He yanked back the hand that had been resting on her shoulder, momentarily unsure of where to put it. After a clumsy movement, he shoved it in his pocket.
Lois continued to gape up at him, wide-eyed and wordless for what seemed like longest few seconds of Clark's life.
And then, to his complete horror, her lips twisted into a devilish smile. "So, got the hots for me, huh, Smallville?" She waggled her eyebrows and laughed.
Clark paled as she propped her hands on her hips and leaned in dangerously close, watching him squirm. Claustrophobia finally kicked in and Clark looked around desperately for a quick exit. Another door. A window. A giant hole in the earth that would swallow him up.
All preferable options.
"I - I don't.." He was still fumbling an explanation when Chloe's voice broke in.
"I should be glad that he's finally moved on from Lana. But now it's 'Lois this' and 'Lois that'."
Lois gave him one last smirk before turning her delighted attention back to the kitchen. While grateful for the small reprieve, he had a feeling that things were only going to get worse.
"Oh, you should hear him at home," Martha chimed in, solidifying Clark's faith in Murphy's Law. "I think I know more about Lois than I do about my own husband. Allergies, pet peeves, favorite movie -"
"Casablanca," Chloe filled in the tacit blank.
Martha shook her head. "Rocky," she corrected. She reached into the last shopping bag and pulled out a tin of cookies. She cracked the lid and offered one to Chloe, who happily accepted.
"Rocky?" Chloe barked a laugh. "Are you serious?"
In the pantry, Lois was all scowl. "Who doesn't love an underdog?"
Clark would have answered her rhetorical, if he had any semblance of motor function. As it was, he was glad he was still upright.
"It's nice though. Seeing Clark happy. He's had a rough year. But when he's with her he gets to relax a bit."
"When she isn't knocking him down a peg or two," Chloe said, mouth full of Milano. She slapped the crumbs from her hands and took the glass of milk that Martha had slid down the counter. She raised it towards her in a 'you're the best' gesture and then took a sip, considering her last words. "Which is a majority of the time. But that's Lois for you. When she wants something, she goes whole hog. And her love life is no different."
Lois froze. The hand that had been lazily resting on the doorknob, twitched and tightened as her whole body tensed. And he wasn't positive, but Clark was sure he heard a faint thud as Lois' heart dropped strait into her stomach.
He felt himself spring back to life. The gears clicked and popped, the machinery of his mind groaning to life. A smile crept onto Clark's lips.
The tides were turning.
"All those times she came down to visit, I'd be lucky to get five minutes alone with her. I get the gravitational pull of the Kent family farm, I do. I just never thought she would succumb to it."
Clark stepped into Lois, jockeying for position at the door crack. He suddenly wanted a better view, now very interested in how the conversation was shaking out.
"It happens to the best of us."
Chloe nodded, as if she knew all too well. "Lana and I have a bet going. She thinks that it'll happen within the month."
"Outside of a year."
Chloe shrugged. "Clark is a smart guy, he's just not very self aware. And Lois would gnaw off her right arm before she'd admit she had a thing for a 'farmboy from hicksville'." She sucked in a breath and sighed dramatically. "Nope. The rest of us will just have to endure the agony of the will they wont they that's bound to characterize their relationship for a long time to come."
Martha held on her with a weary eye. "Are you sure you're okay with this?"
"I love my cousin." Chloe let the statement hang there and for a minute Clark thought that's where she was going to let the explanation stand. "You know, Lois plays it off, but its been pretty hard for her too. She bounced around from base to base, the General always at arms' length. And she and her sister aren't exactly on the best of terms."
"Lois has a sister?"
Chloe nodded. "Younger. Currently stationed at a boarding school in Switzerland." Her light expression was wilting into something tighter. More serious. "For as long as I've known her my cousin has been a solo act. Lois is like an emotional Fort Knox. But Clark got in. And nobody gets in."
Clark looked down at Lois. He could tell it was taking all the self-restraint she had not to lose it.
And then that fraying rope snapped.
Lois was almost out the door when Clark caught her arm.
She looked up at him, and then quickly away. It had been enough, however, for Clark to catch the tears that now watered her eyes.
"Clark..." Her voice cracked under the weight of her embarrassment. She'd been exposed. And he knew that there was nothing more frightening for Lois Lane.
But what Clark didn't know was how to make things better again.
Unsure of the right words, he took her hand.
Lois' head shot up, and she fixed her gaze on his. When Chloe's next bit of wisdom floated into the pantry, Lois and Clark listened carefully. A pair of locked eyes and hitched breaths.
"I've had a lot of time to think about this and I've come to a conclusion; expectations are kind of like a blindfold. People like Lois and Clark are so caught up with how they should feel about each other that they don't take the time to consider how they actually feel. I know it's easier to say, being on the outside looking in. But if I were one of them I would just grab the other take a chance."
Clark closed his eyes and shook his head, laughing out of utter frustration. "Screw it," he sighed, before erasing the distance between them faster than a speeding bullet.
Chloe always had been the smart one.
The clatter of tin cans drew Chloe and Martha's attention sharply to the front hall.
"Did you hear that?"
"Yeah," Chloe said. She hopped down off the stool, and grabbed the nearest item off the counter for good measure. "I'll check it out."
Chloe inched towards the pantry, the rubber spatula raised high above her head.
Chloe slowly opened the door, let out a squeak of surprise, and quickly shut it again. She spun on her heels, grabbed her purse from the kitchen counter, plunked the spatula in the green ceramic bowl, and made a beeline for the porch.
"What was it?" Martha called after her.
"Nothing," she said, the screen door clanging behind her. "I just owe Lana 5 bucks."