By Anonpip <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: September 2008
Summary: What happens when Lois is stuck in India, feeling completely out of her element?
Author's Note: All characters are the property of Warner Bros, December 3rd Productions, ABC, and anyone else who may have a legal claim on them. The story, however, is mine.
My sincerest apologies if this offends anyone -- please let me know and I'll either fix it or take it down immediately. I've tried to make this as realistic as possible, but I'm sure I've failed in some respects. I wrote this based on my research before my trip to India earlier this year and my experiences during this trip, so there are things in here that may not be accurate for India in the 1990s. The only thing I adjusted was the prices of things (the few times I mentioned them).
Thanks to Beth and Carol for BRing for me and to Sherry for GEing this.
"No way, Perry!" Lois insisted.
"What's this? Lois Lane turning down a plum assignment?" Perry asked in reply as he loomed over Lois' desk.
Lois in turn stood up. "I have plans tonight and they do not include an overnight flight to the middle of nowhere."
"Delhi is not the middle of nowhere, Lois. It's actually a big city, probably rivaling Metropolis in size," Clark piped up from his desk. Lois glared at him in response.
"I don't care," she said to Perry.
"What sort of plans do you have that are so important anyway?" Jimmy asked as he passed a doughnut to Perry.
"Lex is taking me to the opera," Lois replied.
"You're turning down a free trip to India and what's likely to be a front page story so that you can go to the opera?" Clark asked.
Lois glared at him again. "Yes, I am. It's to make up for the last time. I can't cancel again."
"Lois, it's not your fault we were taken hostage that night. Luthor can't really hold that against you," Clark said.
Lois gave a sigh of impatience. "Of course, he doesn't, Clark. Why do you always assume the worst about Lex? He's really a very kind man, besides being the biggest philanthropist in the city. But I'd hate to disappoint him."
Clark gave a snort of derision, but chose not to reply.
"Well, then," Perry said, shaking his head. "Clark, up for a trip to India?"
"Wait!" Lois said before Clark could reply. "You're sending Clark?"
"Well, of course," Perry said, trying to hide his smile. "I told you we needed someone there and all our overseas correspondents are busy. Since you can't go, I have to send someone else."
"But...Clark?" Lois whined.
Clark winced. It had been awhile since Lois had spoken about him with such contempt. However, as she had gotten closer to Lex, her impatience with Clark had grown and a little of her old attitude towards him had come back.
"What's wrong with Clark, Lois?" Perry asked, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
"Nothing," Lois mumbled. "But couldn't you send..."
"Whom should I send?" Perry asked. "Why wouldn't I send my best reporter?"
At this, Lois stood up straight. "Your best reporter?" she challenged.
Perry stood up even straighter in response. "Yes. The only person in the newsroom who could reasonably challenge that assertion is you and you have already turned down this assignment."
There was silence for a moment before Lois, acting as if Perry had twisted her arm, replied, "Fine then. I'll go. If you insist."
"Hey!" Clark finally managed to get a word in. "I want to go. You don't need to ask me twice if I want an all expense paid trip to India. Maybe take an extra day to get to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. Sounds great to me."
"What?" Lois asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "You didn't see the Taj Mahal during your world travels?"
Clark looked her right in the eyes as he replied, "Of course, I did, Lois. I spent six months living in a small town in Rajasthan. Agra is only a short bus and train ride away from Bundi. But the Taj Mahal is amazing and very large. It's certainly worth seeing again. Maybe spending more time in areas I overlooked last time."
Lois grunted. "Well, too bad. I'm Perry's best reporter. And I'm going."
"I never said you were my best reporter, Lois," Perry said, his voice stern. "Just that you were the only one who could challenge my claim that Clark was. I mean just the fact that Clark doesn't turn down assignments has to count for something." Turning towards Clark, he said, "I'll have travel make up your tickets. The story shouldn't take more than a couple of days. Do you want me to ask for the return ticket to be for three days so you'll have time to go to Agra?"
"Could I maybe take three extra days, Perry?" Clark asked. "Vacation days, of course. If I have time, I'd like to go to Bundi and say hello to some of the people there."
"Of course," Perry replied. "And don't worry about the vacation days. I'll owe you comp time for the flights anyway."
"Wait a minute!" Lois said again. "I said I'd go."
"Well, now, Lois, Clark already said he would. I can't disappoint him, now can I?" Perry asked, his southern accent sounding stronger as it always did when he was amused.
"But you asked me first," she whined.
"And you said no," Jimmy and Clark replied in unison.
Perry laughed. "Oh, go home and pack, sugar. I was planning on sending you both anyway."
Lois looked mollified for a moment before turning to glare at Perry. "You're sending me to India with Clark? No way, Perry. I go alone or not at all."
Perry's amusement quickly disappeared. No one tried his patience like Lois did. "Have it your way, Lois," he said, all trace of his accent gone now. "Clark can likely handle this alone."
Lois reached into her desk drawer to pull out her purse, grumbling as she put her coat on. She turned to Clark with pure, unadulterated hatred in her eyes. "I'll see you on the plane."
The three men waited for her to get on the elevator before they all laughed. They all knew Lois well enough to know that her bark was worse than her bite.
"I'll give you a call with the travel details in about an hour, Clark," Perry said. "Good luck with Lois. Hopefully she'll have cooled down by the time the plane takes off."
Clark grabbed the arms of the seat rest tightly. It was nice of Perry to book them business class tickets, but it did not change the fact that he hated to fly.
"What's up with you, Farmboy?" Lois asked, her annoyance from earlier still in full force. "You act like you've never been on a plane before."
"I'm not a big fan of airplanes. That's all."
"But you fly home all the time," Lois said in reply, clearly confused.
"What do you care?" Clark said, clearly annoyed. Lois glared in response, but Clark said nothing.
If things had gone the way he had wanted, there would be no need for this conversation. He would have told Lois his secret months ago. But nothing had gone as he had hoped. While Lois had warmed up to him over time, she never seemed even the slightest bit interested in taking their relationship past the friendship they shared (well, if he discounted the pheromone incident). Clark hated to feel like that was a requirement for his honesty, but the truth was he could not go around telling everyone he was friends with that he could fly and freeze things with his breath.
Besides, he had considered telling Lois anyway, hoping maybe that rather than being disappointed that the object of her crush was just plain old Clark, that he would seem more appealing when she knew he was Superman. While he really wanted Lois to want him for himself, the truth was that what he wanted most was for Lois to want him.
But then things had taken a turn he had not expected. Lois' affections for Superman seemed to cool off slightly. It was not a big difference really, but the reason for the cooling off concerned him and made it impossible for him to tell Lois the truth. While he trusted Lois implicitly and believed that she would keep the secret if he asked, he did not trust Luthor. What if Luthor drugged Lois or something?
The idea was not likely, as thus far Luthor had seemed to want little more than Lois' company. Still, Clark could not trust him enough to be sure that he would never do something to hurt her. She would be far safer with Superman to save her if Luthor had no idea who Superman was.
So, now, they were sitting on this plane with Lois annoyed at him for his fear of flying and he annoyed with her for making it impossible to explain how he went to visit his parents so often (far more often than she even knew) given this fear. It felt like an impossible situation.
When Clark woke up several hours later, they were serving lunch, the third meal of the flight. Lois was just waking up as well and seemed to be in better spirits than earlier.
Stretching languidly, she rose from her chair, grabbing the toothbrush and toothpaste from her toiletry bag. She returned a few minutes later all smiles.
"They're serving Indian food for lunch," she offered up. "It smells good."
Clark smiled, "I didn't realize you like Indian food."
"I don't usually. It's too spicy for me. But the stewardess said this is mild."
"We should get you some clothes tomorrow," Clark said.
Lois looked at him like he had two heads. "I packed. I have clothes."
"I know, but visiting India is not like visiting Europe. They have a tendency to stare at Americans. Particularly women. I think you'll be more comfortable in local dress. You'll attract less attention to yourself that way."
Lois wrinkled her nose. "Aren't saris hard to tie or wrap or whatever? How would I know what to do?"
"Wrap, and yes, they are. But you can get a salwar kameez. It's like a tunic with pants. The women in India wear it often and I'm told it's very comfortable."
"What about you?" Lois asked.
"The men in India dress like Westerners for the most part, so I'll be fine. Plus the women are less likely to stare than the men."
"So, where do we get sal..."
"Salwar kameez," Clark said slowly. "We should be able to go to the market tomorrow and pick up some material. A tailor can sew it by the next day."
"It's custom made?" Lois asked. "How much will that cost?"
"Oh, they're cheap by American standards. The material will likely cost around $5 and another $2-3 to get it sewn. Besides, I'm sure Perry will let you expense it."
"Are they nice?" Lois asked, skeptically.
Clark smiled. "They're beautiful. They use the brightest colors and with your dark hair, the prints will look amazing on you."
Lois blushed just slightly as she turned to her food.
The hotel in Delhi that the Planet paid for was okay, but not as nice as Lois was expecting. Clark explained that Indian hotels ranged from very expensive to very cheap with not much in between. "If you come with me to Agra and Bundi, though, it will be different. In Agra, the cheap hotels are much nicer than here, and in Bundi, we'll stay with a family I know."
Lois made a face. "I need to get back, Clark. We've discussed this."
Clark tried not to grimace. "To Luthor. I know."
"Stop acting like a jealous boyfriend, Clark," Lois demanded.
"I don't see how I can be acting like a jealous boyfriend," Clark said sulkily. "First I'd have to be acting like a boyfriend and that is out of the question."
To Clark's horror, Lois laughed as she swatted him on the arm. "Very cute, Farmboy. Very cute." Of course, she thought he was joking, but at least it seemed to get her out of the foul mood she had been in at his suggestion that she stay in India with him.
The visit to the market was successful in that Lois easily found material she liked to make her some clothes and the price was just slightly more than Clark had estimated. Of course, that was likely as Lois had picked out material with a lot of embroidery on it. Just walking to the bazaar she had found herself jealous of the beautiful clothes the women were wearing.
While the cloth seller had shown her some simpler pieces, Lois had fallen in love with a bright red material, thin cotton for the trousers and the same material with golden embroidery for the top. The scarf had the same embroidery on a sheer red material that faded to gold at the ends. The shop keeper explained that the embroidery had been done by hand and that was why the material cost more. Lois was skeptical about whether or not it was really embroidered by hand, although Clark assured her that it was. Besides, she could not argue that the price was fairly cheap, regardless.
Finding a tailor took a bit more work, but they did so quickly. At first the tailor explained in broken English that the outfit would be ready the following day and Lois glared at Clark. What was the point in getting new clothes if she was going to leave a day after she received them, but Clark gave her a reassuring look before he turned to speak to the man in Hindi. Lois watched the interchange in amazement, but tried not to let it show. She did not speak any languages besides English and this reminder that Clark spoke more than she could count made her feel a bit overwhelmed.
Clark turned to her with a smile. "I explained that we are in a hurry and so for an extra ten rupees he'll have the dress done later today."
"Ten extra rupees!" Lois said, unimpressed.
"Relax, Lois. That's about fifty cents."
"Oh," she replied, feeling a bit foolish.
"Shall we try to catch up with Ranjit?" Clark asked her.
By the time Lois and Clark made their way back to the tailor that afternoon, Lois was feeling exhausted. India was hot, making her feel sticky. She could probably deal with that, but what she could not deal with was the staring. Clark had not been kidding. Everywhere she went, people stared at her. Men leered and women giggled. Worse yet, they had no qualms about pointing at her. She was constantly swiping at her face. Was it the sweat that was making people stare? But everyone was sweating, it was over 100 degrees out.
"Clark," she finally whispered in the middle of day. "Do I look funny? Is there something hanging out of my nose or something?"
Clark turned to look her over. "No, you look great, Lois."
"Then why are those women pointing at me? Why is everyone staring?"
Clark smiled. "I told you. They do that here with tourists. You look exotic to them."
"People laugh at me because they think I'm exotic? Isn't that usually a good thing?" Lois asked.
"I know it seems strange, but that's what they do here."
"But they must get so many tourists. They must be used to white faces."
Clark looked at her sympathetically. "I know. You'd think so, but it never seems so."
"Is it better in Agra?" Lois asked.
"No, worse, really," Clark said. "But it's better in Bundi. It's a bit of a wealthy town and so the women are more outgoing. It makes them less likely to stare at you without saying hello and the men are more likely to speak to you rather than stare as well."
"So, it's going to be like this until I leave?" Lois asked.
Clark looked at her sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Lois. But stay close to me. They are less likely to stare at you if they think you're married."
"People are going to think we're married?" Lois asked, and Clark could hear the beginning of a rant coming on.
"Maybe, but it's probably better than getting groped, right?"
Lois snorted. "Those are my only choices?"
Clark smiled. "Well, you may not get groped, but it's not unheard of."
"That's barbaric!" Lois said rather loudly.
Clark stopped walking to turn to her, the look on his face firm. "I know things are different here than you're used to, Lois, but most of the differences are things you should be able to ignore. If someone actually gropes you, it's perfectly acceptable to hit them or yell at them, but try to remember that in many ways this is a different culture and we need to respect that."
Lois said nothing in reply, hating the feeling of being chastised like a child.
Clark was right, although Lois had no intention of letting him know she noticed. Once she put on her salwar kameez, she still got stared at, but there was less outright leering and the women stopped giggling as she passed. It became easy to ignore and walk around.
Plus, she loved the outfit she had bought. It was really comfortable and so beautiful. She just felt awkward wearing it to work. It felt way too nice to wear for an everyday thing. On the other hand, all the Indian women were doing it, so why couldn't she?
The day had been busy with trying to fit in the shopping and two trips to the tailor in between meeting their source. Lois had been too tired and hot to notice that they had somehow managed to skip lunch, but now that they were back in their hotel, she was freshly showered, and she had cranked the air conditioning, she realized she was famished.
With a groan, she pulled herself up out of bed. Grabbing her room key, she headed down the hallway to bang on Clark's door.
"Hey," he said with a broad grin as he opened the door. "I was just going to come see you."
Lois felt herself flush slightly as Clark took her in. "I know I said it before, but the clothes look great, Lois. Really." He smiled at her again. Clark had a great smile and normally Lois found it made her smile in response, but something about the way he was looking at her now made her feel like all she could do was blush.
"Thanks, Clark," she said and was horrified to discover that her voice was soft. Was she flirting with him? Clark? That was insane. Why would she flirt with Clark?
"So, do you want to grab some dinner?" he asked her.
Lois was glad to be reminded of why she had knocked on his door to begin with. "Oh, yes. I'm so hungry. Any suggestions from your time here?"
Clark shook his head. "It's been too long. I'm sure any restaurants I used to frequent are long gone by now. I didn't spend much time in Delhi anyway. But I asked around earlier and there is a place up the road that is supposed to have great food. It's vegetarian, though. Is that a problem? Indians eat very little meat, but if you want, I'm sure we can find someplace that has chicken or something."
"I'm too hungry to care. Vegetarian is fine."
"Great," Clark said as he closed his door and started walking down the hall.
Lois looped her arm through his as she caught up. Gently, Clark pulled away and bent down to whisper in her ear, "Sorry. Touching members of the opposite sex is frowned upon here."
Lois felt herself flush again. When had she taken to linking her arm with Clark's anyway?
The following day past quickly and by the time five o'clock rolled around, they had wrapped up their story. Ranjit, from the Delhi office, LAN'ed the story over to Perry, and Clark went with Lois to the airport to drop her off for her eleven o'clock flight.
As they pulled up to the airport, the rain started. It was monsoon season after all, and it had not rained yet since they arrived. Lois and Clark dashed for the doors to the terminal, Clark dragging Lois' wheeled suitcase behind him.
With a groan, Lois realized that even though she was very early, the line for checking in was at least an hour long. She turned to Clark with a smile. "I'll be okay from here. You can head back out. Didn't you say you wanted to catch a train to Agra tonight?" she asked. She sort of wished he would stay. Even though things in India were better now that she was dressing like a local, she did not feel completely comfortable here. Besides, she had changed into Western clothes for the flight. On the other hand, the last thing she wanted to do was to let Clark know she wanted him to stay.
"I have plenty of time," Clark said. "The trains run very late, typically until long after midnight."
Lois nodded, not wanting to voice her appreciation.
The line moved faster than Lois expected and it was only forty-five minutes before she was at the head of the line. She handed the airline attendant her ticket and passport with a smile.
"Oh, Ms. Lane, you did not need to wait in this line," the attendant said, looking at her ticket. "There is a business class line over there." She pointed to a separate line (with no one on it) that was well marked and within easy sight. Lois sighed. She could have been sitting in the business lounge all this time!
A few moments of typing later and the flight attendant spoke again. "I'm sorry, Ms. Lane, but your flight has been canceled due to the rain."
"Canceled?" Lois asked.
"Yes. We can reschedule you on the next flight to Metropolis. It leaves..." she consulted her computer screen, "tomorrow at this time."
"Tomorrow?" Lois asked. "I can't leave tomorrow. I've already rescheduled my date with Lex for tomorrow night!"
"I'm so sorry, Ms. Lane, but there are no other flights."
"Lois," Clark said softly from beside her. "Why don't you come with me to Agra? I know you are disappointed to miss your date with Luthor, but see it as an opportunity. You're just a couple of hours away from seeing the Taj Mahal. I'll even come back here with you tomorrow before heading to Bundi."
Lois nodded. As much as she wanted to go home, what Clark was saying made sense. If she had to stay here until tomorrow night, she might as well see the Taj Mahal.
"Okay," she said glumly.
Lois had not really thought much about changing clothes before they got on the train to Agra, but she wished she had. It was not a long train ride, but long enough that the staring was tiring. She really was not that interesting, was she?
There were two men in the bench seat across from the one she was sitting on and they seemed to spend most of the train journey staring at her. It wasn't leering per se, but the looks were so unwavering it was a bit unnerving. These guys would easily win any staring contest Lois had ever been in.
Clark, of course, was having a grand ole time. He had started talking to the guy on his other side almost as soon as they sat down, and once he made it clear that they did not need to speak in English as he knew Hindi, the guy opposite him joined in, too. Clark had mentioned this on their way to the train station -- that Indians were really friendly and that sitting in this lower class of train travel was not only cheaper but a good way to meet the locals.
Clark was right in that it was plenty comfortable enough that she did not see the need to pay for the more expensive seats for comfort. On the other hand, she sort of wished she was someplace where people were not quite so friendly. The staring was making her grumpy and she did not feel like being sociable.
Her only saving grace was that the woman sitting across from her also was not speaking. Lois got the impression that it was not considered appropriate for women to speak to members of the opposite sex in public or something, although the Indian men spoke to her. Clark had pointed that out gleefully when she had complained about having to adapt to their culture while she was here. His point was that they were open to Western culture to some degree and thus had no trouble speaking to her. Still, she hated the fact that she looked anti-social.
Well, she looked anti-social as she was being anti-social, but she was not used to this. All in all, she was glad to hear it when Clark leaned over to tell her that Agra was the next stop.
Lois was still grabbing her suitcase when a guy came up to Clark and asked if he wanted a rickshaw. Clark told them the name of the hotel he was staying at and got a price. He shook his head and the two set off haggling. Even after only two days in India, Lois was used to the constant haggling. When she wasn't so grumpy, it was even fun.
Clark reached over and took her bag from her. "Let's go."
"Did he really board the train to get a fare?" she asked.
Clark smiled. "No, he boarded the train to get a fare from a tourist. He can charge us a lot more money."
"But that's not fair!" Lois said hotly.
"Lois," Clark said and Lois could hear the reprimand in his voice. "The ride to the hotel is about $3, but that will be enough money to buy him groceries for the next couple of days. We're rich. Deal with it."
"I'm not rich," Lois mumbled, but she knew she was being petty. While her paycheck did not go far in Metropolis, things here were very cheap by American standards.
The rickshaw was just as she had pictured it and that brightened her mood slightly. In Delhi, they had used regular cars, but this was a small golf cart like thing.
"Do you think they'll have a room for me at the hotel?" Lois asked. She felt like a worrywart. Since the airline had told her that her flight was cancelled, she had worried about random things like getting on the train to Agra (which happened easily), getting a reservation back to Delhi tomorrow since she had to be sure to get in to Delhi in time for her flight (she was on the waitlist, but the person at the counter assured her that she was high enough up that it was unlikely she would not make it), and now getting a hotel room.
"Relax, Lois," Clark said. "It's monsoon season which is low season for tourists. I'm sure they'll have a room."
Lois decided to trust him about this and was glad she had. They did have a room and as Clark had promised it was much nicer than the hotel in Delhi even though they were about the same price. Looking at the clock, Lois realized it was already quite late, nearly midnight. She and Clark had agreed to meet at nine the next morning for breakfast. Clark assured her that if all she wanted to do tomorrow was see the Taj Mahal, they had plenty of time to make the five o'clock train they were waitlisted for. She was glad to hear it now as she was exhausted and did not want to wake up early.
"Mmm..." Lois murmured as she swallowed the masala chai Clark had ordered for her. She had wanted coffee and had not been pleased when he suggested tea, but now that she had tried it, she was glad he had insisted. It did not taste like tea at all. It was more milky and spicy. Lois was not sure what the spices in it were, but she tasted both cinnamon and cloves.
"I know. And this one isn't even half as good as the ones I had in Bundi. The family I stayed with make their own spice mixture and it's amazing," Clark told her.
"So, what's a typical Indian breakfast?" Lois asked as she placed her cup down and picked up her menu. Up until today they had had breakfast in their rooms and Lois had stuck with eggs. Now that she was sort of on vacation, though, she thought it was time to eat some local fare.
"Well, breakfast is not as popular in India as in the US, so a lot of the 'typical' foods are things that they eat any time. Samosa is often served for breakfast, but my favorite breakfast food is paratha."
"What's that?" Lois asked.
"It's like stuffed bread. They stuff it with different things. It looks like here..." Clark paused while he perused the menu, "they stuff it with either cauliflower or paneer. Paneer is a mild cheese."
"That's the white cube thing that looks a bit like tofu?" she asked. When Clark nodded, she added, "I've had it before. With spinach."
Lois had trouble deciding between the two, so Clark suggested they each order a paratha and they could share.
Less than an hour later, feeling pleasantly full, Clark and Lois headed out of the hotel to the street where Clark easily found a rickshaw to drive them to the Taj Mahal for a price he thought was fair.
It did not take long to get there, and soon Clark had paid the rickshaw driver and Lois was getting out. She looked around, but did not really see anything. "Where is it?" she asked him.
"We need to walk across this traffic circle and then down the pedestrian street over there. It's about a half a mile away," Clark explained. "Just stick close to me while we cross the street," he said.
Lois had already made it very clear that she was not sure how comfortable she was walking around here. There did not appear to be any traffic laws. Indian drivers drove straight through red lights and stop signs with a simple beep of their horn and what appeared to be no regard for pedestrians. On the other hand, Indians seemed to have no trouble walking across the street.
Clark guided her across the street expertly, clearly used to this type of behavior. Lois assumed that meant that things were not that different in Bundi. The walk to the entrance was not that long, although Lois was amazed by the number of children who offered to sell them trinkets. She felt badly for them and so bought the small snow globe the first little boy offered her, but then they were thronged with children and she realized she may have made a mistake.
The children disappeared once they reached the end of the line to get in as it had become clear that Lois was not going to buy anything else. "Just stay here," Clark said. "We need to go buy tickets, but I can do that while you wait in line."
Even though it was not tourist season, the line was long with locals and Clark was back with their tickets long before Lois had reached the front of the line. Clark started speaking with the people around him. Feeling better today than yesterday, Lois found herself joining in and enjoying chatting with the family in front of her and was amazed at how well they spoke English.
As they got closer to the entrance, Clark pointed to a shorter line next to them. "That's the line for women. Why don't you go stand in it? I'll be right behind you when you walk through the security gate."
The mother of the family they had been talking to took her hand to guide her. "Because of security we go through a different line," she explained. "But the man line is always longer, so we wait with them."
Lois got through faster than Clark and in a few moments the rest of the family joined the woman she had been speaking to. Left alone for a moment, Lois looked around. There was a tall building on her left and it was beautiful, but it did not look like the pictures she had seen of the Taj Mahal before. Wasn't the Taj Mahal white? This building was red.
When Clark joined her, he guided her through the pathways meandering through the outlying buildings until she saw it before her. It was below a set of steps and across a garden with a large reflecting pool and it was stunning. Made completely of white, it was a transfixing sight with all the Indian women in their colorful clothes in the foreground.
"It's stunning," she whispered.
Clark smiled. "It is, isn't it?" he said. "You know the story behind it?" When Lois shook her head without looking away from the building, Clark continued as he led her down the steps. "It was built by a Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, for his third wife. She died during childbirth and he was so upset, he built this as a memorial to her."
"That's sad," Lois said in surprise, turning to him.
"Is it?" Clark asked. "That he loved his wife enough to feel that kind of grief? Imagine how happy he must have been in the years before that. I don't recall how long they were together, but she died giving birth to their fourteenth child, so I presume a long time."
"Still," Lois said, "it's sad."
"I think it's beautiful," Clark said softly, "to open yourself up to another person so much that you can feel that much pain."
Lois glanced at Clark and reached for his hand before she realized that was frowned upon here.
"So," Lois said as they exited the Taj Mahal. "It's not even one yet. Any other must sees in Agra?"
Clark smiled. "There are a couple, although I don't think we really have time for Fatehpur Sikri. It's an abandoned capital and the architecture is amazing, but it's a little bit out of town, so I think we should skip it. But there's also the Agra Fort and the Baby Taj."
"The Baby Taj?" Lois asked.
Clark smiled, "It's real name is Itmad-Ud-Daula, but most people call it the Baby Taj. Like the Taj Mahal, it's a mausoleum and it was built by the grandfather of the woman the Taj was built for. People call it the Baby Taj as it looks like a small version of the Taj Mahal. I would suggest we only do that if we have extra time, though. It's worth doing -- it gets a lot fewer visitors than the Taj Mahal so you can take your time going through it, but the Agra Fort is something completely different."
"Okay," Lois said as Clark led her towards another rickshaw.
"Some consider Agra Fort to be the most important in all of India," Clark told her.
"Is it your favorite?" Lois asked.
"No," Clark admitted. "While less important, the one in Chittaurgarh is my favorite. It's much larger and has such a huge array of buildings and shrines to see. And I haven't even seen most of the forts in India, so there could be others that are nicer still. But the one here is beautiful and I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
Lois smiled. For some reason, today Clark's broad knowledge of just about everything was nice rather than annoying. He made a great tour guide and she had to admit, she was sort of glad her flight had been cancelled. This was a lot more fun than the opera with Lex would have been.
"We'd better head back," Clark said looking at his watch. They had seen Agra Fort and then the Baby Taj -- neither of them hungry enough to want to stop for lunch, and it was now 4:30.
Lois nodded, feeling sort of disappointed. Some small part of her was sorry that she was not going to get to see more of India with Clark. She had called Lex last night and he was busy for the next few nights anyway.
Still, she did not want Clark to know she wanted to stay, and put a smile on her face to show how happy she was to be going home.
They went straight to the track where their train was arriving and went to the board to see where they were sitting. It took a few minutes before they had looked through all the lists.
"Where are our names?" Lois asked in confusion.
Clark's features, normally so cheerful, seemed less so. "I don't think we got on."
"What?" Lois said. "But they said..."
"They can't guarantee it, Lois, they just thought the chances are we would get on. Besides, we can still get to Delhi."
"How?" Lois asked.
"Well, we could hire a taxi, although that would be quite expensive. Or we can wait for the train and talk to the conductor. They can usually find a seat on the train for people who did not make it on."
"Oh," Lois said, "so why wouldn't we do that?"
"It can be expensive," Clark told her. "They typically charge you double the price of a regular ticket and the base price is that of the entire journey of the train, not just the part you were on."
Lois groaned. "So, it's basically going to cost a small fortune to get back to Delhi."
Clark nodded, looking sincerely sorry. "I'm sorry, Lois. I should have let you stay in Delhi."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "I'm glad you convinced me to come. I had a good time. Even if I have no idea what the best way to get back to the airport is now."
"Let's go figure out the cost of each of these," Clark suggested and Lois nodded.
As Clark had predicted, but options were fairly expensive and while the train was slightly cheaper, Lois was feeling irritable again. She did not even want to go home anymore and now she was going to have to pay a small fortune for something she did not want to do. Then it occurred to her -- considering the cost of getting to Delhi, it would probably actually be cheaper to change her plane ticket. Feeling her spirits rise, she said, "Maybe I should stay. It will probably be cheaper to change my flight." She tried to sound discouraged so Clark would not know that she wanted to stay.
"Maybe," Clark said, "but I need to get to Bundi tonight if I want anytime to see my friends before I head back. So, I wouldn't be able to go to Delhi with you tomorrow." He felt guilty saying that and knew that if she looked the slightest bit disappointed, he would stay, but he really did want to get to Bundi.
Lois looked at the ground, appearing to think. "Well, maybe... I guess I could come with you. It's only an extra day now."
Clark smiled. "Do you want to?" he asked and he looked so happy that Lois could not help but be honest.
"Yeah, I want to see what all the fuss is about."
Despite the issues with getting a seat on the train to Delhi, it was relatively easy for Lois to get a seat on the train to Kota. While the bus from there to Bundi was crowded, Lois enjoyed the ride. She already felt like she was experiencing the "real" India.
Lois looked around the bus stop when she got out. Where were the rickshaws running for the first tourists they saw? Clark stopped near her. "I told you Bundi was different. We're going to have to find our own rickshaw here."
Lois smiled. She liked the feeling of not being crowded around and felt like less of a spectacle here.
"Hop in," Clark called to her after he had secured a rickshaw. Lois smiled. She knew that she had been unsuccessful in keeping her true feelings about staying in India to herself, but found she did not care. Clark had been happier since she had said she wanted to come with him and she enjoyed his company even more when he was like this.
"So, how did you meet this family you know?" Lois asked.
"There aren't many hotels in Bundi. It's mostly guesthouses run by families. Some of them live in the house, some don't, but all of them spend all day there, making meals, cleaning and chatting with guests. This was the one I stayed at when I lived here and they were so friendly I ended up eating all my meals there."
"You didn't get your own place?" Lois asked.
"Well, I really just wanted a room and it was so cheap at this place that it made sense to stay here. I wasn't here that long -- about six months," Clark explained.
"So, that's where we're staying this time?" Lois asked.
"Yes. They have one room that's air conditioned and it's yours."
"Oh, Clark, you don't need to give me the air conditioned room," Lois said feeling guilty.
"It's not a problem. The other rooms have fans and are quite comfortable," Clark assured her.
"So, how does the type of accommodation and cost compare with Agra?"
"Well, it's different. I don't know that it's less nice, but it's a completely different style. It doesn't make any attempt to be Western, although there is a Western toilet. The decorations and furnishings are all authentic Indian. It feels more like a home. And the prices are very cheap by American standards. We'll only pay for one room anyway, though."
"Do they do some sort of buy one room get the second free special during the off season?" Lois asked with a laugh.
"No," Clark admitted. "I... well, last time I was here I saved their son's life. Now they never let me pay when I visit. I didn't stay with them my last visit as I feel so badly taking their room and not paying, but that insulted them, so... well, I'm hoping that they'll let us pay for your room at least."
Lois smiled. Clark was such a boy scout. It was one of his more endearing qualities.
Lois looked around her room in satisfaction. Clark was right. It was a completely different style than the hotel in Agra, but it was charming. It even had those things she used to associate with princesses when she was a kid. A jharokha, she thought Clark had called it -- a small area that jutted out from her room, surrounded by windows on three sides and gauzy drapes on the side attached to the rest of the room with a mattress covering the entire floor area.
Clark warned her that the air conditioning unit would probably work better if she kept the curtain closed, but she did not care. It was evening and cool out now and she was pleased to sit in her jharoka and pretend she was an Arabian princess. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander like she had when she was a little girl. For a long while she imagined her life as a child princess, running around rooms like this and napping in jharokas during the day. Eventually, though, it wound to the typical fairy tale ending where her prince arrived.
He looked like an Arabian version of Lex. But that was not right. Something was wrong with that. Lois frowned and opened her eyes. 'Enough of that game,' she thought as she got up and crawled into bed.
It was only as she was dozing off that the image came back to her, but this time there was nothing wrong with it. Only the image did not have Lex as the prince, but Clark.
Lois smiled as she took her first sip of masala chai. "You're right," she said to Clark. "This is amazing."
She repeated the statement to Lalitha, the wife of the owner of the guesthouse and the cook for all the meals. While Lois thought Lalitha's English was quite good, she seemed embarrassed about it, so rather than respond, Lalitha smiled her appreciation.
"So," Lois turned to Clark. "What is there to do in Bundi?"
Clark's return smile was very wide. "Well, there are a few things, although I think the best is nothing at all. But we should probably at least see the step wells and the lake."
"Step wells?" Lois asked.
"They are basically what they sound like. They're wells, but rather than a long narrow hole, they are paved with steps so even during the dry season people could get water by climbing to the bottom. You can't climb down them anymore, but they are impressive to see. The biggest one is right near the bazaar anyway and that's also worth seeing. It's different than the one we went to in Delhi in that there are many fewer tourists so they sell different things."
"Okay, so the step wells, the bazaar, and a lake?"
"We can do the lake tonight when it's cooler. It's a man made lake, but it's really pretty," Clark said. Then turning to Lalitha, he said something in Hindi. Turning back to Lois, he said, "Lalitha says it's still too early in the monsoon season to be full, but most of it has some water. Plus, the benefit of it being partly dry is we'll be able to walk out to the temple."
"The temple?" Lois asked, feeling like she had turned into a parrot.
"I'll tell you later. Let's head into town and see the bazaar and the step wells. I have a special treat for you anyway."
"What?" Lois asked, warily. Didn't Clark know she hated surprises?
"Lalitha is on her way to the bazaar to go shopping, so we'll go with her. It will be more fun to walk around with someone who's there with a purpose," Clark said.
Lois found herself smiling. It did sound sort of interesting to accompany Lalitha on her shopping trip -- more like she was experiencing life like a local again.
Lois could not help but laugh. She was just having such a good time. The things they sold at the bazaar were amazing, and it was fun watching Lalitha haggle over fruits and vegetables as she shopped. Even though most of the haggling was in Hindi, Clark explained what was going on enough that Lois understood what was happening. In some places, Lalitha was friendly and praised the goods and the haggling was done with laughter; but other places she was less happy with the offerings, and the haggling would lead to some good-natured yelling.
After Lalitha had finished her shopping, she had gone back home. Clark and Lois stayed, looking at areas of the bazaar they hadn't seen yet. They saw a man hammering out pieces of metal to make pots, and teenage boys loitering around. The boys had actually offered Clark ten rupees for a picture of them kissing. Clark had said, "No," firmly and took Lois' arm to walk her away quickly.
Once he told her what they had said, she had laughed at him. "Why are you so upset? Is the idea of kissing me that bad?" she teased.
Clark's cheeks flamed up as he stammered, "No... I mean, that's... that wasn't why I was upset, Lois. Kissing in public is vulgar here. It would be like... I don't know, maybe not having sex in public in Metropolis, but close."
Lois grimaced, "I guess teenagers don't change much from country to country?"
Clark smiled, "I guess not."
Lois sat in her jharokha. After the bazaar, they had gone to see a step well, and Clark was right, it was impressive. Then Clark suggested they go back to their rooms and take a nap. The heat was making Lois tired, so she was happy to agree. On the rickshaw ride back to town, Clark told her that there was a fort and a palace here if she wanted to visit them tomorrow, but he would be happy to keep doing small things. His favorite part of Bundi, he said, was the ability to really see what life was like here, rather than site seeing.
Lois nodded, although they agreed to see what happened first. If there really was nothing going on tomorrow, it might make sense to see the palace and fort anyway.
The room was quite warm now that it was the middle of the day, and after a few minutes, Lois decided she could not sit in the jharokha anymore. Moving into the main part of the room, she turned the air conditioning to high as she stripped off her clothes and got into the shower.
The room was pleasantly cool when she got out and lowering the power a bit and pulling on her most comfortable shirt and a pair of shorts, she stretched out on the bed. So far, this had been fun, but in a very different way than she normally thought of vacation. Clark seemed so focused on getting to know the people. She had never really done that before; but she had to agree, it was more fun than racing from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.
Plus, she could not deny that she had a great companion. Clark really was a great friend. Still, until they had spent time here where she had to be careful about touching him, she had not realized how often she held his hand or linked her arm through his. When had that happened? Why had it happened? It wasn't like she was interested in Clark that way, was she?
The air outside was cooling off by the time Clark knocked on her door and suggested they walk to the lake. Lois put her salwar kameez back on and joined Clark on the front stoop where he was chatting with the owner.
The walk to the lake was the first time she had actually done any walking on streets in Bundi and she found she was sort of right. While there was less traffic, making it easier to walk than in Agra, it was still a bit crazy. Plus, there were even more cows roaming the street and there were boars as well. It was a bit like being in the zoo, with an up-close-and-personal look at the animals. When she mentioned this to Clark, he just laughed. "Wait until dinner," he warned her.
"We'll eat on the roof again, like we did at breakfast, and in the evening, the monkeys wander down from the fort in the hopes of finding food. If you're not careful, they'll make off with your chapati."
Lois looked at him incredulously, but he did not seem to be joking. Well, he had said that Lalitha made the best chapati in Bundi, which is why he preferred it to the naan she was more used to from restaurants back home. Maybe the monkeys did, too.
"This," Clark said, bringing her out of her thoughts, "is why it's good that the water level is a bit low." He pointed to an elaborate building in the area that was clearly supposed to be the lake, but the water did not quite reach the building.
"What is it?" Lois asked.
"It's a temple," Clark said as he began walking down an incline Lois assumed would be the side of the lake by the end of the monsoon season. "It's dedicated to Varuna, a god of water."
"It's beautiful," Lois said as she walked up to it. She and Clark walked around it for a few moments before he led her back up the incline and around the lake.
"From the other side you get an incredible view of the fort," Clark said, his voice soft and Lois found herself reaching for his hand again until she remembered that she was not supposed to.
The walk around the lake was not long, no more than a mile, but it took them about an hour to make it around as people kept stopping to talk to them. Everyone wanted to know where they were from and how long they were staying. One of the people even invited them over for lunch the next day. Lois had looked at Clark, expecting him to say no -- what kind of weirdo invites complete strangers over for lunch? Clark, though, had smiled, determined where the man lived and said that he and Lois would be by around noon.
As they walked away, Lois strained to keep her voice quiet. "You really think it's safe to go to a stranger's house for lunch?" she asked.
Clark laughed lightly, "Relax, Lois. I know it seems strange, but it's actually very common here to invite tourists over. It's perfectly safe."
Lois looked at Clark in awe. He was so comfortable with himself here. It was a Clark Kent that she was not completely used to. It was a Clark Kent that made her a little nervous and jittery all at the same time.
After breakfast the next morning, Clark and Lois walked around town a little, before heading back to the guesthouse. Clark started helping Lalitha prepare food for lunch for the other guests and Lois watched them work. She liked this Clark. Maybe a little too much. Would he be the same when they got back to Metropolis, she wondered. Did she even want him to be?
At eleven fifteen, they headed over to the family that had invited them over for lunch. Lois felt uncomfortable at first, but the family was so friendly. Their English was not very good, but when they had trouble, they spoke to Clark in Hindi and he translated for her. It was so different than back home. The family was incredibly friendly and treated them like old friends even though they barely knew each other. Plus, the food was amazing. Lois' favorite part was the fresh mango juice. They gave her a pile of chapati to dip into it, but it tasted so good, she started drinking it straight with a spoon.
Unfortunately, after about an hour and a half, Clark stood up, explaining that they needed to head back to Delhi to make their flight. Lois felt disappointed. She had forgotten that their vacation was almost over. Vacation. She was on vacation with Clark. That was weird, wasn't it? It was. So why did it all feel so natural?
Nearly twenty-four hours later, Lois tried to get her lock open without dropping her keys. She was not sure why she felt so jumpy. The bus and train ride back to Delhi had been uneventful and she had slept a good part of the flight home. Clark still seemed nervous and weird about flying, but even he got an hour or two of sleep.
She opened the door and turned around to take her suitcase from Clark. "Thanks," she said and for some reason, her voice was incredibly soft.
Clark nodded in response and Lois suddenly felt even more nervous.
"So, do you have plans with Lex tomorrow night?" Clark asked and Lois could tell he was trying to be friendly -- both because he asked the question and because he called him Lex rather than Luthor.
"We didn't make plans. I'm just supposed to call him when I'm back," Lois said, realizing as she did that she was not sure she had any interest in calling Lex.
"Oh," Clark said. Then he took a deep breath and spoke just slightly too loudly. "I'm glad you ended up coming with me, Lois. It was fun to have you there."
"Me, too," Lois admitted, feeling herself flush. "I had a good time, Clark." She looked up at him and added, "Better than I would have had if I had come home and gone to the opera with Lex."
Clark's smile lit up the hallway. "I'm glad. Good night, Lois," he said, turning away to walk down the stairs.
Just before Lois closed the door, though, he turned around, "Lois?"
She looked up at him, half hoping he'd ask...
"Do you think maybe... maybe I could take you to dinner sometime? Like tomorrow?"
Lois laughed, she could not help it. He was so eager and the question made her feel unnaturally happy. "I'd really like that, Clark," she said. She walked a few steps out into the hallway and Clark met her half way. She leaned up and brushed her lips lightly over his. "I think I'd like that a lot," she said before she went back to her door and shut it gently.