If Lois Lane wasn't at school, wasn't getting coffee in the talon, or off having a family adventure with Chloe, she could usually be found in the Kent's upstairs bathroom. The downstairs bathroom, just off the kitchen, contained only a toilet that ran unless the handle was jiggled in just the right way and an off-color sink. Lois didn't ever use that bathroom. No, she much preferred the upstairs one with the old, claw-foot bathtub that seemed to survive every disaster. She liked the simple small flowers on the wallpaper and she liked the way the sun warmed the room up in the early morning.

Clark, at first, thought she was incontinent or at least weak of bladder. Then he thought that maybe she just liked the shower, liked to use up all the hot water for the heck of it, missed the comforts of a family bathroom after living at the University where all the rooms on one floor shared a bathroom. But he walked in on her often, and this time she was fully clothed doing what she usually was doing when he found her -- sitting on the edge of the tub reading a text book (or, more often, a trashy romance novel).

"What are you doing?" he asked and she looked up, folded the edge of her page, and stared at him like he'd grown a second head (which was not so implausible in Smallville, Kansas).

"Reading," she answered. "What are you doing?"

"Having to pee," he answered, but he could never manage the same superior tone that she had. She rolled her eyes and walked past him – out the door, down the hall, and down the stairs.

He could hear his mother talking to Lois down in the kitchen when he was finished in the bathroom and so he went into his bedroom to change out of his chore clothes into something appropriate for dinner. In his room, the bed was unmade and he saw her pajamas tangled up within the linens – her slippers on the floor nearby. Her hairbrush was on his dresser, her makeup on the window seal and her overnight back had practically exploded across the far side of the room. She didn't even bother to pack up when she left. It was her Smallville set, she had explained to him.

Downstairs, dinner was on the table and Lois didn't hesitate in serving herself first. They ate together as a family nearly every night. Clark noticed for the firs time that Lois looked pretty in a bright red dress with her hair blown dry so it was straight and sleek around her face. He hadn't noticed in the bathroom that her hair had been done and her face had been made up. He'd been distracted by the Sponge Bob Square Pants pajamas.

"What's with you?" he asked, accepting the tray of rolls from her.

"We're going out." she said, simply, eating a bite of potato off of her fork.

"What?" he asked, looking to his father to put a stop to this but Jonathan Kent looked amused as he often did around the no nonsense attitude that Lois struck up with his son.

"Out, like, leaving the farm and your loft." she clarified.

"It's Saturday night, you two should go out and have some fun," Martha said, smiling. Outnumbered, Clark ate silently, wondering where they could go with her looking like that. He changed for the second time into nice black pants and a dark blue button down shirt. He brushed his hair the best he could and decided against a tie. Down stairs she was behind the wheel of her sporty red car and she made him hold her purse in his lap as they drove.

"You look nice," she said, finally. "You clean up surprisingly well."

"Are you complimenting me?" he asked, a little shocked.

"Not very well, apparently." she muttered.

"No… it was good. Thanks." he said. "You too," he added. "You look good in red."

She knew he was trying to be nice to her (as a result of his breeding, perhaps) but it was all she could do not to laugh at him. He was sweet, in a way, and unfailingly honest – maybe she did just look good in red. She found herself wearing out all of her red and blue clothing – she wanted to fit in with the Kents or mostly, with Clark. The dress was new, though; she'd bought it in Metropolis and had been saving it for a special occasion. For Smallville, a Saturday night out was an occasion unto its self.

She stopped the car outside a barn that was pulsating with people and a loud, repetitive beat.

"What is this?" Clark asked, unbuckling his seat belt and still clutching Lois's purse.

"Smallville's night life." she said, smoothing out the dress and her hair while he pretended not to watch. "Come on, it will be fun," She took her purse from him and set it back in the car and let Clark slide the keys into his pocket for safe keeping. Lois walked carefully across the gravel – her heels made her wobbly and she let herself be steadied by Clark's stable arm. Inside the barn he saw, in the dark, rotating light, only a few people he recognized – most were college students from Central Kansas and he didn't know how Lois had found out about this party but he wasn't surprised that she had. She was already pushing a beer into his hands and when a man walked by with a tray of Jell-o shots, she slurped one down. Her tongue was as red as her dress.

"You're okay with this, right?" she yelled over the noise.

"Of course," he agreed, wanting to impress her. Then something occurred to him. "Is Chloe coming?" Lois looked away, her shoulders slightly slumping. "You didn't tell her."

"She wouldn't have come anyhow," Lois said which was probably true but still unfair. "I love my cousin but I wanted a fun Saturday night," Clark nodded, letting Lois off the shame hook – Chloe didn't condone drinking and though Lois drank too much, Clark knew he could keep up with her and still keep her safe. He drank his beer and let Lois disappear into the crowd to find a more suitable source of booze than Jell-o.

oooo

Clark kept expecting the Sheriff to come as the party got louder and more out of control but the barn was far enough from town that only the cows could hear them. He danced with Lois and a few other girls who were equally as trashed. Finally, when the stars disappeared and the navy of the night started to lighten, Clark found Lois and led her out of the slowly emptying barn. She was laughing and mildly protesting.

"You have my keys, Smallville?" she hiccupped but he just belted her into her passengers seat and put the top down so that if she was going to be sick, she wouldn't do it all over the both of them. "Clarkie, did you have fun?" she asked, her forehead against the window, he hair flying out behind them like in a dream.

"Yeah," he said and he had. He liked it – being just the two of them without Lana or Chloe looming in the background.

"Good," she said and fell asleep before they even got home. He carried her into the house and thought briefly about depositing her on the couch and sleeping in his own bed but instead he carried her upstairs and set her on his soft, double mattress. He unbuckled her shoes and pulled the comforter up over her. He went back downstairs and lay on the couch knowing that he had only a few hours before his father got up to do chores and would need Clark's help. He didn't sleep. Instead, he listened to the noises of his childhood home – the cows outside, the ticking of the clock, the humming of the refrigerator. He unbuttoned his shirt and kicked off his shoes. He thought about how beautiful Lois had been dancing in the multicolored lights to the awful, mechanical music. How she had smiled at him. How guilty it made him feel when he remembered all the times Chloe had admitted her feelings for Clark and all the times he'd turned her down. She was his almost but not quite. There was just something missing. Still, Lois was Lois and he couldn't help but think about her.

He could hear his father upstairs getting dressed to go outside. Before too long his mother would come down to put the coffee on and start on breakfast. Eventually, everyone would wake up and then Lois would drive three hours back to Metropolis and he would get his bed back.

"Look who finally came home," Martha whispered to her husband who was behind her on the stairs.

"I'm awake," Clark said, sitting up. "You don't have to whisper,"

"Lois is still asleep," Jonathan pointed out but Clark knew very little would wake her from her alcohol induced stupor.

"Did you have fun?" his mother asked. "You seem pretty tired,"

"I had a really good time," Clark admitted.

"Lois isn't so bad." Jonathan said. "You just need to give her a chance." Clark had no response to this. He just got off the couch ready to help his father.

When Clark went upstairs to take a shower before breakfast, Lois, unsurprisingly, was in the bathroom but it was pretty clear she was neither showering nor reading. He felt bad listening to her retch and so he pushed the door open and looked in to make sure she was okay. She was on her hands and knees with her hair obscuring her face.

"Lois?" he asked. He winced as she vomited again, still in her pretty red dress. He closed the door so they were alone in the room and he gathered her long hair into his hands so it didn't hang in her face or worse. She looked up at him briefly. Her eyes were red and her skin not as rosy as it had been the night before. "What can I do?"

"Nothing," she said. "I think the worst has passed." He tried not to laugh as she lost it again. He reached for a hair band from the back of the toilet and wrapped it around her hair. He left the bathroom and returned with her pajamas, a bottle of water, and a piece of toast. He set them on the edge of the sink and started to run a bath for her.

"I always feel better after a bath," Clark said. She looked at him wearily and sat back, flushing the toilet.

"I didn't drive home last night, did I?" she asked, finally. Clark smiled and pulled her up by her bicep.

"Neither of us is missing any limbs," he joked. "What do you think?" She didn't laugh and so he just shrugged and turned her around so he could lower the zipper of her dress. He saw a flash of red lace but forced himself toward the door. "Excedrin in the medicine cabinet," he mumbled and left her to the hot water.

It was after noon when she came down with her purse on her shoulder and sunglasses on her head.

"I gotta hit the road, but thanks for letting me stay here," Lois announced to Clark and his mother.

"You're always welcome, sweetheart." Martha smiled and excused herself.

"Leaving so early?" Clark asked, in spite of himself.

"I promised Chloe a cup of coffee before I left." That he could not argue. He nodded, waved, and watched her drive away. That night in his bed that smelled like the bottles of Pantene Pro-V she left in their shower, he thought about why she would have wanted to come to Smallville to take him out on a Saturday night and include no one else. Was it a date? Had they 'gone out' as opposed to just going to the same party in the same car? When he fell asleep that night, he dreamt of red lace.

oooo

At school, Chloe seemed normal and it occurred to Clark that Lois probably hadn't mentioned the barn party. Chloe said something about Lois telling her that she'd felt sick Saturday night and to salvage Chloe's feelings, he went along with the lie. He dropped the subject of her cousin until they were in the Talon after school getting their caffeine fix when Chloe mentioned the three day weekend coming up.

"Friday is a staff work day to prepare for graduation and I'm going to Met U for the weekend," she said. "You should come – So I don't have to drive alone." No matter what he did, fate kept thrusting Lois into his life. "Besides, her journalism class is touring the Daily Planet."

"But you worked there, why do you want to see that?" Clark asked.

"Disneyland doesn't get boring after one visit!" Chloe exclaimed but Clark had never been to Disneyland. "Come on, don't you want to see what all the fuss is about?" she prodded. "I've already told Lois to expect us." Clark agreed.

Friday morning, armed with lattes and a sack of egg mcmuffins, Clark and Chloe headed toward Metropolis. Chloe wasn't much of a morning person and so the first hour was quiet until Chloe broke it.

"I'm surprised Lois asked me to invite you," she said. "I thought you had enough of her – the way you fight but she keeps on coming to Smallville."

"We get along okay." Clark said. "She invited me? I thought you did."

"If she was so sick Saturday night, why didn't you invite me over to watch movies with you?" she asked.

"I don't…"

"If you are dating, that's one thing but doing it behind my back is just cruel!" she cried.

"Chloe, we aren't dating. We went to a party on Saturday and there was drinking. She didn't want you to be disappointed in her." he said. "The last thing we want to do is hurt you."

"Don't you see? You are already talking in 'we's'." she said, miserably.

"I'm not sure what you want me to do," Clark said. "You're my best friend but I can't keep making choices based on whether or not it's going to hurt your feelings." She pulled over, her tires screeching into the gravel that lined the two lane highway. She was crying.

"I don't want that either. God, when did I become such a selfish shrew?"

"You aren't a selfish shrew," he said. "I'm sorry Lois and I went to that party without you and if it means that much to you, I'll tell Lois that there won't be anymore vacancies at Motel Kent."

"No, no," she wiped her eyes and pulled back onto the road. "Just forget I said anything," she adjusted her mirror and glanced sideways at him. "What is meant to be will be and that just isn't us."

oooo

Lois greeted them at her dorm room door – a large pizza and six pack (of diet coke with lime) waiting for their immediate consumption.

"Hola, weary travelers." she said, hugging Chloe, not touching Clark. "Let's eat lunch and then to class." They ate – mostly Lois who seemed to be filling her mouth with food so words didn't escape. Finally, Lois packed up her bag and they met in a classroom only to be herded out again. Lois drove them to the Daily Planet, the large globe looming grandly above head. Chloe was the only one who seemed really excited about the tour even though there wasn't a lot she hadn't seen. She moved up to the front of the group waving to the people she knew and talking animatedly to the Professor who seemed pleased to have such an eager student. Clark stayed toward the back with Lois who was unusually quiet.

"Shouldn't you be taking notes or something?" Clark asked, finally.

"For what?" she asked. "It's not like I'd ever get a job at a place like this,"

"How do you know? You're an excellent journalist, Lois. Just because it is Chloe's thing doesn't mean you can't do it too." Lois wouldn't quite look at him, and she answered so softly that he was glad he could hear what most people could not.

"Ever since I came to Smallville, I feel like I've been taking over Chloe's life." she said. Standing in the newsroom of the Daily Planet, Clark knew Lois wasn't talking about journalism, exactly.

"You aren't," Clark said. He didn't know how to be clearer without telling her that he didn't love Chloe and didn't want Lois to leave his life. She didn't respond and looked lost inside herself. Afterwards, they drove away from the downtown area back toward the University. Chloe was chattering excitedly about how if she went to Met U, the job placement program would place her at the Daily Planet. Clark sat in the back of the car, his knees up by his chin. He would not go to Met U; that was pretty much decided when he'd bowed out of the football scholarship. Clark was glad, though, that Chloe would go. He could visit without feeling guilty. Although, that thought made him feel guilty anyway.

Chloe and Lois slept fitfully together on the twin bed, giggling and reminiscing while Clark slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. His pillow had a My Little Pony pillowcase on it and the walls were paper thin, especially to Clark. People laughing, partying, yelling, crying, having sex, snoring. He rolled away from the girls and closed his eyes. Sleep came begrudgingly.

Clark woke around ten o'clock the next morning, very late for him. All the sounds of the night before had ceased. At home, everything would be bustling this late in the day but on a college campus, Saturday morning didn't start until well into the afternoon. Clark got up quietly, tiptoed across the room and let himself out to use the restroom. When he came back, Lois had moved off the crowded bed and snuggled up inside Clark's vacant sleeping bag. He rolled his eyes. Lois was always stealing his bed. He saw Lois's student identification card and picked it up. He pulled on his jeans and shoes and left again.

Chloe and Lois were awake when he returned with Starbuck's coffee and fresh bagels. Chloe cheered and leapt for the latte she knew was hers.

"Thank you," Lois said, shyly. She took her coffee (black) and one of the bagels.

"Clark we thought about going to the museum today, or to the park. There is a music festival this weekend." Chloe said, now able to talk with some caffeine in her veins.

"Whatever you want," he said, shrugging. Lois peered up at him from the sleeping bag.

"When will you guys hit the road?" she asked.

"Tonight," Clark answered. "I have to get back to the farm for Sunday's farmers market,"

"So let's go!" Chloe said. "After I shower, of course." she gathered her things and bounded out. Alone, the air grew thick and silent.

"You took my bed," he said, attempting a joke.

"It's what I do," she said. "But in my defense, I was asleep at the time." They both laughed, forcedly, and so Clark shoved his bagel in his mouth and sat at the desk chair to chew. "Look, we lived together for months and it wasn't this awkward – what happened? Did I do something while I was drunk?"

"No, it wasn't you," he said. "I had fun." He cleared his throat. "A lot of fun," Lois understood that, too. No matter how she tried to look down on Clark, to belittle him, he was still kind to her and good and she thought about him at the oddest times and she always found herself ditching her classes to drive to Smallville to sidekick herself to his crazy adventures or at least pick up a shift at the Talon, the only place in town to bee seen or hang out.

"I don't ever want to hurt Chloe," she said, finally.

"Me either," he said.

"Good," said Lois.

"Good," Clark said. But neither felt good.

oooo

It was well into the summer before Clark saw Lois again. She'd gone home to the General for summer vacation, and Clark was beginning to get ready for central Kansas, ready to go to college but not to leave the farm. It was hot and Clark was sweating as he finished his chores. Dinner was just about to be served. If Lois showed up, it was always just before a meal. He heard tired on the gravel and saw headlights though it was hardly dark enough for that. He smiled and greeted her, a little surprised and a lot pleased.

"Room for one?" she asked, a large bag on her shoulder. He relieved her of it, noted it was far bigger and heavier than usual. This was more than a weekend stay, regardless of it being a Monday.

"Of course, Mom will be thrilled – one of her waitresses quit yesterday." They headed for the house. "Hungry?"

"I could stand a Martha Kent meal." she said. "Sorry I was so out of touch," she said.

"Chloe said you were looking for Lucy." Clark said.

"Yeah, well, she's back now and I had to split." Lois said. He didn't ask her to elaborate. If she wanted to, she would. They went in through the door in the kitchen and Lois felt like crying the room was so warm and inviting and like home.

"Lois!" Martha greeted. "How good to see you again!" Lois hugged her, a behavior a little out of the ordinary but Lois was just so glad to be back.

"Do you mind if I stay for dinner?" she asked, inviting herself. That, of course, was normal.

"Stay as long as you like," Jonathan said, coming in. He touched her shoulder briefly in welcome.

"And if you wanted to work at the Talon, I'm sure I could arrange that." Martha said, flippantly. Lois smiled.

"I would appreciate that." she said, knowing she was just as desperate as Martha. Clark took her bag up to his room and cleaned it up at super speed so he was down in just a minute to eat. After dinner Lois and Clark did the dishes and when that was done, Clark sat reading a book on astronomy while Lois made them tea and worked on the previous days Daily Planet crossword puzzle – Sundays were always the hardest.

Finally, the Kents went to bed leaving the two of them down stairs in the warm, clean kitchen. Clark opened all the windows so the summer air and sounds could filter in.

"Does Chloe know you're in town?" Clark asked.

"I'll tell her in the morning," Lois said, yawning. "She's leaving in two weeks anyway, for Met U." Clark felt immediate pangs of guilt. This is what they had agreed the last time they had seen each other – not to hurt Chloe and definitely not to lie to her. Wasn't Lois showing up unannounced doing just that? Still, Clark was glad to see her and shrugged the guilt off.

"Why don't you go to bed," he said. She yawned again, nodded and trudged upstairs. He didn't mind sleeping on the couch. When he woke up to do his chores, she was up already eating a bowl of cinnamon Life and drinking coffee from the World's Greatest Dad mug. She had hair hair up in a tight French braid and had a red t-shirt on that proclaimed 'The Talon' across the back in white writing. Lying across the table in front of her was her apron.

"Morning Clarkie," she said, pointing to the coffee pot. He declined and sat across from her, his head tiredly in his hands.

"It's early," he said.

"Not for the friendly patrons of the Talon," she said. "And that was my sarcastic voice." But Clark had fallen asleep with his face in his arms. She smiled, tousled his hair with her hand and left for work.

Mid-shift, Chloe came into the talon and stopped abruptly at the sight on her cousin behind the register.

"Lois?" she asked. "You didn't tell me you were coming to town,"

"It was kind of last minute," she said.

"You already have a job." Chloe pointed out.

"Mrs. Kent always gives me a job when I'm in town, you know that." Lois said, walking past her with a tray of drinks. Chloe waited at the bar for her to return.

"So you're staying with Clark?" Chloe asked.

"Free beds are hard to turn down." Lois said. "Chloe I get off in half an hour and then I was going to call you, I swear."

"I just don't understand why you didn't call me while you were on your three hour drive." Chloe said. "You could have stayed at the apartment. Dad is away all weekend."

"I was planning on staying for the rest of the summer, actually, and I don't want to take up space that isn't there," Lois said.

"But you'll take Clark's bed indefinitely?" she asked, getting more and more shrill. Lois set down her tray on the front counter with a bang and grabbed her cousin's arm and pulled her into the storage room.

"Chloe, look, you know that I love you and that I would risk my life for you one hundred times over but you have got to, got to, let this Clark thing go." Lois said with a little venom in her voice. Chloe looked taken aback, hurt.

"I don't…"

"You do know what I mean. Clark is a good boy and if I want to stay with the Kents 'indefinitely' then I do not need your permission."

And so the truth had come out. In trying to spare Chloe's feelings, Lois had hurt her more than she thought possible. She might as well have punched her in the face and told her to fuck off. Chloe, having no response, decided not to get coffee and left the Talon with tears in her eyes, walking past Clark as if she did not see him. He looked at Lois who looked decidedly guilty and short-tempered.

"What did you say to her?" he asked. She bit her lip and shrugged miserably.

"I told her the truth." Lois said. "Which is never a good idea." Clark had never wanted to choose either Chloe or Lois. In fact, Chloe had inadvertently brought Lois into Clark's life in the first place. He had been friends with Chloe for years and he'd know Lois for a fraction of that time. Despite all of that, he wanted Lois. The choice, though not easy, seemed perfectly clear.

Chloe would not return Lois's calls, or Clark's. Lois, worried, drove over to her cousin's apartment late and returned 45 minutes later dejected and sad.

"She wouldn't answer. She told me though the door that she wasn't going to be my problem anymore – she's leaving for Metropolis in the morning to stay with a friend until orientation." Lois explained.

"Maybe a few weeks of cooling down would be good," Clark said. "When you go back to school you'll both be there and you can talk to her then."

"I'm not… I'm not going back to Met U." Lois said.

"Don't tell me you got kicked out again! Chloe said your dad had to pull serious strings to get you back in the first place!"

"It isn't the University for me. I'm going to take a semester off and then maybe transfer somewhere else." she said. "I was hoping your mom could give me a few more shifts – so I could afford my own place." Lois put her head in her hands. "God, when did I become such a burden?"

Clark wrapped his arm around her small shoulders.

"You're an honorary Kent now," he said. "Not a burden." She leaned her head against him, swallowing hard the lump in her throat.

oooo

Some things, though, never changed. Lois was always in the bathroom though she learned to lock the door if she didn't want anyone walking in on her private moments. Sometimes Clark brought a book or a deck of cards in and they sat in the tub – fully clothed – and played Uno or cribbage, if there weren't any chores. It was unusual but something Clark's parents just got used to. Their laughter echoed off the tile and Martha began to wonder about Lois Lane and her place in Clark's life. At least with Lois around he wasn't moping about Lana – she had not seen Lana in weeks – and he stayed out of trouble for the most part. Jor-El was dormant for the time being – did the alien father approve of something finally? He had threatened to take something away – someone – but as the summer drew to a close, Martha felt confident that this was a hollow threat.

oooo

Clark and Lois were at the swimming hole on the far edge of the Kent's property trying to cool off at the hottest time of the day. Though September was just around the bed, the heat wave showed no signs of breaking and so Clark had suggested a dip and Lois had agreed readily. He had been mid-splash war and half heartedly attempting to pull off her top 'accidentally' (he was a man, after all) when he heard his mother's cries across the pasture.

"Come on," he said, pulling Lois out of the water and taking off before she even had a chance to realize what was happening. He knew he shouldn't just take off at super speed in front of her but only one thing made his mother scream in agony like that: his father. She was outside, crying and leaning over him.

"Dad!" Clark yelled but he knew it was already too late. There would be no miraculous recovery at Smallville medical Center this time – Jonathan Kent had been taken from them for good. Lois arrived out of breath and dripping in her red bikini, horrified at what she saw. But, she was practical and so it was she who snapped to action and called the ambulance and she who drove them to the hospital while Mrs. Kent rode sobbing in the ambulance with her dead husband.

Clark was in shock. Lois couldn't seem to snap him out of it. She spoke with the doctors, called the funeral home and wrote an obituary for the local paper. She made the meals, cleaned the house, and worked double shifts for three days at the Talon until the funeral. Clark and his mother wandered around dazed. Finally, when Lois said something about hiring some farm hands, Clark told her no, he could handle it, and she didn't know how he did it, but everything was always finished before sundown.

At the funeral, Lois looked for her cousin whom she had called but couldn't locate her in the crowd. Clark's friend Pete did come as well as half of the town, including Lionel and Lex Luthor. It was a morbid affair and Lois had her doubts that Martha would ever recover. She and Jonathan had been so in love.

She woke up early to make breakfast before going to work about two weeks after the funeral and was surprised to find Martha already working.

"You've done so much, Lois, but it's time I got back into the swing of things." Martha said.

"Of course, Mrs. Kent, you just let me know what you need." Lois said. Secretly, she was a little relieved. Still, Clark wasn't happy and whatever it was about Clark that had drawn Lois to him in the first place was slowly fading away. Part of Lois wanted to let him go and get back to the life she should be living in the city – before this family, this town had side tracked her. But more than that, she wanted Clark back, not this shell. Besides, she had lost her mother and she had gotten over it. No matter what, life marches on. Lois sensed, though, that there was something Martha and Clark weren't saying about Jonathan's so sudden death.

oooo

Clark always took his dreams very seriously. More often than not they were almost prophetic in nature and so when he dreamt of Lois being gone, he sped up the stairs and threw open his bedroom door. Lois sat up and shrieked, thrashing around. Clark closed the door behind him and held out his hands, palms first, and tired to shush her.

"It's me, it's me," he said, reaching for the light switch on the pale blue wall but she beat him to it and turned on the lamp on the night stand. Soft, yellow light filled the room.

"What the hell?" she asked, a fierce whisper. Clark, now sheepish, rubbed the back of his neck.

"I thought that… I dreamt that you'd left and I just wanted to check." he said.

"At," she glanced at the clock, "2:37 in the morning?"

"Well,"

"Clark, you saw me go to bed." she said. "Why would I leave?"

"It just seemed real." he said. "Sorry."

"It's okay," she said, relaxing. She didn't tell him that she'd thought briefly about leaving even though she'd decided quickly against it. "Do you want to take about it?" He came fully into the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

"I think I just miss my dad," he admitted. "Don't tell mom, though, she seems to be doing better." Lois didn't know what to say – sometimes she felt like she was intruding in a family she didn't belong to.

"Everything takes time – this will too. No one expects you to heal right away." she said. "I'll go sleep on the couch, you get some real sleep." she reached for her pillow to go downstairs.

"Wait – stay until I fall asleep?" he asked, climbing into the bed, positioning his body in the warmth Lois had left behind. She rolled her eyes, but of course obliged him. She settled her back against the headboard and picked up her novel, intent on reading until Clark slipped under.

oooo

In the morning, Martha woke up early even though she no longer had to be up at 5:30 in order to make Jonathan breakfast before he started his day. It was habit and Clark had been waking up early too so she decided to get up anyway if only to feed her depressed son.

Tying her robe as she walked downstairs, she saw that Clark was not on the sofa. The blankets were still rumpled though – it wasn't like Clark to get up without putting his sleeping things away. She checked the downstairs bathroom, the kitchen and went out to the barn but he was no where around. Getting worried, she went back upstairs and opened Clark's bedroom door slowly to make sure at least Lois was still in bed.

She didn't quite know how to react upon seeing Clark and Lois wrapped around one another in the bed. They were at least clothed – from what she could see and the lamp was on which led her to believe that they'd fallen asleep accidentally. Clark actually looked content.

She cleared her throat, loudly. Lois woke up and saw her and grimaced. She extricated herself from the warm body next to her and pointed to the door. Martha, frowning, went into the hall and Lois shut the door.

"He had a bad dream." she explained. "I guess I fell asleep. Nothing happened, Mrs. Kent."

"I figured that," she said, looking Lois up and down. She wore her white t-shirt (in fact, it looked like one of Clark's undershirts) and a pair of Tinkerbell boxers.

"It won't happen again." Lois promised.

"You and my son are adults," Martha said, touching her arm. "I trust you both." Lois gave a tepid smile and locked herself promptly in the bathroom. Did that mean that she trusted Lois to have a meaningful relationship with her only adopted son or did that mean she trusted Lois to never let it happen again? She took a shower – cool because the morning son had come into the room and she could tell it was going to be a long, hot day.

She managed to avoid Clark that morning and spent the rest of the day at the talon. She had promised not to leave him but for some reason she felt like taking a long look at her life. Was all this worth it? She'd lost her cousin, Clark had lost his childhood sweetheart, and Mrs. Kent had lost her husband and she couldn't help but feel she was somewhat responsible for all three.

Also, why had Clark reacted so violently to the idea of her leaving in the first place? Lois knew that she was getting attached to Smallville and the Kents, but did she really want to stay here forever? The city was her home and even if she didn't want to go back to Metropolis University (she had already put in for a transfer to Central Kansas and was waiting quietly for a response), she wanted to live in the City again. She doubted Clark would ever leave the farm. Not that she was planning her life around him now, of course not, even if it did feel nice waking up with him so close.

"Hey Lois," Lana said, breaking Lois out of her reverie. It was a slow time at the Talon and she had been leaning against the counter with a daydream expression on her face.

"Hi," Lois said. "Did you want something?"

"No, I'm just headed upstairs," Lana said. "You looked a little bored."

"Just tired," Lois said. Thinking about Clark, something you would know all about – but she didn't say it. "You know how it is – working at the Talon."

"Boy, do I," Lana laughed. "How is Mrs. Kent?" she asked, pulling her face into a more appropriately somber expression.

"I'm not sure." Lois said, offering nothing. Lana had stopped coming around on her own and Lois, though always on friendly terms with Lana, did not miss her and the way she inevitably made Clark miserable.

"Well, I'm sure I'll see her," Lana said, heading toward the stairs. "Tell Clark I said hello," she called after her. Lois made no promises.

She got back to the farm late. She could see the lights in the loft of the barn. Part of her wanted to hurry into the house, into the tub, into bed but instead her feet carried her to the barn and up the stairs where Clark was peering into his telescope.

"Hey, Smallville," she said.

"You haven't called me that in a while." Clark commented.

"I think I've earned that name myself," she said. "Do you want some company?"

"Sure," he said, turning back to the stars. She came more fully into the room and sat gingerly on one of the sofas.

"I saw Lana today. She asked after you." Lois said.

"Hmm," he said, and the telescope clicked as its settings were changed.

"Clark,"

"Do you want to go out sometime, Lois?" he asked, suddenly, bravely. This startled her.

"Yes," she said. This startled her, too. His hopeful face broke into a smile. She tucked her hair behind her ear and rose, ready to allow herself to flee. "I'm going to go help with dinner," she said.

In the kitchen, Martha stood kneading a wad of dough that was to be pie crust, weeping. God, Lois needed a drink.

"How about some wine?" Lois asked, in a pseudo cheerful tone. Martha looked up and swept away her tears with the back of her hands.

"You're only 19," Martha said, sniffing.

"But as a drinker, I'm a 50-year-old man and besides, you look like you could use it." Lois said. She'd found the humble alcohol cabinet the second time she'd been to the Kent house and now she took out a dust bottle of Merlot and was about to ask for a corkscrew when Martha handed it to her. She smiled, glad Martha was on board. She easily opened the bottle and filled two wine glassed out of the china hutch. She filled them up full and sighed in relief of what was to come.

"Cheers," she said. Clark came in just as dinner hit the table and three quarters of the way through the bottle.

"Mom?" he asked.

"Hi, sweetheart," she said.

"You never drink," he pointed out. Lois lifted her glass and shrugged.

"Just for tonight," Martha promised. Clark turned down Lois's offer of a glass – it would have no affect on him and he didn't much care for the taste. They ate quietly, Clark suspicious, Lois exhausted, and Martha tipsy and sad.

oooo

Martha went to bed; the wine had made her sleepy. Lois had offered to do the dishes as she did every night and Clark stood next to her with a towel and dried.

"What would you want to do?" Clark asked, of their impending date.

"Well, you asked me out," Lois sad. "Shouldn't you get to decide?"

"Yeah, but you knew about the barn party." he said.

"Gosh, that seems like ages ago." she said, sadly. "I think I'd like to get out of Smallville for a day, if you don't mind." she said. Clark felt the same way.

So, that Saturday, they got into the car – Clark drove Lois's car – and they headed toward Metropolis with no particular destination in mind. On the way, they talked to one another in a way they hadn't before. Favorite colors, childhood stories, shoe size – everything was discussed. The hours flew by and then they were entering the city and had to quickly decide where to go.

Lois, who knew the city, led them downtown where there was a lot to do in a relatively small area. Shopping, restaurants, and Lois's favorite, a huge used book store. They window shopped and between 5th and 6th street, Clark took Lois's hand and they walked together, arms swinging.

"Here it is," she said, pushing the heavy wooden door open. "There is a café in the back." she added.

"Oh, thank God, it's been nearly an hour since you last consumed caffeine." Clark said, but he squeezed her hand and she knew he was joking. They walked past the help desk and Clark saw the back of a familiar looking head. Lois was tugging him along when the head turned around and Clark's suspicion became fact.

"Hi, Chloe." he said. Lois looked up, dropping his hand. Chloe was in a black apron, the bookstore's logo stitched onto the front. Her face looked shocked for only a moment and then slipped into a mask of neutrality.

"Can I help you?" she asked, coldly.

"Oh come on." Lois said. Clark could see she was gearing up for a big fight. "We haven't spoken in months and you can't even acknowledge us as family?" she asked.

"You made it clear you didn't need me," Chloe said, returning to her task of entering books into a computer.

"Of course I need you," Lois said. "But I don't want to keep you on certain conditions." Chloe flushed, looking a little guilty – a shameful crack in her mask.

"Come on, Chloe, we miss you. We've been though too much together to give it all up." Clark said. Clark had been worried Chloe would spill his secret but he knew in his heart that she hadn't.

"I have to work now, but I'm off at 7:00." She said. "Come back then?" This was a start and so they left the bookshop. A few clocks away there was a small park and Clark and Lois rested on a bench while they decided how to fill the remaining hours.

"What will we tell her about us?" Clark asked. Lois scrunched her face, frustrated. Seeing Chloe again had lifted her hopes but she did not want to give up Clark now.

"The truth, I suppose." she said, resting her head on is shoulder. At 6:50, they returned to the bookstore and stood awkwardly in the travel section until Chloe spotted them. Lois had her nose buried in a glossy travel guide of Scotland but Clark saw Chloe coming from across the store – she didn't know he was watching her through the stacks and she was walking slowly, often turning back. Finally, though, she came into plain view and knew it was too late to go back. Lois carefully put the book into the same place she'd taken it from and stuck her thumbs into the back pockets of her jeans.

"So," she said, always the tension breaker, "Did you want to get dinner?" Chloe shrugged but did not say no and so finally they went to a small bistro around the corner and had to wait through fifteen minutes of horrifyingly awkward small talk before they were seated on the patio. the night was warm and shimmered with activity – cities did not sleep and Saturday night was definitely no exception. Couples walked arm in arm, dressed in their finest, toward the theater that was on the corner.

They ordered soft drinks, though Clark felt like he and Lois has been eating all day so he ordered water with lemon and when the waiter came for their meal order, he was content with soup and salad. He started the real conversation.

"We should have been more honest with you," he said. "You have a right to be angry." But he could tell her anger was already faltering.

"I may have been selfish," she said. Lois held her tongue at her cousin's use of the word 'may'. "But I just… I understand that we need to just be friends, Clark, but I don't understand why you both lied to me about dating each other."

"We didn't like!" Lois said, shouting exasperatedly.

"I saw you holding hands," Chloe said.

"Today," Lois said. "Clark only asked me out for the first time a few days ago. Months ago, when you left, nothing had happened."

"Oh," Chloe said, but Clark wasn't sure she was convinced. "Well, I'm sorry, anyway."

"We're sorry too," Lois said, taking her cousin's hand.

oooo

In Smallville, back at home, Lois lay next to Clark in his bed, crying. He'd never really seen her cry before. He'd seen her leak a tear or two after stubbing her toe or dropping the hot frying pan on her sandaled foot, but he'd never seen her cry because she was sad.

"I thought you were happy we made up with Chloe," he said, soothingly, running his fingers through her hair.

"I am," she said. "It just feels like something is ending, you know?" Clark knew that with every ending came a new beginning but he did not voice this cliché. Instead he leaned down and pressed his mouth to hers. She was surprised, a little, but met his kiss quickly. They lay back in the bed.

"I get the feeling what's meant to be will be," Clark said, instead, his head heavy against the pillow, her head heavy on his chest. "Maybe that's all we can hope for."

"I hoped for you, Clark Kent." Lois said, sleepily. "Maybe there is something in this hoping after all."

"Maybe there is." he said, but she was already asleep.

end.