder if I should sign my name…" Clark picked up his empty mug and headed over to refill it.
"Why ever wouldn't you sign your name?" Martha's voice rose in confusion.
"Oh, we're still working on this trust thing…" Clark explained as he headed back to the table, "…what with me being a man and all that." He placed his cup on the tabletop and laced his fingers over the chair back.
"Lois likes women?" Now, Martha was truly confused.
"Oh, no. It's nothing like that," Clark reassured her. "I'm sure she would have mentioned *that* to me. No, it's more like 'you men are all alike.' Yeah, and 'every man has his angle.' That's more like it. We're still friends and everything. We're just working on the trust thing so we can go beyond friendship. But I'm patient and she's still there, so it's working."
"And you think that by sending her anonymous gifts to her college address, she'll see that not all men have an angle. Hmm?"
Clark missed the sarcasm in his mother's voice. "Precisely! So will you help me? I've never really done this before, you know? I've had dates—you know that—but none of them were like Lois. They were all nice girls who were happy to go out once or twice, just for a diversion."
"But Lois isn't nice?" Martha was egging him on now, but Clark didn't appear to notice. He was up and walking again, but Martha doubted he realized he had begun to slowly pace.
"She is so much more than just nice. She has way too much energy to be nice. Lois is… She's… phenomenal! And dating her would be so different than anything I've ever done before."
"Because you're dating her against her will."
"Not, yet. But, I will."
"Clark," Martha pointed out, "you have an angle."
"Yes, but it's not the angle that she thinks I have. This would be good for Lois, too. She's so driven. She never takes any time to relax and enjoy herself. She reads, but she doesn't really hang out around the water cooler and shoot the breeze. It's all about school and work, with her. It works for her because she's brilliant and charming and sharp, but imagine what she would be like if she took the time to laugh every once in a while."
"And you could give her all that." Martha truly was concerned. Clark wasn't usually so pushy, particularly when it came to women.
"If she wanted it, and I think she will, then, yeah. Maybe." He quit pacing long enough to catch his mother's eye. "So will you help me?"
Martha sighed. He looked so sincere in his pleading that it was difficult to deny him. "What do you want?"
"What goes into a care pack?"
"Well, each one is a little different. Usually, you send food, and sometimes other things that might interest the person. I guess you send something that's difficult to find on a college campus."
"I'm not even sure what food I should send. I'm pretty sure she doesn't like chocolate. I know she doesn't drink soda and she can get all the coffee she wants at The Planet."
"Cookies ship pretty well," Martha pointed out.
"Or I could bake up some apple tortes," she suggested. "The early apples are in, and they are sure sweet this year."
"That's a great idea, Mom. But that won't fill up a nice shirt box, will it? What else should I send?"
"What else does she like?"
Clark sunk back into his chair. He took a long drink of coffee as he thought.
"She likes to read. She's carries a book with her every day to work, although I've never seen her read it. Probably that's just because we eat lunch together, and I'm much more fun to talk to. But anyway, she was reading this book, and it looked like it was in French. Maybe I could fly to Canada on the way home and pick up something for her to read. I'll look for bilingual signs and hope I luck out enough to find an English-speaker who sells French books."
"I don't know, Clark. That sounds kind of dangerous," Martha worried. She drained the last tepid drops from her own coffee mug, and then began gathering plates together.
He was confused. "What's dangerous, Mom?"
"The flying," she stated matter-of-factly.
"Mom, I fly here every week. What's dangerous about that?"
"But you take security precautions when you fly here," she insisted. She picked up the stack of dishes and placed them in the sink. "You have a cover story in place, and you fly pretty late in the evening when you'll blend in better. Besides, this is a small town. If you flew to Quebec, you would have to go earlier, you wouldn't have a cover story, and more people would be likely to see you."
"And since nobody knows me, I wouldn't need a cover story to explain how I got there. With all those people, the folks there are used to not really noticing everything. Who really looks up, anyway? Mom, it'll be fine."
"I know you use your powers every day to help here and there, but what you're talking about is different. You've always been careful and surreptitious before. You work subtly and personally. You don't just boldly go flying from city to city."
He took a long moment to consider before he answered. "I promise I'll be as surreptitious as I can, but this is something I need to do. I'll be careful. It'll be all right. You'll see."
With all her studying done, Lois decided to head to bed early. True, she hadn't made a dent in her laundry pile and the sheets still smelled like sweat, perfume and beer, but she had been tired all day.
The only problem was that Saturday night in a co-ed dorm is not a quiet place. Somewhere in the midst of the mist of dreamland, Lois heard it all. There was a gal somewhere in the dorm, although Lois couldn't figure out if it was the floor below or the floor above, that was either being highly entertained in a rather loud fashion or was being attacked. It sounded more like a cheap, adult movie than reality, but the floor actually shook every once in awhile to prove it was live action. Between the loud music, the even louder shrieks and all the accompanying thumps and bumps, it was all quite disturbing.
And, in the fog that was her dreams, it reminded Lois of a night two wars past when the gunshots were still but the noise of the war continued.
Whatever was going on, Lois was in no position to help.
Coming fully awake, she realized that she had to get out of there. She pulled on a pair of pants from the top of the laundry pile and a t-shirt from her drawer. Grabbing a jacket to ward off the autumn chill, she pocketed her keys, snatched up her bag and headed out.
She walked, not truly caring where she went. At the entrance to the campus, she was faced with a choice: a left turn would carry her toward the relative quiet of suburbia with small patches of country tucked here and there; a right turn would bring her toward Metropolis, The Daily Planet and all that the city had to offer.
She might be a little on edge but she was still Lois Lane. She turned right.
As Lois walked she began to notice the neighborhood flow from spacious houses, complete with large yards, to narrower homes with smaller spaces. After awhile the homes were built one practically atop another. Block after block she walked, noting the changes from the well-kept neighborhoods to those with fewer lights and more bars on the windows and back again. Here and there Lois would see the rise of one gang's tags, only to see another gang take over a block or two away.
Lois saw the faces, as well: this one scared; that one determined; another gang-hardened. The drifters sprawled in alleyways. Every so often Lois would spy a girl with a woman's body and empty eyes parading herself, looking for the nearest buyer.
Finally, Lois stopped walking. She found a spot on a low-lying, stone retaining-wall and sat down to get her bearings. In the distance, she watched a master of the night hard at work. It would be hard to say what it was about him that caught her eye. Perhaps it was his lack of gang colors and paraphernalia. Maybe it was that he didn't have his lieutenants doing his work for him. Or maybe it was the fact that she never saw a bit of merchandise change hands from seller to buyer, although Lois was convinced that something illegal was taking place. Whatever it was, she was certain that this man was the one.
She approached openly and cordially, as she had hundreds of times before. She was always careful to keep both hands where they could be easily seen, but she tried not to look as awkward or as frightened as she felt.
"I've heard you're the best there is on this side of town."
The man was thorough in his assessment of her. He was slow to answer. "And you heard this from…"
"That doesn't matter. What does matter is that my gut tells me it's true." She finished her approach, giving the man a hair's breath more distance than normal, out of respect for his position. "So is it true? That you know everything there is to know on this side of town? The who's? The what's? And, most importantly, the why's?"
Once again, silence prevailed as he measured her with his eyes.
"It depends on who I'm talking to," he finally decided.
"If you'll allow me…" She reached in her handbag for a business card. "I'm Lois Lane, newly with The Daily Planet. You can check me out, if you like. You'll find that I only tell the stories that need telling in a way that respects those that need to tell it. I know the rules of the street, and I can play by those rules, you understand."
He nodded before slipping her card into his pocket. This one would take a quite a bit more careful handling before he trusted her. She had no doubt that she would be checked out very thoroughly before he passed any information her way, least of which was his name.
But taking a chance like this was what separated her from the office boys writing up doggy shows and human interest garbage.
She turned and sauntered away. Leaving was always the hardest part, since it left her back exposed to danger.
But, of course, he knew that. And she would have to trust him before he ever trusted her.
On her way back to the dorm, Lois smiled. She wasn't going to be stuck in research for long.
Both his mom and dad were worried as Clark returned on Sunday night, much earlier than he normally did. But it couldn't be helped. If he was going to get what he wanted, he was going to have to take risks. He was going to have to do whatever it took to get Lois to trust him.
Even so, as Clark headed north toward Canada, he found himself smiling. He wasn't going to be alone for long.
Lois was in a good mood as she walked into The Daily Planet Monday evening. She was doing well in her classes. She had a fine groundwork laid for her network of snitches and informants. Heck, she had even been able to get a good hour of studying in on the bus ride back to work. Life was hers for the taking. She put on her loveliest smile as the elevators opened, knowing in her heart that 'Muscles' would be watching.
As the elevator dinged, he lifted his head to watch her grand entrance. Her visage was as charming as ever.
She was a breath of fresh air after a trying day. The stories had seemed to go nowhere—not just for Clark, either, but all across the newsroom stories dried up or hit dead ends. And the grumps all around him were sagging his spirits.
The only thing that afforded him any hope that the day would improve was when he had snuck off during his lunch break to deliver her package.
She took her place among the researchers in the back of the bull pen. It wasn't long before she hit her groove, taking what the day shift had started and running with it.
A niggle in the back of her mind told her that in only a few minutes her white knight across the room would come a courting. It would be best if he found her totally involved in her work, so she plunged deep.
"CK!" A voice from across the room caught her attention.
"Hey, Jimmy," came that silky voice she could recognize without looking. "It's good to have you back. Hi, Ralph."
"Clark, did you miss me?" Lois couldn't help but swing around as she heard a woman's voice that was sultry and pouty all at once. The woman was ten years her senior and dressed in Cher's casual wear. And she had her hands all over Clark.
"It's never the same without you, Cat," Clark affirmed.
He dropped his arms from the bimbo's embrace long enough to give the young guy a one-armed hug with a fake punch to the shoulder—a move that most men saw as highly friendly toward their buddies, but really only made them look as affectionate as a bunch of Marines.
"So how was it?" Clark inquired.
"Boring." "Humiliating." "Infantile." The answers came all at once before 'Mrs. Robinson' complained, "They want me to dress conservatively. Can you imagine? How am I ever going to get my job done while looking like everyone else." Her tone of voice made it quite clear what she thought of everyone else.
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm checking in with HR, and I'm outta' here," Ralph declared as he summoned the elevator.
"See you." Clark waved.
The remaining three headed toward the coffee machine to finish their chat.
"So where is 'Miss Goody-Two-Shoes'?" the woman inquired in a voice of ice.
"Over there," Clark indicated. Lois ducked her head as she realized that all eyes were looking her way. She tried feverishly to regain her stride, but her train of thought had been completely derailed.
"Over where?" 'The Fashion Diva' strained her neck to take a look as Clark continued his explanation.
"She quit the morning after you three were suspended. That's Lois Lane, taking her place."
"She's a little long in the tooth for research, don't you think? And nothing to write home about." Lois gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the old biddy. She believed in standing up for herself, but she couldn't justify her own eavesdropping.
"Lois is okay." Clark's support was underwhelming.
"You wouldn't *believe* what we went through this weekend." That old lady had her hand draped across Clark's chest again. "Our flight was scheduled for Saturday morning, but it was *cancelled*. They bumped us to a Saturday evening flight. We sat on the tarmac for *four hours* before they finally admitted the plane was *too broken* to fly us home. *Can you imagine what would have happened if they had taken off*? By this time, the airlines were trying to find seats for *two airplanes* full of people. They told us we couldn't get a flight out until today at ten, but I was able to use my *womanly charms* to get us a red-eye for three o'clock this morning. So we flew into St. Louis at seven a.m., with a connecting flight that was supposed to leave at nine, but—get this—the *President* flew into St. Louis unexpectedly at nine-thirty this morning to deal with the strike there and the airspace had to be clear. So, every flight was delayed until after eleven. We didn't arrive until after *two-thirty*. *'m* *exhausted*."
At some point, Lois quit listening to the diatribe and just started listening to the drama that retired Rockette oozed as she told it. She pawed on Clark with every point of emphasis. It was sickening to behold.
"So how was your weekend, CK?" Jimmy enquired, but then continued before Clark could answer. "I bet I know what you were doing."
"It was a pretty good weekend. It was cloudy, at first, but when everything cleared up… Beautiful! You ought to go with me sometime."
Lois wondered what they were talking about. She hated being out of the loop all of the time.
"I don't think I could last all weekend long, like you do," Jimmy confessed.
Whatever it was, it required a lot of endurance. Maybe some bravado, if she read Jimmy's tone of voice correctly.
"Come on," Clark beckoned. "I'll walk you down to HR. Let's get this whole thing over with."
They walked together to the elevator and Jimmy pressed the button to summon it.
"It's good to have you both back."
They entered the elevator and left Lois in relative silence, the day shift having cleared out while the three of them had been talking around the coffeepot.
That's when Lois realized that Clark had left without saying good-bye. She knew that someday Clark would replace her on his women-to-do list, but she hadn't expected it to come this early. And she hadn't expected her replacement to be a show horse was ready to be put out to pasture.
It was probably good that it had happened sooner rather than later. This way, she hadn't had the chance to get emotionally attached. Still, she wasn't in as good of a mood as before.
It was nothing, really. Her routine was just a little off.
During Tuesday's lunch, Lois pretended she didn't hear Clark's approach. She submerged herself in her biology textbook as if an introduction to the scientific method was the most fascinating thing she had ever seen. It was a rather sophomoric trick but, since Lois was still just a freshman, she didn't care.
"What are you studying?" Clark inquired, obviously unfamiliar with the cold shoulder.
"School stuff," she muttered without looking up.
"Hmmm, biology," he noted. Apparently the man knew how to read. "That was never my favorite course. Physics was more to my liking—oh, and astronomy, of course."
"Fascinating," she droned.
"So what other courses are you taking?"
Lois chose to take a large bite out of her day-old sandwich rather than answering. She chewed meticulously, mesmerized by her text.
"I've seen you with sociology before."
"And art appreciation, I think."
"Drawing I. Did you really want to talk to me about my class schedule? I can send you my mid-term grades when they come out, if you really care."
"That's nice of you." Clark grinned. He made everything come out all wrong. She was put out and he was making it sound like a virtue.
She tore into another bite of her sandwich. Pit bull meets flank.
"Clark, is this really what you wanted to do with your life?" she challenged him.
"Yes, of course. This is The Daily Planet. What more could I ask for?"
"Kent, you cover stories like, 'Girl Scout Jamboree Big Success.' When was the last time you had a front page story?"
"My interview with you was a front page piece."
"Front page of 'On the Town'," she pointed out. "That's not the same as a true front page story. I've read your work. You're really talented. You could be so much more."
"I like what I do, Lois. Why does all the news have to be so bad? Why can't we report on all the good things that happen?"
"Because, in this business, it's either catastrophe or atrophy. Mayhem and murder sell papers… Besides there's no feeling like the pursuit of a great story. I don't know if you know the feeling…-I mean, how could you really…-of being the only reporter out there when the guns are firing and the bad guys are going after the good guys. A well-written story can change not only public opinion; it can change the world."
Lois stared him down as she proclaimed her indictment. "And you're missing all that, Kent."
"But, Lois, it's not my job to change the world. I do what I can when I can. I try to use my talents to do small acts of kindness everyday. That's a great feeling."
"Maybe we're just two different people going two different places. You don't understand my world, and I don't understand yours. Maybe we'll never get past that."
Lois picked up her trash and headed back to the bull pen. This little lunchtime rendezvous was over.
Lois was making great progress. There was something about anger that motivated her in a way that nothing else did. She had just worked up a good pique, when she felt a warm breath on the back of her neck.
She suppressed her Tai-Kwon-Do instinct, instead spitting out, "What?"
"H…hi," a male voice stuttered over her shoulder. 'Skippy' seemed to regain his emotional balance and tried again, "Hi. I hear you're new around here."
"You're not quite sure?" she taunted. She was in no mood for small talk; she never indulged in water cooler chit-chat before the job was done. "Maybe I've been here the whole time, and you just misplaced me."
'Junior' shifted on his feet, chewing on his lip, as if trying to figure out what to say next. He tried again.
"So you're in research, aren't you? I'm in research, too. Well, sort of. I'm more like the Chief's go-to guy, if you know what I mean."
Lois didn't know, but she didn't care and wasn't about to ask. The answer came shortly enough, anyway.
"Olsen?" Perry's voice thundered across the cacophony of the newsroom. "Olsen! Have you finished fixing my singing fish?"
"Not yet, Chief," 'Mr. Go-To Guy' hollered back. "I haven't even had the chance to pick it up."
"Well, get it out of my office; will ya'?" Perry accentuated his fit by hoisting the offending fish out the door. It flipped across some poor reporter's desk and landed atop the lady's purse.
"I'll get right on that," he muttered in the direction of Perry's slamming door. He shrugged and then focused a bright grin in Lois's direction. "So, the name's Jimmy. And since we're going to be working so closely together and seeing how you're new in town, I could show you around. I'll show you the sights, and then maybe we'll catch some dinner."
Lois let out an exasperated sound that started in the back of her throat and matched the fire in her eyes.
"What is it with this place?" she erupted, not caring that more than a few heads turned her way. "That's the same pickup that Kent used. What? Are you all a part of the line-of-the-month club? This isn't a part of some competition, is it? To see how many women you can bed? Because I've had it with guys like…"
Jimmy waved his hands defensively in front of himself and backed up a step, whether to get her to shut up or because he was concerned with what the irate woman would do next, she wasn't sure.
"Whoa! Whoa! Wait a second," he interrupted.
She quieted down, but her steady glare told him that her tantrum wasn't over.
"I didn't mean anything by it. I'm just being a little friendly. That's all. No harassment intended."
He laughed nervously. She glowered in response. He nodded his head and smiled artificially.
"Okay… Well, I guess we'll talk later. Mm hmm. Bye."
Lois defiantly stared at the retreating figure and then lifted her steaming gaze to the crowd of busybodies.
"And I suppose you all have work to do, too," she projected.
Heads spun back to desktops. Papers flew. Aside from the clackety-clack of keyboards, you could have heard a pin drop.
Lois turned back to her work, but it took her a moment to find her place again. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but in the quiet moment she heard Jimmy's voice across the room.
"So did she say you asked her out, CK? My man!"
It was impossible to hear the response, as the normal workroom clatter closed in before she heard the silky-smooth reply.
It was sociology that purportedly held Lois's attention on the bus ride home, but it was difficult to focus her attention through the ire she had built up throughout the day.
She let out a deep sigh as she disembarked at a fast clip. This wasn't like her at all. It was the first time in years that Lois lacked direction. Oh, she had her studies, and was dedicated to getting good grades, but without a good lead it felt like the real part of her was drying up.
And now she had become some kind of a target for the lonely-hearts club. Frustrating!
It was always a race on Tuesdays and Thursdays to get home from work, eat dinner and make it to class on-time. Lois wasn't sure exactly why she strayed from the path long enough to get her mail but, then again, she wasn't really making good choices these days. So while she was walking through the Student Center, she stopped off at her mail box. The slip she found inside summoned her to the mail room to pick up a package. With a glance at her watch, she made a fast decision. She wasn't expecting anything but, since she was here, she went to the mail room to fix the mistake.
The blond at the mail room wasn't nearly as inefficient as she looked. Still, she managed to cut Lois's schedule to within a razor's edge of being on-time. She thrust a clipboard and a box toward Lois, indicating the dotted line Lois was supposed to sign. Lois checked the label carefully before committing to a signature, but her name was clearly written across the label.
She glanced at the return address, but there was none. The lack of a post script indicated that the package had been mailed on-campus.
That explained a lot. It must have been sent from the bookstore. Her sociology teacher had the nerve to charge $15 for class notes, which of course were a required purchase, but he hadn't bothered to print enough for his class. She juggled purse, box and books into somewhat of a stack and raced off to biology.
It wasn't until after class ended that she gave the box a second thought. She plopped on her bed and ripped open the plain brown postal paper. She tore open the flimsy white box and reached in to grab the notes. But instead of feeling the cool, smoothness of paper, she felt something squish between her fingers. In her surprise, she jumped, sending a shower of baked goods across her bedspread.
She stared at the mess for a few minutes, trying to make sense of it all. This time, she carefully slid her finger under the fold and broke the tape. In addition to the mess she had already discovered, there was a bottle of hot sauce and a saucier-looking novel.
There was no note of explanation. It made no sense. Her family and she had lost track of each other a few countries and a few birthdays ago. Since it wasn't a big loss, she hadn't bothered to notify them that she had demoted herself and was living only a few miles from home. And even if she could scrounge up some semblance of a friendship from her last port of call, it wouldn't explain the on-campus point of origin. It made no sense.
Lois picked up the book as she mused and noticed the final oddity: the book was French.
Who knew that Lois was fluent in French? She had no college buddies who she might have mentioned it to. So whoever sent her the package had been close enough to her to notice the French romance novel she had thumbed through before classes began.
The package had been sent by a stalker.
Lois wondered what the etiquette was. Does one eat food sent by a stalker? It smelled wonderful, but how was she to judge the mental capacities of a thug? If it was drugged or poisoned…
Before Lois could finish her thought, her roommate bounded in, smelling of cheap perfume and unwashed armpits.
"Care package!" she cried. She grabbed a bite of apple thingamabob and devoured it, only asking, "Do you mind?" as an afterthought.
Lois supposed that if her roommate wasn't ill tomorrow, then Lois would eat as well…-if there was any left.
"Hi, Lois," Jimmy greeted her as she settled in at work the next afternoon. Then he clarified, "Not that I mean anything by that. Just saying, 'hello.'"
It was like that for the next few weeks. Jimmy was one of the few at work who were cordial, although he still tended to be overly careful about it.
She really had no friends at school. Conversations floated around her, but she felt no compunction to join in.
The air turned cool. The leaves changed colors and crunched underfoot. Mid-term exams came and went. Papers were handed in. Care packages arrived every other Monday or Tuesday, filled with baked goods and personal items. Life developed a natural rhythm.
And then there was Clark.
Clark held a strange rhythm of his own. He was the only one who seemed at ease around her. He never failed to stop in, frequently asking directly for help in research rather than going through channels. While she wasn't fully advised of any juicy stories, at least he made her feel an integral part of a team.
And he wasn't shy about casually inviting her out on a semi-regular basis. She actually had surfed the internet to come up with a half dozen new languages to turn him down in. Despite telling 'Leisure-Suit Larry' that she had turned down men in over a dozen languages, she really was only fluent in English, French and Spanish. She had worked through an interpreter in Iraq and had left Georgia because she couldn't handle the Cyrillic alphabet. Lois Lane was never one to turn down a challenge, though, so she had found a webpage that not only taught her the word 'no' in half a dozen languages she wanted, it sounded it out for her.
Clark was persistent enough that she had the opportunity to try out every one. She had to give him an A for Effort.
But one Thursday, he caught her in a bit of a mood.
"Feel like stopping on the way out for a bite to eat?"
"I'm cutting a heart out tonight."
"Excuse me?" His eyebrows shot up in a way that left a single curl on his forehead.
"I'm dissecting tonight in biology lab. Better eat light."
"Okay," he agreed. "Let's stop at a diner, then, for some soup."
She watched him for a heartbeat before suggesting, on a whim, "What if I skipped class tonight and we go out and get a couple of tattoos?"
She finally had him. He hesitated.
"I don't know."
"Oh, come on. You'd look great with a tattoo on that bicep. We could get matching tattoos. Maybe in red… Or blue," she suggested. "Get something that reminds you of home. How would 'Mom' look right there?"
"But, Lois. I…"
"Okay, then get a bimbo that dances when you flex."
"I'm a little too conservative for that."
"But that's just it. You're not just conservative. You're all talk. You constantly invite. But I notice you never follow through. You make yourself out to be some kind of Don Juan, but you're really just Cyrano de Bergerac."
"I think you got that backwards. Wasn't Cyrano de Bergerac the man that had all the right things to say?"
"You're missing the point. The point is you never date anyone, Kent."
"I don't want to date just anyone, Lois. I want to date you."
"Yeah, right. Whatever. I'm going to go cut up a frog."
There was something special about Lois's evening shifts. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Lois started work just as everyone else was leaving. It gave her the opportunity to touch base with those who were just finishing their day's work. Then, in the solitude of the night, Lois would take the ball and run with it.
For all the noise and energy of the day-shift, it was equally still at night. Aside from janitors and security personnel, and of course the few who stuck around to put the paper to bed, she pretty much had the floor to herself. And with no morons to get in her way, no one chitchatting about this-and-that, and no management to slow her down, she accomplished quite a bit in her seven hours at work.
Fridays she worked just an hour longer to fill out her schedule. The last bit tended to drag as her eyes began to droop. But sometimes a girl had to do what needed to be done.
But this Friday turned out to be less than Lois expected it to be. She had just finished a less-than-satisfactory brown bag lunch, when *he* walked over to her desk.
"Hi, Lois," Clark greeted her, as if his presence at the office at quarter to seven on a Friday night was normal.
"You've got to stop doing this to yourself, Kent," she reprimanded him. "I know you've made no bones about how you feel about me, but coming in late at night, just to hang out with me and schmooze a bit… It's a little pathetic, don't you think?"
"Actually, Jimmy asked me to come in and give him a hand. Every once in a blue moon, Perry gets the urge to clean out the office, and he always manages to rake Jimmy in, as well. Apparently, last time it wasn't so pleasant, so Jimmy asked me to come in as a mediator."
"Oh, right." She shrunk back, feeling kind of humiliated at her incorrect presumption. "Knock yourself out."
"What are you working on?" Clark inquired, as he read over her shoulder. "Hotel costs in Metropolis?"
"It's nothing really. I just had a little personal work to do, but I'll be back to the old grindstone, as they say." She shut down her spreadsheet and hastily returned to work.
"Are you planning some kind of a vacation?"
"Not really." She was in no mood to confide. "Just making a few plans for holiday break." She turned her shoulder to block his view of her computer screen, hoping he would catch the hint and leave her alone.
"Not that, Olsen. It's a piece of history. That there is an irreplaceable piece of Americana, so get it out of the trash can!"
"That there is a tacky piece of really old, really used junk, Chief. Face it!"
"I better go," Clark muttered. He jogged over to the Chief's office to settle everything down.
And so the evening passed with Elvira, Mistress of the Night, standing watch over the newsroom. Between the announcements Perry made each time he unearthed a great find and Jimmy's tantrums, Lois could hardly research a thing. They sifted through memorabilia from football games and presidential elections and what-nots from newsworthy events over the years. They were the same finds, apparently, that Perry hadn't thrown away last time or the time before, as Jimmy pointed out in increasingly louder tones.
And through it all, 'Romeo' was there to smooth out any misunderstandings between the clans. But he never stopped checking in with her, smiling and waving as he saw fit. It was disgusting, really.
And Lois didn't get a thing done.
She was more than a little bit relieved when she saw the men pack up for the night. Peace and quiet at last greeted her workplace.
"Should I be jealous?"
She jumped half a foot as the unexpected voice breathed over her shoulder.
"What are you doing sneaking up on me in the middle of the night shift?" She tried to cover her fluster with bluster.
"Should I be jealous?" Clark repeated, with just a touch of irritation in his tone.
"Probably," she confirmed. "Jealous of who?"
"Of whom," he corrected automatically. "Jealous of whomever it is you're planning on inviting up for the holidays. An old flame, perhaps?"
"Bite your tongue."
"A long-lost relative?"
"A close relative."
"No, they're all very long lost. I haven't done the holiday relative thing in a long, long time. With my relatives, the holidays were never really worth celebrating. So, got any other good guesses?"
"Hmm… A girl friend that you can't wait to catch up on old times with," he decided.
Clark ticked off the possibilities on his fingers, "Not a friend, male or female. Not a relative. Who's left? An enemy?"
"Hardly. You'll never guess."
"Well, I suppose you'll just have to tell me, then."
"It's none of your business," she reminded him.
"True, but I'm still dying to know."
Lois returned to her work. Clark watched quietly for a long while, content to watch her click away at the keyboard.
"It's for me, if you must know," Lois finally confessed.
"For you? I never would have guessed. What do you need a room for? You have a room."
"They close the dorm for four days over Thanksgiving to give the dorm parents a chance to travel for the holidays."
"Oh, yeah. I remember. I did an article a few years back on families opening up their homes to foreign travelers on Thanksgiving."
"That sounds like it's right up your alley: the true spirit of the season; family and food; sharing American values throughout the world; God and country; blah, blah, blah."
"You got it, only they cut out the blah, blah, blah in editing."
Clark took the precariously balanced boxes from his mother's arm, with a kiss on Martha's cheek for an added bonus.
"Oh, thanks, Clark," she smiled as she greeted him. "I'm just taking some canning out to the cellar."
It was a yearly tradition. Martha would can a little here and a little there all autumn long, letting the boxes stack up in the corner of the kitchen until it was nearly impossible to get three people sitting at the kitchen table. Then, during a weekend visit, Clark would help her store it.
He sniffed the air and speculated, "Green beans, corn," he sniffed again, "wax beans, sour kraut," another sniff, "pickled okra," and another, "plum jelly, peaches, and peach salsa. You've been busy."
She raised her eyebrows in concern. "You can smell all that? Does that mean my seals are bad?"
He chuckled. "Nah, it means I peeked before I picked these up. Why don't you put another box or two on top and save me a trip?"
"Sure, son," she magnanimously agreed. "I'll even get the door for you."
They walked together down the cellar steps and, to maintain tradition, began unpacking Mason jars onto the cedar shelves.
"So how's Lois?" Martha chitchatted.
"She's fine. Actually, I've been meaning to talk to you about her."
"Here. I need a new box. Yeah, I was wondering what you would think about me asking Lois to join us for Thanksgiving dinner."
"Really?" Martha's face lit up. "Things between the two of you are getting that serious that you want to spend holidays together?"
He rearranged the Mason jars, trying to keep all the vegetables clustered together.
"Not exactly; although I am looking forward to introducing my girl to my folks…-not that she calls herself my girl."
"You're babbling, Clark." Jonathan Kent's baritone voice preceded him down the stairs.
"I remember how you used to babble when we first met," Martha gushed. She waited until her husband set down a few more boxes before she folded herself into his embrace. "That's how I knew you liked me."
"*That* was your first clue? I thought you figured it out when I…" he whispered playfully in her ear.
"Dad? Mom?" Clark's blush covered not only his cheeks, but extended to the tips of his ears. "Please, remember I can hear every word."
"I guess he and Lois haven't reached the naughty stage in their relationship, yet." Martha winked flirtatiously.
"Mo-o-om," Clark complained.
"Clark's planning on inviting her here for Thanksgiving," Martha filled Jonathon in.
Clark was grateful to get the conversation back on-track. "Yeah, Dad. The dorms close for four days over Thanksgiving, so Lois was planning on staying in Metropolis at a motel. But I thought she might prefer spending that time with a friend. And I know she's been saving every last dollar for tuition, so this might save her some money, too."
"But wouldn't a round-trip ticket to Kansas be more expensive than four days at an average motel?"
"You're right, Jonathan. And it would have to be two round-trip tickets, since Clark would have to fly with her. Not that I don't mind you inviting her, but it won't save you any money."
"What if I fixed up that old plane so it will actually fly?" Clark suggested.
"Can you do that?" Jonathan wondered.
"All I need is for the engine to make noise, Dad. If I lift up on the structure, I should be able to make it fly just by carrying it along with me."
"Yeah, but won't she notice you holding up the roof?" Jonathon pointed out.
"That's what seatbelts are for, Dad. I'll just fly against the seatbelt, and that energy will make the plane fly, too. Pass me another box; this one's empty."
"I don't think they *had* seatbelts when that old thing was built. Besides, even if it does, I'm not sure those old seatbelts are up to the job. Can you actually fly another person and a plane with you? Have you ever tried that?" Jonathon's voice was rigid with worry.
"And what about the hole in the floor?" Martha worried. "That might make Lois a little bit nervous."
"Obviously I would have to paint it and patch it up before I took her for a flight," Clark decided.
"But you don't have a pilot's license. The airport will surely notice that. And you don't have the time to get a pilot's license," Jonathan pointed out.
Martha suggested, "Wouldn't it just be easier if Jonathan and I came to Metropolis? You can fly us up without all the subterfuge."
"Mom, I can't ask you to do that. We always have Thanksgiving here at the farm. Besides, Lois didn't sound like she'd ever had any really good holidays with her family, and I was hoping to show her what a Midwest Thanksgiving felt like."
"Well, Clark, I think everything changed the moment you called us and said you had met the woman you wanted to marry." Martha smiled as she continued. "Whether we have it in Metropolis or Smallville, it's going to be different; but it will still be a Midwestern Thanksgiving no matter where you hold it."
"Okay, then," Clark conceded. "Let's plan on Thanksgiving at my place, just the four of us."
Tuesdays and Thursdays were Lois's favorite days. She put in a full eight hours at the newspaper before she had to run off to class. There was a bit of a spring in her step as she entered the bullpen on Tuesday morning.
She slid into her chair, sorting through the stack of papers she hadn't put away the night before. She glanced up as Jimmy walked by her desk. "Hi, Jimmy."
"Hiya, Lois," he smiled and waved in response.
"What do you mean by *that*, Olsen?" she barked. It was fun to toy with the kid since he was so easily scared. True to form, his eyebrows shot up. She squared her shoulders and willed her smirk away.
"Just a hello. Nothing to worry about."
"Good." She firmly decided with a curt nod. "Let's keep it that way."
Out of the corner of her eye she could see 'The Happy Newsman' looking at her. He'd been watching her all day yesterday. Actually he was always watching her, but this time was different. Kent was definitely up to something.
"You going to the art exhibit at the Metropolis Museum?" Clark asked as he slid into the seat across from Lois at lunch. He wanted to tempt her, so he had zipped down to the Thai restaurant she had enjoyed so much. They didn't normally do take-out, but Clark could be persuasive when he needed to be.
"Why would I?"
"Well, it's kind of an academic thing, so it might get you extra credit for that art class you're taking…"
"Who says I need extra credit?" Lois retorted.
"And if we went together, it might be fun."
She appraised him carefully. Normally, she whipped out those "no's" with speed and efficiency, but this time she seemed to be waiting for something. Maybe she was thinking about saying yes.
Instead, she simply sighed and turned back to her sandwich. The bread looked rather soggy and sad.
He rattled his bag more than was really necessary as he unpacked the contents. He could almost see her salivate as the aroma wafted across the table.
"I'm getting tired of telling you 'no'," she finally muttered.
"Well, then try saying 'yes'," he encouraged.
She flashed him a glare that said everything.
"Okay, then let's make an arrangement," he suggested.
She growled and bit into her sandwich.
"We can at least agree that we're friends, right?"
"Define friendship," she challenged him.
"Lo-is, don't do this. You know what I'm talking about. I enjoy being with you, and I'm developing a trust in you. And every so often, I get the impression you feel the same way."
She shrugged, but didn't quite meet Clark's eye. They ate in silence for several minutes, while she mulled it over.
"You're not *bad* to work with," she obliged.
"Well, thank you very much."
He took a moment to choose his words carefully. "And as a friend, if you're really uncomfortable with the idea of dating me, I will respect that. If this is what you want and if the status quo is making you crazy, I promise I won't ask you out…"
"…for a little while. At least, not for a few weeks. Just to give you enough time to get your wits about you again."
Lois smirked, but Clark enjoyed it as she caught his eye at last.
"But you can't hold it against me if I ask to do some *friendly* things with you. Like this lunch, for instance. I went in hungry and ordered way too much. Did you want some?"
Lois didn't say anything for a second, although she held a flame in her gaze as she considered the fiery feast spread in front of him. Clark held his breath in anticipation. She held out longer than he thought she would, but she finally acquiesced. He made great show of looking for plates and utensils, without mentioning that he had stashed enough for thirty take-out meals the day before.
It was all that Clark hoped for. The food was okay, but sharing it with Lois made it exquisite.
Yet, he still wanted more.
"Oh, and one other thing…" Clark mentioned with an ease he did not feel. "I think you should come to my house."
"You just promised you would quit asking me out," she pointed out.
"Not for a date," he clarified, "but as one friend doing a favor for another. I want you to stay at my apartment for Thanksgiving break."
"That's a downgrade from your previous invitations? You don't want to date, you want to shack up?" Her voice shot up in both tone and volume.
He tried to sound steady and reassuring. "It wouldn't be like that, Lois. You can bring a chaperone, if you prefer. Invite a friend who needs a place to stay. Hire a bodyguard. I don't care. I just hate to see you squirrel away every penny for weeks just to throw it away on some dive that doesn't deserve it."
"Ahn nee yoe!" Lois shouted, her eyes afire.
"I take it that's a 'no' in Japanese?"
"Korean. And I learned the moves at the dojo to back it up."
Lois was angry, furious, livid…but smart enough to eat every bite of her tasty lunch. She was giving him the silent treatment—now, while still communicating her rage. She chewed like a tigress devouring her mate. Oh, yes, she was good and mad now!
She finished her lunch and fastidiously slammed her paper plate into the trashcan, storming from the lunchroom. When Kent fell in step at her side, she stomped past the elevator and up the stairs. Surprise, surprise! Kent was foolhardy enough to join her, as if she was simply going for a stroll. She quickened her pace, but he matched it with ease.
She needed to clear him out of her mind and get back to work. If only her work for the day held interest, but she was preparing information on zoning regulations and safety standards for houses of horror. She so hoped that some political figure was trying to skirt those standards, since it would be entirely worth her time to catch someone like the mayor trying to break the rules. But she was afraid it would be some feel-good article—like Kent wrote—to reassure the public of a safe and happy Halloween.
She sighed. This just wasn't her day.
As he cleared off his desk Wednesday evening and shut down his computer, Clark glanced Lois's way. Although she appeared to have cooled down since yesterday's lunch, it was difficult to ascertain how cordial she would be. He was slow and cautious as he neared her desk for his traditional goodbye.
Then he heard what she had to say. She grumbled in a voice so low she had no way of knowing he could hear her, but it was a nasty enough insult that he was sure it would be effective down at the wharf.
"Bye Lois," Clark tossed out as he hurried past her. She was in no mood for him to offer her anything, and he wasn't fool enough to try.
The quiet of the bullpen was a warm welcome as the day shift cleared out. But it couldn't quiet the unrest in her soul. As she went through the motions of processing her work, her mind continued to mull over the whole conflict with Kent. She was still angry with 'Mr. Can't-Take-No-For-An-Answer', but she was also angry with herself.
It wasn't like her to let something get under her skin like this—okay, that wasn't quite true, but it wasn't like her to let a *man* get under her skin. Normally, she turned down any invitation painfully and decisively and moved on. It irked her to no end that she was still irked over Kent.
It meant that she was losing her edge. She didn't care and that made her the best in the world. But now she cared enough to be angry, and that meant she cared.
But of course that wasn't really it. In the past she had always had a good story to vent her emotions into, and now all she had was a desk job. It was like giving a starving child a job in a donut factory; she was near the news, but she couldn't actually fill her own vital need to partake in the chaos of the news business.
She fantasized about asking Glen if she could use a bit of her time this evening to go meet some local prostitutes since she didn't have any among the snitches she was courting. She could just envision the look on the poor man's face. The idea was ridiculous enough to give her the giggles.
She found herself laughing until her bladder ached. She stumbled from her desk and down the hallway. The cleaning lady gave her a second glance and then mumbled under her breath in Spanish. She probably thought she could insult Lois's intelligence all she wanted and Lois wouldn't understand a word, but Lois graciously corrected her. She was not borracho or drunk, she was agotado or exhausted.
Yes, that was it, Lois concluded. She was simply too tired to be thinking straight. Kent had nothing to do with it.
Clark was a glutton for punishment. He was probably certifiably crazy but, since he was crazy in love, he just couldn't help himself.
It hadn't begun that way. He had gone through his normal nightly routine: keeping his eyes open for subtle ways to help as he walked home, stopping at the deli for a fresh salad and sandwich, and then continuing in his walk—helping wherever he could. Normally it gave him a sense of peace and accomplishment to assist those who needed a hand the most.
Yet, tonight, peace eluded him.
It was Lois.
He wasn't sure exactly how to make it right with her, yet he somehow knew that each day in which she was mad at him was going to be worse than the day before. Never go to bed angry, his mom always said. But how could he make amends?
So with his head hanging just a tad, he found himself returning to the bullpen as bedtime neared with only a trumped-up excuse to get him in the door.
It took a few hours but with concentrated effort Lois was finally able to hit her groove. She might have a nothing job, but she was the best of the best at this nothing job. She hoped by making other people look good that her own efforts would eventually be recognized and rewarded. But then again it was always possible that those other people would take all the credit and she would have to do something more drastic to get attention.
"Hey, Lois," 'Mr. Let's-Shack-Up-Sometime' casually greeted her as if he belonged in her life at this time of night.
She let out a strangled groan and walked away. She had promised herself she wasn't going to do this. She was simply going to leave her private life at the door and lead a dignified, professional night shift.
But instead Kent showed up in her evening sanctum and followed her, so she was forced to hide out in the ladies' room. She waited with one ear pressed to the door, but she never heard his footfall retreat.
"Lois? Are you okay?" he finally asked in an embarrassed voice.
"Of course I'm okay."
She threw the door open and stormed back toward her desk, detouring by the coffeepot to fill another Styrofoam cup with fully caffeinated sludge.
"What do you want?" she asked in an accusatory tone. "We've already determined that it's pitiful for you to hang out at my desk and make moon-eyes at me. And I know you're not here with Perry and Jimmy. So why do you do this to yourself, Kent?"
"I need your help," he began, but she cut him off before he had the opportunity to embarrass himself further. That was her job. She would cut him off cleanly and decisively and hopefully painfully enough that he would end this.
"You need more help than I can give you. This is pathetic."
She wasn't going to give him the opportunity to say what they both needed, so he interrupted her. He hoped to find the words that would get both her attention and her forgiveness.
"I need your help on a story."
Lois stilled, weighing her options. On the one hand, this held the opportunity to get her name in front of the right people… if the story was big enough. On the other hand, Kent could always be plotting to have her do all the work so he could sleep with her and steal the story.
"Keep talking," she instructed. She would need a lot more information before she could make a decision. He pulled up a chair and straddled it backwards.
"I've been preparing for an interview I'm doing for the business section."
"I thought you worked for 'On the Town'."
"Normally, I do. But I befriended a man who normally doesn't give interviews, who works for the board of a large company that controls the interviews. I wasn't looking for a story, but he came to me asking me to help him make a big announcement for his company. We set up an interview for a few weeks down the road when the enterprise would be ready."
She grabbed a notebook as he began to talk details.
"You've only been in town for a little while, so you haven't heard about Lex-Harbor. It's a riverfront restoration project that began thirteen years ago. There was a street gang that specialized in arson that burned down much of the West River area. The land that was left was underinsured in a high-crime district, so when the lots were bought up and the restoration was suggested, it seemed like a good idea… to almost everyone. That is until it was held up in court cases for a dozen years. There was a fight about zoning when the city sold a small park to a private venture. Then the environmentalists sued because a rare duck lived in the park. And there was another group that got into the act because the land was declared 'blighted', so a different set of rules was going to be used if any sales tax was collected. But there wasn't much the courts could do since the birds were removed from the endangered list and the laws were clear on the 'blighted' issue."
"That's quite the history," she acknowledged. "So where's the project now? Can we shop there yet?"
"Not yet. The list of opponents goes on. In the beginning, there were allegations that the city council was coerced to sign off on the deal without taking the time to do the proper studies, but nobody paid attention. Then there was the fact that it was entirely a union job, and the unions in question were infamous for how well organized they were, if you get my drift."
"Mobsters," Lois concluded. "But everything's unionized in a city of this size. It doesn't necessarily mean anything."
"That's what I thought. But then I was contacted by someone with information I couldn't possibly pass up—information about how the mob might still be involved and might be planning on using this venture to give a legitimate front to their illegal activities. I'm sure it's not a bad money laundering opportunity either."
She threw her notebook on the table. "So what do you need me for?"
Clark felt like crossing his fingers to jinx out the lie. The truth was that he didn't need her. Well, at least he didn't need her for the story. But she had always underestimated him, so she couldn't possibly know how capable he was of doing investigative journalism.
Of course, he was only here to get his foot back in the door with her. But he couldn't exactly admit that he had an angle, so he was prepared to humiliate himself in front of her.
"I need someone with your edge, Lois. It's been awhile since I've done feature stories. I was hoping you could brainstorm with me."
Brainstorm. He wanted to brainstorm. Well, Lois Lane could brainstorm, she supposed, but she wanted to know what was in it for her, first. She wouldn't mention that she was dying for just a taste of the old life of mobsters and danger and investigation and revelations and the stuff of life. She would pretend that this was a balanced negotiation and that she could easily walk away without a second thought. In essence, she would negotiate and she would lie. And she would get what she wanted.
Lois went to bed that night with a slight smile on her face. It was a piece of cake getting 'Mr. Smalltime-Reporter' to agree to putting her name on the story—'with special assistance from Lois Lane.' And she actually enjoyed brainstorming with him. They had talked about the story; she had given him a little bit of insight and he had walked away with some direction on where to begin an investigation of this magnitude. And after a little bit of chitchat, he had promised to keep her apprised on how the story was progressing.
All in all, it turned into a pretty good day.
It helped that 'The Libido' hadn't mentioned his idea of shacking up to save a few bucks over the holidays. She was still on edge over that one, even though she had decided to set her feelings aside for the sake of professionalism.
She had actually enjoyed being with him this evening, so maybe when she finally cured him of his hormone-driven ways they could become something akin to friends. But of course, there really was no cure for that kind of thing. He could be eighty years old and still chasing around ladies with walkers and curlers in their hair.
But working together tonight had been a good time.
The smell of nutmeg and pumpkin filled the house, married to the sound of the big football game which crept out of the den. It was this smell of food and this feeling of comfort that Clark had always associated with home. The contentment and security of the farm, coupled with his ability to relax was something he looked forward to all week long, every week. There was a happily-ever-after here that he hoped to duplicate for his own home and his own children. Which, of course, left Clark wistfully thinking about Lois again.
For his entire adult life he had looked forward to his weekends at home, lingering as long as he could before bedtime on Sunday. He postponed his travels back to Metropolis for the last minute. He enjoyed his job at the Daily Planet, but the grind of the nine to five just couldn't compare to the aura of home in Smallville.
Yet, for the first time, he found himself a man divided between two homes. The home in Kansas was as secure as it had ever been. Yet Lois was near the home in New Troy, and the promise of what the future might hold there was calling him back.
With a thank you for Mom's latest baked-good addition to his care pack and a promise to return in time for brunch and Sunday services, Clark found himself returning to Metropolis a day earlier than he normally would have.
Lois bundled her coat tighter around her. She had been walking for nearly five hours now, checking on her budding group of informants…building trust and establishing her network. She was a long way away from being on the inside, but at least she had her foot in the door. However, in the time it had taken Lois to go into the city and return, the temperature had dropped noticeably, with gusts of wind that went right through Lois's fashionable but thin coat. At least she was near campus now, with a warm bed only a few minutes away.
The clouds hid the bright moon as Lois wearily hiked past the last of the sororities and frat houses. Though the local bars would be closing soon, the loud music advertised that the beer was still flowing on this side of town. The party overflowed the dive owned by the local Phi Kappa Beta Alpha Epsilon Gamma… Whatever house.
"Hey, sweetheart…" The voice didn't slur, but the smell of sweat and beer slipped the secret of the man's inebriated state. "…would you like to come inside? I would love to show a fine lady like you a good time."
The choice words Lois responded with would never make it into print in a newspaper like the Planet, but they told the drunkard exactly what she thought of his invitation. His comrades whooped and hollered in reply, showing they had imbibed to excess as well. Muttering under her breath, she hurried past the disgusting display.
She paused in front of the large windows of the library to glance behind her. Sure enough, she noticed that the brute from the party had decided to follow her down the sidewalk.
That was fine with her; she was prepared for anything he had to dish out. She quickened her pace, feeling the burn across the backs of her already tired calves. Another cloud flitted past the moon, further darkening the already shadowed path. She headed toward the light of the science building, following the sidewalk that was the best lit—leading from the educational college to the school of the arts. But the light bulbs couldn't keep the drunken Greek from catching up with her.
At the pressure of his hand on her shoulder, Lois swung into action. She hadn't practiced her Taekwon-DO patterns all those years for nothing. With the ease of practice, she pivoted, planting her right foot at the base of his instep and swung with her left. He blocked her; but he expected her to strike with her arm and totally missed her leg as it swung up and hit him in the cheek. He grunted as he collapsed in pain.
She ran past him, hoping to find safety near the more frequently trafficked section of sidewalks ahead which led to the dorms. But far from the cacophony of the Saturday night parties, it became apparent that the footsteps echoing off the buildings around her weren't just her own. She pushed to her top speed, grateful that she was unencumbered by her usual books and purse. A slightly uneven section of sidewalk set her off-balance. She stumbled, struggling successfully to stay on her feet and managing to regain her stride. But the trip had slowed her down enough for the footsteps to close in on her.
A hand grabbed her shoulder. She twisted, hoping to break the grasp, but it soon became clear that the gorilla from Greekland had brought all of his friends. They all spoke at once, taunting and cursing, but Lois had heard it all before. She struggled to focus her attention on breaking free; but where one attacker left off, the next seemed to fill in.
She focused her attention on her surroundings, ignoring the taunts and curses that seemed to envelope their portion of the campus. She bit, she lunged, she kicked and punched. Each defense seemed inadequate to the task, but Lois was no quitter. She kicked again, but this time a shift in weight pushed her down to the ground.
All at once the weight on top of her lifted. Lois took advantage of the opportunity with a flurry of punches aimed at the face of the nearest thug. She struggled to right herself as she got her feet beneath her.
"Lois! Lois!" the goon called. "Stop! It's me. Clark."
Her arms still held in a defensive position, her feet ready to strike again, Lois regained her composure.
She looked around to see five, six, seven men passed out around her.
"It's all right. I took care of them. Are you okay?" His voice couldn't hide his fear as they both assessed her condition.
"I'm fine," she lied. She could see the tatters that remained of her good jeans and could feel the wind whip through holes in her coat—one of them must have had a knife. She could feel the pain edging past the adrenaline. Her palms and knee stung from where the sidewalk had burned them. A tickle on her cheek may have been blood. "I'll be okay."
"You're bleeding," he worried.
"Just a scratch," she reassured both of them.
She shuddered as she looked at the men on the ground around her. The original drunk didn't number among them, so that must have made eight in all. She hadn't thought she'd hit him that hard, so he must have had more than just a few beers.
She ambled back down the sidewalk toward her dorm. He paused to gather a few things and then joined her. She struggled to hide a limp with the accompanying pain.
"What are you doing here?" His words sounded more like an accusation than a question.
"I had some work to do," she told him, knowing full well that she owed him no explanation.
"Lois, it's two o'clock in the morning! What kind of work was so pressing on your day off?"
"And just what are you doing here?" She swung around to face him, stabbing her finger into his chest.
"I… I'm here to… I came to…" Clark's anger softened into confusion. He opened his mouth to explain again and then closed it wordlessly. Finally he reached out, chagrined, to hand her a brown paper box.
It was battered and dirty, but instantly recognizable.
Lois accepted the package. She nodded silently as if it all made sense. She resumed her walk, only to stop three steps later and accuse him.
"You're the stalker," she stated.
"I didn't stalk you. I sent you care packs." Clark's voice was annoyed as he corrected her.
She reached up a hand to wipe away the blood that trickled down her cheek. It felt tender, like the bruise was going to be pretty bad, but the blood truly was from just a scratch.
"You're bleeding," he repeated, this time taking her hand in his to examine it more closely. Through the dirt and cinders, it was crisscrossed with blood. She flinched at his touch. "You're shaking."
"I'm fine," she retorted, pulling her hand out of his grasp. "Let's get out of here."
"Come on. Let's call the police, and then I'm taking you to the doctor."
"No police. No doctors. I'm fine," she decided.
"But Lois, if we don't call the police these guys will just do it again."
"Even if we do call the police these guys will do it again. I'm not going through the humiliation."
"At least let me take you to the doctor."
"I told you, Kent. No doctors. Going to the doctor is like being raped all over again. Forget it."
"They didn't… I mean, you're okay, right? Never mind, I'm taking you to the doctor." His face looked kind of pale.
Lois sighed and resumed walking. It was pointless talking to him when he was like this. And she just wanted to get back to her room. She wanted to take a shower and put on decent clothing.
Besides, if the man had half a brain he could figure out that she hadn't been violated in that way tonight just by looking at where her jeans were and weren't torn up.
"Come on, Lois. Don't be like this."
"Hah!" She snorted without pausing in her journey. In her peripheral vision she could see him following.
"You never know how these things are going to turn out, Lois. Come on."
"You are so naïve, Kent. In all my years of traveling and war, I've seen things you can't even imagine. You don't think this is my first time getting a bit roughed up."
"Oh, Lois! Are you okay?"
It was cruel, but she had had it with 'Mr. High-and-Mighty-Come-to-the-Rescue'. He waltzed in, bringing gifts, and expected to have a say-so in her life. Well, it wasn't going to happen.
She quickened her pace, ignoring the pain that shot through her ankle.
"You mean, after all this time of asking me out, it bothers you that I've been raped by better men than you before?"
"That's not true!"
Clark seized her shoulder to keep her from walking. She winced but said nothing. He no longer looked ashen. On the contrary, his face was turning rather red.
"I would think I would know my own history, Kent."
"That's not what I mean, Lois. What I mean to say is… Ever since I met you, you've been saying things like that. That better men than me rape, and all men have an angle. But I've never been like that to you…" Clark sighed. "Never mind, it's the wrong time."
He walked with her, his head hanging down. "Let's at least get your cuts cleaned out."
Clark had not only walked her back to her dorm, but into her room, lingering in her doorway like he wasn't sure what to do next.
"Good night, Kent," she ordered curtly.
"Good night, Lois," he answered. "Call me if you need anything, okay? Do you need my number, or do you have a phone book?"
Clark sighed, raking his fingers through his hair.
"Good night, Lois." He sounded defeated. He paused for a moment, then slowly closed the door.
She crossed over and locked it tightly. She was glad that her roommate had left for the weekend. This was one evening she needed privacy.
She crossed over to her drawers and pulled out a pair of loose-fitting sweats and a t-shirt. With a groan of agony, she pulled off her ruined pants and threw them in the trash. The jacket would have to go, as well. But it was too chilly to throw it out before she bought a replacement. The blouse was salvageable, although it would need to be laundered before the stains set in.
She was stiff, and her ankle was swollen; but otherwise, she would be okay. Her cheek would heal in just a few days—no problem. And her knees and palms would be okay, too—provided she cleaned the cinders and road-grime out before the wounds got infected. She pulled the sweatpants and t-shirt on and gathered her bathing supplies.
It was then that she realized that she had never actually heard Clark leave. She tentatively called out, "Good night, Clark."
"Good night," he replied.
"I mean it, Kent. Get lost!" she ordered.
What was he expecting to do? Stand guard all night?
To Lois's relief, there was no sign of him when she opened the door to walk down to the bathrooms. She would kill for a private bathroom with a real tub, the kind with massaging jets that fluffed up a bubble bath fit for Hollywood. But she was stuck with a barely contained shower that was probably painted black to cover up the mildew stains.
She bit her lip to keep from screaming as the water hit her body. Why was it that there was never any water pressure when she wanted it, but tonight, on the night she couldn't handle it, there was enough water pressure for the whole Met Net cheerleading squad? She finished her shower with as much speed and efficiency as she could manage.
She had another nasty surprise waiting for her when she returned to her room.
"Kent, what are you doing here?"
"I brought you some things," he answered, sheepishly. "Do you mind if we, um…" He gestured toward her room.
"Fine. Whatever. It beats you spending the night out here."
She unlocked the door and let him in. He looked around awkwardly.
"Nice place you got here. I like the study area you have set up. And is that a Spanish book I see there? What are you doing studying Spanish?"
"Kent, did you come here to check out my bedroom or check out my class schedule? Because it's almost three thirty in the morning, and I'd rather just send you my report card."
"Yeah, okay, um… Where do you want me to put all this?"
He opened a plain paper sack and started unloading it onto her desk top. He set aside some gauze and medical tape, and then continued to unpack.
"First thing, this is arnica. It's a homeopathic remedy for shock and bruising. You'll want to take five or six of these little pellets and let them sit under your tongue. I hope we haven't waited too long, since you need to take it as soon as possible to get the full benefit."
He continued to unpack. "Next, after you've cleaned those wounds with antibacterial soap and water, you're going to want to use this salve. I'm not sure what's in it; it's the kind my mom always uses. She's the real herbalist."
The next mess he pulled out looked vile and exotic. "Then you're going to want to put on this poultice. This is Echinacea, garlic, aloe, plantain and comfrey. I recommend you put it on for four hours or so today—leave the paper towel in place, you don't want a mess. I'll make another fresh one for you tomorrow, and then we'll reassess. Okay?"
She wasn't sure exactly how to respond.
"What is all this stuff?"
"You said you didn't want to go to a doctor. And you don't want this to get infected. That would be nasty. And remember, I'm on the same medical plan as you are, and I don't want you to be raising the costs for everybody."
"You're a strange one, Kent. But it works for you. Okay, now get out of here. I've got to get some sleep."
He grinned and made his way to the door.
"Oh and, by the way. I did call the police, but I didn't give them your name. They probably already came by to lock them up."
"Actually, the police probably found nothing. Guys don't stay unconscious for hours on end, unless they're really injured. And I doubt you have it in you."
Lois was feeling stiff and sore, but she had to hand it to Kent. There was barely any bruising on her cheek, and her hands and knees didn't look too badly infected. She was a little concerned by the amount of filth that she found on the paper towels this morning when she awoke, but there was nothing she could do about that.
She skipped the early morning study session, choosing instead to turn off the alarm and sleep until her body was done. She couldn't afford to get sick or her grades would surely suffer. Of course she couldn't do this all day, since mid-terms were coming up at the end of the week.
Her pace was slower than normal as she strolled toward the cafeteria. She had selected only a single textbook to bring along, instead of her normally tall stack. It would take her a few days to get the kinks worked out. She had thought about doing a few stretches this morning but had wimped out in the end.
She picked out a light brunch. Since pain tended to turn her stomach she wasn't sure she wanted something heavy. She made her selections and sat down at the closest table.
It wasn't long before the table filled up. She continued eating, lost in her thoughts and studies. She was used to letting the dialogue go on around her without getting involved in the conversational dalliances the young kids tended to indulge in. So it was a surprise to her when she heard her name called.
"Kent, what are you doing here?"
Clark looked surprised at her question.
"I told you I was going to come back to check on you and bring fresh herbs."
Lois sighed. If the truth were told, she would rather be dissecting worms right now.
"I didn't ask you to come here today. I don't need some kind of a superhero bodyguard following me around. I need to study."
He sighed and worried his hands through his dark hair. "I know. I promise I'll give you lots of time to study, but first, I want to tell you something."
He looked around at the room, appearing rather tense. "Is there someplace more private we can talk?"
There was no reason for Lois to say 'yes' and every reason in the world for her to say 'no', but yet she was strangely curious. And so she found herself inviting him to join her at the library.
To say that Clark Kent looked uncomfortable would be the understatement of the year. As he shifted and nervously glanced around the room, he looked downright miserable. She glanced around the tiny space. They had landed in the college's listening lab which was lined with alcoves covered in overly large headsets and a wide array of MP3 players, CD players and tape players. Heck, it probably had an 8-track player and a micro-fiche somewhere. There was a large conference room table in the middle of the room where they planted themselves.
Lois had never seen 'Mr. Machismo' looking so ill-at-ease. That left only two possibilities for their little tête-à-têtes—either he wanted details from her personal history or he planned to apologize.
Well, that was tough. She had no intension of supplying details to feed his prurient curiosity. And she wasn't about to accept any apologies, either. That ill-mannered reporter had been pushy and argumentative.
"Let's get on with this," she demanded as she watched him fiddling with his glasses and panning the room, once again.
He swallowed and adjusted his chair. Finally he straightened and met her gaze.
"I have certain… um, gifts… that allow me to do certain… well, things," he stammered.
She wrinkled her brow. A frown descended upon her face. "You brought me in here to brag? *This* is the all-important thing that just *had* to interrupt my studies?"
He was back-pedaling now, waving his arms in front of him. "No, Lois. It's nothing like that," he insisted.
But she was quick to interrupt. "Aw, crap, Kent! You didn't come here to ask me out, did you? Wanted a little privacy to tell me that you weren't asking me on a pity date, since it's more about lust than pity? Well, forget it. I'm not interested. As they say in Portuguese, 'Não'.
He was red-faced as he retorted, "It's not like that. Can't you just give a guy the benefit of the doubt?"
"Whatever." She wasn't about to back down since he had done nothing to redeem himself.
"Okay," he paused to compose himself, "as I was saying… Maybe, I'll just show you. Do you mind if I…?"
He gestured toward her notebook. She rolled her eyes and flipped to a blank page. The large bandages across her palms made mobility difficult; nevertheless, she grabbed her bag and rifled around for a pencil.
Her frown deepened as Clark ripped a page from her notebook and wadded it up. He placed the paper wad on his palm and gently blew.
The paper danced through the air, carried by the breeze, until it remained suspended above Lois's purse. But it did not fall. Instead it hovered mid-air, rolling and flipping and softly bobbing about on air.
There was no hiding the puzzlement on Lois's face. She had always hated illusions—it didn't seem right to feed on the ignorance of the masses. Still, it was her paper so there was little opportunity for him to use magician's thread. Plus, he was working in the open air with nowhere to hide a mirror or hidden pocket.
It was perplexing. Downright queer.
Of course there was also the question of his motive. Waltzing in like 'The Amazing Mr. Stupendous' with his mind-boggling tricks when he knew she was having a rough weekend seemed tacky, at best.
"I don't get it."
With a final whisper of breath the paper came to rest in her purse.
"I have certain gifts that allow me to do peculiar things," he repeated, as if that would clarify it for her.
She tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, just as he had requested. But sometimes it wasn't easy.
"Okay, that was a little bit cool. You stay up late at nights practicing that one? Did you, Kent?"
His eyes fell.
"No. No practice. It's more like one of those freak-of-nature things."
She rolled her eyes. Kent might be unusual, but it was overly dramatic to call his 'gifts' freakish. Oh, pulease.
"Not that I didn't enjoy the show, but the point of your performance was…"
He nodded grimly.
"You told me some pretty serious parts of your life story yesterday. Things I'm assuming you wouldn't want to be revealed to the general public. So I thought you might feel better if you knew something about me that I wouldn't want anyone to know."
"And since you live such a coddled and sheltered life, this is the best you can do. It's sweet of you, really."
He looked a bit flustered. "Well, thanks… I think. But I would appreciate it if you wouldn't mention this around the newsroom, because I wouldn't want anyone to think any differently about me."
"So I can't just say, 'Hey, have you noticed that Kent is a little bit gifted?'"
"Lois, has it ever occurred to you that what I just told you is a big deal to me? Maybe just as big to me as your revelation from last night is to you?"
"Oh, that? That happened years ago. I am so over it."
Her co-worker-turned-psychologist had the audacity to raise his eyebrows at her in disbelief. She dismissed him with a flick of the wrist and continued her diatribe.
"I just moved ahead to the next story, the next country, the next war. No nightmares. No scars. No trauma. No problems."
"Really." Sarcasm didn't suit the touchy-feely reporter.
"Really," she confirmed.
She stared at him defiantly—and won. He dropped his gaze long before she hit her stride.
"So I, um, I'll let you get back to your… whatever it is you'd be doing if I wasn't here."
"Great. Yeah. I'll get right on that." Lois turned her shoulder away from him and flipped open her textbook, making great show of locating the correct page. There was nothing she would enjoy more today than blowing off 'Wonderboy'.
He stood, as if to go, but didn't actually leave.
"Um… Lois, one more thing," he started.
"What is it now?" she hissed.
He hesitated once again. When he finally spoke, it came out in a gush of words. "I'm a little worried about this no-doctors idea. If you're still bleeding, you need to see a doctor. Don't shake your head at me. I know you're still bleeding because one of my freak-of-nature gifts is that I have an unusually sensitive sense of smell."
She couldn't help it. After all the tension in the last half-hour, "The Amazing Carnac's" stupendous blunder was awkwardly funny. She laughed.
"I'm fine, Kent," she assured him through her mirth. "Maybe your Mama never told you this but sometimes women just bleed. It's one of those birds and bees things, 'Mr. Showoff'. It's called menstruation. I just started today."
His head dropped. Clark fiddled with his glasses, nervously staring at the table, her hands, anything but her face. His ears were tipped with red.
"I suppose you're right, Lois. You'll be okay," he finally admitted. "I'll drop some fresh herbs by your room tonight around nine."
She waited until she was sure he was gone before she lunged for the paperwad sitting atop her purse. She picked it up carefully, ignoring a twinge of pain, and analytically held it aloft. Just as she had suspected, there were no hidden strings or magician's paraphernalia. How was it possible for a geek like Kent to manipulate a piece of paper like that?
Experimentally, she placed it on her own palm just as she had seen him do. She blew, mimicking his technique as best as she was able. The paper shuddered a bit, so she gave it another good lungful. It rolled over her fingertips and onto the floor.
She fetched it again and placed it across her bandaged palm for another attempt. This time it rose, spinning circles above her palm. Her eyes widened as she continued to blow. It was the strangest thing to see the paper dance on air, feeling a slight zephyr on her face. And she still didn't know how it was done.
Her lungs ached. She gave up and inhaled. The paper remained suspended aloft for a brief moment longer before falling back into her waiting hand.
A whistled melody from the doorway caused her to look up, catching sight of Clark Kent with his lips still pursed. He ducked as the paperwad shot towards him. Lois Lane may not have been able to suspend paper with her breath, but she could fire a fastball with both hands wrapped behind her back.
Clark sunk into an overstuffed chair, cradling the phone between an ear and his shoulder as he settled a steamy mug from one hand and his dinner from the other onto the well-worn wood of his coffee table.
"Where are you?" Martha worried. "It's not like you to stand us up like this."
He sighed and raked his fingers through his thick hair. He knew her reprimand was born from concern rather than irritation. Still, it would always bother him to worry his mother.
"I know, Mom. It's just that Lois got hurt and needed my help. And with everything going on, I just forgot to call."
"What happened? Is everything all right?"
He quickly decided that an edited truth would be best. He couldn't lie to his mom. And yet he had just tacitly promised Lois not to tell the details. He felt it best to omit the part where it looked like a gang rape in progress, and he wasn't sure his mom could handle knowing his own involvement in the rescue.
"She'll be fine. She just had the misfortune to cross campus too close to some unruly drunks. Lucky for her she's fast, and they were awkward and inebriated. But she fell on the concrete and tore up her hands and knees pretty badly. She's a little bruised, too. I saw the whole thing while I was parking about a quarter of a mile away, so I helped her get cleaned up and made up one of your poultices."
"Poor thing. I take it that it's pretty bad."
"She doesn't have a lot of skin left, but she'll be fine in a few days."
"What are you using?" He could hear his mom switch into a more clinical gear. "Dried herbs are fine, but remember that your garlic and aloe need to be fresh. Not that you'll need garlic very long, only while there's a possibility of infection."
"I remember, Mom. I learned from the best. She was limping, but I couldn't see any broken bones. What do you recommend?"
"That could be a little tougher, but I would start with an ice pack. Last night was probably the best time for that. If ice doesn't cure it on its own, Lois had better get medical advice."
He smiled. It was good to have an ally. The conversation wandered around herbs and healing for awhile, but he had some more pressing concerns.
"Mom, when it all happened and Lois was all hurt and bloody, I don't know what came over me. I said some things that were rude and thoughtless. And now she's acting pretty mad. How do I make that right?"
"Clark, honey," Martha chuckled, "I taught you how to say you were sorry when you were two."
"But Mom, she's so cold. I don't know if she'll accept my apology."
"If the two of you have a future together, that means you'll have to learn to fight fair. If she's too good to accept your apology, then she's not good enough for my boy. But my instincts tell me that you'll work this out. True love can get past anything."
True to his word, 'The Village Healer' returned around nine o'clock. He handed her a large grocery bag with a piece of paper stapled to the folded top.
He never met her eyes as he informed her, "Since you've got directions, I won't keep you. See you tomorrow."
He finally glanced up with a gaze so intent it caught her off-guard.
"And do call me if you need anything. I take care of my friends, no strings attached."
"Sure," she promised, despite herself.
She closed the door behind him, and yanked his instructions from the top of the sack.
Tonight's poultice is the same as last night's. Use it for four hours and then dispose of it. I included some Willow Bark, to be taken internally for pain and swelling. Let me know if you continue to see signs of infection. I also want to know when you see new skin.
The flowers are to say I'm sorry for the harsh way I spoke to you yesterday. I said it was a bad time for it, but truthfully, it's never a good time to be disrespectful or rude. I'm also sorry for your pain. I know you said you were over it, but I am not.
She slid open the paper bag to discover a small bouquet of flowers. Underneath was a large roll of white tissue. She unwrapped it to find a simple glass bud vase. She wasn't much on flower arranging, but she was sure she could manage. As she slid the bouquet into the vase she discovered a small card from the florist's.
It read, simply, "Lo siento," which she automatically translated, "Sorry."
"So what happened to your hands, Lois?" Jimmy asked before she was even seated at her desk.
"Hello, Lois. How was your weekend?" she corrected him.
He rolled his eyes. "Hi, Lois. How are you?"
"Fine, Jimmy. And you?"
"Great. So what happened to your hands?"
She spied Clark's approach out of the corner of her eye and smirked. "When I wouldn't let Clark carry my books, he pushed me over and forcibly removed them."
"Don't believe her," Clark called out. "She was mud-wrestling naked over the weekend and got hurt by a flying chair."
Jimmy looked from Lois to Clark and back again. "So she got hurt, but you both were in on it?"
"She tripped on an uneven sidewalk and fell," Clark clarified.
"While Clark was forcing me to let him carry my books."
"You report stories so well, I'm sure you have a great future at the National Whisper," Clark jibed. He was happy to find her smiling and joking, although concerned at what else may lie beneath the surface.
"Hey, The Whisper's not all bad," Jimmy pronounced. "It's got some interesting stuff in there, too. The latest edition has an article on human pheromones that was truly scientific. According to the article, I'm at my peak. You ladies might want to keep that in mind."
Clark shook his head and continued his work while Cat Grant told Jimmy exactly what she thought of him at his peak.
Clark worked late, although his workload hardly warranted the extra attention. He was simply biding his time waiting for the day shift to clear out so that he could spend a few minutes alone with his girl. Sports and Society went home right away, but the feature writers lingered.
Eventually, he gave up and headed to the vending machines to get something to tide himself over until dinnertime. He was more than a little surprised when Lois followed soon after.
"What are you still doing here?" she interrogated him. "Are you working on the Lex Harbor piece?"
"No, there's no way I could publish with what little I have to go on. It'll probably just run as a straight interview."
"That's a shame. I'll see what I can dig up," she promised. "So what *are* you working on?"
"Just hoping for a few minutes alone so I can see how you're really doing."
She snorted. "You worry about me more than my mother ever did."
He flinched. "I'm sorry to hear that. When did she die?"
She wrinkled her brow. "She's not dead."
"Oh," he sheepishly babbled. "You said before all your relatives were long lost, so when you referred to your mom in the past tense, I assumed she had passed on. I didn't mean anything rude, I just… I was just wondering how you're feeling."
She must have been feeling uncharacteristically charitable, because the pleasant expression never left her countenance. "It's no big deal. If there's one thing you could say about my mother, it's that she's very past tense."
"That's too bad."
"Not really," Lois disagreed. "I only miss her two or three days a year. With enough fudge ripple ice cream even that goes away."
"I can't imagine. I see my mom practically every week. I mean, we talk on the phone. It would be weird without her. So what happened?"
Lois shrugged. "When I was old enough, I wasn't required to stay in touch anymore. So I didn't. It's no big thing."
She leaned against the vending machine and switched subjects. "And the hands are healing fine. I tried going without the Ace bandages today. I put on some big Band-Aids instead, but they were too tender. So I suppose I hang up my pencil for awhile and see if it's possible to type without moving my fingers."
He grinned. "If anyone can do it, it will be Lois Lane."
"And don't you forget it," she warned with a mock glare.
He reassessed his choices in the vending machine. "You know, I'm not as hungry as I thought I would be. Do you want something?"
She barely hesitated before making her selection. So she did like chocolate—fudge ripple ice cream and Double Fudge Crunch Bars.
Lois caught Clark's eye as she headed to lunch. He took the hint and followed her out of the bullpen. Lately he'd been brown-bagging it, as well. It was a nice gesture.
Still, her sandwich couldn't come close to measuring up to his chicken Caesar salad. He added croutons and dressing, closed the lid and shook it up. It looked heavenly.
"Kent, do you remember the other day? The freak of nature, missing link thing?"
He looked up at her, the surprise in his eyes evident. She always took great pleasure in surprising him. It was only right that she was one step ahead and he was slightly off balance. It was the natural order of things.
"Does this sandwich smell okay to you?" she asked.
He looked relieved for some peculiar reason. Maybe he was concerned she would start talking about menstruation again. She made a mental note to bring it up at the first opportunity. It was also the natural order of things to make him squirm.
'Mr. Gifted' lowered his glasses and stared at her sandwich without even asking her to hand it over.
"It's surprising you can smell anything with a deviated septum."
"With a what?" Now he looked delightfully confused.
"A deviated septum," she explained slowly. "You push your glasses out of the way, so you can smell better." She seemed annoyed as he grinned at her. "Never mind, what's the verdict?"
"I wouldn't eat it," he firmly decided. She opened her sandwich and sorted through the contents.
"I wonder if some part is salvageable."
"I don't think so. That white isn't mayonnaise," he pointed out, wrinkling his nose.
With a sigh, she hoisted the whole sodden mess into the trash. "I'm not that hungry anyway," she lied, happy he couldn't hear the growling of her stomach.
"Nonsense," he declared. "We'll just eat out." He stood and started clearing the table as if it were already decided.
"You forgetting anything?" she asked. She didn't budge as a silent statement of her viewpoint. Once again, her companion looked pleasantly caught off guard. "Your little promise?" she prompted.
He grinned. "This isn't a date. I'm just making sure that sandwich of yours doesn't raise the price of our health plan."
"Sure it isn't a date… But it will become one around the water cooler. You just wait and see."
"Then we'll leave separately and I'll meet you there," he suggested.
She groaned. For such a persistent suitor, he was so naive. If this made it back to the grapevine—which it probably would, knowing her luck—it would be way worse than if the two of them just walked together.
"Forget it. I'll just use the extra time to study."
"Which won't be nearly as effective on an empty stomach. Come on. Don't pretend you're not hungry."
"'Nostradamus' knows such things," Lois mumbled under her breath. From the quirk of his lips, he obviously heard.
"My treat. And I won't take no for an answer," he insisted.
"You never do," she retorted.
"I always do. It's not like I've ever dated you against your will."
"Maybe not, but my 'no' was never good enough for you."
He sighed. Would they ever get to the point where a day was pleasant from beginning to end? "So do you want me to bring something back for you?"
"Nah, I'll come along and pick out what I want." She gathered up her books, completely missing the perplexed look on her companion's face.
They talked little as they headed outside. Lois was walking noticeably distant, as far as the width of the sidewalk allowed. If that gave her a semblance of peace, it was fine with Clark. It certainly made things clear to the average passerby that they weren't casually dating.
"Where are we going?" he inquired.
Lois rolled her eyes, communicating without words that she questioned his intelligence. "Jasmine Thai"
"Oh, of course," Clark agreed. "Our place."
He enjoyed her glare. Sometimes paybacks were worth it.
Clark felt pleasantly sated on the way home. Though they hadn't set any conversational records, they had talked and just being alone together was enough for now. Lois must have been feeling more comfortable now, as well, since she was walking in the same time zone he was. He wondered if this could be the right time to ask—not that there was ever a good time to ask Lois anything. Come to think of it, he wondered how he should bring it up—not that there was a good approach. In his deep musing, he found that as they neared work he had slowed his pace to almost a crawl. She looked at him with impatience.
"I'm sorry. I was just lost in thought," he apologized.
She patted him, patronizingly. "I understand. Thought is hard enough for you. I'm sure simultaneous thought and motion must overtax the system."
He frowned but otherwise ignored the snipe.
"I was just wondering… Well, I'm kind of worried, actually… No, not worried. I'm concerned."
"You know, 'Mr. Wordsmith,' the last time you were this uptight you ended up telling me how gifted you were. What's wrong? Did you forget some things you wanted to brag about?"
His frown deepened. Her tone-of-voice was light and teasing, but her words were as sarcastic as ever. He decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her intensions were purely playful.
"It's nothing like that," he dodged back to the original conversation. "It's just… Lois, are you working two jobs?"
"What?" She seemed quite surprised.
"Last Saturday, when you were… and I was… you said you were out late working. But you don't work Saturdays. That is, you don't work for The Planet on Saturdays. But if times are that hard that you need to work two jobs…"
"Kent," Lois interrupted, "there are some aspects of being a world-class reporter you may never understand."
She turned on her heel and stormed into the lobby. Just as he thought she'd slammed the door in his face, she popped it open a few inches.
Lois went to bed early. With mid-terms complete and most of her projects ahead of schedule; the laundry finished and the dorm room straightened, cleaned and even sanitized; there was nothing for a college girl to do on a Saturday night but hang out with friends.
Of course, she hadn't a clue where the student union building was. She wasn't really sure what 'hanging-out' entailed. It would be way too much work to learn at this age. She sat down for awhile, determined to write just for fun as a celebration that her hands were healed enough that she no longer needed the ace bandages. She set out an extra notepad, picked up her favorite pen and sat down to brainstorm. The page looked empty so she started by writing the date on the top right-hand corner.
She wasn't sure what to write, but then again it probably wasn't a good idea to write in ink. She scrounged through the drawer for a pencil, but her lousy excuse for a roommate must have helped herself to Lois's entire box.
She finally lowered herself to searching through her absentee roommate's desk. While she easily located the box of pencils, she also found an accidental fruit-fly experiment. She retrieved the pencils and disposed of the black, oozing piece of fruit formerly known as a banana.
She tried to write, but couldn't concentrate until she had washed her hands and the pencils thoroughly and put clean dressings on her wounds.
She returned to her notebook and glanced at the empty page. She skipped a line and wrote, 'by Lois Lane.'
The pencil was dull, so she scavenged in her drawer for her sharpener. Missing.
She glanced at her roommate's drawer and then jerked it open. The pencil sharpener was hiding under a pile of unwashed socks. She thought about doing a thorough inventory of the contents of her roommate's drawer but decided to postpone it until the little thief was present and available for Lois to vent her wrath upon.
She returned to writing but found it difficult to get the roommate situation out of her head. Perhaps a little pre-inventory analysis was appropriate. She rifled through each drawer, repeatedly suppressing the desire to clean, dispose of, or otherwise organize. None of Lois's other possessions were found, but she did find an identical box of pencils and an identical sharpener.
By this time, she was too stressed to write so she returned her things to their appropriate places and decided to go to bed early.
But it was too early to sleep. She laid awake thinking about what she should write. Nothing came to mind.
She would write her life's story, but there were too many places she didn't want to return to.
A mystery would never do. It didn't seem right to keep secrets throughout the book.
She decided a romance would be a good story. Folk wisdom said to write about what you know. Maybe a wartime romance would be good. But she knew in her heart that in wartime, no one had the heart left for romance. Love died on the battlefield just as easily as the body did.
Maybe she should write about romance at a newspaper. But romance on the job was just a dream. Right?
She was finally starting to doze off when the weekend noise began. She glanced at the clock, it was practically ten. The gal was right on schedule. Once again, it sounded like she was being violently entertained. Lois wondered if this was how she paid for her education.
While the sound didn't provoke Lois's memories on an elemental level the way it did the first time she heard it, she wasn't going to stick around to see if it grew worse as time went on. Experience had proved that the dirty movie soundtrack would continue for hours with only a few short intermissions here and there.
Lois wearily dressed in her Saturday evening work clothes. She wanted to follow up on Clark's story, anyway. Twenty minutes later she was heading into the city. She had some snitches to court.
As Saturday unrolled Clark found his tension level mounting. In the morning he was merely distracted, but by evening he was finding it difficult to finish a conversation with his folks.
He was worried about Lois.
It had been one week since she had taken on a drunken fraternity and won. But the cost to her was rather high. It had awakened unpleasant memories that hurt almost as much as her physical injuries. Well, at least it hurt him almost as much as her physical injuries. Lois still claimed she was so over it—not that he believed a word of that drivel.
He was worried that when it moved around to the quiet Saturday schedule again those memories that she was over would haunt her once again.
Martha had been savvy enough to pick up on his anxiety pretty early in the day. So when he had suggested it might be nice to make a quick trip home to check on Lois, Martha had wholeheartedly agreed.
He pulled his Jeep onto campus and strolled toward her dorm room. He decided to tell her the truth about why he had come, since she always seemed to see right through his excuses. Besides, he couldn't come up with a good excuse, anyway.
He could hear competing stereos emanating from the building, letting the whole world know that tonight was a party night. As he neared her room, he heard the sounds of a woman in distress. He determined he had to come to her aid. He began walking up one hall and down the next—pausing outside door after door, listening carefully.
Wait. That last part didn't sound like she was in so much distress. Maybe she was just loud. What if she didn't realize how loud she really was? What if she was deaf? What if she was an exhibitionist? What if she really needed help?
The room now located, perhaps it would be best if he looked through to see if she was okay. Certainly she would appreciate that if someone were attacking her. Of course if this were her idea of a loud date, she might be very offended—not that she would ever find out.
But, then again, he would know. He wondered what the right thing to do was. Without looking, there was no way of knowing if she needed help. But if she didn't need help, it wasn't right to look.
The sound was dying down. He hoped he hadn't failed a lady in need. He decided it was past time to look. He lowered his glasses and peaked through the wall… and wished he hadn't.
He hurried down the staircase to Lois's room. It wasn't surprising that she wasn't in. The noise had probably driven her out a long time ago. He strolled around campus, but she was nowhere to be found. He was becoming even more concerned. If the noise brought back unpleasant memories where would she have gone? He had to find her.
There was only one thing left to do. Clark jogged to a quiet spot down by the golf course. With no one in view, he pocketed his glasses and took to air. As he suspected, the woman of his affections was no longer on campus. He began to get worried as his search took him farther and farther. Occasionally he checked back in her room, just in case she had slipped by him. But she still wasn't home.
It was well past midnight when he spotted her.
Lois tried not to let the disappointment show on her face. She knew it was too early to ask any serious questions of her future informants. They didn't know her well enough. Not yet. But it still hurt when they let her down.
She kept her senses on high alert as she walked away, knowing that with her tenuous relationship with the guy—she still didn't even know his name or what he did—what she had done tonight put her in extra danger.
She thought she was well out of the line of sight when a hand reached out and grabbed her arm. Instinct brought her through the string of motions without conscious thought, after having rehearsed them for so many years. It went just as it always did at the dojo, with her assailant hitting the ground with a loud thud.
"*LOIS*!" he shouted as he fell.
She glanced down in astonishment. "Kent?"
"What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?"
They glared at each other. He shuffled to his feet.
"Are you stalking me?" she accused.
"Me? Stalking you? No, I'm not stalking you. You attacked me, remember? I'm just here because I was worried about you, not because I'm demented or anything."
"Worried about me? I can take care of myself!"
She sputtered and stormed off.
Clark was not only rash enough to follow, he was foolish enough to speak.
"So what are you doing out here in this neighborhood at—whoa, it's way past midnight—talking to an arms dealer who does a little work as a hit man on the side?"
"You know him?" Lois was clearly shocked.
"No. I mean, you didn't know what he did?"
"No, it's not that… It's just that I'm surprised that *you* know what he does. I didn't know you had it in you, Kent."
"Lois, don't change the subject."
"You did too. I asked you what you're doing hanging out on the streets with an arms dealer in the wee hours of the morning. Do you have some kind of penchant for death?"
"Oh, that. I wasn't changing the subject; I just thought the answer was obvious. I'm a reporter. An investigative journalist—not that sissy, feel-good reporting you do. And investigative journalists have to go where the stories are."
"I'm about to save your life." The unknown voice caused Lois and Clark to spin in unison. Neither was used to being caught off-guard. The object of their attention didn't look up to the task: tall, wiry, and awkward-looking.
"I'm serious," the man continued. "Questions like yours are gonna get you killed. The only way to protect yourselves is to get the right answers fast enough to get it out to the public before you're nothing more than an obituary."
"Really." Lois didn't sound like she believed him.
"Hey, lady, all the sarcasm in the world in the world isn't gonna save you. I deserve to be paid handsomely for helping you. Nobody but nobody is gonna help you, only me."
"Mm hmm. And why exactly are you trying to help me?"
"Because I hate to see ladies die young and because my mama always taught me to trust my instincts about people. And because I'm gonna get paid well for this one."
"So let's negotiate," she proposed. "What kind of cash were you hoping for?"
"Cash is too easily traced. I get paid in commodities. Understand?"
"Agreed," she decided quickly.
"For this, I want dinner."
Lois's face turned red. She was livid. "If you think I'm trading sex for a story, you've got another think coming. I'm not some little bimbo who doesn't know how things work on the street. If I sleep with you, my credibility—both now and in the future—is gone. Worse yet, I won't know how to get the story. And you… you probably don't even have the story."
She continued her tirade, not just to vent her anger—although venting felt great—but also because, out of the corner of her eye, she could see Clark's approach. His hands were already balled into fists. She would love to take the guy down all on her own, but the truth was that taking Clark down a peg had hurt her not-quite-healed wounds more than she had let on. But if she and Clark worked together like they had done last week…
But 'Trader Joe' wasn't ready to hear it. "No offense, lady, but you're a little skinny for my type. I asked for dinner, not sex. And you two aren't invited to dinner. Got it? So call off your muscle."
Lois waved Clark off military style.
"I want something upscale but not too hoity-toity."
"You know a place called Jasmine Thai?"
"I could do Thai," 'Mr. Dinner-and-a-Movie' agreed.
"Dinner for two, then," she offered.
"Dinner for twelve," 'Mr. Dicker' countered.
"Dinner for eight with drinks and hors d'oeuvres," 'Mr. Wheeler-Dealer' clarified.
"Done. If the information is worth it," she decided.
"Oh, it's worth it alright. Look, I know you don't know me and I don't know you. So here's what we'll do. I'll give you until Monday at noon to confirm the information I'm giving you. If you're worth your salt, you should probably see how valuable the information is in less than twelve hours."
"I'll be able to tell in under eight," she assured him. "Go on."
"But I'm giving you twenty-four plus, just as an introductory arrangement. From here on out I get paid in advance. Got it? Monday at noon I'm expecting to walk into Jasmine Thai and find dinner for eight with drinks and hors d'oeuvres prepaid under my name; they call me Bobby Bigmouth. If you stiff me, the word will hit the street fast, and you'll be done in this city. And when you print, my name never gets mentioned. Not now, not ever. Agreed?"
"Pleasure doing business with you, Bobby." Lois extended her hand to seal the deal.
"*My* pleasure. You, on the other hand, won't survive long enough to do your next story with the way you ask the wrong questions of the wrong people right out in the open like that. Now let's walk and talk, and I'll tell you where to go to find the answers you need."
Her features grew more and more animated as Bobby filled in the details.
Lois counted to twenty, waiting for Bobby to disappear into the night before she quickened her pace. Despite the early hour, she had enough energy to work all night long if she had to. This was what she lived for.
"Lois, where are you going?" Clark asked as he trailed behind her. He was practically jogging, trying to keep up. "The Planet's back that way."
"Are you sure you can trust everybody at the Planet? It wouldn't be the first time the mob had a plant in the media. Plus, a big story like this? We don't want a leak or, worse yet, we want to make sure it prints with our names on it." She frowned as his face clearly expressed his doubts. "Don't look at me like that," she scolded. "Once you've had a story stolen, you learn to be a little careful. But I guarantee they could care less about politics at my dorm. I'm going back to write it up."
"I'm sure your room will be a quiet haven on a Saturday night," he mocked. "Sure, let's go."
She glanced at her watch. The parties would still be out in force. "No, you're right. Too noisy."
"We can work at my place but no monkey business," Clark warned, waving his finger under Lois's nose.
Lois was excited, way too excited to wait for a bus to take her into work on that Monday afternoon. She called a cab instead and saved well over an hour on her commute. She couldn't wait to get to the Planet to see her first American front-page story.
Of course, there was always the possibility that Kent hadn't kept his part of the bargain and mentioned her contributions at the end of the story 'with special assistance from Lois Lane'. He wouldn't be the first person to claim all the glory for himself.
She stopped at the newsstand outside to buy two copies of today's edition—one to read and one for her résumé. She decided not to read it until she had located a quiet corner in which to celebrate… or castrate her no-good co-worker, whichever the situation called for.
But there wasn't a quiet corner to be found in the newsroom.
"Careful of the power cord," someone hollered as she disembarked from the elevator.
Lois stood, mesmerized by the mêlée. There were lights of differing heights and colors spread from one end of the newsroom to the other, each trailing a never-ending tail of taped-down cables. There were cameras everywhere and people on top of people.
"It's an advertising campaign for some new fragrance, 'Exclusive'. Perry accidentally agreed to let the newsroom act as a backdrop. It's been like this all day," Clark explained.
Lois was too stunned to comment until he directed her to her seat. His hand felt warm on the small of her back.
"So why don't they just film on a backlot like everyone else does?" she inquired.
"So what are you working on?" Lois dismissed the fluff that filled the newsroom. "Anything interesting?"
"Purportedly, I'm working on the dockworker's strike. There's a flu-bug going through the Feature's Department, and with our feature story this past weekend—thank you very much—I was selected to help them out. But how exactly am I supposed to make phone calls with all the noise around here?"
"I've been sitting back and watching, just like everybody else."
Lois followed him down to an empty desk that was closer to the action. The two of them leaned back to enjoy the show and were quickly joined by Jimmy, who was so busy lusting after the scantily-clad models that it was doubtless that he noticed when she arrived.
"The beautiful people." She dismissed them all in hand.
"Yeah." Jimmy was so awestruck it was doubtless he even knew what he was agreeing to.
"What a sad world we live in that you have to dress a certain way and be a certain age and smell a certain way in order to be loved," she continued her diatribe.
"Yeah, sad," Clark agreed. She glanced up at him with disgust. He may have agreed with her, but it was obvious that he was giving the women in the room 'the eye' just like the rest of the gang. "It's very sad."
"Oh, pulease." She sighed. "I wonder what they're going to print today. No one is getting a thing done."
"There's always the associated press," Clark suggested.
"Or we could get to work," she proposed. She was met with silence as a buxom red-head paraded past. "Never mind."
"Have you tried my new fragrance?" an equally beautiful, although thankfully fully-clad woman purred.
"No, I don't really wear… Oh, gross! I… I swear my roommate wears that scent. Really! The nerve of some people. And that stuff probably costs as much per quarter ounce as a semester's worth of books."
"What died?" Jimmy finally broke away from the peep show long enough to fan away the funky fog that hung before them all.
"I've smelled better stuff in the backwoods," Clark noted. "Forget this. I'm heading home."
Clark stopped by his desk long enough to gather a few things. "Lois, is there anything I can get you before I go?"
"An antihistamine? Blinders? Ear plugs? No, I think I'm good." She and Clark dodged past the nutty woman who was wandering through the newsroom spraying everyone with her eau de wet dog. "It won't be the same without you," she quietly told him.
"Well, why didn't you say so? I can stick around for another hour if you like."
"Oh, you don't have…"
"Not a problem. I insist." He smiled at her. "So what are you working on?"
"I have no idea. There's not even a hint of order around here."
"Great. You can help me." He quickly outlined the work that needed to be done on the story. She divided it up between them, and they headed back to their respective desks.
After the set was struck, the lights were dismantled, and the last of the beautiful people had left the floor, Clark finally started to hit his stride. He was really beginning to make headway when he noted Lois's approach in his peripheral vision. He held up a finger to hold her off for just a moment while he finished typing his current thought. She sidled up behind him and perched on the back of his chair.
"Cla-ark," her voice was light and sing-song as she beckoned for his attention. "What are you working on?"
He barely looked up from his work. He needed to put a few finishing touches on this section, but otherwise his portion of the article was almost done.
"I'm just finishing up my part. How is your work coming along?"
She giggled a little bit before answering. "I think you'll be rea-ea-eally pleased with my contributions." She giggled again. Clark jumped as her foot slid inside his pants leg and wandered up his shin.
"Lois? Are you feeling okay?" he wondered.
"I feel good, Clark. Never better. How do you feel?" She reached out and he could have sworn she was about to stroke his arm, to find out how he felt.
But before her hand touched him, Perry splayed across the other side of his desk. Rahelia, the cleaning lady, pushed her boss across the wooden surface. Perry appeared as if he wasn't sure how he'd gotten there and was obviously looking for a way out.
"Oh, Perry," she called in her thickly accented voice, "I have been waiting so long to be with you."
"Don't get me wrong, Rahelia, but I'm a married man—a happily married man. And I've gotta get out of here." Perry took off at a near run across the bullpen.
"Aren't *you* married?" Clark accused Rahelia.
"I have so much love that there's plenty of me to go around. Besides a man of Perry White's wit, charm, his way with words, his power… such a man is irresistible."
"Isn't it romantic?" Lois sighed against Clark's shoulder.
Rahelia took off after Perry, apparently singing her loved one's praises—although Clark didn't know enough Spanish to know exactly what she was saying. Not that he had the chance to concentrate—Lois was purring in his ear.
"Is everything okay with you?" he asked again.
"Hmmm… I feel like a breath of sunshine on a warm summer's day. You like sunshine?"
"Yeah, sunshine is great."
With Lois's, albeit not very believable, reassurance that she was doing okay, Clark tried to go back to work. He was close to finishing, but it was becoming more and more difficult to get anything accomplished.
He jumped. Was that…? Then, it happened again. Lois couldn't possibly have, but then, of course, she did… She was whispering kisses just under the edge of his collar. It was distracting. Okay, who was he kidding, it was mesmerizing.
It wasn't anything like his Lois. Something was wrong. Definitely wrong. First there was Rahelia, and then there was Lois. Oh, goodness, there was Lois sending tingles up and down his spine.
He just needed a distraction. He wiggled his toes, just like he did at the dentist's office when he didn't want to gag. It didn't work.
He listened to the vending machine drip water off the back coils. He listened to the whine of the fluorescent lights. He listened to the rhythmic thumping of the photocopy machine. Wait a minute, there was something wrong with that sound. Clark lowered his glasses and glanced into the copy room. His jaw dropped open as he caught the full Technicolor show inside—Cat Grant and the copy repairman were doing things in that small space that Clark hadn't thought were possible.
"The copy room…" he mumbled to himself without thought.
"That's a great idea," Lois gasped, sliding away from him—both to his relief and disappointment. "We'll have more privacy there."
"Wait!" He tried to warn her, but it was too late. She had already bounded across the newsroom and thrown open the door.
"Come on," she called to him. Then she stopped, mesmerized by the activities going on inside. "Oh, it's beautiful," she sighed.
He screwed his face up. Many words came to mind, but beautiful wasn't one of them.
There was something truly odd going on in the newsroom. Rahelia chasing after Perry. Lois pawing on him—ohhh, she was rubbing on his chest as she watched and the way she was cooing and sighing was driving him crazy. While Cat was normally a bit over the top, this was unusual behavior even for her.
"I'm going to head home," Clark decided. He needed to think things through, and he just couldn't think in this environment.
"Don't leave," Lois pouted. "I don't know what I'll do without you." She traced his features with her fingertip—his jaw line, his lips. He caught her hand as it slid down her chest. She seemed so child-like right now. Her face was animated; her tone was light. Whatever it was, it worked for her. "But I know what I want to do with you. You set me afire in a way no other man could."
She paused and looked back into the open door of the copy room. He felt her breath on his neck as she sighed. "Why don't we ever do that, Clark?"
Clark gaped. "Because… because you know how to say 'no' in over a dozen different languages, remember? Because you don't even want to date me, let alone…" He gulped. "Let alone… that."
"But, Clarkie, I know how to say 'yes' in over a dozen languages, too. You want to hear? 'Yes! Oh, yes!'" she moaned in a decidedly erotic fashion. She fumbled with his shirt. He dodged, hitting the wall outside Perry's office.
"I don't know what kind of game you're playing, but you're making me very uncomfortable," he informed her.
"I know something that will help you relax," she purred. She leaned in for a kiss, but he deftly slipped from her grip.
"I'll relax when I get home."
Her pout tugged on his heartstrings. He might not be interested in Lois in the cheap, tawdry way she was coming on to him now, but he could never deny her entirely. There was something about her. "I'll come back. I promise," he reassured her.
She tilted her face to examine his eyes carefully. "You promise?"
"Scout's honor," he vowed, with the appropriate three-finger salute. "I'll be back first thing in the morning."
"I'll be waiting for you. Kiss me goodbye?"
Clark's breath caught. Did he dare? His Lois would never have asked him that—certainly never on the newsroom floor. With the way she was acting, one kiss may lead to so much more.
Still, this might be his only opportunity… No, that wasn't right. He was going to marry her someday—someday when she wasn't acting strangely.
He swore to be on his best behavior in the meantime. He chastely kissed her on top of the head. Just like a little sister, he told himself, although the emotions he felt inside weren't very sisterly at all.
He had to get out of here. He fled from the room.
Clark wasn't gone long before Lois started to miss him. She glanced at her watch. It was six o'clock. That gave her only a little less than fourteen hours to prepare for his return.
She grabbed her purse and raced out of the office. She had to go shopping.
A few hours later, she arranged her purchases upon her bed. $119.95 at Victoria's Secret for the little blue number with all its veils, $48 for the custom-fitted bra that made her look so good—even if it did hurt her ribs a little, $39.80 for buy four thongs get one free, $44.50 for white pumps, $5.75 for the softest pantyhose she could find, $204 for makeup and skin care, and $88.50 for the dress. Such a beautiful dress—lacey and as white as her love for Clark was pure. She could hardly wait to see Clark's face when he saw her in it.
Then, of course, there was $79.50 for the fragrance. She had spent hours finding the perfect scent, knowing how sensitive her lover was. She wanted a musk to signify her animal attraction to him, a floral scent to signify the feminine way he made her feel, an Oriental scent for how exotic he made her feel—oh, there was so much she wished to communicate to him on a visceral level. With some help from the saleslady, she eventually selected an ambery scent which spoke of flowers, woods, and even that animal drive with a classic, yet exotic sensation. It embodied the way being with Clark Kent made her feel.
She fell into bed, convinced she would be too excited to sleep. Instead, it was a matter of moments before her breathing evened out and dreams welcomed her.
There was a song in her heart. A love song. The whole world sang it to her as Lois impatiently waited for Clark at his desk. It was a song of beauty that everyone sang to her.
Someone from accounting had brought in flowers, white for purity and red for passion. She plucked a red one to tuck into her hair. One of the secretaries was so moved by the flowers that she had unearthed some balloons from the supply cabinet. All the women gathered to decorate, giggling together as they told their own stories of love.
But Lois hadn't helped with the balloons. She had wanted to wait for her lover in this place that was fully his. She could see his intellect in the way he kept things organized, his compassion in the story ideas she found neatly filed, his strength in the way he didn't keep any sweets tucked away here or there, his…
And he was here.
She leapt to her feet. She skipped up the stairs two at a time. Her heart did cartwheels as she saw his handsome, but confused, face. His arms were open and she jumped inside.
His voice rumbled beneath her as she rested her head against the broad expanse of his chest. "We need to talk."
"We do. We do," she agreed. "I have so much to say to you."
She tugged at his neck, hoping for a kiss, but he spun her around instead. She couldn't blame him; she was anxious to talk to him, too. Still, she couldn't help reaching for him as they walked toward his desk.
"Lois, you are not yourself," he began.
It wasn't what she had expected him to say. It ignored his passions, his feelings, his desires…
"You are not in control," he continued.
That she could understand.
"Oh, I know," she gushed. "For the first time in my life, I am free—free to love, free to live with abandon."
"But you're not yourself. No one here is acting themselves."
"It's better," she reassured him. "We're better. We've been liberated."
"But I need you back the way you were. I need you to snap out of it long enough to help me figure this out. Please," he begged her, "just concentrate."
"Okay, I'm concentrating." She struggled to settle her beating heart. "I'm concentrating on your handsome features. You look very good today. Oh, and you smell good, too." She slid into his lap and breathed him in.
"Oh, yes. I'm concentrating."
"Okay, it seemed to start yesterday afternoon."
"I remember. Yesterday was *wonderful*!"
"It seems to have affected almost everybody in the newsroom. Maybe it was something we drank or ate."
"I had a bologna sandwich and you had a steak sandwich with fries. Oh, but Clark, I could have eaten you up. You looked so good yesterday."
"The models were here with their perfumes."
"It was the tie. Red is a power color. It looks so good on you…"
"…Because you're so strong." She couldn't help herself any longer. Her hands began kneading the strong muscles of his chest.
Clark stood, and Lois spilled from his lap.
"Jimmy, do you have any pictures from yesterday?"
Jimmy hurried over with proofs. "Do I have pictures? Oh, isn't she beautiful?" He held up some prints of an okay-looking model. "And she's all mine."
Clark spouted off some kind of gloom and doom warning to Jimmy about getting hurt, but Lois didn't hear it at all. She was trying really hard but it was just so difficult to concentrate, particularly now that she had discovered the way his hair curled just so over the edge of his glasses. She combed it straight with her fingers, but it curled back again. And again. And again. She giggled.
"I don't believe we've met…" The man's voice was polished and smooth. "…An oversight I must correct immediately."
Lois glanced up in annoyance. He was just another thirty-six long, as far as she was concerned.
"The name is Lex Luthor. Perhaps you've heard of me?"
Lois shook her head and returned to stroking Clark's hair.
"Well, I just happen to be the third richest man in the world," he bragged.
Clark looked up in annoyance. "You smell like the models from yesterday."
"I'm not a mere model. I am a self-made multi-billionaire." He turned away from Clark dismissively. "And you, my dear, are one of the most beautiful women I've ever met."
"Thank you," she mumbled, without sparing him a second glance.
"Perry White is an old friend. He's been after me for an interview for many years. You appreciate my reluctance, of course. A man in my position could be easily misinterpreted. I have had one or two bad experiences with the media."
"I'm sorry to hear that," she muttered.
"But since I've never had a bad experience with you, why don't we try it tonight?"
"I hope you'll forgive me for being so bold…" she started.
"But boldness is a trait I find very attractive in a woman," Lex interrupted.
"…but I need you to understand something. There's only one man in the world for me—Clark Kent."
Clark smiled thinly and waved awkwardly. "If you'll excuse us, we have some work to do."
"Certainly," Lex agreed, then turned to Lois and kissed the back of her hand. "I'll be in touch."
She settled back down on Clark's lap. She tried to help him, but she wasn't exactly sure what to look for in all those boring pictures of so-so looking women.
"This is it!" Clark declared. He stood, once again knocking her to her feet.
"Where are you going?" she worried.
"Just down to the newsstand," he assured her. "I won't be long."
"I came back last time. I always come back."
While he was gone, Ralph came over with a small, puffy teddy bear. "I won this for you in a challenge of strength." He proudly presented his trophy to her. "I hope you like it, Chloe."
"Lois," she corrected him.
"Was there something you needed, Ralph?" Clark inquired as he returned with a virtual mountain of magazines. "No, I didn't think so." He settled the magazines on his desk and returned his attention to Lois. "I need to go find a quieter place to work. Are you going to be okay while I'm gone?"
Lois was disappointed to see him go, but Clark was hoping to find a way to return things to normal.
He found it! It was right there in the magazine, Miranda's Elite Fragrances. He began to dial the number, but a knock at the door interrupted him.
Lois rushed in carrying a boom box and wearing an overly-large coat.
"It's really late," he grumbled. He was exhausted after two days of shooing her away. She ignored him, setting up the music inside the door. A Middle-Eastern twang filled his apartment. "What time is it? Aren't you supposed to be in class right now?"
"Forget about time. Forget about school. Forget about work. Forget about the rest of the world. Tonight is just for you and me."
She threw open her coat. It slid to the ground. Underneath she wore some frilly lingerie that was covered in gold sequins and blue-green veils and not much else. She began to dance for him.
"I love you, Clark. I want to spend every waking moment of the rest of my life with you."
"You know how I feel about you. How I would love to spend my life with you. I've dreamed of this since the moment I meant you—err, well, not quite like this. But something like this."
"I've dreamed about you, too, Clark. Last night I dreamed…"
"But this isn't real. What you're feeling, none of it is real. Whatever it was that was sprayed on you made you and the whole newsroom drunk on love."
"But love is good," she urged. Her hips moved to the ever-increasing tempo of the music.
"I can't take advantage of you. Go home, Lois."
"You're here. This is my home." She flung a veil toward him. Without thought, he caught it.
He shrugged. He was just too tired to fight with her anymore. He hung his head as he headed into the kitchen to make dinner for two. He needed some sustenance if he were to think clearly.
Selecting the least romantic ingredients in his pantry, he started the process of making chili with beans and hardtack cornbread.
Lois wasn't deterred. She danced around him as he cooked. She even made eating chili into one of the most sensual experiences of Clark's life. He was a goner, for sure.
He had to get rid of her. But he couldn't send her back to the dorm. Not like this. He only hoped that nothing had happened to her last night.
He couldn't think about that. He had to focus on tonight. Only, he couldn't focus on tonight, either, or he was really going to be in trouble.
He needed help if he was going to survive.
He dialed home. "Mom?"
"Clark? Is that you?" His mother hollered to be heard over the racket. "I can barely hear you! What is that? Jungle drums? What's going on there?"
"I need to talk to Dad."
"I need to talk to Dad!"
"Your father's not in right now. Can I help you with something?"
"No! No! I need Dad."
"What's going on? I hear giggling. Do you have a woman over there?"
"Yeah, but it's not what you think. I need to talk to Dad."
"Clark, if you haven't got answers to the questions I think you're asking about—Son, I think it's a little late now."
"No, Mom. It's not like that. I just need to-"
"I know, talk to Dad. I'm not sure when he'll be back. I don't know who that lady is, but—BOY!—she sure sounds happy."
Clark sighed. "That's not a lady, Mom; that's Lois. I mean… She's not as happy as she sounds. You know?"
"Haven't a clue. Whenever I sound like that, I'm pretty happy."
"Well, I guess you and Lois *have* hit the naughty stage of your relationship. Huh?"
"Just have Dad call when he gets in. No. Never mind. I have a different idea."
Lois staggered from his bed into the living room.
Clark smiled weakly and mumbled, "Good morning."
"What exactly is going on here? What am I doing in your apartment?" She indignantly put her hands on her hips, only to jump as her hands hit mostly-naked flesh. "What *am* I doing in your apartment? Have I lost my mind?"
His smile lit up his face. "You're back!" He let out a yell straight from some Kansas-style rodeo. "You're back!" He ran to her and wrapped his arms around her. "You're back!"
Suddenly, he became very aware of his fingers on her barely-clothed frame. He cleared his throat and stuffed his hands into his pockets, carefully taking a step away from her.
"Um… it's good to see you're feeling better."
"I feel awful," she moaned. She ducked away from him. "What have I done?"
"Nothing," he hastily told her. "Ah, Lois, this is Sister Colleen. Sister Colleen, this is Lois."
Lois looked up in confusion and surprise. Oh heavens, no! There were witnesses. No wait, there were chaperones.
"I'm going to go make breakfast." He scooted out the room, trying to give Lois as much privacy as he could.
Lois slumped back across his bed, hiding herself with a much-too-small pillow.
"How are you feeling?" Sister 'Chaperone' wondered.
"Mortified," Lois muttered, "with a headache."
"I wouldn't be too embarrassed. Clark came and got me last night. He told me about how you'd been poisoned and suggested you might need a female to better care for you. So I came over.
So, no matter how you're dressed, you spent the night with me—not Clark."
"I'm still humiliated," Lois sulked. "But thank you."
Sister Colleen smiled. "No problem."
Lois frowned. She was feeling grumpy and wasn't above taking it out on somebody. "Are you really a nun? You don't look very nun-like."
"Oh, really? What does a nun look like?" her eyes crinkled up as she spoke, and Lois just knew she was being teased.
"I don't know. Penguins come to mind."
Sister Colleen laughed good-naturedly. "Black and white left the abbey not long after the sound of music left the hills."
Lois was still feeling awkward and surly. "So what's a nice guy like Clark doing hanging out with a nun like you?"
"I maintain a friendship with Clark, since he's much too shy to maintain a friendship with me."
Lois snorted. "Clark? Shy? Clark's not shy!" She slapped her knee as she laughed, serving to remind herself of her currently flimsy attire. "Not that the way I'm dressed, or in this case not dressed—well, not dressed very much—have anything to do with how shy Clark is. Because he's not very shy with words, but only with words. He and I aren't really doing anything though." She swallowed nervously and changed the subject. "So how did you meet Clark?"
"It's fortunate for me that I did. Last January, I had a tire blow out. I lost control of the car and totally missed the bridge. I didn't hit any guard rails and there was no one around to watch me go in, so when the doors wouldn't open I was sure I was a goner. But then Clark showed up and broke the window. He saved my life, then tried sneaking off. Like I said, he's pretty shy about his heroics. He doesn't sit still for thank-yous."
"Huh," Lois stopped to think about it. "I didn't know he had it in him."
"Then you probably don't know him very well." Colleen left Lois to think it out. "If you're all right, I better get going. I need to get ready for work."
Lois shrugged. She continued to hide out in Clark's bedroom for a long time after the nun had left. Finally, he came looking for her. He called into the bedroom area, but was careful to remain out of sight.
"Are you going to come out?"
"Are you sick?"
"No," she confessed. "Not really. But I'm still not coming out."
"But I need you to come out. Come on, Lois. You know I'm not that good of a reporter. I need you to help me investigate this so we can find Miranda and find out what's in that stuff and why she's doing this. You know I can't do this by myself."
She finally came to the archway that separated Clark's bedroom area from the rest of his open floor plan. "Did I really do the dance of the seven veils?"
"Oh, yeah. You were way past seven by the time Sister Colleen got here."
She groaned, hiding her face in her hands. "I made the biggest fool of myself."
"That's not true." He reached for her, as if to pull her into a comforting embrace. Instead, he flopped his arms awkwardly to his sides, unsure how to touch her.
"You're just trying to be nice, but…"
"Cat made a much bigger fool of herself than you did."
Lois looked up, startled and confused. For a change, she was the one caught off-guard. Clark could tell the moment she remembered as the red flooded across her cheeks.
"That wasn't my best moment, either," she mumbled.
He flushed as well, in vivid recollection.
"I better head back and get cleaned up." She adjusted her costume and quickly edged past him, darting toward the door.
"You're going to the dorm dressed like that?" Clark wondered in a tone of voice reminiscent of the one her mother used circa Lois's junior high years.
"To the Planet," she corrected him. "I changed there. Oh, that reminds me… I better return that coat. There's no telling who it belongs to."
"Don't worry about it; it's mine." He shrugged. "I was in a hurry to leave yesterday." Once again he thrust his hands in his pocket and shuffled his feet, looking suddenly more like a little kid than the grown man she had tried to seduce. "Hey, why don't you look around in the closet and see if you can find something that comes close to fitting you?"
Lois glared. "If any of your clothes fit me, I'll be mortified."
Of course, that made sense. "Better yet, I bet I could power-walk to work and back by the time you finish soaking in my tub." She looked like she was about to protest, so he continued quickly. "It's probably not a bad idea to scrub off all that poison, anyway."
She begrudgingly agreed.
Twenty-five minutes later, she wrinkled up her nose when she reappeared wearing the lacey white dress she had left dangling from a desk drawer. It just wasn't her. She couldn't imagine why she had ever bought it.
Her mood was much improved when she decided to skip class and nail the little witch who'd put a hex on her. She hiked at a tornado's pace across town, ready to take on the powers that be.
"The way I see it, there are at least three ways we can go about this," Lois informed Clark. She wasn't even out of breath, although any other normal person would be. "I'm not sure which way to do it, yet, because I don't know what your strengths are as a reporter, if you have any."
"Don't mention it. First, we could shoot straight and go in as two reporters after a story, although I don't think we'll get anywhere since neither of us has a killer street reputation. Or you can pretend to still be under the drug's influence while I case the joint. Don't let past failures stop you; I'm sure there's some woman out there you could seduce. Or I can pretend to be under the influence while you look for evidence."
His jaw fell. "You what?"
She didn't miss a beat. "You never know with these bohemian types. She just might be interested in me. But even so, it's just to buy you enough time to get in and out. So what do you think? Do you have any strong suits?"
He let the jab pass once again. "I read fast and I can be quiet, but I'm not much of a liar. But you have to think of a better way in. I can't just stand there and listen to you do… that."
"Grow up!" Lois ordered. "Hey, isn't this the place?" She flounced her hair, straightened her dress, pinched redness to her cheeks and adjusted her bra. "You ready? I'm going in."
Lois flitted about the shop looking at this and that. She chatted for as long as she could with the shopkeeper they had seen in Clark's magazine. Of course, she was almost instantly recognized—it had only been two days since the woman had visited the Daily Planet. But Lois was smooth enough to use that to her advantage.
"I must have a bottle of whatever it was I sampled the other day. My boyfriend simply loved it." She giggled suggestively. "He's just outside. I was hoping to surprise him."
"That particular scent is not for sale, as of yet. I'm not quite finished with the customization on that aroma. You understand."
"But I have to have it," Lois insisted. "Normally my boyfriend doesn't care what I wear, but this time he noticed."
Lois frowned as Clark entered the store. He couldn't possibly have found anything in the few minutes he'd spent. Did he even have time to break in? This was why she hated to work with amateurs.
When Miranda turned her back to greet him, Lois tried in vain to communicate with gestures. She jerked her neck, trying to point to the back room with her head.
Clark just pasted on a thin, wide smile. "I'm sure the fragrances in here are way out of our price range, sweetheart."
She tried to appear loving in spite of her clenched teeth. "But dear, you liked it so much the other day."
Clark seemed to switch gears. He asked Miranda, "Oh, it was you who made that perfume we tried the other day? It had an interesting aroma. Was it animal-based?"
Miranda slid her arm along Clark's. "You have a remarkable olfactory sense."
"He's amazing!" Lois gushed.
"Yes, that particular perfume is quite rare, although the ingredients are a proprietary secret. It's named 'Revenge'. But as I was saying, it's not available for purchase, yet." Miranda floated to the other side of the room. "Although I do have this blend I call 'Jungle Passion.' Pure white petals from a flower grown only in Micronesia. Interested? Yes?"
Clark wrinkled his nose and shook his head. "As I said, your fragrances are out of our price range."
Lois waited until they were on the street and out of sight before shoving Clark. "I can't believe you messed that one up!"
"What? I didn't mess up anything."
"You didn't have time to do a proper search. What were you doing? Popping over to check up on me? I didn't come on to her, if that's what you were worried about."
"I got her research files, Lois. I took pictures of each page on my digital camera. I also took this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar-looking bottle of perfume. "Let's head back to The Planet. I'm betting that Jimmy can help us out. He has some friends in scientific research."
Her eyebrows shot up. "You got all of that? In that little bit of time?"
Clark grinned and shrugged, enjoying her eyes as she assessed him in a new light.
"Jimmy!" Lois cried out as soon as the elevator doors began to creep open. "I need some research on a story."
Jimmy hurried over, a frown played across his features. "So research it."
"I don't have your resources," she impatiently told him, her tone-of-voice perfect for a spat among five-year-olds on the playground.
"Why didn't you say so?" Jimmy puffed up his chest and grinned.
"What do you need?"
"Clark, show him," Lois ordered as she hastened to her desk. She stopped short as she saw the arrangement there. "What's this?"
Clark whistled as he approached.
She checked out a bouquet of flowers the size of which she had never seen outside of a funeral parlor. She looked at Clark, confusion washing over her face. "Did you send me this while you were under the influence?"
"It wasn't me. I was never under the influence," he reminded her.
"You're right. Why was that exactly?"
Clark brought her back to the original topic. "So who are they from?"
Lois hunted around the buds and blooms until she found an embossed card, oblivious to the crowd that gathered around her desk. "I have been cordially invited to dinner and an interview with Lex Luthor this evening at seven pm."
She shrugged, picking up the bouquet and searching around for a more convenient location to store it. She had work to do and no romantic-wannabe was going to distract her from the story. "Whatever. Whoever the guy is, he's going to be disappointed."
"You don't know who he is?" Jimmy's mouth practically gaped.
"I didn't keep up with local news while I was traveling."
"Local news? Are you crazy?" Cat practically spat the words. "I would *kill* for an interview with him. Lex Luthor is only one of *the most eligible bachelors* in Metropolis, one of *the most powerful men* in America, one of *the richest men* in the world. And he hasn't given an interview in over a decade. If you don't go tonight, you're an even bigger fool than I thought you were."
Lois was uncharacteristically caught without words. She looked to Clark for confirmation. He disappointedly nodded. It was obvious Cat was telling the truth.
Just then Perry thundered out of his office. "What in the Sam Hill… I just took a call from Lex Luthor's personal assistant, wondering why my best reporter hasn't responded yet to Mr. Luthor's personal invitation. Lois, exactly what is this all about?"
"It's the story of the century, Boss. Relax," Lois soothed, "you know I'm on it." Clark suspected that this was Lois Lane in her true element. "Did anyone get a number to confirm? Never mind. I'll get it."
Lois picked up her phone and then glanced around in annoyance. "Doesn't anyone else have any work to do?"
Perry frowned and swung his hands around in a gesture that was easily translated as 'git.' At his insistence the crowd reluctantly dispersed.
Lois glanced again at the invitation, but there was no phone number listed for an RSVP. Perhaps this rich, powerful bachelor just assumed she would drop everything for an evening with him. Men!
She grabbed a notepad with her other hand and stuffed a pen in her mouth. Keeping her telephone at the ready, she rifled quickly through the phone book. Obviously a man in Luthor's position wouldn't list any of his private lines, but if she could hop off a phone tree and find just the right secretary…
"Uh, Lois," Perry called for her attention, "I need to speak with you for just a second."
"Yeah, sure," she quickly agreed, shuffling all her tools back to their appropriate places.
"In my office," Perry clarified.
He waited until they were both in the room, with the door closed and both of them comfortably seated, before speaking his mind.
"I appreciate what a story you've stumbled across, but I also know that Glen has a full evening's work planned for you."
"He can give it to someone else, Jimmy or Jerry or whoever cares. You can't possibly expect me to pass this up."
"I'm considering sending a reporter with more experience at The Planet."
Lois snorted. At his reprimanding glare, she covered by putting her hand over her mouth and mumbling, "Excuse me."
"This is no dog show, Lois. I know from your portfolio that you can write, but I've never personally seen you perform under fire. We're only going to get one shot at this. I need to send someone with experience."
"Did you see the flowers, Chief? Luthor's obviously not inviting me for my experience, if you know what I mean. You've been around long enough to understand that if you send anyone but me, they'll be sent home with their hat in their hands."
Just then a secretary knocked softly on the glass and, at Perry's welcoming gesture, peeked her head in the door.
"Lois, Lex Luthor's personal assistant is on the line to make final arrangements. Can you take the call?"
Lois cockily quirked her eyebrows up. "Well? Did you hire me for my research, or were you really hoping for something more from me?"
He sighed and made the decision. "Go ahead. But *bring* *me* *that* *story*."
Lois picked up the appropriate line and made the arrangements.
"Mr. Luthor will send a car to pick you up. Where do you live?"
She thought quickly. If Luthor sent a limo to the dorm it would invite chaos. As much as she loathed shallow men who wanted a pretty face to interview them, she needed to make a good impression until the interview was in the bag.
"He can find me at The Daily Planet," she decided.
He picked up the phone on the first ring. "Clark Kent," he announced.
"It's me—Lois. I need a favor."
"Anything," he promised and meant it.
"My tape recorder picked the worst day to die," she moaned.
"No problem. I'll drop mine off at the dorm on the way home," he promised.
"Just leave it on your desk," she instructed. "He's having a car pick me up at The Planet." Clark could practically see her roll her eyes.
"You're not planning on getting all gussied up, then taking the bus. Are you?"
"I'm not wearing the seven veils, if that's what you're worried about."
She was laughing at him, but he persisted. "What if the bus is late? Let me give you a lift."
"I thought you walked to work," she pointed out.
"You noticed?" he wondered.
"Maybe. What's the point?"
"The point is that just because I like to walk doesn't mean I'm not a good driver. What time should I pick you up?"
"Five-thirty. And Clark?" she hesitated.
He grinned. "Don't mention it."
"Be there in a minute," Lois yelled through her closed door.
Clark backed across the hall and leaned against the wall. He had only had enough time to run home and change into a golf shirt and a pair of jeans before setting out to pick up Lois. Not enough time to relax.
"Just a sec."
He stood as he heard her futzing with the lock.
The door opened. Clark gaped.
She was still pulling her shoes on. She seemed oblivious to the effect she was having on him.
Lois was striking in her day-to-day work clothes. She was attractive in the seven veils costume they had joked about earlier—dangerously attractive. But here in her bedroom dressed in a basic black cocktail dress, she was the essence of his every fantasy.
"I'm running a little late," she admitted. "I was cramming the man's life history, trying to get ready. Come here and help me."
Clark's feet managed to figure out how to walk into her room. His hands closed the door. Still, he was incapable of intelligent thought.
Lois smiled, timidly. "I never get nervous about these things. But look at me. I'm a mess."
"First big interview," he heard himself say.
"I've done countless stories, but I'm always uncovering scandals or covering wars. This is different. Lex Luthor is just a rich guy. There's no scandal there and certainly no war. And yet this could be just the break my career needs."
She examined her face in the mirror. "Come here." She held up a necklace, arranging it into place. The gold chain kissed her collar bones while a spray of pearls dangled toward her cleavage. Clark took a deep breath.
"My hands are shaking," she confessed. "Can you close the clasp?"
For a moment he was afraid his would shake as well, but when he took the tiny chain in his hands he was relieved to see they were as steady as always.
"How do you do this? Oh, never mind. I've got it." His hands lingered on the bare skin at the back of her neck, enjoying both the look and the feel of her upswept hair. He caught her eyes in the mirror, taking in every detail—the strand or two of hair curled down over her face, the colors of her makeup offsetting the brown of her eyes, the upturn of her mouth. "You look fantastic," he gushed.
Her smile lit up her face. "Thanks, Clark."
"You're going to do great," he reassured her.
"You think so?"
She slid his tape recorder into an elegant handbag, alongside a notepad and pen, a tube of lipstick, a roll of breath mints and a set of keys. "Let's go."
She slipped her hand through his proffered arm and allowed him to lead her from the room. His hand felt warm on the small of her back as he turned to lock her door and close it behind them.
Clark felt like Prince Charming himself as he escorted Lois down the hallway. Yet a single overheard comment from some guy he had never met brought him crashing back to reality.
"You see that guy? See the way he's dressed? And the way she's dressed? It's like she's on a different date than he is. That guy just doesn't get it."
He had to admit to himself that he just didn't get it. Work or not, he was about to deliver the most beautiful woman in the world into the hands of another man. For an 'interview.' Right.
Clark left his Jeep parked at The Planet. Tonight, he needed the walk. He needed the time to reflect. Perhaps he needed to be needed, as well. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and meandered along, just looking for any excuse to use his gifts.
He was open to anything, anything at all. Unfortunately, the night was uncharacteristically quiet.
A smarter man would back off and give Lois the space to choose him. But Clark was never a believer in absence making the heart grow fonder. There was always the chance that out-of-sight meant out-of-mind.
Not that he wanted Lois thinking of him tonight. On the contrary, he wanted her to write up the best interview of her life.
But maybe later, when it came time to celebrate, she would remember to include Clark in her festivities. After all, they were friends. At least, they were almost friends. Friends shared dreams, fears, and secrets. They hung out and lived life together. He'd done all that with Lois—at least, a little bit.
But friends also felt at home with each other, trusted each other, and looked forward to being with each other. With Lois, that all seemed miles away.
He quickened his pace. Didn't anyone in this god-forsaken town need help tonight?
Unfortunately he walked all the way to the mom 'n pop diner near his home without incident. He ordered one of his favorite sandwiches and selected a chair with a nice view through the store-front windows.
"You're here awfully late tonight," the owner noticed as he swept up nearby. "And not your usual cheerful self, either. Tough day at the office?"
"I've had worse," Clark stated, unwilling to whine even as his spirits sagged.
"But I bet you've had better," the older man urged him to talk a little more.
Clark shrugged noncommittally.
"I've been meaning to thank you. You were the one that sent the critic out here; weren't you?"
Clark smiled and nodded. "Aaron? Yeah, he's a new reporter in the Food section, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to point him your way."
"I appreciate it. I didn't even know he was in here until he wrote that article last Saturday. Business really picked up last week, thanks to you. We needed it, too. With all the vacant lots around here, I don't get the foot traffic I got even last year."
"That's a shame. This is a nice neighborhood," Clark pointed out.
"It used to be. I'll tell you what. Dessert's on me tonight. What can I get you?"
"Oh, you don't have to…"
"Nonsense. It's my pleasure. Trish cooked up a mean raspberry cobbler this evening. Can I get you some? A la mode?"
"Sure," Clark finally agreed. He was happy he did. Trish cooked cobbler almost as good as his mom's. Though Mom's cooking was only a couple of days away, a little taste of Kansas was always good for what ailed him.
The last few bites dribbled across his the front of his shirt. He consoled himself that at least he had changed out of his shirt and tie. Raspberry was certain to stain silk, though it might just blend in with the red tie he had worn today—although it was merely coincidental that he wore a red tie only a day after Lois commented on how much she liked that color on him. The unisex bathroom in the back was locked, so he leaned against the hallway wall as he waited his turn to rinse the berries off before they stained his shirt.
He gazed out the window absently. If it weren't for the guilty way the kid outside looked around before running down the alley, he might not have noticed him. But there was something strange about the beeping contraption the kid was holding that made Clark's Spidey senses tingle. Call it reporter's instinct, if you would, but something didn't feel quite right.
Moments later, an explosion rocked the old brick building. The blast cracked the glass across from Clark. With a little flick of his finger, he cleared the glass away and jumped outside to trace the kid's route to the alley.
Fire obstructed his path. He blew until the flames disappeared.
A quick lowering of the glasses and a desperate search found the kid lurking in front, checking his handiwork through the plate glass near where Clark had eaten dinner.
With a move reminiscent of the glory days on the Smallville Cheetahs football squad, Clark brought the small-time thug to the ground. He pinned the kid's arm behind his back.
"Someone, call 9-1-1!" he screamed. "I got the guy who started the fire!"
The wait at the police department stretched near the two hour mark. Clark fervently hoped that Lois was having a good time despite his own boredom.
She had planned on skimming some information on Luthor before she left, so Clark wasn't sure when the interview was scheduled to begin. But surely they were long past appetizers and the soup or salad course. Perhaps she'd already enjoyed dessert and had moved to the study for her long-awaited conversation with the self-made billionaire.
"Is Clark Kent here?" a voice interrupted his thoughts.
Clark stood and approached the petite blonde who had summoned him. He extended his hand as he greeted her. "I'm Clark Kent."
"Hi, I'm Mayson Drake, Deputy District Attorney. It's nice to meet you." Her smile lit up her face as she shook his hand. "I've been going over your statement, and I have a few questions for you. Are you willing to testify against Baby Rage?"
Clark glanced back to the kid who had started the fire, the kid who now hollered angry curses and demands to the room at large. Clark couldn't help but smile, knowing he was doing society a favor by putting the juvenile delinquent behind bars.
"Whatever I saw, I will tell in court, Miss Drake," he promised.
The smile beamed a notch brighter than before. "Mayson," she corrected. "Please, call my office in the morning, and I'll arrange a deposition," she instructed as she scribbled some notes on a business card, "and if you need to reach me after hours my home phone number's on the back."
Her home phone and not her work cell. Clark picked up the not-so-subtle hint. He paused a beat as he accepted the card with its tacit invitation.
It felt nice—very nice—to have a woman show interest in him, particularly after Lois's continual rejections. But then again, Mayson probably breezed through the rich girl's life that stereotypically preceded law school. She didn't have Lois's colorful and painful past.
Of course, it wouldn't be a crime to spend an uncomplicated evening enjoying the company of a woman who clearly liked him. That wouldn't be betraying Lois. Would it?
Yes, she'd probably see it as betrayal, despite the fact that they had never defined their relationship as anything beyond friendship. Her trust was fragile that way.
"We'll talk soon?" Mayson asked.
"Yeah," he answered automatically. They would talk about the deposition certainly. He could decide the rest later.
"Okay," she agreed, leaving him with one more of her killer smiles.
Lois sighed as she stepped off the elevator and dragged her tired body to her desk. The behemoth bouquet still dominated her primary workspace even after she shoved it to the far corner. That was fine if she were to spend her morning making phone calls, but if Glen wanted her to pay penance it would never do for heavy-duty research.
Peaking out from beneath the crystal vase, she spied a stack of papers. She tilted the vase carefully and tugged the pile loose. The top few papers were notes she had made on previous projects. Underneath she discovered the Monday edition.
Between all the excitement of the photo shoot and the roller coaster of the side effects that followed, she had never found the time to bask in the glory of her first stateside article. Now more than ever, she truly needed a pick-me-up. She skimmed the headlines until she located the right article and then skipped to the end, looking for the best part. It was continued on page eight—a two pager was a bonus that made her victory all the sweeter.
But, then again, it wasn't really her victory after all. There was no mention of her 'special assistance' in the final paragraph. She shouldn't have been surprised that Clark had betrayed her, but she was disappointed nonetheless. At least he could have waited for a better story before he used her.
She sighed. Sooner or later she was going to have to face the music. It was time to tell Perry the bad news. Not getting credit for her work with Clark, only made her missed opportunity with Luthor worse. She stuffed the newspaper in her purse and moped across the bullpen.
All things considered, he took it well. "What do you mean you didn't get the story?" he thundered.
"There was no story to get," Lois explained. "He was inebriated. Clark had mentioned that Luthor had smelled like that stuff we were sprayed with, so he was probably just as drunk on love as the rest of us were."
Perry rubbed a weary hand across his eyes. Perhaps he wasn't taking it as well as she had initially thought, since his body language screamed 'HEADACHE.' "Is there any hope of salvaging things?" he muttered.
"You better believe I'm going to try," she vowed.
She only hoped he wasn't so accepting of her failure because he hadn't expected her to succeed in the first place. It was way past time to show Perry White and everyone else just what she was made of. If only the drunken rich guy had cooperated.
"Lois!" Jimmy called out as soon as she stepped into the bullpen. He jogged to where she was standing. "I need you to run an errand for me."
"Do I look like your girlfriend?" Lois snapped and then regretted it. It wasn't his fault she hadn't landed the interview. Still, the kid was in no position to treat her like his own personal slave.
"No way. My girl is a redhead through and through."
Lois glared in response, but he just grinned glibly. Either she was losing her touch, or he was feeling brave. Either way, he wasn't appropriately intimidated.
"Anyway, the errand," he smoothly continued. "I need you to go to Star Labs and pick up a report. Perry's in a tizzy about me fixing his 'DeskMate' or I'd go myself."
"Did anyone try the fax machine?" she murmured.
"I'd love to, but they have a policy against sending information to unsecured faxes. Too many government contracts, if you ask me."
She commiserated with him while he wrote out directions.
A brisk walk in the cool autumn air was just what the doctor ordered—much better than sulking at her desk.
For a company that was too security conscious to send a fax, she found it surprisingly easy to pick up the report. They didn't even require a press pass. When she said she was from The Daily Planet, they acted as if they were expecting *her* all along, instead of an excitable kid who was practically just learning how to shave.
The only problem was the large seal on the front of the package emblazoned with "Sealed for your Security." One would have thought that kind of thing went the way of King Arthur and the Roman Empire. Essentially, it was just one more way Lois was kept out of the loop.
"Lois! Wait up!" She tried not to cringe as she heard Clark call out. Nothing had changed, she reminded herself. She had always suspected he would disappoint her. Knowing when and how didn't change a thing.
She quit walking while he jogged up.
"What are you doing here?" she heard herself ask. But that was the wrong thing to say since it reminded her of a night on campus not that long ago when Clark had truly been a friend. It was all so confusing.
"'The Grand Duke of Jazz' turns a hundred this week. I just finished taking him to brunch. Nice guy. Fascinating conversationalist. You should have been there."
She made a point to yawn in his face. "Soft foods with an octogenarian. Sounds riveting."
Clark grinned. It was an insider's kind of a smile—the look that reminded her that they were friends.
It was truly awkward. She wasn't sure how to handle it from here.
"Your turn," he directed.
"I told you what I was doing. Now it's your turn."
Lois sighed. The time for a confrontation had been Monday—Tuesday, at the latest. But she'd been busy seducing him on Monday and Tuesday. Now that it was Thursday, if she blew up at him, her anger would seem to come out of left field.
Besides she wasn't really angry; she was weary. She was heartsick at all the men whom she suspected had lacked character who had proven her right.
But if she wasn't going to tell 'Mr. I-Need-Help-on-a-Story' that she was angry, she certainly wasn't going to tell him that he hurt her feelings. He could specialize in all that touchy-feely stuff. She would just be the crisp, efficient professional that she was. And if she was just-the-facts with him, it would be all right since they were news professionals, for heaven's sake.
She waved the package where he could see it. "I was just trying to figure out the best way to break in. I have some tools back at the dorm…"
"Or, since it's addressed to me," he reminded her, "you could just ask me to share. I've got a stop on the way back to the office. It should give us enough downtime to go over that."
He touched her on the small of the back, urging her to walk with him as he led the way. She found it annoying that her body responded to his touch while she knew in her heart that she was justifiably angry.
"Fine," she practically spat, knowing it was an overreaction. But how else was she supposed to deal with it? He was making himself at home with her body and asking her to run errands with him. (This one had better be as work-related as Jimmy's had been.)
Clark looked at her with confusion and perhaps even a little hurt on his face. "The courthouse is just a few blocks this way," he directed.
Courthouse. Good. That sounded professional.
He chatted about jazz as they walked. He dropped names she didn't care about and reminisced about ballrooms that had been closed before he was born. Certainly the old folks would love his article, but she simply tuned him out.
She wondered what kind of an informant he would have at the courthouse. He was a friend of old people and nuns. Surely this was another woebegone friend on the fringe of life. That was certainly the type of person Clark normally attracted.
"Clark! Hi!" a perky voice called out. Lois glanced up the courthouse steps to try and find the ugly broad that only her soft-hearted coworker would befriend.
The woman that strolled up was neither woebegone nor ugly. She looked like a model—perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect complexion and her shoes and purse matched her dress.
"It's good to see you." She practically beamed at Clark with the shiniest white teeth. "I'm sorry Janice wasn't able to get in touch with you in time. I'm afraid a serial killer chose today to confess. I've been called in to get the paperwork going for some search warrants. So I'm afraid we're going to have to postpone your deposition."
Deposition? What kind of crime had Clark committed? Stealing credit wasn't against the law, the last she had heard.
"Can I call you and reschedule?" The blond touched Clark on the arm as she talked to him. It lacked subtlety, but he didn't seem to mind.
"Yeah, sure. You can call me anytime."
Lois gaped. Was he coming on to her, in return? Maybe with Clark a call was just a call. Or maybe his subconscious was interested in more than just a phone call from the lady. Maybe that was the reason he hadn't succumb to Lois's charms over the last few days.
"I'll be in touch at the earliest opportunity," the girl promised. She patted him on the shoulder as she left.
Lois and Clark watched as she hurried down the stairs.
"It looks like I'm through here. Why don't we go find someplace to go over these lab reports?" he invited.
Lois's mind whirred as they descended the steps. Depositions weren't for the guilty, confessions were. So Clark must be preparing to testify. And not in a civil matter, either, since the bimbo was obviously an officer of the court.
But Clark wasn't exactly 'Mr. Exciting.' With a guy like him, what you saw was what you got. His life's aspiration was probably just to follow a pleasant rut that was mundane at worst, but at least was safely predictable. Guys like that just didn't witness crimes.
Rescuing a nun was probably the high point of his boring existence.
Scratch that. Flirting with the tramp from the court was probably the highlight. Lois saw how his eyes had followed the girl down the steps. He wasn't looking at her face—that was for sure. Yeah, Clark was definitely interested in more than just a court case.
"Hey, Reporter Guy!" a voice called up from the street below. Lois glanced down to see the cocky kid shouting at Clark, "You got a match?"
"Who's that?" she wondered aloud.
"Baby Rage," Clark answered, his eyes fixed on the young punk as he emerged from a car below. The kid was smiling and glaring up at Clark in a manner Lois instantly recognized as a streetwise stare-down. He was clean-shaven, dressed in a fancy suit, had washed behind his ears and trimmed his hair and nails. But none of those things could cover up the grit in his attitude and actions. Gang life didn't wash off.
She glanced uneasily at her co-worker, but he seemed unconcerned as he continued to explain. "He's just trying to scare me off so I won't testify."
"He's an arsonist, and I caught him in the act." Clark continued to watch until the lawyer had whisked the punk away.
"Clark, he was threatening you. Aren't you worried?"
He merely grinned at her. "Would you feel safer walking me home?"
She huffed a bit as she answered. "Safer for me or safer for you?"
"Well…" he waffled.
"You're on your own."
"Couldn't you just give me a few private lessons? Show me a couple of moves?" he pressed.
"I've seen your moves, Kent. I wasn't impressed," she derided him, although she wasn't exactly sure what she meant. Surely his fighting moves were enough to protect her when she had needed it most, but the moves he made on her on a daily basis were another matter.
"Touché," he replied easily. "Let's go check out the science report."
She nodded her agreement.
Kent had his hand on her elbow again, as if she were an old woman too delicate to descend without his assistance. On second thought, he never treated her like an old woman—more like he treated the courthouse tramp. He glanced up just then and caught her looking at him. His smile lit up his entire face in a way that made her heart soar. He certainly hadn't shared *that* look with 'Blondie.'
"I don't get it," Lois mused as the two meandered back to work. "The report says that the pheromone compound simply removes inhibitions and amplifies previous attractions."
"Yeah?" Clark prompted. "So?"
"So what was I doing at your apartment?"
"The dance of the seven veils," he reminded her.
She frowned. "Not that. I mean, why *your* apartment? It's not like I'm even remotely attracted to you."
"Face it, Lois. You feel something for me," he teased.
"You're attracted to me. You can't deny it."
"Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that some infinitesimally tiny shred of attraction existed in some seldom-used part of my brain…"
"Okay, as long as you're honest with yourself about it."
"Stay with me, Kent. So this minute speck of attraction was amplified. So what? That still doesn't explain things."
"It explains everything," he argued. "You think I'm hot."
"But that's just my point. *You're* the one who thinks *I'm* hot. We were together when I was sprayed. So why is it that I turned into a sexpot and you're still chaste enough to reserve a spot at The Round Table?"
"Maybe I'm not attracted to you, Lois," he suggested.
Her voice was too loud for a public sidewalk, but she didn't care. "You are so attracted to me. You haven't stopped asking me out since the day I met you."
"Has it ever occurred to you that I might be attracted to your brain?"
"My brain? Hah! You like my legs!" she declared.
"Your legs," he repeated dubiously. He shook his head and hesitantly continued, "I don't know. Maybe if you showed me a little more of your leg I might find some minute attraction."
She snorted as he waggled his eyebrows at her. "You like my legs," she insisted.
"Sure," he agreed. He bumped her hip as they walked, and it certainly was no accident.
Clark was enjoying himself. It was always fun when Lois got worked up about something. It was even more fun that she was all worked up about him, even if it was because she was living in denial. She argued that her attraction was tiny and got all upset when he suggested she thought he was hot. And when he insinuated that, perhaps, he was only attracted to her on a mental level, she was outraged.
She was talking louder and faster than he had ever heard her talk before as she insisted, "You like my legs!"
Her legs were one of her best features. He remembered the way her legs looked as she danced for him that night at her apartment. Even as he was trying to make his emergency phone call, she was dancing around him. He turned his back to her, trying in vain to focus his attention on the sound of his mother's voice. But she sidled up behind him, moaning and sighing as she rubbed her leg against his. He shooed her away, but it merely jangled her beads. She gasped in delight. He pivoted carefully, attempting to hang up the phone.
Lois took advantage of his new position. She threw herself into his arms, pulling him close to her by the neck of his shirt.
"I can't stand it any longer," she breathed.
The next thing he knew, her lips were atop his. She smelled like heaven in his arms. He lost himself in the taste and the feel of her.
He warred against himself. It wasn't right to take advantage of her, even though she was volunteering.
Yet, he was lost, unable to stop. The world was only he and Lois—her lips, her tongue, his fingers stroking her hair. His own ragged breathing as he forced himself to push her away. She whimpered a little as she pulled him back.
But he couldn't. It wasn't right.
He tore his eyes away from her lips, only to find himself staring at her chest as she struggled for her own breath.
"I know what it is," Lois decided. She tore him out of his daydream and into the fuzzy land of the present.
"Your breasts?" he suggested, only to kick himself mentally. What a stupid thing to say.
Lois blushed furiously at him. "You like my breasts? I mean, no. Of course, you can like my breasts. No problem, as long as you never mention it again," she rambled, embarrassed. "But that's not what I was talking about. I know the reason you didn't seduce me."
She couldn't possibly know. Could she? He had told her only as much as he thought fit to tell her. There was no way she could have deduced the rest.
"It's your deviated septum."
"My what?" he asked in confusion. And then he remembered her theories. He had been worried about her health, so he moved his glasses aside to examine the wounds on her knees with his x-ray vision. Lois had mistakenly assumed he was pushing his glasses aside so he could better smell.
"Your deviated septum," she reiterated. While her theory was total hogwash, it gave her such relief that he couldn't possibly contradict it.
It didn't seem possible with everything he had said and done over the past few weeks and months that she still didn't understand how much he cared for her. While the teasing and banter had been fun, he couldn't allow her insecurities to continue. He had to reassure her about how he felt.
He glanced around, finding a quiet spot where they could talk without disturbing anyone. A light touch to the elbow stilled Lois's beating feet that were storming their way back to the office. She glanced up in annoyance at the interruption.
"Yes, I am attracted to you," Clark stated, hoping to draw a line in the sand. "I am attracted to your brain. You are one of the smartest, most intuitive women I've ever met." That seemed like a safe thing to compliment her on. He gauged her reaction. When she softened, he continued. "I love your spirit, your fire, your spunk." The 'love' word was a big step, but she hadn't bolted, yet. Perhaps she was finally putting her fear of him aside. "I love how you're not afraid of anything, although you scare me to death." A slight smile flickered on her face. But he couldn't let the moment pass without addressing every last concern, no matter how trivial it seemed to him. "And yes, Lois, I like your legs."
Her face flushed. She tilted her chin ever so delicately. For a heartbeat, Clark saw it coming. He was finally going to be rewarded for his Boy Scout behavior over the last few days. Sober and of her own free will, Lois Lane was going to allow him to kiss her.
He shifted his weight to narrow the gap between them. As he did, he saw the veil of confusion and fear descend over her features once more.
"Good," she choked out and pivoted shakily. She was obviously struggling to compose herself as she resumed course.
Clark stiffened and fell in place at her side. He hung his head, wondering how much ground he had just lost.
"Hi, Lois," Jimmy greeted her casually. "Hey, Clark. I was just getting ready to call you on your cell. I just got this over the police scanner and knew you'd be interested."
He passed some notes to Clark, who briefly skimmed them before filling Lois in. "Miranda, the perfumer who was working with pheromones, was just found dead at a private airstrip." He turned to Jimmy and asked, "Your source at the station?"
"I'm already ahead of you," the eager researcher reported. "Rumor has it she was stabbed. Not in any street-fight, either. Single stroke through the heart with a small, cylindrical instrument."
"Didn't she call that perfume 'Revenge?'" Lois recalled. "Maybe she sprayed a lover and it backfired. Removed the wrong inhibitions."
"Jimmy, are any of the feature writers working on this?"
Jimmy shook his head. "You're miles ahead of them if you spoke with her while she was alive. My guess? Perry'll let you work this one through."
Clark couldn't hide his excitement as he decided, "I'm gonna write up the jazz piece. Then, I think this Miranda needs some serious looking into."
Lois smiled sadly as her co-worker and purported friend bounded away. He had finally found ambition. Good for him. If only he hadn't stolen credit from her, she would have wished him well.
It was fun to be working on the cutting edge of a current event. Clark kept stealing glances toward his favorite researcher, but she barely looked up from her work. The few times he caught her eye she looked away before he could even smile, let alone share a little of his joy with her.
He knew she was working on campaign financing. It was always possible she found the war chests of the front-running senatorial candidates so fascinating she couldn't spare him a second glance. It was more likely she was still upset about what he had said to her on their walk back.
But how could he regret doing what he had done? Every word had been truth.
How could he regret anything when he was enjoying his work so much? He had been planning to ask Lois to look into Miranda's background, but Jimmy had beaten him to the punch.
"Thought these might interest you." Jimmy grinned as he plopped down a packet of information. He leaned against the desk as Clark leafed through it. "I've got educational records, employment history, credit reports—remember that those include previous addresses. Don't ask where the credit reports came from. If it's stored on a computer, it's pretty much in there."
"Thanks." Clark reached out to shake Jimmy's hand.
"If you can think of anything else you might need, give me a buzz."
Clark had just begun to peruse the top quarter-inch of papers when a visitor caught his eye. It wasn't just that the man's suit was a cut above normal newsroom-wear or that he walked with a stiff, formal bearing. It was that he carried a crystal vase of white roses and was headed straight toward Lois's desk.
The gentleman cleared his throat to get her attention.
"Mr. Saint-John, I hadn't expected you," she greeted him.
Clark squashed his conscience as he eavesdropped. Some conversations were meant to be overheard. Particularly if his friend was about to have her feelings hurt.
"Mr. Luthor sends his regrets that the events of last evening did not go as planned."
"I bet he regrets a lot," she retorted with enough ice in her tone to make Clark wonder just what had happened last night.
"He sends this gift as a token of peace, in the hopes that you realize that the interview was an aberration from his customary conduct."
Clark watched as Lois's eyes narrowed. Her face was flushed and her heart hammered a rapid cadence. She was livid.
Mr. Saint-John appeared unfazed as he continued. "Perhaps, in light of the unusual nature of your last encounter and the mitigating circumstances that I believe you're aware of, it would be best for all concerned if any articles you intend to write were delayed until a more suitable interview could be arranged."
Clark could tell by the white-knuckled way she gripped her pencil that Lois was still seething, but she curtly nodded her agreement.
"Excellent. Bridgett, in Scheduling, will be in touch shortly."
Clark watched a long while after Saint-John had gone, waiting for Lois to calm down. When it became clear that she wasn't settling down, he pulled a few loose coins from his pocket and sauntered toward her desk.
"I'm heading to the vending machines. You want to come along and pick something out?" he offered.
Her steady glare put Baby Rage's feeble attempt at intimidation to shame. In his concern over Luthor's behavior, Clark had forgotten she was angry with him, as well. The moment stretched in uncomfortable silence.
"Walk with me," he quietly requested.
She considered it for a beat too long before letting her breath out in an exasperated puff. "Fine," she snapped. Her chair whined as she scooted it across the floor, storming out of the room in a huff. He followed closely on her heels. "What do you want?" she demanded.
"I overheard your conversation with Saint-John. Are you okay?"
"How could you have heard? You were half an office away," she gaped in disbelief.
"I heard enough to know that your interview didn't go as planned."
"Gifted hearing, gifted breath and gifted smell. If you had blond hair and blue eyes, Hitler would have loved you. You're a real Superman."
Clark brought her back to the topic. "I'm sorry, Lois. I should have asked how things went with the interview last night when I first saw you this morning. But running into you on the way back was so unexpected, it caught me off guard."
She paused. She wasn't used to men who apologized, although she had met plenty of jerks in her day who needed to—Luthor included.
"So, are you okay?"
Lois sniffed. "It was nothing I couldn't handle. He served me appetizers, made a pass, quoted seventeenth century French poetry and conked out before the soup was served. No big deal."
"He made a pass?" Clark worried. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. I'm not made of glass. I hear much worse in the dorm on Saturday night," she reassured him.
He fidgeted, remembering his own experiences at her dorm last Saturday. It was loud and rude with hints of not only sex, but violence as well. Such a place was probably horrible for Lois to endure. "I imagine all the noise would make studying difficult at your dorm. If you want a quieter environment, you could always hang out at my apartment on the weekends."
She frowned and sighed noisily. "We've been over this before, Kent. I'm not interested in…"
He interrupted quickly, "… since I'm not there on the weekends, you'd have the run of the place."
"You are so naïve." She patted his arm patronizingly. "Even if you weren't there, everyone around the water cooler would assume you were home. The old 'we-were-only-studying' excuse has been around for quite awhile."
"Everyone knows I'm out of town every weekend."
"Everyone?" Her cynicism was clear. "So why haven't I heard about it before?"
"Maybe you're not as in-the-know as you think you are," he suggested.
"So, assuming you're not giving me a line of bull right now, where does everyone else know that you go every weekend?"
"Stargazing. I grab my telescope every Friday night and head to a state park just north of here. There's nothing like hiking and camping in the wetlands to keep a man grounded."
She screwed her face up. Clark couldn't tell if she found his story unconvincing or unappealing.
"You go stargazing, hiking and camping in the wetlands every Friday night? Really?"
With her voice heavy with criticism, she obviously wasn't asking a legitimate question. She was making fun of him—calling his idea of entertainment disagreeable. Yet there was something about being in the doghouse with Lois that set Clark on edge. When he finally won her over, he didn't want to have any regrets. It was rash, probably foolhardy, but he impulsively made a decision.
"No," he admitted.
"Excuse me?" She looked annoyed and confused.
"You asked if I really go stargazing, hiking and camping in the wetlands every Friday night. No, I don't."
"Well, then why do you… Where do you…"
Clark grinned. Lois Lane was rarely, if ever, caught flat-footed.
"Where do I go? If I ever decide to tell someone, you'll be the first to know," he promised. "But not yet."
"You don't really think that's going to work with me. Do you? I'm an investigative journalist. I'll investigate. And I'm going to find out exactly what you're doing. I promise you that."
"Go ahead and try," he challenged her. "In the meantime, I'm going to have a spare key made up tonight. I'll drop it off for you tomorrow. Use it; don't use it. It's your choice. But you're welcome to stay, study… help yourself to whatever is in the fridge."
Lois had her mouth half-open to turn him down when a gentle voice interrupted. "There you are. I've been looking all over for you."
It was the cheap blonde Clark had been talking to back on the courthouse steps. One look at his face and Lois's mind was made up. Her friendship with Clark was way too complicated. One minute he was asking her out, the next he was stealing credit for her work, and in the very next breath he was admitting to being a liar. She sighed. He could have the blonde. She was out of there.
While his attention was diverted, she took the opportunity to slip back down the hallway. She had a lot to think about.
"Can I help you, Miss Drake?"
"Mayson," she reminded him.
"Mayson. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I'm sorry about canceling out on you earlier. When I got there, I found that I wasn't the only one from my office that had been assigned to that case. So if you're still available…?" She left off in a silent question.
"Yeah, sure. I'm available. Just let me finish a few things," he requested.
But when he looked around he saw that Lois had wandered off to her desk. He excused himself to go find her. "I'm sorry for the interruption, but I really need to give this deposition."
Lois barely glanced up as she told him, "No problem. I understand."
"You can't imagine how vital this is," Mayson informed Lois. Clark smiled blandly, although he was a little annoyed at the way the DA had followed him and inserted herself into a private conversation. "We know that the perpetrator which committed the arson is a member of a local gang. We believe that gang has ties to organized crime. So we need to move quickly on this. Not just for Clark's safety, but we're also hoping that if we act fast and put a lot of pressure on the kid we can flip him. It's not likely that he'll testify against the leaders of his own gang, but hopefully we can get something on the organized crime boss." Lois nodded with disinterest. "So if you would be willing to excuse Clark for the afternoon," Mayson continued, "you would be doing a favor not only to the city of Metropolis, but even beyond the borders of New Troy."
Clark struggled to stifle a grin. The idea of working for Lois was laughable, even if she was talented. With a tiny desk in the far back of the newsroom, there was no way she looked at all like a supervisor—unless you took into account her commanding presence and editor-like scowl.
Lois caught his eye. Her earlier irritation seemed to have faded into the mist. He could tell she was silently deciding how she wanted to play this one out. "I understand," she carefully told Mayson before turning her attention fully to Clark. "I suppose I could spare you for one afternoon. But hurry back," she instructed him.
"Yes, ma'am," he politely agreed. He smiled at Mayson and led her away from the newsroom straight-faced.
But he couldn't keep the smirk off his face as Lois called after him, "And no monkey business."
Lois waited until she was sure that Clark and the hussy were completely out of the bullpen before casually walking over to where Jimmy was working. She chatted idly with him for a few minutes, trying to get herself in his good graces before making her request. "I need your help on something."
"Sure, whatever," Jimmy agreed as quickly as always.
"I want you to teach me that little trick I saw you do a couple of weeks back."
"Trick?" He looked genuinely confused.
"The one with the little wire in the lock," she reminded him.
"Oh, that. You mean when Angela pushed the button to lock the filing cabinet with the key already inside? That was nothing," he told her, but his chest puffed out as he continued, this time with a touch more bragging. "Some locks are harder than others, of course, but that little thing was easy."
"Where did you learn?" she gushed, hoping that by feeding his ego she would soon have him eating out of her hand.
"Reform school," he whispered. "It was a bum rap, but I learned a lot of useful things there." He glanced around the room nervously before offering. "You want me to show you?"
Lois was a quick study and Jimmy was an able teacher. While she certainly couldn't say she had mastered the technique, by the time he went home for the day she was able to get into her fair share of locks, if she was persistent enough.
She waited until the office cleared out before she set about her real work for the evening. Clark Kent had a secret, and she was bound and determined to discover what it was.
She started in Personnel. With patience and a few wrong turns she was finally able to break into the right filing cabinet in the right office.
She discovered that his previous address was in a place called Smallville, Kansas. It figured. He had small town, Midwest written all over him. Everything she read led her to believe that he was an all-around good guy.
What she didn't find was answers. There was no wife hidden away somewhere. No prison term. Nothing that hinted about where 'Mr. Secretive' spent his weekends.
No matter. She hadn't truly expected to find the answers on her first night looking. But she would find his secret if it was the last thing she did.
It was late on Saturday night before Lois finally found herself at Clark's apartment. She had sworn to herself that she wasn't coming. But if he was truly out of town, then what did it hurt to eat a little of his food?
And study, of course. Tomorrow morning she was going to hit the books in peace and quiet.
But tonight, she wanted nothing more than a full eight hours of dear, sweet sleep. She slipped into a camisole and her most comfortable blue plaid pajama pants before turning back the sheets on his queen-sized bed.
It felt a little awkward to sleep there, though. The place just reminded her a little too much of Clark. What if he returned in the middle of the night and joined her? She scurried out of bed and jogged over to the kitchen. It took a bit of jiggling, but she managed to prop a chair securely under the front door's knob.
She felt silly as she climbed back into bed. If Clark had wanted to take advantage of her, he would have done it the last time she had visited. She remembered trying to tug him into the bedroom, but he was an immovable force in his resistance of her charms.
Lois stared at the ceiling, willing her dreams to overtake her. Unfortunately, only daydreams tickled her mind. The last time she had slept in this bed, it had an aroma that was distinctly masculine—just musky enough to remind her that a man slept there, but not enough to smell dirty. Tonight it smelled like a spring-fresh fabric softener. Surprisingly, she was a little disappointed.
After forty minutes or so without sleep, she gave up and padded into the kitchen. She opened the fridge and perused its contents. Maybe some warm milk would ease her into the land of nod.
It wasn't milk in the fridge that caught her fancy, though. It was the fudge ripple ice cream in the freezer. Had she been in her own apartment she would have enjoyed a little something-something right out of the carton with one of her big soup spoons, but she couldn't be that rude to Clark. She opened cabinet after cabinet and drawer after drawer before she discovered the proper spoons and bowls to dish it up, and then she leaned against the counter to enjoy.
It was well worth the effort. This was premium fare, even to an aficionado with a discerning palate, like herself. She moaned in delight at the first taste.
But that brought back memories, as well. This was the counter where she had pinned Clark during his 'emergency' phone call. Not that she had used any force, mind you. The feel of her leg against his thigh was all that it took to hold him captive.
Hanging up the phone had been her favorite part. His reach for the cradle had left his arms wide open. She had seized the opportunity, slipping in against the expanse of his chest and claiming his lips for herself. He had immediately surrendered. She had touched the edge of his soul in that kiss—sweetness, strength and fire mingled together.
But all too soon he had pulled away and gotten all noble on her.
She glanced down at her bowl, only to find that she had emptied it with her mind elsewhere. A pity.
But it wasn't a total loss, since she had stumbled across Clark's own, personal stash of Double Fudge Crunch Bars when she had been looking for a bowl. Perhaps studying at his apartment wouldn't be so bad after all.
She cleaned up and headed back to bed, hoping upon hope that the night would be a dreamless one.
It was disconcerting to awaken to invasive silence. Lois lay completely still, assessing her situation. She wasn't in the dorm, she was certain of that, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out where she was.
A photo on the bedside table showed a smiling couple that she didn't recognize.
Then, it all came rushing back to her. Of course, it must be 'Mr. Down-home Green-jeans' parents. She was at Clark's apartment. Obviously the photo was of his parents or grandparents. She wistfully picked it up, taking in every detail of the smiling couple displayed there.
Some guys had all the luck. He had talent, good looks and a family who cared about him—not to mention a large stash of Double Fudge Crunch Bars.
Her stomach growled angrily. Lois returned the photo to its home, noting with alarm as her hand brushed past the clock that the time was nearly ten o'clock. There wasn't time for a proper breakfast but she was too hungry to skip the meal, so she hurried to at least set up the coffee pot and throw in a piece of toast.
With the coffee brewing, she headed over to the front door. She sheepishly returned the chair to the kitchen before heading outside to look for the newspaper. Nothing. Clark liked the personal touch, so he probably had a favorite newsstand where he could shoot the breeze while he picked up a copy.
She grumped to the kitchen and poured a mug of the strong, bitter brew. As she sat down with her toast, she spied the newspaper peaking from the top of her handbag and pulled it out. Uggh. It was six days out-of-date. But old news was better than no news.
She breezed through the headlines, trying to find something that wasn't so behind-the-times that it still interested her. Finally her eyes rested upon that awful story—the one where Clark had stolen credit from her. She had never actually read the dreadful thing. The worst part was that it probably wasn't dreadful at all. He was a very talented writer, if only he weren't so complacent about that touchy-feely stuff. And so willing to steal credit, of course.
With nothing better to do, Lois found herself reading. There it was, as plain as day, "By Lois Lane and Clark Kent."
She was ashamed. Clark hadn't given her the tag ending that he'd promised her, "With special assistance from Lois Lane." He'd given her equal billing. Her first headline in the States.
But why did he tell her he was going to give her a mention at the end of the story if he planned all along to give her equal or even top billing? He was setting her up. She felt stupid.
But that wasn't fair either. It was just as likely that he didn't want to get her hopes up, just in case the editors didn't go for his idea.
She thought back over how temperamental she'd been with him this week. Some friend she had been. And he had been kind enough to let her stay at his place while he was gone.
She was here. Clark could feel it in his bones. It put a spring in his step as he climbed the stairs.
He remembered the feeling he had when he had visited Lois in her dorm as she was preparing for an evening with Luthor. She had been beautiful… excited and exciting. She was always vivacious, and it had radiated from her as she had prepared for her work that night.
Now she was here, in his own home. Of course she wasn't getting all gussied up, like she had for the big interview. But she was gorgeous no matter what she was wearing.
He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and knocked on the door.
Lois wasn't sure what she should do. It wasn't her home. It wasn't right for her to play the part of the little woman and open the door. But it wasn't like the answering machine was going to take a message. She climbed the stairs and answered the door.
"Clark?" She looked around in surprise. "What are you doing knocking on your own door?"
He looked uncharacteristically timid. "I didn't want you to feel like I was barging in on you after I told you I wasn't going to be home all weekend."
Lois laughed. "It's Sunday night. I didn't expect you to be gone forever." She gave Clark a strange look. "You are going to come in, aren't you?"
"Of course, I'm going to come in." He hesitated. It was kind of nice standing next to her in the close confines of the doorway. "How was your studying?"
"Great. It was just great. I got a lot done. Tons and tons," she nervously reported, thinking back to all the wasted time she had spent daydreaming and remembering—or even worse, the many hours she had lost looking for clues as to where he went every weekend. Perhaps it would be best if she just changed the subject as they descended the stairs together. "How was your hiking?"
Clark grinned to her annoyance. He obviously was enjoying his little secret, but she was sure to find him out sooner or later.
"It was as good, as always," he reported.
"You ought to take me along sometime," she suggested, coyly.
He shook his head. "You couldn't handle it." Her glare was so worth every dig. Still, the night was young and he didn't want her to get too riled up. "Remember; you're not even up to a little date among friends. You certainly wouldn't want to commit to an entire weekend with me…" His eyes held her captive as he closed the space between them. "…Just the two of us… alone in the woods."
She took a step back, trying in vain to control her heart as it pounded wildly and her mind as it wandered back down the roads it had lingered in for two days. "I can handle you, Kent," she challenged him, much to her chagrin, in a trembling voice.
He took the hint and led them back into a safer conversation. "So all that hiking in the woods has worked up a real appetite."
"I bet," she drolly remarked.
"You want to stay for awhile? I cook up a mean pasta con aspargi."
"You want to cook for me? Now that's something I surely can't handle."
"As a friend," he clarified.
"Of course, as a friend," she confirmed.
It gave him hope. She was finally giving him a foot in the door. "Well, you know the alternative." Her eyebrows raised in confusion. He pressed forward boldly. "We could go out to eat—as friends, I suppose. I know I said I wouldn't ask you on dates for awhile…"
"You promised," she reminded him, with a toothy grin. She didn't look like she was running scared this time. Definitely a good sign.
"That was so last week," Clark interjected. They had obviously become a lot closer over the past week. Just one week ago they were writing their first story together. Since then, he had helped her to maintain her dignity while practically naked, had helped her as she went solo for the first time at The Planet, and had provided a safe haven for her to spend a quiet weekend studying. Certainly that was progress not even Lois could deny.
"But it was still a promise."
Still he just couldn't let it go—not without even asking. "So, I suppose, it would be out of the question to…"
"Was that in Spanish?" he teased. She might have turned him down, but her voice still held a light, cordial tone. So the answer was 'no' to the date, but not to the friendship.
"Italian, this time," she corrected him.
"I should have known" he joked. "So why not?"
She shrugged and then wandered down to the sofa and nestled among the cushions. It warmed his heart to see how much she felt at home in his apartment.
He followed her into the living room and debated where the best place was to sit—in the chair across from her where he could best make eye contact or on the couch next to her where his knee could accidentally bump hers. He sat on the couch.
"I knew a nice guy once," she remarked casually. "We were just friends, but only because it was a very busy time of my life."
He nodded noncommittally, unsure of where her story was leading. He shifted a bit to the left so their knees would touch. She didn't seem to notice, so he began plotting his next move.
She stared into space as she continued. "He was always inviting me places. 'Let's go out for coffee,' or, 'Feel like lunch?' I would have gone, but he just had lousy timing. We used to laugh about that."
She paused long enough that it got his attention. It was out of character for her to be this melancholy, especially as she reminisced about happy times in her life. He chastised himself for his inconsideration. He listened better to the total strangers he interviewed than he did to Lois, his purported friend.
"So did it ever work out between you two?" he asked, slipping into his best reporter mode.
"Sure." She caught his eyes and shrugged. "Although I'm not sure that's the best choice of words. Anyway, we had to make it a late night, but he finally convinced me to come over for the 'best homemade pizza I'd ever eaten.'"
She glanced at him nervously. He smiled encouragingly. It didn't bother him to hear about ex-boyfriends. She drew courage and continued.
"He put an action movie in the VCR and we snuggled on the couch to eat pizza."
She lapsed into silence again.
"Not a bad first date," Clark prompted.
She frowned in annoyance. "Don't you get it, yet? When the movie ended, he raped me, Clark."
His stomach lurched. "I never thought…" he stumbled. "I mean, I just sort of assumed it was a war thing."
The life dimmed from her gaze as she flatly informed him, "No, it was just a nice guy. The boy next door with the brown eyes and the cleft chin. The guy who was everyone's friend—he's the one who raped me."
There was something about the way she looked at him that made him feel defensive—that made him feel like pointing out that guys who are truly nice don't rape women. But he supposed that was the point of every conversation that the two of them had ever had.
"Did he hurt you? Never mind, that was an idiotic question. Of course, he hurt you. He raped you. I meant, were you all right?" He grimaced as he realized that still was the wrong thing to ask.
She didn't seem to notice. "I did everything you're supposed to do: police, doctors, counselor… the whole nine yards. And when that didn't work, I left the country."
They sat in silence for what seemed like forever.
"I'm sorry," Clark whispered past the lump in his throat.
She didn't respond, but simply stared at images from memories long past.
He wasn't quite sure what to say or do. Was he supposed to hug her, or was that way out of line? Silence reigned as he waited for a cue from her. He tried not to fidget, suddenly very aware of every hair that touched her knee.
She sighed and shook her head to clear it. "Clark, why did you give me a headline on that article we worked on together?"
His head spun as he tried to change mental gears that fast. "Because it was the right thing to do," he said, knowing the answer was woefully incomplete.
She nodded, as if that explained everything. Perhaps, it was the answer she was expecting.
"You could have told me, so I would know where to look. So I wouldn't make an idiot of myself thinking you were just another nice guy who set me up when I didn't see my name at the bottom of the story."
Suddenly, it clicked. She hadn't changed the subject at all. She was just way ahead of him, as always.
"I hadn't really thought it through until I was writing it up," he explained. "And I didn't realize you had a false impression."
"What did you think? I was mad at you for nothing? Surely you noticed I was ticked off."
He shrugged and inspected his shoes. He couldn't possibly tell her what he was thinking. It didn't seem right to point out that she always got annoyed with him when he let her know how attractive she was. Particularly not with the way the conversation had been going.
"Why did you turn me down when I came on to you last week? I know you weren't affected by the pheromone, but you're still a man."
Now he truly didn't know what to say. "Because it was the right thing to do," he muttered. It had worked before so it was worth a shot.
She mustered her courage and went for broke. "Did you want me?"
"Of course," he reassured her, "but not like that."
Lois finally smiled. Perhaps the last of the demons had been slain—at least, for now. "The last time we had a conversation like this, you felt the need to counter with your deepest, darkest secret. Right?"
Clark narrowed his eyes as he nodded.
"So it's your turn. Where did you go this weekend?" she pried.
"I still don't think you can handle that," he firmly told her.
"But you don't mind giving hints. We could play Twenty Questions, since you don't like Truth or Dare. Certainly you don't mind answering a few questions since you are a reporter. Are you alone when you go?"
He wasn't sure how to answer. He was alone when he went, but not when he arrived.
She didn't miss a beat having discerned whatever she wanted to know simply from his poor excuse for a poker face. "Are you going to see a woman?"
He squirmed. "It's not what you're thinking."
"'Yes' or 'no', Clark. Answer the question."
"How elderly do you have to be before you use a different term than just woman?" he inquired. "And if you're seeing more than one person does it still count as a yes?"
"I didn't know you were a lawyer in your past life," she chided.
"Do you leave the city of Metropolis?"
"Do you leave the state of New Troy?"
He fidgeted. "Yes."
He tried, in vain, to change the subject. "Did you want something to drink? I'm parched." He hurried from the room and pulled some glasses from the kitchen cupboard. She followed, hot on his tail.
"Iced tea? Soda? Anything?" he offered.
She had him right where she wanted him. A little more guilt just might put him over the edge. She went for the jugular, poking at the weakness every nice, small-town guy shared. "Does your mother know what you're doing?"
His hands were starting to sweat.
A sharp rap on the door caused both of them to jump. Clark had to have been engrossed in the conversation, since it was extremely difficult to sneak up on him. Never one to let opportunity slide by, he practically sprinted to answer the door. "I wonder who that is," he remarked as he took the steps in two big strides.
"Mayson," Clark greeted her with a smile.
"I was in the neighborhood," Mayson explained, "and thought we could go over some facts."
"Sure, we could do that," he quickly agreed, knowing why she wanted to get this case in court in such a hurry. He stepped aside to welcome her in, but she lingered at the bottom of the stairs. He leaned against the railing and answered her questions.
Lois watched the two of them converse, having apparently been forgotten in the kitchen. Actually, to be more accurate, Clark probably hadn't forgotten her. No, he was shamelessly running away.
And Mayson was obviously happy to catch him. Lois had seen how the vixen had checked him out when he opened the door. Her eyes had brazenly run up and down his body like she was assessing a prize horse. Her body language, her tone of voice, the way she touched him… it was shocking and pitiful how she threw herself at him.
He didn't seem to mind. Maybe it was those small-town manners. Maybe he was just a nice guy. But it annoyed Lois to watch what the poor man had to go through at the hands of that temptress.
Unless he really was attracted to the little vamp, Lois worried. But no, she had to believe him when he said that it was her he was attracted to.
Maybe it was time for Lois to rescue him. Maybe if she provided him with an excuse, he would find his way out from under Mayson's claws.
But then again, Clark would probably hold her to whatever it was she offered him.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. He was a kind, good-looking guy, after all. But then again, that was his greatest downfall, as well. It was the pleasant, attractive ones that couldn't be trusted.
So why was it that Lois gave him the time of day? She remembered back to how he had proven himself trustworthy on the job. He had given her more credit than she was due—okay, maybe she did deserve it, since his story was dead in the water without her input.
And he had proven himself trustworthy with her secrets, too—tending her wounds without airing her private laundry. She had given him a hard time about it, but it was nice to have someone that cared about her, for a change.
He cared about her enough not to take advantage of her, as well. He had to have been tempted. He had admitted that he wanted her. He liked her legs and her breasts, and she couldn't remember his hands wandering down either avenue. Certainly she would have remembered that.
So what was it that she needed from Clark? What could he do that would make her feel safe around him? Aside from turning into a woman, there wasn't a thing that came to mind…and that would certainly make him lose the appeal.
Lois glanced back at the way Mayson was pathetically throwing herself at Clark. The slut was virtually giddy as she gushed about what a great witness he would be and how brave he was. From what Lois had seen they hadn't discussed anything that couldn't have been handled in a phone call during regular business hours, so clearly the whole purpose of the meeting was to butter him up for some big come-on.
"I was wondering… Would you like to have dinner?" Mayson invited him. Yep, that was what Lois was waiting for.
"To discuss the case?" Clark asked. He was so naïve.
"No," Mayson acknowledged.
He was visibly surprised by the offer, but Mayson didn't seem to pick up on the clue that maybe she wasn't his first choice. Lois hurried over to save him.
"I'm sorry. Clark and I already made plans for dinner," Lois informed Mayson, slipping an arm around her friend's. "Didn't we, Clark?"
While Mayson looked taken aback at Lois's presence, the tart didn't have enough grace to be embarrassed by her lude proposition.
Clark, too, appeared surprised. Almost certainly he was unsure of Lois's intensions. She smiled to encourage him. His delight lit up his face as he turned toward his impromptu guest. "I'm sorry, Mayson. I didn't mean to mislead you. But Lois and I… Well, you know…"
"No, I'm the one who is sorry. I should have realized you had a guest. We'll talk more about the case at a different time. Okay?"
Lois found it difficult to hide her smirk at Mayson's hasty retreat. It could only have been better if the door had hit her on her broad rear-end on the way out. Lois turned to find Clark quietly assessing her. He was likely to have a million questions for her that she still wouldn't know how to respond to.
But the question he posed, she knew just how to answer. "Does that mean you're available for dinner?"
Her mouth curved upward as she tugged him closer. "Oui."
While I do use homeopathy and herbal remedies in my own home, I rarely use the kind of poultices that I wanted Martha Kent to specialize in. Therefore, I have borrowed heavily (stolen info) from the following site:
It's worth the read, even though I don't support 100% of what's on the rest of the site.
I hope that long-time FOLCs recognize and appreciate my nod to Debbie Stark's Dawning series.
>>>>>>"If any of your clothes fit me, I'll be mortified."
A few of the least believable portions of my story are adapted from real life. Just to add plausibility (and also to thank them for their own queer contributions), I'll name them. I went to college with the man who announced to his parents that he had met the girl he was going to marry, having neglected to first learn her name. Also, the loud party animal at the dorm is based on the woman who lived above my mother's apartment. Mom hated to invite me over, since she never knew when her neighbor would be "entertaining" guests.