Summary: When Lois learns that Clark hangs out on a journalists' chat forum on the IRC, she logs on incognito to ask for help on a story. As her questions turn increasingly personal, Clark comes up with answers she doesn't expect.
Lois continued wearily clipping articles from the stack of newspapers by her desk. She had to put a new spin on an old angle from a bit of national news, and not only did she hate the assignment but rehash and overhaul work was her weakest journalistic point. She had always meant to put together a study plan to strengthen this weak wall, but somehow never found the time, and being Lois Lane, she would not admit to anyone, including her editor, that she simply was not well versed enough in this grey topic area to make a convincing bid.
One consolation however, is that Clark had caught up on his individual endeavor and as soon as Lois finally slogged through hers, she would be partnered with him again. She had never worked well, or for very long with a partner, but now she was actually looking forward to getting back into the harness with Clark. Their divergent styles actually complimented each other, and unlike transient partnerships of the past, Clark always pulled his fair share, and sometimes more.
She pushed her hair back and sighed. The print was starting to run together, and her neck was beginning to cramp. Clark glanced away from his monitor. "Need some help, Lois?"
"No," she lied. "Just have a crick in my neck."
Clark slid his chair back. "Turnabout's fair play, I guess," he said, and began to rub her shoulders. "You gave me a sympathetic neck rub after my apartment was burglarized."
"Mmm, Thanks, Clark."
He peered over her shoulder at the stack of clippings. "I envy you, Lois. You pulled the kind of assignment I love. Great challenge."
"It's a challenge all right."
"I'd be happy to give you some pointers if you're having some problems with it."
"No, no problems at all, I've been doing this kind of stuff for years." Lois actually managed to gall herself with that last lie. Not only had she avoided this type of assignment, but on the rare occasions when it could not be avoided, she always put in a sub par showing.
Jimmy Olsen sauntered past and tossed some more newspapers on Lois' endless pile. He looked with amusement at Clark giving Lois a massage. "Hey, I'm next, but no offense, C.K., I'd prefer Lois' healing hands."
Lois smiled wryly. "Keep that up, Jimmy, and I'll massage you right in the nose."
Jimmy backed up slowly. "You know, I suddenly feel much better." He turned to leave, but then glanced at Clark's screen and laughed. "Farmboy?"
Clark blushed. "That's my sign on name when I go to the journalist forum."
"I'm impressed. I never took you for a cyber navigator, C.K. The IRC?"
"Yep, every Wednesday night. A bunch of us get together to pass along tips and give advice. Help out newcomers, that sort of thing."
Jimmy sighed. "Don't you ever have fun, C.K?"
Clark smiled. "What's your idea of fun, Jimmy?"
"Well," he said, and looked around the room quickly. "I found this IRC channel called Cowgirls With Whips, and this—"
"Ugh!" Lois moaned loudly. "You're getting closer and closer to that nose massage, Jimmy."
"I'm gone!" He said, and trotted away.
Lois, now seeing a graceful out from asking Clark directly for help, picked up the ball that Jimmy had fumbled. "Why don't you use your real name?"
"The guy that started the channel thought it would be a good idea to use nicknames because so many of us worked for famous papers or magazines," he shrugged. "He thought it would be less intimidating to the novices, and protect our privacy at the same time."
"Probably a good idea," she said, and patted his hand. "Thanks for the massage, I'd better get back to work."
"Okay. Since you don't need my help, I'm going to head home. It's Wednesday night after all."
"See you tomorrow," she said, and pretended to busy herself with endless clippings again. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Clark as he shut down his computer, grabbed his jacket and finally exited the cityroom. "IRC?" she whispered as she tapped the scissors against her cheek. "This looks like a job for…Pop Sibly."
William Sibly, though not even as old as Perry White, was affectionately known as 'Pop' because of his long years as a net rocketeer, and because, not coincidentally, he worked side by side with his father at a repair garage in Metropolis where his father was also known as Pop. Lois had done a write up about Bill's internet expertise as a small feature, and he had told her he owed her one. Well, Lois was about to collect.
After three unsuccessful attempts at following Pop's instructions, Lois finally found the journalism forum. She signed on as Rapunzel and lurked for a while. She saw Clark, or rather 'Farmboy' chatting quite eloquently with the others throughout the evening. It was funny, but Lois had never really noticed how well spoken Clark was, and how truly in love with journalism he seemed to be.
As the number of participants began to dwindle, Lois finally got up the courage to ask Clark, via computer, what she could not bring herself to ask in person. She was pleasantly surprised at how open and helpful he was. Several of his tips would help her wrap up the annoying assignment. When she glanced at her watch, she was amazed to discover it was nearly two o'clock in the morning.
<RAPUNZEL> I'd better be going, Farmboy, it's past my bedtime. I'd better hit the hay…no pun intended.
<FARMBOY> Will you be back next week?
Lois had intended to log on only to get the information she needed to finish her assignment, but since Clark had been so kind…
<RAPUNZEL> Sure, I guess so. This was kind of fun.
<FARMBOY> Great! Goodnight, Rapunzel.
<RAPUNZEL> Goodnight, Farmboy. Hey, that kind of sounds like the Waltons.
<FARMBOY> It means I'm Laughing Out Loud.
<RAPUNZEL> Boy, I sure have a lot to learn!
<FARMBOY> That's another good reason to come here next week.
<RAPUNZEL> I will. Goodnight.
Lois did return to the forum the following week, and for several weeks thereafter. She was coming to know Clark in a way, that for some reason, was less complicated and pressured than in person. This closeness, however, was having an impact on her work relationship with Clark. She seemed better able to anticipate where he needed her to step in, and where to hold back and let him take the lead. This was not easy for Lois to do, having spent her whole life believing that if she did not look out for number one, nobody else would, but Clark's many strengths were beginning to touch her. They had even gone out to dinner a couple times. Not as a date, but on the fly during this or that assignment, and Lois was finding that she enjoyed seeing him at the other end of the table.
On one particular Wednesday, as Lois and Clark chatted, and the remaining loggers began to beg off, Clark noted that Rapunzel's responses were becoming a bit delayed.
<FARMBOY> Lag problems? No response
<FARMBOY> Rapunzel? No response
<RAPUNZEL> Sorry. Some creep named BITEMAN is sending me some sickening messages. No matter what I say, I don't seem to be able to get rid of him.
<FARMBOY> I'll Be Right Back.
<RAPUNZEL> ok After a couple of moments…
<FARMBOY> I'm back.
<RAPUNZEL> Where were you…oh wait, I mean BRB. A few seconds later…
<RAPUNZEL> He apologized! He's gone!
<FARMBOY> Great! Now where were we?
<RAPUNZEL> Wait a minute, did you do something to get rid of him?
<FARMBOY> I told him to leave my girlfriend alone. I hope you don't mind me butting in, but I've had to do this for a couple of other ladies before. Maybe you should change your nickname.
<RAPUNZEL> You mean there's more creeps like him out there?
<FARMBOY> I'm afraid so. I don't think there's a lot of them, but just enough to make some women's lives miserable.
<RAPUNZEL> Well, thank you for what you did. That was sweet of you. Since you kind of brought the subject up, can I ask you something personal?
<RAPUNZEL> Do you have a wife or girlfriend?
<FARMBOY> No wife. No girlfriend either, well not really.
<RAPUNZEL> Not really?
<FARMBOY> Well, I'm very attracted to someone, and I get along with her most of the time, but … you know how it goes? Lois instantly thought of Mayson Drake …
<RAPUNZEL> What line of work is she in? Lois expected to see law enforcement or government
<FARMBOY> She's a journalist, too. Lois' jaw dropped.
<RAPUNZEL> Does she work at the same place you do?
<FARMBOY> Yes. She's my partner in fact. "Oh, God!"
<RAPUNZEL> She probably is attracted to you, too. Her feelings may run deeper than you think.
<FARMBOY> I doubt it. She's attracted to a guy who, let's just say, I couldn't possibly compete with. Lois decided it was time.
<RAPUNZEL> You've become more of a super man than you might think, Clark. After an uncomfortable pause…
<RAPUNZEL> I know it's late, Clark, but could you please come over. I'd really like to finish this in person. She pressed her fingertips against her lips as she nervously watched the screen. When his reply came through, she laughed and cried at the same time.
<FARMBOY> Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. That I may climb the golden stair.
<RAPUNZEL> I'll be waiting, Farmboy.