By Laura S. <email@example.com>
Submitted November 2007
Summary: An undercover investigation leads Lois Lane to play a high school student at Metropolis High. Too bad her fox of an English teacher thinks she's 17. Can a lonely teacher named Clark Kent and a headstrong journalist find love and overcome the odds and deception inherent in such a situation?
Just want to thank Laramoon for her endless patience and help. :)
The front of the Daily Planet had never seemed quite so terrifying. She had walked past it dozens, perhaps hundreds of times and not once had it inspired the spectacular fear coiling in her belly. Excitement, yes. Confidence, of course. Fear? Never.
The twenty-three-year-old lightly grasped the door handle and steadied her breath. She could do this. No problem. She was Lois Lane. She graduated at the top of her class from Metropolis University. Scraping through the necessary calculus required to graduate? That was tough. A job interview at the most prestigious newspaper in the nation? She could do that.
Instilled with slightly more confidence after her impromptu pep talk, Lois strode through the lobby, her heels clicking definitively on the marble floor. With a confident jab to the "up" button by the elevator, Lois straightened and tilted her chin as she waited with a practiced air of sophistication.
The facade lasted exactly until the doors closed after her in the empty elevator. Then she was a wreck again. It had taken an obscure connection from her- of all things- calculus teacher, to even begin to finagle an interview with the legendary Perry White.
Apparently Professor Junipero hadn't spent his entire life merely scribbling formulas and theorems. Quite a thought, actually, the fact that he had a life beyond Met U. Lois mentally reined in her thoughts as they drifted from her ancient but helpful math teacher to the elevator hurling her up toward the most terrifying interview of her life. A few stops later and she was on the floor earmarked for the Daily Planet newsroom.
The Lois Lane who exited the elevator was not the same Lois Lane who internally quivered inside of it. She straightened her blouse and confidently glanced around the office like she belonged there.
Finally, a boy who looked to be nineteen or twenty came up to her. "Can I help you?" he asked, friendlily enough. He was struggling with a stack of files and Lois automatically caught one as it began to slip. "Thanks," he sighed in relief and set the stack down on a nearby desk.
"Okay, *now* I can help you," the boy gave her an easy grin and Lois tried to smile back. "Who are you looking for?"
"Perry White. I have an interview," Lois finally responded crisply. It wouldn't do to appear nervous in front of a simple go-fer.
"Cool. I'll tell him you're here. Name?"
"Jimmy Olsen," the boy gave her another easy grin and trotted off though the melee.
A minute later, Jimmy returned. "The Chief's all ready for you, Lois. Go on in to that office up there."
With that he was gone and Lois felt an unimaginable sense of loss at the comfort of someone nearly her own age. There wasn't time for this. She had to pull herself together. After another quick pep talk, she suddenly found herself knocking on Perry White's office door, bracing herself for the worst.
One didn't become the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper by playing nice, she told herself. Or even by playing fair. Perry White was probably a snake, a low down dirty, devious…
The door was opened by a man in an Elvis tie.
Perhaps not, then.
"Ms. Lane! Perry White. It's a pleasure to meet you." The great bear of a man stuck out his hand and eagerly shook hers.
Lois followed closely behind and the door shut with a quick click, effectively cutting off the hustle and bustle of the newsroom. Perry motioned for her to take the chair opposite his and gave her a hard stare.
"Now, Roger Junipero tells me you're a real whiz at reporting. I've learned not to question his judgment, so I decided to grant you an interview," Perry raised a hand when he saw Lois open her mouth. "But I'm telling you now, we're near overflowing with competent reporters right now. I'm not sure what I can do for you."
Lois faltered slightly at this, but it didn't outwardly reflect on her face. "Mr. White, I'm certain if you would read some of these samples, you might be persuaded to change your mind." Lois handed over her portfolio and tried to control the wild staccato of her heart.
For a near five minutes, Perry was silent as he perused the articles, his eyes quickly skimming the articles in some parts and slowing as they critically observed others. It was dreadfully silent in the office and Perry finally set the file down and looked her straight in the eye.
"Lois Lane, this is damn fine reporting," he said.
Her breath caught in her throat and she couldn't tear her eyes from his. This was it; she'd be made or broken.
"But I just don't have the spot for you right now."
"And *that* is what Hawthorne meant when he had Dimmesdale join Hester and Pearl on the stage. Now what is the symbolism of the light in the sky?"
Clark Kent stared out at his classroom, willing one of his students to twitch perceptively enough to legitimately call it a raised hand. Most of the class was glancing desperately at the clock, or shrinking into their chairs. A few girls near the front had their chins resting on their hands, gazing up at him with near predatory gazes. That unnerved him slightly, but finally a quiet girl named Kaitlin raised her hand timidly.
Pleased that the normally reserved girl was finally speaking, Clark immediately called on her.
"The l-light represents a divine judgment, as if God is b-baring their sins for a verdict. When their hands join, it's a symbol of them mutually a-acknowledging each other."
Excited beyond reason at this intelligent response to his question, Clark gave her an enthusiastic grin and congratulated her. He was about to move onto the next subject when his sensitive hearing picked up on a few cruelly aimed barbs from some of his less intelligent, more popular students. They were soft enough that a large percentage of the class had not heard, but it was obvious Kaitlin had. A hard glare in their direction silenced them immediately, but the damage had been done.
Kaitlin slunk down in her seat, her face pale and her chin dipping down onto her chest. Clark looked at her for a moment, hesitant, before finally, reluctantly continuing on with his lesson. When the bell rang to signal the end of class and consequently the end of the school day, the kids bolted.
"Kaitlin," Clark stopped her after the masses had dove for the exit. "Could you stay a moment please?"
Shuffling forward, her lime green backpack looking for all the world like it weighed more than she did, Kaitlin made her way to Mr. Kent's desk. "Yes sir?" she asked quietly.
Now that Kaitlin was at his desk, Clark was torn. He wanted to find some way to apologize for the behavior of the boys in his class. To let her know to keep her chin up.
"That was an extremely perceptive response you gave in class, Kaitlin. And in general, your work has been excellent."
Kaitlin blushed and kept her gaze steady on her feet.
"Mr. Scott, the principal, has asked me to pick a few promising students to form a competitive literary team. It's called 'ready writing.' From what I can tell, you're given a prompt and then set to respond to it by using observation of current events, literary history and general knowledge. I think you'd be a wonderful candidate."
Kaitlin looked up at him for the first time, a little more comfortable. "Really? You think I'd be any good at that?"
"Kaitlin, you're one of the very best and the absolute first one I thought of when Mr. Scott approached me. And it wouldn't involve too, too much. One meeting a week until the competition, which is in three months. What do you say?" Clark gave her an easy grin, sensing he had already won the shy girl over.
"Okay, Mr. Kent. I'll do it. Thanks for the confidence in me."
"It's not hard to be confident in you, Kaitlin."
"Who else are you recruiting?"
Clark thought for a moment and shook his head. "Maybe Garrett McKinney, but I'm not sure just yet. We have three spots. He's the other likely candidate, but I'll still need to find someone to fit the third spot."
A pink tinge appeared in Kaitlin's cheeks as he mentioned Garrett. Biting back a smile, Clark thanked Kaitlin for staying after. "I'll get you some more information about the meetings after I find our third person. Thanks for staying after."
"No problem, Mr. Kent. See you tomorrow."
Clark gave a short wave and then surveyed his classroom critically as the door swung shut behind her. His room was a mess. The little torn edges of notebook paper littered the floor in a veritable snowstorm. Someone had left their book. The desks and chairs were nowhere near their respective other. A quick glance through the wall with his x-ray vision revealed no one to be in the near vicinity.
Suddenly he became a blur, darting back and forth throughout the room. A moment later he halted, his form sharpening into his normal appearance. The room was spotless.
Grinning at having saved the janitors some work, Clark put some papers in his briefcase to grade and walked out of the classroom, whistling.
As Lois wandered aimlessly down the street, she couldn't put her interview with Perry White out of her head. She had briefly seen the hustle of the newsroom and she was already enthralled by it. The heady rush of noise, the frantic pace; it all sounded wonderful. And though logically she knew that all newspapers must be something like that, she had stubbornly set her sights on the Planet. Briefly, Lois thought back to the papers she had submitted for Perry White's perusal. They were hard-hitting and edgy, her normal trademark. But, Lois sighed, at the heart of the matter, they were merely news reports. And as Perry had gently explained, they had an overstock of reporters capable of recapping the news.
That one had hurt. Was she not the prodigy her journalism instructor had set her up to be? For the first time in over seven years, Lois tried to imagine herself in a different position than print journalism. She could work in television… or even get a job writing literature for companies. Her communications degree was rather universal, so the options were limitless. But that still didn't ease the ache in her heart.
And she was wallowing. Just because she didn't get accepted at the first place she interviewed in! Lois hardened her heart slightly and began to look at things objectively. She didn't want to work at the Metropolis Star or any of the other local newspapers. The Daily Planet was like a siren's call and she was powerless to resist. No, she needed to write one definitive story. One that would prove for certain she was Daily Planet reporter material. It had to be something different… something no other newspaper would uncover. Lois sank down on a bench outside of Metropolis High. As she looked up at the immense stone building, nestled quietly among some shady oak trees, she was struck by the innocent appearance. It looked like a safe haven, like the worst that could go wrong would be a failed paper. Her sister Lucy still attended school here. She was a junior and loved the fast pace of high school compared to middle school. As she was musing, a nagging doubt crept in her mind.
Something Lucy had said… It had been months ago. Lois had barely paid attention, much more interested in the story she was working on for the college newspaper. But it nagged her. The building shouldn't look so innocent. Why was that? Groaning in frustration, Lois picked up her cell phone to call her sister. If she could just remember what was eluding her, she'd feel much better. She punched in the number and waited impatiently for her sister to pick up. On the next to last ring, Lucy finally answered her cell phone.
"Luce? It's Lois."
"Yeah, what's up?"
"Okay, think back a few months ago. You were telling me something about Metropolis High. A scandal, right?"
Lois could almost hear Lucy perking up. "You mean when Nick dumped Kelly for Alison?"
Exasperated, Lois shook her head, not paying attention to the fact that Lucy couldn't see her. "No, I mean it was big. Something bad. The authorities were involved?"
"Oh! Yeah, sorry Lois. I forgot all about that. We had some problems with gang initiations."
'Yes!' Lois thought, 'Mayhem and scandal.'
"Guns and gang warfare?" Lois asked, a note of excitement starting to infuse her voice.
"No, it's actually between girls. Just one group. They make their girls do all sort of crazy initiation rites. That's what started up the controversy. This girl, Beth, drowned last year. She was supposed to jump in the water tower and tread water for an hour, but she couldn't manage to climb back up. Someone, or some people, removed her body and hid it. They're just stupid tests of will and endurance."
The wheels were already furiously rolling in Lois' head.
"But the gang is still active?"
"As far as I know. The police couldn't get any leads as to who put her up to the stunt or who moved the body. They had plenty of suspicion, but no concrete leads. Beth's parents just wanted to forget everything. They didn't press charges and moved away a few months later. Eventually the cops just dropped the case. But everyone knows who it was."
"Who?" Lois asked, barely able to allow Lucy to finish her sentences.
"Jill Reynolds and Lexy Hartness. They're sort of the 'leaders.' They're both seniors at MHS."
"Thank you Lucy, you don't know how much you've helped me!" Lois snapped her phone shut, ignoring Lucy's voice in the background before she was abruptly cut off. With a broad smile on her face, Lois spun on her heel and marched back to the Daily Planet.
Here was a scoop just waiting to be served. She knew there was more to this than preliminary investigations revealed. Treading water in a water tower? Were these girls crazy? Anyway, if she could blow the gang scandal wide open, she'd solve an old murder case *and* perform a cutting expose. It was a blend of hard news and feature, investigation and delicate undercover work. She knew she could do it. All she had to do was strike a bargain with Perry White.
An hour later, after an intense interview with Perry, Lois had her answer. If she could go undercover and find proof leading to the arrest of whoever was responsible, she had a job. The Planet would fund her for three months so she could make ends meet. That was the deal, take it or leave it.
Lois took it.
As she came out of Perry's office, she couldn't keep the professional apathetic look on her face. Her face split into a wide smile as she inwardly cheered and cried in happiness. She was hired! True it was only for three months, but she knew she could do it. She would fight to expose this scandal. Perry had even set her up with a small cubicle. It was more than she could have dreamed of, even an hour and a half ago, after her dismal first interview.
"Ma Cherie, I have not had the pleasure of meeting you. Are you a new intern here?"
At the silky voice, Lois glanced up and her step faltered. The man was gorgeous. Absolutely breathtaking. He was tall, much taller than herself, with long black hair and piercing brown eyes. She was so distracted by his face, the cut jaw line, full lips, that she nearly forgot to be offended by his statement.
"Intern? No sir. I am a fully paid employee of the Daily Planet," Lois said archly, raising her eyebrows at the man. Too bad her status only lasted three months, but this man didn't have to know that.
"Ah. Then forgive me. It is rare indeed that reporters for the Daily Planet are so exquisite. My name is Claude Malfois. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Lois extended her hand, never truly regaining her cool after that first initial once-over of him. "Lois Lane. I'll be working on an undercover story for a while, and then I'll take over the hard news."
Instead of grasping her hand in a shake, he gently laid a kiss on her knuckles.
"That is indeed fortunate for me, Miss Lane. I work in news as well. To prolong your company will be sweet indeed."
Lois' eyebrows were nearly in her hairline. She didn't know people actually still talked like that. Though the skeptic in her was scoffing, she was fighting big time with the hopeless romantic. And skeptic was fighting a losing battle. Lois looked up at Claude through her lashes, admiring the tanned skin revealed by his slightly opened dress shirt.
"Would you do me the honor of allowing me to call on you sometime?"
"Like… a date?" Lois gulped. She normally wasn't this tongue-tied! Why was she screwing this up so badly?
"Yes. If you give me your telephone number I will call you soon to arrange a time." He pulled out a small notepad and a pen and handed it to her. Lois found herself scribbling her number and handing it back before she could coherently think.
"Au revoir, Miss Lane." With a last searing gaze that left her knees a little weak, Claude strode out of the newsroom, leaving Lois clutching to her cubicle for support.
Clark let himself into his small apartment, simultaneously flipping on the light switch and depositing his briefcase on the floor. He let out a breath as he looked around at his home and shuffled into the kitchen to make himself dinner. He didn't super speed through it today — he really had nothing better to do. Twenty minutes later, Clark sat down at his spacious kitchen table and quietly speared a piece of asparagus as he graded papers. He was glad that Kaitlin had decided to join the Ready Writing team. And if the way her heartbeat had sped up when he mentioned Garrett's name, then the more power to her. He'd invite Garrett to join too. In fact… he could orchestrate some meetings… Be late a few times…
As Clark's musings shifted farther, he reeled himself in. God, he was a wreck. He was actually planning to play matchmaker for a couple of 17-year-olds. These were not the signs of a healthy man. But things had been hard. The kids he taught were his lifeline. They kept him sane, all the while steadily driving him insane. It was a knife-sharp line and he thrived on it. Besides, he earned a steady income and got summers off. What more could he want in his life?
His subconscious answered that one quickly. Anything but that. There he was, thinking about her again after he had told himself to stop. Clark grabbed onto the couch. Not again. He couldn't deal with any more tears. Why couldn't he stop? He was a grown man, not some child.
He would take a shower. Let the hot water scald away all the painful memories. He moved silently to his bathroom, stripping as he went. He shoved the water temperature all the way to hot and stepped in, not waiting for the cold water to turn blistering.
His shower. Not hers. Not theirs. His apartment. Not theirs. Oh God. It had been theirs. They had had their life together. They had made the deepest commitment to each other. They had returned to this very apartment. He had carried her over the threshold and made passionate love to her for hours. Tears blistered in his eyes and he squeezed them shut, willing the memories to leave him. His wife. His eyes shot open as he threw his left hand in front of his face. There. His ring. He still remembered her slipping it on his finger and the way her small hand had felt in his.
The way she had giggled when he playfully threw her down on the bed. How she had forbidden him to get dressed. The beautiful year they had together. He rested his head against the cool tile behind him and let the memories wash over and soothe his body and soul. The notes she used to leave for him, all over the apartment, in the most unlikely of places. The way they used to be able to finish each other's sentences. The day she had suddenly clutched her chest and dropped to the floor.
And not even super speed had managed to save her.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest it was called. He couldn't have known, the doctor had said. It wasn't his fault. There were hardly any warning signs. The survival rate was less than five percent. Platitudes. Illogical, unreasonable platitudes meant to soften blows he deserved. He who could *hear* heartbeats should have been able to save her. He who had promised to love and cherish his wife for as long as they both lived had failed her when she needed him most.
His perfect, wonderful life. Shattered. He had let loose a barrage and he welcomed it, letting the terrible memories overwhelm him as he slumped to the floor of the shower, sobbing.
"Lucy, are you *sure* this is what the high school kids are wearing these days?" Lois held up the leopard print blouse and short leather skirt. "I feel like a hooker."
"Lois, come on. Would I steer you wrong?" At Lois' pointed look, Lucy relented. "Okay, so sue me, that's not *exactly* what kids are wearing."
Relieved, Lois threw down the outfit in disgust. "Lucy, why do you even own that?"
"Hey! I said not all the kids are wearing it. The dorks aren't, but the cool kids are."
"Don't call them that."
"Oh Miss High and Mighty, I forgot. You were the founding member of the chess team."
"You are so full of it."
"And you are such a prissy brat."
Lois and Lucy glared at each other amidst the wreck of Lucy's closet.
"I don't *have* to help you. I'm doing you a favor!" Lucy shouted at her sister. "Put this on and don't complain." Lucy shoved a red shirt from Hollister and some Abercrombie jeans at Lois.
"I'll take the shirt, but I have some jeans from the Gap already," Lois said, examining the tiny jeans.
"Oh no you don't. I've seen those jeans. They're fully intact. You will wear those Abercrombie jeans and you will like it, Lois!"
"What do you mean they're fully intact, you think I'd want jeans like this?" Lois roughly shook the ripped, battered and paint splattered Abercrombie jeans at Lucy. "What did you do, get chased by a pit-bull in a paint factory?"
Rolling her eyes, Lucy continued to dig through her closet, throwing articles of clothing at her sister. "You are so clueless. I bought them like that. It's the in thing. God, you'd think you were thirty, not twenty three for all you know."
"You say thirty like it's a bad thing."
Lois struggled to pick up the mountain of tops and skirts and pants Lucy had sent her way. "You honestly think I'll need all of this? I do have my own clothes."
Lucy gave her sister a slow once-over. "If you're going to fit in at this school, you'd better. I can't believe you're doing this, by the way, you know you're doomed to fail. Do you think you're just going to be able to waltz into high school and have Lexy and Jill spill their secrets to you?"
Lois shrugged. "I'm a good listener."
"Well hate to break it to ya, Sis, but I think you're sorely under-experienced for this sort of thing. High school is no child's play."
"Lucy, I was in high school six years ago, I remember it just fine. I was the Student Council President," Lois said smugly. She had ruled high school. Lucy was worrying over nothing.
"Uh-uh. The only thing that matters at Metropolis High is Jill and Lexy. Cheerleading captain? No sway. Student Council President? Nothing. Football captain? A little."
"Why does he get a little sway and the cheerleaders don't?" Lois asked indignantly.
Lucy grinned at her slightly clueless older sister. "He and Lexy sometimes…" She twisted her fingers together and Lois got the message.
"Let me see your schedule. I can tell you about some of these teachers."
Lois handed over her schedule and leaned over to read over Lucy's shoulder.
"Brown? Good. Kingsley? Blech. Garza? So-so. Redwick. Evil. West? Okay. Kent…" Lucy trailed off as she started squealing. "You have Mr. Kent for English Lit! Oh you lucky dog."
"Huh? Why?" Lois grabbed her schedule and reread it. "'C. Kent, English Lit. Room 203.' What's the big deal?"
"What's the big deal? Lois! Mr. Kent is gorgeous! Every single girl in the school would kill for your schedule! Oh God, I would kill for your schedule."
Lois rolled her eyes. Great. Sixth period lit would be a blast. She'd have to deal with moony-eyed senior girls.
"So he's good looking. Wonderful. Anything else to enlighten me?"
"Lois, you do not even understand! This man… every girl at school absolutely loves him to pieces. He's fair and apparently a really good teacher. At the end of the year, he writes every single student in his classes an entire letter full of well wishes for college and anecdotes about the year."
"So? He probably has three or four written and he mass-produces them. Lucy, I appreciate that the man might have some passing good looks, but come on, be serious."
"I'm not kidding! They're all completely different. He's so cute," Lucy sighed off, looking a little lovelorn. "Oh! There's a candid picture of him and his wife in my yearbook from last year, let me get it."
"His wife?" Lois asked in the general vicinity of where she last saw her sister. Lucy was digging through her closet, nearly swimming in messy piles of clothes. "See? The guy's married. I don't know what everyone is lusting after."
Lucy was hastily flipping through her yearbook and only disjointedly heard Lois speak. "Oh, his wife's dead."
At Lois' gasp, Lucy looked up. "What?"
"Jeez, you don't have to be so cavalier about it! What happened?"
"Sudden Cardiac Arrest. It happened about two years ago, but some of the kids who had Mr. Kent before his wife died are shocked at how much more listless he is now. There he is." Lucy pointed to a picture and Lois moved over to get her first look at the mysterious Mr. Kent.
"Sudden Cardiac Arrest, really? So young?" Lois was musing as she craned her neck to see the picture. Her breath caught in her throat slightly. There was a beautiful blonde woman cheering at a Tigers football game. The photographer must have caught a private moment, because the man in the picture was staring at his wife with a huge smile and a slightly adoring gaze. Both were decked out in full Tigers regalia and Lois was startled by how handsome the man was. How terrible for this Mr. Kent, to have lost his wife so suddenly and so young. Kent didn't look much older than she was, probably 25 or 26, 27 at the most. Lois couldn't tear her gaze from the contented expression in his eyes as he watched his wife cheer. He couldn't have known his life was going to turn around so much in such a short time. Lois glanced at the caption.
English Literature teacher Clark Kent and his wife, Lana, cheer for the Tigers at the Oct. 5 football game against Rydell High. Kent has taught at Metropolis High since he graduated from college in 2000. "Metropolis High is my home. It really means a lot to me to be able to impact students in any way," Kent said. "And the football games are fantastic."
"That's terrible," Lois said softly. "I'm so sorry."
Lucy had already lost interest, however. "Yeah. It's a shame. But you are so lucky, girl!"
Lois let Lucy's familiar chatter wash over her as she continued to stare at the picture, suddenly feeling an ache in her heart for the man she hadn't even met.
Lois slammed her locker shut in exasperation. Were the girls this dumb when she was in school? She had already endured three periods of First Day of School Torture. Funny, they should bottle it as a new kind of agony. Lois had spent the first half of the day being stared at. It took a great deal of willpower not to revert to the hard shell she chose for times like this. But Lois wasn't a fool; she knew that when she slipped on that particular armor of sarcasm and scathing wit, she lost all approachability.
And despite the fact that she was with some idiots whose worst problem was how to sneak out of the house on Fridays, she needed them to like her. That would be the only way she could infiltrate deeply enough in Jill and Lexy's gang. Lois looked at the clock and cursed. Two minutes to make it to history. Crap! She was so going to be late.
Lois slid into her seat in Mrs. Redwick's class just as the bell finished ringing. As the old woman stared at her, Lois stared right back, refusing to be intimidated.
"Miss… Lane, is it?" she began. Lois tensed. This was never good. Throughout the morning, none of her teachers had made her do anything too embarrassing. Miss Garza had told her to stand and say her name and where she was from, but that was easy enough. This woman, Mrs. Redwick, looked like she ate kids for lunch.
"Miss Lane, please stand and tell us about yourself and your expectations for this year."
Inwardly rolling her eyes, Lois gave Mrs. Redwick her most polite smile — one anyone close to her would instantly recognize as totally fake — and stood to face her bored classmates.
All while she was talking, Lois kept her eye on Jill Reynolds. Lois had lucked out. Both Lexy and Jill were in her first period, and then Jill was in both third and fourth as well. She planned to spend the next few days evaluating them and how the other students acted around them. So far as she could tell, they acted like typical, popular high school girls. She noticed them insulting a few girls behind their backs, they ate lunch with a table full of beefy looking football players, and the rest of the time they giggled and passed notes. Lois didn't get it. How had evolution failed them so? It was all so stereotypical.
Finally, after answering one rapid-fire question after the other, Mrs. Redwick was satisfied. As Lois took her seat, a girl who looked vaguely familiar gave her a hesitant smile.
"Hi, I'm Dana Grisham," she whispered.
"Lois Lane." Lois gave her a tentative smile as well.
"I know, I heard the spiel in first period too."
Lois laughed slightly and straightened when Mrs. Redwick turned from the board to glare at her class. When the teacher turned back toward the lesson, Lois leaned toward Dana again.
"Those girls seem pretty popular." She gestured to Jill and a few of her friends with a nod, playing dumb to their names. Dana's smile turned wistful.
"Yeah. They are. Truly the top of the food chain here, if you know what I mean. That's Jill Reynolds." Dana pointed to the girl with sun streaked blond hair. "And there's Nicole Fisher and Kylie Robinson. They're all pretty popular in their own right, but Jill is really their 'leader' if you know what I mean."
Lois nodded and Dana continued.
"I'd really like to be their friend. They have this group that they call the 'Rosettes.' If you get in, you're automatically like… a legend." Lois could feel the palpable waves of desire radiating off Dana. "You go to all these parties and you pretty much get your pick of any guy at school. It's so awesome."
'Pay dirt,' Lois thought gleefully. This was easier than she had anticipated. She shot another glance at Mrs. Redwick and then turned back to Dana. "Wow," she said softly, trying to inflect a proper amount of awe in her voice. "That's awesome. Do you think we could join?"
"Yeah right. Maybe, *maybe*, if you could get either Jill or Lexy to like you a little they might put up your name for consideration. But even then, that's just to propose you for their initiations. It's a rough game."
"But you still want to try it?" Lois asked softly. Dana's hazel eyes darkened with anticipation and she nodded fiercely.
"I'd give anything to be one of them."
Uneasy, Lois shifted back to her seat. Poor Dana, so intent on becoming popular she was missing the rest of high school. As Lois ignored Redwick's lecture, she contemplated what she had learned so far. So the "Rosettes" were the big bad gang she had heard so much about. She needed to find someway to meet up with Lexy or Jill. And some way to get through three more months of school.
An hour and a half later, it was time for the infamous Mr. Kent's class. Lois grabbed the Lit book she had picked up from the front office and headed down to room 203. She waved as she saw Dana in the hall and grinned in genuine pleasure when she realized the girl was headed toward the same class she was.
"Hi Lois! You're in Mr. Kent's class too?" Dana said as she caught up with Lois in the hall.
"Yeah," Lois grinned and lowered her voice. "So I hear he's pretty cute, what do you think?"
Dana's jaw dropped. "You mean you haven't seen him?"
"Not in person, no."
Dana grabbed Lois' arm and pulled her through the crowd. "Oh girlfriend, you are *so* in for a treat!"
Caught up in Dana's schoolgirl excitement, Lois followed her until they reached the door marked 203. Dana pushed open the door and they entered Mr. Kent's English Lit. Lois was prepared to sneak in and unobtrusively find a seat in the back, but Dana propelled her forward.
"Mr. Kent, we have a new student."
The man looked up from his desk, an affable grin sliding across his face. "Hi Dana." He turned toward Lois and extended his hand. "Hello, my name is Clark Kent. I'll be your English teacher this year."
Lois managed a grin. "Yeah, I got that from the schedule. My name is Lois Lane," she finished, grasping his hand to shake it. Her throat suddenly felt a little bit dry at the contact. However gorgeous he was in his picture, he looked ten times better in person. As Lucy would — and did — say: "that man is cute!" His thick hair brushed over his forehead a little, just enough to be endearing. But despite the obvious good looks, he looked tired. The intent gaze behind his glasses was a little haunted, but the smile on his face was genuine.
"It's a real pleasure to have you in my class, Lois. Would you like to take that empty seat next to Dana?" Clark gestured to a seat in the second row and Lois nodded. "Okay, great. We're in the middle of discussing The Scarlet Letter, by Nathanial Hawthorne. Have you read it?"
Lois nodded and Clark's smile widened. "Great! Well then you'll be a step ahead of the game. If you'll take a seat, I'll just introduce you to the class really quick."
At the look Lois gave him, Clark laughed and threw up his hands in mock surrender. "No speeches, I promise. I'll just say your name and we'll move on."
Lois grinned at him and moved to the seat Mr. Kent had pointed out, just as the tardy bell rang. Mr. Kent stepped up in front of the class, a stack of papers in one hand.
"Hi guys." He watched the class' response with an amused look glinting in his eyes. About half the class gave a muttered "hello." Jenny Parkins sat up straight and belted out a chipper "Hello, Mr. Kent!" to which Clark acknowledged with a nod.
"As I'm sure you all know, we have a new student today. And don't all turn around to gawk, either!" Sure enough, six or seven heads turned sheepishly back to the front. "Her name is Lois Lane and she just transferred from New York City. Now moving on, I've graded your quizzes over chapters 1-13."
The class groaned and Clark smiled as he began handing them out. This was his lifeblood, these kids scowling at him. It was scary how much he relied on them for his general well-being. After Lana had died, he had withdrawn from all his friends. They understood and gave him his space, of course, but it was never really the same. He never came back to them. He could turn his back on them and they would be fine. They were always more of Lana's friends than his anyway. But these kids… He wasn't allowed to abandon them. And that was when he had thrown himself into teaching with a steadfast determination. It was really all he had to live for at the moment. His smile turned wry and self-deprecating. His mother would tan his hide if she knew he had dark thoughts like that tumbling through his mind.
Throughout the rest of the class, Clark called on a few different kids, and one time Lois tentatively raised her hand. So far, this was the only class she had really paid attention in. She tried to tell herself it was the subject matter, because she honestly did enjoy literature, but in her heart of hearts she knew it was because of the way it was being taught. It was obvious that Mr. Kent genuinely adored literature in general. It was evident in every thought-provoking question, every time he refused to let a student slide with a weak answer.
When the bell rang to end the class and the school day, Clark released his class and bid them to have a good weekend. Most of them poured out of the class without responding, but a few students gave him cheery waves and dashed off, obviously excited for their weekend to begin. He noticed Lois Lane lingering by her books and he walked over to her.
"So how was your first day at Metropolis High, Lois?" he said as Lois packed her books into a black backpack.
At the expectant voice, Lois jumped a mile. "God, I had no idea you were right there!" She shook her head and then smiled. "It was okay. You know, school is school." Lois shrugged and shifted her back on her shoulder.
Clark nodded at this, but then shrugged. "You seem extremely well read and taught. It will be a pleasure having you in my class this year. I hope you have a good weekend."
Clark gave her a small smile and then returned to his desk at the front of the classroom. He waved as Lois left the classroom and then faced his vacant room with a sigh. He hated the weekend. All those long, empty spaces of time… Time to reflect on things he didn't want to think about. He briefly entertained the idea of going to spend the weekend at his parents', but frankly, they knew him too well. If he went there, they'd be able to spot his depression in an instant. He had a stack of papers higher than his knee to grade, but with his speed he was usually able to make quick work of them. Perhaps he'd spend the weekend grading things the normal way. He could write some long feedback to his students. Despite their groaning and protests, he knew they appreciated the long notes of encouragement.
With an ideal way to spend his weekend decided, Clark grinned to himself. There. He'd battle those ghosts with activity. But even with his weekend plan decided, he loathed returning to his empty apartment. Pulling out his chair, he sat down to answer some of his long neglected email. He typed in his password and logged in to the school-wide teacher's email. Seven new messages.
One was from his buddy, Joey, about meeting for drinks. Clark hesitated and then dashed off a quick reply.
Joe — Sorry bud, I'm swamped with papers all weekend. Maybe next week? -Clark
He felt a pang for the deception, but all Joe wanted to do lately was to play matchmaker. He had agreed twice to go out on blind dates with some of Joe's single friends. The first woman spoke about herself constantly and Clark hadn't even invited her back home for coffee. The second woman was actually good company and Clark had invited her back to his house to sample the dessert he had made earlier in the day and to share a glass of wine. They had taken their drinks out on his fire escape and when she had started to kiss him, he hadn't minded. It had been so long since he had shared any sort of romantic moment with a woman, he was nearly swept away by the flood of emotion. They had kissed fiercely and then she had pulled him inside, unbuttoning his dress shirt with deft fingers. He ran his fingers up the back of her shirt, finally darting inside to caress the warm skin beneath. Quickly divesting themselves of most of their clothing, they had tumbled to the bed, kissing and fumbling.
It was only when he had breathed against her skin a whispered name that everything came crashing down around him. His date jumped off of him, miffed and hurt as Clark hazily tried to realize what was wrong. As he slowly came back to reality, he grimaced and jumped off the bed, grabbing his jeans and shoving them on.
"I am so, so sor—"
"Go to hell!"
Clark watched as she grabbed her shirt and he held out her jacket wordlessly. Stomping away with as much dignity as she could, she opened his front door and slammed it as hard as she could. A picture in the hall shook loose, but he caught it before any damage occurred to it.
He gazed at the picture of him and Lana that he had saved from the cold floor and whispered the name he had said aloud — and to the wrong person — only a few moments earlier.
Shaking his head quickly to release the memory from his mind, Clark turned back to his email. The next email was from Doug Scott, the principal, asking if Clark had found his third member for the Ready Writing team yet. Clark dashed off a quick reply, begging for a little more time and then deleted the next three messages without reading them. Junk mail. One of the emails was from a parent, concerned about her son's behavior, and he wrote her out a note to arrange for a parent teacher conference.
He recognized the last email address immediately and clicked it open with a little tingle of fear shooting through his chest. It was from his mother.
*Clark Jerome Kent, you had better tell me you've been doing something constructive with your time. Don't think that just because you're hiding behind a computer screen that I still can't tell when something's wrong. I know things have been rough since… well, I know things have been rough, but you need to start living again. Lana wouldn't have wanted you to keep to this lonely path you're beating. Will you come down to visit us soon? Both your father and I miss you terribly. I hope things are going all right with your classes, but I'm sure they are. You were made for that job, Clark. You're wonderful and all the kids adore you, I can tell. Write back to us soon.
Clark gave his computer screen a wry grin. His mother was never one for beating around the bush. He spent the next fifteen minutes writing a long reply, trying to keep his tone upbeat. He hated the fact that his parents were worrying about him. He was fine. He really was. He had grown to accept everything. He had already experienced the love of his life and he was grateful. There wasn't anyone else in the world for him and he was all right with that. If only people would leave him alone. Pensive, Clark shut down his computer and grabbed his briefcase. He jogged down the stairs next to his classroom and walked to the parking lot.
He was glad Lois Lane had joined his class. She seemed like a good kid and one who would add some diversity. Despite her passive answers today in class, he had caught a glimpse of fire when she had argued with him over a point in the novel. He had never encountered a student who contradicted his views on the novels in class. It was a refreshing change. He'd have to keep his eye on her. Maybe he'd found his last Ready Writing team member.
As Clark headed toward his beat up Jetta, a flash of red caught his eye and Clark curiously glanced toward the light. A showy red convertible was parked next to his car and at a closer look, he saw it was Jill Reynolds'. His satisfied smile listed a little. He knew he was supposed to care for all his students equally, and on paper and in class he was extremely fair. But in his secret heart, he disliked the girl immensely. She was too loud, too powerful, too dangerous. When he was within fifteen feet of his car, his heart dropped when he realized whom Jill was talking to.
Lois Lane, the girl who had held so much promise! He couldn't let her get sucked into Jill's "friendship." Clark quickened his step until he reached the two.
"Hello girls," he said loudly, interrupting their conversation. He knew it was rude. He knew he should just get in his car and drive off, but something deep inside of him rebelled. It would be like leaving a kitten with a lion.
Both Lois and Jill looked up, and Clark was surprised to see a flash of annoyance on Lois' face. It was quickly covered up, however as both girls waved.
"Hi Mr. Kent," Lois called out. She continued to lean against the car. Jill stepped forward however, and held out her hand. Though confused by the greeting, Clark stuck out his hand out of habit. Jill grasped it lightly and his eyes widened when she stroked his knuckles seductively with her fingers. He hastily pulled his hand back.
"Hello Clark," Jill drawled softly. Clark quickly recovered from Jill's unusual handshake and set about rebuffing her advances.
"Please Jill, you can call me Mr. Kent." Clark took a deliberative step backward and gave her a hard glare. That was it. He wasn't letting Lois leave with this girl. She was a menace.
"Lois, do you have a moment? I'd like to talk to you about something,"
"I was actually about to catch a ride home with Jill," Lois said, giving Jill a big smile.
Clark frowned. "It'll just take a few minutes…"
"Sorry, Mr. Kent, but I have to leave," Jill said breezily, apparently recovered from his rebuff. "Lois, you coming?"
Clark searched his mind wildly for something to say. He had seen students get mixed up in Jill and Lexy's crowd before and it wasn't a pretty transformation. "I can drive you home!" he finally blurted out.
Jill gave him a cool once-over.
"Sorry, Mr. Kent, but I don't think that would be very appropriate. Come on, Lois." She slipped her Gucci sunglasses over her eyes and sank into the low-slung car. Lois gave him a slightly apologetic glance before getting in herself. Clark had to jump back to avoid his toes being flattened as Jill sped out of the parking space at an illegal speed.
Clark stared after them, incredulous. That girl was vicious! He'd have to corner Lois Lane one of these days and beg her to find some new friends. Dana. Dana was nice. His cheeks stung from the unexpected rush of blood. Imagine that girl insinuating… It was positively insulting. Clark unlocked his car, slightly petulantly. After those blatant advances on her part… it was obvious it was just sour grapes, but she had another thing coming if she thought he would ever in a million years come on to one of his students. Despite the fact that he was only about eight years older than most of them, a world of experience and development lay in those years. And there was no way in hell he'd ever be tempted by a conniving girl like Jill Reynolds. Clark started the ignition and backed up quickly, his thoughts racing along like the ever-increasing speed of his car.
Later that night, Clark's third Ready Writing candidate was the only sober person in the room. Music blasted from the walls of the dance club, pounding through the floors and walls. Lois watched as Jill poured down her fourth drink. Though she wanted her to be a little loose, she definitely didn't want her unconscious. Lois firmly grabbed the drink from the girl and pulled her to her feet.
"Come on, Jill. Let's go over there." Lois gestured to a far wall vaguely, trying to keep Jill away from the liquor. After that bizarre meeting with Mr. Kent, Jill had driven her over to Lexy Hartness' house and told her that she better have her fake ID ready. Grinning, Lois had said that it wouldn't be a problem, and just like that, Jill had given her some more club-appropriate clothing. Apparently the fake ID was some friend criteria and she had passed. Lexy's smile grew more genuine and for the next two hours, the three girls dominated the upstairs of Lexy's house. Finally, primped and dressed to kill, they gave Lexy's housekeeper a casual wave and left in Jill's sporty convertible.
And just like that, Lois found herself managing two inebriated, underage teenagers.
Grabbing a firm hold of Lexy and Jill, Lois led them to a quieter part of the room — relatively quieter anyway — and sat them down on a couch.
"Great club!" Lois shouted over the music.
Lexy nodded and slurred. "Hell yeah. We go here every Saturday."
"Do the other Rosettes go sometimes?" Lois asked innocently, holding her breath in anticipation.
"Yeah sometimes," Jill said. "But some of them can't get in. No fake IDs. You have a really good one. It looks real. Where did you go?"
"Oh… I went to my… cousin," Lois quickly tried to turn the conversation back around.
"Hey so tell me about the Rosettes. Everyone thinks you guys are so cool."
Jill beamed. "We are so cool. And not just anyone can be a Rosette either. You gotta work at it. You have to really want it."
"How do you make sure someone really wants it?" Lois prodded.
"Wow. So how many of you guys are there?"
Lexy answered for Jill, who had been distracted by one of the guys walking past.
"Six. We almost had seven, but…"
"You mean Beth Warner?" Lois held her breath. Beth Warner was the name of the girl who had died last year. She recognized her mistake an instant later as Lexy's eyes grew startlingly more sober.
"I don't even know who that is," Lexy said harshly. She grabbed Jill and tried to stand. "I think it's time we got another drin- whoa." Lois was on her feet, keeping both girls steady before they tripped and fell. It was definitely time to go. She had befriended the girls she thought might be involved in Beth Warner's murder and it was only her first day. As she grabbed the keys from Jill and shuffled them out the door, Lois grinned.
Not too shabby. She definitely wasn't half bad at this undercover investigation thing.
The next day, Clark slept late and cooked himself a leisurely breakfast. Finally, once he was fortified by an omelet and a tall glass of orange juice, he sat down to read and grade. There were a few different assignments shuffled together, but his real interest was in the free write he had assigned yesterday. He had given the class twenty minutes to speak their mind about The Scarlet Letter. The responses to the free writes he spontaneously gave were actually more for his benefit and enjoyment than his students'. In a way, he felt this was a method for them to really let loose, granting him precious insights into the minds of his seventeen- and eighteen-year-old charges. But as Clark read through the thick sheaf of papers in his hand, his excitement dimmed considerably. His class really hadn't gotten the point of the exercise. About a quarter of the papers were merely reasons why some students thought "that Hester chick" (apparently "free write" translated into "acceptable time to forget all proper English and grammar") needed to just get out of there. Nearly all of the rest read like term papers. If he had wanted analyses on rhetoric, he would have assigned it. Finally Clark flipped over the last page. It was Lois Lane's paper. If the caliber and type of papers he had read before were any indication, Clark didn't have high expectations. He pulled out her paper and started reading the wide scrawl.
A few sentences into it, Clark slowed and reread everything. One side of his mouth quirked up. Did she really just say that? He quickly finished her paper and then immediately read it again, this time allowing himself to fully smile and laugh. This was what he wanted! The paper centered around her views on the story, strengthened by references to current events and personal experience. And all through the paper, she'd bring up the most outlandish theories and proceed to explain them in ways that actually gave him pause. Clark gave the paper his full smile, to which it lay immune. He had definitely found his third Ready Writing candidate.
"Lois? Do you have a few minutes to stay after, today? You too, Garrett and Kaitlin." Clark cleared his throat as his class spilled from the room. Lois glanced up, surprised, and nodded. "Thank you."
"What's up, Mr. Kent?" Lois grabbed a desk from the front row and sat on top of it, swinging her legs over the side. Kaitlin and Garrett stood next to each other, meticulous about keeping a safe inch and a half from each other.
"Lois, I've been reading some of your papers over the last week and your writing is wonderful," Clark began, staring earnestly at her.
Lois shrugged her shoulders slightly and glanced uneasily at Garrett and Kaitlin. Why were they there? Over the past week, Lois had befriended more members of the Rosettes and had gone out with them a few nights. In her classes, Lois had taken to merely composing mental story notes and planning her conversation, actions and questions, rather than focusing on any sort of senior schoolwork. Fortunately, senioritis was in full swing at Metropolis High and her glazed look wasn't so unlike the rest of the class'. But in Mr. Kent's class, she was embarrassed to admit that she actually paid full attention. She tried to tell herself it was because of the subject matter, but in reality she knew she found the man drop dead gorgeous and the way he taught exciting and fresh. Not that she'd ever reveal that little bit of information to Lucy. She'd never hear the end of it. But besides his obvious good looks, Lois was drawn to the way it seemed that he actually cared about his students. It was obvious that his lessons took a lot of careful thought and planning. His comments on their papers were a contradictory blend of soothing and provoking, sometimes leaving Lois so incensed that she'd spill out another hundred words of a rebuff, clarifying her point and falling into the trap Mr. Kent had undoubtedly set up.
It drove her crazy, but she sort of craved the stimulation.
"And so I was wondering if you would join the Ready Writing team. We need a third member to make the team and you'd be a fantastic addition," Clark finished. Lois blinked slightly. It was obvious that while she was off daydreaming Mr. Kent had been speaking to her.
"What?" Lois cringed at her rather unintelligent sounding response. A writing team? She so did not have time for that.
"Ready Writing. It'd be really fun! Mr. Kent told us we could have pizza study groups and if we do well enough we could make it to state!"
Time nearly alone with her fox of a teacher could almost be worth the pain of being involved in such a geeky activity. Lois' brain was spinning in overdrive, weighing the consequences of her actions.
More time to hear that laugh of his that sent those pleasant shivers down her spine… or should she throw that extra time into the case? The case, her *career*, her conscience reminded her fiercely, obviously disgruntled by her baser instincts to ravage the poor man.
"Okay, I'll do it."
The lesser half of Lois jumped for joy while the career driven part stalked off to sulk.
Lois' stomach dropped a little at the wide, sincere smile that Mr. Kent gave her. They were probably close to the same age. It galled her that he thought she was a high school student. Though it was probably for the better, Lois sighed. She didn't need the distraction of a tall, dark and handsome.
"Okay, so I think we could meet here after school in a few days to get started. I'll give you a few of last year's prompts to practice on," Clark said. He handed out a small stack of papers to each of his students. "Is that okay?"
Garrett nodded and Clark bit his lip to hide a smile as Kaitlin looked up at him from under her lashes. Garrett continued to remain oblivious.
"Kaitlin, why don't you go grab a bite to eat with Garrett right now?" Clark suggested innocently. Kaitlin turned toward him, her eyes wide and frightened. "You two could look over the prompts."
"Sure," Garrett said, shrugging his shoulders. "You can drive with me, Kaitlin. Wanna get some Quiznos?"
The frightened look on Kaitlin's face gradually shifted into a smile. "Okay!"
Lois and Clark shared a smile before a shadow fell across Kaitlin's face and she grudgingly turned toward Lois. "Do you need to come too?" she asked. Lois shook her head and tried not to be too offended at the wide smile that split Kaitlin's face. Kaitlin hastily followed Garrett out of the door, trying to match his longer strides.
Alone with Mr. Kent. She tried to hide her delight and instead raised her eyebrows at her matchmaking teacher. He gave her an embarrassed smile. "She's just so shy. It's really obvious she likes him. And high school boys are real idiots sometimes."
"That's the truth," Lois said. She hesitated. While she had him alone, she should try and pump him for some information. "So Mr. Kent, did you know Beth Warner?"
Clark's eyes shadowed immediately. "Yes, I did," he said somberly. "She was a wonderful student."
"Do you have any idea what could have happened to her?"
"Beth wasn't the kind of girl to climb in a water tower for kicks, Lois. But unfortunately she had severe confidence issues." Clark's voice was barely more than a whisper. "I'm afraid she hung out with the wrong crowd."
It was obvious this topic upset Mr. Kent far more than she had expected. Mindlessly, Lois put a comforting hand on his shoulder. His gaze met her for a moment and she was shocked by the intensity she saw there.
"Lois, please don't try and join up with Lexy and Jill. I'm afraid they're very dangerous," he said hoarsely. "They don't care what kind of stunts they pull as long as it gives them a laugh."
Clark stepped back and Lois' hand fell from his shoulder.
"I can handle things, Mr. Kent," Lois said. "Thanks for asking me to join the team. I'll try and write a practice essay for you." She squinted at his face, but the raw feelings in his eyes were masked again, replaced by the easy smile she recognized.
"Thank you, Lois. Have a good rest of the afternoon."
Clark turned toward his desk and avoided watching her go. He couldn't understand why a smart, pretty girl like Lois Lane was hanging out with Jill and Lexy. It was obvious that Lois didn't lack the confidence to ignore the girls. He couldn't figure it out and deep down it nagged him. There was something wrong with the entire scenario, but he couldn't put a finger on it. Sighing, Clark stood up and decided to walk home — anything to delay the inevitable return to his empty apartment.
As Lois jogged down the front steps of Metropolis High, she caught sight of Jill and waved. Jill stopped walking and waited for her to catch up.
"Hi Lois," she said.
"Jill, hi. What are you doing here so long after school's been out?"
Jill flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. "Mrs. Krasinski made me stay after school to finish up some problems I missed on my quiz." She wrinkled her nose in a look of pretty disgust. "What are you doing here?"
"Mr. Kent asked me to join his writing team." Lois shrugged and chose her next words carefully. She knew that such an "uncool" extracurricular could damage her chances. Time to lie. "I so don't care about writing, but he's like, really hot. So I said yeah."
"Mmm… Hot is right. But don't mention him around Lexy. She gets a little upset." Jill lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Don't tell anyone I told you this, okay?"
Lois nodded enthusiastically and leaned closer.
"But Lexy totally had a thing for Mr. Kent in the beginning of the year. One day, she stayed after school and tried to flirt with him a little. He wouldn't budge at all. He completely ignored her attempts. So she got a little angry and she completely offered to sleep with him."
Lois' eyes widened.
"Just like that? She said "Mr. Kent, I want to sleep with you?"
Jill giggled and slapped her arm. "No, she didn't sound so stupid. She said in this low voice, oh she would kill me if she knew I was telling you this, but she goes 'Clark Kent, I can make your wildest fantasies come true.'" Jill burst out into giggles and Lois was hard pressed not to join her as she pictured the scenario.
"Oh my god! Poor Mr. Kent! I bet he flipped."
"Hell yeah. He firmly told her to go home and the next day he had transferred her out of his class. So the whole Mr. Kent thing is a touchy subject for Lexy."
Lois shook her head at the sheer brazenness of such an action.
"That's really crazy. So what's the plan for tonight?" Lois asked casually, playing on the assumption she was invited. Fortunately, Jill didn't seem to question her.
"I think we're going dancing, you up for it?"
"Of course," Lois smiled and Jill nodded. As they drove off, Clark watched from the window, hating himself for how much he cared.
When Lois pulled up to the slightly dinghy pizza parlor, she had her doubts. The pavement was cracked and rough to drive on, and the paint job could definitely use another coat. She thought back to the immaculate, posh dance club she had attended a few nights ago with Jill. The differences were striking. But before she could fully convince herself that nothing good could come out of such a place, she saw Mr. Kent through the window, already sitting with Garrett and Kaitlin. He gave her a big smile and wave, and she lifted her hand in acknowledgement. Sighing like a martyr at the lengths she'd go to for her story, Lois pushed open the door and took the empty seat by Mr. Kent and Kaitlin.
"Hi guys," she said, pushing her hair behind her ear. "Nice place."
"Great! I'm glad you like it," her teacher said happily, oblivious to her sarcasm. "We waited for you to order. What kind of pizza do you like?"
"Mmm… Pineapple and jalapeno."
Garrett and Kaitlin blinked at her. She noticed Mr. Kent covered his mouth to hide his smile. "Anything else, Lois?"
"Anchovy. Pineapple, jalapeno, anchovy… oh! And I nearly forgot. Goat cheese. Do you think they have that here?"
Clark had to lean his head into his hand to keep from cracking up at the horrified expressions on Garrett and Kaitlin's faces.
"That's perfect, Lois. That's exactly what I get on my pizza too. Why don't we get two of those? That should be enough for us four, right?" He innocently raised his eyebrows and after a few more moments of Kaitlin staring at him, she finally cracked a smile.
"Oh you're joking — good. I thought you were both serious!"
Clark smiled at her and shook his head. "No, I'm not that crazy. How about half cheese, half pepperoni. Does that sound okay to you guys?"
Garrett and Kaitlin nodded and Clark jogged up to the counter to place the order. He had just finished ordering their large pizza when Lois came up beside him at the counter.
"Sir?" she said, stopping the retreating pizza boy. "I'd also like to order a slice of jalapeno, anchovy, pineapple and goat cheese pizza."
Both the boy and Mr. Kent gaped at her.
"I-I don't think we have goat cheese," the boy finally recovered, scrawling down the order. "Jalapeno and anchovy, you're sure?"
"Your stomach, lady." he tore off the order and stuck it on a pin to shoot down to the cooks. "Should be ready in like fifteen minutes."
Lois shot Clark a triumphant smile and sauntered back to their table. Shaking his head in complete admiration, Clark stumbled after her.
"You're just cowardly. I think it sounds delicious," she said as she slid into her seat. She pretended not to notice as Garrett and Kaitlin jumped apart guiltily.
"You do not."
"Yes I do."
"You can't. You'd have to have a stomach of steel to digest all of that." And I'm the only one who can boast *that* claim, he added to himself.
"We'll just have to see, Mr. Kent. Now let's get to the point of this whole meeting. Did you grade our papers?"
Feeling like he had just lost a battle he hadn't been aware he was fighting, it took Clark a moment to refocus.
"Yes. I wrote down some notes and suggestions for you all to follow." he passed out their respective papers and Lois hid a smile.
"Too much free time, Mr. Kent? You wrote nearly as much as we did."
Clark blushed, a little thrown by his student's teasing. He wasn't used to this. Lana had never teased. And his mom loved to, but he was so use to her good-natured jibes he barely registered them anymore. None of his students ever teased him. Except this fascinating contradiction sitting in front of him.
Their conversation eventually switched to their essays. Clark praised Kaitlin on her concise, well thought out points and explained to Garrett how he could improve his. Finally he turned to Lois and his grin widened slightly.
"Lois, yours was wonderful. Now, you can see where I marked some points I wish you had clarified slightly, but let me read you this part…" Clark trailed off and picked up Lois' paper to read aloud the section that had really struck him.
"It was beautifully written, Lois. You're a natural."
Though not unaccustomed to effusive praise, Lois couldn't deny that she flushed a little bit more when Mr. Kent complimented her than when her ancient creative writing teacher had.
"Thank you, Mr. Kent."
Just then the pizza boy interrupted and set down a large pizza pie in front of Garrett, Kaitlin and Clark. He then returned with a smaller plate for Lois. She warily eyed the unappetizing pizza slice in front of her and her bravado faltered slightly.
Watching her like a hawk, Clark crowed his victory over her. "Aha! You won't eat it, will you? Admit it. That's disgusting."
"That is a very gross looking slice of pizza, Lois," Kaitlin added supportively as she helped herself to a slice of pepperoni. Garrett grunted slightly and Kaitlin turned back to stare at him.
"I think it looks delicious," Lois said haughtily. She grabbed the slice and took a big bite, trying not to wrinkle her nose as her mouth was assaulted by the spicy, salty taste.
Clark rested his chin on his hand as he watched Lois struggle to eat her slice. About halfway through, he gently pulled her plate away from her and replaced it with a slice of cheese pizza. After glaring at him warily for a few moments, she accepted the slice and proceeded to eat with a vengeance.
Clark idly glanced at the half eaten pizza and shrugged as he took a big bite. Lois gaped at him as he casually finished the rest of her disgusting pizza and leaned back contentedly.
"Mmm… You're right, Lois. That was delectable."
Round two for Clark Kent! He thought victoriously as she stared at him in disbelief. He grinned mischievously and set about polishing off a second slice of the slightly more normal pizza.
The phone rang in Lois' apartment, breaking her from her pleasant thoughts about the evening. She ran to catch it before the caller hung up, extracting her phone from inside the cupboard (how did it get there?) and giving a breathless "hello?"
"Mon petit tresor, how are you?"
Lois gripped the phone a little tighter at the silky voice. "Claude! Hello. I wasn't expecting you to ca-I'm fine, how are you?"
"Wonderful, now that I have finally got you on the phone. Would you be free for a late dinner tonight?"
"Oh Claude, I'm so sorry. I've already eaten. Perhaps we could meet tomorrow evening?"
There was a short pause at the other end of the line. "You wouldn't be free for lunch tomorrow?"
Lois wrinkled her nose, though Claude couldn't see it. "Not unless you'd like to eat in the cafeteria."
Claude's deep chuckle sent pleasant tingles down her body. "Of course, I forgot about your assignment. How is it playing a high school student? Are the children insufferable?"
"No, they aren't so bad. I rather like a few of them. I'm getting closer though, I can feel it!" Lois began excitedly, happy to be able to finally talk about her case. "I've befriended two of the most popular girls in school and my main suspects."
"Oh really? And have they led you to believe you'll find any new evidence?"
"I'm not entirely sure, but I am positive that I'll be able to nail this case. I've already got a ton of notes on them all typed up and stashed at my house."
"Very efficient," Claude said approvingly. Lois sat down in her armchair, curling her arms around her knees. She was tired of talking about the case. Now she wanted to bring him back to talking about dinner.
"So would you be free tomorrow, Claude?"
"Hmm…" Lois heard the rustle of a few pages. "I have a meeting with Perry White, but I could meet you after that. Say… 7:30 at the new restaurant on Bellavie?"
"That would be wonderful."
"Then I will see you tomorrow then. I'll look forward to it."
The phone hung up with a firm click and Lois kept it at her ear for a moment, still a little shocked at the interest the gorgeous reporter was showing her. Finally she pulled the phone from her ear and frantically looked around her room.
What was she going to *wear*?
Twenty-two hours later, Lois found herself sitting opposite Claude Malfois at an intimate table for two. She was dressed in the classic "little black dress," though hers had a slightly devious slit up the side. Claude had been an enchanting date so far, deftly ordering for the two of them in French and generally being the perfect gentleman. Everything had gone so smoothly, she hadn't even pitched a fit when Claude hadn't asked what she wanted for dinner. It was a romantic enough gesture, she told herself, and she shouldn't take offense at it. Instead, she focused on the way the dark fringe of his hair brushed his forehead irresistibly. He really was a gorgeous man. He was speaking to her about his current assignment and she let his warm voice wash over her as she drifted.
She had a really great time with Mr. Kent last night. Their jokes and banter seemed high above the two real high school students who chaperoned them. Lois started slightly at the word. Chaperoned? Was that really what it was? She couldn't deny that Clark Kent was incredibly attractive and kind to a fault. It was an insane combination, one that wasn't really supposed to exist in real life. It was commonplace in the stack of reread romance novels by her bed, but hard-bodied English teachers were the stuff of fiction.
Or so she had thought before she laid eyes on Clark Kent.
But she couldn't deny the frisson of attraction between them and it was a considerable thorn in her side that she couldn't act on her feelings. Lois Lane had always been a woman of action and waiting idly never sat well with her. But a lot of things more important than her hypothetical love life were at stake here. Despite her instincts telling her to remain stolid and focused on the case, she couldn't help but start feeling a sense of attachment to the people she'd met. Her English teacher remained at the forefront of that list, she realized with a start, though she had come to like many of the students there as well. When she had gone through high school the first time, she had been so blinded by fitting in and cumulating impressive stats for her college resume that she hadn't even given the experience a second thought. Reliving it with the hindsight of her real high school years behind her was an eye-opening occurrence. She had also grown slightly concerned for Mr. Kent. Despite his good mood the previous night, he had shown up looking tired and haggard in class. Not many of his students seemed to notice or care, however, that he hadn't greeted them with his normal cheery smile and wave. The change in him had been so obvious, she wondered if the students were both blind and stupid.
Or maybe that was just the way high school kids were. Had she paid any attention to her high school teachers beyond the superficial? As much as she tried to argue with herself that she had, she knew she was lying. She hoped he was okay. He had been distracted all day.
Lois jumped at Clark's voice. But she was staring at Claude. Oh, she had been ignoring him, hadn't she? She put on a soothing smile to ruffle over his hurt feelings, but he was looking past her.
"Lois?" the voice spoke again, and this time Lois turned around in her chair, dread rapidly replacing her insides with jelly. The object of her daydreaming and secret nighttime fantasies was standing behind her, a disapproving look fixed firmly on his face.
"H-hi Mr. Kent," she said shakily. Her inner voice was screaming at her. BUSTED! BUSTED! BUSTED! Mr. Kent looked furious and suddenly she did feel like the young student she role-played as.
"What are you doing here?" Lois blurted out, hoping to counter his questions. While Lois could pass for 17 or 18 with little difficulty, she knew Claude looked his thirty years. It was his smooth charm and worldly eyes that she had fallen for in the first place. From what she knew about Mr. Kent, she was sure he wouldn't approve of his student meeting such an older man on what was obviously a date.
"I'm taking my parents to dinner," Clark said stiffly, shooting a glare over at Claude. Lois looked and sure enough a pleasant looking older couple was looking at them curiously. "Now who is this?"
Despite her guilty feelings, Lois bristled at his audacity. He didn't own her. The farthest thing from that! He was merely her teacher and despite those erotic fantasies, that was the way things were going to stay. He certainly had no business prying into her private affairs.
"This is Claude Malfois," she said, praying Claude wouldn't blow her cover. Her gaze shifted warily to him and caught the tail end of him sizing Mr. Kent up. "Claude, this is Mr. Kent," she stressed the name and the "Mr." "My English teacher at Metropolis High."
Claude reached out a hand to shake, which Clark coolly accepted. He turned to her and she nearly gasped at the anger in his gaze. It faded slightly, as he looked at her, but she saw it rear up again when his eyes slid back to Claude. "Lois, can I speak with you privately for a few minutes?"
Lois gave him a belligerent look and finally followed him to a shadowed corridor. Once away from Claude, she noticed that his eyes no longer looked dark with anger, but instead sparkled with something she couldn't place.
"Lois Lane, you are out on a date with a man who is entirely too old for you," he started, getting straight to the point. "I don't know what he told you, but that man is certainly not a college student."
"I know he isn't," Lois said, trying desperately to think of a cover story. Her relative? She briefly entertained the idea of trying to elaborate on the story that Claude was her cousin, but she reluctantly quashed the notion. She wasn't quite dressed for a platonic date with a cousin. Her older brother's best friend? A childhood acquaintance? The idea held some merit. He could chalk up her fancy dress as an opportunity to impress her childhood crush. But something in her recoiled from such a blatant lie. For the first time since she had taken up her false life, she felt the sting of her conscience. It was obvious that Mr. Kent was upset on her behalf at the thought of someone "robbing the cradle" so to speak.
"He's," her mind wildly churned, "a friend."
Great, what a lame cover story. Fortunately, it was the truth and therefore she could defend it. Clark's face darkened at her words. "Lois, please, where are your parents? Do they know you're spending time with an older man?"
"They wouldn't mind," Lois murmured, feeling intensely uncomfortable with the situation.
"Lois you look beautiful in that dress." Lois' head snapped up at the unexpected compliment, but Clark's face still looked grim. "And I'm afraid that man you're with knows it. He's not expecting anything platonic out of this night, Lois!"
Lois didn't quite know how to respond, a first in a long while.
"Please do not go home with that man, Lois." Clark thought for a moment and grinned as an idea struck him. "Look, stay and eat dinner with him. Enjoy yourself. But let me drive you home. My parents are here, I'm sure they'd love to meet you."
The notion of driving home with Clark took a moment to digest. Lois took a long, serious look at her senior English teacher. He was obviously distressed at seeing her here with an older man. His espresso colored eyes implored her to consider his suggestion and he kept raking his fingers through his hair, mussing it completely.
"Okay, Mr. Kent. If you really want me to, I'll go home with you instead of with Claude."
It wasn't in her nature to give in like that. She should have told him that she was a big girl and that she didn't need any protecting. But to be completely honest, every time she looked into Claude's dark eyes, she superimposed Mr. Kent's over them. They looked quite different; Claude was much thinner and taller than Mr. Kent was. But she still compared them in her mind and Claude kept coming up short, as much as it galled her. And she would meet his parents! Though this whole scenario would be a great deal pleasanter if Clark knew she was a dateable age. Unfortunately the empathy and kindness she was falling for would have been directed at any one of his students. She had gathered that he had a protective streak. One day in class, she had observed him unobtrusively removing a hateful, cruel note from one of the shyer, less popular girl's chair. After class, she peaked through the window and saw him talking to the culprit, his voice too low to overhear but his eyes steely and firm. The girl was never even aware of the prank.
She noticed a similar scenario occurring when he had given Garrett a quick talking to at their meeting last night. Kaitlin had gone to the restroom and Lois was returning from refilling her drink as she caught the tail end of their conversation.
"—gentleman. I expect you to act as one."
"But Mr. Kent, you know I'm a good guy. You think I'm going to be mean to a nice girl like her?"
"You could start by doing a few more polite things." Clark rose with one fluid movement and pulled out Lois' chair for her as she returned to the table. Lois had sat, watching while shaking her head at Garrett's bemusement. It seemed Mr. Kent had been born in the wrong era. Gentleman-like manners were hardly commonplace and neither was that fierce desire to protect.
The thought and memory stayed with her as she followed Mr. Kent back to their respective tables. He gave her a curt nod and she gazed at him coolly while she returned to Claude's table. No matter what the circumstances, she still hated feeling chastened. Claude was looking at her in amusement when she returned and she had to fight down the urge to give him a fierce slug across his smirking face.
"I'll be driving home with Mr. Kent," she said dully, grabbing her water and taking a big gulp to avoid his gaze.
"So your teacher has you trained like a puppy?" he asked in his soft voice, the one she had found so silky and alluring a few days before. Now it just set her teeth on edge, though she might be projecting her embarrassed anger unfairly on Claude.
"What are you talking about? He's merely concerned over what his student is doing out with such an older man," she told him petulantly.
"He was quite angry when he caught sight of us, Lois. I think your Mr. Kent was experiencing the green glare of jealousy. He spent a few too many seconds appraising you in that scrap of fabric you're passing off as a dress. Seems like he's only human."
Even as Lois' mind rejected the idea as ludicrous, her traitorous heart lurched a little unsteadily. "You're insane. Mr. Kent cares about all of his students equally and he sure wouldn't make any kind of advance on a student of his!"
Her anger was flushing her face, and she barely noticed her voice rising up a notch.
"To even insinuate such a thing speaks of your own unscrupulous morals!" Lois glared at the man she had once thought so attractive. "You're wrong, and worse than that, it's you who's jealous."
"What does that man have for me to even scrounge up the slightest bit of jealously, mon choux? Certainly not his dinner companions." Claude's nose screwed up slightly as he appraised the older couple Clark was dining with. "That woman should know that that peach dress is doing nothing flattering for her skin tone."
"That woman has done nothing to you," Lois whispered fiercely, angry on the woman's behalf. "The only thing she's done is raise a wonderful son!"
"You would think he's wonderful. You're falling for him, aren't you?"
"Of course not. Don't be ridiculous."
"Oh but you are. How pleasingly ironic the whole situation is!"
"That's it. I'm leaving," Lois hissed, grabbing her coat and purse. "You're a bastard."
Claude murmured something in return, too low for her to hear. His voice had never lost that veneer of calm, however, and unbidden, frustrated tears sprang to her eyes. She hastily blinked them away, but not before she banged her nose against a solid chest suddenly blocking her way.
She knew before even looking up who it was and she quickly inhaled, filling her nose with his comforting scent. As swiftly as her mind had processed that the strong body was Clark Kent, he had even more quickly disentangled herself from him and steered her toward his own table.
"Are you all right, Lois?" His gentle voice spoke in her ear, comforting her. She nodded and he gave her arm a tender, but unfortunately platonic squeeze. He led her to the empty fourth chair at their square table and pulled it out for her.
"Mom, Dad, this is Lois Lane, one of the students I was telling you about."
Lois glanced at Clark and then back at his parents. He had been talking about her? To his parents? They gave her a pair of friendly grins. They appeared to be in their sixties, though they both looked extremely healthy and vibrant. His mother especially had an impish sparkle to her eyes that made Lois think she was not quite as matronly as she first appeared.
"Hi Lois, it's wonderful to meet you! I'm Martha Kent," she said.
Clark slapped his hand against his forehead. "Oh right, right, sorry. Lois, I apologize. They actually do have names other than Mom and Dad. My mother, Martha, and my father, Jonathan."
Lois was grateful that Clark didn't mention anything about Claude, nor did he ask any questions. He simply handed her his menu and asked what she would like. Unlike Claude, her annoying scamp of an inner voice chirped.
As Lois looked over the menu for the first time, a shadow fell across the table. She looked up to see Claude standing over them and suddenly her stomach twisted in a knot laced with iron. He wouldn't… No, he couldn't blow her cover. All of a sudden she licked her lips nervously as their eyes met. He saw her fear; he knew what she was thinking. The black eyes narrowed slightly, as if weighing her importance to him on the grand scale of things. She barely noticed Clark standing, his mild mannered gaze suddenly much more intimidating until he blocked Claude from her sight and their staring match was abruptly ended. Clark stood between Claude and herself, his fist bunched rigidly at his side.
"Stay away from her," he said simply, in a low voice designed not to bring attention to their table.
Claude took a step toward her anyway, but Lois let out a sharp gasp when Clark grabbed his arm and stopped him effortlessly. Claude's eyes widened in surprise slightly at the steel grip, but he eventually stopped struggling and Clark reluctantly let him go.
"He'll find out who you are eventually," Claude hissed, his facade of calm finally breaking. "And I'd hate to be around to see the fallout." Noting the anger tensing Clark's shoulders, Claude took a hasty step back. "Not so fast, Loverboy. I'm out of here. Have fun with your underage student."
Clark remained standing, frozen as he stared after Claude's retreating back. His form was stiffened with palpable tension. Finally, after a moment Clark grabbed his chair and sat eased himself back down on it.
"Have you decided what you'd like to order, Lois?" he finally asked, the anger in his voice gone as swiftly as it had come.
Lois was mortified. What a way to impress him. First, she shows up with a man he thinks is at least fifteen years older than her, and then he turns out to be a complete jerk. She picked up the menu and randomly chose the cheapest thing on there.
"I'll just get some spaghetti."
She looked down at her menu, wishing the night was over. Her expectations had been so high and Claude had changed so quickly. One moment he was charming and suave, and the next he was saying those hurtful things. And then Mr. Kent had been there, looking so gosh darned handsome and blocking him from her view and now acting like nothing had been wrong at all. Her thoughts furiously whirled around in her head, and she almost didn't feel the soft hand that slipped on her back.
She raised her pounding head and saw that Martha Kent had patted her back reassuringly. When her clear blue gaze met her eyes, she simply smiled slightly and pulled her hand from her back. Incredibly, she felt a little better. Mr. Kent hadn't noticed. He was steadfastly trying to talk about everything but the scene that occurred, but failing miserably. Every few seconds, his gaze would flicker back to Lois, as if assuring himself she was still okay and that Claude hadn't come back.
Letting out a deep breath, Lois forcibly told herself to relax. Once she paid full attention to the story Mr. Kent's father was telling, she could actually even calm down some. Soon the lulls of their easy, familiar banter relaxed her even further and she didn't even have to pretend to have a good time.
An hour later, Lois pushed back her food and leaned back with a satisfied smile on her face.
"That was delicious. Thanks for letting me eat with you guys," Lois said to no one in particular. She reached into her purse to hand Mr. Kent some bills to cover her meal, but he looked scandalized at the thought.
"No, no put that money away! I'll take care of it."
"But Mr. Kent, you came here with your parents. You didn't expect a whole other meal to pay for."
Clark glanced at her plate of spaghetti. "Yes, like you were so expensive. It's fine, please. I insist."
Clark was already handing his credit card to the waiter and a few moments later the bill was all paid for. Grumbling slightly as she stood, Lois followed him and his parents out the door. It was as they were walking out that a horrible thought hit her.
He was going to drive her home! To the apartment she lived in *alone*. It was obvious from the outside that the rooms inside were for singles or couples. He couldn't find out that she didn't live with her family. Heaving a big sigh as she climbed in his car, she directed him to her parent's house. Great. Lucy would throw a fit.
After Clark's parents had gone to bed, he remained seated, staring into the fire. It stung that Lois had been to dinner with such an older man. Why was she doing this? First, she hung around Lexy and Jill, the scourge of Metropolis High School, and now she was seeing some greasy Frenchman? Nothing added up and it certainly didn't fit her character.
He regretted losing so much control. He shouldn't have risen to the man's bait. But the alternative was unpalatable. That man didn't look like he was expecting anything platonic. Clark's stomach dropped at the thought of Lois sleeping with that man. She was too young. Much too young. And Claude had heartbreak written all over him.
Clark stretched out the couch and tried to sleep, but it eluded him. He kept seeing the frightened look on her face when Claude had come over. Lois Lane didn't seem like the kind of person who scared easily and the fact was verified when she had replaced the expression with a sort of fixed glare. But she had been covering her feelings. He tossed over onto his side and stared at the cushion of his couch. Why was he even thinking about her? He had done his part. Swept in, played the disapproving father and brought her home chastened. She was safe tonight, and he felt a bubble of relief rise up in his chest.
He'd feel the same if he ran into any of his students, he thought as he turned again to stare into the dying flames. If he had run into Kaitlin there for example, dining with a 30-year-old man, he'd certainly put a halt to it. And Dana too. He started naming off all of the girls in his classes as he let his eyes slip shut. When he got to Jill Reynolds, the drowsy stupor his counting had left him in halted slightly. He'd save her too. Feeling extremely magnanimous at this revelation, Clark drifted off into sleep.
He was dancing with Lana at some black tie event. She looked beautiful and she smiled at him, saying something he couldn't catch. It didn't matter. He grinned back, his heart feeling light and airy. He could see his parents at a table behind the dance floor, sitting with Kaitlin, Lois, Jill and Mr. Scott, the principal. This odd collection of people didn't faze him, however, nor did it seem unusual. He turned back to Lana and kissed her, closing his eyes in bliss.
When his eyes drifted open again, he was dancing with Lois Lane. It didn't seem strange to him though, and he sighed. Lois put her arms around his neck and he pulled her to him. This felt nice. It felt right. He leaned down to kiss her, but as soon as their lips touched, the scene changed. He was forcibly torn apart from her and the warm, rosy glow of the room had diffused. The lighting now looked cold, sterile and he finally noticed that Lois' dress was the exact same as Lana's. Lana! His mind violently revolted. What had he done? Where was she? Desperate, he grabbed Lois' arm and asked her if she knew where his wife was. She shrugged and Clark grimaced.
"You kissed me, Clark," she said softly. The name sounded odd on her tongue and he realized she had never called him that before. It was always Mr. Kent. Mr. Kent! Wait! Lois Lane was his *student*! His eyes widened in shame at what he had done and the urge to find his wife beat faster through his blood.
"Where is she?!" he shouted, willing the noise in the place to die down.
Lois looked unfazed by his angry words.
"She's gone. She left."
"No, no she didn't!"
A new voice joined them. "She's gone," his father said.
"She left," his mother added right after him.
"No! She's not gone!"
Lois put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You kissed me."
"I did, but—"
He blinked furiously and suddenly found Doug Scott standing in front of him. He was standing with Kaitlin, her arm through his.
"See, if you can date Lois, then I think I can date Kaitlin," he said jovially. No! Clark tried to grab Kaitlin away, but she spun just out of his reach, laughing. That was wrong. He wasn't her age. She was too young!
"Clark, you're going to wake up someday," Lois said from behind him, slipping a hand down his back. He turned and shoved it off, feeling pressured from all sides.
"It's okay, honey, wake up," his mother said. He whimpered in response, his mind replaying his kiss with Lois. "Wake up."
"Clark, wake up!"
Clark wrenched himself away and barely had time to gasp before he plummeted down five feet to the sofa. It creaked ominously beneath his weight and he gazed up into the concerned faces of his parents.
"Hi," he said a little weakly, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
"Are you okay, honey?" His mom sat down on the side of the sofa and touched the back of his hand. "You were shouting something awful out here."
"It was just a nightmare," he said, shrugging off his mother's touch.
"Have you been having these frequently?" his father interrupted. Clark watched the look his parents gave each other. To tell the absolute truth, he hadn't been plagued by nightmares in a long time. It had been two years since Lana had died and while in the months immediately following, she was a constant nightly visitor, the dreams had dwindled since then into nothingness. He actually managed to get through most of his day without dwelling too heavily on her.
Until tonight. But the horrifying part of the dream hadn't been seeing Lana and being torn apart from her. That was more or less the usual in his nightmares. He could handle that. Lately, if his dreams were restless, he made himself some hot chocolate and it put him back to sleep in no time. No, tonight was different. He had, oh God, he had dreamed about kissing one of his students! There were laws against that sort of thing. He didn't find her attractive, he told himself firmly. She was 17-years-old. Beautiful, yes. But there were many beautiful girls in his life. He racked his mind for one and stubbornly decided that there was. He just couldn't think of her at the moment. And she was smart, but he was a teacher! He was surrounded by intelligent women. Most of whom were about thirty years older than him, but that didn't matter either.
None of these were acceptable excuses for dreaming about his student. Disgusted with himself, he answered his mother a little more curtly than he had intended.
"I'm fine, mom!" His mother withdrew, giving her son a hurt look. Dropping his head in one hand, he spoke without glancing up from his knee. "Mom, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. But I'm fine. Please go back to bed."
He could feel his parents' concerned gazes linger on his form for a moment, but finally they acquiesced to his request. His mother kissed his cheek as she stood and his father patted his back as they left for Clark's master bedroom.
The fire had died completely and as his parents snapped off the light, the room plunged into darkness. His cheeks burned, though no one was witness to it. He felt the shame pour over him, suffocating his body and mind.
His thoughts shifted to Lana, and the night they had first kissed.
Their senior year in high school. The Smallville Bears had just crushed their rivals in the homecoming game and he was looked up to as the hero of the game. Despite the little bit of nagging in his mind that told him there was a dark reason why he was so wonderful at the sport, he was ecstatic.
After he had caught the touchdown that won the game, he was mobbed by his teammates, his coaches, the fans. The air burned with the scent of tailgating and fall, and the blue and gold of his team replaced the world's color. Exhilarated crowds crushed him as they all yelled their victory and the fans decked themselves out with face paint and toted posters that looked slightly bedraggled after the game.
And there, amidst the sweaty bodies and screaming town, he caught Lana's eye as she leaned against the bleachers, looking cool and collected among the fray. He pushed his way through, never taking his eyes off the girl who had agreed to go out with him.
Buoyed by the crowd's festivity, he marched straight up to her and kissed her, his heart pounding wildly in his ears. After a moment, she pulled back and gave him a sly, secret smile.
That smile had surpassed all of the rest of the evening. He returned home and immediately grabbed every single yearbook he owned. It was quite a few, considering he had bought one every year he had been at school since kindergarten. He lined them up and opened them to her picture. There she was. He watched her grow from a pigtailed, white blond kindergartener to a freckled, glasses wearing middle schooler and finally to the sleek honey-blonde she was today. He had known her family forever. She had made him cry in the first grade, he remembered with a wry grin, after she had pointed out that his shirt was on backwards and that he wore two different kinds of shoes. He had been embarrassed. That was when his mother had been laid up with the flu, he remembered vaguely. He must have dressed himself that day. And then in the fourth grade they had been partners in the science fair. Their project, an in-depth analysis and search for the longest lasting gum flavors hadn't won them any prizes, but it was definitely one of the more fun times he had that year. They had given away sticks of gum at their table and while theirs wasn't the most scientific booth at the fair, it was by far the most popular.
Clark smiled as he continued to look at the yearbooks. There, in the seventh grade yearbook was a candid shot of him and Lana dancing together — their bodies at least two feet apart — at the Halloween dance. She was dressed as a ballerina and he was a vampire. They both beamed at the camera, Clark's plastic fangs distorting his real smile. They had grown up together and by the ninth grade she was his best friend. They spent nearly every afternoon that summer swimming in the pond or lounging around the Dairy Queen, splitting sundaes and using the spot as a meeting place with their friends.
The unthinkable had occurred in tenth grade. He had been helping his father paint over the glaring red of their barn with a more subtle white. The red kept peeking through the white paint however, giving the entire barn a pink tinge. Clark and his father both were growing frustrated with lugging the ladder back and forth. Finally, his father went in the house to grab a sandwich and Clark glared at the paint cans and the half finished barn. It was doubly frustrating because he knew he could have the whole thing done in under a minute if his father would just let him use his stupid "gifts." He was concerned by how much his father complained about a pain in his back. The constant movement wasn't doing anything for that hurt. His father would forgive him. Glancing around to be sure he was alone, he grabbed the paint cans and flew up to the top of the barn. He paused for a moment and then a Clark-colored blur zoomed around the barn, painting layer upon layer on the house. He used up their paint supplies and finally stepped back to survey his handiwork. The house gleamed a pristine white, no red peeking out at all. He heard the crack of brittle leaves as his father approached and he turned, grinning in modest pleasure at his work.
Lana stood there, staring at him in horror.
Dread rapidly replaced his insides. Stupid! Stupid, Clark! His father had warned him about this. He had been careless.
"Lana!" He shouted as she began to run. He took off after her, easily overtaking her without even the benefit of his super speed. "Lana, wait." He grabbed her arm and a spike of pain struck his heart when she flinched.
"Lana, please. Let me explain."
She glared at him, but it wasn't the defiant anger he was used to. This was painful. There was fear mixed in her eyes. There, in the girl who had split sundaes and memories with him, was panic. She was frightened by him. His life story spilled out of him then, as he spoke fast and jumbled his words. He tried to will her to understand that it was still him, he wasn't any different. They stood there in the wheat field for a long while, the golden plants swaying around their bodies. Finally, after the outpouring of words had stopped, he looked at her in apprehension.
Had he lost her?
She turned from him, folding her arms protectively. A swift gust of October wind sliced the air and Clark shrugged out of his sweatshirt. She took the shirt wordlessly and pulled it over her head. That more than anything relieved him. She wasn't repulsed by his things at least. Finally she gave him a tiny smile and a nod.
She wouldn't tell anyone. But he had to promise her he'd be more careful. "Not everyone will be as forgiving as I am," she told him softly. At the time he had been so relieved that she was speaking to him the words barely registered. Later, as he reviewed their conversation from every angle, the words stung. She thought his existence was something to be forgiven. He told his parents that she knew the secret but he never repeated that bit to them. It festered inside of him, easy to forget when the sun was shining and Lana was smiling but painful in the dark nights.
Clark abruptly shut his yearbook. Things were okay now. He was a big senior. The football team adored him. Lana had finally managed to get past seeing him as the freak boy who could bench press semis. In fact, she had actually sneakily insinuated that he use his freezing breath to salvage their melting ice cream the other day.
She had accepted him and tonight they had kissed. A broad smile slid across his face as he took a flying leap on his bed, halting a quarter centimeter above the mattress. His dreams that night were pleasant and full of Lana Lang.
Clark stirred from his musings, fully aware that he wasn't a senior in high school anymore. Lana and he had dated all through college and married right after. His first love, he thought a little wistfully. Though she wasn't perfect, she had brightened his days. He had someone to confide in; a genuine partner. He had lost her though, and he had to square with that.
But why on earth was the only woman he had found himself dreaming about since his wife's passing only 17-years-old? Were the fates taunting him? Laughing at his plight? His thoughts grew more and more fantastical and he finally reeled himself in. What was this? He was a wreck. Lois Lane was not in his thoughts. He had dreamt about her, yes. The thought of her sleeping with Claude — or anyone else — seriously disturbed him, true. But that didn't mean anything. She was just there. His feelings were fluctuating as his grief began to fade. Obviously his subconscious latched onto the person he had seen that day. As he thought through his situation logically, the panic in his heart began to die down. He wasn't attracted to his student. That would be wrong. And Clark Kent was a straight arrow kind of guy.
Clark snuggled down on the couch to sleep, ignoring the pitiful part of his conscious that told him he was lying to himself.
"You're warm for his form, aren't you?"
Lois gave her sister a baleful glance over the tub of Rocky Road ice cream they were sharing. At her silence, Lucy let out a squeal and Lois viciously stabbed the rock hard, sugary confection.
"You know it's not so hard for me to imagine this as your head," Lois ground out as she bit down on the spoon and jerkily chewed. Lucy was positively beaming.
"I told you so. I so told you. Didn't I tell you? I told you you'd think he was hot," Lucy crowed. "And what's this? You eat dinner with him and his folks? He saves you from a sleazy Frenchman? It's so much *better* than I ever imagined! Lois, your life is a hell of a lot more fascinating than Days of our Lives."
"You're too gracious, Luce."
Lucy tucked a pajama clad leg under her as she shifted on the chair to rest her chin on her hand. "Aww, come on Lois. You know I'm just kidding. Well not really, you actually are more interesting than Days of our Lives. They keep focusing in on Tony the comatose firefighter. Seriously. Why focus on him? It's annoying. When you get you job at the Daily Planet will you write me a scathing review?"
Lucy continued on without waiting for Lois to continue. "This is so much fun. I miss you, you know. Want to stay here at Mom's for a while? It'd help your cover." Lucy held out the last r in a trill.
"That's just annoying. Not persuasive at all."
"But back to boys. Mr. Kent. Or Clark." She drew out every syllable of the name. "I can't believe you called him that here. It just slipped out so naturally. Just how much are you thinking about him these days?"
Lois sighed and looked up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly three a.m. She really should be heading to bed soon, but she found she was too keyed up to even contemplate it. Besides, as much as Lucy's riling annoyed her, she was her little sister and she had missed her.
But she couldn't tell Lucy that!
"I'm not thinking of him at all! I just want to solve this case. I'm running out of time you know. Mr. White only gave me so long. I've been undercover a week and a half already."
"That's not that long," Lucy said helpfully, trying to console her older sister. "Plus, you've done loads better than I had ever thought. I can't believe Lexy and Jill are already letting you try out to be a Rosette."
Lois nodded, pleased with Lucy's admiration. She decided to grant her little sister a bit of a concession. "And fine, you win. I think Clark Kent is a really cute, really decent guy." Lois sighed as she morosely stabbed the ice cream. "But that's not really here nor there. He thinks I'm a kid, Luce. And it really… well-" She paused and gave Lucy a wry smile. "To put it in your language… it really sucks."
Lucy laughed aloud and high-fived her sister. "Nice to see high school is getting to you. Pretty soon you'll be using chat speak in your emails."
Lois' gaze darkened. "Don't hold your breath."
The smile on Lucy's face dimmed somewhat as she took in her sister's words. She hadn't ever heard Lois sound actually dejected by a guy before. Usually they either caved and dated her or they bolted and she'd be so furious she'd hate their guts. This strange, glum middle ground left Lucy a little hesitant.
"You really like him?"
"I think he'd be exactly the kind of guy I'd be looking for," Lois started slowly. It seemed like the words took a long time to form around her lips. A harsh look came back in her gaze a moment later. "If I was looking for anyone, that is. Which I'm not."
"Sure, sure," Lucy placated mindlessly, her brain whirring. She paused. "Lois? Hey, I know this is kind of a sudden idea…" Lucy trailed off, unsure of how to phrase the next part of her query. "But have you ever thought of just… telling him? Letting him know the score? He could help you, I'm sure of it. Mr. Kent knows all of his students very well. He makes it a point to do so. Maybe you know, if you told him, you could work together on the case. Then, when it was all finished he'd be done seeing you as an untouchable 17-year-old and as the beautiful, successful woman you are."
The shock in Lois' eyes was easy to read but hard to place. Was she shocked at Lucy's suggestion? Lucy cringed and looked down at the melting chocolate chunk in front of her.
Which was why when Lois threw herself in her arms, the breath was knocked out of her.
"Ahh! Lois! Get off me," Lucy tried to shove her sister's strangling arms away. "Get off!"
When Lois finally pulled back, her eyes were slightly misty and it alarmed Lucy much more than the tackle hug had. "What? What?"
"You're a good sister, Lucy Lane," Lois said, sniffling slightly. "I'm sorry I'm crying. I think it's a mix of the stress and some old fashioned PMS."
"I'm not sure if I wanted to know that, Lois."
Lois gave her another watery grin and Lucy sighed. To hell with it. She pulled her unflappable older sister into a hug and held on tight. "So you'll consider telling Mr. Kent about you? I just want you to be happy."
When Lois spoke it was muffled against her shoulder. "I know you do, Lucy. Thank you."
"So you'll do it?" Lucy pressed.
Lois' voice rang loud and clear, even from where it was muffled against the cotton of Lucy's ancient Metropolis Middle School gym shirt. "Are you crazy? And risk being scooped? Hell, no."
Lucy started to laugh, her shoulders shaking uncontrollably. That was her fireball sister. She was back.
"Good. I'd hate to have to covet your husband at the wedding."
"Psh, yeah. I'd be trying to seduce him before the wedding. One Lane sister is as good as the next, right?"
"I hate you."
"I love you."
"I love you, too." Lois said petulantly. She wriggled out of Lucy's arms and dove for her spoon. "But all this talk means more ice cream. You up for a run to that all night grocery store?"
"Are you kidding? Of course I am. The unbeatable team Lane and Lane strike again!"
"Just when there's ice cream involved."
Lois returned to her seat the next Monday, utterly perplexed by Mr. Kent's behavior. He hadn't looked at her once all class long. Despite her raised hand and, in her own opinion, excellent answers, he had called on nearly everyone but her.
Was he embarrassed at having eaten dinner with her last night? That was strange; he had been fine when they had gotten that pizza with Garrett and Kaitlin. And besides that, he had acted normally after Claude had gone.
Finally Clark asked a question that no one knew the answer to. No one but her. Smiling triumphantly, she raised her hand high. Clark's gaze flitted to her for a second before checking out the rest of the silent class. Finally he heaved a sigh and called on her.
"Lois? Do you know the answer?"
Was that her imagination, or did he sound exasperated? She bristled. He didn't have to go play the whole knight in shining armor bit last night. If that's what had him so miffed, it was his own fault. She answered the question perfectly, challenging him to disagree with her. To her relief — or was it disappointment? — he didn't. The class passed by more slowly than it ever had. When the bell rang, she bolted.
Clark stared after her retreating figure through the walls of his room, his head pounding. He could see that she was angry with him for ignoring her. But how else could he act? Every time he caught sight of her thick brown hair, every time his hearing distinguished her heartbeat, he was brought back into his nightmare. It lived inside him, ready to rear up at the slightest provocation.
Absently, he continued to watch her as she laughed with Kaitlin. He was glad to see them together. Good, solid company. Yes, he was very pleased to see her with students her own age. Lois parted ways with Kaitlin and approached a large group of seniors. Prominent among them was Lexy, Jill and a variety of other popular girls. He groaned. Why? This was so frustrating. He could see that the road she was on was going to lead to nothing but heartbreak, but he couldn't say anything! Even if he did, he was sure Lois wouldn't listen. Every time he mentioned Jill or Lexy she got quiet and her eyes flashed a little dangerously. He couldn't help but feel she was in complete control of herself, and that was why it frustrated him to no end. She was an enticing enigma.
No, not enticing, he told himself furiously. Just an enigma.
He had been wrong. He kept thinking about her even when she wasn't there! His behavior horrified him. Never, never in a thousand years had he ever contemplated feeling anything for a student. It was unthinkable. He felt so dirty. His heart anxiously beat faster against his ribcage. This was wrong. This was so wrong. He hung his head in his hands and sat there for a moment, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his ears focusing on everything but the voice he could clearly distinguish if he was so inclined.
Surrounded by the stylish girls, Lois shouldn't have felt so confident. After all, she was new and an outsider trying to bust into the most tightly knit group on campus. But as they sat around her, giggling about so and so's new haircut, she couldn't help but feel a little superior. This was the great group that ran the school? These girls? Some of them couldn't even pass bio. Her contempt for them ran deeper after Jill had confided in her Lexy's story about Mr. Kent. Despite her current frustration with him, she didn't like the thought of Lexy Hartness trying to dig her claws into her English teacher. He was hers.
The possessive thought rang strangely in her head. Hers? What was she thinking? He was merely an attractive man. Who was kind and funny. And loyal and brave. Nothing to get excited about, she told herself firmly. This kind of thinking was dangerous for her case. She turned back to the girls. Jill had started speaking in a low voice.
"Lois, I think you have it takes to join the Rosettes. What do you say? If you pass our initiation tests you're in."
Definitely need to stop daydreaming! This was what she had been waiting for. She had to play it cool.
"Really? Initiation tests, huh? Well I'd love to join." Lois thought back to the daring streaks that ran through the girls. It was their collective shared trait. "I'm up for anything you can throw at me."
The girls all squealed at that, and Lois smiled indulgently. Lexy disentangled herself from the group and stood in front of her. Lois rose to meet her and they faced off.
"This is an honor, Lois. I hope you know that we don't ask just anyone to join us." Lexy gave a derisive laugh that set Lois' teeth on edge. "Like that girl Dana. She's always sucking up to us. As if we'd consider her." Lexy laughed and the group joined her. The sound echoed dully in Lois' ears, but she forced herself to grin.
"What's the test?" she asked, a little too quickly. She wanted them to stop ridiculing Dana. It hurt to hear the pretty and friendly girl put down so vehemently by the people she adored.
Lexy didn't waste time. She got straight to the point.
"Go steal the answers to Redwick's next test. By tomorrow, okay? That's the first one."
Lois nodded, already contemplating sneaking back into the building. She left out a soft sigh of relief. These were the awful initiation tasks? They were no problem. Maybe Lucy had underestimated this so called "gang."
"How many tests are there?" Lois asked, idly buffing her fingernails along her jeans.
The girls looked at each other and then finally to Lexy.
"There are three," Lexy said finally. "Including the one I just gave you. Not so bad, no?"
"No," Lois agreed. "Not so bad."
In the dark night, one might not have noticed the figure if they hadn't been watching the softly rustling leaves. He stood, slowly appraising the tall building that housed Lois Lane's apartment. He had watched her come home nearly every night and he knew that she wasn't due back for a long while. She had gone out to meet some kids for drinks and dancing.
Well that was just perfect.
Rising to his feet with a catlike grace, he strode quickly and opened the glass door into her building. It was unlocked; the foolish, bumbling neighbor downstairs always forgot to check that the door shut firmly behind him. It was easy enough to catch the door and slip into the building. He walked down the hall quietly, arranging his features in a pleasant smile as an elderly woman passed him. She smiled at him and he could almost hear her thoughts. What a nice young man. Such a handsome boy. Must be new here. As she passed and turned out of sight his face twisted back into a hardened scowl. His job was hanging by a thread and that damn Lois Lane was his replacement. If she got the story — if she could solve what the police couldn't — he was gone. An involuntary growl sounded deep in his throat as Claude patiently picked the many locks on Lois' door. At last the door clicked open and he slipped in, handheld scanner tucked casually in his back pocket.
It was with a self-satisfied smile that Lois banged on Jill's door, a crumpled sheet of paper fisted victoriously in her hand. When Lexy opened the door, Lois showed it to her, watching triumphantly as Lexy nodded and took the answers.
"You'll get the second test tomorrow."
The door slammed shut, leaving Lois sputtering slightly in its wake, her foot already poised to step in the doorway.
Well that went well. Grumbling slightly, Lois turned around. That wasn't quite the reception she had hoped for. The door creaked behind her and Jill rushed out, catching up with her on the walkway.
"Lois, I'm sorry about Lexy," she began in a hushed whisper. "She's just a little uptight right now. Thanks for getting the answers. I definitely needed this." Jill smiled, but it didn't warm her eyes. "I'll see you tomorrow, Lois."
Lois murmured a goodbye as she watched Jill trudge back into the house. This was odd…extremely odd. Jill was almost always smiling, chipper and active. Today she was none of the three. And Lexy, well, Lexy never was completely kind, but she normally wasn't so snappish. Both Jill and Lexy were on edge and as Lois watched Jill's shadow disappear into the house, she set her mouth into a determined line. Something was up and she was definitely going to get to the bottom of it. It was broad daylight, but hedges skimmed the house on all sides. If she could crawl in the bushes she wouldn't be visible, Lois mused. Making a snap decision, she resigned her white capris to the trash and dove into the dirt behind the bushes.
Sliding along on her hands and knees, Lois kept her eyes on the ground, eyeing the insects there suspiciously.
"Don't you get too close," she muttered fiercely to them. "I don't like you. I don't like you at all. And I will squish you."
A large June bug continued on its merry way, trekking over her fingertips. She held her breath and glared. She didn't like bugs. They were small. They were creepy. They crawled on her hand when she specifically told them not to.
After a few moments the bug had passed and Lois let out a sigh of relief. She continued on her way, earning a mouthful of bush when she focused a little too much on the ground and not enough on the path in front of her.
Finally, after what had seemed like hours and hours of trekking through extreme wildlife — was the real world only a few feet away? Behind that brick wall could there really be showers and air conditioning? — Lois reached the spot under Jill's window. She poked her head up and prayed that they weren't staring at the window.
Both Lexy and Jill were sitting on Jill's bed, cross-legged and looking at something spread out between them. Lois craned her neck but Jill's casually stretched out leg blocked her view.
And the window was tightly shut and locked.
But by the grim look on Jill's face, whatever they were discussing looked big. And more important than whomever Gustavo Fuentes (the exchange student Jill was currently lusting over) had last batted his eyelashes at. Instinctively, Lois knew she had to get in that house.
Speeding up her crawl, Lois continued to circle the house. There had to be an open window somewhere… there! The bathroom window swung open to tempt a breeze, the soft Pottery Barn curtains mildly stirring with the slight hint of air.
Perfect. When she reached the window, Lois hefted herself up on the sill and vaulted into the house, grimacing as she took in her beyond repair outfit. It had been a cute outfit, too. But there were more important things at hand, Lois mentally scolded herself. Like how the heck she was supposed to sneak through the house looking like she had just wrestled a pit bull in a mud pit.
And like how she was going to avoid the person turning the knob to the bathroom door. Giving an inward shriek of surprise, Lois ducked into the shower, tugging the curtain straight just in time.
Heavy footsteps entered the room and Lois let out a silent sigh of relief that it hadn't been Jill's youngest brother. Henry was only four and had taken to pulling open the shower curtain whenever he went to the bathroom, just to be sure no monsters had taken residence there since he had last peed. A sharp whistle echoed in the room and Lois held her breath as Jill's oldest brother, Kyle, home from college for a few days, completed his business.
Don't take a shower. Don't take a shower. Lois repeated the mantra in her head, fear and adrenaline pumping through her veins. Finally, after what seemed like years, Kyle flushed and left the room.
Without washing his hands. Gross. Lois wrinkled her nose and mentally crossed off a couple points on Kyle's attractiveness list. She quickly hopped out of the tub and cracked open the door. The hall was empty, though Jill's door was tightly shut.
More bad luck. Lois groaned and slipped toward the door anyway, mentally composing a cover story. If she was caught… Okay, if she was caught, she had gotten mowed over by a kid on a bike outside the house. Her ankle felt sprained so she hobbled up to door and since it was unlocked, wandered inside to find a phone and some ice. That satisfactorily explained the mud, Lois thought proudly. Though she didn't relish facing Lexy if she was caught. Or the subsequent act of hopping around on one foot to prove her story. She reached for the door and pressed her ear against the cool wood. She could just barely make out murmurs. Jill's bed was pressed to the wall closest to the door. Shutting her eyes tightly, Lois focused on just her hearing.
"…ipment…week…New York." That was Lexy, Lois thought. She sounded excited. When Jill spoke next, though her words were slightly garbled, Lois could tell she sounded less than pleased.
What was dangerous? Lois mentally stamped her foot in frustration. The voices suddenly stopped and Lois paused for a moment. Oh God, the doorknob was twisting! Letting out a spastic volley of internal curses, Lois grabbed the handle of the nearest knob and threw herself in the room, shutting it tightly behind her, panting slightly. She heard Lexy and Jill pass the door, heading into the kitchen. Breathing a sigh of relief, Lois was about to escape into the hall and subsequent freedom when a voice stopped her dead in her tracks.
"Why, hello there."
Whirling on her axis, Lois turned to find Kyle lying on his bed, baseball in hand as he eyed her curiously. He had taken his shirt off in the heat of the day and was dressed only in a pair of cut off shorts. His half-naked state gave her wildly spinning brain an idea.
A bad idea, but an idea nevertheless. The best defense was a good offense, right? Or was it the opposite way around?
Adding a sultry sway to her hips, Lois marched right up to the bewildered college student and placed a grubby hand on his shoulder.
"Hi Kyle," she said breathlessly, obviously appraising his naked chest. "Have you been working out?" She trailed a finger down his chest, speculatively rubbing her palm across the washboard abs of his stomach.
"Umm…" After a moment of stuttering, a slightly knowing grin fitted across his face. "Did you sneak in here all the way to see me, babe?"
Lois smiled coquettishly. "Oh Kyle, would I do that?"
He caught her around the waist, pulling her closely into him. "I don't know, babe, would you? You don't need to sneak around. I think you're pretty cute for a kid."
Lois fought down the wildcat urge to knee him in a private place. It was time to bolt.
"Oh Kyle." She jutted out her lower lip. "You caught me. I snuck in here to see you, but I don't want Jill to find out! I know she'd tease me. I knew it, but I had to see you."
Kyle very nearly started preening in front of her. "It's okay babe. I know it's hard for girls like you when you see a BMOC like me. I'll help you get out of here, kid, okay?"
"Oh would you do that?" The simpering edge in her voice made Lois want to throw herself off a cliff.
"Sure I would, babe, for a price. Though you'll thank me for it. A kiss? I want to give you something for your trouble."
Kyle pulled her into his arms and kissed her, groaning appreciatively while Lois rolled her eyes. In a moment of sheer instinct she shut her eyes and pictured it was Clark Kent she was kissing. Sparks exploded against her brain as she felt the warm skin of his back under her fingertips. She pressed herself more tightly against him, her lips gradually growing less passive and more active as she heard Clark's soft whimper into her mouth. The sound drove her crazy and she brought a hand to thread through his silky hair. Through her kiss-induced haze, a thought began to burrow into her consciousness. Clark's hair wasn't so long… oh God! She pulled back roughly, finding herself looking into the satisfied face of Kyle Reynolds.
Not Clark Kent.
Clark Kent! No! Bad Lois! She had to get out of there.
"Please help me get out," Lois whispered. Kyle looked at her a moment, obviously misinterpreting her shocked expression as testimony to his kissing skills.
"Sure babe, whatever you want."
Kyle went to his big window and shoved it up, removing the screen as he did so. Jumping out first, he gallantly extended a hand to help her down. And there she was, in the bushes by the front door. Thrilled at escaping Lexy's detection and still mentally gagging at the thought of Kyle's tongue in her mouth, Lois squeezed his hand gratefully. Then, with as much dignity as possible, she walked down the driveway and into the fading twilight.
It had been an interesting sort of day. She was still worked up over Clark ignoring her in class. She couldn't pinpoint it exactly, but he had looked really stressed. Between her dismal day at school and subsequent dismissal by Lexy and Jill, Lois was a little bummed.
Bummed. Lois smiled to herself at the lingo she was using, even in her head. It had been so easy to drop back into the role of a high school student. But things hadn't been so dark when she had last been at Metropolis High. She hadn't been having raunchy dreams about teachers and there hadn't been girl-run gangs secretly terrorizing the school.
Thankfully. Her head would have exploded. As it was, her mind was desperately trying to filter through all the information she had gathered today. It would help to go home and jot down her thoughts. Lois glanced up and found that while she had been wandering and musing, night had fully set. The streets were strangely empty for a night in Metropolis, and she glanced around a little uneasily at the dark alleys as she rushed past. Maybe walking home hadn't been her brightest idea. The area was slightly residential and there wasn't a taxicab in sight. A pay phone was lit up in a yellow pool under a lone streetlight.
She would call Lucy to come pick her up. She still had a good twenty-minute walk anyway. Funny, it hadn't seemed that far when she had merrily made her way to Jill's, euphoric about the stolen test answers she had gotten with ridiculous ease.
When the hands grabbed her from behind, her startled yelp was almost immediately followed with rolled eyes. It was just too predictable, wasn't it? How silly to think that she, Lois Lane, could walk home one night without running into disaster. Cold steel pressed against her neck and she shivered. A knife. Guns she could deal with, but knives had always frightened her. The edge scraped at the soft skin of her neck and she froze, all thoughts of fighting and fleeing vanishing in wake of the liquid fear consuming her.
"Your wallet." The voice was rough and the body behind her felt burly and solid.
Lois reached into her pocket, letting the man know what she was doing, and held it up in the air for him to grab. Instead of taking the bait and dropping one of the hands confining her, she felt the man nod behind her. "Throw it on the ground, right there."
Lois did as she was told and stiffened when she felt the man inch closer to her.
"I gave you my wallet! There's a credit card and cash in there. Now leave me be," she said, careful to keep the edge of fear out of her voice.
"Not so fast, doll
Lois grimaced. She was sick of the nicknames. Between Kyle calling her "babe" and this joker calling her "doll"… Her wry amusement dissolved into a whimper as the knife slid across her throat lightly. A bright red line appeared on the otherwise pale skin of her neck and a drop of blood dripped down the snowy skin.
Keeping the knife trained on her neck, he reached down with one hand for the belt buckle of his pants. Lois' stomach dropped in horror at the motion and she forced her wild mind to calm enough to plan. With one hand unbuckling his belt and one had on the knife… he was only keeping her against the wall with a knee pressed between her legs. It was risky, but what else could she do? Taking a deep breath that brought tears to her eyes as it forced the knife closer, she threw her body to the side, tripping over his leg but effectively pulling her neck away from the glittering knife.
"Help!" she began to scream, but it was cut off the second she opened her mouth. Despite his size, the man was nimble and fast. He tackled her and she came down hard on the cold cement, crying out as her legs scraped against the rough ground. He shoved her jaw shut and held it, straddling her waist as she struggled futilely. The man glared at her, panting hard as he brought the knife down angrily, skipping her neck and instead aiming directly for her heart.
Lois screamed, though no sound came out with the man's hand clamping her jaw shut. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited, her last image of earth the bloodstained knife speeding directly toward her.
The knife grazed the front of her shirt, tearing though the fabric before a roar filled the night air. The knife was gone, her skin miraculously unbroken. Lois forced her eyes open, but they felt glued shut. A dark shape, nearly snarling with anger had her assailant tackled on the ground. The man struggled, but he was obviously no match for his attacker and Lois' angel.
Lois struggled to her feet, pressing a fist against her mouth as her breath came in ragged gulps. There was no light in the area, save for the lone streetlamp about fifteen feet away. The pool didn't extend so far as to their location however, and Lois was forced to only discern her savior and attacker's silhouettes. The man on top had the obvious edge. He spoke a moment later, hissing quietly at his prisoner. Whatever he had said frightened the man into submission, though he still half-heartedly struggled against the iron grip grinding him into the pavement.
"Lois, please call the police with that phone right there. You'll be perfectly safe, I assure you. I won't take my eyes off you."
The voice was calm and gentle, at odds with the fearsome picture he made in the dark. It was familiar. Soothing. Clark's.
"Clark?" she said a little timidly, not even realizing her lapse. Clark didn't seem to notice either.
"It's okay, Lois. You're all right. Just go call the police and then this will all be over."
Lois followed the directions speaking in a nearly calm voice to the woman at the end of 911. When she hung up, the fact that her English teacher had just saved her from certain death and was pinning a man twice his size to the ground rushed to hit her on the head.
"Y-you," Lois began then changed her mind. "Where the hell did you come from?"
Clark grunted as an answer as the man beneath him attempted to break loose. Lois tensed, ready to fight, but Clark quickly subdued him again. "I live around here. I was walking home when I heard a scuffle in the alley."
Actually, he had been watching a basketball game in his apartment when he had heard her heartbeat. At first he thought his tortured musings were following him home and he nearly covered his ears with his hands, desperate to stop the mental images and dreams. The heartbeat refused to leave him however, and he paused. It was speeding up and then… another heartbeat? What? Though he had always had an active imagination he couldn't fathom what his subconscious was trying to tell him by throwing in another heartbeat into the mix. Finally he caught the breathless, near cry for help and he realized that it hadn't just been his emotions kicking into overdrive. Lois needed him!
Thankfully both Lois and her assailant were too busy to notice that he jumped out of his third story window in his haste to get to her. When he saw them struggling and when he saw the knife flash from the man's hand… Clark shuddered. He had very nearly been too late. It had been easy enough to overcome the man, however, and now his only struggle was how to make it look believable.
After her first question, Lois was quiet. She leaned against the wall of the alley and watched Clark keep an eye on her would be killer. There was no noise in the still night save for their ragged breathing. Finally a siren split the night air and Clark gratefully handed the man off to the authorities. Clark drove her to the station to give their statements and finally the ordeal was over. Lois and Clark walked to his car, both silent and pensive.
"I think you had better call your parents now, Lois," he said softly. His gaze fell on the shallow slice across her throat. It was thin, no longer oozing blood, but it still glittered malevolently in the light as a constant reminder of what had nearly happened. Since his marriage to Lana, he had stifled the cries for help in his head. He helped when he could, oftentimes at night and dressed in black. The guilt never truly went away, but he could function normally alongside it.
If Lois Lane had died because he had been too busy watching a basketball game to notice she was being mugged and threatened just outside his window, his world would have crashed around him. He handed Lois his cell phone and watched as she dialed a number.
After a few minutes, Lois hung up, giving the phone back to him with a shrug. "Sorry, Mr. Kent. My parents aren't home, I guess."
"Aren't home?! It's midnight. Where else could they be?"
"My parents are separated. My dad's a doctor and on call at the hospital right now," Lois stopped there, content with her explanation. Clark frowned at the evasion.
"Where is your mother?"
Lois' eyes flashed angrily. "What's it matter to you, anyway?"
Taken aback, Clark shot her a sharp glance as he drove to a 24-hour pharmacy.
"I don't see why it should."
"It just does, Lois!" he finally exploded just as he pulled into a parking space. He twisted the ignition to shut off the car and he jerkily opened the door and waited for Lois to follow. "I care about your well-being."
Lois fell into a stormy silence as she trudged after Mr. Kent into the fluorescent glare of the store. "What are we getting here, anyway?"
"Peroxide and bandages."
Clark threw her an exasperated look. "For someone who's excelling at their advanced course senior English class, you're awfully dense today." He meticulously read the backs of the bandage boxes.
Lois let out a surly harrumph. "If this is about my legs, they're fine. Obviously the cops didn't think I needed a hospital."
Clark paused from his reading and finally selected a type. He headed toward the exit, barely waiting for her to catch up with him. "Yeah, well. I guess I'm a real nut for wanting to bandage up that." Clark gestured vaguely to her raw and scraped legs. She had nearly forgotten about them in the excitement, but obviously Clark had noticed.
Clark paid for the supplies and then returned to the car. He turned on the ignition and then flipped a switch. The interior of the car was suddenly bathed in light. Clark sat Lois down in the passenger seat, swinging her legs out of the car. He knelt on the pavement and ripped open the various packages around him.
"Sorry about this."
"Sorry about wh-AHHHH!" Lois squealed as the peroxide bubbled and burned her raw legs. "This stuff can't be legal," she gritted out, squeezing her eyes shut as it stung.
"I'm afraid it is. And recommended too."
Without seemingly caring that he was slowly burning her to death, Clark gently held her calf and bandaged the various scrapes on her legs. Through the stinging haze, Lois became aware of a different kind of heat. His large hands glided effortlessly over her legs, never pausing, never approaching anything remotely a caress.
But the whole thing was so damn intimate.
She took in his form speculatively as she mindlessly spat out insults and curses at him. She wasn't really aware of what she was saying and it didn't appear like Clark was listening either. His hair was falling into his eyes, blocking them from her view as he tipped his head downward to concentrate on his hands bandaging her legs. The hum from the generator was the only noise in the silent parking lot and Lois realized that if she had been with any other man in such a creepy location, she might have been frightened. The area really wasn't in the best part of town. But she was with Clark and she didn't feel the slightest sliver of fear. She felt a few other things, most of them things she wouldn't dwell on until later, but no fear.
"There, all bandaged up." Clark's fingers skimmed over the broken skin one more time, checking to be sure he hadn't missed a spot. "You're a target for trouble, Lois Lane. This is twice in two days."
"Just drive, Mr. Kent," Lois said, brushing over his concerns. She smiled then, but it wasn't mirthful. The smile was a ghost of what it could be and full of wry condescension. "After all, I have school tomorrow."
Clark helped her move her feet back inside the vehicle and shut the door. Lois switched off the light in the car and waited for Clark to make his way back into the driver's seat. She shouldn't be so snappy with him. He had just saved her life. As if sensing her mood, Clark didn't fill the silence with any discussion. He thumbed on the radio and they left the music the job of making conversation. Lois unconsciously ran her own fingers over her injuries and the spaces of unbroken skin between them. Clark's fingers had been deft and gentle and warm. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked at him out the corner of her eye. In the dark his body was a mere shadow, but the light from the dashboard clearly threw his face in relief. He looked tense. Without thinking, Lois rubbed his shoulder.
The muscle underneath her gentle fingertips was steel, but it relaxed after a moment. A blissful smile crossed Clark's face and he looked at her. His eyes roved her face for a moment, horror dawning in his eyes. His shoulder suddenly became rigid muscle again and she let her hand drop, for her sanity as much as his.
There was no other way to explain it. It was insane. She couldn't fight the rampant attraction between them and she didn't want to have to. She shouldn't have to. She was 23-years-old; a consenting adult. She needed to tell him. She tried to form the words in her mind in a way that didn't sound certifiable.
"Hi, Mr. Kent, or should I call you Clark? No, you see, I can do that. I'm actually 23. Undercover. Yeah. So… why did I tell you? Oh um… I just thought we could go back to your place and I could jump your bones?"
The car stopped.
Lois jerked out of her musings and looked around. They were at her parent's house. Right. Clark thought she was a high school student and that she lived here. She turned to him.
"—Don't. Don't Lois. Call me Mr. Kent. Please, for my sanity. It's time for you to go home. Be sure to tell your parents what happened to you tonight. Go to the doctor tomorrow." Clark paused and his voice nearly cracked on the last bit. "Do your homework. I'll see you tomorrow."
"But Cl — Mr. Kent, I have to tell you something."
Clark stared stonily out the front window.
"Go on, then," he said brusquely. "What is it?"
Lois took in his rigid form and sighed. "Nothing, Mr. Kent. Thanks for everything tonight." She got out of the car and slowly made her way to her front door. She fumbled for the key in her pocket and it took two tries to force the key into the lock. She looked back. He was still waiting. Finally she got the door open and stepped inside.
The car was gone before she could even tilt her head to look outside.
Clark dialed his parent's number, needing to hear a sane voice. He had flown them back home a few nights ago despite their protests. They could tell something was up, Clark thought ruefully, long before he could. At the time he couldn't get their gently probing questions far enough away, but now he craved the reason and inevitable wisdom they would offer.
Martha picked up on the fourth ring. "Hello?"
"Hi Mom," Clark said softly.
"Clark, is something wrong? Should I go get your father on the line?"
Clark shook his head, oblivious to the fact that his mother couldn't see him. "No, that's okay. How have you been?"
"Things are going great here. Just normal, really. Katie Klinger just had her baby."
"That's wonderful." Clark was having the conversation without paying attention in the slightest. "What'd she name her?"
"Him. They called him Tristan. Honey, are you all right? You sound awfully strange."
"Why wouldn't I be all right?" Clark dodged the question, rolling his eyes at his own perverseness. He had called his mom just to talk about the scenario but now that she was on the phone, he denied he had a problem.
"You had that nightmare and you looked so pale! And now you sound like you just lost your best friend."
His mother was much too perceptive for her own good sometimes.
"Lois was nearly killed tonight," he finally said after a moment of silence. "I saved her just in time though."
"Oh Clark! That's terrible. What happened? Are you all right? Is she okay?"
"Of course I'm all right. Lois is okay too. She banged up her knees a little, but nothing that won't heal. She was mugged walking home and then he nearly…" Clark broke off, rage hazily filling his eyes and his voice faltering on the words. "He nearly raped her."
His perceptive hearing had no problem distinguishing the sharp, but nearly inaudible intake of breath. "It was terrifying, Mom. I was almost too late. And when I tackled him, I wasn't myself."
"What do you mean 'you weren't yourself?' Who else would you be, Clark?"
"I was so… angry. Fearful, but angry. I wanted to kill him. I'm terrified of what I would have done if Lois hadn't been there. I've never felt such an all-consuming rage. I can't feel like that, Mom! It's dangerous. I'm dangerous."
"Clark Kent, if I was there right now I'd tan your hide for saying such things. You are not dangerous. You acted on fear and adrenaline and when someone you loved was threatened, it merely magnified the emotions. You didn't harm a hair on that man's head, did you?"
"I… I knocked him into the ground."
"He deserved that."
"I guess, but… wait, Mom, love? Are you serious? Are you feeling okay? I don't love Lois. That would be wrong."
Martha bit her lip, though Clark, with all his powers, couldn't see her. He was right; it was wrong. But yet her mother's intuition was telling her she was spot on and she couldn't disregard it. It had never failed her before.
"Clark, matters of the heart are mysterious. And I can't solve this for you. All I can tell you is that when love taps you on the shoulder, you can't just shut the door in its face. That usually backfires."
"Solve what? Mom, you're wrong. There's nothing to solve. I haven't been tapped on the shoulder."
His words sent a flash of bright fire behind his eyes and his shoulder burned where Lois had rubbed it. God, his mother hadn't been speaking in literal terms. He needed to get a grip.
"I appreciate the sentiment, Mom, and I'll be sure to keep it in mind. But you don't need to worry. I'm not in love with anyone."
"Are you sure about that, Clark?"
Clark was silent for a long moment. "Yes, I'm sure." His face burned as he crossed his fingers behind his back. "I'm positive."
"As long as you're honest with yourself, Clark. You know your father and I love you very much?"
"Yes, of course. I love you both, too." Clark took a steadying breath. "Goodnight, Mom."
Clark curled up on his window seat and stared out into the inky darkness. His mind whirled with too many thoughts to keep straight and organize. Flashes of his day, his past few days, his life before Lois Lane mixed and blended. He'd always looked forward to last period, right? That had always been the case. Not just because of his students. He'd have reacted just the same tonight had it been any other student. Of course he would have. The answer was beyond debating. He would have done the same thing for any human being. The feelings in his heart weren't the same as they had been for Lana. With Lana, things had been so easy. He hadn't had to question falling in love. It had just happened. Now things were achingly similar and heartbreakingly different. Clark laid his head on his arm in exhaustion.
"Goodnight stars… goodnight air…goodnight noises everywhere," he quoted sleepily to himself, recalling years and years of falling asleep to the same story. "Goodnight moon." Clark paused and got up from his seat. He tumbled into bed, pulling the covers tight around his chin in a mocking version of his childhood routine. "Goodnight Lois," he whispered to the dark room.
Silence filled the apartment.
The sound of her heels scraping against the concrete steps echoed in the air around her as Lois Lane made her way to the door of 344 Clinton Avenue. Every waking moment — and a fair share of her nighttime musings — had debated this action. Lexy's words the previous night had been like a jury sentence, dully resounding in her head. She could still smell the stale scent of alcohol on her breath when she had uttered the words that had shaken the unmovable Lois Lane.
"It looks like you and Mr. Kent are pretty cozy," Lexy said softly, a curious gleam in her eyes. "And while you have completed all that we've asked of you, it really hasn't proved anything, has it? You stole some test answers. Big deal. Any thug or sneak could have done it. You got us some fake IDs. An awfully convenient gift, but what does it prove other than the fact that you have some high up connections?"
Lexy paused to take a breath and the girls around her stared in mute silence. Lois' gaze shifted rapidly from Jill to Lexy, trying to decipher the looks in their faces and to ease the tightening knot in her stomach.
"No," Lexy continued. "None of those things are what the Rosettes are about, Lois. We don't just rule high school, we own it. It's about having fun with no consequences. It's about a mentality, a certain mindset. Rosettes have nerve. Daring. Smarts. In short, we're as savvy as any punk gang on the streets, and then some. But I'd like to think we pull things off with a lot more flair and poise."
Lois was getting a little weary of the smug tirade. She skewered Lexy with a glare. "I understand how exclusive the Rosettes are and I feel I'm capable of pulling off whatever you ask of me." Lois hurried on when she saw Lexy open her mouth to speak. "But I refuse to serve as your flunky, pulling jobs with no benefits. If I don't move up in the ranks soon, I'm out of here." Lois took a step forward. "Empty promises mean nothing to me. Now tell me what you need me to do, and once and for all I'll prove my worth and merit."
The room was silent save for the ticking of the clock on the wall and the light sound of breath being shallowly inhaled. Lois glanced around the room sharply, noticing for the first time the undercurrent of fear throughout. It dampened the area and Lois' stubborn gaze met five pale, sweaty faces. She turned back to the smugly confident Lexy and grimaced as the sad, frightened faces lingered, burned into her retinas. The cause she was fighting for tripled in worth in her mind. It wasn't just about snagging a job at the Daily Planet anymore. This was personal. She knew these girls. She knew that in their heart of hearts they had merely been swept away by a bad crowd and the glamour of Lucifer's star. All save for Lexy Hartness. In the dim light of Jill's empty kitchen, her face was all angles, harsh and unforgiving. A far cry from the beautifully and immaculately made up girl who attended high school with a pretend ditzy attitude. The girl wasn't innocent. The fact was dawning slowly on Lois as she took in the surroundings and her mind continued to blaze. She had to complete this last task and break the story. So much more was at stake here than she had ever anticipated. More than an unsolved murder, Lexy was the ringleader of a bona fide gang. Gang. The word echoed in Lois' mind, nagging her.
This was bigger than high school, Lexy had said to Lois a few days ago. This was big. What was big? She continued to stare at the girl. Her elbows were on the table, her Hollister shirt snugly containing her ample chest and showcasing her tight stomach. Who knew that behind such innocence lurked something so much darker?
As soon as the thought skittered across her conscious, Lois halted, her eyes growing a fraction wider. Snatches of conversation she had heard and strange events began to snap into place. The major cash inflow she had noticed for Lexy. The special shipment she had overheard Lexy talking to Jill about. The shocking week where Lexy had simply dropped her friendship. She hadn't been thinking about Lois at all. Rather she had been busy, just she like said.
But busy with school and homework? Or preparing to sell drugs to innocent high school students? Her theory was perfect and it fit. She knew it to be true. Lois kept the dawning realization off her face with a modicum of difficulty. She had no proof. Some brilliant speculation, but Lois knew that Perry White would only accept hard evidence. The only way she would ever get close enough to get the information and facts she needed would be to prove herself once and for all. There was no question now that she had to accept this last initiation and pull it off flawlessly. Lois squared her shoulders and faced Lexy.
"What is my final task, Lexy?"
Lexy's ice blue eyes never left Lois' as she gave an innocent blink that fooled and hoodwinked all of Metropolis High.
"Why you need to seduce Mr. Kent, that's what, Lois."
Lois noticeably paled as the earth rocked around her. "Excuse me?" She meant to sound imperious but her damn voice betrayed her with a shake.
"You heard me, Lois. You're obviously one of Mr. Kent's favorites, so in reality, we're letting you off easy."
Lois' brain was churning, her stomach twisting sharply. This was wrong. They hadn't asked her to do it. She hadn't…
"You're insane if you think Mr. Kent would compromise his integrity and lower himself to sleeping with one of his students," she ground out.
"Then I suppose we have nothing left to talk about and no business to conduct," Lexy said thoughtfully, tilting her head slightly, as if appraising Lois' worth.
At Lois' mutinous expression, Lexy smiled, though it lent no warmth to her face. "That's the deal, Lois. Just how badly do you want to be one of us? Enough to compromise your favorite teacher? Though I have to say I think we went a little too easy on you. Who wouldn't envy your assignment? You're going to get some mind-blowing sex."
Lois grabbed her jacket and Lexy continued.
"Take a picture of him naked in bed and bring it here in two days. If you do it, you're one of us. Goodbye Lois."
Lois ran from the room, fumbling with the front door. She didn't stop running until her breathing was so ragged she couldn't stand. Numb, she slumped down against the wall of a deserted convenience store. She pulled her knees to her heaving chest and wrapped her arms tightly around them. A cold hand sinuously snaked into her chest and squeezed.
She had made her decision. The case was the most important, if not only for her job's sake but for the innocent kids at risk because of Lexy's corrupt morals. And that was why she knocked on Clark Kent's door at 10 p.m., wearing a short black dress and killer heels.
The knock echoed loudly and the sound startled Lois. Oh God, had she really knocked? Was she really going to do this? A black purse swung from her arm, though it seemed heavier than it should be with the weight of the camera inside. When the knob turned, she very nearly fled. Lois' heart beat a rapid tattoo in her chest and sharp pains stabbed her stomach. And then, before she could rethink everything, it was done and Clark Kent stood in the doorway, blinking sleep and surprise out of his eyes.
"Lois?" His voice was incredulous, his hair mussed. He must have been napping, it was too early for him to have been in bed. She must have stood there quietly for a long while because Clark's eyes focused and grew more lucid.
"Lois? Are you all right? Is everything okay?"
Oh God, he was acting nice. Why was he doing that? Couldn't he see she was here to destroy him?
"I'm fine," Lois said, willing her traitorous voice not to betray her. "It's cold, can I come in?"
"Oh, um, yes, yes of course." Clark stepped back to allow her to brush past him. He absently finger-combed his hair as he shut the door after her.
"I'm sorry about the mess," he said a little awkwardly. "I wasn't expecting any company." Clark was silent for a moment. "How did you know which apartment was mine?"
I stole the address from the office.
"Oh… just from around."
Lois realized at that moment that she had done it again. Jumped headfirst without checking the water level. She was flailing and she had absolutely no idea what to say. On the drive over she had only focused literally on her next second. Turn on the car. Change the radio station. Don't dwell on the act she was about to attempt. She had gotten out of tough scrapes by sheer grit and determination before. She thought she could do it again. Sex appeal. Sex appeal. She knew she had it. She knew Clark didn't find her repulsive. For a moment, the appreciative look she remembered from Clark's eyes the night he had saved her from Claude flashed in her mind and refueled her determination.
Clark was watching her, an endearingly confused expression on his face. She fought back the urge to giggle a little hysterically. The tension in the room radiated, but she wasn't sure if it was from her, him or their combined fire. There was nothing laughable here. Somehow she had to convince that gorgeous, straitlaced teacher to strip and pose. Great. Like Clark Kent was some great exhibitionist. The image of him running around in tight spandex flickered across her mind and left her with the ghost of a grin. How ridiculous. Besides, she could tell her was warring with himself. It was painfully obvious that he was uncomfortable with her being there. They stood there in a silence that grew more tangible with every passing second. For once, she forced her mind to map out possible repercussions. Clark thought she was 17 years old. If, by some huge, long stretch of imagination, he fell into bed with her, she knew the emotional effects would devastate him. Even when the truth came out about her true age, it would be no balm for Clark. Clark, who took on people's problems to spare them the burden. Clark, who took such an interest in his students' lives. Clark the teacher. Clark the protector. Clark the lonely. An unbidden image of Clark losing that tight control ravaged its way across her tortured mind and Lois left her knees shaking. She locked them tightly together, distressed by the red tinged chaos in her mind.
If Clark Kent thought he had had an illicit relation with a student, it would tear him to shreds.
"Why are you here, Lois? What are you trying to do to me?" His voice broke and Lois' breath caught in her throat as she caught the desolate expression in his face.
"Do you need me to say it? Is that it? Is that what you want? Do you need to know the truth? To know that I can barely stand to look at myself in the mirror? That I've lied to my parents and lied to myself? That I can't face my memories or come to terms with my future? You've vanquished me, Lois Lane and I don't think you were even trying. I didn't want to believe you were trying. But here you are, dressed like this," Clark broke off and then continued, his voice growing stronger with each word, "I'm quitting. How can I work in that place anymore? How can I stand to live here, haunted by these memories? You had better leave. Please go home. I'm so angry I can hardly see straight but that's not all."
Clark had his fingers tightly fisted against his side, sweat dripping down his hair. Lois stared at him openmouthed, the camera weighing heavily in her bag.
Clark heaved a sigh, and visibly seemed to calm down. "Lois, since my wife passed away, I haven't felt anything for anyone. I could hardly allow myself to feel because look at the risk associated with it. I thought if I kept my heart locked away, nothing would ever touch me again. That was a foolish notion. You came into my life and I have to tell you this. As soon as I do, I want you to leave," Clark's voice dropped to a whisper. "Please leave after I tell you this. You have nothing to fear from me. I just want you to be safe. I'm packing my belongings. I'm leaving Metropolis and you'll never see me again. It's better like this for you. But please, before I go, grant me this one thing."
Her voice stuck in her throat and her eyes burned, tears stinging the backs of her eyelids. "Anything, Clark."
"Let me tell you this: I love you. I know it's so wrong and I regret the burden I'm transferring to you. I regret that, Lois, but I could never bring myself to regret the love in my heart. It's shameful and vile, but please believe me when I say it's sincere. I want you to forget me, but please keep the words in your heart and know that they were heartfelt. Let them comfort you when you're sad. And when you find someone your own age who you can love back, remember them one last time and then forget. Forget me, Lois."
The tears weren't staying behind her eyelids any longer. They streamed down her face silently and she could hardly bear to look into Clark's face. The face of the man she had almost destroyed without another thought in her head. She chanced looking up into his eyes and they seared into her soul, a sad mixture of regret and anguish. She had to tell him the truth, the whole truth. Her job didn't matter anymore. The kids at school didn't matter. Lexy, Jill, their ridiculous gang. Nothing mattered.
Nothing except the man in front of her. The man who was offering, no demanding, to uproot his life and destroy his soul and memories for her. The words spilled out of her, and she had no control over their eloquence.
"Clark, I have to tell you something, too. And please promise to hear me out. Do you promise that?"
Clark gave a tiny nod, though he seemed a little emotionally burned out. The anger and passion had left his eyes and now they appeared merely soft.
"You have to let me finish. No interrupting?"
"Yes Lois. I promise," Clark said. His voice when he spoke was ragged.
"A few weeks ago, I banged on the door to the Daily Planet and demanded a job. Perry White, the editor, told me there wasn't a spot, but I was persistent. I talked to my younger sister, Lucy, and she told me about the girl-led gang at Metropolis High. I returned to the Daily Planet and struck a deal with Mr. White. I would go undercover as a high school student, if I could write a decent expose, he would give me a job. My dream job."
Lois paused in her story, watching Clark's face for some reaction. The color had drained from his cheeks, but he seemed to have taken her "no interruptions" command seriously. He did not speak, so she continued her story.
"I'm 23 years old. I graduated from college with a journalism degree. When I got here, high school was just the same as I remembered. The cliques. The homework. The conversation. It was all things I could handle. But I didn't count on you, Clark. You were that bit that never truly fit in with my plans. From the very beginning, I found myself looking forward to your class in a way that didn't fit with my carefully laid plans. Did you know that your class is the only one I actually did my homework for?" She looked at him, a weak smile on her lips, but Clark's face was stone. She swallowed nervously and continued. "And by and by, I got closer and closer to the gang. I stole test answers and manufactured fake IDs. I kept up the charade with them, but with you, everything was so different. I was a different person around them, but around you, Clark, I was myself. It was my outlet for all the stress of having this dual life. I felt connected with you. I don't know if you can believe me, or if you're repulsed by me, but Clark, please believe me when I say I love you, too. I love you back. I've fancied myself in love before, but it's never been this."
The words finally stopped. Clark was leaning against the sofa, his face still grayish pale beneath his tan. Finally, after a long while, he spoke. "You're… oh God. You're not 17?"
Lois shook her head and watched as an internal war raged in Clark's mind.
"I-I hardly know what to say."
"It seems like we're avoiding something important here," Lois said softly. "We've both made some declarations."
Clark gave her a small smile. "Give me a minute; this is a lot to take in. I can't believe this. I…" His expression changed. "It's still meaningless. I still had feelings for you when I believed you were 17. It's not right. I still need to go, Lois."
Lois slapped him across the face. "How can you say that this is meaningless? Yes you had feelings for me when you thought I was younger, but news flash, Clark Kent! I'm not underage. I didn't act that way around you. I didn't finish the illusion. I have to wonder if my subconscious didn't just want you to find out. You fell in love with me, Clark and I fell in love with you. The age thing isn't an issue anymore."
"The fact that it was an issue in the first place means something important, Lois," Clark said, setting his jaw mulishly.
"You're being so," Lois sputtered for the right word, "stupid!"
Clark paused. "Stupid? I don't think anyone's called me that for at least a good six years. Maybe since high school." Clark finally smiled. "Are you sure you're not 17?"
Still on edge and nervous, Lois didn't have the patience for such good-natured teasing. She grabbed his T-shirt and yanked him down to her level. "I'm going to kiss you, Clark Kent, and you better not run away."
Lois caught a glimpse of a wide, deer-caught-in-headlights stare before she stood on her tiptoes to meet him halfway and their lips met. The tension drained from her body as he gently kissed her, his hand resting hesitantly on her back. A few moments into the kiss and he snapped, transferring his arm to her waist and pulling her tightly against him. She kissed him harder, releasing weeks of pent up love and lust. She pulled back for a moment, keeping her eyes shut. Her senses seemed magnified in the darkness and she was keenly aware of the light brush of stubble against her chin and his body heat radiating and keeping her warm. She rested her head in the hollow of his neck, tilting up to caress the underside of his jaw with a kiss. His pulse beat erratically beneath her lips and she reluctantly opened her eyes.
"I'm not going to run," he said softly. He took her hand and pulled her onto his lap on the couch. "But you have to explain something to me."
Still half drugged by his kisses, Lois nodded her assent and shivered as his large hand cupped her shoulder. His fingers played with the strap of her dress.
"What was the meaning of all this," he playfully flicked the strap and looked at her inquisitively. "The dress and the time, I mean."
Lois felt cold ice drench her scalding insides. The camera. Lexy. She had forgotten her assignment. Seduce Mr. Kent. He had her pulled on his lap, she was definitely halfway there. But… There was no way she could go through with it now. And there was no way she could convince him to go along with it either. He deserved better. Lois felt like screaming. Every time she made a step in the right direction she was forced at least fourteen steps back! It was infuriating. It never even entered her mind to lie.
"Okay, so I've been on my way to joining the Rosettes, as you know," Lois began. Clark nodded thoughtfully, his chin gently bumping the top of her head. "They gave me three initiation tasks. My first one was to steal some test answers."
"No, Redwick. Let me finish. I did that easily enough. Anyway, my second task was to get some fake IDs for the girls. Now that one was a little more difficult, but lets just say I know guys who know guys." Lois fell silent. She didn't know how to phrase the next part. "And then last night I got my last test. My test was…" Lois broke off and stood. It was just too intimate sitting there. She paced for a moment and finally convinced herself to just say it. "My last test was to seduce you, Clark."
Clark stiffened. "Excuse me?"
"It was Lexy's idea. I was supposed to come over here all dressed to impress and… well… sleep with you."
A beat passed as the air between them grew thick. "And so you did?"
Lois frowned. "Well, no, obviously, since I just told you about it."
He stood from his spot on the couch and walked into the kitchen. Lois followed, perturbed by this lack of a response. Clark's fingers gripped the tile counter, his back to her.
"Get out," he said harshly. He did not turn to face her.
Lois' heart skipped a beat, causing her breath to quicken. "What?"
Clark was silent for a moment before he repeated his demand. Lois stared at his back, fear and anger warring in her mind.
"Turn around, Clark."
Clark remained unmoving as stone. Lois took in the tense lines of his shoulders, bitterly regretting her phrasing earlier. "Look, Clark. I know how that sounds. But you can see I didn't do it. I told you about it for heaven's sake! I picked you. Don't you see that? I picked you."
"That's just the thing, Lois," Clark said softly. Lois cringed. She might have preferred him to yell. This deathly calm scared her. "You didn't pick me. Look at you. You came over here with the intention of going through with this. Do not insult me by lying and saying you didn't. What stopped you? My pathetic declaration? Did you stop to think about the consequences of what you were about to do? Did you stop to think about what this could do to me?" Clark finally turned around and Lois' breath caught at the depth of the hurt she saw there. "Forgive me, this sounds extremely selfish. But how can you profess to love me when you would hurt me like this?"
"But I didn't do it, Clark! Why are you blaming me for something I didn't do?"
"How do I even know you're 23? You've lied about everything else. You lied about loving me."
"God damn it, I didn't lie about that! I do love you!"
Lois gritted her teeth and faced off against Clark. "Exactly how am I supposed to do that?"
Clark clenched his jaw and glared at her. He had been so foolish. First she had barely walked in the door and he had exploded, professing love and passion he had no right to feel and then he had ignored the warning signs in his head as his unmitigated joy took hold of rational thought. And this was what it left him with. A woman who had no more maturity than the 17-year-old she professed to be. How did she not see the obvious holes in her logic? How did she not understand that it was her intention that mattered, not just the fact that she had perversely changed her mind at his sorry speech? She had intended to go through with something that would have wrecked him.
And what scared him the most was the fact that she might have very well succeeded.
Would he have given in to the obvious longing in his heart? Could he have lowered himself that far? To risk a lifetime of self-loathing and possible time in jail? The fact that Clark didn't have a definite answer to give himself wrenched his stomach.
Lois was still standing on the opposite side of the island, her hands shaking almost imperceptibly in the harsh light of the kitchen. Suddenly bone weary, Clark leaned an elbow on the counter and dropped his head on his hand.
"Just leave, Lois," he murmured, no trace of anger in his voice. "I believe you're 23. I never really doubted you. But I'm sure no one else caught it. Your cover is safe."
He didn't want to look up to see the tears in her eyes. He didn't want to know if there were tears in his eyes. He kept them shut and eventually he heard the front door of his apartment slam shut. Lois' retreating footsteps echoed in his head.
And the absolute worst part was that he still loved her. The feelings in his heart hadn't dimmed in the slightest.
Claude Malfois shifted from his uncomfortable position in the bushes outside Clark Kent's apartment and watched in dismay as Lois hurried out. Claude could tell from his vantage point near the window that they had argued. He grimaced. It threw a definite wrench in his plans. He wasn't sure the police would accept his anonymous tip about the possible indecency with a child if he hadn't been able to get the pictures of them in bed to prove it. Damn. If only they had followed the plan, they would have all gotten what they wanted. Fortunately, Claude was a Malfois. And the Malfois men had always been quick to land on their feet, and simply wonderful at wriggling out of unfortunate situations.
It had saved his butt a few times, actually. But that wasn't the case now. Claude beamed at his own cleverness as he pocketed the small camera. In its memory were four pictures. Clark and Lois had argued, true, but they had also embraced and Claude had had the foresight to document it. It wasn't enough to get any charge that would stick, but hopefully it would suit his purposes well enough to get Lois Lane out of the way.
Speaking of, she was far enough away that he could follow without worrying about detection. He kept her in his sights always, watching her amble aimlessly amidst the rowdy Metropolis nightlife. A man made a drunken lunge for her, but she merely sidestepped him and kept going, apparently not even noticing the danger the man presented. Claude had to fight to keep the smile off his face. The woman was a fascinating contradiction. Had he met her under different circumstances, he would have very much liked to invite her to his house to become better acquainted.
That, however, would not happen. And he had neither the time nor the inclination to entertain such unimportant thoughts. They continued to walk, Claude a good 100 feet behind her. He was curious as to where she would head. Some instinct buried deep down inside him had assured him that this was the night. He had listened and understood her challenge to seduce her teacher. The thought was so delightfully evil it brought him to a whole new level of respect for the younger generation Lexy was a part of. He had gone over the notes he photocopied at Lois Lane's apartment thousands of times. He knew her preliminary work and a few inquiries of his own had brought him his own level of knowledge. He had to hand it to the girl. It was quite a scoop. Lexy indeed had murdered the girl, he was quite sure of it. Whether it had come about because of a harmless prank gone terribly wrong or if some darker reason lurked, Claude wasn't quite sure. His source in the area had informed him of the talk on the streets. Someone was encroaching on some of the big name drug dealers' territory at the high school. This person, a girl whose looks fitted Lexy Hartness, had the inside scoop and the cheapest drugs around.
Apparently their little gang, the "Rosettes" had joined the big league. It had all the makings of a best seller. The corruption of youth, the scandals of drugs and murder. And then there was the bonus. A highly respected teacher convicted of sexual indecency with a child? He wasn't sure of the logistics of such a thing. If it came out that Lois was indeed overage and consenting then he was sure that the charges would be dropped. If not, they would vastly lessen. No, Claude Malfois wasn't worried at all about Clark Kent. The man would be fine. His reputation and job might be tarnished forever, but legally, Claude knew Clark had no reason to fear.
Not that guilt had ever stopped him before. Keeping a wary eye on Lois, Claude stopped at a payphone and phoned the police station.
"Sir? I'd like to report a tip about one of the teachers at Metropolis High…" Claude spoke for a few minutes, nodding and promising to send over his pictures to the station. When he hung up, he frantically scanned the street for Lois. Finally, he saw her and he let out a sigh of relief. Jogging a little to catch up, Claude grinned. The guy at the police station owed him a favor and promised to rush his call. Clark Kent should be getting a visit from Metropolis' Finest in the very near future.
When Lois left Clark's apartment, she had no idea where she was headed. She vaguely remembered stumbling out, but the walk from there to where she was now remained a giant question mark. The troubled thoughts in her head clouded her vision and her body ran on autopilot. Her mind bounced from thought to thought and topic to topic at hyper speed, barely allowing time for contemplation of each thought.
Clark wasn't being fair. Couldn't he see how big of a step it was for her to admit to him about her undercover status? She was risking the job of a lifetime, the job she had lusted after ever since she had won the Daily Planet's junior reporter contest in the fifth grade. She had risked everything to take a chance on love and he rejected her. If it wasn't so pathetic, she'd be furious. No, she was furious! Lois scowled at a passing stranger and the man hurried off, obviously frightened.
She conceded that she probably should have handled telling him about her initiation a little more delicately. But in all honesty, she preferred bluntness. It sidestepped all of the nonsense that usually preceded a statement one was loathe to actually utter. Besides, she had been perfectly willing to stay and fight it out, to fight for them. He was the one being pigheaded and spiteful. A fresh spurt of anger welled up inside of her at the thought of his gall, and Lois suddenly knew her direction.
She was tired of being a high school student and there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that she'd return to her English class at Metropolis High. She had been treading lightly around Lexy for weeks and it wasn't like her at all. She wondered now if she hadn't been going after the story with her usual doggedness because of Clark. The thought sent a pang straight through her stomach and into her heart. She had taken notes, but that was all she did. And while she filled her notebooks with pointless scribbling about her days at school, she filled her dreams with thoughts of Clark Kent, the good, honest man who believed in her and her writing. The man she had nearly thrown to the wolves.
Lois let out a frustrated growl as she found her anger being washed away by gently lapping shame and guilt. It didn't help her cause any when she felt guilty. Anger made her spark. It allowed her to get moving and keep her eye on the prize. Shame just made her lethargic.
Lois' legs finally stopped outside Lexy's pretty, two-story house. This was it. She checked her watch: 11:30 p.m. If Lexy wasn't up this late then that was too bad for her. Lois boldly went around the side of the house and knocked loudly on Lexy's window.
She was sick of being undercover. That was going to change. She had just enough information to scrape together a convincing bluff and if she had to tip her hand to use it, well then she would. Lois patted the recorder in her purse reassuringly. She had taken to carrying one around with her after her word had been questioned while on a routine investigation for the paper in college.
The window lurched beneath Lois' hands and she quickly removed them from the sill so Lexy could shove up the pane. She looked incredulous at seeing Lois standing there outside her window, dressed to the nines and twigs in her hair.
"Um… hi? Ever heard of using the front door?"
Lois paused mid-clamber over the sill "I didn't want to wake anyone up," she said, looking over her shoulder at Lexy. Lexy was casually dressed in sweats and a Metropolis High T-shirt. She rolled her eyes and stepped back to allow Lois room to get in.
Once inside the room, Lois turned to face Lexy.
"Did you do it?" Lexy asked, a genuine curiousness in her voice. After Lois paused, her voice grew snide. "Was he good?"
Lexy's own attempt to sleep with Clark flashed through her mind and Lois felt a wave a nausea and shame at her own gall. Her anger quickly returned, however, when her subconscious filled her in on a mental image of Lexy with Clark intimately, the light of the fire playing on the strong curves of his back.
"I wouldn't know and if I did, I certainly wouldn't tell you," she hissed, dully aware that her anger had gotten the best of her again and caused her to speak before thinking. But she was already this far. "I wouldn't do it. I told him about you instead. I told him everything I know about you. How you abandoned poor Beth Warner in that water tower after she called for help. How you've been the new drug dealer on the streets. Yes, I know about that. You obviously weren't careful enough about covering your tracks."
Lexy's eyes glinted malevolently out of a face carved from ice as she glared at Lois.
"I didn't kill anyone and I certainly do not sell drugs."
Lois snorted slightly. "Yeah. Very convincing. Clark's already gone to the police, Lexy. The gig is up. I'm not even a real high school student. I'm an undercover investigative reporter from the Daily Planet." Lois savored the look of unmitigated shock on Lexy's face. "Yes, you were this close to letting a reporter become a member of your precious gang. How does that make you feel?" Lois took a step forward, lording her victory over Lexy. The girl looked frightened, but she jutted her chin out defiantly.
"You have no proof."
"Of course I have proof. Do you think I would waltz over here and lay down my entire hand if I didn't have proof?" Lois mentally crossed her fingers. "Your proof is already in the hands of the police and you have nowhere to run, Lexy."
Lexy paused for a moment, pale and shaking. Finally she grabbed the handle of the door and slipped out of her room with a quiet "excuse me."
The move was so unexpected, Lois stood obediently for a second before she bolted after Lexy. She skidded into the hall just as the front door slammed. Cursing herself and her impractical shoes, Lois kicked them off and sprinted after the girl. She wrenched open the front door and jogged out the first few feet, looking wildly down the street for a glimpse of the girl.
It was then, as she stood on the porch gazing out at the street, that she felt the cold steel pressed into her back. Lexy warned her not to move an inch and every muscle in Lois' body stiffened.
Lois berated herself endlessly for her stupid flight right into Lexy's trap. She didn't doubt that it was a gun pressed against her back and even Lexy wasn't bad enough to miss this close. As if reading her thoughts, Lexy spoke.
"I do know how to shoot a gun, you know. My father worked in law enforcement before he retired."
"So what are you going to do, Lexy, kill me? That's going to look real great on college applications."
"Shut up, you idiot reporter. I'm not going to college. I think I have quite a lucrative business running right now and further education would just take prime selling years away from me."
"There's still a little question about the warrant out for your arrest," Lois bluffed. She was gratified to see that Lexy stumbled a little, but the gun wedged against her spinal cord remained steady.
"I do believe you're lying," Lexy said quietly. "I have been extremely careful. And besides, had there truly been a warrant out for my arrest, you wouldn't have come. The police would have. No, I don't believe you Lois. Sorry. But you are a little too close to home, if you know what I mean, so I believe you might have to take a tragic dip off the edge of the water tower. You and poor Beth Warner. Whatever happened to the two of you? A midnight dare taken too far?'
"The police won't believe that if they see my body riddled with bullet holes." Lois paused when she realized with a sickening drop of her stomach that they were there. The water tower. Lexy led her to a gap in the fence and instructed her to move.
"That's why I'm counting on you drowning to death, Lois. But don't fear. If you're hesitant, I will certainly have no qualms about shooting you. I can work out the police later. As I said, I have some connections."
Lois took a deep breath as she contemplated lunging aside and going for the surprise attack. The gun was wedged so firmly against her though, she threw away the notion as quickly as it occurred to her. Damn, but she didn't want her spinal cord severed by a bullet. Lois reluctantly obeyed Lexy's instructions to go to the ladder and start climbing.
Lois perked up. Perhaps if Lexy stayed on the ground, she'd have a chance when she got to the top. She could run around to the other side… Lois' mind churned wildly with schemes and ideas. An ominous creak below her send her heart dropping to the soles of her bare feet.
Lexy was climbing the ladder right behind her. Lois chanced a look down and saw that the gun was still trained on her, albeit a little more shakily, as Lexy attempted to climb one handed.
All too soon they reached the top and Lois' golden opportunity to strike passed as Lexy forced her to go to the side and face the tower while she awkwardly finished hauling herself up. It only took a few seconds and then the gun was firmly trained on Lois again.
They approached a door in the side of the tank and Lois, under instruction, opened it up. She turned to face Lexy, ready to offer a biting comment and finally deciding it was time to screw the plan and take her chances, when she felt the hands on her back. A fierce shove and Lois was plummeting down, screaming as she hit the black water. She surfaced, sputtering and yelling obscenities at Lexy, still framed by the light coming in from the door.
"Goodbye, Lois Lane."
And then the door was shut, and Lois was locked in complete and butter thick darkness.
A rough knock sounded at Clark Kent's door, but he was still up. He hadn't been able to sleep since Lois had left and her scent still infused the apartment; a special brand of torture. He answered the door, too tired to check who it was. His sleepy eyes perked up when he saw the police officer standing on his doorstep, a frown evident in every crease of his face.
"Officer? Can I help you?"
"You can come down to the station for questioning, sir."
"Questioning? For what?"
"On the suspicion of indecency with a child."
Ten minutes later, Clark found himself in the back of a police car, having only vague memories of acquiescing in a state of shock. He was being brought in for questioning? For indecency with a child? But Lois was 23! And they had hardly even begun anything indecent.
The fact that they never would struck him heavily in the chest.
But besides the physical aspect of their tumultuous relationship, he'd never sit and find out what made her tick. He'd never find out her favorite movies. He could never buy her a Christmas present. He could never celebrate the holidays with her in Smallville. The list went on and on and Clark sunk into his seat and a further state of depression. He could wriggle himself out of this situation, he thought dully, if he just told what he knew and admitted that Lois was 23 and had been consenting.
It's what a smart man would do. Hell, it was what an idiotic man would do.
Then why had he allowed himself to be dragged into the cop car and driven to the station? Why wasn't he gripping the wire separating him from the front seat and yelling himself hoarse? Clark couldn't summon the energy. He stared moodily out of the car window, his face periodically illuminated by the yellow light of the streetlamps.
They pulled up in front of the police station, Clark still silent. After going through the routine documentation of his visit, the man who had appeared on his doorstep brought him into a room and sat down with him. The pictures were printed out and spread on the table.
"Is this you and your student?" The man looked somber and Clark's heart slipped a little down his ribcage. How did he respond to this? Lois' cover relied on it! This story meant the world to her, that much was obvious. A bitter pang shot through his body at the thought that she would sacrifice their love and him for a mere job. But even though he might be justified in ratting her out, it wasn't his story to tell.
Besides, he loved her. It galled him, but he did. What was it that he had said? Unconditionally? It sounded like something out of a romance novel. Did he love her unconditionally? Despite the fact that she had made some terrible choices?
Clark opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on the officer.
"With all due respect, officer, it isn't my place to answer that question. If you could bring in the woman in question, a Lois Lane, I would like to leave the explanation up to her."
"You're skating on thin ice as it is, Kent. What makes you think I'm going to sit here and wait for some girl to show? So you can see her and intimidate her into lying for you?"
The heat in Clark's gaze cooled to a dangerous level of frost as he squared off against the police officer.
"I would never, not in a million years, force Lois to do something she didn't want to do," Clark spoke in a deadly level voice. "And I would never expect her to lie for me."
"What is she going to tell me that you can't?"
Clark sighed and raked a frustrated hand through his hair. "It's complicated. Listen, I guarantee she'll come if you let her know what happened. If I offer to stay here, on an indefinite basis, until she arrives, would you agree? If she doesn't answer your questions to your satisfaction then I'll accept whatever questioning and punishment the courts decide."
"This is extremely unorthodox."
"Please, sir. I can't…" Clark drifted off. He couldn't bring himself to ruining the cover Lois had spent so many long hours cultivating. "Please. I promise things aren't as they seem. I know this may sound strange, but talk to Lois first. Lock me up until she gets here if you'd like. I can take it."
The officer thought the man was stark raving mad, but as his eyes locked onto his suspect's imploring ones, he relented slightly.
"You can stay in this room. I'm locking the door." The man hesitated and shifted from foot to foot. "I'll try my best to get a hold of this girl and bring her in so I can talk to her, ok?"
"Don't frighten her."
The officer rolled his eyes. "You've got bigger problems than that, buddy. Make any wrong moves and you're locked in the slammer for the night, got that?"
Clark nodded and the man walked out muttering.
Left in a room that was empty save for the metal folding chair and a small card table, Clark sighed and leaned his head on his hand.
He hoped he hadn't overestimated Lois' esteem for him.
Inside the water tower, Lois' arms and legs were burning with the exertion of treading water. She had swum to the side of the tower, but her questing hands met cold, flat steel. She knew there had to be a ladder in there somewhere, but its exact spot was eluding her.
She shivered at her reality. Locked in the tower. She couldn't tell if she had her eyes open or closed. It was a terrifying sensation, lacking one of her key senses. Lois was keenly aware of just how heightened her other senses were. She could smell the tang of the water sloshing around her. Death by drowning. She had read about it… it was supposed to be horrible.
It just wasn't fair. There were so many things she hadn't done. And there was Clark. Her heart ached just as fiercely as her limbs as she thought about the way they had left things. Everything seemed so obvious now. She had hurt him so very badly with her admission without a thought to the way it might play out in his mind.
But he had hurt her too, the little voice in her head spoke up softly.
Sniffling a little, Lois continued to circle the tower in search of the ever-elusive ladder. It didn't matter who had hurt whom the most. Lois softly inhaled as she remembered the tender way he had looked at her in those few blissful moments when all was right in the world. He had looked at her like she was the most beautiful woman alive and someone to be treasured. Her cold hand skimmed her shoulder in a mockery of the way he had done it.
A creaking above zinged through the still water tower.
The door was opening! Lois hesitated, could it be Lexy come to finish the job? But before she could decide whether to dive under or risk detection, the door slammed open with a heavy male grunt of exertion.
Male?! Was it Clark? Had he followed her here? There was very little backlight to illuminate the figure. The man stared at her for a long while before he spoke.
"Lois, ma cherie, we meet again."
"The one and only. In a bind, are we?"
With the dim light let in by the door, Lois could see the ladder bolted to the side of the tower about twenty feet from her current position. She sliced through the water with a clean front stroke, not completely trusting Claude not to slam the door in her face. She started to climb the ladder, though her waterlogged dress slowed her down slightly.
"Why are you here? How did you even know I was in here? Do you normally open water towers and expect to find women in them?" Lois paused on the ladder and squinted up at him. "Are you dumping a body?"
Claude leaned against the side of the door and folded his arms. "Are you going to climb out of there or question me all day?"
Grumbling slightly, Lois continued the slow climb up, slipping and sliding on the steps. When she neared the top, Claude extended one tanned forearm and she grasped his wrist. He helped pull her up, rubbing her back while she choked and sputtered.
"Not a problem at all." He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Do you feel like you owe me a debt of servitude?"
"Are you out of your mind?"
Claude heaved a sigh and handed her his jacket. "Just checking."
They started down the water tower, the rungs cold and slippery beneath her bare feet. The wind howled viciously around them, and Lois shut her mouth, focusing all her energy on placing one foot down and then the other.
When she was six feet off the ground, she slipped, landing in an ungraceful heap at the foot of the tower. Claude leaped down a moment later, lithe as a cat and watched as she disentangled herself.
As she was standing, she thought of her purse, still floating in the tower.
"No! Damn it!"
Claude started at the violent shout and the followed string of expletives. "Are you all right?" he finally asked when she had finished cursing him and every inanimate object in the near vicinity.
"Fine," she ground out. Her tape recorder was now waterlogged and submerged at the bottom of the Metropolis water tower. Her incontrovertible evidence, gone! She wanted to scream. She briefly entertained the notion of climbing the tower to dive for the tape, but dismissed it a second later as ridiculous.
Clark had been moved from the locked questioning room into a cell full of men.
The officer who had brought him in grimaced at him in an expression that could be construed as vaguely apologetic. "We haven't been able to locate Miss Lane yet and we need that room. Now if you're dead set on waiting for her, we're going to have to put you in the cell." The man paused, giving Clark a searching glance. "If you just submit to our questioning now, we could send you on home."
"Sorry," Clark said shortly, eyeing the cell with distaste. "I'll wait here."
"Suit yourself." The man held open the door and kept the other inmates at bay with a fierce glare. Clark held his head high as he walked in, ignoring the taunts and jeers.
All surfaces to sit on were occupied, so Clark opted to stand against the wall, his hands folded behind his back. When the inmates looked him over and saw no threat, they resumed chattering and flexing, ignoring him completely.
Which, in all honesty, was fine with him. He leaned his weight against the wall, idly imagining the repercussions of flicking the wall with his pinky and sending it flying. It was a nice little daydream, he though with a ghost of a smile flickering across his face. And while he was dreaming, he might as well add a 23… no, 27-year-old Lois Lane in there. One who didn't get her kicks by sticking him in jail.
His conscience immediately berated him for such thoughts. It wasn't all Lois' fault. Heck, he really had no one to blame but himself. What had he been thinking? What if she really had been 17? God, he would have never been able to live with himself. Either way, 17 or 23, he was a few years older than her and therefore it was his responsibility to be liable for the situation he had helped arise.
Even if his heart still stuttered a little when she came near. And despite the fact that she was hands down the most intelligent and driven woman he had ever had the privilege to meet. She was someone who fought for the little people, just like he had aspired to do when he earned his teaching degree. While she was piling on problem after problem and slowly driving him crazy, she lightened his heart in a way that felt so foreign he barely recognized it.
He checked his watch and his heart beat a little faster in his chest. They should have been able to find her by now. She had left his apartment extremely upset. Why hadn't he thought of her safety earlier? Clark gripped the bench next to him, his breathing coming quicker now as his thoughts wildly reeled. She was wandering around the city at night dressed in that… his brain couldn't even think of a word for the dress. It was, at first glance, obscenely short and inappropriate. It was no matter that it completely took his breath away. It meant that she was going around stealing the breath from the men in Metropolis left and right and he wasn't…able…to…protect…her.
For the first time since he had been hauled away from his home to be questioned for a crime he had not committed, he felt a frisson of anger. He marched to the gate and grabbed the bars.
"Did you find her?" he called to the man flipping a magazine at the end of the row of cells. "Is she okay?"
The man didn't even flinch.
"Where is she?" he said a little more loudly. "Is she safe?"
The man licked a finger and turned the page disinterestedly.
Clark grabbed the bar and only a supreme effort of will stopped him from heaving it apart. "Did you find Lois Lane?!" he shouted in the hall. The men around him stopped their conversations to look at him like he was a bizarre sideshow.
The door to the hall opened and the police officer who had been so obliging gave him a hard stare. "You ready to talk to us now, Kent?"
Clark lowered his voice considerably. "Please, Officer, you should have found her by now. Is she okay? Can I go look for her?"
"That's a good one, Kent. Original, too. Got to give you points for creativity."
"I'm not trying to bust loose! In case you've forgot, sir," Clark spoke the last word with a heavy layer of sarcasm as his anger and fear drove out his ingrained respect. "You haven't arrested me! I'm here on my own free will!"
There was a general murmur behind him and his sensitive hearing picked out a few different men calling him a barrage of names he wouldn't dare utter in front of his mother.
"Yeah, because I gave into your pathetic whining," the officer, whose badge read O'Brien, said. "Now get out you're answering these questions whether you want to or not." The man opened the door and pulled Clark out by the arm. "Honestly, I don't know why I gave you a shot. Guess I thought you were different."
"Just find her," Clark gritted out. "She's in trouble!"
"The only person that little lady has to fear is you, apparently. Now come on."
O'Brien led Clark down the hall and back into the questioning room.
"Here we are again. Listen, bud, you're going to cause me hell at home with the missus. I told her I'd be home at a decent hour tonight." O'Brien checked his watch. "Know what time it is?"
Clark raised his eyebrow and nodded to the clock on the wall.
"That's right, boy. It's later than decent. And I've got a man running around Metropolis looking for that poor girl for you. Did you ever think of all the grief you'd cause when you came on to (should be 2 words in this case) that young child?"
"I didn't come on to her!" Clark slammed his hand flat on the table. As soon as the words left his mouth, he bitterly wished he could take them back. He had promised himself he'd wait for Lois to explain things! He had done wrong by her in too many different ways. He didn't want to be responsible for blowing her cover as well.
"Sir, I think she's in trouble. Why else wouldn't she be at home right now? It's late and she's alone in the city," Clark roughly ran his hand through his hair. "My God, please let me go look for her."
"There you go again with that. You think I'm going to let you waltz right out of here?"
Clark bit his lip, his frustration splintering his resolve as he stared at the officer in dismay.
"Okay, I'll talk to you. But I want you to know that I'd have this any other way. But I need to be out looking for her," his voice broke slightly. He didn't know why he felt so certain she was in trouble, but ever since the possibility had occurred to him, it hadn't relinquished his nerves. "You see, Lois Lane came to my class about a month and a half ago…"
Clark began his story, recounting the crucial pieces from his tale to the officer. He finally began to explain about that night, and though he paused for a moment when it came time to reveal the truth, he never faltered in his resolve. Soon the entire story was laid bare on the table and Clark had blown Lois' cover to shreds.
The tall Frenchman dressed all in black and the scowling woman wearing a soaking wet dress made an odd pair as they ambled to the gate. They had walked in silence for a few minutes before Claude stopped and faced Lois.
"I have some news for you, Lois," he said seriously. "And you probably won't like it. I heard from an impeccable source that the police have taken in that man you dined with, your English teacher?"
In a foul mood and ready to tell Claude off for pausing their traveling while she was freezing, Lois Lane stiffened at the words.
"Clark Kent? Why do the police have Clark? Is he okay?"
Patting her shoulder sympathetically, Claude tipped her chin to meet his gaze. "My source tells me that they have him in on suspicion of rape."
"Rape? What? Are you kidding? Clark would never do anything like that." Lois paused and glared at him. "Why are you lying, Malfois? What are you trying to pull?"
Removing Lois' hands off him with a disgusted sweep of his arm, Claude looked at her coldly. "Perhaps the charge isn't rape. Did you think about what else it could be? Perhaps the charge was indecency with a child. Someone underage. Do you know the legal age of consent in Metropolis, Lois?"
A horrible suspicion was dawning on Lois as Claude spoke.
"You mean… you can't be talking about me. I'm 23-years-old! Clark knows that!"
"Does he now? Well the authorities don't, Lois. And I can't imagine he's happy to be dragged out of bed to be questioned. Do you honestly think he will ruin your cover? That man is an overgrown Boy Scout and he adores you."
"I talked to my source at the police office. Kent's refused to be questioned until you come to the station. Word is they're going to lock him up for good if you're not there."
"I…" All thoughts of her story and her tape recorder fled her mind. "I have to go."
As Claude watched her sprint across the field, he grinned and held up his own pocketed recorded. "So do I, Lois. So do I."
At 4211 Gresham Place, Claude unlocked the door and sighed in relief. Home. Or well… the closest thing to it, anyway. The wealthy widower who actually owned the place was vacationing someplace sunny and he didn't much care when she would return. They had a nice symbiotic relationship going — she provided a place up to his luxurious standards to call home and he served as flattering company for the few times she actually was in Metropolis — and he loved the tastefully done suites.
But as much as he loved to relish in the sheer elegance of his surroundings, he was racing against the clock. Somehow he had to transcribe the confession Lexy had unwittingly given on Claude's own tape recorder, organize the notes he had photocopied at Lois Lane's, and turn out one heck of a story.
All before said Lois Lane managed to wrangle Clark Kent out of the sticky situation at the police station and wrote up the story herself. Of course, Claude had the advantage of actually having the only non-waterlogged recording of Lexy admitting her crimes. Anyway, despite his obvious advantages, he would not fail to underestimate the tenacity of Mad Dog Lane. He had taken to calling her that privately, especially after their one and only date. Claude booted up the state of the art computer located next to a framed picture of dear Mrs. Andrews, and mentally composed his opening lines.
Claude doggedly stayed up well into the night, revising and cross checking his notes. When at last, some hours later, he had a copy of the story, it was too late to make it into the morning papers. No matter, he was certain Lois Lane would not be able to match it for its sheer prose. He always had a certain way with words, finding it remarkably easy to bend them to his will. The words flew effortlessly from his fingertips as his long fingers pounded out the type. That part was never a problem. However, he found that he, himself, did not possess the eye for a scoop that he had noticed many of his fellow journalists did. There were too many times when he found himself bowing out of meetings and avoiding Perry White, simply because he had never been able to dig down deep enough into the story to scratch off the shiny veneer of cover up.
But Claude was remarkably good at turning out well-written stories that requiring little editing quickly. Which was probably why, as much as it galled him to admit it, that Perry had kept him on this past year. But when Lois Lane had started sniffing around, he recognized his replacement well enough. And that was what made stealing her story so sweet. Poetic justice, as they called it in the literary world. And besides that, it was a great story if he did say so himself. His preliminary work combined with Lois' paid off dividends in the end.
Satisfied, Claude hit the print button on his work. He quickly stripped off his jeans and T-shirt and crawled into bed with a sigh. A couple of hours of sleep would do him good. His thoughts were accompanied by a jaw-cracking yawn, and he slipped into sweet slumber the moment his head hit the pillow.
O'Brien gave Clark Kent a hard look as soon as he finished his story. He had dutifully recorded the conversation, but in his own opinion, the man was innocent. It was all a strange situation, really. He wasn't sure of the protocol for such a thing. But if they could get that Lane woman in to collaborate with Kent's story, the man should be off the hook. But it wasn't his place to let Clark Kent know that.
"Your story can be checked out very quickly, you know," O'Brien said. He had already told one of the junior staffers to bring up the files on both Lane and Kent. So far, everything checked out okay. Lane really was 23, but the question of whether Kent knew that at the time of the infraction was still up for debate. He leaned back in his chair. "Lois Lane will be in our databases and then we can tell for certain if you're telling the truth that she's 23." He threw out that little tidbit to see if it would make him sweat a little.
Nope. Not at all.
"I've been telling you the whole time that she is! Do you think I could make a sordid story like this up myself?"
"Despite that, you succumbed to her advances rather quickly after finding out her age, did you not? There are still possibly implications in that statement."
Clark's face paled under his tan and he glanced at the floor. "Yes, I'm aware of that, sir. And I recognize how inappropriate it was. That's why I'm resigning from my teaching job."
That was wholly unexpected.
A flash of something Clark couldn't place flashed in O'Brien's blue eyes as he nodded for Clark to continue.
"I'm going to either go back to school for a new degree or I'll try freelancing articles for a while to get me back on my feet." The thought of leaving Metropolis and Lois knotted Clark's stomach, but also served to strengthen his resolve. "Sir, I've answered all of your questions, and you can clearly see there is no case here. I'm not sure if there ever was, as Ms. Lane and I merely kissed. I was in on her true age at the time of the indiscretion and therefore…" Clark's formal tone dropped as he heaved a sigh. "Please just let me go find Lois. I think something is terribly wrong. She would have been here by now."
The man raised his eyebrow. "You're sure she would have come?"
Clark nodded. Despite their fight, he had no doubts about the fact that she would have been there for him had she known he needed her.
"Go. I know where to find you if I need you."
With a grateful look at his inquisitor, Clark straightened and left the station.
Now to find Lois Lane.
Lois took the stairs to the police station two at a time, the heavy concrete slamming jolts through her bare feet. She hadn't had any money for a cab, as her purse was floating in Metropolis' water supply — thank you Lexy Hartness — and she had to jog the seven blocks to the police station.
In bare feet and a stupid, still wet dress. However, despite her raw and aching feet, the trek over had allowed her to mull over the situation. Claude had never let slip why he had been peeking into water towers, and she had a sneaking suspicion that the root of her troubles lay with him. But she didn't have time to focus on that right now. Clark needed her.
And she had finally arrived. And as she scrambled for the doorknob, she let out a startled yelp as it shoved open before her hand could touch the handle. The heavy oak door swung outward, catching her outstretched foot.
Her leg jerked painfully beneath her as a hard male chest barreled into her. She squeezed her eyes shut as she prepared to slam into the concrete, but strong arms caught her and hauled her up to face him.
"Lois! You came! You're okay!" Clark forgot his anger as he pulled her into a body-crushing hug against his body.
Lois had barely registered that yes, she knew the man and no, she didn't need to try her judo throws on him before she found herself pressed up intimately against him. Her nose preceded her other senses as she inhaled the unique scent she had come to recognize as his. This felt right. The throb in her ankle and the cold seeping through her dress lay as forgotten troubles behind her as her whole body thrived on the feel of him so close. She closed her eyes in bliss as her lips brushed his shoulder.
But no, something was wrong. Lois forced open her hazy eyes as Clark's hands frantically skimmed his back, feverishly assuring himself that she was there. She pulled back, ignoring the pitiful part of herself that cried out at the loss of contact. Clark's eyes looked frantic as he took in her appearance.
"What happened, Lois? Are you okay? Did someone hurt you? Why are you wet? Good God, where are your shoes?" The questioned tumbled out in a rush as he held her elbows in an iron grip.
"I'm okay! Clark, I'm okay!" Lois told him fiercely, willing him to stop looking so anxious. "How did you know I was in any kind of trouble?"
He didn't release her elbow, but loosened his hold at her words. "I… I don't know. You didn't come. They couldn't find you anywhere." Clark threw his head back to look at the cloudy night sky. The moon was all but obscured by thick clouds that hung heavy and low in the sky. It looked like a slash of lightning might send forth torrents of water onto the city. "It's almost three in the morning, Lois. Were you wandering around the city? Of course you could have gotten hurt or worse." Clark's eyes darkened a dangerous black at the thought. The light from the single bulb above the door barely shed enough to illuminate their faces in the night.
A sharp breeze sliced through the unnaturally still air. Clark tilted his head slightly at the sound. "It's going to rain."
The breeze chilled Lois to her core, plastering her wet dress even more firmly against her body. Her subconscious shivering caught Clark's eye. He immediately shut his mouth, halting the stream of questions that he had begun to reiterate.
"We need to get you inside," Clark said softly. "And then you need to tell me exactly what happened tonight."
There was no anger or condemnation in his voice, but Lois caught the somber tone and stiffened. He was right. She needed to sort out the events of this night and talking would probably be the best route. She shied away from the other reason she knew they needed to talk.
Clark flagged down a cab and they climbed in, both silent. After a few minutes of driving, rain pattered down on the roof of the cab and streamed down the windows. Lois kept her eyes fixed on the blurred world outside the cool glass, her heart beating unnaturally loudly in the still car. The cabbie had talk-radio on softly, but it barely registered in her conscious. The rain muffled the sounds outside, but the air between her and Clark hung just as thick. Finally they pulled up to Clark's apartment and for the second time that night, Lois found herself climbing the stairs with a knot of dread in her stomach.
Clark paid the cab driver and returned to walk behind her. His presence loomed behind her, tall and muscular. She chanced a glance back and saw that the rain had drenched his hair, leaving rainbow crystals amid the dark strands. She paused at the doorway, painfully aware of every movement he made. The key slid into the lock with a click and he pushed the door open, silently holding it out for her. She slipped inside the dark apartment, her heart constricting in nervousness. It wasn't fear, per se, but it had her just as hypersensitive, just as ready to run screaming from the room.
The clock on the mantle read 3:30 a.m.
Clark shut and locked the door behind her, but he didn't flip on the light. The silence unnerved her nearly as much as the dark. A flash of lightning illuminated his silhouette for a moment, shadowy and brooding.
When he finally spoke, his voice was a harsh rasp that sent Lois' pulse skittering dangerously.
"Were you the one who phoned the police about me?"
The words drenched Lois' insides much more effectively than the slicing wind and rain had managed. The words stuck in her throat for a moment as she stared at him in disbelief.
"You think I called the police on you? On myself?" She spat out the words; hurt and anger torching her heart. Clark still stood, unmoving, against the closed door. Her eyes were adjusting to the dark well enough to see him cross his arms across his chest.
"Didn't you?" he accused, a bite in his voice that she had never heard from him before.
"You've got to be kidding me." The words took sincere effort to yank from her stopped up throat. "You think I would do that?"
"At first, no, of course not. I was so worried for you. I just knew something bad had happened," Clark whispered. His voice grew as his conviction strengthened. "But you didn't come. You weren't in trouble. You just didn't care."
Shaking with anger, Lois bit her lip furiously. She marched over to the door and slammed the light switch up with enough force to nearly snap it in half. Bright light flooded the room, throwing both of their heaving chests and angry faces into relief.
"You don't know me at all, Clark Kent, if you think I would report you to the police for something that didn't… even… happen." The words ripped from her with agonizing slowness as she glared at him.
They kept at it for a moment, their eyes locked in a fierce battle of wills.
A sharp breath left Clark's chest in a whoosh as the fire receded in his gaze. He blinked a few times, the angry stranger replaced by the man she knew.
The man she loved.
"I… Oh, Lois. I'm sorry. I guess the stress… I don't even know what half-baked ideas I was going on about." His voice was genuinely apologetic, even as it cracked in a yawn. "I'm just so tired. I didn't mean to start accusing you of things you obviously didn't do."
Lois bit her lip again, conscious of the fact that she had nearly drawn blood the last time. Her lower lip was tender and still imprinted with the ridges of her upper teeth.
"Then why did you? You know I didn't report you to the police. Why would I do that?" Her voice was genuinely curious and it wrenched at his heart.
"I just thought… I don't know. I was so sure you were in trouble because you didn't come." Clark paused and his voice quieted as he repeated the sobering statement. "You didn't come."
Lois stared at him in disbelief for what had to have been the fourth or fifth time that night. Could they be any worse at communicating? Could he be any denser? Could she?
"You lunkhead, I was in trouble tonight. I nearly died," she said, almost conversationally. A small smile flitted across her lips at the dumfounded expression that crossed his face. It had almost been worth the painful trip in the cab. Almost.
"Didn't you wonder why I was all wet? And my shoes?" She paused and thought for a moment. "On the other hand, you did notice, earlier. Then you started jumping to conclusions all over the place."
Clark's face was very pale. He gripped her hands and pulled her onto the couch to sit next to him. "What happened?" His voice brooked no time for jokes.
Lois recounted the story, not omitting any details. As she spoke, she watched shades of worry, anger and fear cross his face in varying degrees of each. When she finally finished, Clark's eyes held no condemnation, just fear for her.
Without another word he pulled her into his arms, their position so similar to what had occurred just a few short hours earlier. It felt like a lifetime. Had she been the same person? Had she really wanted to sell out this vulnerable man? This incredible, sweet man?
Lois let his strong arms soothe her, but as her body relaxed, her heart beat faster and faster in her chest. She didn't deserve him. Unwittingly, her muscles tensed. She hadn't forgiven herself for what she had almost done. She wrenched herself away from him, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.
"I'm really cold. Can I borrow a sweatshirt and take a shower?" She tried to sound natural, but her voice cracked and he couldn't miss the crystal sparkle of the tears.
Clark caught her hand in a gentle tug as she stood.
"What's wrong, Lois? We're going to the police first thing in the morning. Lexy won't go unpunished; I'll make sure of it." Clark's voice was strong and reassuring, but unfortunately it just made the tears slip down her cheeks.
"Lois? Lois, why are you crying?" His heart tore at the sight of those treacherous tears. "Please tell me what's wrong so I can fix it."
Lois swallowed and shook her head. The aching look in his eyes just made her cry harder and when she tried to pull away, he held on tight.
"Please. Tell me what's wrong, Lois."
She struggled to get the words out, horribly embarrassed by her tears and yet unable to quench them. She was showing her vulnerable side and she hated that! She tried to turn away, but he stepped closer, suddenly encompassing all of her senses.
"I don't…" She tried to get the words out, but finally the only words that she managed to utter were a strangled "I'm sorry."
The well broke with those words and she threw her arms around his waist, hugging him tightly, breathing in his scent and knowing it was the last time she'd be able to do so.
"I'm sorry," she breathed, her nose pressed squarely against his sternum.
It took a minute, but his arms finally disentangled her iron grip from his waist.
"Lois?" he said softly.
Lois kept her eyes fixed on the cotton of his T-shirt.
"Look at me, sweetheart."
Her voice broke a little. "I'm not your sweetheart. And I heard what you told me earlier. You were prepared to move away, just for me. Well I'm telling you now, Clark Kent, I'm sick of being immature. I'm sick of focusing on myself and my career only. I'm going to leave Metropolis, Clark. And you are going to stay here and have the life you deserve. I'm just sorry I muddled it up so badly."
Clark took a step back. "You're leaving?"
"Like hell you are."
His lips descended on hers before she could form another coherent thought.
When she pulled back, disoriented and bewildered by the fiercely passionate look in his eyes, Clark's eyes were closed. His breath was cool against her cheek as they paused, millimeters from each other. When he spoke again, his voice was raspy and not at all like the one she recognized.
"Stay," he breathed. His nose just brushed the apple of her cheek as his lips barely skimmed the soft skin. Lois shivered at the contact, the unfamiliar sensations both compelling and frightening. She backed away a half step, but he moved up again, this time effectively trapping her knees against the sofa.
"Why don't you stay?" he asked in that silky voice, a rumbling growl. Her mind was having a rough time figuring out that herself as her fingers brushed his shoulder completely of their own volition.
She hesitated, logic battling the unbridled want for control. She needed air. She pushed against his chest and wasn't surprised when he immediately took a wide step back. Despite the debonair way he was sweeping in and making her forget, she knew that deep down she was in control of the situation.
She always had been. But right now she was too tired, and Clark smelled too good. Her mind wasn't up to deciphering what she should or shouldn't do, what was off limits and what was okay.
"Can I borrow some dry clothes?" she asked. Clark opened his eyes, the heavy lidded passion firmly under control now. He nodded briskly, appalled at himself for not thinking of that earlier.
Clark disappeared into his bedroom and returned with a pair of sweatpants that luckily had a drawstring and a faded shirt that might have been navy blue at one point. Lois took the clothes without looking at him, shyly tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
Without a doubt, they had the strangest relationship she could ever have fathomed. If they weren't arguing, they were kissing and if they weren't kissing they were being pushed in water towers or hauled in by the police. Despite the still riled emotions stirring inside her, part of her brain was screaming at her to leave.
The part that still remembered the unthinkable thing she had tried to do.
Clark looked around the room a little awkwardly. He gestured with one hand in the general vicinity of his bedroom. "The bathroom's in there. I'll-" He swallowed, suddenly nervous. "I'll wait out here."
With a nod that tripped on the heels of a jaw-cracking yawn, Lois stumbled into the direction Clark had pointed. She closed the door to the bathroom and tugged off the wet dress, struggling a little as it stuck over her head. There was a slight tearing sound as she wrenched it roughly, but she was beyond caring. With a blissful groan, the soft and well-washed cotton of Clark's T-shirt replaced the uncomfortable dress. She grabbed the sweatpants and pulled the drawstring as far as it would go around her waist. It was a little loose, but the shirt hung well around her knees anyway. Clark wouldn't notice if it sagged a little. A flicker of something that could have been concern flashed through her at the thought of Clark seeing her so frumpy, but she pushed it aside as she walked out of the bathroom. Clark's bed was positioned very close to the bathroom door, she thought dreamily as she took a seat and curled up with his pillow. How convenient. She'd just rest her eyes for a few minutes before she had to take a cab home. A ground-rumbling scream of thunder crashed through the house, and she instinctively curled her arms more tightly against the pillow.
As her exhausted body floated on the down comforter — floated was the only word to describe it, it was absolute bliss — Lois let her eyes drift shut.
Just for a moment.
In the living room, Clark shifted uneasily on the couch. Lois had been in his room changing for quite some time. He debated going to check on her, but disregarded it a few seconds of deliberation later. She probably just needed a few minutes to compose herself.
For a moment Clark wondered if perhaps Lois wasn't aware that she had been forgiven. That is, of course, if she could forgive him for his tendency to jump to conclusions. He grimaced at the way he had jumped all over her earlier. His frown deepened. Jumped both physically and verbally.
That had to have been what her talk about leaving had been all about. Unless she had said it because she had thought he was leaving too. He had told her that earlier. But things had changed in those long hours. She had hurt him badly, but heck, he had hurt her too. His breath caught in his throat as he relived Lois telling him about her night. He had never thought he would say it, but he owed a huge debt of gratitude to that insidious pig, Claude.
As his eyes shut, he saw Lois thrashing in the black water. She screamed for help, but he couldn't move, could only watch in horror as she was pulled down further and further, each subsequent cry weaker.
Clark wrenched his eyes open, the overhead light piercing and glaring. His heartbeat still stuttered out a nervous staccato in his chest, and with a groan, Clark rolled over to look at the clock on the wall.
Five thirty?! He snapped to attention. Had he really fallen asleep? He had only closed his eyes for a second. It had been a daydream — or the nightmare equivalent of — nothing more. Still, the clock on the wall ticked on, resolutely displaying 5:33 a.m.
Clark stumbled off the sofa and pushed open the door to his bedroom. Had Lois left? But no, he could still hear her heartbeat as a muted background noise. And there she was. Unprepared, Clark's heart violently constricted inside his chest at the sight that greeted him. She was curled up on his side of the bed, clutching his pillow tightly to her chest. His shirt swallowed her, as did the sweatpants. Her breathing was deep and regular, her hair a tangled mess.
Clark blindly stuck out a hand to the wall to brace himself. Things were so different. His mind vaguely flitted to Lana. She hadn't slept on her side like that. She slept on her stomach. But even as he mentally berated his subconscious, the pain he prepared himself for didn't stab through him. There was a sharp twinge in his heart, but his breathing didn't quicken as it usually did with thoughts of Lana. Clark took a hesitant step forward and moved his eyes from Lois to the framed picture of him and Lana on the nightstand.
They were celebrating his twenty-first birthday, he thought a bit wistfully. They both looked so young. That had been a fun night, he remembered wryly. His friends had taken him out and foisted beer after beer on him, trying to get him drunk. It was no matter that all the farm kids in Smallville had been drinking in the fields since they were fifteen. No, now that he was of legal age, it was their duty to render him incapacitated. He had ended up having to pretend to stumble out of there. There was no way he couldn't act drunk after all the alcohol he had guzzled. It had been a fine time, actually. Lana was aware that alcohol didn't affect him, and he had hammily played up himself as staggeringly drunk, reveling in the fact that she was the only one who knew it was an act. When he had given her a long, sloppy kiss, the boys had all groaned, calling him a pathetic drunk. Lana had given him the evil eye, especially after he gave her a quick and entirely sober wink before turning back to the boys and stumbling around on the grass.
Smiling at the happy memory, Clark nevertheless picked up the picture and opened his closet. His hand brushed past his suit jackets and T-shirts, blindly digging in the far recesses of the closet. He finally found what he was looking for. He pulled out Lana's favorite sundress. After her death, he could hardly bear to part with her clothing, so instead of selling or donating it, he had boxed it up. Everything but this lavender sundress. Pain welled up in his chest and Clark realized that he wasn't as immune as he had previously congratulated himself on being. But it had been his wife's favorite dress. She had worn it around constantly and Clark had groaned and complained about it too many times to count. He would buy her a new sundress, so that they could give this one a break, he would plead in a well-rehearsed routine. She would shake her head and stubbornly insist that she liked this one. Yes, he would say, he liked it too. But couldn't he buy her some new things? She would shake her head, no.
A soft smile filtered across Clark's face at the memory. He'd give a lot to see her wear it one last time. But as the steady breathing from behind him filled his senses, he made a decision. He gathered the soft material in his hands and held it up to his nose, one last time. He could almost trick himself into believing it still smelled like her perfume, though he knew it to be a lie. His own scent had long permeated the dress. After one more moment, he took the frame and reverently wrapped the dress around it. Soon he had a lavender wrapped package and a tear trickled unheeded down his cheek. He stood on his tiptoes and stuck the precious shards of his previous life in an open shoebox on the top shelf.
Tomorrow, he would move the bundle to the smaller storage closet where he kept his luggage and the other boxes of Lana's things. He let out a shuddering breath and nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a small hand on his shoulder.
He turned, the tear track still glistening along the side of his face. Lois stood in front of him, her hair tousled. She glanced back to the spot where the frame had once sat on the nightstand. He didn't know how much she had seen, and he knew she had no idea of the true significance of the moment, but the soft look in her eyes told him she understood.
Wordlessly, she pulled him into a hug and he held on tight. His throat was suddenly too tight, but it didn't matter. She stroked her hands over his back, soothing him as a gasp ripped from his throat.
For a long moment, neither spoke nor moved. Clark stepped back a little and looked down at the ground, a lock of hair falling across his eyes.
"Thank you," he said hoarsely.
Lois nodded. The thunderstorm had stopped sometime during the night and it left a rare silence in its wake. Her voice would sound loud and harsh in the beautiful stillness. She looked down at Clark's hands. He was holding them to his stomach, pressing them deep against the fabric of his shirt. Her hand snuck between them and closed over his, gently detangling it from the cotton material and his other fingers. "It's okay," she finally whispered to him.
Clark nodded, a soft and vulnerable look in his eyes.
"You're not really going to go, are you?" he said quietly. His voice sounded strained and it broke Lois' heart.
Running her fingers restlessly over his, Lois stared at their fingers as she spoke.
"How can I stay?" The thought of leaving Clark wrought physical pain as her stomach wrenched, but she had made a promise to herself. There were things she had done that she wouldn't forget, no matter how long she lived. She had almost ruined this man and no matter what he thought, she wasn't able to forgive herself.
Clark brought up a hand to stroke her hair as his eyes frantically moved across her face. The stillness was cracking between them, as unwanted logic and tension returned.
"No," he said roughly. He brushed his lips against her cheek. "No, you can't leave."
He felt Lois shudder slightly beneath his parted lips, and her grip tightened on his hand, even as her words pulled her farther away. "I've lost my chance at the Planet," she tried again.
"There are other newspapers." A feather-light caress smoothed across her temple as he spoke and his breath tickled her face.
"That's not the only reason, Clark, and you know it just as well as I do." Lois was beginning to grow frustrated, but she couldn't find the willpower to leave his embrace. As his lips brushed her forehead, she snuck a kiss on the exposed underside of his jaw. When he spoke, his throat rumbled beneath her lips.
"Stay," he commanded gently.
With a gasp, Lois wrenched from him, her body immediately clamoring for his warm embrace. She turned from him, her breathing labored. Her hands came up to wrap themselves around her arms as she leaned a burning forehead against the cool window. The world was a gray mist, but there were hardly any cars out yet.
She felt rather than saw Clark move behind her, though he did not touch her.
"Then I'll go with you," he said.
Her breath caught in her throat as she half turned toward him. "Excuse me?"
"I said I'll go with you," he repeated. His brown eyes were quite determined behind the wire frames of his glasses. "If you won't stay, I'll go."
Something between a frustrated scream and a laugh escaped from her mouth. "Clark! I'm leaving to get away from you. I don't deserve this."
"You don't deserve what?" Clark took a step forward and Lois turned completely around to face him. "You don't deserve a chance to be happy? You don't deserve a chance to love?"
"I ruined that."
For the first time, Clark's eyes flashed. "Damn it, Lois! I'm begging you to stay. I'm telling you that you have ruined nothing, got that? Nothing." Lois tugged on the sleeves of the shirt she had borrowed from him anxiously. "Tonight has been insane. Look at all the mistakes we've made."
"You mean I've made."
"Lois you were almost killed." Clark's voice lowered as he spoke, a rough note meshing with his gentle tone. "I couldn't have borne it if that had happened. Don't you see? Can't you understand how quickly life can be snatched from us?" Clark looked into her eyes, his expression deeply intent. "Life is too short to hold grudges. I've been holding on to pain and loneliness because I've been under the delusion that they protected me. But look! Here I am and my heart is just as vulnerable as it was that day."
Lois' eyebrows furrowed and Clark winced. "The day she died."
Her expression immediately shuttered. "I see," she said delicately. "I know you're still grieving for her, Clark. And that's why I need to le—"
"No! That's not it. I meant-" Clark paused, trying to put his thoughts into a semblance of order. "I mean, all these years I've separated myself. I didn't want to fall in love. But you've barreled in and broken down all that protection, Lois. Like it wasn't even there at all. That's what I meant. No matter how much you try to shut it out, love doesn't respond to any self erected barriers around the heart."
A sparkle caught Clark's eye as he saw the tears gather in hers. No, he groaned inwardly. He hadn't meant to make her cry. Anything but that.
"Lois, please," he pleaded. He barely even knew what he was begging for. Would she leave? Was he getting through to her at all? Couldn't she see that leaving would absolutely devastate him?
"I need you, Lois," he finally said. "Somehow you've become this huge part of my life. I'd very much like to take you on a proper date. Anywhere you want."
As he spoke the words, Clark realized that he meant them. By God, if she wanted dinner in Paris, he was quite sure he'd scoop her up and float them right out the window, secret be damned. Did that mean he wanted to tell her? The thought didn't immediately send up warning flags in his head, which was a warning all in itself.
"I…" Lois paused and a small glimmer of hope sparked in Clark's heart at the hesitation in her eyes. He had one last card to play and though it was a risk, he would do it.
"Lois, I can talk myself hoarse here, trying to get you to understand how much you mean to me," Clark began. His head swam. Was he really about to do this? Was he crazy? "But I've always been a firm believer of showing rather than telling."
Lois looked up at him curiously. Thank God the tears had left, he thought with a sigh. There, he had captured her interest.
"Lois, before you make your decision… there's something you need to know."
Lois struggled to interpret the apparently new stream of conversation. "Yes? What?"
"I… I'm about to tell you something that I have never actually told a human being before. There are three people in this world who knew, but I never actually made the conscious choice to tell any of them. One found out by accident and the other two… well…" Clark paused, aware that he was babbling furiously. "And… You see, I'm trusting you with this information. But it's yours to do what you wish with. If you never want to see me again -" his eyes closed briefly in pain "- I'll understand. I will not bother you again. But if you choose to… accept it… I hope you'll understand that I'm giving you my heart. This level of trust, well, let's just say it's been ingrained in me to never give it up."
Lois' eyes were wide as she watched him ramble. "Clark, you're scaring me. What is it?"
"It's nothing to be scared of. Please don't be scared," he whispered. "I don't know how else to prove to you that I mean what I say when I ask you to stay." His chin rolled down to rest on his neck at the terrible rhyme. "I didn't mean that to rhyme," he said. "I'm not that cheesy."
Lois let out a breathless, nervous giggle and Clark gave her a tentative smile. He took a step back and hauled in a deep breath.
"Lois Lane… there are things that I can do. Things that go beyond the normal."
Lois' forehead creased as she tried to figure out his cryptic remarks. "You mean… the paranormal?" she hazarded a guess.
"No, no, nothing like that." Clark paused. "Actually, well kind of like that. Well, no. Not really…" He gave a frustrated groan at his ineptitude. Why was this so difficult?! She was going to run away all right, but because he was a great babbling idiot!
"Lois, I can… um… well you see, I can… My parents adopted me. I was a foundling actually."
Lois nodded helpfully. A sparkle of amusement lit her eyes and despite the fact that it was because she was amused by him, it sent his heart leaping. At least the sad, heartbreaking look was temporarily banished. He wondered if telling her about his true self wasn't just inviting more heartbreak to trample over him. He took a breath. Spit it out, Kent!
"I can fly."
No! No! No! Clark wanted to scream. He hadn't meant it to sound so… freakish. Apparently his conscious mind took spitting out the thought on his mind a little too literally.
"Excuse me?" Now Lois was looking decidedly amused.
Clark wanted to throw himself out the window.
"Lois," he forced himself to calm down. "There are things I can do, as I said. Things beyond human capabilities. I've spent my life covering them up, but I hope you can appreciate what it took to tell you this. I'm trusting you with everything."
Now Lois had a full out laugh building. "Oh Clark, I thought you were going to tell me you've murdered a man or something." She pulled his stunned self into a hug. Her giggle was bubbly champagne spilling down over them. "If you're going to all of this trouble, well, I mean… I'll stay." Her eyes suddenly grew a little worried as she released him. "It's okay, if I stay, right? I mean I know you said it was, and you obviously were at the edge of lunacy if you were expecting me to believe you can fly, but…"
Clark was staring at her in disbelief. She had agreed to stay! He was rejoicing inwardly. He could simply go along with her explanation that his passion had driven him to lunacy. Yes, and his secret would remain that way and Lois would stay and… His wild thoughts drifted off as a new ache settled in his heart. He wanted to tell her, though. And although she was giving him an out, could he really do that to her? To not explain what she was getting into if she tried a relationship with him? He owed the truth to her and nothing less. Clark gently tugged away from her.
"Lois, I was serious," he said.
And then he stepped back across the room and floated three feet off the ground.
Lois really, really wished she was the fainting type.
Wasn't that how it happened? Exhibit A: influx of surprising information. Exhibit B: helpless female in dead faint. Exhibit C: Female is nursed back to health by the indecently good-looking EMT. End of story; case closed.
Now she had always been a staunch and loyal advocate for women's rights, but right now she was prepared to take her values and chuck them all out the window. Fainting and swirling blackness sounded really good right about now.
She wasn't quite sure what emotions her face was displaying, but in all honesty she couldn't remember if she screamed or not. She might have just made a vague choking sound because Clark began looking at her like he might need to phone a doctor.
And he was still… defying gravity! No, no. It had to be some kind of prank. She would debate whether she wanted to be with someone prone to constructing elaborate jokes with sweeping lies later, after she figured out the mechanism. Lois hesitantly approached him, and knelt on the carpet. She swung her hand in a wide arc under his feet, expecting to feel… well… something.
Not the rush of cool air as her hand sliced through absolutely nothing.
She rocked back on her heels, gawking up at Clark. Their eyes met and he wordlessly floated back down. His mouth tilted up in a wry, hesitant smile. "Um… surprised?"
Shell-shocked was more like it. She couldn't decide if she wanted to scramble away and check herself into an insane asylum or ask him if he'd be adverse to letting her float with him.
"You-" Lois fought fiercely for control of her breath. "You were… in the air."
Clark nodded once.
"You-" She looked at him askance. "You… you don't just jump really, really high?"
He shook his head, his eyes a little wary.
"Oh my God." Lois sat down hard on the carpet, ignoring the chairs and other surfaces to sit in the bedroom.
Clark immediately knelt down next to her, taking her hands in his as she looked at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. "Please, Lois. Listen to me. I… yes, I can do this and a few other things."
Lois cut him off. "Other things? Like what?"
This interruption in his spur of the moment speech threw him. "Well, um, well wait, let me finish. Then I'll tell you."
Lois rolled her eyes and looked at him pointedly. "Okay, fine, continue."
Simultaneously bewildered and hopeful that she hadn't run screaming away from his touch, Clark tried to put his feelings into words. It was much more difficult than anticipated. He wasn't sure there were words, in any of the hundreds of languages he knew, adequate to describe the feelings bubbling in his chest.
"My parents found me in some kind of craft in a field. They guessed that I was some Russian experiment or some other scientific test. They were horrified at the thought, and desperate for a child of their own, so they adopted me," He shifted so he was sitting cross-legged across from her. Lois was still eyeing him slightly cagily, but she kept her hands in his, which he took to be a good sign. "And my childhood was really normal. I love my parents. No matter the origins of my birth, they always counted me as their flesh and blood son. But when I was about ten or eleven things started to change."
As Clark paused, Lois took a hard look at him. He looked, well, he looked genuinely frightened. Of her? The thought was ridiculous, but she couldn't help but notice the way he flinched whenever she moved. His story was incredible and she desperately wished for him to continue. She squeezed his hand to get him speaking again and he seemed to take great comfort from the small contact.
"How so?" she prompted gently, after the silence stretched.
Clark cleared his throat and continued.
"Sorry. Well, things being… I guess this ties in with your earlier question about what else I can do. I found that I could run great distances and never get tired. I was fast — faster than cars and trains, faster than anything I could race against."
Lois gasped at the news, but then leaned forward in a subconscious movement for him to continue. Clark edged closer as well, intent on his story now that he was finally able to tell it.
"I discovered that as I grew older, I got hurt less and less. One day I fell out of a tree, and the resulting fall should have broken my neck. I didn't even have a scratch. Pretty soon I realized that nothing could pierce my skin."
"Invulnerable," Lois breathed.
Clark paused in his narrative, squinting at her a little. "Not to sound paranoid, and I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but doesn't this, well, to quote some of the kids at school, freak you out?"
"No," she said bluntly. "Keep talking."
Clark had to force the smile from his mouth at the direct order. "Yes, ma'am. Well, when I was fourteen, I got in a terrible fight with my dad. I was blisteringly angry and I stomped out into the barn to cool off. I sat on one of the hay bales and glared at the machinery and loose hay on the floor. After I looked unseeingly around the barn for a moment, there was this spiraling curl of smoke and then everything I had looked at was in flames. It was terrifying."
In the cool wash of daylight streaming in from the window, it was difficult for Lois to imagine the feel of fire springing up around her, pressing in on each side. Clark gripped her hands a little more tightly as the memories flooded him.
"The fire just grew more and more fierce and I couldn't move. I didn't know what to do. Eventually, I shook myself into movement. There was a small gap in the flames and I thought if I could run fast enough, they wouldn't touch me.
"But didn't you know you were invulnerable then?" Lois asked softly, watching the long stifled fear shift uneasily in his eyes.
Clark brushed at his hair with his hand as he thought back. "I did. But it didn't really prepare me for anything. I had always been taught to never play with fire and to fear burns. It never even occurred to me not to be frightened."
Lois nodded at the reason in this and ran her thumb over his knuckles. The man beneath her fingertips could fly. She inhaled sharply as the thought impacted. Clark was still speaking, explaining, but her breathing was coming more quickly and she tuned him out.
Oh my God. He flew. After several stunned moments, the notion of speaking to the press flitted briefly across her mind. Disgusted with herself for even thinking it, Lois shook her head. It would make a great story, that much was true.
Who was she kidding? She'd be a shoo-in for a Pulitzer.
But at what cost? She peeked up at the man who was still rambling on about strength, freezing breath and responsibility. Strength? Hmm… That was interesting. Her mind drifted back to her imaginary Pulitzer. For a moment the no-nonsense Mad Dog Lane was back. The story was there, everything, the proverbial "give a dog a bone." And after how badly she had botched her undercover assignment at the high school, it was tempting.
But the thoughts only occupied a dark corner of her brain and she sent them back as soon as she could tear herself away from her indulgent daydreaming.
She could no sooner expose this gentle man's secret than she could leave him. And what a secret it was. Lois recognized that she had to be in some sort of shock. She'd usually have a lot more questions than this. Like what his true history was. And did his powers have any extents and limits? Was he, for example, more powerful than a locomotive? Faster than a speeding bullet? Somehow she doubted it. After all, he was just a flesh and blood man. But he had done so much for her; it made her heart ache. Gradually Lois became aware that Clark had been trying to get her attention.
"I'm sorry, what, Clark?"
He stared at her in hurt incredulity. "Did you hear a word I said?"
"Yes of course," Lois replied easily. She had long honed the ability to listen and ramble internally simultaneously. "Flying, invulnerability, vision gizmos — hot and cold, strength and speed. Am I warm?"
Clark's eyes widened a fraction. "Does nothing faze you?"
Lois finally pulled herself away from her spiraling thoughts and back to the conversation. She sighed and leaned back against the side of the bed. "I'm fazed. Trust me. I don't think things have sunk in quite yet."
The smile that had been gradually building on Clark's face fell a little. He looked at her earnestly. "I meant what I said, Lois. If you want to leave and never look back, you can do that. I won't stop you."
The backs of her fingers brushed up against his jaw line. Clark reached a hand up and caught them, trapping them there. "Is that what you want, Clark?" Lois asked softly. Her fingers continued to roam, brushing over his temple and stroking his hair.
"Of course not," he whispered. He could barely think clearly enough to get out the words. Her fingers seemed to be smoothing the thoughts and worries straight out of his head. "I don't want you to go, but I know what it would be like to be… involved with me. I'm different, and therefore you needed to know the truth before you got in too deep."
"Sorry Clark," she said, not sounding apologetic in the slightest. "I'm already there."
They looked at each other for a long moment, mutual affection clear between them.
"Why aren't you afraid of me?" he finally said softly, a cheerless expression filling his eyes.
"There's nothing to be afraid of. Being different isn't something to fear." Lois' heart ached a little at the look on his face. "Who put these silly thoughts in your mind? Surely not your parents?"
Clark was silent and sharp understanding flooded Lois a second later.
Clark sucked in a breath. "She didn't fear me. She just wished I could be normal. I wanted to do it for her, Lois. You have to believe me, I tried. I stopped flying at night, I did the dishes by hand, I…" Clark drifted off. "I tried to change for her."
"You shouldn't have had to change for anyone, Clark." Lois stifled a wave of fury at the woman for instilling these fears and doubts. "You're perfect the way you are. The flying thing is just a part of you. It's what you can do, but Clark is who you are inside."
Without speaking another word, Clark moved closer and Lois snuggled into his shoulder. He dropped a kiss on her hair. "Would you like me to take you flying sometime?"
Lois nodded and her eyelids fluttered as she struggled to keep awake in the quiet, early morning hour. In a few hours she would have to go to the police station and sort out the accusations thrown at Clark, and Lexy's attempt at murder. There was also the question of who had phoned the police about Clark in the first place. And why Claude was poking around in water towers. Lois groaned a little. Had he called the police on Clark? She would bet her half-finished romance novel manuscript that he had. It brought on a whole new slew of problems. But not right now. At that current moment, she yawned, she didn't really care about Lexy or Claude or any other person hell bent on ruining her life.
She hadn't ever imagined that sitting on the floor while leaning against a bed could be so utterly comfortable. Of course, it probably had to do with the warm body she was curled up against. Clark appeared content to simply sit there and doze, true confessions over, and in all honesty, she wasn't complaining. It was while she was sitting there in an odd sort of half-sleep that something Clark had mentioned filtered across the haze of her mind.
"Clark?" she mumbled against his shoulder. He let out a soft rumble that she took as a sign that he was listening. "Was I dreaming or did you really say that you can x-ray things?"
"Nope," he replied just as dreamily. "You didn't imagine it. I can do that."
"Oh-" Lois paused. "Oh!" She sat up a little straighter, the fog clearing a little from her mind as his words sunk in.
"I can't believe you can x-ray through clothing!"
Clark kept his head lolled against the bed as he looked down at her indignant eyes. "I tell you I can fly and yet this is what angers you?"
"You worried about your honor?" he asked with a spreading grin on his face. His hair was tousled and his dark eyes finally lacked the sad cast that had been apparent all morning. "Don't be. I haven't looked."
Contrarily, though his admission should have had her limp with relief, she leaned huffily back against him.
"Well, you know, if I had x-ray vision, I wouldn't look at you either!"
With a raised eyebrow, Clark looked down at her face, rigidly staring at the wall. "You wouldn't be tempted?"
"Not in the slightest." Lois shook her head to emphasize the point and Clark nodded gravely.
"I see. Well that's quite a problem then, because it appears our attraction for each other is entirely one sided."
Lois glanced up at him warily. "Why's that?"
His expression was teasing, but his eyes looked quite serious.
"Because I've been tempted many more times than I can count, Lois. But though I may not be much, I am a man of honor."
Suddenly feeling foolish for her petulance, Lois groaned and buried her face against his T-shirt. "You're something, all right."
He chuckled, the sound rumbling through his chest and vibrating against her cheek. They relaxed back into the back of the couch and each other's arms. As the sun rose and burned off the clouds, Lois leaned her head against Clark's shoulder and slipped into a sweet sleep.
Perry White waited at the street vendor, checking his watch every few minutes as the man at the hot dog cart loaded up a dog with Perry's usual. He tried not to salivate too much as Gus-the-vendor piled on sauerkraut and mustard. Mmm… After sneaking a quick, guilty look around to be sure his wife wasn't in the immediate area, he reached out to snatch the hot dog while simultaneously reaching into his pocket for a few stray bills.
That was when the newspapers, stacked neatly in rows by the man's feet, caught his eye. There was The Planet, looking dignified next to the trash magazine, The Star, but that was nothing new. No, what caught his eye had been the huge headline. It had taken up a fair amount of the front page, leaving little room for the text of the story.
"Drugs, Murder, Scandal at Metropolis High"
Eyes widening at Lois Lane's duplicity, he grabbed the paper and shoved a five at the vendor. "Keep the change," Perry mumbled as he zeroed in on a nearby bench, relish spilling over his fingers.
He held the paper close to his face and squinted at the byline.
No! With shaking hands, Perry skimmed the article. He had only seen a few of Lois' preliminary notes, but there was no doubt that she had been scooped. And by one of his own reporters! With a frustrated growl, Perry bunched the paper and threw it into a nearby trashcan as he headed back to the office. There had to have been a breach of contract somewhere. He could fight this. There was no way he would let that disloyal traitor scoop his newspaper. Perry had walked five steps before he turned and grabbed the paper out of the trash. He couldn't let his anger get the better of him; he needed to study the story much more closely.
As soon as Perry pulled open the gleaming brass doors to the lobby, he headed for the elevator. A few interns skittered out of his way as he shouldered past them. The young man in the elevator looked at him with an undisguised fear as Perry tornadoed into the elevator and jabbed the button for the newsroom floor. The scrawny young man looked as if he might press a button for his own floor but quickly rethought the idea as Perry gave him a baleful stare.
When the doors glided open onto his floor, Perry stomped in. He grabbed Jimmy Olsen by the tie and yanked sharply. "Get in my office, Olsen."
Gasping for breath, Jimmy quickly loosened his tie as he trotted at his editor's heels. Jimmy pulled the door to the Chief's office shut behind him and stood a little nervously. He hadn't seen the Chief this angry in… well… perhaps ever. He mentally ran down a list of his past indiscretions. Aww man, he wasn't about to get busted for the whole "intra-office" dating thing again, was he?
"Olsen! Has Malfois been in today?"
Without waiting for an answer, Perry was on his phone, dialing the human resources department. He gestured for Jimmy to talk while the phone rang.
"Well you see—"
"Quiet!" Perry interrupted as someone picked up. Jimmy obligingly fell silent, his curiosity skyrocketing.
"Yes. Would you send me a copy of all the information we have on Claude Malfois?" Perry paused as the woman at the other end of the phone spoke. "Yes, you can fax it. I have a machine right here." Perry listened again, his face slowly growing a blistering red.
"What do you mean he quit?"
With gritted teeth, Perry nodded. "Just fax me up his file, Dolores. Thank you."
Perry rounded on a fidgeting Jimmy. "What were you going to say?"
"That he quit, Chief. Apparently he sent out his two weeks notice, well, two weeks ago. Didn't anyone tell you that?"
Heaving a sigh and forcing back a growl, Perry snatched the papers that had just printed from his fax machine. There it was, a note of two weeks notice dated — Perry paused to check his watch for the day — fifteen days ago.
"That scheming worm," he breathed softly. Frantically, Perry flipped through the contract Malfois had signed when he had been hired at the Planet, already knowing what it would say.
"The Daily Planet has the right to all stories, interviews and drafts assigned to the prospective employee for his entire vocation at this newspaper. This agreement remains in place until after a two weeks notice has been stated."
And there, at the bottom of the contract, Claude Malfois had signed.
Jimmy Olsen shifted awkwardly, still not knowing why Perry was so upset. It wasn't like Claude had been such a great guy, he thought bitterly. It still galled Jimmy that Claude had slept with one of the young interns and then spread water cooler gossip. He had tried not to pay attention to the gossip, but he couldn't help noticing the quiet girl's pain.
The man was a snake as far as he was concerned. He mentioned so to Perry and his editor just nodded wearily.
"I know, Jimmy." Perry shook his head sadly as he looked down at paper. "He's the worst kind of man."
Two weeks later, Lois Lane had her dream job at the Daily Planet.
After that hellish day when Claude's (her) story had hit the papers, she had very nearly conceded defeat. Her story was lost, Perry White would probably never even consider her again and she was out a job. But on the plus side, she had an extraordinary new boyfriend.
Unfortunately, her fabulous, flying boyfriend was also unemployed. Clark had been set to resign despite the story, but before he could even hand in the papers, he had been fired. When he had talked to the principal, Doug Scott had been apologetic but unrelenting. Scott knew that nothing untoward had gone on, but the facts were there and his hands were tied, he had said. As much as Clark wanted to argue, he knew he couldn't. Because in his heart of hearts, he knew Lois had stolen his almost from the beginning.
And so, for a grand total of three days, they had lived a penniless, Bohemian existence. Or so it had seemed to Lois. But by the time she had actually worked herself into a frenzy at her state of unemployment, the phone at her apartment had rung. It was then, as she answered the phone in a schlumpy robe, her spoon still halfway embedded into a fresh carton of rocky road, that her life turned a complete 180 degrees on her.
Perry White was on the other end, offering her a job.
When Lois had expressed her disbelief, Perry had waved it off, saying that they were out one news reporter and that he knew she had potential. Too shocked to think clearly, Lois found herself arguing against Perry before she clammed up as reason smacked her in the face. Finally, all the while thinking Perry White was a little unwell in the head, Lois accepted, but on the condition that he consider Clark as a candidate as well. Perry had balked at the suggestion, but after a few minutes of a full blast of Lois Lane charm, Perry had caved and agreed to look at a piece of Clark's writing.
Clark, upon hearing the news had been delighted and angry that Lois had risked her dream job with some silly stipulation about him. But upon hearing the news, he sat down by his ancient computer and called up a Microsoft Word document. He had been the editor of his college paper and had minored in journalism, but he had always thought his true calling was teaching. Now, the prospect of paying the rent with his words alone loomed large, terrifying, and exhilaratingly in front of him. He wrote for hours, only moving to replenish the cream soda by his keyboard. Finally, when Lois returned from work that day, he hemmed and hawed for one nervous moment before Lois simply moved past him and pulled up the document to read herself.
When I came to teach at Metropolis High School, somehow I expected things to be different. I expected the kids to be younger, to be simultaneously wilder and more mature than I was. After all, I was a college grad, I had done the school thing to death. There was nothing that could surprise me, I figured, because well, I had done it all.
Senior pranks? I was the one leading them at my old school. The old-fashioned rumor mill? I'd been at the odd end of a few rumors myself. All the new faces? I'd been to college, hadn't I? A place where I hadn't recognized one single face. No, I was quite sure that I was ready to teach, to proclaim my passion for words and language at the front of a classroom and to witness their eager responses.
I now know that I had severely overestimated myself and my abilities.
Because for one, these kids were only a few years younger than myself and I couldn't see them taking direction from me. My mindset was such that it almost didn't seem reasonable for them to listen to me. Who was I to lecture them on mistakes they made that I had done myself just a few short years ago? I'd be better off sending them down the hall to the real teachers; the teachers with a bit of age to grant them wisdom. Eventually it was my late wife who sat me down and set me straight.
With the bluntness that could only be said by someone who truly loved you, she told me to get over myself. That I needed to stop wanting to be liked and vying for my seniors' attention. I thought she was being ridiculous, that wasn't what I was doing. Did I care if these kids liked me?
The overwhelming truth was that I did. And then, incredibly, her advice worked. I stopped focusing so much on me and more on them and I connected. The students and I were finally combating the normal high school afflictions such as tardiness and tough pop quizzes as a tag team effort. I wasn't a pushover, but yet I wasn't unyielding. The balance struck a chord with the students and that first class of seniors still holds a special place in my heart.
But the best laid plans of mice and men…
A year after that fateful senior class, my wife passed away. Those who knew me at the time could testify to the overwhelming change it wrought in me. I was never truly the same. But yet, one day, as I taught my class on the autopilot I had been running my life with, a new student walked into the class. She brought new discussion and new life to the classroom and everyone immediately took to her.
I cannot perceive the exact instant when I woke up from the near comatose state my wife's passing left me in, but it was sometime after this girl joined my class. She displayed enormous potential, and I took her aside to ask if she'd like to further this interest in writing. She agreed and I nodded, my work done. Or so I thought. As the days rolled into weeks, she fell into the wrong crowd. Anxious, I watched her fall from grace in the eyes of some of my students, and rise in others. I, myself, pleaded with her to consider new friendships, but the look she gave me was enough to send me back to my rightful place.
The place in front of the chalkboard, away from the students. I found myself in the predicament of being too close, and yet too detached from the situation. I knew all of these students personally, but my position as a teacher prevented me from taking sides and providing an ear to bend. And it was about that time, I realize now, that I began to grow dissatisfied with my situation.
Now I know of many teachers who balance that fine line between friend and educator with the poise of a ballet dancer. They make it look effortless, deftly moving between companion and tutor. I, on the other hand, have never been good with my feet. When I dance, I fall too much and make too many mistakes. And thus, I fell as I tried to straddle the line.
I grew too emotionally attached, too top heavy on the side of "friend" and unable to make the leap back into the safer territory of being a "teacher." When the news broke that my prodigal student was actually an undercover reporter sent to investigate suspicious gang activity at my high school, I had to resign from my job. Metropolis High had been a safety net for me for too long already, catching me every time I was nearly jarred awake from the bleak half-life I was living.
And there it was; the whole truth in a simple pallet of black and white. It took only one person, in the most unexpected of places, to turn my life around. She had taken her own perspective out for a while and was looking at the world through the eyes of the student she portrayed. In much the same way, it took looking through a new perspective to throw myself out of the slump I had stumbled into.
That chance to change for the better hit me when I least expected it, a shot from left field. But whatever the situation, that chance is out there, standing in the shadows. All you have to do is reach out and take it.
Lois, being Lois Lane, couldn't let the puff piece slide. She tore it to shreds, editing a sentence here and deleting whole paragraphs there. Eventually, Clark retreated from the brutal bloodbath and made himself a ham and cheese sandwich. Only then, from the safe distance of the kitchen, did he call over to ask if Lois had finished.
"Not yet, Clark. You made it sound like you were some soundless waif before you met me," she said mildly, no trace of spite. "I recognize my importance as a whole, but we've got to get this shaped up before we send it to Perry."
"You do realize that up until a few weeks ago, I was the one editing your papers?" Clark said, leaning against the wall. Lois had spent quite a lot of her time over at his place since Claude had broken her story and now they existed in a sort of easy companionship.
"Yes, and your spelling and grammar is flawless," Lois said, giving him a brilliant smile over her shoulder. She highlighted another whole chunk of text and started typing furiously. "But you're no good at these puff pieces. Hard news is your thing, I can tell."
"Lois, I like writing feel good stories as well as the hard hitting news ones. It's great to cover both ends of the spectrum," Clark said, coming over to retype a section Lois had just deleted. "And I liked that sentence right where I had it, thank you very much."
As they squabbled over sentence placement, Clark leaned over and dropped a light kiss on her hair, sighing in a sort of bliss. This was what he had been missing. The soft smiles, the deep friendship. It hardly even mattered that the story that had brought them together in the first place had been stolen. It had taken a while for both of them to agree on that, however, but now, even Lois didn't bristle quite so much when the subject arose. On that day, Lois had been spitting angry, spouting off mindless and frankly terrifying threats to Clark, who was standing in as a substitute for Claude in Lois' mind. But now Lexy Hartness was awaiting trial and the drugs had been all but cleaned out of Metropolis High. Beth Warner's parents had the sort of closure they had all but given up hoping for, and Lois had her sexy English teacher.
And when the facts were stacked up like that, she could hardly be expected to keep on her bitter rants about castrating certain new journalists at the Metropolis Star. Besides — Lois bit her lip as she continued to critique Clark's story — Clark had really already taken care of Claude Malfois.
Clark had been an incredibly calming influence on her, she reflected. Had she been the BC (Before Clark) Lois, she might have very well tracked down Claude's apartment and let loose a pit-bull on the inside. Or, she might have published an expose on STDs and the poor souls who have them, while inserting a large photo of Claude as the dominant item on the page. Anything to retaliate and to make him feel the same anger she felt that day she opened the paper and saw her story with his byline.
But even so, Lois had not been so thoroughly calmed by Clark's presence that she didn't still have these mad dog impulses. But a few days after the story had been published, she and Clark had been walking when they saw Claude outside the Star's building. He was leaning up against the wall, chatting up a beautiful blonde woman. Lois had nearly raged across the street to give him a piece of her mind, but Clark had grabbed her arm and ducked with her into a nearby alcove. At Lois' protests, he had clamped a hand over her mouth and shaken his head.
"I haven't taught at a high school and learned nothing these past years," Clark had breathed into her ear. "Prepare yourself; this is going to be very, very childish."
And with that, his eyes glowed red. Lois watched in fascination, but Clark shook his head slightly and motioned for her to watch Claude. He was looking at Claude's feet. Claude started fidgeting and then, a moment later, he hopped a little. Lois swerved her head to Clark and then back again. Now Claude was outright howling, clutching his feet and hopping wildly on the sidewalk. The girl he was with fled while the other people on the sidewalk gave him a wide berth.
Claude started walking away from the Star, muttering and walking lightly on his barely burned feet. Lois clapped a hand over her mouth to contain her giggles as she and Clark followed from a safe distance. A few minutes later, Clark once again pulled her into an alcove and blew in Claude's direction. Claude started shivering as the gusts of icy wind hit him. He frantically looked side to side, contemplating how he would write these odd weather phenomena in the next morning's paper.
Lois smiled as she shook her head out of her musings. They had followed Claude all the way home, playing juvenile pranks on him the whole time. It was silly and inconsequential, but miraculously, it made her feel better. And it didn't put her in trouble with the law or slap her with a libel suit.
Once Lois had shaped up Clark's story, they had whisked it off to Perry White. Clark had paced the apartment like a caged animal, awaiting Perry's judgment. Finally, Perry called Clark Kent in for an interview.
The next day, the newly partnered investigative reporting team of Lane and Kent hit the streets. And despite Clark's relative inexperience and Lois' impulse to dive right into every story, they managed to score exclusive after exclusive. Four years later, Clark Kent had won a Meriweather, Lois Lane had a Kerth under her belt, and the reporting team had won a Kerth together.
And it was on a not so special day, four years since Lane and Kent had been hired at the Planet, that Lois Lane came face to face with Claude Malfois for the first time since Claude had hauled her out of the water tower. They met on the corner of Fifth and Madison, next to a newsstand boasting a front-page article by Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
"Ms. Lane!" Claude had said, reaching to kiss her hand. "It's been far too long."
A long dormant anger stirred in Lois, but she calmed enough to look him in the eye. "Hello, Claude."
"I seem to remember you as a green reporter, but look! Here you are at the Planet." Claude's eyes flicked over to the stand. "It was a fine paper in its day."
Before Lois could sputter out a rebuttal to this, there was a long familiar whoosh and then a red, blue and yellow costume materialized next to her. His face did not appear in its usual ease, however, and instead looked tight and tense.
"Ms. Lane," he said cordially. He rounded on the man next to her. "Are you bothering Ms. Lane, Mr. Malfois?"
"H-how, Superman! How did you know my name?" Claude took a half step backwards as Clark took one forward.
"I've made it a priority to find out about Ms. Lane's friends," he said lightly. His voice hardened somewhat. "And the people who have ever wronged her."
Claude gulped and took another step back.
"But you have no reason to fear, right Malfois? You and Ms. Lane are real buddies, huh?"
Claude nodded, but Clark gave Lois a wink and turned his face into a frightening mask of anger. "You had better hope you're not lying, Mr. Malfois. If you didn't remember, I can always tell when someone is lying by their heartbeat."
Clark's hearing picked up a nearly inaudible "tell me about it" from Lois and he had to fight to keep the smile off his face.
"You don't want to find out what happened to the last man who wronged Lois." Superman half turned to Lois. "Who was that guy again? That jerk who snubbed you in the hall in eighth grade?"
Lois turned her snort of laughter into a cough and quickly nodded. "Yes. But you might be confusing him with the guy who turned me down, freshman year, when I asked him to the dance."
Superman scowled. "The swine! Metropolis General Hospital probably has room for him in the new Superman Foundation wing. I'll be sure to …visit…him. Call the hospital and tell them to make room for one more, all right?"
When Superman turned back from Lois to Claude, the man was gone.
Letting loose a howl of laughter now that Claude had left, Lois grabbed Superman and rested her forehead against his spandex clad forearm. "You, my husband," she said very softly, "are hysterical."
"That felt good," Clark sighed and looked around at the nearly empty street. "That creep deserved more than the mild jokes we played on him all those years ago."
"I love you, Superman. But don't tell my husband," she said very quietly.
"I love you, Lois Lane, student from Metropolis High." he grinned at her. "But don't tell my wife."