On the Other Hand

By CarolM <carolmfolc@gmail.com>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: February 2009

Summary: Metropolis University freshmen Lois Lane and Clark Kent are destined to meet, but are they destined to fall in love? Set in the early twenty-first century, will they end up together or will Utopia have to find another way?

Story Size: 410,383 words (2.073Kb as text)

Read in other formats: Text | MS Word | OpenOffice | PDF | Epub | Mobi

A few notes:

Thanks — as ALWAYS — to my fabulous betas: Alisha, Beth, Nancy and CarolynK. They put in hours of hard work [or something like that ;)] helping me brainstorm this fic. Carolyn, in particular, put her legal knowledge to work on my behalf and Nancy’s world travels also came in very handy when I spent hours upon hours deciding which type of plane the flights were on to make the seating work best for me. Alisha and Beth plotted and cajoled and encouraged in chat more times than I can begin to recall. You ladies ROCK! And Queenie. Always Queenie ;). Even if there’s no Italians.

Thanks also go to SheilaH, who gave some great insights and suggestions that contributed to many of the edits made to the archive version.

And to the GE who took this on, Tricia, you are my hero, especially for putting up with my edits while you were… editing ;).

A couple… warnings may not be quite right, but informational tidbits perhaps.

One of the definitions M-W.com has for saga is ‘a long, detailed account’. This is one of those. It covers several years, in great detail in places, less detail in others. And it’s long. Very long. Very, very long. And since I added at least three chapters worth of scenes, etc. to it, this version is different than the one on the boards. Think of it as the ‘director’s cut’ or something ;).

Most people have traumatic events in their lives over the course of several years and Lois and Clark are more likely than most to have trauma in their lives [and if you don’t think so, just look at what happed between ‘Just Say Noah’ when they got back together and the end of ‘Swear to God…’/beginning of ‘Brutal Youth’ when they finally made it to their wedding night]. So there is some trauma here. Some is based in things that happened in the past, some happens here. Some is explicit, some is implied. Some is blown out of proportion by characters, some is practically repressed. It’s all part of life. Especially life with Lane and Kent. Er, and explicit there means that it’s spelled out and you see it and all that rather than something ‘behind the scenes’ or ‘off camera’, not like explicit in an N sense :D.

But I always put my toys back where they belong, or where they started anyway ;). I like to make them happy. Of course, what makes them happy doesn’t always make me happy, but that’s a different issue all together. ;)

Two chapters of this fic will also be available as the stand-alone fic [insert title later :D].

This story is told in first person, something new for me, from the perspectives of Lois and Clark.

POV changes are found between two sets of ~~~~~.

Chapters are noted: ~*#*~.

Jumps in time without POV changes are noted by ~*~.

Month and year is noted where appropriate, either at the beginning of a chapter or offset with ~*~*~.

<> Denotes thoughts — not many but there are some.

><~><~><

things that might otherwise be in italics — conversations Clark overhears, flashbacks, etc.

More notes, relating to individual chapters, can be found at the end.

And so, without further ado…

***

Part 1

August 2002

Clark

~~~~~

“Can you believe it, Clark? We’re finally here!” Lana spun in a circle — arms spread wide — after we stepped out of the truck.

“Yep. Metropolis University.” I looked around before moving towards the other side of the truck. “We’re sure not in Kansas anymore.”

Lana giggled as I came to a stop behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. “Of course not, silly. That’s the whole point of being here. Neither one of us wanted to stay in Kansas.”

“Well, now, you know I wouldn’t have minded going to Midwest, but I wanted to be where you are and Met U does have a good journalism program so here I am.”

Lana turned in my arms so that she could face me. Her hands rested on my biceps until she slid them up to play with the hair on the back of my neck. “I’m glad you came with me.”

I smiled at her. “I am too.” Her lips looked so shiny and I just had to see what kind of lip gloss she had used last. I lowered my lips to hers and kissed her. Being in public kept the kiss unfortunately short and relatively chaste, but was more than enough to taste her lips. “Mmmm… Raspberry,” I grinned.

Lana smiled back at me. “I know how much you like raspberries.” She patted me lightly on the chest. “We better get moving if we’re going to make it to the dorms anytime today.” She stepped out of the circle of my embrace, linking her fingers with mine as we headed across campus, following the signs to the Lane Athletic Center where registration was being held. “I still can’t believe our parents let us come all this way by ourselves. I mean we’re both eighteen but… they’re so old fashioned.”

“I know. They mean well and if we hadn’t spent the first night with Aunt Opal in St. Louis and last night with your uncle in Pennsylvania, they probably wouldn’t have let us.” I let go of her hand and wrapped my arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to me. “They probably still wouldn’t have if they’d known you’d want to use every truck stop between here and Smallville as our own personal make-out spot.”

Lana smacked me lightly. “Hey! I only wanted to use half of them. The other half were all you, Mr. Kent.”

I laughed then kissed the side of her head. “Just don’t tell your dad, okay?”

“No problem. He’d probably fly right out here to defend my honor.”

“Your honor? What about my honor?” I held my hand to my heart and pretended to swoon.

Lana looked me up and down, a look of what could only be described as appreciation in her eyes. “It may need defending as well before too long.” I groaned as she continued. “As long as these city girls keep their hands off, you’ll be okay.”

“What about defending me from you?”

Lana grinned wickedly. “Who said anything about defending you from me, Kent?”

I groaned again, but my retort was stopped by the crowd of people in front of us. “I think we’re here.”

Lana sighed. “Well, I’m off to the ‘L’ line.”

I looked at it. “It’s shorter than mine. It’s still going to take us hours to get through here though.” We watched as the brunette at the front of the ‘L’ line walked off in a huff. “One down, two thousand to go.”

“Now, Clark, it’s not that bad. The faster we get done here, the faster we can go unload the truck and get something to eat.” She gave me a quick kiss before moving to get in her line. “Now scoot.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said with a wink and a mock salute. “See you in a bit.” I gave her another kiss and then moved over to the ‘K’ line. This was going to be a long afternoon.

***

I pulled my old truck up in front of Weller Hall and waited for an opening. There. The Jeep Cherokee was moving. I pulled in to the spot it vacated and hopped out. Lana had finished before me and had said she was going to walk over here and try to check-in and get at least one key. I wasn’t sure if she’d had time yet or not.

She hurried out to meet me. “Clark! Over here.”

I walked towards her, but she held up her hands to stop me, so I waited for her to work her way over.

“I got a key to our suite. You’ll have to check in too, but as long as we can get in, you don’t need to yet.”

I frowned slightly. “Are you sure that’s okay? Will we be able to get into my room or just yours and the suite?”

Lana ran a hand up my arm. “What if we can convince our roommates to let you stay in my room?”

I rolled my eyes at her. “Our parents would flip.”

She sighed. “I know. But it was worth a shot.” She turned. “And yeah, we can get into all of it. They said that was fine as long as you checked in later tonight. Let’s see if we can get a cart to load some of this on.”

An hour later, we had moved all of the boxes and bags into the main room of our suite.

I sighed as I looked at the pile. It was going to be a long night and I couldn’t speed through it — not here. “Let me move a couple of boxes into your room so you can get started and then I’m going to go move the truck so someone else can get in and then I’ll come help you with all this.” I picked a couple of boxes labeled ‘Lana’ and moved them into the still empty room she would share with another girl.

I set them on one of the desks and was stopped by arms wrapped around my waist. I turned easily in them until I could look in her beautiful blue eyes. “I’m not going to get anywhere like this.” My arms slid around her showed that I didn’t really want to leave.

“I know,” she said, a husky tone to her voice. “Alone at last and probably not for long.”

I groaned as she kissed me. Strawberry this time. How many different lip glosses did she have? By my count — which admittedly might have been a bit muddled by the intensifying kiss — this was the sixth or seventh one since we left Smallville. I moved my hands to her hips and used gentle pressure to move her farther away from me, as I pulled my head back from hers. Even I needed a minute to catch my breath. “As nice as this is, honey, I think we have other stuff we need to get doing.”

“Spoilsport.” She kissed me again, quickly this time.

“I liked the strawberry, though.”

“You like them more than raspberries.”

“I do.”

She patted my chest. “Remember those words, Kent. You’re going to need them.”

I pulled her back into my arms for a hug, then kissed the top of her head. “You bet I am.”

***

Several hours later, I lay in my bed. My roommate had been and gone before I’d even arrived and had taken the top bunk. I wasn’t very happy about that but there was nothing I could do about it at the moment. Maybe I could convince my roommate to trade with me. If I hadn’t gotten hopelessly lost once we neared Metropolis, I might well have been there early enough to claim it. Lana had offered to share her top bunk with me, but I’d known she’d only been half serious about it. She would have let me if I’d really wanted to, but that was taking things way too fast for both of us, besides the fact that she had a roommate to deal with.

The last three days had been nice; spending time alone with Lana. We’d never spent that much time together and it was nice to know we could without killing each other. We’d left two days before in the middle of the afternoon. The trip to St. Louis was only about six hours and we were at my Aunt Opal’s house by nine or so. We hadn’t really stopped at every truck stop on the way to Metropolis to make out, but every time we’d stopped… well, we could never linger too long because our parents were expecting phone calls when we arrived and knew how long it should take. I would, however, under extreme duress, admit to pushing the speed limit a bit more than strictly necessary in between stops. The truck stop in Independence, Missouri had been cotton candy, I remembered.

We’d spent the night in Foristell, Missouri, just outside St. Louis. I’d slept on the couch, but Lana had snuck down to ‘get a drink of water’, she’d said, though why she’d need fresh watermelon lip gloss to do that, I’d never know. I grinned to myself at the memory. We’d left early the next morning for Carlisle, Pennsylvania where her Uncle Henry lived. That was closer to a fourteen hour drive. The truck stop in Terra Haute, Indiana had been pink lemonade and Zanesville, Ohio had been marshmallow and had looked kinda shimmery. We’d left Foristell early and arrived at her uncle’s house about nine in the evening. I’d slept on the couch again, but her Aunt Jane was a light sleeper and their room was between Lana’s and the stairs, so she hadn’t been able to ‘get a drink of water’ that night.

That morning, we’d gotten gas in Carlisle before heading out. Bubble gum. Carlisle to Metropolis University should have taken about four hours, but the unfamiliar streets and highways and even traffic had made it into a six hour, extremely frustrating drive full of muttered expletives that would have made my mother wash my mouth out with soap. But she’d never tried to drive in Metropolis, I was sure. I’d have to watch that. Lana hadn’t been crazy about it either, but since she was the one who left the map on top of the car so it could blow away, she didn’t say anything.

I missed my parents though. Part of me wished this could have been a family trip — though how all three of us would have fit in my truck and been remotely comfortable was beyond me. And Lana’s parents couldn’t come either so that would have been difficult too. But, my dad’s back surgery had only been a couple months earlier and, while he was doing well, a cross country road trip was out of the question. My mom couldn’t afford to be gone that long either. Lana’s dad had a town meeting tonight and since he was mayor and they were talking salaries, he had to be there. Lana’s mom didn’t go anywhere without Lana’s dad.

And so we’d been allowed to travel across the country by ourselves. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Met U just yet, but one thing was sure, there was no way it was going to be boring.

***

I woke at precisely 6:30 a.m. That was 5:30 in Smallville, but it was a big day and I had to be up and around early — Metropolis time. Five-thirty in the morning wasn’t completely out of the ordinary on a farm, but I preferred to sleep a bit later most of the time.

I could hear my roommate breathing in the bed above me. I moved quietly, pulling a pair of shorts on over my boxers and grabbing a shirt, socks and a pair of shoes as I went. I scribbled a note and taped it to the door, exiting into the living area.

Lana was sitting on the couch with a cup of black coffee in her hand.

“Hey,” I said quietly.

She glared at me. “How come you’re always so chipper in the morning?”

I stood behind her on the couch and gave her a quick upside down kiss. “It’s the best time of day. Anything’s possible first thing in the morning.”

She grunted a response.

I laughed. “It won’t be so bad once we get adjusted to the new time zone.”

“I hope not.”

“How’s your roommate?”

Lana shrugged. “Fine, I guess. She got in late last night after I was in bed. You?”

“Came in after I was asleep. Still sleeping now. I tried to be quiet when I left.”

“Boy scout.”

“You love it,” I grinned.

“Yeah, I guess.” She yawned and stretched. “Okay, Kent, let’s figure this place out.”

***

Lana and I managed to duck out of orientation a few minutes early. We were sitting near a door on the side of the auditorium and decided that leaving ten minutes before orientation ended would give us a twenty minute head start on our suitemates — maybe even more, depending on where in the mass exodus they would get caught.

We’d spent the morning finding our way around campus — finding buildings and even some classrooms. Lana wondered idly who the Lane family was and why they were so all-fired important that half the campus was named after them. I reminded her that one of the reasons we weren’t at Midwest was because she’d qualified for the Lucy Lane Memorial Scholarship. She grudgingly admitted she was grateful for that because Midwest was just too close to Smallville.

We made record time — at least for us, we had no idea how long it should actually take for someone to get from place to place on campus — in getting from the auditorium back to Weller Hall. The plan had been for a bit of a make-out session because we figured we might actually meet our roommates in a little while and, if we spent time together as suitemates that evening, making out wasn’t going to happen.

And so we’d been kissing on the couch and things were just starting to heat up when we heard a noise in Lana’s room.

“Damn, she made it here fast,” I muttered.

“Clark! Watch your mouth!”

“Sorry, Baby.” I grinned at her. “I was just hoping for a little more time with you before we got interrupted by roommates.”

“I know.” She kissed me swiftly. “But we have all year.”

“I know.” I sighed and stood up. “I’m going to take a quick shower since I didn’t get one this morning.” I leaned over to kiss her one more time then headed to the shared bathroom. I stopped and went to my room and grabbed a few things and then winked at her as I started to close the bathroom door behind me. “I liked the pina colada, by the way.”

Lana giggled. This was going to be some school year.

***

I sighed. There just wasn’t much room in the bathroom for getting dressed. I’d showered and toweled off, but space, apparently, was at a premium in Weller Hall. I glanced through the wall to make sure there was no one in the common sitting area. Giggles were coming from Lana’s room so I figured it was safe to run the gauntlet to my own room. I turned my eyes that direction. Nope. No roommate yet.

I grabbed my clothes — old and new — and headed to my room. I was just getting ready to drop the towel and pull on a pair of boxers when I heard the key in the lock. Best wait on that, I decided. Sure, guys generally had a locker room mentality but I hadn’t even met my roommate yet. In the buff probably wasn’t the best way to do it and who knew if anyone else was there or walking by in the hallway?

Well, here went nothing.

***

Part 2

Lois

~~~~~

“No. It’s Lois. L-O-I-S. Not Louis. L-O-U-I-S. Lois.” I glared at the woman seated in front of me. “Lois Lane. Lane. As in Dr. Sam Lane. As in Lane Hall and Lane Athletic Center and the Ellen Lane Memorial Medical Building.”

“I’m sorry for the mix-up, Miss Lane. Whoever entered your information in the computer must have slipped and misspelled your name.”

“Well, duh. I get that. Now can we get it fixed?” I thought I was intimidating her just a bit and tried not to smile slightly at the thought — it would ruin the whole intimidation thing…

Good.

A few more clicks on the computer and a new piece of paper came out of the printer at the end of the table.

“All done. You’re Lois Lane as far as the University is concerned.”

“Thank you. Now, my dorm. I specifically requested to be on the academic floor of Lane Hall — an all girls dorm with a strict no men policy on the floor and enforced quiet times for studying with a private room and bath. This says I’m in a co-ed dorm, with a roommate and two more suite mates sharing one bathroom.” Part of me wished my father was there to straighten all this out. With the obscene amounts of money he’d donated to his alma mater in the years before he almost went broke, he still held some influence and he’d used it to get me on the short list for the dorm I wanted. The rest of me was proud of myself for handling this on my own.

“I’m sorry, Miss Lane.” I could almost see fear in her eyes. Not… fear maybe but something. Maybe she knew who my dad was after all. “All the dorms are full. The last two years have seen the largest numbers of freshmen by far and since most sophomores and virtually all freshmen are required to live on campus, we have a bit of a shortage. That floor in Lane Hall is overflowing. There are no private rooms there at the moment and many of the suites actually have six residents instead of only four. I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you there.”

“I want to talk to the head of Housing.” I crossed my arms and tapped my foot annoyingly.

“I understand, Miss Lane, but he’s going to tell you the same thing and he has a line of about…” she glanced at a group of people behind her, “…fifty students who are in the same predicament you’re in. They’re all unhappy about their dorm assignments too. When you sign in here, you’re logged into the system. If I don’t confirm your dorm assignment at the same time, there’s a chance that it may be given to someone else and you won’t have a room at all.”

I sighed. “Can you at least tell me if my suitemates are males or females?”

A few more clicks on the computer. “Female.”

“Can you tell me who they are?” I knew a few girls from school who were planning on attending Metropolis University and living in Weller Hall and I didn’t want to be room or suite mates with any of them.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Lane. Confidentiality laws forbid me from revealing that information. You’ll have to wait until you meet them.”

I sighed again, ignoring the calls of ‘would you hurry up already? There’s a line here’ coming from behind me. “Fine. I’ll take it.”

***

I pulled my graduation present — a slightly used, but still very nice silver Jeep Cherokee — into the unloading zone in front of my new — temporary — home. After checking in at the registration desk, Joe, my on again, off again boyfriend, met me and began to help me move my things into my room. I was grateful that it appeared that none of my suitemates had arrived yet.

I unpacked and took the dresser, closet, desk and bed I wanted the most. Weller Hall was equipped with bunk beds and there was no way I was taking the bottom bunk. I liked to be on top. I called my dad who said he’d see what he could do, but that he knew about the housing crunch and doubted there was anything he could do to change things this semester, but he’d look into at least getting me into the other dorm in the Spring.

It didn’t take too long — I hadn’t brought everything with me and most of the rest I did have in the car would come up trip by trip. My dad’s house was close enough that if I needed anything, I could run over. For instance, I hadn’t brought my winter clothes with me. There was really no need and storage space on campus was at a premium. My school supplies and books had yet to be purchased and probably wouldn’t be for a couple of days yet so my desk was easy to set up. Mostly just a pen holder, a CD player and a couple of notebooks in it to tell my roommate to back off. And a wireless keyboard and mouse to go with my laptop, which I wasn’t about to leave unguarded until I met my roommate. My suitcase was quickly unpacked into the drawers of one of the dressers and most of my hang up clothes were put in the closet as Joe and I brought them in. He’d wanted to try out my new bunk as a make out spot but I’d shooed him away saying the sooner he got his stuff out, the sooner we could go to dinner. I quickly made up the top bunk and stowed the rest of my things.

Joe had finally left me to my own devices while he finished moving in to his room three floors down — I hadn’t been very happy that he wanted to be in a co-ed dorm, but now I guessed it was for the best. At least he knew his roommate — his best friend from high school, Les.

Joe and I went out for dinner that night with Les and Peggy, his long time girlfriend. We were out late and by the time I returned to my room, my roommate had already moved in and was sound asleep on the bottom bunk. I changed clothes and climbed into my bed.

The sun woke me up entirely too early and I buried my head under the pillow. My roommate, it seemed was already up, but at least was trying to be quiet. The door opened and closed and I heard both male and female voices in the suite’s common living room. Great. One of my suitemates must have already had her boyfriend stay the night.

I looked around and saw precious little to tell me about my roommate. A non-descript gym bag sat on the desk I hadn’t claimed and a couple of boxes were visible next to the other closet. I glanced at the alarm clock I’d put on the little shelf attached to the top bunk. 6:45 in the morning. Even better. My roommate was a morning person. Just what I needed.

With a sigh, I decided that it was probably best to go ahead and get up. My dad was likely to be calling before long and it wouldn’t do for him to know I’d been out late the night before. Even though classes didn’t start for a couple of days, he wouldn’t be happy about it and now that his practice was back on its feet, he was paying for me to be here. Well, for the little that wasn’t covered by scholarships. And gas. And spending money.

I climbed down and noticed a note taped to the door.

“I’m heading out for the day but hopefully we’ll catch up later. Looking forward to meeting my roommate for the next year,” I read aloud. The only signature on the note was my roommate’s initials and that didn’t tell me much, but it was written on a piece of sticky note paper that proudly proclaimed the name of a high school in some town I’d never heard of. I scribbled ‘See you later’ and my own initials and left it there.

I sighed again and got dressed, grabbed my purse out of my closet and headed out to meet Joe, Les and Peggy for breakfast. There were two doors to the room — one to the living area and one to the hall. Unless I had to go to the bathroom or take a shower, that was the door I planned on using for the duration.

***

It had been a long day. Even though I had a pretty good idea of where things were on campus, Joe had insisted we actually walk our routes so we had a better idea of how long it would take to get from class to class. We’d walked my schedule and then his. Then there was freshman orientation — four hours of information that I could have gleaned in ten minutes with a good pamphlet or the handbook they handed out at the end of hour three. But I had to sit there through the entire thing.

And it was so hot.

But Dr. Monroe informed us that using the handouts of the schedule as fans would burn enough energy that we’d actually end up warmer than if we didn’t use them. The output of energy would be greater than the offsetting breeze created by the papers.

And so there I was — Freshman Orientation — the highlight of my day. I used the time to people watch, something I often did, making up stories about the people as I went.

Like there. A redheaded girl wearing a halter top was actually making out with her blond boyfriend who was likely on the football team given his Metropolis University practice jersey. They may as well have been sharing a seat.

Or there. Two science or math nerds sat next to each other. Twins by the looks of it, complete with pocket protectors and calculators. Both had glasses that had seen better days and dark hair that needed a barber desperately.

Behind them were a couple of high school cheerleaders who probably hoped to make one of the squads at Met U. I actually almost snorted. Good luck. Competition was fierce and Met U’s cheer squads regularly placed in national competition. The blondes with school colored ribbons around their pony tails probably didn’t stand a chance.

I looked to the other side of the large auditorium.

There was a blonde country girl — evident by her hair and clothes that were at least two seasons out of style and probably not really in style then. Well, I amended mentally, probably a small town girl. The dark haired boy next to her put his arm around the back of her seat and whispered something in her ear. The girl blushed. Probably whispering about what they could do in their co-ed dorm now that they were away from Mommy and Daddy. He looked up and straight at me. For just a second our eyes met and then he turned back to the speaker at the front of the room.

My eyes narrowed. What was that all about?

I moved a few rows behind the couple from Podunk, Iowa.

Goths.

Behind them a few more football players and then a guy I knew had been recruited for the basketball team. Playing ‘this is your life’ with them was no fun — it was too obvious.

Another blonde. This one was going to be a doctor.

The brown haired jock behind her was probably going to be one, too. I could tell he was a jock, but this one was probably fairly intelligent judging by the book in his hand. He was paying less attention to the orientation than I was and the book he was reading was as thick as a phone book. Squinting, it looked to be one of the Lord of the Rings novels, but I wasn’t sure.

Behind him was a mousey brunette female. Probably barely made it out of high school and was here because if she wasn’t her parents would stop paying for her car insurance and make her get a job.

My gaze moved roamed the room again, not stopping as I noticed the dark haired country boy glancing my way. I passed by them, until I saw a green mohawk I’d managed to miss the first time around. He was asleep. Real college material.

I sighed and realized that the handbooks were finally coming around. I took one from Joe and passed the box on.

Joe put his arm around me and asked if I wanted to go out to dinner again.

I shook my head. I needed a good night’s sleep and if there were going to be boyfriends over regularly, I was going to have to get to my room early and stake out my space. There was no way I was going to let my roommate keep me out with a rubber band or tie or some such nonsense on the door knob.

Finally the meeting broke up. I was grateful my dad had bought me a mini-fridge and a microwave and that I’d had the foresight to have it stocked already. The food service my dad used for his meals gladly packaged some up into single servings, but they would only be good in the fridge for a few days. They’d last longer in the freezer, but the freezer on that thing wasn’t even worth trying.

Joe and I separated as he found Les and they headed off for dinner then a football meeting.

Now I stood in front of the door to my room. Someone was moving around inside.

Here it went. Time to meet the roommate. I checked the door again to make sure there wasn’t some sign that I was supposed to stay out and came up with nothing.

I stuck my key in the lock and turned it, opening the door as I went.

I was taken aback by the sight in front of me.

The country boy from the auditorium was there. His hair was damp and he was wearing only a towel.

Something in me snapped.

“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my room?”

***

Part 3

Clark

~~~~~

I could feel my eyes narrow. It was the brunette who’d been staring at me and Lana during orientation. “Your room?”

“Yeah, Einstein. My room.” She glared at me. “I’ll ask again. Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my room? Do I need to go slower?”

I glared back. Who did she think she was? “No, I understood you the first time. I just wondered what psychiatric disorder you’re suffering from.”

“Why on earth would you think I have a psychiatric disorder?”

“Because you’re clearly delusional.”

She scowled at me and walked all the way into the room, slamming the door behind her. She tossed her purse onto the top bunk. “I don’t know who you think you are, standing in my room basically naked, but if you don’t get out, I will call security.”

“Go for it. And then they’ll tell you that you’re the one that’s in the wrong room.”

“What?”

“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my room?”

“Excuse me?” I could see the color rising in her face.

“Yeah, Einstein. My room. I’ll ask again. Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my room? Do I need to go slower?” Somehow, I couldn’t stop myself. It was really a good thing my mom wasn’t here or she’d grab me by the ear and drag me off for a good talking to. It amazed me that nothing else hurt me but one tiny Kansas woman grabbing my ear made it prickle for days.

“So you’re a parrot?” She crossed her arms in front of her. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re in my room.”

“This is my room, so why don’t you get out and go find your own?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I think you’re the one who’s delusional. This is my room.”

“Would you like to see my room assignment form? Then will you get out?”

She held out her hand.

I sighed and moved to my desk. I pulled out the folder they’d given me when I registered the day before and pulled out my room assignment form. “See?”

She reached for it and I pulled it back.

“What do you say?”

“Excuse me?” It was a good thing she couldn’t shoot fire out of her eyes or I would have been burned to a crisp right then and there.

“What do you say?”

She rolled her eyes and put on what had to be a fake smile. “Excuse me, kind sir, could I please see that paper, please, sir?”

“Much better.” I handed it to her.

I saw her eyes narrow again. “This is impossible,” she muttered.

“What?”

“This is your room.”

I grinned for the first time since she’d opened the door. “Told you.”

She walked to the other desk and pulled out a similar folder and another room assignment form. She glared at me as she handed it over.

I looked at it. Lois Lane. Could she be related to all the Lane stuff on campus? I shook myself. What was it she wanted me to see? I looked further. Dormitory: Weller Hall. Okay. Room number… I looked again. “This is impossible.”

“I already said that, Captain Obvious.”

“You’re my roommate?”

“Looks that way. For now. You’ll be moving out.”

I scanned the rest of the paper then handed it back. “Nope. I’m staying. You can go.”

“What makes you think I’m going anywhere?”

“Well, you’re local. I’m not. There are no dorm rooms anywhere on campus and we both know it.”

“I’m not local.”

I’d taken note of her home address. “Pittsdale isn’t that far from here.”

“It’s way too far to commute.”

I shrugged. “It’s a lot closer than Kansas.”

“You can go live with my dad and I’ll stay here.”

“Nope. I want to live here and my form is correct so…”

“What do you mean your form ‘is correct’? Are you implying mine isn’t?”

I looked her up and down and raised an eyebrow. She really was an attractive young lady. In another universe — one without a Lana — I might have even asked her out. “You don’t look like someone who should have checked ‘male’ on her forms.”

“What?”

I pointed to the form. “It says ‘male’ under gender.”

She looked at the paper more closely. “I am not a male and I certainly never checked male on any form.”

“Well, I figured you’re not a male. I’m not blind you know.” The blouse she was wearing certainly emphasized that — without flaunting it.

I was glad I was invulnerable because the look she gave me could kill a lesser mortal.

Her face fell and she sank into the chair she’d pulled out when digging for her folder. “The name thing.”

“What name thing?”

“Um… listen, before we go on… would you mind putting some clothes on?”

I glanced down. I’d forgotten I wasn’t dressed yet. “Yeah, sure.” I grabbed my things. “I’ll be right back.” I was back less than two minutes later to find her sitting at the desk with her face in her hands. She swiped at her face before turning to look at me.

“They had my name spelled wrong in the computers. They must have changed my gender, too.”

“Easier said than done,” I couldn’t help saying, earning me another look that could kill. “Sorry,” I muttered.

“They had me down as Louis instead of Lois. We got it straightened out yesterday when I checked in at the gym. I wasn’t even supposed to be in Weller. I was supposed to be in an all girls dorm on an academic floor, but they must have moved me after they changed it.” She sighed. “And, of course, there’s no empty dorm rooms anywhere. I asked if my suitemates were girls and they said yes. It didn’t even occur to me to ask about my roommate.”

I sat in my own desk chair. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For giving you a hard time. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“I started it,” she admitted, still refusing to look at me again.

“My parents raised me better than that though and I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” She took a deep breath. “But what do we do now? One of us has to move and there’s nowhere to go.”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll call my dad. He might be able to do something.”

“How could your dad help?”

She glanced at me but then returned to staring out the window over her desk. “He’s a distinguished alumnus who’s donated a lot of money to the school over the years. He has some pull.”

“So you are related to all the Lane stuff around here?”

She nodded. “That’s us. The Lanes. And this is just the latest in the series of mishaps that is my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“My mom and sister were in a car accident when I was a kid. That’s why it’s the Ellen Lane Memorial Medical Building and the Lucy Lane Memorial Scholarship Fund. My dad made a lot of money on some invention to help with sports injuries and stuff.”

“Wait. Is your dad Dr. Sam Lane?” I asked, incredulous.

“That’s him. You’ve heard of him?”

“Anyone who’s ever read the sports pages has heard of him.”

She shrugged. “Anyway, he made a ton of money and donated a bunch of it to the school over the years. After my mom and sister died, he went into a deep depression and lost nearly everything when his partner took advantage of his misery. We managed to keep the house and cabin and enough to keep paying some employees he had but that was about it. He went back to private sports medicine practice and is doing very well again and even has some other new invention, but he signed over all the rights to everything from before without realizing he did it. Once he realized what happened, he sued his former partner and got a settlement — a pretty good one — but that’s it.

“I’ve already been accused of getting into the journalism program because of who my dad is and not because of my abilities, which is a load of bull. I’m a good writer and I’m going to be a great reporter, but that doesn’t matter.”

She was a Journalism major? Well, we had that in common.

“And… Anyway, a bunch of other stuff I’m not about to confide in you that has made my life one mishap after another.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your mom and sister and what happened to your dad.” I really meant it.

She shrugged. “It’s been a long time now. I still miss them, but that’s just part of life.”

“So what do we do?”

“I’ll call my dad, but I doubt there’s anything he can do. I already called him yesterday when I found out that my dorm assignment was wrong and he said the campus is overflowing.”

“That’s what I heard, too.”

There was a knock on the door. “Clark?” It was a girl’s voice.

“Who’s that?”

I groaned. “My girlfriend who happens to be one of our suitemates.”

“The blonde?”

“It was you looking at us.”

She shrugged. “I looked at lots of people.”

Another knock. “Clark? Can I come in?”

“Yeah, come on in.”

The door opened and Lana came in. I saw her eyes narrow when she saw Lois. “Who’s this?”

“This is Lois.”

“What’s she doing in your room?”

“Don’t you mean what’s he doing in my room?” Lois retorted.

“Excuse me?” The sarcasm dripped from Lana’s voice.

I sighed. “There was a mix-up with Lois’ paperwork and they’ve got us in the same room.”

“Well, Lois. It’s nice to meet you and I wish we’d have the chance to get to know you better, but since you’ll be moving, I don’t guess we will.” I cringed slightly at the fake sweetness I heard coming from Lana.

“I’m not moving.” She turned one of those looks Lana’s direction.

“You have to. Clark’s not. We made arrangements to be suitemates a long time ago and this is a co-ed suite floor so… that means you’ll have to find somewhere else to live.”

I sighed again. “Lana, give her a break. She didn’t do this. It was a mix-up.”

“And I’m not moving so you’ll have to get used to me,” Lois told her.

“Well, Clark’s not moving either,” Lana shot back.

“Lana, can you give us a few minutes so we can straighten this out?”

I saw her glare at Lois then she turned to speak to me. “Can I see you for a minute?”

I walked over to the door. “What, Lana?”

“What are you going to do?” she hissed.

“What do you mean?”

“You have to get her out of here. Or better yet, she can move to my room and I’ll move in here.”

I sighed. “That’s not going to happen, Lana, and you and I both know it. Our parents would flip and the money we’re getting from them would disappear.”

“We won’t tell them.”

“I’m not going to lie to my parents.” I put my arms around her. “How’s your roommate?”

“She’s nice.”

“What’s her name?”

“Linda King.”

“Linda King is your roommate?” Lois interrupted. “Oh this just gets better and better.”

Lana didn’t move from my arms. “You know her?”

“We’ve met. So you can forget any plans that you might have to make me move in with her so you two can be together. It’s not gonna happen.”

“So you’re an eavesdropper?”

“If you didn’t want to be heard, you should have moved a little farther away and whispered,” Lois retorted.

“Lana,” I said, pulling her farther out into the living area. “We can’t be roommates regardless. Our parents were upset enough when they found out we were suitemates and wondered how that happened. If they find out we requested it, they’ll be even more upset.”

“So what are you going to do?”

I sighed. “I don’t know, but let me figure it out okay?”

She nodded and kissed me.

I heard Lois clear her throat behind me. “Do you mind?”

I pulled back. “Why don’t you go ahead and go to the cafeteria and I’ll catch up with you in a bit?”

“Fine.” She kissed me again, more quickly this time. “Don’t be long, okay?”

I nodded. “I won’t.” I leaned in closer to her and whispered. “I like cookie dough.”

She grinned. “I know.” Another quick kiss and she left.

I moved back into his room and shut the door behind me. “So what do we do?”

~~~~~

Lois

I fought to keep the tears from spilling over. This was great. I was in the wrong dorm with a roommate of the wrong gender and Linda King was one of my suitemates. What else could go wrong? And it looked like I was going to have deal with Clark and Lana sucking face every time I turned around.

“I don’t know, but I can’t move home right now,” I told him.

“I’m not trying to say that’s what you should do, but why not?”

“I just can’t, okay. It’s too far away and it’s not going to happen.”

“Well, I obviously can’t commute.”

“No.” I watched as he sat back in his chair.

He took a deep breath. “Well, there’s one obvious solution, but…”

“We share.”

“Well, I was going to say we stay roommates, but… yeah, basically.”

“Do we report this to the campus people?”

“What will they do if we do?”

I sighed. “Probably make me move home and I can’t do that.”

“Then we won’t tell them.”

“We’ll have to come up with some ground rules.”

“Of course.”

“Like no walking around in towels.” That was one distraction I certainly didn’t need. Joe wasn’t going to be any happier about this than Lana was.

I watched a smile cross his face. What was that about?

“No walking around in towels,” he agreed.

“Why don’t you go meet Lana for dinner and we’ll talk about it later?”

He nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll be back in a bit — what about you?”

I shrugged. “I’ve got some food in the fridge…”

“We have a fridge?”

“No, we don’t. I have a fridge.”

“Ah.”

“If you ask nicely, I’ll share.”

He laughed and then smiled at me. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He grabbed his keys and wallet and stuck them in his pockets. “Sure you’ll be okay here?”

I nodded. “Yeah. My boyfriend may be by in a while anyway.”

He grinned and winked at me. “Good thing I’ve already got a girl or I might be jealous.”

I glared at him. “Whatever, Kent. Go find your girl and I’ll see you later.”

“See ya.” And he walked out the door.

I climbed to my top bunk and stared at the ceiling. At least he seemed like a nice guy. Too bad his girlfriend and her roommate were evil.

~~~~~

Clark

How on earth was I going to tell Lana that Lois wasn’t moving?

I jogged down the stairs and headed towards the cafeteria. She was not going to be happy about it.

Neither were my parents. How was I going to explain it to them? Actually, that might be the easier of the two. I contemplating finding an alley or something and taking off really fast and heading back to Kansas to talk to them, but I knew that wasn’t really an option. We’d talked about it before I left and we agreed that any visits would have to be at night and then only sparingly. I didn’t think the second day I was here would qualify as sparingly.

On the other hand, this was pretty big so maybe it did qualify as worthy of a trip home. Maybe tonight, if I could get away without anyone noticing.

Finally I made it to the cafeteria and spotted Lana. Deciding I didn’t really want to eat, I just went to sit with her and a girl I guessed was Linda.

“Hey,” I said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“So is she gone?”

I sighed. “No.”

“When is she leaving?”

“She’s not, Baby.”

“Don’t ‘baby’ me, Clark Kent.” She refused to look at me.

“She can’t move home and there’s no other place to live on campus. What’s she supposed to do?”

She finally looked me in the eye. “That is not your problem.”

“Come on, Lana. Don’t be like that.”

She sighed. “You’re too nice for your own good — for my own good — you know that?”

I grinned at her. “It’s why you love me.”

She finally smiled back. “Well, one reason.” She looked at the other girl sitting at the table. “I’m sorry — Linda, this is my boyfriend, Clark. Clark, this is my roommate Linda.”

I held out my hand and Linda took it. “Nice to meet you, Linda.”

I didn’t really like the way she looked me up and down as much as she could since I was sitting, but I realized I’d done the same thing to Lois — not something I would normally do, but I was being kind of a jerk at the time. I hoped I hadn’t made her as uncomfortable as Linda was making me.

“You know,” she said. “I went to high school with Lois.”

“Really?” I said. My first impressions were usually pretty good — and had been since I was little, my mom told me — and my first impression of Lois, claws towards Lana notwithstanding, was much better than my impression of Linda who seemed to be regarding me as a piece of meat. It wasn’t the first time a girl had looked at me like that and Lana usually got very possessive, but she didn’t seem to notice this time.

“Yeah. I wouldn’t recommend letting her stay your roommate. If I were you, I’d let the housing people know as soon as you can,” she advised.

That sort of set me on edge a bit. “I’ll take that under advisement,” I told her. “But usually I like to make my own mind up about people.”

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she said with a shake of her head.

I still wasn’t sure what I’d been warned about, but one thing was sure — I was going to keep as much distance between myself and Linda as I could.

***

Part 4

Lois

~~~~~

When he’d called, I’d told Joe that I didn’t feel well, which was the God’s honest truth. Clark did seem like a nice enough guy once he put some clothes on. Before that, he’d been kind of a jerk, but he had apologized. And then, he threw my attitude back in my face without being mean or anything like that. He’d make a much better verbal sparring partner than Joe ever did.

I was lying on my stomach on my bunk reading the day’s edition of the Daily Planet when Clark got back from wherever it was he’d gone with Cruella and Madame Medusa. I hadn’t decided who was who yet. One would skin puppies and the other was cruel to little orphan girls and then sicced her crocodiles on them. Or were they alligators? Eh. It didn’t really matter — they were both sick and twisted, just like Lana and Linda.

I barely glanced at him as he walked in. “So, did the Ice Princess forbid you from sharing a room with me?”

He sighed. I really shouldn’t push him if I wanted this semester to go smoothly and hope that he wouldn’t report this to the housing people.

I folded the paper and sighed as I sat up. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Linda just rubs me the wrong way and the idea that I’m going to be sharing a suite with her for the next year has been irritating me all night.”

“For what it’s worth, she doesn’t seem to like you either.”

I snorted. Gee, that was ladylike. “That’s not surprising. She’s hated me ever since I told our history teacher she was cheating off of me. And the same day that Paul, our editor at the paper, asked me to Homecoming instead of her. She didn’t care that I turned him down because he was a creep.”

Was she cheating off of you?” he asked with a raised brow.

“I wouldn’t have turned her in if she wasn’t. She wouldn’t know John Adams from John Kennedy if her life depended on it. She said something once about Henry Ford and Ben Franklin being presidents.”

“That’s pretty bad, but Lana made the Henry Ford slip once too. It’s probably not that uncommon — right last name and all. And Ben Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers,” he pointed out — just to irritate me, I was sure.

“She also said John Lennon invented Communism and Nixon was impeached.”

Clark grimaced. “Well, probably 75% of the American population believes Nixon was impeached.”

“But he wasn’t,” I pointed out. “Andrew Johnson and Fred Garner were.”

“You made your point. She has good reason to dislike you, even if she was wrong to start with. And you have good reason to dislike her.”

“Who are you? Jimmy Carter? Don’t bother trying to negotiate a peace treaty between us.”

“I won’t.”

I sighed and leaned my head back against the wall. If I had to be roomed with a guy, at least he was intelligent enough to hold his own with me. Part of me wished he wasn’t nearly as good looking, but Adonis had nothing on this guy. I didn’t know if I’d ever get the sight of him in a towel out of my mind. I’d never seen Joe in a towel, but I knew he didn’t look like that.

“So, ground rules,” I started. “No walking around in towels or otherwise undressed.” There. That should take care of that — I wouldn’t be seeing that again. And that was good. Really it was. Why again? Just because I was going out with Joe didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate a well-built guy, right? I knew he looked at other girls but that he wouldn’t do more than look while we were dating. Somehow I doubted Clark would even look at another girl while he was in a relationship.

“Sounds good. What else?”

“Lights out at ten.”

He raised a brow. “Ten?”

“Ten-thirty. You want to study later than that, go to the other room.”

He nodded. “No alarms before six-thirty except for special events of some kind.”

“Not a problem.”

“And no girlie stuff lying around.” He waved an arm vaguely towards the room. “No froo froo pillows or anything.”

I raised an eyebrow. He could see my very not girlie navy blue comforter set. Did he really think I was going to be hanging lace curtains? “You might want to mention that to Lana before you get hitched, Farmboy.” I’d peeked in their room and it looked like a cotton candy machine had thrown up all over the place. That I’d picked the lock wasn’t the point. I needed the practice.

He glared at me. “None of your business, Lane.”

I rolled my eyes back. “No leaving your stinky sweat socks all over the place.”

He countered with, “No loud music.”

“No girlfriends spending the night in your bed,” I countered back.

“No boyfriends spending the night in your bed,” he was quick to reply.

“Not that it’s any of your business, but it won’t be a problem,” I assured him.

“For me either.”

I wasn’t sure I believed that. “Fine. Sleep in her bunk if you must, but not in here.”

He smirked. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Do we need a ‘keep out’ system?”

“A what?”

“Well, a do not disturb sign might be a bit obvious, don’t you think?”

“I guess.”

I knew Joe and I weren’t going to need any system, but I really didn’t need to walk in on him and Cruella going at it. “Innocuous note on the outside white boards.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” I might do it every once in a while just because I could.

“So, for the sake of discussion, Lana and I wanted some privacy for some reason…”

For some reason? Surely they taught the birds and the bees on the farm.

“…I’d write ‘Call Mom’ on the white boards on the outside of both doors.”

“That won’t work.”

“Why not?”

I glared at him. “My mom’s dead, Rainman.”

His face changed and he actually looked a bit sympathetic. “Right. Sorry. How about ‘Call Dad’?”

I shrugged. “That works. Real phone messages go on the inside white board and all phone messages get written down and delivered. No exceptions.”

He raised a brow. “You think I won’t deliver your messages?”

“I think you might be a little too involved in determining what kind of lip gloss Ellie Mae is wearing to remember to write it down.”

He started. Just a bit. I was right. I’d seen three different kinds in the bathroom and I knew that wasn’t Linda’s style so they must have been Lana’s. It was disgusting on more levels than I knew what to do with.

“Do you call everyone names?” he asked.

“Only the people I like,” I said sweetly. Too sweetly I knew. “Sorry. It’s been a rough couple of days and I had a fight with Joe.”

“Just Joe? He doesn’t get a nickname?”

“Eh. Sometimes he’s Elway, or even Farve, when he ticks me off.”

“Why Elway?”

“Joe’s a quarterback, but he prefers Steve Young. He’s really not a Broncos or Packers fan.”

“So the boyfriend is a jock, huh?”

“At least he knows the difference between the car guy and the former president. And I’m sure you’ve never picked up a football in your life.” I stared at him. He had to be a jock so making fun of Joe — even if I wasn’t particularly fond of him at the moment — wasn’t really nice of him.

“I have. I played football, basketball and baseball in high school, but I’m here on an academic scholarship.”

“Whatever.” I sighed.

“So, Lana and Linda get nicknames — and I’m guessing you had a couple others you won’t say out loud too; like the wicked stepsisters from Cinderella or something. I’ve gotten a couple nicknames already and Joe gets called Elway or Farve every once in a while. What gives?”

“He’s nice to me.” That wasn’t the real reason.

“I don’t buy it.”

“It wasn’t for sale.”

A puzzled look crossed his face for a second. “I still don’t buy it — for sale or not.”

“Fine. Generally, I only give nicknames to people who stir up strong emotions — when they stir up those emotions — or who catch me when my emotions are already stirred up.”

“And your boyfriend doesn’t stir up strong emotions in you?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

I sighed. “Not really. He’s not Mr. Right. I’ve known that for two years and he knows that I’m not about to get serious with him. He wants someone to make out with on Friday nights and I don’t really want to sit at home. That’s about it.”

“So you make out with him just to get out of the house?”

This guy was too intuitive for my own good. “He’s not a bad kisser. He doesn’t push my limits and if either one of us found someone else, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all.”

“I see.” He looked at me contemplatively. “Well, I hope that you find someone who stirs up those emotions in you. Someone who loves you for you — nicknames and all.”

I shrugged. “If that kind of love exists, maybe I’ll find it, but if not that’s okay too. I have a career ladder to climb anyway.”

“What? No family?”

“I dunno. Maybe. Someday. Not till after the first Pulitzer I win for some big expose in the Daily Planet.”

“Wow, you aim high, don’t you?”

“So what if I do?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.” He shrugged. “Go for it. If anyone can do it, you can.”

He was right. If anyone could do it, I could.

~~~~~

Clark

It was a several hours later before I could sneak away. I’d called my folks — just a casual call to see what they were up to, to say hi and I missed them — and ascertained that they were getting ready to turn in for the night and I knew that, if I was going, I better get there before they did that. Knowing my folks, they were taking full advantage of me moving out. I shuddered, while at the same time hoping that Lana and I were still like that when we’d been married as long as they had.

I found a deserted part of campus and took off as fast as I could, finding myself in Kansas mere minutes later. I turned my hearing on and heard only Mom and Dad talking about their plans for the next day, so landed quickly and knocked on the door. Mom answered it a minute later.

“Clark! What are you doing here? Is everything okay?” She pulled me inside quickly, glancing around nervously before shutting the door.

I thought it was kind of funny; the closest house was nearly two miles away after all and it wasn’t like they got many unexpected visitors this time of night. Well, except Granny Kent but I’d landed on the opposite side of the farmhouse from the house where she lived for a reason.

She didn’t appreciate my smirk.

“Clark Kent, what are you doing here?”

I shrugged. “I needed to talk to you guys and I wanted to do it in person. It’s nothing too serious or anything, but I need some advice and I didn’t really want to do it over the phone.”

“Well, come on in and sit down. Do you want a drink?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I’m fine, thanks, Mom.” I pulled her into a big hug. “I’ve missed you.”

She put her arms around me and hugged back. “I’ve missed you, too, son, but it hasn’t even been a week. And we did talk to you fifteen minutes ago.” She kept her arms around me — a sure sign that she’d missed me — and looked up at me. “Why did we talk to you fifteen minutes ago if you were planning on coming here?”

I knew my face was as red as one of her tomatoes. “I knew I was coming, I just wanted to make sure you guys were home and not… busy.”

She laughed. “Well, I’m sure your dad’s wondering who’s here.”

I kept my arm around her as we walked to the kitchen. I knew Lana wouldn’t understand how much I’d missed her — and Dad, too — but I had. Lana also didn’t understand wanting advice from my parents either. She rarely asked hers about anything. As far as I knew, her mom had never had the talk with her, and I knew her dad hadn’t. Thank goodness for health class or something. Me, on the other hand, my parents had always been honest with me. I knew far more about their love life than I would have preferred but a big part of that was because I hadn’t told them right away when I started hearing and seeing things I shouldn’t. I knew they’d been a lot more careful once I had told them about it — at least until I’d gotten the strange powers under control. They had both, however, talked to me about that kind of stuff, but I knew Lana’s parents hadn’t. I guess it was part of the close relationship with my parents that she just didn’t understand because she didn’t have it with hers. I hoped that someday she’d have that kind of relationship with my mom.

“Look who’s here, Jonathan.”

Dad looked up from the jigsaw puzzle sitting on the table. So that’s what they’d been doing when I called; I hadn’t been able to figure it out from the background noise. “Clark, what’re you doing here?”

Mom hated it when I turned the chairs around to straddle them, but I did it anyway. “There’s something I need to talk to you guys about and I’m not sure what to do.”

“Lana’s not pregnant, is she?” Dad asked furiously.

“What?! Dad! No!” I shook my head emphatically. “We aren’t even… you know. Trust me. Lana cannot be pregnant!”

Dad breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s good to know.”

“Besides, even if we were, you guys raised me to be a lot more careful than that,” I pointed out, not really wanting to make this a conversation about my lack of sex life. “That’s not why I’m here.”

“Then why are you here?” Mom asked from the counter where she was pouring herself another cup of coffee — decaf at this time of night, I was sure.

“Remember I told you I hadn’t met my roommate yet?”

They nodded.

“And how unhappy you were to find out that they’d put me and Lana in the same suite?”

Mom’s eyes darkened and Dad’s jaw set as they nodded. Maybe it would have been a lot smarter to not request the same suite, but it was too late now.

“Well, there was a paperwork mix up.”

“Is Lana your roommate?” Dad wasn’t very good at hiding it when he was starting to get mad.

“No!” I shook my head. “Will you let me talk and stop jumping to conclusions?”

“He’s right, Jonathan.” Mom took a deep breath and I knew she wasn’t as calm as she projected. She was worried about what I was about to say, too.

“Lana’s not my roommate, but…” I paused wondering how they were going to take this. “…my roommate is a girl.”

“How on earth…” Dad started but Mom put her hand on his and he stopped.

“There was a paperwork mix-up in registration. Her name is Lois, but someone stuck a ‘u’ in there and made her Louis and had her down as a male, which she obviously isn’t, but there aren’t any empty rooms on campus and even though she’s from the Metropolis area, she says she can’t move home.” I blurted it all out and then took a deep breath, waiting for their reactions.

There was nothing for a minute and I took that as a bad sign.

“What does Lana think?” Mom finally asked.

I shrugged. “She’s not happy about it, but she doesn’t have anything to worry about. Lois seems nice, but my heart belongs to Lana, you guys know that.”

Mom sighed. “I still worry about you two being so serious so young.”

I rolled my eyes. We’d had this conversation more times than I cared to remember. “You were this serious younger than we are, Mom,” I pointed out.

“Maybe, but somehow I don’t think you’re planning on waiting until you finish college to propose to her, are you?”

I didn’t say anything, but stared at the table.

“Or to get married,” Dad stated.

“We’re not you guys. I love her and she loves me,” I said defensively. “We’re going to the same college so there’s no long distance issue and I’m not going into the Navy like Dad,” I pointed out.

“No, you’re not,” Mom agreed, “but still…”

I sighed. “I’m not here to discuss me and Lana. I just wanted to let you know that I had a girl for a roommate and see what you thought and how I should handle it.”

“Well, is there any way to get another roommate?” Dad asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t think so and if we bring it to their attention, then they’d probably make her leave since she’s local and I’m not and my gender was right on my forms and hers wasn’t, even though it wasn’t her fault.”

Mom looked at me quizzically. “If she’s local why can’t she move home?”

“I don’t know. She just said that she couldn’t move home. She was in tears over it.”

They shared a look before Mom spoke again. “And you always are a sucker for tears, aren’t you?”

“Well, Lana said I’m too nice for my own good.”

“Now, that I believe. Are you sure she wasn’t just turning on the waterworks?”

I shook my head. “No. She was really upset. She said that her mom and little sister had died when she was a kid — and something’s going on with her dad but she didn’t tell me what. Her dad’s a bigwig alumnus but even he couldn’t get her back into the dorm she’d originally requested. You know Lana’s scholarship — the Lucy Lane Memorial Scholarship?” They nodded. “That’s her sister.”

“That’s rough, but what does that have to do with not moving home?” Dad asked.

I sighed. “I don’t know. She just said that she couldn’t move home and started crying. She didn’t want me to see her, I don’t think, but I’d gone to put some clothes on and when I came back…”

“You weren’t dressed?” Mom raised an eyebrow.

I turned red again. “I’d just gotten out of the shower and went to get dressed and she walked in before I took my towel off. It’s good she wasn’t a few seconds later,” I pointed out. “I don’t know what else to do. I mean sure, I could report it to the housing people, but I told her I wouldn’t and she’d have to move home which she obviously doesn’t want to do or we can stay roommates, which Lana’s not happy about…”

“Obviously.”

“Obviously,” I repeated. “She seems nice enough and we agreed to some ground rules — get dressed in the bathroom, for one. And a couple other things. She said something about a signal on the whiteboards on the doors if… one of us doesn’t want to be disturbed.” I couldn’t believe I said that. It earned me a glare from Dad. “Hey! It was her suggestion. I didn’t say I’d need it.”

“We trust you, Clark. To be responsible at the very least. And we know you haven’t told Lana everything yet and you know that we’d be very disappointed if you didn’t tell her first.” That came from Dad.

“I know. And Lana and I are planning on waiting until we get married. I’ve told you that,” I reminded them. “We decided that a long time ago.”

“We know that, but we also know that things change. Your dad and I just want to make sure you know where we stand.”

“I do. I have since I was like five.” At my mother’s disapproving stare, I amended my statement. “Okay. Fifteen, but still.”

“We certainly didn’t discuss those things with you when you were five,” Mom said, indignant.

“But you did make out in front of me all the time,” I told her.

Dad gave me a look that made me wish I’d had this conversation over the phone.

“Okay, fine. Making out is a bit strong, but it was always embarrassing to have my friends over.”

Secretly, I’d… not liked that they were half all over each other the whole time I was growing up, but at least I never doubted that they loved each other.

Dad took Mom’s hand and looked at her the same way I remembered him looking at her when I was five. “When you’re married, son, you’ll understand.” He raised a brow at me. “And I seem to remember a time or two when you and Lana were a little closer on the couch than you should have been and a few guilty looks when we walked in.”

I turned beet red, I was sure. “We never crossed the line. Any line,” I mumbled.

Mom patted my hand. “We believe you.”

I stood up and flipped the chair back around. “I better get back. Lana’s probably looking for me by now.”

Dad frowned. “It’s a bit late, isn’t it?”

I shook my head. “We don’t have to be up with the roosters like you two do.” I gave them both big hugs and after a few more minutes chatting, took off for Metropolis.

***

Part 5

October 2002

Lois

~~~~~

I slipped on my favorite pair of jeans and buttoned them. They fit perfectly, which was part of the reason why they were my favorites. I pulled on my favorite Daily Planet sweatshirt. It hung almost to mid-thigh and was long enough that when I held my arms at my sides, the sleeves covered my hands; those were just two of the reasons I loved it.

I quickly pulled my hair back into a pony tail and put on some lip gloss — none of the flavored junk Ellie Mae favored, but rather my favorite color. I didn’t really care if Joe liked it or not. Well, I cared, but I didn’t really care.

I was ready not a moment too soon because no sooner had I finished application, than there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I called.

“Hey, beautiful.”

“Hey, yourself, “ I said, smiling at him.

He leaned on the doorframe. “You ready?”

I nodded. “Where are we meeting Les and Peggy?” I stuck my ID and some cash in my back pocket.

“At the trail — they’re both home for the weekend.” He shut the door behind me after I pushed the button to lock it from the inside. “Where’s Dylan and Brenda?”

I shook my head. “Nice try,” I smiled at him as he leaned in to kiss me.

He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close as he kissed me again.

“You don’t like my 90210 reference?” he asked when he moved back. “You have all the seasons on DVD.”

I grinned. “No, I don’t. They’ve only released the first few seasons.”

“You don’t like my 90210 reference or you don’t have all the seasons or both?”

“Both.” He took my hand as we walked down the hall to the elevator. “Dylan and Brenda is a good reference, but I liked both of them, so I wouldn’t use them. I’d go with Chandler and Janice.”

“Why is that? Why not Ross and Rachel?”

I wrapped my arms around him as we waited for the elevator. “I like Chandler but not Ross. I like Rachel but not Janice. So Chandler and Janice are it.” I kissed him lightly as the doors opened. “What’s with the questions about the nicknames?”

He shrugged. “You’ve been using them a lot more lately, especially where your suitemates are concerned. Thought I’d figure out the rules.”

We exited on the main floor and I looked around to make sure no one was around. “I like Clark, so he gets a good guy nickname. I don’t like Lana, so she gets a nickname of a girl I don’t like. Other nicknames just sort of depend on the situation.”

“Got it.” We walked out towards Joe’s Mustang. “So what if I like Lana but not Clark. Then could I use Ross and Rachel?”

I glared at him. “Not if you want a date for next weekend.”

He put his arm around me and tugged me towards him. “You know I do.”

“Good. Then you won’t use Ross and Rachel.” I wrapped my arm around his waist and rested my head on his shoulder. No, we weren’t soul mates or anything like that, but he was a great guy and my best friend, besides being a very good kisser.

“Fine, I won’t use Ross and Rachel. But you never answered my question.”

“Which was?” I asked.

“Where Chandler and Janice are.”

“Oh, that.” I shrugged. “Not sure. She usually volunteers on Saturdays, but I have no idea where or doing what. I think anyway.” I glanced around. “Clark probably drove her; I don’t see his truck anywhere. He was gone before I woke up this morning.”

“Well, are you ready for this?” he asked as he opened the car door for me.

I just looked at him. “You should know better than to ask me that, Joe. We’re going to practically be in my own backyard.”

He laughed. “I know.”

~~~~~

Clark

I watched as Lana sat on the floor with the four and five-year-olds. She was totally in her element. The twelve or so children were completely captivated with her and the story she was reading. It was the second story of the morning and I was sure it wasn’t going to be the last.

I was leaning against one of the tables, legs stretched out in front of me crossed at the ankles.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was beautiful and, someday, she was going to be a great mother to our kids and a great preschool teacher.

She turned the page and her voice changed to reflect a different character. The kids all giggled at her rendition of an ant. Before long, the book ended and she set it to the side. There was a chorus of ‘one more, please, Miss Lana’ and she pretended to think about it for a minute before she gave an exaggerated sigh and picked up another book.

The kids giggled as she smiled and read the title of the book.

I pushed up from the table and headed towards the study area as I noticed one of the older kids walk in. “Hey, Darryl,” I said, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Hi, Clark,” he answered with a smile.

“How’d you do on your English paper?”

His grin got even bigger. “B+!”

“Hey! That’s great!” I was genuinely happy for him. We’d spent several hours the weekend before working on it. “I knew you could do it.”

“You helped.”

I shook my head as we sat at one of the tables. “You did all the work. I just helped guide you a bit.” I watched as he pulled his backpack out. “What are we going to work on today?”

“Geography, if that’s okay.”

“Whatever you need.” I lowered my voice. “If I don’t know how to do something, I know how to Google.”

He laughed. “Me, too.” He looked over at the little kids. “My little sister loves her,” he told me, nodding at Lana.

I grinned. “Me, too.” I turned back to the table. “Geography it is, my friend.”

For the next couple of hours, we covered Geography and U. S. History. The kids rotated in and out of Lana’s reading group and she also read one-on-one with some of them, including Darryl’s little sister. I kept track of her heartbeat as I worked with him.

When Darryl and I were finished, I hunted her down. She had just finished a making a construction paper crown with a little girl.

“Ready?” I asked her.

She looked up at me and smiled. She leaned over and whispered something. They both giggled before Lana put the crown over the little girl’s brown curls.

A minute later, we were headed out to the parking lot. “So what did you tell her?”

“Who?”

“The little girl with the crown.” I wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“I told her you were my prince.” She leaned against me as we walked.

I groaned. “As long as I don’t have to wear tights or something for Halloween so you can be some Medieval princess or something.”

She laughed. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t want you to put yourself on display like that.”

I groaned again. “Thanks.” I opened the door to the truck and she slid to the middle so I could get in after her. “Where to now?”

~~~~~

Lois

Joe sat against the rock and I sat against Joe. His arms were wrapped around me and I rested the back of my head on his shoulder.

“You made it,” he said.

I rolled my eyes. “How many times have we made this hike? And I use the term ‘hike’ loosely. It’s a two hour walk to get here.” We looked out over the nearly pristine lake in New Troy National Forest. Les and Peggy had taken off for another area to have a picnic and, probably, to do things I didn’t want to think about. Joe and I had already eaten the lunch we brought with us. “The most difficult part of the trail is easy enough for a two-year-old.”

He laughed. “True.”

The house I’d grown up in — I couldn’t bring myself to call it ‘my house’ anymore, not with her living there — backed up to the NTNF. I could never remember how many acres Dad owned, but the back part of it was forested and melded seamlessly with the park. We’d been looking at one of the maps provided at the check-in station one day and realized that we could connect to this particular trail by following one of the streams near the back edge of the property. Since then, we’d been here many times — both as friends and as a couple. I wasn’t sure what his assorted girlfriend of the week would have thought about us hiking up here together, but he was faithful to a fault. He never cheated on a girlfriend, though most of the relationships didn’t last very long.

In fact, our relationship — if you added up all the separate times we’d been a semi-couple — was probably the longest relationship by far. A couple of others, one before me and one after, had lasted a couple months each, but that was it. Regardless, they’d had nothing to worry about.

“So what’re we going to do for the next hour until it’s time to start back?” Joe whispered in my ear.

“What do you want to do?” I asked him, knowing his answer and knowing he’d already know my response.

“You know what I want to do.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “And you know it’s not going to happen.”

“Aw, come on.” He sounded like a little boy who didn’t get the cookie he wanted. “You never want to go skinny dipping. Even when it is just the two of us.”

“First of all, it’s October. And while it’s a fairly nice October, the water is sure to be way too cold. And second, I know what you’ll want to do if you ever see me naked — to skinny dip or for any other reason — and you already know the answer to that.”

“So you’re gonna make me wait until we get married?” he asked, his face buried in my neck.

I snorted. “You really think we’re going to get married?”

“You never know.”

“Then fine. I’m going to make you wait until we get married.”

“And if we don’t get married?” he asked.

“Then you’ll never get to sleep in my bed.”

“Aw, come on. Just once, I want to sleep in your bed at the cabin.”

“Go some time when I’m not there.”

“Will you at least be my back up?” he asked me, running one hand over my arm.

“You mean if we’re both forty and not married, we hook up?”

“I was thinking more like thirty-five if we want kids.”

I thought about that for a minute. There were worse things. “Okay. If neither of us is married at thirty-five, we’ll get hitched.”

“Wanna kiss on it?”

I groaned. “You’d rather do a lot more than that.”

“You know I would, but I also know how you feel about that.” That was one thing I’d always respected about Joe. He’d never made it a secret that he wanted to have sex with me, but he also never pushed once I told him no.

“We’ll shake on it later. For now are we just going to stare at the lake or are we going to get out that Frisbee?”

“I’ve got a better idea,” he said.

“What’s that?” I relaxed more against him.

“Let’s make out for a while.”

I laughed. “Let’s do that.”

~~~~~

Clark

I laughed. My arm rested lightly on the back of Lana’s chair, my thumb rubbing her shoulder lightly. We’d gone to Steak and Shake for lunch and run into Ryan and Molly. Lana knew them from one of her classes.

We’d laughed and talked about professors and wondered how someone had turned the fountain by the administration building into red, yellow and blue suds without anyone noticing.

Ryan and Molly left a few minutes later, but Lana and I lingered over milkshakes.

“What’s the plan for the rest of the day?” I asked her.

“I’d like to watch Friends, Survivor and ER. I taped Survivor and ER but haven’t watched them yet.” She bit her bottom lip. “I was hoping we could watch Friends on Lois’ TIVO.”

I shrugged. “Dunno if she’d care. I think she and Joe went for a hike so she won’t even be there. Could watch it first. As long as we don’t delete it, she won’t care.”

She rested her head against my shoulder. “What do you think a show about our lives would be like?”

“Huh?”

“You know, like Seinfeld. Where they proposed a show about nothing and really that was all they ever did. What would a show about our lives be like?”

“Like one of those reality shows where they follow us around with cameras?” I frowned at the idea. That would be a very bad plan.

She shook her head. “No, if our lives were a scripted show.”

“Now? Or someday?”

“Five years from now.”

I thought about it for a minute. “Are we in a comedy or a drama?”

“Drama. Not enough serious in a comedy.”

“They can do serious in a comedy. Look at the Monica and Chandler baby thing,” I pointed out. “Or anytime they do one of those ‘don’t do drugs’ episodes. Remember the whole boyfriend who drank thing on Growing Pains? Wasn’t he played by Matthew Perry?”

She rolled her eyes. “They only do that in a ‘very special touching episode’, but dramas can have comedy more than comedy can have drama.”

I thought about it for a minute. “Well, then, I guess we’d be married.”

“In five years? We better be.” She kissed me lightly.

“We will be. Do we have kids yet?”

“In five years?” She thought about it for a minute. “First one’s on the way.”

“Then you’re barefoot and pregnant in a preschool.”

“And you’re a highly successful investigative reporter at the Daily Planet.”

I raised an eyebrow. “In five years? In five years, I’ll be lucky to be writing obits and covering dog shows. Fresh out of college, that’s about the best I can hope for.”

“Well, by the end of the show’s run, you’ll be a highly successful investigative reporter with a few Kerths and a Pulitzer or two under your belt.”

“You have high expectations for me, Ms. Lang.”

“Oh, I certainly do. You’ll have to keep us fed while I stay home with the kids while they’re little. Or only work part-time.”

“How many kids are we having?” I asked.

She grinned. “At least four or five. Since it’s a television show, I’ll start showing two weeks before the baby’s born and be skinny again two weeks after with no stretch marks to worry about.”

“You’ll be gorgeous pregnant and after, even if it does take you more than two weeks to get your figure back.” I kissed the top of her head as it rested against me.

She sat back and looked at me with a grin. “I know what can hook the show so that we’d attract millions of viewers.”

“What’s that?”

“You can have a secret identity and be a superhero in tights.”

I stared at her. The idea of a secret identity and being a superhero had never occurred to me but it might be more real than she knew if I ever felt the need to do that.

She looked chagrinned. “Sorry. No tights. Okay, so no superhero.”

I recovered quickly, pulling her back to me. “I’d watch any show you were in, Baby. Superhero or not.”

~~~~~

Lois

I yawned. The walk to the lake hadn’t been a hard one — it never was — but for some reason, I was extra tired today.

I shook my head slightly. At least I had a back up now. I wouldn’t end up alone for the rest of my life. That had never been a real concern of mine. I figured when the time was right, I’d find Mr. Right.

I crawled under the covers of my bunk. Clark and Lana were watching ER — which had outlived its usefulness a couple years earlier — in the common room. I’d set the TV on my dresser, on top of my TIVO, so if I rolled right, I could see it without it being too awkward. I flipped it on, scrolling through the options until I found this week’s NCIS episode and hit play. I watched as Tony tried to decide whether he was ready for his own team and everyone reacted to Gibbs being back permanently as they searched for a missing Naval officer, but I wasn’t really concentrating.

After it was over, I clicked the TV off and rolled onto my back, staring at the ceiling.

What would life with Joe be like if we got married?

One thing that bothered me was the lack of commitment he’d shown. Yeah, we were young but he’d never stuck with a girlfriend very long at all. I didn’t think it would be an issue once he was truly committed to a girl.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought he’d be attentive and caring. He’d want kids. I wasn’t sure that I wanted kids, but I wasn’t completely set against them either. That was something that could be decided later.

What about careers?

He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but unless ‘the girlfriend’ of Dad’s cheated him out of house and home, money wouldn’t really be an issue. I mean, we’d have to support ourselves and all that, but if we ever truly fell on hard times, Daddy would let us live with him. And once Daddy… I couldn’t bring myself to think it. Someday, I’d probably be very wealthy.

I closed my eyes and tried to imagine life with Joe. I could see us sitting at the kitchen table in the morning eating breakfast — something out of the freezer, most likely because neither one of us could cook. That wasn’t hard. He’d gone with me and Daddy to the cabin a number of times and we’d eaten breakfast together. He’d slept in his own room though.

He’d mentioned wanting to sleep in my room at the cabin. Dad had always said Lucy and I would be able to use it for a romantic hideaway someday. Lucy no longer needed it of course, but I would. I hoped I would. What would it be like spending a weekend with Joe there? I rolled my eyes. It would probably involve a lot of being mostly unclothed together. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if we were married, I guessed, but still made me a bit uncomfortable — just because it was something I didn’t have a whole lot of practical experience with.

I sighed again. It was a pretty pointless exercise at this point. Maybe in ten years, I’d think about it in more detail, but for now…

I wasn’t getting married until after I won the first Pulitzer.

***

Part 6

Clark

~~~~~

“Hey,” Lana said as she walked through the open door into my room. “Anyone here?”

“Nope,” I said with a grin. “Just you and me, Baby.”

“Really?” she said, a slow, sexy smile crossing her face, moving to sit next to me on my bed, one leg across my lap as I wrapped an arm around her.

“What do you suggest we do until they get back?”

“Hmmm… I don’t know. What do you think?”

“You know the longer we play this game, the less time we have to make out,” I told her as I moved to kiss her.

“Good point,” she whispered before my lips came into contact with hers.

Before long we were stretched out on my bed, exchanging lots of gentle kisses, always cognizant of the boundaries we set for ourselves.

The door opened and then slammed shut. Lois was apparently on a rampage. I looked down at Lana, an apology in my eyes over being interrupted.

“Do you two ever stop?” Lois asked us.

“Nope,” I said with a grin.

She opened her closet and dug something out and then headed to her desk, rummaging through it and pulling out a notebook before slamming the drawer shut and heading back towards the door.

“As you were,” she called over her shoulder before she left.

Lana hadn’t moved except to follow Lois with her eyes. “You didn’t put a note on the door, did you?” she asked.

I shook my head. “She wasn’t supposed to be back until after we left so there was no reason to.”

She nestled into my arms, her head resting on my shoulder. “She could have been a little nicer about it.”

“Why don’t you like her, Baby?”

She shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t like her…” She didn’t continue.

“Then what is it?”

“She’s a very pretty woman,” she finally said not looking at me.

“So?”

“So? She’s your roommate.”

“So?”

“So…”

“Lana, look at me.” I used a finger to tilt her face towards me. Tears were shining in her eyes. “I love you. I’ve always loved you. Even when you told me never to kiss you ever again.”

“I was five,” she whispered. “I didn’t know what I was saying.”

“I know.” I grinned at her. “That’s why I did try again.”

“You waited long enough.”

“We were fifteen. We weren’t allowed to go on an official date until you turned sixteen.”

“So?”

I laughed and then moved her so I could stand up. I closed the other door before I went to the CD player and turned one of my favorite jazz CDs on, pushing the button until I found the song I wanted. I flipped the light off and plugged in the white Christmas lights Lana’d put in there for mood lighting.

“Can I have this dance?” I asked, holding a hand out to her.

She nodded, tears still shimmering in her eyes, placing her hand in mine.

I pulled her to me, her hand in mine, my other arm wrapped around her, holding her close. She rested her head on my shoulder as we moved slowly around the open area of the room. Nat King Cole filled the air.

“You are unforgettable, Baby,” I whispered. “I love you and only you.”

“I know,” she whispered back.

“So talk to me.”

She was silent for a long time as we continued to dance. “I don’t want us to end,” she finally said in a voice so low even I had to strain to hear it.

“What are you talking about? We’re not going to end. Not until we’re old and gray.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I love you.”

“How do you know I’m the one for you, Clark?”

“I just do,” I told her.

“I’ve seen the way you are with her.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The way you two fight.”

“What about it?”

“It scares me.”

I stopped moving and looked in her eyes. “Why does the way I fight with her scare you?”

“She’s smarter than I am. She knows more. You two bicker like cats and dogs, trying to one up each other in the intelligence department.” The tears were flowing down her cheeks. “I’ve always been second best, why should now be any different?”

She tore my heart out when she said that and I pulled her to me, her tears soaking my shirt. When the torrent finally slowed, I spoke. “I know you’ve rarely come in first at whatever you try, but you are smart. You’re funny. You’re beautiful. You care about people. You care about me. You worked hard to get through high school when you did. You bought your own car even though your parents probably would have because you didn’t want the strings that came with it. You always try so hard and you always do so well, even if someone else does just a bit better.”

“Second at state in the 100 and 200 meters. Vice President of the Senior Class. Co-captain of the cheer squad. Second in the art contest. Second in line for the Lucy Lane Memorial Scholarship. The only reason I’m here is because number one went somewhere else.”

“You were better than all but one person. How many hundreds of girls wanted that scholarship and didn’t get it? You got a scholarship for girls who want to make a difference in the world and you outlined how you wanted to do that in your essay. That’s why they chose you. You love little kids and you’re going to be a great teacher. You can change the lives of those kids. You can give those little girls approval where you didn’t get any. You can give them hope that they can be anything they want to be and not just the wife and mother your parents expected you to be. You’re going to be a great wife and a great mom, but you’re so much more than that. You’ve always been number one to me and you always will be,” I said gently.

“How do you always know the right thing to say?”

“I know you. I know how much it hurt when you lost by half a step or came in second in girls in the senior class by .01. I know how much it hurt when your dad wasn’t quite happy with second.”

“He never was.”

“But I love you.” I tipped her face to mine again. “I love you, Lana, and I hope that over the years I can help heal the hurt. You are good enough. You always have been and you always will be.”

I kissed her, hoping to convey how I really felt about her. When I pulled back, she smiled at me.

“Thank you.”

“It’s what I’m here for.” I brushed the tears off her face with my fingers. “Once we get married, you’ll really be family with my folks, too.”

She smiled slightly. “I know and I can’t wait until I can actually call Martha ‘Mom’.”

“I don’t think she can either. Neither can Dad.”

“I like your dad a lot better than my dad,” she confessed, resting her cheek on my shoulder again.

“I know. And listen, I know the claws come out with Lois because you feel threatened, but, honey, there is absolutely no reason for you to be threatened by her.”

“My head knows that, but my heart…” She sighed. “And when she’s around, my heart wants to defend its territory and that’s you and then the snide comments come out. I’ll try to do better. I promise.”

“Thank you. She really is a nice person.”

“I’m sure she is and if it were other circumstances, I’m sure I’d like her better, but since she’s the one who’s actually living with you right now…”

“It’s not forever. You’re the one who’s going to live with me forever.”

“You mean that?”

“I do,” I said with a smile, remembering our conversation when we first arrived in Metropolis.

“Remember those words, Mr. Kent. You’re going to need them.” She looked up at me with a big smile.

“You better believe I am,” I said just before I kissed her again.

~~~~~

Lois

I sighed. I’d planned on staying in my room and studying or maybe curling up on my bed for a good cry and an early bedtime, but the Siamese Twins were in Clark’s bed — attached at the lip.

It was just one of those days.

I’d still managed to avoid telling Daddy that Clark was my roommate. I talked about my friend Clark but never mentioned that he was my roommate. When he asked specifically about the person who shared my dorm room, I avoided pronouns.

But… My shoelace broke first thing in the morning and Clark was still asleep and I didn’t want to turn the lights on to look for a new one.

My pen ran out of ink in my first class. I managed to get one from Joe, but he was with someone else. I wondered if he was still planning on taking me to the party Thursday.

It had been about ten weeks since school started. Midterms were over and there was a big Halloween toga party at one of the frat houses. Joe was going and had asked me. He’d gone out with a couple other girls since school started, but I didn’t really care. I studied instead and my grades were showing the effects of that.

I’d mentioned the party to Clark who mentioned it to Lana and so all four of us were going. Not exactly a double date but something like that.

Of course, Joe was going to have to show up to be my date first. I wasn’t about to ask him. But if he’d suddenly decided he didn’t want to and didn’t mention it to me and I got stood up, I’d never hear the end of it from Cruella but Madame Medusa even more so. Linda had a huge crush on Joe since we were two or something. We’d been in the same kindergarten class and they’d done some square dance thing in the musical and she’d been smitten ever since. She’d liked Paul, too.

Paul she could date and I wouldn’t care. Joe and I weren’t exclusive or anything like that but he was my friend and I didn’t want him to end up with her on any level at all.

On the other hand, I didn’t know why I cared so much.

We weren’t destined to be together like the Bobsey Twins and I didn’t want to ‘settle down’ the summer after my freshman year in college like I suspected Clark and Lana were planning.

And then, after seeing Joe kissing Pippi Longstocking, someone had tripped and bumped into me. I’d landed hard on my wrist and thought that it might be sprained. Of course, it was my right wrist so taking notes was going to be difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult. I’d broken my right arm in both third and sixth grades and had to learn to write left handed. I still did every once in a while, just in case, and I was glad now that I had.

I sighed. If Dad’s girlfriend would just go away I could move home. That would be better, but it wasn’t going to happen as long as she was there.

I sat on a bench outside the library for a long time — a very long time. Finally, I decided to head back to the dorms. If Rhett and Scarlet were still going at it, I’d have to throw a bucket of cold water over them or something.

~~~~~

Clark

How had I let myself be talked into this? I asked myself for the umpteenth time.

A toga party.

Seriously.

A frat party.

What was I thinking?

Oh, I knew. Lana had said she wanted to go to one frat party during her college career and if we went to this one we could get that out of the way.

I adjusted the sheet I’d draped over my shoulder and tied with a piece of rope I’d found. I wasn’t wearing a shirt, but was glad it would be nice enough out that no one would notice.

Except Lana.

I grinned to myself. Lana would notice I wasn’t wearing a shirt and I was sure she’d comment on it. She liked my chest and my arms and I was glad she did.

Before long we were walking across campus. I was walking behind Lana, my arms around her, moving in tandem. I kissed the side of her neck and she giggled.

“Well, when you leave your shoulder bare like that, what do you expect?” I whispered.

“Sometimes I wish we could just run off to Vegas,” she whispered wistfully.

“I know. Me, too. Maybe we will someday, but not yet. I don’t even have a ring for you yet.” I kissed her shoulder.

“I know, but I don’t care. I just want to be your wife, ring or no ring.”

“I know, Baby. And you will be.”

“I know.”

The noise reached us long before we actually made it to the frat house. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this but it was something to fill an evening and Lana wanted to come — just once — so it would be okay.

~~~~~

Lois

It really wasn’t my scene but I didn’t feel like staying home on Halloween. Even though it was a Thursday, I needed to cut loose a little bit. I was sure there would be alcohol — and lots of it — at this shindig but I didn’t drink. I didn’t know if Clark or Lana did. Joe would probably have a beer or two, if the graduation party we went to was any indication.

I adjusted the sheet I’d draped over my shoulder and tied it with some bright yellow rope I’d gotten my hands on. I could have gotten an actual toga from a costume shop or something if I’d really wanted to, but it wasn’t worth the effort. I had a tank top and shorts on underneath the sheet. It was a decent night out — wasn’t supposed to be too chilly — and there were a couple of Canadian Arctic cold fronts or something coming through in the next couple of days so I needed to enjoy it while I could. One was going to freeze us out and the other was going to give us several inches of snow.

A knock on the door interrupted the adjustments I was making to the sheet. “Come in,” I called. “It’s open.”

“Heya, Gorgeous.”

“Hi, Joe,” I said frowning at my reflection again.

He moved to stand behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist. “You look great.”

“Thanks. So why’d you ask me to go with you tonight?”

“I missed my make-out buddy,” he said with a shrug.

Well, there were worse things. I knew he wouldn’t expect me to put out and I knew that the other girls he’d gone out with either had or probably had, but he knew there was no way I was going anywhere near that far with him. “Gina and Leslie weren’t good enough?” I asked.

“Oh, they were fine, but you’re the best kisser I know.”

“Well, that’s something I guess.”

“What about Dan?”

“What about him?”

“Who’s the better kisser? Me or Dan?”

I shrugged. “Dan only kissed me once and when he found out he wasn’t going to get any further than that, he took off. It wasn’t long enough to really evaluate his kissing skills, but my first impression was that you’re better.”

Clark opened the door from the suite’s living area. “Hey, Joe. Thought I heard you.”

Clark wasn’t wearing a shirt under his sheet. Joe wasn’t either, but Clark was definitely a bit more impressive.

I sighed. This wasn’t going to get any better. “Is Lana ready?”

Clark shrugged. “I think so. She was tweaking her toga a couple minutes ago.”

“Well, let’s go then.”

Clark went to go get Lana and I wasn’t surprised to see that her toga was from a costume shop or something rather than a sheet. She even had some sort of gold leaf crown thing on her head. I’d just stuck my hair up in a clip.

Before long we were walking across campus. I was trying to ignore Clark and Lana’s PDA as we did. He’d told me once that they were waiting until they got married to really be together, but sometimes it sure seemed like they needed to go get a room somewhere. As long as it wasn’t mine. Joe had his arm draped around my shoulders but that was as close to PDA as we usually got.

Before long we got to the frat house where the party was held and I soon lost track not only of Clark and Lana but Joe as well. I sipped on my soda and looked around the room but didn’t see any of them. If I didn’t come across any of them in the next fifteen minutes, I was going home.

***

Part 7

Clark

I couldn’t find Lana anywhere. This was different than what I’d expected, but I wasn’t really sure what I’d thought it was going to be like so…

Looking around some more, I thought about trying to locate her heartbeat, but the music and loud talking — and what I was sure was going on upstairs — discouraged me from trying.

Was that Lois? She was going up the stairs with Joe right behind her, his arms around her and it looked like he was kissing her neck as they moved in unison.

It struck me as odd because Lois had said she and Joe didn’t do the kinds of things that would lead to them walking up the stairs like that. I shrugged. She was a big girl.

I moved through the crowded room towards the kitchen to get another soda. I ran into Linda who told me that Lana told her she was heading back to the dorms since she couldn’t find me. I frowned and thanked her. I started to head for the door and go back to the dorm myself when I noticed Joe sitting on the couch making out with a red head.

I frowned again. Then who was Lois with? I squelched the panic I was starting to feel on behalf of my roommate. I moved quickly towards the stairs. Once up them, the noise from the party was muffled enough that I could try to find her heartbeat. I tried to tune out any other sounds that were coming from the rooms around me, but was only partially successful.

Finally, I located her heartbeat coming from one of the common areas on the third floor. I called her name, softly then louder. I saw someone jump up from behind one of the couches and take off at a run. I thought about going after him, but I was more concerned about Lois as she wasn’t yelling at me. If I’d interrupted something, she’d have been on my case.

“Lois,” I called softly. I heard a groan and walked around the couch. There she was, struggling to sit up.

A flash of something out the window caught my eye, but I didn’t see anything when I looked more closely.

“Clark?” she asked. “Is that you?”

I moved to her side and supported her as she sat all the way up. “Are you okay?”

“I think so. What happened?”

My face was grim. “I thought I saw you go up the stairs with Joe, but then I saw Joe downstairs and I got worried about you.”

She shook her head. “I think I’m okay.”

I looked around and, if possible, my face grew more serious. “You’ll probably want these,” I said handing her shorts to her.

Her eyes were wide as she looked back up at me. “Was there someone else here with me?”

I nodded. “I didn’t see who it was but he took off as soon as I got up here.” I looked around for any possible evidence of what he might have done and saw several empty condom wrappers under the couch but had no idea if any of them were new or old or what.

She sighed and rested again my chest. “Will you take me back to the dorm, Clark?”

Her voice sounded kind of funny.

“Sure. Let’s go.”

She giggled. Lois didn’t giggle. “Can you turn around while I get dressed?”

I nodded and stood to stare out the window. A minute later, her arm linked through mine and her head rested on my arm.

“Take me home, Clark.” She sighed deeply.

I looked down at her. “Lois, look at me.” She looked okay, slightly sleepy maybe, but that was it. I grasped her lightly by the shoulders. “Did you take a drink from anyone?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. Got my own soda.”

“Did you leave it alone?”

She bit her lip and frowned. “I don’t think so.”

“Is there any way you could have been drugged?”

“I don’t think so.”

I sighed. I wasn’t sure I believed it. “Why don’t we take you to the hospital and see what they say?”

“No. I just wanna go to bed.” She leaned into me and rested her head against my chest. “Will you take me to bed, Clark?”

“I’ll take you to the hospital.”

She shook her head against me. “No. I just wanna go home.”

I sighed again. I should probably just take her anyway. I scooped her into my arms and carried her down the outside set of stairs I’d noticed on our way in earlier. I headed towards the Ellen Lane Memorial Medical Building. The path took us right by the dorms.

“Clark, there’s the dorm,” she said as I walked past.

“We’re going to the hospital. I think you should get checked out.”

She struggled against me until she managed to get to her feet. “No, I’m not going to that building. It’s named after my dead mother and I won’t go.” She started towards the front door of Weller Hall.

Resigned, I ran after her. “Fine. I won’t make you go, but at least let me get you upstairs.”

“Fine.”

I scooped her up again and this time she rested her head against my shoulder immediately, snuggling down into my arms.

“You’re so strong, Clark,” she sighed. “Joe’s not anywhere near as strong as you are and he’s pretty strong.”

“Sure he is.”

“And you’re better looking, too, but Lana’s got her claws in you.”

“Lana doesn’t have claws, Lois.”

“No, she has a funny looking car.”

“She doesn’t have a car. Well, she does, but it’s in Smallville,” I told her as I managed to open the door to our room.

“Yep. It says ‘De Vil’ on the plates.”

“You call her ‘Cruella’?” I asked, unable to keep the shock out of my voice.

“Shhhh… Don’t want her to know that. She hates me already.”

“She doesn’t hate you.” I wondered how I could get her onto the top bunk without floating her up there and decided it wasn’t going to happen. I sighed and laid her gently on my bunk.

“Sure she does. She told me so.”

“She did?” Lana was a lot of things, but I didn’t think she hated Lois.

“Yep. Not long after we moved in together. She told me not to get any ideas about ever seeing you naked.” She giggled. “She doesn’t know the first time I met you, you were only wearing a towel, does she?”

Okay, warning another girl to stay away from me did sound like Lana. She tended to be kind of territorial sometimes, but I didn’t like her hanging out with other guys and I knew if the situation had been reversed, I probably would have had a few choice words for her male roommate. “No, she doesn’t,” I finally said, pulling a chair up near the bed.

Lois sighed again. “If you ever want to drop the towel and come up…” Her voice trailed off again.

I looked down and she looked like she was asleep. Good. She could easily embarrass herself this way. She didn’t smell like alcohol and she said she didn’t drink it, but I guess it was possible that a beer for someone her size could have had that kind of effect on her. She wasn’t necessarily drugged and she’d kill me if I took her to the hospital. I thought I got there before anything happened to her.

I climbed into the top bunk. A glance through the walls on the way in had shown that Lana was sleeping and I didn’t want to bother her. We all had class early the next morning as it was.

***

November 2002

Lois

~~~~~

I tried to open my eyes, but they weren’t working right. I groaned and looked at the clock but it wasn’t there.

I wasn’t in my bed.

I was in Clark’s bed.

So where was Clark?

I cautiously felt behind me and was relieved to discover that he wasn’t there.

I heard a creak above me.

“Clark?” I called softly.

A pair of bare feet appeared over the edge of the top bunk and then Clark was standing there, having jumped off my bed. He moved to sit next to me. “How’re you feeling?” he asked quietly.

“My head hurts. And why am I in your bed?”

“What do you remember?”

I thought about it for a minute. “I remember walking across campus with you and Lana and Joe. I remember getting a Pepsi and drinking it. I couldn’t find any of you and I was going to head back here in a few minutes and then…” I struggled to remember. “Nothing. What happened?”

Clark sighed. “I saw you going upstairs with Joe…”

“I’ve told you, Joe and I aren’t…”

“I know,” he interrupted. “But you’re a big girl. For all I knew, you’d changed your mind or something. I ran into Linda who said Lana had left when she lost track of me. Then I saw Joe sitting on a couch making out with a redhead and realized that it wasn’t him who you were with. I went upstairs to look for you and found you behind a couch in a common area on the third floor.”

Bile was rising in my throat as he told the story. “Was I alone?” I whispered.

“No,” he whispered back.

“Who was it?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. He took off pretty fast and I was more worried about you.”

“Did he…?” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the question.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. It wasn’t that long between the time I saw you going up the stairs and the time I found you. You weren’t wearing your shorts and underwear though.” He didn’t look at me as he said it. “I gave them to you and you got dressed and I carried you back here. I tried to get you to go to the hospital but you refused.”

“Why?” That didn’t sound like me. Not with a doctor for a dad and a nurse for a mom.

He shrugged, but didn’t say anything.

“What? Why didn’t I want to go?” He was keeping something from me.

He sighed. “You refused to go to the building named after your mom.”

It was my turn to sigh. “I don’t like going there for that reason, but I wouldn’t not go just because it’s named after my mom if I needed to. That still doesn’t tell me how I ended up in your bed,” I pointed out.

“How was I supposed to get you up to your bunk?” he asked. “You were practically asleep when we got here.”

“And you didn’t take me to the hospital? You didn’t think I was drugged?” I didn’t understand why he would have let me saying I didn’t want to go stop him.

“You flat out refused. I was going there and we passed the dorms and when I told you where we were going, you actually managed to stand up and tried to walk to the dorms. You weren’t going to let me take you.”

I threw an arm over my eyes. “Well, thanks for trying.”

He started to say something, but a knock on the door interrupted him. “Come in,” he called.

Great. It was probably Lana and she was probably going to have an earful for both of us.

“Hey, hon…” She stopped mid-sentence. “Why is Lois in your bed?”

I groaned. “Must you be so loud?”

“Hangover, Lois?” Her voice dripped sweetness. Fake sweetness. Maybe I should call her Sweet-n-Low.

“No,” I told her. “I didn’t have anything harder than Pepsi last night.”

Clark had moved to her side and taken her in his arms, kissing her lightly as he did so. It was disgusting. “I think someone slipped her something, Baby.”

And really. Baby? What kind of nickname was that?

“And you rescued her?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. I saw her go upstairs with some guy and he ran off when I found her. I don’t know who he was or anything.”

Lana smiled at him and patted his bare chest. “Boy Scout.”

“Eagle Scout,” he said with a grin.

I rolled my eyes and groaned, pulling Clark’s comforter over my head and trying not to notice that it smelled like him. “Get a room,” I mumbled, knowing they wouldn’t be able to hear me.

But it made me feel a little better.

~~~~~

Clark

I heard what Lois said, but Lana obviously didn’t, so I didn’t say anything. Since Lois was now huddled under my blanket, I took the opportunity to give Lana a much better good morning kiss than I could with an audience.

“We better get ready for class,” I finally said.

She nodded. “It’s a lot colder out today than it was last night. The first cold front already came through I guess.”

I nodded. “That’s what I heard.”

She kissed me again. “Since we lost each other last night, whaddya say we go to that bonfire on Saturday?”

I sighed. “I don’t know if we’ll be back in time.”

“Back? Where are we going?”

“Lois and I are going to Bremerton, remember?” I’d told her about it on Monday. “We’re covering that Fall Fest for the school paper. Two hundredth anniversary or something.”

“Two hundred and second,” came a voice from my bed. “It started the same year the school was founded so it always gets a write up.”

“Okay, two hundred and second. Anyway, we’re leaving at like six in the morning. I’m not sure when we’ll be back but it’ll probably be at least seven or eight.”

Lana smiled at me. That slow sexy smile I loved. “Well, then, it’s a good thing the bonfire doesn’t start until 8:30.”

I smiled back. “I guess so. I’ll try to make sure we’re back by eight.” I kissed her again. “We’ll talk about it later, but right now we have to get ready for class.” I kissed her one more time. “You better go get dressed.”

She kissed me. “You too.” She turned and headed for her room.

I waited until the door shut behind her to shut our door. “You okay under there?” I asked Lois.

“Fine.”

“Are you staying under there for a minute?”

“Probably.”

“Then I’m going to change real quick, as long as you promise to stay put.”

“Don’t worry,” came the muffled reply.

I grabbed some clothes and changed as quickly as I could. I hated changing in the bathroom; it was just too small. Once dressed, I sat back down on the edge of the bed.

“Hey,” I said, pulling the comforter back. “Are you okay?”

She rolled back over onto her back. “Yeah. I just need some Tylenol and some caffeine and I’ll be fine. That and I need the opportunity to read Joe the riot act for making out with someone else.”

“I thought you didn’t care that much.”

“I don’t, unless he’s on a date with me and then he better not be kissing anyone else.”

Well, that made sense. I didn’t really understand their relationship, but it worked for them. Or seemed to anyway. “Maybe he was drunk?”

She glared at me. “Don’t defend him in some sort of brotherhood bond thing. I don’t care if he was drunk. He shouldn’t have been making out with someone else while he was on a date with me and my roommate shouldn’t have been the one to rescue me — if, in fact, I actually needed rescuing. My date should have.”

“You’re right. Read him the riot act. And if you want me to punch him for you, I will. Or I’ll hold him while you do.” I smiled at her. I wouldn’t really punch him and she knew it. But if he treated her poorly, I would come to her defense if she needed it. And she knew that, too.

Or I thought she did.

“That’s okay. If he needs taking out, I can do it myself without you holding him. I’ve been studying Tae Kwon Do for several years now.”

I smiled again. “Then remind me never to get on your bad side.”

“Don’t ever get on my bad side,” she muttered. “And get out of my way. I have to get ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And don’t ‘ma’am’ me, Kent,” she said as she moved towards her dresser.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said with a grin.

I caught the shirt she threw my way easily. She was going to be fine.

Joe, on the other hand… Him I worried about.

***

Part 8

Lois

“Joe, wait up.” I called to him as he headed out of our last class before lunch. He was avoiding me and I knew it. And he knew I knew it.

He stopped and waited for me. “What’s up, Lo?”

I glared at him. “Where’d you go last night?”

He shrugged. “I lost track of you, Gorgeous.”

“So you decided a redhead could take my place?”

“Who told you that?”

“Clark. He said he saw you making out with a redhead.” My arms were crossed in front of me, waiting for an answer.

“I was making out with someone…” he started but I interrupted him.

“Listen, we’re not exclusive. We both know that. We go out when we both need something to do and you — apparently — want someone who knows how to kiss right.”

He nodded and opened his mouth but I didn’t let him speak.

“That does not mean you get to dump me while we’re on a date. You meet someone you like while we’re out together, you make plans with her for another night. And you don’t make the plans while we’re out together and you don’t do it while you’re trying to count her teeth with your tongue.”

“Lois, take a breath. I didn’t start kissing anyone else until I saw you going upstairs with some guy. I figured you’d found someone else you wanted to be with, so what was the big deal?” He shrugged as he said it.

Tears filled my eyes and I turned and stalked off. He ran after me.

“What?”

“You have no idea, do you?” I hissed.

“What?”

“If I’m not going to sleep with you, why would I go upstairs at some frat party?”

“I don’t know.”

“Clark found me. Some guy was with me and he took off as soon as Clark showed up. He had to carry me back to the dorms. I was drugged and my date — who has been my boyfriend off and on for two years and my friend a hell of a lot longer than that — didn’t care enough to check up on me when he saw me doing something completely out of character.” I looked at him with disdain. “I know we’re not soul mates or anything, Joe, and that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I would have thought I meant a little more to you than that. Even if it is only because I’m your back up.”

I turned on my heel and stalked off again.

He grabbed my arm before I got too far. “Look, I’d had a couple of beers and wasn’t really thinking clearly and then Jen started kissing me. I did go look for you, I swear, but it wasn’t until probably twenty minutes or so after I saw you.”

“That was too late, Joe. If Clark hadn’t found me when he did, who knows what would have happened to me.”

“I’m sorry, Lois. Really. I am.”

I sighed. “I know you are.” I knew he cared about me. A lot. Even if we weren’t going to have happily ever after together. I allowed him to pull me into a hug and I rested my head against his shoulder. I felt safe with Joe. I knew he’d never push me and he knew I’d never let myself be pushed.

“Listen, let me take you to the bonfire Saturday night.” He kissed my head. “I promise I won’t leave your side all night.”

I nodded. “I have to go to the Fall Fest in Bremerton, but if we get back in time, I’d love to.”

“We?” he asked.

“Yeah. Paul’s making me take Clark with me.”

“Should I be jealous?” I could almost see his smile.

“Nah. Didn’t you see the way he and Lana were all over each other?”

“True.” He kissed my forehead. “Besides, you kiss much better than Jen.”

I smiled. “Well, that’s good to know.” As much time as Joe and I had spent practicing over the last couple of years, it was good to know that at least I’d figured something out.

~~~~~

Clark

I glanced at my watch again, wondering where Lois was. As low men on the totem pole, we’d managed to grab the exceptionally exciting story of the Fall Fest in Bremerton this weekend. How exciting. And Lana was thrilled that I was going to be spending eight hours in a car with the girl who’d slept in my bed two nights earlier. That I hadn’t been in it was irrelevant. I loved her, I really did, but this possessive thing was getting a bit old. Of course, I would have been the same way if she had a male roommate, I reminded myself. Especially a good-looking one and the biggest problem she had with Lois being my roommate was that Lois was a very pretty girl. We both knew it, but that didn’t matter. I loved Lana.

Now it was nearly six in the morning and Lois still hadn’t shown up. After going to the toga party in shorts — a lot of people had even though it was a little on the cool side for that — winter had come in with a vengeance. Today, I even had on my ski coat. I couldn’t wait for Lois to get here with the paper’s car so I could take it off. I didn’t need it and I hated pretending that I did.

Finally, she pulled up in the older model Ford and I was suddenly glad that the snow wasn’t supposed to start until very late that night or even early the next day. It didn’t look like it would make it through a dusting much less the several inches we were supposed to get. One forecast I’d heard the day before said we could get as much as a foot, but no one really believed it. Most forecasters were calling for three to four inches.

I figured I’d drive — I always did with Lana even when we took her car — but Lois made no move to exit the vehicle after she stopped so I climbed in the passenger side.

“Ready for a day of hilarious fun?” she asked.

“Something like that,” I answered as I threw my coat into the back seat. “Any good music in this thing?”

She shrugged. “Here in Metropolis it’s not too bad, but in about an hour we’ll get about four country stations and that’s it. And the CD player doesn’t work.” She took a big sip out of her Styrofoam cup of coffee. She motioned to another cup. “There’s one for you — grand latte, full caf, whole milk, three sugars. I know you’re still on that health food kick,” she said with a large dose of sarcasm.

“Life’s short, Lois. Order what you want.” I took a big sip.

“Life is long, Clark. You are what you eat.” She looked me up and down out of the corner of her eye and muttered, “Most of us anyway.”

I smiled to myself. That was one benefit of coming from a defunct planet. I could eat whatever I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about it. I pointed to her cup. “Let me guess.” I closed my eyes for a minute. “Short non-fat mocha, decaf, no foam, no sugar, no whipped.” That was her usual.

“Nope. Large, full caf with lots of sugar at this time of morning.”

The stars still twinkled down at us. Or they would if we weren’t still in the city. Maybe they’d still be out when we made it away from the city lights.

Lois obviously knew where we were going and she quickly maneuvered us onto I-43 North towards Bremerton.

“So are you one of those early morning drive people who talks or is just grumpy until the sun’s been up for a few hours?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m a chipper morning person.” I grinned at her. “Lana hates it.”

“So do I,” she mumbled.

“Comes from growing up on a farm, I guess. There’s always lots of chores to be done before school.”

“And Lana didn’t grow up on a farm?”

“Lana?” I asked her, incredulous.

“Yeah, you know the blonde you’re always hanging all over.”

I was sure there was a wicked gleam in my eye. “You mean Cruella?”

“What?!” That earned me one of the worst Lois looks I’d gotten yet.

“The other night you mentioned that you called her Cruella sometimes.”

“I can’t be held accountable for something I said when I may or may not have been under the influence of mind altering drugs.”

“That’s good because right as you were dozing off you started to invite me to… what was it?” I pretended to ponder.

“What?”

“Your actual words were, ‘if you ever want to drop that towel and come up…’ and then you dozed off.”

She turned eight shades of red. “I don’t believe you.”

I held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

~~~~~

Lois

Stupid boy scout. And why did it make me want to cry?

Could I really have said that to him?

Of course I did. Clark wouldn’t lie about something like that.

“You are annoyingly chipper in the morning,” I finally said. “Lana’s right about that. And, no, I’ve never called her Cruella.” At least not to her face, I added mentally.

“That’s not what you said the other night,” Clark said with that annoying smile on his face.

I turned to glare at him, knowing I was on a straight stretch of highway with no traffic. “And how do I know you weren’t the one to slip me something?”

Ouch. The look on his face told me I’d gone too far.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “That wasn’t fair. I know you wouldn’t do that.” I picked up my coffee and took a long sip. “I’m still waking up.”

“Are you sure you should be driving then?”

“I’m fine for driving, but conversation before about two cups of coffee is out. You should know that by now.”

He nodded.

I decided that changing the subject might be a good plan. “So, Lana didn’t grow up on a farm?”

He shook his head. “No, she grew up in Smallville. Her dad’s the mayor and has been as long as I can remember. I think I was about three when he was first elected. He was a teacher at the high school before that. Big house on Main Street and all that.”

“And you?” I asked quietly.

“Well,” he amended. “It’s a house on Tank Avenue, but you know what I mean. Me? Typical farm, I guess. Lots of corn, a few cows, couple horses sometimes, chickens, barn, couple of outbuildings, big tractor, couple of trucks, Mom’s art work.”

“Art work?” I raised an eyebrow his direction.

He grinned. “Yeah. Mom’s an aspiring artist. She has a degree in Art from UMKC.”

“UMKC?”

“University of Missouri at Kansas City. She got her degree in Art, came back to Smallville, got married, put her art on hold while she worked to raise me and help on the farm, and now that I’ve flown the coop, she’s doing some of her art again. Dad sent me some pictures. She’s done some welding sculptures over the years that have done pretty well at the county fair and one that one first prize at the Corn Festival.”

I felt my eyebrows shoot up. “Corn Festival? Ritual crop worship?”

He laughed. Way too chipper for this time of morning. “Something like that. It was started in the 1800s as a way to celebrate the end of the harvest. There’s about 947 different kinds of corn — creamed corn, corn on the cob, just about any kind of corn you can think of. There’s carnival games like the softball toss and stuff and contests like the husk off and corn-o-rama and the Corn-o-poly tournament and the Scarecrow Decorating Contest for the kids, things like that. And, of course, there’s the dance one night.”

“Let me guess. Two-step and Tush Push?” I asked.

“Yep. You know how to line dance?”

“Sure do. A friend of mine last year convinced me it was a good way to meet guys.”

“Was it?”

“Define guys,” I said wryly. “So, crop worship. Tell me more. It’s an interesting religious topic. Maybe I’ll go for my religions class.”

“Well, you missed it this year. It’s the first year I’ve missed since I was born.” He sounded a little bit sad. “But if you ever make it, I promise to Tush Push with you.”

“What’ll Lana think?”

He shrugged. “It’s one dance. She gets pretty much all the rest of them.”

“Who else gets a dance with all around good guy Clark Kent?”

“Oh, my mom for one.”

“Of course.” Boy Scout.

“Rachel.”

“Who?”

“Sheriff’s daughter. She graduated with me and Lana last year. She’s going into law enforcement herself. We went to prom together because Lana was grounded.”

“Why was Lana grounded?”

It was his turn to turn eight shades of red. “Um, her dad caught us making out one night.”

“She got grounded for making out?”

“Not exactly. She was supposed to be home by ten — and she was — but I snuck inside and we were on the couch in the living room. I wasn’t late for curfew or anything like that and they hadn’t actually said that I couldn’t come in or anything. Mom and Dad weren’t happy about it, but technically I hadn’t done anything wrong so I got lectured about controlling my hormones, but didn’t get grounded. Rachel was supposed to go to prom with Pete, but he had mono and couldn’t go so we ended up going together.”

“Okay, so your mom and Rachel — who else?”

“Well, Grandma Davis if she’s there and her arthritis isn’t acting up. Nana. Granny Kent. My aunts. Just depends on who’s around.”

“Doesn’t sound like there’s much time for Lana,” I said.

“Well, the dance is like four hours long and it’s not like I’m going to dance slow dances with any of them. Well, maybe my grandmas, but that’s different. They can’t Tush Push anymore. Granny Kent can if she really wants to but she doesn’t always. Depends on the day.”

“Well, if I ever make it to the Smallville Corn Festival, save a Tush Push for me.” I was sure it would be a cold day in… the Sahara before I made it to the Corn Festival.

“Will do.”

“Tell me more about small town life.” I couldn’t believe I was actually interested, but I was.

“What do you want to know?”

“What’s the most unusual thing to happen in Smallville since you were born?”

He laid his head back on the head rest. “Well, last year’s senior prank was the best in a long time.”

“What did you do?”

“Um, someone put a cow on the top floor of the school.”

“Someone?” I asked with a raised brow. “And why is that a big deal?”

“Well, cows won’t go down stairs.”

“Who knew?”

“Anyone with cows,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “That’s why they have ramps into trailers and stuff.”

“That’s the biggest thing that’s happened in Smallville in nineteen years?” I asked with a raised brow.

~~~~~

Clark

I took a deep breath. “There was a meteor shower the night I was found.”

“What? Did the stork drop you off?”

She had no idea how close she was. “No. I’m a foundling,” I said quietly.

“Oh,” she said in equally quiet tones. “I didn’t know.”

I shrugged. “It’s okay. I was found by a couple of wonderful people and I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.”

“That’s good.”

I stared out the window as we turned off I-43 and onto US-80. A few minutes later, we drove through the small town of Alberton. A few miles past that I noticed Lois staring at one particular turnoff onto a narrow strip of asphalt. The sign said ‘Lane Lane’. I wondered what that was about, but I didn’t ask and she didn’t volunteer.

“Listen, I need another cup of coffee,” she said. “We’ll be in Johnsonville in a few minutes. It’s a one horse town, but they do have a restaurant that makes a mean cup of coffee and decent pancakes.”

I nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

“It’s about an hour from there to Bremerton and then we can have all kinds of Fall Fest fun.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm again.

“Hey, it could be fun,” I told her.

“I’m sure it could.”

About an hour and fifteen minutes after we stopped for coffee and breakfast in Johnsonville, we pulled into the Fall Fest in Bremerton.

“Well, Farmboy,” she said. “Let’s go have some fun.”

It sounded like she believed the next few hours would be anything but.

***

Part 9

Lois

~~~~~

I had no intention of enjoying this. Based on the flyer I’d seen in the Met U newsroom, it was probably going to be suspiciously like the Corn Festival Clark had told me about.

When I’d originally volunteered to cover this, I was going to drive to Daddy’s cabin on Friday night, spend the night soaking in the tub and relishing the quiet away from Cruella and Madam Medusa, drive up here for a few hours Saturday and then spend another 36 hours or so relaxing at the cabin again. Unfortunately, Mr. ‘I’m Senior Editor and Better Than Everyone Else’ Paul decided that Clark and I should do this together. I’d told Clark that he didn’t need to come and he’d still share the byline, but he insisted that if he was going to get the credit, he was going to come. That way he wouldn’t get part of the blame if I screwed it up, he said.

Like I’d screw it up.

We spent the first couple of hours looking at some of the craft booths and we went through the barn to see the prize winning heifers or whatever. As we were walking around, Clark explained to me why one pig was better than another.

“So why aren’t there any webs with words like ‘Radiant’ in them?” I asked.

Clark rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“The literacy rate among common New Troy barn spiders is notoriously low. And spell check just doesn’t work very well on webs. If you want to find truly smart, sophisticated spiders who know how to spell without using spell check, you have to go to Kansas. You should come see some time.” The corners of his mouth were twitching and I glared at him.

Yeah — the Sahara was getting warmer by the minute and the chances of me two stepping at the Smallville Corn Festival were getting slimmer with each breath I took.

We grabbed some hot dogs and sodas as we walked around. I was exceedingly grateful that most of the activities had been moved inside due to the cold weather. The high for the day was something like 35 and that had been at midnight. It was supposed to stay steady for most of the day in the upper-20s and then drop into the low-20s and upper teens as the snow started overnight.

“Ladies and Gentlemen.” A voice came over the loudspeakers. “Time to grab your partners as this year’s Fall Fest Dance Contest is getting started. If you’re not yet registered, you’ve got ten minutes to sign up at the table. Time to two-step and Tush Push your way to the five hundred dollar prize.”

Clark looked at me with the big puppy eyes I’d seen him use on Lana a time or two. “Come on. Let’s do it.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “And what would Lana say?”

He smiled. “When I bring home $250, she won’t care.”

“You really think you’re good enough to win this thing, Fred?”

“Fred?” he asked.

I sighed. Really. Did he not watch old movies? Ever? Maybe they didn’t have VCRs or DVD players in Smallville. “Astaire.”

“Well, Ginger. Fred didn’t two-step, but if you’re good enough, I know I am.” Okay, he knew enough to know Fred and Ginger went together.

I resigned myself to dancing with Clark. “Okay. Let’s go.”

~~~~~

Clark

Well, I probably wouldn’t tell Lana how much fun line dancing with Lois was. Fun, yes. Lots of fun… Probably not.

She was good at this, I noticed as we stomped and twirled our way around the floor. After thirty minutes, it was down to us and three other couples. Ten minutes later, it was us and one other couple. They gave us a five minute break to get a drink before the finals.

We sat at a little table just off the dance floor. “You’re good, Ginger.”

“You’re not bad yourself, Fred.”

“Ah,” I said. “But I was learning to two-step from Nana as soon as I was old enough to walk. I’ve got quite a head start on you but you’re keeping up pretty well.”

“I’d say so, Farm Boy.” She took a long sip of water. “So what are you going to do with your money when we win?”

I shrugged. “Probably save it for Christmas presents.” Actually, I’d stick it in savings for Lana’s engagement ring, but Lois didn’t need to know that. “You?”

She shrugged. “The same probably.”

“Okay. Teams number eight and thirty. Time to dance your tushies off.”

I stood up and grabbed her hand. “Let’s go.”

Ten minutes later, we stood next to the announcer with Team Eight on the other side.

“And the winners of this year’s Fall Fest Dance Contest are…” He paused to increase the drama. All hundred people in the building were waiting with bated breath, I was sure. Of course, only ten of them were gathered around the dance floor and I thought all of those were related to Team Eight.

“Lois Lane and Clark Kent!”

I broke into a big grin and Lois squealed and threw her arms around my neck. I wrapped my arms around her waist and swung her around. They handed us our trophy and asked us to fill out a couple of forms so they’d know where to send the tax forms come April. A few minutes after that, we each had a check for $250 tucked away.

“What else do we want to look at?” she asked me.

I shrugged. “We haven’t looked at the jewelry yet.”

“Looking for something for Mary Ann?” she asked.

It took a second but then the Gilligan’s Island reference clicked. “Maybe. Or my mom. Or one of my grandmas. Who knows,” I said with a wink. “Maybe I’ll even find something for you.” She’d been more fun to hang out with away from campus than I expected.

She snorted. “Yeah. Right. You’d buy me a piece of jewelry. No matter how innocuous, you’d be in Lana’s doghouse until graduation.”

She had a point. I’d probably better stick with something for a relative.

We wandered towards the jewelry and art section of the Fest. My stomach didn’t feel quite right which struck me as odd. The last time my stomach had felt off, I was five and I threw up all over my dad. I shook it off. I didn’t want to throw up — it hadn’t been any fun at all and I was glad I didn’t feel this way often. Surely it was a fluke of some kind and I’d feel better in a few minutes.

Lois had moved on without me and was looking at a piece of artwork with a green stone in the middle of a number of other colors. As soon as I got within about ten feet of her, my whole body began to ache. My head began to spin.

And then everything went black.

~~~~~

Lois

I was staring at something called ‘Irish Eyes Are Killing’. The green stone in the middle was shaped like an eye and had sort of a glowing quality that gave me the creeps. The artist, it turned out, had grown up in Smallville, moving about eight years earlier. This particular green rock she’d found as a teen and had spent a long time trying to decide what to do with it. She wasn’t sure what gave her this idea, but she was pretty proud of it. I turned to call to Clark — surely they knew each other if they both came from Smallville — when I heard a thud.

I turned to see my dance partner lying on the ground. “Clark!” I yelled, rushing to his side. “Clark, what’s wrong?”

There was no response.

The artist was with me. “Clark Kent?”

I nodded.

“He’s my cousin! Clark, wake up!”

Two of the local firefighters happened to be on the scene and rushed over. They decided to move him to the dance floor where they’d have more room to work.

Tears were running down my face as I followed them. I shouldn’t be crying. I didn’t care that much. I cared, but not that much.

By the time they laid him on the dance floor, he was starting to groan. A minute later, he opened his eyes. “Lana?” he mumbled.

I sat next to him. “Clark, it’s Lois. Can you hear me?”

He nodded. “Lois?” He looked at the artist. “Danielle? Am I seeing things?”

The tears were flowing down her face. “No, Cuz. It’s me.”

“What happened?”

“I was talking to Lois here and then we heard you collapse.”

He pushed himself up to a sitting position, despite the firefighters’ protestations.

“I’m fine, really,” he told them. “I don’t know what happened, but I’m fine.”

He spoke with the firefighters — and the paramedics who arrived a minute later — but insisted that nothing was wrong with him.

Finally, he convinced them to let him go and he sat at the table we’d used earlier. He and his cousin chatted for a few minutes when he admitted that his head was throbbing. He turned down some Tylenol, saying it never agreed with him.

“Okay, then. We’re going to get in the car and head to the nearest hospital.”

He shook his head. “No. Let’s just head back to Metropolis. I’ll be fine.”

Danielle helped me help him to the car and soon we were back on the road. I noticed with some concern that there was already a dusting of snow on the cars in the lot. They’d said flurries were possible this afternoon but the main storm wouldn’t hit until late tonight. We had plenty of time to get home before the worst hit. Didn’t we?

I kept an eye on Clark. He didn’t seem to be getting any worse, but he did appear to be asleep. His color wasn’t right, but I figured some rest would fix that.

I had to turn more and more of my attention to the road as the snowflakes came down thicker and harder. I tuned the radio to one of the country stations I’d mentioned to Clark to see if I could find out what the weather was doing.

The storm had come in hours early I finally heard. I thought we could make it to Metropolis before it got too bad so I kept going, but as we neared Johnsonville again conditions deteriorated rapidly.

Then the news came over the radio that I-43 would likely be closed soon. I wanted to cry. Hopefully, we’d make it to Alberton before they closed US-80, too.

~~~~~

Clark

I couldn’t believe it when I opened my eyes and saw Danielle there. She was my Aunt Jenny’s oldest daughter and probably ten or twelve years older than me but my head hurt too badly to remember exactly. I hadn’t seen her in several years.

My head cleared a bit and I could see the tears still running down her face and Lois’. I must have given them quite a scare but I insisted I was fine. The paramedics who showed up wanted to take me to the hospital, but there was no way that was going to happen.

I finally convinced them that I was going to be fine and they left me alone.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Clark?” Danielle looked concerned.

I smiled at her as best I could, squeezing her hand gently. “I’m fine, Elle.” I looked at Lois. “Lois, this is my cousin Danielle. Danielle, my roommate, Lois.”

Danielle smiled and shook Lois’ hand, then turned to me with a raised eyebrow. “I didn’t know Met U had coed rooms.”

“They don’t,” I told her. “There was a mix-up with Lois’ paperwork and nowhere else for her to go. Campus is full, so we just didn’t tell anyone.”

“Not even your folks?” she asked, incredulous.

“No, they know.”

“And Lana?”

“She’s one of our suitemates. She’s not happy about it, but I wouldn’t be happy if she had a guy roommate so…” I shrugged, wincing at the pain that shot through my head at that small movement. “What’re you doing here?”

“Showing off some of my artwork. Maybe sell some of it. Tom and I live a couple hours from here so…” She shrugged. “Here I am. You?”

“We’re covering it for the school paper.” I grinned at her — or tried to anyway. “It’s a good thing Tom isn’t here.”

“Why’s that?” she asked, still holding my hand.

“Lois and I never would have won the dance contest if you two had been in it.” I tried to smile but could tell it wasn’t a normal one.

“You two won?” She looked back and forth between us. “Congratulations. I heard the couple that won was really good, but I didn’t have a chance to catch any of it.”

Lois finally spoke up. “Clark, do you want some Tylenol or something?”

I shook my head. Even though I didn’t have any of my special abilities at the moment, I didn’t know how medicine would react with my Kryptonian system. “I think I just want to go.”

“I’ll take you to the closest hospital,” Lois said, pulling the keys out of her pocket.

“No!” I said more strongly than I intended. “I mean, if we get back to campus and I still don’t feel very good, I’ll think about it, okay?”

“That’s right — you and your hospital phobia,” Danielle said.

“It’s not a hospital phobia. I don’t mind hospitals; I just don’t like to be the patient.”

Lois sighed. “Fine. Danielle, would you help us to the car?”

I hated it but I had to admit that it was easier to walk with an arm around each of their shoulders.

Finally, I relaxed into the seat and pulled my seatbelt around me, resting my head against the window after Lois shut the door.

I had no idea how long we were on the road when I realized that I was starting to shake a little bit.

“What’s wrong?” Apparently, Lois had noticed too.

I shrugged, not bothering to open my eyes. I felt the back of her hand on my forehead.

“Clark! You’re burning up!”

Fever and chills. Great combination.

“I don’t feel so good,” I finally mumbled.

“Really, Hawkeye? Nice to know.”

“Who?” I wasn’t up to her name games right now.

“Dr. Benjamin Franklin Pierce. Hawkeye.”

“Right. M*A*S*H.”

“Yep.”

“Just tell me what happened with Joe the other day. I saw you hugging him.”

She sighed. “He apologized. We’re supposed to be going to the bonfire tonight, but I don’t know that we’re going to make it in time. I think we’re going to be lucky to make it at all.”

“What?”

“The snow.”

“Huh?”

“Look out the window.”

I opened my eyes slightly to see that we were in near white out conditions. “Can you even see the road?”

“Well enough,” she said, but I heard her add ‘for now’ under her breath.

Great. I closed my eyes again; unable to keep them open any longer.

***

Part 10

Lois

~~~~~

What was happening to him?

I had no idea, but I did know if I didn’t get him somewhere warm soon, it wouldn’t be good. I didn’t think we could make it all the way back to Metropolis. No, I knew we couldn’t make it all the way back to Metropolis, especially if they closed I-43. So what were we going to do? I squinted at the sign. Alberton — 6 miles. The cabin. If we were six miles from Alberton then the turn off to the cabin should be… I squinted again. Lane Lane. Dad had thought it was funny when he stuck the sign on the private road leading to the cabin when we were kids. I took the turn carefully. Okay, two more miles.

The snow was deeper here, even though there were trees on both sides of the road and it was only wide enough for one car at a time. There hadn’t been any plows or salt trucks to help ease the drifting.

“Where are we?” Clark mumbled.

“On our way to Daddy’s cabin. There’s no way we’ll make it home in this mess. It’s only about another mile. Daddy paved the road, but it’s still pretty bad and I’m not sure we’ll make it all the way to the cabin. We may have to walk a ways.”

“Getting out to walk in a blizzard probably isn’t the best idea.”

“No, but neither is staying in the car when we have somewhere to go. As long as we stay on the road, we’ll hit the cabin soon. It’s almost two miles from the turnoff and we’ve gone nearly a mile already.”

It was another half mile before the car got stuck in a drift.

“Clark.” I reached over and shook him.

“Wha’?” He woke up slightly.

“We’re going to have to walk the rest of the way.”

He looked out the window. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“We can’t stay here. No one knows where we are and we’re only half or three-quarters of a mile from the cabin.

“Too far,” he whispered.

“We don’t have a choice,” I told him grimly.

“I can’t make it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I don’t think I can make it that far.” His head leaned back against the headrest.

“We have to try, Clark.”

“No, someone will come.”

“We’re almost out of gas so we can’t keep the heater going much longer and no one knows where we are.”

“Where are we again?”

“Daddy built a cabin not too far from here when we were kids. I knew we wouldn’t make it anywhere else but I thought we could make it there.”

“We’ll get lost.”

“No. The road is pretty narrow, and it’s surrounded by forest so if we hit the trees, we’re going the wrong way. The road literally ends in front of the cabin steps. We don’t have a choice,” I reiterated.

He finally nodded. “Okay. Are there any blankets or anything in here to help us try to keep warm?”

“I don’t think so. We’ve both got pretty heavy coats, hats, gloves, all that good stuff that we need to put on before we get out of the car, though.”

“Yeah.”

I sighed and reached out to feel his head again. He was burning up. That wouldn’t last long once we got out of the car. The temperature had to be in the mid to high 20s outside. I twisted around in my seat and grabbed his coat. He’d shoved his hat and gloves inside one of the sleeves and I pulled them out. I yanked the stocking cap over his head. “You’re going to have to help me with the gloves.”

He nodded and held out one hand. Working together we got both of his gloves on and then I managed to get his left arm into his coat. I realized his seat belt was still on so I took care of that and he leaned forward so I could get the coat around him.

~~~~~

Clark

I could feel her breath on the side of my face. I still felt like I’d been hit by a ten-ton truck. She was muttering under her breath and I managed to help get my other arm in my coat. How far did she say it was to this cabin? She pushed me back against the seat and zipped the coat all the way up, pulling the hood over my stocking cap and tying it in front so it covered my neck and the lower part of my face. I leaned against the door as she put on her own coat and stuff. How was I going to make it to the cabin?

“Okay, listen. I don’t want to have to walk around the car to try to help you out so I’m going to climb over you and go out the passenger door. Then I’ll help you out, okay?”

I nodded. I heard her muttering something that sounded like curse words and then she was straddling me trying to get the door open. Despite the situation and multiple layers of winter clothing between us, Lana would not be happy to catch us like this. The door seemed to have frozen shut but she leaned against it until it opened. It left her off balance and she tumbled into the snow. I reached out to try to help her up, but she was already scrambling to her feet.

She grabbed my hand. “Come on.” I managed to get out of the car, shut the door, and she put her arm around my waist while mine went around her shoulders.

“You’re just the right height, Lane. We should do this more often,” I told her.

“Yeah, Meriwether. Getting stuck in a blizzard is something we should do every year. It’ll be like a tradition.”

“I’m not Meriwether. I’m Clark.”

“I know, Meriwether.”

One foot in front of the other. That was all I could do. It was cold outside and this walk was going to seem like forever, I was sure.

I had no idea how long we’d been walking, but I knew I was leaning more heavily on Lois. Then I didn’t lift my foot quite high enough and I landed face first in a pile of snow. I pushed myself up to find Lois had landed next to me.

She struggled to her feet then helped me to mine. It almost felt like the wind was working with us for a moment; like it was helping me stay upright as I swayed and tried desperately not to knock me and Lois over again.

“Come on,” she said. “It’s not too much further.”

“How do you know? All the snowflakes look the same to me.”

“Because if it’s much further, we’re not going to make it.”

I tried to take a deep breath but couldn’t. I had been shivering for a while and I knew that was a bad sign. “Then leave me and go.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“At least go see how far it is.”

“I’ll never find you again if I do that.”

“Fine, but promise me something.”

“What?”

“If I fall back down and don’t get up, don’t stay with me. Try to get there yourself.”

“Don’t worry, Casanova. I have no intention of dying because you won’t move, so let’s go.”

We started walking again and I counted at least six more falls into snow drifts before she really said anything again. Each time it took us longer to struggle to our feet. Each time, it felt like the wind helped us stay on our feet. I wasn’t sure why, but it was reassuring.

“We’re almost there.”

She sounded cold. “That’s what you said last time, Ms. Conquistador,” I reminded her weakly.

“I know, but we’re at the clearing. It’s not much further.”

“Okay, McNally. Lead the way.”

“McNally?”

“Yeah. Like Rand.”

“Got it. Keep talking to me, Clark.” She sounded weak, but not as weak as I felt.

“Why?”

“To help you stay awake.”

“Wanna sleep.” I did. I could fall asleep standing up right now but I knew what a bad plan that was.

“Not yet. Once we get inside, then you can sleep. Maybe. If there’s power so we have heat. Otherwise, you’re going to have to help me start a fire, Farmboy.”

“Can’t start a fire with my eyes right now,” I told her.

“Of course not. But you were a Boy Scout right?”

I could feel her supporting more and more of my weight. I was going to knock her over again before long. “Yeah. When I was a kid.”

“See? You’ll have to show me how to start a fire.”

“You don’t know how?”

“Oh, I know how, but since I’ve carried you the whole way, you get to start the fire.”

“You’re not carrying me,” I protested with as much feeling as I could muster, which wasn’t much. “I’m walking.” I shuffled forward again as I said it.

“You’re running the 200 meter dash, Michael.”

“Michael?” I wasn’t sure she could hear me, my question was so quiet.

“Michael Johnson. Holds the world record in the 200 meter dash. You’re going to beat him.”

“I’m sure I…” I tripped again, but this time landed on something solid and I wasn’t face first in a foot of snow.

“See. I told you we were almost here.”

Steps. I must have landed on the steps of the cabin. Now to get inside. I tried to stand up, but couldn’t and collapsed again. “I can’t move,” I whispered.

“Come on, Clark.” She tugged on my arm and sounded close to tears. I couldn’t make Lana… no. I couldn’t make Lois cry. Lana wasn’t here. Was she? “You have to help me out here.”

I pushed up with one foot, trying to at least move myself up another stair. With Lois helping, I managed to make it to the top of the stairs onto the porch. I thought I heard keys, but that was the last thing I remembered.

~~~~~

Lois

I couldn’t let myself cry. The tears would freeze and that would just make things worse. We’d made it to the cabin but Clark was still outside. Well, first I had to get my keys out. I really didn’t want to have to break one of the windows in the door if I didn’t have to. Daddy would understand, but it would also let the cold air in.

My teeth were chattering as I managed to drop the keys in the snow. I’d jammed my wrist again when we fell on the porch and just couldn’t hold onto them. I smothered a scream. I was never going to find them. I jiggled the handle. Maybe Daddy had forgotten to lock it last time he was here. I nearly collapsed with relief with the knob turned. “Come on, Clark.” He was up the stairs, now to get him inside. “You have to help me out here.”

He managed to grab hold of the railing and I helped him stand up and we half shuffled, half walked inside. He wanted to stop, but I made him keep going until he finally collapsed in front of the fire place, where I wanted him. I was going to have to start a fire and soon. I hoped Daddy kept the fire starters stocked even this early in the winter. I didn’t think he’d been out here in a while.

I thought about taking my gloves off, but I wouldn’t have any more dexterity if I did at this point and the protection they offered against the rough firewood would be welcome. I managed to put four or five pieces in the large fireplace and breathed a sigh of relief when I found a fire starter in the bin. I pulled one glove off with my teeth — at least they weren’t chattering as I did that — and, after a dozen tries with nearly frozen fingers, managed to light the paper. I slid it in between the logs and leaned on the mantle with a sigh of relief.

That was the first order of business.

What did I need to do next? Thermostat. Before heading to the hallway, I flipped the switch for the blower by the fireplace.

Nothing.

I flipped it again. And again. And again.

No power, but I left it on for whenever the power did come back.

I should have known. At least I hadn’t made it all the way upstairs to the hall first. That was too far to walk if I didn’t have to.

I looked at Clark. He wasn’t unconscious, but he wasn’t entirely conscious either. His jeans were soaked through — so were mine. That wouldn’t do.

I pulled my other glove and my coat off to find that my shirt was somehow soaked. I had no idea how that happened with my ski coat over top of it.

Okay, no power. No thermostat to worry about. So next on the list.

Daddy.

Had to let Dad know where we were. I hoped the phone lines weren’t down too.

I called the house. No answer. Left a message.

I called his office. No answer. Left a message.

Called his cell phone. Straight to voice mail. “Daddy, it’s me,” I managed to squeak out. “Clark and I got stuck in the storm. We made it to the cabin, but there’s no power and Clark’s sick and I’m afraid he’s hypothermic and I’m probably not far behind. I’ve got a fire going but the car’s stuck on the road to the cabin somewhere and almost out of gas anyway. Can you send someone to help? Please.” I barely managed to get the last word out, but hung up the phone. I leaned back on the couch. I had to get out of these wet clothes and I had to get Clark out of his.

Lana would love that. I mentally rolled my eyes — physically doing so would take too much energy.

I started as I thought I heard something upstairs. There was a loud cracking noise and then a crash. A limb must have fallen outside — or nearly a whole tree from the sound of it — and that must have been what I heard. It was enough to get me moving.

“Here goes nothing,” I muttered.

Before I started on his clothes, I grabbed all the blankets I could find. I was sure there were more in the bedrooms, but that was too far away, and there were several lying on couch. That was odd but I didn’t question it.

I don’t know how long it took, but I managed to get the top of him half undressed. As much as I hated fumbling with the tiny buttons, I was glad I didn’t have to try to pull it over his head. One arm was completely out of his shirt. I’d have to get him to roll over to get the other half out.

He did that for me, flopping onto his back. I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled the other arm out of the coat and flannel shirt — which was as wet as mine was.

I wished desperately that I had something to wrap my wrist as it throbbed more with nearly every movement, but I didn’t have anything handy.

Jeans.

Had to get the jeans off him.

Boots first. That was safer. I managed, with fumbling fingers, to get his boots and then his soaked socks off.

Why was he wearing a belt with his jeans? I managed to get it off and undo the button and zipper. I tugged until they slid down his legs.

Well, that was one question answered. Boxers.

With one final tug, the jeans were off.

And now…

The boxers had to follow.

They were soaked, too, and clinging to his upper thighs. The thought of a completely naked Clark wasn’t entirely pleasant, but there was no choice. I managed to toss a blanket over him and reached under it, carefully, to pull them off. They came off easier than the jeans did and I breathed a sigh of relief just as I realized my teeth were chattering more violently than before.

I managed to take my own shirt, shoes, socks and jeans off fairly easily. Well, easily compared to how difficult it was to get Clark’s clothes off. I used the tongs to put a couple more logs on the fire that was now roaring. By the time I was done with all that, my wrist ached even more.

I hugged myself in front of it, letting the warmth seep in, but it wasn’t enough. My legs were like rubber and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand much longer. My own bra and underwear were soaked, too, and they needed to come off.

Naked with Clark. I guessed there were worse things in life, but this certainly wasn’t what I’d expected to be doing tonight. I pulled the rest of the blankets over him. He’d rolled so that he was facing the fire, allowing me to move his shirt and coat from where they’d been lying under him. He needed to be closer to the fire more than I did, I knew. I stripped the rest of my clothes off and moved behind him, arranging the blankets over the top of me and finally wrapping an arm around his chest, hoping that somehow, we’d warm each other up.

A small smile crossed my face and my last conscious thought was that I was sleeping naked with Clark before Lana did.

***

Part 11

Clark

~~~~~

Someone was trying to wake me up, but I didn’t want to. Lana and I were finally alone together. I didn’t remember proposing or getting married, but we were alone in a mountain hideaway and I wasn’t sure what exactly had happened, but I didn’t think I was wearing any clothes and there weren’t any clothes on her either. I could feel her soft, warm skin against mine, and I wanted to stay here forever with her in my arms.

I finally opened my eyes just a bit to see dark hair spilling over my chest and felt rough hands shaking me.

Dark hair?

Lois?

The events of the night before came rushing back to me. Well, I guessed it was the night before; I didn’t know how long we’d been there. I remembered falling onto the steps of the cabin, but nothing after that. She must have taken my clothes off and started the fire I could hear crackling on one side of me.

But that voice was telling me to wake up again.

“Clark! Clark!”

I looked up to see Lois’ dad kneeling next to me. The bright sunlight streaming in the window hurt my head and I closed my eyes tightly.

I tried to say something but nothing came out. I wet my lips and tried again. “Dr. Lane?” I whispered. “Is she okay?”

“She’s breathing,” he said grimly. “Your temperature isn’t as low as I’d expect for either one of you, but still not great. Do you remember what happened?”

I shook my head. “Not really. I wasn’t feeling well. I remember her saying we had to walk and it seemed like forever until I landed on the steps and I don’t remember anything after that.”

He nodded. “That’s not unusual with hypothermia.”

A groan made both of us look at the head of tousled dark hair still resting on my chest.

“Princess?” He shook her shoulder gently.

“Daddy?” she whispered. “Clark’s so cold, Daddy. I don’t know if I can get all the way to the cabin with him leaning on me.”

Dr. Lane’s face was grim. “Lois. Honey. Wake up.”

Her head moved slightly off my chest. “Daddy?”

“I’m right here, Princess. Can you look at me?”

~~~~~

Lois

Daddy was here. It was going to be okay. I tried to open my eyes, but it hurt. “No. My head hurts. Everything hurts.” I felt an arm tighten around me. Whose arm was that?

Clark!

“Clark. Daddy, is Clark okay?”

“I’m okay.”

I felt the words spoken as I heard them. That must be Clark’s arm around me and I must be on his chest. But where were his clothes? And mine?

I groaned again. “Are we naked?”

“I think so,” the chest underneath me mumbled. “Any idea how that happened, Lane?”

I held a blanket against my chest and pushed up with my other arm, grateful that at least it seemed we’d been covered when Daddy showed up. I kept my eyes squeezed shut as I sat up, feeling for the couch. “Can you make sure that I didn’t take all the blankets and that you’re all covered up before I try to open my eyes again?” I asked him as I leaned against the furniture.

“Didn’t get a good enough look last night?” he teased.

“I didn’t look,” I mumbled. “I put a blanket over you before I managed to get your boxers off.”

I felt the blankets move and then Clark’s arm brushed mine as he leaned against the couch too.

“You can open your eyes now, Aurora.”

“Who?”

“Aurora. Sleeping Beauty.”

I groaned. “Don’t think that makes you Prince Charming, but at least I know you’re going to be okay if you’re calling me names again. Even if it is a nice one.” I slowly opened one eye and then the other.

The fire was roaring and I knew Daddy had to have had something to do with that because I didn’t think Clark and I had been in any shape to put any more logs on.

I looked up and saw my Dad’s worried face. “Are we going to be okay?”

He nodded. “I called anyone I could think of as soon as I got your message, but all the emergency services were busy and couldn’t get here anyway. As soon as the snow died down, I got in the big truck and came up here. You two are actually in better shape than I expected from your message, Pumpkin.” I could tell he was choking up. “I was afraid I wouldn’t get here in time,” he whispered.

“I’m okay, Daddy.” I smiled at him through my own tears, knowing he was thinking about another time when he’d been too late — or thought he had. There was nothing anyone could have done to save Mom and Lucy and he knew that. “I’m still tired and weak and I think I’m going to be sore from carrying Paul Bunyan here to the cabin.”

“Can you walk me through it, Little Girl?” he asked. He only called me ‘little girl’ when he was very emotional. He must have not slept all night waiting for the weather to clear enough to get up here. He looked tired.

I sighed. “I didn’t realize how bad the weather was when we left Bremerton. I heard on the radio that I-43 was probably going to be closed soon and I didn’t know how else to get to Metropolis. Then I saw a sign and knew we were close to the turnoff. The car got stuck in a drift about a mile and a half later. We put our coats and stuff on and walked the rest of the way.”

“I think you carried me,” Clark interrupted.

“Well, sort of, but you were at least half walking because I couldn’t have carried you. You didn’t actually collapse until we made in here then you landed on the floor in front of the fireplace. I built a fire, realized that there was no power. Called you.” I couldn’t look at Clark as I mumbled through the next part. “Managed to get Clark’s clothes off…”

“And you couldn’t have left my boxers on?” he asked without looking at me.

“They were soaked. All of your clothes were soaked. All of my clothes were soaked. I added a couple more logs to the fire, took my clothes off and lay down by Clark with as many blankets as I could find without climbing the stairs to get any out of the closet, because I knew I didn’t have that much energy. The next thing I remember is waking up a few minutes ago.”

I hoped they wouldn’t notice my face turning red. That wasn’t entirely accurate, but I wasn’t about to tell them about the dream I’d had — about kissing Clark, naked, in front of the fire… I shook myself mentally, not wanting to remember the rest of it.

“What, Princess?”

“Nothing,” I mumbled.

“Well, you two are going to be fine.”

“Good.” I breathed a sigh of relief.

~~~~~

Clark

I tested my senses and realized that, while I wasn’t in pain like I had been the night before, I couldn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary. And for me, that was unusual.

And had I really said something to Lois about starting fires with my eyes?

“Did you leave any clothes here last time we were here?”

I guessed Dr. Lane wasn’t talking to me.

“No.” Lois answered the question.

“Well, the power’s back on, so why don’t you go take a shower and I’ll see if I have some sweats or something you can wear and I’ll put your clothes in the washer.”

Lois must have agreed, because she moved.

I finally took the time to look around. ‘Cabin’ was a bit of an understatement. We were in a large room easily as big as the entire first floor of the farmhouse I grew up in, and probably a lot bigger, with high vaulted ceilings. On one side was a large kitchen with a big breakfast bar island and what looked to be granite countertops. A large table was in a dining area and the rest was filled with comfortable looking furniture arranged around the fireplace or looking out the picture window. I couldn’t see out it from where I was sitting but I was sure the view was spectacular.

About six feet to one side of the fireplace was a short staircase of no more than five or six steps and that was where Lois had disappeared. Six feet on the other side, the kitchen side, was a full staircase and open balcony on the second floor. I saw at least two doors up there and one set of large double doors under the balcony. I guessed there were several bedrooms around behind at least a couple of those doors.

“I’ll see if I have anything for you to wear, too. At least until your clothes are dry.” Dr. Lane came back from somewhere — I hadn’t seen where, but all of the clothes that I’d noticed strewn about were gone so I guessed he’d put them in the washer.

“Thanks,” I said as it finally sunk in that he’d walked into the cabin to find Lois asleep in my arms in front of a fire, naked. “Listen, sir…”

“Please don’t ‘sir’ me, son. Sam is fine.” He sat in one of the big chairs near the fireplace.

“Okay, Sam. I honestly don’t remember anything about last night. Not after we made it to the porch. But, I promise, I didn’t take advantage of your daughter.”

Something flashed in my mind. Lois. Kissing Lois. But then the vision morphed and I was kissing Lana. I must have dreamed about her while we were sleeping in front of the fire.

“Well, I don’t see how you can promise that, Clark. You don’t remember what happened after you got here and neither does Lois, but for the record, I doubt either one of you had the energy to do any taking advantage of the other one.”

I nodded as another flash of Lois flitted through my mind. I shook my head to clear it. “I’m sure you’re right.”

“Do you think you can walk?”

I nodded.

“Well, I won’t make you climb the stairs, but my room is through those doors and there’s a bathroom off of it. There’s towels and stuff in there, if you want to go take a shower. I’ll see if I can find some clothes for you and I’ll leave them on the bed.”

“Thanks.”

I waited until he stood up and then I made sure the blanket was well-wrapped around me as I followed him into his bedroom.

~~~~~

Lois

I was sore in places I didn’t even know existed, but the shower had helped.

There was something comfortable about wearing Daddy’s clothes. There always had been.

The sweats he’d left on my bed were way too big, but that wasn’t surprising. I’d have to remember to leave a change of clothes here just in case something like this ever happened again. Daddy obviously did. And he must not have thought to get some clothes for me out of the dresser at home.

At least he hadn’t brought his girlfriend with him.

I sat on the bed wearing only the sweatshirt and a pair of bike shorts I’d found and pulled my legs to me underneath it. I stared out the window that covered nearly the entire wall. It was a winter wonderland and if we hadn’t some so close to dying, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

The dream I’d had the night before came screaming back to me.

The cabin was incredibly romantic. I knew that. Daddy had brought Mom here on many occasions for a weekend getaway and he’d always said that when I was married, I’d be welcome to use it, too. But to dream about Clark like that…

He was a good-looking guy. And pretty nice most of the time. He had poor taste in women, but other than that he was a good friend.

My face turned red just thinking about how vividly I remembered that dream.

One thing was sure, I wasn’t about to tell him what I’d dreamed about when I was sleeping in his arms, without any clothes on either of us.

I knew he had to be feeling better. The slight dip in water pressure while I was in the shower meant that someone else was running water too. I guessed it was Clark taking his own shower.

I wondered how he was going to explain to Lana that he’d spent the night in my arms and without any clothes on at that. The frosty atmosphere in our suite was almost hypothermia-inducing as it was; this was sure to make it rival one of the ice caps. On an extra cold day.

And I didn’t care. I’d done what I had to do and if I had left him in the car, he’d be dead. She should be grateful.

I snorted. Yeah, right. Grateful. Cruella was never grateful to anyone for anything. Except maybe Clark.

~~~~~

Clark

True to his word, Sam left some clothes out for me on the large bed in his room.

The bathroom was something out of a magazine — slate tiles, steamer shower big enough to fit the entire senior class at Smallville High and large Jacuzzi tub. I could see why they’d bought the place.

Part of me was jealous. The only way I’d ever be in a place like this was because I was friends with a rich kid.

Lois didn’t act like the stereotypical rich kid, though. She was funny and smart. She wasn’t working her way through college and probably wouldn’t work over the summer like Lana and I would, but she wasn’t spoiled either. She worked hard at her studies and would probably do an extra internship or something.

I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything, but surely there was something to be said for growing up with money.

The sweat pants were too long so I rolled the cuffs but otherwise they fit fine. The T-shirt was actually a bit on the snug side. Sam Lane was taller than me, but apparently, my chest and arms were a little bigger.

I exited the room he’d been kind enough to let me use feeling better than ever. I walked over to the large window that filled almost the entire wall. I was right. The view was spectacular. I closed my eyes and soaked in the winter sun. Even though it was getting low in the sky and the window was in the way, I could feel it rejuvenating me. I still didn’t know why or how, but I always felt better after spending some time in the sun.

“Hey, you look better.”

I turned to see Sam walking through the room.

“I feel much better. Thank you,” I said with a smile.

“I see the pants are a bit long and the shirt a bit small. I was afraid of that.”

“They’re great. Really.”

“Well, the clothes you and Lois wore here are almost ready for the dryer, but I don’t think we’re going to get out of here tonight. We probably could, but I’ve got a friend who has a snow plow who can get the car out for us tomorrow or the next day.”

I nodded. “At least the power’s back on.”

“I think it came back on not long after you two got here, at least based on the time flashing on the clock when I got here. You two were probably asleep for about twenty hours before I made it here.”

“We shouldn’t have left Bremerton,” I said shaking my head. “I didn’t think the storm was supposed to come in until late last night.”

“It came early. And was much, much worse than anticipated.”

“I figured,” I said with half a smile. “I really don’t remember a whole lot about it though. I just remember my head suddenly hurt and I felt horrible.” I shook myself. “I haven’t really been sick since I was five.”

“Really?”

I nodded. “I’ve just always been healthy. But that time, I threw up all over my dad in the back of the truck while we were star-gazing one night. That was it. I don’t get headaches or fevers or anything. I probably could have handled it better if I did. Since I never get sick, I don’t know how to deal with it.”

Sam nodded. “I’m going to go get some more firewood from outside.”

I stood up. “I’ll help you.”

“No, you’re still recuperating. I’ll get it. Would you mind to check on Lois for me while I do? Her shower turned off a little while ago, but she hasn’t been out yet.”

“Sure.”

“Her room is up the steps on the other side of the fireplace by the window.”

I nodded and headed over there. Sam disappeared under the full staircase and I walked up the short staircase. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer.

I slowly opened the door. “Lois?” There was no answer. Slightly worried, I pushed the door open further. “Lois?” I called again. When the door was open far enough, I saw her lying in the middle of a big bed in the middle of a large room. She was wearing what I guessed was one of her dad’s sweatshirts and was sound asleep. Her legs were bare and even with the power and heat back on, she was sure to be cold. I saw a blanket lying on one chair and I picked it up. Laying it gently over her, so as not to wake her, I realized how close we’d both come to losing everything.

As it suddenly hit me, I sunk down onto the bed. I wasn’t supposed to get sick. If I hadn’t been sick, this wouldn’t have happened. I could have gotten us wherever we needed to go, even if it meant telling Lois my secret. I knew I could trust her — she’d proven that when she practically carried me a half mile or more to the cabin. I remembered telling her to leave me and I remembered the stubbornness in her voice when she said she wouldn’t.

It was enough to make me dizzy. I carefully lay down — just until the unusual sensation passed. I closed my eyes just for a minute to try to come to grips with what had happened. When I opened them again, there was a blanket over me and a weight holding me down.

I looked to see that tousled dark head of hair resting on my chest again. I really should get up and go somewhere else, but I didn’t want to wake her up. A glance out the window showed that it was probably the middle of the night and I knew she needed her sleep. I probably did too.

Without really making a conscious decision to do so, I fell asleep in Lois’ arms for the second night in a row.

***

Part 12

Lois

~~~~~

The sun was way too bright. Again. I groaned and pulled the blanket over my head shutting out the offending light. I must have fallen asleep after I got out of the shower and slept all night.

I tried to roll over and face away from the window, but was stopped by something solid and a weight around my waist.

I cautiously checked to see what it was only to find an arm wrapped around me.

Clark.

It had to be Clark.

But why was he in my bed?

As though sensing I was awake, his arm tightened around me and I felt him burying his face in my hair. “Morning, baby,” he mumbled. “I haven’t slept that well in ages.”

I ran my hand up his arm — noting with one part of my mind that he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and praying he was still wearing pants — until I reached his face. I laid my hand on his cheek. No fever. That was good.

He mumbled again. “Maybe Mom and Dad will let you stay in my room now that you’re my wife. I think I want to wake up like this every day.”

Great. He thought I was Lana.

Lana.

Had he even called her to let her know where he was? Had Daddy thought to contact the dorms to tell them we were okay? What about Clark’s parents?

“Clark,” I said quietly. “It’s time to wake up.”

When his only response was to tighten his hold on me and mutter, “Don’t wanna,” I silenced a scream of frustration.

“Clark,” I said more forcefully. “It’s time to wake up.”

Still no real response.

I finally lifted his arm off of me and slid away from him and out from under the covers.

“Come back to bed, baby,” he mumbled. “It’s our honeymoon.”

“Clark!” I said sharply, tugging Daddy’s sweatshirt down as far as I could as I did, grateful once again that it came almost to my knees.

He sat straight up. “What?” He shook his head. “Lois?”

“Yeah. You were dreaming.” I crossed my arms in front of me. “I would like to know what you were doing in my bed though.”

His brow furrowed as he thought. “I came in to check on you — your dad asked me to — and I felt kinda dizzy so I sat down for a minute. I remember waking up and your head was on my chest and I didn’t want to wake you up by moving and then… now.”

The blanket had fallen to his waist, showing off the broad expanse of his chest.

“Then where’s your shirt?” I asked.

He looked down. “I have no idea. I was wearing one of your dad’s, but I don’t remember taking it off.” His eyes took on a wicked gleam. “You didn’t take my clothes off again did you, Princess?”

Only Daddy gets to call me ‘Princess’ and don’t flatter yourself.” I turned on my heel. “I’m going to go to the bathroom. Could you please be somewhere else when I get back?”

I shut the door to my bathroom behind me. What would Daddy think?

~~~~~

Clark

Note to self: don’t call Lois ‘Princess’.

I could call her just about anything else, but not that.

I could see the pain in her eyes as she said it. I wondered what had happened to put that pain there. Maybe it had something to do with her mom and sister.

I flopped back on the bed with a sigh. I honestly didn’t remember taking my shirt off. I remembered sitting down because I was dizzy and not getting up when I woke up because I didn’t want to disturb her, but that was it.

I’d had another disturbing dream. The hypothermia induced one had flashes of being on the floor in front of the fire with a beautiful woman who was at times Lois and at other times Lana. That was disturbing enough. But this time…

This time, I’d been in this room, in this bed, and telling the woman in my arms I didn’t want to get up because we were on our honeymoon. This time the woman was Lois — only Lois. Lana was nowhere in sight.

I didn’t even want to think about what it might mean on some Freudian psychobabble level and decided it was just because I knew that’s who I was with. Yesterday, I’d thought what a great romantic getaway this would be then fell asleep with Lois. That was the explanation I was going with. Nothing deeper than that.

I sat up and looked around, finding my shirt on the floor. I pulled it on as I left the room, shutting the door behind me.

“Sleep well?”

Sam’s voice came from across the large room. I sighed. So much for hoping he didn’t know.

“Um, I went in to check on her like you asked me to, but I got dizzy and sat down for a minute and I guess I fell asleep,” I told him as I walked down the stairs.

He shrugged as he took another sip of coffee. “You’re both adults, but I don’t recommend hurting my little girl.” His voice was devoid of inflection. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“I don’t intend to. I have a girlfriend I love very much and I honestly didn’t mean to fall asleep in there.” I groaned as I crossed the room. “I don’t suppose you called the dorms to tell them where we are?”

He shook his head. “No. Sorry, it didn’t occur to me.”

“Can I use the phone?”

He nodded. “Go right ahead.”

I dialed the number for Lana’s room. “Hello?”

“Lana?” It sounded like she was asleep.

“Clark! Where are you?! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, honey. Lois and I got caught in the storm on the way back from Bremerton and holed up in her dad’s cabin near Alberton.”

“You’re alone with Lois in a cabin in the woods?”

“No. Her dad got here yesterday.”

“So you were alone with her?”

I sighed. “Listen, baby, I’ll tell you the whole story later, but by the time we got here, we were both hypothermic. I was so sick and she saved my life by getting me here. I don’t remember anything until her dad got here yesterday.”

“So why aren’t you on your way home?”

“We can’t get out until a friend of Sam’s gets here with a snow plow either today or tomorrow.”

“Then how’d he get there?”

“He’s got a big four wheel drive, but we have to get the car out of the snow before we can leave.”

“Well, you need to call your Mom and Dad. When they couldn’t get a hold of you, they called me and I told them I had no idea where you were.”

I winced. “I’ll call them.” I heard Lois’ door open and I glanced over at her walking down the stairs, still wearing just her Dad’s shirt.

With the whole big room available for her to walk through, she chose to walk right by me. What was she up to?

“Morning, Clark. Do you know where my clothes are?” Lois said in a breathy tone as she walked by.

I glared at her then winced as Lana’s sharp voice came over the phone. “Clark, is there something I need to know?”

“No, baby. Sam loaned both of us some clothes while ours are in the laundry.”

“And since when do you call Lois’ dad Sam?” she demanded.

“Since he told me to.” I sighed. “Listen, I better call my folks. I’ll try to give you a call when I know when we’ll be back, okay?”

“Fine. Just tell me you didn’t sleep with her.”

“Don’t you trust me?” I couldn’t tell her I didn’t sleep with Lois, but I didn’t really want to get into all of this over the phone. With Lois and her dad in the room.

“No, I trust you. I don’t trust her. Did you have sex with her?”

“No!” A question I could answer honestly. Unless hypothermia dream sex where the woman morphed between Lois and Lana counted, and I really didn’t think it did. And I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that I’d woken up this morning dreaming of telling Lois to come back to bed because we were on our honeymoon in this very cabin. “I gotta go. I love you.” I meant it.

“I love you, too.”

“I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Okay. I love you, Clark.”

I smiled. “I love you, too, Baby.”

She hung up and I depressed the disconnect switch. “Is it okay if I call my folks in Kansas? Danielle probably talked to them and then Lana told them she hadn’t heard from me so I’m sure they’re worried.”

Sam nodded. “Go right ahead. And if they want independent confirmation that you’re okay, I’ll be happy to talk to them.”

“Thanks.” I dialed Smallville, knowing it was even earlier there than it was in Metropolis. Knowing my parents they were either up getting ready to do chores or worrying about me.

“Hello?” Dad’s sleepy voice said. Or more likely they’d stayed up as long as they could and then collapsed.

“Hey, Dad. It’s me.”

“Clark! Martha, it’s Clark.”

Mom’s voice came on the line. “Clark! Where are you? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom.” I told them the story — leaving out the part where Lois and I ended up naked in front of the fire; though I wondered if Mom suspected — and where we’d slept in the same bed together last night and the dreams. I didn’t mention the dreams.

“Danielle told us you were sick, but how did you get sick?” Mom finally said in a very quiet voice. “You haven’t been sick since you were five.”

“I know. I don’t know what happened. It just came on all of the sudden. I hurt all over and couldn’t hardly stand up, much less… anything else. Lois got me in the car and I felt better enough that I didn’t I didn’t want to go to the hospital…”

“That’s a bad idea anyway,” Dad reminded me.

“I know, but I felt a lot better, just very tired. So we headed back to Metropolis but ended up here instead. She said I was burning up at one point, but I don’t remember that part.”

“Well, we’re glad you’re both okay, son,” Dad said.

“Me, too.” I ran a hand through my hair. “Listen, I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

“Wait, Clark,” Mom said.

“Yeah?”

“What about… are you feeling better or better?”

“Just better, not great. Not back to normal.”

“You mean, you can’t…”

“I won’t be running any marathons or leaping tall buildings in a single bound anytime soon, but I feel okay.”

“Ah.” That came from both of them.

“We love you, Clark,” Mom said.

“I love you, too. Both of you,” I told them.

“We’ll talk to you soon.”

“Okay. Love you,” I told them one more time before hanging up.

I leaned back on the couch. “What was that all about, Lois?”

~~~~~

Lois

I put on my best innocent face. “What?”

He glared at me. “You know what. Lana’s gonna be all over me about it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said seriously, my eyes wide. “I didn’t mean to get you in trouble with Lana. How was I supposed to know who you were talking to? Besides, you’re the one who slept in my bed uninvited.” I had to make sure Daddy knew that too.

He sighed. “I told you what happened. I got dizzy and sat down. I woke up with you half on top of me and didn’t want to wake you up, then you woke me up this morning.”

Daddy sighed. “Is all you two do is bicker?”

I smiled sweetly. “No, Daddy. Sometimes he insults me.”

“You start it,” Clark shot at me.

“You fight like an old married couple,” Daddy told us.

Neither one of us said anything to that. I took a big bite of my cereal, grateful I’d found that pair of bike shorts in my room last night. I didn’t even know when I left them here.

“Pumpkin, why don’t you show Clark the room above yours? We’re going to be here at least another night.”

“That’s Lucy’s room,” I said glaring at him.

“Well,” he said slowly. “Lucy won’t be using it and it has its own bathroom.”

“So? It’s not like anyone else is going to be using the other upstairs bathroom. He can have it all to himself.”

“Lo-is.” His voice held a warning tone I knew not to mess with.

“Fine.”

“It doesn’t matter. Really,” Clark said. “Any room is fine. I can even sleep on the couch if I need to.”

“Nonsense. There’s five bedrooms in this place. You can have Lucy’s room. Go up the stairs and there’s a half stair case on your left. That’ll take you to the room above Lois’.”

I shoved my last bite of cereal in my mouth. “I’ll show you,” I mumbled around my Cheerios.

I put my bowl in the sink and walked towards the stairs. “Are you coming?”

I heard both of them sigh and Clark moved to follow me. Up the stairs, on the left were two half stair cases — one up and one down. I pointed to the down one. “That leads to my room. This one goes to Lucy’s room,” I said pointing to the other one. I walked up it, opening the door when I reached the top.

I had promised myself on the way up here that I wouldn’t cry. The room was just as Lucy had left it. Mom and Daddy had never decorated our rooms here like they were for little girls and I was sure Clark would be grateful for that. In the middle of the queen bed sat a little brown teddy bear. When I saw it, it was too late. The tears came.

I crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed, picking up the bear and holding it to my chest.

I didn’t hear Clark follow me but he must have because before I knew it he was sitting next to me. He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me to his side. He kissed the top of my head — something I certainly hadn’t expected — and then just sat there with me.

I don’t know how long we sat like that before I spoke. I didn’t move because I actually felt safe and comfortable like this. Ha. With another girl’s boyfriend. Wasn’t that just the way my life went? “I don’t think I’ve been up here since the accident,” I finally said. “Obviously, Vicki has been. Most of Lucy’s stuff is gone, but this was her favorite bear.”

“Who’s Vicki?” Clark asked quietly.

“Daddy’s housekeeper. She comes up here once a month or so with her husband or family and they spend the week or the weekend or whatever and she dusts and stuff while she’s here. Otherwise, it’s a vacation of sorts for them. They use one of the other two bedrooms above Daddy’s when they’re here.”

We sat there for a few more minutes before I spoke again. “We were all up here one weekend. Daddy couldn’t get off work until late so me and Mom and Lucy came up early Friday afternoon. We were on some sort of long weekend or something — Veteran’s Day, I think. Daddy drove up that night. Monday rolled around and we were going home, but Dad and I were embroiled in a very serious game of Monopoly. Mom wanted to get Lucy home before bedtime so they left and we stayed to finish our game. The call came about an hour later. A tractor trailer lost its brakes on one of the downgrades and then slid on some ice, right into Mom and Lucy. The car was crushed. There was nothing anyone could do and they said that they died instantly.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said quietly. “How old were you?”

“Ten. Anyway, I told you how Daddy lost almost everything, but this place and the house were both paid for so all we really needed was money for upkeep. It’s not too much here because we’re not here a whole lot so utilities aren’t too high and stuff. He was able to hang on to enough to take care of the house and keep Vicki and her husband paid until he got back on his feet.” I sighed. “He built this with all of us in mind. They weren’t going to have any more kids. When Mom was pregnant with Lucy, it was really hard on her physically and she had her tubes tied so it was just the two of us. He had it built with three master bedrooms so that Lucy and I could come up with our husbands someday and still have some privacy.”

“That’s thinking way ahead.”

“That’s Daddy for you. He’s always prepared. Plans ahead.” I picked at the bear’s ear. “This was Lucy’s favorite bear. I didn’t know it was still here. She must have forgotten it when they went home.” I stared at it some more. “We used to come every year for Christmas, but Daddy and I didn’t come that year or the next. It was nearly two years after they died when I made him bring me here because I thought it would help snap him out of his depression. He spent the whole weekend locked in his room but he came out of it somewhat better and things started going back uphill.”

“That’s good.” He shifted his head where it was resting against mine. “Will you be coming for Christmas this year?”

I stood abruptly and walked to the large window looking out over the mountainside.

“What?”

“Sorry.” I said staring straight ahead. “I don’t know about Christmas this year. The dorms will be closed so I can’t stay there, but I don’t know what the plans are. I bet that they’re probably planning on coming.”

“They?”

“Daddy and his girlfriend.”

“Ah. Is that why you couldn’t move home?” He’d moved to stand beside me.

“Yeah. She doesn’t like me but has Daddy wrapped around her finger.” I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about her.” I turned and leaned against the window, really taking in the room for the first time.

Clark leaned next to me. “It doesn’t look like a little girl’s room,” he commented.

“No. The cabin always had kind of a rustic thing going even when we were little.” I looked at the four poster bed that Lucy had loved. Made of knotty wood, it looked like something out of a hunting lodge catalog. The rest of the furniture matched. The bathroom door was off to the side, but I knew what was in there. A really nice bathroom, just like mine directly below it.

I knew that someday I’d bring my husband here and we’d spend romantic weekends and Christmases and everything else just like Daddy had planned for both of us. There was a pang in the middle of my heart as I realized again that Lucy wouldn’t ever get that chance.

The tears started falling again and Clark put his arm around me once more, pulling me to his side. Before I knew it, I’d moved to stand in front of him, my arms around him, crying into his chest.

***

Part 13

Clark

~~~~~

She’d been through so much. I’d lost parents I didn’t remember, I knew that. But this was different. She’d been ten when she lost her mom and little sister. Somehow, I didn’t think she’d ever really let it out. She’d probably tried to be strong for her dad and never let anyone see the vulnerable little girl who was still hurting over losing half her family.

And so when she started crying, first on the bed and then leaning against the window, I felt compelled to comfort her, but I hadn’t expected to find myself actually holding her in my arms.

She was shorter than Lana, one part of my mind thought. Just the right height to rest my chin on the top of her head.

I didn’t know how long we stood there, but she finally moved back.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, moving back to sit on the bed.

I smiled at her as I gingerly leaned against the window again. “I bet that’s the first time you’ve really let that out, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” She motioned vaguely to the rest of the room. “Anyway, welcome to your home away from your home away from home for the next day or two.”

“Thanks. This really is a great place.”

“Yeah.” She smiled. “Daddy doesn’t do things halfway. There’s the great room — which you’ve seen — then this half is split into two sides. This side has Lucy’s room up here, mine in the middle and the garage and storage area below it. The other side has Daddy’s room and above it two more, smaller bedrooms and a bathroom.”

I looked around. “I think this room is bigger than my room and my parents’ room and the guest room and both bathrooms put together.”

“Told you. My room downstairs is just as big. My room at home isn’t quite but there are a couple of bedrooms that are this size or bigger — besides the master suite.”

“It must be quite a place,” I said softly.

“It is. Long, gated drive. Three or four horses, right now, I think. A guest house by the pool. It was Mom and Dad’s dream house — and then some. Robin Leach’s people looked at it once but decided it wasn’t quite big enough for ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’.”

“Wow.” That was impressive, but more importantly, “You’ve got horses? I didn’t know that!” I loved horses. Always had.

She nodded. “Mine’s name is Strawberry. I miss her.”

“Why don’t you go see her more? You can’t have been back more than once or twice since the semester started.”

She shrugged. “I don’t want to run into the girlfriend.”

“Ah.”

I was going to say something else, but footsteps stopped me. We looked towards the open door to see Sam coming up the stairs. “Hey, kids. It’s going to be two days before we can get a truck out here to dig out the car. I need to get back to Metropolis. Do you want to come with me or stay here and wait to drive the car back?”

Lois spoke first. “I’ll stay. I signed the car out so I’m responsible for it.”

“Well, then I guess I’m staying too. I don’t like the idea of leaving you here by yourself,” I told her.

Relief was evident on Sam’s face. “I don’t like the idea of her staying by herself either.” He looked more closely at Lois. “You okay, Princess?”

She nodded. “I just haven’t been up here since…” He nodded back at her. “It just hit me hard; that’s all.”

“It hit me hard the first time too.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Well, I’m going to be leaving here in the next half hour or so. All of your clothes are in the dryer and I’ll get some more of mine out for both of you before I go.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” Lois said.

We watched as Sam left.

“You don’t have to stay you know,” she said as soon as he was out of earshot. “I can take care of myself and I’m sure Lana doesn’t want you staying here with me. All alone. And I’m sure she doesn’t know we spent the night together in our birthday suits. That would make it worse.”

I sighed. “I didn’t want to get into that over the phone, but just because she’s my girlfriend and I love her doesn’t mean she runs my life. I don’t like the idea of you staying by yourself and we were on this trip together, so I’m staying.”

She stood up. “Okay. But if she gets mad at me, you get to run interference and remind her that I probably saved your life. Somehow I doubt she’ll get past the ‘Lois slept naked with my boyfriend’ thing long enough to be grateful.”

“Well, I think she will be, but even if she doesn’t say it, I’m grateful and I know my parents are.”

“That’s something, I guess.” She moved towards the door. “I’m going to say good—bye to Daddy.”

I nodded and watched as she left. She was right. Lana wasn’t going to be happy about this.

~~~~~

Lois

As I snuggled under the blankets, I couldn’t help but think about waking up this morning, in Clark’s arms. Even though it was unexpected and kind of weird, it was also nice. I had never really wanted to wake up with Joe, even if all we’d done was sleep. And I’d never really wanted to… not sleep with him either. He was something to get me out of the house on Friday nights and I was someone for him to make out with and help him look good in front of his friends.

That’s all it had ever been. Oh, maybe not the first few dates, but after that… We’d broken up several times. I went out with Les once or twice and he went out with Julie a few times then we dated again until he decided he wanted to go out with Debbie. There was no real commitment or anything remotely close to what Clark and Lana had.

Part of me was jealous of Lana. She had a great guy like Clark completely committed to her — to spending his life with her.

The rest of me was continuing to plan my career as an award winning journalist. Then maybe I’d settle down with a guy and start a family.

But not until then.

Though it wasn’t the weekend I’d planned, it was turning out okay. I’d soaked in the tub earlier until my fingers looked like raisins. It had helped with the sore muscles from walking through the snow half carrying Clark. I’d have to do that again before we left. And another long hot shower would be good too.

I’d told Clark I was going to my room and not coming back out until morning. Part of me felt a little guilty about it. There was no television reception and Daddy didn’t bother with satellite for the little bit of time we were here. There were plenty of books and I knew he loved to read so he could keep himself occupied. There was even a copy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ which he’d said was his favorite.

I was completely relaxed and was asleep before I knew it. I dreamed the same dream Clark must have been having that morning when I woke him up — we were married and on our honeymoon in my room. It should have disturbed me more than it did but for some reason it seemed right. I pondered that as I laid there first thing in the morning, sunlight streaming in through the window. Why was that? Must just be the emotion of the weekend.

There was a soft knock on the door.

“Come in,” I called.

Clark poked his head in. “Did I wake you up?”

I shook my head and pushed myself into a sitting position. “No, I was awake, but I finally got the bed warmed up just right and didn’t want to get up.”

“Do you want some breakfast?”

“I’ll just have a bowl of cereal.”

“Nonsense. Your dad brought a whole bunch of supplies with him when he came. I can whip up breakfast in no time.”

I shrugged. “Fine.”

“So, pancakes or bacon and eggs or both?”

I was suddenly ravenous. “Both. Did he bring stuff for biscuits and gravy too?”

Clark laughed. “Yep.”

“And you know how to make all that stuff?”

“Mom made sure I knew how to cook.”

“That’s good because I burn water.”

He laughed again. “Breakfast in twenty.”

I nodded. “Thanks.”

~~~~~

Clark

I flipped one of the pancakes over when I heard the door to Lois’ room open. I glanced over to see her walking down the stairs from her room. “Almost ready,” I called.

I pulled the biscuits out of the oven — making sure to use one of the pot holders — and checked the gravy. Almost done. I turned the bacon and then another pancake, before scooping the scrambled eggs into a bowl. “Have a seat. Do you want OJ or milk?”

“Both.”

I got four glasses out and set them on the breakfast bar, filling two with milk and two with OJ. I loaded two plates with everything and set one in front of her, then moved the rest of the dishes to the bar where we could reach them easily if we wanted seconds. I knew I would. “Syrup?”

She shook her head. “Powdered sugar if we have any.” She pointed to the cabinet. “It would be in there.”

I pulled a bag out and handed it to her. “That’s a new one.”

She shrugged. “It was my mom’s thing. It stuck.”

I set the syrup on the bar but decided to try the powdered sugar thing, too. “Not bad,” I said after taking my first big bite.

We ate in silence, both of us very hungry. I realized we hadn’t eaten much of anything since the hot dogs in Bremerton. We’d slept until Sunday night and we both went back to sleep pretty quickly. Neither one of us ate much on Monday and now it was Tuesday morning.

Lois drizzled syrup over her third pancake. “Do you think we’re missing classes or is it bad enough that the school shut down?”

I shrugged. “I need to call Lana here in a bit anyway if that’s okay. I can ask her.”

She was silent after that, but continued to eat like she hadn’t seen food in a week. I guess the near death experience was enough to give her a huge appetite. Now that I was feeling better, I knew I’d be eating a lot more too.

I finally spoke. “So when did your dad say his friend would be here?”

She shrugged. “I talked to him last night and he said hopefully by Thursday afternoon, but he wasn’t sure. He said it could be Friday or Saturday.”

“Wow. A full week here.” I shook my head. It wasn’t an unpleasant thought, but unexpected.

“You should have gone back with my dad,” she told me between bites of biscuits and gravy.

“I didn’t want to leave you here by yourself. I stand by the decision.”

“You’re going to be in Lana’s doghouse.”

I shrugged. “I know.”

She groaned.

“What?”

“It’s election day.”

“So?”

“It’s supposed to be my first election,” she said. “And I’m not going to get to vote.”

I grinned at her. “I voted.”

She glared at me. “How’d you manage that? Absentee ballot?”

I nodded. “I knew I wouldn’t be home to vote so…”

We spent the next twenty minutes arguing about who she should have voted for. We didn’t have any Senators up for election in Kansas, but New Troy did. I only voted for a member of the House of Representatives on the federal level.

Of course, I’d also helped Rachel’s dad get reelected. Again.

It surprised me how much we agreed on — and how much we didn’t. On some topics I wouldn’t have thought we’d agree we did. On those I thought we’d have similar views… we didn’t.

“There’s the guy who wants more of my money and the guy who wants more of my money but not quite as much,” she said between bites. “I don’t mind helping people who need help and Daddy’s always donated lots of money to charity, but it’s not their money…” She sighed. “They’re all the same. Republican. Democrat. There’s not that much difference and most of them have been in Washington too long to remember what real life is like.”

I had to agree with her there.

“And I know every vote counts and everything, but let’s be honest, me not getting to vote isn’t going to change the outcome of this election.” She sighed. “I was just looking forward to it, you know?”

I nodded. I understood.

We finished breakfast and loaded the dishwasher. I wanted to just hand wash them, but Lois insisted that’s what the dishwasher was for. When I asked what we were supposed to do since there was no television, she walked over to a large cabinet on one side of the great room.

“Here.” She opened the doors wide. There, on the shelves, sat just about every movie ever made and a bunch of board games. “Sorry I didn’t think to mention these last night, but Lucy’s room doesn’t have a TV in it. Mine and Daddy’s do as does one of the other rooms.”

“Wow.” I moved over and looked at the collection of movies, running my finger over the spines as I read the titles. Mel Gibson movies. Harrison Ford movies. Bruce Willis. Comedies. A bunch of girlie love story movies. More action adventure. Sci-fi. Romantic comedy. I didn’t see any horror movies, but they weren’t really my cup of tea anyway. I moved to the games. Board games. Word games. Card games. “Game or movie?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “Don’t really care. What do you want to do?”

“Well, Webster. How about a game of Scrabble?”

“Prepare to lose, Merriam.”

Maybe I should have called her Merriam. I pulled the Scrabble game out and she grabbed one of the comedies.

“Let’s go,” she said shutting the cabinet and heading towards her room.

I hesitated slightly but it made sense. If we were watching a movie it wasn’t going to be in the great room.

~~~~~

Lois

What had I been thinking, grabbing a movie?

I was surprised Clark was following me.

Okay — I knew what I had been thinking. Subtle mentions in front of Lana about how Clark and I spent all day in my room one day we were here. Just because I knew it would make her mad.

There was plenty of room on the floor so it wasn’t like we were going to be on my bed. There was even a table in there. And a fireplace though it had never been used. Daddy had put them in all the bedrooms — for ambiance and out of necessity in case we were ever stranded in a snowstorm. Providing we weren’t hypothermic when we arrived, of course, they should help prevent us from freezing. Thankfully, we’d never had to use them. I’d also figured I’d use it when I came up here for a romantic getaway with my boyfriend or fiancé or husband some day but that day hadn’t come yet.

And Clark sure didn’t count.

I left the door wide open. Not that shutting it would have made a difference. We were the only two people there.

I put the movie in and grabbed the remote, turning the TV on as I did so.

I sat down on the floor, my back against the footboard of my bed. “Set it up, Farmboy.”

An hour later, Clark challenged my word. “There is no such word as ‘chumpy’.”

I glared at him. “It’s a word.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Use it in a sentence.”

“You are a chump. That makes you chumpy.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “I’m a chump?”

I shrugged. “Call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

He shook his head and reached for the dictionary. He opened it then flipped it around. “Not there.”

I glared at him again and took my letters back. I sighed as I stared at the board. Finally I stuck the ‘M’ after an ‘A’.

Got tons of points for that one.

Clark used his last four letters to turn ‘more’ into ‘evermore’. “That’s all of them. You get one last turn.”

I stared at my c-h-u-p and then the board and then my letters and then the board and then my letters… Finally I stuck the ‘h’ above the first ‘e’ in ‘evermore’. “I’m done.”

Clark added up the final scores and subtracted points for my c-u-p a bit too gleefully for my taste. He held up the score pad. “So sorry, Lolo.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“I heard Joe call you that once.”

“You’re not Joe.”

“No, I’m not.”

Together we put the game up. “What do you want to play next?”

He shrugged. “Surprise me.”

I took Scrabble back out to the other room. I glanced through the games and finally pulled a couple of boxes out.

~~~~~

Clark

I watched the three ‘City Slickers’ riding the range while waiting for Lois to come back.

I raised an eyebrow when I saw what she had. “Poker?”

“Relax. It’s not strip poker,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

Strip poker. Now there was a thought. That could be fun under other circumstances — and with Lana, of course. Someday. Maybe next summer after we got married. Well, if we got married next summer, but I thought we would.

“Fine. What’re we playing for?”

She shrugged. “Bragging rights.”

“That’s no fun.”

“Then what do you want to play for?”

“KP.”

“What?”

“Kitchen Patrol. Loser makes dinner.”

She snorted. “Not sure that’s the best plan.”

“Why not?”

“I burn water remember.”

“Oh, right.” Forgot about that. I looked at her contemplatively. “Do you have any other thoughts?”

“Haul wood?”

“What?”

“Loser brings more wood in.”

“Deal.”

***

Part 14

Lois

~~~~~

Clark had gone up to Lucy’s room to go to bed. He’d lost the poker game and had brought plenty of wood in. Then he’d spent nearly an hour on the phone with Lana. At least he’d gone upstairs so I wouldn’t have to listen to him cooing at her. We’d eaten sandwiches for lunch, played some more games, he made dinner and then he said he was turning in.

I decided to build a fire in my room. I’d looked and there were no obstructions in the chimney. After tossing a fire starter in, I’d grabbed a romantic comedy and curled up in the big chair. And since I was still starving, I made popcorn. When it was gone, I paused the movie and made more. What was the deal with that? By the end, I wasn’t sure ‘Return to Me’ counted as a comedy, but I did end up with a good cry.

I didn’t want to be in love like Bob and Elizabeth had been and like Bob and Grace were by the end. I didn’t. I had college to finish and a career to start.

I had exposes to write.

Criminals to indict.

Businessmen to hound.

Senators to harass.

Governors to hoist by the petard.

Heads of State to dethrone.

Scandals to uncover.

Corruption to reveal.

Kerths to win.

Pulitzers to be awarded.

I didn’t need a man to do any of that.

I didn’t.

So why was I crying even though the credits were over?

Because I loved Daddy and he loved me — more than anything except maybe this new girlfriend. If push absolutely came to shove, I thought he’d choose me, but…

I wanted someone to love me like Daddy loved Mom.

Like Rhett loved Scarlett.

Like John loved Abigail.

Like Romeo loved Juliet.

Like Rob loved Laura.

Like Jacob loved Rachel.

Like Gomez loved Moriticia.

Like Marc Antony loved Cleopatra.

Like Barney loved Betty and Fred loved Wilma.

Like Ricky loved Lucy or Chachi loved Joanie.

Like…

I sighed.

Like Clark loved Lana.

But why?

Lois Lane did not need a man.

I didn’t need a man, but it would sure be nice.

Someday…

Maybe if Joe ever got over his teenage hormonal thing, we could have something good together.

Maybe if I slept with him.

That was one of the big reasons we originally broke up in the first place.

If I was sleeping with him, maybe he’d love me like that.

One rational part of me knew that was crazy but another part of me — the part of me that liked waking up with someone the two of the last three mornings — wondered.

I ate the last of the popcorn and wondered if Daddy had brought any chocolate ice cream.

Then the lights went out.

~~~~~

Clark

I was in that netherworld between asleep and awake when something pulled me out.

Surprised, I tried to extend my hearing and, even more surprising, it worked. I tried to float and could. I tried to look through the wall and saw Lois feeling her way through the Great Room.

It was her muttered curses that must have woken me up.

So where were the lights?

I watched her grab a flashlight and click it on. A glance at the clock showed me that the power was out again. A falling tree branch must have hit the power line.

I swung my feet over, wearing a pair of Sam’s sweat shorts, but didn’t see my shirt. Shrugging, I headed down the stairs.

“Lois?” I said as I neared the bottom.

“What?” she snapped.

I wondered what had happened to make her so grumpy. She’d been in a decent mood when I’d gone upstairs.

“Power’s out again?”

“You got it, Franklin.”

I sighed. Franklin experimented with electricity. Of course she’d choose him this time. This could be a long night. “Well, I guess I can build a fire out here and we can grab some blankets and pillows and stuff.”

She sighed. “No, I’ve already got a fire going in my room. You can sleep on the floor in there.”

One of my eyebrows went up. I never knew what possessed me to say what I said next. “How about we flip for the bed?”

“Excuse me?”

She shined the flashlight at me. “I said, how about we flip for the bed.”

“It’s my bed,” she retorted. “I get the bed; I’ll lend you a pillow.”

Oh, not only was she going to kill me for this, but Lana would if she ever found out. “It’s a big bed, how ‘bout we share again?”

My mom probably would too.

Lois just glared at me and stalked off towards the kitchen.

I grinned. It wasn’t like I actually thought she’d give me her bed — and even sharing was out — but it was too easy when she was like this. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but it was too much fun.

“And must you walk around half-naked?” she threw over her shoulder.

“I couldn’t find my shirt in the dark.” Well, I hadn’t looked very hard either, but that was irrelevant. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for ice cream.” She used the flashlight to search the freezer, pulling a tub out when she found it.

“Your dad brought ice cream?”

“He knows that there’s nothing like chocolate ice cream when I’ve been sick.” She got out a bowl and soon had it nearly overflowing with ice cream.

I watched her with a raised brow.

“What?” she said around the spoon in her mouth.

“Nothing. I’ve just never seen you like this.”

“Like what?”

“Well, you had a huge breakfast, mid morning snack, two sandwiches and a bunch of chips for lunch, a whole bag of baby carrots with French Onion dip for an afternoon snack, a ton of spaghetti for dinner.” I looked in the trash can. “You’ve had two things of popcorn since then and now you’re having a big bowl of ice cream.”

She shrugged. “I’m hungry,” she said around the spoon she’d stuck in her mouth. She put the ice cream back in the freezer and headed towards her room.

I trotted after her and found her throwing one of the king sized pillows off of her bed onto the floor. “There’s an extra blanket on that chair.”

I picked it up and a movie case fell to the floor. “‘Return to Me’? I haven’t seen it. Is it any good?”

“It’s a sappy romance. You probably wouldn’t be interested.”

“You never know.”

“Well, Lana’s not here for you to get all cuddly with so…” She crawled under the covers, leaning against the headboard as she worked on her bowl of ice cream. “You’re closer to the fire so you’re in charge of making sure it keeps going all night.”

“Not a problem.”

I lay there, staring into the dancing flames of the fire while she finished her ice cream. I heard her set her bowl on the side table. “Night, Ben,” she called.

“Night, Deborah.” I waited to see if she’d question me on that. I knew the great love of Ben Franklin’s life was Deborah Read — did she?

When she didn’t question it, I figured she did.

I’d dozed off and wasn’t sure what woke me up this time. It took me a minute to realize that it was whimpers coming from Lois’ bed.

“No! Can’ ‘ave ‘im! No!”

She sat straight up in bed.

“Where is he?!” she practically yelled.

I was by her in an instant. “Lois?”

She grabbed at me. “Clark! Where is he?”

“Who?”

“My baby!”

“What baby?”

“Our baby!”

Our baby? “Lois, you need to relax. I think you’re having a nightmare.”

Slowly her breathing returned to normal as she crumpled against me.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She shrugged. “I just dreamed that I had a baby. Not that I had a baby, but that I was a mom and someone was trying to take my baby away from me.”

“Are you okay?”

~~~~~

Lois

Was I okay?

Someone had just dreamnapped my baby. How could I be okay?

But it was a dream.

A nightmare.

But still just a dream.

I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself.

“What do you remember?” he asked quietly.

I shook my head. “I know I was married. I mean, I don’t remember getting married, I just knew, you know? Like you just know things in dreams.”

He nodded against my head. “Yeah, I know.”

“So I was married and we had…”

“We?”

“Me and my husband.”

“Who was your husband?”

Had I said something to him about ‘our baby’? The guy in my dream had looked suspiciously like Clark — at least what I saw but I never got a good look at him. “I don’t know,” I replied honestly.

“Okay. So you and mystery man had a baby…”

“And someone was trying to take him.”

“Who?”

I shrugged, grateful for his arms around me. “I don’t know. I just remember it being dark and running and… Someone was chasing us. I couldn’t let them get my baby. And then I woke up.”

He relaxed his hold on me and the fear suddenly rose again.

“Please don’t leave,” I whispered.

“Okay. Just a minute, alright?”

I nodded.

He moved so he was sitting against my headboard. “Come here.”

I moved so that I was curled next to him, his arm wrapping around me, holding me close to that dratted bare chest I’d tried to banish the first night we shared a dorm room. If I had to have a guy roommate, why couldn’t he have been smart but ugly? Or at least scrawny.

And why did I have to feel so safe with him?

And if I did, why did he have to be taken?

It wasn’t like I wanted him to stay because I was attracted to him or wanted to take him from Lana or anything like that. I honestly felt safer with him than I ever had. Anywhere but with Daddy and maybe even safer than that.

What did that say about me?

Was I secretly hoping that he and Lana would break up and he’d suddenly realize I was the love of his life?

I almost snorted.

I was not hoping Clark would suddenly realize that Lana was all wrong for him and that I was all right.

All that said — or thought — I did feel safe with him and I did hope that someday I would meet a super guy who would love me like that.

Before I knew it, I must have dozed back off.

~~~~~

Clark

I sighed. She was asleep, which was good. I was still on her bed, which was not.

Well, we were grown-ups. We’d slept together twice already since we got here and nothing had happened.

And by slept, I meant slept.

And the power was out. And we did need to stay warm.

It sounded like rationalizing to me. Even if it was true.

Of course, now that my powers were back, I wasn’t in any danger, but Lois could be if the power didn’t come back on.

At some point, I must have dozed off as well because the next thing I knew, sunlight was streaming in the window and Lois’ head was on my chest again.

It made me uncomfortable how comfortable this was.

Her hair was tousled and spilled over the top of my chest and my shoulder. One leg was crossed over one of mine. My arm covered one of hers as it rested on my stomach and the other was wrapped around her back holding her to me.

The way we fit together like this, how comfortable it was, scared me. Lana and I had never slept together — literally or metaphorically — but we had lain together on my bunk or hers at school and the couch at home and in the hayloft more than a time or two and we always had a hard time finding the right spot. It seemed that it came much more easily for me and Lois and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to analyze that on any level.

Of course, it was possible that it had taken us all night to figure this out and I just didn’t realize it.

I didn’t want to wake her up. Somehow I knew she still hadn’t slept very well the rest of the night.

I wasn’t a dad and wasn’t planning on being one for quite a while but the thought of someone trying to take my child was a scary one. Even being dreamnapped was enough to be scary. It would have surprised me if she’d been able to sleep well after that and it didn’t seem unreasonable that she wouldn’t want to be alone after that.

Lana wouldn’t understand that though.

I sighed. How was I going to tell her about all of this?

I’d talked to her for quite a while the day before, but I still hadn’t mentioned the whole ‘I slept with Lois’ thing. I didn’t really want to do that at all, but I knew I had to. It was going to be in person and somewhere she could yell at me without being interrupted. I’d have to tell her the whole story — maybe even play up the bit where, if the cabin had been much further away, I could have died. It didn’t need much playing up — it was scary enough as it was — but if I could get her grateful to Lois first, it might help.

That bothered me. The idea that I had to censor — or felt I had to censor — what I told Lana. I should be able to tell her anything and everything and if she really loved and trusted me, it shouldn’t matter if I slept in the same bed with another woman under extenuating circumstances.

How would I react to know that Lana had woken up in the arms of another man three out of four days?

A knot formed in my stomach.

Not well. I knew that. But I also knew that if it came down to life or death — like Saturday night had been — I would understand they’d done what they had to to survive.

The other two nights…

Felt dizzy, fell asleep, rolled together during the night.

Don’t like it; can live with it.

Lana wakes up screaming from a nightmare and I’m not there to help her.

I’d hope that he’d do what he needed to do to help her feel safe, especially if I knew it was a purely platonic relationship like mine with Lois.

Still didn’t mean I’d like it, but I’d understand.

Would Lana?

Did the fact that I felt I needed to edit things with her say something about our relationship? Maybe I should fly to Smallville and talk it over with my folks first. But would that show them that there’s a rift between me and Lana or something?

Maybe I’d talk to my dad.

That was a plan. Tell him the whole story, birthday suits and all. Tell him why I didn’t want to tell Lana everything but that I knew I should. That I hadn’t meant to sleep with Lois again. And get his opinion.

That was definitely a plan.

Whether I’d follow through with it or not was another story.

***

Part 15

Lois

~~~~~

I didn’t want to move this time.

The dreamnapping was still forefront in my consciousness and here I felt safe.

It was nice — waking up in someone’s arms when I wasn’t recovering from hypothermia and still half delirious.

It wasn’t that it was Clark’s arms, I told myself. It was anyone’s arms that I felt safe with.

I felt safe with Joe most of the time and I was sure that waking up with him — if we ever fell asleep together for some reason — would be just as nice.

But, since I was here with Clark, I’d enjoy this. I didn’t open my eyes or make any other movement. I kept my breathing even and imagined myself waking up in the arms of my husband in this room like this someday.

I felt Clark shift slightly underneath me, his arms tightening slightly around me — one on my back and the other on the arm that was thrown across his stomach. He was probably imagining I was Lana.

And then my stomach growled.

“Are you awake?” he whispered.

I nodded against him. “Getting there.”

“Did you sleep okay?”

I shrugged. “Still felt like someone was chasing me and my baby but not as bad.” I rolled onto my back, my fingers trailing over his abs as I did.

“That’s good.”

My stomach growled again.

“Hungry?”

“Starving.”

“What do you want for breakfast?”

“Do we still have enough stuff for breakfast like yesterday’s?”

“Yep.”

“Then pancakes, bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, OJ and milk. If you don’t mind cooking again, of course.” There was no way I could pull that off.

“Not a problem. Why don’t you go take a shower…” He paused. “Is the power back on?”

I looked at the side table to see that my alarm clock was still turned off. “Nope.”

He frowned. “Well, the stove is gas and so is the oven, so breakfast isn’t a problem as long as I can light them, but we’ve got lighters so… What about the water heater?”

“Gas.”

“Good. Why don’t you go take a shower and I’ll make breakfast?”

I nodded. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”

I started to roll away from him even further, when the phone rang. It was on my side of the bed, so I grabbed it as I sat up. “Hello?”

“Lois?”

I cringed. “Yeah.”

“Is Clark around?”

My eyes narrowed slightly and a slight grin creased my face. “Clark,” I said over my shoulder. “Are you awake enough to talk to someone?”

I purposefully didn’t look at him as I spoke. “Yeah,” he said.

“Can I ask who’s calling?” I asked into the phone.

“This is Lana,” came the irritated voice.

“Oh, hello, Lana.” My voice dripped sweetness — I’d known who it was. “Here he is.”

Clark glared at me as he took the phone.

“I’m going to go take a shower while you make breakfast,” I said as I climbed out of the bed.

He glared at me some more before turning back to the phone. “Hey, Baby.”

I smiled to myself as I walked to the bathroom. He was going to kill me, but it was so worth it.

~~~~~

Clark

Lana was going to kill me.

“What was all that about, Clark?”

“What?”

“Were you sleeping with her?”

I pushed myself up so I was sitting against the headboard. “Sort of. The power went out again last night and she already had a fire going in her room so I slept in here. I told her I’d make breakfast while she took a shower.”

“Were you in bed with her?” she demanded.

“It’s not like that, Baby.”

“So you were in bed with her?”

“Not at first.” I sighed. “I was sleeping on the floor when she woke up screaming from a nightmare. I was sitting with her for a few minutes and we dozed off, that’s all.”

“Uh huh.”

I ran my free hand through my hair as I heard the water start in the other room. “I promise. That’s all it was.”

“Promise?”

“On the life of our firstborn child,” I told her.

“Okay.” Lana sighed. “I believe you. So when are you coming home?”

“I don’t know yet. Hopefully tomorrow. As soon as Sam’s friend gets here to clear the road and dig the car out.”

“I miss you,” she said softly.

“I miss you, too, Baby,” I told her. “I meant to ask you yesterday — did they cancel classes this week or are we missing a bunch of stuff?”

“Well, we got a ton of snow here, too. Most of the on campus students are in decent shape as far as getting to school goes, but a lot of the staff and professors are having a hard time getting in so they canceled the whole week.”

“At least we’re not missing anything.” I heard the shower stop running. “Listen, Baby, I need to get up and go to the bathroom and I told Lois I’d make breakfast.”

“Do you have to share a bathroom with her?”

I laughed lightly. “No. Cabin is a bit of a misnomer. This place is twice as big as both our houses combined, I think.”

“Then why did you sleep with her?” I could hear the hurt in her voice.

“Because she already had a fire going in her room and there was no power so I was on the floor in here and then she had a nightmare…”

“Did she really?” she interrupted.

“Yeah, she did.”

“She didn’t just want to get in bed with you?”

“No. She was scared.” And I could hear her moving around in the bathroom. “But I really do have to go. I’ll try to call you later, okay?”

“Okay. I love you, Clark.”

“I love you, too, Lana.”

~~~~~

Lois

I heard Clark talking and waited until he was done and I heard the door shut before leaving the bathroom.

Why did I say stuff like that?

Clark and Lana were the perfect, happy couple and part of me hated that. She irritated me to no end, but I knew that Clark loved her and he was my friend and I hated that Lana had her claws in him. Not because I wanted him but because I thought he deserved better than Cruella.

I sighed and pulled one of Daddy’s shirts on. Surely breakfast was ready.

I left my room sniffing the air as I did. “It smells good.”

He glanced at me but didn’t say anything. He must have paid attention the morning before, because he’d dished up an almost identical breakfast for me.

“Thanks,” I said.

“No problem,” he answered with a shrug before sitting down next to me at the breakfast bar.

We ate in silence, unlike the morning before.

Finally, I sighed deeply. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he asked not looking at me.

“For getting you in trouble with Lana. For not letting you go back to the floor last night.” I poked at my scrambled eggs with my fork before stabbing at a piece of biscuit with gravy on it.

He shrugged. “I didn’t mind staying with you. You were scared.”

“Still. I’m sorry I got you in trouble with Lana.” I didn’t look at him again either.

“You should be. It was uncalled for.”

“I know.”

“So why’d you do it?”

I sighed. “I don’t know.”

“Sure you do.”

“What?”

He shrugged again. “You know why you did it.”

“I do?”

“Yes, you do. You won’t tell me, but you know. I think it’s because you just don’t like Lana.”

“I don’t.”

“Why?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just don’t. And she doesn’t like me either.”

“I know.”

We ate in silence for a few minutes longer.

“Do you remember anything else about your dream?”

I thought about it for a minute. “Not really. Just that I was married and I had a baby and somebody was trying to take my baby from me — from us. From me and my husband, whoever he was.” I wasn’t about to admit to him that the more I remembered, the more he looked like Clark.

But I didn’t want to think about that.

“So what do you want to do today?” I finally asked.

He shrugged. “Watch a movie. Play games. Read a book. Whatever you want.”

“No power, Edison. But, yeah. Sounds like fun.” The tone of my voice and the words I said were exact opposites.

I speared the last bite of pancake on my plate. Fun. Right. That’s what we were having.

Clark wiped his mouth on his napkin before tossing it on the counter. “Come on,” he said.

“Where are we going?” I asked. He’d suddenly switched scripts without telling me.

“You’ll see.”

~~~~~

Clark

I don’t know what possessed me to come up with this idea, but it was the right one.

Yeah, Lois had made me mad with the Lana stuff, but Lana was going to be annoyed whenever she found out. It could work one of two ways: the excitement of seeing me after a week would push her annoyance to the background or she’d spend the next couple of days stewing and she’d be even more annoyed when I finally saw her.

There was nothing I could do about it now, so I was determined to enjoy myself with a good friend in a winter wonderland.

“What exactly are we doing?” Lois asked as she pulled her gloves on.

“You’ll see,” was all I would say.

We stomped out the front door and she sort of glared at me.

“Your choice. Snowman. Snow fort. Snow ball fight. Igloo.”

She just stared at me. “Are you serious?” she finally said.

I shrugged. “Yep. So what’s it going to be?” I moved out to the walk. Or where the walk would have been if it wasn’t covered by tons of snow. I bent down and picked up a handful of snow, packing it carefully. “Because if you don’t choose, snow ball fight it is.”

She sighed. “Fine. Snowman.”

We spent the next while making a snowman. We argued over whether the base was big enough or whether it was round enough. Over who was going to lift the second snowball onto the first. Over whether we should try to find a carrot for a nose or use snow to try to fashion one. What to use for buttons.

But it was fun bickering and not mean and malicious like I knew we both could be.

We finally agreed that he was finished and started head inside. Just before I opened the door, something cold hit the back of my neck. I turned to find Lois looking another direction, the picture of innocence.

Right.

Lois.

Innocent.

My eyes narrowed and before she knew it, there was snow all over the side of her head.

“Hey!” She shook her head. “What was that for?!”

I just grinned at her.

If I didn’t know she couldn’t move as fast as I could, I would have sworn she could have. Before I knew it, I was hit again.

I fired back, laughing as I did.

In minutes, we were in a full blown snowball fight, that didn’t confine itself to the small clearing at the front of the house.

For someone who didn’t have the advantages I did, Lois sure knew how to get around in deep snow.

~~~~~

Lois

I was hiding behind a tree when I heard the snowball hit it.

“Come on out, Lois,” Clark called.

“Never,” I called back.

I’d hit him good a few times, and he’d managed to hit me, too, but so far, I’d given better than I got and he was looking for a bit of payback, I was sure.

He couldn’t see me from where he was, but I couldn’t see him either. I was almost ready to sneak back out, when a snowball caught the back of my head. It didn’t hurt, but it did startle me.

I turned around, snowball in hand, but couldn’t see Clark anywhere.

Oh, he was good.

Afterwards, I still had no idea how he ended up chasing me with what was essentially a snowball roughly the size of a basketball — much less how he managed to catch me while carrying it — but it probably had something to do with the snow booby trap I’d set.

Okay — I hadn’t set it, but a bunch of snow did slide off a tree and land on him when I’d sort of made it by pulling on a limb as I ran by. He thought if he’d been doused in snow, I should be, too.

Before I knew it, he’d managed to balance the snowball on one hand and grabbed my arm before breaking it over my head.

I mentally congratulated myself for taking martial arts in high school and before he knew it, we were both on the ground in the snow.

And not just in the snow, but in a big ol’ snow drift next to the house. It had to have been five or six feet deep, easy.

I pushed a little harder on him, trying to sink him just a bit deeper, as I struggled to stand up.

How I ended up flipped and flat on my back, I had no idea, but I found myself breathing heavily and looking up at a smiling Clark.

For half a second, maybe even a little longer, the desire to pull him down on top of me and kiss him was very real. And for slightly less than a nanosecond, it looked like he might want to.

I pushed that out of my mind before glaring at him. “Nice, Kent. Now help me up before we freeze again.”

That illegal grin of his got even bigger as we struggled to get up. I brushed as much of the snow off as I could before I realized my teeth were starting to chatter just a bit. “I think I need a hot shower,” I told him as I stomped towards the front porch.

“I think I do, too.”

“Well, you can use the bathroom upstairs. Even though the power’s still out, the gas water heater is tankless so we don’t have to worry about one of us using all the hot water.”

We managed to get inside and get our boots and coats off without tracking melting snow all over the cabin.

And then my stomach growled.

“How long has it been since breakfast?” Clark asked, a slight look of shock on his face.

I shrugged. “Couple hours?”

“And your stomach’s already growling?”

I shrugged again. “I’m hungry.”

“Well, go take a shower and I’ll fix something when I’m done.”

“Thanks,” I said as I headed for my room and he headed towards the stairs.

I tried not to think about the breath that caught in my throat when we’d landed in the snowdrift and the nearly overwhelming desire I’d had to tug him down to me and kiss him like I’d never kissed Joe.

What in the world had come over me?

Or almost come over me?

Surely, it was just still a little bit of an unsettled feeling left from the nightmare the night before and the fact that I’d slept naked with Clark a couple days before and the overwhelming emotions that had come with nearly dying.

A knock on the door shook me out of my thoughts.

“Lois?”

“What?”

“Are you okay? You’ve been in there a long time.”

I sighed and turned the water off. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

I heard footsteps that told me Clark had moved away from the door and out of my room. I dressed in one of my dad’s big sweatshirts and my bike shorts again and headed out to the kitchen.

Suddenly, I was starving.

***

Part 16

Clark

~~~~~

I knocked on the door and waited for it to open. Linda answered. “Clark!” She turned. “Lana…”

She didn’t have time to finish her sentence before Lana launched herself into my arms. She held on like she hadn’t seen me in a week, because… well, she hadn’t.

“Hey, Baby,” I whispered in her hair.

“I missed you. And I’m so glad you’re okay,” she said, holding me even tighter.

“I’m fine, too,” Lois told her as she entered the common room. “Just in case you care.” She headed into the bathroom.

Lana kissed me and I kissed her back, but was always conscious of where we were and who was around. I whispered to her, “We’ll go somewhere more private in a bit okay?”

She nodded.

We were sitting on the couch, Lana curled up next to me, when Lois came out of the bathroom and made a beeline for our room. When she shut the door behind her, Lana turned to me.

“Are you really okay?”

I nodded. “Yeah, Baby, I am.”

“Was it really that bad?” she asked, settling back down next to me.

“I don’t remember part of it. I know I was burning up when we got out of the car and I remember making it to the cabin steps, but I don’t remember anything after that until Sam woke us up the next afternoon.”

“What happened in that time?”

“Lois managed to get me inside and in front of the fire she started.” I was dreading telling her this next part. “She, um…” I ran a hand through my hair. “We were in a really bad place, Baby. I was unconscious and Lois wasn’t far behind. We were soaking wet and there was no power. We were both hypothermic…”

She didn’t say anything and neither did I. Finally, she spoke, but she didn’t look at me. “Did she take your clothes off?”

I ran my hand up and down her arm as I pulled her towards me. “Yeah.”

“All of them?”

I nodded against her head. “Everything was soaked. She said she put a blanket over me before…” I didn’t finish. “Then she covered me with more blankets.”

Lana didn’t say anything again for a minute. “What about her?”

“What about her?”

“Did she take her clothes off and get under the blankets with you?”

I sighed. “Yeah, she did. She probably saved my life, Baby.”

“So when you said you slept in front of the fire with her…” She took a deep breath. “You were naked?”

“I was unconscious. I don’t remember anything until Sam woke us up.”

“And she was still next to you? Naked?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly. “She moved pretty quick though and we both kept blankets and…”

“You don’t remember anything about what it was like to have her skin on yours?”

She was fighting tears. I knew she was. Lois had slept next to me, both of us without any clothes on, and Lana felt she should have been the only one to ever do that.

And she was right.

Once we got married, I was sure we’d sleep like that on a pretty regular basis, but Lana wouldn’t ever be the first one.

I shook my head. “No. Not really.”

“Not really?”

I sighed. “I remember waking up and thinking it was you and wondering when we got married and why your hair was dark all the sudden. And that my arm was around her and her back was bare and then that Sam was there telling me to wake up. I remembered what happened — sort of and I asked about her, she woke up enough to ask about me and then she moved.”

“Promise that’s all you remember?”

“Promise,” I told her, kissing her hair. I didn’t mention the dream. Part of me thought I should tell her I’d dreamed about making love to her in front of the fire, but I also knew that my dream woman had been Lois part of the time and I didn’t want her to know that.

~~~~~

Lois

There was a knock on the door that came in from the hall.

I didn’t feel like moving from my bed. “Come in,” I called.

The door opened and Joe was standing there. “Hey,” he said quietly. “How are you?”

I shrugged. I wasn’t feeling well at all, but didn’t know why.

“Can I come up?”

“Sure.” I scooted over towards the wall so he’d have more room to sit.

But he didn’t sit. He stretched out next to me, his head propped up on his elbow. “You scared me, Lois.”

“Scared you?”

“You didn’t get back last Saturday. No one knew where you two went, but Lana had heard from Clark’s folks. His cousin said Clark was sick and told them what time you guys left Bremerton. We all realized there was no way you’d have made it back here, but your cell kept going straight to voice mail and…”

He choked up a bit.

I reached a hand out to brush the hair off his forehead. “I’m okay. You know there’s no cell reception out there.”

“I know, but still… When I finally called your house, Vicki said that your dad had heard from you but that it wasn’t good. You were both sick and hypothermic and he was trying everything to get someone to you but couldn’t find anyone to go. He was waiting at the on-ramp when they reopened the highway.” He kissed my forehead. “I was so worried about you.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” I whispered. “It was a very weird week.”

“It’s okay. Lana called me after she talked to Clark the first time. I figured I was probably the last thing on your mind.”

I shook my head. “No. Not the last thing. I thought about you. Quite a bit. I don’t know why I didn’t call, but…” I sighed. “I felt better, but now I feel worse again. And the whole week was just weird.”

“Come here.” He settled himself on his back and I snuggled in next to him. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“You’re not the only one.”

“Hey, did you talk to your Dad about the Europe trip?”

I nodded. “Yeah. He said I can go.”

“That’s great. Will you be my seatmate?” he asked seriously.

I laughed. “Talk about deja vu.”

“It’s been a long time since we rode that bus to camp together.”

“Ten years? Something like that.”

“Do you know who else is going?”

I groaned. “Clana.”

“Who?”

“Clark and Lana. Clana.”

“Does that make us… Jois?”

I groaned again. “Okay, fine. No Clana. The Clampetts are going.”

“Ah. Well, we’ll steer clear.”

“Sure you won’t find another girl between now and then?” I asked, not looking at him.

“Even if I do, you’re the one I’ll be with on that trip. We’ll have a frienaissance.”

“You borrowed my ‘Friends’ DVDs, didn’t you?”

“Maybe.” He stroked the hair at my temple with the arm around me as I yawned. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah. Tired, but that’s it.”

“Is that normal after being hypothermic?”

I shrugged. “I think so. Daddy said we might be.”

“Mind if I stay here with you for a bit? You get some sleep and I’ll just stay for a while?”

I nodded. “Thanks.”

~~~~~

Clark

Joe was lying on Lois’ bunk with her when I made it back to our room. I knew Lois had been tired and she must have fallen asleep with him there and he didn’t want to wake her up.

How reminiscent of what happened the other day.

I started to say something to him, when the phone rang. I snagged it quickly, hoping that Lois wouldn’t wake up. “Hello?” I said quietly.

“Is Lois there?”

“She’s sleeping, can I take a message?”

“This is her dad. Who’s this?”

I sighed. He still didn’t know we were roommates. I think he thought Lois and Lana were. “Hi, Sam. It’s Clark.”

“Hey, there. How’re you feeling?”

“Much better, sir. Thank you.”

“What did I tell you about calling me ‘sir’?”

I laughed slightly. “Sorry. My parents ingrained that deep.”

“Listen, I was looking for my daughter, but you’ll work. What are you and Lana doing for Thanksgiving?”

“Um, staying here, I guess. We’re not going home. We’re saving to go to Europe over break instead.”

“Ah. Lois mentioned that trip. She and Joe are both going.”

“Joe’s here, if you want to talk to him.” I winced. Should I have said that?

“He’s coming with Lois to the cabin for Thanksgiving. You and Lana are invited as well.”

Wow. “Thanks, Sam. I’ll talk to Lana and let Lois know.”

“Okay. Now, you both need to rest up a bit still. Take it easy a bit longer, would you?”

“Yes, sir. Sorry. Yes, Sam.”

He laughed. “That’s better. Tell Lois to give me a call, would you?”

“Of course.”

We hung up and I looked up at Joe who was looking at me as best he could without bothering Lois. “She’s supposed to call her dad?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah. He asked me and Lana if we wanted to join you guys for Thanksgiving.”

“Ah. Cabin’s nice, isn’t it?”

I nodded. “That’s the understatement of the year.”

“Well, it’s nothing compared to their house, but it’s great.”

“I haven’t been over to her house yet.”

“You’ll be impressed.”

“I’m sure I will.” I started back towards the common room, before turning back to him. “Listen, I know Lois and I have a ‘no other half spending the night’ rule, but if you don’t want to bother her, it’s fine with me.”

I didn’t look at him as I said it, but left to find Lana.

She was still sitting on the couch, staring into space.

“Hey.”

She looked up. “I thought you were going to bed.”

“I’m getting ready to. I just talked to Sam. He asked if we wanted to go to the cabin with him and Lois and Joe for Thanksgiving.”

She shrugged. “Do you want to?”

“The dorms are closed. We have to go somewhere.”

“That’s fine then. I guess. I know Linda’s going to New York with her family so that’s not an option.”

“And since we’re going to Europe…”

“Right.”

“He also said Lois and Joe are going on that trip, too.”

“Exciting.”

I held out a hand and she grasped it. I tugged her to me and wrapped my arms around her. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

~~~~~

Lois

Something didn’t feel quite right when I woke up.

Not bad, but not right.

I tried to roll over, but couldn’t.

I opened one eye and saw Joe lying there, sleeping next to me.

I leaned up to see the clock and groaned. At least it was Sunday and there was no class. If it had been a school day, I would have missed a couple classes already. I looked towards the window and noticed a dark sheet draped over the curtains to keep the light out.

Joe yawned and opened his eyes to look at me.

“You’ve been trying to get me to sleep with you for years,” I whispered with a smile.

He put an arm around me. “I succeeded. You even asked me to stay.”

“Not all night,” I reminded him.

“Clark said it wouldn’t bother him if I did last night.” He shrugged with one arm. “I fell asleep and didn’t worry about it.”

“Did you put that sheet up?”

“No, Clark did that when he went to bed.”

“Ah.”

“Your dad called to check on you. He also invited them to Thanksgiving with us.”

I groaned. “Great.”

“It’ll be okay.”

“I know. Just promise you’ll come even if your parents get back early.”

“Not a problem.” He leaned over and kissed me gently. “You’re going to have a hard time getting rid of me.” He kissed me again.

He wanted more. I could tell. I could always tell when his kisses changed.

I rested my hand on his chest and pressed lightly. “No, Joe,” I whispered.

“Can’t blame a guy for trying?” he whispered, kissing my forehead.

“Joe,” I said, a warning in my voice.

“I know.” He pulled me closer until I rested on his chest again. “You sure you don’t want to give us a real shot again?”

I shook my head. “That’s not us. You’re my best friend. Always have been. Always will be.”

“I know.” He kissed my forehead. “I love you, you know.”

“I know. I love you, too.” And I did. Just not like that.

“So, what do you want to do the most while we’re in Europe?”

I shrugged. “Find a big story and write it? Get a Pulitzer for it.”

He laughed. “Only you would think that.”

“Not like I’ll have any leads or anything.”

“Well, I’ve never been to Europe and I know you’ve been to Paris, Rome and London all before, so you’ll have to make sure we do the good stuff and not just the tour-y stuff.”

“Yeah. Daddy and I have gone several times to all three places. Bet we fly in a lot more comfort though.”

“We’ll make sure we get seats together and not in the middle.” He shuddered lightly. “We need a side seat.”

“Yep. I’ll even let you sit by the window.”

“Thanks.”

“So what’s gonna be our biggest thing in Paris?”

“Well, the night we can eat wherever we want, I’ll take you to my favorite restaurant.”

“Is it one of those sidewalk cafés or what?”

“It was Mom and Daddy’s favorite place to eat. It’s where he proposed when they were there on a school trip.”

“Ah, so nice and romantic?”

“Yep. Just promise me you won’t propose to me there.”

“I promise. At least not this trip.”

I laughed. “Deal.”

***

Part 17

Clark

~~~~~

I wondered what the sleeping arrangements would be.

We were driving to the cabin to spend Thanksgiving with Lois and her dad. It seemed pointless to take two cars so we’d all piled in Lois’ Jeep and were on our way. Of course, Joe was with us, so that left me with the discomfort of the back seat. Sure, Lana was there, too, but my long legs just didn’t do well back there.

Before long, Lois pulled off on to Lane Lane and I heard Lana’s intake of breath as she realized this cabin had its own private drive.

About a mile and a half down, Lois said something about how this was where the car had gotten stuck. It amazed me again how far we’d made it in a blizzard. A few minutes later, she pulled up in front of the large cabin and followed the drive as it snaked around to the garage under her room. She expertly negotiated the winding road and pulled the Jeep inside. That done, we headed in from the garage.

Lana’s eyes were wide as she took it all in. Sam was already there and welcomed me with a hearty handshake hug thing. He did the same with Joe, but just smiled a welcome to Lana as he stood with one arm around Lois’ shoulder. “Clark, why don’t you show Lana to the room you stayed in last time and you and Joe can each have one of the rooms above mine?”

I saw Lois stiffen a bit as he spoke. It made sense. She didn’t want me in Lucy’s room and she liked me. She and Lana were like oil and water. Of course she didn’t want Lana in her sister’s room. Sam, though, wouldn’t understand. I picked up Lana’s bag and she followed me up the stairs. I’d scouted out the other two bedrooms the last time we were here and knew which one I wanted. Neither were bad, but the one closer to the stairs was more my style. I couldn’t really define why but it was closer to Lana anyway. I set my bag in there before showing Lana to Lucy’s room.

“Here you go,” I told her with a smile. “Whaddya think?”

She looked around. “Not bad.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, it’s a bit better than ‘not bad’ and you know it.”

She sighed. “It would be better if you could stay in here with me.” She moved in front of me and trailed one finger down the front of my shirt until she reached the middle of my stomach then hooked it in between two buttons and pulled me to her. My arms found their way around her, holding her close to me. “You slept with Lois while you were here. Why can’t you sleep with me?”

I kissed her gently. “You know why. And you know I never meant to sleep with Lois while I was here. It just sort of happened.”

“Three times?” she said with a raised brow, before kissing me again.

“You can’t blame me for the first time — I was unconscious. And I was still sick the second time and the third time just sort of happened. I explained it all to you.”

“I know, but why can’t you stay here with me? Is her dad that much of a prude?”

“I don’t think so, but Joe isn’t staying with her so why should I stay with you?” I pointed out. “It probably didn’t even occur to him.”

“So tell him.”

I kissed her again. “I can’t do that, Baby.”

This time she kissed me. “Well, you could always accidentally fall asleep up here,” she said continuing to play with the buttons of my shirt without ever actually unbuttoning one.

I smiled at her. “I could, but let’s just play it by ear, okay?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“So what do you really think of this place?”

“I think growing up with money would have been nice.” She turned in my arms so that we could stare out the window at the snow topped trees.

“Money doesn’t buy everything, though,” I reminded her quietly. “Both her mom and her sister died when she was just a kid and her dad nearly lost everything. I wouldn’t trade my mom and dad for any amount of money.”

“I know, but still… it can make life a lot easier.”

“You’re right about that, but you still can’t buy love or happiness.”

“Her dad seems to love her.”

“He does.”

“So why couldn’t she move home?”

“She hasn’t really told me too much — a little bit but not much — but apparently there’s a good reason.”

A voice called up the stairs, telling us that dinner was almost ready. I kissed the side of her head. “Ready?”

“I guess. But if you want to accidentally fall asleep in here with me, I’d be okay with that.”

I laughed. “I would be too.”

“Then let’s make it happen.” She smiled at me — that slow, sexy smile I loved so much.

~~~~~

Lois

I tossed my bag on the chair in my room and glared at the ceiling where I could hear footsteps.

Why did Daddy have to give Cruella Lucy’s room? Couldn’t Clark have stayed in there again? Or even Joe would have been better.

And why was I so cynical about Joe? He was a good friend and — toga party notwithstanding — had been there for me since I could remember. We’d talked about it a bit more the next day and he’d awkwardly asked a few questions about how I was feeling that seemed to confirm what Clark had said — that he’d gotten there in time. I wasn’t… sore in… places and other stuff that should have occurred to me given the birds and bees talks I’d had with both Dad and Vicki. Even knowing how uncomfortable it made both of us, he’d asked.

Joe was a good friend when Mom and Lucy died and had always been a shoulder to cry on — even after we started dating but weren’t together at the time. Like when Dad’s new girlfriend moved in and Joe was going out with Lisa for a few weeks. The girlfriend told me I’d best move out and I’d cried on Joe’s shoulder. Of course, that was part of the reason why Lisa broke up with him. I’d called in the middle of what was apparently a pretty heated make out session and he’d taken her home to come be with me.

I’d planned on living on campus anyway but the girlfriend made sure I had no choice in the matter. Joe went for a midnight horse ride with me that night and let me cry on his shoulder in the middle of New Troy National Forest near the lake we often hiked to. But our friendship went back much further than that. He’d stood up to Donny Johnson when Donny tried to kiss me in first grade. Joe had decked him and gotten suspended for three days defending me. Of course, I hadn’t really needed defending. Donny had caught me off-guard but if Joe hadn’t hit him, I would have.

I flopped on the bed and stared at the ceiling, waiting to see if there was some sort of tell-tale creak as the Siamese twins started making out on my little sister’s bed.

There was no creak, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going at it up there.

I heard Daddy call out that dinner was ready and I decided that I probably should put in an appearance at least.

I was glad that whatever it was from the near-death experience that made me eat everything in sight was over. I poked at the lasagna and finally excused myself, saying that my stomach didn’t feel quite right — which was the truth.

I went to my room and lay down, curling up under a blanket. A knock on the door a few minutes later, made me sit up. “Come in,” I called.

“Hey.” It was Joe. He shut the door behind him. “You okay?”

I nodded. “Not feeling all that hot. That’s all.”

He sat next to me and pulled me towards him. I rested my head on her shoulder. “And it doesn’t have anything to do with Lana staying in your little sister’s room?” he asked quietly.

I didn’t say anything to that.

“Hey, it’s me. You can tell me anything.”

“I know and no, I’m not crazy about her being up there.”

“I know. You think Clark’ll sleep in there tonight?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t care.”

He grinned suddenly. “I could always sleep on the floor in here. Because I can if you want me, too.”

“What’ll Dad think?”

He shrugged. “He probably thinks we’ve slept together already.”

I shuddered. “I never told you what happened while Clark and I were stuck here, did I?”

“No,” he said slowly. “Do I want to know?”

“Well, the first night, we were both practically unconscious and I managed to get all of our soaking wet clothes off and we slept together under blankets in front of the fire so we wouldn’t freeze to death. The second night, I fell asleep in here and Clark came in to check on me, got dizzy and sat down, and then fell asleep and slept in here with me. The fourth night, the power went out.” I didn’t look at him as I picked at an imaginary piece of lint. “He slept on the floor in here and I woke up completely freaked out by a nightmare. He came and gave me a big hug and sat with me for a few minutes while I calmed down and we fell asleep again.”

“Should I be jealous?” I could hear the hint of a smile in his voice.

“Nah. Yeah, he slept with me naked, but he’s never kissed me.”

“That’s good. I’d hate to lose my make-out buddy.”

“You’re not going to, unless you find someone else. Then you’ll make out with her.”

We settled a bit more on the bed. “You know, Lois,” he said slowly, his hand rubbing my shoulder. “I know we said a long time ago that we weren’t going to be the great love affair of the new millennium, but sometimes I wonder if we don’t end up back together all the time for a reason.”

I thought about that. “No one knows me better than you.”

“And no one knows me better than you.”

My voice was small as I finally voiced the thought that had been bouncing around my head. “Would you stay with me tonight?” I turned slightly towards him. “I really don’t want to be alone. And you’re my best friend.”

“Anything for you, Lo.”

“Stop calling me ‘Lo’ and I’ll even let you share the bed with me.” That was, of course, what I meant when I asked him to stay with me and he knew it.

“No more ‘Lo’,” he promised, kissing the side of my head. “Sit up for a minute.” I complied and he pulled his shirt off and we crawled under the covers.

“You do know I meant only to sleep right?”

“Don’t worry. I’m not about to try anything. Not tonight. Not when you need a friend.”

“Thanks, Joe.”

He pulled me close to him and I rested my head on his chest, tears falling. “I know Clark stayed up there when we were here, but why does the first real visitor to Lucy’s room have to be her? Any why does it bother me so much?”

He shrugged, one hand playing with the hair at my temple. “I don’t know, babe. But I do love you.”

“I know.” That was my last conscious thought until the sun came up the next morning.

~~~~~

Clark

I pulled a shirt and sweatpants on and headed out of my room. It was pretty early, but I ran into Joe.

Coming up the half staircase from Lois’ room.

Looking rather tousled.

He brushed past me without saying anything and headed to his room.

Interesting.

Lois had told me — repeatedly and vehemently — that she and Joe weren’t sleeping, or not sleeping, together.

I headed down the stairs just in time to see Lois, also looking fairly tousled, coming down the stairs from her room into the living room.

“Good morning,” I said with a grin. “Sleep well?”

“Fine.”

“Joe sleep well?”

“Joe slept fine.” She glared at me. “What?”

I shrugged. “Was just surprised to see him coming out of your room, that’s all.”

“And you didn’t fall asleep in Lana’s room last night?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“Well, not that it’s any of your business, but we were talking and fell asleep. That’s it.”

She was lying about something, but I wasn’t sure what. I didn’t think it was about what had happened between them, but it was something.

“Are you making breakfast again this morning?”

I shrugged. “I can. Are you still eating as much as you were last time we were here?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know what the deal with that was, but I’ve never been that hungry before or since. Must have been the near death experience or something.”

I nodded. “Must have been.” I headed to the kitchen to start breakfast while Lois grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to one of the chairs that looked out the large picture window. I didn’t know where Sam was, but I was sure Lana was still asleep.

I wasn’t paying attention to the noises behind me, so the arms that slipped around my waist and the cheek that rested against my back caught me a bit off-guard.

“Good morning,” I felt, more than heard, Lana say. “Making breakfast?”

“Yep.” I turned to face her. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said before she stretched up to kiss me.

“Want a cup of coffee?” I asked her. She nodded and I quickly fixed her a cup the way I knew she liked it — black. It was easy.

The rest of the day passed in relative peace. We had a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner and took turns being thankful.

Sam was thankful his daughter and her friend had survived the blizzard.

Joe was thankful he had somewhere to be because his parents were overseas for a few weeks.

Lois was thankful to be alive and for good friends. I noticed she didn’t look at Lana when she said that.

Lana was thankful that she got out of Smallville and to Sam — but apparently not Lois — for the Lucy Lane Memorial Scholarship that was helping her attend Met U.

I was thankful for new friends and old and a place to spend the holidays away from home.

Lois said she wasn’t sure why but was exhausted and took an afternoon nap in her room. Lana, Joe, Sam and I played Trivial Pursuit. Sam won. But it was the Millennium Edition and he’d lived through a lot more of the millennium than the rest of us. We didn’t mention that part to him though.

Joe and I brought more wood in for the fire.

We all had leftovers for dinner. Except for Lois, who woke not feeling much better and without much of an appetite.

Sam had bought a new TV for the great room — a big HDTV that I was sure cost almost as much as a year’s tuition at Met U — as well as a DVD player, so we all watched ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ as a way to get us in the holiday spirit. I noticed Joe and Lois sitting closer together than they had been recently. Maybe things in their world were getting better.

We only had a couple more weeks of school and then Lana and I would be heading home for the break. I wondered what Lois was going to do. She’d let it slip a couple weeks earlier that her dad’s girlfriend was the reason she’d had to move out and why she really wasn’t looking forward to Christmas like she usually did.

I was looking forward to going home and seeing my family and finding a way to buy Lana a ring without anyone knowing and talking to her dad and getting ready to propose when we went to Europe on the school trip right before the first of the year. We wouldn’t get to spend New Year’s at home because we had to leave Metropolis December 29, but a two week trip through Europe with Lana was worth it.

I couldn’t wait.

***

Part 18

December 2002

Lois

~~~~~

It was Christmas Break and I had to be at home.

I flopped on my bed and stared at the sheer canopies that draped down from the four posts. Left over from my ‘princess’ phase when I was a kid, I hadn’t bothered to redecorate when I outgrew it. Redecorating took energy away from more worthwhile pursuits and was too trivial to mess with.

I looked around and noticed a few things seemed slightly off.

Had someone been in here? Maybe Vicki had cleaned up or something. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on, but something just seemed… off.

I sighed and curled around a pillow. Even after all the things he’d said over Thanksgiving and even though I’d slept in his arms and felt safe and loved, Joe had met someone new. Maybe. Well, he’d met someone and wanted to get to ‘know her better’, he’d said. Of course, I’d told him that I wasn’t sure I agreed with his assessment that we always ended up back together for a reason so it wasn’t surprising that he’d moved on.

It just meant that he’d be getting lucky over Christmas and I wouldn’t. Not that I would have if he hadn’t found this other girl, but that wasn’t the point.

After he spent the night in my bed, I’d found myself wondering what it would be like if we did… I hesitated to even think ‘make love’ because I loved him, but I didn’t love him — at least not at this point in my life — but I also knew that it wouldn’t be ‘just sex’ either — we meant too much to each other regardless of our romantic attachment or detachment or whatever.

What would it be like to sleep in his arms after we’d done that?

What it would be like to do that with him?

I sighed. I wasn’t going to think about that anymore. I was going to go to sleep and try to forget that I was here with the wicked almost-stepmother who was bound and determined to make my life miserable.

She’d mentioned the possibility of a summer wedding the last time I was here. Daddy hadn’t mentioned it at all, but that didn’t mean anything. I was still relieved she hadn’t come to the cabin for Thanksgiving with us. The more time I spent with her, the more I hated her and hated that she was pulling the wool over my dad’s eyes.

And now I was going to be living at home for two weeks.

Was it possible I could avoid her until then? Somehow I doubted it. Daddy would expect us to eat together sometimes and then there was Christmas. I was sure I was expected to get her something really nice or something like that.

I was going to have to go shopping. And I hated shopping. Especially when I was shopping for someone I loathed. And I had no idea what on earth I could get her that both she and Daddy would think was appropriate.

I closed my eyes and prayed sleep would come quickly.

~~~~~

Clark

I hugged Mom tight for a long moment as I stood in the kitchen of my childhood home.

“Oh, Clark, I’ve missed you.”

“I know, Mom. I’ve missed you, too.” I hadn’t flown home often — less than once a month, really, and I hadn’t been back since right after the whole thing at the cabin when they wanted to see for themselves that I was okay.

“Did you drop Lana off on your way here?”

I squeezed her a bit more tightly, before letting her go. “Yeah. She was anxious to get home, though she did say she wants to come over sometime next week to see you guys.”

Mom frowned. “We’re going to Kansas City next week. Didn’t I tell you that?”

I groaned. “Yeah, I just forgot.”

“Well, we have some shopping to do and Aunt Opal is meeting us there and we’re all going to Uncle Joe’s in Excelsior Springs to do Christmas with that side of the family one day.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll call her.”

“I do wish you were going to be here for more than two weeks though,” she said, as she turned back to dinner. “You’ve been gone too long.”

I stuck my finger in the sauce and noticed her wince out of the corner of my eye even though she knew I wouldn’t burn myself. “Mmmm,” I hummed as I tasted it. “I have missed your cooking. Lois’ dad has a service that makes her food, too, and she shares sometimes, but even it’s not this good. And the cafeteria is pathetic.”

“You know how to cook,” she reminded me.

“I know, but where am I supposed to do that?”

“Good point.”

“And I’ll be home for Spring Break and I’ll be here all summer,” I reminded her. I didn’t tell her I was probably going to be getting married sometime this summer. Lana and I had talked about it and she’d indicated more than once that she would be happy to get married the summer after our freshman year. I felt a slight frown crease my brow. If we moved home for the summer, as planned, then got married in June or July, where would we live until it was time to go back to school? The thought of Lana moving into my room was both pretty freaky and slightly exciting at the same time. Or maybe we could get married just in time to go on a honeymoon before we headed back to Metropolis and maybe just stay here for a night or two.

I stuck another finger in the sauce and the old doubts about telling her about myself assailed me again. Would she understand? Should I tell her before I asked her to marry me or after? I wanted to propose in Paris because it seemed like something we’d always remember and would be incredibly romantic and all that stuff, but a school trip certainly wasn’t the place for this discussion. The hayloft in the barn was probably one of the best places, unless I flew her to somewhere in the Andes or a deserted island or something like that.

I sighed. “I’m going to take my stuff upstairs.”

I could feel Mom’s eyes on me and knew that she knew something was on my mind, but I wasn’t about to tell her what it was. I knew they thought Lana and I were too serious, too young despite their own life stories. I also knew that Mom would tell Lana herself before we got married if I didn’t tell her myself. And Dad might disown me.

I grabbed my stuff and zipped up the stairs, anxious to be out of her eyesight.

~~~~~

Lois

I’d seen Clark and Lana sucking face near the gate and was praying that I didn’t have a seat near them. I wasn’t sure what their seat assignments were but Joe and I were in the very back row in the two seats on the left side of the plane. I’d even promised him the window seat.

Joe had called me two days after I got home from the dorms for Christmas. It — whatever ‘it’ was — hadn’t worked out with the new girl and he’d come running back to me. Okay, that might have been stretching it a bit. He’d asked if I still wanted to go see the new ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie that weekend. It came out the week of finals and neither one of us had had a chance to go yet.

We’d gone and he’d apologized to me, saying that he was looking forward to the plane ride because we could talk and asked if we could try to get seats for just the two of us. I’d gone online to find the best seats for something like this and on a 747 — if we weren’t able to be upstairs like Daddy and I usually were — the best place was the back two seats on one of the sides. The seats still reclined, but did have moveable armrests so I could use Joe as a pillow, and were close enough to the side of the plane that he could rest on it.

Because we were at the back of the plane, we got to board first if we wanted to. I didn’t. I knew we were going to be on board the plane for eons anyway — why get on any sooner than necessary?

Apparently Clark and Lana didn’t realize this and they were among the first on board. Well, all of our group was in the back of the plane, so it made sense, but I still hoped they weren’t either in front of or next to us.

As the departure time finally neared, Joe and I boarded. I groaned aloud when I realized that Clark was going to be sitting right across the aisle from me.

“What?” Joe asked from right behind me.

“Look who’s sitting next to us,” I told him, glad that we weren’t close enough to our group to be heard by any of them.

“I thought you liked Clark,” he said confused.

“I do. I don’t like the person sitting on the other side of him. And they’re probably going to be playing tonsil hockey over the Atlantic.”

“And we won’t?” I could practically see his grin as he whispered in my ear.

“It’s possible,” I conceded. “But don’t hold your breath.”

“I won’t.”

We reached the back of plane, said ‘hi’ to Clana — as I’d taken to calling them in my head since we got back from the cabin, regardless of what I’d said to Joe before — and stowed our stuff.

Joe leaned down to whisper in my ear. “Do you want me to take the aisle seat? I won’t mind.”

I nodded. “Thanks.” Before I could slide into my seat, I heard the sickeningly sweet voice come from across the aisle.

“Lois. Joe.” I turned to see Lana smiling innocently at us. “Would you two trade seats with us? Clark and I wanted to talk about something and would appreciate a little bit of buffer from anyone else.”

Clark shifted in his seat, looking slightly uncomfortable.

Joe smiled at her. “Sorry, Lana. No can do. Lois and I already have a big, long talk of our own planned and since we thought ahead enough to get the seats…” He shrugged. “We’re going to use them. I’m sure you two will have plenty of time to talk when we get to Europe.” He paused, his brow furrowed. “Didn’t you two just drive in from Smallville? What’s that? A twenty-hour drive?”

Lana covered well, but I was sure she was furious. She just wanted a little space to be slightly more alone with Clark.

I slid into the window seat and rested my head against the plastic.

This was going to be a long flight.

***

We were well over the Atlantic before Joe took my hand in his. “Can we talk now?”

I glanced around. Most people were either asleep or had headphones on or both so I nodded. “Sure.”

He took a deep breath. “Since Thanksgiving, and really before that, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. About us.”

He’d shifted so that his back was to the aisle and spoke quietly.

“What about us?” I asked softly.

“We’ve been off and on for what? Three years now?”

I nodded. “Something like that.”

“Do you ever wonder why we always find our way back to each other? I mean, I’ve dated other girls that I liked a lot — who knew how to kiss and whatever — but I’ve never wanted to date any one of them again after we broke up.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean. But I never dated any other guys seriously or anything. Barely kissed the few I did go out with. Dan was the only one I thought might turn into something more and… Well, you know how that turned out.”

He rubbed his thumb over my knuckles. “I don’t want you to think I’m saying this just to get in bed with you, I’m not. Not that I would mind someday, but I know how you feel about that and I don’t want to pressure you into anything you don’t want or aren’t ready for or anything like that.”

“Well, you also know I won’t let you pressure me.”

“I know. And I respect that, really, I do. That was part of what I was thinking about the last few weeks. I’ve slept with just about every other girl I’ve dated since I was sixteen. There hasn’t been that many and it’s not like it was ever on the first date, but after a couple dates…” He looked at our joined hands. “I don’t want to get into all of my sexual history right now and you already know most of it anyway, but I wonder if that’s not part of why we keep find our way back to each other. That it’s not just about sex with us.”

I rested my head on my seat. “I guess that’s possible.”

“And then… you almost died. And when your dad told me what happened… Did you know I called your house that night? He was so scared and so was I. I don’t think I’ve ever breathed a bigger sigh of relief than when Lana told me you were okay. I started thinking then and after Thanksgiving, I started thinking more seriously. And you said you were happy the way things were, so I left it alone and I started dating Denise, but only a couple times because I didn’t want to be with her. I wanted to be with you.

“Could we…” He took another deep breath and almost looked scared. “Do you think that we could try again? I mean, for real and not just so we have something to do on Friday and Saturday nights or whatever? I promise that I won’t push you or anything, but I realized when I was going out with her this month… I kissed her and she kissed me back and she was willing to do a lot more than that and I just… I had no desire to do that with her. All I could think about was you and how I would rather be with you watching a movie than doing… other stuff with her.”

He leaned over and kissed me softly. “Think about it for a while. I don’t want an answer right away. I know it’s something we haven’t talked about in years, but I would like you to think about it and see if you think there might be a chance for us.” He kissed me again — a long, soft, sweet kiss. Almost like our first kiss a couple years earlier. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom and then I’m going to get some shut eye, okay?”

I nodded. “Okay. And I will think about it. I promise.” I stared at the blackness out the window while he was gone, but stood when he got back. “Why don’t you take the window seat and you can lean on it? If you don’t mind me leaning on you, that is.”

He smiled. “Not at all.” He settled in the window seat with one of the little airline pillows and a blanket. I handed him my pillow and he used it, too. One arm wrapped around me as I sat next to him and rested my head on his shoulder. We each pulled a rough airplane blanket around us. He kissed my head. “I do love you, Lois.”

“I know, Joe. I love you, too.”

“I know.”

We closed our eyes and settled in for some sleep.

~~~~~

Clark

I wanted to shift uncomfortably, but Lana was resting on me and I didn’t want to bother her.

This flying in planes things was for the birds.

I was meant to fly under my own power.

Really.

Of course, no one else would understand that, but that was okay. Lana would soon enough. We’d be in Paris and, in a couple days, she’d be my fiancee — there was nothing that I could think of that would lead to her saying no — and we’d have three days before classes started once we got back to the States. We’d talk about me and my alien-ness then. And then she’d understand.

And hopefully, she’d like to fly with me sometimes.

I sighed and shifted my aisle side leg slightly.

“You okay?” came a soft voice from across the aisle.

I looked to see Lois watching me, concern in her eyes.

I nodded. “I’m not real fond of flying and there’s just not enough leg room in these things. Honestly. It’s worse than your Jeep.”

She smiled at that. “My Jeep has plenty of legroom.”

“Only because you always drive.”

“True. But Joe’s Mustang has plenty of leg room, too, and I never drive it.”

“Not in the back.”

“You’ve got me there, but I’ve never been in the back seat of his car.”

“Really?” I asked her, a gleam in my eye.

She glared at me.

“Sorry,” I said immediately, a grin on my face. I sighed and turned serious. “I didn’t mean to listen in a little while ago but…” I glanced around. “This isn’t exactly the best place for trying not to listen in.”

She blushed a bit. “I’m sure.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“Are you going to give it another chance?”

She chewed on her bottom lip. “I think so.” She glanced up at Joe, who was sleeping against the window, his mouth slightly open. She smiled. “He’s my best friend. He has been for a long time.”

“I’m glad. He really does seem like a good guy.”

“He is.”

We talked for a while longer, laughing and joking quietly as the sky in front of us lightened. We were landing at nearly noon, Paris time, so it would be daylight long before we landed. Fortunately, for those trying to sleep, most of the shades were pulled.

Lana and Joe both began to stir at about the same time, as did just about everyone else as we started our descent into Paris.

***

Part 19

Lois

~~~~~

I hugged the pillow to me and groaned slightly.

I was finally visiting Paris with a boyfriend who wanted to see if things between us could turn serious again and I had the flu.

At least the faculty advisors were a little more lenient than the ones in high school had been. As much as I wanted to explore Paris, I’d been there before — several times — and right then, my bed was much more appealing.

There was a knock on the door and I groaned again, getting up to answer it.

“Hey,” Joe said quietly.

I raised one hand and turned back to the room. I flopped on the bed and he sat next to me.

“Feeling any better?” he asked brushing the hair off my face.

“A bit,” I said, truthfully. “Not nearly as bad as I did this morning.”

“That’s good.” He leaned over and kissed my forehead. “Any chance you’ll be up to that dinner tonight?”

I nodded. “I may not eat much, but maybe.”

“Good.”

We hadn’t had a chance to talk since we got off the plane. I grasped his hand in mine. “I’ve thought a lot about what you said on the plane,” I said, not looking at him.

“And?” he asked quietly. He sounded a bit afraid.

“I want to give it a shot…”

“But?” he prompted as my voice trailed off.

“There’s a couple of things I want to be clear on first.”

“Okay,” he said, shifting so he could stroke the hair off my forehead as I continued to stare at his denim-clad thigh.

“No pushing me for sex. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it at some point in the not-too-distant future or about moving the boundaries we’ve had set for the last couple years sometime soon, but I know you’re ready for that whenever I am and I don’t want you to push me. And we never make any decisions about it in the heat of the moment or when we’re not fully clothed.”

“Deal.”

“And…” I took a deep breath. This was the one that could be a deal breaker eventually, I thought. “If you break up with me at some point because I’m not ready for sex yet and you go out and date around a bit and scratch the itch or whatever, don’t expect to come back to me like you have the last couple years. It’s different this time.” I still hadn’t looked at him. “If we break up for other reasons and not that, then maybe if we can work those issues out, but you better not cheat on me or break up with me so you can go have sex with someone else and expect me to take you back. If this is a serious relationship, it’s a serious relationship, not the on-again-off-again thing we’ve been for the last few years.”

“Deal,” he said without hesitation.

I finally looked up at him. “I mean it, Joe.”

“I know you do.” He kissed my forehead again. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep and I’ll meet you downstairs at eight? Leave me a message if you’re not up to it, but if I don’t hear from you, I’m taking you to dinner in Paris tonight.”

“Well,” I said with a smile. “It would be kind of hard for you to take me to dinner in Metropolis now, wouldn’t it?”

He laughed. “Yeah. That it would.”

I smiled at him. “Love you, Joe.”

“Love you, too.” He kissed me — for real this time — and then stood. “Get some rest.”

I closed my eyes as he left.

~~~~~

Clark

I set my backpack down on the floor next to my chair. I sat where I could see the elevators because Lana was going to be coming off of one any minute.

Instead, I found myself distracted by Lois sitting next to me and hiding her face in my shoulder.

“Pretend we’re in some kind of deep, romantic conversation or something,” she hissed.

I hadn’t seen her all day. Joe said she had a bit of the stomach flu, but she seemed fine. “What?” I whispered back.

“She can’t see me.” She tugged at my other arm so that my body turned and hid her a bit more.

“Who?”

“Dad’s girlfriend.”

I started to turn and look, but a quick shake of her head stopped me. “Don’t look.”

I could see her tracking someone with her eyes.

“Okay, now you can watch her. Blonde, high heels, shiny pink shirt and white leather pants.”

“I see her,” I whispered.

“She’s up to something.”

“What?”

“I don’t know, but…”

“She’s leaving.”

Lois whipped her head around. “Come on.”

“What?”

“I’m following her. I’ll explain later.”

“Lois, I’m not following your Dad’s girlfriend with you. I’m supposed to go out for dinner with Lana, and you’re not exactly dressed for undercover operations.”

She glared at me. “I’m going. Tell Joe I’ll call him when I get back, okay?”

I groaned and grabbed my backpack as she practically ran across the lobby. “I’m coming, but we’re not going to be gone long.” I saw Tom, one of the guys in our group and asked him to let Lana and Joe know we’d be back in a few minutes and he agreed. Surely, I’d be able to talk her out of this before we got too far.

We ended up in a cab and followed a dark sedan to the airport, but not the main terminal.

Thanking the cabbie and paying him, Lois climbed out.

“What are you doing?” I hissed.

“Following her,” she hissed back.

I could see the blonde talking to someone who looked a bit… hinky but that didn’t mean anything. Maybe.

The guy handed her a large briefcase and I slipped my glasses down to look into it.

Cash.

And lots of it.

There weren’t very many reasons — legitimate reasons — to handle large briefcases of cash at night at a deserted part of a foreign airport.

A pallet was loaded onto an airplane and before I knew it, Lois was dashing through the shadows.

What on earth did she think she was doing?

When no one was looking, she nimbly jumped up onto the ramp and into the cargo hold.

Was she planning on flying with this stuff?

Were cargo holds even pressurized?

I sighed and hitched my backpack a bit higher and followed her.

~~~~~

Lois

I heard something behind me and a glance showed that it was Clark. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, but I was glad I wasn’t doing it alone.

“Lois,” he hissed.

“What?” I hissed back.

“We have to get out of here.”

“In a minute.” I tiptoed through the pallets, looking for another one to catch my eye — away from the loading hatch where we could be seen. Finally, I found one.

I tried to pull the lid off, but apparently, it wasn’t budging.

Suddenly, Clark grabbed my arm and pulled me down.

“What?”

“Someone’s coming.” He held a finger to his lips as we crouched behind the pallet.

A couple of men climbed into the hold and fastened down the last pallet that had been loaded. As soon as they were done, they hopped down and the loading ramp began to close.

We looked at each other — wide eyed. “We have to get out of here!” I whispered.

“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” he whispered back. “How?”

“I don’t know. Are cargo holds pressurized?”

“I think so — they ship pets don’t they?”

“Yeah.”

I dug around in my jacket pocket and pulled out my iPhone.

“What’re you doing?”

“Looking it up.”

I was glad Daddy always paid for the best services and I had internet access on it even here. On the way to the cabin… it had been useless, but here I had service.

Clark’s hand clamped over mine before I could connect.

“What?”

“Won’t it interfere with the plane’s electronics? And tip them off that we’re here?”

“Does it matter if we die from exposure if we don’t?”

He sighed and suddenly the whine from the engines changed and we started to move. I toppled onto him and we landed flat.

Fortunately, there were still a few small lights on in this area. We could hear footsteps above our heads and we stood up, looking for a way to get to the main deck.

Clark tugged his glasses to the end of his nose. I’d seen him do that a few times before, but had no idea why.

He grabbed my hand. “Come on.” Quickly, he led us to a spot near the front of the plane, where, incredibly, there were a couple of jump seats.

He dropped his backpack to the ground and sat in one. I sat next to him. “I guess if there’s seats here, we’ll survive the trip.”

His face looked grim. “It probably won’t be real comfortable though. It’ll probably be a lot colder down here than up in the cabin.”

I rested my head on the bulkhead behind me and sighed. “I’m sorry.”

He sighed, too. “I know.”

“Joe was supposed to take me on our first real date since… well, you heard us talking.”

“Yeah. So you were going to see what happened with him?”

“Yeah. I told him that there were two conditions and he agreed to them so…” I shrugged. “I thought I’d see where we went.”

“What were the conditions?”

I didn’t say anything for a minute. “Well, that he doesn’t push me for sex and if he breaks up with me because I’m not ready and goes to some other girl, don’t expect me to take him back.”

“Good for you.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Really? You’re not going to tell me in some sort of male bonding moment that I should just jump him next time I see him?”

He shook his head. “No. It’s not something to take lightly.”

“So how long did you and Lana wait?” I didn’t look at him when I asked.

“We still are,” he said quietly. “We decided to wait until we get married.”

We were both continuing to scan the area, hoping that something would catch our eye for a way to get out of there, but we were suddenly pressed against the backs of our seats as the whine increased and we, apparently, took off.

~~~~~

Clark

I sighed. This so wasn’t what I had planned. I should have been walking along the Seine or gazing at the Eiffel Tower with Lana and then asking her to marry me.

A plane on the way to — literally — God only knew where, wasn’t on the agenda.

“So why exactly did you insist on following her?”

She shrugged. “I can’t explain it. She… she’s not above board. I know that. Daddy said she was going to see her family in Little Rock, Arkansas. She shouldn’t have been in Paris.”

“Ah.” I didn’t understand, but I knew Lois and the girlfriend didn’t get along at all. I knew that she was the main reason why Lois hadn’t felt she could move back home when she found out I was her roommate.

I dug around in my backpack and found a pack of gum. I held it out to her. “Here. Should help with the air pressure.”

She nodded her thanks as she took a piece and popped it in her mouth.

“So what were you and Lana up to tonight?”

I shrugged. I wasn’t about to tell her my real plans. “Walk along the Seine, see the Eiffel Tower at night, kiss at midnight, that kind of thing. You and Joe?”

“We were supposed to go to our favorite restaurant. Well, mine and Daddy’s. It’s where he proposed to Mom on a trip when they were in college.”

“College sweethearts then?”

She shook her head. “High school. He proposed when they went on a trip to Europe over Winter Break their freshman year. They got married that summer and lived in the dorms on campus until he graduated from medical school. I came along about five years after they got married and Lucy three years after that.”

The similarities were eerie, though neither Lana nor I were planning on working in the medical field and I didn’t think we’d wait that long to try to start a family.

We sat for a while, each lost in our own thoughts, until a while after we’d leveled out.

“Do you have any idea where we’re going?” I finally asked her.

“No,” she sighed.

I’d tried to listen in to some of the conversation above us, but I didn’t recognize the language and none of it sounded like the name of any cities I was familiar with.

She snapped her seatbelt off and headed towards the back of the plane.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Checking to see what they’ve got loaded on here. We’re probably going to be here for a couple hours, we may as well look around.”

I lowered my glasses and could feel my face tighten when I saw what was in the crates.

She carefully walked to the last pallet that had been loaded and suddenly pulled a flashlight out of her pocket. “Can you help me open this?”

I shook my head. “We’re not opening that.”

“Why not?”

Because I already know what’s in it, I tried to communicate to her without saying anything. And it’s not something we want to get involved with.

She flashed her light around and found a tool box of some kind attached to the wall. She managed to open it and pulled a crowbar out of it.

“Are you really going to do this?” I asked her.

“Yes.”

I decided I better help her. I could probably get it open so that I could shut it again later and no one would know that we’d opened it. “Here.” I held my hand out and she glared at me. “I’m taller. I’ll have a better angle on it.”

She sighed and handed it over.

Carefully, I pried up one side enough that we could peek in.

She shone her flashlight into the crate and gasped as she realized what I already knew.

We were in way over our heads.

~~~~~

Lois

I needed to call Daddy.

Not to tell him what we’d found, but to have him send someone to rescue us whenever we got where we landed.

I scrambled back down and wandered towards the jump seats without really paying attention to what I was doing. I guessed Clark put the lid back on as best he could and then I heard a slight clanging sound as he put the crowbar back.

A few minutes later, he held a bottle of water out to me.

Boy Scouts had nothing on Clark Kent.

“What do we do?” I whispered.

“Try to get out of this alive,” he said, his voice grim.

I nodded. “That’s a good plan.”

He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me to his side. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Maybe we’ll land in London or something and we can sneak off the way we got on when no one’s looking.”

“Somehow I doubt we’re headed for somewhere nearly as civil as London.”

“Probably not,” he agreed, his cheek resting on my head.

“We’ll figure something out.”

“I hope so.”

I giggled. “I figured we’d have to be seasoned investigative reporters before we ended up in this kind of situation.”

He let go of me and rested his head against the wall behind him. “Somehow, I don’t envision Lois Lane waiting for anything to happen to her. I think she makes things happen.”

“Well, it would be nice if I had a clue what was going on. I saw that logo on some paperwork at home, but I have no idea what it was.” I pointed at the snake coiled on the side of one of the crates.

“I think that may be a good thing.”

I sighed. “At least we know what’s inside and we can try to be prepared.”

“As long as they don’t use them on us.”

“Right.”

Because they could.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I’d seen when Clark got that lid off.

Guns.

Lots and lots of guns.

***

Part 20

January 2003

Clark

~~~~~

Lois was starting to shiver a bit.

I wondered if I could shoot a blast of heat vision at her without her noticing.

Deciding it probably wasn’t worth the risk just yet, I pulled my jacket off and warmed up the inside with a bit of the lasers or whatever it was that shot out of my eyes and tucked it around her.

“Won’t you be cold?” she asked me.

I shook my head. “I’m a bit warm actually. Must be the adrenaline.”

“Thanks.”

I lowered my glasses and looked through the floor of the plane and zoomed in on the ground below. It wasn’t as far a zoom as it might have been. We were over mountains. The Alps? I guessed so. No other mountain ranges came to mind in Europe.

We didn’t say much for a long time.

“Any ideas?” she asked.

I shook my head. I knew I could get us out easily and probably unseen if I was willing to risk what I knew about myself. I knew I could trust Lois, or thought I could. I was still worried about what Lana was going to say when I told her. I guessed that if I managed to get Lois out of a potentially life or death situation, it would go a long way towards making her feel friendly towards me.

If it came down to it, Lois and I would just disappear. Literally. There one second and gone the next and the people watching would never know what had happened.

Or something.

If I could make myself go through with it and hope that we didn’t leave behind any evidence that would lead to us.

Her head rested on my shoulder and, unbelievably, she dozed off.

I sighed and used my vision again to see how far away I could see and see if I could recognize any landmarks or anything. There was water nearby and I thought maybe it was part of the Mediterranean, but I had no idea. I looked around some more and realized that there was no rising or setting sun to help me figure out which way we were headed or anything like that.

The North Star.

I’d never tried to find it while looking through a plane and from a different hemisphere.

No luck.

Was it really a different hemisphere or just a different angle? I sighed. It didn’t matter.

I turned my hearing back on and heard something about Latislan. I hoped we weren’t headed there. They were in the middle of some kind of conflict with… Podansk, I thought.

It would explain the guns though.

I wracked my brain to remember what I could about the small country in south-eastern Europe. Run by a military dictatorship. Not a pleasant place to be. And probably not a good place to let someone get their hands on Lois. I wasn’t too worried about myself, but for her…

An indeterminate amount of time later, we finally started to descend.

~~~~~

Lois

The wheels touched the tarmac of some foreign country. I was sure I looked frightened. I felt it. We were in some other country and I knew I didn’t have anything but my driver’s license on me, certainly not my passport. I didn’t know if Clark had his or not.

Of course, gun runners probably wouldn’t care that we were American citizens or that we wanted to contact our embassy.

It was my fault we were in this mess; maybe I could distract whoever I needed to, to let Clark get away safely.

He grasped my hand lightly and whispered in my ear as the sound of the engines began to slow down as we taxied somewhere. “We’ll figure something out but don’t do anything stupid.”

“Do you at least have your passport with you?”

He nodded. “You don’t, do you?”

I shook my head. “Here.” I slipped my license in his hand. “You keep it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. My gut feeling says I shouldn’t have it on me. They may be able to connect me to my dad’s girlfriend.”

“Right.”

We unbuckled our seatbelts and hid as far forward in the plane as we could.

My stomach flu decided to pick that moment to come back with a vengeance. I managed to keep from actually throwing up, but I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be successful.

I handed him my cell phone. “I don’t think I should have that either,” I whispered as the rear loading ramp began to lower.

He nodded and stuck it in his pocket.

“If you can find a way to do it without letting anyone see you, call my dad and tell him where we are.” I paused. “Do you know where we are?”

“I think we’re in Latislan,” he said with a grimace. “I heard someone say something really loud while you were sleeping.”

I nodded. We’d heard murmurs and a few words here and there but I hadn’t been able to figure any of it out.

“Do you think we can send him a text message?” he asked.

“I don’t think he knows how to check them.”

Latislan. That explained the guns, but it wasn’t good.

The pallets were being off-loaded one by one.

I whispered to him. “If you can, the phone book on there has Dad’s cell Europe on it. That’ll dial him from here. Country codes and all that. Call him over and over until he answers.”

He nodded. “Can we find a way upstairs now?”

“Maybe they’ll only unload half or something.”

My stomach was roiling. I was going to throw up. I wasn’t going to be able to stop it next time. I knew that.

I had to do something. I couldn’t let them find Clark when I started puking my guts out again. He had to be able to get a hold of my dad or someone.

He was squatting precariously, his backpack straps in his thumbs.

I took a deep breath and whispered, “I’m sorry,” before I shoved him.

He made a loud clattering sound when he landed and I didn’t take the time to register the look of shock on his face before I started making my way towards the rear of the plane.

“Help me!” I yelled.

The two men who had jumped on the plane when they heard the noise grabbed my arms and I was sure they were immediately sorry, when the little I’d had to eat that day decided it was a good time to come back up.

~~~~~

Clark

I cursed under my breath.

What the hell was she doing?

She threw up on the two men holding her arms. She must have still been sick and was afraid she’d give both of us away if she threw up back here.

She was crying that she wanted to call her dad.

Call her dad.

I dug the phone out of my pocket and tried to figure it out.

I found the phone book and then the listing she’d given me.

“Hello?” came the voice on the other end of the line. “Princess?”

“Sam, it’s Clark,” I whispered.

“Clark? What’s wrong?”

“I can’t explain now, but we’re in trouble.”

“Aren’t you in Paris?”

“We were, but it’s a long story I can’t get into. We’re in Latislan.” A scan of the area had confirmed that.

“What?!”

“Lois doesn’t have her passport and left her ID and phone with me when she made a break for it.” Or something like that. “Can you get a hold of the embassy and get them down here or something? We’re at the main airport in Skopje.”

“Is she okay?”

“A couple of guys have got her right now. I’m going to do whatever I can, but I wanted to call you first and have you start working on things there. See if you can get a hold of someone to get down here.”

“I will.” He paused for a second. “Take care of my little girl, Clark.”

“I will, sir.”

“Be careful.” He clicked off.

Hopefully, he had enough connections that he could get the ball rolling or something.

I made sure the phone was on vibrate and stuck it back in my pocket.

I looked through the crate to see where they had taken Lois. They were half-dragging her towards the hanger nearby. I looked around and no one else was close. I took the chance and snuck out of the plane and zipped to a hiding spot near the hanger, using a plane landing to help cover my wind gust.

They sat her in a chair in an office and were arguing over what to do with her, I guessed.

She threw up again and one of them stuck a trash can in front of her.

When she was done, she started talking again immediately, telling them again that she was an American and she wanted to talk to her embassy or her dad or the president or just about anyone else.

The phone in my pocket vibrated slightly about ten minutes later. Not much had changed, though I wasn’t sure Lois had actually taken a breath except for the two times she threw up again.

Looking around to make sure I was alone, I pulled it out of my pocket. A text message from Sam.

He didn’t go into details but said that help was on the way in the form of a member of the ambassador’s staff but it would probably be thirty minutes before anyone got to us.

I sent a message back that we were both still okay for the time being, but that I was still hiding and watching.

I hated text speak or whatever, but found myself using abbreviations I’d sworn I’d never use and some I doubted even existed, but hoped Sam would understand what I was trying to say.

Ten minutes after that, car lights caught my attention. It was too fast to be the embassy personnel. I zoomed in and confirmed that. I wasn’t sure who it was, but he didn’t look happy.

They’d tied Lois to the chair, but it wasn’t the best job and she didn’t look like she was in pain.

She was looking around, probably wondering where I was and hoping I was okay.

There was shouting from the tarmac and one of the men scampered out of the office and headed towards the yelling man.

There was more yelling and it sounded like he was ‘yes, sir’-ing a lot in whatever language it was.

One of the men in a military uniform came into the office and untied Lois. I breathed a quick sigh of relief until he grabbed her arm and forced her out of the chair and towards the angry… general it looked like.

He better not hurt her. I seriously thought about just grabbing her and taking off, literally, but that guy had a tight grip on her arm and I didn’t want to take him with us or hurt her, so I waited.

~~~~~

Lois

I didn’t want them to think I was nearly as scared as I was.

“I want to talk to my embassy! I’m an American!” I shouted over and over as the new bully dragged me out of the hanger office.

I didn’t know where Clark was, but I hoped he’d gotten a hold of my dad and that help was on the way.

“I want to talk to the ambassador! No! I want to talk to the president! I’m an American!”

“Shut up!” The man practically spat at me in heavily accented English.

“Will you let me call the embassy?”

“No.”

“Then I won’t shut up! I want to talk to my embassy. You can’t hold me like this.”

He leered at me, looking me up and down and practically undressing me with his eyes. It made me very uncomfortable and I almost prayed that I’d throw up all over him.

“Shut up!”

One of the men I’d thrown up on said something to him that I didn’t understand.

“You’ve thrown up on my men, have you?”

“I’ll throw up on you,” I threatened.

“Are you sick?”

“Why?” He obviously didn’t care about my welfare.

“You must have brought a vicious disease into my country. I’ll have to have you quarantined until it can be figured out. I think three months should be sufficient.”

He ran a finger down the side of my face, but I didn’t flinch no matter how badly I wanted to.

And then I got my wish.

I threw up all over him.

I was sure his smell didn’t help because he smelled like spoiled beets. It was his own fault.

He looked like he wanted to hit me but he didn’t dare. If I was an American and I managed to get out, it wouldn’t look good.

Of course, if he managed to get me quarantined, that wouldn’t help much either.

Inspiration struck.

“I’m not sick,” I told him, wiping my mouth on my sleeve. Well, Clark’s sleeve. I apologized mentally for ruining his jacket.

“Then why are you throwing up all over my country?”

“I’m pregnant. You wouldn’t want to treat a pregnant American woman poorly would you?”

It was all bluff and bluster, but it had to work.

A sinister grin spread across his face. I didn’t understand why that would please him.

“There is no record of you entering our fair country,” he reminded me.

“So?”

“You have been here for several weeks now, have you not?”

“I have not.”

“Ah, I think you have. And while you were here, you…” His face took on that leer again. “You made yourself available to me, no?”

“No.” It was nearly a whisper.

“You carry my child and in Latislan, that means I have full custody of the child unless I relinquish that custody. You will not be allowed to leave until the child is born and I can retain physical custody.”

I was sure the blood had drained from my face. “There is proof that I entered Paris yesterday,” I pointed out.

He shook his head. “It wasn’t you. It was a friend of yours who looks much like you.” He leaned in until he could whisper in my ear. “You could always marry me so our child will not be a bastard.”

“Never,” I hissed.

I heard cars approaching and saw headlights. They screeched to a stop nearby. Someone got out and called out, “General Navance! That young lady is an American citizen.”

He didn’t move as he yelled back. “She is carrying my child. She will remain in my custody until I can take physical custody of the child.”

“Go to hell,” I whispered between clenched teeth as I brought my knee up sharply, connecting with his most sensitive parts.

Hands grabbed me from behind before everything went blessedly dark.

***

Part 21

Clark

~~~~~

Pregnant?

Lois said she was pregnant?!

I knew that wasn’t possible. Unless…

She had to be saying that just to avoid the quarantine.

I winced as he told her that he believed her to be carrying his baby.

That wasn’t good.

And what was that about custody?

I heard cars coming and prayed they’d be fast enough.

I heard whoever it was get out of the car and tell the man — General Navance apparently — to leave her alone.

He reiterated the baby stuff and Lois told him to go to hell and then kneed him.

Even though he was a pig and I was invulnerable, I winced in slight sympathy.

But then Lois collapsed.

“Lois!” I called without thinking as I ran from my hiding spot.

“And who is this?!” thundered the general.

“I’m an American,” I told him as two of his goons grabbed my arms. “So is she.” I nodded towards Lois who was lying on the ground.

“It does not matter,” he said, a gloating look on his face. “Her child is Latislani and that means I retain custody of her.”

“It’s not your baby,” I told him. “We just got here.”

The government official was at my side. “Mr. Kent?” he whispered.

I nodded.

“We’ll get her out of this, but don’t antagonize him. That won’t help either one of you.” He turned back to Navance. “If you say she’s carrying your child, shouldn’t you be a bit more worried about her welfare? She needs to get to a hospital immediately. Of course, if you’d rather, I could take her and have one of our corpsmen look at her.”

“That is just a trick to get her to the embassy,” he thundered. “And I would never see my child!”

Boy, he was really getting into this ‘she’s having my baby’ thing.

She must have really pissed him off about something, but I wasn’t entirely certain what it was.

He motioned to someone off to the side. His car pulled up. “We will take her to the closest hospital.”

“I’m going with her,” I said instantly.

“Someone from the embassy will ride with her in the car,” the man next to me said. “And we’ll be right behind. Someone will stay with her at all times, understood General Navance?”

Whoever the guy was, he was someone to be reckoned with.

The general gave a quick nod and one of the men climbed in the front seat of the car as Lois was loaded in the back.

“Mr. Kent, please come with me.” The hand on my arm was insistent as I stared at the car with Lois in it.

I finally allowed myself to be led away.

I watched Lois through the car using my vision and tried to listen to the conversation I was having.

“I’m Daniel Scardino,” the man told me.

“Hi, Dan. How do we get Lois out of here?”

“It’s Daniel, but that’s not important now. We’ll get her out.”

“Sorry. Daniel.”

“How far along is she?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think there’s any way she can be pregnant. She and her boyfriend don’t… you know.”

“Ah. Then why did she say it?”

“He was threatening to have her quarantined for bringing a disease in. She probably thought it was a way out.”

Something kept niggling at the back of my mind.

“And you’re sure she’s not pregnant?” he asked again.

I groaned and closed my eyes. “She may have been raped.”

May have been?”

I nodded. “Halloween. She was drugged. I found her with some guy but we didn’t know if he’d managed to… you know. She refused to go to the hospital. But that would make her… what? Three months pregnant by now. That’s a big difference from barely like he’s saying. And surely she would have suspected it by now.”

He nodded. “Well, I’m sure they’ll do tests at the hospital. We’ll have to make sure we get the real test results and not the ones Navance wants us to have.”

“He’d doctor them?”

Daniel sighed. “He’s on a real power trip. Your friend’s in a lot of trouble.”

“Why?”

“He’s essentially a dictator, even though he’s nominally elected. He does what he wants. There’s a law on the books that says that any child he says is his… Well, as long as he claims the child, it doesn’t matter. Of course, it doesn’t say ‘Navance’ in the law — it says the Chairman of the Supreme Council or something like that. And in Latislan, custody always goes to the father, except in extreme cases. And in Latislan, that custody starts before birth.” He sighed. “It’s all legal and technically legit.”

“That’s crazy!”

“I know. And even if we got her out of the country, as long as he claims the baby…”

“Is there any way around it?”

“Well, if she’s not pregnant, that’s a start. And I’ve got a guy back at the embassy looking into it. Jack,” he nodded to the front of the car, “is… security. He’s already made some phone calls.”

Security. Right. CIA or something was more likely.

We pulled up to a hospital that made me cringe. I wasn’t sure it was worthy of the name. Lois was taken out of the car and put on a stretcher.

I hurried after her. She was moaning, but not aware of her surroundings. “Lois.” I grabbed for her hand.

I was shoved to the side by someone.

Daniel put his hand on my arm. “We’ll wait in the waiting room, but he’ll stay with her.” He nodded towards Jack.

I trained my eyes and ears on Lois’ room as much as I could. I averted my eyes when they undressed her and started an IV but watched everything else. Before long, a doctor came out and asked to speak with me.

One of the men who came with Daniel was acting as an interpreter.

“When was the last time she ate?” the doctor asked through the embassy official.

I shook my head. “We had some water and a protein bar on the plane a few hours ago but she was sick most of the day in Paris. I don’t know what she ate yesterday. I wasn’t with her.”

The doctor turned and conversed with a nurse for a moment and she scurried off. He said something else to the translator and then left.

“He said her blood tests should be back shortly but the baby seems to be fine.”

I sank to the chair. “She’s pregnant?” I whispered.

He nodded. “That’s what he said.” He leaned closer and whispered. “I don’t think he’s fond of Navance but he doesn’t dare cross him.”

Daniel and I both nodded. “So what do we do?” I asked.

“We wait for the moment,” he said grimly. “Do you have any idea who the father might be?”

I shook my head. “No. Why?”

“If we knew who the father was, that might help with the paternity claims that Navance is making.”

“Ah.”

~~~~~

Lois

Where was I?

I tried to lick my lips because my whole mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls.

The room was dimly lit and there was someone over to the side.

“Hello?” I whispered.

“Hello, Ms. Lane.”

An American by the sound of it. Why was that a good thing?

Everything flooded back to me.

Dad’s girlfriend.

The airplane.

The guns.

The airport.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Jack. I work for the embassy.”

“Ah. Where’s Clark? Is he okay?”

He nodded. “He’s fine.”

I closed my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. “When can I go home?”

He shook his head. “Not sure yet. Navance is claiming your baby. That throws a wrench in the works.”

“What baby?” I was confused. I’d told him I was pregnant but I wasn’t.

Was I?

When was my last period?

I wracked my brain but didn’t remember. I knew it was after the last semester started but…

“Halloween,” I whispered.

He nodded again. “Clark told us about that. Do you have any idea who it was?”

I shook my head. “I don’t remember any of it.”

How could I not have thought I might be pregnant? I should have thought of that a long time ago — to check to be sure even if I didn’t really think anything had happened that night. Joe and I had talked about it and I hadn’t felt weird or… sore or anything that might indicate I really had been… I couldn’t even think about what must have happened. And what about STDs? As soon as I got home, I’d have to get tested for those and HIV and…

Tears overwhelmed me and I tried unsuccessfully to swipe them off before Jack noticed.

Too late.

He handed me a box of Kleenex.

But they were yucky, generic, hospital-in-a-foreign-country Kleenex and scratched.

“So what now?” I finally asked.

He sighed. “Not sure yet. We’ve got people looking at Latislani law. You’re an American citizen but there’s no record of your entry into the country. He says you’ve been here for weeks and a friend used your passport, and around here what he says goes. We’re trying to find a way around it.”

“I can’t just sneak into the embassy or on a plane or something and get out of here?”

He shook his head. “You could but under Latislani law, he can still claim the baby. No U.S. court would send you or the baby back here, but the PR would be a nightmare for you and the baby and everyone you know. Better to find a way around it that’s legal under Latislani law.”

“Is that possible?” I whispered.

“We’ll figure something out. If nothing else, we’ll find a way to get you out of here, but we’re exploring that first.”

I nodded. It made sense. “He’s not the father though. Just a sonogram showing how far along I am should prove that. My fingerprints will be all over my hotel room in France, so it couldn’t have been a friend using my passport.”

“DNA doesn’t matter under Latislani law.”

“That’s stupid.”

“That’s the way it is.”

“Can I see Clark? Or did he already head back to Paris?”

“I’m right here.” The voice from the doorway startled me.

“I’m sorry, Clark.” Tears overflowed my eyes again.

He reached into his backpack and pulled a mini-pack of real Kleenex out.

“Boy Scout,” I mumbled, taking them gratefully.

“That’s me.” He pulled a chair up next to me and grasped my hand lightly. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like an idiot. I’m sorry I ruined your night with Lana and got you stuck here.”

“I already talked to her. I hope your dad doesn’t mind me using your cell phone.”

“He won’t.”

“Hopefully, we’ll be out of here soon and we can get back to our European tour.”

I stared at our clasped hands. “I’m pregnant,” I finally whispered. “I didn’t know when I said it…”

“I didn’t figure you did,” he answered quietly. “You were just trying to keep him from quarantining you, weren’t you?”

I nodded. “Halloween.”

“Yeah. The doc talked to me about when the last time you ate and stuff like that. Said you’re about ten weeks along, I think.”

“That’d be about right.”

The tears flowed even more freely and Clark moved to sit on the bed next to me and pulled me to him.

“Oh, Clark. What am I going to do?” I whispered between tears.

~~~~~

Clark

“We’ll figure something out,” I whispered back as she sobbed in my arms.

I could always fly her home as soon as the docs said she was stable enough to be moved. If that was the only way, I’d do it. As soon as I could get her away from everyone else, we’d just vanish.

The door thudded open again.

“Get away from her,” the silhouette thundered.

I moved away from her, as requested, but only placed myself between her and the nearly-murderous looking general. Jack was standing next to me.

“Move,” he ordered.

“No,” I said quietly.

If looks could kill…

He was obviously not a man used to having people stand up to him.

“You will move or I will have you arrested,” he threatened.

“You’ll do no such thing,” came a mildly amused voice from behind him.

Daniel.

I breathed a small sigh of relief. Somehow he knew how to handle this guy.

“Only I can say who visits my child,” he said, his voice menacing.

Why was this guy so enamored or obsessed or whatever with Lois?

“The mother is an American and entitled to visits from her embassy regardless of what you think the status of the fetus is.”

“Are you standing in my way, Scardino? I will revoke your diplomatic status.”

“You’ll do no such thing. You don’t want to anger the Americans after all,” he said, brushing by the angry man. “How’re you feeling, Lois?”

“Better. Thanks.”

“I’m Daniel Scardino. I work for the State Department and we’re going to get you home.”

“Thank you, Dan.”

He smiled at Lois. “Please call me Daniel.”

“Thanks, Daniel,” Lois said and smiled weakly at him.

I watched Mr. Latislani — whatever his name was — out of the corner of my eye. He was furious.

“Mr. Scardino,” he hissed in his heavily accented English. “You know very well that the father retains custody of the child, even prior to birth, while the mother is in Latislan.”

“Still haven’t proven it’s your baby, General,” Daniel called back, smiling at Lois.

“I don’t have to. My word is enough.”

“Even if we can prove she was in Paris as recently as several hours ago?”

“Yes.” He moved a step closer to Lois and I tensed. “She’s in Latislan illegally at the moment, who’s to say how long she’s been here? The imperialist American government? Who has the French officials wrapped around their little fingers?”

“Which has,” Daniel corrected calmly.

“Excuse me?”

“You said ‘who has’. The American government isn’t a ‘who’. It’s an ‘it’. So the correct thing to say would be ‘which has the French officials wrapped around their little fingers’, except the American government doesn’t have fingers, so I’m not entirely certain who, or what, you’re talking about.”

General Navance growled. “I do not need an English lesson!”

“Apparently, you do,” Daniel replied as calm as ever.

“What I need is for all of you to get away from my child!” he roared.

Lois glared at him. “I am not pregnant with your child,” she announced. I could hear her heart racing, belying the quiet tone of voice.

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” he somehow managed to thunder between clenched teeth as he advanced towards the bed. “I say you are and that is all that matters.”

“I’m not pregnant with your baby. I’m an American, pregnant with an American baby and DNA tests will prove that and you and your slimy little country can fall off the face of the Earth for all I care,” she practically spat at him.

“You will not leave this country until I say you can.” He moved closer to her.

“Stay away from her,” I told him, moving directly between him and the bed.

“Or what? You can’t keep me from my child,” he reminded me.

He sounded like a broken record. Or a scratched CD.

“It’s not your child,” I reiterated quietly.

“How would you know?” he sneered.

I hoped I could project a sincerity and calm I didn’t feel with my next statement. I didn’t know what was coming over me, except that I had to protect Lois. I took a deep breath and jumped into the deep end without checking the water.

“How would you know?” he demanded again.

“Because it’s my baby.”

***

Part 22

Lois

~~~~~

What the hell?

What did Clark just say?

The silence was deafening and apparently the smug general felt the need to ask the same thing.

“What?” He moved a half step closer to Clark.

“It’s my baby,” Clark said, without backing down. “We went to a cabin in the woods the first week of November and…” He shrugged. “I’m sure you know how babies are made. Middle of a blizzard, no power, fireplace, alone for a week. I’m a man. She’s a woman. Do I need to draw you a diagram?” He crossed his arms, daring the general to contradict him.

“You are no man. You are a child.”

Clark shrugged again. “I’m old enough to father her child. And I believe you said that in Latislan the father retains custody and controls who has access to the mother, so I think you better leave.”

Part of me wanted to strangle Clark for acting like he could control who could and could not see me.

The rest of me wanted to kiss him for finding a way out of this.

Well, not kiss him.

But hug him and thank him. And it wasn’t like I’d hold him to the paternity declaration later.

But the general was smiling. Or leering. One of the two. “I am afraid that’s not how it works, child.”

“How what works?” Clark was clearly confused.

“Paternity. Are you married to this woman?”

“No.”

“Then your claim of paternity…”

Another man entered the room and whispered something to him.

General Navance turned back to the rest of us. “I must go, but there will be a guard outside the door at all times and she is not allowed to leave.”

I started to protest, but looks from both Clark and Daniel made me shut my mouth. Somehow, they managed to convey that pissing this guy off even more wasn’t the way to go.

He spoke in whatever his native language was to the man who’d come in and I saw him take up a post outside the door.

“What’s going on?” I asked as the door swung shut.

Clark sat back down next to me and grasped my hand. “How are you? That’s the most important thing.”

I pushed myself up a bit higher with my other hand. “I’m fine, but what’s going on?”

Daniel sat in one of the other chairs and ran a hand through his hair. “In Latislan, the Supreme Ruler of All or whatever it is Navance calls himself only has to claim paternity for the child to be considered legally his. And in Latislan, the father retains custody — even prenatal custody.”

“That’s crazy!” Clark and I exclaimed at once.

“So even though I claimed paternity, it doesn’t matter?” Clark asked.

“And what were you thinking doing that?” I demanded. “Lana is going to kill you!”

He shrugged. “The cabin was about the right time, even if…” He stopped as Daniel tugged on his ear and pointed to the room.

Great. They were listening.

“Even if,” Clark continued, “he claims the baby, we can prove Lois wasn’t here that long ago and a paternity test will rule him out as the father anyway.”

Daniel shook his head. “The paternity test won’t matter.”

“It won’t?” I asked him, surprised. I knew if Clark took a paternity test, the results would be negative, but if Navance did… Those results would be negative, too.

Daniel sighed. “The actual paternity doesn’t matter if Navance says the baby is his.”

“What kind of crazy law is that?” Clark asked. “This is my baby and I’ll be damned if he’s going to get anywhere near him.”

I knew Clark was playing along with the paternity ruse, but I thought that it would be a lot nicer if I knew Clark and I really had been together at the cabin so that he was the father of this baby instead of some unknown frat boy. I rested my head against his shoulder, glad he was there with me.

Daniel pulled his PDA out of his jacket pocket and typed something in. He held it up for us to see. ‘We’ll figure something out’, it read.

Clark and I nodded. “I’m staying here,” Clark told him.

Daniel shook his head.

Clark gave him an intense look. “I’m the father of her baby. I’m staying.”

Daniel nodded slightly. It probably would look weird if Clark didn’t at least try to stay.

“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged. “Jack will stay, too.”

Daniel and Jack conferred quietly in the corner. Clark shifted uncomfortably.

I moved farther to one side of the bed so he’d have more room.

Daniel came back over and held his PDA back up. ‘You’re lovers having a baby. Remember that.’

Tears sprang to my eyes. He had a point, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to pretend that kind of thing with Clark. I glanced up at him to find that his face had blanched a bit.

His mouth suddenly set into a line. “It’ll be okay,” he murmured against my hair. “Get some rest.” He wrapped an arm around me tucked me in next to him. I got as comfortable as I could with an IV coming out of one arm.

“Happy New Year,” I finally said.

“Happy New Year,” he said back.

~~~~~

Clark

What on earth had I been thinking?

That I had to protect my friend.

And her baby.

That — for the moment, at least — was also my baby.

Like my parents had protected me.

And we were going to have to pretend that we were together or at least having a baby together.

And what had he meant by that ‘married’ comment?

For now, though, I had to protect Lois and the baby. I held her slightly tighter and wondered how on earth I was going to get her out of there.

I rested my head against hers and before long I dozed off, too.

We both woke up when a nurse came in to take Lois’ vitals. Jack had been sitting in the corner with a magazine but was still paying close attention to what was happening.

After having her temperature and blood pressure taken, she rested her head against me again.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, barely above audible.

“I know. It’s going to be okay,” I said with as much conviction as I could. It would be. Flying was still an option, after all. “Are you going to be able to go back to sleep?”

She shook her head.

“Then it’s my job to keep you entertained. I tried watching TV in the waiting room, but it’s all in some language I don’t understand.”

“So what’re we going to do?”

“Tell jokes,” I told her.

“Jokes?” She sounded skeptical.

I leaned closer to her and whispered. “Once we get out of here, I’ve got a few about Eastern European and Soviet dictators, but I think I better keep those to myself for now.”

She smiled slightly. “Probably.”

“How about this one? My cousin’s daughter told it to me over Christmas. There’s two muffins in a microwave and one says ‘Man, it’s hot in here’ and the other says, ‘Whoa, talking muffin’.”

She rolled her eyes. “Did you hear why the blonde got fired from the M&M factory?”

“She ate all the ‘W’s.”

“What do UFOs and smart blondes have in common?” she asked me.

I hesitated before admitting I didn’t know.

“You keep hearing about them, but never see any.”

Subtle dig at Lana? And Linda? Sure was. And aliens, too. Wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that — given what I knew…

So I just laughed lightly with her.

“What’re we going to do, Clark?” she asked quietly.

“I’m sure your dad already has a lawyer or two or two dozen working on it,” I tried to reassure her.

“What about…” She didn’t say it, but instead traced Lana’s name on her lap.

“Don’t worry about it.” I’d talked to her and she wasn’t happy that I’d ended up stuck in a foreign country with Lois. She’d have been even less happy if she’d known I was going to ask her to marry me last night.

“Sure?”

“Yeah.”

A knock sounded on the door and Daniel came in. “Clark, can I talk to you for a minute?”

I nodded. “I’ll be back in a few minutes, Sweetie.” I put extra emphasis on the endearment. Lois rolled her eyes. I kissed her forehead before following Daniel out of the room.

“How is she?” he asked quietly.

“She wants to go home.”

“I bet.” He sighed deeply.

“What?”

“We figured out a way for you to legally claim the baby so that Navance can’t claim him.”

“Great. What is it?”

He sighed again and didn’t look at me as he spoke. “Marry her.”

“What?!”

“If she’s married, her husband is the father, regardless of whether Navance claims the baby or not.”

I ran a hand through my hair and reached for his PDA. ‘How long would we have to stay married?’

‘Long enough to get her out of the country. You shouldn’t have any problem getting an annulment when you get back to the States.’

I nodded.

‘Is there someone else who would claim the baby who we could get here? Her boyfriend?’

I hesitated. Would Joe marry her? Would it matter if we were just going to get it annulled once we got back? It wasn’t like it was going to be permanent. And getting Joe here would take time — and probably a long time. I took the PDA back. ‘Any chance we’d have to stay married?’

‘I don’t think so. We’re still looking at it, but it’s unlikely.’

I paused for only a second. What it all came down to… I couldn’t let Navance get his hands on Lois and her baby. ‘I’ll do it.’

He nodded. ‘We’ll make the arrangements. Don’t tell her yet.’

I nodded back and sighed. Lana wasn’t going to be happy about this, but I simply couldn’t let this guy get his hands on Lois.

He showed me the screen again. ‘We’ll get her out of here. Sneak out in a couple days once everything’s set. Needs to stay for a while anyway. Health and baby’s. Make it look good. Rings, etc.’

I sighed. I had very little cash. No credit cards or anything like that I could use to buy something with. Getting money from Sam wouldn’t look good. I wasn’t quite sure why but my gut was telling me that we had better do this on our own so there was no suggestion by Navance later that this had all been… scripted or something. I only had one thing of value. I closed my eyes for a minute and made a decision. Protecting Lois and the baby was the most important thing at the moment. I typed into the PDA. ‘Is there somewhere I can pawn a ring for cash?’

He glanced at me, confused. ‘Don’t want to use it?’

I shook my head. I wouldn’t give Lana’s ring to Lois. And even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to give it to Lana once Lois gave it back. If I sold it, I was sure Sam would pay me back for it later and I could get a similar one or maybe find one in Metropolis I liked better. Even if he didn’t pay me back though, that wasn’t the most important thing. Getting Lois and the baby out of here and to safety was.

‘Diamond?’

I nodded.

‘I know a guy. Embassy Marine.’

I sighed. It was what I had to do.

~~~~~

Lois

I’d been sitting in the hospital for two days.

Clark had been there most of the time. He’d run a few mysterious ‘errands’. I wondered what that was all about.

Navance came by two or three times a day to threaten me and yell and scream. Clark made sure that he was there whenever Navance was and continued to claim that he was my baby’s father.

Daniel and Jack both kept reassuring me that they were working on a plan and Clark had said something, too, but none of them would tell me what it was.

I hadn’t talked to Daddy at all. I wanted to. I wanted to talk to Joe. I wanted to spend hours on my bunk making out with him. I wanted to date him and see where things went, but now…

I couldn’t see Joe sticking around now that I was having a baby. That would be a ready-made family and I couldn’t see Joe wanting that.

I cried a lot during those two days.

It was the third night when something finally happened.

The American who had been sitting with me — Martin? Something like that — disappeared. That scared me.

Especially when a man dressed in scrubs walked in, carrying a syringe.

His eyes looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place him.

He set the syringe carefully on the floor and held up a PDA. ‘Clark is meeting you downstairs,’ it read. ‘Follow me.’

I nodded, wondering if this was a good guy or a bad guy pretending to be a good guy.

He smiled slightly behind his mask and pushed a button on the PDA and held it up again. ‘Clark said to tell you to save a Tush Push for him.’

My eyes closed for a second, in relief. There was no way the bad guys would know about that.

He quickly disconnected my IV, but didn’t remove the loop from my arm. He plugged it up with something and handed me a bag with some clothes in it.

I pulled the scrubs on quickly and stuck my hair in the cap.

He jerked his head towards the door and I followed him out.

We walked through the halls as nonchalantly as we could — as quickly as we could without drawing attention to ourselves.

It seemed like an eternity but was probably only about ten minutes before we exited out a small side door.

“Clark’s waiting around the corner,” he whispered. “He’ll get you to the embassy.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“Go.” He pointed in the direction of an alley and I moved as quickly as I could.

I rounded the corner and glanced around.

“Lois, over here.” I heard Clark calling to me.

I turned and saw him. I practically flung myself into his arms and he held me for a few seconds.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” he whispered, taking my hand and leading me down the alley.

I followed him though the streets of Skopje. More than once we ducked into an alley or the doorway of a store, always with Clark between me and the street — his dark clothes covering up my lighter scrubs.

“What’s the plan?” I whispered.

“Just get to the embassy and we’ll talk more there,” he whispered back.

It seemed like forever and my legs were starting to hurt by the time we made it to a wall.

“We’re going over,” he said quietly, clasping his hands together.

“What?” I just stared at him.

“We’re going over the wall.” He indicated his hands. “Foot in. Let’s go.”

I looked at the wall. “I can’t make it.”

“You’ll be fine.” He looked around quickly. “We’ve got to go though.”

I put my hands on his shoulders and put one foot in his hand.

“On three.” He counted as I bounced and then pushed off on three.

I wasn’t sure how I made it that high, but I did. I grasped the top of the wall and managed to pull myself over the top, one leg on either side. I turned to help Clark to find that he’d managed to scale the wall by himself.

“Wait,” he said, jumping down before reaching back up to help me down. He grabbed my hand again and I followed him through the courtyard or garden or whatever it was and into the building.

Once inside, I leaned against the wall and breathed a huge sigh of relief. “I’m safe?” I asked, a big smile on my face, certain I knew the answer.

His face was still grim. “Not quite. There’s something else.”

“What?” I asked but he was already heading down the hallway.

I hurried behind him until he stopped in front of an open door.

I looked inside and then turned to look him in the eye.

“What exactly is it that we have to do, Clark?”

He stared at the ground as he took a deep breath and blurted it out.

“Get married.”

***

Part 23

Clark

~~~~~

She stared at me.

Or I was sure she did. I didn’t look.

Finally she found her voice. “What?”

I ran a hand through my hair. “We have to get married.”

“Why? That’s insane!” she hissed at me.

“I claimed the baby. That’s all well and good.” I leaned against the wall by the open door to the chapel. “But Navance is claiming the baby, too. And in Latislan, if he does, that’s all that matters.”

“Right. Daniel told us all that. What does that have to do with us getting married?” She crossed her arms and ducked slightly so she could see my eyes.

“If you’re married, the husband is the legal father no matter what Navance claims,” I told her.

Her breath hitched just a bit. “So we have to get married? Why can’t we just leave the country?”

“Because then, Ms. Lane, he can claim all kinds of nasty things about you and the American government and taking his child from the country because legally, in Latislan, at the moment, you’re carrying his child, and all sorts of other ugly stuff,” Daniel said, walking up.

“He could still try to claim he’s the father if I’m at home and DNA tests prove he’s not?” Lois asked, stunned.

Daniel sighed. “I’m afraid so. It’s on record in Latislan that he’s the father of your child. That’s all that matters under Latislani law. It doesn’t make sense at all, but that’s the way it is. No American court would send you or the baby back here, but the international relations…”

Lois interrupted him, angrily. “So you’re going to disrupt my life and Clark’s life and my baby’s life by making us get married because of international relations?”

He shook his head. I closed my eyes as Daniel talked. We’d been over all of this repeatedly and we hadn’t found any other way.

“It’s not just international relations, Lois. The PR is going to be a nightmare as it is, most likely. We’ll do our best to keep all of this out of the news, but if he has a legal claim, even in Latislan, he can make things miserable for you and the baby for a very long time. Drag you through the media and the courts and the baby, too.”

I could hear tears falling down Lois’ face and heard her swipe at them.

“So we have to get married?” she whispered.

“You don’t have to,” Daniel told her. “But… it’s probably the best way to protect both of you.”

“How long?”

“How long what?”

“How long do we have to stay married?”

I answered that one. “Just till we get home. We can get it annulled when we get back to the States.”

“If I’m pregnant and you’re claiming the baby, will we be able to get it annulled or will we have to get a divorce?” Lois asked.

“You should be able to get an annulment when you explain the circumstances,” Daniel told her.

“What about Lana?” she asked me.

I shrugged. “She won’t be happy about it, but it’s not like we’re going to have sex or anything like that.”

“Why are you doing this, Clark?” she asked me without looking at me.

I sighed and pulled her into a hug. “I can’t let him get to you and the baby. I promised your dad I’d protect you, but even if I hadn’t, I won’t let anything happen to you.” I couldn’t tell her what else Navance had said.

She wrapped her arms around me and rested her head on my chest for a long minute. I could feel her tears soaking through my shirt.

“It’ll be okay,” I told her. “We’ll get you home and get an annulment and it’ll be over.”

“Are you sure?” I could barely hear her.

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

“Okay, then.” She pulled back from me and wiped her face. “Let’s do this.”

“Do you want to change first or anything?” Daniel asked her. “We got your stuff from Paris.”

She sighed. “I would love to get out of these clothes and into something of my own and…” She blushed. “I could really use some clean underwear, too. And get rid of this IV.”

Daniel nodded and motioned to a Marine standing nearby. “Will you show Ms. Lane to her room and have the corpsman meet her up there to get that out of her arm?” He turned back to Lois. “Don’t take long. We need to get this done before Navance shows up.”

She nodded and turned to the Marine.

He smiled at her. “This way, Ms. Lane.”

I watched her as she walked away. “Are you sure this is the only way, Daniel?”

“Yeah, Clark,” he answered softly. “It’s the only way.”

~~~~~

Lois

I sat on the bed and held my arm out as the corpsman removed the IV from my arm. I held the cotton ball on the inside of my elbow as I curled my arm, willing the tears to stay put.

He put a piece of tape over the cotton ball. “All set, Ms. Lane.”

“Thanks,” I whispered.

“Mr. Scardino said to tell you that time is of the essence,” said my escort.

I nodded. “I’ll hurry.”

“There’s a bathroom through there,” he told me, pointing towards a door in the corner of the room. “Your suitcase and backpack are in the closet.”

“Thanks,” I told him as he left.

I closed my eyes and steeled myself for what was about to happen.

I was about to get married.

To Clark.

To protect me and my baby.

I was pregnant.

I sighed and made myself get up and opened the closet door.

I closed my eyes again at the sight that greeted me.

Clark’s clothes were in there, too.

We were going to be expected to share the room — which made sense because we were getting married and I was sure it had to look good until we got home at least.

I dug through my suitcase and found a pair of slacks and a decent shirt.

I headed into the bathroom and splashed some water on my face and used a washcloth to scrub off some of the grime I felt I had accumulated just from being in that so-called hospital.

I changed clothes, feeling better than I had in days. It was amazing what clean underwear could do to make a girl feel a bit better.

I ran a brush through my hair. I didn’t put any make-up on in the interests of time and because I knew it was pointless given the tears I was sure to be crying.

No wonder I’d been so emotional lately.

Hormones would do that to a pregnant woman.

There was a knock on the door. “Ms. Lane?”

“I’m coming,” I called.

I looked myself in the mirror.

Not exactly how I pictured my wedding day.

I sighed and headed towards the door.

I followed the Marine escort back to the chapel. Clark was sitting in one of the chairs in the front row.

“Ready?” asked Daniel.

I nodded and we walked to the front where a Marine chaplain stood.

Clark stood but didn’t look at me. His hands were stuck in his pockets and he stared at the ground in front of him.

Jack was standing off to the side. I guessed he and Daniel were our witnesses.

Didn’t you need witnesses to get married?

“Dearly beloved,” the chaplain started. “We are gathered here this evening, in the presence of these witnesses, to join Lois Lane and Clark Kent in holy matrimony. It is commended to be honorable among men and not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly. Into this holy estate, these two persons shall now be enjoined. If any person can show just cause why these two should not be joined together — let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

I held by breath just waiting for the doors to burst open with the Latislani army in full force.

They didn’t.

We all breathed a sigh of relief as the three-count ended.

“Clark, take Lois’ hand…”

He turned towards me and took the hand I held out.

“…and repeat after me. I, Clark, take thee Lois to be my lawfully wedded wife.”

After a slight pause, Clark repeated the words.

“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”

Clark’s voice was quiet as he said the time-honored vows.

“I promise to love, respect, honor, and protect you and keep myself only unto you as long as we both shall live.”

I could hear the hesitation in his voice. This wedding wasn’t a ceremony that was creating the marriage of a lifetime. It would last a few weeks at most.

He must have finished because the chaplain turned to me. “Lois, would you please repeat after me?”

I nodded and repeated the same vows Clark had.

“May I have the rings?” the chaplain asked.

I started slightly, but still didn’t look at Clark. He dug a box out of his pocket and handed it over.

“The wedding ring is a symbol of the commitment which binds these two together. There are two rings because there are two people, each to make a contribution to the life of the other and to their new life together. Let us pray.”

We all bowed our heads and I closed my eyes. I guessed everyone else did, too.

“Bless, Oh Lord, the giving of these rings that they who wear them may abide together in your peace.” He turned to me and handed me a plain gold band. “Lois, place this ring on Clark’s finger and repeat after me. With this ring, I thee wed and pledge my life and my fidelity.”

I stumbled slightly over the words, but managed to get the ring on Clark’s finger, without ever looking at him.

A minute later, he’d slipped a band on mine and said the same thing.

“By the powers vested in me, by the State Department, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” He grinned at us. “Clark, you may kiss your bride.”

I could tell he was trying not to cringe, but he managed to brush his lips against the corner of mine.

The tears that had been sneaking down my face picked up and I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down.

“I need you two to sign the marriage certificate,” Daniel said, handing a clipboard over.

I took the offer pen and signed my name on the line indicated before handing it to Clark. He signed and handed it back to Daniel, who wrote his name with a flourish and passed it on to Jack and then the chaplain.

“There you go. All legal,” the chaplain said.

“Are you hungry?” Daniel asked me.

“No. Thanks, though.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

I shrugged. “A while.”

“Come on,” Daniel said, putting an arm around my shoulder. “We’ll get something in your stomach and then let you get some rest.”

I hesitated slightly then nodded as he led me away from Clark.

My husband.

~~~~~

Clark

I watched Lois walk off.

Daniel was right. She needed to make sure she took care of herself. For her sake and the baby’s.

Jack and I talked a bit about the plan for the next several days.

We had talked about trying to get us out of Dodge immediately, but the plane that was supposed to take us was having problems and so we were stuck. Daniel, Jack and I were hoping that we could even wait until we were out of Latislan to get married — or that we could get around it once we were out of the country — but the plane wasn’t going anywhere and it was going to be at least the next morning before they could get us another one.

The four of us — and the ambassador, who I’d met the day before — were the only ones who knew the true nature of what was going on so the rest of the embassy had to believe that this was all real — at least until we got home and got it annulled.

We were going to go to another small, eastern European country — possibly Podansk, but probably not because relations between the two were already very strained — where it would be hard for Navance to track us. Then we’d head back to Metropolis sometime the next week and get back probably before the rest of our tour group did.

And the first thing we were going to do when we got back was get this annulled and I could try to get Lana to understand and ask her to marry me.

Once I was done talking to Jack, I went up to the roof and stared at the stars for a few minutes.

I had done the right thing. I knew I had.

I’d had two days to think it over.

I’d sold Lana’s ring and paid the fees to get the certificate or license or whatever and wedding bands for each of us.

I fiddled with the unfamiliar adornment on my finger. It was weird. I’d imagined a ring there before, but it had always been placed by Lana in my daydreams.

Navance was scary. The longer we were here, the more certain I was that he hated Lois. I didn’t know why he’d latched onto Lois and the baby, but he had and then Lois threw up all over him and kneed him where it hurt. And in front of his men, too. He wasn’t about to let go now.

And what he’d said to me in the hallway…

I shook the thoughts of that conversation out of my head.

Short of me flying the two of us out of here, this was the only solution we’d come up with and no one else knew that was an option. This was the only option that Daniel and his team of lawyers or whoever he had working for him and who Sam had working on this wherever they were had come up with.

I hoped Lana would understand. I couldn’t let Navance get his hands on Lois or the baby. I just couldn’t.

I’d thought about flying home and talking to my parents, but there hadn’t been a good time when I thought my absence wouldn’t be noticed.

They had taken me in.

Two people had found a spaceship in the middle of a field with a baby in it and had taken that baby in.

Both of them — separately and together — had decided that taking care of me, adopting me, raising me with my secret and the inherent risks that went along with having an alien for a child — no matter how human I looked… They had decided that I was worth the risk. That they would protect me and love me and take care of me, no matter what.

Marrying Lois for a few weeks to protect her and another innocent baby was the least I could do.

Keeping Lois in the dark about the plans hadn’t been easy. She wasn’t happy about it at all, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. She was in a room with microphones and the three people who really knew what was going on weren’t saying anything. I was sure she was going to let me have it when we were alone somewhere without microphones. I could probably figure out if there were any in our room here at the embassy but I didn’t know how to do so without letting on what I could do. It was probably safest to think that any and everything was being recorded until we got home.

Our room.

It suddenly hit me.

I knew that we were going to share a room intellectually, but knowing that Lois was likely to be there any minute, waiting for me and that we had to put on a good show in case anyone was listening…

Not that kind of show but the ‘I’m tired and still don’t feel well’ show.

I sighed.

This wasn’t going to be an easy week or so until we could get home, but then she and Junior would be safe and that was what mattered.

I had to keep telling myself that.

***

Part 24

Lois

~~~~~

I managed to get a little bit of soup down along with some crackers.

Daniel walked me back to the room I was apparently sharing with Clark for at least the rest of the night.

He was vague about what the plan was for getting me and Clark out of Latislan. I wasn’t sure if that was because there wasn’t a plan or because they weren’t telling me what it was.

I’d try to weasel it out of Clark when he got back from wherever he was.

I wanted to talk to Daddy but that wasn’t happening. I didn’t know why. I think they thought all of the phones were bugged and that the Latislanis could pull cell phone conversations right out of thin air, but I wasn’t really sure. The whole embassy was probably bugged, though I wouldn’t put money on who was doing the bugging — us or them.

I closed the door behind me and did my best to avoid looking at the bed. I went to the closet and got out my favorite pair of pajamas.

I went to the bathroom to change and stared at my reflection in the mirror.

I pulled the waistband of my pants down slightly and pulled my shirt up, staring at my still-flat stomach.

There was a baby in there.

A little, tiny baby who was going to be my child to take care of, to raise, to love.

By myself.

As soon as Clark and I got an annulment, I was going to be a single parent.

How was I going to tell Joe?

Not only that I’d married Clark — though I’d tell him that it wasn’t a real marriage; it wasn’t like I was doing anything with Clark I’d always refused to do with Joe, but I’d also have to tell him that I was going to be a mom. Joe wanted kids. We’d talked about that in a Family Living class our senior year in high school. We’d even been ‘married’ for one of the projects.

But to take on another man’s child his freshman year in college…

I just couldn’t see him doing that.

I couldn’t even see Clark doing that and it was much more a ‘Clark’ thing to do. He was only taking on this responsibility for a few weeks until we could get away from this madman.

No, Joe wouldn’t take this on.

If he did get a girl pregnant, I had no doubt that he’d take responsibility for his own child, but someone else’s…

I wouldn’t ask him to do that.

I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that.

Instead I was going to have to figure out how to do this alone, possibly with a little help from Daddy, while trying to finish college and start my career.

I rubbed my hand over my exposed abdomen, wondering what it would look like in a few months.

“It’s okay, Junior,” I whispered, talking to him or her for the first time. “We’ll make it together. You and me.”

I looked longingly at the shower and decided that, while it was a very good idea, I didn’t think I would be able to stay awake long enough.

I put my pajamas on and exited the bathroom.

I took a pillow and rummaged through the closet until I found a blanket. I lay down on the couch, curled up under the blanket and cried myself to sleep.

This wasn’t how I pictured my wedding night.

Not at all.

~~~~~

Clark

I was quiet as I entered the room I was sharing with Lois for the night. I figured she was probably already asleep and I was right.

I just didn’t expect her to be on the couch.

The tear tracks were still evident on her cheeks.

And she had one of the pillows from the bed and a blanket which meant she’d fallen asleep there on purpose.

I sighed.

Should I move her? She couldn’t be comfortable lying there like that.

Finally, I decided to get ready for bed myself and then make up my mind what I was going to do with her.

I dug through my suitcase and went to the bathroom, taking a shower and doing other getting ready for bed stuff.

I pulled on a pair of shorts over my boxers and then a sleeveless T-shirt. I headed back out into the bedroom and sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the corner, watching Lois as she slept.

This was my wedding night.

It hit me suddenly as she shifted and light glinted off the wedding band I’d put on her finger.

I flashed back to the chapel downstairs. She hadn’t looked at me once during the ceremony, but I hadn’t really looked at her either.

I fiddled with the band on my finger again. Part of me wanted to take it off. It wasn’t real; it wasn’t from Lana.

But at the same time, it meant that — for the moment — Lois was my responsibility. Her and the baby. I knew she wouldn’t see it that way, but I had to do what I could to take care of both of them.

Because she was my wife.

And this was my wedding night.

A feeling came over me I couldn’t quite describe. There was an underlying sense of… something. Trepidation, fear, awe, responsibility… disappointment.

It was my wedding night and I wasn’t making love to my wife and my wife wasn’t the woman I’d been dreaming of for years.

Part of me said that this wasn’t my ‘real’ wedding night, but it was my first one. I’d be a man who had been married more than once. I’d never pictured that for myself. I’d marry Lana and we’d grow old together. And now, even if Lana was my first — and only — lover, she wouldn’t have the distinction of being my first wife.

How was I going to tell her about this?

Had I really thought this through?

I closed my eyes and saw Lana lying next to me on the quilt in the hayloft where we’d spent so many hours together. We’d kissed and talked and kissed and dreamed and kissed and planned and kissed some more. Sometimes in the morning. Sometimes in the afternoon. Sometimes by moonlight. In the heat of the summer, the cool of the fall, the chill of the winter and the freshness of the spring. We’d been through everything together.

I shook my head slightly and looked back over at Lois.

My wife.

And sighed deeply.

Finally, I decided that I was going to go to bed. Lois had obviously decided that was where she wanted to sleep — probably so that she wouldn’t make me uncomfortable, though she couldn’t have known that I’d planned on sleeping on the couch or the floor — and who was I to challenge her on that?

“Clark?”

I heard her sleepy voice as I was turning back the covers.

“Yeah?” I said quietly.

“Nothing,” she answered. “Never mind.”

I moved to her side and squatted down near her. “What is it?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. We’ll talk about it later.”

I tugged on my ear and she nodded. So she thought the place might be bugged, too.

“How’re you feeling?” I asked her.

“Fine. Tired.”

“You need to go to bed,” I told her gently. “I know you dozed off on the couch, but it can’t be comfortable.”

“I’m fine,” she said, but wasn’t very convincing.

I shifted and before she could protest, slipped my arms under her and carried her over to the bed. I stood at the end. “Which side do you want?”

She shrugged. “I don’t care.”

I took her to the side where there was still a pillow and set her down.

“Thanks,” she whispered.

“That’s why I’m here, Sweetie.”

She rolled her eyes at me as she curled up on her side and pulled the covers up over her.

I moved to the couch and pulled the blanket back.

“Clark?” she called.

“Yeah.”

Her eyes pleaded with me to keep up the ruse, just in case the military dictator was listening in. “Come to bed, please. I’m not feeling well, but I want you here with me.”

A tear slipped down her cheek. She didn’t mean it, not really, but she said it anyway.

I sighed. “I’ll be there in just a minute.”

She nodded and settled back into the bed.

~~~~~

Lois

I woke up with sunlight streaming on my face.

Apparently, we hadn’t pulled the curtains closed.

And someone was knocking on the door.

I looked at the other side of the bed. Clark was still sleeping. I rolled myself up and padded barefoot over to the door.

I cracked it and saw Daniel standing there. I opened it further.

“Good morning,” he said with his annoying, ubiquitous cheerfulness.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Is Clark up?”

I shook my head.

“We have a video conference in twenty minutes. I need both of you there.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

“I’ll have someone knock in about fifteen minutes so you can get downstairs.”

I nodded and shut the door. I should have asked who we were conferencing with. I opened the door to call after him but he was gone.

“Clark,” I called quietly.

He didn’t move.

“Clark,” I called a bit more loudly.

“Huh?” he mumbled, without moving.

“We have to leave in fifteen minutes for a video conference.”

He pushed up off his stomach and turned to look at me. “With who?”

“Daniel didn’t say.” I moved to the closet and pulled out a pair of pants and one of the nicer shirts I’d brought. I didn’t know who we were meeting with but I was sure it wasn’t Lana.

I headed to the bathroom as Clark rolled over and sat up. “I’ll be a few minutes if you want to change.”

He nodded again as he swung his feet over the side of the bed. “How’re you feeling?”

I shrugged. “I feel fine at the moment.”

“That’s good. I’ll holler when I’m done.”

I nodded as I went into the bathroom to change.

Fifteen minutes later we were on our way to an office, led by one of Daniel’s aides.

Daniel showed us to a couple of seats at the end of a conference table. “Navance isn’t happy,” he said without preamble.

“We didn’t expect him to be,” Clark said.

“We’re going to get you two out of here today when the ambassador heads to Podansk for talks. You’ll go wheels down, wheels up pretty quickly. You’ll stay at another embassy for a few days and then we’ll get you home late next week.”

“That’s what you’d said.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” I demanded. “You get me out of the hospital and are getting me out of the country — and I’m grateful for that, really I am — but no one talked to me or showed me written PDA messages or anything else to tell me we were going to have to get married or sneak out of the country. I did expect that we were going to have sneak out, but why didn’t anyone tell me? And what the heck does wheels down, wheels up mean?”

“Because we were afraid of how you were going to react,” Daniel said. “We didn’t want to tip off Navance. And it means that the wheels of your plane will land there and then they’ll take off again pretty quickly.”

“Oh.” I slumped back in my seat. They had a point. I wouldn’t have taken the news quietly. “Who are we meeting with then?”

“Navance. We’re not about to let him in the embassy and he doesn’t want to come. And we’re not letting either of you go anywhere just yet.” He looked at me. “I want both of you to keep your mouths shut and let us deal with it. Act married.”

I nodded as Clark wrapped an arm around me. “Fine.”

A few minutes later, the screen came to life.

The florid face of the Latislani general filled the screen. “I want my child back,” he said without preamble.

Daniel shook his head. “Mrs. Kent does not carry your child.”

Mrs. Kent?

Who?

Right.

Me.

“Who?!” he bellowed, echoing my own sentiments.

“According to Latislani law,” Daniel said, almost bored, “the child a woman carries is the child of her husband.”

“The mother of my child is not married.”

“Ms. Lane married Mr. Kent and that makes the child his. Period. That is what Latislani law says, isn’t it?”

He sputtered, obviously caught unaware by the news. “They will not be allowed to leave the country with my child.”

“You will not order an American couple having an American baby around.”

Clark’s other hand gripped one of mine, knowing, I was sure, how much I wanted to tell this man where he could go and how he could get there.

“This is not a real marriage,” he hissed.

“It was legally performed. All the paperwork is signed, sealed. Is are dotted and ts are crossed. This conversation is over.” He made a slashing motion across his throat to a man sitting at a computer on the other side of the room. Colored bars filled the screen.

He turned to us. “We’re going to have to get you two military uniforms for when you get out of here in a couple hours and see what else we can do to disguise your appearance.”

“What? Am I going to be a redhead or something?” I asked.

He shook his head. “We’re not sure yet, but we better get on it.”

Three hours later, we’d made it to an Air Force jet with the ambassador who I finally met for the first time. Apparently, another plane was meeting the ambassador in Podansk so that we could take this one to some undisclosed location.

I stared out the window as the plane took off into the wild blue yonder. My first real look at the country of Latislan.

I could only pray it was also my last.

***

Part 25

Clark

~~~~~

Daniel was wrong.

He probably purposefully misled us — and everyone else at the embassy, too. We didn’t go with the ambassador to Podansk. The ambassador didn’t go to Podansk. We ended up on an Air Force base in Europe somewhere. We were put in a hanger before we were allowed to deplane.

They wouldn’t tell us where we were going or when we were going to be able to contact our families or anything like that.

For now, at least, they were keeping us completely under wraps.

In the day and age of electronic media and 24-hour news cycles, it was probably a good idea if we had any hope of keeping our privacy.

We were met by a dark sedan and were huddled into the rear seat and headed towards an office building. Once there, we were met by a media relations lady.

“Hi,” she said, holding out her hand. “I’m Jill. I’m with the State Department Public Relations office. I’m going to be your liaison for the time being.” We both shook her hand and she led us down the hall. “This isn’t Latislan, but…” She tugged on her ear. “I’ll let you know where it’s safe.”

“Thanks,” I said.

We walked into a conference room and she gestured towards the chairs. “Have a seat. The story is starting to leak. Navance put out a press release that Americans had helped the mother of his unborn child leave the country. We’re working on a press release of our own saying that his claims are completely unfounded — that the woman in question married the father of her child and that Navance is trying to take advantage of her for some reason we don’t understand. We’re doing our best to keep your names out of the media but…” She sighed. “Hopefully, no one from your tour group will put two and two together and decide they want their fifteen minutes of fame.”

She pulled a piece of paper from the folder in front of her and handed it to Lois. “Look over it and see what you think.” She folded her hands on the table in front her. “I talked to Daniel. He said the baby was conceived in very early November when you were on a school newspaper road trip and got stuck in that blizzard that hit Metropolis.”

I glanced at Lois, but she didn’t look at me. Instead, she focused on the paper. “Yeah. Something like that,” I told Jill.

Lois handed me the sheet. It was the press release that basically said what Jill had. “It looks fine to me,” I said. I guessed that was what she was looking for — approval from us — but I really had no idea what I was doing. Public relations for something like this was outside my expertise. Far outside.

“When can I talk to my dad?” Lois asked.

Jill sighed. “We’re working on it. We have to get you both to a secure line.”

“What about my folks?” I asked. “I talked to my girl…” I stopped. I couldn’t call her that. Not right now. “A friend,” I amended. “I’m sure she told them something’s going on.”

She nodded. “We have talked to them and told them that you’re fine but that we’ll let you tell them the whole story and that you should be home next week.”

“Can I talk to them soon?”

She sighed again. “It’s a bit harder to get them somewhere with a secure line because they live in such a rural area. If nothing else, you’ll be able to talk to them on the way home in a couple days.”

“So what do we do until then?” Lois asked.

“Hang out at the hotel, mainly. There’s American TV, a restaurant, game room, Internet access, though you really shouldn’t access your email or chat rooms or any message boards you normally go to or log in anywhere or anything like that. General surfing is okay, but we don’t want to let Navance know where you are just yet and he may have some ‘net gurus around that can trace that stuff. Things like that. You can’t use your own laptops to get online for the same reason. The rooms there are clean.” She tugged on her ear again.

We both nodded.

Lois rubbed her eyes with her fingers before running her hands through her hair. “What about my dad? What does he know?”

“More than Clark’s parents, but not much. We haven’t told him much, except that you were stuck in Latislan but we were working on a way to get you out of there. They’ve all been told that you’re out of the country. Clark, your parents weren’t told what country you were in — I don’t think so anyway. I wasn’t involved in contacting them. They shouldn’t connect you with the story Navance is putting out — not from anything we told them anyway. Lois’ dad on the other hand… He knows you were in Latislan, so it’s much more likely that he’ll make the connection, even though we’re trying to make it sound like you’re much older than you are — thirties or so rather than late teens.”

“Navance didn’t release our names?” I asked, a bit startled as that hit me.

She shook her head. “No. He wants it to look like we helped a Latislani citizen out of the country for as long as he can.” She tapped on her PDA for a minute. “Okay. That is being released to the press.”

“Where are we anyway?” Lois finally asked.

“Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.” There was a knock on the door and Jill pushed back from the table. “We’ll get you two settled in the hotel and you can get some rest or explore or whatever, but we’d prefer that you try to keep to yourselves and stay at the hotel, keeping a low profile. Feel free to order room service instead of going down to the restaurant.”

We followed her to the car that had brought us to the office building and were driven across the base. It pulled up behind an impressive hotel and we were ushered through a back door to our room. We were left alone at that point. Jill said she’d be in touch and they’d get us home in a few days.

Our suitcases were already there and I quickly decided that getting out of the uniform I’d worn out of Latislan was a good idea.

“I’m going to change out of this,” I said, unbuttoning the uniform shirt and shrugging out of it, tossing it on the chair before tugging the T-shirt out of the uniform pants. I dug through my suitcase and pulled out a pair of running pants and a long sleeve T-shirt.

I headed for the bathroom to change while Lois flopped on the bed.

What could I do at this point to make things easier for her?

Anything?

It seemed obvious now that she’d been sick because of the baby — though it seemed odd to me that she hadn’t been sick until now. Didn’t women get sick at the beginning of their pregnancies?

What did I know?

But what could I do to make it better for her?

Nothing occurred to me. I’d have to ask her.

I finished changing and headed back into the room.

~~~~~

Lois

I flopped back on the bed. Changing clothes probably was a good idea, but I just didn’t have the energy. I was just glad I wasn’t throwing up. I was still slightly queasy and hadn’t eaten breakfast for that very reason. I wondered if there were any peppermints around here or something.

A minute later, Clark emerged from the bathroom in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Okay.”

“Stomach bothering you?”

“A bit.”

He sat on the couch. “How’re you dealing with everything else?” he asked, much more quietly this time.

“Everything else what?”

“The baby.”

I shrugged again from where I was lying on the bed. “It’s a lot to take in.”

“I bet.”

I rolled so I could look at him, asking him what had been on my mind since the night before. “Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Claim the baby. Marry me.”

He sighed. “Claiming the baby…” He stopped for a minute, thinking. “He was just standing there, so smug and sure that we were going to acquiesce to whatever he wanted. It suddenly occurred to me that if I was the father of the baby, then it wouldn’t matter what he said. I didn’t know about the whole ‘I’m the Supreme Ruler of All so unless she’s married, it’s my baby’ thing at the time.”

“Would you have still said it if you knew?”

He hesitated slightly. “Probably. I wouldn’t have thought we’d actually have to get married — just get you out of the country.”

“When did you know we’d have to get married?”

“Later that day.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Daniel told you why. We didn’t think you’d take it well and we didn’t want to tip off Navance.”

“Ah. But why did you go through with it?” I didn’t actually look at him as I asked.

He stared at his hands for a long moment before answering quietly. “I couldn’t let him get to either one of you.”

“Well, thank you. I’m sure Daddy’ll get us a lawyer to get an annulment as soon as we get home.”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry I got us into this,” I told him quietly.

He shrugged. “It’s okay. It happens.”

“To me.”

He smiled. “Maybe.”

We were quiet for a minute.

“What’re you going to do?” He didn’t look at me as he asked.

“About?”

“The baby.”

“Have a baby. Try to figure out how to raise a baby and go to school.”

“Not adoption?”

I shook my head. “No. I couldn’t do that.”

“Why not?”

I sighed. How to explain it? Should I?

“You don’t have to answer that,” he said before I could respond.

“No, it’s okay.” I pushed myself up and moved against the headboard. “When my parents were seniors in high school, they broke up for a while when my mom moved from Metropolis to New York with her family. She went out with another guy who pushed her into having sex pretty early in their relationship — before she was ready. I’m still not clear on whether she and my dad had at that point or not, but they’d known each other since kindergarten so…” I shrugged. “Anyway, she got pregnant and this guy said it wasn’t his baby. My dad had written her and said that he wanted to get back together, even long distance, because he loved her. She didn’t believe in abortion and neither did my grandparents so she decided she just wouldn’t tell him and put the baby up for adoption. After Mom and Lucy died, Daddy found out about it. She’d written him a letter to be delivered on her death and it told him all about it. About three years ago, he went looking for her son.” Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t continue.

“What happened?” he finally asked, handing me the Kleenex box.

“He’d died about eighteen months after Mom and Lucy. He needed a bone marrow transplant and they couldn’t find a match. Daddy found out, somehow, that Mom and I would both have been a match. I’d have had a half-brother. Daddy would have a son, even a step-son. He’s always wanted a son. Don’t get me wrong — he loves me very much and he’s proud of me and he loved Lucy — but he always wanted a son, too. If Mom had told him, he would have married her as soon as they were eighteen and figured out a way to get through school and raise a family together. I just can’t…” I couldn’t go on at that point. The tears on Daddy’s face when he’d told me about it… That Mom had had a son. That we could have saved him if the adoption hadn’t been sealed tighter than Tupperware, Daddy had said. I swiped at the tears with a Kleenex.

Clark nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“I would have liked to get to know him. Daddy talked to his parents and they said that if and when we’re ready, they’d like to get to know us. I’m their son’s sister, after all. But… neither one of us were ready for that. Maybe now…” I shrugged. “Maybe I’m ready.”

He nodded. “I’m not trying to say that’s the wrong decision, but open adoptions are a lot more prevalent today.”

I shook my head. “No,” I whispered. “I may not know who the father really is, but this is my baby.”

“What about Joe?”

“What about him?”

“You guys just got back together.”

“So? It’s not like I cheated on him.”

“What’s he going to think?”

“It doesn’t matter. If he still wants to be my friend, great. If not… well, I can’t imagine him leaving my life all together.”

“But you don’t think he’ll still want to date.” It was a statement of fact.

“Would you take on another man’s child? If you found out that Lana was pregnant from a night she didn’t remember…”

“I’d still marry her,” he said quietly.

“Yeah, well Joe and I haven’t been in love since we were born,” I snapped back. “I wouldn’t expect him to do that and I don’t think he would.”

Clark didn’t look at me and didn’t react to my snarky comment, instead choosing to focus on Joe. “You won’t give him the option?”

I shook my head. “I won’t ask him to do that.”

“And if he wants to anyway?”

“I don’t think he will.”

“Maybe you underestimate him.”

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

He sighed and looked over his shoulder out the window. “What do you want to do?”

“Doesn’t matter. You?”

“Are you hungry?”

“I am, but I don’t think I can keep anything down.”

He reached over and picked up a binder. “Let’s see what they’ve got that you might be able to deal with.”

~~~~~

Clark

Lois was taking a nap on the bed so I headed downstairs to see what the hotel at Ramstein had to offer.

I bought a cup of coffee and settled down with a magazine.

The news on the television nearby caught my attention.

“Next on ANC, why is Latislani dictator General Navance claiming the Americans have stolen his unborn child and have we?” The blonde anchor was replaced with a commercial about one of the prime time shows.

I waited the requisite two and a half minutes or so until they came back on the air.

The blonde was back. “Good afternoon. I’m Meredith Keller and this is the American News Channel. Early this morning, General Navance, the President of the Latislani Coalition to Govern, put out a press release saying that the American embassy in the capital city of Skopje helped the mother of his unborn child leave the country against his wishes; that the child is a Latislani citizen and can’t leave without his approval. About three hours ago, the State Department released a statement of its own saying that the woman in question is an American citizen who was in Latislan with the American father of the baby and the two were married last night. Joining us is Liz Wheel, American News legal correspondent. Welcome, Liz.”

“Hi, Meredith,” said the brunette who was apparently live via satellite. I watched more closely. This was one of those mid-morning, mid-afternoon, overnight, whatever shows that had more opinion and such than a straight news program.

“So tell us what’s going on here.”

“Well, since the report came out early this morning, several of us have been digging through Latislani law and under Latislani custody laws, the father has custody of all children, born and unborn.”

“Isn’t that unusual?” Meredith said as the shot cut back to the studio.

“Yes, it is,” Liz replied, coming back on the split screen. “But what makes even less sense than that is how the law is written. All the President of the Latislani Coalition to Govern has to do to get custody of a child is claim that it’s his. It doesn’t have anything to do with who the actual father of the child is. Even a DNA test wouldn’t make a difference and the mother has no say in the matter. He even controls who has access to the mother as long as she’s pregnant and how much access she has to the child after birth. The only way we’ve found to get around that is if the mother is married, then the husband is the father, again regardless of what the DNA says.”

“So these two Americans got married last night to make him the legal father?”

“That’s what it sounds like. Navance’s claims are null and void if she’s married.”

“The press release from the State Department says the two of them had only been in country for a few days and that they can prove that. It also says that she’s in her late first trimester. How on earth can he claim that this is his child?”

“None of that matters under Latislani law.”

“Wow.” Meredith shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense at all. How does he get away with it?”

Liz nodded. “It doesn’t, but we also don’t know who these two people are so we can’t find out anything else. Are these two people who were already engaged? Who had been dating for a long time or is there something else going on that would make Navance a little more annoyed than he usually is. And, for all intents and purposes, he’s a dictator. He can do what he wants.”

“Liz Wheel, thanks for your help and we’ll be back with you as this story continues to unfold. In other news…”

I tuned out whatever it was they moved on to. So they still didn’t know who we were. That was good. The American response was pretty much the same as mine and Lois’.

He was crazy.

And that was scary.

***

Part 26

Lois

~~~~~

After four days of doing next to nothing in Germany, we were finally on a flight out. We were being taken to London’s Heathrow Airport, I thought. I still hadn’t had a chance to talk to Daddy and Clark hadn’t talked to his parents either. At least I didn’t think he had.

Clark sat next to me as we flew. He was still uncomfortable. He had been uncomfortable on the way to Germany, too, but I had been a bit preoccupied then. I still was.

We finally landed and this time we weren’t rushed into a dark sedan.

We walked into a lounge in the terminal and my breath caught in my throat. “Daddy,” I whispered as I ran towards him, flinging my arms around his neck and crying into his shoulder.

“Little Girl.” He sounded choked up and I thought he was crying, too, as he held me tightly.

I didn’t know how long we stood there, but it seemed like forever.

And I finally felt safe.

Daddy wouldn’t let anything happen to me.

Finally, I relaxed my hold on him and he let me go.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“I’m so glad.”

I couldn’t tell him how we ended up in Latislan. That I’d followed his girlfriend. That there were guns on the plane.

Guns.

Could that have been why he fixated on me?

To try to keep attention away from what Clark and I could have seen there?

I’d have to mention that to someone.

Jill had come with us and handed Clark a phone. I heard him talk to his parents for a minute, but then we were told it was time to go already and he had to cut his conversation short.

We were loaded into a long golf cart and whisked across the tarmac until we reached a waiting 747. Jill joined me, Daddy, and Clark as we walked up the outside stairs to the jet way and boarded the plane.

I breathed a small sigh of relief as we were led up the stairs by a stewardess. Well, Jill stayed on the main level, but the three of us went upstairs. Daddy said she’d come join us if there was enough room, but for now she had a seat down there.

The leg room was nice. The flight to Paris had made me appreciate First Class even more. I glanced over at Clark. His eyes were a bit wide. Maybe he’d feel more comfortable here.

I settled into the fairly large chair next to Daddy. Clark sat facing us and before long we were in the air.

Daddy held my hand for quite a while.

“We’re going to need to get an annulment as soon as we get home,” I told him. “Can you help us find a lawyer to do that?”

He paused slightly. “Of course, Princess.” He looked over at Clark. “I haven’t said thank you to you yet, Clark. Thank you for helping her and keeping her safe.”

“No problem, Sam.” He smiled at Daddy. “I wouldn’t let anything happen to her if I could prevent it.”

“How’s Lana taking all of this?” There was a glint of something in Daddy’s eye but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

Clark sighed. “I haven’t talked to her since right after we got to Latislan. I told her we were stuck in another country unexpectedly but I didn’t tell her where. I doubt she’s connected the news stories to us.”

He turned back to me. “How’re you feeling?”

“Not too bad, today, thankfully.”

“How’re you doing?” he asked quietly and there was no doubt about what he was talking about.

“Caught off-guard,” I said honestly.

“Have you decided what you’re going to do yet?” He didn’t look at me as he posed the question.

“What do you think I should do?” I had pretty much made up my mind already, but I wanted to know what he thought.

“I think it’s up to you, Sweetheart. And Clark, of course, but I’ll support you whatever you decide.”

“I want to keep the baby,” I told him, though I couldn’t tell him yet that what Clark wanted didn’t matter. “After what happened with mom… With my half-brother…”

“Yeah,” he said.

“I think I’d like to talk to them.”

He nodded. “I think I would, too.”

“Can we contact them when we get home?”

“Yeah, I’ll get in touch with them here pretty soon.”

The stewardess came around and asked what we wanted to drink and before long, I dozed off.

~~~~~

Clark

Lois fell asleep holding her dad’s hand.

I glanced around the First Class upper deck cabin and was again impressed. Having money was nice.

And I had leg room.

It was a little easier flying in a metal tube up here.

Sam and I chatted easily about the recent moves by the Monarchs and the upcoming football playoffs, but he finally caught me off-guard.

“Clark…” He paused. “What are your intentions with Lois?”

I shrugged. “We’re planning on getting an annulment once we get home. We only got married to keep Navance from claiming the baby.”

“Are you planning on being a father?”

I opened my mouth to tell him ‘no, why would I?’ when I remembered that no one but Jack and Daniel knew that I wasn’t the father of Lois’ child. We’d agreed over the last couple of days that, for now, at least, we should probably let that assumption live on. We hadn’t talked about what we were going to tell our parents or when.

When I didn’t answer, he continued. “I know you’ve got a girlfriend, or had one or whatever, but you’re having a baby with Lois. How does Lana feel about that?”

I paused again. “I haven’t talked to her about any of this,” I said honestly.

He looked over at his sleeping daughter. “She’s been through so much,” he said quietly. “First, losing her mom and sister. Then, we almost lost everything when my former business partner took advantage of my depression. We found out about her half-brother that she never got to know. She worked so hard to get through school and get great grades and get a scholarship so that she wouldn’t have to use my money to get through school. I can afford it, no problem, but she wanted to do it on her own. She asked me to help her get onto the academic floor in Lane Hall and she never said why she didn’t move home when the paperwork got screwed up. And now… planning on being a single mom…”

He stared at their still joined hands. “I managed to get you two an apartment on campus. Your scholarships will cover it; that’s not a problem. But that’s when I thought you were staying married to the mother of your child. I know you and Lois are friends — good friends — and there’s a lot worse things when it comes to the foundation of a marriage. I’d appreciate it if you would at least consider staying married to her and trying to make a go of it for her sake and the sake of your child.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. No one knew the true nature of what was going on except me and Lois.

“Will you please just think about it?” he asked.

Finally, I nodded. I’d think about it, but not for long and the outcome of that thinking was a foregone conclusion.

Jill chose that moment to join us in the empty seat that made up the quartet. “Clark, your parents wanted to join us in London for this part of the trip, but with your dad’s back, they decided it wasn’t a good idea.”

I nodded again. “Yeah. His back couldn’t handle this.” I looked around. “Not even up here. Especially not with the quick turn around.”

Lois woke up as our meal was brought around.

We all chatted quietly about miscellaneous topics until we started our descent into Metropolis International Airport. Once there, I was going to have to find a way to pull Lois aside and convince her that we needed to tell at least our parents the truth.

No sooner had we walked in, than Jill got a phone call before pulling Lois and I aside.

“We have a problem,” she said, without further preamble. “I got a call that it was coming earlier, but that one confirmed it.”

Sam watched from the other side of the room, but didn’t try to insert himself into the conversation.

“What’s that?” Lois said wearily.

“Navance.”

“What’s he doing?” I asked.

“He’s changed the law,” Jill told us grimly.

“What?!” we exclaimed in unison.

She nodded. “The law said that he can claim a child but it also said that the husband is the father regardless of who the biological father is.”

“Right,” I said. “That’s why we got married. So why does it matter if he changed it? That was the law when we got married, so changing it shouldn’t change anything for us.”

“And here that’s right. But in Latislan things are different. He changed the law and it applies to you guys, too.”

“What did he change it to?” Lois asked, fear in her voice. “He can claim a baby even if the mother is married?”

She shook her head. “No. The way the law reads now, the husband is only the biological father regardless of any other challenges if the marriage lasts at least five years after the child is born.”

Lois’ jaw dropped.

“What?” I whispered.

“Daniel thinks that’s because when you left the country the baby was legally Clark’s and Navance couldn’t just make a law that said any baby he says is his is legally his regardless of anything else. Daniel also said that you two were planning on getting an annulment once you got back here. If you do, your child can be claimed by Navance again. The U.S. wouldn’t send either of you back there, Lois, but he could make your life a living nightmare if he tries to take the baby from you. And Navance probably suspects you’re planning something like that. Five years is long enough that you won’t want to stay married just to keep away from him but not so long that his motives are completely transparent.”

I shoved my hands in my pockets, my head spinning.

“The other new part of the law is that if the marriage is solely for the purpose of keeping him away from his child, then the husband’s claim of paternity is invalid. And he really only needs circumstantial proof that it’s only for that purpose to invalidate that claim — at least in Latislani courts. He also reminded us that he has a nephew who is attending Met U this year and that his nephew will be keeping an eye on you two and he’ll have others keeping an eye on you, as well.”

Lois wiped at the tears flowing down her face as I spoke again. “Why? Why is he doing this to us? We all know there’s no way this is his baby.”

Jill shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“The guns,” Lois whispered.

“What?”

“I forgot about it with everything but it hit me earlier and I wasn’t sure who to tell and it’s probably too late now but… When we were on the plane that took us to Latislan, there were crates and crates of guns. I wondered if he didn’t latch onto me and my baby as a way to distract someone from what was on the plane.”

Jill nodded. “I have no idea, but I’ll make sure that information gets to the appropriate authorities.” She sighed. “Regardless, he’s going to make your lives miserable if you don’t convince him that you’re committed to your marriage and it lasts until the baby is five.”

“This is ridiculous,” I said. “How can he do this? Why would it matter what a dictator from somewhere halfway around the world says?”

“Under U.S. law, it doesn’t. But the bigger concern is safety for all of you, as well as your private lives. International relations play a role as well, but that’s not my area of expertise. Once you two get an annulment, he can claim the baby is legitimately his because he claimed the child while you were under that jurisdiction and the marriage didn’t last long enough for Clark to remain the legal father under Latislani law. He can try to take the baby by force if he wants to and if he gets him out of the country, you’ll never see him again.”

The tears continued to flow down Lois’ cheeks and I could feel myself deflating as I realized what was happening.

Lois and I were going to have to stay married to protect her and the baby.

~~~~~

Lois

He was going to come back and get us.

Clark wouldn’t stay married to me for five and a half years. There was no way. He was going to marry Cruella long before then.

Jill paused in her destruction of my life. “I’ll let you two talk about it. You don’t have to decide right now or whatever, but we just wanted you to know before you contact the lawyer about the annulment.” She opened her mouth to say something else, before she thought better of it and turned and walked away.

“I won’t hold you to it,” I told him before he could say anything. “Daddy’ll get security or whatever to protect me and the baby.” Or I thought he would. Who knew what the girlfriend was capable of convincing him to do or not do, especially if she was connected to Navance. “I’ll tell him to call the lawyer.” I turned to walk away, but he stopped me with a hand on my arm.

“Wait.”

“Let’s not drag this on any longer than we have to.”

“I can’t let him get to you. I’m not leaving.”

He didn’t sound very convincing. I didn’t believe for a minute he’d want to stay married to me and how else would he keep the insane dictator from getting got me?

“No, it’s okay. We’ll figure it out. You don’t have to worry about it. I’ll tell Daddy the truth about the baby and he wouldn’t think of trying to pressure you into staying married to me.”

He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me to face him. “Lois, I’m not going to let him get you.” He took a deep breath and tried to sound convincing. “And that means that we stay married and do our best to make it look good until he moves on to something else and the law gets changed or some other guy he’s ticked off takes a shot at him and gets lucky or whatever.”

“I can’t ask you to do that, Clark. I won’t. I won’t ask Joe to be a parent to a baby that’s not his even without a lunatic involved. Why would I ask you to do this?”

“You’re not asking me. I’m volunteering.”

There was something more he wasn’t telling me. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I finally asked him. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“What do you mean?” That didn’t sound convincing either.

“You’re hiding something from me and I want to know what it is.” I crossed my arms in front of me and stared at him.

He sighed. “You didn’t see Navance when he was at his worst. I can’t give him any reason to be able to get at either one of you.”

“We’re not your responsibility,” I informed him. “I can take care of myself and if it gets to the point where I can’t, Daddy’ll help. And what are you talking about — his worst?”

He chose to ignore the question. “You are my responsibility,” he said quietly. “I promised to protect you for better or worse. I know we didn’t really think that it was going to last, but I did promise that before God in a chapel in front of a chaplain.”

“You didn’t answer my question, but you didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it and I won’t hold you to it.”

“I won’t sign the papers. Whatever it is we have to do to get an annulment, I won’t do it.”

“This isn’t even your baby,” I reminded him. “Why would you even think about doing this?”

He paused. “My parents didn’t have to take me in, but they did. They protected me and I can’t let another baby go unprotected when there’s something I can do to help. And I won’t agree to an annulment.”

I hated that I was still bawling.

I sighed.

“I’ll get an annulment anyway. There has to be a way.”

“Please, Lois. Don’t put yourself in danger. Don’t put your baby in danger when there’s a way to protect both of you.”

I didn’t want to admit it but Navance scared me. And apparently, I hadn’t seen him at his worst.

“Are you sure, Clark? You won’t see Lana in a couple days and suddenly decide that you want out? If you want out, get out now.” There was no way that he’d be willing to do that.

“I won’t change my mind.”

“You won’t see Lana and decide you want to leave?”

“I won’t leave,” he said. “I promise.”

I took a deep breath. I hated what I was about to say. “Okay, then. I won’t ask you not to see her, but I do ask that you be discrete.” I hurried on. “If you’re sure, then thank you.”

“I’m sure.”

“Can we please agree to keep all of this to ourselves then?” I asked, more tears leaving my eyes. “Can you let her believe that I’m actually having your baby? Can you not tell your parents? We can’t let anyone know the truth.” I knew how close he was to his folks.

He hesitated. “Okay. You’re right. The best way to keep this all quiet and away from Navance is if no one else knows. Not your dad. Not Joe. Not my folks. Not Lana.”

I nodded. “Okay, then.”

“We’ll stay married. We’ll convince him that it’s real and I won’t let him near either one of you.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as me.

I swiped at my face again. “Well, let’s go then.”

He nodded and after a brief second, grabbed my hand and we headed back towards Daddy.

***

Part 27

Clark

~~~~~

I couldn’t tell Lois the things Navance had said to me when it was just me and him.

How he’d take her and the baby and no one would ever see them again.

How he wouldn’t make her his wife — which would offer her some legal protections — but would torment her and have his way with her on a regular basis and show her just enough of her child to make her realize how he or she was being raised until she finally begged him to kill her.

And more.

The man was an animal.

I couldn’t let him get his hands on Lois or the baby.

My heart was breaking at the same time. I’d have to break up with Lana. I wouldn’t be able to marry her this summer like I’d planned. I was going to break her heart, even if I did tell her the whole truth.

Except I couldn’t tell her the whole truth.

I couldn’t tell my parents the whole truth.

I had managed to make myself grab Lois’ hand as we walked towards her father, but Jill had intercepted us and taken us to another room.

“This is a secure conference,” she told us as we sat in front of her laptop.

Daniel appeared on the screen. He looked tired. “I’m sorry, you two. I knew he wouldn’t be happy, but I didn’t think he’d try anything like this.”

“It’s okay, Daniel,” I said. “You couldn’t have known.”

“Have you two decided what you’re going to do yet?”

I realized Jill had left the room giving us some level of privacy.

“No.” “Yes.”

Lois and I spoke at the same time.

I glanced at her but continued quickly. “We’re staying married.”

Lois glared at me.

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s good. I hate what it’s doing to you two but it’s the safest way for everyone. But that also means you have to make it look good. I’d recommend not telling anyone the whole truth until the five years are up unless something happens. Let everyone believe the ‘hypothermic at the cabin’ story as long as possible. That means you need to change your name as soon as you can, Lois, and no hyphens or anything. You should probably consider at least partially naming the baby after someone in Clark’s circle — a family member or long-time family friend or mentor to solidify the idea that the baby is Clark’s and that you two are serious about this. It means you can’t be seen alone with either Lana or Joe, regardless of whether you continue the relationships on the side. And I would strongly encourage you not to, because you never know who might see something they shouldn’t.”

He looked at something over the camera out of our view. “I have to go, kids. Your names won’t be released from here. It’s already blowing over in the States so hopefully you won’t end up in the limelight.”

“Thanks, Daniel.”

Lois was still glaring at me.

“I wish I could have done more,” he said. “Good luck and let Jill know if there’s anything you need.”

Before we could say goodbye the connection was cut.

“Why?” Lois asked quietly.

“Why what?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I care about you. I care about your baby. And I can help protect the two of you from him. I won’t give him any reason to come after either one of you.”

She sighed, as though finally accepting it. “What’re we going to do?”

“Stay married.”

“Where are we going to live? What are you going to tell Lana? Your folks? How do we act like it’s ‘real’?” She used finger quotes to emphasize her point.

I closed the laptop. “Your dad said he’d already arranged for an apartment on campus before he knew we were planning on getting an annulment, so that’s taken care of. Our scholarships will cover it, he said. We won’t tell anyone anything but the public story, but we should still keep it as close to the truth as possible. That we were together in a hypothermic induced haze at the cabin that night, but we both thought we were dreaming.” I put thoughts of the dream I’d actually had out of my head. “You didn’t know you were pregnant until we were in Europe and we’d gotten lost and ended up in another country.” I sighed. “You didn’t have your passport with you and knowing that you were having my baby, we decided to do the right thing and get married before we came home.”

I ran a hand through my hair. “As for pretending it’s real… I guess living together will go a long way towards that. Holding hands. Not seeing Joe and Lana in public without each other.” I tried not to cringe. “Kissing when we see each other or one of us leaves when we’re in public.”

She nodded. “I guess that’s all we can do.” She sighed. “Daddy’s probably wondering what happened to us.”

“Probably.” Should I tell her what he’d said? I probably should. “You should probably know that while you were asleep, he asked if I was planning on being a dad to your baby. He asked me to at least think about staying together and trying to make this work for the sake of the baby.” I didn’t think Lois would take it well if she knew he’d also asked me to consider it for her sake.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” she said. She scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “I guess we better get this show on the road.” She pushed back from the table and stood up.

I stood up, too, and after a slight hesitation, took her hand as we left the room.

~~~~~

Lois

Why was he agreeing to stay married to me?

If it was anyone but Clark, I’d say it was to get in bed with me. Even Joe would have had that in the back of his mind.

But Clark…

If there was one thing I was sure of it was that Clark had no desire to… Not get me into bed, because we’d slept in the same bed more than once and it seemed likely we would again at some point in the future.

I was sure Clark had no desire to make love to me.

I knew that if it was Joe instead of Clark, he’d want it at some point, before too long, and if Joe was my husband, we probably would have — if not on our wedding night then not too long after. But with Clark…

I couldn’t explain the twinge of… something. Disappointment? Regret? Envy? Something that knowing my husband didn’t think about me like that — would never think about me like that — stirred deep inside me. It wasn’t that I wanted to get naked with him, but it wasn’t something I would rule out either — now that we were married. But I knew he didn’t feel the same way.

And while that shouldn’t bother me… it did.

I had to end up married to the one guy…

I shook my head as we neared Daddy. There was no point in even thinking about it.

“Everything okay?” he asked as we got there.

I nodded, trying to look convincing. “Everything’s fine.” I pasted a smile on my face. “Just ready to get out of here.”

Clark nodded. “What do we need to do to get into that apartment on campus?”

Daddy stared at both of us for a long minute. “I’ll call Darrell. He’s the head of housing. He had a couple move out unexpectedly and there’s no waiting list for that building. I’m not sure why. It’s where your mom and I lived when we were in college and it was pretty nice. I know it’s been renovated at least once since then, but…” He shrugged. “I’ll let him know that you two want it. You probably won’t be able to get in until tomorrow though since it’s already after five.” We’d started walking towards the front of the airport, a porter pushing our luggage on a cart. “You can stay at the house tonight, if you’d like, rather than your dorm rooms.”

I didn’t look at Clark and he didn’t look at me.

It was one thing when we thought this was temporary — and he’d slept on top of the sheet anyway — but this was a whole new ballgame now.

“Thanks, Sam,” Clark said hesitantly.

“I don’t know, Daddy,” I said uncomfortably. Had his girlfriend put two and two together yet? Had Navance or one of his minions contacted her yet? Or had they put two and two together?

He got a knowing look on his face. “Tell you what? Why don’t I put you two up at the Lexor for the night? As a wedding present?”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks.”

Clark was looking at me oddly, but I didn’t want to discuss it here. I shook my head slightly and he kept his mouth shut.

Before long we were standing in front the counter at the Lexor and we were being checked into the honeymoon suite as Clark and Lois Kent.

Daddy gave me a big hug and whispered, “Congratulations, Princess.” He pulled back and said in a normal voice, “I’ll call Darrell and pick you two up about eleven — that’s checkout — and we’ll work on getting you into the new place.”

A minute later, we were in the elevator and I slumped against the wall.

“Want to tell me why we’re here?” Clark asked quietly.

I took the scrunchie out of my hair, running a hand through it before pulling it back into another ponytail. “I don’t really want to spend the night all happy in front of my dad and everyone else and we have no idea what the girlfriend knows about us — if anything — and I didn’t think that was going to be a good idea.”

He sighed and nodded. “Good points.”

The elevator opened and let us out onto our floor. I used my key to open the door and walked in without really looking around. My stomach suddenly roiled and I bolted for the bathroom.

“Are you okay?” Clark called a few minutes later.

I left the bathroom and settled on the big chair. “I’ve been better.” I pulled the throw blanket over me, hugging my legs to me. Under the blanket, I fiddled with the still-unfamiliar wedding band. “You?”

“It’s a big adjustment,” he said, stretching his legs out on the couch.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? You’re right. Going to your house…”

I shook my head. “For everything. For getting on that plane. For following her. For all of it.”

He sighed. “It’s not your fault. You’re not the insane dictator.”

“No, but I’m the reason we were there and I’m the one who apparently ticked him off.”

“Look, we’re friends right?”

I nodded.

“Okay. I wasn’t going to let you go by yourself and I’m glad I didn’t. What would you have done if I hadn’t been there?”

I shrugged.

“Okay, then. Let it go. We are where we are and we have to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt at the moment.”

“Well, the day after the baby’s fifth birthday, we can file for divorce. I doubt we’ll be able to get an annulment after that long, even if we haven’t…” I waved a hand towards the bedroom.

“You’re probably right.”

“And I won’t hold you to any paternity claims or child support or anything like that either.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you want that in writing?” I asked, suddenly wondering if he’d believe me.

“No. I believe you and that’s probably not a good idea even if we used a lawyer with confidentiality and all that.” He looked around the room. “Can I get you something to drink or something?”

I shook my head. “No. I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Do you want to play some games or something?”

I shook my head again. “No. I’m getting pretty tired and I’d like to get the travel grime off of me.”

“Why don’t you go take a shower then get some sleep?”

I sighed and pushed up from the chair. “Sounds like a good plan.”

~~~~~

Clark

I could hear the shower running. I’d reassured Lois that we’d deal with the hand we’d been dealt, but I wasn’t quite sure how we were supposed to do that — how I was supposed to do that.

How was I supposed pretend that I was in love with Lois when every time I closed my eyes I saw Lana?

How was I supposed to stay married to her for five and a half years?

How was I supposed to do this?

One day at a time was the only answer I could come up with. One hour at a time. One night at a time.

Maybe the apartment would be big enough for a decent couch or a fouton or at least have clean carpet so I would have some place to sleep. Or maybe we’d have room for an air mattress.

I couldn’t just float in my sleep. It would be a lot easier if I could. Or maybe I could just say I was sleeping on the floor and really float an inch or so off the ground. Except I’d never been very good at intentionally sleep floating.

Before long Lois came out of the bathroom and said it was my turn. I nodded and headed to the bathroom with some clean clothes and assorted toiletries. After a very long, very hot shower, I headed back out into the suite.

I figured Lois would be asleep in the very big bed but she was nowhere to be found. I glanced through the wall and saw her sound asleep on the couch.

I sighed. I felt slightly guilty but she actually looked pretty comfortable. I floated myself onto the bed and stretched out. I wasn’t too sure about the whole satin sheets thing and figured that sleeping on top of the comforter was probably the best bet.

Except I’d seen those 20/20 or 48 Hours or whatever reports on hotel comforters and suddenly decided I’d best sleep like a normal person. In bed. Between the sheets.

I glanced around a bit more — my eyes resting on the heart-shaped tub. I’d hoped I’d be able to take Lana someplace like this for at least one night on our honeymoon. Not our wedding night because we’d probably stay in Smallville for that — unless I flew us somewhere — because I knew neither one of us would want to wait long enough to drive to Kansas City or Topeka or Wichita or Branson or something. We’d want to get somewhere alone, preferably with a bed, as quickly as possible.

I closed my eyes.

I was married to Lois.

I was going to stay married to Lois.

I probably shouldn’t be thinking about Lana like that anymore.

No.

I knew I shouldn’t be thinking like that about Lana anymore.

I’d vowed before God to be faithful to Lois for as long as we both lived. I’d mentally added something along the lines of ‘or until we get home and get this annulled’ but that wasn’t the point.

And I was sure that being faithful meant I didn’t think about my girlfr… my exgirlfriend like that anymore.

Ex-girlfriend.

I was going to have officially break-up with her. I was going to break her heart. It was breaking my heart.

I was going to have to tell Lois — my wife — that I was going to have to see the woman I loved — who I had loved since I was six — when she got back from Europe and tell her that it was over.

For the first time in a very, very long time, I actually cried.

***

Part 28

Lois

~~~~~

I sighed and looked around the dorm room. I’d liked it here, for the most part, but I was really glad that we were moving out before Cruella got back from Europe and Madame Medusa got back from Winter Break. I was also glad I hadn’t brought a whole lot with me when I moved in. Packing wasn’t going to be all that difficult.

The apartment was furnished, which was nice. I hadn’t heard anything about that particular building, but Daddy thought it was pretty nice so it couldn’t be all bad.

I put my clothes in boxes, not caring if I did so neatly or not. They were only going to be packed for a couple hours until we got to the new apartment. I stripped the bedding off my bunk and folded it more neatly into the plastic bag it had come in. I loved it, but it would be a while before I used it again — if ever. Maybe my son or daughter someday…

I wondered if the apartment came with bedding and I suddenly hoped not. The idea of sleeping on sheets someone else had… A hotel was one thing, this was another.

Clark came in just then.

“Got it all taken care of?” I asked, shoving the pillowcase into the bag.

“Yeah. I pulled my truck up downstairs. I figured we could load everything in the back of it and be done in a couple hours.

I nodded. “I’m almost done. I guess we’ve got a fridge there?”

He shrugged. “I’d guess so but I didn’t go over there yet.”

“Well, I guess this can go in the truck and I’ll take it home later.” I pulled a water bottle out of the fridge and took a long swig.

He nodded. “I’ve got a cooler that we can put anything you want to keep in.”

I looked around. “I think I’m done.”

“That was fast,” he said, impressed.

“There wasn’t much. Not like we’re moving a whole house or anything.” I picked up a box and headed towards the cart I saw waiting outside the door Clark had left propped open.

“Are you sure you should be moving that stuff?” he asked me.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m pregnant, not an invalid. And I’ll let you move the heavy stuff.”

He grabbed a box and started packing his clothes. I moved the rest of my boxes out to the cart. It was kind of pitiful, actually, how little there was. I knew Clark would have more, but that was, in large part, because he didn’t live close enough to bring only one season of clothes, for instance.

“Why two carts?” I asked.

He glanced up. “Well, no one else is moving so it’s not like anyone else will need them and I didn’t think one would be enough.”

I moved the rest of my boxes onto the cart and then took another box over to my desk and started filling it. It didn’t take long and I folded the flaps over before taking it out to the cart. “That’s all of my stuff, except my hang up clothes.”

He put his hands on his hips and looked around. “I’m almost done. Why don’t you sit down and rest for a few minutes?”

I looked around for a place to do so, but the only real spot was Clark’s bunk. Well, I’d slept there before and he wasn’t my husband at the time so I figured it was probably the least of our worries. I lay down and closed my eyes. I could see the picture of me and Joe that I’d taken off the desk. It had been taken at the party after graduation — when we’d been on again. We’d looked good together.

I struggled to keep stay awake, but it was a losing battle and before I knew it, I was asleep.

~~~~~

Clark

I was glad when Lois fell asleep. Packing wasn’t hard, but trying to keep my mind off of what it represented…

I could practically smell Lana’s favorite perfume and if I went through the door into the common area, I probably would be able to, but fortunately, I’d cleaned all my things out of there when we left for Break. I had avoided my desk, but now that Lois was asleep, I moved to sit in the chair.

I picked up the picture of me and Lana. It had been taken at the fair the summer before and was one of my favorites. I was standing behind her, my arms wrapped around her and we were smiling. The wind was blowing her hair and I remembered how we’d kissed at the top of the Ferris Wheel. I blushed at the memory. Both because of the memory and because I shouldn’t be thinking about it with… my wife lying a few feet away.

I sighed and tucked the picture in a box of summer clothes where I wouldn’t have any reason to find it for a while. I pulled my wallet out of my pocket and took the picture sleeves out. My eyes filled with tears again as I looked at the picture of me and Lana when we were six. Our first day of kindergarten. She’d looked so cute with her blonde pigtails. Swiftly, I removed the pictures that had her in them, leaving only one of my parents, me and my mom, me and my Grandma Davis, and Pete and his girlfriend. The rest went in the box.

There wasn’t much left to do and I moved the refrigerator onto the cart before moving the rest of the boxes. I took the carts down the elevator and loaded it all into the truck, before returning the carts and heading back up to the room. The truck was a bit overloaded but we weren’t driving far, just a couple blocks away.

I didn’t really want to wake her, but we did need to try to get all this done before it got too dark or cold. I shook her gently and once she woke up, we worked together to fold up my bedding.

I glanced around as she left in front of me. I wanted to look through the wall into Lana’s room, but I didn’t let myself.

I couldn’t let myself.

Ten minutes later, we pulled up in front of Abby Apartments.

I was glad to see they had a cart we could use to help move everything and soon it was loaded.

“Okay,” I said with a sigh. “Let’s go see this place.” I handed her the key and the paperwork folder.

The lobby and elevator looked like they’d seen better days. I only hoped the apartments looked better.

I’d noted there were no balconies like some of the other married housing buildings — and even some of the regular dorms — had. I maneuvered the cart into the elevator and Lois pushed the fifth floor button.

“Which one?” she asked as we got off.

“5A,” I told her. I pointed to a door near the elevator. “There’s a laundry room on this floor.” We walked past apartments K through C. B was on the end on the left. A was on the right.

“Here we go. Home sweet home.” She sounded like she was holding out about as much hope as I was for this place. She stuck her key in the lock. She had to jiggle it a bit before it finally opened. The hinges creaked as the door swung open.

This didn’t look good.

She walked in ahead of me, past the — very small — bathroom on the right. I left the cart in the hall as we explored our new home.

On the wall against the bathroom was a small loveseat and about two feet past it, on my right, was a bed.

A small bed.

Not much bigger than the twin bed I’d had growing up.

Across from the foot of the bed was a chest of drawers that had two more drawers than the ones we’d had two of in the dorm room, but we were going to have to share this one it looked like.

On the other side of the dresser was a desk that butted up to the closet that jutted out into the room. The closet extended past its door and against the closet wall was the refrigerator. There were beads hanging over the opening to the closet; I was sure someone had removed the door because it interfered with the refrigerator. The refrigerator itself looked to be older than I was. Past the fridge was a two burner stove, a foot of counter, a sink and two more feet of counter with a microwave sitting on it. In the corner, between the counter and the wall, was a small table with two chairs. There was barely enough room to pull either chair out — one would hit the edge of the counter and the other would hit the sole nightstand. Above the sink was a small window and on either side of it was a few more cabinets that all looked like they’d seen better days.

The kitchen at home was at least three times the size of this thing.

Heck, Lois’ bathroom at the cabin was the size of the whole ‘apartment’.

I glanced at the floor. It was industrial carpet — no surprise there, but it was ripped in places and there was duct tape over more than one spot and a stain or two that I didn’t want to speculate on.

Lois sighed and tossed her purse and the folder onto the bed. “Well, I guess we better get unpacked so you don’t get a ticket.”

I could hear the trembling in her voice, but also the determination underneath it. I didn’t say anything but started moving the boxes in.

“I don’t suppose you have any sheets that’ll fit this,” she asked without looking at me.

“No. I guess that means that you don’t either.”

She shook her head. “Maybe at home, but I have a queen size bed there and I think most of the other beds are bigger than that, too. I guess a visit to CostMart is in order.”

“We’ll need to get some food that you can have, too.”

“Our meal plans are still intact,” she reminded me.

I raised an eyebrow at her. “Your stomach has been acting up a lot lately and you think cafeteria food is going to help?”

“Good point.”

I set her boxes next to the dresser as she opened the fridge.

“I’m not sure this thing works very well,” she called. “It’s on, but it’s not very cold.”

“Is there somewhere we could put your mini-fridge?”

She looked around. “The closet? As a nightstand on that side of the bed?” She pointed to the side by the loveseat.

I looked at that side of the bed. “That might work. There’s an outlet over there.” I took the last of the boxes off of the cart. “I’ll go get the rest.”

She nodded. “I guess I’ll get started on this.” She picked up a few hangers and headed towards the closet as I left.

~~~~~

Lois

This place was a sty.

I quickly hung up the clothes Clark had left on the bed.

The mattress looked clean enough. That was good.

It was small. Which was not.

I was sure that my dad hadn’t been in the building in ages or there was no way he’d have recommended we’d live here. I thought about unpacking my clothes from the boxes Clark had left, but I figured I’d at least ask him which drawers he preferred this time around. Same with the desk stuff.

I sat on the bed and opened the folder of information Clark had given me. Rental agreement he’d signed. Information on parking and the campus shuttle that stopped across the street. List of rules and regulations. I scanned through that to make sure the mini-fridge wasn’t going to violate it or anything.

Something else caught my eye.

No children.

Well, not no children specifically, but only two people allowed per apartment and only married couples allowed to live in the building.

We were going to have to move this summer.

I sighed and stuck it in the pile next to me.

The next sheet was a notice. It looked like we’d have to move before summer. There was a reason why there was no one on the waiting list for this apartment building and it wasn’t just that it was a hole. It was being closed the week after finals for renovations that were expected to take most of the next year.

Clark chose that moment to walk back in, TV in his arms.

“Where do you want this?” he asked. “On top of the dresser.”

I nodded. “Seems like the most logical place for it.”

He set it up there. “We could rearrange if we wanted to, I guess, but I don’t know how.”

I looked around the small room. “Me either.” I held out the piece of paper. “This is why there was no waiting list.”

He took it from me and sighed. “Well, at least no one else will have to live here.”

“We’ll have to figure something else out by then, I guess. See if we can get into one of the other buildings that allow kids or something. This one doesn’t anyway.”

He nodded and headed back into the hall, bringing the rest of the boxes and the mini-fridge in. “I’m going to take this back downstairs and move the truck.”

“I’ll start unpacking clothes, I guess. Which drawers do you want?”

“Doesn’t matter. Whichever ones you don’t is fine. Just leave me some space.” He tried to smile as he said it.

“Don’t worry, Kent. You’ve got more stuff than I do,” I called as the door shut behind him.

I thought about taking the bottom drawers since he was taller, but I figured I wasn’t going to be able to bend over easily to get to them before long. I took one of the half drawers on top and quickly unpacked my… unmentionables before he got back. I’d just finished filling two of the drawers when he returned. I explained why I’d taken the drawers I did and he said that was fine with him.

I moved to unload the cooler into the mini-fridge. “How do you want to organize the desk?” I asked him.

He looked up from where he was moving boxes to the closet. “However you want. We’ve both got laptops so that’s not an issue. I can work pretty much wherever.”

I unpacked my desk stuff into one of the drawers, sticking the CD player on top with the TIVO and DVD player on the dresser. My Friends, Dawson’s Creek, 90210 and NCIS DVDs were stacked on top of it as were the other favorite movie DVDs I’d brought with me. The CDs were stacked in the corner against the closet.

Clark broke down another box. “That’s all of my stuff except for one box for the desk. Do you want to go get something to eat?”

I pondered that for a minute. “Yeah. My stomach feels okay right now.” I avoided looking at the bed. “Let’s hit CostMart and pick up some stuff there. We can eat at their cafe.”

He raised his eyebrow at me. “The CostMart cafe? Seriously?”

I nodded. “They have the best pizza.”

“Really?”

“Don’t knock till you’ve tried it. We used to eat there every Sunday.”

He shook his head. “If you say so.”

I grabbed my jacket and purse. “Let’s go.”

I headed out the door and heard it creak as Clark shut and locked it behind us.

***

Part 29

Clark

~~~~~

Lois was right.

They had good pizza.

I’d been skeptical when she said CostMart had good pizza but it did. She’d decided to go with a chicken wrap thing instead, but a big slice of Supreme called my name. Before long, though, we were done and it was time to do some… household shopping.

We grabbed a cart and headed into the store.

“You know how much I cook,” she told me. “So I’ll trust you on the food end. As long as we have chocolate, I’m good. And peppermints.”

I nodded. “Okay. So where do we start?”

She sighed. “Bedding, I guess. We have to have something to sleep on.”

“Well, you do anyway. I’ll get an air mattress. It’ll slide under the bed during the day but there’s enough room for it over by the door at night. I can use the sheets and stuff I already have for that.” I didn’t look at her as I said it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her give me an unreadable look before she spoke. “If anyone’s going to sleep on an air mattress, it’s me. I’m not letting you do that.”

She had to know I wouldn’t let her do that and I told her so.

She sighed. “Well, then. I guess we’ll share the bed.”

I grudgingly agreed. Given how stubborn we both were, it was probably the best solution. “Okay then. Bedding it is.”

She pushed the cart towards that part of the store. “Any color preferences?”

“Nothing girly froo froo.”

“You should know me better than that by now, Paige.”

I looked at her quizzically. “Paige?”

“Did you never watch Trading Spaces when it was still good?”

I shook my head. “What’s Trading Spaces?”

“Never mind. Colors?”

“Let’s see what they have,” I suggested. I made myself put my last shopping trip for sheets and stuff out of my mind. Lana and I had gone to CostMart in Parsons and she’d picked out pink froo froo stuff and I’d picked the dark green, but we’d looked at stuff we both liked — for ‘someday’.

I was glad that it didn’t seem they had many of the same choices here.

“What color do you want?” I asked as we headed into the aisle.

“Why don’t you pick?” she asked. “If I don’t hate it, get whatever you want.”

I didn’t really have much of a preference as long as it wasn’t girly. I looked at all the choices before finally deciding on one. I’d been glancing at the prices, too, and there was another one I thought I’d like better, but it was more expensive, too. And I still wasn’t sure how we were paying for all this. I smiled to myself. “How about that one?” I pointed to a comforter with flowers all over it.

She glared at me. “Try again.”

I laughed and pointed to a different one. “How about that one?”

She pulled it off the shelf and set it on the top of the cart before unzipping it. The comforter had stripes of chocolate and a slightly lighter brown. She pulled it partway out. “It feels pretty thick and somehow I doubt the heater in that place works very well.”

“Probably not.”

“It’s fine with me,” she said, zipping it back up before turning back to the shelf to get matching sheets and pillowcases. “Did you look to see if there’s any dishes and stuff there?”

“There’s not,” I told her.

She sighed. “I guess we need some of those, too, then.”

It wasn’t long before there was a set of dishes and glasses in the cart, too, along with some silverware, cups, a pot and skillet. They were plain but functional, which was the most important thing. We grabbed a trash can and a new curtain for the closet ‘door’ — the beads had to go. There was a silverware tray and an iron and ironing board — something that had been provided for us at the dorm. We got some trash bags and a couple new notebooks for her for the semester. Lois also grabbed some kitchen towels and let me pick out the utensils — spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowl, whisk, mixing spoons — because she knew she had no clue what we needed. She picked out a vacuum cleaner. That hadn’t even occurred to me to get.

Lois had insisted on a couple of TV trays and a bookcase/media shelf thing. There was enough room on the door side of the dresser for it, but barely. She also decided that she wanted a popcorn maker because real popcorn was better than microwaved. I agreed with her there but it was more fun popping it with my eyes in midair. I couldn’t tell her that though. I pushed thoughts of my… uniqueness aside as we headed toward the food side of the store, but not before I picked up a crock pot. Lois had no clue what we’d do with it, but I knew I could toss some stuff in first thing in the morning and have a late lunch or dinner ready when we were.

I had to grab a second cart before we picked out a little bit of food to take back with us, too. A gallon of milk and some cereal for breakfast, some Ramen noodles, string cheese and some chicken soup for Lois. And popcorn stuff. We did grab a couple of frozen meals — the freezer had seemed better than the fridge — and I picked up barbecue sauce and some beef to make in the pressure cooker the next day since the cafeteria wasn’t open yet. I got some spices and bread and cheese to go with it. Her dad had said he’d keep sending some meals from his meal service so we really didn’t need too much. We didn’t trust the big refrigerator just yet, anyway. And crackers for Lois. We got a bunch of them. She also thought to get carpet cleaner and some stuff to spray on the bed. There was Febreeze and we agreed on a couple of scents for candles and air freshener.

After that, just when I thought we were done, she headed back to the paper goods to get paper towels and toilet paper and napkins before getting dish and laundry soap, dryer sheets and color safe bleach. She crossed back to the bathroom part of the store and picked up a couple of soap dispensers to go with the hand soap she’d also gotten. She also grabbed a toothbrush holder before heading to the rugs and stuff. She grabbed a floor rug that matched the bedding and some stuff to cover the toilet, too. She picked up body towels — including a couple of really big ones, bath sheets I thought she said — and a couple of hand towels and wash clothes.

By then both carts were overflowing and I was starting to blanch a bit at what was sure to be a very large total. I still didn’t know how we were paying for all of this, but that probably wasn’t something Lois had ever really had to worry about. She went a couple aisles over and together we picked out a few area rugs, before heading back to bedding and getting a couple of extra blankets and new pillows — something we both needed — as well as an egg crate and mattress cover. She grabbed a dish drainer and I got some contact paper before we headed towards the front of the store.

I was surprised at how she knew what to get. Somehow, I hadn’t figured that she’d know the kinds of little things we’d need. I knew I would have forgotten half — or more — of them. Of course, the things she would have forgotten, I’d remembered.

I refused to think too deeply about that.

We got to the checkout line and I wondered again how to broach the subject of how we were paying for all this. Lois answered that question before I asked.

“Dad said to get whatever we need and put it on his credit card.”

“That was nice of him.”

She shrugged. “He said it was the rest of our wedding present. He knew we’d need some stuff.”

Before long we’d loaded it all in the truck and headed back to campus. “We need to pick up your Jeep at some point. Do you want to go do that now?” I asked.

She hesitated then nodded, reaching into her purse to pull out her cell phone. “I’ll call Dad and let him know we’re on our way.”

~~~~~

Lois

I was glad I got to drive back to campus by myself. I’d only seen Dad for a minute and the girlfriend was nowhere to be seen. That was good news. He’d actually met us halfway so we didn’t have to drive all the way to Pittsdale. That was good news, too.

Shopping with Clark hadn’t been bad, but not exactly fun and I kept remembering things we’d need. I wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the evening. I thought about going straight to bed, but I figured we’d want to toss the sheets in the washer first. At least I would. And that meant it would be at least two more hours before I could get some sleep. Besides that, we’d need to get all of the purchases put away.

I glanced in the rearview mirror. Clark was still right behind me and he looked about as serious as I felt. This couldn’t be easy for him and I still didn’t understand why he’d insisted on doing it, why he’d insisted on staying married, but he had.

I’d told him to be discreet if he was going to keep seeing Lana and I meant it. I was okay with it — or thought I was anyway — if he still saw her on the side, as long as he was careful that no one else knew. If Linda knew though… That would be bad. I’d have to mention that to him.

The tour group would be back in two days. I’d have to talk to Joe, but even worse, Clark was going to have to talk to Lana. Breaking up with Joe, officially, wasn’t going to be easy, but Clark and Lana…

It wouldn’t surprise me if they broke their ‘wait till the wedding night’ vow; if they made love in the next couple days, I would have no place to complain, regardless of what our wedding vows had said. It wasn’t like this was a real marriage.

I stopped at the stop light leading onto campus and fiddled with the wedding band on my finger, staring at it.

I was a married woman.

And I was contemplating whether or not I should tell my husband it was actually okay for him to cheat on me.

I sighed as the light turned green and I headed towards the parking lot nearest to my new home. Clark loaded everything on a cart and brought it inside while I started a load of laundry — sheets along with some of my clothes that I’d brought back with me from Europe.

He looked up from the bed where he was sitting with pieces of the new shelving unit. I noted the Febreeze sitting out. “The cold stuff is put up. Want to put this together?”

I shook my head. “Not if we want it to actually work when it’s done. Aren’t you a farmboy? Shouldn’t you know how to make stuff?”

He laughed. “Fences? Sure, no problem. Prefab furniture? That’s a whole different ball game.” He handed me the instructions. “You read. I’ll try to figure this out.”

We laughed as we tried to figure it out and when the time came to switch the laundry, it was done. There was very little room to walk in the area near the door, but I squeezed through and headed to the laundry room at the other end of the hall. By the time I got back, Clark was moving my DVDs and CDs to the new shelf where they joined the ones he’d taken out of his box of desk stuff.

He leaned back against the bed, staring at the furniture along the wall. “Could we rearrange any of this you think?”

I sat on the loveseat and immediately regretted it. I wouldn’t be sitting there often. “I don’t know,” I said, looking around. “I’m not sure how we would rearrange it, but we probably want to before we get the rugs out and stuff.”

He nodded. “What if we switched the desk and the table over there? Or put the bookcase where the desk is and the table on this side of the dresser and the desk over where the table is?”

I glanced next to me. “Well, the mini-fridge isn’t going to work over here. The side table can move over here, but there’s not enough room for the door of the fridge to open.”

“I noticed that earlier.” He moved to sit on the bed, leaning against the wall so he could see the whole room a bit better. “The table’s pretty useless right there. Neither one of us actually use a desk much so it wouldn’t matter if we couldn’t get a chair in and out easily. What if we put the desk there, with the bookcase on top of it? It might not be pretty…”

“But it would be more functional that way. The mini-fridge can go on that side of the bed, but the drawers on that side of the desk…” I sighed. “That won’t work.”

“We could put the fridge by the closet and whoever’s on this side of the bed could just use the desk as a night stand. We could even turn the desk this way instead if we’re moving the nightstand.” He gestured along the wall next to him. “Then we could use the chair still and put the bookcase on top of it in the corner so there’s some space on this end for an alarm clock or something.”

I nodded and pointed to the wall across from the bed. “So table, dresser, fridge against the closet. Desk against the same wall as the bed with the bookcase on top. What about this monstrosity?” I asked, patting the loveseat.

He sighed. “Unless we want to push the bed up against the wall so that one of us is up against it, I think this is probably the best place for the bed and loveseat.”

I nodded my agreement. “Okay,” I said, standing up. “Let’s get moving.”

He stood up then pointed to the bed. “Sit. You’re not moving furniture.”

I rolled my eyes but sat down. “Get the desk and bookcase moved first and I’ll work on getting it set up a bit better.”

Clark easily moved the nightstand and table, setting them on the bed out of the way before he effortlessly scooted the desk next to the bed. I moved all the stuff he’d already situated on the bookcase to the bed until he had it in place, snug against the corner. I moved the CDs and DVDs back onto the top shelves, stretching to reach that high. I grabbed the box with the rest of my school stuff in it and situated a bunch of books and notebooks and assorted other things on one of the shelves. “Want me to unpack your box?”

He’d shoved the loveseat out of his way so he could move the fridge, but stopped long enough to look at me. “I’d appreciate that. Thanks.”

His things went on another shelf and into the other set of drawers. I didn’t see his picture of him and Lana anywhere and I breathed a small sigh of relief at that. By the time I was done, so was he.

“Better?” he asked.

I sat in the desk chair. “As good as it’s going to get, I think.” I noticed that he wasn’t breathing heavily and hadn’t even broken a sweat. “Thanks.”

He pushed the loveseat with his knee and nudged it over another couple of inches. “Ready to unload the rest of this stuff?”

I nodded. “Let’s get it done.”

He pointed to the bed again. “Sit and tell me where you want everything.”

“I think we should probably wash the dishes and stuff before we use them, shouldn’t we?”

He hesitated. “Probably. I’ll move all the kitchen stuff onto the counters and we’ll do everything else first.”

He did so then grabbed the vacuum cleaner box. “This is probably the best place to start.” He glanced at the floor. “We’ll want to vacuum before we put rugs down.” He opened the box. “Did you know you have to assemble this?”

“Seriously?” He nodded. “You do that and I’ll start on the bathroom. How’s that?”

I was working on getting the tank cover onto the pink toilet — what were they thinking when they installed those? — when I heard the vacuum cleaner start. I spread the chocolate rug on the floor and glanced at the shower. The inside of it couldn’t be more than two, two and a half feet square at most. That was going to be fun. I hung the hooks for the robes over the door and stuck the hooks for more towels up as high as I could reach. A couple towels went over the rack and a couple more went above it on the hooks. I filled the soap dispensers and arranged the rest of the stuff. I was glad I’d remembered to send Clark back for a toilet brush and cleanser. I was even more glad that he’d informed me that he’d take care of it.

“All done,” Clark called, as the vacuum shut off.

“Good.” I handed him the ironing board hook and pointed to the wall behind the door. “There please.” He stuck it to the wall as I set the ironing board next to it. “The iron will have to go under the sink in the bathroom, I guess.” I grabbed the pillows and tossed them onto the loveseat so they wouldn’t be in the way when we made the bed. “Where do we stick the laundry baskets?”

“The closet?”

“One maybe, but I don’t think both will fit in there. Another over by the counter?” I sighed. “Maybe we should get a couple hampers. That’d work better I think.”

“Probably.” He grabbed the biggest of the rugs. “Where do you want this one?”

I gestured to the area between the bed and the dresser. “Right there,” I told him before grabbing two of the smaller ones and putting one in front of the desk and one of the runners along the ‘kitchen’. Clark put the other two runners between the bed and the loveseat, lifting each corner of the loveseat to slide it partially underneath, and the other coming straight out from the door. I sighed. “Well, at least most of that’s covered up.” I glanced at the alarm clock I’d put on the desk. “I’m going to go get the laundry. You mind to clean the rest of this up?” I asked gesturing to the bags and boxes lying around.

He nodded and I left the room.

***

Part 30

Clark

~~~~~

I finished taking the trash down to the dumpster and wondered how we hadn’t run into any of our neighbors. I could hear some of them moving around in their apartments.

Lois was struggling to get the bottom sheet on the bed. She had already put the mattress cover on and the egg crate on top of that. She looked up as I walked in. “I didn’t put the dust ruffle on. I didn’t want to try to move the mattress by myself.”

I nodded. “We can do it tomorrow.” I moved to the side of the bed and helped tug the sheet over the corners of the mattress. We worked together to put the top sheet and then the comforter on. She tossed me a pillowcase and I tossed her the pillow she’d picked out.

“Which side do you want?” she asked, without looking at me. “I mean, I know you had that side when we were in Europe but… long term…”

I shrugged. “This is fine for now. If either one of us decides we want to switch we can talk about it later.”

She headed towards the dresser and pulled some clothes out. “I’m going to change and then I think I’m going to go to bed.”

“You should. It’s been a big day. You’ve got to be tired.”

She nodded as she headed towards the bathroom and I sunk onto the love seat. Lois was right. It was a monstrosity. And exceptionally uncomfortable at that.

I looked around the room. It was amazing how much we’d managed to cram in here. I looked at the picture of me and my parents I’d set on the nightstand that was now on what was officially my side of the bed. I’d talked to my dad for about a minute and a half while we were in London and hadn’t told him anything except that I was okay. I’d called again when I knew they wouldn’t be home and left a message. I knew I should talk to them, but I wanted Lana to be the first one to know, even before them. It helped that they were going out of town for nearly ten days.

I was going to have to tell Lois that I needed to see her when I told her. I couldn’t do this over the phone or email or something like that.

I wouldn’t say that the evening had been fun, but it hadn’t been too bad. We’d laughed and talked like we hadn’t since we were at the cabin and we were going to have to be friends if we were going to make it through the next five years.

Five years.

That was a long time.

I kicked my shoes off and propped my feet up on the bed, my head falling on the back of the seat. It was only a couple minutes before Lois came back out of the bathroom, leaving the light on in there, for me I was sure.

“Do you mind if I turn the light off?” she asked.

“Go ahead.” I said as the room darkened and she moved to the other side of the bed, flipping the covers back as she crawled in. “Good night.”

She rolled over to face me. “Good night, Clark. And thank you again.”

I nodded and she closed her eyes, burrowing under the covers. After a few minutes, I went to the kitchen sink and ran the water, filling the sink before adding soap. Lois’ quiet breathing told me that she was asleep and I sped through the dishes, washing them as fast as I could before drying them with my eyes. I’d have Lois help me figure out where to put most of them in the morning.

I rested my hands on the counter and leaned against it, my head hanging and my eyes closed. I’d imagined doing these things with Lana, not Lois, and the image of the two of us putting together our first apartment came unbidden to mind. I could see us laughing and kissing and even abandoning our efforts to get things done in the pursuit of more… interesting things. And since she’d know about me by then, I could have had it all done in seconds, lifting the desk over my head with one hand as I moved it or things like that.

And I was sure Lana wouldn’t wear flannel pajamas to bed.

I sighed and decided it was time for me to change and go to bed, too.

I wasn’t sure what our plans for the next day were, but it was going to be a very long week.

~~~~~

Lois

I was glad we had two more days before Lana and Joe got home. I had a feeling that it was going to hit the fan when they did. For now, Clark was my friend and we were enjoying spending time together — though bed was a bit awkward — but I was afraid that was going to change once he came face to face with Lana again.

I was even a bit afraid that he was going to leave.

He’d never said or done anything in the five or so months that I’d known him to give me any indication that he wasn’t a man of his word, but once he actually saw Lana again…

Clark had offered to go get our textbooks and stuff before the crush hit. We could get decent used books — hopefully — because they wouldn’t be all picked through.

The phone rang and I picked it up off the desk. “Hello?”

“Lois?”

I didn’t recognize the voice. “Yes?”

“This is Dr. McConnell.”

“Hi,” I said, surprised. “How are you?”

“I’m good. I got a call from your dad the other day and he asked me to give you a call.”

I sighed. “I need to get in to see you. I think I’m nearly twelve weeks along.”

“Well, I’m at the hospital today — I’m covering on-call for another doctor. Would you like to come on over and we’ll take a look and get started?”

“That would be great. When’s good?”

“Well, right now, I have a couple patients here that are in labor, but both are very early on so now would be good, if that works for you.”

“I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes,” I promised.

“Come on in to labor and delivery and I’ll see you then.”

I said good-bye and hung up. I put my shoes on and wrote Clark a note telling him I had an errand to run before heading out. I drove across campus and pulled into a parking spot near the Ellen Lane Memorial Medical Building. I ran into Dr. McConnell in the hallway and she gave me a warm hug.

Ten years earlier, she’d worked with both of my parents as she finished medical school and she had been my mother’s doctor the last couple years of her life. We moved into an empty labor and delivery room where an ultrasound machine was set up. I sat on the bed and swung my legs slightly.

“Can you tell me what happened?” she asked quietly.

Tears sprang to my eyes. “Can you tell my dad anything that I tell you?” I asked her. The thought of telling her the whole truth was running around my head and had been for a couple of days.

“No. Anything you tell me is completely confidential.”

I nodded. “I don’t know who the father is,” I whispered, using the Kleenex she handed me to wipe at my cheeks. “I don’t remember much of anything about Halloween. Clark found me behind a couch in the common room of a frat house with a guy. He wasn’t sure that the guy had done anything to me, but…”

“It seems pretty likely now that he did.”

“Well, I’ve never had sex with anyone,” I told her. “Not that I remember. I talked to…” I hesitated. “Another friend and there didn’t seem to be any evidence that he’d done anything — I wasn’t sore or anything like that. But it had to have been then because…”

“That’s not the story your dad told me.”

“I know.” I wiped my nose and refused to look at her. “Did you hear about the whole thing with General Navance in Latislan trying to claim an American baby?”

She nodded.

“That was me. Clark was with me and he claimed the baby hoping that Navance would leave me alone. It turned out he had to marry me and that we have to stay married for five years or he can come after the baby legally under Latislani law.” I took a deep breath to steady myself. “A few days after Halloween, Clark and I were caught in that snow storm. We barely made it to the cabin and neither one of us remember much about that night. Clark was already sick before that. The story we’re telling everyone is that we were together in a hypothermic induced haze and that’s how I got pregnant. There’s only two other people who know the whole truth, maybe three. The ambassador to Latislan is a maybe but two of his people do. Daddy thinks Clark is the father.” I wiped at my face again.

She squeezed my hand. “Well, you’re still early enough that you could get an abortion if you wanted to,” she said hesitantly.

I shook my head. “No.”

“Good. That’s rarely what I would choose for any of my patients though some do choose that route. Adoption?”

“Not after what happened with my half-brother.”

She nodded again. “That’s what I figured. So you’re going to have this baby and you and Clark are going to raise him or her.”

“That’s the plan. At least for the next five years…” I shrugged. “After that, I guess it’ll just be me.”

It looked like she wanted to say something, but she didn’t. Instead, she chose to continue the exam. “Why don’t you lie back and we’ll take a look?” She hesitated again. “Are you sure you don’t want Clark here?”

I shook my head before I rested it on the pillow and lowered the waistband of my pants while raising my shirt. The goop was kinda cold but not as bad as I would have thought.

“Normally, ultrasounds are done by a tech, but I wanted to get this one done and see how you and the baby are doing. And since I’m just kinda hanging out here right now…” She put the wand on my stomach. “Let’s see what we’ve got.” After a minute, she pointed to the screen. “There you go,” she said with a smile. “There’s your baby.”

My eyes filled with tears again as I saw the heart beating and what I thought were arms and legs. I could see the head and, if I looked closely enough, the eye sockets. She clicked the keyboard a few times and then frowned. “It appears the sound isn’t working on this machine so we won’t get to hear the heartbeat without hooking you up to monitors and I don’t think that’s necessary. We’ll listen when you come in for your next appointment. It looks good on here.”

“Can you tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Not yet. We’ll do another ultrasound in a couple months and we should be able to tell then if you want to know.”

After a few more minutes, she removed the wand from my stomach and handed me a washcloth to clean up with before helping me sit up.

“Here you go,” she said handing me a couple slips of paper. “Your first baby pictures.”

“Thanks.”

“Everything looks great. Really. I’ll write you a prescription for prenatal vitamins. You need to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.” She squeezed my hand gently. “You’re twelve weeks today — your first trimester is over. That puts your due date at July 26.”

“Wow. And I missed it completely.”

She sat next to me on the bed. “I’m sorry your mom’s not going to be here to see this. She would have been a great grandmother.”

I stared at the pictures. “Yeah. She would have been. And Lucy would have been a great aunt, too.” She wrapped an arm around me and I rested my head on her shoulder. “I told Dad I wanted to talk to Dave’s family. They said they wanted to get know me if I was ever ready for that because I’m his sister. I think I’m ready now.”

“Your mom would like that.”

“Thanks, Dr. McConnell. For everything.”

“After everything we’ve been through, Lois, you can call me Kristi, you know.”

“I know.”

“Did you know that Kevin and I are having a baby?”

I shook my head. “No. When?”

“In September.”

“Congratulations. That’s great.”

“We’ll have to have you and Clark over for dinner sometime, okay?”

I nodded.

“And I promise, that even if I’m not on call, I’ll be here when the baby’s born, okay? Even if it’s three in the morning, this is one delivery I’m not going to miss.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Ten minutes later, I was back in the Jeep and headed back to CostMart. I picked up a few things I realized we’d forgotten the day before — a coffee maker and all the things that went along with that, a couple of laundry hampers, deodorant and toothpaste, and ice cream. The freezer seemed to work okay on the big fridge so I thought I would trust it with some ice cream. If it didn’t melt on me, everything would be okay. I also bought new mini-blinds for the window, as well as a set of curtains and a curtain rod. Even though the window was small, it was entirely too bright first thing in the morning. I even thought to get a drill and drill bits so Clark could put it up. A step stool rounded out the items.

When I got back to the apartment building, I pulled up in front of it and unloaded everything into the two hampers before moving the Jeep to the parking lot across the street. One at a time, I moved the hampers next to the elevator. I got them into the elevator and, one by one again, down the hall until they were both outside the door. I messed with the lock, trying to figure out the trick to it, when the door opened from the inside.

“Hey.” Clark looked at the hamper. “What’re you doing?”

“I picked up a couple more things at CostMart,” I told him, more than willing to let him manhandle the hampers inside.

“Was that the errand you had to run?”

I hesitated slightly. I wasn’t sure I was ready to share the pictures of my baby with Clark, no matter what he’d done for me. Finally, I told him an abridged version of the truth. “My doctor called and said she could see me this morning. I went to the hospital to see her first.”

“Your doctor called you?” he asked, sounding skeptical.

“She was a friend of my mom’s. Dad called her this week.”

“Ah.” He set the second hamper down. “Ready to get all this put up?”

I nodded. “I think that’s everything then. I mean, I have no idea what else we might need.”

“Well, we’ll see, I guess,” Clark said as he started emptying the hampers.

“Yeah,” I said. “We’ll see.”

***

Part 31

Clark

~~~~~

It was our third night in our ‘new’ apartment.

The plane with the rest of our European tour group had been delayed and wasn’t going to get in until late. Very late.

I was glad. Under other circumstances, I would have met Lana at the airport, but I didn’t think that was a good idea. I’d left her a message saying I’d talk to her in the morning.

“I left Joe a voice mail,” Lois said suddenly from her side of the bed.

I rolled until I was facing her, but her back was to me.

“I told him I was going to see him in the morning. I want to tell him in person.”

“Have you talked to him at all?”

“No.”

“I left Lana a message telling her I’d see her in the morning, too,” I told her.

She didn’t say anything for a long minute. “Well, maybe we can walk over together.”

“Maybe.” I sighed. “We probably should.”

“Probably.” She took a deep breath. “Are you going to be able to let her believe that you’re the father of my baby?”

I was silent until I heard her breath hitch slightly. “I have to,” I whispered. “If I don’t…” My voice trailed off.

“Yeah. I’m going to tell Joe the official story.”

“That’s probably the best plan.”

“Good night,” she said.

“Good night.” I closed my eyes but knew sleep would be difficult that night.

“And Clark?”

“What?”

“I meant what I said the other day. I understand if you want to keep seeing her, really I do, but if you’re serious about protecting me and the baby at the same time, please be discreet.”

I didn’t say anything and before long her even breathing told me that she was asleep.

We didn’t talk much as we got ready the next morning. Lana hadn’t called, but she wouldn’t know where to call. I’d purposefully locked the door to our old dorm room from the inside so she wouldn’t be able to get in and see that Lois and I had moved out.

I knew I should probably hold her hand or something as we walked across campus without speaking, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I was glad that Lana’s window didn’t face the direction we were coming from. We still didn’t speak as Lois poked at the up button on the elevator. We got in and she punched the ‘three’ button for Joe’s floor and the ‘six’ for our old one.

The door slid open on the third floor and she paused before exiting. “I’ll see you in a bit.” She didn’t wait for me to respond before she left the elevator.

I slumped against the wall. This wasn’t going to be easy, but I had to remember the look on Navance’s face when he threatened Lois and the baby — what he’d said when it had just been me and him.

All too soon, the elevator doors opened. I pushed myself upright and headed down the hall, hesitating before I knocked on Lana’s door. I listened carefully and sighed when I only heard one heartbeat. Linda wasn’t back yet. That was good.

And it didn’t sound like Lana was asleep.

I took a deep breath and knocked.

The door was thrown open and Lana flung herself at me.

I wrapped my arms around her and buried my head in her shoulder, knowing we were having very different reactions to this meeting. I could tell that her heartbeat had sped up and I knew she was excited. We were saying hello.

On the other hand, though, I knew that we were really saying good-bye. At least for now.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered. “Where were you? I knocked on your door last night but you didn’t answer.”

I sighed and moved back, heading further into her room as she closed the door. “I wasn’t there.”

“Where were you?” I could hear fear in her voice. “What’s going on?”

“Lois and I had to move.” I knew I should just tell her — rip the Band-aid off — but I couldn’t. It was going to break her heart.

“The housing people made you?”

I sighed. “Something like that.”

“But if they found out you two were roommates, why did they make you move? Shouldn’t they just have made her?”

“They didn’t find out we were roommates.” I stared out the window. I couldn’t look at her.

“What’s going on, Clark? I don’t understand why, but I’m scared.”

My head hung and I took a deep breath before I spoke again. “We didn’t move because they found out we were roommates. We moved because we got married.”

~~~~~

Lois

I knocked on Joe’s door and waited for an answer. It was a long minute before it opened. It didn’t surprise me that Joe was still asleep.

“Hey!” He grabbed me for a hug and I buried my head in his shoulder, unable to stop the tears. “What’s wrong?”

I didn’t say anything, but instead clung to my best friend. His arms tightened around me and he just held me for a long time. Finally, I moved back, putting my left hand back in my pocket and wiping my face with my right. “Sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay. But what’s wrong? What happened to you and Clark? You guys just disappeared. Someone even speculated that you two were the ones in Latislan.”

I tried not to show my shock that someone had made the connection. “It’s a long story. Basically, we got stuck in another country and I didn’t have my passport.”

“Ah.” He sat on the bottom bunk. “That doesn’t explain why you’re crying though.”

I sat next to him, close but not touching. I took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant.”

He didn’t say anything for a long minute. “What?”

“I’m pregnant.” I wiped at my cheeks. “I don’t want you to think that I cheated on you or anything like that. I didn’t go out and sleep with someone else when I told you I wouldn’t sleep with you. That’s not what happened.”

“Was it at the frat party?” he asked quietly.

I hesitated. He was right but I couldn’t tell him that. “No,” I finally whispered, shaking my head. “Clark’s the father. We both thought we were dreaming but apparently in the cabin, when we were hypothermic… Our clothes were soaked and the power was out. I built a fire and got our clothes off because Clark was practically unconscious and it was so cold… We were under the blankets and somehow… in the middle of the night… I brushed it off as a dream. Clark said he’d had a dream about Lana…”

I couldn’t look at him. “I’m so sorry, Joe.”

He stood and started pacing the room. “Wow.”

“Tell me about it.”

He paced for what seemed like an eternity, thinking. Finally, he stopped and looked at me. “Marry me.”

“What?” I was confused. “Why?”

“You’re my best friend. I love you, maybe not quite like that, but I do and I could. Easily.”

“It’s not your baby. Not your responsibility,” I told him.

“What if I want it to be? We said we were going to try again. Whenever I’ve imagined myself having a family, you were always there. I never admitted it to myself, but you were.”

“It’s so sweet of you to offer…” I wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Say yes. We’ll get married and we’ll raise the baby.”

I smiled a small, sad smile at him and tried to joke. “You just want to get in my bed.”

He grinned at me. “The thought crossed my mind, but you know me better than that.”

“I know.”

“And it’s not like Clark’s going to marry you. Is he even acknowledging that this is his baby?”

“That’s the other thing I have to tell you.”

“What?”

I took a deep breath. “We got married in Europe. He wanted to do right by me and the baby.”

He looked sucker punched. “What? You married him?”

I nodded. “He’s the father of my baby,” I whispered. I finally pulled my left hand out of my pocket to show him the wedding band.

“Oh, Lois.” He moved to sit by me and wrapped an arm around me. “This isn’t going to be easy for you, is it?”

He surprised me. I’d expected him to be mad or hurt, not concerned about me. “No, it’s not.”

“Are you sure you really want to be married to him, though?” he asked, rubbing my shoulder. “He’s in love with Lana.”

“I know. It’s not going to be easy, but he promised he’s going to help take care of us and all that.”

“Will he be faithful to you though?”

I hesitated. I couldn’t tell Joe that Clark didn’t have to be. “I think so.” I rested my head on his shoulder. “Will you still be my friend, though? I think I’m going to need you.”

He kissed the side of my head. “I’ll always be your friend, Lo.”

“Thanks, Joe.”

“And if you change your mind, if you and Clark decide not to try to make it work for whatever reason, let me know. I’ll be here for you.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, wondering why Joe couldn’t be the father of my baby. At least I would know that he wasn’t running off with another girl. He’d never cheated on any of his girlfriends or me. Ever. And if I was married to him, I probably wouldn’t be just about the only woman ever to give birth while essentially still a virgin.

~~~~~

Clark

She stared at me for the longest time. I wasn’t able to look at her but I knew that was what she was doing.

Her voice was strangled when she spoke. “What?”

“Lois and I got stuck in another country and she didn’t have a passport and we had to get married to get her home,” I whispered, hands in my pockets as I turned around and leaned against the window.

“So why are you still married to her?”

“It’s not real, but we have to stay married for a while,” I started, but I couldn’t finish because her arms were around me and her lips were on mine.

And then I kissed her again, as though my life depended on it, because in some ways it did. I wasn’t quite sure how we’d gotten to this point, but we had. I’d told her that I was married to Lois and the next thing I knew she was kissing me.

And I was kissing her back.

My tears mingled with hers and I could taste the salt on her lips. “I love you, Lana. More than anything.” I meant the words. I did. Would she wait for me? It would be five years before we could safely divorce — before that psycho couldn’t try to claim the baby as his own. And by then there would be the baby — a little child involved who would truly believe I was his or her daddy. How could I do that to an innocent child? But how could I hurt Lana like this?

If there had been any other way, I would have found it. We’d tried. The only way to get Lois out of that God forsaken country was to get married.

I pulled her to me and held on as tight as I could. I crushed my lips against hers, trying to sear everything about her in my arms into my brain.

“Can’t we be together anyway — in secret? No one would have to know — not even Lois,” she whispered.

“I can’t, Baby. I love you, but I can’t. I promised. I vowed that I would be faithful to her as long as we were married and I can’t do that to her or to myself. Or to you. I can’t make you the other woman and I can’t break a promise like that.”

“What about me? What about the promises we made?” Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

“I know, Baby,” I said, wiping her cheeks with my thumbs. “I’m so sorry. We had no idea we’d have to stay married. We were going to get it annulled as soon as we got back.”

“In my heart, you’re my husband. You have been…” Her voice broke.

My heart shattered to pieces as she said it. We’d told each other that for years — that it was just a formality until we’d be together for the rest of our lives. “And in my heart, you’ve always been my wife,” I whispered, barely managing to get the words past the lump in my throat.

“You promised you’d never make love to another woman.”

I kissed her again, trying to leave her no doubt where my heart truly belonged. It was minutes before I moved away far enough to whisper, “I’m not going to make love to her, Baby. It’s not like that. It’s temporary.”

“I’ll wait for you. If you want me to.”

I could hear the uncertainty in her voice. Of course I wanted her to wait. How could I not want her to? But was that fair to her?

“I’ll always love you, Baby, but I can’t ask you to wait that long for me.”

She kissed me this time. Desperate. Hungry.

“Make love to me, Clark. Please. Before you go. Before we never see each other again.”

“We’ll see each other, but I can’t. You know I can’t do that. I can’t break my wedding vows, no matter what circumstances they were under.”

“Aren’t you already? Just by being here with me?”

She had a point. One I hated to hear. “I told her I was coming to say goodbye to you. She knows I’m here. She’s talking to Joe right now.”

“Does she know you’re kissing me like this? Like your life depends on it?” She kissed me again, her hands holding my face.

When she finally pulled back, she spoke again. “Did you tell her you were going to kiss me like that?”

Suddenly, I longed for the days when I counted the different types of lip gloss she used. When I wasn’t kissing every inch of her face, tasting her tears, trying to memorize it to get me through the next five years. Lois was nice enough, but she wasn’t Lana. She wasn’t the love of my life. The woman I’d known I was going to marry since I was six. The woman who wouldn’t be sharing my bed for the next few years. The woman who wouldn’t be having a child everyone thought was mine.

I don’t know when I started kissing her again, but I had. My hands were under her shirt, on the small of her back. Nothing I hadn’t felt before, but I couldn’t stop myself from running them up and down her back, realizing that she wasn’t wearing a bra under her T-shirt.

I wanted her.

I wanted to be with her, just once, before my life of imposed celibacy — as opposed to the life of celibacy by choice Lana and I had decided on until after our wedding.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that. Even if I hadn’t wanted to marry Lois, I had. I had promised her my fidelity. I couldn’t break a vow I made in a church, before God.

I’d grown up in church — nearly everyone in Smallville did — but I hadn’t ever considered myself overly religious. And it wasn’t that my wedding vows would have been any less valid in front of a justice of the peace in the middle of a dirt road, but something about saying them in a chapel in front of a chaplain before God took it to another level.

And I just couldn’t break that vow.

With a groan, I pushed her away.

“I can’t do this, Baby. You have no idea how much I want to, but I can’t.” I crushed her to me, one more time, kissing her again. After long minutes, I pushed her away. I leaned my forehead against hers and closed my eyes. I couldn’t bear to see the tear tracks and the anguish written on her face. I finally released her and turned to walk towards the door. I paused with my hand on the knob. “I love you, Lana. I always will. And I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to you.” I couldn’t look back at her. My resolve would break and I couldn’t do that. “I love you, Baby,” I whispered again.

And I left.

***

Part 32

Lois

~~~~~

I’d said good-bye to Joe after one last long hug. I’d wanted to stay with him forever, but I knew that wasn’t a good idea.

And so, I’d left and headed back to the apartment, knowing that my husband — such as he was — was a few floors up from where I’d been, probably making love to his girlfriend. I figured it would probably be a couple hours before I saw him again. At least. Probably longer.

I tossed my purse on the loveseat — that was about all it was good for — and kicked my shoes off before hanging my coat up on one of the hooks we’d hung on the wall of the closet over the mini-fridge. I crawled onto the bed and curled up under one of the blankets.

I was tired. I hadn’t slept well the night before knowing what was coming. I reached into the desk drawer next to the bed and pulled out the picture frame. Once it had held a picture of me and Joe, but now it held two of the ultrasound pictures. I still hadn’t shown them to Clark. Even though he was claiming to be the father, I wasn’t ready to share this with him. Was that fair? I didn’t really care and I wasn’t sure he would either.

I stared at the picture in the frame for a long time and didn’t even realize when I dozed off.

I wasn’t sure what woke me up but I did notice that there wasn’t any light coming in from around the curtains in the kitchen. I twisted the knob on the small lamp on the desk next to me and sat up picking the frame up and moving to put it back in the drawer.

“When did you get those?” Clark’s voice stopped me.

“The other day,” I said, setting it on the desk.

“Can I see?”

I shrugged and handed it to him as he sat down on the loveseat.

“Wow,” he said.

I didn’t want to ask him where he’d been all day. I already knew. With Lana. Probably wearing a lot less clothes than either one of us were now. And as long as he didn’t get her pregnant and put my baby in danger…

I didn’t care.

I didn’t.

He handed the frame back. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t think you’d care. I was going to show you later.”

“Why wouldn’t I care?”

“It’s not really your baby,” I said, not looking at him. “I mean, eventually, I thought you’d want to see them and all that, but I didn’t think it would be a big a deal to you.”

He didn’t say anything. And I still wasn’t going to ask him where he’d been.

“How’d it go with Joe?” he asked, changing the subject.

I shrugged. “He offered to marry me.”

“Really?”

I nodded. “I wouldn’t have expected him to, but he did. I think he still would. We could get an annulment and I could marry him instead, then he’d be the legal father and…”

Clark shook his head. “It’d never work. Navance would be all over it.”

“Probably. Anyway, he said he’d still be my friend if I ever needed him and that there’s no hard feelings or anything once I told him how I got pregnant. I mean, the whole cabin thing so it’s not like I was sleeping with someone else when I wouldn’t with him.” He’d also said he’d beat the crap out of Clark if he hurt me, but I didn’t feel the need to tell Clark that.

“I ran into him.”

Or maybe Joe had told him. “Really?”

He nodded. “He really cares about you. Told me he’d beat me up if I hurt you.”

“He’d do it, too.”

“I’m sure he would.” He sighed. “I’m going to take a shower.”

I nodded and grabbed the TIVO remote off the table, clicking the TV on and thumbing through my more recently recorded shows. I’d missed a couple weeks of new shows while we were in Europe and hadn’t caught up yet. I’d missed one episode of NCIS before we left and one since the new shows restarted. I hit play on the one from December and watched as a Naval officer was killed by her computer-driven vehicle. By the time I reached the second commercial break, Clark was out of the shower. I hit the ‘live TV’ button and tossed him the remote. “Watch whatever you want.”

He tossed it back. “Go ahead. I heard it through the door and it sounded interesting. I watched NCIS with you a time or two last semester, remember?”

I filled him in on what had happened as I restarted the episode. He plumped his pillow behind him and his legs stretched out in front of him as he leaned against the wall. Part of me was dying to know how his conversation with Lana went, but I wasn’t about to ask. And I really didn’t think he was going to volunteer that he’d technically cheated on me earlier that day.

Neither one of us spoke until the next commercial break.

He didn’t look at me when he finally broke the silence. “Don’t you want to know how it went with Lana?”

I shrugged. “If you want to tell me, you will,” I said, silently hoping he wouldn’t. We watched the rest of the episode in silence. I finally spoke again. “I’m going to take a shower and go back to bed. I didn’t realize how tired I was.”

He nodded and took the remote, flipping back to live TV as I gathered some clothes and headed towards the bathroom.

~~~~~

Clark

I rested my head against the wall. I was surprised she hadn’t wanted to know how it went with Lana. I knew I was curious about how it went with Joe until I ran into him. Apparently, she’d done a good job convincing him I was the father.

I reached over and picked up the ultrasound pictures. I knew she’d gone to see her doctor — apparently an old family friend — a couple days earlier, but she’d never mentioned an ultrasound.

I wasn’t quite sure why it hurt that, not only had she not asked me to come, but she hadn’t even told me about it afterwards.

She was right in the sense that I wasn’t really the father of her baby, but I was the one who had put my life on hold for the next five years to help protect the two of them. Shouldn’t I have been there for that if everyone was supposed to believe I was the father of her baby? Or could she have realized that her doctor was bound by confidentiality laws and couldn’t tell anyone and decided to tell her the truth?

I stared at the two pictures in the frame. Could I do this? Could I really convince Lana and everyone else that I had been with Lois at the cabin?

I groaned inwardly.

I hadn’t told her about the baby.

I’d told her that Lois and I hadn’t moved because the housing people found out we were roommates; we’d moved because we’d gotten married but that was it before we’d kissed.

Repeatedly.

I shook my head, trying to clear thoughts of Lana out of my mind.

My wife was in the bathroom. I shouldn’t be thinking about another woman no matter how we’d ended up in this situation.

I’d told Lana that I’d promised Lois my fidelity and I had. And that meant I probably needed to keep my thoughts under control too. At least, I was sure that was what my parents would say if I ever worked up the nerve to tell them.

I closed my eyes, but all I could see was Lana’s tear stained cheeks as I broke her heart.

I looked back at the frame I held in my hand.

The baby.

I had to remember why I was doing this. To protect Lois and the baby.

The water in the shower shut off and I put the picture back on the desk — face down, just like she’d left it.

I found an old movie on TMC and left it on.

The door to the bathroom opened but Lois didn’t come out. I could hear her brushing her hair and teeth, but I’d noticed over the last few days that Lois liked to let the steam out as soon as she was dressed. If we were a ‘real’ married couple, I doubted she’d close the door at all.

I sighed and pulled my legs to my chest and slid the covers down before sliding underneath them. I moved far enough down that I could rest my head on the pillow, fingers laced behind my head as I watched the movie. It cut to commercial and, restless, I turned the TV off.

I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes, willing myself to banish Lana from my mind.

~~~~~

Lois

It had been a very long week.

We’d talked to Lana and Joe on Monday. I hadn’t seen Clark again until fairly late Monday night. He was gone virtually all of Tuesday and Wednesday, coming home late enough to find me throwing up again, but that was about it. I had no idea where he’d been — not officially anyway. I was sure he and Lana were making up for lost time.

Classes started on Thursday but I hadn’t even made it out of bed until nearly noon. Clark didn’t make it home until I was asleep. Friday was the same.

Saturday morning I made a comment about how glad I was to have so spent so much time with him that week. The comment was made with as much sarcasm as I could muster. A few minutes later, he grabbed his backpack and headed out, saying he’d be back in a bit. Finally feeling a little better, I decided to get some fresh air and head to the library to get one of the books I was going to need for my literature class.

I really did feel badly that Clark had essentially given up his life to save me and my baby. I should apologize to him the next time I saw him. I didn’t really mean to be snarky, but I missed my friend Clark. I knew it was hard on him but the only way we were going to get through the next five years was to be friends right?

I sighed as I walked across campus, hoping the book I needed was in.

Once there, I could only stare. Okay. I knew this was the farthest thing from a conventional marriage there had ever been, but this wasn’t exactly the most private place in the world. It was the library, for crying out loud. And there, in plain sight for anyone who walked by — including me — to see was my husband kissing his ex-girlfriend.

And by kissing, I meant tonsil hockey. Or it would be except I knew Lana had her tonsils out as a kid. Seriously. It was disgusting on many levels, not the least of which was the broken promise.

I knew that Lana would still be his girlfriend if it weren’t for the mess we’d found ourselves in and — to be perfectly honest — I’d walked in on a more intense make-out session a time or two when we were sharing a dorm room and they thought I’d be home later than I was. At least they weren’t on his bed.

His bed?

Our bed.

He didn’t have his own bed anymore and I didn’t have my own either. Unless you counted the one at my dad’s house and it didn’t. Count that was. I didn’t think so anyway. Technically, I supposed it could still be considered mine, but it was a white four poster with sheer canopies that spoke of my fascination with princesses when I was younger.

Regardless, at least they weren’t on — or worse, in — our bed.

Had they been?

Had he taken her back to our apartment? He couldn’t have. Not yet anyway. School had only been back in for a couple of days and I hadn’t gone to class either one. But next week… they had lunch at the same time every day, and I didn’t. Maybe I’d skip class and pop in. No… I wouldn’t. Sure he’d said he wasn’t going to continue having a relationship with Lana, but it wasn’t really any of my business, was it? The only reason we were married was to protect the baby and if he wanted to be with Lana, there wasn’t anything I could — or should — do about it. It was only these hormones that were making me crazy and possessive of something — or someone, rather — that wasn’t really mine in the first place.

I knew they’d promised themselves they wouldn’t have sex until after they got married, but me and someone I didn’t know had gotten both of us into a mess and now Clark was married — just not to Lana.

When he’d gone to say good-bye to her last week, I figured they’d be together — just once — before he was sentenced to a life of celibacy with what had to be the stupidest woman alive.

I mean, I must have taken a drink from someone I didn’t know. I had no recollection whatsoever of having my virginity taken from me — something I’d routinely denied Joe because I was never serious enough about him to do that with him. The make out sessions weren’t bad — they were pretty good even — and even when we’d gone a little bit further than that it wasn’t bad, but I never had any desire to let things get carried away like I knew Clark and Lana had.

And now, I was pregnant. Married to a man who I thought could have been a good friend, but who had barely spoken to me in the last week; who huddled up on his side of our now-shared bed and refused to look at me when he did say something.

I couldn’t blame him for trying to stay as far away from me as possible in the middle of the night — I did the same thing. Living somewhere else would have been nice, but it was the only apartment available that our scholarships would cover. It was furnished. It was also only one room and the bed doubled as the couch so it wasn’t like I could relegate him to the place legend said husbands went when their wives wanted to kick them out of the bedroom. Well, there was the tiny loveseat, but I’d sat on more comfortable cement benches.

Maybe I would sleep on the floor after all. There were rugs on the floor so I would be on the carpet that looked like it had been installed sometime before the Industrial Revolution.

I finally tore my eyes from the window into the room where my husband was kissing another woman like he was a dying man in a desert and she was a tall glass of water.

Stupid? Maybe. A fool? Never.

Clark Kent was just like every other man. When he couldn’t get it at home, he’d go somewhere else.

I turned on my heel and stalked off. I’d stay married to him, but only because I had to. The minute we could get a divorce, we would. And then he could go running back to the blonde bimbo.

See if I cared.

***

Part 33

Clark

~~~~~

Just another minute, I’d told myself when we’d hurried in to the side room. Just one more minute. One more long, sweet kiss with the woman I loved before I had to walk away from her.

I had no idea how many minutes ago that had been.

And then the Musak switched to an annoying country tune. People always thought that because I’d grown up on a farm, I must love country music. I liked it fine, but I liked lots of other music too.

But why was I thinking about music when I finally had Lana in my arms again?

Because it was a song I’d heard many times and the words of the chorus were finally sinking into my kiss-addled brain.

‘On the other hand,’

No. Don’t listen.

‘There’s a golden band.’

Block it out. Lana. Concentrate on her.

‘To remind me of someone’

She wouldn’t care, would she? It’s not like I was going to be kissing her or making love to her if I wasn’t here. She’d said be discreet after all.

‘Who would not understand.’

Damn Randy Travis! Or was it George Jones? Who cared which one it was?

‘On one hand I could stay’

Lana. I loved Lana. I had always loved her. I didn’t remember a time when she wasn’t in my life. I’d spent more time apart from her the last two weeks than I had the first nearly nineteen years of my life. Combined.

‘And be your lovin’ man’

All I’d ever wanted was to be her lovin’ man. There was a reason I’d planned on asking her to marry me in Paris. And we’d always said we didn’t plan on a long engagement.

‘But the reason I must go’

Go? No. I wanted to stay. This was where I belonged. With Lana. My blonde haired, blue eyed beauty.

‘Is on the other hand.’

What was on the other hand? Nothing. Lana. I belong with Lana.

Golden band.

That’s what was on the other hand. An image of my dad dancing with my mom, her hand in his — in his left hand, with his wedding band on it — popped into my head.

And then there was another image.

A brunette, her hair falling forward so I couldn’t see the tears that ran down her face, sliding a gold band on to my finger.

I moved my hands to Lana’s face and slowed the feverish pitch of our kiss. We were in the library. There was a big window looking into the study room where I’d pulled her.

Where I’d pulled her.

Not the other way around.

Something I knew I really shouldn’t have done.

Even if it was the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday when there was a big game being played on the other side of campus, anyone could walk by. Even Lois. My wife.

A few more soft, gentle caresses of her lips with mine and then I held her face still as I moved back.

“I can’t,” I whispered hoarsely. “I can’t do this.” I rested my forehead on hers. “I’m sorry. I never should have pulled you in here. I can’t do this and I can’t ask you to.”

“You’re not asking me to do anything, Clark,” she whispered back. “I’m here with you because I want to be. I love you.”

“And I love you, Lana, but I can’t. I’m married and no matter what else, I have a wife. I have a baby on the way and I…” My voice broke. I wanted to tell her the truth — that the baby wasn’t mine — but I couldn’t risk it. It was bad enough that I’d told her the marriage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “I can’t do this, Baby.”

I felt her hands on my chest — comfortable, comforting hands that abruptly shoved me away.

“You have a what?” There was fury in her voice.

I looked at her and could see warring emotions in her eyes. Pain, confusion, hurt, anger. “What?”

“You have a baby on the way? Lois is pregnant?”

I sighed. How could I have forgotten that I hadn’t told her that part? I lowered my head and closed my eyes again. I ran one hand through my hair and shoved the other one in the pocket of my jeans. The hand with the golden band on it. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t look at it and its accusing shine while I talked to Lana — who was now, technically, the ‘other woman’.

And then I nodded.

I’m the one who’s supposed to have your babies.” I could barely hear her.

She was crying. I knew without looking that she was. I knew her that well. Unlike my wife, who I really barely knew at all.

My wife.

The golden band.

“I can’t believe she’s pregnant,” she said louder, stronger.

“You’re the only one I want to have my babies, Lana. You know that.”

Her tone of voice changed to one of pure anger, instead of anger tinged with hurt and everything else. “We’ve waited our whole lives to be together — literally — and last week, I begged you to make love to me — just once — before you went back to her; to a marriage you promised me was a farce — and you wouldn’t because you’re married. I get that. I really do. I don’t like it, but I get it. And now…” Her voice became strangled. “Now I find out, you’ve already been with her. You’ve kissed her and touched her and made love to her and now she’s having your baby. And it had to have been before you got married, because you haven’t been married long enough to know if you’d knocked her up on your wedding night in some European hotel. So…” It sounded like something was dawning on her. “You’ve told me for years that in your heart, I was your wife. Right?” she demanded.

I nodded, not sure what to say to her, but knowing I deserved whatever she dished out.

“So you had no problem cheating on me — who you promised forever to first — but you won’t cheat on her because… why? Because you actually have a wedding ring? We said our own vows to each other when we were sixteen. Remember?”

I remembered. I remembered like it was yesterday. We weren’t foolish enough to believe that there was no chance at all that we’d break up someday and what we’d said to each other had reflected that. There was no ‘till death do we part’, but there had been a promise to love, cherish, honor and be faithful to. And now Lana believed I’d broken the promises I’d made her in the hayloft on my parents’ farm.

I could still see her, lying there on one of the quilts Great Grandma Davis had made knowing she’d never see her grandson marry my mom. It was our first real make-out session and we realized how easy it would be to get carried away and neither one of us was ready for that. Then and there, we’d promised each other that we’d wait until our wedding night to consummate our relationship but we’d also promised those other things.

I nodded again, unable to find my voice, to find the words to tell her how it really was.

“So, your word means nothing. You’ve already proven that by sleeping with her in the first place so why her and not me? Why can you cheat on me with her, but you can’t cheat on her with me?”

“What? That’s convoluted, Baby. And it wasn’t like that.”

Her eyes flashed at me. “Don’t you dare call me that, Clark Jerome Davis Kent. I am not your baby. Not anymore.”

I winced. She didn’t just middle name me; she whole named me. Even Mom didn’t ‘Davis’ me very often. How had I screwed this up so badly?

Could I just blurt out the truth? No one knew that Lois wasn’t really carrying my child. Except maybe her doctor. Even Sam and Joe believed that I was the father of Lois’ baby.

“It’s not my baby.” I guessed I could blurt it out.

“What?” The look Lana gave me just then rivaled the worst one Lois had ever given, and she gave some doozies. “You just said you’re having a baby. Lois, your wife, is pregnant, and it’s not your baby?”

Okay, she had a hard time believing it. I guess I could understand that.

“I can’t tell you anymore that that and if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it. I have to. But I swear to you, I never cheated on you. I’ve never made love to another woman.”

I moved to where she was sitting and squatted down in front of her. “I promise you,” I said. “That’s the God’s honest truth. I’ve never cheated on you. Ever. And I can’t cheat on her either. No matter what it is I really want.” I tipped her head up with one finger hooked under her chin. “What I really want is you, but I can’t do this.”

The glint caught my eye. That damn band.

“I can’t,” I told her again. “I love you, but I can’t do this. I can’t see you outside of class anymore.” My voice broke.

“We can’t be friends?”

I shook my head.

“Why not?”

“Because, if we were ever alone in a room without a window, I don’t think I could stop myself from making love to you and I can’t do that,” I told her as honestly and simply as possible.

“And you never made love to her? Ever?”

I shook my head. “No. I’ve never made love to her.”

“Not even when the two of you were trapped naked in that cabin?”

The dream I remembered from that night came flooding back — dreaming of being in front of the fire with someone who was Lana but was Lois but wasn’t either one. Apparently it took me too long to shake my head.

“Go.” It was barely a whisper.

“What?” I needed to leave. I knew that. She knew that. But that didn’t mean I wanted her to tell me to leave.

“You’re right. In our hearts, we made vows to each other, but it’s not the same a piece of paper and rings and up in front of a church. You can’t break them and you won’t allow me to help you break them — even though I would in a heartbeat right now.”

It wasn’t the same and we both knew it. I looked her square in the eyes. “I love you, Lana. I always have. And you should know that we’re telling anyone who needs to know that it was that night in the cabin, but I swear to you…”

She sighed then nodded. “I know. I love you, too.”

I leaned towards her to kiss her one last time — this time knowing beyond knowing that it was the last time I would be able to until I was free again. If I ever was.

She moved away from me. “No. You have to go. Now.” Her words were soft, and I almost didn’t catch them even with my enhanced hearing.

Enhanced hearing. Oh boy. I sure hoped I wasn’t about to start floating in my sleep.

“I love you,” I whispered again.

“I know. But you have to go back to your wife before we do something all of us will regret.”

I nodded and stood, turning to walk out the door. Like last week, I couldn’t turn back or I knew I’d never leave.

“I love you, Lana,” I whispered and walked out the door, the sound of her sobs trailing behind.

~~~~~

Lois

I sat in one of the chairs at the tiny kitchen table and glared around the apartment. Apartment? Ha. Once again, I realized this thing didn’t deserve the name. It wasn’t much bigger than our dorm room — maybe time and a half, but no more and probably a lot less. The kitchenette certainly didn’t deserve the name either. A full refrigerator. A microwave and two burners.

Not that I cooked, but that wasn’t the point.

Could Clark cook?

Yeah, he could. I remembered the meals he’d made when we were trapped at the cabin. And he’d made a barbecue brisket or something the weekend before.

We got along pretty well in our dorm room, why couldn’t we get along here?

Because the dynamics had changed. Considerably. We weren’t roommates anymore. We were married. And not by choice.

He’d much rather be with Lana. This afternoon’s kiss had proven that.

And to think, I was actually planning on apologizing to him.

But even as I thought it I knew it wasn’t fair. I’d told him he could still see her, that I’d even understand if he wanted to, so it wasn’t fair of me to be mad at him.

But I was anyway.

I sighed. Dinner was something married couples did together right? But I was starving. I wasn’t going to wait much longer for him. It was Saturday, for crying out loud. He’d said he’d be back in a bit when he left this morning, but didn’t define what bit was. It was nearly three hours later when I’d seen them in the library. And it was four hours after that now. Apparently, ‘a bit’ meant more than seven hours to him.

He was probably still with her, I realized again. Once he told her we had to stay married for five years, they’d probably decided that waiting to make love wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And now that they knew what it was all about, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

I shuddered. At least they hadn’t known while we were all suitemates. Who knew what I would have walked in on then?

So why was there a huge hole where my heart should be? We’d gotten married out of desperation, to save me and my baby from a madman, and we’d fully intended to be well on our way to an annulment or a divorce or something by now. Once we realized that wasn’t going to happen, I’d asked him to just please be discreet with Lana.

And except for this afternoon, he apparently was. I knew if Linda suspected anything, I would have heard about it in a nanosecond.

So my husband was off with the love of his life, making passionate love to her — when I’d essentially told him it was okay as long as I didn’t hear about it — and I was in a crummy apartment trying to decide which of the dinners Dad had his service still make for me — for us — I wanted to reheat. Was it a Beef Stroganoff night? Or Spaghetti?

Or maybe I’d just go puke my guts out.

Whoever called it morning sickness was a twisted individual. And whoever said the first three months were the worst and then it would get better was sadly mistaken. My hormones had kicked into overdrive in the last three weeks — even before I realized why — and now, there was little point in eating after about three in the afternoon.

Maybe I could stand a little bit of that soup I’d had for lunch from the cafeteria. I opened the mini-fridge and realized that just the sight of the leftover lasagna was too much and I bolted towards the bathroom.

Fortunately, there was nothing but a little bit of bile to actually come up, but dry heaves were certainly no fun.

And then, when I was so ceremoniously draped over the toilet, he finally decided ‘a bit’ was up, and Clark walked in the door.

When I was done retching, I wiped the corners of my mouth with a piece of toilet paper and asked him, “Where have you been?”

***

Part 34

Clark

~~~~~

What? She wanted to know where I’d been?

What business of it was hers?

She certainly didn’t want to hang out here all day with me; she’d made that perfectly clear. So I’d left. And now that it was mid-evening, I was back. Period. End of discussion.

“I was out,” I finally told her.

“Gee, Captain Obvious, I couldn’t have figured that out by myself.”

It finally hit me that she was still sitting on the floor in what passed for a bathroom in this place and I realized that she must be having evening sickness again — I’d noticed it the two nights I’d been home before she was asleep earlier this week too.

“Is there anything I can do?” I finally said.

“Tell me where you’ve been all day.”

I shrugged and set my backpack on the floor on my side of the bed. “I was out. Studying and stuff.”

Her head leaned back against the wall and I heard her mutter, ‘and stuff’ under her breath. What was that about?

“Fine. I spent most of the day on an iceberg in the Atlantic. Is that what you want to know?” Yeah. Like she’d believe it. It was the truth, of course, but she wouldn’t buy it.

“Fine. Don’t tell me. You don’t have to answer to me for your whereabouts anyway.”

I flopped on the bed and didn’t say anything. After I’d left Lana, I flew to the North Atlantic and spent some time melting icebergs. It took a long time to melt a whole iceberg and I didn’t want another ‘Titanic’ on my conscience. It was my civic duty to humanity.

And the tears and the huge empty spot inside me had nothing to do with it whatsoever.

What I really needed was to talk to my parents. About all of it. Everything. About how Lois and I got married and how long we’d have to stay together and how the baby wasn’t really mine, but I couldn’t do that. They were going to be disappointed enough when they found out what had happened, but even if they understood and supported the decisions that had already been made, they’d never support or approve of how close I’d come to violating my wedding vows, no matter why they’d been made.

Of course, I hadn’t told them I was married yet either. I hadn’t really talked to them since I left for Europe. Since the very short conversation with Dad in London, I’d left a few messages, knowing they were at Aunt Opal’s for about ten days and they should have gotten back… I glanced at the clock. About an hour ago. I’d told them I was back and fine but that I’d had to move for reasons I didn’t explain and left the new number.

Given that Sunday was usually the day for phone calls, I’d probably hear from them tomorrow.

I groaned.

Except that Lana usually talked to her mom on Saturday afternoons. And as soon as they hung up, her mom would call mine and read her the riot act over what I’d done to her daughter.

Maybe I should just try them again.

The sharp ringing of the phone jolted me.

“I don’t suppose you’d mind getting that?” she called from the bathroom. “If it’s for me, tell them I’m trying to decide if I’m going to puke or not.”

I winced. I’d seen lots of different Lois faces since I met her, but this was the first time I’d really seen cranky, sick, pregnant, hormonal, throwing up Lois. I didn’t think I liked her.

I doubted she did either.

I rolled towards her side of the bed, where the phone was, and picked it up.

“Hello?” Maybe I’d get really lucky and it was a crank call or wrong number.

“Clark Jerome Kent, what the hell were you thinking?”

Nope. That was Dad, all right. And he never middle named me. Only Mom did that. And sometimes Lana. The only good thing was that he hadn’t full named me. This was not good. Not that I’d expected it to be.

“Now, Jonathan.” Good. Mom’s voice sounded much more reasonable. “I’m sure Clark has a perfectly good explanation for why he got another girl pregnant and married her while dating Lana.”

Or maybe not.

I covered my face with my hand — the one with that band on it — and groaned again. “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Good to hear from you, too.”

“Clark, why on Earth did we have to hear this from Laura Lang and could you please tell us what happened?”

Oh, I didn’t think Mom had been this mad at me since I was twelve and set the living room carpet on fire. I sighed. Here went nothing.

“Lois and I…”

Dad interrupted me. “Your purely platonic roommate Lois?”

“Yeah. Will you let me talk?”

“Jonathan, I’m sure there’s a good reason why he’s taken leave of his senses. Now let him explain,” Mom said.

I sighed again. “Lois and I ended up in another country while we were in Europe. How we got there is a very long story I don’t want to get into right now but she didn’t have her passport with her.” I ran a hand through my hair. “Lois was sick and ended up in the hospital and that’s when she found out she was pregnant.”

“So when are we going to be grandparents?”

Subtle, Mom. Wanting to know the due date so she could do some mental math and see if I’d been cheating on Lana before or after we came home for Christmas.

“July something.”

“I see.” Yep, definitely mental math. I could practically hear her gesticulating in Dad’s direction.

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with that night at the cabin would it?” Dad asked. Yep, she’d been gesticulating, all right.

“Probably.” Oh, man. Why had I said that? Probably meant there was more than one possibility. I could see them forgiving one night of indiscretion when we were both practically out of our minds with hypothermia. “Yeah. That night at the cabin.” Hopefully, they wouldn’t notice my slip.

“Probably?” Leave it to Mom to notice.

“It was the night at the cabin, okay? Trust me on that.”

“I don’t think your word means much right now, Son,” Dad said quietly. I’d take loud, yelling Dad over quiet Dad any day.

“I know, Dad.”

I wished I could tell them the truth. The whole truth. That Lois wasn’t pregnant with my baby. That we’d gotten married to keep that Latislani creep away from her and get her home. That’d we’d planned on having it annulled by now. That if we didn’t stay married for five years, he could still come after the baby under Latislani law and if he suspected this was a marriage of convenience, he could do the same. And that, while U.S. law might prevent him from actually taking the baby, it would probably be a long, drawn out, public court battle and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. But Lois hadn’t told her dad or Joe the whole truth and I didn’t see how I could tell my parents without talking to her about it first. I’d told Lana way too much.

“So do we get to meet our new daughter-in-law?” Mom asked.

I winced at her tone. “I don’t know when we’ll make it to Smallville, Mom. I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it home for Spring Break after all.”

“You’re supposed to be giving Lana a ride back, Clark. How is she supposed to come home if you’re not?” Mom had a point.

I hadn’t really thought about that. “I’ll find a way to get her there — if I have to buy her a plane ticket myself. It’s not her fault. None of this is her fault,” I said quietly.

“You broke her heart.” That was Dad.

“I know. And I can’t tell you how much I regret hurting her.”

I heard a noise in the bathroom. A gasp and then Lois was calling my name. And it didn’t sound good.

“Mom, Dad. I gotta go. I’ll call you later.”

Lois called again, more urgently this time.

“We’re not done with this, Clark,” Dad said firmly.

“I know, but I gotta go. I’ll call you tomorrow.” I didn’t wait to hear anything else, but hung up and hurried to the bathroom.

Lois looked up at me with tear filled eyes. “It hurts.” She had grabbed her abdomen and was doubled over, grimacing as she did.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s good.” The tears finally overflowed and made tracks down her face.

“Do you want me to call your doctor?”

She shook her head. “I think I need to go to the hospital. Something’s not right. I know it.”

“Okay,” I said grimly. I bent down and picked her up easily, moving her to the bed. “What do you need?” She pointed to her purse and her keys. Yeah, she’d probably be more comfortable in her Jeep than my old truck. “Do you mind if I drive your car?” She shook her head. I looked around for my wallet — fortunately, there weren’t many places to look and it was in my pocket in an instant. For a minute, I wished I could just scoop her up and fly her to the hospital. We’d certainly be there a lot faster. I shook myself mentally. I handed her the purse and keys and scooped her back up.

“I can walk,” she protested.

“I don’t think so,” I told her. I walked to the door and she was aware enough to open it and then close it behind us, locking it as she did. I carried her down the hall to the elevator where she pushed the button and we waited.

~~~~~

Lois

I didn’t think I’d ever realized how strong Clark was. He picked me up like I was nothing. I didn’t really want to be this close to him, but I didn’t have much choice at the moment. Something was wrong, I knew it was. But still… I couldn’t help but rest my head on his shoulder. I’d known he was solid, but I actually almost felt safe again.

The elevator arrived and before I knew it, he was standing me next to my Jeep, holding one hand out for the keys and keeping the other arm wrapped around me. Once he opened the door, he helped me inside, even asking if I needed help with my seatbelt. I didn’t. I could do that myself.

We weren’t going too far. The hospital was on campus after all, but it was still way too far for me to walk.

Ten minutes later we were in front of the emergency doors at the Ellen Lane Memorial Medical Building. How fitting. Her oldest daughter, knocked up by an unknown male and now in need of medical care.

“Don’t move,” Clark told me. He needn’t have worried. He pulled a wheelchair up next to my door and helped me into it. He left the Jeep where it was and wheeled me inside. “My wife is pregnant and something doesn’t feel right,” he told the two nurses at the desk.

His wife. That slipped out awfully naturally. Or maybe he’d been bracing himself for it the whole way here.

One of them looked at me and handed me a clipboard, telling Clark to go move the car and she’d help me get started. After he left, she asked me a few questions about what was happening and reassured me that I’d done the right thing by coming in. It was always better to be safe, she said.

It was pretty slow in the ER, given that it was a Saturday night, but I guessed the drunks wouldn’t come in until later. As soon as Clark returned, they took me to the little triage room behind the desk and asked routine questions and did things like take my pulse and my temperature and things like that. I tried to fill out the paperwork while they did that. When they needed my finger to check my oxygen levels, I thrust the clipboard at Clark.

It wasn’t that I wanted him to fill it out for me; I just didn’t know what else to do with it.

I didn’t quite understand the look he gave me, but he started filling in the forms. The pen hovered as they stuck a thermometer in my mouth and he skipped over a question or two. Once they were done weighing me, I was back in the wheelchair and he’d handed the clipboard back to me.

He hadn’t said a word.

At least I’d gotten him out of being yelled at by his parents. At least that’s what I imagined they were doing when I started to feel weird.

I looked at the form. The first word he’d written jumped out at me.

Last name: Kent.

Back that train up. We’d never talked about me changing my name. I’d certainly never filled out any paperwork to do so. Maybe that was some other obscure Latislanian law I didn’t know about.

I closed my eyes as I remembered the conversation at the airport. Daniel had mentioned that it would probably be a good idea, but I hadn’t done anything about it yet. One more thing on this week’s to do list.

I picked up the pen to fill out some of the rest of the information — he didn’t know my Social Security Number and hadn’t filled in anything about my next of kin or emergency contacts. Maybe he wasn’t sure if I wanted to put him or my dad. Or maybe he just didn’t get to it.

Quickly I filled it in, then decisively, scratched through Kent and replaced it with Lane, crossing through the check he’d put by the ‘Mrs.’ box and checking the ‘Ms.’ one instead.

If he noticed, he didn’t say anything.

We stopped moving in a small room. The nurse told me to keep my bra and underwear on and change into a gown that was only slightly thicker than paper. She also handed me a cup and pointed me in the direction of the attached bathroom.

Great.

I hadn’t kept any fluids down in hours and they wanted me to pee in a cup. And I wasn’t quiet about what I thought about that.

Clark cringed.

Who cared? He wasn’t the one dealing with all of this. He was probably just upset that he couldn’t sneak off to see Lana again tonight.

I managed to get something into the cup and changed clothes, holding the open back of the gown closed as I made my way to the bed.

“Okay, Lois, lay on your left side for me,” the nurse — her name tag identifying her as Angie — told me.

I nodded and lay down. I’d read that the left side made for better blood flow to the baby or something. Fortunately, that also meant my back was to the wall. That was good.

“From the sound of it, you’re probably dehydrated and that can cause cramping.”

“Yeah, I read that,” I told her.

She smiled at me. “You did the right thing by coming. The doctor will be in in a few minutes and if he agrees, we’ll get an IV and some meds started for you.” She set an emesis tray on the bed. “Just in case.”

Clark was studiously ignoring me, instead focusing on the exciting pattern of spackle on the wall. Finally, he said something. “Lois…” And then the doctor walked in.

***

Part 35

Clark

~~~~~

Surely I’d get a chance to talk to her in a few minutes, but for now, I needed to focus on the doctor.

“Ms. Lane,” he started.

He kept talking, but I tuned out for a minute. Lane. Well, I guessed we’d never discussed her changing her name after Daniel mentioned it. It shouldn’t have mattered — the marriage shouldn’t have lasted this long. And she probably just had not gotten around to filling out the forms yet so, legally, she was probably still Lois Lane regardless of what her long term plans were.

I heard the doctor mention something about IVs and then he left. I muttered something about being right back and followed him. He stopped at the counter nearby.

“Doctor?” I asked.

He turned to look at me. “Yes, Mr. Lane?”

I cringed. “Actually, it’s Kent — Clark Kent. Lois hasn’t changed her name since we got married.”

“I see. What can I do for you, Mr. Kent?”

I waved vaguely in the direction of Lois’ room. “Is she going to be okay? I mean, really. And the baby?”

He turned more fully towards me. “Has she been eating regularly? Even if she’s been sick in the evening?”

I ran a nervous hand through my hair. “We haven’t been married long and I haven’t been home much this week,” I said honestly.

He regarded me intently. “Mr. Kent, she’s going to need your help to get through this. She’s going to be fine, and so is the baby, but she hasn’t been taking care of herself. I don’t know why the morning or evening or whatever sickness hasn’t hit her until her second trimester, but it’s hit with a vengeance now. You have to make sure she’s eating as much as she can. Small meals are better than big ones — grazing throughout the day — and drinking. Water is good if she’s keeping food down too, but when her stomach’s upset, some flat ginger ale or Sprite might help. Gatorade is good, but no caffeine. I’ve also had women tell me that chewing grape bubble gum helps sometimes. I’m going to tell her all of this, too, but you’re going to need to make sure she does what she needs to do.”

I nodded.

“This isn’t my first rodeo. I don’t know what’s going on with the two of you, but she’s going to need your help to get through this, so you need to put aside whatever it is that’s bugging you and be there for your wife and baby. Got it?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly, feeling — probably appropriately — chastised, and returned to the room. I pulled the chair over beside the bed and sat down. “Feeling any better?” I finally asked.

She didn’t look at me as she shrugged. “They’re getting me some meds.”

I couldn’t help but remember another hospital where I’d actually sat next to her on to her bed. The standards here were much higher and I wasn’t concerned about her contracting some sort of communicable disease in a building named after her mom.

But times were different then. Even though it had only been a couple of weeks, things were very different now.

Then I’d held her hand and joked with her — trying to lighten her mood. It was easy then for her to sink into a depression and wonder how on earth we were going to get home. But, here, in the safety of the good ole United States, things were actually much more grim. She couldn’t have known it, but if it came right down to it and there was no other way to get home, I would have flown us. I had no idea what the consequences would have been — would she have looked at me like the freak alien I was? Or would she have just accepted it as another facet of my personality? Fortunately, we didn’t have to go that route.

Or maybe things would have been better if we had. Sure, she might have hated me or even outed me to some secret government agency, but I didn’t think so. But we wouldn’t be married now. Though, I supposed it was possible that the Latislani creep would still be after her even over a few thousand miles. I don’t know how I would have — or could have or even should have — protected her then.

Maybe Joe would have actually married her.

But instead… Now she knew she was pregnant and there was a baby depending on her. I think, if pushed, she’d say she hadn’t really wanted this baby, but I also think she’d say that she wanted him or her now.

So why couldn’t I comfort her and joke with her now? Take her mind off things?

That was easy. She wasn’t Lana. And she knew I still loved my girlfriend. Ex-girlfriend, I reminded myself. There was no me and Lana anymore. Not now, and somehow I thought not ever. There was no way she’d wait five years for me. And I hadn’t actually said five years to her either.

The nurse came in then and interrupted my musings. She emptied a syringe of medicine into the tubing that led to Lois’ arm. It would stop the nausea, she said, but it would probably put her to sleep too.

That might not be such a bad thing. At least she’d sleep through the next few hours instead of us sitting here in painful, awkward silence.

~~~~~

Lois

I pretended the medicine put me to sleep long before it actually did. I didn’t know how I was going to survive another six or seven months of this much less another five years. And with a baby in the mix.

I knew he didn’t want to be here, but couldn’t he at least pretend not to be completely horrified by the idea of spending the next few years with me? And we were really going to have to work on the whole ‘pretend we’re in love in front of others’ thing or he would be after the baby — and me — faster than you could say Latislan.

Hot tears stung the back of my eyelids and I willed them to stay put. I didn’t want him to see me cry.

It was all these stupid hormones. I didn’t care that he didn’t love me; that he loved Lana. I didn’t. I did care that he didn’t even want to be my friend anymore. That’s what hurt more than anything. I’d lost a good friend when I married him.

What could be worse than that?

~~~~~

Clark

It was midafternoon by the time we made it back to the room that was supposed to pass for an apartment. The nausea had passed, but the cramping hadn’t stopped so they’d kept her for a while to keep an eye on her.

She’d refused to let me help her out to the car or out of the car or into the building or anything else. I knew she couldn’t have slept well while we were there — I sure hadn’t — but I felt like there was more to the frosty attitude than just that, but for the life of me I didn’t know what it was.

“I’m going to take a nap,” she told me as I shut the door behind us. “I know the medicine knocked me out, but I didn’t really get much sleep and I’m exhausted.” As though to emphasize her point, she yawned.

I nodded. “That sounds like a good idea. You couldn’t have been comfortable with tubes running out of your arm and nurses checking your pulse every fifteen minutes.”

She shook her head. “No, not really.”

“Listen, I’ll let you get some sleep.” I jerked my thumb towards the door. “I’m not all that tired, so I’ll get out of here and let you have some peace and quiet.”

She was heading for the bathroom as I spoke. When I finished she paused for a second, then continued. “Thanks,” she finally said.

“Hey, Lois,” I called. She stopped, but didn’t look at me. “I’m glad you and the baby are okay. Really. I am.” I may not have been really happy with things being the way they were, but I didn’t want anything to happen to either one of them.

“Thanks,” she said again and she went into the bathroom.

I grabbed my backpack and left. Surely I could find somewhere to study.

Maybe there was a quiet spot on the Great Wall somewhere.

~~~~~

Lois

Part of me was glad Clark had left. I could sleep in peace.

I could cry in peace.

I managed to keep it together for about ten minutes after he left. I figured by then he wasn’t coming back because he forgot something. His backpack was gone so he was either going to study or pretending he was going to study when he was really going to see Lana.

The tears flowed until the pillow under my cheek was soaked. While he was gone to get something to eat, Dr. McConnell — I couldn’t bring myself to call her Kristi — had stopped by and listened for the baby’s heartbeat. One hand moved protectively to my stomach. I’d heard the heartbeat for the first time. I’d seen it at the ultrasound she’d done a couple days after we got back, but hadn’t heard it then because of the problems with the machine. She’d offered to wait until Clark got back, but I’d told her it wasn’t necessary — I didn’t know how long he’d be gone. Part of me thought he probably should have been there, after all he was sacrificing to claim the baby as his — especially after he seemed slightly upset over the ultrasound thing — but part of me also felt that it was something very private to be shared only with a man I loved someday — when and if I was carrying his baby. Clark should have no part of it. Maybe if he’d still been acting as my friend but…

Something that might have been disappointment had flitted across his face when he’d arrived just as Dr. McConnell was leaving and she told him that he’d missed it but she was looking forward to seeing him in her office at my next appointment. I didn’t tell either of them I’d scheduled it while he was in class.

I curled up further under the comforter — grateful that the heater seemed to be functioning properly in this place. It was getting renovated starting this summer for a reason. I could only hope it held out long enough. I couldn’t deal with another night like the one at Dad’s cabin huddled up against Clark trying to stay warm. No, I’d pile more blankets before I did that.

I didn’t know how long I’d been asleep when the shrill ringing of the phone woke me up. I reached for it.

“Hello?” I knew I sounded grumpy. I didn’t care.

“May I speak with Clark Kent please?” came the voice on the other end of the phone line.

I glanced around. “He’s not home.” I feigned politeness. “Can I take a message?”

“This is Laura Lang. Could you have him call me please? He has the number.”

Great. Lana’s mom. And she sounded snippy. Big shock there. “I’ll tell him you called.”

“Thank you.”

She hung up without saying anything else. Not that I blamed her necessarily. I certainly didn’t want to talk to her anymore. I was surprised she hadn’t given me a piece of her mind. Maybe I’d caught her off guard when I answered the phone.

It took a while before I could doze off again, but I did. This time, I knew it hadn’t been long before the phone rang again.

“Hello?” I wasn’t quite as grumpy this time — or at least I didn’t sound it. I didn’t think.

There was a hesitation on the other end. “Can I speak with Clark please?”

“He’s not in,” I told her — whoever ‘her’ was. “Can I take a message?”

“Is this Lois?”

I almost groaned. Who would want to talk to me? “Yes,” I finally said.

“This is Martha Kent, Clark’s mom.”

I closed my eyes. “Hello, Mrs. Kent.” I’d only talked to her once or twice while Clark and I were roommates.

I could hear the hesitation again. “Please, call me Martha.”

“Hi, Martha.” I tried it on for size. It sounded okay. Better than calling me Mrs. Kent anyway.

“How are you?”

I pushed myself up until I was sitting against the wall. “I’m okay. Thank you for asking. Would you like me to tell Clark to call you?”

I heard a sigh. “Yes, I would. But I’d like to talk to you too.”

Great. My first conversation with my mother-in-law. “Okay.”

There was an awkward silence that I finally broke. “I’m not really sure what to say,” I confessed. “I’m sorry…” I couldn’t continue, tears getting in the way of the words. I was sorry for ruining her son’s life. I was sorry for getting us into this mess. I was sorry that I wasn’t the daughter-in-law she’d planned on having. I was sorry that Clark’s heart had broken in the process. I was sorry that they were disappointed in Clark and I knew how they must see him now, without knowing the truth about what happened and I was sorry that he hadn’t been able to tell them everything. But mostly… Mostly I was just sorry.

“No. No need to say you’re sorry. What’s done is done and we can move on from here.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She continued as though she hadn’t heard me. “Jonathan and I would love to meet you sometime soon, but I don’t know when we’ll be able to make it to Metropolis.”

“I’d like to meet you, too, but I don’t know…” I did want to meet them. Sort of. But I didn’t really want it to be in Smallville. I didn’t want to go there where everyone would look at me and whisper things like ‘that’s the girl who seduced our perfect Clark Kent when he had hypothermia and made him marry her, not caring that it broke both his heart and our beloved Lana’s in the process’. That was how small towns were. Clark had told me as much and I couldn’t do it.

“It won’t be easy for you to come here,” she said quietly. “I’m sure Clark’s told you how small towns can be.”

“Yeah,” I said softly.

“If you are able to come here, you can always just stay on the farm with us — you wouldn’t have to go to town if you didn’t want to. I know it’s a long ways to come, but we really would like a chance to get to know you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know if we can.”

“Well, you are always welcome in our home. I mean that.”

“Thank you.” I meant it. She was being nice. It sounded like a strained kind of nice, but nice nonetheless. She could have made this difficult on all of us.

“You’re the mother of our grandchild. You’re always welcome,” she reiterated then paused. “Well, maybe Spring Break. I know Clark was planning on coming home, though last night he said he wasn’t sure.”

“I don’t know,” I said evasively. “I was supposed to go skiing in Vermont with Daddy, but that’s out now. There’s no way I’ll be able to ski in March.”

“Probably not.”

“So, I don’t know what my… our plans for Spring Break are. We haven’t talked about it.” We haven’t talked about much, I added mentally. Since we got married, we hadn’t really talked about much at all.

“Well, when you do, let us know if you can come. I’m guessing the two of you are going to stay in Metropolis over the summer, right?”

I hadn’t even thought about that. Clark would have gone to Smallville if we hadn’t gotten married. He would have spent the summer at home. It only made sense. I sighed. “I guess. My doctor is here but they’re closing this building the week after finals so I don’t know where we’re going to go. We haven’t figured it all out yet.” That was more honest than she knew.

“Well, then we’ll plan a trip to Metropolis — if it’s okay with you — for late summer. Probably mid-August or so, before the fall semester starts so you won’t have us in your hair with school starting. And it’ll still give you a few weeks to recover after having the baby before your in-laws show up.”

“Okay.”

“I have to get going, but tell Clark that he needs to call us. We weren’t done talking last night. We want to understand, but we need to hear it from our son.”

I closed my eyes. They were mad at him for something else and it was my fault, too. Maybe telling her would help some. “That was my fault. I’m sorry he didn’t get to finish talking to you, but I needed him.”

“Well, of course you come before us. You’re his wife. Was something wrong?”

“Nothing too big, but I’d started cramping and ended up in the ER until early this afternoon.”

“That’s not nothing. Do they know why?”

“Dehydration,” I said simply. “I can’t keep anything down these days. I haven’t been able to for a few weeks now.”

I could hear the frown in her voice. “How far along are you?” She paused. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

“This is Clark’s baby,” I said defensively, feeling badly about lying at the same time. I could see the wheels turning in her head. If I had only been experiencing nausea and stuff for a few weeks, then she probably thought I wasn’t as far along as I said I was — since all this went away by now for most women.

“I’m not saying Clark isn’t the father. I’m just curious,” she said calmly.

“Thirteen weeks, but I’ve only been sick for three or four. That’s part of the reason I didn’t know I was pregnant until then.” I was still defensive. “That and I’ve always been very irregular. I mean, I’ve never even really kept track.” I put my head in my hands. I couldn’t believe that I’d said that to my mother-in-law.

“I wonder why it’s hitting you so hard in your second trimester instead of the first,” she said contemplatively.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “But I do know how far along I am. I’ve had an ultrasound to confirm it after we got back from Europe and I heard the heartbeat when my OB stopped by the ER this morning.”

“Lois.” Her voice was surprisingly gentle. “You don’t have to be defensive. Every woman reacts to pregnancy differently and every pregnancy is different. I’m not trying to say that you conned Clark into thinking this was his baby when he’s not really the father or anything of the kind.”

“I…” I didn’t know what to say.

“I know that’s what you were thinking. That I was trying to find some way to prove this isn’t Clark’s baby, but I trust my son. Even if he’s made some poor decisions recently, he’s doing his best to make things right and if you and he say you’re carrying his baby, I have no reason to doubt you.” She sighed. “Please don’t take that the way it sounded. I don’t mean marrying the mother of his child was a poor decision. That’s not it at all, but I’m sure the situation with me and Jonathan and Lana could have been handled better by Clark once the decision to get married for the sake of the baby was made.”

I was closer to tears than I wanted to admit. I was making their son out to be a cheat and a liar, and he was neither — unless I counted that he was still seeing Lana after he told me he wasn’t planning on it, but I’d told him he could so he must have changed his mind and just not told me about it yet. “I knew what you meant.” And I did. Sort of.

“Now, I’m glad he got off the phone with us. You and the baby are much more important than any conversation with us. And you’re probably exhausted. Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Not much,” I said honestly.

“Were you sleeping when I called?”

I hesitated. “I was dozing. I had… another phone call earlier that woke me up.”

“It doesn’t sound like it was a pleasant call.”

She was intuitive. Maybe a trip to Smallville was a bad plan for a lot of reasons. She’d probably see right through everything. I shrugged, even knowing she couldn’t see it. “It was short.”

“Can I ask who it is that called that’s upsetting you?”

See. Intuitive. Clark must not have gotten away with anything growing up. “Lana’s mom,” I finally told her.

I heard a noise that sounded something like a growl. “I told her to leave you two alone. She loves Clark, has for years and loved the idea of Clark and Lana together. But the three of you are adults now and anything that needs to be worked out needs to be worked out between the three of you not through parents.” She paused. “If you ever need someone to talk to, we’ll be here for you, but we’re not going to fight your battles for any of you.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to.” Clark, on the other hand, was fighting my battles. That’s why we were in this deal.

“Well, Laura has a hard time accepting that this is between you and Clark and Lana and not her. Don’t let her get to you.”

“I’ll try.”

“Well, I’ll let you rest some more. You have to take care of yourself and that grandbaby of mine.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I heard a key in the lock. “I think Clark’s home. Do you want to talk to him?”

“Not right now. Tell him to call us sometime this week. He knows our schedule.”

“I will.”

“Bye, Lois. It was good to talk to you.”

Clark walked in the room and shut the door behind him as I spoke. “Bye, Martha.” His head shot up and his eyes were wide. “It was nice talking to you, too.”

***

Part 36

Clark

~~~~~

Martha? Had she been talking to my mom? And was that a good thing?

“Who was that?” I finally asked.

“Your mom. She seems nice.”

“She is. Most of the time.”

“I bet you didn’t get away with much as a kid, did you?”

I laughed. It felt good. It had been a while since I laughed. “No. I swear she has eyes in the back of her head and even the barn cats worked for her. Nana and Pop Pop sure did.”

“Nana and Pop Pop?”

“Her folks. We lived with them for a while when I was little. Usually she knew when I’d been doing something I wasn’t supposed to but they sure confirmed it. Well,” I conceded. “Usually. Pop Pop would let me get away with more than Nana ever did — I guess that’s because she was a mom, too.”

She stared at her hands. “I’m sorry you’re in the doghouse with them.”

I shrugged. “It’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last.” I set my backpack down and then sat on the loveseat.

“Still. You’re only there because of my stupidity.”

“What?”

She swiped at her eyes. “If I hadn’t taken a drink from whoever it was that slipped me something, we wouldn’t be here.”

She had a point, but this wasn’t her fault. “If you want to blame someone, blame whoever it was that drugged you and then had sex with you without your permission and apparently without protection.”

“But Latislan was my fault.”

“Because they have archaic laws and corrupt officials who bow to whatever whim the ruling general has? That’s ridiculous.” It was.

“It was my fault we were there in the first place.”

Well, maybe. “But I went with you willingly and I’m glad I did.”

She looked at me at that, questions in her eyes.

“What would you have done if I hadn’t been there?” I asked her gently.

She shrugged. “I would have figured something out. Regardless, I’m sorry you’re in trouble with your parents.”

“It’s okay.” I stretched my legs out in front of me. The bed was close enough that I could prop my feet up on it. “What else did she say?”

“She was hoping we might be able to go to Smallville for Spring Break.”

“I thought you were going skiing with your dad.”

“I’m not going to be able to ski.”

Another good point. “Are you going with him anyway?”

“Well, part of the whole ‘pretending it’s real’ thing means we probably need to whatever we do together.”

I’d forgotten about that. I knew we needed to pretend this was real, but the reality of that hadn’t set in. Lois hadn’t been feeling well enough to go to classes on Thursday or Friday so I’d spoken with the professors that we shared and she’d emailed all of them, so we hadn’t been in public together since this started. Not really. I closed my eyes. That meant I was going to need to hold her hand or put my arm around her while we walked around campus and probably even kiss her hello or goodbye. The thought turned my stomach. It wasn’t that Lois wasn’t attractive — she was, that was one of Lana’s chief complaints the semester before — and I was sure that kissing her would be nice. Joe had sure looked like he enjoyed it. In fact, he’d often looked like he would enjoy more than that, but I knew Lois had always told him no. At least, kissing her would be nice under other circumstances. Kissing her under these circumstances, and in front of the woman who should be my fiancee right now…

Lana. I almost groaned. I had three classes with her. Lois was in two of those and the two of them had another class together. That was going to be fun. Lana had sat next to me in the big lecture hall for our biology lecture on Thursday, but somehow I didn’t think that was going to work long term. I’d meant what I told her the day before. If we were alone together anytime soon, I don’t know that I could stop myself from making love to her. I probably shouldn’t have kissed her when I told her about me and Lois and I really shouldn’t have kissed her in the library.

Friday, we’d sat in desks next to each other in English Lit and Poli Sci. Lois was in both of those classes with us. I guessed I’d probably end up sitting next to Lois and probably as far away from Lana as we could get. And those classes were back to back so we’d be walking together from one to the other which is where the handholding and arm slinging would have to come in. And I’d have to do it in front of Lana.

Of course, Lois and I were in another class together without Lana — something she hadn’t been happy to hear about when we’d looked over our schedules together. I wasn’t sure if they’d be easier or harder. We wouldn’t know anyone so maybe we wouldn’t have to keep up as much of a pretense, but at the same time Lana wouldn’t be there either and, even though I knew Lana knew the marriage wasn’t truly real to me, I also couldn’t let her see any cracks between me and Lois. Not now.

“Clark? Earth to Clark?”

I looked up. Lois was snapping her fingers in my direction. “I’m sorry. What?”

“I said, whatever we do for Spring Break we probably need to do together.”

“Right. You’re right.” And she was. Which was why I’d told my folks that I probably wouldn’t be home.

“So, your mom wanted to know if we could go to Smallville for Spring Break.”

My eyes widened. “Are you sure you want to do that? I’ve told you what small towns are like. They probably won’t be very nice to you.”

I could see tears in her eyes. “I know and your mom said the same thing, but she also said that they’d like to get to know me and I could hide out at the farm the whole time if I wanted to.”

I sighed. “How about a maybe for now? I’ll talk to them and you think about whether you really want to make a cross country trip six months pregnant.”

She nodded. “She also indicated that they weren’t mad about last night — not after I told her why you had to go so abruptly. She said that me and the baby were more important than a conversation with them, but that they did want to finish it sometime soon. You’re supposed to call them this week.”

I nodded. “Well, she’s right. You two are more important than a phone call.” I shrugged. “You needed me.”

“Yeah, I guess we did,” she finally said softly.

“So did you get any rest?” I really hoped she had.

She shrugged. “I slept a little bit, but the phone woke me up.”

“You should have told her. My mom would have understood even without knowing about last night.”

“The first call wasn’t your mom.” She didn’t look at me, but played with the comforter that was still pulled over her legs.

“Who was it?”

“Lana’s mom.” I almost couldn’t hear her.

“What did she want?” I really wasn’t surprised to hear from her, but I was surprised that she hadn’t hung up when I didn’t answer.

“To talk to you. You’re supposed to call her.”

I laid my head back. “I don’t know that I will. She’s always tried to interfere in my relationship with Lana. I mean, she always approved of me, but… She stuck her nose in if we were fighting or whatever.”

“Your mom said not to let her. She told her to leave us alone — that it’s between you and me and Lana, not her. But I guess she didn’t listen.”

I snorted. “Laura Lang doesn’t listen to anyone but Laura Lang. And maybe Lewis from time to time. She certainly doesn’t listen to Martha Kent.”

“Why not? Your mom’s nice.”

“But my mom’s a farmer’s wife. Laura is First Lady of Smallville and has been for as long as anyone can remember.”

“Your mom sure seems smart.”

“She is. She has a Bachelor’s degree from UMKC and is getting her Master’s but that’s not the point. No farmer’s wife is going to tell her what to do.”

“That’s… stupid,” Lois finally said.

I nodded. “It’s ignorant, is what it is, but that’s Laura for you.” I sighed. “I’m sorry if she gave you a hard time.”

“Who? Your mom? She was nice as could be, especially given the circumstances.”

“I have no doubt she was. My mom is very adaptable. I meant Laura.”

“Oh. She didn’t say much of anything, just to have you call her. But she was kind of snide about it.”

Snide probably didn’t begin to describe Lana’s mom, but I let it drop. “So you didn’t get a whole lot of rest did you?”

“Some.” She shrugged. “Enough that I feel better.”

“That’s good.”

“What about you? Where did you go?”

I sighed. “Great Wall of China,” I finally said. It was the truth but I wasn’t sure why I’d said it. We’d just had the first real conversation in over a week and I had to ruin it. I tried to back track. “I was studying. Thought that getting a jump start on the semester was a good idea.”

She didn’t look like she believed me but finally she nodded. “That’s a good idea. I probably need to do the same thing.”

“You need to get some rest.” She suddenly looked more tired than I’d seen her in a long time — since we’d left Europe. “Tomorrow’s going to be a big day with your first day of classes and everything.” Regardless of how it happened, the doctor was right. She was my responsibility. Knowing Lois, she probably wouldn’t see it quite that way, but that’s the way it was. I leaned over and picked up my backpack. I pulled something out of it and tossed it on the bed next to her. “I got you some grape bubble gum.”

The expression on her face was priceless. I could tell she wanted to be grateful, but she wasn’t quite sure why she should be.

I couldn’t help but laugh, which didn’t help matters any. “The doctor said that some women find that grape bubble gum makes morning or whatever sickness easier.”

She still looked skeptical and I raised my hands in surrender. “That’s what he said, I swear.”

She picked up the pack and stared at it. “Well, thanks then.”

“Have you eaten anything since we got home?” I asked gently.

She shook her head. “I probably need to though.”

“How about we start with some crackers and I’ll see if I can’t make some chicken broth? It’s like soup but without the chicken and noodles. See how you do with that.”

She nodded and I moved to my self-assigned task, hoping it would be enough to get something in her.

~~~~~

Lois

I couldn’t do this. I stood in front of the full length mirror on the door to the bathroom and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to wear these jeans. They’d fit last week but now… Now, they steadfastly refused to button. I sighed and moved until I could flop back on the still unmade bed.

Clark emerged from the bathroom as I did so. “What’s wrong?”

“My pants don’t fit,” I told him.

“That surprises you?”

“They fit just fine five days ago and they’re my favorites.” I covered my face with my hands, realizing but not caring at the moment that doing so raised my shirt enough that most of my rapidly growing stomach was showing and the fact that my jeans were undone probably meant my underwear was visible too. Right then, though, I just didn’t care. I’d already done my makeup and I really didn’t want to have to fix it. I didn’t have time to anyway. And I still had to figure out what I was going to wear.

“Can I get something else out for you?” he asked me.

I shook my head. “No, I’ll get up in a second and find something.”

“Where’s your first class at?”

“Lincoln. You?”

“Addison. Right next door. I’ll wait for you and we can go together.”

This was it. The start of ‘real’. “Thanks.” I managed to stand up and rummaged through the closet until I found a pair of tan pants with a drawstring waist. I turned my back to Clark and hoped that he wasn’t looking as I tugged my jeans down. I put the pants on, fastening the flat hook and tying the drawstring. They were actually pretty comfortable. They wouldn’t fit forever, but for now… For now, they’d work. I put my tennis shoes on, even if they weren’t the best match now that I wasn’t wearing jeans, but I didn’t care. I grabbed my coat out of the closet and shrugged into it. I finally turned back to find Clark staring out the small window over the sink. “Ready?”

He turned and smiled at me. “Let’s go.”

Before I realized what he was doing, he’d grabbed my backpack as well as his and slung both of them over his shoulder. He opened the door and waited for me to go through before shutting and locking it behind him. By then, I was halfway to the elevator. We both smiled politely at the other couple standing there but none of us said anything. When we reached the ground floor, I headed for the front door when Clark’s hand on my arm stopped me.

“Are you sure you want to walk?”

I glared at him as I shoved my hands into my gloves. It was the third time he’d asked me. “With traffic and one way streets, it’ll take twice as long and the walk from the parking lot to the building is almost as long as walking from here. I promise I’ll take the shuttle back if I need to.”

He nodded and took my gloved hand in his. “Okay then.”

It took about fifteen minutes to get to Addison and our path took us directly past Weller Hall. I don’t think either one of us realized it until Lana stepped out in front of us. She looked right at us and even I could see the hurt in her eyes. Clark’s hand tightened around mine until I wondered if he might actually break it. Once Lana turned away, his grip loosened. I glanced at his face but couldn’t read what was written there.

Unfortunately, Lana and I were headed to the same place. Several months ago, I hadn’t been thrilled to find out my first class of the week was with her and I really wasn’t looking forward to it now.

She sped ahead of us and I unconsciously slowed a bit to give her more of a head start. I still thought I’d be early enough that I wouldn’t get there and discover the only empty seat was right next to her.

Clark seemed to sense my hesitation and his steps slowed with mine. “It’s going to be okay,” he muttered, but I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or himself.

“Yeah,” I replied without certainty. “Okay.”

We reached the sidewalk between the two buildings and stopped. “This is it,” he said without looking at me.

“Yeah.” I chewed my bottom lip. What was he going to do? Kiss me? Kiss my cheek? My forehead? My… my lips were suddenly occupied. It was fleeting, but it was a real kiss.

“See you in a bit.” This time he kissed the side of my head before taking my backpack off his shoulder and handing it to me.

“Bye.” I watched him walk towards his building, then sighed and headed towards mine. I’d see him in little more than an hour, but Lana would be there too.

I was grateful to see that Lana was in the far back corner of the room when I walked it. She was avoiding watching the door, I was sure, but I also knew she was aware the minute I walked in. The instructor was already there, so I set my bag on a desk near the front corner by the door and dug out a doctor’s note. I headed to talk to him.

“Dr. Whitt?”

He looked up and smiled at me. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m Lois Lane. I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week, but I’m three and a half months pregnant and Friday was a really bad day for me.” I handed him the paper. “I know it doesn’t cover Friday, but I did spend part of the weekend in the ER because I was dehydrated.”

He read it over and frowned. “It also says you’re not supposed to be here until Wednesday.”

“I know, but I really am feeling much better and I’ve been able to keep some food down both last night and this morning and with a good night’s sleep… I don’t want to miss any more than I have to and I’m afraid that another bad day might hit so I need to be here every time I can.” I motioned towards my seat. “I’m planning on sitting near the door just in case, but I hope I don’t have to run out.”

He nodded. “Keep me informed of any time you need to miss and we’ll see if we can work something out if you do miss anything big.” He pulled a few papers out of folders on the table. “Here’s the syllabus and some other information you need. I trust you’re capable of reading it over so I’ll let you do that. If you have any questions, please ask.”

“I will. Thank you.”

He stopped me as I turned, handing me a piece of paper. “Just in case you do get sick, could you write down who would be best to call if you need someone?”

I took the paper and wrote down Clark’s name and the number of the room he was in during this class. “That’s my husband. He’s just right across the way if anything happens.” He thanked me and I returned to the desk I’d staked out and waited for class to begin.

An hour later, I was the first one to bolt out the door. I wasn’t sick; I just wanted to make sure I avoided Lana. It wasn’t going to be easy, I knew. Our next class was together. With Clark. So was the one after that.

He wasn’t there when I got to the classroom, so I took a desk near the front door for the same reason I had in the other class and then went to talk to this instructor as soon as she walked in the door. I saw Lana come in while I was deep in conversation and, hot on her heels, was Clark.

Okay, that might have been a bit of a stretch, but he came in just a minute after she did.

He was leaning against the wall when I moved back to my desk. I realized that all the spaces around me were taken. And I was nervous. Was he going to kiss me here? In front of everyone? In front of Lana? Wouldn’t she know it was fake? I remembered how he’d kissed her when they met in our shared class last semester and I knew he wouldn’t go there.

He pushed away from the wall as I approached, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. I’d never seen him do that to Lana.

“Hey,” he said quietly. “How was class?”

I shrugged. “Fine. Both profs have been pretty understanding so far.” I glanced at the clock. Three minutes. I looked around the room. There were a couple of seats together but they were all the way in the back and nowhere near a door. “Do you want me to move?”

He shook his head. “You need to be near a door, just in case. I’ll try to get here earlier next time and get a seat next to you.” He leaned down and kissed my temple, then moved until his mouth was next to my ear. “I’m sorry. I know we need to be more convincing than that, but I just can’t.” His voice wavered a bit as he spoke.

“It’s okay,” I whispered back. “The whispering probably goes a long way anyway.”

He pressed his lips against the side of my head and was gone.

This class went much slower than the last one. I knew I would enjoy it — I loved reading and had read several of the books on the reading list already. The problem was that I couldn’t see Clark or Lana and had no idea if they were anywhere near each other or exchanging longing glances or what.

I shouldn’t care, I told myself, but I did. I didn’t want to be played for a fool. Even if they stayed together secretly, I prayed they could avoid each other in public.

***

Part 37

Clark

~~~~~

I let out a deep breath as I settled into my seat. I was closer to Lana — and farther from Lois — than I would have liked given the situation. I was close enough that I could smell Lana’s shampoo with my enhanced senses. I unconsciously tuned into her heartbeat. I couldn’t help it; it was something I had done for years, but as soon as I realized I had done it, I stopped. I tried to listen for Lois’ instead. I’d learned over the years that everyone had a unique heartbeat, but I was still learning hers. Sleeping in the bunk beneath her had helped, but… What was that? It was light and fast, like the fluttering of butterfly wings and coming from Lois’ direction.

Then it hit me.

The baby.

I could hear the baby’s heartbeat.

I was floored, but I schooled my emotions so they didn’t show. I’d have to take a closer listen later, because class was starting.

I half paid attention as we started discussing a couple of early American poets. Most of my attention was focused on what I was going to do when class was over. Lois, no doubt, would want to be the first one out the door. And I should be with her, but I was too far away for that.

I had to figure out a way to be more convincing about our relationship with Lana around. I shoved the thoughts out of my mind and turned my thoughts more fully on the letters between John and Abigail Adams.

Before I knew it class was over. I moved as quickly as I could without getting any extra attention but I still got stuck in the crowd.

Lois was still in her seat when I got there and she looked a little pale.

I squatted down next to her. “Are you okay?”

She shook her head. “My stomach is a little queasy.”

I frowned. “Did you bring any crackers with you?”

She shook her head again.

I pulled my backpack around and dug some gum out of the pocket. “I kept a pack just in case. Want to try it?”

She took a piece. “I’m willing to try anything.”

“Can you walk to Poli Sci?”

She nodded and moved to pick up her backpack, but I beat her to it. There was no reason for her to have to do that. I held her coat for her as she put it on then wrapped an arm around her waist to help support her as we headed out of the classroom.

When we reached our destination, I could feel Lana’s eyes on us. There was one seat available near the door and another a couple rows down. The guy in the seat closest to the door had been in one of my fall classes and seemed like a decent guy. I asked him if he would mind moving and he said no. I set our backpacks down and helped Lois with her coat.

“Feeling any better?” I asked quietly.

She nodded. “The cool air helped quite a bit actually.”

I’d have to remember that. “What about the gum?”

She smiled weakly at me. “Maybe. I’m not sure yet, but I was never much of a gum chewer so… I’m going to…” She pointed to the front of the class. I glanced at the clock and nodded, taking my seat as I did.

Before long we were embroiled in discussing democracy and how to define politics and then class was over.

This was it. I had to make this convincing. We were heading different directions now. I held Lois’ coat, but she shook her head. Her next class was in this building, she reminded me. It was time for me to have lunch. It was time for Lana to have lunch, too, I remembered. An idea occurred to me, but I’d have to see if it would work.

I picked up her backpack then reached out and took her hand. “I’ll walk you,” I said simply. She gave me an odd look, but nodded. Two flights of stairs later and we were at the door. I didn’t say anything but followed her in and set her bag on the desk closest to the door and mine on the one behind it.

She gave me another look, but pulled out another copy of her doctor’s note and went to talk to Dr. Grant. I’d interviewed him a couple of times during the fall and he seemed like a good guy. I gave her a minute to explain her situation then followed her as he started digging through the folders in front of him.

He smiled at me as I walked up. “Hi, Clark. You’re not in this class are you?”

I shook my head. “No, but my wife is,” I said pointing at Lois. Something flitted across his face — questions maybe. He’d had Lana in class in the fall. “I was hoping I could switch sections so we could have lunch together at least a couple of days a week. And with her being sick, I like the idea of being able to keep a little closer eye on her.” I made myself wink at her.

Lois stared at me and I shrugged. “It just occurred to me, honey.” Saying that hurt. Lana’s face the first time I called her that flashed before my eyes. Her bright smile and laughing eyes lying in that hayloft. I pushed the image out of my head. I wasn’t allowed to think about her like that anymore.

He looked at the roster. “That shouldn’t be a problem. Right now there’s an open seat in here. You’ll need to go do the paperwork though. If you get over there and that’s changed, get me an overload form and I’ll sign it for you. There’s always a student or two who never shows up so it shouldn’t be an issue.”

“Is it okay if go ahead and stay in here instead of the next one today?” He nodded. “Thanks, Dr. Grant.”

We went back to our seats, Lois taking the one in front. She turned to face me. “You didn’t have to do that.”

I shrugged. “It made sense. We can have lunch together if you want to.” Maybe she didn’t want to. “If you want to,” I repeated slowly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that without asking you first. If you don’t want me to, I won’t. I just thought it might be nice to have lunch together. As part of the whole ‘real’ thing, you know?”

I thought I saw tears spring to her eyes, but I wasn’t sure before she nodded and turned around. Why she might be close to crying, I had no idea.

~~~~~

Lois

Of course. Part of being real. For half a second, I’d thought it was because he wanted to spend some time with me instead of Lana. But no. He could spend time with Lana the other days or other times, but this would make us look more real. That’s all it was.

And that must have been what that whole ‘honey’, wink thing was about.

This was my last class of the day. I couldn’t remember if Clark was supposed to have one after his new lunch break or not, but he was going to have to go to Administration to get his schedule changed. I was more than ready to head back to that shabby little hole in the wall and take a nap. If I could just make it through the next hour without throwing up.

An hour later, I sighed with relief. I could go home now. I put on my coat and reached for my backpack to find that Clark already had it on his shoulder. He took my hand and we walked in silence. It was warm enough outside now that I didn’t need my gloves. I was glad because I found that I liked holding Clark’s hand. I wasn’t sure what that meant and I wasn’t about to analyze it after fifty minutes of Psychology.

I realized he was walking with me towards our apartment. “Don’t you need to go to Admin?”

He shook his head. “I’ll go later. I want to make sure you get home okay and get something to eat. And then you’re going to take a nap before we go to your dad’s house.”

I groaned. I’d forgotten about that. “Do we have to?”

He looked puzzled. “Don’t you want to?”

I shrugged. “Mindy’s going to be there,” I said as though that explained everything.

“Who?”

“Surely you remember her.” At his blank stare I continued. “His girlfriend. She’s a gold digger. She’s told me as much. I’m afraid she’s going to be even worse than his ex-partner. She’s going to take everything from him and make him think it was all his idea.” I could practically feel fire flashing in my eyes. “She plays the perfect blonde bimbo calling him ‘pookie’ and acting like she doesn’t have a clue about anything, but I swear, the woman could run a crime syndicate and no one would ever suspect her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she set my dad up to take the fall at the same time. Maybe even for those guns.” I shook my head. “You still haven’t met her yet, have you?”

“You’ve mentioned her and I saw her in Paris but that’s it. I don’t think I’ve heard her name.” He squeezed my hand lightly. “That’s why you didn’t want to move back home, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve alluded to it before, but you’ve never actually told me the whole story.”

I nodded. “She moved in about two weeks before I moved here. She told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to leave the nest. Oh, she worded it like she was clueless, but she’s not. I guarantee that. Daddy’s the one who’s clueless.”

“Well, maybe we can figure out a way to show him.”

I shook my head. “Thanks, but he’s not thinking straight around her. I just hope he comes to his senses before everything’s gone.”

He stopped and put his arms around me, pulling me close to him. “We’ll make sure he doesn’t lose everything. I don’t know how, but we will,” he whispered to me.

“I don’t care about the money,” I said honestly. “I mean, I know when he dies, unless something happens, I’m going to be very wealthy, but I really don’t care. I just don’t think he could handle losing everything again. To be honest, I’m very surprised he didn’t attempt suicide after the last time. He was so depressed over Mom and Lucy that nearly losing everything almost sent him over the edge. If it happened again…”

“We won’t let it.”

“I don’t know how we’re going to stop her.”

“We’ll figure something out.” We stood there for another minute, before he let go of me and spoke again. “Come on. You need to eat and get some rest.”

~~~~~

Clark

We hadn’t walked more than five feet when we were stopped by a swarthy, dark haired student.

“Hello,” he said with a thick accent.

I nodded and smiled, tugging on Lois’ hand as a signal to go around him. Something about him bugged me already.

He stepped in front of us again. “My uncle said I should get to know you.” He leered at Lois. “After all, you are having his baby.”

“Who are you?” I asked, my eyes narrowed.

“I am Vladimir Navance.”

“What do you want?” Lois asked, her hand gripping mine more tightly.

He shrugged. “I just wanted to introduce myself. To let you know that I know who you are and that I look out for my uncle’s interests.” He leered at Lois. “You should be my new aunt by now.”

I could feel Lois’ anger mounting and mine was, too, but before I could say anything else, Lois pulled on my hand and went around him calling over her shoulder as we walked away.

“Tell your uncle I said he can go to hell.”

We walked quickly towards our apartment. “Are you okay?” I asked quietly.

She shrugged. “At least now I know who to avoid.”

“That’s probably a good idea.” We walked in silence until we made it to the apartment. I unlocked the door and opened it, letting Lois walk inside in front of me. By the time I’d shut the door behind me, she was on the bed, curling up with a blanket over her.

“You need to eat,” I reminded her.

“Later,” came the muffled reply.

“Why don’t you get something to eat now and then take a nap?”

“Because if I eat something now, I’ll probably throw it right back up.”

“You don’t want to end up back in the ER do you?” I asked gently.

She rolled over enough to glare in my direction. “I don’t need you to be my mother, Kent.”

“I know.” I sighed and sat in one of the wooden chairs. “Have you thought any more about what Daniel said?”

“Which thing? He said lots of stuff.”

“About changing your name.”

She didn’t answer for a long minute. “I have,” she finally said. “And I like being Lois Lane, but I guess I probably need to be Lois Kent until we can get a divorce in a few years. I can change my name back afterwards, I suppose.”

“Yeah.”

She looked thoughtful as she rested her hand on her stomach. “The baby will be a Kent though. Probably until he or she is old enough to understand what really happened, because I don’t think I’d want to do that to a five-year-old. Change his name or whatever. He wouldn’t understand.”

I nodded. That was a good point.

She didn’t look at me as she posed her next question. “What about the baby’s name?”

“What about it?”

“Daniel recommended we use something from your family or family friends or something. Do you have any thoughts on it?”

Did I have any thoughts? Of course I did, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to use any of them at this point. They were names that Lana and I had talked about.

Jonathan after my dad.

Clark Jerome Jr.

For boys at least.

I did my best to hide a smile as a girl’s name occurred to me. “Well, my favorite aunt is Aunt Opal.”

Her eyes grew wide. “You’re kidding right?”

I finally broke into a grin. “No. My favorite aunt is Aunt Opal, but I wouldn’t want to use that for a name.”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “I know we’re supposed to be thinking about a name from your family but if this is a girl, I think I’d like to name her after my mom or sister, if that’s okay with you. Maybe use your mom’s name as a middle name or something.”

“That would be okay with me.”

“What if it’s a boy?”

I knew instantly what name would be my choice if this baby was a boy.

“Christopher.”

***

Part 38

February 2003

Lois

~~~~~

How could I let her get to me like that?

I practically ran across campus, willing the tears to stay put until I got to the apartment. Or at least to the elevator.

It had been two weeks since classes started and each day had been worse than the last.

Clark had been practically bi-polar. In public, he seemed to be sweet and attentive. He never looked Lana’s way — not that I saw anyway. He carried my backpack and helped me with my coat. He gave me quick kisses on the corner of my lips when Lana wasn’t around and whispered something — usually something inane — in my ear or tucked my hair behind it, or both, when she was.

But in private… Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of ‘in private’. He was gone as much as possible, though he mentioned once that he snuck in and out the back door so as not to be seen if possible. He was probably sneaking in and out the back door of Weller Hall to see Lana. But when he was home… I sighed. We barely spoke. I curled up on my side of the bed — as close to the edge as I could get without falling off — and he did the same. If we ever even touched in the middle of the night, it didn’t register with me.

I couldn’t count how many times I’d cried over the last few weeks. When he was there — usually after we went to bed — the tears were silent, but no less real, as I curled around my pillow. When I was home alone, I often found myself crying and going through old sappy, movies I had stored on my external hard drive and played through the TIVO. When I felt good enough, I ate ice cream and drank Pepsi. When I didn’t, I ate crackers and drank flat Sprite. When I couldn’t deal with the sappy movies, I popped in a Friends or NCIS or Dawson’s Creek or 90210 DVD.

But I wouldn’t do any of that this time. As soon as I locked the door behind me, I kicked off my shows and curled up on the bed in as small a ball as I could with my stomach getting in the way. The tears flowed freely. It wasn’t like she’d been saying things I didn’t already know but for some reason it got to me.

Stupid hormones.

I had to get myself under control before Clark got here and I had no idea when that was going to be. Maybe I could manage to be asleep by the time he got here.

No such luck.

The key was scraping in the door. I wondered where he’d been this time?

In the last few weeks, he’d said he’d been to icebergs twice, the Great Wall once, the North Face of Everest once, chilling with penguins on Antarctica, Siberia, Alaska, the Barrier Reef, the North Pole — where he did not see Santa or Rudolph — and the Mediterranean.

Fake sleep.

Maybe that would work.

I closed my eyes and willed myself to breath normally.

He must have seen me and assumed I was sleeping, because he shut and locked the door as quietly as possible — which was hard to do when it creaked every time you moved the stupid thing.

And then I hiccupped.

“You awake?” he asked softly.

I wanted to not say anything and just lay there, but instead I hiccupped again. That wasn’t going to work. I rolled over onto my back with an arm thrown over my face.

“Yeah, I’m awake,” I finally said.

I heard him sit down on that stupid little loveseat and felt the mattress give a bit as he propped his feet up on it. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I told him and then hiccupped again.

“Why don’t I believe that?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” What would I say? ‘Oh, by the way, your girlfriend decided to remind me that you love her and the second our divorce is final the two of you will be back together and I’ll just be a footnote in your life. And I don’t know why I care so much — it’s not like I’m in love with you and want you to stay with me forever — but these stupid hormones make it impossible not to cry over everything.’

Yeah. That would be smart. We were having a hard enough time acting like this was real in public. Any sign that it wasn’t and I just knew that the Latislani general would be all over us in a heartbeat.

I felt the mattress depress even more as he moved to lie down next to me. Then he was tugging my arm down from my face and I only just managed to cover it with my other arm before he could see how distraught I was. If it hadn’t been Lana that had upset me, he probably would have been sweet and supportive, but since it had been… telling him would just make everything worse.

Of course, then he managed to get the other arm down too.

~~~~~

Clark

What on earth could have upset her this much? When I finally got both arms out of the way, I noticed how red her face was and how swollen her eyes were. Whatever it was, it was serious.

“Is everything okay with the baby?” I finally asked.

She shrugged. “As far as I know.”

“You ate lunch?” She still skipped sometimes I knew. I got up and ran a washcloth under cold water.

She shook her head. “No. Not yet. I haven’t been home very long and I don’t think I could hold anything down right now anyway.”

“And you’re not going to tell me what happened to upset you so much?” I asked gently, hoping to break through the wall she’d put up around herself. I wrung the cloth out and folded it up, setting it gently over her eyes before returning to stretch out next to her.

She sighed. “Fine. I need new clothes. I need to go shopping for maternity clothes and I hate shopping and that’s going to make this whole thing all that more real and I’d like to stay in denial just a little bit longer, but unless you’re going to let me wear some of your clothes, I have like two pairs of pants that fit. Sort of. For now.”

That wasn’t it. That might be bothering her, but that wasn’t what had her crying her eyes out in the middle of the day.

“So, we’ll go shopping.” I’d go with her, if she wanted me to.

“With what money?”

She had a good point. Neither of us had jobs. Well, paying jobs. Her dad gave her a bit of spending money every month, but it wasn’t much when compared to a new wardrobe. My parents did the same with me, though they’d indicated last summer that if Lana and I got married before we finished school, we’d be on our own. So far they’d sent one more check, but I didn’t know if they were going to cut me off after that or not. We didn’t have many expenses. We could eat on campus as part of our meal plans, but Sam still had his meal service provide us with four or five meals a week. I had no doubt that was out of concern for his grandchild rather than my welfare. That left gas for the cars and a little bit more for food and that was it. The money from our parents was enough to cover that — and actually Lois had a gas card from Sam so it was really just for the truck which I didn’t drive all that much.

I looked down at her, lying there with a wash cloth over her eyes and the occasional tear still leaking out and suddenly a vision of Lana popped in my head. What would I do if this was Lana instead of Lois?

Well, first I’d kiss her. And if she wanted me to, I’d make love to her and help her forget about all of this for a while and show her how beautiful I still thought she was — though I knew she’d have been griping about losing her figure. I closed my eyes and saw her there. Yes, I’d kiss her and then I’d kiss every one of her stretch marks because they were badges of honor brought about because she was carrying my baby.

I shook myself mentally. I couldn’t go there. Not even in my mind. But if this was Lana… and we needed money, what would I do? I’d probably be working three jobs if I had to. But here? With Lois? I wasn’t working at all. I felt a bit guilty about that, all of the sudden.

<But her dad has money,> a stubborn inner voice told me, <and lots of it. Why can’t he buy her clothes?>

<Because she’s my wife and it’s my responsibility to make sure she’s taken care of,> my conscience told the voice I now recognized as my inner teenager.

<She wasn’t supposed to be your wife,> he argued back. <You were supposed to be engaged to Lana by now.>

<It doesn’t matter,> my conscience snapped at him. <I went into this marriage willingly and vowed before God to take care of her. I couldn’t not do that.>

Lois spoke and interrupted the argument between my two selves. “My dad gave me a credit card a long time ago to use to buy clothes and stuff when I needed it. He always said as long as I didn’t abuse it and buy stuff that was ridiculously expensive or go way overboard on the wardrobe, I could use it whenever I wanted. He hasn’t told me I can’t use it anymore, so I’ll use it to get some maternity clothes.”

“Are you sure?”

She shrugged and adjusted the wash cloth slightly. “I don’t know why he wouldn’t let me. He doesn’t even look at the statements. His accountant does and tells him if there’s anything unusual.”

“Okay then. Do you want me to go with you?” Did I really want to go? I didn’t know, but I would.

“We’ll see. I probably won’t go until this weekend.”

“Well, if you want to borrow some sweats or something until then, you can.” I surprised myself when I said that.

“Thanks.” She didn’t sound like she really meant it.

“So are you going to tell me what’s really upset you?”

She moved the wash cloth enough to glare at me. “You don’t think not fitting into my clothes isn’t enough to upset me?”

I shook my head. “Not this much.”

She sighed but didn’t say anything. Finally, she changed the subject. “So, did you go swim with the whales today? Or was it polar bears? Or penguins? Or play in a big pit of venomous snakes? Or maybe you just spent a nice day conversing with some Sherpas.”

I winced. I should have known telling her where I’d actually been wasn’t a good idea. I’d tried to play it off a joke, like it could be coming a standing, running joke that was ours — me coming up with creative places I’d been to study. I thought we could probably use something like that, but apparently she didn’t appreciate what she thought was my sense of humor. Fortunately, today’s truth was a bit more tame. “Just studying at the library.”

I saw the tears coming out from under the wash cloth increase significantly. Why would studying at the library make her cry?

I knew I didn’t really love her — not the way a guy should love his wife — but the hurt in her voice tore my heart until what she said sunk in.

“You know, if you were with Lana, just tell me. Please. Don’t make stuff up and treat me like I’m clueless.”

She thought I was with Lana?

“What are you talking about?” I finally asked.

“If you were with Lana, just tell me. Don’t lie to me and tell me you were melting icebergs or something.”

“I wasn’t with Lana. I promise.” Why would she think I was with Lana? “Why would you think that?”

“I told you I didn’t mind if you kept seeing her — that I even understood that you would want to — but I did ask that you be discreet.”

“I haven’t seen her. Not outside of class. Or maybe walking around campus.”

“And you were at the library just now? Studying?”

“Yes.” I was. I’d been there for a couple of hours.

“So that’s what they’re calling it these days,” she muttered.

“Calling what?”

“Sex.”

What on earth was she talking about? Studying at the library as a euphemism for sex?

And if ‘studying at the library’ was another way of saying sex and she thought I was with Lana…

She thought I was having sex with Lana?

“You think I’m having sex with Lana?” I asked her, incredulous.

She just shrugged.

It was too much. I stood up and stared down at her. “You think I’m having sex with Lana.” It was a statement this time.

She didn’t move.

“Don’t you?” I demanded.

“Aren’t you?”

Answering a question with a question. One of my favorite games to play with Lois. Or not. Not now.

“No. I’m not having sex with Lana. I’ve never had sex with Lana.” My voice was getting louder even though I knew I needed to keep my cool.

She pulled the washcloth off her eyes and sat up, glaring at me. “When was the last time you saw her? Besides in class?”

I shrugged.

She snorted.

“What?” I glared down at her.

Apparently, she decided she didn’t want to be looked down on anymore than strictly necessary, because she stood up and faced me, arms crossed in front of her. “I saw you.”

“You saw me having sex with Lana? When? We made out on my bed last semester a few times, but we never…”

I noticed the tears coming closer together. What was I doing? Couldn’t this calm down and we could talk about whatever it was more rationally?

“I saw you two at the library. In one of the study rooms. Were you offering her a piece of bubble gum? Because that’s sure not what it looked like.”

I winced. I’d known at the time it was wrong, but I’d done it anyway. “You saw that?” I had to be sure.

“You mean you and your girlfriend playing tonsil hockey where anyone and their nephew from Latislan could see? Yeah, I saw it.”

I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. “She’s not my girlfriend anymore. Technically, she hasn’t been since we got married, but I saw her the day after she got back and ended things officially.”

“So you were offering her a piece of gum then?”

“No.” My heart was heavy at the thought of how willing I’d almost been to break my wedding vows. “I was kissing her.”

“All I asked was that you be discreet. The library isn’t discreet.”

“I know and I’m sorry.”

“Sorry you kissed her or sorry I saw you?”

Which was it? Was I sorry I kissed Lana? Was I sorry that Lois saw me kiss her? “Yes,” I finally said quietly. “I’m sorry I kissed her and I’m sorry you saw it.”

“Did you kiss her the day after she got back?” she practically demanded.

“Yes,” I told her, ashamed of myself even as I said it.

“And you didn’t make love to her?”

“No!” I practically shouted. “I stood in a chapel and promised before God that I would be faithful to you! And I have been.” Did kissing count as being unfaithful? Deep down, I knew it probably did. No, not probably. It did count. My voice softened as I ran a hand through my hair. “I kissed her when I saw her after we got back and I kissed her in the library.”

“And you didn’t do more than kiss?”

“Okay,” I admitted. “It was pretty heavy kissing, but just kissing. That’s all.” Somehow trying to justify kissing another woman to my wife didn’t make it sound okay.

“You didn’t throw her on your bed in our dorm room and kiss her and touch her and make love to her?”

“No! I didn’t! We didn’t even go into our old dorm room.”

“Fine. Her bed. Linda’s bed. The floor. Up against the wall. Wherever.

“No.”

“You didn’t want to?”

“I didn’t say that,” I growled at her. “I’ve loved her for as long as I can remember. Of course, I wanted to. I’ve wanted to for a long time but we promised ourselves a long time ago we would wait for marriage.”

“You are married.”

“Not to Lana.”

“But you wanted her?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly. “I did.”

“Do you still?”

“What?”

“Do you still want her? If you found yourself alone with her in a cabin in the middle of a snowstorm tomorrow, would you want her?”

Why was she doing this to me? To herself? I just stared at her for a minute, aware but not understanding why so much seemed to ride on this answer. “Would I want her? Yes. Would I do anything about it? No.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.” I was. As long as I was married, I wouldn’t make love with anyone who wasn’t my wife. I knew that.

“You could take all of your clothes off and all of her clothes off to try to stay warm, just like we did, and not make love to her?”

“I didn’t make love to you,” I pointed out.

“You haven’t been in love with me since you were six,” she snapped back.

“No, I haven’t, but no matter what — even if we both stripped down to stay warm, I wouldn’t.” I sank down on the love seat.

“Why not? No one would ever know except the two of you. And you know there’s no possibility of her getting pregnant. You’re completely naked with her and you wouldn’t do it?”

“I wouldn’t be completely naked,” I said playing with my wedding band.

She waited for me to explain.

“I’d still have my wedding band on and that means I don’t make love to anyone but you as long as it’s on.” My words were soft, but I knew she heard them clearly.

“Pretend you lost it.”

I glared at her. “Are you trying to get me to say I’d cheat on you? That I’d deliberately put you and the baby in jeopardy from that bastard because of our ‘fake’ marriage? Come on, Lois, you know me better than that!”

“Then are you planning on making love to me?”

Her eyes held mine, some sort of defiance written in them. Finally, I broke the contact to stare at the ring I still fiddled with. “No,” I said quietly, though I wasn’t sure why it would matter — we were friends, nothing more.

“Did you promise her you wouldn’t?”

“What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” I finally asked her.

“Answer the question,” she insisted.

I leaned forward and rested my forearms on my knees. “Promised might be a bit strong, but I did tell her I wasn’t planning on making love to you.”

“Did you ask her to wait for you?”

“She told me she would and I told her part of me wanted her to, but that I wouldn’t ask her to wait that long for me.” I didn’t look at her as I said it.

“What did she say?”

I sighed. “She didn’t say anything else; not really.”

“Do you expect her to?”

“To what?”

“To wait for you.”

“Expect her to? No.”

“Do you want her to?”

Boy, she wasn’t going for the easy questions was she? “Yeah, I do,” I finally told her honestly.

“So you are planning on make love to her someday?”

I shrugged. “Maybe someday. But not while we’re married.”

She took a deep breath before she asked her next question. “Did you tell her everything? That it’s not real and only temporary? Did you tell her this isn’t your baby?”

My mouth opened once or twice but nothing came out.

***

Part 39

Finally, I sighed. “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”

“You did tell her!” she yelled at me.

“She thought I cheated on her!” I yelled back.

“You knew she would! We talked about it!”

“I know, but I was there and when she looked at me like that… I’d already broken her heart; I couldn’t let her believe I’d broken her trust too.”

She crossed her arms in front of her and glared at me. “So you broke mine? Your wife’s?”

I hadn’t looked at it like that and I sighed again. “I guess I did.”

“And what if she blabs to everyone that you’re not the father of my baby and that we’re only married for some reason she doesn’t know but that you refuse to leave me? You don’t think Mr. Latislani won’t find that suspicious?”

“I told her I’d deny it if she ever said anything.”

She turned to the dingy little window and stared out it, hugging herself as she did so. “So, say she doesn’t wait for you. You’re chained to me and the baby for the next five years. Say she finds someone else in the meantime and she’s happily married, maybe with a baby of her own.”

The thought of that was like a knife in my gut. “Okay.”

“Do you stay with me?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

“Three years from now, she’s moved on. She’s getting married to a great guy. We’ve got another two years to go. We go to the wedding of one of your oldest and dearest friends because everyone in Smallville expects it and we wouldn’t want to disappoint. She dances with her husband and you see them kissing and you know that, if they haven’t already, they’ll make love that night.”

The knife twisted.

“Do you have sex with me then?”

The way she phrased it struck me as odd. “Do you want me to?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “We’re both passably attractive people, when I don’t look like a whale.” I opened my mouth to say something but she went on. “We’ve been sharing a bed for three years. The love of your life is off making love to another man. You accidentally walk in on me naked or nearly naked. Do you have sex with me?”

There it was again. The wording. “Why is it that they’re making love and we’re having sex?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “They’re in love. You’re not in love with me and I’m not in love with you. The act is the same even if the emotions aren’t.”

“That’s a bit cynical.”

“What is?”

“You don’t think there’s a difference between just having sex and making love?”

“Not physically, I don’t guess. I think someone can be very skilled at having sex without ever actually being in love.”

“Probably,” I admitted. “But wouldn’t it be better if there was love involved?”

“That’s not the point,” she snapped at me. “Lana’s off making love with her husband day and night on some beach in Hawaii or some cabin in the mountains. You walk in on me naked or nearly so. Is there no reaction?”

Reaction? My reaction to seeing Lois — a beautiful woman — naked would probably be the same as any other red-blooded male. “Oh, I suppose there could be,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “But that doesn’t mean I’d throw you on the bed and have my way with you.”

“Okay. Lana’s off on her honeymoon and I decide I want to see what all the fuss is about. I’ve already had a baby after all, why shouldn’t I know what sex is like? So I tell you I’m tired and want to go to bed early. The baby’s asleep — and probably not a baby by then — in another room. You come in and there’s candles everywhere and I’m wearing nothing but one of your dress shirts or some skimpy lingerie or something and I kiss you and tell you that I want you but it’s just sex. Do you?”

I shrugged. “Still not sure what you’re getting at.”

“Lana’s off doing it with her husband, why can’t you have sex with your wife?”

“I didn’t say I couldn’t…” My voice trailed off.

“The woman you’re waiting for isn’t waiting for you anymore,” she pointed out.

I ran a hand through my hair. “I don’t know. Maybe?”

“It’s nice to know my husband finds me so desirable,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

I smothered a scream and stood up glaring at her back. “What do you want me to say, Lois? That you’re not attractive? That the biggest problem Lana had with you being my roommate was that you are? That someday, I’m going to decide that I get to have sex with you because you’re my wife and not really care what you say? That, someday, it’s possible that we’ll make love? That…”

“Yes!” She interrupted me, surprising me with her vehemence.

“What?”

She turned and looked at me, tears streaming down her face again. “I want you to tell me that there could, possibly, be some circumstances at some point in the next five years — regardless of how convoluted those circumstances might seem right now — that you could make love to me. Without either of us being inebriated or drugged or whatever. Both of us perfectly lucid. I don’t want to know that it’s probable. Not even likely. Just remotely possible. Some eensy weensy, microcosmic, although highly unlikely possibility that you’ll make love to me at some point during our marriage.”

I thought about that for a minute. Were there any circumstances under which I could find myself making love to Lois that didn’t involve us being drunk? Not that I could get drunk, but she didn’t know that. That was another point. Would I make love to her without telling her about myself? How was I going to keep that a secret for the next five years? Should I keep that a secret for the next five years? I didn’t think I could justify making love to her — when we were both stone cold sober or whatever — without telling her about myself. So, assuming that, at some point, I had told her about myself, could I see us making love at some point?

“Never mind,” she said interrupting my train of thought. She turned towards the closet. “I’m going to take a shower.”

I sighed. “After all that, don’t you want to know my answer?”

“I already do,” she said without looking at me.

I moved towards her and turned her to look at me. “Lois, you are an incredibly attractive woman. I’ve always thought so. Did that mean I wanted to take off my towel and jump you the minute we met? No. Of course not. The biggest problem Lana had with you being my roommate was that you’re attractive. And now we’re married and we will be for the foreseeable future. So is it possible that sometime in the next five years that we’ll make love? Yes, it’s possible. How probable? I don’t know, but it is possible.”

She crumpled in my arms. I pulled her close to me and let her cry. I didn’t know what had gotten into her or why she needed to know that it was possible that we’d make love someday. Did I consider it probable? No, not really. But it was possible. “Are you going to tell me what this is all about?” I asked her quietly.

“No.”

“Why did you need to know if there was a chance that we could make love someday?”

“I just did.”

“This is going to be a very long five years if you won’t talk to me,” I told her gently, feeling slightly guilty at the same time. I hadn’t exactly been talking to her or making it easy for her to talk to me when I disappeared all the time.

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t talk to you, just not about this. Okay?”

“No, it’s not okay. We just had what might qualify as our first fight and now you won’t talk to me.”

“It’s not over,” she muttered.

“What do you mean?”

She moved away from me and plunked herself down in the middle of the bed. “You really want to know?”

“Yes.” I moved back to the loveseat.

“Okay. First, a question. I want an honest answer and then I’ll tell you.”

Well, now we were getting somewhere. “Fair enough.”

“I’ve fallen off the top of a building. I’m barely hanging on. You could save me and the baby. Do you?”

“Of course.” What kind of ridiculous question was that?

“Lana’s hanging off a building at the same time. We’re both barely hanging on. You can only save one of us. Which one do you choose?”

My gut twisted. “You can’t ask me to answer that,” I whispered. I didn’t know the answer myself, except that I could probably get to both of them in plenty of time. But if it really came down to my wife or the woman I’d loved since childhood — the woman I still loved?

“Sure I can. And I want an honest answer.”

“I’d try to find a way to save both of you.” That much was true.

“You can’t. You can only save one.”

“Why only one?”

“Because it’s my question, Alex Trebek.” She threw up her hands. “Fine. We’re both sitting on bombs some distance from each other. One of us moves off the chair, and the other goes boom. If neither one of us move in thirty seconds, we both go boom. Who do you choose?”

“I won’t answer that,” I told her. “I can’t.”

“So you can’t choose between us,” she said flatly.

“No. I can. I chose to marry you. I choose to be here, every night, sharing a bed with you. I choose not to be alone with Lana under any circumstances. But I wouldn’t want either one of you to die. And I can’t say right now what I would do if it absolutely came down to the two of you.”

“Because you love her but you’re obligated to me and if I die the baby does, too,” she said bitterly.

“No. Because I care deeply for both of you and I don’t know how I would make that choice.” I took a deep breath. She wasn’t going to let me avoid answering. “Under extreme duress, if there was absolutely no other way, no way to save both of you, I’d choose you.”

“Why?”

“You’re my wife,” I said simply. “I promised to protect you. Saving you when I can falls under that.”

“So, it’s not because you’d choose me, it’s because you took a vow.”

“Maybe. But right now, it’s the most honest answer I can give you. So what’s this all about? Does it have something to do with Lana?” That made sense.

She nodded.

“Did she say something?”

She nodded again.

“What happened?”

“She just said some stuff that upset me. And I don’t know why it upset me. It wasn’t anything I didn’t already know.”

Part of me was furious with Lana, but part of me knew the only reason she’d lash out was because she was hurt. “What?”

“She and Linda were walking on the quad and I walked by them and I didn’t want to talk to them so I tried to avoid them, but Linda waved me down like we were old friends. I shouldn’t have stopped but I did. She said something about Europe and how the food over there must be really fattening because I’d put on a lot of weight since last semester and Lana said something like hadn’t she heard — I’d seduced her boyfriend while you were practically hypothermic and then trapped you into marrying me because of the baby.”

More of me was furious than before. They were roommates. The little conversation had to have been at least partially scripted.

“Of course, part of that is true and the rest is the public truth,” she continued. “Then Linda said she was going to go talk to someone and it was just me and Lana and I started to walk off but she grabbed my arm. She spoke quietly — there’s no chance anyone else heard — but she said that pregnancy didn’t agree with me and just made me look fat. That you still loved her — would always love her — and you told her two weeks ago at the library that if you were ever alone with her you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from making love to her and that there was no way in hell I’d ever know what you were like in bed.”

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “She shouldn’t have said any of those things.”

She shrugged. “They’re true, aren’t they?”

“Mostly,” I admitted. “I do love her. I can’t imagine not loving her, though I suppose it’s possible. But pregnancy does agree with you, most of the time. You look great, not fat.” And that was the honest truth.

“And if you were alone with her?”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I told her that’s why I couldn’t be alone with her. Because I don’t trust myself and I won’t break my vows to you, I won’t compromise my morals by being with her and I won’t turn her into the other woman. And we’ve already been over whether or not there’s a chance that we’ll make love someday,” I pointed out.

She didn’t say anything.

I sighed. “Regardless of the truth or untruth of any of the statements she made, she shouldn’t have said them. And she’s really not a vindictive person. She’s just hurting.”

She snorted. “I know we’re about as unconventional as it gets, but forgive me for not feeling terribly sorry for my husband’s ex.”

“I hurt her when I married you. If things had worked out as planned, it would have been a bit of a speed bump, but that’s about it. She would have understood. She wouldn’t have liked it, but she would have understood. When I told her we had to stay married and that we were over — at least for now, maybe forever — I broke her heart. She’s lashing out. She shouldn’t but she is.”

“Then tell her to lash out at you,” she said bitterly. “And don’t make excuses for her.”

“I’m not trying to make excuses for her. I’m trying to tell you how I think she feels and why she’s acting the way she is.”

She looked at me with tear filled eyes. “I know you don’t love me, Clark. I get that and I don’t love you like that either and so our marriage isn’t going to be conventional in more ways than just our lack of sex life. But be honest with me. If you were married to Lana and I said some of those things to her, what would you do?”

She wasn’t going for easy questions at all today, was she? “I’d tell you to back off and leave my wife alone,” I told her honestly. If that’s what I’d do for Lana, what should I do for Lois?

“Are you going to tell her that?”

I didn’t say anything as I rolled that thought through my mind.

“I mean, I don’t really expect you to,” she continued. “I wouldn’t be hurt like she is if the situation was reversed. I wouldn’t have any justification for lashing out at her like that. It’s not like you were my boyfriend who I thought was going to propose to me sometime in the next couple of years.”

“It wouldn’t have been in the next couple of years.”

She looked at me, surprised. “Really? When were you two going to get married?”

I shrugged. “Sometime,” I told her being vague, unsure why I’d commented at all.

“Tell me.”

“This summer,” I finally said. “We probably would have gotten married this summer.”

There was a short bark of laughter from the bed. “When were you planning on proposing if you were going to marry her this summer?”

“In Paris.” I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. “I talked to her dad over Christmas and told him I wanted to propose to her while we were in Europe. I didn’t discuss when we’d get married with him, but it probably would have been this summer.”

“So the night you went with me to Latislan was the night you were planning on proposing to her?”

“Something like that.”

“Then why on Earth did you go with me?”

For a minute, I didn’t say anything. Why had I gone with her?

***

Part 40

I sighed. I knew why I had gone. “I couldn’t let you get hurt and I really didn’t think we were going to be gone for several days,” I pointed out. “The whole thing got way out of hand really quickly.”

“It did that.” She picked at the comforter. “You should have stayed.”

“And what would you have done? If I hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t claimed the baby and we hadn’t gotten married… what would have happened to you?” I knew what Navance had told me he’d planned for her — and the baby — but I wasn’t about to tell her that.

“I’d probably be some Latislani general’s love slave by now. Or more likely I’d be dead or in prison because I wouldn’t be some Latislani general’s love slave.”

“So I should have let you and the baby die so I could propose to Lana?” I wasn’t understanding her logic.

“You didn’t know I was pregnant,” she pointed out.

“That’s not the point. I can’t believe that you think I’d rather spend time with Lana — even if it was proposing to her — than save your life.” I was incredulous. Sure things might not have turned out as planned, but to think that letting her die was the preferable option just didn’t make sense to me.

She just shrugged. “You wouldn’t be married to me now. You wouldn’t be the guy that cheated on his girlfriend with his roommate and knocked her up and got stuck marrying her. And I wouldn’t be the girl who seduced her half-dead roommate at her dad’s cabin and then guilted him into marrying her and who’s ignorant that he’s still got a thing going on the side with his girlfriend.”

“We don’t have a thing going on the side,” I pointed out.

“That’s not the point either. My point is, that why was it necessary to ruin both our lives? Or really all three of them. Or four if you count the baby.”

I stood again and stared at her, flabbergasted. “You think that by saving your life and the baby’s life by marrying you, I ruined mine?”

“Didn’t you?”

Answering questions with questions again. “I can’t believe that. You’re one of my best friends, Lois, even if we’ve been in a weird place the last few weeks. I would die to protect you.”

“Dying’s easy,” she muttered.

I shook my head slightly. “What? You think it would be easy for me to die to save you?”

“A lot easier than living to save me,” she shot back. “You jump in front of a bullet for me and you’re gone. Dead. The end. You marry me and you’re stuck with me for five years. Your love life is on hold. Your girl may or may not wait for you. Everyone thinks we’re a couple of losers but for different reasons. You have to see your ex, who would be your fiancee right now, every day and convince yourself that some words you said in front of a chaplain half a world away mean that you can’t take her somewhere and do what you’ve wanted to do for years — make love to her. You’re stuck with a wife, who’s fat and pregnant and hormonal and can’t take care of herself, much less you most of the time. You’re trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage because of some military bastard in Europe and you can honestly tell me that it wouldn’t be easier to just have died to save me?”

I just stared at her. “I wouldn’t have married you if I didn’t mean it — regardless of how long I thought it was going to last. It did occur to me that, for some reason, we wouldn’t be able to get it annulled as soon as we got back and we might have to stay married for a while and there was still no question in my mind that I’d do it — I couldn’t leave you there — no matter what.”

“This wasn’t supposed to be Lana’s was it?” She pulled her wedding band off her finger and held it up.

“What? No. I got these in Latislan while you were in the hospital.”

“I thought you were broke while we were in Europe. That you had just enough to get by on and that was it,” she said angrily, putting the ring back on her finger.

I ran my hand through my hair. I hadn’t planned on telling her how I got our wedding bands — or how I’d paid for the wedding even though the actual dollar amount wasn’t all that high.

She called me on that too. “And how’d we pay for the wedding itself? I mean, it couldn’t have been that expensive, could it? But you were broke. Do you have some huge credit card bill that I don’t know about but now that we’re married I’m half responsible for?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“So, how’d we pay for it? There wasn’t any money missing from my purse. Or did the Latislani government give us a marriage license out of the kindness of their hearts?”

“It was an American wedding license and I paid for it.” <Drop it, Lois,> I told her mentally.

I should have known better. “So how was it paid for?”

“I sold Lana’s ring, okay?” I stared at the floor. I couldn’t look at her. I’d saved for two years to buy that ring. Every penny I didn’t need for something else went into a Smallville Community Bank savings account. I’d bought it when I went to Kansas City with my parents while I was home for Christmas. I’d even managed to do it without them knowing about it — which was a good thing now.

“You sold the engagement ring you were planning on giving your girlfriend so we could get married?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you get fair market value for it?”

I looked at her, sitting on the bed, her cheeks still tear stained, looking hurt and defiant. “Close enough.”

“I mean it, Clark. How much did you pay for that ring?”

I sighed and told her.

“And how much did you sell it for?”

“I sold it to one of the embassy Marines. It doesn’t matter how much I got for it. He got a good deal and a ring for his girl and I got you out of there.”

“It matters to me.”

“Fine.” I told her that, too. “It was enough to get the license and a couple of wedding bands for us. That’s all I asked him for.”

She rolled to her side of the bed and dug around in the side table until she pulled a checkbook out. She grabbed a pen off the top of the table and wrote furiously inside. She pulled the check off and held it out to me.

“What’s that?”

“The difference.”

“What difference?”

“The difference between what you paid for Lana’s ring and what you got for it, plus half of what he paid you to cover my half of the license and my ring.”

“I don’t want it.”

She shrugged. “It’s money my dad gave me access to for emergencies. If I’d known we needed it, I could have gotten to it in Latislan and you wouldn’t have had to sell Lana’s ring.”

I shook my head. “It was my choice, Lois. I’m not going to take it.”

“Take it. Daddy can afford it — at least for now — and if I’d known in Latislan, there wouldn’t have been any question about it, would there?”

I sighed. “I’m still not taking it.”

The phone rang, granting me a reprieve.

“You can get that,” she told me. “I don’t want to talk to anyone right now.”

I walked around the bed and picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Hey, honey!”

“Hi, Mom,” I said weakly.

She knew something was wrong. She always knew. That’s probably why she called. “What’s wrong?” Yep. She knew.

“Nothing.” What was I supposed to tell her? You interrupted a fight with my wife over my girlfriend — or ex-girlfriend — or whatever. Yeah, that would go over well.

“That’s not nothing.”

“Nothing I want to talk about,” I told her.

“Fight with Lois?” she asked sympathetically.

I didn’t respond immediately. “Yeah,” I finally said.

“You still owe us that whole story,” she reminded me.

“I know, Mom, and you’ll get it. I promise.” I hadn’t gotten talked to them when all three of us had time to hash this all out. But I hadn’t tried very hard either.

“Oh, I know we will. But that’s not what I called about. I wanted to talk to you about something.”

I stretched the long phone cord over the bed where Lois now lay curled up on her side and studiously ignoring me. I sat back on the loveseat. “What’s that?”

“Money.”

I cringed. “I figured this was coming.”

“We told you if you and Lana got married before you finished college, you’d be on your own.”

“I know.”

“But you didn’t marry Lana.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“But you are a married man now.”

“I know.”

“So, we’re left with the dilemma about whether or not we continue to send you financial support.”

I sighed. That sounded like I was being cut off. And they were probably right to. If I was grown-up enough to get married and get a girl pregnant, not in that order but the truth as they knew it, I was grown-up enough to take care of my wife and baby.

“Your marriage to Lois caught us off-guard — and I’m guessing it caught the two of you off guard too.”

“It did, Mom. Believe me, it did.”

“And you two weren’t financially prepared for it, were you?”

“Not exactly.”

“Is she still getting any support from her dad?”

“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “We haven’t talked about it. I’m not even sure she knows.”

“You need to,” she told me gently. “Money fights are one of the leading causes of divorce. You have to talk about it.”

I couldn’t tell her Latislani dictators were going to be the reason for our divorce. “I will talk to her about it, I promise.”

“Do either of you have jobs right now?”

“No,” I said quietly, still ashamed that getting one hadn’t even occurred to me like I knew it would have if I’d married Lana.

“And Lois getting one probably isn’t a good plan right now, is it?”

I leaned back and put my feet back up. “No. The baby’s taking a lot out of her. I don’t think she could handle anything else on top of school.” I hadn’t taken my eyes off of Lois as I spoke and she tensed up when I said that.

Can you get a job? With all your schoolwork and helping take care of Lois could you handle a job?”

“Probably. I’ve never needed much sleep so that would help, but I haven’t really looked into it yet.”

“Have you told her about that yet?” Mom asked as gently as she could.

They were disappointed enough in me, and I hated that. I knew if we told them the whole truth they’d support us no matter what and even try to help us find some kind of loophole or something, but we’d agreed that no one would know the whole truth. Lana knew too much as it was. And this was just one more reason for them to be disappointed in me. And even if we did tell them the whole truth, they’d want me to tell her about Krypton. Because she was my wife, no matter the reason, and she should know. I stifled a sigh.

“I’ll take your silence as a ‘no’,” she finally said. “But we’ll talk about that later.”

<Don’t count on it, Mom,> I said to myself. I wasn’t going to tell her anytime soon. Not if I had anything to say about it, but I wasn’t sure I was going to…

“But back to the money thing.”

Right. Back to that. “What about it?”

“Your dad and I talked about it a lot the last couple weeks and we’re going to keep sending the money we have been on a couple of conditions.”

Great. Conditions. Who knew what my mom had concocted. “What conditions?”

“As long as Lois doesn’t need you at home to help take care of her — like if she ends up on bed rest or something — you get a job.”

“That sounds… reasonable,” I told her.

“It is. We seriously considered cutting it off all together because of the way you’ve handled things, but that wouldn’t affect just you anymore and that’s something else you need to realize,” she said firmly. “It would have affected Lois and our grandbaby and you already said she’s in no shape to work right now. That leaves you and I doubt you can make enough to support the three of you at the moment, not without help from us and her dad — which you’re not sure is still coming. And she may need you to stay home with her more than either of you think and that would hinder how much you can work too. It’s not just about you anymore, son. I know you always looked out for Lana, but this is different. This is your wife and your child we’re talking about.”

“I know that, Mom. Believe me, I know that.” I ran a hand down my weary face and noted Lois’ slowed heartbeat. It sounded like she was finally getting some much needed rest. That was good and it meant she wouldn’t interrogate me about this later.

“Okay, so job. Second, you have to tell her about yourself. Soon. She deserves to know that.”

I should have known. “I don’t know if I can, Mom.”

“It doesn’t matter if you can, Clark. She’s your wife and she’s having your baby. She has to know. And since she’s your wife, I’m going to assume you’re making love to her on at least a semi-regular basis and we talked about that years ago. That it wouldn’t be responsible of you to have sex with Lana — or anyone else — without telling her about yourself. We talked about it and we could understand some hypothermic induced haze — and we still don’t understand how that happened to you…”

“I don’t either,” I interrupted. “And, while I’m not sure it’s anybody’s business but mine and Lois’, she hasn’t had the energy for that kind of thing.” No, I wasn’t making love to my wife on a regular basis, but they didn’t need to know why. And I had told the truth. There was no way Lois would have had the energy for that since we got married.

“Good. Not good that she doesn’t have the energy, but good that you’re man enough not to push her when she’s like this.”

“I would never do that, Mom!” I said louder than I meant to. I lowered my voice as Lois stirred. “She may be my wife, but I’d never push her into something she didn’t want — for whatever reason.”

“I didn’t think so, but it’s still good to hear.” She took a deep breath. “And one other thing.”

“What? Do you want a copy of her medical records to prove I’m the father?” My voice dripped with sarcasm — the kind my mom hated, the kind that always got me in trouble.

“Clark Jerome Davis Kent! I don’t care if you are married, you will not speak to me with that tone of voice.”

I knew I shouldn’t have done it — it was the one thing guaranteed to get me full named. “Yes, ma’am,” I said contritely.

“For the record, we believe you, but we also think a DNA test would be a very bad idea.”

“I know. I do, too.” And only partly for the same reasons they did. Also because a DNA test would prove the baby wasn’t mine.

“Okay, so the other thing. We want to talk to you about all of this in person. Soon.”

“I don’t know when I can make it Smallville, Mom,” I said evasively.

“Nonsense. You could be here in a few minutes if you wanted to. We’re willing to wait until Spring Break. If Lois can’t come — or isn’t up to coming because of being sick or whatever — that’s fine, you’ll stay in Metropolis and fly out to see us one night. If she’s up for travelling with you that way, she can come too. If she’s up to the road trip, we want you two to come here for Break. We’ll pay for gas and one hotel room each way. Nothing fancy, but a bed for her to sleep in so she’s not on the road for over twenty hours straight.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And, for whatever reason we still don’t understand, you two got into this. You were Lana’s ride home for Break so, if you do come, you’ll have to at least offer to bring her with you. If the two of you aren’t comfortable sharing a hotel room with her, then you’ll have to spring for the second one yourself, got it?”

I groaned. Both of them would absolutely hate that. They hadn’t really been friends before all of this started and sharing the same suite hadn’t been a whole lot of fun. Sharing a car — probably Lois’ beloved Jeep — with them for a total of four days was going to be a nightmare.

“You have to live up to your obligations, Clark. And one obligation you had was to bring Lana back here for Break. Even though you two aren’t a couple anymore, you owe it to her to at least offer to bring her with you if you’re coming anyway.”

“I’ll talk to Lois,” I promised. “She mentioned that you’d said something about it when you talked to her a couple weeks ago and she said then she’d think about it.”

“We love you, Clark. And by extension that means we love Lois and the baby, even though we’ve never met her — or we want to, at least and we want to get to know our daughter-in-law. And while you’ll always be our son and part of our family, you have your own family to take care of now.”

I sighed. She was right. “I know, Mom. I haven’t been doing a great job at that, I know that, but I’m trying to do better. I promise. I was thinking a little while ago that I need to get a job soon.”

“We love you, very much.”

“I know, Mom. I love both of you, too.”

“You sound tired.”

“I am.”

“Then why don’t you get some rest and we’ll talk again soon.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“I mean what we said though. If you don’t get a job and tell her everything by the time you talk to us over Spring Break, the checks will stop.”

“I know, Mom. I get it.”

“Give Lois a hug for me.”

“Will do.” Well, I wouldn’t really, but she didn’t need to know that.

We said good night and hung up. She’d given me a lot to think about, but it was nice to know that they were still going to send some money. It wasn’t much but it would help. And we weren’t going to have a place to live come mid-May. Many of the other couples in the building — those that wanted to live on campus — had applied for the apartments that would be vacated in mid-May by graduates or couples moving for other reasons. Those now had a waiting list. Getting us into this apartment had been a minor miracle. Getting us into one for the summer was going to be impossible. Unless Sam, by some chance, decided to let us stay with him and Lois was willing to do so, we were going to have to find a place off-campus to live.

I’d had my head in the sand for way too long already. I needed to figure out how I was going to provide for my wife and baby no matter how we’d ended up here.

***

Part 41

March 2003

Lois

~~~~~

I held the paperwork in my hand and just stared at it.

Lois Lane no longer existed.

I was now Lois Kent.

I couldn’t even hyphenate my last name because of the Latislani bastard. At least, Daniel had recommended against it.

And I hated what my life had become. I had become a recluse. I rarely saw Joe or Les or Debbie or Julie or any of my other friends. Instead, I was in a shabby hole of an apartment virtually any time I wasn’t in class or grocery shopping or something equally mundane.

But I didn’t see much choice in the matter. When I was in public, I needed to be with Clark and be all lovey-dovey. I preferred a life of solitude to that. And I did still manage to chat with them from time to time — but online using AIM or Gmail, not in person. It had both advantages and disadvantages.

Of course, Clark also had my dream job. Okay, not my dream job, but for my dream employer. He’d managed to get on in the mail room at the Daily Planet. A foot in the door for someday, he’d said.

The key turned in the lock and I sighed as I set the papers down and picked up my laptop, popping it open. I waited for it to come out of hibernation or whatever it was called when it was closed and went back to the Word document that was waiting for me.

“What are you working on?” Clark asked as he set his backpack down.

I shrugged. “American Lit.”

“Ah. The Mark Twain paper.”

I nodded. “Did you get yours done?”

He shook his head. “Not quite. About half, I guess. What about your English paper?”

I sighed. “I haven’t started it.” It was a hard paper to write. The instructions weren’t easy in the first place, but it was more than that. The topic was what was so hard.

We had to write a paper, in first person. And it had to be partially from our perspective and partially from the perspective of at least one other person. The event or events we wrote about had to be pivotal points in our lives. And — this was the kicker — as much as possible, the other person or persons involved had to read the paper and write a note to the professor saying that they had read the paper and that it was a reasonably accurate depiction of events.

There were a number of things I could go with to write about. Heck, I could probably write about my marriage to Clark, except that I couldn’t tell anyone about that — and I really didn’t want to try to get in his head to write part of it from his perspective. And I really really didn’t want to give it to him to read. The most obvious story to write would be about the death of my mom and sister, but that would entail writing about my dad’s pain and suffering and then having him read it — after trying to get into his head about what he was thinking and feeling when Mom and Lucy were killed in a car accident. I sighed.

Clark was speaking. “Why haven’t you started it? It’s due the week after Spring Break.”

“I know when it’s due, Miss Moneypenny,” I snapped at him. I’d wondered a time or two what he was writing about and if it had anything to do with his desire to name the baby ‘Christopher’ if I had a boy, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to ask him about. The night he’d told me that much, he’d refused to explain any more about why that was the name he wanted, but he did promise to tell me someday.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. He sighed. “Spring Break is in eight days. Have you decided if you want to go to Smallville or not?”

“Do you want to?”

“Of course, I’d like to go home and see my folks, but I’d understand if you didn’t want to go.”

“And since we need to do whatever over Spring Break together…” I sighed. “You wouldn’t be able to go either.”

He shook his head. “I should probably tell you something, though…”

“What?”

“I told you Mom and Dad said they’d pay for gas and a hotel room each way, right?”

I nodded.

He leaned forward in the kitchen chair and rested his elbows on his knees. “There was a stipulation with that.”

“What?”

He didn’t look at me. “Well, I told you they’d keep sending money if I got a job, which I did, but for this they said that we have to at least offer to bring Lana with us since I was supposed to be her ride home and if we didn’t want to share a room with her we’d have to spring for another one ourselves.”

I sighed. That would be just great. And we’d have to take my Jeep. I’d figured we would anyway, but with Lana… That would be just peachy.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

Tears filled my eyes as I thought of the letter I’d received the day before — the one I hadn’t shown him yet. “Go,” I whispered.

~~~~~

Clark

I stared at her for a long minute before nodding. “Okay. I’ll tell my folks.” And talk to Lana. I didn’t think she’d actually go with us. I didn’t think there was any way she’d want to subject herself to that or something. “We can leave about noon on Friday, we’ll probably get there sometime Saturday evening and stay until the next Saturday sometime depending on how far we want to drive on Sunday.”

She nodded.

“Are you sure?” I asked her. I couldn’t believe she’d really be willing to drive twenty hours each way with Lana in her Jeep — or any other vehicle for that matter.

She nodded again, before sighing and reaching into the top of the desk drawer next to her. She handed me a piece of paper.

I glanced at it and froze. “When did you get this?”

“Yesterday.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

“I didn’t see you yesterday after I got it. I was asleep when you got home,” she reminded me, a hint of accusation in her voice. “And I really didn’t want to tell you before class this morning.”

I read the letter from Navance. It was the third one we’d gotten since we left Latislan. The first one had come the day after the big fight Lois and I had over what Lana had said to her. The second one had come about three weeks later and now this one. It was essentially the same as the other two had been. Threatening us, the baby, everyone we knew basically. The last line caught my attention. ‘Don’t forget what I told you, boy.’ Apparently, it had caught Lois’, too.

“What does he mean by that last bit?”

“About what he told me?” I tried to play innocent.

><~><~><

He practically hissed at me. “There is no way you will be able to claim her child.”

“Why not?” I asked, arms crossed in front of me in the hall of the hospital.

“She will not be able to leave the hospital except under the escort of my men. And if you did manage to get her out, I would come after her and her child. You would never know when — day or night — my men will arrive and you will never see either of them again. No one will see her again and, if she has a son, no one will see him until he takes over my empire. When she leaves here, she will be taken to my house where she will live in my care until the child is born. At that point, I will decide what to do with her.”

“You’d kill her?” I whispered. I’d fly her out of here before that.

He laughed — one of those evil laughs I thought only existed on TV or in bad movies. “Oh, no, child. I will decide if I want to keep her for myself or share her with my comrades. It all depends on how satisfied she keeps me between now and then. And I will make sure she sees exactly how her child is being raised and unless she cooperates, her child will die. I could marry her but that offer her some protections, and I wouldn’t do that.”

My stomach churned at the thought of how Lois would be treated. “How is the child going to be raised?”

“Ah, the baby will be taken from its mother at birth and raised as I wish. If the child is a boy, I will raise him to be what I wish him to be. A man after my own heart, if you will.” He leered. “And if the child is a girl, as soon as she is old enough, she will follow in the footsteps of her mother. Until then, she will be a servant in my house.”

My eyes went wide. “You wouldn’t.”

Navance moved closer to me. “There are many men who like very young, innocent women,” he whispered in my ear. “I’m sure you do, as well.”

I wanted to retch at the insinuation. I had to get her out of there. I could not let him get his hands on Lois or the baby.

Not here.

Not now.

Not ever.

><~><~><

“Just what I told you before. That you didn’t see his face when he threatened you and the baby.” I couldn’t tell her the truth. Not what he’d planned on doing with her and the baby once he got his hands on them. That was why I’d helped set up the break-out and helped her get into the embassy and married her.

And why I was going to stay married her until the baby was five years old or someone else decided they’d had enough of Navance and shot him.

~~~~~

Lois

I closed my eyes. I had to pee and they weren’t going to let me.

Not yet. And Clark wasn’t there yet either. He was supposed to meet me at my doctor’s office for the ultrasound, but he was nowhere to be seen. And my appointment, officially, was ten minutes earlier. I flipped idly through a magazine I had literally had less than no interest in. I didn’t even look up when Clark sat beside me.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said quietly.

I shrugged.

“I got… held up.”

I shrugged again.

“When’s your appointment?”

“Ten minutes ago. Thanks for being here.” I tried to let just enough sarcasm creep into my voice. I knew he got the point.

The door opened. “Lois?”

I didn’t look at Clark as I grabbed my purse and headed for the hallway. A minute later, we were in the ultrasound room.

“Ready, Mrs. Kent?” the technician asked.

I hadn’t gotten used to that at all, but I nodded, pulling my pants down a bit further as she tucked a washcloth into the waist band.

Clark sat next to me and stared, seemingly unseeing at the monitor.

“Here we go.” The woman pushed a couple of buttons and pressed the wand into my stomach. A minute later, she pointed to the screen. “There’s your baby.”

Tears filled my eyes as she continued to take measurements and pointed out things like the spine and heart and eye sockets.

“Do you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

I shook my head. “No. I want to be surprised.” It was so counter-intuitive. I normally had to know everything, but for some reason, I didn’t want to know. I had when I’d had the first ultrasound, but not this time. Maybe it was the insinuations from Navance about what he’d do with the baby if he ever got his hands on him or her. Maybe by not knowing if I was having a boy or girl, I could keep that piece of information from him and keep us both a bit safer or something.

She smiled. “That was always my choice.”

A few minutes later, she removed the wand and used the washcloth to wipe off my stomach. “Why don’t you go to the bathroom? There’s a cup in there for you so Terri can check it for you.”

I nodded and headed that direction. When I came back out, Clark was standing by the door waiting for me. We headed out to the waiting room to wait for our turn to see Dr. McConnell.

“Here,” he said quietly, handing me the slips of paper with pictures on them.

“Thanks,” I said in similar tones. I flipped through them, staring at each one. This was the life growing inside me.

“Pretty amazing, huh?”

I nodded, tears in my eyes. “Yeah. Pretty amazing.”

~~~~~

Clark

I took the pictures back from her when she offered them.

This was the reason I was doing this. This was the reason why I’d married Lois and why I was staying married to her. To keep Navance away from her and from the baby, I’d do just about anything.

I turned my hearing on and listened to the fluttering sound that had lulled me to sleep so many nights recently. I stared at the picture of the baby sucking his thumb as I listened.

I couldn’t let anything happen to either one of them.

“Lois.” I looked up and saw a nurse standing there, holding the door open.

“Hi, Terri,” Lois said with a smile.

“How’re you feeling?” Terri asked as she took us to a room.

This was the first visit I’d made with Lois. So far, she’d managed to schedule them while I was in school, but she’d mentioned that she figured I ought to be here for this one, with the ultrasound and all.

And I’d almost missed it. I’d heard about a lost little boy in the Arizona desert and had flown out there to help find him. No one had known I was there but I was able to direct the searchers to the right place. Of course, I couldn’t tell Lois that. Not yet. Not until I told her about myself. She was annoyed with me for being late and I didn’t really blame her.

“We won’t check the heartbeat since Lydia just did that with the ultrasound.”

Lois kicked her shoes off and stepped up on the scale. “Do we really have to do this everytime?”

Terri laughed. “Nearly everyone says that.”

“I wonder why,” she muttered.

Terri laughed again and I sat in one of the chairs along the wall as Lois climbed onto the table. “Kristi will be in in a few minutes.” She left and closed the door behind her.

“Does everyone call your doctor Kristi?” I asked. “Back home, everyone would say Dr. Kristi.”

She shook her head. “She was my mom’s doctor for a year or so before she died. She’d worked with both my parents while she was in med school. When she did that other ultrasound, she told me we’d been through enough together that I could call her Kristi.” She shook her head slightly. “I still can’t bring myself to do it, though.”

There was a knock on the door. “Hello?” The door swung open and the woman I recognized from the brief meeting in the ER entered. “How are you two doing today?”

She seemed slightly uneasy.

“We’re good,” Lois said. “As long as you don’t tell us that something’s wrong with the baby.”

Dr. McConnell smiled and shook her head. “Nope. Everything looks great. You look about three or four days farther along than you should be, but that’s no big deal. It’s pretty common actually. The baby could stay a few days ahead, or slow down a bit later, but either way is fine. Do you have any questions for me at this point?”

Lois glanced at me. “Is it okay for me to go to Kansas next week? We’re driving.”

She nodded. “You’ll probably need to take frequent restroom breaks and you need to stretch your legs at least every couple of hours.” She took a piece of paper out of a drawer and wrote on it. “That’s my home and cell phone numbers. Call me if you need anything while you’re gone.”

“Thanks, Dr. McConnell,” Lois said, taking it from her.

“Kristi, please.” She grinned and leaned against the counter. “I talked to your dad last week. How’re things going with his girlfriend?”

Lois glanced at me. “I haven’t really been home much. Things have been pretty crazy.”

The doctor looked Lois straight in the eye for a long moment, then nodded. “I bet.” She set the file on the counter. “Why don’t you lie back and we’ll measure that stomach of yours?”

Lois did as she was told and a minute later the doctor said she was measuring half a week bigger than she should be, but that was in keeping with the ultrasound. She reiterated that it was nothing to be concerned about.

A few minutes of chit chat after that, Lois hopped down from the table and slid her tennis shoes back on.

Dr. McConnell gave her a hug. “Have a safe trip and I’ll see you in a month.”

“Thanks.” Lois headed out into the hall.

I started to follow her, but a hand on my arm stopped me.

I found myself looking down into the brown eyes of the doctor.

“I know this isn’t easy, Clark. Becoming a parent so unexpectedly and all, but please… Take care of her.”

Something in her tone made me wonder if Lois, feeling comfortable with the doctor-patient confidentiality thing, had told her everything.

“I will,” I promised. “I’ll take care of her.”

***

Part 42

Lois

~~~~~

Clark sighed. “I don’t suppose your Jeep plays MP3s.”

I looked up from where I was working on my laptop. “No. Why?”

“I can only fit like twelve songs on a CD. We’re going to be on the road for twenty, twenty-one hours. I can fit like 130, 140 songs on a CD if they’re mp3s.”

“You want to make a CD with 130 songs on it?” I raised a brow at him.

“Well, not necessarily, but more than twelve would be nice so I don’t have to change it all the time.”

I shook my head. “It’s my car. What makes you think you get to pick the music anyway?”

“Are you planning on driving the whole way to Kansas?”

I bit my lip. “Ah, actually, I don’t really do too well driving long distances. I mean, Bremerton was one thing, but halfway to Kansas… probably not.”

He leaned on one elbow and grinned at me. “Driver picks the music.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. Do you still need 130 songs?”

“No, but more than twelve would be nice,” he repeated.

I set the laptop down and reached into the desk drawer. “Here,” I said tossing him something.

“What’s this?” he asked, picking up the small, white object.

“My old iPod. I got a new one for Christmas. I have an adapter so it’ll play in the tape deck in the Jeep. You can load a bunch of your music on there and make all the playlists you want.”

“Thanks.” He sounded like he meant it. “Now I just have to figure out how to do that. An MP3 player was never real high on my ‘to buy’ list — I only have a new laptop because it was a graduation present from my folks.”

I laughed and tossed him the USB cable. “You’ll need that and your laptop. Do you at least know how to load your CDs onto the computer?”

He nodded. “That I can do.”

“That’s all you really need to know. It’s pretty easy.” I held my hand out for it. “I haven’t erased any of mine. Do you want me to?”

He shook his head. “Nah. Is there still room?”

“Half full.”

“Well, not all of your music is bad.”

“Not all of your music is bad either,” I tossed back as I pulled my new — black — iPod out of my backpack. “Mind if I upload some of it?”

He shook his head. “Not at all.” He walked to the media/bookcase on top of the desk and pulled his CDs off, tossing them all on the bed. He sat on the opposite corner from me. “NCIS is about to start, isn’t it?”

I nodded and turned it on, pausing it.

“Aren’t we going to watch it?”

“Wait twenty minutes and we won’t have to sit through commercials.”

“Gotcha.”

I started picking through the CDs in the middle of the bed. “Eclectic.” He had everything from Brad Paisley and Faith Hill to big band swing music and jazz to Green Day, the Beatles, 3 Doors Down, REM and just about everything else except Gangsta Rap.

“I like all kinds of music.” He held out his hand. “Give me one?”

I grabbed one. “Randy Travis? Really?”

“Hey! There’s nothing wrong with Randy Travis,” Clark pointed out. He flipped the case over and read the list of songs. I could see his face fall slightly, but he covered it well. He tossed the case onto the love seat. “Something else.”

I handed him a CD from a group I didn’t recognize.

“Ah, big band. Swing music. That’ll keep us awake in Ohio.”

He was quiet as we both loaded music onto our computers and I paused NCIS long enough to explain to him how to make playlists and transfer them. The episode was pretty gross, but I managed to stay out of the bathroom.

“Here we go. Theme song for the road.” He clicked on his computer a couple of times and Rascal Flatts’ ‘Life is a Highway’ started playing.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m taking my ear plugs.”

He grinned. “How about this one?” ‘Chattahoochee’ was next.

“No.”

“This one?”

I sighed as ‘Achy, Breaky Heart’ filled the room. “No. I’m going to wear my ear plugs the whole way to Kansas.”

He just grinned at me. “How about… this one?”

‘He Didn’t Have to Be’ cut off the smart aleck remark I was going to make about ‘Friends in Low Places’ or ‘How Do Ya Like Me Now’ or whatever other song I’d thought he was going to pick. “I like that one. No ear plugs necessary for Brad Paisley.”

“Good. He’s one of my favorites.”

“Mine, too,” I told him, amazed that we’d managed to find a little bit of common ground.

He looked like he was going to say something as the song played on, but he just sighed instead. Finally, he spoke. “Are you packed?”

I nodded. “Yep — bag’s over there.”

He stood but hesitated. “Do you want to call Lana to have her bring her stuff over or do you want me to?”

I wanted to cry. I really hadn’t thought that she’d accept the offer but she had. I wondered if there was something sinister behind it, but I didn’t have much choice at the moment.

~~~~~

Clark

This was going to be a nightmare.

I loved Lana, but I was married to Lois and I had promised to protect her.

And I was getting ready to spend a total of four of the next ten days in the car with the two of them. I sighed. I couldn’t have imagined this when I’d married Lois, but at the same time I knew I’d done the right thing, no matter how hard the next week was going to be.

Lois interrupted my thoughts. “Do we really need to pack tonight? I have a suitcase that can go tonight. The rest of it — my pillow, blanket, laptop, backpack, bathroom stuff — those can’t go until tomorrow anyway.”

She had a point. “Well, I can get most of it packed in the morning before class,” I conceded. “Though it would help if I had as much of Lana’s stuff as possible by then so there’s less rearranging to do once we pick her up,” I told her. “We can’t load the cooler until right before we leave, so we’ll have to come back here anyway and can pick up laptops and stuff then.”

“Do we even have food to snack on?”

I sighed and finally decided to send Lana an email rather than calling her was the best plan. I was fairly certain she’d be online. “There. Email sent to her so neither one of us has to call her.” She nodded. “I told her a couple hours because she probably isn’t packed yet. Once I hear back, we can go hit the store and then stop and pick her stuff up.” My ‘new message’ box flashed. “She’ll be downstairs in two hours.” I sighed and reached for my shoes. “Ready?”

She nodded and reached for her purse. “Let’s go.”

I grabbed our suitcases. “May as well take the two of these now — less to deal with in the morning.”

She nodded again and locked the door behind us.

Twenty minutes later we were pushing a cart through CostMart. We picked up some snack cakes for me and some crackers for her. We got other favorite snacks and I picked up a couple things I knew Lana would want.

“Do you think we should get drinks or stop and get them at convenience stores?” Lois asked. “Those are usually pretty cheap.”

“Do they fit in your cup holders?” Not all of them would I was sure.

“Good point. Get some and when we happen to be stopped anyway, if we want something cheaper…?”

“Sounds like a good plan to me.” I looked at the cart. “Anything else you want? New book? CD? Movie to watch on the laptop?”

She shook her head. “I downloaded some TIVO to the laptop and have some DVDs packed in my bag. I’ve got an outlet in the Jeep and a power adapter, too so that’s not a big deal. I’ve actually got a car adapter for my laptop, too. And I, uh, downloaded a couple stories from the web I’ve been wanting to read,” she said, not looking at me as she spoke.

“Ah. The NCIS Tony and Abby stories you were reading?”

She shrugged, but turned eight shades of red.

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. I read a couple of them. They weren’t bad.”

“Well, I finally found a couple decent authors who’ve actually finished a few stories. A bunch of the first ones I found were posted in really short segments by people who had no clue about sentence structure or spell check, much less how to develop a plot or finish a story. This one lady — she goes by Beth, but I have no idea if that’s her real name or not — has written a couple that looked good and got good reviews. Another one named Bananna, Great Defender Of All That Is Daniel — whatever that means — has, too, but hers are more Tony and Ziva stories.”

“Ah.”

She changed the subject. “Did your boss give you a hard time about taking the week off?”

I shook my head. “Nah. I told him about it when he hired me, that I might be going home for Break and he said it would be fine.” I paused. “I also told him I’d be staying over the summer, so he was more willing to go ahead and hire me than he would have been if I wasn’t going to be in town after the semester ends.” I pushed the cart down another aisle. “I did meet Perry White today, though.”

She stopped and stared at me. “You did not.”

“I did.”

“And?”

I shrugged. “And what?”

“Tell me all about it. He’s my hero.”

“Really?” I raised an eyebrow. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but she did want to be a reporter so it made sense.

“Give, Kent.”

“Not much to tell. I finished the marketing floor early and Skip asked for help so I took a bunch of his mail and ended up in the bull pen. I dropped off mail for Norcross and Judd, but they weren’t there and then I knocked on his door. He told me to come in, I handed him the mail. He said ‘thanks, kid’ and I left. That’s it.”

“Exciting,” she said rolling her eyes as she grabbed a can of Pringles.

“Told you.”

“Still,” she sighed. “You’re two steps ahead of me.”

I leaned on the cart and turned to look at her. “It’ll be okay. You’ll make it. You’ll be there before too long. We’ll work together. We’ll be the next Norcross and Judd,” I told her with a grin.

She stared at me for a long minute before turning away. I thought I saw tears in her eyes but I couldn’t imagine why.

Before long, we’d checked out and stuck the bags in the back of the truck. When we went somewhere together — which wasn’t often — and Lois didn’t want to drive, we took the truck. When she did, we took the Jeep.

We drove in silence to campus. I could see Lana struggling to get out of the front door with her suitcase as we pulled up. “Do you mind if I help her?” I asked hesitantly.

She shook her head. “No. Go ahead.”

I climbed out and headed to the door. “Let me get it,” I said, reaching for the bag.

She paused, but then nodded. My hand brushed hers and the spark was still there. I made myself keep moving and turned to go back to the truck. I hoisted the bag easily into the back.

“Are we taking the truck?” Lana asked me.

“No, but Lois didn’t feel like driving tonight so we took the truck to the store.” I reached for the bag she had in her other hand.

“That’s my laptop. I don’t really want to lug it around tomorrow and we’re leaving right after our eleven o’clock classes, right?”

I hesitated. “Yeah. We’ll have to go back to the apartment to get the laptops and cooler and stuff, so we can keep it there for you. We’ve got hotel reservations just over the Indiana border tomorrow night so we’re hoping to be on the road no later than 12:30 or so.”

She had her arms crossed in front of her. “Do you want to pick me up or me to meet you there?”

I thought about it for a minute. “It’s a lot easier to get on the freeway from there, but it’s up to you.”

“I’ll meet you over there then.”

I nodded. “Apartment 5A. If you take the elevator, it’s all the way down on the end on the right.”

She shook her head slightly. “I think I’ll probably just meet you downstairs.”

“Okay.”

“See you tomorrow.” She paused, as though she was going to say something else, but she didn’t and then turned and walked away.

There was a hole in my heart as I watched her go through the door and wait for the elevator. Before I realized I was doing it, I tuned my hearing in and heard her heartbeat and her tears.

I sighed and climbed back in the truck. Lois was in the middle, but I figured that was just for show and sure enough, as soon as we were out of sight, she moved.

“She’s going to meet us here,” I told her as I pulled the truck into a parking spot. “Traffic at Weller is bound to be worse than here with everyone leaving for Break.”

She nodded. “That’s probably the fastest way out of here.”

We climbed out of the truck and I grabbed some bags to take straight to the Jeep. “Well, you know your way around Metropolis better than I do. Do you want to drive until we hit the outskirts?”

“If you don’t want to.” She didn’t look at me as she unlocked the Jeep and I put the bags in. She locked it back and headed towards the apartment building.

I stared after her for a long minute, looking through the wall as she waited for the elevator. I saw her swipe at her cheeks. So that was why she’d left me with the rest of it — she didn’t want me to see her cry. I didn’t mind taking the other stuff inside, not really, but I wasn’t sure what I could do to make any of it better. For either of them. For me.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I was doing what I had to do to protect all of us.

***

Part 43

Lois

~~~~~

I sighed as I stuck another DVD in my bag.

“Ready?” Clark asked as he picked up his laptop bag and backpack.

“I think so.” He held his hand out and I gave him the bag.

“Why don’t you finish with the cooler and I’ll be back up for it in a minute?”

I nodded as he left. I sat on the bed and picked up the frame from the top of the DVD player. Pictures of my baby. I thought about taking them with me, but I’d scanned them all into my computer and Clark had actually emailed them to his parents so it wasn’t like we needed them.

I sighed and headed for the ‘kitchen’. I pulled the sodas out of the fridge and the lunch meat and other cold stuff we’d bought for the trip.

I loaded it all then took the bag of ice out of the freezer and was pouring it into the cooler when the door opened. “Almost done,” I said without looking up.

“Nice place,” came a female voice.

I froze. What was she doing up here?

“Lana was already here so she came up with me to see if there was anything she could help carry down,” Clark said, uncomfortably.

I shook my head. “Just the cooler and my purse.” I purposefully picked up the frame I’d left lying on the bed and set it on top of the dresser before I picked up my purse. “Ready.”

Clark hefted the cooler. “Let’s go then.”

What followed had to be the most awkward few moments of my life to date, but I was sure that the next two days would prove to be even worse. I locked the door behind us and was grateful that the elevator hadn’t moved and we could get right in. Clark had pulled the Jeep up earlier so it was only a short walk. He stuck the cooler behind the passenger seat, making sure we’d be able to open it.

“Did you put my stuff up front?” I asked him, hoping he’d remembered to so I wouldn’t have to dig around the back for it once we traded drivers.

“Yeah, it’s all in the front floorboard.”

“Thanks.”

Lana slid into the back seat on the driver’s side and I smiled slightly to myself at the perturbed look on her face. She didn’t look thrilled about it. What did she think? She was going to sit up front with Clark? Even if he wasn’t married to me, it was my car, for crying out loud.

I noticed her eyes widen a bit when I climbed into the driver’s seat. I stuck a Dave Matthews Band CD in and turned it up as I pulled onto the street.

An hour later, we were far enough on the outskirts of Metropolis that Clark felt comfortable taking over. I wondered what he’d pick now that it was his turn. I settled into the passenger side and smiled to myself. Lana had determinedly said she was fine sitting on the driver’s side, but when Clark adjusted the seat, it had left her without much leg room.

Finally, I took a swig of my Sprite and put it back in the holder. I pulled my laptop out of the bag and popped it open.

“Working on your English paper?” Clark asked.

“Yeah. I’ve got to get it done sometime this week,” I reminded him.

“You finished Mark Twain?”

“Yesterday afternoon.”

“Good for you.” He sounded genuinely happy for me. “I still have about three pages to go.”

I could almost hear Lana seething in the back seat. “Would you mind to proof it for me later?”

“No problem.” He glanced at me. “Um, I have no idea how to do it so could you plug in my iPod and start the first playlist?”

I balanced the laptop on my knees as I hooked it up and set the first playlist to repeat. If he wanted me to change it later, I would.

“Thanks.” His hands drummed the steering wheel as ‘Life Is A Highway’ blared from the speakers.

I rolled my eyes and dug my ear plugs out of my backpack.

“What?” He grinned at me.

“You know what.” I stuck them in and turned back to the laptop. I had planned on keeping my ears tuned to whatever conversation happened between the two of them, but with the music up that loud, they weren’t going to be conversing much anyway. The next song was ‘Chattahoochee’ and I rolled my eyes at him again as he smiled.

I didn’t really mind it, but that wasn’t the point. I’d hoped that something would happen exactly like it did. Something that would indicate to Lana that we were closer than we really were.

I could have just turned my iPod on with my ear buds, but I decided not to. If they were talking, I’d be able to at least sort of hear it if there wasn’t other music playing in my ears.

I gazed at the blank screen in front of me as we drove into Pennsylvania.

I had no idea what I was going to write about. After I’d stared at the blinking cursor for about thirty miles, I snapped the laptop shut.

“Still not coming to you?” Clark asked, sympathetically, turning the sound down as I took the ear plugs out.

“No.” I sighed. “I mean, I know what I’m going to write about, but the words just aren’t coming. I can’t get into my dad’s head enough.”

“What are you talking about?” Lana asked from the back seat.

“An assignment,” I told her. “For our English class.” I stressed ‘our’ slightly.

“You might try writing your part and see if you can get into his head later. That’s what I did. I mean, I wrote the stuff from my perspective first and then my mom’s. Some stuff I knew had to be from hers though,” he said, thoughtfully. “I mean, I couldn’t write about something when I hadn’t been there and there were a couple things that I wasn’t there for but still related to the overall story.”

“How long is yours?”

He winced. “Probably twenty-five pages right now. I need to edit it down some.”

“Well, he said fifteen to thirty so you’re still within that.”

“I think I’m still going to edit some of it out.”

“Am I in it?” came a voice from the back seat.

Clark sighed. “You’re mentioned, but you don’t feature prominently if that’s what you want to know.”

“What did you write about?” Lana practically demanded.

Clark didn’t say anything for a long moment, staring out at black top running through Pennsylvania. “Being a foundling,” he finally said. “My parents. Them taking me in when they could have turned me over to Social Services or something. Being parents when they didn’t have to be. It ends when I was five. You still thought I had cooties when we were five, remember?”

“I remember pushing you down when you tried to kiss me and when you tried to dance with me.” I thought she sounded a bit smug.

Clark glanced at me nervously. “It was a wedding. I thought that’s what you were supposed to do at weddings.”

I sighed, wanting to stop this conversation before it went any further. “Clark, can we stop at the next gas station that looks decent?”

“You okay?”

“Just need to pee. Junior’s playing with my bladder.”

“We’ve only been on the road a couple hours,” Lana complained. “If we have to stop this often, it’s going to take us forever.”

“That’s the way it goes, Lana,” Clark said with a sigh as he pulled off the highway. “Lois’ doctor said she needs to stop and stretch her legs every couple hours, anyway. Besides, we’re only going to Richmond, Indiana tonight anyway. It’s only about a ten hour drive.”

I sighed. It was going to be a long day.

~~~~~

Clark

It had been a long day.

A very long day.

And we were only halfway to our destination.

I glanced over as Lois maneuvered out of her sweatshirt. I almost groaned. She was wearing one of my Smallville High T-shirts. She had to have done that on purpose. I’d told her she could wear some of my clothes if she needed some, but she’d gone shopping for maternity clothes. I sighed as I realized that she had worn my T-shirts since then — mostly to sleep in, but still.

She’d done it on purpose, I was sure. To rub it in to Lana that we were married and at least sort of solid. I sighed again. It was probably a good idea.

I glanced over again and could feel my brow furrow. “You okay?”

Lois’ head was resting against the window and she nodded slightly. “I think so.”

“Stomach bothering you?”

“A little bit.”

I reached out and turned the heater down, cooling the air flow a bit.

“Thanks.”

I glanced in the mirror and realized that Lana was asleep. That was good. She had her pillow up against the window and had covered herself with her favorite blanket.

“You ready to stretch out again?” I asked her.

“In a bit.”

The miles stretched out in front of us and I turned the volume up a bit. Lois turned in her seat and reached for her pillow and blanket that were stashed behind her.

“Do you want anything before I try to take a nap?”

I shook my head. “I’m good.” She settled in next to the door. Over the course of the last couple of hours she’d shown me how to manipulate the iPod a bit better and I was confident that I could find the songs I wanted without driving us off the road. The playlist I’d made the night before was a good one. I had lots of other good songs, too, but I’d been careful to avoid anything resembling a love song. Things were awkward enough without tossing in ‘Unforgettable’ or ‘Time Well Wasted’ — it was one of my favorite songs and my dad and I had wasted more days than I could count out fishing and spending time with each other. One of my earliest memories of my dad was fishing, but the second verse was about a movie marathon with the love of the singer’s life. I couldn’t handle that right now and I was sure neither of these two would want to either.

I rested my elbow on the inside of the window and my head on my fist. I had no idea how this week was going to play out.

Would I be able to tell Lois about myself? About all the things I could do?

That I was found in a spaceship? About the whole ‘I’m an alien’ thing?

What if I told my parents, ‘thanks, but no thanks’ on the money they’d been sending and just didn’t tell her at all?

I could see my mom’s face as I imagined telling her that. Falling out of the hayloft and landing on the tractor didn’t hurt, but one look from the tiny Kansas woman and I was shaking in my work boots.

Would it be easier to tell her if she was really having my baby? If something had happened at the cabin that night like we were telling everyone?

If that was the case then she would need to know. Who knew if a half-Kryptonian pregnancy was different than a fully human pregnancy?

What about Lana? I’d been nervous about telling her. I’d planned on proposing to her in Paris and then having a long talk with her after we got back from Europe — maybe even take her back to Smallville and tell her in the hayloft.

It was different with Lois, though. I wasn’t in love with her. I still didn’t plan on spending the rest of my life with her.

I’d lived my whole life keeping this all a secret. My dad wasn’t the one who’d first coined the phrase ‘dissect me like a frog’ if the government found out — Chris had done that — but Dad had certainly used it often enough when I was learning to control the different powers as they manifested.

Only three people had ever known about me and even though I knew I could trust Lois — she’d saved my life in November when she practically carried me through the biggest New Troy snow storm in the last hundred years — it wasn’t easy for me to come to terms with telling her about myself.

I’d had twelve years to sort of gear myself up to tell Lana and I was still scared to death to tell her.

Shouldn’t it be easier to tell Lois? The rest of my life wasn’t wrapped up in her reaction. If Lois didn’t react well, what was the worst that would happen?

She could want a divorce or an annulment sooner rather than later. And if she did, I’d have to tell her the whole truth about what Navance had said and show her the letters again and remind her about what would happen and hope that I could convince her that I could help protect her and the baby better than I could if I wasn’t invulnerable. Surely she’d accept that if nothing else.

But what if Lana hadn’t reacted well?

My heart would have been broken. Eventually, I would have picked myself up and moved on, but it would have been shattered for a long time if Lana had told me she couldn’t accept my differences.

So what was I going to do this week?

How was I going to tell her?

Could I just tell my mom I wasn’t going to and let her take care of it?

I sighed.

That was a cop-out.

I’d done enough of that lately.

I knew this wasn’t the life I’d planned for myself, but at some point I had to step up and take responsibility for it. Lois was my wife and my parents, my dad especially, had raised me better than that.

I’d started asking myself what I would do if it was me and Lana in a situation. I hated that because I knew that I shouldn’t be thinking about her or about me and her like that, but at the same time, if I knew what I should do to take care of Lana if the need had come up, then I would know what I should be doing with Lois.

Sort of.

It wasn’t like I was going to make love to her when she had a bad day or was feeling depressed about her appearance or anything like that. Of course, I really had no idea what that part of my life with Lana would have been like either, except that I figured it was something we would have done often.

I sighed as I drove across Ohio. Only another two hours or so and we’d be at our first destination. The more I thought about that, the more I thought I should have found a way to reserve two rooms instead of foolishly believing that we’d manage to make do with one.

Lois chose that moment to stir and then asked when we were going to stop.

I looked at the road signs and decided that this gas station was as good as any.

***

Part 44

Lois

~~~~~

Tears filled my eyes as I leaned my head against the window. Clark was inside getting us all checked in at the hotel in Richmond, Indiana, and I was sure this was going to be a miserable night.

The last time we’d stopped, Lana had been in the bathroom when I’d asked if he’d reserved one room or two and he said that his parents had reserved one but that he was going to ask for a second one when we got here.

His face looked grim as he headed back out to where Lana and I were studiously ignoring each other.

He didn’t say anything as he drove us around to the next building. He pulled up next to the door, but there were no parking spots close. My stomach sank. Given the number of cars in the parking lot, I guessed he hadn’t been able to get a second room.

He turned the Jeep off and climbed out immediately. I followed him, stretching my back as I stood on the sidewalk. I was feeling huge already, even though I was only about halfway through this pregnancy. I was a little chilly, but I wasn’t about to cover up Clark’s Smallville High T-shirt at the moment.

“Back bothering you?” Clark asked as he grabbed my laptop bag out of the front floorboard.

I nodded.

“Did you bring your heating pad with you?”

I sighed. “No. I didn’t even think about it.”

“Want me to find a CostMart or something and get you one?”

I shook my head. “I think a hot shower will help.” <And then you can have some time alone with your girlfriend,> I added to myself.

“Let me know if you change your mind,” he said as he headed to the back of the Jeep.

I grabbed my pillow and blanket from behind my seat and tried not to look at Lana who was stretching on the other side. Clark was pulling suitcases out of the back and I pulled up the handle on mine, grabbed my other bag and headed towards the door.

“Hey, you’ll need this.” He held a keycard towards me. “Room 109.”

I nodded and used the key to open the outside door, leaving the two of them alone for the first time — that I knew of — in a long time.

Had he been able to get two rooms and just wasn’t telling me? And he’d spend the night with her?

I walked down the hall and noted we were right next to the ice machine. That would be convenient when refilling the cooler in the morning. I stuck the card in the door and walked into my home for the night. It was about what I’d expected. Two double beds, a TV sitting on the dresser and precious little else.

I stashed my toiletries bag in the bathroom and hoisted my suitcase onto the end of the dresser. I dug through and found a pair of Clark’s sweats and one of his John Deere T-shirts. I hadn’t planned on wearing his clothes to sleep in — I had pajamas that I could wear — but something about wearing them in front of Lana was very appealing.

Before they could make it into the room, I was locked in the bathroom with the shower running.

~~~~~

Clark

“Can I get the key to my room?” Lana asked as Lois walked through the door.

I sighed. I should have made arrangements earlier. “They only had one room left. My parents made the reservations and I guess they only made one.”

She glared at me. “You mean, I have to spend the night in a room with you and your wife?”

I couldn’t look at her. “Please don’t make this any more difficult than it already is, Lana.”

“Pardon me for not being excited about this.”

“I’m not either and I doubt Lois is.”

“I don’t care how Lois feels about this.”

I sighed. “Do you need anything else out?”

“No.”

I stacked my suitcase, both of our laptop bags, and the cooler on the sidewalk. “I’m going to park. I’ll be right back.”

“Do I at least get my own key?”

“They wouldn’t give me three. If I give you one, I can’t get in the door. I’ll be right back.” I quickly started the Jeep and maneuvered it into the closest spot, halfway down the building. I jogged back to where Lana was waiting. “Here.” I handed Lana the keycard before I slung both laptop bags over my shoulder and picked up the suitcase and cooler.

She didn’t say anything as she opened the door and headed down the hall.

She stopped before the room and opened that door as well.

It didn’t surprise me to hear the shower running. I was sure that Lois’ back was bothering her more than she’d let on and a shower would probably help quite a bit.

Lana glared at the bathroom door. “I have to go to the bathroom. Couldn’t she have at least waited until we’d all had a chance to go?”

“There’s a bathroom in the lobby if you can’t wait.” I found myself hoping that she would go.

She glared at me and headed out the door.

I flopped backwards onto one of the beds. I stared at the ceiling for a long minute, before deciding that, with Lana gone and Lois in the shower, I could do a quick change thing and be done with it. In seconds, I was in a pair of shorts and a muscle shirt which had become my sleep attire of choice since Lois had become my roommate the previous fall.

A minute later, the shower stopped and before long, Lois came out wearing a pair of my sweats and my favorite John Deere T-shirt — I’d wondered what had happened to it.

She glanced around. “Where’s Lana?”

“She couldn’t wait to go to the bathroom so she headed to the lobby,” I told her.

“So we didn’t get two rooms then, I take it.”

“They were full.”

“Ah.” She stuck a wad of clothes into a bag and shoved it into her suitcase. “So how is this going to work?”

I shrugged. “About like usual I guess. We climb in bed, go to sleep and then wake up, only Lana’s here too.”

She sighed. “Well, which bed do you want?”

I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter to me.”

She finally sat on the side of the bed closest to the bathroom. That wasn’t surprising. She was up at least once a night, I knew, to go to the bathroom. “If you don’t mind, I think I’d rather at least pretend to be asleep by the time she gets back.” With that, she curled up under the covers and closed her eyes.

Deciding that was probably the best thing all around, I did the same, foregoing brushing my teeth — they were as invulnerable as the rest of me and I didn’t need to worry about minty fresh breath for anyone special.

It was ten minutes before Lana opened the door. I heard her stop and guessed she was staring at us. I’d done something I rarely did on purpose. I was facing Lois’ back, nearly spooned with her but not quite. Close enough that Lana probably wouldn’t know the difference.

She wasn’t quiet as she got ready for bed but Lois and I ignored her and kept up the pretense of sleep.

Once she finally climbed into bed, my heart broke anew as I heard her nearly silent tears hit her pillow.

~~~~~

Lois

My heart had been pounding as Clark scooted over next to me in bed, close enough that I could feel his shirt brush against me when either of us shifted slightly. In and of itself, that wasn’t terribly unusual, but usually it was because our bed was so small and our backs would brush up against each other from time to time.

Lana had stomped around the room, making as much noise as she possibly could while she got ready for bed.

I pretended to be asleep and figured Clark was as well. I could hear her crying after she crawled into her bed, but I didn’t really give it a second thought. Well, not really. I felt badly for her. I did. She should have been engaged to Clark and, if I was still pregnant but hadn’t gotten caught in Latislan, it was quite possible that I’d either be engaged or married to Joe. Or at least considering marriage to a man who found me attractive and would want to at least spend time with me and talk to me on a pretty regular basis. Who would make love to me, eventually.

Except for the whole music thing a couple nights earlier, I wasn’t sure what the last real conversation was I’d had with Clark. One that didn’t include only the weather or assignments in the four classes we had together or looking over the fall schedule which had come out the week before and discussing classes and internships. We had not discussed what I was going to do about school except register for classes. The baby hadn’t entered into the discussion at all. I had no idea what I was going to do for childcare, much less where we going to live in about eight weeks. That was something we were going to have to figure out and soon.

Maybe if we had to play happy in front of his parents, he’d at least stay in the same room with me for a while and even have a discussion about some of this, with input from his folks. I’d talked to his mom several times since that first conversation and I liked her a lot, though I was afraid that she was going to be entirely too intuitive for my own safety and the safety of my baby.

When my eyes opened in the morning in Richmond, Indiana, I could tell Clark was already out of bed. The water was running in the bathroom and I could still see a lump under Lana’s bed, so it wasn’t her.

I shoved the covers back and sat up, realizing that I hadn’t been up in the middle of the night and my bladder was now screaming at me. Fortunately, Clark chose that moment to exit the bathroom.

“I’m going to go get us all some coffee,” he said quietly.

I paused. That would leave me here alone with Cruella. Not a good plan. Finally, I shook my head. “We can get some when we leave. I’d rather get on the road pretty quick so we can get off the road faster this evening.” Lana started stirring and I headed into the bathroom.

When I was done, I brushed my teeth and repacked my toiletries bag. I had heard the door to the room open and close again. Lana brushed past me into the bathroom with hardly a glance and I noticed that my suitcase was gone, as was Clark’s. I sighed. It wasn’t worth chasing him down so I could change clothes and the ones I was in were very comfortable. We were going to be driving for another eleven hours and comfort was important. I was just glad I hadn’t spent the night before throwing up like I had so many nights recently. I’d been glad that Clark hadn’t been there for most of those nights, too.

I picked up my purse and grabbed one of the keycards off the dresser. I really didn’t want to stay alone with Lana. I glanced around and noted that all three laptop bags were gone as well. About the only things left were Lana’s suitcase and the cooler.

I headed out the door. Clark was putting the suitcases in the Jeep by the time I got outside. He’d apparently left them on the side walk and pulled it into a recently vacated spot near the door.

“Lana’s up?” he asked as he glanced at me.

“Yep. She was in the bathroom when I left.”

“Ah.”

I handed him my bag and stuck my purse in the passenger seat. I rubbed my hands up and down my arms. It was kinda chilly out this early in the morning.

He looked at me again and had the good sense to look chagrined. “You didn’t have any other clothes out, did you?”

I shook my head. “No, but it’s okay. This is comfortable,” I told him, playing with the hem of the shirt. I gasped suddenly.

“What?” He slammed the hatch shut. “Are you okay?”

My hands had immediately gone to my stomach. “Yeah,” I whispered. “I think I just felt the baby move. I mean, really move.”

His eyes widened. “Really?”

I nodded, biting my bottom lip. I felt it again and smiled at him.

“Again?”

I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to do this, but it was the right thing to do. He’d been hurt when he’d missed the first ultrasound and the first time I’d heard the heartbeat. “Would you like to…?” My voice trailed off.

“You don’t mind?”

I shook my head and his much larger hands joined my smaller ones on my belly and we waited.

Suddenly, we felt it. Our eyes locked and for a minute, I could actually believe that he was the father of this baby and we were truly in this together. One of his patented Kent grins crossed his face.

“Was that it?”

I nodded. “Pretty cool, huh?”

The baby moved again and we both smiled. Clark’s eyes moved to something behind me and the smile disappeared. He removed his hands and turned back to the Jeep. “Got everything?”

I didn’t need to ask or look to know what he’d seen and Lana moving into my line of sight confirmed it. “I do,” I finally said. “Just the cooler, I think.”

Clark nodded. “I already filled it with new ice.”

I turned back to the hotel. “Then I’ll get it while you load the other suitcase and I’ll double check the room and we can go.”

Clark started to say something but I was back inside before he could. He was probably going to tell me not to try to carry the cooler, but I didn’t care. It wouldn’t be that heavy. I quickly double checked the room and bathroom then grabbed the cooler and headed back outside.

Minutes later, we were driving around to the front desk to check out. “I’ll take care of it.” I held out my hand. “Who has the other key?”

Lana handed it over without looking at me and I quickly escaped inside. If Clark had checked us out, I would have been left alone in the car with Lana and I had absolutely no desire to spend any more time with her — especially alone — than absolutely necessary.

***

Part 45

Clark

~~~~~

We headed out of Richmond pretty early. The sun wasn’t up yet — not all the way. I pulled into McDonald’s and went through the drive-through to get breakfast.

I glanced over at Lois. “Bacon, egg and cheese biscuit?” I’d learned those were her favorites.

“Two. And a really big coffee. And a cinnamon roll.”

I pushed the button and the window went down as we got closer to the squawk box. “Lana?” Lana never got the same thing twice.

“Coffee, Egg McMuffin, hash brown.”

That was about the longest conversation I’d had with Lana since we left Met U the day before, except the whole ‘I have to share a room with you and your wife’ thing. I ordered for them and ordered myself a couple of different croissant sandwich things and a bacon, egg and cheese McGriddle thing with pancakes in place of biscuits. I hadn’t tried them, but they sounded good.

We pulled up to the window and I paid for it, taking the coffees from the very bored looking teenager. I carefully handed one to Lana and put the other two in the cup holders. I took all of the creamer and sweeteners that she handed me and gave it all to Lois. Lana took her coffee black.

Lois didn’t even ask what I wanted in mine, but started doctoring both of ours. She got mine right. That shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did for some reason. Lana had never gotten it right.

A few minutes later, we were back on I-70 heading towards Indianapolis, then Illinois, Missouri and home. I turned on one of the playlists I’d made a couple days before.

Once she was done eating, Lana took out her laptop and I could hear her typing away on something. Lois, on the other hand, despite the huge coffee, put her pillow against the window and pulled her blanket up over her. She was asleep in minutes.

I pushed the speed limit a bit. Not too much, but hopefully enough that this trip would be over sooner rather than later. I turned the music up, too, hoping to deter Lana from any conversation. I didn’t think she’d be starting one anytime soon, but just in case.

I guessed that I could thank my lucky stars or something that the two of them had both decided that being quiet was the way to go. If they had decided, for whatever reason, to cat fight, this trip would have ended very poorly. As it was, it wasn’t going well but at least they hadn’t torn each other’s hair out.

I sighed. I’d never seen Lana like she was with Lois. I’d known her, literally, all my life and she wasn’t mean and vindictive. I could understand it since… what happened in Latislan. Everything we’d talked about for the last few years was on hold — indefinitely as far as she knew. I’d told her that Lois and I had to stay married, but not for how long or anything else. I’d told her too much when I told her the baby wasn’t mine and that the marriage wasn’t really real. I could only hope that she wouldn’t ever decide to air that dirty laundry in public and if she did, I was close enough to make it very clear, very loudly, that she’d misinterpreted what I’d said or something because nothing could be further from the truth.

~~~~~

Lois

I guessed the nap was about three hours long. I wasn’t sure how I’d managed to not wake up in all that time given the coffee I’d consumed, but I was grateful. We were closing in on halfway through the Richmond to Smallville leg of our trip.

“Sleep okay?” Clark asked.

I nodded and stretched as I yawned. “Where are we?”

“Illinois.”

“What’s that leave? Two more states?”

“Yeah. We’ll drive all the way across Missouri until we’re almost to Oklahoma then head north then west again into Kansas. Once we’re in Kansas, it’s about an hour and a half or so to Smallville.”

“Ah. Do we go through St. Louis?”

“We can or we can go around it. It’s Saturday so I don’t think the downtown traffic will be too bad. It’s not baseball season so there’s no Cardinals game. If there was or it was rush hour on a weekday we’d want to go around for sure. Have you ever been there?”

I shook my head as I held the blanket around me a little tighter. “Mom used to talk about how she and Dad went up in the Arch once when they were there, but I’ve never been.”

“Then we’ll have to go through downtown. We’ll still be on the highway, but you’ll be able to at least see the Arch and Busch Stadium and maybe a couple other things.”

“Sounds good, but I’m going to need a bathroom soon.”

He smiled. “I figured you might. About ten minutes?”

I nodded and rested my head against the pillow, closing my eyes. I’d noticed Lana was asleep but she woke up about not long after I had. I pretended to still be asleep.

“Where are we, Clark?” she murmured sleepily.

“Near Greenville, Illinois getting ready to stop. Lois has to go to the bathroom and she needs to stretch and walk around a bit anyway.”

It seemed like we were slowing down a bit and then we came to a stop and I could hear the blinker.

I heard Lana mutter something, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. Probably something derogatory about me. It irritated me, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to be mad about it. Not after the way her life had turned upside down because of me.

Clark came to a quick stop and turned the engine off. I didn’t open my eyes until I heard the back door open and Clark tell Lana to get out.

I looked over my shoulder to see Clark seething and holding the door open. I couldn’t see Lana’s face but I was certain she was mad. Once she was out, Clark slammed the door shut, grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the car. As much as I wanted to stay and at least watch whatever fight it was they were about to have, the urge to empty my bladder would not wait any longer. I opened the door and realized Clark had pulled into the large parking lot and stopped on the edge. I sighed and started walking.

~~~~~

Clark

“Get out.” I yanked the back door open and waited for her to climb out.

Lana glared at me as she got out of the Jeep and I slammed the door behind her. I was careful not to hurt her, but I still grabbed her arm and led her away.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as she finally wrenched her arm away from me.

“What?” She crossed her arms and stared at me.

“That comment.”

“What?”

“Calling my wife a whore. That was completely uncalled for.”

“It’s true,” she hissed back at me.

“No. It’s not.”

“Really? Then who’s the father of her baby?” She looked like she was almost gloating.

“I am.” I didn’t want to hurt her anymore than I already had, but I had to. Navance flashed through my head reminding me why.

><I will decide if I want to keep her for myself or share her with my comrades. It all depends on how satisfied she keeps me between now and then.><

The thought of Lois in the hands of that bastard scared me badly enough but… what he’d do if he got his hands on the baby, especially if Lois had a girl…

><And if the child is a girl, as soon as she is old enough, she will follow in the footsteps of her mother. Until then, she will be a servant in my house… There are many men who like very young, innocent women… I’m sure you do, as well.><

The thought turned my stomach again and I had to do what I had to do.

“You told me it wasn’t your baby,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

“I lied,” I lied. “I didn’t want to hurt you any more than I had to. I knew it was going to break your heart that I’d married Lois and was going to stay married to her even after we got home. I didn’t want you to think I’d cheated on you, too.”

The tears were streaming down her cheeks. “You made love to her?”

I shrugged. “How else would she get pregnant with my baby?” I was being a bastard. I knew I was, but I didn’t have a choice. I should have let Lana believe it from the beginning and I had to make her believe it now.

“At the cabin?” she whispered.

“You want details?” I asked, eyebrows raised, stomach churning. “You want to hear that we woke up naked in each other’s arms and when I saw her lying there I was overwhelmed with the desire to kiss her? And when I did, she didn’t stop me? And I kissed her and she kissed me and we made love? Is that what you want to hear?”

The tears had picked up speed as I spoke. Technically, I hadn’t lied. I’d asked her questions and asked if that was what she wanted to hear, but I never actually said we’d been together. Legally, the baby was mine. I was Lois’ husband so under both Latislani and New Troy law, I was the father of record. Period.

“Is that true?”

I didn’t answer her. “Or do you want to hear that the other two nights I spent in her bed, we weren’t completely dressed?” That was also technically true. I didn’t have my shirt on either night. My heart shattered again at the look on her face. I hated what I was doing to her, but her life wasn’t in danger if I left her.

“So why…?” Her voice, and my heart, broke.

“Because. I didn’t want to hurt you any more than absolutely necessary. I love you. I always have, for as long as I can remember, but I have a baby coming with Lois and we got married and we have to make this work because of that baby. How I feel or felt about you doesn’t matter anymore. But at the same time, none of this is her fault. She never would have come on to me. And she didn’t.” That was the truth. I hadn’t come on to Lois either, but the implication was there. And on top of it, I was angry and it was bleeding through. “I’m the one who made arrangements for us to get married. If you have a problem with it, you take it out on me. You leave her alone. You leave the baby alone. And you and Linda stay the hell away from her.” I meant it. I meant every word. And I was sure she knew that.

“You’re a bastard,” she whispered.

I sighed and my head hung as the anger bled away. “I know. I’m sorry you got hurt; that you’re still getting hurt, really I am, but she’s my wife and she’s having my baby. If you have a problem with her, take it up with me, but I’ll protect the two of them with my life.” I already was. “Leave her alone.”

She turned and headed towards the gas station, arms wrapped around herself. I sighed and pulled the Jeep up to the pump and filled it with gas.

Lois was waiting outside when I moved the Jeep to the building.

“I’ll be right back,” I told her. I needed to go to the bathroom, too. I just hoped they didn’t get into it while I was gone.

~~~~~

Lois

I sighed, but didn’t get back in yet. We had something like seven hours left and I didn’t want to spend any more of it sitting down than I had to. I stretched my back and twisted from side to side.

“You okay?” Clark asked quietly as he stood next to me.

“Back hurts.”

“Gonna make it another seven hours?”

“Do I have a choice?” I asked back.

“Not really, I guess. Unless you want to stay in Greenville for the next week or so.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.” I wrapped my arms around me as best I could. “Are you okay?”

He shrugged. “Yeah.” He looked around then spoke quietly. “I told her that I lied.”

“About what?” I asked just as quietly.

“That the baby really is mine. That we slept together at the cabin.” He didn’t look at me.

“Ah.” I didn’t look at him. “We did sleep together at the cabin.” He’d lied to her. He’d done what was necessary to protect me and the baby even if it meant breaking her heart all over again. And that just added to the guilt I was already feeling from time to time. My eyes filled with tears, but I tried not to let him see.

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. That I got you pregnant at the cabin.”

I sighed and willed the tears back in. “I don’t suppose you have any way to just fly us all there in a few minutes or something, do you?”

He didn’t say anything.

“Relax,” I told him. “Even if there was an airport handy, it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.”

“Yeah.” He looked around again, but more nervously than he had the last time. “Listen, I was hoping to make it all the way to Springfield, Missouri from here before we stop again. That’s about four hours. It’s only about two and a half hours from there to Smallville. Can you make it that long?”

I nodded. “I think so.”

“Do you want a drink then? Or to stop and get something to eat or do you just want to have sandwiches?”

“Sandwiches are fine and if I want to make it all the way to Springfield, I better not drink a whole lot. My bladder’s only about the size of a walnut.”

Lana chose that moment to come out of the convenience store. I tried not to look too closely at her, but I could tell her cheeks were blotchy and her eyes were red. She went straight to the Jeep and climbed in the back seat. Almost immediately, she put her pillow against the window and covered herself completely with her blanket.

I sighed. “Let’s go. The sooner we get going…”

“…the sooner we’ll get there.”

A few minutes later, we were back on the road, the only noise in the Jeep coming from Clark’s playlists and what I was sure were Lana’s sniffles.

***

Part 46

Clark

~~~~~

Thank God we were almost home.

We’d crossed the Missouri-Kansas border nearly an hour earlier and I could smell the difference.

Literally.

Kansas smelled different than Metropolis.

That wasn’t really much of a shock. Big city smells compared to farm country. It didn’t take a brilliant investigative reporter to figure out that they’d smell different.

Since we’d left Greenville, Illinois the car had been eerily quiet, except for the music that was playing off the iPod Lois had given me. I’d hurt Lana terribly in Greenville and I knew it. We’d pulled off I-44 in Springfield, Missouri and stopped at a gas station in front of a big CostMart. The second the Jeep stopped, Lana had taken off for the McDonald’s next door. She didn’t come out until I pulled up next to the door to the restaurant to wait for her.

I thought about pushing the speed limit a bit more but I knew how legendary the speed traps in Crawford County were and it wasn’t worth shaving five minutes off the time.

Lois looked out the window with interest as we finally drove through Smallville. A few minutes later, I pulled up in front of Lana’s house on Tank Avenue. None of us spoke as I opened the back hatch and pulled her suitcase out. I set it on the front porch as she slammed the Jeep door behind her.

“We’ll be here about ten on Saturday unless you hear otherwise.”

She shrugged. “Whatever.”

I sighed. “I’m sorry, Lana. Really. I am.”

“You’re a bastard, Clark.” With that, she opened the door, obviously dismissing me.

I had no desire to run into either of her parents, so I turned and left.

I pointed a few things out to Lois as we drove through town. Where we held the Corn Festival. Smallville Middle and High School across the street from Lana’s house. South Smallville Elementary. My stomach felt a bit weird as I pointed out Shuster’s Field, but it always did around there — I’d never figured out why.

“Clark!” Lois said suddenly.

“What?”

She looked down at herself. “I can’t meet your parents like this!”

“What?”

She gave an exasperated sigh. “Your old T-shirt and sweats.”

I smiled slightly. “Where exactly do you plan on changing?”

“The middle of a corn field, behind a cow, I don’t care,” she informed me.

I chuckled. Something I hadn’t done in a long time. “My parents won’t care, trust me.” I sobered. “They’ll be too happy to meet you and hear all about the baby and everything.” I turned. “Besides, we’re here.”

She didn’t say anything as I pulled up next to the house.

I turned to look at her. She looked nervous and scared. Not surprising. I took a deep breath and then put my hand on her shoulder. “It’s going to be okay.”

She swiped at the tear that started down her cheek. “If you say so.”

I sighed and got out, walking around. I opened her door. “Come here.”

She only hesitated for a second, but then was standing next to me, unsure what to do. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close to me. She sighed and put her arms around me, resting her cheek on my chest. I noticed again how my chin fit right on the top of her head.

“It’s going to be okay,” I told her again.

“No,” she whispered. “It’s not. Not until the maniac is off my back and somehow I doubt that’s going to end after five years. Something will happen. He’ll change the law again or something.”

“Or maybe somebody else he pissed off will shoot him tomorrow.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice? Then you could tell Lana everything and, if we could get the divorce or annulment or whatever in time, you two could still get married this summer.”

I hesitated. “I think that even if we were able to get annulled and it was finalized tomorrow, Lana and I would have a lot of stuff to work through before we could get married.”

The door behind me opened. “Clark?” It was Mom.

“Here goes nothing,” Lois whispered.

“It’ll be okay,” I whispered back.

We both took a deep breath and turned towards the house.

I forced a smile onto my face. “Hi, Mom.”

~~~~~

Lois

A small, blonde woman pushed the screen door open. “I thought I heard a car pull up.”

Clark took my hand and we walked up the stairs onto the porch. He let go and grabbed her around the waist, picking her up off her feet. “Hey, Mom,” he repeated quietly.

“Put me down,” she laughed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me, young man,” she said, smacking him lightly as he set her on the porch. She turned to me. “You must be Lois.”

“That’s me,” I said uncomfortably. “Hi, Mrs. Kent.”

She rolled her eyes. “I thought we got over this nonsense. It’s Martha.” She glanced at Clark. “Or Mom if you want.” He didn’t react and the next thing I knew I was enveloped in a big hug. She let go a minute later and looked me over again. “You sure are pretty.” She turned to Clark again. “It’s okay if I tell her that, isn’t it?”

We glanced at each other uncomfortably. “I don’t know. Ask her.”

She hugged me again. “Well, Lois, you sure are pretty.”

“Thanks, Martha.” I hugged her back this time — slightly more enthusiastically.

“Where’s Dad?”

“Upstairs on the phone. Wayne Irig called right before you got here. He’s talking to him about crops or something.” She left one arm around me. “Clark, why don’t you empty the car?”

“Yes, Mom.”

Gentle pressure moved me in the direction of the door. “You kids must be starved. How’s your evening sickness?”

“Better, thank you. I haven’t thrown up in four days.” I groaned inwardly. I couldn’t believe I’d just said that to my mother-in-law.

“That’s great!” she said with a big smile. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

“You waited for us?” I asked as I looked around the homey living room. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Nonsense,” she said, leading the way to the kitchen.

I heard Clark setting things on the porch.

“Have a seat.” Martha gestured towards the table. “Is there anything I can get for you now?”

“No, I’m fine, thank you.” I stretched my back. It was stiff after spending over twenty hours on the road. I heard Clark moving in the house and up the stairs I’d seen in the living room. There were voices upstairs and then two sets of footsteps coming down, out the door and then back up.

“I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling better,” Martha said, startling me slightly.

“You and me both,” I said honestly.

She sat down at the table and I sat across from her.

“Tell me about yourself. If you don’t mind, of course.”

I shook my head. “Not a whole lot to tell. My mom and little sister were killed in a car accident about eight years ago. I lived with my dad until I moved on campus last fall.” I stared at my hands. “Clark and I drove up to Bremerton in early November and got stuck in a snow storm. We survived but were there for a week. Life went on as normal until we got stuck in Europe and I found out I was pregnant.” I shrugged. “We got married and here we are, I guess.”

I heard the footsteps head back out the door.

“How was your trip?”

I hesitated. “Could have been worse,” I finally said honestly.

“But it could have been better?” she asked gently.

I nodded. “Yeah, but I didn’t really expect it to go very smoothly.”

“Want to tell me what happened?”

I sighed. Did I want to? It wasn’t like I had anyone I could talk to besides Clark and he wasn’t exactly the best option in this situation. Finally I just shrugged. “Twenty-some hours in the car with my husband’s ex-girlfriend and sharing a hotel room with her when we couldn’t get a second one. Pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?” I wasn’t quite sure why I’d said ‘my husband’s ex-girlfriend’ instead of ‘Lana’. Martha knew who she was in relation to Clark. Was I staking some claim? A ‘he’s not just your son, he’s my husband’ kind of thing?

“Has she been giving you a hard time?”

“Not really. Mostly we avoid each other and ignore each other as much as possible.”

“Sounds like that might not be a bad plan.”

The timer went off and she stood up.

“Can I help you at all?” I kind of hoped she said no. Not because I didn’t want to help but because I had always been useless in the kitchen.

~~~~~

Clark

I set the suitcases and laptop bags down in my room and sighed. This week wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t think my parents would expect us to be ‘normal’ newlyweds or anything like that, but more than anything, I wanted to tell them everything. They would understand and be careful and help us protect Lois and the baby.

But I couldn’t. I had to pull off the official story. The way Lois and I had been around each other for the last couple months… It wasn’t going to work here. I wasn’t going to be able to run to work or the library or anywhere else to avoid her. That’s what I’d been doing. I’d denied it to myself, saying that I was giving her space, trying to not make her uncomfortable. The reality was I’d been staying away so that I wouldn’t have to spend time with her. Not because I didn’t like her or whatever, but because our circumstances were so different and I felt like it was a betrayal of Lana.

“Thought I heard you come in,” came a voice behind me.

I turned and made myself smile. “Hi, Dad.”

I was enveloped in a bear hug before I knew what was happening.

“Missed you, son,” he said gruffly.

“I’ve missed you, too, Dad.”

He looked at the pile. “Is that everything?”

I shook my head. “Not quite. Blankets and pillows and a couple other small bags.”

“Let’s go.”

We didn’t say anything as we headed downstairs and out the front door. We picked up everything except the cooler and went back to my room. Our arms were full, but much lighter than the first trip — not that the weight bothered me, of course. We set it all down and went back outside.

I started to pick up the cooler and head for the kitchen, but Dad was leaning against the rail, a sure sign he wanted to talk to me.

I don’t know why that surprised me.

“Have you told her yet?” he asked quietly.

I stood next to him, leaning my forearms on the rail. “No.”

“Why not?”

I sighed. “You pounded the whole ‘dissect me like a frog’ thing in deep. I know nothing can hurt me anymore, but if the wrong person found out, you and Mom and Lois and the baby would all be at risk. Telling anyone scares me. The only people who’ve ever known anything were you and Mom and Chris — and he knew very little and he certainly didn’t tell anyone. I’d been planning on telling Lana for years but I never did and that scared the hell out of me.” I paused. “Now I have to tell Lois — and I understand why, really I do — but I haven’t known her very long and I still don’t know her as well as I should because it’s only been… eight or nine months since I met her. It scares me to tell her. I think she’ll probably be okay with it or whatever, but I also think she’ll be mad at me for not telling her sooner and I figured a few miles of empty farmland as a buffer between her and anyone who might hear her yelling was a good plan.”

Dad chuckled. “That might not be a bad plan after all.” He paused. “When are you going to tell her?”

“Tomorrow or Monday, I guess. I don’t want to tonight. She’s exhausted from the trip and all.”

“How long have you been married now?”

I wished I didn’t have to search my memory quite as much as I did. I should know that. “January 3rd.”

“How long is that?” he asked again.

I did the math. “Two and a half months or so.”

“That’s the reason why you should have told her sooner. You’ve been married too long to have not told her.”

“I know.”

“What if it affects the baby?”

“It doesn’t seem to have so far,” I told him. “Development is a couple days ahead of where they’d expect it to be, but that’s it and that’s not too abnormal at all. The ultrasound looked fine.” I knew that, ultimately, my Kryptonian physiology wouldn’t affect the baby at all, but there was no way that Dad could know that.

“What about the effect on Lois?”

I sighed. “She’s been sick, but she’s getting better — a lot better the last few days, she said. That’s not unusual either, I guess. Just that it didn’t hit her until later.” I couldn’t tell him that I had no idea why that was. It certainly wasn’t because the baby was half-Kryptonian.

I had a flash to the night at the cabin, kissing Lana who morphed into Lois, but I shook it off.

“How’re you doing, Clark? Really? I know this isn’t the life you’d planned — not even close — but how are you really doing?”

I stared at the barn. “It’s hard,” I finally said. “The apartment’s a hole; it’s being shut down for renovations in May for a reason, but I don’t have a clue where we’re going to go and there’s very little available that our scholarships will cover so we’re probably going to have to pay for it out of pocket. School’s fine. I’ve got four classes with Lois, two of those are with Lana, too. I’ve got another class with Lana that Lois isn’t in. I’m doing fine in all my classes. I got a job at the Daily Planet a few weeks ago — in the mailroom. It’s not glamorous but it’s a paycheck. I don’t think it’s going to pay for an apartment and childcare and all that.” I sighed. “To be honest, things aren’t great with Lois. A lot of that’s my fault — I know that. I’ve been avoiding her a lot because even though I made the decision to marry her for the sake of the baby and I still think it was the right thing to do, I resent her and the baby at the same time because it’s not the life I was planning on.”

“Clark…”

I hurried on. “I know. It’s not right. It was my decision. She didn’t pressure me or anything like that.” That much was the truth. “I was the one who suggested we get married. I was the one who made the arrangements. I was the one who bought the rings.” I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “I know I need to make more of an effort. I need to get to know her better and she needs to get to know me if this is going to work.” That was true, too; even though it was only going to last about five years, we were going to have to get along or we were going to be absolutely miserable.

“You finally got what you always wanted,” Dad said after a few minutes. “A family. Not the way you planned but…”

“Yeah.”

We heard Mom calling from inside and I picked up the cooler as we went in.

***

Part 47

Lois

~~~~~

Well, the evening hadn’t been horrid.

Martha and Jonathan seemed like very nice people and I could see how Clark turned out to be — mostly — a good guy.

But now… Now it was time for bed. They’d just gone to their room after saying good night and Clark had shown me his room.

With the twin bed in it.

I sighed. How were we supposed to manage that?

Clark came in just then. “Dad said they put the air mattress in here for us.” He looked around and found it sitting with the stack of stuff they’d brought in earlier. “Said there was no way that we’d want to sleep on my old bed.”

I shrugged. “Probably not.”

“He also said they’re planning on going to church in the morning, but for us to sleep as late as we wanted.”

That,” I said with a yawn, “I will take them up on.”

“Yeah.” He shut the door behind him.

That made me slightly uncomfortable. Not that I wasn’t safe with him or anything like that, but I’d never been in a guy’s room, with the door shut and his parents right across the hall before. Even if he was my husband and we lived in the same apartment — after sharing the same dorm room.

“They didn’t figure we’d want to go anyway. Mom meant what she said about hanging out here all week if you want. You probably don’t really want to go exploring Smallville just yet.”

I shrugged. “Maybe some other time.”

He nodded and set to work on the air mattress. While the pump was running, he moved close enough for me to hear him over the noise. “Listen, if you want to take my bed, that’s fine. It’ll probably be a lot more comfortable than this thing. I mean, it’s not bad and great for camping or whatever, but it’s not a real bed.”

What he didn’t say was that the two of us could spend the night in separate beds for once. That we wouldn’t have to sleep together. I could only hope that we’d get two hotel rooms on the way back to Metropolis and then we could do the same thing.

Except that sleeping on his bed was a bad idea. It wouldn’t be good for one of his parents to look in sometime tomorrow and realize that it had been slept in.

“Why don’t you take the bathroom first,” he said. “And I’ll finish getting this set up.”

I nodded and he pointed me in the right direction. I decided against a shower —I was exhausted and I could take one in the morning while his parents were gone. It amazed me how tiring twenty-some hours sitting in the car could be. I brushed my teeth and changed clothes before heading back to my home away from home for the next week.

~~~~~

Clark

I sighed as I turned the pump off. I picked up the sheet Mom had left and put it on the mattress.

I heard Lois leave the bathroom and pushed the mattress against the wall, flipping the other sheet over it. I tossed our pillows on it before digging out something to sleep in.

Lois walked in wearing some of her own pajamas. I wasn’t sure why that relieved me.

I didn’t say anything as I left and went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. When I made it back, Lois was nowhere to be seen. I finally realized that she’d taken her pillow and blanket and was sound asleep on the floor on the other side of my bed.

What was she thinking? I’d told her she could have my bed so that she’d be more comfortable, so why was she on the floor? I thought she’d jump at the chance to sleep in a real bed and alone, too.

Did I want to move her? I should. She’d wake up stiff and sore in the morning if she slept there all night. I pulled the covers down and then carefully picked her up. After setting her on the bed, I covered her up.

I flopped — carefully and using a bit of floating power so I didn’t pop it — down onto the air mattress and after staring at the stars — through the ceiling — for a long time, I finally went to sleep.

I woke up when my parents were getting ready for church. Lois was still sound asleep and I was careful not to disturb her.

I grabbed my laptop bag and ran a hand through my hair as I yawned my way down the stairs. “Morning,” I mumbled as I walked into the kitchen.

“Hey, honey,” Mom said, giving me a big hug. “How was the air mattress?”

“It was fine. Lois fell asleep on my bed and I didn’t have the heart to move her.” That was close enough to the truth.

Mom frowned slightly. “Well, Dad and I were talking about getting a new bed sometime soon. We can move our old one in there once we do. That’ll be more comfortable for you two.”

I left my arm around her shoulders and she left hers around my waist as I poured a cup of coffee with my other hand. “Whatever works for you guys. I don’t know when we’ll make it back out here with the baby and all.”

She rolled her eyes. “Once you tell her everything, you’ll be able to come whenever you want, even if it’s just for a few hours or an overnight.”

I sighed. “That’s on my ‘to do’ list for the day, I promise.”

“I know it is.” She glanced at the clock. “We’ve got to get going.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. “We should be home about noon. Granny’s going with us, but she’s eating lunch up here and looking forward to meeting Lois.”

I grinned. I’d missed Granny. “We’ll see you then,” I said. “Do you want me to fix something or…”

Mom shook her head. “Brisket’s in the slow cooker.”

I sniffed the air. “Smells great already. How am I going to wait till noon?”

Mom gave me a mock glare as she headed for the door. “If you don’t, I’m going to tan your hide.”

“Good luck with that.” I grinned at her before I took a long sip of my coffee.

Mom had left biscuits on the counter and gravy in the fridge. I checked on Lois’ heartbeat and, assured she was still asleep, warmed it up with my vision then poured it over the biscuits. I opened my laptop and scrolled through my paper on Mark Twain. I was almost done with it when Lois wandered down the stairs.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Must you be so chipper?” she groused.

“It’s nearly 12:30 in Metropolis,” I pointed out.

“So?” She poured herself a cup of coffee and doctored it.

“Mom said they’ll be home about noon,” I told her, changing the subject. “Granny Kent’s coming over for lunch. She’s looking forward to meeting you.”

She groaned and sat in the chair across from me. “How many family members am I going to be on display for?”

“You’re not going to be on display. And Granny’s the only one coming as far as I know. Since she lives in the small house across the yard, she eats here pretty often.”

“She lives across the yard?”

He nodded. “She lived in this house for a long time, until my folks got married, I think. Then she moved across the yard to the house where my Grandpa Kent’s parents had lived once she married him.”

“I see.” She took another sip. “What about… Nana and Pop Pop? Grandma Davis? I think, I think you’ve mentioned them before.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know what the plans are. I’m sure they’d all love to meet you, but I also don’t think any of them want you to feel uncomfortable either.”

“Well, I think we’re a bit late for that.” She pointed to my computer. “Twain paper?”

I nodded. “Almost done.”

“Wish I could say the same about the English paper.”

I hesitated. Maybe that was the answer. I didn’t know how to tell her about myself, but maybe I could let her read my paper. That would at least get part of it out of the way. I’d written two versions of it — the one I was going to turn in and the one that told the real story. There was no way I could turn in the version that had me arriving on earth in a space ship. That was the version I was going to give to my parents, in part, as a way to say ‘thank you’ for everything they’d done; to tell them I understood what they’d done and why they’d done it and… even though they wouldn’t realize it, part of the reason why I’d married Lois, why I was claiming to be the father of her baby, why I’d broken Lana’s heart.

I realized Lois was still speaking. “I’m sorry. What?”

“I asked what the plan was for today.”

“Ah. Well, lunch probably around 12:30 or so after they get back. Hang out with my folks and Granny. I can show you around the farm if you want. Do some schoolwork, whatever.” I took a deep breath and finally just blurted it out. “And later, I need to talk to you about something.”

“What?” she asked as she stood up and walked to the counter to get a biscuit.

I sighed. “Something that, if we were more conventional, I should have, and would have, told you a long time ago. But I didn’t tell you, in part, because I was scared to and… for a lot of reasons that I hope you’ll understand once I tell you about it.”

“Are you still seeing Lana?” she asked, without looking at me.

It didn’t register for a second. “What?” I asked, incredulous. “No. And after yesterday, she probably won’t talk to me for a very long time.”

“Sorry.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” I said, fiddling with my coffee cup. “I know you said it was okay for us to keep seeing each other but when we got married I promised you my fidelity and I meant it. Besides the whole ‘if he finds out it’s not real’ thing, I wouldn’t break my wedding vows.”

She nodded.

“It has nothing to do with Lana. It’s something Lana doesn’t know.” I paused, wondering how much to reveal. “I would have told her after we got home from Europe but…” I heard tires crunching in the yard. “They’re back.”

~~~~~

Lois

Granny Kent was a lot of fun.

That was my first impression of her as she climbed down out of the truck when they got home from church.

She was a slight woman, probably five foot tall in her bare feet, and she was one of the ladies I’d once heard called ‘the little blue haired Jesus ladies’ except her hair was snowy white. She was wearing a nice white blouse — which was all I could see at first since she was on the other side of the truck, but as she came around the bed, I could see that my very first impression of a stereotypical ‘blue haired Jesus lady’, wasn’t accurate.

With the fairly plain white blouse came a pair of rainbow capris, bright red, yellow and blue knee high socks and a pair of black patent leather Sunday shoes.

Somehow, she pulled it off. I hoped I’d be able to do that someday — wear whatever I wanted and look great doing it. If I remembered what Clark had told me once, she was in her early-seventies, but she looked great.

I’d smiled shyly at her when we were introduced, but immediately she hugged me for all she was worth. When she pulled back, she was chatting for all she was worth about being so glad to meet the young lady Clark had married and how she was looking forward to having a great-grandchild. She promised to go through the photo albums with me sometime during the week and tell me all kinds of stories about Clark as a kid.

She’d insisted on sitting next to me during dinner, telling Clark he could sit by me whenever he wanted.

Once lunch was over, she’d asked me to walk her home and I obliged. She told me that a nap in the afternoon was part of her routine these days. I confided in her that it was often part of mine.

When we’d reached her porch, she’d turned and studied me to the point that I was a bit uncomfortable under the scrutiny. Then she’d said something that confused me. She said that Clark was a very special man — what grandma didn’t think that? — and that, while Lana was nice enough, he needed a very special woman and she’d never thought Lana was right for him. Apparently, I’d measured up to whatever standard it was she had.

When I made it back to the main house, I discovered that Clark had gone to help his dad do some work and Martha asked what I wanted to do. After a few questions, she admitted that she did have some work to get done and I told her to do it. I needed to work on my English paper.

I managed to get a couple pages written from my perspective on the death of my mom and sister, but that was about it.

I felt quite anti-social as I holed up in Clark’s room working — or trying to work — but Granny, as I’d been practically ordered to call her, was still at her house; Martha was somewhere else working on whatever kind of art she did; and Clark and his dad were off on the farm somewhere, so it wasn’t like there was anyone else to do anything with.

Finally, I gave up on the paper and logged into the Wifi network using the password Clark had written down for me. I checked my email and then surfed the web a bit, reading a couple new chapters of NCIS fan fiction that authors I trusted — trusted to write decently and actually finish their stories — had posted new chapters on.

I heard stomping outside on the porch and then voices downstairs. It sounded like Clark and Jonathan were back from wherever they’d been. A few minutes later, I heard a female voice join them.

I sighed and leaned my head back against the wall and stretched my legs out in front of me on the bed. I shouldn’t have been surprised the Clark had moved me off the floor and onto either his bed or the air mattress, but I still was.

“Hey.”

I glanced up, startled, to see Clark leaning against the door jamb. “Hi.”

“Get anything done?”

I sighed. “A couple pages on the English paper, but that’s about it.”

“Still blocked?”

“Yeah.” I played with the hem of my shirt. “It’s a pretty painful time in my life, but I think if I can get through it and get it on paper, it’ll be a good one. Better than like, my first date with Joe or the official version of how we got together or something.”

He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “Well, dinner’s ready. Leftovers from lunch, if you’re hungry.”

I stood up and headed towards the door. “Sounds good to me.”

“And after that…” He sighed. “We need to go find a quiet place to have that talk.”

***

Part 48

Clark

~~~~~

I didn’t eat much dinner; I was just too nervous about the rest of the night. I was granted a reprieve, however, when Granny insisted that we play ‘SceneIt’. A lively game of men versus women ensued. When Dad and I won the first round, Granny demanded a rematch and got it. I certainly wasn’t going to protest, not when it delayed telling all to Lois. Mom and Lois did well, but Granny impressed me with her movie knowledge and they trounced us the second game. The tie breaker was postponed until the next night when Lois yawned.

I breathed a silent sigh of relief when Granny suggested Lois go on up to bed. She nodded and headed for the stairs with another big yawn. Granny said her good-byes and gave me a big hug, whispering that I’d ‘found a keeper’.

I wanted to avoid my parents but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to.

I went into the living room and flopped back into my seat.

“I like her,” Dad told me.

“I’m glad,” I said honestly.

“Well, I already knew I liked her,” Mom informed us as she picked up the cups and took them to the kitchen.

“Are you going to tell her tonight?” Dad asked quietly.

I shrugged. “I was planning on it and I told her earlier that there was something I wanted to talk to her about after dinner, but…” I waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the game. “We got sidetracked and I bet she’s ready for bed by now.”

Just then the shower turned on.

“You’re avoiding her.” Mom sat next to me and rested her head on my shoulder. “I understand why it’s so hard for you. No one understands that better than I do,” she reminded me. “But you have to tell her. She’s having your baby and she deserves to know.”

“I know.” She was right; no one knew better than her how hard this was for me, how much was riding on it in so many ways. I sighed. “If she’s wide awake after she’s done in the shower, I’ll tell her tonight. Otherwise, I’ll tell her tomorrow.”

Mom moved away from me and looked me straight in the eye. “Clark Jerome Kent, don’t you dare keep putting this off so that you can get to Saturday and be like ‘oops, sorry Mom, Dad, but the opportunity just never came up’. If you haven’t told her yourself by the time I get up Tuesday morning, I’ll tell her myself and that won’t be good for you, young man.”

“I believe you.” I did and I knew better than to try to weasel out of something when she used that tone of voice.

The water upstairs stopped and we chatted for a few minutes about assorted other things until Lois came down the stairs. She was wearing another of my T-shirts and sweat pants and her hair was still wet from the shower. She paused halfway down for just a minute before she continued down.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I figured you’d all be in bed and I could get a glass of milk.”

“I’ll get you one,” I said, desperate to escape.

She waved me off. “I’m perfectly capable of getting my own glass of milk.”

“Go talk to her.” Mom gave me one of her looks — the ones I knew should be obeyed regardless of how I felt about it. She stood and Dad did the same. “Good night, Lois,” she called. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night,” Lois hollered back from the kitchen.

I sighed and headed towards the other room.

Here went nothing.

~~~~~

Lois

I’d really hoped that they’d all be gone by the time I was done in the shower. In bed, Idaho, wherever — just anywhere but the living room.

Especially Clark.

The whole ‘we need to talk’ thing had been weighing on my mind all day, even when I tried not to let it. It was probably a big part of the reason why I hadn’t been able to get more work done on my life story, narrative, whatever we were calling it English assignment.

I heard Clark head towards the kitchen as I poured myself a glass of milk, but then he went up the stairs instead. I groaned as footsteps came back down.

“Want to go for a walk?” he asked from behind me.

I shrugged without turning around. “I don’t have any shoes,” I told him. I’d put socks on when I got dressed, but I wasn’t about to walk around a farm in my socks.

“Brought ‘em for you, just in case you did. If not, then they’re down here for tomorrow.”

“Fine.” I did want to get a look at the farm — if for no other reason than then I’d know where to go to avoid everyone. I sat at the table and, a minute later, I stood up. “Ready.”

Clark grabbed a red folder off the table and we headed for the door. He handed me a light jacket first. “You’ll probably want this. It’s pretty cool out.”

“What about you?” I asked, slipping it on. It had to be Clark’s given how big it was on me.

He hesitated before saying, “I’ll be fine.”

We walked out the door and started towards the barn.

“Will we be able to see anything?” I asked looking at the night, marveling at how many stars I could see.

“The moon’s pretty full, so I think you’ll be able to see plenty.”

We walked past his grandmother’s small house and a minute later, reached the barn. He opened the door for me.

“Not a whole lot to see in here right now,” he said. “Tractor, some other farm equipment. The horses and cows are all outside right now.”

“You have horses?” I asked, almost excited.

“Dad got a couple fairly recently.”

“What’s up there?” I asked, pointing to a ladder.

“Up there is the hayloft,” he said as we kept walking. He grabbed a blanket off a table before we exited the other door a minute later.

He didn’t elaborate or offer to show the hayloft to me or explain what the blanket was for, so I just followed him. I figured we were probably going somewhere for this talk of his and we’d want a blanket to sit on.

A few minutes later, we were walking along a small road or path between two fences. We’d passed the pond and on one side of the path there was a field of some crop I didn’t recognize and it wasn’t really very tall yet, anyway. On the other side was a line of trees.

We walked along for a while. He wasn’t saying anything, but stared at the ground in front of him.

I stuck my hands in the pockets of the jacket and wrapped it a little tighter around me. It really was a bit chilly and the wet hair wasn’t helping.

We continued walking in silence and some time later, we reached the line of trees in front of us. He turned off the more well-defined path and took my hand.

“You’ll want to watch your step here,” he told me, walking directly in front of me, using my hand to direct me. “It’s a bit more overgrown than it used to be.”

I followed him until we reached a small clearing.

“Do you mind if we sit for a bit?” he asked, not looking at me.

“That’s fine.” I’d expected it.

He let go of my hand to spread the blanket out and I took a seat on one side. He sat on the other, about as far away from me as he could.

I wasn’t sure when the last time he’d looked at me on this little journey of ours.

He still didn’t look at me when he spoke again. “We need to talk.”

~~~~~

Clark

The knot in my stomach had been getting bigger and bigger as we walked. I still wasn’t sure how I was going to tell her this. If I was going to be able to actually hand her the folder I’d brought with me. If I was going to, somehow, let her know I was a strange visitor from another planet.

“Okay,” she said quietly, not looking at me any more than I was looking at her.

I fiddled with the corner of the folder still in my hands. I took a deep breath and plunged in. “First, I want to apologize.”

Or maybe I was just a coward and would avoid it as long as I could.

We sat in silence for a long moment.

“For what?” she finally asked.

“You’re my friend. You’ve been my friend since you asked me what the hell I was doing in your room and I haven’t really been acting like it the last couple of months.”

“No,” she said slowly. “You haven’t, but I don’t know that I really have either.”

I shook my head. “I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around — things that both of us have done or not done or whatever — but mostly it’s been me. It’s hard for you to be a friend or talk or whatever when I’m not there.” I sighed. “And I haven’t exactly been home much or a font of conversational wizardry when I am.”

“Font of conversational wizardry?” I could hear the smothered laughter in her voice.

“It sounded good at the time,” I said, shrugging.

“If you say so.” I could still hear the underlying amusement.

“Anyway, I’m sorry. I promised you a lot of things when I married you and I haven’t done a very good job at any of them.”

I could see her shrug out of the corner of my eye. “It’s not like either of us really meant it.”

“Regardless, I’m going to try to do better to at least be your friend.”

“Well, thanks, I guess.” She seemed like she wanted to say something. “And I’m sorry for getting us into this mess. If I hadn’t suggested we follow Mindy, the woman who would run the mafia, we wouldn’t be here.”

“True. Have you heard anything from Daniel or Jill about her?” She’d snooped around her dad’s house a bit when no one else was around but hadn’t found anything.

She shook her head. “No. I told Daniel what we saw when you did. That’s the last time I talked to him.”

“We’ll keep looking,” I promised her. “I know you’re still worried about your dad.”

“I am,” she said quietly and I could imagine tears in her eyes.

I sighed. I could let the conversation get sidetracked but that would only prolong the inevitable.

Maybe it was like ripping a Band-aid off. “Here.” I shoved the folder her direction.

“What’s this?”

“My English paper. I want you to read it.”

~~~~~

Lois

I took it from him.

“You want me to read it? I’d rather read it on the computer so I can make edits to it for you.”

He shook his head. “No, that’s not why I want you to read it, though if you want to edit it for me later, I’d appreciate it.”

“Then why?” I asked.

“I told you there was something I needed to tell you that I’d never told anyone before. It’s not all in there, but it’s a starting point. I don’t know how to just say it so…”

“You could always… just say it,” I told him.

“I can’t,” he whispered. “I’ve never told anyone this. Mom and Dad know, of course, and Chris knew some and I’ve wondered if Granny suspected, but to just tell someone…”

“Then why are you telling me?” I didn’t get it.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he answered.

“Is that the only reason?” I played with the corner of the folder like he had.

He sighed. “No.”

When he didn’t elaborate, I finally asked, “Then why else?”

“Because my parents don’t know the truth about us. Because they think you’re having my baby and if you were, it could affect the baby, but you’re not so it won’t, but they don’t know that. Because they’re going to stop sending the checks they’ve been sending if I don’t tell you and because if I don’t tell you by the time Mom gets up on Tuesday, she’s going to tell you and she’s going to tan my hide when she’s done.”

Nice to know he trusted me. I’d saved his life in that snowstorm and he had the nerve to not trust me? I knew I’d screwed up the whole Latislan thing, but surely I’d proven that I was trustworthy at some point.

At least he was being honest with me. That was a step forward. Wasn’t it?

~~~~~

Clark

That had to hurt her, but it was the truth.

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I know that’s not what you want to hear about why I’m spilling my deepest, darkest secret to you, but it’s the truth.”

“And you said Lana doesn’t know this, whatever ‘this’ is?” she asked still fingering the folder.

I shook my head. “No.”

“You never told her whatever it is that would make your parents practically disown you or whatever if you haven’t told me by tomorrow night?”

“No. I would have told her after I asked her to marry me, but since I never did…”

“Ah.” She was silent for a minute. “So it wouldn’t have affected her decision?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s possible that she would have said yes when I proposed in Paris and then changed her mind after I told her, but I don’t think so.”

“Because she loves you?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Are you afraid that I’ll want to leave once I read whatever this is? Is that part of the fear of this?”

“In a way,” I said after I thought about it for a minute. “If you do leave, then I can’t protect you and the baby from Navance, but even though you are my friend, if you decided you didn’t want to spend your life — or the next five years or so of it — with me, it probably wouldn’t have the same effect as it would if Lana had decided not to marry me.”

“I guess I can understand that.”

“So…” I looked around. “Do you have enough light to read?”

She nodded. “I think so. The moon is pretty bright.”

“Then would you mind? Please. I don’t know how much longer I can deal with the knot in my stomach.”

She opened the folder and read the title aloud.

“He Didn’t Have to Be: The Story of a Foundling, by Clark Jerome Davis Kent.”

***

Part 49

Lois

~~~~~

I flipped the page and read the title again before reading Clark’s paper.

“He Didn’t Have To Be: The Story of a Foundling, by Clark Jerome Davis Kent,” I said.

***

May 1985

~~~~~

Martha

~~~~~

We were in the beat-up truck on our way home when we saw something flash across the sky. Curious, we waited to see if anything else was going to happen and when nothing did, we climbed the gate into Shuster’s Field.

“What do you think it was?” I asked in excited, but hushed, tones.

He shook his head. “Beats me.”

We hurried to the furrow whatever it was had dug into the earth.

There we found something we hadn’t expected.

A tiny capsule lay there, and when I reached out to touch it, one side fell off. He reached towards the other side and the same thing happened, causing the top to lift with a hiss.

<A capsule? What kind of capsule could they have found? Space junk? space… ship?>

I gasped then whispered, “It’s a baby.”

<A baby?!> I tried to wrap my mind around that. Clark? <Note to self: Ask Clark if he’s an alien.>

He looked around furtively. “Well, we can’t leave it here.”

“This is not an ‘it’,” I said sternly.

I smiled to myself. That sounded like Martha.

“Well, can you tell if that’s a boy or a girl through that plastic?”

“Well, no, but until we know for sure, we’re going with ‘he’.”

“Fine. We can’t leave him here.”

“You’re right. We’ll take him with us.”

“And do what with him?” he asked. “We can’t leave him here, but which of us would take him home? And who would let either of us keep him?”

I sighed, tears welling up in my eyes. “I know. We’re not married. They’d come and take him away and we’d never see him again. If anyone knew how we really found him, the government would lock him up and…” I choked up.

“…dissect him like a frog,” he finished grimly.

<How… morbid! But how… safety conscious or something of Jonathan to want to protect Clark like that.>

“So what’re we going to do?”

“Marry me.”

“What?” I stared at him.

“You’ve been my best girl since we were five. We’ve talked about it; we just hadn’t made it official yet. So let’s do it. Oklahoma doesn’t have a waiting period. We could run down there and get married this evening. By the time we get back, there won’t be any reason for anyone to take him away from us. Unless his birth parents show up, and somehow I don’t see that happening.”

That sounded so much like Clark and Lana, even though I knew it wasn’t.

I bit my bottom lip and thought for a minute before I nodded. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

He hurried off and backed the truck into the field. Together, we managed to load the tiny craft into the bed and then covered it with a tarp, securing it as we went.

“Let’s drop this off at the farm before we go. We’ll go in the back way so no one will see us.”

I nodded and climbed in beside him, still holding the tiny infant. “Let’s go.”

Several hours later, we stood in front of a judge in a small town just across the Oklahoma-Kansas border. We’d had to urge him away from his favorite prime time comedy, but managed to convince him that a dear friend had died that day and wanted to leave her baby with us, but since we weren’t yet married, we were afraid that the Kansas Division of Child Services would take him away. We’d planned on marrying, we said, just not this quickly. And that was the truth.

Reluctantly he’d agreed and we exchanged vows. It had happened too quickly to have rings to exchange as well, but he promised as soon as we got home, he’d break out the engagement ring he’d kept hidden for the last six months and we’d go to town to get wedding bands tomorrow.

“By the power vested in me by the state of Oklahoma, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You are now Mr. and Mrs. Christopher and Martha Davis.”

Christopher Davis?! What about Jonathan?

***

I held the baby while he sucked hungrily on another bottle of formula. When we’d stopped at the house to hide the ship, I’d fixed a bottle from the supplies my now sister-in-law left at the house for their bi-weekly visits. I’d guessed he was about three months old and had fixed him a six ounce bottle. He’d finished it in no time flat and it had taken another eight ounces to fill him up. Space travel must have left him hungry.

Space travel? They’d seen a light and saw a capsule, but space travel? Was it a space ship? Was he… an alien? Was it even Clark they were talking about?

Chris sat beside me on the couch and wrapped one arm around me pulling me and the baby close to him.

“What should we name him?” he asked softly.

“I don’t know. What do you think?” I turned slightly and kissed his jaw.

He swallowed hard. “None of that until that little guy’s in bed and then there’s going to be some time for me and my bride.” He pulled us a little closer.

I winced. How hard must that have been for Clark to write?

“You better believe there is.” I knew my eyes twinkled at him. “So what do you want to name him?”

“How about after your family?”

“Like what?”

“Clark.”

It was Clark in that… capsule or whatever!

“My maiden name,” I said slowly then grinned. “My maiden name. It’s not my name anymore.”

“Nope. You’re a Davis now.”

“I like it.” I gently stroked the tiny cheek still working vigorously on the bottle. “Clark Davis.”

“What about a middle name?”

“Jerome,” I said without hesitation.

“After my dad?” Tears filled his eyes.

“Yeah,” I answered quietly. “He would have loved to see his new grandson.”

“That he would have. He never quite forgave Jenny for having girls. Of course, he was wrapped completely around their little fingers from about two minutes after they were born.”

“He loved them, but you have four sisters. He wanted another little boy in the family.”

“We’ll have to get Doc Johnson to help get a birth certificate and stuff. What’s our official story going to be?”

“An old friend of mine from college dropped him off on your doorstep. I saw her earlier today but had no idea what she was planning on doing. There were a couple of strangers in town today so no one should question it. She left a note, asking us to protect her identity and take care of her baby. We went to Oklahoma and got married. Everyone knows we’ve always planned to so… But, for some reason, she didn’t explain in the note, she didn’t have a birth certificate or anything for him.” I’d thought about it a lot on the way to Oklahoma — even working out the wording of the note in my head. I’d have to write it soon, disguising my handwriting as I did, of course.

“That works.” He watched as I gently extracted the now empty bottle from the mouth of his now sleeping son. I lifted him to my shoulder and gently patted his back until he burped.

“Will you get that laundry basket? I put an old, flat pillow in the bottom of it and it’ll work for a bassinet until we can get some real furniture.”

He nodded and moved to get the basket off of our bed.

A few minutes later, little Clark was sound asleep, one fist in his mouth, still wearing only a diaper we’d absconded from Chris’s sister’s stash. “We need to get him some clothes,” he whispered as I set the basket in the living room, near the door to the room we would now share. He glanced at the clock. “It’s eleven o’clock. Do you need to call home?”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to deal with my parents right now.” I rested a hand lightly on his chest. “Right now, I want to get to know my new husband better.” I smiled shyly at him.

I shuddered a bit on Clark’s behalf. I knew in a vague way that my parents had done those kinds of things, but I had no intention of writing about them.

He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“I’ve been ready since the first time you kissed me when I was sixteen.” I moved closer to him and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Make me your wife in every sense, Chris,” I whispered.

***

We lay in our newly shared bed, resting quietly in the afterglow of something magical when the loud clanging of a bell halfway across town shook us from our quiet reflection. I fingered the engagement ring he’d slid onto my finger just before we’d made love for the first time.

I winced again on Clark’s behalf.

He jumped from the bed and pulled on his jeans. “I gotta go, honey.”

“I know.”

Chris was a part of the volunteer fire brigade and when the bell rang — no matter the time of day or night — they had to go. He leaned over and gave me a long, lingering kiss. “Take care of that boy of mine while I’m gone.” He winked at me and moved to the phone. He picked it up to hear Rob Miller and Darren Johnson already on the party line. He confirmed the location then kissed me — his new bride — again. “It’s out at the Irig place. It’ll probably be light before I get back.”

I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach as he kissed Martha.

“Okay.”

He kissed me again. “I love you, Martha Davis.”

“I love you, too.”

***

There was a knock on the door as I fried an egg. Clark had woken up not long after Chris left and taken another big bottle. We’d slept for a little over four hours after that. The sunlight streaming in the window had kept me from sleeping much longer. I rarely slept late, but after the unusual exertions of the day before — finding a baby and hiding a spaceship and a trip to Oklahoma and becoming man and wife — I could have slept for a couple more hours without much trouble, but Clark decided it was time to play for a bit after his seven am bottle. I wrote that note and decided it was time to eat while I waited for Chris to come back.

Clark was lying on the floor on a quilt Chris’ grandmother had made for us, knowing we’d marry someday but that she wouldn’t likely be around to see it.

I smiled at him as he studied his fingers intently and then moved to the door.

I opened it to find a very somber Wayne Irig standing there with his hat in his hand.

My hand went immediately to my stomach and I stumbled backwards. I’d seen that look too many times.

Oh, God. That’s what I’d been afraid of. My heart broke for Martha — even though I knew she’d end up happy with Jonathan eventually.

“No,” I whispered.

“I’m so sorry, Martha. He told us that you two had run off and got married yesterday and that he’d tell us the rest of the story later.” He twisted the hat he held in his hands. “He saved Josh.” His voice broke. “He saved my son. He made it to the back bedroom and threw a sheet down to us. He managed to wrap Josh in another sheet and lower him far enough out the window that he could drop him onto the sheet he’d tossed to us. Josh is going to be fine, but the ceiling collapsed before…” He couldn’t go on.

Tears flowed down my cheeks as I read. Chris had been a hero, in more ways than one.

I had backed away from Wayne as he spoke until I collapsed into the chair in the living room. A small cry from the baby on the floor gave me something else to focus my attention on. “Oh, Clark,” I cried. “Your daddy…” I clutched the baby to me and rocked back and forth.

“Joe took the liberty of calling on your folks to tell them and Darren was heading over to Jenny’s house — Chris said his mom was over there last night. I’d imagine they’ll be here soon.” He looked at the ground. “I gotta get back to my Maggie and Josh, but if you need anything, Martha, please call us. We owe Chris so much and if there’s anything…”

I nodded, unable to find the words.

As Wayne turned to leave, I stopped him. “Wayne, would you have Doc Johnson stop by if you see him? I need to have him look at Clark here.”

Wayne nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go find him before I head home.”

“Thank you.”

***

My parents arrived not long after Wayne left and found me still sitting in the chair rocking baby Clark. I refused to explain until Chris’s family arrived. When they did a few minutes later, I managed, between tears and refusals to let go of the baby, to tell them the story we’d concocted about a friend of mine from college in Oklahoma. The marriage itself wasn’t a surprise to anyone, only the suddenness of it.

Over the next few days, the house was packed up — I knew I couldn’t stay there by myself, not with a baby to care for. And Chris’ mom and sister, Deborah, and her husband still lived in the bigger house across the farmyard so the farm would be taken care of. I’d agonized over what to do with the spaceship we’d found Clark in, but finally decided that Wayne owed us. I’d covered it completely with tarps and called Wayne over. He’d built a big crate around it and hid it on his farm, never asking for more information than I was willing to give him.

I wondered what had happened to it and if Clark would actually let me see it sometime.

I moved back into the room on my parents’ farm that I’d abandoned for only a few days. I spent most of my time with Clark, rarely venturing out except to shop with my mother for necessities for him and church on Sundays. The active social life Chris and I had enjoyed disappeared and my world revolved around the tiny baby that had literally fallen from the sky.

***

September 1989

“Clark Jerome Davis! Get back in here!” I hollered out the door.

The dark haired four-year-old trudged silently in from the barn.

I found myself smiling a bit. I’d bet Clark was a cute four-year-old. Maybe Martha would show me some pictures.

“What do you think you’re doing, young man?”

He hung his head. “Sorry, Mama.”

“You’re a mess. I don’t have time to give you another bath before I leave, which means that Nana is going to do it.”

“Aw, Mama, you give better baths.” He frowned.

I smiled at that, too. Daddy had always given better baths at our house. Mom never let us play as much as Daddy did.

“Well, I gave you one earlier. You know better than to go play in the barn after you’ve had a bath.”

He scuffed a well-worn shoe against the wood of the porch. “Sorry, Mama.”

I smiled. “It’s okay, Clark. Come here.” I pulled him close to my leg as he wrapped his arms around it and rested his head on my hip. “But it means that Nana is going to have to give you another bath and you need to be good for her.”

“She doesn’t let me play battleships,” he pouted.

“I know, but that’s because she doesn’t have the energy to keep up with a four-year-old at bath time anymore.”

Clark sighed. “Where’re you goin’, Mama? Why can’t you stay with me? You can be my best girl.”

I squatted down until I was at eye level with him. “I’ll always be your best girl, son, but tonight, that nice Mr. Smith from the next county asked your Mama to go to a movie with him.”

“Can I go? Please, Mama.” His large brown eyes pleaded with me. “I’ll be good. I promise.”

I smiled at him. “Not tonight. Maybe another time.”

He glared at me and stomped off to his room.

My mother sat in her rocking chair next to the open window in the living room. I knew she’d heard every word.

“I’m sorry you’re going to have to give him another bath, but he can’t go to church in the morning looking like that,” I told her.

“I know, dear. Me and my arthritis might even let him play battleships for a while, if he’s good between now and then.” Mom smiled at me. “So, tell me about Mr. Smith.”

“His first name is Andrew and he seems like a nice man.”

“Is he picking you up?”

I shook my head. “I’m meeting him at Maisie’s. Maisie’s picking me up here in a little while and we’re going to the movies with her and Joe.”

“Is he going to bring you home?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“You didn’t tell him about Clark yet, did you?” my mother asked gently.

I paused for a minute. That would be hard. How would you tell someone that your son was an… alien?

I sighed. “No. I didn’t. Most everyone from around here knows about him, but Andrew isn’t from here. He’s from far enough away that he doesn’t know our story.” I didn’t wilt under my mother’s disapproving stare. “I will tell him. There’s no point in a second date if he’s not willing to even consider raising another man’s son.”

We turned as we heard a car coming up the road.

“That’s Maisie. I’ll be home later. Thanks, Mom.” I kissed her forehead. “Clark!” I called. “I’m leaving. Come here.”

Clark came running down the stairs. “Don’t go, Mama.” He buried his head in my leg. “I promise; I won’t play in the barn anymore.”

My heart broke for the little boy Clark had been.

I knelt down on the floor. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Please don’t go. I’ll be a good boy.” His bottom lip quivered.

I tipped his chin up with her finger. “You are a good boy. You’re my best boy. And I’ll be home tonight. You’ll be asleep, but I’ll be home long before you wake up, okay?”

Clark nodded.

“You be good for Nana, okay?”

Clark nodded again then wrapped his arms around my neck. “I love you, Mama.”

“I love you, too.” I returned the hug and gave him a big kiss before straightening up and heading for the door.

~~~~~

Clark

I watched as Mama climbed into the truck with Miss Maisie. I’d heard what she said to Nana. Why was she going out with this Mr. Smith if she didn’t think he’d want to… what was it she’d said? Raise another man’s son. Why wouldn’t Mr. Smith want to help take care of me? I was a good boy, even if I did forget and play in the barn sometimes when I wasn’t supposed to.

I wanted to giggle. That sounded like Clark.

Pete had a daddy. They ran the grocery store in town. So did Lana — her daddy was the mayor and Rachel’s daddy was the sheriff. Josh’s daddy was a farmer like Pop Pop was. And Pop Pop was Mama’s daddy, but I didn’t have a daddy. Well, Mama said my daddy died a very long time ago when I was too little to remember it but that he’d loved me very much.

I frowned. Lana. I should have known she’d be mentioned in here somewhere, but — given what he’d said in the car — I wasn’t expecting it until the wedding bit, whenever that was.

I was a good boy and my Nana let me play battleships for a few minutes in the bathtub. I was sound asleep when a noise woke me up.

Mama’s laughter wafted up from the porch and through my open window. A man’s voice joined hers. That must be the nice Mr. Smith. I wanted to meet him.

I climbed out of bed and walked quietly down the stairs. I reached the open screen door and pushed on it.

“Mama, can I sit with you for a little while?” I asked rubbing my eyes.

“Clark,” she exclaimed. “What are you doing up? You’re supposed to be in bed, young man.”

I shuffled to her side. “I’m sorry, Mama. I heard you laughing and wanted to come sit with you is all.”

She smiled and held out her arm. I walked readily into her embrace. “Andrew, this is my son, Clark. Clark, this is Mr. Smith.”

I held out a small hand. “It’s my pleasure to meet you, Mr. Smith.” Just like I’d been taught.

“It’s nice to meet you, Clark.”

Martha smoothed my hair back out of my face. “Why don’t you run on upstairs and I’ll tuck you in when I come up?”

“Okay.” I moved back inside and climbed back in bed. Voices came through the window but I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.

A few minutes later, Mama was sitting on the side of my bed as the sound of gravel indicated that Mr. Smith was leaving.

“Did you have fun, Mama?” I asked with a yawn.

“I had a nice time.” She pushed that one lock of hair back off my forehead.

I wondered what she wasn’t telling him.

“Are you going to see him again?”

“Oh, I don’t know. He lives awfully far away from your Nana’s house so I don’t know that things would work with him.”

“What kind of work? Like on a farm?”

I smiled at the way a four-year-old’s mind worked.

“Yes, he works on a farm, but it’s a long ways from here.”

“Oh.”

“Get some sleep, little man.”

“Good night, Mama.”

“Good night, Clark.” She pulled the blanket up around me and pressed a kiss to my forehead before leaving.

~~~~~

Martha

After church the day after my date with Andrew Smith, Clark was lying in his bed playing with his toy cars. He was really supposed to be napping but as long as he was quiet I didn’t mind.

I closed the door and went downstairs to sit on the couch. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.

“How was your evening, dear?”

“You don’t waste any time, do you, Mom?”

“No. Life’s too short to waste time.”

“Yeah,” I said softly, thinking of the time Chris and I had wasted. We should have gotten married the minute I got home from college in December instead of waiting another six months after that. “That it is.”

“So?”

“The evening was very nice until we were chatting on the porch and Clark came out.”

“He was up?”

I nodded. “Yeah. He heard us laughing and came down.”

“Had you told him about Clark yet?”

“No.”

“How’d he take it?”

I sighed. “Not well. He made some… derogatory remarks about Clark and his father. I told him that it was none of his business at this point and if he stuck around long enough and I thought it might be going somewhere, he’d get the whole story but not until then. I only told him that I’d been married to a wonderful man who died saving a little boy’s life. He made another rude comment and I told him he’d better leave before he found himself walking funny for the next week.”

That sounded like Martha. Poor Mr. Smith probably didn’t know what hit him.

“I’m so sorry, dear.”

I shrugged. “If someone isn’t willing to accept my son, he’s not worth my time.” We sat for another minute before I continued. “You know, in some ways it was more like a job interview than a date. He may not have realized that but it was — an interview for the job as Clark’s dad. If he isn’t willing and able to that job, there’s no way he’s going to end up being my husband.”

“There’s someone out there for you, dear. I know there is.”

“Maybe. But maybe Chris was it. I’d rather have Clark any day of the week than someone who doesn’t understand that it’s possible to love someone else’s child as though he were your own. Clark wasn’t Chris’ son either — and he’s not mine, biologically — but that doesn’t matter to me and it didn’t matter to Chris.”

“Mama?”

My eyes grew suddenly wide. “Clark? You’re supposed to be lying down.”

My eyes grew wide, too. Clark overheard that?

“I know but I need some water. What do you mean I’m not Chris’s son? I thought Chris was my daddy and you’re my Mama.” His lower lip quivered and the big brown eyes filled with tears.

“Come sit with me.” I patted the couch next to me. When he was curled up next to me, I continued. “Clark, sometimes when a mom and dad have a baby, they can’t take care of him well enough and so they give him to someone else who can take care of him. One day, when you were very little, your mom and dad realized that they couldn’t take care of you and so they gave you to me and Chris because they knew how much we would love you and how well we could take care of you.”

My eyes filled with tears. I didn’t know if that was why Clark’s parents had shipped him off — or if there was some other reason for it — but the way Martha explained it…

“But Chris went away.” His voice still trembled.

“You know your friend Josh?”

He nodded.

“Well, one night — the same night you came to live with us — Chris had to go help fight a fire at Josh’s house. Josh was just a tiny baby, like you were at the time. Chris went into the house even though it was on fire and he saved baby Josh.”

“Why didn’t he get out?”

I shook my head. “There wasn’t time. He saved Josh, but he couldn’t save himself. He loved you and he loved me very much, but he had to leave us.”

“What about my other mom and dad?”

“They loved you very much, but for some reason, they couldn’t take care of you and they wanted to make sure that you were taken care of so they sent you to us.”

“Will you always take care of me, Mama? Or are you going to send me away too?”

I hugged him a little tighter. “I’m always going to take care of you. I’m not ever going to send you away.”

“Not even if you can’t find someone who wants to live with us and be my daddy? You won’t send me away so you can find a grown up man?”

I turned his head until he looked me in the eye. “Clark, if a grown up man doesn’t want to be your daddy, then he’s not man enough to live with us. Ever. I wouldn’t ever marry someone who doesn’t love you as much as I do and if I never find someone like that, I have you and that’s more important. I love you more than I love the idea of being married again.”

That sounded like Martha, too. Could I be that kind of mom? Would I be when Clark left after the baby’s fifth birthday?

“You were married to my daddy?”

“Yes, I was, sweetheart.”

“And you loved him?”

“Very much.”

I wouldn’t be able to say that, though. Would I? Would I love Clark and he’d leave us anyway? Would he love us by then? And not leave?

“Do you think there’s another man out there who would love both of us?”

“I don’t know, sweetie. But until we find one, it’s you and me okay?”

He nodded. “And Nana and Pop Pop.”

I laughed. “And Nana and Pop Pop.”

***

Part 50

June 1990

Clark

~~~~~

I met the man I call my Dad when I was five-years-old.

He had to mean Jonathan. Right? Surely there wasn’t someone else I hadn’t heard of, was there?

“You have a date tonight, Mama?” I asked.

“I do.” She hunted through her jewelry box looking for her other earring.

“Is he going to be mean like that Mr. Smith was last year?”

“I hope not.”

“Is he going to be nice like Mr. Johnson?”

Mama laughed. “Mr. Johnson is nice, Clark.” I knew Mr. Johnson was nearing eighty, but said he loved me like his own grandson and even let me call him Pop sometimes.

I suppressed a giggle at that.

“Is he going to be nice like my daddy was?” I asked quietly.

“I don’t know. He seems like a nice man, but I don’t know if he’s going to be as nice as your daddy until I’ve talked to him a while.”

“Does he know about me?” I didn’t look at her as I spoke.

“Yes, he knows about you.” Finding the earring at last, she slid it into her ear and fastened it.

“What’s his name?”

“His name is Mr. Kent. He lives over on the farm by Josh. He’s been in the Navy and just came home to help his mama take care of their farm since his brother is moving to Arkansas.”

It was Jonathan. It had to be. Unless this guy was Jonathan’s brother or something.

“That’s nice of him.”

“That’s very nice of him.” She found her watch and put it on.

“And he doesn’t live far away like Mr. Smith did.”

“No,” Mama said slowly. “He doesn’t.”

“So if he does turn out to be nice like my daddy, we wouldn’t have to be far from Nana and Pop Pop.”

“No, we wouldn’t, but Clark?”

“Yes, Mama?”

“Even if things go well with him tonight, and I decide to see him again, that doesn’t mean we’re going to get married. It might be a long time before we decide to get married, even if he does turn out to be a nice man.” She looked me in the eyes. “And I don’t want you saying anything to him about it, okay?”

“Okay.”

***

I hid at the top of the stairs when I heard the knock on the door. This Mr. Kent better treat Mama right or I would have something to say about it. I wasn’t sure what that meant but Pop Pop had said it once so I thought it.

I giggled again at the idea of Clark standing up to Jonathan when he was little.

Mama opened the door and I heard them saying something I couldn’t quite make out, but I guessed they were saying hello.

“Clark?” Mama called.

“Yes, Mama?” I called back.

“Can you come here please?”

I hesitated, afraid I was going to be in trouble for sitting there, and then made my way slowly down the stairs.

“Come here, son.” Mama smiled at me and held out her arm. I practically ran to her, almost hiding behind her leg. “Mr. Kent wanted to meet you before we left.”

I looked up. “Hi, Mr. Kent.”

The larger man knelt down so that we were eye to eye. “You know, Clark, I don’t think I’d like it too much if some strange man came to my house and took my mama out to dinner and a movie without knowing something about him first.”

My eyes filled with tears. I could see why ‘He Didn’t Have To Be’ was one of Clark’s favorite songs.

“Yes, sir.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but I’d found it was always best to agree with grown-ups.

“So, what if you came with us? I wouldn’t want you to stay up worrying about your mama.”

I looked up with wide eyes at Mama. “Can I, Mama? Can I come?”

A single tear streaked down Mama’s face. “Of course you can. If Mr. Kent wants you to come, then that would be wonderful. You know I always love spending time with you.”

My small hand reached up and brushed away the tear. “Then why are you crying?”

A tear streaked down my face as well. I would cry, too, I was sure, if someday Joe, or someone else asked me out and wanted to take my son or daughter with us.

“No reason,” she smiled. “So what do you say? Are you going to come with us?”

A wide grin split my face and I let go of her leg to jump up and down. “Yes!” I quickly tamped down my excitement. “I’m in my pajamas. I can’t go to town in my pajamas.”

“Well, we better get you changed. Come on.” Martha pushed me towards the stairs. She turned to the other man before she followed. “We’ll be right back.” I knew she was almost crying again. “Thank you,” she said quietly. I wasn’t sure what she was thanking him for.

He smiled at Mama. “I’ll be waiting.”

***

I sat by the window in the old pickup truck. I knew it had been washed that afternoon. Mama sat between me and Mr. Kent. I liked Mr. Kent. I bet Mr. Kent was trying to impress Mama with the clean truck. A clean truck probably would impress her — clean little boys sure did.

I was quite sure that clean little boys and trucks both impressed Martha.

We went to Maisie’s Diner for dinner. I got to have a cheeseburger and fries and a milkshake. Mama always made me get water on the rare occasions we went out to eat. I’d dutifully ordered water just as usual, but Mr. Kent had been the one to suggest a milkshake.

After dinner, a drive by the movie theater showed the only choices were a girly princess movie or something Mama and Mr. Kent had indicated was for ‘grown ups’.

Instead, Mr. Kent suggested we go for a drive and watch the stars for a while. Before long, the truck was parked on the little road near Shuster’s Field. The three of us climbed in the back of the truck and Mr. Kent spread a blanket out for us to sit on.

I talked for a while about my friends and the frog I’d found the day before and how my Mama was much nicer about frogs than most other mamas. Nana was, too. Grandma Davis would never, ever let a frog in the house and neither would aunts Jenny or Deborah. Aunt Dorrie might but she lived a long ways away.

I wasn’t so sure about the frog thing. Maybe I was having a girl…

There was a slightly weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I decided it was because I’d never been on a real date before. Before long, I dozed off, my head resting on Mr. Kent’s shoulder as they continued to talk quietly. Well, I guess they did. I was asleep. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been asleep when I suddenly jerked awake.

“Mama, I think I’m gonna be sick.” The words barely made it out of my mouth, when my dinner followed — all over the nice Mr. Kent.

Poor Clark. That was about how I’d felt the first time I went on a real date, too.

Mama helped me to the side of the truck where the rest of my dinner found its way onto the ground. I could hear Mr. Kent moving around behind me. When I thought I was done, I sat back in Mama’s arms.

“Here,” said Mr. Kent, holding out a Thermos of water. “Take a sip and swish it around then spit it out.”

I nodded and did as I was told. Mama held me close to her and pushed my hair back out of my face. “Are you okay, Clark?”

“I dunno. My tummy still hurts.”

She looked at Mr. Kent. “I’m so sorry, Jonathan. He’s never sick.”

He smiled back at her. “It’s okay. It’s just one of those things, but I think we better get this little guy home.”

Mama nodded. “That’s probably best.” She helped me climb down and into the cab, keeping me close to her the whole time.

Mr. Kent changed shirts, I noticed. He must have kept another one in the truck just in case a five-year-old threw up on him or something.

I knew Mama had loved Chris, but I’d never thrown up on him. If Mr. Kent still wanted to be part of our lives after I threw up all over him, maybe he was a good guy after all.

***

September 1990

I was lying in bed a few months later, when I heard Mama and Mr. Kent talking on the porch and I wanted to go sit with them. I remembered the night I’d gone out there when she was talking to Mr. Smith and that hadn’t turned out so well. Maybe going down there wasn’t such a good idea after all.

But this was Mr. Kent. He liked me, even though I’d thrown up all over him. He’d even taken me fishing a couple of times. I loved to fish but Pop Pop couldn’t fish much anymore because of his roomba something that made his knees hurt. And Grandpa Jerome had died before I came to live with Mama and my Daddy Chris. That’s why my middle name was Jerome. Mama was the only one who ever used it though and then only when I was in trouble.

I hated getting middle named.

Would she middle name me if I went down to sit with them a bit tonight? I hadn’t seen Mr. Kent in nearly a week because he’d been busy on his farm.

Finally, I decided it was worth the risk.

I went downstairs and pushed the screen door open. “Mama, can I sit with you for a little while?”

Mama smiled at me. “If it’s okay with Mr. Kent.”

I looked at him hopefully and he smiled at me, too. “Of course. Come on, Clark. Come sit over here.”

I climbed between them and rested my head on Mama as she wrapped her arm around me.

“You know,” Mr. Kent said seriously. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask your mama and I think it’s only right that I ask her with you here too, because it affects you.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. It sounded like grown-up decisions and I didn’t get to help with grown-up decisions. Getting to help with this one made me feel very grown-up indeed.

There were tears in my eyes. I was sure I knew what was about to happen.

He cleared his throat and then stood up and wandered around the porch for a minute looking kinda nervous. I knew he’d been really nice when I’d thrown up on him, but I didn’t know if I could be as nice as he was if he threw up all over Mama. And he looked a little green around the gills, as Nana might say.

After a minute, he came back and bent down in front of us, putting one knee on the ground. He pulled a box out of his pocket and opened it.

It was a pretty ring. It wasn’t like the one Mama wore on her right hand. She said she wore it on the right because she was a widow. A widow was a lady whose husband had died, she’d told me. This was like the one Nana wore with the ring that was like the one Mama had. She wore them on her left hand because Pop Pop was alive.

She gasped. “Jonathan!”

“Martha Clark Davis, will you marry me?”

Marry him? He wanted to marry Mama? “Does that mean you’ll be my Daddy?” I asked, not noticing I’d interrupted them.

He looked at me very seriously. “I’d like to be your Daddy. I’d like to be your Mama’s husband. I love both of you very much and I want to help take care of you.”

I stood up and looked at him carefully then knelt down next to him. “Mama, will you marry Mr. Kent?”

I smiled through my tears. That was so sweet.

She wiped the tears from her face as she nodded. “Of course I will.” She reached out and touched Mr. Kent’s face. “I love you too, Jonathan.”

He took the ring out of the box and looked at it closely. “I know this isn’t an engagement ring, and if you want me to get you one I will — gladly. But I was thinking. Chris was a big part of your life for a very long time and he is always going to be a part of your heart and part of Clark’s, too. Would it be okay with you if you still wore Chris’s engagement ring with my wedding band?”

I didn’t understand Mama’s tears as she took the ring off her right hand. Mr. Kent stuck the other ring back in the box and took the one my Daddy Chris had given her.

He put the ring on her left hand and she kissed him. That was yucky and I couldn’t help but make a disgusting noise.

Jonathan laughed and stood up and swung me around. “We’re gonna be a family, son.”

It was the first time he’d called me son. I thought he almost had a few times before, but he’d stopped himself.

He was right. Mama and I were a great family. And we had Nana and Pop Pop but Mama’s brother, Jerry, was talking about wanting to move here and help with the farm and it would be a tight fit for all of us. He was married with three little girls of his own and I would have to share my room with a girl. No, thank you.

Was that why Mama was going to marry Mr. Kent? He was still holding me and Mama had come to stand next to him and his arm was around her. “Mama?” I asked.

“Yes?” Her eyes were still bright with tears, but her smile was bright, too.

“Are you marrying Mr. Kent because Uncle Jerry is moving here and there’s not enough room?”

“No! Clark, I love Mr. Kent and I’d marry him whether Uncle Jerry was moving in or not.”

“Good.” That was settled.

~~~~~

Martha

Jonathan had asked me to marry him. He was a dear, wonderful man, but I knew before we could actually get married, I needed to tell him about Clark. The whole truth about Clark.

How could she do that? That would a hard thing to do, telling someone that your son was found in a spaceship. I was going to have a hard enough time telling whoever it was that finally decided he was willing to take on me and my baby the whole truth; I couldn’t imagine that.

The next day, I called Wayne Irig up and asked him to deliver the crate that he’d been keeping for me since Chris died to the Kent farm. A couple days after that, he did.

Then Jonathan called. “Martha, do you know anything about this crate Wayne just dropped off?”

I sighed. I hadn’t known when Wayne would get around to it. “Yes, I do,” I said softly. “Instead of going to dinner in town tonight, can we stay at your house and I’ll tell you all about it?”

“Of course. Can you tell me what it’s about?”

“Clark.” That was all I would say. “Please don’t ask anymore right now.”

“Okay,” he replied simply. “I’ll pick you up around six?”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll drive over.” I thought he’d understand, but on the off chance that things went terribly wrong, I would have a way home.

“I’ll see you then.”

***

I was nervous when I got there. Jonathan asked if I wanted to eat first. He wasn’t the world’s greatest cook, but he made a mean barbeque sauce and knew his way around a grill.

I was nervous for Martha, even though I knew the eventual outcome. Had Jonathan been accepting right away? Or had it taken time?

His mom had moved into the little house on the other side of the farmyard a few weeks earlier. I thought she knew Jonathan was going to propose to me and didn’t want me to feel like she was part of the package. She was, of course, but that wouldn’t have stopped me from marrying him. She made the world’s best potato salad and had brought some over soon after I arrived then retreated to her own house.

I only picked at my dinner and Jonathan picked up on it immediately.

He finally set his fork down. “What is it, Martha? Are you having second thoughts about marrying me?”

Tears filled my eyes. “No. I want to marry you very badly. But I have something to show you, something to tell you and after that, you may not want to marry me.”

“What is it?”

I wiped my mouth on my napkin even though I hadn’t eaten a bite in over ten minutes. “Where did Wayne put that crate?”

“In the barn, like you asked him to.”

“Well, let’s go.”

We walked to the barn and I had him pry the top off, but told him to leave the tarps in place. They were more worn than I remembered, but it had been five years.

“I haven’t told you the whole truth about some things,” I finally said, sitting on one of the milking stools. “I’m sorry if that hurts you, but I had to be sure before I told anyone else about this. Chris was the only one who knew. Even Wayne only knows that he’s been keeping a crate for me.”

Jonathan pulled up another stool and sat down near me. “Well, I can’t say that I’m happy that you’ve kept something from me, but you must have had your reasons.”

“I did,” I said softly, still refusing to look at him.

“And I can’t imagine what it might be that you’re about to tell me that would make me not want to marry you.”

“Before I tell you the rest of the story, how much do you know about me and Chris and Clark?”

He shrugged. “I remember you and Chris being inseparable since kindergarten. I wasn’t surprised to hear you’d gotten married. Other than that, I know you weren’t married very long but that you had Clark.”

“Clark isn’t my biological son,” I said quietly. “He wasn’t Chris’ either.”

Jonathan nodded slowly. “I’d heard that he was the son of an old friend of yours or something.”

I chuckled wryly. “Try or something.”

He looked at me, puzzled, but didn’t say anything.

“One night, we found Clark, abandoned. We weren’t married yet and knew that no one would let us keep him if we weren’t so we went to Oklahoma and got married that night. We told everyone an old friend from college had contacted me and her dying wish was for us to raise her son. We drove back up here and fed him and put him to bed and then…” Even though I knew I’d been married to Chris and Jonathan knew I’d been married to Chris, it was still a little weird to talk about. I took a deep breath. “We made love for the first time — the only time — and then he was called to the Irig’s. He saved Josh, but the ceiling collapsed on him.”

“Oh, Martha. I had no idea that you were only married that long.”

I wiped the tears away. “It’s okay. We had a wonderful few hours together and if I could have Chris back but Josh would die instead… Well, I wouldn’t do that. Wayne came by the next morning and told me what happened and told me to call him if I needed anything. I called him a few days later and had him build a crate around something wrapped in tarps and asked him to store it for me indefinitely without asking any questions about it. And he did. He has. When I called him the other day, it was the first time we’ve talked about it in five years.”

“Well, I haven’t heard anything so far that’s going to make me not want to marry you.”

“I’m getting there. I haven’t told you how we found Clark. We were driving near Shuster’s Field and we saw a light in the sky. We pulled over and investigated. There was something in the field and in it was Clark.”

“What was it?”

I pointed to the crate, but didn’t say anything.

“Can I look now?”

“Brace yourself.”

He looked oddly at me, but nodded then moved to the side of the crate. He pulled the tarps off then gasped. “What’s this?”

I could imagine what he was feeling. I was feeling many of the same things, I was sure. I wondered if I’d ever get to see it or if this… revelation was the last of what he was willing to share with me and this was only because he was forced to? Or was this all some sort of sick joke of some kind?

“A spaceship of some kind,” I whispered. “Clark was in it.”

“Is he…” Jonathan hesitated. “Is he an alien?”

I shrugged. “We didn’t know. All we knew was a little baby had literally dropped in our laps and we weren’t about to tell anyone. Chris was afraid someone would take him from us and dissect him like a frog. We didn’t know if he was from another planet or an experiment from the Soviet Union or even from our own government. We went to Oklahoma and got married. We were planning on it and Chris had bought the engagement ring six months earlier but hadn’t actually asked yet.”

“So when do we get to the part where I don’t want to marry you?”

I smiled through my tears. “Well, if I haven’t scared you off yet…”

He sat back down and took my hand. “You haven’t.”

“We wondered — if he was an alien — if he would be different from us when he grew up. Or — if he was an experiment — if he’d been genetically enhanced. I’m sure you’ve noticed things about him. He sees a little better than most kids. He’s faster than the first graders even though he’s only going into kindergarten. He’s stronger than other little boys and he hears a lot better too. Except for the time he threw up all over you, he’s never been sick — not even an ear infection. I don’t know what that means for him growing up, but I have a feeling that he could be challenging. Not because he’s not a good boy, he is, but because of his heritage — whatever that is.”

Experiment? Genetically enhanced? Alien? Of the three, only the last had occurred to me.

Jonathan nodded slowly. “I can see how that might be, but I still don’t see why I wouldn’t want to marry you.”

“It’s one thing to ask you to raise another man’s son. It’s another to ask you to raise a little boy who could very well be an alien.”

“You and Chris didn’t turn away a little boy who needed you, why would I?”

Was that it? Was that why Clark did what he did?

I squeezed his hand a little tighter. “I didn’t think you would, but you never know.” I stared at our joined hands. “Do you understand why I couldn’t tell you until I was sure?”

He smiled at me and tugged on my hand until I moved to sit on his lap. He wrapped his arms around me and kissed me gently. “I do.”

“Remember those words, Mr. Kent. I hope you’re going to need them.”

“I am,” he said softly and kissed me again.

***

October 1990

Clark

~~~~~

Two weeks later, Pop Pop walked Mama down the aisle. Mama and Mr. Kent had decided they didn’t want to wait and that two weeks was more time to plan than Mama had had for her wedding to Daddy Chris. I stood there next to Mr. Kent in my best Sunday suit and tried not to tug at the neck. My shoes were too tight and I couldn’t breathe right but it was hard not to squirm even though Nana had just reminded me not to a few minutes earlier.

Preacher Rob, Maisie’s husband who’d been there the night Daddy Chris had saved Josh, said some stuff I didn’t really understand. Something about deers and loving. I loved deer. It was good and Mr. Kent knew how to make it right — just like Pop Pop did. Then he said something about holding peas but I didn’t have any so I stuck my hands in my pockets. Then Mama and Mr. Kent said some stuff to each other about loving cherries. I think I was hungry. Everything had to do with food and Nana had made cherry pie for later.

I tried hard not to laugh at Clark’s interpretation of wedding vows, but sobered as I remembered my own. And Clark’s. Had he thought about holding peas or loving cherries when he married me? Instead of thinking about holding peace and cherishing?

Then Mr. Kent put the ring on Mama’s finger and Mama put one on his. Then Preacher Rob said Mr. Kent could kiss Mama so he did. It was yucky, but they were both smiling when they were done. I figured I’d have a lot of that to look forward to in the future. Them kissing that was.

Mama was moving into Mr. Kent’s — I mean Daddy’s — house that night. She’d already taken all of our things over there. Well, he’d helped and I had my own room over there, but they told me I had to stay with Nana and Pop Pop one more night. Lana said something about them wanting to be alone to fight over who got which side of the bed since they’d sleep in the same bed now and they wouldn’t want to fight over it in front of me. I didn’t see what the big deal was, but I didn’t understand grown-ups. I’d tried kissing Lana and didn’t see why they wanted to do that all the time. She’d pushed me down and told me to not ever do that again.

That’s what he’d been talking about in the car. I could only wish that Lana had never changed her mind.

We had dinner in the church rec room and I got to eat cherry pie and cake. Two pieces of each. And a piece of pecan pie that Rachel’s mama brought. And my new Granny Kent had made her famous potato salad so I had some of that too. My tummy didn’t feel good after that, but I didn’t throw up on Mr. Kent — Daddy — this time. Grandma Davis was there, of course, and happy for Mama and Daddy, but she didn’t cook much anymore or I would have had to eat some of her fruitcake. I didn’t like it but Mama would want me to eat some, to be polite.

He could eat all that at age five? It was possible he might even be able to eat my cooking some day if that was the case.

Daddy and Mama danced then asked if I’d like to dance with them. I said I would but I didn’t think I wanted to dance with any other little girls. I’d tried dancing with Lana while they were dancing by themselves, but she pushed me down again. Daddy laughed and said that someday I would. I told him he was wrong.

He picked me up in one arm and wrapped the other around Mama. The three of us just kind rocked a bit, but I guessed that was dancing.

There with Mama and Daddy, we’d gone from something’s missing to a family.

Looking back, all I can say about all the things he did for me…

I can only hope that I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be.

There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that was bothering me, but I couldn’t quite place it so instead I closed the folder and spoke to Clark.

***

Part 51

Lois

~~~~~

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of what I’d just read.

But first I had to get one question out of the way. “Um, you do know this isn’t a fiction assignment, right?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “But even so, the version I turn in will be partly fiction.”

“Why is that?” I asked, still trying to process twenty-five pages of Clark’s origins.

“Because if I turn in a paper that says I was found in a space ship, then Dr. Pearson will think it really is fiction and it’s not. And possibly turn me over to government agencies or something if he did manage to believe it.”

So that meant that he had been found in a spaceship.

I was glad I was already sitting down.

“What does all that mean?” I finally asked.

He sighed and sat back down — he’d started pacing as soon as I read the title off the front page. “It means that in 1985, my mom and Chris — her first husband — found a baby in a space ship. They got married that night and took me home. He died saving Josh from a fire early the next morning. It was a little over five years later that Mom and Dad got married.”

“I get that,” I told him. “It’s the whole spaceship thing…”

“Pretty hard to swallow, huh?”

I nodded.

“You should have seen me the first time Dad tried to explain it to me.”

“How old were you?” I asked quietly.

“Six. The day after my birthday.” He picked a blade of grass and started shredding it. “I was fast and strong — well, enough that I wasn’t quite on the same level as other kids my age. Mom and Dad took me to see the high school production of Peter Pan and I decided that I wanted to fly. I put on a green shirt and my best pair of blue jeans because I didn’t have any green pants. I climbed up the ladder into the hayloft and went over to the door and jumped.” He shook his head at the memory. “I landed on a pile of old parts for the tractor that Mom was going to use for some piece of artwork or other. Dad had seen me and came running. I probably should have been hurt a lot worse than I was, but my shirt was torn and I had a ragged scratch down the center of my torso. It didn’t bleed too badly, but they were afraid it might get infected. Mom treated it at home and kept an eye on it. Three days later, it was a scar.”

I gaped at him. “Three days? When I was seven, I was outside the cabin one night when I wasn’t supposed to be. I wanted to… do something to the squirrel that kept getting into the birdfeeder — throw a rock at him or something. I wasn’t planning on telling my parents I’d been out there, but I fell and scraped my shoulder near my collar bone. It took two weeks before I could move my arm right and another two before it wasn’t red anymore. I was grounded for a week and couldn’t swim at Lucy’s pool party for her birthday.”

He sighed. “It’s part of being me. I’m…” He paused, like he was having problems saying it out loud. “…an alien.”

“What is part of being you?”

“I don’t get hurt. Well, not since I was about fourteen. I haven’t gotten hurt at all since then. Before that, I healed quickly and never got hurt as badly as I should have.”

Something dawned on me. “So you made me carry you through the snow for nothing?!”

He shook his head. “No. I don’t know what happened. The last time I felt sick was when I was five and on my parents’ first date. Then in Bremerton. I have no idea what it was that made me sick.”

I didn’t say anything for a long time.

“So…?” he asked.

“So…” I replied. “I don’t know what to say, what to ask. I know I want to be a journalist someday, but I’m caught off guard and this is so outside the realm of anything I could even begin to imagine. So just tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Whatever you want. Whatever you think I need to know. You can honestly tell your parents that you told me the truth, but I can’t imagine that your mom won’t want to talk at least some specifics with me about whatever else it is that makes you… you.”

~~~~~

Clark

Where to start?

I sighed. “Okay. Well, I’m invulnerable to everything I’ve found since I was fourteen or so.”

“You said that.”

“Yeah. I don’t know where else to start. I’ve never told anyone about all this. Mom and Dad went through it with me. Chris only knew they found me in a spaceship.”

“Start at the beginning?”

I picked another blade of grass and fiddled with it. “I’ll tell you what I can do, how’s that?”

She shrugged.

“Okay, invulnerable we’ve covered.” I took a deep breath. “I can start fires with my eyes.”

“That’s what you meant!” she said as though a light bulb had gone off in her head.

“What?”

“On the way to the cabin. I said something about how you were going to have to make the fire and you said you couldn’t start fires with your eyes at the moment. I just thought you were delirious.”

“I was or I never would have said it. I’m way too careful about saying or doing things that I shouldn’t when other people are around.”

“Ah. So, that’s how I’ve lived with you for like nine months and never noticed anything.” He nodded. “Sorry for the interruption. Go on.”

“Invulnerable. Start fires with my eyes.”

Lois sneezed.

“Are you cold?” I asked her.

She shook her head then sneezed again.

I hesitated then asked, “Do you trust me?”

She shrugged. “I guess.”

I winced. I wasn’t sure why she didn’t trust me. Because I was an alien or because I’d been a louse lately. I stood up and moved behind her. “Hold still.”

I carefully dried her hair and ran a diffused beam of heat vision over her back.

“What was that?” she whispered.

“A very light version of the heat stuff.”

She touched her hair. “It’s dry.” Her voice was full of awe or something.

I sat back down. “Yeah. I can concentrate it or diffuse it and turn the power up and down — for lack of better terms, I guess.”

“What else?”

I hesitated. What else could I do? “I can see things far away or things that are really small — like using a telescope or a microscope. I can see through things.”

“Like what?”

“Just about anything.” What example could I give her? “When we first met, I looked out of the bathroom to make sure there was no one in the common area and when there wasn’t I looked in our room to see if my roommate was there yet. When both were clear, I went to my room to get dressed then you showed up. Or like at the cabin. The second time the power was out. I could hear you moving around downstairs so I looked through the walls and floor or whatever and saw you with a flashlight.”

“But you couldn’t find your shirt?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I didn’t look very hard and it didn’t seem all that important. And I can hear really well.”

“How well?”

“I can hear stuff from a long ways away.” I paused. “Dad’s snoring up a storm tonight and Granny’s watching Letterman.”

“Wow.”

“I can hear the baby’s heartbeat,” I whispered.

“What?” she whispered back.

“I can hear the baby’s heartbeat when I want to. I have to turn it off and on, but I can. I listen to it sometimes at night when I go to sleep. It reminds me of why we’re doing this. To protect you and the baby.” I paused in case she wanted to say something. When she didn’t I went on. “I can breathe in toxic fumes if I need to. Mom started a fire one time and there was fire extinguisher smoke everywhere. I inhaled it and was fine. I can also freeze things with my breath or exhale with like hurricane force winds or something like that.” I hesitated again. “And I can fly.”

“What?!” she exclaimed.

“I can fly. I can float and fly.”

“You can fly?” She looked at me skeptically.

I levitated a few feet off the ground.

“Wow.” It was little more than an exhale. She stared straight ahead for a long time, but I’d told her everything and didn’t know what else to say. “Could you have flown us out of Latislan?”

After a minute, I nodded.

“Why didn’t you?” There was no accusation in her voice and that made me breathe a sigh of relief.

“I would have. If there was no other way, I would have. I wouldn’t have let him hurt you at the airport, for instance. But I’ve always looked for another way out and by the time I realized the long-term danger, flying you out wouldn’t have mattered. Navance would have come after you anyway.”

She nodded. “Probably.” She yawned.

“Are you ready to go back?” I asked her.

“I think so.” She stood up and stretched her back.

“Bothering you again?”

“Still,” she admitted.

“Do you trust me?” I asked her again.

She bit her lip and then nodded.

I trained my eyes on her lower back and heated it gently. “Better?”

She stretched a bit more then nodded. “Thanks.”

I folded the blanket and tucked the folder inside it. “Do you want to walk?” I asked her before I could talk myself out of it.

“How else would we get back?”

“I could fly us.” She didn’t say anything. “I mean, if you want me to.”

She shrugged. “It’ll be faster?”

“A lot.”

“Then okay. I’m pretty tired again all of the sudden.” She didn’t really look at me. “How do we do this?”

“Well, I’ve only ever flown my folks. Them I usually just wrap an arm around their waists and go, but with the baby and all, I think I should probably hold you a little closer. I can sort of extend my invulnerability if I want to and the closer you are, the easier it is.”

She bit her bottom lip before nodding. “Whatever you think is best.”

I wasn’t sure what I thought was best as I handed her the blanket to hold. I could carry her in my arms or have her stand right in front of me and hold her that way. That was probably best. I moved behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. “Ready?”

~~~~~

Lois

Was I ready for this?

For finding out Clark could fly?

To go flying with him?

“Sure,” I managed to squeak.

He held me a little tighter and we slowly lifted into the air. I held my breath until he whispered in my ear, “Don’t forget to breathe.” I let the breath out. “We’re not going far or fast or high.”

The moon was bright enough that I could see the ground moving quickly below us. I wasn’t sure how long it hadn’t taken us to walk where we did, but we were standing on the porch in front of the farmhouse in just a couple of minutes.

“Wow,” I whispered.

“It is pretty cool,” he agreed. “It’s the thing I love the most, being able to fly.”

“I can imagine.” I couldn’t, not really, but it did seem pretty cool.

“Sometime, after the baby’s born, I’ll take you on a real flight.”

I nodded and opened the door to the farmhouse.

“Take my bed again, if you want,” he said quietly. “It’s probably better for you than the air mattress.”

“The air mattress can’t be all that comfortable,” I said to him. “You take your bed.”

He shrugged. “I’ll be fine. I don’t really notice that stuff too much — it’s not like I get a stiff back or anything. If it gets really bad, I can sleep on the couch or something. Or if I get too uncomfortable in the middle of the night, sometimes I wake up floating.”

“Oh.” That was a lot to take in. “Do you float at home?”

He shrugged again. “I’ve never caught myself. And you’ve never caught me. I can’t sleep and float at the same time on purpose. When I sleep float, it’s completely involuntary.”

By then I was up the stairs and walking into Clark’s room.

“Seriously,” he said. “Take the bed. If my parents say anything, we’ll tell them the air mattress wasn’t working for you.” He hesitated. “Why’d you sleep on the floor last night?”

I shrugged as he shut the door behind us. “I guess I thought that would be better than your parents realizing we hadn’t slept together and I thought we’d both welcome the opportunity to not have to share a bed and I didn’t think it was right to kick you off the air mattress or your bed or whatever. It is your house after all.”

“Well, you have a legitimate reason for sleeping on my bed instead of the air mattress with your back bothering you and all,” Clark told me.

“I guess.” With that I kicked my shoes off and crawled under the covers of his bed.

I wanted to stay awake, at least for a while, absorbing what he’d told me, trying to figure it all out, but I couldn’t. The minute my head hit the pillow, I was sound asleep.

The sound of the truck starting the next morning woke me. I padded into the bathroom and, after I finished in there, dressed in my favorite Daily Planet sweatshirt — grateful that it was big enough that I could still wear it — and another pair of Clark’s sweat pants. I had to roll them at the ankles, but they were comfortable enough to make that worthwhile.

I wondered who was in the kitchen when I heard noises as I walked down the stairs.

“Good morning.” I heard Martha as I wandered into the kitchen.

“Good morning,” I said as I poured myself a cup of coffee. I took a long sip. “I’m not a very good conversationalist until I’ve had some coffee.”

She laughed. “I can relate.”

I hesitated before saying, “At least now I know why Clark doesn’t need coffee to be annoyingly chipper in the morning.”

“You talked last night?” she asked sitting at the table.

I sat across from her. “We went for a walk and he told me.”

“What did he tell you exactly?”

“That you and Chris found him in a spaceship and what happened that night and how you met Jonathan. All the things he can do.” I blushed a bit though for the life of me I wasn’t sure why. “He flew us back here.”

“That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” she asked with a conspiratorial grin.

I nodded. “It only took a couple minutes, but yeah.”

She reached out and grasped my hand lightly. “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?”

I nodded again.

“He’s been scared to tell you, but it’s something you needed to know. It’s possible that it could affect the baby or you.”

“I don’t think it has,” I told her. “Everything seems normal. My OB says that the baby’s a few days farther along than average, but that it’s not very unusual for a few days’ variation.”

Martha sipped on her coffee thoughtfully. “I wonder if that’s why you didn’t get sick until later. That it’s a Kryptonian thing.”

“A what?” I asked, puzzled.

“A Kryptonian thing.” Her brow furrowed. “He didn’t tell you about Krypton?”

I shook my head. “No. What’s Krypton?”

“That’s the planet he’s from. There was a message with his ship that he was able to activate when he got older. It said that the planet was dying and that his parents had tried desperately to make a ship big enough for him to get off of the planet in and if he got the message then they must have succeeded.”

“Ah. He said he was… an alien, but that was about it.”

“He doesn’t much seem like one, does he?”

“No. He seems pretty normal. I mean, he is a normal guy as far as I’ve ever seen.”

“Telling Jonathan about him was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life, even harder than losing Chris,” she told me. “When I lost Chris, I knew there was a good reason for it. He’d saved Josh’s life. And I had Clark to take care of. He was probably two and a half months old when we found him, so I picked February 28 for his birthday. He still needed so much time and attention that I didn’t have much time to miss Chris.”

She paused before going on. “I dated a few times over the next several years, but nothing serious. I rarely went out with a man more than once because I knew that whoever I went out with, whoever I dated seriously would have to like Clark and Clark would have to like him. He even volunteered to move away once so that I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a man who would want to be a dad to him — I could just find someone without having to worry about him.

“The first time I went out with Jonathan, he asked Clark to go with us. I cried when he did. I knew that I’d found someone who was willing to be a father to another man’s child. It wasn’t long before he asked me to marry him. Chris had been my best friend since we were old enough to remember. We’d dated in high school. I moved off to college and instead of getting married as soon as I finished, we waited.” She brushed a tear off her cheek. “I don’t regret that he died saving Josh, but I do wish that we’d had six months together first instead of only a few hours. After I accepted Jonathan’s proposal, I had to tell him about Clark. He knew that Clark was adopted, but I couldn’t let him think that raising Clark would be just like raising any other child. I was so afraid that he’d decide he couldn’t do it. That it would be too much.”

“Clark was worried about that, too,” I said quietly. “More about telling Lana than me, I think. Not that he doesn’t care what I think or whatever, but from everything the two of them ever said, it was more like you and Chris — inseparable since childhood. He cares about me and what I think and all that, but he doesn’t care about me the same way he did Lana.” I had taken my hand back and both were wrapped around my coffee mug.

“That can’t be easy for you.”

I shrugged. “I knew when we got married that he was only doing it out of a sense of obligation to me and the baby. And I know there are worse reasons to get married than a baby and we’re friends. That’s better than enemies, I guess. And I think we both hope that things are different someday.” That was the understatement of the year. The decade. The millennium. But not for the reasons Martha would think. “But for right now…” I sighed. “We both love the baby and that’s enough for the moment.”

***

Part 52

Clark

~~~~~

I took the rope from Dad and stretched it across the mattress and box springs, threaded it through the hole and tossed it back. A few minutes later, it was tied off and we were back in the cab.

“You guys didn’t have to do this,” I told him again.

He rolled his eyes. “I know you and Lois aren’t exactly conventional newlyweds, but there’s no point in the two of you sleeping in separate beds when your mom and I have been talking about this for a couple months anyway. We were really just waiting for you to be home so you can do all the heavy lifting.” His eyes twinkled at that.

I groaned. “Fine.”

He finally broached the topic we’d been avoiding during the whole trip to Parsons. “How’d Lois take it?”

I shrugged. “She didn’t really say a whole lot. She just asked me to tell her whatever I thought she should know. I didn’t really know what to tell her so I told her about all the things I can do and she started yawning. I dried her hair for her and warmed up her back muscles where they were bothering her and then I flew her home.”

“Where were you?”

“We went west along the tree line then to that clearing.”

“Nice place for a talk. Your mom and I have had a talk or two out there.”

I groaned again. Knowing my parents, they’d probably done a bit more than talk at least once or twice.

“What’d she say about the flying?”

“‘Wow’ was about the extent of her conversational skills at that point.” I wanted to grin at that, but I wasn’t quite sure why I couldn’t make myself.

Dad chuckled. “That was about the extent of your mom’s and mine the first time we flew with you.”

“Still, you didn’t need to go get a new bed just for us.”

“We didn’t. When we got married, we used the double bed that was already mine. A few years ago, we decided it was past time to get something new and we went all out with a king. We’ve realized that, while the double was too small, the king is too big, so we got a queen. We’ll put the king in your room. I have a feeling that — for now at least — you two will appreciate it more than we do.”

I looked doubtful. “Is it going to fit in my room?”

“It should. You may have to rearrange some stuff and you won’t have as much open floor space, but it should fit. It’s not like you’re going to be using the room very often.”

“True.” I sighed. It looked like I wasn’t going to have an excuse for not sharing a bed with Lois anymore. At least this one was about eight times bigger than the one in the apartment and neither one of us would feel we had to hug the edge of the bed to avoid each other. The night at the hotel, putting on the front for Lana, had been hard enough.

“Do you love her?” Dad asked quietly.

I rested my head against the window. “She’s my friend and she’s having my baby.” That was getting easier to say. Saying it to Navance had been easy. Saying it to everyone else had been hard. Saying to Lana a couple days earlier… ‘Hard’ didn’t begin to describe it.

“But do you love her?”

“Am I in love with her? Am I like you and Mom or Chris and Mom were when you got married? No, I’m not, but we both thought — we both think — that it’s best for the baby if we’re married.” That was the God’s honest truth.

“What about Lana?”

I stared at the fields we were driving past. “I broke her heart.” I cringed at the next part, but I knew it would be around Smallville before long, and my parents needed to hear it from me. “When I told her we’d gotten married, I told her it wasn’t my baby but I couldn’t explain any more than that, but that I had to stay married to Lois and if she told anyone I’d deny it. That we’d gotten married to get Lois out of Europe since she didn’t have her passport with her and we’d thought we’d be able to get the marriage annulled when we got back but we couldn’t. I didn’t explain why that was, but…” I ran a hand through my hair — the one with that golden band on it again. “I probably shouldn’t have told her that, but I did, hoping that she wouldn’t think I’d cheated on her on top of everything else.”

“Probably not the smartest thing you’ve ever done.”

“You’re the master of the understatement, Dad.” I fiddled with my wedding band. “Then when we were in Illinois on the way home, she muttered something under her breath about Lois, something horrible that absolutely wasn’t true. I kind of lost it a little bit and we had it out in a parking lot while Lois went to the bathroom. I told her why I’d said what I did…” Or the official version anyway. “…and that if she had a problem with the whole thing to take it out on me, not Lois and not the baby. She and Lois already got into it once on campus. Well,” I amended, “she said some stuff to Lois a couple months ago that wasn’t entirely true. I know she’s only lashing out at Lois because I hurt her but I never told her to back off until the other day and I should have told her that a lot sooner.”

“Lana can be a bit spiteful.”

I snorted. “There’s your understatement thing again. But she’s only that way when she’s hurt or threatened. She and Lois have never gotten along, in part because Lois is a really pretty girl and she felt threatened by that, by the time Lois and I spent together when Lana was already in bed or whatever. We’d watch TV or something or talk about homework, things like that — nothing even remotely… romantic-y or relationship-y, but it still threatened her.”

“Seems like there might have been a reason for that,” he commented.

“It wasn’t intentional. Neither one of us really remember what happened, just that it did.”

“What exactly did happen?”

“I don’t know. Not really.” I sighed. “Lois said I was burning up in the car and once we made it to the cabin, she managed to get all my clothes off because they were soaked. All of her clothes were soaked and the power was out and she got under the blankets next to me in front of the fire. I remember waking up with her next to me and I think I remember kissing her or her kissing me or something — I’m not really sure and…” I was sure I was turning bright red. “Well, you know. Neither one of us really remembers it at all.” At least that meant he wouldn’t want details that I couldn’t give — not details but anything beyond ‘we kissed and had sex’. “And then I insinuated to Lana that that wasn’t the only time while we were there that Lois and I…” I let out a long, slow breath. “I know I shouldn’t have and I didn’t actually tell her that it had happened more than the one time, but some of what I said could have been construed that way. We didn’t have sex any of the other nights. We did — technically — sleep together, but it was just sleeping and I implied it was more.” I sighed. “That I hadn’t just been with Lois in some hypothermic induced stupor but that it had happened another time or two when we were rational.”

He ‘harumphed’ and thought for a minute. He kept one hand on the wheel and the other elbow out the window. I was glad he let that thread of conversation die. “So how do you see this marriage playing out? Is it going to work or are you two going to get a couple years in and decide that you made a mistake and trying to make it work for the sake of the baby just isn’t worth it?”

I propped a foot up on the dash. “Jor-El said Kryptonians mate for life, but I’m not sure this is exactly what he had in mind. I want it to work as long as possible.”

“Does that mean ‘till death do us part’?”

“I hope so.” Navance’s death anyway. And soon would be good. I sighed.

“Then things are going to have to change between you two at some point.” He turned off US-169 onto Twentieth Road.

I thought about that for a minute. We didn’t have much time before we got home. “I know that I need to do a better job at a lot of things, but which one exactly are you talking about?”

He sighed. “Well, for starters, I know you told your mom that you two aren’t having sex because of how Lois has been feeling and that’s good that you take how she’s been feeling into account and aren’t pressuring her.”

“I wouldn’t want to make her do something or guilt her into doing something or whatever when she’s been so sick and tired.” I should have known this was where he was going with this. I should have kept my mouth shut.

“Good. But at some point, she’s not going to be pregnant or she’s not going to be tired and sick all the time. And I’m guessing those aren’t the only reasons you’re not making love to your wife.”

I didn’t respond.

“She’s not Lana,” Dad said quietly.

“No, she’s not.” I didn’t look at him.

“And, if you want this to work, at some point you’re going to have to get over that.”

“I know, Dad. I’m just not sure how. I’m sure time will take care of some of that, but…”

“Court her. Take her flying and show her things only you can. Spend time with her and get to know her. You’ve known Lana your whole life. You two were inseparable as kids and even more so after you started dating. You know just about everything about her and she knew just about everything about you, except for the whole Kryptonian thing. That’s something that you and Lois have that you and Lana never did. Build on that.”

He had a point, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go through with all that. Not like he wanted me to. But he didn’t know the whole story, I reminded myself. He didn’t know how much I still loved Lana, why Lois and I were married, that the baby wasn’t really mine.

I closed my eyes and let my head fall back on the window behind me.

><I fell and scraped my shoulder near my collar bone.><

The dream I had of Lois or Lana or whoever it was from the cabin came back to me and I remembered that scar on the mystery amalgam woman. Nestled in the hollow between her collar bone and where her shoulder and neck met. Why was I superimposing her statement onto the dream woman and what exactly did that mean?

~~~~~

Lois

“Did you say Clark’s birthday is February 28?” I asked.

Martha nodded. “Yes. Why?”

I stared into my coffee cup. “I never asked him when it was and he never told me. I didn’t even know…”

“Sounds like you two still have a lot of getting to know each other to do,” she said quietly.

“Yeah.” I looked around and changed the subject. “Where’d they go anyway?”

“To Parsons to get a new mattress for me and Jonathan. We’ll put the one we have now in Clark’s room for the two of you. It really is a good mattress, but a king size is just too big for us. We like being a bit closer together while we sleep.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have changed the subject. “You didn’t have to do that. Really.”

“We’ve been meaning to anyway and since Clark’s here, he can do all the heavy lifting and we won’t have to worry about Jonathan’s back or anything.”

“Ah.” I guessed that made sense. Clark had said something the night before about being extra strong. I thought. I couldn’t remember a whole lot of it. It was all kind of a blur.

We heard the crunch of tires on the road. A minute later, Clark and Jonathan walked in.

Clark pointed up the stairs with his thumb. “I’m going to go clear out my room. I’ll be right back.”

There was a whooshing sound as he disappeared. A second later there was his twin mattress leaning against the wall, followed a second later by the box and frame. A second after that, Clark stood there, brushing his hands off. “All moved.”

I just gaped at him.

“Show off,” Martha muttered with a roll of her eyes.

He just grinned at her. “Is the other one ready to move out of your room?”

She sighed. “No. Why don’t you come help me with that?”

Jonathan sat down across the table from me after they left. “My back’s not what it used to be. Getting better though.”

“Clark told me you had surgery on it.”

He nodded. “In fact, after sitting in the truck so much, I need to stretch it. Why don’t you and I take a walk?”

I hesitated. “Okay.”

A few minutes later, he’d called up to his wife and son that what we were doing and we were heading out the door. We wandered the same direction Clark and I had the night before.

“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” he asked without looking at me.

I nodded.

“He said it doesn’t seem to be affecting the baby.”

It wouldn’t, but I couldn’t tell him that. “No. The baby seems perfectly normal.”

“I hadn’t noticed anything odd about Clark when Martha first told me. I’d proposed to her a couple days earlier and she’d said yes. It was the happiest moment of my life.” His hands were in his pockets as we walked down the narrow road. “But the next few days… We hardly spoke and she was acting weird and then Wayne dropped this crate off. She came over that night and told me how she and Chris found Clark in a space ship. Even though I was staring right at the ship, I had a very hard time believing it.”

I paused for a long minute as I tried to assimilate it all. “I guess I’m still just trying to process it all.” To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure it bothered me or affected me or whatever as much it might have if it had been Joe, for instance. If Joe and I had gotten serious and he’d told me he was a strange visitor from another planet… I thought I would have been hurt that he hadn’t trusted me for so long, but he’d still be Joe, my best friend. Or he was. I wasn’t sure he was still my best friend or not. I hadn’t really talked to him since I’d… broken up with him or whatever it was technically called after he got back from Europe.

“Well, now that you know, you two can come visit more often if you want to. You won’t have to take commercial flights or drive if you don’t want to.”

I shook my head and gave a half chuckle. “That’s why he didn’t say anything.”

“What?”

“When we were in… Illinois, I think, I said something about how I wished we could fly the rest of the way and he didn’t say anything.”

Jonathan chuckled. “He told me a little bit about the trip. I bet he wishes you two had flown.”

“Probably. It wasn’t easy for him or Lana,” I said quietly.

“That’s awfully generous of you.”

“What?”

“To notice what it was like for your husband’s ex-girlfriend.”

I shrugged. “None of this is her fault.” That much was true. “I’m not sure why she decided to come with us.”

He hesitated. “Probably to see how solid you and Clark are.”

I just shrugged again.

“Knowing Lana, she probably wanted to see how committed the two of you are to making it work and if she saw any cracks…”

He didn’t finish the thought, but I knew what he meant. “It wouldn’t surprise me. She never liked me and I never liked her. I know Clark loves her but I never…” I stopped when I realized what I said.

“That’s got to be hard on you,” he said after a long moment. “Knowing your husband still loves someone else but wants to try to make things work with you.”

I shrugged and tried to keep the tears in. “It’s hard. I was getting ready to try again with my sometimes-boyfriend when all this happened. We’ve been friends since we were little and have dated casually off and on for couple years but on the way to Europe he asked if we could try again to have a serious relationship and I wanted to.” I took a deep breath. “Then Clark and I got stuck in Europe and found out I was pregnant and… We both remembered just enough to realize this is his baby, but both of us thought we’d been hallucinating about that night or something.”

I swiped at my eyes again. “I know Clark and Lana would probably be engaged right now if it wasn’t for all this — if she could accept the stuff he told me last night anyway. I know he’s promised me that he’s never alone with her, that he doesn’t see her outside of class or random accidental meetings around campus, but I know that he still loves her. And while Joe’s been one of my best friends for as long as I can remember, it’s not the same as Clark and Lana.”

I didn’t know when I’d stopped walking, but I had and a minute later, Jonathan was holding me and letting me cry.

***

Part 53

Clark

~~~~~

Dad called up the stairs that he and Lois were going for a walk. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, but if anyone could understand how she felt having the whole ‘Clark is an alien’ thing dropped on her, it was Dad.

I helped Mom strip the sheets off the bed and then threw them in the washer.

“Lois seems to be taking it pretty well,” Mom said when I got back.

“She didn’t say much last night,” I told her as I tried to decide what the best way to move the bed into my room.

“This morning either.”

There was something else she wasn’t saying. Years of knowing her had taught me she’d get to it eventually.

“I don’t think she’s all that upset about you,” Mom continued. “At least not about all those aspects of you.” She didn’t even look at me as she hoisted one corner of the bed in the air until I finally took it from her and started moving it out the door. “I think she’s probably a bit more upset about the fact that you’re still in love with your ex-girlfriend than she is that you’re an alien.” She hurried on, not giving me a chance to protest, even though we both knew the protest would be half-hearted and weak. “I don’t think she loves you quite like that either, but that’s not the point. From everything you’ve said, you’ve been gone a lot lately. And, to a certain extent, I can understand why. You’ve had a lot to work through. But I don’t know that you’ve stopped to think about Lois. I mean really think about her.”

She took a breath and kept going. “She found herself in a foreign country, basically alone without a passport and only one friend who knew anything about it. Then, in that other country, with doctors she doesn’t know and no family around, she finds out that she’s having a baby. And part of having a baby is hormones and being emotional and all that goes along with that. She realizes that, in order to be pregnant, she must have had sex at some point, but I know she wasn’t sleeping with Joe and only vaguely remembers what happened at the cabin with you, so that had to catch her completely off-guard.”

She’d kept talking in the same tone of voice, the same volume, as I maneuvered the mattress down the hall onto the stairs where it would be out of the way until we were ready for it. I couldn’t really move it nearly as fast as I had my old bed — it was just too large and unwieldy in halls that were too small.

“My guess,” she continued, “is that once you found out she was pregnant, you realized what happened wasn’t a dream or hallucination or whatever after all. One of you finally said something to the other one and enough of it came back to both of you that you were sure that you are the father of the baby. You made it back to the States and she went to see Joe. She wasn’t all that serious about him to start with, even though they were going to try again, but ending things with Joe wasn’t going to be nearly as difficult for her as it was for you with Lana and she knew that. Pregnancy hormones can do weird things to a woman and she probably imagined all sorts of things happened when you went to break up with Lana. She probably wondered if you kissed her, if she kissed you, if you were tempted to make love with Lana, if you actually did make love with Lana.”

I was in my room when she said that. “I didn’t!” I hollered at her.

“Oh, I didn’t think you would cheat on your wife, but that doesn’t mean that those thoughts didn’t go through Lois’ head.” She was folding up the dust ruffle as I came back in the room. I wasn’t sure why she was folding it because we were going to put it back on in just a minute. “And you’ve been gone a lot since then. I’m sure you’ve told her that you don’t go see Lana when you’re studying or if you get off early from work, but it would surprise me if she didn’t at least think it sometimes. And when you aren’t home, what’s she doing? Does she hang out with her friends? Would you be concerned about her spending time with Joe the same way she might be if you spent time with Lana? Would it matter to you if she was still in love with Joe like you’re still in love with Lana? Except that she was never in love with Joe like you were — like you probably still are — with Lana. What does she do while you’re working or studying away from the apartment?”

I moved both of the boxes into my room as she talked and then returned for the metal frame and tried to avoid the guilt trip that was coming on.

The well-deserved guilt trip.

“Her body’s changing. She’s got to be scared about being a mom and her mom isn’t around to help her adjust. She’s estranged from her dad, for the most part, and she doesn’t have anyone else to turn to with any practical experience, but she’s about to do this whether she’s ready to or not. I would imagine that she’s concerned about what life’s going to be like. She doesn’t know where she’s going to live in a few weeks much less what’s going to happen to her education and career aspirations now that she’s going to have a baby at nineteen, right after her freshman year of college. She probably wonders how much of the workload you’re going to take on. If you’re going to be home any more than you are now or if she’s going to essentially be as alone as she would be if you weren’t married.”

The metal frame was set up and I stared at the room trying to figure out the best way to arrange it. The desk was going to have to move. I sighed as I lifted it carefully out of the way.

“I think all of that concerns her a lot more than the fact that you can start fires with your eyes or fly.”

By then I’d set the boxes back in place and we flipped the dust ruffle over it.

Mom had stopped talking, apparently done with what she had to say. And she’d had plenty to say — plenty I hadn’t really thought about before while I was wallowing. But she didn’t understand the whole situation either.

I brought the mattress in and heard the buzzer go off on the washing machine. I zipped down the stairs and brought the sheets up. I dried them as we stretched them over the mattress — it was much faster than waiting for the dryer.

“Have I mentioned how handy you are to have around?” Mom asked with a smile as she put the pillowcase on and held it up for me to dry, turning it to let me get the other side. We did the same with the other pillow as I put the comforter on.

“Once or twice.” I grinned at her.

“Wait here and don’t peek.” She left the room and returned a moment later. A minute later, she returned pushing a bassinet. “This was yours when I moved back in with Nana and Pop Pop. I don’t know if you need it in Metropolis, but I thought we could leave it in here if you don’t and you can use it when you come visit.” She pushed it into the corner. She wrapped an arm around my waist and rested her head against me. I put my arm around her shoulder and wondered what it was she was going to say next.

As I expected, her voice was soft. “It was Chris’. Grandma Davis gave it to me when I moved out of Chris’ house. I know he only knew you for about twelve hours, but he loved you so much.” A tear streaked down her cheek. She didn’t talk about him like this very often. “We’d always talked about having children together, but we didn’t expect to find the first one in a space ship in Shuster’s Field. I told Lois this earlier today and I’m going to tell you, too. I don’t regret for one minute that Chris went that night. He was needed and I wouldn’t trade Josh for Chris for the world. He didn’t want to go, but he had to and he knew it. I don’t regret Chris’ death, but I do wish we’d gotten married when I got back from college. We would have had six months together. Don’t waste time with Lois now. It’s going to be a long time before it’s just the two of you again, especially if you have more children someday.”

I wasn’t sure what to say about that, but was relieved when I heard the door open. “They’re back,” I said turning and giving her a big hug. “Love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too.”

~~~~~

Lois

We’d been in Smallville for five days and Clark had asked if I’d mind giving him some time alone with his parents so I’d decided to turn in early. The bed was huge and very comfortable. Martha and Jonathan hadn’t gone for cheap sheets and they were much better than the ones at the apartment. We’d slept on it three times and we may as well have been in separate zip codes, which was fine with me.

Martha had brought me a body pillow and I hugged it to me. I hadn’t seen much of Clark all day and that was fine with me, too. I wondered what his parents thought about that. He hadn’t even touched me intentionally since the hug when we first arrived. Well, and when he’d flown — flown — me back to the house the next night. It was nice to not have to pretend we were sappy and in love and all that, but going to the other extreme wasn’t what I’d expected either.

I wasn’t in love with him and he wasn’t in love with me. I didn’t care about that, but I did care about losing my friend. I’d spent time working on my English paper, losing myself in past pain instead of present confusion. It was nearly done. I wasn’t sure what Clark had spent his time doing. I knew he’d finished his paper but he and his dad had disappeared doing farm stuff the last couple of days. I’d had some nice talks with Martha, but she had things to do, too, so I’d ended up spending quite a bit of the last couple days on my own. It didn’t really bother me. The pervading sense of aloneness was becoming more familiar as the months went on.

I’d always been pretty self-sufficient in the sense that I didn’t need to be surrounded by other people all the time. I’d never been a loner but I’d never had any problem spending time by myself. I read books, I wrote. I worked on my great American novel from time to time. I wrote short stories for the fun of it. I was even contemplating writing an NCIS story. I’d read a couple that were nice, but I wasn’t happy with the outcome and thought if they could do it, surely I could, too.

Since the night they’d moved the new bed into Clark’s room, he’d managed to stay up until after I was asleep and was up long before me. I knew he slept in there with me, but only because his side of the bed was rumpled and there was an indentation on his pillow.

As I stared out the window, hugging the pillow to me, I felt it again.

The baby moved.

Tears filled my eyes as I remembered the first time I’d felt it — when Clark was with me. It had been very nice, sharing that with Clark; sharing something about this baby with him besides my evening sickness or whatever it was. Of course, then Cruella had come along and ruined it.

I rested my hand on my stomach and waited. A minute later, I felt it again.

Tears streaked down my cheeks. It wasn’t like I wanted to share all this with Clark, necessarily, but this wasn’t how I’d pictured having my first baby. When I’d thought about having a baby, I figured I’d be out of college for a while, married for a few years to a guy I loved and who loved me. We probably would have had a lot of fun trying to get pregnant and then spent the next nine months getting a nursery ready and reveling in the changes. I would have been scared that he wouldn’t find me attractive when I was the size of a house, but he would reassure me that there was nothing sexier than knowing I was having his baby.

This wasn’t what I would have pictured and certainly not what I would have chosen.

I hadn’t wanted a baby. I didn’t even remember having sex. But now that this was happening… I wouldn’t stop it. I wanted this baby now. I could begin to imagine what my mom had gone through her senior year of high school when she was pregnant with a baby that wasn’t my dad’s, but I wasn’t going to give this baby up for adoption.

I’d been thinking again about meeting my half-brother’s family and I wanted to, but that meant talking to my dad and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. I knew he didn’t know the reason for the distance between us the last few months; that he didn’t understand. Mindy had the wool completely over his eyes.

Maybe I’d just email him.

I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, but they went across the hall. I closed my eyes, willing myself to sleep before Clark came up.

***

Part 54

Clark

~~~~~

I nudged the door open with my knee, glad that Lois hadn’t shut it all the way behind her.

She’d rushed upstairs as soon as we pulled up to the apartment building, muttering about needing to go to the bathroom.

I should have offered to leave her in Smallville and drive the Jeep back, then fly her home so she wouldn’t have to spend two days in the car, but I hadn’t thought about that. The only good thing was the email I’d gotten from Lana that said she’d be driving herself back.

Mom had cried when she read my paper and I could tell Dad had tears in his eyes by the time he was done.

Of course, I’d barely talked to Lois the whole week.

It had been really nice to not have to pretend it was real. While Mom and Dad didn’t know the whole story, they knew enough to know that we weren’t a normal married couple and that we weren’t in love. They didn’t expect us to be holding hands or kissing or curled up on the couch together when we watched TV.

I’d spent a lot of time with my dad working around the farm, doing things that he would have a hard time doing getting ready for the year. I mended fences and helped fix the tractor and chopped the old oak tree that had finally fallen into firewood and put it all in the woodshed to dry for next winter.

After spending a week in Smallville — or rather on the farm because neither of us actually ventured into town after we dropped Lana off — we’d spent the two quietest days of my life driving back to Metropolis. We’d stayed at the same hotel in Indiana as we had with Lana but that time we each took a bed to ourselves rather than being forced to share with my ex-girlfriend in the room.

I set the bags down next to the bed in the apartment and sighed. I’d managed to forget just how small and run down this place was. I headed back down to the Jeep to get everything else and when I got back I found Lois unpacking her clothes.

I would have volunteered to do it for her, but she was almost done and it didn’t seem like we were speaking though I wasn’t sure exactly why.

I sighed and started to unpack my bags. We moved around each other without really speaking — just the occasional muttered ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’. When I was done, I got out my laptop and started work on another assignment while Lois took a shower and got ready for bed. I noticed that she was wearing her own pajamas. Only one night while we were gone she had worn her own — the rest of the time she’d worn some of my clothes that she’d absconded with a couple months earlier when her clothes didn’t fit but she didn’t have any maternity ones yet.

I heard her mumble ‘good night’ as she crawled under the covers. I’d hoped that — aside from the road trip with Lana — we’d be able to be friends again and work on getting back to where we were before we got stuck in Latislan, before we got married, over Break, but instead something had happened that made things worse.

I didn’t think it was telling her the truth about myself but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was.

***

April 2003

Lois

~~~~~

“Come on in,” I said, leaving the door open behind me.

He didn’t say anything as he took it in. “I don’t remember this place being quite this small.”

I shrugged. “You were young and in love, Daddy.” I couldn’t flop on the bed anymore but I did climb far enough on it to sit sort of cross-legged. My stomach was in the way.

He looked at the love seat and decided that sitting on one of the kitchen chairs was a better option. It was a smart choice. He looked around some more. “I remember it being a lot nicer, too.”

I sighed. “It’s closing the week after finals for a reason.”

He looked back at me in shock. “What?”

“They’re renovating it starting in June. We’ll have to move in a few weeks.”

“Where are you moving to?”

I shrugged. “We haven’t found a place yet.” We hadn’t looked. I’d called around some, but I didn’t know what we were going to be able afford or anything like that. I didn’t even know how much Clark was making.

He started to say something but the phone interrupted him. I sighed and rolled until I could reach it.

“Hello?”

“Lois, it’s Jill.”

I hadn’t heard from anyone in the State Department in a couple months. This could not be good. I closed my eyes to brace myself. “Hi, Jill.”

She sighed. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this but… Navance is going to be in Metropolis in a couple weeks.”

I felt the color leave my face. “What? Why?”

“He’s going to be in the States anyway and wants to see his nephew while he’s there.”

“Okay.” My insides were starting to shake. I sighed. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“Get out of town while he’s there if you can.”

“I’ll talk to Clark,” I promised.

“I gotta run, but I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”

“Thanks, Jill.”

She hung up and I set the phone back in the cradle.

“Who was that?”

“Jill from the State Department.” I took a deep breath to try to pull myself together. “She had some news for us.”

“Ah.”

I didn’t elaborate and he didn’t ask any more questions.

He’d looked like he had something else on his mind, but instead he stood. “Listen, Princess, why don’t you and Clark come over for dinner on Saturday. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

“What’s that?”

He shook his head. “We’ll talk then.”

“I’ll see if Clark’s working or not. I’m not sure what his schedule is this weekend.” I actually knew that he wasn’t scheduled for Saturday night, but he’d been picking up extra shifts since we got back from Kansas. I didn’t know if it was a money thing or a ‘so I have a legitimate excuse to be out of the house’ thing, but it didn’t really matter.

Something had happened in Smallville and I didn’t understand what it was. I didn’t care about the whole ‘alien’ business. He was — generally speaking — a nice guy and it didn’t matter to me where he came from. I still couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that had happened between us — was it me? Was it him? Was it some combination of the two? There was something eating at my insides that I couldn’t quite place.

Daddy was saying something and I mentally shook myself. “We’ll try to be there. Promise.”

He held out a hand and helped me up, pulling me into a big hug. “I love you, Princess.”

“I know. I love you, too.”

“Are you and Clark doing okay?”

“Still getting to know each other and all that,” I said honestly.

He kissed my forehead. “Take care of my grandbaby.”

“I will.” He held me for another minute, then left.

~~~~~

Clark

I whistled as Lois punched some numbers into the keypad. “Nice,” I said as we drove up the tree lined drive, catching glimpses of a very large house as we did. We’d planned to have dinner there at least one other time, but it had been canceled so this was my first visit.

She shrugged. “Usually. When she’s not around.”

She drove up the long drive and pulled in front of what was practically a small castle on the top of a small hill. I could see horses in the distance and a barn nearby. The house was surprisingly modern with a brick and rock exterior and even a turret or two. I counted at least six chimneys and I couldn’t even venture a guess as to how many bedrooms it had.

Lois pulled to a stop at the front door and we got out of the Jeep.

“Are you ready for this?” I asked quietly.

She shrugged again. “I guess.”

We headed inside and Lois told me a little bit about it.

“Mom and Daddy built this while she was pregnant with me. Their plan was to have a lot of kids and maybe be foster parents someday and they wanted plenty of room. Besides that, they were young. They had more money than they had any clue what to do with. They actually paid cash for all of it.” She took a deep breath. “I think Daddy’s planning on me filling it with kids now.” She didn’t stop long enough for me to respond to that.

She opened the door and I noted hallways along either side that led to what would have to be the ‘wings’ of the house. We went up a few steps to a foyer with a library on one side and a formal dining room on the other.

“Dad! We’re here!”

“Lois!”

A woman with short blond hair came into the dining room through another door.

“Vicki!” I watched as they hugged for long minutes.

The other woman turned to me and held out a hand, which I shook, while leaving the other arm around Lois. “You must be Clark. I can’t believe Lois hasn’t brought you by yet, but…” She glanced at Lois disapprovingly. “…she hasn’t been home much either.”

“Sorry, Vicki.” Lois sounded contrite. “Clark’s been working a lot and I’ve either been sick or…”

Vicki spoke softly. “I know what happened in August. I know why you didn’t stay home.”

Lois nodded, biting her bottom lip. “I figured you probably did.”

A beeping sound came from another room and Vicki gave Lois another hug. “I’ve got to go check on that. We’ll talk later, okay?”

Lois nodded.

“Nice to meet you,” I said politely.

“You, too.” She gave me a mock glare. “We’ll talk later, too.”

I smiled. I had a feeling I was going to like her.

Lois led the way past two sets of curved staircases — one on each side — and into a big living area. Open through the second story, it was bigger than any living area I’d ever seen with lots of big windows on the back wall. The view was spectacular. Pastures with horses and beyond that trees which I was sure blended into New Troy National Forest.

She tossed her purse onto one of the chairs and went through one of the sets of doors onto a big porch. She leaned up against the railing and stared over the property.

Sensing she wasn’t quite ready to talk about whatever it was that was bothering her — and I really had no clue what it was, except that we were here with her dad and Mindy — I asked about something else.

“Tell me more about this place.” I turned my back to the rail and leaned against it.

She sighed. “Total square footage is something like 23,000. Twelve bedrooms, sixteen bathrooms, not including the basement. All of the bedrooms have their own bathrooms, plus three half baths on the main floor and one upstairs. Over the garage in the west wing are basically two, two bedroom apartments, complete with their own kitchens, with a door between them. There’s a total of like six staircases: the two main curved ones you saw already, one on either side leading to each wing, another one leading upstairs near the kitchen. There’s one there leading to the basement, too, and another leading downstairs from near the east wing. There’s two more wrought iron circular staircase in a couple other places.”

She sighed again. “Sometime when I’m not as big as this place, I’ll give you a tour.” She pointed to another, much smaller, house not too far from the barn. “That’s where Vicki and her family live. Her husband, Ollie, takes care of the outside stuff and she’s the housekeeper and cooks sometimes, like tonight, does laundry, stuff like that. Their sons help out sometimes, too, when they’re able to. Ollie manages the guys that help him take care of the grounds and the horses, too.”

She turned and looked at the house with me. She pointed to the left. “That’s where the garages and those two apartments are.” She pointed to the right. “In the east wing… On the main floor is a billiard room, a large… ball room or entertaining room, I guess you’d call it where Daddy hosts fancy fundraisers for different causes, a wet bar, one of those half baths, and two offices. On the second floor of that wing are three bedroom suites. In the main part of the house on the second floor are four more bedrooms suites, an office area and a computer area. I think there’s… nineteen total fireplaces, but not that many chimneys because a lot of them share.” She pointed to the two doors to our right. “Through there is the Master Suite. It’s got a sitting room and a huge bathroom, closet area. Mom and Dad never lived in there though. They lived on the second floor with me and Lucy.” She shrugged. “Daddy stayed upstairs near me after Mom and Lucy died. I think that’s where he and Mindy are still living.”

“It’s nice,” I finally said.

She snorted. “You are the master of the understatement. It’s way beyond nice and you and I both know it. Mom and Dad didn’t think that we should be raised as stereotypical rich kids, though. He spent most of his life in a trailer park and Mom started working when she was fifteen. They both worked their way through school. We always had to help clean up and do chores and all those kinds of things. Daddy didn’t buy me my first car. I paid for half of it and he matched whatever I had saved up from doing extra work for Vicki or Ollie or whatever. And he got me the Jeep for graduation, but I also had to trade in my Honda, which was worth about… a third or so of what he paid for the Jeep.” She looked around. “If it hadn’t all been paid for, we wouldn’t have been able to keep it all. Compared to what a mortgage payment or whatever would be, upkeep is fairly inexpensive. It was built with as many cost saving features as they had — all the energy efficient stuff that was available at the time and Dad’s added more since then as practical. Don’t get me wrong, it still costs money, but not nearly as much as if Dad was still making payments.”

I nodded. “That makes sense.”

“And he rented out stalls and stuff in the barn to other people to bring in some extra money so that helped, too. Ollie gives riding lessons from time to time too and he did that for a while. Usually when he does, he uses our horses and that’s the end of it. For a while, he split his lesson fees 50/50 with Dad since he was using our horses and equipment and stuff but Dad was having a hard time paying the bills.”

“Princess!” Sam came out of the same doors Lois and I had.

Lois gave him a hug. “Hi, Daddy.”

“Hi, Clark.” He held out a hand and I shook it.

“Hi, Sam.” I smiled awkwardly at him, not sure why we were here and why I had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach about it.

He put his arm around Lois. “Vicki said dinner’s ready and Mindy’s looking forward to seeing you again and to meeting Clark.”

Lois’ smile looked forced and her tone was off. “Can’t wait, Daddy.”

***

Part 55

Lois

~~~~~

I trailed behind Daddy and Clark as they headed inside. As they headed into the kitchen, Mindy came around the corner and stopped me.

“Punkie, I’m so glad you could come visit us,” she said in the saccharine voice that grated on every nerve I ever had.

“Hi, Mindy,” I said warily, wondering if she knew Clark and I had stowed away on that plane.

“Listen, Punkie, you don’t want to hurt your Daddy, I know that, but you’re a grown-up girl and pregnant and married and everything.”

“I’d never hurt my dad,” I told her, wondering where she was going.

“Well, grown-up girls who know what’s good for them and their babies, don’t move back in with Daddy, when the going gets a little tough.”

My blood ran cold. It sure sounded like she knew. “What are you talking about?”

“I know you’re still using your Daddy’s money sometimes and I know he didn’t have the heart to tell you to stop. And I know your apartment building on campus is about to close, so I wouldn’t want you to hurt my Hunkie by giving him some sob story about how you don’t have anywhere else to go and you want to move back in here. You’re a big girl, Punkie, and you have a big, strong husband to take care of you. You shouldn’t guilt trip my Hunkie into letting you live here.” Her voice changed suddenly. It was much deeper and much more menacing. “You will regret it if you do.”

She turned to walk off and Dad walked through the door way as she did. “Hi, Snookums. Is dinner ready yet?”

Dad gave me an odd look as she put her arm around his waist and he belatedly put his arm around her shoulder. “You coming, Princess?”

I nodded. “Coming.”

We sat in the breakfast nook, though Daddy and I had never really used it for that. Breakfast was usually at the bar in the kitchen. Dinner, when we had real sit down dinners, was eaten here.

This table sat six. The table in the big dining room sat twenty and we only used it for dinner parties of some kind. And really, ‘dinner party’ was a fancy term for a bunch of friends over for dinner and games. Our home didn’t really compare to most of the ones in the area. It was as big as most, though not as big as some, but the interior was comfy and not the sterile formality that invaded most of the others.

This dinner, however, was different than most of the ones I’d been a part of here.

Daddy and Clark tried to carry on a conversation, but it revolved mostly around sports. Mindy said a few brainless things here and there. When dinner was over, Daddy pushed his plate back and took a deep breath.

“Princess, there’s something I wanted to talk to you and Clark about.”

This was it. I could see the gleam in Mindy’s eye. He wanted to marry her. Clark and I hadn’t done anything to try to stop her, but we hadn’t said more than a few words to each other at a time in weeks so how could we have?

“I saw your apartment the other day, and if I’d known what they were like, I never would have suggested you live there. I remember living there with your mom and…” He shook his head. “They weren’t luxury apartments by any stretch of the imagination, but they were comfortable and clean. Have you two found a place to live yet, that you can afford?”

Clark and I glanced at each other. “Not yet, Daddy,” I told him.

“What about childcare? Are you going to be able to work schedules around each other so one of you can stay with the baby? Are you going to be able to go to school, Lois?”

I sighed. “We haven’t really figured it all out yet.” I looked at Clark out of the corner of my eye. He was staring at the placemat.

He nodded. “I know how important a degree is and especially how important it is to you, Pumpkin, so here’s the deal. I want you two to move in here. I’ll pay for certain expenses. To decorate one of the rooms as a nursery and some clothes and things like that. I’ll hire a nanny to take care of the baby while you’re both in school or at work, but that’s it. When one of you is home, the baby is your responsibility. That will also cover two date nights a month and a weekend away every few months. You two will need to be comfortable with whoever is hired, of course, so you’ll be involved in every step of the hiring process. Once the baby’s here though, you’re responsible for the rest of the expenses. Diapers, formula, clothes… all those things you two will have to pay for. And you’ll both have to work part-time. I know it may not seem fair, Clark, but you’re already working and that’s commendable, but Lois doesn’t need to get a job just yet. Lois, you won’t have to get a job right after the baby’s born, but we’ll talk about later how long your ‘maternity leave’ is.” He used finger quotes.

My chest was constricting. What he was offering was a dream come true in many ways.

The only problem — especially after the conversation right before dinner — was sitting across the table from me, her eyes narrowing and mouth setting in a finer line with every one of Dad’s sentences.

Clark cleared his throat and looked nervously at me when Mindy spoke.

“Snookie,” she said, running her hand on my dad’s arm. “Can I talk to you for a few minutes before they answer?”

He glanced at us then nodded. “Why don’t you two talk it over and we’ll be right back.”

“She’ll never let us stay,” I whispered as soon as they were out of earshot. “She already told me that.”

“Would you want to? If it wasn’t for her?”

“It’s better than anything we could afford. Plus daycare is taken care of,” I pointed out. “I didn’t have any idea what we were going to do about that.”

Clark tilted his head to one side. “Want to know what they’re saying?”

~~~~~

Clark

Lois’ eyes were wide. “What?”

“I can hear them.”

“You can?” She looked shocked for a minute. “Oh, right. The hearing thing.”

I nodded. “So? Do you want to know?”

She nodded back.

I tuned in my hearing and lowered my glasses to watch.

><~><~><

“Hunkie, are you sure that’s a good idea? They’re grown-ups now. They’re having a baby. Surely, Clark can take care of his own family.”

Sam shook his head. “No, Mindy. She’s my daughter and they need help getting through school. I’m not going to stand by when I can help her finish school and take care of my grandbaby. Otherwise it’s going to take her years to get through and she’ll lose her scholarship and she’s very proud of that.”

“But, Snookie…”

“I know what that apartment looked like and I know what they’re likely to be able to afford on the kind of money they’ll make as college students trying to work opposite schedules so they don’t have to pay a babysitter. It’ll be hell on both of them and their marriage.”

Mindy ran a finger down the middle of his chest, stopping in the middle of his stomach. There was a pathetic pout on her face. “Hunkie, I can’t just stand here and watch you help them become dependent on you. Watch them take advantage of you.”

Sam shook his head again. “If they want to move in, they will. Nothing you can say is going to change my mind.”

“Even if I said I couldn’t be a part of them taking advantage of you, trying to get you to pay for everything they should.”

“Are you giving me an ultimatum?” Sam asked with narrowed eyes.

“I wouldn’t put it quite that way, Snookums.”

“Mindy, I will not choose between you and my daughter.”

“Snookums…” She took a step closer to him and pouted again. “I think you may have to. Lois has said she won’t live here with me; that she doesn’t like me at all. She’ll do everything she can to make my life miserable.”

Sam frowned. “Has she threatened you?”

Mindy nodded. “She has, Hunkie.”

Sam sighed and was silent for a long minute, looking at her. “Mindy, I think maybe it would be best if you moved out, regardless of what happens with Lois.”

“What, Hunkie?”

“I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that this isn’t working for me anymore. I think it’s best if you moved out.”

><~><~><

I kept half an ear on the conversation between them, but didn’t feel I should eavesdrop any further.

“So what do you think?” I asked her.

“Do you think he means it about her moving out?”

I nodded. “It looked and sounded like it.” I concentrated for a minute more. “He’s not giving in.”

She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God. I think he may have heard what she said earlier.”

He nodded. “He did. So did I. I started to go interrupt but I don’t think he wanted me to. I think he wanted to hear exactly what happened.”

“I think I’m glad he did.”

He nodded again in agreement. “So what do you think? Do you want to move in here? Take your dad up on his offer?”

“Can we even afford an apartment?” she asked me quietly. “Much less everything a baby needs and daycare and everything else? Am I going to be able to stay in school any other way?” She fiddled with a fork she hadn’t used during dinner. “I don’t even know how much you make. I don’t know what options we have. I even thought about hacking into your bank account so I knew what kind of apartment complexes to be calling, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that and I…” She paused for a second. “Then I just felt guilty because I’m not working, but even though I’m not sleeping as much, I have so little energy most of the time and I don’t know how I’d manage a job. I’ve done a little bit of writing online that I’ve gotten paid a few bucks here and there for, but not much at all. But somehow, I get the feeling that the only way we’d be able to afford something is if only one of us worked and only one of us was in school and we didn’t use daycare at all.”

Part of me felt a little guilty for not talking to her about all of this, but I had been looking at apartments that we could afford on what I was making and I’d had no desire to even show them to her. Some were worse than what we had, some were better but undesirable for many other reasons. And she’d shut me out in Smallville for some reason I still didn’t understand.

Of course, I hadn’t told her about the email I’d gotten — or at least not all of the details of it. That was part of — a big part of — the reason I’d continued to shut myself off from her.

Basically, we weren’t talking to each other about much of anything.

I sighed. “It would be harder for Navance to get at either one of you here,” I finally said.

She nodded. “It would probably be safest for us here. Are you okay with it?”

To be honest the idea relieved me a bit. I still hadn’t figured out what we were going to do and this would take a lot of pressure off until we got out of college and by then this would almost be over. I nodded back. “I think it’s probably the best plan.”

Sam came back in just then.

“Everything okay, Daddy?” Lois asked innocently.

He nodded. “Fine. What did you two decide?”

Lois glanced at me. “After the semester’s over, if that’s okay with you.”

“That’s fine.” He grinned suddenly. “It’s been way too long since we’ve had a baby around here.”

Lois gave a small smile. “It won’t be too much longer.”

He motioned to us. “Come on, I’ll show you what I was thinking for you guys.”

We both stood and followed him. We went through the kitchen and between the two curved staircases, then through the library, down a few steps and then up a full staircase. I thought I might need a map to figure out how to get around this place. We got to the top of the stairs and took a right. On the right was a nice set of double doors. We went in those.

The door was sort of set at an angle, but on the opposite wall was a couple of windows with a very nice fireplace in between them. To the right was a good-sized walk-in closet; to the left was the bed and on the other side of it, doors to the bathroom. In the right corner by the window was a large chair and there was another chair and a love seat in front of the fireplace. A large, flat TV hung over it.

I turned my attention back to Sam, who was speaking. “I was thinking that you two could have this room and we could put a door in to the next one.” He led us out onto the veranda and into the next room.

Not quite as big, it was currently just another bedroom.

“We could turn this into the nursery,” he said, standing just inside the door. “Put a door over there into your room.” He pointed to his left and then to his right. “And put a door over there into the next room and the nanny could live there so if you are gone overnight or whatever, she’d be close by.”

Lois was nodding. “Sounds good to me.”

Sam turned my direction. “Clark?”

I looked around. “Honestly, sir, I’m overwhelmed by your generosity. Whatever you think is best will work just fine, I’m sure.”

He nodded. “And we can set aside one of the apartments in the other wing for your parents to use whenever they come to visit. There’s two apartments over there with a door in between them. If your parents would accept it, I’ll gladly make arrangements for them and any of your grandparents or other family who might want to come to be flown out here once Lois goes into labor.”

“I’m sure they’d appreciate that. I’ll let them know.”

~~~~~

Lois

I looked around the room. I really hoped Mindy was moving out but Daddy hadn’t told us yet that she was.

It was certainly big enough for a baby’s room and the one next to it was about the same size as the one I’d used growing up. The closet in there was a bit bigger than my old room which would be nice if I was going to have to share it. And that bathroom had a double sink instead of the single sink I’d grown up with and that Clark and I were sharing at the apartment.

Daddy kept talking about how we could redecorate the bedrooms if we wanted to. All I wanted was to make sure we got the absolutely biggest bed possible. I missed the bed from Smallville. We still kept as much distance between us as we could, but that was nearly impossible in the double bed the apartment boasted.

Two, three more weeks and we’d be here.

Then Daddy startled me. “You can stay in Lois’ old room till we get the little bit of construction and redecorating done.”

He and Clark had moved farther into what was going to become the nursery and were gesturing at walls and trying to decide where the doors would go best given the fireplaces between the nursery and the nanny’s room and the built in shelving on both sides and where it would go best into the room that was becoming mine and Clark’s.

I left the room and wandered back onto the veranda and through the door to my new home. It had been a while since I’d been in there and I wanted to reacquaint myself with the room. The bathroom was much as I remembered it and I was so glad that it had a big Jacuzzi tub. There was a kind of weird closet off the water closet. There was a linen closet in there and then another closet. Maybe I could have the main closet and that one could be Clark’s.

I knew it wouldn’t work that way — it wasn’t big enough, but a girl could dream.

I left the bathroom and sat on the bed.

Before I realized what I was doing, I was asleep.

***

Part 56

Clark

~~~~~

Sam and I let Lois sleep while he showed me around.

The place was beyond impressive, but Sam and Lois were as down to Earth as anyone I’d ever met. He introduced me to Ollie and we talked about the construction to the rooms. We chatted with Vicki who said she’d get with Lois on the decorating and for me to let her know if there was anything in particular that I wanted or didn’t want. We wandered through the barn and I met a couple of the horses. We got in the Wrangler and he showed me some of the property. We’d made it back to the house and he was showing me the apartments when Lois’ cell phone rang. She’d asked me to grab it as we walked out the door of the apartment on campus and I’d forgotten I had it in my pocket.

I looked at the caller ID but it only said ‘unknown caller’. I frowned and answered it. “Hello?”

“Clark?”

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“This is Daniel.”

I groaned. “Hi, Daniel. What’s up?”

“First, I wanted to see if you knew that Navance was going to be in town the week after your finals.”

I ran a hand through my hair and blew out a breath. “No. I didn’t know that.”

“He made a comment in a news conference today that he was looking forward to seeing some ‘old friends’ he’d last seen around the first of the year.”

I closed my eyes. “Great. I have no desire to see him and I’m sure Lois doesn’t either. No, I know Lois doesn’t either.” I held a finger up to Sam who nodded as I walked away. “Why is he still so fixated on her, Daniel?”

I heard the sigh on the other end of the line. “I don’t know. It could be that once he started the process, he couldn’t really stop. It could be that Lois made him too mad and now he’s trying to get some sort of revenge or something. It could be… to throw us off something else.”

“Could be.”

“Get her out of town,” Daniel advised. “Don’t be anywhere near campus while he visits his nephew.”

“We’re moving in with Sam soon,” I told him. “That’ll help with security at home at least. It has a gated drive and you’d need GPS to figure out your way around this place.”

“That’s good. How much does Sam know?”

“That we’re the couple from Latislan. No more than the official news reports except our names.”

“So not about any of the other?” he asked warily.

“No.” Sam didn’t know about Mindy and the guns or that I wasn’t the father of Lois’ baby or that Navance was still threatening us.

“Are you going to tell him any of it?”

“Should I?”

“If you’re living there, he probably needs to know that there could be a security issue.”

I sighed. “Probably. I’ll tell him before we move in.”

“Be careful,” he said quietly. “Take care of her.”

“I will,” I said, with less conviction than I should have had.

“Tell her I said ‘hello’.”

“Will do.”

The line went dead.

“Everything okay?” Sam asked when I returned to where he was looking out the window. My parents would love the view.

I sighed. “Navance is going to be in town in a few weeks. Daniel thinks we probably shouldn’t be here while he is.”

Sam frowned. “Why is that? I thought it was over when you two got married and left.”

I hesitated then spoke. “Sort of. The marriage has to last at least five years after the birth of the baby for his paternity claim to be invalidated.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“He changed the law after we left.” I stared out over the fields, not looking at Sam.

“Is that why you stayed married to Lois?” he asked, moving a step closer, looking slightly menacing.

“It was one of many factors,” I said honestly.

“Is he threatening her? The baby? You?”

“He’s sent a few letters.”

“Threatening letters?” he pressured.

“Lois is going to kill me,” I muttered. I was going to have to tell him more of the truth — but not that the baby wasn’t mine; that we were just biding our time until we could file for divorce. “Daniel and Jill and whoever else they told at the State Department, and probably some people at the FBI, are the only ones who know about the letters. His nephew goes to Met U and he’s run into us or just Lois accidentally on purpose a few times, just to let us know he’s watching.”

“Why is that?”

“Because if Navance has any proof that the marriage is… one of convenience or just to keep him away from the baby, then my paternity claims are invalid under Latislani law.”

Sam looked thoughtful. “Would U.S. courts actually do that though? Would they let Navance take the baby of two married American parents?”

“Jill and Daniel said no, but would you want either Lois or the baby to live through that nightmare? Court dates and paparazzi, publicity. Always being branded as ‘that kid’. How many people still remember Elian Gonzalez?”

He nodded. “Good point. Wouldn’t want that.” He thought for a moment longer. “I’ll talk to Ollie and we’ll get started on security arrangements and all of that. One of the guys Ellen and I went to college with — a guy named Allie — has a security firm that arranges security for VIPs all the time. I’ll get a hold of him and go from there.”

Lois’ phone rang again. This time the ID was from the house. “I think it’s Lois.” I pushed the button. “Hello?” I nodded confirmation at Sam. “We’re over in the apartments. We’ll meet you… In the kitchen,” I repeated after her. “Be there in a minute.”

I followed Sam out of the apartment, shutting the door behind me.

~~~~~

Lois

I fumed the whole way back to campus.

I could not believe that he’d told my dad.

If I let myself calm down, I’d understand why, but I didn’t want to let myself calm down.

“Why the hell did you tell him?” I seethed once the door was shut.

“Because he heard me talking to Daniel,” he said.

“Why were you answering my phone?”

“It was an unknown number. Your doctor’s office is an unknown number. You had a test done the other day. I didn’t think they’d call on a Saturday but you never know.”

“I already got the results and everything’s fine,” I informed him.

“Well, thanks for letting me know,” he said sarcastically.

“If you were home, I might,” I muttered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I forgot he could hear that stuff. “Just that you haven’t been home long enough to talk to since we got back from Smallville.”

“I’ve been working and studying,” he pointed out. “I thought working was a good thing. You’re in no shape to at the moment and we needed a place to live after school gets out.”

“And were you actually planning on telling me how much you make so I could help you look? Even if it was just an online search or two? Or is that just one more of those things that is different about us?”

He shrugged. “I’ve looked. There’s nothing that we’d want to live in on what I make and I knew that.”

“And you didn’t bother to tell me?”

“So you could feel guilty? You’ve said several times you do.”

“Yeah, I do. So?”

He changed the subject. “Listen, Daniel called. Said Navance was coming and we should get out of town while he’s here because he said he wanted to see us.”

I could feel the color leave my face. “What?”

“He said at a press conference that he wanted to see his good friends he hasn’t seen since New Year’s.”

My hands went to my stomach and I sat on the bed. “He wants to get to me. To the baby.”

He nodded as he sat in one of the chairs. “Probably. Or to at least freak you out.”

I didn’t say anything for a long minute. “I knew he was coming but…”

“You did?”

I nodded. “Jill called the other day while Daddy was here. I didn’t see you again until today and today I was stressing about the whole Mindy thing.”

“Yeah.”

“At least Daddy told us that she’s moving out.”

“Means that we have a place to live. Would you have moved in if she hadn’t?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

He sighed. “Where do you want to go after the semester ends?”

I looked at him quizzically. “The house, I guess. Where else would we go?”

“Your dad suggested the cabin,” he said without looking at me.

“Which would you prefer?” I asked.

“Security’s easier at the house. With the driveway and alarm system and all.”

“House it is then.” I managed to stand up and headed to the bathroom.

***

May 2003

Clark

~~~~~

The next couple of weeks flew by and before I knew it we were packing to move to the house. I was not going to miss this place.

Construction on our new room wasn’t quite done, not with the additional security measures being put in place in that wing. The rest of the house, too, but especially there.

We’d talked to Vicki several times and a super king size bed had been ordered. I’d seen her sly wink when she realized what we wanted. I was sure that she had no idea what the real reason was.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Acting ‘normal’ in public for a few minutes here and there was one thing.

Acting ‘normal’ in Smallville while never leaving the farm was something else — there they knew we weren’t truly ‘normal’.

Acting ‘normal’ there… That was a whole different matter.

I sighed. We were going to need to talk about that. How we were going to pull that off.

Should we just tell a very select few the truth? About everything but the true paternity?

I shook my head to myself. No. Too many people knew too much already.

“We need to talk.”

Lois’ voice shook me out of my reverie.

“About what?” I asked her.

“How we’re going to pull this off,” she said.

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

“And?”

“We could tell your dad more of the truth,” I suggested. “And maybe Vicki and Ollie.”

“No.” She shook her head vehemently. “I can’t risk them letting something slip.”

“That was my thought, too.”

“So what do we do?” she asked quietly, as she sat on the bed.

I floated in mid-air. It was more comfortable than a chair or the love seat. Lois started a bit. I hadn’t done much… ‘special’ stuff in front of her and it still seemed to catch her off guard when I did.

I sighed. “Well, in front of them act like we do on campus, I guess. The quick kisses and stuff.” I rolled onto my back, threaded my fingers together behind my head and stared at the ceiling.

“What else?”

I shrugged as best I could. “When else will we see people?”

“Watching a movie together or something.”

“Whenever possible, one of us holds the baby?” I suggested.

“And when that’s not possible?”

“Sit together, I guess. Pretend. Stay in our room as much as possible being ‘newlyweds’.” I moved enough to make finger quotes.

“I guess.”

I sighed. “There’s something else that occurred to me though.”

“What’s that?”

I was sure I was turning eighteen shades of red. The package Mom had sent didn’t help. “Sleepwear.”

“What about it?”

She hadn’t worn any of my clothes since we got back from Smallville. I wasn’t sure why but I’d found all of my clothes back in my drawers once the next round of laundry was done.

“You… We…” I sighed and didn’t look at her. “We don’t exactly dress like newlyweds at bedtime.”

“I am not sleeping naked,” she practically yelled at me.

“That’s not what I was suggesting,” I shot back. “I was just thinking that maybe I should sleep without my shirt in case someone comes to get us for something or if I have to go to the kitchen to get a drink or something at night.” I shrugged. “That’s my preference anyway. I hate sleeping with a shirt on.”

She nodded. “That works.”

“And, um…” I floated over to the dresser and got something out of one of the drawers. “Mom sent you this.”

I tossed the box to her.

“For after the baby’s born,” she read. She pulled out a nightgown. “I am not wearing this, Clark.”

I sighed. “I didn’t figure you’d want to, but at least I can tell Mom I gave it to you.”

The nightgown wasn’t all that revealing — I didn’t think so anyway. It was dark green with cream lace and spaghetti straps. It was long enough that it would probably go to her knees and there was a robe that went with it. It didn’t look like it was too low cut, but what did I know?

“I was just thinking that you might want to wear something a little more… something than sweats and T-shirts after the baby’s born. Not all the time, but every once in a while, in case you run into someone while you’re out and about or… well, for the same reasons as me.”

She fingered the satin. “You’re probably right.”

“Nothing too… you know,” I said, embarrassed.

“Don’t worry,” she said, the same shade of red I probably was. “I have no intention of wearing anything you might see Lana in someday.”

Lana.

I hadn’t let myself think about her like that in a long time, but a sudden vision of her in front of a fireplace came to me. She wasn’t wearing anything then as I looked down at her. I closed my eyes and tried to will the image away. When I opened them again, instead of Lana in front of the fire, it was Lois lying there with me.

Would I ever not be conflicted about this?

She was saying something else.

“I’ll go get a few things, maybe even a maternity gown or two since I have a couple months left.”

I nodded. “Sounds like a good idea, I guess.”

“At least we have a place to go,” she said quietly.

“Yeah.” I looked around. “There’s not much left. I can do it fast if you want and then we can load the truck and head over in the morning.”

She rolled awkwardly and then slid under the covers. “Good night.”

“Good night,” I said, but knew it would be a while before I slept.

***

Part 57

Lois

~~~~~

Most of what we’d brought from the dingy, little apartment on campus was either put in storage or given to charity. Most of what we kept was put in the closet of what was going to be our new room. We kept enough clothes and such for a week in my old room. Daddy thought that was how much longer it was going to take.

The new bed and sheets and all of those things had already arrived and once the doors were put in the rooms would be painted and new carpet put in, we’d move in. Of course, one thing on our agenda the week after Navance left was to go baby shopping. Clark and Vicki and I were going to hit some of the baby stores and get a crib and all that stuff.

That was going to be a fun day.

I’d get to waddle around and pretend to be in love with my husband who was not the father of my baby. And in the end we’d have some great baby stuff and I’d have swollen ankles and a sore back.

I soaked in the big tub that I’d practically swum in when I was little. When I was almost a prune, I climbed out and wrapped myself in the big bath sheet to dry off. I put on my favorite pair of Capri pants and a nice shirt.

Daddy had asked if I wanted to have anyone over, but I couldn’t deal with it. I missed my friends — I missed Joe still — but I couldn’t deal with the pretense in front of people who knew me that well. Dad and Vicki and Ollie and their kids were bad enough.

I waddled back into my bedroom and spent a minute looking at the pictures on my dresser. Mom and Dad. Me and Mom. Me and Lucy. Mom and Lucy. Me and Mom and Lucy. All four of us together.

I had hoped that it would help me pull myself together, but instead I found tears filling my eyes and I gasped as the baby kicked up into my lungs. I picked up one picture and stared at it. It was Mom holding me the day I was born, Dad sitting next to her on the bed. They looked so happy.

I wondered if Clark and I would be able to pull off that look the day this baby was born.

I sighed and put the picture back.

They were downstairs waiting for me by now, I was sure.

Happy birthday to me.

~~~~~

Clark

The new room was done.

And it was going to be our first night in it.

I breathed a sigh of relief. We wouldn’t be living right next door to Sam anymore. Okay not right next door, but close enough. We’d have our own climate control and security for those three rooms was tighter than the rest of the house. Every entrance to the second story east wing had a security keypad on both the inside and outside of every door and they were to be kept shut at all times. The upper floor already had its own climate control — there were several different zones throughout the house and that was just one of them.

Sam had contracted with his friend to update security all around the property, including guard dogs and patrols as necessary until the nightmare was over.

Lois and I both had panic buttons we could push if we ever felt the need. They were to be kept on our persons at all times. The nanny would have one, too. The baby would have a bodyguard just about any time he or she left the house. Lois had several panic buttons she could wear — a pendant or a hair doohickey or a watch or even a pair of earrings. I had a couple — a watch was the main one. We each also had one that we could keep in a pocket or purse and another on our key rings — they looked like mini-flashlights.

Every time I thought he might be going a bit overboard, Navance’s words came back to me and a cold chill would pervade my entire body, right down to my bones.

Lois’ birthday ‘party’ had been earlier that night and one of Sam’s ‘gifts’ had been that our room was done early.

Even though I knew when her birthday was, I was being petty and since she hadn’t gotten me anything for my birthday — I pushed the thought that I’d never told her when it was to the back of my mind; she’d never asked — I didn’t get her anything either. When I’d gotten puzzled looks from the rest of those gathered in the actual dining room that had been festooned with balloons for the occasion, I’d stammered and said I’d left it upstairs and would give it to her later. I’d crossed my fingers under the table but I still felt a bit guilty about it.

Ollie had given me a knowing wink at that.

It made sense they would think that Lois and I would have our own… celebration later, an… initiation of sorts for our new room.

I used my speed to put all of our clothes away and to organize the closet. There were two built in dressers in there.

Lois came in as I finished my clothes and the clothes of hers that I was comfortable with. She mumbled a ‘thank you’ and took over the rest of her things.

I stretched out in one of the chairs and propped my feet on the ottoman, clicking through the channels until the TIVO asked if I wanted to change the channel to record the season finale of NCIS.

I hit pause, knowing Lois would want to watch it in a bit.

I headed to the veranda and sat down, staring over the barn towards the New Troy National Forest.

I glanced inside to make sure Lois was busy before I took the picture out of my pocket and stared at it.

Me and Lana at the fair the summer before.

I’d put it away when we moved out of the dorms, but I’d unpacked my summer clothes and had come across it, along with several others of the two of us.

I missed her.

So much it hurt sometimes.

I closed my eyes and could still see the words written on my computer screen.

><~><~><

Clark — I don’t need a ride back to Metropolis. I’m driving my car and Tim’s coming with me. Now I understand why you two weren’t ‘completely dressed’ after the first time and why you wanted to have your cake and eat it, too. With her being the ‘cake’ and me being the ‘too’. I can understand why you’d want to ‘make love’ to me even though you can do whatever you want with your wife. Why wouldn’t you want to enjoy it all while you can? You thought you could get me into bed and because it would be good, you’d get to have both of us. I’m not foolish enough to believe you wouldn’t have had sex with her, too. That’s probably all the two of you did in Europe after the ‘wedding’. Well, Tim’s always been half in love with me and waiting for the day we broke up. When he heard you’d gotten married, he emailed me and we decided that we were going to go out this week. We’ve chatted online for months and this week we did and it was everything you and I always thought it would be, but you already knew that didn’t you?

I’m still not sure I believe that she’s really having your baby, but you know what? I really don’t care. Sleep with her all you want. I sure as hell plan on sleeping with whoever I feel like from now on. I guess I just don’t see the benefit of waiting until marriage anymore. I know you said you wanted me to wait for you but you never said how long I was going to have to wait.

If I wasn’t worth waiting for, don’t flatter yourself into thinking that you should be.

Call me if you decide to divorce her because what we’ve shared for years is worth trying to recover.

Lana

><~><~><

I could hear the sarcasm in the last line. I knew that was the reason I’d been so distant from Lois since Smallville. She’d been closed off, too, but at least I knew where she was most of the time. The best she could do for me sometimes was guess.

I didn’t know how many times I’d committed to do better; to be her friend, to help support her and the baby, to be a better husband even if we weren’t a ‘real’ couple behind closed doors. I was still failing miserably.

Part of me wished we could afford a place of our own without worrying about security. The latest letter had come just a few days before and, once forwarded to the State Department, we’d received a call from the FBI wanting to help with security. Sam had told them that there was no need to burden taxpayers or stretch the FBI’s already thin resources when he was capable of paying for the best security, but that he would appreciate it if they would work with the men he was hiring whenever necessary. The FBI man had breathed a sigh of relief at the decreased demand on his people and promised cooperation when the situation called for it.

Lois had left our new room a while earlier. I stared at the picture of me and Lana for another minute then went back inside.

On the bed was a gift-wrapped box.

I picked it up and turned it over in my hands, not noticing as the door opened.

“It’s a late birthday present,” Lois said. “I’m sorry I missed it.”

I shrugged. “It’s okay.” I glanced up at her, but that was it.

Apparently, she’d decided that this was the night to do the whole ‘we’re married’ pajama thing. In that second, I noted that she was wearing a black satin gown that fell to nearly the floor and that she had a matching robe wrapped around her. She was reaching for her bathrobe and she put that on as well. She was probably as uncomfortable with it as I was, but it was necessary.

Was it possible that she was expecting some reaction? After all I’d told her that it was possible that we’d… I made myself think it. Make love someday.

I decided that I needed to move another direction with my thoughts or I’d be back to thinking about Lana and Tim.

“You didn’t have to do this,” I told her as I turned the present over in my hands again.

She shrugged as she sat on the love seat. “I didn’t think to ask when your birthday was. Your mom told me, but I didn’t have a chance to get it until recently.”

“Well, thanks.”

I moved to the chair before I opened the wrapper and then the box. I stared at it. “Is this a first edition?” I reverently picked up the copy of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

“It was my mom’s. She loved that book and I know it’s your favorite, but I noticed you didn’t actually have a copy of it, so…” She shrugged again.

I looked in the box again. “Two copies?”

“One to read,” she said as though that it explained it all.

“What?”

“The one is a first edition and you probably won’t want to read it to preserve the quality. It was actually my Grandma Lane’s. She got it when it first came out and gave it to Mom when she and Daddy got married. He doesn’t really care for it so when I asked him if I could give it to you, he said he’d be delighted that someone in the family would enjoy it again.”

“I’ll have to thank him.”

She grabbed the TIVO remote. “Do you mind if I watch NCIS?”

I shook my head. “No. Go for it. I’m kind of looking forward to it myself.” She’d gotten me hooked. But she was better at figuring out whodunit before it was revealed on the show than I was.

We watched as Tony and Jeanne faced down the drug crazed sister of a man who’d died while body packing heroin. With Abby’s help, Director Shepard realized her long dead father had been in her home. And Gibbs and McGee tried to find out who at Homeland Security was after the Director.

“Wow,” Lois breathed as the shot ended on Tony in the car with Jeanne and her father, the arms dealer known as ‘The Frog’. “I did not see that coming.”

“Me either,” I said as I stood up. I set the books on the built in bookcase on the wall by the closet. “Thanks again.”

“No problem,” Lois called after me as I headed towards the bathroom to get ready for bed.

~~~~~

Lois

I breathed a sigh of relief as Clark closed the bathroom door behind him.

He hadn’t seemed to notice the nightgown I was wearing.

I wasn’t sure which reaction would have made me happier — noticing and having some sort of revulsion on his face or noticing and having… not revulsion on his face. Given how huge I was, I certainly wasn’t feeling attractive. I had to admit that I always felt better when I dressed nice and the nightgown actually did make me feel pretty good.

I thought not noticing was probably the best option.

I hung my bathrobe up in the closet and tossed the matching black robe over the chair in the corner. I was so glad that we were going to be sleeping in the super king size bed.

Separate zip codes while we slept was a good thing.

How close together we were at the apartment, or even in my old room, just served to remind me that he was my husband in name only.

It wasn’t like I wanted him to… drop the towel, but wouldn’t it have been better to be married to someone who actually liked me? He’d said several times that the biggest problem Lana had with me was that I was pretty. I certainly didn’t feel very pretty, but some reassurance — even if it wasn’t completely sincere — would have been nice.

As I curled up with the body pillow Martha had sent home with me, I tried not to wonder what it would be like if Joe had married me instead. He’d never made any secret that he thought I was attractive and that he wanted to do a lot more than make out someday.

I sighed and willed myself to sleep as I heard the shower start in the bathroom.

I didn’t know how much later it was when I woke up, but when I did, it took me a minute to realize what it was that woke me.

There was a hand resting on my stomach, caressing it for lack of a better term, and there was something warm on my neck.

I wanted to turn my head, but instead I found my head falling to the other side to allow Clark greater access.

It took a minute — given the extremely pleasant sensations — for me to come completely to my senses.

“What are you doing?” I whispered, even as I ran a hand lightly up his arm.

“Do you want me to stop?” he whispered back as he kissed his way down my neck and across my shoulder.

I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I wanted this — badly.

I settled for tugging on his arm until he was holding himself above me.

Careful not to rest his full weight on my stomach, he lowered himself until he could kiss me and I ran my hands up his arms, over his shoulders and my fingers tangled in his hair as we shared the most intimate kiss I’d ever been a part of.

An unfamiliar sound came out of the back of my throat, as he worked his way down my jaw and to the other side of my neck. I ran my fingernails down his back, wondering if he could even feel it.

“That feels so good,” he murmured into my skin.

“You can feel that?” I asked, breathlessly.

He didn’t say anything as he shifted to lie next to me and he ran his hand over my abdomen again before he lightly grasped the back of my thigh and turned me towards him.

I pushed him over onto his back and — being mindful of my stomach — began running my hand over his chest as I kissed my way down his neck, nibbling on his ear before moving towards his shoulder.

“That feels so good, baby,” he practically groaned.

I slowed my hands for a minute. He’d never called me ‘baby’ but he’d called Lana that all the time.

“What?” I finally whispered, my lips still mere millimeters from his skin.

“I said that feels so good, Lana.”

I stilled completely and the arm he wrapped around me pulled me closer. “What’s the matter, baby?”

I pushed against him with all the strength I could muster. “Get the hell out of my bed.”

***

Part 58

Clark

~~~~~

“Get the hell out of my bed,” she hissed at me.

“What?”

She pushed against me again, this time so hard that I actually had the wind knocked out of me.

She was a bit ungainly as she rolled over and stood up, but that was to be expected.

“What?” I asked again.

“Get out.” She grabbed the robe off the chair in the corner and pulled it on.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean, given that Navance is in town and all.”

“What the hell were you doing?” She flipped on the light and with her arms crossed in front of her she looked as menacing as anyone I’d ever seen.

I gestured towards her. “I thought I was kissing my wife.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“Excuse me?” I asked as I stood up on my side of the large, dark wood, four poster, bed.

“You weren’t kissing your wife. You were kissing your girlfriend,” she shouted at me.

I looked her up and down with a raised brow. “I don’t have a girlfriend, but if you mean Lana, you sure don’t look like her.”

“Of course, I don’t, but you called me Lana.”

I closed my eyes and tried to think. “I did not.”

“You did.”

“I did not.”

“You really think I’d stop whatever that was if you didn’t call me Lana?” She looked incredulous.

I shrugged.

“Get out,” she repeated.

“No.” Regardless of what my rationale for starting what she’d stopped, at no point did I think I was with Lana.

Did I?

I couldn’t allow myself to delve into that too deeply at the moment.

“You’ve barely talked to me for months and suddenly, because it’s my birthday and I figured I should probably go with the whole quasi-sexy nightgown thing we talked about before we moved on the first night in our new room, you think that I’m suddenly ready for you to jump me? Or was this just supposed to be some sort of ‘thank you’ for a first edition of your favorite book?”

I sighed. “No. Neither of those.”

“So what was it?”

I shrugged. “You looked good?” I couldn’t help the question mark in my voice.

“You sound so convincing,” she said sardonically. “And since when can’t you keep your hands off me?”

“I thought it would be a good thing if I couldn’t keep my hands off you,” I shot back.

“You’ve said about fourteen words to me since we left Smallville and you think that, without resolving whatever it is that’s bothering you, that’s making you avoid me, you can suddenly have sex with me?”

“You haven’t said anything to me either,” I pointed out.

“You haven’t been home.”

She had a point, but that wasn’t the point. “I told you something I’ve never told anyone else, and you’ve never even mentioned it. Do I repulse you that much? Does the fact that I’m an alien really revolt you?” I didn’t really think that was the problem, but it made as much sense as anything else because I had no clue what else it could be.

Except for the whole her husband is still in love with his ex-girlfriend thing. But I didn’t want to think about that.

She gaped at me. “I literally could not care less about whether you were born in Kansas or Katmandu or on Krypton. And you never actually mentioned Krypton, by the way; your mom did. I even understand why you didn’t get us out of Latislan when you could have. Of course, if you had, you wouldn’t be here now. You’d be planning your wedding to Lana. I’d either be engaged to or married to Joe because he loves me enough to volunteer to raise this baby with no strings attached.”

“I didn’t attach any strings,” I pointed out, my hands on my hips.

She didn’t say anything to me for a long minute. “Can you tell me this: the day after what big occasion are we filing for divorce?”

“The day after the baby’s fifth birthday or Navance dies, whichever comes first.” I didn’t see her point.

“Joe wouldn’t know the answer to that, because there wouldn’t be an answer to that question.”

“What’s your point? I married you because I needed to protect you and the baby. Just like Chris did. Just like my dad did.”

Tears started flowing down her cheeks. “Did Chris plan to leave your mom the night they got married?”

“No, of course not.”

“At what point is your dad planning on leaving your mom?”

“He’s not.”

“The title of your paper was ‘He Didn’t Have To Be’ and you talked about the kind of dad Chris was in those few hours and the kind of dad your dad was, never flinching when he found out about your origins. Marrying your mom, loving you no matter what.”

“Yeah. So?”

“So at what point does being the kind of dad your dad’s always been mean that you leave your child on the day after his fifth birthday?”

~~~~~

Lois

That’s what had been bugging me.

I couldn’t have defined it to myself until that very instant.

“What?” he asked, puzzled.

I took a deep breath to calm myself down. Since I’d managed to get myself off the bed, we’d been yelling at each other. “You said you want to be the kind of dad that Chris was and Jonathan still is, right?”

“Of course. They both took me in when they didn’t have to. They protected me and kept me safe from any prying government eyes. I couldn’t let him get his hands on you or the baby, just like neither one of my dads could let the government get to me.”

“And that’s commendable,” I told him. “But at what point did either one of them put an expiration date on being your father?”

“They didn’t. And I didn’t. I’ll be a father to the baby as long as you’ll let me.”

I swiped at my cheeks, hating that I couldn’t control the tears. “Okay, then. At what point did they put an expiration date on their marriages to your mom?”

“They didn’t, but those were completely different circumstances,” he pointed out.

“How would you feel if Jonathan had married your mom when you were five and the day after your tenth birthday, he’d moved out? He still saw you on weekends and came to a few football games and then married his high school sweetheart and started a new family with her. And if that didn’t hurt enough, because kids always blame themselves anyway and you missed him and it wasn’t the same as it had been the first few years, then when you’re getting ready to marry Lana, you ask him why it didn’t work out between him and your mom so that you’d know what to avoid with her, he tells you it was because after you turned ten, the government wouldn’t come after you anymore so the marriage was moot? How would that feel?”

He sighed and sat in one of the chairs. “I don’t know,” he finally said.

“But you’re willing to do that to this baby, who will, for all intents and purposes, believe that you’re his or her biological father?”

“We’ll explain it.”

I sat in one of the other chairs. “I’m not telling a five-year-old that his dad is moving out because a bully dictator wanted to kidnap him and take him away for the rest of his life but because some arbitrary deadline set by a psychopath has passed, it’s now safe for you to move on with your life as planned before he came along.” I pulled a blanket over me even though I really wasn’t cold; I simply wasn’t comfortable wearing this in front of him.

“Okay, so maybe not right away, but eventually…”

“The damage will be done by then, Clark. All a five-year-old will see is that her Daddy who she loves more than anything has left her and her mom and by the time she’s old enough to understand why you did what you did and appreciate you for it, she’ll have already spent ten or fifteen years blaming herself or me or you for breaking up her family.”

He stared at the fireplace. “I guess I never thought of it that way,” he finally said.

“Well, that’s how this baby will see it,” I told him. “You did a good thing doing what was necessary to save me, but…” My voice trailed off.

He didn’t say anything else and neither did I for a long time.

Finally, though, I spoke again.

~~~~~

Clark

“So what exactly was it that happened over there?”

I was still immersed in thoughts of what hell I was going to put the baby through when I left and whether or not I should talk to Joe and the State Department and try to pull a switcheroo without Navance finding out about it and knowing the whole time that it was a very bad plan.

“What?” I finally asked her.

“What exactly was that and don’t patronize me by saying that I was irresistible or some other nonsense like that.”

I shrugged. “It’s your birthday, I didn’t get you a present, you gave me a late present so…” Those thoughts had gone through my head as part of the rationalization process, but those weren’t the real reasons. I couldn’t let Lois know that though.

“So you thought that you could get laid since you didn’t get me a present?” she asked with a raised brow.

I didn’t look at her. “I hoped it might be a bit more than just that.” That was the truth. I thought.

She pulled the blanket around her a little tighter. “I meant it when I said the whole alien thing doesn’t bother me at all, but what does bother me is that you’re wanting to be a dad like your dad was, but you already know the day you’re leaving. I get why that is, but it still bothers me. But what bothers me even more is that you’d decide that you’d get some sort of physical release with me while you’re still in love with someone else and actually say her name while we’re doing whatever it was that we were doing.” She stood up and headed for the veranda. Before she went out the door, she turned to look at me. “If you ever try that with me again, it damn well better be beca