by Sonia (that's me!)
(really late) reponse to Rapierhomme's 2nd Challenge

Lois held her breath as she slowly turned the lock to the door. Hearing the tumbler slide into place, she waited to see if she had been quiet enough to not wake the sleeping household. With a sigh of relief, she crept across the kitchen toward the staircase.

"Where have you been?"

Lois yelped and dropped her bag onto the floor. She hated when he snuck up on her. He didn't even make a noise- if she didn't know better, she might have believed that a man could fly… or at least float.

Lois placed a hand on her chest. She could feel her heart rate returning to normal.

"I reallywish you wouldn't do that," she grumbled, reaching out to flip on the light switch.

"Where have you been?" Clark repeated. He was standing in the kitchen archway, arms crossed formidably across his t-shirt clad chest.

Lois smirked at his plaid sleeping shorts. Even at night, his fashion sense was totally Smallville.

"Metropolis, remember? Or is this another one of those mindswipe days?" She pointed to herself. "Lois. Lois Lane. We met in blaze of glory. Thunder… lightening, ring any bells?"

Clark frowned. He entered the kitchen and leaned onto the island counter. "Don't you think you could be a little more considerate? My parents were worried sick."

Lois tilted her head and studied him for a moment. Clark's parents were in Metropolis for the weekend. In addition- having been there herself trying to work out Met U admission for next fall- Lois had talked to them on the phone earlier, giving them updates on her progress.

She didn't quite understand the growing bond she was experiencing with the elder Kents, but she was enjoying it. They were like the parents she had always wished for.

The point was, Martha and Jonathan knew that she was going to be returning late. After getting final instructions from Martha about running the Talon the next day, she had wished Lois a safe drive.

The sarcastic quip that had been ready to fly in response to Clark's angry outburst died on her lips. Something was up. "I'll be sure to apologize."

"Good." Clark's mood seemed to lose some of its fire at her quiet reply. He was almost disappointed that she hadn't returned the attack. He really needed an adversary right now.

Lois noticed his posture slump and sighed. She wondered if it was just familiarity from living under the same roof that allowed her to read his thoughts as clearly as if he had spoken aloud.

"That must be pretty uncomfortable," she remarked.

Clark looked at her warily. "What?"

"The way your panties are all in a bunch."

Now that was more like it, he thought to himself. He didn't allow his relief to show. "I don't wear panties."

Lois arched an eyebrow and her gaze dipped briefly before meeting his. "I know." She smiled and turned to the refrigerator, flipping her hair over her shoulder.

Clark silently watched her pull a mug from the cabinet. He allowed the affront to stoke his previous fury. "You could have called to say you would be late. People do sleep around here."

Lois nodded as she opened the refrigerator and withdrew the milk. "I could have," she agreed lightly. "But the last time I checked, I was considered an adult- and that pretty much means I can do as I please."

She ignored his glare and spun the spice rack to find the cinnamon and the vanilla extract.

"Hospitality is one thing, manners is another. This is not your personal Motel 6, Lois."

Lois internally flinched. Even though she had the reassurance from Clark's parents that she wasn't a burden, it was still a sore spot for her. She did everything she could to help out around the house. She was even paying rent. She tried to cook a couple of times, but, well… she was still a work in progress.

Shaking off the offense, she shot him a wry grin. She knew he wasn't trying to be mean; this is just what they did. "No, not a Motel 6, but you did leave the light on for me!"

She stirred her concoction and placed the mug in the Microwave.

"That was just manners- the stuff you learn from home-training," Clark shot back.

Lois threw her hands in the air as if she had just learned the meaning of life. "Ah! I knew I was missing something by never having a home! I need to call Dr. Phil."

"Is anything ever serious to you? You're driving across country in the middle of the night. Just because it's a small town doesn't mean crazy stuff doesn't happen. You really should start thinking about consequences, Lois. With the way you attract trouble, it's hard to believe you make it anywhere in one piece."

Lois hid a smile behind her hand as she coughed. Clark's comments on her being a magnet for trouble was like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.

Farm boy was in rare form tonight. He wasn't his usual affable self, but she was starting to understand. She was now sure that something must have happened.

When the Microwave beeped, she pulled the mug out and turned toward the stairs. "If you're not finished with the lecture, we need to take it upstairs. I need to get ready for bed… Don't you know how late it is?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you!" Clark exclaimed, following her up the stairs.

Lois rolled her eyes and entered Clark's bedroom, turning on the light as she went.

Clark paused at the doorframe. What had once been his room had been transformed into Lois's domain. Contrary to what most people would have thought about her, Lois was actually pretty clean.

She had once warned him that she didn't make the bed, but he'd discovered that the military influence of her younger years had evolved into an unconscious discipline. Sure, the desk tended to get chaotic when she was heavily consumed by a project, but for the most part, Lois's idea of messy was quite organized chaos.

Lois realized that Clark had stopped at the door and turned to pull him inside. "If you're going to act all parental-unit on me, at least don't do the door thing. I hate that."

Clark gave her a blank look, searching for something else to spar with.

They stared at one another for a full minute before Lois lost patience. "It's Lana, right?"


Lois smirked and pushed him toward the bed. "Sit." She handed him the mug. "Here."

Clark frowned at the drink. "What's this?"

"Your Mom's sleep potion… you know the stuff she makes when…" She stopped and gave him a worried look. "Did I do it wrong? Is it missing something? Because I thought I remembered… Oh, just drink it!" she finished, exasperated.

Clark looked up at her with a confused expression. Lois seemed to always be one step ahead of him… and he didn't even know where he was headed.

"So spill… talk, I mean." She braced her hands on her hips. "What happened to Lana this time?"

"How did you know it was her?"

Lois shook her head. "If it were Chloe, I would have known it. It's not your folks, because I talked to them earlier- and if it was, you wouldn't be here giving me a hard time. And… well, it usually is Lana."

Clark sighed. She was right. It usually was Lana.

"That girl has got one heck of a KO count, you know," Lois remarked as she sat down in the desk chair. "I've gotta hand it to her, though. Your girlfriend bounces back pretty well."

"She's not my girlfriend."

"But you want her to be. And I think she wants it, too."

Clark took a sip from the mug without consciously being aware of the action. Lois was partly right. There was still a part of him that wanted to have the fantasy that he had dreamt about since Freshman year. But after seeing that reality often had a different idea, a larger part of him hoped for something more. He was both resigned and relieved to be putting that delusion to rest.

Clark sighed. "I'm like a curse to the people that care for me. They end up hurt." He looked up from his hands to meet Lois's gaze. Her expression was unreadable. "No one understands what that's like."

He started studying the walls of his bedroom, still covered with posters from his former phases. It was funny how much your focus changes when you're not paying close attention.

Clark waited for Lois to reply with one of the customary responses to his statement. His mother would tell him he was being overdramatic. That he wasn't a curse to others. That it was a pleasure and a blessing to have him to care about.

His father would talk about how he was special. How great gifts sometimes required great responsibility, but how it would all work out in the end. Jonathan would tell his son that he couldn't blame himself for everything that happened to the people around him. He was just one man, albeit an extraordinary one.

Clark wondered what Lois would say. She wasn't privy to the explanations of his hero-complex, but she would undoubtedly give him a hard time about having the audacity to think he had to save the world.

Lois sat back in the chair and crossed her legs at the ankle. Tempered by a childhood wrought with grief and guilt- ironically, she was probably the only one who really did understand what Clark was feeling to some degree.

Losing her mother to a battle against an invisible and fatal enemy had left the young Lois seeking explanations in the wrong areas. For years, she had believed that somehow her own behavior had been to blame for her mother's sickness. Part of that remorse had stuck with her, even when she was old enough to understand the truth about the ugly face of carcinoma. Inside, Little Lo still held traces of those old feelings.

Yeah. She knew a little about misplaced guilt.

"Hmm," she grunted softly.

Clark was surprised at her lack of reaction to his statement. "Lana got hurt tonight."

"Is she all right?" Lois asked.

"Yeah. She was released from the hospital… It's just… I was trying to help and it got out of hand."

Lois still had no idea of what had taken place. "Help with what?"

Clark sighed and shrugged. He couldn't tell her how he'd been in the Library finishing up a paper when he'd heard Lana scream from the other side of campus. He couldn't explain how he'd been able to arrive on the scene within seconds, surprising the masked stranger who was preparing to tackle Lana while she ran on the jogging trail in the woods surrounding Central Kansas State.

Lois might understand that he'd tackled the man, and how that inadvertently caused the knife the attacker held to slice into Lana's side, causing the blood to pour. Yes, she might understand all of that- but there would be no way she could comprehend how he had used fire from his eyes to cauterize the wound so Lana wouldn't bleed to death. Either the pain or the blood loss had caused Lana to faint, so with that cover, he'd felt it was safe to use his powers.

But when the dust cleared, Lana was looking at him with wide eyes- horrified and speechless. It was a look of disgust that she hadn't even used toward her attacker. He couldn't tell Lois what that did to him.

Lois silently watched the emotions flicker across Clark's face.

"I just make things worse," he muttered, dropping his head.

Lois knew she wasn't going to get the full story tonight. "I don't know what happened, but seeing as I have been on the receiving end of your vigilante brigade once or twice- I'm sure that things could have been a lot worse if you didn't show up."

Leaning forward, she braced her elbows against her knees and placed her chin in her hands. "According to you, Lana is alive and kicking. Whatever else happened will fade, and she'll come to her senses, and you two will be back on your carousel again."

She jumped to her feet. "Bottom line: you're over-reacting, and you need to sleep on it."

She pulled open a drawer and pulled out her pajamas.

Clark frowned at her back. "That's not quite the pep talk I was looking for."

"Pep talk!" Lois turned around and playfully smacked herself in the head. "You wanted a pep talk? Why didn't you say that earlier? Okay- let me go put my PJ's on, and then we'll get this party started."

Lois bent down to grab her bunny slippers and slipped out of the room.

Clark watched her disappear and fought the urge to smile. With a yawn, he brought the mug to his lips.

Lois deliberately took her time in the bathroom. She brushed her hair one hundred times, spent the recommended time brushing her teeth, flossed, gargled, and even stretched, before changing into her sleepers. When she entered the bedroom again, she knew that her plan had worked. She smiled down on the slumbering frame of Clark Kent.

She pulled the extra blanket from the closet and draped it over him, running a hand over it to smooth out the lumps where it covered his shoulder. With gentle fingers, she lightly pushed back the tousled hair that graced his brow. She wondered if she would ever be privy to the secrets he kept hidden there.

The strange tandem of their relationship had caused both of them to rub off on the other. Clark's optimistic aloofness always drew her sarcastic commentary, but in truth, she admired it. Tonight, the young Farm Boy had experienced something that had shifted him further toward her caustic reality. Although it was an inevitable growth on his part, part of her already missed the innocent naivety that was lost.

She was determined to not let him lose more of it. She wouldn't let him lose himself.

Shaking her head, she leaned down and placed a soft kiss on his lips. She didn't know why she did it- perhaps it was because he was less of a pain when he was sleep… or perhaps there was something else…

Lois blinked out of her reverie and frowned. "Get a grip, Lane. You're hallucinating."

She picked the mug up off of the nightstand and headed out the door, flipping off the light as she went. Heading down the stairs, she drained the rest of the milk and made her way to the couch, depositing the empty mug on the table as she passed. Exhausted, she flopped down onto the blankets and yawned.

Snuggling into the pillow, Lois drifted asleep with a slight smile on her face. Upstairs, Clark was doing the same.